Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time for Another Confessional - Our Mistakes

As you can tell already, I'm sure, I didn't have a plan for what to post today. I have an idea of something new on the horizon for the blog...something I'm pondering adding (as my Thursday regular post?).

On my mind a lot lately, though, have been our personal finances. They have been...let's just say...less than stellar for the month of January. Honestly, I've been watching them daily as the end of the month has drawn near. That's just how tough things have been this month.

In pondering the "whys" of January being so much more difficult than previous months, I consulted my Mint account. There are several reasons that stare me in the face. Reasons that we cannot excuse. Reasons that were decisions that we made during the month that strongly affected the monthly totals.

Here are some of our pitfalls for the month:
  • We had to have the brakes repaired on the van. That repair went far above our monthly car maintenance budget (which covers a little more than one oil change a month). It went over by about $330. I pulled money from savings to do it. Thank goodness for a savings account, even if it a small one. We were able to do it with cash, but now need to replenish that money missing from savings.
  • Restaurants. has always been our downfall. But this month I had great intentions of it being so ON budget. And it almost one GIGANTIC mistake. We had some friends visit one day and had a FABULOUS time with them. We had been given a gift certificate from some other friends because Chip helped them paint and get their house ready to move into. It was a great gift. So we went to a really nice restaurant downtown to use it at. We found out, after we had ordered and gotten our food, that we would not be able to use that gift card (long story as to why, but we're better educated now). Damage done? $72 just that night. Ouch. That made our total $76 over budget for the month (see how good we ALMOST did?!).
  • Clothing. After Christmas there were some great sales going on online (you remember them, don't you?). Well, I took advantage of three of them (Children's Place, NY & Co, and Kohl's). At TCP I got some stuff for next winter for both of the kids at rock bottom prices. At New York & Company I got some great winter stuff for me and my post-baby body for work. At Kohl's I got some great deals for the entire family for this winter, next winter, and to replace some really tired and worn stuff from Chip's and my closet. I honestly saved over $800 in clothing in these combined sales. But I spent approximately $200 to do it. I'm trying to convince myself that I SAVED 80% and that's a good thing. But I'm way over our clothing budget now. I will count it as an investment.
  • Our timeshare. This thing is just a financial drain to us. We paid someone just over $600 to sell it for us about 3 months ago and found out that we'd been taken for a ride. Yes...they listed it, but they are doing NOTHING to market it for us. We have now paid another $400 (after much thought, several emails of reassurance--and evidence--from the new company) to have a marketing company list it. They have brokers and the means to get our $600+ back from the other company (long story, but I have in email that they will be getting it back for us, so I'm holding them to it). This thing is just a thorn in our side. This new company will get huge realtor commissions if/when they sell it, so they actually have incentive (where the other company did not). Hopefully it will sell soon and we can eliminate this monthly payment and add it to our credit card payment. (and if it sells for the asking price, we'll actually make some profit).

There were some other, more minor, things that set us back, but these are the biggies. So...all of that to tell you...this month has hurt.

And here's my other confession. The truly embarrassing one.

We haven't been tithing. For about 8 months.

I am ashamed to tell you that, but it is the truth.

I'm not really sure why we stopped, but we did.

But now, even when the budget is too tight and we are in a financial hole, we are starting to tithe again. I am trusting God to provide where we fall short.

He has already been faithful to provide thus far, but now I am surrendering our finances to Him and letting Him fill in the gaps, because we're obviously just no good at it.

Last week was the first weekend that I put a tithe check into the collection plate in a while. It was 10% of Chip's unemployment check. So it wasn't much, but it was what we had for the week. And frankly, starting small like that, made it a little easier.

This week will be 10% of mine and his combined. And it will be difficult to let go. But I'm trusting Him to take care of it, and frankly, He already is. If I go into the "hows" of it here, this post will be 3x longer than it already is, and I'm sure I've already lost most of you. So that post will be for another day.

Sigh...that's my confessional post for today. It is utterly embarrassing to hit "publish," but I feel I need to do it. I am trying to get out from under my bondage to our finances and part of that means an emotional letting go as well...thus my letting go of my pride to tell you these things.

Next Thursday, since the month of January will finally be over, I will be posting my monthly results, as ugly as they are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WFMW - Great Tool for Teaching Kids to Read!

Our son can read. I mean, really, really read. And he learned it right here at home!

Let's just say that his preschool is a little lacking in the teaching quality in his class right now. We're not happy about it. We've expressed our concerns. I will grow more concerned next year when he stays in the same class but is considered "PreK."

