Friday Link Love (and some quotes): June 26, 2015

1.  Even children experience His Passion, for our natural age has very little to do with our Christ-age, and the fact of being in Christ at all implies a state of childhood in the soul, a child’s almost infinite capacity for experiencing joy and sorrow completely.

–Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

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I ordered a copy of Angel in the Waters for the girls.  I read it to them for the first time Tuesday night.  Girl 1 read it to herself multiple times and was weepy and mopey all day Wednesday.

“I just can’t stop thinking about Angel in the Waters. *sniff* “

“Does it make you sad?”

“No, it’s just . . .  *sniff* . . . The baby is just so little and so cute.  *sob*”

 

2. “Fed up with law practice? In about a year, you can be a computer coder, says lawyer who made switch.”  Pat has pretty much the ideal job.  I can’t say switching hasn’t crossed my mind . . . .

3.  We had the perfect family dinner a few weeks ago at my former-new-favorite sushi place (we’ll call it FNFSP).  The girls tried new food–shrimp tempura!  We called it “shrimp nuggets.”  The girls gobbled it down.  They loved using chop sticks.  Pat and I enjoyed delicious sushi.  Taking the girls out to real restaurants has been mostly disastrous for years, and this was like a light at the end of the tunnel.

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And then . . .

  • Both girls puked that night, and all the next day, and most of the next.  And then . . .
  • We felt better Saturday and took an overnight trip to my cousin’s graduation party, and then,
  • I stupidly bought them Happy Meals during the car trip, and then . . .
  • Girl2 puked in the hotel pool . . . multiple french fry filled heaves before Pat could get her out of the water (we tipped the unfortunate lifeguard/ pool cleaner).  And then . . .
  • She fussed and cried all during the pool party the next day.  We let big sister swim but not Girl 2.  I just couldn’t risk doing that to my uncle.  And then . . .
  • Last week we noticed some unauthorized purchases made on our debit cards.  We cancelled the cards, contacted the bank, got the money credited back, etc. etc.

But still . . . .

  • We couldn’t figure out how it happened.  Both of our debit card numbers had been stolen.  The cards were still in our possession, so they must have been skimmed.  But Pat hardly ever uses his debit card for purchases.
  • The only place we’ve both used our debit cards lately has been our own bank’s ATM and, oh yeah . . . .

at FNFSP.

Insult upon injury x 1000000000.

6.   Girl1: [out of the blue] “Man, I like Jesus too.”

       Girl1: “Mom!  Your bum bum is just like your [pregnant] belly!”

Girl 2: “I weally want Jesus to come back. . . . I weally want Uncle John to come back. . . . I weally want Jesus to come back.”  [conflated identities, perhaps?  they both have beards]

Girl 1: “That’s a picture of my mom and dad when they got married.”

LittleFriend: “Your mom looks really different!!!”  [So. I’ve. been. told, kid.]

Girl1 [just now, looking at the photo I posted of our FNFSP trip]:  “Ewwww, yuck.   From now on, I hate FNFSP.”

7. Have a lovely weekend. Click over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more quick takes.

 

Real Estate Related Brain Dump

Is brain dump a vulgar expression?  It sounds kind of crude to me.  But I wouldn’t know; I was homeschooled.  And anyway, a brain dump is what it is.  But with a real estate motif:

1. We are probably moving, after all.  It’s fun to be looking at houses.  We’ll stay in the same town, preferably in the same neighborhood.  It’s just time for something a little bigger and with a better layout.  And preferably a view!

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2. I’m having some inner turmoil over (hopefully) moving to someplace bigger.  Our main level is 1040 sq ft, with about 750 sq ft of finished basement.  I’m guessing 90% of the people in the world would consider this a HUGE house.  Even in this country a few decades ago, this house would be average for a family our size.  . . . At least once in the recent past, Pat and I said something to the effect of “We’re never moving again.”  We were committed to staying minimal with our possessions in order to fit in our house.  But somewhere along the line it stopped working.  There’s a voice inside telling me I should just try harder to fit into the house we have.  But I tell the voice to shut up.  Plus, the layout of the house is a pain.  No door leading directly into the back yard.  No entry way, poorly-placed doorways and basement stairs.  And a tiny kitchen, which makes cooking healthily from scratch that much harder.  Anyway, that assuages my conscience a bit. . . . Right now I’m already itching to start throwing stuff out and packing because the clutter overflowing in this little house is driving me nuts.  It’s silly because I know that if we get a bigger space we’ll just fill it with more stuff.  *sigh*

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3. We want to rent out our current home, instead of selling it right away.  Current rents are significantly higher than our mortgage payment, so it makes sense to try it out.  But being a landlord is a lot of work, I know, even if your tenants pay.  And if they don’t pay it’s a long process to evict. . . .

