Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ultimate Homemaking Bundle--On Sale NOW!

Get The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle--Hurry: Sale 6 Days Only!
By popular demand, 100+ homemaking bloggers are bringing back The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, and it's better than ever!
The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle is a complete library of great eBooks on homemaking—a truly valuable knowledge base you’ll use for many years to come.
Unlike a library, though, you don’t have to spend years building it up. The Ultimate Bundles team has done the hard work for you, searching the web to find the very best eBooks from top homemaking authors and combining them into one essential collection that you can buy in one simple purchase.
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I'm confident you won’t find a more comprehensive set of homemaking resources anywhere -- and certainly not at this price. Bought separately, they’d cost a total of $698 (not including $200+ in bonuses!). But you can have all of them for just $29.97!
Or, for just an extra $10, you not only get the full set of PDF files, but also a bonus set of Kindle editions, perfectly formatted for easy Kindle reading. This has been a popular request over the years and I'm excited to say it's now available!
I believe it’s the best deal on homemaking eBooks anywhere on the web. But it will only be available for six days. So grab yours before it's gone!
You get ALL THIS in The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle!
In this bundle, you will find 80+ eResources aimed to grow you in all aspects of homemaking, including:
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See the full list of 80+ eBooks, audio files, eCourses & printable packs included in the sale.
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This huge wealth of information and guidance will be right there on your laptop, tablet, smartphone, or Kindle, whenever you need it.
Here's what you need to know about the sale:
When? 8 a.m. EST Wednesday, April 23 until 11:59 p.m. EST Monday, April 28
What? 78 eBooks, 2 eCourses, 2 audio files, and 2 printable packs PLUS over $200 worth of bonus products you'll really use!
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Remember, this bundle is available for 6 days only, from 8 a.m. (EST) on Wednesday, April 23 to 11:59 p.m. (EST) on Monday, April 28th.
Disclosure: I have included affiliate links in this post. Read the fine print about this bundle and read the answers to frequently asked questions about the bundle.


Because Sometimes We All Need a Little Help {Ultimate Homemaking Bundle is Here!}



I had to send my the women who are in the trenches of leadership with me an urgent text message yesterday. Basically it said I'd offered to make dinner for one of our own who birthed her third babe last week (and now deserves all things pasta and chocolate) but I'd over-anticipated  my capacity for this Tuesday. so, in short, I needed help.

Of course they rose to the occasion and all I had to prepare was the main dish (never going wrong with baked spaghetti). It was an awesomely freeing feeling to ask for help and to receive it.

But sometimes I'm quite guilty of not asking. Sometimes I apparently would rather flake out or have a tantrum or just yell at my husband rather than ask for just a little bit of help. Or guidance. Or relief.


Sarah Mae, who wrote Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, the book I'm reading with that leadership team that welcomes tired mamas every other Friday to MOPS, says very plainly, "What a young mother really needs is physical help."

Exactly. Sometimes what I really need is four sets of hands, you know, one for each child? And it's okay if those hands are attached to my mom or mother-in-law or friend or mentor. Especially when those hands are being held wide open and desiring to share some wisdom while folding the never ending pile of laundry that keeps my girls' room disguised rampaged outlet store.


I know, I know. It's hard to ask. I've got four kids and am just now getting to where I realize how vitally important it is to lay down my own feelings of inadequacy and that idol of control so someone can be the hands and feet of sweet Jesus for me.

It's okay if you have a hard time with the asking. But can I encourage you to accept the offers? And can I encourage you that if you don't want physical help, to at least seek some guidance from those who have gone before?

You don't even have to talk to someone to find guidance in areas like marriage, kids' activities, meal planning, and devotions. The internet is an unlimited resource that easily overwhelms and intimidates. That's why I'm excited to share a little (actually it's a lot!) something with you.


The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle is on sale today and for the next 6 days only, you can get over 78 ebooks and additional resources for one low price. All downloadable onto your favorite electronic device, all from trusted and respected leaders in the homemaking blog world, and all neatly packaged together so you can peruse at your leisure without having to rely on endless (and distracting) Pinterest searches to find a simple idea for dinner!



