When Pinterest gets stale

I’ve heard several people complain about their Pinterest feed being stale lately. I have found this to be true for me on occasion,so I’m going to tell you what I do when my Pinterest feed just seems like the same old stuff as before.

  •  Try searching for something new. I usually think of the next season. If it’s summer, are you thinking of taking a trip? If it’s fall, try searching for new crock pot recipes. Winter up next? DIY Christmas gift ideas are a must!
  • Check out what’s new from the Pinners you follow. I follow about 50 boards. There is almost always something new for me to look at and then pin myself if I find it useful or interesting.
  • Clean up your boards. I only do this when I’m desperate. Posts I pinned that are dead ends, posts I’ve pinned to the wrong board, color pallets I’m no longer interested in all get reviewed. They are either given the boot, rearranged, or  (hopefully) inspire me to get that project I’ve forgotten about or put off done at last.

I hope this helps you overcome a stale Pinterest feed. I would love to hear how you liven up yours.

Laugh or Cry

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Don’t you just love it when life gets in the way of doing the things that you love.  So far, this year has been challenging both financially and logistically.  Let me break it down for you.

First off we had to recover from Christmas. There always seems to be one more gift to buy, one more meal to prepare, or one more card to write.  I’m so sick of Christmas (the most stressful time of the year for many people) by the time the actual day is over that I start tearing down almost immediately after the last gift is opened. Did I mention this is my least favorite holiday?

Next, we’ve had significant car trouble and not owning a garage makes it difficult for the hubby to work on the problems that inevitably come up in the winter because it’s too cold for him to stand outside for hours at a time. So far the kids heat has gone out in their hand me down car with 200,000 mile on it. We decided it was most likely the thermostat which would have been an easy fix if the housing hadn’t cracked while putting it back on due to the cold weather/lack of garage issue already mentioned. It took about six weeks to find another one so the car sat undrivable in the driveway way too long.

Which brings me to the next issue we’ve had to face. We let the girls drive my husbands Jeep to school while he drove my car to work; leaving me stranded most days until someone came back home. This was doable until the girls (ie the one who has a license) totaled said Jeep on the way to school one day. Black ice is a real threat where I live. Luckily the part came in for the girls car and the weather miraculously cleared up so my guy could get “Betsy” back on the road. However, I’m still grounded. Ugh.

So, all this coupled with winter sports schedules, birthday parties, DIY projects that need wrapped up, and the inevitable sickness that seem to be unique to this time of year, have made blogging almost impossible.Shew. How did we do it? Communication, patience, and humor.

Communication about commitments, both real and imagined, was a must when scheduling who got one of the cars over the past few months. Helping the girls understand when they used the car was necessary or just a convenience was priority number one. Yes, getting to and from school and work was a necessity. Going to the mall  to hang out was not. Most of their friends have their licenses and cars. It was a blessing that these friends stepped up and offered to helped get the girls where they needed to go. Shout out to the junior class at EHS!

Patience. This is not my families strong suit. In a world of high speed internet and Netflix, the “on demand” mentality is hard to break. There were even a few times, gasp in horror, they had to wait to be picked up from somewhere. We learned to plan routes to the bank and store in conjunction with trips to and from school. It wasn’t all that hard to do and it saved time and gas. Planning also gave everyone in the house a chance to work together to accomplish a common goal; which is so important in the go-go-go world of today.

Finally, we had to rely on humor. The car situation didn’t have to be hard. We had some good laughs at how far we had to go to make everything we had to do fit within our capabilities. For example, on a few Fridays, I dropped the girls back off at school for their games, drove forty minutes to pick up my son, drove back home to meet up with my honey who just got home from work, and then headed back to the school to watch the game I had previously dropped the girls off to get ready for. I have a choice: laugh or cry. I choose to laugh.

our five year plan for getting out of debt

Over the years I’ve heard the term 5 year plan (or any other number pertaining to how long it will take to reach some goal.) My husband and I will reach the milestone of all 9 kids being adults in about 5 years. So after many discussions on how we will transition to this new stage of our lives, we have hammered out our 5 year plan.

First off, we felt we needed to clear up our combined pasts. With us both being divorcee’s, there are a bunch of legal fees, outstanding debts, and bad decisions we need to take care of before we can truly move on with our life together. We also felt we needed a clear vision for our future to make getting our financial life in order a priority.

Getting a handle on where we stood financially was hard work and took a few weeks to shake out all those long forgotten and often painful to admit financial skeletons of our pasts. Revealing and talking about our mistakes was hard and often loud. However, we are both so committed to our goal of being financially sound by the time my youngest graduates, we feel the sacrifices we are going to make over the next 52 months will be totally worth it.

First we ordered copies of our credit reports that don’t offer free reviews on line. Credit Karma is a great resource and will give you a free copy of one credit report each year. The site can  also help you dispute negative information you feel is inaccurate on your credit reports. https://www.creditkarma.com

Next I pulled out that pile of unopened mail that was cluttering up counters and various other places around the house. I know how it feels to not be able to open an envelope which you are certain you don’t want to know what ugly secrets it holds. But i’m here to tell you to rip that band-aid off! I resigned myself to do this alone so that I could cringe or tear up duplicates without having arguments about whose fault this mess was between us.

