Monday, February 28, 2011

Service With A Smile

We spent Dylan's birthday yesterday in Philly. No, we weren't seeing the sights, getting a cheese steak, watching a ball game - we were at Cornerstone Community Church in Kennsington - shout out to all my friends down there - especially Shannon. This is an awesome church - It began about 30 years ago as a safe place where kids could come to play, get something to eat and more importantly hear about Jesus! It has grown into a church of about 350 people who love God and want to love their neighborhood.

Our suburban church - Bible Fellowship Church of Yardley has partnered with Cornerstone for about 20 years now. We've helped with youth group, block parties, Christmas parties, work projects, women's Bible studies, and provided food!! Now, if you know anything about church, you know church people like to eat!! But in the inner city, food is essential. Most activities at this church include a snack and box of cereal to take home - it might be the only food they have that day.

This day we went down to learn about their ministry, worship in church with them and provide lunch for the whole church. What a great way to spend the day -  Dylan's birthday!!

Of all the things we've done with our kids, this has been the most meaningful -serving! Giving of yourself, to help and serve someone else is a lesson we all need to learn - it is natural to think about ourselves first, others second - we must be trained to do the opposite. And the best training is by example. So we serve - we look for opportunities to help, encourage and share God's love with those around us. And our kids are getting it! We gave Dylan the option of staying home and going to church where most of his friends would be or going down to Cornerstone Church with us- he chose to serve today - he chose to make sense!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mazel tov!

Ever since I watched Fiddler On The Roof, I've been enthralled with the Jewish culture! They have the rich family history, the fun upbeat songs, and of course, the TRADITIONS! I like that the best. I like doing the same things over and over again - it's familiar, comfortable, known. And one tradition that I especially love is their journey from childhood to adulthood - also known as the bar/bat mitzvah. I've worked as a youth leader, since I was a youth! I know how hard that time of young adulthood can be and wanted to do something for my own kids that would affirm them for this journey and since we weren't Jewish, I knew I'd have to find an alternative.

Here is a great bit of advice - if you want to have a good, Godly family find a family who is a couple of steps ahead of yours. If you like how their kids are turning out - latch on! Take them out, ask them questions, find out what it is they have done or are doing - be relentless and take notes - then get to work. When my kids were young, one such family told us about a tradition they were doing with their grandchildren. When they turned 13 they would have all the family members (they have 7 kids of their own) write the child letters of encouragement and then they would throw a big party to celebrate this rite of passage. Great Idea!!

So when our kids were getting ready to turn 13 we planned such a party. We contacted all the important people in their lives - relatives, sunday school teachers, school friends and their public school teachers. We explained that they were having an impact on our child's life thus far and we wanted them to continue to support, encourage and pray for our child. We invited them to write a letter to them that they could look back on in their teen years when life was "hard", they were discouraged, or they just needed that reassurance that someone loved them and is praying for them. We also invited them to come celebrate this special day with us. What great letters we received - advice, special verses, funny stories from their own teen years and best of all - the promise that they would be praying for our child.

When they arrived at the party - the birthday child would greet them and have a picture taken with them. That picture would be included with their letter inside the scrapbook I would later make.

At one point in the party, we would gather everyone together and Cam and I would read our letters outloud, as well as their siblings letter - one personal highlight was 7 year old Dylan warning Megan not to take up smoking just because she was a teenager!

We would then have 2 -3 people pray over them - this could be a youth leader, grandparent, or neighbor.

This has been a very meaningful transition for our kids. It was a day they look back on as being pivitol. It impacted future decisions - when they were faced with a challenge, they knew they had a group of prayer warriors that surrounded them and that they could go to to talk (besides Mom and Dad).  It also proclaimed to teachers and school friends who they were in the Lord and that they believed in prayer.

Cam and I also picked out a special gift that would be meaningful to them in those years - for two of our boys it was guitars, one was a tool set and one a special necklace.

I am happy to say we were able to give this gift to each of our kids and they have the scrap book to look back on to know how loved and cherished they are - this is a tradition that makes sense!!

The Most Important Meal of the Day

My "baby" turns 16 today!
Yes, and this is the famous ice cream cake.

So the tradition in our house is that on your birthday you get breakfast in bed - usually made by your siblings!! We have a tray and it gets filled with all kinds of yummy treats - you are the king for that day. And why not, breakfast is probably the best meal of the day. But let's face it, morning is no time to be making it!!

Most mornings we have quick, but hopefully nutritious meal - we save the "grand slam" breakfasts for the weekends or for dinner!

Let's take a look at some options for the morning and maybe you can share some of your own to give me some fresh ideas!

Smoothies - this is an anytime meal in our house. We have two different kinds- orange juice base and milk base. Then you add frozen fruits - blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and I stick "almost bad" bananas in the freezer (peel first) to add in too. In the milk base, I add yogurt - about 1/2 cup of plain plus the frozen fruit. - delicious and really good for you!

Oatmeal - I was never a fan growing up, I was more of a Cream of Wheat kind of girl, but Cam loves it and now so do I. We do the slow cook method, so when I come back from my walk, I boil the water, add the oats and then take it off the stove, by the time I'm done my shower it is ready to eat. I add frozen blueberries and walnuts. My boys love the instant packets and will eat them anytime of the day, too.

Muffins - This can be labor intensive, so what I do is make the batter the night before, usually while making dinner, fill the tins and put them in the fridge, then in the morning all I have to do is pop them in the oven - 20 minutes later hot, fresh muffins, yum. My boys will eat them anytime of the day - are you noticing a theme here???

Yogurt - I buy a big tub of plain yogurt and then add my own frozen fruit and nuts, Ryan takes a granola bar and crushes it on top. When I take this to school, people will stop me and ask where I bought it! It's that good!

Pancakes and Waffles - when we makes breakfast for dinner, I will cook extra  to put in the freezer - that way you just have to heat them up in the microwave and they taste much better than the store bought frozen ones.

Egg Casserole - again, a little bit of work, but if you do it the night before all you have to do is put it in the oven and serve.

Bagels - they travel well and can be topped with anything - egg sandwiches are a favorite in our house.

Most mornings it's a grab and go, but we all know how important breakfast is - for everyone! And cold cereal gets old pretty quick so stock your cupboards with some quick, nutritional foods and start your day off right - it makes good cents!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Two Thumbs Up

I was a thumb sucker! Till about 5th grade when the orthodontist put a contraption in my mouth that we called a "birdcage". I quit sucking that night. And soon after I was fitted for my braces!!

So you would think with this history I wouldn't let any of my kids suck their thumbs - wrong - Megan was sooo cute - adorable actually with her little thumb in her mouth and I have to say it was sooo convenient,
diaper bag - check
bottle - check
thumb - check
let's go!

And no middle of the night emergency insertion of the pacifier. But as history would have it, there was no stopping it!! When she was 2 we knew it was time to start cutting back, yeah right! By age 4 we were putting band aids on her thumb, age 6 we had sticker charts and age 8 brushing on the yucky tasting nailpolish. By 10 we resorted to paying her - a dime a day, By 12 we gave up and faced the inevitable - the "birdcage". Which worked exactly like it did for me - overnight.
And after 3 years of braces she has a beautiful smile - she should for the amount of money we spent on it!!

So when the boys were born, we were determined to only have 1 thumb sucker in the family. So we used a pacifier - it was a little more work -
finding it in the crib, in the car seat, in the couch... But all three boys gave it up when they were around 2 - no biggy! I think the trick is to do it around that age - it's less stressful for everyone. I watched an episode of Supernanny where a "pacifier fairy" came and took the pacifier and left a little gift for the "big kids" - these kids were 5 years old, had speech issues and soresb around their mouth from sucking - and it worked.

So the age old question - pacifier or thumb - obviously the choice is yours, but if you are concerned about saving money - one choice definetly makes cents.

*I've been playing around with the blog layout - let me know what you think!*

Thursday, February 24, 2011

eBay = iBuy

Remember when you had to drive to a store if you wanted to buy something - not anymore - all you need is a power source and a computer -  the world's market place is at your fingertips!

Like anything technological, I learned about eBay from my kids. Colin was the first to start buying. He quickly taught us how to buy and sell and we have purchased so many things - children's books, clothes, ping pong paddles and computers. Yes, one of Colin's 1st purchases was a MAC computer - we were a little nervous about it - would it work, would it arrive, etc. But it was all that it promised to be.

