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Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Student

I love teaching people the art of saving money. I never know if anyone is listening. However, my constant chatting about saving money is heard by the people I live with. The kids often ask if I got something on sale or how much they would need to earn to buy something with a coupon. This week was a huge success, as my favorite student passed his couponing test (no there is no actual test, he's just paying attention). MY HUSBAND went to the store, without me, used peelies (coupons attached to products) for something we intended to buy!

We've all had the pukes. Every single one of us has been sick. I've never seen such a mess, and I've worked in some disgusting places. Anyway, pardon the drama, but it was awful! We ran out of Gatorade and Tide so he had to go to the store. He went to Wal-Mart and Gatorade was $1.58 per 32 oz. bottle. He tells me he "knew he could beat that price" so he went to our local store. It was on sale $1 for a 32 oz bottle and way at the back of the shelf there were bottles with peelies--buy 3 get 1 free. He took all those bottles instead of the ones in front and saved us $4 in coupons, plus got a better deal than if he'd just bought it at Wal-Mart. Awesome!

I guess some guys do really listen when their wives talk! Great job Honey, and No, I won't expect it all the time.:) Here's hoping we're done with the Bissell, buckets and blaaahs.

Our Tree

So maybe a little late, but it was a cute tree!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Fun

We had a great Christmas holiday. The kids were all happy and got what they wanted. We saw family and caught up with old friends. We had great meals and made lots of memories. And then we got the flu and the worst cold I've had since 1999. Wouldn't be Christmas without it!

One of my favorite things this year was spending time with my cousins, aunts, mom and sister at a cooking class, gifted to us by wonderful Aunt Elaine. Let me just say that biology doesn't make a family. Family is made up of those who love you and accept you for being you. They are there for you no matter how much money you make, where you live, what you drive or what you do. The women I was with were not blood relatives (ok, except my sister) and they are more my family than many of my actual relatives are. If there's a silver lining to losing my mom way too early it's being accepted into the Shurtleff family and being included in family events without exception. It was fun to learn new cooking skills and just relax with this amazing group. Talk about great memories--this is mine!

Although we've battled illness most of this winter break, we've had some fun. It was really fun to watch the kids open their gifts. Danni didn't stop jumping up and down...everything she opened was her favorite. When she lost her new kitty toy and Andy found it she said, "Now who's a good daddy?"  Jackson got a new U of U bed set and finally gave up his holey baby blanket. The girls loved their new "growning up" room decor and the pillow pets from Grandpa and Grandma. Lexi loved shaking the boxes and crunching the paper.

Now onto the new year. We've always said the years we've had a new baby have been the hardest. You would think after 1 or 2 kids, the tough years would deter you from having more. I'm not a fast learner apparently, maybe it's a math thing. I am grateful for my little family and love them very much, but financially, physically, emotionally, mentally...adding a new baby stresses out all my abilities. I will be glad to usher in a new year and hope it's happier and healthier than 2010.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve

The presents are wrapped, the candy is gone, we've celebrated China, the Christmas Story told, and the children are nestled snugly in their beds, although getting to sleep may be far off. I'm taking a moment to remind myself of why we celebrate tomorrow. Growing up I thought everyone believed in Jesus. It wasn't until much later I found that not only were people of different cultures and religions, they had different lifestyles-some totally opposite of mine. It would be so boring if we were all the same. I appreciate the differences in my neighbors, friends and family.

Although my faith has wavered over the years, my belief system has stayed. The following is taken from our church newsletter. I don't know who said it, I am guessing Pres. Thomas S. Monson, but it is an excellent message for tonight.

"As we contemplate the birth of Jesus Christ and reflect on His life, let us make the every day choices that will lead us back to Him. We can look for opportunities every day to lift those around us and strengthen ourselves in the process."

Reflecting on the commonly asked question "What did you get for Christmas?," we should be asking "What did we give for Christmas?"

"Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminated the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world's busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas, we need only to drop the last syllable and it becomes the Spirit of Christ."

