Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

It's the New Year, and we all try to make it a better one in some way, right?

If your New Year's resolution has anything to do with paying down debt and saving money, I have a treat for you! The Kindle version of my book will be FREE (you don't have to sign up for Kindle Select) on Jan 2, 3, and 4. Why then? I figure by then everyone has settled down enough from the holiday to order it!

What if you don't like e-books, and want something papery to hold and smell? If you order through this link and use code Q7QRAE5N, you'll get $2 off the list price of $9.99!

Just consider it my little way of helping you with your resolution to save money in the new year!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

And what a Merry Christmas it is here!

You know why?

My dear husband is finally employed again! He starts his new job making dehumidifier systems for indoor pools on Jan 4.

It has been long and stressful - after all, he's been out of work since April, and we've been relying on savings, side jobs, and food stamps ever since. We've made it through with $600 still in the savings account, and we had a bit of Christmas money set aside for the kids since January, so while we couldn't give to extended family the way we usually would like, we were at least able to get the kids some nice things for Christmas. That last little bit of savings should keep us going until his first paycheck comes in - I feel like along of Christmas, we should have celebrated Chanuka this year - the savings has lasted a lot longer than logic would say it should have! Of course, between my book sales, very occasional Uber driving, Fivver gigs, and Jake doing construction jobs for friends and family, along with us almost never buying a non-need item or going out to eat (unless family was treating us), we've really stretched dollars from dimes.

We're all relieved here. I mean, it's not like our worries are over - he starts at a low beginning wage, but within 6 months his salary will be close to what he used to make as an electrician. Meanwhile, we've been used to spending nothing except paying bills, so we should manage OK until he starts getting those raises.

Whoo hoo!

If I weren't pregnant, I'd hoist a glass of (cheap) red wine - I can't, so you drink one for me, OK?  ;)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holy moley, that's a lotta clothes!

I put the word out that I'd be happy to accept any used maternity clothes, and a friend of a friend just came through in a HUGE way!

Well, I should say first that another friend graciously offered her maternity clothes first, but I'm about 4 or 5 inches taller than her and at least 60 pounds heavier, even when I'm not pregnant. So as sweet an offer as it was, my 5'8" self couldn't fit into size Medium petites.

My other friend had a friend who was all done having kids, and passed along 2 HEFTY bags STUFFED with adorable maternity clothes in Large and Extra Large. Some cold weather clothes, some warm weather clothes, some pretty dressy dresses, and even a maternity swimsuit!

2. Hefty. Bags. Stuffed. I started washing them (like I always do with new or new-to-me clothes), and it was 4 large loads of wash all on it's own!

That's about double my current regular wardrobe, and way more clothing than I'll even be able to use. So I've asked another pregnant friend of mine, who's due in March, if she could use some of the cold weather clothes (still waiting to hear back). If she can't use them, I'll have to find someone who can - this is more than my closet can hold!  :)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Giving.

Before Thanksgiving, the Silence of Mary home (a charity my family works with) does a massive giveaway of turkeys, food, and other needed items to families, either directly or through social workers who came to pick up donations for them. And when I say other items, I mean there were coats, blankets, PILES of hand knitted hats, gloves... whatever the Silence could round up that they knew would be needed in the winter.

I took Daniel to volunteer with me that day, so he could see how many people were in need - and they are all through the year, not just during the holidays, but this day is a particularly big drive. He was very helpful, too, carrying bags out to the cars and suggesting different food items to take to the families.

One thing he didn't see, because the Silence is so careful about filtering the donated items, were expired, buggy, or dusty food items being given to the poor. They're really careful to check for expiration dates (and they usually re-write them in large numbers on the top of the can or box, so rotation is easier), and if something is given that is expired, it's thrown away.

Gasp! How wasteful! People could still use that if they were desperate, right? I mean, it's just a "best by" date - I wouldn't eat it, but it's still usable, right?

C'mon. These are human beings, and they have dignity and taste buds. If you haven't touched that dusty old bag of navy beans in the back of your pantry, what makes you think they'll get it and say "yay, protein!"? Why would they feed their children expired, rancid, Bisquick? You might think you would IF you were really poor, but have you ever been that poor? It's depressing! And being given awful food that no one else wants because people felt bad about throwing it away? That's even more depressing.

See, I saw a nice thought online today. A reverse Advent calendar, where instead of taking something out each day, you add a donation item for the food bank. And someone immediately commented "oh, this is good - I need to clean out my pantry anyway!". If your pantry needs to be cleaned out, eat the food or throw it away, if it's that old. But please don't use the food bank as a way to throw away food without throwing it away. If you want to give, then give fresh, palatable, easy foods. Add a box of Oreos while you're at it - I know, obesity crisis, but it will make someone feel cared for. Like someone actually wants them to be happy, not just grateful.

Now, if you've been couponing at CVS and you have a bunch of free goodies that your kids won't touch, by all means, donate them. I guarantee you, toiletry items will be appreciated just as much as SoyJoy bars - it's hard to buy toiletries when you're getting by on food stamps, since there are no programs to help people afford shampoo and toilet paper.

But please - when you give, give things that you would like to see in a bag if you needed food. Someday it could be you at the other side of the food pantry counter.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Whoops - I have a blog, don't I?

Hi guys!
I have very few excuses for not writing for so long. I mean, my computer was "broken" for a while - thankfully it just needed a new charger cable. And there was Thanksgiving and stuff. Oh, and while I never ACTUALLY threw up, I sure felt like I would at dinner time every day for quite a while there.

But now? I'm feeling a lot better, and my computer works again, so I'm back!

So I guess I should go back and think of the cool stuff I did while I wasn't posting.

I bought a fair number of maternity items at Community Aid on half price day - 2 pairs of maternity jeans, a pair of stretchy long pants, a pair of stretchy capris, and 5 maternity tops, all for $19! And a friend has a bag of maternity wear for me to pick up later tonight - she's smaller than I am, so I don't know if anything will fit, but she assured me she had a blend of sizes in there. Being only 13 weeks along, I'm still able to fit into all but my smallest jeans for now - every time I pull a pair on that I can't button, they get folded up and put in under bed storage.

I rode my bike in the "Christmas" parade that actually happens before Thanksgiving here. No, I don't know why, go ask your mother. But to my absolute delight, I now have another mom within biking distance who has a Virtue School Bus, and we rode ours side by side along with the Bike Harrisburg/Recycle Bicycle group. I wrapped the cargo box in wrapping paper and added a bow, but she had hers decked out like Thomas the Tank Engine! (She wore it better.) I wish I had gotten photos! But I had Daniel along as my passenger, and he got to give high fives all along the parade route.

Tristan is trying to quit naps - he didn't nap at all yesterday or today, and I'm not sure who suffers the most by it. It's lousy all around.

The family is sharing a nagging cough that doesn't go away for weeks at a time - I'm the current sufferer. And I can't use anything super heavy medically to get rid of the cough, so I'm trying tea, honey, cough drops, essential oils, and sleeping upright, all with limited success.

I know this has been a scatterbrained post. Hopefully the next one will be better.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blah.

As my friend Penny at Penniless Parenting says, pregnancy is not frugal!

I have so much of what I'll need for the baby already, and what I don't have I can get very cheaply. But the issue here is that at this phase, I'm battling nausea every darn evening. Most of the day, my stomach is completely fine, but at dinner time nearly everything makes me (literally) gag. I've been eating whatever I can manage at dinner time, and carefully ignoring what everyone else is eating. Leftovers have been piling up, and when I open them my stomach rebels.

In the long term, this isn't a big deal. My "evening sickness" usually goes away by the second trimester, and after that I'll be eating garlic and chicken and steak and everything that turns my stomach right now. But... until then it can be tricky feeding the family. Jake has been doing the bulk of the cooking, and I only cook things when I can throw them in the oven and retreat.

