Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clothesline instructions

Today was an unseasonably warm day (low to mid 40's), so I took the opportunity to catch up on some laundry by hanging some on my outdoor clothesline. 

Here I am, in my postage-stamp of a backyard, hanging laundry in my slippers. You'll see that Joey is playing on Adam's skateboard, pulling himself along on his tummy. We take advantage of warm(ish) weather when it comes! My poor garden looks so barren. 

So here's a load of laundry on the line. In a future post, I promise to share my laundry routine. I rarely get truly behind on laundry. (This week being the exception: Christmas means that I've been away from the washing machine, and wet weather means things aren't drying as quickly as they usually do.) Anyway, I want to point out a couple of things in the above picture. The laundry is graduated in size, with clothes first, smallest to largest, and then linens, smallest to largest. I do this for two reasons: 1. It looks nice outside and 2. The dog's path is right in front of the garden, in the foreground of the picture. If I hang pants there, she walks under them and gets dog hair on my clean clothes. So I have to hang things in that spot that are small, so they don't drag on her back as she walks by. 
So let's get to the nitty-gritty of instruction, shall we? First things first: before you hang, give your clothes a good shake. Next, hang them on the line. I like to hang pants right-side up, with the clothespins holding the waistband on the line. I hang shirts upside-down to avoid pointy shoulders. When you hang shirts upside-down, don't stretch them! Hang them from the bottom, but bring the clothespins close enough together that the shirt sags in the middle. Otherwise you have bell-shaped shirts when they're dry! 

If you're like me and have to use every inch of clothesline space, get inventive! I hang baby socks in the "sag" of upside-down shirts. You'll notice that my socks are paired, and I hang them right-side up with one clothespin holding both on the line. On the basement line, I just pair any old socks together (doesn't matter if they match), and let Adam match & put them away after they're dry. 

And here's my handy clothespin bag. It hangs on the line, and I slide it along as I hang clothes, so my pins are always handy. Yes, I made it. No, I didn't have a pattern. It was a lot of guess work. But it turned out, so I can't complain! 

Monday, December 29, 2008

Odds & Ends

Here are some snapshots out of our life from the past couple weeks. 

That's Luke, putting together one of the Lego sets he got for Christmas. You'll also notice the Magic Cabin crown on his head. He's such a ham!

And here's Adam, putting together one of his Lego sets. It's HUGE. He just finished it (with some help from Hubby) this afternoon. That's the homeschool cabinet in the background, in case you're wondering why we keep books at the kitchen table. 

Every year, I get together with a friend from high school to make Christmas cookies. We get our kids together and make a big mess. The kids decorate a few cookies (and eat a lot of dough) and I get a playdate with one of my favorite people. I love our little tradition! I wish I could find a link to the book I take my Christmas cookie recipe from: it's the best! 

Another annual family tradition is to go to the local children's museum at Christmastime. This is a picture of Gracie at lunch during our visit. Right now, this picture is also the wallpaper on my Mac. Every time I sit down at the computer with Gracie on my lap, she squeals with laughter looking at her own picture. She's growing up SO FAST! 

Another pair of the baby shoes I've made. I have a purple pair made from just the purple fabric you see in these shoes, and I have another pair in progress, with denim toe pieces and that dot fabric for the heels. Too cute! 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Grocery shopping

Is anyone getting tired of reading about my grocery store ramblings? Here is another post about my all-consuming quest to lower our grocery bill. My apologies if you're bored. ; ) 

This week, I was talking to a friend about couponing, and it dawned on me that most people don't get the idea behind the coupon/stockpile strategy, and how it saves money. So I'm going to try to do a better job explaining. This is Bargain Grocery Shopping 101. 

1. Set a budget for the month. For us, that budget is $550. 
2. In any budget, there is wiggle room, the amount between necessary and discretionary spending. Some budgets will have more wiggle room than others. If your wiggle room is only $5, so be it. But use this wiggle room to your advantage. Use it to start your stockpile, and stock up on a good deal! 
3. Use the strategies I've outlined here and here to give yourself a little more wiggle room in your budget. Then start snowballing; use your savings to generate more savings. I know that when I go to the store that I don't need 14 bottles of shampoo this month. But I do know that right now, they're at a good price, and I will eventually use those 14 bottles. If I'm only paying 25 cents per bottle, then I'm saving future grocery money. That enables me to buy 30 buddy bars, to stock up on 5 bottles of laundry detergent, to stockpile toothbrushes. 

And it gets me to my goal of lowering my grocery budget. Over time, the savings start rolling in. I am able to lower the cost per item of the items I regularly buy. By practicing stockpiling, I have managed to lower my grocery bill by $50 over the last 3 months. Not too shabby, considering how low it was to start with. 

And just to give you some inspiration, today I bought 3 bags of Hershey's Kisses for 39 cents - total. I also got some frozen pizza, our only convenience food, for $2/pizza, and 16 ounce tubs of sour cream for 25 cents each. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 9:5

May you have a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas. 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I've been crafting again

And I have some baby shoes to show you, but Blogger won't let me upload the pictures. I also made some cute bows for Grace, but you'll have to wait to see those, too! 

So here's a teaser post, and I'll post pictures as soon as Blogger lets me! 

