Friday, January 30, 2009

Weekly round-up - Jan. 30

Well, another Shabbat is upon us here in the Wild West of Houston. It's beautiful outside but of course I am not spending enough time outside. Most of my Shabbat dinner and lunch are made...just a couple more things to obtain from the grocery store (also known as the black hole for money), and a quick trip to the library to pick up some great reading material (I requested a biography of Maria Montessori and Wally Lamb's latest novel).

Yesterday we went to a trial class at My Little Gym. At first, my daughter was scared of all the music and new equipment around her that she's never seen before (balance beam, uneven/parallel bars, mats, etc), but she quickly warmed up. There were a few group activities, some free time, and a couple of focused activities to work on specific skills. It was neat - she fell in love with a couple of pieces of equipment. She watched in amazement as the instructor blew bubbles, and she enjoyed playing with the bouncy balls the instructor threw out. There were lots of other cute kids there, and I think she enjoyed the social interaction.

Um, I am now sore after that exercise experience. Is it bad that I am sore from a movement class for a 15-month old?

This morning she smashed banana into our bedsheets (thank you dear husband for the idea of bringing her a giant piece of banana at 6 am in the hopes of gainng a few more minutes of sleep). That's a non-repeatable experience.

Can't believe it's already the end of January. Yay February!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Craft: Mini photo album

I got this idea from another blog (click here) and made this as a birthday present for a dear friend. It was quite an adventure for me, as I got to go to Hobby Lobby and pick out neat papers and stickers. Needless, to say, I was very proud of my finished product and showed it off to my parents and husband. I had never done anything like this (decorative scissors! binder rings! designing a page!) but now I would like to do more.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jan. 27, 2009 - the new adventure begins

AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT A DAY!!!!!

Today, our daughter walked on her own for the first time for a significant distance!!!!! She has long been walking assisted by a finger or a hand, and two weeks ago she took a few steps every now and then by herself, but today she decided to walk on her own! Around the house! Doing laps! She did maybe 10 laps around the house before lunchtime. She was so proud of herself, she had this enormous goofy grin on her face the whole time. SHE IS A TRUE TODDLER NOW!!!!!!!

This change brings a few truths to light:
1. It's time to get serious about babyproofing. As in, nothing is safe now from our curious explorer.
2. I will now embark on a new exercise plan called "running after child". I think Daddy's elliptical machine is so old-hat.
3. Once she becomes accomplished at walking, we'll move on to potty training, dish washing, and floor mopping. (just kidding about those last few, but that would help around the house...)

This is very exciting. I almost welled up in tears as I watched her toddle around, until I remembered that I should get the video camera, and then I remembered that the tape is full, and I should go get the regular camera and use the movie setting to record it, and then I couldn't figure out how to use the movie setting. So much for capturing the moment...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Home Ec Tip: Visit your local children's consignment shop

Consignment shops are a great place to find special bargains on typically high-quality items, and I think that they are frequently overlooked when it comes to budgeting and shopping. So often we assume that the only way to acquire something new is to buy it brand-new from a store, but in a consignment shop, the emphasis is that it is new to you. And to help, consignment stores usually have high standards on what items they will accept, so there may be rules like no scuff marks on shoes, no tears/rips/tatters on clothing, all parts must be included in a toy/puzzle, etc.

Children's consignment shops can be a goldmine because children outgrow clothing so quickly and the closet needs to be updated regularly. I just visited a favorite children's consignment shop and picked up a Baby Gap dress (in perfect condition) and a pair of Italian girl's shoes that are originally priced way more than what I paid. In addition, I found a terrific Parents-brand activity set that I know my daughter will love and I wasn't able to pass it up.

My total bill was about $50 for a pair of shoes, the toy, and three clothing items (2 dresses and a t-shirt). Not bad.

This particular shop has clothing, toys, bedding, baby supplies such as Boppys, books, baby gear, maternity wear, and children's accessories (shoes, underwear, hats, belts, tights, ties, etc).

