Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions - Losing Weight

One of the top New Year's resolutions is to lose weight. As someone who struggles with weight, it is a very hard thing to do. I have lost some, but I still have a ways to go. So far, I have lost around 20 pounds. I do feel better in general even losing that amount. I need to lose about 80 more pounds. The New Year is a great time to refocus on those efforts.

I have found a very useful tool to aid in the weight loss process. It is incredibly helpful, it is free, and it has accountability built in. It is an online course, really a bible study, that digs deep. There is a daily lesson with questions and answers. What this program does is pair you up with a mentor who has already successfully completed the course. This mentor reads your lessons and responds accordingly. It has been so good for me. I wanted to pass it along, especially during a time when so many will be focusing on losing weight. You can find the course, called "The Lord's Table", at . And I am going to use the New Year as a time to refocus and continue along on my way to my weight loss goal.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homemade Oatmeal Facial Mask

I was in need of a little "mommy pampering" time today. I decided to have my own personal home spa. And it only cost me a few cents. Bonus! And it involved all natural ingredients from my kitchen, no extra added chemicals. Double bonus!

I took an oatmeal milk bath (scented with dried rose petals), you can find the recipe for this at . I also conditioned my hair with a homemade hot oil hair treatment, which I posted previously .

I decided that along with all of that, I wanted to try my hand at making a homemade facial mask. I came up with this recipe using things I had on hand at the house. I think the one I ended up making would probably work best for those that have combiniation skin and struggle with acne (that's me!). After using this mask, I did notice that the redness from my acne was reduced some, and my skin felt fabulous!

Oatmeal Facial Mask

1/4 cup ground oatmeal (grind in a blender or food processor)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons witch hazel
1/2 tablespoon lemon or lime juice (I used lime because that's what I had on hand)

Mix all ingredients together. Initially, it will fizz a little from the baking soda and lime juice, but not much. Wet face with warm water. Apply mixture to face and leave on for approximately 20 minutes. Rinse off and pat dry.

This facial mask does tingle a little bit, so if you have sensitive skin, you may want to test it on a small area of skin first. To me, it felt very similar to store bought facial products that have alpha-hydroxy in them. Overall, I am very pleased with the results and like it better than any product I have bought at the store. I will definitely be using this again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Evaporated Milk Recipe

Recently, I posted a recipe for sweetened condensed milk. I liked it so well that I thought I would see if there was a recipe for evaporated milk out there somewhere in cyberspace. Sure enough, there was! I tried it out on the old Fantasy Fudge recipe from the Kraft Marshmallow Cream jar. The recipe turned out great! Now that I know how to make my own sweetened condensed milk and my own evaporated milk, the cost of my holiday baking goes down even further.

Evaporated Milk Recipe

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons butter

Mix powdered milk and warm water together. Add butter. In a small pan, heat mixture together. Beat well, cool, and store in the refrigerator.

I used a whisk to stir it while cooking it on the stove, it seemed to work really well for me that way. This recipe is from recipezaar.
If you are interested in the Kraft Fantasy Fudge recipe (and this is the original one, they have changed it on the current marshmallow cream jars), you can find it here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saving Money On Movies

I like to watch movies from time to time. The theater is usually a no-go for us because it is so expensive to go nowadays, especially with a family of five. The snacks are outrageously priced too. Then there's the whole issue of the kids sitting still during the movie, without having to take twenty trips to the bathroom (OK, so maybe I am exaggerating a little there!). There are way more reasons for us to skip the theater than there are to actually go.

That brings us to movie rentals. Yes, they are much more affordable. And children who do not care to watch the movie are free to roam and play closeby instead. Many people are going with Netflix these days. That can be a bargain for sure, but if at all possible, I like to keep our business local and help the local economy and business guy out. Many movie rental stores have specials for additional savings, so it may be worth it to check it out. Our local store has "Movie Mondays", where I can go rent any movie in the store for $.99, including new releases. Plus the fact that this movie store has rentals that are allowed to be out for anywhere from 2-7 days, so I don't have to watch them right away if I don't have time to. Or if I don't want to go on Monday, they have another special, 5 movies for 5 dollars, but you can't get new releases on the deal. You can always call the local movie stores and ask about specials.

