Monthly Archives: January 2012

Blueberry Salad—Great way to (b)eat away the winter blah’s!

Blueberry Salad—Great way to (b)eat away the winter blah’s!

We don’t live very close to a Trader Joe’s, so it’s a big deal when I get to one!  And we went to one Saturday!  Of course I took full advantage of it, and stocked up on some yummy organic produce…including BLUEBERRIES.  It was a splurge and one I am still enjoying!!!!

Inspired by my blueberries, I created a salad for lunch yesterday.  It was so good, bright for my eyes and light on my tummy, so I thought I should share!  I didn’t really measure anything…just a bunch of torn lettuce leaves and a little of everything else tossed together.

  • Romain lettuce
  • fresh blueberries
  • chopped yellow bell pepper
  • chopped green onion
  • pecans
  • raspberry vinaigrette
  • flax seeds

I know it probably sounds like a really weird combination…but I used what I had on hand and this ended up being a delicious and healthy lunch…one that made me forget that it’s winter in Minnesota…until I went outside!  😉

 

Yummmmm!

What’s your favorite kind of salad?

 

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Couponing 101

Couponing 101

Last year, after talking with some friends who had started couponing, and watching an episode of “Extreme Couponing” on TLC…I decided to give it a try!  I have been able to take my family’s grocery budget (food, toiletries, paper goods)  from (at least) $500/mo. to less than $200 for family of five.

While my intent is NOT for this to be a couponing blog…there are plenty of those out there, I do want to share and encourage others to at least give it a try!  Couponing won’t work for everyone…but maybe it will for you!

Matching coupons to in store specials

Coupons, used alone, are rarely a great deal.  Since most coupons are usually good for 30-90 days, I save my coupons each week, and wait for sales to come around to match them with.  I keep up with a local couponing blog, who post all of the best deals and match-ups in our area.  Letting them do the work for me saves me SO much time.  Thanks www.fabulesslyfrugal.com!

Find a way to get extra coupons

I am able to maximize my efforts and time by subscribing to my local paper and paying a little extra for them to deliver five Sunday papers.  It also means I don’t have to dig through dumpsters like the ladies on “Extreme Couponing.”  Family members and friends also give me coupons they won’t use.

Stock up when prices are low!

So…when a good sale comes around, I buy between five and ten of each product.  I am able to stock up at low prices on things my family needs and uses.  By having a “stockpile” I avoid paying full retail for most items.

For example, with in store specials, ad matching, and coupons I was able to purchase everything seen below for $38.

 

What do YOU think of coupons?  Be honest!

 

Monday Menus

Monday Menus

I (Michelle) am not naturally a planner or organizer.   But it is a skill I have learned and come to appreciate more and more.  So here’s our family meal plan (just dinners) for the week.  I may or may not follow the plan, but at least I have an idea of what to get at the grocery store and won’t overspend…too much, I hope!  😉

Monday:  Smoked Turkey Chili (recipe soon to come!!)

Tuesday:  Quesadillas and salad

Wednesday:  Spaghetti

Thursday:  Stir-fry with shrimp and veggies with rice

Friday:  Eating Out!  (We have a mini-vacay planned!!!!)

Saturday:  Homemade Pizza

Sunday:  Crockpot Chicken

What’s your family’s favorite dinner?  Leave a comment and share with us!

 

Family Binder

Family Binder

Having a “family binder” has been a saving grace for me over the past year. I originally got the idea from other women online…and for a long time thought the idea was great, but that I didn’t really need one. But, last year, after our third child was born, I found myself desperatly needing some sort of orgainization.

I looked at lots of ideas online, noting how other women were making theirs.  I took the information I saw and made one that works FOR ME. There were lots of fancy, intricate ones that enticed me. But, I kept mine simple. The great thing about this is…you can make it whatever you want, and need, it to be.

Here is mine…for ideas.

