21 Day Fix

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Music - Life's Soundtrack

Music Music Music

I got my new (to me) piano on Tuesday and I’m finding myself very out of practice.  I love being able to play music and I’m finding myself frustrated by how I’ve let my skills atrophy.  I’ve taken formal lessons on piano, organ, clarinet and guitar.  Music, in one form or another, has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old and my parents took me up to Mario’s Music Villa for lessons.  Back then I HATED IT.  Hated it so much that my teacher told my parents they were wasting their money on trying to have me learn to play piano – he said I just wasn’t cut out for it.  What they were really doing was wasting their money having him try to teach me how to play.  What I really needed was the right teacher.  Joe was the right teacher for my brother Marcus – not so for me. 

Helen, on the other hand was the BEST piano teacher I could ever imagine having.  I learned so much from her, not just how to play notes, but how to play them with feeling and emotion.  She was an older lady who had grand children who were older than me and she had been a professional pianist downtown during live radio shows, in the days before TV killed radio dramas.  She understood music and could improvise like nobody’s business – she was amazing and I wanted to play like her.  She taught me basics and fundamentals and when I got better she let me choose the music I wanted to play – always pushing me to play harder and harder pieces.  She always had confidence in me and taught me to have confidence in myself on the piano.  She ignited my passion for playing music and my love of losing myself on those 88 keys.

I want my kids to have that.  I want them to have a love and passion for music and to be able to sit down and make music themselves. 

My oldest started lessons at 7 years old when we lived in Hawaii and she took lessons for about a year and a half until we moved back to Ohio and I had a hard time finding a teacher and the money to pay for one.  A little over 2 years ago she took up the alto saxophone at school and has been a part of the school band for over a year now.  She plays very well (especially when she practices) and recently moved up to a tenor saxophone at the request of her teacher and the band director.  She is the only tenor sax in the band and I’m very proud of her.  But the piano calls – especially since it is now in the house.  She wants to resume lessons as do my younger daughters.  At least this week – everyone wants piano lessons.

When I was 16 years old my teacher was attempting to lower the number of students she was working with and sat down with my Mother and I and discussed having me take on some of her students and become their teacher.  I was flabbergasted and honored at the same time.  ME – teaching piano?  Take that Joe at Mario’s!  I had the skills and knowledge and took on 2 of her students.  She helped me a bit on how to work with the kids and how to talk to them and how to teach them – kind of like an apprenticeship.  But, enter the fact that I was a 16 year old teenage girl with “things to do” and “places to go” and friends to hang out with and I gave up on teaching those kids – they went back to Helen and I hope they stuck with piano – it is a great instrument and they had a great teacher.  A learning experience for all of us.

I now find myself going back to those days with Helen and her confidence in my abilities and belief that I can also teach this instrument.  Remembering the things she taught me about teaching the piano and not just playing it.  So, I am now sitting down and creating lesson plans and music work sheets for my own kids and choosing, at least at this point, to use them as my test subjects in order to get back into teaching this great musical instrument.  There is just something so satisfying about watching my 6 year old get a look of complete joy on her face when she knows she is playing the song on the page exactly as it is written.  The same goes for the 12 year old and the 5 year old.  I don’t know how long they’ll want to do this and the novelty of having the new piano will wear off and the desire to practice and play will likely wane a bit but I will encourage them, I will help them, I will teach them and I hope that I will finally live up to Helen’s expectations.  And who knows, maybe get a few other students as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Grown-ups Live Here - Really

Grown-ups live here – Honestly they do!  Though I realize that sometimes it can be hard to tell.

Is it too much to ask that when someone enters my house for there to be signs that grown-ups live here?  I don’t mind that there are signs that there are kids living here, after all I’m the one who put the Fisher Price Loving Family dollhouse in the living room, I’m the one who put the kids DVD’s in the corner and the little table and chairs with the moon-sand kit on it in the room but the rest of the stuff in the room should show some sort of sign that there are grown-ups living here.  I don’t want a sterile “adult” place but I’d like a few less princess things in the communal living space if you know what I mean.

When the kids were really little it was hard to get rid of the “kids rule this place” look since there were swings, baby seats, bumbos, high chairs, rockers, changing tables, strollers etc. to take up a ton of space but the “baby” here is now in kindergarten and its time for a major kid stuff purge.

We regularly do a sweep of the place for stray toys, wandering stuffed animals and piles of books and other paper items trying to get them back in their place (kids rooms or the basement, on shelves or in the trash) but somehow the place always looks like a combination of a toy store and paper factory explosion. And all of them now being in school has not helped things at all.  The sheer volume of paper that finds its way home from school and into the clutter that is taking over is driving me nuts.

So, I ask, do other people have “kids stuff everywhere” issues?  Or, do they do what I do whenever other “grown-ups” are coming over?  Usually I feel that I have to spend a couple of hours plowing through all of the stuff that has escaped the kids rooms and basement and found its way into the rest of the house.  Of course there is never time for that so it hardly every happens and everything gets scooped up into my arms, deposited in a large box or bags somewhere and squirreled away in a closet, bedroom or the basement waiting for “when I get some time to go through it and take care of it all”.  What usually happens first is the kids find it all again and they pull it out making the stuff migrate all over again.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

I used to pride myself on being very organized, I used to have an organized home and while at work (when I had a job), my work space was always in line and I could find anything on a few minutes notice.  I have this great goal to establish my business and work from home but I need my work space to be organized and since my home would be my office the fact that it is taken over by chaos is not helping me in my efforts.  Clearing out the basement office is a plan but as that is the hiding room for all of the stuff over the years it is also a mountain to plow through first.

