Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Annie's Bunny Pasta with Yummy Cheese

I am not one who typically purchases boxed macaroni and cheese, but really wanted to get the free subscription to Kiwi magazine that Annie's Homegrown is offering with the purchase of any Annie's product. Annie's Bunny Pasta with Yummy Cheese happened to be on sale at our store, so I bought it.

I really liked that it is made from natural ingredients and is somewhat healthier than traditional boxed macaroni and cheese. My kids loved the bunny shaped pasta, I liked that it was made from organic wheat. As for taste, it was ok. We made it according to the directions which called for mixing the pwdered cheese with milk. The sauce alone tasted great, but by the time we mixed it into the pasta, it tasted watered-down. Next time, I will mix the cheese with milk AND butter or substituting yogurt for the milk.

Some other things to like about this product is the fact that the packaging is made from 100% recycled paper fiber and that the company purchases renewable energy at their facilities.

In the future, I would buy this again, but certainly not on a regular basis. Health-wise, it is better than the competition, but it still is pretty high in sodium (530mg). I also just prefer the taste of homemade.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Money Monday: Thrifty Homeschooling

Homeschooling on a Budget: The Happy Wife

As I said last week, I would share my tips for homeschooling on a small budget.

-Utilize your local public and college libraries. Public libraries not only have great books that cover many subjects, but they also have great programs as well. Our local library offers storytime, a chess club, book clubs for several age groups, and tons of craft/story activities. College libraries often have curriculum and school-type books that local residents can check out. Just ask. They also will often have child-friendly activities.

-Skip boxed curriculum and create your own. There are lots of free resources online, just type the words "free (insert subject of interest) lesson plans" in a search engine. There are also some sites with low subscription rates that will give you access to tons of printable worksheets/books. Enchanted learning is a favorite of ours. I also have a homeschooling blog where I post activities related to a theme each week. I break it down by subject area and most of the activities are free or very inexpensive.

-Network, network, network. Find other homeschoolers in your area through Yahoo groups (type your city and the word homeschool in the group search box). I have done this in a few states and every time have had great results. The groups are a great way to find low cost field trips or to get enough people together to get the group discount rate for a place you want to visit. This is also a great way to find what local resources are available in your area for homeschoolers. Our city school district does a textbook giveaway every spring and it is through our Yahoo group that we learn the details. We also participate in a homeschool bowling league which is a better deal than any other bowling league I have ever seen ($2 a game, includes shoes and a trophy and pizza party on last day and you only pay on the days you attend). Our group has also arranged book swaps where everyone just brings what they want to get rid of (newbies don't have to bring anything) and it is a free-for-all. Another benefit of these groups is that there is often at least one certified teacher in the bunch and if you live in a state that requires an assessment or testing by a certified teacher, you already have one accessible.

-Along with networking is swapping "skills". If you are a math major, but can't speak a word of Spanish/French/German, find someone who does and swap tutoring with each other. Of course the subject areas are interchangeable.

-Freecycle and craigslist are also great sources of homeschool materials. eBay is good if you really need something specific or really want to use boxed curriculum.

-Find out if your local school district provides anything you can use. Some districts may allow your child to participate in sports or other activities. Some may provide textbooks or allow you to borrow materials such as microscopes. It never hurts to ask.

-Attend fairs and festivals and keep an eye open for free, local events. Some of our best learning opportunities have been in these locations. Fairs also often have lots of coloring books, pens, pencils, crayons, etc as well as links to websites with educational activities.

-Take advantage of teacher's discounts where applicable. Many place offer homeschoolers the same discount they give to teacher's. Check bookstores and office supply stores. In late-summer, Staples and Office Max had back-to-school events for teachers and gave away a bunch of school supplies (and breakfast!) to everyone who came. Pizza Hut also offers their Book-It program to homeschoolers.

-Turn everyday chores and errands into lessons. Cooking dinner is a lesson in nutrition, measuring, fractions, and home ec. Grocery shopping is a math lesson along with nutrition and home ec. Encourage the kids to talk and ask questions at doctor's offices and use their "models" to teach while waiting to be seen.

As you can see there are free lessons everywhere, you just need to know where to find them. I would love to hear how others reduce their homeschooling costs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Simply Sunday: Campfires

As the nights start to turn chilly, I can't help but look forward to a nice campfire. There is something entrancing about the dancing, orange flames and the warmth just wraps you up. There is also the yummy campfire foods that can be made. Hot dogs roasted on a stick or marshmallows lightly toasted (or burned if that is how you like them) taste particularly good. You can also make packets of food in tin foil and then toss them under the coals for a yummy meal. One of my favorite "packet" foods are Banana Boats. You cut a banana in half, length-wise, about 3/4 of the way through and then stuff it with chocolate chips, coconut, marshmallows, whatever you choose. Wrap it and tossit in the embers for about 10-15 minutes. Unwrap, cool slightly and enjoy!

Save-It Saturday: Water Bottles

This weeks tips revolve around water bottles, particularly the single-serve ones. I admit, they are really convenient, especially when on the run, but they create so much waste and considering water from the tap is really cheap, they are pretty expensive. For some facts on how many bottles are used and wasted each year, the financial aspect of water bottles, and some interesting information on where some bottled water comes from, check out The Filter For Goood campaign. Be sure to take the pledge while you are there and enter to win some great prizes. This brings us again to the 3 Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.

-Use less bottled water. Buy a re-usable water bottle, like Nalgene or SIGG and fill it with water from your tap. If you do not care for the taste of your tap water, buy a filter for your tap and try it again. If your tap water is unsafe to drink or you still do not like the taste after filtering, buy bottled water in the largest possible container and fill your water bottle that way. It is not recommended to re-use the individual plastic water bottles because they start to break down into the water, especially when exposed to extreme temperatures such as heating or freezing.

So if you should not re-use the individual bottles for water, how can you re-use them?
-Cut the tops off and use them as mini-planters.
-Use them for those layeredsand crafts (remove the label first).
-Fill with water, cap tightly and use for ice packs, either in lunches or for injuries.

-Put out with regular recycling for pick up. Most of these bottles are #1 and picked up in most municipalities.
-Recycled water bottles can be made into fiber and used in all sorts of ways.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Save-It Saturday: Postponed until tomorrow

Unfortunately, I am once again postponing an article this week. We had an unexpected car problem today and just returned home (at 11:30PM) after leaving the house at 9:45AM. I will post two articles tomorrow.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Family Friday: Family Dinner Time

Did you know that Septemebr 22nd was Family Day? Family Day began in 2001 by CASA, The Center on Addiciton and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Since 1996, CASA has been interviewing children ages 12-17 and parents in order to identify the factors that increase the liklihood of teen substance abuse. In the 10+ years of their research, one thing they have learned is that the more times a teen eats dinner with their family, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs. As a matter of fact, it has consistently been the number variable that is within our control. Occasional family dinners are better than none, but regular family dinners are better than some. Family Day is designed as a day for parents to eat dinner with their children. It does not matter if you are making a gourmet meal, heating up leftovers, or ordering a pizza. The most important part of a family dinner is that the family is together. Encourage discussion by asking questions and learning about your children's cares and concerns. Answer their questions and listen to what they are saying. Talk about their friends. Discuss the dangers and your stand on drugs, alcohol and tobacco use.

