Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Buying a suit

My husband has needed a new suit.  We've tried to figure out where to go.  He looked online.  I went to Marshalls, Macy's, and JCPenney's.  But, in the end we went to Jos. A. Bank.  We'd gone to Men's Wearhouse before (which now owns Jos A. Bank).  I was so pleased by our visit to Jos. A. Bank!

When I went into Macy's last week, not a single salesperson spoke to me.  I walked through the men's suit department (where suits cost $600) and still I saw only one woman at a counter near the men's shirts--who never spoke or addressed me and the store wasn't busy.  I was there because I needed help.

I found the same thing in Penney's.  No one approached me or helped me.  There was no one there who I could ask questions of.  I did find a blazer for my husband--which cost $90 after the sale and a 25% off coupon, but that was it.  I learned on Saturday that the distinction is that blazers have solid colors, brass buttons and sportcoats--patterned, non brass buttons.  I saw the same slacks in Marshalls as Macy's, but the ones at Marshalls were $20 and the ones at Macy's of the same brand/style were $50.  But, I could buy slacks and shirts.  A suit has always been trickier.

We walked into Jos. A. Bank Saturday morning and were helped by a man who did not try to hardsell us at all.  My husband found two suits on sale that were less than Macy's price, several oxford shirts, and dress shirts, as well as a tie pin and cuff links that we were very pleased with (all thankfully on sale)!  It was immensely helpful to have someone help us who knew how the suit should fit.

It's appealing sometimes to buy clothing and shoes online.  It can be very convenient.  But, it can also be full of hassles and expenses in other ways.  I had been searching for some replacement sandals for the ones I've been wearing for two years.  I finally found them in the right color last month.  But, when they arrived, they were too narrow!

I'm going back to the old ways--no more shoe shopping online for me.  I stopped by Marshalls and found a pair of Croc sandals for $20--the same price as the sandals online--except that I got to try them on first, make sure they fit, and not have to pay $13 return shipping if they didn't fit!

I think the key for me is finding the stores that I can shop efficiently at, find a reasonable price, and get the help I need when I need it!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Salt Potatoes... from a non-New Yorker

One of my husband's favorite side dishes is New York (specifically upstate NY) style Salt Potatoes.  The first time I attempted to make them was a disaster.  A complete disaster!  I couldn't fathom not pricking or cutting the potatoes.  It went against my nature.  If you have made salt potatoes before, I'm sure you know exactly how they turned out!  The salt soaked into the potatoes and they were uneatable.  I gave up after my first try and didn't think I'd ever successfully make them.

But, a few years later, I had regained my gumption to try again.   So, I bought some small potatoes from Wegman's and tried.  My second attempt was halfway successful, but I didn't get the right salty flavor that's true to Salt Potatoes.  But, I became determined to get it right.

I still don't have it quite right, but I have arrived at a recipe that my family likes.

Our Family's Salt Potatoes

3 pounds of small or fingerling potatoes
7/8 cup kosher salt

Wash potatoes and place in pot.  Cover in water.  Add salt and bring to a boil.  Boil until a fork easily pierces a potato.  But, be careful piercing the potatoes because the salt will seep into those holes!  Wait until you think they're done and only pierce one or two.  When the potatoes are done, drain potatoes in a colander.  But, DON'T wash them!  The salt will form a coating on the outside of the potatoes.  Place in bowl and pour

6 Tbsp. butter, melted

over the potatoes.  Toss and serve.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Apples, Apples, and More Apples

In my house, apples turn into apple pie, applesauce, sauteed apples to go along with pork chops, or Waldorf salad.  But, beyond that...

Sometimes it's fun to get new ideas of what to do with apples.  My family likes apples and there's only so much apple pie that one can eat.  The Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier is filled with such ideas.  My mom and I had a mixed experience with the recipes.  Of the ones we tried--some were
good, some were just okay.

The recipe I remember most was for the English Apple Crumble.  My oldest daughter doesn't have a super sweet sweet-tooth.  So, she loved this dish.  It was nice, especially with a little whip cream on top.  I generally found that true of the recipes in this book--they weren't overly sweet.  This can be good thing if you're trying to cut back on your sugar intake or if you prefer dishes that are not overly sweet.

