Always Crazy, Always Fun, Always Love

Ray Romano once compared life with twins to living in a frat house. As he put it, "no one sleeps, there is a lot of noise and a lot of throwing up." I find this very true with 4 young children, including twins. However, though things are always crazy, we always try to have fun and, most certainly, always love each other.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Appetizing....

Jacob (my 7- almost 8- year old) suffers from chronic constipation with some unpleasant side effects. Because of this, he has been on combinations of laxatives and stool softeners for nearly 3 years now. They have only been moderately helpful and I have hated the fact that the dose seems to just get higher instead of lower, trying to fix his problems. Though there has been a little improvement, the doctors have yet to find the magic button to cure him so the medications continue.

I am part of an online support group of other families that deal with this situation and recently there has been a lot of buzz about the benefits of probiotics. Many are in the same boat as we are- laxatives have only been a little helpful. Many have claimed that probiotics have turned things around for them. Willing to try anything, I asked our doctors about it who agreed it could help.

So, off I went to the vitamin store, where I found a liquid form of probiotics. I read the label and here is a portion of what it says:

"American Health's Acidophilus liquid is composed of hardy, viable balanced cultures of specially selected strains of lactobacillus cultures in a natural palatable base of pre-digested milk solids....Each serving provides 20 billion "friendly" organisms."

This is supposed to make me feel good about giving it to my child?? Despite the words "palatable" and "friendly"- it just doesn't sound good. I haven't given it to Jacob yet, but I did try it and it tastes awful- despite the natural blueberry flavoring. Hopefully he will take it okay or I can mix it into something. If not, I have discovered chewable versions on line that I can order.

Yuck.... I hope we can get past these issues soon!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sugar, Sugar and More Sugar!!

Here is a re-post of the blog I submitted for the twins club blog I contribute to. I post monthly on that blog with tips on saving money by doing things homemade. This was February's post:

I bet that title caught your eye, didn't it? Now that I have your attention, I would like you to picture the following scene. It shouldn't be hard- most of us have been there.

Your children have a Valentine's Day/ Christmas/ Halloween/ Whatever Party at school tomorrow. You decide to bring out the supermom within and make your world famous sugar cookies for their classrooms. You spent a lot of time preparing the dough and rolling out and baking them. It is now 9 pm. You have no icing, but you planned on making your yummy home-made icing recipe. You reach for your powdered sugar and find you have about half of what you need. Oh No!! You go next door to your neighbors house hoping she will have some, but she does not. What do you do?? Go to the store to get icing or powdered sugar? Send them un-iced? That would be fine except you know you like them better iced and so will the kids. You really really don't want to go to the store.... what do you do?

Yes- that was my scenario the night before my kids Valentine's day parties. As I pondered the situation, I thought I remembered reading something about how to make your own powdered sugar. Curiosity got the best of me and I researched it and found that it would be quite easy!!!

Powdered Sugar:
Here is how you do it. You need:

1 cup white sugar
2 TBSP Cornstarch

Place in a blender and blend until smooth! It will look like this:
I tried it in a blender and small food processor. It worked better in the blender. The taste was exactly the same as store bought powdered sugar and was so so close to the exact texture. I think it might have been the same texture exactly if the blade in my blender was a little newer/sharper. Some of the reviews I read stated that they used a coffee grinder (which I don't have) and it turned out exactly the same as store bought. Even though mine wasn't totally smooth (thought it was very very close), it worked great in the recipe!!!

The recipe above made about 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar:

Will this save money? Is it cheaper then just buying powdered sugar- quite possibly. Either way though, it definitely will save the time and expense of going to the store late at night when you are in a bind!

Sugar Cookies

So, I thought while I was writing, I would include my recipe for Sugar Cookies. Though I will admit, it isn't "my" recipe- it was passed on to me by a friend. I can say this honestly though: Throw away all your other sugar cookie recipes- this is BY FAR the BEST sugar cookie I have ever tried and it is so easy and does not use too many ingredients.

1 LB. butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
6 cups sifted flour**
1 tsp baking soda

**make sure to sift the flour before measuring- it keeps the dough light and soft- even after rolling and re-rolling! Also, I have used butter and stick margarine- butter is easier to roll out, but it does work with stick margarine too. Don't use tub margarine.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl, mix the sifted flour and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture one cup at a time. When mixed well, divide dough into two sections and wrap cookie dough in waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or over night. Roll out and cut shapes and place on cookie sheet. (If really firm, you can set out at room temp for 20 min or so to make easier to roll out.) Bake at 350 for 10 min. Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely. Ice as desired.

-note- this recipe can be halved- just use two eggs.

