An Awesome Frugal Weekend

This was such a great weekend for finds that I had to share.

Yesterday, something prompted me to take my girls out shopping for formal dresses.  Each year the senior high youth group at church has a formal Christmas party.  You don’t have to be formal, but it’s an opportunity for the girls to wear pretty dresses.  Many of our kids are home schooled, at a Christian school, or their families just want to avoid prom and all of the things which can come along with a modern prom.  It’s also pretty well established that most of the girls swap dresses and/or buy them at thrift stores as our families are not loaded with spare cash.

The first year that DD1 went, we didn’t know it was formal until 2 days before the party, so she wore an old bridesmaid dress of mine.  Last year we didn’t find anything at the thrift stores, so she wore her Renaissance dress (made with fabric that was 60% off).  DD2 had found a homemade dress (probably from a wedding) at Salvation Army for $3.  We’ve been looking off and on this year without any luck.

Yesterday, DD1 found a dress for $5 and then DD2 found a dress for $5, with a $4 sparkly top to go over it that looks like it’s part of the dress.  DD1’s dress is sleeveless, so I’ll be making her a shrug so she doesn’t freeze.  DD2’s dress will be able to be worn again as a new creation if we simply change the top of the dress around.  I’ve promised them both that I’ll make them a special dress for their senior year so they have one all of their own choosing.

Then today I got an awesome freebie from Yankee Candle.  I found a coupon on line for $10 off your purchase – no minimum.  I asked if I could use it on something less than $10, and they said I could so I got a beautiful Christmas votive holder for free.

It has been a happy weekend.

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Frugal Christmas

A few weeks ago my oldest was teasing me about my preparations when it comes to vacations. (Yes, I will get to frugal Christmas!)

“You measure out ingredients and put things into individual bags!”  To which I replied with a question.  “Do you know why I do that?”  The answer is that when we vacation we have learned that if we can rent a house or cabin for several nights instead of staying in a hotel, we actually save money.  Part of that savings comes from cooking most of the meals.  I measure things out ahead of time to be ready to go at the rental.  I went on to explain that by planning out the meals, I can have a list of exactly what groceries we need to purchase when we arrive at our destination and have as little waste as possible.  I’ll admit that I even know how many eggs I need for the length of our stay.

Planning is one of the biggest keys I see to making the most of your budget/frugality/whatever you wish to label it.

For the past few years, my Christmas shopping has begun on December 26 and now I am hooked.  I’ve always kept a running list of the kids’ wants.  It really helped them to not get the ‘gimmies’ at the store if they knew I’d write the desired item on a list for future reference.  The kids actually give me ideas of things to look for when they go to bed on Christmas night, knowing that I’ll be at the store long before they think of climbing out of bed.  I love being at the near-empty stores without anyone along to become bored or impatient.

What do I look for on December 26th?

Cards for the following Christmas.  We send a lot between family and church.

Wrapping paper/gift tags/bows/gift bags as needed to restock.

Throw blankets to have as gifts for the following year.  The kids’ youth groups have a $5 or less exchange at their Christmas parties, and blankets are always a hit.

Chocolate and other goodies.  A favorite of my crew is Ghiradeli peppermint bark and I’d rather not pay full price for the treat.  The Easter baskets get chocolate santas, bark, and Reese’s peanut butter trees.

Socks.  My girls love Christmas or other fun socks.

Slippers and bathrobes.  Half price, just make sure the sizes are stable or you but a bit big.

Movie themed toys.  These get swapped out with the changing of the popular movies so keep an eye on the favorites of your family.  I scooped up an awesome Star Wars toy last year.  It wasn’t half price, but it was reduced enough to make it worth while and I know my son will love it.  I also haven’t seen anything like it with the new S.W. merchandise out.

One thing I love about shopping all year for my kids is that moment you see a great deal and at the same time know that your child’s face is going to shine when they see it.  I’m constantly thinking about my young ones and the things that make them happy.  It’s like a treasure hunt, and by this time of year the shopping is mostly done.

How do I keep track of it all?

Write down what you buy, who you bought it for, what you spent, and what it originally cost.  Then have a central area to keep the stash in.  You need to be able to find everything when it comes time to wrap.

Have a general idea of your upper spending limit for each recipient if not the actual number.

Save room for a last minute ‘find’ or heart’s desire expressed.  These do come up and you don’t want to be over budget.

At the end of all of the shopping and unwrapping, go back to your list and add up the ‘original’ prices minus the ‘actual spents’ and revel in how much you avoided spending while still giving brand new items.  You might really surprise yourself.

