March 26, 2010

Agrarian Lifestyle Wannabe

If given an opportunity I would love to try an Agrarian Lifestyle. This would mean to me that we would live on a small acreage, grow our own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens and goats.  I'm not sure if I would homeschool or not - that has never appealed to me.  What I am looking for is the ability to gain more independence in my life by not relying on a grocery store for our food supply and to frankly live a more simple lifestyle.

Now, I am not foolish, having a garden and raising animals for food is very hard work.  But our food would be cheaper and healthier.  Simple to me means getting rid of the distractions in our lives and focusing more on family. 

My DH is not even interested in this lifestyle at all.  So this is not going to happen for me and that is okay.  I love my DH and wouldn't impress upon him a lifestyle that he has no interest in living. 

What I am doing is bringing elements of an agrarian lifestyle into my "little old house on a corner in a small town".  Our yard is too small for a garden, but my plan is that by the summer of 2011 I will have a couple of raised beds to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. 

I am making my own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent.  As soon as the weather is warmer, I will hang the clothes out to dry on a clothes line.

I bake our own bread and buns.  My next step is to save for a wheat mill so I can grind wheat into flour. 

I am relearning a skill I had as a teenager - sewing.  My goal is to make most of my clothes.  I plan on sewing curtains and other items for our house.  No more searching stores and the internet, I will make my own.  A future goal is to make my own patterns too.

I want to learn to knit and crochet and would love to make my own pillowcases and embroider on them.  My mother used to make rag rugs for our house and I would love to learn to make these also.

Making my own soap and candles has always interested me.   

All of these skills I can use in our "little old house on a corner in a small town".  (Yes, when I was growing up I watched Little House on the Prairie.)  I can add these elements of the agrarian lifestyle without pulling up roots and actually moving to the country and homesteading. 

I have a friend that has a large garden and grows her own vegetables.  She and her DH have planted fruit trees so they have plenty of apples, cherries and pears.  Last year she added chickens to her plan.  Now she has plenty of eggs and when the time comes - chickens to eat.  She runs her own business in town and on the weekends and evenings she lives on her little homestead on the edge of town.  I'm sure that down the road, she will want to pull back from her business and invest more time into her homestead. 

Last year I came across a website about the West Ladies.  This is a family living out the agrarian lifestyle in Tennessee.  I ordered their dvd's - Homestead Blessings.  These are wonderful dvd's of a mother and her grown daughters sharing different skills such as:  Herbs, gardening, bread making, cooking, canning, candle making, soap making, sewing and dairy delights.

I am drawn to the way this family interacts with each other.  They work together and have such a close relationship that is easily visible. 

Via Netflix this week I ordered and watched "Inherit the Land" and have on my queue  "A Journey Home."  Inherit the Land profiles several families that have left their busy city lives for the country and the agrarian lifestyle.  A Journey Home continues that theme by focusing on one family. 

Both of these movies and the Homestead Blessings dvd's are produced by Franklin Springs and are available on Netflix.  Unfortunately Netflix does not carry all of the Homestead Blessings dvd's. 

I love the feeling of being in an old fashioned homestead type of home.  I love antiques, old houses, old fashioned aprons and skirts, good down home cooking and simple things.  It makes me feel happy and secure. 

March 24, 2010

What's for Dinner Tonight?

Last night we had a nice chuck roast that I had slow cooked in the crockpot.  I always sprinkle some onion soup mix on the top of the roast as it gives it a really good flavor.  Then we had mashed potatoes, broccoli and homemade honey wheat bread.

We had enough roast leftover to use to make homemade vegetable soup for tomorrow night's dinner.

As for tonight's dinner - my DS is at youth group at our church and they serve the kids a meal and my DH is at an Optimist Club dinner.  I had a really great salad and I splurged on a chocolate chip cookie for dessert.  Best of all I watched Survivor while I was eating dinner (since I was home alone).  I love Survivor!!!

Is Kindle a Frugal alternative?

My DH and I buy a lot of books.  By far he is the biggest purchaser of books in our family.  Some are used, some are new bought at a discount and on occasion we have paid full price for a new release.  Last year we bought another book shelf as our book shelves were getting quite full.  That same book shelf is now full and overflowing.

My DH enjoys reading.  After working at a high pressured job, he comes home at night and usually reads for an hour. If he has a day off from work, he spends a few hours reading.  He makes the time for this as it is very gratifying to him and his way to relax.

