Saturday, October 31, 2009

Once-a-Month, Once-a-Month Cooking Festival--It's Here!

We have to do it, we may even like to do it, but do we really want to do it three times a day, every single day of the week? We're talking about cooking, in case you haven't guessed! What if there was a time-saving solution, where freshly prepared (and then frozen) meals appeared on our tables with little effort on our parts (after the intial prep work)? There is such a solution!

Welcome to the Moms In Need of Mercy once-a-month, once-a-month cooking festival! This is a place where we can share our kitchen shortcuts to cut down on meal prep throughout the week. You don’t have to be a once-a-month cook to participate in this festival. As I mentioned before, I’m certainly not (but maybe some of you will inspire me to be!). Please post any helpful hints you’ve found so that you don’t have to slave in the kitchen, making a meal from scratch every night of the week (unless you really want to!).

So let’s talk about the mercy that is available for mealtime—bulk cooking!

To kick things off, I thought I would share some information about the various approaches to freezer cooking. I’ve excerpted this from the thorough guide, The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy. Here we go!

Three Ways to Freezer Cook:

1) Cook by protein or “what’s on sale” approach
**I think this would be me!
Rather than planning a cooking day once a month, they wait to see what’s on sale and buy up a lot of one meat type . Cooks who follow this plan say that they save lots of money and it’s much more manageable. If chicken is on a great sale, they might buy 50 pounds of it. 10 pounds can be boiled and diced for use in casserole-type recipes. Another 20 pounds can be put into marinade and frozen to cook on the grill. The last 10 pounds can be made into nuggets, patties, or other pre-cooked recipes that will make for quick “last minute” meals.

2) Cook in mini-sessions
Being a successful freezer cook doesn’t mean putting 100+ entrees into your freezer in a day. It means doing what works for you and your family. Mini-sesions are the way to go for lots of cooks. It could mean cooking every night for a week but making three of each; one to eat that night and two to put in the freezer….For some, a mini-session means limiting the recipes to what they can accomplish in 3-4 hours…There’s nothing better than success to keep you motivated!

3) Cook BIG!
Cooking big can mean anything from 30 entrees in one day to 120 entrees over a weekend to anything in between…We were surprised to find out that it didn’t take us twice as long to assemble twice as many entrees. The trick, we realized, was making multiples of recipes…Again, just do whatever works best for you. Don’t feel like you have to cook BIG to really be a freezer cook. Anytime you do a little planning ahead and put anything in the freezer, you’re “doing it.”

Again, the above information from The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy.

So what approach did you most identify with? Have you used this system for years or are you new to it? Does it appeal to you? Why or why not?
The more participation, the merrier! We can all learn from each other’s tips! So here’s what you can do:
  • Leave a comment
  • Link to a post (new or old) you’ve written about bulk cooking (a baking day, a meat marathon, putting up produce; it all counts!)
  • Please leave a link in your post back to this particular post. This way, your readers can know where to find a master list of helpful hints, economic ideas and other kitchen shortcuts. 
  • I think that’s it! See how easy it is? Now please come join the fun! Have a great day and happy cooking! I look forward to reading your ideas. :)
 Oh...almost forgot--the once-a-month cooking festival will be right here the first of every month. So next time will be Tuesday, December 1st!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh How I Love Thrift-Store Shopping!

Feeling so invigorated and blessed by my last thrift-store trip, I'm running over at the brim and wanted to share!

I stuffed two bags full of wonderful clothes for $15 a bag! (Tomorrow is buy one bag, get one free, but the things I wanted would be gone by then, I'm sure! Plus, this supports our Christian homeless center so it's like donating to charity, right?!) :)  I found four beautiful blazers, which is the way I prefer to dress. They look so classy and yet casual enough with jeans. I guess this is a preference developed from my news anchor days, where I wore a suit jacket each day. They make me feel good! And just because we're home all day with our kids doesn't mean we have to look like it!

While blazers are bulky rolled up and these bags are little (the plastic ones from the grocery store), I stuffed much more into my bag! I found a fleece Cabela's nightgown in my favorite color (sage green), at least four very pretty and fashionable blouses, some high-end dressy summer shirts, a skirt, three sweaters, some ribbed turtlenecks, a pair of dress pants for my son, and a black dress and some pretty silk scarves inspired by Jen. (I'll try to get some pictures edited in later today).

