I'm a full-time wife and mom of two adorable boys. When I'm not busy trying to keep up with them I enjoy photography, traveling, planning parties and a little bit of reading.

In February of 2008 I was diagnosed with an incurable terminal lung illness, though God promised me a full and complete healing. While we wait for His timing, we're taking it one day at a time, and standing in awe of how God's using all of this for His glory. The tough road we've traveled has given us a new perspective on the fragility of life. Memories are more important to us than ever before. The goal of this blog is to share some of our family life - the ups and downs, the joys and probably some of the pains as well. It's mostly meant as a personal journal of sorts, but you're welcome to share in it. We'd like to take this opportunity to say ...


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Valentine Mantle

My whole life I've wanted a mantle ... 
I've longed for a mantle ... 
I've been on the verge of coveting a mantle. 
But now that I finally have one - 
I struggle figuring out how to decorate it.
Go figure.

I don't own Valentine's Day decorations.  
Probably because I hate pink and I usually find hearts tacky.  
That made doing a V Day themed mantle quite challenging.

I bought the star at Kohls - after Christmas for $3.50.  
Actually, I bought three of them. 
Plan to paint them to incorporate into H's bedroom.

The roses were from my mother.
The lanterns were birthday gifts to me from my MIL.
The glass vase was from a good friend's wedding.
The ribbon-covered vases were from a wedding shower I hosted.
I love weddings - I loved MY wedding! (huge grin!)

The cake stands were from Hallmark - after Christmas - years ago.
"Love" was from Michael's - after Christmas this year.

Everything represents either someone I love,
or something I love (weddings and Christmas).
And that's what Valentine's Day is all about.

- - LOVE - -

I'm linking up with 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Okay - I've been asked by several people to do a post on how I coupon / shop / SAVE.  I'm gonna end up splitting this up into several posts over the next week or two.  This first one will be about COUPONS.  Ever since I was a little girl, one of my "chores" (because I actually found it fun - I'm weird, I know) each week was to cut the coupons from the Sunday paper.

When I was growing up I learned math (in part) by grocery shopping with my mother.  That was before the days of the unit price being listed on the shelf.  My mother taught me how to compare prices with quantity in the package to find out which really was the better deal - and then figuring in a coupon and how much money we had to spend that day and what else was on the list that we still had to budget for.  That was before the debit card - so if she had a twenty in her wallet feed the whole family for the whole week - that was it. (And, no, that's NOT an exaggeration - my mother taught me FRUGALITY!)  Now days it's SO much easier since the store tells you which product costs less proportionately.

But - back to coupons.  It's important to decide what method works best for YOU - for your shopping style - for your budget - and for how your brain is programmed.  Here's what I've found works best for me.  (I forgot to include in the photo my actual "grocery list" and store flyer - I'm planning to go for groceries this evening.)  I'll break down each pile for you to explain.

The Coupon Book

Each Sunday (and around here Tuesday as well) when I get a paper, I go through the coupons, and cut out the ones for items I regularly buy.  I take this book to the grocery store with me.  But before I go (when I'm looking through the flyer, I pull out coupons for the items I'm planning to buy - along with items for competing brands.  [Perhaps Charmin is listed on sale (and I have a coupon for it) - but when I do a price comparison, it might be a better deal for me to buy Cottonelle.  If my coupon for Cottonelle isn't handy I might spend more than I needed to.  Remember - sale flyers are also a form of marketing - make them work for YOU, not for Mr. Manufacturer.]

I also put coupons in here that I receive in the mail (like the Huggies flyer you see on the bottom).  It's a good practice to sign up online for "info" from all the major brands you use.  They frequently mail you coupons to try to keep you loyal.  [Note - I NEVER use my personal email address for this sort of thing!  I have a second email account (the same as my personal one - with my maiden name included) that I use for all "junk mail" type of things I sign up for.]