It's the best bargain for ebooks you'll ever find.  When I'm thinking about meal planning and whole foods, I can't wait to check out:
  • Happy Mom, Healthy Family Meal Planning by Lisa Byrne
  • It's Me or the Coupons by Beth Cranford
  • Healthy Lunchbox by Katie Kimball
  • Real Food on a Budget by Stephanie Langford
  • Advanced Penny Pinching by Tabitha Philen
But summer's on the way and I'm sure these are going to be favorites:
  • Just Making Ice Cream by Marillyn Beard
  • 101 Independent Activities for Toddlers by Mary Ellen Bream
  • 76 Free Things to Do With Kids by Shannon Brown
And that's only 8 of the offerings! You'll find Kayse's incredible devotional for busy moms The Undivided Mom as well as Kat Lee's simple and effective kit for blog planning. Since most of these books retail at around $3.99 a piece, I'd say getting them all (even the ones I don't need) for $29.97 is the best part of the package! (Yes, you can give away the ones you don't want but be sure to read the fine print about that here.)



So go ahead, treat yourself or a friend to an early Mother's Day and start accepting help. Because if we could do it all by ourselves, there would be no reason to have each other, right? 

I've been writing a little series about Living Whole(ish) on a Budget and will be the first to admit I always need help. You can read about it here

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle through my site, I will receive a commission. I'm hoping to generate enough sales to help me get to Allume this fall as well as plan a few (not free) summer activities for my kids. Thanks for checking it out! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monthly Meal Planning: Four Easy Steps

Moment of Truth: I actually plan my menu weekly. That's just what works best for me. Also, I'm one of those weird people who actually likes to grocery shop. Might be because a couple times a month I can get my husband to stay home with the kiddos, and I can drink my latte and compare sales tags in peace. 

See, the thing with menu planning is you have to start with a plan for the planning. Otherwise, you might get overwhelmed. At least that's true for me.

Though I do plan out our menus week by week, I also have a Monthly Meal Planner that's just a running list of meals that might work for the upcoming month. I jot meal ideas down based on seasonal cycles for produce, our monthly calendar, and what's already hanging out in the kitchen. I also write down ideas for breakfasts and lunches so I can factor those into my plans.

I have a board full of delicious ideas on Pinterest but truthfully, I've made only a handful of those dishes. If I start there, I wind up with a menu that's based purely on cravings and good photography. Not a good idea for being strategic with my budget. 



1. Consult Your Cupboard
So, instead, when I meal plan I start with what I already have. A quick assessment of my pantry and freezer helps me know what is available to me immediately.  I keep an inventory of what's on hand using these printables from Getting It Together: A Home Management System that Works.  But I don't update these as often as I'd like, so often I just do a quick scan of the shelves and make notes of the meals I could make on the Monthly Meal Planning guide from the same set of printables. (And sometimes I'm out of ink in the printer, so I just write on a piece of paper, because, you know, whatever gets it done.) 


There have been times I have planned an entire week's menu based on what we already have in stock. Those are rare times, but great for when I want to channel the grocery budget into other areas.

2. Consult Your Calendar
When I sit down on the weekend to plan for the following week, I always look at my calendar. I need to know if my husband has an evening meeting or if I have a girls' night or if there's an evening that's not going to allow for a lot of food prep, so I can plan accordingly. This helps me choose which nights are best for crockpot meals, leftovers, just sandwiches, or everyone's favorite--a quick run through the Chic-Fil-A drive-through. When I make my initial list of monthly meal ideas, I always include dinners and breakfasts I know are easy prep and cleanup for those crazy nights that so dominate our busy lives.



