Sunday, December 9, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Water

A big tip for saving dollars at the grocery store: DRINK WATER.

I know what you're thinking. Slow day for recipes, huh?

It's not that. (Well, it's not JUST that). An acquaintance asked me for advice on saving money on drinks - specifically juice boxes for school lunches. I had no advice to give, as I always pack my son off with a bottle of water.

Each of us has a water bottle to bring wherever we may go. Daddy has blue, Mommy has purple, our older son has Spiderman, and the Toddler of Terror has Thomas the Train. Simple.

(To be honest, the Spiderman and Thomas ones are getting kinda grungy. We're replacing them for Christmas).

There are a lot of benefits to packing water bottles in lunches, briefcases, and backpacks.

1) Water is good for you. It helps keep your organs functioning well, flushes toxins from your body, and a lot more stuff. Just ask the Mayo Clinic. Water also has no calories, no fat, no sugar, etc.

2) Water doesn't stain when spilled. Anyone who has tried to scrub fruit punch out of shirts, pants, carpets, or MY CAR can understand why this one is important.

3) Water doesn't sour if you forget about it. There is nothing worse than pulling the scary, forgotten sippy cup of milk out from under the couch, or the seat of MY CAR. Twice the kids have spilled a cup of milk and either not noticed, or chosen not to tell me. (Weeks. That stench lasts for WEEKS. No matter how hard you scrub.) Nothing beats driving a long commute to and from work in the vomitous stench of decaying dairy.

4) Water bottles are refillable. So we might spend ten bucks on a bottle, but it will last for years with very little maintenance. Ten bucks worth of juice boxes would likely last a week or two at best.

5) They're eco-friendly. The absolute worst is looking at a mall trash bin filled with disposable, single-serve water bottles destined for a landfill. Pointless.

6) CHEAP! (C'mon. That's why you're reading this blog, right?) Think of it this way: I buy a $10 Nalgene bottle and don't pay for a single drink after that.

Every single day at work I drink 32 ounces of water and don't pay a dime. Years ago, I used to buy a bottle of water or a soda from the drink machine. That was between 12 and 16 ounces, and cost me a dollar a day. With 180 days in the school year, that was $180 a year. Now, I'm down to $10, and it will last me several years.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Glasses I Can Afford

I just got new glasses. And I'm not broke. (Amazing).

The last time I bought glasses was over 3 years ago. They were $350.

Yeah. That's why I haven't bought them in over 3 years.

Are we serious, America? To see I need to buy a pair of $350 glasses? Is this a hoax, or are functioning senses supposed to be a luxury item?

Anyway, off the soap box and on to better things. While poking about on the internet, I came across a few people on Ravelry discussing Zenni Optical. According to one woman, she bought glasses for all five of her kids for under $135 TOTAL.

"Hogwash!", I say. "Impossible!"

"Nope", she and others replied. "Zenni Optical."

So I go there, and find a whole bunch of super cheap frames.

(Note: I don't mean "cheap" in the crappy way that my husband means it. I mean a marvelous bargain. My husband and I have already discussed this word usage. I'm still right.)

But can you get a good pair of glasses if you can't try them on? How will you know how they'll look?

They have a solution for that! Apparently you can upload your photograph and "try on" the frames. Niiiiice.

So I found these:

I liked how they looked, even on my bad picture, so I decided to give it a shot.

The thing is that I have a wonky prescription. Technically one eye is near-sighted while the other is far-sighted. Best part? Zenni Optical actually shot me an email to confirm that my prescription really is that wonky and I didn't just enter it wrong. Right on.

Two weeks later, I have my new specs!

Aren't they pretty? Guess how much they cost. Seriously. Give it a try.

Fifteen dollars. FIFTEEN BUCKS.

I have never, in my life, seen a pair of $15 glasses that weren't crappy drug store reading glasses.

The frames were $10, the lenses were free, and I paid an extra $5 for an anti-reflective coating. Sweetness.

I took this picture with my low quality webcam to show you how they look on me.

I tried to get a better picture, but the toddler photobombed me.

I also got these sunglasses.

They were more expensive - $28 ($23 for the frame, $5 for the tint).

With $5 shipping, the whole order came to less than $50.

You're impressed. I can tell.

