Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vacationing with Friends

My husband and I are fortunate to have a couple that we are very close friends with.  Amy and I have been friends since the 9th grade, our husbands' got to know each other through us.  When our kids were little (and we were pretty poor) we would go away for the weekend together, sharing a hotel room and building a lot of memories (or in my case completely blocking out one of the trips - don't know how I managed that!).  As our kids got older we've periodically gone away as families to a water park for a couple of days but nothing major.

Our friends have been asking us to vacation with them for the last few years but I've been a little apprehensive about taking them up on the invitation.  While I absolutely love this couple like they were family, I also realize that we have very different expectations for travel and I didn't want a trip to ruin our friendship (I've had some experience with that).  We finally agreed to go to Vegas with them and to my delight we really had a good time.  I chalk the success of the trip up to the open dialogue that we had with them prior to the trip. 

In my  opinion, traveling with another couple needs to be embarked upon with the same openness that you would embark upon a marriage.  How many marriages break up because they don't discuss the important things: money, kids, etc?  I think that vacationing with friends without setting the same expectations can have the same effect.

Here is how we approached our trip:

Discuss non-negotiables - I'm a breakfast girl, I need to eat breakfast every morning or I get physically ill and quite crabby.  I actually had a friendship change dramatically over my not getting breakfast during a weekend getaway (long story, we were quite young) so this gets to be a big deal for me.  The other couple we went with aren't big breakfast people and like to sleep late, unlike Mike and I who typically like to get up early on our vacations.  We agreed that breakfast was on your own, whenever you felt like it (unless we had a tour planned).  Mike and I would text the other couple to let them know when we were going down, they were free to join us if they wanted to.  They came down two out of the four days.

Discuss finances -  Everyone has a different financial situation or items they are comfortable spending money on.  I think a frank open discussion as to what kind of budget is available is critical.  This includes for the full trip and just not the hotel selection.  If you are planning on doing all kinds of paid sightseeing while the other couple thought you weren't going to do any of that, you may have a problem.  Prior to going we discussed what kinds of things we wanted to do, what kinds of places we wanted to eat as well as what level of hotel we wanted.  This way there were no surprises for anyone.

Let everyone choose one activity that is important to them - I think this is pretty important to do beforehand.  The other couple we went with typically doesn't like sightseeing tours, Mike and I love them.  Mike really wanted to visit Hoover Dam, since that was Mike's pick and we agreed before hand to do it there were no problems.  It turned out to be one of the best days of the trip for all of us.  Discussing before the trip what you want to do gives you the option of completely ruling an activity out if it's something you absolutely won't do.  Trust me, in Vegas there are quite a few things I would have refused to do.

Agree to how much togetherness you want - We spent the majority of the trip together but there were times we decided to do our own things.  Mike and I aren't big gamblers, I can think of many other ways to spend my money but our friends love it.  We spent two of the afternoons by the pool while they gambled.  They stayed up quite a bit later than us gambling while we went to bed.  Setting the expectation that it's OK to do your own thing can alleviate some of the hard feelings if you just want some quiet time.  This could also include non-couple time.  We chose a day for the guys to go off and do 'guy things' while Amy and I went to the Eiffel Tower for lunch and shopping.

Discuss hot buttons (after over 20 years of friendship we know what our hot buttons are) prior to the trip - A hot button for me, once again, is food.  If I go to long without eating I get physically ill and crabby.  The day we went to Hoover Dam we left our hotel at 9am and I didn't get to eat again until 2pm (note - if you are taking the Hoover Dam bus trip and didn't get the lunch option bring some food.  Otherwise there is a small cafe but the line was looooooong).  We actually had to get off the bus at one of the other hotels (ours was the last stop) so that I could eat.  If any one of us felt the crabbies coming on we would just say "1st warning", "2nd warning", etc.  This was our playful way of letting the others know that something needed to be done to correct the situation.  I think I was on 4th warning before we got off the bus, I had to work really hard to keep the crabbies at bay.

Relax and enjoy the trip - For those who know me I can be a little bit of a control freak.  When vacationing with another couple it's important to temper that trait.  By relaxing and letting go of control I was able to go with the flow and enjoy the trip.

What about you?  Do you have any suggestions on how to vacation successfully with another couple?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hotel Review: New York New York - Las Vegas

Since this was our first trip to Vegas we let our friends make the decision where to stay.  I was given options but didn't feel like I knew enough to even offer my opinion, one of the people we went with visits Vegas about 3 times per year so we let him decide.  He is trying to stay at all the hotels so he choose New York New York this time.

Overall Impression
The outside of the building captures the skyline of New York including the Statue of Liberty and a roller coaster.  The lobby of the hotel has an art deco feel while the restaurant area is reminiscent of the street of New York with the deli's and restaurants.  While they did a nice job on the decor, the overall feel of the main floor (lobby, casino & restaurants) is very dark which I don't particularly care for.  There was also a resort fee of $15 + tax a day that a lot of the other hotels didn't have. 
The rooms were pretty nice but not extravagant.  We paid for the Park Avenue Deluxe room with a view of the strip.  I thought the decor was nice, there was plenty of closet and drawer space and the bed was fairly comfortable but the pillows were awful.  The only other hotel that had pillows as bad as these was at a casino in the Michigan UP, maybe it's a casino thing.  The bathroom was nice but nothing special.  The shampoo, soap and hand lotion smelled good.

