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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Update on Amazon's customer service: They made things worse!

As I mentioned over the weekend, Amazon messed up the payment of my order for an Aerogarden and seed kit and charged the entire amount to my credit card without applying the gift certificate credit that I had. I sent them two emails, which they ignored, so I actually called a toll-free number and spoke with a human being. That was on Sunday, and I was told that I would hear back within 48 hours.

Right around the 48-hour mark, on Tuesday afternoon, I received an email saying that the payment would be reapplied, and in fact, my gift certificate balance was $0 and the online invoice indicated that the balance had been applied to my order. I was just waiting for my credit card to be refunded.

Yesterday, I entered $30 of gift certificate codes into my Amazon account. So you can imagine my surprise when I checked this morning and saw that the balance was now $90.69. It appears that Amazon reversed their correction, but only credited me for the amount of the Aerogarden and not the seed kit. And the online invoice once again shows only a full payment by credit card.

So they've made things worse! Because now I've lost $7.14 – the cost of the seed kit – in gift certificate credit.

I immediately emailed them, of course – but given the lack of response to my previous emails, I'm more than a little concerned. I suppose I'll have to call them after a reasonable amount of time has passed, say 48 hours. (The contact form says most emails will receive a response in less than 12 hours. That hasn't happened.)

What would you do?

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Meet my blogroll: Rocks in my Dryer

Rocks in my Dryer was a well established blog by the time I found it. It's author, Shannon, created the Works for Me Wednesday carnival, and is a huge name in the women/mommy blogosphere.

So I feel a little silly highlighting Rocks in my Dryer here, because you probably already know it. But just in case you don't, I hope this post will inspire you to go visit, because no other blog brings tears to my eyes as often as Rocks in my Dryer does. And I mean tears of the good kind – read this post about her sons, for instance. I got teary with hope that my own boys and I will have such moments.

She hasn't been posting the "What I'd Like For You To Know" series much lately, but those posts were often tearjerkers too. They were always insightful and thought-provoking.

But what I love the most are the glimpses into Shannon's life. It's so clear that she wants above all to be a good person, and she's brave enough and willing to share her journey with us. I'm honored, and I think you will be too.

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Recent incidents where I didn't spend money and it was bad - or not

Earlier this week, I told you about times when I didn't spend money and it was good, times when I did spend money and it was good, and times when I spent money and it was bad. The fourth category of spending/non-spending that I've been thinking of lately is times when I should have spent money but didn't.

And you know what? There's no incident that comes to mind.

Of course, there have been times when I've regretted not buying something that I later wish I had bought. At this particular moment, I wish I had bought a pair of jeans that's now out of stock and unlikely to be restocked. But it's not such a strong sense of regret that I would call not buying the jeans a bad decision. After all, I know that eventually I will find another pair of jeans.

I can see this category coming into play for situations that involve passing up a once-in-a-lifetime experience - say, that Alaskan cruise I've wanted to go on for the last 10 years. If there comes a time when it seems like a good time to go but I decide against spending the money for whatever reason, I could see a decision like that falling in the "bad" category.

I could also see the failure to buy something like insurance falling into this category. For example, you could have paid $400 every six months for car insurance but you don't, then you get into a bad car accident that results in tens of thousands of dollars in damage. That kind of decision would also fall into the "bad" category.

But generally, it would seem that in regular daily life, there is little to regret about not spending money.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One recall today: Assorted toys by CBB Group

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Various Toys Recalled by CBB Group Due to Choking Hazard and Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for more photos and a list of the recalled toys.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Aerogarden update #1

You might recall that I ordered an Aerogarden a couple of weeks ago when it was in Amazon's Friday sale. I finally got it set up yesterday morning, after obtaining an extension cord. It's funny how, even though I knew the light would be on for 17 hours each day, the energy cost of that didn't really occur to me until I saw the light come on and realized it wasn't going to turn off until late that night, and that the water in the bowl would be constantly aerated. If I see a huge increase in our electricity bill, I'll have to think about unplugging the Aerogarden for good and chalk it up to an expensive lesson learned.

But I'm optimistic that any increase in our use of power will be more than made up for by the produce we consume. In less than 48 hours, the first shoots are just starting to peek their way out of the seed pod. It's almost like magic, the way it happened so quickly. But it's just what I needed, given my misgivings about whether the Aerogarden will turn out to be a good purchase.

In fact, I'm so optimistic now that I'm dreaming about growing strawberries and cherry tomatoes once these baby greens are done growing!

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Recent incidents where I spent some money and it was bad

This is the third installment of my thoughts on spending. In the first part, I highlighted some incidents where it was good that I didn't spend money, and in the second part, I discussed some incidents where it was good that I did spend money. Today I discuss some times when it was bad that I spent money.

An easy incident to highlight is Valentine's Day. Marc and I spent $60 on a pre-Valentine's Day lunch. Lunch alone is easier for us to arrange than dinner, so we often celebrate special occasions over lunch. Normally, I wouldn't begrudge $60 or more on a good meal. But in this case, it was $60 we didn't have to spend because my parents had given us a restaurant gift card for the holidays. I just didn't keep track of how much I was ordering, and so we went $60 over the value of the gift card (including tax and tip). It pains me to think of how just a little more care could have saved us a bunch of money.

It also pains me to admit that I frequently throw out food we didn't eat. This is largely because I'm not very good about menu planning anymore. (I used to be. I'm convinced that I will be again someday. But that day is not today.) Partly it's because the boys leave me with plenty of leftovers. Partly it's because I'm not a very good steward of leftovers and using them for subsequent meals. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that I regularly buy food that we don't eat and end up throwing out. Right now, the fridge contains a bag of broccoli and some lettuce that I must toss in the garbage.

A final example is from a transaction I did at Walgreens last week. One of the free after rebate items this month is Revlon Creme Lip Gloss, which is $9.99 all month. There are $2 manufacturer coupons, which would have means you only have to pay $7.99 to get $9.99 back as a rebate. But last week, Revlon items were on sale for buy one, get one free – and this was a particularly good deal with the lip gloss, because it meant that you could use two coupons. So, I realized that I could swing by Walgreens on my way home from the dentist, pay $5.99, get $9.99 back, and make a $4 profit. And, I had a $6 Register Rewards coupon from buying a Gillette Fusion Gamer razor. But, the register considers Register Rewards to be manufacturer coupons, and the register requires that a customer purchase at least as many items as manufacturer coupons used.

