Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Update on the Photo Cards

A few posts ago, I wrote about the free Christmas card offer from I got my cards today, and the quality is pretty good! They came with envelopes, which was nice, and the card itself looks great. The only thing I'm not crazy about is that they're glossy rather than matte, but that's pretty minor considering they were free. Perhaps there was somewhere in their crazy program where I could have changed it to matte, but who knows....

Also, from what I've read online, they got so many people doing this offer that they are now charging for shipping. I believe it's about $3, which is still pretty good for 50 card + envelopes. So... happy card making!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guest Post: The Lazy Girl's Guide to Saving Money

Hello, my name is Autumn and I’m lazy.

I should clarify: I’m naturally lazy. Over the years I’ve been able to refine my skills, yes, skills, of being lazy into what others might call “efficiency." Hopefully, I can share some of the wisdom I’ve acquired through my aversion to hard work onto you.

I told Katie that I was looking for a lazy girl’s guide to organization but came up short. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could write something like that.’ Well, if you’re looking for organizational skills, I’m not the one to ask. Yet. So to tide you over until I become efficient in that area, here are some things I’ve learned about saving money.

I don’t use coupons. That would fall under the title of “Hard Work,” which I, of course, avoid. Instead, I sign up for the “club cards” the grocery stores I go to offer. Easy. Then while I’m shopping and trying to decide between different brands of the same item I look at their price per unit. This could also be per pound or per ounce, depending on what you’re buying. This is a much more accurate comparison than just looking at the price alone. Plus, you don’t have to do the math; the store has already done it for you. And at the end of that productive shopping trip you could get a nice little coupon that you didn’t have to clip.

Two words: free stuff. You can find free stuff ALL OVER, especially with the internet. First, has a whole section devoted to free stuff. As a mom some of my favorite sites with giveaways are Seeryus Mama and Now What Baby. Sign up for their feeds and they’ll send you info on giveaways and reviews. I’ve gotten some great stuff including baby shoes, lotion and gift cards.

Your local library is an amazing resource for free stuff. They have an in on what’s going on in your community. Plus, you get to borrow books and movies without paying a cent (unless you have a sweet little baby that likes to chew corners off of board books, but I digress). Speaking of books, is not only a great resource for reviews but they also have their own giveaway system. It’s call first reads and publishers give out a certain number of either pre- or post-release books for ordinary people like you and me to review. I’ve gotten two so I can vouch that it’s the real deal.

While we’re discussing public services let’s talk about transportation and parks. Usually when people think about public transportation their first thought is “gross” and a close second is “crazy people”. Well, that’s hit or miss depending on your city, where you live and where you want to go. Try it, though, at least once. You might be able to get a bus pass or some kind of discounted fare if you find it’s cost effective for you. And if you do decide it really is too disgusting or risky because of their clientele try walking. Exercise + free transportation = happiness.

Parks are a great alternative to other kid-friendly/wallet-busting activities. Heck, even if you don’t have kids it’s wonderful to sit outside reading your free book that you got from the library or won from first reads. Check out your local museums, too. They’ll often offer discounted days or rates depending on your situation.

My in-laws are notorious for their amazing finds at thrift stores and estate sales. Admittedly, this does require some leg work which is probably why I haven’t caught the shopping bug yet. See if there’s a Goodwill Outlet near you. They sell stuff by the pound. Take a moment to imagine all the things you could get…

“Never say ‘no’ to gifts” has become one of my mantras. This may take some getting used to if you value your pride like I did. Look at it this way: you’re getting what you need/want while the person giving it to you is able to de-clutter their home. It’s a win-win. Like they say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I know that doesn’t quite apply here in the traditional sense. Just replace “gift horse” with “gift-giving friend”. Imagine how that could affect your relationship.

And, finally, don’t buy something you can make yourself. There is a website devoted to the myriad of uses for vinegar. Amazing. This list is by no means extensive as I trust you all know how to use Google.
Baking Soda – taking out ring-around-the-collar
Olive oil – eye make-up remover
Dish soap – removing make-up from clothing or bedding
Seriously, just Google “how to make ___” and BAM! You’re practically done already.

