Sunday, June 27, 2010

Budgets and Broke Stuff

D's massively powered computer has died.  Carter, as she was affectionately known, is no more.  Besides the extended mourning period that my husband will go through and the inordinate amount of time and effort that it will take him to save the data on his striped drives, we're stuck with another problem.  How are we going to pay for a new machine?

Carter was top-of-the-line (and super expensive) when he bought her in 2006.  I asked him how much he paid and I had a mini-heart attack.  There was no way we could replace Carter with a comparable product even given the reduction in prices over time.  However, she was way "overpowered," as my husband says and, consequently, burned herself up.  He really doesn't need a machine anywhere near that fancy (thank goodness!).  He bought Carter with all the bells and whistles back when he was single and could blow that kind of money. (Whoever said two could live as cheaply as one are full of it.)

We could save some money and get a desktop instead of the laptop, but D has to be able to work and also do schoolwork when we travel.  So we need to spend the extra money on a good, quality laptop.

We won't purchase a machine on credit.  The only things we'll buy on credit now are homes.  No consumable goods.  So, we'll probably take the money out of savings to buy the machine and then put additional money into our saving account the next few months to catch up.

That's a tough choice since we were looking at using that money to pay off a small chunk of our mortgage.  I just have to remind myself that into every budgetary life, a little rain must fall.  At least we won't be buying the machine on credit, so we won't be adding any additional debt to our lives.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas

Recipe time!

I made green chile (or chili, chilli, chilie, chillie) enchiladas the other night and they were delicious. These enchiladas used to be a mainstay around our house until I read the ingredients to the canned enchilada sauce that I used. High fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc.

Since D and I both love them, I decided to try my hand at making them from scratch and they turned out fabulously.  It seems like a lot of steps and ingredients but I made the whole dish from start to finish in about 40 minutes and for roughly the cost of making it from the cans (the chiles were on sale at Sprouts).  What I really loved is the super green color.  Much more green than the stuff out of the can and I didn't use any artificial colors.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Best Blog I've Come Across in a Long Time

I stumbled upon a blog called Down to Earth.  Rhonda lives in Australia and has fully embraced a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle.  If you are interested in baking your own bread, making soap, or living simply, check her out.

What offense?

I feel like I might have offended someone with my last post and came here to remove it.  Then I wondered what I had actually done to offend.  I wasn't able to come up with anything.

So here is a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head just for grins.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Okra, Tomato and Sausage Gumbo

Recipe time!  I love to eat okra.  Fried, stewed, and pickled.  It's delicious.  I've even converted my previously greens-hating husband to the stuff.  This is my favorite okra gumbo recipe:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Still warm from the garden....

We came home from Houston this weekend to a bounty in the garden.  More jalapeƱos, squash, zucchini and purple beauty bell peppers.  I enjoyed my two very favorite veggies while they were still warm from the sun...

Cucumber and yellow pear tomato salad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Disturbing Trend

I've been noticing something lately that I don't really remember seeing before.  Instead of mowing along the sides of fields and roadways, farmers, cities and counties are spreading Roundup.  How is this a good idea?

I'm wary of using pesticides and herbicides on everything nowadays.  The very point of these products is to poison.  I don't want poison on my foods, in the air I breathe and on my skin.  Now they are linking pesticides to  ADD and ADHD and maybe even autism.

I don't know if any of you are familiar with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among honey bees.  It's a phenomena that causes the worker bees to simply disappear.  Many causes have been cited such a disease or migratory bee keeping (keepers more around so bees can't find their hives anymore).  A theory that is growing in  popularity among scientists is pesticide use is causing CCD.  Pesticides can cause a couple problems.  
  • The pesticide interferes with the hormones that naturally allow a bee to home in on it's hive.  Basically, it gets lost and can't find its way.
  • Pesticide flat out kill or mame the bees.  It's called a pesticide for a reason.
A lack of honey bees means a lack of foods that are pollinated by honey bees.  Apples, tomatoes, you name it.  And it's spreading.  This map is just as of March 2007!

I don't know about you, but even if we couldn't scientifically link pesticide and herbicide use to any malady, it simply doesn't make any sense.  At the commercial level they are all made from petroleum.  The petroleum is trucked to the factory, the pesticide is made from the trucked petroleum, then it's trucked to the warehouse, then to the purchaser.  It's ridiculous.  

Why don't we try beneficial inter-planting or simply go nuts and try beneficial nematodes or tobacco juice?  Because all the agribusiness (even the local extension office!) types tell us we have to use the latest weed or insect killer.  And why do we have to use the latest?  Because weeds and insects are already developing increased resistance to last year's model.  Why do we believe these guys?  They're the folks who stand to make money off us.  They quote studies that say their latest poison is non-toxic to humans.  A study they paid for.  And haven't we heard time and time again about corporations that fund multiple studies and simply hide the results of the non-favorable ones?  

Didn't we learn anything from Big Tobacco and Pfizer?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Garden is Coming Along

I'm back!  We were out of town all last week visiting my husband's family in North and West Texas.  We got back on Friday and we discovered that we have mice again.  The joys of living near corn fields.  They chewed through our Ethernet cable in the garage so I've been internet-less for a few days - it's now up and running again.