In this case, I planned to use three manufacturer coupons (2 $2 off coupons and one Register Rewards), so I needed three items. I was thrilled that the store had the lip gloss in stock, so I grabbed two and picked up my usual "filler" item – a pack of Walgreens brand travel tissue, which is 29 cents and something I'll use – then headed to the register. Where I realized that I had left my $6 Register Rewards coupon on my desk at home. Depending on how you look at it, my mistake cost me $6 or 29 cents plus tax (since I will still be able to use the Register Rewards coupon on another transaction). But this is a perfect example of how not planning ahead costs money.

I work so hard to save my family money that it's painful to acknowledge the ways in which I waste it. But mistakes are inevitable. I just need make sure I keep them to a minimum!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Giveaway: A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Vera B. Williams's A Chair for My Mother.
The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.


In this story, a young girl tells how she and her family save up to buy a much needed chair. That sounds like the perfect book for CFO readers! The book is a 1983 Caldecott Honor book, and is recommended for ages 4 through 8.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend, tweet about the giveaway, Stumble this post, write about it on your own blog, etc.. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, March 3. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Recent incidents where I spent some money and it was good

This is the flip side of yesterday's post, when I discussed times when I didn't spend money because the value of what I would have received wasn't worth the expense – even if the expense was less than one dollar. On the other hand, though, I've recently spent some money that was worth every penny.

A couple of weeks ago, I got my eyebrows waxed for the first time in over two years. It cost $36, including tip, but I had a $19 gift certificate, so I paid only $17. I find that I'm happiest about my brows if I get them waxed at least once a year. I can do some maintenance on my own, but there comes a time where I need a professional to restore the basic shape. Since eyebrows can make a subtle but huge difference in how my face looks, this expense was long overdue.

I got my hair cut for $66, including tip. I've already discussed why this was a worthwhile expenditure.

I bought a new pair of shoes, and I wear them almost every day. They're Naturalizers and were less than $35, with free shipping. These shoes have added a new dimension to my wardrobe, so I'm very happy with them (especially because they're comfortable!).

I bought new bras. All of my bras were from before I had kids. Keep in mind that Tyler is now over two years old – and he's been done nursing since he was 18 months old. I tried a Playtex bra from Target but hated it. And although I'd avoided Victoria's Secret for years because their salespeople were so aggressive, I went in because I was desperate. And they do make quality undergarments. I now have four new bras, including a fabulous sports bra, and I couldn't be happier with them. Plus, their saleswomen seemed more mellow so maybe I won't be so reluctant to go in from now on. (And they have great online deals too.)

You may have noticed that all of the incidents fall into one category: my physical and mental well-being. That's because I recently realized that I am worth spending some money on. For too many years, I'd put off expenses like these because they weren't necessary, and I always felt like I'd deserve them more after I lost weight. Well, I've lost a little weight but not enough to change those feelings. I just suddenly understood that I'm worthy now. And I deserve to feel good now. :D

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Would you take a $100,000 pay cut to work for a nonprofit?

According to this Law.com article, Simpson Thacher and Bartlett is sending fifteen associates to work for nonprofit organizations for one year as part of their pro bono initiative. The firm expects the attorneys to return to the firm when the year is up.

Simpson salaries start at $160,000 – par for the course for a large firm in a large city. But it sounds like associates who spend the year with a nonprofit will only make $60,000. (I don't know anyone who works for a firm that has this kind of pro bono program so I don't know if the difference is made up for at some point.) The associates won't be considered employees of the firm while they're away, although they get to keep their insurance benefits - so the year away may impact seniority as well.

As much as I believe in serving the public, I just can't see taking a $100,000 pay cut for a year. That's a lot of money to give up, especially since most lawyers I know have student loans that need to be repaid – and the associates going out are only first to third-years, so it's unlikely that they've paid off their loans already. Even though $60,000 is a decent salary, it's not that easy to pay off $1,000 in student loans each month when it's 20% of your gross pay, and close to half of your take-home pay.

What would you do?

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Meet my blogroll: Cheap Healthy Good

This is the first installment in what will be a long - dare I say endless - introduction to the blogs I read. I read some of these daily, some of them weekly, and some of them monthly. But they all have a place in my Google Reader, and there are literally hundreds of them. The added benefit of this series is that I will update my blogroll as I write these posts, since that's not something I do regularly.

It was tough to pick one blog to start with, but since I'd mentioned it in my last article roundup, I figured I'd stick with my favorite food blog, Cheap Healthy Good.

CHG is commanded by Kristen Swensson, who is aided by cohorts Leigh Angel, Jaime Green, and Rachel. Kris writes most of the posts, and is the funny, wry, "I wish she was my friend in real life" voice of CHG, but Leigh, Jaime and Rachel all bring something special too.

CHG has a wonderful weekly schedule, with three recipes a week (one of them vegetarian). I love that the recipes are always doable, with a focus on the three things in the blog's title: nutrition, affordability, and taste. Kris's recent post on how to make 17 meals out of one chicken for less than $26 is a perfect example of what I love about CHG.

Kris's weekly articles are also awesome. She pulls together sound advice, as in Recession-Proofing Your Diet: Food Strategies for a New Economy. She tackles difficult issues, like the unrealistic images in women's magazines and food and politics. And have I mentioned that she's a great writer?

So head over to CHG, check out today's recipe, and if you need a launching pad, check out Kris's "getting started at CHG" post.

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Recent incidents where I avoided spending money and it was good

I've been thinking about ways of spending and not spending money, and how sometimes it's good and sometimes it doesn't work out the way you thought it might. So starting today through Thursday, I'm going to discuss some of these aspects and how they play out in my own life.

Today, I'll mention a couple of recent times when I avoided spending money, and I think that was good.

