Thursday, June 30, 2011

Little Blessings

I'm a grocery store couponer.
Occasionally, I do the drugstore thing, maybe every couple of weeks.
For the most part, I don't have the time or mental fortitude to jump through
the hoops they require to score the deals.

Much to my dismay, I discovered yesterday, that 2 $4 coupons for Walgreen had
expired the day before!!
$8 in register rewards down the tube .... ugggg!!

I decided to call Walgreen to see if they'd let me use them anyway.
I was only a few hours past the expiration ... it was worth a try, right?
The manager, out of the kindness of her heart, said I could bring them in &
she'd honor them!
Her stipulation was that they had to be from the purchase of  'Walgreen' product,
for which they'd get reimbursed for, & they were.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Normally not a fan of Walgreen, they went up a couple notches in my book.

I was able to apply the $8 in register rewards {& 4 other coupons} to get all this
for  $3.23!, I got another $2 in rewards to use the next time.

Just 1 Blue Bell is $6.99!
So grateful they let me use those expired coupons.
Note to self:  don't let that happen again!

Since I was running to Walgreen, I decided to take Riley & his friend, Julian, to the park.
Riley was wanting to ride his new skateboard & the weather couldn't have
been more perfect.

I found a picnic table right under a big shade tree & had just settled in to relax for a while
when I look up to see my dear friend Paula, who I don't see often enough,
walking towards me!
We were both so surprised to see one another!
So, for the next hour or so, we visited & encouraged each other in the Lord.
She was just what I needed & I left feeling strengthened in my spirit.

What are the 'chances' she'd come to walk her dog at the very same time & the very same
place that I'd randomly decide go.
It's moments like this that I know God's been at work behind the scenes.
He's so concerned with even the smallest details of our lives.

There were 3 or 4 other 'little' blessings yesterday that would seem trivial to others, but
were important to me ... so, at the end of the day, this was my prayer:

All day long, I've felt You being extra attentive to my 'details'.
Thank you, God,  for being so good to me ... even in the little bitty things.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PICS of my current 'Goodwill' stash

article 6 in Stretching Your Dollars

A few days ago, I confessed my mad love for Goodwill.
In case you missed it, you can read all the sordid details here.

I am currently working on a 'gift' to my sister-in-law.
She's expecting a wee one in a few months, & I wanted to be the biggest blessing
to her as I could.
So, for the last several months, I've been going through the infant department
each time I'm out shopping.
I've found some decent deals here & there, but by far, my best findings
have been from ...

wait for it ...


That's right, I am giving a gift that includes items from Goodwill!

Here's a picture of my Goodwill goodies for my sweet niece that's 'in route'.

8 white onesies, 3 receiving blankets, 1 hat, 2 pr. socks {all brand new from Target}
zippered gown & 1 dress {brand new, tags attached from Carters}
8 patterned onesie-outfits, 1 dress, 1 gown

Think how much a gift like this would cost if I had been paying full price!
A 3-pk of onesies alone costs around $9!

Now, I hesitated to post a pic of all these super adorable girlie things
because I didn't want mys-i-l to see all of it ...
so, I only included in the pic the items from Goodwill.
{Plus, I have several handmade frou-frou accessories to go along with these things!}
And, knowing me & my frequent stops at GW Fashions, aka Goodwill, I'll add
a few more sweet lil' things to this stash before the baby gets here.

As the Duggar's say, buy used & save the difference!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trick to double your BUTTER!

Oh, you're ganna love me for this one!!

We started exclusively using real butter a few years ago, upon the insistance
of my husband James.
His theory:  no one should consume a product {margarine} that's only 1 molecule
away from being plastic!
So, we made the delicious switch.
Isn't everything better with butter?!

Butter, is however, more expensive ... plus, there's no lo-cal alternative.
Butter is butter.

This is what makes this trick so wonderful!
You can double your butter, turning 1 stick into 2!
All you need is butter & water.