Do I really see an advantage each year?  Yup.  Earlier this year I took advantage of an incredible sale at Claire’s where all jewelry was $5.  I got $26 dollar necklaces for $5 and my girls will be over the moon.  From a clearance rack at another store I bought sweaters for them for about $12 – originally $50.  You have to keep your eyes open, know your kids’ tastes, and be willing to browse a few clearance racks, but you can make both your kids and your wallet happy.

Another thing we do is accumulate Amazon points (pay the card off monthly!).  Then at Christmas, shopping is done with points instead of the wallet.  Remember to count the points as dollars when adding up the totals for your budget.  Be advised: pre-orders cannot be done with points.

When the kids were little, we used the Toys R Us credit card and saved the Toys R Us Bucks for a day of shopping.  People would be amazed that we’d end up paying $30 for a cart of toys (three kids), but it just took the discipline of keeping the card paid off monthly and then saving those reward cards.

If your kids are still quite young and you want to keep Christmas reasonable, be careful not to set the bar of expectation too high.  You can have a nice Christmas without emptying the shelves of Toys R Us.  I’ve read of families who put a bunch of inflated balloons on the floor around the tree to make the room appear more full and colorful, or families who make treasure hunt clues to find the gifts.  For our young fry, gifts of things to do and make are big hits.  (And consumables don’t add as much to the accumulation of stuff)  The fact is that few of us have a bank account like Trump or Bill Gates.  Keep the focus on the day, the time together, the meaning of the holiday, etc.

There are many other ways to save money on Christmas shopping.  Find what works for your family and relax while others are dreading their January credit card bills.

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Life After a Death

Right now I’m working on getting ‘back to normal’.  After being on hospice for three months and battling breast cancer for eight years, my sister passed away.  DH and I have been essentially holding our breath for three months.  For the last month I called sis nearly every day.  DD2, who is homeschooled, has been easily frustrated these past few weeks with her school work. I’m guessing that’s at least partially due to my sister’s situation.  DH and I have had frequent migraines, upset stomachs, and general feelings of unwellness – like when a cold is starting to tickle your throat.  We’re hoping that those things will fade now.

For the past three months, we’ve been afraid to plan anything.  It had been a long time since we’d gotten together with DH’s mom – who lives here in town – so one Saturday we sent her an impromptu invitation for dinner and fortunately she was free.  I’m not relieved that my sister is gone.  I’m relieved that the tension can now abate.

The funeral was a bit surreal.  While ordering flowers it became apparent how little we knew of anything (beyond where to show up and what time).  The clerk gave me a few odd looks as we spoke.  I don’t think I was intentionally left out, but it was still an unsettling feeling to be so on the edge of things when this was my only sibling and strangers had been told more than I.

It was odd to have a somewhat formal service officiated by a minister as my sister only attended church for weddings and funerals, and she had taken great offense at many faith based choices in my life which didn’t even affect her.  Many of those choices she learned of through our Mom.  I rarely spoke of my beliefs to her, knowing that she’s rather antagonistic toward them, but did not refrain from referring to church people and activities as that’s a big part of our life.  I won’t put my faith “in your face” as my sister sometimes felt I did, but I won’t pretend to be someone I’m not either.

It’s really strange to think that it’s just me and Mom now (of course DH and BIL are there too).  Sis was Mom’s favorite and I’m not sure how things will be now.  Visits from Mom to our house decreased after Dad died, not that they were numerous before that.  I’m trying to come up with places we can meet that won’t be more than a two hour drive for her and that none of us have been to.  I don’t want memories and associations to be an obstacle, and if the drive is shorter it may help (we’re three hours apart).  My fear is that Mom’s focus will be on the “poor motherless boys” one of whom is her openly admitted favorite.  She has three grandchildren here who still need her too.  I feel really petty for worrying about this, but the worry is based on past experiences.

Right now the focus has to be on healing and reclaiming ordinary life.  I need to stop borrowing trouble and focus on the good things of life.

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A Little of Everything

It seems as if every time I find a hidden gem it turns out some hidden GPS signal triggers and a horde of other people are there the next time I return.  My favorite Amish scratch and dent store, perfect for lunch box items, is now always packed.  Now the library book sales are slim pickins by the Sunday ‘fill a bag for $6’ day.  Fortunately, I hit those sales hard the first couple of years of home school and raked in the books.  This last one yielded an Algebra II with Trigonometry book and for DD2’s college years: a human anatomy coloring book that hadn’t been used.  I picked up a few other books for fun.  The literature table has been nearly bare the last several times I’ve gone.  The good news is that over time I’ve stocked the home school library fairly inexpensively.  I still have to purchase some books new, but Amazon has decent prices and I’ve gotten a couple of them used.

