Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2012

Just wanted to wish all those who read this here blog a very safe, healthy, blessed and wonderful New Year. May 2012 be a year that we meet our goals, that we prosper and that life gets just a little bit easier for everyone. So from my family to yours, heres to a brand new year full of new possibilities and wonders! Happy 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

FRIDAY FINANCIAL CHECKUP

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Starting next Friday, January 6, 2012 I would like to start a new series called Financial Friday Checkup. This will be a way for me to track our variable expenses and to see how we are doing financially. I would like to show how much we spend each day and hopefully track our no spend days. (I would like to have a total of 186 NO-Spend days in 2012, which averages to 15.5 a month). I will also use these to show an update on our overall budget and how we are paying down debt. So stay tuned for next Friday.....

FINANCIAL GOALS FOR 2012

As I look back over the last 10 years of my life, I have come to realize that one of the major sources of stress in my life comes from my and my husband’s financial situation. There are many times where we are living paycheck to paycheck, basically wading in the water without falling more behind but without making leeway either.

Well 2012 is the year that this is going to stop!



This is the first year that I feel I have a solid plan going into the year; a plan that both I and my hubby are on board with. We have made 3 basic financial goals and a plan on how to get there given our current employment statuses and our current living situation.

Our 3 goals are:
1. PAY DOWN DEBT
2. SAVE MORE IN AN EMERGENCY FUND
3. LIVE ON LESS THAN OUR MEANS

I have never really been open about our finances on this blog, due to the fact that I don’t know if any of our family members read this blog or not. Well that is about to change. I may not go into specific numbers for some things, but I will be more open about our spending and where are debt stands. Because YES we do have debt.

We currently have close to $600 in medical debt, $600 on a Mastercard, $9000 on Discover, $3000 on a student loan from Ball State University, and close to $50000 on federal Direct Student loans when you add together both hubbys and my own. That is depressing. I feel like it is a constant rain cloud over our heads; especially the Mastercard, the Discover card, the medical debt and the Ball State loan. For other reasons the Direct Loans are not a priority for us.

So paying off/ paying down debt is #1 on my list.

Hubby would prefer that we save for emergencies, and for just in case. I can understand his point. In the past 7 years we have been through 4 moves, job losses, hospitalizations, surgeries, car problems, etc. I can see why he wants to save and not worry about debt. This is one area that we disagree on.

However, as in any good marriage compromise is KEY! So I have come up with a budget plan that allows for us to compromise. Basically our budget rules look like this:

Hubby’s 2 paychecks a month--go towards household bills (rent, water, gas, electric, phone, internet, directv, trash, car insurance, credit cards, loans, etc. ) At the end of the month, whatever is leftover from these paychecks, ½ will go toward savings, and ½ will go toward debt repayment.
My 2 paychecks will go toward variable expenses (groceries, gifts, eating out, etc). At the end of month, whatever is leftover, ½ will go toward savings and ½ will go toward debt repayment.

We will be working on paying off debt in this order:
Mastercard
Medical
Discover card
Ball State loan
Direct Loans

I will be trying to make some extra money from different sources and will be using online resources to help cut costs in some areas of my life. Currently hubby is a member of Pinecone Research and we will be using those payments that get deposited into Paypal for debt repayment at the end of each month. I also use Mypoints for Walmart gift cards, and Swagbucks that I will use for Amazon gift cards. When I buy things online I will be looking through ebates first in order to be able to earn money back for what I am already buying. I am also planning on doing summer tutoring to supplement my part time income as well. I would also like to implement 186 NO-SPEND days throughout the year.

I am hoping that this works out. This year will be somewhat different in that I may have to review and change these goals as I will be going on unpaid maternity leave from April through the end of the school year. Then I don’t work at all during the summer. That may change some of the things that we can and/or cannot do.

