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This blog was started in 2008 when we did IVF for the first time to build our family after 5 1/2 years of infertility. We now have 7 and 1 year old boys (thanks to modern medicine) and we are enjoying our blessed life as parents ♥ In the summer of 2016 we took another huge step and moved across the country from Oklahoma to New York! This blog is about life and everything in between



Friday, November 29, 2013

*Almost* Christmas Time!

Just one more day until December! We are putting our lights up outside this weekend, then getting our fresh tree next week. We all just love the holiday feel in the air and the anticipation of waiting for the next snowfall!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I was very happy to be off work that day and was able to get most of my prep work done the day before. My mom had her big dinner at noon on Thursday and I took sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and deviled eggs (that Nick made). Both of my brothers and their families were there, and we had fun talking and eating the delicious food my mom cooked. We headed home around 2 and I got right to work in the kitchen on my meal!

My dinner was in the evening and I wasn't quite sure who all was going to make it--I ended up feeding 11 people! I cooked every single thing from scratch and it all turned out so delicious. It is feels so satisfying to work hard on a meal then hear that everyone enjoyed it! After we had Brad, I insist on making our own dinner each year for the holidays. It's fun to travel and see other family but I want us to have our own private family time at our house, on our schedule, with my homemade food. I love to cook and I feel the holidays are my time to shine and share my skill with my loved ones! As a nurse, I never really know which holidays I will be able to spend at home so our schedule also has to remain flexible.

I keep my menu pretty traditional and tend to make the same dishes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I would like to try some new holiday dishes but my family (ahem, husband) is pretty picky and I don't think it would be greeted with open arms. This year I made turkey, sweet potato casserole, dressing, whole cranberry sauce, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes/gravy, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, and pumpkin pie. I hardly have any leftovers!

I didn't do any black Friday shopping--unless you count a new winter coat I bought online! I've done it a couple of times and to me it is just not worth the headache. I shop throughout the year and by this time I usually have 80% of my gifts bought. The chaos and lines do not seem appealing to me! I would rather relax at home with my boys and be thankful for the things that we already have.

Tomorrow is me and my mom's second annual Christmas card date! She is coming to my house and we are working on all of our cards together so we can mail them out next week. I already have adorable stamps to use, and our new family photo for the card came in the mail a few days ago. I'm taking a few people off of my list this year that I'm not in contact with (or should I say they're not in contact with me....) so if you get one then you made the cut!

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frugal Living: Food

Today on this category of my Frugal Living Series I am going to cover the subject of food! We all need it, we all spend money on it. Some like to cook, some don't know how to cook, some hate cooking and eat out for almost every meal. Some are food snobs and only buy name brand, some don't care and buy whatever will get them out of the store the fastest.

To give you some background and how my food selections have evolved into where I'm at today, I will give you a little look into the past. In 2003 when Nick and I got married, we were very young, very poor, but very in love! I had never had an interest in cooking before that, but with saying "I do" that made me want to learn to be the best cook I could be. Those first few years were filled with a LOT of hamburger helper, casseroles, mac and cheese, and spaghetti.

After I finished college and began my career as a nurse, we got more settled in life and I became more experienced in the kitchen. I continued to be limited by our income and mostly purchased generic brands but made the most out of what I could afford.

