Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our little monkey's first birthday party



Well, we made through our first year as a family of three! What an incredible year it has been - so many sleepless nights, frustrating moments, learning experiences, hilarious memories...and so much joy. Definitely something worth celebrating. :D

Because Lukas' birthday, November 27, was the day before Thanksgiving this year, we decided to postpone his birthday celebration until that weekend, fitting in a small "party" between other family activities. We kept it low-key, with just my parents and immediate family there, not knowing how Lukas would respond to having too much attention. He did pretty good though - smashed the cupcake in his own cautious, methodical way, then asked to be washed off. Hmmm...we may have something of a neat nick on our hands. ;)




Lukas has had some sugar before, but only in small quantities. Call me an overly paranoid first-time mom, but I didn't want him to get too much sugar at once. I found a relatively healthy cupcake recipe on this blog, and made some adaptations. Then I tweaked an old family favorite for the frosting recipe. The cupcakes turned out surprisingly good, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. Here's what I ended up doing:

Healthified First Birthday Cupcakes 
5 ripe bananas (mine were frozen)
3/4 c. applesauce (I didn't have any sugar-free or plain on hand, so used some with cinnamon added)
3 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. butterscotch baking chips (could use chocolate, carob, or raisins) 
Mash bananas in mixer, then add remaining ingredients in the order listed, mixing each one in well. Pour into cupcake liners placed in a muffin pan, dividing into 12. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Healthified Banana Frosting 
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 ripe banana (don't use a frozen one for this!)
Powdered sugar to taste (normally I'd use honey, but that's not supposed to be good for little ones either, so... :P The banana adds quite a bit of sweetening so less is needed than normal frostings.)
Carob powder (optional - I mostly used it because I wanted brown-colored frosting) 
Beat first 3 ingredients together well, then add sugar to taste, followed by carob powder. Don't over-mix it like I did! It won't fluff up, so just mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined and the mixture is smooth and creamy. 
Note: This makes a LOT of frosting, so if you are only doing the dozen cupcakes you may want to halve the frosting recipe. We ended up making a banana sheet cake, too, and putting the extra frosting on that.



I found some decorating ideas on Pinterest and had a lot of fun turning the cupcakes into little monkeys. :D A cheap cookie decorating kit from Big Lots supplied the eyeball candies and the red frosting, and generic vanilla wafers from Aldi made the muzzles and ears. It all tied in perfectly with some matching birthday hats, blow-thingys, and banner I found at Dollar Tree last summer. Just perfect for our little monkey. :D

More snapshots from the party:

Enjoying the singing!


"Am I really allowed to touch this, Mama?"

Isn't his shirt perfect? I was tickled to find it at the thrift store this summer, for half off $0.60. Couldn't pass that up. ;)

So solemn, almost guilty-looking...


There's a smile! Must taste yummy. :)

Ready to be cleaned up - no fun being this sticky!

One of Lukas' gifts was a little bubble wand. He had a lot of fun watching and "catching" the bubbles.


A chair his own size! Happy birthday, little man!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lukas Paul Valour: one year old!

A cute but fake little smile for the camera. ;)

Twelve whole months! I can't believe our little man is already a year old. Our easy-going baby has morphed into a wiggly, emotional toddler with a stubborn streak clearly inherited from his parent (which parent that is depends on who you ask, lol).

This past month has been so exciting in terms of locomotion. Around the first week of November he (finally!) learned how to crawl properly, and he was a real pro right off the bat. This means we must be sure to go through the baby gate quickly, keep the bathroom door closed, and grab things out of the fridge in a matter of seconds - otherwise a little shadow is suddenly beside us, not wanting to miss out on any of the fun. :)

This is what most of our photo shoot looked like...no sitting still here!

Even more exciting than crawling has been the progress made towards walking. Though not quite to the point of walking by himself, Lukas cruises around furniture at amazing speeds, has a grand time pushing his little push-cart around the living room, and is delighted whenever anyone holds both his hands and lets him run wherever he pleases. He can almost walk with just one hand being held, but after a few steps he gets nervous. I'm just glad he hasn't yet figured out how to climb up on the furniture, haha! Soon enough...

All this activity obviously wears Lukas out every day, and he has been napping longer than ever in his life - sometimes as much as 2-3 hours a day. I know that's not much compared to some children, but after him napping only 20-30 minutes most days for months, I'm finding it amazing to have a little longer margin of quiet time for getting computer work done. It's a good thing, too, since he needs a lot more attention when he is awake. He has an unending fascination for my computer keyboard (I can't blame him, really, since he sees me giving it so much attention while I'm working), and we're still learning the meaning of "No." Ah, toddlerhood....so many lessons in patience! :)

Mr. Solemn. He wasn't in a very smiley mood the day we took these pictures.

Speaking of sleeping, Lukas has been in his own room for almost a month now. The transition has been surprisingly easy, and he went from waking 3-5 times most nights to only once, sometimes not at all. Generally he sleeps from around midnight to 8, has a bottle and diaper change, then sleeps another hour or two. Joe and I usually manage to snag 7-8 hours in there somewhere, which has been lovely. Joe has been the one to most often get up and help Lukas if he wakes up in the night - after wrestling a 20-pound boy all day in addition to all the usual housework, cooking, and my design jobs, I sleep pretty hard. ;)

Our little man has quite the voracious appetite these days, usually eating two large meals of solid food plus snacks and bottles of milk and diluted juice through the day. Oatmeal, cheerios, pears, and avocado (no, not mixed together, ha) are his favorite foods, but he usually eats pretty much anything we give him. He's a pro at feeding himself now and can really gobble food up by the handful. He's usually pretty good about not throwing food on the floor, which we're very thankful for - our dining area is carpeted and our linoleum-floored kitchen is too tiny to hold his chair.

With Daddy's help we got some genuine grins and giggles. And look at that wild hair!

With all the focus on movement this month communication hasn't been a top priority. But he has definitely become more emotional and vocally expressive, and it's usually pretty easy to tell if his cry is caused by hunger, fear, pain, tiredness, or frustration. He has a shockingly loud scream that makes an appearance too often on grumpy days, especially if he's teething at the time. Often he'll make soft little whimpering sounds, like he's trying to tell a sad story or make us feel sorry for him - it's adorable! The most fun thing, though, is that he sometimes imitates various sounds we make. If we use a growly voice or a sing-song tone or a whisper, he'll often try to copy us. And if we repeat back the sounds he is making, we can have a little "conversation", usually ending in giggles. Apparently he knows what we're "talking" about, at least. ;)


Lukas' birthday was the day before Thanksgiving, so we had a small celebration with my family while we were together for the weekend. I'll write a separate post with details and photos of our little party. It was really special to have our first Thanksgiving with him, and to introduce him to all the out-of-state relatives who gathered for the holiday. We have so, so much to be thankful for, and right up at the top of the list is this precious little person that God has entrusted to us. What a treasure and privilege!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A contest!

Hello friends!

If you're connected to me on Facebook, you might be sick of seeing this by now, but there is a giveaway in progress through December 14th. The main prize is a complete set of The Truth Chronicles, all autographed by Tim and me. Follow the link to my Facebook Author Page and click on the "Giveaway" tab to get started. http://tinyurl.com/ongwalm Be sure to share with your friends, too.

Also, just so you're aware, my main website/blog, www.jwexperience.com, now has an active store where you can purchase the books individually or in sets (the set option will be active this week) directly from me. They make great gifts for children ages 8-12 in particular, though many younger and older children as well as adults have enjoyed them, too. Read what one mother had to say:

"My 9-year-old was sent to bed at 7pm and instead stayed awake reading by flashlight until midnight, finishing the first two books of The Truth Chronicles series in one night! He came to me saying they are some of the best books he's ever read. I made him get some sleep before starting on the 3rd book in the series. We'll be sure to leave book reviews soon! Thank you soooo much for the books!!" ~ Tammy from Washington

If you get a chance to read these books, be sure to let me know what you think.

