Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cost Breakdown: Home-Made Coffee Creamers

I stumbled upon this site a few days ago and have been sooo excited to try her recipes.  The writer wanted to come up with home made creamers because she is trying to cut out everything that isn’t natural or organic from her diet and she couldn’t stand DSC_1208knowing what is really in those flavoured creamers in the bottle.  I can’t blame her, I don’t like what they are made of either, buuuuut they are so yummy!  I however, am not worried about the complete absence of any real food item in bottled creamer, I’m just cheap!

She uses lots of fancier ingredients, which I freely and guiltlessly substituted for what I have on hand.  The first recipe I tried is for Pumpkin Spice.  Many of my friends are loving this flavour right now, and there is something about fall that makes me crave pumpkin… plus I had some left over pureed pumpkin in the fridge…

1 cup whole milk ( ahem,  2% worked just fine for my purpose here)

1 cup heavy cream ( table cream)
3 Tblsp pureed pumpkin ( I had about 1/2 of a cup left over, so I just chucked it all in)
1 tsp pumpkin spice ( I don’t buy the blend, so I threw in some cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger)
4 Tblsp maple syrup ( I don’t buy the real thing, I use the NN fake stuff because it’s super cheap, but I figured this is how she is adding sweetness and a bit of thickening.  I used corn syrup and it worked perfectly!)
1 tsp vanilla extract ( for this I did use my real vanilla)

Wisk ingredients in a med pan over med heat.  Cook until milk starts steaming then pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.  You don’t want to actually boil the milk or you’ll scold it, just get it so its starts steaming lots.

Let me just say YUMMY!!!!!  Because you are cooking the milk, it will store well for a bit in the fridge.  With this one, I got about 750 ml of creamer once all the ingredients were added and they thickened that bit on the stove.  I don’t know what you pay for creamers that size?  Anyone help me out on that one?

The great thing is, this creamer took maybe 5 minutes to make, and from stuff I often have on hand.  If you’re making pies with pumpkin, keep out 3 tablespoons and make a batch! 

So, wanna know what it costs?  $1.30. Yup, that’s it!!!  I’m totally guessing the cost of the spices and pumpkin, since those are things I had on hand.  The cream cost 82 cents and the milk cost 28 cents.  That’s $1.10, so I’ll generously round up to $1.30 to account for the spices.  It’s nice to have the cream in it, but if you didn’t care that your creamer wouldn’t be as thick, you could always make it with all milk, and the total cost would be a measly 56 cents plus spices, so maybe 75 cents.

The next one I made was Peppermint Mocha, and it was just as delicious!!  Most of the creamers on the website will work out to the same price.  If you, like me, already have most of these ingredients on hand, it’s incredibly fast and super cheap to whip up a batch!  And hey, throw it in a pretty jar, it would make a great present for any coffee drinkers on your list this year…

Tomorrow I am making the caramel one Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Here’s the link to her page so you can copy all the nummy recipes(Deliciously Organic)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cloth Diapers Again??

Every time I have had to buy diapers lately, I’ve set off on a huge rant.  The rapidly rising cost has got me thinking… is it time to consider going back to cloth?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I did all kinds of reading about how to choose between cloth and disposable.  I know, I know, but I have warned you all before that I am a nerd!  Plus, I had tons more time then, and the decision seemed so important.  We chose cloth, despite taking a lot of teasing about it and hearing lots of predictions of our future failure at it.

My mom sewed me several sets in different sizes.  They look just like disposable ones, except they have velcro at the waist.  I found great breathable diaper covers and a really cool “diaper pail” bag.  Instead of a big pail, there are these neat bags in various sizes.  You literally just dump the whole thing into the washer and toss the bag in too.  I loved it. 

You know, I really liked cloth diapers.  I packed them with us and took them when we went on trips.  I used the flushable liners to make clean up easier.  I used small baby cloths to wash instead of wipes.  I hung them on our clothes line and enjoyed the look of them in the breeze while the sun naturally bleached out all the stains.

