Just Checking In ~ by Sam

I realize we have been a little lax in updating this blog, so I am going to start trying to do a regular, weekly update, just to let our readers (do we have readers?) know how we are getting along.  This will also serve to keep us on track with our spending, and the choices we are making in our daily lives, because we know it’s going to be reported to the masses.  Yes, there are masses of you.  I’m sure of it.

So, here’s this week’s report:

Kids will be returning to school on Tuesday, so we need to make sure they are all ready to greet the new school year.  Over the years, we have learned a few things:

a) There is no sense in rushing out to buy them each a whole new back-to-school wardrobe every year.  It did take us a while to figure this out, but, let’s face it, we live in Southern California.  The season is not changing when the kids go back to school, so whatever clothes they have been wearing will be just fine.  We do check in to make sure that they have enough clothes that fit and fall within school dress codes.

b) There is not much point in running out and buying a bunch of school supplies, becasue teachers will give them lists in the first days of school, and our experience has taught us that, if we try to wing it and buy what we think they will need, we’ll just end up buying more later, because we bought the “wrong” stuff.  So, I bought them each some new pens and pencils, a couple of notebooks, any organizational stuff they need to have at home (folders to organize their work, calendars, that sort of thing) and a stack of loose leaf paper.  The rest, we will figure out after they meet their new teachers.

So, in order to get ready to begin the year, we have focussed our attention on home.  We want them to be organized at home, to know where they will do homework, stash their backpacks, hang their outfits for each day, store supplies, finished work, etc.

They have sorted through their clothes, weeded out what doesn’t fit and figured out what they need to fill in gaps.  Kaia received a Target gift card for her birthday, so she bought herself a snazzy 1st-day-of-school outfit, as well as a cute, casual dress.  Hallie needed a pair of jeans, so I sprung for those, and she used some of the money she won at school last year (yeah, she won money.  How cool is that?) to buy a cute new top.  At Walmart, I happened to stumble upon a cute pattern for a knee-length knit skirt with three sleeveless top variations that will work for Justice, Hallie and me, so we are going to take our coupons and head over to the fabric store for some cute fabric, but I doubt we will get much sewing done in the next day or two.  The pattern cost me two or three bucks, which I thought was kind of a steal.

Another thing that helped was having the older girls go through all of there clothes to see if there happened to be anything Kaia could use.  Now, most of the stuff they have recently outgrown is too big for her yet, but we will put that away and label it, so she can choose from it when she reaches that size.  The good news is that Justice found not one, but TWO hoodies that will fit Kaia this year.  One is lighter weight (perfect for Fall), and has a cute Hello Kitty design, while the other is red with a thick, furry lining (great for all but the coldest days here in SoCal).  In addition, Justice found a barely used backpack (black, with a paint splatter print) that Kaia loves and plans to use this year.  Awesome, because she was due for a new one this year.

Shane’s dad arrived for a visit on Thursday, which is a great way to end the Summer.  We are keeping it kind of low-key, since the kids are starting school in a couple of days, but we did go out to dinner one night, using a special offer from AmEx for a $10 credit back if we spend more than $40 at California Pizza Kitchen…which reminds me, I need to go pay the amount we spent last night to AmEx, so we aren’t charged interest on it, which would totally defeat the purpose of using that special offer.  We figured, since we were going to do that, anyway, we might as well play their game and do it for ten dollars less.  I think we might hit the Getty Center, too, which is free.  Keeping my eye out for other fun deals.

Today, we’ve been working on the yard.  Shane fixed the sprinklers.  How awesome is that?  I have been watering by hand in the areas that we had non-working sprinklers.  Now, I can just set them and let them go.  I spent some time this morning (and a good bit through the past week, too) weeding the vegetable garden, cleaning up dead leaves and chasing bugs off the tomatoes.  About that bug chasing: can y’all believe I did that?!?!  I am so afraid of bugs.  Phobias notwithstanding, they were eating all of our tomatoes, and we worked too hard to give our food away to pests.  So, I had to buck up and do it.  Trimming all of the brown, dead parts of the plant made a huge difference.  Justice helped me relocate one of the morning glories that had sprung up in the vegetable garden to the front yard.  We thought we had killed it, because it went all limp and sad for the first couple of days, but I am happy to report the appearance of three or four bright and healthy flowers this morning, so I am hopeful that the ol’ girl might pull through.  Best of all, now, I can easily get to all the parts of the plant and get the bugs off.  Still using only methods that are approved for organic gardening, but I am making some headway.  Zucchini and eggplant are still producing, and, in clearing up the weeds and dead leaves, I uncovered several carrots, some basil and a bunch of fennel that we thought had just not made it.  What a nice surprise!  In addition, now that the tomatoes are not literally on top of them, the peppers seem to be thriving.