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cheap Family Fun

We've had lots of family time this month. It's been fun, and loud and I had no idea all my kids were so competitive. It's funny how little kids are just as excited (or sometimes more) about the paper and boxes as they are about what came in them.

One thing that helps us relax and enjoy each other is a good game. It doesn't matter if it's electronic, board game or cards. Although my patience runs very thin after trying to figure out that Miss Scarlett killed someone in the ballroom with the wrench with five little helper detectives who may or may not look at their cards to see where on the board they should be headed. It almost becomes "what mom did to one of the kids in the basement with her fire blowing eyeballs." Anyway I had a great idea and tried it out on the kids. So far so good, and it only cost $1.

I found some cheap dice (8 for $1) and then printed a bunch of dice games off I keep the dice in an empty Similac can and in this one can, there are variations of about 10 dice games. There is room for pens and a small pad of paper for keeping score when necessary. Literally a game on the go, constant entertainment and of course to make it more appealing to my kids, I renamed the games with Pirate themes or Harry Potter themes, since that's what they are into these days. Just a quick trick to keeping everyone happy and busy during the downtime.

Heck they may even learn a math trick or two.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The big deal about Sunday dinners is it doesn't have to be a big deal

It's Saturday night and you're tired. You don't want to think about having to go back to work, prepare for another school week, get kids dressed and hair done for church, and cook a fabulous, huge, family style Sunday dinner--again. Whoever thinks Sunday is a day of rest must not have kids, doesn't cook, isn't exhausted from the previous week and probably slept through the night. It's probably some guy. I know it SHOULD be, but in my experience it rarely is restful.

When I was a kid I remember roasts, lamb, steak or bbq for many of our Sunday dinners. My grandparents lived with us and my grandpa was a butcher, so we usually had really good meat and big, yummy dinners nearly every week. I remember a story about a girl learning how to make roast. She cut off the ends of the roast and put it in her pan. When asked why she cut off the ends she said that's the way she was taught. When she asked her mom, her mom said that's the way her mom had done it. When the granddaughter asked her grandma, she said because she had to make the meat fit in the pan she had.

I don't cook the way my mom and grandma did. I was not so domesticated when I got married. But like my dad always says, "there's more than one way to skin a cat." Maybe not the best analogy, but you get the point. So I am here, once again, to bring back Sunday to the peaceful, resting place it should be--at least in the kitchen.

Use your make ahead meals. Some are listed on this blog and there are more to come. You marinade your meat in a plastic bag--which can be done up to 24 hours ahead and then throw it in an aluminum roasting pan to cook. No clean up. Dinner is served. You can also freeze many meals--like make one, freeze one recipes--and all you have to do is thaw them on Saturday, throw them in a disposable lined crockpot or aluminum pan and again--done!

Family time is most important so if you forget to thaw, try simple meals like canned chili or soups and sandwiches. I have a friend who serves her family their favorite appetizers for one Sunday dinner. Frozen pizza, although not always the most exciting, is cheap and easy.

It is my opinion that there are better ways to spend time with friends and family than me standing at the sink or stove stirring, peeling, washing, etc. while everyone else has fun. Motherhood is not a punishment. It is an adventure and should be fun, at least sometimes.

Find what works for you: make-aheads, crockpot, easy & simple or left overs. Don't feel guilty you don't serve roast and lamb every Sunday. It's ok to make a Big Deal Sunday Dinner, using some shortcuts. Make a big deal about the fact you can have a great dinner, without a lot of work, stress and clean up, and get to what is really a big deal--making memories!

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Funny

The other day I was messin' with Abby and told her I had an announcement. Then I told her we were going to have another baby. Her eyes got wide, her mouth dropped opened and she said, "You're kidding me. Please tell me you are kidding. I've got all the babies I can handle!" To her credit she is my best baby sitter. I laughed and told her it was a joke. Well today I took the girls to a movie. On the way there this is what she said,"Mom do you remember when you told me you were pregnant? Well that isn't going to happen again is it?" "Doubtful," I told her. "Good," she said "cuz all I could think about was telling you and Dad to cut your bed in half! Don't tell Dad I said this, I don't want him to be mad." I laughed so hard I cried. She is too funny.

