Friday, November 12, 2010

Egg Wash

I tried an egg wash Wednesday.  And I'm not talking about giving the pie crust or the top of my bread an egg wash to make them shiny.

I washed my hair with an egg yolk.  Some women with beautiful, long hair swear by it.  My father-in-law's fiancĂ©e said she washed with eggs as a little girl.  I was skeptical, but since Jim was out of town, I decided to try it.  I mixed an egg yolk with a little warm water, dumped it on my head and scrubbed.  It smelled like uncooked egg, which I don't like.  I rinsed with warm water.  I rinsed some more.  I could still smell egg.  I rinsed some more.  Then I thought it must be my imagination.  It kind of smelled like wet dog, but I cleaned a house with 3 dogs today.  I washed my body really well with Dove to get rid of the dog smell, rinsed my hair some more, then continued with my usual hair care.  I did my regular vinegar rinse and then used Suave Naturals Coconut, which I think smells yummy.  I rinsed really well after both of these steps.  I still smelled the yolk/wet dog smell.  I figured it must be my little prep bowl.  I washed that out, and rinsed my hair some more.  I figured any lingering smell must be in the room.

I got out of the shower and dried my hair.  The ends still feel like straw, but maybe a tiny bit better.  I didn't have as many flyaways (from all the breakage) as I do with baking soda (which is still less than with shampoo).  I almost put some olive oil in while wet to moisturize the ends, but decided not to ruin my egg wash experiment.

All was fine till I got to the girls' school to pick them up (about an hour later).  I smelled the yucky smell again.  I hoped it was my imagination and asked all three kids to smell my hair.  They all said, "ew."  I kept my hair up for a couple days so I wouldn't catch a whiff anymore.  When it was completely dry it wasn't bad unless you stuck your nose in it, but I don't want to get intimate with my husband and have a stinky head.

Since my hair doesn't love the egg wash much better than the baking soda, why waste an egg AND smell horrible.  I think I'll try something else next time.  Maybe I'll stick to my baking soda wash and just put a little EVOO on the ends afterwards when its dry.  My hair is nearing my lower back, and hasn't had a trim in a year.  I used harsh shampoos until this spring, so I hope my hair will someday recover without too much chopping.  Jim loves long hair and I have been told by many I look best with long hair.

Maybe someday I'll post some pictures of me after my first Locks of Love donation and you can vote on which looks best.

Monday, October 25, 2010

homemade deodorant part 2

I've been using a mixture of baking soda and corn starch for deodorant.  Just like when I used only baking soda, I've been wetting my pits, then rewetting my fingers and dipping them in my powder, then rubbing on my armpits again.  It feels smoother with the cornstarch, but I think just baking soda is more effective at controlling smells.  Sometimes just baking soda stings (especially if I have to reapply the same day I shaved them).  I've only had a couple days where I felt like I smelled (not just my old sweaty shirt smells).  I was surprised that on days when I started to smell, I could rinse, rub with baking soda, and rinse again, then reapply my "deodorant" and not be smelly anymore.  That wasn't an option when using regular deodorant/antiperspirant.  I think I like this natural stuff much better.  I used to have to scratch off the deodorant with my nails and use a couple soaps to get all the residue off.  The cleaning is much easier when using baking soda (with or without cornstarch).  I am hoping to try the third step of my deodorant trials - adding in coconut oil - next week.  I'll try it for a couple weeks unless I hate it and update you either way.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coupons

I went to Safeway last week and saved a ton of money.  This is by far the best shopping trip I've ever had.  I recently attended a class in Highlands Ranch put on my Jennie from www.bargainblessings.com  I subscribe to www.thegrocerygame.com and usually come home with only things from Teri's list.  I save about 65% with the grocery game and only get 1 Sunday paper at that time (although I'm considering getting two, so I can get more of the super great deals).

I used a couple e-coupons, some paper coupons (from the Sunday paper) and some printable coupons (printed off my printer).  Jennie at Bargain Blessings shows a few super deals each week and hunts down rare coupons found on facebook and other websites to save more than anyone else I've found online.  The grocery game has unadvertised sales, so there are many more items to shop for each week.  The grocery game has a fee, but I save much more than I spend, and her site is so easy to use.  Bargain Blessings is free, but not as extensive.  Jennie gets free stuff all the time (lots of one item, too because she uses multiple coupons).

Couponing takes a lot of time and effort.  Couponing is an amazing way to save money.  I've got a great "stockpile" now (several packs of toilet paper fill the cupboard under one bathroom sink, drawers of free toothbrushes and toothpaste, super cheap razors, free cough drops, etc).  I occasionally get great deals on organic foods, cheap soaps, and convenience foods.  If it's free, I almost always get it (except when it's full of fake sugar, then I leave my coupons in the store near the item for someone who might eat that nasty stuff).

Here's what I bought.



