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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Table Talk - Conversation Around The Dinner Table

The importance of family meals and good conversation around the dinner table.
The hubby and I don't have kiddos yet, but we are always talking about them, the future we hope they have, and what kind of parents we hope to become. We talk often about how we want to raise our children, things we've seen other parents do that we want to mirror, or things about our own upbringing that we want to do differently.

It's obvious that kids are going to introduce a rather radical life change when they finally arrive, so we've decided that there are some things we can do now in preparation for having kids that, hopefully, can become a habit before our lives are upended by little Jakes and Danis.

One thing that Jake and I have always agreed is hugely important is family meal times. We both think it's important to have a time where the whole family sets aside their electronics and gathers around the dinner table to pray, eat, and talk about what's on their minds.

Jake and I try to do this as often as we can. Sometimes we both have a lot to talk about. Sometimes there isn't much going on and dinner is quiet.

A good friend of mine has used dinner conversation cards to help get everyone at the table involved in some discussion over the years. So when I had the chance to get my hands on some conversation cards called Words Fitly Spoken, Uplifting Conversation Starters For All Ages, I jumped at the chance!

The cards come in two sets. The Original Edition, which contains 200 conversation starters; and the Thankfulness Edition, which contains 100. Each edition comes as a PDF file and is formatted for 3 1/2" x 5" cards, which makes them easy to print.

A few nights ago, the hubby and I took some conversation starters from the Original Edition to see how they were. It was fun! Some of the questions covered ground that Jake and I had already discussed, but others gave us some fresh insights into each other—which is always fun when you can learn something new about your spouse.


Words Fitly Spoken - Uplifting Conversation Starters
The cards include questions like:

—What family tradition would you most like to pass on to your children?

—How did you get your name?

—Describe one of your favorite pictures of your family.

Then we checked out the Thankfulness Edition and found these gems:

—Do you believe thankfulness is a feeling we experience or a skill we need to cultivate?  Why do you believe that?

—How do you feel when someone says "Thank you" to you?

Even Jake agrees that these cards are helpful conversation starters, especially for men who don't always like talking about their day. He said sometimes guys find it burdensome to recount the details of the day they've had, but if you can engage them in other topics it's easier to drum up some conversation, especially if they see that it's important to their wives.

We will definitely keep these cards handy for future use, especially for when the kiddos come around.

If you are interested in checking out these card sets you can find them at Good Old Days Farms. This link contains an affiliate link, which just means we will get a small commission from any purchase you may choose to make at no further cost to you.

One of the reasons I want to support these conversation starters—besides the fact that they are awesome—is because of this statement I found on the Good Old Days Farm website:

"The Good Old Days Farm is a community farm located in Blue Ridge, Texas, dedicated to helping people live simpler, healthier lives. Proceeds from all our website sales are reinvested into our small family farm. Through our website sales we are able to offer health education to our community and keep the cost of our organic fruits and vegetables low. At the heart of our community are people just like you!"

These people have a dream that I can appreciate :-)

We hope you check these out, and if you think it's a good fit for you family that you choose to purchase through them. We are sure that you and your family will get many laughs, gain knowledge about one another, and spark many more conversations though them.

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

A New Adventure - Beachbody Coach

A New Adventure - Beachbody Coach
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22...

Oh, wait, that's not what I meant to say. What I meant to say was that I don't know about you, but I find that when I start disciplining myself in one area of my life it eventually spills over into other areas. For instance, it's been almost two years since the hubby and I first started working faithfully on our financial situation, and our discipline has paid off in more ways than one.

A couple months ago, as we began the search for an alternative healthcare solution, we both decided to work on taking better care of our bodies. For Jake that meant doing Sean T.'s Insanity, a 9-week workout program. For me it meant doing whatever I could to stay in shape—I ran for a couple weeks, then I started doing this walking program, then a 30 Day Ab Challenge... but the problem was I had no plan. I had no one supporting me or working with me.

