Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wardrobe perk

These days I find myself struggling with my strong, strong desire to perk up my summer wardrobe. Clothes weren't an issue when I first started this pledge, since it was winter and I had just bought some new things in December. (an incredible Kohl's sale plus a free $200 Talbots gift card from a credit card reward) The clothing swap in January helped tremendously, too, and I have loved my wardrobe--until it got too hot to wear it. Now those things are put away, and I find myself staring into my closet with dissatisfaction.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with what I have. A couple cute pairs of shorts and capris, some nice t-shirts from Ann Taylor, several summer dresses with matching shoes and accessories. Its fine. I just want something....different.

Normally at this point, I would hit some sales and use credit card rewards to buy myself some new clothes. But now I'm really, really learning to consider the alternatives. I found that taking the time to go through my closet and try everything on--I'm talking an hour or two--helps me to come up with new outfits and make things feel fun and interesting again. Simply making sure everything is washed and ironed and in tip-top shape helps, too. And finding a source of some different things--that helps alot!

I picked up some clothes on freecycle last week--several bags of items from a teenager my size who was moving and had cleaned out her closet. Normally, I wouldn't respond to such a post and would let someone who needed them more than I do get them. But in this case, the giver needed them picked up IMMEDIATELY or they were going in the trash, and hadn't found anyone who could do it. I was happy to help. Teenagers have such fun taste in clothes, so it was really exciting to go through the bags and try things on. Many items were far too "young" for me, and of course many were too small (or at least smaller than I was willing to wear them!) I did find several shirts and tank tops that I liked, along with the adorable swimsuit coverup dress that I mentioned in a previous post. There was a beautiful classic black and white formal gown--prom, maybe?--that I can wear to my husband's company Christmas party next year, and a few pairs of flip-flops. Even though I don't feel comepletely THERE, I feel much better.

In all, I kept about 15 articles of clothing, and removed that many from my closet to make up for it. I went on to re-freecycle everything that was left, plus what I had added to it, since I had the time to wait for pickup of the items. They went to a nice family in the next neighborhood over with several teenage girls, and the mom wrote me to say the girls loved the clothes.

All's well that ends well, and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to struggle with "want" vs "need". That hasn't come up often during the course of our pledge, since our "wants" haven't been too many and there is always such an abundance of secondhand items.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

About birthday gifts...

When our family first started the pledge to buy nothing new for a year, one of the first things we worried about was birthday gifts. However, I had a large stash of clearance-bought toys and gift items for just that purpose, and once those ran out I figured I could always give gift cards. I also thought that I would have plenty of time to learn some sort of skill, such as jewelry-making, and be able to give personalized homemade gifts. Well, the gift stash is gone. I was able to buy from my daughter a few gifts she got at her birthday party that she figured she wouldn't use, and that got us through another couple of months. Now that those are gone, I have just purchased my second gift card and have yet to learn a new skill. I'm thinking I'd better get going on that, as gift cards will eat us alive at this rate.
I'll be the first to say that I am not a crafty person. Its not that I wouldn't LIKE to be--I just seem to lack that 'big picture" vision that others are blessed with, and when my projects are finished they never turn out like I wanted them to. I guess that's why I've dragged my feet somewhat on learning a new skill. This summer, with my daughter home, I hope to break that psychological barrier and solve the birthday-gift problem once and for all.
I did manage to come by a large stash of gift wrap, gift bags, and ribbon/bows from a freecycler, and a friend gave me a big box of greeting cards she didn't have use for, so that porion of gift-giving is covered. That helps alot!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frugal Millionaires

Okay--so I'm not talking about my family. The frugal part, yes. Millionaires--not so much. But I did read a great article about 70 frugal millionaires and how they spend and save their money, and I found it fascinating. What it seemed to boil down to is that these people focused on quality for the money when buying anything, and were able to disregard all social inhibitions regarding new vs. used, designer labels , trendiness and what everyone else was wearing or doing or buying. They most certainly didn't try to keep up with the Joneses, even though financially they WERE the Joneses!
I have found in my quest not to buy anything retail for a year that I have had to disregard all those same things and simply focus on quality for the price. And its amazing to see how little quality there is in some things that are very expensive, and how high quality some things can be that are considered "cheap". And most amazing of all is how willing many people are to disregard the notions of quality and value at all and choose their things for completely different reasons. I was happy to see that poeple who shopped as we now shop are millionaires. It pays to buck the system!
I wrote the other day about how out-of-sync it felt to be at a theme park in our garage sale and clearance swimsuits yet buying season passes without a hint of concern for the cost. Season passes were value for the money and will be used alot. A new swimsuit at $30 when a like-new one costs 50 cents is not. At the time I was still trying to put the concept into perspective, and now I think I really get it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A busy week...

We have had a busy, busy week. It seems like everyone needs to fit something in before school is out for the summer, whether it be one last thing from a school year activity or a kick-off for a summer activity. And I don't mind--its fun to have plenty to do and I've been very proud of my daughter on many occasions this week, but I won't be devastated when things wind down.

In a testament to not having cable TV, my daughter received an award at school this week. For those who haven't heard of the "AR" program, children can read books and take tests over them online through their schools, and be awarded points based on the difficulty/reading level of the book and how many answers they got correct. My daughter got a trophy for the 3rd highest points in her grade. (the boy who had the highest isn't allowed to watch TV at home at all!) And okay--maybe there is no correlation between less TV and more reading, but if there isn't I won't tell my daughter! She also won a trip to a pizza place on a school day, and two days later her class held their all-day end of year party. I chaperoned both with my toddler in tow and remembered why I didn't choose teaching as a career I am capable of. (slightly kidding here, because we did have lots of fun!)
On Saturday we had the first swim meet of the season, and therefore the first 5:30 am family wakeup of the season. I probably don't need to tell anyone that my household wasn't thrilled about that one...
Saturday afternoon we left for a family vacation to San Antonio, Texas. We were able to use some rewards points combined with a company discount to get a great deal on a jacuzzi suite at a hotel near Six Flags Fiesta Texas. It included a small kitchenette area, so I loaded the ice chest with food from home and off we went. We bought season passes and a season parking pass, enabling us to visit all the Six Flags parks at no charge from now on. (and to park there, too--LOL) Since we have relatives living near some of the other parks, we hope to visit family AND the theme parks on various weekends over the summer. (if my family members stop answering the phone after reading this blog, we'll form a plan B.... :)
The whole family thoroughly enjoyed our weekend--the hotel stay was one of the best we've ever had, and the kids AND adults loved the two days of theme-parking. We bought only one meal out and ate our own food the remainder of the time. We find that the kids eat better this way anyway.
As we entered the theme park the first day, I thought hard about the money we'd spent on the passes. I wasn't feeling guilty for spending it--I was wondering why I DIDN'T feel bad about it. One sweeping glance at my family, and I chuckled at the reason why. The kids looked adorable--my son in his freecycle swimsuit with matching terry jacket, and my daughter in her 50 cent garage sale swimsuit with matching skirt that looked brand new. . My bag was packed with their freecycle outfits to change into later. I was wearing my Target-clearance swimsuit from the end of last season, and a coverup dress that I absolutely LOVE from freecycle. (I got a compliment on it from a stranger first thing when we arrived!!) My husband looked dashing in his $3 Target clearance swimsuit, also from the end of last year. We had our bellies full of free hotel breakfast and cups for water inside the park, and I can't even add up all the money we DIDN'T spend that freed up the funds for what we did.
The funniest part of the weekend?? My son had "bed hair" that I couldn't seem to control. I started to fret about it, then decided to leave it be. When we arrived at Wiggles World, the newest part of the park with rides for the littlest ones, we stood him against the measuring wall to see if he was tall enough to ride the rides. He was---but he WOULDN'T have been if it weren't for his puffy hair rising just above the cutoff point. We laughed over that one, and my son had the time of his life. I guess some things were meant to be left alone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Disposing of things responsibly

