Saturday, November 20, 2010

25 Days of Thanksgiving

I'm a Facebooker.  I'll admit it.  Being a stay-at-home Mom, some days Facebook provides me my only adult interaction, other than seeing my husband.  So, I noticed the other day that a friend of mine was posting something for which she was thankful every day of this month all the way up until Thanksgiving.

25 full days of being thankful...what a wonderful idea.

Let's face it, we all complain about our lives.  I've been going through a particularly rough patch and while I try not to complain about the way things are, I occasionally let complaints slip.  My poor husband, in particular, gets to listen to me complain (he's such a good understanding).  So, here's my list (in no particular order) of the 25 things for which I am thankful:

1. My son eats incredibly healthy foods for his age.  The closest we come to cookies are Barnum's animal crackers and graham crackers.  Forget cake and ice cream...he doesn't want it.  His favorite food is split pea soup...who else can say that about their kid?

2. My husband makes the best cheeseburgers.  I'm blessed, because I love cheeseburgers.  I'd take one of his burgers over a restaurant burger any day.

3. Money's tight, but we all agree on one thing...we're thankful that I can stay home with our son.  I feel like these early years with him are so precious and to get to spend every moment of it with him is magical.

4. In spite of the loss of our beloved Champ a couple of weeks ago, I am so thankful that my dear dog Mason is still so healthy, even as he approaches 12 years old.  He was there with me throughout my bedrest with my son.  I'll never find a better friend.

5. I spent 17 years apart from some members of my family and I'm so thankful to have them back in my life.  I feel blessed to be accepted back into this circle of people who I dearly missed.

6. While my son isn't a man of many words (he's only 19 months old), I am so thankful for every little word spoken in his sweet little voice.  "Mama" is my favorite, for obvious reasons.

7.  I'm thankful that "Thomas the Tank Engine" comes on every weekday at noon.  Being able to DVR all of those episodes, rather than buy them, has made my wallet very happy.

8.  In the midst of an attack of my allergies, I'm thankful for generic Claritin.  Allergy sufferers out there can understand what I mean by this.

9. I'm thankful for all of the wonderful midwives, surgeons, and nurses who helped bring my son into this world safely.  It could have turned out much different than it did, but a whole team of people helped to save me and my son.  I'll be forever grateful for this.

10. While we're on the subject of medical personnel, I'm forever thankful for the team at Banfield who tried for a year to heal my poor, sweet Champy.  In the end, I'm thankful that they were there to cry with me when I had to say goodbye.  They loved my friend like he was their own and the kindness they showed him will never be forgotten.  They are truly wonderful people.

11. I'm thankful that Mason is so tolerant of my son Jack.  He can push and shove Mason around all day, but he just tolerates it.  He is a four-legged angel.

12. I'm thankful for Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  Their Chocolate Fudge Brownie has been a companion in good times and bad.  I raise my spoon to those two gentlemen from Vermont.

13. While we do have to budget extensively, I'm thankful that we're always able to afford what we need.  Being able to provide for our family is a tremendous blessing.

14. In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I'm thankful for being a parent during the holidays.  The holidays take on new meaning when there's a child in your life.  Thank you Jack for making the holidays magical for me again.

15. In addition, I'm thankful for 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TBS on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.  I can't get enough of that movie.

16. I'm thankful that God blessed me with the dexterity to use chopsticks.  I may not be able to walk without falling, but some foods just taste better eaten with sticks.  I'm blessed that I am able to utilize this under appreciated eating utensil.

17. I am thankful for the men and women in uniform, in particular my brother-in-law Tim, who serve our country and fight to keep us all safe and free.  We should all be thankful for this.

18. My husband is such a wonderful father to our son.  I am truly thankful for that and it makes me so happy to see the two of them together.  They're my two favorite people.

19. Although it's targeted for an audience slightly younger than me, I'm thankful for Harry Potter books/movies.  It gives me a good excuse to be a child for a couple of hours.

20. In the spirit of being young, I'm thankful for all of my brothers and sisters.  Being around them makes me feel young, too.

21. I am thankful for Trader Joe's.  They help me feed my family good, nutritious food for a fraction of the cost.  Also, they have Candy Cane Green Tea and Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's around the holidays.  The little things that bring me joy...

22. Turkey is one of my favorite meals, so I am thankful that Thanksgiving is almost here!  I can't wait to sink my teeth into some of that succulent bird.

23.  Since we try to save money, I am thankful that my husband and I are decent cooks.  I can't imagine trying to eat at home most of the time if we weren't.

24. I am thankful for having a basement.  It allows me to have some "me" time while my husband plays his video games.  When we lived in an apartment, I had to just watch him play for hours.  Now, I can go watch something else and unwind.

25. Finally, I am thankful that I am in a position at this point in my life to count my blessings.  It's hard at times, but so important to remember to give thanks for what you do have.