Now, go forth and buy yourself some adorable new specs. My job here is done.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wound Care Ointment

To be filed under "well-whadya-know", something fascinating happened this week.

Here's the background: my five year old boy, Leo, has a nervous habit. He constantly runs his lower lip over his upper one. He does this when he is anxious, tired, occupied, sick, etc. When he has a stuffy or runny nose, it he does this so much that his lips and the area above them become really chapped and abraded.

This week Leo had a bad cold. He was in such rough shape that his whole mouth was raw and bleeding. Of course, since he's 5, he just kept rubbing and picking at it and making it worse. In the past I have tried antibiotic ointment, lip balm, vaseline - all to no avail.

Remember the homemade vapor rub I made in the spring? I'm still working through that one little jar. It's great! It's about the same consistency as a lip balm, and I decided to try that on Leo's mouth. It has the same ingredients as other balms I was reading up on, and at least would help clear his nose.

IT'S WORKING!!! The cuts have healed, and the raw, red ugliness is almost completely gone! Why didn't I think of this sooner?!

This is now my go-to for scrapes. It's on the Toddler Terrorist's skinned knee, my chapped knuckles, and a little cut on Leo's forehead.

I'm happy. Especially because it didn't cost me anything extra. I already have a jar of it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Free Ear Warmer!

Poor Husband. He favors these skull caps for winter that I refer to as Batman villain hats, and his latest one just totally crapped out on him.
See? It fell apart right at the top.

So, it's destined for the trash, right? WRONG! I'm waaaay too cheap for that.

First, I unfolded the hat into the a long tube...

Then folded the sides to the middle...

Then folded the whole thing in half and put it on.

Heck, yeah! His loss, my gain!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Squash

Every year from the end of summer until at least Christmas there is a display of odd looking squashes in the produce department of the grocery store. They are all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors, and run from cute to a bit frightening. It was actually only a couple of years ago when I realized that they are also delicious. All of them.

Recently a co-worker offered me a few of her extra home-grown squash. I leapt on that like a politician on a photo op.

I want to show you the ultimate fate of two of them: a spaghetti squash, and a buttercup squash.

Let's start with the spaghetti squash. Start by cutting it in half lengthwise.

Use an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and guts.

Be careful not to scrape too far into the flesh itself - that's the part that you want to eat! Spaghetti squash is naturally stringy. Even if you are scraping into the flesh itself, you will still be seeing strings like you did for the guts. Just scrape it until you get a relatively even surface.

The same exact thing needs to be done to the buttercup squash. Or any winter squash, really. Just cut them in half lengthwise...

...scoop out the seeds and guts, and place the pieces open side down on a baking sheet.

Your baking times will vary, but these two squash together took about 35 minutes at 400 degrees F. They smell AMAZING, and you can see that the hulls caramelized a little.

After the hulls have cooled enough to touch, the cooked flesh is easily removed with a fork. The spaghetti squash pulls off in strings (like spaghetti)...

...while the buttercup is much creamier in texture.

The buttercup squash is ideal as a side dish (with just a little pat of butter). Even from this small squash I got over four cups of delicious goodness.

The small spaghetti squash yielded about as much, but I had already dressed it with pasta sauce and grated cheese by the time I remembered to take a picture. Yum.

Total cost: $0

Had I actually bought these in a store, the total cost would have been about $5.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Seriously? Suave?

I have frizzy hair. On its very, very best day, my hair can be described as "straight...ish". Maybe you remember.

Anyway, I have been trying increasingly expensive shampoos and conditioners and I STILL haven't been able to run my fingers - or even a brush - through my hair without injuring something. It's awful. I've been contemplating shaving my head. Daily.

I spotted these in Walmart for about a buck fifty each.

I was out of shampoo and my conditioner sucks, so I figured it was worth the three bucks to give it a try.

Twice. I have used it twice. I can now run my hands through my hair - wet or dry. It's wonderful! And it was three bucks!!

Here's a crappy self portrait to prove its efficacy.

At this rate, I won't have to shave my head. Always a plus.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Split Pea Soup

I love fall. I love the colors, the holidays, the excuse to wear sweaters...

I don't love the cold. I don't love the rain. I don't love the cold rain. I also don't love the hurried rush for dinner that comes from my return to teaching. When I get home, I want a healthy, hot meal that requires no actual thinking.


