Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rebate Tracker

Today I signed up for Rebate Tracker. No idea why I didn't do it years ago.

They have most rebates already in their system so you don't have to keep track of all of the data before you send off your rebate. You enter the details about when and how you mailed it and voila, everything is stored for you. I made sure to enter the phone number for the offer since that was the only detail missing. I'm sure an Excel sheet would do the same job, but I kinda like gadgets - especially the free ones.

Fun at CVS

Two transactions this week added up to great CVS savings.

Cost before ECBs and coupons: $22.66
Cost after ECBs and coupons: 99 cents!

  • The Buddies were $1.39 each - I had 2 coupons worth $5 off, leaving a cost of 1.95
  • The Ambi soap was $2.19 minus a CVS coupon for $2 off any Ambi skincare item
  • The Mentos were $1.69 each, on sale BOGO. I had eight coupons for $1 off, which actually helped negate the extra cost of the Buddies and the Ambi.

Cost before ECBs and coupons: $47.83
Cost after ECBs and coupons: EARNED $3.16 (after sales tax, I earned $2.30)

  • The Gillette shampoo was $4.99 and generating 3 ECBs. I used 3 coupons for $2 off, making them FREE
  • The OneTouch meter was $19.99 and I had a coupon for $20 off (needed this for a family member)
  • The Almay soaps were $.99 each, and part of a "Buy $10 of Almay, get 5 ECBs deal." I bought 11 of them and had seven coupons for $1 off. So I spent about $4 and earned $5 ECBs.
  • The Glade warmers were each $.99 and generating $2 ECBs. I earned $2 just by buying them!
I'll have a post up tomorrow on this week's Simple CVS deals. Check back soon!

Fun at Safway

Hit Safeway last night to take advantage of some good deals. Everything worked out just fine; had a little fun with the cashier to boot. I like to put my club card and coupons in at the end, so I get to watch the price drop. The total before coupons and cards was $195.17. I handed him my card and he speculated that the total would drop to about $180. Pshaw. I told him "You're underestimating me."

After club card and coupons, the total dropped from $195.17 to $75.08. Plus I get to submit for about $10 worth of rebate. Seriously fun.

Here are the deals I took advantage of:
  • Four 12-packs of Pepsi for $7.99 (did this twice). I paired it with some $1/2 peelie coupons that I found right there on the packages! Saved 75% on these.
  • Red Baron frozen pizzas were BOGO at $6.69. I paired four of them with two $1/2 coupons from the circulars. Saved 57% on these.
  • Lucerne cheese was on sale from $3.49 to $1.49 (I had to do separate transactions - the limit was 2). The 6 sharp cheddars will go in the freezer and get pulled out one by one for my favorite Sweet Potato Burritos. They're the perfect size! Saved 57% on these.
  • Orville Redenbacher popcorn 3-packs were on sale BOGO at $3.49. I paired them with 3 $1/2 coupons from the circulars. Saved 64% on these.
  • Campbell's Chunky soup was on sale from $2.79 to $.99 - limit 10. Paired these with five $.50/2 coupons from the circulars (which doubled). Saved 82% on these!
  • The avocados were on sale from $1.50 to $.77 each and they were beautiful. I bought 6 to use for sushi rolls and summer rolls this week. Yum. Saved 48% on these.
  • I bought the three Tostitos dips to use for the Pepsi Frito-Lay rebate. It's not a money rebate, but they'll send $15 in coupons ($10 of which is for Pepsi which you can tell I drink a lot of). So the three dips will end up being totally free.
  • The strawberries were on sale from $3.99 to $1.88. Bought two pounds and chopped them up for snacks this week. The kids love me today! The grape tomatoes were for snacks as well.
Next up, a post about CVS savings last week. Wahoo!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

36K Challenge - January Wrap-up

As I reported a few days ago, we did make our monthly $3,000 savings goal for January. It's a tightrope walk figuring out how much information to share and how much to keep back, so forgive me as I feel my way through this.

Here's a basic breakdown of how we made our goal:

eBay sales from fixed inventory: netted around $500
eBay sales from consignment selling: netted around $300
eBay sales from selling a camera we decided we could do without: netted around $440
eBay sales from other items I finally got around to selling: netted around $130
Total eBay income: $1,370

Extra income from photography jobs: netted around $1,305

Additionally, Stewart got a bonus at work which brought us above our $3,000 savings goal for this month. As soon as I make our bank deposits, I'll send that check off towards our equity line debt and watch the balance fall even farther.