So for the past 2 weeks rather than blogging as I intended, (or searching for paying work as I should be) I’ve been spending a lot of my waking hours with no kids at home going through boxes of “stuff” (or crap as I like to call it).  Boxes of kids clothes that I was waiting to get to, boxes of paper and stuff that I was waiting to get to, piles of kid stuff everywhere, toys that my kids are way too old for, boxes that have been moved over and over again waiting for me to get time to go through are now all in my sights. 

So in my quest to make my house workable and look like grown-ups live here I’ve taken 11 boxes of stuff (not crap) to the Salvation Army.  I’ve emptied out and or consolidated another 15 boxes of stuff (down to 4 or 5 boxes at this point) and filled many many garbage bags with a lot of that stuff I was waiting to get a change to go through and decide what to keep and what to get rid of (guess I know what was actually “crap” now) FINALLY.  Yikes – this could take a while.  Stay tuned.  Sooner or later this place will be workable and it will look like grown-ups live here. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Everything Changed That Day

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 Jason had an 8:00 a.m. (central time) breakfast meeting as part of the Evanston Human Relations Commission, and he would be going to work in Chicago after the meeting.  We only had one car at the time so on the way to the meeting he dropped me off at Motzart’s, a coffee shop around the corner from where I worked.  As I was getting out of the car the news mentioned something about an airplane hitting one of the World Trade Center’s towers in New York City.  My mind immediately filled with an image of a little Cessna 172 hitting one of the huge buildings, I got my bagel and coffee and walked over to my office.

I fired up my computer, logged in and replicated my lotus notes with my company’s servers in California. I worked as a Field Sales Coordinator for the Trinchero Family Estates, they are the owners of many different California wine brands and you will not find a better group of people to work for or with. 

I turned on my radio and heard the news that the plane that had hit the North tower was not a small private plane but instead a commercial airliner filled with passengers.  It seemed impossible that had happened, was it an accident, was it intentional? What?  I jumped onto the Drudge Report website to see what was happening and saw the news update that a second plane had hit the South tower.  I still remember the feeling of every hair on my body standing on end.

I called my husband’s cell phone – voice mail – left a message about the planes.  Asked him to call me when he got out of the meeting.

Our little office was over a steakhouse in the ‘middle” of Evanston and only my boss and I worked out of that office.  Though, on this particular Tuesday his boss was in town from St. Helena and they were going to be visiting distributors, on-premise locations and retail outlets so she’d be there at some point after their visits.  I was sitting there by myself and getting more and more agitated as the radio kept updating the unfolding story.

As I listened the news became more urgent about the belief that the attacks were purposeful and the intent to kill many people was real.  They talked about the WTC bombings years earlier and speculated who had orchestrated this attack.  They wondered how many more of the planes up in the sky were waiting to be used as bombs.  They attacked New York… would they also attack Chicago?  San Francisco? LA? Dallas?  DC?  What was next?  The news came shortly that the Pentagon had been hit.

Tried Jason’s cell phone again – voice mail again – left a message again – 3 jetliners into 3 buildings, still more in the air.  Don’t go down into Chicago, call me when you get this message…

I knew my boss Bob was in town and left a message on his cell as well.

I called Joy, our travel agent in New York, she handled all of our corporate travel, I knew she was in Midtown. My boss Bob traveled a lot, so did the other sales representatives, directors and managers in the 22 states that I assisted – all in all we had about 70 or so people on the sales team and on any given day at least one of them was probably traveling.  Most of my guys were accounted for.  Joy was very worried about what was going on in New York but promised to keep me updated.

I decided to leave the office and see if I could go find a television somewhere to see what was going on.  I would have bought one and taken it back to the office if I could have found one – the Osco in the middle of Evanston didn’t have any for sale (I though they always had those 13 inch things).  I went back to the office.

Even though it was still very early out west, winery personnel in California were trying to account for every single one of our people across the country.  We set out a plan for a couple of us to handle making calls to everyone’s cell phones, home phones, office phones etc. until we had spoken to everyone – especially our east cost folks.  There was one we couldn’t get in touch with – he lived in New York.  He wasn’t scheduled to travel that day and we hoped and prayed he was out of danger wherever he was.

Joy called from New York – “the building fell down Ellie, the whole f***ing building just fell down!” were her words.  WHAT?  “the building fell, the whole building fell.” She told me they were evacuating and she didn’t know how far she’d be able to get out of the city and she gave me her cell phone number to keep in touch.  I had never met this woman in person, she handled travel for my team so I talked to her multiple times a week but I felt like she was another one of my co-workers, I knew she had just had knee surgery, I  knew she was not able to walk far distances, I wondered where she had to get to in the evacuation – I promised to stay in touch.

Around the same time the news came in about the plane crashing into the field in Shanksville, PA.  Why was this all happening?  What was next?

Jason got out of his meeting, came to my office and called his boss to say he wouldn’t be coming in that day.  It made no sense to head into Chicago when a million people were trying to get out in case we were next.  I wondered if we should go pick up our 2-1/2 year old daughter from the babysitter, we decided not yet.

The second tower fell.