12 cans of Campbells Soup
2 boxes of crackers (I had a free coupon for the crackers from Nabisco for being on a survey panel Kraft First Taste, I think)
1 half-gallon of buttermilk (half off cuz it was going to expire in a few days)

Everything was on sale.  When you use a free coupon for something, they give you the regular price as the price of the coupon, even though it's on sale, so I made money on the Stix.


Yes, you read this right.  I paid $2.41 for all of this.  94% savings off the regular price for all of these items.  How crazy is that?  This is typical of a Bargain Blessings trip.  There aren't a lot of items (obviously this won't feed my family of 5), but it's great for stocking up on frequently used items instead of paying full price for anything.  I might have been able to buy 2 cans of soup for $2.41 if it was regular price.  I couldn't have gotten a box of crackers or the buttermilk for $2.41.

I made 6 batches of buttermilk pancakes (we usually eat 3 batches at a time).  I also made homemade buttermilk biscuits and a buttermilk spice cake.  That used up the buttermilk before it expired.  I also found out you can freeze buttermilk, so the next time I found it on clearance, I poured it into some Ball canning jars, left 1/2 inch headspace, screwed on a white plastic freezer canning lid and put it in the freezer for the next time I need a cup of buttermilk.  It's rare that I need it, but occasionally I need some and hate to pay full price for anything!

Check out the websites above if you're interested in saving crazy amounts of money.  Bargain Blessings will work well in the Denver metro area, but she may know of a blogger close to your area that could help you at your particular stores.  Grocery Game is available in almost all areas and you can try it for free for 4 weeks.  I save about $200 each month on my food budget.  Before couponing I used to always try to shop for "deals," and bought cheap stuff so I figure I was already saving a bunch on my own, but save $200 more than I did doing it on my own.  If you are just buying whatever's on your list each week you would probably save much more.  You also have to rethink how you cook and shop.  You have to stock up on great deals when you see them and some weeks there really aren't many good deals.  Good luck and I hope you find a way to save some money!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Anti-perspirant warning

I kept seeing posts about using some deodorant crystal stick that's all natural and supposed to be great.  I bought one.  It was ok, but I felt sticky and damp.  I don't think I smelled great, either.  I tried this before going the baking soda route.  It wasn't for me.  Supposedly the stick lasts at least a year, and it was only $6.  Not as cheap as baking soda, but I didn't know about baking soda then.

One day I thought I'd try them both at once.  DON'T DO IT!!!  Something happens chemically.  There was a burning sensation and I smelled something like ammonia almost immediately.  I washed off very quickly.  I hate ammonia, and certainly don't want to smell like it or having it burn my pits!

I knew not to mix cleansers, but....

Just a warning to anyone who may want to mix something.

I'll be trying baking soda with corn starch this week and I'll let you know how it goes.  I'm certain there's no strange chemical reaction with those two.  :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Anti-perspirant

While researching the no-poo movement, I came across a few sites that talked about not using anti-perspirant.  Some avoid it because of the aluminum (in the active ingredient), since that may be linked to alzheimer's disease. Others just want to be all natural, and others don't like other ingredients, or artificially stopping the healthy sweating process.

In 5th grade, I think, my mom told me I really needed to use deodorant.  She bought me deodorant, and I still smelled.  I quickly upgraded to anti-perspirant, and things were better.  I still smell sometimes.  Most of my shirts are ruined from stinky stains.  I hate it.  I've tried several brands, even the clinical ones and a super strong one my dad used that the doctor recommended.  Apparently I get my stinky sweaty pits from him.  Nothing works great on me.

That's why I was extremely skeptical about no antiperspirant.  I was certain that I'd stink worse than ever.  The site that impressed me was at Kitchen Stewardship.  She talked about the step by step process that she used to figure out what works best for her.  Since I'm allergic or sensitive to so many things, I figured a step by step approach would be best.  So far I haven't moved past step 1.  I dampen my fingers and armpits with a little water, then rub on some baking soda (which I already have in my bathroom for my hair washing).  That's it.  I did it for a few days when I knew I'd be home in case I smelled really bad.  I don't!  Once in a while I smell a little sweaty, but better than I usually did after a day with anti-perspirant on.  I think I actually sweat less now, too.  I'm a little damp when working hard or in the heat, but don't notice trickles of moisture dripping down.  The only time I really notice that I smell bad is when I'm damp and my shirt is one of my old stinky ones.  But those stink already.  So, I smell my pits, and they're fine; it really is just my shirt.  I'm looking for some cheap Ts on clearance that aren't so low cut that someone can see everything when I bend over.  So far I've replaced 4.  I'm also making some shirts for myself.  Well, I bought fabric and patterns anyway!

I'll probably try adding some corn starch to make sure I don't react to that, then I bought some coconut oil and I'll eventually move on to actual deodorant-looking stuff that I can shove into some old containers.  I'm so happy with just using baking soda, that I may just chuck the stuff in the containers even though they're not gone, and I hate to waste things!

