The Groundskeeper

Feb 272018
 

I was provided a copy of this book by Moody Publishers for review.  All opinions are honest and my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

My latest read took me much longer to finish than normal.  This was to be expected as I had to read each page two or three times, as well as look up various terms and references.  To say it was a growing experience would be a very fair statement.  It was outside topics I normally would read, that seems to have been a theme this past year, which is ripe ground for personal growth.

My initial plan had been to read it and share a review in time for the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the time marked by the date when Luther, according to legend, nailed his ninety-five theses to the doors of the local church.  The anniversary seemed to be all anyone was talking about for months.  Me, the one who does not watch the news, who is known for not really knowing the “hot topic” at the moment, even knew the anniversary was coming up.  “There must be something to this.”

See, I grew up in a church where Luther was not talked about much.  Actually church history was not talked about regularly. If so, it was ‘recent’ church history going back to early American times. I grew up in a church tradition which was not liturgical, did not recite confessions, etc.  Focusing on a particular person or historical church documents during a sermon seemed almost like looking to them instead of the Bible/God/Jesus for direction in how we should live.

Perhaps that is solely a feeling I had and not what was meant to be conveyed, but it is exactly what I was feeling when the church we currently attend would mention Martin Luther or such-and-such convention from centuries ago.  It rubbed me the wrong way.  Then they mentioned they would be showing a video about the life of Luther on a certain evening, everyone was welcome to come and invite friends. That was the final straw.

A new religion or a return to the old ways?

My respect for those in our current church led me to examine myself, my reactions, and to seek out more information.  Enter Long Before Luther by Nathan Busenitz.  I am so glad I challenged myself to learn before continuing along certain lines of opinion without much of a basis.  While I did not do a complete 180*, I did learn a lot about how we ended up where we are currently.

The start of Long Before Luther came from an online discussion Busenitz had in the comment section of a blog, about whether the Catholic church was the original, true church.  The conversation brought to light an important question, “Did Luther (and other reformers) create a new religion or did these doctrines always exist? Could they be found in the early church beliefs or were they invented 500 years ago?”  In the end, the comments on the blog would have created a 300 page, single space document if they had been printed out.  Seems it was quite the discussion.

To help have an actual conversation, the conversation was narrowed down to two points of contention: is scripture alone the highest authority (sola Scriptura) and are sinners justified through God’s grace in “faith alone” in Jesus Christ (sola fide)?

Busenitz has broken his book down into 4 parts – Reformers and Justification, The Church before Augustine, Augustine and Justification, and The Church after Augustine.  These section help set the stage for what the reformers were trying to figure out, and some of the key disagreements they were having with the Church at that time.  The author then goes back to early church fathers to get try and get a clearer picture of their understanding and thinking.

If this article stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses. – Martin Luther

My natural tendency is not to sparse words, but to take things at their face value.  However, when discussing large, heavy concepts like justification and spiritual authority one needs to be very clear in what is meant and said.  The difference of a single word can change the whole meaning of a sentence.  Busenitz dove into historical writings, searching for evidence of sola Scriptura and sola fide.  The last three sections talk about the evidence he found.

There are also places where Busenitz commented on the limiting factors of language.  If you have ever heard that Eskimo language has many words for snow while English has one, you will understand what is meant.  Latin and Hebrew are more descriptive languages.  If a translation was used and studied from, the original intent of a word may have been a bit blurred or misunderstood.  This is very much true with English, as with Greek or German, etc.

It may have also been the case that these particular issues were not issue in the past, so therefore were not outlined in great detail.  Some things may have been socially assumed to be understood, while others were not issues raised.  This last part was an interesting revelation on my part – the things society is concerned about today were not even issues a few decades ago; how much more a few thousand years ago!  Hence, you will not find full manuscripts describing the historical stance of sola Scriptura and sola fide from the early A.D. era.

What you will find are documents from sources written during those time which give you has sense of what was meant, touching on both of these topics, showing that the reformers 500 years ago did not create these doctrines but brought them to the forefront of the conversation. These doctrines were suddenly more relevant due to what was happening socially, and within the church, at that time.

Following the four sections of the book mentioned above, is an Apprenix section – 9 pages of abbreviations used, as well as 41 pages of notes and references used in writing Long Before Luther.  Busenitz was not hesitant to share where he got his references and facts, they are there for readers to seek out and read for themselves.

Continue to seek to understand

I still believe we should look solely to the Bible for guidance, seems I believed in sola Scriptura all along without knowing there was a word or term for it.  As I worked my way through Long Before Luther, I began understand more about why we do certain things or exactly how we believe effects how we approach other issues.  Having a clear picture of what is meant is important, and for that I am thankful for those whose brains can work through those details with any sort of clarity.  I will continue to seek to understand what is being said, knowing all along that we will never truly understand everything, we can only do our best to try.

