Being Intentional

I've read quite a number of articles/blog posts these past few days about setting goals for 2014 and it got me thinking about what I didn't accomplish in 2013.  It should've propelled my thoughts onto my own goals for the new year but my mind inherently works in all the wrong ways.  To be completely honest, last year completely sucked the wind out of my sails.  Instead of having goals or resolutions I opted instead to use a word to sum up what I hoped to get out the year.  That word was "grace" and it wasn't as pretty as I intended it to be.  Life never is.

Last year, in a nutshell, was a series of health issues for me.  It was far from pretty and I'm certain I didn't allow myself an ounce of "grace".  The bright side is that after a very long and arduous year, I'm feeling better though I'll break to knock on wood.  Dealing with all of the baggage that life has to offer along with not feeling well set my year up for disaster.  But I have to regress that statement a little because not setting any goals, with only a driving need for survival, is really the shovel that dug the trench for me.

My year was all about survival.  I survived 2013, even if it was only by the skin of my teeth and I know I can do better this year.  I won't be continuing the word theme of last year and I'm still hesitant to set goals but without some sort of direction I'm bound to stay lost and my health depends on strong will and so I'm going to strive to do better.  I'm not aiming for perfect, but better will do.

And so after brainstorming for a few minutes I came up with a handful of items I'm hoping to accomplish, at least in part, this year.  If it happens, great.  If not, that's okay too--I'll plead the whole "grace" thing and move on.  And, I'm keeping things a bit vague for my own sake.  This is supposed to be a positive exercise and details have a knack for draining your enthusiasm, so simple is the key.

--Pay off one credit card.

--Exercise regularly.

--Take more photos.

--Look for the positive in each day and keep record of it.

--Plant more flowers in my garden and add some fruit bushes to my yard.

--Learn how to crochet and make something.

--Plan out a budget and actually stick to it.

--Lower our food costs.

--Buy at least one gift card each month for Christmas.

--Write every day.

That's it.  No goal to trek to the top of Mt. Everest nor anything remotely inspiring but it's a start.

What are your goals for the new year?

Random Thoughts

With time crunching down on this holiday season and so very much left to do, I'm finding myself quickly burning out.  Gifts have been bought, stitched, snapped, glued, (nearly) wrapped, and shipped.  Cookies have been baked and many more treats on the list may or may not come to fruition.  We still have one more birthday celebration to pull off, mere days before Christmas, and then there's the dessert making for the actual holiday itself.  Friends, teachers, bus drivers, and neighbors also need to be attended to and I'm seriously wondering why I just don't start preparations in January instead of waiting until the week of Christmas to worry.

snowman pancakes for breakfast

I've tried to savor the season and we've done our fair share of family activities but I can't help but wish for more simplicity.  I wonder if that's actually possible.  To celebrate with joy and giving and without all the rest.  I suppose I have all year to ponder next year's survival strategy.

the last of the gift making

In the mean time, I made my youngest daughter a skirt for her holiday celebration at school tomorrow.  Yes, I realize there were a million other things screaming at me from my to-do list but I needed a break and she needed a skirt.  

The dogs ran away during the snow storm we were hammered with on Tuesday.  We were eventually reunited yesterday after having to drive 35 minutes to pick them up.  Long story...  Short story: children are beyond thrilled to have them back.  I'm wishing I never said yes to puppies in the first place.  

cotton ball snowmen

With so much left to do, I think I'm going to go clean out the shoe closet.  Christmas is going to come whether I'm ready or not.  Might as well see how productive I can be under pressure.

Here's hoping your holiday season is running smoother than mine!

December Happenings

Last week I shared our plans for the month of December and with the help of some snow days we've managed to cross quite a few things off the list.  I have to say, though, that not everything has gone smoothly.

I love Pinterest but I hate it at the same time.  I'll find these amazing pictures and when trying to duplicate, I fall flat more times than I'd like to admit.  It's great for inspiration if you keep in mind that your finished product isn't likely to turn out completely like the original.  I guess that's the fun in creativity, as frustrating as it sometimes is.  And...sometimes you have overly eager helpers that burn out before you have even gathered your supplies and you're left to finish on your own.

What we've done:

Made these paper trees that we added glitter to.  They didn't come out as perfect as Martha's, but we did have very sparkly faces by the time we were done.

