Monday, December 14, 2009

Meaningful Birthdays

I try to make my kids' birthdays memorable, even if they're still so little that they may not remember. Someday they will... when they start I'll be ready for them!

Last week my daughter turned four. On her birthday evening, as I have the past four years, I composed her birthday letter. Her birthday letter is a one or two page account of the past year. I told her how much he loved watching Scooby Doo, some of the things she says often, and the fact that she learned to swim underwater this summer. I figure by the time she's an adult, a package of birthday letters will be something really cool to have.

Something else I like to do for my kids is make their birthday cakes. It takes me weeks to figure out what I'm going to do, and then usually the better part of a day executing it. I have to say that they usually don't turn out quite like I envision them, but this year Avery's cake was pretty close. We had her first real birthday party this year, and I was proud when I saw a mom or two sneak a cell phone pic of my cake. I'm also getting better with working with fondant and all my frosting tools. Trust me, the day before I was more than tempted to call Walmart for a last minute cake, but it was big and beautiful and tasted great. The party was good too, and at the end of the day yesterday I had a very happy three, er, four year old. Happy birthday to my Avery Rose.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Easy Way to Earn a Few Extra Bucks

My husband once told me about a friend of his who was committed to picking up every coin he saw. At the end of a year, he was surprised to find how much money he actually made by simply bending over and picking up change. I have the same philosophy with some of my online endeavors.

I came upon a few weeks ago. It is a portal site that leads you to the sites you visit often (twitter, gmail, google). Every time you log onto and then click on your mail icon or google icon you make a penny or so. So now, rather than clicking on my gmail icon to read my email, I click on the beruby icon, then click on my gmail icon. It takes one extra step and I can earn a penny or two when I do it. In the few weeks I've been there I've made nearly $5.

They also offer percentages back if you use some of their links to purchase things online. So, for instance, you want to send flowers to your aunt you can go through beruby and get 5% of your purchase right back. Over time, this can add up!

You can also earn a dollar for every person you have sign up UNDER you up to $5. Then you make a percentage of everything they make. So, the bigger your network, the more potential you have to make money.

So, as far as I can tell it's definitely worth trying. There's nothing to download and I haven't gotten any spam from them.

Here's my referral link.. I'd love it if you signed up and used it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vocalpoint: Awesome Coupon Source

A few months ago I signed up at Vocalpoint. It's a place where people come and give their opinions of different products. They will also occasionally send you really nice coupons for free products.

The first set of Vocalpoint coupons I received was six coupons for Rice Krispies. One was for a free box, outright and there were five more for a dollar off each. I hit our local supermarket, which was having a sale on Rice Krispies for $1.50 a box. I walked out, completely giddy, with six boxes of cereal for $3.

Since then I've received similar coupons for Kashi cereal, Pantene, and most recently for Dole fruit jars. One coupon is for buy one get one free, and there are five more $1 off coupons.

Since signing up I haven't received a lot of spam from them (I think I'll get maybe one email a month), so they won't clog your inbox or spambox with anything.

It doesn't take long to sign up and you can save tons of money while stocking your pantry. Click here to register.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Save Money on Herbs

I love having an herb garden. There is nothing better than fresh pesto, rosemary potatoes or sage-stuffed roasted chicken. Each spring I plant herbs and each spring has me out in the garden wondering which of my herbs survived the winter and while I'll have to replace. Last year I got lucky and my thyme and sage survived while my rosemary and oregano bit the dust. This year I'm doing something different- I'm starting cuttings inside this winter.

I've started lots of plants this way. I have a plant of my great grandmothers that I'm scared to death to lose, so I have started that one over and over for fear I lose one. I figure starting new herbs will be similar.

Start by clipping the herbs close to the ground.


Bring them inside and clear the lowest leaves. Leaves left on the stem below the water level will just rot and hurt the chances of your cutting producing roots (which is the goal).


Place the cuttings in water on a sunny windowsill. Over the next several weeks, they will produce roots. Fight the urge to clip and use them during this time! When spring comes, the plants will have enough roots so that you can plant them outside.


Buying fresh herbs to plant in your garden every year can become costly (at $3 to $5 per plant). Starting your own will definitely save you money.

