Category Archives: Get Organized!

Thirty-six weeks. Birth and baby preparations.

I’m 36 weeks pregnant today.

That’s rather a milestone, because Arizona law only “officially” allows home births between 36-42 weeks.  So, I’m IN!!

In general, I’m not feeling miserable.  Well, I kind of am…  And part of me thinks that must be my age (I’ll be 40 next month!), but another part of me well-remembers the last weeks of pregnancy with my first, at age almost-24, and I think that, perhaps, I was even MORE miserable than I am now.  So, I can’t blame it on age.  Really, I just don’t enjoy pregnancy.  My body resists it, and all the more so as the birth approaches.

I do enjoy the birth itself — so satisfying, so joyful! — and I adore having a newborn.

I’m not going to have a water birth.

It’s kind of funny, because with most of the home birth pics I see — like on the ever-encouraging Birth Without Fear — inevitably, they’re of a vernix-coated brand-newborn being pulled straight from the water into the mother’s waiting hands.  And I just don’t… want that.  I don’t know why, exactly.  I just don’t.  Every time I’ve had the opportunity to labor in a tub — with all but one of my five previous births — I have gladly done so.  And I do envision myself in labor in my swimming pool and in a bathtub here in my home.  But, birthing in the water?  I just don’t want to.  Part of me feels like I should have a birthing pool on hand, just in case.  But, I have successfully, joyfully birthed five children while NOT in the water, and I think I’d feel a lot more comfortable doing the same with baby #6.  I don’t like the feeling of NOT feeling… grounded while in the water.  My midwife and her assistant (who is a friend of mine — a doula training to be a midwife) assures me that, with a rebozo (basically just a long, cotton shawl), they could wrap/loop it around me in such a way that I wouldn’t feel like I was floating away.  But that makes me feel even more twitchy — having fabric looped all around my body and two women holding it while I push out a baby.  I don’t want that… much touching me.  And I’m just not a fan of plastic touching me, either.  A rented pool is a blow-up plastic pool with a thin plastic liner.  Not a fan of the plastic-to-skin sensation.  No, thank you.

Plus, the pool rental is another $100 that I’d rather not spend, and my husband is worried about the second story of our home successfully supporting that much weight — and WET weight, at that — in the corner of our bedroom.

So, a birth pool is out.

For other baby-preparations…

Friends have POURED out love and blessing and baby stuff on us.  I’ve received:

  • A gorgeous crib.  (Actually, two of them.  I’m going to give one away.)
  • The first six months of clothing — really, really nice clothing from a friend whose baby girl was born in August of last year.  She works for a mall development company and I’m confident she spends WAY more time shopping at WAY nicer stores than me…  Plus, she has two boys and her family was thrilled that she had a baby girl, and of course, everyone gave clothes.  And she has passed them all down to me.  And we’re going to meet up soon and she’s going to give me a Boppy (which I love), a breast pump, and some other items, too.
  • A really nice car seat.
  • A bouncy seat.
  • Baby toys.
  • A play pen.
  • Some cloth diapering supplies.
  • Some baby linens — like bath towels and blankets.

The bassinet bumper is made from this cloth, edged in the chocolate brown of the leaves and stems, and tied with yellow grosgrain ribbon.

I already owned a nice, big, rocking, oak bassinet.  I purchased it second-hand when Fiala (who is now 4.5 years old) was not yet born, and it has been making the rounds, so to speak, ever since.  I’m kicking myself for not having all the mothers who have borrowed it write their baby’s names in pencil with the dates the bassinet was used.  I think the count is at seven.  Seven babies who have slept in that bassinet between the birth of my four-year-old and this new baby.  I think that is such a rich, sweet history.  And now, the bassinet has come back to me from the most recent baby (born in November) who had it…  Along with the bumper I made for a friend who used it for HER little girl, who will be four in August.  It’s still in great shape, still super-cute.

All I have purchased are:

  • More cloth diapering stuff.
  • A pail liner for said cloth diapers.
  • Another wet bag (a friend already gave me one) for cloth diapers on-the-go.
  • A diaper bag.
  • A Moby wrap.

And with all of that, I have spent less than $200.

For diapers, I have purchased all-in-ones, pocket-diapers, prefolds, diaper covers…  I have nearly enough diapers and supplies to last from newborn until potty-training.  Craigslist is a GREAT source for cloth diapers.  Thankfully, cloth diapering is quite trendy right now.  However, countless mothers have spent HUNDREDS of dollars on pricey, new cloth diapers, tried it for a week or two, and freaked out and decided to stop cloth diapering.  Then, they offer their nearly-new stash on Craigslist for 10-50% the cost of new.  And I come in and scoop everything up, happily.  🙂  There are also die-hard cloth diapering moms who keep meticulous care of their cloth diaper supplies and have great items to sell — even if they’re older — that have been so well-cared-for that they’re worth buying.  I’ve also purchased a number of diapering items from eBay.  I’m still bidding on some more infant-sized prefolds…  And I still need a few additional items, but I’ll still probably end up spending just under $200.

And that’s even with my pricey diaper bag.

NOTE:  I am so NOT trendy.  I’m really not.  I have zero interest in being a stylish, hot mom who uses her baby as a public indication of her ability to spend loads of money on the best, most expensive brands.

So, on one hand, I’m kind of embarrassed about my Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag.  This brand, in “touring” style I purchased, retails for around $150.  Discontinued fabrics — such as the one I purchased — can be found for $75-105, typically.  That just seems so, so, so pricey.  Like, ridiculously so.

Darling.  The colors.  The birds.  The fact that it’s real, woven houndstooth.  I love it.

On the other hand, I absolutely ADORE my new diaper bag.  I adore it.  I can’t wait until it arrives.   I bought it used, for about $40, and I literally cried with joy.  Though it is a fraction of the cost of a new bag, it still seems crazy-expensive to me.  But, once I saw that diaper bag…  I just felt like I had to have it.  Me, the immensely practical, pragmatic, penny-pinching mother of almost-six, “had to have” a $40 diaper bag.  And I was willing to spend more!  Ack!!

I consoled myself that I had been so frugal with my other purchases, and overall, have spent so little for this baby, that the $40 was justifiable.  😀  It’s my one baby-splurge.

So… with me now being 36 weeks, and with procuring — in one way or another — almost all of my baby supplies, I’m feeling almost-ready for the baby to come.  She could come any day and we’d at least not be in a panic, though everything is not quite ready…

 

 

Do you make your own babyfood?

I do.

Here’s part of a message I wrote to a friend, who has an 11 month-old with NO teeth, and is trying to figure out some non-milk ways to add protein to his diet.

For little ones, this sounds a little crazy, but I like serving beans. Of course, too much beans will make anyone gassy… But a small amount is a great source of protein. Garbanzo beans are the least gassy of all beans and have a very mild flavor that is appealing to most babies.

If you can find them, old-fashioned metal ice cube trays that feature a little loosening bar/contraption work even better.

