Sunday, December 27, 2009

Next Christmas...

...I'll bake the stuffing the day before and just reheat it Christmas Day.

...I will only eat half of my dessert while the guests are over and save half of it for after everyone's left and the kids are asleep so I can savor it =) It was hard to enjoy eating my cream puff while watching the kids and keeping on top of everything!

...I will definitely do a kid friendly tree again (a fake one)--it decreased the stress so much because I didn't have to worry about anything breaking or about them touching it! It did almost tip over once, but it was so easy to stand back up since there were only paper ornaments on it.

...I will remember to go through the kids toys a few weeks before Christmas and put some of them away.

...I will definitely untie all ties and assemble all toys (if possible). We assembled Eli's toy, but left the dolls and their accessories in their boxes. I think it took us 45 minutes to get them undone!

...I will ask my kids what they would like for Christmas. I know it probably sounds strange that we don't, but we haven't wanted to encourage them to dwell on listing all the things they want. I haven't wanted to do deal with the "I want.. and ... and ..." every time we go into a store.

...I will make 2 pies for Christmas Day dinner again, but not rolls. I really liked having the room for pie instead of rolls! =)

...And I will make sure I have extra whipping cream (like I did this year) in case my whipped cream for my cream pie gets overwhipped because I'm doing 2 things at once =) Whew--I was glad I had extra!

What will you do next year that you did this year or that you didn't do?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Easy Chocolate Truffles--Yum!

This is my version of the recipe I tried yesterday....
Mint Chocolate Truffles

1. Microwave 2 Tbsp butter and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream in a bowl on high fro 1 min. 15 sec.
2. In a second bowl, microwave 1 package of Nestle Dark Chocolate/Mint Chips (Target has them) plus 2 oz. semisweet choc. chips in a bowl for 3 min-3 min. 15 sec. at 70%. (I did them on high and almost overcooked them.) Stir until smooth.
3. Then, use a whisk to stir the cream into the chocolate mixture.
4. Refrigerate until firm and you can mold it into balls (2-3 hours). At 2 hrs, I could do it, but it would have probably been easier at 3 =)
5. Combine 1/4 c. cocoa and 1/2 cup powdered sugar (it would have help if I had sifted the sugar). Mix well.
6. Form the chocolate mixture into small truffle size balls (no more than 1 inch). Then roll them in the sugar-cocoa mixture. Place in a tupperware lined with wax paper in one layer. Store in the refrigerator.

Mine were pretty small so it made about 30-40. I have never tried truffles before--I've been pretty intimidated, but these were super easy and they worked. Most importantly, they taste really good!! My girls helped me by putting the dishes in the microwave and turning it on. I took the dishes out. They weren't able to roll the balls themselves, but they did roll them in the cocoa mixture. (they are 4 and 6 years old).

Today I'm trying a revised version of the peanut butter bon bon recipe so I'll let you know how they come out! I made the filling yesterday but it was too soft to form into balls so I let it sit overnight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grain Mills: A great investment

It may seem that sometimes good small appliances are expensive, but I was reminded 2 weeks ago that it can really be worth it. A very good friend of mine has a dog with allergies. So, she grinds rice flour once a month to make dog biscuits. Her Nutrimill just died after 3 years of monthly use. She ground a total of about 1000 lbs we calculated (over that time). Rice flour is a specialty item and can cost $2-$3 a pound. We figured out that she saved $2800 by grinding rice with her mill. So, eventhough a Nutrimill costs $250, we both agreed that it is definitely worth it!

When I called the company, they were awesome and gave a great tip to prolong the life of your Nutrimill--never run for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Especially when grinding rice, because it is the driest of the grains that the mill can grind. They told me to have her send them her mill and they would fix it this time, but to tell her that next time she needs to only run it for 15 minutes at a time =) The man I spoke with was great and very helpful.

I've had my Nutrimill for 4 years already and it continues to run great. I have ground only wheat and corn in it, since we don't have any food allergies in our family.

Parchment Paper

Please forgive me if I've posted this before. When baking cookies with Parchment paper, you can reuse the parchment paper. Just use a spatula to take them off and put new dough on the paper to bake. It really works quite well for a whole batch. =) My husband asked me yesterday why Parchment paper matters, and I think it helps when cookies are prone to spreading to keep them together and makes them easier to get off the cookie sheet. The best and cheapest way to get it (if you like to bake a lot) is to find a restaurant supply store or a friend who owns a restaurant that you can order a box through from their restaurant supplies distributor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yummy Turkey Soup,3635791

The link above is for our favorite after-Thanksgiving (or after-Christmas) turkey soup. I didn't know how much my husband loved it until he came home and asked for 3 copies of the recipe to take to work a few weeks ago because he was telling everyone how good it was.

The only change I make is that I only use 1/4 cup of butter instead of 1/2. I try to cut the fat in recipes when I can--without taking it completely out. 1/4 cup works just fine. I also usually add almost 2 cups of turkey--I tend to like more meat in it =)

I am not a big internet recipe person. My brother is convinced that within a few years, publishers won't be making books anymore--everything will be online. I guess I am very old school. I was adamant that would not be the case! I love to have a cookbook in front of me. A cookbook seems more personal than a print out from the computer (and yet here I am posting this link to this recipe!) I find myself skeptical of how good a random recipe on a website will be. If I find a recipe in a cookbook that I've found lots of great treasures in then, I have more confidence in trying another new one from the cookbook.

But, in this case, I went searching for a turkey soup recipe several years ago and found this one--and it is really, really good! You can buy plain wild rice at Trader Joe's. It is a little expensive as a single ingredient, but put it in a ziploc bag and keep it in the bag of your fridge for the next time you want to make this soup. If you store it in your pantry, and the pantry gets warm, you may get bugs in it =( Thankfully, the rest of the ingredients make the soup pretty affordable, I think.

...One last tip, I always buy red bell peppers when they're on sale and slice them and then freeze them in ziplocs. I tried buying Trader Joe's 3 pepper blend, but it always ended up mushy on me when I defrosted them. Freezing the bell peppers myself seems to work better--without mushy results. =)

I hope you enjoy the soup if you get to make it!

I'm funny, aren't I?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Trees

Yesterday, I bought the least expensive fake tree they had at Lowe's for $22.95. I know it may sound different to do that, but I decided that I wanted to get a tree just for the kids. My oldest daughter is 6 and each year I have watched as my husband (and me too) have been anxious about the tree falling on the kids--about the kids pulling ornaments off the tree--about the kids touching everything. But, I really want them to enjoy the tree. So, I asked my husband if this was okay--to go get a tree just for the kids and he said it was fine.

I'm so glad I did! I put it up and put the lights on it. Then we (the kids and I) put the kids decorations they've made on it. My husband came home and was impressed. He said, Wow! Maybe we should just get one like that for upstairs (instead of spending a lot more for a bigger one upstairs). I thought that was a compliment.

But, my new thought is, maybe this should just be our one tree for the year. It would make things so much simpler! I wouldn't have to stress about keeping an eye on them around the tree and there isn't anything on the tree that can't be handled by my 1 1/2 year old =)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Thanksgiving Pie

Two weeks ago, my pie turned out great! The kids and I loved it! My pie for Thanksgiving didn't turn out so well. I was reminded of what an art pie making is =)

Here are my mistakes and things I learned:
#1 I made my pie crust and left it in the fridge too long. I know it's important to chill it a little, but i left it in all day. I couldn't get back to it until much, much later. Not a good thing. It was really difficult to roll out and then it wouldn't roll in a circular shape so I had to reball it and roll it again. I ended up handling it a lot and in the end it was still much thicker than I would have liked... which led to the next problem.
#2 The Libby's pumpkin pie recipe works best with canned pumpkin and not fresh. Fresh is so much more watery. Two weeks ago I used canned and this time I used fresh that I had frozen. I will definitely use canned if I use that recipe again.
#3 I used my deep dish pie pan, but all of the filling wouldn't fit because the crust was too thick = not as thick of a pie. That's what I had loved about my pie 2 weeks ago--that it was thicker than the average 9" pumpkin pie.

