Friday, October 31, 2008

Glorious Autumn

I love autumn, and this year we are having one of the most spectacular on record. I've just used "autumn" twice, and I am officially going to use "fall" hereafter. I only tried out "autumn" because my friends tell me it is a more beautiful word, it holds more literary opportunity, but it just doesn't roll of my tongue right.

Today is a beautiful last day of October. The temps are probably in the mid '50's, sun is shining, the light has a shady, filtered quality. And the sun, even at it's peak, is in the southern quadrant of the sky. A sure sign that the Argentine Pampa is growing bountiful fields of wheat and corn. Meanwhile, we take our turn at cool weather, and the dry air tells me that Old Man Winter has just about arrived. I treasure fall, and I won't entertain a sour attitude towards it just because it is the season that ushers in winter. Lord willing, I'll have a positive spin on winter this year as well :).

We had some friends over today to play. Heidi and Novia (Hope and Novia shared the same due-date last fall) came, bringing with them our friend N'Korey who is a good playmate for Eva. N'Korey is a bundle of energy, and with the fantastic-but-sure-won't-last-long weather outside, we opted for playing in the yard. Lots of leaves to throw and just enough sun to keep our chilly fingers content. The one year olds crawled around in the dirt and leaves, and tried to make a few little person-powered vehicles GO. They only succeeded in going backwards, but there were many shrieks of delight. N'Korey and Eva roll played a troubled marriage most of the time, with a few breaks to play mister (and Mrs.) fix-it on top of the roof of the play house. Eva pouts well, and N'Korey tries to logically address the problem until he gives up and stomps off. It was an insightful demonstration, really. I sure hope they learned it from TV :). All in all, it was a fun morning, and in reality, N'Korey and Eva displayed many commendable character traits as well (which I'm sure they learned at home, right? :)

I took a lot of pictures this month, as the colors were more dramatic than I remember in the past. I love the fall flowers, the produce in the gardens, the leaves as they change. Here are a few from October 1st, and few from today, a progression of autumn. Our yard ablaze with color (getting a little sickening, aren't I?) It's like time lapse photography...only not really.

October 1st

October 31st

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eva on politics

Me: Eva, who is Barack Obama?
Eva: Ummm, John McCain and Barack Obama...I don't really know where they're from.
M: Are they from here?
E: No. Barack Obama is not a real person, but he talks. He has two kids.
M: What else do you know about him?
E: I don't know.
M: Is one of them our president?
E: No, George Bush is our president now.
M: Who is George Bush?
E: He is our new president- I told you!
M: What do you know about him?
E: Well, you have to watch the George Bush movies in the movie theatre. Do you know that, mommy?
M: I didn't know that.
E: It's more for kids.
M: What are they about?
E: (presenting a long list of titles...)Sponge Bob George Bush, George Bush Saves the Day, George Bush fights with soldiers, George Bush and the firefighters, George Bush saves the princesses.
And that's all the George Bush movies I know.
M: What happens in the movies?
E: I don't really know. But some saving happens in the movies, and some fighting, and kids get really excited when they fight and save. He saves a princess.

Since watching a History Channel show with Eric about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Eva has had presidents on the brain. Current national news and frequent conversations have fueled the fire, and she is often adding her two cents. Through a 3 year old's interpretation, we learn more about the presidential candidates than we did watching the debates on national TV. And I like her version. The current president is ever valiant and eager to rescue the downtrodden princess, his ratings always high. Even if he is "in bed" with Sponge Bob (could this be an allegory to of the sponging of dollars and cents by the oil companies?). Never mind my own political opinions....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday...Presenting Ella and her Nemesis

Don't worry, everyone. Ella's look of terror is mostly in fear of the unknown...the future that may befall her. Hope was happily using her "gentle" touches. (really, Ella is well-loved around here!)

Because I don't know when to quit...

OK, a few more things that slipped my mind yesterday:
  • Check out Money Saving Mom for tons of ideas on living frugally.
  • If you live near a CVS store, try to capitalize on their sales and rewards. Here are instructions.
  • Same story for Walgreen's. The Internet is buzzing with uber frugal moms who are taking CVS and Walgreen's for a ride. It's almost cult-like, google it and find out for yourself!
  • The Grocery Game website finds all the deals in your area, and lets you know when it is time to stock up on something. It keeps track of the sales, so you don't have to. Brother Ryan (a celebrity on this blog lately) turned me onto this last spring. Try the free membership!

My other thoughts were about the balancing game. It might look like being a tightwad is my highest priority in life. But that is just not true. In fact, I am a conflicted individual. Thriftiness, expensive taste, and natural-organic-wholesome eating desires are always colliding in my world. It is a very difficult balance, one that I certainly haven't mastered. I write this mostly to point out the obvious truth: spending as little money as possible isn't always the wise thing to do. I am on a constant journey to find the right combination for our family, and it isn't easy. Jump into the conversation, I'd love to read your thoughts on this too.

And finally, I think I have cleared my brain. Until next time :).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Concluding Remarks

Well, I'm tired of blogging about money. At least for awhile. But it seems like I have a lot of random thoughts about this frugal living thing that are rattling around in my head. I'm going to try to lay them out. Then, I promise I'll be done.

