My Farewell--Thanks for the Connection

Thursday, December 3, 2009 by Jen · 8 comments
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I have decided that I am not going to post on Cents in the Cities anymore. For those of you who have enjoyed what I've talked about here, thanks for stopping by. I have loved our conversations.

If you've been reading over the past few months, you know that my posting has NOT been consistent. I really do enjoy the outlet that blogging can be--it's a great opportunity for expression--one I have cherished.

But right now--with a sad but firm heart--I am deciding NOT to post and focus on some other things in my life that I really want to address--good things--things that will help me live the life I need to live and lead my family in the best possible ways.

I'll still be here though.

I will still be reading all of those great money saving and frugal family blogs out there--leaving a comment here and there if a post speaks to me.

I'll still be trying my best to save at the grocery store in whatever way possible in order to stick to my budget.

I will still be doing the work to become debt free in order to plan for our family's future.

I will still be reducing my household waste, one decision at a time--doing my part to save the Earth.

I will still be trying to live simply, love deeply, and focus on THE most important things in life. The simple things. And loving life in the process.

Thanks again for making a connection with me here.

Until we meet again my friends. . . .

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Nickelodeon Universe --- Family Fun!

Monday, November 30, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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I'm really not a mall shopper--I'm just not a fan of malls--probably because I don't want to leave my money there.

And even though the Mall of America (MOA) is about 20 minutes from my home, I rarely go there. All of that commercialism in once place--glaring at you from every corner--it kind of shocks me. I'm just not used to it.

So this past Tuesday before Thanksgiving when the kids were off from school, we decided to go to Nickelodeon Universe--and, surprising to me, we really had a blast! The kids had been asking to go for a long time, Since we didn't have much of a vacation this summer, and since my husband had to work on Thanksgiving, we decided to use some of our Christmas money to go for a "family day."

Thanks to Pocket Your Dollars, we were able to get all-day wristbands for only $20 each, and I always feel better when I can get a deal! So the entire family rode the rides. Since we had our babe (who is now four months old), it's harder for me to do things with the older kids. So my husband and I took turns staying with the baby--and I actually got to ride the rides with my kids. I LOVED the anticipation as we went up the roller coaster hills, and I LOVED screaming as we went down--so fun to be silly with my kids.

I was glad there were a few roller coasters that didn't go upside down--perfect for me and still very fun! Because we went on Tuesday when many kids were still in school, we hardly had to wait to get on a ride, and many times we could ride over and over again. We ate a packed picnic lunch but ate our dinner in the food court. We actually spent NINE hours there--I can't believe we made it that long!

It was much more fun than I thought it would be--mainly because we were all able to participate. When we first arrived, we ran into the Santa Claus station--with no line. My kids have never talked to Santa at the mall before, so were able to do that too and take a quick snapshot. Another pleasant surprise was that the people working at the park were really friendly and helpful--something very refreshing to me.

Overall it was a great family fun day! We might make this a family Thanksgiving tradition! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving week!

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A Week of Regrouping and Anticipating

by Jen · 0 comments

So I've been absent from this blog for a few weeks now--sorry about that! If I was more organized and followed a schedule better, the long absence would be avoidable, but that's just not how my life works, and that's just fine with me. I'm trying to NOT have an "all or nothing" philosophy, so even though I don't post always, I'm just going to post when it works! There will probably be absences from posting again. . . so it goes. I'm just going to write what I want to write. And right now, I have something to say, and the time to say it, so here I am!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Because my husband was supposed to work on Thanksgiving, we had a smaller celebration with just my parents in our home. I cooked the potatoes and turkey the day before and reheated in crock pots--worked great! It was a really relaxing day!

I did shop on Black Friday, but not until later in the morning. I got quite a few things on my shopping list, but missed a few deals, which were already gone. Mainly I had a nice time shopping with my Mom. On Sunday, I also went and picked up a hamster cage that I found on Craigslist. My daughter wants a Husky dog for Christmas--so not going to happen! But we thought she might be happy with a hamster named Huskie. A month or so ago, we took care of our preschool's hamster for the weekend, and the kids had tons of fun with it!

So this week, I'm trying to regroup and get ready for Christmas--making my lists. In Minnesota, we've had unseasonably warm weather, so it just doesn't feel like the Christmas season yet. But with this first week of Advent, I feel ready for a time of "active anticipation" where we prepare our hearts and home for the Jesus birthday. It's going to be a great Christmas

Wishing you a great week of returned routines with perhaps some Christmas anticipation!