Start off by bringing a stick of butter to room temperature.

{I always buy my butter at Aldi. 
Unless it's on sale somewhere, Aldi price is always better.}

In a mixing bowl using your electric mixer, whip the butter & begin adding in
1/2 c. of lukewarm water, a bit at a time.
Continue mixing until water is completely blended with the butter.

Here's the 'whipped' butter that you end up with:

I LOVE this trick!!
It not only stretches your butter, it stretches your dollar ... & cuts your calories!

So, to recap:  equal parts butter to water.
Easy peasy.

I keep a tub of this on the counter where it stays perfectly soft & ready for use.
The additional tubs {I do several sticks at a time}, I store in the fridge.
Let it come to room temp. before using.

Don't use this whipped butter for baking ... stick with the real butter for that.

*Thanks to my friend, Billie, who found this trick & passed it along to me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yesterday was a day of epic proportions...

Yesterday was a day of epic proportions ...
ok, not really.
Just me being overly dramatic.

I did have, however, a couple of extreme high & low moments.

The high moments:
I scored 7 coupon inserts in a 5-minute dumpster dive.

No, I'm NOT a dumpster diver, but I have been known to look in a few ...
the paper recycle bins, of course.
There's one on our bike-riding route, so we usually take a break there & peek inside to see if there are any coupons just lying around waiting to be rescued.

The 7 inserts from yesterday were from the library recycle bin.
I was pulling out of the lot & decided to look in, ya know, just to get Riley going.
Actually, he did not die from humiliation ... I provided him some comic relief.
And, he thought it was pretty cool that I found some.

With about 15 more minutes & a much longer arm, I'm sure I would've gotten more.

High moment #2:
I found 2 old dishes at a barn sale ~ paid $3 for both.
They're dishes most people wouldn't look twice at, but I'm crazy like that.

My mom would promptly put these 2 old things in the garbage can ;)

I love all crackles & the discoloration.
Makes me wonder on who's table these old dishes sat...

And for the final high moment {well, this one is just somewhere in the middle},
I had several good finds at Goodwill.
I was looking for a few specific 'fabrics' for a project I'm working on ...
came pretty close to what I was needing & for 50% off to boot.

Now, all these high moments combined still did not erase my sadness
from the low point of the day.
I go to Franklin specifically to visit my all-time favorite flea market, Trader Bakers,
only to find that it's CLOSED ... permanently!!!!
Oh my goodness ... are you kidding me?!

Trader Bakers was an old Walmart converted into a flea market with many neat booths,
full of treasures.
Some of my most favorite pieces in our home I found there.
To say I was a bit disappointed would be an understatement.
{I found out from a fella at the barn sale that Walmart would not renew the lease,
so they had to shut down.}

Bad Walmart =(

Ah well ... all good things must come to an end, I suppose ...
but I'll sure miss stopping in there to treasure hunt.

Just for that, I think I need some 'brownies, warm from the oven & a glass of cold milk' therapy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saving $$ when you eat out!

article 5  in Stretching Your Dollar~

Have you ever made an unplanned stop to eat, only to realize that you have coupon
for the restaurant ... but it's at home?!
You've taken the time to collect & clip coupons for restaurants, but you don't have them when you need them.

Several years ago, I got tired of that happening, so I came up with a solution.
I keep an envelope of restaurant coupons in the glove box of our Suburban!

Each day, I presort the mail as it comes in ...
the bills go in the bill bin in the office, the junk mail goes in the trash, & the ads
& coupons go in this basket {along w/a few other things, as you can see}.

This basket sits on the shelf in my pantry, holding ads, coupons, notes, etc until I
have time to go through them ... keeping the clutter off the counter.

 My current dilemma, however, is that my envelope is too small to hold all the coupons.
So, I've upgraded to a file folder that I keep in the door pocket.

