Blog: Balancing Thrifty And Fun

This blog will ramble on about raising two boys while working full time as an editor for ThriftyFun. I'm really lucky in so many ways. I have a loving, hardworking husband, a not too heavily mortgaged home, and two healthy and bright boys. But it is still hard, despite my blessings. I thought I'd share my challenges and my techniques (or lack thereof) for staying ahead of the wave of chores, responsibilities and financial problems.

Friday, January 18, 2013


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It's Flu Season
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My son Ethan has been home sick since Friday with a fever and bad cough.  It might be swine flu or might be just the regular flu. Either way, it is nasty stuff.  He had a temp of 102 - 103 for over 24 hours, and it didn't respond very well to meds.  Today is Tuesday and he still has a fever of 101!  A close friend of mine had to take her son to the ER last night for breathing issues, with similar symptoms.  The doctor's offices and hospitals are slammed with flu cases and the schools have lots of absences.

Here are some of the tips that I have used in the last few days to get my family through this latest bout of illness.  I hope they are helpful to someone and we all get through this year's flu season as easily as possible!

  • Keep Stocked Up - Buy lots of liquids, canned soup and other non-perishables for quick snacks and easy meals.  It is likely that the whole house will come down with it and you want to be able to keep everyone fed through your own recovery.  You also want to make sure you have medications like Tylenol for reducing fevers, cough syrup, and cough drops. You don't want to have to drag yourself or your sick kids to the store for essentials.
  • Keep Them Healthy - If you just have one sick child, try to keep them in their room, or one room of the house.  Use lots of disinfecting wipes and practice good health techniques like hand washing or sanitizer and coughing into your arm instead of your hands. Be sure not to send them back to school until their fever is gone at least 24 hours.  If you haven't already, get those flu shots ASAP. We still have months of flu season left and the shots cover several strains.
  • Keep Them Quiet - Your child will feel much better on medication, maybe too much better. They really need more rest and relaxation than they will take on their own.  Play quiet board games with them or let them watch TV from bed.  I recommend having them watch movies instead of broadcast TV, if possible. The constant commercials and short programs are much more distracting than a feature length film.  Books, of course, are also good for quiet time, if your child enjoys reading.
  • Keep Them Hydrated  And Comfortable - One of the most dangerous parts of being sick is the dehydration, especially if there is vomiting or diarrhea. Keep a water bottle with your child and refill it often. If their pee is dark yellow, they are not getting enough water.  Often it is difficult to swallow with a very sore throat and they often have little appetite.  Try giving them easy to swallow foods like soup, jello, applesauce, popsicles.  Check their fever regularly and keep track of times and temps, as well as the medication.  I find that most kids don't like cough drops, too strong.  I have gotten the Vitamin C drops instead, but a hard candy will work as well.  Likewise, honey is a good substitute cough syrup.  Don't bother with those multi symptom meds as they give too much of some and not enough of other.
  • Keep in Contact With Your Doctor - Most insurance plans and doctor's offices have advice nurses available 24 hours a day. Although there is lots of advice on the internet, your own doctor knows the specifics of your personal situation and will give you the very best advice.  Be sure to call immediately if the fever is high (over 103), your child is unresponsive or is having trouble breathing.  If you can't contact a doctor, there is lots of good advice at, which is a website set up by the CDC.  If you are worried and it is the middle of the night, go directly to the ER!



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Purging The Plastic
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last week, I decided to get rid of the majority of the plastic in my house, mostly gladware containers.  I know that they are cheap and reusable but I had way too many and never could seem to find the right shaped lid or the right size when I needed it.  Too much of a good thing, I guess.  Plus, there are more and more studies about plastics, especially when heating it in the microwave. As this is the main reason for those plastic storage containers, I had second thoughts.

What I did was buy a set of glass storage containers at Costco, called Glasslock.  They have a heavy duty plastic top that locks around all four sides of the glass container. They are beautiful, very sturdy and look great in the fridge.  I packed up all the old gladware and random other "tupperware" type containers.  I also got glass juice containers to replace the plastic ones.  They are smaller, just one can of frozen concentrate, but I figure this will keep my boys from drinking juice so fast.  I also have one full of water in the fridge, as our local tap water is very high quality (Western Oregon).  I already have some glass cannisters, with the rubber gasket and the old fashioned flip lock. I keep my dry goods in those. I have a very old canning jar that I use for my popcorn.  My oils and vinegar all have their own colored glass bottles from Ikea. I was going to use them as vases or for other decorative purposes but I'd rather give them a real purpose in my home.  If I need more containers, I always have canning jars and lids for quick storage of leftover soups, sauces or whatever.