We went to the Evanston Hotel Orrington restaurant – we weren’t really hungry but they had TVs there.  We watched.  We didn’t talk, we just watched.  We stayed for a while watching and then we went home.  We put on the TV and we watched some more.  In awe, in horror, in fear, in confusion.  We watched footage over and over and over and over.  Terrified people falling or jumping from the buildings, others running in the streets from the debris of the falling building, burning buildings, images of planes crashing into buildings, fire and rescue personnel.  Shock.

The news put forth numbers like crazy.  How many people on the planes, how many people working in the towers on a given day, how many people died at Pearl Harbor – would this day have a higher loss of life?  As the afternoon drew on the horror unfolded on the screen in front of us.

Images of the suspected hijackers, phone conversations from people on Flight 93 as the passengers took on the hijackers, images of the rubble. Images of people celebrating in the streets of the middle-east mixed with the pictures of horror from New York assaulted us from the TV – I had to finally turn it off for a while – but then back on because I couldn’t stop watching. 

Word came that the Evanston Ecumenical Council was putting together a mixed faith service to be held at the Presbyterian Church because it was likely big enough to hold all of those who would want to attend. 

We went out side, many other neighbors were also outside, just talking, quietly – in shock over the events of the day. The sky was silent – there were no planes flying overhead any more.  O’Hare wasn’t exactly close to Evanston but there seemed to always be planes in the sky – it was Chicago airspace after all – and it was quiet.

One of the most surreal moments I remember from the day had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, which may be why it stands out in my mind.  There were two women who lived in the downstairs apartment of the 2-flat that we lived in.  They were a couple and always arguing.  Judging from what we often heard it seemed to be an abusive relationship.  That afternoon these two women were having a screaming fight right in front of the house.  It was about money, it was about respect, it was about lying, it was about “them” etc. one in her car and the other on the porch and I wondered if they even knew what had happened so wrapped up in their little world were they.

I called family members.  I went to get my daughter from the baby sitter. 

We decided to go to the prayer service that night - Priests, Rabbi’s, Ministers and an Imam brought their flocks together than night to pray for the people in New York, the people in Washington, and Pennsylvania and for all of us because at that moment we knew that nowhere was safe.  Someone wanted us dead simply because we existed.  A simple commuter flight was no longer safe and even going to work held a risk that it never had before.  

We watched the rescue efforts long into the night and the next day and the next and the next and on…and then it became recovery efforts when all hope of rescue was gone.  Planes flew again, my Mother flew from Ohio to California on the Tuesday after 9/11.  She and her brother were going to visit another of their brothers for a couple of weeks.  She told me that there were only 5 people on the plane – one an air-marshal. 
We saw photos of the missing, we heard tales of the dead.  An old college roommate lived at that time in New Jersey let me know that classmates of her children had lost parents – their town had lost over a dozen people.  Recovery would take months – plans to rebuild were already being talked about. 

Everything changed that day.

Ten years have passed.  I remember like it was yesterday.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kids and Technology

My oldest has had a facebook page and cell phone I’m okay with that. Most of her friends also have facebook pages and phones there is a lot of communication going on via FB and texting these days and if used safely and monitored regularly it is fine. She mainly plays games and chats with friends from school and some other friends from cities we used to live in who she no longer gets to see on a regular basis. Granted if I could have bought her a phone that had no camera I would have gone that way – but the only phones with no cameras these days are military spec phone and incredibly expensive – go figure.

While she has a FB page, I have her password, and I set her privacy settings, I have veto power over anything on her profile and when necessary I have changed things, taken things down and even changed her password. I can do that because while it is her page she knows my husband and I have ultimate say on what she can do regarding it. (See This is not a Democracy - )

So, I guess with all of the information out there on what to not let your kids do and say and post online,information on being a vigilant parent regarding social media etc. I’m amazed when I see some of the updates from her friends and other younger FB members. I’m generally astounded that other parents are okay with some of the stuff that their kids are putting out there for the whole world to see. And I wonder if their parents even check to see what their kids are up to. I see things that immediately cause a red flag to go up in my mind and sometimes I would like someone to explain to me how some of this stuff is okay. Kids that aren't even my FB "friend" have wide open profiles and I see rude and insulting comments, I see inappropriate photos, I see out of line messages on the photos and I also know that these kids are under 18 years old and someone should be monitoring their behavior.

I believe that kids need to learn how to use technology and social media in a responsible way since it is so much a part of our lives. The level of instant communication and multitude ways they are constantly in electronic contact with many people are both wonderful and incredibly scary at the same time. For example, the good: when my daughter wiped out on her bike last week she could call me within seconds and I could come get her and her bike from where she fell – and the bad: so many stories of facebook stalkers, cyber bullying, creepers checking out images of kids online, sexting and the plethora of information on protecting identities on line.

I work hard to teach her that it’s always best to err on the side of caution when posting messages, status updates and especially photos online. I’m not especially naïve or particularly prudish regarding things online or in life (and those of you who have known me for decades can probably attest to that) but I am quite protective of the images and profiles of my children online which is why you don’t see their photos on this blog. I pick and choose carefully which photos are online on my facebook page and I have “veto power” over what my daughter posts on her facebook page. Security settings are locked down quite tight and I like it that way.

I have to remember that a middle schooler/high schooler idea of watching what they post may be very different than mine and as a parent I need to be vigilant and remind them that what is posted is a reflection to the world of how the kid sees themselves and wants to be seen - and with my own kids my job is to teach them to only put their best forward – it is also not just how she is posting as a middle schooler, but how she will present herself as she gets older and the example that she sets for her sisters and others in her life. It is something that it is better she learns now rather than learning the hard way down the line while on a job interview or in worse ways.

