Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Season of Lent

We attended a wonderful Ash Wednesday service last evening. The boys truly enjoy their Bible study playgroup and they really do leave there with new knowledge of Christ. It's so fun to talk to them about what they learn--out of the mouths of babes come the truest and most honest young views of our Lord and Savior.

As for the service, we were asked to write three things on a place piece of paper upon entering the church. We were to write a sin we have committed against God, a sin we have committed against our neighbor and a sin we have committed against ourselves. Then we folded our papers and upon approaching the alter for our ashes, dropped the papers into a basket. The pastor took the papers, still folded and gathered many together. Then he drove a nail through them and nailed them on a wooden cross laying beside the alter. Wow--how powerful was that! What a sight when he raised the cross at the conclusion of the service, with papers nailed to all areas of the cross and talked about how Christ died to SAVE US FROM THESE SINS. How the Almighty gave his only Son so that we could be forgiven for these transgressions. They were taken from us and placed upon the cross. It makes me weep, just the thought. That no matter what we wrote, no matter the sin, no matter the error in our ways, we are forgiven and are given the blessing of a relationship with Him anyway.

This one act has done so much to help me to step into the season of Lent in another way this year. It is a picture burned into my mind and will not be soon forgotten.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Works for Me!

How do you know so many things? How do you make your homemade laundry detergent? Where did you learn how to do 1001 things with used toilet paper rolls? How you ask? It's WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY! Ah---I love me some WFMW posts! I honestly look forward to Wednesdays where I can browse, wasting many valuable hours, in other blogs learning about the many useful and many times, not-so-necessary things in life. I love love love WFMW! I vow that I will start to participate every Wednesday, because honestly, I do have some helpful hints in life that I can share. I've learned tons from WFMW posts that I've read over the past year or so and that is usually how I discover great new sites to share with friends. WFMW is over at now and she's got a great site.

So what works for me? WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY! Check it out! Just make sure you have tons of time to waste....err, spend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doing my part

So in light of the ongoing crummy economic conditions, I find myself thinking and rethinking how we can do better. How can we recycle, reuse, refurbish, redo and reconsider what it is that we need and use every day? I think about how I lived as a child, on the farm in Iowa. What did we have, what did we do without and what kind of efforts did we make to live that way. My parents still live much the same way we did while I was growing up. They still live without cable TV, without a telephone answering machine, without cell phones, even without a cordless phone! It's like a trip back in time every time we visit! The great upside to this is that it causes SH and I to talk about how we can scale back and reduce our budget and outgoings. We've implemented quite a few things and I still would like to do more. Some of the things we've done are:

1. Coupons--I use coupons mainly at Walgreens and CVS. I combine them with specials, BOGO's (buy 1 get 1 free) offers and ExtraCare bucks (ECBs). Many basic household items such as soaps, lotions, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.... are purchased for little to nothing. Sometimes, when I'm really good I even make money on my purchases! I'm not always that good but many times, I pay 25% of regular cost of these items, or even less. I love it!!!

2. Bulk shopping--I shop mainly at Aldi, Sam's Club and farmer's markets. I can't imagine why anyone would shop otherwise. If you don't have an Aldi in your area, I'm very sad for you.....It is one terrific little off-brand, generic heaven of a store. I buy all staples there...things like milk, eggs, baking supplies, canned goods, and a few indulgences like chips, nuts and ice cream. I'm not at all a brand snob. I've learned to do without many of the old items we considered "necessities". We buy off brand Cheetos--the kids don't know the difference. We buy generic salsa when I don't make my own. Cream soups and any canned veges are all generic. Their milk is a mere $2.79 (most in this area go for $3.50 and up) and eggs are still $1.29. I buy meat and some bulk at Sams but we are careful not to buy more than we need. I stopped buying the massive toilet paper there because I can get smaller packages for nearly nothing with coupons. I like their meat and SH is in love with their pizzas--when we don't make our own. I go to local farmer's markets almost every week, sometimes more. This time of year the strawberries are fantastic, most everything is grown locally or not too far from here. I try to stay away from buying items that are shipped from other countries. I'm not fanatical about it but do buy locally whenever possible. The local honey at the market is really wonderful!

3. Cleaning supplies--I don't buy paper towels any more at all. We've amassed quite a collection of rags and such so I just use rags for any spills, cleaning and wiping down counters. It's about 1 more load of laundry a week or so--not a big deal at all. I've found that I prefer to use vinegar, baking soda and a good dose of elbow grease for most cleaning. I do like the smell of PineSol so I do buy that in the cheapest manner possible. Pine Sol just makes me feel like the house is cleaner---I'm working on finding essential oils to add to my cleaning supplies to make them smell, well cleaner!

4. Laundry detergent--I make my own! I swear, it is quite the source of humor among a few friends but I cannot tolerate how expensive detergent has become! I found a great recipe on the web and have been making our own for about 9 months now. There are a few whites that have gotten dingy so I soak them in some Bright White or bleach every few loads. That helps. I haven't noticed a huge difference in quality. Things don't get that perfume smell to them so again, I'm working on adding some essential oils to help them smell more fresh. Good thing no one has any allergies and I can experiment easily.

5. Utilities--Our electric company is a complete monopoly and is terribly expensive. I think our bill is high--about $340 per month--but have found that it is cheaper than many other houses our size. We live in Florida so to do without a/c in the summer is just unacceptable. But we do turn off the a/c in about late November/early December and manage to keep it off through April sometimes. We usually manage without heat although this year has been exceptionally cool at times. We even had 3 complete hard freezes this winter and needed our heat a few days. We are conscious to keep the a/c set high (about 78 degrees most days) and open windows to allow air flow, utilize all ceiling fans while in the room and dress lightly. The boys rarely wear more than undies and short pants in the summer months!

