‘Tis the Season

Yes, I know Halloween hasn’t even struck yet, but last week, I received my first email from BlackFriday.com, hailing the coming season of savings (and buying, buying, buying). I’ve mentioned before that my sister and I often partake in the day-after-Thanksgiving festivities, yes, for the deals, but as a weird way to celebrate the season and spend some special time together. It’s a thing. (Dude, I even wrote a guide for it last year.)

As with last year, though, I fully plan on taking advantage of the wonder that is the interwebs. Online shopping is as much a tradition for me as Black Friday is. I rely on it to find the obscure books that Dave loves (thanks, Amazon!), to grab handmade and eco-friendly goodies from Etsy, and, just as importantly, stay in my sweats while doing so. Gotta say, it’s a lifesaver for moms (and dads, too…okay, everyone).

Oh, yeah, I’m also expecting to simplify big-time, including focusing on buying (and asking for) items I NEED and would really, really like to have. But that’s a whole other topic for a whole different day.

So, recently I decided to check out ebates.com. Now, I have absolutely no affiliation with this site. Oh, wait, unless you decide to check it out. If you sign up through this link, I can earn some moolah (to put into Christmas shopping — thanks!). But, yeah, otherwise, I’m not being perked to write about these guys. They don’t know who the heck I am. I’ve just looked into their program and can’t seem to find any “sounds too good to be true…what am I missing here?” proof not to tout its awesomeness.

'Tis the Season - image 97876-ebates on http://megactsout.com

Anyhoo, the idea of the site is this: If you go through their web site first and click on your favorite stores (and they’ve got TONS of stores, guys) instead of just going to, say, kohls.com in your address bar, you can earn back money. Oh, you can also install a little button so that when you visit a site on your usual browser that can earn you money back, it lets you know immediately (but not in an obnoxious way). Genius.

And, of course you don’t have to pay a thing to take part. Think I’d sign up for something like that? No way.

I like that I don’t really have to “think” too much to earn money back while doing my shopping this year. I can just buy the things I usually buy from the places I’d usually buy them (I kid you not, they have a buttload of stores!). Even when I’m saving up to buy a big purchase through Amazon or Overstock, I’ll just buy what I want, when I want it (sometimes they only offer cash back on certain departments, so keep an eye on that). It kind of shaves off a bit of the guilt of spending, too.

If you don’t care where you find something, as long as it’s inexpensive, you can also search to see the best deal (with cash back, dude) according to some sites you may never have heard of. They all seem to be highly reliable, well-known sites, so I’ll be heading here to compare prices on other searches before hitting the “submit” button on some of those purchases.

Do any of you use Ebates.com? Do you have another time-saving (and/or money-saving) holiday gift ideas? Do tell!

The Ol’ Autumn Switch

Even I’m kind of surprised at how behind I am with my autumn decorating this year. It’s not like I go all-out crazy with this stuff (and I probably won’t this year, especially), but I do like to add touches here and there of the season. This is especially true when it’s autumn, which is not only my favorite season, but the Dorky Daddy‘s, as well. Craziness.

So, on a recent humid-yet-insanely-torrential afternoon, I sat down to sketch. One thing led to another, and I didn’t hate what I created. Not perfect, but who really cares?

'Tis the Season - image d2b9f-fall2bsign on http://megactsout.com

I used some day-glow colored pencils because clearly I’m hip like that. I mean, just check out my iPhone picture. Crooked ‘n everythin’.

So, I decided to hunt for a place to sneak it. And, of course, it only worked on my living room wall (last seen, I believe, during Christmas). While I was at it, I switched out a piece or two and rearranged until I got this…

'Tis the Season - image 31aff-autumn2bwall on http://megactsout.com

Yup, another insanely beautiful iPhone pic. Drives me nuts, too.

Since I’m lazy, I also like to use art that can kinda double for…say…a couple of months. So, you’d better know that pumpkin art will be there until the cows come home. Or Christmastime. Yeah. Probably Christmas.

'Tis the Season - image 54089-photo2b2 on http://megactsout.com

I hope to return with a few more shots of autumny goodness. It’s an interesting challenge to try to add touches of beauty in the midst of toddler mayhem. Like, there’s no way I can really do much with the dining room table. It’s his “cooking” spot. But, I do have a few spots he can’t reach, so I’ll have to live it up in those spaces while I can.

What about you? Do you do fall or Halloween decorating? Do you go literal (black cats, witches, zombies) or more “figurative”? I’m hoping to go with the less in-your-face, especially using what I’ve got laying around. Fingers crossed!

Teal Pumpkins and Losing the Candy

With just over a week left before Halloween, I’m scurrying around trying to get ready. Our pumpkins aren’t carved/painted, Hadley’s costume needs assembling (and altering!), and we haven’t bought our treats to dole out yet. Considering he’s only two and this isn’t the big day that it is for the older kids, I have to laugh at myself a bit. Okay, a lot.

So, if you’re a buddy on Facebook, you’ll remember that I shared a post about the Teal Pumpkin Project. That link will give you the low-down, but in essence it’s an idea for folks to hand out either allergen-free treats (um, near impossible to find, honestly) or non-food goodies and display a teal pumpkin. This way, kids with severe allergies (or diabetes, for that matter) will know that it’s a safe house to trick-or-treat at. (The backlash to this, IMO, is I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y!) Plus, who doesn’t love teal?

Originally, I thought that it was an awesome idea, but that we’d buy crappy candy just like usual. Heck, that might still happen, but the more I thought…and thought…and thought…the more I loved the idea. So, it’s late in the game, and I find myself scouring the internet for goodies that will a) not break the bank, b) get here by Halloween, and c) not get our house egged.

‘Cause we all know that’s what we’re worried about with this thing. Not the raised eyebrows from parents. Nope. TP and soap and eggs EVERYWHERE. (We’re also concerned with cat-related crimes, but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other day.)

