Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Frugal Living - Coupons

Have you watched the TV show Extreme Couponing on TLC?  I've seen a few episodes, and while informative in some respects, I find the show quite maddening.  Yes, I'd love to save 90% on my grocery bill, but I live in reality.  I don't have 60 hours a week to devote to cutting, logging and matching coupons to grocery flyers, nor do I live anywhere near a place that offers unlimited double coupons.  When I lived in Dallas years ago, they did. I don't know if the stores there still do.

What drives me crazy about this show is that people are stocking up on JUNK and things they don't need, just because they have a coupon.  One show had a lady buying 70 bottles of mustard because they were 39 cents each after coupons.  Big deal.  That's still $28 you just spent on mustard.  Oh, did I mention she doesn't even eat mustard?!?!?  Then there was the woman who bought 35 bottles of Maalox with coupons.  Let me tell you one thing, if you need 35 bottles of Maalox, you best get yourself to a doctor!!!  And there was the woman who had a hoard of diapers when she doesn't even have a child.  I hope she has one some day or she's going to be kicking herself big time.

And don't get me started on the amount of candy and junk food these people are buying for their kids.  Childhood obesity is going to run rampant.

The show has motivated me to get back to cutting coupons, so I guess that's a good thing.

Today I did a fair amount of shopping to stock up on some things for lunches for school and school snacks.  This is the time of year that many things are on sale, so I took advantage of that.  For the day, my savings averaged about 40%.  I saved 50% at the grocery store and at Walgreens, about 30% at Target, and I haven't figured out my savings from Office Max.  They weren't nice enough to print it on my receipt for me.

With certain stores such as Target and Walgreens, you can "stack" manufacturer coupons on top of store coupons.  It was the same way with my grocery store today.

Everything that is pictured in the photo I got for free, with the exception of the stack of office supplies. I paid a total of 58 cents for the whole stack (excluding the highlighters - those were free.)

How did I do it?  It took a little planning, but not 60 hours a week!!!  Take the toothpaste.... At the grocery store they were on sale for 98 cents each.  Then I had a $1 coupon that got doubled today because it was double coupon day (our grocery store only doubles up to 5 coupons and other grocery stores in the area don't double at all) so that was $2 off toothpaste, which gave me 2 tubes for free.  I had another 50 cent coupon that got doubled, so the third tube was free as well.

The three health & beauty items in the back of the picture were purchased with buy one get one free coupons.  However, I won't buy something just because it's a BOGO deal. It has to be a good price, and on sale is even better.  Some stores will let you use two coupons on a BOGO deal because you are paying full price for the first item, you can sometimes use a second coupon to get that for a lower price.

The office/school supplies were the best deal.  Since it's back to school time, Office Max has a bunch of stuff on sale.  Even though we have already bought our school supplies, I bought extra because you know you're going to need them, and the price was beyond right.  All the folders and rulers were a penny each and so was the protractor.  The crayons were 5 cents each.  We got a binder on clearance and then there were the Sharpie brand products.  Follow along with the math here....  They were buy 2 get one free, so the highlighters were free.  Additionally, there was an instant $5 off if you bought 3 of the specified products.  Since the package of markers was $5.29, I got them for 29 cents.  I had to pay full price for the first item, another pack of dry erase markers that daughter did need for school.

Target is a good one for letting you stack coupons, but better yet, you can go online and print out store coupons for store brands as well.  Their Archer Farms and Market Pantry are store brands and normally don't have coupons, but you can download them from Target's website.  It won't get you free items, but you can save.

My daughter is learning skills that will serve her later in life, and she loves to watch the total go down and see the total savings.  I use these shopping trips as time to work on math as well.  I get her to double the coupon, then subtract the coupon from the product price.  We also compare prices and figure out price per ounce or price per "unit" on things like granola bars.