Then a friend told me about PiYo, the newest Beachbody program that blends Pilates and Yoga, but PiYo takes those things to the next level, cranking them up to give you a full-throttle cardio, strength, and flexibility workout. Unlike that crazy Insanity program my husband does, PiYo is low-impact and involves more deep stretching and muscle work and not as much jumping around.

I had learned a lesson during my 30 Day Ab Challenge: you can workout all you want, but if you don't change your eating habits you won't get the best results. Even though I was able to do 125 situps, 200 crunches, 65 leg raises and a two-minute plank, my abs were still hiding under this soft cushion of... FAT. I decided that I wasn't going to continue sculpting these amazing abs unless I also got to see them.

So when I began PiYo I decided to follow the get lean eating plan, and that was a good decision if I do say so myself. In the three weeks I've been doing PiYo I have lost 6 lbs, and 3 inches! It feels good!

Of course when you do any Beachbody program you hear a lot about Shakeology. All of their programs promote it—Insanity, PiYo, P90X. Shakeology is a literal meal replacement, loaded with nutrients and healthy stuff. Unfortunately, Shakeology costs quite a bit of money, and while most people have ways they can cut back to cover the cost—less coffee, less eating out—us Penny Pinchers have already cut out everything we can. Jake and I don't buy coffee. We don't drink soda. We hardly ever eat out. For us, affording Shakeology is a big deal.

Jake was sold on it long before I was, but once I heard of its health benefits, how that it's clinically proven for weight loss and lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, we agreed to try it out.

But, then again, there was this whole issue of money. *shakes fist* Why must everything cost so much?!

So I decided to make the move from just being a Beachbody customer to being a Beachbody coach! Doing so gives me a discount on Shakeology, but, even more than that, I found so much inspiration and motivation through my Beachbody coach and her Challenge Group that I wanted to offer the same hope and encouragement to other people. Hopefully, this way, I will also be able to continue this accountability for myself.

PiYo http://beachbodycoach.com/danigrant
On August 4th I am starting an August Challenge Group, for those who choose to order the PiYo Challenge Pack or any of the Challenge Packs through me. This group will offer encouragement, tasks to complete, accountability, and a place to discuss any questions that come up. I will do my best to help you be successful in working towards you fitness goals, be it to lose weight, tone up, or maintain your fitness level.

I would love to have you join my group! If you purchase any of the products through me I will automatically be assigned as your personal coach, which would be totally awesome. You can look at the workout programs here: http://www.beachbodycoach.com/danigrant. Or if you have any specific questions, leave us a comment or click the "Contact" link at the top of this page.

Jake and I have worked hard to get our finances in order, and we're still striving to make wise money choices. At this point I think we are ready to take on a new challenge: being good stewards of the bodies God gave us. It should be an interesting journey!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Creation vs... Creation? Christians Need To Get Their Priorities Straight

The creation account in the book of Genesis generates too much dissension in churches. Christians need to get their priorities straight.
Oh, age. You're such a pest. With every passing year my declining body can endure less and less, and yet with every passing year life heaps upon me more and more. More responsibility. More things to do. More relationships to maintain. More problems to fix.

Bah, humbug!

Sorry. I DO have a point to make, and I DO plan on being optimistic about it, but optimism isn't natural for me. I'm not a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I'm a glass-is-half-empty-with-a-crack-in-the-bottom-slowly-getting-emptier kind of guy. But that doesn't mean I don't have faith, or hope, or that I don't believe that with God all things are possible—even turning me into an optimist.

But life does have its frustrations, doesn't it? The older I get the more aware I become of the cultural issues and political differences around me.

Even in churches I'm becoming more aware of the vastly different beliefs people hold within Christianity.

Our church has gone through a few upheavals recently, which has drawn out some dramatically different beliefs among members of our congregation. Namely, the issue of Creation. Our church has held to a "young earth" point of view for some time, but some leaders in our church have recently revealed that they don't believe in a literal six day creation, and some members of the congregation share this point of view as well.

