Thursday, December 31, 2009

The most awesome concert ever

And I have pictures! I love this little camera. I so wish I had it for the David Cook concert I went to earlier. There is always next time! Anyways, Josh and I went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert with Josh's sister and husband last Sunday. We had really good seats and I was able to take some great pics and videos. I really love everything about this band. I love the variety of music they play - classic carols, songs they've written, beethoven, and much more. I love the mix of orchestra with the electric guitar and electric violin. Just amazing.




Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The holidays

Our holiday celebrations are now over. This year was the first year we celebrated Christmas in our home on the actual date. Every other year we've celebrated early in our own home so we could come up here for our family Christmases. It hasn't bothered me and I can't say I prefer one way to the other. We still have time with just our family and we still get to visit with our extended families and that's what is important to me. Really, the only thing that changed was the location of our Christmas eve church service.

The past few days have been busy but a good kind of busy. Friday we had our own family Christmas and then packed up to visit family for a few days. Saturday morning was my family Christmas. Sunday we went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert with Josh's sister and her husband. I absolutely love them. This is the 5th time I've seen them in concert and I don't think it will ever get old. It was also just fun to have a night out. Monday was Josh's family's Christmas.

The only negative in all these fun get-togethers is that Rachel has gotten a cold. She woke up early Sunday morning with a croupy cough. After running a hot shower to let her sit in the steam and then going outside for a minute, she was breathing easier. She seemed better on Sunday but had a rough day today. We were planning to go home on Wednesday but I suppose that may change if she appears to need to see the doctor. I hope she's feeling better for her sake but it'd also be nice to have nothing planned for tomorrow and just be able to sit around. I'm not ready to pack everything up and head home just yet.

The New Year will be here soon and I am thinking about some resolutions. I am NOT resolving to read any certain books. If I like a book, I will read it. If I don't, then reading it is absolute torture. Reading has always been an escape for me and one of the most enjoyable ways to spend my time. I don't want it to become work. At the same time, I do want to read more than fluff. I want to read things that challenge me and make me grow. I think I could resolve to read a certain number of non-fiction books. I like that idea. That way, I still have control over which ones but if something is boring me to tears, I have the freedom to drop it and pick another one and not feel like a failure.

I am off to spend a few minutes before bed reading. I doubt that I will be resolving to go to bed earlier this next year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Running . . . but not getting anywhere

Have you ever had a dream where you are trying to run away but your legs just won't move? It's like in the cartoons when they jump up and their legs are going but they're still in the same spot. I have felt like that with our finances lately.

We are doing all the right things. We have paid off all debt except our mortgage. I know that's huge. I know it's a big, important step. But we feel very stuck.

We have been working on building up our emergency fund since September. We have mastered - okay, maybe that's too strong of a word - we have gotten really good at budgeting. We've eaten out less and tried to cut back in a lot of ways. We're naming every single dollar that comes in and telling it where it's going.

But those darn emergencies keep happening and we're hitting a wall.

I have been told this is normal. I have been told that as soon as you say out loud, "We're not going into debt again!" that you will be tested. After having to buy a new van a month after paying off our home equity loan, I do believe this. But 4 months of testing is a little much, isn't it? It's hard to keep one's focus when one doesn't seem to be gaining any forward momentum.

I have also heard that there will come a point when you will shoot past the wall and gain momentum in your financial journey that you never thought possible.

I'm ready. Let's go. Maybe in January?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Break

I was going to push through and do 3 days of school next week. I knew we could cover a full week's worth of work in 3 days and figured one week and two days off would be more than enough. Then the kids asked about making Christmas cookies and I was looking at our schedule wondering when would be a good time to do that. And I decided that there was absolutely nothing wrong with taking two full weeks off of school.

I told the kids on Monday that this was our last week of school before Christmas break and they thought they knew that already. Apparently, they had been counting on that. I explained that I had originally been planning to do school next week until Wednesday but decided to take the days off and do some other things instead. Of course, they immediately wanted to know what "other things" we'd be doing. I said making Christmas cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels and some other treats and the cheers were immediate. Tori exclaimed, "That is an excellent idea!"

I thought so, too. And the closer we get to our last day, the more sure I am of that decision.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Twin Chatter


Rachel and Owen are doing more role-playing lately and let me tell you, it is quite entertaining. In this picture, they were feeding their babies, complete with bibs. They will carry their babies upstairs for naptime or bedtime. The other day, they took them up and then brought them right back down because, as Rachel explained, "Baby don't feel good - she need medicine."

The next day, ironically, Rachel woke up not feeling good so I was taking her temperature. I always have them sit on my lap and take one arm out of the sleeve and then take their temperature under their arm. After I was done and determined she had no fever, she was sitting on the couch, holding the thermometer. Owen walked in and apparently, Rachel was concerned for his health. She told him to sit on her lap and she would take his "tempin". He said no but did climb on the couch and sit next to her. He then proceeded to get one arm out through the top of his shirt and she turned the thermometer on and stuck it under his arm. When it beeped, she said he was all better. Then he realized he didn't know how to get his arm back in his shirt.

I look forward to what they will come up with next! And there is also a little trepidation there. Two minds can be so much more cleverer than one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas times a'comin

All it took was a little shopping. Okay, maybe a cart full. But now I am in the Christmas spirit. I think it's hard for me to get excited about Christmas when there aren't presents purchased yet. I stress about when to buy presents and what to buy and all that good stuff. But then, once a lot of shopping is done, I just can't wait for Christmas morning to be able to give those presents!

Saturday, I went shopping with a friend and decided to see what I could get done. I found a lot of neat things and came home ready to decorate! Now the tree is up, the outside lights are up and our spare room in the basement is locked to keep out curious eyes.

It was a lot of fun getting decorations out this year. Everytime I opened up a storage tub, I had two little toddlers standing over it saying, "Oooh, cuuute!" and "I love this!". How can you not get into the holiday spirit with that kind of enthusiasm?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Still loving our curriculum

It's been awhile since I could say that. We've gotten into a good routine and it just really works for us right now. I was even able to keep school going while potty-training, although there were some days that it might have been better to take the day off. We managed.

One thing we haven't done much of this year is writing. Nothing besides handwriting, that is. I'm looking into some options and think we'll add that in January.

It really is amazing how little time it takes to do a lesson when you can just focus on one child sitting in front of you. I am also amazed at how much time it can take when said child has a really horrible attitude. They are learning, though. The work has to get done, whether they pout and whine and stretch it out to two hours or instead, set their minds to it and get it done in thirty minutes.

I'm pleased with the progress they've both made in math. I'm ecstatic over how well Tori is doing in spelling. I need to stop underestimating her. I especially love what they are learning in history. I should say, what *we* are learning in history. I didn't pay a lot of attention to history in school. This year, we are reading The Story of the World, The Middle Ages, and it's really interesting. I especially like reading about Britain. It's so interesting learning things with my kids. We all have an "a-ha!" moment on some days.

Yesterday we were reading about Alfred the Great - he was a king of England who defeated the Vikings. I remembered buying a coffee table book about Britain a few years ago because I love Ireland and Scotland and England and was into Henry the 8th and the whole Protestant/Catholic thing at that time. Plus, it had beautiful pictures and a dream of mine is to go over there some day and see it for myself. Anyways, I thought of that book and wondered if it had stuff about Alfred the Great in there. So I got it out with the kids and we found him! And they had pictures of Viking weapons and other interesting things that made it come alive for us.

Now, I don't know how much of this history my kids could recite back or how much of it is sinking in. But I think it's opening up their minds to the realization that the world is old and a lot happened before us. And I hope that when they hear these names again in the future, a light bulb will go off and they'll say, "Oh, yeah, I remember hearing about him".

They also have a map page to fill out for every chapter and a coloring page. I'm planning to put these in a binder for them (yes, I know it's December and that we've been in school for several weeks now) and hope that when they look through these, they'll remember what we read.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hello, December

I don't know if it's because of the weather (a mild, sunny day on Dec. 1 in Michigan?) but it doesn't feel like December to me. Maybe it's because we don't have any decorations up. Maybe it's because I have very little shopping done. Maybe I'm in denial.