With all my coupons today I saved over $100 on my trip, and I only bought things I would actually use/need.  We have soups, granola bars and other healthy snacks, health and beauty items, and even some clothes for school.  Target let me print a 20% of Circo clothing and it was valid on clearance products.  I may not save 90%, but I'm certainly doing OK.  And I'm being ethical about it too!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dumpster Diving for ATN

What sane person gets up at 6:00 AM to go dig through trash cans and scrounge under bleachers?  Well, I do, but I"m not sane, so it's fitting.

Why in the world would I do this on a Monday morning?  Or any morning for that matter?  Because those cans and bleachers contain "plastic gold."

The organization my husband and I volunteer for, the Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN) is in the hunt for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi.  If you're not familiar with ATN we are a post adoption support, education and advocacy group.  Occasionally we work with families who are biological families but their child has had some trauma, usually a medical issue.  The vast majority of the families we serve are foster/adoptive families.  The children have been subjected abuse and/or neglect in their early life and have emotional and behavioral issues because of it.  In addition, there are often mental health issues, whether it's due to maternal drug and alcohol use, or other organic mental illness such as ADHD or Bi-Polar disorder.

ATN is ENTIRELY volunteer driven.  My good friend, Nancy, started the organization in 1995 and ran it by herself until about 2003/2004 when several of us joined the staff.  We are now a vital organization.  Members of our group testified before Congress a few months ago about the lack of Post Adoption Support.

So, what does this have to do with dumpster diving?  OK, I wasn't really in a dumpster, but I smelled like it when I got home.

Pepsi has a monthly contest in which various organizations compete for "votes" to win a grant.  ATN is competing for a $50,000 grant.  Supporters can vote via Facebook, e-mail and text, but at this stage of the game, the real votes are in Pepsi codes.  Each code can be entered on Pepsi Refresh Website and is worth anywhere from 5 - 100 extra votes.  These are the yellow plastic caps on top of Pepsi bottles.  There are also codes inside specially marked boxes.

My husband works for a private ambulance service and was the standby ambulance at the Slinger Super Speedway.  He noticed an abundance of "yellow gold" floating around the racetrack.  I contacted someone from the track, and they were nice enough to let me come and scrounge for the caps.  So, my daughter and I set out early this morning to dig through the trash to find these precious caps.

This was our haul after about 2 hours of work.  Having a skinny, flexible 9 year old along certainly helped.  She could fit into some small places that I couldn't.  She was actually excited about doing this.

I explained to her that she is in our family because of ATN.  I met her previous family through ATN.  Had I not been part of that organization, she wouldn't be my daughter.

When I explained to the man at the racetrack why I was looking for these, he was happy to help.  People do want to help, but they don't always know how.  This is a very simple way.  It didn't cost the track anything and they didn't have to do any work either, but they were able to contribute.  We collected 190 codes today.  We will be back after the races for the last few weeks of the season.

If you want to help families, I will willingly take your Pepsi codes.  You can e-mail them to me at kelly at  $50,000 is a huge amount of money for us and can do so much good for families.  It only takes a few minutes of your time and can help countless families.

And a great big thank you to Slinger Super Speedway for the help!!!  If you want to vote via Facebook or E-mail, you can find the information on the ATN Website.  Vote every day!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cake balls/ Cake pops

When you bake a cake, you usually get some parts that are higher than others.  To get a nice flat cake, you trim off the tops of the cake.  But, what do you do with the part you've trimmed off?  Who wants to waste good cake, right?

You can make them into these neat little cake balls or cake pops that I found on the internet.  Over on the website, Bakerella, there are the most adorably decorated cake balls and cake pops.  Take about time and patience!  Both are things that I usually don't have enough of.  She was kind enough to post her recipe for basic cake balls, so here it is, step by step.  These are great for kids to make since there is not heat involved, and you have to get messy.

First take the part of the cake that you've trimmed off (or you can use a whole cake if you want or even a store bought angel food or pound cake.)

This is the top of a round cake that I cut off to make it level.  Break it up into fine crumbs.

If you have leftover frosting, stir that into the mix, otherwise use some canned frosting, or make a little bit more frosting to get you through the next step.  You don't need much.  Only about a cup or so.

