Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Menu Plan

As promised, I have put together our April menu and grocery list. Jarrod and I will be heading to Sam's Club and the grocery store on Friday evening or Saturday to stock up on everything we can buy for the month. We'll make shorter grocery trips weekly to pick up perishables.

Our goal is to stick to the following menu plan for the entire month and live within our $300 grocery budget. (This budget includes pet supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other things you'd purchase at the grocery store.)

Without further ado, here is our April Menu Plan! 

Click to enlarge.
Week 1:
Eggplant Lasagna
Slow Cooker Barbecue Chicken & Sweet Potato Fries
BBQ chicken on Baked Potatoes
Week 2:
Week 3:
Shrimp & Grits
Week 4:
Dirty Rice

We have a few nights out planned and will be eating leftovers on the other nights. We specifically plan which nights we'll cook and when we'll be eating leftovers. This helps us on especially busy nights because we don't need to think about anything, we just pop something in the oven or microwave and dinner's ready in less than 10 minutes.

We're trying out some new recipes this month and I'm very excited about that. I promise to keep you posted. I might even have some pictures! (Although they'd be better if I had this!)
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

10 things that make our marriage happy.

Jarrod and I have by no means a perfect marriage. We have learned what works for us and what doesn't work through trial and error. We learn a lot of things the hard way. Because of this, we do things that are a bit abnormal that really work for us and help our marriage and family. Here's the list of 10 things we do to make our marriage happy.

1. We eat dinner together. We eat dinner together nearly every night and have since we first got married. It's nothing fancy, no lit candles or 3 course meals. This means on Wednesday nights we eat at 4:45 P.M. in order to get our of the house on time, but it works for us. We also have one meal. Sometimes Jarrod's has special pasta or mine has less cheese, but we do not make two meals. On leftover nights, our meals might look different, but at least we are both eating leftovers!

2. Zero-based Budget EVERY month. We sit down before the beginning of the month and create a zero-based budget. We write how much money is going to come in on the top and subtract all of our bills and expenses until everything is zeroed out. Any "left-over" money is put on debt. If something is not on the budget, we can't buy it without another meeting to go over the budget. Because it's zero-based, we can't just put something on our debit card without talking with the other and rearranging things in the budget. It works for us.

3. Johnston Family Cleaning Night. When we first got married I expected Jarrod to do housework on Fridays. Not ALL the housework, but some of it. I cleaned on Tuesday night while he was at band practice and I would leave a list for him to complete while I was at work on Fridays. This caused huge explosions. Now Thursday night is Johnston Family Cleaning Night. Each Thursday either before or after dinner, we divide and conquer. Sometimes it's a deep cleaning that includes washing sheets and rugs, scrubbing down the baseboards, and vacuuming the furniture. Sometimes it's just wiping down the counters and a light dusting of the whole house. While our condo is only 1200 square feet, we do have 3 shedding animals and it takes a little maintenance to make our house livable. It only takes us about 30 minutes to clean and then we're off to do whatever else we need to do.

4. We go to church. It's not for everyone, I know that, but it works for us. We have a family that supports us in our church. We have folks around us to model health and positivity. We don't live near family (except my sister!) and our church has become our family here. When we had our terrible car accident we didn't know who to call. In the midst of the chaos, we started receiving texts and calls from our church family. Not just offering, but telling us they were in the car on their way to us. I don't know what we'd do without them. Beyond that, Jarrod and I are on the same page with regard to religion and how we live our lives. Our church grounds us.

5. We have separate activities. I love to walk. I walk about 30 miles a week. It's exercise, training, and good for my soul. Jarrod loves to watch TV, read books, and do yoga. It's good for him. We like having things that we do each day that help strengthen who we are as individuals.

6. We do a lot of things together. Yes we like our personal time, but we also do a lot of things together. We run errands together, do the grocery shopping together, and carpool home from work. In the midst of a very busy life, doing these mundane tasks together gives us time to talk, problem-solve, and have fun.

