Living With Purpose In 2012 - Goals For The New Year

The last 5 years have been a blur of diaper changes, doctor's appointments, and dreaming of a good night's sleep.  My main goal was to get the day-to-day housework done and get through the day without any major disasters.

Now that the boys are older {and I'm getting a little more sleep!}, I am ready to start setting goals and living this coming year with purpose.

Here are a few things that I would like to accomplish in 2012:

1.  Daily Bible Reading
January - Dwelling In His Presence: 30 Days of Intimacy With God
New NIV Women's Devotional Bible
Note: Amazon is offering the Kindle edition of Dwelling In His Presence for FREE.  Read this post to find out how to download Kindle ebooks to your computer or mobile device.

2.  Spending More One-On-One Time With My Children
Our oldest son started school this year, and as the boys get older, I'm realizing more and more that it is important to have a good relationship with my children and make sure they know how cherished and loved they are.  I feel strongly that this is a major factor in preventing children from caving in to peer pressure and negative influences.  One of the ways I'm going to work on this is finding ways to have one-on-one time with each of the boys at least twice a month.

3.  Organize and Declutter Our Home
I'm talking about a major overhaul.  Somehow in all the busyness of the last 5 years, our home has fallen into chaos.  With the help of Pinterest, Organizing Junkie, I Heart Organizing, and my new BHG gift subscription, I'm hoping to get back on track in 2012!  To keep me motivated, I plan to write about my progress throughout the year and also share some of my favorite simple and frugal organizing projects.

4.  Pack Ten Operation Christmas Child Boxes
We packed two OCC boxes at the last minute this year.  In 2012 my goal is to pack at least 10 shoeboxes by intentionally looking for items all year that can be used in the shoeboxes and also looking for ways to earn the extra money for the shipping cost.  A great resource that I will be using often is Clip With Purpose.

5.  Books To Read In 2012
My husband and I are both avid readers, and we usually make several trips to the library each month to look for a good book to read.  I have also borrowed books from the church library and a few of these books were downloaded for free from Amazon.  I'm sure I will be adding more books to this list throughout the year, but here is a short list of books I'm hoping to finish in 2012:
Grace Based Parenting {finishing this up}
Lies Women Believe And The Truth That Sets Them Free
The Power Of A Positive Woman
Calm My Anxious Heart
Choosing To See
Don't Make Me Come Up There!
Michal: A Novel 

Do you have any New Year's goals?  What do you have planned for 2012?  Get started with these free customizable goal planning worksheets from Money Saving Mom.

Friday's Fabulous Frugal Finds: How To Download FREE eBooks From Amazon

I love books.  The feel of the pages in my hands and the sense of accomplishment as each page is turned and I get closer to the end.  So I'm not a big fan of these fancy new computer books.

I guess I'm just an old-fashioned kind of girl.

I will admit there are benefits to all this technology--It's not so easy to flip to the back and read the end first.  Yes, I'll admit I have done that.

Another benefit?  FREE books.  Yes, FREE.  And I'll put up with just about anything for free.  Since downloading Amazon's free Kindle app for PC, I've snagged several free books including Calm My Anxious Heart, Don't Make Me Come Up There, Craving God, Michal, The Simple Dollar, Amazing Cakes, and The Everything Potluck Cookbook. {Note: Amazon kindle prices can change at any time.  Only Amazing Cakes is still available for free.}

If you would also like to start getting FREE books without buying a Kindle, register or sign in to your Amazon account and choose which app you want to download.  You can choose from iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, iPad, iPod, Blackberry and more.

After you download the free app, you can search for free ebooks on Amazon by using Jungle Search and clicking on "Kindle Store" on the right sidebar.  You can also follow Vanessa's Values as I'll be sharing my favorite free ebooks throughout the new year.

Swag Bucks: New Members Earn An Extra 100 Swagbucks!

If you have been thinking about signing up for Swag Bucks, don't wait any longer!  New members can earn an extra 100 swag bucks just for signing up before December 31.

Swag bucks helped us save a substantial amount on our Christmas shopping this year.  I saved the swag bucks I earned this year, bought Amazon gift cards and used the gift cards to purchase Christmas gifts from Amazon this year. 

Add free shipping on top of free gift there any better way to shop?

Wishing You and Your Family A Merry Christmas!

"...and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Recipe: Peppermint Stick Sauce

With just three ingredients, this Peppermint Stick Sauce is a delicious and easy way to use up all those leftover candy canes.  The sauce also makes a pretty gift when given in glass jars.

