Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adoption Fund Progress Report for February

Well, we have completed our first month of total saving and directing all money toward the adoption fund. We are 27% of the way there. That is mostly due to some money we already had in savings for a rainy day, and a nice fat income tax refund. I don't know if the income tax refund should count really, since it technically means we are paying too much in taxes. Still, it's money in the bank. I finally started listing some things on Ebay again, so that's another $80. I sincerely hope I can make more on Ebay than just that. We have also saved a lot just by drastically changing our habits. No eating out, no leisurely window shopping trips, no impulse purchases. If we don't need it, we don't buy it. I can attest to this, since the watch I'm wearing has a cracked face. Yeah, it's a little tricky to see the time when the hands are lined up with the cracks, but do I really need a watch if this one technically works? The worst is no date nights. We may have to break this one, but it is SO expensive just to get a babysitter. Dinner and a movie puts it at more than $100 for one date. Considering that's more than I sold on Ebay in one week, we may have to wait until April for a night out. (Can't wait to see you mom!)

I will be putting all sorts of things in the Second Blessings Consignment Sale with all of those proceeds going into our fund. Check it out here:
http://www.gostonebridge.com/default.aspx?pid=220 and make sure to buy some items from seller 037. The sale starts March 7 and the morning of March 8 is half price. The MOPS group gets part of the sales, and there will be tons of baby and kids clothing, toys, baby equiment and more for sale.

I have another fundraising project that I am working on, but I need to figure out some of the logistics first. Trust me though, you will be hearing from me once I have it all put together :)

Our savings might take a hit due to problems with the Grand Crapavan. We were putting off problems with the alignment, but it has gotten so bad that our tires will have to be replaced due to rubbing on the inside. We got a quote to fix it and they said $991! That's just a little less than what the car is worth, so my courageous husband is contemplating making another brave foray into the world of auto repair. His last attempt was successful - very difficult and painstaking but still successful. Last year, our air conditioner quit, and it would have been $1600 to replace. It ended up costing us $200 plus lost wages for one missed day. If I could put a price on the blood, sweat and tears, it would probably come close to $1600. It turned out that in order to remove the integral piece, we had to remove everything up to the steering column. We would have had to remove that as well, but we were able to yank the wretched evaporator out. My husband is a genius, but that was a two man job. Plus I got to be the Glue Master in putting it back together. That was almost fun, sort of like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The amazing thing is that it works perfectly now. I sincerely hope he can be as successful with this, otherwise we will just buy new tires.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lazy Weekend Gardening

We started the spending freeze about a month ago, and it has been quite a change. I have less interest in sales. We eat at home every night. Aside from the grocery store and library, we don't have any list of errands. It has also freed up our Saturdays because we don't go shopping or out to eat. We have been spending all that time hanging out together, playing and "gardening". I use that term loosely because even though I plant things and move the dirt around, I don't actually get them to stay alive very long. Sure, back in Florida, I could stick marigolds in the ground and get them to grow for awhile, but it doesn't take a lot of talent to have marigolds and banana trees in Florida. Since the price of food is getting to be more than the price of clothing and toys, I decided we should try growing fruits and vegetables. Given the current state of our world, we have nicknamed it our ArmaGarden. In other words, if all hell broke loose, we would be surviving on my growing skills for our sustenance. Haha. Maybe it's an ArmaGarden because there will be nothing left of my plants but death and despair by the time I'm done with them.

It is important for you to understand that I don't really know anything about gardening, especially as it pertains to growing things that are supposed to be edible. I started reading about planting vegetables and fruits about the same time I started planting them, and frankly, none of the stuff I've read makes sense. So if you wonder why in the world I planted broccoli next to berry bushes, it's because I am making this up as I go along. Now that you know that, let me tell you about the garden. The priciest items we planted are blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and grape stems (or whatever they're called) at $5 a plant. We planted those first with a nine pack of broccoli plants: $3 and two tomato plants: $2.50 each. Our first casuality came quickly with one tomato plant turning to nothing within two days. It really just disappeared, like it had never existed. I know what you're thinking... rapture, but I swear it just died really fast. We put a cute little fence around all of the plants. The next weekend, we planted a nine pack of cauliflower and forty onions: both $3. We didn't have a lot of time for dilly dallying because it was late in the day. Then it rained for four days, then it was cold. Anyway, we finally had some time to check our garden again this week. Our broccoli was flourishing (Yeah! I am having some success),
but it was apparent that the cauliflower was very unhappy.