February is going to be hard. We don't have any more big-ticket items to sell on eBay, Stewart only has a few extra jobs lined up so far, and no surprise Holiday bonuses are likely to be headed our way. My plan is to work hard at selling those small items I have lying around that can be gotten rid of, to chase one account that never paid Stewart for a big job several months ago, and to work hard to keeping our spending in check. I don't know if we'll make our goal, but I'm darn sure going to do my best to make it happen. Either way, we're heading in the right direction.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Simple CVS - week of January 26

Most women I know just don't want to deal with coupons, but that's no reason to miss out on some of the great deals out there! I'll focus on the Simple deals you can do at CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid using only the weekly specials and internet coupons that anyone can print out. If it's a complicated week, I'll lay out a Simple Walkthrough scenario to help the first-timers get a sense of how to get the best deals.

As always, I recommend you check Money Saving Mom if you want the full-list of everything you can get at CVS each week.


There are no fantastic deals at CVS this week, but there are a few decent deals worth mentioning.

Buy $20 in Pepsi products, get $10 ECBs. The products are all on a good sale ($1.25 for a 2-liter and $3 for a 12-pack) to start out with. Getting them half off on top of the sales price is icing on the cake. If you buy Pepsi anyway (and goodness knows I do) then this is a great deal.

Goldfish crackers are BOGO at $2.19, making them $1.10 each (no limit)

Buy 1 Head and Shoulders, Gillette, Pantene Restoratives or Expressions Shampoo, Conditioner, Mask, or Balm at $4.99, Earn $3 ECBs (Limit 5)

Buy $20 in Huggies products (wipes 42-80 ct ($2.50 each), baby wash 15 oz ($2.50 each), or jumbo packs of diapers or pull-ups ($10 each)), get $5 ECBs. Not a fantastic deal, but 25% off of a sales price isn't bad if you're already going to buy them!

Buy 1 Gillette Fusion Gamer, Venus Breeze Spa or Embrace Sister Razor 1 ct. (available in stores January 30th) at $7.99, get $4 ECBs (50% off!)


Here are the Simple Monthly deals while you're there:

Soyjoy 6-packs are free - pay $6, get $6 ECBs. Limit is 5. This is a great donation item if you don't think your family would eat them.

Children’s Throat Cooler Ice Pops 6ct is an easy Moneymaker - pay $4.99, get $4.99 ECBs (limit 5) To make it a Moneymaker, buy 2 at $4.99, use this printable coupon for BOGO and you'll pay $4.99 and actually get $9.98 in ECBs! Do it twice and you've MADE 10 bucks on the deal!

NasoGel Drip Free gel spray 1.52 oz is free - pay $7.99, get $7.99 ECBs (limit 2) - pair it up with this printable coupon for $2 off and you'll have another money-maker.

I did jot down a few pointers for beginners which clarifies some questions about ECBs. Give it a gander before heading out for the first time, and please let me know if you have any questions!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Simple CVS - week of January 18

I've decided to launch a series called Simple CVS. So many of my friends are so busy, nearly-overloaded women. They'd take advantage of the free, or nearly free, items at CVS (and Walgreens and Rite Aid) but they're not going to be making multiple trips, doing multiple transactions, or walking in with multiple coupons.

This series is going to focus on trips to CVS that anybody can do, and do quickly. I may list a few items that need coupons, but only if they're internet printable ones that anybody can quickly access. I'll talk about what you can get weekly and monthly, and maybe put up a few scenarios to walk a newbie through a sample transaction.

As always, I recommend you check Money Saving Mom if you want the full-list of everything you can get at CVS each week.

This week is almost over, but here's what looks great:

  • Buy 3 Hallmark cards, get $3 ECBs (limit 5). There are plenty of 89 cent coupons along the bottom row; buy 3 for $2.67 and get $3 ECBs! You can do this 5 times for a total of 15 cards.

  • Buy $20 in Pepsi products, get $10 ECBs. The products are all on a good sale ($1.25 for a 2-liter and $3 for a 12-pack) to start out with. Getting them half off on top of the sales price is icing on the cake. If you buy Pepsi anyway (and goodness knows I do) then this is a great deal.

Here are the Simple monthly deals while you're there:

  • Soyjoy 6-packs are free - pay $6, get $6 ECBs. Limit is 5. This is a great donation item if you don't think your family would eat them.