I eventually topped up the pile my mom had made me with some store bought ones.  When our second child was born, I decided to use disposables through the new born period.  We then switched to cloth, and continued with cloth diapers for both kids.  But then, we started going out and about more often.  Workers in the playroom during church or play groups didn’t really know how to deal with them, or really want to change cloth.  It became easier to put them in disposables if we were leaving the house.  When I was having trouble with my kids waking up a lot at night, another cloth diapering friend of mine was surprised that I was using cloth through the night.  She used disposables at night, she said, because then they weren’t being woken up by a cold wet diaper.

Then, my oldest was mostly potty trained and we were home so little.  Our daughter might only use three or four cloth ones over two days.  You couldn’t leave the diapers longer than that, and we had to run a full laundry cycle for just those few diapers.  The conviction that cloth was better softened and before we knew it, we were using disposables exclusively.

With our third child, we never even got them out of the bin.  I have to be honest, I didn’t plan to use them now with our fourth either, I just left the bin in the storage room.  But rising cost has got me thinking about this again.  A year ago, the regular cost of a box of 140 sz4 huggies (our fav brand) was $29.  They were $32 when the store pumped up the prices for a busy check weekend, however there were sales on a regular basis where you could snag a limit of four boxes at $20 each.  I would just wait patiently for a sale and stock up.  In the last few months, the price has risen steadily and the sales are no more.  Regular price is now $39, and today was the first time I have seen them marked down in about six months.  I was O-U-T of diapers and had to buy them no matter what they cost. $32 is the sale price now.

I did muse about going back to cloth a few months ago and Shawn just laughed.  He can’t see going back to the extra washing and the small changes in planning for outings etc.  However, my disgust at the cost of a box of diapers, as well as what I see was highway robbery for a box of wipes makes me want to consider it.

Here is what I personally see as the pros and cons of each.

Cloth Pros:

Better for the environment.

   It just is.  No manufacturing, no untreated waste in the landfill. 

Free… almost.
  I already own them, so now there is no real cost.  Washing a load of diapers might add up to about 70 cents in cost, which is less than buying three diapers.  As long as I am washing more than that, it’s cheaper.

Can never really be out of diapers.
No realizing that you are out of diapers and the stores close in ten minutes.  You always have them there.

Some say it helps potty train earlier
.  First, let me say, this was not the case for me at all!  But some say that the feeling of being wet will encourage kids to train earlier.  It also helps with the recognition that poop belongs in the potty as they will see you emptying it out of their diaper and into the toilet.

Disposable Pros:

EASY.  Change bum, throw out diaper, forget about it.  Easy to take in diaper bag, easier to dispose of while out and about.  Others that may care for your child are comfortable with them. 

Everyone else has them too. If you run out while at a friend’s house, they probably have one you can borrow.  For a long time, a lot of our friends all had kids wearing the same size diaper, it was like an awesome safety net, someone always had a size 4!


Cloth Cons:

Can be more work.  You do have to wash them, which is adding another thing to the to do list. Changing #2 diapers can be more work to clean out before you toss the diaper in the wash pail. 

Not always easy to use in public places.  You can’t just chuck them in the nearest garbage pail, so you need a plan for changing in public spaces, like a bag within your diaper bag.  Others who care for your child, in the church nursery or at a play group for example, may not want to deal with cloth diapers. 

Baby feels wet. Even if baby only has a little tinkle, they are going to feel the wet against themselves and will need to be changed sooner.  If you use disposables, you can delay changing baby until they have filled the diaper more.  This, however, could also be a pro as older children may want to potty train sooner.

Clothes don’t fit. Ok, it’s silly, but it is something to consider.  Because cloth diapers are bulkier, not all clothes fit your baby as well.  I did have to search out clothes that were cut wider to fit my little man, who was quite a moose even without diapers!

Disposable Cons:

Expensive.  You are literally throwing away money each time you change your baby.

Can be used up.  Last night was not the first time we were running around the house saying “ check the diaper bag, there must be two or three in there!!”.  I find it easy to forget that I have opened the last clip in a box and be completely out of diapers at the worst times.  But don’t worry, I always have those cloth ones I can grab in an emergency!

I know that there are many more things that could be added to this list, but I think this gives a pretty balanced idea of what is in my head.  While I am not quite ready to go back full time to cloth, I’m not certain I won’t either.   Paying $26 for a box of wipes that last us around a month is the most galling to me right now.  I may have to make a point of using the little baby cloths and warm water when we are at home. In the mean time, I will just continue to rant and rave about the cost of disposables !