Now you have a nice sticky mess.  It should hold together when you form it into a ball.  If it doesn't, add more frosting until you get it sticky enough.  (Yes, this is an exact science.)

Now form them into balls.  You can have little hands roll them into balls, or use a cookie scoop like I did.  After using the scoop, I'd rather have someone who likes getting messy roll them because they give them a more even surface.

Now you have a bunch of cake balls.  Put them on some waxed paper or parchment paper on a cookie sheet and pop them in the fridge or freezer.  You want them to harden decently so you can handle them for the next step.

Now you need CHOCOLATE!!!!  You can use all different kinds.  There is the almond bark that is sold in most every grocery store, chocolate chips, or if you want colored chocolate to match a theme, such as a child's birthday or school colors, you can buy pre-tinted chocolates in the baking section at most craft stores.  DO NOT ADD LIQUID FOOD COLORING TO CHOCOLATE!!!  You know the stuff I mean.  It's the kind you get in the grocery store in those little squeeze things and there are 4 colors in a box, or the bottles you find in the spice section.  They are mostly water and water destroys chocolate.  Use the pre-colored chocolate instead.

This is an example of what the colored chocolate looks like.  It comes in a one pound bag and it costs a couple of bucks.  There is just about every color in the rainbow, and even some that chocolate but flavored dark, mint or peanut butter, so you can get creative here.

Dump the chocolate into a plastic bowl and pop it into the microwave for 30 seconds at a time.  Stir after each time because it may not change shape, but it very likely is melting anyway.  When you have a nice smooth consistency that you can pour or easily stir, you're ready for the next step.

There are a couple of ways you can do this.  You can set up a cooling rack on some waxed paper and place the balls on top of there and pour the chocolate over it.  Use the waxed paper to catch the chocolate that drips off and re-use it.  Or you can use dippers.  You can buy a fancy dipper in the craft store for a couple of bucks, or use a trusty fork.

Either one will get the job done.  Put the chilled balls into the chocolate and roll them around to cover them.  Then with the dipper or fork, scoop the ball up, and tap it (gently) on the side of the bowl to get any excess chocolate off.  Then place it on the cooling rack to dry.

Once the chocolate hardens, say about 10 minutes or so, they are ready to eat.  If you want to be really fancy, you can decorate them like Bakerella, or you can drizzle them with different colored chocolates to get some fancy effects.

Once they are finished, this is what you get.

Cake and frosting inside a chocolate shell.  Pop them in your mouth and go.  If you are worried about little fingers getting messy, you can insert a sucker stick into the balls before chilling (again, find these at the craft store) so they have a handle while eating their cake pop.

You can use any flavor cake, frosting and chocolate.  This can be a fun rainy day activity for kids, or for the kid at heart.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Frugal Living - Facebook

Some people love Facebook and others hate it and find it absolutely useless.  However, it can be very valuable to your budget.

There are various Facebook groups that post free or discounted offers.  Some of my favorites are Hey It's FreeSisterly SavingsWoman Freebies and Teen Freeway.  (Come on, I have a tween kiddo).

These groups post links to free offers, coupons or giveaways.  For those of us in rural areas, not all the offers are useful, but many are.  Your freebies can range from a sample size of something, which is a great way to try a new product before you spend money on the full size version, or coupons for free products.  I have gotten free yogurt from Dannon and Yoplait, full size bottles of shampoo from Pantene and Herbal Essence, packages of Tide stain releaser, and my favorite freebie was the day Fed Ex showed up at my door.  Skinny Cow had sent me 2 full boxes of the new candy they were introducing.  It was beautifully packaged and had ice packs in it to keep the candy cool so it didn't melt.  Who wouldn't like free chocolate delivered straight to their doorstep?

When we moved our son into his first apartment for 6 weeks before college started, we loaded him up with free items and introduced him to the Hey It's Free page.  He had handfuls of samples of shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant and other toiletry items.  It saved us money and it was easier to transport for both him and us.

