Thursday, March 4, 2010

Trick #3: You can never have too many babysitters.

This is a golden rule. A GOLDEN RULE. Okay, technically, the golden rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated, but this could apply to babysitting.

Babysit unto others as you would like them to babysit unto you.

Recently, I was out with my son and a group of lady friends at Velveteria, THE only velvet painting museum in the world (well, except for Villa Velour, which is a copycat at best). The museum closed its doors officially on January 24th, and we didn't want to miss the opportunity to check it out beforehand. We came back to my house to grab another friend and head out to the Delta Cafe for dinner. As I was standing there, "convincing" said friend to come along, Ian began to complain...

"I don't wanna go. The Delta Cafe is BORING.  I don't want it." BLAH DUH FREAKING BLAH.

I was about to go into my rant of, "Well, we're going and that's THAT and I never get to do anyth...," when my roommate chimed in, "I'll watch him!"

WHA? I thought I was dreaming. No, seriously.

"Oh, but Angela, you exaggerate."

Nope. See, I hadn't been out on the town with just the ladies for quite a little bit of time. I was in some serious need of what the parental units like to call "grown up time." All work and no play makes Mommy a cranky lunatic. I was in desperate need of some adult conversation and frivolity.

Did I literally jump on his offer of free babysitting? Uhm, you bet your sweet arse I did!

BECAUSE... I have a motto.

Never turn down free babysitting, (assuming the offering party is someone you know and trust). In the parenting world, a free babysitter could literally be traded for twice his or her weight in gold. If you have a friend and they offer to babysit "sometime," you take them up on it! PRONTO! Say, "How bout next Wednesday?"

And if this babysitter has kids of their own, make sure to reciprocate. It's the right thing to do.

Here are a few FREE babysitting resources I have found over the years...

Other Parents

My sister-in-law and I babysit for each other frequently. Neither of us keep tabs on how many times or for how long or even WHY we're babysitting. We just do it. This works out great for us. I rarely end up paying for babysitting and our kids have instant playmates.

We just happen to be family, but it doesn't have to be family, per se. Ian has a friend from school who often comes home with us after school for a visit so his dad can finish up whatever errands he is running. Likewise, Ian spends the night at his friend's house occasionally so I can get a little "me time."

Aunts and Uncles

MY aunts and uncles. Yes, those very people who watched me grow up and blossom into the young mother I am today, have been known to babysit my offspring (the aforementioned Ian). There is a slight danger in this scenario that your child may get spoiled by his or her great aunt or great uncle, but it's worth it for the night out!

Friends of Grandma and Grandpa

One slightly weird connection I've utilized when in need of a babysitter is asking friends of my parents. You'd be surprised how many older people out there want to babysit your children. I'm not sure why, but it could be because they miss their own children, who have grown and left them with empty nest syndrome. Perhaps they never had their own children and find the company of wee ones to be a fun romp into parenthood without the commitment. Whatever the reason, don't question it... unless they are creepy.


There's Grandma and Grandpa, or as Ian calls them, Grandma and Partner. I call them Mom and Dad. Yes, there is a 100% chance that your child will get spoiled by your parental units (there's that phrase again), but they are a tried and true standby and are just waiting for you to ask them for the chance to overload your children on candy, toys, and FUN FUN FUN!!!

"But, ANGELA, I don't have friends, or parents, or sisters, or random family friends... hook me up!"

For a cheap babysitter, try finding a young teen from your church or social community. Last night, I needed a babysitter so I could go to OMSI After Dark with friends, and I was able to find a young teenager from my church to babysit. She wasn't THAT much older than my son, but she did a fantastic job and she didn't charge me a ton of money! (DUDE, I can TOTALLY hook you up!).

So, go out there and get your babysitter on!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tip #3: Keep your kids connected

I am a Facebook fiend, an addict, a connoisseur, if you will. I'm hooked on the social interaction, the games, the reconnection with long lost pals... I just love it. And it's not just Facebook. I love blogging, I love podcasts, I love online media, period. I've even been known to tweet on occasion.

My son has noticed my love for all things internet-related, and over the last year, has developed an interest in getting connected with the world wide web.

Of course, my primary thought was, "Is it okay to let an 8 year old roam the depths of the internet? How do I keep him safe?"

Well, apparently, everybody is doing it and it is just high time that I jumped on the "letting my kid play on the internet" bandwagon. Why not? Online interaction and skills are necessary to communicate in our high-tech world. Much like learning to cook or how to read, it is imperative that our children learn how to navigate the internet safely, sanely, and with skill.

At first, I set Ian up with an email address through Gmail and sent an email on his behalf to trustworthy friends and family to get him started. My parents enjoy getting emails from their precious grandchild and love sending him emails, funny pictures, and videos. Ian sends emails back and forth with his friends. It's a great time.