Personally, I find it a waste of my time to put all the coupons into the individual sections - but I still use the book (bought at Michaels a couple months ago for $1) because it's a convenient size to fit in my purse, holds all the coupons together, and is bright enough that it generally doesn't get misplaced.  And I always put on top of the pile of coupons the ones for money off my whole order - so I don't forget about them.

More Sunday Coupons

I buy more than one Sunday newspaper.  One is delivered to us (for convenience - or in case the kids are sick and we don't get to the store to pick up another one).  And the Sunday before a holiday there aren't coupons.  But other than that, I buy two papers - in another month or so, after I get more used to the local grocery sales I'll probably increase it to at least 3 papers.  All I have to do is use two coupons (for $1 each) to brake even, and I do MUCH better than that!

Saving my unclipped coupons, and labeling them is a recent addition to my couponing.  I've mentioned before that I've been following Kristen at Couponing to Disney.  Well, when she lists all the deals at Target / CVS / Walmart / etc., she also includes where you can find the coupon for each particular item.  So, on the front cover of each section, I write which paper it came from.  This way I don't need to go through the entire stack to find the one listed. These get bundled together with a huge clip (mine just broke and I need to get another one from Staples).  Obviously once all the coupons are expired that section will be recycled.

Entertainment Book

I first bought an Entertainment Book just before we bought our house on Melbourne.  The two smaller bedrooms didn't have light fixtures (just capped wires).  The builder bought the rest of the lights from Yale Electric, and we wanted them to match.  There was a coupon in the Ent. Book that saved us more than the book itself cost.

Recently I bought the 2010 one at Bed, Bath and Beyond - used a 20% off coupon, and there was a $10 mail in rebate.  I've already saved more from the coupons I've used from it than I spent on the book - and it's still January.

Restaurant Coupons

We eat out more than we should.  Aaron, are you proud of me for admitting it?  (smile)  Aaron hates cooking, and when I'm having a "bad" day and refuse to cook, we go out to eat (or order in).  So, restaurant coupons are very important to us!  But once again - you can't use them if you can't find them!  So, I keep them all together.  These coupons come from the newspaper coupon section (like the Red Lobster and Olive Garden), from ValuPac (like the Buca di Deppo), from the newspaper inserts (like the McStroke ones), from signing up to get "info" on the restaurant website (like the Panara), and from reward programs (like the Starbucks).  There's actually probably coupons in that stack for 50 restaurants (double that if you include the ones in the Entertainment Book).  These are also clipped together.

Another great place to find restaurant coupons (besides Restaurant.com) is on their website. For example - Wednesdays have become hectic for our family because Alex's swim lesson ends at the same time Aaron gets done work, and I try to already have dinner on the table.  So, dominos.com has online coupons - I order ahead of time, swing by on the way home (pick up is ALWAYS cheaper than delivery for pizza - pizzas generally cost less and there's no tip!), and we generally get two mediums for $5.55 each.  Same price as Digornio on sale (or with a coupon) - and we can sit down to eat 5 minutes after walking in the door.

Store Coupons

This category is also kept clipped together.  Since we just moved, some companies sent us "welcome to the neighborhood" coupons (like Pottery barn and Benjamin Moore).  The Sunglass Hut coupon came from ValPac, Toys R Us came because I signed up for the Birthday Club for both my boys (they periodically send me $5 off $25 coupons, and the month of the birthdays a $3 off $3 or more).  Other coupons in this category are because I signed up for "more info" or "sale info" at various stores.  The Tanger Outlets booklet was from a friend, who found a good deal there, and thought I'd be interested too.  Most Outlets offer coupon bookets - just go to guest services and show them your AAA card.

Ooh - that reminds me - you can save SO MANY places just by showing them your AAA card!  I haven't needed to call a tow truck in 5 years (praise God), but my membership IS still worth something!!!  Check out the list of discounts HERE.

It Pays to Go Green

Did you know that more and more stores are giving you cash off for using a reusable bag?  My grandmother ALWAYS had me take bags to Giant when I went grocery shopping for her - and now it's actually "cool" to do just that!  For example, Target gives 5 cents for each one used!

