Monday, March 24, 2008

The Miller Cut

I have become a Jack of all trades. I am a chef, an accountant, a maid, a chauffeur, a nurse, and a beautician. Initially I started cutting Justin’s hair as a means of saving money. He needs a haircut every four to six weeks to maintain his military “look.” The first few months, I had questionable results…just ask some of the guys he worked with at the time. They have a name for the “look” my poor husband had to endure, which I shall not speak of here. Now, eight years later, I have perfected my skills and do a pretty mean haircut if I do say so myself.

Yesterday was Miller Cut day at our house. It was that time, once again, when I turn the half bath into a salon and line my boys up for their shearing.

Jensen was first. He is on Miller Cut #5, I believe. He is usually pretty excited about the idea of getting a haircut, but once he sees the buzzers, he changes his mind pretty quickly. Have you ever seen someone try to wrestle a pig? Well, that was similar to Jensen’s most recent Miller Cut experience, except I was trying to cut his hair during the wrestling. His cut turned out great, except for two little spots that will need some additional “love” at a later, more relaxed time. He was in dire need of a haircut and now looks much more like a big boy than he did before.

Justin was next. He is my best customer when it comes to sitting still. Pickiness is another story. I have been cutting his hair the same way for the last eight, well, probably seven and a half years…after we worked out the kinks. I know in advance each of the spots he will ultimately tell me need to be gone over again. I have learned to just smile and nod and make it look like I’ve cut some additional hair, even though nothing really needs to be fixed. He is trying to “update” his style now that we are going to be changing duty stations and he will get to be “the Chief.” I think I’m going to have to up my skill in order to maintain his new look.

Jakob denied a Miller Cut at this time. His last haircut was in June before his annual photos were taken. He wants to grow his hair out to his shoulders. I am hoping to convince him otherwise, but I’m trying to let him be his own person. I will probably splurge sometime before his birthday and have his hair shaped out on town so that we can get photos taken.

Jolie has only had about five Miller Cuts. She is growing her hair out in order to donate at least ten inches for the Locks of Love program. Her hair is long enough now, but we are going to wait another month so that it will be a little longer and possibly give her a slightly longer than chin-length cut.

By instituting Miller Cuts, we are able to save a significant amount of money each year.

We figure that for a basic haircut (at the Exchange) we would pay about $8-$11 plus tip. Justin needs a haircut about every six weeks. That equates to about $80-$104 a year. Our boys wouldn’t need haircuts as often, we’ll say every two months. That would be about $60-$88 a year each. Jolie would probably need a haircut every three months or so, which comes to $40-$52. Imagine how much more it would cost if we went to a popular salon. I have asked Justin to cut my hair, but he isn’t confident enough (I am pretty particular and don’t really blame him for declining). We have chosen that I will get my hair cut out on town, which dips in to some of our savings, but is necessary.

Our total savings per year for haircuts is about $200-$280, after taking into account the cost of my haircuts. All I can say is…Go Miller Cuts!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter in a Unitarian Universalist Home

Our morning started off like many others around the country. When the kids woke up, they sat at the top of the stairs and waited for Justin and me to get the cameras ready. They were eager to see if the Easter Bunny had come. Sure enough he had. He brought them each a gardening shovel and rake, a packet of flower seeds, and a big jug of bubbles. Then the three of them searched the house for plastic eggs filled with coins and Play Dough.

After our fun we would have headed to church had the kids not been sick. At church, the kids would have attended their Religious Education classes; Justin and I would have gone to the service. Between the services, the kids would have participated in an Easter egg hunt around the church.

Throughout the day, I worked in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal, while the kids played and Justin worked on a school project. This evening, we had roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potato puffs, carrot soufflé, and rolls and talked about our day.

The main difference for us is that our Easter Sunday focused on something other than the “rebirth” of Jesus. For us, Easter is a time to celebrate the “rebirth” of nature through the budding of the trees, the blooming of flowers, and the coming of warmer weather.

Justin and I talked with Jake today about his thoughts on Easter and his feelings about Jesus. He said that he thought that Jesus was a good person and that his teachings would live on long after he died. This coming from an eight year old! We want the kids to construct their own beliefs about religion after being exposed to a multitude of philosophies, meeting and talking with people of differing beliefs, and utilizing their life experiences.

Historically, Easter is derived from the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn, whose name is Ostara or Eastre. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a great article about the link between Easter and Ostara, discussing the joining of the spring celebrations, fertility and the Easter egg.

Though we have a different view of Easter than many, the day still has special meaning in our home. We are excited about the change from winter to spring and look forward to all that this season of "rebirth" has to offer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

To Give Allowance, or Not to Give Allowance. That is the Question.

I have heard many different arguments for giving and not giving an allowance to one’s children. Some people give an allowance for chores done around the house and others give an allowance just for being a member of the family. We have actually tried both techniques, neither of which has been very productive.

