Friday, July 31, 2009

Off to the Frio!

It's that time of year again! Time for a weekend at the river...the Frio River in Leakey, Texas to be exact. Families from the church I grew up in have been doing this for oh, I don't know, 18 years or something. I've only been going for about the past 7 years or so, but it's defintely become a fun family tradition.

Only this year, Avery has to work. I'm still going because hey, I'm a glutton for punishment (i.e. two babies by myself) and my parents have offered to help me with the kids so it shouldn't be too bad. Plus this will be my first year in three years that I haven't been pregnant and can actually enjoy the company.

Kari and her brand new hubby are still off honeymooning so they won't be there, but there are several other people I'm looking forward to seeing. My good friend Amanda, my parents and my sisters, two couple-friends with babies, and lots of old family friends that I pretty much grew up with.

And this year, since I'm not pregnant, I should actually be able to take some decent pictures. The last two years I think I took an average of three pictures every day. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the babies will behave and sleeping in group cabins won't prove impossible, so I'd really appreciate it if you threw up a few prayers on my behalf. :) (Oh, and it'd be nice if there were actually WATER in the river...not sure about that yet.)

Anyhoo, I'm off to finish loading the car. We'll be taking off as soon as the kiddos wake up from their naps! See y'all on Sunday!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Restaurant Dining on a Budget: TXLC

Dining out at restaurants like Jim’s and Chili’s is one of our family’s favorite activities. Obviously with a family of four this can get expensive fast. We usually average about $30 a meal (after tax and tip) when we visit these establishments. As I’ve mentioned before, our family budget includes a decent chunk of change for dining out ($40 per week). However, my husband takes up most of that with his dinners while on duty. He tries to eat at places with uniformed officers discounts so he averages about $25 a week. That leaves us about $15 a week or approximately $65 to $70 a month. Traditionally we’ve been bad about exceeding our budget in that area, but I’ve been trying to cut down on our pizza runs and trips through the McDonald’s or Whataburger drive-thru as well as taking advantage of restaurant deals and specials.

This month we were considerably under budget on grocery spending so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice family lunch out. However, since we’re still trying to pay off hospital bills from Kirk’s birth we didn’t want to use all the extra money on one meal so I scoured the newspaper inserts for local specials. I wasn’t disappointed!

If you live in the San Antonio area, be sure to pick up a Sunday newspaper from July 26th. Texas Land & Cattle Steak House has an insert with several awesome coupons. The two we took advantage of today were the $5 steak burger meal coupon (lunchtime only) and the 99-cent kid’s meal. The nice thing about their coupons is that each one is valid for the entire table and the kid’s meal coupon was good for two kid’s meals per adult. We did splurge on drinks (which was a bit disappointing because we had a hard time getting our waiter to refill them) but our whole check still only came out to $17 before the tip. (Without sodas it would have been about $12.)

And that is how our family ate at a nice restaurant for just a bit more than a meal from McDonald’s. And it was a whole lot tastier too! (Note: TXLC’s French fries are to die for!! Thin, crispy and deliciously seasoned!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weddings and Babies

I should be doing something more productive than blogging. Sweeping the floor, picking up the house, scrapbooking, dusting, something on my to-do list. But I am just about to fall over from exhaustion, so this is the best I could do. Avery should be home within the hour, which is why I'm not crashed out in bed, and he so appreciates that I stay up to talk with him when he gets home. (Plus I despise being woken up from a deep sleep, which Kirk does at least twice a night anyway, so I'd rather not make that more frequent.)

Anyhoo, Kari's wedding was amazing. She looked gorgeous, everything went as well as any wedding should, and no one melted in the heat. :) Since I was in the wedding I don't have any pictures from the event, but here's the bride and I at her bachelorette party way up high in the Tower of Americas in downtown San Antonio.

And here's the whole bunch of us girls. Believe it or not (and most of the waitstaff at the restaurant didn't) all but one of us is over 21. In fact, 4 out of the 8 are married and 2 out of the remaining 4 are engaged. I point that out only because it seemed like every other person in the restaurant commented on how young we looked.

