Monday, December 27, 2010

Getting ready for a new year!

Since I have some time off, I am planning out what I want to do with my son over the next few months. I know that these things are not unchanging, because I always end up doing whatever I feel when the day comes, but I like to have some kind of guide for ideas on what to do with him and when. If I don't, I tend to get into a funk and not want to do much of anything.

Right now, I putting events (holidays) on a calendar that I made in Microsoft publisher. From there, I added "letters of the week" that kind of go with the events. I also wrote down what I want to do for sensory tubs. I was going to plan for January, February, and March, but just the first two months are enough for now. I have put on crafts for most days, trips that I want to take with him (this helps me make sure to get full use out of my memberships), and anything else that I can think of that will be fun, educational, or just related. Many of my ideas have come from No Time for Flash Cards or sites that were linked, so please check them out!

I'll let you know what our plans are for the new year when I feel that I'm finished.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I don't expect to be gone for too long, but just in case!

While I have you here, I want to tell you about my Christmas. This year, we decided to celebrate our family Christmas, today. It was sort of a weird year, because I did 96% of the shopping this year...actually it may have been even higher than that. I even did my own Christmas shopping. As in, I bought my own gifts and wrapped them myself. I have never had to do that before, because my husband has always been really great about Christmas gifts.

Well, there were 2 gifts that he bought me and one that he made for me. These were all complete surprises to me. The first is a Glee Christmas CD that he downloaded and copied for me. The second was a set of 4 Bingo lottery tickets, which are always my favorite gift. The third gifts was a pair of purple fleece Pjs. Which of these gifts made me laugh out loud????

How about the 3X fleece PJs?! Now, anyone that knows me, knows I'm not a slender gal. Sizes, for me, run between 16-18 or L-XL depending on the clothing. So 3XL??? Not so much my size! Nice try hunny! I still love you.

take back the PJs ASAP! I could really use ones that fit!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Savings for the new year.

There's no denying it! 2011 is going to bring us a little bit closer to being free of debt (although we will not be debt-free for a while!) We have two big things that will be paid off in the first half of 2011. Those two things are our car load for our Civic and one of my student loans. Can I get an AMEN!!!

The car has been such a headache! We bought it back in September of 2007. When we bought it, I was teaching full time and just found out I was pregnant. We thought that replacing my Taurus was a good idea, because it was over 10 years old and the transmission was going. At the time, $20000 (plus a bunch more after tax, title, some stupid package that they scammed us into buying, and probably a ton of other fees) did not seem too hard to deal with.

A few months later, when our lives changed completely and we were completely out of savings and not working, that bill seemed like the devil! We have made it a goal over the past few years to have this car paid down in less than the 66 months that our loan schedule. We are finally starring at just over $1500 left on the loan. We will have it paid down as soon as we get our tax refund (which is how we've managed to pay it down the past few years). Then, it is on to peeling off the rest of my little (I also have a HUGE) school loan.

Basically, I do everything that involves paying bills and financial planning for our family. I have a few basic goals that tend to change from time to time. Usually, the goals change a little depending on what I am working to pay down or save up at the time. Right now, it looks a little like this.

Golden RULE
(so important that it doesn't even get a number!). ALWAYS find a way to pay less than what everyone else is paying and/or find a way to buy it without withdrawing money from our checking or savings account. Either use a coupon, ask around to see if someone has one that they don't need, go to thrift stores, ask for it as a gift, sell on ebay or craigslist to make the money, buy it on craigslist or ebay, or just wait and pray that something good will come our way. (I have to say that the last one seems to work for us a lot)

#1. Always pay down the credit card, because that has the highest interest rate.
#2. Put away $25 a week in our savings. This is direct deposited, so I don't have to remember. Although, I usually only set it to do about 5 weeks at a time so that I can still make sure that we are okay on money and not overdraw our account. The main goal here is to have our 6 months worth of savings in case of job loss.
#3/4. Add on husbands 401K and stock options as we find ourselves being able to.
#3/4. Pay down car loan, because this is the bill that holds the next highest interest rate after the credit card.
#5. Put away $100 a month for our son. He has his own savings account and I want to prepare him to go to college or leave home to follow his dreams.

