Monday, January 2, 2017

Easy Savings Ideas for the New Year




Easy Savings Ideas for the New Year




The New Year ushers in a rush of thoughts on what am I going to accomplish this year and what didn’t I accomplish last year and why. We feel the need to have a list of things we are going to pinky promise ourselves that we ARE going to do this year. Goals and resolutions come in all shapes and sizes…health, professional, spiritual, and personal are a few of the categories we focus on as the last days of a year tick by.   I think having some goals or things to work towards each year is a good thing. There are many things we all can do better; having a plan helps us get there!
One area we are developing a plan for in 2015 (Now 2017) is in the area of personal finance.   Having listened to Dave Ramsey on the radio for several years, we have learned many things about ways to handle money. I know everyone has an idea of how to do this; we just really like his Baby Steps program (which you can find listed here) as outlined in his book, The Total Money Makeover.
Dave talks pretty extensively about having an emergency fund and saving for the things you need. Personally, we have been through a couple of emergencies fairly stress free because of having an emergency fund. I saw a quote one time on the percentage of emergencies that were covered by a $1,000 starter emergency fund and I was stunned at how high it was. Unfortunately, I was unable to find that percentage when I went to look for it though. Certainly, I do know that not every emergency will be covered by this, but beginning is the key. Dave covers this quite a bit in all of his materials, much more eloquently than I can, but I want to share a couple of savings tips that we will be implementing in our home.
Emergency Fund – This is a great time to get that starter fund in place if you don’t have one already. Many people will be receiving the tax documents needed to file their returns and I am sure that some will be getting a refund. If you are one who is expecting a refund, set aside $1,000 for this purpose. It’s not as fun as a new television or camera, a vacation or a wardrobe update, but you will be thankful for it when needed. You can also sell some things or work extra jobs to get this as quickly as possible. I am not kidding…this saved our backsides at least two times this year.
Car Savings – My husband and I both drive cars that are over 17 years old.   We are grateful to have vehicles that get us to and fro, but as the miles stack up, we know it won’t last forever. We have been working our written budget for quite a while now, but are at a place where one of the paychecks is not NEEDED for our living expenses. Since this is the case, we have decided to set aside an amount to apply to a newer car. While this is not going to be the latest model of anything, it will be a step up from what we currently have. We do not have a target date to buy a new car, but are hoping to save for about 18 months or so.
Food – This is one area where I would ALWAYS love to save more money. We do not eat out often as it is terribly expensive, but even eating in is going up in price…have you seen the price of butter lately? While I am NOT an expert on this, ways I have been trying to save more money are by meal planning around what is on sale, limiting my trips out to the store to minimize any impulse items, shopping in the clearance areas of the stores, and trying to make more things from scratch than I currently buy…such as refried beans, granola bars and salad dressings. I have made flavored white sauces for years now as cream soups are not my favorite, but I keep trying to find ways to save at the grocery store. I know that couponing is an option, but I am not at a place in life where that would work for me. I have a good friend who gets some amazing deals, and I can rejoice with her.  I have also been trying a meal prep system that is new to me...this is pretty new for me, so I don't have much to say on it yet, but I LOVE how it has saved TIME AND MONEY so far.
At the Pump –Just kidding…no helps here. Actually gas prices all over the place right now, but have been down a bit from what we have experienced in recent years, which is a blessing for sure!  I also read somewhere something about getting more gas if you fill up when it is colder in the day versus when the day warms up. That could just be an Urban Legend; I never looked into it further.
Change Jar – This is one of those ways to save money that you really don’t recognize how effective it is until it has piled up a bit. We use an envelope system for most of our budget categories and have quite a bit of change that ends up on the bottom of my purse. Rather than deal with that change in each category, I toss it all into a jar every 2-4 days. At first, it didn’t seem like the jar would ever get full, but it is now almost full. I do not notice the money being gone, but as there is now over $160 in this jar, I sure notice that. We do not have a set category to use this for yet, but I am thinking dinner out with the family would be a great treat. We are all actively involved in this process…both with tossing change into the jar and counting it every once in a while. When this jar is full, it is time to find a bigger jar! (New for this year, I have started to throw $1 bills in too!  It is AMAZING how that adds up!)
Weekly Savings – This is, by far, my favorite tip…I found out about this challenge back in June of 2014 and it was so easy, I LOVED it! So, the premise of this is that you save up $1 for each week of the year. Week one you will save $1, week 30, $30, etc. and at the end of the year, you will have saved $1,378. The thing I LOVE about this challenge is that you are saving, but the most it costs you is $52. We never really missed the money we set aside. If you get paid every other week, then $103 is the highest, but you can switch around the numbers to work in your budget. I originally thought that we would use this money for Christmas, but we ended up leaving this set aside. This would be a great way to save for an event, put towards a vacation, or use to buy a particular item (CAMERA!). We jumped in more than halfway through the year, so we put in a percentage of our income each week, rather than just the amount for that week. I glued a chart to the front of an envelope and highlighted the amount we put into the fund that pay period. This year, I am planning on doing the weeks reversed. So, for the first week of January, we will save $52 instead of $1. I like the idea of the larger amounts not coinciding with the holiday weeks AND you see the total pile up more quickly that way. We do not have a plan for this money, so it might end up getting put into the car fund or emergency fund as it builds up, but like I said, we did not miss this money at all. If we were to get paid every other week, I would probably pair week one and week 52, rather than week one and two.
Well, these are a few suggestions to get you started to a greener 2015 (2017)! I hope these ideas get you thinking of the things you can do in your homes to stretch those dollars a bit further!
Originally Posted at Home and School Mosaics