I've pictured rosemary here. You can also do this with the following herbs: lavendar, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, tarragon and thyme.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reminder: Do Something For Yourself

All mommies tend to put everyone first and when you work outside the home, your boss is just another someone in that line of people who need something from you. When you are working full time, want to maximize the amount of time you spend with your kids, keep your home organized and dinner on the table it's often difficult to find time for yourself. However, it is so important to do. I've heard Dr. Phil say a number of times "if momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy." Whether or not you like Dr. Phil, the saying is quite true.

So, try hard to find time for yourself. If your spouse can watch the kids while you go out for an hour or two, have him do that. Perhaps you have friends that wouldn't mind you dropping the kids at their home (maybe someone in your shoes with whom you can later return the favor). If you have no one to help you watch the kids call in sick one day (or take a personal day), drop the kids at daycare, and spend the day alone. You can shop, go to a show or just lay in bed all day reading a book. Recently I joined a gym and get up in the morning at 5 am so I can run for an hour before I go to work. What a difference this has been making to my mood (and my waistline!).

It's often tough to give yourself permission to take time alone to recharge, but remember how important it is. Every time I do something nice for myself, I'm a much nicer person to be around.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Several years ago a friend of mine showed up at a party with a selection of cheeses he'd made. They were delicious! I tucked that back in my mind as something I'd really like to try someday.

Well, that day came this weekend. I went onto eBay and found a 30-minute mozzerella cheesemaking kit on auction and ended up getting it for about $6.50 plus shipping. It was enough to make thirty pounds of cheese. It also sounded like something fun for my daughter to help me with.

We started with a gallon of whole milk straight from the supermarket and followed the directions exactly. I'm sorry to say I don't have photos (next time!) but it was super easy and definitely something we'll be doing more of. My little girl loved helping me. It was pretty safe for her, because the temperature of the cheese doesn't get much above 100 degrees. I told her we were making a surprise and she didn't figure out what we were doing til the end.

The cheese was (yes, was... we ate the entire batch- about a pound or so) delicious. It's absolutely devine when it's warm. I look forward to making another batch or two to freeze, and to use on homemade pizza. And I'm planning on starting to bid on a hard cheese kit from eBay soon.

Costwise... it cost me about $0.50 per batch for the materials plus the cost of a gallon of milk (less than $3). When I buy mozzerella balls at Sam's it costs me at least twice that, and the homemade tastes so much better. Not to mention we can make this into string cheese, which can be very pricey for what you actually get.

Cheesemaking... definitely a money saver and a fun thing to do with your kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Multitasking at Bathtime

One challenge I often face is justifying taking time to clean my house when I get to spend so little time with my kids. I work all day... all I want to do is come home and spend time with my family, not clean my house. At the same time, I like a clean house- so it gets tough.

A couple years ago, my daughter was taking a bath and I was just sitting on the floor reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit. I looked up and was grossed out at how dirty the mirror was. So, I got up and cleaned it. Then I cleaned the sink, vanity and toilet too. It honestly took me ten minutes! By the time I was done, my daughter was finished with her bath and I left the bathroom very satisfied that I'd killed (or cleaned, as it turned out) two birds with one stone.

I do this routinely now. I think of little ways I can spend time with my kids while I'm doing chores. In fact, last night while I was cleaning her bathroom she told me a very interesting story, so I had a little free entertainment!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Save Money AND Clean Green

I embrace green cleaning whenever I can. There are a few things I'd rather use a stronger, disinfecting cleaner on (e.g., toilets) but whenever I can I use natural ingredients to clean with.

I've done most of my cleaning these days with white distilled vinegar. It doesn't smell great, but the smell dissipates rather quickly and the fumes aren't as harsh as bleach-based cleansers. You can also add a little lavendar or tea tree oil to your cleansers to give them a better smell and more of a disinfectant property. I also love the fact that it's SAFE for my family. I can clean the tub with my green cleaners and don't have to worry about not getting all of the cleanser out before the kids' next bath.

Another benefit to using vinegar to clean with is that it is CHEAP! You can purchase a gallon for about $2 and it should last you weeks.

In case I've convinced you to try cleaning with vinegar, here's a simple way to clean your bathroom vanity (or any other surface). I like adding baking soda because it reacts with the vinegar to produce a fizz that seems to lift the crud off better. Plus, it is slightly (but not overly) abrasive. Another plus- it's cheap too.