First, here are a few things I wanted to buy this month, but DIDN'T:
  1. A new toothbrush for Eva. The flattened out bristles are doing the job, I think. Her new dentist will give the final word on that tomorrow.
  2. Eric's special hair goup. Instead he has been taming his locks with a random selection of leftovers in the closet.
  3. Lovely, natural, gentle soap from Trader Joe's. In it's place I found an old and highly perfumed bar of Irish Spring in the back of the closet. Yes, I've been a little itchy.
  4. Zip-lock bags. I usually try to reuse plastic bags a few times anyway. My kitchen sometimes looks like a laundry mat for garbage when I'm washing them, but oh well. This month I ran out of new ones, and have not bought more.

Second, a few things that I am rethinking for future months:

  1. My $45 haircuts. They happen once every three months, but seriously! That is half of our entire budget this month. You might not recognize me (or at least my hair) next year this time. Goodbye vanity.
  2. Cable TV/Internet. I don't think we'll really get rid of it though. We have a super good deal, thanks to Eric's diligent sleuthing. And I would slit my wrists if I had to blog on a dial-up connection. Truth be told, we watch TV once a week. Wish we could get rid of the TV and keep the cheap, fast Internet.
  3. Revoking Eric's credit card rights. No, I am not a money dictator jerk. I thought it and he said it, all at the same time. It is way too easy to drop cash on lunches at work, and I almost always pack him something to take. We're thinking about a cash allowance for work day expenses, but we're not sure how much is reasonable. Now, don't even get me started about tall mochas :).

Here's where I wax philosophical. I've been thinking about why I do this. In fact, does money even matter? I've concluded that it does. Back to the sermon series that got me going with this in the first we spend our money reflects where our heart is. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Where can we put our "treasure" that truly reflects our heart? Something to ponder individually, I suppose.

Also, the girltalkers have been blogging about the Proverbs 31 woman. "She does him good..." Proverbs 31:12 refers to her husband. As much as I've painted Eric as the spender lately, budgeting and being a wise steward of money is something he is very passionate about. So, I know that this is an area where I can serve my husband and do good to him. And it does me good too. Win/Win situation, folks!

Well, these are my thoughts for now. And as promised, I am ending this tangent. Thanks for asking so many questions and encouraging me with your comments. This has been a fun adventure for this mama!

Stretch-your-budget recipes

This is my favorite frugal recipe combination. This provides dinner for two days, but either recipe is good by itself. An added bonus, both recipes are EASY! Don't fear the cheap recipes; I know these are two of Eric's favorite meals around our house.

Dinner #1 - Honey Baked Chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange in shallow baking pan, skin side up:

One 3 lb. fryer chicken, cut up (or whatever kind of chicken you like or have on hand)

Combine and pour over:

1/3 c. margarine or butter, melted (I will not use margarine for health reasons, but it is cheaper than butter for sure)
1/3 c. honey
2 T. prepared mustard
1 t. salt
1 t. curry powder

Bake 75 minutes for bone-in chicken, basting a few times until chicken is tender and nicely browned. Bake 45 minutes is you're using boneless. Serve over rice.
Serves 6

***In order to get two dinners for the price of one, I usually make extra rice (at least 3 c. cooked) and throw in a little more chicken than the recipe calls for. Unless you have a small family, in which case this recipe will provide leftovers. ***

Dinner #2 - Vietnam Fried Rice

Cook 1 cup rice or have ready 3 cups leftover rice.

Heat in a large skillet:
4 T. cooking oil (I suggest coconut oil or olive oil for health benefits)

1/4-1/2 lb. any cooked or raw meat, chopped (use your leftover chicken!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, minced
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. sugar
1 T. soy sauce

Stir-fry until meat is tender and hot, about 1-2 minutes. Add:
3 c. cooked rice

Stir-fry 5 minutes. Add:
1 c. leftover or frozen vegetables, such as peas, green beans, carrots, peppers...

Stir well into rice-meat mixture. Just before serving, add:
2 eggs, beaten

Over medium heat, stir carefully through rice until eggs are cooked. Serve piping hot!
Serves 4

Both of these recipes, as well as many more are found in the legendary cookbook "More With Less" (subtitled: suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources).

About chicken...I don't really believe it is an economical choice when purchased in the grocery store. Moreover, it is probably not the healthiest choice considering the substandard nutrition chickens are given during mass production. However, we often see chicken for half price around here, and I usually stock up. Better yet, we get a few farm raised chickens from our parents and make the most of them!

What are your favorite penny pinching recipes? Do share!

Monday, October 27, 2008

How it happens

So many of you have asked how we did it. That is, spent $100 or so on groceries, etc. in the month of October. I'm going to post our methodology here. Not to puff ourselves up. In fact, you'll find it's just the opposite. In God's providence, our circumstances this month made all the difference. Read on, I'm sure you'll see what I'm talking about.

