Feb 24, 2014

On Why I Price Shop

My husband and I are both teachers and I teach part time so that I can be with the girls more often in the afternoons.  Saying that money is tight is an understatement.  But we don't go without... when there is something on our list that we need or want, we price shop.

Here is an example:

I have been in the market for a point and shoot camera for a while.  I have a DSLR, but carrying 2 toddlers, all the stuff that goes with two toddlers and a bulky camera on an outing generally means that I won't be taking any photos.  So, after my guilty realization that I have about 2 photos that were not taken on my phone of my youngest daughter, I did a massive amount of research online for the "best" point and shoot camera.  I narrowed it down to 2 options, then I started price shopping.

I checked Amazon nearly everyday for various sellers listing products.  I checked various websites that my husband and I have bought from before for price comparisons.  And then I hit pay-dirt when I went to Target.

Apparently, this is the perfect time to buy a camera.  New models are about to come out, so they had all their current models on sale.  The camera I was looking at was $228 on Amazon - still lower than retail value, but with tax, I was looking at close to $250 to bring it home.

At Target, it on sale for $195.

PLUS, the Cartwheel app had a 10% off any camera coupon.

PLUS, the Target Red card gets me an additional 5% off.

PLUS, I had $30 left on a Target gift card from Christmas.

PLUS, I got the "floor model" that had never been used - just stored in the case for an additional 10% off.

So, WITH tax, my camera came to $149.

$100 in savings!!!

When I checked the Cartwheel app before I left the house, I also noticed that there was a coupon for 25% off Fisher Price Little People sets.  I made my rounds through the toy section looking for deals and I was able to stack a sale with this coupon and get my daughter a really neat Little People horse castle for 50% off retail value!  Sure, I will have to put it in the closet until her birthday next month, but I also have $25 that I might not have had previously to invest in organic foods or essential oils ;)  haha.  Now you see my motivation!

Here are a few tips when there is something on your wish list:

1.  Set a Goal and don't settle.  You will be unhappy with an item that you settled for - the $80 model versus the $150 model.  Do your research and decide which item has the features you want and which one you would use the most.

2.  Check out this site that lists various objects and when they go on sale.  Plan your purchase for that time of the year.  

3.  Start searching online.  Try Google Shopping, Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, and various other websites that might have information on the product you are looking for.

4.  Use deal sites like Retail Me Not and Ebates.  Retail Me Not has links for online coupons and codes at a wide variety of websites.  Ebates is a rebate program where you get money back for making purchases at certain websites - this is a really cool (and legit) program.  I have actually gotten checks from Ebates :)

5.  Be patient!  This is the hardest step, I promise ;)  It would be so easy to jump on Amazon at 11 pm and click the "order" button, but wait until you feel you have exhausted your options.  Many times, Amazon will be the best price, but not always!

I'd love to hear some deals you are proud of!  Please share in the comments!

Feb 17, 2014

Adventures in Urban Homesteading, Part I

Over the past couple of years, Drew and I have been further diving into a "crunchy" lifestyle - healthier food choices, taking better care of our health, more natural, holistic options, buying local, etc.  He and I are both passionate about reducing our footprint, about growing our children to have a love for God's creation, and about self-sustainability.  So, 2014 is the year of the Urban Homestead.  We live just moments from Downtown, but with a large double lot and a little bit of passion, we are planning on turning our back yard into a homestead paradise.

Today, we started the process.

It's pretty incredible how much work is in the preparations.  We are doing a lot of clearing, moving, burning, raking, digging, and building to prepare our backyard for... are you ready for this??  CHICKENS! 

My daughters are SO into this.  I swear, if I hadn't been present at her birth, I would totally have thought my 3 year old daughter was a born and raised country girl.  She wants to wear her boots all the time and she LOVES to go outside with me and her daddy and pick up sticks in her tiny little wagon. 

Olivia, on the other hand, would be much happier shopping with her Grammie at "MICHAEL'S" (her very favorite store... and she is not even 2 yet!).  But put her in front of a pile of dirt and she will have a ball (and have it covering every square millimeter of her body).