  • Children’s Throat Cooler Ice Pops 6ct is an easy Moneymaker - pay $4.99, get $4.99 ECBs (limit 5) To make it a Moneymaker, buy 2 at $4.99, use this printable coupon for BOGO and you'll pay $4.99 and actually get $9.98 in ECBs! Do it twice and you've MADE 10 bucks on the deal!

  • NasoGel Drip Free gel spray 1.52 oz is free - pay $7.99, get $7.99 ECBs (limit 2) - pair it up with this printable coupon for $2 off and you'll have another money-maker.

I did jot down a few pointers for beginners which clarifies some questions about ECBs. Give it a gander before heading out for the first time, and please let me know if you have any questions!

That's your "Simple CVS" for this week. I will make sure to get next week's up earlier in the week so you'll have longer to take advantage of it.

Now get out there and get your freebies!

A nice (frugal) day!

A very hectic morning yesterday ended successfully; Nate is officially signed up as a Little Explorer camper for this summer, and his best friend Sophia will be going to the same rec center. Typical of anything related to the DC government, it was an enormous hassle filled with wrong turns. But, all ended well and we moved onto our noon play-date with a few of Nate's friends and their Moms.

Jack took an early nap and our playdate ended at 2 so I had an unanticipated opportunity to hit the mall. I had a few return to do and I needed a birthday present for little Ben.

I had such a nice time there with the boys. I let Jack out of the stroller and he toddled along behind us. I remembered to bring my stash of "local coupons" and was able to use the coupon for a free pretzel from the pretzel place (from the Entertainment Book) to get them a nice treat. We sat on a bench in an out-of-the-way area and the boys munched and ran around. Nate has a Mommy-sense for Jack's safety; if Jack started to walk too far away from us, Nate would run over, take his hand, turn him around, and guide him right back towards me.

Nate had originally been turning Jack around by bumping him with his body; one of the times he did that Jack fell down and cried for a while. I immediately told Nate "it was an accident, don't worry" and comforted Jack. Nate thought for a few minutes and said "I won't bump him hard again." He is already such a great helper, a good brother, and an empathetic kid. I could not be more proud of him.

It was a great day together, and the cherry on top was knowing that it cost us almost nothing. Heck, I made $175 with the returns I made! Go us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jack's Monthly Newsletter, One Year Two Months

Dear Jack,

Today was an amazing, joyful day. Horizons have broadened and mountains have moved. You turned 14 months old today, and you finally started clapping.

Oh, and Barack Obama became President of the United States. I hear there was some excitement about that, too.

I'd been starting to worry a bit about your development; a quick glance at the What to Expect Toddler Years book shook me a bit. They were talking about the 12-month checkup and how I should make sure to tell the doctor all of your new skills: pattycake (nope!), clapping (nope!), waving (once, but never again). They were talking about words you should be using (nuh-huh) and it started to scare me - they were talking about the 12-month checkup and you were about to turn 14 months! I talked it over with Daddy and Deborah and they helped me relax a bit.

Writing this letter has helped, too - noticing all of the progress you've made, even if it's not verbal. Your clapping is what put my fears to rest, finally. It really was almost as exciting as Mr. Obama's inauguration for me.

You really are changing so much. One of your favorite new games when we're upstairs is finding a toy you love and fitting it through the rails of the hallway banister so that it falls down onto the stairs. Then you stick your arms and legs through, one at a time, to try to somehow get the item back. Then you screech at me until I come get it for you or until you find a new toy to torture yourself with.

You take such joy in being able to walk around. You love to walk back and forth downstairs and you light up with joy each time I come back into your line of sight. You grin and gasp and do your funny "happy walk" where you imitate a monkey - your knees bent and your arms dangling in front of you. When music is on you still do your Stevie Wonder imitation but now you also turn around in circles while you're "dancing." Honestly, Jack, you're just the sunniest kid I've ever known.

Deborah was holding you a few weeks ago and she asked you "Where's Nate" and you pointed right at him. If I'm holding you, you point where you want me to carry you. You love to share whatever you have - your bottle, your crackers, anything. You gorilla-walk up to whoever has caught your eye and foist your gifts upon them. They get extra points if they mime eating it while saying "Num num num" and handing it back to you. Simple pleasures.

Your favorite favorite games are the "I'm gonna get you!" variety. Daddy gets down on his hands and knees and tries to "eat your piggies" and you squeal and "run" and look behind you to make sure he's following you. You can keep it up as long as his knees can take it.