First, this was the plan: Spend a total of $125 on all flexible expenses such as groceries, miscellaneous needs, dates, clothing, family outings, etc. Check this and this out for more ideas.

We still spent money on our regular bills (electricity, mortgage, etc.), gas for the vehicles, tithing, and finishing up the garage project that was started a long time ago.

As it were, I had stocked up on diapers and wipes in September, so we didn't drop any cash on those big ticket items.

Dates were great, even though they were penniless. We went on a great walk one evening, and I can't remember what else we did. Probably walk more.

We participate in the WIC program in Minnesota, which means we get a lot of basic foods for free. Milk, cheese, cereal, beans, carrots, tuna, eggs, juice are not part of our regular spending.

We were blessed by the generosity of others. As long as the gardens are producing, we are thankful to usually be on the receiving end of great organic produce. Here is a list of the hand-me-down produce from Eric's dad and my parents this month:
  • 1/2 bushell apples
  • 20 pounds potatoes
  • 7 dozen eggs
  • At least 10 lbs. of tomatoes
  • Many, many peppers of all varieties (aren't they breath-taking?!?)
  • A small cooler of beets
  • 5 lbs. carrots
  • 10 or so cucumbers
  • 4 Buttercup squash
  • 1 lb. fresh-ground Spelt flour

As I do every fall, I spent a considerable amount of time freezing everything we couldn't use right away. There is no way we could eat up all of this in a few weeks time!

There were other gestures of generosity this month as well. Eric's Aunt Phyllis brought us a jar of her delicious strawberry freezer jam, Eric's mom bought us another jar of jam- raspberry's really good. Usually one small jar of jam wouldn't be a big deal, but it enabled us to make quite a few PB&J's (well, Almondbutter&J's)! Last Friday night I went out with a group of girl friends, expecting to pay for my meal with the debit card. But a kind, thoughtful husband of one of the ladies paid for all of our meals! Lastly, we received two bags of hand-me-down clothes for Eva, including a pair of shoes that she is wearing a ton.

As you can see, God made it easy to keep to a minuscule budget this month. But friends (and family), this is not unusual. This is God's character. He is always providing, always showering us with much more than we deserve! It builds my faith to try something like this. You see, we were never really in need. We could've decided to ditch the plan at any point and go back to spending as usual. So, the message seems to be: God provides when you play around with your budget, He will surely provide when you really need it. I am full of faith for the future, no matter what it might hold. Yes, our fruit basket hung empty more than once, but only because I didn't have time to run to Aldi.

What's left in my wallet

So much to write on this topic.

First, I will end the brief period of suspense. I have $3.07 in my wallet. It is Monday, and this money will last me until Friday...Halloween...the end of this loooooong month.

The worst thing about this month? Not the food we've eaten or the places we've gone. It's the boredom of not having any opportunity for adventure in the grocery store, kitchen, or any other store at all!
Here's what the receipts say
Today -
Aldi: Bananas, red grapes ($2.69...note inflation in 11 days!), tortilla chips, oranges $8.31 (Folks, Aldi is dirt cheap, and we're happy with it)

October 16 -
Aldi: Bananas, red grapes ($2.49), tortilla chips, iceberg lettuce, table salt ($.33), 6 oz. yogurt, onions, apples $10.05

October 10 -
Walgreen's: feminine products that were an absolutely unexpected expense. Argh! $3.49

Aldi: Red grapes (still $2.49), potato chips, cheese puffs (Eva picked out her special treat), potatoes (10 lbs./$2.99) $7.76

So, I started with $100, spent $20 on costume stuff, spent $29.61 at Walgreen's and Aldi (above), I recorded a few other grocery store stops here and here...all of this equals $80.84.

Where did the other $20 bucks go??? I recall pulling out $2 to give to our babysitters on Thursday (don't worry, we aren't that cheap...Eric pitched in the rest of a reasonable wage). I also recall at least two fast food splurges at McDonald's and Taco Bell. With just myself and the girls, we can pull away from McDonald's spending less than $4.00 thanks to the value menu. Now that I'm searching the archives of my brain, I remember tossing $2.00 towards a group tip on Friday night. And now that I've been typing for awhile, I remember that I bought 4 lbs. of butter at CUB a few weeks ago for $.99/lb. I really wanted to stock up more, but I didn't.

Now is the time to pat me on the back and celebrate my thriftiness. It's also a good time to marvel at how we didn't end up eating our Fall Fest costumes and acknowledge that I must have been Spirit led that day when I dropped a large percentage of our budget on absolute un-necessities. Go ahead, I deserve it...

Just kidding! Truth be told, I pulled out my debit card a few times. I specifically recollect purchasing a loaf of day-old artisan bread from the French Bakery across the street. It was $2.49. I also bought a pail of ice cream for a friend, which I agreed was a last minute emergency! Applaud my selflessness, I didn't even get a taste of it, either :). Yesterday we bought Subway sandwiches after church while en route to visit family in Mankato ($9.00). My legalistic self just can't feel OK about it. I know it's not a big deal at all, but that's just how I roll.