Peppermint Stick Sauce

Makes: 3 cups

1 1/2 cups crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
     {about 10-12 candy canes}
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 jar {7 oz.} marshmallow creme

1.  In a saucepan combine all ingredients. 
2.  Cook and stir over medium-low heat until the peppermint candy is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
3.  Let cool; pour into airtight containers and store in the refrigerator.
4.  Serve warm over ice cream or cake.

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Create With Kids: Beaded Candy Cane Ornament

When our oldest son came home from school with a beaded candy cane, I thought it might be a fun project to try with our 3-year old.  I was shocked when our little dynamo actually sat still long enough to complete a whole candy cane and then asked to do another one!

This project is a simple and inexpensive activity that will help strengthen fine motor skills and teach patterns.  As you can see from the picture, our 3-year old hasn't quite gotten the concept of making patterns yet. :)

What you need:

pipe cleaners
pony beads

Note:  Look for pipe cleaners and pony beads at the dollar store!  I used brown pipe cleaners because that was what we had in our crafts box, but these would be really cute with red, green or white pipe cleaners.

Cut the pipe cleaners in half with scissors.  In order to keep the beads from falling off the end, fold one end over about 1/8" from the end.

Once there are enough beads to completely cover the pipe cleaner, fold the other end of the pipe cleaner about 1/8" from the end and hang on the Christmas tree.

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Meal Plan Monday Dec. 19

My husband did the grocery shopping this weekend and while I appreciate the help, I never know what I am going to find in the grocery bags when he comes home.

This week I've added hot dogs and cinnamon raisin toast to our menu. :)

There's lots of baking to do this week! Here's what's cooking in my kitchen:

Cinnamon Raisin Toast, Bananas
Breakfast Sandwiches

Ham Salad Sandwiches, Applesauce
Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup
Turkey Sandwiches, Carrots
Dinner Leftovers
Christmas Day Lunch With Family

    Glazed Ham, Peas, Seasoned Mashed Potatoes, Mile High Biscuits

     Corn Chowder {adding leftover ham, cubed}, Leftover Biscuits

    Hot Dogs, Mac & Cheese, Peas

    Ham and Potato Soup, Garlic & Cheese Biscuits

    Leftover Night

     Christmas Eve Dinner With Family - Bringing a pie.

      Sandwiches, if needed {we are having a large Christmas lunch with family}

Other:  Pumpkin Butterscotch Cupcakes
             Holiday Tree Brownies {For Kindergarten Christmas party}

$5 Dinners has a wonderful grocery shopping list with meal plan form and a few other printable planners that you might find helpful in meal planning {not to mention some great money-saving recipes!}.

Get more meal inspiration at Menu Plan Monday

Swag Bucks + Amazon: My Favorite Way To Shop

I'm not a big fan of shopping;  I like to go early, check off my list, and leave.  So buying Christmas gifts on Amazon this year was a dream come true.  And let me tell you, I'm now one of their biggest fans {no, I'm not getting paid to say that!}.  Not only did I avoid the large crowds and get lower prices {comparison shopped with Walmart}, I also saved on babysitters and gas all while spending FREE money.

Yes, FREE!  This past January, I challenged myself to earn $50 in Amazon gift cards from Swag Bucks for Christmas shopping this year.  I didn't quite reach my goal, but with the Swag Bucks that I did earn, we spent under $30 out-of-pocket for Christmas gifts for the boys.

And that's not all!  The last of the gifts arrived today with FREE 2-day shipping!  If you've been procrastinating, you can still get those gifts before Christmas with a FREE trial of Amazon Prime.  Just sign up for the one-month free trial at checkout and choose free 2-day shipping.

Now I've got to go wrap some presents....

The Cat In The Hat Cake {Color Flow Technique}

I have always been interested in cake decorating, and even though I have never had the chance to take any cake decorating classes, I have tried to make a special cake each year for the children's birthdays.  So far we have had a race car cake, a caterpillar, Elmo, Veggie Tales, Thomas the Train and a dinosaur cake.

For the past several months our now 3-year old has been in love with The Cat In The Hat {his new favorite thing to say is "I don't like it, not one little bit!"}, so there was no doubt that I had to make a Cat In The Hat cake for his third birthday.

I had never worked with royal icing color flow so I was thrilled when I discovered this video tutorial on YouTube.  This video makes the process look very easy, but it actually took me a couple tries to get it right.

I ran out of disposable frosting bags and ziploc bags, so I attempted to make my own parchment bags.  I wouldn't recommend using these with color flow as it is very thin and very easily leaks out of the bags and makes a big mess.

I taped waxed paper over the image and made royal icing according to the instructions that came with the canister of meringue powder.  I used a #3 tip to outline the image, but I think tip #2 would have worked better.