Although Family Day is only once a year and it was started to reduce the number of teens who engage in substance abuse, the scope does not need to be so limited. Eat dinner as a family as often as possible and disuss concerns other than substance abuse as well. Dr. Jayne Fulkerson, of the University of Minneapolis' Project Eat, has been studying the effects of family meals for several years. Project Eat looks at the long term effects that family meals have on children. In addition to supporting the findings of CASA, Dr. Fulkerson has discovered that families that eat together eat more nutritionally and the children develop higher self esteem and social competency. Teenage girls who eat five or more meals a week with the family are much less likely to suffer from an eating disorder. Both teenage girls and boys that eat family meals regularly, are less likely to be sexually active, be suicidal or depressed, have antisocial tendencies, or have problems at school.

Although Family Day 2008 has come and passed, I hope you will still apply this article to your family life. Fit in as many family dinners as possible. Try to limit extracurricular activities that will prevent regular family meals. It is never too late to start.

Project Eat information
CASA and Family Day information

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Week Thursday

-Wildlife Calendar and catalog from Wildlife Gifts.
-Free admission at MANY museums this Saturday (9/27/08)
-Free printable samples from Dover books. These change weekly and they e-mail you every Friday to let you know when the new books are posted.

-Centsible Mommy is giving away a $30 gift certificate to Wild Dill
-Notes from my Nest is giving away an adorable little girl's skirt from Bella Blue Boutique
-Win Burt's Bees products from Burt's Bees
-Frugal Mommy of 2 Girls has 2 giveaways: a cute apron from Carolyn's Kitchen and a day planner from truly mom

What Others Are Talking About
-How About Orange shows how to inexpensively spiffy up vinyl blinds
-Living on Less shares uses for stale or just excess bread
-Money Saving Mom has part 1 of an article for frugal moving.

Good Deal
-Get a 2-year subscription to All You magazine (great source for good coupons) for $18 through Womanly Excellence

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Journal Keeping

There is one activity that can help improve lung function in asthmatics, lower pain and severity of arthritis sufferers, improve cognitive function, strengthen the immune system, reduce stress in trauma survivors (and people in general), and improve grades and job performance. The activity is keeping a journal and can be done by just about everyone, no matter their ability (except they need to know how to write/type) nor their financial status. It can be hand-written or typed on a computer and in the very least requires a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Keeping a journal is more than just recording the daily happenings of ones life. It is recording the emotions and thoughts of the author as well. When you include your emotions and thoughts surrounding events, you are better able to achieve your goals, learn about yourself, clarify and strengthen relationships, and you improve your writing and communication skills.

Here are a few tips for effective journal keeping:
-Buy a journal you like and a nice pen. Of course, this is optional, but I personally find I am more apt to write if I have something nice to write in and write with. You can also always keep your journal on your computer.

-Set aside 10-20 minutes every day, or every few days, to write. If you miss a day or even several days, just go right back to it. If you do not have 10 minutes available, write for as long as you can.

-Not sure what to write? Just start writing. Write about your day or an event in your life. Write about your dreams or your wishes. The words will come as you begin to write.

-Keep your journal private. You are less likely to self-censor if you are only writing for yourself.

-Don't worry about neatness or grammar. Just getting your thoughts out on paper is the most important part.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Try-It Tuesday: Sunsilk Captivating Curls creme

My 6-year old has the potential to have absolutely beautiful curls. Unfortunately, her hair is often so frizzy that the beauty of her curls is lost. We have tried several products to no avail. Until recently, the only time her curls really worked for her was when we lived in Florida and the humidity kept her hair just damp enough to control the frizz. Then we discovered Sunsilk Captivating Curls de-frizz leave-in creme. I did not really want to spend any more money on products for her hair, but I found this on sale and had a coupon so I got it.

It comes in a green squeeze bottle and is part of a multi-product line. You can also get Captivating Curls shampoo or conditioner, and new to the line, scrunching mousse and gel & cream twist. For those with other hair issues, Sunsilk also has other hair care collections: Waves of Envy, Straight to Perfection, Daring Volume, Hydra TLC, Thermashine, Anti-esponja (for big hair that poufs), and Anti-caida (for hair that falls out. There is also a line called Hold Me Forever which is basically a variety of hairsprays. You can get samples of these and a $2 "gift certificate" (coupon) at the Sunsilk website.

Back to the product at hand. The bottle claims to give you soft, well-behaved curls and it lived up to that claim. My daughter has THICK hair and every layer had soft, beautiful curls. The creme is formulated with Aloe-E which contains Aloe Vera, Algae Extract, and Vitamin E, which helps hydrate the hair. The directions call for a nickel-sized amount (for medium length hair) of the creme to be applied to towel-dried hair and worked through. While, the bottle says to use after using the Captivating Curls shampoo and conditioner, but we had not purchased those and were still plenty pleased with the results. Of course, since we were so pleased with the creme, I will probably buy the shampoo and conditioner in the future as well. Overall, we were very pleased with Sunsilk Captivating Curls leave-in creme and I believe my search for the perfect curl-taming product is over. I wish I was able to post pictures just to show how wonderfully this product worked, but I am unable to at this time. I will try to post a picture soon though.

For those of you who may have color-treated hair, the bottle does state that it is safe for you to use. The Sunsilk line is a product of Unilever brand, which also makes such products as Vaseline, Slim Fast, Dove, Pond's, Hellmann's, and many more. I also want to make a note that for this product and all of the products I have reviewed so far, I have not received payment in any form, or products from the companies. These are unbiased opinions that I am simply sharing. If the time ever does come that I am offered payment or even just given a product to review, that information will be disclosed in the review.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Money Monday: The financial side of homeschooling

We recently began another school year and I am sure many of you are still recovering from the expenses associated with sending the kids back to school. As a homeschooler, we have different "school" expenses, but expenses just the same. MITBeta over at Don't Feed the Alligators, asked if I had ever written an article regarding the financial costs of homeschooling. So here it is:

Having never sent my children to school, I only have my memory to serve me regarding the costs of public/private schooling. Tuition aside (which is obviously free at public school), I figure the expenses faced by a parent who sends their child to a traditional school are: school clothes/uniform, backpacks and lunch boxes, school supplies for personal and classroom use (Kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc), lunches (unless brought from home), club and athletic fees, field trip fees, yearbooks, school pictures, dances/skating parties/etc, gas to get to/from school (unless walking or taking the bus), book fairs and book orders, gifts for teachers, and fundraising activities. Of course, most of these expenses vary from person to person based on what you choose, and are able, to spend; what your child's teacher specidfies on the supply list (some can get VERY specific, right down to brand name items) and what your school district provides. I am sure there are some of you whose children carry their homemade lunch in a grocery bag as they walk to school in their secondhand clothes, just as there are those whose children wear all designer clothing, buy their lunch at school, get driven to school in a gas-guzzler, have top-of-the-line school supllies, and participate in every possible activity. There is nothing wrong with either of those extremes, but I am betting most of you fall somewhere in the middle. Based on an old Reader's Digest article I found, in 2001, parents spent an average of $527 through the school year for clothing and school supplies. That number had been steadily increasing year-to-year, so I am sure it is probably a few hundred dollars more now. That number also does not include all the other extras I listed above.