I'll keep you updated on my no anti-perspirant trials as I find out new things and see how they work on me and my girls (who will have to try this stuff out too!)

Monday, September 27, 2010

No-Poo Update 1

I'd been trying to go longer in between my natural washings to see what my hair really needs.  I was going 2-3 days easily, sometimes 4 before really needing to do my baking soda wash and vinegar rinse.  A couple weeks ago, I noticed all of a sudden every day didn't seem often enough!  My hair was greasy.  I put a little extra baking soda into my cup of warm water, and massaged it in longer.  It made my hair tolerable every day, but not great.  One day I was so greasy, I decided to just dry wash with just straight baking soda, then do a normal baking soda wash in the shower.  I also started only using my vinegar rinse on the ends, thinking maybe it made the top too shiny or something.  Either the dry baking soda on my scalp or the lack of vinegar screwed up something new on my scalp.  With shampoo, I've had itchy scalp and flakiness (the dermatologist said it was a type of eczema).  That started up, but not the itching.  Who wants flakes and greasiness!  I started to freak out.  I've been no poo since the beginning of July exclusively (and a few months before that with a weekly breakdown of using shampoo).

I decided to go back to my original formula, and try to go as long as possible between baking soda washings and vinegar rinse (including my scalp).  After a week of craziness, I can now go 3-4 days without feeling greasy, and the flakiness is almost all better.  I read a few posts about a repeat transition time, so I assume that is what I had.  Contribute it to hormones, stress, natural changes in my body, who knows.  All I know is I'm happy with my hair again!  Yay for natural stuff, and I'm so glad I don't have to keep trying new things, or go back to shampoo.  I may even whip out an egg and try that once, just to see how it works.  It still sounds yucky, but maybe it will help with the static that's starting to happen since it's getting colder.  I wonder what will happen this winter!  I'm also going to watch for a huge container of apple cider vinegar (acv) since that's what is most recommended as the vinegar rinse, and my husband may prefer that scent.  I'll keep you updated!  Remember, transitions can apparently happen more than just at the beginning of your no-poo journey!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tink!

While my daughter loves Tinker Bell, this is not what this post is about.

It is about the happy sound I heard in bed Saturday night.

After 10 hours of canning pear butter, spiced pear butter, peach butter, spiced peach butter and peach preserves, I watched a movie with my hubby and went to bed.

Just before falling asleep I heard a jar seal.

It said, "tink," just to make me smile and remind me of my productive day.

at least 6 half pints of each type, and a jar of each is in the fridge!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flowers = Smiles

These hanging baskets of flowers in the back yard are still making me smile.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dinner ala Alex

Alex is taking a Creative and Foreign foods class.

He gets to experiment on us!

He didn't warn me ahead of time, so he had to make his own enchilada sauce from scratch.




















He had to prepare 3 pieces of dinner.

He chose a salad.  He loves eggs on his salad.

I'm amazed how good a salad is when you don't have to make it.


Cheese enchiladas with sauteed chiles, onions and homemade sauce.


Complete with a candle.



















And tapioca pudding (his favorite dessert) with caramel drizzle designs for a garnish.















His teacher really emphasizes pretty things like garnishes.

Lucky us.  :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Home Depot + HOA + procrastination = Dead Trees

We have no landscaping.  One 3 foot tall ponderosa pine with a half green branch doesn't count.  Neither does grass, rock and bark.

I'm part of Home Depot's garden club.  I get coupons.  BOGO coupons.  Buy one, get one free TREE!!!  I was thrilled.  8 foot black Austrian pines already on sale for $150 (normally this size can go up to $400).


We also had to rent a trailer (since someone stole their only rental truck) to get them home.  Each tree weighed about 500 lbs since it was a huge bucket full of dirt.  I asked them if it would be ok not to plant until we get HOA approval.  They said it would be fine.  Those suckers are heavy, but the wind out here knocked them right over.  We eventually got them to the back yard, standing up and secured.

Well, it took about 45 days to get our plan submitted and HOA approved.  In the mean time, we watered them once a week.  One started to turn a little brown, so we put it in the ground before the official approval came in order to save it.  The approval came, and the second one went in.  We didn't save either of them.  They are both completely dead.  Maybe that could be due to the fact that there were almost no roots on this tree.  There were 5 little 6 inch severed spikes for roots.  This was in a huge bucket of dirt, which I assumed contained a large root ball.  I've heard you shouldn't make assumptions.

Jim refers to these as his rare "golden pines."

Jim and Alex are especially upset at the time it took to dig these large holes.  I'm upset that I wasted a coupon.  I'm also upset that we rented a trailer to get them home.

The bird is happy for another perch.

I'm glad Home Depot told me about their great return policy and that I kept my receipts.  I tried it out with some dead ferns they insisted could live in my stairway on some pot shelves.  It's too dry here, so they died.  They gave me store credit.