Also, you can use a blender or mini food processor to mash up beans and even meat. It’s really easy, actually, to make your own baby food. Put some cooked brown rice, some cooked beef (stewed works well), some cooked garbanzo beans, and some spinach — raw or cooked — into the blender (or some other healthy combination you think he’ll like — cooked squash, chicken, oatmeal is another idea, or plain yogurt*, blueberries, and oatmeal) and blend to process. Put it in an ice cube tray, and when frozen, pop out and put the cubes in a Ziploc. Then you’ll have quick little portions. I’ve even saved store-bought babyfood jars, and in the a.m., put 2-3 cubes in the jar in the a.m., and by lunch time, they’re thawed and ready to eat.

When I make babyfood, I will often just set aside an unseasoned portion of whatever I’m making for the family either to grind up for baby’s dinner that night OR I’ll save brown rice one night, beef the next, squash the next, etc. and then when I have small bowls in the fridge of a good babyfood combo, I will put them in the blender and make the babyfood.

I do that, though, because I’m cheap + healthy. Gerber and Beechnut typically have so many crappy additives, especially in the stage 2 & 3 meals, but the organic baby food is SUPER expensive. And once you get in the habit, it literally is about five minutes extra of your time to make and freeze babyfood cubes.

For babies younger than 11 months, it’s even simpler, as you should only use one food at a time — steamed carrots, baked squash, etc.  When your baby is around 7-8 months, they can usually tolerate a simple combination of two foods at a time.  The older they grow, the better able they are, typically, to digest more complex food.

Making your own babyfood is more trendy than when I started to do it, nearly  15 years ago.  Responding to consumers, the are now a number of babyfood cookbooks, “kits”, and other supplies… Although I love cookbooks and kitchen gadgets, I find most of that stuff to be kind of a waste of money.  Just take plain versions of what YOU eat — provided that you eat healthy, whole foods — and prepare it as babyfood.  Voila!  No cookbook needed.  And if you have a blender or a mini-prep food processor and some ice cube trays, you don’t need any special gadgets.

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*And, yes, I know I just said “non-milk” and there was a reference to yogurt in there.  It appears that her little one MIGHT have a sensitivity to milk — but milk sensitivities can be tricky.  Is it just lactose?  Lactose is milk sugar.  In honest, fully cultured yogurt, there is virtually no lactose;  the yogurt cultures “eat” the milk sugar, and the resulting fully cultured yogurt has no lactose.  Same with hard, aged cheeses — like cheddar.  The process eliminates lactose.  But, if a child has a sensitivity to casein or whey or another milk protein, you’re up a creek, and even yogurt won’t help;  you have to quit all milk products altogether.

 

Do you plan out your meals?

If you think this is a post in which I berate encourage you to do a better job planning, it’s not.

I don’t plan.  Not really.  Well, sort of, I do.

But not like my friend Daja at the Provision Room.  She’s a pro.

A friend asked me yesterday, “Do you have a website that you use to plan meals or do you just wing it?”

Here was my response:

Somewhere in the middle. I don’t use a website. What I do is see what is on sale for the week, and plan my meals — roughly — around that. “OK. Pork roast is on sale. I can do a Crockpot with green chile pork.” And I know that I always have green chiles, onions, garlic, and the spices to make that happen. “OK. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on a smoking sale. I’ll buy four packages, put one in the freezer, do stirfry with one, grill two packages using one batch of grilled chicken for dinner that night and saving the other grilled chicken for chicken sandwiches on the night I have small group and I need a fast meal…” Like that. I also purposefully make LARGE dinners, both so that Martin can take leftovers for lunch at work (he prefers that, and it saves money) AND so that we can have at least one night during the week (usually Saturday) where we have a whole meal of just leftovers.

And then… if there isn’t a cut of meat on sale at a price I want to pay, or if there are other staple items that have taken a big chunk out of that week’s grocery budget, I pull stuff out of the freezer.

So… I don’t plan stuff out like with a website. But, I do make a rough plan in my head, based on what I know I keep on hand in the pantry, dishes I know our family likes, and dishes that will best use what’s on sale that week.

Hope that makes sense.

This does bring to mind a few things:

  1. I have quite a few standard pantry items.  When I run out of one thing (or come close to it), I always put it on my grocery shopping list.  I know my pantry well, and I ensure it stays stocked.
  2. When I make my grocery shopping lists, I combine both what I know I need with what is on sale that week, using the weekly ads, if the store has one.  With the sale ads, I can see what “occasional buy” type items might be found at a good price that week.  For instance, in my shopping trip last night to Sprouts, I had, among other things, arborio rice, chia seeds, and yogurt on the list.  When I looked at the sale ads*, I saw that Sprouts also had bulk quinoa at $2.49/lb, Mom’s Best cereal (not g.f., not organic, but all-natural and my older two boys can eat it) at $2/box, and Cascade Fresh 6 oz yogurt cups at 2/$1.00.  Those are all things that I can and will use, even if they weren’t initially on my list.  Yes, there was yogurt on my list, but I usually only buy plain.  Cascade Fresh is one of my favorite brands — all natural, fruit-juice-sweetened, and it was nice for a treat.  So, I purchased.  (I also purchased one soy-based yogurt at $0.99 for my son who can’t have dairy.  It was a brand that uses non-GMO, organic soybeans…  I’m not a huge fan of soy, but when he only has one soy yogurt every month or two, I think his body can weather it.)
  3. I have a mental file of what is a good price for pretty much everything.  For example, on my shopping list were dry beans and canned pumpkin.  However, this shopping trip, both were expensive – – not on sale.  So, I didn’t purchase.  I’ll wait until next week or another store to get a good price.  Can I wait for a few days or a week or even more to purchase those things?  Yes, I can.
  4. I cook exclusively from scratch and mostly without using recipes.  I know not everyone has this skill…  My mom taught me how to cook, starting at age seven.  I’m 39.  That’s 32 years of cooking.  I enjoy it, too!  So, while I often keep an eye out for a new recipe to try, I would hazard to say that nine out of ten dinnertime meals are made without a recipe.  This allows me to be more flexible.  I know what I can make, I know what our family likes, and I can make those items, sans a recipe.  I don’t have to pull out a recipe card, look at the 15 items, realize that I don’t have 13 of them, and then put all 13 things on my shopping list.  In other words, what’s on sale dictates the menu, not the other way around.
  5. If I have a hankerin’ for something or someone makes a special request — like homemade pizza or homemade Caesar salad — I’ll put mozzarella cheese, (nitrate-free!) pepperoni, and tinned anchovies on the list, and I’ll purchase them if I can find them at a good price, and make that special item.  Often, though, I will “plan” to make a special dish for two, three, or even four weeks before I find all the items needed to make that special dish at the right price.  If those items cost too much that week — or if they don’t otherwise fit within the budget — I will add the “special purchase” item back to the grocery list for next week.
  6. My flexible approach makes participating in a CSA, farm share, or other “random” produce plan work well:  It really doesn’t matter what kinds of produce I get that week.  Whatever comes in the basket, I can find multiple ways to make it work.

