Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vocal Point

Have you signed up for Vocal Point, yet? Well, why not? Go sign up right now! Today in my mailbox I received a free sample of Kashi cereal, plus coupons. One free box and three $1.50 off coupons. I also got a coupon for free Oreo Cakesters and one for $1.00 off. I love that Vocal Point offers free samples and/or full size free products. Simply sign up for the product's promotion and wait for your mail to come. After you've tried the product, log in to your account and tell them what you thought. That's it! An easy way to get free products and some great high value coupons. Have you signed up, yet?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Works-for-Me Wednesday Cleaning Rotation

House cleaning. We all hate it. We've all got to do it. We all need a system to get it done. One would think that my system would change over the years as more kids and responsibilities are added, but I've realized that the basics have stayed in place. Apparently, it's working for me!

There are certain things that should be done daily. For most of us this includes dishes and sweeping the kitchen. There may be more. You know what they are in your house. Then there are things that don't need to be done each day, but are more of a weekly or monthly job. These often include things like vacuuming and changing sheets. So, start with making lists of what needs to be cleaned in each room, and how often it should be done. Then take a look at your schedule and determine what you can actually accomplish.

Then set up a cleaning rotation. Assign each room a certain day of the week to get tackled. You'll find that there may be a room that needs more attention. For me, it's the kitchen and bathrooms. It turns out these are daily chores in my household! A weekly job like the living room gets assigned a day (Monday) and on that day everything gets picked up, goodies are pulled out from under furniture, vacuuming is done. If there's extra time, I might tackle some extras for that room- vacuuming under the cushions, dusting the bookshelves, or whatnot. 

It's also important to get the kids involved in the cleaning. My kids are responsible for daily jobs- cleaning up their room, setting and clearing the table, putting their toys away. I'm excited about the book Managers of Their Chores and getting my kids set up on their own system. It's similar to what I do already, but it's organized in a kid-friendly manner. 

Check out other great tips at We Are THAT Family.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Famous Freezer

My good friend Audra, over at Penny Pinching Penguin asked for some pictures of stockpiles. Well, I've only been doing this crazy couponing thing for a few months, and don't have much of a stockpile. But I grabbed my camera anyways and snapped a few pictures. I hadn't been out to my deep freeze in weeks and was appalled at how "messy" it was. (When my husband butchered a deer in early Jan, my six year old was in charge of putting it in the freezer!) I grimaced, but took the photos and even sent them to her. Since then, I've bought some more meat that was on sale, and got that freezer organized!

When we first got our freezer, I wondered how we would ever fill it up. And it's not even all that large. I had just been so used to only have the small one attached to my fridge and making things fit in there... It was months before we finally plugged it in and started filling it. Now, I don't know what we'd do without it! There have even been a few times that it was too full, but because of this cold winter I was able to stack things on top of it :)

Once it got so full, it was really hard to find things. If you're planning on filling your deep freeze, you really need to make a plan for being able to get things out, and not forgetting about what's on the bottom. Last fall, I found five packages of venison sausage that I thought I ran out of in July! My freezer came with a little basket, and that is useful for smaller bags of veggies, or your husband's fishing bait. There's also a "shelf" where the compressor is, and it makes a great spot to store frozen pizza or baked goods. The rest of my freezer is devoted to meat. Mostly we have venison, so that's just thrown into the bottom. In a dairy crate, I have stored all other meats. I can easily lift the crate out and access my venison. There is some wasted space because it's not a perfect fit, but the grocery sacks I was using previously kept getting brittle and breaking. At least this way I can still find my meat!

If you have any other tips or tricks for organizing a deep freeze, let me know. I'm always open to revamping the system! Also, check out Penny Pinching Penguin- she's got loads of great advice for saving money- and you can see my cupboards, too. :)

Resource Review- FPU

Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University WorkbookHave you ever heard of Dave Ramsey? He is my favorite "money talk" speaker. He is funny and humorous. His principles are Bible-centered. He makes IRA's easy to understand. All in all a great place to go for help!

We took a class a few years ago called Financial Peace University through our church. There are thirteen sessions with titles such as "Dumping Debt" and "Buyer Beware." Each session starts with a DVD of Dave Ramsey teaching principles. Then there are discussion questions to reinforce some of the main points. Where it all comes together, though, are the accountability questions. Assignments each week include making a budget, cutting up credit cards, discussing financial goals and more. The discussions with your spouse each week are well worth the time and effort. Then coming together with other families gives you a glimpse of how others are making these principles work for them, too.