Now I have to figure out how to get them back to the store.  The lady who I returned my plants to said I could cut them in half.  I think I'll bring in a pic with me standing next to it, then just bring in a chunk.  The lack of root ball perhaps.  Apparently they need proof of their dead trees.

Maybe next year I'll have the guys dig holes, then we'll watch for good deals, buy them cheap and just slap them in the ground, then ask for HOA approval.  How can I get great deals if I submit my plan first?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Chick Pea Salad

Clara said she wanted a salad with chick peas (ie. garbanzo beans) with tomatoes and cucumbers.  I got all the stuff and whipped it together in a flash for dinner tonight.

3 cups chickpeas (I crock-potted them a couple days ago)
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/4 cup feta cheese
2 T fresh mint
1 T fresh flat leafed parsley
1 T extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
a bit of freshly ground lemon

I tossed it all in a large bowl, and we sat down to dinner.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roasted Chiles

Last year, Jim went to a produce stand and got a very full quart sized bag of fire roasted Hatch chiles for $6.  I was excited, and overwhelmed with how many little containers I filled for my freezer.  I figured it costs about $1 for a little container at the store, so he did great!

This year I went to the stand and the bags were about half as full as last year, and the bags were now $7.  The only perk this year is that the bags were labeled "hot" or "mild."  Last year they weren't labeled and I'm pretty sure Jim got hot ones.  He was happy, but me and Clara weren't very pleased when tasting my dishes made with the chiles.  Anyway, I was quite disappointed when I left the stand with my tiny bag of chiles.

I peeled them, diced them up and didn't even get 4 half cup servings out of it.  I counted 17 chiles.  For 7 dollars.  This was definitely not a good deal.

Luckily I went to the grocery store, and Hatch chiles were on sale.  I paid $1.37 for 13 chiles.  I should have bought more, but wasn't sure until I cut up my bag of pre-roasted ones that I'd need a lot more to last for the year.

I searched for how to roast my own chiles.  I don't touch the BBQ after a slight explosion, a fireball and singed hairs on my arms several years back.  Jim's out of town, so I roasted them in the oven.

500 degrees
15 minutes

Watch your chiles, or you could have burnt and not roasted.  I've seen some sites that suggest they'll be done in 5.  Mine weren't.  The skins should start to blister and blacken in spots.  This is where the skin is separating from the yummy flesh.


Put them all in a plastic bag to "sweat."  I think this is kind of like blanching.  My new friend.


Let cool, then peel the skins and slice, dice or whatever.  Some of mine didn't blister and blacken enough, and then the skin stuck, kind of like my blanched peaches.

Use gloves, or you'll be sorry later!  Especially with the hot ones!

I diced mine and froze them in little 1/2 cup blocks.  When they're solid, I'll pop them into a baggie.  If I leave them in the containers, I have a tendency to drop them on the floor, shattering them into lots of pieces.



I now have 13 roasted chiles that I paid $1.37.  I also have some seeds I snagged from one before roasting, that will hopefully provide me with free chiles for me and some friends next year!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blanching

Meet my newest canning buddy, Blanch.
She's fabulous when canning peaches.  
The peels usually slide right off. 
 Like butter from a hot knife.  
It's not always perfect.  
I had about 5 (out of 20 pounds) 
that didn't peel properly when blanching them, 
but I think they were less ripe than the others.  
That's my theory anyway.
Here's the 3rd batch I'm working on.  The bag is still half full.
You can see a tiny bit of my 1st batch of canned peaches.

Here's how to easily peel peaches.

Dunk peaches in boiling water for 30-60 seconds.
Who cares if they're washed and the stickers removed?  They're being boiled!

Transfer them to a bowl of ice water until they're cool.
Ice bath.

I have fingernails, so I pinch a tiny bit of skin near the bottom and begin sliding the peels off.  
I just finished canning 20 pounds of peaches this week, so I took advantage of this blanching trick.
Easy peel.  I only had 1 hand, or I'd show even more!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Summer Peaches

My trusty cookbooks helped me today.















I made 9 pints of peach pie filling for the freezer from my Ball Blue Book.

I used the extra to fill the bottom of my 9x13" pan.

Then I topped it all with cobbler topping from Betty Crocker's Cookbook.


















Unfortunately only me and the girls can enjoy it.  

My visitors won't be here until tomorrow.  

And Jim and Alex don't like peaches.

Well, I do and I'm excited!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Financial Peace

Jim and I attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU) at our local church in February 2009.  I dragged Jim along, telling him I would spend my Christmas money on this class (it was discounted through our church, so it cost me $100.)  This covered the book, workbook, CDs of the class videos to listen to, and being able to attend 13 classes and watch the videos at church.  We took Alex, who attended youth group, and Trinity & Clara, who were some of the oldest girls in the nursery to church with us each and every Sunday night.  After just a class or two, Jim was enjoying himself and learning, as much as I was.