Honestly, I am lucky if I get to the end of that list. So, going on from there would be a moot point.

The important part of it all is that the goals are there! And I have to compliment my husband here. While he fought me on my ways for years, he has really come around. I think that I can say that he has learned patience. For example, about two years ago, we were really struggling. Out of the blue, his computer just died. He was going to need over $500 worth of parts to fix it. He immediately went online and gave me that $500 number that I though was going to kill me! At the same time, it was just a few weeks from his birthday. I held strong and told everyone that I thought would be getting him a gift that he either wanted cash or a gift certificate to the site that had the parts that he needed.

He also got creative. He found a website that let you do surveys to make money and earn gift cards. He managed to earn himself a gift card that would help pay for parts. He also found out about a site that allowed him to play certain games and win prizes if you scored the most points on any given day. I was skeptical of the game one, but ultimately, he won a Visa gift card for $200. Obviously, he was able to find alternative ways to get what he needed. He held on to that and has continued to take the path of patience. I think that is awesome!

And not that I ever hoped to change my husband, because he really is an awesome, loving, caring, and kind person, but I am grateful that he joined me in my ways. It is great to have someone that loves me and understands how important it is for me to be able to fulfill our financial goals for the future.

Although, the hard part of being the person in charge of the budget and financial planning is that I can be blamed when we are not both retired at 90! :)

Christmas Tree craft

I knew that I found this craft on No Time for Flashcards, but took me a few days to actually go out and look for it. I changed up how they did it a little.

My poor baby has been feeling sick. Yesterday, we were in the thick of a 101+ fever. It seemed like nothing was going to keep him in a good mood, so I decided that something new might help.

For this craft, we used an old box, crayons, bows, glue, and some candy cane stickers.

First, I cut a Christmas tree shape out of an old Priority Mail box. I opened the box up so that it could be nice and tall and sturdy.

Next, I had my son color the Christmas tree different shades of green and the stump different shades of brown. We practiced signing green and brown while doing this.

After coloring, I started handing him old bows had become flat and not as perfect as I would prefer on a gift. I took off the backing so that he could stick them on, but the did not stick well. That is why I added glue to this project. I think that because of the wax in the crayons, you will need to either switch to a different medium for coloring the tree (like paint or markers) or add glue to stick the bows to the tree.

Finally, we added some candy cane stickers that I just happened to find. Viola! We have ourselves a beautiful tree!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas...please never change.

I consider us lucky. Some people have to drive long distances between home and family for the holidays or long distances from one side of the family to the other. Lucky for me, I don't have a long journey. Hubby and I can get from our house to either of our parent's houses in about 30 minutes. From there, we can get from one set of parents to the other in 10 minutes (5 if we are in trouble for being late).

I feel for my friends though. The ones that I have to schlep the kids, the new toys, the animals...all over the place to be with their family. It is difficult. And who wants that much stress on Christmas? I mean, I know that being with family is a good portion of what Christmas is all about, but it is just as much about having some quiet time and relaxation to enjoy everything that is going on. Sometimes that can be hard to do.

For some reason this year, I have been thinking a lot about what would happen if we were to lose either set of parents (mine or my husbands) any time soon. The holidays would not be the same. I always plan for going to my Mom and Dad's on Christmas Eve for their party. Then, we sleep there and wake up on Christmas morning, just like I have since I was a little kid (I really, really love my husband for never insisting on changing that). I was often one of the first ones awake. Of course my Dad always wakes up before I do and he and I sit down and talk while we wait for others to get up. That time with my Dad is always really nice. It's not often that he and I are able to really sit and talk without someone else in the room. We always start by opening stockings after everyone is awake and then gifts. Then, we have Christmas breakfast with my old neighbors (a tradition start forever ago, because they were just like family and we all LOVE being together on that day). After breakfast, this is usually when I am starting to feel like a child...not wanting to ever leave my parent's house and my husband starts with a nudge to get me going...and then it turns into a little yelling argument in the back room (he has to remind me again that I am an adult now and I can't stay here all day).