I realize that teens think that they are incredibly smart and quite invincible but I also believe that their parents ought to know better. So go online, get your kids password, lock your kids profile down, don't let just anyone in the world have access to their information, take their phone numbers and e-mail address off of their info page. Let them know what is okay to put out there for the whole world and what is not. Teach them to make wise and good decisions. It's not easy - but parenting is a pretty tough job.

Oh, and if you see they're posting at 2:00 a.m. on a school night - take their access to social media away for a while.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My New Found Freedom

A strange thing happened started happening last week. At 7:20 a.m. all three of my kids walk out of the house and down to the bus stop together to go to school and I am alone in my house for what felt like the first time.

The silence can be deafening.

I’m currently unemployed which has its upsides and downsides some of which are fairly obvious: Up side: time to do things that I want and need to get done. Down side: very little money to do the things that I want and need to get done. There have been some other perks along the way this summer. I spent the entire summer home with my three kids, we went to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, went to the Great Lakes Science Center, we went swimming A LOT, we did things together had fun. Now they are back in school and I’m finding that being home is strange.

For most all of my adult life I’ve had a job either working outside the house, working from home or staying home taking care of my kids. If I was home alone it meant I was sick. If I was home from work other times, it usually meant one of the kids were sick or there was some sort of natural disaster. This is quite different.

I’ve been unemployed before but that was during a time when my younger girls were not yet in school so I always had company while I was looking for work, filling out forms, and taking care of them and cleaning up after them etc. and while I’m still looking for work and at the same time exploring options for working from home and opportunities to derive income through internet marketing this new found freedom is an interesting thing.

Earlier today I decided what I wanted to make for dinner, decided what I didn’t have at home, went out got into the van went to the store and bought it – stuck to the list and came home to no one digging in the bags looking for something to snack on. It may sound mundane but this is really a new experience.

I’m wondering how to adapt to this, I now have so much I want to do while I have the opportunity – a job could creep up at any time - so I have to make the most of my time. I want to clean the basement, organize the closets, clean out the sun porch, get rid of all of the clothes that don’t fit the little girls, organize books, and DVDs and clean out the garage and more. I want to throw a ton of crap away. I want to get the yard cleaned up, the grass cut and I also want to get to the gym and work out without having to keep an eye on the time. I want to work on my websites and earn some more income…where do I start.

So what am I doing here writing about it rather than doing it? I’m a bit overwhelmed. This new found “freedom” is a bit daunting – I guess I need to take it one step at a time.

If you stay at home – what do you do?

BTW: Anyone hiring?

Monday, August 22, 2011

School Lunches

Last year there was talk of improving the quality and freshness of the school lunches at my kid’s school. Well, I checked the menu for the next month and a half and the only thing that has changed is the price. It’s gone up.

Like in so many schools across the country. The food is the same pre-cooked, heat it up, no cooking involved processed crap as past years. I want my kids to eat healthier, I want my whole family to eat healthier both at home and outside of the home and while we’ve taken steps to have more fresh “real” food at home, the list of pizza (often two times a week in various forms), processed chicken products, hot dogs, french toast stix etc. repeat repeat repeat at school makes me really sad and near as I can tell the only people actually “happy” about the meal options are the kids – and frankly they don’t know any better. As it is now – we’ll be packing lunches more than ever.

Today there are more options than ever available to bring healthy food into the school cafeteria and still offer cost effective options that kids like. I just don’t know how to make it happen at our school. I know that Jamie Oliver is doing his “food revolution” all over the place but I’m also not sure that radical sudden change works either – I think it needs to be an addition of fresh ingredients into the meal options that kids already like and getting rid of the pre-processed crap. They like the chicken nuggets, so make fresh chicken tenderloins prepared in various ways. They like potatoes in just about any form so give them fresh baked potato wedges instead of processed french fries. They’ll eat a number of different vegetables but why give them crap from cans when you can go with fresh or frozen for a more healthy option. They like soup – make home made yummy soup for the kids rather than processed canned stuff. And I wonder if the fruit they are being served is packed in syrup or juice.

Why is it so hard to improve the quality of the food and still provide food the kids will eat? What are the answers?

There are farm to school programs and subsidy programs available to getting better foods on the table in schools – how does a school become a part of that? I’ve looked up resources but don’t know how to do it and I think it is going to come down to the parents demanding better options for their kids and the school administration and those running the school lunch program working to provide better food. Anyone interested in starting our own food revolution? Why are we letting the school feed our kids crappy lunch foods? There are delicious meal options of real food that kids like – why aren’t we providing that? How do we do it? Who can help?

I don't have the answers but I'm looking for comments and feed back and ideas and help here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Coupons – You don’t need to be “extreme” to Save BIG

About a year and a half ago I was on facebook and a friend posted about some huge savings she had experienced shopping with coupons. I was floored by the amounts when she told me what she was regularly saving on her family expenses. I asked her to be my guru and teach me the ways of couponing. Since then I’ve been saving money and passing the wisdom along to others as well.

As this was before the “Extreme” TV show and the recent attention, both good and bad, that couponing has received, I think my expectations for savings were more realistic than those of the folks who see the show and believe that they can regularly get $300 worth of groceries for $20 or conversely those who believe that all couponers are hoarders.

