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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Window Shopping

Today we went out of town and did a little shopping. Most of it involved window shopping as we like to look but rarely buy. We did buy some vegetables and fruit at Target and I picked up the kids vitamins, Omega 3 chews, and Ben's flax seed oil pills (which he takes for high blood pressure and it has been keeping it in check).

I ran across these retro kitchen items at Target and fell in love with them!

Bread box

Utensil holder

I love retro pieces and think these would look so cool in my kitchen. They are $14.99 each though, which is more than I want to spend on them. I will be keeping my eye on them in case they go on clearance and will be looking for similar pieces at garage sales.
My kitchen theme right now is roosters and I think I can incorporate pieces like the ones above without having to redo anything else. Each piece is fully functional as well and not just a cool decoration. I don't own a bread box but think it would come in handy keeping the bags of bread away from the prying hands of hungry toddlers. The utensil holder could replace our utensil drawer and make it easy for the kids to help put the clean utensils away. The canisters could hold so many things. These are now on my "want" list and I just wanted to share them with all of you. Do you love them or hate them?

A Recipe and Grocery Update

One of the easiest breakfast foods is muffins. I'm not a morning person though and really dislike mixing up a batch of muffins first thing in the morning. I found the perfect solution with this Raisin Bran Muffin recipe as it can be mixed up and then stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks! I just pull the bowl out of the fridge, fill up a muffin tin and then stick the bowl back in the fridge for the next morning. Each batch lasts us about six breakfasts and we eat the leftovers throughout the day as snacks. Even my husband, who is not a muffin person, enjoys these.

Raisin Bran Muffins

1 15 oz. box of raisin bran cereal

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 cups flour

5 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. salt

1 cup oil

4 eggs, beaten

1 quart buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the cereal, sugar, flour, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add the oil, eggs, and buttermilk to the dry mixture and mix well.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Remaining batter can be refrigerated in a covered bowl for up to 6 weeks. (Note: the batter starts to look a little funny after a week or so but is still good.)

I do usually sprinkle the tops of the muffins with cinnamon and brown sugar or a little sugar before baking for an added crunch and sweetness.

Grocery Update

I went shopping yesterday and paid just $59.21 for groceries for the next week. I do need to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables as our grocery store didn't have much of a selection so as we are out and about today I will pick up a few things and add that to the grocery total. We should be coming in way below $75 this week!

How large is your family and what is your typical weekly budget?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Frugal Friday: "Make It Do"

My post today is about reusing ice cream buckets. You know, you purchase a big bucket (or some may say pail) of ice cream at the grocery store and when it is empty you toss it in the trash or put it out for recycling. While reusing ice cream buckets isn't really ingenious, it is the thought that we need to "make things do" instead of tossing something before thinking of it in a different light. Many things that we deem as garbage can indeed have a new life if you only think outside the box.

One example is an ice cream bucket. Just a plastic bucket with a lid can have numerous possibilities. We rarely buy ice cream and when we do it is rarely a bucket of it. But the few times we do we save the bucket and use it for another intention.

Compost keeper. We keep a bucket in our kitchen to collect any food scraps (minus meat) that we may have through out the day, and dump the whole lot in the compost bin outside nightly. It saves several trips back and forth during the day and the lid keeps odors at bay.

Cleaning bucket. I use an ice cream bucket for my mop water when I am mopping the floor. It is the perfect size and fits nicely behind our laundry room door when not in use. I also fill it up with sudsy water when cleaning out the fridge, washing walls or cabinets, and other cleaning projects.

Toy Organizer. These buckets are the perfect size for storing small toys such as Legos, Playmobil, and odds and ends of toys that have no where else to go. Kids can decorate the buckets with stickers or markers or mom can label them with pretty labels.

For Pets. If you are traveling an ice cream bucket is the perfect way to bring your pet's food with you without worrying about spills. I like to use them for water if I tie the dogs outside in the yard and don't want to bring their house dishes outside.

Playtime. The kids love playing with water outside in the summer but our city water bill has gotten so expensive that I don't like letting them play with the hose and rarely fill up their pool. So I give them little buckets of water to play with. They love dipping toys in it, mixing in sand or dirt, or carrying them around and watering the flowers with them.

I'm sure that you all can add one or two more ideas to that list as well (and you are welcome to in the comment section!) but hopefully the above ideas will start to give you an idea of a new use for an old thing. That is the idea, after all. Remember the mantra that our grandparents used to sing - "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without". I think that is something that we need to reiterate and become familiar with again. More posts in the future will be written around those wise words and I am game for any ideas you may have to go along with that slogan. I know that it is slowing becoming my motto!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Proof is in the Pudding (or Cookies, Candy, and Pop)

Giving up sugary sweets and soda last week has not only given me more money in my pocket (no more last minute trips to the store to pick something up to snack on) but has also improved my health. I haven't had those sugar highs that result in crashing in the late afternoon. And yesterday I realized that I lost 3.25 lbs. in one week!