These are some things we've done so far and are pretty consistent about. I still have so much I want to do....

--decrease the amount of the dryer that is used for clothes drying. We cannot have a clothesline outside due to restrictions but I believe I'm going to have SH hang a retractable line on our back porch. That and some drying racks will work well.

--turn off electrical items that aren't in use. The spare room alarm clock (especially when there are no guests), use natural lighting the most and stop turning on lights (we do this a lot already--the neighbors never think we are home because the house is always dark!), watch less TV. We currently use two refrigerators and a freezer....I think we will eliminate the refrigerator in the garage. It's convenient but not really necessary. We can get all extra freezer items in the other freezer and don't really need the refrigerator portion most of the time. If we find it's not much of a sacrifice, we'll sell the extra refrigerator and use that to pay down debt.

--gardening. I used to garden all the time but admittedly, am not too familiar with the Florida growing season. It's odd for this Iowa girl! But I'm studying and hope to grow more lettuce, spinach and tomatoes this year. We did great with tomatoes and peppers last year so we can do better this year.

--bulk cooking. I'm striving for consistency with this one. Bulk cooking---making multiple meals at once and freezing some---is SO economical! I save lots and lots of time, money and hassle this way! It's also called once-a-month-cooking. We don't mind casseroles, which is a huge staple of this type of cooking for us.

--canning, freezing and making jelly/jam. I used to do this each and every year---for years. Then I moved off the farm, into the city and didn't have a garden. I have a little room for a garden and what I don't grow, we can purchase pretty economically here in Florida and I'm able to can these items. This year I'm striving for jam, salsa, blueberries and tomatoe sauce.

I'm thinking I'll stop there. I tend to get carried away with a to-do list so I better just reel it in a bit. I'll post more later on specifically how we have reduced our monthly budget and ways that we are finding to save even more money.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


to get my life back in order! Ammachi and Appachan were here for about 3 1/2 weeks. And I spent lots of time trying to perfect my chicken curry during that time. It's not bad....not bad at all I tell ya....

So that is the reason for my absence. Lots of visiting and laughing and discussions of where to live (them, not us). They have gone on to Texas where they'll stay for another couple of months and then return to India for the remainder of the year. Wishing you Godspeed dear family....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is it all bad news?

The recession drags on.....and on....and on. It is clear now that this is shaping up to be the worst recession of my lifetime, my husband's and hopefully our children. However, our boys are 3 & 4. Not likely that this is the worst for them.

It is making us continuously sit down and review our spending, our allocated budget items and cut, eliminate, re prioritize and think. Those items we could not do without 6 months ago, a year ago, many of those are long gone. I now look at the current budget and wonder what will be gone in 6 months from now? What is it that we "cannot live without" now but will be a memory next year?

I'm trying to focus on those items that we can replace. Those kinds of things that were previously necessary and now are simply optional. We are learning to live without, make do, use less of. So far, here are some things that we've chosen to eliminate from our budget:
**Eating out. This went away pretty quickly when we went line by line in our budget. You cannot justify spending $25+tip for dinner for a family of four when for the same amount of money, I can get at least 3 - 4 meals at home.
**Cleaning supplies. Yep--I make my own. I make my own "Formula 409", my own laundry detergent, drain cleaner, stain removal, and many other items. I added just a couple of items to my grocery list that I must have on hand and a few essential oils and I've got some great cleaners. I'll post a couple of recipes later on these new "tried and true" favorites.
**Lawn service. For weeds, bugs, etc... We live in Florida were lawn critters can wipe you out in a matter of weeks. And often do. You have to treat the little critters. We used to have a service that would come out and service the lawn but we eliminated that as well. We do it ourselves and in the process, are trying to do this as environmentally-friendly as possible.
**Heat & A/C. We used to be much more generous with our heat or a/c in the house. It was common to turn on the heat when the temps dipped near freezing outside and the a/c always came on the minute we started to sweat a little. Now it waits. Currently, it's 66 degrees in the house because it got pretty chilly outside. And its not likely to get above that outside today. But it'll be comfortable in here when the sun gets over the house and we'll survive. For now, the kids have on sweats and socks. As for the a/c, we wait until it's well over 80 and really humid before we turn it on. The humidity is what gets you around here. You are a puddle by mid-morning when the humidity is above 90%, and that is quite often after about May around here. We'll see if we can tolerate it to closer to June this year---maybe, maybe not. But we survive with windows open, fans on and a lot less clothes then!
**Utilities. We shut off lights, unplug unused items and use the dishwasher, washer and dryer as little as possible. We change all our burnt out bulbs with CFLs now. I only run the dishwasher in the middle of the night. It has this fantastic little delay button and I use that all the time. I still wash more in the daytime hours but try to do it early in the AM or later in the evening--staying away from high electric usage times. And the dryer gets used less and less all the time.
**Spendful days vs. no-spend days. I used to run out for anything I needed. And I used to wander the stores, especially Target, whenever I was bored. Not anymore. I visit Target maybe once a month now. I have not been in WalMart for longer than that I believe. I don't shop out of boredom. I make a list, take my cash and that is it. I stay home more with the boys and spend no money, not even gas, rather than make several small trips. I try to avoid leaving the house at all at least 1-2 days a week. This week that is working well. Last week it wasn't possible. But it is helping.

Those are just a few previous necessities that are now optional in our house. I'm working on more every day. What necessities have you learned to live without?