So blessed

I am blessed all the time.  There isn’t an area of my life that I feel like God doesn’t bless me in.  The thing is, though, that if we don’t take the time to see the blessings we can easily fall into feeling like we are going through this life all alone.  So, today I am going to take the time to list 10 things I am grateful for this week.

1.  My husband took Monday off work and installed new lights in our bedroom and dining room, and a new fan in our living room – such a blessing!

2.  My school this week (more on school later) was really easy and allowed me to help my husband all day Monday, spend half the day Tuesday talking to a good friend, and still be done by Thursday morning.  That gave me all day Friday to focus on other things and relax!

3.  My youngest, whom we have been having a lot of problems with, found out she is going to be a big sister (more on that soon as well) and has decided that she needs to start taking on some responsibilities and acting nicer.

4.  Thanks to #2 I had extra time this week to really sit down and spend time with my oldest.  She is growing so fast and sometimes it feels like she has changed so much that I don’t even know her anymore so that extra time was so nice!

5.  My second child is the sweetest little man in the entire world and is constantly giving me hugs and kisses.  At 7 years old I am afraid this open and unashamed love will be over soon, but I am enjoying it while I can.

6.  I was finally able to get some seeds started for transplanting later.  My oldest helped with that and she wants to be in charge of the garden, that is so awesome and will help me out so much considering how busy I am.

7.  Health…I recently went to the doctor and my blood work is way better than it was the last time I went.  I didn’t have any problems before, but I was getting close to the borderline zone for a lot of things and now everything is completely normal except for my Vitamin D levels which have been low for years.  I really don’t know what all that’s about, but I am thankful for all my other numbers being so good.

8.  My husband’s activities outside the home…Every other week my husband basically has a “guys night out.”  While some women may be jealous of this, I love it.  I want to spend time with him whenever I get the chance, but there is something so special about having time with just me and the kids in the evening after dinner.  This week we watched “The Goonies” together complete with stovetop popcorn and little boxes of movie candy I found at the dollar store.  So much fun!

9.  My boy’s new dog that I didn’t really want to begin with.  Lol, I’m not much of a dog person so I wasn’t too sure about getting him a puppy, but I am so glad I did!  This sweet little guy wakes me up every morning by jumping in bed with me and cuddling up on my side.  Then he sticks his head under my hand and won’t stop moving around until I pet him.  It is so much nicer to wake up this way than to a blaring alarm clock!  He is also great for the kids and keeps them very active.

10.  My grandma…She is 90+ (seriously, she won’t tell us exactly how old she is because she doesn’t want to sound too old lol), and she has definitely “been there and done that.”  She remembers what it was like to be a mother of four so when I call her for the first time in months she tells me not to worry about it because she has been in my shoes before.  She always tells me that she is proud of what I do, and to top it all off she is the closest thing to a saint on earth I ever have and probably will ever meet.

I’ve had a great week and God has blessed me in so many ways.  Hope everyone out there has had a great week as well!

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Sewing up a storm

Remember I said that my friend was going to come over and sew with me? We had so much fun! I learned a lot and we managed to get two dresses done in one evening. Her husband was more than ready to go home long before we were finished with the second dress, but he was a good sport and let us finish:)

Over the past two weeks I’ve made those two dresses for my little girl, a nightgown for her, a cute shirt, and a skirt. For my oldest girl I have made two skirts. For my boys I took three of their most beloved long sleeve shirts (which are much too hot to be wearing right now) and converted them into short sleeves so they will still get some use out of them before they are outgrown. I also made an iPod holder for my husband that matches his work uniform, draperies for some storage shelving, and I’m in the middle of a denim patchwork dog bed and a set of curtains for my oldest daughters room. We recently moved her to her own room downstairs. She is so excited to not have to share a room and we are allowing her to decorate (almost) however she sees fit. The curtains are made from some really high quality white flat sheets that have been sitting in the back of our linen closet for years. When I am finished hemming them up we are going to go to the store and let my girl pick out a stencil and some fabric paint, and let her have a go at her curtains. It should make for a fun and truly unique look for her room! She is so artsy, she loves the idea of creating personalized curtains and I hope they come out as good as we envision them!

Shark Navigator Lift-Away vs. Dyson

Recently my Dyson died, just kicked the bucket. I can’t blame Dyson, it has been a wonderful machine. I’ve had it for about five years, and it was a refurbished model when I purchased it. Although we had the money to purchase a new Dyson I also needed a new dishwasher, so I chose to get a dishwasher and a Shark instead of washing my dishes by hand and having another Dyson.