As soon as he is done reading a book, there are close to 6 to 8 books on his dresser to choose from for his next read.  I in turn tend to buy a few books and set them aside for vacation reading or I try to set aside an evening a week to read. 

In the last couple of weeks my DH has talked about the possibility of buying a Kindle from Amazon.  My thoughts turned to money.  It costs around $260, which is a lot of money to spend right now.  We replaced our washing machine two weeks ago and last week we had to call a plumber to fix a leak in our pipes in our downstairs bathroom.  Somehow $260 seemed like an extravagance, on the surface, until I started to think about it. 

Number One - we have too many books on our bookshelves right now and we have already donated many of our books. 

Number Two - he reads a lot of books in a year. 

Number Three - books downloaded on a Kindle are cheaper and don't take up space on a book shelf

After pondering this one I have come to the conclusion that a Kindle may be a more frugal alternative for him.  Not adding books to a bookshelf is a big plus to me.  Right now I am in a "get rid of stuff" kind of mood, so that is quite an advantage.  Also reading is very important to him, so it is not just a fleeting past time. He is a serious, advid reader. 

For someone that reads a lot of books, a Kindle could be a good investment. 

My DH's birthday is in April and I have managed to save an extra $40 this month from wise grocery shopping.  I know I should be able to save an additional $60 by the time his birthday rolls around.  So $100 will be a good start towards buying the Kindle. I'm certain he will receive some money for his birthday from other family members as well.

In years past I would have pulled out my credit card and ordered the Kindle and paid a small amount until it was paid off.  We don't operate that way anymore and it is a good feeling to save and wait. 

Lastly, if my DH wants to buy a Kindle, he can go ahead and buy it without my approval.  He does not have to ask me permission to spend money.  It is his decision, but since we are living on less we tend to run things by each other. 

I am getting a great deal of gratification of finding ways to cut back and save so that I can give him a gift of money for his birthday.  He will never be expecting this from me and I can hardly wait for him to open his birthday card and find $100 in it. 

In his situation, I do think that the Kindle would be a more frugal alternative.  Oh and BTW - he is on facebook and he twitters. He is so "with it."

March 22, 2010

Step Away from the Laptop and Nobody will get hurt

I am about to speak blasphemy to a lot of people, but I have been wondering as of late how anyone gets anything done when they are busy blogging, tweeting, updating facebook, surfing the net, e-mailing and, well you get the idea.

I am not on facebook.  I signed up for twitter but haven't used it much.  My reason?  I don't have time in my day to spend social networking with everyone.  Was that even grammatically correct?  I know, I have become a social outcast as I have elected to only blog, e-mail and surf the net. 

The biggest problem I had at my job was when we had a high school girl working there after school.  She spent the majority of her time texting, going on facebook and tweeting all her friends.  When I confronted her about it she looked at me and was indignant that I was asking her to refrain from doing so on "company" time.  To her, when her cell phone vibrated she had to respond with a text.  She could not believe that I was actually asking her to only work and refrain from "networking" with her friends during business hours. BTW - business hours for her was 3:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

I know my weaknesses.  I know that I could easily spend a few hours a day on the computer and not get anything done.  I am not saying that all of these tools are bad.  They aren't.  In fact I appreciate that I can be in contact with family members all over the country via e-mail, a family website, my blogging, or a simple text message.  I love being able to get on the internet for research.  It is very convenient.  However, I don't let these tools consume my time and take priority over what I need to get done at home. 

Yeah - I'm weird.

March 21, 2010

How Living Frugally has Affected my Family

I am not an authority on marriage and raising children.  Since I am a wife and mother, I do feel that I can comment on the subject.  Everyone makes choices in their lives for themselves and the people they love.  For me I try to make the best choices but sometimes I must admit that a lot of things seem to fall into the category of luck. 

Living on one income and living frugally has been the best thing we have ever done for our family.

Not having a lot of money means that you end up staying home and not going out a lot.  What does this mean?  We eat dinner as a family every night at home at our diningroom table.  It means that we watch t.v. together (we love Survivor) and eat homemade pizza when we want to instead of waiting for the pizza delivery guy. 

Living on one income has meant driving to a destination instead of flying which means interesting conversation and memories on road trips.  And we do have a lot of memories.

