Friday, September 28, 2012

Fun With Fruit--52 Weeks of New Week 5

Saturday evening Hubby wanted to make a family trip to our favorite farmers market style grocery store because we were low on produce and it's his favorite store.  When I go shopping without Hubby, my routine is to get in and get out, working in a giant circle around the store.  Hubby's routine is to meander through the store, to look here, look there, oh lets go back over here, what about the stuff all the way over there?  And so on.  Meaning, I have a lot of time to look at every single offering available in the store while waiting for Hubby to get done.

While wasting time waiting for Hubby, I came across two fruits that I had never seen before.  They looked weird, slightly gross, but of course I had to pick up a few of each and have the whole family try them.

As we were pulling into our driveway on our way home, my parents were walking by (they live right down the street).  We started talking and before long we were all inside the house while I put away the groceries.  I had to show my mom my latest new food, which of course meant we all had to sit right down and try them.

Lychee outer shell

Lychee is the gelatinous looking one on the bottom right
JuJu Fruit is the apple looking one

We started with Lychee.  My mom put it the best when she said that they looked like brains coming out of a shell.  First, you cut the shell off and then you're left with a gelatin-looking clear fruit that is wrinkled and looks remarkably like a brain mold.  We all took a little bite.  It was...interesting.  And by interesting I mean gross.  If I was on a deserted island and all I had was a bunch of Lychee that stood between me and death, it would be a toss up whether I would eat the Lychee or die.

Lizzy was not a big fan of the new fruit

David is a little skeptical of the JuJu Fruit

JuJu Fruit

We then moved onto the JuJu Fruit.  Now, JuJu Fruit of course made me think of the candy.  If they named a candy after the fruit, then surely the fruit should taste at least somewhat similar to the candy, right?  Wrong!  This fruit was more the consistency of an apple.  We debated back and forth what it tasted like.  Some claimed it tasted like an under ripe apple, others that it tasted like a pear.  But the overwhelming consensus was that it was yuck.  Lizzy even went so far as to spit hers out.  But of course there is always the one person who declares it delicious, which was Joy who begged for more.

Joy gives it a thumbs up--because she's crazy

After our little taste testing, we were sitting around chatting when I looked over and saw this.  I warned her that I would be putting this picture on my blog because it was priceless.  And so totally captures my true mother's character.  David had to get on the Bozo action as well.

We had fun trying new food, but we definitely did not find a new favorite this time around.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Favorite Deal and Coupon Sites--And How I Store My Coupons

This is my last entry in my series on couponing do's and don'ts and how I've learned to avoid making mistakes.  Today I am going to share my favorite deal and coupon sites and how I use them.

First, my favorite coupon sites.  This is where I get probably half of all the coupons I use.  I check them every few days and print off any coupons that I may want to use.  The trick is to enter the best zip codes for getting the best assortment of coupons.  In general I keep my zip code set at 77477.  But occasionally I scan under 33033 or 12345 or 90210.  Often, there are a few great coupons that only show up under specific zip codes, but are perfectly acceptable in any store.

With these sites, and most sites, you can print each coupon twice from each computer.  I have three computers hooked up to my printer, which means I can print six copies of any one coupon.  I only do that with really good coupons that I know I'm going to want a lot of--crackers, yogurt, cheese.

Next, my favorite deal site for grocery store match-ups.  This is the site that I check every week while making my grocery list.  The blogger lists a lot of the sales from specific stores and then matches the deals up with any coupons always telling you where the coupons came from so you can find them.  She also does something that other sites I've found don't.  She color codes her deals in green if they are rock bottom prices, which tells me it's time to stock up.  She covers Meijer, Kroger, Target and other Michigan area stores.

Third, my favorite deal sites. These are the sites that show up in my facebook news feed with good deals and coupons I might want to print.  I don't stalk these sites, but I do glance at them to see if there's anything worth looking into.

Lastly, my favorite sites for free Kindle books and homeschool printables.  While most of these sites also list free Kindle books, a few sites are specifically devoted to books and printables that I might want to use in my homeschool.

There are thousands of websites and blogs that you can choose to follow on facebook or through other avenues.  I have liked many pages on facebook and get several email updates in my inbox weekly, but these are the top pages that supply the deals and coupons that I like best.

Now I am sure there are some of you who are wondering what I do with all those awesome coupons I score off the internet and from the paper.  How do I keep them organized so I don't miss any good sales.  I'm going to share my well-honed system (LOL!) with you.  There are many options for coupons out there.  Some people use a shoe box, some do the whole insert method where they store the inserts whole and then only cut out what they are going to use each week.  I prefer the "cut it all out, sort it so I can see it" method.  Out of sight, out of mind is what would happen if I tried the whole insert method.

Here is the binder that I use.  I prefer the zipped binder for couponing.  I tried a regular binder but my coupons were always falling out.  Now I can stash lots of things in there without it falling out.  I also keep a pen, a pair of kid scissors for cutting out coupons I might not have had time to cut ahead of time, and a calculator in my binder at all times.

My preference for sorting coupons is using baseball card sheets.  I like to see my coupons without having to shuffle through them so when I am in the soup aisle, I know instantly what soup coupons I have and if I can find any good deals.  For the internet coupons, I fold them in half and write the expiration date on the side that's showing as folding them turns the expiration date to the back.

I divide my binder into 5 sections: Meats/Dairy/Frozen, Soup/Baking, Snacks/Breakfast, Toiletries, and Cleaning Supplies/Bags/Everything Else.  I group my coupons on the baseball card sheets based on category within the bigger category.  So all the meats are on one page, all the dairy on another, all the freezer section things on a third page.