But that's a different post with lots of let-go frustrations. And that's not what you're here to read today.

My aunt who is a teacher, two friends who are teachers, and some other parents in general have been talking up this one particular website called Starfall. I kept meaning to check it out, but I kept forgetting.

I finally led Patrick to it a couple of nights ago...and HE CAN READ!

He was doing small bits of it at school (one of the three in his class of 9 that had accomplished this feat, says a proud mama), but he was having to wait on the other children to catch up. And that's not what I want.

And since education starts at home, we visited this site.

And were amazed.

It has 4 levels. We quickly decided to forego the first level, because he knows his alphabet and basic phonics. However, it does have a sign language section that might be fun to revisit sometime in the future.

The second level is for those ready to start reading. That is where we started. He knows HOW to sound out words, but needs some prodding. Since neither Chip nor I are educators, we don't have the tools...or at least we didn't until now! The second section works with basic phonics, letter combinations, sight words, and some things like "Y as Long E". And it is very entertaining to our 4 year old son!

The third level, has some fun and games that expand on the reading skills, but also broaden the child's horizons. And the 4th level are some short stories and such for your young reader.


After just one stop at this site for about 30 minutes, Patrick plowed easily through two fulls lessons and had a great time. He even got to rate each activity, so we know he was truly enjoying it.

So this has already worked for us...after ONE VISIT (can you tell I'm a bit excited?!). You can check out their section addressed to parents to find out more about their methods and practices. There are even downloads to further encourage them.

Although I'm not a SAHM, I would definitely pick this up to use whether I intended to home school or send my child to school. And I'm doing it although he's already in a preschool!

Go visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else!

*By the way, I wasn't contacted or reimbursed by Starfall to promote their site. It truly works for me (and our son) and I wanted to share that with you!

Monday, January 25, 2010

8 Shortcut Keys that Save My Life

  1. Control + Z—Seriously, the “Undo” button was put on this keyboard just for me I think.
  2. Control + Y­—The “Redo” button is for when I want to Undo an “Undo.” Another great one
  3. Control + X—I never use my Edit menu. I “Cut” a lot. This is how I pull it off.
  4. Control + C—Even more than cutting, I “Copy” a lot. This is how I do that.
  5. Control + V—To go along with cut and copy, I must also “Paste” with this button. I may have saved HOURS of my time not using the mouse for these three tasks.
  6. Control + Tab—I learned this one long into my computer usage lifetime. It’s kinda’ an “untab” button. If you have a bulleted list that tries to (incorrectly) think for itself and you end up with bullets in the wrong place, this button can save your life.
  7. Control + F—I use this one with documents, webpages, and in my own HTML code all the time when trying to “Find” a particular word or phrase. Remember the asterisk (*) is a wildcard in this field.
  8. Editing: Control U, I, or B—See? I told you I never open my Edit menu. I often use these three button to do basic Underline, Italics, and Bold formatting for my text.

Want to know some more? Check out this post!

Photo credit: daniel437

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WFMW - Get out tough stains

Having Abigail has provided a new challenge in our lives...laundry wars.

With Patrick we didn't have the huge messes that this little girl makes. For the first 5 months of her life we battled the no-diaper-can-contain-what-she-makes-eating-only-breastmilk dilemma. We'd be so very proud of the days that she came home from daycare in the same clothes she left the house in that morning. They were truly days to celebrate, as they happened once or twice every two weeks.

And when they come home in a plastic bag from daycare, they weren't rinsed out. I questioned this one time and was told that the health department doesn't let them rinse the clothes out when soiled, so the stain may have set in for hours at this point. Blech.

Patrick had a nanny that stayed with him at our house, so when he had this issue, it went straight into the washing machine with whatever laundry she could find to create a full load, so we never had to fight set in stains.

Now we can celebrate that the child is eating solid foods three meals a day. No more super messes in the diapers.

But now. Sigh. Now we have food stains. All over her clothes. Because she likes to put her hands in her mouth while she eats. And then proceed to touch everything in sight. And based on my own non-scientific research it seems that approximately 83% of beginning baby foods are bright yellow or orange in color. An additional 15% are from the green family with the remaing 2% being the color of cereal and applesauce.

What to do?

I thought I would give this little product here a shot:

I had acquired this particular laundry product in one of my drugstore shopping marathon deals (for free or pennies I'm sure--otherwise I wouldn't own it). I had never used it, but thought I could give it a shot.

