Monday, November 24, 2008

I CAN'T HOLD IT IN ANY LONGER!!!!

I'm about to bust, because I've been holding some stuff in. I just can't hold it in any longer, because I am SO EXCITED! Once you're done reading this you'll probably be like, "What the heck, Rach? This stuff is NOT important at all!" My answer to that is--right now, they're important to me!

#1. I am completely done with my Christmas shopping for family, except for Josh and Zeke (we may get him one more gift, but maybe not). This is an incredible feat, because usually we are scrambling for gifts at the last minute. Not so this year! I've had the time to be creative AND find great deals.
#2. A special thanks goes out to Jordan, who tipped me off to a great website with ideas for affordable and creative Christmas gifts. And SO, I ended up making these awesome plates for all 4 of my sister's kids:
I drew a picture on each of their plates of something they are interested in. It was tough for Dustin and Austin because I don't know them that well yet, but Bethany gave me great ideas for them, so I hope I got it right! I had one plate leftover, so I was able to make a birthday gift for one of Zeke's little friends from Story Time at the Library. Her birthday party was Saturday and it felt great to be able to give a thoughtful gift. If you are reading this and you are related to me, don't show the kids this picture! I am always super excited to give gifts, but this year because I'm done so early, the anticipation is killing me! It's all I can do to hold back from giving everyone their presents right now!

So there you go... I feel a little bit better now that I was able to get that off my chest and out into the open. :) But shhhhhhh...don't tell the kids!

Rachel

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Current Happenings

Hello everyone!

I'm coming to you live from my living room, inspired by my mocha spice latte from Dunkin' Donuts--a new favorite! There are men working on something or other outside (the street lamp?) and whatever they're doing involves a constant, rapid pounding on something in the ground. It actually shakes the entire apartment, especially the floor. So I'm blogging to take my mind off of it. Wait--they stopped! Ahhhh dang, they started again.

Today's post will hopefully provide you with an update on what's going on in our lives. I'm going to try to make it as clear as possible, as there is SO MUCH going on...I really don't know where to begin.

First of all, we are planting a church. I'm writing that in the present tense, even though we are some time away from the actual launch of this church, because the preparations for this new venture begin immediately in our minds and hearts. After a little while, Josh will no longer be in charge of Youth and Worship at Westside Community Church, and will be focusing full-time on developing the church. Basically, it will begin as a ministry of Westside, and continue to grow into a separate church. That is the bare-bones 30-second explanation of the whole thing. We are not sure what this looks like yet, which as you can imagine, is scary for both of us. We do know that since God has called us to plant, He will guide us and take care of us. Phillippians 1:6 (ESV) says "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." I firmly believe that no matter what happens, God will bring it to completion in the way He wants it to be done for His Kingdom. That may be COMPLETELY different than what we have in mind at this point, but I am also trusting that God will give us His vision. At this point, our focus is on the North Apopka area, by S.R. 429. This will allow us to continue to work with Westside once our church is established, and carry out their mission and vision, which we believe in strongly.

So, with all of that in mind, will you please partner with me in praying for a few things:
1. Please pray for Westside, as well as Josh and I, as this transition will probably be much more difficult than we expect it to be!
2. Pray for our living arrangements. We currently live in the Altamonte Springs area, which is close, but not close enough, to the area we wish to serve. Also, if we are going to begin small groups and meetings and such, we need a place to meet--a two bedroom apartment is not the place! I so desire to open up my home to others and make it an inviting place, which is just not possible where we are now. We have explored a few options, including renting a home and buying a home. I found an amazing home for rent in the area we are looking at, and it has been reduced from $1600 per month to $1450 (a CONSIDERABLE increase from our current rent), and they are desperate to rent it and will consider all offers. We have also looked at buying, and found an amazing new development steps away from Apopka Elementary School (which we will probably try to use as a resource or meeting space) called Clayton Estates, but would need the prices of these new homes to come down in order to afford it. With new home construction this is sort of unlikely, but we have seen several developments' prices come down in the recent months due to the housing "crisis." We also have no down payment. Ouch. But we know that this "crisis" could help us out as it makes it more likely for prices to come down. Plus, when we spoke to the agent at the sales center, she told us that the builder is throwing in TONS of extras for free, like tile, cabinets, appliances, etc.
3. In a completely unrelated prayer request, please pray for me this Friday (11/21) as I testify in a Termination of Parental Rights trial. You may know that I was a Family Case Manager in the child welfare field before having my son. This is the TPR trial from my very first case, which is now two years old....which means the child is now two years old. I have been hoping and praying for this day since I first received the case, as awful as that sounds...but this little boy needs to be adopted by his foster parents, for many reasons. So Friday is a big day, two whole years in the making, for all of us involved in his life.