So, we slowly start to back the car and say 'goodbyes'. Usually, I have a little tear in my eye as we pull out of the driveway. I think back on Christmas' past and wish that I could go back in time. By the time we get to the end of my (parent's) road, my husband steps on the gas and I am thrust back into reality. He starts zooming down and road and reminding me that we were supposed to be at his parent's house a half hour ago! Inevitably, we get the phone call, these days it can go either way, it's either his Dad asking where we are and how long we will be (Scott always answers this one and says that we are much closer than we are) or we get a call from one of sisters asking if we are there yet (which I am okay answering, because if they are calling it means that they are late too, so I won't have to lie!). Within, five minutes (remember....5 minutes if we are always applies on Christmas Day) we arrive in his parents driveway and pray that there are not already two other cars their (so that we are not last). Usually, we get in one more fight over our lateness before we walk into the house and act like we are having the most perfect day!

After we say our hellos and our son runs off to play (he wasn't really running last year, so this is a little ad lib), Scott and I sit down and try to play it cool. Usually, if we are all there, this is when we turn off the TV, Bungie (Dad in-law) takes out his camera, and wrapping paper starts flying like we're digging for gold! I love this part! There are tons of gifts for everyone and since each of the past few years has added a new member to the family, there are more and more presents and ciaos each year! That's the point in the day when it almost feels like a scene from a Christmas movie. All of the kids are excited and we all thank each other. This is also a good time to share "news" year it was us sharing that we were engaged...if anyone were ever pregnant about this time they would probably share that at this point too. Oddly enough, 4 out of 6 grandchildren were all in a 30ish day bubble around Christmas. I think last year, this was the time that Scott's parents told us they were taking us to the beach for summer vacation.

After all of that, we usually just spend time together. We play with toys, sometimes take naps, or eat ourselves silly on snacks. Then, we sit down to a nice dinner prepared by Scott's Mom. She always takes out the fancy stuff for us. Fancy plates, fancy wine/water glasses, fancy tablecloth. We say a pray before we eat and the there's the inevitable argument about which way the food is going around the table and who has mess up the process by passing to the wrong way (usually Bungie did We dine on ham (this year turkey) and broccoli casserole (which is always gone before you know it), green bean casserole, and a pineapple casserole that has grown on my over the years.

Eventually, the night comes to an end. Jen and her crew usually have to first (although they have been known to stay the night). Then, Scott and I hang around with Erin (and usually Erik, but he's going to be staying in TX this year) and hope that everyone will stay the night like it was back when we first started dating. Everyone eventually leaves though....and Christmas is over.

I usually have a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas night. I keep praying that I will wake up in the morning and it will be Christmas again. Since I know that will never happen, I just pray that nothing will change for the next year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another cheap game!

I went to Toys R' Us last night and picked up Battleship. While I was there, they were having an extra 30% off of a lot of games as part of their Friday night and Saturday morning sale. I decided to see what else I could get for super cheap with my Hasbro coupons. As it turned out, they had Pictureka Flipper game on sale for $6.98! Sweet deal since the regular price on the tag said $29.99! WOW! Then, I had an additional $5 off! I ended up getting Battleship and Pictureka for a grand total of $5.32! BUT WAIT!!!

With the Toys R Us, Hasbro Rebate I will get an additional $3 back on my Battleship purchase.

Prior to getting this great deal, I went over to the game department to finally get something that my husband would not know about for Christmas. I found that they had some great deals going on! If you bought two games over $49.99 you got a $40 gift card. Not bad, but I wasn't looking to spend that. Plus, I was there for a specific purchase. I wanted to get my husband the new Classic Mario Collection game for Christmas.

I have been wanting the Family Game night games for a couple of years now and they just released a new one.

The Mario Classic Collection is currently $53.99 on Amazon, but it was at Toys R Us for $29.99. Family Game Night 3 is $29.99 on Amazon. I paid $39.99. Total at Toys R Us was just under $75, but I also got that $25 gift card AND that Hasbro rebates will give me $5 for the Family Game Night 3 game! Not too shabby!

Toys R Us certainly has a lot of good deals to get you in there for the holidays!

