Friday, April 11, 2014

Fun stuff

So I had to share a trick I played on Nathan for April Fool's Day. He is often playing jokes on us at home, and I thought it would be fun to get him back. When I read this idea in F*mily Fun, I knew it was perfect. Nathan almost always takes cold lunch to school, so this is what I packed that day:
I emailed his teacher beforehand to tell her about it and so she would know that Nathan would need hot lunch that day after opening his plastic lunch! When I picked him up from school, his expression was hilarious, and his teacher emailed me later to tell about his reaction from her perspective. So funny! Glad I got him! That night when I went to bed, I pulled back the covers, and our sheets were covered with tons of items from the play kitchen. Ha!

We also had Charles F. Cheddar take 3 last week, with bowling, skee-ball and basketball shooting. It was fun, and pretty easy to pull off since I didn't have to start from scratch. (And I cannot believe Natalie was wearing a swimsuit--we'd gotten 5-6 inches of snow the night before!)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past two weeks:

*Made watermelon popsicles with some melon that was getting mushy
*Eric asked the college tennis coach for some old tennis balls that Nathan could use for practicing baseball, and he was happy to oblige with a box of 10.
*Made granola bites, waffles, banana zucchini bread and a big batch of granola
*Redeemed a coupon for a free mini pizza that Nathan earned from the school reading program
*Scored four free sticks of deodorant with coupons
*The college snack bar had set out a huge box of overripe bananas with a "free" sign on it; Eric happened to walk by and brought home a couple bunches, which I pureed for banana bread
*Attended a free dance performance at the college
*Ground a bunch of flaxseed in my blender--the flax was a gift from our host student when she left--I've only ever bought it ground, and Monica suggested the blender, which worked out great.
*Scored a free chocolate egg through a rebate
*Went to a fabulous concert by a unique Israel music group and paid only $2--this show was at a coffeeshop; their more formal concert later in the week was $10, so I felt like I got a real bargain!
*Stopped by the bread outlet and got several kinds for great prices--up to 75% off!
*Paid a couple dollars for a box of several colors of tempera paint. I've never had any on hand, and it's often called for in various craft projects, so I was thrilled to purchase some at such a deal.
*Received three lotion samples in the mail and a sample of face cleanser
*Mended several articles of clothing
*Entered codes on several reward sites (I think C*ke and Kell*ggs are best in terms of offering generous rewards)
*Sold several pieces of clothing on a local swap site
*Grocery deals: cheese crackers for $1/box (reg. $2.99) and a half-gallon of chocolate milk for just 93 cents (reg. $2.99) combining a sale and coupon
*I realized I don't think I've mentioned taking advantage of library programs. We attend 2-3 story times a week, and I am so grateful these are offered by our local libraries. One of the programs even offers a snack, in addition to reading books and making a craft. And they often make crafts I would not try out at home, so I feel like this is a winning option for us. One of the programs even serves a snack related to that week's theme!
*Bought several bags of close-dated corn and tortilla chips for 50 cents each
*Used a fuel rewards card to save 7 cents off each gallon of gas
*Received a free book when it was offered on our local swap site--and it was one I've been wanting to read. I was surprised to see it was in new condition when I picked it up. Even better!
*Stopped by my favorite consignment store when all inventory was 25% off--I got several things we needed, and had surplus credit from consigned items I brought last time! I went to another store and got a few more clothing items for the kids, and a couple were 50% off. I was pleased with what I found!

*My favorite thing to add to this list is that Natalie and I both got FREE haircuts from a friend. I recently learned this gal went to beauty school and she enjoys giving haircuts to her friends (and their kids) in her home and sees it as a ministry. So, we got great cuts, I enjoyed chatting with her, and my kids played with hers. I was so excited about how it all played out, and she said to call her again in a couple months when we need cuts again. We sure will. I brought her a couple canned goodies as a thank you, but I still got the best end of the deal! I only wish I'd know about it sooner.
I'm pictured with this fabulous singer, who I just learned knows some real-life friends of mine (shout-out to C&E)! Eric and I worked at the Compassion table at a concert this past weekend, and JJ was one of the artists on the tour. It was an all-around win--date night for Eric and me, signing up 26 kids to be sponsored!, and hearing some wonderful music in the process. (And thanks to my friend Carmen for helping me order the t-shirt!)