Made these coffee filter snowflakes that were super simple to cut out.  It's now snowing inside as well as outside.

Strung and hung felt garland.  I ended up doing this entirely on my own since it was deemed too boring for the little ones but it looks pretty and took almost no time at all to complete.

Made ornaments out of cornstarch, baking soda, and water.  We used inexpensive rubber stamps with Christmas designs to embellish them but they didn't some out nearly as nice as the picture.  It was easy to do though and the kids enjoyed making them.

Celebrated one 15th birthday with dinner, chocolate pie, and simple gifts.

Watched A Christmas Story and drank hot chocolate.  With marshmallows, of course.

Baked a few batches of cookies--I did this while the kids were in school.

I also finished making a few gifts, with only one more left to do.

At the end of the month, I'm not sure if I'll be exhausted or fulfilled but a little crafting certainly fills both my hands and mind and spending time with my children is always worth it.

Are you making any gifts this year?  Doing any crafts?

December Plans

Every year when December rolls around, I struggle in accepting the holiday season with open arms.  Most times you'll find me with my arms crossed and pursed lips similarly scrooge-like.  I've never really liked any holidays, even when I was a child.  Sure there were gifts and family and always lots of food but I've always felt like there was something missing and so for years I've fought the season, never giving in to the Christmas music or seeing the joy that could be found, if only I took the time to look.

I told myself this year was going to be different.  I wanted to feel the senses, experience the joy, see it through the eyes of my children.  I wanted to experience all Christmas had to offer but first I'd have to break through the cloud of consumerism and past happenings in order to get to a place where I could truly find the meaning of the season.

The easy part has been simply taking my children's lead.  They have grown up thus far with the knowledge that Christmas isn't all about receiving gifts.  We follow the four gift principle of something you want--something you need--something to wear--something to read.  They realize we don't have a lot of money so there's not much room for greed to creep in.  And, the spirit of Santa Claus is built upon a solid foundation in their hearts.  Of course there are gifts they'd like to receive but more than that, they genuinely love the experience.  The family gatherings, Christmas cookies, decorating the tree.  The stories read, movies watched with mugs of warm hot chocolate topped with marshmallows.  The music, lights, sounds, taste...the senses of the season.

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone isn't easy.  I was all set for another scroogey year of just buying, wrapping, and giving and getting over the season as quickly and painlessly as possible.  But something changed.  I figure the Lord thought it was high time I see what I've been blindfolded from all these years.  Joy is something I could certainly use more of these days and so I'm letting go of past happenings and old ideals and allowing myself to embrace this magical season, with the Lord's nudge that is, and maybe I'll be forever transformed.  I'll be happy with simply enjoying myself!

So, that's the past and this is the plan.  I printed out a calendar for the month of December and searched the world wide web for simple, easy Christmas crafts to ease us into the holiday spirit.

So far we've read Christmas stories borrowed from the library, watched a few movies while enjoying hot chocolate by the fire, decorated store-bought gingerbread houses (without fighting!), and put up and decorated our (artificial) tree.  We've opted out of hanging outside lights this year, not only to save on the cost of the electricity but also the pain of putting up and taking them down.  Instead I bought 6 battery-operated candles to light the front windows and a wreath adorning our front door rounds out the  exterior decor.

We've eaten dinner by candle and Christmas tree light, thanking the Lord for all he has blessed us with, topping our evenings off with board games and family time.  We're moonlighting as Santa's elves, crafting with so very much love gifts that cannot be found in stores.  Lest you think we're running Santa's workshop over here, I assure you,  I've done plenty of shopping and buying as well.

just one pile waiting for a spare moment to be completed

What's left to do has been spread out on our calendar so as not to overwhelm me and to give the children some insight, so they don't continually ask about what's next.  Because nothing ruins joy faster than nagging!

There will be luminaries made out of tin coffee cans and filled with candles already on hand.

Glittered paper Christmas trees and coffee filter snowflakes will adorn our windowsills.

Clementines on the verge of going bad will be turned into garland with ribbon.

Baking soda and cornstarch will be turned into porcelain ornaments with the help of some inexpensive rubber stamps.

For one Sunday breakfast we'll make snowman pancakes (with store bought GF pancake mix) and construct some melted paper snowmen.

Felt garland will be strung carefully.

