Challenge update~Harder than I thought, Not giving up

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When I started out on this challenge I thought I had it all planned out and it was going to be fun and exciting to eat new and healthier foods. But, boy, was I wrong. It has been difficult. I have met resistance from my family. Even my kids are saying it is not worth it. Hubby thinks I am crazy. And Grandma doesn’t care one way or the other as long as she is fed 3 times a day. My son has had plenty of meltdowns because Mommy won’t buy him poptarts anymore. At least once a week, I have wanted to just give up, throw the towel in and let the family have back all their favorite junk. Hubby hasn’t helped by wanting to eat out ALL THE TIME.

I am not giving up! I am just rethinking my plan.

First, I am focusing on one thing at a time. I know I said not to overwhelm yourself and it was a case Do as I say, not as I do.

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Step one: Eliminating as much GMO’s from our diet as I can. 

So there are 4 specific items that I have heard could be GMO.

  1. Corn
  2. Wheat
  3. Sugar
  4. Potatoes

Corn is the number 1 thing I keep hearing warnings about being GMO. Which sucks because it’s the only darn vegetable I can get my son to eat. I have tried finding organic frozen corn and haven’t had very good luck. I emailed Publix and asked about their corn. They said they try to stay away from buying GMO corn. But this isn’t a 100% fix. I have also read you can’t even trust the corn from your farmer’s market or fruit stand. I contacted our local farm stand and sure enough they said yeah it probably is. WHAT!?!  So with that being said, I am just limiting our corn intake. Instead of every week, I am doing once in a while. I was able to find a very small bag of organic corn (frozen) at Publix for an insane amount of money. It would take 2-3 bags to feed my family, but worked out great for my corn casserole which only calls for a small amount.

Wheat is the next on my list. I have been going crazy looking for reasonable organic flour. We go through  A LOT of flour because we make most things from scratch. And $5.99 per 5 lb bag was not going to fit in our budget when I am buying 10-20 lbs a month. But after much research, I found that the King Arthur brand is Non-GMO. I pay $4.99 for a 10lb bag of regular flour and King Arthur is $7.99 for the same size bag. I can live with that. Plus I love that it is unbleached and the texture is light and fluffy.

Sugar was the next thing that perked my ears up. Some sugar is not made from sugar cane, but rather sugar beets which is GMO. So I did buy a few small bags of organic sugar that I found at Walmart on sale and added my coupons to it. Wasn’t too bad, but again I go through 10+ pounds of sugar a month. So not feasible. BUT after more research, Domino states on their facebook page that they do not use GMO sugar and it is from Pure sugar cane. Any sugar stating from Pure Sugar cane is good, anything else stay clear of.

Potatoes haven’t gone GMO yet. But the potato big wigs are petitioning to get GMO potatoes approved. Plus it is on the dirty dozen list so I figured let’s be safe and just go organic. I have found the best place is BJ’s for organic potatoes. They had a much bigger bag for the same price of Publix.

So out of my top 4 (and I am sure as I learn; I will add more) 2 items I can keep buying the brands I love, one item I will cut back on and the other I found a good deal. AWESOME!