While some people might see some things on my list as a little superficial, it's good to think of even the little things that you're thankful for.  What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Being a SAHM...and Not Going Broke

When my husband and I decided that I should become a stay-at-home Mom, we knew it would not be easy.  While my salary was less than my husband's, the loss of my income would equal a 40% pay cut for our household.  While I won't get into the reasons why we did it, I'll tell you how we have survived.  Take these tips and use them as you see fit, whether are a SAHM or just someone looking to save a little money.

1. Give up the "Keeping up with the Joneses" mentality.  Your neighbors/friends have the latest and greatest of everything?  Fantastic for them, but you have to prioritize.  Learn to be happy with the experiences you provide you family and children (being at home with them is one of them) and don't focus on the material possessions.  Believe me, our generation needed way too much stuff...our kids will be better off for the lack of it.

2. BUDGET.  You cannot manage on two salaries, let alone one, without budgeting, in my opinion.  It doesn't matter if you have thousands of dollars of dispensable income each month, you still need to know what you must set aside for the essentials before you can blow the rest of it on designer shoes.  I keep an Excel spreadsheet of our budget.  Every purchase we make and cent we bring in goes on that spreadsheet.  It's an effective way of seeing where money goes and it helps you identify where you waste money, too.

3. Eat at home.  I, like everyone else, like nothing more than to not have to prepare or clean up after a meal.  However, if you are trying to save money, here is a place to do it.

Preparing meals at home and cooking enough to cover lunches for you and your spouse throughout the week will save you lots of money.  Let's say that lunch costs $5/day, at a minimum, if you buy your lunch.  If you make a casserole at home that costs $8 for 6 servings and you and your husband eat two of those servings for dinner, you have 4 leftover that can be used as lunches.  This saves you $20 through the course of the week!  While you're at it, make sure you pack snacks for the hubby, too.  That'll keep him from hitting up the vending machines ($1/day at the vending machines equals $5/week saved by packing snacks).

The same goes for coffee.  I like Starbucks as much as the next gal (I heart Pumpkin Spice lattes), but $4 for coffee is a bit much when I can spend $4 at the store for a month's worth.  Is it the same?  No...but with some experimenting, you can get pretty close.  I've gotten to where I can get a pretty darn good replica of a Caffe Mocha or Pumpkin Spice latte here at home.

Learn to be a good cook.  Believe me, you may find yourself thinking that the food you prepare at home is better than what you can get from a restaurant (my husband makes burgers that beat what you can get out any day).  The better you learn to cook and the more diverse foods you can prepare, the less you'll find you need to reach for a take-out menu.

4. Shop around.  If you don't get the newspaper, subscribe to the Sunday paper NOW.  It'll save you money, I promise.  Keep a list in your head of purchases that need to be made for your family and constantly scan sales flyers and ads for these items.  Along with this, know what "good" prices are for the common items you buy for your household so that you know a good deal when you see it.

Along these same lines, don't buy all of your groceries at the same place.  I shop at a combination of stores to equal the best price for our groceries.  Trader Joe's sells organic whole milk yogurt, a lunchtime staple for my son, at a fraction of the cost of it at other stores.  They also sell eggs for 20 cents cheaper.  So, I go to there for some things and to Kroger for others.  It takes time, but it does help you save.  Also, don't discount stores like Target for pantry staples.  I find that Target has phenomenal prices on health and beauty items, in addition to various other grocery items.

5. Start couponing.  Reason number two to get the Sunday paper is the coupons.  Let's say you buy the paper once a week at a cost of about $2 (if you're buying it without a subscription...with a subscription is significantly cheaper).  I promise that the paper will pay for itself in coupons and your husband will have the pleasure of reading the sports section and completing the Sudoku.

Couponing is like playing cards.  It's not just enough to have a good coupon, but you also need to know when to play it.  Combining coupons with sales is the best way to get your money's worth.  Also, know your stores' policies on coupons.  Some stores double coupons (our grocery store doubles coupons valued at $0.50 or less), others take competitors' coupons, and some stores allow you to use both a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon at the same time.  It never hurts to ask.

A good way to manage your coupons well is by using a couponing website.  I personally use CouponMom.  These websites save you time by highlighting sales items and showing you which coupons you can use to get more bang for your buck.  My one piece of advice?  Take the time to still look at the sales flyers yourself, because sometimes these websites miss some items.

The result?  You enter the grocery store armed with a wealth of information to save you money.  So, make your list, review your coupons and sales ads, and make adjustments to help you save.

6. Plan ahead for meals.  Unfortunately, our grocery budget is one of the few places where we have the power to curb spending (the mortgage/rent doesn't work so generously), so plan meals accordingly.

Make lists before you go to the store and stick to them.  Checking sales ads and coupons ahead of time will allow you to plan and build your meals around the foods that are the best bargains of the week.  Sticking to your list will allow you to get only what you need.

Now that I've said that, I have one other piece of advice for your list.  Bring a pen to the store and keep a running tally of how much your total grocery bill is measuring up to be.  If you budget $80/week on groceries and you find that you've gotten everything on your list with $30 to spare, you have some options.  You can either leave the store while you're ahead, or you can pick up a couple of extras.  If you know that chicken breasts are a phenomenal deal that week, get an extra pack or two.  Use your freezer...most foods can be frozen.