Here's a funny thing that you've been doing since you were first able to hold onto things, months and months ago: if I hand you something, you take it with the very tips of your fingers - a new toy, food, whatever. Even with how unstable it is, you always reach for it with the tips, and if you decide you like it you'll get a better hold on it. When I give you a new food, you poke it with your pointer finger for a while before deciding whether or not to try it (you always end up trying it).

The very best part of this month has been watching you and Nate start to really play with each other. When you grab his shirt Nate will start to walk and the two of you will cruise around like a little train - you grinning with joy and Nate grinning with pride. Tonight Nate came up to you and started dancing around and singing, and you started dancing back and Nate just giggled with the fun of it all. Later he was lying on the couch on his stomach playing a game on Deborah's phone, you toddled up to take a look. Nate turned to you and said in his sweety-high-pitched-Jack-voice "You see what I'm doing, Jack? You wanna watch? Okay!" I know you guys are going to have your rough spots, but so far you guys are so amazing together. I'm just so proud of you both I can hardly keep myself from bragging to random strangers.

Everyone is drawn to you and you are drawn to everyone. You're a Mama's boy, but you love everyone you come across. Today I left you with neighbor Sara while I went to check out the festivities; you looked startled when I handed you over, and you cried for half a second when I left, but you quickly got back to the joy of it all like you always do.

I don't know what I did to deserve you in my life, Jack, but I'm so grateful for whatever it was. You are a gift, a joy, a blessing. I'm so glad you were born.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

My great big enormous Burpee order

This is the year of the expanding garden, and I'm trying a bunch of new items that I've never grown. Last year I added in cucumbers and carrots, but other than that it was the standard tomatoes, red peppers, hot peppers (for friend Dave), and herbs.

This year I'm adding in lettuce (looseleaf), Romaine, spinach, broccoli, sugar snap peas, bush beans, pole beans, and eggplant. I may have overshot a bit but I'm choosing to be optomistic and hoping I'm graced with an extra-green thumb this summer.

Here's the plan:

Romaine lettuce: Little Caesar
"Perfect for small gardens and easy to grow."

Lettuce, looseleaf: Heatwave
"Thrives in the heat, and remains productive and tasty longer than all others."

Spinach: Baby's Leaf Hybrid
"The flat green leaves are sweet tender and very easy to clean."

Carrots: Little Finger
"Tiny gourmet great for salads."

Broccoli: Green Goliath
"Large headed, tight budded, blue-green variety."

Bush beans: Tenderpick

"Great flavor, similar to Tenderpod, with improved germination."

Pole beans: Purple King
"Beans that yield steadily all summer until frost." <-- That's a catchy one, huh?

Cherry Tomatoes: Sun Gold Hybrid
"Rapidly becoming the most popular cherry tomato of all time."

Tomatoes: Big Beef Hybrid
"Extra large, 10-12 oz., red fruits are firm, juicy and highly flavored."

Sugar snap peas: Super Sugar Snap V.P.
"This incredible pea is even better than the famous Sugar Snap."

Cucumber: Slicing, Straight Eight
"A cucumber superstar, this classic has excellent flavor and is widely adapted."

Eggplant: Burpee Hybrid
"Continuously produces many oval, medium-sized, glossy, purple fruits."

Sweet pepper: California Wonder
"HEIRLOOM. The Standard Bell Pepper"

Hot pepper: Hot Lemon (Heirloom)
"From Ecuador, as hot as any Cayenne, but with a truly unique flavor."

Basil: Sweet
"Classic herb, used in tomato sauce, pesto and salads."

"Fragrant leaves flavor meats, poultry and potatoes."



Friday, January 16, 2009

January goal - reached!

I'm thrilled to announce that, barring some major expense coming up this month, we've already met our $3,000 savings goal for January. My husband got a surprise review a few days ago and a small bonus tacked onto it. Given the economy and the turbulent times, we're ecstatic.

I still haven't figured out how much is reasonable and safe and still open to disclose on this blog, so I'm not going to talk numbers right now. But I'll do a month-end wrap-up and talk turkey then.

In the meantime, props to my hard-working husband!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cheap produce treats this week!

I'm not going to do a full grocery store analysis, since there are so many great women out there doing it. Just want to point out a few great finds this week:

  • Safeway has the small containers of blueberries on sale 10 for 10! I seriously might buy 10 at that price. We love them on cereal, for snacks, for smoothies...
  • Safeway also has grape tomatoes on sale BOGO. Their prices are inflated in the first place, so I'll wait to see them before I decide whether or not to buy. We love them for snacking, so I hope to find that the sale price is fairly reasonable.
  • While you're already at Safeway, the Goldfish are on the 10 for 10 sale, and Cheerios are 99 cents with the super-coupon from the weekly insert. There's also a coupon on the back for a free Tall Tea at Starbucks - I wish I liked tea!
  • Giant has red seedless grapes on sale for 99 cents a pound! They're not organic, and I hate that, but it's an amazing price and I'll be buying plenty. Jack is like a vacuum cleaner when grapes are around.
That concludes your weekly produce wrap-up. Tune in next week, same time, same place.