Today's project was clearing an area of our backyard that is fenced off.  It became a dumping ground for piles of brush and the ugly compost pile.  So, we donned our work gloves and our Toms (adding boots to the checklist of things I need to purchase) and dug in.  A couple hours later and the brush is cleared, the compost pile is moved and the area is clear and ready for a coop.  Once I have 2 more palettes, I can section off the compost pile and make that area look a little nicer as well.

So, Day 1 and here is what I have learned:

- Maybe it isn't the best idea ever to go from zero physical activity to riding 10 miles on a bike (and falling off) one day, then moving a large compost pile the next day.
- Toms soak up decomposing muck - super gross.
- I should clearly discuss my vision with Drew before embarking on a huge project because he might have some insight that I hadn't thought of :)
- All of this work felt like REST.  It is amazing how getting outside in the sunshine and digging in the dirt can uplift your spirit.

Loving it.  I can't wait to get back outside and dig some more :)

Feb 16, 2014

Sparkly Clean Kitchen with Thieves Cleaner

A few nights ago, I was whipping up a batch of Nutella Rice Crispie Treats (a post for another day) for Valentine's treats for my hubs and kiddos (special occasions only!).  I was trying to open the cereal and it flew EVERYWHERE!  I could not help but laugh - it was ridiculous how covered in crispies my kitchen was.  I took a step back (a crunchy step) and looked at how disgusting my kitchen was.  It has been a busy month with very little time to clean, so, I knew what my Saturday would entail.

I used to have an entire arsenal of cleaning products I would use - something for my counters, something for my sink, something for my stovetop, something for the stainless refrigerator, and something entirely different on the floors.  By the end of it, my asthma would be flaring, I would have a headache and I would be achy all over from working so hard.  Not anymore...
I'd like to share with you a few ways I use Young Living Thieves Cleaner in my own kitchen and show you the finished product.... the before picture was far too embarrassing to show online, sorry!

  • I generally start with my counter tops - dishes go in the dish washer, then all of the accumulated junk goes to it's home.  I clear off the counters and spray them down with diluted Thieves cleaner.  I use 1 capful in a 32 oz spray bottle with water.  I also wipe down all of my jars and appliances that stay on the counter top (toaster, coffee maker and flour and sugar bowls)
  • Next up, I sprayed down the cabinet fronts with the same spray bottle I use for the counters and wiped them off with a clean towel.
  • The oven seemed like a lost cause - somehow, a magnet was stuck to the bottom of one of my pans not too long ago while I cooked some Homemade Mac n Cheese.  No, I have NO idea how that happened, but I do know it left quite a mess on my stovetop.  Then there was the ring of burned on mess around the burners.  My solution was almost too simple!  I sprinkled on some baking soda, sprayed the baking soda with my Thieves spray bottle and let it sit for a minute while I wiped down the microwave.  I used a Scotch Brite sponge and just a little bit of elbow grease (it was surprisingly easy) and got the burnt on ring right off.  Finished it off with a spray or two of Thieves cleaner and a clean towel - it cut through the grease from frying bacon, the burnt on mess, AND left my ceramic stove top clean and shiny.
  •  I even cleaned my stainless refrigerator with my trusty bottle of Thieves cleaner.  Sparkly clean!
  • Lastly, I swept and mopped the floors.  On some of my floors, I like to use my steam mop, but the kitchen needed a little more work, so I mixed up a solution in the sink of water, vinegar and Thieves cleaner (2 capfuls of Thieves cleaner, 1 cup of vinegar, and filled the rest with water).  I use a slightly abrasive sponge mop on the marble floors and it works like a charm! 

Not only does my kitchen sparkle, but my entire house smells clean and fresh. Plus, no asthma problems, no headaches and as an added bonus, because the cleaner is made with essential oils, we are actually getting health BENEFITS from using cleaners in our home.  A complete opposite of our old way of cleaning. 

Want to know how to purchase your own oils? Check out this info here!

Please remember that I am a Mama and not a doctor. These things work for us and I am in love with using homeopathic remedies for health in our home and I am excited to share them with you, but please use your best judgement for your own home.

Feb 12, 2014

Mama Indulgences

Sometimes, heck... most of the time, being a Mama is hard work.

