Sep 30, 2011

Sweet Words

I didn't read my Bible yesterday. Well, actually I did, but not until 11pm at night. So technically I read my Bible, but I went through my whole day without being infused by God's Word. Not a good idea...

You see, about three and half years ago,  I made the switch {thanks to much prompting by Micah when we were dating}. I stopped making all my "I don't have time before work/am too tired in the morning/I read better at night" excuses for not meeting with God in the morning, EVERY morning. It was a decision that changed my life. I have never known my Savior so intimately, loved Him so fully, obeyed Him so often, or delighted in Him as much as I have ever since I made the switch to meeting with God at the start of every day. If you haven't made the switch yet... if reading God's word is a "when I have a free five minutes/at the end of the day/at best a few days a week" activity for you, may I strongly encourage you to change? It's so worth it, friend, even if you are tired in the morning or overwhelmed at thinking of the day ahead or in a rush to get to work or get the kids off to school. In fact, the more daunting the day ahead, the more essential it is to start with time in God's Word. It just might change your life. It did for me.

As I said, yesterday was a mess-up day for me. Not that God loves me any less if I forget to read my Bible... there is grace for the days when it gets pushed aside, but I try to put Him first at all costs. I probably rush out of the house without reading my Bible only a handful of times a year. Maybe two handfuls. But yesterday was one of those days...

I left my house before 7am to substitute teach at a local high school. After work, I stopped by the post office to mail a package and headed to ASU to meet with my professor about my mommy blog paper {which I will be presenting at a conference in Seattle in less than two weeks. Eek. This equates to a constant feeling of stress as I feel unprepared for the conference and the days are ticking away.} After hauling my hot, sweaty, book-laden self all over ASU's campus, meeting with a couple of students, and thankfully avoiding a parking ticket, even though my meter had long-since expired by the time I got back to my car, I headed home to make dinner. Let's just say it was one of those nights where I should have just pulled some Trader Joe's stir-fry out of the freezer and called it good, but instead I decided to try two new recipes. Usually I am a pretty good cook, but last night was not my night. Two hours, one trip to the store for a forgotten ingredient, and a huge mess in my kitchen later {Mental note: read recipes carefully before making them. When it calls for a food processor and you don't have one, it gets very messy trying to use every other electric kitchen appliance you own to "process" your much for trying new vegetables!}, I finally sat down to eat alone. Micah called in the midst of my cooking to tell me he was going to be late. The recipes both turned out to be mediocre-bordering-on-gross and half my night was wasted. After cleaning my kitchen, I headed to the coffee shop across the street, which is where I usually spend my Thursday nights studying, but I was too frazzled by this point to really concentrate. I headed home at 10pm hoping that Micah had done the few little chores I had left for him on a list - the main one being to put new sheets on our bed, so that I could fall into it and go to sleep. Micah had not done the chores and had instead gone on a two hour run {marathon training}. While I was glad that he went running, I found myself angry that he didn't do his chores first. I simmered in this anger as I folded clothes and changed our sheets, even though I was telling myself.... this is are being should be joyful despite your circumstances. It was a battle of the mad...have mad...have joy. Sadly, the mad side won. At least for a while...

Then Micah and I prayed and he asked for forgiveness and suggested we read some Scripture together. He asked me to read James 3 to him about controlling the tongue. Ah, sweet conviction. Micah fell asleep right after listening to the passage, but I found myself yearning. This Bible in front of me. These sweet words. I longed for them. I had not covered my day with God's Word from the start and now I found myself in bed, tired, convicted, emotional, and feeling a void. I needed to read God's Word. I read James 3 again slowly and then my heart whispered to me "Psalm 84." Usually I am not the type of person who just reads any chapter of the Bible that comes to mind. I believe that reading the Bible is most fruitful with a reading plan, but last night was out of the norm. I turned to Psalm 84 and this is what I read...

"My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God."
{Psalm 84:2}

I longed for Him and He answered me. Through His Word, God comforted me. I cried, just for a minute, because I realized how much I love the Lord and how much I desperately need Him in my life. I need Him to cover my days with His grace, control my mind with His truth, and fill my heart with His love. And he does. He fulfills these needs constantly and upholds me by His strong and steady hands. Thanking God for His sweet words today...

Linking up with Casey...

Sep 29, 2011

DIY - monogram plaque!