A few days ago Nate and I were making meatballs for our afternoon cooking activity. We call them "Nanny meatballs" - it's a once-a-year event where we use the the leftover gravy from the Chanukah brisket to make meatballs. The brisket recipe is amazing, and the gravy it creates is sweet and tangy and mouth-watering and about as easy as it gets. If you want the recipe, leave a comment! Also, don't you think "meatballs" is a pretty terrible word? We're making balls of meat for dinner. Not too appetizing.

Anyway, the meatballs are delicious, and it was my Nanny's idea to make them that way. So once a year I make them, and this year Nate was helping. We were up at the counter and trying to roll them out; it was tough for Nate because ground turkey is really soft and hard to roll. So I decided to have him quit and I nuked him a meatball in the microwave to keep him busy while I finished up.

He ate it and loved it and immediately asked for more. I told him he'd have more for dinner, and slid the tray of meatballs into the oven. Nate's pretty darn observant and wondered why I cooked his meatball in the microwave instead of the oven. I told him it was because I wanted him to have one right away because I love him so much.

We went on talking and cleaning and a few minutes later he said "You made me a meatball because you love me right now?" Thinking it was a moment of parental crisis, I stopped what I was doing and looked right at him and said "Nate, I love you all the time." And he said "If you love me, you'd make me another meatball."

The end.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The power of coupon codes!

The irony of trying to save money this year by growing plants from seed, instead of buying "starts" at the nursery, is that I have to spend money to buy gear to grow those seedlings.

A few days ago, I sat down at the computer to order a few things from I picked out a few items that I thought could last for several years - two self-watering containers in which to grow seedlings and some seed-starting mix (in place of soil). Each of the containers was $19.95 and the seed-starting mix was $6.95. The shipping and handling was going to be $10.50, for a total charge of $57.35.

It was expensive, but necessary, and I thought it would save me quite a bit in the long run (seedling "starts" are around $4 each at the nursery, and this year I'll be using the new gear to grow about 60 starts).

Before I checked out, I put " coupon code" into Google and found a promising code that said it had given 15% off to previous users. I figured it was worth a shot and entered it into my order under "catalog code." It did not, as promised, give 15% off; for some shocking reason, it took off quite a bit more.

Suddenly, each of the planters that was previously priced at $19.95 showed up as costing $9.95, a savings of $20. The germinating mix went from $6.95 to $5.50, a savings of $1.45. Processing and delivery went from $10.50 to $9.95, a savings of $.55. And a mysterious "discount" of $3.81 popped up at the bottom, for a total bill of $30.84 - a total savings of $26.51 (46% off!)

I spent 10 minutes, at most, finding and using the coupon code. I used that code on items that I would certainly have purchased anyway, so the $26.51 represents true savings. It amounts to earning about $160/hour, which I think would be a pretty nice salary. Not bad for a few minute's work!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Getting started on the garden!

I've been working on my garden plans for a few weeks, figuring out what to plant this year. I'm trying to add something new each year as I learn more and more about container gardening.

I'm trying to expand this year, and thinking about mounting window-boxes along the fence all the way around our tiny yard. We have great sunlight but no more room on the brick-patio, so I decided that if I can't grow OUT I'm going to try growing UP! I'm keeping an eye on Freecycle for people giving away window boxes and mounting equipment, and a few weeks ago I saw a post of someone giving away compost.

Trying to keep costs down this year, I know that if I want to expand I need to find a way to stretch the organic potting soil that I purchased last year. At almost $20/bag, it's very pricey and each container uses quite a bit of it. I knew that mixing in some compost would help improve the soil that was used last year, and stretch it at the same time.

When I went to pick up the compost, it really wasn't compost at all - it was a big pile of leaves. Certainly compost in the making, but not compost yet. I scooped out as much as I could from the base of the pile where it was wetter and darker, and then took about 6 trash bags of the dry leaves on the top.

I've never tried composting before because I thought that you needed to use food scraps to make it work, and putting food in your backyard in DC is a great way to attract DC's mascot: the RAT. But I did some research, and you can do a decent compost with just yard waste so I decided to give it a shot this year!