A few quick tips about thrift store shopping:
  • I happen to know that a local high-end consignment store donates items that don't sell within four weeks to the thrift store I went to today. A lot of people in our area know this and shop there for great quality clothing at an even greater value. You could call consignment stores in your area and ask nicely if they donate unsold items, and where. (Or ask the thrift stores if they get things from consignment stores and when).
  • Our thrift store groups items by style and color (blouses one rack, sweaters and blazers another, jeans, skirts, dresses, etc). You can get a pretty good idea as you run your hand down the rack what is worth taking a closer look at, and what you should pass on. Feel for textures and design features. Without having to pull each piece of clothing out for a closer look, you can spot the difference between really worn items that have been washed too many times and those of almost-new quality.
  • Shop frequently. The selection always changes. I would go every day if I could, but I can't (thrift store clothing racks and three little people who like to hide in such racks is too stressful for me to manage). So sometimes I run down on Saturdays when my husband can watch the boys, and I can take a closer look.
  • Don't just look at the clothing! I found a Cuisinart grind-and-brew coffeepot that I had wanted for a long time for $5! It was featured in the Macy's ad once on sale for $149. My husband is wonderful at cleaning up electronics; and after a little "degunking work," it works great! I just bought a filing cabinet I desperately needed for $5. I frequently find almost-new, brand-name shoes for my boys for $1 (and shoes for me too). Spray them with Lysol, and they're good to go!
  • When you have a need, check the thrift store first! If you have the time, you'll save lots of money. If you don't have the time, you'll have to make up for it by spending more money. It's a trade-off. 
  • Remember you won't be able to snatch up every deal, and that's ok! I'm sure if I browsed the thrift store each day, I'd find a bunch of things I could use--maybe even need--and would save a bunch of money. But I can't get there everyday, and that's ok! When I stay home, I don't know what I'm missing. Finding great quality clothes like I did today is a wonderful blessing. But there will be more great clothes (and other housewares/electronics/furniture/etc.) tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Trust that God will provide for your needs, and then remember as you look around your closest and house, you probably have everything you need anyway.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Once-a-Month, Once-a-Month Cooking Festival Fast Approaching!

As we near the 1st of the month (Sunday), I thought I would take a second to remind us of the upcoming once-a-month, once-a-month cooking festival right here at Moms In Need of Mercy!  Here's a post I wrote that explains the idea a bit more. You don't have to cook once-a-month to participate; I sure don't! Any experience you have with cooking more than what you need that night counts! Maybe you make two meat-loafs and stick one in the freezer. Maybe you divide chicken up in freezer bags and add marinades then so you can just grab a bag out and throw it in the crock-pot on high for awhile. Maybe you make a several meals at a time (or over a few days) and stock your freezer. Let's share what we know! What tips help you that you can pass on to help others?

We'll share those helpful hints the first of every month right here. Since November 1st is a Sunday, I'll get the post up Saturday night for your convenience.  
You can leave a comment with the info, or link up with a post you've written (new or old will work just fine).
See you then! Happy cooking!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trick-or-Treat: How Much Is Too Much to Eat?

(Full-size candy bars--notice Dad going for the Kit-Kat?!)

Even if you don’t allow your children to go trick-or-treating, many alternative Halloween events—including those at church—still involve passing out candy. Kids’ buckets fill up fast! So let’s talk about how much candy we as parents should allow our kids to consume.

Our pocketbook took a big hit from dental expenses this year (we don’t have dental insurance). Both my two- and three-year-olds (at the time) were diagnosed with 8 cavities, each. I know, I know. My oldest even needed baby root canals and silver crowns. They both had to go under anesthesia at an outpatient surgical center. (Yes, we brushed their teeth regularly, and no, I did not feed them junk all day. My husband had horrible baby teeth; apparently, it can be genetic.)

So this year, thousands of dollars later, my husband and I are on super-duper-cavity-patrol. No cavity is getting into our sons’ mouths, if we have anything to do about it! And there is a lot we can do about it, starting with what kinds of foods we do—and do not—allow them to eat. Collecting a basket full of candy? I’m not so sure.

On the other hand, restricting the kids to pretzels and apples is not much fun-- our dentist himself said not to do that. He said giving them candy is ok. (Maybe he wants our kids to get cavities??! Just kidding). The key, though, is to brush teeth well after consuming candy.

(last year...the binkie didn't help the cavity situation!)

That said, I want to avoid the never-ending-candy bag that I remember so well from my youth—where Halloween candy carried over until the next Halloween until I finally dumped it to make room for a new stash. So my somewhat arbitrary guideline is: two-to-three pieces a day for maybe about a week. We’ll stop collecting when their buckets reach that point. Period. (Plus a little extra for Mom and Dad) :)

What candy collection guidelines do you adhere to? (That sounds so official and technical, doesn’t it?!) When do you say “That’s enough?!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Spray A Day Keeps Bugs At Bay

Growing up, whenever anyone in our house got sick, my mom compulsively sprayed Lysol disinfectant throughout the house. We couldn't touch the phone until she disinfected it. We couldn't open a door until she disinfected it. Spray, spray, spray. Whenever I see a can of Lysol, I immediately think of my mom and someone being sick.

Then when we become parents, we do the very things we thought we'd never do. With the swine flu--oops, sorry H1N1--spreading the country (along with a host of other bugs), I have been spraying Lysol throughout my home on any and every surface. My husband is even more vigilant than I am, and even the kids seem to think it's fun to spray Lysol (something about an aerosol can and being a boy). :)

Recently, I went to an urgent care office on the weekend. Even the nurses were spraying Lysol in the air. I asked if it is effective to use it that way, or if it only kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces. The nurse swore it worked to spray it in the air. However, I called Lysol today, and they said it is not recommended that way: that it only kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces. You must spray a surface and then allow it to air dry (about 10 minutes).

Here is some more information from (and no, I'm not getting paid in any way to write this testimonial!):

LYSOL® Disinfectant Spray is an EPA registered disinfectant that kills more than 99.9% of illness causing bacteria and viruses on environmental surfaces in your home.* Unlike other sanitizing products which only kill bacteria, LYSOL® Disinfectant Spray even kills nasty viruses that can cause illnesses such as the flu, the common cold, and infectious diarrhea among young children. It even works to control the growth of mold and mildew, among the most common type of allergens, on surfaces you seldom think of like plastic shower curtains. Mold spores are among the most common types of allergens in your home all year long. So killing mold and mildew can help to reduce your exposure. No wonder its the #1 brand recommended by pediatricians.

