I spent so much time organizing the house that Christmas became a bit of an after thought. With the big day approaching I buckled down, bought gifts and checked off names on our rather short list. So far I’ve managed to keep the costs to a minimum. While I didn’t shop on Black Friday I did visit a local toy shop on Small Business Saturday to take advantage of the American Express $30 promotion. The toy shop offered a 20% discount and American Express provided up to three $10 statement credits for purchasing $10 or more from a local business on that day. I bought three toys, each at just over $10, and received an immediate email notification that all three purchases qualified. After tax I paid just $3.89 for three quality products and supported a small business in my community!
I also used a combination of coupons and Yes2You rewards from Kohl’s to purchase gifts for my niece and nephew. I bought five toys discounted at 50% off and beat even the lowest Amazon prices. A few of these gifts will be wrapped and saved as birthday gifts. Our baby is due right around the time of their birthdays and while I’m not sure we’ll attend the celebrations I do want to have gifts on hand for them. While I have a few months to purchase gifts I’m not certain I can beat the incredibly low holiday prices. Kohl’s has a killer return policy they’ll sill have plenty of time to return anything they don’t like.
For the past three years my husband and I have focused on experiences over presents and purchased just two Christmas gifts for my son. This year his primary gift will be a LeapFrog LeapReader that I purchased just after his birthday. It was on sale for $31.99 and included a free set of books that currently retails for $9.99.
I’m afraid to admit that the deeply discounted Amazon deals convinced me to buy a few additional items, but after coming to my senses I offered those gifts to my parents. My folks weren’t exactly sure what to buy our son so I decided to give them the ones I purchased. They refused to accept them for free and wrote me a check for the exact amount I spent. It was actually a great solution. They didn’t have to spend any time in stores searching for presents and I feel good knowing they bought the items at unbelievably good prices. In fact, this worked out so well I may do it for the next holiday season.
I’m happy to report that I also convinced my parents not to buy too many presents this year. I told them my son is just as thrilled with the idea of a gift than the gift itself and suggested wrapping snacks and bubble bath in favor of expensive items. They decided to contribute the money they would have spent to his 529 plan.
In general we cut back on giving gifts to the adults in our lives, which means we have fewer presents to buy. I made a free photo calendar for my grandmother and uncle thanks to the Pampers Gifts to Grow Program. I also used gift cards to buy a number of gifts for my mom as well as gifts for my son’s preschool teachers. Speaking of preschool teachers I spent a good deal of time writing quality thank you/holiday cards for them. Tears welled up in my eyes when I wrote of my son’s first few days of school and I hope that they enjoy reading those letters as much as I enjoyed writing them.
My Christmas shopping is now complete. I need to wrap a few remaining presents in holiday paper and a few more in brightly colored birthday designs. Then I can officially sit back and enjoy the holidays!
“Reality is burdensome to the undisciplined mind and so people avoid it by constantly seeking fun and distractions, albeit living confusedly. In adult life, we must train our minds to be watchful, thoughtful and resolute. We cannot alter what is, nor shape people and events to our liking; putting much effort into that is a sure path to frustration. Rather, we must set our minds to reconcile our actions to what is, rather than what we expect things to be.”
Instructive judgement, practical counsel, eternal truths and unconventional tactics to attain a fulfilled and happy life is what the author of the book, LIFE: Sentiments & Realities, offers the reader. In this book, Chris shares his insightful, combative, tough-minded and pragmatic thoughts on some basic life issues, encouraging the reader to choose a realistic rather than sentimental approach to life and, in so doing, achieve a robust, successful and happy life.
This is an extremely short book, only 115 pages, that can be read quickly in one sitting. It read rather like a stream of consciousness to me. A list of thoughts on topics that include: religion, business, love, friends, family, solitude, patience, work and happiness.
I was not a huge fan of this book. I simply did not like the matter of fact tone with which the author stated his beliefs and thoughts. For example, in the family section he wrote “family must be 100%.” There is something about the term must that rubbed me the wrong way. There are many sentiments that read in a similar fashion. It felt very much like I was reading the words of someone who would be unwilling to bend and compromise. There were many ‘my-way or the highway‘ revelations that I simply disagreed with.