Meanwhile, the doctor says baby and I are doing well - good iron levels, good blood pressure, good baby heart rate, due date June 14th.

It's dinner time here. Time for me to snag some ginger ale and choke down bland food!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The News..

...is - I'm pregnant! Almost 9 weeks now!

 We're very happy, because we've been hoping for one more addition to our family. We're a little scared, because even though Jake has been going out on as many as 5 interviews a week and has some firm leads, he still has not received a job offer (that matches our needs - for example, he HAS been offered work, but it would have him traveling 9 days out of 12 and currently offers no benefits. That's more travel than we can currently manage as a family.). But because he IS going on so many interviews, I'm confident that it won't be long before he's back to work!

So Jake is working on the new bedroom (a space under our porch that is getting converted and properly set up as an indoor space) while he has time. I'm sitting tight, because I still have many of the baby items that we'll need for the next one, and although I got rid of my maternity clothes last time, I'm waiting to buy until I actually need them. I know I'll take a size XL, but I don't know what blend of cold weather/warm weather clothes I'll need just yet. Though, with a June baby I should err more toward warm weather, I suppose.

Meanwhile, pregnancy fatigue and preg-nesia are smacking me around a bit. Mom Naps are becoming a daily institution, where I used to revel in being awake and doing things while Tristan napped. The big kids are a wonderful help, and surprise me often with their thoughtful gestures.

I've been riding my bike less, and using the throttle power more when I do ride. I'm trying to keep riding though - do I get credit there?  ;)



Friday, October 23, 2015

There's an app for the college bound!

Have you ever wanted to get a big list of available scholarships for college, narrowed down for your parameters, without doing long searches online or looking them up in possibly outdated print books?

There's an app for that!

In this article, you'll find that "they" have developed an app that will help you find scholarships that you (or your kid) should qualify for, and the app only costs $2.99. The app developers goal is to reduce the number of unclaimed scholarships every year (free money going begging!).

I'm going to check it out!

Shhhh

I know, it's been quiet here. I have some potential news to share, but because it's potential I can't share it yet.

So... if you could keep your fingers crossed in a general way for us, and pray for good things, I should have some good stuff to write about next week!

Thanks!

Monday, October 12, 2015

When it's time to take the easy road.

My dryer was fixed recently, right before the weather turned from hot, breezy and dry, to cool, damp, and unpredictable. I gladly threw my wash into the dryer during the yucky weather and thought no more of it.

But recently the weather, while not hot, per se, has been sunny and clear. Yet I kept putting all but two or three loads into the dryer. Why?

It's currently an in-between weather state right now - too cool for effective outdoor drying, too warm to fire up the wood stove. But once the wood stove is burning, I have a feeling there will be line and rack dried clothes in our home again, because it will be faster to dry them by the fire than in the tumbler. It's an in-between state in life as well, since my daughter is in physical therapy 3 afternoons a week and I'm working to get my homeschooled son into opportunities to see and meet friends.The toddler has been both very active and very snuggly, making it hard to get some things done.

I'm tired. I'm moderately frazzled. The rest of the house has been a mess because of the energy I've diverted to first hanging laundry and second coping with managing everyone's schedule. I have more things on my plate than I'm used to, and something had to give.

And that's OK.

Sometimes it's better to use the labor/time saving devices when your time is at a premium. Even if that means that it costs a bit more money (thankfully not much more, as we have a gas dryer), it's worth it. It saves me the mental process of tracking the weather, making sure the wash is hung before 9 AM to give it enough time outside, rotating things on indoor racks to encourage them to dry before tomorrow morning.

Sometimes the easy road lets you reach the destination. Without it, you might end up lost and not getting where you need to go. Take the easy road now and then, if it means you'll be able to cook dinner and hug your kids. Or if dinner is the thing, it's OK to eat pancakes with yogurt for dinner so you can take care of other things.

Once in a while, give yourself a break. You can do more later.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Openstax



I don't have a huge readership here, but I hope there are enough of you out there who might be interested in this and willing to signal boost.

There is a group called OpenStax College, and they offer college level textbooks for free in pdf form, and for the cost of printing a hardcover version (around $50).

Of course, there is a catch. These books are considered "generic". They're peer reviewed, but open source, which always seems to catch a side-eye reputation, despite many open source solutions being superior to the paid alternatives.



However, if you're a homeschooler looking at upper grade high school materials, these are free, good, and clearly written.

If you are a teacher at the local community college, see if these would work for your courses. Statistically, your students are the ones pinching the pennies hardest - help them save that money for the pricey transfer school!

If you have children in a high school that is struggling to provide textbooks to their students, bring this up at the school board meeting - the print version isn't free, but usually cheaper than McGraw-Hill and Prentice Hall. Or see about getting locked Kindles to download coursebooks? You can currently get a 6 pack of Kindle Fires for $250, and they could hold ALL those free books!

This is a list of the schools currently using at least some of the OpenStax textbooks in their programs. I'm tickled to see Harrisburg Area Community College is one of them!

What do you think? Worth knowing about? Tell a friend!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

High school freakouts

This was on my personal FB page, but man, it was long enough for a post! So...

Next school year is holding many stressors for me (and Catie too, I guess). Catie will be going into high school. There are three possibilities for her.

She could go to our local public school, which is not our best option. It's not a failing school, but it's a little rough around the edges. I think she could do OK-ish there, but I'd be concerned that the environment would mess her up. It's the same crowd she dealt with in her middle school before we transferred her to Holy Name, and I don't know how much they've improved/matured in the last two years.

The second is to send her to the Catholic high school. Academically, this is the best possible option. Socially, it's a great option - we know the kids, the discipline is excellent, all over a great school. The problem is tuition - $6300ish a year. Even though the grandparents have offered their help, that's a lot of money to ask help with. Scholarships are available, but can be hard to get - it's a matter of filing the forms before the well runs dry.

The third is a remote possibility, but one we learned about yesterday and want to learn more about. It's a brick-and-mortar charter high school with a focus on the arts, audition only for admission. Since it's a charter school, there's no tuition to worry about, but a lot of fundraisers are part of the package. Catie is very interested in this, but she has no real background in theatre (which is one thing she would look into), and she doesn't have a portfolio of artwork as yet (which is another field of interest) but she has some flair in her drawing. I told her we would check out some free improv classes and she could see how she feels, and she could always audition for the school and see how she does.


So we have to treat these like Schrodinger's schools, and plan for her to attend each of them and be attached to none. I have to help her organize the application for each, apply for scholarships for the Catholic school, help her prepare for an audition in the busiest season of her school year, and comfort her if the public school is the ultimate end. And that's just what I have to do - she's going to be wired like a bomb with tension about all this.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tumble time, and what the heck is a peshtemal?

The weather here up until yesterday has been utterly perfect - sunny, clear, low humidity, not too hot. Then yesterday the clouds moved in, with the promise of rain all week.

Which is why I'm extra glad that we got our dryer repaired on Friday! Perfect timing! It was also our 5th anniversary on Friday, and we joked about what it says about us, that getting the dryer repaired was the best possible anniversary gift!  :) (Get the title now? Time to tumble the clothes?)

I still plan to line dry when it makes sense, but I'm so grateful to eliminate one step in my diaper laundry - I was washing them, hanging them to dry, then tumbling in the dryer (that would run but not heat up) to soften them. I know, with my flour sack towel flats, I could get away without tumbling them most of the time, but it really does make them feel feather soft. I like that for the diapers.

One thing that was a trial for my husband while I was line drying everything was the bath towels. He hated how stiff and scratchy they would get on the line, and I hated that they took twice as long as anything else to dry. So I was on the Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook page, and someone brought up how they don't mind line drying towels since they switched to peshtemals, or Turkish towels.

Huh?

