the dreaded drain clog: a chemical-free, virtually cost-free solution

Until the last few years, I had lived a relatively clog-free existence.  Sure, my sister and I occasionally had to pull a wad of hair out of the shower drain to keep it clear, but that was only once a month or so.  For the past three years, however, my husband and I seem to have grown increasingly hairy—or at least we are shedding an increasing amount; we now unclog our shower drain weekly to avoid standing in more than an inch of water.

When we moved into our current home (closing in on two years ago, now), the plumber who revamped our bathroom suggested that we dump a gallon of vinegar down each drain on a monthly basis.  It’s an all-natural form of plumbing maintenance, he said, clearing out all the grit and grease that collects on the sides of the pipes.  We’ve done that with relative consistency.

Another plumber, out to correct a tub leak, shared that he has given up his regular drain opener in favor of shaking baking soda down the drain before pouring in his vinegar; the extra foaming action works wonders, he says.  We’ve tried that, too, with moderate success.

Somehow, however, we still have clogs.  So we haul out one of those nasty drain-opening chemicals with so many warning labels that you wonder whether your children should ever be allowed to splash in the tub again.  On a monthly basis or so, we subject ourselves and our plumbing to this ordeal.

Recently, upon complaining about yet another increasingly problematic standing-water-in-the-shower situation to my husband, I saw him walk to the kitchen instead of fetching either the vinegar or the drain opener from the hall closet.  Asked what he was doing, he replied, “Well, I noticed that the chemical drain opener we use claims to heat up to melt away greasy clogs, so I figured if heating was all it took, I could accomplish the same thing with water.”  He filled up our teapot and plunked it on the stove to prepare to test his theory.

Surprise of surprises, it worked!  He poured one near-boiling teapot full of water down in the morning and another in the evening, and our shower is running well again.  From now on, I think water will be our go-to clog defender—who would have thought?

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the curse of a goal-oriented mommy

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a stay-at-home mommy.  What I didn’t realize (until after my dream came true) is that I am cursed.  Not only have I been cursed with lackluster breasts (which I really don’t mind, except for that year or so when my kids—and my budget—could really use their help), but, more vitally, I am cursed with a need to achieve.  That’s right, I am a goal-oriented person.  This never struck me as being remotely problematic until I became a mother.

Picture this:  You are a goal-oriented individual.  You are a stay-at-home mom.   Thus, your goal in life is to raise your children—ideally, you’d like them to be responsible, compassionate, respectful, productive citizens, among other things.  Depending on your point of view, you will achieve your goal either when your kids move out on their own (which is getting later and later these days) or when you or your children die.  Either way, there’s not much to encourage a goal-oriented person.

Break it down further, you say.  Okay, we’ll work with just a single day.  Your goal for the day is to survive the day, make sure your children survive the day, and (ideally) keep everyone fed, clothed, and more-or-less happy while maintaining a decently clean house.  Evidence of achieving your goal?  At the end of the day, you, your children, and your house are all still standing.  Again, not very thrilling.

I have found this lack of measurable achievement to be intensely frustrating.  Here I am, living my dream (though perhaps a bit different than my idealized vision as a child), and yet I feel unfulfilled.  It makes me feel as if I’m failing my kids by not reveling in the time I spend sitting (not allowed to touch anything—otherwise it suddenly becomes more compelling than any other object in the room and must immediately be taken away by my children; or else whatever I am doing is wrong because it doesn’t fit with a toddler or preschooler’s suddenly-invented-and-constantly-changing rules for whatever game we’re playing) and watching their every move or participating in the 397th round of “Here-Mommy-Taste-This-Pretend-Cookie-I-Made”.  If I’m not enjoying every moment of motherhood, am I a failure as a mother?

Here’s my solution to (hopefully) help myself feel more fulfilled and, thus, more competent as a mommy:  more goals.