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Apple Pancakes and Baked Apples

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 by Jen · 0 comments
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Fall is my favorite season, and it wouldn't be the same without apples cooking in our house. Since it's still fall for a few more weeks here in Minnesota, I thought I'd share a few of our family's favorite apple recipes.

Apple Pancakes
Apple Pancakes are a family favorite--any time of year. It's a perfect way to use up "2nd pick" apples (or the apples your neighbor gives you off the tree), and it makes for an extra special breakfast treat. Here's the recipe we use--enjoy!

Amazing Baked Apples
I found the recipe for Amazing Baked Apples in one of my favorite cookbooks--Cheap, Fast, Good! It is so easy and makes for a great sweet treat!

1/ cup walnut pieces
4 medium size tart apples
6 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons butter, cut into 4 pieces. (I've substituted oil before)

1. Spread nuts out on plate and microwave, uncovered 1 to 3 minutes, stirring half way through. Set aside.

2. Core the apples all the way through (do NOT peel them). Place apples in glass pie plate.

3. Microwave apples, uncovered, on high power for 6 minutes to partially cook them.

4. Finely chop nuts and set aside. Place brown sugar in dish and add cinnamon and stir well.

5. Remove plate of apples from microwave oven. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar mixture into cavity of each apple. Use fingers or spoon handle to pack sugar mixture in. Place a piece of butter on top of the sugar in each apple.

6. Return plate of apples to microwave and cook uncovered until apples are tender when pierced with sharp knife, 6-8 minutes.

7. Use large spoon to place each apple in dessert bowl. Spoon sugar syrup and nuts from baking dish over the apple. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving. Serve warm--yum!

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Last Week's Grocery "Cents" -- What I Learned

Monday, November 9, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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I didn't post a lot last week--the week just got away from me. I was focusing on my new laundry system, which really isn't that complicated. I got all the laundry done, but everything else kind of suffered. This week, I'm going to try to accomplish more than just one job a week. Sounds easy, but in my world can be a challenge. With a plan, I have the power to make it happen!

Here is the main thing I learned from my grocery shopping last week:

Waiting to shop is not always the best strategy!

I had planned to do an unadvertised deal at Cub last week, but by Thursday, the deal had prematurely ended, so I missed it! I also didn't do my shopping until Friday (usually I shop on Tues or Wed), and this put me in "stress mode." I needed to do all my shopping. In one day. With two kids in tow. While getting ready to entertain some friends.

The only reason I stayed within my budget was because I didn't make it to Aldi--where I was planning to do the bulk of my shopping (because I missed the deal).

This Week's Strategy: Get the menus planned (two weeks worth) and finish shopping earlier in the week.

This will allow me to do some needed baking. Rainbow Foods also has a deal going where you buy 10 items and get $5 back. Looks like some good products, so I'm going to try to do two grocery orders there.

I have $59 to spend at the grocery store and $20 for household items. I'll let you know how it all works out! Hope your grocery shopping is successful this week! Do you have a plan to stick to your budget?

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Grocery Strategy This Week--Roll the Deal on a Budget

Thursday, November 5, 2009 by Jen · 2 comments
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Whew! Where does the week go! Payday for us was Tuesday this week, and usually I have all my grocery money spent by Tuesday (or Wed morning at the latest). This week, I haven't even got my cash yet (we use an envelope system). So it's already Thursday, and I still have $60 burning a whole in my pocket (or envelope)--I love starting the week over with "fresh" money in my grocery envelope. Anyway, here is my "stay in budget" grocery strategy this week: ROLL the DEAL. Read Entire Post for my "budget stick to it" details:

My good couponing friend (thanks Rayanne) reminded me that there is a great deal at Cub this week--not advertised in their flyer but Karen, at Minnesota Coupon Adventure gives all of the details (also find the details at the A Full Cup Cub Forum).

Basically you have to spend $30 on the products on the Cub flyer back page, but you get your OOP (out of pocket) as low as you can go by using manufacturer coupons. Then you will get $15 in coupons back to use on your next order (Catalinas). And you can go back and do the same deal over again, using those $15 in coupons, and you will get $15 MORE in coupons. When all is said and done, you still have $15 in coupons to apply to the groceries you REALLY need.

These are my favorite deals to do at Cub, because you can get SO MUCH FOOD for very little! It's a great chance to stockpile. The problem with doing this deal on a tight budget is that I can't spend all my money on it--I have to buy the healthy food my family needs. So my plan:

1. I'm giving myself a "Roll the Deal" budget of only $20-25 -- THAT'S IT!

2. Meat and Dairy -- I'm going to buy the $.99 chicken this week (limit 2, so will probably go back a few times. I'm going to buy 85% ground beef at Rainbow, and I'm going to buy cheese at either Cub or Target (can't remember which is cheaper) using my recent cheese coupons. My meat budget this week is $12, and my dairy budget this week is around $10.

