Friday, May 22, 2009

Be Back Soon.

Due to some family commitments, I will be taking a week off from blogging and probably the Internet in general. I might check my email just so I don't come back to an overloaded computer. I will be back the first week of June refreshed and ready to continue focusing on improving our Family Balance Sheet!

Have a fun and safe Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When life gives you an ear infection, make sure you get a gift card.

Out of the blue last Thursday I got an incredible pain in my left ear. It started around 6pm and by 10pm I couldn't stand it anymore so I downed a couple of Aleve so I could fall asleep. I woke up Friday morning and the pain had subsided but I couldn't hear. My ear was closed up and ringing.

I don't get sick. I go to an OB/GYM annually, but I can't remember the last time I had to go to my family doctor. When I called his office, the receptionist politely told me that since I haven't been into the office in over 6 years, I was considered a new patient. I had to make an appointment for a new patient exam and they could see me in August. Oh and the ear infection, I would need to go to the ER. Okay, glad to see the medical profession isn't affected by the economy.

The ER was out of the question, so I went to an Urgent Care facility that was near my house. I saw a doctor within an hour and apparently I had an ear infection that he normally sees in five year olds. Yikes. He gave me two prescriptions for some drugs that I wasn't too keen on taking. I had my chiropractor adjust me several times and the pain went away, but my ear was still closed, so on Monday I decided to get the drugs.

Ironically, I received a coupon, attached to my receipt, a couple of weeks ago at CVS for a $25 gift card with a new prescription. I usually don't keep these coupons because I have never had a need for them, but thankfully I still had it and I was able to score a $25 gift card for my 2 prescriptions. Sometimes, deals are just too easy.

Although it wasn't a total coup, the two drugs cost me $46 after my insurance, but I was desperate because I.CAN'T.HEAR. Apparently one of the drugs doesn't have a generic version yet.(What are they waiting for!!) Anyway, we have a health savings account that we use to pay for our medical out of pocket expenses.

On the bright side, I'm an optimist and I now have a $25 gift card from one of my favorite stores, CVS. I am going to have fun seeing how far I can stretch it.

Have you taken advantage of the prescription gift cards lately?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Front yard landscaping - We did it ourselves!

Beware: Attack of the killer yews...

We bought our house from an older couple who decided to downsize into a smaller home. They were the original homeowners of the house that was built in 1969. They took very good care of the house and just a few years before we bought it from them they replaced the windows, roof, siding and garage door; all of the expensive exterior stuff. What they never did was update the inside, so when we bought the house in 2001 we spent the next 5 years updating the interior of the home.

Finally in 2006 we were able to attack the killer yews that had overgrown on our front landscape. As with most of the renovations to our house, we set out to do the project ourselves. And like the rest of the projects, we were not experts, so it took a lot of planning and research.

We had to hire someone to dig out these big over-grown shrubs that blanketed out house. It was unfortunate, but necessary, they weren't coming out with a garden shovel. We had the shrubs removed in the fall of 2006 and as you can see the house looked pretty bare, but so much better at the same time. We didn't realize how overgrown the 37 year old shrubs had become. We hated them so much that we stopped caring what they looked like.

We spent that winter researching, reading and planning our new landscaping. As everything started to blossom in spring of 2007, we would drive around to other neighborhoods and take pictures of landscapes and plantings that we liked. I combed through books and magazines at the library and Borders looking for ideas. Our goal was to plant everything over Memorial Day weekend of 2007. It was getting down to the wire and I still didn't have a solid plan to work with.

In the nick of time, a local nursery advertised FREE landscaping planning if you brought pictures to the nursery. This was an amazing opportunity. I drew out a garden on graph paper, but I was having trouble placing plants. I took my drawing and photos to the nursery and a landscape designer gave me some ideas. This was the help that I needed.

The big shrub in the middle of this picture is an azalea that we kept from the original landscape. It was overshadowed by the old yews. It looks so pretty in early spring when it blooms. The little skinny tree to the left of the azalea is a Japanese Maple. We planted 4 St. Johns wort around the maple and an alberta spruce at the corner of the house.
Right under the picture window are 3 Pieris 'Mtn Fire' plants and 2 silver sword azalea plants.

In front of the the alberta spruce is goldflame spirea and to the right is a hydrangea. Right in front of the door are 2 rose glow barberries and 3 gold barberries.