God bless, and have a wonderful day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lukas: the 11th month


It's hard to believe that our little man has already been with us almost a year! His ready smile and giggle, his sweet snuggles and silly games - all have brought so much joy to our formerly quiet home, and we are unspeakably blessed and grateful. Even in the middle of teething, when it seems he only communicates by ear-splitting screaming. And yes, even when it comes to explosive, nasty diapers. ;)

October has been a full month for us. We took a road trip out to the Cincinnati area for a week, spending time with friends and doing some sight-seeing. We tried to limit most days to no more than 5-6 hours on the road, and Lukas did really well for the most part. I will say that we definitely learned the value of a snack-catcher full of cheerios! ;) He was a trooper the days we carried him around the Creation Museum and other sites, and he especially had fun meeting a new little friend, Drew, there at the Museum.

Four teeth are easily seen now, and the other two on top will be showing soon!

Coming back home was a bit of an adjustment for all of us. Lukas had a week or so of fussiness, likely brought on in part by teething. He had his 5th tooth pop through the last day of our trip, and his 6th one made its appearance last week (both on top, beside his front two). They're sharp little toofies, and he sure likes to use them to chomp down on anything he can stick in his mouth (watch your fingers!).

The latest and greatest thing around here is that Lukas is now pulling himself up to standing on pretty much anything that holds still long enough (and he's fast now!). It's a scary thing for this mama to watch, seeing his shaky legs and knowing how easily he could tumble - and often does. But he's finally learning that he needs to keep hanging on to things instead of trying to jump around in his excitement...and he's also getting a lot better at catching himself when he loses his balance. Cruising around the furniture has started happening just in the past week, and he's one excited little man!




Most of our photo session consisted of him "talking and/or moving towards me, LOL.
The ball provided a bit of distraction to keep him in one place.

Scooting around the floor still happens, especially in the kitchen where there's nothing he can really hang on to for standing up. Sometimes he sits down and hitches himself along with his arms, other times he does a funny sort of three-legged crawl, like a lame puppy. :) I know he'll learn to crawl for real at some point, and I'm curious to see if it happens before or after he takes off walking. So much fun to see him learning new things!

Oh, and his absolute favorite game right now is "peek-a-boo". He's started grabbing at any kind of cloth - clothing, a blanket, a diaper, my skirt - and holding it over his face, just quietly waiting for us to notice and say, "Where's Lukas?" Then he pops out with a grin and a giggle, only to repeat it a dozen times. So fun! :D

Emptying cupboards and shelves is another favorite activity. Most of the lower cupboards in the kitchen are fine for him to play in, and he has a grand time pulling out all the pans and banging them around while I'm cooking. Makes for a little bit of work cleaning up after him, but it won't be too much longer before he can start learning how to put them back, too.


Our sweet little man. <3

Several of our friends, including a couple at church, have little boys around Lukas' age. We've seen them several times in the past month, and it's amusing to see how excited Lukas gets when he sees someone close to his size. He starts up a happy, friendly babble, wants to feel their clothes and faces and fingers, and has no qualms about sharing toys or even his beloved Cheerio container. Definitely no shyness here! We're thankful for these little "friends" God has provided already, and it'll be fun to see how he continues to interact as they get older.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lukas: Our little man at 10 months


"Little man" does seem to be the perfect name for Lukas these days, as he has grown up so much in the past month. Not only has he had a physical growth spurt, gaining 1 lb. 4 oz. and growing an inch taller, but he's acting a lot more grown up in other ways, too. Suddenly our cuddly baby has been replaced by a wiggly almost-toddler who must look and feel and taste everything in sight, until he drops from exhaustion. :)

Lukas is very gradually making strides (almost literally) in mobility. He's not very fast at it yet, but he's figured out how to scoot around on his bottom. Once in a while he'll try scooting on his tummy, usually backwards, but generally he prefers the sitting position. This has allowed him to check out all the kitchen cupboards, explore under the dining table and under Mommy's desk, and find all kinds of fun things to play with. :) It's exciting to see him checking out our home in new ways, and we are gradually baby-proofing so he can explore more freely. We feel spoiled to have gone 10 months without doing any baby-proofing at all!


Standing up is the latest and greatest when it comes to excitement. Oh-so-thrilling! He still needs a lot of support, but enjoys walking around the house while we hold his hands. Lately he's been pulling himself up to his knees on any available objects (Mommy's legs, a footstool, the toilet...), so it likely won't be that much longer before he makes it all the way to his feet and starts cruising in earnest. The days of pretty stuff on the coffee table are numbered! :)

All this increased activity has made naptimes more essential. The last couple weeks I've been making a point to lay him in his bed with a bottle around the same time each afternoon. Though that never satisfied him before, now he will usually go to sleep very quickly and easily, often sleeping 60-90 minutes at a time. Since he has never napped regularly before, and rarely napped more than 30 minutes at a stretch even when little, this is amazing! I've been really grateful for the chance to get a few more things done around the house in that window of time. He's still waking 2-3+ times a night for food, but as long as it's not every hour or more as it has been a few nights we can live with that. For now. :)

Communication has been an exciting area of development again. In last month's update I wrote about Lukas' fascination with the neighborhood dogs and imitating their barking. We can now ask him, "What does the puppy say?" and 90% of the time he promptly answers with his soft little "Woof-woof". So adorable! He still hasn't made the visual-audio connection yet, but we recently got several board books with lots of puppy illustrations and I'm sure he'll be enjoying them.


Toys continue to be a lot of fun. His favorites are a tractor and a truck - spinning the wheels occupies a lot of time! He also enjoys flipping through board books, and rolling/throwing avocado pits (clean, large ones) across the kitchen floor. :) Pretty much anything new is interesting and must be examined closely. Sure would be fascinating to know what's going on in his little mind! Oh, and he now clearly recognizes himself and both Joe and I in photos or video, which is a lot of fun. I suspect the photo books I put together for him on Shutterfly are going to be very popular reading material. :)

Lukas is enjoying his solid food a lot more these days. Oatmeal is a new favorite, along with peaches, pears, and avocado. He's especially been enjoying the miniature peaches and pears from Grandpa and Grandma's farm! We try to give him two meals most days, and he's getting more consistent about eating a fair amount each time. He's very clear when he's done, though: the lips are locked shut and he shakes his head in a definite "no". ;) Nursing is gradually tapering off as my supply continues to dwindle...an emotional thing for me, but I'm thankful we had as many months as we did.


This month's challenge was a couple weeks or so when Lukas was apparently testing out his lungs, subjecting us to large amounts of ear-splitting SCREAMING at the tiniest frustration or for no reason at all. This wore Mama out pretty quickly! To our relief, this past week has been much better in this regard, the turning point being...

...two new teeth popped through! He now has 2 on top and 2 on bottom, so much chomping is in order. ;) We hadn't realized they were so close to coming through, but it does definitely provide an explanation for those extra difficult two weeks! Since then he has been practically angelic, the sweet little easy-going fellow we've come to love so much. We're hoping this continues for our upcoming road trip early next month!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book review

We may have mentioned these programs on this blog before, but Abi and I both have participated in the BookSneeze and Blogging for Books programs off and on over the last few years. These have been great ways to come across new books that we might not otherwise have seen, and the best part is that we receive the books for free in exchange for a blog and retail review.

As a writer myself, I have become increasingly aware of the need to also be reading. Some old favorites serve as inspiration, but new titles add new perspectives.

I just finished my latest review book, Greater, and you can read my review here: http://www.jwexperience.com/2013/09/17/greater/

In other news, Tim Chaffey and I are working on finishing the rough draft for the sixth installment of The Truth Chronicles. Even better, Abi, Lukas, and I will be traveling to Kentucky to spend a few days with Tim and his family in early October. One of our goals for this trip is to do some final tweaking/editing before sending the draft off to our regular editor. We are still hopeful for a release by the end of this year.

