Archive for the ‘7 Things’ category

Real School: 7 Things Double Feature

January 5, 2013

Bailey has been in “real” school for almost 3 months now.  It was a bit of an adjustment for our whole family for awhile.  It would be very tempting for me to only focus on the things I don’t like about Bailey being school, but in an attempt to be more fair and honest I’ll start with the positive.

7 Good Things About Bailey Going to School

  1. More Time:  It has freed up a 2-hour block of time during my day that was spent fighting with supervising Bailey’s homeschool work.
  2. “Positive” Peer Pressure:  Bailey has had to step up and learn to deal with disappointments and frustrations in a less volatile manner because she doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of her friends.
  3. Jumbled Birth Order:  Piper is now “the oldest” during the day and is having the opportunity to learn that being in charge means serving others. 
  4. Friendly Faces:  We are more connected with our parish community as we recognize different families at Mass and they recognize us.
  5. Support for Homeschooling:  Bailey has demonstrated that homeschooling hasn’t damaged her socially or academically, since she has proven herself more than competent at getting along with classmates and learning the new material.
  6. Extra Graces:  Since Bailey goes to a Catholic school, she attends Mass an extra day each week and attends Eucharistic Adoration once a month.  They also pray every morning, before and after lunch, and at the end of the day.  I think all of the extra graces have been really good for her.
  7. Individual Needs:  School has been fulfilling some of Bailey’s specific needs that just couldn’t be filled in our homeschooling environment.  Bailey is an extreme extrovert, and with only having one vehicle I just could not set up as many opportunities to socialize as she needs.  More importantly school keeps Bailey busy almost all day; she’s someone who just doesn’t do well with too much free time.

7 Bad Things About Bailey Going to School

  1. Early Mornings:  Having to be up every morning at 7 am is killing me, especially after multiple nights when the baby won’t settle down until 1 am.
  2. Lunch:  Bailey is completely grossed out by the school lunch program, so I have to pack her a lunch every morning.
  3. The Money:  It’s not just the cost of tuition.  There’s the fundraising.  There’s the charity donations.  There’s the special event supplies.  There’s the special t-shirt or skirt/dress for the special dress down day and the Christmas program.  It’s the nickel-and-diming that really gets to me.
  4. Negative social interactions:  Bailey has never lived in a bubble, but up until now we’ve been able to minimize negative social interactions or at least supervise and offer guidance.  While the girls at her school have all been really nice, there have been issues with a few of the boys.  There’s one boy who apparently gets volatile every few weeks, throwing things and making threats.  Another boy is apparently the class pest, and Bailey has been his most recent target.  Then there are curse words and inappropriate comments on the bus.  Bailey eats up some of the drama, but it is a little disconcerting to have so little input or control of the situation.
  5. Homework:  I will have to give Bailey credit for trying to finish as much of work as possible at school, but having to set aside time for homework each night gets old really fast.  There are papers to be signed, school information to go over, and then supervising the work that wasn’t finished during the school day.  It’s like homeschooling without the control or flexibility of being the sole teacher.
  6. Loss of Flexibility:  Speaking of flexibility, we didn’t get to take the girls to see Santa until a few days before Christmas and had to deal with a long wait.  In the past we would have gone during the day while everyone else was at work and school, breezing in and out of Bass Pro Shop.  But now we are a slave to Bailey’s school schedule for doctor’s appointments and special activities.  And when my parents come visit in February, Bailey will miss out on some of the time and treats with them.
  7. Uncertainty and Frustration: I usually feel pretty confident as a homeschooler.  As the parent of a school kid, though, I am constantly riddled with insecurity, confusion, and indecisiveness.  I think it is the pressure of having to conform to someone else’s expectations and not always being certain about what they are.Yes, I went to regular school for 12 years, but it is very different being the parent: not being there during the day, not knowing what your child was told to do, and having to trust that your child is reporting things accurately.  Yes, there is a school manual, but we haven’t been there long enough to know which rules the school is strict about and which things they aren’t.

