Archive for October, 2010

4th Annual Pumpkin Carving Party!

Friday, October 29th, 2010

For the 4th year in a row, we turned our living room into pumpkin carving central!  We invited family and friends over for some good old fashioned Halloween fun. 

Oliver played with his friend most of the night, but was dying to help me carve out my pumpkin.  He liked playing with the lid and squishing around in the guts.  Notice my floor is covered in plastic, so he was able to experiment all he wanted.


We managed to eke out 6 pumpkins tonight with 6 more to go before Sunday.  It was great catching up with friends and taking a break from the upcoming baby madness. 

Here are some ways that we saved money at our party and some other tips to throwing a fun pumpkin party:

1) Be first in line on November 1st at your local drugstores to pick up discounted Halloween goodies for next year.  We love Walgreens, because they usually discount their items 75 percent off.  We always pick up bundles of pumpkin carving supplies, templates, and decorations for a fraction of the normal cost.

2) Have the party after dinner time and offer snacks.  This cuts down on the amount of work you have to do and the amount of money you have to spend on food.  Also, by offering snacks you get more time to carve the pumpkins versus eating a meal.

3) Pick up plastic sheeting at Lowe’s or Home Depot to cover your floor.  I bought mine for a buck or so in the painting aisle.  They are plastic drop cloths.  Also, line several bowls/pots with plastic grocery store bags for the pumpkin guts.  Clean up is a breeze once the carving is done.  We literally roll up all the garbage in the drop cloth and we are done.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask your friends to chip in either with food, drinks, or supplies.  The spirit of the party is to get everyone together for a good time.  I know many people who think hosting a party means spending tons of money and “wow-ing” the crowd.  Here’s how I hosted this event:  I provided the venue and the pumpkin carving supplies.  I also provided snacks (chips, veggies, dip, and brownies), water, ice, and paper products.  I asked everyone else to bring the beverages and their own pumpkins. 

That’s about it!  With minimal fuss and money spent, we had a great time.  Sometimes the best nights “out” are nights in with family and friends.

35 Weeks and Counting

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

We have 3 – 5 weeks left to go in the baby countdown! 

I am still obsessing with overhauling our record keeping system.  Apparently, our old system was to keep EVERY scrap of paper that passed through our house.  We have a filing cabinet, but the filing hadn’t been done since 2008.  Ergo, I’ve been digging through at least 5 rubbermaid bins worth of documents these past 2 weeks.  We are down to one bin to burn, one bin to archive, one bin got filed properly, and 2 bins got trashed.  Success!  I didn’t think nesting would manifest itself in this way, but at least we have the office cleaned out. 

By the way, for those who have never “nested” – it is a very real feeling or sense of urgency to get something done.  In many cases, it involves cleaning of some sort.  I literally couldn’t sleep at night because I was up thinking about filing systems and databases.  I have given up my naps during Oliver’s naptimes to push through the paperwork every day.  I literally have been obsessed with doc control.  Weird.

We have decorated for Halloween and our upcoming pumpkin carving party.  After getting beat up at the state fair, you’d think I would slow down.  The party this Thursday is the absolute last thing we will do before the baby comes.  I promise I will settle down and set up the nursery.

For my birthday this year, my hubby got me a maid cleaning service to come in and do a fall cleaning.  I get to talk to them tomorrow to schedule a date.  A very big thumbs up from me on this one.  When Oliver came, the last thing I wanted to do was scrub the toilets and mop the floors my last month.  Now I can rest assured that everything will be clean, sparkling, and sanitized for the little one and I can focus on – setting up that nursery! (I’m trying to psyche myself up for it.)

The fatigue has started kicking in again and we are moving into high-efficiency mode over here.  Hiring a cleaning service, switching to paper plates/plastic cups, eating lots of frozen meals, etc… It’s not very frugal to say the least, but I’m into self-preservation right now.  I can’t keep up with Oliver and the housework and the new baby coming.  We will also be cutting back our visits to the kids museum starting next week.  I have to start saving energy and sleeping more (and work on that nursery).

Hmmm… with the record keeping out of the way could it be that my nesting instinct is (gasp) turning towards actual baby stuff?  It seems that I now have the nursery on my brain and I’m not going to be able to sleep until I get my tape measure out to see if the changing table, bassinet, and shelving unit will fit in our bedroom.  I hope my hubby is a deep sleeper!  :-)

Family Fun: Use the Mall’s Play Areas for Free

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

If you’ve been to a shopping mall then you have probably seen the little enclosures, known as “play areas”, overrun with screaming little shoeless hooligans.  Believe it or not, these play areas are actually nice places if you can get there when the mall opens.  We try to go a few times a month and Oliver gets to play with some kids and climb around.  The best part is that it is free!