***Edit: I could have made this deal a little better by using my $25 gift card on the games, but it took 6 hours for the card to become activated. I know that usually you don't need the entire 6 hours, so I did try it, but the card would not go through. I don't mind having this card to use later. When we get to mid-end of January it will be inventory and clearance time and that means LOTS OF CHEAP DEALS!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Whole Wheat Banana Bread that is always a huge hit.

I found this recipe at back in the Summer of '09. I was making a lot of different breads at the time and decided to give this one a try.

When I make this, sometimes I will make small loaf of bread and then also make muffins or mini muffins. I tend to think that it is easier to determine how much is appropriate to eat when I can count just how many muffins have left the pan!

What you will need:
1 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 c (2-3) mashed bananas....I always use more!
1 tsp vanilla
2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts (I always skip this one)

*Preheat oven to 350
*Grease pan or pans
*In large bowl, cream butter and sugar
*Add eggs, bananas, vanilla and beat well
*In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt
*Stir liquid mixture into dry (add nuts here if you are using them)
*Pour into 9x5 loaf and/or muffin pan or mini muffin pan

For the 9x5 loaf, bake for about 60 minutes.
For the regular sized muffin pan, bake for about 10 minutes and check.
For the mini muffins, bake for about 7 minutes and check.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wedded Mommy Bliss!!: Snow Day = Finish up some projects!

Wedded Mommy Bliss!!: Snow Day = Finish up some projects!: "It's snowing (or was a little while ago) in Pittsburgh. So, we decided to use the time to get one of our projects finished up for Christmas..."

Snow Day = Finish up some projects!

It's snowing (or was a little while ago) in Pittsburgh. So, we decided to use the time to get one of our projects finished up for Christmas.

A few weeks ago, I showed you the gingerbread men that Matthew was making. Yesterday, we finally got around to painting them and putting some finishing touches on them. Here is how they turned out!

The best kept secret at Christmas!

Last Thursday night was a late night! I was up until around 2am just trying to make sure that everything will be in order for Matthew's party on Saturday. I did manage to get a lot done. I made 5 dozen chocolate chip cookies, baked, cooled, and dirty iced his cake (then froze until Friday when I will decorate), baked some chocolate brittle, and even managed to do a couple of dishes!

While I was getting of that done, I was thinking that it is time to give away one of my favorite family recipes. Many know of the Chocolate Brittle that my Mom makes, but few people know just how easy it is to make! Here it is!

****One thing about this recipe, I've seen people make this and have it come out very sticky and almost wet. After having made it in an apartment that had a tiny size stove and having the recipe flop, I think that the size that pan is VERY important. I counted the number of saltines that we put on the pan at my Mom's one year and there were 72. I have been able to cut the recipe to fit my own pan that holds only 56 crackers. What you have here is the 72 cracker "original" version.

You will need
(72*see note above) Two rows of saltines
Two sticks of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
12 oz bag of chocolate chips

*Preheat oven to 375.
*I suggest some Pam on your cookie sheet!
*Cover cookie sheet with 72 saltines
*Bring to a boil butter and brown sugar
*Remove from heat and add baking soda (if I ever forget a step, it is this one)
*Pour mixture over crackers
*Bake on 375 for EXACTLY 10 minutes (if you cut the recipe, you might check on this around 8 minutes to make sure that it isn't burning)
*Remove from oven and spread 12 oz bag of chocolate chips (optional add crushed nuts or coconut on top of chocolate)
*Put in freezer until chocolate is set up.
*Break into pieces

That's it! If you want to make this a week ahead of time, that's fine. You can keep it in the freezer until you need it.

This is what it will look like when it is done. This is not my personal brittle, but a picture that I found that I thought looked most like mine when it is finished.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Living in a Monsters World!!: ARE YOU READY!!!!!

I would LOVE to try out this craft idea!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A few of my favorite things...ornaments

This year was an abbreviated tree decorating year. Instead of filling every branch with ornaments we choose the ones that were most important and put them up. The reason? Well, I thought it was because I had a two -year-old, but as it turns out, it looks like I did it that way due to lack of energy to keep going, because my son hasn't bothered with the tree at all!