Hopefully I'll get some wedding pictures from someone soon because [according to my hubby] I looked freakin' gorgeous. :) Don't worry, I didn't overshadow the bride...she looked breathtaking. I can't tell you how excited I am that Kari and Topher finally got married...I nearly cried during the ceremony (and I never cry!).

The weekend was fun but I am horribly exhausted today. Maybe at some point I'll be able to catch up on sleep, but with the way Kirk is sleeping (i.e. not much) that might take a few weeks. And this weekend the kids and I are headed down to Leakey, Texas for an annual family camp we attend every year. Unfortunately Avery has to work, but my parents volunteered to help me with the kids so I'm attempting the trip on my own. Plus, I don't want to miss this year because for the first time in three years I won't be pregnant!!! Seriously, the past two years I was 5 months and 2 months pregnant (i.e. horrible morning sickness) and it was NOT a fun experience. In fact, every time I think about sitting in those cabins I start to feel nauseous. Hopefully that feeling will vanish once I get there and realize that I'm actually feeling fine! :)

Let's see, as far as babies go both munchkins are doing pretty well. Shiphrah seems to be in an endless cycle of teething...which also means an endless cycle of whinyness. Plus she caught a cold from the doctor's office last week (hate those germ-infested places!) so she was pretty miserable for a few days. I have to say though, I liked those 4-hour afternoon naps she took though. :) Oh, and can I reiterate how incredible breastmilk is? Ever since Kirk was born, I've been giving Shiphrah 4 ounces of breastmilk with 4 ounces of whole milk every morning. She has had zero diaper rashes and hasn't been sick a day (until this cold) since I started doing this. Anyway, usually she takes a long time to get over her least a week. Well, this time, 3 days. Seriously, all she had left was the tiniest runny nose 3 days after she caught the cold! So, all you nursing mamas out there, I highly recommend pumping a little extra milk for your older's totally worth it!

Kirk is, well, Kirk. He's still an incredibly happy and content baby, as long as someone is paying attention to him (which makes Shiphrah a lifesaver most days). He's still not sleeping through the night and unfortunately seems to have abandoned all desires of sleeping a longer stretch at night too. (He may just be going through a growth spurt though...I seem to remember Shiphrah going through one at this age.) I haven't really started him on baby food yet, just cereal about once a week for the past three weeks. He doesn't like it much, so I'm not pushing the issue. The cereal hasn't seemed to help him sleep better at night (all 3 times I've fed him about an hour before bed) so there's really no reason to force it on him. If he still doesn't like it when he's 6 months old I'll start him on the other foods (peas, carrots and such). I attribute part of my milk supply issues with Shiphrah to starting her too early on baby foods, so I'm being extra cautious this time. Our doctor encouraged me to try foods with him now to make sure he didn't develop an "opinion" about them, but I'm not too worried about that. For centuries women exclusively breastfed their kids until they were one or so and I don't think their babies refused real food. So again, not a concern for me. We'll take it all one day at a time. One thing I do know though, I will breastfeed Kirk as long as I possibly can. It's my only form of birth control. :)

Well, I just heard from Avery and he's getting off late tonight. Darn. Looks like I should have gone to bed early after all. Oh well, I'll try to find something else to keep me awake for another half hour or so. 'Night, everyone!

He's Nearly Mobile, Folks!

My beautiful baby boy (4.5 months old):
Two minutes later...
Another couple of minutes go by...

And coming back again...

Look out world, Kirk is ready to crawl!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Number Crunching and Kid Question

Well, Avery's two days off didn't go quite like he planned it. For one thing, our toilet is becoming quite the project. We think now (after spending a chunk of change of cleaning chemicals and solvents and other random tools) that there's a clog or some kind of hard water buildup further down the sewer line. Avery spent hours trying to clean out the toilet with several different nasty-smelling chemicals and all he got for his labor was a clean toilet bowl (i.e. it still doesn't flush well). So by Thursday afternoon he was frustrated and overwhelmed. Poor guy can't ever seem to get caught up on things he wants to do around the house.