Research was needed. I found out that peshtemals are something like soft, flat dish towels, but HUGE - 37" x 70", plenty big to wrap up with. They are the towels traditionally used in Turkish baths, where (as I hear) it's often steamy. I can imagine what would happen to terrycloth towels in air like that - they'd go sour in 24 hours! These towels are designed to wash clean and dry fast - just like flat diapers!

So I looked around on Amazon, found a package of them that didn't look too overpriced, and added them to my wish list. I figured that would be the last time I'd think about them for a while. But I didn't count on my mom - my 36th birthday just happened on the 13th, and she asked me what I wanted for my birthday. As usual, my mind went blank when she asked me that question, so she said "Never mind - I'll go to your Amazon wishlist!". She's so smart.  :)

I'm fairly impressed with these towels. They're as big as you could ask for in terms of coverage, but they fold up as small as a t-shirt. They dry me off exceptionally well, and two hours after my bath the towel is dry again. I mean, it's weird - I think they dry me off better than the terrycloth towels! And these won't get musty or sour smelling, since they dry so easily. Jake isn't quite sold on them yet, because drying off with these towels feels a little different - like using a bed sheet. I asked him to give them another try or two before giving his final verdict, though.


Most people who use these towels rave about how light and packable they are, and how sand falls right off of them at the beach. I haven't gotten to try it in those conditions yet, but I can see how great these would be going camping. I did put it to the big test - I gave the dog a bath and dried him with one of the towels. Usually a dog bath results in 2 - 3 sodden, hairy towels, which take so long to dry that I don't bother waiting around and usually just wash them right away. (I wouldn't reuse them anyway, but I would let them dry and then add them to the hamper.) This time it took ONE peshtemal towel to dry him (a shepherd lab mix) which dried in 4 hours, and the hair shook off when I flapped it outside before adding it to the hamper.

This is the seller I got my towels from, but I found them even cheaper on eBay if you want to try them out.

http://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00J5KC6YY/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1LHU3U93X9TAA&coliid=IWTNSEJBXRCGL

Many places charge $20 each, but you can get them for $10 or less if you look hard enough.

Either way, whether I hang them or tumble them, they'll be the fastest drying towels I have!


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Phone research

We are still stuck in our AT&T phone contract for a few more months, but now is the time to figure out where we want to go with our phone dollars for the next year or so. I've been doing some research on lesser known providers, and I figured I'd share it here with you, for two reasons. First, I like to share money saving information, and second, by organizing it into post form, I might be able to decide which will be the best deal!

First on the list is always Republic Wireless. For $17.50 a month per line, you can get unlimited talk/text, with half a gig of cell data, but if you route through wifi data is free. And that's how they keep their talk/text costs so low, too - when you're in a wifi zone, your calls go over wifi. As soon as you leave wifi, they go through the Sprint network, which unfortunately can be a little spotty around here. And you have to have their phone, because standard phones are not set up to route calls over wifi.

Pros - way cheap monthly bill at $17.50, high end phones
Cons - would have to buy their phone (some available used on eBay, but new start at $125), Sprint service a little iffy locally

Our service would cost $35 a month, with a startup cost of around $250.

The second plan on my list is Ting Wireless. Ting allows you to bring your own device, so the start up cost could be minimal if you already have a phone that you like. The plans are based on monthly use, and set up in brackets, with a base fee of $6 per line. For example, if my husband and I switched to Ting, based on last month's use, we would pay $12 for the two lines, $35 for 1001 - 2100 minutes of talk time, $5 for 101 - 500 text messages, and $12 - $19 for data, depending on how much I use the navigation feature. $64 - $71 is a savings over our current plan at $125 a month, but it doesn't make my heart pound or anything.

Pros - bring your own device, very clear pricing plans
Cons - Not a huge savings, could get out of hand if we have to talk a lot.

Our service would cost $64 - $71 a month, varying with use.

The next one (I'm tired, I'm not going to count now.) is P'tel. This one starts off at $20 a month unlimited talk/text plans (unless you use a cell phone so little that you want to go with the pay-as-you-go option) which step up to $25, $30, $40, $50 and $60, based on how much cell data you want to use. The nice thing is underneath each plan, they explain "use this one if you're around wifi MOST of the time" "this one if you're RARELY around wifi" etc.

They do offer phones on their site, but you can also just spend $5 for their SIM card and keep using your own phone.

Our service would range from $40 - 60 a month, depending on which plan we choose.

Next is Airvoice, another service that offers unlimited talk/text with minimal data. Their $20 plan only offers 100 mB of data (though as usual, wifi is free), their $30 plan offers 1 GB, and their $50 plan offers 5 GB. For $5 - $7, you can get a SIM card that will allow you to use your current phone.

Our service would most likely be $40 - $60, probably around $50 because my husband doesn't use data much.

Lastly, there's Freedom Pop. This service boasts FREE phone service, but as you might guess, there are a number of gotchas along with this service. To qualify for free service, you need to accept a plan with 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages, and 500 MB of data. Their next plan up is billed annually - $6.67 a month, $79.99 a year, for unlimited talk/text and 500 MB of data. But their "gotcha!" plan is a free trial of unlimited talk/text and 1 GB of data - after that, you're billed $19.99 a month. Which isn't high, but the way they do it? A little shady.

They do allow you to bring your own devices, but ours don't qualify, so we would have to buy their phone at a starting price of $99. Oddly enough, they do allow the newer iPhones, and even sell a gadget that turns an iPod touch into an iPhone, so if you're an Apple head, this may help you save a little of what you just spent on that phone.  ;)

If we chose this service, we would take the "billed annually plan", so it would be a start-up cost of $360, with an annual cost of $160.

As you can see, many of the plans center around the $40 - $60 a month area for the two of us (for one person, obviously, divide by two). The notable exceptions are Republic Wireless and Freedom Pop, which both require a new or used phone purchase. All things being equal, I'm more familiar with Republic Wireless, the main downside with them being that if we bought the phones, tried it, and didn't like it, we couldn't use those phones on another plan - they're hard linked to RW. With Freedom Pop, we could buy their phones, try the service, and if we didn't like it, we could swap out the SIM cards for a more reliable plan.

If I have any readers out there who use any of these plans, please leave a note in the comments and let me know how you like it. (I left off Cricket because it just didn't seem like enough savings.)

Edited to add - Holy mackerel, there are SO many more alternative carriers out there! Here's the Wikipedia page listing all the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) providers out there. They buy airtime from the big providers at a volume discount, then turn around and sell it to the consumer. They have companies that specialize in plans for kids, some that focus on music lovers, some that are a better bargain if you have a family plan, and some that are best if it's just you. But the average prices seems to level out for 2 lines at $50 - $60 a month with most of these if you use any data.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Free book!

Hey guys! Flash giveaway of the e-book version of Hard Core Poor on Saturday - just hustle on over to Amazon on Saturday, and it'll be FREE for anyone to download! This book is jam-packed with as many thrifty tips as I could come up with, and it's available to YOU! All my hard-earned knowledge, research, and mistakes that I made so you don't have to, all distilled into about 300 pages for your enjoyment!  :)



Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gonna be warm!

We just had all that wood delivered 2 nights ago. There's about 3 + cords stacked now, with another 1/2 cord that will be delivered in a few days.

Let me tell you - knowing that whether Jake finds a job or not, we will be warm? That's reassuring.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Apple harvest

It's been a little quiet here again, mostly because we're still settling into our groove with school and homeschool, and trying to figure out how other things fit around that. But one of the things that I fit in annually is a massive apple harvest!

Our friends have an elderly neighbor who has TWO apple trees in her backyard, and because she has diabetes, she can't use the fruit. So every year, we go with laundry baskets and an extendable reach picking stick, and come home with a load of apples.