Ever since weaning Joe last month I have gained weight steadily, mainly because I was not taking into account that I needed to cut the additional calories that I had gotten used to while pregnant and nursing. It didn't help that every time I went to the store I would throw a package of cookies or some type of candy into the cart. Whether it was a trip to the grocery store, Walmart, Dollar General, or the gas station...those things would end up being bought by me. That is at least three times a week then, if not more. Giving that up for Lent has made me aware of all the junk I was eating.

It has been difficult, but not as bad as I thought it would be. Yesterday when I had to make a stop at Dollar General they had a cart of Oreos marked down to $1.25 a package. I gravitated toward that cart without thinking and reached into it the same time that little Joe reached into it (his favorite cookies are Oreos!). Then I remembered I gave them up and told Joe that we had to go find the dryer sheets that we were looking for; he didn't put up a fuss and I wasn't missing them when I came home and had a container or lemon yogurt and an apple for a snack.

It's been a bit more difficult for the kids, and I have let them have pop and popsicles while they have been sick. After Jacob's speech therapy his teacher gives him and the other two kids a small treat and I allow them that. They are, after all, a bit young to truly understand sacrificing something during the Lenten season. I haven't been picking them up anything extra at the grocery store and they haven't been complaining though, so their sugary eating habits have been changing as well.

I must admit, it was just last year when I heard that Sunday was exempt from the Lenten sacrifice. It was the first year that I realized I could partake in what I had given up during Sundays. So this past Sunday when hubby was at Walmart picking up some cat litter I asked him to bring a little something home. That little something ended up being gummy worms. I used to love gummy worms and grabbed at the bag...but didn't even eat a handful without realizing that they weren't that great anyway and that I wasn't missing much.

I hope that this is just the beginning of our change in our eating habits!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday: Pads vs. tampons

The question seems like a cinch...whichever one you like best, right? Well, sure, unless you are concerned with certain health aspects such as, are they safe?

I may be entering the TMI (too much information) arena, but I was never comfortable with the idea of a tampon. I didn't do much research but did steer clear of them, especially when several people I knew continually got urinary tract infections around the time of their cycle and come to find out that they are tampon users. One day when my cycle was pretty heavy and I had a bunch of errands to run I decided to try a tampon that I received as a sample. It was okay but not totally comfortable. Since then I have worn a tampon maybe six times and have gotten to the point that they are comfortable to wear but I just don't like them much. I decided to do some research to see if my feelings that they are not healthy for you are unfounded.

One of the first things I came across are that tampons are not just cotton, they're made of dyes, fragrances, and super-absorbent chemicals. Research has found a link between uterine problems and bleached tampons. Chlorine from bleach turns to dioxin and is one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. Dioxin accumulates in our bodies over our lifetime and it's not something the body can ever get rid of.

Tampons are often made with Rayon. It's made from wood pulp and during the process of converting wood to rayon, hundreds of chemicals that are used are embedded in tampons.

Fibers remain in the vagina after a tampon is removed. Can the chemicals and fibers in tampons cause health problems? We now have staggering rates of endometriosis, fibroids, PID, TSS and over a million hysterectomies performed this past year--the most ever. Twenty-five years ago, these were rare illnesses for women.

While there are many reasons for the above illnesses, I don't want to take a chance that putting bleached fibers into my body for several days a month may be a contributing factor those illnesses.

Sanitary pads also use a bleaching process and also use more than just cotton. But having them outside the body is much safer than using them inside the body. This is the route that I have gone so far, though I have been researching other options.

What other options are there? One is the "Diva Cup".

The Diva Cup is a bell shaped cup often made of latex and silicone. It is reusable and designed to last for up to 10 years. They work similar to tampons except instead of absorbing the liquid they collect it and you empty it out before reinserting. While they are not made out of natural products, they are touted as being much safer than chemically bleached tampons.

An alternative to store bought sanitary pads are cloth pads, such as Luna Pads (they also sell the Diva Cup).

Similar to cloth diapers, you just use, wash, and reuse. They snap around your panties making them similar to the store bought pads. I know some people who swore by these for their heavy cycles, saying they absorb so much more and stop leaks. This is the option that I am really leaning towards, though I need to get over the "ick" factor of washing them. For some reason I can wash cloth diapers just fine but kind of gag at the thought of washing menstrual pads!

I would love to hear if you use alternative menstrual products or what your feelings are about the traditional ones.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Television Reality

I'm not much of a tv person. I actually could take it or leave it, though there are a few shows that I do enjoy watching such as Desperate Housewives (yes, my guilty pleasure), Brothers & Sisters, Lost, and The Middle. I wouldn't die without them though.

My kids and hubby are a bit more into tv than I am. I let the kids watch a PBS show right when they wake up in the morning as they are usually only half awake and start to fight if they don't have 30 minutes to fully wake up. I try my best not to use the tv as a babysitter. My hubby like to zone out after work for awhile and I don't complain as that is his way to relax and shake off all the stress from work. That is one reason why we have decided against cable (the other is money, we don't want to have to pay for tv!). We don't feel that having 50+ channels of television on hand would be a good thing for our family. It could only entice us to watch more television, not less.