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up:

1 ) Go early! As the day wears on the play areas fill up and it becomes a madhouse in there.  I have had more than one confrontation with a child who has been intent on doing physical harm to my child.

2 ) Bring wipes to clean little hands and feet after you are done playing.  Hand sanitizer wouldn’t hurt either.  There are plenty of germs to go around.

3) Bring a drink and/or snacks.  They love to put all the candy and gumball machines right outside these play areas.  It helps to have a “plan b” for your kids.  Snacks are also useful when your kid sees another kid getting snacks and then wanders over there begging for some himself (or that could just be my little guy!).

4) Pay attention to your kid and others around him or her.  Some parents let their children run WILD at these places.  Better safe than sorry.

And that’s about it!  With these tips, we’ve had quite a bit of fun when we go and minimal fuss. 

Does It Work: Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

As you can see, I have used about 1/2 a gallon of my homemade liquid laundry soap.  That works out to 8 loads so far.  And the burning question on everyone’s mind?

Does it work?

Sort of.  I’ve done whites in hot water, whites in cold water, colors in cold water, and 2 loads of baby clothes in cold water.  Here’s what I’ve found:

1 ) The clothes all smelled clean, as in not funky.

2 ) For the most part the clothes looked clean.  I noticed that the whites looked a tad grungy – not bright, and that some stains merely faded rather than went away.

3) It takes more effort to use than conventional liquid detergent.  You have to really shake the jug up to break up the goo inside and then it slops and splashes into your cup.

4) The recipe used produced almost 3 1/2 gallons of soap.  That’s alot of soap to store and we don’t have much room in this tiny house.

Will I do this again?  Not with this recipe.  Perhaps the Coco Castille soap is too mild to be used for the laundry.  I could try again with Fels-Naptha, which is a true laundry soap bar.  On the other hand, making, using, and storing liquid soap takes more effort than using my tried and true powdered detergent recipe. 

The verdict:  I was not crazy about the liquid soap and how it cleaned.  I love my powder laundry soap recipe and the results I get from that.  I don’t see any reason to make the liquid soap again.

Family Fun: Trip to the State Fair

Monday, October 25th, 2010

We packed the family up this weekend and headed to the state fair.  Turns out they had record breaking attendence the day we went – 151,000+ people.  It took us just over 2 hours to get there and find parking.  We then walked around for about 3 hours and hightailed it out of there just before the extrememly loud fireworks display.

Oliver thought all the people were cool at first until they started crushing in on him around his stroller.  Thankfully, we spent most of our time at the animal exhibits where there were considerably less people.  For us, it was more fun to show Oliver all the animals than to show him the midway. 

We spent most of the week leading up to the fair reading all his farm animal picture books.  Of course, that led to me looking totally ridiculous at the fair going, “That’s a cow.  A cow, Oliver, like in your book.  You remember the cow right?  The cow goes Mooooo.  Mooooooo.  Remember the cow goes Moooooo?”  Then you have my hubby standing over us going, “It’s also called a hamburger.  Can you say hamburger?”

He loved the little chicks.  I think they reminded him of a little squeeze toy whose head he always bites on. 

Yum, yum…You can’t go to the fair without eating a piping hot smoked turkey leg.  He loved it!

While going to the fair isn’t exactly a frugal thing to do, we did manage to save a little bit of money on the following:

1 – Parking at a free lot and walking the extra distance – not an easy thing to do when you are 35 weeks pregnant!

2 – Packing a family water bottle and refilling it at water fountains rather than buying drinks.

3 – Having an itinerary of what we wanted to do and circling our stops on the fair grounds map before hand.  This really helped to keep us focused, minimize time spent wandering aimlessly, and money spent on a whim.

4 – Packing snacks in the back pack for all of us and eating before we went.  We also agreed on our food budget beforehand from our list of the “must eats”.  I wanted roasted corn, cotton candy, and a candy apple.  Barry wanted a turkey leg, something fried and a candy apple.  Oliver picked off our food plus the snacks we brought him.  Eating before we went helped to stave off the impulse buying for sure.

5 – Buying advance tickets online at a $2 savings per ticket.  If we were ride-type people, we could have also purchased ride coupons at a discount online as well.

It was a long, tiring day, but we still had fun!  It will be interesting toting two kiddos around next year.  We will definitely go on a slower day during the week and avoid the crowds on the weekends!