 Section 1- Weekly Goals, Daily Goals, Monthly Calander

Every week I jot down a few “extra” things I want to get done.    Next is my daily flow list.  I found that every day is different with classes and appointments.  So while my schedule is basically the same every day, I jot down a basic layout of how I would LIKE my day to go.  I usually take a few minutes at night to do this.  I rarely follow it perfectly, but it gives me an idea of what I was hoping to get done when the chaos of the day begins.  I have found it to be very helpful.  While it may sound like it makes my life rigid and structured, it actually gives me (personally) a sense of calm and simplicity.  While I do put things down that are no fun at all…like cleaning the car, I also put things on that are fun, like bike riding with the boys.  When I wasn’t keeping track of my time, things I WANTED to do, like taking the boys bike riding, got lost in the day.

My weekly goals and daily list 

 

Section 2- Medical

  • Insurance cards and info
  • Immunization records
  • Any info from the Dr. worth saving
  • Perscriptions

I have found this to be invaluable.  No more time searching for all this info when we’re on the way out the door for a doctor visit. 

My medical info.

Section 3- Spending

  • Recipts (only for certian things)
  • Our budget speadsheet…always a good reminder to see it in print!
  • Any dept. store credit cards/ regular credit cards we have…I keep these in a baseball card holder.  We do not like to have them in our wallets on a daily basis. 
  • I keep a list of when certian stores I love have the best sales.  (End of season clearnce, etc.)
  • I keep notes  in here of what sizes kids are in.
  • Gift ideas
  • I keep track of gifts I buy ahead of time if I find great deals
  • I keep print out of any hotel/ vacation reservations I make in here.
  • Passwords…so many passwords.

I usually clean this section out on a 6 month/yearly basis.

 

 Spending section…recently cleaned out!

Secion 4- Contact Information 

You know, all the numbers you need, and don’t have after your phone falls in the sink!  I also keep any relevant business cards.

Business cards 

Section 5- Home Improvement/Ideas 

We keep track of home improvement projects, paint colors, grout colors, tile types, etc.  I also keep a little folder of “ideas.”  That is my husbands least favorite section, because it means work for him!

I generally keep my binder at home in an area where I can refer to it easily.  If we are headed out of town, I put it in the car.  That way I have any of our information at my fingertips if I need it!

 

I found the book Organized Simplicity to be SO helpful when coming up with ideas for this!

 

 

Free Entertainment

Free Entertainment

If you’re on a mission to cut-back on your household expenses one of the lines you might drastically slash is entertainment.  However, if that’s the case you won’t have to suffer too much thanks to…{drum roll,please}…your local library!!!

That’s right!  Most libraries offer so much more than books for free entertainment. Many include DVD’s, CD’s, ebooks, story-times, programs, guest speakers…and all for free (as long as you return borrowed materials on time)!  Just this week in our local library they had a work shop for making your own fleece scarf.  And it was free!  My daughter and I attended a free ballet performance through the library in December as well.  Are you catching on?  Who doesn’t like free?

If your library doesn’t have much for workshops or programs maybe you can offer to teach one and get the ball rolling.  It could be as simple as reading your favorite children’s book to preschoolers or as complicated as teaching adults rocket science…if rocket science happens to come easy to you.

Most libraries offer their catalogs on-line, so you can do a lot of browsing from the comfort of your own home.  So find out what movies are coming out to DVD and put in your request!

There’s also the very obvious educational benefits at your local library too.  Find books and articles on any and every subject.  Supplement your children’s schooling with free resources you can find at your library.  If your library doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for, ask your librarian if they can inter-library loan from another branch.  Most do!

If you happened to get an ebook reader for Christmas you can also take advantage of many free ebooks to borrow from your library or to buy free on-line too.  Entertainment doesn’t have to cost much!  So find that library card buried in your purse or wallet, get to your local library and get some use out of it!

How do you save money on your entertainment budget?  Leave a comment and share with us!

Medicine Cabinet Makeover

Medicine Cabinet Makeover

After several flu and cold bugs have passed through our home in the past few months our medicine cabinet was a scary compilation of bottles and bags.  As I stood staring at it last night, eyes blurry, mind groggy, trying to find a bottle of medicine for my teething one year old…I knew it needed some work.

So, today, during nap time, I did a mini makeover.