For example, I consider myself an extremely patient person, but I disagreed with the notion that “anyone that has mastered patience is firm and is a master of self and everything else.” The generalizations throughout the book are broad sweeping and in my experience quite untrue.
I was very excited to find a book offering the ideals of a robust, successful and happy life, but this book did not invoke that feeling for me.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free, but the opinions I have expressed are my own.
Crop circles magically appear in Farmer Johnson’s field. A mysterious light sweeps over the night sky and awakens Farmer Johnson and Gilbert, the boy next door.
Curious, Gilbert ventures out to discover the source of the light and stumbles into a beautiful Martian girl sitting in a crop circle. Farmer Johnson also investigates the strange light, and thinking that Gilbert and Aoléon are vandals, he chases them. But they sprint to Aoléon’s saucer and escape only to be pursued by the U.S. Air Force.
Gilbert has never been attacked by swarms of giant killer robots. Never met strange aliens from other worlds. Never skyboarded across a megalopolis hidden deep inside an extinct volcano. Never trekked across a vast Martian desert. And never been eaten alive by a gigantic slor (well, almost never, unless you count Billy the fat bully at school).
And luckily, he has never ever confronted an evil ruler of Mars bent on conquering the Earth to steal its cows.
This may be the adventure Gilbert always wished for.
If only he can survive.
I remember looking up at the stars as a young child and wondering what existed beyond our world. I still believe other forms of life must exist in far off galaxies. Somewhere it seems there must be a planet similar in nature to our own that can sustain life in some form. Haven’t we all wondered what life must look like on other planets? We may not ponder this question often as adults, but as children the unknown fascinates us. This book will speak to those children who wonder what might exist outside of our world.
Part One of this book, (the only part I was given to review), is full of action and adventure. The story begins with a young boy staring into a telescope, wishing to get away from his feuding parents and wondering why the crop circles were forming in wheat fields in Nebraska. As the boy stares out into the sky he notices an object moving quickly toward him, followed by a bright light at a nearby farm. His adventure begins when he encounters a Martian who takes him on a fast paced spin around the globe while the United States Air Force pursues the space ship at record speeds.
The rapid chase is followed by a journey to the aliens home on Mars where the sheer advancement of technology make the young boy’s head spin in amazement.
The book includes colorful illustrations that appear to be computer generated. They add a comic book like effect to the story that helps the reader envision the alien, the chase around the globe and the Martian homeland. The images of the planets and moons as seen from outer space definitely help the reader feel like they are flying.
I think most children would love to read this book. You never know what a young Nebraska farmhand is going to encounter next on Mars and the speed at which this story moves is certain to capture their interest.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free, but the opinions I have expressed are my own.
Restaurant Management: First Hand Lessons from the King of Steak Houses
Black Angus Beef Chain Founder shares business tips, food recipes and personal memoir
Stuart Anderson had led a fascinating life for the past 90 years. He built Black Angus, America’s #1 restaurant chain of the 1980s, and ranched on a 26,000 acre spread where he raised cattle. His circle of friends has included Hollywood stars and corporate bigwigs. You’ll discover his personal history is a lot like the man – larger than life!
Anyone seeking to go into the restaurant business or moving into a food industry management position will benefit from the lessons offered in this book as Stuart Anderson shares both his success and failures. Told with wit, simple cowboy logic and clever business savvy, there are numerous vignettes included in this memoir to include tales from World War II, Business Startups, Management Feuds, Love Affairs, Community Service and semi-Retirements.
Aside from the personal story and professional information, readers – especially those who ever ate at a Black Angus restaurant in the past – most notably in the 1980s – will enjoy such recipes like the BLACK ANGUS POTATOES AU GRATIN, ORIGINAL BLACK ANGUS RANCH BREAD, BREAKFAST STIR FRY and BAKED STEAK WITH MUSTARD SAUCE just to name a few.
