Thursday, April 03, 2014

March Pantry Challenge and a Printable

For the month of March, I decided to focus on a sort of pantry challenge.  For me, this was less about trying to only eat from the pantry and more about trying to motivate myself to use some of those things that have been hiding out in there for quite a while.  We have a deep freeze, and I had definitely lost track of what all was in there.  During March, I worked on using things from the freezer and making a point to cook with pantry ingredients that aren't necessarily my "go to" items.  That meant the only meat I bought for the month was about 2 pounds of ground beef because it was marked down, and it had been forever since I bought any because of the lack of good sales.

Here are a few things I learned during this pantry challenge:

1.  Polenta and risotto aren't all that difficult or intimidating once you bite the bullet and find a recipe.
These were tucked away in our pantry, and I had just never cooked either because it seems like I'm always reverting to my trusted sides.

2.  We go through a decent amount of fresh produce, and that's ok.
I didn't cut back too much on buying produce except to really think about whether I had a use planned for it and it was really necessary.  I think we probably have been a bit wasteful in the past with produce.

3.  I really need to keep a better inventory of what's in our freezers.
I found things in the deep freeze that I definitely didn't know was in there.

4.  I need to do a better job of cleaning out our freezers.
Same as above for our kitchen freezer.  I threw out so many random, gross popcicles.  Eeeew!

5.  I think I can keep it up for at least another month.
We did a really good job of whittling down what's in the deep freeze, but there is plenty left in there.  I have a couple of things I need to tackle now, like cooking a whole turkey.  I usually procrastinate on things like that because it means you just have to deal with all the meat that's left.  It's a commitment.

Our family is in the middle of saving up for some fun that's to come later in the year, so that was part of the motivation to take on this pantry challenge.  I've been hoping to get everyone involved in making the choice to save money as opposed to spending it in some tangible ways.

One way we're doing this is by having an actual cash saving jar.  It's hidden away, and I created this tracking page where we can mark off each $50 that we add to the jar.  If we can color in all the squares by the end of the year, then we will have saved an extra $1000!  This serves, not only to get our kids involved, but to keep it in the front of my mind on a daily basis.  My husband and I have a little competitive streak, so having a visual record of our progress really keeps us on track.  I was able to save $200 from our cash grocery budget just by focusing on using what was already hanging out in our pantry and putting in a little extra effort.

If you think you'd like to get motivated to save a little cash, I'm sharing this PDF of the $1000 savings tracker with you all today.  Print it out, slap it on the fridge, and get motivated to save some pennies...and dollars.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review - Christian Biographies for Young Readers: John Knox by Simonetta Carr

My husband and I are always on the look-out for good books to add to our children's library as well as for our library at church.  We especially value a good, trustworthy biography written for children.  I've seen other books from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series online, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of this one and review it for myself.

John Knox came from such quiet beginnings to lead a quite adventurous life for the sake of the gospel. He was instrumental to the rise of the Reformation in Scotland, yet many children have never heard his story.  His biography is laid out with great detail and accuracy in this book, yet it's written in a way that will surely engage curious minds.  The reader can follow Knox from his quiet days as a notary and tutor to being a controversial preacher whose life was sometimes in danger.  The facts are laid out within the context of the cultural changes that were taking place in Scotland during this time.

I appreciate that many historical images have been included in the book alongside new illustrations which will help to capture the minds of even the youngest children.  While the book is engaging, it also includes great historical resources such as a time line of Knox' life and The Scot's Confession of Faith. There is also a map at the front of the book where you can follow the location of the events in Knox's life.  I'm always collecting biographies to go along with the topics we study in our homeschool, and I love that this one contains so many tools that make it easy to integrate our studies.  This book would be an excellent addition to any children's library, and I hope to add more books from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series to our own.

(Disclosure:  I was given a copy of Christian Biographies for Young Readers: John Knox for review purposes, but all opinions in this review are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review.  It just happens that I really love the book and would spend my own hard-earned money on a copy.)

Monday, March 10, 2014


I've decided that pretty much sums up my job right now.  Nurturing obedience, nurturing a learning lifestyle, nurturing little bodies (and not-so-little ones), nurturing maturing souls, nurturing my marriage, nurturing my own soul...

nurturing community, nurturing relationships with other believers...

There are so many things to nurture.  That's not easy work, and it's sometimes hard to define, but it's also easy to neglect since we live in such a pragmatic world--and I have such pragmatic tendencies.

Over the last several months, our family has been working to fulfill obligations.  Too often, the calendar has been over-stuffed.  we realized it was time to dump out the time jar and figure out just what our big rocks are right now.  Some of our obligations will be winding down over the next couple of months, and we've been offering up a steady stream of "no" for a while now.  It's freeing.

I'm not sure quite what this means for this blog since I realize this season is fleeting, and it's OK for these to be my hidden years.  I'm hoping to post a bit more than I have recently--to share some of my thoughts, but it's honestly not a top priority right now.  So, if I continue to disappear, you'll know I'm busy living my life.

That said, I do look forward to posting a book review later this week, so that's something to look forward to.  Bless you all for hanging with me through all the silence, but I'm betting most of you understand.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Peek Inside

I've been using my latest planner since way back in the summer, so I thought it would be fun to give you a little peek inside and share a little bit about how I use it.  I used the full-size planning pages for a long time, but I found that I wanted something that was a little more portable and durable for meetings and planning sessions.  I designed my 5.5 x 8.5 pages with this portability in mind, and I used them for a while before I came up with a system that makes it possible for others to easily print them back to back at home.

I headed to Staples (we don't have one in our town) because I had seen a lot of people using the Martha Stewart 3-ring binders.  I liked that they seemed very sturdy, and they came in the smaller size I wanted.  Once I was at Staples, I discovered the awesome discbound notebooks, and I fell in love with the red one.  It is less bulky than a binder, but I can still move pages around unlike my spiral bound planners in the past.  There are two colors in the Martha Stewart line, but the Arc line has some other fun colors like the red.  I grabbed the red notebook, a punch, some note pages, MS dividers (because they coordinate so well with my printables!), poly zip pockets, a pack of MS planner pockets, and some expansion disks.  This is what I ended up with, and I've pretty much been using my planner this way since July.

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I love keeping my calendar on my iPhone since it means I can easily sync it with my husband's calendar to see everything all at once.  That also makes it super easy to record important dates on the go as they are given to us.  We usually try to set aside time to talk through the coming weeks at least once a month, so this is usually where my monthly pages come in.  I make notes about things that are on the calendar and things that we'd like to get on the calendar.  It serves as sort of a visual map for me because I'm such a visual person.

I usually sit down with my weekly pages at the beginning of the week to think through what has to happen each day and where I can put the things that are flexible.  I try to come up with a general meal plan for dinner taking into consideration what our schedule looks like each day. It might seem a little redundant, but it's more about the process for me.  I like to add sticky notes with checklists and other helpful things to these weekly pages, so I have everything at my fingertips.

These are the only printables I generally use in my actual planner with the exception of my "Do the Next Thing" page sometimes.  All of my other forms go in a binder for now, but I'm thinking about changing to one of these Arc books for some of those as well.  The other dividers in the back of this planner have sermon notes, notes from meetings, checklists for projects, and extra lined, graph, and blank pages.  I love that with all the accessories (I even saw some new ones when I was gathering links!) there are endless possibilities for creating a planner that works for me.

Disclosure:  I received no compensation for sharing my opinion about the Staples Arc products.  I bought my supplies with my own hard-earned money, and I just happen to love how they have worked out for me.