Buckets of joy

The rockstar boyfriend and I have been playing ping pong.

Maybe once a week, maybe less, but fairly consistently for the past couple months.

His parents have a ping pong table in their basement, and well, it’s FUN.

I’m not very good. The rockstar is quite good. He’s got this spin move he does sometimes that’s funny and awesome at the same time.

But while I’m not very good, I’m getting better.

We played tonight, and had we stopped at best two out of three (despite a 7-0 run on his part during one game), I would have won. Instead, we played a fourth game and he won.

(The little girl actually came down and told us it was time to go home during this game. I then glanced upstairs and noticed my son had his coat and boots on. It wasn’t that late, really. I swear).

Anyway, ping pong … kinda rocks.

Is this an acceptable opinion to hold? Can I still be cool? Or is liking ping pong something that just happens when you enter your thirties and sort of synonymously lose whatever cool you still had?

F it. It rocks. Either way.

***

My blog hit 10,000 visitors today.

Can I just say: “Woo-hoo!”

The site meter is at more than 10,000 actually. When I started writing this post, it read 10,080. Since Nov. 4. Five weeks ago.

Incredible.

And pretty. freaking. awesome.

I know that’s not staggering traffic for some blogs written by women with kids trying to figure this crazy world out. It’s also not staggering compared to what that website I used to work for gets (you know … that one? I forget the name).

But for me, doing this very-little-on-the-side project all on my own? Completely awesome.

Thank you. So much. I hope you’ll keep reading.

***

Finally, a song from the “just because I love you mix” CD the rockstar gave me today:

Willy Tea Taylor – “Life is Beautiful”

Enjoy!

Mom Saves Money: Smart shopping

I really want to use coupons.

Really, I do. I actually enjoy flipping through the Sunday ads, scissors in hand, clipping those glossy little $1-off-my-favorite-makeup-brand rectangles.

I’ve tried buying a coupon organizer that I’d keep in my purse.

I’ve tried organizing the coupons by category in different envelopes at home.

Nothing has worked. Ultimately, all those well-laid plans to save money fall by the wayside and I end up at the store sans glossy rectangles.

Today’s guest blog, though, makes me want to give it another go. If you take Nicole McDonald’s word for it, clipping coupons and watching sales can be SO WORTH IT.

Nicole McDonald, momsavesmoney.net

Stockpiling is smart shopping.

I know. Some of you hear the word “stockpile” and think it’s synonymous with hoarding. If you’ve watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” you’ve seen the giant stockpiles that some coupon users accumulate over time. It is called extreme for a reason.

But don’t let that scare you from having a modest stockpile to save huge amounts of money on groceries and toiletries.

You don’t need an extra room or a garage that can be taken over with products. A small pantry, freezer or extra cupboard will suffice. And it’s worth it: Stockpiling 3-4 months of goods can save you an insane amount of money.

What is stockpiling?

Stockpiling is simply the accumulating of goods or items for future use. People throughout the years have been doing this by canning their fresh veggies and fruits or freezing/preserving meat from a deer, cow or pig. Now, we think of having a small mini-mart in our home to store non-perishable items.

Why stockpile?

Stockpiling when grocery prices are rock bottom means you won’t be forced to buy that item at full price when you run out. For example, this week 5-pound bags of flour are as cheap as 49 cents in the Omaha area. Crazy cheap, right? Well, I propose you purchase 3-4 months worth and store it in your cupboards to use throughout the winter.

Let me show you how much money this will save a family who uses just one 5-pound bag of flour every month. The regular retail price of a 5-pound bag of flour is usually around $2.99.

4 bags of flour at 49 cents each = $1.96

4 bags of flour at $2.99 each = $11.96

You saved $10 over the next four months just by buying flour at a ridiculously low price and stockpiling. In fact, the four months worth of flour cost less than one bag at full bloat retail.

Now, do that with butter, cheese, sugar, canned goods, frozen veggies, etc. and you can imagine how much you will save over time.

Here’s another example: Canned vegetables are as low as 29 cents in Omaha this week. These retail for at least 69 cents, if not more. My family eats about 10 cans of veggies per month. Let’s say we buy four month’s worth of vegetables now.

40 cans of vegetable at 29 cents = $11.60

40 cans of vegetables at 69 cents = $27.60

That’s a $16 savings for just a little pre-planning and stockpiling.

Note: If you are a new stockpiler, you will spend a little more on groceries at first, but soon you will find that you will spend way less at the grocery store because your pantry is full. In fact, if hard times hit, a good stockpile can get you through the rough patch. Ask any coupon user who’s lost a job and they’ll tell you their stockpile kept them from starving.

Don’t go overboard

Sales are cyclical and you only need 3-4 months of stockpile before the next sale on those same items. No need to buy two or three year’s worth of flour and clutter your cabinets, a modest amount will get you through until the next sale. Don’t forget to check expiration dates and rotate your pantry. There is nothing more frustrating than spending money on food and have it go to waste. Only buy what your family can reasonably use before the expiration. If you find yourself with more than you can use, donate it to your food pantry.

