Family Living 4 Less

Saving Money Without the Sacrifice!

New Year’s Challenge: Live Life Like in the 1980s

Posted by flsquared on December 28, 2009

First of all, I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday!   With my inlaws in town for a few weeks, I have been doing my best to stay off of the computer and just enjoy my family.  I did get an itch today to write a bit on the blog so here I am.

Recently, one of my friends posted this article to Facebook: 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable. With a title like that, how can you not check it out?  It was a fantastic article, and one I hope to not just learn from, but act upon.

Until having moved here, I thought that the average New Yorker would have more interaction with people than those living in the ‘burbs.  After all, just the act of leaving the apartment brings you in contact with people.  Now I know that my assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong!  I have been floored at the number of services that you can receive without leaving your house:  the internet brings groceries and take out to your door, a phone call will pick up and deliver your laundry, a doorman will even bring your packages to your apartment so you don’t have to sign for them.

It is all to easy to stay in the comfort zone of texting instead of calling, sending emails instead of stopping by to visit with someone, or even writing on someone’s wall instead of sending a email or *gasp* a card in the mail.  It’s easier to send a check in the mail to a charity (especially since many times it seems like they’d rather have the cash) than donating an hour of your time and service.  Why risk feeling awkward?  Why risk having a “real” conversation and someone finding out that we are not so clever in person as we are over email and 140 character length twitter updates?

Of the entire article, I believe that #4 most rang true for me.  When I first joined Facebook, I was excited to re-connect with many old friends and classmates.  I had moved from Maryland to Florida when I was 12 (a horrible time for a dramatic change for a girl, made worse as even long distance calling was prohibitive for my family, not to mention airplane flights) and I always wondered what had happened to my childhood friends.  However, after a bit, reading the updates and writing some of my own, I realized that nothing had changed–we all still had our own lives and we were not “friends” but more a curiosity.  It would take more effort than a few emails to reconnect, and the friendships would have to start from zero.   Uff!  But that is just too much effort!

My challenge to myself (and you!) is to get out of your comfort zone:  Turn off the computer and TV, stop texting and get out!  Make personal contact with people, no matter how strange it may feel.  Drop by at a friend’s house and have a conversation.  Ask a neighbor for some sugar and bring them some cookies in return.  Take a walk and notice the people that you pass.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Don’t avoid the annoying guy.  You may surprise yourself with how good human contact makes you feel.

Posted in activity, challenge, environment, happiness, philosophy, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Budget Update: We’re Back on Track!

Posted by flsquared on December 16, 2009

I am happy to report that we are back on track with our budget!

August:          saved 9.7%
September:  saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%
November: saved 12.4%

Hooray!  And this includes some major sick time with my littlest man (3 days in the hospital and a slew of follow-up doctor visits) as well as an awesome Thanksgiving.

I predict that this month will go well.  We haven’t bought Christmas gifts yet (urp!) and we do have a few additional obligations this year (tip to the super, a gift for the boys’ teacher, etc).

I’ll post an update soon and let you know how we do!

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Clutter Costs: The Case of the Missing PJs

Posted by flsquared on December 13, 2009

I have admitted it before that I am an unabashed packrat.  I buy very little, but I have difficulty letting things go.  Coupled that with our living in a teeny Manhattan-sized apartment and my tendency to overestimate my free time and energy and thus begin (and not finish) projects, we have a full house.

It’s a slooooow work in progress (I work on projects and de-clutter about 15 min/day after my husband comes home), but since it doesn’t interfere with daily living it doesn’t bother me too much.

Well, let me say that it normally doesn’t interfere with daily living.

Here’s what happened a couple of weeks ago:

My oldest son’s PJs were starting to look a little small.  This summer, my mom scoured the garage sales for clothes for her grandchildren and brought up a few pairs of 3T pajamas.  Damned if I can find them anywhere!  I have looked high and low, emptied boxes and suitcases, searched closets and under the bed and they have just disappeared!

It is the worst feeling of frustration to know that you have stored something that you need and you just can’t find it.