I'm not a grinch - I love Christmas. I might just love it more if I was a little more organized.

Every year, I decide that it will be different the next. I will print out lists and follow all those helpful tips on how to get everything done ahead of time. I will write down gift ideas for people right away and not wait until the last minute for inspiration to strike. I will enjoy the holiday season and breeze through with no stress at all.

And every year, that does not happen.

This year is no exception. Except I did make one change. I decided to create an address database for Christmas cards and print the labels instead of writing them by hand. I started messing around on the computer and actually found one that I had done about 5 years ago! (I thought this idea felt familiar!) There were some that had to be deleted and some that need to be changed and several to be added - but it was a great start. And it made the idea of Christmas cards so much less stressful.

So maybe I can change one thing each year to make it better. And maybe I can let go of some unrealistic expectations and just enjoy the moments of the season. Take an extra long drive in the van on the way home from the store with the kids so we can look at the lights. Put up decorations when we're not in a hurry so we can enjoy the process. Watch timeless Christmas specials, eat popcorn, drink hot chocolate. Find new traditions to begin. Oh, the possibilities this month holds!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When it just "clicks"

I think as a parent you often wait for the moment when it just "clicks". When you're waiting for a baby to sleep through the night. When you're waiting for a toddler to drink from a sippy cup and give up the bottle. When you're waiting for a child to learn how to use the potty. When you're waiting for a child to learn how to read. Or add.

There are many things you can do to encourage them and guide them but until it clicks, it's a struggle. It's a lesson in patience and working with your child's personality while also maintaining your status as the parent.

It clicked today for Rachel.

Yesterday, she was a drama queen every time I told her to try to go potty. She'd cry and stand up right away, insisting she was done when she hadn't "done" anything. I was gentle but also insistent that she sit down for a few more minutes.

Today, when I told her we'd try using the potty in a little bit, she calmly said okay. Then she went in and sat down and all of a sudden, it clicked. Her eyes lit up, she gasped out loud and said, "Mommy, Rachie peeing!" And we all sang the Hallelujah chorus. Now, she has gone on the potty several times. But it was under much duress. For some reason, her body just tried to hold it in instead of letting it go. Sorry if that is too much information. Today she was able to let it go. And oh, the joy that brought to this house.

Every time I told her to try, she didn't even bat an eye. She just went in there and did her business. And then, wonder of all wonders, she started going without me even asking.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now free to leave the house and go anyplace you would like. As long as there are public restrooms available. (and please don't forget a plastic bag and an extra change of clothes - just in case)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What to say

My life is consumed by potty-training. This does not make for good blogging. I don't want to go into details (my poor family has been getting very detailed emails about everything). I don't have much else to say! I am reminded of how I felt when Rachel and Owen were tiny. I never left the house during the day unless I absolutely had to because it either messed up feeding times or naptime and it just wasn't worth the hassle. Once again, I'm home and we're not even going outside to play because they'd have to put on pants. I think it's getting to me though. I need to get out more - either outside during the day or at night for a little bit.

So, what else is there to say? I did read two really good books a couple weeks ago. One was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and the other was Look Me In the Eye by John Robinson. The first was our book club selection for this month and the second was on my shelf at home and looked interesting. It was kind of funny how they were both memoirs and both so different and yet similar in some ways.

Randy Pausch found out he was dying from cancer and wanted to give one last lecture. He decided to also make it for his kids, who were fairly young, so they would have something to remember him by when they were older and would know what he thought was important. He had a very upbeat, positive attitude and worked hard to fulfill many of his dreams. He talked about how great his parents were and how much of an impact that had on his life. He encouraged others to develop good people skills and learn to work in group settings to be successful. He also emphasized caring for others and not things.

John Robinson had just about the opposite childhood. His father was an alcoholic who abused him. His mom had mental problems and would see things that weren't there. He was on his own a lot and learned to take care of himself at a very young age. He wasn't socially accepted and never knew what to do or say in social situations. The one thing he had going for him was that he was incredibly smart and taught himself about electronics and amplifiers. At one point he was creating special effects for guitars for KISS. After a series of others jobs, he started his own business repairing certain cars. It was at this point that he discovered he had Asperger's, a type of autism. He finally knew why he had trouble with social conversations and had to work so hard to respond acceptably to others. The interesting thing is that he stayed away from group situations and had horrible people skills but still was successful in life. He had dozens of excuses to not succeed but he didn't let any of those stop him.

Both of those books made me think about what my dreams and goals were and what excuses I am using to keep those from fulfilling them. So often, the only one standing in the way of what we want is ourselves. And maybe I won't be able to fulfill all of them but I don't want to say it's because I didn't try or gave up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brain Freeze

I was trying to post at least once a week but time really got away from me. Our family spent last week at a condo resort in Sheridan, Il, about one hour away from Chicago. It was a lovely week - sunshine, fairly mild temps for November, an indoor pool, spacious condos and time with family. I could not get my computer hooked up to the internet so there was no chance for blogging.

We got back Saturday late afternoon and unpacked and did laundry and raked leaves Saturday night and Sunday. Monday, I started potty-training.

I don't know why. I was tired of putting it off and just wanted to get it over with already. I was getting low on diapers and knew I'd have to buy more by the end of the week. So I just did it. It's gone okay. Owen has caught on very quickly and has only had two accidents since yesterday morning. Both were in the evenings when daddy was home. I'm not blaming daddy -I just think he's too much fun and Owen can't tear himself away. We'll have to take breaks during playtime.

Rachel is not having an easy time. She does not want to wet her pants and she understands what she needs to do. But she really doesn't like to go on the potty for some reason and tries to hold it as long as she can. Yesterday I was very frustrated with her. Today I was more calm and patient and expected it. I'm hoping that by being consistent and gently encouraging her, she'll eventually settle down and accept it.

With all of this going on, I haven't really wanted to think about coupons or finding deals this week. I hit up Aldi on Sunday and was once again thrilled with how cheap I can get a cart full of groceries. There is only so much energy and brain power and sometimes it must be allocated to different areas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Netflix junkie

I recently joined Netflix. Actually, this past Monday, to be exact. I had entered a drawing on a blog for a free month-long trial period and won. And then found out my brother is a subscriber and gets those deals to pass on all the time. Still, free is free so I signed up yesterday. Within 20 minutes, we have 26 dvd's in our queue and 2 in our "instant watch" section. I love netflix. We should be getting 3 movies to watch in the mail tomorrow and I can't wait. How exciting!

We've really gotten into renting movies lately so this is right up our alley. We were renting from our library (which is free) or from Redbox (only a $1) so I don't know that netflix will save us money. But (and this is HUGE) - we don't have to leave our house! And there is no due date!

They have a great selection. There was one movie in particular that I was curious to see if they had. I heard about it a couple of years ago but couldn't find it anywhere. Not only do they have it, it's an "instant watch" online so I can watch it whenever I want! I'll let you know what it is after I watch it and see if it's any good. :)

I found out there is this thing you can buy called a Roku that connects to your wireless connection and then you can watch anything on Netflix on your tv instead of your laptop. Very cool. Not because I hate watching movies on this screen - it's not that bad. But trying to have two people watch a movie on this screen is difficult - someone always has a glare or funny shadow on the screen. My speakers are not very loud and when I watch a movie on here, I can't check email, which drives me crazy. I think Roku will be going on my Christmas list.

I think when our trial month is over, we'll be signing up.

Giving up

I'm giving up the idea of only shopping once or twice a month. I feel like I miss out on too many deals and my money is spent too quickly. Both times this month I've ran out and I can't figure out where all that extra food is. It doesn't seem like we're eating more or needing more things. So I'm going back to my regular way for now. I'm going to continue doing the weekly meal plan and see how it goes. I might try the "shop for a month" idea again at some point. I've been reading some books about freezer cooking and think I'd like to try that sometime, too. Set aside a day to cook a bunch of meals and have those in the freezer. Maybe a mix of both ideas.

Next month will be a bit different. We're going on vacation for a week and my parents have provided for our meals for the most part. Then later in the month we'll be going home for Thanksgiving. We're also not putting as much extra into savings so we can start our Christmas shopping. I was debating about whether to put less in the grocery budget since we'll be consuming less food but I think I'm going to put the regular amount in there so I can stock up. Or even just finish without going over. It'd be nice for a change. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's for dinner?