Thanks, Autumn! We'd love to hear from you again any time!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free Photo Cards! + a review

Most of you have probably already seen this offer, but I wanted to pass it along to any friends who don't stalk the internet all day like I do. This website (Fuji's photo website) is offering 50 free photo cards, plus free shipping! You don't even put in a credit card or anything. The code is good through 11/30. I ordered mine on Tuesday, and got an e-mail today saying they'd shipped, so I'll come back and let you know if it's legit. But since you don't put in a credit card, the worst that can happen is that you can design a card and not get it, right? By the way, although it says it's for either the 4x8 or the 5x7, neither my friend or I could get the code to work for the 5x7, only the 4x8. Maybe we're missing something, not sure. So here's the link:

50 free photo cards

Here's my review, after having done this. First, the good things about this website. They have SUPER cute designs. Also, they're completely customizable - you can do however many pictures you want, wherever you want, change backgrounds, add borders, crop, photoshop, add text, etc. It's amazing! You can be so much more creative. And it appears as though you can order any number, as opposed to most websites, where you have to order in increments of 25 or 50. It also lets you share a link to your card, share it on Facebook, etc. Kind of cool. And the website looks like it always has free shipping on their photo products.

The downsides? HORRIBLY DESIGNED PROGRAM. I mean it. One of the WORST I have ever used. I spend my fair share of time on the internet and consider myself fairly technologically savvy, and I was about ready to pull my hair out trying to do my cards. It would lose my pictures, add a certain picture of my kids to the card again and again when I was trying to add a different one, change the shape of the picture, etc. I pressed the button that said "Load" and it took me back to the main menu and erased my card. Also, although you can put your pictures anywhere, there's no option to turn on gridlines or anything, so you just have to estimate if you're lining them up straight or making them even remotely the same size. UGH! It should not be that difficult. The most annoying thing is that I could not find an "Undo" button anywhere. So if you do something that messes up your card (which I did about 1.5 million times), you're just out of luck. So save early and save often, so you can go back to the saved version of your card.

That being said, I was so enraptured with getting to design it all myself that I would probably use them again if they had a discount deal, since now I think I've got the hang of the program.

So, I'll let you know in a few days how ours turned out. Here's a sneak peek. I went with a funny one this year (well, I think it's funny) since I couldn't get a great picture of all three kids. On this image it looks like the edges to my pictures are all scraggly, but it didn't look like that on the Preview or the project, so hopefully it's okay. Stay tuned.

PS: Do I DARE design my photo calendars on this website? Would I spend weeks on them with all the customizing I could do? Just think! I could finally fit like 100 pictures of my kids on each month! My mom would be so happy! Though, would it be worth it once I'd jabbed out both my eyeballs in frustration?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Clutter-Free Christmas

So my kids, like most kids, have WAY too many toys. We don't even buy them toys except on Christmas and birthdays. I have no idea where they're all coming from. Reproducing plastic spawn as I sleep.

Anyway, I made it a goal not to give my kids toys this Christmas. I know, I'm a total shrew. But they get spoiled by grandparents, and I was even going to let Santa get them a toy or two. But from Mom and Dad, I vowed, there would be no plastic toys given this year.

I was thinking more along the lines of letting my daughter do a ballet class, buying my son a Lightening McQueen blanket, etc. Stuff they would like, but that wasn't just more stuff.

But I am a slave to commercialism, especially the crisp and clean kind dancing alluringly before me at my precious Target. The stupid toys are calling my name. The dollhouses and the racetracks and the traintracks and the Barbie clothes.... I'm suddenly plotting to spend hundreds on each kid behind my husband's back (although he pointed out that he'd probably figure it out on Christmas morning and know that it was me).

So help! Let's think of some good Christmas gifts that are not just crappy clutter. It can be for anyone, any age. If you read this, you have to leave a comment about a good gift you've given. Ready? Go!

PS: That's totally not my tree or my house. Just a random image I swiped off Google. I don't want you to get the wrong idea...