I liked how this cookbook was formatted.  The ingredients are clear and easy to read.  The formatting makes it easy to follow the directions which weren't flowery or wordy.  And of course, the pictures.  The pictures are appealing and well done--they make me want to cook, which is what they're supposed to do.

If you love apples as an ingredient, this cookbook is probably right up your alley!

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Saving my husband's wool coat...

On Christmas Eve, someone accidentally dripped candle wax all down the side of my husband's wool coat.  We realized it as we walked out of our church's candlelight service.  When we got home, my husband looked up on the internet what could be done.  We found a solution!

So, early on Christmas morning while my family still slept, I took the coat into the kitchen.

First, I scratched off the excess wax with my fingernail.

Second, I flattened the sleeve out.  Online, it had said to put a paper towel inside the sleeve under the coat, but I didn't need that.

Third, I took a small piece of paper towel about 4" x 4" folded in half and found a serving spoon.

Fourth, I turned on the stove (we have a gas stove) and held the spoon over the flame with a pot holder on my hand.

Fifth, I placed the paper towel over the spot of wax on the sleeve that I wanted to remove and then rubbed the spoon over the paper towel.  The paper towel absorbed the wax!

Since there were so many lines of wax on the sleeve (10-15), it took a little bit of time, but not more than 15 minutes or so.  I had to reheat the spoon after about every 2 lines.  I had to be sure to move the placement of the paper towel so it would absorb the wax into a new spot on the towel.

I am amazed and so thankful that this trick worked so easily!  My husband was able to wear the coat that he loves to church yesterday morning and stay warm.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bring a Leather Purse Back to Life

I suppose that's a boring title for a post.  But, that's really what I want to write about!  This weekend we went to NYC and I took my brown leather Coach purse that I've had for several years.  I like it a lot--it's just a little small.  I wanted a new purse, but reconsidered.  I had two problems.  1.  My wallet is too big for it and 2.  The corners and sides of the purse really show their wear.

So, I started looking.  A friend of mine had her credit card swiped by a card reader when she was in a crowd traveling in Europe last year, so I knew I wanted an RFID wallet, but I needed a good size.  On our trip, I discovered that Fossil makes many of their wallets RFID protective.  Most stores have some that are.  Kohl's has some as well.  I realized quickly that finding a wallet the right size isn't going to be as easy as I thought!

But, my other concern about my purse was how to bring it back to life.  I went into the Coach purse and though the sales lady said they could clean it, I couldn't really bring it back to life.

She turned out to be wrong.

Last night, I remembered a leather conditioner cream that I bought several (several!) years ago from Nordstrom's made by Brahmin.  At the time, it was $10, but it has lasted me for years.  I brought it upstairs and hoped for the best with my purse.  I used it on my purse and ten minutes later my purse looked new again!

I'm reminded of several things.  It's so easy to think that I need to replace something that looks like it needs a lot of repair.  But, it feels so much better to fix it up than get something new.  The second was that going with a smaller purse compelled me to ask what I really need.  I found that there were a lot of cards and other things in my purse that I didn't really need.  Having less to carry around is a lot less stressful in the end than carrying around a lot for me.

Have you gone through your purse lately? :)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Cost of Emergency Medical Care, a new catch with insurance

My second job after college was working for an HMO.  I worked for the PPO provider side of that organization and it compelled me to understand health care.  Though I only worked for that business a short time, less than a year, I have been thankful for the education I had to gain by working there ever since.

Last month, my husband had to visit an emergency room out of the health care network of our current insurance plan.  We waited after he came home for the EOB (Explanation of Benefits) statement to arrive from our insurance.  Two weeks later, we received the good news that there was emergency hospital coverage--because the reality is that even though the papers I had said it would be covered, you just never know what loophole an insurance company might find.  So, we would just need to pay our emergency room co-pay.

When I saw the bill, it was what I thought it would be--around a thousand dollars, even though my husband had no x-rays or lab work done and was in and out of there in less than an hour.  Of course the insurance has a negotiated fee schedule, so they didn't have to pay that amount, but it was what the hospital billed.