My dogs came over to check it out too, and they stepped on three cauliflower and then sat down on two more. Then child #1 came over and had to have close look as well. I think I know why my cauliflower are struggling. More fence! The kids really love to help. I till the dirt and mix in potting soil, then child #1 comes over to dig the hole. In the process, he walks into the garden bed and steps on half of my tilled dirt. Child #2 sits on the sidelines of the garden bed, thankfully. He spends lots of time digging with his little shovel, but he has a bad habit of carrying away precious shovel fulls of potting soil and dumping them in the fire pit (dead leaves pile). So between the two of them, I have to cultivate and till (is that what it's called?) twice as much dirt, one fourth of which disappears. Can you see the advanced math lessons here? Me neither. Today, we replaced the missing tomato with a new one. I also bought a very cheap six pack of marigolds because I read somewhere that they keep the pests away, and also, I'm pretty good with marigolds.

Considering all the money going out for the plants, soil, fence, etc, I'm not really sure if it will pay off, but it is still cheaper than eating out or going shopping. Besides, the kids are learning a lot about how a seed becomes a plant and where food comes from. Way more educational than the mall, so that has to be worth something. And man, it really wears them out! Our newest plants will be coming from seeds on our windowsill. It is much cheaper than buying plants, and it is so much fun to watch a seedling. We just transferred cabbage seedlings to the garden, so now we have watermelon and pepper seeds in the greenhouses. The one draw back is that I did not label many of our plants, so we have already forgotten which is the blackberry and which is the raspberry plant. Oh well, I think we should be able to figure it out if we're fortunate enough to see fruit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thrift Store Review: NEARLY NEW THRIFT SHOP Conroe

I was feeling really down this week, and I was in much need of retail therapy. This presented a problem for two reasons. 1) I love to shop, but I hate actually spending money. 2) Even if I liked spending money, I can't because we are on a total spending freeze. My solution was to take $10 from my Christmas money stash - thank goodness we still have parents that remember us and not just our children at Christmas. I took my $10 to the cheapest thrift store I know. Nearly New Thrift Shop is on 106 S. San Jacinto in Conroe. They are convieniently located down the street from the Assistance League Thrift Store and It's All Good Thrift Store making it very easy for someone with plenty of time and no kids to hit up all the thrift stores at once. If anybody ever goes into It's All Good, please let me know. They never seem to be open when I pass by. This does not bode well for their chances of ever getting a much coveted positive thrift store review. But I digress.

Nearly New is cheap on many items, like books ($.25-$.50), but many prices depend on what day you go and how nice your cashier is. I happened to go on the last day of all clothing $.25. I suspect this is why the parking lot was full, but since the parking lot only fits 8 cars, maybe not. The store is small and cluttered, maybe 600 square feet, but it feels like a closet. It reminds me of an overgrown hedge maze with shelves of bric a brac and VHS tapes creating dead ends as you try to make your way around. There is NO room for a stroller of any kind, so my kind husband had the task of carrying a baby. First on the left is a little section with all sorts of junk, basically. I think it is supposed to have board games and sports sets or something, but usually, unattended kids have taken it all apart and created havoc. There happened to be four, loud arguing children stepping on each other, so after getting pushed by two of them, I quit looking and moved on to the books. Meanwhile, the wretched kids moved on to the middle of the store where they played catch with a ball. After dodging it twice, my husband decided he would rather be in the car.

The book nook is also in a tight spot, but thankfully, no one ever seems to be shopping for books. The books are crammed in and stacked up. There is a lot of kids books to choose from, and that is what I ended up with the most of. I found a big stash of untouched work books ($.25 each), and a beautiful math book that was about an inch thick. Someone had suspected the treasure of it because it had a $1.50 price tag added. It was worth it though. I found two Magic School Bus books that we didn't already have. The books in the adult section weren't great. There was a lot of the Harlequin variety paperback romance. No good mysteries, bummer.

I tried to go from the book corner to the front counter 6 feet away, but my path was blocked by a Little Tikes boat and a meandering customer. I had to wend my way through clothing, past a mustard colored sofa, carefully past the various breakables, and around the obsolete gaming systems. I dutifully checked for old Nintendo games out of love for my husband, but I still don't know why he needs them. Nope, none today. I only found out then that the clothing was $0.25. Did I mention that very few things are labeled? I still don't know what their regular prices are for clothes. At that point, I was running out of time because my husband was waiting in the car with the younger kids, and my older one "wanted to leeeaave". I did find a like new Carter's one piece outfit, but that was a rare find amongst many faded and dated baby clothes. Another annoyance is that they take CASH ONLY. So it's a lot like a garage sale.

