back in town!

We've been hiding out in Blacksburg since Friday.  Can you find us?  
We spent some time with our favorite Jack.
I made hoho a giant "PB & J" for his first birthday party cake. :)
It snowed 6 inches and managed to be warm enough the next day for my husband to play in the snow with the boys in short sleeves and gloves.   
It was well received by all.
 It was beautiful and not even the best part of the weekend. 
We got to spend lots of time with this little guy...
 ...who managed to completely change since we saw him last.
He was not impressed with Aaron's party.
And apparently neither was Aaron, who informed me at bedtime, that for his real birthday, he would like a "regular" birthday cake.  Stinker.

It was a good break from reality.  And while we were there we got two big wins for us(things we have been praying for!!)!  One HUGE one and one good one. :) We just need one more HUGE thing and eeeek!! Keep praying! :) And thank you for all the prayers you've said on my behalf! :) 
And one last thing...I wanted some bright hair pins, so I made some for myself and I have these extras.  I won't be making more and if you would like to claim some, just leave me a comment with the numbers you would like and your paypal email address.  $4.75 a pair and $3 for shipping.  Pairs ( 5, 9, & 12 are already claimed).

Happy week to you!

civilized couponing 101-Lesson 1

(The photo above shows all of my "free or cheap" stuff due to civilized couponing). 

OK friends, you asked for it, at least the majority of you have.  To those who would rather not read another coupon post, I do apologize and I do promise that this is not going to become a coupon blog.  Like it's role in my life, couponing will just be a little slice of this blog, so hang in there, OK?

This first post is for those of you, like me, who had NO idea where to start because it all seems SO overwhelming and complicated and like some sort of elusive club that requires a complicated handshake.  These civilized coupon lessons will be a series of baby steps, simple easy things that anyone can do.  So if you want to start, here is your chance to ease on in there...and once you are in momentum takes over for you.  The rush of getting 50-60-100% off of items is enough to keep you going back for me.  Knowing that you can buy the things you want and need at a steep discount is a huge motivator.   

Here is some basic info that will help you:

Time: I probably spend about an hour a week on couponing, not counting shopping, which I would be doing anyway.  The majority of that hour is spent cutting out and organizing my coupons from the Sunday paper. I ONLY cut out and keep coupons for things I would normally use or buy. 

Organizing:  I DO use a binder.  But you can use whatever you like best.  Some people like envelopes or those accordion organizers.  Use what makes YOU comfortable even if it's paper clips. 

Resources:  I use Hip2Save the most.  Start with her site...she makes it the easiest!  You can go to Hip2Save, click on stores and then click on the store of your choice and she outlines the best deals to get that week, which coupons to use and how great the deal you can get.  I'll share some more sites with you next time, but I don't want to overwhelm you.

Start! This Sunday, buy a paper.  I have found that the Washington Post has more coupons and HIGHER value coupons than my local paper.  I have started buying both.  Start by looking for coupons on things you would buy anyway and just try to get into the habit of bringing your coupons to the store with you to use.  I really feel like this is the best way to start...snowballing.  Or baby steps.  Saving a little bit, in an easy way will get you kick started.  See if, like my store, your grocery store will double coupons.

Pick a store to start with: On Sunday, when you have your coupons, take a look at Hip2Save under the CVS tab.  She lays out in detail what the best deals are there that week and I have found that CVS is the best and most easy place to start.

An example from this weeks deals that is easy to understand:
CVS had Colgate toothpaste on sale for $2.75.
This Sunday there was a coupon for .75 off of Colgate. 
CVS was also offering $2 in Extra Bucks (essentially CVS money) when you bought that toothpaste.
So...$2.75 minus .75 minus $2 in Extra Bucks equals FREE toothpaste. 

Extra Bucks to me = money.  You can use it on anything at CVS (except prescriptions).  Once you get the hang of it you can keep rolling those CVS bucks over and over until it is very rare that you ever have to use your own cash.