Here are the pictures, as promised. Please remember that I am NOT a good photographer, and the only time I get to create & take pictures of my creations are after 9pm. 

I got the pattern for the shoes here. It's hard to tell in my picture, but the shoes are chocolate brown with baby blue flowers. So sweet! I have three more pairs in progress right now. My dear friend Dani sent me some suede skirts over the summer that she found at a thrift store, and I've been making good use of them as soles for baby shoes. (She knew my intentions prior to sending the skirts, btw.) Pair those with my little quilting fabric stash and a couple of fat quarters I've scored on sale, and Gracie has a shoe fetish in the making. ; ) 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cute cute cute!

I just had to post this picture. Gracie discovered the Christmas bells on the side door, and I took a quick pic of her. It almost looks like she's saying, "I see you taking that picture. I'm so cute!" 

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

Happy feast day, St. Nicholas! Adam put out our shoes in front of the tree, in anticipation for your visit! I don't think you can tell from the picture, but the post-it note says, "Dad's shoos," since Hubby was still at work. : ) 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I finished it!

I only have a second to post this, but I had to come share my accomplishment! I know this is a pretty poopy photo, but it was the only one I could get that didn't have a kid in FRONT of the quilt. (Yes, that's Adam's head sticking out from under the quilt.) 

Yes, I finished the quilt! Turns out that I was able to get my sewing machine working myself. This quilt is made from salvaged denim from worn-out jeans, backed with flannel. It is so heavy and warm. Perfect for snuggling under while reading a book on the couch. It's a great use of what I had around the house; I never have enough throw blankets. (The kids & hubby are always fighting over them. Must be because I keep the thermostat so low. LOL!) 

My current project is a pair of baby shoes for Grace. I have the cutest fabric to use! I can't wait to finish them and post pictures. I think I may make some matching hair bows, and wrap them up for Christmas. 

Happy crafting! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The first snow!

I just had to take this picture: the three boys, watching the first snowflakes of the season fall. The snow didn't stick, but it didn't stop us from grinning at each other, "Winter is here!" 

And since it's cold now, we're going through a lot more coffee. Here's a tip: instead of pouring yourself a cup and leaving the rest to sit in the coffee pot, pour the extra coffee into a thermos, and unplug the pot. The coffee stays warm without the use of electricity! 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Christmas Shopping Sanity

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. The crowds are massing, the retailers are salivating, children everywhere are making lists and looking winsome. 

And parents are breaking into a cold sweat. 

I feel that in our household, we've managed to bring some sanity to the marketing juggernaut that tries to pass for Christmas. Understand that I don't claim to have Christmas shopping completely mastered, but I do have a few tricks that help us gain a bit of breathing room. 

The key? I try to get all the shopping done by December 1. There are a few parts to this strategy: 

I keep my eye out at garage sales (especially for stocking stuffers) during the year
This is much, much easier for younger children than older children. Gracie has some costume jewelry, a tiara, and baby doll accessories ready to be wrapped, sitting in my closet right now. Total cost = about $3. For Joey, I have a Curious George puzzle, a dinosaur pop-up book, and some flashcards. I don't have anything put away for Adam and Luke, as it's much harder to sneak toys past them during the year. Gracie's gifts are pretty much complete, and Joey will get a small Lego set and action figure to round out his Christmas. 

I shop mostly online
Have I mentioned how much I hate crowds, and how I loathe plastic, made-in-China garbage? I like open-ended, aesthetically pleasing toys. I strongly dislike toys which encourage children to push a button for a specific result, or that make electronic noises, or that are connected to movie or television characters. Yes, my children do have some superhero action figures. Emphasis on some. Okay, going off on a tangent here. 

I shop online because I want to stay away from the Christmas crowds - I don't like pushing through people, I don't like standing in line, and I cannot get the shopping done for my children while they're with me. (And that's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Which leaves, uh, no time for shopping sans kids.) Hubby & I do quite a bit of shopping on Amazon (especially for Legos, and I love super saver shipping), and we also like the toys at Magic Cabin. If you're used to paying WalMart prices for toys, you'll be in for a bit of sticker shock at Magic Cabin. But that's a good thing, for three reasons - the toys at Magic Cabin and the like are much more durable, much more open-ended, and being more expensive, you will purchase fewer (which means less cleanup, a simpler lifestyle, and less clutter, right?) These are toys that don't fall apart after a few rounds of play, and being more open-ended, will be played with for a longer duration. Adam still plays with the wooden sword we purchased for him three years ago. Money well spent. Stepping off my soapbox.

We put away a bit every month into a dedicated savings account, all year long
That one's pretty self-explanatory. We know Christmas is coming, so we plan for it. It's not a surprise, it's not an emergency. Happens on December 25 every year. 

I keep a running list of gift ideas for the kids
I have two lists - a Word document in a folder on my desktop, and a folder full of bookmarks in my browser. When it comes time to shop, I don't have to start from scratch. 

I send my husband out to shop the big sales at 5am on The Day After/Black Friday
He actually likes it. It's sick, I know. Must be some kind of sadism from having worked retail. Anyway, we scope out the good deals (online - just google "Black Friday deals") and plan a strategy. He gets up early on the day after Thanksgiving and goes out hunting with his list. He's home by 8am, and goes back to bed. 

