Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cards for All Occasions

Near my desk is a drawer of cards.  There are random envelopes and cards in it, but it's often hard to find what I'm looking for!

This week I began wondering if perhaps this is a case of less being more.  I have a "box" of cards on my desk that I love.  It's a collection of 30 cards that are blank inside, waiting to be colored on the outside.  There are cards inside for birthdays, a wedding card, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Congratulations, Thank Yous.  I like the coloring designs on these cards because they aren't too hard to color--some coloring books seem to have tiny, tiny spaces that need to be colored in!  What's even more fun is that the envelopes also have fun decorative borders on them to color in.  My tween daughters enjoyed the one I gave them to color for a friend's wedding gift.

I love that they are altogether and that I can easily store them in my desk drawer--without the mess that my other drawer contains.  For now, I think I'm just going to pretend it isn't there and use these cards when I need one!  Maybe next week, I'll go through that drawer and organize it when I have time and the energy to do it!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these cards for review from Storey Books.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Teaching Kids About Money

There are many, many books about teaching kids about money.  Thick books.  Overwhelming books.  It is something that is on my mind.

I was listening to someone talk of someone they knew who is buying a house.  The buyer has spoken of the house and furniture purchases saying, "Now, I feel like a real adult."  Unfortunately, this is a situation like many where the expenses will outweigh the income.  Last night, I spoke with a community college professor who talked of a college student who dropped a class and then didn't even take the final for one of the classes.  This meant that the student lost their aid and is now stuck repaying it sooner than expected.  She also mentioned that a student she knew had completed more than a year of community college, but then started back at square one when transferring to a 4 year school because she wanted the experience of it.

How can I raise my children so that they don't spend more than they can?  How can I raise them to understand how much things cost?  How can I raise them to make wise decisions about college?  I don't think there's an easy answer to these questions.  And I know that every parent raises their children differently--our children also all have different personalities!

For me, my approach has been to talk with my kids openly about finances.  I shared some stories the other day about Autumn's toddler years and our finances then that she didn't remember.  I shared with her about how God provided clothing for her first two years of life through the thrift store I volunteered at.  I shared with my middle daughter this week that it was wiser for us not to go to Target so that we wouldn't be tempted to spend money on things that we shouldn't.  We have to stay within our budget.  It's easier when one doesn't tempt one's self.

Today, as we get ready to go on a field trip, four sack lunches were packed instead planning to eat out.  Money saved to be spent on something else needed.

I've come to conclude that living within one's budget is done with a million little decisions-- not just a few big ones (though those have a big impact!).

What have you done that you've seen have an impact on your children in regard to them make wise financial decisions?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Thoughts on Vacationing and Money

We are on vacation.

I have marveled at all of the families traveling with young children under five.  They seem to be effortlessly going with the flow.  They look very calm.  In the hotel where we stayed, there were several little ones.  Several threw fits and several did not.  We moved rooms early in our stay because a baby screaming next door wouldn't stop.  Please know--I love children very much, but my husband couldn't sleep.  Unfortunately, hotels have thin walls.  Still, I marveled at the parents' willingness and desire to travel with little ones.

My husband and I didn't travel a lot when our kids were little.  We took our oldest when she was 3 months old to a wedding out of town for a very close friend.  I'm so thankful we did, but that was a challenging trip.  When my middle daughter was 1 year old, we tried to go to a cottage, but she woke 8 times in one night demanding to nurse.  Mom--Me-- was a zombie the next day and we turned around, drove home, and I began to wean her.  We didn't try to go on a vacation again until three years later, with a third child aboard.

Our first vacation to Maine was five years ago when my youngest was three years old.  It was interesting to think back this week on what that was like.  It was a good trip with a long, ten hour road trip attached to it on both ends.  Each year it has gotten easier as my kids have been able to entertain themselves more with books and each other as company.  This year was the easiest so far and I was so thankful!  There were fewer "When are we going to be there?" questions from the back seats than previous years.

I enjoy the time on vacation with my kids very much.  We laugh and spend time together.  We go on lots of "field trips".  My husband and I often talk about how to "do vacation better".  Part of this is because neither of our families really took vacations.