I was thinking the other night, while watching my guilty pleasure, that television is so far from reality. It's not that I ever thought it was real but it doesn't even come close to real life. Most programs that showcase families have fancy homes that are always clean and perfect, when money problems are discussed they are often solved right away, and the kids are rarely shown on the shows. Have you ever noticed that? In every single show that involves children the children have about a one minute appearance. How is that life as a parent?

I think, in part, television can skew the expectations of teenagers of what romance, marriage, and parenting is about. It's not that teenagers think television is real life either, but sometimes television is the biggest example in a teenagers life and tends to portray to them what they want. You see people fall in love on tv and it seems so magical, with music playing and everything happening in slow motion. Real love doesn't happen that way (usually!). Tv portrays married couples in a strange light. Any disagreement or fight tends to be detrimental to the relationship and if it isn't perfect 100% of the time it must not be right. And parenting? As I mentioned above, it does not portray that parenting is 24/7. It can disillusion what real life is.

That is why I always liked the show "Roseanne". Sure, she was crude at times, but it did seem to portray the reality of family life. The kids were always around, and often annoying. The house was messy and no where close to perfect. It showcased money and job issues. It showed cooking and cleaning and day-to-day life happenings. I think it was one of the few shows that came close to being something of reality. The only other one I can think of is "Full House", though it is a stretch that two uncles would be so involved in the family's everyday life, but it could happen.

Maybe the reason we like watching shows so far from the truth is that it would be boring to watch a show so close to our own life. But I think twisting shows to make them so unreal is a bit of a disservice to us. Even the reality shows are far from reality. For now I will continue to watch my guilty pleasures, but I wouldn't mind a rerun of Roseanne every once in awhile!

What are your views on television?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Not Me! Monday

Spring Cleaning Edition!

Being stuck indoors for months at a time can get old. We tend to go out shopping in a larger town on Saturday in order to go somewhere new and browse the half price bookstore, Goodwill, the bread outlet, and more. With the kids still not feeling 100% this past weekend we stayed at home and cleaned.

While my husband and I were cleaning in the deep dark corners of our cabinets he did not find a bag of egg noodles and ask if I wanted to throw them away "because there was a hole in the bag." Upon further investigation he did not see little brown things mixed in with the noodles and realize that there were several dead weevils among the noodles. I am not such a bad housekeeper that I harbor families of weevils in my pantry. Gag!

A glance into the laundry room did not reveal three baskets of clean folded laundry that needed putting away. I have not been digging through those three baskets the past few days to find clothing that we needed. I did not rush to put them away last week because of the fact that it was easier to get the clothing from the laundry room than to trek upstairs to find something.

While putting those clothes in their proper place I did not notice my daughter's "writing corner" in her room covered with papers. My daughter is obsessed with pretty paper and stickers and papers. When the mail comes she asks if she received anything and I usually give her a huge pile of junk mail which she rips open and then hides in her writing corner. She is constantly writing us little notes on her pretty stationery, or giving us letters from credit card companies that she covered in "hi" and "mom". I try to clean out that corner often, but I did not put it off for much too long this time. I did not come away from that corner with a whole grocery bag full of junk mail, ripped paper, store advertisements, old magazines, and written on papers. What kind of mother would let junk accumulate like that? Not me!

Happy Not Me! Monday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Grocery Update

I did another weeks worth of shopping today and hoped to come in under $75 again, but this time spent $83.73. Partly because my children have all been sick the past couple days with some type of tummy bug which involved throwing up, so I caved in to some sugary sweets and bought them a 2 liter of pop and a box of popsicles to help them feel better. I also used a few coupons that involved buying 2 items, so while I didn't need the other item this week I did save money on the second one which I will use sometime. Since I came in $7 below budget last week it all evens out.

Our menu for this coming week is:

Lasagna and french bread
Salmon patties
Sausage/sauerkraut sandwiches and fries
Baked beans and cornbread
Turkey Ham and scalloped corn

All will be served with a fruit and vegetable (or two!) as well.
Someone asked just what I can buy for a $75 budget. While the below may be boring to some, it may show you how to buy a week's worth of food for that price. My receipt is as follows:
Two bags of french fries $5.00 (I had $1 off 2 so paid $4)
Fish sticks $3.69 (I had $1 off coupons so $2.69)
Gold Medal Flour $1.48
Garlic Bread $2.39 (had a 55 cents off coupon so $1.84)
Package of butter $2.19
Potato bread $1.89
Package of hamburger buns $1.59
Wheat bread $1.19
1 dozen eggs $1.59
Popsicles $2.69
2 rolls of sausage $2.50 (I had $1 off 2 coupon so $1.50)
3 8 oz. packages of shredded cheese $4.44
Frozen brussel sprouts $1.69
Frozen corn $1.29
2 packages Rold-Gold pretzels $4 (had two 55 cent off coupons so $2.90)
2 lbs. ground beef $4.28
16 oz. sour cream $1.50
A turkey ham $4.76
hot dogs 99 cents
Marcel toilet paper $1.19 (had a $1 coupon so just 19 cents)
paper plates $1.49
2 Ragu spaghetti sauce $3.78 (had $1 off 2 so $2.78)
Baked Beans $3.68
2 cans spaghetti o's $1.70
2 ltr. pop 79 cents plus 5 cent can deposit
2 cans corn $1.34
can pink salmon $2.29
Taco dinner kit $2.09
box honey nut cheerios (off brand) $2.29
corn muffin mix 43 cents
Lasagna noodles $1.29
cream cheese $1.25
yeast $1.99
2 cans tuna $1.50 (had a coupon for 50 cents off so $1)
2 sweet onions $1.66
4 oranges $1.00
head of lettuce 88 cents
3 tomatoes $1.26
2 lbs. bananas $1.79
3 lbs. apples $1.99
gallon whole milk $3.13
gallon 1% milk $2.81

