Monday, November 30, 2009
I have a lot I want to say, but don't think I'll get it in because I have a lot of holiday related stuff to say, too. So highly anticipated posts about homeschooling and how to fit your stuff in small spaces may have to be put off until next year. Actually, writing that sentence about them makes me excited to maybe squeeze one or two of those posts in. We'll see.
Today, I wanted to run through the how-to of my Christmas craft. Here is my template. I used a paint document to superimpose the shape over the photographs I wanted to cut out. I'm sure there are better programs out there to do that, but I like paint.
Pick out and print pictures. You can either get a copy of the whole picture and cut it into the shape of the side or bottom, or make it the shape on your computer and then cut it out. Also, I made each side three layers of card stock thick so it would be sturdy. I printed out two extra template pages for each bowl I wanted to make. I chose to paint the outside black, but you could choose more pictures on the outside, kids artwork, a different solid color, pictures on the outside and a color on the inside; there are a lot of options.
Cut and assemble sides. Since I painted the outside, this was included in this step. I used little tape rolls to tape the three layers of the sides together, as painted paper is a little uneven and glue didn't hold well.
Laminate and cut each side. I got a pack of ten laminating sheets. Depending on who you're giving them to, this may not be necessary. I was able to laminate the sides and bottoms for twelve bowls with nine sheets, leaving the tenth for any sides I mess up in later steps.
Punch and assemble sides. My Gran used to assemble them by doing a fairly simple stitch around the outside of each side, and sewing them together. I felt this cut into the pictures too much. So, I chose to literally tie them together. I made one model to mark where to punch holes on each side to they were even.
First I tied two sides together, then added each one until I had a string of six sides. Then I tied the two ends together so they made a sort of loop. Then, I attached the bottom. I choose the first spot to tie pretty randomly, then tie a spot on the opposite side. This was the trickiest part of the whole thing, as the bowl had to be help in position as you tie. After that, the bottom was sturdy enough to easily tie the rest together.
There are a few finishing touches. I tied around the top to give it a more polished look. I need to go around and cut off the loose strings. I will then put a dab of clear nail polish on each knot so that it doesn't unravel.
Card stock: $4
Laminating Pages: $10
New Printer Ink: $20
Mini Whole Punch: $5
Thread: Bought long ago for jewelry making.
We refill printer ink, and would have needed a new cartridge eventually anyway. With refilling ink, I can refill it about seven more times before the ink head gets too clogged, so $20 is not a true cost. I have put the old cartridge back in so that I can use it to it's fullest before working on the new cartridge. I have a ton of leftover card stock for future projects, and the mini whole punch will be used again, so none of this is the actually the true cost, but even if it were, each bowl cost $3.25 out of pocket.
I haven't finished all the bowls yet. I have to make twelve, but I've only completed five. I am somewhere along step four or five for the rest. The deadline to have them all finished was this past Sunday, but that was an arbitrary deadline set up so that if I didn't meet it, I would still have time left. Good planning, huh?
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Taco seasoning is another obsession, but not so much on my tongue, more on my meat. I've been looking for a good taco seasoning to replace those little packets, not just because of the cost, but because of the mystery ingredients. Whenever it says "spices" on the ingredients list, it means "something we don't want you to know." So the best price I had found on the packets was $0.35 at Save-a-Lot, so this is definitely a savings.
I liked this recipe because it was for one pound of ground beef, not a bulk mix that I would be stuck with if I didn't like. I can also cut it down and make a smaller serving of taco beef for a snack. It is perfect. It tastes just like the packets, which I love.
1 tablespoon chopped onion - $0.03
2 teaspoons of chili powder -$0.08
1 teaspoon of garlic -$0.04
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot paprika -$0.03
I used cayenne because I like it spicy and my paprika is not that hot. I use fresh onion and garlic, because because that's what I have on hand, and I usually throw more onions into any taco dish anyway. The recipe calls for cumin, but when I ran out, I omitted it and still thought it tasted amazing. If you want to try it with cumin, add one teaspoon; it will only raise the cost by a few more pennies. You can mix the ingredients separately, or just dump them on your browning beef on at a time, like I did. It makes for a fabulous taco.
**ADSENSE UPDATE: Yesterday I got paid by Adsense for what I had earned through October. I'm not sure that they'll pay me what I had earned since then since it didn't reach $100. I'm real thankful that I got some of what I earned, but I won't pursue business with AdSense in the future. I have another advertiser lined up that should appear on the blog by the end of the week.
Friday, November 27, 2009
He is a devout Christian, and I am thankful for his zeal. Brother-Dan and husband-Dan have interesting discussions on various Biblical topics and I am glad that they share that fellowship. But brother-Dan doesn't celebrate Christmas (in a non-Jehovah's Witness kind of way). He has been sending husband-Dan anti-Christmas Bible verses, which I would argue are being taken way out of context. I'm a "submit-to-your-husband-even-when-you-disagree" kind of girl, so it looks like we don't get a Christmas tree this year, although the rest of Christmas is on. So I'm going to tell you about how I would normally be decorating the tree today, the day after Thanksgiving.
We have a fine collection of jovial, colorful ornaments given to me by my mother on my first Christmas as a young wife. They are lovely and colorful and breakable and maybe will be used some day when we don't have little kids.
I have dried all of the roses that Dan has given to me since our courtship days. I don't get as many after four years of marraige, and some have been damaged through our myriad of moves. Still, roses would be adorning the tree.
String of Pearls
The pearls were bought at the Dollar Tree years ago, and are just a string of plastic white pearls. I used them to decorate our wedding hall, and they have been used for many things since, including the garland on our tree.
Last year, when I saw a few more roses had been crushed, I went to Walmart's craft section and found a bag of cream colored potpourri. It had fun shapes and the color was perfect for my little tree of neutrals.
Lights and Tree
I used white lights. I can't remember if I got them in an after-Christmas sale or if I got them from the Free Store. The Free Store was a small shop where you dropped off what you didn't need and looked through what others had dropped off to see if there was anything you needed. We moved away from it, sadly, but that's where I got my three foot fake tree.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
If you think this is a hoax charity, see what snopes says about it, then, please, donate your click. You can click from the snopes' link as well.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
#9) Opportunity, and the freedom to pursue my dreams, hobbies and passions.