Like most people I want to save money when I can and I would get the coupons from the paper and the mailbox and I would clip the ones that I thought I was going to use and file them away for a future shopping trip. Then when I was getting ready to go I’d scan my coupons and see if I had ones (that weren’t expired) for things that I wanted to buy. It worked pretty well and I saved some money and therefore I was pretty happy with the results.

Then New Years Resolution 2010 – I wanted to save money and I even started my first blog to chronicle the savings at http://elinorsadventures.blogspot.com/ - I haven’t been updating that blog as well as I should but when I started out I spent a lot of time sharing what I learned along the way – all of the information is still out there on the blog and you are welcome to go check out the journey to savings - but I’m going to share some of the highlights I learned here.

I quickly learned that the internet is the key tool in being able to quickly and effectively maximize my savings each and every week. I also learned to not clip my coupons until I was ready to shop. I save every insert (and make sure I have multiples by buying additional papers and we have a PO Box as well as a home address leading to additional inserts) and I just scan through them and then date them on the front and put them in my rather large file of “active” inserts. When I get ready to shop I use match-ups of what is on sale at the store and put that together with my insert coupons, eCoupons, bonus savings, ExtraBucks, etc. and then sit down to clip and get ready to save. I’ve also learned that like so many things in life, the actual process is very simple, but making it work takes time and effort.

The reason the internet is the key is because there are a number of people already doing the couponing work for you. There are multiple sites in just about every town out there doing “coupon match-ups” for your supermarket, department, grocery and drug stores. Heck some of them do all of the above. All you have to do it go to those websites and get the information and then put it to good use.

Finding a site that will tell you what is on sale, what coupon is available for the sale and where to find it and the amount you are going to save is key.

My regular go-to site is couponmom.com and one of the main reasons I like her site is that she is kind of a “one stop” option for shopping prep. She has listings of store advertisements for over 40 stores and while she may not have smaller local grocery ads she does have the big grocery stores and retailers like Target, Wal*Mart, Walgreen’s, CVS etc. She also does not charge a membership fee. And while there are a lot of hit and miss match up web sites out there her site is always updated without fail. She also figures in the doubling of coupons that is available at stores with that policy so you can really see the savings even before your leave the house. Another great thing about her site is that she includes a coupon database that you can search for coupons. If you are sitting there with a local stores sale listings or items on your list that are not on sale but you don’t know if you have a coupon, you can just type the item into the database and it will let you know if you have a coupon, the amount, which circular to clip it from and when it expires.

So how does it work? Like I said, you target your shopping, buy items on sale and with a coupon as much as possible. You make your list based on what is on sale that week, consult the match up site and clip your coupons check your online printable coupons and then head to the store.

Getting ready to shop, need paper towels, Viva on sale, coupon in the July 17th Smart Source insert from the Sunday paper has a coupon for $ 0.60 off on big roll 1 or more packs – better hurry the coupon expires on August 28th. That could be a really good savings especially if your store doubles coupons.

Its all out there, its just a matter of doing it.

So how long does it take? I’m asked that a lot and initially I’d spend well over an hour getting ready to go shopping, which seems like a long time until you realize how valuable that hour is. My time is definitely worth the $80.00 an hour, and that is what just last week at Giant Eagle. Other weeks its worth over $100.00 for that hour of prep time – my time is worth the money I’m saving. I don’t know what you make “per hour” if you break it down but if found a job paying what I SAVE in that hour – I’d be bragging about my the great pay from my new job.

There are other ways to save as well, signing up for rewards cards, signing up for e-mail coupons and snail mail promotional coupons. Liking a brands FB site can earn you coupons. They key is to not let any opportunity for savings go. Not using those coupons is similar to throwing away money – they’re worth money so use them like money.

Here’s the basics again:
1. Get your coupons - Smart Source, General Mills, Proctor & Gamble, store ads etc. in the Sunday paper. Red Plum, store ads, misc. others in the mailbox during the week. Download coupons on line and print at home, “Like” brands and stores on Facebook for more coupons, get electronic coupon codes sent to your phone via text. Download eCoupons to your store rewards card.
2. Find your coupon match ups online for stores in your area. Use established sites like couponmom.com or search your local store name with the words “coupon match up” in the search bar.
3. Make your list based on your needs and what is on sale
4. Clip your coupons
5. Shop

While there are other important things that come into the experience including Extra Bucks, Catalina register coupons, double coupons, BOGOs and more if you start with the basics you will pick up everything else as you go on the shopping and saving journey.

I like to see how much I can save when all is done. I’m not out there to get the “best deal” all the time or have a closet full of cereal and toothpaste. I buy what my family likes and needs and I try to make it fun and save money.

Give it a try and I’d love your feedback on how it works for you.

And if you are looking for a great way to save money on vacation check out this eBook - Click Here!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Parochial Schools

Lately I’ve found myself explaining our choice to send our kids to a parochial school. A number of parents have asked why we choose to pay money when public schools are “free”. They ask if we don’t think the public schools are “good enough” for our kids, (no, the public schools around here are fine schools). They comment about how expensive it is for us to send three kids to a church based school and wonder why on earth we would spend money over and above the tax money we pay for the public schools (its all relative and we all get to choose where we spend our money). They wonder if its simply because I went to a parochial school that we send our kids to one etc. (my husband went to public school all his life – no problem there). So aside from the NOYB answer I want to give, there are a lot of reasons that go into choosing a non-public school.