That will last us one week for a family of five. Breakfast is oatmeal, toast, muffins, eggs, or cereal. Lunch is usually sandwiches, leftovers, macaroni and cheese, or the spaghetti o's I bought. I could have essentially saved more. Had I made my own bread or went to the bread outlet I wouldn't have had to buy bread this week. Had I bought dried beans and made my own baked beans I would have saved some. Had I been in a bigger town I could have shopped at several stores and ran into better deals. But bringing the budget from $100 down to $83 this week is an improvement and I am slowly improving our diet.

I did do well by not picking up a single sugary snack except for the pop and popsicles for the kids. I am making homemade cinnamon rolls today but we have not bought a store bought sugar snack this whole week! Yay for me!

Making Money As A Stay-At-Home Mom

I've said it before and I'll say it again, in order to be a stay-at-home mom we have had to sacrifice certain things. We don't own new cars, don't take yearly vacations, do without cable and various "frivolous" items that some may take for granted. Yet we gladly do without certain materialistic things in order for me to stay at home. I understand that there are some mothers who are not so lucky to be able to stay at home, and others who wouldn't want to stay at home even if they could. For us, we have found a set-up that works.

With that said, we are living on a smaller wage than the average American family. Our bills are paid and our only debt is our mortgage (which is not "bad" debt). We can live off of one income and do for the most part but I do like to find ways to earn money from home. I feel that I do my best when I find ways to save money, because saved money is just as good as earned money. Having a little extra cold hard cash on hand is nice too though.

There are a lot of various ways to make money from home. There are many actual jobs with a nice profit that can be done from home, but that is not what I was looking for - I just wanted a little extra income flow each month. I have a few sources of income, which doesn't add up to a lot but makes a difference.

eHow is where I write a few how-to articles a month. I just started last month and have ten articles up on their site so far. My total from the last 30 days is at $14.50 so I will be paid next month as you only have to reach $10 before getting a payout. Even if I don't write anything new in a given month my old articles will continue to earn profit. The more articles I post, the more I will earn. The articles take about 10-15 minutes of my time so the investment is worth it. I figure even if I earn just $10 a month that is an extra $120 a year.

Garage Sales. Every year when the weather turns warmer my mom and I have a garage sale. We also have one towards the end of fall. I am able to get rid of excess stuff that we have and make money at the same time. Last year our Spring sale netted me $150 and the Fall sale was somewhere around $90. I use all my garage sale money for buying at other garage sales during the summer. So in essence, I sell my kid's outgrown clothes, toys, and household gear at my sale, and buy new clothes, toys, and household gear at other sales. It is a win/win situation.

Consignment Shops. My Aunt owns one of the consignment shops in town. You get 50% of the proceeds from your stuff that sells. I try to take the nicer name brand clothing and books to my aunt's shop to sell as I can make a little more that way than I would be able to at a garage sale. I often only bring a small bag of stuff to her shop once a month or so, often as I am sorting through drawers or closets, so I don't bring a lot there but enough to net an average of $12 a month, sometimes more. That is another average of $120 a year. Some consignment shops will buy your items outright, so you can walk in with your items and out with a check the same day.

SwagBucks. I know you are all probably tired of hearing about SwagBucks so I will make this quick. By doing searches through the Swagbucks search bar I am able to win points, which I am then able to redeem for gift certificates. I focus mostly on the Amazon gift certificates. Since October when I signed up, I've earned $125 in Amazon gift cards. I am able to buy gifts from Amazon and also am able to purchase things we need for the household. Right now I have enough Amazon gift cards to purchase an electric skillet. My old electric skillet went haywire this week and will now only turn onto the highest setting, which ends up burning everything. I did my regular internet searches = earned points = turned them in for Amazon gift cards = got a free electric skillet free, basically. It is a great program and if you want to learn more click here.

Everything I listed above earns me, on average, over $600 a year. None of them are time consuming (except the garage sale, which takes a couple days to prepare and a couple days to tend to). They are all things that can be done by a stay-at-home mom to earn a little extra cash, or by someone who works and wants a little extra on the side.

Do you work from home or have other creative ways to earn a little money?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frugal Friday: Odds & Ends

Remember how last week I gave myself a $75 grocery budget? My shopping trip on Saturday was $63.04 and all we had to pick up between then and now was a package of grapes ($2) and a jar of peanuts ($2.48) so I spent a grand total of $67.52 on groceries. I came in $7.48 under budget. Since I did so well I am going to keep the $75 grocery budget. I may go over on weeks when I stock up on certain items but I hope to be able to spend just $300 a month on groceries, compared to the $400 that we were spending before.

