Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Budget Cut Month One Recap and prayers.

So, if you recall, I took it upon myself to do some major overhaul in the one area of our budget I could see cutting down: the grocery and household fund. We were averaging $650 to $700 a month (even though our budget for our family of five was $600) and I decided to see if I could challenge myself to cut that down to a mere (ha!) $500 a month. It sounded totally crazy but I was super excited to see if I could do it.

I am VERY happy to report....that I did it!!! I decided to try to spend $100 max per week on groceries and $100 total for the month on household supplies (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc.) Not only was I able to stay within budget for the first time in a REALLY long time but I even (ready for this??) went under budget by $48.23. Yee-haw!

Seriously, it felt so good to do this and to take a goal that felt impossible and possible all at the same time, and a little crazy, and actually accomplish it! And for the record, this is my own personal goal and has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else's budgets (or non-budgets!), life-style choices or what not! No bragging here, honestly.

I spent just under $100 every week and said a prayer before I went to the store each time:) I probably won't share actual amounts with you each month, just a brief recap of if I did/did not meet budget but this month I will!

Week #1 came to $99.31. I said "under" $100 so this counts!! I realized that first week how much I impulse bought even though I would've sworn I had that under control! I forced myself to add up on the receipt everything that I bought outside of my grocery list and it added up to $19.31! Talk about an eye opener!

Week #2 I was much more controlled and kept my eyes averted past the goody treat aisles and spent $89.17!! I started doing lots of preparation and freezer meals at home to save time and money on future grocery bills and started seeing it paying off pretty quickly!

Week #3 was my best yet with $61.91!!

Week #4 was a total of $99.05. I spent $102.33 on the household fund for April so I took money that I saved on groceries to cover that and used a little bit to cover part of a tip for our haircuts last week, leaving us with over $33 to save!

We decided that in the event we have leftover money and go under budget, we will first use some to cover any areas where we went over (if we did) and then put the rest in some special savings funds we have going on. We have three things we are saving for currently (in no particular order!): a kitty, a few new items of furniture and a weekend away for the two of us! Slow and steady wins the race or something like that;)

The really great news was that watching the grocery budget so carefully caused Ben to really get on board with me and help keep me accountable (and him, too!) and we carefully scrutinized each penny we spent and made sure that everything bought was covered under one of our budget categories. That is something that we haven't been so good at recently! It's really easy to think 'Oh yeah, we have this budget and we are sticking fairly close to it" and really you're not. I find that a cash budget is helping me tremendously. I have a miniature accordion file that is labeled with each of my monthly categories (non-bills) that I use cash for like groceries, household, medicine, eating out, etc. I am keeping track of the meals I've made all month, to see what good, cheap meals are for my future rotations. A really great cookbook I got from the library that I have found several good recipes from is called, "Cheap. Fast. Good!" This book will go on my  personal amazon wish list for sure. Anyone else do that?

All in all, we saved over $250 this month!! I have struggled for so long with feeling such guilt over "failing" in this area, especially with our debt burden hanging over our heads but I feel good about my hard work this month, even if it was pretty exhausting sometimes!

I am a little nervous about the months that have closer to 5 weeks in them and hope that I can figure out a way to balance everything out and stick to this! Not bad for the first month!

Also, I would just like to ask for you prayers, once again. We have been heavily burdened with the weight of some huge decisions that we have to make fairly quickly about our future. We really need some peace and guidance. We would greatly appreciate any and all prayers during this time. Thank you!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Success Night and Trail Walking!

 On Thursday night, the boys had Success Night at school, where the kids get to show off their classrooms and hard work to their parents! They couple the Success Night with the Book Fair to lure families in:)

First we stopped by Mr. Z's classroom! All of the kids had worked hard to create their "twin," who was sitting at each of their desks. Eliana got a kick out of this and insisted on carrying Zakkai's twin around, who was the exact same height as her. That lasted until she stepped on his leg and "broke" it. Happily, he has been surgically repaired and we even found him sleeping in Zakkai's bed yesterday! haha.

Zakkai worked on a poster about tornadoes at school. He did a great job learning the facts and drawing very tornado-y pictures!

This is Zakkai's "grassapillar" that he made. They do so many things at school! The walls were filled with projects and artwork from the kids! Zakkai also showed off some of his math skills on the computer. He's a smart kid!

In Samuel's classroom, he had a huge list of things he wanted to show us! First was a flower on the window that featured a picture of Samuel with Ben when he came to be the Mystery Reader a few months ago. Samuel adores his daddy.