In the 5 months since our family started this pledge, the part about not buying anything new hasn't been as bad as we thought. What surprises me is that the other part of our pledge, that I thought was a just a tiny part, has proven more difficult. We are trying to dispose of our unwanted items responsibly. I hate to admit that prior to this, decluttering for me involved going through the house with a big trash bag and mercilessly getting rid of what wasn't needed. I freecycled and I saved some things for charity, but when push came to shove, the trash bag was my weapon of choice.
We have changed all that. I'm proud to say that we put only a half bag of trash by the curb each week. Metal and plastic recyclables go to the curbside recycling, and we take paper to the fundraising recycle bin at my daughter's school. Our metal and plastic varies from week to week. Sometimes we have none, sometimes its overflowing. It depends on how busy we are and how hard I'm trying to keep everything fresh and homemade. I am amazed at the volume of paper we discard. Now that I am really, really trying, we have a large load every week. Not just junk mail and the Sunday paper, but magazines, cereal boxes, my daughter's old school work, coloring pages, even down to the tags on our tea bags. I feel good that at least its going somewhere to do be made into something else.
I have actively tried to find good homes for all of our unneeded/unwanted stuff. Most things have been easy to give away on freecycle. Today we brought several boxes of books to Half-Price books. I have a load of misc things to go to charity, another box of various electronics parts to donate to Camp Invention (where kids will take them apart and invent something new), and just one box of such random odds and ends that I honestly don't know how to dispose of it responsibly.
All this sorting and thinking has made my decluttering job drag out far longer than I thought and is alot more work than I thought, but I need to remember that it is a key part to keeping things out of our landfills and avoiding waste.
Who would have thought that the smallest part of the promise would turn out to be the biggest chore?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shopping in the attic

I spent the day today organizing my son's summer wardrobe.....for NEXT year. Now that we have pledged not to buy anything retail for a year, I find myself needing to take stock, plan ahead and be prepared. I am in the very fortunate position of having a brother with 2 older boys. Not only has this paved the way for me to understand why my son needs to climb the furniture and leap from the top of the stairs, but it also provides me with much-appreciated hand-me-downs for my little one. I am doubly blessed that my sister-in-law has an unrivaled combination of bargain-hunting skills and good taste, meaning that her boys--and now my son-- has a wardrobe to die for. Their youngest was wearing a 4T when my son was born, so the "good" clothes trickle in at 3T and hit full-force at 4T. I have diligently sorted and labelled and stored everything they've passed on to us, and I was excited that some of it found its way into the closet today.
My son has grown into a 3T, so today I pulled all of his 2T winter clothes and listed them on freecycle for another family to enjoy. I put his current 3T wardrobe into his dresser drawers, then went to work planning for later.
In his closet, I arranged one area for his 3T winter clothes for the coming fall/winter, and another area for next summer's 4T items. I wanted the chance to go through and take stock of what I have so that I can list what I might need. Once he grows into a 4T, he won't need a thing. I checked his 3T wardrobe for everything I know he will eventually need--Christmas outfits, a Halloween costume, church clothes, dress shoes, socks, soccer cleats for fall, swimsuits, a warm coat, a raincoat, etc and made a list of what was missing. I found that he needs jeans, long-sleeve shirts and warm pajamas. He will also soon need a pair of tennis shoes in the next size up, since he has nearly outgrown the ones he is in and the closest pair in the shoe bin is a size too large.
Now that I know exactly what I'm looking for, it will be easier to buy only what I need at garage sales and thrift shops and avoid having too much of one item and not enough of another. Since I won't need these things until fall, I have plenty of time to be picky and get the nicest things I can find at the best possible price.
My daughter's clothes won't be quite so easy. Now that she's reached the sophisticated age of 8, she is more or less in charge of her own wardrobe and has developed her likes and dislikes. Right now, she has everything she needs but before the summer is over she will have outgrown her shoes and will need some nicer shorts. There are some good consignment stores in our area so when the time comes, we may give those a try. That's about as far ahead as I can plan for her, since styles change and her idea of fashion changes even faster than that.
I spent a small amount of time assessing my own wardrobe, which is so-so. I like what I have, it's all still in good shape and it will get me through another summer if it needs to. I wouldn't mind a few more pairs of shorts and maybe something to perk things up a bit. Luckily, there is another clothing swap coming up and I'm hoping that will do the trick.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A wonderful Mother's Day

There is absolutely nothing more touching than a gift straight from a child's heart. My kids worked so hard on their creations, all the while filled with the excited certainty that it was the BEST gift a mother could want, and knowing their mother would be thrilled--and tell them so over and over. My daughter closed herself into our home office on Saturday and worked for over an hour on this sweet coupon book, wrapping it beautifully with our freecycle gift bags and bows. My husband undertook the brave task of having the kids each paint a flower pot for me. My son decided it would be much nicer to paint the INSIDE of his pot, so that's what he did. :)
This is my daughter's finished creation. She filled it with cuttings from a plant my husband gave HIS mother 30 years ago. She still had the pot he hand-made as a kid along with the original plant growing in it, and she gave it to us when she moved to assisted living.

My son's finished artwork. I love it! He planted pretty "lellow flallers" from Home Depot.

This has been a wonderful Mother's Day! I feel so blessed to have such a beautiful family.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Glad we were prepared...

As I mentioned in a previous post, the things I think I need to prepare for aren't usually the things that end up happening. I had my family well prepared to batten down the hatches and avoid those nasty sick people if the need arose. So naturally, we became said sick people. My son and I both have fevers. He has had his since Tuesday and is also coughing and congested. Mine started Friday and seems to be following his progression of symptoms. After running this by his pediatrician, we are pretty sure it is not the flu--but we shouldn't be out spreading it around OR picking up something else. So we are hunkered down at home under different circumstances than I thought. We have plenty to eat, no need to ge the store, and all the medicine we could use. If my son's fever doesn't quit by tomorrow, he will need to go in to make sure he hasn't developed any secondary infection like pneumonia. However, from what the pediatrician told me to look for over the phone, I don't think he has. He is being treated with plenty of attention and TLC at home, which I think is the best thing for him.
Its probably best that we stay in, as a child in our neighborhood DOES have swine flu, prompting the closure of a day care center in the neighborhood that she attended while contageous. Those kids who are now out of school will be out and about at the same places we usually go, so we might as well be inside anyway.
This is going to put a damper on my garage sale habit!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The best laid plans...

It always amazes me that at my house, the hours between 3 and 7 p.m. require the planning and precision of a space shuttle launch to run smoothly. Getting one child to and from the places she needs to be, with what she needs to bring and whatever other children I've agreed to take is a chore. Keeping the other child occupied and out of trouble adds a layer. Throw in dinner, homework, baths and bed by 8:00 and I'm doing some serious juggling 4 nights a week. Hubby's new job keeps him gone until after 7 each night, so he's no longer available to help with this routine. These days, I honestly spend half my day preparing for the evening, just so that it can run smoothly and nobody will be stressed. After all, I'm home all day, right?? And our evenings DO go extremely smoothly, for the most part, as long as I stay on top of things.

