Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CnC: Thrifty Christmas

I asked a while ago if you like what I blog about or want me to blog about other things.  Someone specifically asked for Christmas ideas.

Let's see what I can come up with...

Baked Goodies.  Anything special from your kitchen will go over very well. 
  • From my kitchen, I'll be serving up some White Chocolate Fudge.  Personally, I spring for Trader Joe's Mint Jo Jos to put in there. 
  • I also like to make Homemade Marshmallows and Hot Chocolate.  I use a snowflake shaped cookie cutter to make my marshmallows extra special. 
  • I have a couple of special cookie recipes too:  Bailey's Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Craisins (or Cherry Craisins), Sugar Cookies with a pinch of nutmeg finished with a glaze made with rum extract makes plain sugar cookies taste like Egg Nog.   
  • I like to give my Nanny's Fruitcake as a gift too.  The recipe is a family secret. 
Crafty Goodies.  I tried doing a few things last year and I found that I don't have the space and the patience to make things as nice as I'd like, but here are a couple of ideas...
  • Marble Magnets are useful and thoughtful.
  • T-Shirt Bags made from t-shirts purcheased Goodwill for $2 or less are fun and creative.  I found that duct tape can be expensive.  I even bought iron-on vinyl to line them and make them water proof. 
  • Covered Journals - I take plain composition books and cover them with scrapbooking paper.  If you're like me and bought composition books in August or September when they were on sale with school supplies and you use left over scrapbooking materials, this could cost less than $1. 
  • Personal Care Items - You can make cleansers and scrubs and such with stuff that is already in your kitchen.  This website has some great ideas. 
Cheap Goodies.  This year, I'm clipping coupons and picking out some inexpensive stuff...
  • For kids: Free Travel Games are always fun and inexpensive, little girls would like Crayola Pixies stuff, and you can't go wrong with Lifesaver Story Books are on sale at Target for $2.33 and you can print coupons.  Print them twice and get 6 gifts for $8!
  • For adults:  Find a few coupon blogs you like and watch for deals on things like razors and chocolate.  I find The Krazy Coupon Lady's website easy to use.  There are tabs for stores you might be looking for.  This week, you can get free Snickers Nutcrackers at Walgreeens and 99 cent Hersheys Pot of Gold boxes at RiteAid.  Last week, I picked up two free razor sets.
  • For fun:  Nail polish and eye shaddow is almost always Buy One Get Second for 50% off or something.  You can use coupons on both items so you can get some fun feminine stuff in case Mommy's stocking is "overlooked" by "Santa". 
At the end of the day, we give gifts because the Greatest Gift, Jesus - God's own Son, was given to us.  It's not a competition for the biggest and the best.  So I think it really is the thought that counts.  That being said, presentation can make an inexpensive gift much more thoughtful... at least you took the time to make it pretty.  I like to make up pretty little gift boxes or bags or baskets with personal touches or an ornament. Find cute “fillers” (tea towels, candles, coffee mugs, etc..) at the Dollar Store or at drug stores like Walgreens and RiteAid.  I try to make up a few extras as hostess gifts or exchangables or teacher gifts.

At preschool alone, Seth has three teachers in the classroom, one administrator, and one speech therapist; he also has a second speech therapist.  Each kiddo is in a different class at MOPS that have at least three workers.   At minimum, I have to come up with EIGHTEEN teacher gifts.  At the rate I'm going,  And I really would like to be able to gather up enough stuff for the Garbage Men and our Mail Carrier.  We also have three sets of siblings and spouses, seven and a half nieces, three nephews, four parents, and one grandparent.  We have to be creative ... and it has to be small enough to fit in a USPS Flat Rate Box

"But CnC, how do you have the time and energy?"
"Fret not, Dear Reader, I don't.  I use artifical stimulants like caffeine and sugar to multiply my time."


Friday, December 3, 2010

RANT: Healthcare

This is such a controversial topic that I really don't want to get into it too deep. 

We lost our Health Insurance when my husband was laid off in 2008.  We took the gamble that as healthy young(ish) adults we would not need health insurance.  We opted to pay out of pocket for any services we may need.  (Don't even get me started on how much cheaper it is to use a midwife and a birthcenter instead of a doctor and a hospital.)  And today, I needed to go to the doctor... for the first time in 3+ years (other than maternity stuff). 

How do you decide where to go when you don't have a list of doctors set forth by your insurance?  Personally, I went to the doctor I went to before bcause they have a cash discount.  I got a 33% discount because I paid cash (or they take credit) on the day of service.  Yes, I even use coupons at the doctor's office.

