Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Back to the Blog

Whew! I realize that I had taken quite a break from blogging soon after I started this one, and felt much guilt for temporarily abandoning my little corner of the web. However, much has happened since March 23rd:

1) Well, this was known as of February, but I am now officially announcing the pending arrival of our third baby, due October 25th! We welcomed the happy news this past Valentine's Day, I can't think of a more special way to celebrate our love!

2) Our family left in early April for our cross country trip to visit relatives in Rhode Island. Much fun was had; we stopped about half way for 5 days to visit my extended family in Minnesota/Wisconsin and strolled the gargantuan Mall of America in Minneapolis.

In New England, we stuffed ourselves of foods we're deprived of here in Montana, enjoyed sunny (but chilly!) days on the beach collecting seashells, visits to zoos and Boston's New England Aquarium.

The trip was great, the drives were long...and I was surprised at myself to actually be relieved to come home to Great Falls in early May.

3) I've started a very part time job at a popular chain hotel. It's nice to get out for a few hours a couple times a week where the majority of people around me are far over the age of 4 :)


Friday, March 23, 2007

Couponing Success #1

Great Success!

Following the basic principals of The Grocery Game, I was able to purchase nearly $100 worth of groceries for a little over thirty dollars this past Thursday.

I took advantage of Albertsons' 10/$10 deals and stacked them with coupons. However, I did cheat a tad and bought a few items that were on sale, but I did not have coupons for. The prices were good enough for me to buy even without a coupon. In the future, I'm going to try to be more strict about purchases that I do not have coupons for.

I purchased:

(With Coupons)
10 boxes of assorted General Mills cereals - $1.50/ea
9 bags of assorted Goldfish brand crackers - $1.66/ea
3 boxes of Pillsbury Toaster Strudel - $1.50/ea
3 boxes of Pillsbury Toaster Scramblers - $1.50/ea
2 bags of Chex Mix - $1.50/ea

(Sale, no coupons)
2 Frozen pizzas - $1.00/ea
2 Frozen meals - $.88/ea
1 Wheat bread - $1.50

Total Retail Value: $95.92
Total Savings of the Day: $62.13

I used to dread grocery shopping each week, and now I'm very much so looking forward to it! I am embracing the "game", and am becoming excited with challenging myself each week. How low can I go?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Wonderful World of Couponing (Part 1)

The Grocery Game

A few days ago, I had decided to use some coupons for a purchase I made at the local commissary (military grocery market)...which was a rare move for me. I had always felt that clipping coupons was a waste of time, and since more often than not the coupons are worth mere pennies it never seemed worth it. Until I remembered a website I stumbled across last year, called The Grocery Game. The site's owner claims that you can cut your grocery bill in half or more following her simple techniques and "Teri's List", which is a list of sale items at various stores in your region.

The list does all of the work for you. It shows you the sales for each store, even deals that were not advertised in the weekly circular. Each item is color coded on the list: green for free products (normally free after sale+coupon), blue for great deals that you should stockpile, and black for on sale but wait until the price drops if you don't absolutely need it right away.

I rejoined the website, which offers a $1 trial that lasts for a month. When your membership has "graduated" to paid, the cost is $10 for your first store list and $5 for each additional store. I joined up for the only two stores in my area that have a list handy, Albertsons and Smith's...both of which are grocers I hardly visit on any normal basis as they tend to be pricier than the commissary or Super Walmart. I am hoping that in the not-so-distant future there will be lists available for Super Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens (opening soon), which are the other national stores in the area.

The game play is simple: the first step is to stockpile. Print out your list(s), get ahold of as many coupons you possibly can, and then go to your local supermarkets and hoard all items that are green or blue on your list like a squirrel going into hibernation. You won't see substantial savings just yet. In fact, you may find that over enthusiasm may lead you to spend more than you normally do in one shopping trip. Even if this is so, you will be coming away with much more than you used to, since all items you'll be purchasing are discounted, mega discounted, or even free. The thing to keep in mind is that the point is to build a large supply of items you use often, at a greatly discounted price.

A quick example could be deodorant on sale for $1.49 per stick. You happen to have 5 coupons for that product for $1 off. So, you would want to buy five sticks for a total of $0.49 each. Who needs five sticks of deodorant at once? Well, not most people...but if you use one stick a month you've just bought yourself a five month supply and saved a good amount of cash too.