#8) My craft corner, which houses all of my art and craft supplies, which allow me to watch beauty manifest itself out of my hands.
#7) Blog readers, who are an encouragement to me as well as a source of ideas.
#6) Concordances, and online concordances, which allow me to find whatever Bible verse it is I'm looking for when my husband isn't around to tell me where to find it.
#5) Star Trek, and the creative geniuses who opened up a whole new world with the new movie.
#4) Full access to the Bible, which many Christians around the world and through the ages did not have have.
#3) My children, each of whom has enhanced my life in countless ways.
#2) My husband, who refreshes my mind and spirit each day.
#1) My saviour, without whom my hopes would rest only in this world.
What are ten things you are thankful for? Or three? Or one?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
We have a small Christmas and birthday budget for our kids because they get a ton of toys from relatives. Dan and I don't get toys from relatives. We mostly get gift cards and checks, which usually go into savings or general funds. So, we give the big gifts to each other. We could get each other little gifts, then spend the money we get on big gifts, but that's just not how we like to do things.
The Old Laundry System
I hand washed everything. Diapers were soaked, then scrubbed and washed in the sink. Regular clothes went into a large Rubbermaid bin that lived in the shower stall. The best way to describe the general wash was a ten to fifteen minute kneading of clothes in water with soap nut liquid. Then I dump out the water and refill the bin with clean water for a five minute rinse cycle.
If someone doesn't have a washing machine hook-up and finds the laundromat inconvenient and pricey, this works. A good video that demonstrates my basic kneading technique on a smaller scale can be found on Ridiculously Extraordinary.
All of the clothes were then line dried. I would bring the tub into our room, where the largest line is. The line just goes from one wall to another, like outdoor lines go from tree to tree, attached with heavy duty S-hooks. I would hang everything to drip dry over the bin on hangers. After a few hours when the dripping stopped, I would spread the clothes out over the line to finish drying. I have two lines going across the window frame in our bedroom, one above the other, so that the diapers can hang in the sun, which helps kill bacteria.
The New Laundry System
I got the Wonderwash for my birthday. It was purchased with my swagbucks Amazon gift cards. I had read all reviews carefully, which indicated that the base was not sturdy and the handle flimsy. The base can be easily rebuilt from sturdier materials, and the handle in unnecessary, as the whole thing can be tumbled as you would roll a large barrel. Anyway, I have been using it for two weeks, and I agree that these parts were made out of the cheapest parts possible, but have not broken, and will not if used correctly. (Dan was happy about how excited I was to do laundry, so he let me play with it early.)
The barrel part of the Wonderwash is a work of genius. I can do the wash cycle in three minutes and the rinse cycle in one minute. It uses much less water than the Rubbermaid bin method. It also uses less soap nut liquid and the clothes come out cleaner. The drying is the same, except we do drip drying on the line in the shower stall, then transfer the clothes to the line in our bedroom or the one in the kids' room, depending on whose clothes they are.
This gift is truly a luxury, as it was not necessary, but makes my life easier. It does seem like a better long term solution. Right now, we can still do one load a day, plus diapers. Some days I have to do two loads, but it is still less time than one load with the old method. By the time I have to do three loads a day, some kids will have learned how to do this for themselves.
Here is my other birthday luxury, lovingly made each year by Dan (with supervision).
Beat with blender until fluffy:
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
(I used the stevia baking blend I got from NuNaturals with some old molasses instead of brown sugar, but otherwise would have used maybe a tablespoon of stevia and a cup and a half of white wheat flour with molasses.)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Blend together, then add:
2 cups grated carrots
1 can crushed pineapple
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coconut
Bake at 350 for forty-five to fifty minutes, or in crock pot for about an hour and a half to two hours on high.
Luckily, cream cheese frosting is the easiest frosting to make with stevia. I am using this recipe, with my crock pot cream cheese, but adjusting the measurements until it tastes right. I also add lemon juice to cream cheese frosting because that's how my mom taught me. I didn't calculate the cost because I used expensive NuNaturals stevia ingredients that I would not have used if they were not given to me.
Monday, November 23, 2009
That first Thanksgiving, my twenty-first birthday, I had bought two turkey legs, thinking we could not afford a whole turkey. I bought a box of stuffing and made my Grammy's recipe for mashed potatoes. Of course, my Grammy's recipe was to feed twenty, so I cut it in half. I opened a can of corn, dumped it in a bowl and popped it in the microwave. I also bought two of those individual pies, pumpkin flavored. I think I bought a can of refrigerator rolls, too.
This year's Thanksgiving menu looks quite different.
Turkey with gravy - The best sale we have here for turkey is for $0.40 per pound. I have bought two and already cooked one. We've eaten about half of it. I might buy a third. I just cook turkey according to the package directions, in the oven, but if you need help, you can call the Butterball hot line, 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372).
Sourdough rolls - I'm using my regular bread recipe but forming the dough into rolls. I might get real spiffy and try crescents.
Sourdough stuffing - I'm making a regular loaf of sourdough bread and making it into basic bread stuffing. I'm taking out the water and poultry seasoning in this recipe and using broth, sage, thyme and parsley instead.
Crock Pot Applesauce - I'm making it from the rest of the apples from my mom's orchard, stevia, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of cloves.
Corn - I went to Whole Foods and got some of their organic frozen corn for a special treat. This will be a GMO free Thanksgiving, except for the turkey's feed.
Mashed Potato - They will be mashed with my cream cheese and fresh grown green onions.
Blender Egg Nog - I sometimes get eggs from my step-mom, who keeps chickens, but if you're worried about consuming raw eggs, the cooked egg nog recipe doesn't look too difficult.
Pumpkin Custard - This is basically pumpkin pie filling without the crust.
Do you think we'll have enough?