Here are a few things that we have learned over the years:

1. Never give out your bank information - Colin was selling a computer and someone from Nigeria quickly bought it but wanted to send Colin the money directly to his bank account - NO WAY! Then he wanted Colin to send the computer and he would send the money - NO WAY! Use the safeguards eBay has set up - Paypal is safe and reliable.

2. If you have a problem and contact eBay, do not close out the dispute until it is resolved! Dylan bought a violin and when it arrived, the strings wouldn't tighten - he sent it back and they said they never received it!! When I filed a complaint with eBay, the company finally contacted me and said if we closed the dispute, they would send us the money - Big Mistake, I closed the dispute, never received the money and when I tried to reopen it, eBay said you can only open it once. Lesson learned!!

3. Don't get caught up in the bidding - it can be exciting but as my friend Mike will tell you - $200 is quite different than $2,000! Decide before hand how much you are willing to spend and stick to it.

4. Check the shipping price - some sellers will offer a low price but super high shipping. Books are famous for this. Megan always looks for sellers that offer free shipping.

5. You can make good money on eBay - Colin bought a turntable for $200 - we have encouraged our kids to make wise money choices and weren't too happy with this one - is "scratching" really a hobby?? He played with it for a couple of months and then turned around and sold it for $500 - OK, I guess he knew what he was doing. When our kids need some money, they will sell something on eBay to makes some quick cash.

6. You'd be surprised what sells! I had bought some tennis rackets at the thrift shop and a friend told us that they were worth some money - so I gave them to Colin to sell - he took pictures, set a price and within a week he had made $300 on 2 well used rackets - I kept saying are you sure they know what kind of shape they are in? And yes, the people were very happy with their purchases.

7. It's a good idea to check eBay before heading out to the store. Colin really wanted a bike when he moved to Florida. He researched bikes at a local store, but then "shopped" on eBay and Craigslist and ended up finding just what he wanted. It's a great option to check and compare the prices - be sure to include shipping in your comparison.

8. You do pay a percentage when you sell something, so figure that into your price. And know what it will cost you to ship. Ryan sold his snowboard and under estimated the shipping cost. We contacted the buyer to see if he would chip in more for shipping - he agreed - thankfully! The flat rate boxes from the post office are a good way to ship heavy items.

9. If you have questions, contact the seller - most are more than happy to answer your questions and most people we have bought and sold from are very honest.

10. Craigslist or eBay - for big items or things you want to see and smell before purchasing, I would use Craigslist, but if you want to widen your search to the entire world - check out eBay - It's a great option that makes cents!

Mom, there's nothing to eat!!!!

We are on week 2 of "Pantry Week" (have you heard the moans coming from my house) Now, you may be asking what exactly is pantry week - good question!

Pantry Week is when I stop grocery shopping and try to eat only what we already have on hand - I did cheat a little because I bought milk - actually Cam bought it and also came home with a box of Yodels!! Since I like to stock up on products when they are a good price, we tend to have a surplus of food. When I feel like it hasn't been rotated out quick enough or if we are planning to go away I stop buying. Since both were happening last week - we were going down to my brothers and we were getting a little overloaded = Pantry Week.

It's always a good idea to clean out your fridge before you go away - my mom was famous for this. When we would leave on vacation the only thing left in the fridge would be a bottle of ketchup and the light bulb - she was famous for her fried bologna sandwiches! I hated this, but as any good parent will tell you, we tend to do the same things our parents do! So there!!

I also clean my house and do all the laundry before I go away - this is just psychological or is that psycho- it is nice to come home from a trip to a clean house and the only laundry you need to do is in your suitcase. I also make sure there is a meal waiting in the freezer - since obviously there is no food in the fridge.

So when we returned from our trip, I anticipated a trip to the grocery store, but no one has been complaining about the lack of food, so I bought milk and we are now on week 2.  I am going to see how long I can make this last!

I've had to be creative to make it this far, below are some of the meals and snacks that we've had:

Chicken - lots of chicken
Carrot and Squash Soup
Grilled Cheese made on bread that had been in the freezer a little too long, but tasted delicious as grilled cheese
Steak that we had received as a gift for Christmas
Pasta - lots of pasta
Salad with leftover meat on top
Mediterranean Orzo Salad

And now for the snacks:
Chocolate cake
Rice Crispy Treats
Celery and Peanut Butter
Carmel Popcorn - this recipe is courtesy of my sis in law - and is too good not to share:

 Microwave Carmel Popcorn  
1 Cup Brown Sugar                           
1 Stick of Butter
                              1/4 cup light corn syrup
                                      1/2 tsp salt
                                  1/2 tsp baking soda
          4 quarts air popped popcorn- place in brown grocery bag

Combine first 4 ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat. When blended, add baking soda and stir quickly till frothy - pour immediately over popcorn in the brown bag, close and shake vigorously. Place bag in microwave and cook for 1 minute, remove, shake, repeat. Then spread hot camel popcorn on clean surface and let cool. Store in an airtight container - if any makes it past the cooling stage - we eat it right off the counter!
This is a great treat to send to college students - it's light, cheap and delicious!!

Back to my story - so I'm going to see how long I can go without shopping and try to use up some of my bargain groceries - everything does eventually expire. Meanwhile, I will be searching for a recipe that calls for 20 cans of dented tuna fish. Saving money by skipping a few weeks of grocery shopping - that makes cents!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Connect Me to the Disconnect Department

I received a comment yesterday asking how to save money on a data package. I don't know much about that but I did stumble upon the Disconnect Department of Verizon when I was calling about another problem.

Now in "real" life I hate confrontation but there is something about "phone confrontation" that I love. Maybe the not looking into their eyes gives me a boldness I don't normally have. Anyway, as I was "discussing" my problem, they transferred me to the Disconnect Department. I told them I had no intention of disconnecting my services - yikes - having to get new cell phones packages, cable, land line and Internet - no thank you! But the woman began offering me promotional discounts that far outweighed my pain and suffering. I asked her how she was able to do this and she said they regularly offer promotions to customers and you just needed to call and ask about them. She told me when I was eligible to call back again and I happily hung up -

I have used this technique numerous times not only with Verizon but with my car insurance, PECO, trash removal, landlords,etc. I explain what a loyal customer I am and if I am getting the best deal from them. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes not, but if you don't ask, the answer is always no.

The other thing I do is to look over every bill - yes - every bill. Recently I found a 3rd party charge on our phone bill. When I called to ask about it, they said companies do this through the Internet and you agree to a monthly charge simply by taking a survey or logging onto a website - SNEAKY!! So they removed the charge and blocked it from happening again.Then I called the company and got taken off their list -never to be put on again - thank you very much. They agreed to refund my money also and when I told them Verizon already did that, they said it was their policy to do it to.

Ka-Ching again!

Now I know that this takes time. But if I am going to be the best steward of what God has blessed me with, I need to take that time. So I put the annoying wait music on speaker phone, get dinner started (not the best time to call) and be assertive. I have also made my kids make these calls when they have bought a defective product, or had their cell phone stolen. It's great to hear them calmly explaining the problem and asking what your company is going to do about it.

Now doesn't that make cents!

Communication Breakdown

Years ago Cam surprised me with a cell phone - what did I need a cell phone for?? I was used to screening my calls at home  - why would I want those same calls to follow me out into the world? But it was during this time that I returned to work. I found that having a cell phone was really helpful. I could make calls on my lunch break, check up on the kids and ask Cam to pick up ice cream on his way home. Yes, I bought into cell phones.

Next was email. I was a stay at home mom - why did I need email - my physical mailbox still worked, I actually enjoyed receiving a letter from far, far away. But again, when I went back to work, they gave me an account and expected me to check my email - that's how they communicate in the "real world". So now I have two accounts - one at home, one at work and I check them every day, talk to friends more than I would in person and pass on along a funny picture or two. Yes, I bought into email.

All my kids have cell phones. At our house when you turn 15 you take a trip to the Verizon store and pick out a phone. They were on a mission to  convince me they "needed" texting. Why you can't pick up the phone and talk anymore is beyond me, but for $10 a month, they can text all they want - and yes, they have to pay for that. But I was not convinced of the necessity of it. Until our plan offered one "low" price for unlimited texting for everyone, so now I have texting and I have to say, of all the modern conveniences I might like this one the best - it's quick, concise and there is very little back talk - when I answer the kids "no" all I have to do is turn off my phone - no back talk!! I must confess, I text a lot - I will send the kids messages for after school plans, tell Cam I'm praying for him during the day  or give a friend a quick answer to there question. So I guess I, too "need" texting.