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How I did my research.
I realized instead of reading a million books and each one saying something different; I would go straight to the source of all info, the internet.  I would search the name of my favorite brand or food item and add GMO at the end. It was literally that simple and in moments I would have my answer. This all started with my stress over oats. I heard all Quaker and Kelloggs were GMO. I assumed my oats were crap and I was looking for an alternative. I was stressed over the price compared to how much we eat, plus I give them to my chickens. Then I did a simple search; which said several times; there are no GMO oats. Which is why Cheerios can say they are GMO free! From here, I started thinking so what else have I been spending extra money on unnecessarily. Thus, my research began. Another tidbit I just learned is Popcorn is safe. No such thing as GMO popcorn!
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I am never going back
There were a few items that I found I loved and will be keeping in our regular diet. Coconut oil is my new favorite oil. I love the smell and it taste so clean. I did realize that I need to buy the bigger size at Costco compared to the one at BJ’s because we use it for everything. Frying, baking, seasoning my cast iron and most importantly making popcorn. Grass fed hamburger is the other item. For months, I kept complaining that the meat had a raunchy smell to it. And when I would make burgers, my hands had so much grease that I had to use dish soap to get them clean. It was gross. Well grass-fed meat has none of that. Plus I made an amazing steak the other day from grass-fed beef and my hubby loved it so much he ate the leftovers 2 days later and said it tasted even better.  And that is enough to make me a believer. Butter from Grass fed milk is another one. Yes I have to remember to sit it out so it softens but totally worth it. I have never tasted such wonderful butter. And let me tell ya, we love our butter. But now I am in Heaven.
Now the things I can’t make a commitment and change to a healthier item. Mayonnaise~ I bought this non-Gmo, organic, expensive brand and I hate it. The texture is funny and the taste is blah! We don’t use mayo a lot so I am willing to compromise and buy Duke’s olive oil mayo.
Organic dirty dozen fruits and vegetables are a must; along with any other great deal I find on organic produce. I sealed the deal on the decision the day I was driving down my back roads with my family. We drove past a strawberry field being prepped for planting season and we got hit with this awful smell. At first, I thought it was a skunk dead in the area, but then Hubby said that’s the stuff they spray on the fields. Needless to say, I was grossed out! So we are trying to grow a lot of own, but if we can’t then organic is the way we are going as much as possible.

 

Cooking with kids~Pumpkin Cookies

Today is the beginning of a brand new series here. Cooking with my kids is something I am trying to do more of. Sometimes it is easier to just get in the kitchen and do it myself. But other times it is easier to involve one of them because then it cuts down on the fighting from boredom.

In celebration of hoping and wishing for fall here in the deep south, Lil Man and I made Pumpkin Cookies. I have to admit I have never tried these. I don’t like pumpkin! *GASP* There I said it while everyone is counting down to Pumpkin this and that, I am looking forward to apple flavored items. But my family loves these easy cookies. And they don’t last long at all, so they must be good.

I found this recipe on Pinterest. It only takes 2 ingredients can of pumpkin puree and box of spice cake mix.

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Mix them up real good.

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And bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. Let cool. These are a soft cookie so they won’t take long to bake and less likely to dry out.

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I am a huge fan of Pinterest! You can follow me at http://www.pinterest.com/jeanetteford/.

Enjoy!

 

Getting challenge ready

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Creating a Master Menu

In my household, it is very easy to jump into the day and get caught up in all the things that need to be done. Homeschooling, laundry, cleaning, chickens and then there is meal time, by the time I get a chance to breathe it is 4:00 and I have no idea what’s for dinner. I need a plan. It’s one of many ways I keep my life organized and our budget on track.

This summer I took my meal planning to a whole new level. I went through my cookbooks (believe me there is a lot!) and made monthly menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner of all of my families favorites. I have enough menus for 5 months worth of dinners. We only have 1 or 2 months for breakfast and lunch, but are trying to expand on those also. We will begin using these menus in September. I love trying new recipes so the weekends are left opened for those. I also only use these during the school year. Summer is all about finding new favorites.

 

Creating a Monthly Grocery List

Another thing I am starting to do is a beginning of the month huge shopping. I make a grocery listing everything I need and then go through and cross off what I already have. From there, I go through and add things that I am getting low on that I know are necessities and we will need before the month runs out.

Now I break down the produce items by the week. Obviously, buying fresh produce for a whole month and expecting it to stay fresh until the end of the month is unrealistic. So I do a quick produce and milk shopping every week.

Why I do a monthly shopping
I live out in a rural area and it is not economical for me to be driving to the store multiple times. Not only that but I have a big family. So I choose to take one weekend to do my huge shopping. One day I drive North to BJ’s and stop at a Publix. And then a few days later, when I go to my mother in laws, I stop at Costco, Fresh Market and a Meat market if need be. These are all close to her house. I am technically not making an extra trip because I have to go pick up which ever kids are at her house anyways. Plus this just works for me. If I lived in the city or closer to these places, I probably wouldn’t shop monthly.

