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Monday, July 28, 2014

I'm Losing My Marbles!

There are definitely a few times a week if not more that I feel like I am losing my marbles in one way or another as I navigate through this crazy and wonderful life!  I really am losing my actual marbles every week, and it's one of the best little things keeping me grateful and in the moment.  It's actually something we've implemented called Legacy Marbles.  It was introduced to us in a sermon one Sunday at church.  The idea is that you only get 936 weeks from the time your child is born to the time they leave the house after high school graduation.  The concept is if we count our weeks, we make our weeks count more.  It's had an amazing impact on me.  It's helped me to focus more on what matters most, and spend more quality time with my kids.  My conversations are different with them, and I find myself enjoying moments more.  Every Sunday night I take a marble out of each kids jar and put it away in the bag the marbles came in.  It's a weekly ritual I've come to enjoy.  I meditate on the victories and even the shortcomings of the week, and say some prayers as I look forward to the next week.  Over time, you can see the marble levels decreasing.  This is not meant to depress, but rather to inspire us to perhaps live our days a little more intentionally.  In addition to the book, I bought the precounted bag of marbles.  You could buy your own, but last I calculated, the price is about the same, and it's worth it not to have to count them all!  You will have to count a while lot of them if you already have kids.  That was the hardest part!  I may have missed taking a marble or 2 out here and there, but I'll figure that out during the last few weeks of high school and adjust it then.  There are also special marbles for birthdays, graduation, and special events in the child's life.    I used 2 vases I found at the 99 Cent Store to display the marbles in.  One thing I thought about as I write this post - I really need to put some museum clay on them. We live in earthquake country and one big jolt would send them flying everywhere!  Check out this link HERE for more information on Legacy Marbles, the accompanying book, and how to purchase your own.  Cheers to losing your marbles!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Join the Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 7/20/14

http://www.jointhefarm.com/



Large Share Box Contents:
Carrots
Cucumber 
Green Onions
Fennel
Tomatillos
Tomatoes
Swiss Chard
Crookneck Squash
Lemon
Lemongrass
Green Beans
Oranges
Bell Pepper
Beets
Avocado
Zucchini
Watermelon
Casaba Melon

The Usuals (Stuff I make almost every time we get our box!):
Cut up Carrots, Bell Pepper & Cucumber to dip in hummus
Lemon Water
Avocado - Good plain, with scrambled eggs and in quesadillas. For a dairy free quesadilla, give Daiya Cheese a try - it melts the best!
Watermelon, Casaba & Oranges are amazing snacks in this summer heat - try infusing some in water too!
Fennel roasted with salt, pepper & parmesan

Lemongrass Tea
Imake a big batch of hot tea then simply save the rest in a pitcher that I put in the fridge for later to drink as iced tea.  I prefer the taste without any sweeteners.
If you don't want to do tea, try this:  Black Rice with Coconut (and Lemongrass)

Roasted Tomatillo & Tomato Salsa 

Roasted Beet Crostini

Zucchini Spaghetti (Zoodles!) & Meatballs - I'll be using Trader Joe's Vegan Meatballs

Green Bean Salad

Spicy Bean Soup - Using Crookneck Squash & Bell Pepper

Enjoy!




Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Tips for Shopping at the 99 Cent Store

1.  Find the Healthier Items:  Stores get different items in throughout the year.  While there are a lot of junk foods there, you can still find some healthier options.  In my opinion, even these healthier options are on the junkier side (whole and homemade foods usually being the best), but you can score some good finds that are perfect for days when you are out and about.  In my recent trip I got pretzels (which are there quite often), organic cheese crackers (for my dairy tolerant kid), applesauce pouches (I would prefer organic, but for every once in a while I'll get this), Honest Organic Juice, yogurt covered raisins and regular raisins.  There is usually a good selection of dried fruit and occasionally some granola bars that are not entirely sugar laden.  This is the perfect example of snacks I would stock up on for a family trip, as mentioned in my post "A Frugal Family's Path to Disneyland."



