Monthly Archives: April 2008

Baskin Robbins – 31 cent scoops

After I finished my last post, I thought that in case some of you enjoy ice cream, too, and didn’t know about the Ben and Jerry’s special, I could pass some helpful info on. 

On Weds., April 30 – that’s later today (I’m posting after midnight so to me it still feels like Tuesday :)), Baskin Robbins will have scoops of ice cream for 31 cents each.  Not quite as good as free, but still lots of fun!

We did this last year, and the kids enjoyed it.  A big part of why they can enjoy something like this so much is because we only do it once a year – otherwise, on the rare occasions I buy it, it’s from the supermarket in the gallon containers.  I’ve found that when something is a new or unusual experience, the kids get a lot more enjoyment out of it than they would if it were a regular occurence.

Back to last year.  Because it was so cheap, I told the kids they could each get two scoops (being the big spender that I am :)).  As we were halfway through the line, a woman approached me and told me she wanted to pay for the ice cream for our family and asked how many scoops we wanted to get.  The store was packed and I don’t know what made her choose us out of the crowd (maybe because we were a noticeably large family?), but though I felt uncomfortable to have someone pay for us, she insisted.  She told me to tell the cashier when we got to the front that it was paid for. Which it was.  Wasn’t that sweet?

It reminds me of something a friend told me today – she was driving on a highway and the person ahead of her paid her toll, so when she got there, she was told it was taken care of.  It wasn’t the monetary value of it as much as the thought that someone cared enough to do it which made the difference.

It gives me a pause when I think how little both of those opportunities cost and how much good feeling they spread.  How much does it take for you to put a smile on someone’s face?  Could you buy an extra scoop when you go out and share it with someone who isn’t expecting it? 

Random acts of kindness can light up someone’s day!


Free ice cream and fun together

Today has been a busy and super nice day! 

I started the day by taking my two oldest sons downtown with me to pick up some pallets that I want to dissemble to use for garden boxes.  While they were lugging them around, I enjoyed a chat with the woman I got them from.  Don’t you find that you have a chance to have nice interactions with the people you meet here and there?  I do!  I really enjoy speaking with people and getting to know them a bit. 

We ended up talking about life stuff – stress management, quality of life choices, family – and several times she mentioned how happy I seemed.  I’ve already told you my secret to being happy – staying aware of the subtle and not so subtle things to appreciate in my day.  Her comment that it’s rare to meet someone like me was a sad reminder for me that being happy with who you are and what your life is like isn’t a popular approach. 

I had to rush home to be at a meeting (got there exactly on time, to the minute), and then as soon as it was over rushed back to pick up the kids for a trip that I organized for our homeschool group.  What a fun trip it was!  The kids had a blast together, and the moms had fun talking while the kids were happily occupied. 

After almost three hours hanging out together, some of us walked together to Ben and Jerry’s to enjoy a free scoop of ice cream (today was their yearly complimentary scoop day) – it was just a few blocks from where we had our trip, though I had no idea about the ice cream when I originally planned the trip.  Nice how that worked out! 

Then the kids enjoyed their ice cream by the harbor, watching the boats and seagulls as they ate.  Have you ever noticed how calming and peaceful being around water is? 

We got home, and a couple of kids started taking apart the pallets that we got earlier in the day.  One started mowing the yard, and another trimming the bushes.  While they were doing that, I was doing some yard work, and discovered a bunch of worms helping to improve the quality of my soil.  :)  Three of my younger kids really enjoyed watching them and digging for them.  Then I remembered some recent online reading I did about red wriggler worms being the perfect composting worms – I don’t know if these are officially red wrigglers, but they’re reddish and they’re wriggling, so I suggested the kids collect them in a large container with dirt and some fresh matter for them to eat.  I’ll call that ‘science’ for the day.  :)


How to cheaply renovate your kitchen

I thought some of you might be interested in the rough figures of the cost breakdown for the kitchen renovation.  I have all the records and receipts, but I’m just going to do this off the top of my head for the sake of speed.  :)

Cabinets, gas cooktop, stainless steel hood, double oven, double stainless steel sink – $750 (cabinets are solid wood, custom purchased ten years earlier by the seller for $20,000 – still in excellent condition since they were used by an 87 year old and his wife – I posted about how I was able to buy these so cheaply from the private seller)