So, those were my 3 lessons I learned about pumpkin pie making this Thanksgiving =)

Aside from that, I did make the stuffing, pie, mashed potatoes, pickled peaches, and yams on Wednesday. That made life much easier on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, I had put the stuffing off until the day of the big meal and it made the day much more hectic. I will definitely make sure I do that again for Christmas =)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Food

Last night as we ate at Mimi's Cafe, we sat and realized that you can fix bad service, but you can't fix bad food. We had really good food last night, but really bad service! I spoke with the manager and we will definitely go back--because it's really likely that the service won't be bad and we did love the food =)

I think the worst part about bad food is that you feel like you've wasted money eating out. So, at least we didn't feel that way last night!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Less Expensive Cream Sauce

Last night, I made a cream sauce to go with our pasta. I was just getting ready to make my mom's old seafood fettuccine sauce when I realized it had 1/2 cup of butter in it and my eyes got a little buggy. I figured I would cut it back to 3 Tbsp and see how it went. But, I called my mom first to see if she had any advice. She did! It just so happened that she just tried a new recipe recently and it turned out great! It's much less expensive and cheaper. The old recipe had 1 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup butter in it (making it more expensive). The new recipe had 3 Tbsp of butter, 1/4 cup red fat mayo, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and 1 cup of chicken broth. I think together those are less expensive and healthier. I modified my mom's recipe a little and this is what I came up with...I'm writing the recipe below. We loved it--even the kids!

Reduced fat =) Seafood Fettucine

8 oz. red fat cream cheese (but not non fat)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4-1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup red. fat mayonaise
3 Tbsp. butter
1 sm. onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. shrimp: thawed, cooked, peeled, and deveined

Saute the mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. butter on med. high heat. When they are sauteed, ladle them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Wipe out the mushroom liquid from the pan with a paper towel (if you leave it in, it will color everything).
Add in the other 2 Tbsp. of butter and add the onion and celery. Saute and then again ladle them out and set them aside with the mushrooms. But, this time leave the extra butter that's leftover in the pan.
Add the chicken broth, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, and mayonaise. Heat over med. heat and whisk until creamy.
Add the vegetables back in and the shrimp. Heat through. The longer you cook the shrimp, the smaller they will get, so you only want to get them warm.

This was really yummy. We had gotten a treat at Trader Joes and bought some uncooked shrimp from South America for $9 that were supposed to taste like little lobsters---and they did! So, the sauce was especially good and far less expensive than eating it in a restaurant. The sauce would have been a very good cream sauce even without the shrimp if you don't like shrimp and I think you could even try chicken in it if your family prefers chicken alfredo with pasta.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homemade Gravy

One of the things I loved every Thanksgiving growing up was my grandmother's gravy for the turkey. I watched my grandmother make gravy so many times. I learned that the trick for the brown color for her gravy was a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet.

But, here's how I make my gravy...
I take about 2-3 Tbsp. real butter (depends on how much turkey juices you have) and melt them in a cast iron skillet. I sprinkle about 1/4-1/3 cup flour over it. I use a flat (Important!) whisk because it lets you get the flour and butter in the edge. Stir all of the flour into the butter until it is all absorbed by the butter and looks like little balls--it doesn't need to brown. But, all of the flour needs to be mixed into the butter. This makes a roux.

For the liquid: Put a plastic bag into a 4 cup glass Pyrex measuring cup. Pour the turkey juices into the plastic ziploc bag (sometimes I have juices that need to be poured into more than one bag). Let it sit for a few minutes. Then close the top of the bag. Pull the bag out and place the Pyrex in the sink. Make a small (1/4-1/2 inch) snip in one of the bottom corners in the bag. Don't make a snip that would cut through. Just snip it to let the juice out. Let the juices pour into the Pyrex. The fat will have risen to the top when you let it sit. Watch as the juices pour into the Pyrex. As soon as you see the fat about to go through the hole, move the bag over the edge and into the sink.

Making the gravy: With the roux, pour in a little liquid and use the whisk to mix it all in until it is all absorbed.--Pour only a little liquid in at a time. Whisk it all in. Don't rush this step! It's really quite simple, but if you pour it in slowly then you will avoid lumps. Don't try and do anything else while you're doing this part (I have a bad habit of multi-tasking). It won't take long and then you can get back to everything else. Towards the end, if you put too much liquid in at one time, let it boil down and cook a bit. But, stir periodically, so it won't burn on the bottom of the pan. After your gravy is the thickness you want (and not runny) and you've used your liquid up, pour into a gravy boat and serve! If you would like to, you can add some salt and pepper and a few drops of kitchen bouquet at the end, but wait until the end and see if you like the color and the taste first.

Happy Gravy Eating! =)

By the way, if you end up with lumps at the end (put it in a blender =) ) The first few times I practiced making a gravy, I had to do that! But, it still tasted fine and was smooth!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Baking and Pumpkin Pie

When we bought our house in GA, the lady before us had left a tray in the bottom of her oven covered with foil. We never did this growing up in my house, but I saw the benefit to doing it so I've kept up the practice ever since. The blessing of the tray is that when you discovere something you've put in the oven has spilled, you can take the tray off, put a pan under the item and keep on baking without the spillage on the bottom of the oven that quickly turns to burnt smell.

But, I discovered another great thing this week. Well, it's one of those fun little things. I now have a Pie cookbook that I love--called Pie by Ken Haedrich. It's this huge book! (I also have his Apple Pie cookbook which is also really good) There are several pumpkin pie recipes in the book. He included the one off of the Libby pumpkin can and mentions how there is too much filling for the pan. So, I tried to use my deep dish pie pan instead of a regular pie pan. All of the filling fit in it and it made for a much thicker pie--and honestly, I liked it better! Before it always seemed like such a thin pie--I wanted more filling. But, in the deep dish pie pan, it was great!

So, that's my fun thing I learned for this Thanksgiving dinner--ahead of time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The end of another month

It was the end of another month and I stayed up last night finishing up our budget. It wasn't what I had hoped, but I know it could have been worse =)

This month we got my homeschooling area into order and our bedroom. I am thankful for both and I'm thankful we were able to do both for far cheaper than I expected to. We will likely never get a $3000 bedroom set made of real wood that would be beautiful. There's just too many other needs when you have a family of 5+1 dog. But, for around $200, my husband got a Malm dresser from IKEA and a mirror to go over the dresser I have. I replaced the knobs on my dresser with silver ones to match the 1920s wardrobe that I bought at a garage sale for $20 and painted white (I just didn't have enough time to refinish it otherwise) and I replaced the knob on the closet door with a white one from Eli's old dresser. Chris' old dresser went into Sami's room and Sami's into Eli's. A lot of moving around, but it worked out well. The room fits with the rest of our house. It's not out of Better Homes and Gardens (which by the way did you ever notice that the people in that magazine all have no kids or one kid?), but it fits with the rest of our house and all my clothes are finally in a place. For the past 4 years, I just had this to hang my clothes on. It was functional, but I didn't like looking at my clothes all the time. I'll take a picture of my "new" old wardrobe soon. It is a blessing to have a place for things.

Downstairs we got a 5 x 5 Expedit cube from IKEA and it is now filled with all of my homeschooling materials. It is a blessing to have a place for everything. It's also a blessing that now my chalkboard has a home so that Sami can practice writing her letters everyday with chalk on it and I don't have to pull it out or worry it's going to tip over.

It's a funny thing about organizing. It always seems to cost a lot of money =) to do it. But, I'm thankful for these two projects. Our ideas started out big (!) and then scaled back and scaled back again and in the end were just right.

One friend said recently to me that the way we keep our homes reflects the environment we want to create for our kids to grow up and live in. I feel calmer inside when everything has a place where it belongs =) And my home feels calmer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free is not always best

I had the opportunity to try 2 antivirus programs for free. I thought--wow! Great! I'll save $40 by not having to buy Norton. Well, $40 would have been a lot cheaper than the expense and hassle of the programs (McAffee and Bitdefender) which led to the demise of my computer =(

I wasn't using them at the same time, but I hadn't completely uninstalled Bitdefender before I had tried to install McAffee and McAffee locked up my computer. =( Big lesson learned...

Free is not always the best choice...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Funny the way things work...

It's interesting to me to notice how different companies are increasing their prices in different ways...