I am still using ziploc bags, especially for freezing and marinating.  I have had good success with freezing chicken stock and leftover chili in a gallon sized bag.  Just be sure it stays sealed very well. I always buy brand name bags, because I have found that the off brand have more failures and the price isn't usually that far off.  At some point, I may invest in a Food Saver vacuum sealer but there always seems to be something more pressing.

I have a good looking tomato harvest coming up in August.  Last year, I had more tomatoes that I knew what to do with and gave away tons. This year, I'm going to make and can spaghetti sauce and salsa for later in the year.  My plants have several green spheres so I should have plenty.

My husband and I took this opportunity to reorganize and pare down the kitchenware. I have 4 (yes, four!) vegetable peelers, each with their own pros and cons. I had several sets of measuring spoons and cups, lots of very old spatulas and cooking spoons that had seen better days. And no end of random kitchen gizmos and specialty items. No wonder I couldn't regularly get the drawers to close!  I got rid of anything that was an obvious duplicate or unnecessary (several lids for spice jars that I no longer have), and have mentally marked a few items that may be going out on the next purge. For example, I bought a garlic chopper, it is sort of round and you push it against the garlic on the cutting board and it "easily" chops it up. this is in addition to the two other garlic presses that I had in there. I got rid of the oldest press and am going to test out the chopper before deciding to give it away to a friend or donate it.  Problem is, every time I chop garlic (every day, pretty much), I forget to get it out of the drawer and just smash it with my knife. So that is probably a sign that I don't need it :)

I'm a big fan of Alton Brown and his show, Good Eats, on the Food Network. He is a advocate for avoiding "unitaskers", kitchen gadgets that only have one purpose.  He says that the only unitasker you should have in your kitchen is a fire extinguisher (a lesson I learned a couple of years ago!).  I'm not quite there, but it is something I'm keeping in mind.

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Summer Vacation
Thursday, July 09, 2009

Well, it is that time of the year, we are heading out bright and early tomorrow morning. My boys both would like to go to Disneyland, but we are visiting family this year.  We are driving to Chewelah in Eastern Washington for their local Chataqua festival.  My aunt Sally (also a ThriftyFunner) always invites the whole extended family and everyone has a great time.  It reminds me of my own childhood because we would visit as often as we could. I can't wait for my boys to see everyone!

After that, we are driving over to visit Grandma Nancy in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a charming Bavarian  town high in the mountains.  Their property has a little creek and lots of space for boys (and dogs) to run.  Although it won't be as "exciting" as Disneyland might be, I hope that they will have a great time and make some of their own childhood memories.


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Kindergarten Graduation
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I just got back from my youngest son's kindergarten graduation. Those kiddos are so adorable at that age.  I took my video camera and recorded the whole thing, mostly because I have a DVD of my older son's graduation and I don't want anyone feeling left out.  I'll have to work on converting it over to a DVD, perhaps in time to give it to Grandma Nancy when we visit this summer.

It is so much harder to keep up on the photos and memory keeping with your second (or more) child.  I have a fraction of the photos, despite the fact that we all have digital cameras now.  I have box after box of video tapes from one camera or another that I have to get transferred before I break ANOTHER camcorder.  And those digital photos are hopelessly disorganized and have multiple copies on my hard drive, due to backups and extra downloads. It seems like it is a full time job preserving what is happening NOW for people to appreciate in the future.  I don't even have my wedding album finished, 12 years after the big day.

Still, it is worth doing. Sometimes on a boring, rainy afternoon, my house is filled with laughter from my boys watching their earlier selves.  I put together a DVD, back when I worked for a company that had all the equipment to make this easy, called "The Amazing Adventures of Beck and Ethan" It was about the time my oldest was in Kindergarten and I made it as a Mother's Day presents for the grandmas.  Three out of four of those grandmas and great grandmas are now gone but I'm sure they treasured the glimpse into our daily life.

If you are great about memory keeping, good for you. Keep it up because your children or grandchildren will love you for it some day.  If you aren't so great about this, do what you can. You don't have to use a video camera or even photos.  Some of the best (and funniest) memories I have from my own childhood are from audio cassettes that my brothers and sisters and I recorded: plays, commercials, songs.  It is hilarious and sometimes touching.  If you don't have access to any of this, take a moment and write down some precious memories of your own or ask your kids to tell you what they remember about last Christmas, or what they want to be when they grow up. You will be so glad you did!

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How Can You Possibly Explain This To Your Kids
Friday, June 05, 2009

This post is going to be a bit deeper than usual.  I just got back from a memorial assembly at my children's elementary school.  I live in Hillsboro, OR and last week a father shot his two young children and then himself at a local nature reserve.  The boy was a second grader at our school.  I guess the father was having a tough time, in the middle of a divorce and other problems.  Somehow, he thought this was the best way to "take care of his children".  The mother sent the children to school and never saw them alive again.  My heart is breaking for the whole situation.  This comes on the heels of news last week that a mother threw her two children off the Sellwood Bridge, in nearby Portland.  Only one survived.