History and Lies
My idea of a budget was printing out where our money went.  Jim had just finished going back to school, where we racked up student loans to pay for school, and lived on the GI Bill and a tiny bit of income I made doing part-time preschool teaching and house cleaning.  When Jim got re-hired at Dell, we moved to Colorado.  This was the fall of 2008.  We had to purchase furniture, a TV (it had to be HD of course), and splurged on cable for the first time in our married life together (15 years at the time).  We also purchased a newer Suburban that was a bit more reliable.  A year earlier we sold our first home in TX, so we had a bit of cash on hand for the Suburban, and hopefully a down payment on a house once we determined where we'd live.  We didn't want to spend our actual cash, and the furniture and electronic stores had this great "no interest for one year financing" plan going on.  Of course we thought that was a great deal, and since we had cash in the bank, we knew we'd have that paid off the month before it was due.

Jim's student loan was only $11,000 and we only had to pay $120 per month.  This wasn't real debt, I told myself.  Neither was the great finance plans we had for the furniture and TV, since we had the cash in the bank.  It wasn't real debt to live off credit cards each month if I made the full payment each month.

LIES, it was all lies.  I tricked myself into believing these lies.  I had debt.  About $20,000 worth of debt.  I realized the error of my thinking during this class.  I realized how much money and worry I could have saved had I paid cash for these things.  Jim's student loan was decreasing by $65-75 per month.  I was giving the government $45-55 per month as a thank you for letting us borrow their money.  (That's how I explain paying interest to my little ones.)

Zero Budget and Budget Meetings
The first month of FPU, we learned how to make a "zero budget".  This means we have to allocate every dollar that comes in before we let it go out.  This was hard, especially at first, since so much had to go to pay the credit card from the previous month.  Eventually we moved to only using cash.  Dave Ramsey told the "nerd" - that's me, to create the budget.  I also had to present the budget and shut up while Jim looked at it. The "free-spirit" - that's Jim had to join me at the "budget meeting" each time we got paid.  His job was to change something in the budget.  The first meeting, Jim said, there's no money for tires.  I'll need $900 for Suburban tires in a year.  I calmly asked where I should get this money from, since that equated to a $75 deficit.  He blurted, "take it out of gifts."  Eventually we figured out how to still have Christmas paid for, money set aside for tires and other auto problems and still have money to pour into our debt snowball (step 2).

Baby Step 1: Baby Emergency Fund
Sell a vehicle, have a garage sale, unload everything you can on Craigslist, get a second job, whatever!  You need $1000 in the bank to pay for any minor emergencies that come up.  We had money in the bank, but wanted to keep some for a partial down payment on our home.  We finally sold the old, broken down Suburban.  It needed a new radiator, and each replacement resulted in a new minor broken plastic piece.  Jim got it all fixed up and running and we had a little over $2000 in the bank for an emergency fund.

Baby Step 2:  Debt Snowball
Throw everything you have at your debt.  Dave says ignore the percent interest on all debt for now.  He taught us to pay off our smallest debt first.  I paid every credit card, and put them all away.  I transferred all of my automatic payments from credit to debit.  We accomplished paying off our furniture in April, the TV in June, then in December we finished the last payment of Jim's student loan.  Every time I wrote the final check, I told Jim and we high-fived.  It was an amazing feeling.  If I had tried to tackle the student loan first, it would have shrunk, until the payments were due for our furniture and TV, which then would become the priority with all that back interest, and I would have been frustrated with not making anything go away until the end of the year.  When we paid the first debt, we got to throw that much extra at the second one, then when it was paid off we poured all of that on top of the payment on the next loan.  This becomes like a snowball effect, the amount you're paying on each loan grows as you pay off a smaller one.  You accomplish more, faster and with more determination.  We were like a "gazelle" running from the debt "cheetah" as Dave showed on a video one night.  We had gazelle-like intensity.  We paid off our debt on Christmas Eve.  It was like a present to ourselves.  We announced in on Facebook, told everyone we spoke to and were so excited!  We have a chunky mortgage on our home, but other than that WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!!!