For starters, I didn't buy the Flip camcorder when it was only $60. I've really heard only good things about these cameras, they're cute, and $60 was really affordable. But as I mentioned when I pointed out the deal, our Canon Elph has a video function that's adequate for our purposes. Plus, neither Marc nor I have the time to take 30-minute videos, upload them, edit them, back them up, and send them to family and friends. I was sorely tempted to buy the Flip anyway, because I know I'd love having one. But I wasn't convinced that I'd use it. And I've gotten pretty good at not buying things just because they're a great deal.

Another example of me not spending money is that I haven't sent myself a custom ringtone yet. I was so excited when Briana posted a tutorial on how to make ringtones in iTunes. (And I told you about it over at CFO Reviews.) I spent an hour getting it exactly right. But, when it was done and I was ready to send it to my phone, I had to admit that I wouldn't get much use out of it because I always leave my phone on vibrate. And even though it only costs 10 or 25 cents on our plan to receive the data message, I wouldn't get even that much use out of it.

These examples are polar extremes, in that one involved a $60 expense while the other involved less than a dollar. But they have the same lesson: Don't spend money on something that's not worth it.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amazon.com's customer service leaves something to be desired

You might have gathered that I'm a pretty big fan of Amazon.com. I regularly buy things from them, and the only prize I've ever redeemed my Swag Bucks for is Amazon gift codes.

When I receive my gift codes from Amazon, I apply them to my account so that they're ready and waiting for me as a credit when I make a purchase. And I had about $65 in credits to use toward my purchase of the Aerogarden and greens kit two Fridays ago. The order confirmation page and the order confirmation email both indicated that the credit had been applied and my credit card would only be charged the difference of less than $5.

But when my purchases arrived, the invoice indicated that my credit card had been charged for the entire amount. I used Amazon's contact form to send a message asking them to correct the payment method but heard nothing back - even though the "message sent" page says a response will typically be issued within 12 hours. Three days later, I sent the same message again. Two days later, I'd still heard nothing back.

So I went to The Consumerist and found Amazon's customer service phone numbers. Amazon seems to be outsourcing their calls to India, but the representative I spoke to seemed pretty competent. Despite her heavy accent, her English was good and she understood the problem immediately. She even admitted that there had been a "technical problem" that resulted in gift card credits not being applied.

She assured me that this time, the Gift Certificates Department would re-apply the payment and get back to me within 24 to 48 hours. We'll see.

P.S. I haven't done much with the Aerogarden yet because I need an extension cord. But I will definitely give you an update when I have one.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Guest post at Money Saving Mom

I have a guest post today over at Money Saving Mom on Why I Enter Sweepstakes. Stop by and check it out!

And, if you've made your way here from Money Saving Mom, WELCOME! I hope you'll stay for a while, look around and join in the conversation. You may want to read the introduction to Chief Family Officer or plunge right into the Best of CFO. And don't forget to enter this week's giveaway while you're here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One recall today: Old Navy stuffed toys

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Old Navy Recalls Stuffed Toys; Button Eyes Can Detach and Pose a Choking Hazard to Young Children - Click through to the press release for a larger version of the picture.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Quick Product Reviews Part 3

As with my previous quick product reviews, these are products that are new to me, and not necessarily new products. I acquired most of the products through the judicious use of coupons; some were free samples. :)
  • Quilted Northern Ultra Plush - I liked this very much and have added it to my very short list of acceptable toilet papers.
  • Schick Quattro for Women - As I mentioned in round one, I hated the Schick Intuition razor. The Quattro is okay, though. The Venus Embrace has a wider blade, so each stroke covers more area, which is my preference. But I've been using the Quattro for a couple of months and it's been fine.
  • L'Oreal Advanced Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle Concentrate - The Revitalift products were free at drugstores in the late fall, and I've been using this one on my neck for a few months. (I'm afraid to use it on my very sensitive face.) Honestly, I haven't noticed a scintilla of difference. I'll probably keep using the products since they're free and as long as they're not irritating my skin, they can't hurt. But I would never recommend spending money on them.
  • Pentel Handy-Line permanent marker - I think these are supposed to be comparable to Sharpies, but I had a retractable one that dried out much faster than my retractable Sharpie. I'm sticking with Sharpies.
  • Chex Mix cereal bars - We've tried the Turtle and Chocolate Chunk varieties and both are good. They're kind of chewy and hard on the teeth, though - maybe they'll be easier to eat in the summer because they'll be a little softer.
  • Kashi cereal bars - The boys have been eating Trader Joe's cereal bars as an on-the-go snack for months, and Alex likes the Kashi version but Tyler doesn't. I don't care too much for cereal bars in general (they're basically Nutri-grain bars, but these are a little more natural), but I'm sure there's a subtle difference that Tyler is picking up on.
  • Kellogg's Fiber Plus bars - These are more cardboard-like than the Chex bars, but they have a lot more fiber because of that. They're okay, but they're not my first choice for a quick snack.
  • Quaker High Fiber instant oatmeal - The extra fiber seems to be the result of serious chemicals, the flavor of which really comes through. I'm eating what we've opened, but I won't buy more.
  • Cascade Action Gel Packs (Apple Cinnamon) - The apple cinnamon variety was on clearance at Target a couple of months ago (maybe because they don't make them anymore?) so I snagged two 25-count bags for just 25 cents a piece. Fortunately, the scent doesn't linger - which is a very good thing, because it's not a good smell. The dishes still get clean, though, and that's what really matters.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ebates Not Issuing All "Big Fat Checks"

Ebates is a shopping portal that gives you cash back for each purchase you make through them. They issue a "Big Fat Check" for your cash back each quarter, and the last payment was due on February 15. And I got my payment just fine. But apparently Ebates is having trouble collecting the money it's due from various merchants, because they posted a message on their blog today reassuring members that if they haven't received their Big Fat Check yet, they will. Eventually.

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Important change to Swag Bucks gift card prizes

Search & WinSwag Bucks announced yesterday that they will no longer send out physical gift cards. Instead, all gift cards will awarded online, and the redemption code will be available in your Account Profile, under the new "My Gift Cards" section. Redemption codes should be posted 4 to 7 days after you redeem your Swag Bucks. It appears that there won't be any notification email to let you know that your redemption code has been posted.

While this change makes it inconvenient, if not impossible, to convert Swag Bucks into gift cards for gift giving, Swag Bucks claims that it will allow them to expand their gift code offerings. So we'll have to see what other redemption options become available.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Works for me: Photo cards for invitations and thank you notes

Ever since Alex was born, Marc and I have taken pride in, and enjoyed, creating the boys' announcements and invitations ourselves. Usually he does the design and I do the execution. But we are both busier than ever, and lacking the time to do these projects.

For Tyler's birthday party last year, I ended up including Cars-themed invitations in my craft kit order from Oriental Trading Company. I printed out the pertinent info on large shipping labels like these,because I wasn't going to hand write the same info over and over again.

Historically, it's still cost us over $20 per project, depending on how many announcements or invitations we've needed. So when I realized that I could order 4x8 photocard invitations from Shutterfly for Alex's upcoming birthday party for $18.36 including tax and shipping, I knew that was the way to go. I used a photo of Alex in his firefighter costume, and the invitations turned out great. (Lest anyone think that's Alex, the picture is just a sample invitation from the Shutterfly site.)

For thank you cards, my plan is to take a photo of Alex holding each gift and order prints using credits I have for free prints. I can jot down a quick personal note using a marker, or have Alex write on the back of the photo. It'll be about as inexpensive as sending thank you notes can possibly be.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer. Starting next week, Works for Me Wednesday will be at We are THAT Family.

Disclosure: CFO is a Shutterfly affiliate.

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One recall today: Evenflo exersaucer

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Evenflo Recalls Children’s Activity Centers Due to Fall Hazard


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Giveaway: Froggy Plays T-Ball with read-along CD

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Jonathan London's Froggy Plays T-ball.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

In this story, Froggy's enthusiasm and ability to play T-ball aren't on the same level, so Froggy's mishaps on the field are a learning opportunity for Froggy and readers alike. The book is recommended for ages 4 through 8.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, February 24. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Why you need to read more than one "deals" site

It's impossible for one person to come up with all of the ways to use coupons in one week. For example, I might come up with a list of the deals at Walgreens, including coupon match ups. If you did the same, chances are good that at least one of our deals would be slightly different.

A good example of this is the Stayfree deal at CVS this month. This is how Money Saving Mom lists the deal:
Buy 1 Stayfree pads (14-24 ct.) at $3.99, Earn $2 ECBs (Limit 5)
*Deal*
Buy 4 Stayfree pads at $3.99 each
Use 1 $1/2 coupon from the 01/04 RedPlum insert
Use 2 B1G1 coupons
Spend $6.98 out of pocket
Get $8 ECBs
That makes sense, because it's the deal for making the most money. But I'd been passing it over because I only have one B1G1 coupon, having used some at Walgreens a few weeks ago.

Coupon Cravings listed the same deal this way:
Stayfree Pads: buy 2 at $3.99 each
Use buy-one-get-one-free coupon from 1/4 Smart Source insert
Receive $4 ECBs (2 x $2 ECBs each)
Final Price = FREE
This works for me because I only have one coupon. If I'd bothered to figure the deals out myself, I would have reached the same conclusion, but since I don't need pads, I wasn't looking for specific deals on them - rather, I was just skimming the "deals posts" to see what's free.

This is why I subscribe to multiple blogs that discuss the same deals at the same drugstores: the slight variations can make all the difference in whether or not I want the deal. And it takes less time to skim all of the posts in Google Reader than it does to scour the weekly ads and come up with my own scenarios. It's much easier and faster to take the list of deals and tweak them to fit my circumstances. (I do flip through the ads on my own just to see if there's a sale on something I need.)

I subscribe to the following blogs that list deals, in no particular order:
I also subscribe to posts from A Full Cup* and Hot Coupon World.

*I've been a member of A Full Cup for almost a year now and it's a great resource. The deals are easy to locate by store, and the Coupon Database is fantastic. It lets me know what coupons are out there, and when I used to leave coupons in the inserts until I needed them, the database was invaluable for helping me locate the ones I needed. It also links to printable coupons, which makes finding them easy.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Learning from a master: I'm changing up my grocery shopping routine

Sometimes something is so obvious that you think it doesn't need to be said. I'm guessing that's how Crystal of Money Saving Mom feels about the order in which she hits stores when grocery shopping. On her weekly post about her savings last week, she mentioned off hand that she went to Dillons and picked up sale items, then went to Aldi for staples.

She's said the same thing week after week, but for some reason, the significance of it - and applicability to my own shopping - didn't hit me until this week. Maybe it's because I finally know without having to look anything up that Dillons is her local Kroger chain, and Aldi is a discount supermarket known for its relatively inexpensive store brands.

In any event, it suddenly occurred to me that in order to maximize my own weekly grocery savings, I ought to go to Ralphs first, and then go to Trader Joe's.

If those store names aren't familiar, Ralphs is the Kroger chain out here in SoCal, and Trader Joe's is . . . well, one of my very favorite stores. It's part discount grocery store, with the lowest everyday prices on staples like milk, eggs, and produce, and carries mostly store brand products. But it's also partly gourmet specialty food store, with items like Meyer lemons, citron honey, and numerous ogranic products. I've been doing my weekly grocery shopping there for six years now.

For the last month or so, ever since I've had a car at my disposal again, I've been going to Ralphs fairly regularly to pick up the handful of items that are free or cheap that week. (For example, I've gotten cheap Cottonelle and free Multigrain Cheerios.) But I always squeeze these stops in whenever I'm already out and about, which means that I sometimes miss out on deals because I've already something at Trader Joe's. For example, this week, Ralphs has strawberries on sale for 2 for $3. The same size container is $3.29 at Trader Joe's.

If I'd shopped at Ralphs on my way to Trader Joe's, I would have picked up some strawberries there. (I'd prefer to buy organic but so far, I've only seen organic strawberries at Whole Foods.)

So that's my new plan: I'm going to stop at Ralphs and pick up that week's deals, then I'll head to Trader Joe's for the bulk of my weekly shopping.

I'll probably still make a couple of extra stops at Ralphs though - the only way to maximize savings there is with coupons, and they only double one like coupon per transaction. Ten years ago, they doubled coupons that were up to $1 in value, and doubled up to four like coupons in a single transaction. Oh, how I miss those days!

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review: ING Direct

I know I was waaay late opening an account with online bank ING Direct. In the world of high rate savings accounts, the best rates are almost invariably online, yet I avoided opening such an account because Marc and I didn't want to complicate our finances.

What changed our mind last year was the financial instability of several major brick and mortar banks. Suddenly, diversifying our accounts seemed more important than being able to track them in the easiest way possible. After all, even though our accounts were all FDIC-insured, we didn't want to be in the position of not having access to enough money to pay a month's worth of bills. It didn't seem likely to happen, but we didn't want to take any chances.

A friend happened to ask for an Ebates referral and mention her ING Direct account in the same conversation. So we traded referrals: she signed up for Ebates through the link in the email I sent her, and we both got a bonus. And I opened an ING Direct Orange Savings account through the link in the email she sent to me, and we each got another bonus.

I have to say, though, that after reading all of the positive reviews about ING Direct on just about every personal finance blog, that I thought ING Direct would be easier to use. For instance, one of the reasons I was happy to have an ING Direct account was that I knew it was possible to set up "subaccounts" – an easy way to keep track of money intended for a specific purpose. But I couldn't figure out how to do it just by looking at the web site – I actually had to do a search for instructions (I found good ones at I've Paid for This Twice Already and Five Cent Nickel).

I also opened an Electric Orange checking account in November, when there was a bonus of $50 for new accounts when you used your debit card for three signature-based transactions. The best part of the checking account turned out to be that debit card – it's a Mastercard, so I was thrilled to have it when I needed a Mastercard to take advantage of a special promotion at CVS.com in December.

To be honest, I wouldn't go out of my way to open these accounts – especially with interest rates plummeting as they have over the last few weeks. The rate on the Orange Savings account is just 2.2% – better than most brick and mortar banks, and better than my credit unions too. But you can get 2.6% at FNBO, so there are still better rates out there. The rate on the Electric Orange account is a mere 0.5% – better than nothing, which is what I get for my brick and mortar checking, but I hardly keep any money in my checking accounts anyway. (They do offer up to 2.5% for higher balances, but who keeps more than $100,000 in a checking account?!)

But overall, I'm very happy with our ING accounts. The $25 bonus I got for opening the savings account through my friend's referral link more than makes up for any interest I'm losing by not moving to a bank like FNBO. We've accomplished our mission of diversifying our emergency fund, and I've created a subaccount to hold the money that I'd originally intended to send toward my student loans. When there's enough in the subaccount to pay off my loans in full, I'll send in one large balloon payment unless things have changed between now and then. And I now have a Mastercard, which allows me to take advantage of certain shopping deals.

Note: I'm not an ING affiliate, and I have no relationship with FNBO. If you'd like to learn more about Ebates, read my original review.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Dinosaur Who Lived in My Backyard giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Vicki (vobr****@verizon.net)

Vicki, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.

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I got my hair cut – and gladly paid $44 more than the last time

You might recall that the last time I got my hair cut, I went to the Paul Mitchell school and paid $22, including tip. At the time, I was pretty happy with it. For the money, at least, it was a pretty decent cut. I noticed that the stylist didn't use the techniques I was used to when she added the layers to my hair, but I didn't think too much of it at the time.

As my hair grew out, however, I realized that it appeared to be one length and simply didn't maintain the shape I would have expected. The layers were indiscernible, and fluffy at the end. To put it simply, my hair looked very blah.

And I realized that I didn't want to go back to the school. My hair is my favorite feature. Despite the increasing number of white hairs, it's still the one thing about my appearance that I'm happiest about. That makes it worth spending some money on.

I looked up the salons at the closest mall, and picked one that was upscale but reasonably priced. I ended up with a junior stylist who charged the starting price of $55. (I paid $66 with tip.) Even a junior stylist at an upscale salon is far better than one coming out of beauty school, of course, and I ended up with the exact cut I wanted and a fabulous blowout.

I don't get my hair cut very often, and I should be able to go at least four months before I need another cut. So I'm very willing to pay an extra $44 if it means I spend the next four months feeling good about my hair.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two recalls today: Handy Manny sets & hoodies

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Disney Store Recalls Toy Tool Sets Due to Choking Hazard


Strangulation Death of a Child Prompts Hill Sportswear To Recall Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings - Click through for an additional photo.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Review and sign up opportunity: Pinecone Research

Update: I'm sorry, but it appears the link is no longer working and that they are no longer accepting new members. However, given your interest, I will definitely let you know when I get another email like this!

I first heard of Pinecone Research several years ago, in a very positive way – they paid $5 per survey and always paid in a timely, reliable fashion. I think it was the first time I'd heard about getting paid for doing surveys online, and I was intrigued, but Pinecone membership was restricted and they weren't accepting new members at the time.

Fast forward to a little over a year ago, and I managed to sign up for Pinecone after spotting an ad on Slickdeals. Now that I've been a member for a while, I thought it was time for a proper review.

The first thing to note is that they now pay only $3 per survey. If you're going to be sitting around watching TV anyway, you might as well get paid to answer a few questions at the same time. But, each survey does take 5 to 20 minutes, and when time is precious, $3 may not seem like much.

At the end of some surveys, you'll be asked if it would be okay for the company to send you a product to try out. You'd test it out, and then complete another survey (and receive another $3). In my experience, I've also gotten to keep the product, so I have no idea if there are ever instances when you have to send it back. Sometimes the company sends the product, sometimes not. I was hoping I'd get the last one I agreed to, but I haven't seen it yet and am actually kind of bummed about it.

I wish I could tell you what it was, but to become part of Pinecone, you have to agree to keep the products you learn about confidential. I take it very seriously because I wouldn't want to be the cause of a major product development leak. All I will say is that Pinecone seems to work with major, well-established companies, who are looking for input on products they are developing.

It's been my experience that Pinecone pays very reliably, by paper check or Paypal. I usually get a Paypal deposit within two days of completing a survey. However, I get surveys very infrequently, and I've wondered if it's because of my demographic.

If you are interested in Pinecone, you'll be happy to know that they're currently taking new members. I got an email giving me carte blanche to invite all of my friends – and we're all friends around here. Just keep in mind that only one person per household may register.

Go here if you're interested in signing up with Pinecone.

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Feeding the kids: So far I really like Ellyn Satter's book

Thank you so much for all of your supportive and reassuring comments and emails on the topic of the boys' eating - I appreciate them more than I can say! As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the boys did not eat the meatball sandwiches that I made for dinner recently. But it didn't really bother me that much after Jennifer pointed out that her kids eat less for dinner when they've spent all day at daycare/preschool, and I realized that it's the same with my kids. I think Alex gets one afternoon snack, and Tyler gets two. So it's actually understandable that they're not particularly hungry for dinner on school nights. Now I just have to remember that.

Meanwhile, I've been reading Ellyn Satter's book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.(Thanks again, Camille and Dina!) The book is divided into three sections, and the second one is called "How to Raise Good Eaters." I started with that section, since my main concern right now is making meal times pleasant for everyone.

As Satter explains things, my responsibilities as a parent are to determine the what, when and where of eating, and the kids should determine the how much and whether of eating. In other words, present all of the food at once, and let them decide whether they want to eat and how much, and do this on a consistent schedule for meals and snacks, with only water in between.

I like this division of responsibilities, and it doesn't scare me the way it might scare other parents because my kids are, in spite of all of my concerns, pretty good eaters. I don't worry about them eating too much or too little overall. Their disdain of all things in the vegetable family is a concern, but they do eat lots of fresh fruit. It's their limited palate that causes most of the angst in our house.

The biggest change I've made so far is to present them with their entire meal at once. I used to give them the main component, and when they were done with it, I'd give them fruit. But since this past weekend, I've been serving the fruit with the main dish, and if they don't eat much of the main dish, that's fine. This has also changed the "short order cook" aspect of our meals (most of the time), because I'm not scrambling to make something else for them to eat once they've rejected the entree.

The examples in Satter's book are understandably more extreme, and she says it takes four to six weeks for the patterns to change and the children to become less fussy at the table – provided the parents maintain their responsibilities of the what, when and where and don't interfere with the kids' exercise of their how much and whether responsibilities.

I can see how this division of responsibilities encourages kids to be more adventurous, eat more vegetables, and generally be healthier eaters. But it presupposes that the parents are setting a good example, and so once I finish the second section of the book on raising good eaters, I'm going to turn my attention to the first section, "How to Eat," to ensure that Marc and I are doing our parts as role models. I'll keep you posted!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Works for me: Using my toaster oven for most of my baking needs

Last year, the toaster oven we received at our wedding shower died. I use my toaster oven constantly, so we definitely needed to replace it. Because we had about $70 on a Macy's gift card, we headed there* and picked up a Cuisinart 6-Slice Toaster Oven Broiler.

I love this toaster oven, largely because of the size. My older toaster oven was big enough for four slices of bread, but the six-slice capacity of the new one means that I can fit an 8x8 baking dish in there. And that means I can make a casserole in my toaster oven. A 9-inch pie plate and a 10-inch pizza also fit.

I hardly ever use my real oven anymore, and I used to use it all the time. The best benefit of using a toaster oven is time. Because it's so much smaller, it doesn't need to preheat and the food cooks faster. I also assume that, for the same reasons, it's cheaper to use than my gas oven, though I haven't compared the utility costs in any measurable way.

The biggest drawback to baking in the toaster oven is the low height. Anything puffy can easily burn, but I rarely make anything puffy anyway.

So if you're looking to save some time and maybe some money, try using your toaster oven instead of your regular oven.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

*I am by no means suggesting that you shop at Macy's. We only went there because it was the ideal time to use the gift card. I dislike Macy's in general, but I particularly loathe the Macy's near my house. Their employees have a terrible attitude, and when we bought the toaster oven, it rang up at $129.99 instead of $99.99, which was the price on the tag on the floor model. The salesclerk acted as if she was doing us a huge favor by adjusting the price, which was irritating not least because it would have been illegal for the store not to honor the marked price. Ironically, the only thing I've bought at Macy's since then has been gift cards – only because they were on the holiday wishlist of the boys' preschool teachers.


Disclosure: I'm an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One recall today: Golfer's Billiard Games

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Golfer’s Billiard Games Recalled by Dick's Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for additional photos.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Update on my coupon organization conversion

As I mentioned on Friday, I am reorganizing my coupons into a system that will hopefully allow me to carry all of my coupons with me in a very manageable format, using compartmented coupon wallets that I picked up from Target's Dollar Spot section. My hope is that having all of my coupons with me whenever I'm shopping will prevent me from missing out on unadvertised deals, particularly from the clearance sections.

I had originally intended to use four coupon wallets, but in setting up the categories, I discovered that I should be able to do with three. Which is great, because the button on one of my older coupon wallets had fallen off long ago and I've had to secure it with a rubber band for months now. I may be frugal, but I do prefer it when things look nice and function easily.

I was a little overwhelmed by the process of deciding on the categories for my new coupon wallets, so I focused on clipping the coupons that were still in the inserts on my desk and putting them in a shoebox for the time being. (I send my expired coupons to Toni of The Happy Housewife, who passes them on to military families abroad. They can use the coupons on base for six months past the expiration date. You can read more info here.)

On Sunday, after days of pondering the possible categories, I labeled the three wallets and sorted the coupons that were in the two folders I was already using. I'm now in the process of clipping the last of the coupons (including four sets of the inserts from last Sunday's paper) and sorting the coupons that are in the shoebox into the wallets.

I'll post pictures and list the categories that I settled on once everything is done!

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Giveaway: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar by James Preller

This week's giveaway is a paperback copy of James Preller's The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar.

From the back of the book:
Jigsaw and his family are going on vacation. There will be snowboarding, sledding, and even a race! But great detectives like Jigsaw Jones never really take a break.

When trouble hits the slopes, Jigsaw has to find a missing good luck charm. But will he solve the case without the help of his partner, Mila? Or will Jigsaw wipe out?
The book is recommended for ages 4 through 8, although Alex is almost 4 and I don't think he's ready for a book like this yet.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, February 17.

Good luck!

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Meatball sandwiches

I became aware of chef Mark Bittman through his New York Times food blog, Bitten. I loved the simplicity of his recipes, so for the holidays - even though I don't have the space for another cookbook - one of my requests was for his tome, How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

I recently decided to make meatball sandwiches, so I turned to Bittman's book for a basic recipe. But he had one recipe for meatballs, and another recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. I wasn't sure what to do - the meal I was planning was sort of in between those two. So I kind of combined the two recipes, which meant I did a lot of adapting. These measurements are approximate, since I was really cooking on the fly.

Meatball sandwiches - adapted from How To Cook Everything

Meatballs:
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 egg
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 pounds ground beef

Marinara:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

Brioche or other rolls
Shredded mozzarella cheese

1. To prepare meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk. Soak for five minutes, or until milk is mostly absorbed. Add the oil through parsley and mix throughly. Add the meat and mix well, handling the mixture as little as possible.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. Form the meat mixture into balls and place on the baking sheet, making sure the meatballs don't touch. Bake the meatballs for 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked through and browned, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure the meatballs don't stick.

3. To prepare marinara: While the meatballs are cooking, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, oregano and garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce is thick (I let mine go for a couple of hours, and it was great). Add half of the meatballs and stir well.

4. To prepare the sandwiches, slice the rolls in half and top the bottom half with meatballs and sauce. Sprinkle a generous amount of mozzarella cheese on the meatballs and cover with the top half of the bread. (The heat from the meatballs will melt the cheese, but you can also place the uncovered sandwich under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese - this would be especially good if you like browned cheese.)

Lots of notes and thoughts on this one: I loved these meatballs, and I used all beef even though traditional meatloaf/meatballs call for a combination of beef, pork and/or veal. The marinara sauce was only enough for half of the meatballs - you can make double the amount of marinara or do what I did and freeze half of the meatballs for another day. A half recipe of meatballs and the marinara made enough for four very hearty sandwiches.

I baked the meatballs because Bittman suggested it as an alternative to frying, and I'm all for anything that doesn't need to be constantly tended. But you can certainly fry or saute the meatballs if you prefer. I also left out onions from both the meatball and marinara sauce recipes, since Marc and I both dislike them. But if you like onions, by all means, add some chopped onion to both the meatballs and the sauce.

I personally would have preferred a more traditional meatball hero with a french or other long roll. But I picked up brioche rolls from Trader Joe's and Marc loved them. He really thought they made the sandwich, which is why I've included them in the recipe.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the boys didn't eat these. I'll have more on that later in the week, along with my latest thoughts on the Ellyn Satter book.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Has anyone read Robert Fulghum's Third Wish?

Ten to fifteen years ago, I really enjoyed reading Robert Fulghum's books - you probably know him best as the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.My favorite book of his is one that was published a few years later, called From Beginning to End:: The Rituals of Our Lives.(It unfortunately appears to be out of publication, but fortunately, there's a thriving market for used books these days.)

Amazon sent me an email about Robert Fulghum's new book, Third Wish.I eagerly clicked over to read the summary, and was surprised - shocked, even - to discover that it's a novel. And not just any novel, but one with music composed especially for it, and apparently with a unique (or contrived, depending on the reviewer) writing style.

I like Fulghum's philosophy and perspective. I love that he seems to truly care about being a good person. But I'm not so sure this novel is worth reading. So has anyone read it, and if so, what did you think?

Disclosure: I'm an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The quest for the perfect method for organizing coupons continues

The past

A little over one year ago, I used to clip only those coupons that I was likely to use, and toss the rest. And I never printed coupons either. Then I started playing The Drugstore Game and realized that I needed all of the coupons because I never knew what was going to be free or a money maker.

So I clipped all of the coupons, bought a second compartmented wallet, and soon discovered that my coupon folders were overflowing. Obviously, that system wasn't going to work either.

The present

Then I started clipping only the coupons I knew I would almost certainly use, and the ones for weekly deals that I planned out. (Much like Erica's system.) Everything else stayed in the inserts, which I dated and left in a magazine holder on my desk.

But in the last month or so – once we got the car back from the body shop and I could shop frequently again – there have been several times when I could have gotten something for free with a coupon that was sitting back on my desk at home. So that's made me want to have all of my coupons with me again.

The future

I've looked at the popular solution of carrying a coupon binder, but I don't think I can use something that big when I've got a kid in the shopping cart. (Check out MoneyDummy's YouTube video for a great example of a coupon binder.)

I recently purchased two additional compartmented coupon wallets from Target's Dollar Spot section, so my new idea is to use all four coupon wallets to carry all of my coupons. I'm currently clipping coupons from the stored inserts on my desk, and deciding on the categories to create for all of them. (Using Money Saving Mom's list as a guide.) I think that with four wallets, the coupons will be spread out enough to not overstuff them, and there will be enough categories so that searching for a specific coupon won't get overwhelming.

But I'm not convinced that this is the perfect solution either, so I'm asking for suggestions: how do you organize your coupons?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Feeding the kids: The struggle continues

At this rate, "Feeding the kids" is going to become a regular series around here. If you've been following along, you know that I've been having some trouble getting my sons to eat my cooking (and I'm a good cook, in all honesty). But it turns out that involving Alex in the meal planning doesn't work too well because he's not interested. It's not about trucks and firemen and his other favorite things, after all.

But I've only just begun to read the Ellen Satter book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal.Things have been crazy lately, but I have a couple of appointments coming up where I'll be sitting in a waiting room, so I should be able to read some then. Hopefully the book will have some tips on getting Alex to actually want to help go through recipes and identify meals he'd like to try.