Skype is something I did want !! With 2 kids so far away we can talk to them anytime we want - for FREE! All you need is an account (for free) and a web cam. If you don't have a web cam, you can still Skype, you just can't see each other - kind of like a phone call! We just make arrangements with the kids when we will talk - your computer has to be on to receive a call. But we have had to have that "talk" at our house ----  "Sype Etiquette". Ryan met Colin's girlfriend on Skype while wearing a leotard and doing jumping jacks in the background (sorry Jorie)- if you wouldn't do this in person, don't do it on Skype - wait, Ryan would do this is person! Anyway, Skype was an easy "sell" for me.

So this brings me to Facebook - I've been asked many times why I don't have an account -yes, I'm that popular :) But as you just read- I am slow to change and resist it for as long as I can. If it has no immediate benefit to me, why do I need it?

My good friend who I won't name, but it begins with J and ends with anet tried to join Facebook back in the day when we were both youth leaders. She thought it would be a good way for her to keep in touch with the youth, so she signed up. But back then there was an age limit  - so she was rejected - yes, by Facebook! She got smart and tried again, although this time she was going to lie about her age - but Facebook was onto her - she was turned down again - I think it even  issued a restraining order! So I think of Facebook as a young persons domain - at least that's what my kids keep telling me! When Cam created his account he was sooooooo excited and has really enjoyed the "networking" or is that "notworking"? He keeps trying to convince me to join in on his account  - we could be  "Camry" Garven - but even I know this is "gay" -not that there is anything wrong with it.
Besides, it's more fun to "creep" under his name. He's always surprised when someone comments on something he "wrote" because he probably didn't write it at all. Yes, I am slow to buy into technology, but if it is something that can save me time and money - I'm all over it - just give me a year or two and then it will make cents!

What's Your Return Policy?

I've been known to return everything from a pair of shoes to a meal that had a hair in it. Why not? If something doesn't do what it is advertised to do, I don't want to pay for it and I'm pretty sure I ordered Shrimp over Angel Hair, not Human Hair. But some people shy away from the "return" - here are some tips to do it easily and effectively - with as little drama as possible.

1. Keep your receipts!! This is the number one secret to a successful return, I've done it without, but with it is so much easier. When I buy something, I put the receipt in my wallet and then when I get home or I can't shut my wallet anymore, I put all receipts in a manila folder marketed 2011. That way if I have a problem, I quickly look through the folder and find the receipt.
*Added bonus - when it is time to do the taxes - all my receipts are right there!

2. Keep any tags that might be helpful. I once bought a throw rug that said "5 year guarantee" - I stapled that to the receipt -if I had been really good, I would have circled the date on my calender for 5 years later!

3. Don't be afraid to speak up!! I know this can be hard, but be polite, state the facts and then be quiet - most places want to please the customer and I do mean "most" and if they don't ask for the manager. My brother and I just went to pick up pizza for the fam. and knew they had overcharged us. As we explained it to the cashier, we knew she wasn't getting it- so I made eye contact with the owner, he immediately came over, looked at the receipt and fixed it - no problem.

4. Don't over explain. When returning a backpack that Colin had for less than a month, I simply pointed out that the straps were ripped and I had only bought it a month wait for it... OK, here's your money. I used to think I had to offer a huge explanation when in fact, they don't care.

5. Express your loyalty. Explain how your family has eaten here, shopped here, got your haircut here for many years and you have always been happy with the service/product. Making a friend works better than alienating one.

6. Know the policy before you buy. Dylan just bought a used piece of equipment from the music store. Before he paid, he asked about their return policy - they said he had a few days. So he immediately went home and used it. It ended up not being compatible with the other equipment he had - so back it went - no problem. But if he had waited to use it, or we had waited to return it, that might not have been the case.

7. Some stores are better than others. LL Bean has an unbelievable return policy, so I bought a hammock from them knowing that in a few years it would probably break -so when it did break, I called, told them when I had bought  it and they immediately mailed me out another one - free shipping!

Remember - it's your money - spend it wisely and if you aren't satisfied with your purchase, speak up with receipt in hand  - that just makes cents!

Don't Play With Matches!

I secretly LOVE fire - I love everything about it, the smell, the look, the warmth. When people leave a campfire and say "yuck, I smell like smoke" I think yum - how can I bottle that smell? Is there a Yankee Candle that smells like campfire??

 Rabbit Trail Alert : Friends and I wanted to start a company called "Stankee Candle" where we would produced candles with smells like Wet Dog, Gym Locker and Backed Up Septic Tank. Anyway...

 In the "old house" as my kids call the town house we lived in before we moved to our current and final house - no Ryan - you aren't kicking us out!! - we didn't have a fireplace - heck we had 1 bathroom, did I really think I would find a hidden fireplace. So when we bought this house I was thrilled that there was a big stone fireplace! And the funny thing about this fireplace is that the previous owners never used it!! It was sparkling clean. They had built this house and  lived here 25 years - why did they never strike a match. Well it didn't take us long - we moved in Sept. and the first cold day we built a fire!

My husband grew up in farm country - behind his house was a vineyard and he loved to play out there. One day while he was playing he thought it would be fun to start small fires and put them out. Each time the fire got bigger and bigger until he could no longer stamp it out - so he ran in his house and hid. Soon enough the fire department was called by a neighbor and they arrived with their equipment and extinguished the flames -
 yes, my kids come by  " IT " honestly!

Now, you would think with this history that starting a fire would be a piece of cake  - it isn't! If the wood isn't dry, you don't have kindling, etc. you don't get fire! My plan was to crumble up newspaper and light it, but all that gives you is a quick burst of flames and a lot of ash. So what to do - I started making fire starters - first I gathered pine cones and dipped them in candle wax - at the time I was making my own candles to sell. Then we discovered that just plain pine cones worked too. But pine cones can be sticky and messy - especially in the house. So now, I save my egg crates and take old jar candles that I have in my candle warmer that no longer smell good. I pour the wax into the egg crates (put newspaper underneath - it can be messy) and let harden.

Hurray - I made Fire Starters!

I break them apart and put a few in the fire between the logs and they REALLY work! And there is no waxy mess left behind - it all burns up.

The kids use them out in the fire pit Colin built out back - We had a clay fire pit that sat on a nice wrought iron stand that we could move around our yard. Then one weekend Cam and his brother decided to cut down a dead tree and burn the brush - next thing I know we have "Burning Ring of Fire" in our backyard. When it finally burned out - 3 days later - the fire pit had a nice crack in it. So Colin dug a hole, took the broken pieces, arranged them to create a in ground fire pit! He went on to build another one at his friends house with bricks. I can't tell you how much use this one area of our yard - get a fire pit, you have an instant party - just supply the marshmallows! And yes, our kids do take after their Dad - we looked out one night and they had piled on so much wood that the flames were shooting 20 feet in the air. But having your kids and their friends over for some low cost entertainment - really makes cents!


No, not that kind of passion- come on, my kids read this blog! What I am talking about is motivating your kids and maybe yourself.

Cam and I had two different philosophies about part time jobs. At the age of 14 I was in the HR department at the hospital that my Mom worked in to interview for a nurses aid job. I worked every other weekend and most of my summers until the day I got married and moved to TX, Cam also began working at a young age. His dad passed away when Cam was 16 years old so his motivation to work was a little different than mine - he was helping to support his family.

We both agreed our kids should work, but he wanted them to have jobs that were flexible - allowing time for family and church. He also wanted them to be passionate about what they were doing. This would prepare them for their future careers. How could I disagree with that?!

Our kids jobs haven't been your typical adolescent jobs.

 Megan loves kids - so naturally she babysat - a lot! She has babysat for multiple kids, disabled kids and rambucious kids - all while learning to be a great teacher. She also watches a lady with alzheimers and edits her school's yearbook.

Colin is a computer whiz kid - when he was in high school he created his own company complete with website where he transferred customers VHS tapes to DVDs - he still does this while going to college -

Ryan is also good with kids and loves to be active so he has taught swim lessons, lifeguards and collects scrapemetal with Colin to turn in for cash.

