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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where did it all come from?

We recently went on vacation--we took the boys camping.  We had a lot of fun and the husband and I especially enjoyed the fact that it is so cheap compared to staying at a hotel :p  Our tent was actually free through one of those debit card rewards points programs.  We brought a cooler and bought food for meals for a fraction of the cost of restaurant eating.  The husband found a camp stove for 5 dollars at the flea market so we didn't have to buy wood and build a campfire for every meal.  Most of our entertainment was free--hiking, waterfalls, beautiful landscapes, parks.  We had a great time and The Boy has memories that will hopefully stick with him :)

Before we left, we made sure the house was clean and ready for us to come home.   But once we'd unloaded the car and unpacked the bags, you'd never know it.  Where did it all come from?  How did the contents of one very small car make such a mess?  We've been back for several days and although there's been a lot of washing and putting away, its still a mess :p  *sigh*  Reality has come back with a vengeance!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finances can really ruin a day......

I'm the number cruncher of the family so I handle finances.  I keep my husband in the loop by writing our daily bank balances on our whiteboard so he can see what we have available/saved.  And I keep a handwritten ledger tracking the bill breakdown so he can see where his paycheck goes and get an idea of our monthly budget (I prefer to do everything online but he's a hold-it-in-your-hands visual kind of guy and if that's what he needs, I'll write it down!).  Lately, I've also added not only the cost of our utilities but also our usage to the ledger so we can track what we are using.  We've made some changes to our water usage and the new lower bill is awfully nice to see :)  But the electricity is definitely not doing well--its been unusually hot and humid this summer and our air conditioners have been going round the clock instead of just being on for the very hottest days.  Every day has been of the hottest variety :p 

I don't really have a solution and that really bugs me.  I'd like to turn off the air and use the fans but the humidity is one of my asthma triggers and I'd really like to be able to breath :p  When it became evident that the heat & humidity was not going to let up, we attempted to replace our older air conditioner with a newer, more efficient model--but they are sold out.  Unless, of course, we want a giant model that would involve cutting a hole in the side of the house because its too big for our windows ;)  Oddly enough, when I lived in Texas, I rarely turned on my air.  I lived in an area of low humidity and even the week where it was over 115 degrees every day felt great to me.  Open the windows, turn on the ceiling fan and I was good.  These days of humidity 70-100% really make me miss the dry heat of the southwest!!

A few days ago, we had a couple of day stretch where the humidity dropped low enough that I could breath and the air went off and the windows opened up.  It was heavenly.  We spent lots of time outside and enjoyed the fresh air and hoped the humid-streak had ended.  Alas, it has not, and we soon had to flip the air back on.   It can't last forever, though.  Eventually we'll have some dryer days!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The wonders of vinegar......

The Boy really loves it when I clean--he follows me around and tells me it smells yummy, just like potato chips.  His Dad loves salt & vinegar potato chips and The Boy has come to enjoy them as well (I can't stand them.  Don't even like the smell of them).  So when I'm cleaning, The Boy is loving the smell of my vinegar and follows me around for the aroma :p  Personally, I hate the smell of vinegar.  It isn't at all pleasant to me but I tolerate it because a) the older I get, the more sensitive to chemicals I am.  I may not like the smell of vinegar but at least it doesn't bring on an asthma attack every time I try to clean b) I don't have to worry about the kids or the pets being exposed to harsh chemicals c) it is super cheap d) it makes an AWESOME cleaner.  You know how all the little spills and splatters on your stove get all hard and caked on (particularly if you have a habit of forgetting to wipe it down after dinner and it sits overnight)?  And how you spray your cleaner on it and let it soak and still end up scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing to get it clean?  I spritz a little vinegar on it and wipe off immediately and everything just dissolves and comes right off.  It is fantastic :)  I really should buy stock in vinegar (and baking soda) because I go through a lot of it.  A bottle sits next to my laundry detergent because I use it instead of fabric softener.  My washer itself does smell faintly of vinegar but clothes come out very fresh and soft.  I use vinegar and baking soda to sanitize my drains (and Sterling thinks it very fun magic to pour the vinegar in and watch it fizz with the baking soda).  I wash my windows/mirrors with vinegar to get them sparkly.  I disinfect light switches & toilets with vinegar.  Baking soda and a little water makes a nice gritty paste for scrubbing things like my sink or counters (and a spritz and wipe with vinegar disinfects it when I'm done).  I get my money's worth out of it ;)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I want that one!