As a co-owner of a small company I really enjoyed reading about the entrepreneurial success of Stuart Anderson. This is one of those whimsical, easy to read memoirs that makes you smile. Anderson makes you feel like you are right in the room with him through every step of the way. Their is a candidness in his words. When he talks about the local liquor inspector he mentions mumbling, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”
Or the way he talks about the patrons that lined up at his bar waiting to be seated for dinner. “Say there’s a couple sitting in the bar looking straight ahead, rarely speaking, and when they do, they’re certainly not looking at each other. They want to be called to dinner NOW. Couple Number One consists of two spouses married to the wrong people. ” He goes on to talk about “Couple Number Two, who can’t get enough of each other. They don’t look at anything or anyone else and could not care less about when they’re called. You would love to move them down the list and move Couple Number One up.” The problem is you have to follow the order of the list. You can’t just move people up and down because some of them seem more uncomfortable sitting across from one another.
I love the way he speaks to the human nature of the patrons and employees of his restaurants. As you read his words you can picture the uncomfortable couple seated across from one another experiencing a blind date or the unhappy married couple who are going through the paces of going out to dinner even though they seem absolutely miserable in doing so.
There is an honesty and rawness in this memoir that I truly enjoyed. Despite his success Anderson certainly doesn’t come off as pretentious. He seems like the kind of guy you’ve known for years who is sitting around the card table stories. It’s an easy read with a lot of entrepreneurial advice particularly for those interested in creating a food service related company.
As a bonus the book includes a couple recipes in the back that sound utterly delicious. I have my eyes set on making Breakfast Biscuit Brulee.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free, but the opinions I have expressed are my own.
My nesting obsession continues to haunt me. When my son was born I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This time around I know there is a good chance that I’ll be absolutely exhausted for those first two to three months. Three years ago I exclusively nursed and my son was not a good sleeper, which meant waking up around the clock to feed him. My husband would take on diaper duties and pick him up and hand him over, but the rest of the work was up to me and I was quite frankly exhausted. If I was that tired three years ago with just one kid I cannot imagine how depleted I’ll feel this time around. Everyone tells me the bounce back time is shorter the second time, but I’m not so sure I believe them.
In addition to the typical decluttering, cleaning, nesting compulsions I recently had the wacky idea to pay someone to gut and remodel our basement. Since I’m in the second trimester and filled with a ridiculous amount of energy I decided to take on the sea of plastic containers myself. Demolition won’t actually begin until sometime in late February or early March, but I certainly don’t want to wait until the third semester to begin sorting through stuff and I don’t want to deal with any of the dust and debris that construction might kick up down there.
I’ve located all of the baby related stuff we might need for the first month or two. As I mentioned in a previous post I didn’t keep very many baby clothes in the zero to three month range, but there is a decent amount of baby equipment, blankets and co-sleeper related items hiding down there. I corralled the majority of it, but still need to spend some time sorting through the bins to see what’s really useful.
While I was digging I rummaged through the rest of the basement and purged and organized as much as I could. I can only work on this when my son is in preschool or taking a nap, so while this task may have taken just a week to complete it has actually been a work in progress for the better part of a month.
I donated a lot of things I didn’t love and took more trips to the donation center than I can count. The majority of items remaining are clothes that may or may not be used by our second child. Since the first and second will be born in opposite seasons I’m not certain much will be reused. Part of it will also depend on the height of this baby. My son is unbelievably tall for his age, but if the next one is an average height some of the clothes may actually fit during the appropriate seasons. I got rid of some hand-me-downs that weren’t in the best of shape, but decided to keep everything else a little bit longer. After all, some of this stuff has been hiding out in our basement for over three years, how is a few more months or even another year of storage going to hurt me?
The basement isn’t the only area I’ve tackled. In the midst of my reorganizing I decided to dive into the contents of a very large filing cabinet. That awful metal contraption took up a lot of space in a tiny room and I really wanted it out of there.