  1. Couponing--In March 2010 I attended a free coupon class that taught the basic principles of how to stack coupons and get the best deals on food and hygiene items. Since then I have built up a great stockpile of pantry items and baking goods--mostly name brand--as well as occasional deals on bread, dairy products, and meat. I am by no means an extreme couponer. I get the inserts from my mom and I stick to 2 stores for coupon deals. I go to the grocery store once per week, and the drug store 1-2 times per month. I used to go to Walmart for everything, but now that I coupon I only go there about every other month for just a few things. I have definitely reduced my monthly grocery/toiletry budget and I pay less now per month for 3 people (name brand items!) than I was before for 2 people (generic items). Total monthly grocery savings = $400/month down to $175/month.
  2. Brands--They are important to some people, and sometimes they taste better than generic. But ALL of the time you are paying for the fancy labeling, commercials, and advertisements that the companies use to draw your interest. So much goes into attracting a customer to a brand that we don't think about. I agree there are a few instances where a generic brand may be inferior, but mostly not. If you are not interested in couponing but want to reduce your monthly grocery budget, you should definitely consider buying generic! I am a huge fan of the grocery store Aldi. They have amazing deals on food as well as fresh produce. They have their own store brand that is quite good. I get probably 50-70% of my ingredients here. Estimated savings from brand name to generic = 25% off your total.
  3. Homemade--This is obviously the more involved option to cutting costs, yet it is almost always the cheapest, healthiest, and educational. I say educational because you really learn how much hard work goes into making a nice meal! There are a lot of things I try to make from scratch at least once, just to see how much it costs and how much I like it. Sometimes I hate it and won't do it ever again--but I'm glad that I did it at least once for the experience. Sometimes it costs more for homemade and I only do it for special occasions. Examples of homemade items include bread, butter, cakes, chicken stock, mashed potatoes and beans. For dried beans you can spend a couple dollars on a bag and end up with a huge amount of cooked beans that you can freeze for future use, versus a dollar on one can of beans.
  4. Eating out--It gets expensive! It should NOT be an everyday thing unless of course you are made of money and don't have a kitchen. Eating out is and should be an occasional treat realistically once a week or so. At a sit-down restaurant the average meal for 2 people is about $30. If you need to feed more than that or want to get an appetizer the price only goes up! Fast food restaurants are cheaper, but you pay the price with your health and waistline. Keep some easy frozen food or quick dinners on hand for those evenings when you are too worn out to cook, and save a night out for something special. I do  however keep the local restaurant coupons from the mail so that when we do decide to go out, I have a nice variety of free meals/appetizers to choose from! Totals savings for 2 people eating out = $120/week (for 4 nights / week) down to $30/week (for 1 night / week).
Thank you for reading! Feel free to comment with any questions or comments, and check back soon for another post.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Kitchen Remodel Phase III: Complete! New Countertops

We are almost done with our kitchen facelift!! The countertops are officially complete and we are pausing the final phase until after Thanksgiving. Here is the before/after picture.....



The old laminate had seams along the sink here, and now there are NONE.


You may or may not recall the ancient stainless cooktop that was here before? When it was removed and the cabinets were cut out to make room for the new range, it left about a 2" gap on each side of the new range. We fitted on some custom wood pieces and once we painted and relaminated them, you can't even tell!! It is seamless now.


The old laminate also had a large seam on this countertop, which now it does not!



Yay! All of the tools are out of my kitchen, all appliances are back in their homes, and *most* of the dust is cleaned up. I am so beyond happy to see those white counters gone! I love the black, I love the contrast with the cream cabinets, and it really does go well with the black appliances and bronze hardware.

Phase IV will be tiling the backsplash, and we expect to start on that in the beginning of December. Phase V is the fun one where I get to decorate! New hand towels, washcloths, curtains, and dishes! Check back soon!
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kitchen Remodel Phase III: Halfway There

There is a light at the end of the tunnel! Just when I thought life was getting back to normal, we had to bite the bullet and get started on our countertops so that they would be done by Thanksgiving (which is NEXT WEEK btw). Initially we had decided to paint them with a simulated marble texturing, but after much research we could not find a topcoat that we were happy with. They all had some weakness, be it heat, yellowing, or scratching. Plus you would have to wait a week to put anything on top of it.

We admitted defeat and changed our path toward relaminating the existing countertops. This gives us the look that we want and the durability we want, all at a very affordable price. We called back our hired helper (Mark) who has done this before and would know all the tricks. He took measurements and we headed to Lowes!

They had a million samples to choose from and I was able to pick one that looked beautiful. Luckily it came in just the size sheets that we needed to do all of the countertops with NO seams! There are seams on the old countertops where water has gotten thru to the particle board underneath and caused some water damage around the sink. Our order was delivered in just a couple of days and we were ready to go!

Milano Rosso


Here, the counters are bare and they are about to remove the sink....


They spent most of the day taking out rotted particle board and replacing it with a straight piece of wood around the sink. All joints will be covered underneath the laminate and you'll never know they are there!
 

The rest of the day was spent sanding the old laminate to rough up the surface so it would bond with the contact cement. They used an electric hand sander for part of the counter and that made a ridiculously HUGE mess in the entire downstairs. DUST everywhere. I will be cleaning it up for a year...... They thankfully used sandpaper on the rest of the counters and it was much less dirty.
 

