Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Amy - AKA "The UNDERWEAR Lady"

Ok, so I have a little bit of a dilemma.  Earlier this summer I was playing golf with a friend and at some point, to be quite frank, my undies started creeping and I had to "adjust" myself.  She jokingly asked if my undies were riding, and I jokingly replied that yes, they were, and that buying new underwear was part of my husband's and my financial goals for this year.  

Fast forward 1 week. 

My friend and I meet up again and in her hand is a little Victoria's Secret bag with, like, 9 pairs of panties! I laughed and joked with her, but was secretly mortified! She said that they were from her daughter's dresser (her daughter is 19, I think, and I am 34 with TWO children!), that she had so many pairs and was happy to part with some for the cause.  You will be relieved to know, as was I, that they ALL still had the tags on and had never been worn.  


So here is my dilemma... How in the heck do I thank her daughter?  I do make handmade cards, which is a hobby of mine (here is that blog), but what do I say? Thanks for the undies?  Although most of my undies were at least a few years old, I did have some new before the gift, but I don't want to come off overly grateful like a charity case.  I think it was a gift of good spirit and I guess I'd like to thank her in the same manner, but I just really have NO IDEA how to say it. 

At any rate, whenever my friend mentions me to her daughter, apparently she's like, "Oh, the UNDERWEAR LADY?" 

I Haven't Shampoo'd my Hair in Almost 1 YEAR!

Sounds completely gross, right? Well, for your peace of mind, I DO wash my hair, just not with shampoo!  Does this have anything to do with our finances? - Well, perhaps a little, but most of it has to do with my hair.  I have very fine, limp hair.  I have always struggled with changing seasons when my scalp gets itchy.  If I went more than 1 day in between shampooing my hair, it would look greasy, and that was regardless if I used $2 Suave or $20 salon brands.   And the last straw was after I had Max - my hair start falling out in clumps.  I never went anywhere without either a cap or a bandanna covering my head.  I was at the brink of shaving my head.

After a some time searching the web for some solutions - ones that DIDN'T cost an arm and a leg, I found a site that had some homemade hair washes and decided I had absolutely nothing to lose.  So, on Thanksgiving 2010, I shampooed my hair for the last time, and this was the best thing I ever did!

Ten months later, I can definitely tell which is new growth since I stopped shampooing.  I have a lot of "whispies" that is all that hair that fell out growing back! I take a shower at least every other day, but if I go a couple days (come on, you know you've done it too!) without a shower, my hair looks fine!  My hair ALWAYS looks clean, with shine, and fuller than it ever has! And NO, I am not representing any brand or company! LOL

So here it my secret hair wash...  are you ready?  

Here it is: 

It is really that easy!  All I do is fill my container 1/2 full of baking soda and fill the rest with water.  When I am in the shower, I get my hair wet and then squirt the mixture (shake it up well first!) over my hair.  No suds and it isn't exactly smooth, but don't worry!  I scrub my scalp and hair and then rinse it out well.  Next, I take my spray bottle filled with 100% vinegar and spray my head.  If you can stand the smell, it is TOTALLY  worth it!  I work it through my hair and rinse out.  This acts like a conditioner, making my hair super easy to comb through AND it adds shine!  And that is it! 

BONUS:  I also use the baking soda mixture to wash my face!  It feels squeaky clean afterward, and my skin is softer, smoother, and it has almost completely eliminated the occasional blemishes that I used to get.

I'll see if I can get a picture of my hair now to post...It is over shoulder length now, but I want to cut it short to get rid everything that is over a year old and, trust me, I can tell where that is!

I would love to hear anyone's feedback on this.  Is there anybody else out there who doesn't shampoo?  I admitted this to my sister a few months ago and I got a major EWWWW reaction, but when she looked at my hair, she was impressed.  I didn't convert her, but I just wanted to see what she thought. 

p.s. I do not use styling products in my hair.  I find that with the natural oils in my hair not being stripped away, I don't need those products anymore!  I rarely dry my hair with a dryer, but I will if I'm in a hurry.  I don't notice that that affects anything, except maybe less shine.

p.s.s.  Thank you to my 3 followers.  It is appreciated and it is nice to know I have a few peekers out there. ;)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mason Jars

Growing up, Saturday was always "clean the house day."  There was no playing outside or with friends until the house was clean.  My sisters and I used to grumble that the only reason our parents had children was so that they didn't have to clean.  Now that I am a mom, the idea of my kids doing the cleaning is definitely appealing!  I am no Susie Homemaker and, as busy as life gets, cleaning and dusting often get put on the back burner.   However, with a very small house and 2 small children, it sure doesn't take long for things to get messy.   I am forever trying to keep the clutter to a minimum and get rid of things we don't really need. When I can find something simple that can be used for many things, it makes me feel good about the precious space it takes to store it.