34 Weeks and Counting

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Just thought I would do a quick preggo post before signing off for tonight.  I’m coming up on 34 weeks this weekend.  Wow!  The entire pregnancy seemed to drag for MONTHS and all of a sudden the time is flying by.  I cannot believe that I have been pregnant since I left my job back in March. 

We had our big “box” weekend 2 weekends ago and hauled stuff in between the rooms and the attic.  All the infant stuff is at least in our bedroom and I feel a little better.  The nursery will be set up in a corner of our master bedroom for at least the first 6 weeks or so.  Oliver lasted 7 weeks before we shuffled him out into his own room.  Believe it or not, he preferred to sleep alone and once he had his own quiet bedroom he started sleeping through the night.  Our office/work room will be the baby’s room eventually.  When it’s time, we will swap the “office” with the nursery in our master bedroom.  After that she will only have to share her room with a closet full of tools and a storage rack! lol…  We are trying to eek out every square inch that we can from this little house.  Little house equals little mortgage and we like that quite a bit right now. 

Aside from all that, I guess I’m starting to “nest”.  Our dining room is crammed full of boxes of papers that I have an insane urge to sort, shred, organize, and store.  With Oliver my nesting project was to organize all of our DVDs in binders categorized by genre and then alphabetically.  I also alphabetized all of our CDs in big binders as well.  That was over 100 movies and close to a thousand CDs!  I wish my nesting instincts were more tuned towards painting the house or something constructive like that, but those darn papers are driving me NUTS.

My health is holding out and the baby is doing great.  In the past 34 weeks I’ve only gained 7 pounds.  The doctor said that was great and would be happy if I didn’t gain one more pound.  How did he put it?  Oh yeah, something about large women like me not needing to pack on the fat cause we have enough.  Well…he didn’t use those words, but that’s how it came across. 

This baby is going to be a feisty one.  She kicks harder and moves more than Oliver did.  My hubby thinks she is going to be like me and that we should all run for the hills now.  :-)  We haven’t decided on a name yet and are stuck on a handful.  This little girl might truly have to wait until we meet her before we choose.  With any luck it will be the last thing that pops into my head during labor and she’ll be called “Pop Tart” or something.

Oliver is a trooper.  He’s becoming mommy’s little helper and I’m counting on that to help us all get through the first few months with a new baby.  Our house if full of step stools now so that he can get up and down just about anything all by himself.  That has been nice since I am having a hard time picking him up.  I still have 4-6 weeks left to go and I can’t imagine it will get any easier.

That’s about all I have to say about that for now.  The adrenaline is flowing around here.  You can tell something big is right around the corner!

Tutorial: Making Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

After running out of my surprisingly excellent homemade powdered laundry detergent ,I set about making a new batch.  During my research for the powdered detergent, I found that the most popular soaps used were Fels-Naptha, Kirk’s Castile, and Ivory.  For this batch I wanted to try Kirk’s Original Coco Castile Soap.  I quickly found that Kirk’s Castile was too soft for my handy dandy Cuisinart processor to grind and was forced to try a liquid laundry detergent recipe to save the soap I had just mutilated. 

I researched over a dozen recipes online and they all shared the same ingredients:  A bar soap of your choice, Arm &  Hammer Washing Soda, Borax, and water.  The amounts of all ingredients varied with some concoctions ending up more concentrated or more gelatinous than other detergents.  I chose the recipe that had the most positive comments from readers from The Simple Dollar website.  My variation on the recipe is that I used 1 and 1/2 bars of Castile soap versus just 1.  Why?  For the simple fact that I thought my soap looked puny against the Fels-Naptha that I used previously.  Adding the extra 1/2 bar could totally be pointless, but I also didn’t feel it would hurt.

The following is my tutorial on how to make your very own liquid laundry detergent.

Ingredients:  Makes approximately 3 1/4 gallons = 52 cups = 52 loads

1 bar soap
1 C. washing soda
1/2 C. Borax
3 gallons + 4 cups water

1) Grate the soap into fine pieces or shave the soap with a knife into thin strips.

This is the result from putting a soft soap like Kirk’s Castile through a food processor.  The soap closest to the blades was pulverized to dust and then gummed up the machine.  While it wouldn’t work for a powdered laundry soap, which needs consistently sized granules, the soap was fine for melting in a pot.

2) Add 4 cups of water to a saucepan and bring to a nice hot simmer just under the boiling point.

3) Add the soap to the pan.  Let it heat up and melt.

Since I had such big chunks of soap, I improvised and used a whisk to mash the big pieces into smaller ones. 