Once again, we were offered a Thanksgiving basket from our church. This year, an elder graciously called with the offer, as opposed to last year when a lady we didn't know approached us telling us she had our turkey in her car. We didn't feel uncomfortable with the offer this year and are thankful to be loved.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I looked into it, and it wasn't someone hacking into my account again. I actually think it was the opposite of hate, but love that caused my Adsense account to be disabled. It is my suspicion that a kind reader may have been over-clicking to help my revenue. If someone did that, that was kind, and I'm not mad. I've clicked on ads just because I like the blog or site, too.
I do think Adsense is sleazy for disabling my account a week before cutting me my first check. If I had known that would happen, I would never have used their ads. Needless to say, they were fine with me leaving the ads on my site without having notified me of my account being disabled. I have taken the ads down and will not offer Adsense further free advertisements.
I did not click. I did not ask others to click. I followed their rules.
I appealed the decision and was replied to pretty quickly, with them saying, "We've re-confirmed that your account poses a significant risk to our advertisers." I guess that a blog that discourages frivolous spending and over consumption really is a threat to their advertisers.
However, it was always my intention to monetize this blog. I am going to play around with other advertising options and I want honest feedback. I don't want anyone to feel like different advertising makes this a less reader-friendly site. I am happy when I see this blog making me money, but I am even happier when I hear that my blog is making a difference in someone else's life. So, honest feedback about any advertisements I try out would be appreciated.
To other bloggers who are worried Adsense may do the same to you, I wouldn't be. My blog grew suspiciously fast, or at least it looks suspicious to Adsense. When I find a replacement means of advertising I like, I'll recommend it.
Friday, November 20, 2009
He's on board with the diet reform we've been going through. He likes my cooking and has no problem as I figure out the healthier versions of our favorite meals. My soaking grains doesn't change much for him, and he prefers the higher proportions of meat I serve. Cutting out sugar has been hard for him, so I've put extra effort into making him stevia sweets, homemade soda and milkshakes.
Most recently, I've been adding lacto-fermented produce into our diets. This has been a health goal, as adding lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables is a huge benefit in digestion. A comprehensive article on the full health benefits can be found on the Weston A. Price Foundation's website.
My husband doesn't really get the lacto-fermenting fruits and vegetables. He's been good about everything else, and has become an advocate for some of the health issues that I am passionate about. But sometimes I think I might take on too much too fast and it gets overwhelming for him. So, how do we find a compromise?
I don't like store-bought pickles, but my husband does. So, I'm making him lacto-fermented pickles, which are the original way pickles were made. He loves pickles and agreed to try them. He knows from experience that my home made version of anything is better than the store-bought. It's really not a compromise at all.
Pickles are super easy. The recipe I stole can be found here or in the book Nourishing Traditions. I'm using an old peanut butter jar that held one pound of peanut butter. I cut two pickling cucumbers, $0.78, into spears and put them into the jar. Then I added
2 tablespoons whey - $0.02
1 1/2 teaspoons salt - $0.01
1 tablespoon dill - $0.10
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed - $0.10
I don't know the prices of the dill and mustard seed, as these were given to us as a wedding present as part of a spice rack, but I'm guessing $0.10 each. Also, if you don't have whey, you can double the salt instead.
I added enough water to fill the jar to 1/2 inch away from the top. I covered tightly, then shook vigorously. I let it sit on the counter at room temperature for three days. After the three days, it needs to be refrigerated or transferred into cold storage. The pickles were perfect, and Dan loves them. I am looking forward to some fun variations, like adding garlic, red pepper flakes, or even stevia for sweet pickles.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
When I was a senior in high school, a girl from my Latin class invited me to some church events with her. Next week will mark the seven-year anniversary of me first meeting Jesus. When I started to follow him, I followed him with others, who had been following him longer than I had. I copied what the other followers did and thought, thinking that was what Jesus would have me do.
When I went to Bible college, I met my future husband. Today is our four-year wedding anniversary. It was close to five years ago that we broke out into our first fight. It was in that fight that he confessed that he voted for - gasp! - John Kerry. At that time, such a thing was forbidden in the Christian world. Some of our teachers even spoke of men losing a leadership position in a church for such an act.
I'm not saying that this aspect of the Christian culture was right or wrong, I'm just saying this was how it was in the days of President Bush, at least in my circles. My husband rebelled against that to follow his conscience. It took me several months to see his perspective, but his free-thinking jarred me out of my sheeple mentality and allowed me to start being a truly Berean Christian, as Jesus actually wants me to be.
To this day, my husband and I don't agree on everything theologically or politically. I trust his thinking is free, even though he was raised in that Christian culture. He openly evaluates the scripture and the world we live in to try to see truth. He and I are on the same quest for truth and for the heart of God. I am thankful to walk in this journey with a man like him who is bound by the scriptures and by a conscience that God is molding into Christ-likeness.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
What I love about MyPoints is that it is something set aside for me. When I earn enough for a gift card, I usually pick out a store that I love and buy something I want for me. I usually get a gift card to TJMaxx for clothes. We chose to use it for our anniversary this year because our budget is a little tighter than usual. The other option, going out to eat courtesy of mystery shopping where you come home and consult your husband on the cleanliness of the men's room while devoting yourself to writing an essay style report, is not as romantic. Some may not consider Pizza Hut with the kids romantic either, but to each his own.
How Do I Earn Points from MyPoints?
They send you an email with a link you have to click on for 5 points or roughly $0.035. It takes between ten and fifteen seconds per email, depending on how awake my computer is.
They send surveys via email. You get 50 points, or $0.35, for completing the survey, which takes about ten minutes. Or, you get 10 points, $0.07, if you try to complete the survey but don't qualify. One of the first questions asks if you or anyone in your household works in "Marketing or Market Research." Well, I still do occasional mystery shopping, so I honestly answer that I do work in that field, and I disqualify myself for the survey. I get the 10 points and move on with my life in under a minute.
They give you a percentage back on online purchases made through shopping from their site. I shop on ebay fairly often, so I travel to ebay through their site and get something like 2 points for every dollar I spend.