I normally love this store for the treasures that are hidden, but I was sort of disappointed this time. It was crowded and unpleasant, making it difficult to look. Besides, I still can't figure out what happened to a Like NEW American Girl Samantha book #5 that I had in my book pile. It would have almost completed my collection. This is really eating away at me. They offered to hold my book pile on the counter when I looked at the clothes, and they were looking through the pile when I walked away. Did one of them remove it for themselves?? I have looked through all the books at home, and I am going to look through the car again. I just don't know if I can ever love that store as much as I used to, now that it is sullied by my suspicions.

I still recommend checking out this hidden gem, but go alone on a weekday and bring cash.
Some prices:
Magazines $.10
Paperback Books $.25
Hardback Books $.50
(unless otherwise marked)
Badminton Set with bag - pieces strewn across the floor $5
Lovely Delft Made in Holland Napkin Holder $2
Matching Tigger, Pooh, Piglet Garden Statues $2 each
Old Nintendo System - not sure it works $15
Nice Wooden Desk Chair $15

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Long Days in a Tough Week

This post is a little off course for me, but I need to vent. So I am trying to think of an appropriate adjective for the last couple of days, but all the words that come to mind are rather vulgar or just profane. Monday wasn't terrible, although the low point was using a plunger repeatedly to try to dislodge... Oh well, you don't really need to know.

Yesterday, the hits just kept on coming. Child #2 had two crying bouts and one screaming fit over breakfast. He doesn't scream - he shreiks. It is so loud and continuous that the pets go into hiding. Meanwhile, Child #1 wanted to know why he couldn't have pudding for breakfast. He has never had pudding for breakfast. In fact, he only gets pudding about twice a month, but that boy is an eternal optimist. Oh, and he's strong willed too = nice combo. Baby #3 watched. Okay, breakfast is over, let's have school time. "I don't wanna do schoolwork today." But picture that in a nasal tone and dragged out with twice as many syllables. Child #1 and 2 made a secret pact sometime when I wasn't paying attention. They both decided to be uncooperative, limp noodles. I do not know where the time went. All my plans were met with resistance, and the occasional flying object from Child #2. I tried to cheer him up with raspberries on the belly. You know where you blow funny noises on them. He giggled and then he bit me. Clear through my jeans. It took me five seconds to start feeling the pain, and he left a nasty welt. Man, it really hurt. Lunch was yogurt for them, while I hid in the pantry with a piece of chocolate.

I had already taken away the priveleges and what not from Child #1 for not "showing up" to school. Of course, since he is a strong willed optimist, he was repeatedly asking for and trying to barter to have said priveleges back. He would not be disuaded. By 1 pm, I was broken and tired of hearing the little debater. How many times did he need to hear no? I had my head in my hands as I sat at the school table and contemplated what a bad parent I am. That's when it hit me. A little foam rubber ball right on the side of my head. I knew instantly that #1 was not satisfied with the level of attention that he was recieving. Given my current train of thought, I burst into tears. #1 rushed over spilling out apologies, "I'm so sorry mommy, I wouldn't have thrown it if you had been looking." Huh!? Anyone understand the logic of kids? Me neither. I stood up and went to the only sacred place, the bathroom. Dear Lord, help me. Then I heard a strange sound in the next room. My epilectic dog was having a seizure. Really, who could blame her? Right as she was coming out of it, and loosing her bowels, the doorbell rang. Oh, it must be the life insurance lady here to take my blood. Such good timing! Did I mention I hadn't eaten all day because I was going to have blood drawn for tests. You know how they need all those vitals and blood tests to see what your death risk is? Naturally, my blood pressure was a little high. Want to put a needle in my arm? Pee in a cup? Yes, that goes well with today. Thanks for coming, buh bye. Blessed baby #3 slept through it all. She is my eye in the midst of the hurricane. I had no idea what a compliant child was until I had her. Dear Lord, please let her stay that way.

Hey look, it's naptime for #2. Uh oh, #2 is deciding to fight it today. He senses weakness in mommy's forces. He notices she is woozy from fasting and missing blood. He knows she can't lift his 30lb limp noodle body into that tricky space on the bottom bunk. She tries, but after 20 minutes of fierce battle, she decides to reserve her strength for what might still come - feeding #3.
God bless my husband. I surprised him a bit by actually meeting him at the door. And hugging him. I think he got worried when I wouldn't let go, especially when the kids started to call for me and I hid behind him.