This is obviously made of the nectar of the gods because IT WORKS!

Seriously...nothing else would remove the stains, but this would remove very tough, set-in stains.

Sometimes the first time!

There are other times where the stain is so deeply set that I use the product and wash the garment in the hottest water allowed by the garment and end up having to re-use it because although the stain is lessened, it is still there. But by two loads at the most, the stain is completely gone! Amazing!

Now some of you will argue that this isn't the cheapest product. I'll agree, but I did get it for cheap with coupons and some type of drugstore deal. Some of you will argue that it isn't a green product. I will assume you are right. Some of you might fuss at me for using hot water in my washing machine.

To all of those arguments, I will tell you that while they are all true, I figure the best use of my money is making my children's clothes LAST. This product makes that happen.

I buy it even when it's not on sale now if I need it (although there is usually a coupon out there to make it better) because it is needed in my daily laundry life.

Go get some today. You can buy it almost anywhere you can buy laundry products I'm sure.

Go over to We are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else!

No compensation was made for this post. In fact, I doubt the manufacturer has any idea that I exist or that I care for their product. I just like the product because it works and I wanted to share that with you. Darn the FCC for making me add this caveat. =)

Monday, January 18, 2010

8 Things NOT to do While Driving

If you have found your way here via 51 Articles of Things Not to Do When Driving at, let me extend to you a warm welcome. Feel free to look around and see what interests you. Contact me if you have any questions!

  1. Using your cell phone/Texting—Okay, so I do talk on the phone while driving. I never text. I never talk in inclement weather, heavy traffic, or adverse driving conditions, including traffic jams. I do not do it while driving among people that I seriously need to pay attention to (those swerving about and such) unless I am calling to report them to the state patrol. I probably shouldn’t do it at all.
  2. Eating—This is an old habit of many of us, but we really handicap ourselves when we try to eat in the car. Some things are not easy to eat with one hand. Some things put grease on our hands. Some things are hard to unwrap. Just not a good idea altogether.
  3. Applying Make Up—If you are looking at your face well enough to correctly apply make-up (or attempt to), you are not looking at the road. It is not your personal salon. Don’t do it. I bet your car will stop moving when you arrive at your destination and then you will have a few precious seconds to apply your lip gloss.
  4. Reading—You might get bored. Turn on the radio. Listen to a book on tape. Talk to yourself. I don’t care. Don’t read though. I’ve found that you get the most out of a book when you actually look thoroughly at the words to comprehend them and place them together in concise sentences. You cannot do this while you are looking at the road. Don’t make your book more important that my your life.
  5. Doing Puzzles—Seems like a no-brainer, but I have been PASSED on I-95 by a woman working on a Sudoku puzzle. I knew it was that type of puzzle because her beautiful Mercedes careened close enough to my Camry for me to tell that she was trying to decide between a 7 and a 9 in the first block. Seriously…I didn’t stare at the puzzle that well, as I was trying to find my escape route for when her car eventually took over my lane, but I did see it was Sudoku.
  6. Disciplining Kids—You know that “don’t make me come back there.” Well, leave it at a threat. Don’t actually try to take something from your child, spank them, or snatch the hair out of their head while you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. Pull over and take care of your family business. Or use that "When we get home..." threat and mean it (or they'll never take you seriously and you'll just be a stressed driver, which is also not good!).
  7. Restrain Pets—Pets can be dangerous when riding unrestrained in a car. Not only is it like not buckling in your child for their own safety, but pets can be spastic and suddenly put themselves in dangerous situations (like trying to jump out of the window or onto your head). Prevent them getting injured by their bright ideas or by you trying to save them by restraining them either in a pet seat or in a carrier.
  8. Change Clothes—I have seen people change almost entire outfits while DRIVING (not riding) down the road. Not only do you need to wiggle around while you do this and use the hands that should be on your steering wheel, but you must unbuckle to do this as well, making it not safe. I have even fussed at Chip for taking off his shoes while driving because the prolonged removal of his foot from the accelerator can cause the people behind us to run upon us and he has yet to learn to retie them with one hand and while sitting upright. NOT SAFE. DO NOT DO IT.
BONUS--Not for anyone’s safety, but for goodness sake, do not pick your nose while driving. We can still see you.

Photo credit: chucklyn

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Organization for Everyday Life

Some people are naturally organizers. Some need more help. Some seem to be completely hopeless. I personally fall into the naturally organizer category and Patrick has already proven to be a follower of mom's footsteps.