 

Where I Shop

I usually shop at BJ Wholesale, Publix and Walmart. In doing my research of the variety of products, I have decided to drop Walmart stores. The stores are very limited on in store organic or natural products, but online they have an amazing selection with some items cheaper than Amazon. Plus by shopping online and using the mypoints.com website you will earn points towards gift cards for Amazon, Walmart or Visa. I honestly cannot tell you how much I love this site. But that is another post.

 I also just recently purchased a Costco membership after reading many blog post about the amount of organic items and doing a walk-through of the store. I also did this through an email deal from MyPoints and earned extra points. So September will be my first month shopping there.
Near Costco, there is a meat market that sells grass-fed beef for the same price as regular beef at Publix. I am driving by so of course I am going to stop there and get my beef and anything else that looks good. Again I haven’t been there yet. This is based off of my research.
But I have been to the new Fresh Market by my Mother in Law’s house. AMAZING! It was a real food culinary dream. I will definitely be stopping there when I need fresh seafood. Very little meat is prepackaged, it all gets wrapped by the butcher when you order it. Plus they have an amazing bulk section.
I will post updates on my Facebook, instagram and of course here as to how this worked for me.
Throwing out all the junk
Now is the time to begin. Go through the house and throw out all the junk and buy all organic and natural items. NO!
The frugal side of me cannot suggest or even fathom doing this. I hate waste! It drives me crazy! Use what you got until it gone and then switch to the healthier version. This summer, we had already made the switch to organic milk because I was buying a half gallon for me, but realized it would be cheaper to just switch out our gallons for organic. My eggs are 90% farm fresh because my neighbors have been letting me buy their extras for next to nothing. Once in a while I buy eggs at the store and get the vegetarian eggs.
I am finally getting low on some items and I will be switching them over in September. I knew how awful vegetable oil is but I didn’t toss out what I had, I used it up and now can switch to coconut oil. My sugar is almost gone so I am switching to organic. And I am finishing up the meat in the freezer, but am hoping to buy 90% all natural, grass fed or wild for what I need to buy.
If you have some stuff that is unopened and really want to make the switch, then maybe donating to a local food bank is a great option for you. Remember no waste!
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Remember, nobody is perfect 100% of the time. There will be times when the kids are starving or your out running errands and you just NEED to have that Pumpkin Spice Latte to get you through. I know for a fact that this coming month is going to be hard for us because our Disney passes are back and we will be going almost every weekend. But we are going to try our hardest and not fret over the times we can’t. My goal is 80/20. If I am at home, I want to make a meal instead of loading everyone up and going out and then feeling yucky afterwards. I want to feel better not be strict. I want to know I am feeding healthy options to my family, instead of crap that does nothing to for the mind and body. But am I overly crazy about it? NO, just doing the best I can do. One day, week, month and food choice at a time.

Real Food Challenge

This summer I took the time to really learn about our food. I am tired of hearing my hubby complain about feeling sick and tired. Every week there is something new. I also started thinking about how I could feel better and it really comes down to the way we treat our bodies. I wonder how many illnesses and diseases could be cured just with a healthy diet.  The list of unpronounceable names of ingredients that ends up in our food is disgusting. I mean whatever happen to simple is better. You shouldn’t have a huge list of ingredients in a can of green beans. It’s just green beans, for goodness sake!

Everyone has a different definition of what Real Food is. Some say it is all organic, all the time. Some say it is back to basics like our ancestors. Some say it is raising and growing your own food. I am very jealous of anyone who can do all of these all the time.

I am eclectic, a little of each. As much as I would love to raise and grow ALL of our food, it takes money and time and knowledge.  I do agree with making it from scratch instead of buying prepackaged mixes or food. In all reality, you already have everything on hand for pancakes, waffles and various cakes or cookies. And food should taste like food, not cardboard. Buy organic when you can, but especially try to buy organic for the dirty dozen. Corn is another vegetable you want to grow or buy organic due to the possibility of it being GMO. Also try to buy products that are non-GMO verified.