LYSOL® Disinfectant Spray can be used throughout your home on surfaces such as:

counter tops
garbage cans
diaper pails
toilet areas

Use LYSOL® Disinfectant Spray to eliminate the following bacteria, fungi and viruses on hard non-porous surfaces*:
Rhinovirus (the leading cause of the common cold)
Rotavirus (the leading cause of infectious diarrhea in children)
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) (the leading cause of lower respiratory infection in children)
Staph MRSA and Strep
Athlete's Foot Fungus

If you want to keep your home as bug free as possible and your kids as healthy as possible (and who doesn't?!), get yourself a can of Lysol (there are $1 off coupons on and give it a try! The scents smell great, and so far, no one in my house has gotten swine flu H1N1 (knock on wood). :) (Just remember not to light a candle after your son has sprayed two inches of Lysol in it). It works for me!

Monday, October 26, 2009

How My Last Dollar Turned Into Much More

To the people behind me in the checkout lane, I must have looked like I was on my last dollar, literally. I couldn’t find my wallet (a different grocery store called later to say I had left it there on my last shopping trip; fortunately everything was intact). So all I had in my purse was an envelope with a bunch of one dollar bills from our yard sale. My boys had just been diagnosed with coxsackie virus (better known as hand-foot-and mouth), so after the doctor’s appointment, we loaded up and went to the store to get them some medicine, Gatorade, popsicles, and a few other things.

When I got to the checkout lane and realized I didn’t have my wallet, I started counting my ones. When I ran out of cash but still had more items in my cart, I started making decisions about what I absolutely had to get and what could wait until my next shopping trip (once I found my wallet and debit card).

The woman behind me must have felt such pity for me--standing there with my sick boys and counting my ones once again to make sure I hadn’t miscounted--that she told me and the cashier that she would buy the rest of my groceries. She even insisted on buying the items I really didn’t need that trip (a watermelon, a pack of diapers, some cereal and cheese).

Of course, I thanked her profusely and offered to send her a check once I found my wallet. But she graciously refused and told me this was her gift to us. On top of all that, she even held up a crisp twenty and asked if I had gas in my car or needed anything else. Wow. (I didn’t take it but thanked her again for her generous offer).

When we got out to our van, we saw a beautiful rainbow arching through the sky—a rare sight where we live. What a symbol of God’s faithfulness. He blesses and provides for His people even when they’re down to their last dollar.

This event forces me to evaluate how frugality and generosity really do go hand-in-hand. Are we frugal so we can hoard more? No, I’m sure we would all say of course not. The motivation for frugal living is to manage the resources God has given us with such excellence that we can afford to be generous on every occasion. The woman behind me had extra money—perhaps from living frugally—so that she could provide what I was lacking at the time. By living frugally, I too have some extra money with which I can afford to be generous to others in need. This is as God intends.

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously…for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”—2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 11

So give it a try sometime. Take a whole bunch of ones with you to the grocery store, count them out slowly, and then count them out again as the cashier tells you your total. See if anyone offers to pick up your tab. Just kidding!

Live well below your means (or at least within your means). Look for ways you can be generous to others in need. Trust that God will provide for your future needs if He uses you to provide for someone else’s current needs.

I’d love to hear your stories of how being frugal has allowed you to bless others!

(Linked to Heavenly Homemakers and Saving and Giving)
Visit Frugal Fridays for more money-saving inspiration!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leave It Outside

A Squirrel In Need of Mercy
A Mom In Need of Mercy...
One morning last week, a day just like any other, I was about to get my dog some food when I noticed a hairy little critter right by my leg as I opened the door. I shrieked and slammed the door and thought, "What in the world was that?" Well, it was a squirrel. At my back door. Trying very hard to get into my house. The nerve!
Look at my son's fascination with him (her?). It seems to be mutual. There's a Disney movie in here somewhere, I just know it (just so long as it stays outside!).

Needless to say, I never let the squirrel in (we don't think he had rabies, but still...). This got me thinking. There are other things we want to refuse entrance to our homes too. Namely attitudes. God's mercy and grace can help us, even on the bad days, to leave the complaints at the back door. We don't have to vent our annoyances. Easier said than done, though, right?

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."--Colossians 4:6

I was recently listening to an audio message by Nancy Wilson about pleasant homes. She cautioned against "unloading the truck" and reciting to our husbands (or anyone else) the "laundry list" of all the things that went wrong in a day, all the irritations that arose with--or among--our children. Not only do we not need to, we would be wise not to. Sure our husbands need to know about behavioral problems with our children, but be selective! The way we share (and what we share) determines whether we're the wise woman or the foolish woman that Proverbs talks so much about.

