Thursday, April 30, 2009

Am I Saving Money or Spending Money? You Be The Judge

In this economic climate, most of us are looking for ways to save money, although I will admit that I’ve always tried to save money. Maybe it’s because I’m cheap. My husband would say that I spend a lot, but what I buy I buy mostly on sale or on clearance when I see it and then put it away for birthdays or Christmas. Our basement is chock-full of sale and clearance buys that I’ve stocked away for when I need it.

The down side of that is that sometimes I can’t find what I know I’ve bought. Or I forget what I’ve bought and instead of looking at my stash go out and buy something else that is not on sale.

But most of the time it does work well. I’m still reaping the rewards of buying cheap several years ago and storing toys for years. My oldest daughter just got her bigger bike that we’ve stored in our basement for years. It was a steal at $15, brand new. Although not as great a bike buy as the bike my son currently rides. I got it at Toys ‘R Us several years ago when they were going to be consolidating their stores with their Babies ‘R Us stores. They had a lot of stuff 90 % off. I spent many hours scouring the shelves for deals. K’s bike was fully assembled and I bought it for $5.99. Seriously! A $60 bike for $6! Those were the days my friends. I still have heavenly dreams about the deals I found there.

I’ve also tried to clip coupons. I will admit I’m pretty successful at finding the coupons and clipping them out. The part I really need to work on is the redeeming of those coupons! They sit in my purse until I clean out all the papers some months later and I find approximately 14 expired coupons. Sigh.

I attempt to plan menus at least one week in advance…sometimes up to three weeks in advance. This usually cuts down on the amount of groceries I buy since I’m not just randomly buying things in hopes that we’ll be able to make a meal of it.

We eat a lot of generic or store brand foods. In most cases we’ve found they taste just as good if not better than the national brands. Of course there are exceptions in which case I know to never buy that again and stick with the national brand!

We get take-out once a week if that. I can’t tell you the last time we actually ate at a restaurant as a family. It may have been when the baby was baptized. The truth is it’s not healthy to eat out in most cases and I’m the first to admit when I go out to eat I’ll choose probably the highest calorie item on the menu because I’m splurging. Eating out is expensive too. I look at menu prices and think I could buy a whole roast for our entire family for that money! I’m a total buzz-kill.

We rarely use stamps anymore; instead we use the Internet bill pay offered by our bank. Before the price of stamps goes up each time, I buy a bunch of those forever stamps at the lower price and they hold us for quite a while. I love it when stores offer online rebate redemption. I hate it when they don’t because the stamp cuts into my rebate.

I watch the gas prices and if I can wait a day or two to see if the price lowers I do. I try to fill my tank in the morning when the air temperature is cooler because I read somewhere that when the air temperature is warmer you don’t get as much gas for your money because the gas expands or something like that. Don’t ask me to explain science-sounding things! It seemed to be a valid argument to me at the time.

I have very, very rarely bought any item of clothing when it was not on sale. I prefer to buy things on clearance. I have bought items for my kids several sizes larger than they are currently. But how could I pass up $5 Levis just because my daughter isn’t a size 10 yet?

So tell me, am I sick or do other people do this type of thing? How are you saving money these days?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mommy Sick Days

I was supposed to write for Midwest Parents yesterday, and I apologize to my co-writers for missing the assignment. I have an excuse, but you'll have to read to the end to get to it.

Let me start by saying we were blessed with a healthy winter. Once my son got out of the hospital with pneumonia on Halloween, we didn't face any illnesses in the family except for a 12-hour bug on Christmas Day in a hotel in Pennsylvania that ran its course and then ran away. While the rest of the community was sniffling and sneezing and coughing, we somehow remained unscathed.

Until last weekend. It all started with a sore throat on Sunday, and by Monday I was sick. I didn't have a fever, so I suppose it wasn't really flu, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. Since mommies don't get sick days, I did the next best thing: curled up on the couch and let the girls watch TV most of the day, and forced my 5-year-old to nap with me after lunch before returning to the TV. It's not the best plan, but what else is a sick mommy to do?

Tuesday I moved from the sofa occasionally, and by Wednesday I felt well enough for a quick run to town for some essentials. My coughing hadn't subsided completely, but I was beginning to feel human again.

Meanwhile, my desk and the dishes and the laundry were piling up because I'd ignored them for three days.