Okay, first for the Kid Question. Kirk is thisclose to outgrowing his bassinet. He's rolling and pushing up all the time and I keep worrying that one of these days he's going to push himself out of the bassinet. He also squirms and wiggles and wedges himself in weird positions that can't be comfortable. So why not just transfer him to his full-size crib? Problem #1: we live in a 2-bedroom house. Shiphrah lives in the other bedroom. Problem #2: Kirk isn't even close to sleeping through the night. In fact, most nights he's up and nursing every 3 hours. Problem #3: Shiphrah is the lightest sleeper in the world. So if she and Kirk were to share a room at this point he would wake her up constantly during the night. Problem #4: I would be fine with keeping Kirk in bed with us, but he hates being constricted and kicks me all the time (nighttime nursing is no longer very fun). Problem #5: we could put the full-size crib in our room...if our room was big enough. I honestly don't think we could fit in there without rendering one of the closets unreachable. So what do we do? I wasn't planning on having these problems because I honestly thought Kirk would be sleeping through the night at this point. Families with several kids lived in tiny houses for decades...the Duggars did it with 6 kids for goodness' sake...why is this so difficult??

Finances are beginning to be a bit of an issue again. Avery's salary has increased considerably since graduating from the Academy, but so have his expenses. The city deducts about $500 a month for his pension, plus all the other fees for the union and his retirement health insurance. Altogether it adds up to about $700 a month, which basically wipes out all but $100 of his raise. We desperately need to be saving towards the purchase of a new-to-us car, but we're finding that difficult since we're also trying to pay off our accumulated debt from having a baby and equipment expenses from Avery's change in career. We've also had a lot of unexpected expenses in the past few months like trying to fix the toilet and random gifts (wedding, birthdays, etc.) that have kept us from both saving and paying off the debt.

Ugh, I just got a call from one of those travel agencies wanting to give us "free gifts" in exchange for listening to their presentation. Thankfully we're not within their income requirements, but the guy actually told me to just lie on the application. What?!? And then AFTER they go through everything they say, "oh and by the way, NO KIDS ALLOWED." Gah, stupid call centers!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, money. :) On a positive note, we've been doing awesome with our grocery and eating out budgeting. I'm actually under budget by about $50 this month for groceries and right on budget for eating out. I know I've mentioned this before, but we budget $60 a week for groceries and $40 a week for eating out (this is because Avery eats out every night during work...he tries to at least find places that offer a uniformed officers discount, but it's still at least $15-$20 a week) for a total of about $400 a month on food (and household supplies like toilet paper and such, not including diapers). In fact, I only had about $25 worth of groceries to buy this week so I stocked up on a few things like napkins and toilet paper. If only I could stick to a budget this well in other areas! :)

Well, gotta go. As soon as Shiphrah's favorite movie is over ("MEENO!") it's bath time and then to bed for the babies. Then a 20-minute cleaning spree, dinner, laundry, and another 20-minute cleaning spree for Mama. Then if there's still time left I'll try to fit a 30-minute work out before Avery gets home.

(Ooooh I just sold 6 coupons on eBay for $3!! Yay!!!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kids and Plans

Tomorrow starts our "weekend" again! I tell you what, I am really enjoying Avery's work schedule. It's a little exhausting because I get to bed so late at night, but I like spending time as a family in the mornings and I really like having our weekend in the middle of the week. Because of the way his schedule is set up, it feels like we have two weekends. Since he works evenings, we still get to go to church together as a family, which makes it feel like a weekend. It's nice. :)

Kirk had his 4-month doctor's appointment yesterday morning and Shiph had her second set of shots. Kirk is just under 14 pounds which puts him around the 25th percentile. He's got a big head though so that's in the 50th percentile. :) The shots went okay, but it tears me up every time we have to get it done. I can't even look when the nurse is giving them. Kirk screamed bloody murder this time, but other than his initial reaction and a tiny bit of a fever yesterday, he's been fine. Shiphrah, on the other hand, had a low-grade fever, went to bed early last night and took a 4-hour nap this afternoon. Plus she's had a runny nose all day and her eyes are clearly bothering her. I hate how the vaccinations lower the kids' immune systems like that. It's like, hey, we're giving your babies shots to protect against a disease that kills 1 in 100,000 kids, but it's going to lower their natural immunity so they might catch a million other bugs instead. It's so stupid if you ask me. I'm glad we'll be done with it in two months. (For those who are curious, Kirk is getting DTaP, HIB, and the Pneumococcal, and Shiphrah is getting HIB and the Pneumococcal. We wouldn't be doing vaccinations at all, except for the line of work Avery is in brings a whole lot more germs in our house than we'd normally encounter.)

