Monday, November 30, 2009

Take hold of those apron strings

or why I wear an apron.

An apron is probably one of my best investments. It has saved my clothing on a number of occasions. After I realized I have a nasty habit of wiping my wet/dirty hands on the butt of my jeans, I started wearing an apron regularly when I cook or clean. I don't worry as much if cleaner splashes me. It's just an all around good practice.

As an added benefit, it has a nice deep pocket for my mp3 player. I have an armband but I hate the way it feels so I try to save it just for working out. The pocket is deep enough to hold it securely even when I have to bend over.

So there you have it. I am an apron wearer and proud of it.

I do recommend taking care with the ties should you need to use the bathroom...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Real or fake...And I don't mean boobs

I am talking Christmas trees of course. I grew up with a fake tree. I was totally convinced that it was the only way to go so for the first several years of my marriage, we carried on with a 4.5 ft fake tree from walmart. When we moved to this house, I so badly wanted a bigger nicer tree. I also learned something that changed the way I do things.

A fake tree will sit in a landfill for more than a century.
Fake trees are made from petroleum products.

Over the years I have become more environmentally conscious. I try to pay more attention to my impact on the planet. I did not want to buy another fake tree, but I still did want a nice tree for our living room. So we found a tree farm and brought home our very first real tree. The small tree was kept (keep it out of the landfill! ) and I put it in my girls room which makes them feel special.

So why is it ok to kill a real tree? Well, we get ours from a farm rather than a forest so they were specifically grown just for this purpose. It also becomes our firewood for our first bonfire of the spring, which has become a lovely tradition and makes sure that nothing is wasted. One could also mulch it and recycle it back to the earth.

Our first tree was a disaster. I found the perfect tree in the discount line. It was a huge mammoth of a tree. It cost us $8. Now, we knew nothing of real trees. I don't know if I was expecting them to come with a stand or what because we didn't have one. My husband managed to fashion one out of 2x4s and a pie pan. Yeah. That didn't work so well. The tree was gorgeous but it fell over half a dozen times before we anchored it to the wall. The smell was amazing though and I fell in love with having a real tree.

We have done a real tree every year since. We pay a lot more now, mostly because we get the tree earlier than we did that year. We also invested in a nice stand and learned the difference between the pines and the spruces. Scotch pines are full and beautiful but they shed really, really bad. The needles are longer and are what we call vacuum killers because they clog the vacuum. Blue spruce is pretty but they are not fun at all to handle. This year we went with a red spruce and we cut it down ourselves (a tradition we started last year) We paid $31 for it which is definitely more than we spent that first year but picking our own tree is so much fun plus it is still cheaper than we would pay getting a precut somewhere else.

I will have to add pics later since my browser is not liking the idea, but I will say that it looks lovely. We have a lot of fun every year picking out our tree. The guys at the farm recognize us which is a nice little treat, and last year the local paper took our picture which ended up in the paper. That was really very cool for my kids.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday a deal?

Well...yes. If you shop for the right things.

I learned years ago that big ticket items are out. Limited supply, everyone else wants them too and you have to get up ridiculously early to even have a shot. Not happening.

However, we were in clothing crisis. My older daughter was in desperate need of pants, as was my husband. He needed shoes and both girls need new coats and boots. I also was still in search for a dress for kid 2 to wear to the Daddy Daughter Dance.

I spent what I consider to be an obscene amount of money, but it's money I had to spend anyway and I figured I would try for deals.

Now I have mentioned before that my husband wears a size that I can't find used. Ever. That goes for shoes too. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find size 13 mens shoes in good shape? Very very unlikely.

So here is my haul, all bought at Kohls at about 9:00 AM.