My family went to vineyards that my dad wanted to go to.  In the back seat of the car, sat my brother and I silently reading, not complaining, as we drove up and down the California and Oregon coasts.  We didn't go visit sites that kids would enjoy.  The part I enjoyed was eating out and staying in motels.

My husband's family didn't take many vacations either.  So, we have had a lot to learn as a couple. But, we're learning.

Here are a few of the things I've learned...

1.  We try to eat one meal (or two) out a day.  Our stomachs are used to eating food at home and do better if we follow this pattern.  It's also much easier on the finances.  Breakfast is a surprisingly expensive meal to eat out in a restauarant.  Bagels for my family (without drinks) cost about $25 and a sit down breakfast $50-$60.  When we stay in hotels, we stay where they have a contintental breakfast which saves us some money.  But, when we are in a rental house, we try to eat breakfast at home.

2.  I make a plan ahead of time for meals and activities.  It isn't a rigid plan.  But, typically, our phones and computers don't get a lot of cell coverage in rural areas, so I write down addresses for our GPS and do research ahead of time to find things to do.  I pick a variety of things that my husband and kids enjoy.  Different hikes, museums (I try to look and see if there are any free hours), restaurants for the meals I think we'll eat out, and any special sites I think would be fun to visit.

3.  I have forms.  Last week, I had a volunteer interview for 4h and I had to answer several questions about organization.  My answer to one question that I use a lot of forms.  I use forms for everything.  I use a form for the kids to pack their clothes (which worked well except that I need to add on a space for a belt!).  I use a form for packing kitchen supplies that won't be at the house we're staying in.  I use a form for general family packing.  My forms have made packing so much easier for my family.  It's still a ton of work to get ready for vacation, but I just go item by item down the list until everything is packed.

4.  My kids have separate, color-coded LL Bean bags with wheels.  This has been a huge help!  We just bought a new one for my husband yesterday--in a different color, because he had one without wheels and we needed his bag to be our hotel traveling bag for the two days we stay in hotels before we get to the house we rent for a week.

5.  I take coffee and a grinder and a few knives.  I can do without most of my kitchen for a week, but the knives never work when we rent someone else's home and my coffee from home is one of the few things I do in the morning for me.

6.  We got a box for the top of our van this year.  Several of our friends had one and my husband thought it would be wise to get one this year.  It hadn't occurred to me, but it has been such a help.  Less stuff under the kids feet, and enough room to breathe inside our car.  It was worth the investment.  Our bag for the first two nights was inside the car so we didn't have to get into the box until we reached our destination.

7.  Budgeting...  I think that budgeting for vacation expenses is hard outside of lodging and travel.  Being super concerned about finances can take away the joy from doing the things we're doing.  One of the things I've really had to get myself used to is spending money on doing things.  I know that sounds weird probably, but it just wasn't something that came naturally to me.  I choose free concerts over expensive tickets.  I choose free parks over ones that have a fee.  But, sometimes the ones with a fee are so much more worth a visit.  I'm learning.

8.  At most meals out, my family drinks water.  We don't order juice or milk unless it's included in kids' meals.  My husband does order a draft beer once in a while.  I realized yesterday why.  I had always thought it was just about the cost--5 drinks equates to an extra $10-$15 on the tab for a meal.  But, I discovered a second reason yesterday.  When I sit down to a meal, I talk to each of the kids first and decide what they're going to eat before I decide for myself.  I do this for two reasons--1) to help them make decisions and know what they're going to tell the waitress and 2) to help me figure out what to order as a back up in case they don't like what they order.  When you add juice onto the discussion, things get noticeably longer and more complicated.  For me, simpler is better and less stressful.  My children know how much I try to be less stressed and for them this something desireable.  In my house, the life is good saying "keep it simple" is important and helpful.  I just explained this to one of my children who ordered juice twice yesterday and she understood and was fine with that.  She also understood once I explained that a container of juice cost the same as the $3 that her glass of juice cost at dinner last night.