I shredded and recycled a small portion of the papers it held then got to work scanning the rest of them. I wish I had one of those ultra fast, high speed scanners at work, where I could load fifty papers and call it a day. Our scanner can only handle one page at a time so this process feels like its taking forever. I’m sure I’ve scanned at least five hundred documents over the past week. I scan as many as I can while my son is napping and I’m happy to see the pile dramatically dwindling. I can now fit all of the remaining papers in one box and the filing cabinet has already made its way out of the house!
Its actually been quite fun to comb through that filing cabinet. Among the treasures are love letters from my husband that were written over eighteen years ago, a postcard from a now deceased friend, piles of notes from my middle school years and a long lost envelope full of stickers I collected as a child. I also found handwritten stories I wrote as a teenager and journals I honestly didn’t remember writing in the first place. I am keeping some of the handwritten mementos and shredding others. With a digital copy available I don’t feel the need to retain all of the originals, but some things are too sentimental to shred.
I’m not finished organizing everything but I can feel the end is near. I still haven’t thought much about the baby’s future room, but I did ask my husband to remove an old dresser so I can make space for the things I’ve dug out of the basement. It’s strange how preoccupied I am with the rest of the house. I am trying to make space for all of the stuff that is about to make its way out of closets and drawers. Before my son was born we had plenty of room for baby swings and bouncy seats. This time the nooks and crannies of our home are filled with toys, which means a lot of things need to be moved out of the way to make space. My next goal is to tackle a toy rotation of sorts. I need to limit the number of toys swelling in our living room, which is also the room where my son plays.
My goal is to be done with this crazy nesting by the time the third trimester begins. Considering we’ll be on vacation when that time comes it seems I have exactly two weeks to finish!
As digital devices take over family life in subtle and seductive ways, what will happen to child development and family bonding when children spend more time with screens than they do at school or with their parents?
Life swirls at a hectic pace in most families today. That reality places a high premium on finding family time. Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, is updated for today’s digitally driven and time-strapped families, offering hundreds of easy ways to create treasured childhood rituals that your children will look back on fondly.
The book hinges on 10 Cardinal Rules designed to help parents let go of work or social obligations and commit to spending time with their children. Rules include:
At home, focus as much as possible on your kids.
Put away electronic devices so you can really ‘be’ with them
Choose activities you like; children can tell when you are not having fun and are ‘faking it.’
Little Things Long Remembered is designed to help maximize parents and children’s available time. Slow down to grab pockets of time—even a few minutes here and there.
Establishing Ties (gestures that take seconds or a minute or two to strengthen parent-child bonds)
Five Minutes More or Less
Half and Hour to an Hour or So
Special Circumstances — When You Travel
Special Circumstances — Sick Days
Special Days — Happy Holidays
Special Days — Memorable Birthdays
Readers are encouraged to pick and choose to match their needs and their children’s ages and personalities. The time you spend with children and what readers choose to embrace from within these pages will become as memorable and meaningful to parents as they will be to children.
I like how the author divided this book into sections primarily based on the amount of time you might have available to spend with your child. Whether you have five minutes, a half an hour or an entire weekend this book will provide suggestions that help you connect and bond.
I particularly like the idea of involving children in the decisions of every day life. Suggestions like ask them what groceries should be added to the weekly list, what meal to make for dinner or what activities to participate in that evening.
Two of my favorite ideas were sending your child a thank you note. For example, “Thank you for helping me rake the leaves” or “thank you for helping out with your baby brother.” While we say please, thank you and your welcome quite often throughout the day, I love the idea of reinforcing this with a note that will make my son feel extra special.
I also like the suggestion of writing a letter once a month to explain what your child is doing or the fun that he’s been having. I keep a journal of major events and milestones for my son. This makes him feel special today, but will also be something he can look back on later in life.
The author highlights the need to “relive the experiences to ingrain them in your child’s mind.” I completely agree with this sentiment. Before my husband and I put my son to bed each evening we recite the events of our day. We highlight the best parts, but also talk about the disappointments or discouraging moments that made up the major events of the past twenty four hours.
Telling these stories is now one of his favorite activities. At three he is now telling me his own versions and adding new ones about adventures and activities that define our daily lives.
If you are looking for a very quick read with simple suggestions for bonding with your child this might be the book for you. It’s so tiny I think it would also make a great stocking stuffer for any parent.