Step 1 - Set up the compost bin (cost: free thanks to a City of Rockville program my Mom took advantage of):

Step 2 - Fill with a layer of dry leaves and yard debris (cost: free from Freecycle):

Step 3 - Sprinkle a layer of soil to provide some stuff that the internet says I should provide to make the compost do whatever it is that compost does (cost: free; extra bag from last year):

Step 4 - Add some of the wet leaves that are slightly more compost-ey:

Step 5 - Add a shredded-up newspaper to provide some stuff that the internet says I should provide to make the compost do whatever it is that compost does:

Voila! Compost bin.

If I can find more leaves I'll fill it to the top, and then start on the second one I've got ready to go. With proper care and turning, I should hopefully have some beautiful compost come April!

Tonight I'm curling up with the Burpee catalog and picking out all of my seeds. To keep costs low I'll only be growing one or two types of each vegetable so I have to pick carefully. It's so nice to think about summer while it's so cold outside!

Sushi love

Yesterday my sister called to see if we wanted to go for lunch at our favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, and I paused for a second thinking about this frugal challenge. I ran the math in my head, looked at the boys, and told her "Absolutely! Let's go!"

(photo from a trip last year)

Even without the math, I probably still would have gone. Eating out is an important ritual for my family, and it's our only real luxury. We just don't buy fancy clothes, new books, music, or gadgets; the only thing we could really cut back on is eating out. Everything else we spend money on is pretty necessary; health insurance, bills, and groceries.

(Jack taking full advantage of all-you-can-eat)

With the math, it was even more appealing. Stewart could take the opportunity to work out and do a few things at home that he wanted to do, and Deborah and I would take the boys alone. With tax and a nice tip, my share of the bill would be $20, and they don't mind if the boys eat as much as they want. For three of us, that's a great deal and would fill us up for most of the day.

(Nate and Deborah on our last sushi trip)

We went, we ate, we had a great time.

Being frugal isn't the only goal in our lives. Somtimes we'll spend money that others would choose to save; for us, these are experiences we don't want to miss out on together. Walking that balance beam is hard, but necessary, and so far I think we're doing a pretty good job.

I'm curious to hear about other people's "non-frugal" choices. What are your luxuries? How do you walk that line between keeping the larger goal of a happy, healthy family in mind, while still working to be smart with your money?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good momming moment

Nate's taken to hating bathtime, and taking away his afternoon nap leaves him even more cranky when the dreaded bath time comes around. The fact that he loves the bath once he's in it, and I usually have to work to get him out, doesn't seem to bear on the situation.

Most of the time Stewart handles baths while I work (or, more accurately, hide in my bedroom), and tonight Nate just sobbed while Stewart took Jack up to get the bath started. I waited for a while, then went down to him. I picked him up and held him, asked him what was wrong, murmured for a bit.

When he calmed down, I started to commiserate over how much it stinks to have to do things we don't want to do. I said "Sometimes I don't want to do the dishes" and he said "Sometimes I don't want to take a bath." I said "Sometimes I don't want to go to bed" and he said "Sometimes I don't want to go to school." We came up with a few more each, and then I said "It stinks that we have to do things we don't want to do!" and started walking up the stairs with him still in my arms.

We talked a little about how much it stinks to have to do things we don't want to do, but how we have to just go ahead and do them anyway. I walked him into the bathroom and we told Stewart what we were talking about, and when I put Nate down he started getting himself undressed for the bath.

It feels so good to solve a problem without losing my temper, or using threats, or using time-out...just talking with him and being with him, and still getting done what we need to get done. I guess it's up to me to make sure we have a little more of that in our lives.

Cooking school

A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a weekend cooking course at L'Academie de Cuisine (the Recreational School, of course!). The information I learned was so helpful that I thought I'd pass it along!

The course was a Primary Skills Weekend; here's the description:

"Join Susan Watterson for an overview of a wide variety of cooking skills, techniques, and products. This intensive, hands-on weekend class will cover proper techniques for handling and preparing stocks, sauces, meats, poultry, fish and shellfish. Knife skills, various cooking techniques, and classic & contemporary food preparations will be addressed."

