Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stressed?

With the holiday season just around the corner and so many grand plans still unfinished, I was starting to feel a little stressed about getting and not getting things done. For example, a couple weeks ago, I spent quite a tidy sum on embossing pads, rubber stamps and card stock to make Christmas cards by hand.

How did that work?

Well, I am totally stocked for embossing powder and all the supplies I need to make cards. However, with one week before Christmas, I seriously doubt that is going to get done. So now I'll dig out my snowflake stamps with a goal of sending out Winter Greetings cards...like I said, GOAL. I think the goal of sending handmade Christmas cards will be recycled for next season. Actually I am planning to go ahead and stamp a few cards a day while it is freezing cold outside and keeping them with the stamps and embossing stuff. My reasoning is that is the best place for me to look next year. Will that work? We'll have to report on that next year...

We sat down with the boys and discussed the fact that Christmas is going to be slimmer this year. To my surprise, they were not only OK with it, they were supportive. It is going to be quite a bit different, but I think it is going to be more realistic. I am going to have the boys help me make cookies each day to take to friends and neighbors. We are also going to make jars of homemade hot cocoa mix to include with the cookies. This will allow the boys to get in on the action and participate in the giving. I will be hitting the dollar store this week for containers to put the goodies in, or to the thrift store for used baskets to carry the goodies in. I may be too late to find the baskets at the thrift store. The best time to look for baskets and things to package goodies in would be around the summer when nobody is thinking of Christmas yet. Oh well, I'll do the best I can and improvise a little. Hot glue and ribbons cover a multitude of sins...

As far as my goal of cutting our grocery bills this month, I am happy to say we are on target to do that this month. However since the month is not over and I also have my oldest coming from Iowa to spend a week, we'll just have to see. At this point, we are really well stocked for a lot of things, so I am going to see how far we go on the allotted amount. We are still above what I would really like to bring the bills down to, but as I said, it is a start. After the first of the year, I am hoping to be able to get a small freezer to start doing once a month cooking.

As far as gas for the car, I am still bundling trips and being really conservative with any driving even though gas is quite a bit lower. One thing that I have found disturbing is that Americans tend to have such a short attention span when it comes to conserving resources. When gas hit $4 a gallon and more, many people started lining up to buy hybrid cars, cancelled unnecessary trips and went out of their way to conserve. Now that gas is down, they have gone back to the same old routine. There were plans to build hybrid cars at a new plant in Mississippi due to the demand for hybrids, but that has been shelved due to the disappearance of the demand for these cars. What happened? My cars are not hybrids, but I do conserve carefully and am hoping to have a hybrid one day in the future. Our heat stays between 67 and 70 degrees (I admit it, the higher temp is my doing, not hubby's--I get really cold even with layers on in the house), which is just low enough to be comfortable. When it warms up, we will be putting in new windows and patio doors to keep money from leaking through those. They were needing to be replaced when we moved in, we just have not gotten to it. I'm still seriously making hard decision on what I spend our money on and am working to get a budget in place that will put us more on track with where we should be financially. Nothing like a recession to hit you in the face with reality!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Home Improvement

As you can see, big changes are happening here at my house. When we bought the house almost a year and a half ago, the deck was in bad BAD condition.

Actually it was just plain unsafe.

The previous owner paid for the rebuild so we were pretty OK with that. The contractor is a friend and builder that we trust, so that was even better. We knew he would not put our family on something he would not put his own family on, so we went with his bid. My family schedule has been pretty hectic the past year, so the project was put on hold until recently. Charlie came by last week and started the deck project. I am looking forward to it! The original stairs went directly from the upstairs to the downstairs. To get into the yard, you had to go up 3 rock steps that are part of the rock retaining wall. At one time, they must have been OK, but now it is very dangerous to use them. As a result, I don't go into the backyard too much and if I do, I use the wood stairs to hop off at ground level. Charlie is going to build a landing that comes off the stairs and allows us to safely access the yard and connects to the downstairs patio. YEAH! This will be great for me since I really want to get going on a decent garden this spring. After he finishes the deck and stairs, we are going to get quotes for a few other things we need fixed around here. We have been in the house for a while, yet I really haven't embraced decorating or making it OURS. While not exactly frugal, I am going to start looking for heavy fabric to make curtains for all the rooms. I plan to use the discount coupons and sales for JoAnn's and Hancock Fabrics, so it won't be a huge blow to the budget--and I plan to do a little at a time.

Speaking of budgeting: We have really been pinching pennies in anticipation of the holidays. I have been keeping my family budget online at Pear Budget and am in love with that service. The first couple months shocked me! BIG TIME! What I THOUGHT I was spending on the different categories (what I had budgeted as the max amount) vs. what I WAS spending after all the receipts were entered was not a pleasant surprise. For example--we spent $250 more on EATING OUT than I even remotely imagined we did. And we spent SEVERAL HUNDRED dollars more on groceries than I even wildly imagined. After adding up all the little receipts for trips to the groceries "to get one thing" (and ending up with $50 in the cart or more), it was a very unpleasant reality trip. However, having it there in black and white (and a lot of RED)allowed me to see why we have so little money in savings and left in checking at the end of the month after Hubby gets paid. Each month I'd lament that he makes a decent salary, where is it going?! Now I can see where. Financial experts say everyone should have an emergency cushion of 6 months worth of salary in the bank, just for emergencies. Do you have that? This is our goal for the new year. By being more conservative and not buying everything I want just because I can, I am hoping to get us to that point. Part of being in charge of the family books is taking care of making sure there is a cushion and being a good steward of the resources you are given. I've been a little (OK- a LOT) lax in that area so 2009 is going to be the year of getting it back in line with what it should be.

So, this month we have been making menus and eating at home, not eating out as much, not doing small trips to the store (or I send Hubby, who is better at just going in and getting that ONE thing that is missing from the recipe I am making right that moment) and just generally making a real effort to say NO. Oh, and actually eating the leftovers in the fridge instead of letting them "age to a certain patina" before throwing them out. I'm not saying this month is perfect, but so far it is lining up to be much more successful than last month. Christmas cooking may throw it off a bit, but at least we are going in the right direction. I figure by the end of January, I should be on target to buy a small upright freezer so that I can be better prepared to do some freezer cooking (AKA Once a month cooking), that will save more $.

I did find a recipe for homemade hot cocoa mix that has turned out to be fantastic! I am going to put it in quart jars (that I got at the thrift shop for 10 cents apiece--I just have to buy a box of lids) and make decorative tags using my rubberstamps and paper that I have from scrapbooking. I'll be making up batches of this sometime this weekend, then I'll print both the recipe and a picture of some of the jars before we ready them for delivery. I am letting my boys help deliver them so they get in on the act of giving. It just one little way of involving them in the act of giving. We are focusing less on consumer goods and activities this year in favor of downscaling and putting meaning back into the holiday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cyber Monday?

Last night I was contemplating when I would be buying a set of starting blocks (for track season) that my son wanted BADLY for Christmas. They were $70 plus $10 shipping. Not a huge amount, but I was holding off until the last minute. Last night I popped online to look again and was surprised to find that Dick's sporting goods was running a "cyber Monday" special on the entire site for 25% off. As a result, we got a little better quality set of blocks for the same price we would have before--actually we got the better set for $10 less than the lower priced set INCLUDING shipping.



I'm totally happy with that!



I've never heard of Cyber Monday before, but I'm glad I looked online when I did. Next year I am going to buy more since it is my understanding that this is going to be repeated. I DO NOT participate in Black Friday mainly because it causes me more stress and I don't like seeing how people behave towards each other while in pursuit of "a deal".



I am not much of a mall shopper, so going online to Wal-Mart. com yesterday saved me money on a couple other things like gas and time. To save shipping, some of the items are going to be shipped site to store, where we will pick them up, but I can live with that considering we saved a good amount of $ not driving around looking for what the kids wanted. The items I bought online were not available in the stores near us and going online allowed us information to compare three similar models of this item before settling on the one we bought. A good deal all around, I must say.



Are you doing any baking this Christmas season? I have decided to extend the feeling of Christmas beyond just the one day, we are going to make/bake a different kind of cookie/candy for 12 days after Christmas (the Epiphany) and distribute them to friends. I have kept the list manageable, 6 or 7 people/families, and they will get a dozen each day (or one type of candy). This can be done easily with my candy/cookie recipes. Four of the families are in our old neighborhood. We only moved 2 blocks down and one block over, but it seems we just don't go sit and hang out with the neighbors as much as we would like to. I am going to work towards giving the holidays more meaning beyond the standard "gimme" syndrome. Luckily my boys aren't that caught up in the commercialism of the holidays and are all right with a more scaled down holiday.