School choice is a very personal matter for each family, just as decisions to home school are very personal. We know that we are paying additional for an education that is very similar to the education received in the public schools. Our experiences with choosing a school for our kids have involved both public and parochial schools as our oldest daughter attended a public school from kindergarten through the middle of 3rd grade when we moved across the country to another community so we have seen it from both sides

I guess the best way I can explain our choice is that we choose to send our kids to a school that we know works to back up the moral basis we are working to instill at home. I’ve been verbally attacked for saying that and I’ve been accused of not believing that the public schools are providing a “moral education” but that is not what I mean at all. What I mean is we are working to instill Christian faith and values in our children and we like that the school that we are sending them to operates in a manner that reinforces those values. We like that their school life and faith life mix. Not everyone likes that, some people do not want their faith lives and school lives to mix and that is absolutely fine and their choice – we choose our way.

That said, it also does not mean that we are always in lock step with the school and doctrine but for the most part we agree with and we consent to the education our children are receiving – anything that may contradict or be a bit different from what we are teaching at home can and will be addressed at home.

My experiences with public school were generally positive and in some instances was superior to the parochial school my children attend now. The art and music curriculum as well as the enrichment programs available were definitely superior at the public school. On the other hand there were some things that I was less comfortable with. A conversation that I had with the principal at the public school comes to mind when I try to explain part of our reason for not choosing another public school. We were talking about the school’s policy regarding inappropriate language in the classroom and on the school grounds. There was a boy who was in the 4th grade (9 years old) and he was especially mouthy and a big fan of vulgarity. The principal contacted the boy’s parents to come in and meet with them regarding the son’s behavior. When he addressed the issue with them they defended their son’s language usage by telling him that they “teach their kids that there are no bad words”. The principal was floored by this because there are some words that never have a place in a classroom or in an elementary school but these parents insisted that their children are permitted to say whatever they like and that their child should not be punished for his language. I can’t say for sure but I’m reasonably positive that I’m more likely to run into parents with that mindset at public schools than I am at parochial schools. Just a hunch.

We are fortunate to live in an area with good public as well as good parochial schools, the children in this school district have access to excellent teachers and a school system rated Excellent by the State of Ohio but I think that ultimately the main reason we choose parochial schools is because in the end I know that the overwhelming majority of the teachers and parents there have a similar moral outlook on things. They can be liberal, conservative and everything in between but over all they want their kids to go to a school that reinforces the morality they are trying to provide their children at home. Some people may consider that exclusionary of other faiths but I think in a larger sense, because of the exposure, it teaches the kids to be considerate of faith in general. At least I hope it does.

As for the expense – for all three of my kids to go to their parochial school this year it will cost me over $2,000 less than it cost us for a year of day care for one of them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This is NOT a Democracy

I’m not sure how my kids got the idea that our family operates as a democracy, heck we aren’t even a representative republic around here. Sure they have their say but as the parents we have nothing requiring us to act on or heed their requests. Ultimately all decisions come from above (us). We’ve tried to explain that at best this home is a benevolent dictatorship more than anything else.

I do not understand parents who give their children equal say in family decisions, that is not parenting that is governing which are two very different things. I do want my kids input when it comes to a lot of things, what movies to see, what restaurants to eat at, what parks to go to etc. but ultimately their input is just that, input – it is not a vote, in the end the final decision lies with my husband and myself.

That said, finding a balance is very important. Letting the kids know that their input is valued and taken into consideration in this dictatorship and deciding how much weight to give that input when making decisions is key, especially as the kids are getting older Letting them have more say but not final say is also a balance.

I’ve seen young children running their parents lives and it dismays me every time. Not in the way that the children have busy schedules so parents have insanely busy schedules but in more subtle ways. Say a child wants to take dance classes and there are multiple dance schools to choose from. The Mother wants one school and the child wants to attend a different one. When I hear the Mother say “I wanted XX school, but she wanted YY school and ultimately she won” I can’t believe it. The child is 6, you are 35 – how is it even possible that the child “won”? Or when a 12 year old saves up their own money to buy a TV for their bedroom and the parent says “I didn’t want him to have a TV in his room but he saved up his own money so what could I do?” You could say "NO" you are the parent.

My Dad had a lot of sayings that were drilled into my head growing up. “This is not a democracy”. “Life is not fair”. “Thing can be either fair OR equal but rarely both”. “I’m not here to be your friend, I’m here to be your parent” and a number of others, especially ones that started with the words “while you are under my roof…”. While I may have disagreed with many of them while growing up, I’ve come to depend on them as part of my parenting of my own children. Yep, I make unpopular decisions – but not all the time. And even if they are unpopular the are usually good decisions.

Nearly every right they are given in this home is give by us. No child has a right to a cell phone, a facebook account, a computer, a TV, an iPod, certain clothes, to go out when they want etc. When they spend their own money if they buy something I do not approve of I can take it back or take it away.

I just really wish the parents of some of their friends felt the same way.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cooking with Your Kids

I want my kids to know how to cook and I don’t mean take something out of a box and put it on a stove, into a microwave or into oven.

Some of my earliest and favorite memories growing up involve being in the kitchen with my Mom. She didn’t let me help as much as I wanted, and for the most part dinner/meals were her domain, but we did a lot of baking together and I loved it and treasure those memories. By the time I was 9 or 10 years old I no longer had to consult the chocolate chip bag to prepare to make toll house cookies – the recipe was permanently affixed in my memory and to this day I can quote it to you (if you really wanted me to). I occasionally helped out with meatballs, spaghetti sauce, chili, meatloaf and a few other things as well and loved my time in the kitchen. In the end I think that over the years I’ve learned more from FoodTV and from cookbooks and cooking websites than I did at home but I learned a lot of important solid basics from Mom and want to make sure that my kids do the same.