"...the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping."--Proverbs 19:13
"[she] who restrains his lips is wise."--Proverbs 10:19

Mrs. Wilson's advice to young mothers was very wise. Our words should be life-giving, refreshing, and nourishing. We should not "empty the whole dump truck" and bury our husbands under right when they get home simply because it feels good for us to unload it all. Rather, we should strive to share what is helpful for our husband's sake--not just for our sake.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."--Ephesians 4:29

Arriving at this place where we do not share what we want to share requires maturity and gobs of God's grace. It is a process of sanctification, which God's grace and mercy will help us achieve through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must also discipline ourselves in these matters. "Women need to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to their own sins. All must be repented of immediately.'"--Nancy Wilson, Credenda

As Dr. Laura Schlessinger says, "You have to 'stifle yourself.'...Venting every feeling isn't mature. Learning to deal with uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings is an important aspect of maturity. The pop-psych notion that you have to divulge every unpleasantness or you will have gangrene of the soul and spirit is ultimate nonsense. Learning to endure, transform by perspective or action, and be grateful is the fast lane to a good life." --In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms

So if you ever see a squirrel at your back door, make sure to leave him outside. And the next time you feel tempted to "unload the truck" of all your frustrations about life with little ones, try your hardest to leave it outside too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coffee Talk Thursday: What I'm Learning from Bulk Cooking

Is it just me or is once-a-month cooking everywhere these days? A friend recently suggested I give it a whirl, and suddenly it seems like almost every blog I frequent is writing about its merits. Now I am no stranger to cooking once and creatively using (or freezing) those leftovers, or to doubling a recipe and freezing the extra, but cooking once (several times actually, just in one day) and eating for the whole month? Hmmm...

Well, I did get myself a copy of the Once-A-Month Cooking cookbook, and I thumbed through it. I thought about how I could do this frugally (some of the recipes aren't that economical), and this week when I saw pork loins on sale for $1.29/lb, I knew what I had to do! We don't pig out on pork around here, but for 1.29 a pound, I can feed my family some tasty pork roasts and our favorite parmesan pork chop recipe. So I went hog wild and bought a whole pork loin. Chicken breasts were on sale too (anything less than $1.99/lb is when I aim to buy), so I bought 10 pounds of those. But that's not all. The london broil was $1.88/lb and ground beef was $1.79/lb., so I stocked up. Meat. It's what's for dinner. :)

You do know that when you buy meat from the store, regardless of what the sell by date is, you have to do something with it within three days (preferably sooner)? Somehow I forgot I'm not Super-Woman (although I think I was for Halloween way back when I was ten), and me and that much meat under deadline didn't mix so well. 

So here's what I learned from this well-intentioned but poorly executed bulk cooking experience (which I spread over the course of three days):

1. You really do have to plan your time well. I thought I planned by knowing what recipes I'd prepare and what ingredients I'd need, but I failed to plan exactly when I would do this. "Sometime Saturday afternoon" just wasn't enough.
2.  You really do have to start with a clean kitchen. If you get home from the store, all excited to bag up meats in marinades, and you think "This will be quick and easy" (because you're not cooking anything) but your sink is still full of dishes because you went to the store without washing them, it doesn't end up being "quick and easy" after all.
3. You know how cooking one meal with little kids can be tough? Cooking, or even just prepping, seven or more is even tougher. You really do need to plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more to execute this operation smoothly. Otherwise you'll just want to scream "ABORT!" (But you can't, because you have thirty pounds of meat you have to do something
4. You should plan to do little else on the day (or days) you are trying to pack your freezer full of ready-eats.
5.  If you're not in the habit of cleaning as you go (or if you can't because of many interruptions, see #3), you also need to plan a day (or at least half-a-day) to cleaning up afterward. I'm serious!
6. You should not under-estimate how much work this will be. "How hard can bagging up meat with sauces and spices and sauces be?" I thought. It kicked my rear end! Remember, you have to make the sauces...even if you look at the recipe and think "piece of cake." But it's not a piece of cake when you have to prepare the ingredients for several days' worth of food in one sitting.
7. Originally I thought this would be great to do with friends, using our church kitchen. The sale on the pork loin and other meats (and how quickly I had to work once I had all that meat) made me try it on my own this time. Next time, I think I'll have a little help from my friends :)
8. You'll need the extra time you'll save on cooking during the weekdays to get caught up on what you didn't get done when you were cooking ahead for those weekdays. Or you'll just need to plan ahead really well for your cooking day (and all the contingencies that come in the course of a normal day with kids)!
9.  Better to do a little well than to take on too much to start.
10. Seek advice from those who have been doing this well for years. How do they make it work smoothly?
That brings me to an exciting announcement! I would like to start a once-a-month, once-a-month cooking festival on the first of every month, where we can all share what we are learning about bulk-cooking in one place. How do you make it frugal? How do you make it work without pulling out your hair when you have little kids to care for? What does and does not freeze well? And a host of other tips and techniques. So please mark your calendars, think about your experience with bulk cooking, write a post about it, and then come back to Moms in Need of Mercy on November 1st to link up and share!! I look forward to hearing from you and learning from you! See you soon!

Now I have to go finish cleaning my kitchen... :)

How to Cut Boys' Hair Like a Pro, Part Two: Clipper Cuts

As moms in need of mercy in all walks of life, when we can find ways of doing things ourselves instead of paying someone else to do them for us, we can save lots of money. Replacing a $10 haircut a month with one at home will save $120 dollars a year--and that's just for one son. How's that for inspiring!

When we talk about cutting our sons' hair ourselves, I find clippers less intimidating and more forgiving than scissors. Stick the guard on (I use a longer one for the top and front, a shorter one for the back and sides), slide it carefully through the hair, blend with scissors, voila--you have a fairly decent haircut. But since my friend Liz is the trained cosmetologist and I am just the amateur, let's go with what she says when it comes to clipper cuts!