Another way to use Faebook is to "Like" the page of your favorite products.  Virtually every company has a Facebook page now.  If you like their page, you will be notified of new products coming out, and often times are free giveaways for the new products.  It's an incentive to get you to try it.  Other times you will find coupons for items.  Companies try to reward you for being a customer to keep you as their customer.

One word of caution.  The coupons, especially for free items, vary greatly.  Sometimes they are mailed and other times you print them from your computer.  As to whether or not a store accepts the coupons is hit and miss.  There are frauds with internet coupons so not all stores will take them.

A final word of advice... set up a separate e-mail account that you use to sign up for your freebie offers.  Many companies tend to send you more e-mail than you want (and make sure to opt out of e-mails if possible) so having an account just for these e-mails is helpful to keep your in-box from filling up with junk mail.  You can get free accounts from Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail.  Your in-box will thank you for it!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Baking Gluten Free

On to a happier topic - BAKING!

I absolutely love to bake.  I hate the daily monotony of fixing the family dinner, but give me butter, sugar and eggs and I'll make something.

Lately I have been working on decorated cookies and working on my skills.  There are some great blogs out there that show you techniques and are not shy about sharing what they have learned.  Some of my favorites are SugarBelle'sJP Creatibles and Sweetopia.

I got an order for some gluten free decorated cookies.  They are going to a young woman who I think is wonderful so I was happy to do these for her.

For a while we did a gluten free diet with our son, so I know how to do this.  Many people are finding out they are gluten intolerant, or have Celiac Disease, so this type of baking is becoming more and more popular.  I even had a request for it while I was selling cookies at a Relay for Life event.

There are several things with gluten free.

1) Check ALL your ingredients.  There can be gluten in things like baking powder and vanilla.  Yes, it doesn't belong there, but it's like high fructose corn syrup.  It's in lots of things.  If someone is just gluten intolerant, it may not be as important, but with full blow Celiac, you learn to check and you learn which products you can use and which ones you can't.

2) Gluten free products can be gritty and they tend to be more brittle or crumbly.  There is a good reason for this.  Gluten free products contain no wheat and gluten is found in wheat.  It is the part that makes things more elastic. If you are kneading a loaf of bread and is starts to get that "elastic" feeling, you know you're at the right point for the bread to rise.  This doesn't exist in gluten free baking.  Gluten is the "glue" that holds items such as cakes, cookies and muffins together.

3) Everything you know about regular baking is different.  The biggest thing, and this is related to point  #2, is that you are always told not to over mix or it will become tough or not rise.  It's just the opposite in gluten free.  Beat the crud out of it.  Hopefully you have a nice stand mixer or hand mixer.  You want to go twice as long as a regular recipe, or even longer.  It helps to eliminate that gritty texture.  It also helps to activate the "glue" you add to your recipe.

4) You don't have to use Xanthan Gum!!  This will come as a great relief to anyone who does do GF baking.  This stuff is expensive.  About a year I discovered that you can substitute plain gelatin 2:1 for Xanthan Gum. If a recipe calls for 1 tsp, use 2 tsp of gelatin (such as Knox) in it's powdered form.  It is so much less expensive and serves the same purpose.

I work a wonderful job during the holiday season, and I often spoil the employees by bringing in fresh baked goods.  When I discovered that one of the employees was GF, I made sure to bring things she could eat.  The rest of the employees were skeptical, but soon they were inhaling the GF products and I had to make sure to set some aside for the woman who actually had to eat these. The employees were shocked that the recipes were made differently.

If you are GF, there isn't any reason you can't eat baked goods at home.  Yes, the ingredients are more expensive, but your health is worth it.

I'll leave you with one last photo.  This is one of the things that the employees didn't know was gluten free.  It's a lemon blueberry bread.  Two full loaves of it disappeared!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't argue with crazy....

In my previous post, I talked about my mentally ill adult son.  He decided to go off his medication, which is just plain dangerous on so many levels.

Yesterday he sent me a text asking for money to pay his cell phone bill.  We said we would pay the bill, but he had to be 1) in school AND 2) on his medication.