Split pea soup is one of my favorite soups (because it's insanely easy, and I have been known to be lazy.

Here's how it goes:

Get a bag of split peas (I got this one at a discount store for $3.50). Do the whole sort/rinse/drain thing recommended on the bag (it takes about 3 minutes). Put them into a big soup pot.

Chop an onion and add it to the pot.

Now add your liquid of choice. Some use broth, but I chose to use 8 cups of water to two cups of peas, plus some vegetable bullion to round out the flavor. If you are so inclined, you can add ham. Due to the whole vegetarian thing, I didn't.

Now you just boil it on medium until the peas are soft (about 30-40 minutes). I finish mine up with the immersion blender to make it a little smoother.


This bowl is larger than it looks and makes enough soup for a whole family, plus lots for freezing. I freeze mine in small zipper bags, so I can grab one and throw it in my lunch box and heat it at work.

The total for all of this? Just that $3.50. It works out to be about 20 cups of soup (so at least 20 portions), which is around $0.17 per portion. This is way better than a can of pre-made soup with about 2 portions for $2.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Internet Shopping

Usually I am against internet shopping. I find that surfing sales out of boredom is perilous for my credit card balance.

Today is different. I need to shop for two things:
1) A winter coat for my older cub
2) A cardigan or two to layer with my work clothes.

(I am back to teaching, and no longer have a full wardrobe of 'grown-up' clothes. Somehow, I think my Batman t-shirt will be seen as a sign of professionalism.)

I decided to take a long time, find exactly what I like in each case, and then stalk the items until I could find the right price. As of this morning, I am proud to say that it worked!

For my son's winter coat, I decided on a Lands' End Boys' Squall 3-in-1 Waterproof Parka. His last coat was from Lands' End and it still looks new after three winters of hard use, so I suspected that this would do as well.

The only problem is that it's $139.00. Hm.

I kept checking back there about once a week to see if they might run a sale, and today I got a hit!

See that banner at the top? 40% off one item and free shipping? Oh, yeah.

A few credit card digits later and I scored a coat that will last through TWO sons for about $86 after tax.

I was so proud I decided to reward myself.

Through my shopping at Goodwill, I realized that I really like Christopher and Banks clothes (and that I want to hug whoever the woman is who keeps donating them new/nearly new in my size). I decided to stalk their clearance.

It's black (which is slimming) and long (awesome, because I'm tall), and CHEAP!! TEN BUCKS! Okay, after tax and shipping it was about $16, but seriously. I'm not quibbling.

And I didn't even leave the couch.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Pack a Lunch!

I've just returned to teaching after two years of being home with my kids. In addition to a whole lot of education reforms to get used to at work, I have a few new things to get used to at home. The last time I worked, I brought my then two year old son to a wonderful babysitter around the corner from my job. I didn't need to pack him anything, and only rarely bothered to pack a full lunch for myself.

Things have changed.

Now, I am packing two lunches at least.

My first born just started kindergarten and is clearly going for some sort of Picky Eater Award. Every day he needs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. This is, in his world, the ONLY acceptable food. I fill out his lunch bag by adding goldfish crackers (which I know he will eat), Wheat Thins (which I suspect he will eat), and some sort of fruit (which he is likely to gag at).

Since being home, I have gotten used to real food and refuse to return to the facsimile available in industrial cafeterias.

This is my lunch for tomorrow. Isn't it beautiful? What you are seeing is a piece of string cheese, two apples, a big container of lettuce and tomato salad, and a delicious banana muffin. This amount of food covers a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack (possibly with something left over).

This also saves me from paying about $15-20 for low quality I shouldn't be eating anyway.

Now I am one step closer to mastering this whole working mom thing. Only seventy billion left to go.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Glasses Cleaning Kit

My 5-year-old son just got glasses. As it turns out he sees perfectly from one eye, but miserably from the other. The glasses are supposed to train his brain to take information from both eyes.

He was reluctant...until he discovered how handsome he looks.

Doesn't he look stunning eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich? So grown up!

Until he got peanut butter on his glasses. So I cleaned them. Then he got jelly on them. So I cleaned them. Then he got Lord-knows-what on them. So I cleaned them. Ten times in the first hour.