Long Before Luther by Nathan Busenitz has sought to help clarify some key points brought up during the Protestant Reformation, taking what would have been years of research for the average person and putting it together in a well structured book.  Using a multitude of references and historical documents he sought to find if there was a  and biblical basis for beliefs presented by the reformers, or if they had created a new set of beliefs.  To that end, I believe Busenitz achieved the purpose he sought and conveyed clearly the points and support along the way.

Feb 222018
 

I was compensated for this post. This post also contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

When I first heard that Easter was on April 1st, I thought for sure someone was trying to pull an early April Fool’s joke.  Turns out I was wrong and they were right – Easter is on April 1st this year!

As if to continue the odd joke, it is the middle of February and our weather currently feels like spring.  Never before have I felt so far behind so early.  Goodness Golly, it is the middle of February!  While it is a warmer winter/spring than what is normal, and we may still get a freeze, it is a good reminder that Spring is on our doorstep.

I have been doing better at getting ahead of things this year.  While the pre-planning for Valentines Day this year did not happen as I had hoped it would, I did hit the after-holiday sales and am set for next year’s gifts, treat bags, and cards all at 50-75% off!!!

To keep the ball rolling, I decided to tackle a few other ideas and get a step up on Easter decorating.  We are not huge Easter Bunny fans, so no Easter Egg Trees like I had growing up.  Instead our decorations will focus on the Christian aspect of the Easter celebration – Jesus’ crucifixion (Good Friday) and resurrection  from the tomb (Easter).

The decorations this year will fulfill two roles – a garden craft and an update of a front door wreath that really should have been tackled a few years back. Looking to keep our budget small and incorporate several items we already had, I made my plans then loaded up the kids and headed to the local Dollar Tree.

The Front Door Wreath

When we were moving a year ago, there were items I had to decide whether to take or pass along.  This wreath was one items that I hemmed and hawed about for a few minutes.  It was an item I had picked up second hand years ago. By this point in its life, the accessories has seen better days – they were looking faded, dusty, and fairly droopy.  However, the wreath itself was in good shape, a nice big twig wreath.  So, it made the move with the intent to update it once we were here.

When I decided to add a seasonally themed wreath to the door, this sorely outdated wreath came to mind, “If I take off the current accessories and add new ones, the whole wreath will look brand new.”  That is just what I did.

After a quick stop at the Dollar Tree, I found a sign to use.  It was large enough not to get lost from a distance and simple enough to read as one goes my the house.  I then chose flowers along a complimentary color scheme.  Too many colors would have made it look busy and lacking.

Then the hard messy part began – clearing off all the old accessories (ivy, fake flowers, ribbons, etc.).

The ribbons were fairly easy to remove, as they were stuck in between the sticks of the wreath with short metal spikes.  The greenery, however, was harder.  The flowers were hot glued on and the ivy was tied on with small bits of wire.  A little muscle and an old pair of scissors made short work of getting down to the base.

I could now see what I had to work with, thankful I did not throw this out last year.

To make the most of the two flower bunches I had, I removed each flower stem from the group.  There is wire in the middle of each plastic stem, though not too thick so a pair of scissors and slow firm clips easily separated them.  Now I could mix them up and weave them in place as I wished.

I tried a few ways of arranging the flowers before choosing one method.  A ribbon was even added at one point, so see if something further was needed.  By taking pictures, I was easily able to compare various looks and see the overall effect from further away. (These photos were taken with utility in mind, not aesthetics for posting online.)

After looking, and asking opinions, I decided to nix the ribbon and keep it simple.  If the ribbon had been wire trimmed then perhaps it would have worked.  As it was, this was a bit of very floppy ribbon from my craft supplies and was not laying right.

I think the over all reinvention of this wreath was a success.  I love how it goes with the color of my door and has a fresh clean look to it.  All for only $3! Easter At Dollar Tree – Everything Is Just $1

note: I am aware it is hanging crooked and it is driving me crazy.  I tried to fix it at that time, but had to head inside to make supper.  I did straighten it some this morning, but need to go back out and do a better job of getting it all hanging correctly.  Right now I am happy to have it hanging and not still sitting in the attic and on my to-do list.

Resurrection Garden

While at the Dollar Tree getting supplies for the wreath above, I also picked up a few supplies I needed to finish making a resurrection garden.  This is an idea I saw online and thought would be a great reminder to have at home, to bring our thinking back to what we are celebrating. Contrary to what the kids may think, the main focus of Easter (for us) is not eating chocolate Easter bunnies and finding brightly colored eggs around the yard.  Sorry, kids.