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Flylady, in practice

So Flylady has this whole routine, morning, afternoon, and evening. If her views on cleaning resonate with you, it's worth a look into her routine. But she's just really sharing what works for HER, and really encourages you to do what works for YOU. After much trial and error with different parts of her system, I've settled into something that works pretty well for me.

I posted my daily cleaning routine a few months ago, in THIS post. As you can see, it's pretty simple. Nothing compared to Flylady's. I would cry if I was facing that routine every day! But these are the parts of my daily routine that were inspired by Flylady.

* Having a cleaning routine. This is one thing that has helped me to stop seeing the house as a huge undone list of chores. When I start stressing out about a messy cabinet in the bathroom, I just stop, and make a note to tackle that job on Wednesday (my day to deep-clean bathrooms). I know that I'll get there, I'll do that room. It doesn't have to be now. Just knowing that it will happen on Wednesday if I don't get to it sooner calms me down immediately. It also helps me feel productive. Can I ever check "Clean Kitchen" off my mental list? No, it is perpetually messy and getting messier throughout the day every day. But I can cross off "15 minutes in Kitchen" and feel like I actually accomplished the task at hand, and it will still be done at the end of the day.

* Getting dressed to the shoes. This is a must for me, every single day. I can't get anything done when I'm in my pajamas, and I just feel better when I look in the mirror, like I can take on more of my life. And I like being able to walk out the door for an impromptu lunch date or trip to the park with friends.

* A load of laundry a day. This is one of the absolutes of my cleaning routine. It's very do-able, and everyone has clothes when they need them, without piles of laundry all over.

* A shiny kitchen sink when I go to bed. And I'll add to this, the sound of the dishwasher running. I love going to bed knowing I have a clean kitchen, and I love waking up to a clean kitchen.

* Fifteen minutes of cleaning. Flylady is all about 15-minute cleaning sessions. If you've never tried it, you would be AMAZED at what you can accomplish in 15 minutes. In fact, once when I asked my mom what she wished she'd known as a young mother, she said, "The power of fifteen minutes of cleaning." Try it, seriously. Go into the room that bugs you the most, set a timer, and start with the job that bugs you the most.

* The idea of "zones." In my routine, I spend (in theory) 15 minutes a day deep cleaning or decluttering one zone of my house. Monday is Master Bedroom, Tuesday is Kitchen, Wednesday is Bathrooms, Thursday is Kids' Rooms, Friday is Living Room/Hall, and Saturday is Yard/Garage. I would LOVE to get to a point where I did my "regular" chores more, well, regularly, and I could really use this time to focus on the deep-cleaning and decluttering. I'll get there. I'm trying.

I'm slightly embarrassed by how emotionally high-strung I seem to be reading over these Flylady posts. I hope I'm not coming off that way. I actually consider myself a pretty mellow person. It's just that there's a lot of baggage that goes along with keeping a house clean, so much that it seems like it represents about you as a wife and mother. I admit my transition to a stay-at-home-mom was a rocky one. I chose my profession because I loved it and I was great at it. Staying home and raising kids and keeping my house clean.... I do it because I feel like it's the right thing for our family right now, but I do NOT feel particularly talented in this arena, and that's been hard for me. The thoughts and theories of Flylady have really helped me in this area, and hopefully all my blathering about my soul-searching can help someone else as well.

But enough about me. Have you ever tried Flylady? Did anything about the routine stick? What do you like and dislike?

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flylady, in theory

I've been asked a few times about the Flylady system, and to what extent I follow it. I wanted to talk a little bit about this system because I really do owe my (usually) relatively clean house to her. Today I'll sort of give an overview of her theories and why it's a good match for me, and then tomorrow I'll talk about her program and which parts I actually do.

If you're not familiar with Flylady, her website is HERE. She emphasizes letting go of perfectionism in house cleaning, and not being hard on ourselves when it can't be perfect. She also introduced me to the concept of cleaning with a timer, and the power of short bursts of cleaning.