We went to see "Tangled" or if you ask D. "The movie where Barbie gets strangled." It was cute. D. didn't sit down the entire time. She stood watching wide-eyed, enamored by the big screen. When the bad witch died, she started jumping up and down, screaming "Yes, Yes. Nice, I like it!"  Maybe she's seen us cheer for too many football games?!?

Ziti with meat sauce

Not a make ahead, but easy enough my 9 year old made it.

1 box of Ziti noodles, cooked
28 oz. of tomatoes, diced
15 oz. can of tomato sauce
1-2 tsp. each onion flake, Italian seasoning, garlic powder--you can add more or less for your taste
1 lb. sausage
1/2 c. ricotta cheese
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella

Cook noodles according to directions
Chop, brown and drain sausage in large skillet
Add tomatoes and sauce and seasonings
Simmer 30-45 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally
Add cooked noodles and ricotta
Stir in ricotta cheese until it's incorporated with the mixture--you don't want to see any white chunks of cheese
Add shredded mozzarella and cover skillet until mozzarella is melted
Serve with salad, warm bread and fruit

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Craft Geek Strikes Again

Last week I had some time to spend with some friends talking about fun Holiday traditions. My friend Kenndi makes these cute countdown calendars for her kids each year. I don't have a pic, but I'll try to explain. I think I am doing this next year!

Roll out about 2-3 feet of tulle, cellophane or saran wrap. Place treats (notes, candy, money, etc) spaced evenly along the wrapping. You can make 25 spots or 12 spots--however many days you want to countdown to Christmas. Once the treats are placed, roll the treats into the wrapping---rolling it into a long tube. Tie off each treat so when cut, only one treat is cut off at a time. She made cute tags with each kid's name and hangs them in her house a part of the decor. Too Cute, Thanks Kenndi!

I also have a few quick, cheap decor ideas.
Take 2 paper plates, any size, but they must both be the same size. Paint them red and white and let dry. Invert them and glue or staple the edges together. Wrap them in red cellophane. Tie the ends with fancy ribbon or wire. I made these this year and hung them on my porch garland.

String leftover ornaments on festive ribbon and hang them with pins or teacup hooks inside windows, on banisters or along wall overhangs.

Wrap empty boxes and decorate them to add size,color and dimension to existing decor.

Use plain colored plates and spell holiday words with vinyl lettering (or you could use paper letters if you didn't have extra plates). You can display on plate stands (available at dollar store) or plate racks.

We have really high ceilings. I like to make the whole room part of my decor. I used a piece of holiday wire and tied paper die-cut ornaments and the words Merry Christmas to the wire. I hung the wire across an archway in my front room. It catches the light nicely and makes use of space I rarely use.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Favorite Day

Yesterday we participated in my favorite holiday tradition. We made cocoa and grabbed our doughnuts and drove around to see the lights. Some were really pretty--Temple Square quality. Others were "funky" and left something to be desired. Does Santa really belong peering over the manger, Jesus and Mary?? How about Christmas pigs? Really we live in a rural area, but lit Christmas pigs with green and red bows IS NOT a Christmas decoration!

We voted on our favorites and least faves and decided our simple decor held its own. The kids sang songs together. Let's clarify--they were all singing at the same time, but not the same song at the same time. Even the baby joined in with her squealing and laughing.

It was fun to hear what appealed to them. We saw a house with a Y on the left and a U on the right. Syd said she liked this house the best because "the U was on the right side, because it's the right school." Brainwashed, possibly....Brownie Points, definitely!

We got to bring an extra person along. Doby (Harry Potter's house elf) has apparently joined our clan. He lives in Danni's princess tent in the basement and spills water or punch at least once a day. He's also in charge of helping Danni cast spells, turn on TVs, forget to turn off lights, etc. At least I don't have to feed him and she gets some entertainment that is not electronic on any given day. Doby's favorite was the red and white lights--maybe he's a Ute too.