I already had an extra pot, but needed to pick up: soil, a small clay pot, stones, and grass seed.  3 of those 4 things were to be found at the Dollar Tree.  A few dollars more were spent on a small bag of seed from a big box store nearby.

 

The supplies for this project included:

*I have yet to acquire these items, but am on the look out for them.

The time to put this together was less than 5 minutes, though it will take several days for the grass to sprout and begin growing.

First, due to the depth of my pot, I added soil to the bottom.  Not wanting to have to cut a pot in half, as I had seen other tutorials do, I turned the pot on its side and partially buried it in the soil.

I then covered the back of the clay pot and the back half of the larger pot with extra soil, making a mound.

The smaller clay pot is set off-center, allowing me to make a trail out of the pebbles leading up the mound. Once I find some small sticks I will add 3 crosses to the top of the ‘hill’.

Lastly, I sprinkled grass seed on the soil and moistened it with a spray bottle.  Each day I will moisten it again and should see grass appearing in about a week’s time.

This will make a great visual aid in telling the Easter story, as well as a reminder of why we are celebrating the season.

There you have it, two fairly quick, budget-friendly Easter decorations for your garden.  This last one would be especially great to bring some green to your home if you are in the midst of a dreary winter and are antsy for something to grow.

What are some of the ways you are decorating this year?  Share in the comments below, I would love to hear about or see what you have been working on.

 

Feb 142018
 

Whether it is you and your Super Hero celebrating this day together, or if you are showing your appreciation for others, I hope your days holds lots of sweetness.

If it doesn’t, here is a great recipe – rated two thumbs up by in-house experts, Jack and George:

  • Heat up a cup of milk.
  • Add a packet of hot cocoa mix of choice.
  • Top with whipped topping.
  • Garnish with left over sprinkles or bits of chocolate from your pantry.

If you happen to dilly-dally a bit too long, arguing that you do not want to finish your supper because you are “too full”, then see what your brother is getting and decide to get a move-on…well, you might just miss out on the whipped topping.  In such a case, adding extra bit of chocolate to your hot cocoa and sprinkles on top will work as well.  FYI: the chocolate of the xoxo variety tends to not melt unless stirred; it also sinks. This can mean another yummy surprise at the end, just when you thought your were done.

Personally, I like to think I am more of a smooth dark chocolate with a hint of almond flavor.  How about you?

 

On a more serious note, in case no one has had the opportunity yet to tell you, let me just say:

You are appreciated, loved, a friend, and a welcome addition to my life.  You have a purpose, and are a blessing to those around you.

If you are not feeling this way, I encourage you to look for someone to help today, someone to smile at, someone to spend some time having a conversation with.  If you are not sure where to start, might I suggest the cashier at the local grocery store or someone at the nursing home.  Simple actions can mean a lot in the lives of someone else.

If you are in a lonelier place please give these people a call.  They are there to help, not judge.  There is animosity in these calls, yet they connect you with others who truly care about you.  Unsure of what to ask or talk about, here are a few questions to get you started.  It may feel strange to take that first step, to ask for help, but it is a good path to start back traveling. You are worth it!

 

Feb 102018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

January seems to have the reputation for being the slower month.  Coming off almost two months full of celebrating holidays, I can see why.  However, that was not the case for me this year.  Instead, January ended up being a fairly physically restful, emotionally eventful, finding our groove month.

February…I can not say the same for so far.  Yes it has only been 10 days, but that is 1/3 of the month already!  That 1/3 has included getting sick, rain, rain, and rain.  Come on!  Rain is grey and makes mud.  At least snow is white and reflects the light to make it seem bright. Alas, rain it is.  A great reminder for why I am saving my earning from Swagbucks to use towards purchasing our first rain barrel.  Our back yard is muddy. Sticky, clay muddy mud which stains.  Yuck times 10.

I actually have enough points on Swagbucks earned, as well as other bits of earnings added to PayPal, to purchase a rain barrel.  After reading reviews, I decided to buy a larger one to accommodate what I know is a large volume of storm runoff from the roof.  This means I have to earn a bit more before purchasing the size and style I want.  I think it will pay off in savings of frustration by avoiding a smaller barrel which would fill too quickly.

Today I went to a local nursery to hear a talk about growing fruit.  The attendance was great, the setting had plenty of room, and the speakers were knowledgeable workers who had been doing this for a number of year.  The one down side?  The rain. Yes, rain. Again.  The class was inside a greenhouse, which was a very appropriate and accommodating setting.  However, greenhouses are built to grow plants, not be acoustically quiet.  The roof acted like a hug drum, make it very difficult to hear the speaker.  As long as I could see the lips of the speaker I was fine.  However, the talked ended about 40 minutes early and turned into a Q&A session around a table, looking at various products, and handouts.

