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Friday, January 31, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand Project 3: The Laundry Room

We had two weddings last year. One for our oldest daughter in May, and our oldest son married in August. We just kind of rolled from one wedding into the next with a couple of high school graduations in between. Then we rolled into the beginning of a new school year followed by Josiah's football season followed by basketball season. In the middle of all this, I was given a wonderful opportunity to earn some much-needed extra cash by doing some (actually, quite a lot) of curriculum writing from the comfort of my home. Oh, and let's not forget Thanksgiving and Christmas. To say the past 8 months have been crazily busy would be an understatement.

So, it is totally understandable that my laundry room looks like this:

That pink crate holds the tablecloths from Nate and Amanda's rehearsal dinner. The blue tub has 20+  table runners that I made in my "spare" time last April. The Amazon box has assorted wedding, graduation, and rehearsal dinner decorations. A sprinkling of sheets and towels adorn the top of the containers. To the east of the containers and following around to the south, you can see the hanging clothes that have come out of the laundry since August. Yes, August. Up until this week, I had not made it from the laundry room to the closet with the hanging clothes. Gasp!
Above, you see the south side of the laundry room. Notice the "small" pile of clean laundry on top of the machines.

Here's the true confession in all of this. For the past 8+ months, I have basically dressed out of my laundry room. Whenever I needed something, rather than head to my overstuffed closet, I just grabbed something off the top of the washer or from the hanging rack. In my case, this proves the idea that we only actually wear about 10-20% of the clothes we own.

After spending a relatively small amount of time, I now have a much-improved laundry area. Here it is:


"Hmmm," you say. You only see the south view? Alas, while I've begun work on the north side, I'm not a miracle worker. You'll just have to wait until next week before I can get to the rest of the room.

I hope you have a great weekend. I plan to work on my Christmas Valentine cards. What about you?




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Nathan's Favorite Potato Soup

My dear son, Nathan, always requests this soup when he comes home. It is simple, delicious and filling. (Note that I make no claims about the calorie count.)  Serve with crackers or garlic bread and a salad.


Nathan's Favorite Potato Soup




4 large baking potatoes
2/3 cup butter or margarine (or bacon drippings)
2/3 cup flour
6 cups milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 green onions, chopped and divided (or 1 T onion powder)
12 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. sour cream, yogurt, or ranch dip

Wash, dry and prick potatoes with a fork.
Bake in 400 degree oven for 1 hour, or until done.
Let cool, Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out pulp. Set aside.
Use skins for something else, such as stuffed potato skins.

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat.
Add flour, stirring until smooth.
Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Gradually add milk.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened and bubbly.

Add potato pulp, salt, pepper, and a tsp. of green onion (or onion powder),
half the bacon and one cup of cheese.
(At this point you can transfer it to the Crock-pot. Cook on low 2-3 hours.)

Cook until thoroughly heated. Stir in sour cream.
Add extra milk if necessary for desired consistency. If too thin, you can 
thicken it with instant potato flakes.
Serve topped with remaining cheese, bacon, and green onion.

*A 6 quart slow cooker will hold 1 ½ batches of this soup.*
**You can bake, mash, and freeze the potatoes ahead of time.**


Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Musings Week 4

I spent some money this week, and I saved some. Here's the breakdown.

Groceries                  $80.64
School kit for Leah   $35.16
Piano Lessons          $10.00
Toilet paper              $71.32   
Total                        $197.12

You might be asking, "Who in the world spends $71 on toilet paper?"

And I would have to answer you, "We do!"
84,000 sheets of toilet paper waiting for a trip to the attic

I don't ever want to run out of toilet paper. You see, when you have 8 people living in one home, and most of those people are home all day, you go through a LOT of toilet paper. Since our children learn at home, we don't have the benefit of the public school paying for our t.p. -- another hidden expense of homeschooling. When Syd and I first married, I used to buy that wonderfully soft Charmin tissue. As the years went by and our toilet paper consumption skyrocketed, I switched to the 1000 sheet rolls that come in a 12 pack. When there were 10 of us here, we even went through those rolls fairly quickly.