I know that these stories are becoming all too common throughout communities in the U.S., perhaps because of the increasing financial pressures here.  And there are tragedies in the world that are far far worse: war, political unrest, the list goes on.  But I don't live there and, although I care about the struggles of people across our planet, I have to be a mother and member of my own community first.  And I don't know what to say to my own children, that won't scare them.  

I have utmost respect for our principal and teachers, who dealt with a very tough situation with understanding and compassion.  Elementary school age children are too young to have to deal with such horror.  I looked out at the sea of young bright faces, especially the first graders, and tried to imagine how anyone could snuff such potential in a selfish and desparate act.  And I wonder what I can do to prevent these tragedies.  Of course, there is not much I can do directly.  But indirectly, there is something we can all do.

This family, or the countless other families that dot the headlines regularly, were part of a network of extended family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.  Someone must have had concerns about the mounting pressures but maybe didn't want to bring it up.  It is embarassing for grown-ups to accept help, or a sympathetic ear, or a couple hours of child care.  So if you see someone suffering in your community, see what you can do to give them the support they need, before it is too late.  It might bruise their pride a little bit, but it also might be the connection that they need to make it through.

I hope everyone will take this opportunity to hug their children, or grandchildren tight. I know that is what I am going to do.


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Organizing The Clutter
Thursday, May 07, 2009

Well, my husband and I are on a mission to organize our house. We don't have a very large house, around 1100 square feet and we have two kids and a dog.  So, as you can imagine, there is stuff everywhere.  We recently built some shelves for our office "corner". This weekend, we went through box after box of "Important Paperwork" or "Office Supplies". We got a bunch of small containers to organize the supplies and a bunch of file folders for the paperwork.  We have a little labeler so we have clearly labeled all the boxes "Pencils, Marking Pens," that sort of thing.  It is very nice to know exactly where to go for scissors, or stamps or birthday candles.

One of the most challenging things is sorting through all the keepsakes, and deciding what to keep. With two young boys, we get lots of art projects and drawings that seem precious now but may lose their meaning as the boys approach adulthood.  They also tend to be bigger than the standard letter size for file folders. I currently have them stacked in larger boxes, but I'm sure some of it is getting ruined over time. What I would like to do is get or make an oversize scrapbook (12x18 inches) for each child (and maybe one for me too!) to put in newspaper clippings, holiday projects, etc.  Don't even get me started on the greeting cards, I guess I am a packrat!

The next thing we are going to do is to work on organizing the garage and slowing converting it into living space. I want to make it a family room with a TV, video games, etc. but also room to work on projects and store extra stuff.  I think this family room will be very important as the boys approach the teenage years. Plus, our front door opens directly into our small living room and it would be nice to move the clutter from the entry to deeper in the house.  Well, better to put it all away, but I am a realist :)

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Grocery Shopping Twice A Month
Thursday, April 30, 2009

My family is trying to take charge of our finances, across the board.  One of the hardest areas to track is grocery shopping and meals.  We don't eat out a lot but we like to get the occasional Starbucks or pizza slice.  It feels like we go to the store every few days for something or other that we need.  Or we will have the opposite problem and have way too much to eat through before it goes bad.  This happens often with onions and potatoes.  So my new plan is to go grocery shopping after every paycheck. I'm going to make a monthly Costco run for specific things, like dog food and laundry detergent,  that I can save money buying in bulk. And I'm going to hit the farmer's market every weekend, for fresh fruits and veggies.

A problem with the bi monthly shopping trip is that you have to plan ahead. This is trickier than you might imagine.  This week (our first full week), I realized that we were entirely out of TP.  My husband cashed in the cans and bottles we had been gathering in the garage to pay for that extra trip.  I also had him get lemons for tabouli because I am no good at following rules, even my own. But I'm trying!

I also forgot to plan for Cinco de Mayo, which is next Tuesday.  Normally we would go to a local Mexican restaurant, because it is a fun holiday and I love Mexican food. Or, if we were feeling less flush, we would make fajitas and margaritas at home.  But this year, I have no fajita meat, no peppers, no tequila; so no way to make my own Cinco de Mayo feast. The saddest thing (to me) is that we just had tacos for dinner this week and I could have certainly rearranged meals to accomodate this.  I have an enchilada casserole in the freezer from some leftover Mexican food earlier in the year so I will defrost that and it will have to do.

One week to go before I can stock up again. Perhaps doing without will sharpen my planning and help me appreciate what I have, when I have it.