For anyone unfamiliar with this topic, the controversy, when boiled down, is very simple, though there are varying degrees of complexity which I won't get into. The basis of it is this:

Young Earth Creationists are people who believe that God created the earth in six 24-hours days. Based on the genealogies in Scripture from Adam to Jesus Christ, they conclude that the earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. It's the simplest interpretation of the first chapter of the book of Genesis. These people believe that we should take God at His word, that extracting any other kind of interpretation of this text involves over-thinking this very simple aspect of the Bible.

But there are those who don't believe that the word "day" in Genesis Chapter 1 refers to a literal 24-hour day, but rather a week, or in some cases thousands of years. They often point to Hebrews 4:4-11 which seems to indicate that God is still within his seventh day of rest. From this, they conclude that if the seventh day of creation is thousands of years long, then couldn't the other six days be just as long? That could imply, then, that the creation account took thousands and thousands of years!

Scripture is actually quite vague on the matter, and scholars have, are, and will continue to debate the merits of each point of view for ages.

The thing that surprises me is how vehemently some Christians will defend their positions, to the point of attacking each other and even leaving churches, when, in reality, this is largely a secondary issue. Does it really matter whether Creation was a literal six day creation or one that lasted thousands of years? Isn't the idea that the world came into existence through an all-knowing, loving Creator as opposed to being the result of billions of years of mutating goo far more important?

Christians need to get their priorities straight. There are billions of people in this world being deceived into thinking that they are nothing but primordial soup, when the Bible says that they are so much more. Billions of people are leaning on the plethora of crutches offered by the world—anti-depressants, alcohol, sex, money, status—when there is a God who loves them more than they can imagine because He created them. He made them. He formed them into exactly who they needed to be for a glorious purpose. Whether it took Him six days or seventy thousand years is hardly relevant when people's souls are in jeopardy.

It's fun—for me anyway—to debate the intricacies of Scripture, such as the creation account. There is nothing wrong with debating Scripture. In fact, it's good exercise for the mind and a good way of challenging us to really examine what we believe, but it can not—MUST not—overshadow the fact that we, as Christians, need to stand united against the lies of this world, fully ready to come alongside each other and defend the faith when needed.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Best Homemade Strawberry Jam

This is the best homemade strawberry jam recipe you'll find
Growing up I remember picking strawberries with my mom and sisters on hot summer mornings. Returning home with my fingers stained red—and probably my lips too because I had to taste-test every few feet :-)—we would enjoy those strawberries whole, crushed with sugar for strawberry shortcake, and, of course, mom would make strawberry jam.

I swear homemade strawberry jam cannot be compared to store bought in any way, shape or form. It is beyond delicious, and that is probably why I have found myself making it for the past couple of years. While I planted 100 strawberry plants this spring, they won't really produce until next summer, so for this year I headed out with a dear friend and picked about 10 pounds of strawberries.

I decided to use the bulk of them for strawberry jam because, to my delight, I'm not the only one who can't get enough of homemade jam—the hubby loves it too! I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process, but, alas, my tired mind was only focused on the job at hand.

Here is the recipe and instructions to the yummiest strawberry jam that you can make too!

Ingredients

6 2/3 Cups Crushed Strawberries (hull, wash, then crush one layer at a time using potato masher)
1 2/3 Cups Water (or unsweetened fruit juice, thawed fruit juice concentrate)
1/3 Cup and 2 Tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin
2 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar

Instructions

I began with filling my big canning pot with water, enough so that when I put my jars in they would be covered by 2 inches of water. Place this on a burner set to high.

I then hulled, washed, and sliced 6 & 2/3 cups of strawberries, crushing them with a potato masher. It is best to crush one layer of strawberries at a time in order to get them really crushed. After they were all crushed I placed them in a big pot along with 1 & 2/3 cups of water. You can also use unsweetened fruit juice, but water works fine for me.

After I was finished crushing the strawberries I prepared my jars by making sure they were clean and then setting them in a sink full of very hot water, where they will remain until I fill them with jam.

I set the strawberries and water mixture on the stove to bring to a boil. While waiting for it to boil I slowly added in 1/3 cup & 2 tablespoons of RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin. I then brought it to a rolling boil, meaning I couldn't stir the bubbling away.Then I added 2 & 1/2 cups of sugar and mixed it in well. When it came to a rolling boil again I set a timer for 1 minute and stirred constantly. After the minute I removed it from the heat.