I started with three totes (cheap plastic ones) and divided our medicine into

  • Big People – you know, the good stuff, for my (and my hubby’s) sore, aging bodies:)
  • Little People– teething gels, thermometers, kiddo meds
  • 1st Aide (Owies)- a sturdy supply of “Cars” band-aids

 

Then I made labels, using scrapbook paper, for each container.  I used a hole punch and pieces of ribbon to attach them to the containers.

Next, using more scrapbooking paper, I made charts to put on the inside of each medicine cabinet door.  One chart shows correct dosages for age/weight for common kiddo medicines.  Now my sweet, but easily confused husband will have no excuses!  The other had Dr.’s numbers, hospital help lines, poison control, and emergency contact info for babysitters.

Simple and easy,  So the next night we’re lucky enough to be searching for Tylenol at 2 in the morning, at least it will be easier to find!

 

 

 

 

Finding Thankfulness…

Finding Thankfulness…

One of my goals for the new year was to try to be more thankful…not for the easy things, but for the harder things.  It’s easy (usually) to be thankful for my children, husband, mother, home…etc.  But then there are things that I find I have a harder time being thankful for.  Things that I resent even.

This week I am thankful for shoes.  Not just any shoes, my one year old daughter’s “special shoes.”

(Taken just after she got her first “shoes”…still the happiest baby!)

They are actually called the Dennis Browne Bar and Boots.  They are helping to correct some of the muscle and positioning issues that were the result of the blood clot in her leg at birth.  They are often commenly used to help kids born with clubbed feet,  She has been wearing these shoes since she was 4 months old, and was in full leg castings before that.  Thankfully, now, she now only has to wear them at bedtime, instead of all day.  She will wear them at night until she is three.

I am reminding myself to find thankfulness for these {ugly} shoes today, because we had an appointment this morning to get a new, bigger, pair made.  I was driving to her appointment, a little angry and annoyed.  I was staring at these {ugly} shoes sitting on the seat next to me.  Annoyed, upset, that my beautiful little girl had to wear them.  Playing the whole “why me” game.

Then, in a {brief} moment of clarity, I realized I should be greatful, thankful.  Thankful that the solution to her “problem” is shoes.  Shoes are an easy solution, right?  The solution could be worse…(more) surgeries, chemo, transplants…There are babies, and mothers of babies, facing “solutions” that are far harder to handle than Chloe’s.

I should be thankful that someone designed these shoes.  That he spent his time, efforts and talents so my daughter could walk.  (While I am thinking this my mind wanders…wondering why he couldn’t have made them pink, with a little bow…oops)

I should be thankful our insurance pays for them, and we can provide them for her.

I should be thankful to God for giving me my little girl.

I should be thankful.  Greatful.

By the time we got to the office, my perspective was changed.  I entered with a better attitude.

I held my {beautiful} little girl and her {beautiful} shoes proudly.

 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

 

Guidelines

Guidelines

I never considered myself a rebellious person.  In fact, as far as memory serves me I was a pretty compliant child.  But now as a thirty-four-year old woman I find myself bristling at people telling me what to do.  If you have suggestions or advice, fine!  You have a story or opinion to share?  I’ll listen.  But do NOT tell me what to do!  I want room to think for myself!

I also used to be on top of things.  I’m not a Type A kind of person.  I admire them.  However, I am not one of them.  But I always thought I could hold my own…until I had kids.  (Rabbit trail here: but what is it about giving birth that erodes short-term memory and infuses forgetfulness?  Personally, I think the hormones and sleep deprivation are mostly to blame.  Who knows?!!?)  All I know is that I have become scatter-brained and I must write things down and put appointments DIRECTLY into my little calendar on the cell phone and set the alarm or I will not remember.

So with the combination of a developed independent streak and my random thoughts that evaporate in a second, I have a dilemma.  My to-do list is never complete and it leaves me with such guilt and burden!  I don’t like telling myself what to do!  (I don’t even like following a recipe to a “t”.)   However, due to my increasing forgetfulness I need a system!  I need tools to help me remember and keep commitments.  So what’s a semi-rebellious random-thinking girl to do?