Thanks for reading and praying if you are able...I hope you have a wonderful day! I'm excited because I'll be going to my old office to see some of my friends in a little while!

Rachel

Monday, November 17, 2008

Giveaway on The Homespun Heart

Monica at The Homespun Heart is giving away a necklace from Lisa Leonard Designs. The necklaces are so charming! Please check out her site...and if you want to enter, go to The Homespun Heart!

love
Rachel

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Adventures in Homemaking

My occupation, officially at least, is "homemaker." On most days, I don't feel much like one. It's not that I don't enjoy all of the homemaking activities, because I do. I really really really do. It's just that a) it's a lot of work and b) it's hard to home-make in a 2 bedroom apartment. There's a lot I could clean around here, but there is practically no room to run the vacuum or dust, or whatever. I'd love to sew curtains and such, but I don't have a sewing machine. So I guess I'm just low on resources at the moment. Monica over at "The Homespun Heart" has issued a challenge of sorts, to work on "Making Your Home a Haven" this week. Each day she has posted a new idea that goes into making the home a peaceful, inviting place. The first two days were exactly what I needed--tidy and clean! I'm not exactly going through day by day and completing each concept on the day it's assigned...I'm just working on what I can, with what I have.

The first thing she suggests we do each day is pray and spend time with the Lord. So far, I have been successful with that...and because of that one triumph, I consider the whole thing a victory! Yesterday I worked on both "tidy" AND "clean" because I didn't get much done with "tidy" on Monday. So I went around our little living room and dining room, picking up papers and throwing things away. I felt quite accomplished! I haven't mentioned anything about this challenge to Josh, so imagine my surprise when he came home yesterday after I had tidied and cleaned up and said, "After dinner, why don't we spend a little time cleaning this place up?!" Well, first of all I was honored that he would offer to help me clean because he knows how important it is to me, even though it is neither of our favorite things to do. Second...I thought I had already cleaned!!!! He had no idea that I had spent time that very day cleaning up--so he didn't mean anything by it--he was just being his sweet self. I agreed that there were more things around the house that could use tidying and cleaning...so we set about our tasks. The apartment looks GREAT! We were able to clean more junk off of the coffee table and dining room table, I swiffered (or is it swiffed?) the floor and then swiffed/swiffered it with a wet cloth. Squeaky clean! I am so blessed to have such a thoughtful husband. I thank the Lord that He gave Josh the desire to help me out yesterday. I don't think it was a coincidence that he wanted to clean on the same day I was trying to make our home a "haven!"

Today's theme was "cared for" and since there's not much to care for in the apartment that we didn't clean yesterday, I thought I would show Josh that I care for him--with food! I made banana bread this morning, and Zeke helped by chewing on a small bowl and babbling in his high chair while I worked. The bread is pretty good, especially since it's my first time making it!

Well, I hope your days have been as blessed and filled with love as mine have been--not that they haven't had their challenges. But the good far outweighs the bad!

Rachel

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Check it out!

Check out this contest--I love that people give things away on their blogs!

Plus, I get an extra entry for telling you about it! :)

To enter, click this link:
http://from-my-life.blogspot.com/2008/11/be-warned-just-for-ladies-giveaway.html

Frugal Mama Adventure #2

COOKING WITH WHATEVER THE HECK YOU HAVE IN THE PANTRY

Disclaimer: I don't actually have a pantry.

Yesterday, Josh and I had "the talk." You know the one I'm talking about--the one where you "discuss" the upcoming holidays and the strategy for buying gifts AND feeding the family at the same time. I'll write more on our discussion and the results in a later post. Basically, our talk got me thinking about what I was going to cook for dinner. I had chicken defrosting in the refrigerator and was planning to make my usual chicken-in-the-oven-with-basil-on-top dinner. But then the need to be creative struck me out of nowhere! So I looked at what I had on hand....TONS of random stuff! So I started with a can of creamed corn. Okay, I thought, I could bake the chicken in the creamed corn. Awesome! Then, I found a can of 98% fat free cream of celery soup. Okay, mix the corn and the soup together and voila...casserole!!! But that sounded a little bit thin. RICE! I have rice! Alrighty, throw some rice in there. I've got a big baking dish to fill up, so we need something else. BEANS! Great white northern beans--I've been saving them for White Chicken Chili, but they'll work for this, too! And Josh loves biscuits, so why not plop some bisquick on top and make like a dumpling-type thing? Sounds great! Now, how to make this all quickly enough so the chicken cooks and the biscuits bake but don't burn? Cook the chicken first! By this point, I was feeling like a stinkin' genious! So here is the recipe...there really aren't many specific measurements. Keep in mind that I was throwing things together.