7. We do nothing together. I call it "reading time" because I am incapable of sitting down and literally doing nothing. It doesn't happen often, but when we can, we sit lazily and read books on the couch. The house is quiet and we don't have to talk. We just enjoy being together.

8. We keep a similar schedule. Jarrod is a night owl by nature and I prefer to go to bed early and wake up early. Call it opposites attract, but over the years, we've learned to compromise. When we go to bed, Jarrod often stays up a little later reading in bed. But when it's time to go to bed, we both go to bed. I wake up a little earlier than Jarrod to get my morning walk in before work. On the weekends, we typically get up about the same time. We have found this to work really well for us. I am not so naive in thinking that this will always work or that this would work for every family. Work schedules, sleeping schedules, and having children will definitely change our ability to do this. But for now, it works for us.

9. We go for walks together. Jarrod added this one. I like it because I love going on walks together. Our schedules don't always match up for us to go after dinner, but when we can, I adore our after dinner walks. It's nice to be outside together without any distractions. We can just talk and enjoy being together. Lucy goes too, of course, so I call them our Family Walks.

10. We make decisions together. Whether it's a big decision like having a baby or a small decision like what we will be eating that night for dinner, we make decisions together. Our families of origin and previous relationships did not set us up well for compromising and cooperating, so the first many months of our marriage were spent arguing our way through decisions. Now we are pretty good at working together to find the best solution to a problem. We talk things out, weigh the pros and cons, and have learned what hills to die on and what issues to let go.

These are just a few things that work for us. Maybe they are the things everyone's doing too. If so, I hope your marriage is hot, healthy, and functional! If you are happily married, what do you do that works? Share your top few things that make your marriage happy!
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March Goals Update

It's time for another update! It's been over a month since our last goals update and I'm thrilled to share some new updates with you. I've posted a little list of our 2011 goals on the left sidebar for a constant reminder of what we're committed to this year. Here's a more detailed reminder:
Leanne's goals:

  • Hit magical goal weight by March 30th. - This magical goal weight is my happy weight - where I look good, my clothes fit well, and I feel great. I began the year about 6 pounds short of that goal weight after trying to attain it for 4 months.
  • Walk 300 days in 2011. - I didn't put a mileage goal on this because I wanted it to be attainable regardless of what life brings me this year. Walking 300 days out of the year should be very attainable.
Here are our family goals for 2011:
  • Family - visit family, have family visit, explore expansion of the Louisiana Johnston clan. 
  • Pay down debt by $25,000.
And here is Jarrod's goal for 2011:
  • Find an exercise that he doesn't hate. Stick with it.
And here's how we're doing:
  •  Since January 1, 2011 I have successfully lost 7.4 lbs. and am .8 lbs BELOW my goal weight! I couldn't be more thrilled. Now the hard part will be keeping it off, but I've worked very hard over the past few months to lose the weight in the midst of trying times.
  • Since January 1, 2011 I have walked 77 days. That's 77 days out of 88. This means I'm walking an average of 87.5% of days and to meet my goal I need to maintain an average of 82% of days!
  • Since January 1, 2011 we have visited one set of "family" and had more family visit us. In January Jarrod and I visited our dear friends Renee and Mike in Atlanta. In February, Aunt Pam and Uncle Marco visited us from Phoenix. Two weekends ago Jarrod and I went to Dallas to visit family and last weekend my dad visited us from New Jersey.We're seriously making 2011 the year of family! 

  • Since January 1, 2011 we have paid off $12,150 in debt. We had some serious set-backs this month - owing the IRS and starting to pay for maternity coverage, but we also sold something that brought in some money and we applied that all to debt. We are only 1/4 of the way through the year and are already 1/2 of the way towards our goal! Which is good because I think 2011 is going to be an expensive year for the Louisiana Johnstons!
  • Since January 1, 2011 Jarrod has taken 8 yoga classes. He has his own mat now! I'm hoping he'll start doing it more at home instead of just once a week. We'll see if he's willing to give up some of his couch time for mat time! 
Overall, I'm overjoyed with the progress we've made in the first quarter of 2011. I know that by posting you all are holding me accountable to our goals. I think about you each time I want to eat something or buy something that is not part of the plan. I think about you when I want to sleep instead of walk. Thanks for the accountability! Hopefully the next quarter will be just as successful! 
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    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    End of the month rice-and-beans-budget food!