So, I guess that’s what it boils down to:  I prefer flexibility and saving the maximum amount of money OVER having all my ducks carefully lined up in a row and me knowing a week (or a month!) in advance what I will be making on any given day.  But, like I wrote to my friend above, that doesn’t mean I don’t plan at all;  I just don’t plan in what might be considered a traditional, menu-planning way.

So, how about you?  What tools do you use?  Any?  Are you looking to change your meal-planning habits any time in the future?  If so, why?  If not, why?  Inquiring minds want to know….

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*As a bonus, Sprouts has double-ad Wednesdays.  Each sale ad starts on Wednesday and ends Thursday, eight days later.  So each Wednesday, two weeks’ worth of ads are valid.  So, when there is a screamin’ deal — like navel oranges at 4 lbs/$1.00, I know I can buy 10+ this Wednesday, and 10+ lbs next Wednesday, too.  I virtually always shop at Sprouts on Wednesdays to take advantage of double ads.

CSAs, city ordinances, and scary neighbors, oh my!

Looks pretty good from the air, doesn’t it? Though this is Phoenix, it isn’t actually my neighborhood…. Not even close.

I tend to shy from endeavors that require me to be consistently organized.  It’s not in my nature.  It stresses me out.  I’m MUCH better-organized that I used to be;  it’s a necessity if you have five children and homeschool;  homeschooling requires at least a modicum of organization.  But, in general, I know my limits, and I don’t willingly volunteer for something that taxes my shaky organizational skills.

However, if you follow OSC on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my offer for you to join a Community Supported Agriculture — CSA — pickup that I’m hosting at my house.  This is something new for me;  I’ve never done anything like that before, where I am the point man.  Point woman.  Whatever.

In spite of my flaws, I decided to embark this adventure because:

  1. The CSA with which I have been a member for two years is now defunct, because the farmer needs back surgery.  That’s one of the dangers of buying your produce from one farmer!  If she’s down for the count, the food supply ends.  Not to sound callous about it;  I’m very sad for her.  We’ve developed a nice relationship and it hits me in the heart that she is in pain, and that her dream of being a direct-to-consumer farmer has gone up in smoke.  But in my everyday reality, her ceasing to function as a farmer means that I need a different source for my veggies.  If I want know who is growing my produce — which I do — I needed to find a different farmer.
  2. There are a number of CSAs and similar opportunities around Phoenix.  However, I wanted one whose cost was reasonable, and whose pickup location was near to me.  There weren’t any who met that criteria.  However, one farm — Crooked Sky Farms — had a number of people interested in joining a farm share in my area — many of whom had participated in times past — but no one currently acting as a coordinator.
  3. If I agreed to be a coordinator, I would get lots of veggies for myself.  AAALLLLLLLLLL for myself.  About $40 worth of organic vegetables for “free” every week, to use to my heart’s content — with which to cook, to experiment, to preserve….  As someone who is constantly trying to trim the grocery budget, yet eat in an ever-increasingly healthy manner, this was VERY appealing to me.
  4. I really do want to equip others to eat better.  Food matters. Food is intricately connected to our health.  If we eat better, our health will be better;  it’s that simple.  Healthier individuals make for a healthier society.  I’m interested in having a healthier society than we currently do, here in the United States.  We can’t get there without baby steps.  Eating organic is both an individual baby step and a societal baby step.
  5. Farmers matter.  Crooked Sky is single-farmer run, and employs 15 people or so.  Small business matters.  Small business DONE WELL is important to the economic strength of a community.
  6. How we treat the earth matters.  How food is produced matters.   Farming in particular, when done badly, is a tremendous source of soil depletion and pollution.  When done right, it is a tremendous source of soil enhancement.  Done right, farming IMPROVES the land.  Crooked Sky Farms won a local award for the best organic farm of 2012.
  7. With my two years’ experience of CSA participation, I had already decided that if I switched CSAs, I would prefer to join one that was just a little larger, still owned and run by one farmer, but with a little more diversity…  I mean…  if there’s a drought (which is likely!) or one planting utterly fails due to soil organisms (which is likely!) if the farmer has only 3-4 other veggies going at the same time, my share is likely to be sparse.  But, if the farmer has 30-40 things growing simultaneously, if one crop fails, I probably wouldn’t even know about it!  Farmer Frank Martin with Crooked Sky runs about six fields in the Phoenix area — mostly urban infill projects (which also delights me) — and has a few more further south in Arizona.  A diversity of locations means that all of his eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.
  8. If I hosted the pick-up at my own home, that would mean I could — duh! — stay at home, which is easier for me.  I really try to minimize the number of times, weekly, that I have to leave.  Going places simply takes a lot of time.  I figure that even if there are people filtering through my home for 2-3 hours on a weekly afternoon, I can still prep dinner, answer kids’ questions, and otherwise attend to my home and family, which would not be possible if I was camped in a parking lot somewhere, waiting for folks to come pick up their produce.

Given that preponderance of good reasons to join the Crooked Sky CSA, I was willing to immediately jump in with both feet as a coordinator.  My husband, though, cautioned me with a, “Whoa, girl!” and suggested that I contact our city to ensure that hosting an in-home pickup wouldn’t be violating any city ordinances.

Grrr….

The reason behind his suggestion is that, well, my hubby is a by-the-book kind of guy.  Additionally, we knew that one of our neighbors had already brought a lawsuit against another neighbor for an illegal in-home business.

Even though I could see the wisdom in making sure I was covered by the City of Glendale, I wasn’t thrilled about doing so;  bureaucratic hoops through which I need to jump annoy the snot out of me.  They’re difficult to unravel and time-consuming.  Half the time, they don’t even make sense!

All of this proved to be true.

It was difficult to even FIND the right person to whom I should talk.  Then, the initial response from that city employee was that I would have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to allow a business to function out of my home.  To do this, a city employee would be assigned to me to help me walk through the process, then I would have to attend an evening hearing during a city zoning meeting.  Well, all right…. I would do it.  THEN, the employee told me that the fee for this process is $1,086.  WHAT?????  

Clearly, it made no sense for me to have to fork over that kind of dough for an enterprise for which I would be making basically no money.  I see it more as a community service, rather than a home business.  I do benefit from hosting the pick-up at my home, but it’s not really a money-making enterprise.

I appealed to my contact person at the City.  She said she would “go to bat” for me at a weekly meeting where these matters were discussed.

When she called me back about a week later, the news was GOOD!!  I did not have to obtain a permit!!

I squealed.

However, she did tell me that though the City decided that what I was doing did NOT constitute an in-home business, that “there’s no problem until there is a problem.”  In other words, if a neighbor decided that they were tired of the extra traffic, they could call and report me to the City and then I probably would have to obtain a permit to continue.  She advised me to contact all my neighbors and tell them in advance what I’m planning to do.  I had already thought about that, but had sort of been dragging my feet, especially as I knew at least one neighbor was quite litigious, and we only really know two other neighbors  on our street.