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If You Were At My House Today…

You’d have seen me dancing around, giddy happy and laughing like a crazy frenchman, mwahahahahahah! Hee hee hee!! All because of this:


That’s right, it’s my new lino arriving at my house in the back of my brother in law’s truck!!!



                                    Right now, the floor looks like this:

                             But very very soon, it’s all going to look like this!!!!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas…

…Everywhere you go!  Just kidding, I’m sure the snow is not that far off but I don’t want to think about that yet!!!  It is, however, the time of year that I start planning for my favourite holiday, which just also happens to have the potential to be a real budget wrecker!

I really enjoy giving hand made gifts at Christmas time.  I have always enjoyed planning them out and working on them.  I get the kids involved, which requires a lot of prep time on my part.  So this fall, I’ve been dreaming about this neat little sewing project.  I had planned to take the one idea and make basically the same item for all the kids on my list.  I began to plan out the pattern and was setting out to acquire the material when it dawned on me:  I don’t have time for this!

Who am I kidding?!?  When on earth am I going to sew, make hand made ornaments, and make a pile of gifts?  Our fall has felt so busy with activities, schooling, appointments and life in general.  How can I squeeze more in?  The answer is, I can’t.  Not without being a frazzled mess and getting frustrated while trying to work on the things with the kids.

So, I am facing the reality this year that I cannot make presents as I usually do.  Another change this year has been that I wasn’t out garage sale-ing this summer.  Most years I stock up on small, neat gifts at garage sales.  I’ve used these as stocking stuffers and gifts for the kid’s friends etc.    This year, though, because of Bremen being so new and little, and Shawn working so much, I wasn’t able to get out there.  I may have to plan a bit more budget for stocking items this year.  I have managed to accumulate a pile of presents from the consignment sale the mom’s group had and from a few good catalogue toy sales.  I’ve been ordering the odd thing here and there to put away.  I have a pretty good start on the presents this year, but I still have a few biggies left to plan for.

I think for the annual grand-parent gift of ornaments from the kids, I will buy a kit.  I still want the kids to make something, but I can’t put the time in to find an ornament idea and prep and pre cut all the steps.  I’m going to make it easier on myself and head to the craft store to choose a simple kit.  A brand new Michael's just opened in our city…which might just be the biggest budget busting temptation of all!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Warning…Renos Ahead!

image  This is the first in a new series of posts that I plan on using to chronicle our attempts to renovate on a budget.  I am at the same time excited and dreading starting this process.

I’m no stranger to renovating, we’ve done this before.  In our last house, we spent the entire six years we owned it slowly renovating.  Now, I don’t regret doing it, we made a lot of money off our house when we sold, since we had done all the labour ourselves.  Buuuut this means I am not ignorant of how annoying and challenging it can be to live in an on-going construction zone.  I had no fronts on my kitchen cupboards for over a year ( yep, a whole year, really) last time.  And, I had a nine month old when we started, so you can imagine the mess!  Baden loved to pull everything out of the cupboards, and there was really no way to stop him.  So, to save my own sanity, I stopped trying.  I left all the dishes and pans where he last played with them, walked around them, and just washed them again as I needed to use them. 

When we moved, this house we moved to was finished.  I wanted it that way, it was our deal, see.  I made Shawn promise me that we would have a finished house, even if I hated every colour in the house, for five years.  After we moved in, we painted only the bedrooms and decided to ignore the green everywhere else.  And I mean literally EVERYWHERE else.  This house was painted the same shade of hideous green in every single room, except the guest room.  Every piece of trim, every window frame, even the doors are painted the same green.  I think they bought one giant can, then mixed it with white in some places so they could have three different shades of the same green.  They painted everything that would hold paint.  The door bell cover, the thermostat, the towel rails in the bathroom… all GREEN!  You know that shade of green that went with peach in the ‘80s… kind of a “dusty” green… well that’s the one!  I used to like green, and maybe it’s not the worst shade ever ( could be lime green afterall) but the overwhelming reality of the same green everywhere is what makes me hate this colour. 