One of my favorite multi-duty item is the noble canning/mason jar.  No, I have never in my life canned anything.  I totally respect anyone who can (no pun intended) or willingly does this.  If I could  grow a garden, I could probably can veggies and save a ton of money, but I just don't have the green thumb, energy, or, most importantly, the desire to do it.  Nope, those jars in the first picture are our everyday drinking glasses.  They are pint jars and the half-pint ones are perfect for the kiddos.  Overall, they are just charming and, most importantly, inexpensive!  Yes they are glass and can break, but in the 7 years we have been using them for drinking glasses, I think I have only broken a couple.  They are surprisingly sturdy. 

My other favorite use for these jars is gift giving.  I often put my homemade powdered laundry detergent in a jar (recipe to come in the near future), dress it up with a strip of scrap fabric tied around the lid, and give as a sample for friends and family to try. 

Of course there are many other ways to use mason jars, and here are some of them.  If you are crafty, go to Etsy and do a search on mason jars - at lot of good inspiration there!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brand Name Vs. Generic...Toilet Paper Tragedy

Once money starting getting tight, I quickly realized that there were sacrifices that had to be made.   All of a sudden, the $3 I could save from buying store brand toilet paper instead of Charmin Plus Ultra Soft and Thick 5-Ply (okay, getting a tad dramatic there, but you get the idea!) was appealing enough to make the sacrifice.   Many times, the variety of generic toilet paper I have tried - and variety because I get whatever happens to be the best deal - has been okay.  However, I recently learned that while you can go cheaper, cheapest will leave you with a raw bum.  I made the mistake of buying a 1-ply (ugh, and why did I have to get the 12-pack!!) toilet paper that feels like a combination between tissue paper and fine-grit sandpaper.  TP should NOT sound crinkly! 

Here is the culprit!  The packaging is very deceiving.  As you can see, it says "soft and strong."  That would be a definite NO, and NO!  That poor little dog on the package.  This stuff would probably give the thing bald spots on his little hiney! 

I can't fathom wasting this stuff by throwing it away, so we are grinning and bearing through it (only 9 more rolls to go!).   Should I mention that we have guests this weekend?  I guess it is better than nothing, slightly better...  

I have seriously considered writing this company a letter about false advertising, but is it really worth my time?  Even if they sent me a coupon, etc., I can't imagine putting my family's privates through any more torture. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Frappuccino Recipe

Above is one of the coffee art pieces I have hanging on my kitchen wall.  I LOVE COFFEE!  There is nothing more wonderful then the aroma of fresh brewed coffee first thing in the morning.  I am by no means a coffee connoisseur.  In fact, I admit I can't even drink it black.  I take mine with sugar and cream.  

One of my favorite summer afternoon drinks is iced coffee.  If I could afford it, I would be all over a Frappuccino.  That was actually a staple item for me before I got married, but these days it doesn't exactly fit into our budget. (These days even coffee itself barely fits in our budget!)  No problem, though, because I know how to make my own! And it tastes just as good!  

HomeMade Frappuccino

Cold coffee
Milk (or half-n-half or cream)
Ice cubes

Fill a 12-ounce glass about 1/2 full of cold coffee.  Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.  Add enough milk until the coffee is a nice caramel color.  Add ice until the glass is about full.  Enjoy!!

Of course you can adjust the amounts to your taste - I use less sugar - but the key to the recipe is using cold coffee.  Otherwise, warm or even room temp coffee will cause the ice to melt quickly and then the drink is watery. I always have cold coffee on hand because I pour whatever coffee is leftover each morning into a pitcher and store it in the fridge.
Waste not, want not!! And what a delicious way to do it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I am a Closet Food Stamp Recipient

We have been on food stamps for 2 years and probably will lose those benefits come next "review" time.  I didn't want to do it in the first place.  I was embarrassed.  I was humbled.  I absolutely did not want a single soul to know we were on 'em.