That brings me to today, and how one 16-minute phone call threw the whole evening out of whack.

The normal routine starts at 3. I leave the house, toddler in tow, and he naps while I pick up kids from school and drive the carpool home. We arrive at 4, at which time my daughter changes into the proper clothes for whatever sport she has that evening and begins her homework while I put the finishing touches on dinner. We eat our meal, grab the bag corresponding to the day's activity (prepacked with everything she needs), bring along something to occupy the little one, and head off. When we return, we have a snack, take baths, lay out clothes for the next day, pack backpacks and put my daughter to bed at 8, then my son a little later. Smooth as silk, right??

Today, the afternoon was humming along nicely. My daughter came home, changed, and got out her homework. I put the chicken in the oven and vegetables on the stove to steam. Around 4:30, the phone rang. With a little time built into my well-oiled machine I answered it, and talked for exactly 16 minutes. I was hanging up when my daughter ran in to tell me my son was throwing water on her. WAIT A MINUTE. Ran in?? From where?? Where was the water?? Well, it was outside in the sandbox, which had filled up from the rain. And my son was right behind her, completely soaked, covered in sand, clothes ruined and with a poopy diaper to boot. I got him cleaned and changed and wait--what's that smell?? The veggies on the stove, burned to a crisp. And who let the neighbor kids in? And why isn't my daughter's homework done? First things first--I took the pan of vegetables and put it outside, then opened all the windows to air out the awful smell. And by now, it's 5:00 and we have to leave in 15 minutes, so who cares abut the chicken. I turn the oven off, shoo the neighbors out and tell my daughter to bring her homework along in the car. On the way out the door, I make the mistake of getting myself a glass of water. Now my son wants a glass of water, but he's having a toddler moment--not THIS cup! THAT one! No, the OTHER one! And finally, happy with the cup, he proceeds to spit the water all over his clothes and the floor lika a fountain. By now, we are late. There is no time to clean it up, so I rush the kids to the car. Backing out, my daughter--homework in lap and realizing Mom might not be in a good mood--asks--do you have a pencil??
I stop the car, go inside, and get a pencil. And in case nobody saw this coming, I run through the kitchen and slip and fall in the water that I didn't have time to clean up. I am so completely frustrated that I actually yell at the top of my lungs--AAAAARRRGH!!!! That makes me feel better for about 2 seconds, until I remember that I had opened the windows and the neighbors were outside.
We made it to swim team a mere 15 minutes late. My daughter jumped in the pool, I kept my son busy, and we were back to our routine.
We stopped at Chick-Fil-A on the way home, maybe just as well since my daughter's school was having a fundraiser there and she had begged to go in the first place. We arrived home at 7:30 to find my husband munching dried-out chicken from the oven, blissfully unaware of the smell of burned vegetables or the water on the floor or the crazy afternoon we'd had. I didn't know whether to hug him or hit him.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not panicked, just prepared

I've been reading alot about this swine flu, as I'm sure others have, and it sparked a need in me to be prepared. I'm not panicked, as right now this flu--even if it spreads everywhere--hasn't been so bad in the U.S. and is about like any other flu. But two things bother me: first, I have read that the virus can mutate as it passes from person to person and thereby become more serious. Second-- hurricanes Rita and Ike taught me that often the bigger problem is not the disaster itself, but the chaos created when people panic. It seems to me that some media outlets are sensationalizing this issue, which could lead to unneccessary panic and the spread of misinformation, neither of which is a good thing. So right now, I'm getting myseld prepared so that I can sit back and know that the family I'm responsible for will be fine in the unlikely event of an emergency.
So what did I do? To the tune of $300, I stocked our pantry with non-perishables. We have food galore, diapers, medicine, paper goods, hand sanitizer--anything we might need to hunker down and avoid going out for a while if worse comes to worst. At the very least, it will mean far fewer trips to the grocery store and will eliminate running out for just one thing, which means less opportunity to be exposed to germs. We have hand sanitizer for the car, my daughters backpack, my husband's desk at work and for the house. I hope we don't need any of this, but if we do it is there. And actually, this is all a little less extreme than it sounds because we'd have to do this in about 6 weeks anyway in preparation for hurricane season.
Which brings me to my next issue--what the hurricanes have taught me about the chaos created when people panic. I learned after riding out hurricane Ike that the things I thought I should prepare for weren't the things that were problems. I was prepared with water, batteries, and canned food to get us through the power outage and the week or so that it should take to get things back in order. I figured if things got any worse than that, we could head out to my parents place further inland where they have a huge garden, cattle and otherwise plentiful sources of food. What didn't I anticipate? At the mention of a hurricane, store shelves were wiped clean of perishable items. You couldn't get bread, milk, cheese, anything. Then the stores closed. And people who needed shelter came to stay with us, dwindling our food supply. The hurricane itself was ugly to live through, but the next day we were fortunate to have only minor damage and the power was out for only 24 hours. But that wasn't the end of it. Stores had lost power, and what little perishable and frozen food they had was destroyed and had to be thrown out. They couldn't open, because too many employees had evacuated and they had nobody to work. Trucks couldn't get in to deliver food, so when they did open they had very little to offer and couldn't take credit cards because lines were down. One couldn't get cash out of an ATM for the same reason, and the banks were closed. Schools were closed for a week due to power outages, an inability to provide food service and the fact that so many teachers had evacuated. Once we started to run low on food, we thought about plan B, which was to leave town to head to my parent's place. Well, we didn't realize that traffic would be gridlocked in both directions--inbound, from all the people who had evacuated and wanted to get back in and assess damage, and outbound from all the poeple who had initially stayed but needed to get out of town for the same reasons we did. Gas was in short supply, and grocery stores and convenience stores were out of food. What a mess, and completely different from what we expected the aftermath to be. I learned in all of this how dependant we are on this commercialized way of living modern life, and how much chaos can be caused when the chain of commerce is disrupted. And I also learned, above all else, to be prepared. So that is what I'm doing!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The icky stuff....

Since we started our pledge not to buy anything new for a year, most things have come easily but just a few have been challenging to find. Men's clothes, for example, don't seem to be out there. I think men wear their clothes until they disintegrate off their bodies! The only clothes we've seen second hand have been things so old and ugly that even the husband was willing to part with them, or something ultra-trendy that a very fashion-conscious man wore and decided was out of style. Neither of these types suit my husband, who just likes your regular shorts, T-shirts and jeans. We haven't solved this problem yet, so he's wearing what he has until we figure something out.
Another issue that has come up is our outdoor trash can. We reached the point where I deemed it a health hazard to take the trash out and risk touching it, and this is the point when we would normally get a new one. Well, used trash cans aren't really out there, or at least not used cans any cleaner than the one we have. After looking and looking I finally got the brilliant idea to CLEAN mine. And I feel a little embarrassed to admit that if it weren't for this pledge, I honestly would rather have thrown the can away than clean it. Shame on me. So I got out the water hose, put my son in charge of squirting in the phosphate-free dish soap, and cleaned the heck out of our trash can. And you know what? It wasn't the end of the world. And now the can is clean and usable and that problem is solved. I even cleaned our indoor wastebaskets while I was at it!
I really learned something about mysef in all this. I considered myself very green, very willing to make do and conserve and rise above the marketing and the social taboos of "used" things versus new. I didn't realize that I, too, had a line I didn't want to cross in the name of conservation. But I've done it, icky as it was, and feel like this is the first time since the pledge started that anything has felt like a sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Its Christmas again!