Kraft Mayonaise. The jar I used to pay $2 ($3-$4 regular price) is now always $5 and finding it on sale for $3 or $4 is unusual. And the coupons are now $1 on 2 in stead of $1 on 1. The other tactic they've done is introduced a smaller jar that they sell at the old price of $3. It's deceiving! Someone in marketing/production/whatever department they're in was trying to be pretty pretty deceptive.

Fisher-Price Loving Family Doll House. 2 years ago, it came with all of the furniture for $80-$100. Now the dollhouse is $70-$80, but only a table and 2 chairs. The house with all of the furniture is packaged differently for $160.

More and more the size of packaging is changing as are the size/timing of coupons and the prices of items.

When I get BJ's coupon book for the next month (and Costco's too), I can be pretty certain that many of the items that have coupons have just gone up on price. It's as if the manufacturers are trying to distract you from noticing that the price on the item you've always bought has jumped $1, $2, or even $3.

At least that's what I've been noticing lately...


Homeschooling is definitely cheaper than private school, but it definitely is not cheap. I spread out my curriculum purchases for the next year through the year and it still feels crunched a little at times. Right now, I've been deliberating about science. I want a book that has beautiful pictures, is not 15 years old, will help children retain what they've learned and use mostly everyday materials. I am using Harcourt this year (used via Amazon). I looked all over today and perused a lot of samples on CBD (I am very thankful that you can do that there), but didn't come up with anything great. I like the My Pals are Here curriculum from Singapore Science, but it is $208 for 2 years and that's a lot to sink into something without being certain that I will really like it. So, I think my feeling is that I will stick with Harcourt again for next year. If anyone has any other suggestions that are affordable =) please let me know!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

IKEA Baltimore

October 19-25: Free lunch for the kids (no purchase required), dine-in only

What a treat! I went to IKEA today to get some zippered boxes for our new cube and I discovered that kids get to eat free this week--and I didn't even have to buy lunch, but the kids did have to be present =)

So, my kids got to have chocolate milk, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and applesauce (mac and cheese for Autumn), for free =)

I don't know if this special is at all of the IKEAs this week or just the one in Baltimore...

Monday, October 19, 2009

A new Christian News Broadcast online...

Today I went to check out online. I found this show and thought it was interesting and right up the alley of this blog.

Some of the other episodes look interesting.

We just recently subscribed to World Magazine. Back in July, they had a great special, so we took advantage of it =) I'm thankful we did. Amidst all of the yucky stuff going on in the world, it's good to hear about the world from a Christian perspective--and to hear about good things going on in the world.

I am realizing that it is so easy to get lost and forget about the hope we have when we get bogged down in the news of the day. I haven't listened for a while. Not intentionally--I've just had a lot going on.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Little Treats

This is a little rabbit trail...please forgive me if it doesn't entirely make sense!

I have had several friends say to me over the past few months--it wasn't long ago when they didn't have to worry about what they spent or about paying the bills and that now they do. What a blessing for them for a time to not have to worry about things!

I think there was only one very short time span of 2-3 months during my freshman year in college when I felt that way. That was a long time ago. I don't know if it's easier to go up or come down--but I tend to think that it's easier to adjust our standard of living up than down. And yet, when our income goes down (whether monetarily or by inflation), if we don't adjust we can find ourselves in trouble very quickly.

I have always felt in my heart that God would likely never put me in a place of where I didn't have to think about how and where I spent money. I realized in grad school, that for me--because of my personality--it is a blessing to have to be aware of how and where I spend money. It is a blessing to me because it makes me very aware of the little blessings that God has given me and of how He, not me, continually provides for my family.

Yesterday, I went to Dunkin Donuts with some great gals whose kids are in the same homeschool pe program that my girls are in, because it was raining and we couldn't hang out outside. One of the gals that went in my car was very kind and paid for my small latte and I had a coupon for a free donut. The gal at the counter put in 2 donuts and some munchkins! Not only did Eli and I get treats, but so did the gal who bought me my drink and my girls after their pe class. The girls were thrilled. Such a little thing, but it still makes me smile, because it was such an unexpected treat!

I was also humbled because one of the gals shared that her husband just lost his job. It made me really think about needs and wants in my own life. What comes first--a new refrigerator that will make my life lots easier or paying off a motorcycle loan? The motorcycle loan is a need to pay off and the refrigerator--though it would be immensely useful--is a want. Are we being wise stewards with what we have? I have always felt convicted that it is important.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Have you noticed how teenage girls are getting their periods much younger today than girls did when we were growing up? They are also developing physically in other ways at younger ages. This is disconcerting to me as the mom of two little girls. There hasn't, to my knowledge, been any scientific cause and effect relationship identified yet, but there are suspicions. One of those suspicions is the artifical growth hormones (RBST) that cows had been injected with. Milk and beef that young girls have been eating and drinking for the past ten years has been coming from such cows.

When I read about that suspicion last year (which I want you to know I'm not a conspiracy theorist), I thought it would be a good idea to choose milk for my family not treated with the hormones when given the choice. Thankfully, it is much easier than it was even a year ago to find milk not treated with the hormones. Milk from cows not treated with them is labeled as such. BJ's, Costco, and Food Lion milk all are labeled as such. LeHigh which 7-11 here advertises as having is the brand of milk sold at BJ's. Aldi's milk is not advertised as such. And I have noticed on a few others that they don't say they aren't treated with RBST. Target advertised one time in their Sunday ad that the milk wasn't treated, but when I checked their milk later, it didn't specify. I haven't checked it again in a while, so I don't know if their labels have changed.

Last year, the Baltimore Sun ran a really good article about Milk and the differences between the types of milk available. I was so glad to have read it! Here's a condensed version of that article:
This article just basically tells what the different types of milk are. In the end, I felt that it wasn't worth it to try and buy Organic milk because I wasn't sure what I'd be getting, but to buy milk without the artificial growth hormones was something I could do.

This is an article about Organic vs. Natural that I thought was also interesting...,0,834771.story

I do have some friends that are in the Raw Milk camp. But, there are downsides to that too. It was actually in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader that I read about how and why Pasteurization was developed. So many children died from Listeria and other diseases before they began to pasteurize. If you are one of my friends who drinks raw milk, please know that I totally respect you =) and your decision to go that route. But, I worry when I read about the outbreaks of Listeria (which there were several of last year) in communities who drink primarily raw milk. There are articles on both sides of the fence and I realized while researching something else that you can find an article to back up whatever you want to believe on the internet--but it's getting harder and harder to know what is true because of it. (That's actually one reason why I still like books better!) Anyways, sorry for the rabbit trail.

Such a simple thing--buying milk--seems to have become pretty complicated.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I am one of those people who is willing to return something. With little kids, it is very hard sometimes to try things on in the store. So, I will take things home and then return them. I love Target because you can return things with your credit card even if you don't have your receipt. Costco and BJ's are my next favorite places because of their return policies.

We bought a new tv and dvd/vcr back at the end of July. We've had issues with the tv, but none big enough to make us return it. But, every week, we've been frustrated with it. But, then yesterday, I tried the vcr and discovered it didn't work at all! I called Samsung and discovered it was definitely broken and I could either ship it to them or see what Costco's policy was. So, I called Costco. I found out that we had 90 days to return the items we'd purchased! Yahoo!!! So much easier than dealing with shipping the dvd/vcr to Samsung.

So, I broached the subject of the tv with my husband and offered to return it and deal with the customer service. He agreed that it would be wise--it really didn't work the way it was supposed to. So, he ended up going today and returned them both! Yahoo!!! Our new tv works great and we got a plain dvd. We now need to get a vcr, which I guess you can't find on its own anymore. But, we'll figure that one out.

I don't like combo items. If one part breaks, then you're in trouble. We have a coffee maker and a grinder. We have an Oreck vacuum. We have a component stereo. We definitely like things separate. But, it seems like it's easier to fix a part or replace one part--than throw away the whole because one part doesn't work!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One of those things about being frugal...

I find that it's often hard to not shop around. I worry that I haven't gotten a good price. But, I'm coming to a place where I just don't have a lot of time to shop around. So, I've often switched to choosing a store that I know is reasonable and then picking from what they have.

