Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Spinach and Artichoke Salad

Skip the oven heat and whip up this beautiful summer salad.

It's healthy.  It's fresh.  And it's absolutely delicious!  It has become one of our family's favorite meals.  It's also a perfect dish for entertaining or taking to a Sunday potluck.  Your family and friends will love it.

It's versatile, so feel free to change up ingredients and make it you own!

Grab the recipe over at The Marathon Mom.  Be sure to print it or Pin It!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Surviving the Government Furlough: God's Provisions Already

We're a couple of weeks into the furlough, and I am bursting at the seams to tell you how God has already been providing for our family.  My next furlough article will talk about some of these things below individually, but as I was thinking about all the ways God has provided already, it needed to be its own post!

Earnings from odd jobs we've completed (no job is too small):

  • Fence staining - $200
  • Yard work for neighbors - $100, plus two ongoing contracts.
  • Baking and selling homemade bread - $10 (so far...more to come)


  • Grocery savings - $100 - I was able to shave off $100 this shopping trip (I shop twice a month).  If I do it again, I will meet my monthly savings goal of $200.

  • Airplane ticket - $100 - I will need to fly back home after dropping my daughter off in TN for school.  A one-way ticket was pretty pricey, so I watched it for several weeks, hoping it would drop.  It did drop finally about $40.  Later that evening, I decided to go ahead and purchase the ticket at the $40 less price.  To my astonishment, it had dropped $100 from the original price.  I bought that ticket faster than a hummingbird's wings can flap!

Unexpected money:

  • Additional scholarship money - $500 - I received an email letting me know that Celeste's school was able to secure $500 more in scholarship money for her.

That's a grand total of $1010 in savings, earnings, and unexpected provision in two weeks! 

Praise God, from Whom ALL blessings Flow!
How has God been providing for your family (whether furloughed or not)?  Please share!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Surviving the Government Furlough: Slashing the Budget

Read Part 1 here.

The first step in surviving the furlough is to take a look at your budget and see where you can reduce spending.  Our budget is already fairly tight, so this will require even more sacrifice on our part.

Thankfully, the Lord prepared us a bit in advance.  We knew the furlough would eventually catch up to us, so we worked hard to pay off debt.  Currently, we have no car payments and no credit card debt.  Other than our mortgage and typical expenses (food, utilities, gas, insurance, etc.) we only have two fairly large medical bills that we are slowly paying off (portion insurance didn't cover). 

Compared to the average family, we're in pretty good shape I think.  But we're a large family living on one income, so this monthly loss will hit us hard.  In addition, our daughter is leaving for college, so we will have ongoing tuition payments to make.  I realize this will hit other families harder than ours.  Some have lost jobs completely, and some may lose their homes.  My heart aches for them, and we are continually praying for all those affected. 

Every family will face different challenges and have different priorities during the furlough.  Our priority is keeping up with our mortgage, feeding our family, keeping the lights on, and getting Celeste off to school.  Everything else is negotiable. 

Here are the things we have already implemented:


Pray for God to show you areas in which to cut back.  Some things that we think are necessities really are not.  Depending on your financial position, you may need to dig deep to cut back.  Ask God to show you what is truly needed and what is not.  Ask Him to provide extra work if that is what it will take to stay afloat.

Have a family meeting

Our kids love family meetings.  It's a great way to get all family members on the same page.  Discuss ways that everyone can pitch in to reduce spending.  Perhaps a little one can be in charge of making sure lights have not been left on.  A family meeting also lets the children know that life may look different for a while.  Less activities, less eating out, and whatever else you will need to cut back on.  Including your children will make them feel like they can make a difference, and prepare them for changes.

Get rid of cable

Contrary to what most of the world thinks, cable is not a necessity.  You may think that getting rid of it won't help, but every little bit helps.  We only have basic cable for $19 a month.  However, by the time you add the taxes and fees, and the second box rental fee, $19 has turned into $40.  We will keep Internet, but cable is going bye bye!  We do have Netflix, and plan to keep that for the time being.

If you have one of those deluxe cable plans, you could save big in this area!

Cell phones

Making changes here will depend on whether or not you have a contract.  We have a TracFone, so we only spend about $30 every 2-3 months.  We only turn on our cell phone when we're out of the house, and we don't carry on long conversations on the cell phones.  If you have an expensive plan, try to reduce the plan if possible.  Usually, companies are willing to work with you if you explain your situation.  It's worth a may be able to save here.

