Saturday, January 29, 2011

Choosing a New Washing Machine

Two weeks ago, we rearranged our house and bought the girls new bunk beds.  For me, that was a major purchase.  Afterwards, I experienced a week of second guessing myself and wondering if I had chosen the right or wrong ones.  Everyone that has come into my home has commented on how nice they are, though, and how much they reflect my girls' personalities.

Still, there is a part of me that struggles.  Part of that struggle comes from the battle I face when making purchases between getting what I really like and being the most frugal I can be.  Another part of the struggle comes from the advent of the internet and the ability to instantly "shop around for the best deal".  If I don't get the best price, part of me feels like I have wasted what we have or that I haven't made the most of what we have or haven't stretched our finances as far as I can.  No matter what way you express it, I find that it's just a big trap.  And I'd even go so far as it is something that can tempt us to dwell on things and can cause us to make money an idol by giving it too much of our thought time and energy.

Not a week later I found myself faced with a similar purchasing struggle.  On Sunday night, my oldest daughter awoke at 2:30 a.m. after throwing up in her bed.  I got her cleaned up and into the shower.  Then, I stripped her bed and proceeded to take the bedding downstairs to the laundry room.  I opened up the washing machine to find it full of water and wet clothes.  Just before bed, I had started a load of laundry like I often do.  After making sure my daughter was settled, I wrang the clothes out and put them in a bucket.  Then, I emptied the washing machine of its water.

I made my way upstairs and began to research online what kind of washer to get and prices so that I could present my husband with the choice for me to either call someone to come fix our washer or to buy a new one.  What I found online was a mixed bag of information.  It was hard to know what to think!

In the end, when faced with the question first of whether to repair or replace, I concluded that we should replace.  This washing machine had already broken before and it was clearly not new when we had moved into our house five years ago.  The issue with my machine was similar to a friend's last year which took 6 weeks to get fixed.  Going to a laundromat would cost probably $30-$45/week with the number of loads I do.  But, aside from that we don't really have enough clothes to wait a whole week between trips to the laundromat.  So, that was my reasoning.

Now to find a new washing machine...

My options:  1) Traditional top loader with an agitator
               2) HE (High Efficiency) Front loader
               3) HE Top Loader

#2 was out for our home because HE Front Loaders have problems with mold and mildew because of how the water drains out of them.  You have to leave the door open and wipe out the gasket every time.  I would never remember to do that.  But, aside from my memory our house has issues with mold and mildew anyways that I continually have to keep on top of.  So, #2 did not seem like a wise choice.

That left me with deciding between a tradition top loader or an HE top loader.  I read a lot of varied reviews and there seemed no clear choice.  I did find the top rated HE top loader which was priced at $900 and was 5.0 cu. ft.  It was one in the Maytag Bravos line.  When I went to the Home Depot website I found the same washer in 4.7 cu. ft. on sale for $630.  I looked around at other brands (whirlpool, GE, and LG) but felt best about the Maytag Bravos.  Because of a $50 rebate, the washer would cost $570 and be energy smart.  The traditional agitators I saw with the features I needed for our family ran about $450 so it seemed much wiser in the long run to get an HE washer.

One of the biggest complaints I read was how the HE top loaders twist and wrinkle everything.  It really concerned me because I do a lot of delicates in our washer.  What I think is that they are comparing is a HE top loader with a HE front loader.

So, after my gang had woken up Monday morning, we headed over to Home Depot.  I intended to go over to Lowe's afterwards to compare and make the best decision I could.  I had already checked online and knew that Lowe's did not have any sales on washers right now and I compared prices as much as I could online before we went.