Sami needs a new coat for the winter. I went online and found one at REI for $65 =( and then went to Target and found one for $27. But, the liner wasn't zippered in. I just knew I was going to get totally frustrated having to zipper 2 zippers for her every time we go out in the really cold weather. I could see lots of frustration ahead. As much as I'm concerned with price, I am also concerned with simplicity. So, I passed on it and decided to look at BJ's.

Yay! I found an Osh Kosh winter jacket for Sami for $25. =) Quick and easy and I am so thankful!

On the same trip today, I found slippers there. I didn't grow up with slippers, but I have found that since we have hard woods and the winter is cold here, we have to get a new pair of slippers for each of the kids each winter. Last year, I went to about 5 stores looking for slippers. I like ones with a sole on them. If they don't have a sole, my little Sami is bound to break her foot again. Anyways, I found them today! BJ's has Carter's slippers with a sole for $10. I just wanted to mention it in case anyone is looking for slippers too =) They're easy to get on and off and very simple and cute.

I am so thankful that I felt like I didn't pay too much and got so many things taken care of in one trip (along with groceries of course)!

The end of the season

This Saturday is the last of this season of Garage Saling for me. It's bittersweet. I love going, but I love the break, too. The winter and early spring give me a break, so that when I go in late spring, I will be excited and look forward to it. It's just like chocolate--when I have it every day, I don't appreciate it or savor it nearly as much as if I have it once in a while =)

Nothing is jumping to my mind to share on this blog this morning. Except to share one struggle that I have. My children need new sheets. So, my mom was going to give them fun sheets for their birthdays and Eli for Christmas. I was thinking Character sheets. But, as I was looking at them, it's hard for me to justify spending the extra money on them--especially with the economy the way it is. Would they enjoy them? Yes, but would it be wiser to get just good quality sheets? Usually, if it's not a special occasion, I go with the wiser choice. For their birthdays and Christmas, I try to allow myself to really find something my kids will just love. I think I may end up in a compromise on this one. I saw some really fun patterned sheets online that are somewhere inbetween on price. I'm going to talk to my mom and see what she thinks--she's the most frugal person I know and really it's up to her!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Guarding one's heart

I enjoy saving money and there is a satisfaction I have felt in making things stretch. But, I also have watched God urge me to guard my heart. I am in the midst of reading a really good book about prayer called the Praying Life by Paul Miller. In the book, he mentions his frugality in this quote:
"Even my frugality was a form of the love of money. The obsession of saving small amounts of money isn't that different from the obsession of gaining large amounts of money. In both, money is the center."

I thought the last sentence explained everything. Is the goal of my frugality saving money or is it being a good steward or is it providing for my children for fear they will be looked down upon as I was as not having the right clothes? Or is it what it should be--to glorify God by seeking HIM in all things?

That was what I liked best when I read Matt Bell's book this summer--he started out stating very clearly that our finances are not separate from our faith in God. In fact, they should not be separated at all! Having faith in God and trusting the Lord means walking with him in all things.

I had two times in my life while living on my own which I had just enough, literally, to pay my bills. Both times were while I was in school--one in undergrad and one in grad. One time was 4 months and the second was 20 months. I am so thankful for those times--I try never to forget them because that was when God taught me most about not holding on to the little I had. I had to trust him to provide. To provide when I played broom hockey and had to go to the hospital and get 4 stitches. To provide when I needed new glasses. To provide when emergencies came up. A friend told me about an unexpected surprise she was given yesterday. It was such a blessing to her! And it was a blessing to me to hear about it! It reminded me of a blessing that I received when I was working for the church I attended back in Denver. I was given an envelope with some money from someone anonymously. It has a huge blessing to me! I can't remember what I needed it for, but it gave me room to breathe. I was working 2 jobs and in grad school full time and living on my own.

I'm never been crazy about the phrase Random Acts of Kindness. It's a very nice idea, but I feel like it is the Holy Spirit working in our lives that prompts us to bless others by loving and serving them. It is the way that God's love is made complete in us (I John) Calling them Random Acts of Kindness takes God out of the picture for me--and I don't want to do that.

This entry is a long way from the point where it started, but hopefully, it is still all connected together!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Birthdays and Christmas

It is amazing that October is already here. The girls will have a joint birthday party in 4 weeks! And then Christmas will be 7 or 8 weeks after that. Lots of fun ahead!

Birthdays and Christmas can be really expensive. We decided to go with the 3 present tradition for our kids at Christmas a few years ago and it does simplify things a lot. With birthdays, we try to be simple, too. They get a lot of toys from garage saling during the summer and fun things for homeschooling, so I am thankful for that.

I love Family Fun magazine because it always has such great ideas for making parties fun--inexpensively. So, this is the first of my planning. I had thought of something else to write about, but now I can't remember it =) so I'm going to write/talk through my plans...

Theme: Princess party
Since we don't celebrate Halloween, we make the girls birthday party a costume party every year. Last year we had a Dora Pirate Adventure party.
This year will be princesses. My girls just love to dress up.

Time: 2-3 hours in the morning into lunch. I decided that I want to make special Belgian Waffles and put whip cream on them and chocolate chips. (sort of brunchy) I thought the kids could decorate their own waffles. I'm not sure what this will mean for a cake, though =s

Decorations: Homemade. I don't know what they'll look like yet, but I think lots of shooting stars (pink/white/red)

Plates, etc. I picked up some glittery pink and purple butterfly plates/cups/etc on clearance at Target a few months ago.

Usually, I pick a theme a few months ahead and start gathering things here and there. It helps me find sales and it helps me spread out the cost of the party. I read in one book that a lot of families spend $200-$300 on a birthday party. Wow! I think I figured out that their party last year cost $50-60 at home. We had about 8 kids and had a lot of fun. They found their gift bags in a treasure chest and we had 3 games outside. I made sack lunches for the kids--already assembled--which made things very simple.

Gift bags are an interesting thing. I don't think they used to be a given at birthday parties, but now they seem to be. I want to think of a craft they can make this year that will be their primary thing to take home. I bought a korigami book at the book sale last week about how to make hats. That will definitely be part of it this year--a homemade hat =)

So, those are my thoughts for now...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Homeschooling Supplies

A friend came over to visit yesterday who just started homeschooling. She looked at the kids play/homeschooling room and commented about how much stuff I have accumulated. I am a planner. I like to plan ahead and have what I need. I shop at book sales, garage sales, Ollie's (like Pic 'n Save), and the clearance racks at Target when I get the chance. I am looking at the big wooden box of construction paper that I bought from a garage sale for $1 with the big roll of clear contact paper in it and a bag of foam pieces that my garage saling buddy found for me.

But, honestly, I don't see it as me finding all of these things. I see it as God helping me find these things and as blessings from Him. I am thankful for the blessings He has given some friends I know who don't have to shop the sales and can simply go buy what they need. I am thankful too for the friends that I have the chance to pass things on to and who are given a lot of things by family and friends. And I am thankful for friends who are in the same boat I am--scouting out the sales and finding ways to make our finances stretch. In the end, it all comes down to the same thing, I think, loving our families and doing our very best to take care of them--with God's help and His provision! That provision just looks a little different for each of us, I think.


There are a few food items that we spend a little more money on because we love them. And one of them is Coffee. Bad coffee is just bad. Coffee is a very personal thing, I've discovered.

We love Trader Joe's Coffee. We like a medium-dark roast. Starbucks at home usually seems really dark. Which by the way--the Kirkland brand at Costco is roasted by Starbucks. I wish it was a coffee we really liked, but we like Trader Joe's better.

Right now, I'm mixing Decaf Columbian and the new Joe's blend from Trader Joe's. It was a great deal (the Joe's blend) at $3.50 a can! I hope it stays that price, but we'll see. It is a really mild, mellow coffee (similar to the slow and mellow by TJ's), but when mixed with the Columbian and because I brew it really strong, I really like it. When I make Decaf, I make it from solely from TJ's Decaf Columbian. I didn't realize until recently that the folks in our small group thought I was making caffeinated every week--they thought it tasted so good.

Dunkin' Donuts Coffee is an interesting one. I like their Decaf, but not their Regular Caffeinated coffee. I was trying to use some up and not waste the beans, so I was adding 1 Tbsp in with 9 Tbsp of TJ's coffee and we still tasted it--and it didn't taste good. I was surprised that 1 Tbsp could throw the taste of the coffee off so much!