I had good intentions, honestly I did. I wrote out some meal plans for the next couple of weeks and even filled out some lunch ideas. Then Saturday evening, Tori had a fever and just laid around. That meant we wouldn't be going to the potluck dinner at our church on Sunday, which meant I needed to fix a meal here. Sunday evening, Brendan and I started coming down with it. Monday, Tori was up and running, which gave me hope for the next day because I was pretty wiped out all day Monday. I did have the presence of mind to take out ground beef and Josh made tacos for supper that night. The meal plan said sloppy joes but I didn't have hamburger buns yet.

Then Rachel started coming down with it on Monday night. Tuesday night was supposed to be tacos, but since we had just had that on Monday and still didn't have hamburger buns (hard to get to the store this week between illness and football practice), I tried a recipe for chicken pot pie for the first time. I really liked it and it was very easy to put together. Tori was less than thrilled but that happens so often, it doesn't even phase me anymore.

Then I received an email informing us that our church program on Wednesday night was cancelled because of school cancellations due to illness. This meant that there would be no dinner at the church.

So, here it is, Wednesday afternoon, and I still don't know what's for dinner. I took out chicken from the freezer but don't know what I"ll do with it. Need inspiration to strike soon . . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pigtails!

Rachel's hair has gotten quite long recently. I put it up in pigtails the other day and she just loved swinging it around. Already a head-banger!
video

Monday, October 19, 2009

What happened to the days of flag football?

When did he go from this . . .

to this?

Brendan is #16. He likes to wear his long baseball socks with a red stripe on the side - very handy for locating him on the field. I can always find him on the line-up, but once the play starts going, I usually lose him. I have a hard time following football!

He's really enjoyed his first year of tackle football. Josh wasn't sure if he'd like it - thought maybe it'd be too aggressive for him. I was hoping he was right. He wasn't. Brendan's only complaint is that he wants the ball more, even though that means lots of guys trying to crush him to the ground.

One thing I have noticed since he started playing is that he's more affectionate to me. It might be coincidence. Or maybe the fact that he's playing a more grown-up sport and getting to let out some aggression has helped him realize he can still get hugs from his mom. Either way I hope it lasts.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Family time

I was cleaning out our game cupboard today. I do this periodically, probably 3 times a year. We have these huge cupboards in our dining room that hold a lot but they're very deep and high so storage isn't always practical. The game boxes get stacked up and we end up with about 4 piles stacked 10 games high. I'm not joking. Then one child wants the game 2nd from the bottom and guess what happens? I should probably clean this out every other week, but whatever.

I realized that we have a lot of really fun games! Josh and I used to play games a lot. I'm not sure when that stopped. I know we haven't played much since the twins were born but it might have stopped before that. No sense blaming them for everything. :)

It might have stopped when he kept winning at Sequence and I got really, really annoyed. I am a fairly good loser. I have had lots of practice at it. But when you just can't win, no matter how many times you play the stupid game, it gets frustrating.

At any rate, the games have started me thinking about our family time or lack thereof. I'm with the kids during the day and do school and life lessons with them. Then when Josh gets home, I tend to check out. Whether it's just mentally or physically, I retreat and let him take over the parenting. He tends to be more physcial with the kids and will play sports outside or wrestle on the living room floor. I sit and watch while knitting or typing an email or reading a book. There aren't many times that we all do something together unless it's eating out or a family shopping trip.

I want to start changing that. I'm going to organize the entertainment center so more games can fit in there since we tend to play on the living room floor. I'm also going to say that no video or computer games can be played after 5 unless you are playing with someone. I'd like to designate a family game night but things come up and schedules get changed so I don't know how effective that would be. Maybe I can schedule a few on the calendar when I plan meals and see how our month is looking.

My oldest is 9. His time here at home could possibly be half over. I just really feel the need to make the most of these years before they are all gone. I've been watching lots of home videos lately and I think it's making me realize how quickly the time has gone by. I just want to hold on a little more tightly now. Just for a little while.

And yet more budgeting talk

Sorry for all the budgeting talk but it's a big part of my life right now.

We're making good progress though. I really do feel we're on the right track and have a good plan in place.

The menu plan needs some work. I actually went over-budget with my cool menu plan. I'm really not sure how that happened but will work on it some more.

I also realized that when you don't at least pencil in a lunch menu, you end up having sandwiches. A lot. So, I will be planning lunches and suppers this next time. I'm still working on the new plan. I've been asking my family what they think are "1-month meals" (meals to just have once a month) or "2-month meals" (meals worthy enough to have twice a month).

Here's hoping this next one will go better!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My goal as a parent

I've been thinking about my goals as a parent - what do I want to teach my kids and what do I hope is the end result? That will play a part in decisions I make now. I also second-guess myself often (think I've mentioned that before) and sometimes wonder if homeschooling really is the best for them. I have no doubt that it's what I want to do but also don't want to hinder them in any way.

I am fairly certain they won't be hindered academically. That is not a real concern. They may not always be doing what their peers are doing but I also believe in going slower when needed so that things sink in and make sense before moving ahead to new material. I also don't believe in frustrating them but want them to be challenged - this can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes there are tears and I realize I've been pushing too hard. Sometimes I realize I'm being too much of a "mom" and not enough of a "teacher" and need to push harder. Overall, I think they are doing very well academically and who else would want them to succeed in education more than me? It's not about getting A's or being able to spout off answers - it's about really knowing the material and being able to apply it. And it's very difficult to be able to assess that in a classroom.

I was thinking today about their ability to face new situations. Sometimes it seems like we just spend our time at home or at church with the same group of people. Then I remembered how eager Brendan was to go to baseball camp (4 days - from 9 until 3) and he didn't know a single person there! I was never like that. I realized that Tori has taken a class in gymnastics, ballet and played basketball and didn't know anyone there but it's never held her back. And I realized that they're going to be okay. They go into new situations with confidance and determination and it makes me so proud.

Our job as parents is not to smother, but to guide and protect and give them the chance to assert some independence. This could be getting on a bus and going to school all day. Maybe it's playing sports and taking classes with kids who are not playground peers. Or it could mean taking on more responsibility at home and having more chores to do. The end result is the same - we want to nudge our kids from the nest when it's time, little by little allowing them to stretch their wings and test themselves, standing by if they crash and cheering them to try again. It truly is the best job in the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not even close . . .

As I mentioned last week, I made out a meal plan and grocery list for this pay period. My goals were to spend less money, enjoy cooking more, and shop less. I am enjoying cooking more - I love having the meals planned out. I know before I said that I rebelled against meal plans (and that could still happen - it's fairly early) but I also think it helped that I looked at our calendar and tried to plan according to what was going on. I was so relieved yesterday to see sloppy joes on the plan for today. So simple!

I am also shopping less and just have to watch our milk, cereal and fruit supply. No big deal.

But as far as spending less money? Not even close. I have a couple theories about this.
1. We were running low on a lot of things and now that we're shopping at Sam's again (oh, happy day!), I'll be able to stock up and will eventually get ahead and then I'll see some savings.
2. I wasn't spending more than necessary before. This will be a little sad because I'd like to reduce our grocery budget without changing how and what we eat.
3. I bought too many groceries for 15 days.

Maybe it will be a combination of the three. I won't know for sure until after a couple more attempts. I can see where #3 could be true. Yesterday I had planned to make bami but Josh, Brendan and Tori ended up being gone during supper so I just fixed leftovers for Rachel, Owen and I. So I have an extra meal to stick in somewhere.

It's definitely something I want to continue doing. I like having a plan for meals and a detailed list when I go shopping. It allows me time to focus on other things, like what to post about next!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hello, Sam's Club

Today we visited an old friend thatI haven't seen for awhile. We renewed our membership at Sam's Club. Oh, it was so good to go back.

