Monday, January 24, 2011

The Three Ring Circus

I've been told on more than one occasion that my house is a "circus". I had never actually been to a real circus, so when I heard one was coming to town, I decided we better check it out! My friend, GG, works at the Cedar Park Center and was able to help us get some great seats. We all had a fantastic time---the kids were entranced by the animals and the older kids especially loved the BMX guy and the motorcycle guy.

Back: Kaiya, Riley & Henry (friend), Front: Kaydence, Kassidy, Ryder, Rustin & Kyndall

Waiting for the show to start

Riley, Henry & Kaiya

Tricks with Tigers

The amazing elephant. This was my favorite part.

GG got to work our section during the show.

A few of the kids were a bit scared of the clown close-up!


Friday, January 14, 2011

Krispie Treat Houses

Last Christmas we started something that has turned into a family tradition...instead of making gingerbread houses, we make rice krispie treat houses. Using mini-loaf pans, I mold the rice krispie treats into blocks, then cut them into "house" shapes. They hold up better than the traditional graham cracker version of the gingerbread house, and they taste a lot better (in my opinion!). Last year only Riley and Kaiya made one, but this year, all the kids were in on the fun.


Kaydence---the only one who didn't really get into the activity. She liked having a house, but she didn't want to put any frosting on it, and hence most of her decorations fell off!

Rustin--what a clown!






Top Tips for Sticking to a Budget

In a recent survey, 65% of Americans said that one of their New Year's Resolutions would be to "save more money", and 52% planned to reduce spending in 2011.

With nine mouths to feed, seven potential sets of braces to pay for and seven college tuitions looming in the future (not to mention family vacations, kids extracurricular activities and nine people to clothe...), I am always looking for ways to save money. Besides the obvious necessity of saving money, there is something so exciting about getting a good deal. A few months ago, I gave a short presentation at a church meeting on budgeting where I gave some of my top tips for sticking to a budget. With the start of a new year, I thought I would share some of them here. If any of you have some great tips for saving money, please leave me a comment---I'd love to hear them!

My Overall Budget Strategy:
**If you can’t pay cash for it, don’t buy it!

**Pay tithing first

**Pay yourself next— take full advantage of any matching plans (such as 401k) that your company offers---it’s free money!

**Save a minimum of 10% each month (including 401k)

**Build and maintain a “rainy day” fund equal to 8 months of expenses

Saving Money on Food:
**Use sales and coupons to save on groceries and create a stockpile (aka food storage) I actually have four Sunday papers delivered to my house each week just for the coupons. The key to saving money with coupons, is to save the coupons and wait for a sale, then stock up when the prices are rock bottom. My favorite couponing website is the Krazy Coupon Lady. It is an excellent resource for learning how to coupon and keeping up with all the sales!

**Buy produce and meat on sale and in season. Coupons for fresh produce and meat are hard to come by, but there are still ways to save. Many of the big grocery stores (like Safeway) run great specials on fresh meat---it is often a "loss leader" meaning that they actually sell the meat below their cost because they know if they get you in the store to buy the meat, you will spend all kinds of money on other things. When meat is cheap, I buy a bunch and freeze it. For fruits and veggies I have a similar strategy---fruit and veggies that are in season are going to be cheaper. Some fruits (like berries, peaches, mangos, pineapple, etc.) can be frozen, so when they are in season, I buy a bunch and freeze them to use later in the year when they are not in season, and therefore more expensive.

**Make and freeze meals. One of my friends, Shaleen Wilding has a great website for this: By buying in bulk and making several freezer meals at once, she is able to feed her family of 10 for around $4/meal! You can order her recipe book online for $7.50, which basically covers the cost of printing and binding.

**Eating out: look for coupons online ( often has good ones) or places like the Entertainment book, Split an entrée to save $$ as well as inches on your waistline!

Saving Money on Clothes and Household Items:
**Shop clearance sales—buy ahead for next year. I find great clearance deals at Kohl’s and Target (My Target often marks things down on Thursdays). Even Sam’s Club and Costco put things on clearance (at Sam’s look for prices that end in “1”, ie, $2.91, that indicates a clearance item. At Costco, look for the * on the price sign---that means they don’t plan to reorder that item and it may have a lower price)

**Clearance sales aren't just great for clothes, I also keep a "stockpile" of birthday gifts, baby gifts, teacher gifts etc.

**Always search for coupon codes when you buy things online

**Consider buying used---Craigslist, Garage Sales, or thrift stores

General Tips:
**Automate everything---save money on stamps and avoid late fees. Most bills can be set up to pay automatically through the company. For companies that don’t have an autopay program or for things like piano lessons, set up an automatic payment via your bank’s online billpay.