Not having a lot of money means shooting hoops in the driveway or renting a movie for entertainment.  It means interesting conversations after meals around the diningroom table and knowing what is going on in each other's lives - the good and the bad.  It means that we are a close family.

Living on one income means that we are with each other more, eating a home cooked meal in the evening and doing things together. 

I know what is going on in my son's life.  I know his friends, I know his struggles, I know when he is upset and I know when he is just fine.  I know the ups and downs of raising a teenager.

We know each other's wants, needs and dreams.

By my being home I have been able to prepare home cooked meals, baked homemade healthy bread, kept the cookie jar stocked (most of the time) and made sure we have clean clothes to wear at all times. 

My presence in the home during the day means stability for my family.  I am the one to make sure that things run smoothly so that when my family is home at night, it is peaceful. It is a rarity now to have to throw a load of laundry in the washer late in the evening as there isn't any clean underwear or run to the grocery store in order to cook something for supper or to have the house totally amess and out of order or to miss an appointment because we forgot.  It is far less chaotic.

I know that my being home is the best thing I can ever do for my family.  We are doing without the extra money and are gaining more family time.  I used to work many evenings playing catch up at work and as long as my husband was home, I felt that it was okay for me to go back to the office.  It is much better with the three of us being home in the evening monitoring our son's homework or just being there when he wants to talk to one of us.

I wouldn't trade this time for anything in the world. It is worth the scrimping and cutting corners to make it happen. 

How has living on one income or less income affected your family?

March 20, 2010

What's for Dinner Tonight?

As with all new things, I forgot to post last week what we were having to eat on certain nights.  So, in an attempt to catch up, here is what we had on Thursday night.

Fried Chicken (I love to fry chicken and am hoping some day to snag a buy on a cast iron skillet)
Baked Potatoes
Homemade dinner rolls
Green Beans

For Dessert:  Texas Apple Cobbler

It was close to 60 degrees on Thursday so we opened up the windows and the doors and enjoyed the warmth of an almost spring day. 

Last night it snowed. 

Tomorrow I have decided that we will have chili in the crockpot and grilled cheese sandwiches to eat after we get home from church.

Well, as they say, this is Iowa.  If you don't like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.

A College Visit

On Thursday we made a college visit to the university located in our community.  It is our youngest son's first choice.  I have not been on the campus for several years and in the past couple of years there has been a major building campaign.

One of the buildings is a huge athletic center and another new building is a large facility that houses many state of the art classrooms.  As we toured the campus I met several people that I knew. 

The best part of the visit was not only having our son walk around and knowing that this college was a perfect fit for him, but it was when we sat down with the admissions counselor and she ran the numbers past us.

Tuition is around $20,000 per year, which is a bargain for a private college.  However, since we live in the county and town that the school is located in, there is a special rate for local residents:  $5,000 tuition per year as long as your g.p.a. from high school is 3.0 or above and you maintain that throughout your 4 years.  I about fell off my chair.  Not only is this my son's first pick for college but it is also a bargain from a financial viewpoint.

He does not want to live on campus so we will only be paying tuition, books and other related expenses.  I do expect that by the time he would hit his junior year that he will probably share an apartment.

This is a big relief to me as he will be getting a private college education, be able to work and volunteer in our community (which is very important to him) and we will be able to do all of this without having to borrow a cent.

March 17, 2010

Benchmarks in my Day

It is easy after being home for awhile to settle into the feeling that you have all day to get things done.  This is especially true for me since I have no children at home during the day.  The problem is that before you know it, it is 3:00 in the afternoon and you have nothing to show for it. 

I have never been a person that could schedule myself into 15 minute or 30 minute increments.  I cannot live my life too scheduled.  My life song should be "Don't fence me in."  I am a free spirit and I keep house my way.  It works for me. 

I love using my Franklin Planner and when I plan my day I do so in morning, afternoon or evening time increments and even then, I move things around as my day goes along. 

What does seem to work for me is to have benchmarks throughout my day.  It is so easy for me to get sidetracked and having benchmarks helps me stay on task.  It's like having little mini deadlines.

The first benchmark is at 9:30 a.m.  By then I have had my morning 1 hour workout, eaten breakfast, read the paper, showered and so on.  Okay, I could get up earlier (I get up at 7:00 a.m.) and I could rush through breakfast and skip putting makeup on and so on, but I believe that after years of rushing around in the morning to get out the door for work I deserve a leisurely start to my day.