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4. What we’re doing first is refinancing our current mortgage, and drawing out some of the equity to use as part of a down payment on the next house.  Because the new loan will be at a lower rate, our monthly payment won’t go up.

5. I cannot tell you how weird it is to be typing this, because we’ve been Dave Ramsey-ish, super debt averse for a long time.  Borrowing more money against the house, instead of paying the mortgage off as fast as possible, and then getting a second mortgage–these are all things I wouldn’t even consider 6 months ago.  I’m not going into all the reasons we’re ready to take more risks, but we think it’ll be okay.

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6. We’ve been watching a lot of HGTV on Netflix (currently–Buying and Selling with the Property Brothers). (I want to play a Property Brothers drinking game sometime–one shot every time someone says “open concept.”)  The question   is–are we watching HGTV because we’re thinking about moving, or are we thinking about moving because we’re watching HGTV?  Hmmm.

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7. Because of all the HGTv watching, I think of more and more things we “should” do before selling our house.  The thing is, our house is worth about half of the lowest-priced houses you’ll ever see on HGTV.  So I wonder how many repairs and improvements would make a difference?  And even if we could get buyers willing to pay more, would they be able to get enough of a mortgage?  We just got the house appraised and I was surprised at how few details the appraisal took into account.  Anyway, if we rent it out we don’t have to worry about that for a while.  We’ll just have to figure out what improvements to do before renting it out.

Anyone have any moving/buying/selling/renting-out experience to share?

Click over to Kelly’s blog for more quick take posts.  Happy weekend!

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Shopping for the Perfect Health Diet at Walmart

The Results Are In.

English: Walmart Home Office, the headquarters...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Our total grocery spending for September was $1078.  (This includes diapers, paper products, cleaning supplies, and over-the-counter medications.)   I made all of our main, weekly grocery shopping trips at Walmart
  • This is a slight increase from our August total of $1059, when I did the bulk of our shopping at Aldi.
  • Factoring in the $22.40 required for gasoline to shop at Aldi that month, however, the total was $1081, which means . . . .

My grocery costs were basically the same at Aldi as at Walmart.

  • Our 12-month average before I started this experiment was $1188.  Wal-mart always has been my primary grocery store in theory, but I had slipped into shopping more and more at the closer, more expensive “regular” grocery store.

Shopping at Aldi and Walmart resulted in a net savings of $107-110 per month, or about 9% of our average monthly grocery expenditure.  

  • During both months, we made smaller trips to other stores as needed.  In August, these smaller trips added up to a full 50% of our grocery bill.  I attribute this to Aldi having a smaller selection.  In September, our smaller trips to other stores were only 20% of the total.

My spreadsheet has prices for various items at Walmart, Aldi, and our local grocery store (Martin’s).   You can see it here: grocery price spreadsheet.

Advantages of shopping at Walmart:

  • It is in near to our house,
  • It has low prices, and
  • It has everything.

Disadvantages of shopping at Walmart:

  • It has everything.  I can’t seem to walk out of Wally World without spending $230.  Why $230?  I don’t know, but the total is usually $230-something.  Our non-grocery household expenditures were $250 more the month I shopped at Walmart than when I shopped at Aldi.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  But there are so many other factors involved here that I’m not including this in my analysis now.
  • Okay, it doesn’t have everything.  I still have to go to other stores for items like rice syrup.
  • Also . . . I hate it.

Man, I really hate shopping at Walmart.  It’s huge.  It’s ugly.  It’s depressing.  I know I’m being classist here, but the general population there . . . you know . . . .  (As Pat put it, “We always see people we know at Target, but we don’t see as many people we know at Walmart.”  Yeah.)

Sometimes we went together as a family on the weekend.  This works, but Walmart is such a crowded, depressing place to be on the weekend.  It’s not so bad on weekday mornings, but that entails my taking the girls on my own.  That never, ever ends well.  And Walmart at night, after the girls are in bed, is a very scary place.

But a slightly more pleasant grocery shopping experience is not worth $1300 a year to me.

My plan going forward: Regular weekly trips to Walmart, plus one monthly trip to Aldi for items like maple syrup, frozen blueberries, and cheese, that consistently are cheaper at Aldi.  I’ll also try to make a monthly trip to the nearest grocery outlet (over 30 minutes away).  It has great prices but its selection varies widely.

What about you: where do you do your grocery shopping?  And if you follow a whole foods/ paleo/ GAPS/ Perfect Health Diet type of diet, how do you keep costs down?