But, what had to be done had to be done.  So, I printed up my CSA FAQ sheet, the CSA contract (in case anyone wanted to join), and a cover letter to give, in an envelope, to each neighbor.  And, on Saturday, I went a-knockin’.  I planned to visit 13 houses:  the house directly across the street from us, plus the three houses to the east, the three to the west, on both the north and south sides of the street.  Fiala and Wesley went with me for about half of the visits.  I had to do it in sections, as talking to neighbors is pretty time-consuming!  I did get it all done in one day, though.  Of the 13 neighbors, I talked with nine of them in person;  for only four did I have to simply leave the envelope half-tucked under the front door mat.  I thought that was pretty good results.  Most of the people with whom I spoke I’d never met before!

Things I learned:

  1. I have some really great neighbors.
  2. My kids were hoping I’d discover some children…  Only one:  a ten-year-old girl, previously unknown to us.
  3. The litigious neighbor of whom I was a little afraid… well, he wasn’t home.  I met his wife for the first time, and she was LOVELY.  She was also from a family of six children, and thought it was wonderful that I was expecting my sixth.  She invited me into her home, which smelled amazing — chili simmering on the stove! — and we had a wonderful chat.
  4. Turns out another neighbor has five chickens, which I didn’t know.  They can’t eat all the eggs — five per day, and there’s just the two of them, an older couple.  She sent me home with a dozen eggs, and the husband said he would love to give me some pointers about raising backyard poultry as he has been doing it for years.  (They have lived in their home for 35 years!)
  5. Another neighbor, whose grapefruit tree’s branches are dripping with uneaten, ripe grapefruit said we could come pick them at any time!
  6. Another neighbor is a fifth-generation Arizonan, which is incredible.  My husband is 3rd-generation, and most folks’ jaws drop at that — that his grandfather came here in the 1930s.  This neighbor and I chatted for quite a while about our disdain of Walmart (but how we both find ourselves there more frequently than we care to admit!), and our love of gardening.  Her husband is using what used to be a fenced-in dog run as a fenced-in garden.  It’s not quite up and running yet, but that’s her plan, which I thought was great.  We also lamented about how we are so close to the area where the land is irrigated, and how we’d both love to live on the irrigated properties, but just can’t afford it (yet!).  One day, perhaps…
  7. One family on our street is from Bosnia.  It’s a four-generation household.  I think that’s wonderful.
  8. I learned some things about our next-door neighbor, the neighbors whom we know best… that they eat almost-all organic, that they use herbs as medicine as much as possible, and that they have a fledgling garden (the garden part, I did know already), and that they compost…  Hmmm…. sounds familiar!!!
  9. All of my neighbors were unfailingly friendly and encouraging, and said that they didn’t care a hoot about an increase of traffic along our street on Wednesday afternoons.  A couple of different people did thank me for informing them, saying something to the effect of, “It’s the not-knowing that would bother me, wondering about why all the cars were there, and what they were doing…”

I do still worry a bit about the folks with whom I was unable to speak directly.  But, over all, I would say that the endeavor was much more successful than I anticipated.  And I feel wonderfully having met new-to-me neighbors.

Perhaps this is hard to understand in other locales, but the whole Phoenix area is SO very transient.  People move here for work, then quickly move away when they discover that the “dry heat” touted in the tourist brochures is akin to a stiff breeze blowing out from an oven.  For a good five months out of the year, it is literally so hot that most people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to — straight from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store, and home again.  It’s common for people to have NO CLUE who their neighbor is, to never meet them…  We’re used to people moving in, moving out, moving on…. and the foreclosure crisis of the last few years has only exacerbated that problem of unknowable neighbors.  I have actually dreamed of coordinating a little block party, and meeting so many people on my street kind of fires that up again…

But I think that would completely tax my organizational skills!!

How I manage my time…

So, a mom with three young children recently asked me how I manage my time.  I may have covered that here before, but I thought my response to her would be worthwhile to post.

I guess my one tip is:  You can’t do everything.  You just can’t.  So, you pick and choose.  If a clean house is a high priority, then you probably won’t get that book read, or meet a friend for coffee, or take your kids to the park much. Or… whatever.  Or, if supplementing your family’s income is a super-high priority, then other things in your life will suffer. You just can’t do it all.

At least, you can’t do it all, all at once.  During the school year, I mostly keep to a “six weeks on, one week off” schedule, so for a week or two every six weeks, my house looks fabulous, because I get caught up on cleaning and special projects. The intervening time… not so great.

In general, I tend to do things in “seasons”.  Sometimes, I do really well at staying on top of ironing.  Sometimes, I get a lot of writing done.  Sometimes, I’m able to sneak out for lunch with a friend… but all of that and more seems to be in cycles.  I’m virtually never on top of EVERYTHING all at once.

It keeps me dependent on Jesus.  And it humbles me, because I would LIKE to stay perfectly on top of everything, but I’m just not able to.  That’s just not the season in my life, and part of that is because I have chosen it.  I’d have a lot more time to myself if all my kids were in school, or if I had fewer children, or if I didn’t serve in my church, or if I didn’t work so hard to have our family eat cheap AND healthy… but those are the choices I’ve made, and while I’m glad I make them, daily, it automatically means that other things are squeezed out.

Something that has also helped me in the past, and I think I’m going to do again, is a daily schedule of household tasks.  I’ve used Motivated Moms. They have a variety of schedules, all printable pdfs, to help you keep track of what should be done each day. It’s a bit of a struggle for me, because I NEVER get done all the schedule says that I “should” get done… and then I feel like a failure, but when I follow a schedule, I do get more done than when I don’t use one at all…

Freshman homeschooling angst

I love this!! from New Math by Craig Damrauer

I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the major roles in parenting is to help children see the world in proper perspective:  to be more aware of others, to be aware of the potential results of personal actions, to discern what warrants a skeptical eye, to have a balanced view of self, to learn to look at things with God’s supernatural reality in mind and not just what presents itself as reality, etc.

My oldest son, Ethan, is 14 and has, four weeks into the school year, struggled with high school.  Not grade-wise;  he’s producing fine work.  Not with the content of his work;  he is enjoying what he’s learning.  It’s simply the volume of work, and how much it requires of his time and energy.

Our school day runs from 8:30 – 12:30.  If a reasonable amount of work is not accomplished in that time, I will often require that my children do the remainder of their work sometime in the afternoon, but my availability as a teacher is really limited after lunch;  they’re typically on their own for “homework” hours.  And, as I blogged briefly a couple of weeks ago, my approach for K-8 is very spiraling:  We cover topics repeatedly with increasing depth and complexity, so if one subject is not properly covered or grasped one week, or one month, or even one year, I don’t panic;  there’s always later.  That fairly relaxed attitude, combined with the fact that my children have done fabulously on standardized tests, has resulted in me really not having a rigorous approach to homework.

But… with high school, it’s different.  There are things that the state requires that my son learns (if I follow the track of high school diploma requirements — which is not actually necessary for homeschooled students where I live, but advisable).  And there are things that he needs to learn regardless of who is or is not requiring it.  And we can’t just catch up “next year.”  Our spiral is running out of room.  So, really, for the first time ever — other than math, which I’ve always insisted that they keep up on — I’m now communicating to Ethan, “If your stuff isn’t done in those four hours of ‘official’ school, you must get it done on your time.”

