Thursday, January 27, 2011

One of many firsts




The whole ordeal took - no joke - 3 1/2 minutes. Poor kid thought we were about to clip his ears off. And when she buzzed his neck - wow. I'm glad I took him in though, and watched someone else trim his hair before I try to attack those whispies with scissors myself. The way he was thrashing around, it could have been fatal.

Anyway, thus ends our FIRST experience taking Levi to get a haircut. Whew!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tightwad Tuesday: My time is valuable

There have been SO SO SO many times over the past - oh, I don't know - 5 years that I've said to myself, during my own contemplation of a given purchase, "this will save me time, and my time is valuable!" and so into the cart it goes. I've said it about everything from specialty kitchen appliances, to mops with disposable covers, and from dishwasher detergent to dryer sheets. Often, I've even coupled the statement with an assertion of value, something like: "and on top of saving me time, it will be so much better/cleaner/softer/tastier/easier than it was before.

Sometimes, these statements have been valid, other times I've used them as an excuse for laziness, and my (human) desire for things that make me feel better about my life. my status.

Because the first statement comes to my mind SO SO SO frequently (could I use that word a little more and still maintain it's validity?) I'll tackle it first. And please remember - I'm not preaching. For all I know, there are only three lucky individuals who read this. Sometimes I just need to write down my own reasoning for why I'm pinching pennies the way I am. Not only does explaining myself make the process easier, but it makes it more tangible - but I digress. Back to saving my "valuable time".

I've used the "valuable time" excuse for at least 5 years. Why? Because I wanted those things. I specifically remember using that excuse to buy all matter of groceries. Convenience items. You know the type: meals in a box (gasp!), frozen bread dough, any number of canned goods. Cereals, granola bars, crackers, you name it! And while, I assure you, buying these items DID save me time, I have recently come to realize that I could have easily made most of these things (at HALF their grocery store cost, if not better) in the time I spend at home with my son. And if not, I can also assure you I could have found an adequate homemade substitute, or (perish the thought) GONE WITHOUT THEM.

I also remember specifically purchasing an espresso machine with the notion that, not only would it save me the time/money of running down to the "daily grind" (Pullman, WA) before work (Basilios), but it would also make me a happier morning person to be around. And as thrilled as I was to have it, not 3 months went by before I was off my latte kick. Saved me time - but eventually cost me more money than it saved. And, as you know, Time = money.

Oh, you've heard it before - but let me spell it out in a way I've come to understand it more recently.

My time doing a particular task is worth the money I save by doing it at home rather than buying it at the store.

There ya go, math wiz's. And I'll give you an example... One pound of dry black beans costs me $1.22. I put those in the crockpot with water. When 6 hours has elapsed I am left with the equivalent of 5.5 cans of black beans - each of which would have cost me roughly $0.76 (or more) at the store. My savings is $0.54 per can, or 2.97 total. Therefore, the 15 minutes of my time it took me to fill the crockpot, empty it, and wash it (I'm being generous) were worth $2.97, or $11.88/hour. That's nearly 50% above Nebraska minimum wage!

All I'm trying to do with all this is re-evaluate how financially valuable my time really is. In reality, it has a LOT of financial value if I use it wisely. Please don't confuse financial value with the tangible value of spending time with your children, or your spouse - those moments are precious - but I would be lying if I didn't admit that one can use their time in a financially wise way AS WELL AS a tangible-family-togetherness way.

To be honest, it all comes down to my ability/desire to get off the couch or get away from the computer, and DO SOMETHING. Do you know what I mean? The lazy, convenience-desiring part of me would rather use "quality time" as an excuse to sit on the couch and watch TV with my son, when clearly there are much more engaging activities the two of us could be doing together, even activities which would ALSO be financially wise. Making playdough is a good example. Or melting down broken crayons in mini-muffin tins.