And the lino! What was she thinking??  I know for a fact they had three kids when they chose to install it.  Every lino in the house is the same… WHITE!  No pattern, no squares, just all white, in the kitchen, in the PORCH and even both bathrooms.  I seriously hate this floor, I have cursed it since we moved in.  Not only does it show every single speck of anything, the finish is all worn off so it always looks gross.  Their grandson, over for a visit one day, decided to attack the floor by pounding a butter knife into it… so there are tiny stab marks all over which collect dirt.  Where Shawn had to peel back a bit to install the dishwasher, it cracked… another spot collecting dirt!  Recently, Shawn set down an oven rack he believed to be cool on it… but it was hot and melted into it.

Despite our agreement, the reality is that after three years of living in this house with (now) four kids and the dog ( up until this month, she’s gone now), the house is showing signs of wear.  We took out two built in bookshelves to wall mount a tv and never finished the drywall.  A piece of baseboard was under a leaky window and needed to be removed.  The wiring for said tv is draped across the curtain rods ( yes Shawn does work for the cable company but the last thing he wants to do when he gets home is more wiring!).  I cracked the moulding when I took it off to paint our room.  We ripped out the carpet because of the dog ( a whole other post about that here ).  We scabbed together the railing after Lily fell through it.  Water leaked into the downstairs bathroom ceiling and made a paint bubble.  The upstairs bathroom needs a total overhaul. The porch addition wasn’t done properly and doesn’t have heat, so it freezes in the winter. This is only a partial list, but you get the idea.  It’s just time to stop ignoring the list.

So, as much as there are difficulties to living in a reno, we’ve decided it’s time to start.  It means that we may not be making as much progress on paying down the debt, because some funds will have to be allocated to the renos.  We’ll have to do it slowly, piece by piece to avoid going into any more debt.  The good thing about having done this before is that I know the end result will be worth it.

We’re starting in our kitchen.  It’s the room that annoys us the most, and now that we are homeschooling we are in it even more.  It’s not large, so we have to make the best use of space that we can.  So far, here is our plan:

#1: REPLACE LINO!!!! : Because it will make me so much happier, I placed this at the top priority.  Funds are going to this first.

#2: Build banquette seating around table.  We only own five chairs.  We bought the kids some really cool adjustable chairs from Stokke, but they are expensive and we don’t want to invest in another one.  However, we now have 6 people in our family… and Bremen needs to start eating soon.  The Stokke chairs can be made into a high chair, but that would leave someone without one.  For the same cost as one chair, Shawn can build the entire bench.  We decided on the bench, and it will include storage for things like our hot tub towels ( door to hot tub is beside table area) and homeschool supplies.  I am already gathering materials for this project and plan a post on it by itself when we reach that stage.

#3: Install pocket door at the end of the hallway where it meets the kitchen.  This will cut down on noise when kids are sleeping, and let us visit with company in the kitchen more often.  The downside is, we need to remove all the drywall off one wall to install it.  We’ll have to repaint almost the whole house to finish the work.  We were originally going to attempt this project on it’s own but realized we couldn’t until we were ready to start a full out reno.

#4: Repaint.

#5: Refinish kitchen hutch and cupboards.  This project scares me the most, since I remember all too well living without cupboard fronts last time.  I can’t afford to replace them though, so we are just going to have to fix them up.  At least they are oak and so a great starting point!

#6: New Countertops ( new sink and taps at this stage).  The counter was peeling and separating when we moved in.  The previous owners apparently did not know what a cutting board was for, and the entire counter top is marked with years of knife cuts.  It’s lifting at both corners ( it’s a U-shaped counter) where they seamed the top.  Very gross.  Then, I added my own mark to it when I accidentally set a mini torch on top of it.  I thought it had an automatic off , but it didn’t and it burned a hole through the back.   That is a whole other story though…

That about sums up my plan for the kitchen.  Right now, I have money set aside for the floor and the bench.  We already have the supplies for the door, bought when we first started thinking about that project.  Hopefully I will be able to squeeze enough out of my money for paint too.  That way the kitchen will feel mostly finished as we save for the counter tops!