Why do I even care? Well, part of it is embarrassment.  I know I shouldn't be embarrassed, but I am.  It goes along with that we should be able to take care of ourselves without assistance.  Part of it is that I feel like people in our community see us as successful business owners and I don't want their perception changed, and I don't want them to think we are sinking and stop buying from our shop.  And finally, perhaps most importantly, I don't want anyone's pity.

So yes, we are closet food stamp recipients.  We have never used our EBT/food stamp card at the grocery store that is less than two blocks from our house.  God forbid anyone sees it in my hands and the word gets out (small towns have big mouths!).  I used to drive almost 30 minutes away to a large grocery store where the chances of me running into someone I knew would be slim-to-none.  Then I found a grocer about 15 minutes away and rarely saw anyone I knew, so I have been going there to save on gas.

It's sad, I know.

My husband doesn't care.  I told him to not tell anyone.  We didn't even tell anyone in our family for over a year.  A couple family members know now, and now anyone who happens across my blog will know.  I guess I am willing to divulge this information because we are getting ourselves out of the bleakness that has been the last few years - knock on wood - and it's not a long-term (as in forever) thing we will have to do.   I am okay with it because it is a program to help people like us to help us get through a rough patch.

Are there any other closet food stamp recipients out there? 

Monday, August 1, 2011

5 Lessons From Being Poor

1.  Hanes cotton panties are just as comfortable as Victoria's Secret panties.  Yeah, you lose some of the sexiness, but it's really hard to feel sexy when you're poor anyway.

2.  I can cook just as well as good restaurants and in the same amount of time it takes to drive there, wait, and get served.  Even if I can splurge on a steak ( once a year), it still costs a fraction of eating out, and a quick search on AllRecipes will get me a marinade that beats the steakhouse every time. 

3.   My untrained sister can do a decent job cutting my hair, and that is FREE.  No, it does not look professionally done, but it is definitely passable.  Heck, I wear my hair up in a clip or ponytail 99% of the time anyway, so as long as it is long enough to put up, I'm good to go.

4.   Unless they are born with a silver spoon, young children do not know difference between this season's brand name clothes and last years (or earlier) secondhand.  I live near an outlet mall that has Gap, Old Navy, The Children's Place, OshKosh, etc., but secondhand clothes (even brand name ones) are still less expensive.  Hand-me-downs are even better.  Kids grow so fast and are more interested in playing than putting on a fashion show.

5.   Christmas is not about gifts.  It is about family and fun.  Last year, my sisters and I did an experiment with all the kids.  Instead each family buying each of the kids (ages 1 to 7) a $20 gift (a total of $240 worth of gifts), we each pooled in about $15 (for total of $45) and played games like holiday bingo, pin the nose on the Rudolph, scavenger hunt, etc., and had prizes.  Everyone thought it was way more fun than sitting around and opening a few gifts, and the kids voted to do the same thing next year! 

Care to share any lesson's you have learned from living on a much smaller income than you're used to??

Saturday, July 30, 2011

But Mom, That's Not Fair!

As adults, we are well aware that life isn't fair.  It just so happens that my almost-7-year old son, Quinn, has been going through a phase of "That's not fair!"  Wouldn't life be great if it was?  But perhaps it is true, it isn't fair that Quinn has chores when his little brother Max is too young for that kind of responsibility.  Don't get me wrong, a 21-month-old can be helpful, but it is above his abilities to expect him to be accountable for daily chores.  Apparently it isn't fair that we can't watch kid shows on TV all evening.  As adults, these seem petty, but to kids it means the world. 
Growing up and not always getting my way - and my parents were very good at not spoiling us - really helped me get through the roughest financial times.  No, it doesn't seem fair that we had no air conditioning  for almost 3 years because we couldn't afford to run (not to mention keep repairing) our ancient, inefficient unit.  No, it doesn't seem fair that pretty much the only holiday gifts Quinn got for 2 Christmases, outside from the very modest loot that Santa left, were from relatives at family gatherings.  No, it's not really fair that Quinn had to wear a snowsuit that was too small last winter because we simply could not afford to get him another one.   The list could go on and on.  Hopefully my kids are still young enough that there wont be very many long-term emotional effects.  In fact, I highly doubt Quinn ever recalls melting over the last 2 summers.  He was too busy playing outside with his friends.