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Eating Locally
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I just finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It is a really interesting account of how the family challenged themselves to eat locally for a year, mostly with what they grew themselves.  She is the author of The Bean Trees and Pigs In Heaven, some of my favorite novels, and has a gift for expressing herself.  The chapters are broken up in months and each includes recipes with seasonal ingredients and information about the social impacts of eating locally vs buying food that had been transported thousands of miles.  It starts in April, with the first asparagus, which is just what time it was when I started reading it. At first, I thought it would be fun to read each section throughout the year, but I couldn't wait to find out what happened.  It really made me think about local and seasonal food in a different way.

I have a garden, visit my farmer's market and have organic produce delivered every other week.  I don't use a lot of convienece food in my cooking and we don't eat out much, especially not for fast food. Still, I buy bananas for my boys (flown from around the Equator), buy Italian olive oil, coffee (which grows nowhere near Oregon) and tons of produce from California.  I haven't really stopped to think about my carbon footprint, from that traveling alone.  Plus, I would like my money to stay here, in my community. I like to think about buying something directly from the farmer. And fruits and veggies have to be fresher if they were grown here.

When I was in college, I saw a video about the tomato harvest and how they pick them green and then spray them with a chemical to turn them red.  Red, not ripe.  I have always preferred homegrown tomatoes and grow them every summer, with varying results. Last year, I could barely keep up with the tomatoes before they got mushy, especially the cherry tomatoes.  Animal, Vegetable, Mineral has some good instructions for preserving tomatoes by canning them and drying them.  I'm going to try both ways and see if I can use all my Classico jars that I have resisted recycling to good use.

Another thing I might try to preserve is berries. You get these beautiful baskets of berries at the Farmers Market, they are better than candy.  But we always seem to overbuy and then can't use them up in time.  I'm going to try freezing some and drying some.  We have a cherry tree that is covered with blossoms, a peach tree which is doing better than last year and an apple tree that suggests applesauce is in my future.

I love the spring, everything is full of potential.

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The Easter Bunny Is Coming
Friday, April 10, 2009

Well, it is that time of the year again. I have to plan out an Easter basket, traditionally filled with candy and toys.  Feels like we just barely got done with Christmas and I think I still have some Halloween candy that I have hidden from my boys last fall.

For the last few years, I have given gardening themed baskets to both my boys. One year I found a small gardening bag, that had child sized tools and gloves. I added seeds and cute watering cans and, of course, candy!  Last year, I did a similarly themed basket but with different tools and some little pots.  I felt that this was a good way to celebrate spring.

I saw a very cute idea on ThriftyFun recently to do a summer fun basket, with all the stuff kids need to enjoy the hot weather.  Theme baskets are also very good if you are giving to a teenager or adult.  And the "basket" can be whatever you want it to be. One wedding shower I went to was a starter kit for the couple and their first apartment together. It had all the kitchen basics: dish soap, scrubbers, drying rack, towels; and some general cleaning stuff: laundry detergent, bleach, windex, etc.. I think there were some food staples: like baking soda, flour and sugar.  It was all presented in a large laundry basket, heaping with all these good and useful things.

This year, I'm stealing an idea from my friend and giving a movie themed basket. My boys want to see Monsters vs Aliens very badly. It just came out recently and they are always quoting funny parts from the trailers they have seen on TV.  I'll add in some movie sized candy, and money for popcorn and arcade games. Afterwards, we will go out to dinner, saving me from cooking as MY Easter present.  I'll probably put in some Peeps and jellybeans, or a Cadberry Cream Egg.  Just wouldn't be Easter without it.

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Spring Break
Monday, March 23, 2009

Well, it is that time of year again.  Spring Break, which is 6 1/2 days off from school this year.  I have my two boys here watching cartoons while I get my Monday morning work done.  I don't want to have them just watch TV and play video games the entire week, so I need to plan some frugal activities to keep them occupied.

Today, we are going grocery shopping. I usually go by myself or with my kindergartner but this week we will all go together. I hope to encourage them to cook with me this week. The weather isn't too great, so I plan to do some baking, maybe cookies, maybe bread.  All these things are relatively inexpensive and I can give the surplus away to friends to avoid blowing my diet.

Last Thursday, we went to the library and they both picked out books to read.  My 3rd grader is to read and report on a book every day of spring break.  They both now have their own library cards and I plan to go again later in the week.  The trick is keeping all the books together so we don't have fines, especially on the one movie I let them pick out. It costs $1 a day it is late, so it adds up very fast.

If the weather clears up, we will walk to the park or the school to play most afternoons.  I'll bring our dog and walk while they swing and slide. We also will probably go swimming at least once as we have a yearly membership, courtesy of my husband's job.  We have a zoo membership too, so that is a good outing for later in the week, almost free if I pack a picnic lunch.