Because of the fact that I watched my pennies so closely this week, I saved in other areas as well. I did not jet off to the store when I realized we needed one thing or another, I just put it on the list for when we do go shopping. Being aware of every single cent that I am spending, I was able to save $150 extra this past two week pay period. Granted, there weren't many bills to pay this pay period so that could be somewhat the reason, but I also didn't spend until it was gone, I realized what we could spend that week or two and then spent no more. Some of that extra cash will go into savings and at least $50 of it will be added to our mortgage for the principal portion of the payment. Whenever possible, we make extra payments on our mortgage so that we can get it paid off earlier than the 30 years it was intended for. By doing this, four years in we have already knocked one year extra off the loan. It's been said that making one extra payment a year on your loan you will knock 7 years off the loan. We try to make at least one extra full payment, and then add $25 here or $50 there when we get the chance, so hopefully we will own our home in 20 years or less, not 30.

I received three more free samples in the mail this week.

There is an insulated shopping bag that I have been wanting to buy because we often shop out of town and I never pick up ice cream or other frozen goods that could melt/thaw quickly because of the long ride home. This one has a zippered top so everything inside should stay cold and the bag feels like high quality so it should last for a long time. What a nice sample for free!

I also received a sample of three different face products from "Murad". I can't wait to try them and each sample size should last a few days.

Not shown in the picture (because I forgot to include it and I'm too lazy to take a new photo) are two tea bags from Celestial Seasonings of their Green Tea with White Tea. I'm sure I will love it and it is nice to try new things for free to see if you like it or not before buying a whole box of it.

What ways did you save money this week? Have you been signing up for free samples and receiving any yet?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cutting Back

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Many people decide to give something up for Lent as a sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed His life for us so it shouldn't be hard for us to give up something as well, right?

I didn't have to think long about what we needed to give up as a family. We all have such a sweet tooth and are constantly picking up candy here or a package of cookies there. Not only is this unhealthy, but it isn't a treat if it is constantly available. We talked as a family about it and have decided to cut back on all these sweets. During this time I may make a batch of cookies here and there or pick up a treat occasionally (Sundays, I have learned, are exempt from the Lenten fast so a small treat then would be allowed). But a treat will now become a treat, and not a given.

And that is the whole point of a treat, right? To be rewarded with good behavior or be surprised with an out of the ordinary snack. If you get these goodies several times weekly, or daily, how is that any different than your regular diet? Just add a side of candy bar and call your meal complete.

As a child we rarely got candy, and when we did it was something small like a dum-dum sucker or we shared a small bag of skittles. Pop (or soda for those who are not from the mid-west) was an even rarer treat...we typically only got it at family get togethers or for a very special occasion. So we treasured those treats and really did feel like it was a special occasion when we received them.

This is not just meant as a sacrifice until Easter. I want our eating habits to change and I think the first step is to try to cut down (way down) in the sweets department. During the Lenten season I think it will be difficult, and will be a sacrifice, but they say that after 21 days you tend to be able to stick to your new habit, and I hope this "less sugar, less junk" habit will stick with us after Easter has passed.

What have I decided to be junk food? Store bought cookies and donuts, candy, and pop. These are all our downfalls and this is the area that we need the most work on. I actually started this goal a couple days ago and am on day three of no sweets. I feel better already. But I have to admit that I still have a strong craving at times and hope that I can pass by these treats at the grocery store next time I go shopping - that will be my biggest challenge! I will keep you all updated on how we are doing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday: Prenatal Testing

I have been through three pregnancies and am thankful that I had normal pregnancies and healthy babies. I followed the typical protocol of prenatal care and my checkups included the typical internal check, testing my iron levels, blood pressure checks, measuring of the uterus, and an ultra-sound. One thing that I always opted out of was prenatal testing, more often known as an amniocentesis.

An amniocentesis is done by inserting a thin, hollow needle into the abdomen and uterus, using an ultrasound to guide the process. In mid-second trimester amnios, about 2 tablespoons of amniotic fluid are removed through the needle. The most common reason for doing an amniocentesis is to check for birth defects. It can also be used to check fetal lung maturity near term and occasionally in late pregnancy to assess anemia in babies with Rh disease. During a normal pregnancy it is often only used to check for birth defects.

This is where I have a problem with it. I see no point in getting an amniocentesis to find out if my child will have a birth defect or not, because the result of the test will have no bearing on whether I carry that baby to term or not. The typical birth defect that they search for is Down syndrome (and many abortions are then preformed based on the result). You can also search for trisomy 13, 18, etc., plus Turner and Cri du Chat syndromes. There is also cystic fibrosis and other defects. But I choose to forgo all testing because even a positive result of a defect would not have changed my mind in carrying on my pregnancy. There are many false positives reported with an amniocentesis and that would involve further testing and needless worrying.

Even some couples who know that they would never abort but would like to know if there is an issue that they can prepare for before hand do decide to get an amniocentesis. I can see the reasoning in this...if you know before birth that your child will have Down syndrome or be be born with cystic fibrosis you can research it and know what you will need to know to be prepared. But again, the tests are not 100% accurate. And the tests are also not 100% safe. One must decide for themselves whether knowing something before birth is worth the risk of a test.