Every year, when I put up the ornament, I think about where they came from. I remember doing this when I was younger and saying "Mommy, who got this one?". It was always special to hear the stories of where our ornaments came from. I thought that I would share the stories of the ones that made it to our tree this year.

This ornament is the Hallmark Millennium time capsule ornament that my Mom got that year. This is one of my new favorite ornaments, because the time capsule actually opens up and and there is a scroll inside with information about what was going on as we headed into the new Millennium. Mom take the time just to jot a couple pieces of information, all of which were positive, and bring back fond memories. Mom said that she wished that she would have bought two of them, one for me and one for my brother. As luck would have it, I found one at a garage sale a few years ago and it is being held for my brother. I look forward to pulling out this ornament every year. I love looking back and thinking about how far we have come. I think that I am going to add another piece of paper to that ornament this year and update where we are 10 years later.

We have a set of 4 of these little icicle snowmen. They were a grab bag gift to our family from my Aunt Deb about 10ish years ago. I loved them as soon as we opened them, and begged for them when I put up my first Christmas tree. My first Christmas tree was awesome! I decided that since I could do whatever I wanted (I knew Scott wouldn't care), I wanted to have a tree that was all glass, silver, and snowmen. These fit in PERFECTLY!

This cute little ornament takes me back to 1991 (thank you for dating them Grandma!). That year, when my grandparents came up from Florida in the summer, my Grandma taught me how to make them with scrape fabric. I remember that we kept losing the patterns, so she would have me run all around the house looking for objects that were circles so that each one would be slightly smaller than the previous. We made a LOT of these little trees that summer, but I have about 4 of them left. I think we gave them all to different members of the family. My Mom still has one that we did that was bigger, like for a table. These bring back fun memories of learning new crafts with Grandma. She was always teaching me something new!

This little rocking horse (his rocker has been broken in the box for well over 10 years) was a gift to me from my best friend when I was about 5. Amy and I went to daycare together and decided to get each other gifts for Christmas. She gave me this rocking horse and all I remember is that I was so excited to have my own ornament to put on the tree that year! It really is beautiful though! Each year when I take it out, I feel like a little kid again when I remember how many trees that I have put that ornament on. It even make it to the tree the year that I had to have all glass, silver, and snowmen!

This is a recent addition to our tree! This was given to us the year that Matthew was born. Well, I guess technically, it was given to him by my husband's Aunts in Florida. We told them that we really loved trains and had hoped to get Matthew into trains. My husband and I also happen to really love Disney. This ornament was perfect! Also, before my son's first birthday (he was about 9 months old) we were all able to make our first Disney trip. We met up with, and spent a few days with his Aunts while we were there. We had a blast. I will never forget that trip and this ornament reminds me of that.

This little guy is nothing fancy. Just a glass snowman that when you put a Christmas light in the bottom of him, he lights up very beautifully. This is obviously from the time of glass, silver, and snowmen. In fact, it was the first ornament that I ever bought for my own tree back in 2004. Really, I think it was the only one I bought. I remember it primarily for the fact that I was about to get this, which I think is just lovely, for just a dollar at the dollar store. I think it was a nice find!

This recent addition is just joining our tree for the first time this year. This is a Winnie the Pooh, 2008, Lenox ornament. I wanted to buy this for Matthew when he was first born, but those Lenox ornaments are pretty pricey. However, Macy's always has older ornaments that they are stuck with during the summer months. This summer, I was able to acquire this ornament for about $5! I was excited to buy it and now I am excited to have it on my tree! Someday, I'll pass it on to Matthew and tell me about how I got it for just $5 at Macy's...and hopefully it will end up on his tree!

Those are my favorite ornaments and their special meanings. I am so grateful to be able to look back and think of the special moments that came with each of these ornaments. Each one holds a special place in my heart (even the ones that did not make it to front lines this year).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Potato Candy!!

I was first introduced to Potato Candy while living in Virginia. One of the teachers made it and I said "Wow, this fudge is really great! How do you make it?" I ended up learning about the easiest to make candy recipe EVER!

Over the past few years, I guess I forgot about it. Something made me think of it recently and I looked up the recipe online. I was even easier than I remembered!!!

