Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hooray for Tax Season!

I have to confess, I LOVE tax season.  Now, I know I am a nerd, but it most likely has to do with the fact that I get a refund every year…  I sure didn’t like it as much the one year I had to pay a huge sum while home on maternity leave! 

Now, I know they say you should file the deductions form at your work place to adjust what they keep back from your pay.  The goal really should be to have a refund or payment within $50.  I have tried, believe me!  But one of the reasons we get a refund every year is because we donate to our church .  Because this is a donation deduction, the forms would have to be resubmitted every year, special approved by the CRA and by the time the necessary permission had been given to Shawn’s employer, it would be time to start the process for the next tax year.  I looked into it, trust me, remember, I said I’m a nerd!  You also have to show that you have done this several years in a row ( with previous tax forms) and that you are on track to do it again this tax year ( with cheque copies or pre-authorized debit receipts) for the first 6 months of the current tax year.  We could do it, but as I said, it turns out to be a bit more of a pain in the butt!

So! Every year, we have a nice refund to look forward to.  I know it shouldn’t be our enforced savings or payments plan.  Each refund we get, we sigh wistfully and say something along the lines of “ Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do something FUN with this, instead of paying for ( insert new bill or debt payment here)?” or “ Wouldn’t it be great if we could invest this in something?”.  And I know if that I actually did file the forms for the deductions, I would have that money in smaller instalments throughout the year.  I could put that amount on debt, and save interest.  I could invest that money and earn interest.  Hopefully, within a few years, we will be in that place!

In the meantime, I still love tax season.  I get all the papers ready, wait for any that are still outstanding and enter everything into a tax program ( I use TurboTax).  The program makes it quick and easy, even if you have small business expenses ( I used it the years I had a home business too).  I am perfectly capable of doing the math with the forms and a calculator, but I don’t mind paying the $40 or so to have the program do all the thinking for me.

This year, our refund will go a couple of places.  One, we still donate a portion to our church.  A friend of mine gave us the idea to donate it to specific “fun” causes instead of the general fund, where we would donate our regular amounts.  It feels great to contribute specifically to a cause or drive that we care about.

Second, some of it will go to fill in a (relatively tiny) hole that has come up in our finances over the past few weeks. I know, I wish none of it had to go to that!  But, at least the tiny hole won’t become a gaping one and keep us down for a couple months either.

Then, third, all the rest is going on our credit card, and I will reduce the limit! YAY!! This is the most exciting one for me.  I am so excited to get out from that high interest! Let’s be honest, it’s not fun paying the price now for things we wasted money on ages ago.  And let that be a lesson to me, not to do it again!!! 

Ahhh, I am so glad to have submitted the taxes today!! Now I can look forward to seeing that nice deposit arrive in my bank account!!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shower Stall Balloon Pit

Sometimes, I have to work really hard to come up with enough neat things to entertain my kids during these long stuck-in-the-house winter days.  And, then sometimes, they invent the funniest things themselves!

Last week, my kids took all the balloons that had been blown up and were still bouncing around the play room and piled them all in the shower stall.  They invented their own “balloon pit” and jumped around in there, squealing with delight!  I couldn’t resist snapping a picture!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Kids’ Chores

I’ve been thinking lately about kids and chores.  I think we’re going to switch to an allowance system where they earn their money by doing their chores, rigged a bit, so they end up with the same amount we think they should have.

While I have a few things I already get them to help me with, they aren’t done on a regular basis.  I get the kids to help with whatever I am doing.  If I am cleaning the living room, then I hand them things to put away.  If I am folding Laundry, I give them their clothes to put away.  When we are setting the table, I hand them some of the dishes, etc.  If they aren’t around, or I’m in a hurry, I often just do it myself.

I’d like to move to a system where they are responsible for doing their chores, and knowing when it needs to be done.  I think I’ll have a check mark chart for keeping track of when they do their jobs, and pay them once a week by transfer into their bank account.  Some chores will be mandatory and unpaid, because you are part of our family and everyone helps.  Others will be expected on a regular basis and we’ll still expect them to be done most of the time. Some will be for when they want to earn extra if they choose to.

So… I am trying to come up with some age appropriate chores for each kiddo.  Things they can reasonably do.  Then I’m going to try an figure out which will be mandatory, regular and optional.