I have three envelopes in my binder.  One envelop I label "Sort" and this is where I stash all the unsorted coupons until I have time to sort them.  One envelop is for all of the coupons that I might use that week at the store depending on any unadvertised sales.  The third envelop is for all of the coupons that I will hand to the cashier when I make my purchase.  I pull out all the coupons I am actually using as I go through the store and have them ready for the cashier.

I also store the sales fliers in my binder.  There is nothing I hate more than being pretty sure there is a sale but it not being marked on the shelf.  I always double check with the sale ad to make sure I didn't dream up the sale.

All in all, I probably spend an hour a week between coupon hunting, printing, cutting, sorting, and list making.  An hour that saves me $40-80 a week.  Not a bad investment of my time at all.

If I missed anything that you would love for me to address, please leave me a comment and I will do my best.  While I feel like I hit all the key points, I might have missed something that you are wondering about. And after writing this, I see that I forgot about the big topic of entertainment and date nights.  I will be sure to cover that next week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Learning To Say No--My Couponing Mistake

I've been sharing this week about my couponing dos and don'ts.  Today, something happened that brought to mind my biggest couponing mistake.

A status update just popped up in my facebook news feed advertising a survey group that is currently accepting new participants.  The status claimed that the survey company paid in cash and not just in points that may or may not accumulate enough to be worth something.  I admit I was tempted.  I clicked on the link.  I read the information.  I clicked over to the survey site and glanced at the application form.

And then I told myself NO!  Walk away, Lisa.  Close the page.  Do not join another survey site.  You don't even do the ones you currently belong to because you decided they were not worth the time investment.  I closed the page.

My greatest advice when it comes to couponing and deal seeking is to learn how to say no.

These shoes were critically needed, were something
I was checking out sales for, and when I found
a good deal, I bought them.

It is so easy to justify purchasing something that you don't really need just because it's a good deal.  Hey, look!  A facebook status just announced a great sale on shoes.  Those shoes are a really good price.  I should buy them.  But wait.  I don't need shoes.  I just bought new running shoes last month.  Do I really need a new pair of shoes just because they're cheap?  No, of course not.  Ignore the sale, Lisa.

A good deal is only a good deal if it's something you actually need.

We are constantly bombarded by sales, deals, advertisements trying to convince us that our life is not complete unless we buy something.  A few years ago my children asked me if I would buy Mighty Putty.  I looked at them like they were crazy.  But they kept seeing ads on TV about Mighty Putty and were convinced we needed it.  The power of advertising.

I walk through the store and see sale tags all over the place.  Tags that scream BUY ME!  It's on sale, that means it's cheaper than it usually costs, I should buy it.  Right?  Not unless I truly need it.

This was one lesson I learned the hard way.

I subscribed to a lot of deal sites on facebook when I first got into couponing.  My news feed was constantly full of "good deals."  I started buying things that I didn't really need because they were a good deal.  Suddenly I am spending way more money than I was before.  Sure, I was getting things at great prices, but I was buying too many things that I didn't need.

This dress, while cute and cheap, was an impulse purchase
She already had a closet full of dresses

I had to sit down and have a stern talking with myself.  I took my credit card out of my wallet and stuffed it in a secret place far away from my computer that would be very inconvenient to dig out every time I was tempted to buy something.  That way I had to think long and hard before making any purchase.  I learned to ask myself a few critical questions before pulling out that credit card.

1. Do I truly need this?

2. Will I regret this purchase when my credit card bill comes?

3. Is this something I could buy used for even cheaper?

4. Can I put this on the birthday/Christmas lists and wait?

Sometimes the answer is yes.  I have been looking for a new swim skirt all summer because my old one has holes in it compliments of my tubing adventure last summer and getting snagged on branches in the water.  Yesterday someone posted a Lands End deal so I checked to see if they had a swim skirt on sale.  They did!  I snagged that swim skirt for $13 and didn't look back.  I found a great deal and asked myself--Do I really need it?  Yes, my current skirt is ready for the trash.  Will I regret it?  Not even a little bit.  Can I buy it used?  Um, ewww???  I don't do used when it comes to things that touch person regions.  Can I put it on my B/C list?  Not really something you can ask your mom or Grandma to buy for you.

A different example would be a deal I saw on Legos.  I admit, it was a great price.  But after going through the list of questions, my decision was to pass it up. We don't really need any more Legos, we just want them.  I would regret it later.  I can find them used at garage sales all the time and I can put it on David's Birthday/Christmas list and wait.

Learning to say no to yourself, learning to pass up deals for things that you don't need, is probably the most important thing you will learn to do as you travel through your deal seeking adventure.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How I Save Money--My List of Dos

Yesterday I reflected on a few of the things I've tried in an effort to save (or earn) money that I found unhelpful in the long run.  Today I am going to share a few of the things that I have found to be helpful.

1. Clip Coupons (in moderation).  While buying six newspapers is a bit excessive, I do still subscribe to the Sunday paper and "steal" my Grandma's coupon inserts every week.  Occasionally if there is a really fabulous coupon that I could use more than two of, I will purchase more.  But that only happens rarely these days.

2. If you find a great deal on things you use, buy lots.  While I no longer purchase things just for the sake of it being free (or pennies), I do get very excited when I find a great deal on something that I actually want.  In which case I will buy a lot.  My grocery store has been running a deal the past two weeks where if you buy a $25 gift card, you get $10 off a pair of jeans.  Last week, with a sale on the jeans, this deal made the jeans free.  Between my mom and I, and multiple trips to the store that we were making anyway, I ended up with six pairs of free jeans for the kids.  This week the jeans were no longer on sale, but the deal still netted me jeans for only $3. I bought two more pairs for next winter.  If the deal is still running next week, I will pick up another few pairs.  I am always on the lookout for rock bottom prices on items that I use.  When I find them, I stock up to last me until the next time the items will be on sale.