And, I'm sure, they will get some video game time mixed in there. I will try to limit that and also encourage them to play the more active games, like Wii Fit.  Heck, maybe I will get in some exercise during the day too.  I also have plans to plant some seeds and starts in our garden bed so we can look forward to fresh produce all summer long. Kids love to garden.  The Easter Bunny knows this and always brings gardening things in their baskets, but that is a couple weeks away yet.

I have a friend that will watch them for an afternoon so I can have lunch with my husband, probably toward the end of the week.  We will probably go and have lunch one day with the entire family too, maybe even today.  The week will be over before we all know it.

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Almost Free Trees
Friday, March 13, 2009

Hey, I was looking into replacing a dogwood tree that we planted a couple of years ago. I think the frost killed it off last year and there are no shoots coming from the bottom.  So there was $70.00 down the drain.

I was looking for cheaper alternatives to nursery or garden center prices when I found the site for the Arbor Day Foundation.

If you become a member, they will GIVE you 10 trees, including dogwoods.  And the individual prices on trees, even if you aren't a member are very reasonable. I was looking at a dogwood for about $16.


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Cleaning Out The Freezer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Since the first of the year, I have been trying to eat our way through all the random stuff I have frozen.  I want to be able to start fresh when it is time for summer berries and cookouts.  I have been surprised at two things:  how much I have kept and how poorly it was packaged and marked.  Sometimes I have had to defrost the item to find out if it is spagetti sauce, chili or some other tomato based item. Still, you can put about anything in a soup and make it taste good, even if it is has a little freezer burn.

I have taken to planning the week's meals on a chalkboard near my kitchen.  First I look through the fridge and freezer to see what needs to be eaten.  If a meal suggested itself (like if I have ground beef, sour cream and salsa, I might plan to make tacos), I write it down. If there are leftovers or items that don't lend themselves to obvious meals, I just write those items.  For example, I have a lot of frozen pumpkin that I saved out around Thanksgiving.  So I plan to make some pumpkin muffins for my boys soon.

I try to go to the store only once a week, after I do my fridge clean out. Sometimes I need an item or two for a planned meal. I get organic produce delivered every other week. It is $33.00 for a large box of seasonal fruits and veggies.  This week I got a leek, rainbow chard, an orange cauliflower, lettuce, garlic, onions, mushrooms, apples, pears . . . It is like a present every time.  However, it is hard to eat my way through all of it in two weeks, sometimes.  This has encouraged me to plan my meals from the veggie out. 

Here is an example: I had a bunch of ruby chard that needed to be eaten. I often make a sausage and potato soup (like the Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana) with chard but I didn't have sausage or potatoes and we had been eating a lot of soup lately. So I decided to saute the chard in a bit of oil and garlic.  This left me the middle ribs to use up.  I cut them up like celery and used them in much the same way in a mushroom stroganoff over rice.  The kids turned their noses up at the "yucky green stuff" but didn't even notice the reddish bits in their stroganoff.

I am planning on using my freezer more wisely this year. I'm going to keep track of what I freeze better and utilize it more in my weekly menu planning. I also think that I need to invest in a food saver as ziplocks and tupperware don't seem to be cutting it. I don't want my freezer to be like a black hole where food goes in, only to be thrown out in months to come.  I keep a pretty well stocked pantry of canned and dried goods, like pasta, beans, canned tomatoes.  This is where I can go if I am out of food. I will use my freezer as an extension of my fridge, for food to be eaten within weeks, not months.

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Volunteering At School
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Good Morning!

It's a cold and foggy morning here in Oregon.  I got up a bit early this morning.  It's funny how I have more energy if I get up early, but can never remember that when the alarm goes off in my dark, warm bed.

Yesterday, I volunteered at my son's elementary school. I was there for the library time in the afternoon and stayed to the end of the day.  I shelved books and read nursery rhymes to the kids.  My son is in first grade and they listened pretty well to the nursery rhymes, chiming in when they knew it and clapping for me at the end.  The next class was second graders, and it was obvious that these kids were older and more jaded.  There were some behavior problems, many rolled eyes; a tough crowd.  All in all, I had a pretty good time.  I  think it will be helpful to see other kids besides my own.  Plus, my son Beck was thrilled to see me and showed me how he was sitting perfectly and following all directions.  Of course, we had a big battle of wills at dinner time but I'd rather have it that way than bad behavior at school and good at home.  As my little brother said growing up, "I can't be good ALL the time"

The shared room thing seems to be going well.  They only try to sneak into our room every other night or so.  Yesterday morning, I found them both in Ethan's bed, two little angels (while sleeping anyway). We need to work on the cleaning and making beds but . . . baby steps, right.

Well, time to get to work!

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Juggling in the Dark
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hi, I woke up before the alarm went off today and couldn't go back to sleep.  It is so dark during the winter!  Even though it is just about six am, it feels like I am the only one in the world that is awake.

