Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ah, Paint...

When I started painting my daughter' bedroom, we went to Home Depot and picked out a can of lavender paint.  The girls wanted a darker paint and I explained that I always go one shade lighter because it looks darker when you paint a whole room that color.  So, we picked out timeless lilac and went home.

I painted the corner from the previous post, but my oldest daughter didn't like it.  At first, I was frustrated with wasting the money, but then I stepped back and realized that I would hate to paint a room all one color and then dislike it (like we had disliked the peach on their walls for 2 1/2 years).  So, I headed to the store and bought 1 gallon of a darker shade of purple and took it home.

I painted the corner over (it's the color in the previous post) and both girls liked it better.

Yay.  That's good.

I didn't know what to do with the lighter gallon, but I knew I needed to prime the room, so I decided to use it as primer for the room.

I went to town and painted all four walls.  But, then something strange happened.

They loved it.  I loved it too.  None of us wanted to go with the darker purple.  So, I headed back to Home Depot and got a second gallon of the lighter purple.

I know a lot of people who get the $3 samples from Home Depot and Lowe's.  When you're not sure about colors, this really can save you a lot of money.  After painting every room in three different houses, I felt pretty sure about the paint colors, so I didn't go this route.  But, it left me stuck with a $22 gallon of paint.

Ugh.  But, the best part of this story is that it's not actually going to go to waste.

I mentioned the paint story to one of my dearest friends and her reply was, "I'll buy that paint from you!  I loved it and had been looking for just that shade.".  Really?  My reply was to just give it to her.  I was so glad I could do this because she's taken care of my kids for me several times because she loves them and so I had wanted to do something for her.

I'm glad it all turned out.  But, I'm also glad that I painted the whole room in the lighter color first!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Repurposing and Simplifying

I had several projects I wanted to tackle this summer.  4 closets to paint and 2 bedrooms.  Plus 1 kitchen ceiling.  The closets are done and primer is on the kitchen ceiling, but I'm waiting a few more days to put the paint on because my arm's been in some pain.  

Before...
 

In order to start painting my girls' room, we needed to rearrange the room first.  The girls and I brainstormed where we could the beds.  A friend of my mom's gave me a piece of furniture for my room, so I was able to move a wood colored 8 cube organizer from my room to our schoolroom/den and a white 8 cube organizer to my girls' room.  Then, we removed two enormous bookcases that we had in the girls' room.  We moved their beds and dressers to different spots in the room.  We moved their games.  In order to get rid of the two book shelves, the girls also had to get rid of some stuff.  But, it was okay.  

I sat scrubbing a large sticker off Autumn's bed, while I gave them instructions about how to move things out of the way and go through the process of moving furniture and reorganizing their stuff.  They worked.  Hard. At the end of the day, they were very tired.  But, they were happy with the changes and the results of their efforts.

Now, the room is divided more.  The girls have more space.  We made all these changes without spending any money.  But, Sami needed a nightstand and a lamp because she likes a nightlight and Autumn doesn't. Their beds are farther apart now so it makes it easier for Autumn to shield herself from the light.  

I told Sami we'd look for these things at a garage sale.  But, I went into our school room and found a little table that would work.  I moved one of the desk lamps into Eli's room for his nightlight and then the light in his room (which was more girlish) into hers.  Yay!  Repurposed furniture that didn't cost me anything!  

The only thing I spent money on was some lower watt light bulbs from Home Depot to make the lights give off less light.  

After...



The paint costs money of course and so I had to spend money on that.  But, that's a lot less for a remodeled room than if I'd had to buy some furniture too.  So, I'm very thankful.  

A friend of mine shared with me that she and her husband were waiting longer to purchase new things when something breaks.  They'd made a resolution, or pact, that they would do this.  It gives them time to think about it and figure out what they really want.  I think there are other reasons as well.

My husband and I recently resolved to try and purchase things in stores instead of online whenever possible.  This has had the effect on me of shopping less online and I'm glad for it.  Unfortunately, many of the things I shop for (like homeschooling curriculum) are easiest for me to shop for online, so I can't do that for everything.  But, having to go to the store makes me choose whether or not I really need to get something--whether or not I really have time to go to the store.  It also gives me more time to figure out if I have something else that will work. 