The 12-packs of 1000 sheet rolls are $9.24 every day at Wal-Mart. So, when I saw the CVS brand equivalent on sale for $5.49, I knew I had a deal. It was such a great deal that I bought 12 packages -- 144 1000-sheet rolls of toilet paper. Seven of the packs went up to the attic, and the other 5 were distributed between our bathrooms. And while this amount of toilet paper might last your family for 5 years, it won't even last a year around here. An added benefit is that I saved $45 by getting the toilet paper on sale. That's enough to buy another 8 12-packs at the sale price!

Who knows? In another 8 years, when our sweet baby Esther goes off to college, I might go back to buying Charmin for the two of us. I think every couple should do something special after 40 years of marital bliss, don't you?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand - Project 2

Ah, the master bathroom linen cabinet --home of towels, shampoo, and all the stuff that keeps this family out of the doctor's office. This was a pretty quick project for me. I culled the towels and got us down to four sets of nice towels. The square canvas baskets corral all the loose toothpaste, toothbrushes, spare deodorant and razors, etc.  I tried labels attached with packaging tape, but they keep coming off. A few remain, as you can see in the picture.  I plan to make tags to hang on the basket handles so I can identify the contents. All of the meds are in the tool kit, This makes it easy to keep track of expiration dates.

I don't have a "before" picture, but here is the finished product.

Next week, I think I'll tackle the laundry room. We'll see how that goes!

Have a great weekend. Ours will be filled with basketball, income tax preparation, FAFSA forms, a few cooking projects, and a Sunday of worship and rest. What about you?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday's Eats and Treats: Kathleen's Roast with Vegetables

 I've had several people ask for this recipe, so I'm sharing it here.

The Sunday Staple - Kathleen's Roast with Vegetables


Nothing beats walking in the door from church to the delicious aroma of a roast in the oven. This meal beats eating out every time, and it is something worthy of guests, so you can practice the art of hospitality. Serve it with a green salad and rolls. Brownies and ice cream are an excellent complement for dessert.

Ingredients


  • 1 4-6 pound roast (chuck, pork loin, etc.)
  • Seasoning, such as a rosemary-garlic blend or Canadian steak seasoning
  • 8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks 
  • 1# baby carrots or regular carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, sliced into rings 
  • 1 can Campbell's golden mushroom soup
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 1 tsp. seasoning salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

Directions


  • In a roasting pan*, place roast, fat side up. 
  • Use a fork to poke several holes in surface of roast. Generously sprinkle 1-2 tsp. of the seasoning mix on the roast and rub into surface.
  • Surround the roast with potatoes. 
  • Pour in carrots on top of potatoes.
  • Spread top of roast and veggies with onion rings.
  • In a bowl, mix together soup, sherry, seasoning salt, and pepper. Pour over roast and vegetables.
  • Cover tightly and cook at 325 degrees for 3.5-4 hours.**
  • Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before slicing.
  • Use pan drippings for gravy.
Leftovers can be used to make a delicious Italian vegetable beef soup by adding jar of spaghetti sauce, a can of green beans, a can of diced tomatoes, Italian herbs and spices,and water or beef broth, as needed. Serve with garlic bread or breadsticks and salad.

*If you don't have a roasting pan, you can use heavy-duty foil to wrap up everything. 
**This can be coked in a large slow cooker for 4-6 hours on high or 7-9 hours on high, depending on your slow cooker.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Musings Week 3

There must be something to that adage that if you practice something for 2 weeks or more, it becomes a habit. As I complete week 3 of the challenge, I'm finding it easier to "just say no" to spending.

Part of it is that I'm staying busy doing other things than shopping or surfing Amazon in my jammies. Another aspect is being better prepared -- like bringing snacks along so we aren't so tempted to eat out. I'm learning to say no with grace -- understanding that it will take time for my children to get on board and that I need to be gentle when I turn down their requests to buy things. As I declutter, I don't want too refill the open spaces with more stuff, so I am less tempted by the great deal I just passed.

Then, there is the decision-making. It's always easier when there are hard and fast rules, like "This year, you will spend NO money!" But applying the challenge to this large family requires some flexibility. Flexibility involves weighing the purchase of the object of desire -- the Chunky Soup on sale for $1 a can -- with the long term value and the principles of minimal living and the practicality of raising a large family. In this case, the best sale price for this soup is usually $1.50, rarely $1.25, but $1? I haven't seen that price in years. (Some people follow sports; I follow food prices. What can I say?) Poured over a bed of rice, it makes a delicious winter lunch for the 4-6 of us who are at home every day. Still, I could make my own beef soup, sans those cute little grilled sirloin burger patties, and it would be a healthier alternative as well as use up soup meat in my freezer. The problem is that I have to make the homemade soup. What I need is something my 12 year old son can prepare.