I piped the outline in white icing instead of black because when I tried to make black it turned out dark purple.

After I finished the outlines, I thinned the royal icing with water in order to fill in or "flood" the outlines.

It is helpful to keep toothpicks on hand while you are flooding to fill in all the tiny areas.

I had to use a lot of red in order to get a real red color.  Letting the icing sit for a while also helps.

The pictures below show what they looked like after they were completely filled in with "flooding consistency" royal icing.  The red and blue did bleed into the white outlines a little bit, but I covered that up when I traced the outlines with black edible marker.

I let this harden for about 24 hours to make sure that it was completely dry, and then made the outlines with black edible marker.  I used the Gourmet Writer by Americolor.  As you can see in the picture, these are very fragile and I did break a few pieces while I was trying to make the outlines.

After I frosted the cake and put the figures on, I finished it off by piping the kite string and tails and the whiskers with Wilton black decorating frosting.

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Decorate Glass Jars With Puffy Paint (Gifts In A Jar)

When the Gifts In A Jar that I made from recycled glass jars looked a little boring, I decided to try this puffy paint idea that I discovered on Pinterest to make them more interesting.  I loved the results and have added puffy paint to my list of favorite craft products!

What you need:

Puffy Paint
Waxed Paper
Glass Jars
Cotton Swab or Toothpick
E-6000 Adhesive or other glass adhesive

1. Tape waxed paper over the image and trace over it with puffy paint.    My favorite places to find free images are and (you have to register in order to have access to free images on this site).

2. Let the paint dry for at least 6-8 hours or overnight.  When it is completely dry, gently remove it from the waxed paper.

3. Use a cotton swab or toothpick to put a small amount of E-6000 or other glass adhesive onto the puffy paint.  Press onto the glass jar and hold it in place for 5-10 seconds.

Fill the jars with a gift and cover the lid with fabric; add some ribbon or yarn and you will have a frugal, unique gift for neighbors, teachers, friends or family!  I filled my jars with French Vanilla Hot Chocolate, but there are many other creative ways to use a jar to give gifts.  Cheap Crafty Mama shared a list of 10 of my favorite gifts in a jar ideas.

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Meal Plan Monday Dec. 12

With two birthday parties in our family this week and a Christmas party this weekend, we are looking forward to a busy week! 

I've been working with the color flow technique for the first time in order to make a Cat In The Hat birthday cake for our son who turns 3 today.

I've got my fingers crossed that the cake will turn out well.  I'll share how it turns out later this week!

I'm keeping it simple this week.  Here's what's cooking in my kitchen:

English Muffins

Chicken Sandwiches, Carrots
Nutella & Jelly Sandwiches, Yogurt
Cheese Quesadillas, Apple Slices
Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup
Dinner Leftovers

Monday: Happy 3rd Birthday, Ethan! 
    Lasagna, Garlic Bread, The Cat In The Hat Cake, Ice Cream

    Birthday dinner with family.

    Chicken Quesadillas, Peas

   Potluck Christmas Party--Still trying to decide what to bring!


    Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Carrots, Applesauce

$5 Dinners has a wonderful grocery shopping list with meal plan form and a few other printable planners that you might find helpful in meal planning {not to mention some great money-saving recipes!}.

Get more meal inspiration at  Menu Plan Monday

Recipe: Orange Gumdrops

The Christmas holiday season is the perfect excuse to indulge in chocolate, but if you're looking for a unique recipe this year, you won't be disappointed with these orange gumdrops.

Orange Gumdrops

Makes: Approx. 6 dozen

1 tsp. plus 1 tbs. butter, softened, divided
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup water
1 pkg. {1.75 oz.} powdered fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. grated orange peel
4 drops yellow food coloring
1 drop red food coloring
Additional sugar {optional}
Candy Thermometer

1.  Line bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with foil and grease with 1 tsp. butter.  Grease bottom and sides of a large heavy saucepan with remaining butter. 

Here's an old trick my mom taught me: to keep your hands from getting messy, put your hand inside a plastic sandwich bag before greasing the pan.  When your finished, just peal the bag off and throw it away.

2.  Add sugar and corn syrup to the large, greased saucepan.  Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, about 9 minutes.  Cook over medium-high heat until mixture reaches 280 degrees {soft crack stage} on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally.

3.  While the sugar mixture is cooking, in another large saucepan, combine the water, pectin and baking soda {mixture will foam}.  Cook and stir over high heat until mixture boils, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat; set aside.