So, today I give you…

'Tis the Season - image 5ad90-halloween on http://megactsout.com

Yup! Now, I’m on the “I hate extra crap around our house” bandwagon as much as the next SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY mama, but if we want to take part in the fun of Halloween (without turning off the lights and hunkering down like criminals on the lam; been there, done that, and it sucks), I’d like to do so with stuff that hopefully won’t end up in a trash bin at the end of the night.

So, through years of watching kids either turn their noses up at or turn into immediate Jell-o mounds shouting, “That is soooo cooooool!!!” over the cheap birthday stuff I keep in a bin at school, I provide a list of what works. Seriously. This. Stuff. Works.

The stuff I’m sharing today can be found at Oriental Trading, but you can also try Amazon, Party Zone, or even your local dollar store (although it’s cheaper to buy stuff in bulk).

Fake Lizards/Snakes – They may not wear white lab coats everyday, but kids are nothing if not scientists. Inquisitive, interested, and not easily grossed out, girls and boys alike can get behind finding a fake snake in their bags. Oh, and scaring their siblings with it, of course.


This assorted bag will last forever.
You may be able to hand them out next year, too!

Snakes for scaring little sisters (and maybe a mom or two).
Or combine some of these ideas for a winning combo:

Sticky Lizards?



Glow-in-the-Dark Anything – Not only is this idea an automatic “aw, cool!” for the kids, but it adds an extra element of protection and safety to the night. Who can’t get behind that?


Fake Tattoos – As the unproud owner of not one but two tattoos, these drive me nuts. But, me knows what the kids likey, and temp tats are it. (Sigh.)
  Seriously. Any of these assortments will do.


No Stickers – Unless they’re a mustache. (Note: Same rule applies to pencils.) Make it a glow-in-the-dark one and rule the night.



Spider Rings
– Okay, okay. This is actually one I remember quite well from my youth. Can’t you still feel how cheap and scratchy those little spider legs felt on your fingers? Every kid needs that in his/her life.

Sticky Stuff – Remember the sticky stuff you could get for 25 cents that would climb the wall or that you could whack your annoying sibling with? Yeah. It’s still tops, and with good reason.



Not Your Mama’s Rubber Duckies – Duckies can definitely be on the lame side (don’t tell Ernie, that’s usually Bert’s schtick), but toss on some zombie makeup or a mummy wrap and they’re downright cool.


Witches and Vampires and Ducks, Oh My!
(These are cute enough to hand out to the really little trick-or-treaters.)




A New “Disguise” – It’s weird because they’re already dressed in Halloween costumes, but kids are not averse to adding on to the affect. Those parents who put good time (and money) into creating the perfect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle might be dismayed, but kids are totally fine sticking on glasses with a funny nose.

Anything with Bugged-Out Eyes – At our annual book fair, the crap wonderful merchandise often includes stuff you can squeeze or bend or sniff or…whatever. It never fails, though. Anything that’s squeezable with pop-out eyes is a popular go-to. So, I suggest these zombies. 

Comics – I don’t have a link for this one, just a husband. Dave stocks up on the super cheap comics over the year, usually in two stacks by age appropriateness (younger and older). I think he usually offers candy or the comic, but I don’t believe he’s super strict about it. It’s to the point where we have kids who see him and say, “Oh! I remember this house! Comics!” He’s even had parents say, “Hey, can I get one of those?” (My favorite, LOL.)

Which goes to show you right there – is the choice not to hand out candy so sacrilegious? The point of the night is fun, no matter what form it takes.  

Finally Getting My $#@& Together

'Tis the Season - image 9a2c0-budget on http://megactsout.com


We all know I’ve talked about finances here. Like, a lot. The last time I brought it up was in a “new school year goals” post here. Been doing okay with most of that stuff, but finances? Nerp. 

For some weird reason beyond my realm of thinking, I can’t figure out why it’s been such a challenge for me. I helped Dave get his finances into at least a reasonable schedule when we were first dating, and he has since grabbed the bull by the horns and whipped his finances into such great shape, I’m so amazed and proud of him. So, the fact that I couldn’t kick-start myself disappoints me. And the more we disappoint ourselves, the more we’re down on ourselves and can’t find the motivation to fix the problem, am I right?

Hmm. Guess I answered my question right there. That’s why I’ve been stuck.

So, anyhoo, I’ve been a complete non-budgeter. If I tried writing down every purchase, it only stuck for, like, a week…tops. Much like dieting, I’m not a great “do it all at once, take all the joy of life away” person. Nope. Don’t work that way. Plus, the whole “write down every single purchase” thing? Not me. At least I know myself, right?

Since we know that doesn’t work, that’s not what we’ve done. Instead, in a strange role reversal that he’s had great joy doing (I felt the same way when I helped him; we like getting each other on track and comfortable rather than overwhelmed! It’s what we do), I printed off my checking transactions for the past couple of months, jotted down what each item was (some were obvious, others not s’much), and handed them over to Dave.

He made note of the main monthly bills that have a set date (mortgage, car, car insurance, washer/dryer payment, etc), the “important” necessities which may have more variable dates/amounts (groceries and gas), then determined what was left and where my moolah was going.

Allowing about $60 a month to be taken out in cash ($30 every paycheck) means that I can buy what I like, no questions asked, makes it feel a little less bare-bones and a little roomier. We also figure we’ll each pay for a meal out once a month. I requested this mostly because cooking, day in and day out, can be a pain, so it’s nice to be treated — even if just to a pizza — now and then. Not weekly. Not daily. But occasionally.

I’m also going to start taking out $200 every two weeks specifically for groceries and see how we do. This is the hardest part, for sure. Budgeting my food spending is the biggest, most stressful area because I know what we eat and we’ve pretty much pared it down to getting just what we need…which comes in nowhere near $100 a week. But, I hope to get creative, use what we have in our freezer/cupboards and hopefully will be able to stretch it. Aldi will also help tremendously with this. 