Turn up the thermostat two or three degrees

We are already pretty conservative when it comes to the air conditioner.  We are a 78 degree family in the summer.  But due to the furlough, we've cranked it up two more degrees.  Sometimes we feel a little warm, but that's okay.  We can feel a little uncomfortable to reduce our energy bill.  But when you think about it, if it's 95-100 degrees outside (we live in south Texas), 80 degrees inside is not bad.  We're good

If you need to conserve energy in the winter, obviously you would want to turn down your thermostat.

Trim the grocery budget

You can really save in this area if you tend to buy a lot of convenience foods or name brand items.  Even though it takes more time, making meals from scratch will save hundreds of dollarsCreate a menu plan and grocery list and stick to it.  Seriously, the amount of pre-made, pre-packaged food I see in people's carts makes me want to take them by the hand and tell them there's a better, less expensive way.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging at all!  I buy my kids corn dogs and potato chips.  If you can afford it, have at it.  But so often, folks can't afford it, but just aren't willing to do the leg work required to save money.  If you struggle to get meals on the table, and resort to convenience foods, maybe these tips can help.

If you're a bulk food buyer, be sure you're comparing unit prices.  Sometimes, buying name brand bulk items can be more expensive than buying the generic non-bulk items.  Just because an item is sold in bulk, doesn't mean it will be cheaper.  Check unit prices always!

We spend about $1000 a month on groceries for the 11 of us.  This includes paper products, toiletries, and diapers.  I think I can reduce this by $200 a month.  We have a small emergency stockpile of food that we can pull from, and I can easily cut out some things we don't need.  In fact, I just did our shopping for this two week pay period, and I shaved $100 off the bill.  I shopped from the stockpile first and came up with some of our least expensive meals, and created a new menu.  And then I just passed on some frivolous grocery items that I usually get but don't need. 

Here are some additional grocery saving tips:
Feeding a Large Family on A Budget

Potty train the toddler

This of course will not apply to everyone, but I added it because I had been putting off potty training Amelia.  She's been ready for a while now, but I pretty much just didn't feel like doing it.  Nothing like a furlough to light a fire under me.  And voila!  She's potty trained.  That's 30 bucks a month back in our pockets.  Okay, so maybe our mortgage lender's pocket, but having a roof over our head is sort of important.  Who knew potty training could be so life-changing! ; )

Make less trips in the car

This is another area in which we can really save considering we drive two large, gas-guzzling vehicles.  We try not make frivolous trips as a rule, but now we're more cautious about where we choose to go.  Aside from my husband going to work, piano lessons, and or bi-monthly shopping trips, we're pretty much sticking around the house.  There's plenty to do around here, plus we have a neighborhood pool, so it's all good. 

The best thing you can do is figure out what you're spending on any given trip.  You may be surprised to find you're spending more than the trip is worth.  You can calculate the cost of your drive here.

Reduce payments if possible

As I mentioned above, we have two fairly large medical bills on which we make monthly payments.  My husband contacted the billing departments, told them of our situation, and they reduced our payments by half until furlough is over.  If we are able to make our regular payments, we will.  But this gives us some flexibility if we fall short.

Whatever your bills are, call the companies and tell them your situation.  In most cases they will work with you as long as you are sending something.  Just be aware of your credit card interest rates, making sure they don't increase with that smaller payment.

Don't incur new debt

It's tempting to open up new credit accounts or take on new loans as a means to survive.  Don't do it!  It may save you now, but could put you in a worse position later down the road.  Years ago, we took on a Deed for Contract home.  It sounded like a good thing at first, but we quickly learned it was nothing more than glorified renting with all the responsibilities of home ownership.  So when our house payment skyrocketed and the air conditioning until went out in the brutal heat of August while I was 7 months pregnant, we turned to accepting credit card offers to survive.  It took us YEARS to pay off all that debt.  The blessing was, however, that we have never taken on credit card debt since!

Here are more ways to reduce the budget.  Come on back soon for the next post in the series: Finding Extra Income.

How have you reduced your budget?  Please share any additional tips you may have!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Surviving the Government Furlough and How To Do It