I was both sickened and shocked  by what I found in those envelopes. Almost half were duplicate bills- throw those right out! Some of them were mundane correspondence like surveys and reminders of appointments- those went straight in the trash as well. There were even some checks in there. Yes, reimbursement checks from doctors offices and rebates I had sent in for and forgotten about.

Then there were the ugly bills I knew I would find in there. Collection companies for old medical bills, tax liens for old city/school taxes that were forgotten to be paid, defaulted student loans,and various other outstanding bills. So while I was waiting for the credit reports to come, I listed all the hard copy debts and researched our options. I know I am talking as though I did all the work by myself, but that isn’t true. My husband did everything he could to help with this process. He’s the math guy while I’m the researcher.

After we had everything we needed to get the big picture of our finances we each did some soul searching on what was most important to us both now and in the future. We found we had similar visions for our future together, but somewhat different expectations on how to get there. My honey feels overwhelmed sometimes by the pressures of maintaining a home combined with the pressures he already has with his job (which is our main income.) I felt very strongly about keeping the home that his children and my youngest children had/were growing up in.

So after taking all the information, priorities, and other factors into consideration we decided consolidating and refinancing was our best option. We were thrilled to find out our home was worth much more than we thought is was which put our fear of being, “üpside down” to rest. We were also able to consolidate our debt to be paid off in 5 years. Does that strike a bell? Our kids will all be adults in 5 years. We couldn’t resist this opportunity. Please keep in mind refinancing and consolidating are NOT free. We will be paying a little over $8000 in fees total for this to be possible.

Our consolidated debt payment is less than some peoples monthly credit card bill and our mortgage payment is reasonable now. To make this work while we still have 3 teenagers, I will have to work full time for the remainder of the debt repayment and we will have to live on a strict budget, but we don’t mind because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. It’s a good feeling to know we are preparing for the future TOGETHER and that’s all that matters.

The family that plays together

Playing games is a huge part of my families lives. Several times a year we plan or attend family game days that can include up to 35 people. Everyone chips in for food and drink for the day. Extra tables and chairs are set up strategically throughout the house. Though we have about 50 board games, our guests bring their favorites to share with the group.

 

Our extended family favorites are:

  • Dominion
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Munchkin
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Farkle
  • Exploding Kittens (can only be purchased online)

BUY EXPLODING KITTENS HERE!!

The best thing about a family game day is creating lasting memories for all ages. We usually have four generations at the gatherings. Great grandparents get the opportunity to play, teach and, share stories with the youngest members of the group. In-laws and distant relations get to know newer members (like fiances) in an informal setting that puts them both at ease.

 

My favorite part of a game day is to sit at the kids table for at least one game. I don’t care if the kids want to play Sorry!, I just feel happy giving them my time and enjoying listening to them tell me their thoughts. Seeing the connections they make while navigating the game is a priceless experience.

 

Does your family have game days? I am always looking for new games to share with my family. Please feel free to pass a good one along.

Meal plans, and crafts, and resources, oh my!

Oh my gosh, I just found a great resource that I have to share- Confession of a Homeschooler! Not that I am a homeschooler, but this Nana is hands on and all about giving my grandbabies the best start that I can.

Sometimes it’s hard to break up the same old routine. I’m was most excite about the monthly calendars. They include meal plans, crafts ideas, and themed activities. This girl has you covered. Please check her out.

http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com/

Adventures in the big blue house

Owning and maintaining a 130 year old house is more than a labor of love, it’s insanity! My family and I live in a 2800 square foot Victorian style house that keeps us busy and sometimes broke. So far, it has taken us 3 summers of our spare time to scrape, prime, and paint two sides of the behemoth.

We started by power washing the old (badly) peeling paint.  In some areas this took days to accomplish and cleaning up the paint chips was like raking leaves in the fall. Everyone took turns, but my (then 9 years old) son really got into it and spent hours at a time spraying the house. The paint was in such bad shape it was easy to keep the water turned down to a safe level for him to work with.

Some of the original wood siding just could not be saved so my husband spent several days tearing out and replacing the damaged areas. Of course it rained right after finishing the worst area so the caulk ran!

15242014_1278379865556263_4119277875366538244_n15202561_1278379842222932_2912365266009911697_n

Although we splurged and bought 2-in-1 primer and paint, there was a lot of bleed through. It took 3 coats to get a nice even appearance.  I had originally decided to go with a Painted Lady color scheme, but  the highlight color was so bright (I actually cried when I saw it from a distance the first time) that it was painted over in a nice white.

11391463_940603719333881_8848312791564479757_n

We’ve had mixed reviews on my choice of body color. I have actually had people stop me at the grocery store and ask if I live in the big blue house and then tell me how much they love (or hate) the color. When ever I give people directions I always tell them, you can’t miss it!

house

 

There have been several projects over the 3 years since moving in. I can hardly wait to share them with you!