At Home Depot, I began looking at the small selection of washers.  I ruled out the front loaders which only left a few GE, whirlpool, Maytag, and one LG washer.  The LG was priced at $900 which seemed far beyond what I wanted to pay.  I went back and forth and finally settled on the Maytag Bravos 4.7 cu. ft. I was pleased that they had the one I was looking for.  It was the smaller version of the top rated one I'd found online.  I looked over at Autumn and she was struggling.  I realized that to shop around at that point and go over to Lowe's was going to be very hard on her.  I knew this was the washer I wanted and going to Lowe's was only going to be to satisfy my desire to feel like I'd gotten a good deal.  I realized I had to let go of that so I did.  I purchased the washer and we made one more stop before heading home.   One of the reasons I had gone to Home Depot was the hope that I could have the washer delivered the next day.  I was very glad when that was the case.  I had read online that sometimes Sears takes several days for delivery and I was concerned about Sami and Eli getting sick the next night and needing to do laundry right away.

So, the next day I prepared my laundry room and waited.  Early in the afternoon my new washer arrive and I quickly put it to use by doing five loads of laundry that first day.  I followed by doing two more the next day.  I have been so pleased with how well my new washer does.  I was most concerned about how it would handle delicates and if I would be able to mix sheets and clothes.  I've done both and have had no problems.  I've even washed stuffed animals and have dried them in the dryer.  Perhaps that's not the wisest thing to do, but when those stuffed animals are beloved and a child gets sick something has to be done!

I did learn one important thing.  I really had been stuffing our old washing machine.  No wonder it broke!  I actually fit less in a load in my new washer than I did in the old because you have to lay the clothes in the washer instead of packing them in.  It makes a huge difference in how much you can put in a load.

One thing I thought was interesting was that the salesperson at Home Depot did say that Maytag is going away from both the traditional top loaders and the front loaders and towards primarily HE top loaders.  I think I can see why.  I am really pleased with my new washer and I'm going to start watching for the matching dryer to go on sale!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Bunk Bed Notes...

After I posted what I learned about bunk beds, I had a chance to talk with my friend Kim about bunk beds and she had several other interesting observations.

1.  She and her husband chose to get full over full bunk beds because her daughters move a lot in their sleep.  Consider your child's sleep habits when you get a bunk bed.  You may be more comfortable with IKEA's low loft bed (that's low and then put a mattress on the floor for the youngest child).

2.  A sturdy guard rail on top is something you really want.

3.  If you have a textured ceiling, be careful about getting a high bunk bed.  Her daughter sometimes will accidentally swipe her fingers on the ceiling as she's making her bed and it hurts.

4.  The angled ladder is definitely a good thing.

5.  Make sure you check the instruction manual for the bunk beds before you buy thick mattresses.  For my girls beds, the surface of the mattress needs to be at least 5" from the top of the guard rail and the mattress can't be more than 9" thick.

Laurie Berkner Band

One of my kids' favorite music groups over the past few years has been the Laurie Berkner Band.  Through the end of January, Amazon has a selection of MP3 kids albums (and a lot of other albums as well) for $5.  This is one of them:

This is the best of and so there's lots of fun songs and it's a great deal for 20 of her songs (which is equivalent to two of her normal length albums).  What I like best about her songs is that both kids and adults enjoy them--they aren't the kind of songs that will grate on your nerves ;)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bunk Beds

This weekend we got some disheartening news.  We had been hoping to move but a very forthright and honest realtor sat down with us and showed us how much we'd really have to come up with to make up for the short fall in order to sell our house.  Our plan in moving was to have my mom move in with us.  It seemed the wisest plan. But, after consideration, we realized she will be able to buy a small home in our neighborhood when she sells her home this year.  With all this in mind, we realized that we needed to make our home as liveable as possible and do a few things we'd been putting off.  One was to purchase bunk beds for the girls.  In the process of looking for a set of bunk beds, I learned several things along the way.

Bunk Beds
Comparison Shopping
IKEA Wooden Bed
IKEA:  White metal frame $149 includes a mesh net to go under the bed; the natural wooden frame is $159 and includes slats  The white one felt okay, but a straight ladder and if you scratched the metal, the paint would be hard to touch up.  The wooden frame feels very unsteady and I wouldn't recommend it.