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Fudge





Holiday Fudge


Did you ever have a recipe that was so good that you were able to brag about it?! Well, this fudge recipe is THAT GOOD! I got this recipe about 19 years ago or so from the mother of a good friend. She would give my family a small tin of it every year. When I asked for the recipe, she graciously gave it to me. Since getting the recipe, I have shared it with many friends. When I give out a recipe that was shared, I try to link it to the person who gave me it…so this was Fudge from the Lord’s. A friend interpreted that as Fudge from the Lord…if that was the case, I am convinced that it would be calorie free…
One Year, I brought this to co-op to bless the moms there that enrich my life. After co-op, many of the moms reported having super powers…the ability to finish all the laundry in one day, the ability to clean the entire house, the ability to check off every box on your to-do list, etc. This might not sound like much, but it was AFTER co-op! (If you have ever participated in a homeschool co-op, you understand that this is really something.) After detecting this cool side effect, this fudge has a new name among these moms…Magic Fudge.
The absolute beauty of this recipe is the amazing creaminess in texture. Try it! I hope you will agree that it is the best!
                                            (enough for a double batch of fudge!)
Here is what you need:
• 3 cups sugar
• 12 oz. can evaporated milk
• 18 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
• 1 lb. butter, plus more to grease pot/molds
• 7 oz. jar marshmallow cream
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• Molds: Foil mini pie tins or foil muffin tins work best , but you can use a 9 x 13” pan
Now it’s time to get started:
Butter the sides of a heavy dutch oven or large pot.
Grease your container with butter. I prefer to use foil pans – it makes a good way to give it away and it is easy to get the finished fudge out. You can use a regular 9x13 pan.  I have  done that as well.  Recently, I have used those foil muffin liners and those worked beautifully without greasing them (which, with butter often near $5 a pound, is a good thing!)
                               (It helps to get all ingredients ready before you begin!)
Cut the butter into pieces and place into a large bowl with the chocolate chips and marshmallow cream. Set aside.
Put the sugar, evaporated milk, and 1/2 tsp. salt into the buttered pot. Mix and bring to a gentle boil over medium low heat. Stir constantly (this is the key to the creaminess). If you do not keep stirring, the sugar may crystallize.