I’m scared and excited all at the same time!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wrap Style Baby Carrier

DSC_0986Ok, I have to start off by saying that this is not my favourite picture of me, but it does have a funny story which I will tell you first and then get to the point.

I was at our local museum with our homeschool group and decided that it would be much easier to carry Bremen in the wrap than attempt to get a stroller around.  There was also a press conference going on that day, and the local politicians were all there.  As I was walking by, our mayor stopped me and grabbed my camera.  “ I remember when I was a parent, there are never any pictures of moms with their kids, let me take a picture for you!”  I later found out that Jim Scarrow is a real photo bug, but it totally surprised me that he would take time out of his day to take my picture with Bremen.  I was talking to Darrel Hickie, our local MLA at the time.  Bremen was trying so hard to see what was going on that he looks like his neck is twisted!  Anyway, that is the story of this picture…Now I’ll tell you about the wrap itself!

I happened upon an article on a blog I’ve been just loving lately (Raising Arrows) about making your own wrap style carrier.  I LOVE snuggling babies, and it seemed like a great carrier for me.  It allows me to have two free hands, and it’s become a must have for grocery shopping, fussy days and outings.  Haha, not that happy Bremmie has had many fussy days, but you get the point.  After reading her super simple directions ( trust me, read the article.. ridiculously simple!) I set out to get material to make a wrap.  I bought a cotton that is made for sewing pyjamas, so it only stretches one way.  There are lots of cute patterns, and it won’t sag when baby gets heavier like a jersey knit would.  This is important to me, since my babies get big fast, in this picture Bremen is 3 1/2 months and just under 20 pounds already!

So, to make one, you buy 5-7 yards of material ( depending on your height), and cut it to about 20 inches wide.  Off of one piece of fabric, you should get 3 wraps.  I bought this on sale for about $50, so the wraps only cost about $17 each.  That’s way less than buying one!  If you want to, you can seam or serge the edges.  I just did a quick zigzag stitch.  There are lots of videos on YouTube and articles all over the net about different ways to tie the carrier.  Once you try it a couple of times, it’s really easy!

The wrap is so comfy, it feels just like baby is cuddled up against you for a nap.  The material I used is breathable cotton, so it doesn’t get too hot.  I tucked a diaper and wipes into one of the layers so I didn’t have to carry anything with me at all.  When baby is older, there are even ways to carry them on your back with it!

The first time I wore this, Bremen was just a day or so old, and we went on our epic grocery shopping trip.  Everyone kept remarking on it ( they still do) and how sweet he looked all cuddled up comfortably against me.  I ran into my sister-in-law who at that time was still pregnant ( our boys are just 7 days apart).  “Oh wow” she said" “you bought a wrap, I was looking at those, but I don’t think we can afford one!”.  “Really!?” I replied, “ Well, I made this one, and I can give you one too!”.  It felt really great to be able to give it away!  I still have the third one here, ready to be a gift to the next person who needs it!

These make a quick and easy gifts that anyone can make, even if they don’t sew. You may not have need of a baby carrier anymore, but you could always make some up to give as baby shower gifts! 

Getting Everything Done

Well, the first month of Homeschooling is done now, and I have been evaluating whether or not there are some things I need to tweak in our schedule/routines.

If I were to list all the things I need to juggle, it would be exhausting, not to mention boring to read!  As a mom with four kids to care for, a wife, and a homeowner there are just lots of tasks even without the homeschooling.  I’ve been coasting along for a while now, not quite getting everything done.  I have a new baby! It’s summer!  But realistically, I can’t let it all go forever, so I need to find ways to make it a bit more manageable around here.

We have fallen into a routine of when we get certain tasks and subjects done each day, and being flexible is working quite well for us.  We have made progress that we are all satisfied with in all the subjects.  I have to admit that the schooling is taking more time of each day than I thought it would.  Because each child has their own separate material for most subjects, I am having to spend more time at it than I had planned.  I make the school time a priority, so it’s the other things that I need to figure out!

I badly neglected my yard work this year ( see above excuses), so I am kind of glad that gardening season is over.  Soon enough, snow will come and cover up my weed filled flower beds and I will have successfully put off that problem until next spring… when I am sure I will regret having left myself such a mess.