I ramble. Sorry.

Analyzing the situation, I see that I need to teach my younger kiddos more "from scratch" cooking skills. Right now, I'm swamped with a writing project, and time is at a premium. So, I decide to buy 12 cans of soup, which is enough for 3 or 4 lunches. (In the past, I probably would have bought 48-60 cans. Yes, really that many.) I've written a note to myself to block out time in our home school day to include cooking instruction and develop some simple to prepare-from-scratch recipes that Esther, Gideon, and Josiah can make. For the next month or so, the Chunky Soup will have to do, and it qualifies as a justified purchase.

Enough of that. Here is my week's spending.

Groceries                         $83.35
Pizza for date night           $11.00
Toiletries/Cleaning            $19.64  
Total                              $113.99

Ways we Saved Money this Week

Family night - Syd and the boys built a fire and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.
Movie Night - checked out DVDs of the Cosby Show from our local library

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand - Project 1

I've always avoided decluttering. All my projects are too big and involve way too much mess. So, I'm trying the 15 minutes at a time method. I'll set the timer and do what I can in that amount of time. Slow and steady, right?

Here is my first go at it.

I worked in my closet and I was able to go from this:

to this:

 and I got rid of these:


Three shelves -- that's it. It's not too impressive until you look at the pile of stuff that's heading to the women's ministry thrift store. If I can get rid of that much stuff every time I declutter, I can make amazing progress this year.

Now, I realize that if a TRUE minimalist was reading this, there would be rolling eyes and a shaking head right now. But, hey! I'm making progress. And that's what counts. It may take me a couple of passes through every area [ok, maybe 3 or 4] before I achieve minimalist status, but at least I'm heading in the right direction, which is more than I was doing a  month ago.

In reality, I don't think I'll ever get to the "only owning one skirt and two pairs of jeans" kind of minimalism. Where's the fun in that?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wednesday's Eats and Treats -- Slow Cooker Vegetarian Minnestrone



Another recipes from my friends at allrecipes.com. I put this together Saturday night, put the crock in my refrigerator, and then pulled it out Sunday morning and cooked it for 6 hours. We served this with grilled garlic bread. YUM! It was very hearty and delicious. Since the soup had so many vegetables, we left off the salad and just had an extra ladle of soup instead.

If you have a houseful of meat eaters, you could easily modify this by using chicken broth and a couple of cups of cooked chicken, or beef broth with a pound of browned ground beef. We aren't vegetarians, so I don't have veggie stock on hand. However, I have lots of chicken stock, and that's what formed the base of my soup. I didn't add chicken and we really didn't miss it.

Since I'm committed to using what I have on hand, I made a few changes.
  • Used diced tomatoes instead of crushed.
  • Used onion and garlic powder instead of fresh. My kids tend to balk at visible onion.
  • Instead of zucchini, I used a bag of frozen gumbo starter vegetables that had been languishing in my freezer for some time now. I also used frozen spinach rather than fresh.
I cooked my pasta on Saturday night. Before serving, I put the pasta in the bowls and poured the soup over it. The soup was hot enough to warm up the refrigerated pasta.

This is a delicious, versatile recipe. Feel free to vary the vegetables, the type of beans, add meat, etc.


Slow Cooker Vegetarian Minestrone

Rated:rating
Submitted By: laura
Photo By: Purple Cat Pics
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 6 Hours 15 Minutes
Ready In: 6 Hours 35 Minutes
Servings: 8
"Easy vegetarian minestrone soup simmered in the slow cooker is loaded with vegetables and macaroni for a warm weeknight dinner."
INGREDIENTS:
6 cups vegetable broth
1 (28 ounce) can crushed
tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans
, drained
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 cup green beans
1 small zucchini
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh
parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
1/2 cup elbow macaroni
4 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup finely grated
Parmesan cheese, or more to
taste
DIRECTIONS:
1.Combine vegetable broth, tomatoes, kidney beans, onion, celery, carrots, green beans, zucchini, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, thyme, and black pepper in a 6-quart slow cooker.
2.Cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours.
3.Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook elbow macaroni in the boiling water, stirring occasionally until cooked through but firm to the bite, 8 minutes; drain.
4.Stir spinach and macaroni into minestrone; cook another 15 minutes. Top with Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Broken Pitcher or Old Habits Die Hard