Therefore, in the spirit of transparency (and blame shifting :), I will tell you that Eric blew his $25 within about 10 days and decided to abandon the plan altogether, I think. At least that's what the credit card statement is telling me. Strange too, because he is most certainly the more disciplined half of this marriage. When he feels like it. Anyway, I digress.

Overall, I am happy with this month. We even managed to entertain a few times and bring two meals to struggling families. I'd say God provided for our needs! On a practical note, it seems obvious to me that we could scale back our normal grocery budget. It means less variety, less spontenaity, and more planning. But it would be rewarding to be able to use our money for a less mundane purpose than groceries.

So, that's the official audit of the month. I have no idea what I will spend my last $3.07 on, but I'll be sure to let y'all know!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Over lunch

I try to feed our family well in an old-fashioned, natural kind of way, as I believe God intended (brave statement, eh?). This month I cannot say that we're eating exactly as God intended, but rather as WIC intended...lots of eggs, cheese, milk, beans, cold cereal, tuna, carrots, juice. Not all bad things, just maybe in the wrong combinations. I must add, it is a goal to eat well, and sometimes we make other choices. And that's OK too. Anyway, today at lunch I was making a pitch for leftover split pea soup (see previous post). The resident 3 year old was suggesting canned refried beans with shredded cheese, melted in the microwave. My sales pitch involved the words vitamins, fiber, minerals, healthy & strong, nutritious.

Eva stops me at nutritious, "Mom, I don't think I like that word."

Ham! It's what's for dinner

This is a frugal month. Sorry I haven't been very faithful in updating on our budget challenge. I will probably post more later, but I'll say this much- it's going well! If Y2K every materializes, come to our house. I'm discovering that my meager stores of food will last for a long, long time. The groceries part of my $100 has gone very well...other areas have been a little trickier. More on that later, I hope.
One of the reasons the food goes so far, is that I am trying to stretch meat. Long considered the most expensive component to any grocery budget, we've been eating meat in moderation this month. In general, we've been eating everything in moderation with a little less variety. Guess what! Everyone is still nourished and still happy...hmmmm, food for thought.

Another reason the the food is lasting, is the generosity of others. Our family has always been the happy recipient of hand-me-down food, but this month I have really noticed the quantity. One example, the Christmas ham. Eric's Grandma gave us a nice ham for Christmas last year. Now, typically I shy away from serving pork, but ham is tasty and we have a lot of it. I baked it up a week or more ago, and here's a short list of the dinners we've had from this 8 lb. ham.
  1. Ham w/ mustard sauce, mashed potatoes, carrot sticks
  2. Black bean soup w/ ham, fresh bread, apples
  3. Egg bake w/ cubed ham, orange juice
  4. Split pea soup w/ ham, apples, red bell pepper slices
  5. Ham slices, roasted beets, carrot sticks, spelt bread (a recipe that was NOT a keeper!)
  6. Omelets w/ ham, green pepper, & onion, waffles
  7. Vietnamese fried rice (w/ ham & chicken, veggies), apples
  8. ***the last ham meal, coming up tomorrow night**** Loaded baked potatoes, minus sour cream, but with plenty of ham chunks to make up for it ;).
In case you're wondering, I'm the only one who seems bored with ham. Eric is still hamming it up at the dinner table. (sorry, I just had to find a way to fit that in!)
And I'm accepting any and all new ham recipes. Send them my way!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fashion Forward

Eva has learned that wearing two shirts keeps a person warmer. And I pointed out that layering is all the rage in the fashion world. I look forward every morning to her combinations!
The next (and obvious) conclusion: two pair of underwear! I suspect this will be a passing trend for my little fashionista, but it has lasted a week now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Anyone looking to buy a used Mazda 626 LX? We still want to be a one-car family, so we need to sell our old one. I'm not joking, if you know of anyone who is looking for a decent car, let them know!

On upgrading our transportation

Well, I've mentioned it several times now, so this is not new news. But, it is exciting news! We are now the proud owners of a minivan. Not surprisingly, I have many thoughts about this transition, but don't worry I won't share them all.

First, the history. We have always claimed that we will not need a minivan until we have three kids. We do not have three kids, but I do watch a third child most days, so I guess we sort of qualify under our own regulations. Eric has been desirous of a vehicle that he could transport lots of stuff in, such as drywall, lumber, junk, and people. General Mills leases vehicles for some of their employees, then each year the leasing company offers the vehicles to the company employees at a discount. So, around July Eric started getting emails about these vehicles. He got really excited about "stow n go," which allows a person to completely fold the seats into the floor of the van to make cargo space. Or, you can stow suitcases, etc. in the cargo hold while on a trip. While we were driving en route to our Labor Day camping bash, absolutely loaded down in our 4 door sedan, I got excited about "stow n go" too. So excited, in fact, that Eric called brother Ryan and asked him to research these vans, determine what the average cost was, and find out all the details about "our" model. Thirty minutes later, we pulled off the highway at a Fed-Ex, sat in front of a computer, and put down a deposit on a van. We found it to be very exhilarating. When Eric makes a decision, he moves fast. I take on a passive appearance and say things like, "I trust your judgement, honey"... never mind my white knuckles.