But, there's something else that happens when I wait.  I've realized that it's good to do without for a time.  We live in a society where we can literally have everything now or the next day.  It's kind of amazing and crazy at the same time.  It can easily make us feel like we should have everything we want now--because we can.  When we do without for a time (and the longer the better in some ways), we are so much more appreciative when we receive what we were wanting.

This is the case with my silverware drawer.  When we moved in 2 1/2 years ago, there was a built in organizer in the drawer.  But, it turned out to be extremely annoying.  It constantly slipped and the silverware would get stuck.  I finally came to the conclusion a month ago that I needed to put an insert into the drawer.  Most inserts though don't use all the space in the drawer.  I didn't have time to look for one, so I let it be.  But, then two weeks ago, I came across an adjustable insert at a garage sale.  The gal and I settled on a price of a dollar and I brought it home to clean it thoroughly. After the cleaning, it looked and smelled like new.  Two weeks later, my family and I are still making comments about it when we open the drawer.  We are so thankful for how this little thing makes dealing with our silverware easier to find and put away.  It's also been a good lesson for me.  

I am so glad that the simple changes the girls and I made to their room brought them so much joy and peace.  There is a peace that comes with simplifying.  

But, there was one other thing that struck me in the process of getting rid of these two large bookcases.  The room feels much more open now and my daughters have more room to play.  But, my friend Amy told me an interesting thing that she learned about museums.  In art museums, there are a few things on a wall, not many.  If there were many, it would be hard to focus on each one and really enjoy the ones that were there.  Simplifying helps us to enjoy what we have more.  Taking the big bookcases out and having less in my girls room is helping them enjoy their room more and I am so glad.  

Now, I need to paint it...

So, that's my project for today.

That subject I never thought I'd post about...

I'm a mom.  I've had three kids.  I've now reached the milestone of 40!  40!  What I noticed after each of my three children (sorry for this detail) was that my body changed.  I had to get new jeans after each of my children.  The funny part was that they were the same size.  But, different.  I was very thankful for garage sales!  I've talked to a lot of moms and they went through the same thing I did.  One of my friends had warned me before I had my first child that I should expect always to be one size larger than I was before having children.  In my case, she was right and I appreciated the warning.  

Over the past ten years, I've put myself second.  That's what we do as moms.  We learn to love unselfishly.  We purchase what others need first and save on ourselves where we can.  This is a good thing.  I get such joy from getting my children the things they need.  They are taken care of.  I, like many wives, go shopping for my husband's clothes.  He needs to dress a certain way for work, which has changed over the years depending on the position he's been in at work.  So, that's my family.  

Then, there's me.  It's tricky to take three kids with you to go clothes shopping.  Really tricky.  What's even trickier is to go shopping for undergarments.  Which brings to me what I learned this week and want to share delicately.

A week and a half ago, I went to the O/B for my check up and she suggested that I go to Victoria's Secret to be fitted, because she explained that many women experience pain when their bras are not fitted correctly.  Really???  I am really conservative and Victoria's Secret has a certain reputation.  I hate their advertising and message.  But...  the idea came back to me when I had 45 minutes to myself after an appointment on Tuesday (which I rarely have).  I went to the store to be fitted and I want to share a few things I learned, because I think I have a lot of friends like me who would never go there.

I'm glad I went.

I learned that I was a completely different size than I thought I was.  
I learned that when you buy a bra, you want it to be on the loosest clasp, because it will stretch out over time and you will need to tighten it up.
I learned that the fit should be tighter than I thought it should be.
I learned that loosening the straps makes more of a difference in the fit than I thought it would.

The salesgal gave me a card with the styles that fit me best and were the most comfortable.  I found three basics which ranged in price from $42-$48 each.  This was hard for me to stomach, but then I went over to the clearance area and another salesgal found two that were in those styles (with garish prints) but were only $20 each.  

I am more comfortable now.  I feel more put together.  It may sound silly, but this summer I have found the clothes I needed at garage sales.  A pair of shorts for 50 cents at one and a huge bag of clothes for $15 at another... I got several pairs of pants and capris.  Some fun shirts.  But, I needed to go to this one store and get what I needed.  