We have used the same pitcher for water for every meal for at least 6 years. Understandably, it wasn't going to last forever. The other morning, as Esther was filling it for breakfast, the lid fell off the counter and plunged to the floor. When it hit the concrete, the lid broke in two, which I must say is better than shattering into a million pieces like our Corelle plates do. No drama, no problem. The pitcher already had tons of hairline cracks along its sides, so I just picked it up and tossed it in the trash. Then I replaced it with a Rubbermaid pitcher I already had in the cabinet.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this at lunchtime:
 One of my children dug the pitcher out of the trash, washed it, refilled it, and returned it to its place of honor.

When I took the pitcher and headed back to the trash with it, they protested, "But, Mom, we can't get rid of it. It has too many memories. Besides, Dad can fix it."

Never mind that I have 3 other pitchers in the cabinet (OK, I actually have 5 more.) or that this one has served way past its life expectancy -- 3 meals a day for at least 325 days of each of the past 6 years -- it has too many memories.

And who says our children don't learn from our example? While I appreciate their thriftiness, I am saddened that they, like their mama, have trouble knowing when it's time to let go.

Whether its a broken pitcher, a habit, or a relationship that drags us down, we all need to learn how to evaluate the true cost of hanging on or letting go. It's a matter of gaining the right perspective and making wise choices.




Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Morning Musings Week 2

Two weeks and we are surviving. We haven't killed each other, although Syd and I almost came to blows over buying a couple of desks for two of our girls. More on that in a minute.

Here are the week's expenditures:
Textbooks for Miriam (rental)                    $53
Groceries (including a Sam's run)              $99
Toiletries                                                        $5
Piano Lessons                                              $10
Family Movie Outing -- 8 people               $28
Basketball Family Season Pass                  $45
Restaurant Purchases                                 $43   
TOTAL                                                    $283

Now, the justifications --

1. Miriam's textbook - a new book costs $130, a used $95, and the rental $53. We e-mailed the professor to be sure the book was a necessity for the class. I saved $42 off the price of a used book, and we get to return rather than store it at the end of the semester.

2. Groceries - $79 of the $99 was spent at Sam's. Our family lives 60 miles from the closest Sam's Club. Since Syd and the boys were in Dallas on Saturday, they made a Sam's stop and got some staples. We shouldn't need to go back again for 6-8 weeks.

3. Piano Lessons -- This is about the best deal known to man, especially considering that our sweet teacher has been working with our kids for years and years. And did I mention that she comes to our house? This is one very special friend, and no, I won't give you her name and number!

4. While Syd and the boys trekked over to Dallas for a basketball game, the girls and I went to a movie and ate burgers at Braums afterwards. No apologies for this fun girls-only outing. Syd took the boys to the movie on Sunday afternoon. No Braums for them.

5. Did I mention that 3 of my darlings play basketball, a 4th is an assistant coach, and my dear husband coaches the junior high team? This means we attend a LOT of basketball games - 5 basketball-related events last week alone. I did the math, and the family pass for the older 2 girls and I is definitely a good investment. The alternative -- not watching my sweeties play ball -- is definitely a bad idea.

6. Restaurants - I'm not feeling guilty at all about these purchases.

  • We had basketball games on Tuesday night. Our local chicken place sells a drumstick and a thigh for $0.99 on Tuesdays. I supplemented the chicken with chips, carrots, and our own drinks. Cost $6.50
  •  We had to be at the gym at 2:30 and didn't finish until after 10 p.m. A short trip to Frijole Friday at Taco Casa took care of our hunger pangs. We fed our family burritos and tostadas for $13.
  • Burgers and ice cream at Braums -- $23.50 We could have skipped this. Was the food worth $23 -- absolutely not, but I really enjoyed spending time with my girls.
Musings
Staying out of the stores still proves to be my best strategy for spending reduction. My other best strategy -- sending Syd to Sam's. That place is a money vacuum. I can always find at least 5 things there that I never knew I needed, but I simply must have.