Stress is wearing on DH and I as we are constantly waiting for the call that it’s time to gather the family for my sister.  She went on hospice in the beginning of August and we went to see her then, thinking the end was pretty close.  Every appointment that looms close, I start to wonder how difficult it will be if that one has to be rescheduled, DH has to keep the impending trip in mind with projects at work.  It feels so petty compared to what my sister and her family are going through, but it’s our reality.  My body has made me feel the result of the stress of the whole situation (sis is only 50 and has an eleven year old as well as two college age boys, and her husband lost his mom to cancer when he was in high school).  My dad died of cancer two years ago, and Mom depends on me to put the updates out to the family.  I don’t get to talk to Mom much as she’s with sis (rightly so), and it’s tough to talk to sis as her cancer traveled to her brain and impedes speech at times.  Cancer stinks.

Home school has been rough this week.  DD2 has been easily frustrated.  It could be due to changing weather, her skin is drying and becoming itchy and she hates lotion (the SPD), it could be thinking about her aunt, it could be lots of things.  She’s only one assignment behind and I think she’ll catch that up today, but it hasn’t been easy to coach her through.  These are the times that reinforce the home school decision.

I skipped DD1’s conferences last night.  I haven’t gone to one of hers since she left elementary school.  The daily assignment grades get posted on line, and we are expected to check them at least once a week.  I also see her doing her homework as the table is right next to the kitchen.  She talks to me about her classes.  I have no concerns and really don’t want to stand in long lines for my 5 minute slot just to hear “She’s a great student.  A joy to have.”  I’m not exaggerating these statements, because I’ve heard them through e-mail from the teachers and I know it from my own observations.

My son is eating up his technology class.  They’ve started to use tools and now he wants a router.  I’m so thankful that our school has these opportunities.  The high school has two levels of wood shop and a welding class.  At the minimum, I see my son having a workshop that he uses to build things for himself.  It’s a good skill to have.

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Parenting Sensory Processing Disorder

When I was in my substitute teaching days a friend talked me into subbing for our county’s special needs school.  Before you go on the list of substitutes, you spend a day observing the different classes.  I’m positive this day is meant to give you a chance to see if you really want to be there.  I was hesitant, but ended up being on their sub list.  Over the course of the year I was there several times and became more comfortable around the non-verbal, wheelchair-bound, severely disabled children.

Sometime in the first few years of marriage I started to wonder if that whole experience was a precursor to a disabled child of my own.  This wasn’t something that I actively worried about, just a “hmm…I really hope not” in the back of my mind.  I know that the parents of all of these children I had worked with saw them as complete blessings.  I know this because I saw them together.  I knew that God would give me such a love for any child He sent me, but still I really hoped for ‘normal’ children.

I didn’t get them.

None of my children are outwardly disabled.  My oldest only has mild sensory issues which mostly involve needing to touch things, and thus is ‘normal’.  My middle child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and it caused all kinds of “behavior” issues.  My youngest child has medium sensory issues and has expressive language disorder and apraxia: 3 years of speech therapy ending in first grade and 6 months of OT.  The apraxia still affects his spelling and the sensory affects his handwriting (childish for his years).

Kindergarten was difficult for my son.  He couldn’t speak in a way that many people outside of our family could understand.  In the Christmas program, the child after him repeated my son’s line so that the audience would understand.  Many kids thought him odd and a few told him so.  In second and third grades, we thought he was a lazy speller until the day I was helping him study and heard him tacking t’s, l’s, r’s, and other strong sounds on the end of words which he’d been able to spell just a moment before.  Fortunately I hadn’t thrown any school papers out yet that year and dug out old spelling tests.  Sure enough, this was a consistent trend.  A little searching on the web and the lights popped on as the spelling issue tied back to the apraxia which had made speech difficult.  He’s in seventh grade now and still struggles with spelling and writing.