It works best if you put a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water into a spray bottle. You can purchase these for about a buck apiece. I keep my baking soda in a bottle too (buying a shaker bottle for this is on my to-do list).


Sprinkle baking soda over the surface you wish to clean, then spritz it with the vinegar solution. It should fizz for a few minutes.

When it finishes fizzing, rinse it clean. I like using microfiber rags because they're really absorbant and do not leave lint behind.


There you go! Cheap clean and easy peasy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saving Money with Castile Soap

Oddly enough, I am quite picky about handsoap. I like the foamy stuff better than the gel (I feel like I am using less I think!). I also do not like to use antibacterial agents. Not only are the unneccesary but they're bad for the environment. Soap, water and a bit of scrubbing is all you need to rid yourself of bacteria anyway.

Having said all that, I have a money-saving tip involving handsoap.

I simply re-use foam dispensers I got from Bath and Body works and fill them with Dr. Bronners castile soap. Castile soap is a type of soap made from olive oil rather than animal fat, so appeals largely to vegetarians. I like it because it has so few ingredients and is SAFE. Bonus... if you ever buy a bottle of Dr. Bronners, you'll have a hoot reading his label, found here.

It's important to dilute the soap. The bottle costs between eight and nine dollars but it ends up worth it. Trust me.

Once you start drawing air from your pump. Add the soap.


Add about this much. Top off with water. Viola!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Monday Blahs

How does that old song go? Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

It's tough getting to spend the entire weekend with your kids, only to have to send them off to daycare on Monday morning while you drag yourself to work. Granted, the weekends aren't always dreamy- I think because they are a little disruptive of everyone's routine- but I think we all love family time.

So, what are ways to make Mondays seem less sad?

Talk to your kids about the fun you'll have at the end of the day together. Ask them what they think they'll be doing during the day. Talk about your weekend, asking them what their favorite part was. It's not even too soon to begin thinking about what you want to do next weekend.

If your experience is like mine, however, your kids will not mind going back to school. They have more friends, more toys, and honestly probably more fun. I think *I* am the one with the biggest problem.

So, what do I do? On Mondays I try to download any pics of the kids or our time together over the weekend. I also have a digital picture frame (GREAT Christmas gift for the weekend homemaker, by the way) that I download some of those pictures onto. All day the pictures of my family flash up and make me smile.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not always sad to return to work on Monday. But some days are worse than others. Just knowing that we'll all be together again very soon usually goes a long way to making me feel better.

Hang in there, fellow working moms!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Blog

I've been reading MoneySavingMom's blog for months now, and it's a clearinghouse of information on savings through coupons and weekly sales.

Each week she will post sales from various stores (Target, Walmart, RiteAid, Walgreens) and combine them with coupons. Many items end up being very cheap, free or even eligible for an overage (meaning YOU get money for taking the item out of the store). There are links to each coupon and if there are restrictions or limits she'll let you know.

She also posts other money-saving tips and information gathered from other money-saving moms that contribute to her posts.

I love her blog, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Making Your Oven Multitask

When I do my weekend cooking or baking, I plan how things are going to be cooking in my oven. When your oven is on, you are using electricity and heating up your kitchen (bad in summer, not as bad in winter). So, if you can put several things in the oven at once, you will be saving not only money, but time as well.

In the photo below (excuse the mess my poor oven is in) I've got a lasagna baking as well as a loaf of bread, a head of garlic roasting and a large sweet potato we will eat later this week. I'm sure I could have stuck something else in there like a pan of brownies or something. You get the idea though. Sometimes it takes adjusting (not everything cooks at 350 degrees), but you can usually get it to work pretty well for you.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Save Time by Making Extra

I don't get home from work until after 5:00 each day. By then, everyone is hungry and it's hard for me to cook a nice nutritious dinner when my two and three year olds are tugging at my pants and wanting snacks.

Most of the cooking I do, I do on the weekends. I'll make a lasagna or roast a chicken or make a pot of chili and it will last for at least a couple meals during the week. When I do cook, I always make extra and freeze it.

Last weekend I made a lasagna to eat, and one to freeze. Here's a tip to avoid freezing your entire pan and having to go without.