We had a handle on many of these financial issues. One that really impacted our lives through the taking of this course was the chapter on "Dumping Debt." Here Ramsey lays out a plan for getting rid of debt in a way that works- it's called the debt snowball. After signing up for the class, you will have access to FPU online, which includes a debt snowball calculator. This is an awesome tool that tells you the order in which you should pay off your debt to make the most impact. If you have any extra money to throw at the debt, all of it will go towards the first one to be paid off while maintaining minimum balances on the rest. When one debt is payed off, that money is "rolled" into the next debt. I love how this tool will tell you when each debt will be payed off. If we have extra money that we want to use to tackle debt with, we can log into the system, apply the amount and see exactly how it affects when we will be debt free!

Whether you are sunk in debt, can't get a handle on your budget, or are looking to maximize your savings- there's something here for everyone. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's principles and the Financial Peace University classes. Find a class in your area, today!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

I have found that with a dairy-free diet it is really important to plan ahead. When I plan my menu, I can make sure that there is a variety of foods throughout the week, and that there is plenty that is dairy free. If I don't plan and I just open the cupboard and see the boxed sides I'm in a lot of trouble, because they all contain dairy. I'm in the process of finding some easy last-minute type meals that are dairy free. For now, I need to be diligent about planning dairy free meals or substitutions. I also need to be aware of this at pot lucks and friend's houses. Just because I use a dairy-free margarine, it doesn't meat that everyone else does! So, this week I would like to also find some time for making some muffins, cookies, and other things that I can freeze. These I can throw in the diaper bag and have available for the times a plate of cookies is set out and I'm not sure if it's okay for me to eat it.

Monday- Leftover Soups and Fresh Bread
Tuesday- Pasta, Salad, Garlic Bread
Wednesday- Hot Dogs, Mac N Cheese, Carrot Sticks
Thursday- Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Veggies
Friday- Pizza Night
Saturday- Tuna Casserole
Sunday- Eat What You Want Night

For more great menu ideas and planning tips, check out the Organizing Junkie's page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Diapers, Diapers,

Have you ever counted how many diapers you go through in a week? How about a month? It sure is a lot! If you're like most moms, you are always on the lookout for a good deal on diapers. We primarily use cloth diapers, which I have to say was a good choice, given that we now have five kids! I should figure out how much we've saved on diapers over the years. I'm sure it's in the hundreds of dollars range!

We do use disposable diapers for overnight and when we leave the house. It's just a lot easier that way. I've typically bought a store brand, unless we find an incredible deal that brings the cost close to or under what I pay for them. I saw a box from on the curb by one of our neighbors houses. I've been meaning to look into it, and today I had a good reason to register for an account. Today, I got $50 in product for only $25. Here's the deal:

1. Go to and sign up for an account.
2. Place an order of $49 to get free shipping
3. Use promo code NETT4469 for $10 off (This is my referral code and I will get a credit when you place an order)
4. Use promo code 10percent for 10% off non-diaper purchases.
5. Submit for this $14.97 rebate 

You can also send in manufacturers coupons that can be applied to your orders! I'll be looking into that more later. Today, I ordered a box of diapers for Eleanor, and this neat "diapees and wipees" carrier. It will be perfect when I only need to carry diapers and wipes into a store, or for sending with one of the girls when they're are in different rooms at MOPS or church.

Don't use disposable diapers? That's okay! also carries clothe diapering accessories, toiletries, books, toys, even furniture. I'm sure you'll find something you can use!

Car Shopping

We're in the market for a different van. It's sad. There's nothing wrong with our van. I love our van. We have a 2002 Mazda MPV with 100,000 miles. We've never had a problem with this van, but we don't really fit in it, anymore. We have five kids. While this is a seven person van, it's a little narrow and three kids shoved on a bench seat together is just asking for problems! We're looking for something a little wider that will give them a bit more space. Plus, when we're travelling, our oldest will need to be back in a booster to accommodate the laws of other states. We've had pretty good luck in the past getting great deals. It's not just luck- I have every reason to expect another great deal. Here's what we've done in the past to get the most van for our buck.