By the weekend, I thought I was in the clear, so I planned a shopping trip for Monday, ironically to stock up on some supplies in case this swine flu takes off and I begin to avoid public places. (This shopping trip was apparently doomed from the start, because I picked St. Cloud (80 miles) over Mankato (50 miles) and Eden Prairie (60 miles) because it had the trifecta of stores that I needed. Only problem is that one of the stores closed about six months ago. Oops.)

But I digress. As I was shopping with the girls, I had a strange feeling. Breathe in. Ouch! Cough cough. Breathe in. Ouch. Breathe out. Breathe in. Ouch. And so on. Other than this hurts-when-breathing thing, I felt pretty much ok.

Partly because I had only two children in tow, which is Monday-specific, and partly because we've half-lived at the clinic for the past eight years and I know all the questions they're going to ask, I figured it was time to see the doctor. Our local clinic fit me in as soon as I could get there.

The answer was what I'd half-expected: pneumonia. Not a bad case, but not go-away-you're-imagining-things either. So I have medications and a lot of people telling to to be sure to get a lot of rest.

Including my mom, who said: "Is someone taking the kids so you can get some rest?"

Yeah, right. She must have forgotten that mommies don't get sick days, at least not if their own mommies live six hours away.

But I did put Hubby in charge of bedtime and settled in early with my codeine-laced cough syrup, instead of writing my post last night.

I hope you'll forgive me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Middle School Challenge: Honors Classes?

It’s finally spring and this year, for us, that means lacrosse, soccer, soccer, and yes, one more time, soccer. I realize that I have only 3 children, and that 4 sports means I am going against a personal belief that children should play one sport per season. But that conversation is long and convoluted and we can discuss it another time.

In addition to the sports frenzy, it’s also the time of year when kids heading to middle school take tests for next year’s “challenge” classes, our district’s designation for honors classes during the middle school years. Conveniently, this testing coincides with the time of year when the sun hangs low in the sky well beyond bedtime, tricking children into believing that the school year is already over.

Last spring, SusieJ wrote a convincing post about not taking honors classes. Her son, as I recall, was nominated for honors math but took a look at the additional homework requirements and thought the better of it.

My son, hmmm…I’m waiting to see what decision he’ll make. I worry that he’s overly enticed by the “brand,” by the status, by the elitism, really, that honors classes proffer. It’s not that he thinks he’s too smart for the regular classes, not at all. It’s simply another one of those middle school identifiers: Which soccer team do you play for? Where do you sit at lunch? Which challenge class(es) are you taking?

It’s a quandary, though, because by all means he should take some challenge classes. The past two years have been a bit too enjoyable in the classroom, because it’s come a bit too easily. It’s one thing to skate through upper elementary; it’s an entirely different manner to head off to high school unprepared for the rigors of college prep. He’s ready for some challenge.

The question, though, is which one(s) and how many. My son enjoys learning. He also enjoys soccer, football, basketball, hanging out with friends, reading, and playing with his brothers. He most certainly does not enjoy mounds of homework. I'm fairly certain he's not wired to have 2-3 hours of homework every night. I mean, really, who is?

And so as the flowers push through the ground and the days grow longer, as they alternate between rain and sun, we run from event to event, practice to practice, game to game, and contemplate the year to come. No matter which choice he makes, it will be a year of growth, don’t you think?

photo credits: psmithy and me

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Does A Vegetable Garden Really Save You Money?

The money I'm spending for my vegetable garden is reaching astronomical proportions. Or is it? Will I recover the costs once the harvests start rolling in?
The seeds I ordered from Seeds of Change tacked on over $26.00 in shipping charges alone. Because many of their seeds are not available locally, I had no choice but to order them; plus Seeds of Change does important work in preserving our heirloom seeds, and our food supply, and I feel it's important to support the company. Here's my latest order:

Shipping: 4.75
Total: 12.09

Shipping: 9.14
Total $: 43.81

Shipping: 12.96
Total $: 18.54
Order Recap:
Total Product $: 47.59
Net Product$: 47.59
Sales Tax: 0.00
Shipping: 26.85
Grand Total: 74.44

In addition, I have bought seeds packets at my grocery store:

Bush Sugar Baby Watermelon: $2.85
Watermelon Congo: (Just in case the sugar babies fall through) $2.85
Nasturtium: $1.69
Mesclun: $1.69
Mesclun, Green party mix: $2.19
Microgreens $1.89
Radish Seeds: $2.30
Carrot Seeds: $2.50
Free seeds, from last year include Jack and the Beanstalk, Beefsteak Tomatoes, pumpkins, green beans and more Nasturtiums.