Anyway it was a great day and I loved sharing it with my kids. 12 days and counting....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Patchwork Quilt

There are times when many of us may feel depressed and stressed. I think the holidays can be not so merry for many. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and it's hard to be happy. This can be a magical and wonderful time of year if you can focus on seeing the good in each day. Trials are a part of everyday life and to my friends who are struggling I offer this unsolicited, but vital advice.

It has been my vast experience that what we go through in our life, or parts of our story, are learning processes. Our job is to discover what we are being taught--what Christlike attributes are we to attain through this particular trial? Think about this analogy when you get down: Your life is like a patchwork quilt. Each person you meet, each thing you do, each decision you make, is a part of your quilt. Now, some fabric may be ugly, some stitches may not be perfect and some blocks may not be square. However, when you step back, and get outside yourself and current trial, and look at the quilt I bet you will be amazed at the beautiful masterpiece you have created.

Share a part of your quilt this holiday season. Get outside yourself, serve someone else and I will bet you'll feel better. You will likely add a new, beautiful square to your quilt.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Fun

We survived the Christmas shopping for others on Monday. It was so fun....really....5 kids....lots of opinions...only 2 that counted.....decisions, decisions, decisions and finally with the promise of ice cream hanging in the balance, everyone made wonderful choices and we got what we came for. Well almost. Our initial shopping trip had gifts for everyone and then somehow the gift J-Dog was in charge of never made it to the bagging process. So at 11 p.m. Andy went back to the store and got what we'd forgotten. He's so dedicated to making me happy. Thanks babe! I guess the fact we also forgot a power strip may have been a small incentive too.

The kids wrapped their gifts for each other last night. I think they had more fun doing that than shopping. And of course I got more coupons so I snagged the last two gifts I needed for $1.45! Total--Savings of $37. I was so excited because what I needed to buy was on sale last month, but I chose to spend my JC Penny cash on more pertinent needs. When I got more cash this week I went back and stuff was on 80% clearance. Awesome!

I also made a bunch of Christmas treats. The favorite was Chocolate Dipped Brownie bites. It was so funny how this happened. I made Mint Chocolate brownies and the kids asked if they could have one. "One!" I said. But my portion of one and theirs vastly differed. So when I got to the part of my day to finish them, there was 1/2 a pan left. Do I have a mouse in my house??? No, just chocoholics--it's genetic I'm sure. Looking at the pan made me crazy as I did not want to bake another batch. So I gave Danni a taste and as I was pulling it out of the pan I rolled the edges so she could handle it easily. A mini ice cream scoop and some dipping chocolate later, we had a new treat. I rolled them in crushed peppermint and it is a masterpiece of delicious goodness! Now that's makin' lemonade out of lemons (or awesomeness out of nothingness)!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Countdown

I am so excited for Christmas this year. My kids are old enough to be excited and help out. The older ones, although likely know the "whole truth" behind Santa, are smart enough to keep the magic alive for the little ones. We decorated with the kids this past weekend, despite having a stomach bug lurking around. Luckily we are on the mend and looking forward to a few traditions. Every year we pick a theme for our tree--be it a color scheme, kid themed, paper or whatever. This year our tree pays homage to our second religion, football. I'll post a pic as soon as I figure out where I put the camera. When I was a kid, we'd decorate together, then my mom would move things around to "balance out the tree." It must be a parent thing cuz I did that too. I know they won't notice.

Anyway tonight we are going shopping for a local charity. The kids each drew names of kids in need and we are getting their gifts along with gifts for them to exchange with their siblings on Christmas Eve, another tradition. It's my goal for them to get past the getting and focus on the giving. I have high hopes......

Another tradition that we love is getting cocoa and doughnuts and driving around neighborhoods and looking at lights. It is my FAVORITE thing to do. Again, good memories from my childhood come flooding back when we do this.