Whereas with a scissor cut, you start with damp hair; with a clipper cut, the hair needs to be perfectly dry.
In Liz's professional opinion, using a guard higher than a number four (or a half-inch) is just about worthless. She says the clippers will miss so many hairs that you might as well just use your scissors and follow those angles that we talked about in yesterday's post.

So plug those clippers in, and let's get to work!

As you can see, Liz is starting in the back at the base of the hairline. It may look like there is no guard, but Liz is using a #4 (1/2") snap-on metal blade. This is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Look closely at this picture. You can see that she uses her finger to hold the hair down. This way you won't leave behind any stragglers. She is also "scooping" up with the clippers (like a plane pulling up for take-off) to start putting an angle on the hair for blending.

So we work around the head this way and wind up with that "dog at the groomer's" look. Wonderful, isn't it? Depending on how your son is behaving that day, you could stop there, or do the right thing and finish it. :) Making everything even is the art and science of blending, which comes later.

Once you've clippered the back, you will move on to the sides. The highly trained pro that she is, Liz continues to use a half-inch snap-on metal blade (for safety, I use the plastic guard that came with my $30 Wahl set from Walmart). Remember to tuck the ear down as you cut or clipper around it.

Ok, so we've gotten rid of a lot of hair! Now we move to the front and switch to using scissors. Here Liz is figuring out how much to take off the top so it will blend well with the back and sides. Once that's decided, you will then pull the hair straight up and cut across horizontally to your desired length. These cuts don't have to be perfect.  In a minute, you'll go back through and even everything up.

Do you see all the various hair lengths in this picture? As we talked about yesterday, you always want to include hairs from the last cut you made in the section of hair you are currently cutting so that they function as your guide. You can see that Liz is cutting the hair to match the shortest lengths (from the previous cut she made). She is also angling the hair toward the crown to compensate for my son's cowlick at his crown. Continue to work through the crown this way, using the short hairs as your guide as you pull new sections and cut parallel to the head.

The next step is to blend the sides and back by pulling the hair straight out and cutting it parallel to the shape of the head, as the pictures below illustrate.

Ready to try advanced techniques? Use your clippers to blend the haircut. You will use your comb to pull out the hair and then clipper along the comb. A key for success here is to position the blade of your clipper in the middle of the comb and work up (or over). Move your comb down to get hairs below the mid-point. Otherwise you will end up with tell-tale clipper marks in your haircut.

As the cut becomes more blended, you can see that Liz is using a 45-degree angle toward the neckline to blend the back. Depending on the length of the top, you may need a tighter angle (closer to the head) or a wider angle. Think of putting a pen vertically against the back of the occipital bone. You would want the hair to blend nicely to that line.

If you don't feel comfortable using clippers for blending (I don't!), feel free to use your scissors. Again, Liz is using the 45-degree angle to blend the back, as you can see here.

Now for a few final notes:

When boys are wiggly (when are they not?!), use a firm hold on the hair. This way, if you're holding the section you want to cut tightly enough, your little (or not-so-little) bundle of testosterone can move around like he's on a mechanical bull, and you'll still be able to make a precise cut without cutting him.

Finally, Liz said the biggest mistakes she sees in home haircuts are: 1) leaving the sides too bulky and 2) cutting straight across the neckline (and the forehead too). To remove bulk, you can use your clippers with a guard and follow the techniques we described earlier (using your comb, clippering along it). Here's a few pictures of Liz taking extra hair out of the neckline and sides:

To eliminate the straight-across look at the forehead, here's a picture of "point-cutting" (cutting small points on the ends so it breaks up the horizontal line):

Now that you're armed with hair-cutting know-how, do you feel like you're ready to get to work?

Remember, practice makes perfect! I hope you found these tutorials helpful and that you feel confident enough to give it a try. Think of what you could do with all that money you'll save. Go give it a try!

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" --Philippians 4:13

(A special thanks to Liz for the lessons and Laura for the opportunity to guest post at her blog, Heavenly Homemakers)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to Cut Boys' Hair Like a Pro: Part 1 Scissors

I'm guest posting over at my friend Laura's blog today, Heavenly Homemakers. If you're visiting from there, welcome! If you have a few extra minutes, I'd love for you to look around! Here at Moms in Need of Mercy, my goal is to share wisdom I learn in my journey as a wife, homemaker, mom and friend in the hopes that God's mercy to me in all the various areas of life will bless you too! Now onto the post!

When thinking about giving your son a haircut, do you:
a) shudder at the thought of what it might look like if you did it yourself,
b) reach for your scissors with a glint in your eye,
c) reach for your phone to make an appointment for him,
d) wish you knew more of what you were doing, so you weren't just "winging" it (come to think of it, he kind of looks like he has wings when you're done)

Haircuts, even for boys, are expensive. As often as their hair grows, this adds up to some serious cash. But if you know how to cut your son's hair at home, and you know how to do it right, both of you will be pleased. He'll be pleased at the result, and you'll be pleased with how much you're saving by doing it yourself.

If you've ever wanted professional lessons on how to cut his hair by yourself, my friend Liz--a licensed cosmetologist--agreed to show me (and you) the tricks of the trade.  Normally, these lessons would cost you a partial cosmetology school tuition, but we are bringing them to you free! Now go pour yourself an ice water on me, and let's get to work!