I wanted to offer a few tips that I incorporate into my everyday life to make my days less chaotic:
  • Take my medicine/vitamins while the shower is warming up (consistency is key to remembering).
  • Shampoo, rinse. Conditioner. Soap/bathe. Rinse conditioner. This allows the time for the conditioner to work while utilizing the time to get something productive done.
  • Get gasoline on the way home rather than making yourself late the next morning on the way to work.
  • Prepare lunches for the next day the night before.
  • Prepare any checks and mail the night before you need to pay/mail it.
  • Get kids' clothes out the night before.
  • Consider choosing your kids' clothes an entire week ahead so all the work is done on Sunday before a new school week begins.
  • Get own clothes out the night before.
  • Have kids clean up their toys before bedtime so the house is clean when you get up each day.
  • Have a menu plan for shopping purposes.
  • After buying groceries, assign each meal to a specific day (I base mine on the date on the meats and fresh produce as well as any special schedules for the week). This prevents indecision that leads (at our house) to eating out for convenience.
  • Schedule bill payments or have a system to organize bills that allows you to never be late.
  • Establish a bedtime and bedtime ritual for consistency for your children...they thrive on schedules.
  • Make sure you plan and schedule fun time or family time if needed. I know that if we didn't plan on it sometimes, it just wouldn't happen.
  • Label bins/drawers/etc to find items easily (we do this with our children's toys as well as our toiletries).
  • Clean out the medicine cabinet once a year. Pick a date that's easy to anniversary, daylight savings time, the first day of spring...whatever works for you.
  • Change batteries in smoke alarms consistently (see item above for scheduling ideas).
  • Make sure all pantry items are visible or you WILL buy something you already own by mistake (this is one I need to work on!).
  • Keep cleaning products together. I personally keep general cleaning products that are used all around the house in the laundry room and bathroom cleaners underneath my bathroom sink. That's always the bathroom I clean first, so that seems to be the easiest solution.
  • Keep a calendar or white board of appointment and/or important dates visible.
  • Buy birthday cards at the beginning of the month for everyone celebrating that month.
  • Keep stamps on hand.
  • Throw away junk mail before placing it on the countertop. We have enough regular mail cluttering our countertop that we certainly don't need the addition of more paper!

This is just a list of items that I do (some more successfully and consistently than others) to try to simplify my life.

What about you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WFMW - Honoring Our Fallen

The Department of Veterans Affairs predicts that 500,000 U.S. veterans will die annually over the next 7 years. That's almost 1400 a day. Congress passed legislation in 2000 that gave Veterans the right to two flag-folders and one playing of Taps at their funeral.

Since there are not enough buglers to cover the playing of Taps, Congress allowed that a CD recording was allowed. This was a sad substitution of a live bugler, but frankly, there were not enough buglers to do the job. In the early part of this past decade, the Pentagon approved a bugle that held a recorded version of Taps so that when one put the instrument to their lips and pressed a button, the recording would blare out of it as if it were live. A great attempt, but still not good enough to honor those who deserve a performance from an actual bugler, and it is devastating when they fail to work (which does happen on occasion) and the bugler is not able to actually perform the rite.

In 2000, Bugles Across America was created to give proper recognition to veterans who deserve to have a live performance of this piece. These men and women volunteer their time and talents to provide this earned honor to the fallen. Currently there are over 7300 volunteer registered across the country, with a growing number overseas. They are to be commended on volunteering their talents for those who cannot have a military bugler scheduled from the military.

Chip is one of the volunteers currently. In the last 6 months he has performed approximately 6-8 funerals. It is his honor and privilege to serve the fallen in such a manner. He refuses payment from the family and funeral home, stating that they have earned that honor and he will not take money for it.

If you know someone who could respectfully perform Taps on a volunteer basis, please have them consider registering with Bugles Across America. There are no just perform when there is a service that you are available to attend. If you know of anyone who has earned this honor but cannot get an honor guard from the State Department, please contact Bugles Across America to request a bugler.

Let us not forget those who have fought for our right (and the rights of others) to live in freedom. May they rest in peace.

*Note: the above photo is a picture of Chip when he was serving in the National Guard as a member of the US Army Band. He was performing Taps for a young man who was killed in Afghanistan.

Honoring our service men and women works for our household. Please go over to We are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else!

