My $5.00 Thrift Store OTTOMAN REMODEL. BEFORE AND AFTER

My $5.00 Thrift Store OTTOMAN REMODEL. BEFORE AND AFTER

Anchorage Earthquake Recap

We made it through the big 7.0 earthquake here in Anchorage, Alaska (Friday November 30th 2018 at 8:29am). Thank you very much! There were no fatalities here, just lots of damage to our city. We have lots to be thankful for right now–especially for people. We thank scientists, engineers and strong building codes. The famous Haiti earthquake of 2010 killed 300,000 people and was also a 7.0.

Where was I during the earthquake? In the kitchen. I had just finished cleaning up after breakfast. As usual, Samson was covered in food and would need the usual 5-7 minute wipe down. I looked at the clock. It was 8:21 am. I removed him from his highchair and he started to wander into the living room. I started to walk to the coffee pot when I started to hear a rumble and a little shaking. “Earthquake” I shouted.

Without hesitation I scooped up both of my children. I dashed right into the hallway/doorway area. All I could do was shield both of them with my body as the house began to shake uncontrollably. The house was having a grand mal and I didn’t know what to do.

The painters, who earlier in the week were at the tip-top of a giant ladder painting our 20+ foot tall walls had now progressed to the shorter walls in the hallways and kitchen. As luck would have it, neither were on a ladder when the big quake started.

All I remember is a lot of real fright and cursing from all of us. I guess it didn’t last that long. But it seemed like an eternity. Both of our painters were life-long Alaskans. “Is this fairly normal to experience this?” I asked during the quake. “No. Never felt anything like this.” they said.

This past week has been one seizure after another…one aftershock after another. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat at sea.

My Thrift Store Ottoman Remodel

On the brighter side, I finally finished the ottoman I have been incrementally working on for 2 months.

In October I came across this old $5.00 Ottoman. I had to snatch it. Of course, a refreshment would be needed.

And here is a close up. The top vinyl covering was starting to break down.

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Good news. The underlying structure and foam padding on this Ottoman were in terrific shape. All I needed to do was cut off the old vinyl fabric right along the seams and learn how to sew a snug, new one. Another sewing challenge for me.

  1. Cut off all the vinyl material that covers the ottoman along the seams. Avoid puncturing the underlying foam.
  2. Keep the old material that covers the ottoman. You will use it as your pattern for sewing a new one. Find some material (or vinyl) that you’d like to be the new cover. I used leftover vinyl from this project!
  3. Once you sew the cover for the ottoman, find a neat decorative fringe/trim at Joann’s Fabric to attach to the bottom part of the vinyl. These are a bit spendy. However, just bring in your 50% coupon to use for one item and you can get 2.5 yards of this fancy stuff for around $20. I attached this trim by sewing it onto the bottom, open section of the vinyl. You could probably glue gun it, but I wanted it to be securely attached for a LONG TIME.
  4. Once you sew your vinyl cover and before you snug it onto your ottoman, put it in your dryer for 10-25 seconds on LOW HEAT. Do this with extreme caution! I thought of this idea and realized that it works, but do it only for a few seconds on low heat. It will soften the vinyl just enough so that you can fit it around your ottoman.

YOU WANT TO GET THE BEST POSSIBLE FIT SO THAT IT DOESN’T LOOK TOO FUNKY.

Here is the old vinyl that I cut from the ottoman. Use this as your pattern to sew your new cover. You get the idea.

Here is the finished product.

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My White on White Rocking Chair Renovation

My White on White Rocking Chair Renovation

The frustrating part about this blog post is that I already uploaded it but WordPress did not publish it or even save it in my drafts. There is probably nothing more angering that waking up early–before the kids arise–working hard on a project–and then having it disappear after it’s published.

Over a year ago I was lumbering around pregnant in Habitat for Humanity. I was pushing my two year old in her stroller. I didn’t think anything could possibly get better. Who would buy a beaten-up book shelf for $65?

It dawned on me how lucky I was with all my flea market finds when living in the Old World. In Germany, for instance, there was an endless supply of flea markets and gorgeous retro items were cheap–or at least you could negotiate a cheap price.

Here is an incredible (older) painting I snagged for only 60 euros from the Homburg flea market in Germany. It was painted on a piece of thin particle board and beginning to break down. I had it framed (for $140) and look at how it turned out? I can’t wait to hang it on our living room wall!

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Here is another flea market painting we bought in Krakow, Poland.

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Oh and this one below is mine. Crazy cardboard paintings… sorry but had to post.. I’m still working on it.

Habitat for Humanity and ALL THRIFT STORES in America have been a considerable disappointment since our move back to this continent. Everything is expensive and looks like it originally came from Walmart (after being used for 20 years of course).

I was looking for a rocking chair and I happened to intersect a stubby, older rocker for $30. I was not happy with the price. But I decided that despite its flaws, I would try and restore it.

Next, I waited in a long line to purchase it.