7. Buy generic.  This doesn't just work for foods.  After a year and a half of using Pampers diapers, we finally switched to Target diapers and we save nearly 50% that way.  I shutter to think that I wasted all of that money for so long.  In my opinion, generic diapers work just as well as name-brand, though I know some people who swear that they don't.  In my opinion, they all work about the same, it's the texture and appearance of the generics that are different.

The same goes for clothing (Target has adorable clothes for baby and Mommy).  Or medicine (I don't get why people buy name-brand's chemically identical to the generics).  My one exception to the generic rule is food.  I buy store-brand with just about everything, but there are certain items that I have to get in a particular name-brand.  I can't eat anything by Hellmann's mayonnaise or Hershey's chocolate syrup.  They are my indulgences.

8. Buy used.  I'll admit, I'm not as good at this one, but there are plenty of consignment stores and garage sales out there just waiting for you.  I really like children's consignment stores, because many of them have name-brand fashions at a fraction of the retail price.  Let's face it, kids wear a particular size for such a short amount of time that there isn't really any reason to pay full-price, if you can at all help it.

Many consignment stores and garage sales are excellent places to snap up toys (just clean them very well) and other baby and kids' items.  Many of these places will pay you for your gently used items, so you can actually MAKE MONEY on the transaction!

My only exceptions to buying used?  In my opinion, never buy or receive as a hand-me-down cribs, car seats, or any other baby/kids' item in which safety is a serious concern.  If you do accept these items, make sure you do your homework to make sure that the item you're using is safe.  To put it in perspective, our car seat is probably one of the most expensive items we've purchased for our son, but my son's life is priceless.

Ultimately, I think that our generation grew up in a period of relative abundance, but our children might not have that luxury.  However, there's no reason why our children cannot feel abundant and blessed in other ways.  We may not have a ton of extra money (no bi-yearly trips to Disney for us), but my son gets the benefit of being at home everyday and cared for by his mother.

When I think back on my own childhood, I don't remember what brand of clothing I wore and I'm sure my son won't either.  He will remember sleeping in and waking up to his Mommy and a big bowl of warm blueberry oatmeal.  He'll remember watching Thomas the Tank Engine in his pajamas while sitting in Mommy's lap.  He'll remember running through the backyard playing ball and cuddling his puppy.  He'll remember the big bowls of Mommy's soups (one of his favorite meals) and running up to meet Daddy when he gets home.

I think you can't put a price tag on those things.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving Cake

Turkey cake?  Yummy...

Now, I'm a person who isn't freaked out by foods touching.  They do that.  I'm OCD about some things, but at Thanksgiving I'm fine with turkey/potatoes/gravy in one bite.  That's yummy.

This monstrosity of a cake is essentially layered ground turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce "frosted" with more mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole on top.  Billed as an all-in-one Thanksgiving feast, the creators of this behemoth claim it actually tastes good (if you would like the recipe, click here).

I don't know about that.  Now, this Thanksgiving, I'm not doing the cooking, but I do know that if I had guests, they'd likely be less than impressed at the presence of a potato-frosted cake on my table.

Now, this is possibly a dish that my husband could get into.  I still recall the time that he sent me a link to the Bacon Explosion.  I'm not a health food nut, but the Bacon Explosion is more than I could handle.

This is a bit of an extreme example, but would you ever serve something this unconventional at your Thanksgiving table?


I've tried to start a blog multiple times in the past.  It obviously hasn't worked out.

So, why start a blog this time?

Answer:  I don't really know.  Maybe I think other people would be interested in what I have to say.  Being a stay-at-home Mom brings with it a certain degree of loneliness and disconnection from the outside world. I honestly have no idea what stay-at-home Moms did before Facebook.  Did they just become as immersed in Barney as I imagine they did?  Maybe they drank during naptime.  Either way, perhaps this blog is just another outlet for me to connect with the outside world.

I must confess, the outside world is overrated at times.  Something about being a Mom makes you the target of more rude comments than you could possibly contemplate.  Sweet little boy, you have a cut on your cheek!  Maybe your Mommy should cut your nails more often.  Really, world...seriously?  I have an inability to make my opinions heard in these situations in which someone suffers from verbal emesis.  So, maybe this blog is an outlet for those opinions, too.  Brace yourselves.

Maybe it's to share some of the trials and tribulations of parenthood and all that accompanies it.  Like most single-income families, mine sticks to a tight budget.  Managing money and your household is definitely something to comment about.  My son is starting to talk.  Sometimes it's cute ("Tritter-Tree" for "Trick-or-Treat"), sometimes it's a little embarrassing (he's starting to say "weiner", too).  We definitely like hearing and sharing the cute things our kids do.  Let's not leave out the dog, either.

So, not entirely unlike Jerry Seinfeld, I'm entering a project with little purpose, but lots of good intent.  We'll see what comes of it, if anything.  I might be writing to no one but cyberspace, but that's okay, too.