For the several weeks leading up to this we received long rants from him about how he is doing "great" off his medication and we just want to keep him drugged up and other such things.  This is just plain crazy talk.  We don't want him drugged up, we want him safe, and those around him safe.

When I stood my ground and refused to give him money yesterday he cursed me out via text.  I didn't argue with him.  You can't argue with someone who is not rational.

This afternoon we discovered that when we would not give him money, son went to my father and tried to lie and manipulate his way into money.  He claimed that we would not give him any money for his medication.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  Last month I gave him money when he told me he was getting his medication refilled.  He had no intention of doing so and used the money on absolutely ridiculous things.  I'd been burned and learned my lesson.

Fortunately, my father mentioned this to my husband today.  We don't sugar coat our son's issues.  We are honest, but my family has always wanted to believe we are wrong, that there is SOMETHING we can do.  We have done everything WE can, but he does not.  After today's discussion, my father may be starting to understand.  Hopefully......

It's not that I want to deny my son things, but I am not OK with him lying to and manipulating people.  He does it quite well.  He is incredibly charming.  When he does not get his way though.... Look out!!!  After young son found out he was busted and that Grandpa now knew the truth, the anger and hatred came unabated.  I am so thankful that he is 10 hours away and I am out of the path of his wrath.  I do fear for those around him when he is like this, but I cannot force him to take his medication.

Nor, will I argue with someone who is not rational.  I didn't take the bait.  I didn't continue the text argument he tried to start.  I blew off the hateful words and names, and I decorated cookies instead.  I did something good for my mental health and for people whom I love and who will appreciate my efforts.

It was far more productive than trying to argue with a crazy person.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Living with a mentally ill adult

My husband and I have an 18 year old son who started his first day of college at a small college in Nebraska today.

For a long list of reasons, we moved him to Nebraska when he turned 18, 2 months ago today.  He moved into an apartment that we paid for, all bills paid for, fully furnished by us, fridge and pantry stocked by us, so he had no bills.  This was until he could get into the dorms earlier this month.

Part of understanding what is to follow is that he has a host of mental illness.  His birth mother drank and used through the entire pregnancy so he has Fetal Alcohol Effects/Syndrome and pre-natal drug exposure.  He also has ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Tourette's Syndrome, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder before he was 18.  Technically a person can't be listed as Borderline Personality (a nice term for sociopath) until he/she is 18, but as the psychiatrist pointed out, no one wakes up on their 18th birthday and suddenly is affected.  But, this is what the medical community considers the criteria.

We have a fabulous psychiatrist here in Wisconsin that we have worked with for years.  He saw our son the month before he turned 18 and son talked about going off his medication.  Many of his disorder cannot be medicated but the ADHD and Bi-Polar can.  He's been on  medication since he was 4 years old, and it is very apparent when he is off his medication.

The psychiatrist told our son in no uncertain terms that going off his medication while he was making such major changes in his life was a VERY bad idea and that he should monitored if he decided to change the doses or try to go off his medication.  Most psychiatric medications need to decreased slowly rather than just stopped.

Before he moved, we made it abundantly clear to our son that our continued financial support of things like the cell phone bill would be dependent upon two things.  1) that he remain in school AND 2) that he remain on his medication.

About a month ago I had suspicions that he had gone off his medications.  There were little signs that I could detect even 10 hours away.  I called his doctor in Nebraska and confirmed that he had not had his medication refilled.  The doctor did not violate any HIPPA regulations.  Our son is considered a minor, for health reasons in Nebraska, until he is 19 and he signed a consent form when we got him set up with the doctor in Nebraska that allowed them to release any medical information to me.

My husband and I confronted him about the medication issue and at first he lied, then he finally confessed and became very hostile about it.  We have no right to keep him "drugged up" and so on.  These rantings are typical when he's off his medication.  We again reminded him that our financial support would cease if he chose to continue this.  We had already agreed that we would pay the doctor bills and the co-pays on the medications so there was no financial burden on him to continue the meds.  He was openly hostile to my husband, but much more polite to me.