After spending a total of probably 3 hours looking for them (care to put a cost on that lost time?), I decided that I needed to streamline the boys’ things.  I put old clothes and toys in bags and put an ad on Craigslist and Freecycle.  We got rid of 4 huge bags of stuff that was just sitting in the closet as well as our car seat travel system!  Hurrah!

I wish I had a happier ending and could tell you that after all of this purging I found the PJs but they are still missing.

The good news?  When I do decide to give up the search and rescue mission, I can use my $110 that I made from the purge and buy some new ones.

The bad news?  I sure would have rather used that time and money for something else!

Posted in baby, clutter, money, organization, saving money, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thank You!

Posted by flsquared on December 13, 2009

Just a quick thanks to all who sent emails and comments about my son’s illness.  He is doing much much better and now we are focusing on his crankiness due to his incoming molars (it’s always something, right?).

Thanks again for all of the warm thoughts and I hope that I will be blogging more regularly from here going forward!

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A Short Pause

Posted by flsquared on December 1, 2009

I’m having to let the blog go for a few more days as things have been a bit chaotic at home.

Just before the Thanksgiving Day holidays, my youngest son got sick and had to be hospitalized for a few days.  He is doing much better, but we are still recovering from lack of sleep and being scared out of our minds.

Needless to say, it has been difficult to keep up with the blog.  I miss writing and hope to be back up next week.

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Toddler Tip: 10 Quick and Easy Ways to Toddler Proof Your Holiday Destination

Posted by flsquared on November 22, 2009

With the holidays and family get togethers coming up, one thing that I dread is predicting how my babies will stay safe in a hotel or someone else’s home.  Especially when that someone else does not tend to have many visits from babies and toddlers.

I put together a list of quick and easy ways you can temporarily toddler proof for your holiday stay while someone takes your little darling for a quick walk around the block.  Of course these are not 100% fail proof, but they may give you a few extra seconds to respond before your baby gets in trouble.

1. Quick scan:
**Get down at your toddler’s level and do a quick scan of the area to see where s/he could get into trouble.  Is there a heavy coffee table?  A delicate vase?  See what you can remove, relocate, or just be aware of.

2.  Cleaning products:
**Take a quick look in the usual areas:  under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, laundry room, etc (or just ask your host) so you can know where they are.  Close doors to these areas where you can.  If they are in common areas (or you are afraid that your toddler will wonder into these areas unsupervised), see if you can put the products up high, out of reach.  For example, I keep my cleaning products above the refrigerator and on the top of my closet.

3.  Bathroom:
**Keep the door closed and the toilet seat down.

4. Cabinet doors:
**Knob doors:  Loop one end of a rubber band around the knob, give the band a twist and loop it around the other knob.  If it’s loose, just wrap it around the knob a few more times.

**Handle doors:  slide a wooden spoon through both handles until the spoon piece “locks” against the handle.  Take a rubber band and loop it around the spoon end.  Give a twist and slide the end of the band over the other end of the spoon.

**Glass doors (for example the “push open” doors on entertainment centers):  if paint and finish are not an issue, I have used packing tape to tape the door(s) closed.  You can also use duct tape, but since packing tape is clear, it’s more difficult for little fingers to pry it off.

5.  Kitchen Stove:
**Most stoves will allow you to remove the knobs from the burners.  You can do that whether or not the stove is in use.  Just keep them handy in case you need to adjust the burners.

**Make sure to keep the handles of pots and pans turned inward and away from little searching hands.

6.  Bookshelves:
**We all saw the Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives where little ones got in trouble with bookshelves.  I spent a nightmarish summer in a sublet apartment chasing after my crawling son who was attracted to the shelves like a moth to a flame.  If any look like they would be interesting to climb, see if you can slide a chair in front of them or block them off altogether.

7. Stairs:
**I have been known to park my stroller in front of the stairs. Make sure to close (and lock) stairs to basement, attics, etc.

8.  Fireplace:
**Wrap a few towels or a blanket around a brick/stone fireplace footing.

9.  Patio / Balcony:
**Keep the door closed and locked.

10.  Bedroom:
**If you are staying the night and your toddler will be sleeping in a big boy bed, put a second mattress (or at least a few blankets or sturdy pillows (such as from the couch) to soften their fall if they slip out of bed.  In a pinch, I have used a few chairs with their backs to the bed to serve as railings and prevent the fall.