So, we rejoiced over our future minivan travels. Especially as we unloaded and loaded the entire household we had brought camping that weekend. It did seem like a good deal- it is a 2007 with low miles and the few amenities we were hoping for. The price was considerably lower than the other similar models we saw on the Internet, and the money was sitting in savings waiting to be spent! As I mentioned yesterday, brother Ryan delivered it to us from Indiana saving us the hassle of transporting it.

Here are the highlights for each of us:
Eric - I think you already know this, but he is just so happy about STOW N GO.

Becca - I can easily fit three kids in car seats in the back, without spending 20 minutes adjusting and readjusting the seat belts. I also do not have to "put a little hip into it" to get the doors closed after three car seats are appropriately squished in.

Eva - Driving down the road on Saturday, it occurred to her. With explosive excitement she shouted, "the van has an antenna!" Believe it or not, she has often lusted after other cars on the road with antennae.

Hope - It appears this van was created to quiet babies. She has done a lot of sleeping in the car lately.

True confessions: I really dislike the color. I guess that is how it goes when you buy something sight unseen. And, I really wanted a Honda Odyssey (but seriously, we're not rich!). And, I found myself feeling a little embarrassed as we pulled up to church on Sunday. Yes, I guess I am vain and shallow. And no, we have never had a cool car...what am I thinking?

Welcome to your new home, family van!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Follow-Up on Hotel Patenaude

Being that this is a Monday and I am typically a "slow starter" on Mondays, I thought I would give you a snapshot of life here today. Following the flurry of company over the last week, I am doing some catching up on more than just blogging.

Here's us in real life today:

Me? Haven't showered, haven't dressed (still in my bathrobe, sweats, and lime green crocs). Tried to write a list of things to do. All I've really done is make breakfast and lunch, read children's books, change three beds worth of sheets, run three loads of laundry, finish (almost) two blog posts, edit pictures from the last week.

I'm happy that Ella isn't here today. Not happy that she's too sick to be here.

Eva just woke up from a much needed nap...she usually doesn't nap, so we'll see about bed-time tonight.

Hope is still snoozing...hopefully making a final attack on her lingering cold.

Prepping to watch the Swanson's kids tonight for date night.

On the clothes line? Three sets of sheets, 5 pillow cases, 9 towels, several wash cloths. Do you think we should open a Bed & Breakfast? Yes, I hung three sets of wash out in my bathrobe. I don't care what the neighbors think!

Thinking about dinner...split pea soup? Better get crackin'!

Hotel Patenaude

I am dying to spend at least 24 hours straight blogging. Life is moving way too fast right now, and I want to record all of it! Since I don't know where to start, I will start with the most recent and hopefully move backwards to catch up.

Part of the reason life moves fast is because our revolving door moves fast. No, we don't really have a revolving door, but we sure can move a lot of people through in a short amount of time!

Last Sunday, Mom Patenaude headed home only to call a few hours later to make her reservations for Wednesday night. She and Aunt Bev were heading to Phoenix to see Uncle Dan who is in his last days of life. So, we actually booted two other sets of company for that night and penciled in Mom and Bev. Here they are on Thursday morning ready to go to the airport.
Thursday afternoon. Our next arrival was Eric's aunt Sue and her daughter Ronia. They were in town for college visits, as Ronia is considering St. Thomas University and the UofM, among others. They surprised us (and themselves) with an unusually early departure...11:30 pm, they knock on our bedroom door. Sorry! We're leaving! There was a small crisis at home that just couldn't wait, so they drove two hours straight home in the middle of the night. Don't worry, everything turned out OK. Here they are, right before departure. Friday night's reservations belonged to Mom Spears and Eric's brother, Ryan. Mom arrived after a conference she was attending in St.Paul. She came in time for omelets and waffles for dinner, then got to read some stories to the girls and hang around talking. We had the privilege of praying for Mom about the conference before she went to bed that night, something we will try to do more often in the future. Our little B & B is soon to become a prayer hostel too :). I neglected to get a picture of her. Oops!

Ryan arrived from Ohio around 11:30 pm, after a loooooong day of driving. He was our cheerful servant though, delivering our new-to-us mini van! His wife was also our cheerful servant, allowing Ryan to leave her at home while 37 weeks pregnant! Truly, we were happier to see Ryan than the van, but we did run straight out to the road to check it out. Here is the car courier, shortly after arrival.
Saturday night we had a full house! Ryan was still in town attending a church related meeting, so he returned to sleep. He brought his brother-in-law Charles. Sue and Ronia returned also, bringing with them Sue's next daughter Della and Ronia's boyfriend Colby and Della's NON-boyfriend Dan (they are just friends, got it?). They showed up after spending the evening at Valley Scare, so we ordered pizza and played video games until 1 am. I felt like I was at a high school sleepover, and it was fun! Eleven people slept under our tiny roof that night. Imagine my relief when I discovered we have exactly 11 pillows in this house.
Aunt Sue examines her directions to church...

The boys (yes, there are boys under those blankets) sleep late.