Dylan is into music and a natural muscisian so he teaches bass, guitar and drum lessons - As well as helping a neighbor with odd jobs and her cats - yes, he is a Cat Whisperer!

They all have done the lawn cutting, snow shoveling, selling on EBay, etc. It helps to have parents that volunteer them for anything.

This flexibility has allowed them to help at VBS, go on missions trips and still be able to finance their "lavish" lifestyle! But more important they can use what they are leaning to help them decide what they want to do "when they grow up" - That doesn't always happen when you are flipping hamburgers. So when looking for a part time job - be creative, think about what you are passionate about - it could turn into making you a lot of cents!

That Used To Be What??

Tonight I was determined to do Megan, Colin and Ryan's taxes - federal, state and local (thank goodness Dylan is working under the table). I'm usually on top of these kinds of tasks but since I've become totally obsessed with blogging, these things seem unimportant - I'm sure the government would understand.

So as I buckled down, my wonderful husband sat down to figure out how to add pictures to my blog. I've been wanting to do this for a while - so here is my  repurposing idea:

This is a dresser that my neighbor was throwing out about 10 years ago. I took it and spray painted over the white enamal a lovely tan color and the kids kept their puzzles, toys and videos inside.

Then we moved and it became the school supply holder. It held paper, binders, pencils, crayons and all the thousands of supplies that are on the teachers back to school list, but never seem to be asked for once the kids are in school.

TIP: Buy extra supplies when the back to school sales are on. I buy 10 cents folders, $1 for 3x5 cards, etc. That way we have extra supplies on hand and dry goods never expire (I sound like Laura Ingalls when I say dry goods).When they get their supply list for the next year I have the kids shop first in the dresser before we go to Staples.

Back to the dresser - alas, the top drawer broke and was totally useless. That's when I came up with the idea to use it as a TV stand - but you and I know, no TV stands alone, you need your "Boxes", the VCR, the DVD, FIOS and in our case the XBox. So I took out the top drawer, laid the bottom panel of the broken drawer on the runners, tacked it down and  "TA DA" - an "antique" entertainment center. I put all the boxes on the top shelf where the cords can be easily accessed through the back and I store DVDs in the 2 bottom drawers.

I also treated it to a new coat of paint, which this picture doesn't do justice - it is a really nice mustard yellow - complete with brown smudges and strategic areas sanded off - I told you before I like my furniture looking old and beat up. (I'll tell you another time how I do that, since it is one of my favorite things to do!!)

That's the fun of being creative - not being stuck on what something is supposed to do, like hold clothes, but all the possibilities of what it could do.And who knows in a few years, I might decide to turn it into something else, like a changing table for my grandbabies!! That makes cents!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seeing the Sights

We are down at my brothers' house this weekend for a visit and a little history lesson!! The boys were thrilled!! I visited Mt. Vernon when I was a kid and had fond memories! So I thought it would be fun to see the family and George and what better weekend than on his birthday. My brother had told us that on Monday the visit would be free - which beats the $15 per person price and when you are bringing 2 surly teenagers, you don't want to pay $30 for them!

This got me thinking about free tourist travels. If you are interested in seeing the sights, check out their website first, see what kind of deals they have, or ask if they have any coupons.

But be careful - Cam and I were at a conference once in Orlando and in the hotel lobby they were offering free tickets to Universal Studios - SCORE! All we had to do, was take a little van ride to another location and sit through a "short" presentation....
We gave up the "free" tickets and went back to our conference.

There are also websites that offer free entertainment in your area - usually those days are crowded but free is hard to pass up.

When Megan was 3, Colin was 1 and Dylan and Ryan were a mere twinkly in my eye. We went to Sesame Place - we had a blast - this was when it first opened and you could actually walk around without the mobs! When we were leaving there was a sign for a season pass and they would roll the amount we had paid that day into our cost. So if we decided to come just one more time we would have paid for the whole summer. We had a great time that summer. I would take the kids by myself for an hour or two. Cam would meet us for dinner. We would take visiting relatives - we more than got our monies worth!
A couple of years ago we did this with the Camden Aquarium, too.
Before you do buy the season pass, see if you can visit for the day and if they will roll this into the season pass. How many times will you have to come back to make it worth it,  do you want to come back, is it convenient to where you live, how much is parking, do they offer guest passes so you can take friends.

Making memories and having family fun is meaningful but all these questions will help you decide if this is good for you and if it makes cents.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Was I Talking To You??

This is a new portion of my blog I will call "Parenting Pearls" - these are ideas that Cam and I did with our kids and if we had to do it all over again, we would do exactly the same thing. So here we go:

When someone would ask our kids a question we would allow our kids to answer them. I know this sounds simple, but think about how many times we answer for our kids.

"What's your name?'
"Her name is Susie"
"Oh, how old are you?"
"Tell the lady you're 5"
Well, YOU just did.
Kids need time to process the question being asked them and when we jump in and answer for them, we aren't doing them any favors.
Also, shy kids need that practice of interacting with adults. I had a shy kid - If he wanted something from the store, I would make him go to the counter and ask how much it was. I tried to create situation where this person would have to speak up - it worked wonders. Also, I had 3 others who were more than happy to answer for them, so I encouraged them to let their sibling speak!! There was a time when we had a talking spoon at dinner so everyone got a chance to talk -not just the loudest.

When I talk to kids at school or church I try to get right down on their level, usually kneeling, look them in the eye and talk (kind of ignoring their mom and how "Bobby" is just shy) and do you know what happens -
Bobby answers me.

It's hard as parents to allow our kids to blossom - we want them to shine and we think that awkward pauses or marble mouth speech will make them look bad - it won't!! If we keep answering for our kids all they learn is Mom/Dad are a better speaker than they are and if they wait long enough they'll do all the talking.

So that's my "pearl" for the day - do with it what you wish!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Old Man Winter, I Don't Mind You!

There is a lot of excitement in the North East = Warm weather has come - at least for the weekend! Winter tends to be LONGGGG especially around here. At school the months leading up to winter are fun - 1st day of school, Jewish Holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas - oops I mean "winter holiday". But then after the break comes January, February, March....

Here are a few things that have helped me enjoy this season:

The Happy Lite - yes that is what it's called - it's put out by a company called Verilux. A couple of years ago when I was telling a friend how blah I felt in the winter she "turned me on" hahaha to this light. It simulate daylight - now it's not cheap - mine was $160 but to have bottled sunshine in my kitchen all winter long - priceless. I sit there in the morning while reading and drinking my coffee, the kids turn it on when doing their homework, we eat dinner by it (when it is getting dark at 4:30pm it's nice to have some "sunlight") and the dog even snuggles in front of it - which tells me it really works - dogs don't know how to read the word "simulator", so it must have her fooled.

Walking every day - this is the first year I have ever been this consistent in the winter and I really like it. I don't even mind the cold which is a first for me. But if I don't go first thing in the morning, I defiantly can find an excuse not to do it when I get home from school.

Countdown - someone told me that on the first day of winter - Dec. 21 (yes, we keep track of things like that at school -we just celebrated the 100th day of school - I don't think Cam is doing that at his job!) anyway - on Dec. 21 the days actually begin to get longer -I never knew that- it felt like the opposite, but she assured me it is true. So now I keep track of what the sun is doing -
Rising at 6:42 am   Setting at 5:38 pm - we are almost there!!

Day Light Savings - Yes they have shorten this period so the short days don't feel quite as short -  the clocks change again in 3 weeks.

Snow Days - any teacher will tell you that they enjoy the day off from school probably more than the kids do - why do you think we tell them to wear their pajamas inside out and sleep with a spoon under their pillow - just don't talk to us in June!

Blogging - secret confession -I don't like to write! I was never one of those people that kept a journal - now don't get me wrong, I have journals -lots of them, all with ONE page written in. When I mentioned to Cam this "blog idea" I was horrified when 15 minutes later he slipped the laptop to me and said "write, I'll make dinner" YIKES!! He had created a whole blog site for me and I had no excuse not to do it - why did he choose this idea to listen to. But I am so glad he did - because I am loving it!! I really like to type so I think that has helped me and apparently I have A LOT of opinions on how to save money - who knew!!