I did a ton of research on a ton of makes and models before making my final decision. I probably read through over a thousand reviews before I was satisfied that I was making the right decision. I picked out a Shark Navigator Lift-Away, found that the cheapest price in town was at Beat Buy, and went to pick one up. My initial impression was less than satisfying. As a matter of fact, before I even purchased it I was wondering what I was getting myself into. I paid for it, carefully tucked away the receipt so I could turn it back in, and went home. It appeared to be a cheap piece of plastic. The dust bin is tiny compared to my old trusty Dyson, and after assembling it and seeing how the different pieces came apart I was worried that there would be no power to it whatsoever. After so many claims that it was just as good as a Dyson I went ahead and tried it out though, just to see. After all, I had two weeks to return it and get my money back.

I turned it on and it was LOUD, at least compared to what I am used to. But, within just a few minutes, the dust bin was full and needed to be emptied. Of course I wish that, the dust bin was larger, but I was quite impressed with how much dust and dirt this baby was picking up! It had been two days since I vacuumed, there was no way that much dust had collected in that short amount of time. There were a few large pieces on the carpet, but the rest was super fine, dirt and dust that my Dyson had left behind. Considering the age of my Dyson, and the abuse that poor thing had gone through over the years, I can’t necessarily say that this vacuum is better than a Dyson, but I can definitely say it is better than my Dyson!

The maneuverability of the Shark is amazing. I can all but turn the vacuum sideways if I want to. It runs against edge walls beautifully and does an amazing job of picking up all those little things that seem to collect near the baseboards. The included pet hair tool works wonders on my stairs, which has always been a pain to keep clean. I also love the ability to lift away a portion of the vacuum and travel around the room dusting and getting cobwebs without dragging the entire vacuum behind me. After awhile the lift away canister can become a bit heavy, and the hose requires a good bit of muscle to stretch out, but I’m sure the hose will give over time, and my biceps could use a work out anyway.

So, here’s my thoughts in a nutshell:

Cleaning ability – while the Shark is better than my really old Dyson,I’m assuming it would be right on par with a brand new one.

Ease of use: the Dyson is all but self propelled and the Shark requires more work. For a young frugal gal the Shark is perfect, if my Grandmother asked though I would highly suggest she chose a Dyson.

Maneuverability: this one is hard for me to judge. I have never tried one of the Dyson balls, but comparing it to a regular head Dyson I highly prefer the maneuverability of the Shark.

Aesthetics: my bright yellow Dyson had this almost futuristic retro rocket like look to it ( does that even make sense, lol), I loved the way it looked and it was just as much a part of my living room as my couches were. The Shark comes in one color scheme, lavender and silver, which is not my style. It also just looks cheap, when anyone comes over I make sure that it is hidden out of sight.

Overall: while the Shark has a few drawbacks, I just don’t believe that the Dyson is worth $400 more, it’s not THAT much better! If you are older or have any kind of health problems that require ease of use to be your number 1 priority choose the Dyson, otherwise, save some cash and get the Shark Navigator!

Black eyed peas and cornbread

Black eyed peas and cornbread is a staple at this house. The first time I made it I wasn’t too sure if I liked it or not, but it is an acquired taste that I now love. My two year old loves this dish and smiles from ear to ear while jumping up and down if she finds out that it is on the menu for dinner!

This is a super simple dish to cook with few ingredients, so here goes.

1 lb. dried black eyed peas
Water
Seasoning meat (ham bone, smoked pork, etc.)
Ingredients for cornbread. (I use White Lily Buttermilk Cornbread mix and add some milk, eggs, and vegetable oil)
Seasonings

Cook your black eyed peas and seasoning meat together with the seasoning meat. This is a great dish to throw in the crockpot and forget about! When the peas are done season to taste, I usually use garlic powder, onion powder, and seasoned salt. Most dishes I will add a splash of rice wine vinegar but it doesn’t seem to add anything to this dish so I leave it out. Prepare your favorite cornbread recipe. I cheat on this and just use a bulk mix. When it is time to eat scoop some peas into a bowl, making sure you get some of the cooking liquid in the bowl as well. Now take a hunk of cornbread and crumble it on top of the peas and mix together. I like for it to be slightly juicy once the cornbread has soaked up as much as it can. That’s it! Black eyed peas have a very earthy flavor and will fill you up and keep you warm on a cold winters night, but we cook it all tear round as a cheap, healthy, and frugal meal.