Do you have any suggestions about how I can tweak this to make it better?
Have you made any financial goals for 2012?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Private Selection Frozen Food Review: The Pizza

Being a BzzAgent has it's perks! For one you get to try out products that are brand new on the market and review them, for FREE!
As a BzzAgent, I get the opportunity to try out new items and to review them. I was delighted to be included in the Kroger's Private Selection bzz campaign to try their new appetizers, pizzas and desserts. I recently reviewed their Southwestern Style Chicken Trumpets appetizer.  I found that they were yummy but not worth the price.

This past week, with the busyness of the holidays, I was looking for a quick dinner. I decided to make the Kroger Private Selection Frozen pizza for my dinner. According to bzzagent.com:

Private Selection™ Frozen Pizza (Around $5)Baked in an Italian marble oven to create a thin, flaky base for top-tier ingredients. Mouth-watering offerings include – BBQ Chicken, Margherita, Roasted Vegetable and Pepperoni

I bought the Pepperoni and Roasted Garlic pizza. It was priced at $6.49 at my Kroger's store. That is definitely more than I typically spend on frozen pizza. (Personally I try to not spend more than $4 for a frozen pizza.)



 I was getting home late from running errands after work so I had Dear Hubby bake the pizza for me. When I got home it was hot and ready to eat.


The first things that I noticed before cutting into the pizza were that the mozzarella balls never really melted like they show on the box and that the garlic pieces were huge and the smell of garlic was overpowering. Needless to say I love garlic but this was way too much for me. Overall, there was in my opinion just the right amount of crust, sauce and pepperoni. If the cheese would have melted I think that would have been a HUGE improvement. I wish the garlic pieces were smaller. The flavor was good, but when you ate a piece with the garlic on it, the garlic was overpowering.

Overall, I was disappointed in the pizza and probably will not buy this variety again. I am on the fence whether I would try another one as most of the varieties were not ones I would normally buy anyways. Also the price was higher than I would like to spend. It was nice to have a quick dinner on a rushed holiday season evening, but it was not in my opinion a good dinner.

Disclaimer::  As a bzzagent, I received these products and coupons free for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 2011 Review in pictures

Christmas 2011 consisted of a day spent with the in-laws. First to my Mother-in-law and Father-in-laws house....



Then to my hubby's Aunt and Uncles house for Christmas Eve party....



Then home to find that Santa had left an early present for the kids...



Christmas morning we woke to find LOTS of presents under the tree. 







 Then Christmas afternoon it was off to my parent's house to have dinner and more Christmas fun.





Overall it was a WONDERFUL two days. I hope that your Christmas weekend was lovely as well!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: More Lost than Found by Jared Herd

Recently I was given the opportunity to read and review Jared Herd’s book More Lost than Found: Finding a Way Back to Faith. I was excited to receive and read this book as I am one of many people who sometimes feel like they have lost their connection with God and with what we grew up thinking that our connection had to be.



Herd himself is one of these same people. Herd acknowledges that he has struggled with his faith throughout his life but has come to reengage with it. After reading the first chapter I believed that this book would be about Herd’s own faith journey. However as I read further into the book, it became more of a generalization of why today’s youth may be leaving the church organizations and how they can maybe begin to find their way back to their own definition of faith. Most of the book is based on generalizations geared toward teenagers and young adults (ages 13-29) who are wrestling with their belief in God and/or whom may have had a bad church experience.

Overall this book was a very hard read for me. Herd seemed to jump around from topic to topic easily and to go off topic quite frequently leaving the reader to have to re-read to see what he was trying to say. As I am in my early 30s and in a different part of my life than Herd or to what I feel is his target audience, I found the book to be unorganized, too general, and just not for me. I would have gained much more from this book had I read it in high school or college. For that reason, I would not recommend this book to anyone over the age of 25.