I knew I'd have to be careful, going there on a budget. I planned my list carefully and only took cash, which turned out to be a very wise move. There are so many good deals there that it would be easy to get a couple cartfuls right now. But instead I picked the few things that we really needed or that seemed to be the best buy and wrote down prices of the rest. And spent just $2 less than what I had taken in. :)

I look forward to many more visits.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meal plan

I did it. I attempted a mega meal plan. Remember back here when I posted a link to this article, How We Eat on $250 a Month? One of Rachael's tips was that she makes a monthly meal plan. I decided to finally try it but am following our pay schedule instead so am doing it twice a month. I'm not sure what to expect, especially this first time. I'm hoping to save some money and also to enjoy cooking more because I'll have a plan every day and have all the ingredients there. I should also not have to shop as often. Hopefully my expectations aren't too high.

Here is my meal plan for the next 15 days:

Day 1: pork chops, rice, green beans
Day 2: chicken garlic pasta, focaccia bread
Day 3: steak fajitas, spanish rice, chips
Day 4: roast beef, potatoes, carrots, fruit salad
Day 5: bami, egg rolls
Day 6: sloppy joes, fruit, chips
Day 7: Awana dinner at church
Day 8: santa fe soup, grilled cheese sandwiches
Day 9: tacos, chips
Day 10: hot dog dinner at Youth Haven Ranch
Day 11: enchiladas, spanish rice, chips
Day 12: spaghetti, garlic bread, salad
Day 13: chicken noodle soup, bread
Day 14: Awana dinner at church
Day 15: hamburger gravy,noodles, green beans

I'm trying to come up with lunch ideas but not pencil those in. Just to know I have some options.

We'll see how it goes!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Budget

We are getting ready to write out our October budget and it will look a little bit different. Some things we will continue to do the same. We are not adding in an eating out budget - that will have to come from our fun money or grocery money. But after reading The Financial Peace Planner (that I snatched at a used bookstore for $1 - love it!), I am realizing that we don't need to have quite the "bare bones" approach that we did this month. It was a good exercise for me and I don't regret it. I learned a lot about myself and how I overspend without realizing it. It was also good to realize that yes, every month is different and every month needs a new budget.

So this month the budget will include the membership for Sam's and some household things that really aren't part of our grocery money, like ink and paper. Our goal is still to build up our emergency fund so anything extra goes there. My hope is that by January, we will have our emergency fund built up and be able to start saving up for a down payment. It looks possible on paper but life doesn't always follow what's written on paper. Regardless of what happens, I'm happy we have a plan and thrilled to be moving in the right direction. It's also easier to sleep at night knowing we're not going to do anything to jeopardize our financial security.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pictures



Yes, I finally got my new camera. On Wednesday. And I started taking pictures on Wednesday. I *think* it is what I want in a camera. The problem lies in the person taking the pictures. My friend is a really good photographer. She has a camera very similar to this and I was so impressed with the pictures she took. I now think that has something more to do with the fact that she's a REALLY GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER and not the camera. Nuts.

Just like it didn't matter so much what guitar I bought. It will only make the desired sound if I practice and get good at it.

Now I know you can debate quality and graphics and sound and whatever. I don't want to spend money on things that will produce junk. So I still think I made good decisions both times. Now the trick is to practice (both pictures and guitar) and become proficient at them.

So tell me, do these look blurry to you? I think I have a problem holding my hand steady when I take a picture. I hope it's not the camera. A user error would be much cheaper to fix than a system error.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A new camera

You may have noticed the lack of pictures recently. My camera stopped working right before we went to see Dave Ramsey live. Not the best timing. The flash wasn't working anymore. Yes, I tried new batteries and I looked on-line to see what the problem might be. The only advice I could find was to take it to get it fixed. I had been eyeing a new camera for a few months so I didn't like the idea of spending money on this one to get it fixed. At the same time, I was committed to this new budget and to building up our savings. But it's a camera! And I have a small children who are growing up so fast! How can I not capture the moments?

After 2 weeks of trying to decide what to do, I decided I didn't want to get it fixed. I want a smaller camera that can go in my purse and always be with me. I looked on-line and found one that had gotten good reviews and was priced below $200, which seemed very reasonable. I talked to Josh and we agreed it was worth re-working the budget for. Originally I thought I would just have to subtract that amount from our savings. Then I remembered that back in July I had opened an ING savings account. The idea was to have money deposited monthly in this account from our checking account for those things that only happen once or twice a year. So every month, we would send money over for car insurance and property taxes and then we'd know that money was always there.

I had set it up but didn't have it organized yet. Once I started doing the math, I realized we had extra in there. Woo-hoo! Exactly enough extra to cover this camera. So the budget stays as it is, the savings is not affected and I have a new camera being shipped to me as we speak. And, although this worked out in my favor this time, I do hope to have our finances managed better in the future.

Pictures will be coming soon!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Week 2 of budget

One more week down! Yay! Things are still going well. I have stuck to the budget and think I have made some new habits. This weekend we went up to Petoskey to visit family. I took drinks in the van and snacks. We went to a football game and I took some candy in little baggies to share. I brought extra snacks so we'd have some on the way home and refilled water bottles. Those little things can add up and it didn't take much time to grab a few things before we left the house.

We got home today at 5:30 and normally we would have just unloaded the van and gone out to eat. This time it was different. I'm trying to keep things on hand at home for quick meals so today I made a pizza and a salad and we ate at 6.

I did get to eat out twice this week. Thursday I was invited to eat out with a friend for her birthday and her husband treated, which was very generous. Then today we ate out after church with some cash we had set aside. I'm finding out though that I'm not missing it as much as I thought I would. It might be harder this next weekend because we don't have any plans. I'll have to come up with some good meals or fun things to do around here. Maybe a picnic at the park?

There have been a couple of things pop up that we'll have to adjust in the budget but nothing big. Otherwise, we've both been very careful about what we're spending and where our money is going. It will be interesting to see how the 2nd half of the month goes. I want to learn to control our money and not let it control us. I think we're on the right track.

Our school year

It appears that I finally have our curriculum figured out. We started math a few weeks ago and then the kids were so excited when our science books arrived from Sonlight so we started that two weeks ago. Last week was our first full week and it went really well. Tuesday was a little chaotic because it was the first day but we still got everything done. Wednesday we were gone in the morning for a showing and didn't get school started until 11:30 and still finished everything. Wow. On Thursday, it started to hit me - things were going really, really well and it was only the 3rd day.

We are doing science, math, reading, history, spelling, handwriting, grammar for Brendan and phonics for Tori every day. It is taking us probably about 2 hours total. I love what they are learning and feel like we are making the most of every minute they spend at the table. There is no busy work or things that just take up time. When they learn something, we move on. I think this will be the best year yet.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Week one of our new budget

I cannot believe it has only been one week since our new budget plan started. It feels like it should be a lot longer. I think one reason budgeting is so hard is because it takes a long time. Everything looks so good on paper. The numbers do what they're supposed to do and you think, okay, in 4 months, we'll be where we need to be. And you smile and want it to be 4 months later right now! But you still have to live every day and make many financial decisions every day. And the decisions you make affect the final outcome. It might end up taking longer than 4 months. It might end up taking less. The numbers from your budget might change.

So far, after one week, things are going well. The numbers still look right and I have told myself "no" countless times. I'm hoping it gets easier.

I have not made a meal plan yet but still plan to. I think Sam's Club will have to wait until the next pay day - it's not going to fit into the budget this time. I might not be ready for Sam's Club yet, anyways. There are a lot of temptations there. A lot of "good deals", even if they're not in the budget. I might have to plan to go right at the end of the pay period and only use what is left. Either way, it will be good for me to practice more self-control before going there.

We have certainly not suffered in any way this week by not spending more. We have actually done more as a family. After creating this budget, I immediately thought of all the things we wouldn't be able to do and then stopped thinking like that and started coming up with what we could do. There is a playground about 6 blocks from us so we've been biking over there after supper this past week. Today we drove a couple hours to a beach and had a cook-out over there. Hot dogs on a grill at a beach taste way better than a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant. All in all, it's been a great week and I'm ready for week 2!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Coincidence?

I have been blog-hopping tonight and read a couple posts that I thought were very interesting. Then I realized that they kind of went together. They were from two completely different blogs and from two completely different blog-sources. Coincidence?

