Saturday, January 28, 2017

Random Thoughts

 I told myself to start blogging again, and it seems I have a million different things to write about in my head, but when I sit down...nothing. Not one topic jumps to the front and demands my attention. Instead of walking away, I've decided I'll just do a random stuff post. Maybe a weekly or monthly catch up, things we have going on, things we have done...whatever.

--We went to Space Day at The Wilderness Center today. I posted pictures on the Facebook page. The girls had a blast, especially Lilly, since she wants to be a scientist and astronaut. We identified constellations in the observatory, made rockets, moon-walked, took a tour of our solar system, and made star gazing charts. It really is an awesome place to go. I grew up visiting the place, and it's nice that they offer a wide variety of programs, even homeschool ones!

--Winter stinks! I am over it. This is our first full winter in the house (we officially moved in March 2016). We are on a hill, with lots of farm fields around. It's always windy, the windows leak, we don't have enough seasoned firewood to utilize the fireplace as much as we would like, propane gets expensive, and the mud in my hallway at the backdoor is caked to the floor. I can't wait until it warms up, but the mud in the hallway never goes away...

--Our reading goals. So far we haven't done so well. The older two girls have read some of their books, but we have yet to do family reading. Hoping we can get into the swing of things soon.

--Speaking of books, we are suckers for books. The Wilderness Center had a table of books they were selling for a $1 each. Lots of nature and science stuff, thankfully we only spend $9!

--Lowe's Build & Grow. Something we've gone to for the past several years when they have a kid's clinic. Unfortunately their website says that they have enjoyed providing it over the past 10 years, but they have currently stopped them. Home Depot still has theirs, but we've never attended one there, so it's something I will look into. Unfortunately the only one they list is for next Saturday, which is Muggle's Day for Girl Scouts.

--On the subject of Girl Scouts, we just handed in our initial orders for selling cookies. All 4 girls are in scouts this year, so we had a goal of 200 boxes per girl. Initially we sold just a touch over 300, but I ordered the full amount of our goal and we will sell them at cookie booths. It's tricky this way, because we are financially responsible for those cookies since we ordered them and not the troop. I am hoping we sell them all and sell most of them the first weekend of cookie booths at the end of February. We have 515 boxes of cookies to get rid of. We did close to that last year (we only had 3 girls to hit goals, so we did less booths). Honestly though, I'm sick of cookies already, and we don't even have them in hand. The girls want those prizes though, so we'll be standing out in this Ohio weather selling cookies!

--Now that my entire post sounds like a rant I needed to unload, I leave you with Freya. I think she wants one of my hens!!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ways To Make Extra Money

January...the month everyone vows to make a change in their life. The month people anxiously await their W2's. The month you sit down and review last year's budget, and come up with a plan to make this year's budget better.

Our budget goal is always the same, payoff credit card debt. It seems every year we make a little headway, then life catches up, medical debt comes into play, an unexpected car repair, a really awesome homeschool class comes along, and before we know it this year's numbers look the same as last year's numbers.

Now that we are in our permanent house, we can focus on not only paying off debt, but in the case of credit cards, closing them off as we do it. We really don't need to rely on a credit score for at least a few years (hopefully the car lasts that long), so this is our time to get serious. House repairs can wait, because we aren't trying to sell the house, and we can make do with what we have for the moment.

That being said, while we wait for our W2's and other tax documents, we are finding other ways to expedite our debt payoff. Here are some of the options we have utilized.

Counting Change

What does everyone do with their change? We have a large glass bottle sitting in our living room. The girls are always finding random change laying around. When we packed up everything in our old house, change ended up wherever, so it is slowly being collected as we unpack.

Luke had his own separate stash in his laptop bag. Taking flights to Atlanta for work, he uses a lot of change for snacks and drinks at the airports. We decided to cash his stash in, and it ended up being over $50!!


Do you use it? Basically you answer a poll or watch a short video, and unlock a few cents on certain items you may buy at the grocery store. Go buy those items, scan a receipt in, and you get the credit. It's nice because there are times when they just have generic items, like milk, eggs, onions. No specific brands needed, and they are basic items you almost always buy. Over the past year of doing it (there was probably 6 months that I paid no attention to it), I ended up cashing out $37.80. Considering our membership to The Wilderness Center is $40 a year, and they have homeschooling classes each month, I basically got that membership for free this year.