At CVS, if you buy a GreenBagTag (they're usually $1 each, but occasionally go on sale for 50 cents), and attach it to any reusable bag, they'll keep track of how many times you've used it.  Every 4th time (limit one per day), a coupon will print out for $1 off your next purchase.  So, if you shop there 1 time each week, at the end of the year, you'll have earned $13 dollars.  Or, if you stop in every day and buy something, you'll have earned $91.  I guess now's a good time to continue with CVS. (By the way - my girlfriend Jess is the one who taught me how to shop smart at CVS - and for that, my bank account will be FOREVER indebted!)

Here's how I've chosen to get the most from CVS.  I mentioned in a previous post (you can see that example of some serious savings HERE), that Couponing to Disney does all the hard work for you when it comes to coupons and deals.  She tells you which store - which item -current price - how many times you're allowed to buy the sale priced item - which coupon - etc.  So, each week I go through her list and on an envelope I write down the items that I would actually USE - and inside the envelope I include all corresponding coupons.  So, as I'm out and about (I pass a CVS almost every time I go into town), I stop by and make a quick stop to pick up one or two of the items.  Remember - every 4th trip you earn $1 coupon.  [Obviously this wouldn't be cost-effective if CVS was out of your way - but I literally drive right past one several times a week.] As I buy the item (or if they're out of stock, I cross it off).

This week only had 3 items of interest for me - last week had 9. I threw out my receipts, but if my memory serves me correctly, last week I bought 12 items at CVS, spent $4, and got $12 back in Extra Care Bucks.  So, I bought the items that gave ECB in the first transaction, then immediately used them to pay for the remaining items in my cart.  [I'll plan to save my next couple receipts so you can better see what I mean.]


Target's coupon policy states that you can use one Target Coupon and one Manufacturers coupon for the SAME item!  If you look at the ones in the photo, three of them say "Target Coupon" in the black box.  The other says "Manufacturer's Coupon" but still has the Target logo.  That coupon can be used in ANY store - not just Target.  Tricky, eh?  So - in the example above - if I buy (the correct sizes) one box of diapers, and one box of wipes .... I can use the $7 coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon for diapers, and one for wipes.  Do this when the items are on sale and WHAMMO!  Cheap diapers.  (Incidentally - the cheapest place I've ever found for diapers is BJs - but this was just an example.)  I keep all my "Target Coupons" in an envelope entitled Target.  Then I can easily find them.


This seems like a lot of work, but it isn't really.  The most work is just setting up your system, then once it's in place, you just run with it.  When you sort through the mail and see a sale or coupon flyer from Hunter Douglas blinds (which once upon a time you would have considered junk mail), you remember that you need to replace the muave blinds that came with the house, and put the flyer in the clip with all the other coupons for non-grocery, non-restaurant shopping.  Your budget (and how good the sale is) will determine if this is the time to use it or not - but if you don't remember they're having a sale, you might get angry one night at the blinds, rip them off the wall, and then drive to Bed, Bath and Beyond (forgetting to take your 20% off coupon with you) and pay full price for something that's of lesser quality.

So, here's how I organize all of my coupons.  Step one - KEEP THE COUPON till it's expired.  I probably throw out 95% without using them, but the ones I do use - I save TONS!

This stack generally stays in the car.  It's hard enough to remember the diaper bag and my wallet when I head out to do errands with the boys.  I don't need to remember MORE.  I'll never use a reusable bag (and save money) if it's not already in the car.  I'll not use the BOGO coupon for Happy Meals (when I've pushed the kids too long to get "just one more" errand done, and we're all starving and about to throw temper tantrums) if the coupon isn't in the car.  I'll not use the coupon for the car wash if the Entertainment Book's not in the car.  I won't remember what I wanted at CVS (or have the coupons) if that envelope's not in the car.  And just in case I decide to run into ToysRUs for something, I won't have the $8 in coupons if they're not in the car.  Does this make sense?  IF IT'S NOT HANDY - I WON'T USE IT.  Most stores will accept a coupon on an item, if you bring it back within 24 hours (because you forgot to use it), but I'm usually too lazy to do that, so HAVE YOUR COUPONS WITH YOU!