How about icing?? Here is a really yummy recipe perfect for these cookies:

Cream Cheese Icing:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick- NOT margarine)-softened
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese- softened
4 cups (or 1 LB) powdered sugar (store bought or homemade!)
1 TBSP milk
a few drops food coloring as desired

Beat together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar. Add milk and beat to desired consistency. Beat in food coloring. Here is a pic:


My icing was a little softer than usual because I used light cream cheese instead of regular, but it still worked great and tasted great! So, if you want a softer icing, use light cream cheese, or for an icing that will stand up a little firmer, use regular.

ONE MORE THOUGHT:

Do you like to use those sugar sprinkles on your cookies? It is ridiculously expensive to buy those little bottles in the baking aisle. Make it yourself for virtually free! It literally takes just seconds! Simply put a little sugar in a sandwich bag, add a few drops of food coloring, close the bag and smush the sugar around with your fingers on the outside of the bag. In less then a minute, you will have this:


Sprinkle on your cookies and here is the finished product:

After finishing these, you can strap on that "Supermom" cape and wear it with pride! No one even needs to know that your kitchen is a disaster, you were up past midnight, your house is a mess, your husband feels neglected and that your hair sticking out all over your head makes you look a bit scary! All they need to know is you created something wonderful from the most basic cheep ingredients you had around the house and you came through for your kids who carry them proudly into school (hopefully not dropping them....) to share with their classmates.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spring Tease

The last few days here in Ohio have been such a welcome relief. It has been sunny with highs in the upper 50's. I think it even went over 60 yesterday. For someone who has been a bit down this winter due to the cold and gray, this has been a much needed reprieve. A light jacket has replaced the bulky coat with hat and gloves. Windows have been opened and the heated seats in my van have gotten a break.

Considering Mr. Groundhog was not scared away by his shadow, many think this is the beginning of our promised early spring. I am longing for spring as much as the next person, but anyone who truly knows Ohio knows that winter isn't near over yet. It will return. Winter is simply allowing Spring to give us a little tease- or a little break maybe to have the strength to hang on until Spring does arrive for good. My lilies are not even poking out of the ground yet, so there is still quite a wait for spring. The lilies will poke up in March sometime but winter really does last until about April around here.

Ohioans need to remember that this is somewhat normal. We usually do get some teaser days in winter, but the cold and the SNOW will unfortunately return. We will get at least one more big snow most likely with more cold temperatures. I am not trying to be pessimistic- just realistic- stating the facts.

Though I want spring at least as much- if not more- than most people, I wouldn't complain to have one more good snow. As I wrote here in this post, I finally bought sleds for my kids but we haven't been able to use them yet!

For now, I am just being thankful for the blessing of this temporary reprieve. I have been soaking up some sun, took the kids to the park, opened windows and smiled. That is what weeks like this are given to us for- for taking a deep breath and being thankful- and recharging our batteries to help us get through the rest of Winter!

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Mom! We are Making Snow!!!"

A few days ago, Aaron received a package of car parts in the mail. It was packed with those hard pieces of Styrofoam. The boys saw it and got all excited- wanting to play with the Styrofoam or tear it up or whatever. Aaron told them no and so they left it alone. I then took them to the table to start them on their homework. I became totally focused on them and their work and totally had no idea what the girls were doing in the living room- literally right behind me! I turned around and Ellie said, "Mom! We are making snow!!" I could not believe it. There they sat in the middle of the rug- COVERED in little white Styrofoam balls- with those same little balls covering my living room floor. They were rubbing their hands over the Styrofoam to break the little balls loose. Here is the aftermath of the living room:

After the fact, it occurred to me what a much better/ funnier picture it would have been if I had a cool enough head to take a shot of the girls in the middle of it all covered in their "snow" before I brushed them off and sent them out of the room. I admit I am not that cool headed mom that thinks of the camera first. It wasn't until I got ready to start cleaning up, that I thought of it. Oh well. In retrospect, it was a funny site to see these two crazy girls covered in their "snow." I am still finding these little white balls all over, despite having vacuumed a few times!!

Speaking of these two crazy girls, they recently had a hair cut! Ellie has never had a hair cut (with her long curls, I was always afraid to cut it!) and Meghan had only ever had one cut. I put it off because I didn't want to pay for their cuts, yet I didn't trust myself to do it right. (I tried once with Meghan and really messed it up and a professional had to fix it....hence her first hair cut). Anyway, their hair was getting long and straggly- hanging in their faces so I figured it was time. Thanks to my friend Amy for the awesome coupons, we went to get their hair cut. Here is before:


During:



And After:


Ellie's hair doesn't look that much different- I wanted to keep it long because of her curls- but the lady did cut off about 2 1/2 inches!!! It is just more even and cleaned up. Meghan's hair totally suits her spunky personality. She is so adorable with a shorter do. It was a successful trip!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Metal Mouth!!!