And after the holidays are over, I am going to participate in SimpleMom's 2009 book club. You can hit the link on my sidebar to find out more about the book club. The first book is going to be "Your Money or Your Life", which is a classic. I am looking forward to all of the books she has chosen. They are well chosen. I like that the first book out of the gate is one about refocusing financially. It is a good start to the new year. I'm all over this book club!!! Especially since it can be done from my house. Totally do-able!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Griping Post...

No, that's not something to tie an unhappy horse to, but it might work for me..WARNING--this post is going to be full of griping and general bitching.





We recently got the van back after having $400 worth of work done on it. The water pump was out so it was overheating. We took it in and This morning I took it to the grocery store and it started overheating. CRAP! I am taking it back to the mechanic on Friday, but in the meantime, hubby and I are juggling transportation. We are guessing it might just be a hose that disconnected, not a huge problem...We have three cars--two with one down. That seems like a fair amount, but in reality we have come to the conclusion that having three working cars is important to us and we adjust our spending to compensate for that. For quite a while we were down to two--the compact and an older bigger car. We are hoping to trade in the older car soon for something more gas efficient. I would rather spend my $ on things we need, not gas for a gas hog. With all the activities the kids are in and the work/school schedule of my husband, having multiple working cars is imperative.





Have you started holiday preparations yet? What are you doing for gifts this year?





For family and friends, we are giving homemade candy and cookies, jams and other baked goods. This will allow us to give gifts that will be consumed instead of gathering dust on the recipient's shelf, plus save us money. I am going to the Dollar store next week to start amassing tins and cookie trays for the goodies. Some are going to also get hand knitted dishcloth sets. I have been using up my surplus cotton yarn stash while making these and they are a lot of fun. I've made two so far from pretty ornate patterns that look really pretty. Unfortunately they do take longer, so the recipients will probably get one ornate and two not so ornate dishcloths tied together with at pretty ribbon and some seventh generation dish soap that I order it in bulk from Amazon (at quite a substantial savings since I am having it shipped through their subscribe and save program...LOVE THIS DISH SOAP-LOVE SAVING $ !) . I was going to make homemade vanilla extract, but given the late date, I don't think it would have time to age, so I'll do that at a later date. I'm going to actively involve the boys in the making and taking--I think it gives more meaning to the holiday.





I'm still mad about the van, but I feel a little better now. I used to shop when I was stressed, now I blog--it works out better this way.





Now if only I could clean house when I am stressed. I'd have one spotless house!!I know, DREAM ON!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Best Laid Plans....




soon crumble when you have little ones running around!


Remember those goals of getting my groceries and doing some once a month cooking?



Didn't happen.


Why? Well, I went to Stillwater to watch my 2 year old great nephew and 5 month old great niece, then brought them home with me. From then on, all planned events crashed right out the window.




I have decided that even though I raised two very active twins, as one gets older it just gets too hard to chase around a hyperactive two year old and attend to a teething 5 month old. I am proud to say that he didn't tear my house up the way he does at home and at his grandma's, but we spent the first day at my house being intensely trained. This is a combination of scolding and praising...anyone with kids knows how that goes.


All said, he did really well. I had to be really careful to keep an eye on him while attending to feeding the 5 month old--I had totally forgotten how much chaos a two year old can cause. We did have one issue with him kicking our beagle on the side, which was quickly dealt with. After that, he left ALL the animals alone completely. Our cats tolerated him, but the screaming from my great niece was really too much for them to handle, so we didn't see much of them the whole time the kids were here. We are looking forward to taking one or the other again so that my niece can have a little bit of piece, but I've pretty much decided that I can't handle both at once.



Besides being completely exhausted from the week, a good thing came from this: My twins have an up close and personal experience with the trials of small children. I can't say they even want to have kids EVER after this...This was much better than the hokey little experiment some schools do by making them carry around a doll or an egg. Dolls and eggs don't scream at ear ripping decibels or need a really bad diaper changed. Yep, priceless reality.


So, no once a month cooking got done. However, I am going to dust myself off and start anew next week. I fell short on budgeting too. After not entering my receipts into Pear until today, I realized I had gone over the budget on several odd and unplanned categories. That sucks since it is so close to Christmas. However, I will keep on plugging through so we can get back on track. My goal to buy a freezer is on temporary hold until after the holidays. With whole turkeys at 77 cent a pond, I wish I could snag several and store, but I just don't have the freezer space in our fridge unit.


One good thing from the trip to Stillwater is that I found a really good loveseat and coffee table at a junk shop and put it on layaway until the end of the month. The loveseat is more of a settee style, but it will be prefect in the library. They did have two other coffee tables I am seriously considering since they were all wood and could be refinished. We need one in the family room and one more in the seating area in our master bedroom, and these were only $20 each, so well within the budget. One thing we are lacking is table lamps, but I didn't see any there that would work in our house, so I'll just keep searching.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Learning Once a Month Cooking

I have been wanting to try once a month cooking for quite some time.

I've bought several books, made lists, made plans, then got intimidated. It seemed like a huge undertaking. However, listening to people rave about the $$$ it saves them and looking at our budget has been a powerful motivator for me. I also like the convenience--no more standing in the kitchen at 5:00 wondering what the heck is going to be for dinner. That alone is priceless since we often resort to fast food or take out pizza at that point.

This morning I sat down with my OMC books and found 6 recipes and then found a creole mustard marinade recipe that can be used on pork and chicken. I figured venturing out with 6-8 recipes was not going to be as intimidating, therefore a good way to take baby steps into the process.

After that, I made a master shopping list and a master calendar of two weeks. I figured two weeks of worth of menu planning was not as intimidating. After I made the two week menu, I realized that if I just doubled the amounts I cooked of the 6 recipes, I'd have enough to spread over the next two weeks. I decided that I would buy 10 pounds of ground beef and make 12 large patties to freeze in freezer baggies of 4 patties per bag, with enough left over to make several large baggies of precooked meatballs, beef burritos and stuffed shells. The meatballs will be used for meatball subs, spaghetti and barbecued meatballs with smokies. I also have plans for chicken enchiladas and King Ranch chicken casserole to freeze. In combination with a couple other meal plans, I just realized I will have enough entrees for more than a month! All in one cooking session! And with the meals spread around, we really are not having the same meal more than twice in the month long period. It looks like I might actually have enough to last past the month. Those meals will be handy on the next day I do a cooking session.

I'll look in my OMC book and try 3 new recipes the next time I cook, in addition to the others--if they are voted as repeats--and grow my OMC cooking file that way. Out of the 4 Once a Month cooking books I own, there are hundreds of recipes I can choose from based on my family's preferences. Some of them will be voted off the island I'm sure. But this allows us to try different meals and get out of the cooking rut I've been in. I also have a killer recipe for a peach berry crisp that I am going to test to see how well it freezes. We have a large bag of mixed frozen berries I got from the warehouse store that we haven't used. Combined with frozen peaches and the topping, it sounds like a good way to use up the berries. I'll make a test run of it on Monday and freeze a batch uncooked, then a batch cooked and cooled to see how they turn out. I'll post the recipe for the best one later this month. I figure on the days when we are using up the leftovers in the fridge, having a special dessert will make it a little better. We tend to not eat leftovers like we should, and that is a budget killer too. One other thing I plan to work on is cooking the right amount--more in line with what portion sizes SHOULD be. I tend to cook LARGE portions. Great for hubby to take to lunch and me to have, but let's face it--How many times do you want to eat the same meal in a short period?

I am now psyched to get started. I will wait until Monday though, since the boys and hubby will be at school/work and I'll have time to shop in the early morning for the best deals on meat. The grand idea is that I will do all my non perishable shopping on Sunday at the grocery store and clean/empty the fridge at that time, then Monday morning will be my day to hit the store for perishables. That may change. I'll look at the schedule and decide what is going to be the best use of my time.

However, after reviewing what we spent for groceries last month (THANK YOU SimpleMom for turning me on to Pear Budget) , I think any savings will be a tremendous plus!

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's Always Something, plus SimpleMom giveaway


Remember how I said I finally got the house "guest ready" and was feeling tired but quite pleased with myself? Ever hear "Pride goes before the fall"?

Well, I LIVE it!

Gather round and let me tell you a little STORY..