My latest red pepper haul--cut into strips and freeze for later

3. Know the sales cycles.  When I started doing the grocery shopping on a regular basis, I noticed sales trends.  Condiments, hot dogs, and pop are always the cheapest in May.  Ground beef seemed to be the cheapest in the fall.  Berries in the summer.  Baking products around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  By paying attention, you will notice that every food category has a sales cycle.  You will learn when and how much to stock up to last you to the next sale.  I buy 20-30 pounds of ground beef every fall when I find it under $2.00/lb.  I buy 20 red peppers which I cut and freeze every summer when I find them under $1/lb and we use them all winter when they're $3/lb.  I stock up on hot dogs in May to last me the whole year.  I buy berries by the case every summer and freeze them to last us through the spring.  By knowing the sales cycles, you will learn what the rock bottom prices are for the foods you buy, when you should buy things, and to buy lots when they hit those prices.  While the initial upfront cost is higher, it saves you money over the course of the year.

4. Calculate the cost per ounce or item before buying.  I always carry a calculator with me in my coupon binder so I can figure out the cost per ounce or item to decide if a sale is truly a good sale.  In general, bulk buying will save you money.  But not always.  Yesterday at the store I noticed that the smaller cartons of sour cream were on sale.  In general I buy the 24 ounce cartons because they are cheaper.  But after calculating the price per ounce of the smaller carton using the sale price, I discovered the smaller carton was now cheaper by $.01/oz.  So I bought the smaller carton.  I never just assume a sale makes something a better deal.  I always do the math first.

25 lb bag of beans was cheaper per pound than buying 25 small bags

5. Make a list.  Never, ever, ever enter grocery store without a shopping list.  You will end up walking out of the store spending more than you intended, buying random items, and probably not having the ingredients you need to make dinners for the next week which will result in another (budget-killing) store run.  I do not go to the store without first making a weekly dinner menu and a grocery list based on my menu.  I try very hard to stick to my list and only deviate when I find something on sale that wasn't in the sale ad.

6. Stockpile.  By combining all of these things, I have created a stockpile that I maintain.  By building up a stockpile, I rarely purchase things that aren't on sale (fresh produce not included).  When I go to the store, I am only buying a few items that we will actually be using that week.  About 70% of my shopping is items that I will put in my freezer or on my pantry shelf for another time.  The other 30% is fresh produce, dairy, bread and a few random items that I don't have but will need for meals.  This means that I am mostly cooking out of my stockpile, using items that I bought at their cheapest, and supplementing with a few needed items that I got for a good price, but not necessarily a great price.

By using these six techniques, I have saved a lot of money over the years.  I rarely run out of things.  I rarely have to make a second store run to pick up things we need but ran out of.  I almost never pay full price for anything.  I would rather go without something than buy things not on sale.  Over the summer there was a decided lack of sales on snack items (crackers and pretzels).  When we ran out, I didn't go buy more despite my children begging for them. They weren't on sale, they were a terrible price, so we would have to make do.  Until the end of August when they were back on sale and we stocked up.  I bought 20 boxes of crackers, 10 bags of pretzels, and 8 bags of chex mix all in one go.  We looked like total junk food addicts, but that's just the way I roll.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Couponing Don'ts

My sister-in-law and I are going to put on a workshop to teach other women how to coupon and save money.  I've been thinking about it for the past few months, what I would teach someone so they could save money without expending a lot of time and energy.

Which of course led me to think about the things that I've tried that only led to MORE spending and wasting LOTS of time without really benefiting me.  So here are my top time wasters that I now avoid.

1. Swagbucks.  Unless you are only using it for searches, it's a time waster.  Doing the surveys, watching Swag TV, participating in the various day long super Swag days.  Time suckers.  Yes, the Amazon gift cards are nice, but is wasting hours of your time worth it?  For me, the answer was a resounding no.

2. Surveys.  Again, you can earn money doing surveys, but you have to consider the time you are spending doing surveys.  A thirty minute survey may net me three bucks.  For a while I thought it was worth my time.  I like free stuff.  But adding up the time I was spending doing surveys ended up equaling a whole lot of time that I wasn't spending on homeschooling my kids, taking care of my house, spending time with others, etc.  And with the exception of a few select survey sites, the rewards weren't really worth it.

3. Multi-Store Shopping.  For four months last fall I was an empty nester with all of my kids in school.  Which meant I now had time to shop at multiple stores to hit the savings.  I tried it for a while.  I shopped at my regular two stores but then added in two more, plus shopping the drug stores--Walgreens and Rite Aid.  While I did get a lot of stuff for little or no money, I was left to wonder...did I really need three netipots jeust because they were free?  Was I really saving money by hitting the sales?  Or was I really spending more money because I was now stepping into 4-6 stores a week versus 2?  After adding up my receipts, I concluded that I was going over budget regularly because I was buying so many "extras" because they were a good deal.  I immediately cut back to only shopping at my two stores (a regular super center and a farmers market store for produce).

4. Buying Things Just Because They're Free or Super Cheap.  I would pick things up for free or only cost pennies that I didn't even want, and then bring them home with the intention of donating them.  They sat in my house for days, weeks, months.  I realized that this was just a form of hoarding that I needed to cease doing. As I mentioned in #3, just because I could get three netipots for free does not mean I should buy them and bring them home.  I now limit myself to only purchasing things that we will actually use, even if it's free.