About once a month, I go to their website and check out their "Easy Points" section. They ask me if I am looking for a contractor to work on my home, or if I want to save money on my groceries with coupons. I click that I don't, so they offer me another point earning opportunity if I click on a link. Just by clicking to see what they're offering, I get 5 points, or $0.035.
How Do I Not Earn Points?
They have a lot of offers that you can do for extra points. You can make more money doing offers other ways, if you're interested. A few years back, I did that with GetPaidTo.com, which has no minimum payout, meaning if you earn today, you can cash out today. Doing offers is the whole idea behind Project Payday. You have to keep a close record if you want to make money from offers, as you could end up losing money.
Their online games are online gambling with your own money. You get a piece of the money you lose back in points. That's not a good "earning" strategy in my mind.
The only person I ever referred was my husband, and he never earned any points. We had the deal that if he earned points, he could spend his gift cards recreationally, just like I usually do, but he never did anything with his account.
But Emily, you have this blog with all of these people visiting, surely you could refer your readers! You'd think so, but I can't. I'm not an affiliate; although I tried to become one, my application was rejected. So, I can only refer people I actually know via individual email invites. This is kind of a sour point between myself and MyPoints, but as long as they continue to send me gift cards, I'll still like them deep down, and I'll even write some nice things about them on my blog.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
In the spring, I found boxed macaroni and cheese for $0.25 per box. When I was a new wife, that was the standard price, but now it is a rare deal. Now I only see boxed mac and cheese for $0.35 or higher, and that's the store brand. Coupon queens may find better deals, though.
I bought a lot of boxes when they were $0.25. Over the summer, we ate them up. They were good for lunches, since my husband was home more over summer vacation. Those boxes I bought have been gone for a few months. Now we love home-made macaroni and cheese.
I remember Amy Dacyczyn did a cost comparison in The Tightwad Gazette of boxed mac and cheese verses discount purchased macaroni and bulk cheese powder. She came to the conclusion that the boxed mac and cheese was a better deal. But is it a better deal over truly home-made whole wheat, real ingredient macaroni and cheese? Today, I crunch the numbers.
For our family, a meal was two boxes, with a half cup of milk and a half cup of butter mixed in. We usually mix in meat and veggies, and lately we've been on a taco mac kick, but today, we're dealing strictly with the mac and cheese. I'm using $0.35 as the cost per box as that is what I would be paying if I were still buying it boxed.
2 boxes of macaroni and cheese - $0.70
1/2 cup milk - $0.10
1/2 cup butter - $0.50
We make our own whole wheat noodles. I say that "we" make them not because my husband helps, but because Daniel, my three-year-old, likes to roll out the dough as best he can. I wrote a pasta tutorial here. It's a very basic recipe. I have more recently been making a soaked grained pasta. This recipe works great. Soaking grains is not really an extra step, it is just a different spacing of steps. Instead of making the pasta dough right before you make the pasta, you make it the night before and let it sit. It makes for a much healthier pasta. The grand total cost for making your own pasta is $0.24.
To make cheese sauce, I melt the following in a pan, then stir in the cooked noodles.
1/2 cup milk - $0.10
2 tablespoons butter - $0.25
4 ounces of grated cheese - $0.49
I first tried this recipe when I was still using American cheese for everything, so if it works with American, it will work with whatever cheese you have. It works great with my mozzarella.
Grand Total: $1.08
I actually hadn't calculated the cost until I wrote this post, as I was willing to pay more for a healthier mac and cheese. I wasn't sure I would beat the conventional boxed mac and cheese, but real food is triumphant again! Pretty exciting, huh?
UPDATE: I miscalculated the cost of the butter in the homemade version. Two tablespoons is $0.13, not $0.25, bringing the total to $0.96.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I've heard that most bloggers quit before three months. I've thought of quitting a few times, but I knew I'd regret it and I'm glad I didn't. Overall, this has been a lot of fun to me. I've hit some big mile stones this month, too. I got to hold my first giveaway and I topped 200 Google followers, $200 in Adsense, and 200,000 page views.
I thought I would slow down blogging when Thomas came, and I've cut out some Sundays, but for as long as I write more posts in a week than there are days in the week, I will continue to publish at least six times a week.
I do wonder if I can go on forever. I mean, will I have something new to say about life on a little budget every day for the rest of my life? Probably not. At some point, I'm sure I'll be writing just a few times a week.
Okay, so what have I made this month?
Swagbucks: 2310 swagbucks, or roughly $210 in Amazon.com gift cards
These are my totals for all three months combined:
Swagbucks: 3415 swagbucks, or roughly $310 in Amazon.com gift cards
According to problogger.net, most of the bloggers who earn money from their blogs earn less than $100 per month.
I've got to say, I'm pretty impressed with my earnings, but we haven't seen most of this money yet. My first Adsense payout will be mailed at the end of November. Some Amazon gift cards have been spent. We got a book for our upcoming anniversary, When Sinners Say "I Do", chosen by my romantic husband and we've gotten a few Christmas presents. There are many gift cards sitting in my swagbucks account, taunting me, trying to entice me into spending them on something I don't want or need. Yes, money does that to me, too.
Seriously, swagbucks is something I promote not just because I make a killing off of it, but because my readers do, too. For the 3415 swagbucks that I have made, my readers have won that same amount of swagbucks. Swagbucks is simply a search engine, powered by Google, that pays you back a part of their advertising revenue. They have a good thing going, and a generous referral program.
So that's my monthly earnings. It hasn't really effected our monthly spending. As long as our spending stays "Under $1000 Per Month," I don't feel like I need to change the blog's title. Is that fair? This blog has kind of become a catch-22 for me. Ooops. Why didn't I anticipate that this would be an abnormally popular blog before I named it?
Also, now that I'm over 90 days old, I qualify for BlogHer advertising, but they're not looking for new bloggers right now. I'm on the notification list for when they are, though. They are quite different from Adsense, and I think they would be a better fit for my blog, since Adsense hasn't figured out what it is I am blogging about. If I got in with BlogHer, which has colored advertisements, you may see more colored pictures, too. I even found this background from Shabby Blogs that is so pretty, I am considering going to part color anyway. Seriously, looking at this background may make my eyes happier than looking at my current background.