So, your turn. What convenience item have you done away with in favor of doing it yourself, and making your time that much MORE valuable? Please, do share.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A post about homemade yogurt

A few people asked me, and so last week I mentioned I would blog about this - so, here goes nothing (well, not nothing, although I feared it would be about a failed attempt at yogurt making - alas, all turned out alright despite my own folly the other night)

I've been making my own yogurt for around 9 months or so - ever since I figured out how much money I could save doing so. Now, if your household doesn't go through much yogurt, this might be irrelevant to you, but we go through the stuff like we do, say, water. So, making my own yogurt is on par with making my own bananas*

*we go through twenty, Yes 20 bananas, weekly. Shame we don't live in a tropical place, or I WOULD figure out a way to grow my own.

Around 9 months ago, I started with the basic recipe a friend told me about, and after some tweaking, and taking a few tips and tricks under consideration, I came up with a recipe/method I feel a) reasonably compares to/is better than store bought yogurt, b) is simple and efficient, and c) saves money. So, on with the my recipe. (note: you may want to refer to that basic recipe eventually, you'll notice mine is a little more complex as per my own tweaking)

  • 1/2 gallon milk (usually whole, this batch was 2% because it was cheaper. No noticeable difference. Oh, and previously frozen is A-OK, as long as it's fully thawed. And I mean fully.)
  • 1/2 C store-bought yogurt with "live, active, cultures"
  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 C sugar, optional (I don't like the taste of plain yogurt. Neither does my toddler. So sue us.)

  • Pour the milk (and sugar, if you're using it) into your crock pot.
  • Turn your crock pot to low.
  • Set your cell phone (or other alarm) for 2.5 hours
  • After 2.5 hours has elapsed, UNPLUG YOUR CROCKPOT
  • set your cell phone (or other alarm) for 3 hours.
Run a load of laundry - heck, run three loads of laundry. Read, do whatever - but DON'T mess with the milk in your crockpot

  • After 3 hours has elapsed, grab a medium sized bowl. Pour into it your half cup (4oz) of store bought yogurt.
  • pour on top of it 2 cups of the warm-ish milk from your crockpot
  • evenly sprinkle the packet of gelatin granuals over the warmish milk - wait 5 seconds.
  • Whisk all to combine (yogurt, warm-ish milk, gelatin)
  • recombine mixture with milk in crockpot
  • Wrap your crockpot in bath towels - sides and top
  • Now leave it, for 8 hours. Because I let mine sit overnight, and because our kitchen is quite drafty, I leave mine in our oven (OFF of course) with the oven light on. maintains the "warm-ish-ness" a little better. And, afterall, "warm-ish-ness" is what yogurt cultures need to thrive"
  • Open crockpot, and TA-DA! you've made a half gallon of yogurt! Also known as 64oz. Also known as nearly 11 of the little 6oz yogurts you get at your local grocer. Also known as 16 of the 4oz "yo-baby" whole milk yogurts. whew!

This is what mine looks like straight out of the - er - bathtowels. It's moderately thick on top, and a little runnier underneat the creamy top.

Because we're an "on the go" type of family (and because my hard-working husband takes one MONSTER of a lunch to work each day) I immediately portion or yogurt into Ten 6-7oz servings. Sure, they may look a little messy, and a little runny right now, but once they sit in the refer. for a few hours that gelatin does its work and it firms up quite nicely.


I would be remiss if I didn't add a few caveats to my yogurt-making tale. First, if you make yogurt a good number of times, eventually you'll end up making nothing but runny warm milk. In other words, you'll eventually have a failed batch. If you happen to use gelatin like I do, it will quickly turn into "milk jello" - which, I know from experience, is completely useless for EVERY imaginable application. It was upon such a failure that I discovered the aforementioned tips and tricks website. I discovered that there are specific temperatures yogurt cultures need to thrive, and others at which it they are unequivocally killed.

Don't heat the milk enough initially = fail
Add your culture when milk is still too hot = fail
You get the picture.

The only other thing I want to add is my price comparison. Because this is high fat yogurt - which I feed my toddler - I'll compare it to its equal in fat, calories, and calcium: Stoneyfield farms YoBaby brand.