Since I hadn't received the bill yet, I called the hospital today to find out if it was coming.  It is.  But, I learned that there would also be a bill from the ER Doctor.  Really?  This was new news to me.  We haven't made a visit to the ER in several years, so I assumed that the ER worked the same way as Urgent Care--one bill.  I was wrong.

Nowadays a trip to the Emergency Room involves both a hospital fee and a separate charge by the doctor.  I called the doctor's billing company and found out the exorbitant fee that the ER doctor charged.  My blood pressure ascended momentarily in a huge way.  Then I went to check my insurance.  They didn't deny the claim and we only owe a specialist's copay.

Wow.  My mind started spinning.  I was and am extremely thankful for the Lord's provision.  But, at the very same time, it made me think about how broken our insurance system is.  The hospital and doctor charged almost two thousand dollars for a visit that lasted less than an hour and that involved no xrays, an IV, or lab work.  What happens when people don't have insurance?  What happens when parents have a sick child who needs to go to the ER?  What happens when people have these high deductible plans--which are the most affordable ones (often the only affordable ones) through ObamaCare?   Prior to ObamaCare, the ER co-pay covered the whole visit.  There were many things that worked differently with insurance before ObamaCare's existence.

Insurance isn't something just to have for a rainy day anymore.  I wanted to share this story so that if you need to go to the ER, you're prepared.  The Urgent Care really is a much more affordable option... at this point.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Gift List

A creative Christmas list...

For the Foodie:

Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman and a Flat Whisk  

For the College Student who you don't know what to get for them:

Your Idea Starts Here by Carolyn Eckert

For the Mystery Lover:

The Mistletoe Murder by the late PD James

For your mom or mother in law:

A photo calendar with pictures of the grandkids to look at month by month

For the child ages (6-12 yo) you want to give a classic, but fun book to:

The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber

For the Craftsy person you know who has fun handwriting:

Hand Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt

For the TV show lover who misses shows that are fun, pretty wholesome, and creative, but not super violent:

Eureka season 1

For the person who you have no idea what to get...
some Florida Honeybells from Harry and David.   I gave these to my family one Christmas as a special treat and they loved them.  They don't arrive until January, so you get to look forward to a special treat as winter sets in.   I have found that the best coupon actually comes from the newspaper or fliers like Valpak.  The best deal I've seen is 8 lb. for $30 with free shipping.  I know that it's very expensive fruit, but it is very special fruit!

I hope you have an enjoyable Christmas.  I have made my lists for my children and family.  I'm working my way through them...  

Fun Food Trivia

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of the book Food Anatomy by Andrea Rothman.  Storey put this fun trivia quiz up on the web.  Check it out HERE!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A book for the foodie who just loves food!

My kids and I have been poring over a very special book that came in the mail this week.  The title is Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Our Edible World by Julia Rothman.  I was the first person to get a peek at it and I immediately called to my kids.  I knew they would be fascinated by all the food tidbits and interesting facts this book held.  And indeed they were!  They love it.  My
oldest daughter has come to me multiple times this week asking to read the book while she was enjoying her breakfast or lunch.

So, why do we all love it so much?

First, because it's different.  It has pictures that are fun to look at and help me imagine things that I've known about, but have never seen.  The author includes information about such a wide range of topics--everything from stoves over time to distillation and the fortune cookie!

Secondly, because it won't be what you expect.  This book is about all the things that make our food interesting.  It will likely make you want to try some new spices, desserts, and even cheeses!  If you read this whole book, you will feel much more educated about food and what people eat around the world.

Best of all, it is an easy read!  So, if you just want to get off the computer or stop watching television, this book will engage your mind and your palate!  And if you're looking for a gift for someone who loves food, this would be a fun surprise!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Storey books.  I've written this review because I wanted to--and because my family loves this book and would give this book a huge five thumbs up!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cast-iron Cooking

I've been cooking with a large cast iron skillet for years.  I love it.  I love that I can scrub the bottom of the pan and not stress about it!  But, I also love the natural way that my family can get some iron into their diet by my cooking with this pan.  My family has low-iron levels so this matters to me.