One family I know actually employs both techniques, giving each child a base allowance and then an additional allowance for extra chores done throughout the week. If the children do not complete their daily chores (making their beds, feeding the dog, etc.), then Mom happily does the missed chore, but the kids are required to pay her for her services. Their family actually uses a family token system. At the end of the week, the kids are allowed to use their acquired tokens to purchase items from a basket of goodies purchased by Mom (books, manipulatives, etc.).

We started giving an allowance to the kids when Jake was about seven and Jolie was four. They would each get $.50 a week for each year they were old. They then had to put a certain percentage into a savings pile and another in to a charity pile. After a while, they could choose a charity to donate their earnings to or purchase an item for that charity. As for their savings pile...well, the system sort of fizzled out before they had accumulated much in that pile.

As previously mentioned, we started using Chore Wars about a year later, and again had little success. The kids didn't do many of the chores that were on the list, thus earning little money. They never really made enough to purchase anything that they were interested in, making the system of little value to them.

I decided to go ahead and tie our revitalized Chore Wars points to a monetary allowance. We each get one cent for each point. We have all discussed the point values of each chore, and everyone seems to be in agreement that the values are fair.

For example, here are the chores that Jolie did today, and the point values earned for each -

Jolie earned 15XP for Room Inspection
Jolie earned 5XP for Empty Trash Cans
Jolie earned 15XP for Load Dishwasher
Jolie earned 10XP for Clean Off Table
Jolie earned 5XP for Feed Animal

Remember, we each get to choose the chores we want to do each day during our daily family meeting after breakfast. It is possible for the kids to choose more difficult chores each day and earn more points than other members of the family. Jake, for instance, had trouble "remembering" to do his chores today, but would like to buy some Legos. He has decided to do today's forgotten chores tomorrow, plus tomorrow's chores, with the hopes of earning just a bit extra.

I haven't decided if we will again have a "savings" and a "charity" pile for each of the kids. Right now I am just hoping that they will start helping out more around the house. Justin and I are also earning "points" for our chores. I am handing out our Chore Wars allowance each Sunday evening, so each family member gets the opportunity to see what they did to contribute to the family and how it relates to the contributions given by the other family members. At some point, we will probably add a “member of the family” allowance, probably when the kids are a bit older and have additional expenses related to being a ‘tween or teenager.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Favorite Holiday Gift of 2007

Our family's frugality and eco-friendliness have come together in one fabulous product.
My sisters think I'm crazy, but my favorite gift this past holiday season was a Bag Dryer from I was so excited that my parents had gotten it for me that I nearly jumped for joy.

Why so excited, you ask? We are zipper bag savers. I admit it. We wash and reuse any plastic zipper bag that hasn't held meat. It saves us money and keeps plastic out of the landfill.

I use this thing every day. I used to try to dry my plastic zipper bags on the handles of my pans, which never really worked. I keep the dryer out on the counter and have bags drying nearly every night. It works great. My sisters just may find one in their stocking next year...don't be surprised :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Chore Policy

Utilizing Diann Jeppson's family work system, I have established a program similar to the one she discusses in A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion.

I made two envelopes for each of the "chore doing" members of the family (Jakob, Jolie, and me) and used magnetic clips to keep them on the fridge [I guess Justin is exempt because he goes to work everyday:)]. One envelop is titled Daily Chores and the other is titled ****'s Completed Chores. I wrote down all of the chores that need to get done throughout the week on individual index cards. I labeled each card with the initial(s) of the day(s) of the week in which the chore needs to be completed (i.e. Scoop Kitty Litter - MWF).

Each morning during our family meeting after breakfast, I lay out the chores that need to be done that day. Jake and Jolie take turns choosing the kitchen chores first. To keep things fair, they take turns getting to choose the first chore based on their birthday. Odd birthday = choose first on odd days; even birthday = chooses first on even days. After they have chosen the kitchen chores, the three of us take turns until all of the chores are chosen. There isn’t always the same number of chores to be done each day of the week. There are also some chores that are truly meant for me (i.e. make grocery and menu lists), but if the kids want to choose them, then I'd be willing to work with them to get the chore done. The chores stay in the Daily Chores envelope until they are completed. Obviously, once they are completed they go into the ****'s Completed Chores envelope. Extra chores are kept in The Miller's Chores envelope.

The method seems to be working thus far. It's pretty hard to forget your chores when they are staring you in the face every time you go to the fridge. There are days when not all of the chores get done. Some days I leave the previous day's undone chores in their Daily Chores envelope with the hopes that they will get them done. On other days, I have been known to finish up some chores before heading off to bed.

I decided to go ahead and start doing Chore Wars again. Continuing with the "visual" theme, maybe seeing the points accumulated by individual members of the family will help the kids to see who is doing their fair share around the house. I have alloted each chore a certain number of points based on difficulty and time needed to complete the chore. I'm still debating on whether or not to link the points earned to an "allowance" or to try another award for accumulated points. I'm not a big fan or reward systems, but maybe that is what the kids need to get started. I'll ponder that thought a bit longer.

I am trying to stand by the "inspire, not require" mantra. Hopefully by setting a good example for the kids, I will be able to encourage them to do get done what they need to get done.