I drove to the drug store to pick up my prenatal vitamin refill on December 1st. I hoped to pick it up on November 30th, the last day before my health insurance renewed, but the idiotic pharmacy failed to fill it on time. They claimed this particular vitamin was out of stock when I called to see if it was ready. For the record, I placed the refill order on November 20th to ensure this kind of thing wouldn’t happen, but somehow the pharmacy still failed me. They claimed the problem occurred because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but they clearly had plenty of time to place the order before the holiday began.
I am partly to blame for this failure. I should have followed up a day or so before the 30th. I assumed ten days would give them plenty of time to complete the refill, obviously I was wrong.
The pharmacy’s delay would have cost me an additional $50. I say would have cost me, because I declined the prescription. I plan to call the doctor’s office on Monday to ask for a cheaper option, because paying $75 for a vitamin seems slightly insane.
If I can’t find a cheaper alternative I plan to investigate vitamins that can be purchased without prescription. My current vitamin includes DHA, which is a bit more expensive then the standard form, but over the counter vitamins don’t cost nearly that much. The question is whether or not they contain similar quantities of the nutrients I need. If they do then I’m happy to pay the $25 over the counter cost, rather than a $75 prescription markup.
Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom. On the bright side I used the Rite Aid UP Rewards from the previous prescription refill to purchase a bunch of items for free on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I bought hair ties, q-tips and other personal and household supplies that we actually needed. Each of these purchases kicked out another UP Reward, which means I still have another $25 to spend at the drug store. Diapers are on sale again tomorrow, so I might buy a few more packs to add to my stockpile. Between a few printable coupons and the drugstore rewards program I should be able to purchase another four packs for free.
This doesn’t exactly make up for the $50 difference in prescription costs this month, but it’s better than nothing.
So far I’ve managed to avoid the plethora of store emails streaming into my inbox. I’m deleting the majority of unread feeds in my reader too. Fifty percent off, free shipping, buy-one-get-one and every other type of sale tactic in between flashes on my screen, but so far I haven’t pulled out my credit card to purchase anything unexpected.
I did purchase snow boots for my son and underwear for myself. I held out on buying these for the last month or so in the hopes that Black Friday sales would include cheaper prices and free shipping. I was right on both counts.
It’s a good thing my crazy nesting urge started a few weeks ago. Digging through those plastic tubs in the basement allowed me to see just how much excess stuff we already own.
After my son was born I was blessed with box after box of hand-me-down toys. I can easily fill two large plastic tubs with toys ranging from zero to twenty-four months. And although I gave a few things away to friends with children, I still own the majority of big ticket items like swings and car seats that we’ll need. I am tempted to buy a few more onesies and sleepers in the 0 to 6 months range, but so far I’m keeping that urge at bay.
To be perfectly honest I haven’t shopped Black Friday sales for the last ten years. Rather than shopping on the days leading up to and after Thanksgiving I maintain the tradition of removing clutter and finding homes for those things we no longer need. My son and I have loaded so many bags into the car in the last three weeks that we’ve written a short song about donating to those in need.
Since this is a season for giving I decided to donate many of the toys in my gift box to toys-for-tots. I will admit that this was more of a struggle than I wanted it to be. I bought all of the items on sale at some point or another in the last few years with the intention of providing them as gifts for my son’s friends or niece and nephews. But as I cleaned out the house I could not help but feel those toys needed a new home right now, not months or possibly even years from now, so I boxed up a few of them and intend to gather up even more for the charity box at my son’s preschool.
This morning my husband took my son on a few adventures and I traveled to town alone singing and counting my blessings. As I drove across a busy intersection I was almost hit by a young woman who ran a red light at over fifty miles per hour. Seconds before that incident I decided to drive just a little bit slower. My light had been green for quite some time, but I wasn’t in a hurry and took my foot ever so slightly off the gas as I approached the intersection. Had I been traveling one to two seconds faster I am almost certain she would have struck my driver’s side door head on. Luckily I saw the car out of the corner of my eye and hit the brakes just in time to avoid her.