The first one was How We Eat on $250. Of course, this caught my attention right away because if I could do that, I would have quite a bit left over to spend on eating out! This is for a family of 5 and even though we have a family of 6, I think it would be about the same. Tori and Rachel are just not typically big eaters. The author, Rachael, is very organized and makes out a monthly meal plan and then a shopping list for the month. The idea is great. If I can get in the habit of doing this and sticking to it. That's a big "if". And I promise I'll write about it if I do.

The second post was Why I Like Sam's Club. This caught my attention because I have not renewed our membership in a year and have been debating about going back. I found this very interesting and also exciting because at Sam's Club, you can't use coupons! I say this is exciting because I have 6 stacks of coupon inserts to go through and zero motivation to do that right now. The author, Brandy, gives a lot of information on what she considers to be good buys at Sam's Club and how she uses things that she buys there. She also recommends only going shopping a couple times a month, which would be okay if we could fit 10 gallons of milk in our fridge. Any solutions for that? I suppose I could try freezing it again, although it takes so long to thaw that you really have to think ahead. I've thought about a small fridge but how much would our energy bill go up? It doesn't really save money if it causes other costs to go up. I love the idea of shopping less though!

I was contemplating renewing our membership (after figuring it into the budget, of course) and how I could stock up on things and all of a sudden, it hit me. I could plan our meals for a month and then I'd know what to get at Sam's. I wouldn't have to worry about cutting coupons or finding time to get all these great deals every week. It's really got me thinking, which is not good late at night.

I have only used $12 out of grocery budget so far this month so I could sit down tomorrow and write out a meal plan and then make a list and then take my cash to Sam's (subtract the membership fee) and see if I can make it work. At this point, I would just get the staples and then I could go to Aldi for fresh produce and milk next week and whatever else doesn't seem to be a good deal at Sam's. Oh, I feel a plan and another post coming on. :) Stay tuned! Then again, tomorrow morning I might wake up and say, "What in the world was I thinking?" I always have way more energy at night than I should.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another total money makeover

Last Saturday, Josh and I went to a Total Money Makeover Live event with Dave Ramsey. He is an incredible speaker. I'm not really sure what I was hoping would happen when I told Josh I wanted to go to this, but it worked. We walked away ready to commit to his plan fully for one year and then evaluate how things were going.

Basically, we had been doing his plan for the past couple of years. I had read his book and relayed some info to Josh and he liked the sounds of it. He didn't want to stop his 401(k) or empty our savings of all but $1000 to pay off debt but everything else sounded good. So we made a budget and a list of our debts and started paying them off. I don't know how long it took exactly but we were doing well. We had a home equity loan that we weren't sure what to do with because the rentals were supposed to be paying that off since that's what we had used it for.

About a year ago, we decided that plan wasn't working. The rentals were just not generating enough of a cash-flow to count on paying off that home equity loan. We were wanting to sell our house but the real estate market was down and it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to break even with that loan. We revised our budget and this was also the time I started coupon shopping again. We paid off that loan in April and were thrilled. Now we were completely debt-free except our house.

Then the air conditioning went out on our van and we bought a different van. We could have used up our savings but decided to take out a loan and work on paying it off early.

After listening to Dave on Saturday, I really wanted to follow his plan completely and asked Josh if he would agree to try it for one year. Then we went back for the 2nd half of the conference and Dave said that if you were in the stage of building up your savings, you shouldn't see the inside of a restaurant unless you worked there. And I gasped out loud. I love eating out. We eat out usually twice a week, sometimes more. Josh just looked at me and I said, okay, I can do this.

On the way home, we talked about what needed to be done. We would set aside money for the rentals so it would be a different account then our savings account. This was necessary for both of us psychologically. I always felt like we had more than we did and he was always worried we didn't have enough. I should clarify - we have a business account for the rentals but there have been times that we have had to use our savings to keep them afloat. Now we just have a special account for any emergencies that are related to the rentals.

We also agreed to pay off the van loan immediately. This would drop our savings considerably but there would still be over $1000 there and we would work on building that back up. We were also going to temporarily stop the 4o1(k) until we built up our savings to a number that we were both satisfied with.

We sat down Sunday night for a "budget date". We went through this coming month and tried to think of every expense. We deleted items like eating out. The only frivolous thing we left on the budget was our fun money. It turns out we have quite a bit left to put into savings. Because of that, the 401(k) will not be stopped. I was so tempted to ask if that meant we could still eat out but I didn't.

I have learned quite a few things already about myself and how I view money through this process. One, I was spending a lot of money that had no place on the budget and apparently just figured it would all work out. I can't believe how many times, in just the last 2 days, I've thought about buying something and realized it's not in the budget. And when you have a strict, zero-based budget (meaning every dollar is assigned somewhere) there is no wiggle-room!

Two, whenever I would get frustrated with something, I would move quickly from "wanting" something to make it better to believing we "needed" that thing. I started wondering how in the world we would ever be able to save up for all the things we "needed". Oh, I'm learning so much.

Josh had originally wanted to have 6 months living expenses in the bank before moving on to the next step but after talking about it, he has agreed that 3 months is good for now. We should be able to do this by Christmas and still have gifts under the tree! The only way I could commit to not eating out is if I knew it would be temporary. :) And we've also said if we have extra fun money (I rarely do so I'm hoping Josh does) or if we have extra grocery money, we'll use that for a special meal out. I'm so excited about this new plan for our lives and what the new year will bring.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Excitement and anticipation

Summer is almost over. I thought I would feel more sad but I don't. I'm ready to start the school year, ready to have a regular routine, ready to not have a week of this and then a week of that. It was a good summer. We had fun spending time with family and friends. I'm just ready to move on.

Last year, we switched math curriculum halfway through the school year so I had planned to continue doing math through the summer so the kids would be able to catch up. We did it about 10 days total all summer. Oops. So I started it up again last week and was pleasantly surprised to see they hadn't forgotten much information. Whew! And Tori was catching on quicker than before. The numbers seem to be making more sense to her and she's able to remember addition facts a little easier. This was a much needed boost of confidence for me as we go into the school year.

One of the drawbacks of homeschooling is that you choose your own curriculum. It's not really a drawback until you begin second-guessing your decision and wondering if another curriculum would make your child smarter and your job easier. I tend to second-guess every decision I ever make. I second-guess the decisions Josh makes for me. And the ones he makes for himself.

Our first year of homeschooling, I chose curriculum from A Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. I enjoyed all the materials but we didn't finish because the twins were born in early February. We still did some work but it wasn't consistent.

The second year, I chose Christian Light because it was all workbooks and Brendan could do them on his own, with a little direction from me. We both hated them. He didn't like all the seatwork and endless workbook pages and I didn't like making him do them. I also disagreed with some of the things he was expected to learn and remember.

The third year I had two that would be in school (before this, Tori had just done little workbooks with us) and I had toddlers. I decided to try Sonlight, which uses mostly books (I think I've expressed my love for these before) and also comes with a teacher's guide already planned out. It felt like Christmas when these boxes arrived. The Sonlight was definitely a better fit for us than Christian Light but as the year went on, I noticed some things I didn't like. The math books they recommended were time consuming for me and seemed to move rather quickly before making sure the student understood the material. Halfway through the year, we went back to Math-U-See and I immediately noticed an improvement. The history books were interesting to read and look at but we didn't do anything with the information after we read it. Around March, I started re-reading A Well-Trained Mind and some other resources to figure out what to do the next year.

I just ordered our curriculum last week and feel good about what we'll be doing this year. I liked the reading program that Sonlight provided for new readers - they give you a guide with what book to have them read and how many pages each day. I didn't have to do this with Brendan - he learned to read when he was 4 and was reading chapter books easily in 2nd grade. He's now reading The Hobbit. Yes, the same one I just finished not too long ago. Reading is not coming as easily for Tori so I want to make sure we have a practice time each day. I also liked the science program through Sonlight. They use fun, regular books and then have worksheets that go along with them. They also have experiments you can do every week and provide the special materials for the experiments and give you a dvd so you can see how to do them (or just watch them if you're too lazy to do them yourself - this happened more than once).