This is going to be difficult.

When we were picking up and paying for these glasses, I wanted to get him a little cleaning kit - something small that he can bring with him in his kindergarten backpack.

The kits in the store were $11.00


Time to make one!
What you see here is a 2 oz fingertip spray bottle from Walmart ($0.99) filled with awesome home made spray cleaner, and a square I cut from a flannel sheet I bought at the Salvation Army. (The whole sheet was $3.00 and I'm slowly cutting it up for things).

Even if I counted the cost of the entire sheet, this cleaning kit would have cost me $4. Let's be honest. I'm not counting the cost of the whole sheet.

Right now these are packed in a sandwich bag. If I see a cute little make-up bag or pencil case that my son can decorate, I'll pack it in that instead.

Now to get him to wear the glasses for more than 3 minutes...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Posted Price is the Price

I used to work a thankless job in a lovely little retail clothing store. I would ring up customers, handle complaints, answer calls, and change all the sale and price point signs (that part is important).

One day my manager called me over and was displeased. I had forgotten to remove one sale sign with a lower price point than what we were currently offering.

"Oh", I said. "No harm no foul. I'll just fix it now". Wrong. She very patiently and kindly explained to me that since the sign was there, she just had to give the customer who saw it that price. "Couldn't you just explain that it was a mistake?" Nope. Apparently, if you are advertising a price in the store, you HAVE to give the customer that price at the counter, mistake or no.

I was much more conscientious. I never let the mistake happen again - BUT I never forgot it.

Remember the ceiling fan? I wound up getting such a good deal on it because they were still displaying the clearance price at one branch of the store (despite not having any in stock).

Today, this little lesson saved us money again.

While wandering through Macy's as a family (waiting on a pair of Lens Crafter glasses for my son), Husband saw a display of Champion sweatshirts. He loves those. Seeing that they were $17 each, he was pleased, but decided to wait (after all, we were dropping $200 on glasses).

On a nearby display, I noticed a sign that said $9.99. The display was a two-sided shelving unit with t-shirts on one side, and sweatshirts on the other. Both sides of the sign said $9.99. We mentioned this at the register, then showed the cashier. She was really nice about it, gave us the discount at the register, then mercilessly teased the person who was supposed to change the sign.

While I feel bad that the other employee will have to stand a little ribbing from his boss, I bet he'll be a much better bargain shopper in the future.
The Shabby Nest

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sick Day

Yesterday the boys and I were stuck home. All three of us were sick. All three of us had fevers.

I blame the toddler.

Either way, you know how when you're sick all you want to do is sleep? Yeah. My kids apparently don't believe in that. So, how to entertain a 2 year old and a 5 year old while wanting to crawl under my covers and never come out? Hmmm.

We started with a schedule:

I had really hoped that TV time would last an hour or so. It lasted less than half of a cup of hastily chugged coffee. Greeeeaaat.

On to Kindergarten Bars! These were granola bars that I wanted to make in the hopes of interesting my older son in granola bars. That part didn't work, but they are fun to make- especially since you can mix and squish everything together with your hands.

The kids had no interest in mixing them with me. At least I had fun.

Next, we went outside. That was nice. The patio was cool, but the sun was warm, and the kids had fun running barefoot in the dew covered grass.

Then they had fun throwing mud at each other. *sigh*

To get them focused on something more positive, I brought out the cornstarch and water to make MOON MUD!

If you've never done this before, try it! You don't even need kids. It's fun! Pour some cornstarch in a bowl, then add water until it starts acting weird. When this is the right consistency, it will become stiff when you apply more force, and very drippy when you apply less.

Thank God this cleans up with just water. I hosed the table off. Then the kids. It was fun for them, and pretty cathartic for me.

We were a little ahead of schedule, so we took our time cleaning up, then went inside for a little Candy Land and cleanup from the Kindergarten Bars (which were DELICIOUS, in case you were wondering).

A traditional lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, was sadly not followed with napping of any sort.

I knew it was a reach when I put that on the list, but a girl can dream, no?

Our day wrapped up with books, iPad games, and a couple of episodes of WordGirl.

The kids survived, were entertained, were well fed, and were ready to harass Daddy when he came home.