So here are my starting points:

  • Make small changes each month
  • Farm fresh eggs, natural chicken and pork and grass fed beef, when possible.
  • Organic for the dirty dozen and corn or whenever I can find it for reasonable.
  • Process items must have less than 5 ingredients and for the most part I want to know what they are.
  • Eating out only twice a month and not at drive thru type restaurants.

Remember these are my starting points, you can jump in with both feet or just dip your toes in. It’s up to you. I will be blogging my journey to help others along the way. Our official start date is September 1st. So look for a post next week on our grocery list and goals for month 1.

In the meantime, check out the blog 100 day food challenge. It’s amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here comes the chicks…..

Now that our babies are getting bigger and have their feathers coming in, I am able to give them proper names to fit them and their personality.

Introducing our flock……

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This is Big Bertha. She is the oldest by a few days and the biggest of our chickens.

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This is Luna. It took me forever to come up with a name for her. She is starting to get more comfortable with me and will jump on me every once and a while.

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This is Precious. This one belongs to Brianna. Which is appropriate because she is the same age as Luna but so much smaller, just like her owner.

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Twinsies! They were easy to name because they are always into something. Thing 1 is at the top, she has a smaller and lighter colored beak. Thing 2 at the bottom, much larger beak and even has some black lines running through it.

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This is Speckles. This one belongs to Alissa. UMMM I am not sure what it is; girl or boy! But it’s pretty.

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This is Nutmeg. She has adopted herself as mine. When she sees me, she finds a way to jump on my back. She likes to look me eye to eye and talk to me. She is a gossiper.

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This is Midnight. She too has become a Momma’s girl. Her and Nutmeg like to fight over who sits where on Momma’s back.

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This is Ninja and in case you can’t tell; yup he’s a rooster. No eggs from this little fellow. He belongs to Cailin. And she changed his name from Fizzy to Ninja when he started running around and karate kicking the other chickens. Now before you say what happened to his feathers. It’s okay; He is a Frizzle chicken. Let me just say if anyone was going to pick the odd ball of the bunch it was going to be Cailin. And she is very proud of herself.

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Last but not least, Lil Baby. This one was named by Dakota. He took a liking to the youngest of the group. I am 95% sure Lil baby is a rooster. But he is so darn cute!

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Look at that he could be a chicken model! Adorable!

So here they are! We have had no health problems and they are the highlight of our day. Someone is always checking on them, feeding them snacks or thinking of something new to make for them. It really has been a fun family project.

 

 

 

Our Frugal Disney Vacation

One day at Disney World can be expensive for a family of 6, but 5 days can be down right ridiculous. You can read about how we save for our Annual passes and this vacation here.

We stayed at the Fort Wilderness Cabins. I chose here because I have always wanted to stay in a cabin and it also came with a kitchen. Now Disney has quite a few options for large families. There is the option of getting 2 rooms at the same hotel, but you are not guaranteed side by side rooms, though I have never had a problem getting them. But there is no kitchen and would have to go out to eat for every meal. Then there are family suites at some hotels that sleep up to 6 and have a kitchen, problem though is you hear everyone walking through the halls and talking loudly. The cabins are placed about apart from each other so you don’t hear all the footsteps and voices.  Comparing the cabin and the family suites, the cabin turned out to be much better priced. Now the cons, we are early to bed and early to rise people, so I didn’t take that into account when it came to the daily 10pm fireworks show that we could hear clearly even though it was at Magic Kingdom across the lake. The kitchen was poorly stocked as far as cookware. Let’s say it took some adjustments to cook the meals I did cook. Can you say aluminum foil cookie sheet?

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After we checked in, we headed for the nearest Publix to do some grocery shopping. I had it planned where we would have one dinner and one breakfast out and the rest at the cabin. And of course for the first night we grabbed some subs at the store. For a total of $160 which we took from our grocery budget.

Breakfast: Pancakes, french toast sticks, toaster strudels or breakfast sandwiches and then out to eat. You have to have Mickey waffles once while at Disney.