But, I wanted to share this piece of advice that I didn't know before I went.  I was talking with a friend yesterday who said she went there once years ago.  They took her address information and it's been impossible to get off the mailing list.  So, this is my advice.  1) don't agree to give them your email (although that's easy to unsubscribe to and block as spam via email).  2) Pay in cash.  Don't given them any of your address information in any form.  Because I didn't do this, I'm going to have to make sure that I get the mail and not my kids or my husband so that I can throw any catalogs that arrive away.  

It used to be that there were other stores that provided the same fitting service, but there really aren't any others anymore that I know of.  In any case, I wanted to share this post in case it might be helpful to anyone.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mongolian BBQ Asian Sauce Recipe

Last month, we went to Pei Wei with our kids.  We are so glad Pei Wei finally came to an area even close to us.  When one of our orders was brought out after everyone else was done, they brought out an extra Teriyaki Chicken.  Or what I thought was teriyaki chicken.

The next time we went to Pei Wei we ordered Teriyaki Chicken expecting what we got the time before.  Nope!  It was good, but different.  I asked one of the servers and tried to describe the chicken we'd had the time before.  She identified that chicken as probably the Mongolian chicken and gave us a sample of the sauce.  

Yes!  It was Mongolian sauce.  It was so good!

So, last night as I made salmon, rice, asparagus, and cauliflower for our dinner, I decided to try and make some Mongolian BBQ sauce for our dinner.  I found a super-easy and quick recipe HERE.  

I modified the recipe (of course, since I can't seem to leave recipes alone) by putting the oil, ginger, and garlic in a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup.  I needed my burners and didn't want to have to watch the sauce too.
1 1/2 - 2 tsp. canola oil--I actually think that sesame oil would be a good substitution if you wanted to give the sauce more kick.
1/2 tsp ginger powder (next time I'm going to mince ginger and see how it changes the sauce)
2 - 2 1/2 tsp. minced garlic (add more to taste up to 3 tsp.)  Garlic can make things spicy for kids and I didn't want to make it too garlicky, which is difficult to fix once done.  
I microwaved it for 30 seconds and then stirred.  Then, I added the remaining ingredients.  

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
I stirred everything together with a fork and then I microwaved it for intervals of 3 minutes at a time, checking after each interval until the sauce got to the thickness I wanted it to be.  I have to admit that I ran out of time and had to accept it at the thickness it got too because the rest of the dinner was ready. But, I'm sure it would have thickened with just a few more minutes.  

Once on the table and on my children's plates, it was love at first bite. 

Autumn: Mommy, this is so good!

Yes, I agree.  It was so good, unexpectedly good...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Panko vs. bread crumbs

A few weeks ago as I was cooking, I considered the panko bread crumbs I was using.  My food budget had been a lot higher than I'd wanted the month before.  It didn't feel like I bought anything too crazy that month, but I could see some of the changes I should make and one of them was the Panko crumbs.

Here's what I've noticed about myself...

1.  Trips to Trader Joe's throw everything out of whack.  When I walk into the store, I walk out with an expensive trip (even if my cart wasn't full).  Costco (and BJs)... another expensive trip. I'm trying to minimize these trips.  Even if I don't use them that often, I find that the memberships are still worth it.

2.  Little things can add up.  Saying no to my kids and myself is a habit I do have, but I have to remind myself not to let go of.

3.  Aldi makes life simpler.  It just does.  I don't have to clip coupons to get a good price.  There's less selection, but it's enough.  My trips are shorter and more profitable.  I focus on staples, dairy, and fruit and veggies when I go there.  I don't get my meat there, but instead make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans for meat.

4.  Little trips to the grocery store do add up.  It's easier to add on one or two items here or there which ends up adding up!

Solutions...
1.  Shop coffee sales online at World Market (used to be called Cost Plus).  The closest store to us is an hour and a half away, but they carry a decaf dark roast whole bean coffee and several caffeinated whole bean coffees.  They regularly run coupons if you get on their email list.  Between my birthday coupon for $10 off a purchase and a 10% off coupon I had (usually you can only use 1 code per purchase, with the exception of the birthday code or a $10 coupon you earn with their World Explorer program).  The coffee was on sale that week for $8 for 24 oz. (1 1/2 lb.) and the shipping to my house was $8.  Considering the gas for me to get to Costco costs me $10 per trip, I came out ahead.  I bought 4 bags = 6 lb. of coffee for $24 with all of my coupons and I saved by not heading into Costco and making any other big purchases.

