Thursday, December 26, 2019

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap (for December)

Merry (late) Christmas, everyone!  And Happy Holidays (to cover my bases)!

I apologize for not blogging more this month.  It's been crazy around here.  But, hey, enjoy the shot of the new love seat with the the grey slipcover on it (I love these silp covers as they fit the new love seat so associate link, I'm just sharing :) and all of the Christmas pillows on it (I was actually able to put out all of the Christmas decorations this year, so yay!!!).

First there was me fighting my health.  I was really going through an uncertain period with my health there.  While on Valtrex to battle a secondary infection that settled in after the initial staph infection I woke up with my lips broke out in lesions and swollen (and might I say REALLY hurting bad).  I went back to the doctor to try and figure out what in the Heck was going on, but I kind of baffled them, which is always a great feeling (sarcasm...where would we be without you?).  They ended up putting me on Prednisone to reduce the swelling in my mouth and told me to take Benadryl as well when suddenly I broke out in blister-like swelling places in the roof of my mouth that were working their way down my throat.  It was terrifying to be honest and I was scared to death I was going to end up in the hospital battling God knows what.  Luckily, between the Prednisone, the Benadryl, the Valtrex and the loads of vitamins I started popping in earnest to try and boost up my seeming-to-be-floundering immune system, something caught and seemed to hold.  I've been off of medication for about a week now and so far *knock on wood* the infection seems to not be coming back, so I'm praying I'm finally on the mend.  But, yeah, the steroids and the Valtrex did funky things to my system so I didn't feel well while on them on top of just being REALLY fatigued fighting off whatever the Heck, so we got school work done and the usual things around here and that was IT.  I just wasn't up to doing much else.

So, once I was off of medication this last week and had energy and was feeling a lot more normal, the race was on to get things done around here, especially once we officially went on Christmas break starting Saturday.  We worked through a lot of weekends to earn this time off, so I was really proud of the daughter for sticking with the dedication to keep going to get us to off time :).  As soon as break started, I started baking, mainly because I had to as Christmas was approaching fast, so I ended up working through this last weekend too just to get stuff done.  I really wanted to give out gifts this year to the family as the last few years I haven't had the money, or the energy, to do more than my husband and kids, so what I ended up doing was making Pepparkakorsugar cookies and Swedish Heirloom Snowball Cookies (I use all pecans when I make the recipe, which is what my mom always did...they are so bad for you, but so yummy!!!).  I did end up buying some cookie cutters I fell in love with while watching "Northern Heart" on YouTube, which were these cookie cutters (no associate link as they aren't even available at the moment) and used those on the pepparkakor as I really loved the idea of being able to hang cookies on the side of a mug or cup.  I have to say after trying all of the cookie cutters the heart was the only one that I would recommend getting.  It was the only cookie cutter I had good success with where the cookie would come OUT of the cookie cutter in one piece once you dipped the cutter in flour, where the other cookie cutters just had too many sharp corners that the cookie could get stuck in.  

I pulled all of the bananas that I had been saving up in the freezer and made this recipe for bulk banana bread, which thank GOODNESS I have a large mixer as this recipe really put it to the test as it makes four large loaves of banana bread at one time.  The recipe came out okay, really dense, but okay, although some of the loaves, by the time they were done, were a bit on dry side.  I will probably end up making the recipe again at some point, but mess around with it a little bit to make it more to our individual tastes around here.  I then made Simple One Hour Homemade Bread two loaves at a time until I had enough between the banana bread and regular bread to give out to each of the families I wanted to give to.  I also made Swedish Saffron Buns.  I had wanted to make them for St. Lucia Day on December 13th as part of a lesson with the kids on Christmas traditions around the world, but we didn't make it as the saffron I ordered came in a few days late.  Instead of the traditional "S" shape the buns normally take I just formed them into spiral shaped rolls and put them into a 9x13 baking dish and then once I soaked the raisins in boiling water for a bit I put two to three of the raisins into the top of each bun before baking.  The rolls came out tasting REALLY mild, like too mild for my tastes, so next time I think I'm going to use a recipe that calls for more saffron, but for a first try making home made buns, I think they taste pretty good and look really festive :).

So, that was my two days of solid baking that I ended up doing this week.  

On top of school work we have been in the middle of a three year review for the son to evaluate his progress and to tweak his goals (potentially) on his IEP and things, so we've been running around back and forth to appointments between that and his therapy and things.  Bright side, though, is we had a chance to see his contact teachers at the home school while we were going in for appointments, so while we were there I figured we'd give them a Christmas gift and work it into our home school projects around the house.