To that end, my kids all seem to be budding chefs. Luckily my husband and I both like to cook and although our kitchen is small we believe it is important for kids to know how to find their way around in the kitchen. I’m often dismayed when I run into people who try to keep their kids out of the kitchen for various reasons. Mainly its because they don’t want their kids to get hurt (none of us do) or because they don’t want them to mess something up (we all mess things up) or they think they are too young (they’re probably not) or they think they "just don't have the time". When I hear excuses for keeping kids out of the kitchen I immediately think of a dear friend I grew up with, her Mother was a wonderful Italian cook – the food was always so good in their house. The Mom did it all herself for the most part and kept the kids out of the kitchen saying she would teach them when they were older. Well, they got older, moved out and into their own places and didn’t know how to cook very much of anything. They’d ask their Mom for recipes but it’s not the same as learning hands on and side by side and the time for that was gone. Cat’s in the Cradle in the kitchen I suppose.

Where and when to start? Well, our younger two are still in helper stage, although they are starting to be able to handle making scrambled eggs and a few other simple things with help, their cooking jobs mainly involve cracking and mixing eggs, dredging meat in flour, basic cutting of some soft vegetables, adding pre-measured ingredients to whatever is being worked on etc. they love it and I think it is important for them to see how food is prepared.

Of course what they really want to do is cut and chop and sauté stuff – that’s cooking to them (thank you foodtv). What is it about a knife that so attracts the budding youthful chef? When are they ready for that – I think it depends on the kid and when you think they are ready - we let all three of our kids help out and cut things in the kitchen, even the 5 year old, under very close supervision and guidance and while I’m sure there are people who will think we are nuts for that, the pride on her face after cutting up pieces of a cucumber safely and properly is priceless (and the knife she uses isn’t really that sharp – pampered chef makes a kids knife just for that type of application). Getting them ready to chop up onions on the other hand, well we have a great photo somewhere of our oldest solving the onion/eyes problem at about 10 years old – she put on her swim goggles before cutting into the onion. Creative problem solving at its best.

When “B” our oldest was about 8 wanted to know what some various seasonings and herbs tasted like – Jason had her taste them and figure out which ones she liked and let her know that those were probably the ones she would like on/with her food. Some of them she really liked, others she hated and spit out into the trash can – she’s learning. She really likes making dinner for the family and now has a few dishes that she claims as her own – she is the house chef for chicken parmesan and enchiladas and a few other things. She is only 12 so I don’t leave her on her own in the kitchen but I’m more her assistant as well as teacher when she is making dinner. Oddly enough she is more comfortable plunging her hands into a bowl of raw ground meat to mix up some meat loaf or meatballs than she is touching the food on the dirty dishes after we’ve eaten. I would think the raw meat would have more of an ewwww factor but not so.

Speaking of raw meat. Meat comes from animals. My kids know that and I don’t believe in sugar coating the fact that it used to be alive and walking or swimming around. I’m actually more deceptive about other foods – I remember telling my kids we were having “grilled portobello’s” once rather than saying mushrooms because I knew I’d have better luck getting them to eat them.

So how young is too young? I don’t know, but I do know that they have wanted to help since they learned that something was happening in the kitchen and I’ve taken cues from that. I’ve also learned that it’s not just what I want to cook. I’ve learned that sometimes they pick something that they want to make and that sometimes the best thing to is get the ingredients and give it a shot. “B” found a recipe for crab rangoons and we made it – it was not the best and we decided to try to find another recipe before we try that again. Our 6 year old found a recipe for Pita Pocket bread in an issue of Highlights and we’ll be making that tomorrow. I hope its good!

There are a lot of things that parents can do with their kids. Bike rides, hiking, playing games, yard work etc. but I think the things that include life skills are the ones that will last.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Uniforms for the Stylish

The fashionista 6 year old

My first grader takes great pride in her sense of style, and it is definitely a style all her own. Whether it’s a dress, a skort, a Halloween costume in the middle of July or sobbing uncontrollably in January because we wouldn’t let her wear a sleeveless sundress to kindergarten in the snow, she likes to have control of what she wears. If left on her own to pick her clothes she would likely never wear pants, rarely wear shorts and would choose “spinny skirts” over the more form fitting type. The “prettier” the better.

Her preference for girly clothes does not in any way mean that she is a fan of what my Mother would call “Lady like behavior”. Dainty she is not, she insisted on wearing a pink plaid skort (short/skirt combo for the uninitiated) for T-Ball (her team colors green and gold) and she attracts dirt and grime like she’s part of one of those swiffer duster things you see advertised on TV. She runs, plays, jumps, swings, plays in the dirt and sand like a kid is supposed to – after all part of her job description as “kid” is to get dirty on a regular basis. Because of this I am constantly asking her to put some shorts on under her skirts/dresses or wear a skort. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say “nobody wants to see your panties”. I don't care if its not her style - sometimes you have to take the practical approach.

With all of this need to dress up in skirts and dresses you would think she would be uneasy about or possibly rejecting of uniforms all together. Oddly enough she is very excited about the uniforms – jumpers do have skirts after all - and while she can only wear specific blouses with the uniform, and she cannot wear nail polish at all she does like the fact that the skirts are kind of “spinny” (probably have to wear those shorts under the school skirt as well) she’s already picked out which blue blouse to wear with her jumper on the first day of school.