We have no real plans for tomorrow and Thursday except for a going away party for some friends on Thursday evening. Oh, and I think Avery is finally going to get serious about trying to fix our toilet. Our house has one lone bathroom and the toilet doesn't flush without help. I've been getting increasingly embarrassed about having to tell guests to use a large cup of water to "help" the toilet flush anytime it's used. I'd rather just buy a new water-efficient toilet and be done with it, but Avery likes the old one (it's the original, turquoise color and everything) so he's going to buy some really strong solvent and hope that fixes the problem. (Our water is really hard and when we moved in the toilet was clean and worked fine, but gradually the build-up has gotten really bad and subsequently the flushing has gotten worse and worse.) So if he gets that done, that will be one really big item checked off on his "Honey-Do" list. Which will be a feat in and of itself since he gets to those things once in a blue moon. (I think I've had the list on the fridge for five months and he's done maybe two of the things.)

My friend's wedding is this weekend. I still haven't decided what to do about the pre-wedding festivities and whether I'll take the babies or not. My husband severely dislikes passing our kids off on other people (our kid = our responsibility) so he's not too hot on the idea of getting a sitter for Shiphrah. I just can't imagine how I will be able to handle both kids by myself during the rehearsal. It'd be one thing if Avery could be there with me, but he can't.

Well, the babies are finally asleep so it's time for Mama to finally eat dinner. Catch y'all laters! :)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dinner on a Budget: Mac 'n Cheese Meals

This week’s “Dinner on a Budget” is brought you by Kraft’s Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Okay, not really, but it is one of my favorite ways to stretch a dollar, or a dollar and fifty cents to be exact.

There are literally dozens of ways to turn a simple box of macaroni and cheese into a delicious dinner for your family. Whether you feel like a cheesy soup or a bubbly casserole, your taste buds (and your wallet!) will never be disappointed.

First, start with a basic box of mac ‘n cheese. Personally, I like using Kraft’s Velveeta Shells and Cheese mix because the cheese sauce is already made and I prefer shell pasta over elbow macaroni. However, they run about $1.50 a box, so I tend to buy them only when I have coupons that make them 50 cents to $1 a box. You can also use cheaper variations of macaroni and cheese…most grocery stores sell them for 40 to 60 cents a box.

Next, pick your main meat ingredient. Literally anything from ground beef, to steak strips, to shredded chicken, to cubed ham can be used. You’ll need about a pound per box of mac ‘n cheese. If you want to make the meat stretch you can definitely use as little as half a pound. I tend to use less shredded chicken (about a cup) for recipes, but more ground beef. It balances the flavors better, I think.

Finally, pick your fillers. This can include anything from veggies (broccoli and carrots are some of my favorites), beans, salsa, extra cheese, and more. You’ll want to add extra milk, sour cream, or water to get to the consistency you desire.

Mix together, season as desired, and voila! An easy, delicious meal that can be made for as little as 75 cents a serving!

And for starters, here are a few of my favorite Kraft recipes:
(If you want to view the recipes larger, just click on the images)
Since I’m less of a “recipe-follower” and more of a “recipe-adapter” I used my own taco seasoning mix (chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder), Fritos instead of tortilla chips (it’s what we had), about half the cheese the recipe called for, and leftover packets of Taco Bell salsa. It was delicious! Oh, and the directions to “layer” the dinner can be followed loosely…it’s just as good all mixed together.

This is supposed to taste a bit like a real cheeseburger, and although I’m not a fan of cheeseburgers, it was really good! I didn’t have green onions on hand, so I skipped those, but they probably would have added a nice kick to the dish. I've discovered that I’m not a big fan of tomatoes in pasta dishes, so I probably won’t use them next time.

This dish was perfect with the ingredients listed, but don’t follow the directions exactly if you cook this. A large skillet won’t hold everything…use a medium to large saucepan instead. Also, if you want the broccoli and carrots to be tender either cook them separately or cook the dish longer than it calls for. But if you like them crunchy, the cooking time is perfect.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Life in General...