Uhaul to bring cabinets home – $90

Countertops – the first set, from building materials re-use center – $30 (24 feet total, brand new, 50% off that day)

Uhaul to bring countertops home since we had all the kids with us – $65

More countertops we bought at Home Depot when we burned the first one right after installing, which matched the first set – $150

Electrician to do wiring for electric oven (we had gas) – $300

Tiles – a) four boxes of ceramic tile from building materials re-use store – brand new – $50

b) polished onyx mosaic for tiling- $70 (I think it was about $8 per square foot, and we were able to cut the mesh to get three rows of trim per sf – much nicer than anything Home Depot had, and much cheaper)- wholesale tile supply store

Lighting – two 4 foot fluorescent fixtures from Home Depot – about $60, with bulbs

That was the bulk of the expenses – then there were lots of little things, like paint ($35), stain ($6), paint roller covers ($6), screws, ducts ($20), base cove molding ($2), thinset ($20).  There are other little things but this is where I’m too lazy to look it all up right now, so I’ll just say another $100 for anything I might not be  thinking of right now, which is definitely much more than what was spent (it was probably closer to $20).  We bought a hammer drill and a jigsaw – let’s say $100 for both, though we ended up having to return the jigsaw since it didn’t work properly, so it was really just $50. 

Instead of buying new wood when we needed some, we used the extra trim that the cabinet set came with to fill in , for example, creating a bracket from a decorative piece that had been previously used to frame the window.  We borrowed the tile cutter from a friend so we didn’t need to rent or buy that.  We had grout and paint rollers left over from when we did the bathroom in the summer. 

I feel like I have to publicly say how amazing my husband has been about doing this.  (He doesn’t read my blog so this isn’t for him; it’s for me to express gratitude.)  He has a long work week and not much time at home.  When he is home, it’s for a couple hours here and there, except for his day off, which being Friday, isn’t a restful kind of day.  (Some of you might particularly appreciate the challenges in renovating a kitchen on Fridays, for all of the family members. :))  He really needs some downtime, which he gave up to do all this work on the kitchen, just because he knew it would make it nicer and more workable for me.  He would (initially) have been quite happy to have left it as it was.  That’s love.  :)

Getting back to the cost – you can see that I didn’t buy most of the main materials new, or even if they were new, didn’t get them from typical retail stores.  As a result, I was able to pay much less for supplies.  I did have a couple of expensive mistakes, specifically regarding those countertops.  The first one was when I had to pay for a Uhaul to bring them home (I can’t tell you how ridiculous I felt to pay for a 14 foot moving truck to transport two countertops – we should have gone home, dropped off the kids, and gone back to pick it up with the van empty); the second was when I used the wrong countertop for where the cooktop was.  If I had used the countertop without the backsplash for that area to start with, I wouldn’t have burnt it and wouldn’t have spent another $150 on new counters.  That would have saved $200.  If I hadn’t wanted a double wall oven, we could have saved several hundred dollars by keeping a gas oven in place because we wouldn’t have needed an electrician.  If we had done that, we could have done the kitchen for under $1500.  Even so, we’re satisfied with the final cost.  :))


The kitchen is finished!

Remember way back when I posted that we were totally renovating our kitchen?  We got most of the big stuff done within a week and a half, but lots of small things (and not so small things, actually) were left.  True to the 80/20 rule, which states that 80 % of your results come from 20 % of your effort, and 80% of your time will be spent on 20% of the work, is what happened with our kitchen.

Here’s what we did – pulled out everything but the floor.  Replaced the cabinets, counters, appliances, repainted the kitchen, vented the hood to the outside (didn’t have a vent before), tiled the backsplash along the length of both counters (at least 20 feet in length), and replaced the lighting.  Because we were using previously owned cabinets, there were other things we needed to do to customize them for our kitchen – cutting the microwave cabinet down to standard size, rebuilding the cabinet that was previously above the hood, staining the wood on the exposed cabinet sides, building a desk area using a drawer and leftover trim for brackets, and more. 

But it’s finally done.  Really, really finished!  And it looks beautiful.  Looking at it is so empowering for everyone in the family.  I kept thinking of things here and there that would improve it, but now it’s all done.  My 13 year old daughter finished the tiling for the final wall yesterday (my neighbor’s 40 year old daughter was visiting today, and told me she couldn’t believe it when she looked outside yesterday and saw her operating the power tile cutter independently – actually, dh taught the 9 and 11 year olds to use it, too :)).