Ingredients:
2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
cumin
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 can creamed corn
1 can cream of celery soup (cream of anything will probably work, as well as a combination of creamed soups)
1 can great white northern beans
1 to 1.5 cups of brown rice
Bisquick mix, prepared as if you were making biscuits

Directions:
Cut the chicken into cubes, season with salt, pepper and cumin, and cook in a little bit of olive oil in a skillet, until cooked through.

Mix together the creamed corn, cream of celery soup, beans, and rice. Once chicken is cooked, add it to the mixture. Pour into a 9x13 (or whatever size you have) baking or casserole dish. Drop the biscuit dough on top of the casserole by large tablespoon-fulls. If you are using a smaller baking dish, the biscuits will probably cover the top--even better! Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.

Voila!!! There you have it--cheap and easy dinner. And we have a little bit left over, too!

I'm pretty proud of my second frugal mama adventure--I can't wait to tell you about the Christmas present ideas I found thanks to a friend's guidance :)

Right now I'm relaxing at home on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I've already taken Josh to church, and plan to join him for 11:00 service--he is preaching today!

Have a great Sunday! Remember to thank the Lord for all he's given you!

And check out this recipe swap!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Don't hate...

...Just because I'm done with 98% (possibly 100%) of my Christmas shopping! Yes, these are wrapped Christmas presents, for Josh's brother's kids, Crystal and Susan. I will be blogging more about this in a little bit...I just wanted to show you this wonderful sight:



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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Christmas ideas needed desperately!

Hi everyone,

My sister recently got remarried to a man who has two children, so now I have two extra Christmas gifts to buy! I love giving Christmas gifts and always like them to be thoughtful. The boys are 11 and 7 (I think) and I have no idea what to get them! Obviously money is tight for us right now. Does anyone have any ideas for homemade gifts or something inexpensive for my new family members?! I'm having enough trouble finding gifts for my OLD family members! :) I just want this Christmas to be a blessing to all 4 of the kids--they've been through some tough stuff this year!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Frugal Mama Adventure #1

I am starting a new adventure as a mom, and that is...being more frugal! It's extremely important for me to be a good steward of what God has provided and creatively use my resources to care for my family. Yesterday was a busy day. After dropping Josh off at work, Zeke and I headed to a doctor appointment for me, then we rocked the vote, then came home so he could eat. By the time we got home for his "lunch" it was 11:30 and I realized that he missed most of his first nap because of the doctor appointment. I needed to find a way to keep him awake JUST long enough to give him a decent afternoon nap. So I decided to step out of my "comfort zone" and go to our newest grocery store, Aldi, which advertises reasonable prices and green-living. I was nervous about this adventure for a few reasons, including the fact that the store does not regularly stock name brands. I have nothing against store brands because I grew up on them (hooray for Janet Lee brand Magic Twinkles Cereal!), but have grown to recognize and love my brand names. They're comfortable and I trust them! But prices on things like produce and meat are ridiculous at most grocery stores. I have found amazing ways to save at Albertsons especially, but I feel like I could be doing so much more to help out our grocery bill. Hence, my trip to Aldi.

The first thing I noticed as I pulled into the parking lot was an employee standing outside by the shopping carts. "That's strange," I thought, because you usually see most of the employees inside rather than outside a grocery store. I get nervous going to new places with the baby, because I never know if his carrier will fit in the cart, or if it's a kid-friendly place. You moms know what I'm talking about. So I hauled my mammoth child out of the car in his carrier and got up to the cart lady. She greeted me warmly and explained how to get a shopping cart out of Fort Knox, I mean the shopping cart area. You deposit a quarter into the little slot on the cart, and the lock releases, allowing you to take your cart. When you return and lock up your cart, your quarter pops back out. Awesome! The cart lady also helped me figure out how to best get Zeke's carrier to fit in the cart. We ended up just putting it in the big part of the cart rather than propping it on the handle bars. This arrangement was not a problem because I knew that I didn't need to fit too much into the cart. On future trips he's going to have to sit in the front of the cart like a big boy.