Red beans and rice

Many homemakers today feel the need to find frugal and healthy food for their family. Meat is expensive, so how do we ensure that we have an adequate intake of protein without breaking the bank? Beans are a wonderful source of protein, but it is incomplete. But, if you add a grain the two magically combine to create a complete protein that is low in fat and high in nutrition!

Red beans and rice is a humble food. Not every homemaker out there will be able to convince their families that this meal is the most amazing food ever. Fortunately for me, my husband was raised in the South and this was a staple in his home as he was growing up. I have always loved beans so when my husband fondly recalled this dish I decided to give it a try and it has become one of our family favorites.

Once again, this is more of an ingredients list than a recipe, so feel free to substitute and play around with the seasonings to make this dish work for your family.

1 lb. dried red beans (also known as kidney beans)
Water
Ham bone, smoked pork jowl, etc. (any hunk of seasoning meat or soup bone)
Rice
Seasonings

Prepare dried beans by your favorite method, be sure and throw in your bone or seasoning meat with the dried beans. Cooking the beans with the mat or bone greatly enhances the flavor. Supposedly soaking the beans overnight, draining, and then cooking reduces the chance of any uncomfortable and smelly side effects of eating beans, but no one in this family seems to have that problem to begin with so I very rarely bother with that step.. Soaking will take a bit of time off of your total cooking time but if I’m going to simmer beans all day anyway an extra hour has never bothered me. Just make sure that you never let the water get too low, stir on occasion, and keep the heat to a slow simmer, and you won’t have any problems. I’ve also cooked beans in the crockpot many times. Just add beans and then fill the crockpot with water, turn on high and check every few hours. I like my beans pretty squishy so I cook for them for about four hours. Keep in mind though that every crockpot is different, and each type of bean will have a different cooking time, so keep and eye on it!

When your beans are cooked add rice. I make a huge batch at a time so I usually add about five large handfuls of rice. Add your basic seasonings. I use garlic powder, onion powder, and seasoned salt. Don’t ever salt your beans until they are fully cooked. For one reason or another your beans will never get soft if you add salt before they are fully cooked. Once the rice is done I do a final seasoning, generally adding a splash of rice wine vinegar. I don’t add enough to make the dish taste vinegary, just enough to heighten the palate. For a special treat I will add some small pieces of smoked sausage, yum!

That’s it, pretty easy! This dish does take some time and planning, but there is very little labor involved and makes a great meal on days when you will be home all day and busy with other tasks. Enjoy!

Chicken and rice

For a lot of us homemakers, our grocery bill is the easiest area to save money in. Any college student can tell you that Ramen noodles, bologna, and peanut butter will fill you up and save some cash, but when you are feeding a family you need a little more variety than that. One of our favorite go to frugal meals is chicken and rice. Not only is it frugal and filling, it makes a lot and is easy to clean up afterwards. We can usually eat for two or three days off a pot of chicken and rice. Even my somewhat picky husband doesn’t complain about leftovers if its this dish!

I rarely cook from a recipe, I just add ingredients in whatever proportion seems right, but I will try to explain to you how to make it as best I can. To me, the beauty of cooking is the fact that you don’t have to stick to a hard and fast recipe, you can substitute, change proportions, and add ingredients according to what’s on hand and what sounds good right then:)

Here is what you will need:
1 whole chicken
Water
2 whole carrots
2 stocks of celery
1 onion (cut in half)
Lots of rice
Frozen mixed vegetables
Seasonings

First things first, put your chicken in a stockpot with the carrots, celery, and onion. Fill the pot with water and let it simmer away. If you are rushed for time feel free to turn off the heat as soon as the chicken is cooked through, but the best chicken and rice is made when the chicken is boiled to the point that the small bones are mushy. This extracts all the flavor and gelatin from the bones. The gelatin in the bones gives a smoother mouth feel to a dish, adds valuable minerals and nutrients, and just all around tastes good. If we are cooking frugal we want our food to be as tasty and healthy as possible!