5. Becoming Obsessed With Couponing.  For a while I was buying a lot of newspapers and collecting lots of coupons.  While it's nice to have six copies of one coupon, it also means I now have six times the amount of coupons.  Which I have to cut out, sort, and deal with.  My family started making comments about my coupon cutting sprees.  They joked that couponing was my favorite hobby.  At first I thought it was funny, but then I started pondering...was the time I was spending worth saving a few extra bucks?  The answer was mixed.  Couponing in moderation is an easy way for me to save my family money.  On average I save 30-40% off our grocery bill using coupons and shopping sales.  But I was allowing myself to become obsessed with trying to save over 50%.  But before I got really into couponing, the truth is that we were already eating frugally.  I was already making smart purchasing decisions.  So my cutting 30-40% off my bill using coupons and shopping sales was actually a really good amount of savings because I wasn't starting at ground zero when I got more into couponing.  Allowing myself to become consumed with the need to save even more wasn't healthy.

Over the past year I have gradually cut back on the amount of couponing and deal seeking that I do.  I spend no more than an hour a week on couponing and grocery list making.  I print off internet coupons as I find them, I check my MPerks coupons and clip what I want, I cut coupons from only two sets of inserts each week (mine and my Grandma's), and I utilize the stockpiling method of stocking up when I find great deals so I rarely have to buy something that's not a good deal.  These efforts alone help save me an average of 30-40% a week, which is good enough for me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

52 Weeks of New: Week 4

It was a slow week for trying new things, but I did manage to come up with a few things.  First up, a lunch date with Hubby.

You heard right.  A lunch date.  Just me and Hubby.  Sans kids.  In the middle of the day.  Crazy, I know.  My kids are participating in a co-op this year.  I teach one class first thing in the morning and then I am free from 11:00-4:00pm.  It is fabulous to do my grocery shopping.  By myself.  To run errands.  Alone.  So this week I decided to meet Hubby for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants--Qdobas.  Burritos are yummy.  We got to chat and make googly-eyes across the table.  We laughed and enjoyed being together.  While we love our kids, it's nice to sometimes get out just the two of us.

My next new thing to try this week was a whole lot more difficult than a lunch date.  I ran two miles without stopping.  Just me, the pavement, and my MP3 player.  I ran it twice this week.  On Sunday I thought I was going to die by the end of my run.  My asthma kicked in with a vengeance and I spent the next four hours coughing.  My body did not thank me for that decision.  I ran it again on Thursday and while difficult, it was considerably easier than the first time.  I've finished week six of the Couch to 5K program and I am feeling pretty accomplished to have made it this far.  I can actually see myself finishing the program and running a 5K.  I couldn't say that even a month ago when I was huffing and puffing my way through a three minute run.  

My final thing was to try a new recipe.  It involved mashed potatoes, sausage, red peppers, and beef gravy.  It was not delicious.  I should have just thrown the recipe away when I saw it in the paper.  The leftovers have been sitting, untouched, in my refrigerator for four days now.  But every new recipe can't be a success.  Hopefully my next attempt at a new recipe will be better.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Mushy Beans" In The Crockpot

I discovered Red Beans a few years ago when I bought them for a recipe.  I discovered a little piece of heaven on that day.  I used to buy kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, great northern beans.  But none of them compare to my favorite red beans.  I love them so much that I even bought a 25 lb bag of them this summer.  

Accordingly, we go through a lot of beans in my house.  I used to buy cans of beans, lots of them.  Everyone in my family likes them.  But I always thought that I needed to learn how to turn dry beans into something edible and delicious.  I tried soaking them both the short way (boiling them and then letting them sit) and the long way (soaking them in water overnight) and then cooking them on the stove.  I was never really happy with the results.  Maybe I was too impatient and didn't let them cook long enough, maybe I didn't use enough water, who knows except that they never turned out that well.

Until the day I came across a website that told me how to make beans in the crockpot.  It's so easy.  While the recipe says to soak them, I've tried it both ways and find they cook better without it.  I just throw the beans into the crockpot, sprinkle them with salt, garlic powder, onion powder and turmeric, cover them with water to within an inch of the top, and cook them on high for 5-6 hours.  Delicious, perfect beans every time.  

But then over the summer my kids tried refried beans (which they call mushy beans) when Hubby made dinner using them .  While they still like regular red beans, they now beg for mushy beans whenever we eat Mexican food.  So once again I have been buying canned beans.  

Then a few weeks ago I came across another website that told me how to make refried beans in the crockpot.  Basically, I do the same thing as I have been doing, only cook them a little longer and reserve the cooking water to mix in with the smashed beans until they are the right consistency.  Of course I had to try it.  

Today I made mushy red beans for the first time.  I followed my same recipe for regular beans and then took some of the beans and mashed them with a little bean water, added some salt, and now I have yummy refried beans for dinner tonight.  Cheap, easy, chemical free, no fat added, and yummy.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Stop Time

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of time.  I've heard the saying: The hours are long, but the years are short.  I knew exactly what they meant--right in the moment time seems to drag.  But then suddenly a year has gone by and you have no idea how it flew by so fast.

My baby turned five last month.  I don't know if that's why it hit so hard or if other things factored in, but every time I look at my kids the thought runs through my mind, "How did they grow up so fast?"  Sure, they're still little-almost nine, seven and five.  But how did they get to be so big???

My son is up to my shoulder and about three shoe sizes away from catching up to my feet.  I have to really put in a lot of effort to win when we wrestle because he's a strong kid.  I tell him that I have to pick him up and throw him around now because the days of my being able to are limited.  When I put my arm around him or give him kisses, he usually pushes me away.

Lizzy is turning into a little lady.  When she puts on her more grown up clothes, puts a bow in her hair, and actually tries to act ladylike, it's hard to find a trace of "little girl" in her.  Until she smiles and shows off her missing toothed mouth.