To commemorate this latest publishing, I will be putting together at least one giveaway in a couple of months, where one of the prizes will be a set of all six volumes of The Truth Chronicles, in addition to some other titles to be determined. Look forward to that, and be sure to spread the word once the raffle hits the web!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lukas at 9 months


Nine months?! It's hard to believe that three-quarters of a year has already passed since this special little guy came into our home. We love him more every day, and can't imagine life without him. The other day he happened to be taking a longer-than-usual nap over suppertime, and it seemed so quiet and lonely to have only Joe and I at the table. So thankful for this priceless treasure God has entrusted to us!

This month Lukas' new achievements have centered around communication. He is so interactive now - both with body language (like lifting his arms when he wants to be picked up), and verbally (he likes to greet us with a loud, cheery "HA" - his version of "Hi"). I wish we were more consistent with teaching him sign language as I think he'd be catching on to it by now. "Airplane" is the only one he seems to recognize at this point, and no wonder since we have so many planes going overhead every day.

Another sound Lukas listens for is the neighborhood dogs barking. He always perks up and looks around to see where the noise is coming from, then starts making soft "Woof, woof" sounds himself. If we respond in kind, we can have a little puppy-convo. ;) He has only seen a dog a few times in person, and though I have showed him pictures and video clips I don't think he's quite made the connection yet between the audio and the visual. Probably won't be long, though!

Lukas enjoys copying and exchanging other sounds, too - especially sniffing and fake coughing. It's pretty hilarious sometimes, and a lot of fun to feel like we are having a "conversation" of sorts. Makes him seem so much more like his own little person.

Lukas also enjoys games of repetition, like peek-a-boo, or having a lightweight blanket tossed over his head, or being fanned with a pillow, or bonked on the head with a fabric block. And he is extremely ticklish in certain spots. His little giggle is so infectious!



Another major achievement this month is that his first two teeth finally popped through, after being in progress since early April. :whew: Those little shiny things are sharp, too! We've had a few rough weeks of nursing as he had to learn not to bite mama, but I'm hopeful that things will improve soon.

He's having fun using those new teeth to eat all kinds of things. Peaches continue to be the top, all-time favorite, but he's also enjoyed banana (in very limited quantities, as it still tends to make him constipated), applesauce, pears, cucumber spears, quinoa, and avocado. Oh, and of course he really likes the little puffed grain treats we purchased in desperation to keep him happy on our road trip in early August. They are sweet and fun to pick up, and he'd eat them all day if we let him. Somebody has a sweet tooth just like Daddy! ;) So they are saved as treats for staying quiet in church, or for long car rides, and always eagerly welcomed.

Sleeping through the night seems to be a thing of the past, as he now wakes at least twice (and usually countless times) every night. We are both able to get right back to sleep, thankfully, but I'm hoping to see improvements in this area soon. :yawn:

Crawling still hasn't happened - kinda hard for him to learn, when he refuses to spend any time on his back or tummy these days! But he is ever so slowly figuring out how to maneuver himself around while sitting and has fabulous balance that way, so it wouldn't surprise me if one of these days he just takes off scooting that way. I know I'll have my hands full keeping up with him, then, but it's good to see him finally growing increasingly frustrated with being "stuck" in one spot. It'll be fun to see what the next month holds!

Slightly blurry...he doesn't sit still that well these days! :)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lukas Paul Valour: 8 months old



Lukas' 7th month was a little bumpy in some ways. After going to visit my family for a long Independence Day weekend, he spent a week on a nursing strike as well as dealing with extra teething pain and some constipation. Not a fun time for our poor little Bubby - or for Mama or Daddy! We were all super thankful when he finally started feeling better and wanted to nurse normally again. We missed our normally-smiley, easy-going little guy!

Lukas is now a full-fledged "sitter", to the point where he does not like to lay down. Don't you know that's for babies? :) He's doing really good about reaching for toys and then pushing himself back up into a sitting position, so we're able to let him sit pretty much anywhere on the floor - no need of pillows to catch him in case he tips over.


Toys have become a very important part of life in the past couple months. Amongst his favorites are a large tractor and dump truck that used to belong to Daddy and Uncle Kyle, a toy accordion that actually plays music (this was scary at first, but he likes it now), and a screen-mesh strainer from Mommy's kitchen. He also likes playing with Mommy's water bottle and her necklaces - special privileges that are usually reserved for church. With such distractions he does pretty good, and more often than not will stay quiet enough to sit through the entire service. We'll see how long that continues... ;)

Other new experiences this month include getting to sit in a high chair at a restaurant, and sitting in the seat of a grocery store cart. So thrilling to our big boy! Several warm days have found us out on the deck with a cake pan and some water - a great way to get soaked and cool off a bit! He also has great fun jumping wildly in his jump-a-roo, eagerly showing off to anyone who will cheer him on and applaud. And yes, his legs are quite muscular from all that activity. :D


Solid foods are on the menu pretty much every day now, and most of the time it's a lot of fun for all of us. Bananas, green beans, and peaches are his top favorites so far, with yellow squash, apple, and sweet potato at the bottom of the list. Peas, carrots, and cucumbers are so-so. It's interesting to see his likes and dislikes already taking shape, though we hope he'll grow up wanting to eat pretty much everything, like Daddy. :)

We live just a couple miles from an airport so many planes go overhead each day. Lukas has taken to looking around each time, trying to discover the source of the noise. We're teaching him the sign language for "airplane" and don't think it'll be too long before he makes the connection. :) He's also all boy in his interest in car and trucks that go by outside, and one of his favorite things to do each day is sit at the window and watch Daddy get in the car and drive away to work.


At his 8-month checkup July 29, our little man weighed 17 lb. 11 oz. and measured 28" - slightly above 50th percentile for height, and a bit below 25th percentile for weight. Mommy is glad he isn't growing any faster, since he's heavy enough as it is. Why don't childbirth classes include a weight-lifting regime? Seems like it'd be even more useful than Kegels and squats in the long run...anyone agree? ;)

Grocery shopping and menus, July 21-27

This week was a little different since we ended up going to more stores than usual AND though most of these items were on sale we didn't use a single coupon. Ha! I was extra busy with graphic design work deadlines and other things going on, so didn't have a lot of time to put towards menu planning based on items already in the pantry/freezer. And we needed to make several items for a church get-together. It's been ages since we've spent this much in one week! But...in the spirit of keeping it real around here - this is what a "bad" shopping week looks like for us. :)


What we bought
Aldi shopping trip
  • Sour cream (16 oz) - 1.29
  • Seedless grapes (2 lb) - two boxes at 1.98
  • Raspberry preserves - 2.29
  • Roma tomatoes, 20 oz. - 1.29
  • Bing cherries, 1 lb - 1.99
  • Flour tortillas, 10 count - 2 packages at 0.99
  • TOTAL - $12.40

Fareway shopping trip
Peanut butter was on sale yet again this week, so we stocked up on a few more jars. Haven't seen it lower than $1.99 for over a year, and we do go through quite a bit of it. Hard to know how much to stretch the budget for stock-up items like this, but it does keep really well and we have enough now to last us quite a while.
  • Fresh spinach, 9 oz. - 4 bags at 0.99 (sale)
  • Peanut butter, 16 oz. - 5 jars at 1.48 (sale)
  • Orange juice, 64 oz. - 0.99 (sale)
  • Fresh peaches, 5.34 lb at 0.78/lb - 4.17
  • Multi-grain sandwich bread - two loaves, marked down to 0.79/loaf
  • TOTAL - $22.54

Hy-vee shopping trip
  • Vanilla ice cream, 1 quart - 1.77 - we used to get this only when it was on sale for 0.99, but I haven't seen it that low since sometime last winter. Finally went ahead and got some with this sale to make root beer floats as a spontaneous treat. :)
  • TOTAL - $1.77

Dollar General shopping trip
  • A&W Root beer, 1 liter plus deposit - 1.45 - Not the cheapest price out there, I'm sure, but it was a rare treat. Summertime isn't complete without root beer floats. :)
  • TOTAL - $1.45