We'll transform tiny houses into gift boxes and fill with homemade goodies to share with our neighbors and the baking won't stop there.  Lots of cookie baking is planned!

A donation of peanut butter and jelly will be handed in for the elementary school food drive, helping some in need.

We'll bake some treats for the puppies because everyone needs something to open on Christmas morning.

We'll also celebrate a 15th and a 13th birthday with special dinners and small gifts.

And lastly, we'll bake a birthday cake just for Jesus.  Chocolate because that's his favorite, or at least that's what I'm told!

Hopefully the Lord will grace me with an abundance of patience and I won't lose my temper too many times as we seek out the real magic of a lost season.  How are you embracing this holiday season?

My Frugal Accomplishments

A big part of living simply means not spending money.  Reusing, recycling, and repurposing are many ways in which my family stretches our budget.  So, each week I'm going to post my frugal accomplishments for that week and I hope you'll share what you did as well.  The initial idea came from "The Prudent Homemaker" and I think it's a great way to glean ideas from others!

The Christmas season is upon us and sometimes I feel like I'm spending more money than I'm saving, so I started keeping track of my frugal feats again for inspiration if you will.  

As with every week, I made all of our meals from scratch.  I also made french bread, chex mix, gluten free banana pb muffins, no-bake chocolate oatmeal bars, and peppermint cookies.  I've deemed Saturdays "leftover-night" to obviously use up any leftovers in the fridge, but also because it's nice to get a break from cooking.

We put up our Christmas decorations and decided to keep things simple this year.  We purchased outdoor lights a few years ago and even though they are LED, they still increase our electric bill every December.  So, we decided not to put them up this year, opting instead to hang a simple wreath on the front door and use battery operated candles in the front windows.  I was able to get all six candles at CVS for $11, which is half the price of every other store I looked at.

At the grocery store I picked up 16 lbs of granulated sugar for 19¢/lb, 6 jars of pasta sauce for free with coupons, ground beef for $2.49/lb, frozen vegetables for 50¢ bag, chex cereal for $1.44/box, and 2 bottles of shampoo for free with coupons.  I did a big stocking up trip, mostly for ingredients for my holiday baking, spending $200.60 but saved $178.10!

I picked up some supplies for Christmas gifts at Joanns and used a 50% off coupon.  I'm planning on making these for two of my nephews.

We continued to heat the house with only our wood burning stove and plan to do so indefinitely.  A neighbor of ours had some trees cut down last year and offered the wood to us.  We filled my husband's truck up twice and will get the rest as we have time.  We also borrowed a log splitter from my in-laws which was a huge blessing.

I picked up more free books from the dump, and dropped off four bags filled to the brim with ones we were done with.  We also borrowed some from the library and renewed them over the phone to save on gas.

My oldest daughter made some bracelets to give her friends for Christmas.  She had seen some on Amazon that she really liked but at around $8 each, they were out of our budget.  They did, however, look simple to make so I ordered the supplies on Etsy and the rough cost for each ended up being around $2.00.  They came out really nice and she's excited to gift them.  

While we had all of the jewelry making supplies out, I made my youngest daughter a jingle bell bracelet with supplies I had on hand.

And, since I have family living far away I opted this year to buy gifts online and have them shipped directly to them.  I used ebates for a little cash back and took advantage of free shipping.  The items aren't wrapped but my nieces and nephew surely don't mind and I saved myself not only the cost of shipping but gas from not driving to the post office.  I do have to mail one handmade gift though--once I finish making it of course!

What did you do to save money last week?  Making any handmade gifts this year?

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Each week I make a batch of these muffins and I probably should double the recipe in order to have enough to last us a whole week, they're that good.  I like this recipe because other than the milk and eggs, you should have all of the ingredients already in your pantry and it comes together very quickly.  They make for an easy breakfast or a snack and find their way daily into my children's lunch boxes.

Chocolate Chip Muffins
makes 2 dozen

2 C all purpose flour
2 C whole wheat flour (you can use just all purpose flour if that's what you have on hand)
8 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1 C oil (I use vegetable oil)
1 1/3 C packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 C milk (any kind)
1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 2 muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper liners.

Cream oil and sugar together in a mixing bowl.

Add eggs one at a time.

Add flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and chocolate chips and stir until just combined.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full.  I use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop out the batter so I get the same amount in each.  

Bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes and enjoy!