And then there's Joy.  Each of my older children went from snugglers to non-snugglers by the time they were four.  Joy gifted me with an extra year of snuggles, but in the last few months, she has gotten less snuggly.  While she still likes her snuggle time, it's way less frequent.  (I'm tearing up just writing this.)  She rarely wants to hold my hand.  She wants to do things on her own.

This past month I've been blindsided by just how fast time passes by.  I want to yell at time to STOP!  Let me savor this moment when my children still sort of need me.  Let me freeze time so I can enjoy every last drop of this stage of our lives.  Hubby gets annoyed with me because I pull out the camera and take pictures all the time.  Last week as I was cooking dinner I noticed that the house was pretty quiet. I went to investigate and found all three kids and Hubby laying on the floor in David's bedroom building with Legos.  I couldn't not take a picture.  I wanted to remember that perfect moment.  I take pictures so I can remember the moments that are precious to me.

The first time we took David to the beach to watch the sunset, he stood facing the waves, raised his arms into the air and yelled STOP! to the waves.  Trying to stop time is about as effective as David being able to stop the waves.  No matter how many times I tell my kids to stop growing, to stay little forever, it is impossible for them to obey me.  I can't stop time.  I can only savor it.

So I put my book down when Joy declares it to be snuggle time and I give her all the snuggles she wants because very soon she won't want to snuggle with mommy any more.  I stop what I am doing on the computer and look into Lizzy's sweet face when she comes to talk to me.  When she smiles at me, I look into her eyes and smile back because one day I'm going to be desperate to see her smiles rather than her looks of teenager angst.  When David wants to tell me all about his newest Lego creation, I listen with my full attention because soon he will stop sharing his excitement with me.  When all three of my children are clambering to show off their skills, I take a moment to watch them because their desire to show off to me is fleeting, soon to be replaced with embarrassment that mom even exists.  

In nine short years, David will be moving on to college, a full grown man with facial hair and muscles.  I only have nine years left of him being under my roof, sleeping in the room across the hall from me.  And then he'll move out and lead his grownup life.  He'll only have a few spare moments to spend with me.  And I will miss these days with an ache in my heart.

I can't make time stop, but I can suck every last drop of enjoyment out of the moment right now.  I can set aside my distractions, my schedules, my plans to make room for making precious moments with my children.  I can spend as much of my time as possible with them now so that I have no regrets of missed moments when my children all move on with their lives.

Friday, September 14, 2012

52 Weeks of New: Week 3

Week 3 of my 52 Weeks of New Challenge was a fun one.

First up--Eating something nasty.  Everyone in my family likes brussel sprouts except me.  I buy them for Hubby in a frozen package that he can throw in the microwave whenever I forget to make a veggie for dinner.  The kids all happily steal them from him.  I decided that I was going to try roasting them since my sister swears that they taste good that way.  I found a recipe online that looked decent and made it for dinner on Wednesday.  Wouldn't you know, my sister was right?!  They actually were tasty, and I plan on making them again.  Of course, my kids all declared them not as good as normal because they like the bitter taste.  Whose kids are they???

Second--A new experience.  Yesterday was nature walk day in our homeschool.  I thought about taking the kids to one of our normal spots around town, but thought we'd find more to look at if we went to a nature center.  I have wanted to go there alone with the kids but have always been a bit scared to go without another adult.  You're hiking through the woods on paths with very few, if any, other people.  Who knows if there is some murderer just lurking out there in the woods waiting to pounce.  I bucked up and took the kids anyway.  We had a lot of fun and I'm glad I got over my fear and just did it already.

Third--I hit a milestone in my Couch to 5K program: I passed the 4 week mark.  I have attempted the program twice before, but have never done more than 4 weeks of it.  This week I completed week 5.  Wednesday as I was running, I actually had the thought that running is actually kinda fun once you get past the whole gasping for breath, super sore muscles, running is horrible phase.  I even considered running an extra day this week, but life got in the way and I didn't.  Maybe next week.

Fourth--Doing something extra scary.  I taught my first co-op class this week.  I wasn't even nervous or embarrassed.  It was weird.  I would even go so far as to say that I actually had fun.  My kids all said that my class was the most fun out of the four classes, so I must have done alright.

Overall, this has been a good week.  I've conquered a few fears, tried a vegetable in a new way and discovered I actually like it, and had a lot of fun in the process.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Getting Lost In The Woods

We have been learning about maps the last two weeks in our homeschool.  We've learned about the different types of maps, how to read a map, how to read the legend, and today we even drew our own map of our local community.

Part of our curriculum is to take a weekly nature walk.  Today's instructions told us to start a leaf collection and do some bark rubbings.  I decided that we'd visit our local nature center for today's walk so we'd have a wider variety of leaves to choose from.

We started out on our walk doing just fine.  We hit the first trail marker and saw that the number on the trail marker in no way corresponded to the map we had.  Okay.  We know where we are, we can do this.  We walked toward  an area designated as "Prairie." We went left when the map said to go left, we went right when the map said to go right, totally ignoring the obviously new trail markers that didn't reflect the old map.

Next we entered the "White Pine Plantation" and started collecting our leaves and attempting bark rubbings.  While we managed to collect a very respectable amount of leaves, our rubbings didn't go so well.  They mostly looked like bits of crayon markings and not so much like bark.

After the Pine area, we came to the Hardwood Forest and circled around a pond.  We'd just discussed this morning about algae's role in photosynthesis so seeing a pond completely covered in algae was a treat.  While no one volunteered to go swimming in the pond, we did enjoy seeing the ducks and frogs.

This is where our path got a little tricky.  We followed the trail markers just fine until we hit a detour.  Oh those stupid detours.  David said to go right, I said to go left, and being the adult, I won.  Unfortunately, David was right.  But rather than turn around and go back, I decided to just keep walking figuring we'd hit the end of the trail eventually.  We had a map, we were bound to reach a spot that I recognized.