So enjoy this weather - while it lasts - and let me know what you are doing that is making you and your family a lot of cents!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To All My College "Peeps"

One of my favorite college girls left a comment yesterday asking how college kids can shop more efficiently and save money. Great question!

When Colin decided he wanted to go to Full Sail University - everything looked great - the teachers, the location,the program - he will come out with his bachelors in just under 2 years - not bad!! The only downside was that there are no dorms - our son would not only be living on his own, doing all his own laundry, cleaning his apartment but also cooking all his own meals. The first 3-no problem, the last took a little prep work. So the summer before he left, he grocery shopped, cooked more meals and we talked a lot about meal planning. We even wrote up 3 x 5 cards that listed meal options and all the ingredients he would need to make it. Since he has a limited budget, eating out is not on his meal plan. He called me last week at 9pm to ask how to make chicken cordon blue - yeah, I would say he is doing OK!

So if you need some help with frugal ways to make your grocery money last as well as the food that you buy with it - read on.

You defiantly get a better deal on food if you buy in bulk but how do you keep it fresh as long as possible. When I get home from grocery shopping I divide all the meat I bought into amounts that I would use for a meal - so a 3lb package of ground meat will go into 3 separate *Ziploc, I write the date on the bag and then put it into the freezer.

If I am feeling ambitious I will cook it up first, then divide it and freeze it - that way when I pull it out, all I have to do is defrost and add it to the recipe - that cuts the prep time in half.

Chicken is great for this - I cook it in the crock pot or you can put it in a pot of water on the stove - just add salt and pepper - then pick out the bones and skin and will have cooked chicken to use for the week or I can put it in the freezer and pull it out as needed. Just make sure you package it in smaller portions.
Added bonus - I make chicken soup from the stock.

Repeat after me "The freezer is your friend" - but keep track of what you have in there and how long it's been there. Tape a piece of paper on the outside of the freezer and write the food you put in along with the date. When you use it, cross it off. So at a glance, you know what you have and how long it's been in there. I'm a generous landlord, but after a year - it has to go.

Things that I freeze:

Bread,bagels and rolls - if rolls start to go bad, I stick them in the freezer and use them for garlic bread.


Shredded cheese - it defrosts great in the fridge (never defrost in the microwave) and will last for months - I stock up when it is 3/$5

Nuts and Frozen Fruit - we always have this on hand for smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt

Bananas - I peel them, put them on a plate and when frozen put them in a *Ziploc and back in the freezer

Ice Cream - are you still with me????

So there are some ideas. When you are shopping for 1 or 2 people it is still worth it to look for a good deal, stockpile, food share with some friends and freeze all that you can - hope these ideas make you a lot of cents!! Now get back to studying and call your mom!!

* When I say Ziploc what I mean is the cheapest generic brand of bag that zips shut!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let's run some errands

When I got in from my walk yesterday morning there was a note on the table from one of the boys saying that he wasn't feeling well but wanted to go to school to take his Math test and could I pick him up on my lunch break - all this from the boy who asks me everyday if school is cancelled - I guess we are making progress. And apparently you can just tell the high school nurse that you are too sick to be in school and she will let you go home! So when I got to work and my cell phone rang with the schools number, I thought I knew what the nurse would say. Instead it was our other son with a high fever! After getting everyone settled at home, I had a few errands to run after work.

1st stop - CVS - did you know that some prescription plans will allow you to have a 90 day supply of your prescription for one copay? Ours does, so anytime we need something filled that is for more than one month I have the doctor write it for 90 days - I just saved 2 months on that prescription. Check with your pharmacy to see if you are eligible.

2nd stop - Post Office - with Colin living in Florida, this is a place that I frequent a lot, but I only recently found out that there is a self service machine in the lobby. No standing in line with 20 other people while 1 clerk waits on us and 2 employees scurry around behind him trying not make eye contact with us. You can send packages, big envelopes and buy stamps. The machine does all the work, prints out the postage and you stick it on and put it in the proper slot. You can also use their free shipping boxes. They come in 3 different sizes and you pay according to the box - $5, $10 or $15 - no matter how heavy it is and you can use the same machine to print out and pay to ship it-- see you suckers!

3rd stop - Redbox - remember when you used to go to the movies but that got too expensive, then you went to Blockbuster for your movies but that got expensive, now for $1.06 you can get fairly recent releases. You can also check online at for available titles at the box you want to go to. No disappointment when the movie you wanted isn't there = or trying to make a decision by calling home to read off all the available movies while the person in line behind you huffs and puffs. People also seem to like Netflix - I just don't think there are enough movies I want to see to justify the expense.

You may be wondering why I am telling you all this - not that it wasn't interesting.

There are two ways to make more money - I can work more hours (and be taxed on that amount) or I can save the taxed money I already earned and find ways to do things cheaper - so if I am frugal with what I already have it is like getting a raise without paying taxes. There are only a few BIG ways to save money - mortgage, car buying, etc. It is all those little ways that add up to save you money and time is money - so if I can do something quicker and cheaper - I'm all in and that makes cents!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do you have a reservation??

I heard on the radio yesterday that the average couple will spend just under $200 on Valentine's Day - I'm glad I'm not average - aren't you??

Cam just called me upstairs to show me the toilet seat he put in our bathroom - it lowers by itself. I'm pretty sure that isn't my Valentine's gift, but if it is I hope it was under $200!

That amount might seem high but if you think about eating out - that amount isn't too far off base. Which brings me to what I really want to talk about - eating out - is it worth it?? Fast food is around $5, sit down can be about $15 plus tip and nice sit down can cost you about $30 and those numbers are if you are dining alone - times it by 6 and you see why I obsess about this!

Cam LOVES to eat out. He likes to tell me the story of how his Dad had diabetes and after church he would say he was going to have an episode if they didn't get to Perkins in 5 minutes - he loved his Dad!!

My family rarely ate out. The first trip Cam went on with my family we drove to Martha's Vineyard. We pulled into the rest area and Cam thought - great - fast food. That smile was quickly replaced by a look of horror as my mom pulled out the picnic basket complete with plastic tablecloth and wet wash cloth in a Ziploc. He quickly ate and then excused himself to use the bathroom (and buy a burger!)

Fortunately in Cam's line of work he takes people out for lunch and breakfast quite often so you would think his need for other people preparing his food would be satisfied, but he tells me it is hard to enjoy your food when you're trying to listen and give wise counsel - BOO HOO!

I do enjoy eating out and the break from cooking and at times will look around the kitchen and cry out -PIZZA!!

But when I think about eating out and the expense that is involved in it I have to ask myself "Is it worth it"?

This is a good rule of thumb for anything you buy, not just food.

Take for example a cheeseburger and fries that would cost about $5. To buy the same meal at the grocery store and make at home would probably be about $1 - did I enjoy that fast food meal 5 times more than my home cooked meal? Probably not! Let's get fancier. A couple took us out to an expensive Italian restaurant and paid $120 - I could have made the same meal for around $12 did I enjoy it 10 times more? I do enjoy eating out - the atmosphere, the service, the way every one of my "needs" is met! And granted some meals are good - really good especially when cooked by a real chef but are they that much better? That is the question you need to ask when you are planning to eat out. I love Greek food and have tried to make it at home with little success so for me, that is worth it!

The key word PLANNING. Am I just going out because I didn't plan well at home. Am I using restaurants as a meal planner? It's a personal question. If you don't have the money - eat at home. But if you do have the money - choose wisely and use a coupon. If it's a special occasion or you have a good reason, go ahead but with a little preplanning, you can make those special meals right at home.

It turns out the toilet seat wasn't my gift for Valentine's Day -Cam cooked some steaks that we had received as a Christmas gift on the grill and made a Cesar salad. No long lines, no tips, no reservations - just dirty dishes, but that's why I had children. Eating at home does makes cents!

That Makes Cents Tip: Homemade Pizza
Take frozen bread dough and let defrost - follow directions on the package -I take mine out in the morning. Spray a cookie sheet, stone or pizza pan with olive oil. Spread out dough - little kids love to help with this, just flour your hands and knead on the tray. Cover with sauce (I just use spaghetti sauce, but you could try tomatoes too) Then put shredded mozzarella cheese, and any other toppings your family likes. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning or fresh Basil if you have it. Cook at 400 for about 15 minutes. It is delicious and costs about $3 for one pizza.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spending $ Sometimes Makes Cents!