So how about homeschoolers? We face some of the same expenses such as clothes and supplies, but we also have some unique expenses as well. I will start with how some of our similar expenses differ. Homeschoolers tend to buy their clothing throughout the school year, rather than in one big bunch in August. Homeschooled kids also do not usually have the same peer pressure to wear a certain brand or follow a certain trend. That alone helps save quite a bit of money. The school supplies we buy can be whatever brand we choose and often are the same things that tradition students have at home anyway, so our cost there tends to be cheaper. Homeschooling parents also can receive the same discount teacher's receive at most office supply stores and bookstores. Homeschoolers also face field trip expenses, and often the rates are higher because the group is smaller, but we have the option of not participating in a field trip if we do not want to. We are also able to seek out when and where we go, so we are able to take advantage of the best rates possible. We do not have yearbooks, and "school" pictures can be taken at Wal-Mart for much less than the cost of traditional school pictures. Many homeschoolers do participate in extracurricular activities (town sports, bowling leagues, art or music classes, etc) but again these are typically the same activities that traditional students are participating in, so our costs are generally the same. Ironically, the extremes in homeschooling mirror those in traditional schooling. Of course, we feed our kids lunch, but we do not need lunch boxes for them and backpacks are not needed either. We are also able to avoid teacher's gifts and the obligatory feeling of having to buy whatever fundraising item our child is peddling for their school. Homeschoolers do face having to provide curriculum for their children though and this is where the biggest price differences can occur. There are many parents who purchase "boxed" curriculum (lessons and materials put together by someone else) for thousands of dollars a year, but there are also many parents who spend very little on curriculum by utilizing free and inexpensive resources.

So is there a financial difference between homeschooling and traditional schooling? The answer depends on you and what you choose. For us, it is cheaper to homeschool than it is to send our kids to public school, but for other families, it is more expensive. There are also lots of other "costs" to factor in when deciding if homeschooling is more cost effective. Financially, would one parent be returning to work during school hours if the child attends traditional schools? If so, the loss of that additional income needs to figure into your equation. Of course, I do know dual income families that also homeschool. They just work opposite shifts and take turns teaching. Other things to factor in are not measurable in terms of money. I cannot put a price on the ability to sleep in when needed because I do not need to get up to put my kids on the bus or drive them to school. We also combine household chores and errands with schooling so I have two extra sets of hands at home all day to help with the babies and the chores (yes I also have two extra attitudes but the benefit outweighs that cost). I also have the security of knowing where my kids are, what they are doing, and what they are learning, academically and socially. On a side note, our children do participate in a lot of social activities, with and without us, so I do not worry about their socialization skills.

The decision to homeschool is usually made based on a culmination of all the "costs" and benefits, not just the financial ones. It can be an expensive choice or an inexpensive one, just as the expenses related to traditional schooling can be high or low. Some parents would not find it easier to have their kids home all day, I can understand that. Just as the amount of money one spends on schooling costs are a personal decision, so is the decision of how to have your child educated. There is no right answer, just the one that is right for you and your family.

As I was writing this, I decided to do another article next week on ways to homeschool inexpensively.

Simply Sunday: Pajamas

In light of yesterday's migraine, my simple pleasure today is pajamas. There is just something about a nice pair of pajamas or a nightgown, that helps me to relax and just feel more at peace. When I am not feeling well, a nice, warm set of pjs make me feel, just a bit better and on a cold morning, a good pair of pajamas goes nicely with a cup of hot, herbal tea. In the heat of summer, a cool, breezy nightgown, helps keep me cool. As a child, I always loved getting out of the tub and being zipped into my fluffy blanket sleepers. They just wrap you in warmth and comfort.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Simply Sunday Postponed

Due to an awful migraine, I will be posting my Simple Sunday article tomorrow along with Money Monday.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Save-It Saturday: Shopping Bags

What better item to apply the 3 R's (reduce/re-use/recycle) to than shopping bags?

I have received my purchases in cheap, flimsy plastic bags that can only hold 2 things before they break, yet at other stores, I have gotten nice, large strong bags that can hold many items easily. However, it is beyond my powers (except to write to the stores and request they switch bags) to make a store use "good" bags, so how can I reduce the number of bags I use?

-Get some re-usable shopping bags and use them. These can be purchased for about $1-$2 at most retailers. They also seem to be the new advertising item, like pens or magnets. I have attended two events this summer (the NY state fair and an open house put on by our landfill) where I received MANY of these bags for free, enough to always have some in the car and the ones in the house that I forgot to put back in the car from the last shoppng trip. (They also make great re-usable gift bags)

-Forgo putting your produce into the plastic bags in the produce department.

-Do not have larger items put into bags.

-Have the cashier/bagger put as many items as possible (without it breaking or needing to be double-bagged) in each bag.

-Use the plastic bags for disposing of dirty diapers. Tied up tight, they keep the smell in for quite some time, especially helpful in the summer heat when you have them sitting in your trash can.

-Use them to line small garbage cans. We actually use these in place of all regular garbage bags. They usually fill up quickly enough that they don't stink, unlike some bigger garbage bags that can take a while to fill.

-Use paper bags to cover schoolbooks. I remember loving going back to school just because it gave me a "clean slate" to decorate every year.

-Paper bags can also be used to wrap packages for shipping, just be sure to put the side with the store name on the inside.

-Paper bags can also be decorated and used as gift wrap.

-You can make "plarn" out of plastic bags and use it to knit or crochet all sorts of fun things with. I have seen rugs, Barbie-type clothes (she really doesn't care if it is a little scrathcy), water bottle holders, and even re-usable shopping bags. There are a whole bunch of ideas and instructions here.

-Check with your local recycling center to see if you can put these out with your other recyclables. Usually, paper bags can go with your paper/cardboard items, but not all places take plastic bags.

-Check your local grocery store to see if they recycle the shopping bags.

I would love to hear how you re-use your shopping bags. Please share in a comment.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Family Friday: Family Awards

As a way of both recognizing and encouraging certain behaviors, we have begun to implement "Family Award Night" once a month in our home. The awards are nothing fancy, pretty much just a plaque or appropriate framed poster related to what the award is for, and they are re-given month to month. We will also add in a small gift (dollar store item) the recipient gets to keep afterwards as well. For our family, we currently have a friendship reward, a good citizen reward, and a courage reward. On the awards night, nominations are made by any family member for each category. Stories are shared of other family members showing true friendship, good citizenship, and/or moments of courageous activity. If there is more than 1 nominee in a category, we will vote as a family to who gets the award. The "winner" then gets to display the award where they choose until the next month. We only recently began this award "program" so we are still working out the kinks, but it seems to be working so far. The kids are always looking for opportunities to be more friendly, help others, and be courageous. They are also noting when they see one of the other family members doing one of these things. They seem to appreciate each other more and us too. You can use any award category you choose and they can change as you see fit. I anticipate we will change ours quarterly, but we will see. Have any of you ever done something like this, if so please share your story.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Week Thursday: A change

In an effort to diversify my weekly postings, I am changing Thursdays from Thrifty Thursdays to This Week Thursdays. I figure between Money Monday and Save-It Saturday, there are tons of thrifty ideas being posted. On Thursdays, I will post links to various things I have found on the web, mainly what others are blogging about, contests, and freebies.