One more idea I would like to throw in there is the local library. Many times, renting movies from there is free. That is not an option for us because of the distance of our library from us. They have to be back the next day, and that just doesn't work for us because of the drive to get there. But I know of many families who happily rent movies from their local library.

For us, using the specials gives us significant savings. Just because you are on a budget doesn't mean you have to miss out on entertainment. There are ways to enjoy a movie for significantly less, and honestly it is just more convenient for us anyhow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cappuccino Gift

I had previously posted a recipe for Instant Cappuccino Mix . I made it into a cute gift by putting the cappuccino mix into a mason jar and giving it a decorative Christmas touch. I placed a square of fabric over the lid and screwed the band around it. For the fabric, I cut it out using pinking shears to prevent fraying and to make it look pretty. Then I tied a matching red ribbon around the band. Voila! Pretty, decorative, useful gift!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce Recipe

We like hot fudge sauce around here! Besides being less expensive than store bought sauce, it is a whole lot yummier! (I KNOW - is is even possible for hot fudge sauce to get any yummier?) This recipe is one of our favorite treats served with vanilla ice cream. It is really easy to make.

Hot Fudge Sauce Recipe

1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Milk, if needed

Place all ingredients except for milk in a medium saucepan. Stir continuously over medium heat until ingredients are melted and well blended. If necessary, add milk in small amounts while continually stirring to reach desired consistency. Serve immediately.

This recipe store well in a covered container in the fridge and can be microwaved to reheat. Also, see my post on homemade sweetened condensed milk in place of canned. It can be found at .

Monday, December 7, 2009

Make Your Own Sweetened Condensed Milk

This is another little recipe I came across in "The Madison County Cookbook". I didn't know this was possible before I read it, but you can make your own sweetened condensed milk. I know right now, a 14 oz. can of the stuff costs around $2.00. In the recipe notes, it said that the store bought cans of the stuff at that time cost around $1.45 each, but that this recipe only costs around $.25 to make the equivalent. I am sure it costs a little bit more than $.25 in today's economy, but it is still significantly less to make it yourself versus buying it.

With the holiday baking season in full swing, I decided I would give this recipe a trial run before I use it in all of my special Christmas goodies. I have a homemade hot fudge recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk, so I tried it out on that one. My family couldn't tell the difference, and it tasted the same as it always tastes - delicious! I will definitely be using this recipe more often when I am in need of sweetened condensed milk. And I will also post my hot fudge recipe soon too - it's very simple and very yummy!

Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup powdered milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons melted butter

Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix at high speed until smooth. Use this in any recipe that calls for Eagle Brand condensed milk. Makes 14 ounces.

It will be rather thick, but then again, so is canned sweetened condensed milk. This is the equivalent of one can.

P.S. This came from page 233 of "The Madison County Cookbook", copyright 1994.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Instant Cappuccino Mix Recipe - Gift Idea!

I was looking through a cookbook last night that I have had around the house for while. I picked it up at a thrift store about a year ago and have thumbed through it before, but never paid close attention to what was actually in there. It is a quaint country-style-homecooking type of cookbook called "The Madison County Cookbook", ala "The Bridges of Madison County". It is chock full of great recipes, but this particular one caught my eye. I was thinking "thrifty gift" when I saw it.

I have a few ideas to make it into a rather cute gift. I could repurpose some small coffee cans to use to store the cappuccino mix. To make it presentable and cutesy, the cans could be covered in some fancy paper or a nice fabric. Another idea, which is probably what I will do (especially since I just gave my empty coffee cans to my daughter to craft with), is to place the mix in some Mason canning jars and use some ginghamed Christmas fabric over the top of the lid with some pretty ribbon for presentation. Or I could just go and buy some cute decorative containers to gift it in (there are lots of cute Christmasty tins and such for sale right now). I know a few people who would appreciate a cappuccino gift :)

Now on to the recipe. I made some of this mix tonight, and so far the verdict is that it is a keeper!

Instant Cappuccino Drink Mix

1 cup instant coffee creamer

1 cup instant chocolate drink mix

2/3 cup instant coffee

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. To make cappucino, mix 2 tablespoons per cup of hot water (add more or less to get desired flavor). Top with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, or chocolate shavings, if desired.