Around these parts I can get a half gallon of milk (when it goes on SUPER sale) for$0 .99. (Needless to say, when they go on sale, I FILL my chest freezer with them) That comes out to $0.06 per 4oz toddler serving.

Around here, one four-pack of 4oz yo-baby yogurt cups runs $2.49 which comes out to $0.62 per 4oz toddler serving.

For comparison, Danonino (which are not organic as stoneyfield are, but which come in much, much smaller serving sizes, making them look decievingly cheap) cost $1.88/6 1.76oz cups. (Yeah, 1.76oz per itty bitty cup.) So they work out to $0.71/4oz toddler serving.

Alternately, the 6oz yogurt cups I used to purchase for my husband's lunch (generic brand) run an average of $0.42 each. For an equal amount of yogurt, my homemade version costs $0.09. Wowza.

So, there you go. My recipe, my process, and my reasoning for going cheap (and as some would say, ahem, "hippy" - that was the term you used, yes Rachael? :)

Do you make your own yogurt? Do you make something else at home to save on store prices? What is it? How do you do it? I wanna know! Oh, and if you have any successes/ failures with this recipe here, I want to know that too. Always looking to make improvements after all!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drinking - from a cup

After donning what we affectionately refer to as "the bib shirt", Levi asked for yogurt. And whence he was sick and tired digging out small bites with his spoon (only to have much of it spill), he decided that this was the proper protocol.

Cute, huh? That's the first time (in my memory, anyway, which isn't saying much) that he's successfully drunk (sp?) from a cup without spilling a drop.

Recently I've come to a resting place with my yogurt recipe/process. I've tweaked it a little, and actually added some sugar (gasp!) so as we don't FLY through the freezer jam whose quantity is quickly dwindling in the basement freezer. I'll blog about my recipe and process next week, and maybe you, too, will want to give it a try. As a teaser, I'll say that I've begun allowing it to "set up" in single-serving, re-usable containers, which make it oh-so-easy for quick grab-and-go eating.
(how's that for over-use of the dash mark?)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Sinus Solutions (reader-be-warned)

I'd like to think I came from a family pool of pretty good genes. Sure, I'm terrible at all things mathematical, and my hair has a cow-lick I simply cannot conquer, but overall I have little to complain about. However, if there's one place where genetics handed me a stocking full of coal, it would have to be in my proclivity towards all-things-sinus.

That is a very long way of saying I get a sinus infection almost every time my nose drops a drip. I've had so many over my lifetime, in fact, that I've learned how to recover from them without antibiotics. And it isn't any difficult process.

To avoid allowing a sinus infection to progress to the point that I need antibiotics, the only thing I need to do is prevent crud from hanging out in my sinuses. This involves a whole lot of nasty blowing noises, followed by lougie halking noises (are those even words?), a bunch of sleeping completely upright, and usually a very chapped nose. But hey, it works for me. And until recently, I thought it was the only thing that worked. Then I found this:

(This post is about to get ugly, friends)

I would totally not be sharing this with you if I didn't believe that it has prevented not 1, not 2, but 3 sinus infections from taking over my body in the past year. Nobody in their right mind would post vulnerable (read: blackmail-ready) photos such as these without a darn good reason.

The NeilMed bottle is based on the same concept as the (now famous) Neti-pot. The purpose behind them both is to introduce fluid to the sinuses, and invite the mucus to exit with it. In my opinion, the bottle is superior for only one reason: the user can control the rate of flow. Instead of allowing gravity to bring the water out of the neti-pot, into one nostril, and out the other, I can squeeze my little bottle and use a little more force, bringing more of the yuckies out than gravity alone would be able to.

The NeilMed bottle comes with packets of pre-mixed saline solution that dissolve in the warm water used to fill the bottle. Because it has a straw down to the bottom, it needn't be tipped during use.

Simply hold up to one nostril, and while breathing solely through the mouth, squ
eeze the warm saline solution into your sinuses.