My middle child, DD2, is a high school sophomore and is finally getting to a point of being in control of her sensory reactions a good share of the time, and the ‘behavior’ outbursts are rare and much milder than before.  It’s been a long road, and I wish we had known the root issue long before she was 9 1/2, but you can’t change history.  When we pulled her out of school, it was due to an incident with the teacher, and one of the students we spoke with (clarifying the situation from as many sets of eyes as possible) was honest enough to say, “A lot of kids think she’s crazy”.  That’s not an easy thing to hear about your child, but we could understand where that thought came from.

The teacher had been way out of line and the only positive of the situation is that it turned out DD2 really needed the home school environment to thrive.  Public school was too loud, and her desk was too close to others even after a repeated request for some separation.  In fourth grade, at the principal’s suggestion, I placed two stress balls in her desk (one hard and nubby, one soft and squishy) for when she was upset/frustrated.  Her fourth grade teacher – in front of the class – asked her one day if she was “playing with her toys”.  I had earlier stressed to this teacher that we referred to these items as tools, never toys, as we didn’t want DD2 to see them as toys, and I’d been very clear that DD2 is easily embarrassed.  This particular teacher had been a counselor prior to teaching.  Her poor clients.

It bothers me greatly when I see an article about a child with autism, SPD, ADD, or other similar “invisible” issues and the responses that come to said article are “That child needs some stern discipline.  They need to be socialized.  They just need to get over it.” and so on.  The people who make these comments can’t ever have lived closely to anyone who deals with these problems.  My daughter has always known right and wrong and was always mortified after a big sensory reaction – especially in public.  Discipline can’t stop the reactions.  She’s had to learn to feel the reactions starting and learn ways to diffuse the reaction early on.  She’s been learning how to set a task aside early in the frustration before she’s to the point of blowing up.  That takes a lot of time and effort and self-training.  Parents facilitate the learning and training, but the child living with the disorder is the one doing the hardest work.  I suppose you could argue that it does take discipline to do this.  Okay, but not in the sense that the world sees the term discipline.

There was one incident when DD2 was four (prior to our knowing that she wasn’t simply willful).  She would not get out of the van when we needed to pick up her sister.  I took away every toy, every book, and all tv.  She never got out of the van.  A friend brought our daughter to us.  DD2 saw all of her things removed from her room and didn’t fuss.  She took her week-long punishment like a champion, even when the other two watched a movie she hadn’t seen.  She knew she was in the wrong at the time of the incident, but couldn’t change her behavior.  The punishment was severe but didn’t do a thing to correct the situation.

There have been days/weeks/months/years when I have been exhausted.  Speech therapy was draining.  I felt awful, but at times would have to tell my son that I couldn’t listen to him and concentrate on driving at the same time.  It was true.  It took a lot of focus to really hear his words without asking him to constantly repeat.  It was draining.  He graduated out of speech and a few months later DD2 began OT for her SPD.  Home school has been a blessing and a challenge.  I’m so thankful that I have a teaching background, and that I have sensory issues (I thought I was just odd growing up) so I can truly empathize.  Being able to adjust school to SPD has made a huge difference.  She is able to change the subject being worked on when needed instead of waiting for the bell to ring, doesn’t have to fuss with a combination lock between classes, and if the day is really rough it can be time to read her literature right then laying down with a cat beside her to pet.

My sister once criticized, “You can’t just take a break to pet the cat in the middle of the day!”  Well, maybe you can.  This child wants to be a veterinarian.

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Public School vs. Homeschool

Our household has a bit of a unique situation: my oldest and youngest children attend public school and my middle child is home schooled.  We began home schooling DD2 half way through fifth grade after her teacher made a very poor choice of behavior in dealing with our daughter’s sensory processing disorder.  Now DD2 is a high school sophomore and DD1 is a high school junior.  DD1 has been complaining that DD2 doesn’t have much homework compared to her large stack.  Let’s break the day down as I have for my two public school children.

When the last of the rest of the household walks out the door at 7:15am, DD2 begins her school day.  The public high school begins at 7:35.  DD2 ends her work at 3:10 when my youngest returns home.  That’s roughly 8 hours.  Subtract out an hour for lunch and recess and that’s 7 hours of pretty continuous work.  Here’s where DD1 says, “I’d like to have a recess!” to which I replied, “That half hour of recess is the equivalent of the time you spend changing classes.”

DD1 isn’t liking how the conversation is going, but since I’m that mean of a mom I continue.  “You were also complaining about how every history class begins with 15-20 minutes doing a ‘bellringer’ exercise before you really get into class.  You also complain about how much time the teachers spend talking about their personal lives instead of actually teaching.”  Then this morning she mentions that tomorrow afternoon is all homecoming activities.  I had to point out that DD2 doesn’t have Homecoming or any of the assemblies that come to football season and throughout the year.