2.  I don't have to feel guilty about my Costco membership (where we get our dog food) and our BJs membership (which is 20 miles closer and I can get the bulk things I need when I can't get to Costco).  On Tuesday, my kids and I headed to BJ's because my husband ran out of his generic zyrtec. I headed to Target to fill in the gap until I could get to BJ's, but discovered that 14 tablets cost $5.  At BJ's, 365 tablets cost $15.  I couldn't bring myself to do it.  30 tablets were $13 at Target, so at that rate, 365 tablets would have cost us $166.  Wow!  We didn't buy any, but instead made a spur of the moment trip to BJs.

3. Although Panko bread crumbs are much less expensive when you buy them in the big double box that Wegmans and BJs both carry now, it is still cheaper for me to use real bread crumbs for when I bread chicken, because I use the ends of my breads and bread that we aren't able to eat up for the bread crumbs.  It's an ingredient that isn't that expensive, but the almost free ones I make with my food processor are even less expensive.

Being wise with my food budget is something I think about a lot, but I know that I have to figure out what is doable for me and what isn't.  I've found that at different times in my life, I have been able to tackle different things than I can now.  My solutions to our food budget have been different... shopping by ads, farmers markets, coupons...at different times given my family's life circumstances.  I find that there is no one right answer that has worked for me over the course of the past ten years.

On a final note, though, the one strategy for saving money on food that I have shied away from that is very popular right now is using apps on one's phone.  I am skittish about it because whenever anyone installs an app on their smart phone, they give the company providing that app access to information on that phone.  This may seem benign, but as the victim of identity theft, I get very concerned about who I give access to what on my smart phone.  In the case of ShopRite, there is an app.  But, you can also go to their website and load the electronic coupons on your shoppers club card instead.  With other stores, I know this option isn't available.  The value of these electronic apps is different for everyone and I have a lot of friends who have saved a lot of money using them.  Frankly, I'm just scared, so for now I'm going to watch and see how they turn out.  Here's a link to an article I heard online last week on NPR: LINK.  It gave me some food for thought.


Friday, June 6, 2014

One window at a time...

This morning I woke up and opened up the windows in the living room, kitchen, and school room.  Then, I made my way back to my bedroom and opened up a window there as well.  It may seem like a little thing to open up a window, but we didn't realize that we couldn't open the windows when we bought this house 2 1/2 years ago.  They wouldn't open.  (Our home inspector somehow missed that.)

A year ago, I found the screens for the windows in the kitchen and figured out how to open them.  Then, last fall, we replaced the windows in our school room and then the bedroom windows this spring.  

Fresh air may seem like a little thing, but it isn't to me anymore.  I am thankful for it.  So thankful.  

But, I fear that sometime I may not be as thankful for the fresh air.  What I find is that when I can't have something or when it is missing, I appreciate it more when it returns...

...whether it is my health after being sick.

...or time with my kids after a very busy period.

...or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving since I haven't eaten one since the celebration a year before.

...or the warmth of spring after the deep cold of winter.

I hope the Lord will always help me remember the blessing of fresh air.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shopping for Eyeglasses... again

I think I am thankful that my kids only have to get eyeglasses once a year.  Last year, I purchased two pairs for one of my daughters and one pair for my son at Walmart.  I have taken them to the eye doctor at the local Walmart for five years.  It's covered by our insurance and he's very knowledgeable.  So, the eye exam part of it is very simple.  Picking out eyeglasses, though, can be much more frustrating.

Last year, I looked at Walmart and Costco for glasses for my children.  I started at Walmart and looked around.  Then, I headed down to Costco with three children in tow.  The lady at the counter was so unhelpful and I was frazzled, so I quickly left.  I headed back to Walmart and picked out glasses--two pairs for my middle daughter and 1 pair for my son.  Walmart doesn't carry many really small glasses.  So, I only got one pair and resolved to find another pair somewhere else.