Now, I have a prescription in my hot little hand.  Because I'm the one paying, I searched Wal-Mart's $4 generic list.  Nope.  I searched Target's $4 generic list.  Nope.  I searched Walgreen's $10 generic list.  Nope.  I searched RiteAid's $9 generic list.  Voila.  I already love RiteAid and the rockin' deals I got today so this is not so difficult.  I'll probably go ahead and get 90 days for $16... yep, another $11 coupon without clipping a thing.  I just wish they had one of their $25 new prescription coupons right now.  Shucks.

When I had insurance, I didn't think twice about it brand name meds were $15, generics were $10.  I think I was part of the healthcare problem.   
  • Do you think about how your healthcare dollars are spent? 
  • Would it benefit your family to pocket your employer's contribution and purchase a higher deductible plan on your own and just pay cash for simple office visits (out of FSA funds, even)?
  • Would the cost of healthcare decrease if there was competition?  (Dr A gives a 33% discount, Dr B doesn't, etc...)
Once the dust settles and our elected officials come up with a better plan... one that wouldn't fine my family $2400 for two uninsured adults, we'll buy catastrophic insurance with a high deductible for the whole crew.  One that covers annual checkups and well-child schtuff with little or no out of pocket cost to us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time

The best reward of being a Stay at Home Mom is the tabula rasa that is our children.  They are blank slates when it comes to Christmas (and other holiday) traditions.  That means, I am their primary source of information and all things wonderful about Christmas (Kyle too, but he's working). 

My mom often confesses that she wasn't very intentional with us as children.  It's not like I hold that against her.  Hardly!  I have very fond memories of Christmas morning and beautiful trees and making wrapping paper from potatoes and ink stamps.  I still love Pillsbury's Orange Icing cinnamon rolls from a can (I have 4 of them in my fridge right now), and The Night Before Christmas is on the reading list for the night before Christmas. 

But it's my turn now and I'd like to add some new traditions.  One tradition we never participated in as a family (or if we did, I don't remember it) was the Advent Calendar.   We started this last year at our house and I love it!  As the Wikipedia article states there's really no right or wrong way to do it: light candles, eat candy, read a story, whatever!  I have envelopes numbered 1 to 24 and each day we do a Christmas-centered activity.  We can make cookies, go to a tree lighting, celebrate Grandma and Grandpa's arrival, celebrate Nana's arrival, make Fruit Loop garland, etc...  I have a friend who just made her Advent Calendar out of favor boxes and she put small toys and chocolate in them.  Beautiful!  I might steal that for next year.
Oh!  I think I'll give the kids their Christmas PJ's now so we can wear them as much as possible.  I just hope they don't expect to wear them every night.  I can't guarantee that the laundry will always be caught up.   
Additionally... last year, after Christmas our neighbor gave us 3 store-bought Advent Calendars.  They were 1 cent each at Trader Joe's and they don't expire until February 2011!  So guess what!  I just put them in the Christmas storage box and brought them out with all of the other goodies. 
Mental note:  Go buy advent calendars after Christmas at Trader Joe's.  Double check the expiration.
Here's my plan this year:  each day once they all wake up from naps, we will open our calendar of chocolate and read part of the Christmas story from Luke or a book about Christmas.  Then, we'll open our Activity Advent and do our Christmas activity.  Today, I think we'll color Christmas pictures (since I don't think I can wrap their PJs before they wake up from naps).  Tomorrow, we might make coffee filter snowflakes or sugar cookies.  Saturday, there's a parade in Enumclaw 10 minutes from our house and a snow park.  You get the idea.

I do still have my Activity Advent Calendar from last year.   I made envelopes (more or less like this)from pretty paper that I got from my very own Stampin' Up rep, Cynthia Maloney.  I totally cheat and do whatever activity I'm in the mood for.  I put the slip of paper in while they're sleeping (shhh don't tell them).  I'm in the process of making a list so that I'm sure to have something to do each day. 

My hope is that they will have fond childhood memories as I do.  Life gets so unnecessarily busy and we all get so easily distracted.  Maybe my children will remember The Most Wonderful Time of the Year AND the reason for it, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, AND making edible garland ... more than they remember frustrating trips to the grocery store and nap time wars.  I hope this is the stuff I remember about them being little not so much the mounds of laundry, constant exhaustion, and crumbs everywhere.