Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Goals: Final Progress Report

Since it is the last day of 2013, I thought it would be appropriate to share how I did on my 13 goals for 2013. Not too bad, eh?

1. Make my own cleaning supplies I made laundry soap and was planning to make some all-purpose cleaner but December was a bit of a write-off. I'm still going to cross this off though, since I have made progress in the right direction.

2. Buy more locally grown food We definitely succeeded at this one. While there is always room for improvement, we did a decent job of supporting our local community.

3. Take a yoga class I took a hot yoga class back in April and actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

4. Read 10 books Done! I made myself a new goal of 25 and then promptly stopped reading. I only reached 15.

5. Quit my job Last day was June 28th!

6. Gain 10 pounds Ugh, this one is so hard. I still have 6 lbs to go, which is totally not going to happen before Christmas. 

7. Reupholster couch cushions They are done!

8. Have an herb garden The outdoor one didn't exactly work this summer. And the indoor one I started seems to have come to a standstill. But technically I have had two...

9. Learn to parallel park This one didn't happen this year so it will get moved to my 2014 goals!

10. Plant a hedge and build a fence Done and done!

11. Learn to live on one income I totally think this is an ongoing one but so far so good.

12. Raise and sell meat birds Done! We raised a total of 39 birds this year and sold 21 of them.

13. Try 10 new recipes Done! I completed this the end of November. 

How did you guys do with your goals for 2013? Did you make any? Come back tomorrow to see what I have planned in the goal department for 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I'm Back

I am officially back to blogging as of this week. I apologize for my absence, but it was needed. The family emergency that came up was my Dad dying. I plan on doing a post with more details in early January but for now, we'll leave it at that. So after our 9 day stay in Quebec and dealing with the death of my Dad, I needed to just take some time to step back and breathe.

But now that it's basically a new year, I decided I'm good to come back and start 2014 off strong. This week you'll get to read about my goals, both from last year and ones for the upcoming year. I'll also be sharing a recap post of December, since I basically lost a whole month of blogging. As well as my newest knitting project, which turned out just as cute as I had hoped.

I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things quickly, but if I miss a day or two, please forgive me.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Away for a Bit

I will be away from the blog for a little while, as we are dealing with a family emergency. I will be back when I can.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Deck the Porch

It's that wonderful time of the year again! When snow comes, Christmas music is on and everyone is feeling festive.

This is from early last week
This year, my festiveness spilled over onto my front porch. For years now, I've been begging Dan to let us get outdoor lights for the front of the house and he finally caved last year when the lights were on sale after Christmas. So this year was the first year we could put them up!

But before putting the lights up, I decided the front porch needed a little bit more help, since it was looking pretty drab.

The hanging baskets were looking pretty bare since all the summer flowers died and I knew of a great way to make them look a little nicer using all free materials!

So with some leftover branches from our Christmas tree (more on that next week) and a few more pine and cedar branches from some trees along our property line, I made some pretty Christmasy boxes.

It was a quick and easy thing to do and I think it really adds to the front of our house. Once we had the Christmas lights wrapped around the railings, it was looking good!

I'm going to try and capture our house at night when you can actually see the lights but for now, this is all I've got. Aren't Mia and I cute though?

How are your Christmas decorations coming along? Do you do anything to the outside of your house/apartment/condo? 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thrifty Thursday - Finale

This will be my last post in the Thrifty Thursday series. I have enjoyed sharing my money saving tips for the past 10 weeks and I hope you have learned a thing or two from them.

I'm going to finish off the series by sharing some final advice. Money isn't everything and you should not focus your entire life on making it or spending it. Money can easily become your idol and before you know it everything is wrapped up in money.

Be wise with the money you do have, spending it carefully. Save for rainy days, don't blow all your cash on frivolous things, stay out of debt, think before you spend. Don't hoard your money, use it for fun and for good. Donate to charities, give to your church, visit family, go on vacations.

But remember that you are lucky to have money, food in your fridge and a warm house to live in. Appreciate what you have.

And so ends Thrifty Thursday.

What topic would you like me to discuss next? I'm thinking something to do with food... thoughts?


Thrifty Thursday Mini Series

Week 1: Tracking Your Spending
Week 2: Monthly Budget 
Week 3: Just Say No
Week 4: Mini Emergency Fund
Week 5: Buying vs Making 
Week 6: Coupons 
Week 7: Debt
Week 8: Christmas Gifts 
Week 9: Thrift Stores 
Week 10: Finale 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

1st Gluten-Free Anniversary!