 This year I sensibly set up the apple peeler/corer/slicer (scored at a yard sale for $1 years ago) on the back deck, and churned out sliced apples as fast as I could turn the crank.


The slicer turns the apple into one long ribbon!

I put up 4 quarts and 7 pints of apple butter (so far), and we've had the dehydrator working hard to make us yummy apple chips. My husband doesn't like them, but apple chips are a hit with the kids - I'll take whatever encourages them to eat more fruit!





Sunday, September 6, 2015

Winter wash

Obviously it isn't winter yet. It isn't even close - the heat and humidity was so intense here this past week that it felt like a bowl of steam was sitting over us. It was that kind of humidity that even makes sounds more muffled, like even sound is tired of trying to get through that air, and just gives up. Thank heavens the humidity finally broke yesterday - we spent our first week of school/homeschool hiding in the air conditioning. By the way -

First day of school
First day of homeschool.

Eh, it works for them. :)

But winter is coming, said the ant to the grasshopper, and we're starting to prepare. Jake has been building a new wood shed so we won't have to dig around under half-frozen tarps to bring in firewood this year, and I've been thinking about how to handle laundry once it's no longer prudent to hang it outside. I know some people hang things to freeze dry, but I find that the water doesn't sublimate from my clothes - they just freeze and then thaw, still wet when I bring them in.

In previous years I would set up drying racks in front of the wood stove, and while that works VERY well to dry them, the racks get in our way on the floor. But hanging by the fire is so effective that I wanted to come up with a way to continue to dry the clothes that way, especially since it adds much-needed humidity to the fire-dried air.

I thought of those drying racks that go on pulleys, so I could hoist the wash up toward the ceiling, but 1) they're pricey and 2) we have a suspended ceiling downstairs, so there would be no place to anchor it.

Then I found a neat product on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008IE2LTS?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00

It's a braided line that has holes in it and hooks at the ends. You hook the hooks around whatever you want, stretch the line across, and hang the clothes on hangers THROUGH THE ROPE! The slots in the rope keep the hangers apart and in their own place, so you can hang a bunch of clothes in less space.

So we did this in the walls in front of the wood stove!

I've used it already during wet weather, and it works even without the fire going.

Hopefully we'll have the dryer working again soon, but I want to have this option available to us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Part of why I love Aldi

I love Aldi for many reasons - their great prices, the manageable size of their stores (not overwhelming), their gluten free product line, and the quality of their products.

But every so often we get something from Aldi that we just don't like. Maybe it's a bad batch of something we usually like, or it's something new that turned out to be less of a crowd pleaser than I thought. At times like this, I LOVE their "Double Your Money Back" guarantee! They replace your product AND give your money back!

I took advantage of this a few days ago - a batch of gluten free mac-n-cheese that we usually like turned out... well... weird. It tasted like the cheese powder had been replaced with old powdered milk packets. I had 6 boxes of that lot, so I packed up the used and unused boxes and headed off to Aldi. In exchange, I got 6 boxes of GF white cheddar mac-n-cheese AND $7.50, which I used on a package of disposable diapers and wipes for an upcoming day trip - in fact, I still had a dollar left over!

So if you're new to Aldi, don't be shy about trying new things - if they don't work out, you still win!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

WIC pains

I was at the grocery store today, picking up a few staples. As I went through the checkout, I spotted a sweet family. They had two carts, not because they had that much food, but to contain their four adorable blond boys. Dad was busy keeping the oldest three occupied, though they were making it pretty easy that day (I'm sure it's not always like that). The baby was contentedly chewing his toes in his car seat. Mom was managing the conveyor belt. None of the kids looked older than 4. All were clean, well dressed, well behaved, and the toddler looked up at his dad with an adoring expression that took my breath away. This was a close knit, loving family.

After a moment, I looked over again. Their transaction seemed to be taking a while, and then I spotted the reason why. Dad was holding the WIC folder. That explained it.


The Women, Infants and Children program is meant to provide healthy foods to pregnant and nursing mothers, and to babies and children up to age 5. They weigh and measure everyone every 3 months, and check their blood iron level for anemia. It's a program with good intentions, but many flaws.

When you shop with WIC, you can't just buy what you want. The WIC checks (which are only redeemable for certain weeks, to make sure you can't use them all at once) tell you you can get, for example, 24 oz of approved cereal, 6 half gallons of milk (yes, they phrase it that way), a 12 oz loaf of approved bread, a dozen eggs, a 16 oz jar or smaller of approved peanut butter OR 1 lb of d"ried beans OR one can of approved canned beans, and x amount of powdered OR x amount of liquid concentrated formula (not sure, since I always breastfed).

Approved is a word used a lot in this program. Granted, this is a NUTRITION program, and they want to make sure that the healthy peanut butter isn't swapped out for Nutella. But knowing which products are approved and which aren't, and doing the math to maximize that 24 oz of cereal between 3 boxes, left me in tears more than once during checkout. Things that can derail a WIC purchase include getting the wrong flavor of cereal, choosing baked beans instead of pork and beans, or assuming that since the generic product is cheaper, it would be the money saving option for the WIC program and it would be allowed. (No.) Then you have to leave the line, fix you order, and come back to face the music.

Because that's the worst part - at checkout, you have to group your items into separate orders for each WIC check, and the manager on duty has to come over and approve each transaction. There's no "quick stop for milk" with WIC checks. It's a slow, laborious process. Every item has to be checked against the WIC list, and sometimes it scans as "not approved" even though it's right there on your list, and you have to explain that there's something wrong on their end. The cashier has to do math (I understand, it's not a job where you usually have to use that part of your brain, but adding cereal ounces isn't that hard). And invariably, that was when my children would start to make a fuss in line, wanting to go, to get candy, to see if the gumball machine had anything new, because it was just as tedious for them. Then I would feel the eyes on me, and hear the judging voices. Sometimes they were speaking out loud, but usually it was angry eye rolling and arm folding.

"Oh, she's one of THOSE."

"No wonder her kids are such brats. She probably pumps them full of junk and plops them in front of the TV all day. *snort* Trailer trash."

"Why did she have those kids if she can't even afford to feed them?"

"This is taking forever because of some Welfare mom."

"I wonder how many of those kids have the same dad."

I'm guessing that if you've read this blog for long, you get that most of those things are way off about me. (I do allow more TV and junk food than I should, but we eat healthy things too!) I received WIC benefits after the birth of each of my kids, because for one reason or another, something had gone awry financially during my pregnancy. I was grateful for the milk and eggs, but I rarely stuck with the program for more than one round of refills on the checks (6 months). It was humiliating and difficult. It made me feel an inch tall.

So as that family walked by, all four little boys smiling and chatting with their parents, I wanted to say something encouraging to them. Something to let them know that they were doing things right, that I knew how difficult it was, but that it would get better. But then I thought that it might make them self conscious, knowing that I saw what they were dealing with, so all I could muster was a soft "Beautiful family!" as they passed.

I wish I could tell them more. And to have a constant stream of support and empathy flowing into every grocery store for every family that has to use support programs to help feed their families. Because next month, next year, it could be you needing help.

EDITED TO NOTE - It's been brought to my attention that different states and even different counties within a state manage WIC differently. Some use plastic cards loaded with their benefits, others still use the paper checks, like here in PA. This is only meant to reflect my experience in my area, and that of some of my friends. If you use WIC, and they make it easier for you than this, thank your local office on your next visit!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Busy busy busy

Hi!

I haven't forgotten about this little corner of the web, I've just been really busy.

Catie goes back to school on Monday, so there have been the usual preparations. Daniel starts his homeschooling work on Monday too, and we're using a new, more rigorous curriculum this year. I'm excited, but also getting ready to tweak things so he can understand them. Tristan is Tristan - 2 years old, willful, grabby, MINE, MOMMY!, and also the sweetest little guy on two legs. So, clearly the school year will affect him too. This may be the year that he needs "school" to do too, so he doesn't feel left out.