Homework: Buy a paper.  Organize your coupons.  Check out the CVS deals on Hip2Save.  Start somewhere.  Don't worry about getting FREE just yet, start with the small goal of saving ANYTHING and we will go from there.

OK?  Hopefully I haven't overwhelmed you.  I REALLY want to help you baby step your way in and I want you to know that if I can do this...anyone can. :)

Any questions?  I will answer them in the comment section.   You can check out my friend Beth's progress too...she's my little coupon protege and learning right along with all of us. :) Yet another, normal, non-shelf clearing, non-fifty bottles of mustard having mom who just wants to save money where she can. 


a love story and $100 gift card!! :)

When eHarmony and BlogHer asked me if I had an eHarmony story I could share here, on Valentine's day no less, I immediately thought of my sister-in-law Carolyn, who met her wonderful husband Jason through eHarmony. I will let her words tell her story for the most part, but let me tell you a few things as an observer of their relationship, you know, from the outside looking in.
Their union and relationship is a very apparent perfect match. You can tell when you meet some couples that they work perfectly together and are clearly meant to be together. I don't know anyone who knows Carolyn and Jason who would say they aren't perfect together...they complement each other well, their strengths and weaknesses exist together in a way that seems impossible. They are like Doug and me in that they have found the person who will love them in the best, most selfless way, who will encourage them in their successes and failures, and who can take both their best and worst.
I feel like they are proof that eHarmony does their homework to ensure amazing results, but I'll let Carolyn tell you how she feels about it all. ****************************************************************
1) What made you choose eHarmony once you decided to try online dating?
I was living in a new city at the time I tried eHarmony. I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to meet someone, and I felt like I was at a really healthy place. I knew myself well, and I knew I was no longer interested in dating for dating's sake. I prayed about it, which might sound funny, but I was making a financial investment to try it for 3 months, and at that time in my life I didn't have a lot of extra money. It seemed like every time I watched TV I kept seeing more of those commercials and thought I'd give it a try. Also, someone I really trusted admitted to having had a good experience with eHarmony. Other than that one person I didn't tell anyone I was trying and decided to just see where the experiment took me. I decided to try eHarmony over the other companies because I had read books by Dr. Neil Clark Warren and appreciated his perspective on relationships. After completing my initial inventory I felt confident in the results I received and was excited about the match between who I was and what eHarmony said I was looking for. It honestly felt right.
2) How has that decision impacted your life?
Well, I met the man I honestly believe was put on the planet to make me the best version of me. Most people who meet us for the first time assume we are high school sweethearts and have been together for years. In reality, when I was in high school in New Jersey, he was in college in Michigan. I think for me personally it was a faith journey; I like to control things and make things happen and leaving my future relationship in God's hands was a huge step of surrender. So that prayer: "Lord close the door that you don't want me to walk through and only open doors that are of you," really protected me both from myself and things that might have distracted me from meeting Jason.
3) Tell me about your eHarmony journey, matches, selection process etc? How did you feel about the process?
I joined eHarmony after craning my neck in church one Sunday to see if the pianist had a ring on. It felt like the time was right, and that trusted friend and those commercials just pushed me over the edge. I was not sure at first, but the first couple of matches really did intrigue me. In the beginning the process allows you to read about other people and see what you have in common, then you can choose to communicate using the system so that your phone # and email address are not out there. I spoke to a few people in the beginning but didn't connect with anyone initially until Jason.
I did get to the point where I spoke with 2 other guys on the phone, but I could quickly tell we were not good matches for each other, and we cordially went our way. Every person I was matched with I valued as an individual and could tell why we had been matched. I even got connected with a guy I went to college with even though we were 3 states away from our alma mater at the time. He and I both agreed if we hadn't dated in college we probably wouldn't need to date at that stage. I liked that the system allowed me to gradually go deeper with people. In the beginning I chose questions to ask of my matches but got to a stage where I could ask my own questions to really get at their heart. It was a comfortable, safe, and enjoyable process. I usually loved going to my computer to see what new communication I had received. I could discreetly close communication and matches without having to "let them down"; the system did that work for me