Disclaimer: I received this book to review as a review blogger for book sneeze.com. All opinions expressed are my own.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: The post Christmas edition

I hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas weekend. We had a blast as a family. Saturday was spent with Bill's side of the family and a lot of driving. Sunday morning was spent at home watching the kids open their gifts and just relaxing. And last night was spent at my parent's house doing Christmas dinner and just having fun. Today I went to the grocery store and that was about it. I am so tired. Hubby has the day off, so we are trying to find homes for all the stuff that the kids got for Christmas this year. We put about half of it away, the other half will wait until tomorrow. We are just wiped out. So dinner will be easy, peasy tonight....


Tonight: Spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread (maybe salad)

The rest of the week I am leaving up in the air as to what we eat which day. Here are our choices to choose from:

Chicken, broccoli, pasta alfredo/ kids will have hot dogs and baked beans
Pork chops, green beans, augratin potatoes
Chicken and cheese casserole
Lasagna
Roast, potatoes and carrots in the crockpot
Leftovers

What are you eating this week?

For more great menu ideas check out orgjunkie.com

Sunday, December 25, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 25

Less we forget what Christmas is all about....

Christmas Greeting


Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 22

A classic Elvis song updated...

Winter


HAPPY FIRST DAY OF WINTER!!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 21

Wordless Wednesday: Some of our Christmas activities....

Taking pics in front of our Christmas tree
Visiting Santa
Ready to go perform in her first school play
waiting for Sissy to go on stage
Rebecca and her Pre-K class during the Christmas Play

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 20

The first time I heard this song, I cried like a baby....

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Last week I left our menu plan open-ended as I wasn't sure what would work with each day as our schedules have been wacky. I think that it worked out okay. I definitely didn't feel guilty for not making something on a certain night. I think that this week will be the same, as we have various activities planned....going to see Santa, Rebecca's school's Christmas play, Christmas Eve, etc. So for this week our menu looks a little like this:

Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs
Dinner Out---probably pick up either Wendy's or McDonalds as a treat for the kids
Spaghetti and meatballs
Ham, baked potatoes and green beans
Whole chicken in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn
Christmas Eve appetizers
Christmas Day dinner

So there you have it. I also have to make some sort of cookies or brownies for my hubby's work cookie party on Wednesday and I promised Rebecca we would make cookies once her Christmas break starts.....so I will also be baking I think.

What cooking plans do you have this week?

For more great menu ideas, visit orgjunkie.com

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 18

Saturday, December 17, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 17

While this is not a classic, this is my son Jacob's FAVORITE this year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Looking back at 2011 goals....

Way back in January, I made some pretty lofty goals for the year. I have since then kind of ignored them, thinking about them only once in a blue moon. I think that I was over ambitious. But with that being said, this is how I stand on them...