So by following those tips, we can breathe a bit (just a bit) during the holiday season (and I say holiday because the way retailers treat it, it lasts from All Saints to Christmas - so it's not just the Christmas season.) We can focus on a prayerful Advent, enjoy the company of family and friends, make room for family traditions, and reduce the manic machine that is a consumer Christmas. Whew. 

Monday, November 10, 2008


Here is a picture of the boys in their Halloween costumes, at Grandma's house. Can anyone guess which two costumes were garage sale finds? 
And here are the boys doing lessons during the day on Halloween. No, they're not being mummies; we're playing out the story of Lazarus. We've discovered a show on EWTN (I think it's called Animated Stories of the New Testament) that the boys like. They recently caught the story of Mary & Martha, and Lazarus' story. So that inspired our toilet paper homage. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I need to sit on my hands...

Okay, this is really my last post about the election. But I had to share these little bits from here and there with you. 

In a recent article from Faith & Family Live, an author shares her wonder and worry about the outcome of the presidential election. She marvels at the barrier we've just crossed as a nation, and how wonderful and moving it is that we've elected the first African-American man as president. She goes on to say: 

It's bittersweet in the extreme, however, that the man who embodies the triumph of our founding principle "all men are created equal" with respect to black persons should be so unwilling to extend to the unborn the same right to be included in the family of men. It shows he doesn't know the meaning of his own triumph, and it's a blot on his achievement much as the institution of slavery was a blot on the American founding. 

The author goes on to share (and here's the second bit, that really shocked me) about a constitutional amendment passed in Michigan that makes it permissible to create embryos specifically for the purpose of experimenting on them. Does that make anyone else just want to be physically ill? (You can read the article in its entirety here.) Creating people, just so we can experiment on them?! It's like a bad nightmare, something from a science fiction movie. It's so evil, so frightening. "Oh, but those are just groups of cells. They're not people." Well, you and I are just a few dollars' worth of chemicals. 

The blogger of Conversion Diary (one of my very favorite blogs) talks about this very thing: how the victims of every kind of genocide were first categorized as less than human. Jews in the Holocaust, infant girls in ancient Rome, slaves in early America. How society uses euphemisms to talk about people that are being stripped of their humanity, calling them anything but man, woman, child. How that act makes the horror easier for society to swallow, like the frog boiling in the cooking pot. 

There are so many things I could say on this topic. But I am so fatigued by the evil of it. So heartsick that people have eyes but don't SEE. I am grieved that misguided sympathy makes this a "woman's rights issue," as if killing people should be the right of anyone. 

Don't even get me started about FOCA. Catholic hospitals will have to start performing abortions, even though that is anathema to their very existence. Parental notification (for parents of minors seeking abortion) will be ended. The ban on partial birth abortion will be lifted. This law can't even be described as Pro Choice - it can only be described as Pro Abortion. This is the first thing Obama wants to sign when he takes office! I'm heartsick about the thought of it. 

I need to sign off now, and go hug my children, and pray that they can make a better world of this mess they'll inherit. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My heart is heavy

My heart is heavy because of the election results. I am grieved that so many people just blithely don't think. Here, read this - she says it best. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

You might be a tightwad if...

You rinse and reuse your plastic baggies. 
You rinse and reuse the plastic bag your brown sugar comes in. 
You use both sides of your printer paper. 
You reuse junk mail for printer paper. 
You use junk mail envelopes for grocery lists (because they hold coupons so well!) 
Your idea of a good Friday night date involves a trip to the library, because their DVDs are free. 
You have a bucket in your bathtub to catch the "not quite hot enough" water before your shower, and reuse it to flush your toilet or water your plants. (or pour into your washing machine, or water the dog...) 
The thought of paying full price for an outfit at the mall makes you slightly ill. 
Your refrigerator displays half-finished glasses of juice, labeled with each child's name. 
You cloth diaper your children. 
Somewhere in your home there is a precariously-stacked bottle of something upside-down on another bottle of something, draining the last bit of something before the top bottle is recycled. (Recycled, of course, because trash bags cost money.) 
You know what the last digit is in the final-markdown price of clearance items at Target. (No, I'm not telling you.) 
Your children ask (with excitement) when the next yard sale-ing morning is. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coupons, revisited

A couple of friends have asked me some questions about coupons, so I thought I'd repeat the questions and answers here. 

How do you organize your coupons? 
Well, I have an accordion binder, labeled with all the letters (XYZ are on one slot), and a few extra slots, labeled "Store Specific, Catalinas, Rainchecks, and Last Chance." In the "store specific" spot, I have coupons that are specific to a particular store (Wags coupons for Walgreens, Kroger coupons for Kroger, etc.) Catalina's slot is for catalina coupons (you know, the ones that print out at the register, at the end of your transaction?) Rainchecks - I live by rainchecks!! And Last Chance is for coupons that are about to expire. That doesn't mean I have to use them, but it does make me a bit more mindful of them. 
When shopping, I paperclip my coupons to my list, in the same order as my grocery list. If I decide not to use a coupon during my trip, then I drop it back into my binder. I put coupons in their alphabetical slot by how I do my list - all toothpastes, for example, go under "T" - not "C" for Crest or "A" for Aquafresh. 