We ate at quite a few of the restaurants and overall I was pretty dissatisfied with the food.  Since we ate as so many of the restaurants I'll give you my impressions of each one.
         Il Fornaio - We ate breakfast the first morning at this restaurant and was very please with the quality of the food and the service we received.  I ordered the french toast and a hot tea while my husband ordered eggs and bacon with a Pepsi. When we checked in we were given a coupon book with a buy one get one free breakfast which we took advantage of.  Even getting one of the breakfasts for free our total bill (including tip) came to $31.  This was by far the best meal we had at the hotel and I would recommend breakfast here if you are staying at the New York New York
       America - We ate breakfast here twice.  The first time the food was not very good but the service was acceptable.  I ordered the french toast and hot tea, both of which tasted awful.  The water tasted like pool water which I think affected the taste of the tea. My husband ordered eggs and bacon which were OK.  The second time we ate there I ordered the mushroom, spinach and Swiss omelet which was pretty good.  However, I found the waiter to have a little bit of an attitude.  I felt like we were a little bit of an imposition.  We may have been staying at the New York New York but I didn't expect the New York attitude.  Both meals with tip were about $25.  I will say that there was a pretty cool map of the United States on the ceiling done by artists depicting the highlights of each state, I would definitely check that out if you are staying here.
       Greenbergs Deli - We ate lunch here once and I wasn't very satisfied with my meal but my husband felt that his was OK.  Mike ordered a Reuben while I ordered a beef and cheddar sandwich.  My sandwich was very dry and didn't have a lot of flavor.  With chips and two sodas (no tip) our bill came to $26 which I thought was a little expensive.
       New York Hot Dogs - We ordered hot dogs from here and they were just OK, I think my husband enjoyed his more than I enjoyed mine.

We also ate at Krispy Creme and Starbucks one morning, they were pretty consistent with what you would expect.

I found the pool to be pretty disappointing.  The pool was relatively small, very crowded and it was difficult to find chairs.  The music was quite loud and the roller coaster was very noisy making it difficult to relax.  There were three hot tubs, one of which (the one we grabbed) didn't have working jets.

Besides the room service (biggest problem there was we were shorted our soap/shampoo one day) I only had a few instances where we needed to interact with hotel staff. 

          Concierge - I was responsible for scheduling the Hoover Dam tour which I didn't get done before we left.  In the past,  I've scheduled tours through the concierge desk with multiple options and suggestions offered to me.  I was given one choice of a tour at a high price than what I had seen advertised on the Internet.  We went ahead and looked up a tour on line using our phones and saved about $20 per person (note - the tour we bought didn't have an additional stop at a candy store that the hotel offered).

         Business Office - The woman we were traveling with had a problem with a lost licensed.  Fortunately they were able to call home and get a family member to get her passport and overnight it to the hotel.  Unfortunately when they tried delivering the package no one was available to sign for it.  Long story short, after some run around they delivery company did re-delivery the package so we didn't have a problem getting on the flight.

          Front Desk - We had no problems with check-in and they accommodated our request for adjoining rooms.  However, I had called down to the front desk the morning we were leaving and asked about a late check out.  I was told that we could stay until noon at no charge and that later check outs were available for a fee.  I wanted to check with our friends before committing so I told them I would call back later.  When I called back to get the 4pm check out (which I was prepared to pay $40 for) I was told that it wasn't available.  The real problem occurred due to the fact the hot water was out on our floor from about 9am until 11:20.  My husband showered at 9 with lukewarm water and when are friends tried showering at about 9:15 it was ice cold.  They ended up with about 40 minutes to shower and pack.  I guess that since we were checking out the hotel didn't need to worry about keeping us happy.  Our flight was at 6:30pm so we thought it would be nice to have a room to freshen up in prior to flying out.  Since we didn't have a room, we sat down by the pool for a little bit and then just decided to go to the airport and hang out there instead of spending more money in the casino.

          Bell Hop - we did utilize the bell desk to store our luggage for free after we checked out and had no issues with the service we received.

There were many more stores, bars and restaurants (including a night club & Coyote Ugly) that we didn't take advantage of so I can't comment on them. 

All four of us felt that this hotel would probably be better suited for a younger crowd.  Every where you went it was noisy, dark and crowded.  Some of the other hotels we were in looked to be a little more luxurious  and better suited for those not in their twenties or looking for party.  I would say that our stay was adequate but that I'm not planning on staying here when we come back again.

Las Vegas

One of our financial goals for the year was to pay for a trip with our good friends.  I'm happy to say that we just got back from the trip and had a blast!  The fact that we were able to pay cash just made the trip that much better.

Rather than write in one post on everything I wanted to share from the trip I've come up with a number of topics that I thought I would cover over the next couple of weeks.  The topics that I'll be writing are:

  • Review of our hotel as well as thoughts about some other hotels
  • Surviving a vacation with friends
  • Things to do in Vegas (besides gambling)
  • Tips for how not to overspend on vacation
  • Dieting while on vacation

Check back later this evening for my first post and some vacation pictures.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Friday Blog Hop

I'm participating in the following Friday Blog Hops

From Mommy to Calm Insanity

A Mommy's Blog Design Studio

Chubby Cheeks Think

I would encourage you to check out the other blogs and see what they have to offer.

How I Save Money - Buying Clothes Off Season

I have a confession to make - I really hate garage sale shopping.  Some of my friends are really into it and I know a lot of the money savers out there get some great deals but I find it very tedious and time consuming.  Additionally, I don't feel like I really find a lot of great deals out there.  Since I like to save money and really needed to be as frugal as I could when my kids were little I got in the habit of buying my kids clothes off season.

Buying clothes off-season can also be a little bit of work since it does require digging through racks but I find that to be more enjoyable than going to rummage sales.  Here are some of my suggestions for buying off season

