Monday, February 22, 2010

I ♥ Faces Week 8: "Hands on Fun"

Thought I'd join in on this week's i heart faces because the theme is "hands on fun" and I have a bunch of hand shots from the last month or two! This one's my favorite because it's so soft and girly.

To see more pretty pictures click on the link below:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Seeking Sun in the Northwest

I don't know about anyone else but cold rainy weather is not my favorite. Lucky for me I live in the Pacific Northwest! Oh wait, maybe that's not the best place to be if you don't like cold rainy weather. I do, however, love to live in the Pacific Northwest when the sun is shining because then it makes the gray rainy days incredibly worth it. The grass is so green, the sky is so blue, and it really can't get any prettier. It just takes a lot of rain to make it happen! So I'm willing to live with a little (ok, a lot!) of rain to be here.

Today was one of the rare gorgeous golden sunshine February days and I loved it. More specifically, my camera loved it. I'm trying very hard to conquer sun flare and gray rainy days don't exactly give me much to work with in that department. For that my friends, I need sun. The only place in my yard to find sun for sun flare is in the backyard and by our lilies in the side yard. That's why all my sun flare photos are of the kids in the lilies and on the swing set. That's what I have to work with.

If you live near me and happen to have better late afternoon sun access just let me know and I'll gladly camp out in your yard with my camera. :)

Without further ado my favorite sun flare photo of the day:

Notice the pretty flare at the lower lefthand corner!

And this one doesn't have much flare because Grace was sitting opposite of Ethan and the sun wasn't hitting her quite right. I kind of like this girly action with this photo. Grace is such a pink princess kind of girl it's not even funny. Appropriate is it not?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentines Day!

I snuck some Valentines photos of the kids in on Friday afternoon after their parties. They both received red heart suckers which worked perfectly as a reward/distraction for me to take photos. Grace is always a little more challenging since she rarely looks at me and gives cheesy smiles when I have a camera in my hands. Ethan is always more obliging in my effort to photograph my children. He's quite willing to look at me and smile his easy going grin and even more so when there's candy involved. The secret for getting good photos of him is to do it right after his nap when he's not quite awake (and not moving so fast!) and have him sit on our kitchen stool outside. Sitting keeps him immobile which makes picture taking easier. Just a tip for the rest of you!

I also have a ton of photos of the kids looking at their Valentines but I haven't had a chance to edit them all quite yet. We went to the Indoor Park Valentines Party Friday morning and Grace had her preschooler party Friday afternoon. We've got enough Valentines candy to last us through Easter and then some! Good thing Mommy and Daddy are willing to help eat it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Grocery Deals 101

I've been asked by many people to share my grocery shopping secrets so I thought I'd share the nuts and bolts with you all here. I'm by no means an expert but I can certainly point you to the blogs and websites you'll need to add to your bookmarks in order to be a successful couponer. So bear this in mind, and know that you can certainly be more or less hardcore and still save money!

The first thing you'll need to do to begin couponing is to get coupons. Where do you get them? Glad you asked. Start by buying multiple copies of the Sunday newspaper. I buy at least one copy each Sunday and if I know there are coupons I will definitely use I'll buy 2-3. Around these parts you can get the Sunday Statesman Journal at the Dollar Store or Walmart for $1. Sometimes the Oregonian has more/better coupons and I pony up and buy it instead. And don't worry if you don't get to the store on Sunday, I often buy my Sunday paper on Monday or Tuesday!

Aside from the obvious newspaper coupon inserts you can find coupons in a zillion other places. There's a ton that you can find online and print from home. Most online printable coupons can be printed twice per computer, so make sure to print the maximum you can! You can also check out the websites for brands/products you like and find coupons there. Lots of grocery stores give away coupon booklets now and then (Safeway and Albertsons both have one out right now I believe) and when you cruise the aisles keep an eye out for the coupon dispensing machines can take as many as you like. I normally take 3-4, unless it's a really good coupon for something I know I'll buy and then I might just sit there taking coupons from the machine until the cows come home! There are also coupons attached to lots of grocery products (called peelies) and coupons inside the packaging of items you buy. I also sign up for lots of coupon booklets online and have received a multitude of coupons that way. Another trick is to email the companies of products you purchase and ask for coupons. I contacted Tillamook and received a bunch of $.50 off cheese coupons which I never would have gotten otherwise.