We've also chosen a country to study their holiday traditions. We are doing China this year. China has Christmas? Why yes they do, although not as popular as Chinese New Year. The majority of people are not Christian, but there are those who celebrate. The reason we picked this country is because J-Dog is in a Chinese Immersion program at school. He learns half day in Chinese, the other in English. He's learned a lot, even though we can't understand everything he says. I've learned a lot too. Like after 30 it's a lot harder to remember new stuff and though you may be able to "teach an old dog new tricks," she likely won't remember them unless it's written down. That being said, it should be a fun year and open the kids' minds up to the fact that different can be good.

18 days and counting....we're making candies and other goodies for friends and families. This year has been more fun for me than most, maybe that's because 2 of the last 4 years I've been very prego at this time. Maybe it's because the kids still see the magic this time of year has to offer. Whatever the reason it's going to be a year not to get caught up in the trimmings and a year to remember the JOY of the season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Total Drama Daughter

Today we were running errands-just me and the little girls. I got a Redbox, went to the bank, etc, etc. On the way home D. starts screaming, "I have to get a stitch. I hate stitches. Mom, take me to the Dr."
I calmly reply, "Is there blood?"
"Yes! White blood. Take me now!!!!!"
"D. calm down. I am sure you are fine."
"No Mom, I am not. I have to get a stitch. You get 5 strikes. I am going to die."
"D. you won't die. It's just a scratch. You are such total drama."
"No Mom, You're Harry Potter and you're gonna make me die. Would Harry do that?"

The conversation turned to 3 year old gibberish after this, but I was laughing so hard I couldn't stop. This infuriated the demon child in my backseat. She threatened to take away my high heels, put me in jail, tell my husband/her father, and a myriad of other wildly hilarious threats. We did take care of the "white blood" when we got home. She scratched herself and there was a piece of skin hanging off her ankle. All I could think to myself was "Total Drama times 4 for the next 20 years; Wow, I really am bad at math."

Later D. was watching a show with her Dad and there was a sentimental part. He noticed she had tears quietly running down her face. He asked her if she was sad and she said, "No. It's just love coming out my eyes."  WOW!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cut Your Budget Again

Hopefully you've seen yesterday's post about how to fight increasing food prices. Today here are some tips on other money saving things.

1. Re-use what you can. Old clothes can often be remade into other items or blankets. Old towels and sheets can be used for painting or car maintenance needs. Shipping boxes can be used for storage or organizational purposes. Repainting and re-purposing household items or furnishings can redecorate your home --check out HGTV sites for great ideas. I have a child's desk in one of my kids' rooms. I use it as the changing table now. It's perfect. Diapers, wipes, creams, bibs, burp cloths and blankets all fit perfectly in there. When the time comes my daugter can use it for its intended use. It was my mom's and we've just replaced the knobs and given it a coat of white paint.

2. Repair before replacing. As a child I remember my Dad being an expert on this. He can fix anything, I swear. I remember tin foil on rabbit ears to get our TV picture to come in better--at least I think that's what all that was about. They say women often look for qualities in their husbands that remind them of their Dad. I guess that all depends on your experience, but I can say Andy has this in common with my Dad. He can also fix anything and was well trained by his Dad in the field of home repair. You can check out "How To" guides online and at the local library to learn how to make easy repairs around the home and with the car. Obviously if it's too extreme of a repair, call an expert.

3. If you do have to replace something, shop around. We have horrible water where we live. We've been looking at buying a home water system with filtered water for months. Some systems we looked at were around $300, plus water. I found a basic system that would work for $129. After Andy called around we found a very similar system for $60 that includes six months of maintenance and 15 gallons of water. We will still have to purchase additional water bottles, but I am spending $15 a month on filtered water in smaller bottles anyway, so it will likely be a wash in our budget. Even better they are letting us try it for FREE for 30 days.