  • Make sure you truly understand the store's sizes and and account for your children's growth spurts.
  • Make sure you truly understand what your kids like.  Buying ahead was easier for my son than it was for my finicky daughter.  I stopped buying off-season for her before I did my son.
  • Ask the sales associates if they know when items will be clearanced.  If you know when they will mark down items you can eliminate unnecessary trips.
  • Go back to your favorite stores fairly frequently and check the clearance racks.  If you can sneak away without the kids this isn't as time consuming as it sounds.  I would typically do this when I had to drop the kids off for dance or confirmation classes.
  • Sign up for e-mails from your favorite stores and pair the offered discounts with the sale prices
  • Don't by extremely trendy clothes off-season.  There are quite a few 'classic' pieces that can be bought.  Save the trendy pieces (if you want them) for the season that they belong in.  I find that I can buy a couple pieces of trendy items and the kids would be satisfied.
  • Be aware that you may buy things that won't fit when the season comes.  Every once in a while a kid will shoot up and you may find some of the pants you bought look like you are preparing for a flood.  With that in mind....
  • Ask a friend with kids larger and/or smaller than your kids to go in with you.  If you have a good friend that you can buy the clothes off or sell the clothes to that don't fit your child and/or your children don't like you will cut down the possibility of an item not being worn.
  • Stick the clothes back and don't let your kids know you have them.  I find that my kids really enjoyed getting new clothes for school, if they knew the clothes were sitting in the closet it wasn't as big of a thrill for them.  I would buy the clothes without them knowing and then pull them out before schoolsaying "Look what I got you".  This may be a little bit of bait and switch but it worked for us. 
  • If you have a friend who can get a discount if they will shop with you.  Some friends don't like to do this but if you are close enough I would ask but be prepared with a quid pro quo (i.e. free babysitting, etc).  My mom had a 25% discount at a high quality kid's clothing store.  It wasn't unusual for me to get $100+ winter jackets for $7 - $15 dollars.  I was very sad when my daughter wouldn't wear that brand any more.
While I don't buy as many of my kids clothes off season (I don't have a teenage daughter now) I still buy quite a few of my clothes off season.  I try to add a few new pieces to my wardrobe each year including some timeless pieces and some trendy pieces.  This allows me to keep my wardrobe fairly fresh without costing me a fortune.

Do you have any tips for buying clothes off season?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Things I Love - Wen Hair Care

For those of you with teenage daughters you know how they are starting to really get into beauty care, my daughter is no different.  Last summer she started hounding me that she wanted to try Wen.  I was not going to spend that kind of money on her but I did put it on her Christmas list. 

When she opened the bottle of Wen on Christmas morning she was pretty excited.  However, when she started using it she really didn't like it.  My daughter's hair if very long and she felt that it made her hair greasy, I wasn't a huge fan either so it sat for a while in the shower without being used.

One day we ran out of shampoo, since I had $50 worth of Wen (yes - I bought the big bottle) sitting in the shower I decided that I was going to use that until I could get to the store and buy more shampoo.  Surprisingly I found that I really liked it the second time I tried it.

Here is what I like about it:
  • Saves time - Before I used both a shampoo and a conditioner which took twice the amount of time in the shower that Wen does.  I put it on, wash my face and then rinse. 
  • Leaves my hair healthy - I color my hair and as I get older it has been feeling incredibly dry.  I have tried expensive salon shampoos and cheaper regular shampoos and haven't found any brand that leaves my hair as soft as Wen.
  • Natural ingredients - I feel like there is so much 'stuff' in everything that we use, if I can weed out some of these ingredients I like to do that.
I know that this product is a little expensive but sometimes I think spending more money on a product is sometimes worth it.  I go as long as I can betwee haircuts so having a product that keeps my hair healthy is worth it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Master Bedroom

I'm not even going to address the kids' bedrooms in this series because I can't get them to keep their rooms clean.  I try not to open my son's door at all, my daughter's room is hit or miss.  I like keeping my room picked up because I feel like a clean room gives the area a feeling of tranquility.  I also feel like I sleep better when I climb into a made bed versus one that is a jumbled mess.

My husband and I have a rule that the last one out of bed is responsible for straightening up the room.  During the week it's pretty cut and dry depending on our work schedule.  On weekends it's sometimes a game to see who can get their feet on the floor first leaving the other one to straighten up.

Before either one of us leaves for the day we take about five minutes to do the following:
  • Make the bed
  • Fold any throw blankets used  and put away in the closet (this is fairly regular since my husband likes the window open and the fan on while I'm wrapped in several blankets trying to stay warm)
  • Remote control on the nightstand
  • Pajamas that are going to be re-worn tucked under the pillow
  • Blinds opened
About once a week, usually when I'm picking up the living room, I also take about five minutes to do the following:
  • Dry dust
  • Vacuum
A couple of times per year I'll take the curtains down, dust with a lemon oil or Pledge, thoroughly wash the ceiling fan and do the windows.  This is what the 'good' side of my bedroom looks like when I (or my husband) leave for the day.  I have to admit, when I went to take the picture and I realized my husband made the bed I was tempted to re-make it.  However, in the interest of "keeping it real", I went ahead and left it as he did.  Obviously the remote control was on top of the bed instead of the nightstand like I prefer and there is a lump in the middle of the bed that is his pajamas!  At least he made it =:)

I say the 'good' side of my bedroom because we do have a dirty secret in our room that I don't like people to see or know about. My son is the official 'clothes folder' in the family. Once he folds the laundry he is responsible for bringing it upstairs for the owner to put away. What typically tends to happen is that my husband will just let his clothes sit on the dresser and/or have them put into his drawers so haphazardly that his drawers won't shut. This is how the 'bad' side of our bedroom looks.

For quite a while it really bothered me that he would do that.  I'd put away his clothes and constantly straighten and shut his drawers but would seethe about it.  I finally decided that clothes weren't worth the anger and hostility that I felt towards my husband so I decided to let it go.  No one sees our room (if we know we'll be giving a tour we'll make sure it's company ready) so I'm just not going to worry about it.  Every one in a while he'll decide to go through his clothes and put them away but otherwise we just let them sit there :)

What is your gameplan for keeping your bedroom clean?

If you like this post check out the other posts in the series

How I Keep The House Semi Company Ready - Bathroom
How I Keep The House Semi Company Ready - Living Room
How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Kitchen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spending Time with my Daughter - Shopping Trip!

My husband worked both days a couple of weekends so I had all kinds of free time to do whatever needed to be done.  There was the cooking, cleaning, a little bit of exercise and some blog preparation in addition to a nap or two.  I also took the time to take Danielle to the mall shopping on a mother/daughter excursion.