Today, I received a text from son asking me to pay his cell phone bill. I reminded him that we were not paying the bill since he chose to go off his medication and he blew the, literally, thousands of dollars that he made at a job he had for the summer.  Actions have consequences I reminded him.  He became hostile and cursed me.

Now.... Why don't I argue with him and point out the errors of his ways and give him the logical reasons why we are doing this?  The simple answer is, you can't argue with a crazy person.  Off his medication he is crazy.  Many Bi-Polar people have cycles of mania and depression that cycle throughout the month or a certain time period.  Our son can cycle a dozen times in one day.  He's like a roller coaster and you never when the next high or low is coming.  The other issue is that his "manic" states are not happy. He becomes angry and violent.  This is one of the many reasons he was moved to Nebraska right away.  He has hurt me and we have a 9 year old daughter to consider as well.

Besides the Bi-Polar issue is Fetal Alcohol.  People who have FAE/FAS generally do not have cause and effect thinking.  That portion of their brain is destroyed by the alcohol and there is no fixing it.  There is no medication to handle this.  It also causes incredible impulsiveness.  This combination is dangerous.

While some people may think we are being cruel or abusive to our son, we cannot force him to take his medication, but we can impose consequences if he doesn't.  Homeless shelters, psychiatric wards and prisons are filled with mentally ill people who don't take their medication as prescribed. If our son chooses to continue this path, he will likely wind up in one of those three places, but it is beyond my control.  We have to do this form of tough love.  We only hope that people will understand and support this decision rather than criticize. I know many families who have faced this same situation and have had to take the same route. It is not easy and you can't understand how hard it is until you have been in this situation.

One of the hardest things in the world is to love someone with a mental illness.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me - Sort of

As I mentioned in my previous post, I parent two children that my husband and I adopted.  Their early lives were not easy, and sometimes I get a glimpse into their lives.

I didn't have the greatest childhood and my relationship with my family is strained at best.  My birthday was last week.  I didn't have many birthday parties as a child and when you live with traumatized children, having birthday parties can be a dangerous thing.  I'll explain that in future posts.

Anyway, something happened the night before my birthday that had me thinking about the day I was born.  I realized that there were very few people that were excited about my birth.  My mother turned 17 two months before I was born.  She didn't want a child, but it was a way out of an abusive home...hence, my conception.  She was not excited to be a mother. It was  means to an end.  My father was excited, from what I have been told. I know my grandfather welcomed my birth. I was the first biological grandchild.  Aside from that, I doubt there was anyone who was excited.

I have several friends who are pregnant, or have recently had babies.  These are children who are wanted and loved.  There were or will be people who rejoice as these little ones enter the world.  Not so in my case, and probably not in the case of my children either.

All of the kids that I have parented (there were two that lived with us that we were unable to keep - unfortunately) were born to unmarried parents and were not the first children.  They were removed for various reasons of abuse/neglect.  These are not circumstances that would make you presume someone rejoiced about their birth.

It's sad that a child's birth should ever not be celebrated.  They are a gift from God.

Note:  The baby picture is not me. It's the beautiful daughter of a friend of mine.  She IS loved, cared for and her birth was very much celebrated.

Getting started

My name is Kelly and I have a wide and varied life.  I am a Mom to two children, both adopted, who have survived traumatic early starts to their lives.  Parenting will be a frequent topic.  My oldest is 18 and just starting his Freshman year at college. It will be a rocky road as he has several mental health issues.

Baking is my true passion. I love to bake, but hate to cook.  It it involves flour, sugar and eggs, I'm probably willing to try the recipe.  I am learning to decorate cakes and cookies as well as the baking.

I am also a Christian and not ashamed to admit it.  I belong to the United Church of Christ and in a few weeks I will be starting my last year of the Lay Academy classes.  I work with our youth group at church and help teach Confirmation to 7th and 8th graders.

I am an avid reader, I love knitting and other crafts, and am working on being more fiscally responsible with couponing and sales.

All in all, my life is "normal" with a few twists thrown in.  I am a work in progress.  I am 43 years old and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up (except being a super baker that is._  Join me on the wild journey that is my life.