Thursday, December 31, 2009

Inspiration & Encouragement: Celebrating God’s Grace in 2009

It’s the last day of the year, an opportunity to pause and reflect – and give thanks to God for His grace! 2009 will very soon come to a close, and a new chapter of life will open with 2010.

2009 has been a year of both joys and trials – like any year of life on a fallen planet. Through it all, we are experiencing the great faithfulness of our loving Savior and Lord. His grace, as promised, has been sufficient.

As I close 2009, I pause to thank God publicly for His grace to me. With this post, I’m specifically celebrating my first full year of avid bargain-hunting. It’s not that I wasn’t frugally conscious before, but I didn’t realize the value of a coupon. Why anyone would try to save a few cents on a brand name item when store brands were almost always cheaper and equally good in taste and/or quality was beyond me! But that was before I understood B1G1 deals combined with double coupons, or coupon stacking, or rebates, etc.

The greatest value of couponing, as it has come to be called in Modern English, seems to be how it can change a shopper’s general perspective. Specifically, I “never” pay full price for anything anymore; if it’s not on sale, I probably don’t need it. There are exceptions, of course. After all, I’m driving the coupon car; it’s not driving me!

Of course, bargaining isn’t just about me and what I can get. Rather, it’s about wise stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to me. As I save and stockpile, I am more able to look for specific opportunities to serve God, my family, and others. What JOY!

As we close 2009, our family gives thanks to God for allowing us, by His grace, to finish paying “The School Bill” (and related expenses) in the fall of 2009. From my perspective, couponing sped us on our way to that goal. It’s not so much that what we saved by using coupons on groceries paid the bills. Rather, couponing created an awareness of a real way to reduce costs and made me, in particular, much more sensitive to prices in general – and to the fact that, if I’m patient, the staples and regulars will be on sale again, i.e. they tend to cycle. Even if I didn’t have a coupon, I had a new idea of what I was willing (or more often unwilling) to pay for any particular item. And each baby step contributed to the giant leap of debt elimination!

I’m thankful!

I’m thankful for God’s enabling grace. I’m thankful that it’s never too late to learn. I’m thankful for my Dearest and my Little One – and their patience! And I’m thankful for friends on the bargaining blogosphere who shared their stories and lessons learned and encouraged me along the way by example...

So, I’m sharing God’s grace in a small (but significant!) chapter of my life – “Just for the Joy of It!

2010 promises to be a year of new opportunities to trust God as we launch out on a new adventure.

May we have a Blessed New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's Cookin'?

Can you guess?! If you've been following along, you know the answer has to be more pumpkin!

About half of the pumpkin puree from the bigger of the two pumpkins did end up in the freezer for later use. Another four cups made their debut in the very yummy Pumpkin Curry Soup we enjoyed on Sunday afternoon.

We also enjoyed Tomato Bread (with both tomato and pumpkin in it) as part of our Christmas Eve Dinner. And another loaf just came out of the bread maker earlier this afternoon.

I even stuck my neck out and came up with my own pumpkin recipe which I'm calling Pumpkin Veggie Bake. If you add a pound of ground meat (cooked) and two or three cups of rotini pasta (cooked), you can also turn this side dish into a hearty main dish. We tried that version – using ground venison – and really liked it, too!

The second pumpkin started going the way of all flesh before I could tend to it. So, it got moved from the living room (where it had become part of the decor) to the front porch – which ended up acting the dual function of refrigerator!

Last night, I was able to salvage about half of the second pumpkin and bake it. About eight cups of little pumpkin cubes are playing the main role in a second big batch of Pumpkin Veggie Bake – with no meat this time.

Cutting the pumpkin into chunks this time, cut the cooking time to about one hour – half the time it took to cook the bigger half of the bigger pumpkin previously.

The remaining pumpkin chunks (now baked) will probably be made into puree and/or integrated into An Adaptation of Uruguayan Puchero. (Yes, that recipe is still pending.)

Classic Pumpkin Bread will also be in the works. My Dearest's co-workers enjoyed it, and I promised some to my co-workers, too. Fresh pumpkin puree tends to be quite a bit milder than its canned counterpart, so that even those who claim not to like pumpkin enjoyed this version of the popular sweet bread.

Carving pumpkins are very good-for-you, economical food. It's a real shame that so much gets wasted in our country every autumn...

Yes, we are thoroughly enjoying our pumpkin recipes. And we're very thankful for God's provision!

Recipe for Tomato Bread

Another last-minute experiment right before Christmas, this is on its way to becoming a favorite at our house!