So, how do you make money blogging?
The concept is simple: write an interesting blog that others want to read, then tell others it exists. The execution can be a little trickier. I outlined how I did it in this post and this post.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I don't consider a lot of toys to be essential. Blocks are major to me. Other than that, a few balls, books, cars, and dolls are all kids need. Yes, my boys have a doll.
We, of course, have way more than the essentials, and I feel like I am constantly pairing down as family is constantly pouring more toys into our little space. So, I have divided our toys into two categories: accessible and inaccessible.
Accessible toys are toys the kids can get out and put away by themselves.
I want my children to help themselves to books. Sometimes, they empty the whole bookshelf on the floor, but they're good about picking all the books up again.
These are in a flexible fabric toy box in the corner. They whole toy box can be pulled out or the kids can just take out however many blocks they want. When they are used, they are easy for the kids to put back again.
These blocks are my favorite. When my mom asked what the boys wanted last Christmas, I insisted on these, even though they are made of cardboard. They come as pieces of cardboard that you compactly fold into blocks. My oldest son stands on them. I have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher in the public school and she has used these blocks for years in games.
These live in two small toy boxes in the kitchen. I like having them in the main living area because it is the best place to build something big. They are easy to clean up and are a great company toy. They are fun for all ages and an activity that can incorporate all of the kids.
It's an old Fisher Price piano, a classic that everyone loves. We have a piano book as well, so Daniel and Bobby can each be playing with their own piano. It usually lives on one of the book shelves.
Small cars are always accessible. They are just constantly being played with.
The Megablocks wagon and Thomas the Tank Engine push toy don't have a home. They get "parked" at night. They both are played with daily, so they must be accessible.
Miscellaneous Toys I hate toy boxes, where miscellaneous toys usually go, so they go in these cubbies when not in use. A toy box full of miscellaneous toys is a great way to have toys fall to the bottom and not be played with. Some miscellaneous toys are also stored in the wagon, above. Also, the old computer keyboard attached to the wall, at the top of the picture, is great for when the kids want to check their "email."
Inaccessible toys must be asked for. If they are not asked for frequently, they are bound for the next batch of donated toys.
These are all hung by bike hooks. The rocking doggy in the far corner is in danger of donation. The slide and tricycle are frequently used, and can only be used one at a time.
These two tents were given to us by my sister and they are much beloved. One is a Sponge Bob themed tent with a standard tent shape. The other is a lion with a big head and a tunnel for a body with a tail hanging over the entrance. They are both fold up, pop-style tents. My son puts the Sponge Bob tent at the bottom of the slide and slides into it. They are both tucked behind they crib so that Daniel can't pull them out himself. Because they are so big, we don't want them taking up our living space all the time.
Some of these are a little too old for my three year old, so we will hang onto them to see if he will like them later. So far, none of these cars are in danger of being donated for lack of use. With this shelf, the rule is only one car comes down per kid at a time, and Thomas doesn't count yet. I made these shelves with some scrap wood and sturdy fabric, knotted at measured lengths. It is a great inexpensive way to do shelving and can be customized to individual decor.
Puzzles, Games and Baby Toys
I hate puzzles and games for little kids. They are always losing pieces. If it were up to me, they would all be donated in tact, with all of the pieces, right when we receive them. But it is not always up to me. So, we hang on to them until we realize that we have lost too many pieces for them to be any fun or to be donated and they are thrown away. I'm working on changing this system. Thomas isn't playing with toys quite yet, so baby toys, puzzles and games are all pretty much tucked out of the way.
These blocks will never be donated. They are still in their original box, which has rope handles. They hang nicely by one rope handle. They are up high because that insures they are picked up properly each time.
We have way less stuffed animals than we once did. My husband gets sentimentally attached pretty easily. A lot of stuffed animals can fit into a small space, but that doesn't mean that they should. My kids rarely ask for these stuffed animals, although Bobby and Daniel each have a few that they sleep with, including their one doll. Anyway, the last time we paired down stuffed animals was pretty painful for my husband, so I'll let these animals reside in our home a little longer without complaint.
So, that is our system. It changes when our needs do, and will change again when another influx of toys will be integrated in next month. One thing that is key in small space organization is the use of height. Shelving and securely wall mounting items is a must in order for us to keep all of the things my kids love.
Friday, November 13, 2009
It is not only Walmart that sells products made through unfair trade practices, though. If you buy the same toy made in China for $3 more at Target, you are supporting the same unfair practices. And if you buy it used from a yard sale or thrift store, it was still assembled by a child in China. Walmart is not the problem.
I have said before that I am in the top 15% of the wealthiest people in the world. Often, slaves are associated with wealth. In almost every other time, if someone were as wealthy as I am, they would have a number or slaves. But I don't have slaves, do I?
No, I hand wash our clothes and dishes. I hand roll our tortillas and pasta. There is no one doing these things for me. These are tasks traditionally associated with slaves. But slaves are doing a lot for me, whether I want them to or not.
The fact is, there are more slaves today than in any other time. Slave trade is a hot market and one that I, personally am benefitting from. You probably are, too.
Low prices on consumer goods are low because somewhere in their production, someone was not being paid properly, or at all. Even higher priced goods are often the result of someone not being paid properly.
People often blanketly blame this on Walmart. Walmart has a superior business model where they use superior buying power to offer superior prices. Other companies have copied their business model, but no one has been as successful.
Walmart did not invent greed. They did not pioneer bad treatment of laborers. They benefit from greed and bad treatment of laborers, but so do I.
I love Walmart, and have loved them long before my husband worked there. They provide low prices that allow me to have an even higher quality of life. I like that they employ the elderly and disabled as door greeters, a position they made up as a way to employ elderly and disabled people. I like their green initiatives, because they can do more to pioneer green causes than most who are pioneering green causes, because they are not on the fringe of society.