This stack stays in my basket of paperwork that's in my kitchen.  I only pull these items out when I'm planning a shopping trip.  I'll discuss in a different post how I plan shopping trips.

Whew.  That was a long post about coupons.  Are you still with me?  I can think of at least 5 more posts I'd like to do on the topic of SAVING - sales - reward programs - my Grandma's teachings - freebies / samples - and a week in the life of Julia's shopping trips.  But I also have a real life to live (though it'd be awfully nice to just blog all day).  So, please bear with me. I'll try to get to them as quickly as suits my family's schedule and needs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Catching Bugs

Boys are meant for kisses and hugs, 

for watching rainbows and catching bugs

for sharing all of your favorite things, 

for books to read and songs to sing.

(Author Unknown)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

good night, sweet prince

Good night sweet prince 
Another day is done 
You laughed and you played 
Now sleep little one

You need your rest 
The morning draws near 
Close your eyes baby boy 
You have nothing to fear

Good night my son 
Have the sweetest of dreams 
There's no telling what pleasures 
Tomorrow will bring

Sleep peaceful and sound 
for when you awake 
The sun will be up 
A new day for the take

The time to play is done
The days gone quickly by
Go to sleep now little one
Close your precious eyes

Let the twinkling stars
Shine brightly in your dreams
Hear the quiet lullabies
The moonbeams like to sing

Angels keep close watch
As you sleep throughout the night
There to comfort and protect you
Until the new days light

Sleep in peaceful slumber
The mornings drawing near
Tomorrow is awaiting
It is almost here

Soon the sun will rise
Another day will dawn
Sleep soundly my dear baby
The night is almost gone

Very soon you'll fill
Another brand new day
With laughter and sweet joy
In your special way

(by Crystal Cook)

White Men Can't Jump

OH REALLY???????

(This room's gonna be a decorating challenge for me once I get around to tackling it.)

(No children were harmed in the process.)

(He kept begging to do it again - and again.)

(He was actually giggling with delight the whole time.)

(You can tell from the binky - that these pics were taken earlier this month.)

Maybe white men CAN jump...
they just need a strong Daddy to help.

Mr. Alligator

Of course part of celebrating "Christmas" with the ladies involved a gift exchange.  And once again they out-did themselves in terms of buying amazing things for my boys.  This is just one of the really cool presents: ANIMAL HANDS.  I believe they were purchased at Dick Blick - but they're also available on Amazon.

They're temporary tattoos, but seem to hold up VERY well!  Alex has been Mr. Alligator for four days already, and after many trips to the potty (being careful with the soap/water) and a bath or two, it's still looking good!

(This photo was taken just after application, before it was dry.)

So, if you're looking for a gift idea for the young child in your life - these are AWESOME!  The box says that they're suitable for hands of any size, but not below age 3.  Obviously they'd just take up less "acreage" on an adult's hand, but they fit perfectly on my almost 5 year old.

But, you should be forewarned, that if your child comes to play, I'm pretty sure Alex won't want to share.  They're just that cool!  "Mr. Alligator" is having too much fun with them all by himself.

Monday, January 25, 2010


So - my college roommates were art majors (I was English Lit).  One is now a high school art teacher, and the other is a graphic designer. I have ZERO artistic ability.  When we planned this weekend of fun, one of them made the "mistake" of offering to help with a project while they were here.  Well, I held them to that promise.

The selected project was to create art for Alex's room.  Those of you on Facebook may remember my struggle to get him to accept updated bedding with his updated walls.  I think it's just about time he moves on from Thomas, but change is hard for him, and he's still madly in love with trains.  So, I returned the adorable monkey bedding, and Thomas will stick around a bit longer.