Dinners: subs, Burgers, chips and leftover potato salad, Golden Corral, Chicken Cordon bleu and tater tots.

Not the healthiest meals but better than hamburgers and french fries everyday.

Now as you can see I left lunch out because we were mostly at the parks during that time. And most of the time we didn’t eat breakfast until 9am so we weren’t hungry for a big lunch. We mostly purchased snacks. First day was fruit, second day we actually ate a big lunch, third day funnel cakes and last mickey pretzels and churros. (Don’t judge it’s a vacation from our diet too!)

Souveniers are a given when you are at a place like Disney. My older kids had earned or saved some money before the vacation. I had also earned 4 free $10 Disney giftcards with our movie rewards and then my grandmother gave each of them $5. So each had $10-15 saved, a $10 giftcard and an additional $5, once it was gone it was gone. And Mom and Dad weren’t handing out extra. This was to be spent on whatever (within reason) they wanted. We provide necessities but if you want a bag of candy, you have to buy it yourself. This worked out well for some and not so well for others. But maybe it was a lesson learned. (Hopefully?!)

In the end, we came home with over $100 still in our pocket to put towards our next vacation fund. And a lot of priceless memories!

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Back to Basics~Grocery shopping

We covered how to make a menu. Now lets cover how to grocery shop cheaply.

Shopping List~
After you have a menu plan, you will want to make a list. Gather all of those recipes and make a list of every ingredient you would need. Even if you know you have it, write it down. If you need the same item for different recipes write down how many or how much. Nothing will throw you off your meal making stride like needing 2 eggs and only having 1. Now go through your kitchen and mark off all the items that you have already. While you are doing this, write down any items that are essentials that you might be getting low on. For us that would be flour, sugar, milk, eggs and Hubby’s coffee, just to name a few.
Now time for our sale ads. Go through and write down any deals you see that would be beneficial to your family. Maybe there is a deal on toilet paper or razors. Stock up!
Coupons~
I use to be one of those mom’s who couldn’t buy anything without coupons. This was before the TV show made us look like freaks. Why did we need 20 bags of dog food when I don’t have a dog?  BECAUSE IT’S FREE!!! Then I saw the show and thought WOW I am spending a lot of time on couponing and coming home with a lot of junk I didn’t need just because it was cheap or free. It can be a double edge sword. You want to save money but you don’t want it to take away from your family time or become an obsession.
I still stockpile certain items using coupons. But everything I buy in excessive amounts is things that we use. Razors, shaving cream, body wash, shampoo, toliet paper and toothpaste are just a few items I keep a look out for deals and coupons. But I have 3 teenage daughters. If it was just me and my hubby, probably not.
Also having 4 kids, I keep a lot of snacks in the home. I always look for Buy one Get one (BOGOS) deals and coupons to match. This keeps my grocery bill down significantly. Once you get familiar with you store of choices sales, clipping coupons will be easy. I can go through a coupon book and know which coupons are good to clip based on what my store puts on sale. I also only clip coupons I know I will use.
But if your not into couponing, I have gone weeks by just making a list of what I need and sticking to it and never touching a coupon. It works just as well, you just have to resist those extra deals you might see in the store.
Now if you like the idea of coupons but don’t have time, try looking for a blog specific to the store of your choice. There are tons of bloggers out there that are doing the work for you. Just do a search for <Insert store name here> ad match ups. They will have all the deals listed with coupons for that item listed as well. They also show you the best deals of the week with a special symbol.
Prices~
I have been doing this for a while, so I have gotten pretty good at knowing my prices at the stores I like to shop at. Like I know for $14 I am going to get a little over 3 pounds of hamburger. But if I go to BJs, I will get over 6 pounds for around $15! Having a large family of predominant meat eaters this can be our most expensive category on the shopping list. But knowing where to get the most bang for you buck is the key. For me that would be a warehouse store. Again if it was just me and the Hubby, most likely not. You have to go what works for your family. Now if we were vegetarians, I would shop mostly at our local farmers market.
Which is another option, for fruits and vegetables, shop locally. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmers market then take advantage of the straight from farm approach. I have gotten some amazing deals shopping here.
For me the key, is to stick to a few stores and get to know them like the back of your hand.