PERSONAL GOALS:
  • Lose 20 lbs. --- Right now I am at 218lbs :( and I would love to be below 200. I was at 199 on the day of our wedding (2005) and I would LOVE to be there again.  Well this is obviously not going to happen as I am now 23 weeks pregnant. It wouldn't be healthy for me to lose that weight. I WILL tackle this again after April 2012, after I have the baby.
  • I will work on drinking more water. I drink way too much soda and need to focus on getting healthier. I am trying on this one. Some days are better than others.
  • Read 26+ books this year.--- One of the passions that I used to have was reading. I LOVE to read. Unfortunately with having 2 young kids and dealing with issues in life, this hobby has been put on the back burner. This year I want to reignite that passion by reading at least 2 books a month. I would love to do 1 a week, but I want to be realistic as well. I think I reached this goal! GO ME! I read a bunch of books and have tried to find time at least once a week to set aside for reading.
  • To try out at least 1 new recipe a month.--- I have gotten into the habit of making the same things over and over, and while there is not a problem with that, I am growing tired of making and eating the same things. I also received 5 new cookbooks for Christmas so time to put them to good use. I did try some new recipes but not one a month, and since I find myself falling back in the habit I need to refocus on this.
FAMILY GOALS:
  • To better my relationships with Bill and with my children
    • I would like to implement a date night at least 1x a month with Bill. This could be dinner out, movie out, movie in after the kids go to bed, getting chinese takeout and eating after the kids are in bed, etc. Right now we are averaging going out for our anniversary and  maybe 1 other time a year and that is NOT good. FAIL
    • I want to be more patient with my kids. I tend to lose my patience quickly with Rebecca and need to work on becoming more patient with her. I may do this by making and planning activities to do with just her. FAIL
    • To read for at least 10 minutes a day to Jacob and for at least 30 minutes with Rebecca. We are doing well reading to Rebecca; however we have been really slack about reading to Jacob. I will do this by beginning to read to Jacob before he goes to bed every night. FAIL
    • Make a schedule and stick to it to limit tv watching for the kids. Right now they watch way TOO much tv and it is beginning to show in their behavior. BIG FAT FAIL
FINANCIAL GOALS:
  • Make a budget and stick to it.
    • Continue to gain Mypoints, Rewards points through bank, Pinecone research money, and swagbucks to use toward gift cards to be used to buy gifts I got away from this..Need to refocus on this
  • Save and KEEP $1000 in the emergency fund---we have had to dip into this a couple times this year and I would love to see it STAY at $1000. SUCCESS
  • Continue to coupon and write letters for coupons (at least 5 a week) FAIL
  • Have 2 no (low) spend months---January and June FAIL
  • Work on paying down the Discover Card bill FAIL
  • Figure out a way to bring in more money by working from home---ideas I am throwing around are tutoring, copying family home movies to dvd, making and selling simple cakes, being a part of the farmers markets to sell homebaked goods.... I did tutor over the summer, something that I am looking into doing more this year. But need to be more proactive
BLOG GOALS:
  • To write on the blog 4-5x a week.-- Somewhat of a success...did this most of the time.
  • Gain more readers--- I would like to have at least 80 readers by December 31, 2011
    • to do this, I want to join at least 1 blog hop a week SUCCESS...I am up to 159 AWESOME READERS!!!!!!

I am thinking about pairing down next years goals and focusing more on the family goals and financial goals, rather than personal ones. Look forward to an upcoming post (after Christmas) on what these goals are. Are you planning goals for 2012?? What are they?

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 16

Another one for the kiddos...this is my daughter's FAVORITE this year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 12

Menu Plan for the week

Here is what we are eating this week. I am keeping it open ended to what day as this is a busy two week stretch for us, so it will depend on the day with what we eat. Here are our choices:

Chicken and broccoli alfredo
Hamburger helper
Chili and grilled cheese
Ham slices, rice and veggies
Pizza
Fish and macaroni and cheese
Christmas party

I am not sure what day will feature what food, but that is okay. I have everything I need for these meals and I can precook them in the morning before work or they take very little time to prepare once I am home.

What are you eating this week?

Check out orgjunkie.com for more great menu ideas!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 9

Here is one to make you think about the real reason for the season...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 7

LOVE this song!

"A date which will live in infamy"

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day



On December 7, 1941, the lives of Americans were interrupted as we were attacked on our home soil. Something that most people never dreamed would happen. In that attack over 2,400 Americans were killed and many more were injured. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the first step in the United States becoming involved in World War II.  Today, 70 years later, we stop to think and pray for those lost at Pearl Harbor and those who were affected by the attacks. And as Americans we stand together in remembrance and in strength knowing that we are a strong country capable of overcoming such an instance to be an even stronger nation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Decorating and Dinner with St. Nick

We have really gotten into the Christmas spirit around our house.

My dear hubby decorated the outside of our house (for the first time ever) and it looks GREAT!


Rebecca and Bill put up the Christmas tree and decorated it!


We took the kids to "Dinner with St. Nick" at the school that I work at and that Rebecca goes to school at. All the activities and dinner was free with a donation to "Toys for Tots." I love that they joined together with a charity this year. (Last year it was pricier and was a fundraiser for the school.) Rebecca had a BLAST! 
Rebecca and Jacob with St. Nick. Jacob did NOT want to be on his lap!