Another thing Samuel wanted to show us was his passport. Each kid got to pick the country they would like to visit most and explain why!

This was Samuel's answer:) Told you he loves his Daddy!

And this was his "wanted poster" that cracked me up! It was about Alexander, who used to be rich and was wanted for $1,000,000 for "hiding money under his bed away from his mom." haha!

Today it was a lot cooler out (in keeping with our latest up, down, up, down weather patterns) so we put on coats/sweatshirts and found a beautiful trail nearby to hike down!

A little glimpse of my three guys through the trees:)

It was very peaceful by the creek! There was no one on the trail we picked and it was so nice to just walk together in the peace and quiet and take in the budding trees and gently flowing water.

Eliana forgot about her "tiredness" and demands to be carried once she found this huge stick that was twice her size! (half of it isn't even pictured!) She dragged that stick as far as she could and then that got the boys finding sticks and helping with hers.

All three of them walking with her stick! They had a really fun time finding huge sticks to drag along and were disappointed that we didn't let them bring the sticks home:) It was a really nice afternoon in the sun! Probably one of our favorite trails yet.

I've tried several new recipes this month since I am so carefully menu-planning and trying to cut costs. I've found some really good, simple ones, too! Here is one I wanted to share.

Ham and Broccoli Pasta Toss
1 lb short pasta, such as penne or rotini (I used both!)
1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup diced ham
1 1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
2 TB olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Italian dressing, optional

1. Cook noodles according to package. During last 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli to the boiling water. Drain well.

2. Meanwhile, add the ham pieces to a large serving bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and add the pieces with the ham.

3. Peel and mince the garlic and add it to the bowl. Add the basil and stir to mix well.

4. After pasta and broccoli are drained well, add them to the bowl and toss well. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and Parmesan cheese. Toss until well-mixed. If desired, serve drizzled with Italian dressing for added flavor!

We ALL really like this really easy dinner! It was really good the next day for leftovers, too! I will definitely be adding this to my list of meals for rotation. Easy and cheap!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Big Do Part II!

 It was MY turn to sit in the haircutting seat today, although not in a pink airplane like Eliana:) She asked me this morning if I was going to get to sit in a yellow airplane. Just picturing how funny that would be.....

I found groupons for both of us (different places, of course!) since we were both in dire need of some sprucing up. It's been almost a year since my last haircut and it was a weird experience. The groupon I found was for a higher end salon and it was a great deal!

Here's my before: sitting in the parking lot before I went in to relieve myself of some of the serious weight of my hair! I start to look like "It" from the Adam's Family once my hair starts getting so long. I have such a long narrow face that I need to break it up a bit.

So I did! I got a good 5 inches chopped off and it feels great!! Ben says he loves it and he's a tough critic so that makes me happy:) On a side note, why do I look so...old?? I guess it has been a rough year so it's to be expected. At least I don't have gray hair like my dearest husband...haha. (Shhh, don't tell him I said that!)

Eliana is just infatuated with her new hair-do and has been worried all day that sleeping and the wind have messed it all up. She was satisfied with a couple brushings today and even requested a blow-dry at bedtime tonight. Ha, what is she turning into?! She says next time she'll get a cut like me:)

She and I finished our last week of grocery shopping today. I am waiting to make sure we make it through this last week of April with no more trips to the store before I share the results. It's been fun this month doing the budget makeover! Never though I'd say it was fun but....it was. Mostly:)

On a random side note, Ben and Zakkai have been learning Latin together! Zakkai faded out pretty quickly (although he did like hearing the Lord's Prayer in Latin) but Samuel seems to have the same love of learning as his dear old dad and I am pretty impressed at what they have learned! Not something you would hear in many households:)

And I don't know about you but I am very thankful for the sunshine and signs of spring starting to bloom. It always makes you feel a little more hopeful, especially after a LONG winter!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Big Do!

 For once, I have lots of pictures to share with more waiting in the queue:) Eliana and I had a fun day today, as you will see later!

On Friday afternoon, we took a little stroll down part of our street. This is the face Eliana made when Ben made her turn around:) She is becoming notorious in our family for her grouchy faces! Couple those with her crossed arms and she is the epitome of disgruntledness!

Trying to decide if she wants to be friendly or not...

I got to do some tickle torturing with this guy this weekend. He has a great laugh and his nose wrinkles when he laughs really hard. So cute!