What Others Are Talking About
-Meal plans made exclusively from items bought at Aldi's

-The Happy Housewife (no relation to the Happy Wife) blogs about differentiating between needs and wants

-There is a tribute to Erma Bombeck over at A Homemaking Journey.

-Bill Schmick, of A Few Dollars More, blogs about the safety of bank deposits

Free Mr. Clean mini-eraser
Reach Access Flosser
Huggies Supreme Diaper (Wal-Mart freebie)
Lego Club magazine
Free TTY service without using the relay service. No need for a phone line either, just an internet connection.

Enter to win a Cakes by Me decorating set at Did You See That?

Win a game from Rix at Sassy Fraz

A Wrestling Addicted Mommy is giving away a Frog Pod by Boon.

Get $60 to spend at RS Designs through Thrifty Mommy.

Win a Lil' Sis Bowband from Cary Hairbows. I was fortunate to win her Cat in the Hat bow this month, and can attest that her bows are beautiful and well made.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Eat a Rainbow

As most of you know, it is important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, but did you know you should choose a variety of colors as well? Each color offers different health benefits and vitamins and within a 2-3 day period you should have at least one serving of every color, preferably eating the rainbow every day. They say that at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold. I believe that feeling good and having a healthy body is at least as good, probably better, than a pot of gold. (As with most things, check with your doctor if you have concerns. If you take blood thinners, I know you need to limit your intake of vitamin K, found in green, leafy vegetables. There may be other medications/diseases that may require you to carefully choose your foods.)

Here are the color families, their benefits, and some examples.

Blues and Purples: Good for reducing risk of certain cancers, maintaining urinary tract health, memory function, and healthy aging; contain phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and phenolics, currently being studied for their antioxidant and anti-aging benefits.

Blueberries, Blackberries, Raisins, Eggplant, and Purple Cabbage are a few examples

Greens: Good for lowering risk of some cancers, maintaining vision health and strong bones and teeth; contain phytochemicals such as lutein and indoles, which interest researchers because of their potential antioxidant,health-promoting benefits.

Green grapes, Green apples, Avocados, Broccoli, Asparagus, Spinach, Celery are some examples (I personally find this to be the easiest color to find foods in)

White and Browns: Good for lowering some cancer risks, maintaining heart health and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels (will not necessarily lower cholesterol levels); contain phtyochemical known as allicin.

Include Bananas, Dates, Brown Pears, Cauliflower, Garlic, and White Flesh Potatoes.

Yellows and Oranges: Good for lowering certain cancers, maintaining a healthy immune system, and maintaining heart and vision health; contain antioxidants such as vitamin C as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids, two classes of phytochemicals that scientists are studying for their health-promoting potential.

Examples include Cantaloupe, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Yellow corn, and Pumpkin.

Reds: Good for lowering risk of some cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and heart health; contain specific phytochemicals being studied for their health-promoting properties include lycopene and anthocyanins.

Red apples, Cherries, Cranberries, Beets, Red potatoes, and Tomatoes are a few examples.

Visit Fruits & Veggies: More Matters for ideas on how to combine several colors into one yummy dish.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Chex Mix Bars Chocolate Chunk

Ok, it is yet another less healthy food item that I tried this week, but they do provide at least 8 grams of whole grains and are a low-fat food. I was having a chocolate craving while grocery shopping the other day and happened to walk by the granola bar section. That is where I saw the Chex Mix Bars, chocolate chunk flavor, screaming out my name. Fortunately, they were on sale (2/$5), but I did not have any coupons. Regardless, my craving was strong and the bars looked so yummy, so I bought them and they were so worth it.

The main ingredients in these tasty bars are chocolate chunks, Wheat and Corn Chex pieces and pretzels. The pretzels add just enough of a salty taste to offset the sweetness of the chocolate. Nutritionally, they are not awful either, though they are certainly not something I would call healthy either. Each 35g bar (there are 6 in a package) contains 140 calories, 3g of fat (no trans-fat, no saturated fat), 135mg of sodium, 26g carbohydrates (2g of fiber, 13g of sugar), and 2g of protein. Each bar also provides 2% of the RDA of iron (for a 2000 calories/day diet). The first five ingredients are whole wheat flour, high maltose corn syrup, milk chocolate chunks, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Now you see why I do not call them healthy. While the first ingredient is a whole grain flour, 3 out of the next 4 are sugars and the other is chocolate. Any which way, they are still better than most chocolate candies as far as fat and sugar content go.

I will definitely buy these again, but I will have to moderate myself. They are very yummy and esy to eat more than one. I will most likely use them as a cure to pregnancy and PMS-induced cravings for chocolate and/or salt. The bars are made by General Mills and also come in turtle flavor as well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Money Monday: Identity Theft Part 3

The past two Mondays we have discussed identify theft and how to protect ourselves. This week I will discuss what to do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.

First, contact the fraud department of the major credit bureaus. Equifax fraud department can be reached at 800-525-6285; Experian fraud department can be reached at 888-397-3742; and Transunion fraud department can be reached at 800-680-7289. Let them know that you suspect, or know, that your identity has been stolen and that you would like a "fraud alert" placed on your credit file. You can have an "initial alert" placed if you suspect that your identity was stolen or if your identifying information has been compromised. This will stay on your cresit report for at least 90 days and entitles you to one free credit report. An "extended alert" remains on your report for 7 years. You will need to provide an "identity theft report" to the credit reporting company. You will also be entitled to 2 free credit reports within 12 months. Any business who checks your credit must verify your identity before issuing credit. When you speak with the fraud department be sure to request your free credit report and then carefully review it to identify any unauthorized accounts or charges.

You also want to place a "security freeze" on your credit file by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies. *NOTE*: These are different phone numbers than those used to contact the fraud departments. Transunion: PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834 or 800-916-8800; Equifax: PO Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348 or 800-685-1111; and Experian: PO Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 or 888-397-3742. It does not cost any money to have a security freeze placed on your file.

Next, for any accounts that have been fraudulently opened or accessed, immediately contact the security department of the financial institution or creditor. be sure to follow up in writing as well. Close all accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened and open new accounts that are password protected.

Identity theft and fraud are both felonies punishable by law. Be sure to file a police report as soon as possible. Keep a copy of the report to give to creditors, financial institutions, and the credit reporting agencies as proof that a crime was committed. Submitting a police report can block the reporting of fraudulent data on your credit report.

You will also want to contact the ID Theft Clearinghouse at 877-438-4338 to report the theft. This is managed and maintained by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and has counselors available to provide additional consumer advice. The Clearinghouse also serves as a central database for law enforcement of identity theft complaints.

If you have had personal checks stolen or lost, notify the bank immediately and have a "stop payment" issued for all the missing checks. You may also contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers not to accept the lost/stolen checks or you can ask your bank to notify the check verificaiton service it uses. The 3 major check verification companies are: Certegy, Inc at 800-437-5120; International Check Services at 800-526-5380; and TeleCheck at 800-710-9898.

If your government -issued id (license, non-driver id, etc) has been stolen, contact the issuing agency and follow their procedures for cancelling the document and getting a replacement. If you believe the thief used the mail to steal your identity, contat the US Postal Service.