 

Off brand bust

I love saving money. Several years ago I stopped being a brand snob and tried store brands. Generally speaking, store brands continue to surprise me with better than expected taste and quality. For example, I have found most store brand condensed soups are as good as or better than the leading brand. Walmart, Aldi, Save-a-lot, and IGA are a few of my favorites.

Inevitably, I have  come across a few products that even the dog won’t eat. Recently, I tried Aldi’s Millville Crispy Oats cereal. The picture on the box looks just like a bowl full of Cheerios. After several days of my 13 month old granddaughter spitting them out and/or throwing them on the floor, I decided to try them myself. Yuck! The moment I poured milk over them, they were a soggy mess.I personally couldn’t get more than one bite down.

Image result for images Millville crispy oats

Never one to give up, because of my aversion to waste, I decided to salvage the situation by making the recipe on the back of the box for Millville Caramel Crunch Bars.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups Millville Crispy Oats cereal
  • 1 14-ounce bag caramels, unwrapped
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup candy-coated chocolate candy
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Chocolate Topping:

  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons shortening

Directions:

  1. Coat a 9×13 pan with butter. (I used wax paper.) In a large bowl, combine cereal, marshmallows, candy-coated chocolate (I used M&M’s), and peanuts.
  2. In a microwavable bowl, combine caramels and water.Microwave on HIGH for 2-4 minutes, stirring each minute until smooth. Pour caramel over cereal mixture, gently stirring until coated. Press mixture into pan using a buttered spatula.
  3. In a small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate and shortening for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Spoon over bars. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour or until bars are set.

Makes 36 bars. Store loosely covered.

14963207_1261711150556468_6731969380994295273_n15037090_1261711147223135_6214765245723564764_n

I’m sad to say, my expectations for making use of a bad box of cereal were not met. Though the bars smelled great, they never got solid enough to form bars and the grandbabies still wouldn’t eat them.

15037082_1261711157223134_2442471218285967165_n

Next time I’ll buy the real deal (Cheerio’s). I might try making a few adjustments to the recipe and giving the cereal bars another shot. Do you have any off brand hits or misses? I’d love to hear from you!

 

In the kitchen with little hands

I’m silly enough to let the grandbabies make a mess in the kitchen and confident enough they can’t make a mess that I can’t handle! Last week we made pumpkin playdough. It was super easy and smelled great. It’s even edible, but it’s not as good as it smells. Thanks, Bean, for being the guinea pig!

All you need is a large mixing bowl, a whisk, one can of pumpkin, one canister of cornstarch, and some pumpkin spice. Start by whisking the pumpkin until smooth.

14915426_1251508268243423_3434673120581157122_n

Add about 2 tsp. of pumpkin spice and blend it in.

14947696_1251508258243424_987153827195562624_n

Slowly add 3 cups of cornstarch (about 1 cup at a time) continuing to mix well.

14915442_1251508314910085_3488026879258051022_n14925665_1251508318243418_8138293898344145868_n

Eventually you might have to start kneading the mixture by hand. If the playdough is too sticky you can add a little more cornstarch. If it’s too dry add some water.

14925676_1251508394910077_9058674470136672487_n947029_1251508384910078_6453027516639741863_n

Store in an airtight container. My playdough only lasted about 5 days before it molded-gross! I suggest refrigerating it, but can’t say it will last more than a week since it’s food based and you want to be safe. My little ones played with the yummy smelling playdough for an hour the first day. This is a great activity for kids with sensory issues. It builds self confidence since they can make it almost entirely by themselves and exposes them to math skills in a fun and easy to understand way.

 

The sneaky way I pay for Christmas gifts.

new-five-dollar-bill

There are millions of ways to sock a little money away to help ease the financial strain Christmas can do to your budget. I have tried several methods over the years from buying things I think I will be able to gift all year long to special short term savings accounts (usually found at credit unions) and even buying gift cards that I thought I’d use to buy gifts when the time came- all with unsatisfactory results. I’ve had plastic storage containers full of good intentions, gift cards I eventually paid for groceries with and not much to show for the money I was able to squirrel away between October and mid December.

So two years ago I came across a method that really changed things for me: The $5 Savings Plan! It’s so simple and I was thrilled by what I was able to save by not spending any $5 bill that came into my possession from about October 1 thru mid December. Last year I saved about $700 in $5 bills. A couple days before Christmas I handed my husband a few hundred dollars for he and the kids to go shopping with so that my gifts would truly be a surprise. Since I am the primary bookkeeper it’s very difficult for my husband to purchase things for me without me already knowing what he bought me just by seeing the charges. That’s not fun for either of us!

The whole family gets into the $5 Savings Plan. We almost treat it as a game. I have an empty cheese ball container washed and labeled that we stuff with the $5 bills we receive when we get change from our regular purchases like the inevitable fast food run between practices or after games. Keeping our stash visible is both exciting to see and motivating to save more. I was so proud when the kids started handing me their $5’s ( money left over from their allowance.) They’re proud to be contributing and I’m proud to have such awesome kids!

Do you have any tricks to help you pay for Christmas? Have you tried the $5 Savings Plan? I would love to hear what works for you!