Back to Basics~ Menu Planning

This week I am starting our living frugally posts. I took this month to get back into a routine of school and normal life after the holidays. Now we are living on a budget and saving.

But before then there are a few things that  I have started doing just to get into the mind frame of saving.

Gather your family’s favorite recipes~

I have gone through countless cookbooks to make an easy to find list of our favorite recipes, where to find them and what page number. My list is broken down by Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Desserts. This is truly a life saver. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to sit and go through all 14 years worth of cookbooks to find what I am looking for. This is a time saver, but also gives you a starting point for menu planning.

Menu Planning~
Organization is the key to saving money especially at meal times. The best way to be organize is to menu plan. Pick a day, mine is usually Sunday, to make a menu for a week. Look at your families favorite recipes, what you have on hand and what is on sale at your local grocery stores. As a homeschooling mom, I have to serve 3 meals to at least 4 people (most days it is 6), but I try to at least have a solid plan for breakfast and dinner because those are our family meal times. Lunch I plan sometimes based on what leftovers I have, but mostly it’s a fly by the seat of your pants meal. If your kids are at school or you work out of the home then only menu plan for the meals ate at home as a family. I like to leave my weekends open for trying new recipes.
In the end, we are trying to eliminate the drive thru solution to dinner. So start small, look at what meals are ate most from fast food establishments and make that your meal goal. Plan a weeks worth of meals for that time. Then plan two weeks. Now I am not saying don’t treat yourself once in awhile or look at your menu as the bible. Life happens! But even if this helps you get dinner on the table easier 4 nights out of the week, then it’s a winner.
 

2014 homeschooling schedule

I am excited for this new chapter of schooling. I made some changes that I hope and pray will work because I just don’t know if I can handle throwing out and starting over part 3. Originally we were doing 6 weeks of school and then a 2 week break. This was idea when my kids were younger, but now we are in middle school. And honestly 6 weeks isn’t enough time to fit in all the learning that we wanted to do. Basically any hands on activity and field trips got pushed to the back burner. They have burned to a crisp by now.

Plus I realized when the holidays were upon us, there just wasn’t enough time to do our regular homeschool routine and celebrate with fun activities. So, of course, all the fun was sucked out again. Also I felt like I was always rushed to shop and entertain and homeschool and EVERYTHING!!! I didn’t get to enjoy it!

Well I have found a schedule that will fix all that. January through May, we are doing school consistently with a week off in March for Spring Break. Our spring break will be different every year because we will coordinate with my oldest daughters school schedule. They will also have the occasional day off here or there.  We will wrap our school year up in May and have June and July off for summer break. Then in August we will start our new school year and homeschool strong with the occasional day off through to Thanksgiving. The week of Thanksgiving will mark our Holiday break. We will be off until after the first of the year.

This schedule is just for my older kids. My preschooler will be doing school all the time. His schedule is a little more relaxed. We usually do school 3-4 days a week. And he needs consistency to keep up with what he is learning. These breaks are the perfect time for some one on one time with mommy.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome 2014!

Oh how I have looked forward to you! So many things are going to happen this year.

My hubby turns 40. We celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We have been together 12 years. Our children will turn 17, 15, 15 and 5.

But other than that I look forward to the life I am ready to live. I have spent way too much time putting things off and now I am going to do it! 

I am looking forward to blogging more because I feel like I have finally found something I love.

I am determine to take photography classes to go along with that fancy camera I got so many months ago.

I want to homeschool in a way that I see my kids love learning and flourish.

I want to get and feel healthy. I am tired of being tired and not feeling like a 32 year old.

Also I want to grow our family!

But mostly I just want to be present in my kids lives and live like it’s our last moment on Earth. As you know I have fought depression in the past and though I did good this last year, I feel like in the new year I can be even better. And after a health scare with my son, it just jump started that feel to make the most of what you are given.

So I hope all of you the best in 2014. I hope you reach your goals and I hope you will follow me on this crazy journey I call life.