As you can see from the above picture, cutting hair successfully is all about the angles. To begin, you may want to start with the neckline. (Liz thought that beginners may want to start at the top. This way, you can set the top length as your guide and blend down from it, rather than having to cut everything again if it doesn't blend properly when you get to the top last).

But let's say you start at the neckline. Working on the back of the head, starting from the area of the top of the ear down, use your water bottle ($1 at the Dollar Store/Walmart/Target) to spray the hair down and cut at a 45-degree angle, slanting toward the neckline. You will hold the hair according to this angle and cut along your fingers, as you can see in these pictures.

Once you have worked your way across the back of the head, you can use your scissors to carefully go straight across to form the base of the neckline. As you can see Liz demonstrating, you want to make sure to hold the hair down firmly so you cut it evenly.
Liz says if you are right or left-eye dominant, it could make your haircut slant. So when you finish the neckline, get eye level with it and check that it does not slant. If it does, correct it!

Once the back area is finished, you can move up to the sides. You will continue with the 45-degree angle.
Do you notice all the different lengths in this closeup? You don't want that. When you are making a cut, you will want to have a few hairs from the last cut you made included in the section you are currently cutting. These hairs will serve as your guide, and you will cut the hair to match the length of the previous cut (which should be the shortest hairs).
When you come to the ear, you will tuck the ear by folding it down gently, and then cut around the ear as if you were tracing the pattern of the ear.

Once you have completed the sides and worked back around the head in that section, you can move up toward the top. You will now pull the hair out at a 90-degree angle (the mathematicians among us may argue that this is actually 180-degrees) and cut it straight off of the head.

Just as your child's patience has about reached its limit, you will reach the top. Reassure him that you're almost done and you'll give him a reward for sitting so nicely (or not so nicely!) when you're finished. Take the hair from the center of the top of the head, lift it up, and cut it straight across. If the very front of the forehead looks too choppy when you're done, you can point-cut it. This is where you will use the point of your scissors to cut small points in the hairline (you don't want it to look like candy-corn) :)

 If your son has cowlicks at the top of their head (my boys do), you can leave the hair longer here to compensate. The extra weight will help prevent it from sticking straight up. To accomplish this, you will want to angle the hair slightly toward the front.
Now you're just about done! The only thing left is to check the cut to make sure it's even. You should be able to run your fingers through the hair, pull up various sections, and have the lengths line up evenly (angling in places, but with no long hairs jutting out). It should be well blended. Correct any mistakes you find, and try again in another 3-4 weeks, depending on how quickly your son's hair grows!

In Part 2, we will look at how to give a clipper cut as well as how to properly use clippers to help take out some of the bulk in a standard haircut.

What questions do you have? If we're really nice to her, maybe we can talk Liz into answering some of them! :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Magic Time

I have been trying to pack too much into too little time the last few days, and the things I've set out to do have not gone very smoothly. I feel like I've failed in many ways. But not for one second do I regret taking my boys out on a beautiful fall afternoon walk today. Watching them run and play through fallen leaf piles with big smiles on their faces and even happier hearts made me wish I could capture that memory forever in my mind.

This reminded me of a reflection I had earlier this summer. I was watering my garden on a warm and sunny summer day. The boys were playing well, and I was overcome with a sense of indescribable joy. My soul got a glimpse of the perfection of heaven, and it was wonderful. I realized then just how short our lives on this earth truly are in light of eternity. Why waste a day, even a moment, being in a grouchy mood no matter how seemingly justified the reason? Why waste time being tense with your kids on the bad days? It's so short. Then it's gone. Forever.

There is a paradox to these days of raising little children. They feel so long and hard sometimes. Your house (at least mine) is in a perpetual state of messiness. Everyone needs you to do everything for them. You just can't keep up. Yet time and time again, older parents who've passed through this stage, say in hindsight, these are the most magical of times, the ones they miss the most.

If that's true (which I'm sure it is), when I'm done with diapers and cleaning up countless messes that little hands have made, I would rather my grieving be because I miss the magic of the years--not because I wish I would have made more magical--even mundane--memories with my precious sons. One wise mom told me recently, with tears in her eyes, to be sure to cherish these days, because they truly do go so fast. Before you know it, your kids will be grown and gone, and you'll be wishing they'd call so you could say, "I just want to know what you're doing today."

So when you find your boys in the garage discovering that charcoal briquettes make really great sidewalk chalk, or that diaper rash cream adds a certain flair to their baby brother's clothes, or that Mom's nail polish is as pink on the carpet as it is in the bottle, and you're tempted to throw in the towel right at that moment, remember that another moment will come where you will long for them to call so you could just find out what they're doing that day.  And when that moment comes, the memories you made of these years--magical and sometimes maddening--will carry you through the silence of an empty home.

"Don't lose that wonder in your eyes
I can see it right now when you smile
Let me go back, for a while
Let me go back, for a while
To that magic time"
--Magic Time, Van Morrison

"Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works." --Ecclesiastes 9:7

(This post is linked to Gratituesday, hosted by Heavenly Homemakers)

holy experience

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Messy Monday: Why Piles Particularly Enjoy Piling Up in Frugal Homes

(This really is my counter on a bad day. When company comes over, this pile heads south--to the cupboard below)

There must be something special about my house that piles seem to like it so much. They get comfy on my counter, they fight over who gets to plop on the buffet, they really take a liking to my dresser, they enjoy sitting at my desk. These resident piles are not welcome anymore! They affect the appearance of my house. Could they please pack their bags and leave? But wait, they don’t have a bag to call their own, and that’s the problem. They have no place to go. Because I’m frugal, I haven’t bought my piles their tickets out. In the meantime, I don’t know where to put them, so they’re camping out indefinitely.