I have a very thoughful friend. She has just moved out of her house, and in the process realized she had stuff she'd rather give away than move. She set aside some things she knew I could use and would like and called me over yesterday. Pictured above is a set of christmas stoneware with all the accessories. Now I have formal AND everyday Christmas china. How fancy is that?? And the kicker--she wants to start over with her Christmas decorations, so she gave a few boxes to me. This includes rugs, floral items, a giant stuffed snowman--you name it, all following a certain theme. Did I mention my friend is an interior decorator?? I can't wait 'till Christmas--I may just have to decorate in July. :)
Next is a windfall of toddler and preschool educational items. Her daughter has outgrown them but they are perfect for my son. I spent yesterday arranging them in the buffet next to the table so that we can work together on these activities during the day. Not pictured is a crate of project/educational books from when my friend homeschooled her daughter. They are the right level for my daughter now, so we will have lots of fun activities to keep hands busy this summer.

Though you can hardly see it, she gave me the cute little metal sign on the buffet along with the metal basket. The breakfast room is coming along nicely, considering I've spent a grand total of $10 on it. :)

This cute little Melissa and Doug calendar was with the educational items. My daughter claimed it immediately and ran up to her room to organize her month. Its hanging on her closet door.

These pretty decorative eggs are now decorating my office shelves. I have been cleaning and organizing the office this week, so they came at just the right time.
Not pictured is a pretty outdoor rug. We have everything moved from the patio because my husband is going to paint out there, but I can't wait to put it out.
What a wonderful surprise yesterday. my friend was happy to have some things hauled away for her, and I was glad to get them and put them to good use.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Saturday's tag sale bounty

What's a tag sale without something for the kids?! The ball-drop toy was $1.00 and the tiny rollerblades were $2.00. My son was thrilled! Not pictured is a like-new swimsuit with matching skirt for my daughter for 50 cents.
Welcome to our home! The "new" wreath was $1.00

I love tag sales! The two mirrors above the buffet--solid metal, very heavy, just what I wanted AND with the $49.99 price stickers still attached to each, were $5 each.

Saturday was one of the two days I look forward to in our neighborhood--tag sale day! We aren't allowed to have individual garage sales, so twice a year a tag sale is held at the school and neighborhood residents can rent spaces. I have found that this is when the affluent in our neighborhood (and sometimes us) sell all kinds of great stuff for bargain prices. I went with my list and $30, knowing it would be a treasure trove of household decor and I wasn't disappointed. I came home and put everything in the space where I wanted it to go, and am enjoying the results.

The picture above is actually a plate stand I got on Craigslist the same day with my leftover money. The remainder came from the tag sale.

A nice roomy glass jar for storing treats--50 cents.


A wrought-iron candle stand for the ledge at the top of the stairs--$1.00

Two nice picture frames for the dresser in the master bedroom--$3.00

Two matching baskets for the kitchen--$1.00 for both

My husband went out before I did with his shopping list. He wanted an outdoor light fixture, as he noticed when replacing siding that ours had rusted through. He also wanted a coffee maker for work, since they don't offer decaf and that's what he drinks. He found this coffee maker for $3.00 and its so much better than than the one we currently use that I traded him!

And he found his light fixture for another $3.oo. A little cleaning and maybe a coat of rustoleum and it will do nicely.
So, we spent $26 at the tag sale and the last $4.00 for an item on Craigslist and I am more than pleased with the difference it made in our home. I love to decorate on a dime!
Did I mention it was drizzling, with huge thunderstorms and possible flooding predicted by 10 a.m.? Only a few die-hard sellers were out with tents or selling from the backs of their cars and a few crazy buyers (ahem) were shopping. I made it home before the real rain started.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bins and baskets and stuff--oh my!

Toys are in place
Dresser drawers are labelled

Son's closet is organized

Jackets have a place to go

Daughter's closet--smallest in the house and holding the most things!

All that jewelry, makeup and hair stuff in one place!

When things are spaced out in the drawer so she can see it, she wears it all!

Backpacks and purses go HERE, not on the floor!

Ditto for shoes!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, thoughts of spring have got me cleaning and organizing! There is a discussion on a board I frequent about favorite organized spots in the house. I have no idea how to post pictures on a discussion board, so I figured I'd post them here and share them with all of you guys, too!

One of the main reasons our house gets cluttered and disorganized is because an area develops where things need to be or things come in and are put down, and there is no designated spot for them. Sometimes, there is something of a spot for things but nobody knows where it is. I have become a huge fan of bins, baskets, labels and hooks!! They are abundant at garage sales and second hand stores, look fairly decorative and certainly serve a purpose!

The first pictures are of my son's room. The main issue there is with his toys. I try to keep everything out where he can see it and play with it. I have lots of bins to keep his small things together, and they don't have lids so that he can put them away. (and he actually does, though I'm sure he'd quit if he knew we were happy about it!) His closet has an organizer in it, and mainly holds overflow items--extra diapers, clothes to grow into, toys that I don't want all over the floor. His dresser is labelled at each drawer. Not that he can read--LOL--but because we all put his clothes away and everyone would put things in a different place if it weren't labelled and I'd never find anything! We also have hooks for jackets, etc so that they are easy to find and easy to put away. Overall, his room stays tidy so the system works for now.

My daughter's room had different issues. She has the smallest closet and the most stuff--purses, hats, belts, etc. We put in a closet organizer and bought these bins last year at Ikea. They are all labelled so she knows where to find everything. Not only do her accessories go in there, but some hold Barbies and Polly Pockets as well. We put a plastic 3-drawer organizer (lebelled, of course!) for the tons of small things like hair accessories and jewelry. Its nice not to find these things all over the floor!
Her dresser drawers aren't labelled, but I did find that if I arrange things so that she can see everything, it all gets worn instead of just what's on top. Thanks to our quest for simpler living, the drawers aren't crammed full but she has what she needs in there.
It certainly is peaceful having a place for everything and everything in its place, and far less "everything" alltogether! Next post I will show cabinets, pantry and laundry room. :)

Thenext two pictures show where we corrall jackets, backpacks, shoes and etc when the kids walk in the door. If it weren't for these, there would always be a pile in front of the door.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter baskets with nothing new

What a beautiful time of year this is! I just love Easter and spring, with all the hope and promise and new life it brings. I hope everyone has a wonderful day and enjoys this season as much as we do.

Easter baskets this year were the easiest ever! I bought everything LAST year. I stumbled across a clearance after Easter, with items 90-95% off and stocked up then. These items have been sitting in the cabinet since, waiting for their time to shine! We already had an abundance of baskets, easter grass, stuffed animals and plastic eggs in a bin in the attic, so we didn't buy a thing. Every Easter I leave the stuffed animals out for only a day or two, then put them back in the attic, so every year they are "new" to play with and they are gone before the kids get tired of them. The kids went thru the bin, chose their baskets, filled them with grass, and left them out for the Easter bunny. Then they played with the stuffed animals and placed them around the room to "decorate". The only store-bought items were packages of animal crackers and goldfish, boxes of raisins and one bag of sugar-free candy for the oldest who can't have sugar. (The youngest doesn't know what candy is and is too young for hard candy, but was happy with his animal crackers and raisins.)