3.  Consult Your Capacity
A home cooked meal is a labor of love and commitment. It is, even if it's just pancakes on paper plates because you have to make it and clean up after. Dishes are my absolute least favorite part of executing my meal plan. There have been times I've tossed it out the window and we've just gone out because I simply can't wash one more dish. So when I meal plan, I have to think about my capacity.  If I've got a fairly open week, I have a tendency to think that's when I'll make all those awesome (and time-consuming) recipes I've been pinning or marking in my favorite cookbooks (or this month's issue of Southern Living). But even if there's nothing but family dinner on our agenda in the evening, if I make a big meal from start to finish and the clean up, family night has turned into a kitchen all-nighter and I'm exhausted.  So if I plan for a meal, I know is going to take a little more effort and babysitting, I try to put it in between meals on the calendar that are simple and low-key.  Usually those meals are the most low-budget ones, too.


4. Consult Your Coupons
I used to start with the sales. Because sales and coupon matchups are how you save the most money right? Then I realized that my tendency was to come home with lots of snacks, cereal, and Hamburger Helper, none of which was going very far or keeping everyone from still being hungry. So I started meal planning first based on the sales for meat and produce. Chicken's on sale? Great, we will have four different versions of chicken casserole and one night of stir fry. So that wasn't working either. But once I moved consulting the sales to the last thing I do for menu planning, supper got a lot more interesting and I became a lot less stressed. These days, I only coupon for my staples like peanut butter or yogurt. We don't buy a lot of cereal because I make breakfast, but that's an easy item to pick up for a low price with a coupon match. I rely on different stores than just my one because I know I can almost always count on better meat deals at Quality Foods and better produce at the local markets or my CSA. Coupons used to rule my menu planning and grocery shopping, now they are just a tool that helps me stay on target with our budget.

So how do you menu plan? Do you use one of the services I hear are great? Do you just figure it out as you go? What tips do you have for me? Because I'm always looking for more creative ways to make dinner a less stressful part of our day.


Linking up with Works for Me Wednesdays.

Coming soon....The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! So many ebooks, so little money. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Sweetest Moments of Forgiveness

My kids break the rules a lot. Whether it's one more episode of Netflix after they've been told to turn it off, or only brushing their teeth with water instead of toothpaste, or just plain going out of their way to aggravate one another, there's always someone doing something wrong.

It doesn't help that I'm not all that great an enforcer. Follow through has never been my strongest trait.

So sometimes there's a lot of yelling and a lot of crying and a lot of frustration. Sometimes there's me holding them to an unattainable standard that I haven't even really spelled out for them, so it's unfair to punish for something they didn't really get was wrong in the first place.

That's my middle child's favorite excuse.

"But you didn't say don't eat ice cream in the living room. You just said eat a snack!"

Well I didn't realize I had to remind you for the 1000th time that the living room isn't where we eat snacks! Sound familiar?

I tell you honestly, this journey through motherhood has taught me more about God's love than the twenty-four years prior I spent in a sanctuary. I get that love now without having it spelled out in a sermon--how His love is unconditional and passionate and fiery and jealous and merciful.  Because until I have walked through the fires of sleep deprivation and chore charts and please, please can someone pick up the crayons off the floor, I didn't get it.  I didn't get how much He must love me.

And how exasperated He deserves to be with me.

Because I keep trying to live and raise my kids and govern my life under the letter of the law. Rules are good, sure. Rules give parameters and guidelines and function to society and classrooms and homes. But following rules, checking off boxes, getting a sticker reward--that does nothing to forgive my soul for it's ugly tendencies toward sins like coveting or anger or pride.

As Easter approaches, I've been trying to really, truly grasp the weight and glory of the cross. I've been trying to see it through the film of my own life, to better understand this faith I hold to be true but sometimes cannot put into words. Then a pastor friend uttered these words at Friday's MOPS devotion:

We have to sit under the weight of God's curse before we can truly grasp the meaning of the cross.

And I thought about my kids. 

So often we put our children under the weight of law and of course, when that law is broken there are consequences. And if you're anything like me, you're doling out those consequences with a pretty short fuse and a whole lot of irritation.

But God's law doesn't work like that. Instead, with Him, we have to commit the sin before we know the sweetness of forgiveness.

We have to break in order to mend.