No matter if you are a stay at home mom or if you work out of the home, it is important to do something for yourself.  A good friend of mine once posed this analogy:  When you take a flight, the flight attendant will tell you that, in the event of an emergency, to place the oxygen on yourself first, and then help others.  It is the same in the home, occasionally, you have to put the oxygen on yourself so that you can be a good Mama to your babies.

Here are a few suggestions for ways to put the oxygen mask on yourself - do something nice for yourself, feel refreshed and be the Mama you want to be!

Pamper Yourself

This one seems pretty obvious, but definitely worth mentioning.  Think about how much better you feel when you have a new shirt, or your toes freshly painted.  Sometimes the fastest way to get a little boost is to do something nice for yourself.  One of my favorite things to do is visit the Yaya Foot Spa in Oak Cliff.  An hour of someone rubbing your feet while you recline with your eyes closed - heaven!  And it's affordable, too!  But even if you are in a small town, there are options.  Social media is a fabulous thing - find someone local who is a massage therapist or an esthetician.  Or get your hair cut! 

Take a Class

Invest in yourself with some education.  This does not necessarily mean you go back to school and get a degree, though, if that sounds up your alley, more power to you!  Take an art class or a sewing class or a writing class or a computer class.  So many options!  If you are local in Dallas, I highly recommend Oil and Cotton for some really fantastic art classes. 

Read a Book

Take your favorite book to a coffee shop, order your favorite beverage, sit back and enjoy some quiet time by yourself.  Or if a social aspect sounds good to you, join a book club for some lively discussion on a topic that interests you.

Girl's Night Out

Speaking of a social outing, plan a girl's night out!  Meet up at your favorite restaurant, go to a movie, coffee shop, or get a piece of pie!  Spend some time in conversation with someone you don't have to remind to go potty ;)  Girls Night Out is a great way to remind yourself that you are not alone in your mama struggles.  Build each other up and remind each other of all the funny moments, the good times and all the reasons why being a Mama is awesome.


Remember sleep?  Yeah, me either.  But wouldn't it be luxurious to get more than 5 hours of it at a time?  Drop the laundry, put away the computer, forget the dishes... relax, Mama.  It will all be there in the morning, and treating your body right with some sleep will do a WORLD of good for you.

So, Mama, do something for yourself - put your oxygen mask on and breathe deep.

Feb 4, 2014

Mama's Favorite Apps

A few weeks ago, I featured my Favorite Apps for Toddlers.  Well, this week, I am featuring my favorite Mama Apps - the ones I use everyday, the ones that help me be productive and keep me inspired.  Obviously, I use my email, Instagram and Facebook nearly religiously, so I am leaving those two off. 
In the comments, I would LOVE for you to tell me your favorite apps!

Here are a few of my favorite Apps:

1.  Google Drive
     Price:  FREE

This app is invaluable for me when it comes to sharing information.  I use this all the time with my friends involved in Young Living to share ideas, recipes, class documents, and other information.  I also make documents for my students, forms to fill out, and spreadsheets - and the information is available both on my iPad and on my computer.  It is so easy to collaborate using this program.

2.  Rhonna Designs
     Price:  $1.99

Ever wondered how I make all of the info graphics for my blog?  Well, occasionally I use Photoshop CS6, but most of the time for the blog, I whip out my iPad and use Rhonna Designs.  I could play on this app for hours and hours.  It is such a user friendly graphic program.  There are tons of fonts and clip art to choose from and it is so easy to adapt these objects to be your style, rather than uniform, yucky clip art files.  You can do masks, filters, and transparency along with the text on top of photos.  So glad I found this gem of an app.  Here are two designs I made using Rhonna:

3.  Skype
     Price:  FREE

My husband's parents live 9 hours away.  We do not see them nearly as often as we would like, and they miss out on a lot of the milestones the girls have had over their first 3 years of life.  But thanks to Skype, we are able to stay connected via video conference.  They are able to see the girls while they talk with them, to see their craziness and their kisses.  We can walk around the house with the iPad and show new improvements to our home or even the girls' bedroom.  This program is available on a mobile device and also on the computer.