The year before Micah and I got married we did this program at our church called Redemption Groups that our pre-marriage counselors recommended to us. It was a great experience and at the end we received this plaque…

Except that we actually received TWO of these plaques because every person that was involved in these groups received this gift on the last night, whether or not two of those people were soon to be married and would be living in the same house.

I thought we could re-gift one of them or sell it on Amazon… but then for some reason, Micah unwrapped the second one and put it on the shelf in our bedroom. Granted, our bedroom shelves were seriously lacking items to fill them, so I can understand what he was doing. However, our other plaque was already set up in a lovely display on top of refrigerator and having two of the same plaque in a single apartment is pretty awkward. I mean I  do love the verse “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” as it reminds me of so many last nights at Young Life camp where teenagers from around the country stand up and confess their faith in the Lord, but if I want to read the verse again and again, I’ll just get out my Bible. Only one guest ever went so far as to say “Hey, don’t you also have that plaque out in the kitchen?” but I’m sure many noticed our redundant décor. So I made a plan for the plaque - because we DID still need something to spice up our shelves - and this is what I did...

I bought this little wooden "R" at Jo-Ann's Fabrics for about $2.

Spray painted the R black. Spray paint was about $3 and will be used on future projects.

Picked up this song book from the thrift store for 25 cents! Cut out "Amazing Grace" {the song I walked down the aisle to at our wedding} to fit the front of the plaque and modpodged over it.

After the modpodge dried, I used the hubs' wood glue to attach the R to the plaque.

Like this. Notice the crackly look on the R. That happened because the wind blew newspaper onto the R when it was drying out on our patio. But then I decided it looked better that way and I left it...

Finished product! GUSSY, the pic on the left is a little ode to your hometown!!! XOXO!

Bedroom shelves officially spruced, spiced and decorated!

*You can find little plaques like this or similar wooden signs that hang on the wall in almost any thrift store. Have fun with them! You can create a super cute monogram for under $5! Makes a great wedding gift!*

Linking up to the lovely Gussy and Kimmie!

Gussy Sews Inspiration Workshop!

Sep 28, 2011

Help me choose a new purse!

Hi Friends!

I am calling on you for help today… I need a new purse. Well, actually I don’t need one yet, but I will soon…. in the next month or two. This is purse I’ve been carrying for the last 7 months…

 And here I am wearing it...

It’s been a good purse. I love the orange. I love the ruffles… but the time is drawing near for a replacement. I want something different, but I don’t know what. I’m considering a crossover because it seems extremely practical for walking across ASU’s campus every day but I don’t know… am I too late to jump on that bandwagon? Did I miss the crossover trend completely?


Here’s the thing… if you’ve been around the blog for a while you know I classify my style as granny chic - gold buttons, cardigans, pencil skirts, lace, pointy-toe shoes, subtle animal print - that kind of thing. I wear items that are in fashion today, but that I might also be able to wear in about 50 years. But when it comes to purses, I’m willing to branch out a bit. I often buy a bright colored purse or something a little bit trendy because I know that I will probably only carry the purse for year-ish and then be done with it.

So here’s where you come in… I need your best purse inspirations. What should I buy? I want your ideas… Please leave me a comment below with links to any purses you like. Store and brand do not matter; in the past I’ve had purses from H&M, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Kohl’s, and Target. I would even be open to buying something from Etsy or from an online shop. It just has to be cute. The only rule is that it can’t cost more than $50. I am not a thousand dollar purse type of girl. $50 is my limit for something that might or might not get set on the floor of a public bathroom. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I need a new purse to love, so please show me what YOU LOVE!

Linking to Lollipops, The Pleated Poppy, No Model Lady, and Mine for the Making!

Sep 27, 2011

Blog Talk Tuesday

Hi friends,

I am changing how I do a few things on the blog. I figure for someone who is studying digital literacies and social media for a living, I should probably invest a little more in the social media I can use to mingle with my readers. One big change is that I'm going to try to use good ol' Facebook a bit more. Please join me over there. I added a new LIKE box over on the right. Please click it if you like The AZ Russums!

Also, feel free to join me on Twitter, Bloglovin' or Pinterest as well! I can't wait to run into you ALL over the web!!!

Love you all!

Sep 26, 2011

meet my sponsors!

Happy Monday!