Like any mother, I feel like I (and my husband) should be able to provide more-than-adequately for our children.  For the first year of financial difficulty, I was too proud to ask for help; not from friends, family, or elsewhere.  It was embarrassing to admit that we couldn't afford to keep our cupboards and fridge stocked.  We were barely making the mortgage payment, let alone keeping the electricity on (which I needed since I work from home) or gas in the car.  The breaking point was when I found out I was pregnant with Max.  I was terrified since I didn't have any health insurance and knew there was absolutely NO WAY that we could ever tackle a hospital bill for delivering.  I just knew that I would be giving birth at home with a 5-year-old as my nurse.  That was when I finally called Health and Human Services and they got me hooked up with Medicaid.  I was a bawling basketcase over the phone, and I am surprised the poor woman could understand a word I said, but the gravity of our situation and that we had to do something was just too much with the hormones I had going on at the time.  We also got signed up for food stamps, which was a GODSEND.  I guess I had just always pictured the stereotypical people (the type you see on Cops) on public assistance, not middle class folks who look the picture of financial stability.

I guess where I'm going with all this is that yes, life's not fair.  Instead of being bitter or spiteful, we just have to deal with it the best we can, make do with what we have, and work toward getting out of the rut.  It's been a very long road these last three years, and we're not completely out of the woods yet, but it has definitely shown us what we are made of, and I suppose that's a fair trade.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Not-So-Brief Introduction

A little bit about me:   
I am a 34-year-old SAHM/WAHM (stay-at-home and work-at-home) mom to a 7-year-old (well, 7 in less than 2 weeks), and a 21-month old, both boys.  I am a part-time medical transcriptionist (MT) and I relish the luxury of being able to work from home - a HUGE money saver! The company I work for is wonderful in that they allow me the flexibility to work around my kids schedules and no set-in-stone hours.  I am generally typing midday, when my little one is napping, and then for a few more hours after the kids go to bed.  In addition to MT work, I help my husband with his small business at his golf store.  I generally go for a couple hours every morning and tidy up, restock, take deliveries, and other miscellaneous things.  I've been known to take a shift here and there, but I try not to do that too often. 

Pertinent history that got me to this point: 
Three years ago my husband opened a golf retail store in our small town (pop. 3000).  The goal at the time was to do mostly internet sales.  However, in order to carry the selection of brands we needed, those suppliers required a "brick and mortar" store, and so we opened up a small shop.  With the economy in the tank it probably just wasn't the best time.  Internet sales were okay and local foot traffic was dismal.  It really felt like the world was crumbling around us.  We went from stable life in the the military, where all needs are "inclusive," to investing all our time, money, and energy into this business.  Things just were not moving along well enough to meet our everyday needs.  I had been trying to be optimistic, thinking "things will be better in a few months!"  Next thing you know, I am preggers with #2, we have no money, empty cupboards, and no health insurance.  It was a pretty low time in my life.  I had to act like everything was just dandy not only for my son, but also for everyone in town who didn't know our "real" situation and just saw us as business owners.  It was immensely humbling having to have to apply for food stamps and Medicaid.  Even with those benefits, that doesn't buy clothes, personal hygiene items, laundry soap, etc.  I spent a lot of time browsing the internet trying to find ways to do everything low-cost and homemade.  I made a lot of discoveries and learned a lot about making do, and really just realizing how unimportant material things are and what a big role marketing has in making us think we "need" certain things that frankly we really don't!

Finally, last summer it was getting to the point that we were so far in the hole that we were literally a few weeks from closing the store doors and filing for bankruptcy.  However, my husband has a very determined personality and decided to move our shop to the outlet mall a few miles up the road just off the interstate.  It was a last desperate attempt at making the store a success.  And guess what, it's working!  In the last year, we have dug ourselves almost completely out of the hole we dug over the first 2 years of business.  Don't get me wrong, we are not even close to easy street.  We are still functioning on a very low overall income with very little extra, but we are able to breathe a little easier.

Why a Blog?
Frankly, I'm not sure.  Seems as good a place as any to get it all off my chest, perhaps share a few ideas and tips that have helped us over the last few years.  Being in a dire financial situation is NO JOKE and we seriously would not have made it through without the help of government assistance, family, and friends.  

My Goal:
To be completely candid about our situation.  Though many times it feels very isolating, I know there are millions of people who have been  are in the same, if not worse, situation.  If I can bring a smile or make someone else feel like they're not alone, mission accomplished.