Do you go through your coupons regularly for expireds?
No, not regularly. Usually, I just pull expireds out as I come across them. And if I'm making a grocery list, I'm going through my stash anyway, so I pull the expireds then. (and I pull and re-file the "Last Chance" at the same time.)

How do you decide what to clip? 
I ask myself, "If I could get this for free, would I bring it home?" If the answer is yes, then I clip the coupon. Believe it or not, there are some things that I wouldn't get, even if they were free. (Cleaning products and diapers come to mind, but that's for another post.) 

How do you make a grocery list? 
1. I look at my kitchen inventory, and see what I already have. Shop at home first! 
3. I look through my sale flyers from my local grocery stores and write down anything that looks like it may be a good deal. This isn't a shopping list, just a highlight list of the ads. 
4. Now that I know what the sales are, and I have a good idea of my coupon stash (from the ads and HCW), I start throwing breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack ideas around.  And then I start my list. After it's all on paper, I... 
5. Put my list in order by the store layout, and organize the coupons I'll use. 

Where do you get your circulars or inserts?
My mom saves hers for me, and gets some from her neighbors and friends. I buy a paper most Sundays, and sometimes my neighbors give me theirs. If I'm out and I see inserts (at the recycling bin, at the library, restaurants) then I'll snag them. Hey, the librarians aren't going to use the coupons - if they were, they'd have already pulled them! Finders keepers! 

What's the best deal you've gotten? 
Welllllll... I get things for free pretty often (toothpaste, shampoo), but right now I'm working a Johnson & Johnson's Buddy Bar deal. If you've got a Meijer nearby, go buy 3 Buddy Bars and you'll figure it out pretty quickly. Right now, I've stockpiled 30 Buddy Bars. I'm going to start buying them to donate to our church's food pantry, since I obviously have enough. 

Any tips? 
Look at travel size toiletries, and always check the clearance tables at the grocery store. Don't be brand loyal. Just because it's cheap doesn't mean that you need it. (Yes, I do have 2 dozen or so bottles of glue. No, I don't need them, even though they were free.) 

I am by no means a coupon pro, but I do have the basics down. There are women out there who are serious, SERIOUS, about their coupons. I like to play a coupon game with myself - I like to see how little I can spend at the grocery store, so I challenge myself to do a little better every week. Hubby likes to tease me about how excited I get when I find a good deal. 

Happy Couponing! 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Batten down the hatches!

Winter is coming here in the Midwest. We went for a walk this evening, and even in my trusty fleece pullover (a big SCORE from Goodwill) I was chilled. November is just around the corner - less than a week, in fact. So what do we do here to keep warm and be frugal? 

Glad you asked. 

First, we keep the thermostat low. I try to keep the thermostat at 66, but sometimes we (*cough* Hubby) turn it up to 68. We wear layers in the house - jeans, long socks, slippers (a MUST on hardwood floors), t-shirt, and sweater or sweatshirt. Bedtime means legwarmers, flannel pants, and a bed dressed with several good blankets and flannel sheets. The layers of clothing have to be just a bit loose: enough that body heat can get trapped between your body and the clothing. (Well, except for the socks, of course.) We also keep a couple of throws in the living room, for snuggling under during TV watching. I'm working on a denim and flannel throw, but since the sewing machine needs a tune up, that's a project that's currently on hold. 

We replaced our windows in the summer of 2007; the windows we had before that were original to the house, circa 1946. Our current windows are low-e, and I. Love. Them. I also made some draft stoppers for the base of our outside doors. They're just tubes of clearance fleece, filled with beans. We need to replace the weatherstripping around two of the outside doors. That's a cheap fix that will reap benefits. 

Lastly, we make lots of soups and stews, bake homemade bread and goodies, and drink hot tea, coffee, and cocoa in the winter. It makes the house smell good and warms us up from the inside. 

For future projects, I would really like to divert our dryer vent back into the basement (we have an electric dryer, I've heard one shouldn't try this with a gas dryer) for those rare times that I don't hang laundry to dry. Our home needs humidified in the winter, so I doubt redirecting our dryer will create a humidity problem. I think that it'll actually help. 

Another project I'd like to try is to make fleece curtains for our bedroom. Our room is the top floor of the house (it's a dormer room), and gets pretty darn cold. Since no one is up there during the day (and it doesn't need to look pretty) I'm thinking of hanging some clearance fleece (leftovers from my draft stopper project) in front of the windows to further insulate them. 

Winter is my very favorite season. There's something about the coziness of our home in winter, all the fuzzy fabrics, the cuddling on the couch to read or sew or watch TV, the warm  and aromatic food and drink, that appeals to me. I love looking out my window at our snow-covered yard, unmarred by footprints. I love the winter holidays. I find summer oppressive; all that heat and humidity, the bugs... and let's face it: being fair-skinned doesn't help my phobia of the August sun. So bring on the snow! I'm ready for some hot chocolate! 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn is so pretty!

We're very fortunate to live in a little Catholic triangle: we live between a monastery, a church with attached school, and a Catholic hospital. So many chapels within easy walking distance! So many bells, ringing out the hours of every day! (Yes, I know I should be praying the Angelus! I know! I know!) 