I can't fully express how wonderful this course turned out to be. The instructor was top-notch, funny, and incredibly helpful. At least 10 times a day, I learned something that was worth the cost of the course by itself. I'll try to make a list of those things here, so as to share the "wealth" of the course (I'm sure some of this is already known to most of you, but it was news to me!):

1) When sauteeing, use a high heat, no olive oil (the smoke point is too low for the necessary high heat), and DON'T MESS WITH THE FOOD. Put it in the pan, and let it be. When you can move it without leaving any meat behind, it has formed a nice seal and you can turn it over.

2) Tongs are really great for sauteeing, and other kitchen stuff.

3) Marinades aren't one-size-fits-all: for a tender meat, use a low acid marinade. For a tough meat, use a high-acid marinade. Sounds obvious, but it never occured to me before!

4) Chicken fat doesn't give chicken stock flavor - chicken fat gives it fat. Collagen from the bones gives it flavor.

5) You can't carmelize food with a non-stick pan.

6) Mushrooms are sponges. Don't wash them to clean them - they'll absorb the water. Just brush them with a cloth (unless they're really filthy).

7) When cooking meat to temperature (aiming for a specifc done-ness), the meat has to rest for at least 1/3 of the cooking time. So if you cook a steak for 12 minutes to get it to 145 degrees (medium), let it rest at least 4 minutes before cutting into it.

8) Don't forget that foods keep cooking even after you take them off of the heat. So if you want the steak to end up at 145 degrees, take it off the heat a little before it reaches 145.

9) Trichinosis dies at 137 degrees. Stop overcooking pork.

10) Don't try to tenderize a tough cut by pounding it. Use a good marinade, cut across the grain, and make sure not to overcook.

Not bad, eh?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

And so it begins.

I've been thinking for a long time that gymnastics would be a great sport for Nate: he's tough as nails, really wants to do a job right, likes to do things by himself, has a lot of energy, he's really agile, takes direction well, and he's really coordinated. I tried him in a class a year ago but he had just hit his shy phase and just couldn't bear to have the teacher telling him what to do. He's over that now, and frankly he's a bit of a stick-in-the-mud at school; he always wants everyone to sit still and listen to the teacher. Anyway...

Today I took him to "open gym" at a gym about 25 minutes away and he just loved it. The video is the second time he'd ever done this manuever; it only took me about 10 seconds to show him how to do it the first time he stepped up to it.

He's clearly a gymnastical genius. We're moving to wherever Bela Karoli lives, stat.

A super-easy way to earn a ton of money!

Ready? Follow along:

1) Get engaged

2) Buy a nice ring when you're both single with great incomes

3) Have a random person ask if you'd remember to insure your ring

4) Insure your ring (Cost: something like $100/year)

5) Get married

6) Have children

Now for the important step:

7) lose your ring. Really lose it.

8) Turn the house upside down

9) Twice

10) Faint

11) Have bad dreams

12) Remember about the insurance policy

13) Find the rare opportunity when both children are sleeping at the same time

14) Call the insurance company and explain your stupidity.

15) Fifteen seconds later, learn that a check for an absolutely enormous amount of money is on its way to you. I can't believe how amazing my company was and how great they were to me. I was totally honest about losing the ring and evidently "Stupidity" is covered on our policy. They reimbursed even more than what we'd paid for the ring since they reimburse for what it would cost today.

The thing is, the amount of money we spent for a ring when we were childless and had two incomes is way more than I could ever justify spending now. So we're going to easily make our January savings goal. February's, too.

My plan is to put the whole check ($8,700.00) towards our equity line debt. I'm giving myself $3,700 to use for a ring whenever I feel like shopping for one. I plan to look at some of the great estate sales to find a "pre-owned" set - thusly avoiding the "blood diamond" issue and also increasing my buying power.

But for now I'm just sinking it all towards our debt and plowing forward as if it hadn't happened. We'll still aim to make January and February the old fashioned, non-stupid way. And when people think I'm an unwed mother, well then I'll just fit in with my neighborhood all the better. :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cheap diapers and other adventures!

I rarely hit the Shoppers Food Warehouse, but this week's deal was too good to pass up:

Spend $30 on a list of products, get $15 off your next order. Pampers diapers and Bounty paper towels were both on the list so I whipped out the coupons and hauled Jack over this morning.

The Bounty was $10.99 per pack, and I had coupons for $1 off. I paired those with one pack of diapers at $10.99 and out came a coupon for $15 off my next order. Voila!

I did the rest of the transactions with 3 packs of diapers each, and used as many Pampers coupons I had on-hand. Since I'm not often there, I used up the final $15 coupon to buy Cheerios, a few cheap bagged salads, and some cans of beans (always cheap, always needed around here).