Bremen is about to be 4 months old, and I have yet to go for my “six week” post partum check up… I know, I know.  I’m just not sure how to get that organized with four kids in tow!  I’ll have to ship them off to a friend’s I think.

I thought I had been doing a good job of getting my kids in to the dentist, until I realized that one of them was a year over due for a check up… oops!  Oh well, we are up to date now!  Baden has had three appointments in the last three weeks, with one more in two weeks from now, to have a lot of work done.  Despite being opposed to using electronics as a babysitter, I took the laptop to the office with me so the girls could watch a movie while we waited.  Occupying three kids including a 4 month old for over an hour is hard in a dental office!  I’m just doing whatever it takes to get it done right now!

I’m working on getting Bremen settled into more of a daily routine too.  Some of the other areas will settle into more of a pattern if he is having predictable naps.  I hate this stage of parenting… sleep training.  I have never liked letting my babies cry even the littlest bit, but have regretted it more when I haven’t.

Mommy time has been non existent, or spent prepping things for school.  This is the reason my blog posts have been so sporadic.  I’ve been managing ok, but I do need to figure out some time for me to relax too!

The main thing I want to change up right now is my chore/laundry system.  Growing up, my mom always cleaned the house end to end in one day while doing laundry. At the end of the day, it felt wonderful to have the whole place feeling so clean and fresh.  This is what I did when I worked, and probably up until we had two kids.  Now, this is just impossible!  I am trying to figure out a system that will work because lately our house has just been getting messier and messier!  I need to find a system of routines that will help me keep up not only on the day to day stuff, but the weekly cleaning as well as things that should be done monthly or yearly.  It’s time to start “fall cleaning” but I haven’t finished “spring cleaning” yet.  Maybe I’ll just start with the rooms I never go to in the spring?

Right now, I’ve been trying to clean a room a day.  I have to admit, it’s not really working.  I am always a day behind, or more, and end up doing the last half of yesterday’s chores, then some of today’s etc.  We keep talking about having a tidy up time each day so that things don’t get so far behind, but we haven’t been consistent on implementing it. 

I try to do at least two loads of laundry each day.  It keeps me from getting swamped under mountains of dirty laundry, but it’s not really working too great either.  Sometimes it’s piled all over my couch because I folded it while the littles were sleeping and didn’t want to wake them up going into the rooms to put it away.  Sometimes, I got it through the machines, but didn’t get it folded, so several baskets of clean clothes were piled up waiting to be folded.  Sometimes, I went through all that work only to find it bunched behind the clothes in the closet because I gave to the kids to put away.

I can never keep caught up on dishes either!  My idea was to do at least one sink full during the day and then the rest after putting kids to bed when Shawn could help me.  Except that Shawn has hardly been home because of working so much and I don’t want to spend my only time with him washing dishes!  Now, my fingers are getting dry and sore with eczema again ( a regular winter phenomenon ) so I can’t wash dishes or risk split and bleeding fingertips.  Those of you who know Shawn should know what this means: I have to wait for Shawn to wash dishes… and wash floors.

Ok, so that’s my belly aching about what hasn’t been working, but now I want to move on to what I want to do about it!

I can’t do much about the dishes, other than wear gloves and wash the few that I can. 

Laundry wise, I am wondering… do you have one day where you tackle it all, or do you try to do a set amount of loads each day?  Do you keep on top of putting it away as you fold each load, or wait until the day’s laundry is done and put it away all at once?

I know that many tasks would go smoother if we found a good time, or two, in the day to have a tidy up time.  Having a daily chores time and keeping on top of toys and “stuff” that is left out would make cleaning a lot easier.  Anyone have tidy up at a time that they have kept up?  Wondering when in our day this could stick?

One of the ideas I read on a blog is to set a task for each day, instead of a room.  For example, dust all rooms Monday, vacuum Tuesday, etc instead of clean kitchen on Monday, the playroom on Tuesday.  I’m wondering if that would work better for us?  Does anyone manage their cleaning this way?  How do you find that?

Lastly, how to manage those chores that only need doing monthly, or annually?  Do you keep a binder or notebook, jotting down when that filter needs to be replaced? 

What systems are working for you?

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