1 pair mens dress shoes, originally $65 on sale for $19.99
2 pair of girls boots, originally $33 each on sale for $16.99 each (cheaper than payless!)
2 stainless steel water bottles, originally $9.99 on sale for $3.99 (impulse buy but I have been looking for them)
2 girls coats, originally $50 each on sale for $14.99 each
3 pairs of Dockers Khakis, originally $34.99 on sale for $26.99
1 pair of Lee Khakis, not on sale but needed $19.99 (He would have gotten more of these had they had more than one in his size)
2 pair of girls pants, originally $26 on sale for $15.60
1 girls dress, originally $58 on sale for $23.20
1 leggings set, originally $32 on sale for $12.80 (another impulse, but I wanted to shop for kid 2 also)
1 long sleeve shirt, originally $16 on sale for $6.40 (see above disclaimer)
1 pair girls pants, originally $20 on sale for $8
1 pair girls pants, originally $28 on sale for $11.20

Grand total $302.83 and I got $50 in Kohls cash to go back and spend later which means I can get myself a new jacket too.

Total without sales $633.06

Now to be fair, I never would have paid full price for any of that outside of the shoes for my husband, but I got better deals today than I normally would have shopping retail.

Why buy my kids stuff retail? Well, they are at that size that makes finding used coats almost impossible. Same with boots. The pants could be found used if she would wear jeans, but she has sensory issues that make her very particular about clothing. Add that to her size and while I have been watching for pants for a long time, I have found a total of one pair.

I still feel I got some deals. Definitely worth braving the crowd, which wasn't horrible at Kohls.

Now ask me to go to Walmart or Best Buy today and I will ask you if you have lost your ever loving mind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My favorite back to school subject

The girls officially go back to school tomorrow. Hooray for big yellow buses, music class, comunicable diseases...

Oh and Lice.

My kids have had lice 3 times now, twice from school.

Lice are becoming more and more difficult to get rid of. They are a nightmare and a half. The pesticides, the combing, the cleaning, the combing, the boiling, the combing. The very idea of those bastards make me want to puke.

However, they are a fact of life, and not just for "dirty" people.

Time 1: We tried Walgreens lice killer, mayonaise, olive oil, hair dye, and finally killed them for good with Licex (no longer available that I can find) It took way longer than it should have and cost me well over $100.

Time 2: We tried Rid,Nix, Licex, olive oil overnight, cetaphil, flat iron, blow dryer, and finally killed them with a long, drawn out combination of olive oil and a robotic lice comb (the kind that zaps the live bugs and kills them) Took forever, and cost us more than $200.

Time 3: Listerine. Cost: $15 total over 3 heads, 2 treatments. Total time: 4 hours.

I found out about the listerine treatment on my mommy board. It is by far the easiest, cheapest, most effective method for getting rid of lice. Buy the original listerine (the brown stuff), saturate hair with it, cover with a shower cap for 2 hours, and rinse. They were gone. There were no half live bugs like there were even with the Rid and Nix treatments. There were 0 live lice, and while we did nit comb, I have never been great about not missing some. This killed the eggs as well. We repeated the treatment at 10 days, even though there didn't seem to be any. They have been gone since. Best method you can get, and one of the cheapest as well.

I have heard that lavendar and tea tree oil help keep them away, but I have also heard that they contribute to precocious puberty so we are skipping it for now. I may however, go back to putting their hair up before school.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The hunt for the elusive backpack

I had forgotten how hard it is to find a decent quality backpack without paying the hard and heavy price for it.

Last year, younger kid, totally in love with Hannah Montana was allowed to get a character backpack. I knew it would only last a year. I overestimated. One zipper was broken within a month. Still she managed to limp it through the school year.

The other kid had my old college backpack from when I did my photography degree. It was still in perfect shape and was really cute. It was an Oglio and cost me $45 but was worth every penny. Unfortunately, thing 1 left some kind of food product in it at the end of the year and by the time I discovered it...well lets just say I didn't have the stomach to do anything with it other than toss it.

So my kids are going back to school. It occurred to me yesterday that they didn't have backpacks, and were a few other supplies short. So today, when I went grocery shopping, I started with school supplies.

Lunch boxes were easy. Meijer has Thermos lunch bags for $7.99. Not a bad deal. Those will at least last the year if not a couple. I purposely stayed far away from characters.