Baby Step 3:  Fully Funded Emergency Fund
This is the step we're currently on, and will be on for about 2 years.  This is collecting an emergency fund that will carry us through 3-6 months of no income.  If Jim were to lose his job or if someone gets horribly ill, we'll have enough money to pay for all necessities.  This includes mortgage, gas for car, electricity, gas, water, 1 cell phone, and $1000 for medical coverage (hopefully we'll get it much cheaper).  We'll immediately cut the cable, other phones (cell and home probably), internet, spend no money on extra clothes or splurge on other fun things.  Jim and I have analyzed the budget together and have calculated the amount we'll need to save to be safe through hardships.  I've got a couple months worth of food stored up at all times (I stock up when I've got coupons that correspond with sales) and shop at a farmers' market for fresh produce, which I'm canning when it's a super great price.  This should also result in less food money being spent and we'll be ok for a while.  We currently have 1 1/2 months of emergency money, and Jim and I will take any job we can get to get by if something catastrophic happens.  We'll probably ask Alex to do the same.  We will use NO credit cards (in fact, we cancelled almost every one we had.)  Soon, we'll be getting rid of the very last one.  I'd like to have Baby Step 3 fully funded first.  I spent a couple hours cancelling every credit card months ago.  I shredded them and had Jim cancel a few more.  It was scary and freeing at the same time.  I'll be checking my credit report again (I do it 3 times per year free) and I'll see if I missed anything.  Each time we get a report we find something we forgot or didn't remember ever getting (nope - no one hijacked our accounts or stole our identity.)

Once this step is done, I look forward to working on the next steps.

Baby Step 4:  15% into retirement (pre-tax IRAs and Roth IRAs)
We are putting in the amount that Dell matches into the pre-tax IRA, but no extras at this time.  I'm looking forward to hunting down some great mutual funds that will be slow-growing stable investments.  Dave says to look for a 25 year track record of at least 10-12% returns.  There are a few good, quality companies that have good returns even in this bad economy.  Now's a great time to buy, since things are cheap!

Baby Step 5:  College Funding
Since we've got one child who will be college age in 2 years, we probably won't be helping out much in this area.  This is why it's even more crucial to teach him how to manage his money now, and encourage him to save.  We will be helping him by paying for half of his car.  He must pay his half in cash, as will we.  We're encouraging him to do his best in school and work while in college to make sure he doesn't go in debt.  Hopefully he'll chose to go to college and not incur any student loans or other debt to do it.  The girls will be encouraged to do the same, and hopefully at the time they enter college, we'll have a little saved for him.

Baby Step 6:  Pay off your home early
This and retirement funding are the steps I most look forward to.  I want to stop paying "thank you's to the bank" for letting me borrow their money!

Baby Step 7:  Build wealth and give!
Jim and I trust the Lord with our finances, and therefore have regularly tithed our 10% to our local church for years.  We also have a couple people/organizations that we donate to.  All of the money we earn is God's money.  Everything we own is His.  I'm recognizing this by giving.  Since giving regularly, we've never needed anything.  God has provided during all of our hardships.  He is good.

Learn More
Dave Ramsey is on facebook and you can also check out his website www.daveramsey.com  You can also check out some of his books at the library or buy them.  He's an amazing and fun teacher.  If you have the opportunity to go to FPU, do it.  You will learn how to save money by paying cash, learn to communicate better with your spouse about money and budgets.  You'll have less stress, fear and debt.  I am pretty sure the first FPU class is free, and most locations for classes offer a preview class.  Find a class near you.  You won't regret it.  You'll spend less on this class than you will learn to save.  I've cut my grocery budget about $200/month with tips from fellow classmates.  I saved hundreds on a new HE washer/dryer Jim found on Craigslist because it had a scratch/dent on the back corner, and a couple hundred more by asking for a cash discount.  I've also saved at Target, TJ Maxx and other places by asking for a cash discount.  We have more fun now that there's a specific envelope for "entertainment."  We specifically budget for it.  I won't get angry when Jim gets a new movie, Jim and I go out on date days or date nights now and can do it because we have budgeted for it.  I enjoy myself more, and have more money saved than ever in our lives (except right after we sold our house in Texas).  Thank you Dave Ramsey.  Thank you to my class leader.  Thank you to my classmates.  Thank you to Jim, my partner, my best friend, my husband for coming with me to the class and being open to change how we spend money.  Thank you most of all, God, for teaching me to be wise with the money you let us use!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chores

Why do my children have chores?
I am primarily a stay at home mom.  I cook, bake, sew, quilt, clean, etc.  I also clean 3 other houses for a little extra savings to increase our emergency fund, and someday pay for part of my children's car, purchase something special for our home, etc.  After working for several cleaning companies, I've realized the value of frequent dusting and vacuuming.  I've learned how few people were taught how to care for their home, and how few children are expected to clean up after themselves.

What do they do?
Not every chore they do is paid.  They are expected to pick up and actually clean their own bedrooms (vacuum, dust, change sheets, sort laundry, etc.) before getting paid for other household chores (they clean a bathroom, vacuum, dust, dry and wet mop, take out trash, clean the inside of microwaves, etc).  My children are only paid for chores I would normally do in my home.  I still periodically do some detailed cleaning (blinds, oven/stove, windows, areas that are high or dangerous like the tops of cabinets, light fixtures, etc).  The chores they finish each week will help them know how to care for their own home someday.  These chores are somewhat consistent, but rotate each 12 weeks.  I created it on a spreadsheet, with income amounts for each chore.  I also colored several chores green.  This means they HAVE to do them.  The others can earn them extra money if they chose.  Once in a while I tell them the whole list is mandatory.  Some chores aren't required every week and are grayed out (yellow in this pic), since others may do it, I'd like to do a detail clean or it just doesn't need to be done on a weekly basis.