I just want to take a second to introduce you to my LOVELY sponsors. I think these ladies are the greatest and you should probably hop over to their blogs and say hello! {And if you want info on sponsorship, click HERE. My rates are just about the MOST affordable out there!}

Heather is one of my dearest blogging friends. She e-mailed me out of the blue this summer and I happened to read her message on my first wedding anniversary. Micah and I were in our hotel room getting ready for dinner and I read the sweetest e-mail from the sweetest girl. So now July 11th is my anniversary with my sweet hub and my friendiversary with Heather. She blogs over at Finding Beauty in the {Extra}Ordinary! Go say hi!

Sweet Heather


Jacqueline writes over at babEblessings and is the mama to a sweet little boy, Grayson {that's one of my favorite boy names by the way - probably because it reminds me of my favorite color... GRAY!}. She has a crazy, difficult, beautiful pregnancy story, so head over to her blog to check it out!

Baby Grayson

Izzy blogs about all things creative over at izoriginals and she also runs a fun etsy shop! Go check out all her awesome paintings!

Tree Block Print - Lost Heart
An Iz Original!

Jhen Stark is an amazing woman, mama, and photographer. It is a blessing to read her blog, From Here to Eternity, and see what God is doing in her life. She also started a new photography biz called Stark Love Photography and her images are beautiful!


Aunt Dede's Basement is one of my favorite Etsy shops! I love her potholders, jewelry racks, and ruffled shower curtains. Basically I love ALL of it!

Dorm Room Jewelry Rack with Assorted Knobs

And... good news! Aunt Dede is offering my readers 20% off any order in her shop until the end of September. That means you have until this Friday to score with this discount! Enter BLOGANNIVERSARY at check out!

Go show these ladies some LOVE!
Linking up to Miscellany Monday!

Sep 23, 2011

Flowers Fade Friday: Celebrating My Husband

It's so easy to go through the motions of marriage. My sinful nature would rather dwell on all the things about my marriage that don't meet my expectations or the things Micah does that annoy me than celebrate the overflowing goodness that marriage has brought into my life.

But the truth is marriage is a precious gift, and the Bible commands that marriage should be held in honor by all - even by those who are not married. In fact, marriage is so important to God that our eternity with Him will be celebrated at the "marriage supper of the Lamb" {Rev. 19:9}. The image of marriage is a powerful and holy thing that displays the love Christ has for His people - the church.

So recently, in an effort to honor my own marriage, I've been thinking of all the ways being married to Micah is a blessing to me. I want to take a minute to CELEBRATE my husband today, because even though he is not perfect, he is a good man and I am honored to be married to him.

*Micah has the most impeccable bathroom etiquette of any man I know. The idea for this post actually came to me one day when I realized that I have NEVER once had to put the toilet seat down after my husband. Apparently, this is the number one pet peeve of women regarding male bathroom behaviors, but it doesn't exist in my house! Hoorah! Sometimes when we have guests, they will leave the seat up and as I put it down I think to myself, "Wow, my husband never does this!" Gotta love him! In other news, he's also gotten pretty darn good at closing the shower curtain {because NOBODY wants to see the awful mid-80s flower tiles in our shower, I promise).

*Micah is stellar at keeping both our cars in top shape. He will often take my car to wash and vacuum it and fill it up with gas. He has scheduled oil changes for both our vehicles written on his calendar. Mmmm...that is some good stewardship of our vehicles and something I would never do on my own!

*Micah is amazing at keeping our budget in check and setting financial goals for our family. He convicts me about my own spending and teaches me to be a better steward of our resources. One time he sent me to Walmart to do all our grocery shopping for the week with only $20! Ha! It was quite the adventure, but a very good learning experience AND very humbling. When I got up to the register I was very uncertain that I would have enough money to pay for all my items. It made me more compassionate for those who go up to the register with that feeling every single week as they try to provide for their families.

*Micah has been striving very hard to be a good leader for me. This has included weekly devos and prayer time together as well as a functioning household schedule that we try to follow as closely as we can. He also insists on me taking a day of rest, which is good for my busy little body and soul.

*Aaaannddd.... my husband is hot. The end.

Okay, that's not really the end. There are countless ways that Micah blesses me, but that's enough for now. Maybe I will think of some more and do another celebration post again in the future. I encourage you to honor your marriage and reflect on the ways your spouse blesses, encourages, and convicts you.

How can you celebrate your husband this week?!