Once, I really, really lost it with my middle daughter. She had pushed me beyond my limits and I slammed out the door in a fury to cool off before I could deal with her anymore. I was mad, and I just knew, I was going to have to go back in there and issue a punishment fitting to her crime and also, explain again, that I was sorry I had gotten so angry. I was so tired of being the one to ask for and offer forgiveness that seemed to mean nothing to her.

But she came to me first. Out the door in a sobbing heap, she crawled into my lap, grasping at my neck and saying, "I'm sorry, mommy, I'm sorry."

And my anger just melted. I think that's what God does for us. His anger has just melted away because through Christ, we can come to Him, we can climb in His lap and beg forgiveness and He can give it wholly.

Until I sat under the weight of motherhood, under the weight of a love so great I would give my life for any of my children, I didn't really understand the depth of unconditional forgiveness. 

I didn't really grasp the meaning of the cross.

Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die. But God shows and clearly demonstrates His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners Christ [the Messiah, the Anointed One] died for us. 
Romans 5:7-8 (Amplified)


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy::Living Whole(ish) on a Budget



So when I introduced this series, I really didn't anticipate the response!  Thanks to all who are commenting and sharing.  Blogging is a lot more fun when there's community. If you haven't already, hop over here and like my facebook page.  I'll try to post regularly there and start up conversations where we can all share our favorite strategies. You can also follow me on twitter or instagram, and while you're doing that, may I recommend you follow the inspiration of today's post as well? We belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Red Dust Ranch and you can find them tweeting, photographing, and planting cucumbers in rows that aren't straight right here.

Red Dust is run by my friends Chris and Heidi Hook and a few years ago Chris and I were subjected to school lunches and sassy seventh graders together when we taught at the same middle school.  Since then he's gone off to literal greener pastures and now works the farm as his family's sole source of income. I tell you this because that's my number one best tip for anyone looking to change or improve their family's grocery budget: 

Make friends with a local farmer (and join a CSA).

Seriously.  Chat with them at the farmer's markets, stop at the roadside stand, research the local farms in your area and attend one of their functions. Because if you really want to get a great deal on produce, meat, or dairy products, losing the middle man is the first step. At $20 a week (2014 pricing), our CSA is competitive with other farmers but still less than buying the same quantity of organic produce at the grocery store. Also, it's a set price. This helps me budget because I always know just how many dollars are coming out of that cash envelope. But the real beauty of this is, if Chris has an abundance of a crop, I get extra at no extra cost. You're charged by the share, not by the pound or the package like at a store. Plus, supporting a local farmer means your money is directly going back to him to support his family or business. It's a win-win for your budget and the local economy.

For information on joining the CSA with Red Dust Ranch, you can email me: lbrackett@reddustranch.com.

Shop around the block. 

We all get used to shopping our one store because we like it, it's familiar, we know where everything is located, there's a Starbucks inside...I know. Me too. I purposely patronize our local Ingles because I like the clerks, and it's a small town so there's lots of familiar faces. (FYI, when you teach someone how to diagram a sentence they will remember that when bagging your groceries.) Plus, the more you shop one store, the better you can get at anticipating their sales and markdowns. So it's a good thing.

BUT if you make it a habit to notice another store that might have better pricing on something you buy all the time, maybe it's worth the extra stop to go there too? On my way home from Ingles, I pass a little produce market that's locally owned and does carry some locally sourced produce, meat, and dairy products. A while back a friend let me in on a secret: it's the cheapest place around to buy eggs.  A flat of two and a half dozen eggs was $3.99 until last week.  Now it's $4.49 which the owner tells me is because their supplier (a local chicken farmer) went up on his price. But, she also assures me it will come back down after Easter. I hope so, but even if it doesn't, once supermarket eggs return to their normal pricing after the Easter sales, it's still cheaper for me to pick up my eggs here. (Just so you know, I'm not buying free range eggs.  I would like to, but that's not in our budget. I'm just happy they're local.)