So this year, we are using Math-U-See for math (still working through last years stuff but will order the new books when we finish these), Sonlight for science and Tori's reading, Winston Grammar (a grammar program that I've heard good things about), Writing In Narrative (a writing program that I've heard good things about), Spelling Workout (a spelling workbook that we've used before), Italic Handwriting (a handwriting program that we've used before), and Story of the World (middle ages - I think that will be awesome) for history. The only unknowns are grammar and writing. I like that we've used everything else before and will feel comfortable with it. The Story of the World are history books written by Susan Wise Bauer in an easy-to-read format. There is an activity book that comes with it that has map work and coloring pages and fun ideas that correlate to what you are reading. I remember being so impressed when we used this with Brendan in 1st grade. We put all his pages in a binder and my parents came to visit one time and he went through every page and described what it was about and what it meant. I couldn't believe it had all sunk in!

I opened a box today with the Sonlight science books and Tori asked when we could start school. Here's to a great year of learning!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another year . . .

Brendan, age 9




Tori, age 7


Rachel, age 2


Owen, age 2


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There's something about paper

* I have to add this link for an article on the pros and cons of the Kindle that my brother-in-law gave me in my comments section. I found it very interesting and entertaining, too. I hadn't even thought about a Kindle breaking! It reinforced my decision to stick with "dead tree books", at least for now. *


I don't understand my love of paper but it's there. When I was in elementary school and had extra pocket money, I'd buy pens and notebooks. So it shouldn't surprise me that even though I use Pear Budget, an on-line budgeting software, I want to write it out on paper first. I appreciate all the tools of the software and I enjoy using it throughout the month to keep track of what I'm spending. Okay, that's not entirely true. I haven't been consistent at using it throughout the month. I'm working on it. But when it comes time to actually fill out the budget, even though they give me all these nice little categories and boxes, I want to use a paper form.

There is something about holding it in your hand and having a tangible copy that just makes me happy.

That is why I don't think I will ever become a Kindle user. Have you seen these? I haven't actually held one but I can't imagine preferring it to a real book. I see the draw - cheaper than new books, super easy to travel with. But I love actually holding a book and feeling the pages. I won't say I'll never own one. I like technology, too. And the thought of always having a bunch of books all in a neat little gizmo in my purse for whenever I get a spare minute to read is very enticing. But it could never take the place of real books.

So for now, I'll try to combine my love of paper with the modern technologies that make life easier. I'll write out my budget first and then transfer that info over to the budget software. And if someone really wants to buy me a Kindle, I won't refuse it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meal plan

Here are some meals I am thinking about having this week - no commitments and no guarantees.

- pork chops, rice (a special rice mix I got at Trader Joe's), green beans
- pancakes, bacon
- tacos
- chicken garlic pasta, focaccia bread
- pizza
- chicken divan, rice, banana bread

I'm actually making this before my shopping trip this week so hopefully I can get what I need and there will be no excuses. :)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fun on the lake!

Our friends invited us to go boating last Sunday and we had a wonderful time. Some highlights from the day . . .



Owen got to "drive" the boat. He was so serious about it.


Rachel and Owen went for a ride on the tube with Josh. Owen kept trying to jump off and get into the water. Because, you know, he can swim already. Or so he thinks.

Rachel and I just relaxing.


Brendan tries the "water-ski" tube. He looks ready for the real thing!


Tori and Paige go for the longest-ever tube ride. We finally just told them their turn was over.


Rachel and her new love

I've mentioned before how Rachel loves babies. This is a video of Rachel and her new cousin Barrett. She just can't get enough of him.

video

Special thanks to Owen for his great timing in announcing his stinky diaper.

Monday, August 3, 2009

computer woes

I have so many fun pictures to post and I keep putting it off because my computer is not letting me move the pictures around after I upload them on here. It's very frustrating. So I thought I'd do a little update and then post pictures after I figure out why it's acting up.

My sister was here with my nephew from Tuesday through Friday. It was great to spend time with them and see my kids interact with their new cousin more.

Saturday, Brendan had 5 friends come over and stay the night. I didn't realize 6 boys, ages 9 and 10, would be that loud or make our house feel that small. They're all good boys and they got along together great. The 6 of them crammed into Brendan's room for the night, where they continued to wrestle and goof around until about 2 am. They then proceeded to get up around 6:30. Needless to say, I slept *great* Sunday night.

Sunday, we went to a friends house to go boating. It was a nice, sunny day and we had a great time. The kids went on the tube - even Rachel and Owen! Josh practiced "surfing" and I enjoyed the boat ride.

This week the kids finish up their swim lessons. I have several goals - order curriculum, work on budget stuff more (yes, I realize the month has already started, which means I'm behind once again), make a shopping list, cut and organize coupons (this could be time consuming because I just bought 50 inserts on ebay), and make a meal plan. This looks overwhelming so I better just focus on 1 or 2 things today.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Bigger Share

We are now on week 3 of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The first couple weeks were a little sparse but no more! Here is a picture of my share this week after splitting it in half:


I am so glad we're splitting this in half! I don't think we've hit peak season yet either. I'm happy to see some more familiar vegetables this week. I don't mind trying new things once in awhile but I like what I know. :)









Monday, July 27, 2009

Chicken

My sister is coming tomorrow and staying until Friday. Fun! I was asking her for some meal ideas and apparently she really likes chicken. So these are some tentative meal ideas, listed in random order:

- hot dogs, mac-n-cheese
- chicken divan, bread
- chicken enchiladas, spanish rice, chips
- hamburgers, pasta salad
- creamy italian chicken, bread, green beans

It will be interesting to see how little Barrett does being surrounded by this chaos. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rebellion

Most people would say I'm not rebellious. I tend to follow rules and don't like to get in trouble. Outwardly, I stay between the lines. But inwardly, that is a different story. There is a part of me that wants to be different and break some rules. So when I make up a list of meals for the week, I start out following it like a good little girl and then around day 4, I begin to rebel.

I don't want to have that for supper, that doesn't sound good at all, who says I have to have that, what if I don't thaw the meat?

The meals left for this week are fondue, chicken garlic pasta, and bar-b-q beef. None of those sound good or particularly easy. We just had bami tonight and it was good but I don't want another chicken dish with noodles. Fondue is a little time consuming and I haven't put the beef in the crock pot yet for bar-b-q beef. So tomorrow might be something not on the meal plan. Hear my rebel yell.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sometimes you just know . . .

when it's time to move on. When it's time for the next step. I plan ahead and often will worry about what is coming up next and how it will go. But I'm realizing that when the time comes, it just happens and it works out.

I've been thinking about potty training Rachel and Owen this summer. When I potty-trained Brendan and Tori, I moved them to a regular bed so they could get out and go when they needed to go. I try to encourage independence from an early age with certain things.

So I knew that when I started potty-training Rachel and Owen, I'd want to move them to regular beds. We've also been planning to eventually switch the kids so Brendan and Owen are in one room and Tori and Rachel are in the other. It seems to make the most sense to do one big switch all at once.

We've been talking about possibilities for sleeping arrangements and what beds will fit where and I'm actually getting excited about it. I think I'm ready for this new phase. It's getting easier for our family to do things together and I love it. It doesn't feel like we're split in two as much - you stay with the younger two and I'll go with the older two. I like all of us together. It's time.

Bami recipe

Here is the recipe for bami, an indonesian stir fry.

4 or 6 pieces chopped bacon
1 sm onion chopped
2 lg chicken breasts, cut to bite size
1/2 bag noodles, cooked
1/2 head cabbage, chopped to bite size
soy sauce (to taste)

Brown bacon in 4 or 5 qt pan. Remove bacon; saute onion in bacon grease. Remove onion; brown and cook chicken in grease. Then add cooked noodles, cabbage, bacon and onion. Add soy sauce to coat.

We also make this without cabbage and think it's pretty tasty that way. But I have a 1/2 head of cabbage from our farm co-op so I plan to use that this time. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Meal plan and laundry update

Here is what I'm thinking for meals this week:

- chicken enchiladas, spanish rice
- tator tot casserole, green beans
- bami (indonesian chicken and cabbage stir-fry), applesauce
- fondue, bread, salad
-chicken garlic pasta, focaccia bread
- bar-b-q beef sandwiches, tator tots, fresh veggies

Notice I didn't assign days for this, although this is the tentative order for the week.