Lastly, Monica asked me if I would explain how Checkout 51 works. If you have a smartphone, this process will look different (and be more streamlined). After you sign up, you receive an email once a week (mine comes every Thursday) with a list of 20 or so different products. If you purchase any of the featured products, you take a photo of your receipt and upload it to C51, checking which option(s) you want to redeem. In less than 48 hours, your receipt is checked and the appropriate amount (usually 50 cents-$1) is deposited in your C51 account. Once you hit $20, they'll send you a check. I signed up in January and have about $9 in my account. I don't redeem an offer every week (best used on things you're already purchasing, especially if they're on sale), but it's been a nice way to boost some deals and doesn't take a ton of effort.

I'd love to hear about your recent frugal activities!

Monday, March 31, 2014

A perfect ten

I coordinate events for my local MOPS group, and was inspired by my sister-in-law, Kendra, to  organize a swap of busy bag activities. I'd heard of them before, but wasn't sure where to begin. Kendra was super-helpful in passing along the instructions and resources she used when she coordinated a similar event in her home last spring.

I thought I would share a little about the process here, because the moms who participated were thrilled to take part, and it seemed that everyone was pleased with how things went.

I first gave an introduction and invitation to our entire MOPS group (around 60 moms), and was hoping that ten moms would sign up. I was excited that we ended up with exactly that number, which made it nice and even.

Each participant selected an activity (there are tons of lists available on-line, but Kendra recommended this one, in addition to the links above), which they cleared through me so that we knew we'd have variety. Then we had a couple weeks to make 10 of that activity (one to keep, and one to swap with each of the other nine moms). So you make ten of the same thing, and go home with 10 different ones. So cool!

Here is what I made--I spent $2 on the clothespins, and the rest was supplies I had on hand. Kids clip the appropriate color pin to each section on the circle.
And here is what I brought home (one not shown):
I haven't decided when and how I'll dole these out. I think Natalie will enjoy all of them, Nathan would probably try a couple, and most are ahead of Naomi at this point. (We aimed for gender-neutral and ages 2-4, which is obviously a wide range of skills!) But I'm definitely glad to have them on hand.

As for the event, we met together for a brief time to swap bags, explain our own activity, and have refreshments. It was a nice time, and I'm glad it worked out!

Have you ever made busy bags before?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Frugal accomplishments

Here are my frugal accomplishments from the past 2 1/2 weeks:

*Monica graciously sent me some samples of her favorite essential oil blend to try out.
*My sister-in-law and I scored (tiny!) free samples of perfume from a store at the mall.
*We used a coupon for a free meal, along with a $5 rewards credit to have a fun and rare outing to a pizza place our kids love.
*A regional gas station offers a free newspaper when you fill up there on Sundays. We happened to stop at one while traveling home, and took advantage of this promotion.
*Received some samples in the mail: Emergen-C and tea
*A friend gave us two pairs of pants and some shirts her son had outgrown (And lest it seem that we're always on the receiving end, I should clarify that I regularly give away items we are ready to part with. Not trying to toot my own horn, but don't want things to seem one-sided. We are blessed to both give and receive!)
*Redeemed a coupon for a free 12-pack of Coke (via their rewards program)
*Received a book from PaperBackSwap
*Cooked a pound of black beans
*Made a batch of fajita seasoning mix and a homemade marinade to grill on one of our few warmer days
*Grocery deals (combining sale, coupon, and Checkout 51): 2 boxes of crackers for 17 cents each and lots of yogurt cups for 10-14 cents each, a dozen eggs for 50 cents, cereal for $1.25/box (reg. $3.99!)
*Ground wheat berries into flour
*Sold our high chair (we still use a booster seat and will keep it) on a swap site, and used the money to buy a secondhand set of fun baseball bedding for Nathan, who needed new sheets.
*Brought home some leftovers from a church meal I coordinated.
*Natalie wanted donuts for her birthday breakfast, and I wasn't sure I'd make it there in the morning before 7. Plus, our bakery (awesomely and astonishingly!) maintains a tradition of selling donuts for a quarter apiece every day after school. So, the day before, I took the kids to the bakery and we exercised self-control! We each picked out what we wanted to have for breakfast the next day. Our total was $1, compared to about $5 I'd paid the next morning. Plus, I had a gift certificate from the library, so we really spent nothing!
*Natalie's birthday party was very inexpensive. I spent about $6 on favors, $1 to print the colored band-aid stickers, and about $3 for the food. The activities were free, but I did give a gift card to thank the nursing student who came.
*I spent less than $10 on Natalie's gifts, which included two books (one about how our bodies work, the other about being a nurse), a puzzle, a DVD, and a couple Doc McS goodies.
*Made hummus and cheese-y bread
*Earned a $5 Amazon card via Swagbucks
*Bought a half-pound of Italian sausage (to make soup) for just 37 cents--the meat was on sale and I had a $1 off coupon!
*Gave haircuts to Eric and Nathan
*Got a free bar of soap with a coupon--perfect for adding to a shoebox next fall!
*Eric and I had an inexpensive date night, taking advantage of a couple dining out discounts. We also had free babysitting, thanks to swapping with a friend. (I watched her 4 kids one afternoon a few weeks ago.) Woo-hoo!
*Made homemade brownies and a double batch of apple muffins