¾ cup + 1 Tbsp (warm) water
4 cups bread flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp tomato paste
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp pumpkin puree
¼ to ¾ tsp rosemary leaves, crumbled
6 to 8 fresh oregano leaves, minced
1½ tsp (active dry) yeast

Place ingredients in the bread case and insert the bread case into the bread machine. Select the Basic Bread Mode and press Start.


Recipe for Pumpkin Veggie Bake

The result of a last-minute experiment right before Christmas, this dish will probably become a family favorite!

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dried onion
8 cups baked pumpkin or (winter) squash, cubed
2 cans (15 oz) diced (fire-roasted!) tomatoes, with garlic
1 cup pasta sauce
½ tsp “Mrs. Dash” seasoning
½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
Dash of fresh ground black pepper
6 or 8 fresh oregano leaves, minced

In a large Dutch Oven (or saucepan), heat oil over medium heat and sauté onions until lightly fragrant. Stir in pumpkin and tomatoes and then pasta sauce. Add remaining spices and mix well. Transfer to a slow cooker and let simmer for three or four hours – the longer, the better!

Make a hearty main dish by adding a pound of ground meat (cooked) and two or three cups of whole grain rotini pasta (cooked).


Recipe for Pumpkin Curry Soup

Another wonderful recipe – especially for cold fall and winter evenings!

4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dried onion
2 cups grated carrots
1½ cups water
2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
Dash of fresh ground black pepper
4 cups fresh pumpkin or (winter) squash puree
½ cup whole milk
1½ cups (12 oz can) evaporated milk

In a large saucepan melt butter over medium low heat. Add olive oil, onion, and carrots; sauté until tender. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Add curry powder and salt, and then add pepper and pumpkin. Working with approximately 2-cup batches, blend until smooth and then pour all back into saucepan. Stir in whole milk and evaporated milk until well mixed. Heat through.

Serve garnished with sour cream, parsley, chives, or toasted pumpkin seeds, as desired.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Walgreens Deal: Buy Milk, Get Cereal FREE!

There's a great deal at Walgreens this week!

Buy one gallon of milk – $2.59 (locally)
Buy two Honey Nut Cheerios – two for $4.00
Get $2.00 Register Rewards
Use two $1.00/1 printable coupons*
Pay $2.59 for everything!

*Click on "Get your $2.00 in Coupons" and two coupons will print ($1.00/1 and $1.00/2); you should be able to print twice per computer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

CVS-ing with my Sister!

For the most part, I took a (much-needed) break from couponing over the Christmas Holidays...

Two main exceptions were using up Register Rewards at Walgreens on staples (including milk and eggs) and taking my sister to "show her the ropes" at CVS.

We were both shocked when the cashier told her there was now a $7.00 charge to apply for an Extra Care Card... Thankfully, he was joking!

We each used a $5.00 off $20 Purchase Coupon (from The Sacramento Bee online) to get some great deals. I went for the following:

Revlon Lip Stick – B1G1 for $7.99
Get $5.00 ECBs (Limit 3)
Used $2.00/1 coupon (SmartSource 12/13)
FREE plus $4.01 overage after coupon and ECBs

Oral-B Dental Floss (55 yards) – $2.88
Get $2.00 ECBs (Limit 1)
Used $1.00/1 coupon (P&G 11/29)
FREE plus $0.12 overage after coupons and ECBs

Neosporin Lip Health – $5.39
Used $2.50/1 CVS Clip-Free Coupon (automatically applied)
Used $3.00/1 printable coupon
FREE after coupons

Buy $12 of Glade Products, Get $4.00 ECBs (Limit 1)
Bought two Scented Oil Candle Holders – $3.00 each
Bought two Scented Oil Candle Refills – $3.00 each
Used coupon for Free Refill wyb any Holder (SmartSource 12/06)
Stacked with two $1.50/1 Candle Holder coupons (from previous holder boxes)
$2.00 for everything after coupons and ECBs

Sambucol – $12.99
Used $7.00/1 CVS Clip-Free Coupon (automatically applied)
$5.99 after coupons

I paid $2.27 out of pocket after coupons and $13.96 ECBs – and earned $16 ECBs for next time!

We both got a raincheck for the following deal:

Nivea Body Wash – $5.99
Get $5.00 ECBs (Limit 1)
Use $2.00/1 printable coupon
FREE plus $1.01 overage after coupons and ECBs

My sister was especially interested in the Sambucol deal. When it was all said and done, she left CVS with three Sambucol, an Oral-B Dental Floss and Neosporin Lip Care for slightly more than the regular price of one Sambucol – plus $2.00 ECBs for next time. She was happy!