She’s also picked out her outfit for her first Dress Down day. For those not familiar with the concept, in many schools with uniforms kids can often earn dress down days. Our school has it set up so the kids can earn dress downs for Friday’s in various ways. If your parents order from Market Day you can get a dress down, if your family brings in 50 box tops you can earn a dress down, if you earn so many points in accelerated reader you can earn a dress down etc. Most kids wear jeans and t-shirts or shorts if the weather is warm enough. She has a purple dress and pink sparkly shoes all picked out for that first big dress down day – I mean just because she’s dressing down doesn’t mean she’ll be dressing casual.

I’m interested to find out her take on the uniforms after about a month of wearing the same thing daily. Will she still like them, will she decide to fight against them or will she try to find a way to liven hers up to make it more her “style”. Time will tell.

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Without Me)

Vacations with Friends

Getting ready to send my 5 year old off to school on a bus is a big step, but not as big as sending my oldest off on an air plane, to go on a vacation with her friends’ family, and then drive back with them from Florida. She is 12 and she leaves in a couple of hours. She has been up since the crack of dawn pretty excited. You see, she’s going to Hogwarts (and I’m not).

I remember the first time I let someone other than family drive her anywhere without me, I was a little bit apprehensive but realized that it was a normal step as kids grow older. It went right along with the sleepovers, play-dates, scouts and sporting events that become the social lives of the elementary school crowd. Middle school means all of that and more – on a larger scale.

This is not the first time she’ll be “away from us” but it is the farthest she’s been without us and it is the first time she won’t have an “out” if something goes sour. If a week at girl scout camp goes bad or she gets sick, I can get in the car to go get her. Five days on vacation with a friend and something happens, she’s stuck. It definitely has the potential to be another one of life’s big learning experiences.

For my part, I’m not really worried about the flight since this will be her 21st (and 22nd) time on airplanes, heck these will actually be some of her shorter flights so that’s really not a concern. I’m not worried that she will be rude, or misbehave or not be thankful to her hosts. What I am a bit worried about is the friendship of two 12 year old girls surviving 5 days together, (especially the day long car ride back), concerned that one of them will get so upset with the other that it will ruin the trip for both of them (one is a self declared Griffindor and the other a self declared Slytherin after all). I’m also worried about her rationing her money and not spending it wisely so she’s not broke long before they get back to Ohio (but that’s in her hands now).

Ultimately, I am very excited for her, excited she has this opportunity, excited that her friend’s family chose her to ask to accompany them and confident that she is prepared to handle difficult situations that may come up.

So while I’m a bit apprehensive that “something” will happen, it’s not to the point of paranoia or to the point where I expect something to happen - hope for the best prepare for the worst and all of that.

Besides – this is the age of cell phones and text messages – I’m sure I’ll hear all about it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Kindergarten Chronicles

My youngest child is about to start Kindergarten in 13 days. She is incredibly excited about going to school, meeting new friends, riding a bus and all of the adventure that school brings.

She feels that way because that is how we have approached the advent of her elementary school years.

The start of a Great Learning Adventure!

It is also how we approached the start of school 8 years ago for her 12 year old sister and her 6 year old sister last year when they were facing walking into a classroom by themselves for the first time. We tell them it is/was okay to be nervous about school, even a little bit apprehensive but there is no reason to be scared of going to school.

I believe that as a parent it is my job to make sure my kids are prepared for school and that they are looking forward to it. I think I’ve done that because when I asked her if she was even a “little bit worried” about going to school she looked at me like I was crazy and said “Noooo” in the way only a 5 year old can.

I know that there are a lot of people getting ready to send their 5 year olds out the door to embark on this Great Adventure and they are terrified, and sadly many are passing that fear and terror along to the new grade schooler. It’s the first time in their lives that we really send them off to do something ON THEIR OWN. Even if “going off to school” is nothing new to them, like in two working parent families where the kids have been in day care and pre-school since they were in diapers. This is different, no doubt about it. For the first time in their lives we are not signing them in and signing them out or taking them to a friend or relatives house. We are putting them on busses, dropping them off at the door, letting them walk to their classroom “by themselves” (don’t worry the people at the school will help if they get lost), having them remember their lunch, buying their own milk, making friends, HOMEWORK (yep, homework is a regular part of kindergarten these days), being graded on things. Big Kid Stuff.

We are letting them go. Just a little bit though.

I know a number of parents who are very nervous about this new stage in their child’s life. They are afraid their baby is growing up too fast, afraid that they won’t fit in, afraid that they will get lost, afraid that they won’t make friends and have someone to eat lunch with, afraid that their feelings will get hurt, afraid that they are “already behind”, afraid that something will go “wrong”.

Here’s my take on that. Your baby is not growing up to fast – they are growing up at exactly the right pace and are exactly where they should be. Sometimes they won’t fit in, other times they will fit in perfectly. They’re bound to get lost in school at least once, but someone nice will help them, and someday they’ll help another child. They will make friends, but not with everyone. They will eat lunch with friends some days, and they may eat lunch alone at other times. Sometimes they will cry when their feelings get hurt but mostly they will smile. No one is already behind – it is kindergarten. Things will go wrong and things will go right. Then they’ll come home and tell you all about it, so remember, the bad will be HORRIBLE, the good will be GREAT, and the reality will be somewhere in between.

Just like the adventure that is life.