My next benchmark is 11:30 a.m. when I walk our dog.  This means that I have 2 hours in the morning to work on whatever I have scheduled. 

The third benchmark is 1:00 p.m. after I have had lunch with my husband and I am ready for anything I have planned to get done in the afternoon.  The next benchmark is 4:30 as this is when I start prepping dinner.

The last benchmark is 7:00 p.m. when dinner is over, the kitchen is cleaned up and we have walked the dog.

What do these benchmarks do for me?  They guide me throughout my day by helping me to stay on task by giving me little deadlines.  These benchmarks are not rigid.  If it is 1:00 p.m. and I have been interrupted and not gotten anything done so far, I try and get it done by the next benchmark or move it to another day.

As an example, since I have two hours in the morning to work on something, I only work on a project that can be done in that increment of time.   By having these benchmarks I find that I get more done as I line up the tasks with the amount of time I have available between those benchmarks. 

Now just because I am working within these benchmarks does not mean that I am scheduled with projects until dinner time.  I just try to get something done in the morning and in the afternoon and still make time to sit down and read a book or work on something fun.  

With this method I always get something accomplished each day which seems to keep our household running smoothly.  It also allows for moving tasks around when something comes up and a change needs to be made.  The funny thing is that I seem to get a lot more accomplished than I ever did before and I still have time for me. 

March 15, 2010

Great Deals from Christine "The Menu Mom"

Christine, "The Menu Mom," has a great deal going on her beautiful aprons and Kid Approved Meals Binders that she wants to unload quickly.

She writes "The aprons are made out of boutique high end materials. They are beautiful! They would be perfect for Easter, Mother's Day or Birthday presents. I am selling them at my cost - $17 for women's & $15 for kids which includes shipping & tax. (They retail for $30 plus shipping & tax, so you are getting them 1/2 off). I only have a few of each pattern, so it's first come, first serve."

"For Kid Approved Meals, this is the e-book I sell at (and some of you may already have) I just revised it last week, so this is the new and improved version. It includes 13 weeks of breakfast & lunch menus with grocery shopping lists, as well as 27 pages of snack ideas. The fun part is that I had custom binders printed to hold the book. These are a limited edition item, as I probably will not get any more binders printed. The price is $20 which includes shipping & tax. The ebook on the website is $14.95. So for $5 more you get 117 pages printed (You can hardly print it at home for that price) plus you get the cute binder & it shipped to you! It's a great deal! Once again, I am just recouping my cost, not making a profit. I just need these out of my house. :) And as I said before it is first come, first serve until we run out."

You can see pictures & shop here:

I purchased the red apron with some money I received for my birthday.  This fits in with my retro kitchen decor perfectly and I couldn't make one for that price. 

These items would make wonderful gifts and they do fall into my frugal category of being a great product and a great deal.  So wander on over to Christine's blog "Dine without Whine" and snatch up some great gifts.

Ramblings on Weight Issues

Women understand what it is like to gain a few pounds and then have your favorite jeans be kind of snug.  I am there right now.  What follows are my rambling thoughts about this problem.

Frustrated and disappointed is the best way I can describe how I feel today.  I weigh myself every morning and this morning I weighed 144 lbs.  (I am 5' 5" tall.)  For me that is on the high end.  I prefer to be at 138 lbs.  I have been working out a lot and some of the added weight is probably some muscle.  But it all isn't.

I almost hesitate to give the numbers as I know there are women out there that want to lose weight and would give anything for it to be only 5 lbs.  They are facing a bigger challenge than I am facing.  However if I don't get a handle on this now, it will be 10 or 15 lbs. by the end of the year. I would rather face losing 5 lbs. then a larger number.

Those 5 lbs. are on my hips and tummy and because of that weight gain jeans, pants and capris are tight and for that matter so are some tops. 

When I hit 50 I knew that I would be facing what a lot of middle age women face:  weight gain.  Gone are the years of being able to eat whatever I want to eat and not have to exercise.  Well, those days were gone in my late 20's. 

Bottom line, I am not happy with my weight.  I can do two things:  buy bigger clothes or do something about it.   I'm choosing to do something about it. 