I took my jelly/canning jars and began to fill them with the strawberry mixture until they were about 1/4 inch from the top. I wiped off any jam that was on the rim or around the band area of the jar and then I placed a clean brand new lid on the top and screwed the band on loosely. With this recipe I was able to make just over 10 cups of prepared jam. I had a small amount left over so I placed it in a small container to be used right away and didn't bother to give it a water bath but instead placed it in the fridge a couple hours later.

I placed all of the jars gently into the canning pot, which at this point was gently boiling, and boiled them for 10 minutes. Upon taking them out of the pot I set them on a towel on the counter to sit for 24 hours, and listened for the beautiful popping sound that ensured they were properly sealed. After 24 hours you should press your thumb into the middle of each jar lid to ensure the lid is properly sealed, if it is not it will pop in an out. If you find that any of your jars didn't seal properly place them in the fridge and use them first.

We enjoy using our jam for PB&J's, toast, on crackers and ice cream and in some recipes that call
for jam.
The Best Low Sugar Strawberry Jam Recipe



Here are some of the products I used to make my jam. These links contain affiliate links, which just means that if you choose to purchase them I get a small commission at no additional cost to you, which helps compensate us for the time we put into bringing you Penny Pinching Prose.


The start up cost to make your own jam may seem like it's not worth it, but once you have the jars and canning pot the only thing you will need to purchase in the future is the pectin and lids. I made my 10 cups of jam for less than $20, and not only is it yummy, I know exactly where it came from and what's in it!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Long Are You Considered A Newlywed?

How long are you considered a newlywed? Here's my theory!
So I've been married for two years now. Yeeesh. In some ways it seems like it's been a lot longer, but in other ways it seems like just yesterday that Danielle and I were kicking back on the beaches of Kelly's Island on our honeymoon.

So are we still considered newlyweds?

I found myself pondering this question as I looked back over our second year of marriage and considered how different it was from the first. Initially, Danielle and I were two fiercely independent people waging war over our independent ways as we struggled to compromise amidst a tumultuous frenzy of stubborn independence. Thankfully, year two was a little more mellow.

But back to the question at hand. Are we still considered newlyweds?

To answer my question I did what any highly-intelligent adult would do and consulted the most wise and insightful person I know: my Mother.

"Forever!" she said.

Oh, mom. You're such an optimist.

I then consulted the second most wise and insightful being I know: Google.

Google had a variety of answers stemming mostly from the personal perspectives of its chasm of users around the world. Many Googlers seemed to think that you were a newlywed for one year, but older generations suggested three.

So which is it—one or three?

Well, that depends on many factors, but, don't worry cause I've got it all figured out. You can call off Google. You can stop asking your mother. I'm here to give you the definitive answer... though, admittedly, I am a bit biased because this is my theory and my blog. (Best to take this with a massive grain of salt.)

ONE-YEAR NEWLYWED STATUS
Essentially this status applies to people who have either been down the marriage street before or are already so familiar with their significant other that a newlywed status of longer than one year seems redundant.

If you've been married once before, divorced or widowed, and you marry again, your newlywed status doesn't stick as long as your first one. Sorry. It's just a fact. You've been around this block before, so there isn't much "new" about it.

If you've been with the same person for more than three years already, especially if you've been living together, married life isn't going to have many surprises for you that you're not already aware of. So you had a ceremony and now you've got a ring on your finger. Big deal. That changes what, exactly? After one year you're just no longer a newlywed. Get over yourself.

TWO-YEAR NEWLYWED STATUS
Maybe you were high school sweethearts. Maybe you met in the military. Whatever the circumstances, your marriage was put off for a period of time for reasons beyond your control. And chances are you haven't been able to see your partner because of scheduling conflicts or distance. As a result there's a lot of pent-up eagerness to finally be married. You can't wait to be together and hold hands and look into each other's eyes and make all the rest of us sick with your very public displays of mushy affection. This fervor for each other will be what carries your newlywed gusto into a second year, but that's all you get.