And I had fun with my best childhood friend!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Inspiration & Encouragement: Sing Joy to the World – The LORD Is Come!

Behold, I bring you good news of great JOY which will be for all the people!
(Luke 2)

JOY to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

JOY the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding JOY,
Repeat the sounding JOY,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding JOY.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Words: Isaac Watts, The Psalms of Da­vid, 1719.
Music: An­ti­och (believed to have originated with Handel) arranged by Low­ell Ma­son, 1836

Did you know that Watts based the words of "Joy to the World" on Psalm 98 and wrote it as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than as a Christmas song celebrating his first coming as a babe born in a stable?

The LORD has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
(Psalm 98)

Meditate on those truths. Make them personal. Rejoice in your Savior!

Once again, I'm joining "Just for the JOY of It" – and sharing the Savior, the Best Reason to REJOICE on Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Publix Highlights – 12/16 thru 12/24

Merry Christmas!

These are the highlights for our family – along with the $5 off $50 Purchase Coupon (from Sunday’s paper).

Betty Crocker Potatoes – B1G1 for $1.75
Use $0.40/1 printable coupon*
$0.08 each after doubled coupon

Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese (8 oz) – $1.25 each
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon*
OR use $1.00/1 coupon (Winter Family Savings Booklet)
$0.25 each

Barber Foods Stuffed Chicken Breasts (8 oz or 10 oz) – B1G1 for $4.99
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon*
Stack with $1.00/1 Publix coupon (Winter Family Savings Booklet) (limit one per purchase)
$0.49 or $1.49 each

Betty Crocker Supreme Brownie Mix – B1G1 for $2.59
Use $0.75/2 printable coupon*
$0.92 each

Pure Wesson Oil (48 oz) – B1G1 for $3.69
Use $0.25 coupon (Smartsource 11/15)
$1.35 each after doubled coupon

Pompeian Olive Oil – B1G1 for $6.99
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon*
$2.49 each

Sweet potatoes – $0.29 per pound

Publix Egg Nog – $1.99 per quart

Leg of Lamb – $3.99 per pound

In Uruguay, it’s a tradition to eat roast lamb on Christmas Eve. I’m so thankful Publix has it on sale this week – so we can celebrate in true Uruguayan style with the rest of our Uruguayan family in town!

* For links to the printable coupons (in the comments section, too) and to see more deals with coupon match-ups, check out the weekly post by

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Inspiration & Encouragement: The JOY of Giving!

In the fall of 2008, I became an avid couponing fan – and joined the bargaining blogosphere. Previously, I didn't see why anyone would try to save $0.35 on a brand name item when store brands were almost always cheaper and equally good in taste and/or quality. But that was before I understood B1G1 deals combined with double coupons, or coupon stacking, or rebates.

While concentrating anew on frugality, I've often been reminded that we frugalistas must not forget to focus on generosity and biblical good works as well. My favorite bargain bloggers often emphasize the expanded opportunity to give to others – because a frugality focused on God enables us to do so!

This week I was again made aware of an opportunity to give. A dear family friend, recently laid off because her customer service job was sent overseas, shared with me how God has been meeting her needs. It was a real JOY to hear the details! Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she has been focusing on others less fortunate. In the middle of her need, she found a single mom with three very young children in need of all the basics – including toiletries.

I'm so excited! Thanks to bargain shopping, there are four big boxes of basic toiletries stored under a bed in our house. (Printing coupons sometimes feels like printing money!) So, today I'll be putting together three packages of basic toiletries: one for my friend, one for her mom in a nursing home, and one for the family she's adopted.

Although it's only a small gift for each of these in need, it's an opportunity to help, saving significantly on otherwise paying full price for (or trying to go without) the basics. And it's a blessed reminder that bargain shopping isn't only about me and what I can get. Rather, it's about wise stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to me as I simultaneously look for opportunities to serve God, my family, and others.

There is JOY in showing Christ's love to others – especially at this time of year when they may be more inclined to listen because carols played publicly are telling of the Savior!

I'm once again joining "Just for the Joy of It" and sharing another reason to rejoice – finding JOY in giving!

All because God first gave us the Savior!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's Cookin'?

Pumpkin, pumpkin, and more pumpkin!

One of the two huge pumpkins we were given right before Thanksgiving is being put to good use!