4) Tell me your success story!?
I was matched with Jason on March 19. We began to communicate via the system and would write back and forth multiple times a day, I'm not sure what it was in the beginning, but I was very at ease with him and wasn't even trying to come up with answers, I was just 100% myself. I could tell he and I had a lot in common, and one afternoon (April 4th) he gave me his phone number and offered to find a time for us to talk that weekend on Palm Sunday (April 6th). I called that night while home visiting my family in New Jersey, and we talked for 2.5 hours. It was the easiest conversation I have ever had with anyone. We spoke the next day and the next day and quickly made plans for him to come visit me where I was living the weekend of April 23.
He got out of the car, and I knew instantly I was going to enjoy every minute we had together that weekend. For our "first date" we went to the children's zoo in the city where I was living. 6 hours of pure joy! We laughed and talked like we had known each other for years. We enjoyed making meals together that weekend and meeting my co-workers and friends. Everyone acknowledged they could see what I could see, which was that he was so easy to be with and such a solid guy full of adventure and integrity. He was supposed to leave on Sunday night but had already asked my co-worker who he was staying with if he could sleep over one more night and told me he would be leaving after breakfast on Monday-which turned into after lunch
He traveled abroad in May for 4 weeks teaching a class in New Zealand. I knew he had captured my heart when he would call from across the globe just to say hey. He sent flowers half way through his trip via a local florist and cards so I continued to hear from him even though he was time zones away.
When he returned in June we made plans for him to attend my best friend's wedding in New Jersey in July and to meet my family. He asked my parents for my hand in August, proposed in September, and we were married the following June.
My life with him is full and wonderful. The things I adore about him, that he loves people so well, he can talk to anyone about anything and that he is fully present when he is with you, also make me crazy-his love of people means we are the last to get in the car after church; his ability to talk to anyone means we tend to know the life story of EVERY waiter or waitress we've ever had, and his fully presentness means no matter how many times I call, if he is meeting with a student or colleague he rarely answers the phone because he's 100% present with those in front of him.
My 3 brothers enjoy him, at least I think they do; he's blended into my family really well which is hard when you are the only girl. My friends see how he makes me a better version of me and how he has pushed and challenged me as well...our cup overflows as we just welcomed a sweet baby girl into our lives, and after 6 years of marriage we are enjoying co-parenting.
We'll be married 7 years in June, and I truly feel like God blessed me via eHarmony with my Jason! Just for fun every now and again I log back into eHarmony. Even though I am not a paying member I can see my conversations back and forth with Jason, and I feel like us being so honest with each from day one built a healthy foundation for a great relationship. It's not easy; he's not perfect and neither am I, but it sure is fun, and I love the adventure!
5) Anything you would like to share in regards to your experience and whether or not you would encourage others to go this route?
It's not a dating service. Don't try eHarmony to find someone to fill your days, but it's worth it if you are willing to invest in the relationship process. Know some people get "denied" if the survey results show they are not ready/prepared for a relationship. I don't know what that is all about, but it has happened to many of my friends who later look back and see they were not at the right place for a relationship for one reason or another. I honestly think anytime you can come to the end of yourself and trust God with your life in an area you can't control then you are bound to be blessed! ****************************************************************
Now is it just me, or that a fun and encouraging story? It's always fun to hear how couples are brought together, and I am always amazed at the perfectly coordinated secret prayer is that her story will inspire at least ONE of you to have hope. And maybe there are more than one of you have been considering trying eHarmony. To you I say: if it feels right, go for it!

To celebrate this day of love eHarmony and Blogher are giving away one $100 giftcard to one of you!

To be entered for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card, answer the following question in comments! What is the most important character trait your partner must have and why?
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older.
Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail.
You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 2/14/2012 - 3/15/2012.
Visit the eHarmony page to check out more blogger success stories and for more chances to win!

what i made for monday-chocolate chip cookies with sugar cookie frosting!