The kids have learned a lot from this project.  Here are some of the lessons: 1) Living within your means doesn’t mean doing without.  You just have to be willing to find other options.  The kitchen cost us under $2000 (including paying for an electrician, all power tools purchased, supplies, cabinets, appliances and 2 Uhauls rented to bring the supplies home).   

Lesson 2 – just because everyone else hires experts doesn’t mean that you can’t do just as good a job on your own.  You just have to be willing to learn, and trust your ability to accomplish your goal.

Lesson 3 –  There’s a huge amount of satisfaction in doing something on your own, and sticking with it until the end when it’s finished.  Every person in this family helped out and has a sense of pride in our project.

Our only regret is that our digital camera wasn’t working properly when we started, so we don’t have before and after pictures. :)


Baby eczema – no simple answers

I recently wrote about tracking down what was leading to my baby’s recent breakout of eczema.  I was delighted to have solved the puzzle, and to have a plan.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, because coconut oil is so fantastically healthy), I was wrong.  His skin cleared up around the time I wrote my post, and last Saturday morning, broke out again – and I hadn’t had a bit of coconut oil for a week. His skin got a little better during the week, and then this morning, terribly flared up.

He has bumpy spots on his arms and legs, not very red, but still noticeable.  His face is where it’s most obvious. 

He’s also been cranky and out of sorts, and scratching at his face (and legs, when he’s wearing warm weather clothing).  When I touch his face, it’s noticeably warmer in the inflamed areas, and the skin right next to it is cool.  Even before this, I’ve been spending the last three months or so holding him all day long.  But at least he was happy being held.  

I’m having a hard time figuring out what he could be reacting to.  One big challenge in nursing infants is that the response to the allergenic food through breast milk can take up to 96 hours.  So I can’t tell if he reacted this morning to something I ate four days ago, or something I ate yesterday.  Confusing, isn’t it?

I already eat very simply, a plain protein with some fruit or veg at each meal, along with a grain or potato/yam, and some fat.  No processed foods, no hidden ingredients.  Most of the top allergenic foods I’m already either not eating or eating very little of. 

I don’t think that treating eczema topically will solve anything (since I want to find the root of the issue, which is probably digestive), but I’d like to find an interim way to alleviate his discomfort.  Not with cortisone creams, obviously (recently one of the commonly prescribed creams for infant eczema was found to be linked to cancer), and I know that’s the only suggestion the doctor will have for me.  Cortisone creams are powerful steroids that enter the body through the skin and don’t solve the problem, it only temporarily covers up the problem at best.   Eliminating the symptom is very different from eliminating the disease.  I’m thinking more along the lines of pure shea butter or vitamin E oil.  Tonight I put some emu oil on since I have some in the house, on just one side of his face to see if it makes a difference. 

I also took some flaxseed oil capsules tonight, and will continue with that in case he has an essential fatty acid deficiency that might be helped; he’ll get it through my milk.  I need to pick up some more fish oil, which I’m out of and haven’t taken for a while.  I’m going to add the coconut oil back in slowly, since I think it will help heal whatever is going on inside him.  I already drink homemade kefir (cultured milk – full of probiotics) but will up my daily intake, as that can only help. 

Sigh.  It’s so hard to see your baby suffer, not knowing what to do to help him.  I’ll be sure to share what works for us once we figure it out, since it seems that this is more common than I thought. 


Suit shopping for teenage boys

Yesterday I took my teenage son to a local men’s store to buy him a new suit.  I bought his last suit at for $100 (a super buy, since it was a $350 suit), and he wasn’t an active participant in the process – it came in the mail, we took him to the tailor to get it fitted and that was it.  Great suit, very simple process.  I would have done the same thing again this time, but he received a gift certificate to this pacticular store.  So he was anticipating that this was going to be a much more gratifying shopping experience for him. 

LOL.  You wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a black suit with pinstripes, would you?  Especially for someone who wears a standard size and looks good in everything.  But just to take pinstripes alone – do you know how many kinds of pinstripes there are?  Lots.  And when you add up all the other varying factors (like materials, cut, style….) – he was overwhelmed.  It’s good I was there because he almost settled for a navy suit just to be done (when he insisted initially that he only wanted black).   It would have been so much easier if I had just shown him three black suits with pinstripes and told him to choose one. 