THREE-YEAR NEWLYWED STATUS
You started dating. You fell in love. You got engaged. All within a year. Your passion contained one part forward momentum, two parts abstinence and tradition, and your wedding day was a celebration for the ages. Chances are this was also the only serious relationship you have ever had—or, at least, one of the few. You've got all the fervor and gusto from the Two-Year Newlywed Status, but it's pumped into one of those cardboard Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll tubes, packed tight and ready to burst at the seams. You'll be considered newlyweds for a long time. Your third year of newlywed status will be significantly dimmer than the first two, but it will still apply.

Now, as for my mother's "Forever Newlywed Status," I think there's some truth to that too. I think there is a way that you can forever remain a student of your spouse—learning about them, pursuing them—that will always keep some sort of youthful spark in your marriage, preserving that newlyweded feeling for a long time.

Danielle and I are reading a book right now called "Sacred Marriage," by Gary Thomas. In it he presents an interesting concept called "falling forward." The term comes from the author's experience hiking Mount Rainier. While attempting to jump across a fast-moving creek a friend told him that when he jumped, "just make sure you fall forward."

"Wise advice, because even if I didn't land on my feet, my forward momentum would at least keep me from being swept downstream. That advice applies in profound ways to Christian marriage. In this key relationship we must also learn to fall forward. When anger flares and problems surface or boredom takes over, we're tempted in our immaturity to pull back, become distant, or even seek out someone more interesting and less frustrating. But we mature as we choose to move forward through the pain and past apathy. We will fall, but we can choose the direction in which we fall, either toward or away from our spouse."

A marriage should be a never-ending work in progress. If work ever stops, you're going to lose your forward momentum. So long as you're always putting work into your marriage, whenever problems arise, that forward momentum should see you through.

As Danielle and I enter our third year of being newlyweds, my aim is to continue to pursue her, almost to the point of imagining that we're not married and that I'm still trying to win her heart. If we keep this forward momentum maybe we'll find that newlywed status can indeed last forever.

Cause seriously, when is my mother ever wrong?

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Shopping Spree With My Hubby

A shopping spree with my hubby showed us just how well our financial plan is working.
Going clothes shopping on a budget can be hard, but if you do it right you can replace the "hard" with pure "fun!"

Before we were married, both Jake and I had very different approaches to clothes shopping.

Jake would shop for clothes whenever he needed, buying many things he didn't need, whether he really had the money or not, and almost always he would be totally unaware of just how much money he was spending.

And I, ever the saver, would save and save and horde and horde my money until I could go on a huge shopping spree and splurge all I wanted. But at least I always knew to the dollar how much I had spent, she says proudly :-P

There are pros and cons to both methods, but, in the long run, neither are very responsible because neither one is really in control of the money. Back then, the money that we were spending wasn't allocated for clothes, wasn't accounted for on a budget, and wasn't part of a larger plan. Money that isn't part of a plan is money that just goes away.

Well, not anymore!

Last week Jake and I got to experience clothes shopping the way it should be. We had been saving money in our clothing budget for a while now in anticipation of needing to get a few new things. Our shopping trip required some planning because in our area you've got to drive at least an hour to get to any real good shopping places.

We began by going out to eat with some gift certificates that we had been saving, which not only covered the cost of our meal but also the tip. A free meal for two? You betchya!

Now onto the more interesting stuff. Shopping!

My strategy was to look for those clothing items that we really needed first, and then, if there was any money left over, we could purchase things we wanted.

When I enter a store I usually head to the back of the store first, or to wherever I know that they hide their best deals. I know marketing experts think they're being clever by pushing new merchandise "sales" near the entrance, but they don't fool me. I start at the back and work my way forward.

Few ladies have the luxury of being married to a man who likes shopping, or at least tolerates it well, but my hubby rather seems to enjoy it—so long as he gets to buy something. He's even learned some of my shopping strategies and is getting better and better at hunting down good deals—between two different stores he found three pairs of jeans all for about the price of one. He also hunted down a good deal on workout clothes.