2.  Be on the Lookout for Name Brands and Better Quality Items:  You typically won't find great quality items, but occasionally some sneak in.  This week I found a pack of Hanes girls underwear, and sunglasses and tights of brands you will find at some big retailers.  You also can't go wrong with things like flip flops.  I like to get these for my kids to wear to the pool or beach.  I stocked up on a few sizes!  I also found my favorite kids flossers there.  Watch out though - a few weeks ago I got a pack of 60 plain white flossers, while these are only a pack of 30.  This brings me to my next tip.



3.   Read Labels Carefully!:  Something my look like a better deal, but if you look at the quantity you are getting, that may not be the case.  Take note of how much product you are actually getting to see if it is comparable to what you get at a grocery store.  Also note the expiration dates!  Sometimes items end up at the 99 Cent store because they are close to expiring.  If you are going to use them right away, go for it.



4. Shop the 99 Cent Store First, Before You Head to the Grocery Store:  This is important, especially if you do not use coupons or if you are on a little hiatus from couponing. I just finished such a hiatus and am glad to be back in the swing of things.  It was so nice to score some deals on things like toothpaste and flossers before I headed to the grocery store.  Discover what your 99 Cent store staples are.  One of my staples is band aids.  My kids go through band aids like crazy!  They love these animal print ones.  I also like stocking up on dried beans and veggie pasta. You could most likely find just as good if not better deal on dried beans at a store that sells bulk items, but these are good in a pinch. 




5.  Don't Forget Your Party Supplies:  Planning a party?  Wrapping a gift?  Shop here first for these items.  I don't think I've bought a gift bag in a long time because I keep recycling them, but if you do need one, don't pay over a dollar!  I was able to stock up on some party favors for a birthday party.



Did I mention they often have Disney items?!  I grabbed these items to add to my Disney swag bags - a collection of a few things I'm getting on the cheap to avoid the high priced gift shops at Disneyland.



I leave you with some other finds.  What are some of your best finds?








Sunday, July 20, 2014

Slashing Sugar Intake!

It is pretty well known that sugar has some great dangers associated with it like diabetes, weight gain, reduced immune function, and more.  Sugar is extremely addicting as well.  Just have one candy bar or sweet of your choice and I'll bet your brain cells are doing the happy dance wanting more! I thought I had reduced my sugar quite a bit.  When I would eat or drink items that are high in sugar, it's like I can feel my body going into a kind of shock.  Best way I can describe it is that I feel like my immunity is plummeting and glands feel slightly swollen, followed by a crash.  I was curious to know more about the dangers of sugar, and to know just how much I should avoid it.  My friend Michelle D'Ambra wrote this fabulous e-Book, available on Amazon:



This book is a quick but powerful read.  It gives some great information on how much sugar intake we should aim for, why reducing our sugar intake is so important, and tips on helping you along the sugar detox journey.  One of the best parts is that Michelle offers a Facebook support group for those going through the detox.  I love me some accountability!  This was an easy detox to implement as well, making sure sugar intake is below a certain amount each day. Sugar tracking was a snap when I entered my daily foods in MyFitnessPal.  I had a lot of eye openers along the way too.  Some foods that you would think are pretty healthy, are actually loaded with sugar.  I am now reading a lot of labels and shopping for some new grocery staples.  I even have a new favorite coffee drink that is not only 35 grams less in sugar (That's a lot!) but costs a lot less too!  If you are on a journey of health, consider making this book and sugar slashing a part of your journey!



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Join The Farm Large Share Meal Plan - Week of 7/6/14

http://www.jointhefarm.com/JoinTheFarm.html

I hope everyone had a fabulous Independence Day!  We start back up with veggie boxes this week, which means it's time to plan out what to do with all of that wonderful produce!  Please remember this list is subject to change a bit depending on availability & farming conditions.  Also note, we have switched our family to the bi-weekly plan, so I will not be writing out another plan until the week of July 20th.  Most of these recipes are vegan or vegan friendly. 