He’s having a really hard time with that, and feeling really, really, really, really overwhelmed, to the point where the entirety of his waking hours — from when his eyelids open in the morning to lights-out for the night — are heavy.  He hangs his head, he seems frequently on the verge of tears, he tends to pessimism, he’s on edge, he sighs incessantly, he needs lots of hugs (which is totally fine;  I’m thrilled that my 14 year old son wants hugs from me)…  Heavy.

I’ve told him that the mercy in me wants to just say, “Oh, it’s all right.  You don’t have to do it.”  However, I feel that it’s the right time to require him to manage his time, be consistent, persevere, work hard — even when he doesn’t want to, develop study skills, step up in responsibility, and any other number of practical skills and character traits that can be developed by hard work and persistence.

Plus, I just want him to learn.  I do, definitely, want him (and all my children) to enjoy school.  I want them to be excited about learning, and truly enjoy what they’re doing, and that desire daily factors into how we do school.  But, I would hate to look back on Ethan’s high school experience and know that my laxity as a teacher and a mother limited his options for college and/or career.  I don’t want to shortchange his education.

So, I’ve been pretty hardnosed about it.

Perhaps, though, I’ve been too hardnosed.

Yesterday morning, my husband Martin told me that the previous night (when I’d been out grocery shopping), he and Ethan had a heart-to-heart, and Ethan was pretty despondent about school, really feeling like he’s drowning and I don’t care.  😦  Martin suggested that I pray about how to handle it, and that perhaps I needed to ease up.

I prayed…  Not a 40-day intense time of prayer and fasting, but not simply a, “God help me.  Thanks,” kind of prayer…  Somewhere in the middle.  Well, “somewhere in the middle,” but on the shorter side of the middle, because after fifteen minutes of prayer, I had some guidelines in my head for a bit of a different approach.  As I told Ethan later that morning, I wasn’t claiming that they were totally inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they might be!  I also asked him to give the new system two weeks to see if it helped.

In short, the new system is this:

  • Maxing out his school day at 6 hours.  The four hours from 8:30 – 12:30, plus up to two hours of additional work in the afternoon and/or evening.
  • Requiring that he does the ‘hard stuff’ first.

Knowing my son, part of his battle is that while reading is a great deal of his schoolwork, he so prefers to just read that he’ll consume his schoolbook of choice (often a novel) all morning, getting himself a week or two ahead of schedule on that book, yet he’s four days behind on math, and three days behind in science, and he still has that writing assignment from Monday that is due on Friday, and here it is Thursday and he hasn’t even started.  Etc.

And with all that behind-ness, he just feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s no end to the school day, and no chance — so it seems — of ever getting caught up.  The new system gives him clearer structure to order his time, and gives him hope that the day won’t perpetuate forever.

He is doing Apologia Physical Science; Teaching Textbooks Algebra I; P.E.*; and Sonlight’s Core 200, which covers Church History, Bible and Apologetics**, plus English (comprised of Writing, Vocabulary, and Literature).

So, now, I require that he starts the day with his choice of:

  • Science
  • Math
  • Vocab
  • Writing

Once those for subjects are completed, he can do the remainder of his work in any order, at his discretion:

  • P.E.
  • Bible Memory
  • Reading — Literature
  • Reading — History
  • Reading — Bible & Apologetics

Ethan was pretty amenable to the plan, and felt cared-for, but still feeling overworked and somewhat distressed, and not convinced that it would have any effect on his schoolwork.

Well, at 3:30 p.m. that same day, he came back to me and said, “I’m all caught up.”  I replied, “That’s great!  You mean for the day?  It’s 3:30 and you’re done for the day?”  He clarified with a huge smile, “No.  I mean all caught up with all my assignments for the whole school year!”

Wow.  Awesome!

I was pretty giddy.  So was he.

I told him, “So… I guess last night was the dark before the dawn, eh?”

He looked blank.

“You’ve never heard that maxim?”

He hadn’t, so I explained.

I think this whole thing was a good experience for both of us.  For me, in that I still need to provide clear guidance and give him hope.  For him, that the work is doable, and that his emotions in a situation are not always a reliable indicator of reality.  Less than 24 hrs after feeling completely hopeless, the light was shining again, his face was beaming, and all of the despondency was behind him.

Now today, he’s in a new quandary, and dark clouds are again threatening.  But, I think we’ll get through this storm all right, too.

————————————-

*For P.E. (required by the state of Arizona for freshmen), Ethan is doing 20 minutes of activity four times weekly, and three times weekly, reading two pages of DK’s The Sports Book (which is a really engaging and well-illustrated book on how a wide variety of sports are played).

**Ethan is really enjoying Apologetics, to the surprise of us both.

Stuff that is interesting to me. :D And hopefully to you.

  • For those of you curious — or even better, praying — my mom was moved yesterday to a rehabilitation hospital.  While there, she will receive 3+ daily hours of various kinds of therapy — occupational therapy, physical therapy, in addition to respiratory therapy and whatever else is deemed helpful.  So, her stay in the “normal” hospital was just under two weeks, which is better than pretty much everyone anticipated.  For those of you who are praying, please continue to do so, especially for my mother’s mind.  Her memory is shoddy, her processing very childlike, and while she knows she isn’t as sharp as she once was — and she once was VERY sharp! — it is quite an adjustment for both herself and those who love her.  We’re hoping that the general befuddlement is primarily caused by the abundance of meds she is taking, and not anything more permanent.
  • This past spring, I checked out several books from the library on homeschooling high schoolers.  I read none of them.  I don’t even think I really flipped through any, not with anything resembling thoroughness.  I did get a printout from my local school district about graduation requirements, and have roughly — very roughly — mapped out a Plan of Action in my head.  And, I’m coming up with a more structured grading system for Ethan, my freshman.  None of this has been any kind of difficult.  It dawned on my yesterday, though, why homeschooling for high school can be so daunting:  There aren’t any do-overs.  I take a very spiraling approach:  We cover various topics repeatedly, with increasing complexity.  If my third grader doesn’t “get it”, who cares?  We have fourth, fifth, sixth… for him to learn.  Now that my oldest son is in 9th grade, though, I am really getting a sense of, “The buck stops here.”  We can’t pass on anything.  We can’t just say, “We’ll try again next semester.  Next year.  A couple-three years down the road.”  There are certain things he’s expected — and beyond that, things he needs — to learn for each year of high school, and if we run out of time at the end of the day, when do we make it up?  I still haven’t figured that out entirely.
  • Motivated Moms.  I’ve been doing this scheduling system for a bit more than a month.  And while I have yet to actually accomplish in a week all that my schedule is telling me I’m to accomplish, I’m still getting way more done around the house than I had previously.  Not only has it produced a better organized and cleaner home, but having my daily list of things to do has nearly done away with that really debilitating feeling of, “I am barely keeping my nose above water!”  That alone makes it worth it.
  • My garden is still producing really big plants that bear no fruit.  Or very little fruit.  Still…  I’m persisting, and hopefully, learning more, week by week.  I keep losing seedlings, though.  Here in the Phoenix area, September has been unseasonably, miserably hot (minus the last two days, which haven’t hit 100°, bless God); daily highs have been in the 105°-110° range.  This means that any seed that is directly sown into the garden needs to be moistened 4-5 times DAILY so that the sprout doesn’t die.  And, forget one time, or be away from home too long, and you lose your 15 linear feet of carrots.  😦  So, I think I’ll hold off from seeding anything additional for another couple weeks.
  • Taboo Crunchy Subjects.  Thank you, Mama Birth, for blogging my thoughts.  I don’t agree 100% with her assessments, but like her, I have noticed an increasing level of both fear and inflexible vociferousness in the supposedly touchy-feely natural-living/crunchy community.  It’s a bit disheartening, I must admit.  Personally, it is my goal to be a leader, to have some hills on which I’m willing to die, to have some moral absolutes, to learn from others’ mistakes and my own, to continually go “further up and further in“, YET NOT BE A JERK.  Even better than that, to be actually loving.  AND, to not be motivated by fear. (Which is a whole ‘nother topic in itself, and one on which I keep meaning to blog, but the whole subject would be such a huge one for me to tackle, I don’t know if I have the time or the emotional fortitude to do it justice.)  I don’t know if I’m achieving that balance, but it’s my goal.