Senior citizens and disabled persons (at least in NY state) may be eligible for crime victim compensation to cover out-of-pocket expenses for financial counseling. NY residents (seniors or disabled) should contact the NYS Crime Victims Board at 800-247-8035.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Simply Sunday: The first smile

This week my baby finally began smiling, real smiles, the ones that come along with a look of recognition and are not quickly followed by the passing of gas. He turned 3 months old on Friday and is growing so quickly. He was born early and had a few struggles that kept in the NICU for a few weeks, but he is healthy now. I am not sure if it is because he is likely our last child or because of all the drama in the beginning, but his "milestones" seem so much bigger than they did with the first three. Well, maybe the first baby's milestones were just as big. I don't know, but when he looked at me for the first time and I saw his eyes light up and that big, wet, gummy smile, I just melted. The sleepless nights, the spit up, the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, the colic, the NICU, the difficult pregnancy and birth, and did I mention, the sleepless nights, all seemed so much more worth it. I have always enjoyed my babies and I do know what a blessing they are, it's just sometimes you need that little smile to remind you of what you are holding.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Save It Saturday: Expired and Unwanted Coupons

If you are like me, you inevitably have a bunch of coupons that are either expired or that you know you will not use. I hate having to just recycle them when A) I know someone could have used them and B) it seems like it was such a waste of ink, paper, and energy. Well, I recently learned that at overseas military bases, the families can use expired manufacturer's expired for 6 months past their expiration date and of course can use any unexpired coupons as well. Also, from what I hear, food and groceries cost much more overseas, so these coupons are greatly appreciated by the military families. So what is the next step? The Happy Housewife (no relation to The Happy Wife) and My Precious Pennies will send you information about Coupons For Troops when you e-mail them (their e-mails are on their blog posts) or you can also check out the Overseas Coupon Program if you are interested in organizing a bunch yourself. I may gather a bunch myslef in the near future to send over. If I do, I will post it here so that you may send your coupons my way and I will send one big package. Any which way you do it, by sending expired or unwanted coupons to those who can still use them, not only are you reducing the amount of paper being recycled, you will be helping a deserving group of people at the same time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Family Friday: Communication, Counseling and Forgiveness

Warning: This posting is of a sensitive and personal nature. Those who have known me
in my personal life are aware of what we went through 5 years ago, but for many of you this will be the first time learning it. I have discussed this with my husband and he is aware of me posting it and is ok with it. While this story does not portray him, well his past, in the most positive light, please know he is a wonderful man, an amazing father, and a loving husband now. He defies the common saying of "once a dog, always a dog."

My husband and I had an awful beginning to our marriage. We had no clue how to function as a married couple and the emotional closeness we one time shared turned into a vast chasm. Eventually, my husband found another woman and moved out. We filed for divorce and I began to move on, still holding onto hope that we may somehow fix what was wrong. We began to date each other again, and after a few weeks he left his "girlfriend" and we decided to get counseling. Through counseling we both realized the mistakes we were making in our relationship and we began to correct those mistakes. As our relationship improved we then were able to focus on working through the affair itself. On my end, once I realized how my husband was feeling prior to the affair, I understood how it happened and that I was responsible for helping create those feelings in him. Do not get me wrong, I do not accept responsibility for him cheating, just in sharing the responsibility for creating the environment that he felt he needed to cheat. It was in doing that, that I was able to forgive him and move forward as a couple.

We were able to not only salvage our marriage, but to turn it completely around. We never did finalize our divorce and now 5 years later we have 2 more children and are happier than ever before (hence the title of this blog). We no longer take each other for granted and we learned how to communicate effectively. We know what makes each other tick and rather than push those buttons like before, we go out of our way to make sure those things don't happen. The irony of the whole situation is that I trust my husband more now than before. Do I ever think about what happened? Yeah, and I would be lying to say it doesn't still hurt a little, but part of forgiving is not bringing up what happened. We do talk about it when I feel I am thinking about it too much (this happens when hormones are especially high, like when pregnant or experienceing PMS) and my husband tries extra hard to make sure I know our relationship is secure.

So why am I sharing all this with the cyberworld? So often, marriages fail due to problems that could be overcome. I have discovered that communication and forgiveness can not only save a troubled marriage, but turn a humdrum one into a spectacular one. If you have tried and tried to improve the communication in your marriage and it is still troubled, do not be afraid to get counseling. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of being human and realizing when you need help. My husband had asked for us to go to counseling in the beginning of our marriage and I refused to believe we had a problem that *I* could not fix. By the time I realized I could not fix it, the damage had been done and my husband did not want to go to counseling. I started the counseling alone (2 sessions) and discovered what I could do to improve things on my end. As I did that, my husband wanted to be a better husband and quickly joined me in the counseling process. If, by sharing what we went through, one marriage can be helped, I will be thrilled.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thrifty Thursday: Speak up

Quite often, we will come across a product or service that does not meet our expectations. Many people feel it is easier to just absorb the cost and move on, but I believe it is important to stand up for what is right. When I am disappointed in a product/service, I will often sit down and e-mail the company (the website and/or e-mail address is usually on the pacjage or you can Google it). More often than not, the company will send a coupon (or more) to replace the product I was disappointed in and they will offer an explantion. Usually, if the explanation includes an apology and an admittance that there is a problem, they have become aware that something needs to be fixed. If they tell me that this is just the way the product is, I know they do not plan to change it and I will not purchase it again.

This can also be done at the grocery with "fresh" items that are purchased there, such as breads, meats, and produce. If the item is not as fresh as it should be (i.e. it is still within the use by date, but is bad) and you do not have the receipt, you can often still exchange the product for another "fresher" package. If you have the receipt they will usually offer you the choice of an exchange or a refund.

Be sure to watch the cash register as your products are rung up or at least review your receipt before leaving the store to make sure everything rang up correctly. It also helps if you have a general idea of what your total should be ahead of time so that if it is way off, you know something is wrong. It happened to me today and it turned out the cashier had only scanned 2 of my 3 $3 coupons. I politely asked if he had gotten all 3 coupons and he realized that 2 had stuck together. Some stores will also take a certain amount off your order total if you catch their registers are scanning something incorrectly.

On the flip side of all this, do not hesitate to applaud a company either. It may not always seem like it but companies do still want us to be happy and just like us, they like to be told when they have done well. This also may result in coupons for free product, but should not be our motivator.