But he did finally find something, and I’m so glad he got something he’s pleased with.  When he came home, he told me he never knew how confusing buying a suit could be. :)

It made me think about how many choices we have in our modern lives.  We may think it’s a great thing.  And maybe it is.  But the down side of having so many choices is that we spend a lot of time and energy sifting through those choices.   If it means are lives are qualitatively much better, then it’s worth all the time and effort.  But I wonder if there’s really any gain over choosing from just two or three items…


Third graders plot to kill teacher

Have you heard the horrifying news about nine third grade students who plotted to kill their teacher after she reprimanded one of them for standing on a chair??

The students planned out a strategy and brought their items for the attack to school on the day that another student notified an authority that the girl who was the ringleader had a weapon.  The items included a steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape, a crystal paperweight – and it’s chilling to learn that kids this young had come up with a detailed plan, including knocking the teacher out with the paperweight, then handcuffing her and finally stabbing her to death.  Different kids were assigned roles – one to cover the windows so no one could see, another to clean up afterwards. 

No one can know if the kids would have carried out their plan or not.  But I think if the kids had the degree of emotional disengagement from what they were doing that they could plan an attack like that without any compunctions, it’s highly likely that they could have gone through with it. 

It’s scary to think of having your children in a school with kids who could come up with a plan like this – but these kids were all considered ‘good kids’.  

What’s that oh so important question that every homeschooler hears about – oh, yes, the importance of socialization?   Kids can’t develop healthy emotional skills without being around their peers, right?  Hmm…seems like the shoe is on the other foot now.


Baby eczema and coconut oil

In the last couple of weeks, we noticed the baby was developing a rash on his face.  The first couple of days, I didn’t think much about it, just that he must have scratched himself somehow.  But then it got worse and worse, and his face was looking very blotchy, clearly eczema, which indicated to me an allergic response to something in his diet.

He’s now almost 7 months, and had only had tiny amounts of food other than nursing, so I was pretty sure it was something coming through my milk.  I looked at what I was eating to see what could be transferring to him.

I’m fortunate that I eat very simply, no processed food at all so there are no hidden ingredients to try to identify.  It was pretty easy for me to look at my diet of the last couple of weeks and see what was different from before that.  The only things I could see were milk and coconut oil.  I had run out of milk for a couple of weeks, and didn’t have any until I stocked up again.  But since  I’ve been drinking raw milk since he was born without any signs of problem, it didn’t seem that could be the issue. 

That left me with coconut oil as the culprit, which didn’t seem likely since if he was allergic to tree nuts, he should be reacting to the almonds and cashews that I regularly eat, but he doesn’t.  I recently upped my intake of coconut oil to 3 tablespoons a day, rather suddenly deciding to use it to replace all the fats I was using, and it was during this period that his skin got rashy.

I stopped eating coconut oil on Friday afternoon, when it first occurred to me, and his skin has gotten steadily better since then.  But this leaves me with a big question.  I still don’t believe it was the oil itself that was the problem.  So what actually caused the rash? 

Here are my thoughts.  Coconut oil is a powerful anti-fungal and therefore kills off yeast inside the body (among other things).  When the yeast dies off, a person will initially seem to be getting worse before it looks better, because the die off manifests itself as a number of unpleasant symptoms (skin eruptions are one).  When a mother has a yeast overgrowth (candida – as virtually everyone nowadays has), it’s passed on to her infant before he’s born, which is how a nursing baby would aquire it. 

So the coconut oil was doing something – what I’m unsure about is: 1) was my baby reacting to toxins my body was throwing off as the coconut oil helped my body heal, and therefore the rash was caused from those toxins (in which case slowing down or eliminating coconut oil is the path to take) ; or 2) was he himself having his internal yeast killed off, and the rash was a manifestation of die off – in which case it would benefit him to continue to help his body detoxify (and continuing the oil would be the right approach)?

I don’t have an answer for this, and don’t have anyone to ask.  I’m delighted that his skin is looking better again.  At this point I’m thinking that in a few weeks, I’ll slowly reintroduce coconut oil in my diet.  The problem might have been that it was a sudden change in my diet, and by easing into it, I can watch his response and back off immediately if I see it leading to a problem again.  If the issue was die off, going slowly would cause the die off to be less drastic and he would still benefit from the healing properties of coconut oil.