The kids have had fun all morning with their baskets and egg hunt, and are excited as can be!

Nobody needed new clothes this year. My son has an abundance of hand-me-downs, including nice dress clothes and dress shoes suitable for Easter. My daughter has several dresses to choose from, courtesy of a JC Penney clearance after Easter where I bought $40-$50 dresses for $4 each, using a coupon to reduce them further and paying with a gift card from a credit card reward. :)

Our turkey is in the oven--a free turkey from Thanksgiving that we froze to save for Easter. We will have mashed sweet potatoes, fresh green beans, sesame broccoli and homemade rolls along with it. We will eat in the dining room on our good wedding china, keeping a CAREFUL eye on the 2-year-old!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

As I've mentioned before, I seem to be constantly switching out what we no longer need for things we now need. I guess its a never-ending process with growing kids! Now that we've pledged not to buy anything retail, I find that I need to stay a step or two ahead of our needs in order to make sure we have everything. For the most part, nothing has been terribly difficult to locate but it does take more effort than walking into to Target and walking out with the item in a bag.
We have cleared out a good-size space in the attic by freecycling some baby things we've been holding on to. That doesn't mean we don't want more kids--that chapter is undetermined at this point--but we did realize that storage space is very hard to come by and used baby equipment is a dime a dozen, so it really didn't make sense to keep these things that we may or may not need when someone else could use them. I saw a post on freecycle, posted by a woman nearby who frequently gives us clothes for my daughter. She unexpectedly took in the newborn boy of a family mamber who couldn't care for him, and had absolutely no provisions for a baby. (her youngest is 6 and they assumed they were done having kids). I couldn't think of a better place for these things to go, where they will be needed, used and appreciated. I feel good about it.
I also saw a post from another woman with whom I frequently trade items. She had finished potty training her son, and by the time he was out of pullups all the underwear she'd bought him was too small and he'd never worn it. Well, we're about to give potty training another go, and this works out great for us. She gave us the underwear and some leftover pullups. I also happened to find another potty chair in the attic when I was sorting thru the baby things. I didn't realize we still had it, but now we have one for upstairs and one for down, so we have everything we need to get started. (other than a willing child, but that's another story)
So we now have a little more space in the attic, since far more went out than came in. Its a never-ending process, but I'm hoping we can continue to stay ahead of the game!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Having less and enjoying it more

I read a wonderful commentary on by Peter Bregman. (If I could figure out better how to post links I'd do it, LOL, but you could find it on if you go looking)

He talked about my favorite topic, which is having less and enjoying it more. Apparently he, at one time, was very wealthy and succesful and enjoying every minute of it. Then, as it has with many people in this country, it all came crashing down. He took the opportunity to learn and grow from it, and feels he is a happier person now. My favorite quote is this:

"Having less forces choices. And consciously making those choices can bring us closer to the things we care about. Which can make a poorer life more rich than a rich one".

I agree 100%, and feel that for us, it becomes more true every day now that we've made the pledge to simplify our lives. I read alot in the paper these days about living frugally, since its such a hot topic. Unfortunately, its always presented as such a BAD thing--doing without, cutting back, depriving yourself. I rarely see it pointed out that an uncluttered life can be refreshingly peaceful and happy. It certainly isn't presented as something one would advocate doing on purpose. Which brings me to another quote that I really liked:

"Above a basic threshold, money doesn't make us happier. But we think it will, so we do all sorts of things that make us unhappy in order to get it."

Isn't that the biggest irony of all?

There is a certain degree to which we need money. For basic necessities,a few luxuires, some comfort. We need it for emergencies, to educate our children and for retirement. But what we don't need it for is lots and lots of stuff, and if it weren't for all that stuff, we'd have it more of it for those other things. So in some ways, a poor economy and forced choices could be a blessing in disguise, especially if people choose to see it that way. I for one certainly hope the economy picks up and things get better, but until then I'm hoping and praying that people will come away from this having learned some good things.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Yard sale extravaganza

Spring is here! In my little corner of the world, the weather is amazingly beautiful, the windows are open, birds are singing, and I am cleaning and organizing! It is so wonderful to clear out the clutter, whther it be dirt or stuff! All this clearing and cleaning has me motivated to get to that short list of things we need for the house. I have a final, overall picture of exactly how I'd love the house to be organized, exactly how I'd like it to look and what I need in order to get to that point. With hubby working and a tax refund in the bank, I am more than ready to get going and get done.

Today was a very successful yard sale day. It was really fun ( and very unusual) to go with a specific list, come home with several of the items on it, put them exactly where I intended them to go and start enjoying them right away. Two hours, start to finish!
One of the readers left a comment on my post about the freecycle Christmas dishes, suggesting I look for finishing pieces at garage sales now that I know what I'm looking for. Well, I took that to heart and put it in my list. Imagine my surprise when the FIRST thing I saw at the FIRST garage sale was a set of 8 soup bowls and 8 dessert plates to match the freecycle china--for $2.00!!! I honestly couldn't believe it. I'm pretty excited about that find!
The next thing on our list was a VCR. Ours bit the dust a couple of weeks ago. We could certainly do without one if we needed to, but all of the 2-year-olds favorite things are on VHS, so we figured we find a cheapie VCR at a garage sale to get us through the next year or so until we can freecycle the baby videos and VCR in one fell swoop. Well, we manage to find one for $5 and they threw in 10 grown-up videos ffor free, so we're happy with that. The videos were mostly the action-adventure Clint Eastwood kind of things that my hubby loves and I don't watch, so he's got something to watch when he's on his own, and we can donate them when he gets tired of them. Before I put them in the cabinet, I pulled 10 out to donate so that we don't get overloaded.
Item 3--I've been looking for some kind of cute little basket to corral our mail and variou bits of paper that land on the kitchen counter and/or need to be there temporarily. I found this cute little one--still with the World Market $9.99 price tag on it, for $2.
Item 4--we've been looking for a train table for our little guy forever!! Even on Craigslist they are a little pricy, but we've always had it on our list as something to snap up when we found the right deal. We found this for $20. The little guy is beside himself with joy! (and so is the big guy) I figure we can easily sell this when he's done with it for at least what we paid, so its free entertainment.
And last--a garden bench. We've been wanting one for the front yard to sit on when we are out watching the kids play. It was on my wishlist of things for my birthday in February, and hubby had yet to find anything I had asked for without buying anything new. I fell in love with this beautiful bench and hubby is sighing with relief that he has FINALLY gotten me something. We paid $45 for it.
I also got (but couldn't download pictures because I maxed out my allowed number) 2 rolls of shelf paper (on my list!) and some pretty candlesticks for the family room coffee table.
Now that all my pretty "new" things are in their places and functioning, I'm busy clearing out what we don't need. I have boxes in my bedroom for sorting, and hope to finish soon. Our weekend is full, however, with soccer and out-of-town guests and watching some kids while their parents are away, so I guess I'll have do what I can in the time I have, and relax and enjoy the weekend. :))