**Always compare prices---insurance, hiring contractors, furniture

**Try using this simple phrase: “Is that the best you can do?” (Especially on big ticket items like cars, homes, etc)

**Cut your kids and husband’s hair yourself

**Give yourself manicures and pedicures (get the little stickers from Walmart to put on your toes---then it looks like you got an expensive pedicure, but you only spent a few dollars)

Once you create a stockpile, you might have to get creative in order to find places to store it all. Living the Texas (where it gets HOT during the summer), the garage is not a good option for storing food, so I use any extra space I can find, such as the coat closet under the stairs, in the laundry room, and even under beds.

Things like canned veggies and cream soups usually hit their lowest price around Thanksgiving time. Using coupons, I can get them for about 25 cents a can, so I buy enough to last me until the next Thanksgiving. Baking items like flour, sugar, spices, etc. are also at their yearly low during the holidays.

Snacks and cereals usually have a "sale cycle time" of about 6-8 weeks, meaning that they will go on sale about every 6-8 weeks. I try to keep a 3-6 month rotating supply of these items when I can get them for free (like the fruit snacks) or really cheap (under a dollar for cereal).

We go through a LOT of cereal at our house. Cheerios are a favorite and they recently went on sale...with coupons I spent 77 cents/box (the 14 oz size). Some Honey Nut Cheerios boxes have a deal on two boxes get a FREE movie ticket (up to $12 value). With coupons I was able to get the Honey Nut Cheerios for $2.50/box, which is more than I usually spend, however I thought $5 for a movie ticket and two boxes of cereal was a pretty great deal! (If you want to try this deal yourself, look for the specially marked boxes of HN Cheerios at your local Target--it is the middle sized box. My Target started stocking a different box, but when I looked behind the front boxes, I found a bunch of the movie ticket boxes hiding in the back). Print out these coupons before you go to maximize savings!

The Fabulous Five take a break from bargain shopping to eat pretzels on our weekly trip to Sam's's never to early to learn how to save money!!

Kyndall, Kassidy, and Kaydence

Rustin & Ryder


Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas Morning 2010

Waiting at the top of the stairs

On Christmas morning, the rule at our house is that no one can come downstairs until Mom and Dad give the okay. From the top of the stairs, the kids can see part of the tree, but they can't see the whole room. Riley and Kaiya, eager with anticipation, were up around 5:00 am sitting and waiting (the other rule is that we wait for everyone to wake up on their own). They had been planning all week the games they could play and books they could play to keep themselves busy while they waited to open presents. Because of the Christmas Eve festivities, everyone got to bed kind of late, so the little kids actually slept in until about 7:30. Once they were awake, we made everyone go potty before the present unwrapping could begin, so you can imagine how anxious Riley and Kaiya were by the time we finally let them come downstairs! (Notice that Ryder has shorts and shoes on in the above picture---he insists on getting dressed, complete with shoes, the instant he gets out of bed in the morning. He won't even go to sleep unless his shoes are waiting for him right next to his bed. Funny kid!)

Down-the-stairs stampede (Kaiya was in such a hurry that she made it down the stairs before I could take the picture!)

The tree on Christmas Morning

Once everyone comes downstairs, they are allowed to check out their stockings. Then we all gather for a family prayer before unwrapping presents. In an ideal world, we take turns unwrapping presents, starting with the youngest and working up to the oldest. Everyone patiently waits their turn, oohing and awing over everyone's gifts. When Jayson and I went to bed the night before, I actually had visions of this occurring. Taking turns had worked great when we opened up the pj's and I decided that the quints were old enough to "get it". In reality, it was nothing like I had imagined. Instead it was complete CHAOS!

Kids were opening presents left and right, no matter whose names were on the outside. Kyndall and Rustin were the worst offenders (of course!). I think I said "It's not your turn!" and "That's not your present!" at least a hundred times. But, despite the madness, it was so FUN. While the quints didn't exactly get the whole "taking turns" idea, they DID understand the opening presents and they were so excited by everything that they opened.

Displaying their stocking surprises: Ryder, Kyndall, Rustin, Kaydence, Kassidy, Riley and Kaiya. The quints got "Sing-a-ma-jigs" in their stockings and Riley and Kaiya got juggling balls and a BYU wallet. I love that the Sing-a-ma-jigs came in all the quint's colors!