    I know that the other parents deal with all of these things and just accept them as part and parcel of being a parent.  I think it becomes very frustrating for me, though, because we have lived life a different way for so long.  The structures and strictures that others might see as normal, I can’t help but see as annoying a lot of the time.

7 Ways to Save Money on Your Grocery Bill

August 14, 2011

Raising four kids on one income in the Chicago suburbs, our cost of living is pretty high.  We try to keep to a weekly grocery budget of $200, this includes hygiene and household products and diapers.  These are some ways I have come across to save money on our grocery bill.

1.  Make a Price List:  Put together an Excel spreadsheet or notebook listing items that you regularly purchase.  Then spend time at two to four  grocery stores in your area and mark down the regular (not sale) price for each item.  (Don’t forget to mark the sizes of items to figure out unit prices.)  You can also start by grocery shopping at a different store each week and then filling in the prices from your receipt.  Once you have a basic price list you will have a better idea of which store offers the over-all lowest prices as well as be able to figure out how good of a deal you’ll get when things go on sale.

I have my spreadsheet divided into different groups of products such as dairy, can/jar, frozen, household, and hygiene for easy reference.  And I try to update my price list after each shopping trip using my receipt and any other prices I happened to jot down.  At the very least, it should be updated once a month.

2.  Make a Shopping List:  I have a basic shopping list in an Excel spreadsheet that I print out each week.  The top half of the page  is for Aldi, where I buy the bulk of my groceries; the products are listed in the order they are found in the store.  The bottom half of the page is for the “regular” grocery store.  This could vary from week to week based on deals or circumstances.  The items are arranged in alphabetical order.

Before shopping trips I look through by cupboards and my menu plans for the next week, and I circle any items that I need to buy on the list.  I also look through “regular” store circulars for special deals they are having that week.  Then on the back I write a list of sale items that I will definitely be buying and a list of sale items I might be buying if the sale/coupon price is cheaper than the similar item at Aldi.  I mark each item that has a coupon with an asterisk.

I don’t always stick strictly to the list (sometimes you come across a surprise deal or something you forgot to put on your list), but it does usually make sure that I get the basics that I need to get through the week without having to make a second trip back to the store.  The more often you go to the store, the more likely it is that you will pick up a few impulse purchases that will break your budget.

3.  Organized Couponing:  We recently watched the TLC show Extreme Couponing.  While I don’t see myself ever going “extreme”, it did inspire me to get more organized with my couponing.  Couponing101 is a great website with tips on getting started.  The most important thing is to put together a grocery binder.  Before I put together my binder, I had no centralized place to keep my coupons.  Some would get pinned to the bulletin board, stuck to the fridge, stuck in my wallet, or stashed on a shelf, and then I would forget all about them.

In my grocery binder I have the following things:  copies of my basic weekly shopping list, cut coupons in alphabetical order by product name stored in baseball card protective sheets (I personally separate coupons for non-food items and restaurants in a separate section of baseball card protective sheets), and my price list.  Those lists are also in protective sheets, and I have some dividers between the different sections for easier reference.

In the front inside pockets of the binder I keep an envelope for coupons I will definitely use on the next shopping trip and my current filled in shopping list.  In the back pockets I keep an envelope for coupons that are cut but need to be filed and store circulars.  I also keep a list of great deals that I found on certain dates to see if I can discern a sale pattern.

The most important things is to take the binder with you to the store.  First of all it will have your shopping list and all of the coupons you know you will use.  Secondly, having your price list within reach is nice for when you come across special sales that were not listed in the store circulars.  And if you come across a special deal that you can combine with a coupon, you can pull that coupon out of the protective sheet and move it to your envelope.  Then when you get to the register you have a nice neat stack of all the coupons you are going to use that day.  (It can also be handy to have a writing utensil, a mini-calculator, and some blank paper handy if you want to make notes. figure out prices by unit, and/or keep track of your grocery total before you get to the register.)