9.  We don't plan on going all day.  I know many high energy families that are able to go all day.  My family can't.  We get up in the morning and get out the door about 9 or 10 am, but we'll be home between 4 and 7 pm.

10.  I save where I can so I can feel comfortable spending where we need to.  Every year, I head to Ollie's to pick up cheap workbooks for the kids to do in the car and to Target for car snacks before we head on a trip.  It's so much cheaper than buying something on the road.  We also brought water bottles for the kids this year and even though they each cost $8, the savings in buying water bottles has been both financial and spatial.  We haven't had to buy any water bottles from the grocery stores --I've spent up to $12 in the past on them.  We also haven't had to store extra water bottles and take up trash space with them.  Many of the homes we've rented don't have recycling, so the disposable bottles just filled up the trash when they were emptied.  It's easier to have less trash.

11.  Having something to do in the hotel room for the kids was something that accidentally happened this year and is something I'm going to remember.  The girls wanted a new lego set.  I had found a ninjago brickmaster set at Ollie's for $8 instead of the $27 that Amazon charged.  The girls split the cost with me and they were all occupied all evening (1-2 hours after dinner) in the hotel after we went to the pool.  The money spent on the legos was well spent.  We've found that tv in the hotel rooms is tricky.  One year we watched tennis, which was safe.  The first night this vacation, I watched NFL football with my kids and explained the game to them.  Sports are pretty safe, but outside of that, it's been tough to find things to watch.

12.  I bring food from home.  Food is cheaper where we live because of Aldi.  I buy the refrigerated items where we stay, but I bring the basics with us.  I estimate that it easily saves us about $100.  We stay near a larger grocery store, but I know that in many touristy areas, the independent grocery stores are far more expensive.

13.  Having a GPS is very helpful.  We like having one independent of our phones.  We do have car phone chargers, but the GPS has the ability to look up places and addresses when it's up to date.  Unfortunately, our GPS is on its last legs with this trip and will need to be replaced this year, but it's had a good long life--about 7 years.  My husband's phone does have a GPS, but isn't able to look up places while we're on the road.

I guess that's it for now.   I know we still have more to learn about how to take vacations, but they go much more smoothly than they did five years ago when we took our first weeklong vacation to Maine and I'm very thankful!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coloring Books

For the past year, coloring books for adults have spread like wildfire.  I see them in grocery stores, craft stores, Target, Walmart, Marshalls, and in just about every store I walk into.  I've noticed that these books vary a lot.  Many of them have fine detailed lines within which to color.  Many have inspirational quotes either written in the coloring page or on the backside of the coloring page.

But, what if you want a coloring book for adults that doesn't have lines quite so close together?  What if you don't want those sayings, because while you like some of them--you don't quite agree with some of them (and you can't exactly erase them when they are printed on the page)?

In the spirit of 4-h, farming, and country life, Storey Books has published a new adult coloring book Country Life".  My children participated in our county fair this weekend (as did I) for the first time ever.  My daughter won a ribbon for her watercolor and my scones were second of two entries.  He he he.  Every picture in this coloring book reminds me of something we've seen at the fair.
aptly titled, "

I like this coloring book.  No sayings and easy to color in lines.  It's perfect for people who love farm life, animals, and home arts that want to color.  There are fun pictures of chicks, vegetables, canned goods, butterflies, deer, fruit, cows, and even bees.  There are 45 detachable pages ready to be colored!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Books.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A book that makes me want to quilt

6 weeks ago, I received two books in the mail that I love.  I wanted to write a review immediately, but each time that I've sat down to put my thoughts into a coherent review, my words haven't feel good enough.  So, this morning, I am just going to write what I think--quickly and as clearly as I can!

The first book is titled Quilting With a Modern Slant, by Rachel May.  A few months ago, my kids and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art.  At the museum, there were four art quilts.  I was intrigued.  Quilting With a Modern Slant is about how to make such quilts.  There are beautiful examples of quilts throughout the book, with both descriptions of the quilting artists and their approaches, as well as instructions about how to make several quilts.  I loved perusing this book and considering how the quilts were designed and pieced together.