Large Shares

Green Onions
Fennel Bulb
Thyme
Baby Watermelon
Summer Squash
Meyer Lemons
Imperator Carrots
Romaine Lettuce
Ruby Lettuce
Green Bush Beans
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Ruby Beets
Cucumbers
Italian Basil
Golden Nugget Mandarin Oranges
Hass Avocado

Baby Watermelon & Oranges will be individual snacks, as well as a few Avocados - we just grab a spoon and eat it plain!  

I also cut up the Cucumbers for snacking. They are wonderful dipped in hummus.  Check out this You Tube Video on how to cut & seed them to reduce the gassy affects.

Salad made with Ruby Lettuce, Fennel Fronds, Green Onion, and some Orange slices.  I'll probably also throw in some dried cranberries and whatever nuts we have on hand.

Don't forget to drink your Lemon water every day!

Carrot Beet Juice - I'll just be throwing these in our Vitamix.  

Cheesy Summer Squash Spirals - I'll be using some vegan cream cheese mixed with some of the Thyme & Basil. Great appetizer!

Scrambled Eggs Over Fresh Sliced Tomatoes & Basil - Make it a breakfast for dinner night!

Orange Scented Green Beans with Toasted Almonds (scroll to end of page for this one - other recipes listed here too!)

Orecchiette with Roasted Fennel & Sausage - I'm cooking this one up again, using some vegan sausage.

Neely's Chickpea, Ham, & Swiss Chard Soup  - For the vegan option, use vegan ham.  Whole Foods has it.








Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Frugal Family's Path to Disneyland

Ah Disneyland.  If you live in or grew up in Southern California, chances are it has played a part in your cherished memories.  I have some wonderful childhood memories of Disneyland.  I have a cherished picture of my mom holding me at the entrance when I was a baby, and I even performed in Disney's Magical Music Days a few times.  Throughout the 1980's I visited there a handful of times for special occasions like Birthdays and even as a reward or ceasing sucking my thumb!  We lived approximately 2.5 hours away, and I think I only remember staying at a hotel once.  I have fond memories of falling asleep in the car ride home, all tired out from wonderful magical days.  Fast forward a few decades.  I now have 2 children of my own.  We have not been to Disneyland as a family yet, but boy do my kids know about it!  They know a few characters and have heard some friends talking about it.  My daughter is so cute when she pronounces it as "Dis-a-ney-land." We definitely want to give our kids this experience, but we do not want to pay the high prices!



We're a pretty frugal family.  We have financial goals and practices that I am pretty confident in saying are probably considered weird or different from the vast majority of Americans.  Being graduates of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (which I think everyone should check out - his books too!), we do our best to practice "Living like no one else, so you can live like no one else."  It's sometimes the harder road to follow, and we still have some areas of finance that are going better than others, but it's a work in progress that is having some amazing results.  I do believe it's this different view of how to handle money that has me so perplexed at the whole Disneyland experience.  I have absolute sticker shock at the price!  We have been to Legoland (off season rocks!  I need to do a post on that!), Sea World, zoos, Knott's Berry Farm and a bunch of smaller attractions throughout southern California.  We took advantage of BOGO admissions, coupons, and season passes for the zoo that paid for itself in 2 visits.  We've learned some tough lessons along the way too, like beware of all the money traps at your local carnival. 

Let's first evaluate a few financial facts.  It's interesting to note the history of Disneyland ticket prices under Section 9 in this article Here.  I'll allow for some obvious inflation.  Comparing to the other theme parks, the current $96 adult ticket price and $90 kids price still has me shocked!  It is by far "ears above" the other parks in the experience factor - I'll give it that.  But if it's taking at least $700+ out of our budget for just a single day only (maybe 2 day) experience (I'm including gas, food, tax, and extras) you better believe I'm going to find out every way possible to save as much cash as possible, not have it affect our current budget and financial goals, and also make sure we are getting the biggest bang for our bucks. 