The solution, along with whatever it collects on its way out, will exit the opposite nostril.
Continue with the other side,
blowing your nose gently when finished.

Sure. It feels really weird. At first you wonder if you're about to drown yourself. But once you see how much junk that saline solution brings out with it, you, too, will be a believer. Well worth $7.99, especially for those pregnant and nursing who have such limited medicinal choices. Find more information here.

Oh, and if you do decide to give this a try, I may have a couple tips for you. But I'll save the really juice stuff for those who actually want it :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tightwad Tuesday: Patience is a virtue (and it usually pays off)

Where does the time go? Oh wait, I know, there's a time-eating machine sleeping in his crib above me. Check.

Welcome to tightwad Tuesday. I started writing a tightwad-themed Tuesday post a few months ago when I realized that the more I write about the money-saving convictions I have, the better I am at following through with said convictions. Does that resonate with anyone else? It's kinda like a diet, you know? When you tell a bunch of people you're cutting calories and making a
concerted effort to lose weight, you're much more likely to do just that.


It should come as no surprise that there are a lot of things I would like to own. I'm sure you're the same way. Whether it's a hairbrush, or a dresser, a wall painting, or a food processor, we all want something. And it's up to us to decide whether we should buy it, or live without.

But I've found a third option. And it seems to be working swimmingly.


What? Yes. Patience. Ok, let me explain. Over the last few months any number of purchasable items have come into my mind. You name it, and I've probably pondered buying it. But instead of heading out to search for the lowest price, or greatest deal, I've written said items on the whiteboard in our kitchen.

See? Some of them are still up there. There were more, but over time I came to the conclusion that I didn't need, or even want, some of them. And yet, some remained. One of those was a George foreman Grill. Yes, B&B, we still have the one you gave us, but honestly, it isn't big enough any more. I began searching out a bigger one a few months ago and kept coming up empty handed - until yesterday.

Yes, it was a quick and unscheduled trip to Goodwill that rewarded my patience with the granddaddy of double sized George Foremans. Would you believe it's hardly been used? Would you also believe it was 50% off, and set us back about $3.27? Indeed, it made for a good buy (and an even better replacement) which will save me oodles of time on dinner prep. We do, after all, use this little appliance 3-4 times weekly on a whole variety of "quick meals" I prepare and stockpile in our freezer.

... but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the potential for such a bargain hunting system to quickly turn into a system for accumulating things we don't need. You know, the "I found such a great deal, I just couldn't resist" stuff. So here is where the buck stops for me:

I will quote the book that I oft. do; "The Complete Tightwad Gazette", by Amy Dacyczyn. In it, a reader submitts a list of buying criteria which I found utterly helpful. It encourages patience, and diligence, and puts to rest haste, and greed. It also facilitates a better understanding of the difference between "want" and "need" - and couldn't we all use a little help in that department?
  • Can I live without it?
  • Does it do more than required?
  • Does it cost more than it's worth?
  • Can we do what it does with things we already have?
  • How often will we use it?
  • Where will we store it?
  • Will using it be more work than we're apt to want to do?
  • How many ways can we use it?
  • Have we checked with people who own one and with consumer ratings?
  • Would I be smarter to resist, and put the money toward another goal?
  • If an item doesn't satisfy 8-10 of these criteria, could I at least sell it for the same price I paid (or better) should it fall short of my expectations?
I will add to this list the point "will it save me money, or the equivalent in time doing another task?" When I say equivalent, I'm actually referring to a mathematical equation. What I mean by that is, quite simply, my time is worth money. By doing something like, say, making my own yogurt, I'm saving roughly $3.64 each time I make a half-gallon batch, which takes about 20 minutes of my time. Therefore, I'm "earning" $10.92 per hour of "yogurt making". So, I measure a product's "time saving value" on the value of the time I would spend doing a similar task.

All that rambling to say that USUALLY, it's better to go without buying what first comes to your mind for two reasons: First, if you write it down and wait long enough you'll probably decide that either you don't need it, or that something you have will suffice. Or second, you'll maintain that you do need it and something gently used will turn up when you least expect it.