The mighty cargo bike with e-assist is running beautifully. I am well on the way to getting spoiled by the assist - getting across wide, busy roads used to be nerve wracking. Now, with a minor throttle boost, I'm across the street almost as fast as if I had been driving! I try to keep the power use only to when I really need it, like when I'm going uphill, crossing streets, or.... let's be honest - flying down the road just to hear the kids yell "Wheeeeee!"!

Something funny happened a week after the assist was up and working. A mom on the "Less Car, More Go" Facebook group said she was curious about box trikes and other cargo bikes, but she lived in Harrisburg and wasn't sure about how they worked around here. I piped up and said "I ride around Harrisburg in my cargo trike!" As it happens, we live less than a mile apart (!), and I was able to give her a chance to test ride the trike. Now she wants one too! And what's more, another mom in ANOTHER Harrisburg FB group was asking about the Virtue Schoolbus (my trike), and wanted to know if there was anyone in the area who had one she could test ride.

I wonder if I could get a commission out of all this?  ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's ON, baby!

At last! At long, long last, my electric assist on my trike is up and running!!!

Many thanks to my long-suffering husband and our friend Kirby - it's finally working! And Buster, the TORQUE on that thing is surprising. My bike weighs (with the kit) a solid 145 lbs. Even with the added cargo and riders, that thing will take OFF at sudden starts if I'm not careful.

I'm going to try it out on the big hill on the busy road the next cool-ish day with low traffic. (We get those - usually Sundays)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sprucing up old clothes

With Catie attending Catholic school, uniforms are a part of our annual back-to-school expenses. Thankfully, our school, like many other private schools in the area, offers an annual used uniform consignment sale. We were able to score all of her uniform pieces that way last year, but this year she's grown enough that there weren't any used skirts in her size. Instead, we got two pairs of solid navy girls slacks and two pairs of navy girls shorts - unfortunately, all looked a little faded and worn. We also were able to get enough of the regulation embroidered white polo shirts, but after I got them home, I realized that some of them were dingy, with yellow underarm stains.

So I set to work! The white tops were soaked in Oxyclean, which helped some of the dinginess. Apparently the best way to get rid of the underarm stains is one I haven't tried yet - a mix of blue Dawn dish soap and hydrogen peroxide applied directly to the stained area. The soap releases the oils from the combined sweat and deodorant, and the peroxide lightens the fabric - I'll tell you how that works.

But meanwhile, the navy slacks and shorts were looking really faded. I pondered this a while, and remembered Rit dye! Rit fabric dye is available at all craft stores and many grocery stores, and is a great way to freshen up dark colored clothes. Let's say you like to wear black clothes, but over the years they've faded to a charcoal grey. If you give them a round in the wash with black dye, they'll look nearly new again! It's not the first time I've used Rit - I got a lovely long white skirt once, but I simply can't be trusted in white - not with three kids and a dog. So I dyed it a nice medium blue, and I get much more use out of it now.

So I put the navy bottoms in the washing machine on hot with a full bottle of the liquid navy dye, let it sit for 2 hours, and rinsed it about 8 times on cold until the water ran clear. And it helped a lot! The slacks and shorts look much fresher, and though some of the worn areas still looked lighter than the rest of the garment, they were clearly less noticeable. It was especially helpful with the fading at the waistband and edges of the pockets.

So if you have a favorite shirt or skirt that just isn't looking as fresh anymore, why not try giving it a new lease on life with a dye bath?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Clothesline Clique

Like Katy at The Non Consumer Advocate, I like my clothesline a lot. However, I confess that before my dryer decided to stop heating, I didn't use the clothesline as much as I could. (BTW, my husband offered to have the dryer fixed, but I chose to put that money toward repairing the A/C in the van instead. Staying cool is VERY important to me.) After all, it's so easy to just chuck clothes from one machine to the next - and line dried clothes get so stiff and crunchy!

So now I hang all the laundry, and it's making me rethink some of my laundry habits. I already switched from prefold diapers to flour sack towels, because the FSTs wash and dry so well, and the prefolds were drying hard, scratchy, and they took a day and a half to fully dry. But after a few rounds of washing and line drying, I began to notice that the FST diapers - and all the laundry, for that matter - were drying really stiff and crunchy.

So I thought about this for a bit. I did a little reading about moms in the 1940s and 1950s, and the ads from that era would tout Ivory Snow Soap Flakes as THE laundry soap to use when you wanted your clothes soft. Ah ha! They didn't HAVE tumble dryers back then - so that meant that those soaps were meant to leave line dried clothes soft to the touch!

Sadly, I learned that Ivory Snow is no longer being made (at least not that formula - there's a new Ivory Snow that doesn't perform the same way). So I thought about this further, and realized that I needed a laundry soap that was meant for people who hand wash their clothes, because they also hang those clothes to dry - it would be formulated to wash clean and dry soft!

Then, my DUH moment - I already had that in the house! I had part of a bar of Zote Soap left from pre-treating some stains. Zote Soap is made in Mexico, where more people presumably wash their clothes by hand. It is gentler to my hands than Fels Naptha (which is also good for laundry, but a bit harsh), and has a pleasant Citronella scent, which makes sense if you think about it. If you're hand washing your laundry and hanging it outside, it would be nice if the scent scared away the mosquitoes too! And if you're washing by hand, of course you'd want to use a bar of soap rather than liquid or powder, so you could see just where it's going. Soap flakes, powders, and liquids are all more convenient for machine washing, but our great grandmothers would have lathered up their clothes against a big bar of soap before scrubbing them on the washboard.

So I shaved a bit of the soap into the next wash load instead of using my Tide free and clear, and lathered up a few items in the wash tub for good measure. And to my delight, the clothes came off the line noticeably softer - even the diapers!
So I bought another bar (the Indian Grocery next to my house sells them for only $1.29). Just look at the size of that thing! I plan to shave it up and make the powdered laundry mix that includes borax and washing soda.

Yes, it's upside down. Oops.
Some people don't care for Zote because it has optical brighteners and citronella oil, making it less than all natural. In that case, Dr Bronner's soap (either bar form or liquid) would be a great choice. It's even good to use if you have to dump your wash water outside, since Dr Bronners is all natural and non-toxic. Charlie's Soap is also a good, all natural, clean rinsing laundry soap - i just can't afford Dr Bronners or Charlie's right now! But any of those options will leave your line dried clothes softer than "standard" detergents.

What, you say? Just use fabric softener? YUCK!

Not a fan of fabric softener - it leaves the towels non-absorbent, and everything feels and smells chemically-sticky when I use it.

And since Katy challenged her readers to share their clothesline selfies, here you go!




Forgive the frizz - it's humid here!




Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bikes in emergencies

For various reasons, I've been thinking a lot about disaster preparedness lately. What would we do if a Greek or Argentina-style economic disaster would happen, or if a solar flare disabled electronics (including car computers)? What about a prolonged blackout after heavy storms?

Obviously, storing water and food is just smart - FEMA even says to store enough supplies to get through the first 72 hours on your own, because it will take at least that long to get disaster relief to a stricken region. Keeping your car's gas tank at least half full at all times is smart too - if a crisis occurs and the power is out, gas pumps may not even work.

So what if, for whatever reason, your car won't be operable - no gas, circuits are fried, the police have asked that cars stay off the roads for a time - how will you get around? If your children are stuck at school 8 miles away, or you ran out of water, but you heard that FEMA set up a relief station 3 or 4 miles away - getting there might not be that hard, but getting BACK with your child or supplies could prove exhausting. That's where a well-equipped bike could save you hours and loads of precious energy.