When Ian lost a tooth, the tooth fairy left him a very special coin from the Denver mint. I helped him look up the coin online and we discovered it was a Denver Mint Facility Medal.

For Christmas, I purchased my son a computer on Craigslist. For $100, it was a pretty sweet deal. The computer isn't anything fancy, but it's enough to play flash games, check his email, chat on Facebook, post pictures, play music... pretty much anything an 8 year old could desire from online media. And thus, a gamer was born.

Ian ran with it. I was tired of him trying to play all my Facebook games, so I set him up with his own, HIGHLY RESTRICTED, account, one which I know the password to and can monitor his activities on there. This has led to some interesting lessons on online etiquette, also known as netiquette. I sometimes wonder, if everyone had learned how to behave on the internet from their parents or some other wise soul, would there be so much annoying and ridiculous content floating on the web out there?

Ian has a few websites and browsers, besides facebook, which he loves. Here are six of them:

Club Penguin was created by Disney. Your child can create a penguin avatar to play games, chat with other kids, and engage in other fun activities. Parents can monitor their child's activity with a parent account, and for a small monthly fee, children can get a membership, which opens up more fun and games.

Poptropica is a virtual world in which kids explore and play in complete safety. Kids create a "Poptropican" character to travel the many islands of Poptropica and use gaming literacy to enjoy a narrative that is often rooted in factual history. You can create a parent account with paid membership

Yahoo! Kids has a lot of fun, safe games and videos for kids. It also has a page called StudyZone that links to homework help and educational games. This site also has a parents page, which gives advice on current entertainment, online safety and other kid-related media.

PBS Kids has games and activities from all of your kids' favorite PBS television programming. Most of them have an educational bent, so there's no need to worry about too much mindless web surfing. From here, you can also link to PBS Parents, a great resource for parenting in general.

Nick (for older kids) and Nick Jr. (for younger kids) feature games, videos, and activities from all the Nickelodeon shows. You can also check out Parents Connect, which has advice, tips, and recipes for parents.

KidZui is a safe, fun, kids’ search engine, filter, and online web browser with over 2.5 million parent and teacher approved websites, videos and games. I downloaded this for Ian before he was old enough to navigate the internet with some know-how. It's a great introduction to the web and gives children the freedom to explore on their own safely.

Here are some other websites that kids can play around on without worry:

Kindersite Project
Kids Know It Network
Kid Sites
Fun Brain
National Geographic Kids

For more information on your kids and the internet, check out this free e-book by Aldric Chang.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Trick #2: Crock pots are the bomb diggity.

My book club, I [heart] Book Club, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies over the winter and finally met a week ago to discuss it. I hosted the meeting at my house. We joked about making cauliflower treats to share (if you have read the book, this will make sense to you...), so it should come as no surprise that I, being the mischievous lady that I am, crafted some delectable cauliflower snacks to share.

We all had a good laugh and enjoyed the various dips in the cauliflower heads, but when the evening was over, I was stuck with more cauliflower than I could shake a stick at (not that I would be inclined to shake a stick at... food. Ahem.). I mean, SERIOUSLY, what is a family of two going to do with 3 decapitated heads of cauliflower?

Well, let me tell you...

I decided to make SOUP. Yes, lovely, mushy, warm the tummy, delicious soup. And what better way to make soup than to do a good ol' sweep of the fridge and shove all my odds and ends into my trusty dusty crock pot, along with said cauliflower? <---This is a rhetorical question. There is no better way. Believe me.

I grabbed all of my ingredients (see below) and five minutes later? It was in the pot and cooking away. How easy is that? <--- This is another rhetorical question.

I am no stranger to the crock pot. It has been my culinary refuge time and time again. Chili cook off? Crock pot. Food about to go bad in the fridge? Crock pot. Potluck at church or work? Crock pot.

There are endless possibilities with the humble crock pot. I've made chili, soup, pork roast, cider, fondue... you name it, it can be made in the crock pot.

If you are curious about what I stuffed in my crock pot today, here are the ingredients I used:

3 half heads of cauliflower, cut up into little pieces
1 cup of broccoli, chopped up
1 can of corn
1 large container (4 cups) of veggie broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water
1 tall boy beer
1-1 1/2 cups of mexican shredded cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/8 cup romano cheese
1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. garlic, chopped up
Pepper, sprinkled on top (about 1 tbsp.)
Soul seasoning, sprinkled on top (about 1 tbsp.)
Garlic salt, sprinkled on top (about 1 tbsp.)
1 stick butter, cut up

I layered all the ingredients in that order and let the magic crock pot do its thing. It has been slowly cooking for about 3 hours now and let me just say, it is AMAZING. Sincerely. I wish I could link to the smell...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tip #2: Kids are great at evaluating you!