‘Maxed Out’ – teaching kids about credit cards

I’ve been feeling very fractured in terms of time lately, pulled in too many directions with the new time demands involved in having my 14 year old son home for part of the day.  It’s great having him home, but it has really changed my schedule and I haven’t yet integrated the changes in a way that feels smooth to me.  So that’s why I haven’t been posting much recently.  Plus, by the time everyone’s asleep and it’s quiet enough to sit down, I’m so tired that I hardly have any intelligent thoughts left! 

Anyway, this week I watched a documentary on dvd with the kids called ‘Maxed Out’.  (I was able to get it at the library.)  It’s only the second time I’ve shown them a dvd in this kind of format – the first time was Supersize Me.  Maxed Out is about credit card spending in the US, and a look behind the scenes at credit card industry and its victims.  I thought it was well done, definitely had a strong emotional pull, but it was lacking balance in terms of adequately defining the problem and the solution. 

Afterwards, I asked my kids what they thought the message was.  My eleven year old said it seemed like credit card companies were killing people.  That gave us a chance to discuss what techniques the makers of the presentation used to make it so emotionally effective, and to see what the agenda of it was.  But more important was the talk we had about the danger of irresponsible and uncontrolled spending when using credit cards.  Many of those who were portrayed sympathetically were preyed upon, but I don’t doubt that the majority of them used credit cards irresponsibly.  That’s the part they didn’t show in the film that was crucial but missing.  And I know that some of the experts interviewed believe in personal responsibility (from reading their books), but they obviously edited out any reference to consumer responsibility because it wasn’t part of their message.  It was all about the people as victims – no one has a credit card forced into their hands, and even if they did, you don’t have to use it!

I want my kids to understand the motivation behind the credit card industry, and that was effectively accomplished with their film.  But they need to recognize that people don’t become victims of credit card companies by standing by passively.  Kids need to know what they can do to avoid credit card debt and the kind of sad things that can result (some shown in the film).  Feeling like a victim leaves you feeling helpless, but when you know you can do something to improve on the situation, you feel empowered.

When a person uses credit cards, it’s been proven that they spend more than they buy with cash, because there isn’t the same consciousness of spending money when using plastic.  That’s why credit card companies want their terminals in every possible location, even for small purchases, because they know people will buy more.

When you combine that with the desire for immediate gratification, you have large numbers of people buying things they can’t afford because they want it now.  So lesson number two for my kids is, you have to be responsible when you spend your money, and the first part of being responsible is having enough money to buy what you want.  If you don’t have the money right now, then you shouldn’t buy something.  It may be old- fashioned to teach kids not to buy something until they have the money for it, but that’s what I tell my kids.  It’s okay to wait for what you really want.  It builds self-control, discipline, patience, and responsibility, and when they finally get whatever it is they are saving up for, they’ll appreciate it in an entirely different way. 

I find programs such as these provide a great springboard for discussion, which is why I don’t have a problem using them as educational material with the kids, even though the answer they presented was more governmental control.  I don’t need to show them things that agree with my perspective on life, because part of what I’m trying to teach them is how to evaluate information.  This film was definitely worth watching – it isn’t intended for kids, but my kids benefitted, and an adult audience would definitely benefit from it!


Best banana bread

Okay, Shayna, here’s the recipe for you!  I’m not sure how long you’ve been reading here, so I don’t know if you’re familiar with how I adapt regular recipes to make them healthy.  I’ll put my adaptations in parentheses; it’s not really that big a difference.

The feedback on this was that it was excellent – I didn’t taste it, so I’ll have to believe the people who actually ate it.  I have one friend who is an excellent cook/baker, and she told me her husband was quite impressed.  I wouldn’t call banana bread impressive, but he’s not one to compliment people casually, so it probably was pretty good.  :)  It’s a very easy recipe, and it works for muffins as well.  

  • 1/2 c. butter/coconut oil (not veg oil or margarine)
  • 1 c. sugar (I use sucanat, honey is also good)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 bananas, mashed
  • 1 1/2 c. flour (I used half whole wheat for friends, for just our family I would use 100%, freshly ground)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • opt. – you can throw in some crushed walnuts if you like

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs and mashed bananas.  Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add the dry ingredients to the wet.  Pour into a greased floured loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, 20 minutes if you’re making muffins.