...has been pretty darn awesome. :) Avery heads back to work today after having the last two days off (our "weekend"). Wednesday morning we went to the free summer movies at one of the local movie theaters and saw "Hotel for Dogs." Cute movie, but it unfortunately didn't hold Shiphrah's attention for long. She sat through about 30 minutes of it really well, but she had already sat through 20 minutes of advertisements prior to the movie starting so she got pretty squirmy. Avery had to take her out and let her run up and down the halls while Kirk (who was sleeping) and I watched the movie. We decided she probably would have done better if one of us had let her run around before the movie started and if it had been an animated film. We'll probably wait until next summer to try again though.

Speaking of the munchkin, she's been a ball of energy, drama, and whinyness lately. I think her teeth aren't bothering her anymore (she has 6 coming in at once...4 molars and 2 eye teeth) but she's just gotten into a really bad habit of whining constantly. She whines when she wants something, she whines when she gets frustrated with a toy, she whines when she's hungry...and over and over and over! It's exhausting for Mama. She's getting more verbal by the day and has starting stringing words together. Mostly it's just two at a time ("hi Kirk" and "eat please" and "Daddy's shirt") but she's put three words together a few times ("hi Daddy, poop!" = excitedly telling him she had gone poop in her diaper).

Kirk is still mostly an easy baby, although he has become a bit more clingy in the recent weeks. He's always happy and cheerful when he's being held, but he gets quite cranky if he's left alone for more than a few minutes at a time. But that's where it's nice to have a 19-month-old to entertain him. She loves sitting down next to him and "reading" a book to him or giving him one of her toys. I love my kids. :) He's still not sleeping through the fact, he's hardly sleeping longer than 3 to 4 hours at a time. My body's adjusting, so I'm not horribly exhausted...I just feel like I'm in a fog much of the time.

In other news, I'm in a couple of weddings this summer. My best friend since elementary school is getting married next weekend and I'm one of her bridesmaids. My sister is also getting married on Labor Day and I'm also a bridesmaid for her wedding. (Buying two dresses at once hurts my wallet though!) In a little less than a month I'm hosting a shower for my sister...I'm doing a 1950's housewife theme and I am soooo excited about it! :) Anyway, it makes for a busy rest of the summer, but loads of fun. It'll just be interesting trying to handle the kids without Avery (he'll be at both weddings, but not for the whole time so I'll be by myself for a lot of them).

Well, that's all I have time for...I've gotta fix lunch before Avery heads to work and the kids and I head to a friend's house for the afternoon. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dinner on a Budget: Steak and Potatoes

This is the first installment of a new blog series about planning meals on a budget. I’ll try to post one of these dinner ideas weekly, but no promises, I do have two kiddos under the age of two to look after as well. :)

Serving delicious, yet inexpensive meals for your family isn’t difficult. It just takes time and a little extra planning. However, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with meal-planning. I know from time-to-time I like to serve slightly nicer meals, but don’t want to break the bank.

Steak dinners at most mid-range restaurants will run you anywhere from $10 to $20 a person. Serving a meal like that at home can seem daunting, especially when you check out the prices of steak at your local grocery store. However, if you plan ahead, you can serve a similar meal for a quarter of the cost. For example, Chili’s Grill and Bar has an 8-ounce top sirloin steak on their menu for $12.99. The steak comes with two sides and a piece of garlic toast. I will show you how you can serve a similar meal for around $3 a person.

First of all, scan your store circulars for deals on steak. If you have a Sun Harvest in your area, they regularly (about once a month) have top sirloin steak on sale for $2.99 a pound. I went last month and bought three steaks, each just under two pounds. (HEB Grocery also runs similar sales, but theirs are a bit less often.) If you do the math on price per ounce, an 8-ounce piece comes out to $1.50.