So, other than that, we’re putting an allotted amount into my savings (which has depleted) and my Christmas club (‘cuz it’d be nice not to have a tough time getting through the holiday seasons this year). While I’m not going to be religiously checking my checking (ha!) everyday like Dave does, I’ll be doing it ever couple of days and looking at the “calendar” to determine what’s coming out and when. Oh, and I’m filling out a form to take to my bank to change the date of my car payment so that my two big payments are spread throughout the month more.

Exciting stuff today, folks. Ex-citing, I tell ya. But, it’s nice to at least get my $%&@ together enough that I know where every cent goes — and where it’s allowed to go.

So, what about you guys? How do you budget? Do you write every expense and check the math? Or are you a bare minimum type like me?

Simplify Your Dinners, Guys

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether or not cooking dinners at home is worth it. This Slate article has been debated online from the moment it went live, and rightfully so. While I won’t add to the onslaught of negative mud-throwing, I will add my tiny voice to the sensible bloggers I’ve read (many of them moms in the trenches, themselves).

While much of the article is absolute incite-filled bunk, there is a sliver of truth in it. No, we shouldn’t expect poverty-level families to eat all higher-priced organic produce, grass-fed meat, and other expensive natural, non-processed foods. And, regarding the general purpose of the article, no, we shouldn’t attempt to achieve these incredibly intricate, Pinterest-worthy meals on a daily basis.

But, that’s pretty much where my agreement ends. When we switched to mostly “real foods” (we still get some processed organic items, admittedly, but put tons of thought into why we use them), our budget essentially adjusted. We were buying SO many processed and boxed stuff, it was insane how much we could’ve been spending on more veggies, fruits, and meat. And while it doesn’t always work this way, I love this post on how to eat healthily when you can’t afford organic and this one about how to shop for healthy food at Aldi. Can you tell I love The Humbled Homemaker?

So, who says that meals need to be these overly complicated, intricate things? If you’re taking your guidance from Michael Pollan himself, at its essence he suggests we “eat more food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pretty basic, really. And even those words are stated in a casual, loose way. I take it as meaning: “Eat as well as you can. Don’t beat yourself up.” Give or take.

And that’s where a lot of this pressure comes from. No, not everyone LOVES cooking, and I can guarantee that even the most famous of chefs grows weary of cooking for his/her family every. Single. Night. Everyone burns out, and when you’re doing it 3+ times a day, 365 days a year…um, yeah. The odds are very good.

But, when “perfection” is thrust down our throats like an impeccable three-course meal, the pressure becomes harder to take. So, just take today’s post as a reminder – to all of us.

'Tis the Season - image 39d72-dinner on http://megactsout.com

Seriously, guys. Let’s take a few deep breaths here and repeat some Stuart Smalley affirmations. Take it from a chick who tries her best to dole out three healthy, real food meals to three very different eaters every day. It’s overwhelming, but if you remember a few things, it helps:

1. Okay, we’ve heard it all before, but planning is your BFF. You don’t have to download a month’s worth of meal plans (but, if that helps, go for it!), but having at least a general idea of what the upcoming week brings (schedule-wise) and knowing a meal that will fit each day (like, I don’t advise cooking a meal on-par with Thanksgiving on a night when the kids have a million things going on).

2. Share the duties. We don’t do this a lot, honestly. We share other duties, like the fact that Dave handles driving to/drop-off/pick-up/bringing home from Hadley’s sitter. But, yeah, I do a ton. I’m the modern Donna Reed, which really just means that I cook/clean/do laundry/keep the house upright, but I do it in sweats instead of pearls. So, when things start to get overwhelming, I reach out to him and let him know that the dinner part of things is nuts. And guess what. He’s always willing to take on a couple of meals himself — and usually enjoys doing it! (No, seriously.)     

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. If you have a hard time planning ahead and thawing the meat or prepping the Crock Pot first thing in the morning (I feel ya), then keep your weekday meals super simple and quick. Why do you think Rachael Ray’s first hit show was “30 Minute Meals”? Seriously. Look up a bunch of her old recipes and see if you can make any of them work for you and your family (or Google “20” or “30 minute meals” and see what you find).

4. Use leftovers to your advantage. That is a trick out of my mom’s game book. She always made us a HUGE meal on Sundays (sometimes a good-sized one on Saturdays, too). Say she made roast beef with all the trimmings. Monday, she might make beef and gravy and pair it with the leftover mashed potatoes or bread (some might call it “$%&# on a shingle”) and some veg. She’d get two or three additional meals out of whatever she made, but Wednesday was always soup and sandwich night. It helped cut the monotony a little bit (not that it really was monotonous to us kids). Oh, Wednesday nights leads me to my next tip!

5. What the heck’s wrong with soup and sandwich, anyway? Or the occasional pancake night? Or a salad for you, PBJ and carrots for the kiddo? I don’t advise this every night, but we all have those “what the hell are we gonna eat?!” nights, don’t we? Where you didn’t thaw something or you had a horrific day at work or you’ve been sick and don’t have the energy? Give yourself a break and make some scrambled eggs. Or something you would usually deem “only suitable for lunch.” Food is food.   

6. It’s not always about what you eat; it IS always about who you eat with. This whole “come to the table” concept is part trying to get consumers to re-focus on cooking. It’s incredible to think about how many FEWER people know how to cook today compared to fifty years ago. At the same time, I feel that the methods we use are tons easier, and often create tastier meals (not kidding, check out the unappetizing recipes in some of the old cookbooks…how may methods for making Jell-O?!).

BUT, I also think that the movement is as much about bringing families back around the table as it is about knowing and thinking more about food. And, y’know what? I’m a bit of a hypocrite. During winter months, we’ll often eat at the dining room table, but lately we’re totally in an “eat around the TV” slump. It is what it is. We’ll watch one Hadley show, then one episode of “the Mommy Daddy Show” (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”).