We kept on walking as I tried my best to tune out the "I'm tired"s and the "I'm thirsty"s which were only slightly more annoying than the "Are we there yet"s.  I was really starting to wish that I had a compass with me so I could figure out if we were headed in the right direction as I was completely turned around thanks to the detour taking us down a path I'd never been on before.  Not to mention that I'm pretty sure we'd left the official detour back when I decided to go left.

A map is a beautiful thing.  A map is able to get you from Point A to Point B no problem.  But sometimes you encounter detours.  Or trail markers that don't line up with what the map says.  You are wandering around wondering if you're headed in the right direction, if you're lost, if you're ever going to make it to where you're trying to get.  Nothing looks familiar and you keep forging ahead hoping to find something that you remember from the last time you were there.  It can get a little scary (or really scary) when you realize you're lost and have no idea which way to turn.  Even if you turned back around, there's no guarantee you could lead yourself back to the point where you made a wrong turn.

Luckily for us, there is a map that is never wrong and never changes.  It can always lead you from Point A to Point B.  It can always steer you in the right direction after you've taken a wrong turn even without a compass.  This perfect, accurate map is the Bible.  It always points the way to Jesus and Heaven.  Even when I take a detour, the Bible is right there with the directions I need to get back on the right road.  When I become hopelessly lost, the Bible is ready to show me the way to go.  All I have to do is read it.

Eventually we did make it out of the woods and back to the car.  True, we were never completely lost because there weren't a lot of places to go and I knew our path would get us back eventually.  It was just a matter of how long it would take us to get there.  We went about a quarter mile out of our way because I didn't listen to David.  After I ate humble pie, I told David that next time I would listen to him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Husband Is Awesome

All three kids watching Daddy on the computer

I had no idea what to write about today so I asked Hubby, who is home sick today, and Lizzy, who is sitting next to Hubby watching him play a computer game.  They both agreed I should write about how awesome Hubby is.  They don't think I'm really going to do it, but they are wrong.

Here are 10 reasons why my Hubby is awesome.

1. Last week he brought home a Qdoba burrito and flowers for me just because.

2. When I received a call six hours before the event asking if I'd host dinner for twenty-five people because the original hosts were sick, and I said yes, Hubby didn't get mad at me when I woke him up on a Saturday morning to help me clean the house.  He even offered to go to the store and pick up a few things we needed.

3. Every season Hubby begrudgingly okays my signing David up for soccer with the understanding that I will do the driving to practices and that Hubby will only make the games that he can.  Last night David had practice until 7:30.  I had women's group across town at 8:00.  Normally I could have gotten David home in time to get to my meeting on time, but the main road between my house and soccer is currently closed for bridge repair.  There was no way I could make it due to the horrible detour I'd have to take to get home.  Hubby didn't even put up a stink when I asked if he'd take David home.

4. Despite being tired after work, Hubby will often pop some popcorn and sit down with the kids to play a game or watch The Muppets with them.  Or he'll suggest a walk or something else fun.

5. He puts up with three little kids looking over his shoulder, telling him what to do, asking him questions, whenever he sits at his computer and he doesn't get annoyed.  (I get annoyed when kids try to look over my right now.  Get out of my space, Joy!)

6. When he found out at 4:00pm on Friday that he had to work on Saturday over Labor Day weekend and screw up our plans to go up north for the weekend, he had to stay home while the rest of us went on vacation.  Saturday afternoon after his work was done, he drove three hours to join us because he wanted to spend the rest of the weekend with his family.

7. A couple weeks ago I was craving Death By Chocolate ice cream.  I jokingly told Hubby to go buy me some...and he went!  I was very appreciative.  Yum.

8. Joy says--Daddy is awesome because he drinks pop and wears sunglasses.  And he likes spicy food and makes me try it and then I dance around saying "Hot!  Hot!  Hot!"

9. Lizzy says--Daddy is awesome because he says he's awesome.  And because he plays really loud music in the car that we can dance to.

10. Hubby is silly.  He makes us laugh.  He comes up with great ideas for fun things to do and always brings life to any party.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Do I Have So Much Schoolwork???

If only every day could be a day of skipping rocks at the beach

I had to laugh today when David complained that he has too much school work.  I was picking him up from a friend's house where he is taking a co-op astronomy and history class.  He complained that he now has even more work to do (mainly a little reading each week).

There he was, laying on the floor next to my friend's dog, whining that he has sooooooo much work to do.  I told him to go ask my friend how much school work her high school aged boys have to do each day.  He got up and asked her.  She reinforced what I'd already told David--they have to do a lot of work.  Lots of reading, so much reading.

I offered to let David go back to public school where he could spend seven hours doing school every day instead of just four.  He turned me down.

This sparked a discussion on why he has more work than last year thanks to my friend's awesome answer to David.  She said that school is a lot like exercise.  You have to build up a little bit more each year so that by the time you hit high school, you are up to the challenge instead of being overwhelmed.  If you were to go through the early years being lazy, you would hit high school and have a really hard time.  Kind of like the first day of sports practice when you're out of shape and you work out really hard and end up feeling like you're going to puke.

Yes, David has more work to do this year than last.  In addition to our regular work load, he is also taking Latin, writing, astronomy and U.S. history in co-op settings which all require homework.  He is taking piano lessons which requires daily practice.  I am expecting more of him than in the past.  But he is ready for it because I've been increasing his work load a little bit each year.

It would be easy to tell him, You know, David, you're right.  You do have a lot of work to do.  Maybe we'll cut back on this or that.  But that would not be serving him well for his future.  He needs to be stretched a little more each year not only in the content of his school work but also in the amount.