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Can You Shop for the Perfect Health Diet at Aldi? Yes, but . . .

**Update: I get a number of hits on this post from people searching for whether Aldi has coconut oil.  As of November 8, 2014, the answer is now yes!  They have a 14 oz. jar of unrefined coconut oil (“Simply Nature” store brand) for $7, as I recall.  It was near the baking ingredients and cooking oil.****

 

I made my four main weekly grocery shopping trips at Aldi last month, hoping to lower our grocery spending.  Here’s the lowdown:

  • Our total grocery spending for August was $1058.72;
  • Our 12-month average before last month was $1188.32 (I had miscalculated this slightly in my earlier post);
  • I spent about $22.40 more in gas, as Aldi is a ways away from our house;  therefore we achieved a

Net Savings of $107.20, or 9% of our average monthly grocery expenditure.  

This is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s less than I had hoped.

The disadvantages of shopping at Aldi were

  1. The distance (not an issue for everyone, obviously),
  2. The self-bagging system: I find this especially burdensome when I have the kids in tow, and
  3. The limited selection: I still had to make trips to other stores to get things like coconut oil, coconut milk, dish soap, unsweetened almond milk, and all-natural peanut butter.
It takes all my moral courage plus a bag of chocolate pretzels to get through a grocery trip with this one.    And then I have to bag my own groceries???

It takes all my moral fortitude plus a bag of chocolate pretzels to get through a grocery trip with this one.  And then I have to bag my own groceries???

The advantages of shopping at Aldi are

  1. The limited selection: this has an upside.  I made do without some items or buying less expensive alternatives.  For instance, Aldi doesn’t have jasmine rice  (they had it when I went on Nov. 8, 2014), so I settled for less-expensive regular rice.  Aldi only has artichoke hearts in cans.  I prefer buying them in glass jars, which is more expensive, but I made do with the cans.  Etc.
  2. The price.  Obviously.   Aldi beats out the other stores for almost every item on my list (you can see my slightly updated grocery price spreadsheet).  I was tickled to find a good price at Aldi for real maple syrup:

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It’s sooo much better tasting and better for you than the fake stuff.  It isn’t Perfect Health Diet compliant, as far as I know, but I use it in small amounts for this recipe, a favorite of ours:

Man-Pleasing Chicken (woman-pleasing too!)

and for occasional treats like this:

For September I plan to make our weekly grocery shopping trips at Walmart, which is much closer to me.  Its prices are higher than Aldi but only marginally so.  I am hopeful that price difference will be cancelled out by the savings on gasoline.  We shall see . . . .

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Can You Shop for the Perfect Health Diet at Aldi? {Menu Plan Monday}

I mentioned a few weeks ago that our grocery spending has been wickety wack lately.  As in, averaging $1,119.50 per month for two adults and two small children.  (The amount includes diapers, paper products, household cleaning supplies and the like.)

So, for the month of August I’ve resolved to do our weekly grocery trip at Aldi, instead of the local grocery store, to see if it makes a difference.

I’ve done a price comparison chart you can see here if you’re interested.*  Aldi wins on paper, but we’ll see how it shakes out in real life.

Aldi and I have an uneasy relationship:

  • It’s about 25 minutes away, and I have to subtract about $7/trip from any cost savings.
  • Also, you have to bag your own groceries. . . . There was that time I bagged in a hurry because Girl 1 was pitching a fit.  I got home and dropped an over-stuffed bag of pasta sauce in the carport, sending tomato sauce and tiny shards of glass everywhere.
  • Then there was the time sensorily-sensitive Girl 1 held her hands over her ears for the first 15 minutes or so, sobbing pitifully that her arms hurt and she was scared, because of the buzzer that occasionally goes off near the dairy section.
  • Another time I was so exhausted after a trip that I gave Girl 1 a whole bag of dried apricots to eat on the way home.  And she did . . . too many of them . . . and had an unfortunate accident later on . . . at the library . . . in the middle of the kids section . . . in full view of several other families.  Fortunately, she’s still a bit young to get embarrassed easily.  I sent flowers to the poor librarian who had to clean up.
  • And just last week I got cocky and, despite prior mishaps, took both girls with me again.  Only about 10 minutes into the trip, Girl 2  tired of reaching behind her into the cart and throwing groceries onto the floor, stood up in the front set of the cart despite the buckle, and threatened a terrible tantrum.  I let her and Girl 1 run loose and throw grapefruit at each other while I aborted the mission, checked out with only half my list completed, and got the h*ll out of there.