This morning, Eliana got her very first ever professional haircut!! This is her "before shot." I tried to trim her hair a couple weeks ago but apparently I have reached the end of my hair cutting expertise, as it was a wee bit uneven.

We went to a really cute haircutting place about 10 minutes away, where I found a groupon! She got to choose her "ride" for her haircut and she chose a fancy pink airplane:) As you can see, she was very serious about the whole thing! She did not want to come but I kept telling her it was fun!

I think part of the reason she was so serious most of the time, aside from her nervousness of the unknown, was that she had to remove her glasses, which is an uncomfortable feeling!

Done with the cutting and about to get her first blow-dry! She sat so perfectly still for the whole thing. During the blow-dry, she did a little driving in her plane:)

Ta-da! A cute little bob!

I put her glasses on and we turned her around to the mirror and she started smiling and said she liked it!

Aw, she looks sooooo cute! It made me a little bit teary when it was all done because she looks older and so pretty! It was a big event for her:) Okay, and for me, too! She LOVES her hair and couldn't wait to show it off to Daddy and her brothers.

Tonight she prayed, "Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for my haircut and thank you that Jesus made me beautiful and thank you for the pink airplane and for my hair getting cut and that I will be so pretty! Amen!"

So sweet!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

 He is Risen! We had a beautiful service at church today. So very thankful! And then 10 seconds after we came home, I forced our spiffy crew to step outside for pictures! Good thing I did, too, because they changed clothes faster than you can say, "I told you so!"

Aren't they cute?!

Zakkai thought he was being funny to stick out his tongue. Stinker.

Mr. Z-man! A handsome 7 year old, if I ever saw one!

He has grown up so much this year. Sometimes we still have to remind ourselves that he's not 5 anymore...

And the little darling! My mom sent her this Easter hat in the mail and she thinks it's pretty fun to wear! My mom also supervised me making this dress for E! Eliana was excited to wear it!

Little Lady:)

Pretty girl.

Boy, this kiddos is 8 going on 14! He is so big and just maturing so much. Hard to believe he was once our little "Das B!" (his nickname as a baby)

So handsome! He's getting some wiggly front teeth. I admit I am hoping he'll lose them a little closer to Christmas so we can sing, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!"

I love these three!

Happy Easter from the Thomas Family!

p.s. as an interesting side, our church was chosen by NBC for the national Easter service aired on television today. The times they aired the show (all NBC affiliates around the country had the option of airing a religious service today and if they wanted to, this was their option!) It was on very early in a lot of states but just in case you are interested to hear: https://www.cc-ob.org/nbceaster. It was pre-taped a few weeks ago so it wasn't today's service but still pretty cool!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Winter again??

 We woke up to THIS today:

Eliana was practically in tears! She said, "It was spring and now it's winter again! I don't want winter again!" She has been so into getting out her warmer clothes and wearing them around the house (hence her 3xs a day outfit changes!) and is NOT happy with me that I had to curb the short-sleeves and shorts for a few days and make her put on her winter coat again!

Believe me, no one in the Midwest is happy about that!

The yogurt turned out great!! Or so they tell me:) We have already gone through 1 qt and a pint of it. It is plain yogurt so we have just been mixing in a little honey or a little confectioner's sugar (something B learned in Turkey) and a dash of vanilla. Tonight I made a strawberry chia compote that they can mix in the yogurt. I am really happy they all love it!

They feel very sad for me that I can't eat it:) You know, gag reflex and all....
Our stick system has continued to go really well!! We had a few "bugs" to work out in the first couple of weeks. We decided to let the boys pick 2 sticks on Friday afternoons that they don't have to do since it is more of a relaxed day and they are extra tired from a long week at school. They usually choose shower as one of them, ha!

We have random bonus days where they can earn something extra for getting all of their sticks. They will never know when those pop up! Zakkai was really struggling for awhile so we talked about some ways for him to be better at managing his time and he is doing awesome with it now! As a matter of fact, he just earned a prize tonight!!

We have to keep on them for not doing shoddy jobs on some of their chores just to get a stick. Sometimes they rush through 5 minute bedroom clean up or things like that. We want them to do a good job, even if no one is watching. Doesn't it say in the Bible to always work like you're doing it for God? A valuable lesson for when they are adults, too!