Bleeding and cramping, miscarriage, amniotic fluid leakage, fetal respiratory problems, increased admissions to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, uterine infection, clubfoot, etc. are all listed in various resources as potential risks of amniocentesis.

Bleeding occurs 2-3% of the time and is usually resolves without problems, but is associated with a somewhat higher rate of fetal loss. The risk for miscarriage increases after an amniocentesis, it is generally thought to increase between 0.5% and 1.0%.

These are real concerns that I decided are not worth it for my pregnancy and baby. If I had serious complications in pregnancy or a possible serious problem with the baby that showed up on ultra-sound that may be easier helped if we knew what we were dealing with, I may feel the risks were worth it to see what was going on. But in my healthy pregnancies I saw no reason to get an amniocentesis.

I did have to sign a waver to opt out of these tests. The thing that gets me is that the tests are touted as normal and routine and the risks are often in small print on a pamphlet that mothers often don't read, instead taking the advice of the doctor and going through just "another routine test". I don't think that there is anything routine about an amniocentesis and I hope that more mothers will realize that there is a risk, and then decide whether it is right for them and their baby, instead of just going along with it.

If you have been through a pregnancy, what made you decide to have/not have prenatal testing done?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Small Space Living and Organizing

We live in a fairly small space, or at least compared to the McMansions that seem to be popping up everywhere. Our house is a story and a half over a century old house. I don't know the exact measurements but I will guess and say that we have about 1200 sq. feet of space.

We have a half basement which is actually quite small so no good for storage or recreation, though hubby does have a workbench down there and often spends a little time tinkering with something or just listening to music and relaxing. It is his safe spot to get away from it all. We have an attic but one must access it through the small crawlspace in the ceiling of the playroom and the opening is so small you wouldn't be able to get a box through it, so we don't use the attic for anything.

Upstairs we have two small bedrooms and a landing which we use for the playroom. Downstairs we have the living room, dining room, office, kitchen, laundry room, and teeny tiny bathroom. There is no excess of space but I don't feel that our house is too tiny.

My main complaint is that downstairs there is not one single closet. That makes keeping things out of sight difficult. I wish we had a closet for our coats but we are making do with a coat rack and then we store them in an upstairs closet when the weather warms up. The lack of closet space downstairs does ensure that we don't hang onto a lot that we aren't using. Often times closet space in the main living quarters turns into a "junk drawer" of sorts with stuff stashed in it that you don't remember you had.

My kitchen is one of my favorite rooms of the house. When we first moved here my aunt called it "an old lady kitchen" (which is a term of endearment for her, as she loves old lady kitchens). It basically looks like a 1950's kitchen, which a few updates such as the new counter tops and new flooring. When we bought the house it even had a huge stove and dishwasher in avocado color. This picture only shows half the kitchen, there is still more counter space and cabinets to the left and the refrigerator is to the right. I will showcase more photos some other time. (I decided to take the photo even though the kitchen is not "company ready". Hey, got to keep it real sometimes! And this photo was snapped in the evening, which is why the window is dark.)

I do love all the counter space and cabinet space, we totally have adequate space in the kitchen. The window above the sink looks right out to the bird feeder and my flower garden. So in the winter I can watch the birds eat and in the summer I can see my flowers and watch the little hummingbirds zoom from flower to flower while I am washing the dishes.

While living in a small space demands creative storage solutions, it also is easier to keep clean for the sole fact that with less space you just have to have less stuff.
I have been working on the upstairs recently and have gotten rid of two big bags of toys. The kids do not need all those toys and anything that was a source of clutter that didn't have a clear home, we threw in the bag and sent it off to Goodwill. I have been going through the kids dressers and closets and pulling out items they rarely wear and tossing anything with stains or rips (and my daughter is a pro at ruining her clothes with stains and blows the knees out of almost every single pair of pants she has ever owned).

I am constantly reassessing what we have and feel that the motto "less is more" is oh so true. I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to organization and making the most of our space. I still have a lot of clutter to clear out as well, but I am getting there. I will be posting more about our home in future posts and hope to give (and maybe gain?) some storage solutions and organizing help.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Not Me! Monday

Since weaning Joe last month I have not come to realize that the different hormones make for a serious case of PMS. I did not feel like killing someone for the past week, never felt like crying at the drop of a hat, did not have a migraine for the past several days, and did not have my face erupt with several pimples. I do not feel like I am going through an awkward teenage moment.

I've also not gained a few pounds in the last month. Because I'm not a pig and do not like to eat and never would have forgotten to drop those additional calories that I got used to eating while breastfeeding.

I have not been stuck in the house for so long from the snow and cold that I started to go stark raving mad. Saturday was not a balmy 23 degrees and so inviting that I took a long walk with my sister and our dogs. I did not enjoy the outing so much that I had felt like I had been on a mini vacation. Fresh air and some exercise does not refresh you or lift your spirits.

When I realized that we are half way through February I did not rejoice, knowing we are so much closer to spring. Last night when the weatherman said it is just 35 days until spring I did not want to dance a jig. 35 days actually does not sound that far off.