4.  Let go of brand loyalty:  The first time I shopped at Aldi I dismissed it because it didn’t have name-brand foods.  When I became more budget conscious I started going there just to get pantry and dairy staples at a cheaper price (white sugar is white sugar).  Then I started branching out and trying some of their Aldi-brand foods.  I discovered that some of them were really good, sometimes even tastier than the name-brand equivalent.  I also realized that some of the generics were really name-brand foods with a different label.  Other things were maybe not quite as tasty as the name brand but still tasty enough.  And other generic things were just plain gross compared to the name brand.  As a result I now buy the bulk of my groceries at Aldi.

Now there are some items that Aldi just doesn’t sell or that their generic just doesn’t taste good to us.  These are the things I get at the regular grocery store.  But even there, the generic brand is often cheaper and just as tasty.  And sometimes I have a coupon to get a really great deal on toothpaste even if it is not the brand “I have always used”.  In the end dental health relies more on how long, how often, and how well one brushes rather than the brand of toothpaste one uses.  So, if you can let go of your loyalty to certain brands you can sometimes save a lot of money.

5.  Don’t take all of the kids with you:  I know sometimes we have no choice on this one, but the more that you can avoid taking the kids with you the more money you will save.  First of all, it can be a total distraction making sure that no one runs off or destroys a display.  Secondly, they will ask for at least one product each per row, and the odds are at least five extra unplanned items will end up in your cart.  Either way, a lot of energy that should be spent on price comparing and making notes gets spent on the kids.  When you are frazzled you are more likely to make sloppy decisions that cost money.

I usually have a baby with me until she is close to 18 months old.  I keep her in their car seat carrier, in a sling, or strapped tightly in the grocery cart, and I make sure she is fed and diaper-changed before the trip.  Sometimes I might take one older child with me to be my assistant and practice some consumer math, as well as enjoy some quality time.  But this still might cost me a little extra money.

6.  Make a menu plan:  Every family plans their meals differently, but the more you plan the more likely you are to cut costs.  I have a three-week rotating dinner menu with seven meals listed per week.  They are usually a mix of “throw together” meals and a few that require more forethought, but I don’t assign them to specific days to give myself more flexibility.  I do try to make the meals that have more perishable ingredients at the beginning of the week, so they get used before they go bad.

I put together a list of each ingredient I would need to make every meal for that week.  When I am making my weekly shopping list, I consult the ingredient list to check my dinner supplies.  I also have a basic breakfast and lunch menu with limited options to choose from; I try to make sure that I have a basic stock of those items on hand.

If you have a menu plan, you can also save money by trying to make as much as possible from scratch.  If you are at a time in your life when cooking from scratch would result in nothing ever getting cooked, then don’t feel guilty about buying some pre-packaged items like pizza dough.  In general, home-cooked meals are a lot cheaper than restaurant food, so if you can avoid eating out you’re already saving money.

7.  Be discerning:  Sometimes you will have to decide between buying the smallest size or buying in bulk.  For instance, I can usually get 2 pounds of thin spaghetti at Aldi for $1.49, but the other day I had a Creamette coupon that allowed me to get 1 pound of thin spagetti for 46 cents.  One pound was enough to get me buy for awhile, so buying the smaller size with a coupon was a better deal.  On the other hand, I normally get 80 paper plates at Aldi for $2.49 but they had 300 paper plates on sell for about $4.50.  The latter was a better price per unit, and I happened to have enough money left in my budget to buy 600 paper plates at the bulk price saving  about $8 if I had paid the regular price.  (Yes, I know I could save more money if I didn’t use paper plates at all and just washed more dishes.)

So when you are using coupons, buying the smallest size is usually the better deal (unless the coupon says you must by the larger).  And if you don’t have a coupon, it’s often wiser to buy non-perishable items that you need at bulk rates (paper towels, toilet paper).  However, don’t buy things in bulk that you don’t immediately need unless there’s a great deal on them and you have the room in your weekly budget for it.  And sometimes we have to buy smaller sizes at a less cost-effective rate just because that’s all we can afford at the moment.

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I know that there are still things out there that I could do to save more money at the grocery, but these are the seven that have helped me the most so far.  It was very time intensive putting together the different spreadsheets, but I did those over a period of years.  And once you have things basically set-up they are fairly easy to maintain.