We have a Bunn Coffee Maker. I love it. It doesn't have a water filter, so I use the purified water from the sink that my husband installed (the water purifier, not the water). But, that means that I don't have to replace a water filter on the machine. It does brew hot coffee. I learned that you do have to use the Bunn coffee filters because the sides are taller than regular basket filters. You can buy them at Walmart or online in a big box. Interestingly, they aren't any more expensive than regular basket filters.

One thing that is interesting to me about coffee machines is that they all serve a different size cup of coffee. Our old Krups machine made a 4 oz. cup. Our Bunn now makes a 5 oz. cup. I had always assumed that most machines made a 6 oz. cup!

When our Krups died in July (it started leaking after 2 1/2 years of use), I looked at a lot of coffee makers and decided on the Bunn because of the customer service. I called and the lady was so nice on the phone! She sent me a new sprayhead that makes the water go through a little slower and thus makes the coffee stronger--for free. All you have to do is call and ask for it. I was really impressed. And after 3 months we're still really happy with our coffee maker! The one down side is you really aren't supposed to make less than 4 1/2 cups at a time. I do make 4 cups sometimes, but hopefully it won't get me into trouble.

Sticking to the Budget

One of the hardest parts about budgeting, I think, is the end of the month and saying no to yourself. Each month we have the tendency to roll things into the next month. Sometimes that's okay and sometimes it's really not. I'm glad that what we're rolling into next month right now is a few books for the girls from ebay and my husband's car service that would have been done on Friday, but he had the time to do it on Tuesday. Not too bad. =)

I'm realizing that I have to make sure that there's money left for the end of the month, because unexpected things always come up at the last minute! We've been married for 8 years and have been budgeting for 8 years, but there's always room for improvement =)

Monday, September 28, 2009


I think that every mom ponders the diaper question. Cloth or disposable? If disposable, which kind? Most of it comes down to preference, I think.

I read an article one time that said, the waste for cloth is equivalent to the waste for disposable--I know that's debatable depending on how you look at it, but in general it takes a lot of water and chemicals to clean cloth diapers. And disposable diapers do definitely go into the landfill. It's a puzzle as to which is better. I'm not sure, but I've gone with disposable. Mostly because I couldn't handle juggling cleaning the cloth diapers while taking care of my little ones and worrying that they would get into the bleach water where I've put the diapers or in the toilet as I've heard a few mothers say they've thrown their cloth diapers.

As far as disposable, I've tried Pampers, BJ's generic Berkely and Jensen's, Luvs, Huggies, and Walmart's generic diapers. I've found that there really is a difference with the generic diapers. They don't fit as well and they don't hold as much as well.

Huggies always seems to have a smell for me. A friend gave me a package and I was so thankful when I had used them all up. Little ones can't wear them very long before I start to smell the pee =( But, the biggest thing about Huggies for me is that I found they are for skinny babies. If not, you have to go to much bigger sizes for rounder kids much earlier than with other brands. And the bigger the size, the fewer the diapers in a package = more expensive.

I love the Pampers for newborns. I do like them the best and I think it is a great thing now that there is a stripe on the bottom of them that will appear when the baby has peed. =) Since we have to make sure they are doing that those first few days.

With my girls, I couldn't afford to do Pampers, so I went with Luvs. BJs always had great coupons for them and carries them by the case (the only store that I've found that does). They were better than the generics, but not as nice as the pampers. My kids did leak some--but I think that when they're little no diaper is perfect =) Luvs, as opposed to Pampers and Huggies, are great for round babies--which both of my girls were.

I wish, though, that I had tried Pampers with Sami. She had really bad diaper rash for a very long time and I didn't think switching diapers would help. I wish I had tried. With Eli, his diaper rash started early too and someone mentioned to me that they had switched to Pampers for that reason. Eli is my first and only skinny baby and so I thought I would try it. I did and it helped a ton! His diaper rash went away and now he only has bouts with it once in a while. I do keep an eye on it. I did have to work the Pampers into our budget, but I go with the really absorbent ones so I don't have to use as many and so he doesn't soak through at night. I like them =)

Wipes are another story. I think wipes can be divided into two categories--thick and thin.
Thick: Huggies
Thin: Luvs, Pampers, BJs, Kirkland
I like to go with the Huggies wipes because I don't think I have to use as many wipes. I also feel like I have a good grip of the wipe. I've tried Pampers and will buy them on occasion with coupons, but they're just okay. I don't feel like I can grip them very well.

Coupons: Each of the diaper/wipe manufacturers have websites. If you go to their websites and sign up for their mailing lists, they will periodically mail you coupons and samples.

One last thing: Diaper Rash Creams
Everyone has had a different solution on this one. I tried everything with Sami. I even used the Hair Dryer. In the end, I used baby powder, and generic Eucerin cream from Walmart ($4 for a 16 oz. tub). It's far cheaper than Aquafor ($15 for 16 oz). When the diaper rash would appear, I would use the generic antifungal cream from Walmart and the Eucerin and it would go away after a few days. For Eli, I just use the Antifungal and generic Eucerin when his rash appears. One day I took care of a friend's little girl and had to change her diaper. I noticed her diaper rash and her mom hadn't mentioned anything. So, I put the Eucerin on her and mentioned it to her the next day. She told me it had gone away and had wondered what happened =) Yay! I did try Desitin, Butt Cream, A & D, and another one, but the generic Eucerin was what I really found has worked for my kids =)

I also had a friend who signed up for Amazon's diaper delivery and felt it was a good deal, but I have never tried it. I get my diapers and most of my wipes at BJs because they regularly run coupons for them, which makes their prices for them better than Costco.

So, that's what I've found about diapers and wipes. One of my good friends is always telling me about when her twins were born 40 years ago, there were only Pampers =) There's a lot more selection now, but I think it gets a lot more confusing sometimes because of it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grocery Shopping with 3 kids

A month ago, a dad of 2 little boys asked "How do you grocery shop with 3 kids?"
I replied, "Well, I just do. I have to. But, it is definitely tricky at times."

I look back now and go "wow. Grocery shopping with one was so much easier!" I shopped with lots of coupons and went to multiple stores whenever I needed to. Went into little stores even.

Then I had two. I still went to regular grocery stores once in a while, but not very often. My shopping started to shift. I started shopping at BJ's and Costco because they have bigger carts. I shopped at Target for a few staples at good prices because the aisles aren't crowded and they're easy to get around. And my trips to Trader Joe's became once a month to once every other month. I still went to a regular grocery store but maybe once a month.

Now, I have three. When Eli was in an infant car seat, it was tricky. It takes up so much room! Thankfully, that time isn't that long. And BJ's has the shelf under the carts so I always had to use that with the girls up front. But, now Eli is bigger.

So, I shop at Aldi's each week. Sami usually ends up in the back of the cart and Eli up front. Autumn walks. Sami and Autumn together play a little too much and end up falling in that store. During the summer I shop at my little farmer's market and go see the bee lady, the apple (orchard) lady, and the vegetable man. I put Eli in his stroller and the girls stick with me. Everyone knows them so they help me keep an eye on them as I get what I need. I still shop at Target, but with homeschooling, it's becoming 1-2 x a month. And I shop at Trader Joe's, where both girls have to walk, 1x a month. They do have a storytime once a week, so I think I'm going to try and start going then =) It will cut down on the chaos a little. I also go to BJ's and Costco. They both carry a few different things and I like them both. BJ's is great because you can use regular coupons there and still buy the larger packages. I go 1 x a month with the kids to food Lion to get Tortillas. We go in, we go out. =)

It's been interesting because Autumn has piano lessons now and so I am faced with 30 minutes with Sami and Eli and nothing to do. We have started to go to the Giant nearby and I let them walk. We practice walking and counting. I think I'm going to use this time to pick up a package of chicken or a roast or meat that I don't buy at the other stores and take advantage of whatever is on sale. It gives us a place to go and it isn't as stressful as regular grocery shopping would be in the store with all 3.