My downfall this week was that pesky Office Max ad in Sunday's paper. Why did I even open it? I found a really great price on some desks with hutches that would be perfect for Miriam and Leah. When we built our house 6 years ago, the original plan was to have back to back desks for them. Office Max has them ON SALE for $80 each.

So, I went to the Office Max website. (Bad idea) I studied the specs. I read the reviews. I focused on the good reviews and ignored the bad ones, especially the numerous ones that said each desk took about 6 hours to assemble. I put those desks in my shopping cart  and I qualified for free shipping. That settled it.

When Syd got home, I showed him the desks and explained why we needed them, fully expecting him to go along. He didn't. "What happened to your challenge? Are you giving it up already?" Ouch. As I tried to justify why this was a valid exception, he just looked at me. I wish I could tell you that I was sweet and agreeable during all of this, but I wasn't. I got mad because I.wanted.those.desks.

When I calmed down, I had to agree. All along, I knew in my heart that we didn't really need the desks. It would have been nice to have a couple  of nice matching desks for my girls, but we don't have to have them. We've managed 6 years without them. Miriam is in college now and Leah is a senior in high school, so how much use would they get? There are plenty of good work surfaces in our house.

Any other year, I would have jumped at the bargain, but not this time around. This time, I'm going to let it go, knowing full well that I may never find that good a price again. I'm not going to be all grumpy and grouchy about it either. That will possibly be the biggest challenge of all.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

And now for those "semi-guidelines" --

Our challenge is to, for one year follow the "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without principle."

Practically, this means that we will move toward a more minimalistic way of living. Our primary goals are to make use of the things we already own, remove the mountain of stuff which threatens to bury us alive and scale back our possessions, and refrain from purchasing anything but the essentials for the next year.

I plan to be transparent in this effort -- sharing the ups and downs, the victories and the setbacks, and even letting readers know how much we spend each week. I do not feel obligated to scan and post every receipt or justify every grocery purchase. If I cheat, I will tell you. Promise. And I will retain all my receipts, just in case I need to have proof before someone purchases the movie rights to my story -- ha!                                                                                                                                                                                                
While we will put our challenge into effect for the 365 days of 2014, I am NOT going to write a post every day of the year. Anyone who watched the movie Julie and Julia knows how blogging to that extreme can lead to some very real problems. My goal is to have 3 or 4 posts each week in some sort of pattern.

Monday Morning Musings will be devoted to reviewing the past week's spending, the struggles we've faced, and the lessons we're learning.

In Wednesday Eats and Treats, I will address all things food -- sharing unique recipes for using up those freezer foods or for Sunday-after-church meals to ward off the temptation to eat at any of the twenty-odd restaurants we have to pass between church and the house. I might include some great bargain finds too -- when buying in bulk is not over-consuming.

Thursday or Fridays (Let me know what you think would be best) are for clutter-busting. If we are going to climb out of this over-consumptive lifestyle and get things organized around here, I am going to have to address little problems like this laundry room:
 or this closet:

And if there is to be a fourth post, it might be a book review, some inspirational thoughts, words of wisdom, relevant links, or something just for fun.

Please feel free to comment and give me input if there's anything you want me to address. I'm not sure which direction this will go, but I feel certain it will go somewhere!                  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats - Meatballs over Buttered Noodles

On Monday, I mentioned that our Sunday fall to temptation meant that I had Monday night's dinner already prepared. We ate the Swedish meatballs  Monday evening and they were delicious, even after a second run in the crock-pot. 

They really are quite easy. The only change I made to the recipe was to add the sour cream just before serving instead at mixing it with the sauce at the beginning. I served them over buttered egg noodles with salad and grilled French bread. 