Here are a few of the things that my kids often help with…feeding the dog, emptying small garbage cans, spraying and wiping the bathroom counter and sink area, using the scrub brush and wiping the toilet, pairing up socks, spraying and wiping windows, sorting laundry, folding pieces of laundry that they can manage, setting or clearing the table, putting away their clothes, tidying up toys and books, putting away things like boots, shoes and mitts in the porch, rinsing and stacking the dishes that mom washes.  I’ve had them help me with things like wiping walls or wiping down the leather couches too.  Ok, lots of these things they don’t do to perfection, but they do a pretty good job, and  then I check and help. 

Ok, that list seems longer than I thought it would, but again, these aren’t things they do on a regular basis, just things I have asked them to do at one time or another in the past.  Often their involvement isn’t as much of a help as it is an opportunity for them to learn and try.  But I think it’s important for kids to help out, and learn how to do these things.  I’m not asking them for perfection.  At my house, all the blankets on the bed, and the pillow near the top counts as making your bed.

Even Lily at two likes to help with things, and will gladly take a turn with a dusting cloth.  She carries her own diaper to the garbage and loves to rinse dishes.  Now obviously there aren’t going to be many age appropriate chores for a two year old!  But what about Baden at 7 and Colleena at 5? 

What are some chores you’ve assigned your kids?  Are there tasks that you break down and give out in parts?  How do you manage the chores at your house?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cost Break-Down: Homemade Bread Version 2

I lost the paddle for my bread maker about a month ago, and have finally conceded the fact that it is not going to be found.  I’ve been missing it, since I actually use it a lot, and my family has been missing the yummy homemade bread.  I did look, but a replacement paddle is $30 plus shipping.  I think I’ll wait and see if I can find a bread maker during garage sale season.

In the meantime, I set out to find a bread recipe that we could use as an everyday white bread.  I found one called Everyday Amish White Bread that I wanted to try. One morning, I asked Colleena “ would you like to bake bread today?” She answered “ In the bread maker? We found the paddle?!”  “No, I said, by hand, the old fashioned way.”  A big smile on her face, she said “ Like little house on the prairie?” Then she hollered to Shawn" “ DAD!!! WE’RE MAKING PRAIRIE HOUSE BREAD!!!”.  And, so, that is how this recipe came to be named Prairie House Bread…

2 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 TBsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
6 cups flour

Dissolve sugar in warm water in a large bowl, then stir in yeast.  Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
Mix salt and oil into yeast.  Mix in one cup of flour at a time.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth.  Place in well oiled bowl, and turn to coat.  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled ( about 1 hour).
Punch dough down, knead for a minute.  Divide in half.  Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9X5 loaf pans.  Allow to rise at least 30 minutes, or until dough has risen an inch above pans.
Bake for 30 minutes in 350 degree oven.

These loaves are sweet and fluffy.  They have the same lightness and texture as store bought white, but taste way better! Works well for sandwiches and toast, or with a meal. They brown beautifully and don’t stick to the pans at all!

Sooooooo….. wanna know what it costs?

Water…um, free?  Sugar 16 cents, yeast 54 cents, salt 1 cent, oil 15 cents, flour 40 cents.  That’s a grand total of $1.26 for two loaves, or $0.63 each. YUMMY!!!!!


I made a double batch, and Baden could smell it the moment he got in the door from school.  He took a deep breath and proclaimed “ THAT is the best smell EVER!!!”.  Hee hee, Shawn agreed when he got home.  They don’t last too long since we all want to snack on them!  I think next time I’m going to shape some into buns too.

Beating the Budget Busters: Planning Birthday #2

Okay, I know I haven’t been writing a lot lately, but I’ve been so busy

that I haven’t had time!  I hoping to catch up and let you know what we’ve been up to.

Coming up right away here, is Colleena’s birthday party.  She wants to have a Hawaiian theme this year.  This is how we plan most parties, by asking our kids what theme they think would be fun, and building on that.  Then, I think about what games, decorations and cake ideas would go well with that theme. 