I'd love to hear about some of your recent frugal activities!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Time for a check-up!

For the past year, Natalie has shown a strong and consistent interest in medical things, and she has made comments before about wanting to be a nurse or doctor. I thought that would make a fun birthday theme, so that is what we did.

Here are the invitations I made:
I also made a sign to greet people at the front door:

For food, we had apple slices (An apple a day keeps the doctor away!), cookies that look like band-aids and mini cupcakes with toppers I made from Doc McS stickers. (Natalie had only seen the show once, as we don't have cable TV, but she definitely knew who this character was!)
I was really excited about how the activities came together. When the girls arrived, I had them color a Doc McS coloring page I'd printed. Then we played a bean bag toss game I'd borrowed from our college's nursing department. Isn't it awesome?! (The bean bags are laying near the hole where they should be tossed.)
 
The hit of the party was that I'd arranged for a senior nursing student to come give the girls mini check-ups. I'd printed checklists and then the girls could mark off each task after it was completed (blood pressure, temp, etc.) The student did an awesome job, and Natalie definitely said that was her favorite part. (Don't put stock into the "stats" written below--the scale I borrowed from a friend was off by several pounds, but the girls still had fun getting weighed.)

Lastly, I set out Natalie's doctor kit and the board game Operation for the girls to play with. And of course she opened some gifts. There were a few hiccups, of course, but overall it went well, and I loved how the theme played out!

The favor bags were fun and inexpensive--I added a couple things not pictured--a tongue depressor and a pen that looks like a shot from the nursing student. Thanks to Monica for sending the Doc McS fruit snacks. I made some homemade band-aids (for dolls and stuffed animals) out of an old receiving blanket and some Velcro I had on hand.

As for the rest of the day, here is what Natalie chose for her three birthday meals:
Breakfast in bed--donuts, strawberries, juice
Lunch--turkey, cheese, grapes, and these crackers (so specific!)
Supper--potato soup (This was a surprise--you just never know what they'll say!) We also had cheese-y bread, fruit and cupcakes. We were joined by Eric's brother, Ryan, and his fiancee, Alyssum.


 We're glad you had a special 5th birthday, Natalie. We love you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Five

This energetic girl turns 5 today! She is creative, sensitive, and loves all things girly. Natalie loves to listen to music, look at books, play games, and has recently discovered how much she enjoys gymnastics.

The dynamics with Natalie have sadly been pretty challenging lately, and I hope we can just have a really fun day celebrating her. We'll have a little party with friends this morning and of course the meals are all by her request. (I'm always so interested to see what they choose!)

Here are some recent photos of Nat-a-tat, as we sometimes call her:

Happy Birthday, Natalie!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Small steps

There are several areas in my life where I have lately felt discouraged and/or overwhelmed.

Monica loaned me this book, and I was so encouraged by this brief statement: "Don't believe for a second that a small step in the right direction is a pointless exercise." Sometimes even small steps can feel difficult, and I was reminded to not give up hope and to persevere.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  James 1:2-5

A step forward, even a small one, is still moving forward. It reminds me of the concept of "imperfect progress" from this book. Something for me to keep pondering and aspiring to . . .

(above pic is of adorable boots that Naomi recently outgrew)