This is a sample of the first 4 weeks.  I print 8 weeks at a time, fold in half and give one to each child.  They check off their chores, then I look over their work (or sometimes have a sibling inspect), then we sit together, calculate totals, tithe, savings, and exchange money when their bags get full of coins.

How it works.
Jim and I instituted this chore list and income for our children after we attended a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University (FPU) class Feb 2009.  This class is detailed more in Financial Peace.  Since that class, we've become debt free except the house, and have accumulated 1 1/2 months of emergency money, that grows by a few hundred each month.  He also teaches adults (and kids) to use the envelope system for many of the regular purchases (food, gas, entertainment, clothing, etc) your family makes each month.  Dave advocates "commissions" for the extra work kids do.  My kids each have an envelope, bag or jar (their preference) for "CHURCH" (tithe - mandatory 10% of earnings), and "BANK" or "SAVE" (the next 10% of their earnings goes here).  The rest of their money is their own money to do with as they wish.  We have them calculate their "income", figure their tithe and savings amounts and use the rest of the money they earn to buy gifts at Christmas, friends' birthday gifts, save for something special for themselves, and splurge occasionally on candy or junk at the grocery store.  Sometimes I give a "bonus" for the person who completed largest percent of their chores, saved the most, or did the most thorough job.  The bonus goes directly to the bank.

Looking forward.
Paying my children income for work they do around the house will save me money in the long run.  While I teach them how to care for their own home and cook, we get time one-on-one to talk about stuff.  I teach them the value of hard work, helping, saving, tithing, counting money, and making change.  Hopefully these values will help them become excellent men and women who regularly and joyfully tithe, save and think before spending.  At this moment, Alex is debating whether to get his drivers licence (or permit) now or wait until he's 18.  He's looking at the large expense of paying for his insurance and not having enough money saved for his half of the car he'd like to purchase.  We've agreed to match what he spends on a car, to include special tools or equipment needed to restore an older car to good working condition.  He's taking a second Autos class spring 2011 to ensure he knows how to maintain and fix his own vehicle someday.  Alex is also working on the 100K mile tune-up on Jim's Accord.  Jim purchased all the parts with money saved in his auto budget, will have Alex read the manual and do the work, Jim will pay Alex, and everyone is happy!  Alex will earn money and have a better understanding of vehicles, and Jim will save money.

Since my children aren't all grown up, I can't say how they will turn out.  I am confident though, that God will direct them and teach them.  I am training my children in the ways of the Lord.  I am training them how to give, save, spend wisely, care for their homes and help others.  I pray that I am doing this in a way that will honor and please the Lord.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sister Spectacular

Jim and I were treated to a "fancy lunch" date in our own dining room yesterday.  The girls prepared fettuccine alfredo and garlic toast, poured our drinks and set the table with a candle.

They insisted we dress up to enjoy our meal, so I put on the new skirt I made Thursday night with heeled sandals, Jim buttoned up his favorite striped blue shirt and we sat at the table enjoying our lunch.  Alex and the girls at on the back porch to give us privacy to talk, thank God for our blessings and enjoy our Italian food.

Our date came complete with a bill we had to sign.  I don't like bills, but I often pay them 50 cents for helping with dinner anyway.  Actually it's pretty infrequently that I make them help with much of dinner.  My goal was once a week with each of them, but I am a slacker.  That is why there are no pictures of me, Jim or the food at The Sister Spectacular!  For those of you who object to paying for regular household tasks or just wonder more about how I do it, feel free to read Chores.


Jim and I are so blessed by wonderful children, who are giving, loving and know how to put together a decent date!

Friday, August 13, 2010

No More Shampoo

The Beginning
I have long, thin hair. It breaks easily and has lots of fly-aways. I trim it once a year, maybe and rarely get split ends. Probably cuz it’s broken so often. I used to shampoo and condition daily. Sometimes the conditioner would build up and I would look oily.  I started researching alternatives, and I remembered a friend saying she wanted to try no-poo.  That's no shampoo.  I thought that sounded gross.  I googled "no shampoo" and found numerous ways to approach this.  


You can wash with water only.  
You can wash with conditioner only.  
You can wash with a natural shampoo bar (although, I guess that's not technically no-poo).  
You can wash with eggs.  
You can wash with baking soda.
You can rinse with vinegar.
You can make a rinse with honey.
There are more ways.
Many more ways. 


I decided baking soda and vinegar sounded cheap (I already have tons since I use them a lot to clean with).  They also sounded less nasty than some of the other ideas.  I tried conditioner only for a few days at the beginning, but my hair seemed oily faster.  Not really yucky, but more than I wanted.