Folders, a few pencils, pencil cases. Most of the stuff like crayons, glue and paper I have plenty of. Pencils like to disappear. I fear my dog may be eating them like doggy pepperoni sticks.

So my first stop, Meijer, yielded everything but the backpacks. The backpacks were all cheap, crappy made in China dorky looking things. Now I spent my entire childhood looking like a poverty ridden dork. I am not all into the latest trends but I am sensitive enough to keep my kids somewhere in the middle.

Ok, next stop, Big Lots. That may seem counter productive but sometimes they do have name brand stuff. Not so much this time. A trip to Hobby Lobby since it was right next door, had me considering making them a messenger bag but I don't have a ton of time, and the cost would have still been up there as the pattern alone is $16.

My next stop was Staples. They had some lovely Jansport bags...for $60 a piece. That is just too far up there in price for me. I can't make myself drop $120 just in backpacks.

Kmart is nextdoor to Staples so I tried there. I found one okay Starter backpack but I really am trying to cut down on the things I buy made in China. US is preferable, but anywhere but China will do. I have a reason for this, but I am saving it for another post.

Finally I trudged on to Kohls, where I bought a gorgeous dress (thinking ahead to the daddy daughter dance and it was $10. You can't beat that) for my older kid. After finally locating backpacks I found 2 Jansport backpacks for $16 each, normally $40. Sweet!

So, not made in the USA, but made in the UK which is better. I wish I had the money for the High Sierra which if I remember right is a US company, but since locally I am looking at at least $45 per bag, this will have to do.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm a total failure

Or at least that is how it feels. My kids are going back to school next week. I just don't have the time, energy or money to give them the education they need. I am not confident that being in the system is going to be much better, but at least on the days I go to the hospital, I won't be mentally kicking myself thinking how far behind my kids are getting in their education.

My husband did offer to put more into it, but it's me this time. I just don't have it in me. Can you feel my guilt just oozing off this post? Sickening isn't it?

Thousands of kids go through the school system and become successful adults. I know this and I know that the last time my kids were in school they did very well. Doesn't stop me from feeling guilty.

I told my husband I would give my left tit for a decent charter school in our county. There are methods of schooling I do feel work well. Montessori for one. Sudbury for another. Unfortunately, even working full time I don't bring in the kind of money the tuition for one of those would run, not to mention I would be driving at least an hour for the nearest acceptable private school.

So I guess future posts from me will include some of the stuff that goes into having school kids. Lunches for one. We qualify for free, or at least reduced lunch and did that last year but frankly I am not impressed with the nutritional value of hot lunch. My older daughter for a time was on a gluten free diet so I was getting creative with the lunches. I am hoping to dig some of that creativity back out.

So not looking forward to the early mornings again LOL

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frozen apples

It's a little late for this post since apple season is over for the most part, at least in Michigan.

Almost a month ago, the girls and I, along with the little girl next door, went to the local apple orchard. The girls managed to pick a bushel of apples. Now we had managed to go through close to half a bushel a week up to this point, so buying a bushel of apples for $13 was a great deal. The problem? Everyone must have been appled out.

So last week, I realized that some of the apples were starting to get soft. We still had well over 1/2 a bushel left. I have already done applesauce, apple butter and dehydrated apples from my tree and my inlaws' trees. So I started reading, and learned that you can freeze apples.

So I took about 2 hours to process almost all the apples we had left. I think I left just a few of the firmest, nicest apples for eating.

Now frozen apples are great if you want to make pie later, or applesauce, or anything that needs to be cooked. The texture is not going to be right for eating raw. I wish I could figure out the best way to save apples for that.

I wish I had taken pictures of the process but I did not. However the directions are simple. I chopped up and peeled most of the apples. I put them in a water/lemon juice mix to prevent browning, then put them in the freezer in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once they were halfway frozen, I put them in a freezer bag, and put the next batch in. I also sliced some up with the peel still on. These are my breakfast apples.