Luke's photography business is at a stand still. His day job has been so busy, he has no time to schedule shoots and edit photos. Instead, he pairs up with two local photographers to be the second photographer at weddings. He gives up a Saturday or Sunday, but for $200-$250 a wedding, and he doesn't have to edit photographs, it certainly helps out. So far we have 12 weddings on the calendar he is second shooting, and one wedding that he has booked. My goal for this income is to pay off 2 credit cards. I know for sure we can pay off one entirely, and probably half of the other, but I'm sure more weddings will pop up as the year progresses.

Selling Junk

After moving, I have realized that we have entirely way too much. We still have many boxes out in the garage that need to be unpacked and sorted, and I have no idea where we would even fit anymore into this house. We are designating boxes to place items we no longer have a use for, and we will first try to sell them on Facebook in the local buy and sell groups. It may only be a few dollars a month, but it will certainly add up.


It's not something that will take off right away, but we have the opportunity to make a few extra dollars with our current set up. Currently the hens are on strike since it's been so cold, and it gets dark so early, but when the weather changes, a dozen eggs can go for $2. If I have a broody hen that sits on some eggs and hatches them, we have the opportunity to sell the chicks for a few bucks a piece. Duck eggs can go for $3/dozen. We have a male and female rabbit living together, and if we end up with kits, we could sell them. We also plan to have a garden, so we may end up with extra produce. I could freeze or can the extras, but I guess that depends on if I unbury my pressure canner and jars out of the garage this year.

Fixing Cars

One of Luke's hobbies is working on his Fieros. One of the main reasons we wanted this property was because of The Shop, a 32x40 pole barn. He has a lot of tools, and knows a decent amount about cars, so friends are always asking for car advice. We have done oil changes, brake jobs, and even changed a motor for friends. I've told Luke that we need to put up a donation jar in the shop since people like to come over and borrow the area to work on their cars. It would help fund the insulating the shop project to keep it warmer next winter.

Any suggestions? What do you do to bring in extra money? Crafts? Babysitting? Yard work? What works for you?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Picking Books...

This may surprise you, but Luke and I both dislike reading. My mom was always on the couch with a book, I was always in my room with music, movies, and video games. My parents never required me to read, and since I was a straight A student, I guess they assumed I read on occasion, but even most of the assigned books at school I merely glanced through, very few did I actually read. Even now, sometimes it's very hard for me to just sit down and read. I can glance through articles all day, or even read some fan fiction short stories online, but to pick out a book, and dedicate time out of my day for it, and actually enjoy it, is rare. I want that to change. Thankfully Lexi has no problem sitting down and reading. Lilly does OK with it, as long as it is something that is really interesting to her. Avery can read simple books, and enjoys being read to. Henna doesn't care. She has a short attention span, so it is hit or miss or her to sit down and look at a book and listen.

So the family goal is for myself, Lexi, Lilly, (and hopefully Luke) to pick a book, and to read at least 30 minutes each day. Avery will pick an early reader book that she can read to me and Henna sometime throughout the day. I will also pick out an easy reader/kid book that I will read to Henna. I am hoping that this one on one with her will have her become more familiar with the alphabet and the proper sounds they make. Her speech still needs a lot of improvement. Finally, we will pick a book to read aloud as a family. I did this with the book Wonder, reading a few chapters every night to the girls before bed, and it was a great experience.

I've spent the week trying to distract myself from losing Athena by re-organizing the library. We added more shelves, so I've separated books by reading level, and we now have a place for board games, Legos, coloring items, and other miscellaneous stuff. We haven't really left the house much this month because of Athena, but we start back with our activities in February. We haven't made it to the library to look at books, so for this first pick we will look through our own library for something to read.

Here are our picks.
Lucas: The Martian
Holly: Storm Cycle
Alexis: Weetamoo
Lillian: Rem World

Yes, I am trying out Amazon's affiliate links. I know I don't get the traffic for it to really make a difference, but some of the books we have are older or obscure and having a link to show you the book helps.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Meal Planning Done Cheap - My first Simple, Cheap, Meal Post

Do you ever have one of those weeks (or a whole month) that everything just blows up? I imagine that statistically January is one of the months that this happens the most.

It's no secret that we've struggled over the past 12 years financially. We owned a money pit of a house, the housing market went to crap, and when we finally got into a position that we were ready to sell, the house sat on the market for a year before we took a loss and walked away. We lived in Tiny Barn at my dad's for 6 months while trying to scrape everything to make our finances look good enough to buy the place we have now. It was a great price, a great location to family, and everything we wanted, and it had already been sitting for quite awhile, and by some miracle it hadn't been sold to the many other people we found out later were interested in it. If this house hadn't been available, I have no doubt we would still be in Tiny Barn, working away at our budget to become credit card debt free and looking for a dream house. As it stands, we got the house, which is great, but I'll be honest the budget isn't pretty, and I've been struggling back and forth with the idea of going back to work part-time. Honestly the cons outweigh the pros, but maybe if I could land something seasonal, it would be such a short-term change that we could cope.