This technique can be applied to mostly anything that is non-perishable, has a long shelf life, or can be frozen (unless you can use 20 cartons of milk before it expires!). Once you've got yourself stocked with foods and goods that you use often (the website recommends at least a 12 week supply), you will begin to see a dramatic difference in your grocery bill as you will only be shopping for things that cannot be stored for long periods of time, or items that you buy on a whim.

I personally have been referring to the list, but having been using it seriously just yet as I am concentrating on building up my coupon collection first. Most of the best deals on the list require coupons from the Sunday paper (Smart Source and Valassis) or grocer specific coupons. Many of the deals require coupons from weeks or even months back...and so I recommend you begin with a good selection of coupons before you begin. Start saving those Sunday paper inserts, grab coupons from those little red dispensers in the store aisles, and save manufacturer coupons you receive in the mail.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Food Allergy: What You Need to Know

This is going to be a longer post than normal, but it is important enough to read the whole thing through. It is something that everybody should be aware of, and taking the time to read this could save somebody's life.

Giving a peanut product to my daughter would be like offering her strychnine. She has multiple severe food allergies, which effect every aspect of our day to day lives. Her most severe and worrisome allergy is to peanuts, it would only take a tiny shard of a nut to cause a life threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Every mother knows the feeling of seeing potential danger everywhere you go, and taking precautions to keep your child protected. Imagine knowing that absolute danger exists everywhere. In every food, on every shopping cart and playground, on every unwashed hand, in every airplane and restaurant...the chance of coming in contact with peanuts or their residue is unavoidable.

My job as her mother is to make the impossible possible and shield her from every dangerous situation. The most I can do is to keep my eye on her and others at all times, carry an ephedrine pen on me at all times (I have two at home, one in the car, and one on me physically always), and educate others about food allergy...since the general population is shockingly ignorant to the seriousness of the condition.

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) FAQ:

What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Scientists estimate that approximately 12 million Americans suffer from true food allergies.

What is the best treatment for food allergy?
Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to avoid a reaction. There is no cure for food allergies.

What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve various areas of the body (such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system). Symptoms occur within minutes to two hours after contact with the allergy-causing substance but, in rare instances, may occur up to four hours later. Anaphylactic reactions can be mild to life threatening. The annual incidence of anaphylactic reactions is about 30 per 100,000 persons, and individuals with asthma, eczema, or hay fever are at greater relative risk of experiencing anaphylaxis.

What Are the Most Common Food Allergens?
Milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
(italicized words are my daughter's allergens. In addition, she's also allergic to oranges and pork.)

My Personal FAQ

What steps do you take to decrease your daughter's risk of a reaction?
I talk to everybody we come into contact with about her allergy, carry an EpiPen everywhere, read food labels for absolutely everything that comes near her, refuse to let her play with a child eating a "bad food" (if this is somehow unavoidable I talk to the parent and explain her allergies and ask that they remove the offensive food and wash their child's hands and mouth), inform all airline staff of her allergy (they are not to serve nuts on any flight we're on). The most exreme precaution I am taking is I will be homeschooling my daughter until she's old enough to understand exactly which foods, situations, and people to avoid, and how to use her EpiPen and get help.

Why do you need to be cautious about playgrounds and other children?
This is because my daughter is SO allergic that even coming in contact with residue of offending products has the potential to put her into anaphylaxis. For example, if another child eats a peanut butter sandwich and does not wash their hands and face thoroughly afterward, everything that child touches afterwards leaves a residue. This is extremely dangerous in public settings: the shopping cart at the grocery store, the playground, toys in a waiting room, and even the child himself if he and my daughter play together.

How did you first discover your daughter had a food allergy?
My mother was watching her when she was a baby and unknowingly gave her a taste of peanut butter. She had a reaction from it.

Does your daughter have any other medical problems?
She has severe eczema, which often goes right along with food allergies in children. She often flares up over her entire body, a lot of the time it becomes infected since it's extremely itchy and she scratches. We have to treat it with topical (and sometimes ingested) steroids.

It's quite possible that she is also developing asthma, which I am looking into soon.

Is your son also allergic?
No, as of this writing he has no known food allergies.

Now that I'm aware, what can I do to help other allergic children?
You can greatly decrease the risk of contributing to another child's reaction by taking the following precautions:

- Understand that many food allergies are potentially lethal. Many people just don't get it and brush it off as a person/mother being overprecautious or an attention seeker. Take anybody who says they have or their child has a food allergy seriously.

- Accommodate food allergic people. If you know that an allergic person will be at a get together, try to take steps to ensure the environment will be as safe as possible...do not bring offending foods, bring product labels for all foods that the allergic person can read over, ask every other guest to do the same.