Garden! Honey laundering! Motivated Moms! Obsessed with bread! New glasses! Hiking!

  • Rhubarb Chard from Seeds of Change

    I have carrots, green onions, broccoli, and red chard seeds planted in my garden.  I’ll be planting more of everything, plus lettuce and bulb onions, as space allows.  Still growing:  Mexican grey squash (I’ve eaten lots of them, raw, when they’re about 3″ long, right before they turn yellow and die); Yoeme purple string beans (tall and mostly green, but appears to be heat-stressed… some blooms… I’m waiting to see if the plants will do better as the weather cools);  basil (the only thing that’s really thriving;  we eat basil in stuff 4-5x/week now);  tomatoes (loads of blooms, but not really vigorous, strong plants… again, waiting until it cools to reassess);  hot red chile plants (healthy-looking, but small and no blooms).  I’m trying to decide what to do about my ginormous Hopi pumpkin plant.  It is literally spilling out of my raised bed… the squash plant is about 10′ x 4′, and it is taking up so much room that could be used for something else.  The plant appears to be thriving, with huge, green leaves and dozens of blossoms, and it would be a shame to rip out something so vigorous.  But, the pumpkins grow about 2-3″ big and then die, much like my Mexican grey squash.  My husband thinks it’s due to the heat and that I should give it some time.  I’m trying not to think about all the other, possibly more fruitful veggies I could plant in the space that dumb pumpkin is hogging.

  • PLEASE READ this article on honey.  Please.  Who knew that honey was such a controversial topic??  It is imperative to your safety that you buy honey that is a product of the USA, or at least the western hemisphere.  Honey from China — tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals — is saturating the American market, because honey from China is banned in Europe.  “Some of the largest and most long-established U.S. honey packers are knowingly buying mislabeled, transshipped or possibly altered honey so they can sell it cheaper than those companies who demand safety, quality and rigorously inspected honey. … Almost 60 percent of what was imported – 123 million pounds – came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.”  HONEY SMUGGLING.  Who knew?
  • "Like" OSC on Facebook for new post updates, quick responses to any questions and comments, plus additional tidbits.

    Perhaps it’s too early to make a true judgement, but Motivated Moms seems to be working great.  It’s oddly helpful to be accountable to a sheet of paper which is waiting for me to tick the boxes.  The system is a real change for me, because instead of cleaning the bathroom in one fell swoop, it has you clean the toilet one day, the mirrors another day, the sink the following day, etc.  However, breaking each task into 2-to-20 minute segments makes each of them more do-able for me.  Plus, I find it difficult to disappear into my bedroom for an hour and a half to clean the master bath from lighting fixtures to tile;  I just don’t have that large chunk of time often enough, and I just can’t leave my kids unsupervised for that long.  But, pretty much everyone can function on their own if mom is only “gone” for 20 minute segments.  It’s just now noon, and I’ve already accomplished more than I would in an entire typical day.  Plus, I’ve gone on Facebook, done some gardening, made a loaf of bread, and busted a few heads.  Not really “busted”.  I’ve applied some mothering.  😉

  • Speaking of bread, I’m an obsessed baker again.  I’m really motivated to find a recipe that WORKS, simply.  I have been making my Best Ever Gluten-Free Flour Mix for the last couple of months, consistently having it on hand to whip up some cupcakes or muffins or pancakes, and that has been wonderful and helpful.  Though it is a really versatile mix, I haven’t been able to successfully make sandwich bread with it, and I’m determined to come up with a bread recipe that will work using that flour mix.  Simple = sustainable.  I want to be able to daily (or nearly so) bake bread, and I know I won’t do it if I have to get out twenty billion ingredients, or remember a complicated process.  So far, the results are tasty, but too dense.  I’m tinkering with everything tinker-able — amount and kind of liquid, oven vs. breadmaker, amount of sugar and yeast, amount of rising time, etc.
  • They make me look hipper than I actually am.

    I got new glasses.  🙂

  • I went out hiking, early Saturday morning, with two friends, Cristi and Wendy.  It was the first time I hiked in about six weeks.  The hike wasn’t particularly strenuous, but it was good to just get out and get moving again.  What with the heat, a summer Bible study, my garden, our vacation, and simply getting out of the habit, my hiking went by the wayside.  I’m re-motivated now.  🙂

Organized moms, unite! Just kidding. I’m not really organized, but I’m trying.

  • This morning, I started a prayer journal.  I have journaled a LOT throughout my life, but I have never had a journal where each page is specifically devoted to one item I’m holding in prayer.  I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks just to write everything down!
  • In other organizational news, I’m trying to become a Motivated Mom.  I paid $4 (half price) for the planner for 2011, choosing the daily full-page version, and printed it off yesterday (well, printed Aug 11 through the end of the year).  I have a love/hate relationship with lists.  I do get more done when I write out what I need to do, yet I feel cowed by all there is to do, and all I don’t get done by the end of the day.  This is someone else’s list, so maybe I’ll do better with that.  🙂
  • I updated my boys’ chore chart.  They each have daily chores, plus items that are done once or twice weekly, assigned for age-appropriateness and skill.   Click here for a PDF if you wanna see how I slave-drive my sons.  (For the record, Ethan is 14, Grant is 12, and Wesley is 9.)
  • Last bit, not anything do do with being organized:  I have a friend from church who gives music lessons.  She can teach violin, flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and keyboard/piano at her home or at yours.  (She can actually teach many more instruments, including brasses, but the six listed are her strongest suit.)  Her name is Leslie Herweg and her number is 616.566.0943.  That’s a Michigan cell phone number, but she is local to the Phoenix area.  43rd Avenue and Northern Ave area.  Her rates are $15 for a half-hour session with one child, or $25 for a session with two children.  🙂

Frugal, healthy, (gluten-free — or not) groceries

A sweet friend of mine recently asked for frugal meal ideas.  Maybe she was asking for recipes, which I will list in a post later this week.  But to start out, I thought I’d post some general ideas — guidelines I use — to make it happen.  Feel free to add your own suggestions as a comment!