For day 2, they were able to actually start measuring and cutting the laminate to fit onto parts of the counter! This first piece was the hardest because of the uneven surface around the sink and the corner angle. Here they are slowly adhering the new laminate to the old surface and making everything fit just right!


And here is where we are the end of day 2. The most difficult piece is on, and they weighted it down to ensure a good seal. They will cut the hole for the sink out tomorrow and HOPEFULLY I will have my kitchen sink again!!
 


My bathroom is the new kitchen..... coffee anyone?

Stay tuned! They will be back at it tomorrow and more than likely will have it done by the end of the day. I had to be difficult and request a small addition to the countertops....I want a 5 inch extension of the laminate up on the backsplash. When all of the countertops are done then he will work on that if there is enough leftover.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Backyard Chickens!

Yes friends, I now have chickens in my backyard! I have been wanting to get some for quite awhile and did not pursue it this year because I thought we would be moving.....obviously that did not happen! I got tired of waiting so I took matter into my own hands and bought 3 hens from a local farmer!

I have reviewed the laws in my town for restrictions and was happy to find that just a couple of years ago they passed a more relaxed ordinance pertaining to "urban farming". I can not have a rooster, no more than 4 hens, and they have to be at least 25 feet from the closest house. Check!

Our backyard is terraced with a lower area at the back that we really don't use. It doesn't have much grass because of a constant cover of leaves and pine needles. It is pretty sheltered by the trees and our backyard is very secure with 8ft fence all around. The only critters I have seen back there are rabbits and an occasional possum.

They will be free range chickens so I got some chicken wire and fenced up a large area for them to forage around in. It can be easily moved around and relocated for a change of scenery.


I saw the idea for their nesting box online and thought it was pretty ingenious! It is a large Rubbermaid tote with a hole cut into it. I can easily open the top to get eggs or check on the hens, it is tough enough to protect them from the weather/rain, easy to clean out, and cheap! I lined it with straw and they slept all night in it.



When I got up this morning to feed them and check on how they were adjusting, I saw all 3 out in the yard enjoying their new home! They were eating goodies in the grass and seemed happy! I don't think I will leave their feeder out over night just in case it attracts nocturnal critters that want to eat their food.
 

The farmer I got them from said they are a few months old and may not lay for awhile due to the stress of a new location, and because of their young age. The red hen is larger than the white ones, and seems just a bit more skittish. The white hens don't like her too much, but maybe they are just adjusting to each other. The red one will lay larger brown eggs, and the white ones will lay smaller cream colored eggs. I can't wait to have homegrown eggs from my backyard!

I have done a lot of reading online about caring for backyard chickens and how to store the eggs. Fresh eggs have a natural coating (called the "bloom") that prevent bacteria from getting inside. If you don't wash them off, they can be stored at room temperature for several weeks! If you wash them off, you need to store them in the fridge. Eggs from the store have been washed and scrubbed so that is why they are refrigerated. Also since mine are free range, the eggs are supposed to taste better due to the improved diet and natural foraging. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Frugal Living: Entertainment

I have been wanting to start a series of posts on a frugal lifestyle (for those interested) so here it is! I made a list of all different categories and each post will cover one. Today I will start with: 
Entertainment
  1. TV/Cable--At one point, we had expanded cable as well as digital cable. This easily adds up to around $75 per month with our local provider. As time went on, we realized that we were only watching a few channels most of the time, and there were SO many commercials! Plus the price went up every few months. We eventually dropped digital cable and stuck with expanded cable for a bit longer, but we decided once and for all to cut the cable! There were still shows and such that we wanted to be able to see, so to replace our lost cable channels we did research and decided on a Roku. We bought the basic box for about $50 and quickly learned how to use it and navigate the channels. Basically a Roku is a streaming media box for your TV that uses wifi to allow you to receive hundreds of free "channels", as well as access to several paid channels. The free channels cover your news, celebrity gossip, weather, music, B movies, old movies, and less popular/older TV shows. The paid channels cover pretty much everything else depending on how much you want to spend. Some charge an annual fee, some charge a monthly fee, and most have a free week or month trial period. The paid channels we subscribe to are Netflix ($7.99/mo) and HuluPlus ($7.99/mo). We are very happy with this setup and have had it for over 2 years now! We use an antenna for our local news channels in HD, and the Roku for everything else. Total savings = $75+ per month down to $16/mo
  2. Movies--Honestly, we rarely go out to the theater. But when we do, we know the theaters that have cheaper ticket prices. Just the location can change the price a few dollars. Also a matinee is going to be cheaper than an evening showing, plus there will be less people! You get the same experience for less money. If you are an old married couple like us, you don't need the thrill of a late night movie date. Renting movies is also a cheaper option, including Netflix, Redbox, or PPV. Total movie ticket savings = $10+ per ticket down to $7-8/ticket
  3. Magazines--Once you subscribe to a magazine you start getting advertisements in the mail for similar titles at a discounted rate. That discounted rate is what I wait for! My magic number is $5/yr for a magazine. I typically have 2-3 subscriptions at a time depending on whose discount is better. For example, I subscribed to Woman's Day which led to getting an ad for Better Homes and Gardens at only $5/yr. The standard yearly rate for BHG is over $40! When I get my annual renewal I will cancel it unless the rate is low enough. Just give it a month or two--they will give you a better price to get you back! Total savings = $40+ per year down to $5/yr
If you can think of other things to be included in the "Entertainment" category, feel free to comment! Check back for more posts!