What I really mean here, though, is that it doesn’t matter how fabulous or grandiose your meal is. Focus on the family, guys. They don’t REALLY care, do they? I find that my “breakfast for dinner” nights are just as welcomed and appreciated as my glazed pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables nights. Usually. 😉

——————-

On a final note, I thought I’d share a quick, simple recipe that I just threw together last night.

'Tis the Season - image e9660-salad on http://megactsout.com

When I say “sub”, I mean do it up! If you don’t have apples, try blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, etc. Use whatever lettuce you have on hand. Try sunflower seeds or walnuts or pecans or whatever. No Parmesan? Use cheddar or bleu or mozzarella or…let’s just say I don’t say “no” to any cheese. And vinaigrette can be as simple as oil and vinegar or as slightly-less-simple as the warm apple cider vinaigrette that I whipped up.

And, for full disclosure, here’s what Hadley had:

'Tis the Season - image b0793-photo2b3_10 on http://megactsout.com

An all-natural, nitrate-free hotdog with organic cheese melted on, apple slices, and yogurt. He also got a “treat” of a handful of “cookies” (actually organic graham bunnies). And guess what? He loved it. And I’m not guilty, especially knowing that his lunch was leftover homemade chicken “nuggets” with roasted sweet potato wedges and veggies for lunch.

Jarred

Hey, homies! I’m finally posting again! Been home sick with a sinus infection that went untreated too long. Long story short, glad to be on the mend!

I’ve recently realized my favorite little buddy in the kitchen (aside for Jasper begging for scraps – yes, he’s a cat – and Hadley wanting to “help”). While I’ve probably mentioned the beauty that is a mason jar before, it’s time to declare my undying love for them, along with a bunch of things you can use them for. Come. Let’s chat.

We’ve currently got a few sizes of mason jars floating around, but our all-time faves are minis (4 oz.) and half pint-sized wide mouth Ball jars. They’re perfect for storage (well, duh, that’s why they were invented), but you might be surprised as to how many ways that we use them. And, guess what! We don’t jelly/preserve a damn thing in them. I think I’m kicked out of the club. (One day, my friends. One day.)

'Tis the Season - image 69eb5-masonjars on http://megactsout.com

Salad dressing – The tiny ones are perfect for transporting dressing for lunch. Seriously, just pour in your favorite or do what we do: olive oil, some vinegar, and seasonings.


This also deters anyone from sneaking your salad topper from the fridge at work. Seriously, a couple of weeks ago, I observed someone who had forgotten their salad dressing perusing the row of dressings others keep in the fridge, as if shopping. So, bringing one serving of dressing is perfect AND super easy.

Dry spice mixes – We don’t buy spice packets for things like tacos, chili, and salad dressing (Dave’s a fan of Good Seasons, but he hasn’t quite perfected the recipe yet). So, we double or triple the recipe and store the rest in our tiny jars. I use a dry erase marker to make a note of what’s inside, then just spoon it out as needed.

Mmm. Tacos.

Lunch packin’ – This is especially an awesome one for toddlers. We send breakfast and lunch to Grandma’s for Hadley, so we’re lucky that she’ll hear stuff up as needed. Most days I’ll pack his whole lunch in a glass container with a silicone-lined lid, but I’ll often split it up and give, say, his peas and carrots or corn in a tiny jar. They’re also a great size to fill with applesauce. Just like those little plastic cups at the store, only eco-friendly, reusable, and you can control what goes in. It’s also super cheaper to buy or make organic applesauce in large amounts and dole them out.


Yogurt keepers – Similar to the applesauce idea, yogurt is a great snack that is the perfect match for mason jars. The little ones are awesome for the little guy (just check out that link!), and I use the slightly-larger size for my own. Again, cheaper, reusable, and easier than you’d think!

Snack ‘n dip – Half-pint jars are a great way to make a tasty, healthy snack alternative. Just put whatever dip you like in the bottom and the fruit or veg spears of your choice standing up on top of it. Carrots sticking in ranch, apples in almond butter, celery in peant butter. Really, the combos are endless, and make otherwise boring snacks something to look forward to.

On-the-go snacks – Speaking of snacks, the 4-oz. size is awesome for toddler treats on a little trip. Fill ’em with raisins, mini crackers, pretzels, or dry cereal and skip the baggie.


Serve up some fun – Use mason jars (plain or decorated) to serve appetizers or little snacks for company. I even like the idea of creating a salad or taco bar by filling separate jars with toppings and just scooping out your favorites with a spoon or fork. Simple, rustic, fun.

Bank it – Hee hee. While Hadley has an incredible robot bank for his millions (uh, no), Dave and I use a few jars, labeled with simple cut-out paper rounds on the top, to sock away for future goals. It’s cool to look and see our change filling up these jars that have super happy connotations. Just seeing the vacation jar brings a smile to my face.


Oh, and surprisingly, none are swear jars. Knowing me…one probably should be. 😉

Coconut oily goodness – Dave and I both use coconut oil for different (and wondrous!) uses. He keeps a tiny jar of it nearby to style his hair with, and I have some mixed with essential oils (namely, peppermint and an “alignment” combo) for occasional aches and pains. Like, now. On top of getting stupidly sick, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder/neck. *didn’t say I was smart*

Decorating – Pinterest has a million awesome decor ideas using mason jars. I used the large ones to display fruit skewers at Had’s second birthday shindig and they provided some “height” and purtiness (totally a word) to the table. I’m dying to try one of the painted jar crafts, too!

Gifting – This is a great tip that I hope to use for the holidays, but you can use it all year long. Fill a pint jar with some candy, a favorite product, or something homemade, like granola or a “recipe in a jar” layering dry ingredients, and tie on a tag (I suggest printing something quirky/dorky like “we mix you a merry Christmas!” for a recipe mix). Embellish with ribbon or raffia…or don’t. Either way, the jar acts as a beautiful presentation, so you may not even have to put it in a gift bag.

