Category Archives: it's so responsible being me

Labels for Children’s Winter Gear

Unsurprisingly, you spend a bit more on “good” gloves, hats and scarfs when you live in a state that boast winters with -20 wind chill factors and more than 3-4 inches of snow at a time. And in my experience 5- and 3-year-old boys aren’t the best at keeping track of those gloves, hats and scarfs. I started to label my kid’s winter gear with a Sharpee marker but it was hard to read and took forever.

I ended up buying iron-on labels from Stuck On You and really like them. I originally heard of them from a friend back in Kentucky who liked their labels for sippy cups because they would go through the dishwasher without coming off.

From November 2011

They were the only labels I found online that could stretch a bit with the fabric – great for things like knit hats. I haven’t attempting washing them yet, but the reviews I read said they held up well.

Here’s hoping we end the winter with most of our gear still finding its way home.

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Responsible Giving

Our little world has been touched in the last month by serious illnesses suffered by people in our community. A mother in John’s preschool class. A woman from our church who has mentored me for the last year. And then the ordinary challenges of life that are joyful yet hard – like a pregnancy’s third trimester. As you may have noticed from my spending some blog currency on posting recipes, I love to cook. I grew up in a household of 10 and learned to cook by mass producing food. I almost can’t look at a recipe without doubling it. So it’s very natural to me to want to provide “food comforts” to friends who need it.

One of the magical things about WordPress is it tells you what posts people are looking at when they visit your blog. One of the top hits is a post I wrote back in January on “Grocery Shopping on $200 a Month.” Since we signed up for a CSA this summer, I’ve backed off from shopping once a month to shopping weekly again so I could be sure to use all of our CSA goodies. I also had an unusually high amount of freelance work this summer that have made our normally super-tight summertime finances less critical.

All of these things have somehow added up to my spending even more time in the kitchen and giving away more than usual (and repeatedly blowing our monthly grocery budget). Not that I didn’t do these things before now, but the frequency and arguably the need is greater at this moment. And something else too that probably reflects something about my personal character flaws: I’m finally not giving merely out of duty. When I was obsessed with budgeting and sticking strictly to our grocery allowance, it actually hurt a little to give even the least expensive meal away. I almost always only gave when prompted by social pressure or guilt or obligation. I was so caught up in my bottomline that I became a Scrooge. And I’m so ashamed to admit this when I think about how all the people who have been incredibly generous to us over the years.

Now I’m out here sitting on my mental stoop trying to figure out how I can be a good steward of our money while freely and unreservedly giving to others. Do you put a line in your budget for these things? Do you just practice giving until you have an attitude adjustment? I’m sending this question out into the Internets. Give me a sign.

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The Body Project

We’ve been out of town for almost two weeks now. In just over a week, I did 10K training runs in St. Louis, in a little town north of Dallas, and near the Ouachita National Forrest in Oklahoma.

This is blog-worthy because I have never, ever continued a workout routine while on vacation.

Like pretty much every woman alive, over the course of my 31 years I’ve embarked on a handful of epic “Body Projects” and they’ve all been fundamentally motivated by a profound dissatisfaction with the way I looked. In the process, I’ve discovered it can be hard to sustain the motivation to exercise when it is primarily driven by a negative self-image. Even worse is I’m fairly well schooled in the feminist literature on how my often negative body image is created through vehicles like the media, and then enforced through participating in group self-criticism with other women. It’s hard to have a lengthy conversation with another woman without one of us bringing up how gross we think we look and how we really need to do something about it. And I’m usually the one bringing it up.

When I started running to raise money for Compassion International’s Child Survival Programs back in January, I was motivated by getting across the finish line in July for mothers and babies rather than losing inches. I started drinking less alcohol because it dehydrated me and made my runs miserable. I made more healthy food choices because it meant I could run faster.

I am finally starting to think of my body as an instrument rather than an ornament. And I have never felt better.

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Grocery Shopping on $200 a Month

A few months ago on Facebook I made the big mistake of bragging that I only spend $200 a month on groceries. Since then I’ve had a number of people ask me how I manage this. I’ve put off writing about this largely because it can be one of the most boring topics on earth.

There are 1,384 ways of being a frugal grocery shopper. What works is very much dependent on many unique family variables, and ultimately you have to work out for yourself what works in your situation. But the public must have what the public wants so here we go.

Shop Once a Month – I found an interested statistic on Get Rich Slowly that said 25 percent of grocery store purchases were impulse purchases. I started paying more attention to what I was putting in my cart when I made a quick trip to the store for one or two items and realized that was true for me as well.

Plan a Monthly Menu – When I was working fulltime and a new mother, I made a weekly dinner menu because it made my life 800 times easier to come home, look at a list, and start cooking. After I realized that each grocery trip I made ended up with my spending more, I expanded this concept from one week of meals to a month of meals.

Basically, the way this works is I make a list of about 22 dinners, a list of breakfast items, a list of lunch and snack items, and a list of “special event” items such as whatever we need for Cooking Club that month or the items John is required to bring for his snack day at preschool.

One of the nice things about this is it allows me to see easily what items share ingredients so I can get the best price for something like sour cream while not getting too much (and letting it spoil) or too little (and having to go back for more).

Finally, at the beginning of the week, I look at my monthly menu list and pick the meals I want to cook that coming week. It allows me to look at my calendar and determine how much time I had to cook on a particular day, and it gives me a degree of flexibility.

This was challenging the first month or two. In the beginning I didn’t realize how many boxes of crackers we go through in a month and I had trouble coming up with meal ideas until I started bookmarking random recipes I would come across during the month.

Shop Around – My monthly shopping day looks like this: I start at Aldi and buy things like dairy products, meat, canned goods and dried fruit. Aldi doesn’t always have the same items consistently, so it’s helpful to start here. From there I hit WalMart as they tend to have the best prices on staple items like flour and sugar. Finally, I go to Kroger on the first Wednesday of the month to buy the remaining items on my list where I use my Dad’s Kroger Plus card to get his 10 percent senior discount.

Cook From Scratch – When we lived in Denmark I was forced to start cooking from scratch because the Danes have very little prepared food and it is extremely expensive and not very good. I started doing things like making my own marinara sauce, which I quickly learned is really easy and tastes so much better. Doing this you also have the added advantage of eating more healthily (no added salt, sugar or corn syrup) and being more environmentally friendly (prepared food tends to have a lot of packaging).

Eat Less Meat – Again, another something we started doing in Denmark where a pound of ground beef costs $12. With few exceptions I tend to use meat merely to flavor meals now. Where I once used a pound of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce, I use 1/3 a pound. I also cook with a lot more beans and vegetables.

Cut Back on the “Fun Food” – We all have our vices and we should still indulge them a little or this kind of thing will never work. Each month I lay in a supply of six $1 bags of chips of various kinds from Aldi, I hunt until I find Coke and Diet Coke for around $3 for a 12-pack, and I buy 12 bottles of good beer. Two of those are my own personal vices.

WIC, Baby – This is really the secret to our only spending $200 a month. We buy everything at the beginning of the month, then go back each week use only our WIC checks. They provide us with our perishable items like milk and bread, and give us about $100 a month in groceries. God bless America.

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