We have been really good about using the discipline chart, too. Admittedly, it is harder for me. I really, really hate to discourage them from doing a good job (especially Zakkai, who struggles with listening and managing time more) and I am not always good at enforcing the rules. It's like one more detail in an already busy day. But I have been working hard to follow through on what I say and crack down on talking back or not listening, etc. Without too many warnings:)

I'm an old softy, darn it! The chart has been working well though. They are learning that they need to be respectful and won't get away with talking back or not listening to us. And I get some help with extra chores;) I am really glad that we are doing this system and that it's really working and helping all of us!
My nephew was released from the hospital yesterday, after 5 days and nights. My sister was exhausted from such a long and difficult week. Still praying for a full recovery for J and for the whole family to get rest and peace! Samuel has been anxious about his cousin and really sad about him being so sick. He was so relieved to hear that he got to go home. Such a sweet heart!

Well, it's that time of night where I must get myself to bed so that it doesn't require a screwdriver to pry my eyes open in the morning! Beauty sleep and all that...:) Good night!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Weekend Wrap!

 On Friday, Samuel was Star of the Day and we were invited to come and watch Samuel talk about his pictures to his class (we sent in 15 pictures of him from birth on up!) and answer any questions they had. At first he was a little embarrassed that so many of us came, haha. It was Ben and I, Eliana and C, the baby I watch. But he was also happy at the same time.

He pointed to every picture with the wooden pointer and explained in minimal detail about each one, which we thought was funny. He kept turning to me to ask when pictures were taken or how old he was. His teacher said, "Good thing your mom is here to help!"

The kids asked him all sorts of questions about the pictures or about the facts he shared. He put that he wants to be an artist when he grows up and one kid asked him what kind of art he wants to do! He didn't really have an answer for that:) I am so glad his teacher does things like this to make each kid feel special!

It was gorgeous on Friday! Eliana and I sat on the front porch for a long time and played and then brought Baby C out to eat his lunch outside when he woke up. We were determined to soak up as much Vitamin D as possible!

Mr. C LOVES to take wagon rides and he thoroughly enjoyed the ride to school yesterday! He had a big birthday this week and we got to celebrate with him yesterday!

We got a special Easter box in the mail from Ben's mom yesterday! Once we got permission to open it (how can you ask kids to wait??), I took it upstairs and assembled all of the Easter baskets. Wow, these are lucky kids!

They were sort of stunned at first and said, "Whoa!" Believe me, they were excited!

They stared for several long seconds and then dug in! Talk about goodies galore!

Happy kiddos! Thank you, Grandma!!

Eliana loves her new pink bunny and it has gone with her everywhere since yesterday! It sleeps with her, went to the birthday party and to church today:)

The kiddos picked out a pack of trucks for Baby C for his birthday since he loves to drive the boys' matchbox cars and I wanted to think of something to go with it. Something homemade to show how special he is to us. This is what I came up with! It is a little mat made of felt for him to drive his cars on. Not perfect by any means but it was really fun to make!

A house with a little dog...

A man fishing in the pond. That was Ben's idea:)

A park bench and some trees..

The swing set

And a truck. Kind of a fire truck/ambulance combo. Oh well! The boys were like, "How come you didn't make anything like this for us when we were little??" ha.  It was really fun to make a little special something for a special little guy. He's been like part of our family for this past year and we all love him!

This is what Eliana looked like when she woke up this morning:) haha. She looks different every time she comes out of her room!

At church today, they handed out palm leaves to all of the kids, who waved them on their way out to their classes. Eliana got a huge kick out of the palm leaf and used it to torture tickle us on the way home from church. Stinker!

We cleaned our place all up spic and span for our small group this afternoon, only to have everyone cancel for one reason or another. At least we all get to enjoy a clean house! That's a nice way to start the week. Then this afternoon, I made some homemade yogurt and BBQ sauce. The yogurt won't be ready to put in the fridge for another 2 1/2 hours. I am really really hoping it turns out!

Not that I'm going to eat it. Blech. I wish I liked it, believe me! But I have texture issues and yogurt causes an immediate gag reflex in me. So, this time I will have to rely on my families opinions to see if this recipe is a keeper! If it is, this will save us a ton of money. They all love yogurt and go through it so fast. It's not cheap either! This recipe makes 4 qts and a little over a pint of yogurt for a total price of $3.88! It lasts for a month in the fridge, has the probiotic bacteria and you can add whatever mix-ins you want!

I'll let you know it this works out! That's our weekend in a wrap. Hope yours was nice, too!

That's all for the weekend!