But, aside from the balancing act of juggling 3 kids in a store, there is another reason I don't shop at regular grocery stores much. They're really expensive. I've been really surprised. I buy rice at Walmart and the same package is 2x the price at Giant. I shop at Aldis and buy Graham Crackers which are 2x the price at a regular grocery store. I love remembering prices so there are different things that I buy at each place.

At BJ's: Pampers, bananas, baked beans, mac and cheese, lunch meat, yogurt, milk, half and half, deodorant, spices, laundry soap, coupon items, orange juice, listerine, pasta
At Costco: Dog Food (their dog food is all natural), cheese, milk, meet, steak (special occasion =) ), Izzes, spices, bananas, fruit, raisins, ground beef, dish soap and detergent, chocolate chips
Aldis: Canned goods, graham crackers, flour/sugar, vegetables and fruits, chicken, plain yogurt, cream cheese
Walmart: CalRose Rice
Target: Peanut butter, cereal, yogurt, sour cream, toiletries
Panera: Bagels--I buy the big pack (18) have them sliced and freeze them.
Trader Joe's: Coffee, Spaghetti Sauce
Lohr's: the orchard nearby sells McCutcheon's jam and jellies which are made with fruit juice or sugar instead of corn syrup
Amish Market: wheat to grind, bulk spices

I'm sure there are a few things I've missed, but it surprises me how simple my list is, but I think I make a lot more stops than I realized! =) I just try not to make them as often anymore and stock up more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I think budgeting is a doubled edged sword, but one side is duller than the other. When I was single, I didn't write everything down and stick to a budget. I just didn't spend much money. Every time I was switching jobs or my income would change, I would sit down and see if I could make it work. Based on that, I kept it in the back of my mind and was just very careful about how I spent the money I had.

There were two really lean times in my single life when I had very little and it made me very frugal. The first was my senior year in college when I made $441 a month the first semester and somehow paid my books, sorority dues (one of my part time jobs cooking at my sorority on the weekends), rent ($220/mo), food, and gas. I didn't pay for my car or tuition. The second time things were really tight was when I was in grad school and I made $752 a month. My rent was $250 and I was paying for my insurance and gas at that point. The only thing my mom helped me with was my health insurance--which was such a blessing! I had 2 part time jobs plus grad school. I am so thankful for those two times in my life. I learned a lot of lessons during those times...I had to trust God to provide for me when extra things came up (and He always did!). I had to let go of money--I couldn't spend whatever I wanted. I had to really learn what needs and wants were. I was convicted to get through grad school with debt--I didn't know why, but I felt that conviction, so I pursued that wholeheartedly. It made me really appreciate school and be thankful when I was done and had a full time job! But, one of the other lessons God taught me through that time was how to be generous to others. My friends modeled were very generous to me when I couldn't afford things and I have never forgotten that.

When I got married, the finances changed! Everything got more complicated. Budgeting was one of the things we started doing to keep track of everything. We discovered that when we didn't write everything down, we were always over budget. Even now, I find that when I lose track and forget to write things down, I overspend. So, I write things down and we're able to stay in our budget because we know when we have to say no to ourselves. I made a simple Excel spreadsheet to track everything. We evaluate our budget and adjust it anytime my husband's income changes and we make sure we're staying in it. We struggle. A lot of unexpected expenses come up. I think that's the hardest part. But, we press on and do the best we can.

The thing I've found is that there's stress involved in keeping a budget and saying no to yourself (the dull side of the sword), but there's even more stress when you spend not knowing if you have the money or not (the very sharp side of the sword). I grew up with a father who always over spent and a mom who was frugal. When I got older, I resolved to always pay my credit card balances every month. Credit cards can be useful tools and make life easier and more convenient. But, I think they only work well when you pay them off every month. If you care a balance, it takes a really long time to pay it off--especially if you only pay the minimum balance.

Monday, September 21, 2009

MSG and Partially Hydrogenated Oils

One of the tricky things about making things stretch is making choices when it comes to groceries. I have found that we are not able to buy everything organic. And Organic is a discussion of its own. But, here's a few of the things I try to do instead.

During the summer (May-October) we're locavores when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Two of the folks I buy from at the farmer's market aren't organics (because they've both told me that getting certified is a big pain), but they basically raise their plans organically.

There are 4 ingredients that I avoid as much as possible: MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Artificial sweeteners, and Partially Hydrogenated Oils. All three weren't meant to be digested by us. We don't eat that many processed foods anyways, but here's a few we do eat: General Mills Cereals, Aldis canned goods and graham crackers, Bush's baked beans, Annie's or Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese (I couldn't not let my kids have mac and cheese), and regular condiments. For jelly, I've found McCutcheon's, a MD brand, that makes a juice sweetened or regular sugar sweetened grape jelly (instead of high fructose corn syrup). For cereal, I stick with General Mills or Post---Kellogg's uses Partially Hydrogenated Oils in their cereals and snacks! Keebler does too in their snacks. Aldis is a store that sells only generic groceries--if you have one near you and haven't shopped there, give it a chance. When I was working for General Mills years ago, I discovered that sometimes generics taste as good and sometimes they don't. When it comes to canned goods, it really doesn't matter and for the other staples that I buy there. High Fructose Corn Syrup is the one to watch out for in baked beans and the oils in the mac and cheese.

Unfortunately, I haven't found a good ranch dressing on the market that tastes like real ranch that doesn't have MSG in it. My husband says that MSG is the flavor of ranch. So, I switched to primarily making the Good Seasons Italian as our staple dressing. I make a lot of dressings from scratch, too, but the Italian I can't replicate. I just got one of the cruets made for their dressing this weekend and it makes it so easy!

The reason I stay away from MSG is because its been linked to Migraines.
Artificial Sweeteners make my body feel all out of whack like my blood sugar is going crazy.
The hydrogenated oils are supposed to kill us (or so the internet says) and make us fat. I avoid them as much as I can--but unfortunately I can't with tortillas and I don't have enough time to make my own. So, hopefully, we'll be okay since that is all we're eating it in.
High fructose Corn Syrup is an interesting one as well, but when I looked into it a while back, I realized that when you consume a lot of it, it immensely increases your desire for sweet things.

I try to be balanced about what I feed my family. I don't think we're too extreme, but I feel pretty wary of chemicals that chemists have invented in foods that aren't naturally occurring. And I don't know what the long term effect of them will be! It's been very interesting to me as the articles have come out this year that the our bodies see the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas as regular sugar and process them that way--so they can still make you gain weight if you drink too much of them.

Well, I better run. I hope you have a great day!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Funny thing...

I realized that Blogger posts your posts according to when you start them, not when you finish them. So, today, I finished a post, but it's buried in the middle. It's called God's Provision and it's about the books that I have enjoyed and not enjoyed reading about finances =)

Garage Saling

People are often surprised by what I find Garage saling--and I am too! Last year, my rocker broke just before I had Eli. I knew we didn't have 300-400 to buy a new one. Autumn asked me that week, are you going to go find one at a garage sale on Saturday, Mommy? I said, well, we'll see. When I set out that Saturday morning, I prayed and asked God for a chair. In the course of the morning, I met a couple who felt they were done having children. I explained that my goal for the morning was to find a chair. The husband said they wanted to sell theirs. I ended up buying it for $45.

My rule of thumb is that at garage sales typically things cost 10% of what you would pay for them retail. I've tried this theory out many times and it's held true more times than not. And in this case $45 was 10% of the retail price of the chair. It was a huge blessing to us and still is to have found this chair. And I am so thankful for the Lord's graciousness in helping me find it. I still remember that morning as much because of the chair as because of the conversation that I got to have with the wife.

Last weekend, I went out garage saling with my good friend and garage sale partner. No kids, just us. Usually, we have all 3 kids with us and they're troopers. They have fun seeing what treasures we'll find. But, sometimes it's fun and much quicker to go without them.