The holidays did me in!  I love to cook but I'm just starting to recover from all the special cooking tasks I took on this year.  I'm still trying to find my balance between watching Ethan, keeping the house tidy and working enough to justify not having a 9-5.  It should be easier to juggle all the responsibilities in the spring.  Lately, when my husband gets home, instead of making dinner or doing something constructive, I just turn off.  I'll read or do the minimum housework so I can stand it.  We got a couple of new items for our house recently, but that means that furniture and such gets moved around, making even more chaos.

Well, the alarm clock is about to go off and the whole day is starting again. I think I will go and beat the rest of the family to the shower.

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Kids Sharing A Room
Friday, December 29, 2006

Today is my first day of entirely working from home.  As it is still winter break, I have my two boys home with me.  We will see how much work I get done! Luckily, Ethan (4) is still asleep, in my bed.  Beck (6) is playing with some of his Christmas toys and singing to himself in the bedroom.

We have had some challenges lately regarding bedtimes and staying in your own bed.  There have been nights when both of the boys will be in our bed and my husband and I will wind up asleep on the couch or in one of the twin beds.  Then Ethan, who is especially persistent about sleeping next to Mama, will track me down and we will both be in a twin bed instead of in a queen.

The boys currently have their own rooms.  I often find them sleeping together in the morning in one or the other room, if my door was locked or something.  So, we have decided to move them both into the bigger room and change the smaller one into a playroom, maybe with a guest bed.  I figure there will be some giggling and silliness until they get used to it but maybe they will sleep better for the companionship.  I shared a room for awhile with my two brothers and they shared a room until they were teenagers.  

Another problem this may fix is the mess.  My younger son's room is always a disaster because they both play in there and then my wily oldest refuses to clean up "Ethan's" toys.  If they share a playroom, they will both be responsible.  As I am going to be working exclusively from home now, I need to be able to concentrate on my work.  I can't do that if I have mess around me all the time.

I'll keep you all posted on how it goes.


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Really working for the Man!
Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hello!  I have been neglecting my posts as the days get shorter.  I'd like to put one up each week.

This summer I ranted about my husband's corporate job and his supposed holidays.  Well, he finally was able to escape and now has a job for the city where we live.  A government job means that he really gets all the holidays off.  This Friday is Veteran's Day.  This is the type of holiday that is pretty much ignored in corporate and retail positions.  Not so, for the city.  He will get the opportunity to play with the kids (who are also out of school that day) and enjoy a real 3 day weekend.

Working for the real Man is very different.  He works 8-5 with an hour for lunch.  He has been there about three weeks and leaves every day with a smile on his face.  Although he is expected to do his work efficiently, there is also time to have a little fun.  Most of the departments dressed up for Halloween and they also had a potluck.  I'm sure there will be a Christmas party and other festivities that include his family over the next year.  Everyone is very nice and no one seems to be stressed out.

There are some trade offs.  He had to take a pay cut for this position.  But he has almost no commute and the unpaid hours that he is no longer expected to work allow me to work more while he watches our boys.  And having a happy, relaxed husband and dad is priceless.  It makes it easier for us to focus on ways to live leaner, saving money to make up for the gap that we have lost.  We are going down to one car.  His work is close enough to bike to in good weather and if I am working from home, I can take him to work in bad weather.

As he works there longer, the money should equal out.  He will get regular raises in addition to a cost of living adjustment.  At his corporate job, he recently got a raise of 3%, which was for above average performance, a "good" raise.  This was about the last straw. The city's cost of living adjustment last year was more than that.  So he should be making about the same after six months and more the next year.

I'm sure that there are companies out there that treat their employees like people with lives outside of work, but I'm afraid that they are becoming few and far between.  As the economy tightens, so do the perks for the regular guy.  I feel lucky that my family has escaped the "rat race" for the time being. 

My advice to everyone would be to dare to make positive changes in your life.  We are so grateful that we did.

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I love working at home
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I was in the kitchen this morning, getting a cup of coffee to motivate me for today's work.  I had just gotten the kids out the door, one to school and one to daycare next door.  I drive to work four days a week but it is cheaper to pay for daycare by the month so I take my youngest on the days I work from home too.  I am able to get a lot more done and the house is cleaner too.

I turned on the radio as I was waiting for the coffee.  The traffic report came on, the traffic that I would have been sitting in on every other day.  It made me smile and feel lucky to be able to make money at home.  Plus, I save money!