    It's the end of the month and the grocery envelope is empty. Like normal, we planned our meals for the entire month of March. Unfortunately, things didn't go exactly as planned and we ran out of certain elements of some of our meal choices earlier than expected.

    Last week we ate black beans and quinoa, black bean nachos with cheddar cheese and salsa, and eggs with toast. I made a big bag of black beans several weeks ago and they were frozen in preparation for us to eat them last week. I thought a big bag would make plenty of beans for lunches and dinners for about a week and a half. I was wrong. We ran out of black beans and salsa last week...

    No problem at all! I can make this work... Jarrod was a little skeptical, but I think we're making it! Here's a run-down of what we had in the fridge when the week started yesterday:

    • About 3 cups of cooked quinoa
    • about 2 cups of veggie-packed tomato sauce
    • Wheat bread
    • Gluten-free bread
    • Cheddar cheese
    • Mozzarella cheese
    • eggs
    • milk
    • salami
    • Dry grits
    • Three pieces of homemade pizza
    Except for some condiments, that was it and we'd need to make lunch and dinner for both of us for the week Monday-Friday. Here's what I'm thinking we'll do/what we have done.
    Monday lunch - Jarrod had cheddar grits with salami and I had quinoa, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
    Monday dinner - we had a challenging day and celebrated by going to dinner at a local sushi place.
    Tuesday lunch - Jarrod had a salami sandwich with cheddar cheese and I had two pieces of homemade pizza.
    Tuesday dinner - Jarrod had two pieces of bread pizza (bread with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and salami in the toaster oven) and I had quinoa with tomato sauce and mozzarella with some corn.
    Wednesday lunch - Jarrod will probably have another sandwich and I'll have the last piece of pizza.
    Wednesday dinner - I'm going to try to talk Jarrod into quinoa with tomato sauce, cheese and salami. I'll have bread pizza.
    Thursday lunch - Jarrod will have a sandwich and I'll have quinoa with tomato sauce and cheese.
    Thursday dinner - Breakfast for dinner! Eggs, toast, with fried salami for Jarrod.
    Friday lunch - Jarrod will probably make grits again because he'll be home for lunch. I'm going out to lunch with my office.
    Friday dinner - Whatever is left over. Probably the last of the quinoa with whatever else we can find.

    Thankfully Friday is the first and on Saturday we'll be heading to Sam's Club and the grocery store to stock up! More on our April menu soon. I'm thinking it'll include sweet potato fries, eggplant lasagna, and maybe Jarrod's slow-cooker barbecue chicken!
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    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Upholstering Dining Room Chairs - AKA This looks easier on HGTV!

    Jarrod brought four basic IKEA chairs to our marriage. Maybe you saw them when I showed off our awesome refinished table. They are nothing substantial, but they fit with the look of the table and they work for us. I dream of having bigger arm chairs at the end of the table and perhaps a bench someday, but for now, they are great. 
    As soon as we refinished the table, we decided that we might want to upholster the chairs. We talked about going with a bright and vibrant pattern but eventually ended up going with this:

    Sure, it's somewhat boring, but it works. It's textured and neutral. We found it when we were visiting our friends Renee and Mike in Atlanta. Renee asked if we wanted to go to a SUPER CHEAP fabric store. Yes, please! We purchased two LARGE remnants for $1 each. We weren't sure how much we would need and figured we better be safe and get two. We have about half of one and a whole other remnant left!
    I am thinking about using the remaining material to line this purse. I know it's really a diaper bag, but it's really just a large bag with lots of awesome pockets! This fabric would be a great liner because it's thick and durable.
    A few weeks ago we bought four foam pads from Hobby Lobby. The pads were about $3 each and on sale for 40% off. We opted for the 1" foam squares and I'm really glad we didn't go for anything thicker than that!