4) While soap melts on the stove, add 3 gallons of hot water to a bucket.  I used a 2 quart juice container to add the water to a 5 gallon bucket.

5) Add 1 Cup of washing soda and 1/2 Cup of Borax to the hot water in the bucket.  Stir to dissolve.

6)  Add the melted soap mixture from the stove to the bucket and stir well to mix.

It took about 8 minutes to completely dissolve my big soap chunks.

7) Cover your laundry detergent and let set for 24 hours. 

8 ) Transfer detergent to containers, or leave it in the covered bucket.  Stir, shake, or mix the soap prior to each use.  Use 1 Cup of detergent per full-sized load of wash.

Notes:  Most all the research I did pointed to an end product that looked either thick, slightly gloppy, or gelatinous after 24 hours.  Most all detergents needed to be mixed before use due to the slight gelling of the ingredients.  I found that after 24 hours, my mixture did not appear goopy and felt like a very slick and soapy liquid that was slightly thicker than water.  As several days passed, my mixture started to gel. 

I have transferred my detergent to empty milk jugs and have already tested it on some laundry.

Is it worth it?

The total cost of the ingredients in this recipe: $2.69.
Cost per load (1 Cup of final product): $0.05

Gain liquid laundry detergent bottle 32 loads costs $6.99 or $0.22 per load.

Using homemade liquid laundry detergent over Gain I save $0.17 per load.  At 416 loads per year that’s a savings of $70.72.   I’d say that making my own detergent is worth it.

But does it work?  Tune in next week to find out! 

UPDATE 10/26: I have the results posted!

Family Fun: Visiting a Pumpkin Patch

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It’s my favorite time of year!  We loaded the family up in the van and went to Oliver’s first official pumpkin patch.  We went to a local farm that had a variety of activity for the kiddos to enjoy.  There were little hay bale and corn mazes, a variety of farm animals to feed, a hay ride, and living crops of cotton, soybeans, and pumpkins to harvest. 

Our little pumpkin is 2 1/2 feet tall!  Meanwhile, I looked like I swallowed a pumpkin for breakfast.  I’m glad my hubby was with us, because at 33 weeks pregnant I was hard-pressed to keep up with an energetic toddler.

I grabbed some grass in the shade and let the men-folk go a-pumpkin-pickin’ for the fam.  Oliver was adorable.  He wanted to stop and try to pick up every pumpkin that he saw.  He rolled the big ones around a bit until he found one just his size.

He carried it all the way back to me and was just thrilled with his find.  I sent him back for more…

He picked a tiny little one and proceeded to try to eat it like an apple for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s sitting on our front porch right now with his little buck-teeth marks all over it.  :-)

We finished up after almost 3 hours of wandering around and having fun.  We bagged a total of 7 pumpkins to carve up for Halloween.  The entrance fee was $24 for the adults.  I think it was a fair price for what we got out of the trip.  Oliver was plum tuckered out and fell asleep within 3 minutes of leaving the farm.  He slept good that night!

Family Fun: Outing to the Park

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Now that we have a child, we are constantly searching for things to do that are inexpensive, fun, and will provide new experiences for Oliver.  On this particularly nice day, we went to a park for an afternoon of exploration.  “A park? Well, duh,” you say.  But seriously, when was the last time you went to a local park in your area? 

I was very surprised at the diversity our public park system offered.  There are dozens of parks, with dozens of different features.  Some parks have playgrounds specifically designed for toddlers or for older children.  Many parks even post the suitable age ranges for their playground equipment.  Amenities, such as bathrooms, water fountains, and park benches, also vary from park to park.  Accessibility can also be an issue when you are dealing with strollers or wobbly toddlers and whether or not there are paved paths, dirt/gravel paths, or no paths at all. 

To sum it up, I never knew something so simple as going to the park with a toddler could be so complicated at times!    Now I finally understand what all my other “stay at home mother” friends were talking about when they would go on and on over this park or that and wax poetic about their favorites.  :-)

I packed water, some snacks, and a few kitchen utensils for Oliver to play with. 

Taking a break from his digging, he had a blast on the swings.

After a bit, he wanted to go exploring.  He pretty much had the entire park to himself and he burned off a ton of energy running around.

I showed him how to pick up leaves and float them down a little stream by tossing them through the bridge railing.  He thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread and proceeded to pick up every leaf in a 5 foot radius and watch them float away. 

After an hour or so, we went home and he took a nice long nap.  We all got some fresh air, he got some great exercise, and best of all – it was free!

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