So, I was perusing some old posts of mine from Facebook/Myspace, etc., and came across this survey I had asked Ian to answer. So, KID, how am I doing as a mom these days? Well, I can't be sure how 2010 is, but here's how I was doing this time last year. Enjoy:

(All questions were answered by Mr. Ian, age 7, on Monday, March 16, 2009, one day before my 31st birthday.)

1. What is something Mom always says to you?
Read your homework and I'll sign it. That's what you always say, right?

2. What makes Mom happy?
When I do right things, the things that you say that I should do.

3. What makes Mom sad?
When I call her fatty. RIGHT? Actually, it makes you mad.

4. How does Mom make you laugh?
When she tickles me. That was easy, because it was about me!

5. What was Mom like as a child?
Have long hair and you would sit on it, on your hair? Is that right? My grandma told me. (My mom has a long-standing obsession with my hair. She didn't talk to me for two weeks when I cut it to ONLY past the shoulders in high school.)

6. How old is Mom?
30.. one! Because it includes tomorrow, right?

7. How tall is Mom?
That's hard. Uhm... you need to stand up, so I can count yards up. [I stand up. He counts.] One yard, two yard, three yard, four yard, five yards, six yards... seven yards! Wow, you're big, bigger than a quart!

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
Be on the computer. You always knock me off. Don't write that! Don't write that! Don't write that!

9. What does Mom do when you're not around?
Go out [glares at me] Wait, wait wait. Play with your friends. Play with my DS. Wait, don't write that. I'm gonna knock over the computer and if you wrote that, I'm going to tackle you and yell, "TICKLE FIGHT!" (So young. So violent!)

10. If Mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
One hundred thousand bucks. [laughs maniacally] AWESOME! Wait wait, no no no no no. That would be awesome.

11. What is Mom really good at?
Uhm... hmmm... fixing things? No no no, I'm thinking another one that's better. Typing letters on the computer. You're really fast at it.

12. What is Mom not very good at?
You are not good at skateboarding.

13. What does Mom do for her job?
She makes money. (Heh, heh, heh, I don't know what he's talking about.)

14. What is Mom's favorite food?
What's that called again, when you have chopsticks and you put it up and it's kinda spicy. And it's in a case and remember, I like it? And we got it from Pirate Joe's Castle, I mean, Trader Joe's. And it's a square shape? You know what it is? [I say, "Sushi?"] Yeah, sushi! Does it ask what my favorite food is? [No, but you can tell me.] Teriyaki. I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEE teriyaki. Are you writing that?

15. What makes you proud of Mom?
Uhhh... when you give me ice cream, like one thousand cases of ice cream. One thousand cases of ice cream! MMMMM, you're making me get hungry!

15.5 What makes Mom proud of you?
Uhh.... when I take out the dog to go potty. [what else?] When I do good things to my mom, like "Ladies go first." Did you write that?

16. If Mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
You would be Chewy. [Chewy's not a cartoon character]. No, I mean like in Star Wars! (SIGH. I have failed to teach him the ways of the nerd. He gets a point for the Star Wars reference, though.)

17. What do you and Mom do together?
Ahem. Oh. We play with Chewy when he's crazy. [What else?] We take him for walks. [Anything else?] Nope.

18. How are you and Mom the same?
Uhm.. nose... eyes... hair... mouth. Uhm, these [points to eyebrows] Eyebrows.

19. How are you and Mom different?
Sigh. Teeth, arms, legs, and boobs [erupts in giggling] And boobs. And privates. And weiner. [more giggling] Are you writing that down? [yeah...] AHHHHH, GROSS!!!!

20. How do you know Mom loves you?
When I give her hugs.

21. What does Mom like most about you?
Being crazy.

22. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?
Uhhhhhhhhm, Laughing Planet. Of course you do. Oh, I see that smile. Don't smile, don't smile, oh, I see that smile.

So, to recap, I'm 21 feet tall and weigh 32 ounces. I "make" money (and will become famous for making one hundred thousand dollars!), look like Chewbacca from Star Wars, and have the same eyebrows as Ian. I suck at skateboarding and my favorite food is sushi from Pirate Joe's Castle.

I guess I'm doing pretty good.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Trick #1: Coupons, Shmoopons

Wait, wait, NO! Coupons are awesome!

You should ALWAYS look for a coupon, or a good deal, or SOME WAY to make whatever you are buying, whether it be food, clothing, furniture, toys, artillery... cheaper. Seriously. It's a crime against your budget NOT to.

My friends say I have a gift for thrift. Yeah, I do. Hey, I HAVE to. Running one little family on one little income is not as easy as it looks. Being frugal is a necessity. It's non-negotiable.