I've been to Weight Watchers in the past but am choosing not to go that route.  It doesn't fit my budget.  Instead I am cutting out all sweets and then I am cutting my portions in half and will be drinking a lot of water (flavored with lime juice the way I like it).  In the past I have had one dress or pair of jeans that I hang up on the outside of my closet door for me to see.  It is my motivation to lose weight so I can get back into that outfit. 

My DH says that I am obsessive and too hard on myself when it comes to weight.  He is right.  I always criticize how I look in certain clothes and that is not healthy.  I am not looking to be skinny and I am not trying to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  Instead I need to look at this weight loss and subsequent maintenance of my weight as a lifestyle change.  I do not plan to buy any frozen low fat, low cal entrees to eat as I have done in the past but will eat smaller portions of whatever we are having.

Weight loss comes down to two things for me:  restraint and resolve.  If I can maintain restraint and not snack or eat a lot of unhealthy foods; if I can start to view food as fuel for my body and not as a quick satisfaction of hunger; and if I can be firm with this decision and resolve to follow this through and see that these changes are good for me, I will make it.

Sometimes I think that when hunger pangs hit, we automatically think we need to feed ourselves.  Having hunger pangs for me will be a good thing.  It means to me that my body is starting to use up some of the stored body fat and burning up those calories. 

I already know what my roadblocks will be.  I know that in the late afternoon and in the evening around 8:00 I want to snack.  It's a good thing that the weather has been pretty nice as I will be going for walks during those times of the day.

If all goes well, by the time the weather is really warm I will have lost those stupid pounds.  And what if I haven't?  Then I will tell myself that I gave it a good try, am healthier for it and will have to work hard at having a better body image.

March 14, 2010

Sugar Doll Award

Thanks to Elizabeth over at Trenches of Mommyhood for awarding me the Sugar Doll Blogger Award.  The rules are to list ten things that you may not know about me and then pass the award on to ten other bloggers.  Drum roll please . . . . . . .

1. I love old black and white movies.

2. We plan our vacations around sports (usually baseball) and historical sights.

3. I want to live in the Smokey Mountain region some day.

4. I want to go to Europe and visit Normandy and other World War II battlefields.

5. I like to sit on my back porch with a good book and a small glass of wine (obviously during warm weather).

6. I have lived in Iowa longer than I ever lived in my home state of New York.

7. I want to learn carpentry.

8. My favorite meal of the day is lunch.

9. I left college at the end of my junior year to get married.

10. I used to be a Republican.

Blogging can be time consuming and sometimes it can be hard to open our lives up for all to see, so to speak.  I love to read what other women are doing with their busy lives and appreciate all the time and energy that these ladies put into their blogs.  I hereby give the Sugar Doll Award to the following blogs:

A Joyful Chaos

50's Housewife

3 Sides of Crazy

Frugal Homemaker Plus

Good & Cheap Eats

Little Bits

Mom's Cooking Club

My Blessed Life

My Financial Kingdom

The Beginning Farmer's Wife

As a recipient of the Sugar Doll Award please post 10 things that people may not know about you and then list 10 blogs that you follow and pass the Sugar Doll Award on to them.

March 11, 2010

Washing Machine Trouble

For the past 6 months I have been babying our washing machine along.  It always got stuck on the spin cycle and after looking at it I discovered that the answer was to place a brick wrapped in a towel on the top right portion of the lid.  With the added weight, the latch pushed down enough so that the machine would go through the spin cycle without stopping.  Prior to discovering this I had to set my kitchen timer and go down to the basement and lift the lid and shut it hard.  Then the clothes would spin out and it would proceed to the next cycle.

I do our clothing laundry on Monday and on Tuesday I wash the bedding and towels.  On Wedneday I noticed a spaghetti stain on my DS's shirt so I decided to wash it along with a few other items.  It was a small load.  I heard the washing machine shut off and when I lifted the lid the clothes seemed to not have spun all of the water out. The clothes were still dripping wet.  I closed the lid and tried the spin cycle again and then I heard a horrendous noise. 

Uh oh!!  I tried again and again, but I only heard a horrendous noise.  The drum was not spinning and I was being left with sopping wet clothes just sitting there. 

We have several small businesses in our town.  One of which is an appliance sales and repair business.  It is run by a father and son and the wife/mom answers the phone and does the bookwork.  In the past few years I have bought appliances from them and had them service appliances.  The one thing that I have come to know is that they are very, very honest.  Let's face it.  If you are not an honest business person, word will get around the town quickly. 