1. BUDGET- Since we've been married we have purchased three vehicles. We've managed to pay cash (or cash plus trade-in) for all of them. Don't look at vehicles you know you can't afford. If they're not willing to show you ones in that range, or reduce the price, just walk away. Talk them down to a low price, then ask how much they'll take off if you write out a check right now. (It's also funny to watch their jaw drop!) Continue saving money throughout the process and don't forget to factor in sales tax and licensing!

2. RESEARCH- It's important to know what you're looking at. Every model has different trim levels, and it's important for price comparison that you're looking at the same vehicle from lot to lot. Or at least know why one is priced so much differently than another. You can do most of your research online, but then you want to get out there and test drive your top picks. We'll be taking our car seats and sticking them in the vans to see how much space there is, too!

3. SHOP AROUND- Most people check out several dealers before making a purchase. But don't just visit the large chains. Check out the small ones hidden in the crevices of your town. Check out e-bay and craigslist. It's amazing what you can find. You can even mention the prices you've found at other places when you're talking with a salesperson. If they know you have a viable option for getting the same vehicle for less, they will be more likely to reduce the price so you'll make your purchase from them.

4. WALK AWAY- Walking away is a powerful bargaining tool. If you know your budget and are willing to wait, it's a lot easier to walk away. When we bought our current van they said there was no way they could take what we had budgeted. But we weren't in a hurry and we walked out. Two days later they called and accepted our offer. We got a great deal on a van simply because we knew how much we had and were willing to wait for something that we could afford.

In thinking back on our purchases, these are the things that have stood out to me that have helped us get some great deals. Do you have any other tips for getting a great price on a vehicle? We're in the market!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Works-for-Me Wednesday- Going Juvenile

This past weekend, we had two big holidays to celebrate. Valentine's Day meant lots of hearts and candies exchanged among the children's friends. Chinese New Year meant explaining different calendar systems to the kids and attempting to cook authentic foods.

Last week we took the kids to the library for story time. I knew I wanted to try something besides fried rice for this weekend, but am often intimidated by the large cookbook section my library offers. I decided to hit the juvenile non-fiction section and see what it would bring. The instructions were easy, they showed me a picture of bok choy, so I could recognize it at the market, and it included step-by-step pictures! Our menu on Sunday afternoon included Chinese New Year's Noodles, Dumplings (jiaozi), and Red Bean Buns (baozi) we finished off with some canned lychee for dessert.

I have used the kids' section for craft books and have now discovered the cookbooks. I love that I don't have to take my kids into the quiet adult section, I love how easy the instructions are, I love how helpful the librarians are...I may never return to the adult section again! Going juvenile works for me!

Find some other great tips at We Are That Family.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Resource Review- Managers of Their Homes

Are you scrambling every day to get things done? Do you get to the end of the day and wonder if you did anything of importance? Do you have a lot of things on your plate to pack into a day? Is your family going every which direction? Have I got the resource for you! Managers of Their Homes by Steven and Teri Maxwell is a book about scheduling and priorities that will change your life.

This book is designed with the Christian homeschooling mom in mind, but is useful for everyone. The book starts with a couple chapters on scheduling in general. This is enough to whet your appetite for the meat that is to come. Interspersed throughout the book are quotes from people who have used this method and how they have found it helpful to them.

The next several chapters tackle key scheduling challenges. Scheduling school and chores top the list, but a mom also has to prepare meals. Many moms also have babies and toddlers hanging out while they attempt to do school with older kids. This book is packed with encouragement to go ahead and schedule the younger one's time and has ideas for making it all fit together.

The last chapters of the book cover some more general scheduling issues, including a question and answer chapter. There's even a chapter for dads! The appendix is also extremely helpful. The Maxwell's include several of their previous schedules, with kids at different ages. They also have schedules from other families for you to look at and draw inspiration from. The book comes with a scheduling kit, so you can lay out your own schedule using their method. Also available are Managers of Their Chores and Managers of Their Schools. Check out their website at for more info and many other resources.