I'm actually two days late with this post, since my official anniversary was Monday, December 2, but I figured it's not a big deal. The fact that I have successfully made it a whole year being 100% gluten-free is the big deal!

A part of me feels like it has been forever since I've been off gluten and then another part of me feels like it really wasn't that long ago that I made this huge diet change. But I do remember the despair and complete lack of hope I felt just a short year ago. I was so sure that nothing would actually help me feel better and I went into the whole gluten-free diet change not expecting huge results. You can read my post that I wrote this time last year.

This past year has shown huge changes in how I feel. I still have crappy days (more so lately) and I'm still not back to where I want to be weight-wise, but I have definitely improved since last December. And for that I am thankful.

It has been hard to give up gluten and I definitely miss bread the most, but it has been worth it. I never thought that this would be my life but I'm okay with it.

So join me in celebrating my one year anniversary of being gluten-free and raise a toast to big life changes that can seem scary but end up being okay. Cheers!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Blanket for Button

When we first made plans to visit Jeff and Tory, I decided that I wanted to knit a blanket for their new baby that is due to arrive in February. They nicknamed their baby early in the pregnancy and have been calling her Button for the last 7 months.

When Tory told me that Button's nursery was going to have an under the sea theme, I knew immediately that I would have to make her a blanket that matched.

I found the yarn at Walmart and I used the same pattern that I used for my niece Alma's blanket, which you can see in this old post.

It took me a little longer than I had anticipated because I wasn't paying attention and knit too much so it was a long skinny blanket and looked pretty bad. I ended up having to take a bunch of it out, which is super time consuming and discouraging.

But I'm really pleased with how it turned out and with how well it matches Button's nursery.

Not to mention how exciting it was to be able to give it to Jeff and Tory in person. I can't wait for Button to be able to cuddle up with it come February!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Chicken Chili - New Recipe #10

This recipe marks #10 in my goal of trying 10 new recipes this year! I'm excited to be able to cross that off my list next.

As you saw from my post on Wednesday, we spent last weekend with Jeff and Tory at their house and we ate good food the whole time. Seriously, Tory outdid herself with fabulous recipes to try and plenty of GF/DF snacks available to me. I was never hungry and it was such a great feeling!

Most of the meals were a joint effort and we all took turns in the kitchen, but we purposefully documented this first meal so that we could officially say we cooked a meal together! After our slightly disappointing "double date" (thanks to Dan and I being sick), it was pretty exciting to get to do this.

The recipe of choice was Gluten-Free Chicken Chili with White Beans, Sweet Potato and Lime from The Gluten-Free Goddess.

We were pretty excited to be together and jumped right in to the prep work while the boys listened to music and took pictures of us. Aren't we cute in our matching aprons?

This meal was surprisingly easy to make, especially with two of us doing it. We cooked the chicken separately but everything else went into the one pot.

The tasty pot of chicken chili was ready in no time and we were excited to sit down to a hearty meal of goodness. Tory also made some cornbread muffins for everyone else and even put in a green chili to give them a bit of a kick.

We didn't make the chili too spicy since I'm not a fan of hot, so Jeff had to use hot sauce on just about every spoonful he ate. Good thing we brought him some tasty local hot sauce!

We were definitely excited to share this meal and many more throughout the weekend.

You should totally make this recipe if you like fabulous one pot meals. It's a nice twist on the classic chili and is definitely a hearty, filling meal. It would be especially good with all this cold weather and snow we're getting!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thrifty Thursday - Thrift Stores

I think that it's time to start winding down my Thrifty Thursday posts. I'm running out of ideas for them and I don't want to bore you for months on end. So probably only a few more weeks and then I can start a new series. Does anyone have any suggestions of topics you would like to see discussed on a weekly basis? Please let me know in the comments or via email.

Even though Thrifty Thursday is on its last legs, it's not over yet! So today we will be discussing thrift stores and how to efficiently shop at them.

Thrift stores can be awesome or they can just be like any other store. Depending on where you live, you will have the option of many different stores or you may only have one or two. No matter how many thrift stores you have, be sure to take a look around and get a feel for the prices. Just because it is labeled as a "thrift store" doesn't always mean that they have thrift store pricing. So watch out for that.