When the CSA is not in season, I pick up a lot of produce at this little market as well. My kids love carrots. They get them out of the fridge and start gnawing like horses, eating the peeling and all.  They've eaten a 5 pound bag of carrots in a week before, so now I buy my carrots here. It's $3.39 for a 5lb bag. That same bag is $4.99 at Ingles. They and another farmer's market a few more miles from us were my primary sources for apples all fall and winter as well.  Not only were their prices half of the grocery store, the apples they were selling were from local orchards. 

Don't be so picky about availability.

We all know that living in America means you can have what you want, when you want it. But if you change your mindset and concentrate on what's in season, you can save money and learn to withstand some of the entitlement complex we all have. It's April, right now.  That means you're seeing lots of greens, salad mixes, broccoli, cabbages, and other cold hardy plants coming into harvest. If you focus your grocery budget on buying what's available a good price, instead of just what you want, you will save money with very little effort. For instance, I haven't bought grapes since fall. They're a summer fruit and I'm not paying $2.98/lb for something that will be $1.68/lb in the prime of its season.

If you shop farmer's markets, you can go early in the day for the best pick, or you can go late in the day for the best deals. Farmers don't want to pack up and carry back home what they brought to sell. So if you don't mind the less popular vegetables, you can often get some great deals.

Looking for the recipe to go with this picture I posted yesterday?
It's super easy and lends itself to whatever's in season.
Roasted vegetables and sausage.
Dice up whatever's in season or on sale (this is sweet potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts) and spread in an even layer on a roasting pan drizzled with olive oil. Top with diced sausage. I like smoked turkey links. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until vegetables are done.
Get your own cow or pig. For the freezer, that is. 

If you have the freezer space and the upfront cash, you can buy meat in bulk from local farmers for a set price per pound.  We did this a couple of years ago and bought a quarter of a cow from a farmer in Clayton (about 30 minutes north of us). It came butchered and packaged and we received a variety of cuts: roasts, steaks, ground beef, and stew bones. It came out to about $2.75/lb which is more than I like to pay for the cheaper cuts but way less than I've ever paid for a steak. Plus, it stocked my freezer for six months which made meal planning so much easier. 

If you can't do this, I would suggest doing what I do now. Figure out the store with the best deals on meat and buy it there even if it's not your favorite place to buy your other groceries.  I like to get meat and dairy products at Quality Foods, which is not the nicest looking grocery store in our area simply because it's not shiny and new. But their prices are great, and Morning Fresh, their store brand of dairy products, is actually produced just a few miles away from us in North Carolina, which is way more local than Great Value. I'm not positive, but I believe some of their meat is fairly local as well.

Finally, know this. You can't change all at once. Choose one thing that you really want to focus on and start there. For us, it's been locally sourced items, specifically produce. I chose this because I knew I wasn't feeding my kids nearly as many fruits and vegetables as I wanted to and I was blaming the high prices on fresh produce for that. But when I read Simply In Season (World Community Cookbook), it changed my outlook on availability and local sources and made me really want to see this as our lifestyle change. It helps, too, that Joshua loves to garden and he's on this bandwagon with me. After all, you can't get more local or frugal than the tomatoes grown on your own back porch.

Living Whole(ish) on a a Budget Series
April 9:: Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy
April 16:: Monthly Meal Planning (Week by Week)
April 23:: Ten Things I'm Making Instead of Buying
April 30:: What WIC Taught Me about Groceries 

Linking up with Works for Me Wednesdays over at We Are That Family. Have you heard about Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith Is No Longer Enough?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that support my blogging and locally sourced habits. 




Monday, April 7, 2014

Living Whole(ish) on a Budget



It's no secret that we try to live pretty frugally around here.  I'd love to tell you we do it so we can be building retirement portfolios or sponsoring a half-dozen Compassion children or living debt free.

But the truth is, we live frugally because that's the only way we can pay all our bills, put food on the table, and save an emergency fund that gets drained at least once a year by non-emergencies like new tires, medical bills, or our anniversary getaway.