Walmart:  Pine basic bed $189  Seemed to be pretty thick, but I didn't see a full size model

BJ's:  darker wood, all wood bunk bed $249 It has two drawers underneath that will roll on hardwood floor.  So, that makes it a good value.  It felt sturdy and simple.  It would be a great choice for boys.

Costco:  White Bayside Brianna Bed $499  Very girly.  It's perfect for my girly girls, but I'd never put boys in it.  It will convert to nice twin beds someday.  It is made of wood so I will be able to touch up the paint.  It also has an angled ladder (which is what my husband wanted) that hooks easily and is easier and safer to climb up, according to my husband.

Room Store: $800 for a natural wood bed with a ladder that is angled, their $399 bed requires you to climb up the side of the bed (no ladder).  No one helped me or even said a word to me when I went in the store, so I really don't know much about the bed except that you also need a bunkie board under your mattress and I'm not sure if slats are extra.

Brass and Oak: Three bunk beds can be ordered for girls.  A very basic one for $349.  Two nicer white ones are available for $649 and $699.  All of these beds need to be ordered so they will take time to come in.  But, they were nice.  The $349 model looked cheap though and not as sturdy.  I don't think I'd recommend it.

Value City Furniture: Basic Arts and Crafts set: $399 plus bunkie boards, plus delivery, etc. It didn't feel that much different to me than the $249 set at Bj's.  It is more finished in its look, though.  Looked and felt very nice.  It has an up and down ladder.

There is also another option at Value City which is the Camp Granada which is $599.  It's very simple and rustic looking though.

I ended up choosing the Bayside Brianna set at Costco for $499.  The slats are included.  Here is a picture of the one we got in my girls room.
The girls honestly are thrilled with it.  You'll notice that it looks pretty tall.  It is!  I had no idea when I bought it and that is my first piece of advice.

Check the height of the bunk bed and go home and try and picture it in the room you're going to put it in.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both short and tall bunkbeds.

Tall (like ours)
Advantages:  I can sit on the bottom bunk and read comfortably to Sami and can give her a big hug.  All the kids and I will be able to sit and read together on the bed without me bumping my head.

Disadvantages:  It is tall so it is harder to read Autumn.  She doesn't mind it all.  I moved a step stool near her bed so I can still reach up and rub her back once in a while the way my mom did once in a while when I had a hard time waking up as a little girl.   If I sit on the top bunk, my head does almost touch the ceiling.  I am 5'5".  But, my daughter is tiny and she won't outgrow it for a long time.

Short (like the wooden one from IKEA that a friend of mine has)
Advantages:  Lots of head room on the top bunk.  Not as high to fall from.

Disadvantages:  Child on the lower bunk might bump their head and you as an adult might as well.  My friend who has the IKEA one can't sit on the bottom bunk.  There also isn't as much storage room under the bed and with a small room, you usually need that.

There are medium in between bunk beds.  If I were giving someone advice on choosing one, I would say
1)  Measure your space
2) Go see and sit on several.  Sit on the bottom bunk and make sure you can sit with your child if that's something you want to be able to do.  Really only one person is allowed on the top bunk at a time anyways, so it only needs to be able to fit your child that will sleep there.
3) Shake them and feel how sturdy they are--consider if you're putting them on carpet or hardwood floors and how that will affect them. (Also consider how boisterous your kids are ;) ).
4) If you have the option of letting your kids have some say, check to make sure they'll like them before you buy them.  Although I regret buying such tall bunk beds, my daughter didn't like any of the others as I went to find the pictures of them to post on this blog.  I'm thankful that she is so happy with her top bunk.

And then there's the Mattress...

That's a whole other matter, really.  I was puzzled about what to do on this one.  I bought Autumn a $90 mattress from Bj's two years ago and have always regretted it.  I thought it was made wrong.  I didn't realize a huge thing that changed about mattresses about 8 or 9 years ago.