The room we use as the guest bedroom is the room that formerly housed my oldest son, before he moved to Iowa. When kids move out, they don't always take everything with them. For that matter, they often leave a lot in a pretty fancy state of disarray. That would be the exact state of our "guest bedroom" before I did a FlyLady cleaning. It wasn't perfect by the time my brother in law arrived, but by golly, it was close.

So feeling pretty smug with myself, I tempted fate and patted myself on the back.

That was mistake #1

Brother in law arrived, got settled in and then left to hang out with his friend who was getting married (which is the reason for his trip from California to Kansas). In the process he left the door to the guest bedroom open.

We have dogs that LOVE that soft mattress. It didn't occur to me to make sure the door was closed.

That was mistake #2

So, about 1 a.m, little bro in law gets home after the bachelor party to find a beagle fully stretched out on the bed, snoring.

But WAIT! There's MORE.

Said reclining beagle--apparently fatigue from a full day of eating and lounging around the house, apparently climbed up on the bed, PUKED, then fell asleep beside his little handy work. Yep, PUKED on the FRESHLY WASHED pillow, comforter and sheets of the bed in the room I put real sweat equity getting cleaned up.

GEEEEEEZZZZZ!

What does that say about the confidence of the animals around here when they screw up and don't even bother to leave the scene of the crime? Apparently Buddy the beagle was so confident in his legal resident status that he was not inclined to move at the prompting of my bro in law. He basically looked at him and gave him the "life sucks, deal with it" look and started to go back to sleep. Yep, my proudest moment...

Yes people, that is my life.

Jealous?

On the lighter side, SimpleMom is giving away an Epson Artisian 800 printer in a drawing on Wednesday November 12. Go on over and check out her blog to enter and to read her blog. She has really awesome printable downloads that I print and depend on. Hey, if I win one, I can take pictures of all my BEFORE cleaning projects so that I have a memory of what it looks like BEFORE my animals contribute their 2 cents...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More FlyLady kuddos...

Just so you don't think the earlier pics of the spot in the kitchen were the worst of the mess, I thought I'd share this post...This is what happens when you move from one house, bring boxes up from the garage and then park them in the house and do nothing else. After a while, you bring stuff in the house and just lay it on top of the piles of boxes "until you can figure out what needs to be done with it". Guess what? You end up with CHAOS.

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER pictures. I'm pretty sure you can tell which is which. As I said, instead of sitting down to do it all at once, I did the FlyLady marathon technique. A simple synopsis is that you start in the kitchen for 15 minutes, then go to the livingroom (the upstairs room in our house is the library, so I did that) for 15 minutes, then the kitchen again, then break for 15 minutes...then repeat. You need to get the book for the correct sequence. At first I thought, 15 minutes here and there?! There is no way I can accomplish anything that way. Being desperate, I tried it.

It WORKS.

The 15 minute intervals keep you from getting bored and overwhelmed in one area. By the time you start getting overwhelmed, you are off to a new area and it helps a lot. Then when you return, you have a refreshed view and are able to tackle the rest. I'll post more tomorrow, I still have the guest bedroom sheets to put on the bed, and guess what? One of the Flylady "commandments" is not to let the computer sidetrack you....

Enough said.



Gotta love FlyLady!

Remember when I said I was in mass panic mode since my brother in law was coming from California for a visit and our house was utter and total chaos?

Well, I was sitting in my bedroom hyperventilating and looking through the FlyLady book, hoping for either a miracle or a bolt of lightning. I was scanning the book and turned to a page that entailed a panic driven cleaning spree and how to do it.

Guess what? It works!!!!

I will post some pictures to prove it. Above is a section of our kitchen AFTER I spree cleaned it Flylady style. BELOW is the BEFORE. Scary Huh?


Above is what happens when things have no real place and you just put things wherever they land. While the AFTER picture can be improved on by putting those things away, I really don't have a spot for them right now. Later, after brother in law is gone, I will be doing some purging so I'm sure what is left in the after pic will have a home.I'm pretty darn happy with the AFTER anyway.

Above is the before picture of one part of the library. Below is the after. All the things on the wall were sitting in the library, unhung and not dusted. The bookshelf top was speed cleaned and a lot of junk was just plain tossed and pictures/candle sconces hung.


This is chaos what happens when you just let things go because you have too much going on in your life and you get overwhelmed. Then you end up getting overwhelmed by the state of the house which just turns into a vicious cycle.
I have a lot more pics that I will be posting through the rest of the month. Trust me, these are the GOOD before pictures.
It is a little scary letting everyone see how bad I let the house get, it makes me feel really vulnerable, but one of my reasons for letting you see the scary before pictures is that I want you to see how well the FLylady's suggestions work.
Once I get it under control, I intend to use a combination of the Flylady's techniques and SimpleMom's down loadable cleaning schedule. I love those sheets! They help me remember what has been done and what needs to be done. I am using the Flylady's techniques too, so I feel confident that I will be able to get the house in order and keep it in order. There is still a lot more cleaning and purging that I am going to do after the visit to make room for things that I want to keep...



Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No Spend Month

While perusing Small Notebook's sight today, I noticed she had posted about her No Spend Month and had links to others who were doing similar. So I have decided that for the rest of the month, I am going to do something similar. Too bad I didn't think about this sooner--I just did a little sleep shopping.

What is SLEEP SHOPPING, you ask?

It's where you buy stuff on the Internet with a click of a button while on auto-pilot..just like sleep walking...Amazon and Book of the Month Club are my weaknesses. Did I mention I spent $60 on book Sunday?! What was I thinking?! While 2 of the books are good books that I will use (Prayer Shawl Companion and a Pie book), one was a complete impulse. There were a couple other books that were the same impulse. SOOOO--for the rest of the month, I am going to limit myself to a budget of $10 a week for the rest of the month. When the $10 is gone, it is gone. This is going to be really hard for me. I'm used to pulling out my debit card and swiping..or ordering online with a click of a button. And truth be told, I really like coming home and having a package for me on the porch. .

It feels good.

However, what doesn't feel good is the fact that my house is filled with clutter and I am embarrassed to have people over. My brother in law is coming from California this Thursday to spend a couple days with us. I've been in a mad rush to get the house cleaned...

I've come to a couple conclusions.

1. I am a "just in case" saver. This weekend I threw out no less than 4 full trash bags of old clothes from when I was a size 9. I am 100 lbs past that (that's another issue I'm working on, but I digress) and have been saving them JUST IN CASE I get to that size soon. Reality: These clothes that were the height of fashion THEN are REALLY out of fashion now. REALLY OUT OF FASHION. ....tossed.

2. I save old jar and plastic containers to use for later. Not bad if you actually USE them. I usually don't, they're just THERE. Hanging around, adding visual clutter. The reality is that plastic containers are not safe to microwave in because of toxins, and when I transfer leftovers to a container destined for the fridge, it is usually a ceramic bowl with plastic wrap over it. Plastic bowls, glass bottles, plastic containers...tossed.

3. I save old magazines. A lot of them had recipes in them that I wanted to use for entertaining. Reality check: With so much paper laying around, it made my house not suitable for entertaining guests. This weekend, I clipped recipes, tossed the magazines and put the recipes in sheet protectors and a binder. Same with knitting patterns. I do not need any new patterns!

This morning I have been doing the Flylady's marathon cleaning. It basically is 15 minute intervals in different areas of the house, then continuing the sequence until the rooms are cleaned. I did it for 2 hours and am taking a break for an hour before diving back in. The crazy thing is I am making real headway. Once I get the kitchen table and the family room completed, I will consider that a huge victory. I still have the guest room and the family room, but I'll use the same system to get them done. I am glad I got this book. I will go back and read through it once I have the house at least decent for guests. I want to get the basic principle in place so I can complete the job after bro in law is gone, and maintain the house.

The other task that might be a challenge is the fact we need to furnish this house and make it comfortable. It sounds like a direct conflict to the NO SPEND, but I think I can do it by using what we have and repainting/refinishing and adding a couple minor purchases. I will allot a certain amount in the budget to this endeavor, but it might be measly until after the holidays..

We have been looking for a desk for our family room. The current computer desk is really small and it is impossible for the boys to spread their work out while working. It makes it really uncomfortable. I had been looking for "the perfect computer desk", when it occurred to me that we have a pub style table out in the garage that seats 4-6 people (it has an extension)...Hmmm. I will have to get a tall chair (saw them on sale somewhere...), but in reality it will probably work perfectly. It might even work better...