Thursday, April 2, 2009

shopping, reduced-for-quick-sale and menus

I actually went grocery shopping on Sunday and never got around to posting anything about it, but I was so excited about the deals I found that I figure Thursday is better than never! I seem to be finding plenty of organic chicken marked down these days. Maybe its something people are cutting out of their budget during tough times--who knows. Even though we have plenty, I bought it to stick in the freezer for when the deals aren't so plentiful. I was thrilled to find organic gourmet coffee marked down from $10 to $4.99 a bag--I bought all 3. We will be enjoying this find all month! And the cute little mini pitas were only 99 cents a bag. I never buy things like this because they don't seem worth the price, but at 99 cents I'm willing to spring for them. I put one bag in the freezer and we've been eating the other this week. Hubby and I have been enjoying them as snacks with a white bean and pesto spread I made, while the little one has been eating "spaceship" pb&j sandwiches. I actually bought store-bought yogurt this week. They had my daughter's favorite flavor marked down, which I haven't been able to replicate at home, so I took a break from yogurt-making this week and put these in her lunch boxes. Also pictured with the yogurt were my two extravagant (75% off) finds--some fresh mozzerella cheese (YUM!) and an imported sheeps-milk feta. These are the things that make me feel like a queen--such indulgence!!!
There were some great sales on produce this week. Fresh asparagus was 50 cents a pound! I was so excited I bought a HUGE bag for less than $2.00. I got online when I got home to search for recipes when I got home and we've been really enjoying it this week. I will miss it when the season is over! I rounded out the produce with broccoli, cabbage, bananas, grapefruit, mushrooms and grapes on sale along with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, organic apples and organic celery very much NOT on sale.
My coupon deals--got a bag of rice cakes for free, whole wheat pasta for 29 cents, saved $1 on organic eggs, got a package of Huggies for $4.99 and Kroger-brand diapers for $2.99, cheese $1 for 8 oz (got 3).
Finally I picked up some staples--butter, canola oil, frozen veggies and salt (I went all out for the Mediterranian sea salt) bread, and sugar-free ice cream. My work was done!
In total I spent $104.28. My savings thru sales, coupons and reduced items was $64.12.
once I got home with all these goodies, I revised my meal plan for the week. We have been eating SOOO well, even the kids are happy! We haven't even considered going out to eat. Here's what we have been (and will be) eating:
SUNDAY: grilled pork chops, sauteed cabbage, baked sweet potatoes,
MONDAY: baked chicken legs, suateed asparagus, steamed broccoli, green salad
TUESDAY:steak fingers, mashed potatoes, steamed yellow squash*, mustard greens*,
*from frozen from my parents garden. I also cooked all the rest of last weeks potatoes and froze mashed potatoes for later meals.
WEDNESDAY:salmon topped with sauteed mushrooms and green onions, steamed cauliflower, blanched asparagus marinated in lemon vinaigrette
THURSDAY:chicken breast topped with pesto and mozzerella, whole wheat pasta with olive oil, green beans, roasted asparagus parmegiano
FRIDAY: crock pot hamburger soup, homemade bread, salad
SATURDAY: turkey meatballs, brown rice, sesame broccoli
SUNDAY: lemon pepper pork chops, homemade coleslaw, sauteed sweet potato rounds, corn on the cob
We are still doing the dessert thing and its still keeping the kids eating like I want them to. We've been having either sugar-free ice cream or sugar-free pudding.
Breakfasts have been eggs this week, since my daughter is having achievement tests at school and needs protein to get her through the morning. I am allergic to eggs and the kids don't love them, so this isn't a usual week for us. I've been serving them with either pancakes, home cooked oatmeal or toast. I've been having cooked oat bran and a grapefruit every morning.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In the time since we've pledged not to buy anything new, I have rediscovered lots of things in my house. When I need something now, I have to make do. And now that its been 3 months and I'm so used to it, I wonder why I was ever so closed-minded as to go out and buy something for a specific purpose when something else would do. Little things--I got to looking at my cell phone the other day and realize it has the functions of about 12 things I own--camera, alarm, memo, clock, timer, address book... I can do way more on the computer than I ever thought to do before. I can reserve library books and DVDs, watch cable shows and shows I missed on TV, pay my bills. And of course, there was the one time we laughed ourselves silly when we finally used the timer on the VCR to record a show--technology that's been nearly obsolete for a decade but hey, its there and we own it and why go out and buy something else?
The list of rediscoveries goes on and on, but one thing I never realized I would rediscover was my kids. I'm home with them all day, I talk to them and play with them, I KNOW them. But the thing about kids is that they are always changing. They are complex little creatures with thoughts, hopes, dreams, questions, goals and fears. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own world that their little protests and questions seem inconvenient or unimportant to us. But I'm finding now that what I learn about my kids through day to day interaction really just scratches the surface of who they are, and who they are becoming.
We've changed our schedule a little in the house recently, which has led me to my epiphany of rediscovery. The kids have always been put to bed at the same time. The 8-year-old gets a hug and a kiss and a "good night", then I go on to rock the little one to sleep. I have always enjoyed the time with him at night--the only time he is ever still enough to hold and talk to. Well, this has never gone unnoticed by the 8-year-old, and she's always wanted her share of the attention to. In the past few months, she's really fussed and complained about wanting me to lie down with her for a few minutes before she falls asleep. After all my thoughts of "She's way too old for this" and "I can't get this started when my hands are full as it is", I finally realized--she needs something from me, and neither she nor I probably know what it is. So after spring break, we decided to put the little one to bed an hour later. He plays with Daddy in his playroom while I spend time with big sister. This has worked far better than I thought, for many different reasons. Now that hubby gets home later, he misses out on time with the kids and they need it. And a later bedtime keeps the little one in bed an hour later in the morning, and I have been able to get the whole day up and running and organized in that blessed hour of peace. The whole day runs more smoothly, and I have more time for him and for everyone because everything is done.
But for the really amazing part--my daughter talks to me. And she is a really neat, really wonderful kid. All year, I have been asking the usual Mom questions--"How was school? Who did you play with today? How was your spelling test?" I pretty much get a shrug and an "I dunno". At dinner we have fun chatter, and we certainly spend time together and talk about lots of other things. But at night, she says she just feels like she needs to be hugged. And if I sit there, not talking, just "being there", her words start to tumble out. "Guess what so-and-so did at P.E.!" and "You know what happened in math?" and after that, there are sometimes questions. "What happens when people die? Are there really UFO's?Why did Grandpa Dan get cancer? Is Dad going to get it? Can we get another cat?" They come at me, no particular order, just a jumble of things she's trying to sort out in her 8-year-old mind. I find I have to answer without any change in tone of voice, because the first hint of amusement or concern will close the door immediately. After the questions often come the things that weigh on her most heavily, probably the real reason she needs Mom and needs to be hugged. "So-and-so yelled at me at recess and called me stupid". "I forgot my math book in the other room and the teacher was really annoyed". And things that tug at my heart--"Am I ugly?" What can I say? "Of course not! Did someone tell you that?" Silence. "Why do you think that?" Silence. But I've been hearing that one alot, and I know she's reached the age where she's self -conscious, other kids' opinions matter, and Mom can't fix everything. But I can listen, I can hug, and I can be there. And I can learn more and more about this wonderful kid, whose thoughts and questions and fears are important and real.
Every day I see neighbor kids coming home at 7 at night, their parents tired and impatient and shooing them in to do homework and get to bed. In the morning I see the same kids, often fussing and crying as their parents shoo them out the door, warning them to hurry up and not make everybody late. And all I can think is that those kids have so much to offer, and I hope their parents are listening. I hope they aren't those gadgets in the house with all those cool features and capabilities that get forgotten and underused because life is just too busy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Freecycle find