Honestly, any bike in good repair will do the job of moving YOU around. It's when you need to use that bike to pick up people or supplies that it becomes a challenge. So here are a few ideas about how to move people and supplies by bike in an emergency.

The cheapest way to move people on your bike is to install a set of trick feet pegs on your rear axle, and let your passenger stand behind you. I live near the city, and I've seen as many as 3 kids riding a single bike with front and rear pegs. Not very safe, but effective. Another method, if your passenger is small and you ride a "men's style" bike is to mount an extra saddle to your top tube in front of your standard saddle.
From humofthecity.com



If your kids are small, consider investing in a bike trailer. In general I'm not a big fan of how they handle, but the fact is that for $80 - $200 you can haul 2 small kids and supplies with a minimum of fuss and rigging. In fact, the baby trailer is an outstanding grocery hauler, so it may be worth keeping it around long after your kids are too big to use it.

A link to the instep trailer on Amazon - but look on craigslist first! ;)

http://www.amazon.com/InStep-Take-Double-Bicycle-Trailer/dp/B002QAVQ14/ref=sr_1_1?s=outdoor-recreation&ie=UTF8&qid=1438723205&sr=1-1&keywords=instep+bike+trailer

But if you are riding to pick up your 5+ foot tall kid from school and have a distance to bring them, you may want to look at other options. For $150 the Companion Bike Seat will mount above your rear wheel, and will support a 200 lb load!
The seat back costs extra, but it looks like it would be worth it.
As a bonus, that seat will also carry pannier bags on the side, making it good for more than just carrying passengers.

For a bit more money ($375 - $515) you could get a Caddyrack from cycletrucks.com - they turn most standard issue bikes into a cargo bike capable of hauling people, stuff, and even two rider-less bikes! I'm eyeballing this rack for my Wicked Witch 3 speed, since I would be able to carry a bike to a stranded kid and then they could follow me home, or if one gets too tired on a ride I could hitch the bike to mine, and they could ride on the deck.

See the panels at the bottom? You stick the front wheel of the other bike in there, and bungee to the deck.
All these are reasonable items that don't peg you as a prepper or psycho cyclist - just nice add-ons that have utility in everyday life. If you want to go full bore and get a longtail cargo bike like the Yuba Mundo or Bike Friday Haul-a-day, or a bakfiets like the CETMA Largo or my own Virtue Schoolbus trike, good for you! You'll get a lot of use out of it anytime, and feel especially smug  when the gas pumps are down. But if you're not ready for that big of a step, those other options are good to have on hand.

Oooo - just spotted this folding bike with a bonus seat on aliexpress - http://www.aliexpress.com/item/22-Inch-Foldable-Bicycle-Folding-Bike-mother-and-child-bicycle-picture-car-lightweight-folding-parent-child/32363308641.html

Seriously neat! I need to investigate further!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bike pump repair

It's BEAUTIFUL weather here right now - the kind that just begs you to lace up your shoes or hop on your bike and GO.

So yesterday I was about to take advantage of this weather and bike over to my local pharmacy to get my pills, but my bike tires seemed a little low. So I got out my trusty bike pump - the floor model that reminds me of a dynamite plunger. I hooked up the pump, got a few pumps in, and heard a sudden hissing sound.

Horrified that I had blown a tube, I stopped to check - it wasn't the tube. At least, not the INNER tube. It was the tube or rubber hose that led from the pump to the tire. It had sheered away right next to the pump, and I couldn't figure out how to fix it fast enough to pump my tire, get to the pharmacy, and get back before Tristan's nap. So I drove, grumbling the whole way, griping that I might have to buy another pump when this one was otherwise perfectly good.

When I got home, Jake pointed out that there was a screw-on clamp that held the hose to the base of the pump. I grabbed a pair of pliers, unscrewed the clamp, and pulled the remaining bits of the hose off of the metal nipple that fed the air in. Then I cut the existing hose so the end was straight across again, fitted it onto the nipple, screwed the clamp back on, and by gum the pump worked again!!!

(I'll add pictures later)

That saved us not only $20 on a new pump, but also the hassle of having to go to the store and buy a replacement.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Flour sack towels

What with the dryer being broken, I'm hanging everything out to dry. Unfortunately, most of our diapers and training pants are very thick, heavy, and take a long time to dry - even in the dryer. With the humidity levels being so high, even on hot days these babies don't dry fully before sunset. I do have a dozen Dappi prefolds, which are fairly decent birdseye cotton diapers (sadly now discontinued) that line dry well, but they weren't enough. I knew I had to change things up.

I know, they're huge. They fold up small, though.
So I went to Target and bought a dozen flour sack towels! For those of you not in the know, flour sacks are what poor people use to use for their diapers, and they still work well today. They're thin, soft, and very absorbent - and best of all, since they're only one layer thick, they can dry in as little as 20 minutes on the line. Target offers a very nice 4 pack of 30" by 30" square towels for $3.99.

To use them, you can fold them up into fancy shapes and Snappi or pin them, or you can just fold them into a thick rectangle and lay it into a self-closing cover, like I do. When it's time to wash them, they rinse very clean and don't hold onto residue, and they dry in a flash. They're so thin that at first they don't seem like they'll absorb enough, but there's just something about the layers and the space between each layer that allows it to hold much more liquid than it looks like it should.

I've been meaning to get a set of these as flat diapers for a long time, to use in emergency situations like prolonged power outages or zombie attacks. I guess broken dryer counts too.  :)

If you want to know more about flat diapers and using them in extreme situations, check out Dirty Diaper Laundry.  Kim Rosas organizes an annual Flats and Hand washing challenge to both raise awareness for people who have trouble affording diapers, and to demonstrate that people can cloth diaper with or without a washing machine. I hopefully won't have to test the hand washing end any time soon, but the hanging dry is going very well!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Raining? No, it's pouring. But we have an umbrella.

Last week, during one of the hottest weeks of the summer so far, the air conditioning in my van ran out of coolant. Or maybe something else broke on it, I'm not sure - we can't get it fixed just yet anyway.

This morning I went to the dryer to unload the diapers and training pants, only to find that they were still pretty wet. I had noticed they were still damp yesterday when I went to remove them, so I put them in for another cycle then - dampness this morning means the dryer isn't heating up.

Our brand new couch is sagging in the corner, looking as though part of the frame just gave up.

I'm not panicking right now, because I'm pulling a Pollyanna-ish "I'm glad!" act.

I'm GLAD that I have a clothesline and several folding drying racks, and that our dryer is only about 3 years old and may still be under warranty.

I'm GLAD that the couch is likewise under warranty - 5 years, no questions.

I'm GLAD that the vans electric powered windows work, and the blowers can still move the semi-fresh air around the inside of the van. And that the van still runs safely and well.

I'm GLAD that even though our income is minimal right now, Jake and I have ways of boosting it - Jake is doing fix-it jobs for friends and family, I can pick up a massage gig here and there, my book is bringing in a steady trickle of income (really not a lot - about $40 this month - but money is money), and once the A/C is repaired I can drive for Uber again to bring in a few extra bucks. Food and medical are covered via the state right now. I'm not thrilled about that, but it's helping a lot. We still have some savings to cover our bills.

I'm GLAD that Jake isn't just sitting around, waiting for a job. At last count he had over 150 resumes and applications out.

I'm GLAD that should I need to, I have enough marketable skills to get an OK job. Not a great one, but we would be OK on that - we haven't come to that decision to send me back to work yet, but we'll see how the next few months go.

I'm GLAD that despite all this, we still have the resources to make a (gluten free) lasagna for a friend who's baby is in the hospital, and to deliver it to her family.

We will get through this.




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Poverty blinders

I used to have this problem. Whatever was not immediate and vital to functioning for the day was excluded from my thoughts.