I started slowly with no-poo. First I stopped the silicone conditioners and started using baking soda and vinegar. I like Suave Naturals – it’s cheap, has no silicones and smells pretty. 
My Method
I would use 1T baking soda in a cup of water to wash. I use a little plastic container I fill up when the water’s hot, cuz I hate dumping cold pre-mixed stuff on my head. I dump it on, rub with my fingers like I was washing with shampoo, then rinse really well, still rubbing my head. Then in the same container, I dump a cup of warm water with about 1T vinegar (I’ve tried apple cider and plain white with success - the only difference is the smell, I think). Then I’d rinse that out after letting it sit for a minute, then I’d use my Suave Naturals conditioner and rinse again.
Warnings
My husband insists he can smell the vinegar on my head, so I keep using the Suave on the ends, but when I skip the conditioner and smell my dry hair I smell nothing. Maybe he is imagining it :)
I thought baking soda and vinegar would dry out my hair, but they didn’t despite warnings from. At the beginning I could only go about 1 week with no shampoo. I felt a bit oily. This was probably from the constant touching to see what it felt like.  After a week I’d break down and shampoo, vinegar rinse, followed by Suave Naturals conditioner. My hair would look horrible for a couple days with lots of fly-aways, then look nice again.  I tried to go longer, but couldn't.
The transition to fully no-poo and being happy can take a while.
People will think you're strange.
Now
After about 2 months of this crazy transitioning, I decided to see how long I could go before needing shampoo. It’s been almost a full month with no shampoo.  I'm not getting oily anymore and my fly-aways are much better.  I'm not dirty or gross.  I’m just using natural things to wash my hair. I also used to have dry scalp and eczema.  This natural cleaning has helped with both.  Much less dryness and itching.
Next, I’m going to try some other homemade things to save money and be healthier.  
Challenge
You should take the challenge and go "no-poo."  Even using shampoo less often is an improvement.  Do what works for you, but try it and see how it goes.  You'll save money and the environment for a bit if nothing else. 
Join all the others participating in the No-Poo Challenge at Feelin' Feminine.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blueberry French Toast Bake


With all this homemade blueberry syrup and fresh blueberries in the fridge, I'm making one of our favorite breakfast-for-dinner recipes.
Blueberry French Toast Bake.
There's a long time of sitting - I'm talking HOURS - before eating, so allow LOTS of time.

Cut 8 slices of bread into ~1" chunks.

I love my pizza cutter for this part.

Uniformity is not necessary.
Toss the bread into a buttered 9"x13" dish.  I like my purple one for this.  :)

Sprinkle a large handful (or more, I like lots more) of blueberries on top.  Cube up a 8oz box of cream cheese and sprinkle half on top of the bread.
Repeat all the previous steps.  

Then get out a big bowl.  Whisk up 8 eggs.

and add 2 cups of milk.  Whisk eggs and milk together. 

Pour all the liquid over the bread and stuff.
Cover with foil and pop it in the fridge overnight or for 8-24 hours. 

About an hour and a half before you want to eat this tasty casserole, put it in the oven and bake for 350 covered about 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 30 minutes at 325.

 It should be puffed up and set in the center.  The top should be golden brown.

Drizzle some homemade blueberry syrup and enjoy!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blueberry syrup, too!

While preparing to make blueberry jam the other night, I thought I'd check my canning book for other blueberry recipes.  I saw blueberry syrup and started thinking about blueberry breakfast bake, whole wheat pancakes, white wheat waffles (I just ate some tasty ones at my friend's house) and my husband's love of all blueberry things.  I decided to try making blueberry syrup at the same time as the jam.

Oops.  I forgot I'm not good at doing 3 things at once.  My oldest thought he wanted to watch Star Wars episode 1 and I offered watch with him while stirring, reading, boiling, sanitizing, etc.

I kinda skipped the step about boiling the water/sugar mixture until it reaches 260 degrees.  I'm pretty sure at our altitude it wouldn't have ever gotten there, but I forgot to even get it warm, let alone boiling.  After about an hour of stirring the boiling mixture of strained juices and sugar water, I gave up and snuck in a little bit of pectin dissolved in some water.  It's still too runny for me, but then so is the jar I buy at the store a couple times each year.  Hopefully mine will be healthier and cheaper.

8 small jars of jam, 3 pints of syrup (1 each in fridge)

I may fix breakfast for dinner more often with this tasty syrup!

Hmmm. . . the farmer's market has blueberries on sale today for an even better price.  I just bought 4.5 more pounds of blueberries.  I'll get some more next Wednesday before they go off sale.  I think I'll make some more syrup.  Maybe I'll make more jam.  I probably should be making my English Muffins to try my jam on, too.  I get to don an apron and be all domestic again tomorrow morning.  I'm so excited!