I was in for a surprise as I walked up to the cashier. “Oh, some lady already bought that rocking chair for you.”

I’ve heard of “pay-it-forward” where someone in front of you buys your drink at the local coffee drive through. This was even better. A STRANGER JUST BOUGHT ME A ROCKING CHAIR! So much to celebrate in life, right?

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For me, part of the fun in life is picking up a piece of old furniture and taking it apart–but only if you get it for a cheap price. Otherwise, I’m buying something new.

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Once home, I removed the seat cushion. In case your eyes deceive you, that isn’t cornbread–it’s a piece of ancient yellow foam between the layer of upholstery fabric; it was crumbling into pieces and I ended up having to vacuum everywhere after opening. You never know what you’re gonna get!. The foam was crumbling into little pieces.

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Next? Throw out the old foam, vacuum up all the crumbles, measure your foam and buy a new piece. Price? anywhere from $29- $65 a square foot. I bought this 3 inch foam piece for $13–(but only because I brought my 50% coupon and got it half off). JoAnn Fabrics of course. FOAM IS NOT CHEAP. If you can salvage your foam or re-use a piece from a pillow/seat at a thrift store, do it. You’ll be saving tons!

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I also bought some white vinyl fabric to reupholster this new foam cushion that would be the new seat!

I found some old left-over paint in our garage–it was actually EXTERIOR HOUSE PAINT and about 8 years old too! I refused to go out and buy new paint. I like to use what I already have. After hand sanding and wiping down the rocking chair, I painted 4 coats of this paint:

My lovely 3 year old trying out the “new” chair. New paint, new fabric cushion!

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Now let’s take a look at the before and after picture:

Before

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After

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Taxes–by Renee

Taxes–by Renee

When you force other people to do your labor for free we call that slavery.

When an (invisible, abstract) system called the “church” forces it’s congregants to give it money (from their labor) for the “benefit of everyone”, we call that tithing.

When an (invisible, abstract) system called the “government” forces society members to give it money (from their labor) for the “benefit of everyone” we call that taxation.

I finally get it.

What to do with OLD LEFTOVER RICE/QUINOA?

What to do with OLD LEFTOVER RICE/QUINOA?

Alright, so just a quickie here. Nothing too exciting.

Do you ever have 1,2…3 day old rice or quinoa in your fridge and you’re not sure what to do with it? You feel bad about wasting it so you just let it sit there, but then you eventually toss it out. Or…you make unhealthy fried rice.

That’s what I’ve always done. It gets kind of stale and sometimes the birds will eat it if I season it correctly.

What if I could just eat it? I’m always a sucker for trying things that save money.

Maybe, one day when you’re good and brave like me, you can revive it…transform it into Jambalaya or West African Jolof Rice.

My family *DOES NOT* like this kind of food, but I happen to LOVE it;
so here goes..just for my taste buds.

So grab some of the ingredients pictured below. These are what I had on hand…(oh, and maybe a slice of bacon or two and some extra diced tomatoes sitting in your fridge if they happen to be there..). It’s really not a big deal.

On the stove, heat your olive oil on medium-low. Add your diced up Anaheim chili pepper, diced onion and grated carrot. Saute a bit.

Toss in some diced up sausage and/or bacon. Sprinkle seasoning. Throw in your refrigerated leftover rice and/or quinoa (I used both). Sprinkle olive oil into the mixture as it Cooks on the stove top.

Super easy and done!

A plate full of Jambalaya from OLD rice and Quinoa. Hey, it actually tasted fine. But even better? It was healthier than some other options and I used everything that I already had on hand.

Don’t eat the rice past a few days.

If you want to transform older rice into a Jolof-style, you can add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste into the olive oil as it’s cooking/almost beginning to fry/just getting hot.

Once you cook the tomato paste in the oil for a minute or two, add the leftover rice or quinoa and add a sprinkling of water. (You have to experiment as it depends on how much leftover rice you have–so go easy on the water– and you don’t want it to turn soggy, just slightly moist and revived.) You can add veggies that you have cooked in another pot or sauce pan to the red/Jolof rice. You can add fried meats or fish too.

No. It’s not gonna taste like the authentic Ghanaian Jolof rice, or the Thieboudienne (red rice and fish) from Senegal. But it works if you’re in a pinch for dinner.

PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE MUFFINS–AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE MUFFINS–AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

One of the things that you’ll notice about Fall is that Americans (and Europeans too) just LOVE IT! Underneath the silly, innocent face of every American is an inner child who loves Halloween. As American children and adults, we have stocked up decades of memories surrounding this holiday.

It isn’t so much the candy. It’s the gore, the blood, the skeletons, the fright, the spookiness…the fact that the Earth in the northern regions of the globe begins to darken. Night lengthens its presence. The scary nature of this season may be like a horror flick where you get the occasional rush of dopamine and adrenaline.

If you dive into our pagan past, you see that every holiday is just a merger between the Roman Catholic Church and some ancient European festival. Certainly, this has given Halloween its robust texture.