Line a pan (I use 9 x 9 but you can use any size) with aluminum foil. Use two pieces placed perpendicular to each other and make sure the entire pan is covered.


Fill the pan with your casserole, lasagna or whatever it is you're making that day.


Wrap it with the foil and place it in your freezer. Once it's frozen, remove it from the pan, foil and all, and wrap the foil tightly around the frozen food.


If you use a 9 x 9 pan you should be able to easily slide this into a gallon-sized freezer bag (which is why I use this size pan). Otherwise, you'll want to wrap it in another layer to prevent freezer burn. Don't forget your label, and place it back into the freezer.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Post-Halloween Money Saving Opportunity

Before Halloween I saw these cute little sugar pumpkins with faces painted on them for about $5.

Yesterday I went to Walmart and they were a dollar apiece. So, I bought two. These little pumpkins yield the equivalent of two to three cans of pumpkin, and canned pumpkin costs nearly $1 a can. I figure I made the equivalent of four to six cans for $2. They're relatively easy to roast, puree and freeze.

First, cut each pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and stringy goo. Of course, save the seeds so you can roast those too!


Place them cut side down on a cookie sheet and roast them for 45 minutes or so at 350. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool long enough so that you can pull the skin off easily. If it doesn't come off easily, it's probably not cooked all the way yet.


To toast the pumpkin seeds, rinse them a little and add a teaspoon or so of salt, mixing well. Dump them on another cookie sheet and put them in the oven with the roasting pumpkins for 20 minutes or so or until they are as done as you like.

Put the pumpkin in a blender or food processor. You should end up with a bowlful of puree and some toasty pumpkin seeds.


You can put the pumpkin in a freezer bag, or seal it up with a food sealer and freeze it.


Here is two pumpkins worth of puree:

Make sure to label the bags well with the contents and date.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Making Money on eHow

I spend a lot of spare time writing freelance- mostly web content. I came upon a site a year or so ago called This is a site full of how-to guide including everything from washing cars to cleaning curtains to curing congestion. Anyone can open up an eHow account and get started right away.

The nice thing about eHow is that you can write articles on anything you know how to do. Anything! You make money according to how many people look at your how-to article and whether or not they click on the ads on the page (which are usually aligned with your article.. for instance an article on losing weight will have ads on the page for weight-loss supplements). So, the more traffic your article brings the more money you can make.

Which articles of mine that actually make money are unpredictable. I published one on how to treat croup that has brought me in a whopping twenty cents. My article on treating congestion in a baby, however, has brought in nearly $60. My article on how to stop shocks from static electricity has brought in over $30. Who knew so many people were getting tired of being zapped? Point is, I just write what I know and what I like and I end up making about a dollar a day there.

A dollar a day doesn't sound like much, but consider the fact that I can go for months without writing anything and I still bring that money in. Added up to some of the other sites I write for, and it can add up.

Here's a link to my page so you can get an idea of what a how-to article looks like.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Earning Money With Swagbucks

There are two things I spend time doing online... saving money (coupons, free samples) and making money. I do a lot of freelance writing, so at some point I'll post information about various places to do that for someone who's interested. But Swagbucks is another place you can earn money.

When you use the Swagbucks website to web browse or to make purchases, you earn SWAGbucks. With these, you can turn them into paypal cash (=real cash) or gift certificates to various places like or items from their store.

If you refer friends to the site, will give you matching Swagbucks for every Swagbuck they earn, up to 100. They are really easy to earn and I usually rack up a few per day just by using their search engine (which is a portal to a regular 'ol Google search). You can occasionally win quite a few, but usually it's less than five at a time. But, over time it can really add up and you have to do nothing other than use their search function.

Here's my referral link... I'd love it if you signed up to be my friend. :)
Search & Win

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saving money with Paperback Swap

I love reading, but do not like spending money on books. I live far enough away from town so that going to the library isn't convenient. So, I signed up at Paperback Swap and love it!

You begin by signing up for an account. Post books to trade with other PBS members. If someone wants your book, they'll send you notification and you mail it to them at your expense (which is usually around $2.50). You then get PBS credit and can get other PBS members to send you books.