It’s all in perspective.  I turned my constricting To-Do list into a Could-Do list, as in if-I-have-an-extra 10-minutes-these-are some-things-I-could-do list. I’ve found room to breathe and the help I need in doing those exact things I once despised: making lists, budgets, and schedules.  Now I see these plans more as guidelines…boundaries.  It helps me sort out what is essential and what is not.  Let me know where the boundaries (need-to’s) are and then give me freedom to maneuver and flex as I go.  Oh, what a freeing concept for me!

I used to think I had to have everything under control, scheduled, organized, in a planner and follow the plan to the letter.  If you’re wired that way, thank the Lord for people like you!  I can’t do it. However, maybe like me you need room to be creative and spontaneous but also need some boundaries to keep you moving in the right direction.  Here’s my advice (because I don’t want to tell you what to do):  you can look at options that work for others and that might be a good fit for you…but think of them only as guidelines!

What systems work for you?  Leave a comment and share with us!

Home-Made Ranch Dip

Home-Made Ranch Dip

We started making this dip and salad dressing a year ago..and my family won’t go back.  No, it’s not “healthier,” I haven’t figured out how to substitute mayo with applesauce{yet}.

But, it is amazing, and homemade, and my kiddos love it with fresh veggies…kids eating veggies, winning!

1 c. sour cream

1 c.. mayo

1 t. pepper

1 t.. garlic salt

1 t. dill

1 t. parsley

1 T. dried onion

1/4 c-1 c. milk (depending on the consistency you are looking for)

 

 

You can add more or less of the seasonings to your liking!  You could also use low fat versions of the mayo, sour cream and milk.

I usually double this (I usually double everything, it saves time later).  I keep it in a quart jar in the fridge and we go through it much, much too quickly!

Easy  Peasy!

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Why Homeschooling Works for Us-Part 2

Why Homeschooling Works for Us-Part 2

(Don’t forget to check out reasons 1-3 if you missed Part 1)

4.  It nurtures independent thinking.  As humans, we often get stuck in a rut.  We do things because “that’s the way we’ve always done them” or “that’s what everyone is doing”.  As my husband and I  looked at the education options open to us we wanted to move beyond that, and we want our children to too.  So, we asked a lot of questions.  Why do schools do things the way they do them?  Who decides what curriculum to use and why?  How much of my child’s time at school will be spent on effective learning?  Why is there one standard set for a variety of children who all learn and process information differently and reach milestones at different times?  Who decides that standard?  How much do politics and money influence school decisions rather than what is best for the students?  What’s best for our children?

Choosing to homeschool already has us going against the norm.  At home, I want to teach my kids to think outside the box, not letting popular opinion be our standard, but rather thinking through many options and deciding what is best for us. (And I know what is best for US is not best for ALL.) At home our kids will gradually take a more active part in the decision-making in their schooling which will foster self-motivation and discipline (or at least that’s our hope!).

5.  It encourages a life-long love of learning.  As a home educator I strive to harness the natural curiosity my children have at a young age and nurture it.   I can make sure learning is fun and playtime is educational.    The learning doesn’t have to stop at 3:00!  My kids can dive deeper into those subjects that interest them.   I can also incorporate these interests in other subjects that might not be as appealing.    One of my goals in education is to teach my kids how to learn.  If you don’t know, where can you find the answer?   I hope they never stop growing and learning!  And we can all learn together!  I learn just as much as my kids!  Not only does this foster a love of learning, but it really unifies us as a family and strengthens our relationships.  Because we homeschool,  my kids get to see me learning right along with them.

There are many many wonderful teachers and schools out there, and I’m so grateful that here in the USA public education is always an option for every child.  Please don’t think I’m knocking those great educators/schools, or saying homeschooling is the only way to go. I am questioning the public education system as a whole.  It just won’t reach every child.   Many schools do make a valiant effort, but no system will reach everyone.  Again, I’m not anti-public school!  I attended and graduated from public school.  I’ve worked in public schools.  I also know home school is not ideal for everyone or going to reach every child either.  These are just some of the reasons it’s the best fit for us.

So what’s the best fit for your family?  Leave a comment and share!

Doin' school in their pajamas!