Total: $13.16
So far, the total for seeds is: $$92.40

This is a one-time investment, as next year, the compost I've made will eliminate the need to purchase good quality top soil: Total price $75.00

Weed Barrier:
A luxury, yes, but there will be weeks when I will be hundreds of miles away from the garden, so it must remain low-maintenance: $50.00 The label gives it a 10-year guarantee, so I expect to re-use the garden.

This brings my total so far to: $217.40. This figure does not include the stakes used to tie the beans for the fort, fertilizer, and chicken wire and Irish Spring soap that will be used later to deter pests and deer. Most of those items are already in the gargage left over from last year.

Next year, my costs will be lower, as in addition to the soil, many of the seeds bought this year will have left over seeds that I can store in the freezer and re-use next year.

At this point, who knows what the yield will be, but if we look at last year's results from the Get Rich Slowly blog, they showed a $600 profit from crop yield, against a $300 investment in the garden. I can only hope for similar results, and I'll try to count the produce as it leaves the garden, and compare that to the prices at the store. Of course, there are the year-round benefits, as we are still eating the green beans in the freezer harvested from last year's garden.

Still, who's to say what plant will actually make it? Farmers know well that the wrong weather conditions can destroy a crop. Last year's garden only produced two tomatoes for all of my efforts. Chipmunks were the main reason, as well as cool temperatures. This year, I'm moving the tomatoes to a hotter spot, and more chicken wire for the chipmunks.

I've managed to siphon down the work of garden so that the yucky stuff is gone: weed barriers have made weeding nonexistent, and newspapers eliminate the need to dig. But more important than the labor and the cost savings is the taste and convenience. Fresh snow peas, a salad waiting for you outside your door, and, hopefully, a fresh grown tomato, feeds the senses like nothing else.

Monday, April 13, 2009

April showers bring...cloudy skies, really.

I've started and stopped during the composition of this post more times than I can count. If this were my own blog, I would have given up by now and just gone without posting. (Readers of my personal blog will note that there's been a relative paucity in my posting of the last week.) The issue? I'm getting pulled down. I feel like things aren't quite right. And I don't like to post about things like that. What I like is the moment when I realize the clouds are parting and I can see that despite all the apparent trials, things are actually looking up. Speaking of which...

The clouds and the rain. The snow storm over Palm Sunday weekend didn't get me down so much since I figured there would be a break by Easter Sunday. I mean, I believed it couldn't possibly be as bad as last year's Good Friday blizzard. I've got a friend on facebook who lives in the Atlanta area complaining mercilessly about how the cold temperatures are getting him down. Give me a break. But the clouds and rain and cold today? Forecasts of severe rainstorms throughout much of the midwest? I was just starting to believe that we'd seen the last of horrid winter weather and could look forward with a new-found sunny disposition, and then April showers come in and destroy that tiny shimmer of hope.

But I think the weather is just symbolic of other things. For awhile I've been feeling like even though it seems I've just passed something horrid, something glum like a rain storm is always around the corner. I've been feeling uncertain about the future, and unclear about how I fit in. I'm pregnant with my second child now, but the downtime between the first and second has been lengthy -- 15 years. I find myself unsure what crowd I should run with. The moms of teens want to move from parenthood, they're looking forward to life without the constant responsibility of kids. Clearly I'm not relating to that pack. But I'm even less like the new parents, the ones who haven't traversed forward in the journey past even the second trimester ultrasound image. And then there's a nagging question in the back of my mind about how you're supposed to build an integrated family under the circumstances. I keep reading advice columns in magazines and online pregnancy and parenting sites about preparing the firstborn for the birth of a new baby. Pardon me for stating the bleeding obvious, but I don't think my 15-year-old daughter will react to the addition in our family by regressing and wanting a bottle or sleeping in bed with her parents again. Still, I'm sure there's some reaction she'll have and I would just like to have some idea of what I'm supposed to be doing as her mother in this circumstance.