We have our first harvest!!!!!!  Behold!

Squash, zucchini, jalapeƱos and cucumber

The garden is going gang-busters.  It still amazes me how much these plants can grow in a week.  To recap, we are growing:
  1. Tomatoes (several varieties)
  2. Tomatillos
  3. Bell peppers
  4. Hot peppers (several varieties)
  5. Yellow straight-neck squash
  6. Zucchini 
  7. Vining cucumbers
  8. Okra (LOTS)
  9. Blackberries
  10. Strawberries
We also identified the mystery plant that we found growing in a forgotten planter.  It was yellow squash.  But I am sad to update that it is dead.  While we were gone, a friend of ours watered the garden.  However, we forgot to tell him about the squash hidden in the planter stuck behind a patio chair and it burned up.  Alas.

But here's the progress of what we have so far:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Car Seat Blues

We upgraded the Kiddo's car seat.  His current seat, the Graco Snugride 32, is rated for (wait for it) 32 lbs and 32 inches.  He's only about 28 lbs now but it's nearly impossible to fit him in the seat.  It's become a taxing, origami-like trick to fit his little arms and shoulders under the straps.  He's very squished and Mom and Dad are frustrated.

Snugride Indeed!

We picked up the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 seat.  I fell in love with it.  We could use it as a car seat till 80 lbs and then a booster till 100 lbs.  We put it together and then I realized that it didn't have a rear-facing option.  D'oh!  I never even thought to check because you can begin using at 20lbs and I figured that it must have the option.  Wrong.

This seat feels like a tank-I loved it.

I know the whole rear-facing issue is hotly debated but, for me, I insist that even though he surpassed 20 lbs long ago, he be rear-facing till at least 1 year.  He's not even 9 months old.

So back to the store.  We wound up with the Graco MyRide 65.  Apparently, we have a thing for Graco.  Overall, the seat is okay.  We can only use it until 65 lbs at which time we'll need to upgrade to a booster, but I can live with that.

It's got 2(!) cupholders.  Somehow, I doubt my 8 month-old will be double-fisting sippy cups.

D's going to install it in the Subaru tonight so that Little Bit can ride in style to Houston tomorrow.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Haircuts all around!

I've been waiting on updating since all my posts need pictures and my camera's battery has gone to the big battery recycle center in the sky.  Luckily, we had a little windfall and D and I decided to treat ourselves.  He got a replacement iPod and I got some clothes and a new battery.  We try to apply any windfalls or unexpected cash towards our debt (ie house or student loans).  However, I am a firmly believe that you must treat yourself every once-in-a-while.  If not, I feel that it's easier to fall off the frugality wagon. "All work and no play make John a dull boy," kind of thing.  Even worse, you may start to resent your frugal lifestyle and really throw it out.

So what's new in the UsefulMom household?  I finally got my hair cut.  When the kiddo was about 4 months old, half my hair fell out.  Well, it probably wasn't actually half but it sure felt like it.  Since then I've been waiting to see how it grew in before I got it cut.  So far, it's growing in a bit thicker than it used to be (yay!) but it's also growing in pretty grey.  I decided to get just a plain old medium length layered bob.  I'll post pics once my camera battery finishes charging.

The same day I got my hair cut, I cut the Little One's hair for the first time.  It looks pretty good and yay for saving money.  D has been after me for a few weeks to cut his hair and I've been resisting.  I felt that if I cut his hair, he'd be a "boy" instead of a baby.  He does look a lot more like a boy now but I can live with it.  The alternative was pretty bad.  His hair had gotten so long that it was curling around his ears, giving him odd "ear wings."  NOT a good look even on a baby.

The actual cutting was a challenge since he's so wiggly.  I used D's beard trimmer and I had him hold the Little One still while I cut his hair.  I used the trimmer without the guard to edge his neck, around his ears and his hairline.  Then I put the guard on (at #5 if you're interested) and cut the back and top.  Apart from a few mess-ups on his hairline and a bizarre tiny bald spot on top of his head, he looks great.  Pics are coming.



Aw, he's all grown up!

He's got some crazy, uneven sideburns.  :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer and the Budget Squeeze

D and I have been trying very hard to stay within our budget.  With the summer in full swing, the budget watch is just that much harder.  This summer alone, we'll be taking a week long trip to Amarillo and head to Houston many, many times since my sister is getting married in July.  An upcoming weddings also mean gifts and hotels - two more budget busters.

We try to pre-buy and pack as many consumables as possible.  We take all dog food, baby food, baby Motrin, diapers (we use disposables on the road), and any emergency meds like Tylenol or Immodium.  I've found that we have fewer runs to the store and, consequently, fewer impulse buys while we're on vacation.

We also budget $75 per month for vacations that builds up if we don't use it.  When a trip rolls around, we see how much money we have in our vacation fund and decide how much we want to spend.  Then we withdraw that cash amount and that is all we can spend.  Period.