We regularly stroll over to the monastery, and enjoy the park-like grounds. The monastery's campus also houses a conference center and convalescent home for lay people and retired religious. (Let me tell you - the Sisters really know how to complement a mom. They just LOVE babies!) As with so many Catholic campuses, it is beautiful with its trees and flowers and sweeping lawns. In autumn, it is especially beautiful. Here are some pictures we took on a recent nature walk on the grounds. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Camping in the backyard

The boys (Hubby included) did a little camping in the backyard Sunday night. We have a very large, multi-room tent. Fortunately it's modular, so Hubby was able to separate the center module from the other compartments, and squeeeeeeze it into the backyard.  (Have I mentioned we have a postage stamp for a backyard?) Here's a picture of the tent, sandwiched between our perfect tree, the garage, and the playset. Note the clothesline, complete with cloth diapers, and garden in the background. 

We carted the air mattress and lots of blankets and pillows to the tent and set up shop. Hubby made a campfire and we all roasted marshmallows and made smores. YUM! I tried to take pictures of the little dears, but they




So you'll just have to photoshop this series in your head and imagine how cute they were, swatting away mosquitos.

After sundown, Hubby got out the telescope and got some excellent views of the moon. One of these days we'll have to figure out something else to point at, since it's a very nice telescope and it'd be a shame to waste all that spying power on something we can see with a decent pair of binoculars. My father-in-law regifted the telescope to us a couple of summers ago, after it was given to him as an anniversary gift from his employer. Hubby and I have promised each other multiple times that we'll make sure to get it out more often. The instruction book says that if you know where to look, our telescope can pick up the rings on Saturn! 

So there's my little frugal tip of the day - go camping in your backyard. The kids loved it, and when they're "done" camping at 10pm, you can shuttle them inside the house and sleep in a comfortable bed, instead of on an air mattress. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


A few weeks ago, Hubby & I were having our brains sucked out by the television when one of those inane commercials about high fructose corn syrup appeared. You know the one - two folks are sitting in a park, She offers Him a bite of her popsicle, they have a discussion about how "natural" high fructose corn syrup is. ("It's made from corn!") My jaw hit the floor upon seeing the commercial, and I think I said something like, "Oh no they DIDN'T!"

Well, I've just seen the perfect response on YouTube. And here it is. Enjoy! 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pictures of last weekend

Joey, after he insisted he needed a band-aid on his nose:

Adam, in his Cub Scout uniform: 

Luke roasting a marshmallow at the cookout: 

Grace, practicing her Bambi eyes: 

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Big Bailout

Is anyone talking about anything else? Does anyone actually know what they're talking about? Here's a nice little explanation from the BBC. Trust the Brits to explain the American economy! 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like I NEEDED that!

Tonight, we had our annual neighborhood party at our neighbor Mike's house. Every year, about 6 couples/families get together from houses surrounding ours, and we have a little pitch-in. Hubby and I bring our brood, Mike & his wife invite their grandkids, all the other neighbors come armed with good stories and good food, and we all have a good time. 

This year's party was no disappointment, especially in the story department. Let me just share my favorite with you, so you can share my horror and amazement, mmkay? 

The folks that own the house three doors down from us are avid gardeners, both of flowers and food. Mrs. Neighbor related a story to us that has me, well, a bit spooked. As she was cleaning up around the backyard a few days ago, she moved a trash can aside to get to some leaves. And what did she find behind said trash can? Go ahead. Guess. 

A snake? Nooooo, snakes are too commonplace. Not a snake. That's too easy. Guess again.

A mouse? Nope. Did I mention Mrs. Neighbor has several cats? No, not a rat either. Not a rodent of any variety. 

A spider, you say? Yeppers, that's what it was. But no common, everyday, ordinary spider. IT WAS A @$%$&%#$%@ TARANTULA!!

So what did she do when she saw the wee little beastie? Well, I'd love to tell you, but unfortunately when she said, "Tarantula" (you have to read that like in the movies, ya know? All slooooooowwww and warped and creepy-like, all deep-voiced like a tape recorder with bad batteries - taaaaraaaaaannnnnntuuuuullllllaaaaa) my brain stopped functioning at a thinking level and started functioning at a "I'm going to wrap our house in plastic and not come out until the first good snow has blanketed the ground with 16 inches of arachnid-killing freezing cold precipitation and that thing better not come after my babies or I'll go all Mama Bear on his a**."  Yeah, didn't catch the rest of the story, except to know that the cursed, hairy thing is still on the loose in my 'hood! 

Thank You, God, that I was born in the Midwest, and it freezes here. Thank You that it's nearly October, and the first good killing frost is coming. Please help me resist the temptation to Google "tarantula" (taaaaaaaaaarrrrraaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnntttttttttuuuuuuulllllllaaaaaa) and find out all kinds of creepy facts about venom and eyes on stalks and palps and exoskeletons. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A post about compost

A while back (last fall? Christmas? this past spring?) we started composting. It wasn't too hard to convince hubby to go along, since he's already been on many crazy/frugal/tree-hugging adventures with me. (Now, there's a post worth writing!)

I started composting because I hate making trash. I genuinely hate to throw things away. We started recycling our plastics, glass, and paper. We started to consider a garden. Composting seemed like a natural step to make. 