 Here is the recipe from one of my favorite sites, Allrecipes.com, in case you want to try it:

Anna's Amazing Easy Pleasy Meatballs over Buttered Noodles
recipe image
Rated:rating

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 3 Hours
Ready In: 3 Hours 15 Minutes
Servings: 12
"My friend Anna makes the most amazing and easy meatballs with gravy! Prepared in a slow cooker, this recipe couldn't be any easier! Serve over buttery hot cooked noodles and you'll have a happy crowd! Mangia!"
INGREDIENTS:
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of
celery soup
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed French
onion soup
1/2 (16 ounce) container sour cream
3 pounds frozen Italian-style meatballs
1 (16 ounce) package uncooked egg
noodles
1/4 cup butter
DIRECTIONS:
You have scaled this recipe's ingredients to yield a new amount (12). The directions below still refer to the original recipe yield (24).
1.In a large slow cooker, mix together the cream of celery soup, French onion soup, and sour cream. Stir in the meatballs. Cook on high heat for 3-4 hours.
2.Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. In a large bowl, toss the pasta with butter. Serve meatballs and sauce over the cooked pasta.


These taste a lot like the meatballs served in the IKEA store cafe. If you are trying to avoid spending money and you have a penchant for organizing goodies, I don't recommend you visit IKEA. That, my friend, is no less than leading yourself into temptation.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tying Up Loose Ends

Today I am going to try to tie up some loose ends and in my next post I plan to set some semi-guidelines. (How's "semi-guidelines" for a nonspecific, non-legalistic term???)

First - the loose ends.

Finishing up the story of how we started this journey --

Dearest Syd did get the generator fixed, so we were able to save all of the groceries. The realization of what could have happened if we lost all of the food in this freezer:
and this freezer --
and this freezer:
and this freezer:
made me shudder. I worried about it for hours -- tossing and turning and basically losing a night's sleep over STUFF.

And then I thought what family, even a family as big as ours, needs that much food squirreled away in freezers?

I had been thinking about doing a 365-style blog, but hadn't hit on a topic that felt like THE topic. Off and on, I read minimalist blogs and sites, and they had lots of good ideas, but they usually were done by an individual or a small family with 1-2 young children. I may not have looked far enough, but I couldn't find any sites where a large family had attempted a minimalist challenge. As anyone who has a large family can tell you, we really do need more stuff. The economic pie is only so big, and the more pieces there are, the less there is to spend per person. If we didn't pass clothes down from one child to another and buy in bulk when grocery stores run great specials, we would be wearing ratty clothes and eating beans all the time. But there has to be a balance between responsible purchasing and hoarding. I admitted what I knew to be true for a long time -- I had crossed the line.

So the ice storm met the overfilled freezers met the minimalism research and now we have a blog topic.

Next post --

The logistics of the challenge OR
How honest do you REALLY want me to be?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Morning Musings - Week 1

My Monday posts will focus on our progress from the previous week. I'll review our spending, as well as comment on the struggles we faced and the lessons we are learning.

If you know me, you know that I love a bargain, and after-Christmas sales are some of the best sources of great bargains for toys, decor items, clothing, and many food items. In the spirit of our challenge, I didn't do ANY after-Christmas holiday shopping -- no 50 cent boxes of cards, no 1/2 price lights, no $15 sets of jammies marked down to $3, not even the 75% off 4-foot lighted trees in urns to set on either side of the front door. (That one was tough -- I've been wanting them for a long time.) I did manage to find directions for this tomato cage Christmas tree topiary that I think I can make from materials I have on hand.

I think I've discovered a (if not THE) secret -- the easiest way to avoid spending is to stay out of the stores!  You can't be tempted to buy a bargain that you don't know exists. Well, actually, I can be tempted by the thought of the greatest deal ever, but I can't buy it unless I'm holding it my hot little hand (except for online bargains, but that's the subject of another post.)

Remember the required books mentioned in my first post?
Well, that hit this week. I spent $60 on renting and buying used books for one class for Miriam. Three other classes are web based and will require the purchase of a key to use the online learning modules. (Personally, I think that should be included in the cost of tuition, but they didn't ask me.) Thankfully, her bowling class doesn't require a textbook.

Other spending for the week --
$103 for groceries (Approx. $17 per person)

$45 for Sunday lunch (We used Christmas gift money for this food-related experience. Does that fly?  Actually, I hadn't planned to mention this minor deviation from the plan, except the Lord made sure I ran into a friend who was leaving the restaurant as we were coming in the door. Her greeting? "Hello there, you minimalist!"  AAAAACK -- I was busted! So, I'm coming clean here. In hindsight, I wish we hadn't done it -- it feels like we've taken 10 steps backward to our 3 steps forward, but that's okay. As I always tell my kids, "Mistakes are opportunities to learn."