Fast forward to April 26, 2009. The bulbs are blooming, but I need more color. Note to self...plant more bulbs in the fall. All of the plants in this corner are very healthy.

Fast forward to May 9, 2009. It is amazing how fast plants grow and bloom in the spring. I love this corner of the landscape. The bulbs are done. The St. Johns Wort will bloom yellow flowers over the summer. These are much bigger and hardier than we realized they would be, so we might remove one plant and spread three out. We'll move the fourth plant to the back yard.

Bay window - April 26, 2009.

Bay window - May 6, 2009. We are not happy with this part of the landscape. These plants didn't fill in. Hopefully they just need more time. I am going to fill in with some perennial flowers. This section needs some help.

The front door - May 6, 2009. I'm pleased with how these plants are filling in.

I love this 'Gold Flame' Spirea.

We still have some work to do, like the center of the landscape. I also want to fill in with some perennial flowers and more bulbs. When we first started this project I wanted to hire a designer to help us plan a layout and his crew to plant everything. My husband was the one who said, NO, we can do this ourselves. I am so glad we did it ourselves.

I am not sure how much we saved by doing the work ourselves, but I do know my parents hired someone to design and plant their front landscape of about the same size for $1000 and that didn't include the plants. We bought all of these plants from three different nurseries and took advantage of the coupons they were offering at the time. I do remember paying a little extra to have the compost and mulch delivered, but we don't have a vehicle to haul all of that ourselves.

In the end, we actually had fun planning, designing and planting the landscape. We are really proud of the work that we did and I am sure we saved ourselves a ton of money!

What do-it-yourself home improvement projects are you most proud of?

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This week's carnival

Check out the Make It from Scratch Carnival over at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Taking a break from deal least this week.

Do I really need another tube of toothpaste? How much deodorant does one family really need? These are questions that I am asking myself this week. I am grateful that there aren't any exciting deals for me this week at my favorite store, CVS. I am grateful for the break and my kids probably are too.

I was a deal chaser years ago before I had kids. I was an avid rebater at Rite-Aid and CVS. I had loads of health and beauty products and I was very happy to donate what went unused. For some reason I unconsciously stopped the deal chasing, I really don't know why. Only recently have I started up again. I am sure my recent discovery of 'deal' blogs has helped. I am grateful for those wonderful women who alert me of the possible deals to be had at CVS, Rite-Aid, Target and Walmart, but this week I am taking a break. It came to me when my dd#1 asked me last week as we were pulling into a mall parking lot, "we're going to Target again, Mommy?'.

I know these deals help our grocery budget, but I am beginning to realize that I have to put a limit on this deal-chasing bug that I have been bitten by. I have to become okay with letting an amazing deal go by, because I am sure it will swing by again in a few weeks or so.

I think this is what happened last time, I got sucked in by a potential money-making deal of deodorant and I went over-board. Upon reviewing my bathroom closet(above photo), I realized today that I have enough stuff to last me for a long time, at least until the bug hits me week.

Are you a deal-chaser? Have you ever felt the need to take a break?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chocolate cupcakes

I love to cook and would much prefer to eat something homemade then made from a box. Homemade food tastes better to me and my family and a lot of the time the meals are healthier and less expensive than their store made, processed counterparts. Make It Yourself Monday gives me a chance to experiment with some recipes that I might not have tried before.

It is no secret that my family has developed a cupcake habit. Recently for a play date, dd#1 and I made chocolate cupcakes from a chocolate cake recipe that my mom has been using forever. Most of my birthday cakes growing up were this recipe. Enjoy!

Mix together:
1/2 cup crisco oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Add 3/4 cocoa powder followed by 1 cup hot coffee

Pour batter into paper cupcake cups. Makes 12-24 depending on the amount of batter. Fill about 1/2 full. I put too much in and some baked over.
Preheat oven at 375, bake for 25-45 minutes depending on size of pan and your oven. I baked about 25 minutes for the cupcakes. Do the toothpick test to see if done in middle.

2 cups 10X sugar
1 egg white
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup crisco
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat egg white, add 1 C 10x sugar and beat together. Add second cup 10x and the rest of the ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Ice the cake after it has cooled and with the icing at room temp.

We decorated our cupcakes with leftover Easter sprinkles that just happen to be all of my daughters favorite colors ;)

Other MIYM recipes that you might enjoy:

Strawberry cupcakes

Grammy's sugar cookies

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