Fried apples with brown sugar and cinnamon

About 1 cup sliced apples with peels (frozen or fresh)
1 T butter or olive oil (butter is better, but I would rather use olive oil than margarine)
2 T brown sugar
a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg

Heat your butter or oil over medium heat. Add the apples, and stir until soft. Add brown sugar and spices, and stir until thick and gooey. Eat over waffles, pancakes, toast or mixed into oatmeal. It is divine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I have been MIA

My grandfather has cancer. He is not doing well at all and I have spent a majority of my time either at the hospital or driving to and from.

With my mom, stepdad and brother in town, I am going to take a couple of days off to gain control back over my house and mine and the girls' schooling.

So, to come, hopefully sometime this week, how to hem jeans without making them look completely dorky, best way to clean a ceiling fan, maybe another recipe or two, and I may or may not delve into living wills and power of attorney.

So there it is. I am still alive. I have just been terribly busy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Being thankful

I got this from another blog. I realized I have spent so much time concentrating on the things that have been going wrong, that I have not spent any time being thankful for the stuff going right.

Things I am thankful for today:

1. My 11 year old daughter. She is smart and funny and full of creative ideas. The girl is so imaginative it is amazing to me. She tries so hard to make me happy and is in that beautiful stage somewhere between little girl and teenager.

2. My 9 year old daughter. This kid completely cracks me up. She is absolutely the typical preteen, enamored with iCarly and Hannah Montana. She has put everything she has into her swim team, and I am so proud of how well she has been sticking with it. Her first meet is this Saturday, and despite the sickeningly early wakeup call necessary to get there, I can't wait to see her.

3. My husband. I have been with this man since I was 15 years old and he was 17. We have been married 12 years next month. We have been through so much and he still amazes me daily. Yesterday, I was so overwhelmed with everything, school, homeschooling, the house, my grandpa, that I wasn't sure how I was going to cope. When I got home last night, my girls were working on their schoolwork with him, he had cooked dinner, cleaned the house and caught up the laundry. He did all this on top of a full work day. I love that man.

4. My animals. They annoy the living crap out of me sometimes, but there is something a little bit sweet about the cat who insists on sleeping on your head at night, and the dog who constantly hogs half the bed. The puppy is becoming a sweetheart, despite the still occasional accident. He does have enough manners to keep it to the much easier to clean hard floors at least.

5. My husband's job. We live in Michigan. That is almost enough said right there. Not only does he have a job, but he has a job that allows me to stay home. I also found out that sales were so good last month that we are getting a pretty good commission check toward the end of this month, just in time for Christmas. That really is a load off my mind.

So typical and cheesey I guess, but something I needed today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Family takes care of one another

This has absolutely nothing to do with living on a budget. It's just really on my mind right now.

Today I left my house at 1:00PM. I drove an hour to pick up my grandpa who had a doctor appointment today near me, and can't drive as he has been ill. I drove all the way back, dropped my kid off at swim practice, went to his doctor appointment and drove him home. I made him dinner, did his dishes and told him he could call me tomorrow if he can't find a ride to a different doctor appointment tomorrow. By the time I got home it was almost 8:00PM.

Now he did pay me gas money. I wish I was able to forgo it, but expenses this month make things a little tighter than usual and I have been back and forth to his place a few times a week to help him out since he has been ill.

The man is a shell of what he used to be which is really hard for me, knowing how strong of a man he was before, and it is exceptionally hard on him. It took me a month to convince him to let my husband get his lawn tractor ready for winter and put away. It has taken everything he has to ask for help. He has always been the one ready to help other people.

It's hard for me though. I have so much on my plate already. Still, family takes priority. My mom and stepdad are on the road, my siblings live in other states. I am really the only one able to help him at the moment.

I don't really have a point for my posting I guess. My grandparents are getting older and it breaks my heart watching them break down.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter is on it's way

for Michigan, that means icy cold wind, snow, sleet, and through the roof heating bills. The first year we lived in this house, our winter heat bill nailed us hard. We moved in October 2004. Our December gas bill that year was $450. We were not expecting that one.

Over the years we have learned some secrets to keeping the bill within a manageable range. They are still high, running $200-$250 some months, but considering how much the cost of energy has gone up in the last 5 years, I don't think we have done too bad.