I've sent and received nearly two dozen books using Paperback Swap and haven't run into a single problem. The books you post and receive must be in good condition and you can add notes to your request such as from a non-smoking home, or in excellent condition.

I will post my link here, and if you're interested use it to sign up. For every person that I refer, I get one PBS credit after he or she posts ten books. - Book Club to Swap, Trade & Exchange Books for Free.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Preparedness Food Calculator Review

One of the things I try to do to take care of my family is prepare for hard times whether it be loss of a job, environmental disasters or simply a lean month. This means stocking up on food and other equipment we would need should something happen and we didn’t have access to grocery stores, electricity, water, etc. When I first started on my preparedness journey, I realized how difficult it can be to determine just how much food I would need on hand to take care of my family of four.

The folks that create the Preparedness Pantry blog have created a food calculator to help determine food needs. I tried out their food analyzer and found it to be a great tool, so thought I would write a review.

To begin, you simply type in how many family members you have, their gender and ages. This will create a number of calories your family needs to survive daily. You can change this number if you are on a restricted diet, or require more calories than the 2,000 that are allowed as a default.

Food types are broken down into sections separated by tabs. You simply type in how much you already have in storage and click the “Calculate” button to get a calorie count of your food on hand as well as an estimate of how long that food will last.

After determining how large you want your stores to be (e.g., one month, three months, one year) you can get to work on putting together combinations of food types and volumes that will help you achieve your goal. You can target certain types of food by fiber or vitamin content.

Overall the tool is very easy to use and the instructions are easy to understand. Using the food storage analyzer will definitely help any family determine their food storage needs. While there is an option to purchase food from the Emergency Essentials, you do not have to in order to use the calculator. This is a big plus in my book!

Most of the food on the calculator is either dried or freeze dried. They do have a tab for canned grocery items, which is useful. However, the choices on this tab are limited as they are not available for purchase from the company.

A drawback I see of this food calculator is that there are no volumes provided on the main page of the calculator. For instance, the first entry under Cereals, Grains and Pastas is pearled barley. You are to type in your current food storage, but nowhere is listed the units (e.g., Ounces? Pounds? Cans?) which makes it difficult to determine whether the amount you are adding is accurate. Occasionally, you can click on the more info button next to the food item and it will tell you the size of container you are ordering, but this is not always the case (as in the above example). By simply putting a volume (e.g., 16 oz. ) would increase the usefulness of this tool immensely.

Gift Card Giveaway

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How do you start

So, you've had your baby and the end of your maternity leave is in sight. Each day you get closer and closer to having to leave your child in someone else's care. How do you prepare yourself for such a difficult thing?

Prepare before your leave.
If it's not too late and you are still pregnant, begin making preparations with your work schedule before your maternity leave even begins. If you plan to breastfeed your baby, it's likely that you will want a place to express and store breastmilk while at work. Your employer is required by law to provide these for you, so line them up before you leave. Become familiar with your company's policy on absences due to your children's illnesses, doctor's appointments or days when your daycare provider is unavailable.

Mentally prepare yourself.
Going from spending every waking moment with your baby to being gone from her eight to ten hours a day is tough. Begin to think of ways to make that transition easier. I love my digital photo frame my husband bought for me for mother's day just after returning to work. I periodically load it with new pictures and enjoy looking at my children all day. Plan to call your daycare provider if it will help ease your mind. They shouldn't care.

Go slowly, if possible.
When I first returned to work, I went back part time for a number of weeks. This gave me a chance to get used to going back to work as well as giving my daughter a chance to get used to a new morning routine.

Expect to be weepy.
It's okay to be upset and allow yourself to miss your baby. Don't get angry at yourself for having these emotions.

Expect to be judged.
There are lots of moms who are able and willing to stay at home with their children. Many of us have to work to bring in an income, but wish we didn't have to. Other moms simply like to work and have no desire to stay home with their kids. Many moms who feel strongly about their position can get a big judge-y toward those who choose to do things differently. More than once I've been asked how I could possibly let someone else raise my children.

Know it will get better.
It will. I promise. Maybe not right away, but it will. My children (ages 2 and 3 now) love going to Bobby-School (my daughter's name for her daycare) and look forward to seeing their friends. I still miss them during the day, but I just spend a little extra time in the mornings, evenings and on weekends getting all my snuggles in.