4. Borrow or Rent. Tools, books, dishes for special occasions, movies, etc. If you aren't sure you need one to survive, or you are only going to use it once, don't invest in it. I had a large dinner I was putting on for 50 people and I was able to borrow dishes and tablecloths so I didn't have to buy anything. Saved me lots of money.

5. Christmas can be a stressful time for many. How to make ends meet and still fulfill obligations and expectations can cause ulcers and insomnia, in my experience. Consider the gift of time or homemade items. I was at Cabella's the other day and saw a Mason jar of tomato preserves. It was $12.95. I almost died! I have the same stuff in my basement --although my doesn't have a fancy sticker or gingham cloth--and there's no way I could pay that much for one bottle. Homemade gifts, if done well and right, can be worth more than other gifts. They take time and thought to create. The gift of time is also precious. Consider a service swap among family members--we did this in our ward a few months ago and I had a great experience and made a new friend through my service. Everyone needs something whether it's babysitting, a meal on a busy night, lawn mowed, housecleaning or whatever. It doesn't cost you anything to do and may make a great gift.

6. Always ask yourself, "Do I need it, or do I want it?" There is room for both in a budget, just make sure the needs are met first. Chances are you can live a happy life without many wants.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Increase in food again???

From time to time I have the pleasure of reconnecting with the adult world by watching a little news. Today I saw a report that food prices are likely to rise 10-20 percent over the next year! It's the biggest increase since 2008 and the economy is worse now, according to some "experts" than it was then--this was based on loss and lack of jobs and rate of foreclosure. So much for reconnecting, next time I'm sticking with PBS kids.

Now that this cheery news has reached my ears I have some tips to help lift the burden of the upcoming "economic storm."

1. Coupons--use them on everything. Even if you don't want to clip them out, you can use e-coupons at many stores that offer loyalty programs. Smiths uses a program called Cellfire and you can download coupons onto your Fresh Values card. If they are Kroger or Smiths coupons, you can also combine these with Manufacturer coupons to increase your savings. Target also has their own coupons and you can combine Manufacturer coupons with them too.

2. Have a list. Only buy what you need unless you've made room in your budget to stock up on certain items that are on sale.

3.Go shopping in your pantry. Lots of times things get pushed to the back or you forgot you bought something. Using what you already have saves you time and money.

4. Make a menu of meals for the week(s) you are shopping for.

5. Buy frozen fruits and veggies. If the fresh things you need are out of season it's often cheaper to buy frozen. Also if you are purchasing fresh produce, buy in season since they are cheaper.

6. Shop your ads-if you don't want to use coupons, you can still save money by planning your menu by purchasing what's on sale at your local grocery store.

7. Dual Use products- there is no need to buy many basic or specialty cleaners. Chances are you can use products you already have like liquid dish soap, hairspray, Vaseline, white toothpaste, Alka seltzer, etc. to clean things around your home.

8. Buy generic brands. Sometimes even with coupons the generic or store brand is cheaper and often tastes very similar to the National brand. One word of warning, if you haven't tried an item in a particular store brand buy only one box or can before you stock up to make sure you'll eat it. Long ago, when Andy and I were first married I bought Rainbow macaroni and cheese. I was sure Kraft was not better and the cheap stuff would be the same. I was wrong. Kraft does have a different flavor and texture and we pay a little more for it rather than generic. This is the exception in my experience, not the rule.

9. Be ware of impulse purchasing. Studies show that when you try a lot of food samples at grocery stores you begin salivating and this leads to you being enticed by food and buying things you don't need, but just look good to eat because you've been eating tasty samples. Also be aware of your store's layout. Many sale items are up front, nicely displayed or on end caps of aisles. If you need a sale item great, you know where to go. However, if you weren't planning on purchasing a sale item, these things will catch your eye and if you're not careful those "great deals" you don't really need will pad your final bill.

10. If you are going out choose where you dine carefully. Many restaurants have early bird specials or family meal deals or a certain night where discounts apply. Also using, or Happenings coupons can cut your bill drastically.