    For the past few weeks the fabric and foam has sat on our dining room table taunting me. This weekend my dad is coming to town so we decided it was time to bite the bullet and upholster these chairs! On Monday night we didn't have anything else going on, so we decided it was the perfect night to get it done.

    Before dinner I cut the fabric about the same size as the foam squares. After dinner I took to ironing the fabric and Jarrod removed the seats from the chairs. We're all about gender roles here at the Johnston house.

    Oliver watching over the un-ironed fabric.
    As Jarrod got started on the stapling, we quickly discovered a problem... The chair was not flat on the bottom, but had wooden supports necessary for attaching the seat of the chair back to the chair frame. (see bottom left corner of picture below)

    After some problem solving, we discovered that the best bet was to remove the supports, staple the foam and fabric and put the supports back in! It was more complicated than we thought, but Jarrod and I only argued a few times and only stopped for ice cream once, so I consider it a success!
    This looks easier on HGTV!

    That's as close to finished as you are going to see today. I haven't had a chance to take a good picture of the finished product yet. It was definitely a challenge, but for about $15 total and minimal irritation, I'd say it was a huge success. I have already threatened my husband within an inch of his life to not spill anything on them!
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    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Money-saving Menu Planning!

    Jarrod and I meal plan for a month. We sit down the first Saturday of the month, which is typically Sam's Club day, and plan out our menu. Anything we can purchase at the beginning of the month without it going bad, we do. We have been known to spend half our grocery budget for the month in the first day or so...

    This post is just going to be a breakdown of how the Louisiana Johnstons do our menu planning. Next week I'll share our menu calendar. After that, I'll share our weekly grocery shopping and how we fit within our budget.

    First we start with a calendar.

    Click to enlarge.
    It's nothing fancy, but it shows what we have going on when. We know that we won't be able to make complicated dinners on Tuesday or Wednesday nights because we have rehearsals at church. We know that the week leading up to Easter is going to be crazy and should plan some easy freezer meals and crock pot meals so we don't need to worry. By beginning with this schedule, it's easy to fill in meals and decide when we will have left overs.

    In the typical month we'll purchase all of our meat at the beginning of the month. We normally buy some combination of chicken sausage, whole chickens, and ground turkey. We'll also stock up on milk, eggs, Egg Beaters, big blocks of cheese, and paper products. (Mostly just toilet paper because we use rags and cloth napkins.)

    Our grocery budget is $300. This covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the exception of 2-3 meals out during the month for both Jarrod and I. This also covers toiletries, paper goods, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, and other things purchased at the grocery store. Jarrod eats exclusively gluten-free.

    Our typical monthly grocery list includes:
    • 3 boxes of gluten-free bread mix
    • Lettuce for salads
    • plain yogurt for smoothies
    • Eggs
    • Block of cheddar cheese that we shred in the food processor
    • Veggies like carrots, celery, cucumber, onions, and peppers
    • various meats
    • milk
    • Gluten-free corn Chex or Kix for Jarrod
    • Frozen berries for smoothies
    • butter
    Some of our standard meals include:

    • Leftovers and a salad 
    • Soup and salad
    • Peanut butter or lunch meat sandwiches and chips 
    Dinners are the only time during the day that Jarrod and I eat the same thing. We are very intentional about making one meal that we both like. Sometimes that has different components (mine has less cheese, his has gluten-free noodles, etc) but it's always the same and almost always includes a salad.  
    • Black beans and rice or quinoa with salad
    • Green bean casserole
    • Breakfast for dinner - we do everything from boring eggs and toast to huevos rancheros or breakfast casserole - breakfast for dinner is a great catch-all night where you transform leftovers into something new!
    • Something grilled - Jarrod's always grilling something and I'm not complaining! He'll cook fish or chicken with grilled veggies. Delicious!
    • Something in the crockpot - this is often Jarrod as well. He loves barbecue chicken! 
    In April I'm going to show you all my cards. I'll share with you what we spend and how we meal-plan. Once I've added the meals and when we're eating left-overs to our calendar, I'll share that with you as well. Most of our friends think we're absolutely insane for planning meals a month in advance, but we've been doing it for about 6 months and have really enjoyed it.