Monday, January 11, 2010

8 Tools Every Household Should Own

  1. Hammer/Nails—For the most basic of tasks. Hanging pictures, removing nails, putting together furniture, hanging shelving, etc
  2. Screwdrivers (Phillips & Flathead)—One of each is a must. You can buy a nice “average” size, but I also suggest having a small one of each on hand too for those tiny projects—like children’s toy assembly.
  3. Adjustable wrenches—Need to tighten something? This will do it. Need to just hang onto something while you work? This will do it still. You can get one small and one large for maximum usage.
  4. Plunger—You may not want to ever use one, but these things can be priceless.
  5. Measuring tape—To measure spaces for furniture or artwork, to center something on a wall, to know what size blinds or curtains you need, to evenly hang your Christmas decoration. Too many uses to name
  6. Cordless Drill—Save some hard labor and get one of these. Even a small 9-volt can prevent heartache when hanging items. Especially if you have solid, hard wood you are trying to penetrate. Great for hanging ceiling fans too. Make sure it’s cordless…you won’t forgive yourself for buying one that has to plug into a wall.
  7. Level—You really don’t have the eye for it. If you think you do, then most of the stuff in your house is hung crookedly. Seriously. You cannot eyeball well enough for some people. I am one of those people. If I enter your house and stuff is hung off-kilter, I will spend the entire visit feeling nauseous. Buy a level.
  8. Utility Knife—For opening boxes, cutting down boxes to discard, cutting twine/cords, cutting down on “extra” paint lines, or opening a bag of ant-killer. Don’t use your kitchen knives for jobs that require something more industrial (and could dull your “good” knives).

If you have power tools, you must add safety glasses to this list. I am an engineer and deal with safety every day. Don’t make me point you to websites with photos of safety failures: they aren’t pretty. And man’s favorite universal tool: duct tape. Yes, we kid about such, but it really is serious stuff with an entire array of uses. Also a good set of pliers is great to have on hand. The top eight above, though, are my bare bones list that EVERYONE should have.

Photo credit: Shenky

Monday, January 4, 2010

8 Ways to Save $100 This Year

  1. Change in a jar—When you get home everyday, drop the coins in your pocket/purse into a jar. When the jar is full, use it for something special.
  2. Get a library card (books, movies, computer, etc)—There really is no need to buy books or rent movies if you have a decent library. I have discovered some of my favorite authors because I just picked up a free book at the library when I never would have paid for a book by someone I didn’t know. Some people go so far as using the internet there exclusively and foregoing the need for a computer as well.
  3. Order water—Did you know that a drink can increase your dining bill by $1.50 to $3.00 for a regular soda/tea/juice. Ridiculous. I can save 30% off a meal (like lunch) just by ordering water, which is usually free!
  4. Brew your own coffee—Do you really need to pay $3.00 a cup for coffee? You can purchase your own coffee, some tasty creamer or varying flavors and do it so much more cheaply yourself. You can even “splurge” and get a coffee maker that has a timer so you don’t have to get up any earlier in the morning to enjoy your coffee. It will pay for itself in no time!
  5. Redbox—There are too many Redbox rental codes for free movies for you to pay to rent new releases anymore. You can use a code to get a 1-night rental for free. And you can use that same code one time for any card that you have (credit/debit). You carry 2 cards and your hubby carries 2 cards, that is FOUR free rentals with only one code. Check here for current codes and offers!
  6. Pay attention to bank account (ATM fees, overdrafts, late fees)—Keep your eyes open to keep from paying unnecessary fees from your bank. Don’t get charged $30 or more because you sent the check one day earlier hoping your paycheck would clear before the one you wrote from that account. Think about where a local bank is on your way to your destination rather than finding yourself there only without access of another bank and have to pay fees (from both banks) from using an ATM that is not yours.
  7. Skype—Drop long distance and Skype. You can call computer to computer anywhere in the world for free just by downloading their (free) software. And if you want to spend just a little money, you can buy a webcam (we paid $30 but there are cheaper ones) and see who you are talking to.
  8. Sell stuff (no storage and/or income)—If you sell your unused items, you can reap various rewards! First of all…you have cash for your stuff. Great! Better than that though, you can have the piece of mind of not having clutter, you might find something you forgot your had (or had misplaced) while uncluttering to sell stuff, and you might just get to quit paying storage fees for stuff that you never see anyway (because it is sitting in a storage unit somewhere).,, EBay, and Craigslist (among many others) make it too easy not to sell stuff—even specialty items—that you no longer use.

Photo credit: foxumon