What I find myself realizing is that my feelings are not so much about this particular situation, as it is the feeling of not fitting in. The feeling that my situation is unique and I'm all alone. The feeling of not quite finding my place and feeling comfortable. When I moved from the south to Michigan 10 years ago, I figured the change would be refreshing and finally feel like home. Everything in the midwest seemed familiar. My mother spent in childhood in Ohio before moving with her family to the Florida panhandle. And despite Florida being the stage for my parents meeting, marrying, starting a family, and settling for the long run, both of my sisters migrated back to the midwest for college and afterward. With one sister in Southbend and the other Chicago, southeast Michigan seemed like a perfect place to go and settle down. But when the allure of the new place rubbed off, I realized that there was a lot I was having a difficult time adjusting to. For instance, I was a cultural southerner trying to figure out why others found me shallow or insincere (read: people misread my initial generous friendliness and hospitality to be naive openess or genuine vulnerability). That glitch eventually resolved itself, as well as others, and eventually I came to find Michigan was more like home than any other place. Still, I think the point remains, it never feels good to feel like you're out of place or frequently misunderstood.

Do you ever feel like your situation is unique? Like it would be good to hear from just one other family that was like yours? That's how I feel right now. I want to hear the advice of another parent who can relate to our current situation and say, "No worries, I've been there, here's some tips." Maybe it's a problem your child is having physically or with schoolwork. Or maybe it's something more debilitating to you personally, like financial troubles. Or other family woes, or whatever. What do you do as a parent when you are seeking advice and it seems that no one around you could relate to your situation?

If only Calgon moments really could solve everything...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


One of the things I love about living in a rural area is the sense of community. We know most everyone within a five-mile radius, and, truth be told, are related to a good portion of those people.

Because of this community, something happens here each spring that I'm pretty sure you wouldn't see in a city. It goes by a simple name, "Pancakes." Or sometimes "Wally's Pancakes" if there's a need to set it apart from the various church pancake feeds that happen this time of year as well.

Pancakes is a neighborhood gathering for the purpose of (Did you guess it?) eating pancakes. Wally sets up tables in his shop--I suppose he can seat about 75 people at a time--and has two griddles going to cook up nice, hot pancakes.

To complement the pancakes, there's applesauce and bars. (Are bars a Midwestern thing or a Lutheran thing?) The real stars of the show, though, are the sausage and the syrup. The sausage is homemade and smoked just a few feet away from the shop, and the syrup is real maple syrup, the 40-gallons-of-sap-for-one-gallon-of-syrup kind.

And if that isn't enough, there's popcorn popping and soft-serve ice cream with cones. My kids were pretty excited when we allowed them to have ice cream for breakfast.

A contingent of concertinas and accordions and a tuba entertains from the loft area, and I loved that my girls wanted to dance to the old-time music.

A free-will donation box is there to help defray costs of the meal, and I suspect that, like any donation like this, some people are stingy and others generous, and it probably comes out just right.

The highlight of the whole thing, though, is getting together and "visiting." At such a gathering, there's always someone we know well (my in-laws came just after we did), someone we don't know (but who often knows me, since I'm a transplant to this particular community), and someone we haven't seen for a while and finally have a chance to say hi.

Most of the township was there, including our former landlord, who's been known to trade two bottles of that good maple syrup for a few used & rinsed milk jugs. Besides the locals, there were a lot of people from "town," and even some from south of town, who drove quite a ways to eat those pancakes.

The pancake event isn't advertised, except by word of mouth, but it's a tradition many people around here look forward to. It's great to take the kids to events like this where they can learn to know our neighbors and be part of this community as well.

GUEST BLOGGER: FADKOG: Dorothy had it right, and this is where I hang my hat

Our next guest blogger is known as FADKOG, which stands for For a Different Kind of Girl. I discovered FADKOG on Twitter and her tweets, as well as her blog are hilariously funny. Please welcome her!


When my family moved to the Iowa town I grew up in, my world was a three-block radius. It was the circle around which I'd ride my bike for hours, where neighborhood kids would meet to play kick ball until dark, and where, every Wednesday, I'd endure every feasible weather condition or barking dog to deliver the weekly advertising circular. Those three blocks represented the place I felt safest (despite the vicious dogs) and most welcomed. It was a short journey from my block - the filling in the neighborhood sandwich between the other two blocks - to school or the convenience store we'd visit on late summer afternoons to purchase orange snow cones, but it felt vast.

Aside from time spent in college and several years working as the editor of a community newspaper, I've never truly ventured very far from those three blocks. Today, I'm raising my own family a mere two minutes - though sometimes it can take three depending on the occasional confused motorist who pauses uncomfortably long at the five-way stop sign up the road - from the front door of my present home to that of my childhood home.