The other day when I was trying to decide what to make for Doug to take to work on Monday, I had a stroke of genius.
It's widely known that I make the best chocolate chip cookies and I recently inherited the best sugar cookie frosting recipe in the world and I thought "Hmmm...too much of a good thing to put them together, or genius?".   Genius.  Clearly.  Amazing and wonderful genius.  I don't regret the combo one bit.  You can find my chocolate chip recipe HERE. 

You will love it.  Just add your favorite sugar cookie frosting to the top and keep in mind that sprinkles cover a multitude of sins.  And a lack of frosting talent.  :)

Don't forget my Olive garden giveaway that is still going on!  Enter HERE!!! :) 


one sentence or less.

Here are some things I've been up to in one sentence or less per photo:
Above, a keepsake hoho made exclusively from the clothes sent to me (minus the fur).
I got a glimpse last week of 15 year old Moses, and I liked it.
OCD is quenched. 
Hoho is cute.
I hope I'm making a cute skirt.
 Now you can buy a hoho anytime from HERE. 
You can also add any name to a hoho buy buying THIS LISTING when you buy a hoho.
I got crazy with the fish bone stitch. 

Also, THANK YOU for your kind thoughts and prayers.  I feel covered and loved.  We still have a lot of mountains to climb but we could have one HUGE win for us this week. 

Some days you could keep in your thoughts to pray for are Monday and Thursday.  If both turned out favorably it would be HUGE HUGE HUGE. 

I am so thankful for this network to pull from and I am so thankful for YOU!


living without fear.

This post may be a little vague.  Because it has to be really, for the protection of those I love. 

But the Johnsens are being slammed.  Hurt.  Wounded and beaten by those in the position to do so.  We are struggling to hold our heads up high.  We are wandering through the dark at the moment, even though we KNOW good things are just around the corner.  You know how the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn.... 

A lot of people don't understand why I wear my emotions or my fears or my hopes or my dreams on my sleeve.  I do that for one reason:  prayer.  Why do I put myself out there?  Aren't I worried about being hurt or judged or people knowing "my business".  Well, my "business" is being human, and I have always believed that transparency leads to intimacy with others.  Showing our flaws and shortcomings reveals true beauty.  Pretending to have it all together can lead others to feeling deficient and lame. 

When I got pregnant with both of the boys, we told the world while the pregnancy test was still wet.  (gross, I know but I am making a point).  People would be shocked that we told so early.  We were chastised at times.  But you know why we did it?  Prayer.  I figured, the more people who knew, the more people could pray.  And if, sadly, something bad had happened you know what?  The more people who knew the more people could pray.  Darkness is something that no one should be alone in. 

We are called to bear one anothers burdens, in love.  A weight that is carried by many becomes light as a feather.  I know that many of you love me and will pray for my family right now, and how silly and selfish of me would it be to not call on the healing power of praying friends?

I will be able to share the whole story eventually, but not yet.  SOON I hope.

If you are so drawn, you could pray for strength, hope, for doors to be opened, for protection and above all, for peace for we are persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

We KNOW that there is a plan and we are using all of our strength to cling to that.  I appreciate your prayers, sweet friends and I am thankful for this HUGE body of believers to turn to!  I know that by writing this that 1,000's will be praying for us and that brings me huge comfort.


yes or no? comment, pretty please. :)

I'm trying to gauge interest in whether or not I should blog my coupon adventure?  This will not become a largely saturated couponing blog but I thought it might be fun to do some posts about it...maybe a little FYI about the things that I am learning or if I can post timely info about good deals?  I already have a couple of proteges. :) So what do you think?  Should I or no?  Interested in a little, from the ground up couponing? 

Please take a moment to comment a let me know what you think. :)


caramel apple dip--almost healthy.

Want the EASIEST most satisfying recipe ever?
One block of cream cheese (softened to room temp).
3/4 of a tub of caramel apple dip

Blend together.  Eat with tart green apples.
AMAZING.  Aaaaaamazing.  Do it and do it right now. 
It even makes a great gift...I piled some in a small jar, topped with some of the extra caramel and sprinkled some crushed heath bar on top of that.  Packaged with an apple it made a cute little birthday gift for one teacher and a "just because" gift for another. 