When I first explored the idea with hubby, I was a bit intimidated by the whole process. Carbons? Nitrogens? Won't it stink? Will the dog try to eat it? But honestly, it's so easy! I have a small crock on my kitchen counter, with a lid that contains a filter: 

Odd bits of vegetable and fruit scraps go in there. Apple cores, banana peels, watermelon rind, coffee grounds - if it came from a plant (and hasn't been cooked in an oil or fat), then we throw it in the compost container. When the container is full, it gets dumped on the outside compost pile. 

Our outside piles are a mixture of what was in the kitchen bin, grass clippings, and leaves from last fall. (Whenever the boys find a worm, they throw it in the pile, too. Worms like to eat compost.) So all that stuff, veggies and grass and fruit and coffee grounds and leaves (and the occasional well-rinsed egg shell) just get put in a pile to rot. 

Now you'd think that such a pile would stink, right? It doesn't! Amazingly enough, it just smells like dirt. We have two piles right now, side by side. One is a pile that is just decomposing, and doing nothing else. The other pile is the pile we add to on a regular basis. When our decomposing pile is nothin' but dirt, we'll throw it on the garden, and the "adding pile" will become the decomposing pile.  We'll start a new adding pile in place of the decomposing pile that just became part of the garden. 

There are a couple of good sources to find out about composting. I really liked this site that talks about what you can put in your pile. I also like the book Let It Rot. The author gets into the nitty gritty of chemistry of composting - carbon and nitrogen, browns and greens, starters and all that good (sometime unnecessary and complicated) stuff. 

What do we do to our compost pile? Well, we add the ingredients listed above. We avoid any oils or fats in the pile (veggies cooked in butter are out, as is meat). We try to keep it moist, when we remember that it hasn't rained in a while (though I'm too cheap to water our compost often. I mean, really, what's the worst thing that's going to happen if I forget to water? Um, nothing is going to happen - really. It'll just stop decomposing for a while.) And we turn the compost every few days, which means that someone goes out there with a garden hoe and stirs the pile up. 

And no, the dog never bothers the compost. Like I said, it smells like dirt, not food. 

I'll keep adding to it this winter, though I probably won't stir it, since it's darn cold here in winter. But I'm sure that the freezing/thawing processes that happen in early spring will help decay. Whoo-hoo! 

So what does this save me? Well, I get great dirt for free. I buy fewer trash bags. And I'm not adding to the landfills. Yay for me! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Looky what I made!

This was, by far, the easiest craft I've ever done. And so quick! I bought some ribbon and alligator clips, and voila! New hair accessories for Gracie! I think I have a new addiction...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Things I love

A little list of the things I love, in no order whatsoever, and not including people:
  • composting
  • oreos
  • homeschooling
  • thunderstorms, but only during the day
  • fresh-cut grass
  • home-cooked soup
  • slippers in wintertime
  • cool socks
  • toile
  • storage containers, especially laundry baskets
  • chocolate 
  • iced coffee
  • a good, clean joke
  • Monday Night Football
  • polka music
  • turn-of-the-century houses
  • Easter Mass
  • an earnest, respectful argument about an important subject
  • hot tea with honey
  • autumn
  • snow
  • Christmas, especially now that I have children
  • baby feet
  • clean sheets
  • quilts
  • camping
  • marching band
  • Project Runway
  • a good book and the time to enjoy it
  • napping on the couch
  • a tidy closet
  • window seats
  • big front porches and iced tea
  • Christmas trees (actually, Christmas decorations in general)
  • front-door wreaths
  • clotheslines
  • garage sales
  • my label maker
  • pretty mixing bowls
  • my Roomba
  • baby noises

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mad Cow Testing...or "Why We DON'T eat Beef"

A few years ago (8? 9?) we became a no-beef household. We just don't eat it. Primarily because of problems with "downer cattle" and Mad Cow Disease, and the glaring and willful incompetence of the FDA and its refusal to acknowledge the issue. And after reading this article, my decision is reaffirmed. Unless I know the farmer and the cow that I'm eating, there is NO WAY that potentially disease-ridden garbage is going to pass my lips or be fed to my children! (Hmmmm... does that mean that beef farmers/ranchers are going to sue me now, like Oprah? Where's Dr. Phil?!) 

Let's review the facts, shall we? Mad Cow Disease is fatal. If a human being acquires the disease, that person will eventually have a brain that resembles swiss cheese more than gray matter. The USDA currently tests 1% of US beef, because of the "low incidence" (their words, not mine) of Mad Cow. Hmmmm... the low incidence wouldn't have anything to do with the miniscule testing, would it? It's kinda hard to find something that you're purposefully not looking for. 

And that brings me to my next joke - GMO labeling. Currently, the European Union requires labeling of all agricultural products that contain genetically modified organisms. Why don't we require it here in the US? Because the Government has decided for us Little Folks that it's perfectly safe to throw GMOs into our food, so why should we worry? Uncle Sam is watching out for us, keeping all those big, complicated, scary thoughts at bay, so that agribusiness can go on as usual, making its monster profits, and poisoning our planet in the process. WTG, lobbyists! High five on hoodwinking the American public! 

What ever happened to the idea of a free market? Let the consumer decide whether or not she wants to buy the GMO corn or not. Good grief. Sometimes I feel like the only sane person in an asylum. 