Today was marginally better, I had nothing thrown at my head and nobody bit me. School was still a problem. We took four hours to get not much done. I was still exhausted when my husband came home. I snapped at him for stopping at 99 cent Stuff because I had been wanting to go. He told me he stopped to get me a Valentines card. It took him a few years to learn that I despise expensive cards, I fret over how much was spent. Anytime he finds a wonderful card for under $.99 I get teary eyed because I know he worked hard to find it just to please me.That man really loves me. He bought a $.49 card, and it was so sweet. Then I snapped at him over the cookies he bought for me. I don't even know why. I burst into tears and like the coward I am, I ran away. I hid in the shower, and he got stuck putting them to bed. In fairness, they were in pajamas already, and I hadn't had a shower in three days. But now I was feeling like a lousy wife too. I sat in the shower until the water ran cold waiting for my epiphany. Well, Lord, is this really where you want me? I normally love my job, but these have been soul sucking days. Days where you wonder what the purpose of life is. There was no bright flash of light or voice in the bathroom telling me to go forth and do better. I finished my prayers and finally left the bathroom. I apologized to my husband and I said good night to my sons. I told #1 that we would try again tommorrow. He was not very responsive. I am fairly certain that he will get sick of all his favorite things being stuck in our closet eventually.

I am reminded of a message I heard one time about the sailor that holds fast to the rope. When the storm comes and the winds are blowing, the rope is slipping but he holds fast. It burns his hands, but he knows he can't let go. It's a little bit like that. There are days that it burns your hands, but you must hold fast. You don't want to lose the ship in a storm. Maybe tommorrow the dark clouds will pass and the sun will come out. The boat will keep going. If you hold fast through the storms, you will reach your port safe and sound someday.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Best Educational/Homeschool Deals

I had a request for this. My curriculum/educational picks and tricks are mostly geared toward preschool and early elementary. I cannot justify buying box curriculum for kindergarten, partly because I think kindergarten should be more fun than that. So here are my methods to setting up a classroom.

1. Furniture/Organization -I set up our classroom when we first moved, which is good since we're on a total spending freeze now. We bought a very nice, simple solid wood table with four chairs at IKEA ($120 for the whole set). That's where we do "schoolwork". Then I bought cabinets with doors and with open shelving at Wal Mart ($40 each). I keep the messy stuff behind the doors, and I use open storage cubes for all the items that my toddler uses during school time. I also just got an easel ($18) with whiteboard on one side and chalkboard on the other with a big roll of paper ($6) at IKEA. I bought that during the extra 10% off sale, so it's probably a little more now. I have lots of posters with the alphabet, numbers, calendar, solar system that I got at the Homewood used book sale last year. They were in my favorite area - the free pile. That's how I did it, but really, it's just about making the space work for you.
2. Curriculum - I cannot even name all the places I get books. My favorite kindergarten "curriculum" is a set of 6 workbooks and 1 Bible storybook by Rod and Staff. It costs $19.95 new for the whole set, and they are chock full of variety - lots of cutting and pasting, sorting, matching, numbers, letters, coloring. For regular text books, Buy Used. Check with your local homeschooling associations for when their end of the year book sales are. The COW Homeschool Store in Humble and The Homeschool Store in Houston (http://www.thehomeschoolstore.com/homeschool%20store%20web%20site/in-store.htm) buy and sell used curriculum. You can find a few things on Ebay and Amazon as well.
3. Unofficial Curriculum - I haunt thrift stores, and I have a massive library to show for it. I collect the classics, kids books, non fiction. I have a nice collection of Usborne books, DK books, untouched Mathmania and puzzle books, and ABeka Readers and phonics books, and they all cost $.10 - $1.00. I found a bunch of Hooked on Phonics programs at Big Lots, and some fun Fisher Price workbooks at $.99 cent stuff. If you are looking for a hard to find item, check Ebay. I found a Trace Erase board with inserts for a total of $17. I like Tuesday Morning for hands on learning stuff, and they are cheap! My son's favorite tool for counting is the magnetic numbers with stand up easel that I bought there ($3). That was the same trip that I bought some Melissa and Doug items and also National Geographic flashcards. The cheapest curriculum you can find though is at the library. Go to their website and search the database. http://www.countylibrary.org/index.htm You can put up to ten items on hold and pick them up at any county location. Recently, we have been studying growing food. We checked out a DVD, many books and bought broccoli plants at Home Depot for under $3. We are also growing cabbage from seeds. (This fascinates my sons. Although I hate it when I inevitably kill the poor plants, and I have to explain why there is no onions to dig up.) The library has a HUGE book sale twice a year - April and October, and it is well worth your time. I will post it when I find out when the next one is.
4. Fun Stuff - Don't forget those puzzles, maze books, Play Doh, and chalk. Most of our games and puzzles are from the thrift store, but I always make sure all the pieces are there. I buy Play Doh whenever I find a set on clearance. (These also make good birthday gifts, if you're in a tight spot.) I buy some craft stuff at Michael's when it's around 50% off or with the 40% coupon. I buy glue, markers, scissors, etc. once a year when Target, Walgreens, and Office Max make them incredibly cheap for back to school sales (usually late July, early August). I also make sure to stock up on stickers, rubber stamps, hole punchers, scissors that cut shaped borders, card stock, scrap paper, yarn, pipe cleaners, feathers, etc. My mom is an art teacher, so I could go on and on. (Thanks for all that paper, mom.)

