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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

THE CHARMS OF CHILDHOOD

I often share stories about my childhood with my daughter. She thinks that I had it so much better as a kid because I had two brothers and I had a sister to play with who was close to my own age. I also grew up in town and could see my friends just by walking out the door. She lives in the country and has no one to play with but her cat, which means I serve as the playmate. I don't remember ever depending on my mom for entertainment. I never asked her to play games with me or watch me draw. Mom was a mom, not a playmate.  But I understand my daughter's need for companionship and I try to give her what she needs.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies was a completely different life compared to today. I'm sure my parents felt the stress of raising a family, but even from a child's point of view, life seemed more relaxing than it is today. My parents never ran us to all kinds of activities. We never rushed to get anywhere. The atmosphere in our home was a slower pace than the families of today. And there wasn't so much noise. Even with four kids, our house seemed quieter than today's households.

My childhood did have its charms. I spent a lot of time in a certain tree in our backyard. I remember having a lot of freedom to run around town and not come home until dinner time.  I'd go for walks in fields or wooded areas looking for chestnuts, berries, or wildflowers.  I'd hang out at a neighbor's house and chalk paint the sidewalk.  Sit by the pond under the willow trees.  Walk down to the bridge at the end of town and throw rocks in the water.  One day in my teens, my friend and I rode our bikes all the way to the next town.  My mom didn't know I was planning to meet a boy I liked.  His mom had to drive us home because it was getting dark before we decided to leave.  That's when she found out.  If we lived in town today, I couldn't give my daughter that freedom. Too many girls are disappearing in the news.

My mom found ways to entertain us when we were kids.  Ways that didn't cost money. We often went to a place known only as "the swimming hole," where we'd spend an entire day. I remember a rope tied to a tree that kept us entertained as we swung out across the water and let go at just the right time to make the biggest splash. And I remember Mom bringing a radio to the swimming hole. My Dad sold TV's and radios, so we had all kinds of gadgets like that, even battery powered.  Mostly I remember the coolness of the water on those hot summer days.

I remember the music of that era, and I still love it. Emmy Lou Harris, Elvis, The Carpenters, whenever I hear a song that was popular during my childhood, it instantly takes me back to long summer days at the swimming hole, hanging out in the horse barn with my new radio and cassette recorder, or standing on the playground sliding board singing, "I'm on the top of the world looking down on creation.."

It's funny the glimpses of the past that come to your mind when you think of your childhood. I remember the ice cream truck. You could hear it coming in plenty of time to pest Mom for money. The sound was like bells ringing to a certain enchanted tune, like something from a Disney movie. I remember all kinds of trucks stopping at our house selling bread, potato chips in a can, meat, Tastycakes, all kinds of goodies. Then another truck would bring our milk in the morning. During the summer, when my bedroom window was open, I could hear the early morning clang of milk bottles. I see those old milk boxes at antique stores now, relics of a time we'll never see again.

I remember, too, the door to door salesmen that stopped at our home. My mom didn't work outside the home, so she always got hit with sales calls. I watched the vacuum cleaner salesman give his demonstration, the encyclopedia salesman, the Amway guy, and the Avon lady. I still have that set of encyclopedias we used as kids. With internet access, it serves only as nostalgia now and when stacked, the books make nice risers.

Pets are a big part of childhood. My mom loved pomeranian dogs. I remember the names Skippy and Cocoa. The dogs had long reddish hair. But my favorite dog was a grey poodle named Muffin. He used to sit in front of our fireplace in the winter and stare at the fire until he almost fell asleep. We would watch him on the sofa and laugh when his eyes went closed and he'd almost fall over. Then he'd catch himself and stare at the fire more until it happened again.

Muffin disappeared from our home when he infested the house with fleas. I was a teenager by then and not a big pet-lover. I think my complaining about the fleas helped to seal his fate. I remember being blamed for poor Muffin's demise. I'm still not sure where he ended up. I guess I don't want to know.





Sunday, February 10, 2008

THE HALF-PRICE LIFE (PART TWO)

In most households, you would find a cabinet full of cleaners. One of the best ways to save money (and space) is to make your own cleaners. Below are some of my favorite recipes for cheap cleaning:

Windows: Add 3 Tbsp. vinegar to one gallon of cool water. Pour into a spritzer bottle and wipe with balls of newspaper (saves paper towels and avoids streaks).

Floors: To one gallon of water, add 1/16 cup liquid soap and 1/8 cup white vinegar.

All purpose cleaner for countertops: To one quart warm water, add 4 Tbsp. baking soda.

Toilets: Sprinkle 1/4 cup borax (found in laundry aisle) and 1/4 cup baking soda on sides of bowl. Pour one cup of white vinegar on sides of bowl. Let bubble and soak, then swish. For cleaning under the rim, add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap instead of borax.

Tub and Tile: Mix 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid soap and 1/2 cup water. As last step, add 2 Tbsp. vinegar. Then apply, scrub, and wipe.

Drain cleaner: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup vinegar. Let bubble for 15 min. then rinse with hot water. This habit can prevent the need for toxic and expensive drain openers.