Already I’m talking myself into grocery shopping at Walmart instead.  But I get so sick of Walmart.  And even though their prices are low, they sell, you know, everything, and I can’t seem to leave there without spending $230.

So I’m determined to give Aldi a fighting chance.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

* Not all the items on the chart are PHD compliant.  We still feed the girls sandwiches on regular bread.  And we can’t quite give up peanut butter.

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I’m linking up with Org Junkie for Menu Plan Monday.  I’m trying out a couple new recipes this week from Paleo on a Budget.  At least I’m planning to if I can get back to Aldi without both kids.

Breakfasts:  Scrambled eggs with avocado OR two-ingredient grain-free “pancakes,” OR  oatmeal (not completely Perfect Health Diet compliant)

Lunches: Our main meal (see below)

Dinners: Leftovers, some variation of a big-ass salad, a smoothie, or a baked sweet potato

Monday: Bare minimum mode chicken and potatoes (probably my favorite recipe ever)

Yummy baked thingy from Paleo on a Budget


Tuesday: Yummy baked thingy

Wednesday: Steak with mushrooms and onions, potatoes or rice, and a veggie

Thursday: Salmon some way or another

Friday: Cheese pizza using Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pizza crust mix

Saturday: Easy paleo chicken and spinach

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Men’s “Fashion,” Gluten-Free Bread, and Occupational Therapy: All In One Post, Lucky You! {7QT}

— 1 —

I enjoyed this piece in the Wall Street Journal, a sort of “but the emperor has no clothes!” observation on men’s fashion.   I especially like that it calls out the dress-shoes-with-no-socks thing.  I so very much do not get that.  Speaking of which . . .

— 2 —

Is this not the worst thing you’ve ever seen?

J. Crew Summer 2013, image via

Well, no this is:

Actually, even that’s not the worst.  The worst was in the J. Crew July 2013 catalog: guy wearing tight denim jacket over floral blouse with rolled up pants, no socks, and white dress shoes.  I just spent half an hour looking for it but can’t find it.    Half and hour wasted in search of ugliness.

— 3 —

Moving on . . . .

Girl 2 has had eczema on her wrists for, roughly, the last ten months.  On a hunch, I stopped feeding her gluten and–voila–eczema gone.

— 4 —

I’m trying not to wallow in mother guilt: Pat and I have followed (mostly) a gluten-free diet since October, but I’ve still fed the girls bread and such.

Girl 1 had eczema, too, when she was the same age.  We eliminated gluten from her diet for a while but it didn’t seem to help.  Girl 1’s eczema went away on its own.  So I kind of presumed Girl 2 wasn’t sensitive to gluten, either.  Poor kid has always been kind of fussy and a bad sleeper, and she’s been on antibiotics several times in her young life, and I wonder if it’s all related and . . .

— 5 —

Yeah, trying to avoid mother guilt.

— 6 —

I’m used to cooking gluten-free for all of our main meal, but it’s hard to get away from sandwiches when I need something quick and filling for the girls.  I’ve tried GF breads from the supermarket, but they were distasteful and expensive.  So, hooray for this:

Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free bread mix

which I made in the bread machine just yesterday.  Really really yummy.  (When it’s warm anyway.  Heat it up once it gets cold.)  Not compliant with Pat’s and my diet, but at least it won’t irritate Girl 2.

— 7 —

Girl 1 had her first occupational therapy appointment today.  It went well.  The therapist doesn’t think she has a big problem–maybe not Sensory Integration Dysfunction per se–but she acknowledged the issues I pointed out and said she thinks a few sessions plus some “homework” can help.   This is pretty much what I hoped for: nothing insurmountable but also not all in my head.

Thank you, Jen at Conversion Diary, for hosting today’s link up and giving me an excuse for stringing so many random topics in one post!

7 Pressing Concerns

— 1 —

Girl 2 wakes us up each morning at 6 o’clock on the blippin’ nose.  How to stop this?

— 2 —

Where should I sell my wedding dress?

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And the dress I wore to my sister’s wedding?

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Both were perfect for their respective occasions but I won’t be needing them again.

— 3 —

Why is my grocery bill over $1000 a month?  This amount includes diapers and paper products and toothpaste, etc., but that still seems like a lot.

— 4 —

Can I save money and yet stick with our eating plan by shopping at Aldi?  (This lady seems to think so.)  I went there this morning and am about to do a big price comparison.

— 5 —

How annoyed were the other shoppers by Girl 1’s belting out Sound of Music tunes over and over again?