    Anyone else meal-planning and sticking within your budget? How do you do it? Jarrod and I are really enjoying ourselves!
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      Jarrod's Barbecue Chicken in the Slow Cooker!

      Jarrod loves our slow-cooker and I love walking up our front steps with the delicious smell of dinner wafting at me. It's a win-win!

      One of Jarrod's favorite slow-cooker recipes is barbecue chicken.It's easy, inexpensive, and delicious.

      Frozen chicken breasts - don't worry about defrosting!
      1/2 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
      1/2 bottle of Italian dressing (I use the cheap, low-cal version because I can't taste the difference!)
      2 tablespoons of brown sugar

      Throw everything in the slow-cooker and cook on low (or on if yours doesn't have settings!) for 6-8 hours. When you get home from work, you can use a fork and tear the chicken. It will literally shred as you remove it from the crock pot. We don't drain it or anything, the extra sauce makes the chicken juicy.

      We have made barbecue chicken tacos, barbecue chicken baked potatoes, and barbecue chicken salad with this chicken, but you can do whatever you'd like! I bet it's good over rice or potatoes as well.
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      Tuesday, March 8, 2011

      Easy and Free Chicken Broth: What to do with a whole chicken

      Jarrod and I have started buying whole chickens rather than our standard boneless, skinless breasts in an effort to save money and be creative with the whole chicken. It's gone very well so far and we're doing a good job coming up with things to do with the parts of the chicken we wouldn't normally have use for. We always use chicken a few times a month anyway and discovered that by purchasing the whole chicken we were getting a lot more for our money.

      When we first decided to do this I took it on as a challenge. I had never roasted a whole chicken before. I'd never butchered or carved a whole chicken before. I had no idea what I was doing. Now that I've got a few chickens under my belt, I feel like a master. Here is what I do:

      1. Buy two frozen chickens at Sam's Club. They come in a 2 pack.
      2. Defrost one of the chickens by placing it in the fridge several days before use.
      3. Prepare the chicken for roasting by seasoning and adding vegetables. I usually use one orange to marinate the chicken and shove it in the cavity. I also use onions, rosemary, salt, pepper, and whatever else I feel like. I start it at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then cook it at 350 for about 45-50 minutes or until it's done.
      4. Let the chicken cool.
      5. Break down the chicken. I grab a few containers and a big stock pot. I put the skin and bones and inedible parts in the stock pot, the white meat in one container and dark meat in another. I add the veggies and anything else I have laying around (the flowering parts of celery, parts of an onion, carrots, etc.) into the stock pot and fill that with water to simmer. The meat goes in the fridge or freezer, depending on when we'll use it.
      6. The stock simmers for an hour or so and then I strain it. I freeze the chicken stock in several smaller containers in the freezer. Whenever I need broth, I pull one out and defrost in the microwave.

      Having stock on hand is so convenient. It's awesome for recipes that call for chicken broth, but it's also perfect for cooking rice, pasta, or quinoa. And it's completely free. It is made from stuff we would have thrown away! Even better.
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      Mardi Gras take 2

      Yesterday was what we call Lundi Gras. After an early morning and full day of work, Jarrod and I packed in the car with our friends and headed back to Rayne Memorial UMC for a potluck and parade watching with some of our favorite people. Traffic was much lighter heading into the city on Monday and we made it in decent time. We arrived and visited with friends before settling in for a delicious meal.

      After eating, we settled into our special place on the street for parade watching. We saw awesome things like a bunch of grown men dancing around in cotton shorts and women in very interesting costumes.
      We posed for some pictures.
      Courtney, me, and our friend, Alina
      Jarrod and I
      While the celebrities weren't quite as awesome as last night, we did have fun. The floats were beautiful and the crowds weren't nearly as bad as the day before.