I must not forget to mention the roasted "pepitas" or pumpkin seeds – especially after doing a quick internet search and finding out how healthful they are! I roasted these only lightly, putting them in the oven (which I'd turned off) after our Pumpkin Bread was done. I stirred them once after the first ten minutes and then a couple more times at random before going to bed. They stayed in the cooling oven overnight and are just the right consistency to eat even without peeling.

We also made a huge batch (at least 35 cups) of pumpkin puree, some of which has been incorporated into two other recipes, with the third in the works.

We really enjoyed our Creamy & Spicy Pumpkin Soup, although the blend of spices is probably meant for adult tastebuds. We did have great success in getting our toddler to eat a bowl full by adding in an extra half cup of pumpkin puree to her soup (to mellow the spiciness) and by bribing her with pieces of cheddar cheese – which she loves!

I used Beef Base (1 tsp per cup of water, instead of broth or bouillon) for the first time ever and was very pleased. (The first ingredient in Beef Base is beef, not salt.) The only negative is that the soup tends toward a brown instead of orange hue.

We also made a triple batch of Classic Pumpkin Bread. Very yummy! I'll probably experiment with adding in chocolate chips next time. (Everything's better with chocolate, right?!)

Next up is a stew, based on the "Puchero" that is a classic in the Rio de la Plata region of South America. It's probably their version of "comfort food" – but so much more wholesome than so many! Stay tuned for that recipe...

Recipe for Classic Pumpkin (Sweet Potato) Bread

(Initially adapted from a Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, I now updated this recipe with a mashed sweet potato substitution, the result of a late-night, last-minute scramble. We now actually prefer this version!)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger or cloves (or both!)

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, and then add:
¾ cup pumpkin puree + ¼ cup mashed sweet potato (OR 1 cup pumpkin puree)
½ Tbsp molasses
½ cup milk
2 eggs
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp butter

Mix all ingredients together with electric beaters on low speed until well blended, then beat on high speed for two minutes.

1 cup bread flour

Beat well and then stir in:
½ cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
½ cup raisins

Pour batter into a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes on a wire rack before removing from pans. Then cool thoroughly. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.


Recipe for Creamy & Spicy Pumpkin Soup

To economize on time and resources, I doubled this recipe so it would make ten one-cup servings. The original recipe is posted at

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, sliced OR 2 Tbsp dried onion
2 tsp “Mrs. Dash” seasoning
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
8 cups fresh pumpkin or (winter) squash puree
1½ cups (12 oz can) evaporated milk
½ cup whole milk
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or bouillon)
1 to 2 tsp sugar

In a large pot, heat oil and sauté onions until lightly fragrant (or until soft if using fresh onion). Add remaining spices, cooking for 30 seconds or so. (Be careful not to burn the spices!) Stir for another minute and then remove from heat.

Add 3 cups of liquid, one at a time, and then add pumpkin puree. Stir (or blend) until smooth. Add the remaining liquid and heat all until simmering. Add sugar to taste. Add salt, if needed.

Garnish with pumpkin seeds, bacon bits, sour cream, or grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese.

making pumpkin puree

On the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, we were given two HUGE pumpkins. They had served their purpose as part of the decor for a Thanksgiving Banquet:

They're not "pie pumpkins" – but some quick research yielded the verdict that carving pumpkins belong to the "winter squash" family and are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. So, I was excited about the opportunity for a frugal challenge. (Having grown up in South America, I'm constantly shocked at how much we can "afford" to throw away here in the USA!)

The first step involved recruiting my Dearest to help cut the biggest pumpkin into three large chunks. This is the largest chunk – representing almost half of the pumpkin:

After scraping out the seeds with an ice-cream scoop, I covered the first chunk of pumpkin with aluminum foil and placed in on a pizza stone in the oven at 350 degrees, checking on it every half hour or so until it was fork-tender.

The largest chunk took about two hours to bake.

After cooling slightly, I scooped the baked pumpkin from the rind with the ice-cream scoop.

The first pumpkin – the largest – yielded this much:

After storing the chunks in the refrigerator overnight, I began making pumpkin puree the next day. Since I don't have a high-quality blender, I found that the pureeing worked best if I added about one cup of water per batch being blenderized.

The result was pumpkin puree with an applesauce-like consistency – which we actually prefer.

Not counting the pan (front center in the picture above) full  of chunks (reserved for stew), the largest pumpkin yielded over 35 cups of puree! There's been lots of pumpkin cooking and baking going on around here, and I'll probably freeze the 20 or so remaining cups for later use.

And there's still the second pumpkin to attend to...

Walgreens Deals – 12/16 thru 12/19 (Diaper Deal Included!)