I should also note that I am not a foodie.  I don’t enjoy cooking, and I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, either.  If I had to totally give up paper plates, disposable diapers, and paper towels and cook everything from scratch, I would not only go crazy but I would be losing time for other things that are more important to me like homeschooling my kids, eating, sleeping, and showering.  Others might be able to do all those things and do them with grace, but not me.  So, hopefully these are basic things that most people could do.

7 Things I Love About Sabrina

June 13, 2011

1.  Her curly, crazy hair.

2.  Her big, toothy grin.

3.  The way she tries to show affection by nuzzling with her head, giving big open-mouth kisses, and wrapping her chubby arms around my neck.

4.  She is so sweet that all three of her big sisters declare Sabrina is their favorite sister.

5.  Her infectious giggle.

6.  The way she follows her sisters around and tries to play with them.

7.  Her new found love of drinking milk from a sippy cup.

Happy 1st Birthday, Sabrina!!!

7 Things I Love About Katie

May 9, 2011

1.  Katie is the biggest helper.  She loves to help me unload the dishwasher, load and unload the dryer, and clean up toys.  She’s always offering to go fetch anything that people just mention that that they need.

2.  Katie loves her sisters.  She has a special rapport with each of her sisters.  And while I was worried that she would be jealous of the new baby last year, she just embraced Sabrina as her baby.

3.  She is so funny.  Katie likes to do funny voices and tell knock-knock jokes, and she has a general love of the term “butt cheeks”.

4.  I don’t know of anyone who likes to snuggle more than Katie.  The second her Daddy lays down on the couch, she runs over and announces “Snuggle time!!”  She constantly is asking for us to join her for some quality snuggle time, or climbing into bed with her sisters.

5.  Her dimple.  Katie has a little dimple on her right cheek that none of her sisters have.  It makes her unique and adorable.

6.  She has such a sweet understanding of God and Jesus.  Katie is our first child to be raised going to Mass regularly since a baby.  She knows that the Church is God’s house.  She loves to look for Jesus on the cross or point out Jesus’ mommy.  And she often exclaims when the consecration bells ring, “Jesus is coming!”

7.  Katie is so smart.  Besides knowing her colors and shapes and most of her numbers and letters, she is really starting to make connections with things and starting to show a more advanced understanding of things that are happening in our lives.  I love to see her wonder at the world.

Happy 3rd Birthday to the Best Surprise Ever!!

7 Saints for Fertility and Family

April 10, 2011

As I’ve mentioned before, my “prayer thang” is to pray for pregnant women that I know or know through association.  I usually pray for an easy and healthy pregnancy, a safe and easy delivery for mother and baby, and an easy and quick recovery.  I also pray for women considering an abortion and the protection of their unborn babies.  I got to thinking that maybe I should talk to a few canonized saints who also make it their “thang” to pray for things related to fertility and family.

1.  St. Gerard Majella:  patron saint of pregnant women and childbirth

2.  St. Joseph:  patron saint of the unborn and fathers

3.  St. Brigit of Kildare/Ireland:  patron saint of newborn babies

4.  St. Rita of Cascia:  patron saint of infertility

5.  St. Anne:  patron saint of mothers, grandparents, housewives, childless couples, and sterility

6.  St. Nicholas:  patron saint of children

7.  St. Mary, Mother of God:  Of course, no such list would be complete without Jesus’ own mother.  She’s the perfect example of someone who dealt with a surprise pregnancy with grace (pun intended).  As a mother to us all, we turn to her to intercede with her son on our behalf and the behalf of others.

7 Reasons I’m Skinny

March 22, 2011

With the exception of college, I have been underweight most of my life.  Thanks to lots of Papa John’s pizza, among other things, I was a perfect weight for my height in college, but still thin.  Let’s examine the 7 reasons that I’m so skinny.

1.  Genetics:  My dad was so tall and thin in his twenties that a priest forbade him from fasting during Lent.  I have a good four inches of height over my mom.  I think it’s safe to say whose body type I got.