4.  Pinterest
     Price:  FREE

Ah, Pinterest - greatly inspiring and a huge time sucker.  Maybe I shouldn't recommend this app to you, because once you try it, you will be HOOKED!  This is an amazing way to search for inspiration on a myriad of topics.  You can "pin" them to your boards (just like having a virtual cork board) and save them to look at later.  I have boards for parenting, cooking, birthday parties, Young Living, etc etc etc etc.  Feel free to follow me on Pinterest!

5.  Cartwheel
     Price:  FREE
If you are a Target addict like me, this is a wonderful app to have on your smartphone.  Scroll through and find deals, add them to your cartwheel and present the barcode when you check out.  I have gotten lots of great deals using this app.  I couple them with the text coupons and my Target Red Card (which is like a debit card and saves me 5% each visit).  Since I love to shop at Target, I look for every way possible for it to not affect our budget negatively ;)

6.  Tom Thumb
     Price:  FREE

Speaking of deal apps, I use one for my local grocery store and have literally saved hundreds since I have been using it.  I scroll through for gas rewards, free items and coupons.  We eat well, and we eat as little processed and as much organic as well can, which adds up to *cha-ching* a lot.  Occasionally, I am able to get our weekly grocery trip down to around $70!!  For a family of four!!  I can't do that every week - this week I spent $110 (but I also bought 2 lbs of shrimp, a ton of meat and organic produce).  Totally worth spending 10 minutes before you go into the store to check out this app.

7.  Apps Gone Free
     Price:  FREE

If you saw my last post on apps for toddlers, you can see that, while I don't spend money on Mama apps, I do prefer apps for kids that cost money.  I am happy to report that I actually paid for almost none of them, thanks to this app!  Everyday around 11 am, they update the app with the latest apps that are available for free.  I scroll through and download any that I think I might be interested in, even if I just delete them in an hour.  Some are duds, but many of them (ie:  Stella and Sam story pack) are expensive apps that I am happy to have found for free!

So, tell me.. what are YOUR favorite apps?

Feb 1, 2014

100 Ideas to Entertain a Toddler

Being a parent is wonderful.  But it is a wonderful, difficult, rewarding challenge!  24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year... Sometimes, it can be really hard to come up with ways to entertain your little ones and not have them sit in front of the TV all day.  So, I have been brainstorming 100 things to do with your kiddo.  Obviously not all of these are appropriate for every situation.  Some days you might have more time, some days you might have less money... we get that.  But hopefully this will spark some creative ideas for you.  Have any to add to the list? Comment with your suggestions!