I'll start you out with a story. As a young married, my house was usually always messy. I'm messy. So is my husband. But I hate the mess. And him? Not really so much. So I'm walking around our house with him, trying to get him to see what I see. I remember telling him, "And when I walk into the kitchen, all I see are those dirty dishes and a floor that needs to be mopped. And here in our bedroom, all I can see are those gross baseboards! When I look into our bathroom, I see toothpaste spatters all over our mirrors!" Naively expecting him to suddenly awaken to the filth around us and apologize for his lack of participation in our household chores, I was stopped in my tracks when he said simply and softly, "I'm sorry that's how you see our home."

I think that anyone who has ever lived with another person knows that "clean" is a relative term. One person can look at a kitchen and pronouce it perfectly clean, while another would still be scrubbing down surfaces for hours. And my husband? Truly doesn't see it. He honestly doesn't. He sees our home in terms of the beautiful family that lives here, not in terms of chores still undone. So how did that change me? It's not either "clean" or "not clean." It's a home. And I had to make my peace with imperfection in order to maintain my sanity.

Of course it's different for everyone. I assume that for some people cleanliness comes more naturally, and the perfectly clean home comes without those feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated by the task at hand. Others are fine with messiness, and focus their attention on children, hobbies, and more worthwhile pursuits than baseboards (How many times have I mentioned baseboards? Can you tell mine just haunt me?). And then there's me, and probably millions like me. I want my house to be clean, but the concept is overwhelming to me, and frustrating, and it makes me not even want to start because I don't have the time or energy to do it right.

And so began my love affair with Flylady. If you haven't read her website, check it out. It all starts with a shiny kitchen sink...

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Mom's Morning Out

In my group of friends, I am the Queen of setting up groups. I think Mom's Morning Out may have been the first one I set up, and it's my all-time favorite.

There are currently five of us in our group. Each Friday morning, one of us takes our turn hosting everybody's kids at our house from 9:30 to noon. Then, we get the next four Friday mornings FREE! Free to run errands, do homework, do Christmas shopping, clean the house, or, as I'm far more likely to do, waste time on the internet or take a nap.

One important aspect to making the group successful is to make sure that everyone is on the same page as far as expectations and rules. Here's how we do it in our group:
*To attend, the kid has to be over 1 year old and no longer taking a morning nap. No crabby crying babies.
*It doesn't matter if you have 1 or 2 kids in the group, you just host once. More than two kids, you host twice. I made up that rule and may end up regretting it, since I'll be the first and only so far to have three not in school yet!
*You also have to agree as a group upon standards of sickness. We're all pretty lax, so a clear runny nose, and minor coughs and colds are okay. Vomiting or green snot means you keep your kid home.
*In our group our kids also all watch TV and movies, so we're all cool with cartoons being shown, or a movie, but that's something you may want to go over if you choose to set up a group yourself.

This group has worked out really, really well for us over the years. I love having a morning free every single week, and my kids love getting together to play with their friends. I love having the time to myself and not paying for it, and my kids get a chance to be independent and learn to be away from me, while being watched by people that I trust. Everybody wins!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A sanity-saving tip!

I have a 4.5 year old son and an almost 3 year old daughter who both occasionally wet the bed. And of course they both usually wet the bed on the same night. I swear they're out to get me sometimes! Anyway, they both went through a phase a few months ago where they were wetting the bed almost every single night. We'd just come back from a month-long vacation, just moved into our new house, etc, so they were really off schedule. Even so, I was about ready to lose my mind!

The real problem was when I'd strip their bedding and put it in the laundry room, but then I'd get busy and forget to wash or dry it before nap or bedtime. Then I didn't have their mattress protectors for their beds or any of their bedding. I was getting so frustrated because I detest being "forced" to do laundry like that.

Then I had a brilliant idea! It has seriously saved me so much energy and sanity. I bought an extra mattress protector and an extra set of sheets for each of their beds. I make their beds with 2 sets of everything. So it goes like this: mattress protector, fitted sheet, flat sheet, mattress protector, fitted sheet, flat sheet, comforter. When they do have an accident, I just strip the top layer of the bedding off, and their beds are all ready to go again!

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