Recently, I received a new cookbook titled aptly, Cast-Iron Cooking.  In the beginning, the author explains why one would cook with cast-iron.  The author's explanation was more information than I
was aware of!  I had never considered how it conducts heat--though I knew from experience and cooking with my pan for fifteen years.  The next few pages of the book explain how to season and take care of cast iron pans.  The explanations were simple and make it sound very easy to keep a pan seasoned--which it is.

Then, the cookbook goes on to include recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The picture on the Table of Contents page is actually of raw steaks on a skillet--which is one of our favorite things to make with our cast iron pan.  The first recipe in the breakfast section is for a Dutch Baby with a blueberry sauce.  The blueberry sauce takes a long--- time to cook, so be sure to start it first and then take a look at the dutch baby directions.  The recipe recommends making the sauce while the dutch baby is baking, but I'd recommend starting with the sauce instead.  Next, I tried the Grilled Cheese.  The directions are a little unusual.  You spread the bread with a light layer of mayonaise and cook your grilled cheese.  I will say it was one of the most evenly browned grilled cheese sandwiches I've every made, but it got mixed reviews in my family.  I liked it, but didn't love it, my son loved it, and one of my daughters didn't like it.  We were evenly split.  Lastly, I liked the fried chicken recipe.  This is the method I've used for making fried chicken for several years and it works quite well.  I would take the cayenne pepper out of the recipe, but that's because my kids aren't crazy about that spice.

Each recipe includes an appealing photo which definitely made me want to go cook.  Photographs can make such a difference in a cookbook!  They can make recipes appealing--or unappealing.
The formatting and writing of the recipes made them easy to follow and there's enough room around the recipes to write changes on the pages if you're one of those kinds of cooks (like me) who writes down modifications to directions and ingredients according to your family's tastes.

This cookbook is definitely a helpful one if you're wanting to explore cooking more in a cast-iron pan. The recipes can be made in another type of skillet as well--they don't require a cast iron pan, but the author did pick out some that are particularly good in a cast iron pan because it can go in an oven.  
My middle daughter has already made the Dutch Baby recipe twice!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Storey Books.  These opinions are my own and this review is one that I have chosen to write.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fiber and Knitting

Two new crafting books are sitting in front of me that I want to quickly share about...

The first is titled Cable Left, Cable Right by Judith Durant.  I have to admit that I am a basic knit and purl knitter so the charts in this book are beyond my skill.  So I turned to a friend at 4H this week who does more advanced knitting than me and asked her opinion.  She looked the book over and was very positive about what she saw in it.  Her praise fell on the charts for each of the cables.  She thought they were very helpful and easy to follow.  The pictures and descriptions also made sense to her.  So, if knitting cables is something you enjoy, I'd definitely check this new book out!

The second book in front of me is a beautiful book about yarn for spinners.
Yarn-i-tec-ture.  I don't weave, spin, or dye wool, but I can appreciate the work that goes into it.  A few months ago, a 16 year old girl gave a presentation to the 4H group we visited about her wool, spinning, and the sheep she was getting to raise.  I loved hearing about what
she had learned in order to spin the world into yarn that she could work with.  This book would be perfect for her.  It is the next step.  This book is for someone who can spin and knit but is interested in improving their skills.   There are tons of great pictures showing the differences in dying, types of spinning, grist (the density of a yarn and how heavy a particular length of yarn is), plying (and even the mistakes that come up), tips on how to knit with yarn you've spun, and even patterns using the yarn.  It's a great all-in-one book for someone who's really pursuing this hobby!

I admire people who enjoy knitting and spinning and have mastered these skills.  I can see how both these books would be helpful and encouraging to someone loves cabling and spinning wool into yarn.  Storey's books are always beautiful, well formatted and easy to read.  And these two books are just that!

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these books from Storey Publishing, but I have chosen to write this review with my own opinions in it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saving on a Tablet Case

For my birthday, my husband gave me an ipad mini.  I tried to go cheap at first--buying a $13 case for it.  But, it was cracked within two months.  I rarely took it out of our house never dropped it and slid it into a protective bag when it did!  Yet it still cracked at some point while my oldest daughter (who is a super careful girl) had it in her possession.  So, I needed a new case.