Time is the reason we reach for ready-made cleaners and convenience foods. But most of these things are cheaper when they're homemade. If you have the time or you're willing to make the time, you can save a lot of money. I love to make homemade pizza sauce, applesauce, and jam. My kitchen smells wonderful on those days. I also make waffles and freeze them between sheets of wax paper (to avoid freezer stick). Pop the waffles in the toaster and you have a quick breakfast.

Another money saver is homemade jello and canned fruit instead of the fruit and gel bowls that cost two dollars. For lunch box snacks, I store this in small Glad containers. This also works to convert large tubs of yougurt into smaller servings. To save on drinks, I buy frozen juice concentrate. My daughter's favorite drink is frozen orange juice mixed with equal parts of frozen strawberry drink. Yum!

Of course, with all the money you save, you'll want to treat yourself now and then to a restaurant meal or a fun vacation. But even then you'll find yourself taking the thrifty route. Saving money is like a brilliant sickness you can't kick. It becomes a challenge. Anyone can spend money. Saving takes skill. While others boast about expensive purchases, I get excited about yard sale finds I got for next to nothing.

To eat at a restaurant for next to nothing, use entertainment book coupons, sunday paper coupons, or sign up for the birthday club. Birthday club discounts can often be used all at once. Plan to go when the restaurant offers a special price ( usually mid-week). Order water instead of soda, and skip the appetizer and dessert. The highest mark up in a restaurant is dessert.

To eat cheap on vacation, check local newspapers for coupons and hotel lobbys for discount booklets. Eat breakfast out (it's the cheapest meal of the day). Then carry snacks to hold you over until dinner. You'll only pay for two meals a day, and dinner can be ordered as take out which you can eat in your hotel room. This saves the price of a waitress tip, which you can give to the maid instead.

See how creative saving money can be. Two more tips I recently read about but haven't tried is coupon combining and price comping. Combining manufacturers coupons and store coupons on the same item sounds too good to be true, but apparently, some stores will honor this. Just ask.
Price comping is when a store will match the price featured in a local competitors' ad. This allows you to buy all your products in one place instead of running to three different stores for individual bargains. Check with stores to see which ones will honor competitors' sale prices.

So there you have it, everything I learned about saving money so far. Oh and don't forget about prepaid phone cards, farmer's markets, yard sales, consignment stores, and shopping at places like Goodwill. You have an entire closet full of used clothes. Why not add more and save yourself some money. One dance with a washing machine can make any piece of clothing look new. If you work hard for your money, you should work just as hard to keep it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

THE HALF-PRICE LIFE

Saving money takes time, which is probably why many women don't bother. When I worked full-time outside the home and full-time inside, saving money was the last thing on my mind. But now I've made it my job to save money, and I want to share some of the things I discovered.

If you want to save, you have to know where the bargains are. Subscribing to the Sunday paper is a must, not only for the manufacturer's coupons, but also for the sale flyers. I always pull out the RiteAid, CVS, and Giant flyers to see what's on sale. Sometimes the overall best offer is from Weis Markets, so I'll shop there that week. But most of the time, I pick and choose bargains from two or three sources and then pick them up whem I'm in that area.

Scheduling your shopping trips in sync with your other errands saves gas. This, of course, takes planning. Writing everything on a calendar allows me to see where I'm going each week so I can plan my shopping trips around those errands. It sounds like common sense, but I didn't always do this.

Another thing I didn't do is check sale flyers. Although I was always a coupon clipper, I didn't realize until recently the importance of those flyers. Last week Rite Aid had a Buy One Get One free (BOGO) sale on snacks. Giant had the same item on sale at two for five dollars. I assumed the BOGO sale would be a good deal. It turned out that Giant had the better deal with a two dollar difference in savings. That would have paid for the Sunday newspaper, but because I didn't check the Giant flyer, I blew that bargain. Made me mad, too!

Another way to save money is to cut things in half. And I mean that literally. For example, I used to buy gallons of 1% milk until someone told me to buy whole milk and dilute it with half water. I've been doing this for months and no one has noticed or complained. That's two gallons of milk for the price of one and I'm told that it's healthier because whole milk goes through less processing. Some other things I cut in half are paper towels, dryer sheets, and the amount of detergent I use when the load is lightly soiled. Nine times out of ten a half paper towel does the job, so I keep them near the roll in a napkin holder.

Planning meals and making a grocery list is another money saver. I didn't always do this either. And I got frustrated when I didn't have the right ingredients for a recipe. Now I look over what's already in the pantry and freezer and work with that first to plan meals. Then I find the recipes I'm planning to make for the next two weeks and make sure I have the ingredients. My grocery list consists of the needed ingredients and the things I write down as items are consumed. That's another good habit to get into. When the laundry detergent is getting low, write it on the list. Simple habits can make life so much easier.

Another wasteful habit I once had was to throw bulk packs of meat in the freezer. Now I buy meat in bulk and wrap it in family servings of about four ounces per person. I also check the number of servings a recipe makes. Some recipes can be cut in half to avoid waste or you can plan to freeze half for another meal later.

To be continued...