Somebody asked me what the "Purpose of my blog was?" Yikes, not only did I have to write, but I needed a purpose!
Then I realized that was easy - "How my family saves money" - DUH!

But as much as I love to save money I also LOVE to invest it!
No - I am not some savvy stock market geek - I wish I was. I just believe that spending money to better yourself, marriage or family is money well spent. Bottom line - I want those that I love to grow in their relationship with God!

So this past weekend 5 out of our 6 family member were doing just that (sorry Colin, someone has to go to school:)

Megan paid money to go to a Young Life Camp for Jr. High kids in the Dominican Republic where she is doing her student teaching. We paid our church to take Dylan and Ryan on a Sr. High Youth Group Winter Weekend -believe me that was money well spent! And Cam and I paid to go to a marriage conference at Sandy Cove along with some other couples from our church.
 What do all these things have in common???? They cost us money and they were WELL worth it!

So my "purpose" for this blog hasn't changed. But don't work so hard at saving money that you forget why it is that you are doing it. If you  lose sight of  the things in your life that are important and that you value - it doesn't make cents!

SIDE BAR: I would be interested in knowing who is reading my blog. It would help me gear the blog towards the audience. If it's all college students, I'll hold back on the "Making your own Baby Food" articles and start writing the "Traveling the Seven Seas for Seven Dollars a Day" articles! So if you aren't already signed up as a follower, please do (if you don't know how, ask a teenager) Someone asked me if it costs money to "follow" NO, but if it makes you feel better you can put $10 in an envelope and send it to me! And if this is way too much of a commitment for you, please continue to stalk me for free.  And thank you for all the kind, supportive, and encouraging comments you've given so far - I appreciate it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trash to Treasure

A good part of my house is decorated with trash - there I said it! I am a dumpster diver! The only thing better than a good deal is free deal and what could be more free than trash!

It is amazing what people throw out! And I have found some real treasures. Here is a partial list:

4 kitchen chairs that match my original 6
An antique window someone had made into a mirror
Pampered Chef cooking stones - 3
Leather office chairs
2 Wooden dressers
6 trash bags full of clothes - some with tags on
Items to craft with
10 foot long book shelf
A wooden, tin punch trash can
Numerous end tables
A croquet set
2 Ikea chairs - I just had to buy new cushions
An under the bed storage unit - This End Up - remember that store :)
A rocking chair
2 living room chairs
Sports equipment
An enormous amount of wood for all my kids building projects
Last nights dinner - just kidding - just wanted to see if you were really reading:)

My family is used to my shenanigans - " quick pull over, I think I saw something" "Hurry and help me before someone else gets it!" My mom was my best accomplice - she could lift like no one else!!
My boys used to be so embarrassed but lo and behold they are now "Scrappers"! They trash pick metal objects and turn it into the recycling plant for some serious money! Mary and Sons, Inc.

I always wondered why people throw things out and I think because it is easy - why bother to ask around if anyone wants it, or drive to a donation center - just haul it to the street. And I think they secretly hope someone will take it! When my parents passed away and my siblings and I were cleaning out their house we did this. We had all taken the things we wanted, had driven many times to the Salvation Army,and still there were some big things we had to deal with - a huge entertainment center was one. Now, we could have arranged to have it picked up for donation but honestly we were tired!! So we hauled it to the end of the driveway  - within 15 minutes we had 2 cars looking over the things and with glee they started loading it on top of their car. I don't know who was happier - them or us - my brothers went out and helped and the rest of us watched from the window. It felt good to know someone else would be enjoying my parents things.

So don't be embarrassed -  remember that when you trash pick - you are doing someone else a favor!

And if it was toxic waste, I'm pretty sure they would have put a sign on it! I always scrub everything down with bleach and water when I get it home. Most things get painted - I love to paint, and then distress it so it ends up looking more aged than when I started - you see why I love trash so much! And if I get it home and it is in really bad shape or has a funky smell that won't go away - guess what I do - I throw it out - genius! What have I lost? - certainly not money and that makes cents!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You love me, you love me not

4 Days Left!!
Do the math, look at a calender or better yet, turn on the TV - you can't miss that Valentine's Day is just around the corner. What a great day to tell those around you how much they mean to you -  but like any American holiday you can't celebrate without spending a lot of money, right? - well think again.

Cam and I used to play a game with our kids when they first started to walk - we would sit on opposite sides of the room and put the baby in the middle, then we would say -" come to the one you love" whichever person they came to won! Hopefully these ideas will be better than that.

1.Love notes written on paper hearts are one idea. I gave each child their own color paper heart, wrote what we loved about them and strung them throughout the house. So when they woke up that morning encouraging words were everywhere!! We even made one for my dad - yes, Boppie - and hung it in his kitchen - he kept that up for quite a while :)

2.How about cooking up their favorite foods, a heart shaped cake or cookies - red food dye is optional. You could act like the chef and ask for their special request for a nice dinner. Then go around the table and say what you love about each other.

3. Your kids could pick a sibling that could be their special "valentine" and they could do special things for them and write them notes the week before V. Day, trying not to get caught = you could have a big reveal at the end of the week.

4. Dads- why not surprise your daughter with a breakfast date. Cam was so committed to his daughter (and eating out) that they braved an ice storm to get to the restaurant one year. He also made sure not only to have a card for me, but also one for Megan - hopefully she will marry a man that treats her as well as her dad treats her mom.

5. Breakfast in bed is a great way for anyone to start their day -whether it's Valentine or Tuesday!

6. Once kids reach school age - the valentines fun begins -  when I was in 2nd grade and had a serious crush on a boy, I signed all my cards with my name but to the boy I liked I only told him of my undying love - anonymously of course- well it wasn't too hard for him to figure out that he got a signed card from everyone else in the class  and an anonymous one from me - now that's putting the RED in valentines!
This is one tradition  hasn't been banned from schools yet - we still make boxes or bags and each student fills it with cards for each of their classmates - now , some have candy attached, some with food coupons, but most are just signed. I used to have my kids make their own cards but let's get real - you can buy a box of 20 for $1. So unless you really enjoy doing this, go to the dollar store and buy a box or better yet, wait till after Valentine's Day and you can get them for 50% off and save them for next year!!

7. Scavenger Hunts are great with kids! You can hide little treats around the house, or write a message on a poster board and cut it apart - puzzle style and hide those pieces - they love to put it back together and read the secret message.

8. The infamous "Coupon Book" appears every V. day at our house- the only problem with the free "back rub, do the dishes, cut the lawn, take out the trash" coupon is that it is harder to redeem them than airline miles - at least in our house!! But they sure are cute!

9. I know it's fun to be self absorbed, but how about thinking of someone who might not get a card - a neighbor, nursing home resident, etc. Make some cards, or little crafts and hand deliver them - the smile you and the kids receive back is priceless.

10. One year we did a house swap with another couple. We offered to take their kids to McDonald's and a playground and the couple came to our house where I had made a simple dinner for them. They then returned the favor  - it's like dinning out, without the crowds or expense.

11. Since V. day falls in winter - how about an indoor picnic - Cam and I packed a basket and drove to a covered bridge in our area - we did dine with the car on, but it was still romantic!!

And what could show someone you love them more than blogging with them - yes, Meg and I wrote this together while skyping tonite - if that isn't love, I don't know what is. Spending time with those you love sure does makes cents!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

talk IS cheap!

I mean this sincerely - talk IS cheap! I am generally an encouraging person! If I were a super hero, my name would be the Big E and I could breath underwater - that last trait has nothing to do with encouragement I just think it would be cool.

My favorite person from the Bible is Barnabas - and of course Jesus.
He was the Apostle Paul's sidekick who went out telling the world about Jesus. When Paul started bad mouthing John Mark because he wasn't doing a good job, Barnabas stood up for him and offered to take John Mark with him and teach him how to do a good job! Now that is encouraging!
You can read about this in Acts 15:35-41 (page 853 in my Bible)

I have the pleasure of teaching with a lady who is Pollyanna, Mary Poppins and Ms. Frizz - remember her from the Magic School Bus? all rolled up into one. Everyday she greets our 1st graders like they are the most important people alive. Her positive attitude is contagious. If kids are misbehaving instead of pointing out the bad behaviour she will point out who is doing the right thing - "Look at Susie sitting at her seat with her pencil out - she looks ready" (all done in that great teacher voice) Immediately you have 25 other kids scrambling to do the right thing so she will recognize them - it is magic, try it at home!