Any time we decide to stop & eat, the coupons are right where they need to be,
ready for use.
If you plan your eating out around the coupons you have to use, you've found
another way to stretch your dollar!

Here are a a few other ways to save:
1)  Order water instead of soda or tea ~
This alone has saved our family HUNDREDS of dollars over the years!

2)  Don't order the most expensive item on the menu ~
More than likely, this isn't your last meal ;)

3)  Lunch prices are always cheaper ~
If at all possible, eat out during lunch hours.
Also, if eating at a buffet, you can cheap cheat a little by getting there just before the 'supper' prices start thus getting the lunch price for the supper items!

4)  Get CHEAP deals by using ~
You can score gift certificates for $25 worth of food for $2!!
Yes, you read that right, $2!!
If you've never used, read all about it here.

5)  Groupon is another way to get some cheap eats.
When they offer a discount on a restaurant we enjoy, I grab up the deal!
If Groupon is new to you, check it out here.

On a quick side note, thank you for bearing with my photos.
Sometimes the quality is not so great, as my camera seems to have a mind of it's own.
I'm shopping for a new one, however, so the pictures should be much improved soon!

Friday, June 17, 2011

All I need is a hat ... & a basket

I am the girl who rides the pretty seafoam green bicycle ... in a cute, summery skirt.

All I need is a hat ... & a basket.

Ok, sometimes it's a brown skirt, but you get the idea.

As for the hats ... well, I have plenty of those.
They're even the 'right' kind for riding a pretty seafoam green bicycle.
You know the kind ... wide-brimmed & floppy, maybe with a ribbon or a flower.

As I was riding this week, I realized that 3 of my favorite movies have these very things ...
skirts, hats, bicycles & baskets!

Here's Minnie Driver in 'Return to Me'.
Doesn't she have the prettiest red bicycle, complete with a basket AND a bow!!?!
Throughout the whole movie, she wears the most adorable skirts.
Such a sweet lil' movie.

Here's my favorite actress,  Julia Roberts,  in 'Eat Pray Love'.
I couldn't pull off this kind of hat, but I'm pretty sure Julia could pull off a feed sack ;)

I love the part of the movie when she's in Italy, learning the art of 'eating'.

Here she is again in 'Mona Lisa Smile.'

Love these girls riding, all in their cardigans, scarves & skirts.
One of the best things about this movie is the fabulous & feminine outfits.

That, & the fact that they ride bicycles with baskets.

So,  I'm left to wonder ...
does wearing a hat make bike-riding more fun?
I'm going to have to try it to see.
I'll be sure & let you know ... right after I get my basket attached.

**UPDATE:  a few months after posting this, a sweet friend of mine bought me
an adorable basket for my bicycle!!
It is absolutely perfect.
I need to snap a picture of it on my bike so you can see how great it is!
I tune in to Pandora on my phone, toss it in the basket, & I'm serenaded as I am riding!

*I'd recommend using a movie editor like Hollygood, Purified Pictures,
Clean Play DVDs, etc. when watching secular movies.
Although some of these companies have gone out of business, you can still find
the dvds pretty easily.
We don't watch many movies, but when we do, we use an editor of some type
as often as possible.
All the objectionable parts {language, violence, mushy stuff, etc.} are edited out.
How cool is that?!
I have several other tips & info on this subject ... makes me think I should share it
all in a future blog.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Goodies from Goodwill

article 4 in 'Stretching Your Dollars'

So I've admitted that I'm a 'junkie' ...
lover of junk stores, thrift shops, flea markets, garage sales.
It's something my husband loves too ... & we've successfully passed
this hobby on to our sons.
We all dream about finding treasures like they do on the American Pickers
& Antiques Roadshow.

So, it should be no surprise to anyone that I can be found at Goodwill pretty often.
And, not at one Goodwill, but at 5!
There are 5 nice stores within a few miles of our house, so sometimes I'll take a day

& hit each one.