For starters, I’ve broken down my “clean house” goal into a daily task that I can check off my mental list.  But that one little check mark hasn’t been enough.  So I’ve added to the list.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Over the summer, I’m going to ponder things I want my children to internalize, things like an understanding of their (well, so far my and my husband’s) faith, a good foundation in the Bible, an outward-focused perspective that notices and cares for the needs of others, an awareness of their context in the world, responsibility and good manners, an appreciation of the arts, a willingness to try new things and accept failure as progress…as well as exploring and learning such basics as their shapes, colors, numbers, and letters.

There are also some things I want to do for me.  I want to continue to feed my passions for reading, writing, and creating.  I want to make more of an effort to connect to others and build relationships.  I want to maintain a healthy marriage and a healthy faith life and be the best mom I can be.

With so many desires, I could make an endless list of steps to achieve these.  In the future, I’ll share some the ways I’ll be working toward the goals I have for my children and our family.  As for me—I’ve begun to spend my evenings reading, writing, and (currently) sewing.  I’ve joined a MOMS Club, and I’m making an effort to participate in as many activities as our schedule and our budget allow.  My husband and I spend time talking together and doing devotions immediately after the kids are in bed and, with my mom’s help, we set aside time for a monthly date.  I’ve also started this blog, another way for me to visually achieve something related to both my mothering and my love of writing.  We shall see where all this plotting leads me…

baby people

Some people are baby people.  I am not.  Don’t get me wrong—I love my babies.  I enjoy trying to coax out that first smile, that first giggle.  I relish their first, cooed conversations and those sweet moments when they nuzzle into your chest as they are dropping off to sleep.  There’s a lot to love about babies.

At the same time, I find that my joy at those precious firsts is not entirely selfless.  With that first front-to-back roll, I think, “Oh, good—we’re that much closer to crawling!”  With the ability to grasp and shake toys comes my joy at realizing that my baby is getting closer to being able to play.  In fact, with each day that passes, part of me sighs my relief that my teeny one is one day less teeny.

I feel a little bit bad about this, as if I’m not savoring the time enough or treasuring my kids enough.  It’s not that I don’t love my children—I do.  I just love them more and more the older they get.  I love hearing their thoughts and observations, I love witnessing their imaginations at work, I love their pride in learning how to dress themselves or ride a bike.   Sure, there are days when my kids use their growing vocabularies to scream at each other, days their creativity is focused on destroying the house, days when their independence is enough to make me want to pull my hair out…but much of the time, MOST of the time, I glory in their growth.

the valance

Have you ever noticed that if you go shopping with something particular in mind, you inevitably can’t find what you want—and if you shop with nothing in mind, you can find dozens of appealing items?  This has always been a problem for folks in my family.

More than a decade ago, I made a simple quilt of bright-colored squares.  Having never quilted before, I was delighted with the twin-size bedspread I created.  I used it during college and determined that if I ever had a little girl, she should have it in her room.

Last fall, we switched Goober to a big girl bed.  Since we had been planning only to switch her room and not her bed, I wasn’t prepared with any new bedroom accessories.  I ran out and found some bright orange sheets and a red rug—the only bright colors I could find that matched—but I couldn’t find curtains.

What I really wanted was a valance with some bright, whimsical flowers on it.  I visited every local retail store that carried valances—and then some.  No luck.  I looked for matching fabric at a few local fabric stores, only to discover that fabric stores seem to be carrying less and less fabric, and they certainly didn’t have anything that nicely complimented the fabric I already had in the quilt.  I resorted to desperately searching the internet time and again, certain that someone somewhere had produced something like what I was looking for, but the only bright flowered things I could find were bright pink and purple.  Alas!  I finally gave up and purchased plain black curtains: at least they didn’t completely clash.

One day a few months later when I was cleaning house, I happened upon an underbed tote that I’d completely forgotten was under my bed.  Lo and behold, it contained (among other items) scraps of fabric from that long-ago quilt!  After determining that none of the fabric scraps was sizable enough to make a complete valance for Goober’s large bedroom window, however, I put them away, feeling defeated.  Those fabric scraps kept coming to mind, though, whenever I walked into my daughter’s room.  So I pondered.  After a few crazy quilting concepts that I swiftly rejected, I developed a vision that would utilize those odd little pieces of matching fabric to create the whimsical flowers I’d imagined.