Happy Not Me! Monday!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

(Treats made by mom, decorated by all three kiddos.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

$75 Grocery Update

Yesterday I wrote about how my goal is to lower my grocery bill to $75 a week (down from $100). I think that is a reasonable goal, and feel that this summer I can cut that total down even more. By lowering my bill just $25 a week, I will be saving $100 a month, or $1,200 a year. That is a size able amount!

I am going to hold myself accountable to you all this week and tell you the truth on how much I spent on groceries. I made my menu plan for the week and it goes:

Homemade pizza

Boca Burgers and french fries

Spaghetti and garlic bread

Chili and cornbread (or rolls)

BBQ chicken and baked potatoes

Poor Man's Soup

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy

Every meal will also have a vegetable and fruit served with it. With pizza and spaghetti it is usually salad, with meatloaf and chicken it is usually corn, peas, or green beans. Fruit is usually whatever is on sale or what we happen to have on hand (sliced apples, pineapple slices, oranges, etc.).

The menu only lists what we eat for supper. I don't typically plan lunch as it is usually something quite simple such as peanut butter sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, soup, or leftovers. Throw in some veggies and dip and fruit and call it complete and easy. Snacks are usually crackers, popcorn, or fruit and vegetables.

Breakfast is easy. We always have cold cereal on hand but rarely eat it. We have our choice between hot cereals, oatmeal, eggs and toast, or muffins. Simple, cheap, and healthy!

I am going shopping later on today and will update you on what I spent. Update: I sprent $63.04 at the grocery store today. This is ingredients for all the recipes listed above (what I didn't already have on hand), vegetables, fruits, and milk. The only thing I will probably need to pick up later in the week is another gallon or two of milk, so I came in way under budget! Yay for me! I'll keep you afloat of any quick trip I may make to the store next week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Frugal Friday: Pay With Cash?

Ever since I started working with a budget (basically my whole life!) I've heard that it is best to pay with cold hard cash. For someone who writes checks and usually uses my debit card, it's a hard rule to follow. And I wonder, is it is a rule that must be followed?

Maybe for those who are just starting with a budget and have no idea where their money is going, that could be the way to start. It is recommended to sit down and figure out how much you will need monthly for groceries, gas, and fun money and withdraw the cash each payday and stick it in envelopes that are labeled and only use that money for what it is intended for. Once that envelopes are empty, no more groceries, eating out, or fun stuff until the next payday. Okay, I can see how that works. You know where your money is going and how much left you have to spend that week.

I've never done it that way. I have sat down and created a budget. I know how much I have to budget for the electric, gas, phone, insurance, and city bill. I know how much I need to budget for the mortgage. I try to always aim for $100 or under at the store, so know how much to allot for groceries. I typically know how much we spend in a month and when to stop spending. But my husband and I rarely carry cash with us. It is so convenient to whip out the debit card (which automatically comes out of checking) or write a check if it is local. I balance the checkbook with the receipts and online banking info every few days and can see how we are doing that way.

Quite honestly, I get confused when I use the cash system. I've tried it, I really have, and I always screw it up. For example, last week I tried it again...I took $100 cash out for groceries and went shopping at Super Target. But we didn't just pick up groceries, we picked up some cookware and odds and ends. So when it came to pay and it was $55, I payed it with cash. But then I thought, do I subtract the $12.56 that I paid for other items and put that amount back into my grocery budget? Where do I get the $12.56 even, since I have no other cash on me, especially not in that exact amount. Do I need to run to the bank and withdraw $12.56 to stick back into the grocery envelope? It's confusing! My way would have been to log the $55 into my checkbook and realized I spent $12.56 on "other items" and $42.44 on groceries...giving me $57.56 left for groceries for the week. THAT logic is much easier for me to grasp.

I realize that the cash system will never work for me, unless I only use it for certain things such as the "fun category" or the gas budget (though I love using my debit card at the gas pump instead of having to take the kids out of the car seats and run into the gas station to pay cash). I also don't like having a lot of cash on me. I'm a bit careless with my purse and leave it lying in carts and sometimes in the car and I just don't want a huge chunk of cash with me.

I do just fine by keeping track in my head and by looking through my checkbook to see if we are keeping on track with the budget each week. I find it a much easier system for myself than trying to deal with different envelopes of cash. I think we need to find a system that works for ourselves and then stick to it. As long as we know how much we are spending each week and staying within our guidelines I don't think a cash only rule is the only one which can be used.

Are you a cash only, check, or debit card person? What works the best for you?

P.S. While my grocery budget is currently $100 weekly, I do hope to cut that down to $75 or less. I know once my garden is producing that will help. Shall I give myself a $75 grocery challenge for this coming week? I think I will try just that and check in here with updates!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pretzels Make Everything Yummy

My kids like to dip pretzels in lots of stuff - peanut butter, ranch vegetable dip, and...
Can anyone guess what they are eating in these pictures? Ding, Ding, Ding! Amy guessed corectly that they are sardines (in mustard). The kids love them!
They ate the entire thing, as they have many times before. Being creative when it comes to serving strange things makes it an experience that they are willing to try!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday: Deodorant

While researching natural products several years ago, the one product I became the most concerned about was deodorant. Aluminum is one of the ingredients that I am most concerned about, as it is linked to brain disorders, Alzheimers, and possibly cancer.