Flower “vase” – Looking for a no-nonsense, sweet, rustic alternative to those flower shop vases? (Sometimes they’re okay, but mostly outdated or too frilly-looking.) Well, mason your vase game! The cool thing is that you can split up a mixed bouquet and use various sizes of jars to create a tiered, layered look. 


Holding collections – We have one jar that stores rocks and sticks that the little guy “collects” on walks. I’m sure that, as his “collections” grow, we’ll be splitting them up into organized items, too. And, not only does he feel that the things he finds are validated in their special containers, but they look cool all lined up. Which I can’t say for most of his toys. Ahem.

So, that’s just some of the ways we use our beloved little jars! Do you have any awesome ways that you utilize them that you’d like to share with the class? Go ahead in the comments!

Anti Clorox Wipes

In a house full of cats and an active toddler around, messes are inevitable. Namely, messes of the bodily function variety.

That’s right. Cat pee and potty training smears.

It happens. Daily. Gross, but it’s kind of a moot point when you’re in love with those little rascals.

So, when we recently ran out of my OCD-ish husband’s favorite clean-up tool, disposable Clorox wipes, I found myself hesitant to buy some more. I knew full well that it was contributing to an eco-hater status, which I cringed over every time we wiped a potty seat. Plus, the nasty chemical makeup of the wipes bummed me out.

Of course, I did what every mother does when faced with a dilemma: I took to Pinterest.

There actually wasn’t as much as I thought I’d find, but I really only needed to find one great pin. And I found an awesome resource for you guys at Live Renewed. You’ve got not one but TWO recipes for a natural disinfectant.

I decided to take her Castile soap (ahem, I hope you all know we mean Dr. Bronner’s when we say that, right?) and tea tree essential oil recipe and run with it, mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand.

Side note: My essential oil experience has been a fun experiment that’s working out quite well so far, and I still haven’t ordered my replacement lemon (and any new ones I’d like to try out, so any suggestions for new “flavors” would be welcome in the comments!), which is why I didn’t try the other recipe. I’m loving the quality and non-pressure system that Native American Nutritionals has in place compared to others.

Anyhoo, back to the wipes. Here’s how I put this shebang together:


'Tis the Season - image bee7a-photo2b2_1 on http://megactsout.com

 
For the reusable wipes, I just cut up a couple of (*cough* too small *cough) soft old T-shirts, which gave me…like…maybe 16-20 wipes per shirt, depending on how big you make your wipes. You can also use old cloth napkins (I cut up a few of those for the days I’m out of T-shirt rags) or your husband’s old boxers or whatever. Just check first. Let’s just say I’m waiting for mine to give up on a couple of crappy white tees to sacrifice for the cause. I’m not sure if color really matters or not; it’s not like I care whether they get stained since they’re rags, but I’ll be sure to update you if the color runs. (That said, if you have something white to cut up or use, um, choose that. Probably best.)

'Tis the Season - image 44b94-photo2b2 on http://megactsout.com


Here’s the stuff I mixed up. Per her recipe, I used about 10 drops of tea tree oil (which actually SMELLS like it’s disinfecting, I kid you not! Like Lysol, but natural!), two tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s, and a cup of water. I ended up splashing a little more water in to moisten all the wipes, but I think it’s because I put the solution on the bottom of the container instead of pouring it over the top.

Doubt that this stuff works as well as Clorox? Behold…doesn’t this look all disinfecty? If that were a word, of course…

'Tis the Season - image 184b6-photo2b3 on http://megactsout.com

Right?? So, I put the solution at the bottom of my empty, de-labeled and washed Clorox container…

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Sexy. Anyhoo, this is the point that I cut up my reusable wipes. I wadded them together, kind of in a roll, and pulled them up in the middle (I didn’t end up using the old white napkins on the outside since there wasn’t room in the tube)…


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Don’t overthink it. Just shove it in and pull in the middle. It works. Okay, this is probably the point I should have poured the solution over everything, but I had already put it in the bottom hoping that it would seep upward. I’m sure it probably would have seeped just fine, but I’m an impatient mama and love to see results. So, I splashed a bit more water on the top and shook the thing. Here’s our final product:


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'Tis the Season - image 8b373-photo2b3_1 on http://megactsout.com

Yup, I grabbed a marker and labeled it with a cheeky description. It also has the recipe in small lettering on the other side, just in case my husband feels like whipping some up next time, or in case my incredibly shoddy memory fails me. Again.

I’m keeping them where we kept our old wipes, under our bathroom sink. It’s where we dump Hadman’s potty and where they get used most frequently. This also happens to be where our laundry hamper lives, so it’s perfect. If I think it’s gross to toss these in with the laundry, I’ll grab our old wet bag from cloth diapering days and keep them in there ’til all the rags and linens need to be washed. No big deal.

Whatchya think? Would you try reusable wipes, or are you addicted to your current method of disinfecting? No judging here.

(By the way, there’s an affiliate link or two included in this post. Just a warning. It won’t blow up your computer, and if you purchase anything off of Amazon after clicking through my links, even if it’s not a product I listed, you’ll be helping to run this here little blog. Which is awesome of you and earns you a gold star for the day.)

Why Would I Want One of Those?

Our house is a step back in time. Our TV is an Admiral. (Dave’s from a long time ago.) No flat-screen. Just a big black box. We keep it prominently displayed just in case someone considers casing the joint. (And when it goes, we have a second just-as-outdated TV waiting in the wings.)

We have a record player (that also plays cassette tapes – I only have one anymore – and radio) in our sun room.

And, in an unfun take on the ever-popular, ever-ruined (in the library world, at least) “Where’s Waldo” books, just try and see what’s missing from our kitchen. Aside from general housewifey cleanliness.