When shopping, have a rough idea of what you are looking for. This is a fine line to walk since you can't be too specific in your shopping but you also don't want to go in with the idea that you should buy everything. Since everything is normally priced so low, it's easy to buy more than you need (or have room for) just because it is an awesome price. So watch out for the desire to buy stuff just because it is cheap and ask yourself if you really need it and have a use for it.

What I like to do is have a rough idea of things that I am looking for and then shop for those things over a span of a couple of months. Just because the store doesn't have any end tables the first time you go in, doesn't mean it won't 3 weeks down the road. They are constantly getting new stuff so you will want to check back semi-often.

You have to be really patient when thrift store shopping. It's not like going into a Walmart or Target where you can just go to a specific shelf and find what you are looking for. Most of the time you will have to dig and actually search for the good stuff. Especially when it comes to clothes. Most of the clothes are outdated or tacky but if you search long enough, you can find some real treasures.

Another suggestion I like to make is to go in with a budget in mind. Tell yourself you only have $20 (or more if you want) and make yourself stick to that budget. It's so easy to overspend at thrift stores because you keep finding amazing deals of things you must have! Until you get to the checkout and realize you spent a small fortune on second hand items.

One last tip is to shop the sales. If your local thrift store has some sort of membership, join it. Members usually get emails about upcoming sales and sometimes they even offer special 50% off rates to members only. I've scored some amazing deals on books and clothes while shopping a 50% off sale before.

I do realize that some people don't ever shop at thrift stores and that is perfectly fine. They are not for everyone and I'm not trying to tell you that you need to start now. I just wanted to offer some tips on making the most of thrift store shopping and telling you what works well for me.

What about you? Do you shop at thrift stores often? Any tips or advice I forgot? Speak up, I love hearing from my readers.


Thrifty Thursday Mini Series

Week 1: Tracking Your Spending
Week 2: Monthly Budget 
Week 3: Just Say No
Week 4: Mini Emergency Fund
Week 5: Buying vs Making 
Week 6: Coupons 
Week 7: Debt
Week 8: Christmas Gifts 
Week 9: Thrift Stores 
Week 10: Finale 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Virginia Visit

We just got back from a 5 day weekend visit to Virginia to hang out with some of our favourite people, Jeff and Tory. Since they made the trip up to visit us this summer, we thought it was our turn to go down to them.

The trip was so much fun and I may have taken way too many pictures to share, but I will do my best to give you a summed up post of the highlights.

They took us to see some of the memorials in Washington, DC and we even got out and walked around some of them. The weather was really cold though so most of our tours were driving tours.

9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon

The White House

Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial

Arlington Cemetery
We also ate great food and had a ton of fun cooking together in the kitchen. Tory did an amazing job of finding gluten/dairy free recipes that I could enjoy worry free and they all tasted amazing. I will be sharing one of them later this week.

Cottage Pie
We played Settlers of Catan, went skating and made a gingerbread house.

The boys skated

The girls watched for a bit and then hung out in a hotel lobby

Jeff's first time making a gingerbread house
Don't forget to add in cuddle time on the couch with their three awesome cats (and I don't normally like cats), good movies, tv, lots of laughs and good food. It was the perfect weekend.

Until next time Jeff and Tory, we will cherish the memories that were made.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

25 Days of Christmas

All throughout my childhood, I remember how excited I would get when I received my chocolate advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas. It was a tradition our family had and I looked forward to it each year, even if it made the days seem to drag by even slower. Getting to open up a door every day and enjoying the cheap chocolate, ahhh bliss.

But that tradition came to an end a couple years ago. I can't actually tell you which year it stopped but I do admit that it was after I was married. Probably somewhere around the time that I got sick and felt like total crap and didn't even want to think about eating chocolate.

So this year, instead of having a chocolate advent calendar, I decided to make an activity advent calendar! My inspiration for this calendar came from here and here. While I love both of the original calendars, I'm really happy with how mine turned out.

Although I think mine was way more time consuming...

First things first, I found a box pattern on Google and printed it off. Then I traced it 25 times onto different coloured construction paper and then cut out each one.

Oh and don't forget, I drew the dotted lines to tell me where to fold. Once they were all cut out, I folded and taped each one into a box. Like I said, time consuming.

