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.