As the kids grow up it gets a little harder to get their attention as they rush around with their busy little lives.  I've found that if I offer to take my daughter shopping it's a little easier to get her attention.  Just to be clear - the expectation isn't that I buy her something every time but that she will get something if she needs it and/or she has her own money.  Today we did pick up some track shorts but otherwise this shopping trip was all about me!

As we prepare for our vacation I realize how little clothing I have for summer.  I try to buy clothes that can go across the seasons and then just add a few new relevant pieces each year.  Sunday we went to one of my favorite stores (Chico's) to check out their sales.  I saved 45% off the list prices on my total purchase but unfortunately it was still a little expensive.  I bought a shirt & tank, a t-shirt and two pairs of earrings.  Can you tell I was feeling springy?

I treated Danielle to a pretzel and discovered, much to Michael's dismay, that Cinnabon is no longer in the mall!  I also checked out the new line of Coach purses but cannot bring myself to spend that much money!  We had a lot of fun singing along to the 80's songs on the way home.

Do you like to bond with your daughter over shopping or do you find it stressful to shop with a teenager?

Friday, May 20, 2011

How I Save Money - Making My Own Slipcovers

As I've said in earlier posts I want to re-do my living but don't want to spend the money right now.  What I didn't tell you is that a few years ago I wanted to update the living and didn't want to spend the money so I decided to make new cushions myself!

One of the smartest things we did when we first bought our house was to buy "This End Up" furniture.  The reason we chose that line of furniture was for it's affordability, durability and flexibility in changing designs.  In the last 18 years I have replaced the slip covers twice, once by purchasing new and once by making them myself.  It looks like I'll be choosing the making it myself option again.  Ugh!

The cost to purchase the slip covers and cushions (which do need to be replaced but I can do without) would be about $1500+.  I can get all the supplies I need for about $300, less if I can get a sale.  Since this is in our main living room it's important to me that I don't skimp and make sure I absolutely love what I buy and that there is some durability to the material.

Here's a picture of the living and the slip covers that I made.  Don't think my sewing would pass a Martha Stewart examination but I am quite pleased with how they turned out even though I am dreading doing all the work again.

Do you have any ideas on how to save money decorating?

If you like this post you might also like this:

How I Save Money Coloring My Own Hair

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Look What Was in My Mailbox

I've recently been signing up for freebies so the amount of 'fun' mail in my mailbox is growing. We are enjoying getting the free stuff, the kids call dibs quite often so I have to beat them off the stuff that I want. It is quite comical sometimes, my son this week grabbed the P&G box and said "what else is in here". When he saw the female product he went "oh" and walked away, he may not be so grabby in the the future.

Over the last week and a half I received the following:

P&G sample box with deodorant, tampons, pads & liners
Free hair color coupon
Coupons for the above product

There was also a coupon for a free Starbucks drink that I got really excited about until I realized that it was sent to my neighbor :( Oh well, good for her.

Anything fun in your mailbox?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mommy Dearest – Forgetting Your Child

As mothers, how many of us can watch Home Alone and sympathize with Kevin’s mom when she ran off and left him home alone? If you can’t empathize with her and think she’s the worst mother in the world, please stop reading now – you’ll think I’m not much better and I don’t want to ruin your illusion of me =:)
When my daughter was in daycare my husband and I had set days of the week that we would take turns picking up our daughter. On my off days I would work a little later to get some extra work done. Occasionally we would ask the other way to take our turn for whatever reason. Shortly after I started my current job (which is about a 30-45 minute commute) my husband asked me to pick up our daughter on one of his days and I forgot to mark it down on my calendar.

As I was humming away getting all kinds of extra work done (when I was supposed to be picking up the stinker) my phone rang – you guessed it, the daycare wondering when we were going to come and get Danielle. They had waited 15 minutes after closing time to call and I was a good 30-45 minutes away. On my way out the door I tried calling Mike, my mother, my in-laws and pretty much anyone in my personal phone book to see if they could get over there and get her but no one way available.

After breaking every speed law in the book (did you know that if you were traveling more than 15 miles/hour over the speed limit it was automatic revocation of your license? The nice police officer explained that to me as he was writing me a ticket right at 14 miles over, glad his glasses were a little foggy when we clocked me) I arrived an hour late to the daycare.

Daycare overage $60
Speeding ticket $250
Husband and child having something to hang over your head the rest of your life: Priceless

The point of this story is that all of us mothers (and fathers) no matter how good of parents we usually are fail our children at some point. Luckily for me the only time that I forgot my child she was safe and sound with no emotional scarring (she doesn’t even remember the event except for us retelling the story), I just had to put up with some dirty looks from the daycare director who was the “Perfect Mother” for a few weeks. I try to remember my “Mommy Dearest” moments whenever I find myself judging another mother and finding her lacking.

Do you have any good ‘forgotten children’ stories you would like to share?

Monday, May 16, 2011

How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Bathrooms

As a little bit of a germ-a-phobe, I really hate bathrooms (even my own).  I also REALLY struggle to keep the bathtubs clean.  However, I do find it one of the easier rooms to keep superficially clean.  A few years ago we finished our basement and added a second bathroom (that was for my sanity!) so the 'girls' have the downstairs bathroom and the 'boys' have the upstairs bathroom.  The steps I list below for keeping it company ready are required for both bathrooms but my husband does take care of his on a daily basis.

  • Dirties are to be taken out and put in the laundry room when leaving the bathroom.  Every once in a while the kids need reminding of this but everyone is fairly good about it. I tend to get crabby with them if they forget - no one likes a crabby momma.
  • Any beauty products used must be put away in it's proper place before leaving the bathroom.  I tend to leave the drawer/cabinet open and put back immediately upon using, this saves me time versus pulling everything out on the counter and then putting everything away as I'm done.
  • Toothpaste must be rinsed from sink (seems like a non-issue doesn't it, it's not)
  • Mirror, counter and toilet top are wiped down with the damp towel before leaving the bathroom. This is adults only, I'm lucky the kids put away their stuff and remove their dirties.
The above steps take me probably less than 5 minutes.  The bathroom at this point isn't going to be passing a white glove test, but it is being kept presentable.