2.  Breastfeeding:  They literally suck it out of me.  I gain a good ten pounds when I wean.

3.  Stress:  When I feel physically, mentally, or emotionally over-whelmed my appetite just dries up.  With four kids I spend a lot of my life in a state of stress.

4.  Forgetfullness/Distractedness:  When I say that I “forgot” to eat, people look at me funny.  It’s probably more apt to say that I was distracted from eating.  For instance, I was going to eat and then I remembered that Bailey’s leotard needed to be dried.  But before I could dry her leotard I had to take the clothes already in the drier out and fold them.  Then after I switched out laundry Katie wanted a snack.  But to get her snack I had to get a clean bowl out of the dishwasher.  And once I opened the dishwasher I figured I should unload it completely.  And once its unloaded then you should reload it with dirty dishes.  Then I remember that the washing machine is empty, and I really should wash a load of whites.  Then two hours later I remember that I should have eaten something, but now it’s time to cook dinner.

5.  Bad Cooking:  I am not a very good cook.  I eat what I cook because I have to do so, but I don’t eat as much as I would if it actually tasted good.  If I was a billionaire, though, I would hire a personal chef and/or eat out for every single meal.

6.  Healthy Food Temptation:  I like salads.  I like salads with lettuce, mushrooms, cheese, carrots, broccoli, pepperonis, ham, turkey, croutons, tortilla strips, wonton strips, and lots of salad dressing if I can hit a restaurant salad bar.  But lets face it, even the most high-calorie salad that I could make at home is not going to have as many calories as a corn dog.  The same goes for a variety of healthy foods, like fruit.  If I only have time to sit down and eat one item, I really should grab the biggest high calorie item that I can.  But the low-calorie healthy food can be so tempting and tasty.  (On the flip-side of this, I am also tempted to high-sugar snacks like Swiss cake rolls that make me hypoglycemic.)

7.  Trapped:  There are times when I am just sitting around with time to eat.  However, these times usually coincide with me being trapped under at least once child who may or may not be sleeping.  While I often try to remember to pack a food item with me before I sit down, I very often find myself praying that God would grant me telekinesis or teleportation to get more food without having to move my body.

*Honorary mention:  Low Zinc:  I once read an article about how anorexics often have low zinc and if they increase their zinc intake their appetite increased.  So, basically because I don’t eat enough I may not get enough zinc which makes my appetite bad which means that I don’t eat enough and I may not get enough zinc….I really should remember to take a multi-vitamin.

7 Quick Takes (v. 37): New Year’s Resolutions

December 31, 2010

One New Year’s Resolution is for chumps; that’s why I got seven.  Surely, I can keep one of them…mostly.

1.  Save money:  We need to get on budget and stay on budget.  Our biggest money-waster is food, so I’m trying to reorganize some things to make grocery shopping and meal planning run smoother and help us avoid eating out so much.

2.  Quality time:  While I spend large quantities of my time with my kids, I realized that I might not be spending very much quality time with each individual child.  I’m going to start with the goal of spending 15-30 minutes per day with each child doing something they like to do and giving them as much of my undivided attention at that time as is possible.

3.  Curtail the cussin’:  I actually have quite a potty mouth, especially when I’m exhausted.  I’m going to try to avoid the big bad words at all cost and watch my temper.

4.  Be a better wife: I don’t think I’m a horrible wife, but I’ve become really aware lately that I’m not nearly as good of a wife as I should be.  This discussion about the Biblical injunction for wives to be submissive to their husbands has given me a lot of food for thought.

5.  Get dressed before noon:  Really this is indicative of how time manages me these days rather than me managing my time.  I really need to set up a series of systems to make our days run smoother and includes me being dressed for the day with my teeth brushed at some point in the morning instead of the late afternoon.

6.  Catch up Sabrina’s baby book:  The poor child is six-months old and I think I’ve filled in one page of that thing.  And while I’m at the other girls’ books need to be updated, too.

7. Day by Day:  I’m still working on the what, but I need to make a daily devotion habit in addition to my usual prayers of thanksgiving and petition.  I may just go back to the daily Bible readings as my first internet act of the day.