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Yup, no dishwasher.

There are a couple of reasons that we never took that plate plunge.

First, there’s no realistic space for the thing without making the place look seriously effed up. The base cabinet would look all funky near the sink, and there really isn’t the space for it there, anyway. Our kitchen’s a pretty good size (there’s a wall of cabinetry behind where I took the picture and tons of space for a small table/stools and cat food – priorities, people – on the right), but it was built in 1920, so there’s really no non-awkward place for one.

Oh, and for the record, I’m not sure if it’s the more efficient way to wash or not. I should probably search for some ways TO make it more efficient, but the comparisons seem minimal (and, in all honesty, I’m tons faster than Dave at it, so I think it’s a tad more efficient the faster you are; play “beat the water”, it’s fun. *shakes head* It isn’t.). Still, I’ll continue the search. In case you’re wondering, here are a few interesting articles: Treehugger (love them), NPR (love them, too) and GizMag (who?).

Anyhoo, the other big reason is that we really don’t care. We’ve been offered the gift of a dishwasher several times, but we always quickly agree that it wouldn’t be necessary. We really don’t mind washing dishes by hand. And, regardless of what it may sound like, we tend not to have a full sink of dishes always waiting to be washed. (Sometimes a couple of random mugs or a plate and a knife or fork from breakfast. Maybe.)


I know. Crazy, right?

I guess that, since we’ve lived here, we’ve really gotten used to this method. Our apartments didn’t have dishwashers, but we both grew up with them (and I’m assuming Dave didn’t do a lot of kitchen cleaning as a teenager…just a guess; I, however, have done an @$$ ton of it since early childhood), so we know the pros to those magical mystery machines. Really, yes, they’re great. We get it. We do.
But, a dishwasher’s not a necessity. Plus, I’ve come to enjoy dish washing.

Okay, wait. The wording’s wrong there. I’ve come to enjoy not mind dish washing. Using a brush (we used to have one for just the baby’s stuff plus a bottle brush to keep it all “less contaminated” and started using the old baby brush on our stuff…now that he’s allowed to eat dirt and other things I can’t fathom, we’re using the same one), it’s fast and easy, and seeing an empty sink and full dish rack is completely fulfilling.

It also gets me off my @$$. It’s easy to fall into the “sit and stare at the TV” mode after eating, especially a bigger meal like dinner. But, knowing that there’s a pile of dishes waiting in the sink makes me completely unable to relax. No way. So, after the dishes are done, sometimes I ride off the rush of having accomplished at least one tiny bit of housework for the day, using the adrenaline to get something else done…or patting myself on the back and feeling that I’ve deserved some TV/blogging/Ancestry.com/reading/stare-at-my-husband-until-he’s-uncomfortable time.

And what’s better than that? Even when we move one day and, say, the joint doesn’t have a dishwasher…I doubt we’ll jump on the bandwagon.

What about you guys? Who’s a hand washer? Who swears by their dishwasher? Who just makes their kids do it like my mom? I can’t blame her, really. Her parents got an automatic dishwasher after she graduated and got married (which happened practically at the same time), so I think she realized what her value was to the family. 😉

Come to think of it…wait a minute.

Hmm. Hmph.    

Shave Time, Shave Money

We are nothing if not simple folk. I know some who know us might disagree — we’re not Amish, by any means (and if I’m offending any Amish…what the heck are you doing on the Internet??). But, ultimately we feel that it’s better to live a simple life than a life full of too much stuff, too many complications and too much drama.

So, simple we are.


That said, when the Dollar Shave Club (yes, that Dollar Shave Club, founded by Mike, himself) asked if I’d be up for a “Shave Time, Shave Money” challenge, I was like, “You know who I AM?!” Er. Stay cool, Meg. Stay cool. I was like, “You betcha!” in my best mock Sarah Palin voice. Seriously, I’m a sucker for a challenge, even if it’s failing miserably while attempting it. See also: junior high basketball attempt…and volleyball.

I thought I’d share a handful of ways that we have stumbled upon that have shaved time and/or benjamin-spending from our family’s daily routine. See if you’re doing any of these simple life hacks already or if they’d help you out…

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Tea and coffee, coffee and tea. Hot water + plant life that’s been toasted beyond recognition = an item that many can’t make it through the day without.

And know what takes more time than you may realize on a daily basis? Waiting in line for your morning fix. Even if it’s a drive-thru, it takes at least 7 minutes in our neck of the woods (and if you have to go inside? Fuhgettaboutit.). Not to mention the cost. Even a basic $2 coffee (and we all know it’s not $2, especially a soy mochafrappamachiacino) adds up to $10 a week, or $40 by the end of the month. So, yeah. We don’t play that game.


Instead, while we’re running around putting lunches together, we put on the teapot or get the coffee going. By the time lunches are done, our hot beverage is ready for sugar or honey or milk. A big pro here is that we have complete control over the ingredients. Let’s just say that even organic coffee or tea is mere cents a cup made at home vs. $2 at Dunkin’ or Starbucks.

You can be like my awesome stepdad and measure out the coffee and fill the machine with water to make it easy in the morning to just flip the switch when you’re ready.


Speaking of lunches, prep is key. If you make a conscious decision to make, say, one huge salad on Sunday night, it’ll make weekday mornings markedly easier. I kid you not; stay in bed 10 more minutes. Just store items like sliced tomatoes, sliced strawberries (seriously, don’t laugh, they’re soooo good with feta in a salad), or diced cheese separately to avoid slimy grossness, then just assemble quickly in the morning (or, better yet, the night before).

We’re cool with salads (plus some grilled chicken or varied toppings) everyday; just grab a cup of yogurt, an apple, and a bag of pretzels or popcorn. We throw in a wrap (also made in advance, filled with some of the salad ingredients) or leftovers once in awhile so that the salads don’t get boring. Packing a different flavor of dressing or vinaigrette, or using a variety of ingredients helps, too. We find that a handful of almonds can really add another level of flavor.