Check out my spreadsheet comparing the current prices and deals we found for Disneyland California as of July 4, 2014.  This is for a family of 4, 2 adults and 2 kids.



Considering we are saving up for this trip outside of our current budget, and we want to only spend a smaller amount, the only 2 options we are considering are the 1-Day (1 park) tickets or the 2-Day (1 park per day) tickets with the AAA savings.  Being realistic with ourselves, there is no way we would visit 6 or more times per year (see notes on the spreadsheet) to even break even with the cost of the annual pass options, nor do we even want to spend that much. 

Now for the fun part - building up our fund and finding even more deals on some of the extra costs!  Our trip so far has been funded by a combination of selling toys and household items, a monetary gift from a family member, and a small amount of some unexpected money that came in.  This has been a great way to teach financial principles and numbers to our kids.  Each time they sell a toy we track the money earned towards our trip on the flip board.  The amount has been updated since I snapped this picture, and we now stand at a total of $499.  We'd like to have $300 in addition to the cost of tickets to cover gas, food and extras like souvenirs.  This puts us at a goal of $672 (1 Day) or $966.50 (2-Days).  Just typing these amounts out makes me want to stick with the 1-Day option!


I also have some other tips & tricks up my sleeve for this trip that I've learned.  We like to pack our own lunches and snacks on trips.  I cringe at the theme park food prices - and for junk food!  Yikes!  I allow for some treats and junkier food on trips because, well it's a treat!  So, about a week before the trip I head to the 99 Cent Store first to see if they have some pretzels, granola bars, and other snack items that are junky enough that they are a treat, yet aren't entirely chemical laden. After seeing what I can score there, I also make sure to pack peanut butter, jelly, bread, organic apples, cereal, ziplocks, and a big flat of bottled waters.  We use reusable water bottles during the year, but on trips we opt for these because who wants to do dishes on a trip?!  If I've had time to do some couponing, I may throw some of those food items in our bag too.  Lunch and snacks are therefore covered.  We probably will have 1 or 2 snacks or meals at the park, but at least this limits the amount spent on food. 

Let's talk souvenirs!  Gift shops are another money sucker.  I want to buy my kids something to enjoy and remember the trip by, but I do not want to spend a fortune.  So, I like to buy some gifts ahead of time at discounted prices, then surprise them with it while we are there.  I also like to strategically avoid the gift shops!  Steer clear of them in the park as best you can!  If you live near a Disney Outlet Store, go there without the kids sometime and get a few things to surprise them with.  Zulily also routinely has Disney branded items at a discount.  To save even more, see if Raise.com has some Disney Gift Cards available.  Raise sells gift cards at a discount.  If you have some extra gift cards laying around that you will not be using, sell them on Raise to make some extra cash! Then, use those gift cards at the outlet, or even at the park itself.  Be sure to read restrictions carefully!  Also keep your eyes open for Disney Gift Card deals at other stores like Target, and grocery stores.  If you have a Target Red Card, you will get 5% back. I've also seen some grocery store promotions throughout the year like get $10 in groceries for every $50 in gift cards spent.  Every little bit of savings counts!  Although, I will say the disclaimer here that if you are a Financial Peace University Grad, you know to stay away from credit cards!  Perhaps just keep your eyes out for those grocery store deals.  You can also use the gift cards as a way to budget out your trip, only allowing yourself a certain amount to be spent in the park. 

We are lucky that we have family and friends in Orange County to stay with for a night. If you need to stay in a hotel, you can find many options near the park that are much cheaper than the Disney branded hotels.  Trip Advisor is a wonderful resource for finding such hotels.   

I hope this post has helped you get some ideas for saving for Disney.  I will update this post as we get closer to our goal and also post after our trip.