I browsed around on the internet to find some neat game ideas, but didn’t really find anything super extraordinary, so we decided to plan a few traditional games and add a Hawaiian twist to them.  We’re going to play musical beach towels, instead of musical chairs.  I have lots of beach towels, and will just use them, still folded, on the floor.  Then, we’re also planning on doing the limbo.  We’ll have silly freeze hula dancing, while the kids are wearing grass skirts.  Three games will most likely be enough to occupy this gaggle of 5 year olds for a good chunk of time.  If not, maybe we’ll break out the Wii-fit and do the Hula-Hoop challenge on the Wii Fit board hee hee!  We’ll also be doing piñatas!

The time window we used for Baden’s party worked out great, so we’re doing the same thing for this party.  I invited guests from 3 until 5, so we don’t have to plan a meal.  Plus, it means that my youngest will still get her nap before anyone gets here, and that way she won’t be a tired, crying mess during the party.

Having the kids birthdays so close together has some benefits.  Mainly, that I am able to buy some supplies in bulk and save money by dividing them over the two parties.  When I was stocking up for Baden’s party, I bought lots of individually wrapped candies in bulk.  Things that could go in the piñata, like pixie sticks, fizz strips, ring pops and suckers.  I divided them up and stashed half for Colleena’s party, so I didn’t have to buy them this month.  I also bought those little rubber bracelets that come in different shapes and are so cool right now. I got a container of 200 of them for $2 at Dollarama. I set aside all the “girly” colors and the shapes that went well with Colleena’s theme (fish, sea horse, palm tree etc).  The rest, we used at Baden’s party last month.

Baden’s entire party cost me about $60, but some of that amount was candy, which I spread over two parties.  I bought a  flower lei to greet each guest with, grass skirts to give out and a couple of little gimicky toys at Dollarama for Colleena’s party.  That all added up to about $30.  Even if you add it up and average it out, it only cost us $50 per party.

I’m planning on making the cake a pair of flip flops this year.  Making the two cakes myself will only cost me a couple dollars, and it is always my favourite part of the birthday season, I just love baking fun cakes!

Just last night, Shawn and I were reflecting on birthday season this year.  Baden’s party seemed the most complicated one that we have done, having all the different carnival games set up, but it was easy and no-stress to plan. It was tons of fun to do, for us and the kids.  Colleena’s is almost effortless, since so much of the buying is already done, and the games will be easy to set up and need no real equipment.  Even the prep has been fun.  We made the piñatas with the kids, who had a great time making, painting and stuffing them.  And this year, both cakes were easy to plan and execute.  This is the least amount of time and stress I have put in pre-party, and the most fun we’ve ever had!

Ahhhhh… simple is good!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nifty Thrifty Gifty: Wall Art

DSC_0300This is the project I’ve been working on for my sister, since she got to open it today, now I can share it with you!

I heard about this idea from a friend of mine, and tweaked it a bit to add my own style to it. 

First, I asked around and got some old sheet music ( from the same friend, hee hee!)

I  ripped out enough pages to generously cover the canvas I had. Some I left as whole sheets, and some I ripped in pieces to create a neat effect.


Then the girls helped me age the paper with tea.  They had lots of fun with this step!  If you’ve never done this before: just soak a tea bag in hot water for a few minutes, then without wringing it out too much, wipe, dap and spread it all over the paper.  Add layers until you are happy with the color and let paper dry. I was impatient, so I dried mine with the hair dryer.

Next, I modge-podged the papers to the canvas.  Lily, my little helper also generously applied it all over the table…
I layered them at different angles, leaving the torn edges showing, until I was happy with the look.  Then I covered the whole thing with a thick layer of modge-podge to seal it.

Next, I enlisted Shawn to help me make the music note.  I had tried looking for something in the scrapbooking stuff, but didn’t find anything I felt suited it. Shawn had this great copper wire, which he bent into shape for me, leaving two pegs that we punched right through the canvas. On the back of the canvas, he put a dab of hot glue on each peg to hold it in place.  Then, he attached a string so it could be hung on the wall. 

DSC_0300 And, Voila! Wall art.  Baden did help with this project too, helping to position and glue the music note, but somehow he didn’t end up in any of the pictures!