Once a week either I or the kids will go through and scrub the toilets, clean the mirror, sanitize the counter tops and clean the floors.  I wish I could tell you the bathtubs get done every week but they don't.  My husband will do his own shower when he can't stand it any more (I know, some of you I'm sure are cringing but I have to pick my battles and his tub isn't one of them).  My tub gets scrubbed about every 2-3 weeks.  Once I'm done paying for Jenny Craig I'm considering getting a cleaning lady to come in and do some of the heavier cleaning - it's just a dream at this point.

As I promised in one of my earlier posts, in addition to the 'clean' picture I'm showing you one of my shameful secrets.  My cupboards and closets tend to be a mess.  I figure if the guests want to snoop and see my mess they can, I'm sure all of us have messes somewhere.  Except maybe my sister-in-law, she's perfect :)

We found this sign at an antique store and thought it would be fun for the bathroom door.  Of course it doesn't stop the guys from using it.

This is what I try to leave the bathroom looking like in the morning

Here's the shameful secret.  Half the stuff in there is my daughter's, anyone who has a teenager can relate to how much beauty products they need!  I like to think this is an insurance policy against snoopy guests, if they open it up the contents may fall out = :)

Do you have any good tips for keeping the bathroom clean?

If you like this post you may like the others in this series

How I keep the House Semi Company Ready - Living Room
How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Kitchen

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spending Time With My Daughter – Taste of Home Cooking Show

As a busy mom I think it’s important to carve out time with the people who are important to us. Next to my husband are my children, which is why I have a segment about spending time with my daughter. In case you haven’t guessed by now, I do better if I actually sit down and plan versus if I fly by the seat of my pants (although there are a lot of those moments too!). What I’m trying to say is that I purposely try to find these mother/daughter moments because time has a way of flying by so fast. They truly do grow up in a blink of the eye.

The mother/daughter moment that we planned a couple of weeks ago was to attend the Taste of Home cooking show. They hold one in our area once a year. For a number of years I would go with my mother in law and sister in law. Last year we decided to expand the group to include my mother, my daughter and my two nieces. We really make an evening out of it by meeting at a restaurant, enjoying the exhibitors (and getting to taste the food) and hopefully win a few prizes.

I have to confess, it was a little difficult for me to relax and unwind because work was so horribly stressful (my daughter did comment that I was a little quiet at dinner) but I tried really hard to have fun because I think these memories that we are building are really important.

We enjoyed watching the chef, picked out what recipes we were going to try at home and unfortunately won very few prizes along the way. Oh yeah – we did get those great swag bags that I posted about in my “Look What Was In My Mailbox” weekly posting.

A good time was had by all. Did you do something fun with your kids recently?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Time Management - Bill Paying

Does anything strike more fear in the heart than bill paying?  I remember back in the days when we were struggling how I just dreaded bill paying day.  Deciding which bills to pay first and trying to figure out how to make the money last - Ugh!  Now that we aren't living paycheck to paycheck it doesn't cause quite as much angst as it used to but I still hate it - seeing all that money flow out of my pockets.  I have also struggled with forgetting to pay certain bills (hubby hates that!), not because we don't have the money but because we didn't have a good system and I didn't have a regular time scheduled to sit down and pay them.

A little over a year ago I decided that at the ripe old age of 40 I really needed to devise a way to pay bills that was quick, fail safe and as painless as possible.  Here's what I do

  • Create a spreadsheet with every imaginable payment that I could think of.  This includes the water bill which comes quarterly and the dance shoes/costumes that I have to buy every fall.  I use this same spreadsheet to track my debt balances and saving accounts allowing me to provide my monthly financial update efficiently.
  • Set aside regular time to pay bills - I actually pay my bills every other Friday on the days we get paid during my lunch hour at work.  Paying twice a month may seem to be doubling my work but it helps smooth out our financial flow and actually helps me stay organized. I find that paying them at work while wearing my 'professional' hat feels better than paying them at home.  I keep the information on a personal flash drive.
  • Set aside a specific place to pay bills and make sure you have everything you need - As I said, I sit at my desk and pay bills during my lunch.  Most of the bills I do online but I keep envelopes and stamps at my desk for the bills that need to be mailed.  If your company frowns upon doing personal work at your desk maybe see if you can book a conference room for your lunch hour or find a quiet place in the cafeteria.
  • Automate as many payments as you can - This has both pros & cons.  I have a lot of my payments automated but have been burned by 'forgetting' about them.  Since I've implemented the spreadsheet method I have pretty much eliminated the surprises because I'm reminding myself every two weeks of what is coming out of my checking accounts.  One thing that you could do to mitigate your risk is to have a checking out that is only used for auto payments and then make sure the exact amount (plus maybe a little slush) is put into that account with direct deposit.  If you aren't using that account for anything else you shouldn't have any unpleasant surprises.
  • Pre-write your checks - if you have a bill that you pay the same amount every month (church, car payment, etc) and you can't automate, prepare several payments in advance.  I will typically write out a check, adress and stamp the evenlope with a post note listing the date I need to mail the bill.  I'll pre-input those into my spreadsheet so that I'm not forgetting to deduct the amount from my checking account
Hope these ideas help you.  If you have any ideas you'd like to share please leave a comment.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things I Love - Wall Words

A few years ago a friend of mine had an Uppercase Living party and I fell in love - with wall words that is.  I actually booked my own party (which I really hate doing) because I wanted to buy more than I already had.  I've pretty much maxed out the walls on my house with words but I'm pretty happy with the results.

Why do I love wall words?

  • Meaningful phrases - I try to pick phrases that give me pause and force me to think about what's important, kind of like putting life's instructions on the wall
  • Fun - My daughter had fun picking out her words, she feels like she had the chance to really make her room her own
  • Easy - I'm not allowed to do any painting in our house (Yes - I'm that bad) but this is easy enough that even I can do it
  • Removable - Since these are easily removed I could add this to my wall at work personalizing my space a little bit
  • Looks cool - I like they way they look!