So there you have it. The rest of the month is going to be a no spending, clutter cutting and cheap decorating month. I'll let you know how it works. I will break down and take before/after pics of the family room and guest bedroom. The upstairs is a little scary. I'll have to think about that.....pray for me. Seriously! I could use all the help I can get with this total lifestyle change thing....

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Purging

Smokey, one of our cats, in a contemplative mood...


I am embarrassed to say that I have been cleaning our master bedroom for several hours, and I'm nowhere near done. Closer, but definitely not done.


The problem?


It boils down to the fact that I like to save magazines, clip articles, and collect books, but I don't have a system for storage of these things, so I "put" them on top of things. And put, and put...pretty soon, all these potentially useful tidbits become one (or more) big messy pile that robs me of energy.


How?

Every time I look at that ever growing heap, I feel defeated.

So today, I took my time and went through all the magazines in the pile and tore out only the articles that were important to me. A lot of these boiled down to recipes and decorating ideas that I made a separate pile of, then took a break to actually get them into sheet protectors and put into binders. Later I will go back through and actually sort according to type. For example, recipes will be sorted according to breads, sweets, main dishes, etc. For now it was more important to get them out of the magazines so that I can throw the magazines away, which cuts the clutter. Then getting them actually into sleeves and binders gives them a place to actually "be organized" instead of floating around in a pile and looking messy. I must say, although I am not done with the room, I do notice a difference. I wish I had taken a before and after picture, but I was too embarrassed by the sheer amount of stuff that had accumulated. So my immediate goal is to pare down the STUFF. With the cold weather coming up, it is going to be important to be able to keep a clean and tidy house. The quality of the inside air is immediately affected by my ability to keep carpets vacuumed and the stuff dusted. It is much easier if there is LESS STUFF to clean. Kind of makes sense, doesn't it.


Next step? I am going to put a waste basket and a box in the entry hall so I can sort the mail immediately and toss the stuff that is not relevant to us. I'd like to say I will have a recycle box, but right now I need to just get the stuff out and not let it sit around at all! I'll recycle once I get everything under control.


On the budget side, I am working on that too. I realized that we are spending several hundred dollars more for groceries and eating out than I had guessed. Gotta thank Pear Budget for making me aware of this! So for the rest of the week, I am planning meals and shopping from our pantry. I am trying to regroup and frame my attitude so that I am able to be creative with what we do have on hand. Except for possible buying meat at some point, everything else is going to revolve around what we already have. That said, we did opt for sub sandwiches out today since I was knee deep in cleaning. Hubby and I were going to go out later and get a coffee, but instead we made coffee at home and sat on the front steps talking and drinking the coffee. We saved gas and the $8-$10 we usually spend getting coffee out. It offset the subs a little, but we are going to be frugal for the rest the week and all of next week.


With the holidays coming up, I am trying to plan ahead on gift giving for friends and family members. The plan is to make pottery bowls for everyone and pack them with homemade candy. If I can make 8-10 bowls each week for the next month, everyone will be covered. We have a pretty large family on my side and a decent sized family on hubby's side, so I need to get started. These will be cereal bowl sized, so they can be pulled quickly. Candy is pretty easy to make. I take a weekend right before Christmas and spend it making several different types of candy. It is usually a pretty big hit. I am hoping giving everyone a bowl of their own will also be a hit.


How do you handle gifts for friends and family during the Christmas season? Do you opt for store bought or homemade gifts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When You Ask Boys To Smile for the Camera

THIS is what you get...



And THIS.....




And THIS...



These pictures are from earlier this summer, but they made me smile so I thought I'd share.Why is it that when you pull a camera out around adolescents, they turn into monkeys? The boy in the royal blue shirt is Jake, a friend of my boys. The other two are my boys. Jake lives in Wyoming since last year and was in town visiting his biological grandma (our "adopted Grandma"). The boys have grown up together since Jake was a baby, so it was pretty hard on the twins when he moved. Thankfully they are able to call each other. They had a great time playing, but it seems like it was all too short. Hopefully next year we can get to Wyoming to visit.


This has been a REALLY off kilter day. All last week I had nightmares about forgetting to pick someone up from somewhere. They were really making me upset and uncomfortable since I pride myself on not being "that kind of parent". Want to guess what I did today?!


Yep, forgot to pick up a kid.
Actually, I was only a 10 minutes late, but that was only because hubby called and hung up before I answered. I thought that was really odd, so I called him back and asked him why he only let it ring once. When he replied that he thought I'd be gone since I pick Mark up at this time........wanna know what I said before I slammed the phone and flew out of the house like I had a fire on my backside?


Didn't think so.


Then I tried to call hubby back. Twice. He didn't answer. I couldn't figure out why until he called me to remind me HE WAS IN CLASS. Mind you, he has had class on Monday and Wednesday for the past THREE MONTHS!!!!


This has not been a good day for me at all.


At least I do have dinner ready for them when they all get home from the high school robotics club (hubby is an adult mentor and the twins are club members). Since I have completely went over on what I had budgeted for food this month, I am making more of an effort to correct that from here on out. In the freezer we had a bag of diced potatoes. Combined with a can of Campbell's pepper jack cheese soup and a can of cream of chicken soup (do not use the Healthy Request style), and about a cup and a half (more or less to your taste) of shredded cheese, I made cheesy potatoes as a side dish. We'll have some chicken and fresh broccoli crowns (my kids hate cooked broccoli), and the frozen dinner roils that are thawing out to be cooked--and that is dinner. Easy, and frugal.
Part of the reason I am trying to make sure we get back on budget is the actual amount I discovered we are spending on food. I think I mentioned we are using a program called Pear budgeting that SimpleMom extolls--well, after a full month of making sure I enter EVERY receipt, I discovered we spend $300 more than I thought we were spending on groceries, and $150 more on eating out than I had ever imagined! Now I completely understand where the leaks are! BIG LEAKS! So the next month is going to focus on plugging the leaks. It may not happen overnight, but I am paying special attention to the holes now, so I'm sure we will conquer this monster!
I did spend part of the day baking ginger crinkle cookies --enough for the rest of the week, and I have a cream cheese poundcake in the oven as I type this. These poundcakes freeze really well, so I am going to make another one tomorrow to use up some cream cheese I've had in the fridge but haven't used. I need to use it while it is still good so it doesn't get wasted. Cream cheese is not cheap.
The rest of the week will focus on using what we have in the fridge and what we have on hand. I might have to get creative for one of the boys since he is a picky eater and doesn't like fish, cheese or about half a billion other foods. The rest of the family loves fish, which we just happen to have a lot of in the freezer, so it will just be one kid that is going to be a challenge to feed nutritiously.





Monday, October 20, 2008

Budgets and menus

Thought I'd share a picture from our trip to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska on Friday. The scenery was unlike anything I've seen. Very stark, but strikingly pretty at the same time.We went to the Brown Sheep Wool factory for a tour and to do a little shopping in their outlet store. I'm happy to say I actually spent less than I had anticipated, so I stayed within my budget for yarn. That is a big deal for me! I did get a lot of superwash wool for socks and mittens, then some regular sock yarn. The difference between regular and superwash is the fact that the superwash has been treated to allow you to wash and dry it without ruining it. If you wash regular wool, it shrinks and felts. Felting is great if that is what you are trying to do--for example felted bags and hats--but if you don't intend to shrink and felt, like a sweater that you spent lots of money on yarn and time--it can be flat out horrifying!! My oldest felted a 17" wide by 4 foot scarf down to 6"wide by 2.5 feet. At first he was going to toss it, but I am going to stitch the sides and use it for a knitting needle bag. Use up, make do, or do without....I'm working on the do without part.


One of the blogs that I have been following lately is Simple Mom. She had mentioned she keeps her budget online with Pear Budget. I gave the 30 day free trial a go and have since subscribed. At $3 a month, I have to say it is a bargain and an eye opener. Here is what it showed me:


The amount I THOUGHT we spent for groceries, eating out, entertainment and gas were completely different than what we actually spend.


I'd love to say it was LOWER than I had budgeted, but all the categories are higher. In the case of groceries, it is SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS higher than I had thought!! In the case of eating out, it is at least $150 more. All the little lunches through the drive thru and picking up little nibbles on the way to and from places adds up way too quickly!! I've included the times we just get a pop at Quik Trip in the figures since it is a small figure that is easy to overlook. After tallying all the small pop figures, it came out to more than I had figured in my head. Wow! I talked with the kids about the budget that I am keeping and was surprised that not only did they have a pretty good grasp on the concept, they suggested ways we can cut back.


Now I can see why we have more month left at the end of the money!