My magic Tide is not performing as well as I expected. Certainly not as well as it did at the laundromat while on vacation. Was that a fluke? Was it because I used more because it was a sample pack and I had to use the whole thing? Are the washers better there? I'm not sure but I do know that if I still need to use stain removers with the expensive Tide here then it's not worth it. I think I will try the homemade stain remover and see if that works. Still hoping to save some money somewhere with all the laundry I do!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finances

I just need to say that being smart with money does not come easily for me. I wasn't one of those who was born to save money or who never liked parting with money. I know I shop according to my mood swings and whole-heartedly believe in "retail therapy". I remember the first time I made a significant amount of money (somewhere between $70 and $80) when I was in junior high and how I took that money to Wal-Mart (after tithing 10%, of course) and spent the whole thing. I know I bought some blank tapes (to record favorite songs off the radio) and I remember a sweet pink purse but that is about it. Where did it all go?



The funny thing is that Josh was the complete opposite as a child. His mom told me that he and his sister, Jennifer, were both really good at saving money and always putting money in their bank accounts. She said that sometimes one of the kids would ask about going out to eat and sometimes they were told there wasn't enough money. According to her, Jennifer would occasionally offer to pay but Josh never did. That does not surprise me. :) He has loosened up now (it took about 10 years) and is really generous but he still would rather put money in the bank than spend it. And I know that is a big reason why I am able to stay home with our kids so I do appreciate and respect his attitude about money.



We are much the same today as we were back then. I can walk through Target and easily fill a cart with things that I want to buy. He will walk through and not be tempted by a single item. But then when I need new shoes, I hem and haw about spending $60 because it's so much money but he can buy them without even blinking because he hasn't wasted $100 on trivial items. Those little things can really add up.



I look back and see where mistakes were made. I can see where smarter choices way back then would have led to easier choices today. And I don't want to make the same mistake twice. Okay, I've already made the same mistake way more than twice. But I don't want to quit. I can see big improvements already in my way of thinking and my attitude about money. I'm learning to say "no" to little things because I know that will allow me to say "yes" to bigger things in the future.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Menu plan update

So far, Monday is the only meal that has gone according to plan. Josh did opt to have sloppy joes on Tuesday and then today I realized I hadn't taken out pork chops to thaw, making it difficult to brown them and put them in the crock pot. So tonight was steak, mashed potatoes, cheese-garlic biscuits and broccoli and cauliflower fresh from the garden! It was a good meal but it felt more like a Friday meal than a Wednesday one. I'm strange like that. :) Now I'm trying to decide if I want pork chops tomorrow. I should probably take them out of the freezer so I at least have the option. I think next time I'll just list meals and not assign them to days at all.

By the way, here's a really good way to fix broccoli and cauliflower:
Cut broccoli and cauliflower in bite size pieces. Put a small amount of water in a 2-qt saucepan with salt. Bring to a boil; add broccoli and cauliflower. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and put in a bowl. Pour some olive oil over and sprinkle sea salt on. It was so tasty!

Update on house

After much discussion (not kidding about that), we decided to stop trying to sell the house on our own and list it with our realtor. I felt like a huge burden has been lifted. Not that selling our house on our own was that hard - there were just a lot of decisions to make. Should we have an open house? How much do we spend on advertising? Should we buy a MLS #? What do we do next? It also seemed like we were spending money and not getting any results.


So now the sale of our house is in the hands of a very capable realtor. We haven't seen much action yet. I'm okay with that because I haven't found a house that I really wanted either. I'm just praying still for direction and wisdom. I don't feel like we've outgrown this house yet but the time could be close. I'm tentatively planning to start potty-training Owen and Rachel next month (although I can see myself using any excuse to put that off longer) and also get them out of their cribs. I was hoping to sell our house before potty-training (where do I put those if we have a showing?) but I don't think that will happen. Life goes on and we just try and go with the flow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Setting precedents

Brendan and Tori will each be participating in two different camps this summer. Brendan attended a baseball camp two weeks ago and Tori is attending a ballet camp in a few weeks and then both of them will attend a basketball camp.

I often worry about setting a precedent. I worry that they will think this is the norm or that they can do this every year. I am trying to think more short-term: we can do it this year so why not? It's not difficult to get out of the house, our schedule is flexible, it fits in our budget and these are things the kids are interested in.

Next summer it might be a whole different situation and they might be disappointed but that's no reason to tell them "no" now. The last two years I've tried to stay home as much as possible in the summer because with two little ones taking at least two naps, I didn't like to be away from home during nap time. Now we have more freedom again and I want to take advantage of it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Menu plan

This is one of those things that I know makes things a lot easier but I still resist doing. I'm not sure why. When I do have a meal plan for the week, I tend to make sure I have the ingredients I need and I spend less on other things at the store that might sound good but then don't end up using. This week I'm doing things a little backwards. I went to the store already but now am going to try to come up with meals for this week based on what I already bought. I had some ideas in mind while I was there so that helped.

Monday - chicken fajitas, spanish rice

Tuesday - hot dogs, mac-n-cheese

Wednesday - pork chops and rice, salad, bread

Thursday - tacos

Friday - steak, potatoes, salad

Saturday - sloppy joes, fresh veggies, chips

I'm very flexible about my meal plans and switch it up if I feel like having something else on any given day. Tuesday I'll be going out to dinner with some friends so Josh may decide he'd rather have sloppy joes with the kids and we'd just switch Tuesday and Saturday.

I didn't get this posted so now it's two days late. We did switch Saturday and Tuesday. I also joined a CSA program through a local farm and received my first box today. There are lots of interesting greens and I will plan to use some of those for a yummy salad tomorrow night with our pork chops.
Doesn't that look beautiful? I'm splitting it with a friend so for less than $13 a week, I'll get half of what you see here. And during peak season, I'll get more. I'll take a picture tomorrow after we split it up. Some things might be tricky to halve. I'm looking forward to fresh produce weekly without the work of a garden and trying new things and supporting a local farm. Win-win-win situation!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just like Daddy

We spent last week at my uncle's vacation resort up north. He bought it last fall and has been working on fixing it up. Our family has been taking a vacation every year together and this year it was a "working vacation", with more work than vacation, thanks in part to the weather. That was okay, we knew we were working for better vacations in the future and still enjoyed being together. I say "we" but I didn't do much besides chase a couple toddlers around and check in on the older two every so often.

One of the projects Josh worked on was clearing a trail down to the lake. Owen was his little helper and loved carrying big sticks up the trail, just like daddy.


"I got it, dad."
Off to get more sticks.

Taking a break to throw some stones in the lake.

If you're looking for a great place in northern Michigan to vacation for the summer, you should check out Pines of Paradise!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tide vs. Homemade laundry soap

I have never used expensive laundry soap. We used to have a Sam's Club membership and I would buy the cheapest one there. Then last August, I started using coupons and shopping at CVS and Walgreens and decided to see if a membership was really necessary or if I could find deals on the things I normally bought there. I have successfully avoided Sam's Club for almost a year and spent a lot less on groceries and household items. The downside is that there has been more running around and more time spent on looking for deals. I'm not ready to give it up entirely but I'm thinking about seeing if I can continue a cash budget and have a membership at Sam's to simplify life a little.

But I digress - this is about laundry soap. Recently I found a blog about homemade laundry soap. The author said that she had 3 boys who were very dirty and it worked great. I looked at the store the next time I was there and found the 3 products needed (bar of Fels Naptha soap, washing soda, Borax) and it would be less than $10 total. Those 3 would make at least 3 batches of 3 gallons so it really appealed to me.

I made the soap two weeks ago and it was really easy to do. Then I tried it out on a regular load of clothes and was very disappointed. There were a few clothes with dirt on them and after the wash cycle, they looked exactly the same except wet. So disappointing.

Then we went on vacation and I knew I'd have to do laundry once while we were gone. I had gotten some samples of Tide in the mail so I took those. When I got to the laundromat with our very filthy clothes, I realized I had no stain remover. I wondered how they would turn out but decided they'd at least smell better. I couldn't believe it when I pulled them out and saw that almost everything was completely clean! The only thing that wasn't were some of Brendan's socks.