Here are some of the different areas that I've added them.  I apologize for the pictures - not the best lighting.


Danielle's Room (the green wall really isn't as ugly as it looks here!)

Bottom of the steps into the basement

Grown-Up Family Room

Our Bedroom

Do you have any decorating ideas that you went crazy with?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Booking It - May

This is the first time I’ve participated in the Booking It party over at Life As Mom. Since I received a Kindle as a Mother’s Day gift and already downloaded and read two books, I figured this is as good of time as any to join in and give my perspective on what I’ve read.

I’ve stepped outside of my typical comfort zone (Michael Patterson, Lisa Kleypas, etc) because quite frankly I’m APPALLED at how expensive a lot of the books on the Kindle are. I completely understand paying higher prices for new releases; however a lot of the older books are more expensive than the printed paperbacks that I buy. To combat that expense, I went on the Amazon website and typed in “free books”. There were quite a few books listed for free. A number of them were the first book in a series so I will probably at some point break down and buy some of them but for now I’ve loaded up on the freebies.

One of the new authors that I chose to read is Marta Perry and the book “Hide in Plain Sight”. This book by no means is going to the ‘next greatest novel’ but it was definitely a good quick read.

                                      Hide in Plain Sight

“Hide in Plain Sight” is the first book in a trilogy about three sisters. The book takes place in Amish country and there are Amish characters interspersed throughout the book but the main characters are ‘English’. The lead character is a woman who is quickly climbing the ladder where she works and the conflict she faces between helping her grandmother and sister during their time of need and her own desires for security and a career. There is the requisite villain who is creating the chaos that our heroine needs to be saved from by the handsome ‘mysterious’ stranger. Here is what I liked about the book.

  • Quick and easy read. I deal every day with financial matters and ‘business’ reading, when I actually pick up a book to read I really want it to be light and fluffy.
  • No ‘adult themes’ in the book. Even though this is a love story there were no passages in this book that needed to be skipped. My daughter is a voracious reader and I would be very comfortable with her reading this book
  • Likable characters, even though I do think there could have been a little bit more substance to the characters. They were likable but I felt like you just got to know them on the surface.
  • Ending was not a dead giveaway. I was about a third of the way through the book before I had an idea of who the villain was.

 If you are looking for a free (as of this writing so please double check before purchasing on your Kindle), easy read this is definitely a book I would recommend you check out. I will be keeping my eyes open for more Marta Perry books (and the sequels to this one) in the future.


 Note: I’ll be posting this over at Life as Mom “2011 Booking It”. If you are visiting from there, welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy your visit. If you haven’t visited “Life as Mom” yet I would encourage you to head over there and see what she has to offer.


How I Save Money - Very Little Dry Cleaning

I wear a couple of outfits a week that are dry clean only.  I really hate dry cleaning clothes for several reasons:

  • Time - who has time to drop your clothes off at the dry cleaners & then remember to pick them up
  • Money - Do you realize how expensive dry cleaning is?
  • Wear & tear on the clothes - My personal opinion is that dry cleaning is really rough on your clothes.
  • Chemicals - Who wants all those chemicals on their clothing and skin?
To ease the need for dry cleaning (I do still dry clean the outfits at the end of the season) I do the following:

  • Wear something underneath the outfits.  I always wear a shirt with sleeves underneath the jacket and some kind of nylons or Spanx underneath my pants.  The extra layers keep perspiration from getting on the clothes.
  • Be careful not to spill anything on the clothing.
  • Dryel - This also falls under the category of "Things I Love".  I think this is a fantastic product that I use to freshen up my dry clean only clothes on a monthly basis.
  • Hang up your clothes immediately after taking them off. This will allow the clothing to stay wrinkle free and fresh
  • Don't spray perfume or hair products on the clothes.  My personal opinion is that all that 'stuff' doesn't do the fibers in the clothing any favors.  Plus if you have different scents you like to use they can get all mingled together.
I can't really tell you how much I save a year but I would guess it's over $100 between the dry cleaning savings as well as getting more use out of the clothes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Kitchen

There are two rooms that I try to have straightened up before I go to bed at night.  I shared with you last week what I do in the living room, this week I'll share with you what I do in the kitchen.  Because those two rooms get the most living in, they are most apt to be seen by unexpected company and I like to have my husband come home to a peaceful house (like I would appreciate) so I try to pick up before I go to bed.  I especially make this a priority when my husband is on second shift because of the fact that I want him to come home to a peaceful house.

The kitchen is a little harder to keep clean, in my opinion, because it seems to be the catch all for everything.  The mail gets dumped on the counter, items for the next day are generally placed on the table, things I need for errands are kept on the bench, etc.  Plus it feels like getting anyone to put their shoes away is impossible!

As I stated last week, while I like to do this every night I don't always have the time or energy.  However, if I can do this 50 - 80% of the time it keeps it from getting out of control.  Since this room is a little harder than the living room it gets done a little less frequently. 

My 10 minute plan of attack for keeping the area from getting embarrassingly messy is:

  • Pick up as we go - everyone is responsible for picking up after themselves after snacks.  If we have a family dinner the kids take turns picking off the kitchen table and cleaning up after I or their dad does the cooking.  I especially like those days because I have less to do before I go to bed!
  • Stack the mail neatly - if I bring in the mail I try to throw out any junk on my way in, if someone else brings in the mail I try to quickly look through it before I stack it up but sometimes it just gets stacked as it is.  The pile in the picture is relatively small, there are times when I'm super busy that it is a little difficult to stack neatly and the pile looks a little precarious.
  • Wipe down the counters and table - while I can generally get everyone to pick up after themselves I think they all believe an elf comes in at night to wipe everything down.  I hate crumbs so it feels like I'm constantly wiping up after everybody.
  • Straighten the bar stools and kitchen chairs - straightening chairs is another thing that I feel like I do all the time.  Non-straightened chairs drive me crazy, I think the kids do to that to me on purpose!
  • Vacuum the rugs - I only do that if I'm vacuuming the living room, I'm not going to pull out the vacuum just for the kitchen.
  • Make sure that only the items necessary for the next day are left out - I'm OK with the kids back pack, my husband's work belt and anything I need for the next day are left out.  However anything not necessary for the next day needs to be put away.  Typically that tends to be magazines and books the kids are ready, I feel like I find them every where!
Below are the pictures of what I try to leave the kitchen looking like.  I was tempted to do a 'company ready' cleaning before I took the picture but I'm trying to keep it real so this is what you get.  My husband always has a cup on the counter, it's not unusual to have dishes in the sink if the dishwasher needs to be unloaded (as is it's current state), Oreos and bananas are always out on the counter.  I also have a bag on the bench because I need to return a t-shirt, that's where I pile my errands so I don't forget to do something.