Speaking of nice surprises, while I was paying bills and going over the books yesterday, I realized that, in the past month, our monthly expenses have dropped by $146 and change in the past month or so.  Some of it was due to efforts on our part.  For instance, we finally paid off Kaia’s trumpet, which we were renting to own.  In fact, the way it works is this: instead of owning the kind of beat old trumpet she had been playing, she got a like-new used Yamaha trumpet for what we paid.  So that’s $27/month we no longer have to pay.  There were couple of other things we realized we just don’t need right now.  I was getting a box once/month from Farm Fresh to You, and, while I enjoyed it, thanks to our own gardening efforts and exchanges we have made with friends, we just don’t need it right now.  That was another $31.50.  As luck would have it, we were informed of two wonderful situations:  a) we have been with our auto insurance company long enough that they are giving us a “loyal customer” discount.  There’s a great reason for staying with a company you like and trust.
b) we apparently overpaid escrow, so, not only did we get a surprise check in the mail (we did the responsible thing, and used that to treat the kids to Disneyland on Kaia’s 10th birthday), but our monthly payment has dropped a little, too.  Very nice to have expenses drop so substantially without really trying.  We are blessed, indeed.

The rest of today should be relaxing.  Justice is off with friends for the day, and Hallie and Kaia have friends over.

I was just going to start making my first batch of laundry detergent since I broke my arm.  When we ran out while my arm was broken, I decided it was just worth it to save us all a little stress and buy laundry detergent.  Doing so gave me one less thing to worry about figuring out how to do one-handed (or asking Shane or the kids to do), but I had forgotten just how much laundry detergent costs.  When I opened the Word document that contains my laundry detergent recipe this afternoon, I noticed it contains a note stating that I first tried it in February of 2008.  This means I have been making our laundry detergent for more than 5 1/2 years.  I cannot imagine how much money this has saved us.  Not to mention all of the containers that have not been tossed into landfills.  Wow.  I am so glad I can start making it again, and it struck me as such a great thing, I decided to share the recipe here.  I might have shared it before, but I am just feeling so excited about this right now, that I want to share it.  Yeah, I get excited about laundry detergent.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

3 Pints Water

1/3 Bar Fels Naptha* Soap, Grated

1/2 Cup Washing Soda

1/2 Cup Borax

2 Gallon Bucket

1 Quart Hot Water

Hot Water

Mix soap in a saucepan with 3 pints of water, and heat on low until dissolved. Stir in Washing Soda and Borax. Stir until thickened, and remove from heat. Add 1 Quart Hot Water to 2 Gallon Bucket. Add soap mixture, and mix well. Fill bucket with hot water, and mix well. Set aside for 24 hours, or until mixture thickens. Use 1/2 cup of mixture per load.  Shake gently before using.

Tested ~ 2/1/08

*you can use any soap you choose, really.  Above is the original recipe.  I have used Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps, too, and it works perfectly well.  Octagon soap works very well, too, as does Kirk’s Castile Soap.

**Instead of a 2-gallon bucket, I have kept some old detergent bottles and refill them with my homemade detergent.  I put a little hot water in each bottle, divide the soap/soda/borax mixture fairly evenly between them (use a funnel if you don’t want to make a huge mess and lose half of you detergent down the sink), then fill the rest of the way with more hot water.

***You may add some essential oil of your choosing to scent your soap.  The scent will probably not linger on the clothes as long (or as strongly) as commercial detergent perfumes, but it does make doing your laundry more pleasant.

****I have found that, in my HE washing machine, about ¼ cup per load is usually plenty (more for heavily soiled loads), so this recipe lasts me ages.

Hoper you are all enjoying these last weeks of Summer, vacation or not.  I think I am going to fry up some green tomatoes with dinner.  That seems like a summery thing to do.


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