Still stirring, boil gently for 8-10 minutes. I know that this will feel like 9 years, but it really is important.
Pour the hot sugar mixture into the bowl that you set aside earlier.
Stir gently to mix.
We used an immersion blender for this as I do not have a hand mixer anymore. A hand mixer would be a much better way of mixing this. The fudge will begin to thicken. Add vanilla.
Pour into buttered mold(s). Top with one pecan half if desired. It is normal for some of the butter from the molds to sit on the top of the fudge. I have not found it to affect the taste. If this bothers you, I would use the foil muffin cups without the butter.

Refrigerate overnight.
NOTE: Makes about 7-8 small pie tins or about 24 muffin cup sized portions. This can be frozen if you make it ahead. I poured my double batch into an 11x17 pan and another pan, probably about 10x10 or so.
Originally Posted at Home and School Mosaics

Sunday, November 27, 2016

NIV Holy Bible For Girls, Journal Edition

NIV Holy Bible for Girls, Journal Edition
Hardcover
Zondervan Publishing
Price: $29.99
Ages: 12 and up



From the Website:
The NIV Holy Bible for Girls, Journal Edition is the prefect way to apply Scripture to your everyday life.  Designed with the thoughtful writer in mind, a whimsical cover and journaling lines inspire reflection in God's Word.  This Bible contains the full text of the bestselling New International Version (NIV) translation.

Features include:
     * Lines on each page for journaling and notes
     *Thick paper perfect for any writing utensil
     * A presentation page for gift giving
     * A "How to Use This Bible" page to get started on the right foot
     * Ribbon Marker
     * The complete text of the bestselling New International Version (NIV)

What I thought...
First, I am not sure what I was expecting, but this was a surprise for me...I sort of thought there would be space to write your own notes and doodles, but I thought there might be a few things you could color.  NOPE...there are just lines on all of the margins.  The lines are grey, so they don't POP out at you...you can definitely see them, but it is not the focus.  The margins are NICE AND WIDE!  I LOVE this feature.  From the edge of the text to the edge of the page, there is potentially 2 1/8 inches of usable space.  The lines are about 1 5/8 inches wide.  Some books have more potentially usable space because of the layout of the passage...say Psalms, for instance.  In one place, there is about 3 1/2 inches of space between the edge of the text and the page.  This is a HUGE bonus if you like writing in your Bible.  I have notes crammed in all over the place in my Bible.

The website says that the pages are thicker, perfect for any writing utensil.  I would test this before I went crazy with this.  They do feel SLIGHTLY thicker than a normal page, but not by much. I tested it with a Pilot Precise Rolling ball pen and can see some from the back...I don't think it bled through the page, but you can definitely see shadowing.

There is a page in the front, giving a few journaling prompts to help you get started, a presentation page and a table of weights and measures.  The cover is beautiful with some foil detailing...elegant, but not over the top girly!  There is an elastic band to keep all your things from falling out.  There is not a concordance in here.  I personally find a concordance so helpful, even if it is small.  That is the one thing I would change about this Bible.

Overall, I am very happy with what this Bible offers!  This one is going to my daughter...Shhh...don't tell!

* I received this product in exchange for a frank and honest review.  All opinions are my own.  Your results and/or opinions may vary.

NIV Wonders of Creation Bible

Wonders of Creation Bible
NIV
Zondervan Publishing
Price: $24.99
Ages: About 7 and up


From the back of the Bible:
With detailed black and white illustrations of amazing animals, landscapes and other wonders of creation, this Bible features over 50 ready-to-color pages alongside the full text of the New International Version (NIV) translation

Features Include:
     *Lay-flat binding made for the perfect coloring experience
     *Over 50 pages of black and white illustrations ready to be colored
     *Key verses called out of each coloring page
     * Full text of the bestselling New International Version translation
     *Presentation page for gift giving
     * Ribbon marker


So, what I thought about the Wonders of Creation Bible
First, I am much happier that this is an NIV edition.  I am not a fan of the NIrV translation...and while the NIV can be controversial, it is the translation that I have found the most helpful for my children's needs.
Then, the next thing I noticed was the colorful cover.  This Bible grabs your attention with the cover.