So here is what I am doing:


1. Going through my food cabinets and taking an actual inventory of what we have.


I have discovered we have several canned goods that have been hanging around and have not been used. For example, I have sauerkraut, several cans of beans (4 or 5 varieties), rice, canned pumpkin, cornbread mix and a ton of bread flour that have been in the cabinet a long time. So, the beans will be used for chili later this week to be served with either corn bread or hush puppies. The sauerkraut will be added to the slowcooker when I buy a pork loin this week. It imparts a nice flavor. Some people do not like sauerkraut--that is because it has been served straight from a can. If you add it to the meat as it is cooking, it absorbs that flavor and really mellows nicely. The pumpkin is going to become pumpkin bread and I'll add some dried cranberries to one loaf for pumpkin cranberry bread. These freeze well--if they aren't scarfed down immediately. The rice is going to be added to some soup I am making, also used as a side dish. We always have rice in the house, so extra is not uncommon...There are several other things that I will be utilizing in the cabinets. They have been pushed to the back and to be truthful, I forgot I had them. I also have some semolina flour I bought in bulk last month. I will use some of it for homemade pasta and then do an Internet search for recipes using semolina flour.


After I use up what we have in the cabinets, that will give me a better idea of what I need when I restock. I tend to buy way more than we really need. It is good to buy in bulk when things are a really good price--I do this often--but if you forget you have it and keep buying it, or don't use it at all, then it was not a bargain at all.


2. Making a menu and sticking to it. Tonight is going to be homemade pizza. We have tomato paste and sauce, Italian seasoning, garlic, mozzarella and peperoni in the house already. I'm making molasses crinkle cookies as soon as I finish this post. They are a good compliment to the pizza.Tomorrow I am using some of the beef broth from a roast I cooked as the base for a soup. We'll have that with crackers and a salad and fruit. Wednesday will be fish sticks and rice.Probably jello for dessert. We seemed to have a fair amount of that on hand for some reason.

Thursday will be leftover night with brownies. The rest of the menus for the week are unplanned at this point. I have a trip to Tulsa on Friday, so I am hoping to keep close to the budget this week since gas will be a consideration. Even though gas prices have dropped considerably, I am still in conserve mode. If we start relaxing our efforts to cut back on gas consumption, it will put us right back to $4 a gallon or more. I'm still bundling trips and cutting out others completely.


What do you have in your cabinets? Have you done and inventory? It's always good to have things stored for lean times, but keep an eye on their expiration dates and use them up. If you don't, it's money wasted.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blah, Blah Blah

This is what sunrise looks like at 10,000 feet from the window of a small plane.
UFO's!! Crop Circles!!

Nah, just fields from 10,000 feet up. The circles follow the path of the movable irrigation pipes.

This picture is at the Oregon Trail museum. We just drove to the entrance since we really didn't have time to walk or drive the trail. I'd like to take the kids back to run through it sometime. I think it would be interesting. The scenery was definitely unlike anything we have here in Kansas. Stark, but very pretty. I can definitely see a painting coming from these pictures.
We found the museum after we had visited the Brown Sheep Wool Factory, which was the main reason we were in this part of Nebraska. Surprisingly, I didn't buy as much yarn as I thought I would. I did pick up some superwash wool so I could make mittens and socks for my oldest son and his girlfriend. Superwash wool is wool that has received a special treatment that allows it to be washed and dried. As much as I would like to think son and girlfriend would faithfully hand wash anything I knit them, the reality is that they would forget. It is much easier to just plan accordingly.

On the homefront:

The boys and I were doing a little reorganizing around the house today and one of them said they needed a shelf for their bedroom. I'm not sure why, but I got the notion that we should look in the "still full to the ceiling from the move 1 yr. ago" garage.



Guess what.



We found the perfect shelf. Right there, in plain sight. It did entail a little bit of cleanup and a spider purging, but it worked perfectly.



Then I found a 2 shelf wire unit that would work perfectly in the laundry room. I've been contemplating getting a shelf in order to get the detergents and dryer sheets off the top of the dryer--and it turns out I already had it. Lesson learned. We do have a couple more bookshelves out there, but I'm not sure if they are going to be usable. Some of the shelves are warped. I might be able to use them in the guestroom that is going to double as my studio.

I know, long post..

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Road Trippin'

At 4:30 a.m tomorrow morning, hubby, a friend and I will be flying to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska to then get a rental car and go to Mitchell, Nebraska to tour the Brown Sheep Wool factory. And buy yarn.

Probably lots of yarn.

I have a budget in mind, so I am hoping to stick to it. The yarn is significantly cheaper than in the stores--you buy it by the pound. Yum. I am looking for yarn for Christmas gifts. A lot of my gifts are going to be knitted this year or baked.

Every time we fly, I start thinking about things we need to do. As odd as it sounds, little things like the fact we haven't made wills or given directives starts to nag me.

If something were to happen, do you have clear directives and a will?

We would want the boys to go to either Hubby's Mom or his sister since they both have very stable environments. My sister would also be a good choice, but I don't know if she would take on two more. You'd think after I took estate and probate law in college that I would have done this by now. So next week we are going to sit down and get everything written down. My oldest son is not from this marriage, but Hubby is the only Dad he's known, so we'd divide everything three ways. We need to get this in writing. One of the things I learned from probate law is the time to make your wishes known is before you are not around. It just causes too much trouble for people to guess your intentions. We have neglected that part of our finances. Everything else is getting lined out as far as the budget, now it is time to get the full package taken care of.

Something to think about--Are your wishes in writing?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Checking In


Here is a picture of a hot air balloon that flew right over the top of my car last summer. I love hot air balloons! Someday I might just have to join a ballooning club...Once I get over my FEAR OF HEIGHTS!!!


As much as I would love to say I followed a strict budget and got all my bills caught up and we will be sailing free for the rest of October...that hasn't quite happened.


What has happened is that I started using a budgeting program and have become painfully aware that I spend a really ridiculous amount of money on my knitting. While it is good to have a hobby and knitting produces wonderful functional objects such as socks, mittens, sweaters etc, I am buying entirely too much yarn each month and I already have a huge stash. I am basically insulating our poorhouse with wool if I don't stop this! I am pretty glad I started entering stuff on Pear budgeting (Thanks SimpleMom).


Hubby, a friend and I are flying to Mitchell, Nebraska in the middle of this month to tour the Brown Sheep yarn factory so I have planned to spend my yarn "budget" for the month there. I will hold off on anything else for most of the month to try to get us back on track. I have a ton of patterns and yarn for projects right here at home. I think I need to rearrange my closet to look like a retail store so it feels more like I really am shopping in my closet!


Speaking of closets: Tomorrow I am taking 10 minutes to do a quick purge of my clothing that is hanging in the closet. I have several things that are not my size or no longer any style I'd wear, yet there they hang, taking up physical and mental space.


What's up with that?


I am hoping to buy a bookshelf at Target tomorrow, but I think I might wait until Sunday to see if they go on sale. Our bedroom is big enough that I would love to have a reading/knitting corner. However since we don't really have it in the budget to buy comfy chairs, the seating part is going to have to be put on hold.


I noticed gas prices are going down. How has that affected your travel and errand running? I can't believe that $3.20 a gallon seems like "a bargain" to me! However it still has not come down to the price that I can afford to relax my spending in other areas. I am still bundling errands and trying to make do, use it up, or do without for most stuff--and I will be attempting to use that philosophy with my hobby stuff also...I do wish riding a scooter didn't entail subjecting yourself to drivers who don't like to share the road. America needs to start spending a little more to support things like motorcycle/scooter/bike lanes so those who are not on 4 wheels and do not like feeling like sitting ducks can travel around in a safe fashion. We wouldn't be able to scooter year round here in Kansas because of the ice and snow, but even 6 months of using a lower gas consuming mode of transportation would help.


Pear budgeting has made me aware that we also go pretty far over on the food budget too. I had a rough estimate of how much I thought I spent on groceries, but it turns out that amount is pretty low. We also waste too much food. Leftovers go to the fridge and die a slow death. I am going to have a leftover buffet meal once a week where we have leftovers and a really good homemade dessert to round it out.