The problem with deodorants and antiperspirants is not only the aluminum, but how it works to reduce sweat and odors. Aluminum compounds are key ingredients in almost all antiperspirants and most deodorants. They are powerful astringents that close pores, stopping sweat and odor from escaping the body. Antiperspirants may leave the outside of the body smelling fresh and clean – but inside, the toxins that would have escaped the body in the sweat have nowhere to go. For this reason, antiperspirants have been linked to problems with the sweat glands and lymph glands in and around the underarms. What's more, antiperspirants are designed to be absorbed; which means that the aluminum and many other chemicals are taken into the body and may affect the lymphatic systems, as well as being a potential risk factor in breast cancer.

I am especially concerned about deodorants right after shaving the underarms as you are exposing any small nicks and cuts to the chemicals and while breastfeeding, as the chemicals may enter your breast milk in one way or another (milk glands run right up into your underarms). I don't feel comfortable putting that into my body, or my baby's body.

Several years ago I switched to natural deodorants that use more herbs and oils than chemicals. I especially make sure that they contain no aluminum. The two brands that I have liked best are "Kiss My Face" deodorants and "Tom's Of Maine". I stick mainly to Tom's of Maine because it is more cost effective and I can find it at most stores, including Walgreens and Walmart. My favorite is the Tom's of Maine Original Care in Calendula. It smells like fresh linens and works all day! Sometimes at the very end of the day I will start to smell a slight odor (TMI?!) but I used to have that issue with regular deodorant as well, especially in summer. So I can say that it really does work just as well as regular deodorant. It costs around $4.50 depending on where you purchase it but one deodorant will last around 6 months so I find it to be very cost effective.

There are other ways to battle the odors without using antiperspirants and deodorants but I haven't tried them. Some just apply a bit of dry baking soda under their arms and swear it keeps them dry and odor free. I read recently of someone who cuts a very thin slice of lemon each day and rubs it underneath her arm and says that it works. It sounds like too much work for me (keeping the lemon in the fridge, slicing it each day) and more expensive (lemons cost a lot and a six month supply would have to cost more than $4.50). But it is probably a more natural approach because it is just one ingredient...lemons! There are crystal rocks that are supposed to work when wet and rubbed under the arms. None have been tested by me but it goes to show that there are several options when it comes to switching to a better way to stay fresh and clean...and safe and natural.

Any comments or questions?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Yummy Treat and Frugal Find

If you read my Not Me! Monday post yesterday you would have read that we ate a whole pan of peanut butter chocolate chip bars in one evening. They are just that good!

I first tasted them at a party that my aunt hosted. I craved them ever since and finally pried the recipe from her (okay, she actually willingly gave it to me!). I just had to share!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

1/2 c. butter, softened

1/2 c. white sugar

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. peanut butter

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. flour

1/2 c. quick oats

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 c. chocolate chips


1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 T. peanut butter

2 T. milk

In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugars, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt; gradually put into the creamed mixture and mix well. Spread into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes and drizzle with icing. Cool before cutting into bars.

And now for the frugal find! I love consignment stores, but hate shopping with children. I recently found an online consignment store called Criss Cross Kidsignment.
The prices are great and the shipping is a flat fee which is very reasonable. I found my boys several pajamas and got Joe a few shirts as well. I received the order today in the mail and everything is nice quality. If you have children (or grandchildren!) I recommend checking out their website. And if you happen to place an order, on the payment page in the notes section can you put "Referred by babys_mama1 "at" yahoo.com" They have a referral program where if you refer your family or friends you earn $1 credit. The prices are far better than ebay and it is such fun shopping from your desk chair and having your clothing delivered to your front door.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paperback Swap Winner

Winner of the three credits from Paperback Swap is Sharon, #2 in the comment section. E-mail me with the e-mail address that you used when registering at Paperback Swap and I'll get those credits sent to your account!

Not Me! Monday

Last week my family did not go through three packages of Oreos and a whole pan of peanut butter chocolate chip bars. That would just mean that we are pigs and I would never admit to that.

I did not get the whole kitchen clean (well, I skipped the floor, I'll mop later this week) and then go to take a relaxing bath only to come out of the bathroom to a pile of floor mats piled in the middle of the room and candle wax all over the stove, which I had just scrubbed within an inch of its life.

I did not give the boys a bath while I was cleaning up (again) and give them two cups to play with, only to hear a pouring noise and finding water all over the bathroom floor. The bathroom is right off the kitchen and I leave the door open and can see them at all times when I glance in the door or look at the mirror which is on the door...but it did not take me a moment to realize that the splashing noise was water hitting the floor, not the tub. I realized just in time...to find a small wadding pool. I just washed towels and now will be doing another load.

I did not run to Walmart for some needed items, only to come home without half the items because I just plain forgot that I needed them. I really do not need to stick to lists because my mommy brain is fried.

Have a happy Not Me! Monday! And don't forget to sign up for the drawing here
which ends at noon today.


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