There’s another 4-Day Sale at Walgreens – starting today, December 16 through Saturday, December 19. AND there’s another Spend $25, Get $5.00 Holiday Dollars (aka Register Rewards) Deal! Reportedly, the Holiday Dollars are valid only on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Here’s a deal idea (thanks to NWA Deals) that involves a good diaper deal! (It seems like diaper deals have been few and far between lately.)

Huggies Diapers or Pull-Ups – $8.99
Use $2.00/1 printable coupon (link here)
OR use $1.50/1 printable coupon (link here)
Get $2.00 RRs
Submit for Caregivers Marketplace Rebate (Get $0.75)
$4.24 or $4.74 each after coupon, rebate, and RRs

Gillette Fusion Razor – $8.99
Use $4.00/1 coupon (P&G 11/29)
Get $4.00 RRs
$0.99 after coupon and RRs

Complete Multipurpose Solution – $7.99
Use $1.00/1 coupon (Redplum 10/25)
Get $7.99 RRs
FREE plus $1.00 overage after coupon and RRs

Get $19 RRs back!

Check out more deals with coupon match-ups at NWA Deals.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CVS Deals – 12/13 thru 12/19

The first three items are part of the 3-Day Sale – ending today!

Merry Brite Holidays Bows (12 count) – $2.99
Get $2.99 ECBs (Limit 2)
FREE after ECBs

Merry Brite Red & Green Holiday Gift Tissue (20 count) – $1.99
Get $1.99 ECBs (Limit 2)
FREE after ECBs

Merry Brite Peel ‘N Stick Gift Tags (50 count) – $1.99
Get $1.99 ECBs (Limit 2)
FREE after ECBs

And I had another rain check for Glade items:

Buy $12 of Glade Products, Get $4.00 ECBs (Limit 1)

My Deal:
Two Scented Oil Candle Holders – on sale $3.00 each
Two Scented Oil Candle Refills – $4.69 each
Use two coupons for Free Refills (up to $3.99 value) wyb any Holder
Stack with two $1.50/1 Candle Holder
$0.40 total for everything after coupons and ECBs!

Furthermore, I paid with $17.88 in ECBs and $2.22 out of pocket (mostly tax), and left with $17.94 ECBs more! Gotta love CVS!

You can see more deals with coupon match-ups at MoneySavingMom.

Publix Highlights – 12/15/09

These are the highlights at Publix this week. With the exception of the Penny Item, all are good through Tuesday – that's today!

Celestial Seasonings (20 count) – B1G1 for $3.59
Use $1.00/2 coupon (SmartSource 12/06)
$1.29 each

Fresh Express Salad Blends (4.5 oz to 12 oz) – B1G1 for $3.99
Use $0.55/1 printable coupon
$1.45 each

Polaner 100% Fruit Spread (15.25 oz) – $2.95 each
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon
$1.95 each

I also used the rain check I got for eggs two weeks ago:

Eggland's Best Eggs (18 count) – $2.50 each
Use $0.35/1 coupon (SmartSource 09/13 or 11/01)
$1.80 each after doubled coupon

And the Penny Item this week was Publix Hot Chocolate!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Frugal Christmas Fun: The Holiday Village at Piazza Bergamo

Attention, local readers:
The St. Francis Foundation Holiday Festival is underway downtown!

FREE events include:
  • Festival of Stars:
Stroll Main Street and Augusta Street to see how downtown retailers have decorated to support the Holiday Festival. Enjoy beautiful window and door dressings.
  • Festival of Trees:
Enjoy the beauty of the season! View the beautifully decorated, locally sponsored trees at the Hyatt Regency and Hampton Inn & Suites at Riverplace.
  • Holiday Village at Piazza Bergamo:
Experience a European-style holiday marketplace and a treat for the whole family with artificial snow, complimentary carousel rides for the kids, and complimentary entertainment. Operating on weekends during the holiday season at Piazza Bergamo downtown.
Check out all the details on the schedule of events.

We visited the Holiday Village at Piazza Bergamo with PaPa and Grandma two years ago and had a lot of fun making some special family memories!

Parents and grandparents get to ride, too
to help the little ones, of course!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Inspiration & Encouragement: Messiah!

I absolutely love Christmas music! I could listen to it all year – and sometimes try to do so!

We've had a ("kind of") family tradition of adding to our collection of Christmas CDs every year. Several years ago at a Christmas sale, we picked up a 2-CD copy of George Frideric Handel's Messiah. To my joy (I like history!), the CD jacket states that this recording was done in 1996 by the Trinity Church Choir and Orchestra at Trinity Church, the church where the oratorio was premiered in the New World in 1770, twenty-eight years after it was written. (What a great tid-bit of history!)