For my side dishes, I chose baked potatoes, sautéed peas and mushrooms, and dinner rolls. Instead of buying expensive baker’s potatoes, I opt to buy 5-pound bags of russet potatoes and specifically choose bags with several large potatoes in them. Russet potatoes vary in price from week to week (I’ve gotten them for as low as 99 cents), but for our purposes we’ll set the price at $2.49 for the bag. That’s about 25 cents per potato, give or take. The sautéed peas with mushrooms is one of my all-time favorite “gourmet” side dishes. Each serving of frozen peas is roughly 22 cents and a 4-ounce can of mushroom pieces is 59 cents, or about 30 cents a serving. Sauté the mushrooms in a little butter, boil the peas until they’re tender, combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, I chose dinner rolls because we had previously bought a bag of Rhodes dinner rolls for $2.99 (roughly 10 cents a roll). These are basically just balls of dough, so they’d be easy enough to make on your own, but for me the convenience is definitely worth the added cost.

Then add about 40 cents a person for baked potato toppings (butter, shredded cheese, and sour cream) and about 25 cents a person for charcoal. And there you have it:

8-oz top sirloin steak = $1.50
Baked potato with toppings = $0.65
Peas ‘n’ mushrooms = $0.52
Dinner roll = $0.10
Charcoal = $0.25

Total cost = $3.02 a plate.

(And if you prefer T-bone over top sirloin, Sun Harvest and HEB occasionally have sales on T-bone steaks for $3.99 or $4.99 a pound, bringing the cost of your meal up a bit.)

And as an added bonus, if you grill extra steak you can use the leftovers to make a delicious beef stroganoff dinner. I found a recipe I loved here: Just slice the leftover steak and add it to the sauce at the end. Delicious!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fun with Friends and Family

I fully intended to write an update about all that's been going on lately, but my time is precious. Avery is asleep, Shiphrah is napping, and Kirk actually went to sleep in his pack 'n play, so I don't want to waste all my free time on the computer. :) Plus, it's been so long since I've blogged, I don't think I could remember all that went on if my life depended on it. (I can hardly remember what happened yesterday, much less two weeks ago.)

But we've been busy and in a good way. You know how sometimes you have a million fun things going on and by the end of the weekend you're so exhausted you feel like it just wasn't worth it? Well, for the past few weeks that actually hasn't been us...and it's been so nice!

Basically we've just been enjoying time together as a family and hanging out with friends. We went out to Medina Lake again a couple of weeks ago, this time with some of Avery's co-workers.

We enjoyed a relaxing morning there (we arrived around 9 and left when it started getting too hot) swimming and eating and chatting with friends.

We bought Shiphrah a float so she could enjoy the water and she had a blast as well. (It’s frustrating though that none of the floats allow the kid to actually reach the water with their hands…I guess it’s a safety thing but still, it just makes her annoyed.) Avery also brought his inflatable boat and paddled around a bit.

He took Shiph for a ride too, but she didn’t much care for it (I think it scared her). Oh and what is it with swim diapers? I swear Shiph always decides to poop as soon as she has one on. Yuck!

For the holiday weekend we hung out with my parents and my sisters at the zoo on Friday.

During the summer the zoo has early hours for members-only so we got there early and left before it got too crowded (and too hot).

Shiphrah is really starting to enjoy watching all the animals and roaring or oinking (which sounds more like a grunt coming from her) at them. It’s adorable.

On Saturday we relaxed most of the day and then headed out to the Valdes house to celebrate the Fourth with some family.

Shiphrah played in the pool for a few minutes, but got bored really quickly when she realized the other kids could hop in and out of the pool as they pleased.

We had to leave rather early to get Avery to work (his first day out on his own!) but that worked out better for the kids anyway.

Other than that, we’ve had a few friends over for dinner and have gotten to know the sweet family that moved in across the street from us. I love, love, love being able to spend time with other families like ours…there’s nothing like good fellowship between believers! It was also nice to meet another couple with family values like ours. I really am looking forward to getting to know them better over time. Not that I don’t love the friends we have now. It’s just that outside of family, we really only hang out with one other couple and one other family. And we can only bug them every so often. :)

Well, I’m going to spend the rest of my free time working on Kirk’s baby book. I finally got around to starting it yesterday (the poor kid is almost 4 months old…bad mommy) and I’m remembering how much I really enjoy scrapbooking, even if I’m not very good at it. :)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

I know I've been remiss in blogging lately and I apologize. We've been busy adjusting to Avery's new schedule and hanging out with family and friends. I promise I'll update soon. :)

We hope you all are having a fabulous holiday weekend!!!