I highly recommend a visit to a children's consignment shop, if you have time. The service is friendly and personal (I am on the list to be called if a double-stroller comes in), and the finds can be terrific. I know of 3 in the Houston area:
Second Childhood
Young & Restless

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A new hobby

As of very recently I now have a lot of free time on my hands, and since I am not used to so much free time I need to come up with ways to stay productive. For reasons that are unknown to me and I cannot explain, I have picked up a crafting hobby of sorts. This is ironic because I have always HATED arts and crafts time (either at school or camp) and I have an inability to come up with anything on my own (which was why I didn't like my music composition class, or why I always cook from a recipe, never from my own ideas). So why I have this desire to do crafting is beyond me.

But, it is what it is, as a great sage once said (and I frequently repeat), so I succumbed to my local Hobby Lobby.

So far I like crafts that deal with paper. I have made a photo album for a friend (photo to be posted soon) and I made a laminated sign for the Al Netilat Yadayim (ritual hand-washing) blessing. My husband bought me a
crafting book, and I checked out other crafting books from the library. However, I am still in search of good ideas of what to craft.

If you have an idea of what I can do, please share. Since I am (very) new to this, every idea is a good idea and I will appreciate your input.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Money Tip: Keep track of it all in one spot

Tracking finances is the surest way to manage inflows and outflows, and these days, it is especially critical to watch those outflows (and then wonder how to boost the inflows). It's not an exciting activity, and it's not something you would choose to do on a Saturday night, but it's necessary nonetheless because you do not want a situation where you have an emergency (urgent medical crisis, car breaks down, last minute airplane tickets, etc) but no funds.


If you've heard of Quicken, then you will understand the concept. Similar to Quicken, syncs up with all of your checking and savings accounts, your investments accounts, your credit cards and continuously updates your financial picture. The difference here is:

1. It's free (you have to pay for Quicken).

2. Because is a website, it automatically updates for you (as opposed to in Quicken where you have to initiate the update).

3. The entire layout of the site, the reports, the transactions are all easy to understand, which in turn makes it easy to understand where your money goes.

4. The site emails you with alerts, such as when a fee was assessed, when you have reached your budget limit, etc.

It takes a few minutes to set up (depending on how many accounts you have), but once you've set it up, it is almost fun to visit the site daily for updates to see what you can do immediately to change your financial picture.

And the logo makes me think of mouthwash every time I see it. Very refreshing indeed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Home Ec Tip: Visit your local ethnic store

Ethnic stores are not solely for that specific ethnic population. Consider an ethnic store a very cheap trip to an exotic locale.

There are two Russian stores right near me; I patronize one more than the other. The store carries more than just Russian products; it carries produce, cheeses and meats from all around the world (obviously, not for the kosher consumer), and an incredible variety of packaged products from many European countries (predominantly Eastern European and former Soviet republics), as well as products from Israel. There are candies, canned vegetables, wines and beers, teas and coffees, desserts, breads and jams, rices, beans, sauces, frozen foods, dairy products, etc. - the list goes on and on. It offers baked goods, freshly-prepared take-out foods, and fish and fish products. It also has health and beauty aids, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and a huge variety of souvenirs from various countries. All in a rather small space.

But what is critical here is the price point. Generally the produce, nuts, dried beans, and rices are much cheaper than what is found in a grocery store, and the variety of offerings can't be beat. I know to visit this store first for produce before I go to a grocery store, because I know that my bill will be lower. And that definitely helps in the frugality department, without sacrificing quality.

There are many other ethnic stores out there: Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian (Chinese, Japanese, etc.), Hispanic, and more. Take a walk on the wild side and visit another land without whipping out your passport!

(wow that was incredibly cheesy, but it seemed like such a fitting way to end the post...)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Walgreens is my friend

I have discovered Walgreens.