As a bribe for the ladies, I made them my friend Beth's French Hot Chocolate.  Check out the recipe from her blog HERE.  It was simply AMAZING!  The presentation was wonderful, and it was so yummy too!

After trying a couple different ideas, we decided to go with something simple and vibrant. Since I have NO IDEA what direction his room will take in the next year or two (since he recently vetoed my vision), it was difficult coming up with art that could easily blend with ANYTHING.  But the ladies came through!  My inspiration for them was apparently based on Rothko.

(my inspiration - for sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond)


So - back to the bribed artwork.......  Paint and an almost two-year-old really don't mix well.  So, after the boys went to bed on Saturday evening, the paints came out, the French Hot Chocolate was made, and creativity happened right in my very own dining room!  I don't think either of the ladies have ever painted pieces commissioned by an almost five-year-old before.  And we were all hesitant to see how "Mr. I Hate Change" would respond to them.

HE COULDN'T HAVE BEEN HAPPIER!!!  So - the ladies deserve a standing ovation!  He was even super excited to hang them up on his freshly-painted walls! (The evening before, as he went to bed, he quite loudly vocalized how much he didn't want anything hanging on his walls.)  But as soon as he saw the finished product he was thrilled!

(The pictures really ARE real squares and straight - I guess my angle was off taking the picture, 'cause they look kinda "unstraight" in this photo.)

Thank you, ladies for giving my son some personal art - and art that he likes to boot!

some beautiful fresh air

This past weekend was "Ladies Weekend" on Dogwood!  My former college roommates came out and we celebrated "Christmas" together. (Hey - so what if it's almost February - we live busy lives, and better late than never!)  These ladies have stood by me through thick and through thin.  It's such a blessing to have friends, with whom you can "pick up" right where you left off - whether it's been two months, or twelve since last getting together.

By the way - I paid a whopping $13 for the painting that's behind us!
I should change my name to "Thrifty Chick!

The ladies decided that my house desperately needed more greenery.  Considering my lung problems, I can definitely use more oxygen in the air, and what better than little beauties that create it for me?  So - they brought me some "beautiful fresh air"!  They've learned through the years, that when it comes to plants, I'm drawn to ones with texture, interesting leaves, and unusual shapes.  And the ladies delivered!

The Flapjack

The Blushing (Something - I forget the rest of its name)

And Sage

Isn't that a cute little dark violet flower?

And check out that texture!

Then this weekend they helped me pick out a new Rubber Plant.  I simply LOVE these things - they're virtually indestructible!
(Unless of course you accidentally leave one outside too long in the autumn - and after two frosts remember that it's still outside. Not that I'm speaking from experience, or anything....)

Most of the newest plant additions don't mind if I "forget" them for a couple weeks - and with my track record, that's a very good thing!  The sage might be a bit less forgiving, so he's currently perched by my kitchen sink.  Hopefully when I'm washing dishes I'll remember that he might be thirsty - we'll see.  The ladies also gave my current plants some much needed TLC - even repotted one for me!  I'm gonna make a conscious effort to do better with my plants.  I need to make it more of a habit if I wanna have a successful garden this summer.

Speaking of which - it's almost February - the month when I'm planning to finalize my garden plans.  This past weekend I received a book in the mail from my mother-in-law (who's gardened for years - her largest was a full acre!).  It was a wonderful surprise - and an excellent way to jump-start my gardening thought process!

I'm also eagerly awaiting two more books on the topic to arrive in this week's mail.

Part of why I want to have a vegetable garden is so I can have "fresh" produce all year-long.  And since I know nothing on the topic - I thought it would be a good thing to find out how to put up vegetables.  There's no point in my having 50 onion plants just to find out that I can't freeze or can any of the produce.
(That was obviously just an example - I'm NOT really considering 50 onion plants.)

So - here's to plants...
that give us air to breathe and food to nourish us!