So many people attack Walmart as though they invented sin. Well, they didn't. They benefit (financially) from it's existence, just like the rest of us do. Find me a successful company that doesn't and I'll think some of this Walmart hate is maybe justified.
You cannot buy a product that is not tainted with sin. I am not saying it is not noble to try. There are a bunch of products that I will not buy for ethical reasons. I pick and choose what my money goes to, knowing that we can't fund every cause, but we can help with some causes. I am also not delusional in thinking that my money is only ever used for the good of mankind.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I had a good sized indoor garden over the summer. It was a small jungle of coffee cans and upside-down soda bottles. At it's glory, it really was a sight to see against my southeast facing windows. I hit a bad spell in my pregnancy and didn't water the plants for about a week or so. In the end, they did okay. I got a lot of herbs and a good handful of green beans. My tomatoes didn't make it and even the notoriously prolific zucchinis gave me nothing, but I got a good amount of lettuce for sandwiches. I'll try again next year.
I visited my mother over the weekend. She had an outdoor garden. I got two pounds of the yummiest carrots that my step-dad is super proud of. I got about thirty-five pounds of pumpkin, which is awesome, because we only have one more store bought pumpkin left. My mom grew pumpkins for decorative purposes, but they were too small to carve. (Score!) I got about twenty pounds of apples from her small orchard and a pound of acorns, which can be soaked and eaten as nuts. Even though my garden was a bit of a flop, the harvest did not let me down. Don't worry though, because before I came, my mom was going to give all of this to deer and other wild foragers, except the carrots, so she is not missing what I took.
Right now, I have a small window winter garden. I'm growing some lettuce for garnishes on sandwiches. It is common for us to get sandwiches to go when we go out to eat and the lettuce makes them even better. We don't grow enough for a diet of salad, which is fine with me since I don't like the ingredients in most store bought salad dressings. My husband only likes Italian dressing, and it's just too low of a priority for me to make it from scratch at this point.
I am also growing some oregano. I love oregano. Even though we have a large quantity of dried oregano, I like having fresh oregano as well. I grew many more herbs over the summer, but I found I used oregano the most, so I decided to just grow oregano in my scaled down winter garden.
My prized plant, though, are my green onions. This may be the oldest tip around, but I had never heard it before a reader passed it along, so I consider it a gem. Buying green onions from the store doesn't come under my $1.00 per pound for produce rule, so I rarely buy them. But you can plant them after cutting some off to eat. So I pushed some down into one of my coffee cans filled with dirt. Just leave a little of the green and the green onions will grow up.
Since I'm hoping it sticks around for a while, I bought organic for $1.58 instead of the regular green onions for $1.12. I planted the first one last Thursday. It has grown just about six inches in under a week. The first few days it grew kind of slow, then just shot right up. I've planted five so far and have more in my fridge that I am excited to eat up then plant.
I water all of the plants while I make breakfast, every day. Incorporating it with something I must do every day ensures that there will not be a garden massacre again.
Grocery Store Harvest
Potatoes are around $0.20 per pound around here. It is the time to buy. God designed it so that hearty foods would be harvested in the fall and they would keep throughout most of the winter if stored properly. I've been getting carrots for around $0.40 per pound and cabbage for $0.30 per pound. I've been making cortido, a Latin American sauerkraut. This is a great way to preserve harvest vegetables, as well as moving me closer to my nutritional goals. Of course, squashes and apples are a good buy right now, but I won't be buying them too soon.
How has the harvest treated you? Are you extending it into the winter?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Most of our schedules look the same week after week. Our schedule looks different than most, as my husband works both first and second shifts and he has a class schedule to wrestle with. This effects how much prep time I have with each meal. There is one day each week when we have dinner early and I go with him to class to shop in "the big city." We need a lighter meal on that day. When he works second shift, I don't plan on making a crock pot meal for lunch. My most time consuming meals are when he works first shift and I have all the time I could want to make a meal.
You may have work schedules to keep in mind, as well as any kids activities and your own schedule of errands.
By Cooking Method
Anyone still do the old fashioned baking day? If you bake, it is a good idea. It will save on the electric bill and save time. It is much easier to make a batch of muffins when the flour is already out for making bread. This is a perfect day to throw together a pizza or casserole for dinner.
This can overlap with deciding based on time. If you know you won't have time in the evening for meal prep, throw some food in the crock pot in the morning.
By Main Dish or Ingredient
In our family, we have ham night, chicken night and Mexican night. Ham night is Sunday because it is a Sunday tradition. Mexican night is Saturday. It is both my husband and my favorite night, because we love Mexican food. Chicken night is Wednesday because I have time to make an elaborate dish if I want to or, if I am exhausted, I can serve a simple meal of chicken, potatoes and veggies.
If you have something in the back of your cabinet or produce drawer that you are afraid will go bad, incorporating those into your menu is a good idea, too.
Here is our menu, simplified in these terms:
Sunday: ham night
Monday: full hour prep time
Tuesday: full hour prep time
Wednesday: chicken night
Thursday: light meal
Friday: crock pot day
Saturday: Mexican night
If this isn't something you already do, it may take a time investment to figure out, but it saves a ton of time in the long run. Especially if time is your greatest obstacle to home cooking, figuring out what you can do with the time you have will be an advantage. Even if you just make everything in your crock pot, there is still a ton of crock pot meals to satisfy your family.
How do you decide on a menu plan? If you have trouble menu planning, what's your biggest obstacle?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Our second Christmas together, though, we found a charity that we agree with so whole-heartedly that we give to it as our Christmas gift now, and are strong advocates for it.
Gospel for Asia is an Asian mission agency that sends people in Asia to be missionaries to Asia. This often has more of an impact over sending missionaries from America to third world countries, where the American missionaries often continue to live an American lifestyle, instead of taking on the lifestyle of the native people.
For my non-religious readers, Gospel for Asia does a lot more than typical mission work. They have an amazing livestock program. You can give a pair of chickens or rabbits for $11, a pig for $55, a goat for $60, a lamb for $130, a cow for $375, and a water buffalo for $460. Among many other options including a donation to their medical program, you can give a blanket for $5 or a biosand water filter for $30. These go to needy families and needy communities.