I visit Goodwill quite often when we travel too.
Yes, I've been in Goodwill's from here to Florida!
In fact, I even took a picture of the store in Spring Hill, Florida ... 
because it was so cool & so Florida, but I couldn't find it to put on here.
{I know right, who takes a picture of Goodwill?!}

Now, I'll admit, we occasionally went to Goodwill when I was a kid ... & I HATED it!
There was 1 store in downtown Anderson.
It was pretty cruddy & smelly ... & the items back then, were mostly old cast-offs
that should've been put in the garbage can.
But, that was back then ... before it became all cool to shop at Goodwill.
The stores now are often brand new & full of gently used or new items.
{I occasionally see things that should be in the garbage, but not too often}

There are several reason I really enjoy shopping at Goodwill.
One, I like the thrill of the hunt.
You never know what you're going to find.

Two, I find killer awesome finds almost every time I go!

Three, why would I want to pay full price for anything, if I didn't have to?
This is a way I can stretch my dollar.

It's amazing what gets donated to Goodwill!
I'd be safe in saying, at least 50% of the items I buy there are BRAND new, tags attached!
I specifically look for these items.

Also, Target donates their clearance stock to Goodwill, of course, all brand new!
It's not uncommon to see the clothes I've been looking at at Target on the racks
at Goodwill, for a fraction of the price.
{all 'new' items from Target have a grey paper tag on them}

I've had way too many fantastic finds at Goodwill to list them all,
but here are a few that come to mind:

-REAL Coach change purse ~ .99

-2 brand new in the box, pre-lit 4 ft Christmas trees in decorative urns ~ $7.50 for both
{I had been wanting a set of these for my front porch & had been watching for a good deal!}

-lots of home decor {incl. a hand-painted seascape framed picture by a local artist from the 50s w/the certificate of authentication & addtl info in an envelope on the back ~ $19.99}

-a pair of Aeropostale jeans {Not such a big deal, right?!  Well, when Gunnar tried them on,
& slipped his hand in the pocket, he found a $10 bill!!}

-a REAL Dolce & Gabanna shirt
{paid $2 for it, came home & found it on the internet for $118!!}

-an Armani suit for James {paid maybe $12 for a $1000 suit ... you think I'm kidding?! 
Look up Armani suits on the internet ... CRAZY expensive!!}

-Armani denim skirt for my niece {paid $4 -- used ones selling on ebay for $55}

-more brand name clothes than you could shake a stick at
{Hollister, GAP, A & F, Aero, AE, RL, Banana Republic, etc.}

-& as I said, there's more, waaay more deals that I could list!

Here are a couple tips for maximizing your Goodwill shopping:

The stickers & the plastic barbs are by color.
Each week, one 'color' is 1/2 price.
Check the large sign just inside the door for the color that is 1/2 price for that week.
Look for items marked with that color & save 50%.

If there is a garage sale sticker still attached to any item, you get it for that price.

Leave tags attached for easy returns.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Start the Morning Off Right!

Here are a couple ways to help get your morning off to a good start.

1)  Do a quick tidy of your house before you go to bed each night.

Who wants to wake up to a messy kitchen?
How can you sit down to enjoy your morning cup of coffee if your living room
is upside down?

For me, nothing is worse than waking up to a mess!
That is so not a good way to start the morning.

A few minutes before heading to bed, I make sure the kitchen is tidy, the counters are
clean & any straggling dishes that appeared since dinner are in the sink.

In the living room, I fold the throws/blankets & put the pillows where they belong.

2)  Get up 20-30 minutes before anyone else does.

I am not a morning person.
I'd rather not have to talk, at least for a few minutes.
By getting up a bit before anyone else, I can 'wake up,' make my coffee, & have a few
minutes to myself to get my thoughts together for the day.
It's amazing how just having these few minutes can calm your spirits as you mentally prepare for the day.

3)  Spend some time alone with God.