Aldi shopping trip #2 (later in the week, with new sales)
These vegetable prices were way too good to pass up! We're grateful for the way Aldi allows us to eat a lot more produce than we could afford otherwise, and most of it is great quality, too.
  • Sweet corn, 4 ears - 2 packages at 0.99
  • Green peppers, pack of 3 - 2 packages at 0.99
  • Snow Peas - 1.49
  • Zucchini, pack of 3 - 0.99
  • Onions, 3 lb - 0.99
  • Penne pasta - 0.99 - We had other pasta on hand but needed to make a specific Penne recipe for a church meal and Joe's a stickler for following recipes exactly. ;)
  • Yogurt, 32 oz - 1.99
  • Milk, 1 gallon - 3.09 - Joe wanted to start making smoothies again, and my family doesn't have a ton of extra goat milk right now.
  • Powdered sugar, 2 lb - 1.29 - To make a dessert to take to church.
  • TOTAL - $16.28

Fareway shopping trip #2 (later in the week, with new sales)
  • Cottage cheese, 32 oz - 3 at 1.69 - this is pretty much the cheapest it ever goes on sale for any more. I miss the days of the 0.99 sales!
  • Coffee-flavored chocolate spread - 2 jars, marked down to 0.99 - a treat for Joe :)
  • Romaine lettuce - 1 head at 1.29
  • Bartlett pears - 0.99 lb at 0.99/lb (two) - 0.98 - these are for Lukas to try...
  • Grape tomatoes, 1 pint - 1.49 - I kicked myself for getting these, as I found them slightly cheaper at Fareway. Oh, well.
  • Lemonade, half gallon - 0.99 (sale)
  • White sugar, 4 lb - 3 bags at 1.68 (sale)
  • TOTAL - $16.85 

WEEKLY TOTAL - $71.29 - saved $0 with coupons (saved quite a bit with sales, though!)




Some patriotic-looking strawberry shortcake from a few weeks ago. :)
 
What We Ate
  • Sunday: Buffalo chicken mac & cheese (one of Joe's specialties), and veggies. For supper, we went to a church potluck/picnic and took a second pan of the mac & cheese. Later that evening, root beer floats. :)
  • Monday: Sandwiches (cheese, tomato, sandwich meat from the freezer), fruit
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti pie, garlic toast, green salad
  • Wednesday: Beans (cooked from scratch and frozen) with BBQ sauce, cornbread, fruit salad
  • Thursday: Pizza Hut (with a coupon and birthday-freebie breadsticks), leftover fruit salad
  • Friday: Tammy's Oriental Chicken Salad
  • Saturday: Grilled veggies and brats, with homemade whole wheat and rye buns
  • Breakfasts: Peaches, homemade yogurt, banana bread

Friday, July 26, 2013

Grocery shopping and menus, July 14-20

It's been an extra busy month here for my design work, so I'm quite late in getting this post together. I'll keep it simple, but hopefully it'll still be of interest to at least some of you. :) Joe did  most of the shopping for us this week, which was a big help to me. The total ended up being more than I shoot to spend in a week, but since we were under budget last week it'll even out. Nice to stock up a bit on the cheese and peanut butter when we get a chance, and produce at these fabulous summertime prices is hard to pass up!

What we bought
Target shopping trip
This was my first time stacking manufacturer coupons, store coupons (including mobile coupons) AND the new "Cartwheel" program deals. When these are also combined with sales, it makes for some pretty amazing deals. Fun stuff! I'm tickled that the free wifi in Target stores allows me to use my ipod to take advantage of these mobile coupons - no smart phone needed! Sorry there's no picture here...I was going to take one, but we were out most of the afternoon and I had to take care of a tired baby as soon as we got home.
  • Earthbound Farms organic carrots, 1 lb - 1.09 - used $1/1 mobile coupon
  • Sandwich bread, 1 loaf - 1.41 - used $1/1 mobile coupon and 5% off cartwheel
  • Canola oil - 3.29 - used $1/1 mobile coupon
  • Gala apples, 1.08 lb (3 apples) at 1.39/lb - used $1/1 mobile coupon and 5% off cartwheel
  • Van's gluten-free frozen waffles - on sale for 2.50 - used 3.00 man. coupon (0.50 moneymaker!)
  • Frozen raspberries, 1 lb - 2.79 - used $1/1 mobile coupon and 20% off cartwheel
  • Hand soap - 0.89 - used 0.50 Target coupon and 5% off cartwheel
  • Paper towels, 1 roll - 0.99 - used 0.50 Target coupon (and apparently something mobile applied, too, since the receipt says they worked out to be free. Yay!)
  • Kashi cold cereal - 3 boxes on sale for 2.66 each - used two $2/1 and one $1/1 man. coupons, $1/2 Target coupon, and 10% off cartwheel
  • Fresh strawberries, 1 lb - 1.79 - free with purchase of 3 boxes of Kashi (store promo deal), so if I'm figuring this right, we paid $1.68 for three boxes of supposedly-healthier cold cereal AND a pound of strawberries. Can't beat that! :D
  • TOTAL - $5.85 - saved 19.79 with coupons and the 5% off for using our Target debit card, more if you count sales!

Hy-vee shopping trip
  • Frozen veggies, 1 lb bags - 8 bags at 0.77 each (sale)
  • Cheese blocks, 8 oz. - 3 at 3/$5 (store coupon)
  • Cranberry honey nut trail mix, half a pound - 3.05 - a birthday splurge for me :)
  • Gourmet olives, a little over half a pound - 6.23 - a treat for Joe :)
  • TOTAL - $20.44 - saved some with the sales.

  WEEKLY TOTAL - $26.29 - saved $19.79 with coupons (more with sales)

What We Ate
  • Sunday: Fried chicken salad (a quickie to throw together, since Joe had to work that evening)
  • Monday: Potato and bacon soup (with the bacon Joe just finished smoking!), garlic breadsticks and cinnamon breadsticks, veggies
  • Tuesday: Tuna sandwiches, veggies
  • Wednesday: Baked chicken, wild rice, lima beans (seasons with barbeque sauce - turned out great!), veggies
  • Thursday: Tried a new recipe for a country fritata. Turned out okay, but not a keeper. Also had a green salad.
  • Friday: Joe went out and fetched Subway so I wouldn't have to cook on my birthday - awww! <3
  • Saturday: We enjoyed a tasty meal at a local place, Cozy Cafe - another birthday treat. Yay for Groupon deals! :) We were still full at suppertime so just had popcorn.
  • Breakfasts: Peaches, homemade banana bread (from the freezer), homemade yogurt (yum!), cold cereal with goat milk

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting out of debt can take less time than you would think...

Abi has been posting lately about our grocery shopping excursions and our weekly menus. Her diligence with couponing and looking for deals has saved us an incredible amount of money in the 2 1/2 years we've been married. Without that work, I don't think we'd be doing as well as we are in getting out of the debts I'd accumulated in the years before we knew each other.

July is almost over and the last paycheck has been accounted for, so it's not likely that we'll be making any more payments this month. However, I found the binder that has all of the spreadsheets I'd saved since I started tracking our debts in December 2009. Several spreadsheets are, unfortunately, missing, and it wasn't until 2011 that I thought of keeping track of what our debt total was on the anniversary of the beginning of this journey. However, I do have the first spreadsheet, and it blows me away to look at it.

I graduated college in May 2008, which means I had until November 2008 before the grace period on my student loans was due. So by the time I started tracking the numbers, I'd already been regularly paying on my student loans for about a year. Here's how it all broke down:

I had six distinct loans through American Education Services. These are classified as student loans, but a good portion of the money had been borrowed to pay off a credit card I'd maxed out twice. I'd also borrowed $10,000-$12,500 through this group to cover living expenses while I was going through my internship. These six loans together totaled $74,441.55 and had a total monthly payment of $498.94. I've been able to pay each of these loans individually, which has been a huge help.