***Happily linking up to The Wiegands and The Shine Project...

Sep 22, 2011

A Good Steward: FOOD {part two}

On Tuesday, I shared my first set of tips regarding all things food management... cleaning out the fridge, meal planning, shopping carefully, and trying to avoid wasting food. Here are my second set of tips on how to be a good steward of food and stretch your food budget to the max!

Buy in bulk carefully. The result of shopping at Costco can be a like a girl who spends too much time in the weight room. While lifting weights is important, getting too bulky and losing all your feminine appeal is gross. Well, shopping at food warehouses can be the same way. Getting a good deal on items you use often is awesome. It's like toning your biceps. Buying everything in bulk and having your pantry look like a grocery version of hoarders -with giant boxes of cereal, cans of soups and papers towels exploding EVERY where is also gross. Micah and I have a Costco card, but I rarely ever use it except to buy gas. Wanna know why? We have no kids, so buying in bulk is a little ridiculous and we live in an apartment, so we don't have a lot of extra room to store goods and groceries. Costco is awesome for items you use constantly - chicken broth, toilet paper, Orbit gum. But it's not so awesome for most other products that you only use occasionally. Even though 50 ounces for $5.00 is a great deal, it's really not if you only need 8 ounces and you could get it at your neighborhood market for $1.00. Just spend the dollar and get the heck out of Costco!

Buy produce in moderation. If there is one thing I am passionate about, it's produce selection. I hate seeing people lop a ton of produce in their carts that I know is just going to go to waste. Because here is the thing about goes bad. Pretty quickly. Of course, if you have like five kids at home, then sure, buy your greens in bulk. But for the rest of us who only have two, three or four people to feed, go easy in the produce section and choose wisely. I know this seems counter-intuitive to the whole "5 a Day" campaign or the new food recommendations where half your plate is supposed to be made up of fruits and vegetables...but do you want your plate filled up with ROTTEN fruits and vegetables? Because that's what happens if you don't know what you are doing in the produce department... Feel free to stock up on produce with a good shelf life. It's fairly easy to keep apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, and carrots for more than a week. I try to keep some of these things on hand at all times. Just make sure you store them properly. But other fruits and veggies only last for a few days, so buy them in moderation. Only buy as many berries, bananas, and green leafy veggies as you can realistically eat in the next 3-5 days, and plan your meals around them. If you are buying ingredients for a fresh salad, that salad should probably be on tomorrow night's dinner menu. If you are planning to serve strawberry shortcake, that better be the dessert over the next two to three nights, otherwise your strawberries will get all squishy and gross.

Perfect fruit bowl for a week of healthy eating! ALL of this got consumed!!!

Bananas about bananas. And may I just stop right here and say one thing about banana selection, one of my greatest passions? {I am not joking about this - I get really passionate about bananas and sometimes I cry to Micah on the weekend if I don't have any in my fruit bowl for the week ahead... he thinks I'm nuts...and he's probably right.} Again, unless you have six hungry children at home or some kind of strange banana fetish, do NOT buy a huge bunch of bananas. I'll tell you why...because all the bananas on a single bunch will go bad on the same day. If you buy them when they are slightly green, the next day they will be mostly yellow with a tiny bit of green at the top {best day to eat them in my opinion!}, the next day they will be all yellow with one or two little brown speckles, then next day they will be completely freckled and a little overripe, and then next day they will be ROTTEN - AKA waiting to be tossed in the freezer for the next batch of banana bread. So if you buy a bunch of bananas, assume they will all be bad in five days or less. But please NEVER buy a bunch of bananas. Please buy a few from a REALLY green bunch {the greenest you can find}, and a few from a slightly green bunch, and one or two that will be perfect for the next day's breakfast. That way all your bananas will ripen at a different time during the week. You are NOT obligated to buy the whole bunch people! Do NOT feel pressured! Aannndd... banana rant DONE.

Split it. We all know that you can save the most money by eating at home, but let's be honest, restaurants are good. Not only do restaurants allow us to try new recipes and experience someone else's cooking and try bites from other people's entrees around the table, but someone ELSE does the dishes, and that's worth some money if you ask me. Micah and I try to eat at home as much as possible {usually every weekday evening} and we both try to pack our lunches so we don't have to go out for lunch. But when it comes to the weekend, we know that we will probably eat out at least once, if not twice. The biggest way to save your wallet and your waist in restaurants is to SPLIT a meal. Micah and I almost always share an entree when we go out to eat. Not only does this save us $10-30 pretty much every time, but it also saves us a ton of calories. Because restaurant portions are HUGE and we really don't need a whole entree to ourselves. So instead of going home feeling stuffed and sickly, Micah and I always split and go home feeling satisfied, knowing we had a great meal and didn't have to blow our budget to do so.