I bought a second pair from JCPenny Optical and that was a horrible experience.  The price was as low as it could be--$25.  But, even the smallest pair was bigger than the pair I'd found for him at Walmart.  Still, the reason it was a horrible experience was because we didn't get any help.  They also put the glasses in a soft case (so you'd have to spend extra money on a hard case anyways).  I didn't mind when Eli ended up losing the glasses from Penney's withing a month.  But, that did mean that I needed another spare pair for Eli, so I headed to a Walmart that was closer to where I lived.

I ended up with a more expensive frame and the price climbed for his glasses from $39 to $78.  Surprisingly, it was the $78 glasses that came apart four times this year.  But, because it was a screw, I simply had to go back in over and over to get it fixed.  Time.  The store workers gave my son as the cause for the problem, though, the screws in his other glasses never came out.

At the end of it all, I did not look forward to trying to find new glasses again this year.  I knew I needed to do it differently.

We started with the exams.  I have found that my children's eyesight has changed every year.  I start getting their eyes checked at 4 years old.  Children's eyesight does continue to develop until they are 8 years old, so optometrists expect changes during this time and won't (shouldn't) automatically prescribe glasses even if a child doesn't have 20/20 vision.  This year, I found that my oldest daughter needed glasses to wear all the time.  She's the same age that I was when I started  wearing glasses all day, every day.  Additionally, my middle daughter's eyes changed and she needed new glasses, but my son's stayed the same.  So, we needed to make the rounds and find new eyeglasses...

We started with Walmart.  But, the girls didn't find ones they liked.  Both my husband I remembered times when we were kids when we felt very self-conscious about our glasses.  We want them to have glasses that are flattering and that they like.  After we left Walmart, I realized that I needed to talk with my daughters before we looked any farther.  What I said to my oldest daughter was that I wanted to find glasses that both she liked and I liked.  I wanted glasses for her that would flatter her face.  When I was a kid, knowing what looked nice on me didn't naturally occur to me.  And my daughters are the same way.  I try to give them broad guidelines and then freedom within those guidelines.

After Walmart, we checked out America's Best Value, since a friend had recommended it to me last year.  I discovered that they have a good selection of really small frames for children under 5 who need glasses at really cheap prices.  But, when we walked into the store near us, three employees were sitting gabbing away and they never offered to help us.  Whether I am willing to purchase glasses from a store is now dependent on whether someone is willing to help us (after our experience with Penney's last year).  There also weren't many frames in my ten year old's size which is what we were primarily looking for.  So, we moved on.

For Autumn, we ended up at a small optical boutique near our home, Holloway, that had some girl frames that weren't too young, nor too tweenish.  They were more expensive, but my oldest daughter loves them.  We did spend the money to get her good lenses that don't distort your eyes when someone looks at you.  There isn't a reflection or a rainbow effect.

One pair down, two to go (one pair of sunglasses for my oldest daughter and one pair of distance glasses for my middle daughter).  

Next, we tried our local mall and Visionworks.  Their glasses are ready in a few hours (or up to a day later in the case of polarized sunglasses).  The saleslady was helpful and patient with us, but didn't know a lot about what constituted a proper fit of glasses on a child.  I realized that for my own sanity, I needed to help one daughter at a time, so I started with Sami.  We found her a cute pair of glasses and that was done.  Then, I turned my attention to Autumn's sunglasses.  That was tough.  After a long search, we settled on some plastic purple frames.  Looking for glasses may take a short time if you're lucky, but I'm realizing that I need to always make sure to allow for time when shopping for glasses with my children so that I don't get stressed and impatient with my children.  I tend to squeeze things into my schedule and when it comes to glasses... it's wise for my kids and me if I allow more time for such shopping trips!

(On a side note, Visionworks does carry the flexon frames for boys with bendy arms.  So, if you're looking for them, you can find them there.  They don't make them in girl colors, though.)

Buying glasses for kids just isn't easy.  I find that as a parent, I'm constantly figuring out how to make things manageable for myself.  I managed things better this year than last.  I am hoping that next year will be easier than this one!