Well, we stumbled across a Scandinavian tradition of feeding the birds at Christmas, so I thought it would be fun for the kids to give out bird seed ornaments to people to hang up on their trees this Christmas.  I found this recipe and ended up using some unsalted sunflower seeds I had in the freezer that I only used once in a while (the only way I could buy them was in bulk, so I had tons of them).  I wanted to make several different types, but a lot of recipes called for peanut butter and yeah...that was DEFINITELY out (and I didn't want to use our really expensive peanut butter alternatives around here).  The mixture for the ornaments comes out SUPER DUPER sticky, to the point that non-stick cooking spray helped me not at all, but still I made Alvah help me with the ornaments (I think this was the first time in history he actually was requesting I wash his hands after touching a sticky texture), and the best part was Alvah was SO proud of the ornaments when they were done.  I used embroidery thread to make hangers for the ornaments because I didn't have twine and I ended up just kind of trussing the ornaments to make hangers as the whole straw trick didn't work worth a darn for me, so I just didn't bother trying to make holes for the string.  The teachers and therapists were thrilled with the ornaments and Alvah was so proud and thrilled to give them.  It is not often that the son shows real pride in something he did or accomplished and it just made my heart so happy to see him get such a kick out of giving the ornaments away :).  

We did a short little blurb about the gift and printed it out to include with the ornaments.  It read...

"An Explanation of Your Gift: 

As part of the holiday season this year, our mom insisted we study Christmas traditions from around the world. While studying the Scandinavian countries we found a tradition in which the peoples from Finland, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries would put out food for the birds at Christmastime as a way to show goodwill to God's fellow creatures. In some countries they put out food for the birds and didn't even eat Christmas dinner until after the birds were finished eating! 

We wouldn't want you to wait for the birds to finish eating before getting to your Christmas festivities, but we thought it would be really cool to make some treats for the birds that you could hang outside on your trees, so you can watch the birds feed and at the same time take part in an kind of neat tradition at the same time. 
Enjoy your bird seed ornament and we hope the birds do too! 

God Jul! (Translated: Good Yule!) and Merry Christmas!"

Got to love it when you can lump a writing assignment in with making a gift *laugh*.

While digging through my desk and organizing I finally found the Christmas cards I had gotten for free through Shutterfly last year that I had never gotten a chance to send out last year because of the earthquake, so I sent them out this year (good on me for choosing cards that didn't have a year printed on them *laugh*) to my family back East so they could get updated pictures of the kids.  I have to say that I felt really good getting things accomplished this holiday season, even if it was an insane race to get things done in the meantime.

Unfortunately for the husband and kids, due to me being sick for so long and things I just ran out of time to make them gifts for Christmas.  I was planning on doing a marathon run yesterday to try and get them done, but my husband and daughter convinced me to just give them their gifts late and just relax and enjoy what little remained of Christmas.  I'm glad they did that as I didn't realize how tired I was until I was able to sit down for more than five minutes :).  The plan is to work on their gifts over the next few days and give them their gifts a little bit late.  They all know what they are getting as they helped me pick material (or in the daughter's case the embroidery colors), so they are still looking forward to getting their gifts and I'm happy I have a bit more time to focus on what I'm doing and do a decent job on the gifts.  So, yeah, be prepared for late gift posts this year.  

So. now that the holidays are over and we can get back to a more normal schedule I can finally get back to work doing things around the house and stuff, so be prepared for more blog posts again.  I'm looking forward to getting back to a more normal frame of mind for sure.

So, saving money!  Believe it or not, yes, in the midst of everything I was able to save money this holiday season.  So, let's get to that!

1.  My husband took time off so he could have an actual vacation this holiday and one of the things we wanted to do was go out to eat at Red Robin since the son loves it so much.  I redeemed credit card rewards and got a 25.00 Red Robin gift card and my husband got an e-mail giving him a free kid's meal if we bought a burger, so we combined the gift card and the promotion to get out of the restaurant spending less than 20.00 for all of us to eat.  

2.  I was at the store one day and went and checked out the reduced meat section.  In it I couldn't believe the deal I found!  I found that there was a manager special on 93% lean hamburger for 4.59 lb and there was a TON of 1 lb packages for 50% off!  I grabbed ten as that was about all I was going to be able to fit into my freezer and am now stocked up on nice lean ground hamburger for 2.29 lb.  Can't beat that!

3.  We found that our local meat market was having a really good deal on Bone in rib roasts for Christmas, so I had my husband stop off and buy the holiday roast there instead of praying for a good sale at our local stores (which worked out well as the local stores sales were so-so this year and you were expected to buy a really large roast, so buying it at the butcher shop was definitely a better way to do it).

4.  We were able to wrap all of the presents with wrapping paper we had from previous years and while digging through things getting the school supplies straight I found some tape I had bought on clearance for future school projects, so we didn't even have to buy tape this year, which was a nice change of pace for sure.

5.  I was able to replace a bunch of pans and things that got dented and/or scratched up bad in the earthquake that haven't been surviving very well with gift cards my family sent for Christmas.  I found that USA pans were on sale really cheap if you applied coupons that were available on Amazon, so I was able to get some 1/2 sheet pans, a new cupcake pan (now I have 2 I have enough to make a full load of cupcakes and I can throw away the other rusting one) and a few other items that I needed.   I was also able to get a few items I'd really been wanting for years, but never had the disposable income to even want to afford, so I'm really happy that I'll be more easily able to do some neat cooking and baking in the coming year thanks to those purchases and with the coupon codes and things I was able to pretty much double my buying power and buy things I wanted versus needed, which was a nice holiday bonus for sure.