This is by far, the most rewarding step of all.
There's NO better way than to start your day than by talking to our heavenly Father.
During my quiet time in the morning is when I meditate on God ... His goodness,
His blessings, & how desperately I need Him!
I also like to spend a few minutes in the Word.
My morning routine is to just say a prayer for God to lead me to just the scriptures
I need for that day.
More times than not, the passage will be precisely what I needed to read & will stick with
me throughout my whole day.

I implemented this routine many years ago when my sons were just toddlers.
I know this was a key to them having not only a pleasant momma, but a cheerful one too!

Here's what my little guys looked like back then {this was 2000}.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy
and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests
before you and wait in expectation. Psalm 5:3

Because of the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making a Price Notebook

article 3 in Stretching Your Dollar series

Several years ago, we relocated from Anderson {IN} to Indianapolis.
Among the many changes that came along with moving to a bigger city was
having to choose a new place to buy groceries.
With the cost of living a bit higher than the area we were moving from, I knew doing
my homework would be in order.

I decided to take a spiral notebook & begin charting the regular, non-sale prices
of items that I regularly purchased.
I did this at several of the area grocery stores to see who offered the best overall prices.

I divided my notebook by stores, & made columns for the product/brand name,
size, & regular price.
One store at a time, I begin filling in my notebook with the pricing info.
{If there were sales, I'd notate that too, but I mostly gained the 'sale' information by watching all of the grocery ads}.

My price notebook helped me to determine where I'd eventually do the bulk
of my grocery shopping.
I no longer keep a current price notebook, partially because I, for some unexplainable reason, keep this information in my head.
I may not be able to call my sons by their correct names, but I can sure tell ya where you'll find the best price on toilet paper ;)

In addition to making a price notebook, here's another bit of useful info:

Know the best sale price on items you use.
Let that be your guide for when or when not to buy.
{Knowing a good price can save a lot of money compared to buying something because you are guessing it is a good price.}

Say you need a bag of shredded cheese & it's not at it's lowest sale price.
Go ahead & pick up 1 bag, but do some stocking up the next time it's at the
rock bottom price.
Once you have charted the regular & sale prices, you will begin to take notice of the sale cycle, which are usually on a 6-10 week rotation.

The idea is to buy when things are on sale, using coupons when available, to bring the price down even further.
If you stock your pantry & freezer well, it can last you until the next sale.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We Are Seekers!

My poor little brain needs some down time.
After 2 days of inspiring teaching at the homeschool convention, I need at least a couple weeks to digest everything ...
& I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.
I'll work my way through my notes & allow the Holy Spirit to refresh my mind with all the truths I learned at this convention.

We've had the opportunity to attend this conference for the last 4 years, put on by the Indiana Association of Home Educators.
Every year before we go, we pray earnestly for the Lord to guide us to just the right classes, to hear just the right messages ...
& we pray to meet just the right people who will encourage our spirits.

And let me tell you, the Lord comes through each & every year.

I remember back to our very 1st year.
I left so overwhelmed {even to the point of tears later that evening}, thinking with so many options for curriculum, so little experience, & virtually NO room for error, how on earth would our family be able to pull this thing off?!
James reassured me that God was leading us in this direction & He would show us the way.
The next morning, we went back for day 2 of the convention, standing strong on the promises of God ...
& it was there that James met a man at a particular booth, who for 2 hours, poured into James words that we knew were coming straight from God Almighty.
It was & has been a pivotal moment in our lives ... a time that we know, without question, was ordained by God.
James continues to stay in contact with this man & we have greatly benefited from his Godly influence.

This year, we took our whole family to the convention, so not only were we praying about the sessions we'd attend, we prayed for all 3 of our sons,  especially for our twin sons.
They will be entering their senior year in the fall & are seeking God's direction for their futures ... how to best use their talents & desires for the glory of God.

And yet one more time, God came through!
They were blessed & encouraged in each of the classes they attended ... & made important connections in some of the specific areas that we had prayed about.
God is so mindful.