3. Fruits and Veggies--I'm going to try to leave $20 to buy fresh. Also Target has frozen veggies for $.89 cents, so will try to stock up.

And then I think my $60 will be GONE! I hope to let you know soon how it goes. The best laid plans. . . .

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My SAHM Story

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 by Jen · 4 comments

Over the past few months, I especially enjoyed reading Amy's series Mommy Come Home. For that reason, I thought I would take a little time here on CITC to tell you about my stay at home mom story.

I never thought I would be a SAHM. In college, because of my talents, strengths, and interests, I decided to major in English and education and become a high school English teacher. I thought it would be the perfect kind of job for raising a family--summers off and everything.

During our first few years of marriage I taught in the classroom, and I have to say, I wasn't very happy, I think because I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect at the job (that's another story).

So after moving to Michigan with my husband's job, teaching for a year there, I decided to leave my current job and go back to school to become a librarian. Though I looked at other options, my heart was still in education and I decided to focus on a library media program for K-12 education!

And I loved, loved, loved being a library media specialist. I loved talking books and reading with kids! I loved sharing the latest technology, teaching, and information resources with teachers--teaching teachers, if you will. I loved teaching information skills and sharing information resources in and out of the classroom! I was energized by the job and felt I was pretty good at managing it all.

When I had my first child, managing it all became harder. Even though I loved my job, I often felt like I gave my best energy to my job, and I had little left for her at the end of the day. The other challenge was connecting with my husband. He is an air traffic controller and works shifts and weekends. We found that we rarely saw each other and were rarely together as an entire family--we wanted more time together!

So after lots of discussions and budget crunching, we decided that with the birth of my second child, I was going to take a year long leave of absence from my job (I was fortunate to have that option). We never were able to make the budget numbers balance, but we decided to take a leap of faith and give it a try.

So five years and three babies later (ages 7, 5, and 3 months), I'm still going at it, and I really has been a blessing in our life! I will very likely return to teaching some day; but then again, maybe not. I'm trying to enjoy the moment I am in right now.

What Works for Us
Because my husband's work hours are not typical (works shifts, evenings, and weekends), it really helps our family that my time is not so scheduled. On the days that he works in the afternoon/evening, I love that we can have our main "family" meal at lunch time. And we often have one "date afternoon" a week when my DS is in preschool (no paying a babysitter). I love that we get to spend lots of time together at home!

His schedule also allows me some perks--I can go to the grocery store with out kids. Getting the kids off to school is a breeze with him here. And because often it's just me and the kids in the evenings, we don't really have that crazy dinner hour that a lot of families talk about.

And of course I love having time with my babes. I love being able to spend one-on-one with my 5 year old--playing legos is a major mom/son activity. My DD doesn't get home until 4 PM, and I love doing homework with her, reading, and playing a game or two. And there's nothing like taking a break with sleeping baby on your shoulder and playing on the floor. I love being able to nurse exclusively. I'm definitely not against bottles or pumping--it's just easier for me to nurse.
The Challenges
It's not a perfect system. I often feel like my time is never my own, and I would just like to go to the bathroom by myself every once in a while. Or take a nap whenever I want. But I know that someday I will have those luxuries again.

I find it a challenge getting everything done that needs to get done--balancing the parenting and the household responsibilities. I try to be aware of this and diligently give my kids some dedicated time. If I don't, I feel as if my kid's baby years will just slip through my fingers, even though I'm dedicating my time to them right now.

I also miss having a creative outlet for myself--hence CITC. When I don't have a newborn, I sing with my church choir and for weddings, play piano and guitar, and I love reading! These things often are after thoughts in a busy family life--but they are still there for me when I need them. I also know that it will be a challenge returning the the "work force." I feel out of the loop with my job, and I don't really like that feeling. Oh well, it's just part of the process.

And as I talk about often, balancing the budget is a continuing challenge! That means we are not the family going to Disney World--or even on a vacation this year. We have a fairly small house for our family of five. I clip coupons, shop at garage sales, and cut my family's hair. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the life I have. Yes, I would like to buy new clothes or get my hair cut at the salon more often. But right now, I'm OK with the choices we are making.

What I've Learned
The main thing I've learned through this process is that you have to do what works for you. My family isn't necessarily like your family, and you have to make the choices that seem right for your family. Some of those are easy; some are hard, and some I know we're still trying to figure out. But I know that we are trying to do the best we can for our kids and our family -- and right now, what we are doing is working. We are pretty OK--it feels good!

Thanks for reading!

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