Slowly but surely we're chipping away at debt, and with a slightly bigger house on our future radar, we're trying to live simply but still enjoy God's blessings and the opportunity to love on other people. Usually, I use this blog as a writing outlet for my musings on motherhood and the antics of my crazy children but this has become such a big part of my journey in staying home, that I want to share it with you!

That and writing about doing something makes me feel really accountable to actually doing it. So for the next few weeks, I'm going to have a weekly series about how we're trying to live a healthy, balanced, whole(ish) foods diet on a grocery budget that's just under $300 a month.

That number comes from us following the Crown Financial plan for financial freedom,  Your Money Map: A Proven 7-Step Guide to True Financial Freedom, (it's almost exactly the same as Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness) and because we have figured out how to get what we need at that price point. Sometimes we go over. Rarely are we under. But for the most part, $300 a month feeds us pretty comfortably.  Of course you have to keep in mind that two of my children are still pretty little and unless they're in a growth spurt aren't eating the same as a teenager or an adult.


One way I've found that really works for me is to focus on local foods and stores. I know a lot of people coupon or price match, and if that works for you, great. But I've come off that bandwagon for the most part and have had greater success with my own version of a whole foods approach.  For me, what that means, is if I can make it from scratch, then I do that instead. My kitchen cabinets stay stocked with baking ingredients, rolled oats, dried fruit, and nuts. I buy more eggs but less meat, make breakfast almost every morning, and sometimes pack my kids leftovers for lunch. I've discovered a plethera of uses for lentils and Greek yogurt (though not together). I am a master at sneaking vegetables into meals and I ration cheese. But mostly, I seek out what's local and in season, because that's where I'm getting the best bang for my buck.


As spring settles in, I'm gearing up for a new season with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and since I agreed to handle marketing for them, you're also going to be treated to lots of information on what we're learning and eating by having a share of a local farm delivered to our doorstep once a week. I'm planning to begin hosting a Wednesday linkup for us to share our favorite recipes using locally grown ingredients (local to you, not just to me) so that all summer long we can experience the glory of each other's summer bounty.

But before that happens, I'm going to offer you a seat at my kitchen table and share about the following topics:

April 9:: Tips for Buying Locally Sourced Produce, Meat, and Dairy
April 16:: Monthly Meal Planning (Week by Week)
April 23:: Ten Things I'm Making Instead of Buying
April 30:: What WIC Taught Me about Groceries 

I hope you'll join me on this journey and offer your own tips and resources along the way!

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address in the box in the upper right hand corner.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links that help support my writing habit. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

How I Became a Writer {Five MInute Friday}

When I look back at four years of blogging, I find that my best and rawest moments have come in five minute increments. Because like Lisa Jo says, sometimes writing time is stolen five minutes at a time. Linking up with the Five Minute Friday community right here and telling you why I'm surprised by motherhood and writing right over here. 

{source}

Writer

In a yellow cardboard box on the bottom of my bookshelf are the battered remnants of what made me become a writer. Their covers torn and worn from so many countless rereadings, I've boxed them away in their original packaging and bought new shiny gingham covers for my girls and we snuggle under a quilt and up against too many pillows and dive in.

Laura Ingalls and her pioneer family driving across a nation when it was still in the labor pains of birth. Those were the stories that made me want to find my story. Those were the tales that made me want to tell.

But I got lost. I got lost in criticism and thin-skin and rules and regulations and shoulds and shouldn'ts and I got so very, very scared that I had no stories worth telling. So I scribbled in a journal and on napkins and in the backs of notebooks and hid my secret until I felt ready to share.

I'm never going to feel ready to share. I'm never going to really feel like I deserve to be here, to write here, to be going here to learn and dive and swim in these waters that scare me to death with their beckoning call.

But I'm doing it anyway. Somewhere along the way, I got the courage just to put a little bit out there, just to chronicle some real life, just to write it down and choose to believe a few people might care.

You did. You do. You let me hand over my broken story while it was still breaking me and you received and loved and poured grace and encouragement back into me.

And I've become a writer.