Baby-friendly cars.

After a crazy cash-for-clunkers weekend, Cody and I are now the proud owners of two very child-friendly, four-door sedans. Up to this point I was driving an Explorer with 150,000+ miles on it, a car in which I felt relatively unsafe because of the potential of the engine overheating, or the wheels flying off or tires popping and rolling me straight to my demise, and Cody was rocking the two-door Civic with a manual transmission and about 108,000 miles on it. Needless to say, with a bun in the oven, we were overdue for an overhaul in the auto department.

I found out that I was pregnant on May 13, a day that will live in infamy on the timeline of our lives, no doubt. Already financially frustrated because we just dropped more than $1600 on my car to repair the ball joints and get the radiator replaced, among other things, we also found out that the heads on the engine were warped, which in a nutshell means that if the engine overheats again, the car would be considered totaled. With summer fast approaching and a bleak prediction from our mechanic, this spazztastic news sent us into a bit of a panic. The last thing we wanted was a car payment, but on the flip side, we weren't going to get much out of my car in that condition, and we didn't have a few thousand extra dollars sitting around to spare.

Then the news came. Come January, we are going to have another mouth to feed, another body to clothe, and a two-door Civic to cart it around in. Well then.

Fast forward two days to May 15. While trying to decide how we were going to break the news to family and friends, we were processing through the shock and discouragement we faced as we started crunching numbers. As with most things related to our bank account, nothing was adding up. I was a hormonal mess, and then I got a phone call from my mom with some news about her mom, my Amma. I had decided not to tell my parents until we could tell them in person, so it took a lot for me to hold my tongue during this particular phone call. It was full of wonderful news, and a blessing so timely I could do nothing but thank God for providing the way only He can: perfectly. My Amma was planning to move here in the spring, and when she moved here, she was going to give me her car. I cried at the news, no doubt leaving my mom wondering, but all I could say is that she had no idea how timely this whole situation was. NO IDEA.

Well, plans changed a little and Amma moved here last weekend. She is in an independent living center with a great one-bedroom apartment, all the bells and whistles, surrounded by a sea of potential new friends, and only a few miles from my parents. With no plans to drive in her new city, she immediately passed down the keys to her car to me: a 2003 Buick Regal, with amazing upgrades, and less than 17,000 miles on it. It's gorgeous. I couldn't believe it.

At that point, we became the proud owners of three cars. We had no idea what to do with the Explorer- I mean, sell it, sure, but where would we keep it? Who's gonna want it? Does this mean I have to wash it?

Enter testament number two to just how amazing my family is. Seriously, I can only hope and pray that I have the means to be as supportive and generous as they have been with me when I needed it most. The cash-for-clunkers program was going on, and my dad, knowing that I was sitting on this SUV for who knew how long, started musing about his interest in a few different cars. He made several phone calls to several dealerships to find out who would be willing to work out the best deal with him, and we ended up at one in particular with a plan to not only turn in my Explorer for the C4C program, but also trade in Cody's Civic for a new car for my mom. The total of the trade-in value of our two cars would have equalled the trade-in value of my mom's car alone, so it was a win-win for all of us. Then, at the last minute, my brother came by to test drive Cody's car, and being the car junky that he is, he couldn't resist the zippy little stick-shift with the phenomenal gas mileage. In the end, my mom got a beautiful new car, Cody inherited her 2004 Altima with only 51,000 miles on it, and we kept the Civic in the family, in very good hands.

We are SO BLESSED. Thank you, Amma, Mom, Dad, and Greg. There are so many reasons we are where we are today, and you have played an enormous role in all of it.

I must admit, however, that I was very sad to see my Explorer go. When you've had a car for 11 years, and it's treated you well during that time, and it really is an otherwise good ride, it's hard when you have to let it go to anything other than a good owner who would take care of it. I had a lot of memories and good times with it and I will miss driving an SUV- even if the gas mileage sucked! When we left the dealership, they had written "C4C" all over the windows, and it was on its way to be sent to the crusher- literally. They had no use for it. RIP, Explorer!

All in all… I will never doubt God's provision, ever again. We have some scary times ahead of us, no doubt, but somehow, I think He'll carry us through just fine.

Coupons, coupons, coupons!

And more coupons! I am a huge fan of clipping coupons. There is nothing more satisfying than walking out of the grocery store after a long shopping trip and discovering on your receipt that you saved nearly half on your grocery bill. I wanted to share some of the best resources I have found that have helped me save no less than 40% on groceries for our growing family.