1. Turn the heat down. Seems pretty obvious. When we had the old dial style thermostat, we pretty much kept it at 62 degrees day and night. That is actually pretty chilly. My hands were always cold and I was not really a happy camper. Last year we invested in a digital programmable thermostat. It cost us about $30 and allows us to adjust it as needed. We had it set at 58 at night and when nobody was home (work and school) and 64 the rest of the time. Still chilly but immensely more comfortable. Our heat bill will probably be higher this year as the girls and I are home all day, but it's still handy to have.

2. Insulate. Another obvious suggestion but an expensive initial investment. We put several hundred dollars worth of insulation in the roof last year. It definitely helped. The snow stopped melting off that portion of the roof, which is a good sign. We still have another portion of the house that needs it, but thanks to roof project 2009 we may have to delay it a bit.

3. Seal the cracks. Our back door has been terrible. In all honesty we need a new door, jamb, and all. However, that is not yet in the budget so every year we apply new foam along the outside edges and a new door sweep as ours manages to disintegrate every year. We also check the outlets and random holes the previous owner liked to leave...

4. Plastic up those windows. It looks dorky as hell, and may not be necessary for those who have nice new thermal windows. We have a mix of new and old, and the old ones let in all kinds of cold air. Plastic helps. Just don't burn anything in the oven while it's up because there is no opening up the windows after that...

5. Seal off unused areas. I don't know how many normal people actually have this going on in their house. We came into this house knowing it needed some work. We underestimated. One of the things that needs to be done is to totally renovate the master bedroom and bathroom. We are actually staying in the smaller bedroom right now and the girls are staying in the very big, oversized laundry room so that we can keep that room sealed off. We just did this last winter and between that and the insulation, I am pretty confident that was more than $150 a month saved by itself. We simply don't heat those rooms. Just make sure if you find yourself in bizarre home situations of this sort that you remember to turn the water off to the master bathroom or you may find yourself with a slight water problem. Not that I would know anything about that...

6. Install an energy efficient furnace. Not that we have done this yet, but I imagine it will help when we finally get around to it. We found out that our furnace is not only older and definitely nowhere in the realm of energy star compliant, but also only meant to heat an addition. A furnace meant to heat 500-600 sq feet was overworking itself to heat about 1600. No wonder we saw improvement when we cut down the amount of area we were heating. That is on the list of things to get taken care of ASAP. Since I don't exactly like the idea of freezing my butt off while a new one is installed, that is something we can save for springtime. If the old girl will just last us one more winter, that will work for me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dental care a luxury?

Another blogger suggested that dental care was a luxury. She proposed that by taking care of her teeth, it was unnecessary. I beg to differ.

My children have always had to brush their teeth. They were supervised at first, then as they got older, it was on them. I made it through 11 years of parenting before the first cavity came along.

Thing two grinds her teeth. In doing so, she has made her teeth more vulnerable to cavities. In January she was cavity free, and the grinding had just become evident. By September she had two cavities.

The cost to fill two cavities without dental insurance is $253. Today I paid my portion which came to $41.40. That is a bit of a difference. I don't know what ignoring cavities costs in the long run because I refuse to allow it, but I imagine it isn't pretty. Pretty much every state insurance has a dental program for children, so low income is no excuse for it either.

Now dental insurance itself is debatable as a need. Some feel it's cheaper in the long run to pay for visits out of pocket. I can respect that, if they actually make those visits happen. Still, a cleaning runs about $90 a person. Multiply that by 4 and again by 2 for the twice a year we go and that ends up being $720. Our dental insurance per year is about $384. The 100% covered cleanings alone make it worth it. That doesn't even begin to factor in the other dental work (and I will just say that my mouth is a mess that having insurance will allow me to take care of)

The original purpose of my blog

I have gotten a little off track from where I was going with this blog and started making it look like my desk. It's covered in a series of lists. I am a bit ADD. Lists help me function. They also allow me to procrastinate which is a problem.

The purpose of my blog was to offer realistic ways in which people can save money.