- Do not send your children to school, daycare, playgrounds, or other places where many people gather with products that may affect the allergic child. Since peanut allergy is probably the most common allergy in children, avoid sending peanut products anywhere with your child. If your child has eaten a common allergen before going out in public, please be sure to thoroughly wash his hands and face.

- ALWAYS ask another parent before offering a child any kind of food or treat.

- If you find a child who has been separated from their parents, always check for a medical ID bracelet or necklace. This is not only a smart idea to check for food allergies, but any other serious health problem as well.

Further Reading:

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
Food Allergy Initiative
Peanut Allergy
Allergic Child
Kids With Food Allergies

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Baby Signs Cards: Multipurpose!

Today I took my kids to my favorite local second hand store, Once Upon a Child. While my daughter played in their walled play area (a Godsend!), my son and I explored the clothing, books, and toys.

I leafed through every book shelf, and on the end I spotted a colorful box: My Baby Signs Concept Cards. Immediately recognizing the logo from the famous Baby Signs System, I greedily snatched up the box and tucked it under my arm, safe from any other mother.

Upon returning home, my four year old was eager to sort through the brightly colored cards. They're of excellent quality made with thick card stock, they feature full color cartoons of an illustration of the word on one side and an illustration of the sign along with the actual word printed on the other side.

Teagan was able to figure out the use of the cards immediately without explanation, and began teaching herself all of the signs as she went through the deck. She had gone through the entire stack once, and then decided it was time to kick it up a notch: she would then say the word, perform the sign, and then SPELL OUT the word while referencing the card. Once she had completed two rounds of her new game, she had already memorized the spelling of many of the words on the cards.

I will be encouraging both of my children to use these cards every day. I look forward to teaching my one year old how to sign, and my four year old how to read and spell!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Best Kids Browsers

My four year old daughter, Teagan has been using the computer since before she could even talk or walk. We started her out with Jumpstart Advanced Preschool, but soon my baby overachiever was hungry for something bigger...the internet.

Teagan taught herself how to use the internet at an astonishing rate. She began around two years old, never (purposely) venturing from websites that I pulled up for her. Within days she had smooth control of the mouse. Soon after, she knew how to navigate to other websites using favorites I had created for her directly on the browser toolbar. And now, at four years old she is able to type in URLs, troubleshoot simple computer problems, switch Windows accounts, install software, and many other things I don't commonly see other kids her age doing.

Weeks ago, I had a "duh" moment...I realized I had never thought of looking into child friendly browsers. My daughter is now at an age where I'm becoming concerned about content she might accidentally stumble upon if she strays away from an appropriate website.

Upon test driving all of the better looking browsers I could get my hands on, I've found that they not only make browsing the internet safer for our children, but more straightforward, which is great for short attention spans...especially if your child is new to the web.

And so, without further ado I bring you my recommendations:

MindStein Travels
  • Best Features: The only browser I've found that grows with your children. There are preprogrammed websites for young children, and internet filtering for teenagers. Filtered e-mail only allows messages to be sent to or received from parent approved friends and family (and animated character reads the e-mail aloud to them!). Personal information filters disallow phone numbers, addresses, etc to be sent over the internet.
  • Age Recommendations: 3-10 for preprogrammed sites, 11-18 for filtered browsing
  • Price: Free, or register for all features by monthly, annual, or lifetime membership.

Kid Surf
  • Best Features: Parents can add appropriate websites in addition to preloaded sites (can also disable preloaded sites), customizable start screen and websites for up to 4 children.
  • Age Recommendation: 3-12 year olds
  • Price: Free to try, I'm unclear about the price to register
My Kids Browser
  • Best Features: Ability to disable the print function, timer shuts down browser after allotted time limit, disable other browsers.
  • Age Recommendation: Toddler-Tween
  • Price: Free to try, $24.95 to download
  • Best Features: No install (java script based, it launches from an icon on your desktop), disable printing, simple interface, integrated educational games.
  • Age Recommendation: Toddler-Tween
  • Price: Free
  • Best Features: Safe search, safe instant messaging, tabbed navigation, live math help (K-6th grade), learning channels
  • Age Recommendation: Toddler-Tween
  • Price: Free, but some features will not work without a paid upgrade
  • Best Features: A "true" browser (navigation bar, search, favorites), integrated filtered e-mail, online family friendly streaming radio, awesome animations
  • Age Recommendation: Tween-Teen
  • Price: Free trial, $29.95 to buy