What did I miss?  What other ways do you baby and toddler proof an unfamiliar setting?

Posted in baby, family, safety, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Battle of the Laptop (or how to keep the focus on the kids)

Posted by flsquared on November 18, 2009

Toddlers are exhausting.  They have endless sources of energy and fear nothing.  No matter where they are or what they are doing, they always seem to find exactly what they should not touch, and put it directly in their mouths.  Or what they should not climb, and not only climb it, but try to jump off….head first!  Just physically and mentally exhausting.

I remember reading an article sometime last year that one of the reasons that Facebook is so popular with new moms is that it allows you to catch up with friends (or at least read their status updates) in 30 second increments.  Which is approximately the free time you have after re-directing your baby from climbing up onto the dining room table to eating the TV cable.

The problem with these 30 second intervals is that they become addictive.  First, you are reading an email or two every few hours, and slowly but surely you are creeping over to check for any sort of outside stimulation every 10 or 15 minutes.

What I have found is that when this happens, I start watching the clock as the day passes so very slowly, the kids are cranky and vocal (read:  crying, tantrums) for attention, and there really aren’t that many interesting FB updates, emails, or blogs to read.  (At least ones that you can intelligently digest in 20 seconds or less).

Instead, when the laptop is out of sight, the kids and I (and my husband, if he his home) spend quality time together and enjoy it all the more. I focus 100% on them (okay, 90%), instead of stealing glances at the inbox, and have a great time.  And time just seems to fly by.

So why does that pesky laptop seem to migrate to our dining room table more often than not?  Easy.  There are things to do: emails to answer, plans to make, weather forecasts to check, library books to renew, etc.

My new challenge to my husband and I is to put focus back on the family.  I challenge us to keep the laptop out of the common area during all but 2 hours/day, while the kids are awake.  Believe me, this will be tough for us.  And I have yet to break the news to hubby.

I will let you know how it goes.  Wish us luck!

In the meantime, I would love to hear how you minimize distractions in common areas of your house.  How do you keep your family tuned in to each other during family time?

Posted in activity, baby, challenge, family, happiness, philosophy, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oprah called me a hoarder!

Posted by flsquared on November 15, 2009

OK, OK, before Oprah gives me a lecture (does Oprah read this blog???), Oprah herself did not actually call me a hoarder.

About a month or so ago, Oprah had another show on hoarding.  I didn’t actually watch it (we don’t have cable — we only use our TV for watching movies), but I did go to her website and take a look.  These shows on hoarding are a bit like watching a train wreck–you just can’t peel yourself away from the extreme chaos of it all.  Also, as a packrat who has been living for the last 15 years in small spaces, I feel much better about myself and my home when I realize that the clutter I worry about is not nearly to the scale of problematic.

Or so I thought.

Oprah included a quiz:  The Hoarding Self-Assessment.  After asking about 15 questions, you receive 3 scores:  clutter (I scored a 6, which is “mild”), acquiring score (I scored a 3,  also “mild”), and a difficulty discarding score (I scored a 12, which is on the high end of “moderate”).

Concluding the explanation of any “moderate” trait that you have, they suggest that you consider working with a mental health professional to work through your problem.  Ouch!

Admittedly, I have a problem with letting go. Because of this, I try to limit the things that come into our apartment.  I know that once they come in, it’s difficult for me to part with them.  I don’t like the idea of things going into a landfill — I abhor the idea of “disposable living” — so I like to find a home for things that we no longer need.  This can be another family that we know or not (via freecycle or craigslist), a charity, or a recycle bin.  Once things “wear out” and we can no longer find a use for them, I do feel peace about throwing them away.  But since we limit what comes in, “things” are not such a problem.

My biggest challenge is processing information.  I like to make sure that I will not need something before I toss it.  For example, I have a box of old magazines that I have not had the chance to read and 1900 odd email messages in my inbox that I haven’t deleted/filed.  Sure, some of these items have been around and unopened for a few months, but I am paralyzed and just unable to just toss or delete them.