Letting David coast through grammar school would be like my waking up one morning and deciding to go run a marathon without any prior training.  While I might be able to run that far (ha!), I would be gasping for breath by the end of the run.  I would be beyond sore the next day.  It wouldn't be fun at all.  I would just feel like I was going to die if I hadn't already keeled over from a heart attack.

So I ignore the whining.  Usually that just means that they would rather watch TV or play on the computer instead of doing work.  On a few rare occasions its meant that they've hit a challenging concept and just need more time to sort it out so we've coasted for a while until the concept clicked.  I'm okay with slowing the pace down when necessary.

The next time one of my children complains about their workload, I am ready for them.  I'll tell them to go run a marathon.  They'll get the picture.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Things That Go Boom In The Night

Joy has a really bad habit of waking me up in the middle of the night for silly reasons.  She had a bad dream (usually something silly like being chased by donuts), she's thirsty, her foot itches, she can't find her current favorite stuffed animal, etc.  I have gotten used to it and tell her to go to the bathroom and go back to bed figuring it's really that she just needs to use the bathroom and that's why she woke up in the first place.

Saturday night was not one of those nights.

I was woken up at 2:30 am by Hubby.  He was using the computer in the basement when he started smelling gas.  He checked all of the utilities in the basement trying to figure out what was leaking.  After a half hour of that, he gave up figuring it was all just in his head (or his nose...I couldn't resist).

He came upstairs to go to bed, but stopped off in the kitchen for a bedtime snack.  As he was standing in the kitchen, the smell got stronger.  He decided to investigate the garage.  He flipped on the light switch to the garage, opened the door from the house, and was assailed by a wall of propane fumes.  He immediately opened up the garage door to air it out, opened the windows and the doors in the house, and then woke me up wondering what we should do.

A 2:30 am Google search assured me that the risk of our dying was minimal.  If we left the windows open, with the bulk of the gas in the garage and not in the house, the likelihood of asphyxia was pretty slim.  The carbon monoxide detectors weren't going off so I felt safe that we weren't going to fall asleep and never wake up again.  And we didn't have any open flames, so we weren't going to be blown up.  I told Hubby to keep the windows open and come to bed.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I admit to feeling extremely relieved to hear the kids shrieking in the hallway and Hubby snoring next to me.  We had all made it through the night just fine.  I opened up the garage to air it out the rest of the way and left the windows and doors open to help get the last of the gas out of the house.

And then I posted about the incident on Facebook.

A friend of mine works for Consumers Energy.  He felt compelled to share what we SHOULD have done.  We SHOULD have called our utility company to come investigate the leak and then left the house.  We should NOT have investigated ourselves.  Apparently (and thank God I didn't know this until after the fact), all it would have taken to set off an explosion was a tiny little spark--a light being flipped on, the compressor on the refrigerator kicking on.  One tiny spark and our garage and/or house could have exploded.

I shudder just thinking about it.  The possibilities are very scary.

We have since established some hard fast rules to help ensure this never happens again.  When putting the grill away, ALWAYS turn off the tank.  When getting the soccer goal out from behind the grill, be sure to check the knobs on the grill when you're done to make sure you didn't accidentally turn them on.

All I can say is thank you Jesus for seeing us safely through the night.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

What Do Traverse City, Buffalo Pringles, and Gourmet Pizza Have In Common?

 My family went on vacation over Labor Day weekend to northern Michigan.  On Saturday we did the usual--a little fishing, hanging around, an afternoon at the beach, game playing, bike riding, running.  The girls decided they wanted to try walking out to one of the "islands" that the extremely low water level had created, so they tried a new experience.  We ended up needing to buy a new pair of crocs after Joy's got lost in all the muck. But they had fun.

Unnatural islands revealed by the low water level
--that's a family of fishers out on the island

The girls walking through the muck to get to one of the many islands

Lizzy fishing, Joy bored with the lack of action and watching the road instead

Sunday my inlaws offered to watch the kids while Hubby and I went out for breakfast on a date.  We went to our favorite breakfast place, a little hole in the wall diner.  We were sitting there chatting and started discussing what we wanted to do that afternoon with the kids.  I was thinking more of the same-the beach, berry picking, sand dune climbing.  But Hubby had a different idea.  He wanted to drive to Traverse City and see what fun we could find.

I've only ever been to Traverse City once before, at least seven years ago, with Hubby.  My sister tried to get me to go there earlier this summer but I wasn't comfortable going to a place I didn't know how to get to, didn't know my way around, and had no idea where we would go anyway.  I was about to tell Hubby no, that we should do something we've done before, but then I remembered that I needed to do something new in order keep my 52 Weeks of New challenge.  And we've never been to Traverse City as a family, so I said yes.

Traverse City

We loaded up the kids, rolled down the windows, blasted the music and set off.  We had no plans other than to see what we could see.  We ended up walking around for a while, stopping off at a fabulous fudge shop and buying the kids ice cream, walked along Grand Traverse Bay, and enjoyed the sunshine.  By that point we were hungry so we went to a brewery for lunch.  As I was looking over the menu, I was debating between ordering the safe burger or the "it could be good" chicken pesto pizza.  After a few minutes of waffling, I decided to go with the unusual because maybe I'd find something new that I loved.  After my first bite, I knew I'd found a winner.  It was the best pizza I've ever had outside of Chicago's Barracco's Pizza.  (Yum, yum!)  I'm so glad I decided to try something new.

I got my eye on you, mom!  Joy posing at Grand Traverse Bay

Later that night we were sitting around the campfire and Hubby was eating buffalo Pringles.  He offered me some and I immediately said no, yuck, I don't like that flavor.  And then I stopped to consider-had I ever even tried that flavor before?  I never had.  I reached for a chip and tried it.  While it wasn't completely disgusting, it's definitely not my favorite.  But I never would have known for sure that I didn't like it without actually trying it.