So how does one tactfully complain or compliment a company? I will share what has always worked for me. First, do not threaten, use foul language, lie, or disparage their company. I start my letters by telling them how long I have used their product, whether it is my first time or I have been a long-time user. This lets them know that I am either not sure what to expect or that I am a "loyal" (or return) customer. I then find something good to say about the product before going into my complaint, or I continue on with what especially impressed me in a complimentary letter. For a complaint letter, I will say something like this: "I have always loved *positive aspect of product*. That is why I was especially surprised to find *negative event* in this can/box/bag/etc." I then will let them know that I am disappointed/upset/concerned (whatever the case may be) and that I hope they are working on correcting the problem. If, it is a repeat occurence or a serious enough problem and I mean it, I will let them know that I am planning on discontinuing using their product, unless they can show me the problem has been resolved. I follow up with how I would miss the positive things about the product and that I would hate to have to stop using the product, but that the safety of my family is most important or that the money we have can be better spent on a another brand. Then I sign off and send it. I will not name the brand, but ran into some issues with diapers when my oldest was an infant. I wrote the company regarding my disappointment and received a coupon for a free package and several more for deeply disounted packages. It always makes me laugh when companies do this when you are disppointed in how a product performs, because if I was not happy the first time, I doubt I will be happy the second time. Anyway, the free package performed the same as the first and I re-wrote the company and specifically asked that they NOT send me coupons for more of their diapers because I was done using them. I stated I did not want free diapers that did not work, I wanted them to make a better diaper so I had more choices at the store. The company again apologized and sent several high value coupons and free coupons for other products they manufactured.

In today's economy, we need to get the most for our money and when a product does not meet our expectations, we are not getting our money's worth. It is only fair to let the companies know what it is we do not like and give them the opportunity to fix it. On the other hand, companies also realize that we can choose who to do business with and although it may not always seem this way, they do value our business. Companies also feel the pinch of the economy and do not want to lose customers. Do not be afraid to speak up for yourself and you may just end up being rather pleased with the results.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Thyroid function

The thyroid is a small organ located in the front of the neck, along the windpipe, just below the larynx (Adam's Apple). The purpose of the thyroid is to absorb iodine from foods and convert it to thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4), which are then released into the bloodstream. The thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling metabolism in every cell in the body. The pituitary gland, in the brain, controls thyroid function. When T3 and T4 levels drops, the pituitary gland releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to tell the thyroid to produce more T3 and T4.

When the thyroid produces too much T3 and T4 on a regular basis, it is called hyperthyroidism. Often, the changes that occur in the body are gradual, so it takes some time before the person realizes there is a problem. Common symptoms include: heat intolerance, palpitations, nervousness, insomnia, fatigue, increased heart rate, trembling hands, weight loss, and hair loss. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves' Disease, which affects women 8:1 compared to men. Other less common causes of hyperthyroidism are a toxic nodule of the thyroid, thyroiditis (can occur briefly after pregnancy, will usually take care of itself), and taking too much medication to treat hypothyroidism. For hyperthyroidism not related to pregnancy-induced thyroiditis, there are several forms of treatment. Anti-thyroid medications, such as methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU), block hormone production of the thyroid. These will not cure the hyperthyroidism and it is likely the patient will remain on the medication long-term. The most common treatment for hyperthyroidism is using radioactive iodine to kill the thyroid gland. Unfortunately, this results in hypothyroidism, which I will discuss in the next section. Another treatment that results in hypothyroidism is the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland.

When the thyroid does not regularly produce enough T3 and T4, it is called hypothyroidism. There are 2 major causes of hypothyroidism: inflammation of the thyroid (which damages thyroid cells) and a wide range of medical treatments, such as those mentioned above. Common symptoms of an underactive thyroid include: fatigue, weakness, weight gain/difficulty losing weight, coarse and dry hair, dry skin, hair loss, cold intolerance, muscle aches and cramps, depression, irritability, and memory loss. When untreated for a long time, a goiter may form as a result of TSH continuously being sent to the thyroid to try to get it to produce more T3 and T4. Hypothyroidism can usually be diagnosed with a simple blood test and is treated by taking a small pill every day. There are several different thyroid medications and your doctor or endocrinologist will find the best treatment for you. Some medications are levothyroxine, Synthroid, and Levoxyl. This condition does not correct itself and the pills will be taken for the rest of the patient's life.

As with any medical information you find online, you should contact your doctor for diagnosis and if you have any concerns. I have personal experience with Graves' Disease, which was treated by radioactive iodine in February 1999 and I have since dealt with hypothyroidism. If you even suspect a thyroid issue, please get to your doctor and have your thyroid checked. I promise you, if it is a thyroid issue, whether it is hyper- or hypo-, you will feel SO much better once it is being treated. For more information, check out Endocrine Web.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Wegmans Atlantic Salmon, Farm Raised, Portions

In the spirit of thriftiness, I usually do not buy frozen foods that are individually frozen and I usually do not buy frozen fish either, but this week we really wanted salmon and this was by far the cheapest way to go at our grocery store. The "regular", fresh salmon was almost $12 a pound, but by buying the individually frozen salmon sections in a 2-pound package, I was able to get it for $6 a pound. So was it worth it?....I think so.

My 2-pound package of Wegman's (store name) frozen salmon sections contained 5 pieces of salmon (the bag says it should contain 8 4-oz servings), perfect for my young family, but those with smaller families will like that they can just thaw what they need. The package has directions for searing, baking, grilling and broiling the portions. All of the cooking methods require you to thaw the sections, but they thaw quickly in water. Tonight, we baked ours with a little olive oil and garlic and dill. They tasted great.

Now, I just read the description of these on the Wegman's website and I am not exactly sure how I feel, but I will share with you what I learned. The salmon is "harvested" in Chile from farms where they are raised. Unlike their "wild" versions which feed on foods that give salmon its pink color, farm-raised salmon are fed nutrients that have coloring added to give them their color. The same color-enhanced nutrients are used by fish hatcheries that help replenish the wild salmon population and are safe and healthful. I am just not sure if I like that aspect or not. The website also explains that the use of the name "Atlantic" salmon is simply the name of the variety of fish.

Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, something many people do not get enough of. Where I live, it costs anywhere from $5-$12+ a pound, depending on when, where, and how you buy it. I know in some places this is expensive and in some places this may be cheap, but it is more than I like to generally pay for fish. On the other hand, we are aware of the health benefits of salmon and enjoy the taste. I also like that the fish is quickly frozen (within hours of harvest) and in individual packages. Unlike, fresh salmon portions I have bought in the past, these were free of skin and the brown flesh that lies under the skin, which often gives the fish that "fishy" flavor. That helped make the fish taste even better.

My final opinion of Wegmans Atlantic Salmon, Farm Raised, Portions is that they are worth every penny paid and they are an item I will purchase again and again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Money Monday: Identity Theft Part 2

Last week I started this series on Identity Theft with a brief introduction of what it is and several ways you can protect yourself. We continue this week with more ways to protect yourself. Next Monday, I will conclude the series with what to do if your identitiy is stolen.

Computer safety
-Protect your computer from unauthorized access. There are viruses that can get into your computer and send information to others. Some just steal the information already on your computer and others will log every key stroke you make, including when you are entering credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and social security numbers. To help keep these viruses out of your computer, install and use virus protection software and update it regularly. There are free virus protection programs available. I have used both AVG and Avast! (not at the same time, you only want 1 anti-virus software running at a time) and was pleased with both programs. Do not download or click on links that you are not sure of, even if they come in an e-mail from someone you know. I once received an e-mail from a woman I had recently offended. The e-mail subject said something along the lines of apologizing or forgiving and the note said something of the same effect and the words, "see how happy we are" and icluded a "picture". I clicked on the picture and instantly downloaded a virus. Apparently, her computer had the same virus and it sent this e-mail to everyone in her address book. It just happened that the note was fitting to our situation and I fell for the scam. The point is, check with the person sending the download if you have any suspicions at all. Also, use a firewall when online, or if you have a high-speed connection that is always "on".