This is the absolute best time of year for cooking.   There is so much good, local, fresh produce for sale!  I love knowing our food was picked recently and traveled less than ten miles to get to my table.  I love the fact that we are paying someone from our own community instead of a big corporation that trucked in stuff from far away.  I love the flavors you get from fresh.  And you really can't beat the price!  Tomatoes for twenty-nine cents a pound, fresh red potatoes for five cents a pound, cucumbers for a quarter, bell peppers for a quarter, and huge bunches of fresh basil for just a couple of bucks.  Tonight's meal had just two items that were bought from a conventional grocery store--everything else came from the local fruit and vegetable market :)  Eating healthy is a whole lot cheaper in the summer ;)

I think the best thing about this time of year, though, is how excited the kids get over a trip to the local fruit and vegetable market.  The Boy (newly turned five) thinks it a really fun treat and has a grand time helping me pick things out and put them in the cart.  Vegetables that routinely get a "yuck" in the winter months when I pull them out of the freezer (another reason to love summer--I can buy cheap and save for later!) are suddenly exciting and he can't wait until we can have them with lunch or dinner.  The Toddler (14 months) doesn't much care what it is as long as its raw and has some crispness to it.  His only preference is that we have tomatoes.  All the time.  He loves them (and now that I can get them for twenty-nine cents a pound, he can have all he wants).  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Favorite Easy Meals

I like cooking for my family most of the time.  We use very little processed foods--I prefer to buy basic ingredients and do it myself.  No preservatives, no weird sounding chemicals, no artificial colors or flavors.  Its healthier and tastes better (although there were complaints from the husband when we first got married.  His palate was so deadened by the years of chemicals that everything was bland to him and he craved salt and salt and more salt on his food.  After his years with me, though, his taste for processed food has been ruined.  Now if he gets something store bought instead of homemade, he can't stand it LOL).  The few items I do buy pre-made (such as pasta), I read labels and go for the ones where I can pronounce every ingredient and has a list that looks like I would make it.  Some things take some effort but the end result is tasty and we all enjoy it.  But sometimes, I just don't feel like all the effort.  So what to do?  Order pizza?  Pick up a frozen meal?  Go out to eat?  All of those means more money and more chemicals (yes, we do occasionally do these things but not too often).  Instead, I go for one of my easy meals and enjoy the fact that while I went to very little effort, the family loves it and enjoys it as much as always :)  Our most recent easy dish was pasta salad--cook some whole wheat rotini, drain and put in a mixing bowl.  Refill the pan with water and put back on to boil.  Toss warm pasta with a little salad dressing (homemade is great or go for a good vinagrette).  When water is boiling, drop in some veggies (fresh or frozen, whatever is on hand).  When tender, drain and mix with pasta.  Add in some beans (kidney are a favorite with the boys) and some cheese cubes and you're done.  If I have some leftover chicken, I'll cube it up and throw it in as well but the beans and cheese provide plenty of protein without chicken.  Simple, quick, only one pan to wash and its usually enough to have leftovers in the fridge for snacks and lunch the next day.  The five year old loves this and thinks its a super special treat to have it :)  He'd have me make it every day if he could :)

What's your favorite easy meal?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Financial Tweaking

Back when we were a two income household, we signed up for satellite tv.  We'd gotten a good deal based on prices at the time and weren't too worried about the extra money to have it.  And it was fun being able to pull up the Discovery Channel or SyFy anytime we wanted.  Once we went down to one income, it was a bit of a stretch to pay that bill every month but still not too bad--until our introductory period ended and the bill almost doubled.

Now, if you read any money-saving tips or frugal blogs, most of them will advise you to shut off the tv service and save the money.  Sounds good in theory but if you are still under contract, you could be paying hundreds of dollars to shut it off.  Which can be worth it in the long-run but your checking account will certainly take an immediate hit and what happens if you decide the extra money each month is worth it as a treat to your family?

Our answer to this dilemma was to take a vacation :)  Our satellite company lets you suspend service for up to six months and then service resumes.  It does push out our contract by the six months but it gives us a chance to decide whether or not its worth it to us to keep it.  I'm okay with canceling at the end of six months and paying the fee to be done with it.  The few things I want to see I can get from the library or Netflix (or maybe someday online if I ever buy a computer that can handle it.  My gal is almost nine and doesn't do well with video :p).  I'm not sure the husband will be ready to say good-bye, though, as he's been missing his science shows :p  We still have many months to go to see how he's feeling :)

The Loss of Manners

Dear People Who Annoy Me,

If you respond to a Craigslist posting asking if an item is still available and saying you'll pay cash if it is, please do not then stop all further communication.  When the poster tells you that yes, it is available and offers to meet you so you can see it, do not ignore their message.  Either tell them you've changed your mind or, I don't know, go BUY the thing you said you wanted.

Sincerely,
Annoyed.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Greetings!

Like many people today, I am out of work and have become a stay at home parent.  Part of me is thrilled because I'd much rather be hanging out with the kids all day (not so thrilled about the cleaning/cooking part of it, though......) than working a job that sucks your soul out bit by bit.   I used to work for a local community bank that took great pride in its image of being a wonderful place to work.  Apparently my bosses didn't get that memo because once I got pregnant with my second child, all the things I used to do that got me much praise suddenly got me in tons of trouble.  I guess pregnancy didn't agree with them ;)  As soon as I wasn't protected by FMLA anymore, out I went.  Its a blessing and a curse, as most things are, but we are navigating our way through this new territory of a single income home on a very tight budget :p 

Kids, money, crafts, books, pets--I'll write about it all as it comes up in our lives :)  Enjoy the ride!