The girls (I know they're under there somewhere) also enjoy sleeping in.

We however, are brutally awakened from the high school sleepover dream when Eric has to take Ryan and Charles to the airport at 6am the next morning. I manage to sleep a little longer, getting up with the girls around 8am. Still, my sleepover days are numbered!

Last but not least, another servant of the Patenaude family arrives Sunday, after church. My Dad came to help Eric install a new service door in our garage. The project went well, the door looks good, everyone is pooped. Mom returned from her conference one last time to hang out while the door was going in, fall into an unshakable slumber on our couch, and roast a few hot dogs for dinner. Eva took this picture while running through the living room.

Although this post might give you the impression that we are just too busy, don't believe it! If you're ever in the Twin Cities, make sure to look us up. Advance reservations are recommended, but we always leave the light on. As you can tell, we live in close proximity to almost anything you would want to see. Thanks for all the fun visits this weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

He can do anything!

Today, as I was reading to Eva and Hope before their afternoon "naps" (ha ha), we happened upon an important truth. We were reading an old favorite (in fact, this copy of the book was mine as a child), "Snow."

The children in the book ask,
"What is snow? We do not know. But snow is lots of fun, we know."
"What makes it snow? We do not know. But snow is fun to dig and throw."
"Snow is good for me and you, For men and women, horses, too."

At this point, Eva casually comments, "They must not know God, mommy."

I ask, "Why?"

She answers with the tone of voice that says, "mom! Your naivety is astounding." "Because God makes it snow. He can do anything!"

Looks like Eva has a the start of a very good world-view.

Expanding my Repertoire

"If necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is the father of progress." -David Rockefeller

This banking tycoon, now 93 yrs old (thanks Wikipedia), knew a thing or two about motherhood. I haven't posted much about my recent childcare adventures, but for those of you who don't know, I watch another baby four days a week. Ella is the daughter of one of Eric's old singing compadres, and God definitely had his fingerprints all over this new arrangement. Monday through Thursday I am caretaker of 3 children, 3 and under. Ella is just 5 months, so she is the easiest to keep up with, although I'm still figuring out her quirks. Fridays are usually a delight, as I remember how easy it is to just have two small children. And, I most certainly appreciate the fact that my third child goes home each night at 5:30.

This week, all three are fighting colds. Thankfully, Eva is getting stronger and stronger and no longer gets overwhelming sick from a simple cold. Actually, she really only spent one day this week laying around in a feverish state. Praise God! I'm learning that Hope has a strong temper, so when she is sick it is all about keeping her content. And, Ella is just starting the runny nose/coughing today. We'll see what her sickness temperament is tomorrow, I bet.

Anyway, you can imagine there have been a few moments where invention was required and progress was dreamed of. As a result, I have acquired a few new skills. This "old dog" is learning a few new tricks, you might say.

I can now make a batch of scrambled eggs from start to finish with just one hand. Yes, I can crack an egg one-handed too! One small mishap: The lovely, nourishing, farm-fresh eggs we get from Eric's dad are not always uniform. Today, I was sprayed by an egg that projectile vomited it's fluorescent green egg white all over me. Yes, I had to change shirts. And no, Ella did not come in contact with this mysterious egg white. Thankfully. No, that has never happened before. No, I have no idea why the egg was chemically/genetically altered.

I can now carefully place one lumpy 5 month old in a Johnny-Jump-Up thingy, while holding one squirmy one year old. That is without ramming either of their heads into the door jam, too! Anyone who has ever wrestled with a JohnnyJumpUp knows what a feat this is.

I can now bottle feed, spoon feed, and talk on the phone- all at once.

I can now pry one three year old's hair out of the grip of a barely turned one year old, all the while bouncing a five month old and stirring eggs.

I now understand why earplugs were the daughter of necessity.

Lest you think that I am some kind of superwoman, let me leave you with what I cannot do:

I cannot get dinner on the table at 5:30 when Eric arrives home and Ella is whisked away by her parents.

I cannot keep my kitchen floor clean of falling debris in the form of food, toys, cooking utensils, and fingernails (Eric!!!!).

I cannot resist the urge to snack, especially if something dangerously bad for me is within reach.

I cannot get one load of laundry completely closed away in the drawers before the next load is folded. Anybody have an invention for that?

More language learning

Hope not only walks, she talks! She has been saying words for a few months now, but I haven't recorded much about it. So, again, for the sake of record keeping, here we go!

Hope says:

da-y (daddy)
doh-y (doggy)
(a barking noise)
ba-y (baby)
nigh (good-night)
eye (for both eye and eyebrow)
heh-o (hello)

and last, but certainly not least:

SCREACH!!! (for everything else a child could want)

Monday, October 13, 2008

We have a walker!

Hope started walking yesterday and today. Yesterday she risked it all when she let go of one chair and took a big, no-handed step to the next chair. Today she walked from one parent to the other, using five or six steps. She doesn't realize this is cool. She thinks we laugh and cheer just because she is so cute. She squeals and congratulates herself too, she just doesn't realize what it's for! I'll try to post video soon.