Messiah has been a long-time favorite because it is based on exact words of Scripture. Listening to the oratorio helps me memorize (or review) specific Bible passages that tell about the Savior – prophecies in the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the New Testament. It's a great educational tool and memory aid!

And here's another history tid-bit: Messiah was not originally a Christmas piece; it was performed at Easter. Therefore, this is one "Christmas" CD that can be (and probably should be) listened to all year!

My extended family is right now feeling very keenly our need to renew our minds with God's truth as our dear fifteen-year-old nephew fights a rare bone cancer. We are also experiencing God's abundant grace. We have so much to be thankful for and rejoice in!

So, I'm joining "Just for the JOY of It" and sharing reasons to rejoice – and focus on Christ, the real reason for celebrating Christmas (and Easter)!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's Cookin'?

We're blessed to be living from the stockpile in the pantry. (I'm so very thankful for coupons – and stores that match their sales to current coupons!) But there's still nothing like the aroma of fresh-baked bread, filling the house and greeting my Dearest as he walks in after a long day at work – especially on a gray and rainy winter day!

And I tried out a new recipe yesterday: Banana Split Bread! I was so excited to be using ingredients that were mostly the result of recent couponing and bargain-hunting:

Frugalista Ideas:
  • If you bake Christmas goodies as gifts for family and friends, this new twist on an old favorite could be a more economical variation on the traditional fruitcakes.
  • Add some water to the "juice" drained from the pineapple bits and maraschino cherries, and enjoy a very refreshing bargain beverage!
Stay tuned for pumpkin recipes! We were recently given two huge pumpkins, so I'll also be making pumpkin puree – and then making and baking a bunch of pumpkin recipes, as well as freezing some puree for later use.

Walgreens Deals – 12/09 thru 12/12

Walgreens is running a 4-Day Sale – starting today, December 9 through Saturday, December 12.

At the top of the list is the Spend $25, Get $5.00 Register Rewards Deal! There is reportedly a precedent of the $5.00 Register Reward printing for an order over $25 before coupons (and before tax). If so, it can be a really good deal.

Here’s my plan:

Renu Multi-Purpose Plus Solution Twin Pack – $9.99
Get $9.99 Register Rewards
Use $2.00/1 printable coupon
FREE plus $2.00 overage after coupon and RRs

Just For Men Touch of Gray Hair Color – $6.99
Get $6.99 Register Rewards
Use $2.00/1 printable coupon
FREE plus $2.00 overage after coupon and RRs

Neutrogena Men’s Skin Care – $4.99
Get $4.99 Register Rewards
Use $2.00/1 coupon (December All You Magazine)
FREE plus $2.00 overage after coupon and RRs

Stayfree Feminine Care – $1.99
Get $1.99 Register Rewards
Use $1.00/1 coupon (from recent sample)
FREE plus $1.00 overage after coupon and RRs

Select Conair Brushes or Scunci Hair Accessories – $2.00
Get $2.00 Register Rewards
FREE after RRs

And I must not forget some of the “regular” deals for the week:

Chinet Plates – on sale B1G1 (2 for $2.99)
Buy two and use two $1.00/1 printable coupon (link here)
$0.49 each

Carnation Evaporated milk – $0.99 each after in-ad coupon
Buy two and use $0.50/2 coupon (SmartSource 09/27)
$0.75 each after coupon

For more deals with coupon match-ups, visit MoneySavingMom.

December 10 Update:

Before coupons, this represents a $51.55 value. However, thanks to coupons and a friendly Walgreens that allowed those coupons (including $15 Register Rewards, which would have expired tomorrow) to exceed the number of items in the transaction, I paid only $15.35 out of pocket – and I walked out with all this plus $31 Register Rewards more! (It almost reminds me of the excitement of the EasySaver Catalog Days!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recipe for Banana Split Bread

According to my friend who shared the recipe, this bread will make you want to jump up and down!

½ cup + 2 Tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
3½ cups flour
2½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1½ cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 medium)
1 can (20 oz) pineapple bits, drained
1 jar (10 oz) red maraschino cherries, well drained and chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar with the vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with bananas. Fold in the pineapple, cherries, chocolate chips, and nuts.