In the end, I am glad I went.  They are holding future talks which I plan on attending.  Hopefully the rain will stay away.

One of the points I took away, and which I fully agree with, is to choose one or two new things a year.  Learn all you can about them, then try/grow/implement it.  Do not say, “I want to have bees”, go buy them, then get a book from the library or contact the local honey club to learn what you need to do.  By that point it is too late.  You will be spending the rest of the season playing catch up, or be the owner of dead bees.  The same can be said for growing a new vegetable, a fruit tree, trying a new gardening method, trying to attract butterflies…you get the point.  Take the time to read and do research, it will pay off leaps and bounds.

Oh, and take time to research prices as well.  That rain barrel I said I needed to save more for…seems it is back in stock in the color that is at a lower price.  While looking for the picture above, I saw a different store had restocked it.  Another lesson, if you are not set on color or store, make sure you look at all the options.  I will save $10-$20 by not being particular about the color, and another $6 by using discounted gift cards redeemed for a different store.  At this lower price, I will be able to purchase this item sooner than I anticipated.

 

Why go through the ‘trouble’ of a rain barrel?  This is where Grow Your Cents comes in to play.  By spending some upfront costs or time on a container to catch free water, I will not need to pay the local utility for the same amount of water to use in the yard or garden.  Last year we did not have a lot of watering needs, though I see that increasing in years ahead.  Why not collect the water that would otherwise run to the street and down the storm drain?  Or, in my parents case, which would run down the driveway and into the creek?

With increase non-porous surfaces, storm water runoff issues are increasing.  Whether it be pollution, swollen ditches and streams, or lack of ability to be reabsorbed into the soil, these issues are not going away.  Not only will we save on water usage, but will also be able to slow down the water and allow more of it to be added back into the local soils rather the the local storm drain.
Want an extra boost to your budget in February??

If you haven’t tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral this month. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a $3 bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before 3/1/18. You’ll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it!

3. If you want even more bonuses, you’ll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That’s in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend.

That’s it. It’s super easy, and Swagbucks is for real. If you are not sure, reread the post above. 😉

 

Tip to earn more: One thing I have been doing since the beginning of the year, is participating in a Facebook group for other people using Swagbucks.  This has saved me time on finding deals, figuring out which things work, being alerted to how to make opportunities work better for me, and see what is not working.  This has resulted in higher earnings for me, as well as trying different activities I have otherwise avoided.  This is something to keep in mind if you have tried this before, but found it too hard or confusing.  Or perhaps you want to try it, but are overwhelmed with the options of ways to earn.

Remember, you will not get rich from this, but you can earn enough for a rain barrel…or two.

 

Feb 042018
 

Have you heard?  Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) may be one of those things which go the way of the American chestnut tree – “When I was a kid, they were everywhere.  Forest ecosystems were based around them.  Now… well, they are so rare their locations are kept secret to keep them safe.”

At least, that is what a paper published in Ecology concludes may be one outcome in the future.  Looking at various studies and research done over 20 years, they combined factors to extrapolate the effect on the trees.  While the trees’ growth would benefit from certain factor changes, others may lead to them basically dying of thirst.

It remains to be seen if this is another the-sky-is-falling scenario, or if it will actually play out this way.  After all, the authors did say this would be a result of “growing under the considerably drier conditions characteristic of our most extreme climatic scenario”.

The Canadian Journal of Forestry published a research paper which highlighted just how tough it is to be a natural sugar maple seedling in New Hampshire.  From their study areas only 3.4% over 7 years.  “Location, location, location” seemed to be an important factor in their survival.

This, my Readers, is why trees put out so many seeds each year, they are hoping for just one to survive.  It is a tough world out there.

Jan 242018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

What an interesting month this has been.  Part of me is shocked, when looking at the calendar, to find next week will bring about a new month.  Where did the time go?  It feels as if nothing has happened, while also a lot has happened.

This past week found me finally at a place I thought I would be a few weeks ago – in a routine which I hoped would bring some sameness to our days and weeks, allowing for a balance in various areas of life.  Why didn’t it happen sooner?  Well, apparently when you live in a place with no public snow removal equipment (a.k.a. snow plows and salt trucks) even an inch or so of snow can throw life for everyone out of kilter.  Add to that snow which melts then freezes again, then melts and freezes again…especially on roads which are not flat…well, let’s just say life shut down for a few days. (FYI: the picture above was from when we lived in Small Town. I am pretty sure people here would think the world was ending if they woke up to this bundle of fun white stuff.)

Not only were things like grocery shopping and extracurricular events affected, but also “snow days” from public school and work. With extra people in the house, it was very difficult to convince Jack our home school did not have a snow day.  We had taken enough days off due to moving, sicknesses, and doctor’s appointments this year that we needed to keep going if I wanted to stay on track at all.