Isn’t it awful when Mom/Dad makes the point that invalidates your arguments?

So DD1 brings up the fact that DD2 has gone to the Amish stores with me during school time.  I bring up the fact that the next planned trip is on a “professional development day”, translation: no school for kids and barely any school for the teachers.  (DD2 is on the same schedule as the others to make life easier – she couldn’t work with the others here.)  DH brought up the fact that she’d been left at home sometimes, and DD2 replied that I often stipulate that schoolwork needs to be done in advance in order to be able to go.  It hurts to lose, but the fact is that DD2 spends a lot of time doing schoolwork – it just isn’t usually in the evening.

We have to deal with these “grass is always greener” issues now and then, but everyone is truly where they seem to be best suited.  DD1 chews up public school and spits it back out.  I preview all literature that will be read each year and opted her out of one book last year, and will be censoring “Persepolis” with Post-it notes for one drawing (a man urinating on someone, penis visible), and a few of the harsher swear words.  DD1 is fine with that.  She knows I’m looking out for her and that while she knows the facts of life, we’re doing our best to keep her innocence (not ignorance) as long as possible.  Childhood is way too short.

DD2 was hating public school when we pulled her out.  We may have been better off never sending her in the first place, but she’s thriving now.  She’s a born learner and her favorite books are encyclopedias and other informational books.  The first semester of home school was transitional.  We were less than a year out from her sensory processing diagnosis and were learning how to help her learn to cope with what we call ‘sensory reactions’.  The school treated her like a two year old, we always approached things more matter-of-fact and would give the two or three options and let her know she needed to decide.  She responds better to being treated according to her age.  Go figure.

Our youngest has sensory issues (actually they all do to varying degrees), but functions decently in public school.  He sometimes says he’d like to be home schooled, but I don’t think he actually would.  There are aspects he would respond well to, but from what I can see his learning style is better served in a class setting.

How a child receives their education is a personal (family) choice, and as our house proves, can be a very individual decision.

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Settling into New Routines

School is off to a decent start for the crew – both public and home schooled.  Only one day of frustration for my home schooled child thus far.  That’s a relief as she had a different math teacher last year (geometry) and now she’s back to me (algebra).  Math is her Waterloo as she thinks it’s too hard for her and her state of mind then makes it so.  This year seems to be going smoothly.  I’m using two books – a traditional algebra text from the 70’s (my dad was a math teacher), and a “teach yourself” book.  On reading the introduction of the ‘teach yourself’ book, my daughter found a new way to see math: as a language to learn.  That author struck the right note for my daughter.  We’ll see how the rest of the year goes.  We attempted algebra in eighth grade and only got through about half.  She’s mainly reviewing right now.

My youngest is adjusting to the increased homework load of seventh grade and also the increase in class switching.  Last year he had two teachers who handled the main subjects, which made for a smooth transition from elementary to middle school.  My oldest has begun the year with a lazy physics partner (fingers are crossed that she completed what she said she would last night!), a substitute who simply walked out of the room for a while with no explanation – thankfully this happened during the optional 7th hour, when the students are more dedicated (since it’s their own choice to take the extended day), and the assemblies which annoy her in their pointlessness.

I’m adjusting to the correcting load I’ve created for myself.  I try to increase my daughter’s work load each year, and she also benefits from using more than one book or major resource.  The grading is a bear.  I had to go and assign work from 2-3 sources each day in chemistry.  Latin and German have answer keys, but it’s interesting correcting subjects upon which I have no knowledge.  The Latin is to lay a foundation for veterinary studies in college.  It’s a tough course of study so I’ve been incorporating materials which will hopefully help smooth the later studies.  Last year she used a workbook on medical terminology.

We tried to attend a 4H meeting the other night, but somehow did not receive the email stating that the meeting had moved dates.  Oh well, DD2’s sewing teacher showed up so she and my daughter took a few minutes to discuss the plans for the year.  We’ve got quite a few hand sewing and embroidery projects lined up.  I told my daughter that we’ll follow what is interesting her.  There’s no point forcing her to make more clothing if her heart isn’t in it.  Pushing that course would only be misery for all of us involved.

We have a line up of projects that we’re working on outside the sewing realm as well.  Having been in the running for  a ‘best in show’ last year, DD2 wants to win one this year.  I’m fairly certain that we’ll take at least one as long as she finishes the plans.

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