How to spot rock bottom prices

I recommend paying attention to your store’s retail prices. You can even make a small price book of your most commonly purchased items. When the price is 75 percent or more off retail (with sales and/or coupons), that is when you stock up.

I NEVER pay more than $4 for a jumbo bag of diapers or $1 for a box of cereal. I NEVER pay anything for toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, razors, floss, makeup, tampons, contact solution and more. In fact, I make money buying some of those items. I combine coupons with sales and stock up when the prices are low. I am never again forced to pay ridiculous retail prices because I have a modest stockpile that I acquired at the lowest price possible.

Even if you don’t use coupons, following sales and building a small stockpile will save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars over time.

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at www.momsavesmoney.net.

Freebie Friday #4: Gorgeous red scarf!

The rockstar boyfriend and I went to my oldest baby’s Christmas program at school yesterday.

I loved it. From the (really terrible, honestly) strings to the so-so stories to the I-really-liked-it singing, it was two hours of standing up in the back of an elementary school gym that were really enjoyable.

Really.

The nostalgia was almost surreal. Watching those kids file onto the aluminum bleachers and take their spots, eyes trained on their music teacher down front, brought me back to to all those days I did the exact same thing.

“I loved this sort of thing in school,” I told the rockstar.

His feelings were about the exact opposite. Yes, he’s now a musician who performs, regularly, in front of people. I don’t know either.

Anyway, one of the classes even sang a song I had sung way back when. “There’ll be no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow if it snows!”

Loved that song.

And my son sang one about music making the world go round and another class sang one about a melody living within each of us.

Loved it all.

I had my red coat on, and at one point I looked around the gym at the other parents. Do you know how many other red-coated women I saw?

Lots.

So today, in honor of the Red Coat Society of Women, you can win a red … scarf. (Best I could do!).

But it’s awesome. Handmade by Kelsey Heyen of Handcrafted Hats by Kelsey, it will undoubtedly help you survive this cold, snowy winter.

Kelsey also makes hats and headbands, for newborns to adults. See more of her work on her Facebook page here. See the actual scarf I’m giving away on my Facebook page here.

Enter to win by leaving a comment on this post. Winner will be drawn at random Monday morning. Good luck!

And here’s to finding that song within us all.

***

The camera angle and quality of this video is perfect for reminding you exactly what it’s like to be at a school Christmas program:

No School Tomorrow if it Snows

Cherry trees and front-porch surprises

I went out to get the mail yesterday and wedged in between the two front doors were the first presents of the season.

I was surprised and excited.

Though I’d ordered them separately, they’d arrived the same day. You can imagine how much I loved this.

I picked up the two frozen boxes and quickly brought them inside. I fetched scissors from the cupboard and sliced them open.

Yeah. Even better than what I’d imagined. I took the items out, turned them over, felt their weight in my hands, hoped the person I got them for would like them as much as I think he/she will. And then I carefully put them back.

I racked my brain for where to hide gifts in this new house. The first Christmas here means the first time hiding presents beforehand. I finally found a spot but left the gifts in their cardboard wrappers just in case.

It feels good to have two (I hope) perfect presents stashed away. Christmas is coming soon! I don’t know how many more gifts I’ll be able to hide, but I’m keeping it simple this year. I’m trying to truly think about what the people who matter most might like.

And if I can make it or bake it or write it, even better!

How about you? Do you go all out with gifts? Are you close to being done with Christmas-gift shopping/making/ordering? Best homemade gift you’ve ever received?

***

One nice first-time-homebuying couple checked out my house last weekend in the smack dab middle of that snowstorm. They called it “clean!” and “darling!” and “charming!” … and a tad too small.

Humph.

The search for new owners continues. Please continue to spread the word. Link to my beautiful house: here.

***

Things are happening on the job front. Too soon to say anything, but my self esteem has at least been restored the past few days. If it goes nowhere but there, I’m grateful.

***

I’m in love with this song.

I wish there was a video, but as much as I willed one to exist on YouTube just now, I’m afraid it does not.

Listen anyway.

Little Black Stereo – “Cherry Tree.”

Happy Wednesday!

Mom Saves Money: Gift wrapping on the cheap (and the sly)

It’s Monday. That means it’s time for Nicole McDonald of momsavesmoney.net to tell us how to be, well, better (at least when it comes to our finances!).

Today, she offers tips to save money on gift wrap and stave off the kids’ curiosity.

Nicole McDonald, momsavesmoney.net

The thought of buying $3-$4 gift bags and $2-$3 worth of tissue really bothers my frugal side. That’s more than $5 just to wrap a present! Crazy.

I would rather use that $5 and buy a nicer gift, especially when a kid will just rip the package open anyway.

Right?

So I am sharing my frugal wrapping ideas to save you money and still stay in the holiday spirit. I also included some tricky ways to fool those curious children.