When I called and got the wife on the phone I asked her what the basic charge was for a service call?  $60.00.  Then after discussing the situation with her and her husband they ascertained what could be the problem and estimated that a service call, repair and parts would run between $125 and $150.00.  Then I asked them the price of a new top loading, no frills washing machine:  $399.00.  Tax and hauling away the old machine brought the total to $469.00.

Bottom line.  It was a gamble. 

The washing machine is close to 8 years old and the life expectancy on appliances is around 10 years.  They do not make appliances like they used to.  My refrigerator is 21 years old and it has never had a service call.  Yes, I could go out and replace it with a more energy efficient model but I would rather pocket the price of a new fridge and live with what I have. 

So $125 to $150 to repair an 8 year old washing machine OR buy a new one OR go to the laundromat.  Yes, I really thought about going to the laundromat.  I did some calling around to a few laundromats and it would cost around $1.25 to wash one load and another 50 to 75 cents to dry that load.  I wash 8 to 10 loads per week.  Too costly.

$125 to $150 for repairs - Is it worth it to put that kind of money into an 8 year old washing machine that may or may not keep running for at least another 2 years? I decided that it wouldn't be.

Notice that I didn't price one of those new front loading machines.  Years ago if I didn't have the money in the bank and we had to use a credit card to buy a washing machine, I would have looked at a more expensive machine with bells and whistles.  It's funny but whenever I used a credit card for a major purchase I usually bought the high end model and paid on it over a year or two.

Now we pay cash and I look at purchasing an appliance differently than I used to.  I don't need the bells and whistles.  For a washing machine I need three water levels, a delicate cycle, a regular cycle and a heavy duty cycle with options for cold, warm and hot water.  Those basic features will service our family as well as any fancy machine will.  And this machine does use less laundry soap.

Finally I decided that in the end a new machine was the best choice.  Here is how I came to that decision.  We have the money in the bank to pay for it, albeit we would rather not use money in savings and keep it there instead.  Spending $125.00 to $150.00 for a repair that may extend the life of the washing machine by two years seemed too costly.  The new washing machine is on sale at a good price.  If we repair the old machine and it breaks down in two years we will have to replace it when our youngest son is in college.  Will we have the extra money to pay for it then?  Will I find a good deal like I found yesterday?

Yes I really pondered this one.  When I was working I wouldn't have thought about it at all. I wouldn't have even considered the options and I would have just gone out and made the purchase.  So I have changed.  I really think financial matters through right now.

Living frugally is all about decision making.  Baking my own bread, making my laundry soap, turning the thermostat down in the winter, cutting back on netflix, using coupons, spending less on groceries and using up what's in my pantry, are all decisions I have made with the end result - saving money. I know that the money I saved in January and February on groceries and other decisions saved us at least $400.  This month I will save another $200 on groceries. 

The end result is that frugal living paid for my new washing machine.

March 10, 2010

What's for Dinner Tonight?

I thought a few times a week I would post what we are having for dinner that night.  I will probably only post the main dish.

Tonight we are having "Mock Chop Suey."

I remember when my mom was given this recipe some 45 years ago.  It was in the mid 1960's and this casserole was made by Mrs. Hall.  My mom cleaned her house every other Friday.   My dad was laid off from his job or on strike quite a bit so my mom cleaned houses to help our family.  I remember that my mom was paid $25.00 each time that she cleaned.  Back in the 1960's that was a lot of money.

We loved this casserole. It was new and kind of exotic in that it had soy sauce in it.  I don't think I had ever tasted soy sauce before.  Here is the recipe.

1 small onion, chopped
1 cup celery, diced
1 lb. ground beef
2 cups cooked rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup milk.

Brown the ground beef with the onion and the celery.  Drain the meat mixture and stir in the rest of the ingredients.  Pour into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

(I usually find celery on sale and I chop it up and freeze it in 1/2 cup portions for recipes like this one.) You can also freeze this casserole and bake it at a later date. 

It's as simple as that and everytime I bake it I remember Mrs. Hall introducing us to soy sauce and this wonderful casserole.

March 09, 2010

Back to the Good Ole Franklin Planner System

I tried and tried to make up my own housekeeping planner and notebook and frankly, I hated it.  My homemade version didn't seem to look "professional" and I did not like to use it. 