Online Sources for Coupons:

So once you have a ginormous stash of coupons how do you store them? I use a binder that zips closed and fill it with plastic baseball card sheets that I bought at Walmart. Then I put my coupons in the baseball card holders and have everything organized by category. I love that I can see all my coupons easily and it's super easy to find what I'm looking for. It is a bit of work to set up but for me it's been totally worth it.

The next variety of coupon I'd like to talk about are e-coupons. Even if you don't want to go through the hassle of cutting coupons you can use these. They are SUPER easy. Basically you sign up and link your store card number to your account and then save the e-coupons to your store card. E-coupons can stack with each other, with the regular paper manufacture's coupons, and also with store coupons. Check out Cellfire, Shortcuts, P&G e-Saver, and Safeway's own E-coupon Program.

Now that you know where to find coupons and how to store them it's time to talk about how to effectively use them! The best deals are usually found by combining a combination of a sale, store coupon, manufacturer's coupon, e-coupons, and/or rebates and then stocking up. It's a lot of work to look through the ads every Sunday but there are so many people out there that do it that you can cut to the chase and read other people's blogs where they've done all the work for you. There are lots of blogs out there that list what's on sale and what coupons to combine to get a good deal.

Here is a list of some of my favorite coupon blogs that do all the work of finding the deals each week:
I have them all in my Google Reader and I check them several times a day. They often post links to online coupons, links to coupon books to be mailed to you, links for freebies (which often come with coupons), as well as grocery/drug store deals.

Once you find a good deal you stock up! Part of how I save money is by buying a lot of something that's a good deal so that I won't have to buy it full price later. There's a sale cycle for just about everything and the longer you coupon the better you'll know how often items go on sale. Some things go on sale frequently (cereal anybody?) and other things go on sale very rarely. If you are brand specific then you really need to pay attention to how often your brand goes on sale and then buy enough to last you until the next sale cycle. Our family is brand specific in shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste but I still manage to get good deals. I don't pay over $1 for any of it, but if we were not brand specific I would probably never pay for those items. In fact I buy hygiene products for free all the time and donate it to the food bank. We are less brand specific for cereal and now I won't pay over $1 for a box of cereal. It's not hard to do.

I hope this helps some of you out. Later I'll go in detail on what stores I shop and some of the specific strategies for shopping them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grace's Eye Appointment

Grace visited the Casey Eye Institute up at OHSU on Monday morning and we met with the doctor that will be performing her eye surgery this summer. My Mom was gracious enough to let us spend the night with her on Sunday night which got us at least an hour closer. The appointment was at 8:30am which meant that I got the kids up at 6:30am in order to eat and get there without rushing. Mom was a life saver! She drove us up to OHSU and dropped Grace and I off while she kept Ethan for me. That let me concentrate on Grace and her appointment which I sooooooo very much appreciate. That and not having to figure out OHSU parking pretty much made my day!

The doctor met us in the waiting room and was very good with Grace. He's not specifically a pediatric eye surgeon so I wasn't sure how he would handle her. We went back to an exam room and Grace performed the eye exam by reading letters for the first time. Last year I think we used shapes and the times before that they determined her vision by having her look at moving toys across the room while they looked into her eyes with a variety of prisms. He determined that she has 20/40 vision in her right eye (the one with the ptosis) and 20/30 vision in her left eye. This is the first time there's been a difference between the eyes, which makes me feel that the surgery is definitely coming at a good time.

The eye doctor somehow managed to measure her eyelid muscles and determined that Grace does have some muscle in her right eyelid which is a good thing. Then he explained what the surgery would consist of and what the expected outcome will be. The surgery will basically put permanent stitches in her eyelid muscles to help keep the muscle taut. The downside to this is that her right eyelid won't match her left eyelid when she looks down because it will be pulled up. Apparently she's destined to have mismatched eyelids! At least this surgery will give her the ability to look up without moving her entire head. Since there are still a few more years of brain/eye development left she will benefit from doing the surgery now.