A friend is currently in the beginning stages of a divorce that promises to be pretty tense as far as what her income ends up being. I have been running around helping her find rental houses and have come to the realization that anyone on a fixed budget is pretty limited in where they can find decent housing. I'm talking about bare bones, basic housing in a safe neighborhood. She is going from a really large income and being a stay at home wife (kids are 22 and 24 years old, so not an issue) to not even a 1/8 of the income she is used to. We are looking for all the possible ways to have frugal fun since every cent she has will be plowed into rent and basic expenses. I told her we'll take advantage of places to go where we can just sit and knit or crochet. Border's bookstore is going to be our haven, I'm sure. Plus I figure she can hang out at my house and I'll make coffee and goodies just like Starbucks--my weakness--but without the large cost. I already buy my coffee from a local roaster and grind the beans myself. It is much cheaper and tastes SO much better! I'll have to pull out my numerous recipe books and make treats.
Well, I'd better sign off. It is 3 a.m...I couldn't sleep and thought I'd post a blurb since it has been a while.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A little progress...

Last night, I was sitting in our family room contemplating the huge task of cleaning the family room. We moved in a year ago and there were boxes and other things still sitting where they landed. It has bugged me for quite a few months, but I just haven't had the energy to get anything done.

I got a bag and started slowly working through some of the piles and one of my son came in and just started helping...without me even saying anything.

It took us over an hour, and we didn't get all of the room done, but we cleared a very large area, vacuumed up enough animal hair and dust bunnies to build a small country, and filled two trash bags. Some of it was boxes and packaging, but a lot of it was stuff--papers I was holding on to "just in case". It really felt good to finally have some visual clutter removed.

Thursday night I am going to tackle the other half of the family room and then start getting the library in order. My goal before the month ends is to get the master bedroom tackled. That is going to be a large job...I have a lot of stuff still in boxes! However, after seeing how good the family room is looking, I am motivated.

I'd take a before and after picture, but I'm pretty embarrassed at how bad the house really is...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pear Budget---soooooo easy!

After perusing Simple Mom's blog and reading about how she uses Pear budgeting software, I decided to give it a try. I was trying to set up a spreadsheet on Excel myself, but this was soooo easy that I gave up on the Excel spreadsheet. Pear gives you a 30 day free trial, but I can already tell I am going to pay the $3 a month to continue using this. It really is worth every penny to not have to set up the tables. You just plug in the info into the categories determined by you and it is ready to go. I love it that it tells me how much I need to put aside each month for expenses that just happen once a year!

The only uncomfortable thing about this software is the fact it lets me see exactly how much I have spent so far on things like yarn,books and stuff I thought I was doing better on(I made a category on my chart just for these). Let's just say all the little "couple dollar" receipts added up to quite a large sum. Much larger than what I had imagined and definitely more than what I would have budgeted. It definitely explains why we have a lot more month left at the end of the money!!

I must say, when it is sitting right there staring you in the face, it is pretty uncomfortable! However, I now know where the leaks are and will spend the rest of the month getting back on track. I really don't think it would have been so apparent on any other method I could have created. I am not being payed to hawk this program, really! I like it that much!!!

All said, the rest of the month, the focus is going to be catching up, cooking at home, being careful with car mileage (gas was another big expense, no surprise), and trying to keep the balance in mind before I whip out my debit card.

I am going to be thumbing through one of my once a month cookbooks and putting together a shopping list so I can start using some of the recipes. One of my kids is a picky eater, but a lot of the recipes I am going to try will probably pass his "high standards".

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday already?!

This week has flown by!

I am hanging out before I head off to the yarn shop where I help out. I will be there for the larger part of the day helping out, then I have a mittens class from 6-8 p.m.

It is going to be a full day!

I am looking forward to the mittens class. Even though I have been working on a pair of fiddlehead mittens, I have never done a thumb---you'll notice in my post about the fiddlehead mittens that they do not have thumbs yet--so this will be a good opportunity to learn. I am working on the mate to the fiddlehead I posted about earlier, but I also have a quickie hat on my needles since I like to have something easy and mindless to carry with me to appointments. The fiddleheads require pretty good concentration, so they are my "home knitting" project. Since winter is right around the corner, I want to learn to make a pair of simple and basic mittens so I can have several pairs for the glove/hat basket by the front door. A really basic pair of mittens works up quickly and I won't freak out if they go missing, as gloves tend to do...

Any plans for the weekend? I have a drawing class at a local art museum that I am pretty excited about. I have tried to take this class a couple times but have had such a schedule conflict that it never panned out. Hubby is picking the kids up from their Saturday football practice, so there isn't anything that is causing a schedule conflict this time. As parents know, when kids schedules conflict with parent schedules, the parent activities will be the first to go...Anyway, I want to take this drawing class to refresh my skills and to work towards taking an oil painting and a print making class at the same facility. I already do pottery, but would like to be able to have stuff I paint on my walls. It just makes it more personal, don't you think?

On the drive home from my son's pottery class last night, there was a smell in the air that reminded me that Fall is right on us and winter is just hanging out around the corner. We had such a mild summer, I am hoping that doesn't mean we are going to have a crazy winter. I like snow, which we got plenty of last winter, but I do not like ice, which we also get every year to varying degrees. I tend to stay home a lot in the winter and just venture out when it is absolutely necessary, like for classes, grocery shopping or to pick kids up from school. I tend to spend a lot of time on the Internet when I'm at home. This season I am going to work on making sure I work on the decor of the house and the maintenance instead of hanging out in cyberspace! Especially any site that might encourage pulling out the credit card

I am trying to do a short run from a one a month cooking cookbook I got recently. I figured I would prepare single meal sized batches so I can make sure my family likes the entree before making it in bulk and then ending up wasting it. The good thing about bulk cooking is that it makes meal times pretty mindless--you just pull something out that morning to thaw and pop it in the oven, add sides, and you're done. I have a friend that will be going through a divorce pretty soon and is going to be cutting her income into a tiny fragment of what she is used to living on, so it would be nice if I could have a couple spare meals to take to her weekly to help her out a bit while she is transitioning.

We have talked about the fact that once her divorce goes through, we will be creative in our get-togethers and try to find all the free things to do in the city or just get together and read at the bookstore and knit/crochet. It will be a good opportunity for me to see how creative I can be at finding cheap or free entertainment for us. There are lots of things to do around the city, we just have to search these out a little. Once a month, the city has Final Fridays. It is an art event where several downtown businesses and galleries stay open late and have varied exhibits from artists. There is a trolley that runs around town and several other things going on. We have never gone to one before--this is a good time to start.

I guess I'd better sign off and get ready to head to the yarn shop. I'll have pictures later, I'm sure!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Trying to Organize for the Winter

This week has been a flurry of planning here at my house. I several things this weekend, some good-some not so good:


1: Our house is way out of control!


There is too much clutter and too much stuff. Paper and unread mail is taking a big chunk out of our visual space.

I am slowly working towards getting this under control. I sat down with a large garbage bag and did a little purge. However, I am going to have to go back through and get serious. We moved to a bigger house last year and slowly all surfaces and crevices are being filled. I realize I tend to save things for "just in case".

That has to stop.



2. Our budget is way out of control.


Actually, I realized that we have no budget that we are working from.

It is basically if we want/need it, I buy it. Do I need to tell you what that does to any possible money for savings? So starting this week I have set up a budget on Excel. It is a preliminary one and I'm sure I will be tweaking it as time goes along.


Would you be shocked to know that this a totally new concept for me? My parents never discussed anything related to money, so I am feeling my way along on this. I am going to make sure my boys are taught to budget. The oldest one is out on his own and not doing to well at the budgeting, so I need to teach the two youngest better obviously.

Two excellent home management blogs that I find myself going back to time and time again are
Small Notebook and Simple Mom. You will love these sights, I promise. I am using tips and charts from both to get my house under control finally.


3. Time Management
I tend to take on a lot of projects, then get overwhelmed and unable to accomplish any of them.


I am going to cut down on a lot of the busyness that I have going on so that I can get the house in shape. Part of the worksheets on Simple Mom is a daily docket and a chore list. I love these sheets!!! I made copies (she does give permission for personal use) and plan to start using them tomorrow. It is really cool to have a list like this already made up since I never remember a lot of this...It definitely does wonders when all you have to do is cross something off and go to the next step without getting bogged down in actually making list.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Crazy Schedules



Above are some of the projects I have worked on over the past couple months. As you can see on the mitten, I am still working on the thumb and putting in a lining. I have cast on the mate to it and will probably do the thumb and lining when I get to that point on the mate.




The jewelry is something I love doing too. I bought the sterling wire and a book titled Perfect Match that showed me how to do some of the hand formed ones in the picture. It is an extremely satisfying craft. In laying these out, I realized one of the butterfly earrings has gone AWOL....time to send out a search party...




