Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fabulously Frugal

Anyone who knows me dearly, knows that I absolutely hate to pay full price for something, especially when it is over-priced to begin with.  I imagine that the Proverbs 31 woman had good business sense.  Although she lived in an era in which women were not highly esteemed, I can see her bargaining in her purchases.  Her husband was presumed to be well respected also and if she was taken advantage of, you could probably expect her to send him to square the deal.  I am not at all a feminist, but I imagine she was smart and frugal in her endeavors.
I always search the sale racks before I ever hit the main floor when shopping.  I went to a local ladies store last night hoping to find a great deal on something nice.  My husband and I were alone on a date night and we ate dinner in the same parking lot of one of my favorite dress shops that I rarely get to go to, soooo we whipped in for a few moments.  I was not sure what I was going to find, but I wanted something nice I could wear for work or church.  I asked my husband to come in for a second opinion (he usually waits in the car for this).  There were not many clearance racks so I was a little disappointed and most were loaded down with sweaters (I am not crazy about them, since I am "hot natured").  As I was double checking the last rack, I ran across a sleeveless dress with bling on the neckline.  I usually do not wear much bling on my clothes, but it went to the floor, so it had a bit of dressiness to it.  I was so surprised to see the price was $13.99 marked down from $45.00.  It was the last one in the store and it was "my" size!  I immediately said, "Praise the Lord"!  My husband and I both agreed that it was the best deal of the entire sale rack, especially since it covered my entire body.  I had just lost 3.5 lbs and was looking for a mini/cheap celebration.  I was tickled pink at what the Lord hid on that rack just for me.  I was perfectly content to walk out empty-handed if I did not find a great deal, because I do not like to blow my hard-earned money.  But I took this as a great blessing from a wonderful God that knows my heart.
I have been working so hard to be obedient lately.  This obedience encompasses everything in my life from eating only when I am "physically" hungry, to turning off the TV and Facebook and having quiet family time, to watching my mouth and attitude with my husband when I do not get my way (I realize that I may have struck a few nerves there with those).  There are numerous ways to practice our obedience to the Lord and these are just a few.  I find that when I die to my flesh, the Lord gives me more life back in other ways.  I get happys or jewels in return.  The book of Proverbs is full of little nuggets of wisdom for all of us to chew on.  When life gets rough and we feel as if we do not have any time to be alone with God (like when the alarm clock does not work or we forgot we needed to be somewhere earlier than usual) I can open my Bible to the Book of Proverbs or Psalms and find a few verses that I can meditate on all day.  Sometimes, I learn more out of repeating a short  few lines throughout the day, instead of reading several chapters.  I prefer to study deeply, but sometimes life pops in unannounced.  God has a way of making passages come alive when we seek His truth and revelation.
Now, I am not only frugal with clothes.  I shop yard sales and do a lot of do-it-myself projects.  I like to enjoy a good cup of coffee on a cold day,  but I do not like to pay $3-4.00 for it.  My goodness, I can make a meal for my entire family for $3-10.00!  My husband and I will make these special treats at home.  We get our instant decaf coffee with ice, cream, and sugar and make them at home.  I use to buy a certain brand of vanilla syrup for my coffee, but I have not in over a year.  The last time I saw it in the store it was well over $4.00 and I about had a fit.  The other day when I was wanting some, so I just "Googled" it and found a good recipe to make my own.  I whipped it up in about 3 minutes and now I have it in my fridge ready for my next cup of coffee.
Very simple vanilla syrup:
2 Cups of white sugar
2.5 Cups of water
3/4 Cups of brown sugar
3-4 Tablespoons of vanilla extract (like a lot of vanilla so I went for 4.5)
Boil water and sugar until dissolved then add vanilla.  Store in a bottle or jar.
I have not tried it yet, but if you prefer sugar-free, I think Splenda should work fine.  You would not have to boil it though.
We have a few salvage-type stores around our town and we love to go get great deals there.  One time I bought a toaster oven for $1.90.  It was new and has worked fine for over 2 years so far.  I think I have gotten my money's worth.  I think it is very important to be good stewards of what the Lord has blessed us with.  I enjoy giving things to my family and friends and the fact that it did not cause me to go into debt to do it makes it all the sweeter.  We do about 3/4 of our grocery shopping at our local salvage grocery store.  It has cut our grocery bill down about 2/3-3/4 what it use to cost.  We have to know the true prices of items and be picky about dented goods and we get our meats from other grocery store sale events.  Every store tends to have a mark-down section.  We go early in the morning and find meats less than half of what they were the day before.  Pop them in the freezer or cook it that night.  I know WalMart "ad matches", but I have not been too successful with that.  I need someone to go with me and walk me through it a time or two.  Coupons are a great way to save also.  Again, you have to know your prices and not buy things that you would not normally buy in order for it to be cost effective. 
I pray the Lord pours out His sweet blessings over you this week and helps you to see the best deals available to provide for your family.  God Bless you and yours!
Marla B.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What color is your thumb?