I'd been able to obtain some Stafford loans through school, serviced by Great Lakes. It was split into two payable loans, one at $2,907.55 with a monthly payment of $50.00 and the other at $21,331.20 with a monthly payment of $258.09. The total there was $24,238.75 with a monthly payment of $308.09.

Then I had two credit cards I was paying off (Wells Fargo: $2,157.61 @ $62.00/month; Bank of America: $6,429.36 @ $150.00/month), totaling $8,586.97 with a total monthly payment of $212.

I also traded in my car in May 2009 and took out a loan to cover the rest, which was $9,199.56 in December with a payment of $215 (this was before I'd heard anything about Dave Ramsey).

And I had a personal loan valued at $8,960.96 with a payment of $297.53. I honestly have no idea why I had this, which is rather distressing.

So, all in all, on December 22nd, 2009, I had a debt total of $125,427.79 with a total minimum monthly payment of $1,531.56. Yikes! Praise the Lord I was in a great job with a good salary. I was also sharing a cheap (for Rochester, MN) apartment and splitting the costs of rent and utilities.

By February 15th, 2010, I'd already made some fairly impressive strides. I'd completely knocked out the Wells Fargo credit card and paid off almost $2,500.00 of the lower Stafford loan. I finished off that Stafford loan by April 9th, 2010, and by then had already paid off $8,492.43 (that's just 3 1/2 months!).

Fast forward to today. We owe my sister-in-law, Susanna, $11,250.00. She had loaned us $10,000 at 5% for 5 years when Abi and I got married to pay off the car and make a big payment on some of the other debt. Rather than deal with monthly payments to her, she let us make the total $12,500.00 with a payment of $500.00/year for 5 years. That has freed us up to make bigger payments on the rest of what we owe. In addition to that loan, my Stafford loan is down to $6,852.67, made possible through a program at work where I was awarded $5,000. And I only have two loans left through American Education Services, totaling $18,946.52. Not making allowance for what we owe Susanna, our monthly payments are now $441.58.

This boils down to having paid off $88,378.60 in just over 3 1/2 years. We've managed to pay off $11,610.06 this year alone, and are on track to make our total payoff this year almost $20,000.00 (Abi says we should really pinch our pennies and get that up to $25,000.00).

Even if I don't receive an award from work this year (though I'm most definitely hoping I will get something through work), we should have all of the student loans paid off by the end of 2014 at the latest. Depending on Abi's income and the potential award through work, we could even possibly have Susanna paid off by then. It's exciting to think about!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grocery shopping and menus, July 7-13

It's been an extra busy month here for my design work, so I'm quite late in getting this post together. I'll keep it simple, but hopefully it'll still be of interest to at least some of you. :) Joe did  most of the shopping for us this week, which was a big help to me. The total ended up being more than I shoot to spend in a week, but since we were under budget last week it'll even out. Nice to stock up a bit on the cheese and peanut butter when we get a chance, and produce at these fabulous summertime prices is hard to pass up!

What we bought
Fareway shopping trip
  • Shredded cheese, 8-oz bags - got 8 bags at 1.50 each (sale)
  • Pork and beans (regular sized cans) - got 3 cans at 0.50 each - used 0.50/3 store coupon
  • TOTAL - $13.00 - saved 0.50 with coupon, quite a bit more with sales (not sure what regular prices are)

Hy-vee shopping trip
  • Jiffy peanut butter - got 4 jars at 1.48 each (sale)
  • Ocean Spray cranberry lemonade - on sale for 1.99 - used $1/1 man. coupon
  • Barilla pasta - got 4 boxes at $1/box (sale) - used two $1/2 coupons (but I think one didn't scan right, as it's not showing on the receipt - you have to watch closely sometimes!)
  • Colgate toothpaste - got 2 at 2.00 each - used a $2/2 coupon and also earned 0.05/gal gas at Hyvee's station
  • Yellow peaches - 2.23 lb at 0.99/lb - 2.21
  • White peaches - 1.68 lb at 0.99/lb - 1.68
  • Red grapes - 2.36 lb at 0.99/lb - 2.34
  • TOTAL - $18.48 - saved $4.00 with coupons, more with sales, plus we'll get a little back with the gas deal

Hy-vee shopping trip #2 (since the first Hyvee was out of TP)

  • Charmin toilet paper, 12 double roll pack - on sale for 4.88 - used a $3/1 man. coupon
  • TOTAL - $2.17 with tax - saved $3.00 with coupon, not a bad price for TP!

Aldi shopping trip

  • Seedless grapes - 1.98
  • Strawberries, 1 pound - 0.99
  • Canteloupe - 1.19
  • Bananas - 1.58 lb at 0.44/lb - 0.70
  • Grape tomatoes, 1 pound - two boxes at 1.49
  • Tortilla chips - 2 bags at 1.19
  • TOTAL - $10.22

 Aldi shopping trip #2 (later in the week, with a new round of sales)

  • Artisan baby lettuce, 4 small heads - 1.49
  • Grape tomatoes, 1 pound - 3 boxes at 0.79
  • Multi-colored bell peppers, 3-pack - 1.49
  • Cucumbers - 6 at 0.25 (these were huge, and SO yummy, I wish we'd gotten more!)
  • Canola oil - 2.69
  • TOTAL - $10.52

Gifts from my family 
Their generosity is such a blessing to us!
  • 8 quarts raw goat milk - I used half of this to make yogurt
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • TOTAL - FREE!

 WEEKLY TOTAL - $54.39 - saved $7.50 with coupons (more if you count sales)


What We Ate
  • Sunday: Visiting my family.
  • Monday: Mediterranean quinoa (my favorite way to fix it - so good!), canteloupe, sourdough garlic toast
  • Tuesday: Pepperoni spaghetti pie, garlic/cheese toast, green salad
  • Wednesday: Fish sticks, fried rice, tomato/cucumber salad, strawberry shortcake (yum!).
  • Thursday: Tortilla wraps with leftover rice and gravy from the freezer, canteloupe, toasted tortillas with sugar and cinnamon. My sisters came to visit this day, so I fixed spaghetti with sauce/ground beef and fresh veggies for a quickie supper.
  • Friday: Bean/beef/tortilla casserole, green salad. My sister was still visiting so she made us cheese and tomato sandwiches on leftover homemade buns for supper.
  • Saturday: Joe made his amazing chili, cornbread in a cast iron pan (the best!), and veggies for lunch - my parents and sister joined us. For supper I made a quick Dutch Baby/Finnish Pancake and we also had some grapes.
  • Breakfasts: Peaches, cinnamon/raisin English muffins (from the freezer), homemade yogurt (yum!)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grocery shopping and menus, June 30-July 6

This week was much less eventful in the area of shopping and cooking - and much busier for me, thus my delay in getting a summary posted. I'll keep this brief, and will hopefully be back in a few days with a post about this week.