I still need that nap.

The Shabby NestPhotobucket

Monday, August 20, 2012

Meal Stretcher Monday - Kindergarten Bars

My husband never used to eat during the day at work. He would be so hungry and tired by the end of the day that he would over eat and be crabby. Thankfully, he started at least bringing a light breakfast with him - usually water or juice and a Clif Bar.

I'm glad that he's taking something. I'm glad that it's something with some good ingredients and filling fiber. I'm not overwhelmingly glad that those little buggers are kind of expensive.

So I have been cruising the internet for recipes to make something similar at home. I have discovered that there is a basic formula for most granola bars:

2-2.5 cups of grains/carbs/cereal
1/2 cup nut or seed butter
1/3-1/2 cup sticky syrupy stuff (brown rice syrup, maple syrup, honey, etc)
1/2-1 cup "treats" (nuts, fruit, chocolate chips, marshmallows, etc)
1-2 tsp other flavorings (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder, etc)
2-4 tbsp "healthy powder" (protein powder, flax powder, milk powder, etc)

I called the ones I made today "Kindergarten Bars" in the hopes of interesting my older son, who is about to enter kindergarten. He has Asperger's and is deeply suspicious of foods that are not smooth, or are not white/yellow, or are not Goldfish crackers. My hope is that he would want to help me make them, and might even eat a few. Hope.

Kindergarten Bars
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp flax powder
Mix the dry ingredients.
Add the peanut butter, honey, and vanilla, then SMOOSH IT ALL TOGETHER!

Some recipes call for the nut butter and syrup to be melted together in the microwave or on the stove. I wanted these bars to be kid friendly to make, so I decided we would just mush these all together with our hands instead of cooking anything.

It. Was. Fun.

Shame the kids didn't want to do it with me. Meh. I had a blast.

It's really sticky, so there was no way to take pictures.

At the end it was a bit stiff to work into the pan, so I microwaved the whole bowl for 30 seconds, then used a rubber spatula to mash it down into the pan. After cooling, I meant to cut them into 12 bars, but I had a math problem and cut 16.

These are DELICIOUS. I really hope my husband likes them, but since they may not last until he gets home....who knows?

The Shabby Nest

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Homemade Deodorant

Hello, all! I'm so sorry I dropped out of sight for a while. We are trying to get a lot of stuff done over here in preparation for the school year, and my return to teaching.

It's August. It's hot. I really think that the muggy August heat is God's way of making sure we won't be too sad in September when the summer slips away.

I have noticed a problem this August. I have been getting a rash under both arms. Using my Google-Fu, I began to suspect that my deodorant was to blame. I tried switching brands, but the rash was still there, and the new brand didn't actually seem to work as well.


Over at Our Homemade Happiness, I came across a really easy homemade deodorant recipe. Not only is the recipe simple (only 3 ingredients), all of the components are supposed to be good for your skin: coconut oil, baking soda, and corn starch. Easy peasy.

Here's the recipe exactly from Our Homemade Happiness:
Homemade Deodorant
5 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or corn starch
essential oils (optional)

Mix the ingredients together with a fork until well combined.

It took about a minute to make. Since it was warm in here, the coconut oil was mostly melted and everything blended lickety-split. I put it into a disposable snack container with a snap-on lid. Perfect fit!

But does it work?

Oh, yes. Yes it does.

I tried it that day, having not put any deodorant on yet. It felt nice, and even kept working through a gym workout.

The next day I at a ton of onion laden foods, and my deodorant STILL worked.

The day after, I went to my son's preschool graduation and sat in direct sunlight on a 90 degree afternoon for almost two hours. When I got home, my husband assured me that the deodorant was still working.

Through all of these challenges, I never had to apply the deodorant more than once a day. Yesterday, I applied it very early in the morning, as I was going to work. By the time I woke up this morning, it was STILL working - a full 24 hours later!

It's been the better part of a week, and the rash that had been under my arms for the last month or two is GONE. Also, know how your underarms look sort of gray after you've washed off deodorant? That's gone, too. YAY!

The only drawback is that every time I open the container it smells so wonderfully of coconut oil that I really want a Mounds bar. Possibly an Almond Joy.

Well, at least I smell delicious.

The Shabby Nest