I just noticed as I was posting the pictures that Anna snuck in again with her turtle.  She's the black ball of fur in the lower right hand corner

Just so you guys know how non-perfect I am I'll also show you a picture of my pantry and the current state of disarray it is in.  I've learned over the years to live with a messy pantry and linen closet because I want help in putting away the groceries and clothes.  If I want help I need to settle for it being messy, if I want perfection I can do it myself.  Since doing it myself isn't an option I live with the messy!

Next week I'll share with you my morning pick-ups.  Don't worry, you'll also be getting to see some more of my messes.  As my blog name states, Wonder Woman I'm not and I don't want to give all of you the impression that I am.  In the interest of 'keeping it real' I'll be sharing with you some more of my trouble spots.

Do you have any good suggestions on how you keep up with the house cleaning?

Other posts in this series
How I Keep the House Semi Company Ready - Living Room
How I keep the House Semi Company Ready - Bathroom
How I keep the House Semi Company Ready - Master Bedroom
Organizing the Bathroom
Organizing the Pantry

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Look What Was In My Maillbox! Ok - not my mailbox but it was still fun samples!

I didn’t get any free samples this past week in the mail but I made a haul at a cooking event I went to. Both my daughter and I went so I got two of everything! As a disclaimer – I paid for the actual event itself; these were swag bags that everyone received as part of the occasion. I’ll be sharing more about the event in a future posting.

As part of our swag we received the following:

• Reusable shopping bag
• Cookbook (magazine size)
• 1-year magazine subscription (we had our choice of two different magazines, I chose one and my daughter chose the other)
• Toothbrush (these were on my shopping list for the week so “yeah”!)
• McCormick season sample pack (can’t wait to try all the different flavors)
• Hungry Jack Hash Browns – in a carton! Isn’t that a good idea? I probably won’t buy them all the time but I would most likely keep a carton or two around the house for whenever we are in the mood for hash browns, which doesn’t happen often.
• Chip clip
• Coupons

I’ve recently started signing up for more freebies so I’m looking forward to my mailbox filling up! Did you get anything fun for free this week?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Time Management - Preparing for the Week

One of my biggest complaints in life is that I don't have enough time.  I always say that if I didn't need sleep I would be able to get done everything that I need to.  Since I do need sleep (at least eight hours) I need to find ways to maximize my time.  One of the ways that I try to do this is by preparing everything I need on Sunday night for the week.  Some of these things include:

  • Clothing - I try to make sure that I have five outfits lined up for the week.  I may not know what day I'm going to wear the outfits, depends on what kind of mood I'm in, but the different pieces are together.  What I try to do is actually put on one hanger the pants, shirt, jacket and any under garments that I'll need and hang this up in my closet.  This way when I get up in the morning I can grab the outfit I feel like wearing and I'm not rummaging in the dark for underwear.  This also helps protect you from those unfortunately times when you grab black underwear and decide to wear white pants.  Yes - it has happened to me.
  • Kids lunches - Now that my kids are older I don't have to do this but when they were younger and I had to pack their lunches I would do most of the work Sunday night.  I would grab five brown bag and form an assembly line.  I would make sure that each bag had some kind of fruit, chips, desert, napkin (with a special message written on it), drink and utensils.  I would make the sandwich in the morning so that it was fresh.
  • My food - This is pretty easy now that I'm on the Jenny Craig diet.  Depending on what day I weigh in, I put together a week full of food for me to take to work.  Since the food needs to stay in the freezer I usually write myself a note and stick it to my steering wheel so I don't forget it.
  • Errands - The bench in the kitchen is where I stack anything I'll need for errands throughout the week.  I try to do all my errands in one trip to eliminate a bunch of running around (helps save money to with the price of gas being what it is - ugh!).  I'm fortunate enough with my job because of the amount of hours I work in a week I have some latitude to leave early if I need to.  About once a month I try to sneak out by 3pm and run errands.
There are weeks when for one reason or another I'm not as organized as I would like to be.  I definitely notice a difference on how smoothly my week goes.

Any ideas on how you maximize your week?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spending Time With My Daughter - Royal Wedding

Who remembers when Diana married Charles?  I was eleven at the time (yeah - that makes me 41 now) and it was the event of the year for us young girls.  My best friend Ann and I spent the months leading up the the wedding buying magazines with our allowance, cutting out the articles and pasting them in a scrapbook to send to them as a wedding present (I don't think we every got it in the mail but I always imagined how enchanted Lady Di would have been by the gift).  Ann spent the night at my house and we were up super early with our faces glued to the TV all day watching the coverage.  The magic of that time still brings a smile to my face even though as an adult I see that it was all glitter with no substance.

The memory of how special that time was for me made me want to share the current event with my daughter.  I wanted her too to have some special memories of the big wedding for her generation.  We made plans for her best friend to spend the night and then watch it together in the morning.  Unfortunately her friend ended up getting sick so she wasn't able to join us but that didn't stop Danielle and I from partaking in the ceremony - no we didn't eat tea and scones while watching either although that would have been fun.

While I may be a little jaded about the whole royal wedding thing as an adult, we really had a good time.  Watching everyone arrive at the church, admiring the dresses and breathlessly awaiting the kiss was a great way to share some of my memories of the big day 30 years ago while creating new memories for her to share with her kids. 