Not altogether abnormal, but when you're poor, there are so many things that would improve the day to day life IF attention were paid to them. For example, applying for utility assistance BEFORE the cold/hot spell. Or remembering to buy groceries that will make packing lunches easy, so you're not stuck trying to make a fake pizza out of a slice of bread, a ketchup packet, and an old string cheese in the work microwave.

When I was coming out of my Hard Core Poor days and living with my parents, I decided I had to repay them for their help and not be much of a burden (though I know we were). I applied for assistance so I could get a child care subsidy, and hunted for work.

So, here was one of the quirks of the system. While you were looking for work and until you got your first paycheck, the child care was covered by the welfare department. Afterward, your case was transferred to a different agency that was open to anyone who wanted to apply, but funding was tight. If you just applied to that agency, it was iffy if you would get any help. But if you were transferred from welfare, you were guaranteed funding. I was so baffled by this paperwork that I nearly LOST my funding more than once, simply because I had my "It's too confusing, I'll go to work, go get the kids, make dinner, go to bed" blinders on. Everything in life felt so exhausting and hard, that even though something could have helped me make it easier, the process of applying was so daunting that I would ignore it.

There were any number of programs that I probably could have taken advantage of over the past years, but I had those poverty blinders. When I was pregnant with Daniel, a friend set up an appointment for me with Morning Star Pregnancy services so I could get some free maternity clothes. I got lost on the way there, got discouraged, and never made it. I didn't bother going back, either. I scraped some cash and spent money I couldn't really afford on clothes that someone would have GIVEN me for free, because I got stuck mentally about making another appointment, getting there on time, bringing my proof of income, and dragging my 3 year old along. I just... couldn't.

I think I'm better about this these days. I can commit to appointments. I still miss some now and then, but I really work on this. I can show up (mostly) on time. I can usually produce the needed paperwork if asked. But back then I was so overwhelmed, so stressed, and so disorganized that it was nearly impossible to do all those things.

So, if you know somebody that's going through this phase, please don't yell or ask "why can't you JUST DO THIS?". Give them a big calendar with lots of room to write things. Show them how to organize their vital paperwork. Offer a ride to an appointment (and put it in Google calendar so you don't forget). Help them plan. Right now they CAN'T plan. Help them schedule. They CAN'T schedule just now. Help them set up a plan to fill out their paperwork (it's so daunting) and a deadline to submit it that's actually a week before the REAL deadline.

They're trying. They're struggling. It's harder than many people would guess. Don't dismiss their efforts.

Back to School bargains begin!

I know, it's not even August yet! But the office supply stores are bringing the bargains NOW - and there are deals to be had, whether or not your school sent out the supply list yet.

Office Max/Depot has a rotating bargain list that offers 3 items a week for a penny each, as long as you spend $5. This week is 3"x5" index cards, a 10 pack of basic ball point pens, and bottles of white glue. I don't care what school or grade you're in, those are good things to have around the house! If you have trouble getting to the $5 amount, I suggest getting a ream of printer paper for $6 - it's not like you won't use it!

Staples is hedging their bets - they are guaranteeing the lowest price on supplies by 110% this year. Right now the ubiquitous 24 pack of Crayola crayons are $.50 there, and a 12 pack of Crayola colored pencils are $.97, but hold onto the receipt - if Walmart decides to undercut that price, Staples will refund the difference! Of course, the guarantee doesn't apply to store brands, so shop wisely.

Staples is also offering 70 page spiral notebooks for 25 cents each (limit 30), pocket folders with or without 3 hole prongs for 15 cents (limit 30), wooden rulers for 35 cents, 12 packs of pencils for 68 cents, and 4 packs of glue sticks for $1.

If you want to get all the shopping done quickly, I'd hit Staples for the paper and writing products. If you don't mind picking things up in bits and pieces, keep watching the Office Max deals - you may not find everything you need right away, but it's never a bad idea to stockpile crayons and glue if you have kids.

As a half homeschooling, half private school family, we get a lot of benefit from the items that are on sale but are not on my "school" kids list. The notebooks make great writing journals, and the folders are super for containing projects and lapbooks. Tristan has decided he loves to color too, so extra crayons are a necessity here.

Our printer is pooping out lately, and I'm considering watching the sales for a good deal on a printer. We print a LOT here, and Catie is doing more and more computer based projects that need to be printed. The trouble is I've fallen for the cheap printer thing before, and the replacement ink cartridges cost more than the printer - it would have made more sense to buy 4 printers just to have the backup ink! I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kamping at Knoebels

We've been on a LOT of family trips so far this year! It's one of the (few) benefits when no one has a steady job - we can take off when we please and when the rates are cheaper. All of these trips have been with and at least partially funded by either Jake's parents or mine, because they wanted a trip with the grandkids. We have contributed financially, but in general the trips have been a treat to us.

Soooo... we went to camp and play at Knoebels Grove! If you've never heard of this jewel of an amusement park, don't feel bad - it's a semi-secret up in the mountains of Elysburg, PA. This park is one of very few that doesn't charge admission or parking! Think of that - NO ADMISSION CHARGE! FREE PARKING! They offer either tickets or ride-all-day passes for their rides, so everyone from Grandma down to the babies can come and enjoy the well-shaded park. Not only that, there are many picnic groves at the edge of the park where you can enjoy your thrifty packed lunch.

Knoebels actually says on their website (and in many places around the park) that their MISSION is to provide a fun time at a reasonable price to all families. I don't see that at other parks. Even Kennywood, which I love, doesn't make it a point to allow families on any budget to come and have fun - Knoebels is very special that way. My friends who have many children really appreciate this - you can buy a $20 book of ride tickets for $16 at Weis grocery stores, which can be used on whichever rides you choose. When you have 8 kids like my one friend, not having to shell out entrance fees for all of them is huge - AND you can pack your meals! And I should say - while they do sell food at the park, it's not all that expensive compared to other parks. One of the better deals (if you can eat gluten and dairy) is a whole pizza for $15. Ice cream cones are around $2.50 - $3.00, a large Pepsi for $2.50. Very nearly real world pricing, as opposed to the captive audience fees where a 20 oz bottle of water will cost you $3.00!

The rides are classic park fare, with 4 roller coasters for the thrill seekers, and a wide base of family friendly rides. There are two carousels, both with antique hand-carved horses, and the larger one still allows you to catch the brass ring for a free ride. (Jake got it on one of our rides this year!)

The park also offers a HUGE swimming pool and water slides, for a separate entrance fee - we considered swimming one of our days there, but it was a bit chilly, so we opted out.

Which brings me to another part of this - the camping! Knoebels has campsites both right next to park grounds and a few miles down the road, and cabins and cottages for rent (some right IN the park). The price for the sites is meh... $46 a night or $260 a week, which still beats most hotel prices, but seems a little high for "roughing it". My MIL covered the costs, though, and brought her pop-up camper. The bathhouses are pretty good at the site, and we camped within a decent walking distance from the park itself. Decent in the morning, anyway - when we were tired from a full day, it seemed much further!
Peeking out of the camper.

Catie hanging with the cousins.

Seriously, Mom?

We met Santa one site over, too. His license plate even said SANTA. So it was totally him.

The greatest part about spending a few days there was that when nap time or lunch time rolled around, we could stroll back to our site, take a break, and go back when we were rested and fed. The pressure to have a good time NOW and hit ALL THE RIDES was off - we had plenty of time. And because we were there with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her family, and various cousins, when Jake and I wanted to slip off and ride a roller coaster, it was easy to do.


My nephew rode this ride three times in a row, and the last time fell asleep holding the bell string. When they woke him, he mumbled "one more time..."! No pics of him, so Tristan grinning will have to do.
Jake, Tristan, and my MIL on the train.