There are so many things that are just so wrong, all around us. The environment, the food we eat, the screwy welfare system, abortion, circumcision, healthcare, vaccines, education, (not so) free trade, rampant consumerism, the media's sexualization of children, oy vey! The list goes on and on. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I'm so darn tired of people looking at me like I'm nuts because I actually care about doing my little part to fix things. Folks look at me like I have a third eye because I refuse to just numbly nod my head and blankly smile when faced with idiocy. I don't stick my head in the sand and pretend that I don't know what I know - when I see something wrong, darn it, I'm going to say it's wrong! I can't be a lemming, jumping off a cliff because it makes people around me comfortable. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Clothing the kids

Clothing four children inexpensively is not something that can be done without planning and organization. (So much of what frugality can accomplish is impossible without organization.)

Here is a picture of some of the hand-me-downs I've saved for the kids. (Yes, I said some.) The kids range in age from 8 months to 8 years old - that's quite a bit of clothing to hold onto! We have a large-ish garage (2 1/2 car) with shelving covering one side. Fully 1/3 of it is taken up by clothing and shoes, boxed by gender and size. We have a few boxes in the attic of the house. Coats, gloves, hats and scarves are in a big rubbermaid tote in the basement. 
I've (mostly) used copy paper boxes, labeled, and put in order by size from left to right. Because I have such a large volume of clothing to choose from, I only save items that 1. I like 2. are unstained 3. are in good repair. I don't throw away clothing that I've chosen not to pass down. Instead, I either save it for our annual garage sale (another box in the garage!), or, if it's unsalvageable, I tear it up to use for cleaning rags. To repeat myself, because this point cannot be overstated, I only keep clothing that looks like it hasn't been passed down! I don't want my children to feel shabby, and having a large-ish family, it's important to me that my children look well-cared-for. 

Saving clothes to pass down is only ONE part of the clothing system that I use. Getting the clothes for the oldest child to pass down is another matter - and being the cheapskate that I am, I do not pay full retail! 

Please forgive the blurry picture - Gracie wouldn't let me put her down. (I know, you're surprised!) 

This is the keystone of the system - the hand-me-up box. I got the name from a couple of friends, and the idea from The Tightwad Gazette. When I'm out garage sale-ing, I keep a sharp eye out for clothing that is a size ahead of what the oldest child is currently wearing. (For the boys, Adam wears an 8 right now. For girls, Grace is currently in 18 months.) For younger children, I have to keep the season in mind, too. I know the bigger sizes (starting at about 4 or 5) will be worn for a full year, so I can buy Adam's clothes for summer or winter wear. But for Gracie, it's another matter. I have to make my best guess about what size she'll be in the spring, when she'll need warm-weather clothes. But at garage sale prices, I can afford to make a few mistakes. I can always choose to sell wrong-season clothes at our annual garage sale, or I can keep them, awaiting the next child who might "line up" with that size in the right season. 

In any case, when I have enough of the next upcoming size in the hand-me-up box, I "break out" a new box, label it with size and gender, and put it on the shelf. Grace has a full box of 18 month winter clothes that she hasn't worn yet. In the hand-me-up box, Adam has some size 8 jeans (he was a 7 last winter), tees, and sweatshirts. He also has some size 10 items waiting. There are some larger sized (2T-4T) items in there for Grace, too - things that were so inexpensive and so cute that I couldn't pass them up. 

When each season changes, I "go shopping in the garage" and pull out clothes for everyone, putting away out of season clothes. The boys get a big kick out of getting a whole new wardrobe all at once, and I LOVE not spending a ton of money on clothing. As a side benefit, the kids closets are rarely crowded with outgrown clothes, since I can just rotate them out to the garage mid-season, and rotate in clothes in a larger size. 

In the future, I'd like to have a clothing inventory. I'm thinking a spiral notebook, with one size/gender on each page, and a brief list of clothing, so I know if I'm short on 3T jeans, or size 6 sweatshirts. But that will have to wait until I clear my craft table and paint the bedroom.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Odds and Ends

Again, a few unrelated photos that aren't enough of a post in themselves, but still worth sharing. 

Here's the whole crew camped out in front of the TV. Normally, I don't allow such frippery (fun word, don't you think?), but it's the weekend, and Adam is playing Nintendo. The boys are allowed to play only on Fridays (after lessons are done), Saturdays, and Sundays. And even then, it's pretty closely monitored.  Yes, I am the Nintendo Nazi.

Grace, before a nap, and soooo tired. 

Grace, telling me (her very own, personal paparazzi) that she's had ENOUGH! No more pictures! 

Joey, this morning in the backyard. The weather was a humid 85 (at 9am), and of course he's wearing a sweatshirt! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The School Year Has Begun

We started our school year pretty early this year, and I'm glad. It's wicked hot outside, and we're indoors, around the kitchen table (and lounging on the couch, and making messes in the sink, and cutting, coloring, and pasting - NO! NOT THE DOG!) hammering out how our school year will progress this year. Since we started so early, it will enable us to take a longer Christmas break, or wrap up earlier in the spring, when we want to be outside playing after a cooped-up winter. 