Why go to all this work? Why bother? Aside from saving money, it comes down to discipline, and stewardship. I want to model both of these for my family, and what better way than to put them into practice, to the very best of my ability.

Sure, my son may be left to play with MY childhood train set, on a table we salvaged from a curbside (both clean, and sturdy, might I add) But maybe, just maybe, that will instill in his little brain the notion that brand new is not essential, that we don't purchase on a whim, and that patience is indeed a virtue.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Christmas:a prologue

I think I've reached that point where I haven't blogged for so long that I don't know where to begin. So much happened over our Christmas vacation. As is the case with ALL four of my tips home, I learned so much about myself, my family, and my ability to cope with a toddler away from home.I would make a feeble attempt to summarize our visit, but I fear I would end up leaving gaping holes in said summary. Instead, I will slowly fill you in on the key points - over the next week or so. The other reason for stretching it out is that (since we've returned home) Levi isn't taking naps much longer than 75 minutes. Also, my unpacking is FAR from complete. Add to that the fact that we shipped a relocube to ourselves (of things we've been meaning to get from home for many years. great company, great prices, third time we've used them.) and I have very little time on my hands. So, these posts shall have to be short and sweet if I have any desire to actually complete any of them

First, I shall share that on Christmas day my son took a diving leap from the doorway down into the garage at my mothers home (about a 6" step). He landed squarely on his nose. Which might not have been a bad thing, but that little nose skidded on the wipe-your-feet type rug, and he had a nasty rug burn for the following week. He earned the nick-name "faceplant"

That nick name served him well as, not 10 days later, (the very night before we arose at 3:30am to catch our flight back to NE) and in a VERY irritable state, my 19 month old climbed over the side of his (formerly MY) crib, and fell to the floor. Terrible mother that I am, I did not make note of his falling until I went in to check on him 30 minutes later and found him asleep. On the floor. Insert call to pediatrician, mommy tears, and feelings of all-over guilt. Wow.

We met some woodland creatures at my grandfather's home. He feeds them. The return every night. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd capture a picture of my toddler THIS CLOSE to a pair of racoons.

Jonathan and I also celebrated our 5 year anniversary with a trip to a local irish pub (similar to one we frequented during our short honeymoon in Victoria BC, 5 years ago) and dessert at the Cheesecake Factory. Nothing like bumming around Downtown Seattle during the holiday season to remind me why I strongly dislike big city traffic. Our anniversary was wonderful - each year when we celebrate together, it reminds me how happy I am we married during the Christmas season. Not only do we get to celebrate the holidays with family, but they get to celebrate our anniversary with us. We have so many fond memories of anniversaries past!

I said earlier that I would make due note of the mistakes we made in our trip TO Seattle by plane. I do not need to use many words to do this. First, DO NOT plan on stretching out a toddler's bedtime during a layover. overtired is never good, and overtired does NOT mix well with benedryl. "nurse, nurse, doze, AWAKEN, SCREAM, ARCH, nurse nurse, doze..." for 3.5 hours. Ick. If you plan to use Benedryl, do what we did on our trip back to NE. Give it right before the plane takes off, and plan your departure during a normal going-to-sleep time.

Since we've been home (what, almost a week now?) we've been the gracious recipients of said relocube, and also (on the same day) 7 inches of snow. I was beginning to think we scared the snow off by purchasing a snow blower before nary a flake fell. Not so. Don't get me wrong, I think the snow is beautiful and all - and by now, I'm pretty darn used to the stuff - but I'm not a fan of traveling around the city in it, nor is my marshmallow-of-a-bundled-up-child. Today's high is negative two. I seized this opportunity to clean out my deep freezer, moving all of its contents to the detached garage while it thawed in our basement. So, you won't catch me saying the cold isn't good for something!

if these photos don't finish uploading soon you're going to have to endure a photo-less post. The child shall wake anon, and when he does, I shall post regardless.

Alright. There's my post, photos included. And there's my waking toddler. Adios.