I love camping. I especially love coming back from camping with a renewed appreciation for my mattress and tub baths.  :)  We got back at dinner time last night, made gluten free spaghetti (I was too tired to finish it, which is astounding) bathed, and everyone crashed hard. Tristan is still a little run-down and extra snuggly, so we're having a mellow day. Catie and Daniel are celebrating their reunion with their tablets (we leave those behind when we camp).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Bikey-ness

I realize that my blog has been light on all things bikey, and there's a reason.

My glorious cargo trike has been sidelined for a few weeks. I bought an electric assist kit, thinking that it wouldn't be all that difficult to assemble, and failing that, a local e-bike guy might be able to help assemble it.

First of all, WRONG on all counts. I don't know if other brands of e-kits ship with schematics, but this one sure didn't. Because all the wheels on my Schoolbus are 24" instead of 26", it took quite a lot of hunting to even find a rear geared hub rim kit in the right size. When it arrived with no diagrams or explanations, we were bewildered. So I called a local guy who had an outdated website (my first clue) and asked if he could assemble it.

Now, to be fair, he DID admit that while he loves e-bikes and building them,but he had only ever assembled about 10, and they were all on standard frame bikes. He had assembled one of the same kits as mine before, though, and that was one more than we had done.

Dude, he was flummoxed. He (and I'm trying to be nice here, because he was messing with my drum brakes and that flipped me out) kept trying to overthink the battery location - it's designed to go on a back rack, but he wanted to put it in the box, which didn't work with cable lengths or ease of battery removal. He also kept setting nuts and bolts and cables in random spots on our gravel driveway. GRAVEL. DRIVEWAY. We were lucky to find them again!

Long story a little shorter, he was unable to do the job. When he left, a few components were put on, like the new hub motor rim, but the battery and controls were left dangling.A good friend who works at the bike shop and volunteers at Recycle Bicycle was able to get the bike technically ride-able again, and put on a few more of the controls, but it's still not motorized. So now I have a heavier trike (because that hub motor is heavy) that STILL isn't running, and it's discouraging to ride it half-finished that way. We still have to find a place to mount the control box, put on the control box, mount the battery to the recently installed rack, attach all the cables, and pray everything works properly.


I said it before and I'll say it again - I only had $1000 to buy this bike. I should have just waited and saved the extra $600 to get the one that already had the power assist built in. This has been a MAJOR pain.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sleeeep






For the record, I personally don't have trouble sleeping, per se.

I have trouble with others preventing my sleep.

I don't know why, but Tristan has been very restless in the middle of the night, and the only way to soothe him is to take him and rock in the rocker on the front porch. That trek feels reeeeeally long at 2:30 AM.

I used to look forward to summer, because the whole family could sleep in (besides Jake). But I've been watching a boy while his mother works, which means we have to get up early to meet them. What this really amounts to is I need to go to bed earlier, but.... I don't wanna! :(  Evenings after all the kids are in bed are my only time alone with Jake, when it's quiet and we can relax. It's hard to give that up just to zonk out early.

At one point I was a single working mother, with a 4 year old and a 1 year old. Granted, I was living with my parents, but caring for and getting my kids to day care was on me. When Daniel was teething, I went through months of getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. When I would get the rare night of 7 or 8 hours, I would come into work feeling so dynamic, I could take over the world! I scared people on those days.

I just want the scary energy again! I'm so tired today, I feel like I could ar, .usssssbphktepmkww.... snort... whaaa?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why you should keep Benadryl on hand

I babysit a really great kid. He's easy going, friendly, and sweet. He also is terribly allergic to milk, to the point that he will have an anaphalatic reaction if he eats or drinks something with dairy in it.

We went to the pool a few days ago - it was pretty cool out, but it was also the only sunny day in the forecast after days and days of rain, so the kids were eager to swim. After about an hour, everyone was chilled and ready for a snack, so I broke out the lunch bag. The boy I watch had some money, so he decided to head to the snack bar to get some extras for himself and the other kids (I told you he was sweet).

He's 7, and he's usually really good about knowing what's OK for him to have, and I was wrestling with Tristan at the time, so I didn't realize that he had bought CHEESE popcorn! He ate about six pieces before saying "uh oh". I called his mom, who said to get him some Benadryl and have him drink lots of water, then watch to make sure he doesn't swell or choke.

Now, if I had been thinking clearly, I would have asked the lifeguard station if they had Benadryl. But I was too busy hating myself for the slip up on someone elses' kid and trying to pack up to even think about asking. Catie was having a teen moment and didn't want to leave the pool, because she didn't understand how serious the reaction could be - finally I had to explain that it was leave now or he would have to go to the emergency room. THAT got her going - full Florence Nightingale fluttering, super anxious about getting him safe!

I did a mental inventory of my medicine cabinet as I threw everything in the bag, and wasn't sure if we even had any Benadryl at home. I called a friend who lived a few blocks from the pool, but she didn't have any either - thankfully there was a CVS right at the corner. I left the kids in the car (sue me - Catie had it under control) and ran in, buying the single liquid child dose packages so I wouldn't have to open and measure a bottle. I got the medicine into him before he got past the itchy, numb lips stage, and the day was saved.

I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been able to get the medicine so quickly. For example, if we had been out camping and someone had been stung by a bee, or my highly allergic husband stumbled into poison ivy (he doesn't usually swell up, just gets an awful rash, but still). So I'll be keeping those liquid ampules on hand in the future, just to be safe. And even if you don't usually use Benadryl, you should keep a few doses in your emergency kit - just in case.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Delayed vacation post





I was too "in the moment" to get any shots of the grownups on this trip to Kennywood. It's a family tradition a few years running that we take my parents to my dad's favorite park on Father's Day weekend, which usually coincides with Daniel's birthday. It didn't this year, but we still had fun, and it was cheaper than usual. Why?

Last year we had a wonderful trip, but I noticed some things that made this on-the-national-historic-register-park look... shabby. Like CRT TV monitors hanging heavily over the lines for rides, without being turned on and the weatherproof cases looking rusted and worn. Things like that. So I wrote an email to the park management, saying how much we love Kennywood, but those details make the park look like it can't afford basic upkeep - either turn the monitors on or take them down.

I hit send and went on with my life, thinking that nothing would come of it.

Then a few days later, the freaking CEO CALLED ME. DIRECTLY. And told me I was absolutely right, he'd get right on fixing it, and he would love to have my family back as his guests the next time we came to town! So we got free tickets - pretty sweet, and unexpected. I wouldn't expect this to work with many parks, but Kennywood is special in many ways.

(BTW, they still need to fix a few of those issues, but they've been launching some new stuff in recent years - they'll probably have it all fixed up by the end of this summer.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hard Core Poor, half off.

Psst!

If you want a digital copy (Kindle) of my money saving book, Hard Core Poor , It's selling for half the usual price until June 20th in the US and the UK! For only $1.99, you get 200+ pages of thrifty goodness!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Driving Miss Drunk-y

I got my first two Uber fares the other evening! There was a wine tasting festival two miles up the road from my house, and apparently the prime Uber using demographic is well-to-do, tech savvy people who want to get good and blitzed without worrying about DUIs. A wine festival was prime for that demographic!

It's remarkably easy, kinda fun, and fairly lucrative for driving people home after a few glasses of wine. After all, I've done that for free before!

Of course, there's a hitch. We had some repairs done on the van last week at a total of $450, and the mechanic said that we MIGHT need to have another $400 repair done - he wasn't sure if it was an old code on the car computer or a current one. He said there would be a few warning signs if the code was accurate, and those signs started popping up after I dropped off my second fare. And since the van gets the best gas mileage, we want to have it repaired before we head to Pittsburgh next weekend. Hopefully I can pick up some extra driving gigs after the repairs are done to replenish our dwindling emergency/living fund.

And hey - if you want to take an Uber ride and you don't have an account yet, use the code b9wb7ue to get $20 off your first ride. (I get $5 out of you using the code, so we all win!)