There are a LOT of coloring pages in this Bible.  They are sprinkled in sets of about 4 every so many pages throughout the text of the Bible.  Each picture has a verse on it, but the verses do not line up with where the picture is in relation to the text.  In one chunk, you might have one verse from Philippians and another from Genesis...and that set might be placed in 1 Samuel.  The binding of the Bible does seem to lie flat, no matter where you are in the text.  I really appreciate this feature, not just for coloring or writing in the Bible, but just in case you are juggling a Bible, sermon outline or Bible Study paper and don't have a table to lay it on.  The coloring pages, on the other hand, might stick up at first and you may need to smooth them down a little by running your hand across the inside of the spine.


The coloring pages appear to be pretty intricate, so it is difficult to attach an age to this.  I selected 7, because I think it would appeal to that age, but they might become frustrated with the detailing.  I know that I am not able to color on pages like this for long periods of time myself, and find I need to come back to a page another time.  I think that middle school students would enjoy the coloring, but might find it a little embarrassing to carry this Bible in a public setting if their friends give them grief about it...that should not be a marker for what we do, but I just thought I would mention it.  Again, it was hard to put an age on this.

The text of the Bible is a good size for younger eyes...even my older eyes could read without much trouble.  The margins are VERY NARROW though...so it does not appear there is much room to write in it.  I am not sure how much those who would use this actually write in a Bible, so I don't think this is really much of a problem.


There is a table of weights and measures in the back, but NO CONCORDANCE or DICTIONARY.  I think these features would greatly add to this Bible.  I use the small concordance in the back of my Bible ALL THE TIME!
There is a presentation page: PLEASE WRITE YOUR NAME SOMEWHERE IN YOUR BIBLE!!!
The text of the Bible has paper of the normal weight of regular Bible pages, the coloring pages are slightly thicker.   This does cause you to turn to passages in chunks as the coloring pages are placed.  The illustrations are on both sides of the paper, with the middle pages being a two page spread.

Overall, I think this would be a good Bible for a girl (because of the colors/design on the cover) who loves to color!


* I received this product in exchange for a frank and honest review.  All opinions are my own.  Your results and/or opinions may vary.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Garden of Eden Coloring Book

Garden of Eden
Beautiful Bible Scenes to Color and Inspire
Zondervan Publishing
Illustrated by Paulo Ney Debs
Cost: $12.99
Ages: 8 and up


Coloring has been proven to be a stress relieving activity for so many, it's no wonder that coloring books abound in the stores.  Many enthusiastic artists relish the feeling of cracking open a new box of crayons or picking up a box or tin of colored pencils.  If that describes you, you might really enjoy this book.

Garden of Eden: Beautiful Bible Scenes to Color and Inspire is a collection of  80 drawings that give one artist's idea of what this classic Bible account would look like.  Beginning at Genesis 1:1 and going through to Genesis 3, there is a wide variation of drawings to color for all ages.  Some of the drawings are simple and realistic, others are more detailed and artistic.  Most of the pages include a Scripture reference.

 Illustrations are on both sides of the page and the pages are about 10"x 10".  While 10" x !0" is not a traditional frame size, with a mat, you could make a 12x12" frame work if you wanted to frame...BUT, the pictures are on both sides AND SOME LAYOUTS are two page spreads...so this might be difficult if you enjoy framing pages.

Also, the paper is a nice thickness...but because the drawings are on both sides, bleeding might occur if you are using an art medium that is more wet...say markers.  You should not have any troubles if you plan on using crayons or pencils.

Another thing that was a little bit of an issue for me was the binding...being a lefty, the binding felt a little chunky and the book didn't stay open unless I cracked the binding a little by running my hand over the inside of the spine a little.  Coloring close to the binding could be a little bit of an issue as well.


* I received this above mentioned product is exchange for a frank and honest review.  All opinions are my own.  Your results and/or opinions may vary.