Of course, James & I are so grateful for all the messages we heard.
We felt God speaking to us, challenging us to grow in our walk with Him.
We left super-charged, having so much to talk about for the next little while.

As we were driving home, I had a moment with God that pretty much just capped off the day ... the icing on the cake, so to speak.
I was reflecting on the fact that another convention has come & gone ...
& I remembered a statement made several years ago by an acquaintance of ours.
He said, "Those Penningtons sure like to attend conferences."

I felt the Lord speak this into my heart at that very moment:

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds,
and to the one who knocks it will be opened."
Matthew 7:7-8

 This sums US up:  We are seekers!!

We found out a long time ago that we don't know everything!!
We don't have all the answers!!
There are many seasoned men & women of God, full of knowledge & experience,
& most of them just waiting to pour into the lives of their brothers & sisters in Christ!
Why on earth would we NOT want to take advantage of that?!

The conventions & conferences we attend, the scriptures we search, & the books
we read are all avenues for God to work in our lives.

We ask ... & He IS giving us answers.
We seek ... & He IS helping us find just what we are looking for.
We knock ... & He IS opening doors we would've never imagined.

We will keep seeking ... & will find Him faithful every step of the way.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Prov. 8:17 the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. Duet. 4:29

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Homemade Zesty Ranch Dressing

All the fellas in our house are 'saucy' guys.
When it comes to sandwiches, they are heavy on the the sauce!
They like it extra flavorful & dripping off the sides.
Ya, they get this from their Dad.

All 3 of the boys whip of their own concoctions for their 'ultimate' sandwiches, usually made with mayo & various dry spices like garlic, smoked paprika, chili powder, pepper,
& bacon salt.

I recently came up with a homemade version of Subway's chicken bacon ranch sub.
{That recipe is here}

I decided to spice up the ranch a bit {inspired by a spicy ranch served by Taco Bell}.

We love 'homemade' ranch dressing.
I use the dry packet of ranch seasoning, adding 1 cup of mayo & 1 cup of milk.
{By making this myself, I can reduce fat/calories by using lo-fat mayo & skim milk. 
The seasoning is so flavorful, no one even notices.}

Another bonus:  the Ball jar!
Anything served from a canning jar is automatically better ;)

To zest up this already delicious ranch, I sprinkled in cayenne pepper, black pepper,
smoked & regular paprika, & garlic powder.
No measurements ... I just eye-balled it.

This would be good on anything from sandwiches & salads ... to tacos & nachos.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chicken Bacon Ranch Sub

Our sons love Subway ...
& they have no trouble puttin' down a foot long in no time flat.
They all agree that the Chicken Bacon Ranch is their top favorite sandwich, so I knew
when I decided to try making one at home, they'd be all too happy to try it out.

Well, it was no disappointment!
James said it was 'restaurant quality' & the boys thought it was as good as,
or better, than Subway.
Hands down, it was a hit!

Often times, when James grills out, I have him throw on extra meat to use
the next day for another meal.
That's what I used for this sandwich.
I cubed up the leftover grilled chicken, sliced red & green peppers, & onion.
While I chopped the chicken & veggies, I had the bacon in the oven {375 for 15-20 mins.}

I used an extra long loaf of multigrain bread, plus another small loaf of sweet Italian bread,
both found on the markdown bread rack at Kroger.

After splitting the loaves of bread, I loaded on the cubed grilled chicken, bacon & topped
with cheese {I used muenster}.

Bake under broiler for 10-15 minutes, keeping a close eye on it.

After removing from oven, I topped with all our favorite ingredients:
onion, red & orange peppers, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, mayo, & homemade zesty ranch.

Along side these delicious Chicken Bacon Ranch subs, I served potato salad & chips.
I will definitely be making these again!

Want the recipe for the homemade zesty ranch dressing?
Come back tomorrow & I'll have it posted.