That's it. Aside from our falling to the "We're-in-town-and-we're-hungry-and-Miriam-and-Josiah-aren't-here-so-it-will-be-so-much-cheaper" temptation to enjoy the great salsa and yummy food at La Familia, we are doing well. There's been some fussing on the part of the kids, but it hasn't grown to fever pitch.  

If I look closely, I think I'm beginning to see a change in our hearts, and that's encouraging. In the end, that's what this whole experiment is about -- not a test to see if we can adhere to a hyper-legalistic system, but a hope that we will focus on relationships and experiences rather than acquiring more stuff.

And looking on the bright side -- tonight's dinner is already made. I just have to reheat those Swedish meatballs that I cooked in the slow cooker for Sunday lunch!


Friday, January 3, 2014

The Awakening

Looking out over our pond


In the early hours of the morning of December 6, 2013, I was lying in bed listening to the eerie sounds of of a silent house. I could hear the soft breathing of my younger 2 children as they slept on palates at the foot of our bed and the not-so-soft snoring of my hard-working husband beside me. No refrigerator motors whirred, no clothes tumbled in the dryer, no bedside clock alarms jolted us out of deep sleep. The house was completely dark -- our power was out, and would be for 5 days.


On Friday, Syd braved the roads and drove the 28 miles into work. At home, we lit candles, cooked on our gas stovetop, and I threatened the kids within an inch of their lives if they dared to open a refrigerator or freezer. Ice-laden branches snapped off the trees, unable to withstand the weight of the ice accumulating on them. Trees split, fences were broken. My boys spent the first part of the day playing, but their afternoon was filled with trimming and removing brush, repairing fences, and helping neighbors. 

Four o'clock and there were no signs our power would be restored. I spoke with Syd about having the boys hook up our generator to the appliances. Sheepishly, he told me he had not repaired the generator -- BUT he would take care of it as soon as he got home. No worries -- my guy can fix anything. When I went to bed that evening, he was working on it. When I woke at 4 a.m., he was in bed. 


In that moment, I realized there was no generator -- no power running to the two refrigerators and four deep freezers that held hundreds, or more likely thousands, of dollars worth of food. It had been 24 hours. We were still safe. But, for how much longer? In 2001, we were without power for 10 days. Honestly, the situation with downed power lines seemed worse this time. between the damage and our remote location, we could be easily be without power for that long.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Problem

We are the Newman family.




We live the American dream. Well, maybe not the American dream, but OUR dream.
  • A happy marriage (32 years and counting)
  • 8 healthy children -- yes, 8!
  • A loving extended family
  • Good friends with deep relationships
  • A church home we love
  • A warm, sturdy home in the country with room to roam
  • Dependable employment and income
We have everything we need, but we are being buried alive. Dresser drawers and closets overflow. Bookshelves are filled with unread books. Toys are everywhere. Our clothes are getting tight. Our budget is tighter. I tried to categorize and organize, but there is just TOO.MUCH.STUFF.

And, as if that isn't bad enough -- we keep acquiring stuff...and more stuff.

As the primary consumer in this household, I know change must begin with me.  

And so, we begin.






Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Challenge

In its simplest form, here is our 2014 challenge:

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

For one year, we will endeavor to go without purchasing anything but essential items for our family of eight.

Essentials are food, toiletries, and emergency repairs for our home, major appliances, and vehicles. Also included are internet access since I rely on the internet for my job as an educational writer, and required books and supplies for our children's schooling. Clothing (except for the obvious socks and undergarments), haircuts and minor appliances are not included.

We are not buying physical gifts for our children, although we will purchase experiences we can enjoy together as a family. Family and friends can buy them gifts and they can purchase things using their own money. The reason for this is that our 6 children at home are ages 11-19. We believe we can alter our own behavior, but we can't force this on them. Our hope is that they will jump on the bandwagon and see the value in what we are doing -- after they get over shaking their heads in disbelief at another one of their mother's hare-brained ideas. We believe they will become much more intentional with their spending and probably more intentional in looking for productive ways to spend their time, i.e. earn money.