PS) Eva tells me that she taught Hope to walk (evidently they must work on it when we're not around ;).

How do you say...?

This post is entirely devoted to record keeping, here's hoping I remember it all!

Eva has always had very good diction and a broad vocabulary. But, despite our coaching, she persists in mispronouncing the following words. I think it is sweet, and I do not plan on correcting her anymore (unless she's still stuck when she's going off to college!).

amimal (animal)
blanana (banana)
octupush (octopus) - my personal favorite
oarport (airport)

She also frequently confuses "didn't" for "did," and "does" for "doesn't," and "do" for "don't". Apparently contractions are tricky for her. Example: "Mom, why don't you buy food for us?" Looking confused, I say, "Do you mean, why do I buy food for us?" She says, "Yes."

It's like a little glitch in her brain- sometimes it fires right, other times she goes the whole day long using her contractions backwards. I'm sure her brain will re-wire itself soon!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Now this is a true story (and the answer to yesterday's question)

I thought I'd have Eva tell her own story, so I'm interviewing her as I type.

Me: What did we find under your bed yesterday? Do you remember?

Eva: Gleefully, "Yep!"....(long pause)...."What?"

M: Something green...

E: What was it?

M: Little...something you can eat...has to do with a princess...

E: Dying of suspense (like all of you?), "What was it mom?!? Can you tell me? Tell me right now!"

M: Two, shrivelled up, dried out, green peas. Why were they under your bed, Eva?

E: Smiling mischievously, "Because I wanted to play the "pea and the princess."

M: Can you tell me that story?

E: No, I won't do it.

Well OK, end of interview.

So, I will tell the story. I don't have any idea how long those peas have found their residence under the mattress, but it could be as long as a year (I never claimed to be a housekeeping goddess!). I smiled when I found them, knowing exactly why they were there.

Around the time that Hope was born, Eva had a huge fascination with traditional story tales, and especially "The Princess and the Pea." I first told her the story before bed one night, and I really just made it up as I went along, trying to recall the details. I hadn't read the story myself since I was probably six years old, so the details were a little fuzzy (and as it turned out, some were altogether wrong). The story climaxes as the queen places one little green pea under twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds in order to test the maiden's claim to royalty. Surprisingly, Eva asked for that story night after night for weeks. Eventually she would tell me exactly what story she wanted, how it should be told, what each character should say, and correct every small deviation from the original. She knew this story by heart!

After a few days, I would hear her telling this story to her stuffed animals or doll, always word for word exactly as I had told it the first night (and as she reminded me to tell it each night thereafter). After a few weeks, we began capitalizing on this feat of memorization, and we would ask Eva to entertain us or our friends and family with her rendition of the tale. It was so cute! The best part was when she would say, "The prince and the princess fell madly in love", emphasis on madly. Her quiet, high-pitched two year old voice is etched on my memory saying, "Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess...but it had to be a real princess..." Hopefully my memory will serve me for a long, long time!

Post script: There are many different regional versions of this tale, and we've checked out lots of them from the library. I think the original is by Hans Christian Anderson, and it ends with these words: "Now this is a true story."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chicken Pot Pie

Here's the recipe for Hope's birthday chicken pot pie.

As I mentioned before, last time I made it I used a combo of spelt flour and whole wheat pastry flour for the crust.
I have made it using turkey, it was great!
The veggies are a little different each time, whatever is in the fridge or the freezer. I have never done potatoes!

Have fun, and enjoy!

Take a guess!

We really cleaned the girls room this morning. New bedding, sweep, pick-up mountains of clothes and toys, shake out the rug. I'm surprised that when it's all put away, I realize that we don't really have ridiculously excessive amounts of stuff. Well, we have way more than we need, but it isn't as outrageous when it is all in it's place.

So, the question I am throwing out: What did I find between Eva's box-spring and mattress today? Actually, there were two of them. What do you think they were???

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Spooky" Spending

Just a quick update on our October money challenge...

I've thoroughly enjoyed all the enthusiastic feedback on the idea. Now, anyone up for actually joining us???

Sad but true, we are quickly whittling away at our $125. Today I spent money on apples, elbow macaroni, and evaporated milk. I think it was about $10.

I've read before that people who never have enough money don't even try to make the "right" choices with it. And it is a vicious cycle, meaning poor choices build on one another until poor people are permanently poor with no way out. The idea is: we'll never have enough for everything we need, why don't we get what we want?

Today I shopped for Halloween costumes. Actually, they are "fall fest" costumes, but we might take the girls trick or treating in them as well. And, although I really pinched pennies, I still spent much more than I probably should have on things that we certainly don't need. Actually, I spent almost exactly $20 at our local thrift shop on costume supplies for a family of four. Wig, hat, fairy wings, skirt, dress, glitter, plastic sword, belt and more...I think I did quite well for $20...even if I didn't need this stuff.

Wise choice? I'm not so sure. But, this is an experiment. And we'll be spending less this month regardless. And, and, and (can't you hear me rationalizing it all?). Nonetheless, if you see us eating wig/hat/wings/skirt/dress/sword/glitter casserole at the end of the month, you can definitely say "I told you so!"