Frugality can work against us if we have a problem with piling. The reason is because we don’t spend money on the organizational tools we need to help control the clutter. What we don’t have, we can’t use. If I had a filing cabinet, I really think I would use it (most of the time). Instead, we have a stuffed-to-the-brim banker’s box downstairs. It’s inconvenient to get to, and there is really no way to cram anything more in, so…you guessed it…there’s a pile of papers on top of the box (I tried!). Purchasing a filing cabinet would be an investment for sure, but is the money spent worth it to buy your papers a home? At some point you have to decide if you want to spend money to buy what you need so you can have a less cluttered-looking house, or if you want to save your money and your piles too. It is a trade-off.

Another organizational hang-up I have is figuring out where to store special keepsakes for the boys. Their first birthday cards, hospital wrist-bands, first scribbles and drawings--it’s a no-brainer that these are currently housed in a pile. But what about buying each of the boy’s a banker’s box (or even finding a nice free box for the truly frugal among us that you could cover with drawer-liner or scrapbook paper) and calling it the boy’s keepsake box? Then everything special you want to keep goes in here. No more piles.

In her book Messies Manual, The: A Complete Guide to Bringing Order & Beauty to Your Home(which I’ve referenced many times before), author Sandra Felton says that the less organized you are, the less frugal you can afford to be, and vice versa. Those with organizational problems cannot afford to save the things we save in an effort to save money when we have no place to put them. Does that make sense? Take the example of saving plastic containers. If you have a nicely organized place to put them, and they all look so pretty when you open your drawer or cabinet, no problem. If on the other hand, opening that drawer causes an avalanche that knocks you in the head, you have a problem. The plastic containers need to go to your organized neighbor, or the recycling bin, until you can figure out a way to store them in a neater fashion (and maybe you still need to get rid of many of them).

Felton encourages the “messies” among us to stop being so tight-fisted with buying what we need to in order to better organize our homes. She advises against baskets and anything else that will allow a pile to occur, even if it’s contained in something pretty. She recommends finding systems that get papers and other items upright. For example, if your cupboards are crammed, hang your pans (if you can). You don’t even have to buy a pan rack; if you or your husband is handy enough, you can make your own. Put magazines in upright holders (or make your own out of sturdy cereal boxes). Buy a hanging file cabinet for your papers. Do what you need to do, and don’t feel bad about spending some money to buy a solution to the piling problem. Shop around for the best deal, save up if you have to, shop thrift stores if you want to, and find what you need to send the piles packing once and for all!

Menu Plan 10/18-10/25/09

Did you perfectly follow your menu plan last week? I veered off slightly, once because I got sick and someone brought us a meal, and also because a few dinners lasted longer than I thought. So we are having white chicken chili tonight instead of baked fish, but otherwise, having the plan really helped guide all those meal and snack decisions five times a day!

Here's the plan for this week:

Cereal, bananas, juice
Scrambled eggs, toast, mandarin oranges
Baked oatmeal, pears, juice
French toast, cottage cheese, bananas
Fried eggs, toast, peaches


Wrap and bake leftover white chili in tortillas with monterey jack cheese
Grilled Cheese, tomato soup, carrot sticks
Leftovers x 2
Baked spaghetti, salad
Roast beef sandwiches on rolls, fruit
(company coming--out for two days)

White Chicken Chili, tortilla chips, celery sticks
Linguine Carbonara, French bread, salad
Mexican Lasagna, Salad, corn chips
Black Beans with Smoked Sausage, Rice, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese
Cranberry Chicken, Rice, asparagus
Roast, potatoes, carrots, homemade applesauce, rolls

Apples, yogurt dip
Yogurt parfaits
Boiled eggs, toast
Pumpkin bread
Sliced fruit and cheese
Almonds and raisins
(anything else I bake this week!)

See many more menu ideas here at Organizing Junkie!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How To Get Hundreds of Free Books

I love books. I am almost always reading a stack of them, mostly non-fiction, on a variety of subjects. Homemaking, parenting, marriage, cooking, you name it. If I were to buy all the books I love to read, it would add up to a small fortune. So how do I get these books for free? Let me share my frugal ways :)
If there is a book I want to read, I first check our library’s website to see if it is in the library’s collection. If not, I check to see if it is owned by any library in the state. If so, I will submit an interlibrary loan request. The book is shipped directly to my library, and I pick it up in a few days. For free. (Sometimes there is a fee, but this has not happened to me yet).

If the book is not owned by my library nor any other library in the state, I submit a purchase-order request. Many times, the library has fulfilled these requests; and after cataloging the item, I get to pick up the item and read it for the next three weeks (with the option of a renewal). (Same for DVD’s).

Sometimes, the library does not purchase the request. Do I then buy it on my own? No! I would then try the church library (or you could try this before your public library). The church my husband and I attended several years ago had a bustling library. I loved it! I got to know the librarian quite well, and she was often open to purchase order requests. Our current church library is not as well, current, so that is why I turn to our public library first.