Last month, my husband was given his official furlough notice at work.  As you may know, approximately 800,000 government employees have been or will be affected by a 20% reduction in pay or job loss due to budget failures issues.  For the average forty-hours-a-week person, this means a four-day work week.  (Which would be really nice if one could afford that.)
Since my husband works a sixty hour work week, we were nervous about losing 20% of pay.  That's quite a chunk of change!  Thankfully, it was decided that even the sixty hour employees would  also be cut 8 hours a week instead of 12.  It was still a blow, but not quite as big as we had anticipated. 
Eight hours of pay loss is still pretty steep for our large family already living frugally on ONE income.  And the timing of this is quite interesting.  Our daughter is due to leave for college in August.  She will be attending a classical Christian school that does not mingle with the government.  No government scholarships, no grants.  Celeste was granted a small scholarship, but the majority of tuition will be our responsibility.  And early on, we made a commitment NOT to take on student loan debt.  
Our mission?
To do whatever we can to make up the $800+ per month loss AND get our daughter off to college!
Follow along with us as we purpose to reduce the overall (already tight) budget, find ways to bring in additional income, and faithfully trust God to provide over the next three (or so) months in my Surviving the Government Furlough series. 
Stay tuned for my next post in the series:  Slashing the Budget
Will you please consider sharing this series on Facebook (or other social media)?  Not only could it encourage others struggling to make ends meet, but more traffic around here is potential income for our family.  Also consider shopping Amazon through my Amazon widget on the right.  I make a small commission on each sale.  Thank you so much!
Have you or someone you know been affected by the Government Furlough?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Standing for Life in Texas: SB1, HB2, a Car Accident, and a Rally

Sunday night, my friend Donna and I (and Grace) traveled to Austin, Texas to be a part of the historical bill, Senate Bill 1, also called The Fetal Pain Bill.  This bill proposes that abortions cannot be performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy due to the pain the baby would feel during the procedure.  Texas law currently prohibits abortion past 24 weeks unless the life of the mother is in danger (though, we all know how loose that term can be).  The bill also states that abortion clinics must come up to ambulatory surgical center standards, thus making them safer places for women.  Finally, the bill mandates that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.  Again, making it safer for women who may be involved in a botched abortion.  This bill not only protects the lives of the unborn, but also protects women....something the pro-choice folks are supposedly fighting for, yet oppose this bill vehemently! 

This photo of Grace and I landed on the Texas Right to Life Facebook page.  I don't usually post unflattering pictures of myself, but the reason behind the photo is more important than my vanity.  My friends Donna, Charity, Lenee, and Grace and I were up early to be in line by 7am so that we could register to testify before Senate, as well as register our position on Senate Bill 1.  We stood in line for two hours before registration began.  This was taken by Texas Right to Life while waiting in line.

Grace's First Pro-Life Event 
It was quite an experience testifying before Senate.  And what a privilege to be heard by the people who have the power to change state law.  We did a LOT of waiting, but when it was finally my turn, I challenged the senators to watch a video I saw years ago called The Silent Scream.  It's an ultrasound video of an abortion being performed on a 12 week baby.  It is the most horrific video you will ever watch.  I won't go into detail here, but as soon as the suction instrument hits the baby, his mouth opens wide to indicate a scream.  The Silent Scream!  This baby was experiencing the pain that so many argue is not possible.  My heart is breaking at this very moment just thinking about it. 

*You can watch the video here, but let me warn you, it is graphic and NOT to be watched by children.  It will change you for sure (especially if you are post-abortive), so proceed with caution!*

You should have heard some of the testimonies from the people who are against this bill.  If you've ever doubted our human depravity, just sit in on an abortion hearing.  Friends, WE. NEED. JESUS!  One young man said that the "sovereignty of his own body was more important than the pain a baby would feel during an abortion."  WE. NEED. JESUS!  Another young woman said that she was thankful that her mother aborted her sibling, because had her mother not done that, she wouldn't be here.  Though I believe this young woman's life certainly has value, how can she possibly believe that HER life was more valuable than the sibling who was aborted?  WE. NEED. JESUS! 

We also heard wonderful testimonies of redemption and grace, and testimonies about how the abortion industry (and it is an industry) hurt women and families.  We heard experts argue the reality that babies can in fact feel pain during an abortion procedure.  Senator Donna Campbell, who is also an ER physician gave powerful evidence to this fact. 

It was wonderful, and heartbreaking, to be involved in the legislative process.

Once we testified, we left the Capitol to head back to the hotel and to grab lunch.  As we were making our way back to the Capitol for the big #Stand4Life Rally, we were involved in a car accident.  Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it did shake us up a bit.  At that point, we had a lot to do to figure things out since we were out of town, and we missed the rally.  Donna's daughter came to pick us up, and we headed home.

Although we missed the rally, we were grateful to have been there to participate in an important aspect of passing this bill.  We heard the rally was a huge success and we're so thankful for the thousands of people who came out to support life.

House Bill 2 PASSED last night after 10 hours of debate and amendments.  To God be the Glory!  Tomorrow, Thursday, July 11th, it will go before Texas Senate.  Please pray that eyes would be opened and hearts would be softened.  Pray that Senate will pass SB1!

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart..."
Jeremiah 1:5
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
Psalm 139:13-16
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