Friday, October 03, 2008

Birthday Indulgence, Part II

The second party took place on Sunday afternoon, with only the Spears side of the family (since they all live the closest). It was pretty low key- just dinner, cake, and presents.

I struggled to come up with a good dinner menu as Hope cannot yet answer the question, "What would you like to eat on your birthday?" and she appears to be a picky eater already. I settled on chicken pot pie, roasted beets, and grapes. Nothing gourmet, but all foods that Hope likes and everyone else will eat too. As an aside: The chicken pot pie was an adapted recipe that we love, and I tried to make healthier this time. Chicken was replaced with chicken and pheasant, the crust was made from a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and spelt flour, and I used up the last of my own hard-earned turkey broth. While it didn't taste exactly like the original recipe, it still was gobbled right up. I was pleased with the compromise of flavor (still a flaky crust...) and nutrition. Thanks to both sides of grandparents, we had organic, garden-fresh beets. Yum!

The cake also has a bit of a story. When my parents were married, 30+ years ago, Grandma "Whatsy" baked, froze, un-froze (well, almost), and frosted their wedding cake. It was Roman Apple Cake, a stellar recipe that I have been sure to make every fall since I've been in the kitchen. So, Hope had a variation of this nostalgia-full only change was to use spelt flour and coconut oil. I joked that the cake was so healthy, we should be making sandwiches with it!
Here are the visual aids:

Eva was escstatic about the birthday hats.Everyone crammed around our small table in our teeny-tiny kitchen.
The big box, which Eva and Hope very enthusiastically unwrapped, contained a cute rocking chair from Ikea. Hope sits in it a lot, rocking her baby and shouting for attention.

Grandma and Grandpa recently ransacked the city wide garage sale in Cambridge, arriving at our (cluttered) house with lots and lots and lots of small gifts that they bestowed on Hope. These little Elmo slippers (only a few sizes too big...) were among their finds.

The grand finale was cake, which we all enjoyed. Thanks for making the yummy cream cheese frosting, Erin! Hope surprised me by devouring her part (she also ate it for breakfast the next two days...remember, it was healthy cake :).

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Birthday Indulgence, Part I

Thankfully Hope's birthday took place in September, not in October, because we would've had a hard time sticking to our $100 budget.

Not that it was extravagant, just a little extra to celebrate. We actually had two parties, one to christen our new patio and eat birthday cake, and one family party. Here are pics-

Lund's and Byerly's grocery stores give away a free cake on a child's 1st birthday...just show them the birth certificate. This cake was so cute, and delicious!

Everyone is singing to you, Hope!

Some of the friends gathered on the NEW PATIO (wahoo!!!)

Her first taste of chocolate ever. I think she likes it (it's a genetic disposition:).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bare Bones Update

EDIT: Don't trust my memory or my ability with numbers...after reviewing my sales receipt from yesterday, I will post the actual facts in RED.

I explained earlier about my $100 for the month.

Shortly after leaving the bank, I spent my first $15 ($21.23) (and some change). Here's what I got-

A bag (5.13 lbs) of apples (.98 / lb.)
5 lbs. white flour
4 lbs. white sugar
6 bananas
40 oz. chicken thighs (buy one/get one deal)
1 bag store brand egg noodles
1 small container dried thyme (I should probably reconsider my "needs")
1 lb. baby carrots

The $85 ($78.77) in my pocket better last us for 30 more days!


Bare Bones October

I'm making an announcement:

Today I went to the bank and withdrew $125 in cash. And that is our budget for the month of October. You ask, "Is this really blog worthy?" Well, I guess so. I've been inspired towards this endeavor by other bloggers, so I thought I would take you along with me on the adventure. So here are the details:

What: The Patenaude family is attempting to spend a very small amount of money this month by limiting my spending to $100, and Eric's spending to $25. After the cash is gone, we're done. What will I spend my $100 on? Everything! Groceries, diapers, clothes, movie rentals, date night...basically anything that I would otherwise use my check card/credit card for.

Why: We have always been budget happy, and by God's grace there has always been enough $$$ to go around. Thankfully we don't have car loans, credit card debt, etc. BUT, we have gotten a little loose with our spending. Last month we bought a mini van (more to come on that, I'm sure) and a lot of cement work around our house. We depleted our savings significantly with those big purchases. Now it is time to build it back up. Also, Eric had a short career as a graduate student last year, but that brief mission has left us with some new school loans. We would like to ZAP those loans, and soon!

How: The freezer has lots of produce from our parent's gardens, meat from the past few hunting seasons, and random baked goods. We plan on eating it. In general, we're going to work with what we have, and find an inexpensive way to get what we need (such a subjective concept, isn't it?).

My inspiration: In the month of September, Mary spent a measly $194 on her family of 12. Got that???? I'd say $100 should work for us according to her recipe!

Other inspiration: This post by Jenni and this sermon series preached in the last few weeks.

So, anyone want to join us? I think it will be a fun experiment, and we are psyched to see how we can retouch our budget based on this month's findings.

Here we go!