College is an expense, regardless of how you do it. Some people use community college as a way to do it the least expensive way possible. Others depend on grants or scholarships. Some work their way through holding down one or more jobs while attending in order to pay for it. Some suck it up, take the loans and cross their fingers that when the time comes to pay it off, they can.

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I went on a bit of a tangent with the community college and the photography degree. I don't regret it, but I should have known better.

My options where I am at are fairly limited. I live in a college town, but both are private colleges costing more than $20,000 per year. The closest state school is a little more than an hour away, and while dramatically cheaper, between the tuition and the drive it is still a lot of money.

My solution came with Western Governors University. It is an online program that has an IT college, a business college, a nursing college and a teachers college. Unlike the well known diploma mills like Phoenix, they are fully accredited not only as a college but by things like NCATE, or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. They were also featured in Time Magazine.

The reason I am bringing this up is because the tuition is so ridiculously low that it seems kind of scammish. Is scammish a word? Probably not, but it suits me.

The WGU terms are 6 months long. My 4th term actually started yesterday. 12 competency units are considered full term. I pay just under $3000 for each term. Community college cost me more than that. You pay per term, not per credit, which means if you have the time, the drive and the dedication you can get through more classes per term, shorten the total amount of terms and save you money. This term I am starting with 13 credits, or competency units. If I can get through them quickly enough I intend on adding 4 more. It is self paced. Adding one or two extra classes per term allows me to graduate 6 months sooner.

The classes are pass or fail. There are no grades. However, the trick is that until you pass the assignments or the test, depending on the class, with a B or better, you don't pass the class. There is no sliding by with a C-.

So, tuition is $3000 per term. I also have a scholarship offered through WGU. Mine is the scholarship for rural math and science educators. It is $7500, paid $1500 over 5 terms. The terms of the scholarship include teaching at a rural school for 2 years after I graduate, and I have to maintain good academic standing. If I do not, I get to pay it back. Between that $1500 and my pell grant, my tuition is pretty much covered. I take student loans to cover books and other expenses, but my goal is to get to the point that I am not taking anymore loans.

I just thought that I would offer it up as an option for those looking for an education. If you are interested let me know, because if I refer you, you don't pay an application fee. My goal with this post was not so much to advertise, but share. WGU is probably the hardest school I have ever dealt with (including the 4 year school my husband started with) but I think in the end I will have a really good education.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's finally caught up with me

So let me officially introduce myself. I am a 29 year old mother of two, homeschooling two preteen girls and I am also a full time college student working on getting my teaching degree in secondary science. My younger daughter is on a swim team and swims 4 days a week. I drop her off and my husband picks her up on his way home. This means my husband leaves for work about 7:30AM and gets home with the younger kids around 6:00PM. He is also a full time college student which means that after dinner and his schoolwork it is about time for bed.

What this means is that I do a majority of the housework, schooling of children, buying of groceries, etc and so on.

I am burning out fast.

I am chronically behind on either my own school work or the teaching of my kids, trying hard to make it up on the weekends (which they love by the way *insert sarcasm here*) My house is slowly falling apart and I have exercised once in the last month. I feel like I am in way over my head.

So, here is my plan. I need to put myself on a schedule. I can't think of any other way to keep it from all falling apart.

You can be part of my experiment. Should it fail, I will have to come up with an alternative because the way I am working it now is not working.

My new schedule:

7-8 Wake up, eat breakfast, just chill out
8-9 Work out
9-11 My school work
11-12 Lunch
12-2 Girls School work
2-3 Clean house
3-4 Take thing 2 to swim
4-6 Errands, school or cleaning as needed
6-7 Dinner
7-8 Girls school
8-9 Chill out
9-10 Get ready for/go to bed

It will be a work in progress. For any non-homeschoolers who are concerned about the lack of official school time, consider how much actual direct instruction your children receive in school and scrunch it down. My kids still have work they do on their own, and I don't have to teach to 20 or more children. We have never had an issue keeping up with a shorter time in instruction.

I will cover any other typical HS questions later as they always tend to come up.