Despite a few medical ups and downs, my life has been filled with nothing but blessings. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.
As the year starts to draw to a close, it’s time to take stock of your finances and see how you’ve done with this year’s goals. Have you stuck to your New Year’s resolutions this year, paying down debt and adhering to your budget? If not, the problem may be due to a lack of actionable plans. If you find you make the same vague resolutions to “save more” and “spend less” year after year, it may be time to shake it up a bit! Here are five concrete resolutions that you’ll actually be able to keep in 2015.
Image Source: Pixabay
1. Calculate your net worth.
When was the last time you checked your financial health? If it’s been a full year or longer, it’s time to calculate your net worth again. Tally up your assets and liabilities, so that you start the year with a clear picture of where your money’s going. There are online tools to help with this, or you could spend some time learning more about financial planning.
2. Resolve not to be duped by sales.
Shopping at sales doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually saving money. If there’s something you don’t really need, try not to buy it even if the price has been slashed. Instead, resolve to shop around to compare prices on the items you do need.
3. Cut out a luxury that you don’t need.
Many of us resolve to “spend less,” but what does this really mean? Take a look at your expenditures in a typical month and see if you notice any patterns. Is there a magazine you subscribe to that rarely gets read? Do you blow the better part of a fiver on a cup of Starbucks every morning? Find at least one of these unnecessary expenses and resolve to cut it out this year. Make a trip to the coffee shop a special treat rather than a daily expense, and invest in a thermos instead. Stop spending money on books or magazines you don’t have time to read, and visit the library once a week. If you only choose one expense to cut, it won’t feel like you’re giving up all of your hard-earned luxuries, and you will be more likely to stick with it.
Image Source: Pixabay
4. Top up your emergency fund each month.
Even the best laid personal budget can be overturned by emergency expenses, whether it’s your car breaking down or an unplanned trip to the ER that isn’t covered by insurance. Even if you’re trying to put money into a retirement fund, college fund, and towards your debts, you should still resolve to put away a bit of cash each month into a rainy day fund. It doesn’t have to be much, and hopefully you won’t have to use it. But if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.
5. Plan your meals.
Taking the time to plan your meals for the week and write out a grocery list can save you money AND help you eat healthier. It takes a bit of time on a Sunday night, but it’s worth it and is easier to stick to as a resolution than simply trying to “lose weight” or “use coupons.”
If your meals are planned in advance, you’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases at the shop that can add to your bill and waistline.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew this year. By setting small, realistic goals, you may just be surprised at how much you can accomplish in twelve months!
Two years ago my brother and I officially stopped giving each other gifts for Christmas. I can say without a bit of remorse that I’m glad we ended the exchange. Every year it became more difficult to decide on a gift and the added stress and cost just wasn’t worth it anymore. It was a mutual agreement; my brother was just as happy to end the swap as I was.
Honestly, I wish I could end the majority of my gift exchanges. I’d prefer Christmas to work like Thanksgiving where we drive to someone’s house, eat good food, spend quality time together and head home.
More often than not I spend a lot of time thinking about what people will like and find that I receive generic, thoughtless gifts in return. Last year I received a particularly crappy, five dollar present as part of a family exchange. (Before anyone jumps in and says “maybe the gift giver can’t afford more than that” I will say with absolutely certainty that they can.) This particular person had no problem providing more thoughtful, expensive gifts to other family members.
I spent a good deal of time and money buying gifts for that person, but as the calendar rolls into December I’m not certain that I want to get burned again. I’m not really sure how to handle the exchange of gifts this year.
Do I continue to spend energy searching for gifts when I know full well that I won’t get anything decent in return or do I throw in the towel and buy this particular person something equally crappy? Ninety-nine percent of me says do the right thing and buy a nice gift. The other one percent says forget that; put very little thought or money into it and call it a day.
Unfortunately I cannot envision a way to end the exchange all together. That would be my preferable solution to this problem, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen without a larger conflict arising.
So what do you think? Have you ever been faced with a terrible gift giver? Do you have advice on how to handle my situation?