What we bought
Fareway shopping trip
  • Honey-wheat pita pocket bread (10 ct) - marked down to 0.99
  • Red delicious apples, 4.05 lb at $0.88/lb - 3.56
  • Kraft Miracle Whip, 30 oz - 2 jars at 2.49 each - used $1/1 man. coupons and $1/1 store coupons
  • Reynolds foil baking cups - 2 at 0.99 - used $1/1 man. coupons, so FREE!
  • Pork and beans - 4 cans at 0.29 each (sale)
  • TOTAL - $7.79 - saved $5.00 with coupons (more with sales and markdowns)

Hy-vee shopping trip
  • Honey Nut Cheerios - 4 boxes at 4/$9 - used $4/4 store coupon and two $1/2 man. coupons
  • TOTAL - $3.00 - saved $6.00 with coupons

Paul's Grains shopping trip
My family generously gives us some of the items they raise on their farm, as well as letting us in on discount prices for items they purchase in bulk. This is a huge help to our budget, and definitely helps us afford to eat much more healthy than we could otherwise! We made a trip out to the farm this week, so I went "shopping" while there and got the following items:
  • Whole wheat flour, 5 pounds - free, since they grow and grind it there
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour, 5 pounds - 3.65
  • Quinoa, 3 pounds - 6.75
  • "Spike" seasoning blend, 1/2 pound - 3.00
  • "Real Salt", 2 pounds - 4.32
  • Raw goat milk, 4 quarts - free
  • Free-range eggs, 1 doz. - free
  • TOTAL - $17.72

WEEKLY TOTAL - $28.51 - saved $11.00 with coupons (more, if you count sales, markdowns, and gifts)


What We Ate
Since we were visiting with my family from Thursday through Sunday, I got half the week off from menu planning. Yay! Here's what we ate here before the trip:
  • Sunday: Taco salad (quick and easy, since church was in the morning and Joe had to work the evening shift)
  • Monday: Fish fillets baked with creamy sauce, whole grain noodles, green salad
  • Tuesday: Whole wheat biscuits from scratch, gravy with fresh rosemary and ground pork, tomato/cucumber salad
  • Wednesday: "Date" lunch at Village Inn - fun, but we weren't terribly impressed even with the free pie and probably won't go back.
  • Breakfasts: Apples and peanut butter, bananas, raisin English muffins (from the freezer)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Grocery shopping & menus, June 23-29

All of this from Target for only $4.52!

Thanks to everyone who left comments and encouraging feedback on last week's grocery shopping post! I had fun putting together this week's totals because I was able to catch some extra-good coupon deals. This is not really a typical week, but it's exciting when we do see savings like this. Definitely helps the budget and enables us to stock up on staples that rarely have coupons.

What we bought
Target shopping trip
We used to go to Target all the time up in Rochester, but after moving to Des Moines we have to drive quite a bit further to get to a Super Target, and some of the other stores nearby have prices that are good enough to not bother trekking to Target as often. Once in a while, though, I get a stack of coupons and deals that don't work anywhere else. This was such a week, and it really did pay off! Here's what I got:
  • Kandoo flushable wipes, 50 pack - 2.49 - used a $2/1 coupon (unfortunately they were out of the $1.49 packs that would have been free with the coupon, but this was a good enough deal anyway as we go through a lot of wipes and the coupon expired soon)
  • Earthbound organic carrots, 1 lb - 1.09 - used a $1/1 manufacturer coupon
  • Earthbound organic carrots, 1 lb - 1.09 - used a $0.75/1 man. coupon
  • Celery, 1 bunch - 1.49 - used a $1 off any fresh vegetable Target mobile coupon
  • Bananas (4), 1.78 lb - 0.57/lb - used a $1 off any fresh fruit Target mobile coupon
  • Gala apples (3), 1.09 lb - 1.39/lb - used a $1 off any fresh fruit Target mobile coupon (I would have bought more, as we go through a lot of apples, but I try not to pay more than 0.99 a pound, preferably closer to 0.80 or less. Last month we snagged about 14 pounds of near-perfect apples marked down to 0.59 a pound - yay!)
  • Ronzoni veggie-enriched pasta, 4 boxes - 1.00/box - used two $1/2 man. coupons
  • Market Pantry pasta, 2 boxes - 1.04/box - used $1/2 Target mobile coupon
  • Dannon Activa yogurt 4-pack - 2.00 - used $1.50/1 man. coupon
  • TOTAL - $4.52 - saved $12.25 with coupons 


Fareway's total: $8.69.

Fareway shopping trip
This was an extra-fun week at Fareway since they had some produce markdowns. Yay! We'd been out of bell peppers for a few weeks (no good sales), so finding a bag at 0.49/lb was perfect. I wish they had more marked-down things more often, as it helps our grocery bill a lot.
  • Green bell peppers, 3.4 lb (9 peppers) - marked down to 0.49/lb - 1.67
  • Ripe bananas, 5.98 lb - marked down to 0.39/lb - 2.33
  • Turkey franks - 4 packages at 0.98 - used two $1/2 manufacturer coupons (Don't judge, lol. We rarely eat hot dogs, but I like to get a few packages when they're super cheap this time of year, as they come in handy in a pinch when I don't have any other meat cooked ahead of time and need something to flavor soup or a casserole.)
  • Farmer's Garden pickled veggies - 2 jars at $2.49 each - used two totally free manufacturer coupons, yay!
  • Reynolds foil baking cups - 4 packages of 32 at 0.99 each - used four $1/1 manufacture coupons, so totally free (I'm excited about these, as I hate to wash muffin pans and can't bring myself to buy the baking cups at regular price. Now I can actually make muffins, lol!)
  • Miracle Whip - 2 jars at $2.49 each - used two $1/1 manufacturer coupons and two $1/1 store coupons, so only $0.49 each! Would have gotten more, but they limited it to one per customer. We'll go back in a few days for a couple more.
  • Pickling and canning salt - 5 lb at 1.59 - Joe plans to use this for the bacon he is currently learning how to cure.
  • Regular white table salt - 10 oz at 0.49 - I'll use this in the dishwasher detergent I make. We use Real Salt for cooking/eating, but cheap stuff works fine for cleaning.
  • TOTAL - $8.69 - saved $13.98 with coupons

Hy-vee's total: $12.11.
Hy-vee shopping trip
Normally we get Hy-vee's deals at Fareway since they match prices, but this week there was a Hy-vee specific coupon that we needed to use to make the deals worthwhile. So we braved the big store and managed to (eventually) find all we needed. ;)
  • Ocean Spray Cranberry Lemonade - 1.99 - used $1/1 manufacturer coupon, and planned to also get $0.50 off with the Ibotta app. This didn't work out, unfortunately; I discovered that though Hyvee does participate in the Ibotta program, they don't accept receipts from iPod 4s, which is what I have. Bummer.
  • Tilafia (fish) fillet - two 4-oz packages at 1.19 - Joe was in the mood for fish and this seemed to be a decent enough price for fillets; a treat, as we rarely splurge on fish.
  • Country Time drink mix canister - two at 2.49 each - used $1/2 manufacturer coupon
  • Philadelphia cream cheese - four at 1.69 each - used two $0.50/2 manufacturer coupons
  • Kraft salad dressing - four at 1.67 each - used two $1/2 manufacturer coupons. I do make our own dressing fairly often, but when it's this cheap we go ahead and get a few.
  • --and then used a $6 store coupon, applicable when buying 10 specific items. This knocked $0.60 each off the drink mixes, cream cheeses, and salad dressings. Subtracting the manufacturer coupons as well, we ended up paying an average of 0.84 per item, which is pretty decent.
  • TOTAL - $12.11 - saved $11.00 with coupons

WEEKLY TOTAL - $25.32 - saved $37.23 with coupons (more, if you count sales)
I had to chuckle when I tallied everything up and realized I squeaked in under my monthly budget by only 75 cents. I was hoping to spend no more than $117 this month since we'd gone a little over $150 the last couple months. Glad to have achieved that - and now I have a whole 75 cents to add on to next month's $150. ;) We have a few things to stock up on, including paying my family for some beef and pork, so it'll be interesting to see how it works out. One of my goals for next month will be focusing on using items we already have in the pantry and spending most of our budget on fresh fruit and veggies that are in season.

What We Ate
I only make loose lists of menu ideas, based on what we have on hand, starting with things that need using (particularly produce). Once in a great while we'll go out and buy specific ingredients for a recipe we want to make, but generally we just go with the flow of what's on sale and what we already have on hand. Saves a lot of money! And I work hard to keep our pantry pretty consistently stocked at any given time, so there are always endless options of things to make.