Did anyone else watch the wedding?  Any comments about it?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meatloaf Recipe

One of the things that I try to do as a busy woman is stick food aside in the freezer as I can.  If you've read some of my freezer cooking posting you'll know I tend to do smaller cooking days because I just don't have the time typically to do an all day cooking marathon.  I find that keeping Gladware 9x13 baking pans is one of the things that helps make freezer cooking successful for me (just to clarify - I'm not being compensated for this review in any way).

I like Gladware for the following reasons:

  • Convenient - I like being able to pull an idea from the freezer, let it defrost a little and then stick it in the oven.  By already being in the baking container my husband has absolutely no excuse not to start dinner for me.  To give him credit it's pretty rare for him to complain but if he's going to do it he tends to do it when he has to actually put what I prepped in a baking dish.
  • Stackable - The containers are easily stackable so when I go crazy on a cooking day (it does occassionally happen) I can stack a number of these neatly in the freezer.
  • Easy Clean Up - The kids especially like it when I use Gladware because if there are leftovers (and that's a big if) all they need to do is stick the lid on and stick it in the refrigerator.
  • Portable - If I want to take a dish to pass or provide a meal for a friend I like to use the Gladware so that I don't need to worry about getting my dish back.

This past weekend I made meatloaf for dinner.  When I'm prepping meatloaf I typically will double the recipe since it's just as easy to make a double batch as a single batch and then I have a meal for the freezer.  Here's the meatloaf I made for the freezer

I also promised you a recipe so I thought I'd share my meatloaf recipe with you.  As a warning, I'm not an exact measurement kind of cooker so these are approximations of what I throw in.  Feel free to add more or less to your own taste.

1.5 lbs of hamburger
1 lb of Italian sausage
1/2 bag of crushed croutons (whatever flavor you like)
1/2 onion (I use a grater instead of chopping it up - that way the kids don't see it)
2 gloves garlic
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 Worcestershire
1 cup cheese
Mushrooms (I typically grate these also)
1 to 2 tbls mustard (I use a Sweet & Hot Honey Mustard)
Salt & Pepper
Raw Bacon

Throw everything except the bacon into a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Prep your baking pan by spraying a non-stick cooking spray on the bottom. Spread mixture into baking pan and layer bacon on top.  Bake in 425 degree oven for approximately 1 hour.  Don't judge doneness by the bacon, sometimes it doesn't look crispy.  I typically will dump some of the grease off about half way through.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How I Save Money - Coloring My Own Hair

Pretty scary, coloring your own hair, isn't it?  I've been doing it for so long now that it doesn't bother me at all.  Before I go any further, I should tell you that I do spend quite a bit of money (~$50) for a haircut.  The problem was that if I added a color and highlights in with that I was spending about $110.  Since I need to color more often than I need to cut I decided to go longer in between cuts (I get my hair cut about every 10 - 12 weeks) and color my own hair as often as I need to.  Since I color my hair approximately every 4-6 weeks I estimate that this saves me about $500 per year.  I actually get a lot of compliments on my hair color (thanks L'oreal) so I must be pretty good at doing it.

When I first started coloring my hair I used a non-permanent that would wash out gradually after 30 washes.  This type of color tends to be fairly inexpensive (~$6/box) and fairly risk free.  This allowed me to test different shades and decide on the one that I liked best.  Since it washed out eventually I didn't get to upset if I choose poorly.  Once I decided the shade that I liked I switched to the same shade in a permanent color.  About a year or so ago I decided to try my hand at a color/highlight combination that L'oreal sells for about $13/box.  I was a little nervous about the highlights at first but have found that it's super easy.  The highlights are subtle enough (as long as you don't leave it on to long) that even if you mess up a little it's not really noticeable.

How do you save money on your cuts and colors?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rock Star Mom Moment - Lion Costume

I always say that my kids are going to grow up and write 'Mommy Dearest' books about me.  Trust me, I have given them plenty of moments over the years and I will definitely share some of them with you.  However, I also like to focus on what I call my 'Rock Star Mom' moments because they do exist.

I tend to be a little bit of an over-achiever even though I'm coming to grip with the fact that I'm just a so-so achiever.  Back when the kids were little I over-compensated for being a working mother by also trying to be Martha Stewart and Julia Child all rolled into one.

One of my favorite over-achievement times (and most stressful) was the creation of my children's Halloween costumes.  For my first Mother's Day, my husband bought me a sewing machine.  One of the first things I made on my sewing maching was a M&M Halloween candy costume for my son.  He was one year old, couldn't talk and was completely swallowed up by the M&M but we took him door to door and had a blast with him.  Since we were just a few years out of trick or treating ourselves we lived vicariously through our son!

Every year I tried to out-do myself with the cuteness and complexity of the costume.  This year was well before the Lion King came out but it is one of my favorite costumes.  Instead of saying trick or treat my son just roared at everybody when they opened the door.

It was only a year or two after this that we had a mommy dearest moment with one of his costumes, but I'll save that for another post!

I've linked this up to Crystal & Co, I'd encourage you to head over there. 

You might also enjoy:

Building Your Village
Carrot Cake Recipe

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Look What Was in My Mailbox!

This was a fun week for freebies.  I received the following:

Orville Redenbacher popcorn - My daughter is an absolute popcorn freak and she loved that this came in it's own bowl.  We've already went out and bought a box for her :)

Breve Coffee Creamer - We received from Vocalpoint a free bottle of Breve Coffee Creamer.  I'm not a coffee drinker but I thought this might be fun to try in hot chocolate or french toast (their idea, not mine).  We're really looking forward to it.

Suave Professionals - As my daughter gets older she is thinking she needs a lot of 'beauty' products.  She just got her hair cut and was chastised by the hairdresser for not putting a heat treatment on her hair before flat-ironing it.  Since she's been hounding me for something, I'm planning on trying Suave's heat treatment to see how she likes it.

Did you get anything fun this week?