We did alright for our trip to Amarillo.  I forgot and put some small purchases on my debit card because I'm so used to using it, but for the most part, we paid for everything with cash.

The real test is coming up with the end of June and all of July. 3 more trips to go...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Death of FarmVille

I killed FarmVille.  Cold turkey and with no remorse.  FarmVille no longer has me in its clutches. I started feeling like I was was on a wheel with that game.  Getting more cash so I could buy more stuff.  Ick.  I hate feeling like I "have" to do anything.  See ya, FarmVille!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Successful Cloth Wipes

The cloth diapers worked so well that I decided to try sewing some cloth wipes.

I had never sewn anything in my life but I've been wanting to learn.  Well, they weren't the prettiest but they worked fantastically.  I got tons of receiving blankets while I was pregnant and the kiddo was too big for them when he was born!  I decided to cut some up and make wipes out of them since I thought flannel would make a nice wipes texture.  

Sewing the flannel/flannel wipes
I made 8x8 and 8x12 (for big jobs)

The hand-me-down receiving blankets worked the best.  They've been washed dozens of times are are super soft and absorbent.  A few days later, I tried an old cut up towel and made wipes with terrycloth on one side and flannel on the other.  They're perfect for big jobs!  (Just be careful with the terrycloth in your machine.  I had to unclog it a few times.)

Terrycloth/flannel wipes

Now that they're made, what to do with the wipes?  I got an idea from The Feminist Breeder to put the wipes in a regular disposable wipes container and fold them so they'll pop up.  Genius!

Folding the wipes so they'll "pop up."

Success!  They popped up!

After this, I even made my own diaper wipe solution.  There are millions of recipes online but I just made mine up.  I fill a sink with warm water, add a squirt of baby bath wash and a few drops of tea tree oil.  Soak the wipes and Voila!  I like the tea tree oil since it has antiseptic properties so you don't have to worry about the wipes staying damp for a few days.

And a special bonus - these wipes also fit in a standard wipes warmer.  I have mine in the Munchkin Warm Glow Wipe Warmer and I love it.  A lot of folks say they have problems with the wipes getting musty or drying out and browning around the edges but I've never had this problem.  But then again, I replace them about every 4 days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adventures in Cloth Diapering

If someone had told me three years ago that I would be diapering my son with cloth I would have laughed.  I mean it's:

  1. Gross
  2. Hippy-fied
  3. and WAY too much work
Turns out, none are true.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Corporate Dummies?

Are we dummies programmed to consume and not ask questions?  Are we unable or unwilling to make thoughtful choices in our consumerism? The thought's been rolling around in my head for a while.  The term sounds so shocking yet obvious - I don't think I like it but I can't come up with a better phrase.  I realize that the above is an extremely simplistic view but it still makes me wonder.

I was thinking about "what this all means."  What do we do that makes our lives meaningful?  Do we just run in the hamster wheel in an endless loop of making money so we can buy stuff and buying stuff so we have to make more money?  If you watch TV, you're constantly barraged with commercials stating that you must buy their product or your very happiness is at stake.

I recognize that we choose whether or not we will heed those commercials but do we really?  The human mind is so tied to the group mentality that it becomes very hard to resist the urge to fit in.  Are we able to make an educated choice about what products we buy and whether or not we really need them?  I think that life has become so complex that it is all but impossible to make a well thought out choice regarding many purchases.  Most companies are extremely secretive so it's pretty much hopeless to discern whether or not your product (consumable or not) was brought to the market in a responsible, ethics and humane way.

Does the company who raised, killed and delivered my chicken to the dinner table practice routine cruelty?  Does the company who manufactured my shoes treat its workers fairly?    Is my cable provider an unfair monopoly skating by on government lobbying?  And healthcare.....oh, healthcare.  Where do I start?

We chose a high deductible health plan last year after we determined that we could save money if we didn't go to the doctor much (we don't) and we could chose our services and providers wisely.  D and I are big on consumer responsibility.  Supposedly, each provider has worked out a price with our insurance company.  The theory goes that we can call that provider and request the pricing of office visits and any procedures that we need.

Well, even trying to pry out a price for anything from a doctor's office is like pulling teeth.  I call, they refuse to offer prices and tell me to contact my insurance company.  I call the insurance company and they will only quote the coverage available with my plan and that for a specific price I must call the provider.  I call the provider and around and around we go.  I get to the point where I demand the price or I will take my needs elsewhere and I might get a price.  But the price is only the sticker price for the visit, not the contracted price.  I am continually told that I'll only get the contracted price after my visit has gone out for coding.  It's ridiculous and  maddening.

After the baby, I tried to get pricing for an IUD and after 6 hours on the phone, I finally just settled on going back on the pill since Walgreen's gives out their contracted drug prices freely.

I don't think Americans have the resources or even the time or emotional capital to be responsible consumers for all issues in their lives.  Life is just too complicated.

Corporations tell us that we are free to choose to buy their products or not but are we really?  Their notoriously opaque business practices are in place specifically to inhibit our choices.  But, in this day and age, does it even matter to most of us?  Do most of us even care?