  1. Reusable bags – Instead of buying pricey paper gift bags that rip and get thrown out, buy a $1 reusable bag for the gift. You can find really cute ones at many stores. The best part is you are giving an additional gift with the present, a new reusable bag.
  2. Recycle gift bags – Anytime I get a gift bag in good condition, I save it for later use. I consistently reuse old gift bags to wrap new presents. Usually, the gift bags will last for several uses and the recipient never knows it’s been used (unless it’s one they gave you.)
  3. Paper bag wrapping – Next time you grocery shop, grab a few extra paper sacks at checkout. Cut along the side of the bag so it is flat and turn it inside out. You now have a plain brown paper sack to use to wrap a gift. Have your kids color it, paste collage pictures or paint it to dress it up. Add a cute ribbon for the finishing touch. Grandparents absolutely love this when their grandkids color the paper.
  4. Newspaper/comic/advertisements – If you subscribe to the paper, these are free and you can find colorful comics or advertisements to wrap presents.
  5. Use corresponding container – Wrap a tool in a tool box with a ribbon, jewelry with a jewelry box or beauty items in a cosmetics case. Add a ribbon and viola, it’s wrapped and useful.

Here are some fun ideas for tricking those sneaky kids who like to shake, poke and figure out their gifts early!

  1. Use multiple boxes – If you have a small gift, collect several larger boxes and start putting the small gift in the increasingly larger boxes with some old newspaper as filler. Really trick them by adding a brick or two for weight or marbles so it will rattle when they shake it. My parents did this to me all the time when I was young. I would get really excited when I saw a box under the tree big enough for me to fit inside and was always surprised when I got to the real gift. This works great for electronic games or jewelry.
  2. Cereal or cracker boxes – Put a present in an empty cereal box or cracker box and tape it up. Your kids will think you got them a box of food and never be the wiser.
  3. Make it a treasure hunt – Use small gifts to represent a larger gift. For example, if you get your kids a bike, wrap a bell with a small note directing them to the garage, basement or truck to search for the real gift. You can even make it more fun by placing envelopes with clues around the house. Each envelope sends them to another location with another clue until they finally arrive at the location of the real gift. Not only is this fun, but it’s really hard to wrap a large gift, so it works out well. You can also do this with your spouse or other family members.
  4. Use a deceiving box – Do you have a box that came with a tool, coffee maker or something else boring? Place the gift in that box without rewrapping the box. This way they think you got them a tool or some other boring gift. They will be surprised when they open it and it’s actually something fun.

Have other frugal gift-wrapping ideas or ways to hide the real gift from your kids? Send ‘em our way! (We can use all the help we can get sometimes, right?!)

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at www.momsavesmoney.net.

Freebie Friday #3: Concert tickets and a cool CD

I went to college with this guy named Andy Norman. We weren’t best friends by any means, but we worked at the Daily Nebraskan together and he was always so nice and friendly and just fun to be around.

I haven’t gotten to meet Andy’s wife, Angie, yet, but from everything I hear she’s just as cool.

Anyway, these two awesome people are now running an awesome website all about local music.

Hearnebraska.org.

Go there. Go there now and often. It really is awesome. Concert reviews, CD reviews, music videos, a calendar of events, profiles of local musicians (do you know how many talented local musicians we have in this town? Lincoln, too? It’s unbelievable). I’m so happy hearnebraska exists to give this music scene the attention it deserves.

In fact, if hearnebraska had a paying gig right now, you better believe I’d be knocking down their door.

That’s how much I believe in what they’re doing.

So when Angie Norman offered up today’s giveaway, I was THRILLED.

Up for grabs: A copy of “Hear Nebraska, Vol. 1,” the first in a series of compilation CDs planned by Andy and Angie and crew AND free entry to Saturday’s CD release party at the Sydney in downtown Benson. More event info here.

Only 150 CDs were printed. They’re on sale for $15 apiece. Entry to Saturday’s show is $5.

Read Tim McMahan’s (of Lazy-i) CD review here and L. Kent Wolgamott’s (of the Lincoln Journal-Star) review here.

AND leave a comment about your favorite musician/song/artist on this post to be entered to win! I’ll draw the winner Saturday late morning.

Good luck!

The pretty yellow house

When I got to be a grown-up, I started thinking about things like houses and decorating them and what kind of floors they should have.

Wood floors was my answer, and it took me three houses to get them.

The light blonde wood floors of my new house are my favorite (though I can’t seem to keep them clean!). The painted-white trim around the baseboards, the windows and the ceiling are my second favorite.

The green-walled bedrooms upstairs are my third favorite.

And the master bathroom with the white wainscoting halfway up the walls and the white pedestal sink and the subway tile in the shower? My fourth.

The yellow walls? My fifth.

The house is sort of perfect for me.

But we’re moving out and that’s cool. It’s just a house.

Today, I’m going to rearrange some furniture, bring up a bright yellow flower picture from the basement and see what I can do about all those leaves outside (What? Rake them? Ohhhh…).

And I’m going to pull up a little nostalgia while I work. Ninth grade, anybody?

(Before they sold out. At least skip ahead to “Thunder Road.” Worth it).