As challenges go, running a close second are unfinished projects.  I have great intentions, but not a lot of energy and extra time these days.  I truly feel that as my kiddos get older (maybe this summer or next year?), I will have more time to dedicate to these projects.  For example,  I have some old mixed tapes that I want to listen to and digitally download the songs I like.  I have a number of books that I haven’t read.  A box of yarn sits in the closet ready for knitting projects (okay, 2 boxes and a small bag).  And don’t get me started on my scrap book photos.

I actually came across an interesting post last night on the blog “Organize More, Stress Less” called 56 Things You Can Toss Now.  What a great list.  I recently got rid of probably a dozen items on the list, but still have 9 others.  I don’t know if I will be able to part with them yet, but it got me thinking.

How about you?  What are the items that you feel most conflicted about letting go?  How do you convince yourself to let go of these things (or hold on to them?)  I would love to hear your success stories.  Inspire me!!!

Posted in clutter, organization, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup (a footnote)

Posted by flsquared on November 14, 2009

I will add a link to this post, but I wanted to let you know that I made the soup again and it did not turn out so well. Since I had forgotten to take photos (and because it was so yummy), I decided to make another pot this week.

It was absolutely delicious.

But it wasn’t as “pretty”.

The first soup was orange and just looked like the inside of a pumpkin.  Absolutely beautiful.

This soup was brown like apple butter.

I racked my brain and realized my failure and then I realized–I forgot to add the lemon!  (and, worse yet, I forgot to add it into the recipe!!!)

Whenever you cut up apples, they oxidize and turn brown.  But a splash of lemon helps prevent this.  Here’s an interesting article from the Washington Post that explains this phenomenon.

So lesson learned:  add a half lemon worth of juice into the pot along with the apples and you will have a beautiful soup!

Posted in budget, food, recipe, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Toddler Tip: Veterans Day Crafts

Posted by flsquared on November 10, 2009

My boys and I attend a pre-school-like class twice/week where the caregivers rotate bringing in the snack and preparing a project for the kids.  The toddlers range in age from 20-25 months (not including my David, who usually is so happy to have the playroom to himself he doesn’t want anything to do with the craft!).

Today was my day.  And let me just say that I stress waaaaay too much about the craft.

This nervousness is not unfounded–the last time I was in charge of the art project, I brought in egg cartons and pipe cleaners to make little spiders and caterpillars.  After 5 minutes, the instructor whipped out some stamp paints with stencils.  So what if the mamas and nannies were doing most of the work!

(Ours turned out very cute though–who doesn’t love googly eyes??)

aaaaaaablog 003

Hoping to avoid another embarrassment, I did about 2 hours of research last night on different crafts that toddlers and pre-pre-schoolers may enjoy doing to learn about Veterans Day.  Here are my favorites:

**  Enchanted Learning shows how to make a 3-D American star.

**  DLTK has two cool wreath ideas:  rememberance hands and poppies.   I especially love the hands wreath because one of Victor’s favorite activities is to have me trace his hand, and for him to trace mine.

**  The “Love To Learn Place” Suggested writing a letter of thanks to Veterans and sending them to VFW Hall.  One idea I had would be to draw a picture or decorate a flag and send it in to the Vets.

**  First School had a turkey and flag coloring page (Veterans Day and Thanksgiving!)  and a “My First Flag” activity where you use finger paint to make thumb prints for the stars on the flag.

In the end, I decided to go with something straightforward and easy.  I chose the “My First Flag” activity, but we glued foam stars and stickers onto the flag and colored a bit.  It was a bit hit!  There was no cutting, and lots of gluing (these guys love to glue!).  Most importantly, it was something that could be somewhat completed during their less than 2 minute attention span.

Here’s how ours turned out:

aaaaaaablog 002

(Oh, and it was Victor’s idea to not just sign his name, but to sign his brother David, Mama, and Papa.  What a sweet guy!)

I would love to hear from you–what projects are you planning on doing for Veterans Day?

Posted in activity, art, frugal, holiday, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »