Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ten reasons to give the 99¢ store a chance.

10 - Micro Shopping

I've come to realize that in addition to buying in bulk, I need to be better at shopping small, too. This salsa is a perfect example. I have thrown away so much salsa over the years. I'm the only one who eats it, and I don't eat a ton—just a little here and there on my burritos and tacos. I went to the dollar store yesterday and stumbled upon this:

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Eight ounces—Perfect! I rarely use more than that before I have to toss my old salsa. I'm sold.


9 - Child Bribery and Rewards

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It is so nice to have a store to take my daughter to, where she can buy anything she wants as a reward. She absolutely loves it. I don't have to tell her "no" because something costs too much. She wanders the aisles, debates endlessly between the play golf set and the potted plant, and proudly takes her purchase up to the cashier. Talk about a cheap, fun mommy daughter date! (She chose the golf set, by the way.)


8 - Impulse Shopping

I was tired and hungry when I went, and these were sitting front and center when I first walked in the door.

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Their marketing ploy worked and I grabbed a couple of boxes. Oh well. At least it was only a dollar.


7 - Frequently Lost Items

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This is the best place to stock up on those items that are forever getting lost. In our house, it's usually hair bands and fingernail clippers that I'm constantly searching for. Both can be found at the 99¢ store.


6 - Frequently Used Items

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We're always going through plastic sandwich bags around here. I'm perfectly content with the generic brand for casual use.


5 - Deep Discounts

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The dollar store often has items that are drastically cheaper than the same product in the regular store next door. Usually, these discounted products are discontinued, or set to expire soon.

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This sunblock expires in August. And I'm okay with that.


4 - School Supplies

Why pay more?

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3 - Decor

There's always a whole row of seasonal items at the dollar store. It's a great place to find fun holiday-themed decor that isn't meant to be kept forever. You could completely deck out your dining room for a cute Valentine's Day feast for under $20. Occasionally, I'll stumble upon some decor item that really strikes my fancy, like this large wood "e" that will hang in my baby's room. It's a happy "e," don't you think?

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2 - Every Girl Needs a Polka-Dot Umbrella

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Conquer El Niño in style.

I left my umbrella in the car on a day when I didn't have the car with me, and regretted not having a spare. Now I have two spares, along with two rain jackets.


And the number one reason to give the 99¢ store a chance.... (avert your eyes, male readers...)

1 - Pregnancy Tests

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If you're trying to get pregnant, this is a great way to save some money. Why spend $7 - $13 on something you can get for a dollar? Yes, the style is a little awkward, but if you can get used to the stick format, you'll save a ton of money. These are quick and convenient. If you want something even cheaper, check out www.babywishes.org - now THAT'S cheap! I've ordered from them before and like the "double-wide" sticks they offer. But if you want immediate results, stop by your dollar store and buy a few of these. If you get a second line that you don't have to squint at, and hold in just the right light, at just the right angle to see, you're pregnant. Use the money you saved to go on a date to celebrate the good news.

And no—I'm not pregnant, for those friends and family who might think this is an announcement. :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shopaholic

I'm a shopaholic, but not in the traditional sense of the word. More like, I'm a constantly forgetting something and have to run to the store for a few things aholic. I was talking with a lovely group of ladies last week about whether or not we make a shopping list before going to the store. I rarely make a list. I tend to forget more things when I do—probably because I don't make the list till right before I go. It's better if I wander through the store rather than depend on an imperfect list. If I wrote things down right when I realized I needed them, instead of waiting until the last minute, I wouldn't have so much of a problem. But then there's always those items that run out or perish quickly, like fruit and bread, so I would probably end up going to the store all the time anyway.

Admittedly, I kind of like my frequent runs to the store. I love to wander through the aisles alone, without any time restraints, and without anyone asking to get in the cart or get back out of the cart or to help push the cart or to put unnecessary items in the cart. I don't care if it's the grocery store, Target, the hardware store—anywhere will do. It's a happy time. I'm the one in the aisle next to you who's singing along with the overhead music. I try to keep it down.

While I was out last time (only two days ago), I realized that I have a pattern—almost a ritual—to the way I shop at the grocery store. I zigzag through the middle aisles first, then do a perimeter sweep with the produce section at the end, and then get milk and frozen goods last. And when I load up the belt at the check-out stand, I always put the drinks and heavy items first, with light items last. I do that so that if I get a bad bagger, he won't smash the bananas and un-leaven my bread with the canned goods.

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There's an imminent run to Costco for diapers and cereal that I'm looking forward to. A Costco membership should be sent home from the hospital with every new parent. Which reminds me of another discussion I had with my sister, about her favorite Costco finds. Costco and Trader Joe's seem to be the two stores where people have item addictions here. For me, I can't do without Costco diaper wipes. I can never have too many of these bags floating around the house. It was a sad day when they changed out the old style for the new, but our relationship survived and is stronger for it. Another Costco item I love is the spinach ravioli. Talk about a quick, easy meal!

Do you have item addictions from specialty stores too?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Big Brother

(Well, technically, he's the little brother.)

Do you ever get that feeling,

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that somewhere there is a pair of eyes watching you?

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You can't tell where it's coming from, but somewhere there's a stare pointed your way,

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watching quietly, just waiting for that moment of recognition.

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He does this all the time.

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Which is fine, and very cute, but problematic when he's eating and I can't get him to focus on his food!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baked Penne

This is a variation of a baked ziti recipe that one of my good internet friends from a parenting board shared with me.

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Thanks to Amy, this casserole quickly secured it's place as one of our most frequent dinner choices. It pairs up beautifully with these quick, easy bread sticks.

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Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 24 or 26 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
1 lb penne pasta
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese
1/2 lb provolone cheese
1/2 lb monterrey jack cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream or ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

To begin, cook the pasta according to package directions. I like to slightly under cook it by a minute since it's going in a casserole.

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While the pasta is cooking, heat up one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan.

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Chop up one medium onion and two cloves of garlic.

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Sauté the onion and garlic until the onions become translucent and slightly browned.

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Add in 1 pound of ground beef and the basil, italian seasonings, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently to break up the beef and keep the garlic from burning. If you're trying to make this not-exactly-healthy dish a little healthier, you can drain the fat before adding the seasonings. But I'm usually not that healthy.

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I just keep it all in there, and cook the beef until the pink is gone.

When the pasta is finished, drain it and place it in a large casserole. Add a tablespoon of butter to coat and a healthy dose of salt. Salted, buttered noodles. Mmmmm. Buttering the penne in the casserole greases the edges and keeps it from sticking later on. As if we need anymore fat/butter/oil. Ha!

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Remove the noodles from the casserole dish and set them aside till later. I only use about 2/3rds of the noodles and save the rest for my picky daughter who won't eat anything that touches a tomato.

About the cheese.

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This is the cast of characters I usually use, plus the sour cream. Now I've heard tell that there are people who won't attempt sour cream in a pasta dish. If you are one of those, try ricotta instead. But if you're willing, I highly recommend the sour cream. It is less heavy than ricotta, and has a milder taste—but similar texture—when cooked. It's one of my favorite elements of this dish.

Now for the assembly.

Begin by placing a layer of noodles in the bottom of the casserole.

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Then layer on half of the ground beef mixture.

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(It was about this point when I realized my bottom noodle layer was too thick and that I was going to run out of room quick.)

After the ground beef, spoon on all of the sour cream...

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and spread it around.

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Top it with half of your jar of pasta sauce.

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I particularly like the Bertolli tomato and basil sauce for this dish.

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Next, layer on half of each of the cheeses.

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See how full my casserole is because of that large noodle layer? Ooops.

Create a second layer like the first, minus the sour cream.

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Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes.

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Let it sit for a few minutes before serving. Then watch your husband scoop out a large slab for himself...

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only to plunk it down on your plate instead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm going to get kicked out of California for this.

I have a confession to make.

I, Katie,

(this is hard to admit!)

I, Katie, hate—no—loathe LOATHE energy efficient light bulbs.

There, I said it. I am addicted to regular bulbs, and lots of them. Low mood lighting is fine at certain times, but when it comes cooking, or watching the kids, or chatting with friends, or cleaning, or just going about my daily business, darkness is just too depressing. I need light. It's 10:45 a.m. and from my chair, I can count seven light bulbs that are currently on.

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I put a lamp in a previously dark corner last week and it still makes me feel ten pounds lighter when I walk into that room.

Now before you start giving me the evil glare that I know some of you are about to give me for using incandescents in said light sockets, let me list the reasons why I'm not ready to give up my bulbs.


#3: Quality of light

Living in a house full of fluorescent bulbs is like living in a photograph that was taken with a flash.

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The sickly blue lighting brings back bad memories of my cubicle days. I spent nearly five years of my life pouring over binders full of legal invoices, tracking every single little .2 and .3 hour increment billed by every lawyer on the case and identifying inappropriate charges. You know, things like charging a client for the firm's "summer party of 2003." Or, a lawyer billing $550 per hour to make photocopies when his much cheaper secretary could have done it. That sort of thing. Oh, or like the time one firm billed a client for the time it took several of their senior partners to watch Erin Brockovich. (They wrote this in the bill! I guess they figured it would get lost in the other 500 pages of that month's bill. At least they fully disclosed their activities—I give them that.) Or, the time when all the fragments of minutes added up to be a 56 hour day for one man. I've had some long work days, I understand that sometimes it feels like it's been 56 hours, but I don't know. I thought that was a bit excessive.

Anyway.

The lighting and the cubicle and the mountain of meticulous work wouldn't have been so bad, had it not been for the woman who's name I no longer mention who sat by me. Our history has been mercifully erased from my memory. The pain I felt in that thin gray light, augmented by purple floors and ice-colored four foot tall walls is gone, but the scars are still there. A wave of nausea still hits me whenever I walk past someone who happens to be wearing the perfume she bathed in. Fluorescent lights have a similar, although less pronounced, effect.


#2: Undimmable

I love my brightly lit interiors, but there is a time and a place for low lights. There's nothing worse than trying to find the baby's paci in the middle of the night, guided only by a faint nightlight, and at last resort having to flip on the overheads in all their bright brilliance to find the stupid thing. I love me some dimmers in the bedrooms.

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At this point I will do whatever I have to do to extend the sleepiness of my baby at night, even if it means I have to subject the environment to my dimmable bulbs. Don't worry, environment, I think I make up for it by walking my daughter to school almost every day.

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That's gotta give me a little "green" wiggle room, right? Please?


#3: Flicker Hell

The only thing worse than having to turn on the bright lights to find the paci is being assaulted by the strobe seizure in the kitchen when I refill a night-time bottle. One bank of lights has some good ol' incandescents up there, so they dampen the impact of the flickery fluorescents. But the other bank—one of these days I'm going to come back to bed with a migraine.

And if any of you have ever had a migraine, you know that the energy consumed by the headache and getting rid of it far outweighs the energy saved by a fluorescent bulb.

Not to mention there's the whole disposing of a fluorescent bulb problem.

A quick refresher, per WikiHow:

All fluorescent lights, compact or otherwise, contain small amounts of mercury, which is toxic if released into the environment. Most manufactures have agreed to reduce the amount of Mercury contained in compact fluorescent lights (CFL) to 5 mg or less per bulb. Even so, a broken CFL can release enough Mercury vapor to become toxic, especially to small children.

Do not vacuum up broken glass! This will vaporize and distribute all the mercury that was in the light bulb creating a much bigger problem.

Ventilate the room before you start cleanup. Mercury vaporizes readily at room temperature. Make sure that the room is isolated (doors closed, heating/AC system turned off) from the rest of the structure. Open all windows and leave the room, do not track through breakage area. Let it air out for at least 15 minutes or longer.

Use rubber or latex gloves while cleaning up.

Carefully sweep all the big pieces up. Place in a large resealable freezer bag.

Use the sticky side of duct tape to clean up all the small pieces. Place in freezer bag.

Wipe the area down with a damp paper towel. Place used paper towels in freezer bag

Remove rubber gloves and place in freezer bag. Seal up the bag and bring it to a recycling or hazardous waist disposal facility.

Wash your hands and arms thoroughly.

Dispose of burned out CFLs properly. Even unbroken CFLs need to be disposed of properly. The following steps outline how this should be done.

Never throw burned out CFLs in ordinary waste. This is a sure way to contaminate the environment and in many areas it is against the law.

Collect burned out CFLs and take them to a recycling facility or hazardous waste disposal facility.

Find a disposal place. For a disposal center near you in the USA, check the US EPA web site on Mercury-Containing Light Bulb Recycling.



Which brings me to a very valid concern—how safe is it for my firefighter to enter a burning house full of fluorescent light bulbs?

Friday, January 22, 2010

My blog is growing up!

It's been a lot of fun, meeting all of you through this medium. Isn't blogging wonderful? I appreciate you for visiting, for your words of encouragement, and I love hearing about your experiences on your respective blogs.

Recently, the folks over at CSN Stores who sell mailboxes, cookware, baby items, and everything in between, approached me with an opportunity to do a giveaway from one of their sites. Cool! Free stuff! I'd love to say thanks to you, my readers, by co-sponsoring a giveaway with them. It's nothing huge, just a little something fun and useful for the kitchen.

So, my question to you is, which must-have item would you like to see arrive at your doorstep--a microplane zester,

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or a santoku-style knife?

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thank you, post post-partum hair loss hair wings.

Thank you for reminding me that no matter how cute everyone else's bangs are,

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I have to wait out the trend.

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If I cut bangs, no matter what treatment I subject them to in the morning, they will curl by the end of the day. It will not be pretty.

If I cut bangs, I will end up looking like this:

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Thank you, hair wings. I needed that reminder. Now excuse me while I try to straighten those suckers back into submission.

This is the final installment of a three-part series entitled "Odd Pregnancy Side Effects."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

She was vintage before retro was cool.

We were lucky to inherit some mid-century pieces of furniture from my husband's grandma.

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I love the lines of these tables. When his aunt dropped them off, she told my firefighter that these wood pieces have been around since she was a little girl.

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I also love that the drawers and cupboards have no hardware other than the pulls–they simply slide along their carefully crafted grooves.

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But what I love most is that the furniture still carries the exact scent of his grandma's house and I think of her every time I sit down.
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