I'm going to run through just FIVE of my sneaky little tricks.

1. Did you know that your local community center offers scholarships for every single class or pass they offer? Yeah. For reals. Well... at least in Portland, Oregon. The center closest to where I live is Mt. Scott Community Center. Last year, I wanted an annual pass so I could work out in the gym while Ian swam it up in the pool. I applied for a scholarship. Booya! Got it! For about $20 a month, both Ian and I had unlimited access to all of their facilities and drop-in activities. It was pretty sweet. A normal family pass costs around $495. Talk about savings!

2. FREE BIRTHDAY FOOD. It's so important, I put it in ALL CAPS. If your birthday is in, say, March, you should be able to get a free meal almost EVERY time you go out to eat during March, as long as you don't eat at the same restaurant twice (why eat there twice? How boring...). Wanna know which restaurants offer free birthday meals in your area? Here, let me google that for you...

Okay, this list might be from 2006, but you get the point. Free food, people. FREE FOOD. Most of the restaurants don't require that you come in ON your birthday either, but rather, during your birthday month. Take advantage! Celebrate you and yours being born. Get that food and eat it!

3. FREE KID FOOD. Equally important is the Kids Eat Free scenario. This is a very lucrative deal in my household. With one kid and one adult, it's basically like getting my entire meal half off. Some websites even offer search engines so you can find a place on a certain day in a certain city. It's sweet! is one of those sites. Check it out!

4. Don't buy new or full retail price for anything, whether it is online or in real life. Have you heard of Craigslist? Or FreeCycle? Or Or That's just the beginning. All the real thrifty nerds, such as myself, are no stranger to (including shirt.woot!, kids.woot!, wine.woot!, and sellout.woot!) , CD/Game Exchange, or Game Crazy.

You don't even have to go further than your google search engine to find a good deal. Do you already know what you want to buy? Simply go to Google Products search, type in whatever item you want and BAM, instant list of every online vendor that sells it. You can sort said instant list by relevance, price, and rating. It's slick and saves you time, time you could spend with your kids doing parental stuff.

Whew! Is your head spinning yet? Well, hold on to your hats, because this one is a doozy.

5. Want coupons on TOP of good deals? Check out RetailMeNot, the very first place you should go before you order anything online. This site lists coupon codes for over 50,000 stores and sorts them by success rate.

I could seriously go on forever about ALL the great deals out there and ways for you to skate along on pennies a day, but it will have to wait for another time. Besides, if I share ALL my secrets, I'll no longer have that aura of mystery that surrounds me and my friends will no longer look at my thrifty ways in awe, nor declare that my ability to scout out a deal is an "art form." So, another time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tip #1: Chore Charts are for the whole family!

Recently, I purchased a dry-erase magnetic chore chart (complete with star and reward magnets) for $9.99 (with FREE SHIPPING, ohmigod) from to teach my son a thing or two about responsibility. After all, he's 8 and it's about time he started pulling some weight around these parts.

I was so excited when I got it in the mail. After unwrapping the ridiculous amount of packaging from said chart, I immediately went to business on filling in various chores I thought my son would do. I popped out all the little magnets, and carefully arranged them on the board.

Then I had an idea. What if I put MY chores on there too? I'm horrible at keeping up on the daily/weekly tasks that need to get done in the short amount of time I'm home. Brilliant. I added my own chores to the list, and indicated A for Angela and I for Ian on the board on the days when we were to complete each chore. I decided that for every 3 stars, we would earn 1 GOLD star, which could be redeemed for prizes, such as a night out at a cheap dinner and movie, a trip to the nickel arcade, a small shopping spree at our favorite thrift store, and dinner at our favorite restaurant, Sushi Sushi (CHEAP SUSHI!), on SE 82nd and Powell.

When Ian got home, we set about making a list of "prizes" and how many stars it would take to get each prize. Very proud of ourselves (insert high fives and woo hoos), we hung our chart on the fridge and wrote our list on the fridge (in dry-erase marker, of course).

This is what our first attempt looked like:

As you can see, we might have set our star count a little low. By week three, this is where we were at with our star count, which prompted me to choose a larger star goal for the flat screen TV. Ian has lofty ideas of how many stars we are going to earn, so decided to make the boxes where our star counts go MUCH larger:

We've tweaked the chart a good ten times, but the nice thing about it is that it's dry-erase, so we can change the chores for the week based on our schedules.

The benefits of the chore chart have been this:
1) My house has never been cleaner or smelled so good.
2) Both Ian and I are actually getting all of our chores done!
3) We're spending less money, because now we have to earn dinners out and fun things like movies and arcade trips. It's very rewarding!

So, the next time you think, "Maybe I should get a chore chart for the kids!", consider adding yourself on there too. You might be surprised at how much you get done!