Rustin---the little kids all got scooters from Santa


Kaydence, Kassidy and Kyndall open a package of princess shoes

Rustin proudly displays his new GeoTrax

Kaydence gets a new Dora doll

Kyndall opens her "doggie in a pink purse". I took the quints to Walmart one day and let them look in the toy department---the girl's saw these "Pucci Pups" and decided that was what they wanted for Christmas. I was sure that 3-years-old = fickle and that they would change their minds, but they never did!

Kaiya found her bike hiding in the garage

The girls model their new "tippy-toes" skirts. I love how as the morning progressed, they kept putting on everything they opened...Kassidy is wearing the tippy toes, princess shoes and bike helmet.


The little girls

After the present opening, we sat down for our traditional Christmas breakfast----little boxes of cereal, cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk. The little cereal boxes is one of Riley and Kaiya's favorite traditions, and it is one that has been going for at least three generations in my family.

Making a tower out of the little cereal boxes has become part of the tradition

The Whole Family



Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas Eve

I LOVE Christmas Eve. I love the traditions, the time spent with family, the feeling you get singing Christmas carols around the tree. I love the food, the preparations, the anticipation and the excitement in the kids faces. The Christmas spirit that has been building all month seems to reach it's climax on Christmas Eve.

Growing up we never lived by family, so our tradition on Christmas Eve was to invite other family-less families over. Jayson and I have continued this tradition in our own family. This year we invited GG & Ronnie, Cassaundra (with her friend Thad and her son Troy), The Lipseys (Tyrone, Brenda, Luvinia, and Joe) and The Raolinas (Yves, Sandy, Hannah, Richard, Rebekah, Marcy and Jennifer). It was the same as the group we had last year, with the addition of the Raolinas.

We started the evening with a nice dinner. Christmas is one of the few occasions where I have an excuse to pull out the candles and charger plates! I know most of my guests would be just as happy with paper products (and many had never heard of a “charger plate” before), but I love decorating and making the tables look fancy. Every year I make the same menu (the same menu that my parents still do), which consists of Swiss Chicken, rice, Festive Jello Salad, homemade rolls, some kind of vegetable and Death by Chocolate. Yum!

The "Big Kid" Table

The "Adult" Table

The "Big Kid" table with big kids eating at it

The "Little Kid" table with little kids doing everything but eating at it

The "Adult" table with adults eating at it

After dinner, we pull out bathrobes, towels, sheets and whatever else we can find to dress the kids up as shepherds, angels, wisemen, etc and we reenact the story of Christ’s birth. This year was the first year that the quints kind of understood what was going on…..which meant that all the girls fought over who got to be Mary and both the boys insisted they had to be Joseph (or “Jofus” as they pronounce it). In then end, Ryder was Joseph, Kyndall was Mary, Kassidy and Kaydence were shepherds, Kaiya was the head angel, and Riley was King Herod’s priest. We sang Christmas carols as the kids acted out the story from the bible. I don’t think we are taking our act on Broadway anytime soon, but we all enjoyed the performance!

The "Cast"

Group Shot---Everyone on Christmas Eve. I think it is amazing that we had 25 people there and everyone is looking at the camera! Something about that blinking light on those timer shots must be mesmerizing!

Kaydence, Kassidy, Kaiya, Rustin, Ryder, Riley and Kyndall

After all our guests leave, everyone gets to open one present, which is always new pj’s. Then we each choose a Christmas song to sing, starting with the youngest (Ryder) and ending with the oldest (Jayson). Next we take lots of pictures in front of the tree. Growing up, my brothers and my dad always complained about all the pictures we took, but my kids actually love it. We take pictures of just the girls, just the boys, Riley & Kaiya, timer shots of the family, and we always end with a “pile” picture. At one Christmas party I went to this season, we played a game and one of the questions was “What Christmas tradition could you not live without?” The Christmas Eve pictures in front of the tree were my answer!

The Girls

The Boys

The Quints

The Older Kids

Mom & Dad

Kaydence, Kaiya, Rustin, Ryder, Rachelle, Kassidy, Jayson, Kyndall and Riley

The Whole Family---this one was going to be a pyramid shot (as we used to do in my family growing up), but making a pyramid in 10 seconds (the length of the timer) with five three-year-olds who have no concept of what a pyramid is, turns out to be impossible!

The Pile! (Too bad Jayson didn't have the video camera running for this one, because making a pile in less than 10 seconds is pretty comical!)

Following pictures, we had our family prayer, set cookies out for Santa and headed to bed. The kids were so excited this year I thought they would NEVER fall asleep!

Stay tuned for pictures from Christmas day!