Traditionally, people picture Amish quilts with repetitive patterns and cotton fabrics when they think of quilting.  Likely, that picture also includes only women doing the quilting.  Art quilts do not fit these stereotypes.  This new form of modern art is done by both men and women.  All of the elements of art and principles of design come into play as these artists work with fabric as a new medium, which gives new room for them to explore their ideas.

I absolutely love the quilts in this book.  I appreciate the author's explanation of how to make some of them.  But, the nature of an art quilt is really that it would be unique, so one wouldn't necessarily make the quilts in this book, but rather use those ideas and techniques as a springboard to design one's one quilt to make.

If you quilt and love to travel off the well trodden road, this book is for you.  If you love to design your own quilts and play with color, shape, and form--art quilting would be a grand adventure.  When I began quilting thirteen years ago, I never followed a pattern.  I made up my own.  It was fun.

But, if you've always followed other people's quilting patterns and have wondered how to design your own, then this second book is for you.

Also on my desk sits The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook by Thomas Knauer.  I love this book! But, so has everyone that I've shown it to.  First, I took it to a retired Art Appreciation professor.  He thought it was well organized and interesting.  Then, I took it to a community college art professor who loves modern art and asked her to take a look at it.  She lit up when she looked through it.  Her wish was that she could order a copy for herself (or not have to give the copy in her hands back to me).

What was it about the book that they loved?  Why did they love this book?

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook is unlike most art books that I've seen.  It begins by explaining the history of modern art and what makes modern art "modern art".  When I have walked
into art museums, I have been at a loss to understand most of what the museum considers modern art, so I found the authors explanation and information extremely helpful.   It is the first book that has ever helped me understand a type of art that has seemed so nebulous to me.

The book examines important elements of art and design principles in light of their relationship to art quilting.  As I noted earlier in this post, many men have entered this area of art that was once traditionally a "woman's" craft.  This book is written by a man, Thomas Knauer.  For each facet of modern art, Knauer scaffolds the reader through different steps so that they can begin to design his/her own art quilts using grids.    I was impressed by how the author did this.  The college art professor I spoke with loved it and felt that it very easily could be used as a high school or community college art text.

The retired professor that I shared the book with appreciated the author's explanation and inclusion of different examples of modern art.  He also thought the quilts were beautiful.  He hadn't heard of art quilts as an art form, because he had focused on earlier periods of art in his classes.

As a quilter, this book made me want to sit down immediately and dig in.  Both quilting books inspire me to quilt--just as cookbooks with beautiful pictures of food inspire me to cook.

This workbook is formatted well.  The text is written in two columns in many parts of the book--which makes it easier for one's eyes to follow and track the text.  The photography complements the text well and makes it easier to understand how to complete the design exercises.

My oldest daughter loves painting.  She doesn't understand yet the value of exploring other media, but later in her high school years, I plan on her working through this workbook as part of her homeschool curriculum.  It will challenge her to work with the elements of art and principles of design in ways that watercolors don't because of the differences between fabric and paper.

Please note that I received copies of these books from Storey Books for review.





Cold Brew: The New Expensive Coffee

Cold Brew is everywhere these days--it's even at Dunkin' Donuts!

I have friends who like the Pioneer Woman's Recipe, but a few months ago, I had a coupon and bought a coffee sock for my husband when it was on sale.  Here's what I've found...

I use 2 cups of beans (which equals 2 cups of grounds) for 6 cups of water.  

Most people I know use the Pioneer Woman's method, so I did try it, but it didn't work or me.  It was a bit of a big mess when I tried to strain the coffee afterwards.  

So, I have one of these.  It's much neater to use.  I did notice on Amazon that now there are also kits with a stainless steel mesh insert which would I think would be very nice.  

The downside of the Pioneer Woman's recipe is that you have to use cheesecloth to strain it.  I found that the cheapest cheesecloth I can find is the basic package at Target. I use cheesecloth to make Lebnah, a middle eastern cheese, but I don't like to regularly use things that can't be used more than once.  