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Monday, November 11, 2013

Belated Halloween Pictures

11 days later....here are a few more Halloween pictures! I took Brad to a local church fall fest where they had lots of games and face painting. He had a fun time, and actually sat very still to have a ladybug painted on his face!



That day at school, the kids were allowed to wear their costumes. It was pretty warm but he wore his skunk outfit for most of the party. I had to work that day, but Nick was able to go to the school party and takes some snacks. Thankfully he also took my camera and got some pictures!






I was able to get off of work around 4pm that day with just enough time to come home for dinner before trick-or-treating! We walked around from 6pm-9pm and he got a TON of candy. We had to stop at the house to empty his bucket 3 times! He is still eating on it and I know he had a wonderful time. His little costume got a workout for the second year in a row, so we will have to come up with a new one for next year!
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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Kitchen Remodel Phase II Complete! Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations Review

The cabinets are done! They have actually been done for over a week, I just haven't gotten around to taking "after" pictures for a blog! I have really struggled to find good "before" pictures. My archive of digital pictures before 2008 has been missing for a long time and I thought I had kitchen pictures from when we bought our house in 2006 saved somewhere else. Turns out, I didn't! I did fine one photo that I had scrapbooked, and Nick was able to hunt down some old pics from when our house was listed for sale.

Now I can show you what the old cabinets looked like, how they look now, and how we rate the usability of the Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations kit.
BEFORE

 

So this is the kit that we used:
We bought the large "light" color kit and had it tinted to Pure White. Our intentions were to aim for an off-white color with the glaze that comes in the kit. We were pretty worried about how white the base coat was, but once we started the glazing process it all came together nicely! Now we have everything sealed, new hardware on, and we are ready for the next phase of our kitchen remodel!



\/ You can see our new pendant light over the sink here!


We did heavy glazing in the corners and edges so that the cutouts and shapes of the doors would stand out for dimension. We also tried to put a heavier coat of sealer on the doors/drawers that used the most. Since we had so many doors, we did them in 3 batches in our garage. The first batch we did 3 coats of base paint on to thoroughly cover the wood. When we glazed those doors, we realized that was unnecessary and only did 2 coats on the remaining doors. We could not tell a difference!

You can read more about this process from start to finish in this post: Cabinet redo in progress


Now for the pros and cons of this kit!


Pros:
Much more affordable than other options of refacing/replacing cabinets
Pretty much any color you want is available
Option to glaze or leave solid paint
Almost everything you need is in the kit
For the most part it is easy to apply
Deglosser works very well to replace step of sanding wood

Cons:
Each step that requires a long dry time really lengthens the process
Deglosser has strong fumes
Glazing process is VERY particular and hard to match shades on everything
Any ding/dent in the wood is accentuated by the glaze (kind of adds to vintage look though)

Since it has only been a few weeks that we have had this done, I really can't comment yet on the durability and how it withstands wear and tear. My other gripe was that I was sure we would need the large kit since our kitchen is big and we had 37 cabinets and 10 drawers to paint! I was wrong--we only used half of everything in the kit and surely could've gotten away with the small kit.

Overall we are both very pleased with the look of our cabinets now and impressed how well it covered the dark wood stain that was on there previously. Everyone that see them in person comments on how it looks professionally done! That has to be a good sign.

We will commence with Phase III next week! Stay tuned for updates.

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