It was also hard to overcome the feeling of still being on vacation and winter break.  It didn’t help that we were coming off of three weeks of a break, visiting friends and family, only to have a federal holiday and then three or four “snow days”.

Not all has been disruptive, several good things have also taken place, namely, my husband began a job with a new company.  We knew this was coming, obviously, though it meant again a subtle change in routine of the household, in good ways thankfully.  It was one of those blessings which came from a less than desirable experience.  While all is not roses and rainbows, things are going well and we keep being reminded of the good of this situation.

Blog wise, I am thrilled to have a computer to use again.  For the past month plus, I have had to type up posts and edit pictures on my phone.  In December our desktop made its last final funny noise and refused to start up again.  Purchasing a new computer at that time was not in the plan, so we didn’t.  Instead, we waited to see what it was that we really wanted or needed, checked out several options, and finally decided on something once we had returned in January. Knowing it was an intentional decision to wait, I chose not to complain about the situation or whine about it, choosing instead to make the most of my new reality.  This led to me finding a few new short cuts on my phone to make the process easier.  However, let me just say, it is much easier to type out posts on a keyboard rather than with one finger on a small phone screen and I am  thrilled to be able to create a post without causing pain in my hand from finger strain. 🙂

We are also experiencing an increased involvement with our church, as well as looking at becoming involved in another (non-church) ministry.  These are both things which would have been difficult to do while living in Small Town.  Again, another reminder of how this move was beneficial, even with all the bumps along the way.

Through it all, I am sticking with the “keep it simple” motto.  None of the aforementioned events were things we added in addition to a full schedule.  I have enjoyed not feeling “busy” and plan to work at keeping it that way.  It is time we started adding things back into our lives, especially those which encourage us to grow and  bless others.  This is what I see this upcoming year holding – finding more of what we would like to give our time and energy to, while keeping things family focused.

We’ll see how it turns out. 🙂

Another thing I am so glad we agreed to years ago, was setting a budget for Christmas spending.  Over the years it has taken on different looks – some times it is using only the rewards from our credit card to purchase gifts, other times it meant using gift cards and cash earned through Swagbucks, while other times it involved homemade items, using store reward points or credits, or even choosing to gift experiences or family gifts rather than individual presents.  No matter the form, the one thing which remained consistent was that we do not go into debt to give gifts.

The best way I have found to do this is to plan ahead.  Already I have several gifts purchased or started for this upcoming Christmas season.  As well, I was able to purchase items for birthdays and other occasions during after Christmas sales.  While this added extra spending to our budget at the end of the year, when I would rather have been saving it, I knew what my spending limit was, did not go outside it, and kept to my list.  I also knew I would be doing this and planned (ahead) accordingly.

By planning ahead I not only save about 50%, spread the spending out over 12 months instead of 1, and enable me to relax during the end of the year months, but I also do not spend the first 6 months of the new year paying off last year’s purchases.

If you find yourself in the other situation, paying off for months what you spent previously, I would greatly encourage you to spend some time today or this week looking at how you can change your spending this year.  You can still give great gifts without overspending.

My gardening goal for this year is to set a foundation for future gardening years.  While I plan on having some produce this year, my larger focus is on getting a framework in place.  The first step in doing so was to begin composting.  I was able to redeem Swagbuck points, called SB, in order to purchase a compost tumbler online.  Not only did I pay no money out of pocket and was able to have it shipped to my house, but I also earned SB back on the purchase by clicking through Swagbuck’s website to make the purchase.

Up next is a rain barrel, to help dry out a certain part of our yard which remained wet all of last year.  So far I am half way to my earning goal for this particular item, using Swagbucks as well as another source or two of side income.

After a rain barrel, fruit trees and vines will be on the list.  These will need to be planted in the Spring, so I will watch for various deals from garden companies, as well as calling local green houses.

Once these four parts of the garden are started I hope to begin working on some of the smaller aspects.  Who knows, bees might even make an appearance this year. Though if that were to happen it would need to happen quickly as March seems to be the time to get new hives started in this area.


Looking to begin shopping for the next holiday season or to start your Spring shopping? The online rewards site Swagbucks has a smart and fun way for you to earn and save when you spend. Swagbucks helps supplement the cost of gardening and other household purchases.  While the main way I earn SB is by watching online videos (which I have running as I sit and type up this post) and taking surveys, I also do earn some SB via online shopping. So far this year I have earned 3,262 SB back, either from online shopping or rebates from in-store shopping.  Not bad for the few extra seconds it takes to click through Swagbuck’s website!