6.  My mother-in-law took the daughter to "The Nutcracker Suite" that I'd purchased tickets through the home school for earlier in the year.  They both had a blast and it was actually longer than the home school thought the performance would be (an hour versus a half hour), so the tickets (which were already really cheap at 6.00 a piece)  gave us even more bang for the buck than we had first thought they would.  And the best part was that the theater that the performance was at was really close by so my mother-in-law didn't have to use up a bunch of gas getting to the performance.

7.  I used materials I had around the house to bake gifts for every body (with the exception of the saffron and the cookie cutters, which I purchased with rewards from my Amazon credit card, so I didn't pay any money out of pocket for them), so all everything costed me was time.

8.  I took advantage of baking sales to get butter for less than 3.00 per pound (there was strict limits on the amount you could buy, though).  The three pounds I have left after baking should last me for quite a while (I have found the secret to making stick butter last forever is to buy a big thing of spreadable butter once a month and so no one has to blow through my sticks of butter :), so I was happy.  I also took advantage of baking sales to get brown sugar and powdered sugar for 1.49 for 2 lb bags (I had personalized prices on them, so was able to purchase both types in one week too, which was nice).

9.  While delivering a few Christmas gifts we were able to visit with family that we don't get to see too often, which was a lot of fun :).

10.  I was able to avoid buying things with all of the online Christmas sales and things that were going on.  I just plain deleted the e-mails without opening them.  Great way to save money  is to avoid temptation *laugh*.

11.  We had a few VHS tapes that my family had sent me years ago with old Christmas TV programs from my childhood on them that we would watch every year.  Well this year the VCR decided to eat one of the tapes.  I was a little upset at first, but then figured that I could probably find all of the programs online to watch.  The only program I had to actually buy was "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (which I used part of my family's gift cards to purchase that), which I got in digital format and the rest we were able to look up on YouTube or watch through Amazon Prime video for free.  It was a blast for the kids as they were able to watch their favorite Christmas programs as many times as they wanted without me having to say no as I didn't want to put too much wear and tear on the old VHS tapes.  

12.  We went and checked out local Christmas light displays one night, especially a local neighborhood that we visit every year that the entire neighborhood puts up tons of Christmas light displays and sets them to music on their very own radio station that they broadcast around the holidays.  We had a lot of fun, donated a few dollars to help keep the display going (they were talking about shutting it down due to electricity costs so the local community was really pulling together to donate to try and help them keep the display going for future years) and we even went and parked and watched the lights for quite a while from a good vantage point.  

13.  We were worried we might not have a white Christmas as the snow we had melted and then the temperature tanked below zero in no time flat.  Surprisingly it started to snow on Christmas Eve and it is still snowing today.  The daughter was through the roof over having snow on Christmas.  I'm just glad I don't have to drive anywhere today as the roads are awful (my husband went out and got a haircut and came back with tales of all of the wrecks he saw) and I'm looking forward to a kind of relaxing day as we even have leftovers in the fridge to eat for dinner.

14.  I had a bunch of different bonus reward coupons that Carrs/Safeway offered me to load to my card.  By the time the 3.00/15.00 produce purchase and other coupons were applied with the bonus rewards I was able to fill up my truck for cheap on top of getting a really good deal on groceries, so definitely win-win as we definitely used up a bunch of gas this last week.

15.  I was able to redeem a e-coupon I was able to load to my card for a free box of organic feminine care products.  

16.  I finally, I think, got everything done on the paperwork end to renew the son's insurance for the coming year and I got his new insurance card in the mail, so yay (and phew) for that.  I'll wait and see if I get any amendment paperwork in the mail or a phone call about stuff from the state, but I think that things didn't get horribly messed up this year (unlike last year) so I have to say I'm relieved about that for sure.

17.  The daughter's test results came back on the learning disability end and she was diagnosed with mild dyslexia in both numbers and letters, so she starts tutoring for that in the coming year.  I was happy to hear that the dyslexia was minor (don't ask me specifics about what type it is and what causes it as I got kind of lost in the explanation part with being sick and all) and the therapist thought she would really benefit from some tutoring and we were likely to see improvement decently quick.  I've noticed with home schooling that the daughter is already improving in the writing and reading department just because of the one on one teaching and her being able to take her time with the things that give her trouble, so I'm glad she's going to be getting some extra help and hopefully we can get her caught up more to her grade level :).

And, yeah, I think I'm going to call it good there.  I'm sure I'm missing a bunch of things, but honestly I didn't make a list the last three weeks as I was too busy and just didn't think of it.  But, yeah, I DO have plans for blogging more regularly now and actually have a few blog posts in the works for some new segments to the blog in the coming year, so keep an eye out the next week as I introduce some of those things.  And, yeah, I'll leave it there.  I hope you all had a GREAT Christmas holiday and are enjoying some nice, relaxing, time off this holiday season!