Anyways, the point of the post is that this January stunk for us. It is after Christmas, the propane needs refilled (that's at least $400), we had to put Athena down ($65), we had to get Loki fixed ($106) before we ended up with babies, the van needed new front brakes ($100+), and we had to pull wheel bearings off of V2 (our spare van that is practically the same as ours, and was given to us for free), because V1 (the van we use as our daily driver) needs new wheel bearings, but they are about $30ish a piece and need to be pressed in, which is about $45 a piece (or we can buy a press and do it ourselves, which considering we would be doing 4 wheel bearings (V1 & V2, it would be cheaper). All of that took a toll on the budget, and on top of that, Girl Scout cookie selling season started! Which means the girls want to buy cookies!
I've done a lot of Excel spreadsheets, poured over Pinterest for meals, compared prices on Amazon to our local grocery stores, and taken into account how picky our girls can be at eating sometimes. We aren't really the sit down and eat a full meal type of family. We are either home all day, or if we have activities, then we are on the go almost all day, so small snacks and all day grazing seem to fit our lifestyle better. My ideal goal was to find meals that would cost $5 or less and fill the 6 of us, with an overall goal of $20 a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks). Now, do I really want to spend $620 for 31 days, absolutely not, and that doesn't even include toiletries or the animals. I wanted to come up with at least a one week emergency meal plan. It may not be the healthiest, but we won't starve.

So with all of that out of the way, I think I've decided that every week I will post a quick, cheap meal, complete with the prices I have found. I admit, I am no cook, and I'm not the greatest at finding a bargain either, but it's at least a starting point.

So, for my first simple, cheap meal....

Grilled Cheese
$0.99 - 1 loaf of jumbo white store brand bread
$3.49 - 16-slice pack of Kraft American Cheese

Pantry Items Needed: Butter ($3.99 for 45 oz of Country Crock)

So for my family of six this meal is $4.48 plus the cost of butter, but we do end up with both cheese and bread left over!

*Warning affiliate link. This is the griddle I use. With this I can make 4 sandwiches at a time. Convenient since I have 4 girls! We've had this griddle for at least 5 years, and it's held up between moving, dishwasher abuse, and sometimes sitting in the sink for awhile. Although I think I want to look for something a bit bigger.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Dearest Athena

Yesterday was one of the hardest days I've gone through. Our 12 year old dog Athena had to be put down. We'd known since Thanksgiving that this day was coming, and two weeks ago we made the appointment. It is so hard watching something you love so much slowly deteriorate. She lost half of her weight, developed cataracts, bumped into everything, couldn't walk up the stairs, and was rarely able to make it outside to use the bathroom. She spent her days eating and sleeping.

We spent yesterday digging her grave while the girls stayed at my parents. I sat on the front porch in the rocking chair and just held her and cried. Our other dog Apollo is a little lost now. Luke's mother stopped by with a small memorial stone. That woman is always so thoughtful.

The girls cried initially when we buried her. I think it was more they had never seen daddy cry before, and it actually scared them a little. It's hard for them to understand that Athena was our first baby. She was here before any of the girls were.

Today it was 60 degrees out. Freak weather for January in Ohio. We moved a bench to the front yard where she is buried and I spent a lot of time out there crying. I realized I never made anything for lunch, and when I made dinner, I cried the entire time I ate it. She wasn't here for the leftovers. I took out a cornbread muffin for her, and when Luke came to check on me Apollo took it. Even in death they are fighting over food.

I have plans to turn the area around her into a garden for butterflies and fairies. I also love the idea of putting up a little free library, although on our rural road I'm not sure how much action it would see.

It will be a long, slow healing process, but I'm hoping someplace where I can spend sunny days close to her will help.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's Been Awhile

It's been about a year since I've blogged, and about 8 months since I last updated the Facebook page. It's time to get back in the swing of things.

We have a lot of projects for this year! Some of them are...

-Cutting down trees for firewood
-Enlarging the chicken coop
-Making a new duck coop
-Making a new rabbit enclosure
-Finish painting some rooms
-Actually having kitchen cabinet doors
-Going through the rest of our boxes from storage
-Creating Athena's garden

Needless to say this year will be busy!