Anyways, we had been rearranging our tv/adult reading room and I felt like we needed a chair for it, but I knew we didn't have the money in our budget to buy something expensive. So, I went garage saling and I found this Poang Chair from IKEA, a foot stool, 2 older poang chairs and 2 kids chairs for $27. Usually, I'm really able to fix things myself and so I saw them and thought I could. Little did I know how much I needed my friend for this one. I just saw potential. I didn't realize how dirty they were--they accepted $27 for a reason! So, my friend took them home and sprayed oxiclean all over them and then a few hours later used her carpet cleaner on the cushions. She knew all about them since she had several of the chairs and told me that you can't put the covers in the wash because they will shrink (even just going through the wash). I couldn't have fixed them without her! My job was to sand the arms and legs of the little chairs--I don't know what was so rough on them. But, I polyurethaned them and now I need to make some new simple covers for them. I saw online that lots of people do that anyways.

In the future, I will try and remember to look closer before I buy =) and really make sure that I can fix it. I do always look at DVDs before I buy them to make sure there aren't many scratches. There have been times when I've bought things and couldn't fix them. But, I've always tried to keep in mind with any purchase I make, I'm taking a chance that it won't work. And because of that, I hesitate to spend too much on one item.

Garage saling here runs from April-May (busiest months) through the beginning of October. Sometimes it's busy in September and sometimes not. Yesterday, I did go out in the morning and I found some clothes for Autumn and Sami and a princess sheet for Sami's bed that I know she's going to love, some homeschooling books, a nerf gun target dart board for my husband, a star globe, some Christmas towels and vinyl tablecloths (super handy for when the kids are doing crafts), a decorative clay tea pot, addition bingo, a box of yarn for homeschooling crafts, a little sticker Xyron machine, a cruet for our salad dressing and a black purse, the Little Tikes tool bench I had wanted for Eli, and a few other little things. I think I spent $16. It probably sounds like a lot of junk =) but it's amazing how much stuff is handy when you're homeschooling and raising 3 kids and a puppy! The Xyron was just for fun--I've always been curious about them. But, that's usually what my list sounds like after garage saling. A lot of random things that make our homeschooling a lot more fun. I discovered after I got home that I was looking over what Autumn's art lesson is this week, and I bought a book with rubbing plates that was exactly what I need! I didn't know it--it was such a fun little blessing to discover that!

God provides for all of us in so many different ways--and as one author I read said--she wasn't advocating that everyone garage sale or think of someone as not wise for not doing so--she realized that it was important that people buy things and then have garage sales so she could then buy them. =) But, it was right for her family. And I guess that made sense to me. For some people, it is easiest to buy in the stores. For some people, consignment stores and consignment sales (which are getting a lot more popular and frequent) are a great resource. And some, like me, love garage saling and finding treasures that can be recycled. And I guess that's another thing to talk about at another time--when it comes to hand me downs and garage saling--it feels good to me to know that I'm recycling and not consuming more resources of the world. =) So, those are my random thoughts this morning since I couldn't sleep!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Napkins and Nightgowns =)

The tricky thing for me about blogging sometimes is that I think about something I want to write about and then I forget! But, I thought of 2 things this morning...

1) Cloth Napkins. We have a basketful. Instead of using paper napkins like I grew up with, we use cloth napkins at our meals. The kids do, too. Have you ever noticed that there are some meals that you don't use your napkin at all, but if it's paper--you still throw it away? Using cloth napkins for me is more about not using up trees and paper, but it also changes the look and feel of our table. It seems nicer some how. Before we had kids, I always had to set out matching napkins on the table. Now that we have 3 little ones, I'm doing good to get the napkins on the table and my husband has gotten used to them not matching if I don't have time to think about it--which I usually don't. Oh, but back to what happens if you don't use the napkin at the meal. If you're using a cloth napkin and you haven't used it, you can either leave it on the table (if you don't have a dog who will pull it off like we do) or set it back in the pile to use for the next meal. Anyways, that's what we do =)

2) Little girls' nightgowns: Until kids are about 3 and are doing well with being potty trained through the night, I found that we really have to change their pajamas every day. They can't wear them every day because they smell--I don't mean to be gross. But, I'll be honest, I just put Eli in a onesie for him to sleep in at this point. At about 1 1/2-2 years old is when I start putting them in pajamas. Pajamas are quite expensive when you need multiple pairs, I think. My favorite pj's for little kids are Gap PJ's from the outlets and Old Navy second, but I don't usually like the designs as well. I always watched for the clearances at the stores and outlets. Pajamas don't tend to wear very well, but the Gap or Gap outlet ones hold up enough to go through multiple children. The other reason I really like them is the design. My children never have been able to wear the ones with feet. But, the Gap ones are gathered at the bottom of the legs and are 2 pieces with elastic around the middle (good for skinny or round children). My children are round and short =) I like Carter's and their equivalents at Target and Walmart, but the arms were always a lot tighter and I ran into big problems with that for Sami when she was 2-3.

But, when they turn 3/or are potty trained well, they can start wearing pajamas for more than one night. This was the trick I found that worked for my girls. They were so in the habit of putting their nightclothes in the dirty clothes that they wouldn't save them for the next night. So, I found them each a nightgown that they really liked--Strawberry Shortcake for Sami and Ariel for Autumn. Character pajamas/nightgowns are about $12-15. I was lucky enough to find the Strawberry Shortcake NWT at a garage sale and the Ariel one barely worn for $1.50. Yay! I was so thankful. When I got those two nightgowns, the girls quickly changed their habits and remembered because they wanted to wear their nightgowns the next night, so they put them under their pillows instead of in the dirty clothes hamper.

But, anyways, if you buy 2 for each child and they wear them 2-3 nights, they're washed by the time they're ready for the other one. Another option for summer nightgowns for girls that worked for Autumn this summer was a light Hawaiian sundress that I found at a garage sale. Last summer, I got the girls some bigger girls' shirts and they used them as nightgowns, that was another way that I saved money on their nightgowns, but Sami wasn't potty trained then so I needed more of them and that worked out well.

And by the way, yes, I know that there are labels inside true pajamas about whether or not clothes are for kids to sleep in, but what I realized when my kids were babies is that they take naps in their clothes anyways-- so why wouldn't be okay for Eli to sleep at night in his onesie =) I just make sure there aren't any buttons that could come off in the night and be a choking hazard when I put him down for a nap or down to sleep.

So, those are my random thoughts this morning =)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Car Seats Cont...

I had a great talk with a good friend of mine this morning and we were talking about my blog and what I wrote about car seats. I learned some things from her that I didn't know. The first was about add-ons. If the add on comes with the car seat then it has already been approved for use with that car seat by the manufacturer. So, the other day when I saw the updated version of our Graco convertible car seat--it had a head rest that came with it. So, that head rest would be approved for use with it. My friend also felt that it is important to be aware of the highest standards, but realize that then we have to be realistic and practical. For example, the government recommends that nothing--NOTHING--be loose in your car that could hit your child in the case of an accident. She and I both agreed that we don't know anyone that doesn't have something in their cars that is loose. That would include the board book that you give your child to keep them occupied while you're driving on a long trip =) So, it's something to be aware of and wise about, but not exactly feasible all the time. I have 3 kids and there's always stuff in my car--I don't think I could avoid it.

Second, we are a highly, HIGHLY regulated country when it comes to safety--almost hyper conscious about it. In China, they don't even have car seats. My friend has a friend who lives in Asia who she visited when the friend's daughter was 2 years old. She sat in a bike seat on the back of her mother's bike--that had no belt! Wow. Imagine that one. Tricky. Her daughter fell asleep and she rode using one hand until she got home so the daughter wouldn't fall out. So, obviously, yes, there's good reason for our seats and regulations, but sometimes we do as a country go a little overboard.

Well, that's all for now, but I learned a lot from my friend and it was fun talking about it =)

Things to Write About

Last night, I told my husband about the blog I started yesterday and he said that made a lot of sense--because more than anything else, I enjoy being thrifty--frugal sounds extreme. But, I do love saving money! So, I've made a list this morning at the side of the blog of some of the things I want to write about so I won't forget. If they interest you, please check back to my blog =) And please when I write about them--I love comments and to know what other people think about them and if they agree/disagree with me!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

God's Provision

I find that I think that finances are as much about us being wise as they are about God's provision for us in spite of our failings and faults.

I think I have 2 favorite books about finances and a 3rd if you're in the military.

1. Miserly Moms: If you're thinking about staying at home or for your spouse to be a stay at home parent, this is a great book. And Jonni McCoy really talks about how much it costs to be a working parent as well as how to save and make it work if you decide to stay home.