Swagbucks is hosting another round of Shopping Swago! What is SWAGO you ask? It’s a bingo-inspired promotion run by Swagbucks, a website that rewards you with points (called SB) for completing everyday online activities. You can redeem those SB for free gift cards. If you’ve never used Swagbucks, participating in SWAGO is a great introduction to the site and an easy way to earn a good amount of points quickly.

Click here to get started!

Here’s what you need to know to get your 300 SB Bonus (and don’t worry, you don’t have to make a purchase to complete a pattern):

  • Go to the Swag page and make sure you hit “Join” otherwise you won’t get credit for completing the action items. Each square on your Swago Board will contain an action item to complete.
  • Once you complete the action item in a particular square the square will change color signifying the action item is complete.
  • You have a limited amount of time to mark off as many squares as possible so use your time wisely.
  • Be mindful of the patterns and their corresponding bonuses located on the right of your Swago Board. The patterns will vary in difficulty and bonus value – up to 300 SB – enough for your first $3 gift card.
  • Once you’ve achieved a pattern the corresponding “Submit” button will light up. You can have multiple patterns available for submission, however, you can only submit ONE pattern so choose wisely.
  • The game ends Friday, January 26th at 12pm PDT/3pm EDT. So make sure to hit “Submit” on the pattern you wish to submit. If you don’t hit “Submit” before the game ends you won’t receive your SB bonus.Also, if you sign up through me this month, you’ll get a $10 rebate when you make your first purchase via Swagbucks Shopping! You can activate it in the “Swag Ups” area of “My Account”
Jan 142018
 

Beans.

According to Answers.com:

There is no exact number, but the world gene banks set the count at about 40,000 different types of beans,

though only a very small number of these bean types are mass-produced for common consumption.

These little orbs of understatedness are great sources of fiber and protein.  They are easy to grow, can be dried and stored, and are light to transport.  They can be cooked, baked, roasted, or eaten raw.

They are also mushy. And have funny smells.  Did I mention they are mushy?

This past fall we had significant decrease in our income, with an unknown end in sight.  Therefore, even that extra $.10 at the store felt like $1,000.  The extra trip across town caused pain as I thought about the cost of gas to get us there, all while hoping no one would hit us.

Among other things I did to give some immediate relief was to take up couponing again.  I had never fully stopped, but had relaxed on it a bit.  Now I pulled out all the habits I used to do, while learning new ones.  New rebate apps were installed on my phone and new websites found which helped me find deals at my local stores.

We were very blessed that first month or two with a lot of “free after rebate” or “free with a coupon” items.  Between those items and our pantry we were doing okay in the food budget arena.  There was no steak on the menu, though ribs were in the freezer.

Then IT happened.  I saw a deal at a local grocery for another free item!  I quickly checked it out only to my horror to find myself torn.

“But…but…I don’t like those!” said my selfish side.

“They are good for you.  The kids don’t know you don’t like them. Mom would get quite the laugh.  And they are FREE!” said my more rational side.

“But I don’t like them!” I repeated.

Two nights later we were having (free) beans and cornbread for supper.  I was pleasantly surprised that the beans were actually good.  Though you would have heard this conversation at the dinner table:

“Come on, boys, eat up.  Your supper is better warm than cold.” (trust me I know, I wanted to add.)

“But…Mom, I don’t like these.” Boy 1 said.

“These are good for you.  If you eat them with the cornbread you can’t even taste them.”

“But, Mom.  I don’t like them.”

“Sorry, Sweetie.  This is what is for supper.  If you want dessert you need to eat what is in your bowl.” (Did I really just say that about beans????  Me!?!?!)

There was a lot of thought taking place in their brains as to whether it was worth it to eat the beans or not.  Eventually all kids ate their supper and earned dessert (i.e. choice of leftover Halloween candy).

Frugality won out over great dislike in this case.  While I did not run out immediately to buy a year’s supply of this item, I did realize that even I survived eating something I did not think I would like.  Our bank account thanked me that week.

We are now at a place where our income is back up.  However, at that time, we did not know if it would for 6 month, a year, or longer.  We gave great thanks for our safety net, for skills we have learned over the years, for a plan we formulated early in our marriage if such a thing ever happened, and for all the blessings we saw happen after this time.

And yes, I even gave thanks for the beans.

Jan 092018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

The digital rewards site Swagbucks is offering big payouts during their January “Swago” promotion starting Monday, January 8th at 9am PT and running until Monday, January 15th! Swago is just like bingo, but in this case you’re filling out squares as you earn points on their site for doing things you already do online. If you’re thinking of trying Swagbucks, this is a great chance to learn all about how the site works and earn bonus points while doing it, meaning you can get more gift cards faster. Here are a few tips:

Each square on your Swago Board will contain an action item to complete. They can be anything from getting a search win, completing a survey, or just visiting one of our popular stores!