And you eat it with apples, that practically makes it a health food. :)


Sunday Dinner-The Worlds Best Pot Roast

Good morning and happy Monday!
I hope your week will be filled with unexpected blessings!  The Johnsens are off to a good start with the Giants winning the super bowl!  Doesn't matter much to me...but in this case "If daddy ain't happy...".  Even I was about to lose it over the last 57 seconds of the game. :)
Today, I thought I would share one of my FAVORITE recipes ever.  Every time I make this, it gets RAVE reviews, everyone loves it! Sunday pot roast! And YOU CAN do this!  Before I learned how to make this the only red meat I ever made was hamburger.  But this?  Oh man, SO GOOD.  And SO easy.  People who don't like pot roast LOVE this.  Doug says I make it just like his Grandma, so you know what that means.  I know some of you have made this recipe because I have shared it with you...back me up? 

I kind of needed to make something successfully and well, THREE of my last pinterest recipes were a HUGE flop, very disappointing.  I won't link to them, because that wouldn't be very nice but be leery of "pizza puffs", smores pockets and blueberry breakfast bake.  Are you ready to make a wonderful, amazing pot roast?    
This is the piece of meat I started with.  You want some form of rump roast.  I have used all kinds and they don't really seem to make much difference with the end result.  This is a good price for my neck of the woods and a good size for my family.  If you make a bigger one you will just have to bake it longer. 
Preferably you want a dutch oven.  Or at least a nice heavy pan with a lid.  This is my pot roast pot because I can sear it and bake it all in the same place.  You can do it also with a frying pan to sear and a different pan to bake it in but you lose all that good searing flavor.   
Open up your piece of meat and salt and pepper it like you would your dinner plate.
When that is done, cover the entire roast in flour.  Pat it on there nice and good.  Cover the whole thing.
Melt 2-4 tablespoons of BUTTER (NOT margarine) in your searing pot or pan on medium high heat.
When it is all melted and good and hot, using tongs or whatever else you can to make it work, you are going to start searing the entire roast.  By sear, I mean you want to cook the outer layer of meat to a nice DARK (almost burned) color to seal in all the goodness.  You can hold it, like above...
...or you can prop it up on the side of the pot. You don't want to poke it lots though, you are trying to seal in the flavor.  The butter will turn dark, too.  That doesn't matter. 
You will continue to turn the meat and move it around in order to sear all sides and areas.  See the photo above?  Not dark enough.  You want the meat to be a DARK, almost burned color. 
Getting closer...
Just about there. 
This is a good color.  
When you get it to this point, put the meat in the center of the pan, fat side down, add about 2 cups of water, put the lid on and put it in the oven.  Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. 
At two hours or so, open it up and check to make sure there is still liquid in the bottom.  If needed add another cup of water or so.  Replace the lid and bake for another hour. 
Continue baking until you press your fork into the corner and it nearly falls apart.  See how it flaked off so nicely?  That's how you know it's done.  :)
Remove the roast from the pan, put on a plate, cover with foil and then a towel to keep it warm. 
This is what you are left with.  Want to make some gravy?  Add approximately two tablespoons of flour directly to this pot.  Stir with a whisk. 
Grab two cups of potato water from the pot you are boiling potatoes in. 
Because you have to have mashed potatoes with pot roast. 
This is the gravy before adding the water, after adding the flour.  Super thick. 
Turn on the heat to medium and add about 1- 1 1/2 cups of your potato water. 
Whisk, whisk, whisk. 
Use your whisk to scrape all that flavor off the sides of the pot and into the gravy.
Continue doing this until it's bubbly and thick. 
If you need to add a bit more flour, do that.  Salt to taste. 
Then, enjoy an amazing, melt in your mouth dinner.
 Enjoy it!  I will answer any questions in the comments section. :)

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