First off, when there are some things that you prefer not to buy generic, do your best to buy it using a coupon. One thing I have found, however, is that even with the coupons, sometimes the generic brand is still cheaper. At that point, you won't see the same percentage of savings on your receipt had you used the coupon for the more expensive item, but you won't have spent as much money on the value brand. The coupons are great, but they are cunning, but sometimes they will play mind tricks on you to their advantage. Don't be fooled by their craftiness.

I just spent some time on the Fry's Food Web site, and it was a wealth of coupons and tools designed to help shoppers save money. There are three different coupon sites where you can sign up to have coupons loaded directly on to your shopper's card: P&G Brand Saver, Cellfire, and Shortcuts.com. You simply upload the coupons of your choice, print out your list, and head to the store. Instead of handing the cashier paper coupons, the savings are automatically deducted when you swipe your card. The savings will appear on your receipt as coupons, so you will know where you saved money. Great stuff. Another thing I liked about the Fry's Food site is that the weekly circular is available online, important for me since we don't get it in the mail or in our paper. I always make it a point to match up the coupons I have with items that are already on sale at the store. My current shopping list already has several sale-coupon matches- score!

Another invaluable resource is the Coupon Mom, a great place to go if you want the headache taken out of matching up coupons with in-store sales. She is eager to teach others her secrets to saving money, and provides many, many more sites you can visit for savings galore. You can also download restaurant coupons, sign up for free samples, and find deals at online retailers like Amazon.

I'm so glad there are resources out there like this… especially since someone keeps stealing our Sunday paper right off our driveway! What are your favorite ways to save- at the grocery store and beyond?

Recipe on-the-fly.

Last night after returning from a fantastic weekend in Sedona with some of our dearest friends, I began flipping through one of our cookbooks and came across a recipe for bow tie pasta with red pepper sauce and peas that looked pretty tasty. But because we simply didn't feel like getting back into the car to go get the necessary ingredients after a long trip home, I decided to see if I could improvise with what we had on hand. What I came up with was actually quite tasty! There's nothing better than making a great meal with little notice using what's already sitting in the pantry.

I started by chopping five cloves of garlic into eighths (I didn't finely chop them because they are too easy to burn for a novice like me) and sautéing them in olive oil for a few minutes. I then added a can of diced stewed tomatoes that were lightly seasoned with herbs, some julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, basil, coarse sea salt, and fresh-ground pepper, and let it simmer on low for an hour or so before I began preparing the rest of the meal.

The rest of the meal consisted of whole wheat fusilli pasta and cooked frozen peas. I thought we had regular frozen peas and was worried that the sweet peas with butter sauce wouldn't work with the recipe, but I decided to chance it and it was delicious! The butter sauce was light enough that we couldn't taste it- only the sweetness of the peas came through. 

Cody made chicken breasts marinated with garlic and herb sauce, and we sliced that up and put it on top. I preferred mine without a lot of chicken but it added a good bit of protein to the meal, something that my pregnant body needs much of these days. 

Tonight, I'm going to make salmon cakes with French cut green beans, yet more ingredients we already have on hand to make a great meal. 

On a slightly unrelated note, I went to the grocery store to stock up for the weekend with my budget-friendly-and-delicious-too-cooking-sensation friend Jessica. This girl is a champ at coming up with delicious meals on a budget, and that's exactly the goal we had in mind for our weekend jaunt up north with our group of six. We purchased the ingredients for five meals for six people, including snacks, for less than $100! It came out to a little more than $30 per couple for three days' worth of food. The only meal we didn't make ourselves was lunch on Saturday because we were in Flagstaff. I take no credit for any of it- she came up with the meal plan and made the shopping list- but it was great to shop with her because I learned a lot about saving on food for a family. 

We had a fantastic time. The house where we stayed, which belonged to our friend Alex's parents, was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, but most of all Cody and I enjoyed bonding with these two amazing couples with no agenda except to rest and relax. Our pups, THOR! and Hanalei, were clearly in heaven, what with encountering a tiny human for the first time (which was a great run-through for us!) as well as access to floor-to-ceiling windows where they could watch every conceivable desert creature scurry by. Cody and I didn't take any pictures, but being the professional photographers they are, Jason and Jessica documented our time there, complete with a mini photo shoot in Flagstaff, so stay tuned. 

We can't wait for the next trip. But for now, it's dinner time!