Miracle in Music City

Faith Girlz: Glimmer Girls Series
 Miracle in Music City
Written by Natalie Grant
Illustrated by Cathi Mingus
ZonderKidz Publishing
Ages: about 7-12
Cost: $8.99



Miracle in Music City is Natalie Grant's third book in the Glimmer Girls series, and my favorite so far.  The Glimmer girls seem to stumble upon a mystery of some sort each time we join them on their adventures.
This time, the story takes place in Music City and centers upon the historic Grand Ole Opry.  The Glimmer family is heading up a benefit to raise money for a local homeless shelter.  Mr. and Mrs. Glimmer bring their children, Maddie, Mia and Lulu, in to show them they they are not too young to give back to their community.  Gloria Glimmer is a singer who travels around the world. The girls often get to accompany their parents and experience things other children never get the opportunity to do.  Miracle in Music City brings up the issue of homelessness in a way that makes if personal for these young girls.
The Glimmer Girls have a motto: "Glimmer girls sparkle and shine...but most of all, they are kind."  That message of kindness is really a theme in this book and I love the way that so many difficult issues are dealt with in the book.  I won't give any spoilers, but if you have a tween girl...I think they will enjoy this book. Probably my favorite message in this book has to do with having the right heart attitude for all we do in life.
The illustrations are simple and sweet, but there are not a lot, so it doesn't detract from the story line.  This could be a pro or con, depending on your preference.

* I received a copy of the above mentioned product to help facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review.  All opinions are my own.  Your results and/or opinions may vary.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Blessings & Gratitude



Blessings & Gratitude


During November in the United States, we tend to be more intentional about being thankful. We KNOW it is something we should all do more often, but in the busyness of life, what is urgent is what often gets our attention. I want to challenge you to look for ways to be grateful to God daily, rather than at one time of the year.
Here are four ways you can begin to implement gratitude into your routine.
Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

In Song:

Sing Praises to the Lord, thankful for His loving watch care over you. Matt Redmond’s song, “10,000 Reasons” is a great example of this as it encourages the listeners to name God’s faithfulness in praise each and every day of their lives and recall the many reasons to keep recounting His praises forever.
“You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find…”

In Word:

There is a popular book out (actually it has been out for a while now) called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, that challenges us to “Live Life Fully Right Where You Are.” In this book, we discover that as we “express gratitude to God for what we have, we find that we already have the life that we have always wanted.” I haven't read this book, but I know it is pretty popular with many.  A couple of years ago, I took Ann’s Joy Dare and chronicled 3 gifts for each day for one year. Some of those things were VERY EASY to jot down. Some needed more thoughtful reflection, but some came with many tears as it was a season of hard things. Through that exercise though, I found peace, I found a deeper relationship with God as I recounted His faithfulness to me, I found great joy and a stronger faith as those became memorial stones for me.

In Deed:

Do something kind for someone or fill a need just because of what God has done for you.   Prepare a meal, send a card, make a phone call, buy a gift, or help with a chore. There are so many ways this could be done…think about what you do well or pay attention for what is needed and then bless another in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Sometimes, just knowing someone cares or is thinking about us helps us in ways we might never really understand. I try to keep stocked up on Freezer Meals, just so I have something prepared if a need arises. Taco Soup is one recipe that is easy to get into the freezer and most people have really enjoyed it

In Prayer:

My prayers can get dry, repetitive and all about me. A tool I use from time to time is the acronym ACTS to help me get my eyes off of myself and focused on worshipping God. You can use this method to pray using Scripture as your starting point or you can just use it as you step through your prayer time. Another method is to use your fingers to step you through your prayer. I have seen a few of these through the years, but I liked this one from Bob Young.
FIVE-FINGER PRAYER
  • Thumb: pray for those closest to you
  • Pointing finger: pray for those who guide us: teachers, doctors, counselors, mentors
  • Middle finger (tallest one): pray for those who lead us: government, civic, and business leaders, police and firefighters
  • Ring finger (weakest one): pray for those who are weak: the poor, sick, disabled, infants, homeless, the powerless, the persecuted
  • Pinkie (the smallest, the least): Pray for myself
This year, let us be a people of God, filled with gratitude; and when people ask why we overflow with such joy, we have the opportunity to share with them the wonder of our Glorious God!

Originally Posted at Home and School Mosaics