I feel as if I have officially achieved a new status in parenting. That of a mother of a child with braces!!! (Not to mention I am now an extra POOR mother now too....Yikes!!!) Yesterday was Kenny's big day!!!

Hard to believe that- at the age of 9- his mouth was ready for braces. But, he has had teeth falling out of his head and big ones trying to come in for years. His mouth is a good two years ahead of schedule- and very crowded!

Before they were put in, he was SO excited- he was counting down the days and just couldn't wait. I didn't want to kill his enthusiasm but also tried to gently warn him that it wouldn't be all fun- that he may be sore in the beginning and he would have to be careful to care for them correctly, but I think he was too excited to listen.

Right after they were put on, he said he wasn't sore- though he did have trouble eating lunch just because of the awkwardness of it. At dinner time, he took a bite of food and said his teeth hurt really bad. I gave him some medication and he tried to eat more but just barely could. His eyes filled with tears and he said, "I wish I never got braces!!!" Poor guy- my heart broke for him. I did promise him though that it wouldn't hurt forever. He wore his night gear for the first time as well last night and kept it on all night- though he is very sore today. I have been giving him medicine and feeding him soft things. Breakfast was oatmeal, a smoothie for lunch and Taco soup for dinner.

I'm just hopeful that we can get his paid off before any of the other kids need them!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The New Penny-Pinching Me!

While I have never considered myself a truly "cheap" person (though I definitely can be at times...), I definitely consider myself to be frugal. Especially in this last year or so I have increased my efforts to be more frugal. We have 6 people and 3 pets living on one income so sometimes I have to stretch the dollar until it nearly snaps. Yet, we always make do and get by. Though I may not have an "income" to speak of, I do my part by helping to save money. (Heck, one of us has to considering Aaron is a spender!)

Some ways in which I consider myself to be frugal are:

- Most of my food is homemade and often from scratch. I rarely buy dinner mixes, or cake or brownie mixes or rolls. I keep those basic ingredients on hand and make them myself. Fortunately I enjoy baking, so this works for me.

- We live in a (relatively) small house. We fit- two per bedroom- though as the kids get bigger, I swear it shrinks! But, we can afford it, so it works.

- I buy about 95 % of my childrens' clothes used. The 5 % they get new is clearance. (Seriously, how could anyone afford to buy clothes new for 4 kids?!)

- I buy my own clothes at thrift or discount stores. I seriously can not imagine EVER paying more than $20 for a pair of jeans...

- I generally buy generic brand food and other items.

- The last several months I have started making my own household cleaners and laundry detergent! My bill for laundry detergent has gone from about $200+/year to about $20/year!

- we don't drive fancy new cars (couldn't afford them if we wanted to!)

Despite being frugal, I do certainly enjoy the finer things in life as well- we do have cell phones and cable TV. I also don't cut my childrens' hair myself (though I would love to- but everytime I have tried it has ended badly!). We are also known to occasionally enjoy a dinner out (though never fancy places) when we can swing it. I feel like being frugal off-sets these things a little.

Recently however, I have begun a new endeavor- into the world of couponing! Sure, I have always used coupons- saving a few dollars here and there- but I was always jealous of those who knew how to fill a cart and only pay a few dollars. I have a few friends who have learned how to do that and they have been trying to teach me, but I have been resistant due to fear of the time it would take and feeling simply overwhelmed by it. A few months ago, my friend Abbey held my hand (metaphorically speaking) through a night of shopping the couponing way. She came over and helped me print the coupons on-line and clip others and make a list based on what Meijer had on sale. My first night was pretty successful thanks to her. Not too bad for a Newbie, I walked out paying about $9 for everything on the table below (retail value about $50)...
It certainly felt good to walk out with all this stuff I could use and getting it so cheap. It still took a couple of months though for me to really feel comfortable enough to take the leap. Let me say, the high of walking out of store with a large amount of food for a small price is incredible! It is a bit addicting. It definitely makes you want to do it again! Everytime I get home, I have to show Aaron everything I got and tell him the price. Most of the time I have to take a picture too. Here are a few examples:
My total here was about $15 for everything!


This one was better yet with everything you see here from Kroger totaling $16- with a retail value of about $80!



And this one was definitely my best yet. Everything here on the table- I paid only $6.71! It has a retail value of about $100! (The grouping on the left is from Meijer. The group of to the right was Kroger- everything from Kroger was FREE!) As a synopsis: the juice was $1.30 each (regularly $3.80 each); the wolf chili and salsa (both about $2 regular) were all free. The blocks of cheese were about 17 cents a piece (us. $2), the mustard was about 15 cents each (us. about $1.40); the pickles were 57 cents each and the pepperoni packs were about 30 cents each! And, no worries- it will all be used before it expires!