After some thought I decided to go back to what I used when I was working full time:  a Franklin Planner System.  Yep, I forked over the money back in January to purchase planner pages that I had used in the business world and that I am now using at home.  What a difference in my day. 

I have used the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People planner pages for years and just as they worked for me in the office; they work equally well at home. 

Last fall I needed to order new planner pages but when I was surfing the internet one day I noticed planners that women had created on their own for homemaking.  At the time I felt that this would be a better option for me now that I was home full time and would also be cheaper since I would be creating the pages myself.  I tried for 3 months to use my new system and I struggled with it.  I finally had to admit that my homemade version just wasn't working for me and it was time to go back to what had worked in the past.

Using the planner pages that I had used for years was like partnering with an old friend again. 

I have a PDA that I can use also, but for the most part I love to see things written out on paper on planner pages as it is easier for me to "see the whole picture" of what I need to get done in my day.

I didn't totally abandon the Household Notebook idea in that I have kept in it information about my houshold such as when we purchased an appliance along with the serial numbers; paint samples and their numbers for different rooms in the house; decorating ideas from magazines and so on.  I find that it is a convenient place to keep bits and pieces of information that I can have at my finger tips. 

In trying to save money I came up with my own planner and design and in so doing I ended up with something that I didn't want to use day to day. It was useless to me.  The best way for me to explain it is to say that it just didn't look professional.

The new/old system works.  Now I use my planner daily to schedule appointments, to keep me on track with housework, to track spending and most importantly to help me decide what is really important in my life and to set goals with those things in mind.

March 06, 2010

Paying for College

Financial experts always talk about how you should start saving for your children's college education when they are born.  I'm not sure about anyone else but when our boys were babies we did not have an extra $250 to $300 a month to set aside for college.

My DH and I made a decision a long time ago that we wanted to pay for as much as possible for both of our sons' college education.  Again, this was our decision and I don't push this belief on anyone else.  Everyone knows what they can and cannot afford to do for their children and all of us make choices. 

When we purchased our home we kept in mind that our oldest son would be going to college in 6 years.  We bought a house "below our means" knowing we would have a college education to pay for in a few years.  One year before he went to college, I was given the opportunity to work full time at the law firm.  I had been working 30 hours a week and now I would be working 40 plus. 

Our son worked the last year of high school and while in college he had summer jobs.  The cost of one year of college at the private college he attended was around $23,000 a year (his freshmen year) which included tuition, room and board.  He attended a college out of state.  Scholarships lowered that amount to around $15,000 and along with what we paid and our son's financial contribution he graduated with around $19,000 in student loans.  This is not bad at all for a 4 year private college education. 

Then our son was able to become a graduate assistant at another college and he received his Master's degree tuition free. 

One time when we visited our son and his wife, he talked about the kids he was coaching at his coaching job at the college and how the bulk of them had no financial help from their parents.  Then he looked at us and said "thank you."  I never  doubted that he was grateful for all the financial help that we had given him in paying for college.  It was when he saw the students he was coaching struggling to pay for their own college education, that it was really brought home to him the sacrifice that we had made for him. 

Bottom line my working full time, putting off any major purchases and good planning paid for his education. 

Next year it is our youngest son's turn to go to college and our financial situation has changed drastically from when our oldest son went to college. 

The first thing I asked my DH when I made the decision to stay home was "Are we going to be able to pay for another college education?"  His response, "yes." 

How are we going to do it?  We have paid down debt considerably and by the time our youngest son goes to college our only debt will be a car payment and mortgage.  The money we won't be paying on debt will go towards a college payment.  We have also been setting aside $300 a month for a few years towards his college education.  It's never too late to set aside some money.  Lastly, our youngest son does have an after school job and as his brother did, he will have a job during summer vacations to help defray the costs. 

We left the choice of where our sons would attend college up to them.  We never limited them to a state university.  Actually with the type of financial aid offered to our oldest son, he received a private school education at a state university cost. 

Our youngest son will be attending college in the fall of 2011.  In the past few months he has surprised us by telling us that he wants to attend the private 4 year liberal arts college that is located in our community.  He is adament.  His main reason is that he wants to go into the field of political science and he has been involved in local politics for 3 years.  He is working for the local chamber of commerce and he feels that by going to college here, he will still be able to work and volunteer in the organizations that he is already associated with, and this will add to his education and career goals.