Once you complete the action item in a particular square the square will change color signifying the action item is complete.

You have until 12pm PT/3pm ET on Monday, January 15th to mark off as many squares as possible so use your time wisely.

Be mindful of the patterns and their corresponding bonuses located on the right of your Swago Board. The patterns will vary in difficulty and bonus value. Once you’ve achieved a pattern, the corresponding “Submit” button will light up. You can have multiple patterns available for submission, however, you can only submit ONE pattern so choose wisely.

Each activity you successfully complete on your Swago Board will give you anywhere from 1-20 spins on the Spin & Win Wheel. PLUS, when you submit your board for a bonus you’ll get additional spins. The number of spins will depend on the pattern you complete. The wheel has all sorts of great prizes that you can win, and each spin is a winner!

The Spin & Win Wheel will be available all throughout Swago and you have until 11:59pm PT on Monday, January 15th to use all your spins.

Fill up your board and then submit your pattern to get even more points – if you can fill in the whole board, you get a 500 SB bonus, which is enough for a $5 gift card from the retailer of your choice.

Click here right now and click “Join” to get started! If you don’t already have a Swagbucks account, you’ll be able to quickly sign up; PLUS, if you earn 300 SB before the first of January, you’ll get a bonus 300 SB!

Jan 072018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

“The third time is charm!”

As the upcoming gardening season planning commences, I hold out hope that this saying continues to ring true.

This will be my third garden in as many states. The prior two looked vastly different from each other, though taught me a lot about gardening. I have come to find I do better in a raised bed garden, fertilizing naturally with compost or lasagna gardening, and with some perennials included.

As I look at my mostly blank slate of a yard my brain is bombarded with plans, ideas, and to-do lists.  So much to do – if I took time to relearn some of the past lessons, the yard would take over a decade to get close to what I want. However, if I do it all at once it would cost a pretty penny. I may afraid at that point to change anything, knowing how much it cost to put in.

This thinking started this past summer/fall as I mowed the grass. I would picture various plants, structures, etc. in different locations. I would work through pros and cons of said decisions. I would “try out” different garden strategies for various micro climates around our yard (about 0.25 acres).  I noted changes and challenges in the yard as seasons progressed. I also took time to see how our neighbors used their yards.

With all these thoughts in my head, I began to eliminate ideas, morph others to fit together, prioritize desires, and realize how we are living in our current home.  I came to the realization that I need to plan for future results (fruit, flower beds, arbor/swing support) while addressing some current, foundational needs (vegetable garden beds, compost, etc). Having an end goal in mind meant I could begin planning for now and later, allowing myself room to grow and add in the future.

Compost

One of the biggest lessons I learn from my Small Town garden was the importance of compost. Three ways I tried composting there were: vermiculture, composting in place/lasagna gardening, and an open compost pile.

My pile never got hot enough to fully compost, most breaking down of materials was due to time and insect/worm activity.

My bout with vermiculture led to my love and awe of worms. However I had trouble keeping their bed dry enough and free from castings. I finally added them to my raised beds, which gave much better results. Between the worms and a loose form of lasagna gardening, including addition of coffee grounds, I began to see improvement in my plants.

With the new garden there were a few things to keep in mind which would reqire a few changes in how I composted:

  • We no longer have 5 or 6 mature deciduous trees in our yard, dropping copious amounts of leaves every fall.
  • Fire ants. These little guys live loose soil and will come back to the same places over and over. I really do not want a colony of them living in a compost pile.
  • Bugs, as in insects, as in mosquitos. With warmer weather comes warmer winters. Fewer freezing temps mean less opportunity to kill off overwintering insects. Mosquitos need very little water to breed. I do not want to inadvertently create small pools of standing water around a compost pile. Nor attract gnats and flies.
  • Our neighbors are closer. Even if I wanted to put a compost pile at the back of our yard,  it would be at the side of our neighbor’s house. They spend a fair amount of time outside and would not appreciate extra smells or bugs.
  • I need compost. This year preferably. With new plants and beds being planned I can not wait years for compost. Nor do I want to go spend $$$ on bags of compost and sail from the store. One of the reasons I garden is to save money, not spend it.

With these thoughts in mind I searched for solutions, finally alighting on a compost tumbler.

With an enclosed container, insects and bugs should be at minimum. I would not have to turn the pile with a shovel, instead turning the container when I add items, or several times a week.  Fire ants would be unlikely to climb in. Results will be faster coming, perhaps as soon as a few weeks.

While I could have built a compost bin from free materials, it would have taken more time (to build and find the items, as well as turn the pile) and still have presented some of the challenges.  I believe a traditional compost pile or bin is beneficial, I no longer believe it is the answer for every situation.