Not only does this provide a healthy option, but it also makes it easier to “just say ‘no’!” to a takeout or fast food lunch. It’s definitely way cheaper to do the Ford assembly line method, too.

Is “Just Say ‘No’!” too 80s to reference anymore? Too Nancy Reagan? You can be honest, I can take it.


– This one’s for you die-hard money saving fools out there. We’ve talked before about our decision to switch off the cable, but it’s the perfect time to bring it up again.

We were sick of the high cost of cable and the fact that we only watched, say, 20 of the 70 channels. So, we bravely switched to the 11-station plan. Um, I say “bravely” because we were addicted, and we didn’t know anyone taking that step. (Compared to, say, soldiers…we ain’t brave.) Since then, we’ve adjusted fine and even have a few friends and family cutting back, too.

If there are certain shows you need to, like, exist, don’t sweat. Hit up Google to find out what streaming device will hook you up with your faves and put a chunk down to buy it. Seriously, still way cheaper in the long run.

Luckily, Dave and I love PBS (hellooooo, Downton, History Detectives and Sherlock!), Hadman’s also a PBS lover (Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger!), and we’ve had Netflix streaming on the Wii forever. It suits us just fine.

Share and share alike. What’s simpler than purchasing only ONE of everything? This is a tad different with a toddler around, but the Dorky Daddy and I share a lot of the basics, and it cuts back on extra purchases and makes shopping super easy. We use the same toothpaste, soap, shampoo (I’ve even been known to use Hadley’s), deodorant…yeah. A lot. It’s also helpful to keep an eye out for coupons and know that you’re saving even more. 
But don’t share razors. Ew. If you’re looking to streamline your shaving experience and pay less doing it, try the Dollar Shave Club. For one low monthly price, they send you “f$%&ing great” razors and keep you smoother for cheaper. Seriously, for as low as a buck; what’s cheaper than that? $12 a year?! That’s nothing. Have you BEEN through the razor section of a store lately? Insane.
 
Dude, shop at a grocery store. This may sound weird, but my advice is to shop at a grocery store for your groceries.

*crickets*

Yyyyyyeeeeaaaaahhh. By this…what I mean is…okay. If you’re used to shopping for groceries at a store like, say, Schmalmart, think about how many times you’ve come home with something that wasn’t food or food-related. I’ll wait.

*clicks on Canadian TV station*

*clicks off*

*looks around*

*takes a drink*

Figure it out? Back when I used to shop at Schmalmart, in my glamorous bachelorette days, I spent about the same amount of cabbage that I do today at my local grocery store. While buying just food. For THREE people.

What busted my bill so badly back then? Extra crap. “Oh! $5 t-shirts! Seasonal candles! Clearance flats!” See what I mean? I ALWAYS bought something else — something I didn’t need — when I went grocery shopping.”

Side note: I also bought stuff like bottled water, soda, and a million more processed items back then. We’ve since gone “real food” and while organic is more expensive, the fact that I’m not adding on stuff like that helps balance the cost. Just sayin’.

While I know there are pitfalls of shopping at a grocery store (I do get my dish soap, washing detergent, toilet paper, etc. at the grocery store), it’s mostly food, so it’s harder to fall prey to the “buuuuuuyyyy mooooorrrre” monster. Also, I don’t kill an entire afternoon or a couple of precious hours shopping anymore. 

Make more sense now? Sweet.

Think old. It’s no secret: Dave and I are old souls. We probably over-romanticize the past and long for simpler, wholesome times (without all that bigotry and hatred). To be blunt, I wish we could live in a Capra movie. And it looks like Hadley is on the same track, preferring ’40s big band for dinnertime listening to anything else and he still kicks up his heels to Fred Astaire songs. (It’s like he knoooowwwws.)

But, I’m not suggesting that you take it to our extremes or start dressing all vintage or join a swing dance club. What I am suggesting is that you just take a step back and think about life back then and how you’d like to slow down your modern life a bit.

People grew gardens. People knew their neighbors and said ‘hi’ and sat on their stoops and dropped off cookies for no real reason (except maybe to say ‘thanks’ for watching their kids last-minute the week before). People only owned a handful of outfits, enough to fit into a single armoire. People owned the basics, but knew how to be happy. People were thrifty by nature and it wasn’t looked upon negatively.

How can you fit some of these into your daily life? We try to purge every season (and sometimes more than that) and keep only what we love. We question our purchases. We stop to talk to neighbors when we have a minute. We shovel their walkways when we have extra time. We wave when we drive to or from home.

And the occasional day offline helps you feel more connected with the life around you, a well. Our grandparents were the original YOLO generation; it’s good to look to them as models of a good life.

So, there we have a handful of methods that we like to utilize to “cut” (get it? Cut…) back our money a-spending and time a-wasting. Do you already use any of them? What tips would you add to the list? Did I rise to the “challenge”? Am I the only 30-something who joneses to watch “This Old House” and “Antiques Roadshow”? Answers! I need answers, people!

***Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated or provided with free products for my feelings. Dollar Shave Club and I partnered for the topic of this post. As always, all thoughts are completely, 100% my own.***

Cuckoo for Cholesterol

As in “even the word cholesterol lately is driving me a tad cuckoo.” I’m not talking about my own (actually, I need to get it checked; it’s always been okay, though); I’m talking about Dave’s. And if he’s got a problem to deal with, there’s no other way but than to tackle it as a team. That’s how we roll. So, most of the dietary changes we’re making apply to both of us.


And since I’m the solitary meal-maker 98% of the time, I feel to blame. I shouldn’t, he says, since he’s actually had issues since he was quite young (heredity, you’re a…bad word), but it’s hard not to feel more than a twinge of guilt and responsibility for the issue.