I scored some great deals on some sun dresses and workout clothes—and splurged on a new pair of hot pink and black flip-slops.

When we returned home and I tallied everything up I was surprised to find that we had only spent about two-thirds of what we had budgeted. That was a great feeling for two reasons:

  1. It's always fun to have a successful shopping trip where you found some great deals and saved a lot of money

  2. But more importantly, Jake and I are finally learning to do this whole shopping thing the right way. Our money is working for us instead of slipping through our fingers. Every month there's a little bit more in savings, and the money in our budget for things like clothing grows a little bit more, which means there's more available when we need it.

It's times like these that make me realize how well our financial plan is working. Except it's not our plan. I shouldn't even call it Dave Ramsey's plan. It's simply a biblical way of handling money. It's how God has been telling people to manage their money since mankind had money. And when you think about it you realize that it's the best, most common sense way of handling money. It's less stressful. It's not challenging. It just takes time, discipline, and a little bit of practice.

Ok, a LOT of practice. In fact, Jake and I are still practicing, but more and more we're seeing the plan work! And I'm so thankful that we have a God who has it all laid out for us! We need only follow the plan.

So how do you score great deals on clothing? Do you go often to look at deals or plan a big trip? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Make Your Goals Specific And Measurable... Like Batman

Make Your Goals Specific And Measurable... Like Batman
Batman is the quintessential problem solver. Since his inception in 1939 he has always been, first and foremost, a detective. A costumed Sherlock Holmes. More than his martial arts skills, his money, or his gadgets Batman's intellect has always proven to be his most valued asset.

Though the movies have often failed to demonstrate this aspect of the Caped Crusader, there's a great scene in "The Dark Knight Rises" that shows Batman's intellect and how victory can be achieved when you first break down your problems and tackle them one step at a time.

First, you've got to understand, that in "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman had spent the majority of the movie getting beaten to a pulp. He had grown too cocky, over-confident, and had lost his edge. As a result, when he finally comes face-to-face with the physically superior villain Bane, Batman gets pulverized and tossed into a third world dungeon with a broken back.

As his body heals, Batman considers what he did wrong, and when he finally returns to Gotham City he approaches Bane like a surgeon, dissecting the threat before they come to blows. First he recruits some allies. Then he gathers his equipment. Then he spreads hope to the citizens of Gotham and fear to the followers of Bane by announcing his return in dramatic fashion. Finally, after months of planning, Batman springs his trap and defeats the bad guy.

With a little planning, determination, and some allies, nothing is impossible to overcome.

  • Don't try to tackle your problems all at the same time. No matter how much craziness you've got going on in your life, it's wise to break the issues down and take them on one by one. This is what makes Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University so effective—it breaks down the budgeting process into easily achievable goals, goals that you can't help but reach as long as you keep moving forward.

  • As Batman so clearly demonstrates in "The Dark Knight Rises," your goals must be specific and measurable. When he returned to Gotham City to face Bane again, he had a detailed plan that included the use of specific allies and certain equipment. It's an example of the obvious—if your goals are too vague they are just dreams.

  • Long-term thinkers are the ones who win. Batman knew that defeating Bane was essential to the survival of Gotham City. His plan took months to form, but it was for a far-reaching purpose. Today's culture doesn't think like this. We're all about immediacy and convenience, and rarely do we think beyond our needs for the day, week, or maybe even the month. But when we keep our eyes on the future instead of our immediate circumstances, the possibility of reaching our goals becomes more and more inevitable.

This is a simple formula that can be applied to any tricky life situation:
  1. break your problem down into smaller goals
  2. make your goals specific and measurable
  3. plan around those goals with a far-reaching future in mind

You may find yourself beaten at times. You may find that there are some Banes out there who are going to catch you off guard, knock you down, and thwart all of your efforts, but you can't let your circumstances overwhelm you.

Are there any specific and measurable goals that you're currently chipping away at? Or have you been thwarted?

Keep pinchin' :-)