Birthday freebies. My birthday was just last week, and let me tell you, I have enjoyed some great food since then FOR FREE. You know those little cards at restaurants where they ask for your birthday, anniversary, and e-mail address? May I highly recommend that you fill them out? Because said restaurant will send you a gift on your birthday. I promise. It will be in the form of a certificate for free food and you will love your life. This week, Micah and I were able to get two Havana Lattes and a homemade English muffin at our favorite Phoenix joint, La Grande Orange, for absolutely nothing. They sent me at $10 gift certificate for my birthday. Two days later, I met a friend for happy hour at another restaurant. We split an appetizer and then split my free dessert - a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Yes, please, and thank you. On Sunday, Micah and I went out to lunch after church with his mom. After enjoying our salads, we also enjoyed my free birthday Tiramisu. Yum. One of my favorite restaurants in Fort Worth offers birthday girls and boys a free BRUNCH during their birthday month. I am tempted to fly to Texas next weekend and get mine! It's so worth it to join the restaurant mailing lists and get freebies on your birthday. And if you hate the idea of getting junk mail from restaurants {because they will send weekly or monthly publicity emails}, here is my suggestion. Set up a junk e-mail account {or use an old e-mail address that you never check anymore} for all mailings of this variety. Then the week before your birthday and anniversary each year, log in to your junk account and print off all your birthday goodies. Your birthday freebies will be near the top of your inbox, and you will never have to look at any of the other junk mail at all. Happy Birthday to you!

Mmm... LGO lattes, how I love you! But I love you the most when you are FREE!
I hope these tips help you manage your food and grocery budget more efficiently, so that you can give more to others in need! And please share any other ideas you have down below. I would love to hear from you!

Sep 21, 2011

WIWW {on going brunette and wearing lipstick}

Well there have been some big changes on the fashion front in my home...

I dyed my hair brown {but only halfway!} and I have started wearing...


{Oh, and Micah bought two new Dri-Fit Nike Polos. They are his new love. But you probably don't care about that, right? He is a part of my household though, so I'm just trying to be fair...}

So the hair. I love it. Micah almost talked me out of it because he thinks blonde is the only acceptable hair color for me. But the morning I was headed to the salon, I decided "I never do ANYTHING interesting with my hair; I'm doing this!" And what is this you ask? Well, I'm not really sure. Basically, I have seen a few hair colors lately where the roots are intentionally darker and then the hair fades into blonde at the bottom. The girl at the salon called it "melding?" or "melting?" - I couldn't really tell - but anyway, she made it happen and I love the result!

And in other news, I have started wearing lipstick. This is huge people! In the past, my go-to lip product has been Vaseline. I love it. I feel about Vaseline the way the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding feels about Windex. Vaseline is good for everything... if you have dry hands, rub a little Vaseline on them. Fly-aways along your part? Dab a little Vaseline there. That sore little chaffing under your nose from blowing too much when you have cold? Vaseline is the answer! But mainly Vaseline is the best lip product EVER. However, I have been inspired lately by the bright lips I've seen around the blogs and in magazines, so I went on an adventure and bought two lipsticks- one berry/mauve color and one not-too-bright coral. I am loving my new lips with my new hair {but I often still dab a little Vaseline on during the day, because I go through withdrawals...}

This is my new hair right after leaving the salon. The right is my failed attempt to show you {and my sister to whom I was trying to send a phone pic when this was taken} how the ends are lighter than the top. My sister told me I look pale. I protest! I am not pale. I simply used a flash when there was too much sunlight and the result is the pale look!

Trying to be creative with a dress over jeans. Micah hated this outfit because he did not like the fact that I was wearing skinny jeans, yet he could not see my butt. Ha! And going strong with the heels {as long as I know I won't have to wear them for more than a few hours!}

Birthday outfit! It was ONLY 94 degrees on my birthday, so I did what any desert-dweller would... I wore my cute new sweatshirt... with shorts! And check out my $5 fedora! LOVE!

This is my new way to create a "fall look" in Phoenix. Wear a cute sweatshirt or long-sleeved shirt with shorts. That way you can show off a fall top but still get some air-flow with the shorts....
I recommend this for temps between 80-99. If it's below 80 in PHX, you should probably be rocking a wool sweater, boots and maybe mittens.