2. I read a great book this summer by Matt Bell called Money Strategies for Tough Times. This is a book that is great for both men and women. He talks in the first chapter about how our finances are not separate from our walk with the Lord--they are a part of it. He also talks about needs/wants and loans. One reviewer talked about how she thought it was extreme. I'll be honest, I didn't think it was extreme at all! It was very mild, actually, but full of good information.

3. For military families, I really like Ellie Kay's book Heroes at Home. For new military wives, I thought Ellie Kay did a great job of talking about things that they need to know--one of them being finances.

So, I think those are my favorite books about finances. I've read some bad ones too. One of them is Living More with Less. It was so extreme. That's my benchmark, I think. And I struggled with the examples that the author gave--like a couple with PhDs who worked as a waitress and janitor so that they would make the least money they could--so they would pay the least taxes they could to a government they didn't like. That book also included stories about people who refused to pay their taxes. But, the Bible says to give to Caesar what is Caesar's--and we know that God is sovereign--He has allowed the people who are in power to have that power. WE may not always understand why, but HE does. =)

The other books that I'm not so crazy about are Mary Hunt's books. It is a struggle for me to come to terms with the fact that even to access her website (at least it was this way a while back) you have to pay a fee. It seems like if you are wanting Christians to be better stewards with their finances and they're having problems--then it doesn't seem right to charge them for it.

I haven't read any books by Dave Ramsey, but have friends who have and have really enjoyed his books. I've listened to hims speak on Focus on the Family and have really liked what he had to say.

I've also heard good things about resources from Crown Financial, the late Larry Burkett's ministry, but again, most things on the website you have to pay for and to take their course to become a financial counselor to help people in your church, the training is expensive.

Sometimes books make me chuckle and their definition of the average family and the advice they give. One book I reviewed this year for Amazon was Busy Family's Guide to Money. They're definition of the average family must have been well over $150k/year. And the sample budget they included was for who? It was way off base, in my opinion about what a family budgets and what expenses you have for children and yourselves.

So, those are my favorite and not so favorite books about finances. I enjoy reading what people have to say about finances. I'm a pretty average person, I think. I don't read books all about investing or saving, but I know that it is important. I'm skittish about the stock market after growing up with my dad, but I do save and believe it's important. I believe it's important that we not live beyond our means and be good stewards of what we have. So, that's me for this morning, I guess. =)

Motorcycles =)

That may seem like a very funny thing to talk about on a blog about making things stretch, but my husband loves motorcycles. It is one of the biggest things that has taught us some financial lessons about purchases and sort of steeled what I believe about big purchases.

My husband's first motorcycle was a basic Harley Davidson 883 Sportster. It was beautiful and classic, but after an hour his hands would be numb from the vibrations. It handled well on the curvy backroads near us, but my husband yearned for the open road. I think the appeal of the Harley was the name and some pride. It was beautiful =) Motorcycles can be, I think.

So, he traded it in.

For a BMW something or other. I think and RT something. Anyways, the dealer was 45 miles away and it was a pain to get any work done. When he traded his new 883 in for a used BMW, we knew it would come with some quirks, but we didn't realize how many! Within a day of bringing it home, he realized it wouldn't do what he wanted it to--ride the backroads great and the open highway/freeway. One of the hardest things about motorcycles is that you can't test drive bikes except at the Harley and BMW dealers. Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki...there isn't anywhere around here that will let you test drive--you'd be buying blind.

So, after a while, my husband realized the BMW was a bad bike for him and our family--the maintenance alone was crazy expensive. The frequency of required maintenance and repairs was going to be very costly. So, he sold it.

He waited a few months and wanted a new bike. We talked through all of it. We considered what we could afford and what we couldn't. We considered the new vs. used question. We ended up purchasing a Honda 919. It's really a bike in the middle of the Harley and BMW bikes that he had. It has the Honda name and not the Harley or BMW name. But, it has a reputation of reliability and lower maintenance. So, far a month and a half into it, he's still happy with it and I'm thankful.

So, what did I learn?
1) If you take out a loan for a bike, get both your names on it if you're married--even if it is only your spouse that rides it. The reason is that if you have to deal with any of the finances, the company will not talk to you if your name isn't on the papers. It isn't a matter of who it belongs to, it's really a matter of practicality.

2) The middle road is best =) If you can afford the lowest model of a great brand or a new model of a brand that isn't as much to brag about, but is a quality brand--go with quality, not bragging rights =)

3) New vs. Used: New if it can be afforded. When it comes to a vehicle, it's a safety issue with me. I find it a lot easier for me to trust a new vehicle than a used one--because I know how it's been taken care of by me =)

4) It's important for me to love my husband. I listen to my husband talk a lot about motorcycles--because I love him. It's not my thing, but that's okay. We met a couple at a housewarming party and she reminded me by her example of boating with her significant other of how important this is. She still boats with him and has grown to love it, despite the fact that on their first date they went through a storm while in his sailboat!

5) Were the bike purchases and trades the wisest use of our finances? Maybe not in many people's eyes--which I totally understand--but sometimes you have to learn by doing and I think in this case we did. And more than that--I saw God's graciousness to us in it and the blessing of his provision for something that my husband loves.

So, now, I hope we'll have the 919 for a long time! I'm praying that we will =)

Car Seats

The thing that made me think about starting this blog (since I already have another one that I share stories on about my kids and family and my thoughts about life) is that when I talked with a couple a few weeks ago in Target, they asked me if I had a website. So, now I do!

The couple had twins and were looking at car seats. They had gone with the Britax ($200+ each). But, it was too big and didn't fit in their car.

I remember when we were getting ready for Autumn. We bought the Graco infant car seat and the big stroller that went with it. (I'm so thankful strollers have slimmed down so much in the past 6 years!)

Anyways, we read the book about getting the safest things for our daughter and we thought we needed that big, huge stroller. What we realized later was that it was super heavy and totally impractical for us. I sold it for $20 at a garage sale, I think.

But, back to the car seats =) I've kind of realized that there's an upper tier of children's products that are geared towards wealthy people who are able to spend more than we (my husband and I can). In general, we've found that if we buy the high end item--we regret it because it usually isn't all we'd hoped. And if we buy the low end item--it ends up usually being poor quality or you have to be very careful with it. So, we've found that we try to stick to the middle range.

And in this case, the Graco infant car seat was a great choice. It lasted through 3 babies--but I had to throw it out afterwards. I couldn't give it to a friend because it had worn out. But, to last through 3 kids, I think is pretty good =)

When we transitioned Autumn out of the infant seat--at 9 months, we bought her a Graco car seat ($80) and it lasted until she was 4 because she's so short. She wasn't tall enough for a booster until she was 4. Honestly, it was a great car seat and I highly recommend it. I've been very happy with them. My youngest son is now in one.

Next, we bought booster seats for the girls. I bought Evenflo seats from Walmart for $31 each. I wanted to buy the Graco seat, but it said "Princess" all over it and I didn't think that would go over too well with Eli when he's old enough to sit in it! I've been happy with them. They're basic and durable. We've had no problems with them.

Two years ago, a friend gave me 2 Evenflo car seats similar to the Graco ones that we have. I'll be honest, the Graco is a better transitional seat. The contour for putting a 9 month old into it is much better and I noticed on the new one, there is a head form that will help the baby's head not bobble about. But, you can always buy those separately and put them on the seat.

So, that's my two cents =) Tomorrow, I will write about the gal I met last night at the library book sale and why we chose for me to stay home =)

A New Blog

I think I'm a funny bird. I love to talk--that doesn't make me funny. At least I don't think so =) But, I love to talk to strangers. I love meeting them and hearing about their lives and I love to be helpful. I'm one of those people that if I'm in Target and I'm looking at something and puzzling about what to choose, I love input from someone who has one.

For example, one Saturday, my husband and I were in the toy section and I have no idea how it came up but a woman told us to be careful of the Bounce 'n Play places because of the coxsackie virus/hand foot mouth. I had never thought about it, but it made sense. She said that some places are better than others (and she told me which ones, but I can't remember). I was thankful for the advice and the thought!

Just a forewarning--I'm not very technologically savvy--hence the sideways smile at the beginning!