Pour into two greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch (or 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 inch) loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. (For four 5.75 x 3 x 2 inch pans, bake for 50 to 55 minutes.) Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before slicing.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Review: Christmas Cheer

My almost four-year-old and I have had opportunity to review Christmas Cheer, a Custom Designed Project Pack from Hands of a Child, a premiere lapbook provider since 2002. This was our first experience with the idea of lapbooks, and I enjoyed exploring the concept. I have a vested interest since we’re planning a four-month trip for next summer – and I’m intensely interested in projects that can be done in a car seat!

The philosophy behind the idea of Project Packs (and lapbooks) is that student learning improves when lessons incorporate hands-on projects or crafts. Children learn by doing, and Project Packs put learning into their hands!

The possibilities are endless when a student begins a lapbook with a Project Pack from Hands of a Child. There are no age or skill limits, and any topic or subject can be worked into a Project Pack. All the work is done for the parent/teacher, but not for the student. In addition, Project Packs are easy to store and are an instant review tool, scrapbook, and ready-made portfolio of all the student’s studies.

The Christmas Cheer Project Pack includes instructions and reproducibles for 15 hands-on activities for a Pre-K through 1st grader to work on over a 5-day period. Each day has a different theme including snow, Santa Claus, reindeer, and various decorations. My one complaint is that a book about “Christmas Cheer” does not include the main Reason for the Season – the birth of Jesus, the Savior. (In the publisher’s defense, I must add that other Christmas Project Packs do include HIM.)

The 51-page Christmas Cheer e-book contains:

  • Poem: “Christmas Cheer”
  • Supply List (comprehensive, for all 15 activities)
  • Day 1 Activities
  • Day 2 Activities
  • Day 3 Activities
  • Day 4 Activities
  • Day 5 Activities
  • Recommended Reading (to supplement hands-on activities)
  • Folder Instructions (to make a lapbook from a file folder)
I like the e-book format because pages can be easily printed instead of photocopied.

Although we did not complete all the activities, our favorites so far are:

  • Mini Book: Decorating the Tree
  • Puppets: Snow People
  • Shapes: Santa Claus
My little one and I enjoyed some real quality time, working on the projects together, looking forward more than ever to the joy of the Christmas Season.

The price depends on whether an e-book, printed book, CD, or combo, is purchased. The cost for Christmas Cheer (Pre-K through 1st grade) is $12.00 for the e-book. In my opinion, the price seems a bit steep for a pre-school packet that has no research included. Having taught in various settings for over fifteen years, I’m accustomed to making my own worksheets. However, because doing so can be time-consuming (and time is a most precious commodity to a teacher-parent), I can also appreciate the value of having reinforcement activities pre-made and ready to go!

Because of the hands-on educational value it represents, I think the Christmas Cheer Project Pack would be a great addition to a young family’s Christmas library. It can also be a tool for teaching little ones the much-needed lesson of giving at Christmas (instead of just getting) by having them make the projects for others – grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, neighbors, etc.

A complimentary e-book was provided to me, as a reviewer for Mama Bzz, by Hands of a Child in exchange for today’s blog tour.

A big “Thank-you!” to the folks at Hands of a Child for the opportunity to enjoy and review this fun Project Pack!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Inspiration & Encouragement: Yes, it's still Thanksgiving Season!

Thanksgiving Day was one week ago today. Last week was a blur for my extended family – with days (and, for some, nights) spent at the hospital...

But we have so much to be thankful for.

On a lighter note, our almost four-year-old came up with her own list of blessings.

Whether we're old enough to recognize the burdens of life or too young to see much farther than the end of our noses, we have been blessed!

Because of God's grace, giving salvation, we are bountifully blessed indeed!

It's still Thanksgiving Season!

Nearly New Shop – Sale

Attention, local readers!

My favorite second-hand store, The Nearly New Shop, has a sale this week:

"All Books & Christmas Items – 50% off"

At a recent book sale, I was able to get seven books for $3.25 total!

For more information and directions to the store, you can read an earlier post.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our (homemade) Advent Calendar

I have fond memories of taking turns with my siblings, opening little windows on a paper and cardboard Advent Calendar when I was a child… How we looked forward to it every year!

We’re now compiling ingredients for our first Advent Calendar – a prize “after Christmas clearance” find from last year! Our main idea is to emphasize the Savior – the true meaning of Christmas. Therefore, in the little compartments on our Advent Calendar, I’m placing little objects that emphasize specific truths followed by the Bible verses that state those truths.