Watching the sunset on the lake

So, in the last week I have visited a city that I was too nervous to visit earlier this summer and tried two new foods-one that I loved and one that I didn't.  While none of new things I tried were earth shattering, the challenge did help me to push myself out of my comfort zone and to just say yes.  To stop second guessing things and to just get in the car and go.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's Beginning to Sound Like Music

"Mom, I don't want to take piano lessons.  I hate the piano." ~ Lizzy at 8:00am Wednesday morning.

I grew up in a home with a piano.  I started taking lessons when I was five from a woman who lived with us. She likes to tease me now about what an exemplary student I was.  Ha!  I hated practicing.  I wiggled.  I told her I wasn't going to do it and she couldn't make me.  Needless to say, lessons didn't go so well.

When I was in upper elementary school, I decided I wanted to play piano again.  So my parents hired a girl from down the street to teach me.  This time I was a lot more cooperative and actually practiced...usually.  Okay, at least twice a week.  Most weeks.

While I took formal lessons for a few years, most of my piano skills are the result of self teaching.  My mom had a bunch of sheet music that I liked to fiddle around with until I could play harder songs from memory.  I liked to make up my own music and composed quite a few less than awesome songs.  When I moved out to go to college, my piano playing days ended.

Until this past spring when I bought a piano.  I have wanted a piano again for years.  First we didn't have room.  Then we didn't want to buy one just to have to listen to three little kids bang away on it.  So we waited until the kids were old enough to treat the piano with respect.

The piano has been sitting in my living room for about six months now.  I have listened to six months of key banging, nonsense playing, Lizzy's two little songs that she made up and loves to play over and over and over, Joy's attempts at mimicking Lizzy's made up songs, but I haven't heard anything I would call pleasant to the ear.

Yesterday that changed.  David and Lizzy had their first piano lessons from a real piano teacher.  After one short lesson, they are both playing sounds that actually sound like something other than screeching cats.  I wouldn't say it's music quite yet as they are just playing three to five keys in a melodic way.  But it's from an actual piano book.  With actual notes.  Instead of random banging of piano keys played as loud as possible.

All I can say is that just the one lesson was worth every single penny.  Thank you Nancy.  My ears are much happier now:)

"Mom, I love the piano.  I'm so glad I get to take lessons." ~ Lizzy 7:30 am Thursday morning.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Finding My Motivation

I am in the middle of week four of the Couch to 5K program.  I have run faithfully three times a week (even while on vacation over Labor Day weekend) just like the program says.  It would be a large exaggeration to say that I look forward to my runs, but I do feel very accomplished when I finish my last bout of running.

For those who've never researched the Couch to 5K program, you start out slowly.  You walk for a while, run for a while, walk, run, until you're done.  This week I have been running for three minutes, walking for one and a half, run for five minutes, walk for two and a half, run for three, walk for one and a half, run for five and then a cool off walk.  Next week it gets tougher.

Today when I laced up my shoes, I knew my run was going to be grueling.  Seventy degrees with 95% humidity does not make for a fun run.  Plus, the sky looked like rain any second.  As I ran past my mother-in-law's house, she came to the door and told me to run fast if I didn't want to get soaked.  Just a few minutes after my run, the skies opened up and dumped.

I have attempted the C25K program before but never finished.  I make it to week four and then get tired of it and quit.

Today when I was breathing in soggy air and dripping with sweat, I thought real hard about turning around and going home.  But then I remembered that blog post I wrote, the one that told my family and friends that I was going to finish the training and run a 5K next month.  How embarrassing to have to admit to everyone that I gave up.  So I kept on running, reminding myself that I had to finish or I'd look really stupid.  But I'll tell you what.  When I finished my last five minute run and reached my driveway, I felt mighty accomplished.

To celebrate my victory over myself, I stopped off at the shoe store and traded in my three-year old, broken down, never fit me right in the first place, boring old tennis shoes

And bought a new pair of the most unboring shoes in the store.  I didn't set out to buy florescent pink shoes, but they were the only shoes in my size that fit well.  My girls were extremely jealous and asked if I'd buy them a pair.  Ha!  I can see it now....

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One Down, 179 More To Go

The first day of school has finally arrived.  We started our day by taking "First Day of School" pictures.

I started our school day by opening the teachers manual and realizing I needed a bunch of supplemental books that I had stashed somewhere in my house.  I then spent the next ten minutes trying to remember where I stashed the box of our curriculum that I got way back in the spring.  After I finally located it under my bed, I dug through the big box of stuff to find the books we needed.

We did some group reading.  We learned what ecosystems are.  The kids took a pretest to see how many countries they could label which they will be repeating at the end of the year when they will hopefully get a whole lot more correct.

David-4th Grade

We learned about maps and what a chart is versus a map (one is for land, one is for water).  We pulled out our wall map and put it on the wall.  We rounded up all three of our globes to locate the different ecosystems on earth.

Lizzy-2nd Grade

Then we divided up to do individual work.  While David and Lizzy did their math, I helped Joy with reading using The Reading Lesson.  After that, Joy spent time doing Explode the Code online while David and Lizzy completed their first Switched on Schoolhouse Language Arts lessons (computer based program).


While we completed everything on the list, it wasn't a completely pain-free day.  I had to listen to a lot of whining and complaining, I heard a few "I hate school"s and "I don't want to do math"s and some more whine, whine, whine, blah, blah, blah.

Hopefully the next 179 days will go a little smoother than today.  Hopefully the whining will decrease while the learning will increase.

And a few random shots that the kids insisted on taking

We want to do a funny picture!