Playing one of the many games

Beating up his Uncle Josh. My brother's Boy Scout troop helped run some of the games and activities.

There was face painting. My sister was the artist. She painted kids' faces for over 2.5 hours straight with NO break. She was such a trooper.

Rebecca the reindeer and one of her friends from school!

So far, this Christmas season has been filled with lots of laughter and good memories. I hope we can continue this as we get farther into December.

What fun things have you done so far?

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 6

A funny classic....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

This week should be back to normal, after last week where we had birthdays and sicknesses and lots of extra activities. At least I am hopeful that this week is back to normal! I can hope!

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Baked ham, julienne or baked potatoes, green beans, pears

Monday: Spaghetti

Tuesday: Fish (for Bill), macaroni and cheese, broccoli

Wednesday: Taco pizza for Bill and I, pepperoni pizza for kids

Thursday: Whole chicken in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn

Friday: Grilled cheese and veggies

Saturday: party food

Sunday: pork chops, green beans, salad

That is the plan for what we are eating! Do you know what you are eating? Check out orgjunkie.com for more great menu ideas.

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 4

One of the few Mariah Carey songs that I like....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Private Selection Frozen Food Review: The Appetizer

Being a BzzAgent has it's perks! For one you get to try out products that are brand new on the market and review them, for FREE!

This past week, I received a new Bzz package in the mail, that contained not 1, not 2, BUT 3 FREE PRODUCT coupons to try the new line of Kroger's Private Selection Gourmet Frozen Food. I was sent a coupon for a FREE appetizer, FREE pizza, and a FREE dessert. Basically it was enough for a 3 course meal.

However, I did not use them for that. I still have not tried the pizza or the dessert that I chose, however I did try the appetizer. According the bzzagent.com:

Private Selection® Frozen Appetizers ($3 - $7) Individually handcrafted and filled with unique combinations of high-quality, savory ingredients. Hand-crafted offerings include Mediterranean Inspired Hors D'Oeuvres collection, Southwestern Style Chicken Trumpets, Mushroom Walnut Profiteroles, Spanakopita.

I find this to be a bit deceiving as all the appetizers at my Kroger store were priced at $6-$7. I chose the Southwestern Style Chicken Trumpets as the one that I would try.


A couple of days ago, I wanted a light lunch before I headed to work, so I made these. They were fairly easy to make. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and cheese started to melt.



As you will notice, there were ONLY 9 appetizers in the box! Now I was able to get these for free, which is good because there is NO WAY I would pay $6.49 for a box of nine little appetizers. And believe me they were little (only about 5 inches long or so).



Preparing to be disappointed like I was with the price and size, I forged ahead to eat my lunch. When I bit into one, it was VERY YUMMY! (Still not worth the price, though). There was a nice balance between cheese and chunks of chicken and little bits of pepper. They were not very spicy, but had the right amount of heat to them. I ate mine plain, although they might be good dipped in some salsa or in some mexican style queso dip.

If you are looking for a quick easy appetizer for YOURSELF then this would fit the bill (if you are willing to look past the price). However, if you are looking for a quick and easy appetizer for a party or a get together I would skip these as they are not worth their high price. Yummy but not worth the price. (You could probably make a ton of these at home from scratch for the price of one box of 9 appetizers.) Personally, I will probably not buy these in the future, unless I have a great coupon and they are on a serious sale.

Disclaimer:  As a bzzagent, I received these products and coupons free for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 3

Another favorite of mine....

"Mary, did you know?" by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd

Friday, December 2, 2011

5 Question Friday

Here's to another edition of Five Question Friday, where you the reader can learn just a little bit more about me, the author of this here blog.