      Even better than pretty floats and fun beads, we got to spend time with our favorite Louisiana family. We have some dear friends that live in Baton Rouge and we got to catch up and share life with them while we watched the parade. The whole night was worth it for that precious time.

      Today is officially Mardi Gras but we aren't doing a dang thing related to the festivities. I'm working and Jarrod is home cleaning the house and cooking dinner. He's probably wearing heels and pearls too. ;-) Just kidding, he's home relaxing because his office is closed today - like most of Louisiana. Our office is closed today too but we have volunteers working this week so we're working!
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      Monday, March 7, 2011

      Delicious and Easy Chicken Pot Pie - Gluten-free!

      I roast a chicken about twice a month and we use the meat for a few recipes during the week. Jarrod wanted to make jambalaya this month so he got the white meat for that. I decided that I was going to use the dark meat to make chicken pot pie.

      I had an idea of what I was going to do, but searched online to find a good gluten-free recipe to get some of the measurements correct. I discovered this recipe, made some of my own changes, and bam! Delicious and gluten-free chicken pot pie!

      Chicken Pot Pie Johnston Style
      adapted from Betty Crocker

      Chicken fat left over from roasting the whole chicken
      1 medium onion, chopped
      3 large carrots, chopped
      3 stalks of celery
      1/2 cup frozen corn
      3 large potatoes
      1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken
      1 3/4 cups chicken broth
      1 teaspoon seasoned salt

      3/4 cup milk
      3 tablespoons cornstarch

      3/4 cup Bisquick® Gluten Free mix
      1/2 cup milk
      1 egg
      2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

      Slice potatoes and cover with worchestershire sauce, seasoned salt, and pepper. Layer in a greased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until soft.

      Saute onion, carrots, and celery in chicken fat until soft. Add frozen corn at the end. Season with salt and seasoned salt. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken. Mix cornstarch in milk until thick. Add to broth, mix well, and bring back to a boil. Pour mixture over potatoes in pan.

      Mix together ingredients for topping. Pour topping over the casserole and bake for 25-35 minutes or until topping is browned.

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      Mardi Gras take 1

      It's Mardi Gras week in New Orleans and we're living it up! Last Friday we went to a small walking parade right in Slidell with our friends. This parade is called Mona Lisa and Moonpies. they throw moonpies. It was awesome. Did you know that if you put a moonpie in the microwave for about 8 seconds it turns into a delicious gooey, melted chocolatey yummy breakfast dessert? It does! 

      This past Friday night it rained. After a week of beautiful weather, it rained most of the day on Friday. However, Selene, the biggest and best parade in Slidell was still rolling! We gathered with our friends, coworkers, and 14 volunteers from New England in town for the parade. We ate shrimp boil, hot dogs, hamburgers, and snacks. We had a wonderful time! I even caught an authentic glass bead necklace! (Check out the picture below of Jarrod and I. Aren't they pretty?!)

      Jarrod and I at Selene in Slidell.

      Jarrod the Gangsta, me and Courtney at Selene.

      On Sunday afternoon Jarrod, some of our friends, and I piled into a 12 passenger van and made the trek to Rayne Memorial UMC in the Garden District of New Orleans. It took 2.5 hours to get into the city but we made it unscathed. Our goal was to eat, have fun, and see two incredible parades: Bacchus and Endymion.

      After we arrived, we went outside to check things out. Because Endymion was rescheduled from the night before, crowds were at an all-time high. Things were insane! Soon, Bacchus began and we settled in to catch some beads!

      It was chilly, chaotic, but delightful. We spent our time with awesome friends in a safe neighborhood. Emma was there, and we all love Emma. :-)
      Endymion was definitely the most incredible parade I've ever seen. They were all lit floats and the throws were incredible.