I was determined to get a more protective case when I headed to Target.  One of the tough things about shopping online for items is that you can't feel and really see how strong the material is that something is made out of.  At Target, I could see up close what I was buying.  I settled on a great Targus case that I've loved. Target will price match Amazon if an item is sold directly from Amazon, so that is helpful, too.  The new case I bought has been wonderful and very protective.  I don't worry anymore.

This past week was my oldest daughter's birthday and we decided to get her a tablet.  We looked around and decided on an Air Pad 2, 32 gb.  We've had better luck with Macs over PCs the past ten years.  Less viruses, more reliable, longer lifespans.  The same Samsung tablet with 32 gb memory cost only $20 less than the Air Pad 2 when I found it on sale.  We thought about the ipad mini, but it has a smaller screen.  She uses it for one of her high school textbooks.  The touchscreen on my ipad mini worked better than the laptops (which didn't have a touch screen) other students used worked with the text.

But, getting a tablet doesn't just involve the tablet.  We needed to get a screen protector, keyboard, and case.  What should we get?  Everything at Best Buy seemed so expensive and non-fun for a teenage girl!  So, I headed home and got on Amazon's site.

I knew that cases with a keyboard attached would cost about $150.  My husband wanted her to have a keyboard though.  So, I opted for a Speck case for $25, a screen protector for $8 and an Anker keyboard for $14.  It was the right combination for her needs.  Because the keyboard isn't attached she can turn the tablet vertically when she wants to and still use the keyboard or choose to use it horizontally.  We saved a lot of money going this route and she has a fun colored case (purple)!

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!

Sunday, July 24, 2016


A few weeks ago, I watched this video by Morgan Spurlock at the prompting of my husband.  I enjoyed the stories of the five artisans he interviews and portrays.  This morning the video came to my mind because of the contrasting portions of my day.

In the morning, we traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, and spent part of the morning walking around downtown.  We enjoyed window shopping though we didn't buy anything until I purchased a small pair of earrings at our last stop.  My family's favorite stores were the Woodcraft Artisans store and Nautical North.  Both were stores where we appreciated what someone had made.

I didn't make anything yesterday.  But, I did reuse things already in my house so that I ended up only spending $7 to rearrange part of our bedroom.

I began by going to Target and buying a shoe rack and a belt hanger.  I returned home from my trip to Target and began trying to rearrange our bedroom to make it simpler.   A friend of mine were discussing organization this week.  She had been working on her homeschool room and I had been purging my books that I store in the basement.

She and I both agreed that...
a) purging happens multiple times.
     The first time you purge, you are able to let go of a few things.  The next time, whether it be a few weeks or months later, you are able to let go of a few more (sometimes many more).
b) simplifying means less clutter
c) rearranging sometimes takes multiple attempts before one gets it to the best arrangement

In the case of my bedroom, the belt hanger (which was cheaper and better than all options available on Amazon) worked great.  I remembered once I got home that I had a second shoe rack being used as a shelf in our basement.  I rearranged some things down there and brought it up stairs to the closet.  I rearranged the shoes and finally was able to remove an extra shelving from our bedroom.  Over the years, I see more and more that less furniture is More--more space, more breathing room.  Next, I pulled out a 3 drawer wooden organizer that I had bought at a garage sale a few weeks ago for $3.  It was just what my husband needed to put on top of his dresser.  I pick up organizers all the time at garage sales and am always surprised at the purposes I find for them.  In this case, IKEA doesn't sell this organizer in the states anymore, but it is about $24 overseas.

Voila!  Just what we needed and finally our bedroom feels like it has what we need after 4 1/2 years.

One of the accidental things that happened along the way was that our air conditioning vent is finally open to a larger space.  It hadn't been covered up, but it was boxed in by dressers on two sides and a wall on the third.  Now, it's open on two sides.  When I woke this morning, I realized that my bedroom felt more comfortable.  I hadn't realized what a difference this one facet of the rearrangement would make, though I had hoped.  Earlier this week, I had rearranged our laundry room and uncovered the air conditioning vent that was under a table.  That room has felt cooler ever since.

I'm very thankful this morning.  I get to return the shoe rack and save $25!

Do you do this?  Do you rearrange rooms periodically?  Does it make you smile when it's done?  Do you reuse things in your home in a new way?