I haven't been paying much attention to Freecycle lately, other than to give things away, because we have just a short list of things we'd like to have and we really don't need to bring anything else into the house. I'm so pleased with all our decluttering and the feeling of everything being in its place--I don't want to lose it! But one of the things I've wanted for a long time is Christmas dishes. Every year I tell myself I'll get some, and every year I decide it isn't worth the money to buy a set of dishes I'll only use for a few weeks. Of course, I always intend to find them on post-holiday clearance, but that never happens either. So I was really excited to see a post offering some on Freecycle--a service for 4, perfect for our family. The giver lived only a few blocks from me, so I was able to have them in my hands in about 15 minutes. I'm pretty excited about this find--too bad I have another 8 months until I can decorate for Christmas. They'll be waiting!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A weekend of yard work

Despite a cold start, its been an absolutely beautiful weekend--lots and lots of sunshine, warm days and a cool breeze to keep us from overheating. The back yard needed attention and the garden needed planting, so there wasn't much question of what we were going to do this weekend.
Friday, we relaxed and watched "Because of Winn-Dixie", checked out from the library. We hadn't seen it and the kids loved it. Saturday mornings are all about soccer, so in the afternoon we finally got to the yard. My daughter helped spread dirt and transplant our seedlings while my husband took care of other yard work and my son made sure enough mudballs hit the side of the garage. Our seedlings seem to be experiencing some major transplant shock, so in a few days we may need to go back to the mounds and plant more seeds. Fortunately, there is still time! We have a tiny garden, so we tried to focus on what we like to eat and what we've been succesful at growing in the past. We planted zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers in mounds. We made a row for parsley, planted from seed. (I can already taste the tabbouleh!!) and a row of basil (ditto the pesto). I have lettuce already started in a container, along with cilantro in pots. We mulched around the edges to keep the weeds down, and I guess we'll keep watering it and see what happens!
While we had the mulch out we went ahead and re-mulched the little one's playscape. We made this play area last year so that he'd have a place to play and a place to keep all his toddler stuff out of the way of the lawnmower and dog and various other hazards. It didn't need to be too elaborate, since we have 3 well-equipped parks within walking distance, but it needed to be fun. He loves it! We got the landscape timbers and mulch at Home Depot last year with a gift card (credit card reward) and bought the sandbox at Wal-Mart. Our neighbor was throwing away the climber/slide--it was too bulky to bother to take anywhere and she was overjoyed when we said we could use it. My brother's family handed down the picnic table that their boys had outgrown, and the little ride-on toys were another curbside-at-trash-day find. His little Spongebob chair was $1 at a garage sale. We've all had alot of fun in that little area--my husband and the little one scooping sand and hauling it in the dump truck, my daughter and I being served mud pies and "cookie-doughnuts" at the picnic table. I can see the playscape from the kitchen window, so he can play putside while I cook and wash dishes.
Other than the play set, we have two swings for the kids--each hanging from a branch of our pecan tree. My daughter has a trampoline we gave her for her birthday last year which tucks neatly around a corner so that she can play on it but we don't have to see it from the windows. So the kids have plenty to keep them busy while the grown-ups work!
Now that the garden is in, the weeds are pulled and things are in order, its up to Mother Nature to fill in the trees and the plants in the landscaping. When summer gets here, we will be spending most of our time out there!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Menu plans

I mentioned yesterday that we have bumped up the grocery budget now that hubby has a new job, and that the reduced-for-quick sale and the fresh, in-season produce deals have been great. We have an abundance of food in the house, which I LOVE, and I'll talk a little about what we're doing with it.
I was able to make a complete menu plan for this week, along with a menu plan of entrees for next week. (I'll have to fill in with more fresh produce on Monday) I also was able to make and freeze a few things using the excess. The picture above is of our frozen strawberry treats. I made up this recipe, mainly because the kids like frozen treats and I couldn't find anything sugar free, organic, without artificial coloring or preservatives, AND affordable. I make these whenever we have the ingredients and the kids consider them a big deal. They basically contain yogurt (I use homemade), organic whipping cream, fresh strawberries, and Stevia. I freeze them in cupcake liners (I have an abundance bought after Easter one year for 5 cents a pack). I'll do an e-how on it when I get the chance and post a link here. This made good use of the sale organic strawberries and the yogurt made from the bargain milk!
Another thing I was able to make and freeze was "green potatoes". They are basically twice-baked potatoes with broccoli mixed in and topped with cheese. They freeze well --first on cookie sheets to individually freeze them, then placed in a freezer container--and make a good quick addition to a lunch or dinner when we need a little something extra. These used up about 50 cents worth of my potatoes, some fresh broccoli (.99/lb!) and the sale cheese ($1/8 oz).
I decided NOT to make and freeze pancakes or muffins this week. I found that when cooking from scratch and trying to save money, our diets start to revolve around wheat a little too much. This is probably fine for most people, but for whatever reason my family doesn't do well on too much of it. I especially start to feel lethargic when I eat too much wheat. So we are taking a break from that this week, focusing on all the other goodies we have available.
I'm glad to be cooking less complicated meals, since our evenings are so hectic. Hubby gets home later now and can't help with the shuttling to extra-curricular activities, so 3 nights a week I need to feed the kids early and get my daughter out to swim team or soccer with the 2-year-old along for the ride. Once we get home, we head straight into bath and bedtime routines.
So what have we been eating?
Monday: baked chicken legs and thighs, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, green salad
dessert:strawberries and whipped cream
Tuesday: Tuscan bean soup, greek salad, whole wheat artisan bread (reduced/$1) dessert:sugar-free ice cream
Wednesday: grilled salmon, sauteed asparagus and red peppers, spinach/strawberry/walnut salad with homemade honey mustard vinaigrette
dessert: sugar-free pudding
Thursday: beef and pasta skillet, green beans (from frozen), yellow squash (frozen from parents garden)
dessert:fresh pineapple
Friday: homemade cream of broccoli soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks dessert:sugar-free ice cream
Saturday:grilled hamburgers, homemade french fries
dessert:sugar-free popsicles
Sunday: pork chops, blackeyed peas, green potatoes, steamed asparagus
dessert:sugar-free blueberry cake (reduced for quick sale; in the freezer)
Next week's entrees: (will decide on sides once I shop and see what I find)
Monday: chicken breast
Tuesday:turkey meatballs, brown rice,
Wednesday: salmon stuffed with spinach and pesto
Thursday: simmered chuck steaks, mashed potatoes (leftover in freezer)
Friday: homemade pizza
Saturday: spaghetti with meatsauce
Sunday:baked chicken (whole, cut up), blackeyed peas (LO in freezer from previous Sunday)
Normally I would have one or two "leftover buffets" per week. However, since the little one and I eat leftovers for lunch and hubby now takes them to work, I just leave the leftovers alone. A couple of times this week we've had even more than we needed for dinner and the next day's lunches, so I froze them into individual meals for hubby to pull out of the freezer when there is nothing else available.
This week has been my first experiment with offering dessert after every meal, and I'd have to say so far I'm pleased with the results. I have been careful not to bribe the kids with it, but when we sit down I make sure to tell them; "I have xxxx for dessert!" They have eaten all their dinner and all their veggies every night, and it has been nice to linger over the table for a few more minutes over dessert and talk. Since they've been eating their meals so well, they've been snacking less. I'd rather they do this, because I've read studies showing that kids who graze all day tend to take in the same number of calories as kids who don't but not as many nutrients and not the variety of nutrients they need. (probably because they don't tend to snack on sauteed asparagus or steamed broccoli!) And while I suppose this is okay once in a while, its not okay every day and my kids were starting to want to do that. So if some strawberries and whipped cream or sugar-free ice cream helps improve their overall nutrition--fine by me!! :)
For breakfast this week, the kids have asked for exactly the same thing every day:
-smoothies made with homemade yogurt, soy milk, a banana and the ugly strawberries that they won't otherwise eat
-ham slices (hormone-free, nitrate-free)
-cantaloupe or fresh pineapple
They eat every bite!
Hubby and I have our own breakfasts--I've been having the millet cereal and he's been having that along with two eggs every morning. Breakfast has been easy at our house!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reduced for Quick Sale