I did sit by the fire and watch a lot of tv while doing this craft so it didn't seem to take THAT long. The only problem being, I kind of got distracted by the tv and got consumed by my boxes so I forgot to take too many pictures.

Next step, finding more pictures on Google, printing them off, cutting them out, tracing them onto different coloured construction paper, cutting them out and gluing them onto 25 different boxes. Piece of cake.

Or you can just call me crazy. Seriously, I may have miscalculated how much time this step would take. But totally worth it. Check out these adorable boxes!

I was so excited when I finally finished them and so happy with how they looked. Even better than I thought they would.

The final step was to come up with 25 different activities that we could do each day. Here is my list.

1. Get and decorate tree
2. Put up outdoor Christmas lights
3. Buy a toy to donate
4. Game night
5. Have friends over
6. Make homemade hot chocolate
7. Santa Claus parade
8. Christmas by Candlelight (local event)
9. Write a note for each others stockings
10. Go geocaching
11. Make cookies together
12. Buy special ornament
13. Send Christmas cards
14. Breakfast in bed
15. Go for a walk
16. Have a Christmas photo shoot
17. Watch a Christmas movie
18. Take a picture of Santa
19. Buy a gift for Mia
20. Wrap presents & listen to Christmas music
21. Drive around looking at lights
22. Go ice skating
23. Read Twas the Night Before Christmas
24. Sleep by the fire
25. Make a snowman

I then wrote each activity on a piece of paper and put them into the appropriately numbered boxes.

Once they were all stuffed, I chose the perfect location for them to go while I count down the days to Christmas.

I'm still contemplating adding some chocolate to the odd one, to make the countdown a little more exciting but I haven't justified the cost of my super expensive gluten/dairy/corn free chocolate. We shall see.

So what do you think? Do you have an advent calendar? If so, is it a chocolate one or something different?

Now that it's almost December, I'll be sharing a few more Christmas themed posts. Hope you don't mind.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Goodbye Sweet Corn

As most of you know, I've been struggling with health issues for the past two and a half years. Starting last December, I cut out gluten from my diet and then eliminated dairy in April and have noticed a big improvement with how I feel.

But having said that, I still don't feel great. Yes, I feel a whole lot better than I did for over a year but still not as good as I had hoped. I still have crappy days which sometimes turn into weeks and it's frustrating. I want to feel good and healthy and alive again. I want to feel normal.

Which leads me to my latest decision of cutting corn out of my diet. I've had a bad feeling about corn for a while now but haven't had the motivation to actually cut it out completely. I love corn. Corn is probably my favourite food ever and the thought of never being able to eat a cob of corn again kind of makes me want to cry.

But having said that, if cutting out corn makes me feel better, then it's totally worth it. The only problem, it is in everything. It has so many different names and hides in so many foods. Which means that I'm basically going to have to make everything from scratch, more so than I already do. Good thing I'm a stay at home wife now!

I know that this is going to be hard, especially combined with no gluten or dairy, but I am ready to do a trial run. Starting tomorrow, I will do my best to cut corn out of my diet completely.

It will definitely be a learning curve at first and I will probably make mistakes, but I've gotten a lot better at reading ingredients and knowing what I can and cannot have. I just have to add another thing onto the list of 'forbidden foods'.

The good news though, is that my sister-in-law also has a bunch of food restrictions and I can go to her for advice and support through all of this. So at least I will have encouragement and moral support at family get-togethers.

Do any of my readers avoid corn? If so, any advice?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Simple Pleasures - November

I've been having a rough week of feeling sorry for myself and angry at the world, so it was really good that I was forced to look around and find simple pleasures in each day. Here is what I came up with.

View of the river from our front porch
My new hairdresser

The thin ice in the swamp

Candlelight dinner for date night

New clippers for gardening
My clean bamboo (it used to be all slimy)
First snow to stay on the ground
There you have it, another month. I hope you enjoyed the small things that made me smile last week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thrifty Thursday - Christmas Gifts

With November coming to a close shortly, a lot of people are starting to think about Christmas. Or for some people, it's all they've been thinking about for a while now. Either way, today I will be talking about saving money on Christmas gifts.

If you are already crazy prepared and have all your Christmas gifts for this year, you can use some of this advice for next year. Or you can just ignore my tips too, I'm fine with that. But I thought I would share some money saving tips when it comes to Christmas.