As my kids are now entering their school years, and we still appear to be having babies, this book is becoming more and more of a lifeline to me. We have our kids home for a reason, and I don't want to waste the opportunity we have to fill their heads with knowledge and build character into their hearts. Yet, it's so easy to let a day slip by and not pick up a school book, or be intentional about doing a project. This book helps me to focus on our priorities and put down on paper what I hope to accomplish in a day or a week. It helps me to take into account the toddler and the nursing infant. It makes me think about how much time things will actually take, and make the tough decisions about what's just not going to fit. It's an invaluable resource to me as I make plans for a semester's schedule or think about new commitments.

Homeschooling is a commitment of time and energy. Having a schedule laid out gives a rhythm and routine to our days. I know what's coming next and the kids know what's coming next. Some days are really hard and I struggle just to get through the day with minimal loss of impatience. But then there are the times when I "catch" the boys reading sweetly to their sisters, or they're playing a chess/checkers/dinosaur game and are snuggled in sleeping bags making up new rules for it. That's why I homeschool. For my kids to have the opportunity to love and grow together, to have time to use their imaginations, to learn that God and family are the most important. Managers of Their Homes is a resource that helps me take my vision and make it a reality.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday- Dairy Free Week 2

Last week we went dairy-free to see if that would help the baby. Good news- it worked! She stopped vomiting and has settled down. Bad news- it worked! No more ice cream, cheese, or chocolate for mom. It catches me by surprise when we discover dairy in places I wouldn't expect. With Eleanor the big surprise was the Ramen noodles. With Roselyn the big surprise so far has been the cocktail sauce. Thankfully, it's only two ingredients that we had on hand, and Greg mixed some up just for me.

I had some powdered soy milk left in the cupboard that I've been using on things, but it's not very good for drinking straight. Time to hit the store for some soy and/or rice milk. When we were in Asia last summer, our host family made fresh soy milk daily- it was so yummy! I saw a soy milk maker on craigslist last week and wonder if it's still there...

Monday- Grilled Chicken and Green Salad
Tuesday- Fried Rice and Cookies (to a pot luck)
Wednesday- Ham Soup
Thursday- Pasta and Salad
Friday- Pizza (leftover pasta for mom)
Saturday- Chili and Corn Bread
Sunday- Leftovers

That's the dairy-free plan for the week. Having a special diet makes planning the menu especially important. Most of my easy go-to meals include cheese (mac and cheese, quesadillas, frozen pizza). Have any dairy-free, quick and easy meals for me to try?

Check out the Organizing Junkie's page for other menu plans.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Resource Review- A Woman After God's Own Heart

One of my very favorite books in the whole world is  A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George. I read it every year and am blessed each and every time. This book will help you discover what God's heartbeat is about. It will help you look at your life and put your priorities in order.

From the back cover: "Let God fulfill His greatest desire for you. Allow Him to transform you by preparing your heart and mind to embrace His incredible work. You'll find lasting joy and peace in a life of prayer, a life of priorities, a life as A Woman After God's Own Hear."

I think of this as my "go-to" book when I'm making any plans or considering a new commitment. First and foremost we must love, honor, and obey the Lord. Then George identifies five areas that are on God's heart, and should define our lives: our husbands, our children, our homes, our friends, our ministries.

Understanding these priorities and how they should fit into our lives is truly foundational. Saving some money and getting great deals is awesome. It's good stewardship of our money and taking care of our families. But what about the times when we pursue the deal to the detriment of our families? I have spent hours reading blogs and ads and searching coupons sites and organizing my shopping lists and coupons. Some times it does get a bit out of control and I need to set it aside because enough time and effort has been given to the pursuit of a good deal. I need to be okay with missing out on something that doesn't matter quite so much. We need to keep our lives in perspective- everything we do is important, and it's good to keep a focus on how God would desire for these priorities to fall and how they interact with one another.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Menu Plan Monday- Dairy Free Week

I love that when you're nursing a baby you need like 1,000 more calories every day! I usually spend mine on things like chocolate and ice cream. :) Today, however, is the start of a no dairy diet. Why!?! Why would anyone in their right mind cut ice cream!?! Well, my baby vomits after eating at least once a day. And she cries unless she's being held. And she won't stay asleep unless she's being rocked. (Two or three weeks ago she did not cry or need this much rocking.) My baby is seven weeks old and I think she has a dairy intolerance. 