As the Fall season arrives and school is in full swing for my boys, I have come to realize I am keeping a pretty crazy schedule. Here are some things from my weekly schedule:

Monday: Football games for my boys at 4:30
Hubby has class until 9pm

Tuesday: I am at Twist yarn shop helping out from 10 a.m until 2p.m
2:30- 4:30 pottery class for me
6:00 pick kids up from football practice

Wednesday: I help out at another friend's yarn shop in Newton until 1:30, pick one son up from school at 2:50
Take son to physical therapy appointment at 4:30
Pick other son up from football practice 6 p.m
one son has pottery class from 7-9p.m
Hubby has class until 9p.m

Thursday:
Help at first yarn shop again until 4p.m
pick kids up at 6 p.m from football

Friday:
My free day...sigh...
Pick kids up from football practice if they have it.
Kids have to go to JV football games as per coach--to observe the plays--hubby will have to handle this--one day of football is all I can handle.
Every other week hubby and I go out to dinner with our dinner group...

Saturday:
kids football practice 7 a.m -10:a.m (hubby picks kids up)
9 a.m to 11:00 my art class

Sunday:
Nervous breakdown? Hmmm I think I could schedule that in on this day...

Okay--something has to give. And I didn't add in the other "one time things" that are happening. The past couple nights, my dreams have consisted of scenarios where I am constantly missing buses, appointments. etc.

Talk about dreams trying to tell you something!

I am probably going to have to cut down Tuesday/Thursday to just Thursdays until I get a handle on the schedule and the chaos. I love being at both shops so I will continue on day at each--going there really feeds my soul, but I do need to cut down one day from the Wichita store. I also need to keep a calendar going so I can get rid of this "Am I forgetting something? " feeling that is causing me a great deal of anxiety. The football and hubby's school schedule are pretty set in stone, so I need to make sure I am giving myself mental breathing space between all the running and getting HOME things done--which is really not going so well and may be the reason I am stressing...

ARGGGG!

On the bright side--I have been pretty disciplined and have not bought a ton of yarn and other knitting related things in the past week. This may not sound big, but it is for me. I always buy something...even if it is a skein or two of yarn. I have been able to remind myself that I already have yarn at home. I do have a mittens class coming up this week, but I already have the yarn and needles for it, thankfully!

Later addition to this post:

I realize the above post sounds like a whole lotta whinin'... sorry.

However, in typing that out, I realized that I really am overloaded. Some of it can be helped, some of it can't (like kids and hubby schedules). I am just going to have to give a serious look at all my activities and see what can be cut out, even if on a temporary basis. The dreams I'm having about missing important appointments, buses, events is a sure sign my mind is trying to give me a hint that it is all too much.

I have a habit of taking on too much and trying to make it all fit. That is part of the reason my house looks the way it does.

I did find an excellent tool over at Simple Mom's blog and I intend to put it into use this week. I will be getting a binder and running off the sheets tonight so I can start using this tool. I love that she has a grocery list, chore list and a couple other things that you can also download for free from her sight.

Another sight I love is Small Notebook. She has excellent ideas on keeping your house in order and just making yourself DO the work. I really enjoyed her posts about laundry and getting it done and organized. I am going to put some of her suggestions and insights to use this week. I realized we have a ton of clothes that are not really fitting anyone, but somehow they keep getting put in the laundry, washed, folded and then redistributed. Then they end up in the laundry again because someone can't wear it, but doesn't toss it. What's up with that? Next weekend, I am going to make the boys drag everything out of their closets and drawers so we can cull the herd! Then I will do that with my clothes on Monday. I realized I have clothes in my closet that I haven't worn since before the twins were born. Did I mention the twins are almost 15 years old?!! Come on!!! What's up with that?!



Check out both of them in my sidebar of links.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Things to be done....

It has occurred to me that lately I have been doing a lot of stuff that is pretty darn counterproductive to my goals to spend less money. Here is but a partial list:

1 & 2: Not eating/exercising properly. Not sleeping properly.

Unfortunately I am no longer at the age where what I eat and drink rolls off and doesn't effect my health. I have realized lately--after two painful kidney stones and some other health issues that have never been a problem before--that my diet and exercise program is very sad.

When I was younger, I could eat any amount of sugar and stay up until the wee hours of the morning and just shake it off before heading off to the next adventure. Lately, I spend the whole day feeling like a Mack truck has parked on my body.

Not good.

So, starting tomorrow morning, I am going to take baby steps and get at least 30 minutes of walking done. This will be a small beginning. I'm not in good shape, so starting slow means I will not get worn out and drop it. We have a YMCA family membership that we pay for every month, but I have just not used it very much since I have "been so busy".

30 minutes.

I can manage that to start...I am going to force myself to get into bed before 11:00. 10:00 would be optimal and the most realistic, so that is my goal. I have a problem with wandering the house at all hours of the night, so this will be hard to start. I'm sure it will get better once it is a habit.

Realistically, having better sleep and exercise habits will help me immediately and in the long run. I have noticed that I am just not as flexible and this has caused problems with my confidence. Taking care of these will cost me a lot less money in the long run!

3. Not taking care of some dental issues.
We have excellent dental insurance, so this is just being stupid on my part!

4. Browsing in shops/putting stuff aside when yarn shipments come in at the shop.
If I were the kind of person who could resist "a great bargain", this wouldn't be an issue.

I'm not.

I have bought a ton of yarn and other things in the last month by getting wrapped up in the new yarn I unpack and price at the shop. It's not like I don't have enough yarn to keep me busy for the next YEAR!!! With that said, I did manage to keep from buying some more sock yarn that we got in last week. It is absolutely gorgeous and I want it.

BAD.

But I managed to talk myself out of it by reminding myself that I have 2 projects on the needles and a closet full of yarn for other projects. Last week I shopped entirely too much at thrift stores. While I did find things that I am going to use and were an awesome deal, I probably should have abstained from doing it all at on one pay period...


We are getting out deck rebuilt this week so I will have to be home for an extended period of time. This will be good since it will force me to focus on getting the house in order. I did start packing up my oldest son's room so we can start working towards making it a guest bedroom and a craft room for me. Tomorrow I will pack more. I think I have put this off for the past YEAR because I had a really hard time with him leaving the nest. Time to make it into a functional room. I need to get it cleaned out so I can get the walls painted. Preferably this week....It will be nice to have the deck rebuilt. That has been a looming project for the past year. We already paid for the work last year when we bought the house, we just had to tell our builder friend when we were ready to have the work done. A year passes so quickly!! They start work on it Thursday.

Some upcoming things I am excited about:

Next Saturday I start a drawing class at one of the art museums here in Wichita. I used to draw all the time and had some really good things done. I put it away when my oldest son was born and fell out of practice. This class is a beginner's class, so it will allow me to brush up on the basics and give me a new starting point. I want to take oil painting classes and printmaking classes later, so I can paint things for my house. I am really looking forward to the class...

In October a friend and I are going to take a cake decorating class. She is a member of an organization that has grant money for her and a friend to take a class together, so we are taking this class. The grant also covers class supplies, so this is something we can do together for no cost. I have taken cake decorating classes clear up to the wedding cake classes, but that was over 7 years ago and I am quite rusty now. Taking a cake decorating class is a great way to save money. I was able to make quite beautiful birthday cakes, cupcakes and cookies for a fraction of the cost of a store bought cake. It was really quite fun.


Some things I've been thinking about lately:

I have been thinking about how little we have had family get togethers. My immediate family lives in Oklahoma and everyone now lives in the same town with the exception of us. My other relatives are in Maryland, with an aunt in Arkansas. The boys have never met any of their Yankee relatives. Sad...We are only a two hour drive away from Oklahoma and yet we have been too busy to get back. My son is living 7 hours away in Iowa and we have not gone to visit.

This will change.

I am planning to quit making excuses and rent a car for the drive to Iowa before winter gets here. Plus, I would like to get together with family in Oklahoma at least once a month, or at least every other month. The last time my boys and their cousins were together, they had a lot of fun.

Time to really take stock in what is immediately a blessing for me and work on things that need attention...

I know...blah, blah, blah....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blah, Blah Blah

Here is a little picture of a washcloth that I am knitting for a future spa gift basket that I will be making for Christmas. A little more about that farther in today's post.
I am crazy about the texture in this stitch!!


To everything there is a season...

And I seem to be constantly running at least one behind.

At the beginning of summer, actually at the first inkling of warm weather this Spring, I made quite a list of things I wanted to accomplish outside and inside. How'd I do?

Terrible.