But! This was fun: after 4 of my transactions, I got a coupon that said "Save $5 on any baby care purchase." Sweet, right? I tried using them on the diaper purchases but it didn't work. I checked with a manager and he said it was for things like wipes and creams. Okay, tried it on some wipes and again it didn't work. A manager worked for about 15 minutes and managed to push two of the coupons through and I got 4 packs of Huggies wipes (I love Huggies wipes and they're a rare treat around here) for just $2.52!

I got a little frustrated at the hassles and took my complaint to another manager. Told him it was fairly unclear what the coupons could actually be used for, and that the floor staff was trying their best but having a lot of trouble with the coupons. He took my last two $5 coupons and handed me $10 in cash. Now that was truly sweet.

Sales price for diapers, wipes, and paper towels (including sales tax): $219
Final cost for diapers, wipes, and paper towels: $96

Savings of 56% on my favorite diapers, wipes, and paper towels! Good day.

Nate's Monthly Newsletter, Three Years Four Months

Dear Nate,

You are such a little boy now; I almost can't believe the conversations and interactions we have. I rarely have to "dumb down" anything I'm asking you, and just have to simplify a bit when I'm answering your questions. You haven't gotten into the complex ones yet, thank goodness for that, but you're passionate about understanding your world.

I don't have a lot of other three year-olds to compare you to, but a lot of what you do and ask seems to be based on trying to organize your world so that you can understand it. You ask a lot of questions like "Is that a Mommy job or a Nate job?" (I tell you that dangerous tasks are "Mommy jobs" so that you know you're not allowed to do them.) You want to know what words mean, how things work - you really listen and study our explanations. Tonight we were reading a Thomas book and it mentioned a plow - I told you that it scoops up the dirt so that farmers can plant seeds. You looked at it for a while, then asked me where the dirt goes after it's scooped up - you really thought about it. Smart boy.

It's been a great relief to find that I can really trust your lead in what you're ready to accomplish. I left the potty training mostly in your hands, and it was much easier than expected. A few days ago you refused to wear a diaper at night any more, so I let it be and you've done great. A month or two ago you asked me to take the rails off of your bed and you haven't fallen out once.

These days you're expressing a lot of interest in knowing if something's a letter or a number, which letter it is, what worlds I knew it was time to start working on "school" with you. You've been ready to give up your nap for a while now - the days you nap you're not falling asleep until 11 pm! So out with the nap and in the afternoons, while Jack naps, you and I do a little school at the dining room table. Right now we're working on tracing to build up your penmanship (well, crayon-ship in this case). After "school" we do a few chores and then we work on cooking dinner together. It's so nice to spend some one-on-one time with you - with Jack asleep, you and I get to take our time and really work together.

The questions never stop these days, the talking goes on and on, and the sassy has gotten to teenage proportions. Your response to every single unwanted thing that I ask you to do is "But Mommmmmm......" When you procrastinate doing whatever unwanted thing I've asked you to do, prompting me to ask you again, I get to hear you insist "I am doing it" when you're totally not. Trust me, kid, I have to spend enough time nagging your father - I'm getting no joy out of asking you again.

On the other hand, you've turned into a world-class helper around here. Sometimes your desire to be around me all the time we're home, to participate in every move I make, can be frustrating, but the truth is that you really do try to be helpful. If we're getting dressed to leave the house, I can ask you to get Jack's shoes for me and you're back with them in a flash. When we decide to make smoothies for snack, you go right to the cabinet and pull out the blender base and the jar and you put them up on the counter for us to use. When we're cooking I can give you blocks of tofu and you'll cut it into small pieces, and yesterday you helped me cut up the whole head of celery into snackable-sized pieces. You really did it, then helped me bag them up to put in the fridge. Thank you for your help, Nate.

We spent some time with your Richmond cousins over the holidays and you just soaked up every second with Connor. He was so incredibly kind to you, and really seemed to enjoy playing with you. You guys spent hours together and I was so happy for you. I hope it's a relationship you guys always have; I guess Daddy and I will have to work to make sure that happens.

I got you a train set for your big Chanukah present, and you've really enjoyed it. When you saw it for the first time, you just lit up:

Today I got to listen to you downstairs playing with it and it gave me such a thrill. Not just the fact that you were playing yourself...without me, but hearing you participating in the world, thinking of your own games, being yourself independent of us, makes me so happy. Until you see your own children breaking away from you, living in the world by themselves, you won't understand but it's one of my deepest joys.

You are one of my two deepest joys, Natey.
I love you,