Over the years I have worked with some challenging students and last year I was introduced to a behaviour chart that actually works! I am not a big fan of charts and rewards although I did put Cheerios in the toilet and let my boys "sink" them to encourage potty training! But this chart works because it uses positive language. If a child is making a good choice it is written in the good choice column. If they make a bad choice, you write it on the bad choice side and then brainstorm how they could turn it into a good choice. Once they do, they cross out the bad choice and write in the new good choice - SO SIMPLE. And at the end of the day if all the bad choices are crossed out and only good choices remain - REWARD! Which is as simple as feeding the fish or reading a book or sinking Cheerios.

They say it takes 7 positive words to cancel out 1 negative. When my kids would fight with each other I would make them sit knee to knee and say 5 nice things about each other - no repeats, since they would let the other go first and then just repeat back word for word what they had just said - they would get to giggling so hard, the fight would be over. - I still threaten to have them do this but maybe I need to up it to 7.

Everyone likes to hear a kind word - whether it is written or said out loud. Our kids like to write us notes and slip them into our lunches. Before Cam leaves on a trip we hide letters in his bag. I sometimes find one tucked under my pillow. A friend and her daughter share a journal that they communicate in and pass it back and forth. One birthday each of the kids and Cam wrote me a letter telling me what I meant to them. It takes no money, just the time and energy to build up another person and let them know how important they are.

The Bible says "Therefore encourage one another" and this makes a lot of SENSE!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Does Anyone Have An Anvil?

That was an actual question posted on Facebook by my dear friend Sarah - You just had a baby Sarah, why do you need an anvil? Didn't you get one at your baby shower?

It does bring up a great money saving idea - ASKING! It used to be that if you were in need of something, you put the word out, or walked over to you neighbors house, or called your Dad, or asked at work if anyone had an "anvil", you could borrow. Now a days we drive to "Anymart", overpay for it, use it once and put it in the closet.

Let's go back to the good old days. If you need something ask 1st, buy 2nd. My brother and I share a rototiller. My other brother and I swap back and forth a trailer, roof top carrier and chainsaw. A friends' neighborhood bought a snow blower together and take turns using it on those snowy mornings.

I wanted to try straightening my hair, so I asked at work. I ended up with 2 straighteners that people were happy to clean out of their closets. That inspired me to make a "Give and Take" board for the faculty room. On one side people listed things that they were looking to get rid of and the other side they put something they were looking for - ALL for FREE! I am the last person you would call "green" but this was pretty darn green!

When my boys went to Prom I asked around if anyone had a tux. I borrowed tuxes from 2 different friends - since 1 son is normal height and one is freakishly tall. All it cost me was the price of dry cleaning.
If you don't ask, you don't know!

Online they have a site called Freecycle where people list things they are giving away - all you have to do is  pick up. And I heard about a college that has a room where students can drop off unwanted items and take whatever items they are interested in.

This idea forces us to interact with those around us, be willing to receive as well as give away, clean out our clutter and not pay to bring more clutter in and above all:
Recycle - that all makes cents!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Snow falling, fire crackling, good book unfolding.

Fresh from bath, cotton pajamas, snuggling while reading.

I love reading almost as much as I love reading to kids. That feeling of being swept up and transported to another place and time, or hearing a child recite along with you a funny line in a book - Is there anything better? 

Writing is a gift and good writing is a blessing! Authors deserve to be paid for it, but my love for books far outweighs my wallet. Also, I married a man whose livelihood depends on him being well read or as he likes to say "a carpenter has his tools". Well he has a full "workshop". And yes, he has read everyone of those books on his shelves.

There are many wonderful resourses now to obtain books for a reasonable price - Amazon, Ebay, garage sales, CBD, friends and family, thrift shop - actually that is where he ends up while I am clothes shopping. But one of the best resourses for a wide variety of books is the public library. It came to me last night as I was doing my taxes - what a great way for the government to spend my tax money - it might be the only one!!

Libraries can be a best kept secret! You go in sample a variety of literature and media and can leave with 30 books, 5 Dvds,  10 CDs and 10 magazines and you have 3 weeks (1 for dvds) to enjoy them. What a bargain!

I like to go to the new arrival rack and it is there that I discover new authors and topics - if it at all interests me, I check it out. When I get home and start reading it and I decide I don't like it - I stop - I have lost nothing. 

Once, while packing for vacation I loaded my canvas bag full of 30 books into the van and was challenged by one of my kids (probably the one that was trying to pack the van with all our stuff) that I would never read all those books in 1 week. Well,  I did - some more read than others - but who cares - it was all for free.

They also have some great books on tape - we try to get one if we are going on a trip - it makes the time fly by and we can all enjoy and discuss a book together. Just make sure the trip is long enough - we have gotten half way through a book and then tried to finish it at home - it was hard to get everyone together and to sit still long enough to finish. There is nothing like the captive audience a long car ride brings.

The children section of the library is a great resourses to introduce your little ones to a variety of authors and characters - without breaking the bank. Some branches even have story time - what a great activity to enjoy together. Or if you start reading aloud to your own child, I'm sure you may become the story lady. They also lend puppets, puzzles and toys - check with your branch.

Every teacher I have ever worked with will tell you the best thing you can do for your child is to read to them. Kids love repetition, and could probably listen to the same story again and again. I once worked with a student and we read the same book after lunch for 4 months straight - every time we would look for something new in the pictures and story line - I never thought I could enjoy a book so much! But with the library you have variety! And if you find a favorite and after you have checked it out at least 3 times - look for it on Amazon or ebay to put into your library. A child's library of their very own is a treasured keepsake.

Magazines are expensive and once read, really are disposable, why not borrow them or if you have time, spend a leisurely hour sitting down at the library to read one.

Their movie section isn't the greatest but it is definately worth checking out - especially for children's movies and classics. I will find movies I haven't seen in a while, or ones that I might have missed. They also now lend TV series, instructional videos, exercise and travel tapes. Thinking of learning Zumba? Borrow it first from the library!

Once you get your books and have checked out, put that "receipt" on your fridge and circle the due date on your calender. With little ones, it is a good idea to keep library books in a canvas bag so they don't get lost in your house. The "Free" library isn't free if you are paying overdue fines.

Take advantage of your local Library - it makes really good cents!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Play Ball

Driving home from church today I asked the boys what I should write about today - "Nothing" was the first response but then they said how about playing sports. With 4 kids that take after their Mom- haha, sports have been a part of our lives.

How cute are little 5 year olds running en mass after a soccer ball - pretty darn cute! But we knew we had to pace ourselves - 4 kids, 3 sports season, not including summer could equal a lot of sports. So before we got swept up and started signing contracts Cam and I decided "how much sports" was a good thing for our family.

We came to the conclusion that 1 sport per season was plenty. We tried to find leagues that focused on team building more than winning and we wanted our kids to try many different sports - they didn't have to play forever but they had to finish the season. And if we could get multiple children on the same team - all the better - our chances were good, since they are all 2 years apart and we were able to do this for number of sports and when they swam - all 4 could be on the same team.

Then as heredity would have it we got that fateful phone call - Megan has been selected for the travel softball team
- in additional to the regular team. New territory for us. We asked a lot of questions and decided that the extra time, money and focus on just one child didn't fit into our families values.
Was she crushed?
In need of therapy?
None of the above - we told her how nice it was to be asked, but in the end, she was still playing softball - we just weren't driving 200 miles to do so.

By the time kids reach jr. high - a wonderful thing happens - school sports! Where they stay after to practice and play games -  no extra nights out, no driving and it's free! There is one catch - you have to make the team, but the good thing is, there are plenty of options - not just sports, but the arts, clubs, etc. There was even an "Amazing Race" club where they sat around and watched reruns of the show - really!

We had the same rule for school sports - only one, if you made the school team, no community team, but if you didn't make the school team we would scramble to get you signed up for the community team or encouraged you to get involved in another activity.

And let's not underestimate the value of unorganized sports - playing tag in the backyard, jumping on the trampoline, getting crushed in badminton by your mom!