This is something we try to get our church involved in as well. A children's Sunday school class could raise enough money to give a pair of chickens. That pair could produce a flock of chickens that could lay up to forty dozen eggs a year. That makes a huge difference to a truly needy family.
A Sunday school class could also raise money for a Bible for $3, a musical instrument for a missionary for $5, or materials for Vacation Bible School to be taught to children on the other side of the world for $5. This does not need to be limited to Christmas time giving only, but could be incorporated throughout the year, a pair of animals given while you teach on Noah's ark, and raising money for Vacation Bible School during Vacation Bible School over the summer.
We have been giving a bike to a missionary each year for $105. A missionary on foot uses much of their time travelling. A bike makes a big difference on how many people can be reached. We have money set aside for this gift this year.
Another option that I saw this year was something for the "Untouchable" caste in India. It is a child hope pack that allows a child of the "Untouchable" caste to go to school. For $50, "your gift helps provide school uniforms, books, tutoring and help with homework, at least one nutritious meal each day and a yearly medical checkup."
One thing I love about Gospel for Asia is that whether you have a little or a lot to give, you can know you are making a difference. There is really so much they are doing to help both physically and spiritually. I would encourage people to go to their website and poke around a bit. They have a bunch of free downloads of books, video, audio and more books, so even if you have nothing to give to them, they can still be edifying to you, as they have been to me.
With Gospel for Asia, "one hundred percent of all contributions designated for use on the mission field are sent to the mission field."
Monday, November 9, 2009
The first time I counted 93, but the second time I counted 95. With my kid-distracted counting skills, I guess the winner will truly be random.
So I went to random.org to find a random winner. I went with the 95 number because I didn't want anyone left out because I can't count.
And the winner is....
#54, which with my kid-distracted counting is Eileen!
"I would love to try stevia."
Thankfully, Eileen also left her email address in her comment, so I have emailed Eileen for her mailing address. Thanks for participating, and for bringing my Google followers to over 200.
We were running low on whey, a by-product of making cream cheese, so it was time to make cream cheese again. A CVS opened up near us, and we got a coupon in the mail, $10 off an order of $20 or more. I got six gallons of whole milk for $10.49. We have state regulated milk prices, so this is a rare deal. You don't need whole milk for this; you can use raw, skim or even powdered milk.
I use a whole gallon, but I've included the timing for a half gallon, which I found here.
1) Pour a gallon of milk into the crock pot, cover, and turn it on low for three hours, two and a half hours if you only use a half gallon.
2) Turn off the crock pot and let it sit, covered, for three more hours.
3) Add a cup of yogurt and stir it in with a whisk and cover. Make sure you use plain yogurt with live active cultures.
4) Wrap a heavy blanket around the entire crock pot and let sit eight to twelve hours; overnight is good.
Now you have yogurt!
At first, it will be the consistency of a yogurt smoothie. If you're into that, throw some it in the blender with some fruit and a sweetener. I always take some of the freshest yogurt and fill the original yogurt cup with it. It goes into my freezer for next time I want to make yogurt.
If you want a thicker consistency, put some cheesecloth or a loosely-woven fabric over your pasta strainer. Put the strainer in a pot to catch the liquid and put the yogurt on the cloth in the strainer. Keep refrigerated.
The liquid that collects in the pot is whey. It is considered precious in my household. It can be substituted for milk in many recipes, like pancakes and muffins. It is good for fermenting grains and fruits and vegetables. It is super nutritious. Don't throw it away. Play with it.
Now the yogurt is about to go through some changes as the whey seeps out. After a few hours, you will have a thicker yogurt, like store bought regular yogurt. If this is what you want, put it in a container to use.
A few hours later, you will have an even thicker yogurt, like Greek yogurt or sour cream. I put some of this aside to put on our tacos as sour cream.
A day or so later, if left to strain, the yogurt will have a dip or spread like consistency. You can mix it with some herbs, oregano or chives are good, and spread it on crackers. You can also put cinnamon and stevia in for a sweet spread.
A few days after that, if left to strain, the yogurt will be real thick, like cream cheese. It is slightly more tart than store-bought cream cheese, but not tart like plain yogurt. I save a little out to make creamy quesadillas, and the rest we munch on with a spoon.
The quantity I get is hard to measure. I get a gallon of smoothie like yogurt, and probably three quarts of regular yogurt, so those are definitely a better deal than their store bought equivalent. But I get a much smaller quantity of cream cheese. Since I usually can't leave the yogurt alone through each of it's stages, I don't actually know how much cream cheese I could end up with, but I'm pretty sure it's a better deal than store bought, especially since it gives me my precious whey.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
More recently I learned that the world average for the length of breastfeeding was until the baby was four-years-old.
With Daniel, my oldest, I had searched the Bible pretty thoroughly to find out how long I should be breastfeeding and found nothing. If someone has a verse, please tell me, because I couldn't find it, and we have two exhaustive concordances.
Samuel, in the Bible, was given to service in the temple after he was weaned. Daniel, my son, was weaned at fifteen months. I couldn't imagine how Hannah, Samuel's mom, could watch her baby leave her so young, but Samuel was probably four-years-old when he was weaned.
I know it isn't this way for everyone, but I can't get pregnant when I'm breastfeeding and I get pregnant immediately when I am not. (Daniel was born exactly nine months and four days after our wedding.) For nutritional reasons, my breastfeeding goals for both Thomas and Bobby have changed, so I imagine our family is going to look different than my husband and I had hoped and expected.
Bobby, who is now 15 months old, was weaned around five months because I was stupid. It is probably my greatest regret as a mother, thus far. I tried to get him going again, but I became pregnant and he did well on formula. Now, I want him breastfeeding again until he is at least two. It's a little odd for me, and he isn't really interested in my breast, so I'm pumping him a cup a day into his sippy cup.
Thomas is an amazing breastfeeder, my best yet. I am aiming to breastfeed him until he is three, but I won't let him be weaned before two.