  1. Legos
  2. Sing a song
  3. Color
  4. Stickers
  5. Go on a walk
  6. Movie night with popcorn and a pallet on the floor
  7. Build a fort
  8. Play a game.  I highly recommend the Roll and Play Board Game.
  9. Play a Letter Game - name all the things you can think of that start with a particular letter.
  10. Collect something (leaves, rocks, sticks, etc)
  11. Have a play date - invite over another mama (or daddy) friend and let the kids play while you chat
  12. Try some mommy and me yoga
  13. Practice words in another language
  14. Go to the park
  15. Go to the Aquarium
  16. Day trip to a location you have been to before and pretend to be tourists
  17. Do a little science (and art at the same time!)
  18. Blow bubbles
  19. Read a book - or ten
  20. Go to a book store - teach your children to appreciate the smell and feel of a good book
  21. Play a game on the iPad or tablet
  22. Play-doh (make your own for even more fun!)
  23. Dance
  24. Make a picnic (and eat it outside!) - let your child help make the sandwich and pack the bag
  25. Learn to ride a tricycle (this is surprisingly hard for my girls, haha)
  26. Throw a ball
  27. Play Barbies
  28. Swing on a swingset
  29. Play Mommy (or Daddy) - baby dolls, play stroller, etc.  They love you and want to be you!
  30. Make up new verses for Wheels on the Bus ("The Izzy on the Bus plays with Legos... ")
  31. Skype with Grammie
  32. Help in the kitchen (mix the flour for bread, put the cheese on the tortillas for enchiladas, etc)
  33. Play Explorer with home made binoculars from toilet paper rolls
  34. Walk on a beach and collect sea shells
  35. Go outside and play with chalk
  36. Visit a farm and see where milk comes from, or eggs, or cheese
  37. Go to the grocery store - not for weekly groceries, but to make something specific and special
  38. Have a half birthday party
  39. Explore a foreign culture (visit an Asian art museum or celebrate Chinese New Year)
  40. Get a little pampering and paint everyone's toe nails
  41. Have a tea party
  42. Plant flowers on the deck
  43. Take swim lessons
  44. Make animal noises - how many animals can you think up?
  45. Make macaroni necklaces (remember this from when you were a kid?)
  46. Make cookies with your child
  47. Paint with water on the sidewalk
  48. Check out local rec centers for toddler playtimes
  49. Visit a local arboretum
  50. Take a drive with the windows down
  51. Let your kiddo take a few photos with your phone or with a child's camera
  52. Run!
  53. Hot Lava - the floor is lava - put pillows on the floor and have kids jump from pillow to pillow
  54. Have a race - who can .... the fastest?  (ie:  Who can pick up 10 legos the fastest?)
  55. Practice balance - try standing on one leg
  56. Practice cutting with safety scissors
  57. Print out shapes or letters and have your toddler try tracing them with a pencil
  58. Visit the Science Museum
  59. Pass out food at a local shelter - or do some sort of community service
  60. Have a lemonade stand for friends and family
  61. Take a bubble bath
  62. Test out some magnets - what do they stick to?
  63. Make lunch time exciting - serve the meal in an unusual container
  64. Set up a tent
  65. Look at clouds and find shapes in the clouds (or the trees)
  66. Make something out of a big cardboard box
  67. Have an Easter Egg hunt (even if it isn't Easter)
  68. Blow a dandelion
  69. Make a flower arrangement for the dinner table
  70. Set the table - show them how and let them be in charge
  71. Play Simon Says (or a version of the game, at least) "Simon says, hop.  Simon says, crawl"
  72. Make up Nicknames for everyone
  73. Play Hide-n-seek
  74. Mirror play - something so simple can be so fun.  From just looking in the mirror to drawing on it with a dry erase marker.
  75. Make a light box and find things that the light will shine through.
  76. Make a sensory box and fill with beans or rice - hide things inside for your child to discover
  77. Write a story.  Start with "Once upon a time..."
  78. Let your child pick out their clothes for tomorrow
  79. Allow your little one to help "clean" the floor with a spray bottle of water and a cloth
  80. Freeze little toys in ice and see what makes the ice melt to find the toys
  81. Practice measuring (how many hands is this table, etc)
  82. Sort colors in egg cartons - use small puffs or objects from around the house
  83. Make an obstacle course
  84. Use potatoes or apples to print with paint
  85. Play school.  Take turns being the teacher
  86. Do a random act of kindness for a friend or neighbor, but remain anonymous
  87. Pop the bubble wrap that came in Mom's package
  88. Go visit grandma
  89. Date night with Daddy (one on one time with dad and one kid)
  90. Use bath crayons and draw in the bath tub
  91. Use items around the house to make a drum set (like an old oatmeal canister)
  92. Find seasonal fun - go to a carnival, a corn maze, or something family friendly
  93. Tie Dye a tshirt to wear to bed
  94. Make cards to send to soldiers
  95. Watch (or count) airplanes that fly overhead
  96. Let your child help sort socks.  Can they find all the matches?
  97. Rake leaves (and jump in them... or take them to the compost pile)
  98. Practice doing flips (on a pallet on the floor, on mommy's bed, etc)
  99. While in the car, see if you can spot all the A's on signs on the way home (or B's or C's...)
  100. Snuggle!  Spend some precious time with your babies that won't always be babies.
 Many of these activities are Montessori inspired.  My friend, Catalina, from Art of Peace Montessori School says, "Allow your toddler to join in real daily daily activities it makes them feel happy contributors of the home and community: washing dishes, feeding pets, setting the table, etc. All of these activities are special and can be really fulfilling and important to their physical emotional and spiritual and cognitive development. One way to make them special is to buy real child size tools from Montessori catalogs along with beautiful aprons for each activity. Children love doing real jobs and having special aprons of their own."
I hope you find some inspiration here for things to do with your child on this list.  I also hope that you stop and do a few of these things WITH your child, not as just a means to keep them busy.  It's pretty amazing how much wonder and excitement we can find as adults when we stop and see things from the point of view of our child.

Happy playing!