Usually I have grand and glorious visions that turn into grand and glorious failures, so my hopes were not high when I began this sewing adventure—but just this once, my vision actually became reality.   (Though I think I’ll refrain from trying to calculate how many hours I spent creating flower templates and arranging and rearranging leaves, not to mention the actual sewing.)  Goobie’s room now has a valance that matches her quilt AND incorporates those whimsical flowers I’d imagined.  Hopefully it will be timeless enough that it can last her for quite a few years into the future.  (Now to address the walls…)

grocery shopping on a budget

Supposedly, your grocery budget is one of the best places to cut back and save money.  To this end, I have done numerous internet searches over the past few years, seeking money-saving solutions.  Here’s what I have learned:  I can’t be any cheaper than I already am.

The following are the cost-cutting suggestions I’ve found online:

–          Don’t shop hungry.  Check.  (If you do have to shop hungry, at least be aware that you’re hungry and control yourself by following the next suggestion…)

–          Make a list before shopping—and stick to it.  Check.  (I can attest that having a list makes a BIG difference.  Weeks that I don’t take time to make a list, I tend to buy more random things and have a higher bill.  I DO allow myself to buy things that are not on my list, however, if I discover an unexpected sale on one of our staple food items.)

–          Buy off-brand.  Check.  (Though I must admit, I learned that some off-brands are more “off” than others, and there are certain things—like mac & cheese or spaghetti sauce, for instance, that one can only stoop so far on before making the food so pathetic as to be inedible.)

–          Wait for sales.  Check.  (Unfortunately, some off-brand things never seem to go on sale, but for bigger items, this is helpful.)

–          Buy in bulk (especially when you see a sale on something you use often).  Check.  (This only works well if you have the shelf or freezer space to accommodate your purchases, so be a bit careful with those frozen chicken breast sales.)

–          Use coupons.

Okay, here’s where I have a problem.  I clip coupons from my parents’ paper and I have signed up for various coupon subscription sites, but honestly I rarely find something I’ll use.  In almost every case, I can find a generic item for cheaper than what I’d spend on the brand-name item even WITH the coupon.

My one caveat: If I’m buying something that’s hard to get in a generic—like toddler toothpaste—I will search online for coupons and wait for a sale.  I refuse to be one of the crazy coupon ladies who haggles with the store clerk to allow them to use twelve coupons on one product, though.  If my coupon says, “Limit one coupon per purchase,” then why should I be entitled to sidestep the rule unless the store is having some special double-coupon promotion?

Having already covered all of the standard money-saving suggestions, I’ve had to invent a few of my own.  I’ll share them:

–          Choose your store wisely.  Don’t shop at the local upscale supermarket if you are running tight on your budget.  Do you really NEED your store to have a drop-ceiling and colorful floor mosaic, or can you buy groceries just as well in a warehouse-style store that doesn’t need to increase their prices to pay for the cost of redoing their décor every three years?

–          On a related note—pay attention to what you’re paying for items.  Even supposedly cheap stores (ahem, Food4Less) will try to stick it to you by advertising amazing prices on a few select staples each week but charging more for many of the other items.  If you’re saving $.50 on your milk but paying $.10 more for each of the other items you buy, you’ve lost your advantage.

–          On yet another related note—look for discount stores or items marked down because they’re close to their end-of-shelf-life.  There’s a discount bread store on a road I often drive.  When I happened to stop in one time, I discovered that I can buy a bag of 6 big Sara Lee bagels for $1—and sometimes they have a BOGO sale.  Since we eat bagels daily, this saves us a significant amount over time—especially because the other bagels I’d been buying were smaller ones sold in 5-packs for the same price (if I could wait for the good sale).  I can now buy good bread, too, for $.75 a loaf.  As long as I use it promptly, the nearing expiration date has no effect on me except to keep my wallet feeling fuller.