Meanwhile, I recently made macaroni and cheese in the rice cooker. I'm afraid I can't remember who recommended the recipe - I can't seem to find the comment or email, so my apologies to the kind person who suggested I try it. I figured the kids would eat it - it's macaroni and cheese, after all - and the idea of cooking it in the rice cooker was intriguing. I used the only "healthy" elbow macaroni that I can find (Barilla Plus), 2% milk instead of cream, and 2 cups of cheddar and 1 cup of mozzarella. Of course, I now realize as I write this that the recipe only called for 1 1/2 cups of cheese. But overall, I thought the macaroni and cheese was fine - kind of plain compared to what I usually make from scratch, but otherwise good.

So of course, neither child ate it.

Does anyone have a good recipe for using up leftover macaroni and cheese?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Three recalls today: Hoodies, gates & swing sets

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Children’s Hooded Sweatshirts Recalled by Jerry Leigh of California Due to Strangulation Hazard - Click through for a photo of a different pattern.


Dorel Juvenile Group Recalls Safety 1st Stair Gates Due to Fall Hazard - Click through for a close up of the pertinent part.


Playland International Recalls Swing Sets Due to Fall Hazard - Click through for an additional photo.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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List of all peanut-related recalls

A while back, I signed up to get food-related recall notices from the FDA. Not surprisingly, for the last few weeks, my inbox has been inundated with peanut-related notices. I've taken to deleting them in bulk without reading them, unless the manufacturer name in the subject line sets off a red flag.

It is, of course, a very serious issue. So if you're wondering whether any of the products you've purchased have been recalled, you can check out the entire list of recalls at the FDA's peanut recall page.

And you can sign up to receive recall notices here.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Works for Me: Minimalist Skin Care

I had stereotypical skin as a teenager, including acne so bad that I successfully begged my mother to take me to the dermatologist, who prescribed an antibiotic called tetracycline. It didn't do all that much for me, though, and by the time I was in my first year of law school, I had a few pits and scars on my poor cheeks.

That was about the time that ProActiv infomercials started airing, and I couldn't resist. The amazing thing was, the stuff really worked. I had to experiment with the regimen for a while, and I discovered that the Repairing Lotion was so intense, it actually bleached my sheets and blankets where my face came into contact with them during the night.

A few years later, I started seeing my current dermatologist, who diagnosed rosacea, which caused redness and lots of small bumps. My dermatologist advised me to wash only with the mildest soap (Dove or Aveeno bar soap) and use a moisturizer called DML Forte.

I realized, though, that the bar soap was insufficient to keep the acne at bay, at least when I wasn't pregnant. (I have to say, my skin was never better than when I was pregnant. I feel it's only fair, since my pregnancies were rough in other ways.)

So here's the regimen I now follow:

Morning – Wash with Dove bar soap, moisturize with DML Forte
Evening – Wash with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser (like ProActiv Renewing Cleanser), moisturize with DML Forte

And that's it! It really works for me. I actually get compliments on my skin now (and I'm not even pregnant)!

Of course, my skin care regimen won't work for everyone. But since there are so many products out there, I wanted to point out that sometimes less is more. And, I worry that as I get older, a regimen this simple won't continue to work for me. So I'd love to hear from you: What's your skincare regimen like?

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

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Giveaway winners

I've got a little catching up to do, so I've got three winners to announce tonight.

First, congratulations to the winner of the Curious George & the Hot Air Balloon giveaway, Sarah of Savvy SAHM Reviews!

Next, congratulations go out to the winner of 40 free Kodak prints at Target giveaway, Christina (christinab****@gmail.com)!

And finally, congratulations to the winner of The Day It Rained Hearts giveaway, Amanda K.!

Emails have been sent to the winners, and I've already heard from Amanda and Sarah. Christina, you have 48 hours to email me with your mailing address.

Don't forget to enter this week's giveaway for a copy of The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard!

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Giveaway: The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard by B.G. Hennessey

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

This story is about a boy with an active imagination, who also knows quite a bit about dinosaurs and shares that knowledge in a story-telling kind of way. The book is recommended for ages 4 through 8.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, February 10. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Tuna Noodle Casserole

I had a hankering for Tuna Noodle Casserole, which is odd because I haven't had it since I was a little girl. Of course, I chose to make it on a day when the temperature hit the mid 80's, which is not a day you want to use the oven. Oh well. At least it turned out yummy.

Tuna Noodle Casserole - adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Serves 8-10

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
2 6-oz. cans tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
8 oz. dried whole wheat rotini or other pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 cups cooked broccoli florets
1/2 cup cracker or other crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir until the flour has been absorbed by the butter. Stirring constantly with a whisk, slowly add the milk. Simmer, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until mixture has thickened.

2. Remove the milk mixture from heat. Add cheese, salt and pepper, and stir until cheese is melted. Stir in the tuna, pasta and broccoli.

3. Pour the tuna mixture in a 13x9 baking dish that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle top with crumbs, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling and browned. (Note: I assembled the casserole in the morning, covered it and parked it in the fridge until evening, then baked it for an additional 10 minutes.)

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Review: Febreze Air Effects

I was sent a canister of Febreze Air Effects to try out, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. As I've mentioned previously, I'm not a huge fan of household scent products, mostly because I just don't seem to need them much. And I have to admit that I'm not crazy about the scent of the Air Effects I received (Lavender Vanilla & Comfort). But it works surprisingly well as an odor eliminator. I didn't expect much in that regard, but I sprayed the Air Effects in our somewhat musty bathroom anyway. Once the lavender/vanilla scent faded, the air just seemed fresher - exactly what I was hoping for, if not expecting.

Febreze's "scent psychologist" says that "to achieve any emotional state with aroma it is important to remember that scents which you personally find relaxing, invigorating, joyful and seductive will have those effects on you. Scents have emotional influences on us because of the associations we have to them." So in a way, I guess it makes sense that the scent of the Air Effects doesn't do much for me - I don't have any strong associations with this particular scent (it just smells chemically to me).

I obviously can't recommend Febreze Air Effects for its scent. But if you're looking for a product that will help eliminate unpleasant odors, I recommend giving Febreze Air Effects a try. (And you can get some coupons by mail from Home Made Simple.)

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