The list included:

1. Planting a large garden so we could grow our own veggies and fruit.

This did not happen at all. I guess I got lazy and just put it aside. I am mad at myself now since I could be canning tomatoes in order to have fresh salsa and spaghetti sauce for the winter and without all the high fructose corn syrup and other additives the food companies like to slip in...


2. Plant a pear and an apple tree in the backyard for future fruit.

We still have time to do this one since it is still warm. I bought a cherry tree this time last year and saved a substantial amount over the beginning of summer cost. I just mulch the tree extra heavy for the winter freeze and make sure I keep it watered and fertilized right up until the time it gets cold enough for the tree to go dormant. We should have cherries next year. I am going to hit the garden centers this weekend to find some dwarf trees. I would also like to find a dwarf peach tree since I love going to the U pick peach orchard but haven't had time to get there this year.


3. Get the house in order and the garage completely cleaned out.

I will be getting that one more in line as the weeks progress. The kids are back in school so I am trying to get myself focused and motivated. It would be great to actually be able to park cars in the 2 car garage! Especially when it hails, as it did several times this Spring.

Most of my major goals had to do with home related stuff, but there were a couple other things I had thought about doing:

1. Learn to weave.

I already spin, so weaving seemed like a good idea. However, right now I think I am going to take a drawing class as a means to express my need create. Not only does drawing require less space, it is portable and the skills I learn will allow me to make artwork for my walls as I see fit. I took art in college. I started out as an art major, but becoming a single parent focused me on another major--sometimes I regret it. But I have gotten rusty on the foundations like perspective and composition. There is an awesome art center here in town that offers drawing classes. They are pricey, but the instructor is good, so that offsets the cost. I would still like to learn to weave, but I don't have the money or space for a loom setup, so that may have to be put on the back burner for now. I was seriously considering taking both classes, but I have recognized that I have a BAD habit of spreading myself thin and need to monitor that better. Cute man is working on his masters degree and working full time, the kids are in sports and other activities, one son and I are continuing in pottery classes, so I have reached capacity on things/activities to do away from the house.

2. Use up my yarn stash and get more stuff knitted for the Christmas season for gifts.

I have fallen down on this one since I have had several health issues going on and just haven't sat down and focused on accomplishing anything. I realize that I tend to have SEVERAL projects going at all times and it takes forever to get one thing finished. I am only going to work on two detailed projects at a time. Right now I have a lace panel and a pair of Norwegian mittens on the needle (pics later, I promise!). Everything else is going to be taken apart and the wool re-balled until I get these two projects completed. I am keeping one washcloth project on the needles since a washcloth is portable and finishes quickly. I bought a couple Barbara Walker stitch dictionaries this summer and have been trying different stitch pattens out of those. The books were pricey, but for the breadth of pattens and the details in the instructions, they were worth every penny! I am seriously considering working towards getting the other 2 books to complete the set as finances allow. Ideally I would like to make several washcloths and some handmade soap this season so I can make gift "baskets" out of pottery. I am going to make the baskets in the upcoming month so we have that portion of the gift completed, either homemade or store bought (as time permits) soap and the washcloths to round out the gift baskets. You see the beginning of the first washcloth in the picture above. I am going to wrap 3 or 4 washcloths with a bar of specialty soap. I know how to make soap, but will do this only if time permits -- it does take 6 weeks to cure soap, so I have a time limit...

A friend mentioned she wanted to take cake decorating classes and I found a cake supply store in Wichita that has formal classes. They don't start until September, which is good. I took cake decorating classes a while back and it saved big bucks over buying a store decorated cakes (plus it tasted much better), but I need a refresher since it has been so long. This will be a great opportunity to refresh my skills and hang out with my friend. I have done classes clear up to the wedding cake classes, but definitely need to refresh my flower skills. I loved being able to make all the cakes for family functions and parties--when you do it yourself, you can make it much more elaborate and festive than when a stranger does it.

I know, quite a lengthy post about trivial stuff. But it is the basis for my goal of giving homemade this Christmas.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Iced coffee at home on the cheap!

I love coffee.

Freshly ground from whole bean coffee.

I love it so much, I invested in a pretty darn good Krups burr grinder ($50 buck from Amazon,com) a couple years ago and have never regretted the outlay of cash. As a matter of fact, I think it was the best $50 bucks I've spent. The money saved by buying good beans from a local roaster over the cost of stopping by Starbucks from time to time to feed my addiction (what else can you call that "gotta have coffee craving" you get in the morning?) has really been substantial.

As much as I love hot coffee on cold days, I have to admit that often I waited and drank my coffee when it was lukewarm, or completely cool. I had never tried cold brewed coffee or had an iced coffee until a couple weeks ago. I splurged at Border's bookstore and bought a combo lunch that included a medium coffee drink. Since it was over 95 degrees outside, iced coffee sounded interesting. Not only was it interesting, it was flat out fantastic!!

I wanted to be able to recreate that wonderful taste at home, the way I did with hot brewed coffee. Border's sells a cold brew carafe system---but at around $30, it was a little out of the ideal price for me. Remember, it's all about being able to live rich on the cheap! Last night, I had a really bad craving for iced coffee. Driving across town would have made that the most expensive cup of iced coffee in town! So, I did a little research and found one of the most informative websites (I need Coffee. com) , on making coffee that I have ever seen. I was going to head off to the Asian grocery store this morning to get a Vietnamese coffee filter to strain the coffee when I realized that the gold fine mesh filter that I bought for my coffee machine might just do the trick. Guess what? It was perfect!

So, I followed the instructions and made an awesome jar of cold brewed coffee concentrate (I even used a canning jar that I recycled from a previous salsa purchase!)!

Lesson here? If there is some type of food/beverage that you are obsessing about, do a little Internet research. You might have to tweak recipes or try several different ones, but I'd be willing to bet you can make it at home for pennies on the dollar. Or in my case, pretty close to free since I had everything right here at home.

The only thing that I plan to do for future glasses is to make a pretty stout simple syrup from the turbino sugar that I love so much so that it is already dissolved and mixes easily in the cold coffee. After that, milk or a little half and half is all that is needed. I might experiment and use a little vanilla in the simple syrup, but other than that I love the idea of making iced coffee at home so inexpensively! I have a bottle of coffee concentrate in the fridge as I type, ready for whenever I MUST have more!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Goals for the Week

This weekend has pretty much been a wash out as far as getting anything accomplished towards the house.

I did manage to get caught up on sleep, so that should not be an issue. I realize my house is really in need of a good cleaning and organizing. Badly. It seems that I always have good intentions, then get overwhelmed with the tasks. So this week I am going to work on one room--the library, then the family room once that is finished. By giving myself 3 days per room and only doing one room from top to bottom (this includes hanging new curtains and all pictures and wall art that hasn't been properly hung) , I am hoping it won't seem so overwhelming. After that, I will take 3 days for the master bedroom. we have put a lot of unopened boxes in this room and need to do some major emptying. This will include getting the master closet and the master bathroom cleaned through and organized. I have clothes on hangers that I can honestly say I have not worn since before the twins were born. They turn 14 this year!! Why are they still on hangers taking up precious space?!

At some point this weekend, I want to have a friend help me pick up the freezer so we can get it plugged in and cooled down. Pretty sad to be excited about getting a freezer, but this should make it easier for me to budget and plan meals. I think the saving should be substantial.

Even though gas prices are falling, I am still looking for major ways to conserve and cut back. Actually I am trying to conserve and cut back in every section, not just gas. I've done pretty well at staying out of stores, but there have been a couple slips that drain the budget, so my goal is to completely stay away from Wal-mart and Target. I guess I also have to work on staying away from Amazon too. It is too easy to hit the BUY button.

I am getting better at not buying a skein or three of yarn ever time I got to the yarn store, so that is getting better. I took a mini inventory of all the yarn I do have and can honestly say I have enough to keep me busy for the next season. I usually do a bit more knitting in the colder seasons, so my goal is to burn through my stash. I am working on some really pretty Norwegian mittens at the moment and will need a soft yarn to line the inside with, so I am not ruling out buying more yarn just for that purpose, but just for the linings since I don't have anything else that will work. I have enough yarn left over from these mittens and enough of the same kind of yarn in my stash to make several more pairs--which will keep me busy. The stranded color work on these mittens is easy enough that I don't get frustrated, but complicated enough to make me pay attention. I'll have to post pictures of them later this week, once I get a little farther on them. I've just got half of the first one done right now, so I do want to get far enough so you can tell what you are looking at.