Let's not even get into the cost of gas, the expense of a second car, the upkeep and extra time it takes to get there (time is money, after all).  I'm not tempted to stop for coffee, usually a latte so around $4.00.  I don't get a bagel or donut to tide me over to lunch. I try to bring lunches from home most days but when everyone else is getting Burger King, it is hard to eat last night's leftovers.  And when I work late (like last night), I'm tempted to stop for pizza or something so dinner isn't extrememly late.  Even if I am on time, it seems that I wind up going to the grocery store for something.  No matter what you are shopping for, it seems that it costs about $50.00 for every visit.  If I am home, I usually make do with what I have or make a list and really shop for the whole week.

I don't have to wear nice clothes or, worse, nice shoes.  Same with makeup (although I don't wear a lot of that anyway)  I can take care of doctor's appointments and errands without having to take time off work.  I can just work earlier or later to make up for it.  And there are tax writeoffs for your office space in your house.  Someday maybe I can work at home full time!

Well gotta go and make sure I keep this at-home job and get some work done!

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Our Frugal Day Out
Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Well, despite (or perhaps, because of) my earlier rant, my husband managed to arrange the entire Labor Day weekend off, including Monday.  We decided to go out on Saturday night to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  I arranged a friend from work to babysit.  She is not long out of high school so I pay her $20 to $30.  We don't go out much.  I try to get the family to watch the boys occasionally but usually would rather visit with them as they live about 200 miles away (3 hours with good traffic).  I'm working on an exchange system with a parent from daycare and school with kids that are the right ages but it is a little like dating.  First, you watch their kids for a couple of hours, then they watch your for a bit. Next, I'll volunteer to watch their kids overnight, working up to our next big night out.  Baby steps.

Late last week, we became aware of a discount coupon for Oaks Park on Saturday.  People have been asking us if we have been yet since we moved to the Portland area 4 years ago. This is a cool, old fashioned carnival type park, with picnic areas, fair food and games, lots of rides for littler kids and some for bigger ones, a very old carousel with beautiful carved horses and other animals (Ethan rode on a chicken!), a train that goes very slowly and a big, wood floor roller skating rink.  We got an all ride pass for all four of us for $24.00.  This allowed us to do everything listed above, including the big kid rides for my husband, Jess.  We brought sandwiches and bought some soda and fries.  My oldest, Beck, doesn't like the rides that go up in the air and turn you upside down.  My youngest, Ethan, didn't like having roller skates on and wanted to "walk".  I can barely roller skate but enjoyed watching Jess skate around and around.  The music was reminiscent of my childhood days at Skate King, lots of upbeat oldies and some newer stuff.  We could have stayed later but for the anniversary date. Ethan was starting to get pretty tired anyway.

We rushed home, picked up some soda and Papa Murphy's pizza for the babysitter, Stephanie, and tidied up the house.  I had just enough time to wash my face, brush my teeth and pretty myself up a bit before it was time to leave.  Jess and I had decided to go to the Grand Lodge, a McMenamins in nearby Forest Grove.  For those of you not lucky enough to live the Pacific Northwest, McMenamins is a local chain of restaurants, hotels and brew pubs.  They are always very unique with a personal charm.  The Grand Lodge is an old Masonic Lodge that has been turned into a hotel with a spa.  The rooms are all individual, there is original artwork everywhere and little faces painted on the exposed pipes and other surprising places. There is a restaurant, three separate bars and a movie theatre that allows you to order from the restaurant and bar during the movie.  We were going to see "A Prairie Home Companion" for $3.00 each. We were pretty much game to see anything that was playing but thought that this sounded like fun.  When we arrived, we had a couple of hours to kill.  Not being very hungry yet, we decided to go have a drink  to kill some time.

The Wine Bar is just downstairs from the lobby.  We had considered the Doctor's Office but I vetoed it.  There were video games, a Snooker table (kind of like pool) and some TV's.  I wanted something a bit more intimate.  There was live music starting, I could hear her singing a Tracy Chapman song, accompanied by guitar.   I counted this as a good sign.  We sat at the bar and chatted up the waitress who recommended that we do a wine tasting.  This cost a whopping $1 each.  We got 3 different white wines and 2 different reds, that were all bottled at the McMenamins Edgefield Winery.  (They make their own brandy and bourbon, as well as excellent beers.)  She poured us a generous half glass of each, one at a time, explaining what flavors to expect.  I don't know a ton about wine but it is pretty fun to taste the different types side by side.  There was one wine that was not part of the taste test, a Syrah, that she offered us at an additional $1.00 each.  So, after $4.00 (plus a generous tip), we were ready for dinner.  As we went upstairs, I gave a wave to the singer, Beth Willis.  We had chatted with her when she came in for a drink during a break and mentioned that it was our anniversary. She called out after us, "Happy Anniversary, you two!"  I thought that was really sweet.