 
1. What is your favorite Christmas decoration in your house?
I have a lot of favorite decorations, but I think the one that touches my heart the most is a crystal tear-drop ornament that we got the year that our son Travis was born still into Heaven. It has his name on it and his date of birth. It is very special to me.
2. Do you finish your Christmas shopping early or are you a last minute type?
I typically try to finish early, but this year for whatever reason I am really behind and will probably be more last minute.
3. When do you turn on your heat?
When the house gets consistently around 63 degrees or so. I have little ones so I have to keep it somewhat warm.
4. Do you ever wish your blog was private?
Nope. I wouldn't have started this blog if I wanted it to be private.
 
 
5. Do you put your deodorant on before of after you put on your shirt?
Most of the time it is before.
 
Thank you to My Little Life for hosting 5 Question Friday!

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 2

"I'll be Home for Christmas" by Rascal Flatts

I LOVE this version! Christmas is about being at home and being with family and friends more than the gifts!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

GIVEAWAY WINNER!!!

Just a short announcement to say that the winner of my 100 Followers giveaway for the fruit and veggie coupons is:

JULIE LEMKE!

Julie, I have emailed you!
To everyone else who entered, thank you so much for entering!

25 Days of Christmas Music Videos: Day 1

One of my favorite Christmas Songs is NOT a traditional one. It is "Where Are You Christmas?" by Faith Hill. This is the song featured in the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the one with Jim Carrey). I LOVE the message in the song! Enjoy!

Book Review: The Hour That Matters Most


Thanksgiving has come and gone. Now is the time of year, where many times we feel like chickens with our heads cut off. We are often going in a million different directions, stressed out over shopping, Christmas parties and activities, and many other holiday happenings. In the midst of all this stress, one thing that is often set aside is our need to connect to our own families with one-on-one time, especially at meal time. It is this time of year that we need to refocus on the reason for the season and recommit to our families. One of the easiest ways to do this is to enjoy a family meal together.

In their new book, The Hour that Matters Most: The Suprising Power of the Family Meal, Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, aim to help the average American family to refocus and reconnect with one another through the sharing of a daily meal together. According to the authors, sharing a meal together is the perfect opportunity for families to recommit to the family unit that they belong (to come together as a united unit), to show affection and appreciation towards other members of the unit, to have positive communication with one another that is face-to-face versus over the phone, Internet or through text messages, and to just spend time with your loved ones. Sharing a meal also helps families to cultivate spiritual well-being and allows each members a chance to gain insight in coping with stress. A regular family meal is a means to gaining a better family environment for all members and is a chance to deeply reconnect as a family.

Now before you say that you cannot have this ideal dinner time with your family each day, the authors argue that you need to make it work for you. For some families, the ideal family meal is breakfast. For others, it is eating take out pizza by candlelight. What matters most is that you are doing it as a family with little or no distractions (like the tv, cell phones, etc.)

The Hour that Matters Most  offers ideas for making meal time work for you as what is fit for YOUR family, as well as menu ideas, recipes, and advice on all aspects of meal-time including parenting advice and how to talk to your kids so that they will talk to you and not tune you out and advice on how to curb conflict at the table. And the authors write in a friendly tone that shows that not every mealtime will be ideal. However it is the effort and the overall commitment to your family meal that will have lasting effects on your family and your families' values.

Another hidden gem in this book is the advice on starting a "fix and freeze" club. The authors are the co-founders of the Dream Dinners meal assembly stores. They offer practical advice for getting meals on the table by utilizing your freezer to your advantage and to gain friendship with others who may be in a similar predicament.

Overall, I was gained some valuable insight as I read this book. It reinforced to me the value of trying to at least have one family meal with my family a day. This is especially important for me to begin now that my kids are young and we can instill in them the importance of being a family unit. During this crazy holiday season, it may be hard to continue with this, but I will continue to try. Because my kids may grow up and not remember that we went and looked at Christmas lights or spent the evening shopping at Wal-mart, but they will remember and hopefully continue with their own families the family meal of the day.

Disclaimer: I was sent an advance copy of the book by the publisher to review. All opinions are my own.