OHSU only does pediatric eye surgery on the second Tuesday of the month which gave us three dates to choose from this summer. Both June and July are out due to the rodeos so August it is. The big bummer for Grace will be that she can't put her head under water for a month after the surgery so swimming the second half of the summer will be out. I'll just have to make sure that we do swimming lessons the first half of summer!

I don't plan on really talking about the surgery with Grace until the week prior. I don't want her to dwell on it for six months or have time to get scared of it. Anyone who has experience with a preschooler having a surgery I'd love to hear how you handled it!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Dress Loving Girl

Grace loves to wear dresses. She's worn a dress almost every day for a year and a half, only deigning to wear jeans when I insist on such occasions as: camping, going to the pumpkin patch, picking out a Christmas tree, and that's pretty much it. Last year the dress obsession caught me by surprise and I quickly got tired of the five knit dresses she wore in rotation. I was also annoyed that 75% of her closet didn't get worn because she wanted nothing to do with pants. This year I was prepared and I bought one pair of jeans and a multitude of dresses. Lots of dresses. Since this was the first year Grace was entering into preschool I made sure to buy plenty of cheap knit dresses that would survive paint/glue/markers and anything else preschool could throw at us. As it turns out it didn't really matter because Grace is pretty careful and has only come home with something on her dress twice this year.

I shop consignment stores pretty often. While I was in Portland a few weeks ago I decided to stop by a consignment store that I somehow found on Twitter called Mama's and Papa's. Everything was 50% off since they were cleaning out their winter stuff. I didn't find a thing for Ethan but I did find a nice Hanna Andersson coat that will fit Grace next year and this dress. Usually I'm not one for animal prints which is why I passed by it at first. Then I noticed the ruffles. And the bows. I finally pulled it off the rack and Grace took one look at it and immediately wanted to try it on. She was sold hook, line, and sinker and didn't want to take it off. I looked at the tag and decided that for $4 she could have it. The very kind store owner let her wear it out of the store and we did an impromptu photo shoot around the block.

I'm glad I got the dress for her because it's become a favorite. It fits her really well and she obviously loves to wear it! These dancing photos were taken yesterday afternoon when we were taking advantage of the winter sunshine. She wanted me to take pictures of her in her pretty dress. She also wanted to dance. I'd say I killed two birds with one stone.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cubbies, Popcorn, and Naps

I haven't posted here in awhile, probably because I've been sharing a photo a day on my Project 365 blog. I don't want to repeat it here and now I've been neglecting sharing what's going on with our family. So here's a small catch up.

Since I've had the camera out more often I've been getting more spontaneous and even more mundane moments. I found myself taking photos of Ethan as he settled down for his afternoon nap one day this week. I figure that the time will come sooner then I'm ready for when afternoon naps will be a thing of the past and I want to remember how sweet he is when he snuggles in with his multitude of stuffed animals and babies. His current crib cohort includes: Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Baby Boy, Blue Baby, Purple Baby, Pink Baby, Mickie Mouse, two Elmos, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Ernie. Oh, and he also insists on having the baby cradle's pillow and blankie in the crib for his babies as well. There's really very little room for Ethan after he stacks his babies up next to him!

And then we have Grace at Cubbies. She's been doing a very good job memorizing her verses this year. We had a difficult start in the fall but now she's got it down pat. They earn patches every month or so and I always ask if she wants Ethan and I to watch the Awards Ceremony and she always says yes. As you can tell by the second photo, she was very happy we were there! I can't believe that I won't have a Cubbie next year. Grace will be a Sparkie (yikes!) and Ethan won't be 3 by September.

And this last photo was taken last night after dinner. Ethan finished his dinner first (actually he inhaled it!) so he got to pick a movie to watch for Movie Night. He chose Veggie Tales. Once Grace finished her dinner (halfway through the was a struggle!) they earned the right for popcorn. David took a break from his busy work day to watch Veggie Tales with the kids and when they both curled up on his lap with the popcorn bowl I couldn't help but get some photos. Aren't my guys sweet?