Mattresses are no longer 2 sided/flippable!  On the bottom now, is a flat surface.  It's like this on all new mattresses whether expensive or cheap.  When I asked one mattress store if it was because the mattress companies were trying to save money, he just laughed off my comment.  When I shared this observation at a second mattress store, he explained to me that the material on the bottom didn't wear well being on top of the box spring and there were a lot of warranty claims because of it.  So, the practice was changed.  I'm sure they gave another reason at the time, but my observation had some truth in it after all.

Back to the basic mattress and our bunk bed.  I wanted something a little better.  Costco carries a twin mattress for $149 and Bj's is $89.  Basically, they're pretty comparable.  When I went to Mattress Giant, I sat on two  mattresses.  One like what Autumn has had and another just a little nicer--that also cost $144 more than the one she had.

Here's what I really didn't know.  Mattress stores are negotiable.  The way car salesmen used to be--that's how mattress salespeople are.  So, shop around!  Go sit on a few (if you have time) and always remember the prices you've been quoted from one store to another.

The deal I was offered at Mattress Giant on a mattress that was ($360 for a set) $240 for mattress alone.  The salesperson offered 15% more off when I said I was going to buy 2.  I didn't end up buying them because I couldn't find the store that had them in stock.  I ended up at another shop:  Mattress Warehouse.

I bought 2 of these mattresses.  I didn't get as good a deal as I had thought based on the website, but it was the price I was going to pay at the other store.  Actually $10 less on the total after tax.

Here's where the web can be a negative thing.  There's only so much shopping around that's wise.  There will always be a better deal.  Settle on a price in your mind that you're willing to pay and then don't check any more after that.  Otherwise you're going to get discouraged like I just did by looking on their website.  I didn't get ripped off or anything, but I probably could have negotiated a little better price.  But, really, who knows?

I do feel like that was the shop I should have gone to and that God had his hand in it.  I talked to the couple who worked there who had been married for 50 years and the young fellow who's just about to get married.  Me and my big mouth I couldn't keep my mouth shut.  I'm not sure how but we all were talking about marriage and the challenges of it--how it is both the source of struggle and joy.  But, that it is God who holds my marriage together at the end of the day.  I am certain of that.  In any case, as I loaded the mattresses into my van, the young man looked at me and genuinely said to me that he was glad that he ran into me that day.  God had his hand in that, I believe ;)

So, now I have a bunk bed and two mattresses, but there's one thing I forgot to mention.  Before you purchase mattresses, make sure you know how tall the mattresses can be for the bunk beds you have or are planning to purchase.  The ones I bought are just right.  But, if they were any taller, they'd be too tall.  Autumn's new mattress is 9" tall.  Her old one was 7", just to give you an idea.

So, that's about it, I think.  I hope that this post will save you a little shopping and help you figure out what you'd like to get for your kids.

At the end of the day, I do regret spending so much.  I wish I had gone with the Bj's bunk beds for less and only bought one more mattress.  But, then I'd probably be regretting things in the opposite direction ;)  I tried to go for a middle of the road bunk bed and mattress.  Not too cheap and not too pricey--both for the bunk bed and mattress.

I did forget to mention one last and very important thing--Bed Bugs!  One friend mentioned an ad from Big Lots to me with a plush twin for $159.  I mentioned to her that I was concerned about bed bugs and not sure what to think about Big Lots because I didn't know where their mattresses came from.

When I was at Mattress Warehouse, the salesman did tell me that a fellow came in who had bought a mattress that was sealed in plastic (as all are), took it home, opened it up, and found bed bugs in it.  Eww!!!  Yuck!!!  He explained to me that though warehouses won't accept returns on mattresses, sometimes stores will and then they resell them as comfort models.  I would also be careful about where you go to try out mattresses for the same reason.  I just wanted to pass that last bit of information along, as yucky as it is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PC Care Scam

Beware!  My mom called me yesterday afternoon to ask me what she should do about a phone call she had just received.  I'm so thankful she called me!