Now that were home and back in the swing of things, its time to deal with groceries again. I had been really cutting back when hubby was job-hunting, since it was something I could do to help our finances. However, now that he is working again we both agree that eating well and eating HEALTHY is our top priority. I have bumped our grocery budget back up! Before the layoff, I really wasn't paying attention to what we spent and was very surprised when I went back over receipts and found we were spending $800-900 per month. Now that I AM paying attention, I think we can eat the way we want for $500-600 per month. This includes all health/beauty items, diapers and vitamins/supplements as well.

As I've mentioned before, we try to buy mostly organic and mostly fresh items to cook from scratch. That makes it hard to use alot of coupons, thought there are some out there. I concentrate our organic items to milk, eggs, flour, pasta, the "dirty dozen" fruits/veggies, meat when I can find it cheap enough, and whatever cereal or crackers we buy. I have found that the best way to get deals on these items is to find them reduced for quick sale. We have popped in and out of grocery stores more often than usual in the past week due to all the traveling and party preparations. This gave me alot of opportunity to scour the aisles for reduced items, and with good results. One store tends to mark down the organic milk every so often, and when they do I stock up. Another has a large organic section and periodically marks items down on the shelves because they aren't selling. I have also found that when regular milk or meat are on sale really cheap, people buy less of the organic and if I go in towards the end of the sale cycle, I'll find that they have marked down the organic stuff since it didn't sell. This week, I got 4 packages of organic chicken, 5 half gallons of Horizon milk ($1 each!!), and 4 boxes of organic cereal. I was happy to find a coupon for one of the brands of cereal online and print it, so two of the boxes cost only 99 cents each. I also got a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $1.00. I made organic yogurt from some of the milk to stock us up. I later went to Target and bought 4 pounds of Laura's beef for $2.99 a pound and 3 packages of frozen wild-caught salmon, 1 1/2 pounds per package, for $6.99 each. At a third store we had popped into, 8 oz packages of shredded cheese were $1 each, so I stocked up on those. This will really help with entrees for the next couple of weeks!

For other shopping, I focused on fresh fruits and veggies in season. I LOVE spring, since all our favorites are in season and on sale! Fresh asparagus, broccoli crowns and tomatoes were all .99 per pound. Organic strawberries were $2.99 per pound, and cataloupe were 2/$1! ( I bought 6--my kids love cantaloupe!) I also got mangoes 3/$1 and a fresh pineapple for $1.25 after a coupon printed online. I rounded it out with 6 pounds of organic apples that cost way too much and some regular bananas. We are fortunate to have fresh organic spinach and lettuce from my parents garden, so we are in good shape.

My only other great find was diapers. The Kroger brand were on sale for $5.99, and I had printed two coupons for $3 off, so I got them for $2.99 each. I was pretty excited about that.

After a quick run through the aisles for brown rice, beans, a few frozen veggies, some pesto, coffee, etc we are set on groceries. This was on Monday, and I made a menu plan of entrees to last two weeks. I will need to restock fresh fruits and veggies this coming Monday. I total I spent $143. The total saved through sales, coupons and reduced items is $92. I'm glad to be eating a better variety again!
In my next post, I'll run through our menu plan and talk about some of the items I was able to batch-cook and freeze using these sale items.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What makes a house a home

I mentioned in my last post that part of our whirlwind week was a trip to New Orleans. I mentioned that it was a special place to me, but I'd like to say more about why. My mom was born and raised there, and though she moved away when she married my dad and had all of us, we grew up visiting regularly. To us kids, New Orleans wasn't about the French Quarter or Mardi Gras or seafood--it was about "Grammy and Pawpaw's house". It was the most magical place on earth.
I can still remember the excitement of a visit. We'd be almost crazy with anticipation during the 6 hour drive, and we always arrived at night. We'd wake up when we felt the rumble of the bridge beneath the tires, and would sprint from the car to be the first to ring the distinctive doorbell. I can still see the terra cotta tile on the porch, hear the bark of their old poodle, and smell the wonderful smells of our favorite foods waiting for us inside. Our grandparents' faces would light up when we came in, and the smiles never faded. During the whole visit, we felt like the most important people on earth. Looking back now, I realize that though we always felt spoiled rotten on our visits, nothing that my grandparents did to show their love for us was material. They didn't buy us things, there were no shopping trips or piles of toys. We just knew, minute by minute, that they were happy to see us. My grandfather liked to take us for walks, chat with all the neighbors about what we were doing and how we'd grown. When we entered a room, he smiled and greeted us, no matter what he was doing. When we talked, he looked us in the eyes and listened. My grandmother knew what everyone's favorite foods were, and they were always ready for us along with a smile and a hug.
Even as an adult, I'd visit New Orleans and it always felt the same, no matter my age or circumstance. I brought friends to visit, and boyfriends. As I mentioned in the last post, during one visit with a friend we returned to Grammy and Pawpaws house and she exclaimed "I think I've met the man I want to marry!" I had met his friend, and was pretty impressed with him too. Within two years, we'd married those men we came home to talk about that night. My grandparents loved my husband, and the magic of their house was there for him too.
We lost my grandfather in the year 2000 after a long and well-faught battle with cancer, and we adjusted to a "different" New Orleans--no less loving, just with a small ache in the heart. There was never a time we visited that we couldn't feel him there.
In 2004, hurricane Katrina roared through and destroyed my favorite house. Thankfully, my grandmother had evacuated safely, though she lost everything she had. We siblings were devastated, first of all for her, but also for all the memories we held so dear. It seemed unthinkable.
On the first day they allowed residents back to see their homes, my husband drove through the night with my grandmother to be one of the first let in. He called me from the bridge, and I could only imagine the butterflies in her tummy as she sat on that bridge, much like the excitement I had felt crossing it but for a very different reason. She bravely went through the house, found what she could, whispered a peaceful goodbye to the cat she'd had to leave behind, and moved on to a new life here in Texas.
We visited the remains of her home on our trip last week. That terra cotta tile is still there, and seeing it still brings me back to those special days. I chipped up a few pieces and brought them home. A few days later, I visited my grandmother in her new home. Amazingly, though it is a different home with different things, it feels just the same. When I walk through the door, I could be 8 years old again, ready to be hugged and loved and taken care of by the people who love me. Its not the house and its not the stuff that make a home a part of your heart--its the love that's shared. That goes with you wherever you are. I'm so thankful to have "New Orleans" in my heart, and I can only hope I'm doing the right things so that someday my own children will feel this way about the home I am making for them.