— 6 —

I got an email this morning from my around-the-corner neighbor, with whom I am friendly.  She is going to be induced today at 42 weeks + 3 days.  I knew her due date had passed.  If I weren’t on the computer so much, would I have thought to give her a call and see how she was doing?

— 7 —

Will you please still read my blog even after all this drivel?

For more more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Dirt, Dust, Grime, Failure, and Profligacy {7QT}

— 1 —

I’ve been overwhelmed lately by the dirtiness of my house.  Everywhere I turn there’s a grimy countertop, a sticky floor.  I’m often inspired by tips and plans like this:

Thing is, by the time I’ve made meals, cleaned up after meals, changed diapers, wiped butts, and maybe done a load of laundry (maybe . . if I’m lucky), the day is over.  I suppose I have some time in the evening between the time the girls are in bed and I got to bed but (a) by then I’m tired and (b) . . .

— 2 —

I waste too much time on the internet!  Mainly reading blogs!  If you’re reading this and if you have a blog, it’s all your fault!  I’m reading your blog when I should be productive, or sleeping.

— 3 —

Really, though, it’s my fault.  That whole New Year’s Resolution of mine?  This is how that’s been going:

— 4 —

In other news, I felt a bit guilty/ rebellious because Pat and I didn’t sell raffle tickets for Girl 1’s school fundraising event a few weeks ago.  Once we got to the event, though, Mr. Badas* Tightwad got a few glasses of wine into him and became Mr. Moneypants of Generosity.  He bid on and won a two-night getaway for us.  (My participation could perhaps be termed “encouragement” but by no means reached the level of “egging him on.”  Of course.)

Later we pondered just how we would fit this spontaneous act of generosity into our budget and which spending category we would cut back on to compensate.  I blurted out, “Groceries,”  while Pat simultaneously said, “Clothes.”

Looks like my Style and the SAHM series for the rest of the year is about to become “101 Ways to Wear a Barrel.”

(No, actually, I have a guest post coming up soon that I am excited to share.)

— 5 —

We thought about it more and realized that we have some money budgeted for charity that we haven’t earmarked for any specific cause.  The money we spent at the auction goes 100% to our daughter’s school, which is a wonderful, worthwhile, non-profit organization.  So we could fit it in our budget that way.  At the same time, it doesn’t seem quite right to enjoy a two night getaway and call it all a charitable donation.  What do you think?

— 6 —

My sister, Martha, had her baby!!  He is sweet and perfect and his name is Sebastian.   I am so excited and happy for Martha and her husband Jacob.  Their baby boy is my kids’ first cousin on my side and my parents’ first grandson.

I won’t spoil Martha’s birth story, but I think I’m allowed to say that she was in labor for a total of, maybe, two hours.

— 7 —

**TMI Alert**

To say I’m extremely jealous of Martha’s natural birthing talent is putting it lightly. She got to  6 cm without any real contractions.  It took me, on the other hand, a full day of labor to get to 6 cm with Girl 1 (maybe not hard labor but still labor), and about eight hours with Girl 2.  And I had hours and hours left to go.  Have you heard of the condition called “incompetent cervix“?  I have the opposite problem.  My cervix doesn’t give up without a fight.

I don’t know much about Freudian psychology, but I can guess what it says about my personality that I am cervical retentive.  ;-P

For more happy thoughts, visit Conversion Diary!

My First Personal Finance Post: Amo, Amas, Amex?

Now would be the time to give background on Pat’s and my financial history, the path we’ve followed, struggles we’ve gone through, lessons we’ve learned. But, I’ve only got 10 minutes, so for now I just want to bring up this, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.

According to Consumer Reports‘ November 2012 issue, this is the best card for earning cash rewards. Pat and I put almost everything on our Discover card, pay the balance in full every month, and earn a nice little sum in cash back. So, perhaps this Amex would be a good fit for us. I like the idea of earning more cash back because it’s the closest you get to earning something for nothing.

Dave Ramsey would say this is a warning sign. It isn’t something for nothing because you spend more when you use plastic.

Don’t look at me like that Dave!

I know I know Dave, but . . . I really hate using cash. Also, my dad is the most frugal and debt-averse person I know (Hi Dad!) and he has used credit cards for personal and business expenses for years, earning a lot of cash back and never going in to debt from it.

However, this AmEx has a $75 monthly annual fee. There’s also a no-fee version but it has lower rewards. I hate the idea of paying a fee for something I can get for free. I would be obsessive about figuring out whether the additional cash rewards make up for the annual fee. Also, this card’s best cash back comes from stand-alone supermarkets whereas we grocery shop mainly at WalMart (one of the many distinctions between us and the typical AmEx cardholder). Hmmm. We shall see.