Now that I am getting into this, my grocery bill is going down. I find I paid about $600-$700 a month in groceries (which I feel is so so high, which it is.... but I find is pretty normal for my family size...). But now, I am stocking up on things on sale which gives me less to buy when I do my normal grocery shopping. Normally, I only go shopping once every two weeks- when we get paid- and spend about $300-$350 on groceries (hence times two is the monthly total...). The last time I went shopping, my grand total with couponing and ALL was a whopping $160!!! That is half!!! Wow!!!! Ya- I'm totally converted. And, I am getting name brand stuff which I never could before- and at much much lower prices then generic brands! Hopefully this will help off-set the cost of Kenny's braces (which he gets next week!) and Jacob's piano lessons.... ouch!

So, what is the secret? The secret is to combine store sales with coupons and- when possible- with store coupons as well! This can be a little daunting, but is made easier with money saving websites. A favorite of my friends and I is Happy Homemaker Cindy's site. She makes it very easy. She lists the stores- and then the sales and coupon match ups at each store. She tells you which flier to find the coupon in or gives the link to print from on-line when available. You can legally print two of the same coupons per computer. At one point, I had 4 working computers, but we are down to two. But, if you have access to more than one computer, you can get a lot of coupons! Just don't ever copy coupons! It is illegal and a smart cashier will know the difference (each printed coupon has it's own PIN number....) and it will ruin it for the rest of us if people keep trying to copy them. Plus, it helps to know the coupon rules of your store. Meijer doubles coupons up to 99 cents- and will let you double up to two like coupons at a time. Kroger doubles as well but will let you double 5 like coupons. But, if you have more than that at either store, you can still get them doubled, you just have to split up your transactions. It means check out will take longer, but it is worth it! Don't worry- the cashiers are used to it- just be nice to them!

It helps to organize your coupons. First, I have learned to never throw them away until they are all expired! I used to go through and clip what I thought I would use and toss the rest. It works much better to organize them by date received and don't clip them until you need them. That way, when a website (like Happy Homemaker Cindy) tells you to clip a coupon found a certain week, you know right where it is. You can get extra coupons by getting them from friends that don't use theirs or ordering extra copies of the paper. (Or, my friends....NOT ME... have been known to dumpster dive through recycling bins to find more!) If you are extra friendly to your paper delivery person and tip well, I have heard of them being willing to give you extra copies they happen to end up with as well if you ask.

Plus, stores will often have their own store coupons that you can use WITH the manufacturer coupon. If you combine these with an item already on sale, you can get things so so cheap!

Here is a couple of examples:

The Smart Balance Milk in the second picture above it normally nearly $3 a half gallon! I would never ever even consider buying it. Well, I got it free. Here is the break down:

Sale Price: $1.99/ half gallon
Coupon: $1.50 off (found in paper flier and on line... so I got several)
Coupon: $2.00/off of 4 (Meijer Meal box coupon found online the Meijer site)

Final cost- Free when you buy 4! Crazy huh? I never imagined I could get free milk! And we use soooo much milk!

Another example:
The Kraft block and shredded cheese above. I can't remember the regular price, but it is near $2.00 each.

Sale Price: $1.67 each at Meijer
Coupon: $0.75/ off 1. This doubles to $1.50 off.
Final price: 17 cents each!

And, they don't expire until July so it was beneficial for me to buy several bricks because we use a lot of cheese and will easily go through it long before it expires. And, by the time I use it all, there will likely be another sale with more coupons so I can stock up again- eliminating my need to spend money on cheese.

It feels really good to be able to stock up and feed my family at a lower cost. Our church has taught about Food Storage for years. We are taught that we should store up food (up to a year where possible) to help us have a supply of food should there be a time of disaster or no money (such as from a natural disaster where we may be stuck in our house or through something such as a job loss so that we can still be independent and not rely on others). I have always had a little-enough to where I never panicked like some people when a big snow storm is looming, but always felt discouraged feeling it is so hard to to store extra food when it took all I had just to feed everyone on a daily basis. In recent years, the whole world has caught onto this idea that our church had decades ago. With the many natural disasters and poor economy, people recognize the need to be prepared. I finally am getting a stock of things and can already say that if needed, we could already get by for quite a while on what little we have stored. If I keep this up, I will have truly significant food/supply storage that will last us for a long time if needed. I love independence and don't like to rely on others.

It is a little overwhelming at first and it does take a little more time to find and print/clip the coupons, but it also gives an amazing sense of freedom and accomplishment that makes it worth it!