      But the best part by far was Anderson Cooper. His float stopped right in front of where we were standing and my life was forever changed. Allow me to tell you a little story.
      Once upon a time in a land called the Garden District I was minding my own business watching some gorgeous parades. When all of a sudden I look up and Anderson Cooper is calling my name! 
      "Leanne! Leanne!"
      You can imagine my surprise. Before I could even respond, he was winking at me! 
      Anderson Cooper winking...
      My husband was right there, but Anderson Cooper is on my list and it's laminated. Then Anderson Cooper threw me some beautiful blue and silver beads. They got stuck on my husband's fingers, but I yanked really hard and he didn't yell much. These beads went right from Anderson Cooper's hands into my hands...with just a short stop around my husband's fingers.
      After the beads, Anderson Cooper threw me a cup with his face on it. Kelly Rippa and Mark Consuelos were on the cup (and the float as well) and as much as I adore Kelly Rippa, she didn't catch my attention like Anderson Cooper.

      Once the adhrenaline wore off from Anderson Cooper I realized it was almost 10pm and we had a long trip home. We loaded back in the car and were thankful to be home and in our beds by midnight. Today is Lundi Gras and after working a long, hard day at work, Jarrod and I will head back to Rayne Memorial UMC with our friends to spend the evening catching even more beads and seeing even more celebrities. ;-)
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      Financial Update Overview

      I've written several times about how important financial freedom is for our family. I've also recently begun reading some blogs of folks who are sharing their budgets and how they are actually achieving their financial goals - slowly but surely, just like the tortoise.

      Jarrod and I have come a long way since we got married 20 months ago. By the time we got married, we'd each paid off a whole bunch of credit card debt (my rough estimate is $30,000) and two cars ($30,000). We paid cash for our wedding, honeymoon, and most of my graduate school. From the day we got engaged forward, we pay cash. for. every.thing. The only debt we had on July 4th, 2009 was student loans. Loans from my undergraduate degree. Loans from Jarrod's undergraduate degree. Loans from my seminary degree. Loans from Jarrod's seminary degree. Nothing but loans, but they totaled over $115,000. That's even after I'd been paying my undergraduate loans through graduate school and paid for most of graduate school with cash.

      Our income has slowly risen, but at that time, back in the summer of 2009, our income was about $60,000 gross. I hated my job and was driving about 45 minutes twice a day and was wasting lots of money on gas. Our income has fluctuated some over the past 20 months, but has settled right at about $75,000 gross. Our jobs do not provide health insurance, retirement, cell phones, or any other outside financial benefit.

      I hesitate to share that because people don't talk about money and sharing your income is so taboo. However, I want you to see what we've done. Here's a little timeline.

      July 2009
      Debt: $115,586
      Income: $4,000/month

      October 2009
      Debt: $114,000
      Income: $3,600/month
      Notes: I quit one full time job that I hated and took a part-time job that I loved. It required less driving and utilized more of my gifts and skills.

      February 2010
      Debt: $111,000
      Income: $5,400/month
      Notes: I was working two part-time jobs that I loved and some random other jobs like tutoring and photo editing, to bring in any extra month that I could. Every penny went to debt.

      July 2010
      Debt: $107,000
      Income: $3,900/month
      Notes: One of my part-time jobs ended, but we also moved to a cheaper place and Jarrod picked up some extra voice lessons to increase our income. Debt snowball is ROLLING!

      September 2010
      Debt: $97,000 - FINALLY BELOW $100K!
      Income: $4,600/month
      Notes: We received some settlement money from a car accident we were in back in April. Nearly every penny went towards helping us pay off debt.

      November 2010
      Debt: $72,000
      Income: $5,100/month
      Notes: My grandmother passed away and we received the first portion of our inheritance. $25,000 and every penny went to paying off debt.

      March 2011
      Debt: $55,000
      Income: $5,300/month
      Notes: After more inheritance money, we were able to pay off more debt. While we still have a ways to go, we are making it. Our insurance costs went up (note: maternity insurance is expensive!) so we had to decrease the amount paid on debt by about $400/month. We are currently averaging about $1,500 payments on our very last debt - Jarrod's seminary student loans.