This is not a fleeting feeling, he has made his decision.  At first I tried to talk him out of it as I felt he needed to go to school away from home, but then I realized that his choice was a great fit for him.

Now for some possible ways to pay for his education.  We will have the money to make monthly payments but I am now thinking of other possibilities.  If I am able to get a job at the college, I can get free tuition for my son.  This would be the only reason that I would go back to work. 

Twenty years ago I worked at that college and I did enjoy my job.  I would do it again, for at least four years, if that meant that our son would receive free tuition.  If he wanted to, he could live here at home and then we would save room and board BUT we would never push that on him. 

Now I know that we go against the bulk of what financial experts are advising people in that they say that parents should put money towards retirement ahead of paying for your children's college education.  We are putting the maximum amount matched by my DH's employer into his retirement plan and when our youngest son graduates we will be able to save a lot of money towards retirement.  We do not desire to live a rich life when we are retired, but to maintain the life we have now.  We have done the math and it will happen.

Due to tight finances more families in our community are looking for ways to finance their children's education.  The result is that more and more local students are attending the private college here in our community and are living at home.  The other trend is that many are attending a community college located 25 miles south and are then transferring to a 4 year college. 

More and more kids are not wanting to be saddled with student loans as they are now seeing that they may have a hard time finding a job even after they get out of college.  It is great to see the trend towards fiscal responsibility and the way people are paying for college these days. 

In the end our youngest son is going to have the same opportunity our oldest son had. He will receive a college education at the college of his choice, with the bulk of his education being paid for by us.  Whether he attends a college locally or not, lives at home or on campus, or whether I get a job or not, the end result is the same.  He will get a degree and will not be saddled with a lot of student loan debt when he graduates.

March 03, 2010

Odds and Ends

This month we have had some added expenses such as new glasses for my DH and DS. The insurance at my DH’s former job covered about 75% the cost of eye glasses and his new job does not offer any type of optometric coverage. So before the coverage ran out my DH and DS went to the optometrist for eye exams and new glasses. Our portion of the costs will be about $250 total for 2 pairs of glasses and both eye exams. It was not a bad deal.

I continue to forge on in finding ways to save money and such. I got an unexpected surprise at the grocery store today when I snagged a 5 lb. box of Clementine tangerines for $1.99 and I was able to get 4 boxes of Rice Krispies for 50 cents each after coupons. Another great deal.

The sun has been shining for the past week and I cannot believe how good it feels to have the sun streaming through the windows of my house. Of course with the sun shining into the house I am able to see a lot of dust bunnies and such, so I will be spending the next couple days deep cleaning the house.

The winter has been long and there were a few days that I didn’t get much done around the house as I just didn’t feel like it. It was dark and gray outside and the sun didn’t shine for such a long time. Now I feel energized to get more done and I feel that finally spring is around the corner. I can hardly wait to see a crocus peeking up out of the ground.

Next week the local meteorologist is predicting a lot of rain which will most likely lead to flooding in our area. We have been through a hard winter and now it would appear we will experience another spring of flooding. One thing always leads to another it would seem.

But for now, the sun is shining.

March 01, 2010

The Death of a Baby - 26 years later

26 years ago today I gave birth to our firstborn child, a daughter. She died 3 hours after her birth.  I grieved for weeks and then I started to heal and accept her death.

I could have let her death “define” my life. I could have become totally disabled by her death and not wanting to move forward.

Sometimes we have to make decisions in our life to live and go on. We may face a death of a loved one, a job loss, a divorce, an illness. At some point we have to say to ourselves I can’t live in this grief and I must get on with my life. I did that. I was determined that just as much as I loved that little girl; I loved life too and had to move on. That is what I did.

17 months after her death I gave birth to a son. He will be 25 years old in August. Then I gave birth to our youngest son in 1993. He is now 17 years old.

Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of her. I look at my two sons sometimes and wonder what their sister would have looked like as a teenager and so on. It is not a time of sadness when I think on these things, but just a “wondering” moment.

Life goes on. Sometimes we have to accept what life hands us and keep on going. My life is full. However, had I decided to live my life stuck in the sadness and anger of her death, I doubt I would be experiencing the fullness of life that I have right now.

I’m a lucky one. I have a wonderful husband who loved me and allowed me to work through my grief in my own way so that I could move on and live my life.