So here's a peek at what we ate this week. I'm not one to enjoy spending lots of time in the kitchen, so I generally only make one simple, from-scratch meal a day, large enough to feed us for 2+ meals. Leftovers get served up for the second meal (packing Joe's lunchbox), and breakfast is a help-yourself affair. We eat quite a bit of fruit as snacks, as well as popcorn. And Joe likes his chips and salsa now and again, too. :)
  • Sunday: Grilled veggies and brats on homemade whole wheat and rye buns
  • Monday: Ground beef and potato soup, leftover cornbread, green salad
  • Tuesday: Chicken dumplings, cantaloup and grapes
  • Wednesday: Leftover pizza rolls, fig bars, yogurt (I was out most of the afternoon, so kept things simple.)
  • Thursday: Mixed beans (cooked myself and flavored with BBQ sauce), leftover cornbread (yes, I made a big pan of it last week!), tomato/cucumber/mayo salad. Joe was off this day, so for supper we had a "date night" treat of Pizza Hut. :)
  • Friday: Chicken & rice pilaf with almonds, green salad.
    Saturday: Roast beef, tomato, and cheese sandwiches on homemade buns, veggies and dip.
  • Breakfasts: Apples and peanut butter, bananas, whole wheat banana bread

A new blog for a new era...

Hello everyone!

Many of you are friends with me (Joe) on Facebook, so you've already been seeing my posts over there, but I wanted to let the rest of you know that I have a newish website/blog that has been up and running since 11/14/2012. It's over at www.jwexperience.com and is where I make my primary non-Facebook Internet presence felt. I don't have a ton of posts up, even after seven months, but I'm working to correct that.

The site is definitely a personal site in many ways, and I am using it to share reviews of books I've read, mini-articles I've written, and reflections on life, but I'm also building it into a platform for my writing career. That career is slowly building, with five co-author credits currently in print and a sixth one hopefully coming out this year, as well as several solo projects in various stages of development. I'm not sure if I will get a story published this year or not, though that has been my goal. The more up-to-date information on my progress will be found at my site, as well as my Facebook author page, http://www.facebook.com/joewestbrookauthor. Come around to both, become a fan/follower, and you'll be forever in the know (a position you've wanted all your life).

Beyond blogging and writing news, it's exciting to share that I've been back on the evening shift since June 18th after roughly three months of working overnights. The overnight schedule isn't the awful monster that a lot of people make it out to be, but it's not ideal when you have a little one in the house and your spouse thus has to be on a different schedule than you. In order to get the necessary sleep, I was making use of our spare room and guest bed for the duration, a setup neither Abi nor I particularly enjoyed. Leaving early from my last overnight shift and catching a quick nap did wonders to help me switch back, and in just two weeks I've felt such a difference in my energy levels. We are quite thankful for me having a job at all, so a temporary less-than-desirable schedule wasn't the worst we could have endured.

Financially we continue to hammer down our debts, this month getting our total down below $40,000. We've paid off almost $9,000 this year alone, which is quite an accomplishment! I'm hoping to maintain or even increase the pace for the rest of the year. We've been helped along by a student loan repayment program through work that is covering $5,000 in increments of $192.80 paid every two weeks; this payment schedule will run through next March. I'd like to receive at least that much when I apply again this fall, though the maximum annual allotment of $10,000 would sound even better.

There is a strong possibility that I could hit day shift hours even sometime this year by taking a position to train as a replacement for one of my coworkers that will be retiring by the end of next June at the latest. The hours would be 8-4:30 with roughly one weekend in five, which would be 7-3:30. The way everyone talks, the position is basically mine if I want it and depends primarily on when they get it posted. What we see as the primary benefit is the ability to get together with friends in town pretty much any evening of the week, even if just for an hour or two, and thus create and maintain a greater degree of connection with people, something we have sorely lacked and greatly desired ever since we got married.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for further updates on the homefront!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lukas turns seven months old!

This seventh month has been a big one for Lukas. He has learned and done so many new things, and thinks he's quite the big boy any more. ;) Here's some of what he's been up to:

This is the first of Lukas' birthday pictures taken sitting up all by himself - big boy!
Joe was standing above the camera and coaxed out this irresistible grin. :D
You can see his baltic amber teething necklace here; it seems to help with his teething pain.
No teeth through yet, though!
 

~ Rolling over. The evening of his six-month birthday, Lukas celebrated by rolling over (tummy to back) for the first time. He sure was proud of himself! Within the next week, he quickly perfected the art and figured out how to roll over within a matter of seconds of being laid down on his tummy. Goodbye, tummy time! :D Since then he has managed to roll from back to tummy one time as well. He could do that more often but since he prefers laying on his back he doesn't have much motivation for going onto his tummy. Oh, and he's also discovered how much fun his feet are - to hang on to, as well as to chew on. Pretty hilarious. ;)

~ Beginning to maneuver around the house. It's slow going yet, but the other day he managed to make it several feet into the kitchen, rotating around several times in the process. Another day he got one of the kitchen cupboards open for the first time while laying on his back in front of it. Soon it will be time to start locking things up, methinks!

~ Sitting up. I'm not sure what technically counts as being able to sit up, but Lukas sure has been doing pretty good in that department this month. He doesn't pull himself into a sitting position yet, but if I set him down he is able to hold himself pretty steady and (usually) to pull himself back upright if he tips over. I usually let him practice on the bed while I'm there pumping - he's a safe distance from the edge and surrounded by a few pillows to give him a little leverage in pulling back up. He thinks it's pretty much the greatest thing to play with his toys that way - and to grab at everything in sight, especially Mommy's laptop, lol! For a guy that's normally very easy-going and unmotivated, he's shown a real stubborn streak sometimes if he decides he really wants to check something out, lol.

~ Eating food. We gave Lukas his first taste of solid food about a week after his 6-month birthday. Banana was the item of choice, and his reaction - a decidedly "yucky" face - was hilarious! He's gotten a chance to try several other foods since then, including sweet potato, apple, cucumber, and cantaloup. He even got to try a pickle (not Mommy's idea!), and shocked us all by how excited he was over it. Definitely takes after his daddy! The more he gets used to new flavors, the more he seems to enjoy food, and it's fun to see him sucking and chomping away at his mesh feeder. It's all just for fun now, as I hope to continue nursing him at least through his first birthday, but we're enjoying it. :)

I had him lay down for a few shots, too. This was taken mid-squeal, thus the concentrated expression.
He sure can get loud sometimes, usually when he's all excited and happy, or hyper.
:)

~ Noticing pretty much everything. It's fun to watch Lukas tuning in to more and more of his surroundings. He'll notice tiny little specks on a shirt or on his booster seat tray, and each one has to be thoroughly investigated. Patterns in fabric, jewelry, buttons...everything is fascinating. Airplanes flying over our house are a new source of interest. We can't see them very well, even when out on our deck, but they can be quite loud. Sometimes they scare Lukas, but lately he's found the noise more exciting than anything and we're trying to teach him the ASL sign for "airplane" (as well as a few others).

Our adventures this month included a long weekend in Wisconsin, visiting quite a few relatives and friends of Joe's. Lukas got spoiled from the constant attention, but did pretty good on the whole trip. A few days later, we took him to a local amusement park for a day - and again, he behaved wonderfully, just hanging out in the stroller watching everything that went on. He's such a good baby almost all the time...he makes us look good as parents, lol. Guess God knew we couldn't handle anything more. ;) We're unspeakably grateful for the gift of this delightfully sweet-natured little boy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grocery shopping, June 16-22

On one of my favorite frugal-living blogs, my friend Crystal often posts about her grocery shopping trips and weekly menu plans. It's fun to see the coupon and sales deals she's been able to put together, and it's also a great way to learn how to budget and plan better myself.

We currently have a grocery budget of $150/month for our family of three (not that Lukas eats much at all yet, at 7 months), and so far this year we've been able to stay on track with that pretty well. I thought some of you might find it interesting to see how we spend that money each week. We're not using all that many coupons right now as it's a little harder with a baby in the mix, but by watching the sales ads each week and planning menus accordingly we're still able to eat quite well, even relatively healthfully, with this budget...and with a very minimal amount of couponing effort.