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15: 1 & 2

I have read this passage so many times in the past 20 years and have only had a generic understanding of it, until the last several years.  When I started trying to grow plants, flowers, veggies, and fruit trees, I really saw the underlying meaning.  If you have ever planted a seed or nurtured a seedling to fruition, you know that it requires tender loving care.  It can be growing beautifully one day and the next day the temperature can change while you are at work and you come home and find a shriveled and unrecognizable excuse for a plant.
I will not claim to be an expert on growing anything and I am a novice at best, but I have learned a few things.  Living in southern MS offers a few challenges that tempt me to drive my lawn mower over the whole mess and buy my veggie plants right before producing. 
This year, I am considering all of my options to ensure a healthy and productive crop.  I try to be as frugal and efficient as possible while getting the maximum results.  This spring I will be trying out row covers to keep our hot July/August days from frying and stressing out my crops.  Last summer was extremely hot and several of my plants could not tolerate it.  Also, I fought an enormous infestation of squash bugs.  I will need to make an investment this year to prevent a repeat event.  I also want to try "lasagna" or "mulch gardening".  This may be less torture on my back than shoveling and hoeing.
I also have one 3 year old and two new 1 year old plum trees to prune this season in hopes to have enough plums this year to make at least 1 jar of jelly.  Last year I lost a plum tree to disease right before blooming and my other tree was left solo and unpollinated for the season.  I do not even want to discuss the 4 blueberry bushes that I planted that turned brown and all of my berries wrinkled like raisins.  I bought two from a nursery and two from a local department store.  The two from the nursery showed symptoms first and then it spread to my other two.  I was told that blueberries were hard to kill, but apparently they were not referring to me. 
There is just something special about digging in the dirt, planting a tiny seed, watering it, and picking a full-grown vegetable that feeds your family.  I just don't get the same revelation at the grocery store picking fruit out of a bin.  It gives me a deeper glimpse into God's plans for us and how gloriously amazing He is.  I love my God and I am always looking for his awesomeness in everything around me.  I want to be a good steward of His blessings and give Him my best effort in this earthly life.  I look forward to the day when I can sit at His feet and see His beautiful gardens all around without bugs or rotten fruit.  Gardens that grow with only a breath and a word.  Until then, I must plan and toil to the best of my ability.
I have been reading magazines and watching gardening videos to better prepare me for this spring.  I will be more than happy to share the stages of my gardening with you in hopes of getting tips and reducing failures.  If you have any expertise on the subject, I am open for any and all help to be a successful gardener.  I pray this planting season will be rich in love and my thumb will turn to a nicer shade of green. 
God bless you and good night,
Marla B.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bringing in the New Year

It seems like I just adjusted to writing the year 2011 and here we are with 2012 upon us.  I have had many ideas flow through my head about what I want out of this new year.  I want fewer hassles and troubles and more blessings and opportunities to help others.  Last year my husband fell and shattered his wrist while out doing routine yard work, Thanksgiving week feasts were replaced with a stomach virus, and bronchitis blew in during the Christmas holiday break.

This year I have a big list of things to get done:
  • I want my family to have a significant spiritual growth.  I believe our relationship with the LORD is the most important one to invest our time and energy in, all others will follow suit.
  • I am seeking physical health and wellness for my entire family.  We have much excess weight to shed and need more physical activity.  The older we get, the more exercise is needed to maintain fitness.  I use to feel strong and solid, but now I feel weak and fragile.  I do not desire a luxurious vain physique, but I do want to be a good steward of this body the LORD gave me.
  • I want to be wise with my time and spend more of it productively and less of it looking at the TV or reading Facebook.  My in-laws are becoming more and more needy everyday and it is quite possible that we may become their care-takers this year.  This situation needs lots of prayers.  We do not have any answers, but we know the Lord has us all in His hands.
  • I want to merge into online instructing and prepare myself to be home with my daughter next Fall.  She will be graduating this May and since she has Down syndrome, she will need to continue a learning routine at home.  I will have to construct a routine for her that will benefit the housework, hobby-farm, & her living-skills while allowing me to contribute to the income.
  • I want to de-clutter my surroundings.  We down-sized in space, but still are bursting at the seams.  I want to have a bit more elbow room, but also organize and purge the unused items we have surrounding us.  After hurricane Katrina destroyed about 40% of our possessions, we became less attached to things.  We grew again in space over the years and last year we down-sized by half.  I still love crafting and re-purposing items, but I have to be very picky about what I hold on to or things can pile up quickly waiting for me to find the time to complete a new project. 
This year has just gotten started, but I have high hopes.  I plan to be very busy, but enjoy every minute of it.  I want to cherish all of my time with my family and friends.  None of us are promised tomorrow.  We need to always be focused on loving the LORD and His children. 
If you have any great organizational tips, please share them.  I am always open to new and creative ideas.  God Bless you and I pray your New Year is full of love and grace...In Jesus mighty name!