Here is my best lipstick sample. Notice the pic on the LEFT. I am not pale, sister!

Linking up with the lovely Lindsey and the cute Cori!

pleated poppy

Sep 20, 2011

A Good Steward: FOOD {part one}

As I mentioned earlier, I think God is trying to teach me about stewardship right now. Learning how to use and enjoy what He has given me, instead of always wanting more, more, more. A few weeks ago, I talked about being a good steward of my closet. This week I want to talk about being a good steward of my FOOD.

Mmm... I love food. I love trying new recipes for dinner. I love eating my cereal with a banana on top every day for breakfast. I love drinking my homemade white chocolate mocha every morning while I read my Bible. I love eating ice cream for dessert. I love trying new restaurants or sharing a meal at home with friends. I love drinking a giant Diet Coke with splash of Dr. Pepper on top {"The Mix!"}. I love food.

But the truth is...people around the world are STARVING. Literally, dying of malnutrition. Sick and dying for lack of water and food. Sure the old "clean your plate" method isn't going to help a starving child in Africa {and has lead to gross amounts of overeating in our country}, but I do think we should be good stewards of the food God has given to us.... How can we stretch our grocery money and use the food that we already have at home to feed our families? How can we make wise decisions at restaurants?  How can we learn not to waste and to raise up children who see their food as the blessing that it is? Because honestly, if we made smarter decisions about the way we spend our money on food and if were more conscious consumers, we really would have more resources to help those around the world who will go without dinner tonight.

Here are my tips on how to be a good steward of food, and PLEASE feel free to add your own ideas below. I am always looking for ways to stretch my grocery budget!

Empty it out. The refrigerator and pantry that is. Micah and I, like many people I'm sure, try to deplete our food supply before we go on vacation. This summer we went to California for a week and then headed to Washington for two and a half weeks, so before we began these ventures we tried to use up all the food in the house. Our goal was to leave with an empty fridge and freezer, and apart from some condiments and salad dressings, we pretty much succeeded. But when we returned from these fun vacations, we thought "Why do we need to fill up our fridge again?" So ever since this past June, we have kept only enough food on hand for the week ahead. This doesn't mean we have NOTHING. Like if we got trapped in our house for a week or something, we would completely survive off cans of soup and rice and pasta {and ice cream!}. But we are trying not to be the Americans with the overflowing refrigerator, where food is lost and rotting at the back of the shelves. We fill our fridge at the beginning of every week with fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables to last us for the next seven-ish days, we eat everything we have, and then buy fresh the following week. I try to keep one or two quickie meals in the freezer (pizza, precooked potstickers, etc.) for those last minute dinners and that is that. Just say NO to rotting food and try to empty your fridge every week.

This was our fridge the week before Labor Day. It was the most full it had been since the beginning of summer because Micah's brother and girlfriend were staying with us all week. I was feeding four and cooking a little bit more than I normally do and this was what it looked like. Notice there is still empty space near the back.

This was our fridge at the end of the week. Almost nothing inside!!! The Tupperware container is leftovers for Micah's lunch the next day and all other leftovers had been moved to freezer for future lunches and dinners. Hoorah!

Use what you have. Even when you are very conscious about only buying for the week ahead, food staples still tend to build up after awhile. Like that one night you planned to make spaghetti and then friends invited you over for pizza and now that spaghetti sauce is still sitting in your pantry... That sort of thing. So once every few months I try to take a week off from grocery shopping {meaning I still buy fresh fruits and milk, but pretty much nothing else} and use only what I already have in my own home to make meals. This might mean we eat some really great stuff like pancakes and bacon for breakfast {or dinner - yum!} or it might mean we eat really boring food like rice and a tiny bit of grilled chicken or it might mean we eat really weird meals like Mac and Cheese with tater tots and freezer green beans. The great thing is you can save almost your whole grocery budget for the entire week and really clear off your shelves.