The toughest part of the whole thing is that, when we got the letter, we had just stocked up on stuff that his new doctor wants him OFF, immediately. We both appreciate the fact that she’s against statins (his last doc wanted him on them and, um, yeah…he left the guy; not because of the diagnosis, but because statins do crazy things to people). So, it’s finally time to buckle down.

The thing is, we’re real food eaters now. Always will be. But a handful of thoughts in the real food world totally contradict what the “traditional” medical community dictates for lowering one’s cholesterol.

Like whole milk and butter. Yes, they’re full-fat. There are studies that say, however, that individuals who consume year products (vs. lower fat versions) are actually less overweight with fewer cases of health issues than those who consume the low fat stuff. It’s perplexing, to say the least, and tough when you know it’s as much heredity as it is the milk on your Cheerios.

I’m also unclear as to how to wrap my head around the reduction in sugar in the diet. Like. Okay, does this just mean anything with refined sugar (like in coffee, which he doesn’t use) or processed products with hidden sugar (we try to limit this, too, and Dave’s actually better at this than I am)? Or does it mean ALL sugars; even the natural, known-to-provide-good-things sugars like maple syrup and raw honey? Dude loves his teensy bit of raw honey in his tea.

To an extent, the rest of the diet restrictions (cross through) changes I can get behind. 

Our biggest issue is how carb-based out diet is. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a need to reduce carbs when trying to lower one’s cholesterol, but she requested that he do it for now. Pasta is usually a once-a-week occurrence for us, as is an all natural pizza. The occasional side of organic macaroni and cheese, or panini sandwich for dinner add up to lots of carb-based food intake. Blah. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the roadblocks that change sets before us, huh?

But, I take a deep breath and look to my old friend, Real Food, for answers. What aren’t we doing enough of that we can adjust without totally turning our backs on our fundamental food philosophies? What are we doing “right” already that we can piggyback on? Here are a few thoughts…

'Tis the Season - image 5a0f8-cholesterol on http://megactsout.com
Less processed, more fruit n’ veg. I’m the first to admit that pasta and sandwiches and a dozen other meals I’m forgetting right now, no matter how organic and minimal the ingredients, aren’t necessarily “healthy.” We don’t sit down with a stack of carrot sticks (that picture’s taunting me) for a snack. I only bring apples to work (hence my consumption of them over the summer lessens). There are many days that I’m making lunches and have grown to ask Dave if he needs an apple; the reply is often, “Nope. I’ve got one from yesterday that I didn’t eat.” So, yeah. There’s the first step right there. Make fruit and veggies a) more available (ie buy a crapload more of them; I had found my “right weekly amount” to finally know that I wouldn’t be throwing any out, so I’ll have to change my thinking) and b) a bigger part of our eating experience.

Nuts to you! Speaking of snacks, nuts have the “healthy” types of omega-3 oils and fiber that help the body rid itself of the bad cholesterol. So, I’ll have to stock up on the right kinds.

Salads, salads, salads. Side note: Dave’s a salad guy. He’d eat it every night, so we’ve got that goin’ for us. I know a lot of people will say “but oils!” when it comes to salad. Since we only ever use oil and vinegar (or the occasional homemade vinaigrette), it’s not like we’d be dousing the thing in thick, super fatty, super unhealthy dressings. Plus, the extra virgin olive oil (high quality) is actually helpful for your good cholesterol. Remember: Our bodies don’t work without SOME fats. It’s also not like we’re chugging the stuff; portion control. I recently grabbed a bottle with a little pour spout and I tell ya that thing’s lasted twice as long as a usual bottle. 

Prep is the key. What makes packaged convenience foods (chips, granola bars — not always bad, but y’know, sugar — cereals, etc.) the thing that we ALWAYS turn to? Other than the tastiness…convenience, of course. It’s there. Ready. Waiting. So, taking time to prep the veggies ONCE (rather than when you’re already hangry and not willing to take the time) to provide yourself with several days worth of snacks is a good idea. Same goes with a fruit platter for the fridge (pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.), air-popped popcorn in an air-tight container or baggies, and any healthier alternatives that might make stuff more palatable (can you say “greek yogurt dip”?).

Consider your meat intake. We’re not HUGE meat-eaters, but we’ve been known to eat a burger or *gasp* nitrate-free hotdog from time to time. And it’s summer, so I don’t see not cutting it out 100% (see below). But, by trying to find some more vegetarian recipes that the THREE of us can eat (I’m not one for making 3 separate meals, folks), or finding new ways to incorporate less meat, more veg into our diets, I think it’ll benefit all of us. Plus, I hope to stock up on all-natural (if not organic…that’s one place Hannaford falls short) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and more fresh fish (ALWAYS checking for sourcing) options. 

As with all diets, it’s key to not beat yourself up. For example, since I haven’t been shopping yet and Dave didn’t have any alternatives, AND he had done an awesome job on his first cholesterol-attacking weekend (even when we went to a BBQ joint with his parents for a meal, he made super wise selections AND didn’t even haphazardly eat the dinner roll), he guiltily asked if I thought a small bowl of ice cream would be alright. We pondered it and discussed it, and I told him to set a limit for himself. Like, if he wants a treat from time to time, allow it, but say that “a small bowl of ice cream is okay once a week.” It feels far less like a black hole of deprivation (you know what I’m talkin’ about!) that way. Plus, now I know that he might benefit from some frozen greek yogurt treats in the freezer that will help him feel a tad less naughty.

Do you guys have any experience with a quasi-limited diet? Got any good advice? What are your eating habits, restrictions or not? As I talk to other people who deal with this, I find myself often saying, “Yup, we already do that. Hey, we hardly eat that, cool!” so it’s not as if we have super unhealthy habits to begin with. It’s just finally time to turn the focus back to ourselves. Oh, and you better know there’s gonna be more walking and exercising up in here. 😉 Apparently you can change your own genetic makeup by breaking a sweat. Who knew?