Is breastfeeding cheaper?
It's an odd question, because it is assumed that it is much cheaper, but you have to eat more. You have to get an additional 500 calories per day. So, let's look at the cost breakdown:
If I got the 500 calories in beef, it would be 5.5 ounces for $0.39.
If I got it in bananas, it would take five bananas, 7 ounces each, for a total of $0.72.
If I drank it in whole milk, it would take three and one third cup and it would cost $0.70 with milk at $3.39 per gallon, the state regulated price.
If I ate the 500 calories in homemade whole wheat pasta, I would have to use 1 1/4 cups of flour, costing $0.20.
If I ate the 500 calories as straight, pure butter, not the cheapest option, I would need five tablespoons at $0.31.
What if you have low milk production or other problems?
I will be honest and admit I have never had problems with milk production, so I can't share a touching personal story about how I took a certain supplement and everything magically went smoothly. Here's what I would recommend, though.
1) Don't give up. If it means pumping and giving what you can in a bottle, that is still a good option.
2) There are herbal supplements. I've heard great things about Mother's Tea. I drank tons of raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy and drink it now. I brew it in bulk in the crock pot. It is probably more like an extract the way I brew it, but it has helped during the transition of nourishing Bobby as well as Thomas.
3) I know there are "other" problems, and I had to use a device with Daniel for the first few days that forced my nipple into the right shape. Now, I have learned to force it into the right shape without the device. A local La Leche League can help with a whole range of other problems.
I know there are people who can't breast feed, but I think they are more rare than is generally believed. Before formula was invented, all babies were breast fed. If a problem came up, they were given animal's milk. With what I know now, I wouldn't have chosen powdered formula for Bobby. I would have chosen to give a fortified animal's milk, either cow or goat. I found some trustworthy recipes here in case any of you are in a predicament where breastfeeding isn't possible. It may not be much cheaper, if any, than conventional formula, because it calls for high quality ingredients, but it is real food. As with anything, check with your pediatrician for the best option for your kid.
The daily downside to breastfeeding, as I see it, is the stream of precious but inappropriate photo opportunities breastfeeding provides.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
That's what my husband said when he heard the election results yesterday morning.
Maine, my state, had a referendum question on gay marriage on Tuesday. As a state, we had already voted to ban gay marriage years ago, but the Maine state legislature decided to overturn the will of the people and passed a law to allow gay marriage in Maine. The Maine people put a people's veto on the ballot and once again denied homosexuals the right to marriage.
I may have a different view on gay marriage than most Christians. I don't think that banning gay marriage will ultimately lead to more people to follow Christ. But that is not the point of this post.
Can't we all just be nice?
Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, the Maine state legislature was wrong in overturning the will of the people. They are elected to serve the will of the people. That alone was reason enough for me to support this people's veto.
The leaders of the anti-gay marriage side did not play nice, though. They talked about how gay marriage would be taught in schools, implying it would turn our kids gay if gay marriage were allowed. But the gay marriage law that the legislature passed had nothing to do with public school policy. There were some people who were involved in the pro-gay marriage side who were also pushing for a change in public school policy, but this law had nothing to do with it.
The anti-gay marriage side, in my opinion, had a strong argument against the law the legislature passed without lying. Yet most ads I heard and saw were about homosexuality being taught in the public schools, which had nothing to do with the people's veto.
Can't we all just be nice?
Although I'm glad that the people's veto was passed, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't like being on the same side as people who based their campaign on lies. The ends don't justify the means.
Being nice will get you further in life, both in your personal and financial life. You may still get your way without being nice, but it may end up feeling like a hollow victory.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I would like to introduce you to the guy who got my family changing their dietary ways. I found Underground Wellness while playing on YouTube one day. I don't advocate people seeking health advice on YouTube, but that doesn't mean that everything on YouTube is quackery. Sean Croxton, the guy behind Underground Wellness, knows his stuff. He is a nutritionist and fitness trainer.
He has a BlogTakRadio show as well. I love his BlogTalkRadio show. For some reason, it puts all my kids to sleep! So, I have it playing as background noise a lot. He has interviewed many other wellness experts on his show including Sally Fallon, David Getoff, and Paul Chek. It has opened up a new world for me.
Back to my health journey; there are many steps in a journey and right now I am working on fermenting and sprouting grains and vegetables. I have fermented grains in the past, but somehow got away from it, so I have been making a conscious effort to do it again. So grain fermentation is step one.
To some readers, this is going to be radical information. Other readers may not believe me or call this bogus science. Still other readers may have been wondering when or if I was going to get around to this.
I am going to explain the science in the best way I can, and then give you a reference to someone who has explained it better than I have.
Think of other animals that eat grains. If you look at their anatomy, they have more stomachs, up to four, and longer intestinal tracks. They are better able to digest grains fully. Fermenting grains, also called soaking grains, is basically a predigestion process for humans.
Why is predigestion necessary?
Whole grains have antinutrients that can bind with nutrients you need and block their absorption. These antinutrients are part of the shell of the grain, and they protect the grain from sprouting before it is ready. When whole grain flour is milled, the every part of the grain is milled together. This is good, as you get more nutrients overall, but it means we need to take extra steps to make sure we are digesting the grains properly. Fermenting, or soaking, breaks down these antinutrients so that the grains don't interfere with nutrients from other food.
How do you ferment grains?
Basically, mix the grains, for me flour and oatmeal, and liquids in a recipe together the night before you need it with either whey, cider vinegar or yogurt. I use whey, which is a by-product of making ricotta cheese and cream cheese, so it does not effect the final cost. I found my fermented pasta recipe here, and my fermented tortilla recipe here. I have tried and loved both recipes, but I changed the proportions to make smaller batches.
Does it taste different?
I've been making sourdough bread, so it tastes different, but my pasta and tortillas taste the same. You don't have to make sourdough bread to make a soaked grain bread, it's just what I am doing. I'll be posting about my sourdough bread, and about making your own sourdough starter.
I don't get it. Where's the source that explains it properly? Be Kind to Your Grains