I do follow the coffee sock's directions.  Place the sock in the jar with the coffee grounds in it.  Then, I wet the coffee with a little of the water and let it sit a minute or two.  Then, I pour the rest of the water through.  I put it in the fridge for 24 hours before I take out the filter.  My sister law's use the method of letting it sit on the counter for 8 hours, but I get nervous about bacteria...  so, I put it in the fridge. :)

I really like making cold brew at home because I can make half-caf.  My coffee is a blend of World Market's whole bean Terrazu or Island Blend and their decaf whole bean Italian Roast.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Best Vacuum Ever!

Several months ago, my Oreck vacuum cleaner stopped working right.  In my disposable consumer mindset, I set it aside in the back of the closet until I had the money to take it in to get it fixed.  I had a second, very heavy vacuum cleaner that I've been using every since.

I bought my Oreck when my husband was deployed six years ago.  I had gone through three vacuum cleaners in 9 years and I wanted something that was going to last longer.  So, I did some research and bought a commercial Oreck at Costco for $200.

It has done very well for me for 6 years, but in the spring, it stopped picking anything up.  I wasn't sure what to do and I wasn't in the youtube mindset at the time, so I stuck it in the back of the closet, started using our beast vacuum cleaner instead, and waited until I felt there was some room in our budget to take it in.

I hope you don't mind rabbit trailing with me...

Fast forward to this week.  My husband and I purchased an older car for fun.  We both have cars that run.  This car is meant to be a fun Sunday car for me, because I enjoy driving.  He loves driving as well, but his preference is his motorcycle.  My van isn't exactly fun to drive (it can't zip around corners), though I'm so thankful for how well it drives!  So, this new used car is my motorcycle on 4 wheels.

This car has changed my thinking drastically.  Two days after we had it, the check engine light went on.  Ugh.  I talked to my husband and learned that I would need to take it in to have the code read.  But, then the next day, I learned that I could order a code reader online for as little as $15 dollars!  I pondered this but knew I didn't have to take care of it immediately.

I went to the library and I learned from the gal at the circulation desk that I could take it to Autozone and they would read the code for me for free!

I went home armed with this new knowledge, and read online that a loose gas cap is the most common reason for the check engine light to come on.  So, I went back to the gas cap and clicked it a little harder.  I tried to start the car one last time with just a little bit of hope and the light was off!

That afternoon, I youtubed a video to help me see how to replace the battery in one of the key fobs for the car.  I did it!  The previous owner of the car had mentioned youtube and it's helpfulness in replacing the battery instead of taking it to a dealer for them to do it.

I had this great feeling of satisfaction that I had taken care of something instead of jumping the gun and taking my car in for a very expensive inspection!

This morning I woke up thinking about the car, the check engine light, and tackling the key fob.  I decided to pull out my vacuum cleaner.  I googled youtube for a good video and found this one:


I followed the directions and discovered that I had a big (BIG) clog in the main pipe.  I cleared it out and Voila!  My vacuum cleaner works again!!  The video was easy to follow and understand.

I don't think I would ever buy anything but an Oreck again.  It was so simple to fix and I honestly missed (!!!) how light it is.  I haven't asked my kids to vacuum in months because the other vacuum was so heavy.  But, now I can comfortably ask them again!  Yahoo!

What Oreck does well is be simple.  It separated the hand vacuum from the upright and streamlined the vacuum so it could be very, very light.  It is only 8 pounds!  My Miele is 21 pounds and a bear to push.  It does an amazing job, but it is better for heavy duty jobs and the Oreck is nice for weekly vacuuming.  Also, because the Oreck is simple, it can be fixed.  In a day and age when everything is disposable and when something breaks it gets thrown away, I was so thankful to be able to fix my vacuum myself and not spend $170 on a new one.

I know that many people are concerned about HEPA and pet dander features on their vacuums.  My Miele is the pet vacuum edition.  My Oreck is not.  I have three family members with allergies and I don't feel like their allergies were worse when the Oreck was our regular vacuum than with the Mielle the past four months.

If you ever feel exasperated about your vacuum cleaner or you know someone who has a shoulder injury, then there isn't anything out there that compare with an Oreck!