We went upstairs to the Ironside Grill for a bite to eat.  We were both still not very hungry but didn't want to eat a ton during the movie (rude, it seems).  They had Prime Rib on special, with potatoes and veggies. We decided to order one serving, figuring we would split it and got an appetizer besides.  The waitress heard us saying that we were going to split it and went ahead and served it to us on two plates.  We ordered the small Prime Rib and it was almost more than we could eat.  I think they hooked us up!  There was au jus, horseradish, cheese bread, potatoes and green beans.  It was possibly the best prime rib I have ever had.  I think our bill was just over $20.00.

We went upstairs to the movie theatre and ordered some tater tots (I love the tater tots here, just a thing with me) and beers.  We got Rubinators, this is similar to a Black and Tan, but with a mix of their Ruby Ale and their well known Terminator Stout.  We set our beers and our number for the food down at a table and then went out to kill some time as our food would be 15  minutes and the movie was still over 20 minutes out.  We went back downstairs and listened to Beth again, giving her a tip. My mom was a struggling singer/songwriter when I was growing up so I like to support people trying to make it.  She said "Thanks, Jess" when he put it in her tip jar, still remembering his name an hour later!  We then went back upstairs.

When we went back up to the movie, someone was sitting in the seats where we had been sitting.  They had kind of shoved our number and beers to the side.  Not wanting to make any kind of a scene, we just tried to grab our stuff and sit somewhere else as there were lots of seats.  They noticed what we were doing, of course, and there was an awkward moment where they tried to move for us and we tried to get them to stay.  Finally, we all just shared a table together.  They were a nice couple from Seattle, my hometown when I was growing up.  Anyhow, the movie was funny, maybe better than I expected.  I felt truly at home at the Grand Lodge and really want to go and spend the night some time.  No trouble driving home as it had been about 2 hours since we finished our beers and we were home soon after 11 PM.  All in all, a pretty frugal celebretory night to top off our frugal day out.

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Working for the Man
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I had intended to write about my little hooligans and their stubborn ways but something else just happened and I thought I would vent about it.  My husband works for a major corporation which used to be a rather good place to work, generous profit sharing, good benefits, etc.  He was leaving for work this morning and my boys were sad that he wasn't going to be home with us.  I said "Don't worry, Dad will be home an extra day this weekend for Labor Day."  He looked at me like I had grown a third head or something and informed me that his store has to stay open after all and he, as the manager, will have to be there.

This happens on every one of his paid "holidays".  It is supposed to be a benefit for all employees, but especially for salaried management.  The hourly employees receive extra pay on their paycheck even if they work it, even time and a half on certain holidays.  But as a salaried employee, his paycheck is the same, no matter how late he works and how many extra weekends or "holidays" he works.  What usually happens is this:  I get irritated at ths companies shortsightedness on this matter (I used to work for the same company in HR and know that this is not right), he gets defensive and arranges to get the day off or another day but feels like he has been a problem for his team and his bosses.  When I worked there, all the managers were required to take the paid holidays off, enforced by their supervisors.

I appreciate my husband's work ethic and sense of responsibility but I am so tired of his job, not even really a career anymore, taking first place over his family and home life.  And now I have added to his stress at work, again!  The really sad thing is that he is making less money now, as a salaried manager, than he made as a hourly employee, working less hours.

We were married 9 years ago on Labor Day weekend. Although our anniversary is technically this Wednesday, I always feel that Labor Day is our special weekend.  Oh, well, we still have the regular weekend. No, wait, I think he said something about having to work on Saturday to cover for someone going away for Labor Day.

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How did my mother do it?
Sunday, August 27, 2006

School starts in about a week and I still don't have everything purchased, much less marked with Beck's name.  Luckily, my family volunteered to pitch in on school clothes, taking us shopping a few weeks ago.  I've carefully put these away so they aren't ruined by the time school actually starts.  My brother spoiled him rotten, buying him the fancy Sketchers that are sure to be a bit hit with the first grade set.  My mother had to buy clothes for me and my two brothers when I was in grade school and later, for my little sister, 13 years younger than me.  I got a job when I was sixteen, mostly to buy clothes for high school. It was, after all, the fashion conscious 80's. I'm sure I would manage with the boys somehow without the help from the fam but it would certainly be more difficult.  The good news is that there are lots of good deals on basic clothing out there, Old Navy, Target (anywhere buy Wal-Mart, that is another blog entirely).  The bad news is that those cheap clothes are made in sweatshops somewhere else by kids who don't even get a basic education or other necessities.  And so are the expensive clothes.

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Hillsboro, OR USA
About Me:

I'm a 39 year old . . . what? Mother, college graduate, housewife with a full time job, mostly unpublished writer, the list just goes on. I'm spiritual, but not religious; lazily liberal; frugal but with a love of pretty, shiny things. My mother, Susan, was the founder of ThriftyFun and scrimped all her life to have enough for her kids. I try to do her proud but sometimes stumble along the way.

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