I used to think that Walgreens had very limited uses:
1. pharmacy
2. photo services
3. extensive makeup and health and beauty aids

Those who pushed a cart around Walgreens - who were browsing and shopping - obviously, those were people who were, shall we say, getting on in years. With nothing else to do.

Well, these economic times have opened my eyes to see Walgreen's inner beauty, its quiet strength. For it not only carries an abundance of health and beauty aids, but also a little bit of everything to make your life a little bit easier. And you know what, my life does become easier because Walgreens is closer to me than other stores, so why drive all the way to Office Depot to buy a ruler?

But not only that...

I now review the Walgreens insert in the Sunday paper - I clip out Walgreens coupons! Today, I used a cart while I was browsing through Walgreens (although I did have a list of items I needed to get as well). It was my first time, so I wanted to carefully go through each aisle, get to know my new friend. I even carried a Walgreens coupon with me (hey, a penny saved here is a penny to be spent somewhere else...).

And - the best part about it all is that Walgreens carries products made in Israel!! The Yes to Carrots beauty brand is manufactured in Israel! (and Yes to Tomatoes and Yes to Cucumbers.) So, I encourage you all to go out to your neighborhood Walgreens and support this store and brand and support Israel!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fun Stories: The Accident with the Tree Branch

Before we lived in Houston, when we lived on the East Coast, we used to park our car in the lot in front of our building. The city had planted trees along the sidewalk, and the trees would shade our car when it was sunny. One day, the city decided to cut down the trees (they were lovely trees, and the reason for cutting them down escapes me - my husband now reminds me that the reason was because the trees produced berries that stained cars), and had warned the residents of certain spaces to move their cars that were parked near the trees for safety purposes. Afterwards, the city would begin to cut down the trees. We weren't warned because our parking space wasn't an affected space.

Later that day we discovered a giant dent in the roof of our car...where a tree branch had fallen. So, it turns out that our parking space was an affected space. Too bad the city didn't warn us. We didn't ask the city to repair the damage - wasn't worth it, since no one looks at the roof of a car.

The reason why I remember this story is because tonight I watched an Allstate commercial where a tree branch falls on top of a car. In a twisted way, it always makes me laugh.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Receipt Revenge

A big thing that's been weighing on my mind recently is managing our finances. There is always room for improvement, and especially given recent price increases in, oh, everything, managing finances is even more important.

So I was really ticked off yesterday when I looked at my total bill during my trip to the Walmart grocery store. $37, and that's with coupons, and I bought 14 items. Fourteen!! Just 14! And I didn't buy anything exotic or expensive, just basic items like peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, salsa, etc. The most expensive item was a bag of grapes for about $4. How is that possible? And I used coupons like frugal moms do!!

So what's a girl to do? I am going to continue looking for ways to trim the grocery budget, but c'mon, help a girl out here. I will fight back - I am not going to take this lightly. The grocery store will not hijack my money.


It's a Tuesday afternoon, about 5:15 central time, and I've decided to start a blog because I have nothing else to do.

Yes I do. I could be working, or playing with my daughter, or reading other blogs...

This blog is going to be about my life in Houston, the challenges with trying to become more observant, the fun that is parenting, and the joy that just comes from the stuff of life.

A few things about me:
I am currently a consultant with a major firm. Normally this would entail much traveling and onsite client work, but my pregnancy and subsequent child have put a damper on that. I enjoy my work but I enjoy living at home (rather than in a hotel) even more. I hope to continue my current job as long as I can, and then afterwards, we will see what doors will open.

I live here with my parents and sibling all within 2 miles of me. It gives me immense joy to see my daughter interact with her grandparents and cousins on a weekly, if not more frequently, basis. That is something I wasn't able to experience, and this is why we moved back here, so that she would grow up surrounded by her family. I was born and bred here, so I guess you couldn't take the Texan out of me.

My life so far hasn't exactly gone according to plan, but I love it. I have learned to just roll with it and take the best option available. Things usually turn out better than you expect them to.