The plan is to start simply, using objects already on hand and making the rest out of clip-art on paper and cardboard (with the Bible verses, copied and pasted from BibleGateway [links included below], rolled up as little scrolls and tied with ribbons) – and then improve year by year…

Here’s the plan:
  1. a heart
  2. John 3:16
  3. a little candle
  4. John 8:12
  5. a Christmas Star
  6. Revelation 22:16
  7. Mother and Child
  8. Isaiah 7:14
  9. a crown
  10. Isaiah 9:6-7
  11. Bethlehem skyline
  12. Micah 5:2
  13. the letters J-E-S-U-S
  14. Matthew 1:21
  15. a snowflake
  16. Isaiah 1:18
  17. a cross
  18. Romans 5:8
  19. a sheep
  20. John 1:29
  21. a shepherd
  22. John 10:11
  23. a small candy cane
    (reminiscent of “J” for Jesus and of a shepherd’s crook)
  24. John 10:14
  25. the nativity scene
Our almost four-year-old’s excitement is contagious! We opened Window #1 last night…

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Black Friday" Blessings

I'm no fan of all the pushing, shoving, grabbing, and (even at best) mad rushing that "Black Friday" can all-too-easily represent. We tried the 5:00 a.m. thing once at one store (something like eight years ago) and decided to add it to the "cultural experience" category...

I'm truly thankful for the grace of God, teaching me contentment. (I'm still learning!) I'm also thankful that just over a year ago, my dear friend Andrea helped me discover bargain shopping aided by coupons – and the fun of blogging about the deals, too. (I miss you, friend!)

That said, I did run a couple errands on Thursday and Friday to CVS and Walgreens and, at the very last moment, Home Depot.

I made two trips to CVS, hoping that the $5 off $25 Coupons would start printing for me again (but maybe there's a limit, and I reached mine?!) At any rate, I'm thankful for the following deals:

And I made one trip to Walgreens:

Two packs of Holiday Peanut M&Ms will soon be traveling to South America with "los Abu" who left town yesterday morning.

The Home Depot deals were mostly for the purpose of (much needed!) organization. I was delighted to find that the shelves were reduced, and the storage containers are still on sale until tomorrow, December 2. The poinsettias were just too good a deal to pass up at $0.99 each – there were only five of 1800 left by late Friday!

I'm thankful for these bargains and blessings!

Publix Super Savers – 11/30/09

The BP Gas Card offer is back: Get $10 off a $50 BP Gas Card when you buy $25 or more in groceries! (That’s $0.20 off per $1.00 on gas!) So, I planned accordingly.

The first trip included these goodies – plus the $0.01 cheese, which I forgot to include in the picture. And I had a rain check for the sugar ($1.49 for 5 lbs, after sale and coupons) from last week.

Total out of pocket: $53.37
Store coupons: $18.18
Manufacturer coupons: $5.80
Advertised special savings: $10.14
Total savings: $34.12

General Mills Fiber One Cereal (14.25 to 17.25 oz) – $2.50 each
Use $1.00/2 coupon (SmartSource 10/25 or General Mills 11/15)
Stack with $4.00/4 in-ad coupon
$1.00 each

V-8 V-Fusion 100% Juice (46 oz) – $2.50 each
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon
$1.50 each

And the second trip included these goodies – and the Penny Item was the frozen pizza!

Total out of pocket: $61.63
Store coupons: $18.68
Manufacturer coupons: $5.50
Advertised special savings: $19.78
Advantage Buy savings: $0.60
Total savings: $44.56

As an added bonus, the Fiber One Cereal boxes came with B1G1 coupons for Progresso Soup; Publix often has a B1G1 sale on that soup!

Chiquita Bananas – $0.39 per lb

Red Grapefruit (5 lbs) – $2.50 each

Publix Milk (1 gal) – $3.19

Kotex Lightdays Liners (40 to 64 count) – B1G1 for $2.93
Use $1.00/1 printable coupon
OR use $2.00/2 coupon (Smartsource 10/04 or 11/08)
$0.47 each

Crisco Extra Virgin Olive Oil (16.9 oz) – B1G1 for $6.49
Use $0.75/1 coupon (Redplum 09/13 or 11/08)
$2.49 each

I opted to use my coupon for the whole grain rice since it’s an Advantage Buy Item this week:

Mahatma Whole Grain Rice (1.75 lbs) – $1.79
Use $1.00/2 coupon (Redplum 08/30)
$1.29 each

And I got a rain check for the eggs:

Eggland's Best Eggs (18 count) – $2.50 each
Use $0.35/1 coupon (SmartSource 09/13 or 11/01)
$1.80 each after doubled coupon

As I count my blessings, I’m thankful for coupons and B1G1 sales at my favorite grocery store!