When the chicken is cooked remove it from the heat and let it cool. You can place it in the fridge, set it in a sink of ice water, or remove the chicken from the stock with some tongs and just cool the chicken. Once the chicken is cool comes the fun (and messy!) part. Be sure to enlist the help of your kids if you have any, it makes the work go by fast and they love it! If you haven’t already, remove the chicken from the stock and set to the side. Remove the celery, carrots, and onion and discard. Now take a piece of chicken and remove all the gunk you don’t want to eat like bones and skin and toss it. Take your chicken meat and break into small pieces and throw it back in the pot. This sounds complicated but I just set up my trash can next to my stovetop. Then I am in easy reach of the bowl of chicken, the bowl of stock, and the trash. I can pick through a whole chicken in about ten minutes by myself so it’s not as time consuming as it sounds once you get a good system working for you.

Once all your chicken is picked through and back in the stock turn the heat back on. Add your mixed vegetables ( I use about 2 pounds of vegetables but we have a HUGE stockpot and A LOT of hungry mouths to feed!). then I add the rice. I wish I could give you more accurate measurements but I really never measure. I dump in about six large handfuls of rice, but it depends on how big your stockpot is. With a little practice you will figure out the best proportions for your family.

Next I season with garlic powder, onion powder, and seasoned salt. I’ve also been known to add in some garlic and herb seasoning, lemon pepper seasoning, and one of our new favorites curry powder. Once everything has come to a boil I taste it and adjust the seasonings accordingly. I haven’t read anything that says this, but the rice seems to need a lot of salt, so you will probably use more than you think you need. Always taste your dish after the rice has cooked because chances are you will need more salt before serving it. Have fun with the seasonings and make your chicken and rice perfectly suited to your family! A nice last minute addition is a splash of rice wine vinegar, it heightens the flavors and the acid really gets your taste buds going. You won’t taste the vinegar, it just heightens all of the other flavors.

Cook until the rice and vegetables are very tender, usually about 45 minutes for me, and serve. Be ready for your family tot go crazy, this may be their new favorite dish! A nice time saver is the crockpot. I have used it many times on this dish to make my life easier. I cut up my chicken and place it in the crockpot, fill with water, turn it on low, and go to bed. In the morning I turn it off, put the crockpot in the fridge, and come afternoon nap time it is cool and ready to be picked through. The only downside is that I can’t make enough stock this way, but I just add some water and bouillon when I use the crockpot.

Enjoy!

Seasons of life

For a long time now I’ve been fighting the idea that my Grandmother’s picture perfect house is the goal I should be striving for. I’ve spent many nights obsessing over how I was going to accomplish this goal in the morning, and many afternoon nap-times lamenting the fact that once again I was no closer to my goal than I was the night before when I made all those wondrous plans. I finally broke down and did some serious praying and soul searching to figure out what my problem was, why I couldn’t seem to accomplish the goal that I had set for myself. (Why do I always wait until I am stressed to the max to take it to prayer?)

One day, during a praying session it finally dawned on me! My first problem was that I was striving to live a life of perfection (perfection-such an ugly thing wrapped up in such a beautiful package), and I was setting goals based on someone else’s season of life, not my own. My Grandmother is a wonderful woman, who just so happens to live with one adult neat freak male and no one else. She also is blessed to have a cleaning lady come once every other week to do all of her dusting, vacuuming, etc.

What does my life look like? I am married to a wonderful man who seriously thinks that every flat surface is the perfect place to set his wallet, keys, and whatever else may just happen to be in his pocket at the time. I have four beautiful children who believe that the living room is one giant toy box, the kitchen table is the only place to keep all of their treasured art supplies, and that every thing they have ever worked on is a masterpiece and needs to be saved for the future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

That doesn’t mean that I have to live in a house of chaos and confusion, but it does mean, that for at least this season of my life, my ideas of the perfect house will have to be placed on hold. We homeschool, we spend 90% of our time at our house instead of out and about everywhere else, and to top it all off I am pregnant with our fifth child and having a difficult time just getting up and moving, let alone spending hours a day on my hands and knees scrubbing.

My Grandmother, on the other hand, is in a much different season of life. She rests, relaxes, makes dinner when she wants to and eats out if it is more convenient. She has no little ones to clean up after, and at most has two place settings to wash after dinner. She also has two of her children who live close by and randomly stop at her house and make sure that she doesn’t need help with anything. So different than my world!

After much thought and deliberation I’ve come to realize that my world isn’t so bad. One day my house will look just like my Grandma’s, but for now, the art projects, muddy footprints, and oatmeal covered high chair are just reminders that I’ve been blessed with an amazing bunch of children and I need to remember to enjoy every moment I have with them. Much too soon they will be all grown up, and I will have my wonderfully clean house, but without the laughter of my children playing or the sweet cry of a hungry baby. Enjoy the season of life that you are in!