Unlike the other places I've lived, I've always felt at home where I now reside. Always. Although my hometown - which often dominates the top of any "Fastest Growing Communities in the Nation" lists - is vastly different from the place I remember growing up, when I say I'm from here, it feels familiar, and to me, familiar means comfortable. Three big-name grocery stores dot the landscape where, years ago, residents had a difficult time supporting even one small, family-owned market. The library, which once operated from a tiny room in the back of an equally tiny city hall building, now host programming in a large facility with a parking lot that is always full.

Today, more houses are cropping up on what was once sustainable farm land than actual crops, and just when I think developers can't possibly come up with any new names for a multi-dwelling subdivision, up pops a Painted Woods or Something That Always Ends With The Word 'Pointe With An E.' Trying to give directions to someone unfamiliar with my hometown is virtually impossible for me because there are so many new streets and so many new names for them that I'm almost as lost as they are. If it's not part of the "old part of town," (which is what the area I grew up in is referred to now), I'm sorry. Good luck on your journey!

Yet it still feels like home.

My youngest son is finishing his first grade year in the same building where I attended elementary school, and though countless revisions have been made to it, walking through it is like zapping through a time warp and there's the kindergarten classroom where we incubated chicken eggs in the spring. Except now it's the computer lab! My oldest son, a middle school student, plays basketball in the same gymnasium where I ran laps as a student, only when I was a student in that particular building, I was attending high school and preparing to graduate with a class of 62 students I'd been going to school with since kindergarten. When my sixth grader graduates in 2015, he'll be crossing the stage with more than 600 classmates who filter into our district from the surrounding suburbs. Very few of them will have known each other from the days when they were learning how to write their names and navigate the vast hallways of a new building.

This is home.

From time to time, I'll drive around my hometown, and in my mind, I can distinctly see the games we played on the streets I'm driving on. There's the house where my best friend and I sat on the front steps and talked about the boys who traveled in packs on mopeds and played basketball in the driveway over there each night after dinner. On this street is the house we'd all meet at when the sun went down and we'd sit outside on the patio, watching movies on a tiny television that had been dragged outside.

When I take my boys to the park, it's the same park where I barreled my orange Huffy 10-speed down the hills. When we get there, the boys will swing on the same set of squeaky swings my best friend and I used to cut through the air on. I'll sometimes mention these memories to my sons, both as a means of connecting my life with their respective childhoods, and perhaps planting the idea that it's important to remember where we came from. I don't know that their goals will keep them near me here, but I hope no matter where they go, no matter what fancy named subdivision they may one day live in, they feel the sense of home I'm struck by when they think of what is now our shared hometown.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Fun

What? You are not used to seeing a post here on Friday?


Here I am with a couple of fun ideas for you on this rainy Friday. Maybe one of these recipes can add some FUN into an otherwise gloomy day. Also, my kids are about to be on Spring Break next week, so I am trying to get myself geared up for a week of things to keep them busy & these two are the TOP of their list(s) right now.

Easy Homemade Playdough

3 cups flour
1 cup water
1 1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup oil
food coloring - optional (be careful with this step - you may want to mix this in to keep it off of the kids! Once mixed in, I have never had the kids get any on them)
*add more flour if too sticky

Fun Flubber

In 2 separate ziplock baggies mix:

bag 1: 3/4 cup warm water
1 cup school glue (this is about 1 small bottle)
food coloring
bag 2: 2 tsp borax (found with detergent)
1/2 cup warm water

mix each bag well, then pour the contents of bag 1 into bag 2, working it together while still in the bag until it forms a solid blob. This is a fun experiment for the older kids - they love to see how this all comes together, and then have fun playing with it too!

Both of these can be kept for quite a few days in a ziplock bag or container. The last batch of flubber we made kept getting "wet" in the bag, so I pitched it sooner - but the first batch lasted so long, I finally threw it away - just because :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

10 Exciting Things About Spring in the Midwest

  1. 49ยบ = Balmy weather & happy people.
  2. Neighbors emerge.
  3. No more boots or snowpants (usually).
  4. The lake starts calling.
  5. Daffodils.
  6. Outdoor sports. (Fresh air!)
  7. Pedicures.
  8. Green, not gray.
  9. Sunshine.
  10. Beautiful, bright mornings.