A disclaimer: Obviously every family's dietary needs and priorities are different, and prices vary widely from area to area. No one's in a contest to see how little can be spent each month to keep your family alive (we could live on a lot less than we are, but probably wouldn't be very healthy!). Yet I do find it a fun challenge to be the best steward I can of what God has provided to us. I'm learning a lot all the time myself, and am glad to pass along what I know, too.

So here's this week's round-up. If enough of you are interested (comment, please!), I'll try to continue with posts like this. Maybe I'll even take a picture of all we buy...didn't get to that this time. :)

Week of June 16-22

Aldi shopping trip
We were out of town the previous week and had used up most of our produce before the trip, so it was time to head to Aldi and restock the fridge. Their produce is almost always great quality and the prices are pretty hard to beat!
  • Cucumbers - 3 @ 0.39 - 1.17
  • Onions - 3 lb - 1.69
  • Grape tomatoes - 1.49 (for Joe's lunches)
  • Snow peas - 1.99 (ditto)
  • Roma tomatoes - 2 boxes of 9 @ 1.29 - 2.58
  • Cantaloupe - 1 whole melon - 1.19
  • Red grapes - 2 lb. - 1.98
  • TOTAL - $12.09

Fareway shopping trip
We like Fareway because they match ads from several other local stores, the clerks are always cheerful and helpful, and the smaller stores are easy to get around. The best part, though, is that they have marked down items and we never know what we'll find! No big finds this time around, sadly, but these prices are pretty good and we needed to restock our supplies of peanut butter and shredded cheese.
  • Skippy peanut butter, 16 oz - 6 @ 1.88 (wish there'd been a coupon available for this!)
  • Shredded cheese, 8 oz - 6 @ 1.50
  • Corn on the cob, pack of 4 - marked down to 1.09
  • Leaf lettuce, large heads - 2 @ 1.29
  • TOTAL - $23.95

Menards shopping trip
This is the first time we've ever bought groceries at Menards, hehe, but Joe saw they had brats on sale this week and the Wisconsin boy in him got all excited. ;) Maybe not a steal of a price, but it's decent and these will be good for grilling this summer. The Klements brand is supposed to have no MSG, nitrates/nitrites, etc., so that's nice.
  • Klements brats, 5 per package - 5 @ 1.99 
  • TOTAL - $9.95

Walmart shopping trip
We don't go to Walmart all that often, but I had a few coupons that were supposed to be best used there and Joe said he didn't mind stopping by while he was out getting the brats and the things at Fareway. Unfortunately he was only able to locate one of the items for the coupon deals...seems to be the way things usually go for us at Walmart. Just one more reason we rarely go there. :P
  • Kraft BBQ sauce - 6 @ 1.00 - used three $1/2 coupons
  • TOTAL - $3.00

Total for the week - $48.99
This is more than we spend most weeks, but since we'd bought basically no groceries the week before due to our trip it'll still work out well for the month as a whole. And with the cheese, peanut butter, brats, and BBQ sauce we did a fair bit of stocking up for future weeks, too.

What we ate
I didn't keep very detailed notes on this, but can do better next time if anyone is interested. Made several big green salads and had fruit several days, and for main dishes I made pizza rolls, tuna sandwiches, chicken and asparagus casserole, red rice, and potato-corn-beef soup. Joe grilled veggies and brats one day (I made whole wheat and rye buns to go with the latter), and we had leftover homemade sour cream spice cake and apples with peanut butter most breakfasts.

Question of the week
What's your favorite way to use BBQ sauce? I haven't done a lot with it before, but now have a bunch in the pantry. ;) Ideas, please!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Treat for our readers!


One of my favorite card companies, Treat, is giving away a million cards this summer! All new customers are invited to check out the site and choose any card from the vast selection available, customize it as they choose, and receive it in their mailbox absolutely FREE! All you have to do is click here or on the image above, and use the code TRTB9X8563 when placing your order. This promo expires on June 17, so make sure you grab your card in time!

If you've never ordered from Treat before, this is a fabulous opportunity to check out their great selection of gorgeous designs and to discover how easy the customization process is. The printing quality is great, and prices are very reasonable. Why buy a generic card at the store when you can so quickly put together something far more special and personal? :D

The fine print: Offer expires 6/17/2013 (11:59 P.M. PT).  Offer is good for one (1) free greeting card using the code TRTB9X8563  at checkout.  Postage may apply.  Customer must be a first-time Treat customer.   Offer is valid for one-time redemption per billing address.  Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with other offers, discounts, promotions or credits.  Offer is not applicable to previously placed orders.  Offer is only valid on www.treat.comhttps://wiki.tinyprints.com/images/icons/linkext7.gif and does not apply to purchases made from the Treat Cards for iPhone app.  Offer is not applicable to Treat Card Club, gifts, or third party or partner websites.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lukas: The first half year


It's so hard to believe that our little man has already been with us for 6 months! A year ago at this time we had just made our pregnancy news public (on Mother's Day weekend), and I was still in the thick of morning all day sickness. So much has happened since then, and our lives are fuller and happier than ever.

This month has been a quiet one at home. I came down with a very bad cold the first of the month and thought perhaps Lukas would experience his first sickness, but he remained completely healthy - thank God! He has been growing by leaps and bounds, and learning lots of fun things. Here's some of what he's been up to:

~ Learning how to sit up. Well, not completely unsupported, at least not for more than a few seconds at a time. But he's quite excited to sit up like a big boy in our laps, and has lots of fun spending time in his Bumbo or booster chair. The latter is especially fun since it has a tray. He'll spend an hour or more chasing an orange around the tray, or carefully picking up a teething toy, putting it in his mouth, and changing it from hand to hand.

~ Spending time outside. Several of our neighbors have moved away recently as the apartment complex instituted a new rule to not allow any smoking out of doors. This has allowed us to make much more use of our tiny balcony, unbothered by secondhand smoke. What a blessing! Lukas and I have spent quite a few afternoons out there when the weather has been nice. I bring along my book or a journal, and he plays happily on a blanket beside me, so glad to be outside. Soon I think he'll start noticing the birds, cars driving by, and things like that.

~ Teething. His two lower teeth are still working on coming in, but haven't quite popped through yet. He's had a few not-so-happy days when they've obviously been bothering him more, but overall he's been handling it pretty well. He sure enjoys his frozen teething toys, and will spend hours playing with and chewing on his ribbon-tagged blankie. He also sucks on his lower lip fairly often - I think it must feel good to those sore gums, but it gives him a sort of goofy, thoughtful appearance. :)


~ Grabbing everything. Lukas is no longer content to merely observe the world: everything must be touched. It's so cute the way he wants to feel our faces (Joe's fuzzy goatee is particularly fascinating to him)! He likes to touch my iPod screen, and the other day managed to take a self-portrait when I had the camera app open. The Jumparoo is a source of wild excitement - SO many things to grab and play with all at once! And of course we have to be extra careful to make sure he's not grabbing for things he shouldn't play with. Just wait until he starts crawling around, haha!

~ Playing little games. Peek-a-boo is a big favorite now, eliciting lots of giggles if he's in the right mood. He's also starting to have a lot of fun "flying" as Joe lifts him high, bouncing on our knees, or being kissed/tickled on his neck. He always smiles real big when we give him a hug and say "Squeeze!" :) And what a sense of humor he has! The other day he was fake coughing/laughing, making a "heh, heh, heh" sound that he knew sounded really silly. Recently he's begun wrinkling his nose a bit when he grins sometimes, which gives him such a mischievous look. We're really enjoying watching his personality develop!

~ Reading books. We've read several board books to Lukas this month, and he's getting to the point of wanting to help turn the pages, to feel the pictures, and so on. Of course if we let him hold the books himself, they go immediately into his mouth...so his level of literary appreciation is rather suspect at this point. ;) We do look forward to continuing to teach him how to love good books as he grows older.

I can't imagine life without this precious little man! We look forward to seeing what God has in store for the next 6 months.