Be a realistic chef. Whether you love to cook or hate to cook, be realistic when it comes to meal planning. I enjoy cooking dinner and trying new recipes, but I also know I don't have a lot of time to cook during the school year. Usually I plan out about three dinners a week and assume that leftovers, eating out, or going over to a friend's house will take care of the other nights. If we need dinner and I've already made my three meals for the week, we always have one or two emergency meals in the freezer. I very intentionally do not buy any extra ingredients other than what I need for these three dinners, which are planned out before I head to the grocery store. If you hate to cook, perhaps you can set a similar goal for yourself - like trying two new dinner recipes a week. They don't have to be fancy {helloooo crockpot!}. Shop only for the meals you plan out in advance and limit yourself to a realistic number of meals for the week so you don't over-shop.

Meal plan with the weekly ads. You probably know all about this trick, but maybe you don't do it because it takes some work. Well, it's worth it; I promise! Plan out your meals based on what's for sale that week at the store{s} you shop at. Pork tenderloin is on sale? Mmmm... that sounds nice. Ground beef is on sale....let's make burgers this week...and tacos... and spaghetti. You get the idea. The only time I break this rule is when I am cooking something specific for guests. I don't always worry about whether or not the ingredients are on sale in that scenario, and it's always SO much more expensive for those meals. Sometimes I spend almost double at the store when I don't shop by the ads. That's just proof to me that meal planning based on sales is way more cost effective!

Cut carefully. Aren't coupons just all the rage these days? I feel like there are extreme couponing challenges EVERY where. On TV. On blogs. People are even posting about their savings on Facebook. Coupons are soooo in. And for good reason. Coupons are awesome. There is nothing like going through checkout, handing the cashier your handful of coupons at the end and seeing $40 drop off your grocery bill. I am a big fan of coupons and fully believe it's worth the time to cut them out. However, I also offer a warning. ONLY clip coupons for products you actually need, otherwise you might find that coupons cost you more than they save. I try to be very picky when I peruse the coupons. If it's a coupon for a staple we use often in our home or a necessary household product then I clip with glee. But I try to say NO to coupons that look good, but whose product is not one I would regularly buy. For example, $1.00 off a big bag of Pretzel M&Ms is a great deal, but my butt does not need a giant bag of M&Ms, nor do I need to spend that $2 on candy. Don't let coupons convince you to buy things you don't really need! Master the coupon; don't let the coupon master you!

I'll be back later this week with a few more food stewardship tips!!! And, again, please feel free to leave your own suggestions below!

Linking up to Amanda's Family Friendly Food week and Jami's We Encourage!

Sep 19, 2011

No-Bakes {perfected!}

You know those classic cookies filled with chocolate and oatmeal goodness that you don't even have to put in the oven? Yes, those ones. Well, I think I have finally perfected the recipe and I would love to share it with you!

A few years ago, there was a little coffee stand near my house that I would go to regularly {aka every single morning}. Most days I would only get my regular coffee, but every once in a while I would treat myself to one of their giant, chewy, delicious chocolate no-bake cookies. They were amazing and they were only one dollar. But one day, tragedy struck... I decided it was a cookie day, but when I placed my order I was told that they no longer carried them. It was a sad day, indeed! But instead of wallowing, I set off on a mission. To perfect the no-bake. To recreate the cookie to taste just like the coffee-stand variety that I would never be able to taste again.

Because everyone knows the problem with no-bakes... sometimes they are just too dry... and oatmeal-y... and not chocolate-y enough. I hesitate to the use the word "moist" here, because my sister hates it...but let's be honest. You want a moist no-bake and HERE is how you do it...

1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp. cocoa
3 cups oats
1 tsp. vanilla
2-4 oz. baking chocolate or 1/4 c. chocolate chips

In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, milk, cocoa, and chocolate, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and then cook for two minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and then add the oats. When oats are fully saturated with chocolate-y goodness, drop by spoonful onto wax paper or foil {if you are out of wax paper like I am}. Let cool until hardened {at least one hour}.

I tweaked the ingredients on this until I got them just right, but the real secret to this recipe is the extra chocolate. It makes the texture so smooth. Last time I made them {in these pictures}, I added two ounces of UNsweetened baking chocolate to the sauce and then added about an 1/8 of a cup of milk chocolate chips to the mixture right before spooning it out onto the wax. I didn't even stir in the chocolate chips, I just kind of let them halfway melt into each cookie and the result was amazing!

I realize a cookie is still a cookie filled with sugar and butter and should be eaten in moderation, but don't you feel just a little bit better eating a cookie filled with healthy rolled oats instead of white flour? Because I know I do! And the fact that you can make these is under 20 minutes and not have to continuously check on a tray in the oven is just about the best thing ever if you ask me! Enjoy!

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