So, thanks to the cart lady's help, we were all set to shop. My first impression of the store is that it is extremely small! By reading information on the website, I knew a little bit of what to expect, but man...it's tiny! As I walked around the aisles, I noticed that the store is extremely simple. There aren't 16 choices of brand for a single item, there are MAYBE two. And yes, they are mostly private label brands, but they do stock some big brand names. I think their brand name choices just depend on what they get each week. While the small size was shocking at first, the simple nature of the store is a welcomed change for me. I have ADHD. I get extremely distracted by too many choices. And the prices are incredible. It was refreshing to walk around in their tiny little produce department and actually be able to buy some fresh food! Again, the selection is simple. They stock very common seasonal items--zucchini, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, grapes, apples, bananas, etc. So I didn't have to look at things like swiss chard and kale while hunting for a simple head of lettuce. There is a sizeable freezer section, and their meat looks very good. I ended up with ground turkey instead of beef only because the ground beef only came in packages of over 2 pounds, I have no room in my freezer right now! I was also able to get paper towels at a reasonable price, which is not possible at Albertson's. All of this, without the frustration of Wal-Mart! So now that Zeke and I had stocked the little bit of room in our cart with some goodies, we were ready to check out! Aldi does not provide your regular plastic grocery bags. You can buy paper bags, or reusable plastic bags. I'm not sure of the cost of each of these. I brought my own reusable bags from home. The cashier scanned our stuff, and switched carts with us, putting our groceries in an empty cart that was already at the end of the line. That was a little bit annoying because I then had my groceries and my baby in separate carts, and the one with the baby was going to be used for the next customer. Since there is no bagging, the cashier puts each item individually back into the cart. Once you pay, you are responsible for bagging your own items at the front of the store, which the cashier described as the "bagging area." Basically it is a waist-high shelf that you use to organize everything. So after I paid (with a debit card, because Aldi does not take credit or check--just cash, debit or EBT food stamps), I proceeded to the bagging area and bagged. So I have no one to blame for the crappy bagging job but myself! With Zeke's carrier carefully perched on the handle of the cart, we were now ready to get everything into the car and get going! Throughout my shopping experience I was trying to figure out how I was going to return my cart and get my quarter back with a baby in tow. I figured that I had a couple of options--one was to take the groceries to the car, put the baby in the car, and leave him there while I returned the cart. Not the greatest option, because I don't want DCF at my door because I left my baby in the car. Another option was to put the groceries in the car and wheel the cart back to the cart lady with the baby still on it, then take the baby and my quarter back to the car. Hmmmm...that's a long way to carry my gargantuan son in his carrier. So I came up with a third option, which may not have been the easiest, but served me well. I put the baby and the groceries in the car, then took the baby out of his seat and perched him on my hip while I wheeled the cart with one hand back to the cart lady. Another shopper tried to help me with the cart and take it from me while I was struggling with the carrier back at the car, but I told her not to take it because I wanted my quarter back. She looked at me like I was crazy, so I told her the cart lady would explain the process to her...and she walked away, CONVINCED I was crazy. Anyway, the cart lady helped me maneuver it back into the line and connect its chain back to the other carts, thus releasing my precious quarter. So I strapped Zeke back into his carrier and we headed for home.

Overall, my experience at Aldi was very positive. I found the staff to be extremely helpful in explaining the process of shopping there. They were also very friendly and greeted all of the customers with a smile. The quality of the products seems to be great--I cooked the turkey last night and it was really good! The apples and bananas I bought are also really good. So now I bet you're wondering how much I spent! Were the prices really, truly lower than other grocery stores?! Well, you can decide for yourself by taking a peek at my receipt:

Choose-a-Size Towels: 2.99
100% Wheat Bread: 1.09
Ground Turkey: 2.49
Golden Delicious Apples: 2.69
Gala Apples: 2.69
Bananas: 1.07
Skim Milk: 2.79
Baby Carrots: 1.09
Seasoned Mashed Potatoes:
0.89
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Pretzel Sticks/mini: 1.29
Dried Berries: 3.49
________________________
Subtotal: 23.95
Tax: 0.21
Amount Due: 24.16

That's right, I spent $24.16 on all of those great groceries! At Albertson's I would have spent $5.00 on each bag of apples--that's right, it was $2.49 for each THREE POUND bag of apples!

Hooray for my first frugal mom adventure! This is only the beginning--there will definitely be more. I'm going to try for once a week. If you have an Aldi near you, be sure to visit--I think you'll be surprised by the good stuff you can find...and the money you can save!

And does anyone have any ideas on how to make grocery shopping with an infant easier?!