–          Shop less often.  Somehow, even with my nice list, I find that the more often I go to the store, the more I end up spending on groceries in the month.  I’m still not sure how it happens, but my mother has noticed it, as well.  To curb this, I try to plan my meals for at least one week at a time.  I know I need to buy perishables more-or-less on a weekly basis to keep us eating fresh fruits and veggies and milk, but if I can ensure that I’m not running out for forgotten meal ingredients in addition to my regular grocery runs, I manage to spend less overall.

–          Trim your recipes.  Many casseroles—often sources of good, cheap meals—will call for a pound of ground beef.  I save myself a few cents here and there by buying bulk ground beef (which is typically cheaper per pound than smaller packages) and dividing a 4.16 lb. package into five or six baggies.  I’ll put more meat in some bags than others; the fuller bags can be used for meals like tacos, while the less-full bags will go into my casseroles, where I won’t notice a few bites less meat.  If I add more veggies to my casserole, I’ve replaced the missing meat and made our diet a little healthier to boot.

–          Find cheaper options.  Ground turkey is slightly cheaper than ground beef, so you can save yourself a few cents on meals with other flavorful ingredients by replacing your beef with turkey.  (Turkey is also leaner, so you’ll be eating a healthier meat!)  This is another chance to consider adding extra veggies to your meals, since they tend to be cheaper than main dishes.  (And frozen veggies, especially if purchased on sale, will save you even more.)  Consider the snack foods you purchase, and seek cheaper options.  Buy the full-size package of pretzels or applesauce and re-package them into reusable plastic containers to send in your child’s lunch, rather than spending extra for the convenience of pre-packaged lunch options.  Look around for other substitutions or trade-offs that make sense with your lifestyle.

–          Make cheaper meals.  You might be surprised at the cost variation among the meals you regularly make.  I sat down one day and listed each meal with its necessary ingredients.  I then added the cost of each ingredient and divided the total cost by the number of servings it yields.  I’ll have to share some of my cost-breakdowns another day.

–          Cut back or do without.  Must you have the deluxe “snuggle-soft” toilet paper?  Do you really need that bowl of ice cream in the afternoons?  Do you need to snack at all, for that matter?  My husband and I found that if we have snack foods in the house, we (and the kids!) will eat them.  We elected to provide snacks only for the kids’ little tummies, and only at set snack times.  (We all consume more if we allow ourselves to graze constantly.)  We reserve fun but unhealthy and expensive options like chips  only for occasional special meals, enjoy pop as a once-a-week luxury with Sunday’s evening pizza, and fill our lunches with celery and carrots instead of more expensive and less healthy snack food options.

With these considerations in mind, I’ve managed to keep my grocery budget (mostly) reasonable even as my family expands.

the why and wherefore of blogging (for me, at least)

I love to write.  I always have loved writing.  My earliest “books” were written backwards with poor spelling and stories that made no sense.  In the years since then, I have continued to write off-and-on for various purposes.  I wrote research papers in high school, essays and stories for college writing courses, journals for personal reflection, and even news stories and interviews for my very-part-time job.

When I became a mom, almost all my recreation either stopped or became instantly focused on the little people in my life.  I now write to record my children’s lives, read books written for little people or about them, and use my creativity and artistry to create toys, games, and other kid-centric items.

I want to give my children everything.  Perhaps you can sympathize.  I want their worlds to be full of wonder, their perspectives broadened by the activities and experiences I provide.  This glorious vision, of course, comes to a screeching halt when it meets my budget.  And so I have pulled out my creative stops, as it were, in an attempt to bring the world to my children—on a shoestring budget.  Herein, I shall log my efforts, both successes and failures, to provide my children with creative toys, cultural experiences, and the joy of discovery.  I shall also share the journey of motherhood in all its spit-up-coated glory.