This is the first year I've formally schooled Luke. He loves coloring and using scissors and glue. He's especially proud to display his creations on the fridge. We're working on putting phonetic sounds together and learning Bible stories. He's also sitting in on Adam's science lessons, soaking up some biology. Earlier this week, we listened to wolves howl,  and played a kangaroo game. (I highly recommend the Usborne internet-linked books. What a great resource!)

Adam is moving along at a fast pace, full-steam ahead. It seems like he's got a heavy load when I write it all down on paper (math, science, language arts, history, reading, handwriting, catechism, read-alouds, spelling), but we're getting it done, and he's soaking it up as fast as I can get it to him. I'm so glad he's homeschooled, so he can take things at his own pace. 

And that hits close to the reason we homeschool, but isn't quite on the mark. It's hard to put into context, what it means to our family. We're home (or at least, together), every, every day. I am the primary influence on my children's lives. They get to build a close relationship with one another. Really, Luke and Joey are such close friends. And Adam, he just adores Gracie. Would that work the same way if I sent them away for 8ish hours a day? I would miss so much! They would miss so much! 

I know, I know. There are (*cough* weak) arguments against schooling one's own children. What if we miss something? (Well, goodness, I hope we do! Otherwise, what would be the point of college?) I'm sheltering them from the "real world." (Because school is SO MUCH like the real world. Ask anyone who eats the "real food" in the cafeteria.) And the ever-popular socialization argument that I won't even acknowledge with a response, here. (Not gonna do it.) 

The truth of the matter is: it's the right choice for us. It's not for everyone. (And frankly, I'm glad of that, because I like the library much better during the school year when most children are in school.) Sure, it's hard work sometimes. But it's also a lot of fun, watching Adam's excitement when he sees the result of a science experiment, or being a part of Luke's joy in reading "a real book." My kids are so much fun, and I want to be there for as much of their growing-up as I can. 

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Craft Table is Trying to Kill Me!!

My sewing machine is broken. Okay, it's not really broken, but it won't work until it gets a tune-up. So all craft projects are currently on hold. 

I'm going to go drown my sorrows in some Oreos and milk. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You should watch this

If you support a woman's right to choose, you should watch this, especially if you're an Obama supporter. And you should watch it all the way through. Let's be clear about what we're talking about. 

Warning: if you have children, the above video will disturb you. As it should. 

Guess who's still awake?

She really doesn't want me to get any sewing or decluttering done. At least she's a happy girl, right? 

Notice the castle paint still on the walls...sigh. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Craft table - during

Yeah, yeah. I've been working on the craft table. And Cory's been painting the trim, and prepping the walls for paint. But it's not done yet. See? Look! 

And even worse, my mess is spreading! See?! LOOK!! 

You want to know why it's not done? Here, look at my wonderful husband: 

Yeah, that's him. About 5 minutes ago. Wave to the nice people, honey. 

So, do you notice that little lump next to Cory, on the bed? Here. Take a closer look:

Yep. It's Gracie. She's a sweet little darling. But have I mentioned that she likes to be held? ALL THE TIME? So during the day, I school the kids, clean the house, wash the dishes, and do the *mountains* of laundry that we produce. All while holding a chubby (read: heavy) 8-month-old. If I need two hands, I give her to hubby. (If he's home, which he hasn't been lately - job interviews and other such details. Ha *insert eye roll* ha.) So if he wants to paint, it's got to work into Gracie's schedule, and the job interview schedule, and the grass-mowing, landscaping schedule. And if I want to get any crafting done (and hence clear my table) then I have to do it at night, after Gracie is sleeping. (Otherwise I run the risk of sewing my fingers, since I'd be using the sewing machine with one hand while jiggling a chubby baby. Kinda distracting, that jiggling.) 

So I'm giving myself another week. We'll see how far I can get. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Stockpile is Growing!

I just have a minute, but I wanted to post this picture of my updated stockpile. (Please forgive the bad picture. It's a tight spot with bad lighting.) Yes, I have been able to add to my stockpile, even though hubby's been unemployed since July 10. By combining sales and coupons, I've gotten so much of this for free. In some cases, I actually made money! 

I've hit the back to school sales, and hopefully been able to stockpile enough supplies to see me through the year. (Most of my school supplies are stored in a box in the garage.) I got the crayons for 22 cents at Target, and the glue (all 24 bottles) was free via instant rebate at Staples. In the garage, I have three-ring binders (25 cents each), several 5 packs of mechanical pencils (25 cents per pack), free folders, and inexpensive highlighters. 

In the picture you can see my canned salsa and canned tomato juice, a bottle of Chi-Chi's salsa (44 cents), All detergent ($3 a bottle), green beans from my mom's garden, and Softsoap (33 cents.) The shampoo in the back was a money-maker - it was on clearance for 97 cents a bottle and I had several $1 off coupons. The razors (on the top shelf, behind the mouthwash) were also a money-maker. They were $1.67, and I had several $2 off coupons. The hair products and shampoo on the top shelf were similar scenarios. 

I need more space for my stockpiling. We're all set on shampoo, glue, and crayons right now. I need some adult toothbrushes, though. (I've got a lead on a Target deal. We'll see if it pans out.) 

So much for a short post! Hopefully, my next update will be about my beautifully painted bedroom and much-improved craft table!