Don't forget to think outside the box. I finally understand that my son doesn't have to use lined paper to learn his first letters. If he wants to use the whiteboard and a marker or the MagnaDoodle, that's okay. I have mostly been using worksheets for math, but even then, I improvise with his toys. "If you have 3 Ewoks, and 5 Rebel Fighters join them, how many are there in all? And what if the Empire captures 2 of them, how many are left?" Most of all, READ, READ, READ to them - Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Amelia Bedelia, Frog and Toad, Little Bear. We really love to read. I can finally embrace my total geekiness!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Coupon/Promotion Codes for Online Shopping

I don't shop online too much, but if you do, you might be interested in these sites. You can find coupon or promotional codes that are current to put in at checkout. Sometimes they give you free shipping or a percentage off. www.edealfinder.com is easy to use. You can search for promotions by the store or website name. www.dealhunting.com is another one, but I didn't think it was very easy to use. http://www.current-codes.com/ is well laid out and easy to use. At www.coolsavings.com you can sign up for coupons, samples and codes, but I always had a hard time trying to use it. http://www.dealcatcher.com/ shows top online deals of the day, and they find some great deals on electronics and computers. Remember to bookmark any of the sites you find useful, so you don't forget what the website address is later.

Also, if you want to actually save money in a bank, Washington Mutual has a new savings program called Saving for Success. You can set aside $25 to $500 a month, and it will draw 6.5% interest. After 12 months, they automatically roll it into a savings account for you. The downfall is that you would be penalized if you touch the money sooner than 12 months. It is worth considering though because that is a great interest rate. Here's the details. http://www.wamu.com/personal/savings_account/savings_for_success_account/default.asp
It looks like it is only available in Georgia, Texas, Illinois, and Washington.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mission Statement Expanded Version

We've been going along with long days that blend into each other until the months have flown by. My oldest son is learning to read and write right before my eyes, all the while growing taller and taller. I am thankful that he will still cuddle when we read books together. They all grow fast now that I think about it. My newborn isn't a newborn anymore. She is heavy. She tries to crawl. She has six teeth, yes six.

The days are long but the years are short. I repeat it on a daily basis. Those of you with kids know what I mean. When they are hitting and screaming and fighting over a toy, then they repeat that process seventeen times before it's lunchtime. When dinner time is upon you, and you have run out of energy for anything. Will it be okay to have sandwiches or pancakes again or will the husband start to make faces? When it's eight o clock and you're exhausted and the kids still need to brush their teeth, put on pajamas, and have bedtime stories/hugs. The days are very long. But then you notice that the winter footsies from last year look like doll pajamas on your oldest, and all of a sudden your middle child is just the right size for them. The baby never falls asleep on your chest anymore, but she does try to climb you and pull your hair. She is not so tiny in her car seat anymore. In fact, she will have to have a new car seat soon. I have good friends that I only talk to twice a year because we don't realize that months have passed since we've talked. Where does that time go?

So, our days go by in a pattern. Our weeks pass with little variation, and we love our life. I could not ask God for a better life, and I am very grateful for it.

One day about two weeks ago, my husband came home from Bible study, and said, "I think we should adopt from Africa." What?? Where did that come from? As if we don't have enough stuff on our plates. I listened, and I made a few faces. I thought, "Yeah, it's a passing idea." Then a strange thing happened. He passed it on to me. I've jumped on his crazy train. I started seeing all the pieces, understanding what motivated him. It certainly makes a difference that circumstances in our lives have come together in such a way as to point a big neon arrow towards this. Our church has families that have adopted or are adopting. Our pastor is adopted. We know we want to have more kids. It's up to God to determine how, when, etc. Focus on the Family had an amazing broadcast that spoke to my heart.
http://listen.family.org/daily/A000000859.cfm You can listen to the podcast for free.

There are some obstacles, but we already know what country we will adopt from and when we will start. We don't know where the ridiculous amount of money will come from, but it will be there. I know a lot of people will think we are crazy, but honestly, that's nothing new. I would appreciate your prayers in the meantime. I hope this tells you a little more about our decision to adopt and also why I have a blog all about saving money and finding deals.