When the corn syrup mixture reaches 280, remove from heat.  Return pectin mixture to medium-high heat; cook until mixture begins to simmer.  Carefully and slowly ladle corn syrup mixture in a very thin stream into pectin mixture, stirring constantly.  Cook and stir 1 minute longer.  Caution!: corn syrup and pectin mixtures will be very hot.  Be very careful when pouring the corn syrup mixture into the pectin mixture in order to avoid splatters.

4.  Remove from heat and stir in extract, peel and food coloring.  Transfer to prepared pan.  Let stand until firm, about 2 hours.  Cut into squares and roll in additional sugar if desired.

Source: Taste of Home Holiday Christmas Cookies & Candies November 2009

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Create With Kids: Craft Stick Ornaments

Our 5-year old had great time making these craft stick ornaments.  We used colored craft sticks that I found on sale at Rite Aid a few years ago, but regular craft sticks could also be used. 

What you need:

craft sticks
craft glue, white glue and glue gun
ribbon or yarn
craft jewels
puffy paint

To make the Christmas tree ornament you will also need:
foam star stickers
brown felt or construction paper

1.  For snowflake ornaments: glue three craft sticks in a criss-cross pattern using craft glue; let dry.

2.  Decorate!  Our son loves glitter; most of our ornaments got a good sprinkle of it and a few even had more than one color. {The Elmer's glue pen worked perfectly for covering the craft sticks with glue!}

3.  For Christmas tree ornaments:  glue craft sticks together in a triangle; let dry.

4.  Stick a foam star sticker on the top and glue a 1-inch piece of felt or construction paper along the bottom; let dry and decorate.

I used a hot glue gun to glue yarn onto the back of the ornaments for a hanger:

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Meal Plan Monday Dec. 5

I've got to say I think I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers as much as the Thanksgiving meal!  Last week we used up the mashed potatoes by making Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole. I added a little onion and garlic powder and it was delicious.  We also really enjoyed the Cranberry Meatballs recipe.

I didn't have to do a lot of grocery shopping this week; many of these meals use items that I already have in my pantry or freezer.  Here's what's cooking in my kitchen this week:

Breakfast Sandwiches
Toast, Applesauce

Ham Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks
Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup
Chicken Nuggets, Apple Slices
Dinner Leftovers

    Build Your Own Haystacks {from last week}

    Simmered Chinese Chicken, Rice, Sweet Potato Fries, Peas

    Chicken Pot Pie

    Chicken Vegetable Soup, Mile High Biscuits


    Chicken Fettucini Alfredo, baked sweet potato

    Leftover Night

$5 Dinners has a wonderful grocery shopping list with meal plan form and a few other printable planners that you might find helpful in meal planning {not to mention some great money-saving recipes!}.

Get more meal inspiration at  Menu Plan Monday

Friday's Fabulous Frugal Finds Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

Here's what I found at Rite Aid, Walmart and Hannaford this week:

Rite Aid:

Snapple Iced Tea Price: $.88
  -$1.00 off 2 Nov. and Dec. Video Values printable coupons
Final Price: $.38 each

Dawn Dish Soap Price: $1.00
  -$.50 off 1 any Dawn from P&G Mailer {sign up here}
Final Price: $.50

Andes Mints Price: 2 for $3.00
  -B1G1 Rebate {found at Hannaford}
Final Price: $.75 each after rebate



Idahoan Potatoes Price:  $.98
  -$1.00 off 1 printable coupon
Final Price: FREE

Crest For Kids Toothpaste Price: $1.00  {Perfect for OCC Boxes!!}
  -$1.00 off 1 from 11/27 P&G {exp. 12/31/11}
Final Price: FREE 

Bounty Paper Towels Price: $1.00
  -$1.00 off 2 from 11/27 P&G {exp. 12/31/11}
Final Price: $.50 each wyb 2

Crest For Kids Toothbrush Price: $1.88  {Perfect for OCC Boxes!!}
  -$1.00 off 1 from 11/27 P&G {exp. 12/31/11}
Final Price: $.88

Motts for Tots Price: $2.48
  -$1.00 off 1 printable coupon {no longer available}
Final Price: $1.48


My Essentials Flour 5 lb. Price: ?
  -FREE w/$25 purchase printable coupon {exp. 12/5/11}
Final Price: FREE

Nature's Place Organic Yogurt Price: $.69
  -FREE w/$10 purchase printable coupon {exp. 12/5/11}
Final Price: FREE

Jell-O Pudding Mix Price: $.99
  -FREE w/$15 purchase printable coupon {no longer available}
Final Price: FREE

Langers Juice Price: $2.58
  -$1.00 off 1 from 11/6 JOH {exp. 12/31/11}
Final Price: $1.58