Obviously, I did this in a music theme, but you could do it in any theme that would suit you.  My friend who made the original one did a bird theme for a friend of ours.  She used pages from an old bird watching book, and used a scrapbooking embellishment of a bird as the decoration.  I was thinking it would be nice in a wine making theme too, with a copper wine bottle…  Also, since the sheet music I used was all hymns, I was also imagining a cross as the embellishment would be nice.  Really, I think you could use any theme you came up with!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Help! I think I’m addicted to FaceBook…

Why is FaceBook so addicting?  It’s something I have been reflecting on lately.  What I am seeing is that, for me, it’s because it creates the illusion of relationship. 

I have great, real friendships with lots of the people on my “friend” list.  But, a large portion of my list is made up of old school chums, people I know loosely through some contact, the parents of my kids’ friends, distant relatives etc.  Nothing wrong with keeping in touch with those people!  FaceBook can be a great tool for communicating.

In my busy life, sometimes it really is the best way to communicate with large groups of people, vent about my day, or share pictures and news with the grandparents.  I can ask for advice, I can check in with a friend, I can throw a question out there, and get neat responses.  If someone starts crying ( me or the kids, lol) I can stop typing where I am, and come back to a message or conversation.  On the phone, it’s harder to stop and start conversations at times that are convenient for me, or for the other person.  It’s helped to co-ordinate schedules, make plans, and organize parties.

What I am seeing is that while FaceBook is a great tool, I have become too dependant on it.  It allows me to feel like I am genuinely connecting with my friends, when often, I am not.  I like reading everyone’s statuses, feeling like I know what’s going on in their lives.  I enjoy reading what people post back.  But am I really investing in their lives?  In our friendship? 

I am very guilty of neglecting the friends I have who are not on facebook.  Partly, I envy them a bit, because they never got into the habit of facebook in the first place, and partly I wonder how they stay connected without it in this day and age.  When talking with several of my FBF ( facebook free) friends, I have also noticed that sometimes they feel left out.  FBA (facebook addicts) like me often forget to phone and invite them to things because “I posted the invite over facebook”, or “everyone set the time on facebook” etc.

I like posting interesting or funny things that happen during my day.  I suspect that this too has gone too far.  When something funny happens around the house, one of my kids will say “ Mom, you should so put this on facebook!”.

Our Bible study group has been reading a book called “A Celebration of Discipline”, and the chapter last week was on “simplicity”.  This week is “solitude”.  These chapters have convicted me so much!  I am loving how much this book is challenging me to grow.  I bring it up here, because in the chapter on simplicity, the author lists 10 things to think about.  One of them is to remove things that you are becoming addicted to or dependant on.  These are things that are taking away from your relationship with God.  I have to admit, for me, facebook falls into that category.  If I was sitting praying or reading my Bible, and I heard that little message bing sound, I would get up to see who was trying to talk to me.  I wouldn’t get up to answer the phone, but… And I realized that in the past, I have probably invested more time sitting on facebook than reading the Bible on many days. 

In the chapter on solitude, the author talks about how we need to have both solitude and social times in our life.  We can’t be good to people without having some solitude times, and we can’t enjoy solitude if we don’t have enough social times.  Am I leaving enough solitude time in my life?  Facebook allows me to feel constantly a part of a social group, never really alone.  I often feel antsy if I haven’t checked in for a while, and I have to consciously decide that I won’t check as I walk by the computer. 

Ouch.  Yep, I’m addicted to facebook.  I have mentioned before that I gave up facebook last year for lent.  It allowed me so much more free time, which I spent in better ways.  I did feel left out of conversations and events some times, but on the whole, it was really good.  I definitely felt withdrawal!

While I don’t want it to become a default that every lent I will give up facebook, I am considering it again this year.  Last year, it reset my use for a long time, but I have slowly crept it up again.  I want to be a better friend.  To have a real connection to those in my life.  I don’t want to settle for the illusion of a real friendship.  Over the last few weeks, I have been consciously trying to be more intentional about connecting with those in my life.  I have been purposefully spending less time on the computer.  I wrote some long overdue letters.  I went for coffee with a friend.  I have turned the TV off more, and have enjoyed the quiet and calmness that brings to my house. I have been reading great books, studying my Bible and praying more. I am weaning myself off of the dependence on facebook as my main communication tool.

Will I go FBF cold turkey for lent?  I haven’t decided yet.  But one of my good friends is giving it up this week, maybe I’ll go see her for coffee… 

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