Starting back in November, I began to save up my Swagbucks points, called SB.

By using my time to complete activities online rather than looking for materials, I saved effort, gas, and frustration (from listening to kids complain). I was able to watch videos while doing laundry and/or homeschooling, complete surveys while waiting for kids to fall asleep, and search for answers online, all while earning cents. It is amazing how the cents can grow.

At the beginning half of January I had earned enough to redeem my points for PayPal gift cards. With the money in PayPal I clicked through the Swagbucks website to purchase the tumbler via online shopping.  In this way I am able to earn back, in SB, a portion of what I spent. (Note: I did not purchase from Amazon, though I could have. If I was buying from Amazon I would have redeemed from Amazon gift cards instead of PayPal.)

I was able to take advantage of free shipping and save a trip to the store for pick-up.

Utilizing homemade compost via a tumbler should pay off in the first year or two, depending on how consistent I am in adding to the tumbler and mixing.  Not only am I reusing parts of food I had  already paid for, but also creating a product I need but no longer have to  purchase. This product will in turn help other plants grown, giving better results.

What a great way to Grow Your Cents!

If you haven’t tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral during January. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a $3 bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before 2/1/18. You’ll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it!

3. If you want even more bonuses, you’ll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That’s in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend.

That’s it. It’s super easy.

Jan 052018
 

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for helping support this blog.

Bird feeders are an easy addition to any garden or balcony. They do not take up much space and can match any style you currently have going on.

Do not be discouraged if you do not get immediate results, it may take some time for our avian friends to find the new food source. Once they do, though, you will have regular visitors.

Whether you are considering a craft for kids, need a gift ASAP, are on a budget, or are wanting something different for your garden, here is a quick bird feeder you can make. The actual crafting time is mere minutes, or seconds in one case, though the glue may take longer to cure. (Mine was dry enough to move in about 2 hours, but took 24-48 hours to fully cure.)

Here is another bird feeder to use your creativity with, or follow along with some of the examples below if you are feeling a bit creatively challenged today.

BIRD FEEDER #2 – cup and saucer

Cost: $0-$8

Materials needed: tea or coffee cup, saucer or small plate, E6000 glue, chain or other hanging material, acetone, cotton swab

Step 1

Gather your materials. This can be random pieces from around your house, yard sale or thrift store finds, or even items from the Dollar Tree.

Keep in mind how they look together. My first try at this was purely a trial run with items from a thrift store. As I was short on time and had input from one of the kids, proportions were not necessarily top of the list of things to consider. Colors and price were the important things. Mainly colors. 🙂

Step 2

Clean the pieces. Glue sticks better if there is not a layer of dust in the way.

If there is a sticker, gum residue, or marker on any of your pieces, a cotton swab dipped in acetone (nail polish remover) makes quick work of removal.

Step 3

Decide how you want the pieces arranged. Use your imagination, try a few different ways. Keep in mind how you want to hang or mount your feeder – does the weight need to be centered, will it sit such that it needs to not top over, or any other needs?

Step 4

Glue pieces together. Use a strong glue which can endure the outside elements. I have had luck with E6000, though there are others you can use.

E6000 holds better than super glue (which does not stick to ceramics), though does not set up as quickly. Where super glue sticks within a few seconds, E6000 takes an hour or two to set, and 24-48 hours to cure. This can be a good thing, if you make a mistake, or a challenge, if you need to keep pieces in place while the glue dries.

(Several craft projects using E6000 have been outside in 0 degree weather and are holding up just fine. The two problems I had were in cases where not enough glue was used.)

Step 5

Decide how you want to hang your feeder. One of my feeders was light enough for me to use an old metal necklace. (This is the one I did not use enough glue on. The chain came off a few weeks after I hung it up.)

For yet another we hung it by the cup’s handle from a shepherds hook.

The majority of feeders were fitted with a smaller-linked chain. (A package purchased from the local hardware store.) While I did not measure them out, they ended up being about 9-12 inches long.

After some trial I also learned that crossing one chain over another, on the underside of the feeder, meant the glue does not hold well at all; it was too bulky.  I ended up separating the chain so I could glue the ends together at a common meeting point. A pair of pliers were used to open a link, slide it off its neighbor, then close the link up again. (See the photos above.)

An ‘S’ link was added at the top, where all the chain ends meet. Not only did this hold everything together, but also makes it easier to hang from a branch or other support.

Note: This step was done a few hours after the first ones, so pairs could be turned over and handled with little worry.

Step 6

Find a place to hang your feeder and fill with appropriate seed…or leftover, un-popped popcorn because your bird loving kid was too excited to wait for a trip to the store.

 

I would love to see your creations if you try this DIY project. Share a picture below and let us know how it went.