-Ensure you are using a secure browser before sending personal information over the internet. If you need to send personal information online, ensure that the browser is secure by looking for the padlock on the status bar and "https" at the beggining of the web address. See the picture below for examples.

-Be aware of "phishing" techiniques. This is when you receive an e-mail, pop-up window, or even a phone call that tries to deceive you into disclosing personal information. Often it comes as a request to update or verify your information and they often emply scare tactics as well. You may be told that your account is frozen until you do so or that you risk having your account forfeited. There may be a link to a website that looks identical to the legitimate website, but it is not. How to differentiate "phishing" from actual businesses you deal with? Legitimate companies do not do business this way. They do not contact you and ask for information. If you are concerned about something you receive, call or e-mail the company, using information from the phone book or your account statements. DO NOT USE the information provided on the website that the e-mail or pop-up brings you to. If you respond to a phishing e-mail/pop-up/phone call, immediately contact the legitimate organization so they can freeze your account immediately.

-Try to avoid storing personal information on your laptop. Laptops are easily stolen. Avoid having your passwords and user names automatically stored on your laptop and always log off as well.

-Properly dispose of old/unwanted computers. Permanently delete all personal information from your compter with a program that will overwrite your hard drive. It is often not enough to just delete the inofrmation and then empty the recycle bin. The information will still be on your computer and a good hacker will find it. Killdisk is a free hard drive eraser that is recommended by some computer guys I know.

Review Credit Reports and Bills
-Keep accurate records of all account statements or switch to all electronic delivery of statements. Statements can be stolen through the mail and the information in them can be used by others. If you notice a missing statement, immediately notify the issuing company. If you switch to all electronic delivery, you do not need to worry about the statements being stolen.

-Review all your bills for unauthorized charges. Contact the company to clear up any unauthorized charges and ensure it was actually a mistake and not someone posing as you.

-Review your credit report regularly. You are entitled to a free credit report each year, from each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). To better monitor your credit, request one report every 4 months, using a different agency each time. This allows you to identify any changes throughout the year instead of just once a year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to request your free report.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Simply Sunday: Sleep

Today, as I struggle through the aftermath of a sleepless night yet again, I am going to link to a posting on one of my other blogs, Things I Love, that I wrote in February of 2007. It is about how much I appreciate a good night's sleep. Ironically, it was written when baby #3 was 2 months old and now that baby #4 is the same age, I am remembering again how much I enjoy the simple pleasure of a good night's sleep. Here's to hoping that tonight might be the night I get to sleep for at least a little while.

Save It Saturday: 6 pack rings

I want to apologize first for being late on my last few postings. I am working on getting my posts typed up ahead of time so that I can quickly publish them on busy days, but it has not happened quite yet.

Six-pack rings, like that shown above, when improperly disposed, can kill birds, in a slow and painful way. The curious bird will begin to peck at the plastic and then get its head entrapped in the ring. Sometimes it is in a way that the ring is caught on the beak, preventing the bird from eating and therefore starving to death. Other times, the ring will get around the birds neck and as the bird grows, the ring cuts into its neck, strangling the bird, but not before infection sets in around the cuts. Here is an experiment to show how plastic rings get stuck on a bird's neck. When the rings make their way into the water supply, fish can swim through them, getting caught midway and eventually dying from them as well.

So what can be done? I am going to share a few ideas for recycling the rings, but first will say if you are not recycling them, please at least dispose of them responsibly. Cut the rings apart, ensuring you also cut the smaller holes in the center and then properly dispose of the rings in the trash/recycling bin (if recyclable in your area). It may also be possible to drop off uncut rings to a local bottling plant for reuse. Now on to ways to reuse them:

-Make decorative snowflakes (please note: this link takes you to a webpage named Danielle's Place. I am not the same Danielle)
-Make a wreath (there are no pictures on this link. If you know of one with pictures, please let me know and I will post that link instead) OR you can cut them into separate rings, triple crochet around each ring, pushing the stitches together tightly to cover the ring. You can then thread a chain stitch through the center of the stitches.
-Make decorative flower pots with flowers (this one also lacks pictures) made from the rings
-For the truly crafty person, here is a photo of a chair and curtain made from 6 pack rings.

I would love to see or hear about the ways you reuse 6 pack rings.

This post has been shared on Simply Rebekah, Your Green Resources.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Family Friday: Tell Them

Have you ever noticed how when we are having a bad day, it is often those who are closest to us that we snap at, while we are nice to strangers? Most likely, we do this because we know that our family will love us regardless and they are more likely to understand that our bad mood is temporary. I do try to keep in mind that my family does not deserve to be snapped at just because they will accept it from me, but sometimes I forget and then I am racked with guilt afterwards. This led me to an activity that I try to do regularly and have seen my family members repeating it themselves.

Every few months or so, I sit down and write a short note to each family member telling them how much they mean to me. I mention any special moments we may have shared since the last note and list what I appreciate about them. I will then leave the note in a special place for them to find it and read on their time. I want them to know what it is I love about them, not just that I love them.

I have seen my daughters repeating this with not only our immediate family, but with extended family as well. It always means so much to me to get a sweet little note from one of them and I am sure the rest of the family feels the same way. This could even be done as a family activity one night. Gather a bunch of small note cards and/or some nice stationary and have everyone find a quiet spot to sit and write notes to each other. To help further communication among each other, you could then read them out loud together, or you could just read them silently later on.

This is an activity that has gone over well in my family. If you are not comfortable expressing your feelings to others, try just writing the notes and putting them away somewhere. Then if you do decide to share them later, you have them already written and if you never decide to share them that is ok too. Just writing them out helps to remind you of each person's individuality and why they are special to you.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thrifty Thursday: Eating Fast Food Cheap

Many of us have those days when we just need to get the kids (or ourselves) fed quickly and on the run. Fast food is typically not a thrifty option, but there are few of us who never visit a fast food drive-thru. Today I will share how I manage to feed myself and the kiddos for $5-10, depending on where we are eating and what is nearby.

-Dollar/Value menus: Many places are beginning to phase out their dollar menus and phasing in "value menus", but they still work. Before leaving the house, grab a bag of baby carrots or some fruit for everyone. You could also add to this by grabbing a box of granola/cereal bars and/or juice boxes/cans of soda, etc. At the drive-thru, order everyone something from the value menu, ensuring it is something that will fill them up. For us, that means no chicken nuggets for those over age 5 and no fries, since they do not fill them up enough. Order everyone a water to drink and pass around the goodies from home.

-Order one meal (preferably a value meal for about $3-3.50), upsize it to the largest size, and order everyone else their "entree" from the dollar/value menu. Again, waters all around except for the drink with the meal. Divide up the fries and the drink (or keep the drink for yourself) among everyone. If your family is large enough to need more fries, it is often more economical to go ahead with another value meal than to just order extra fries. You could also supplement this meal with carrote/fruit/granola bars from home. At some places, particularly sub places, get the largest subs and split them among the family. It takes 2 subs to feed myself and my three girls (the baby doesn't eat food yet) and if my husband is with us I am sure to grab some carrots from home to supplement rather than order an extra sub.