This has worked for our family - sports are a part of who we are, not the whole thing. I want my kids to love God first, others second and have fun third. If all we focused on was sports, it would be hard to fit the other 2 in. And the older they have gotten, they have zoned in on a few things and doing those few things well. We have been able to be at their games, concerts, art shows, etc. because there wasn't a gazillion of them. It is fun to see who God has made them to be and how He has gifted them to serve Him - and for us - it always makes cents!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shave and a Haircuts Two Bits

Remember that old saying?

Now it will cost you at least $15 to get a basic haircut. My Mom was the hair cutter in our family. I wish I could share with you all the pictures I have of me and my sister with our little Dutch Boy Cut. Apparently she knew 2 cuts - Dutch Boy and Crew Cut - thank goodness the latter was reserved for my brothers. As I got older I progressed to a "Dorthy Hammel", Shag and Perm. Trust me, I am no authority on haircutting or beauty -  I never went to beauty school or took a correspondence course but still I figured - How hard could it be? -  I was soon to find out.

My Mom was the most patient, loving and kind woman I have ever known so the story I am about to tell you tested every one of  her many virtues. When my brothers and I were teenagers (and my mom was at work) they decided they would like a haircut - simple - lets go out back, get the clippers and cut. Now up to this point I had never once cut any one's hair but for some reason I was handed the clippers to do the cut. They said they wanted it short so I took off the height gage - I know now! - and proceeded to gauge my brothers' head - big bald spots began to appear, other areas were noticeably long, ouch was yelled many times, but I persisted. When it was all said and done - it looked horrible! But that didn't stop my other brother from hopping up in the chair to get his done - had I created a new look? Well, practice doesn't make perfect and both brothers ended up looking like sick, over plucked birds. At that point my Mom arrived home where she was greeted by the boys removing their baseball caps and declaring - Is that Mom? The look of horror on her face is still with me to this day. She then indicated that they looked like they were suffering from scabies and  I was ordered to take them to the barber shop and pay to have it fixed - short of a hair transplant, there was no fixing this!!

And so produced one of my "fondest" childhood memories. You know how they say you will laugh about it later - well we did! And the funny thing is - both my brothers are now bald by choice (and heredity) - I like to think that I had a part in that.

With that resume you would think I had learned my lesson and wouldn't be caught within 10 feet of scissors - wrong!! I tend to be a little hard headed when I envision myself doing something. Today I cut all my families' hair - as well as my own. I started with trimming Megan's and then having a friend teach me how to give a crew cut and use the clippers properly (believe it or not, this was after destroying half of Colin's head and rushing him over to her house for instructions - I told you I was hard headed!) It turns out crew cuts aren't so hard. Keep the gauge on, go against the growth of hair and trim. Also, keeping the clippers clean and oiled helps - I spray it with cooking oil before each cut. All my boys, including my husband have crew cuts so that makes it easy - and I do one cut - if you want lines and creativity you do it yourself. And for Megan - she has long hair, so really all I ever do is trim - if she wants something new, she goes to the professionals. For myself I would love to be able to remove my head from my neck, cut my hair and then reattach. But since that is impossible, I rely on help - I cut the front and then I get help on the back (usually one of my kids) - it helps that I have a lot of wave in my hair so evenness  is not required and I'm not too picky - hair grows back. I will go from time to time to a professional when my own efforts are waning but think of all the money we have saved over the years- 6 people with at least 8 haircuts a year (my boys now like their hair cut every 2 weeks) even if we went to the "Super-haircuttery" that is a lot of savings. Haircutting is also a great thing to barter with people - if you know how, you have leverage.

Spoiler Alert - I dye my hair. When I first noticed some grey hair I headed to Walmart and picked up a box of hair dye- the girl with the red hair on the box was crying out to me - now if you looked at my picture on my bio, you know that I am no ginger but secretly I always wanted to be. Again -  how hard could this be. I followed all the directions but after looking in the mirror the drastic change made me a little self conscience. I went outside where a  neighbor man yelled over asking me if I had dyed my hair -  No! I said and ran back in the house - 2 minutes later I went back out to confess - of course he knew I had dyed it and he assured me it looked good - just different.
Many years later, I still dye at home, but try to stick closer to my original color - it is easier and looks more natural. There are 3 levels of hair dye - #1 washes out in 6 - 12  shampoos  #2 lasts 24 shampoos and # 3 is permanent and you must wait for it to grow out. If you are going to do anything drastic - go to a professional.

Again, going to a salon to get your hair done is expensive and time consuming - give it a try on your own, you may be pleasantly surprised or you may just be wearing hats!

When Colin went away to school one of the biggest decisions wasn't what color comforter to buy for his bed but  where will he get his haircut? I told him just to find a barber, but he decided he could cut it himself, so him and Ryan learned how to give themselves crew cuts.

Like mother like sons - making a lot of cents!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Laundry or How Cam Met My Family

True Story - Cam and I met over laundry - he carried my laundry basket up to my dorm room and it was instant love. He was soon introduced to my family by helping fold my families laundry - yes, that is your future father-in-laws boxers. OK it sounds weird when I say it out loud, but we got excited about clean clothes. Any family that owned their own laundry shoot should be excited - imagine the hours of fun we had lowering ourselves down it. Actually my Dad caught us once and that was the end of our fun.

So I did laundry like my family did laundry - as a team sport - all for 1 and 1 for all - "Come on boys, let's fold the whites".

Each of my kids knew how to start a load, switch a load and fold a load - but it was the sorting that drove me crazy - 4 kids, similar in height, weight and taste and I'm supposed to know that black sock isn't yours??  One day my son asked if he could keep his dirty clothes in his room and do his own laundry so he could be assured of getting his own clothes back. Brilliant! I put a laundry basket in each room (Cam and I share)  and now they decide when it is time to wash.

This system has worked beautifully. It wasn't about teaching them to do their wash but about eliminating the step of sorting the clothes - the clothes they put in the wash return right back to their rooms. I got to thinking that this could work for little ones too. What a special bond could be formed as you and your little one carry their basket, put it in the washer, then dryer and then sit together, fold and put away.

Now you may be saying a full load of clothes is cheaper to run and if you separated colored and whites you could have a pretty stinky room before it is time to do wash. We just mix ours together and run it on cold - I haven't noticed a difference. Also, you don't need to use a full capful of detergent - 1/4 will do.

I wish I had thought of this sooner - it would have made a lot of cents.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From pre-school to pre-med

A friend asked me the other day why I didn't send my kids to pre-school - look around, I told her, I gave birth to a pre-school! With 4 kids under the age of 6, it never really occurred to us that they were missing anything by not enrolling. Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a judgement call on schooling - we have always said there are 3 options - public, private and homeschooling and every family has to decided what is right for them and each of their children. Also, my husband and I chose professions that have us teaching every day. So why this decision?? 22 years ago pre-school was not the pre-requisite for success that it is today, but I think I would still make the same decision and if you are leaning that way - have confidence - you are not destroying your child's life.

So let's look at what value pre-school brings - basically it is socialization, self-control, letters and numbers. I couldn't justify shelling out big bucks so my kids could play and learn while I sat at home. So what to do??? We created our own "pre-school". At the time I attended a Women's Bible Study that offered babysitting and also babysat for another study so I not only got paid, but was able to include my own children. Also, our children attended Sunday School and Kid's Church each week - Church is a beautiful thing!!

Sure, it wasn't always easy - why is it your own children are the one's that misbehave when you are in charge?? But isn't that what parenting is all about - doing the hard stuff. Spending the time to play, and teach along the way - it doesn't have to be formal - it just has to be consistent. It just takes a little planning and creativity.

So why not create your own "pre-school"? Invite some other Mom's to rotate the "teaching" and that way you get a morning out and your child gets the opportunity to listen and obey another adult. Or another idea is to "barter" with another parent - perhaps it's a home cooked dinner in exchange for 2 hours of "pre-school" or a clean garage for a trip to the park?

By the time my youngest was home "alone" I was approached by a friend to watch her daughter - who was the same age as my son so she could home school a high school student. So for 5 mornings a week we had "pre-school". We played, shared, and learned from each other and at the end of the week I got paid to "educate" my son.

Now, you are asking, were my kids prepared for Kindergarten?
As a funny turn of events I ended up being hired when my youngest was in 2nd grade to work with his Kindergarten Teacher and I saw first hand what they expect from a new student in a very good school district.
Yes! They were ready for Kindergarten - they loved school, loved their teacher, knew how to sit in a circle and take turns. And isn't that what it is all about?

For our family, it just made cents!