  • Nothing from a mix, nothing from a box.  With rare exception — like boxed breakfast cereal — I simply don’t buy anything boxed or pre-mixed or frozen-prepared.  Not only is this virtually always more expensive, but ready-made foods are almost always going to contain ingredients that aren’t healthy.
  • Stick to a budget. Don’t make excuses for yourself about why you’re not, or why you can’t.  YOU CAN.  Find a way!  Make it a game, a challenge.  First, if you don’t know how much you’re spending, figure that out by keeping track of receipts for a month.  Then, decrease that by 10% for a weekly or monthly budget and stick with it.  When you can easily shop at that decreased budget, decrease it by another 10%.  And so on.
  • This is rather an extension of the first tip, but start with whole food, single ingredients.  As a gluten-free (and nearly dairy-free) family, I find that the hardest thing to make is often the carb in the meal.  So, I figure that out first:  Corn, rice, potatoes, or beans, or a combination of those items.
    • Corn might be cornbread, corn tortillas (either ready-made, or homemade from masa flour), or simply prepared-from-frozen (organic!  From Costco!) kernels.
    • Rice may be rice noodles (from the Asian market — about $1 per 10-16 oz package), plain basmati rice (Royal King Sella is our fave — bought in 10 lb bags, $11.99 at the Asian market), basmati rice mix (with bits of dried veggies from Trader Joe’s – about $2 for a 1 lb bag, which for us, is enough for about 1½ meals)
    • Since I avoid russets, my favorite thing to do is chunk up red and yellow potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and herbs (usually dried parsley and/or thyme, or fresh rosemary), seal in a heavy-duty aluminum foil packet, and place it on the grill.  Alternately, put it in a covered casserole dish in the oven.
    • Beans:  Refried beans, or beans from canned — check your ingredients to make sure you don’t have any junk in your canned beans.  Calcium chloride is OK, though not ideal.  Anything other than salt is not.  I often will sautee onion and garlic to add to canned beans, or get even fancier, adding various veggies, corn, and tomatoes.  Or, start with bulk, dried beans.  I need to do more of this, actually!!  In my pantry, I have probably 15 pounds of dried pintos, lentils, black beans, etc., but I often don’t plan ahead far-enough in advance to allow for that.
    • If I deviate from my list, it is ONLY for something that is at a fabulous price.  Even if it’s for a snack or treat, like chocolate bars, I’ll buy a 3-pack at Trader Joe’s for $1.79.  Or, recently, I found an organic chocolate bar for $0.50, on clearance.  Yum!  AND, I’ll only buy “extras” if they don’t make me go over-budget, even if it is a great price!
  • Know what a good price is for a grocery item, and don’t go over it.  Then, when that item goes on sale, buy in bulk.  Now, since I have limited pantry and freezer space, my “bulk” is typically not more than enough for a few weeks.  But, usually, when that “few weeks” is up, something else has gone on sale to replace it.
    • Meat:  I typically will not pay more than $2/lb for beef or boneless, skinless chicken breast.  I don’t pay more than $0.79/lb for other chicken.  I don’t pay more than $1.50/lb for pork.  Not more than $2/lb for any fish, and not more than $1.50/lb for turkey.  Accordingly, we never eat steaks.  Well, maybe once or twice a year.  I have to find more creative uses for more inexpensive cuts of meat, but I do!  I miss my rib eye, but it’s worth it.  Now, from what I understand, the Phoenix area — for some reason — is one of the least expensive places in the United States for groceries, so you may have to adjust yours up a bit.  But, still, be VERY choosy.  There are some weeks where I don’t buy any meat AT ALL, because it’s all too expensive, and we just live off of whatever I have in the freezer.
    • I don’t pay more than $2 for a box of “normal” cereal, and not more then $2.50 for gluten-free cereal.  This is accomplished through shopping the sales, using coupons, and buying in bulk.  For instance, this last shopping trip, I bought two “family size” boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats for $0.88 each.  I bought two big boxes of Rice Chex and Corn Chex for $1.50 each.  And, I bought a box of Gorilla Munch and a box of Koala Crisp for $2 each.
    • Do similarly for vegetables and fruit:  know what a good price is for canned, frozen, and fresh veggies and fruit.  We don’t eat a lot of canned veggies, but I do keep some on hand, and typically don’t pay more than $0.75 per can.  This winter, when so much of our nation’s fresh veggies were decimated by freakishly cold weather, we ate a lot of frozen peas, because those remained at a good price when fresh broccoli and zucchini shot up to $3+ per pound.  Much of this has to do with buying in season.  Don’t buy peaches in the winter when they are $3 a pound, even if they look good!  Wait until summertime!
  • Use coupons.  Our local paper, the Arizona Republic, has a delivery special where we ONLY receive the Wednesday and Sunday papers.  Wednesday contains the weekly food ads, and Sunday’s paper includes manufacturer’s coupons.  As a very particular family, there is a GREAT deal that we simply cannot or won’t eat.  But, when I’m cutting coupons, I ask myself, “Would I buy this item if it was on sale AND I had this coupon?”  If the answer is yes, I clip and file it.  Using this method, even with special diets, I typically save $8-20/week in coupons.  While that wouldn’t qualify for “extreme couponing”, it makes it worthwhile to spend $2.25/week on our newspaper subscription and the 30 minutes or so, weekly, that I spend on coupons.  I have a small expandable file, to which I weekly add the new coupons.  I also go through it thoroughly, once a month, discarding expired coupons and reacquainting myself with what coupons I have.
  • Use a list and stick to it.  I keep a running list which I update daily, as needed.  I just use a sheet of printer paper, folded over, which I keep on my countertop.  It is broken down by the store from which the needed items come:  General grocery, Sprouts (natural foods & produce market), Lee Lee (Asian market), Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target, and misc other stores (like Ross or the dollar store).
  • Then, when I make my weekly shopping list, I use the food ads.
    • First, I peruse an ad to find out what’s on sale (a true, good sale), and add that to my shopping list for that store (I also break down my shopping list, per store, to sections — general grocery, produce, meat, deli, dairy, natural foods, etc.).  During that time, I also match coupons according to what’s on sale.
    • After I have determined what is on sale at what store, I then look at my list of items I need, and see if I have coupons for them.  If not, I place that item on my shopping list for whichever store has the best price for that item.  OR, I delay its purchase for a week or two and just do without.