      Over the next months and years, I'll continue to keep you updated on our financial situation. I cannot wait for the day when Jarrod and I can stand in the lobby of Financial Peace Plaza and scream, "WE'RE DEBT FREE!!"
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      Reprioritizing the budget

      Since we decided that we want to have a baby (we decided that, just FYI) we've been forced to examine and reprioritize our spending. We've always been very frugal and are excelling at paying off our debt as quickly as possible. But with the added expense of a new little one, I've been doing research to discover what it is we need to take care of now, before the little one is even a bun in the oven. Rather than simply squeeze every penny out of each category, I'm forced to begin to plan for other things in the future. I'm used to just planning to pay off debt. That's still our top priority, but we're slowing down on that in order to take care of some other things. 

      Maternity insurance: Sadly, neither Jarrod nor I are offered insurance at our place of employment. Thankfully, we love our jobs and can afford good health care. I did my research and decided having health insurance that includes maternity coverage is crucial. We added that this month. My insurance premiums raised from $70/month to $340/month.

      Insurance deductibles: We normally don't worry about meeting our health insurance deductibles each year. Neither of us ever have. If something were to happen, we would be able to cover the deductibles with cash-flow and our emergency fund. However, with the prospect of becoming pregnant, I'm looking at definitely meeting my $2,800 deductible so we are currently putting $350/month in an envelope for pregnancy expenses. This is only to be used for co-pays and deductibles, not maternity clothes (no matter how cute!) or little baby shoes. :-)

      Long-term Disability: I have been dragging my feet on long-term disability insurance for about 6 months. I know we need it. I know that if something happens in the short-term, we can survive for a few months, but in the long term, we will need insurance in place to take care of us. With a potential baby coming, I wanted to be sure it was in place before I am with-child.

      It is hard for me to move money from the debt snowball. I like to put as much money in that column as possible. However, I know how important funding these other things is. Making sure that all of our ducks are in a row will free us up to focus on getting and staying pregnant, as well as our new little one, when the time comes. Any extra money we get from any source will, of course, go directly towards debt.
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      Tuesday, March 1, 2011

      New and Improved Sandwich Bread

      I've been perfecting sandwich bread for about 2 years. I try to make it as healthy as possible, but also want something delicious - for sandwiches, cinnamon toast, and peanut butter toast. The latest recipe on this website is one that I've been using for about 9 months. I've tweaked it again and I can now say without any doubt, that I'd perfected the wheat sandwich bread!

      I made the most delicious and perfect loaf of bread this weekend. If I had this camera, I'd take a picture. (This camera is officially at the TOP of my wish list! This month I began an envelope in our envelope system marked: CAMERA!) Seriously, the bread looked incredible and tasted even better - which is saying a lot because most of the time my food tastes good or looks good, but never both!

      Without further chit chat, here's the recipe for the new and improved Favorite Sandwich Bread!

      1.5 table spoons dry yeast
      1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
      1 teaspoon white vinegar
      1/2 cup white sugar
      1 teaspoon salt
      1/4 cup apple sauce
      1/4 cup egg beaters
      2 cups whole wheat flour
      2 cups all-purpose flour
      1 tablespoon flax seeds

      I added all of this to my bread machine on the dough setting. When the dough was finished in the bread machine, I put it in a greased loaf pan in a warm place for about 20 minutes, covered with a warm, damp towel. If you don't have a bread machine, I suggest mixing the ingredients well with a hand mixer and allowing the dough to rise in a large bowl for 1 hour before punching down the first time. Then allow it to rise for 45 minutes before punching down a second time. After punching down the second time, place the dough in a greased loaf pan, cover with a warm, damp towel, and allow to rise a final time for 20 minutes.

      Once the dough is ready, bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.

      When the bread is done, remove it from the oven and wrap it in a towel to cool. This will keep the steam and moisture in the bread, making it moist and delicious. Once the loaf has cooled, I typically slice it into 14-15 slices and freeze half in a gallon-sized freezer bag.

      This loaf was especially delicious because the apple sauce made it moist and the flax seeds gave it a little crunch.
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