I should also add, I like extra spice, so I added a little bit more cinnamon than the recipe called for. It is delicious!

P.S. This recipe is found on page 61 of "The Madison County Cookbook", copyright 1994.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cutting Costs On Laundry

Laundry is one of those unavoidable chores. Since it is a regular household chore, finding ways to save money cleaning clothes will definitely contribute to cutting costs. There are ways to save on the cleaning products, as well as cutting costs on your energy usage. Here are my best money saving tips on laundry:

1. Wash most of your clothing in cold water, rather than using warm or hot water. After we started doing this, our monthly utility bill went down. If you use cold water, it costs less because the water heater will use that much less energy heating more water. The one thing I still use hot water for is when I wash cloth diapers. That is a sanitary issue, so I will not use exclusively cold water on those. Everything else gets washed in cold water.

2. Make your own laundry detergent. I have been making my own for quite a while now. It contains less chemicals than store bought laundry detergent, and it is also quite a bit less expensive. I posted my laundry detergent recipe when I first started this blog, it can be found at . There is also a website that has a variety of laundry detergent recipes, it is .

3. Vinegar can be used as a natural fabric softener. It can be easily done if you put it in a Downy ball. I personally still like to use my regular fabric softener. If you prefer to do that, stock up when there are good sales and clip coupons. You can also buy the store brand of fabric softener as well, it is usually priced substantially cheaper than the name brands.

4. Homemade stain remover costs less than buying it. I have a recipe posted, you can find it at . Or you could buy stain remover in bulk from a place like Sam's Club.

5. Line dry your clothing. It costs less because it uses no energy from the dryer. We have cold winters where I am from, and I have allergies (I don't want pollen sticking to my clothes), so I personally don't line dry, but I would if I could.

The best thing you can do to cut costs is to find ways to reduce your energy usage. Switching to homemade detergent, or finding a detergent that costs less is the next best way to save.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Downs Syndrome Orphan Needs a Family

Some friends of mine recently adopted a boy with Down's Syndrome from the Ukraine. Sean came home to be with his family last May. While they were at the orphanage, they met another little girl named Lacie, but they were unable to bring her home at the time. They have not forgotten about her and would like to be able to go back and get her. It costs alot of money to do so, but by going to rescue these children, their lives are being saved. The special needs children are placed in institutions if they are not adopted by the age of 4. They do not do well there and often die as a result. You can read more about it on their blog, . There is also a place to donate towards the cause at their site.

You can also read more about adopting children with special needs through . I would also like to add that the Adamson family is a very nice family who love and care for their children dearly. Their home is a wonderful home for a child to become a part of.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cute Potholders to Crochet - Gift Idea!

I found this incredibly cute potholder pattern through . I was going to try a few other patterns I found there, but after trying this one I am hooked! (No pun intended!) It is a simple cobble stitch to get the textured look, and then layered with a picot edge trim. The pattern is called "Maryanne's Potholder" and it can be found at .

In the pattern, it suggests using some yarn to hold the pieces together while joining the two sides. I personally found it easier to just use four safety pins, one at each corner, and remove them after the project is finished. I have made these in quite a few color combinations, my personal favorite is a cream color with a darker contrasting color. The beige ones are nice too, though.

These little cuties can be whipped up quickly and would make a great Christmas gift, or any other kind of gift you might want to give. I plan on giving them in matching pairs. They would go nicely along with a jar of homemade jam or jelly, if you happen to have some on hand. I have tons of chokecherry jelly that I made in preparation for Christmas, so that's what I will be giving out to many unsuspecting family members (unless they are reading my blog, which will leave them suspecting) along with these dainty, yet hefty, potholders.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Saving Money On Shipping Packages

I just paid for postage online and printed my own shipping label. No long lines at the post office, super easy, more convenient, and CHEAPER! I can drop the package off with the mailman, or drive it to the post office and drop it in the drop box. The web address is . It does help that I have a small postal scale at home already, but there are also fixed rate priority mail boxes and envelopes that have a high a weight limit. The online rates are discounted rates. It does cost less to ship by doing it online than it does to take your packages into the post office. I don't know about you, but I am sure happy to NOT have to wait in long holiday lines at the post office, AND pay less for shipping!