We've been here before. I had to cut dairy with Eleanor. I learned a lot about where dairy hides in my purchased foods. I sometimes splurged and bought dairy free chocolate ice "cream" from the health food store. Thankfully, she outgrew it around nine or ten months. If that is the case this time, I'll be eating dairy again just in time for the cheesy mashed potatoes and french silk pie that will be a part of our Thanksgiving feast! For now, though, dairy is out. And this week will be the hardest. I'm sure I'll forget and pour milk on my oatmeal and try to eat some ramen noodles (yup, there's dairy in that!). 

Monday- ham soup
Tuesday- sausage and potatoes
Wednesday- turkey noodle casserole (using mayo for my portion)
Thursday- eating out? (or fried rice)
Friday- pizza (with a personal no cheese pizza)
Saturday- Leftovers
Sunday- Lunch for friends Lasagna (Pasta with marinara for me), bread, salad

I'm lamenting the loss of most of my quick meals- mac n cheese, quesadillas, etc. These are the meals I use when life happens and what I have on the schedule is just not going to work. Rethinking that this week. Let me know if you have any ideas! Look up some other menus at the Organizing Junkies page.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Resource Review- The Library

I love books. I love checking out new titles. I love reading the summary. I love paging through and admiring the photographs. I love reading the ending first! I love novels. I love cookbooks. I love fantasy. I love devotionals. I love crime novels. I love home decorating idea books. I love story books. I love children's chapter books. I love books! Most of all, I love getting new ideas to incorporate into my life. 

And I love telling other people about my favorites. I'm going to highlight a resource each week that you can use in your own life to improve it's quality. Usually by saving time or money, but I might throw a few other good ones in, too. :) 

And today, I'm not even going to write about a book! Today's resource is something that we all have access to. And it's free...unless you get a fine. It's your library! Oh, how I love the library. When I was a kid the children's section of my hometown library was on the top floor. It felt like we could see forever! I spent hours and hours reading up there. We would bike to the library every week and fill our backpacks up. I used to make my little sister take some books for me, too, because I could read faster than her! Even when we moved out of town, we still biked in. When I finally had a car and license, it was even better. Not only could we get there faster, but we weren't limited to the amount we could carry on our backs! (They've remodeled this library, you can see the addition on the right of the photo and only use one level for public space- still a good library, but not nearly as awesome as the youth section used to be!)

Libraries today have a plethora of resources. Almost every book I will share is one that you can check out at your own local library. And if they don't have it, they might be able to get it. Of course, it's easy if your town has multiple branches and you can just drive to the other one to pick up the book you're looking for. Here in Lincoln, we have an Interlibrary Loan. Type in the title and author and they will search sister libraries from around the state or across the country for it. We've utilized this a couple of times. Typically for obscure non-fiction (like pipe making or leather tanning), but even for some Christian or homeschool resources that I thought my library would have. 

In addition to books, libraries have other media available for check-out, as well. Movies, CD-ROM, and music are widely available. You can use library computers for internet access, or bring in your laptop because most have wi-fi available, too. We regularly attend story time and have done the summer reading program each year. Library events have included musicians, science experiments, and visits from the fire department. For older kids, there's a homework help time, writing workshops, and reading clubs. There are even reading clubs for adults! Check out the Lincoln Libraries site for other things you may not have known about.

I must admit that my favorite part of our library is the youth non-fiction. I can usually find books easy enough for my kids to understand, the pictures are great, and I like them too. Especially the craft books- much more my speed! I can sift through the books on these shelves while my kiddos look at books, put puzzles together, or complete a simple craft project. I love my library!

Make friends with your librarian. They are there to help you find the books and resources you want. I'll say "I'm looking for a chapter book that has cowboys." Not only can she pull several off the shelves, but because she's gotten to know my family through years of story time visits, she can direct us to what the boys would like the best. Conversely, another librarian tried helping me pick a science resource for a school lesson. She thought one in particular would be too difficult for them. I still brought it home with the rest of our stack, and they did fine. But because she doesn't know us, or the kids' abilities, she couldn't make the best recommendations for our family.

Have a book you've been wanting to buy? Head to the library! Need a workout video? Head to the library! Need an indoor play option for the kiddos? Head to the library! What's your favorite part about the library? Have I been overlooking any amazing features? Tell me about it!