  • Plan your weekly menu based upon what is on sale!! Meal planning is a fabulous time-saver.  However, if you plan your menu not knowing what’s on sale, you’ll end up spending $5 per pound for that beef roast, thereby saving time, but spending a good $15+ more than you needed to.  Therefore, I decide what I will make that week after I see what is on sale.  I plan my menus a little more loosely:  “OK.  Chicken thighs are $0.49/lb.  We’ll have baked chicken thighs to go with the broccoli that’s on sale…  Pork shoulder is $0.99/lb.  We’ll have green chile pork in the Crockpot on Friday;  it can cook while we’re on errands and the library.  I can get ground pork for $1.29 and ground beef for $1.59/lb at Lee Lee;  we’ll have meat loaf, too.  That’s all the meat on sale… so I’ll take a package of boneless, skinless chicken breast from the freezer and make stir-fry on Monday…  I’ll need to pick up a few snow pea pods from Lee Lee, too.”  And so on.  That’s my “menu planning.”  Part of that is from cooking for my family for 16+ years;  I know what I can make, and cook almost exclusively from scratch.  When I use a recipe, it’s because I’m feeling a need for creativity, or I’ve found rutabagas on sale, and I need a rutabaga recipe.  🙂  I will seriously use recipes only about once every three weeks.  But, that’s not necessarily a budget-saver;  it’s because I have rough recipes already in my head, which I use to match what’s on sale with what I know I can make.
  • This is more of a time-saver than budget-saver, but for each dinner, pick ONE time-consuming item to make, and make everything else easy.  For instance, my family loves corn bread.  But, that takes a while to mix up and bake.  So, if I make corn bread, you can bet we’ll be having grilled chicken (easy!  Sprinkle with Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute and a little sea salt, grill until done), steamed veggies (plain), and canned (all-natural) chili beans.  And so on.
  • Make your own.  I make my own gluten-free baking mix.  I make my own trail mix.  I make my own gluten-free bread when I have time (which isn’t often, lately, so we just go without).  I bought a package of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Quick Oats and have plans to make my own g.f. instant oatmeal packs, though I haven’t done it yet, using dried cranberries, cinnamon, brown sugar, and stevia.  When I make veggie dip, I make my own:  Plain sour cream or plain yogurt with sea salt, white pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and herbs like thyme, dill, and parsley.  CHEAP.  EASY.  HEALTHY.  TASTY.  Don’t buy $2+/pack of “dip mix.”
  • Use portion control or go without.
    • We do eat a few chips:  I often buy ONE large bag of tortilla chips and ONE bag of Kettle Chips from Costco.  I enforce portion control during lunch time, and almost never use chips as a snack.  I never let anyone (except my husband, who loves chips & salsa) just sit down with an open bag of chips.
    • I almost never buy “fruit snacks” or even fruit leather any more.  Fruit snacks are nothing more than corn syrup and food color (yuck — we haven’t eaten those for years!).  Healthy dried fruit snacks, even when bought in bulk, are at least 25-50¢ per serving.  A handful of raisins or even dried cranberries — even at $2.50/lb — are a LOT more cost-effective.
    • Virtually all gluten-free crackers are ridiculously expensive so I just never buy them.  I do, though, buy rice cakes (plain — Lundberg Farms is my fave brand) and Corn Thins.
    • Snacks are really the death-knell of a grocery budget.  Don’t buy ready-packaged snacks. JUST DON’T DO IT!!  EVER!!!  Make cookies from scratch and freeze half of them, or just have cookies once a week.  Let your kids make a jam sandwich for a snack.  Voila!  Cheap and easy.  (For my g.f. kids, it’s often a rice cake with jam or Trader Joe’s brand sunflower seed butter.)  Or, give them a piece of fruit.  We eat POUNDS AND POUNDS of fruit.  And carrots.  And other veggies.  It may seem expensive to buy loads of fresh produce, but it’s healthy, and it really is so much cheaper than packaged snacks.  Bananas:  15-20¢ each.  My local farmer’s market/natural foods store, Sprouts, will have oranges for 19¢ a pound 5-6 times a year.  Those weeks, I will literally buy 20 pounds of oranges (for four bucks!) — sometimes more! —  and each kid may have as many oranges as they like that week.  🙂  “Want a snack?  Have an orange.”  That’s about 5-7¢ per snack.
  • Keep a well-organized, regularly cleaned-out pantry and fridge, both so you know what you have on hand, and so nothing goes to waste.
  • And… so that you’re not spending all your time in the kitchen:  MAKE YOUR KIDS DO CHORES.  I am in a continual search of how to divest myself of chores.  I used to plan my meals around what was going to dirty the fewest pans.  Now that my 13yo nightly does the evening dishes, I find that I’m more ready to dirty and extra mixing bowl or saucepan, which many times, when cooking from scratch, you need to do!!!
  • If you eat organic (which we try to), find the most cost-effective way to do so.  For instance, at Sprouts, you can purchase a 5-lb bag of carrots for $3.99.  I run through five pounds of carrots in 2-3 weeks, sometimes faster.  Put a kid to work peeling carrots, cut them into sticks, and put them in a container, covered with water.  They will keep, cut, for a week.  Voila!  A handful of organic carrot sticks for about 20¢ per serving — and a quarter pound of carrots is a LOT of carrots for a snack.
  • Of course, if you live in a temperate climate, keep a kitchen garden!  At the VERY least, keep fresh herbs growing.
  • Preserve food:  Learn to can!  (It’s not that hard.)  We always take homemade beef jerky on vacation (made in a borrowed dehydrator).  And, of course, freeze meat that you’ve found on sale.  (One note:  If you live in the desert, like we do, chest freezers — usually kept in the garage — such HUGE, HUGE, HUGE amounts of energy.  So, figure out what you’re spending on energy and don’t pat yourself on the back too hard if you save a few bucks on the food, then you go spend it, several times over, on energy costs.)
  • (Edited to add:) Think yearly. In other words, ask yourself, “How much do I spend on this each year?”  You may be horrified to find out how much one little convenience is costing you, each year.  This isn’t actually groceries, but the first time my husband and I did a real budget, which was before we had kids, we were horrified to find that we were spending more than $2,000, annually, stopping for coffee and pastries each morning.  This leads to the next point:
  • (Edited to add:) If perfection is not possible, settle for improvement, as a step toward your goal.  My husband is a coffee snob, and though we agreed that we couldn’t continue with our $7-8 morning trips to Hava Java, but neither could we make the downward leap to morning MJB, either.  So, we compromised by buying high-quality beans and real half & half, to prepare at home.  About 15 years later, I’m still in a continual search for inexpensive-yet-high-quality coffee beans (I don’t spend more than $6/lb for them!).  With the amount of coffee we drink, we still spend about $550 each year on coffee and cream.  This still seems like a huge amount of money to spend on coffee, which is really a non-essential.  However, this is at least an improvement.  Or perhaps you feel like you simply must have a steak.  Well, then, make sure you’re buying that New York strip on sale for $4-5 a pound.  If you must have it fresh, keep it down to one expensive home-cooked meal per week (or even one a month) and do that in lieu of eating out.  Or, stock up when your favorite cut of beef is on sale, and put it in the freezer.  Or, make yourself a trade-off:  “We currently eat out two meals a week.  It’s important for me to have healthy, convenient snacks for my kids which cost an arm and a leg.  So, instead of eating out twice per week, we’ll eat out once, and use that $30 to add to the grocery budget specifically for snacks.”  And so on.  Just always be aiming for improvement.

I’m sure many of you have additional tips.  Please leave them below!!

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