Friday, January 22, 2010

money - money - money

There are currently 132 items at Walmart*
that are less than $1 (with a coupon),
and 12 of them are FREE!
Check it out HERE.  

There are currently 59 items at Target
that are less than $1 (with a coupon),
and 8 of them are FREE!
Check it out HERE.

There are currently 34 items at Publix
that are less than $1 (with a coupon),
and 12 of them are FREE!
Check it out HERE.

There are currently 30 items at Walgreens
that are less than $1 (with a coupon),
and 8 of them are FREE!
Check it out HERE.

Kristin at Couponing to Disney has done all the hard work for you!  All you need to do is buy one (or 2, or 3) newspapers each Sunday and save the coupons - save ALL the coupons!  You don't even need to cut them out - just save them.  On her blog she tells you which coupon was found in which week's paper.

On the left side of the blog you'll see listed: Amazon - CVS - Kmart - Publix - Rite Aid - Target - Toys R Us / Babies R Us - Walgreens - and Walmart.  Feel free to click on the store you'd like to know current deals at, and SAVE SOME MAJOR MONEY!!!  Kristin also explains the coupon policies of each store, and how to save the most.

Jess, a girlfriend of mine got me hooked on this website, and I've been saving like crazy!  Aaron's even gotten into it! Every time we drive past a CVS, he says "Look - CVS - a good place to save."  I wish I had found the time to start doing this more "hardcore" last fall, but with relocating and everything I just didn't have it in me.  But one of my New Year's Resolutions is to change how I spend money - so here's one way it's happening.

* It's been 4 years since we've shopped at Walmart, because we disagree so strongly with their infamous labor practices around the world.  I still haven't gone there yet, even though these are amazing deals.  I'm still debating whether or not I will shop there.  Maybe just if the item is free?  I don't know.  But most of our friends DO shop there - and lots of our friends have been hit hard by the recession.  So, I'm sharing the info for YOUR benefit.  I'd like to do anything I can to help keep food on your table.

Are you ready?

Are you ready for Christmas?
Or do you still have some loose ends to tie up?

Perhaps I can help.

Last night I bought 172 christmas cards at Hallmark for only $28!* A friend did the math, and apparently that's only $0.16 each! (So much better than the average $1.) I generally wait till the last week of January (which is usually when Hallmark marks down all remaining Christmas stock to 90% off). But, with this being our first year in a new town (which seems to be bursting at the seams), I was nervous there wouldn't be any left. But, there was a pretty good selection still, so next year I'll wait.

The cards I bought last year (which were 90% off from Bed, Bath & Beyond) were plain jane.  But not this year!  They are ALL either textured, or have something dangling on them, or have a 3-d appliqué!  (And what's very important - none of them require extra postage!)

Perhaps you don't send as many Christmas cards as we do.  But, I bet your budget would still appreciate the savings!

* Note - I also had crown rewards that that I used to bring down the purchase price.

(This post was supposed to be part of the same post as the count-down clock - but for some reason, when they were combined, the clock widget kept deleting the rest of the post. grrrrr.  So - sorry - you're stuck with two posts instead.)

The countdown has begun

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's never too early to start

I'm a firm believer that kids SHOULD do what they CAN do.  As a mom, I'm doing them (and me) a huge disservice if I do everything for them.  Alex is about to turn 5, and he knows that he'll be starting more "chores" at that point.  I definitely think kids should be KIDS - not "servants."  But he's old enough to make his bed, clear the table, put away his clean clothes, etc.

A couple weeks ago a friend came to help me with some cleaning at the house, and Harrison pitched right in.  Not knowing where I stood on the issue, she asked if/what he was allowed to help with.  I very much appreciated her inquiry - because different people have different stances on the topic.  Personally, I think he's too young to use the cleaning supplies, so he was given a "baby wipe" to use.  And, he went to town!  A bit later, he also helped me (with a pledge wipe) dust the entire staircase (spindles and all).

(by the way - he's now officially "binky free" - YAY!)

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.
(Proverbs 22:6)