-If by chance the toy in the kids meal is something spectacular and you really want to get it for your child, ask about buying just the toy. Often it is more economical to do that AND order from the dollar/value menu than it is to get the whole kid's meal. If it is not, then order the one kid's meal and split the fries and drink.

-Coupons are great too, IF you have them with you. Quite often, they arrive in the mail, we bring them in the house, and then when we are in the drive-thru we are thinking,"Shoot, I have a coupon for here at home on my desk." When coupons come in the mail or paper, put them right into your glove box, then you always have them on hand.

When we find ourselves pinched for time, or even if we just want a treat, these are the methods I use, to keep our bill low. Often I combine some of the "methods", sometimes I just do one. What ways do you save money at the drive-thru?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Early Cancer Detection

Cancer begins when a group of cells begin to grow abnormally and form into a mass, or tumor. The cancer then begins to spread to other cells and parts of the body. The earlier cancer is detected, the sooner the spreading can be stopped. There are often more treatment options available to those who discover the cancer early and treatment is more effective. How do we maximize the ability to catch cancer early? Here are some tips for working with your health care provider(s) to ensure you are being screened at the appropriate times.

-Adults 20 years of age and older, who have regular health exams, should have cancer-related checkups. These may be included during regular health exams and include (depending on the persons age and gender) exams to check for cancers of the thyroid, mouth, skin, lymph nodes, testes/ovaries, and other non-cancerous diseases.

-Breast Cancer: For most women, it is recommended they have a clinical breast exam (by the doctor) about every 3 years during their 20s and 30s, and annualy for women 40 and older. At age 40, women should also begin having annual mammograms. All women should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. Any changes should be promptly reported to their doctor.

-Cervical Cancer: All women should begin having annual Pap smears (unless using the new liquid-based Pap with can be done every 2 years) about 3 years after they become sexually active OR when they turn 21. At age 30, if you have had 3 normal Pap results, you may begin to spread the tests out to every 2-3 years. Women 70 or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap results and no abnormal Pap results in the last 10 years, may stop altogether. Women who have had a complete hysterectomy (unless done as a cancer or precancer treatment) may also stop being tested.

- Endometrial(Uterine) Cancer: Around the time of menopause, all women should be informed of the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Any unexpected bleeding or spotting should be reported to your doctor.

-Colorectal Cancer and Polyps: Beginning at age 50, both men and women should do one of the following: (1)have a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, OR a double contract bariumenema every 5 years, OR CT colonography every 5 years, OR a colonoscopy every 10 years or if one of the previous tests are positive. (2)have an annual fecal occult blood test, OR an annual fecal immunochemical test, OR stool DNA test. All of these tests should consist of multiple stool samples, not just one done by the doctor in the office. If any of the tests are positive, they should be followed up with a colonoscopy.

And for the men in our lives:
-Prostate Cancer: Beginning at age 50, men who have at least a 10-year life expectancy, should have an annual prostate-specific antigen blood test and digital rectal exams.

These test schedules and even the tests offered may differ if you have a personal or family history of cancer or other circumstances. More information is available at The American Cancer Society website. I used one of their brochures, titled Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, for this article.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Try It Tuesday: using lists and rewards

This week it was not a new product I tried, but a new way of doing things with my kids. For me, lists are very helpful. They show me what I still need to do and allow me to feel a sense of accomplishment as I cross things off and review what I have already done. They also serve as a mini-goal sheet for me. WHen I have a larger goal to accomplish, I break it down into smaller goals and then include the smaller goals on my to-do list. After thinking about it, I realized this may just work with my kids as well.

I often struggle with them because there is so much more that they want to do besides housework or schoolwork. Can I blame them? There is so much more that *I* want to do besides housework, too! We are not a rigidly structured household so things like chore charts and schedules just have not worked for us in the past. This past week I decided to write up a list each day of things they need to have done. Then I went and divided the list up into a few chunks, each chunk covering at least a small chore and some schoolwork. After each chunk, I write in a "treat" of some sort, whether it be free time on the computer or tv or a special snack or special activity. Now they have something to work towards.

So is it working? Not like I would have hoped, but it has decreased the amount of arguing to get work done. Now it is simple, if you want the treat, you do the work. My 6-year old does all her work as quickly as possible so she can enjoy her treats as she wishes. My 7-year old though has an "I don't care" attitude until her sister gets her treat, then she suddenly decides to work. I guess for her, I will have to keep trying to find something that works. For her sister and myself, the lists are working well so I will continue them for us.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Money Monday: Identity Theft Part 1

Each year, approximately 10 million Americans are affected by identity theft. It is the most common consumer fraud complaint and the fastest growing financial crime. Victims spend an average of two years and thousands of dollars to clean up the damage that is caused by identity theft. Some of them will lose jobs, be refused loans, or even be arrested for crimes they never committed.

Victims can be any age and often children are targeted since most parents do not check their childrens credit reports. It is not until the child applies for credit themselves that they discover that their credit is destroyed before they ever got to use it.

How to Protect Yourself

-Safeguard your personal information. Your social security number, bank account information, credit card numbers, and passwords should be inaccessible to others. If you employee outside help in your home, such as housekeepers or even babysitters, be sure your information is secure.

-Use your social security number as little as possible. When asked to provide your social security number for something, ask if you can use another form of identifying information. Do not put your social security number or telephone number on a check when making payments.

-Limit what you carry on you. Do not keep your bank account numbers or social security card in your wallet. Only bring them when you absolutely need them. Only carry the credit cards that you plan to use. Keep copies of everything you have in your wallet that contains personal information and immediately report to the proper places if your wallet is ever stolen.

-Find out how personal information will be used. When asked to supply personal information, ask exactly how it will be used and who it will be shared with. Make sure they know you do not want them to share your information with anyone else.

-Place passwords on all of your accounts. Passwords keep someone who does steal your information from being able to access the account by simply having your basic information. Be sure to use a password that is not commonly used (mother's maiden name, date of birth, etc). You can password protect your credit cards, bank accounts, and utility accounts.

-Properly dispose of documents. Be sure to shred (cross cut shredders are best) or burn any papers with person information on them and any preapproved credit offers. To further protect yourself, dispose of the shreddings in a bag with dirty diapers and/or rotten food or saucy foods.

-Protect your mail. Place outgoing mail in a collection box or at the post office and be sure to collect incoming mail promptly. Try to avoid having checks mailed to you by using direct deposit whenever possible.

-Be careful when using ATMs. People around you can not only steal your PIN, but can take a picture of your ATM card and steal the number. Also, check the slot where you insert the card. If it looks odd, do not use it! There is a device that can be placed over the correct slot and it steals your information, yet allows you to bank as normal so you are unaware.

-Reduce the number of credit card offers you receive. Call 1-888-5OPTOUT and have your name removed from marketing lists. Be sure to have your financial institutions not share your information with non-affiliated companies.

Part 2 of this article, with more ways to protect yourself, will be posted next Monday and Part 3, with what to do if your identitiy is stolen, will be posted the following Monday.

I am using a brochure from the New York State Consumer Protection Board, titled A Consumer Guide to Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft, as a resource for these articles.

Simply Sunday: Taking the Day Off

I apologize for not posting yesterday (Sunday). My simple pleasure was to take the day off and just relax with my family.