Doing this saves our family a bunch of money on my reading addiction; and others, too, benefit from the wealth of information contained within the books. Once in a great while, I will purchase a book that I love so much that I want my own copy; but I will hardly ever purchase a book that I have not previewed first through the library (or from a friend). Books are not cheap, and I am so picky about which ones I buy that I hate to spend money on one only to find I don’t like it. That’s why I almost always preview this way first.

*update: I forgot to mention that the books pictured above were all free. I won the One Year Bible, and the rest I bought using Amazon gift cards. Since I love to read so much, I have an Visa. This allows me to earn points on our purchases. We pay off our balance in full each month; otherwise, I would not recommend this. Then, when we reach 2,500 points, I get a $25 Amazon gift card. When you use your card for medical expenses, it adds up fast (at least in our family!). If you are a die-hard Dave Ramsey fan and do not use credit cards at all, I know you can also earn Amazon gift cards through Swag Bucks.

How do you save money on books?

(This post is linked to Frugal Fridays, hosted by Life As Mom)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coffee Talk Thursday: Mercy for a Bad Day

Bloggers write about many things, but one thing they often seem silent on is the topic of bad days. One blogger once said she never writes about her bad days because "who wants to hear about it?", as if voicing only what's rosy with one's life is uplifting, while sharing the dirt remains outside the public realm of the blogosphere. Yet I think this can cause readers to feel that bad days only happen within their own home, since no one else ever seems to mention they, too, had a lousy day. Perfect is the person who has a wonderful day everyday (and the only perfect person who ever lived did not always have "perfect" days either).  So as you may have guessed by now, today was a bad day.

It didn't necessarily start out that way, but it sure headed in that direction fast. Highlights (or lowlights?) include when my two year old and almost one-year old were playing in the sun porch while I was loading plates in the dishwasher after lunch. I checked on them every two minutes. First two minutes, fine. Second two minutes, dirt from my potted plants covered the floor, the window ledges, the dog bed, my one-year old. Hair, eyes, clothes. Everywhere. Got him in the bath and the boys up for a nap. Tried to get some things done during their nap time (couldn't vacuum the porch because it would wake them up). Went to vacuum the porch when they woke up, only to hear my oldest son yell to me, "Mom come look at what Xave [short for Xavier] has done!"

My two-year old is really quite ingenious. Applied correctly, this would be masterful. Today it was disaster-ful. He managed to break the sealed cap off a bottle of cranberry juice and was pouring it all over the kitchen floor when I stopped him cold. I could not find a single paper towel (yes, we still use them). I lost my temper. (I apologized later).

Now for my point :)

When you are having a miserably awful day, I know of no better way to turn it around, no better way to experience God's mercy, than to take a walk. The fresh air does wonders. Maybe it is all that extra oxygen--it helps your brain think more clearly. Expending physical energy helps expel frustration and anger. The sunshine (if there is some) cheers you up. Your perspective is renewed. You can pray and burn off steam and start to enjoy your children again (the faster you walk, the more you like them! just kidding).

After taking your walk and restoring your sanity, you can reflect prayerfully on your day. What went wrong? Why? How can you make it better the next time (little people and potted plants don't mix unsupervised; cranberry juice up high)? And remember how it is with seeds: you can't see what's happening under the surface but you still go about tending to the seeds you know are there, and soon you begin to see the green sprouts of the plant. So it is on the bad days. It seems like nothing good nor productive is happening, but keep being diligent to train your children in proper godly character, and soon you will see that the lessons you've been trying to hammer home have sprouted.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cranberry-Apricot Granola Bars

Making anything homemade helps save money, and that's especially true when it comes to snacks. Homemade snacks are also often much healthier than their store-bought counterparts.  (And isn't it rewarding to sit down to eat something that you know you made from scratch minutes ago with no strange ingredients or preservatives?)

Today I made a snack I've been meaning to try for awhile. It's fairly easy, very healthy, and super delicious! My husband (who has quite the sweet tooth) said the only thing he didn't like about this recipe is that it didn't make more! (I will try to double it next time). I found it in Parents magazine, and the recipe is available online as well.

Cranberry-Apricot Granola Bars

1 cup purchased low-fat granola (I made my own)
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dried apricots and/or dried cranberries, finely chopped (I used only cranberries)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1. Heat oven to 325°F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with foil, allowing foil to extend over edges of pan. Lightly coat the foil with vegetable cooking spray; set pan aside.
2. In a large bowl stir together the granola, oats, fruit, and flour. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, honey, oil, and cinnamon. Add to granola mixture. Stir until combined. Pat mixture firmly into prepared pan.
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Use foil to lift mixture from pan. Trim edges, if desired. Cut into bars.
4. To store, place in an airtight container and store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months. Makes 15.
Nutrition Facts (if you really want to know) :)

Servings Per Recipe 15
Amount Per Serving
Calories 157
Total Fat (g) 5
Saturated Fat (g) 1
Monounsaturated Fat (g) 3
Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 1
Cholesterol (mg) 14
Sodium (mg) 24
Carbohydrate (g) 26
Total Sugar (g) 12
Fiber (g) 3
Protein (g) 4
Vitamin A (DV%) 0
Vitamin C (DV%) 1
Calcium (DV%) 2
Iron (DV%) 7

(Find more fun recipes at Tasty Tuesday)

What are some of your favorite homemade snacks?