Here's some instructions to get you started!

What you need:
small-medium (think size of your fist as small) potato
1-3 pounds of powered sugar
Peanut butter (the amount can vary depending on how much you like peanut butter. If you have half a jar you are better than good)

First, peel, cut, and boil your potatoes as though you are making mashed potatoes. After they have boiled to the point of being soft, put them in a large bowl and start mashing. You do not need to at milk or butter.

Next, you start adding your powered sugar. I added about a cup at a time, but I eyeballed it and then stirred until it was well mixed. When you first start mixing, it is going to look very wet. As you continue it will turn to almost frosting, then pancake batter. Eventually, you will get to the point where it will be stiff and you are able to shape the mixture into balls. That's how you know you are done. For me, I used an obscenely large Costco potato, because I didn't want to see it go bad. Because of the size, I ended up needing about three pounds of powdered sugar to make this recipe! If you use a bigger potato, please remember to use a bigger bowl. I was seriously contemplating moving my mixture into a bigger bowl so that it didn't overflow. Luckily, it didn't.

Here, the mixture is finally starting to set.

After you get your mixture to the point where it is "moldable" you will take it out of the bowl (yoy may need to do this in chucks if you have a ton of it like I did!). Put some down on a baker's mat with some powdered sugar and roll it out flat. Spread the peanut butter, in whatever thickness you prefer, over the mixture and roll it up like a jelly roll.

Sadly, I did not remember to take a final product picture. Sorry about that.

I would suggest cutting off the ends to make it look a little more pretty, but from my experience, if someone knows what this stuff is, they don't really care how it looks....they just want a piece!

All in all, this took about 40 minutes of my time.

20 minutes to peel, cut, and boil the potato
10 to add the sugar and get it thick
10 to get it rolled out flat and then rolled up to the finished product

I am currently freezing a large roll for this weekend. As I hear that it freezes well. I will let you know!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cloth diapering update

It's been about a month or six weeks, so I thought that it was time to share how things are going with cloth diapering Matthew.

Everything has been going very well. We have been using Bum Genius brand diapers during the day with the large size liner and a combination of Bum Genius and Haut Pocket diapers at night with both the infant and large sized liners. We have had no problems! This has been basically a seamless process and very easy! I want to show you how cute these diapers are, so here's a couple of pictures to show you what a cloth diaper of today looks like.

What are the worst parts?

Hmm....defiantly having to work out the #2s. Which, I could avoid somewhat with the liners that I was given, but for whatever reason we haven't even tried them.

Also, doing the laundry can be a pain. You are supposed to wash these diapers in a cold cycle to agitate the stain and then doing a hot cycle. I guess some people have a setting on their washer that does that, but we do not. So, I have to make an extra trip down to make the washer do the extra cycle which sometimes gets me backed up.

Other than that, this just isn't so bad. I think that a lot of the reason is that I picked a good time to start. If I had decided to cloth diaper when Matthew was first born, I have a feeling that I would have felt overwhelmed. Between "learning on the job" how to nurse and lack of sleep and finding time to get anything done, I think I would have stopped before I ever got started. Now, though, everything is pretty much old hat. I know what to expect from my son and I know how to work around him.

I forget to tell you that I was also able to sell some of the extra diapers that I had. After I was all done buying and receiving via, I had about 52 diapers. That is way more than I could ever need. I sold off 5 of them and made $30! That helped to offset the costs of the diapers that I paid for. It brought down my cloth diapering costs to about $120! Which isn't too bad for a lifetime (and then some) of diapers.

If you are thinking that this is something you would like to try, I urge you to give it a shot!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giving Thanks

We took our treats to the fire station and police station about a few days before Thanksgiving. I made each their own chocolate turkey cake and then they had about 3 dozen chocolate chip cookie feathers. We also gave them a little note that Matthew colored that told them that we were grateful for what they do. Sadly, we could not hand it off to a real policeman. We had to give it to a receptionist, so Matthew isn't going to have the pictoral memory of this that I'd hoped for. BUT I WILL certainly do this again next year!!!

This is what our mailman got. A little red bucket of chocolate chip cookies with a note that told him we were thankful for what he does.