A lady from a company called PC Care called and told her computer was in trouble.  She needed her to get on her computer and follow her directions so they could help her fix it.  The lady even gave a name, Tracy Brown.
My mom said she wasn't able to do that so she would need to take down her name and number and call her back later.  Then she called me.

I looked it up on the internet.  There is a PC Care program out there, but there are also multiple reports of scam phone calls in which a caller asks the person on the other line to get on their computer and give them access to it to help them "fix" it.  Hmmm...  I also came across several reports that lawsuits have been filed against companies and people involved in such scams.  

I just wanted to share this story so you can let you parents know if they are computer users to beware!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Motivation to Exercise

I am sadly not one of those people that loves to exercise.  I wish I was!  I admire people that have an innate enjoyment of exercise.  I exercise mostly because I want to take care of my body and I love to eat.  I know it's important to have a healthy view of food and exercise.  

My husband returned from a couple months away last April and I haven't really worked out since.  Life has gotten away from me.  But, I know it's time.  My kids are doing more work for me--thanks to their new chores and me holding them accountable.  That means less exercise for me.  A good friend had warned me that I should beware of this and not let the weight creep up on me.  Actually, she didn't warn me.  She shared her experience with me and I took note!  I logged it in my brain.

So, the trick for me is finding motivation.  I do about 5-7 loads of laundry a week for the 5 people in our house. My plan is to fold one load while I start my Walk Away the Pounds video.  By the time, I'm done with a load I'm 10 minutes into it (all the warm up time that doesn't require my arms, only my legs and walking/kicks).  So, it feels like I'm not wasting my time and I've already made it a significant way through the 30 minutes I need to do.

So, far I'm 2 days, 2 loads, and 2 workouts into it ;)

Sloppy Joes

I looked on the internet to find a copy of the sloppy joe recipe I used last night and couldn't find an exact one, so here's what I did.

Sloppy Joes
1/2 onion, minced
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce (a small can)
1/4 cup ketchup
4 tsp. worcestsire sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar (I made it a heaping tsp.)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute onion in canola oil for 5 min.  Add ground beef and garlic and saute until browned.  When cooked through, put a paper towel in the pan and push around with spatula to soak up grease.  You can do this as many times as you'd like to decrease the fat in the dish.  It's one of my tricks to cook healthier food for my family.  Add tomato sauce, ketchup and other ingredients.

Serve on English muffins with cheese or on hamburger buns.  Sadly, we didn't have any buns last night, but the English muffins toasted worked just fine.  

This is the first Sloppy Joe I've ever fixed for my husband that he will eat!  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Banana Crunch Cake

This morning I found myself stuck with 5 very overripe bananas and I knew my family did not want any more banana muffins or banana bread.  So, I started looking for a coffee cake recipe.  I found this one in my King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book that my sister in law gave me last year (Thank you! =) ).

Banana Crunch Cake

Now, of course I alter every recipe I make ;)  So, here are my alterations:  
1.  I completely omitted the nuts.  My family doesn't like them.  
2.  I used nonfat plain yogurt.  
3.  I used the 1 cup of chocolate chips that the recipe calls for.
4.  I wanted to cut down the fat. So, I went to the Food Substitution Bible (cool book) and looked for the better for you substitution.  I decided to substitute 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup apple butter for the 1/2 cup butter.
5.  I also happen to use fresh ground wheat flour, so I have to add 2 extra Tbsp. per cup in recipes, so in this recipe I put in 1 + 1/8 cup fresh milled wheat flour.

For a coffee cake, this recipe is very low in fat.  Normally coffee cakes are loaded with butter or oil.  I dropped a piece off at my neighbor's house and she only took one bite before setting it down--thinking it was horrible for her because it tasted so good.  Not so!  It is pretty good for you, tastes very rich, and is decidedly yummy!  So, if you're looking for a way to use your bananas, this would be a good fit!