First of all, everyone is different and every family is different, so these ideas may not work for you. I do some of these things and some of them I don't, but I thought they were all smart ideas.

Tip #1 - Buy throughout the year
If you know who you are getting gifts for, you can spend the whole 12 months before Christmas getting ready for it. By doing this, you will be able to spend time looking for the "perfect gift" and even possibly find it on sale. You can also budget money for gifts each month and that way spread the cost out over the full year, instead of squishing all the spending into one or two months. This way can also help reduce stress since you won't be running around last minute trying to fight the crowds in shopping malls.

Tip #2 - Draw names
Another way to save money in the gift department is to draw names. This works especially well in larger families so you don't have to buy a gift for 12 different people. By drawing names, you can focus on the one person you get and spend more time and energy on their gift. In our family, we also put a spending cap on how much each gift should cost, that way it's even across the board.

Tip #3 - Make your own
Making your own Christmas gifts has become more popular as of late and a lot of people are hopping on this train. Whether its baking, crafting, knitting, woodworking, etc, it gives the gift a personalized touch and usually makes it more meaningful. The other positive thing about making your own gifts is that it is usually cheaper than buying. I say usually because you can also go a little overboard on supplies, depending on what you are making. The other thing to factor in is time. If you have the time and the motivation, then go ahead and make some gifts! But if time is something you are lacking, it may not be worth it to spend hours on gifts.

Tip #4 - Regifting
Once again, this is a personal choice and won't work for all families but some people don't mind getting second-hand gifts. Whether you go to a thrift store to shop or look around your own house, giving away something that you aren't using but you know someone else will enjoy can save you a lot of money! I don't recommend giving gifts that are old and beaten up but if you have something that is in perfect working condition, why not give it to someone who will enjoy it more?

You can also combine all four of these tips and take what you want from each. Or sometimes you can do one thing with one side of the family and something completely different with the other side. The important thing to remember is that it is just Christmas and while giving gifts is lots of fun, it's not worth going into debt for. Be wise with your money and spend it carefully.

What about you? Do you have any other tips to share? Where do you stand on the whole gift giving thing?


Thrifty Thursday Mini Series

Week 1: Tracking Your Spending
Week 2: Monthly Budget 
Week 3: Just Say No
Week 4: Mini Emergency Fund
Week 5: Buying vs Making 
Week 6: Coupons 
Week 7: Debt
Week 8: Christmas Gifts 
Week 9: Thrift Stores 
Week 10: Finale 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Day in the Life of Jenn

You asked, I deliver. Here is what an average day looks like for me. Keep in mind though, that some days are much lazier and some days are more productive. Oh, and heads up, there are a lot of pictures in this post.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

7:30am   Get up, eat breakfast while checking Facebook, email and blogs

 8:10am   Get dressed, change bed and tidy room

8:30am   Make daily to do list and write next day's blog post

9:00am   Tidy kitchen, do dishes and stoke the fire

9:30am   Snack #1 while responding to blog comments

9:40am   Daily devotional

10:10am   Practice piano

10:30am   Check fire
10:35am   Clean bathroom
10:50am   Snack #2 while looking up recipes and reading blogs

11:05am   Throw some laundry in
11:10am   Start making apple muffins

11:35am   While muffins are cooking, plan advent activities
12:00pm   Lunch while chatting with Tory 

12:20pm   Switch laundry to dryer, hang clothes and put in a new load

 12:30pm   Stoke fire
12:40pm   Dan came home for lunch

1:00pm   Finished making muffins and started vacuuming main floor

1:35pm   Switch laundry over and fold first load

1:50pm   Water the plants

2:00pm   Budget check-in
2:10pm   Collect eggs and feed hens

 2:20pm   Snack #3

2:30pm   Dishes again
2:55pm   Walk with Mia

3:30pm   Snack #4 while knitting and watching Modern Family

5:00pm   Dan came home

5:10pm   Started making supper
5:45pm   Sat down to a pancake supper

6:00pm   Dishes again
6:20pm   Left for town
6:45pm   Arrived at church to replace things in nursery
7:45pm   Arrived at friends house
8:00pm   Dan left with Mike and I stayed with Vicky to knit and chat
10:30pm   Came home
11:00pm   Went to bed

There you have it, a day in my life. What do you think?