When we got home yesterday, I had lots of laundry to do so decided to try a couple things. I did one load with All and used the homemade as a stain remover. Everything came out pretty clean. I did one load with the homemade and also used the homemade as a stain remover and nothing came out clean. I did a load of whites with All and bleach - Brendan's socks looked just the same as they did after using Tide.

I am seriously thinking about switching to Tide but not sure if I can really pay so much after paying so little all year. I keep reminding myself that I'll save time and money by not having to use stain removers, too. Maybe I'll buy a little bottle of Tide and do some more experiements first. I'd love comments about your favorite laundry soap!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rachel and goggles

Are these things supposed to help you see better?

If I turn my head to the side and look a certain way, that's a little better.

My beautiful, silly, fun-loving children. (and no, Rachel is not wearing pants. I'm not sure why.)

You've got to make the moment last

For those of you who aren't Simon and Garfunkel fans, the title of this post comes from their song "Feelin' Groovy", formally known as "The 59th Street Bridge Song". Life seems to be moving very fast lately and I'm trying to capture moments before they are gone. Owen and Rachel are growing up so quickly and I love watching their personalities unfold. I love that sometimes they still seem like a baby - wanting to be held, sucking their thumb and holding their blankie - and then other times they seem more like a big kid.


I walked through the living room today and saw Owen laying on the floor looking through his new Elmo coloring book. He had set up his little keyboard so he could listen to music while he was laying there. I could just imagine him doing something similar 10 years from now and I had to stop and record the moment. I just wanted this moment to last.



video

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bangs and bumps

Rachel had a rough day yesterday. We were getting into the van to go shopping and she was climbing into her seat while I buckled Owen. I saw her falter and then fall sideways out of her car seat onto the garage floor. I rushed over and picked her up and calmed her down. Her fingers were scraped up but I didn't notice anything else and she was settling down so I buckled her in, admonishing her to be careful. Then, as I looked in the rear view mirror while driving, I noticed a red mark on her forehead through her bangs. It looked like a pretty nasty bump. I looked when we got to the store and sure enough, there was a big goose egg on her forehead (which she keeps calling her "neck" for some reason). She didn't seem upset about it so we continued with our shopping trip and she got some tylenol when we got home.


Rachel's goose egg



Today at breakfast I noticed that her bangs, which have always been on the long side, were down to her mouth. I thought that was a little extreme so I trimmed them up a little. She liked shaking her head around and not having to worry about her hair in her eyes!


Rachel's new haircut!

Owen has had a fairly uneventful week so far. But here are some pictures so he doesn't feel left out.

He wouldn't really bite her toes, would he? Maybe just a nibble. And in his defense, he did tell her to move her feet.

Smiling for the camera!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lovin' where I'm at

We've had our house for sale for about 2 months now. I know, it's not that long. Many have had theirs listed for sooo much longer. But you always think it won't be like that for you. It's such a big decision to list it, to stick the sign out there (well, for some of us), that you think as soon as the sign goes out, people will be knocking on the door with an offer in hand.

Needless to say, that hasn't happened.

We decided to hold an open house the last two Sundays. We advertised in the paper, we had signs at the corners, we cleaned and decluttered and I rode around in the van for 3 hours with the kids and the dog. No one showed. Not one single person stopped to look at our house.

Okay, so now what? We decided to sign up on a website, For Sale By Owner. They had a feature where you could pay an additional fee and get an MLS # and your listing would go on other websites like Realtor.Com. We'll see if this does anything. I'm not trying to be pessimistic but I'm leaning that way. There is a fine line between pessimism and realism and I weave back and forth between the two.

So in the hopes of staying postive and realistic, I've decided to start thinking about what I love about this house. And what I would love to have the chance to miss if we were to move. :)

1. I love the yard. That is, after all, why we bought it. We had a party this weekend with 4 different families and there was plenty of space for everyone. We have a large, fenced-in yard and a large open side yard.

2. I love the garage. The garage easily fits our van and truck (although I have to go really slow when parking the truck in there) and there is lots of space for sports equipment, bikes, lawn mower, snow blower, etc. I know we will miss this if we downsize to a 2-car garage. Our current garage is the size of a 3-car garage but only has 2 garage doors. It also has an upstairs just for storage. I love having storage space.

3. I love our kitchen. We have so much storage in our beautiful new cupboards. The pantry is so well-designed (give myself a pat on the back for that one) and holds so much. The lay-out is efficient (give my brother-in-law a pat on the back for coming up with that) and I really enjoy being in there. There is a window over the sink looking out into the back yard so washing dishes is even enjoyable. I even love the hardware on the cupboards.

4. I love the location. We live right across from an old school with a huge yard and baseball diamond. There is a sidewalk that goes along there perfect for bike rides. There have been several pick-up ball games started over there. It's very close to town - about 5 minutes from any store or restaurant. It's sometimes a little too convenient to the restaurants. We didn't start a cash budget for eating out for nothing!

There are other things I appreciate about our house (and surroundings) but these are what I will miss the most. Or maybe we will live here longer than planned and I will get to appreciate them longer. Regardless of what happens, I want to try to stay focused on the positive and be thankful for what we have and not dwell on what we don't have. There is much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jinx

Two weeks ago: I was looking through the paper and happened to look through the car ads, just for fun. I saw a Honda Pilot advertised and it said "8 passenger seating" and "4-wheel drive". I thought, "Wow, I'd love to have an SUV with 8 passenger seating and 4-wheel drive and that doesn't look too huge." I mentioned it to Josh, who gave some kind of non-committal answer, and then said that I thought it'd be fun to go on a date and test drive some cars. His response was "why?". I said it would be free and it'd be nice to see what is out there and if we like it. It's certainly not realistic to take 4 children and 2 car seats with you to test drive a vehicle. He didn't see the point in even looking right now since we're not going to buy.

One week ago: Josh came home from work. He had taken our van in to get the air conditioner fixed. We noticed it wasn't working on one of those freaky warm days in March but knew we had awhile before it became a necessity. Then we forgot about it and had to drive without air 4 hours on a regular warm day. Not a good thing. So he had taken it in and I asked what the verdict was. He said, "Remember how you thought it would be fun to go test-drive some vehicles?" Uh-oh.

It turns out our ac wasn't just broke, it was beyond broke. Every single thing connected to the ac would have to be replaced and rebuilt and the poor mechanics (who are very well-qualified and have kept our truck running smoothly for 10 years now) were nervous to take on such a job. They were concerned that once they put it back together, other things would start leaking and falling apart because of all the work involved. And then he told me the cost. They had stopped estimating when they got to $2000 to see if we still wanted them to do it. They wondered how much we wanted to invest in a van that was only worth $5000 tops. $2000 wasn't even the final estimate.

We thought about it. Hmm, spend more than $2000 and hope nothing else breaks or falls apart or needs fixing. It didn't take long for us to decide that wasn't a good option.

So we started looking around on-line. As much as I love the idea of an SUV, I don't want to drive a beast. I don't want to deal with kids having to climb over car seats. I want more storage, not less. And I don't want to have to take out a loan to fill up with gas. That left us with another mini-van.

When life gives you lemons (in this case, having to drive a mini-van), make lemonade (get a cool one!) Because my brother-in-law is a manager at a dealership, he was able to get us an excellent deal on a 2007 Dodge Caravan with stow-n-go (yes, extra storage!), captain chairs in the middle (easier to get through), a dvd player (yes, quiet kids on long trips!), and a 6-disc cd changer! Hmm, I wonder if you can play that up front while the kids listen to the dvd player in the back? Not sure how that will work. I'll take quieter kids over listening to music though.

We go pick it up on Saturday and I am so excited! He offered to drive it up for us (from Indiana, no less!) but my parents are having the kids stay with them this weekend so it worked out for us to take a road trip down there to get it. We can do some shopping on the way and hang out with my sister and her husband for a bit. Then on Sunday we're having an open house so there is a lot going on this weekend. It will be nice being able to focus on what needs to be done while the kids are having fun at Grandma and Grandpa's.