In the not-so-distant past, it may have been something like this: My personal take after skimming many articles on this subject and thinking about how it all unfolded….

During Fall we are beckoned to come inside, to the glowing hearth. The earth is getting cold. The soil is almost unplowable and hardens with frost. After months of cultivation and toil in the dirt, we bring the products of our labor inside. Then we share the fruits of our labor together, while singing and dancing merrily around the fireplace. We make soups and stews, breads and cakes. We spend time canning our vegetables and drying our fruits. We freeze fruits and vegetables that we do not can. We store onions, potatoes and squash in barrels in the basement. They sustain our survival through the long, cold winter.
Fruits and vegetables are a big part of our lives. We see the harvests as big events and we plan our lives around them. Festivals emerge with these harvests. We get creative and realize that we can make artwork out of the abundance of our crops. We start to carve faces into rutabagas, beets, squash and even pumpkins. We put candles inside the hallowed out vegetable corpses and And thus, a ritual begins: carving the Jack-o’-lantern.
We hunt game during the fall. We need to stock up on meat for the winter. We get creative and use the animal carcasses as clothing or costumes. We realize the spooky nature of All Hallows’ Eve, so we dress up in the animal carcasses and parade around the village square. Are we tricksters? Some among us are. Give us some of the bounty of your harvest— yes, treats and we won’t give you any problems. It isn’t long before this practice turns into Trick or Treating on the day before All Saints’ Day.

As you can see from my creative writing excerpt above, it isn’t hard to imagine how Halloween made its entrance.

Here in our house we are celebrating the Fall–oh, and Halloween too. I am savoring every joyous moment of this spicy season. I’m pointing out the leaves changing color while we’re driving.

We’re making apple pies. We’re baking pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling and topped with this Costco salad topper pictured below (a blend of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and cranberries). I thought, why not sprinkle these on the baking muffins?

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And…the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin Recipe. Mix it up however you like, stir in the cream cheese in the muffin batter and bake @ 375 for 20 min (give or take). AND TOP WITH THAT SALAD TOPPER PICTURED ABOVE (my idea!)

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Michael’s had a HUGE sale on autumn decorations that lasted only for a day. I happened to randomly walk in the store on that day (something that never happens to me) so I decided to stock up. I bought cinnamon and pumpkin pie scented candles and a massive supply of Fall trinkets (I spent under $30).

Everything about this season is heart-warming and cozy–even here in Alaska. The moose are coming out of the woods too. Just a couple days ago the neighbor children were getting off the bus. When they got to their doorstep, they discovered a moose in their front yard. I happened to be out in my yard and they approached me saying “We’re too afraid to go inside our house, there’s a moose right there by the door!”. I managed to capture a few pics.

And…we went out and bought pumpkins…

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We also spent one evening carving pumpkins:

Oh, and don’t forget the pumpkin spiced hand soap!

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We also made a shrine to my husband’s Mother and Grandmother who have passed on. Their pumpkin/fall paintings are in the picture frames (they were amazing watercolor artists!)

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You’re a Blogger? Just Who do you think you are?

I think every blogger or online creator has thought these thoughts. Who am I to think that I could be somebody? Who am I to think so highly of myself to think that I should be heard? Compared to everyone else, I’m nobody. I’m not some expert, published writer/author, or someone who is part of the elite or celebrity class of online creators.

And you know exactly what I’m going to say next: Anyone who became a prominent online Creator or blogger started somewhere–usually at the bottom. Some people have long paths ahead of them to get where they want to go. Some have to work at it much harder than others just to amass a small following. Life isn’t fair. Some people have naturally superior writing ability and creative prowess than others. They will have an advantage.

When we glance around online, we typically only see the “big ones”; those who have accumulated huge followings. So we are immediately shown a distorted view of things and how success and “progress” actually work.

Anyone who has become successful at anything has given it lots of awkward efforts. There have been tons of bumps and slumps along the way. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one or two people coming back to “check up on your blog”. Most of your spectators will simply move on, finding nothing valuable or intriguing with your content. No snow ball effect just yet. But it can happen. It just takes a certain threshold. 

Really though. You know why you’re blogging and that’s all that matters. You just LOVE it. Some people build stock portfolios and study the markets, some build sand castles and you build blog posts. You enjoy the creative process. All those feeble attempts to find just the right word. You like the integration of writing and pictures. You like the fact that even if you’re often dull and bland at least you’re “working on your writing ability”. Maybe when you’re 50 you can publish a book.

Recently the Mega Millions Jackpot was at 1.5 billion. Do you know what that means? It means that despite people constantly ‘hatin’ on the rich–all those “Wall Street Traders”–all those evil one-percenters–people actually don’t hate the idea of becoming rich themselves.  It’s not fair when other people have significantly more money that I do. Buuuut, when I win the lottery? All bets are off.

The numbers in lottery ticket sales are undeniable. People may hate rich people and think that it’s terribly unfair but they certainly don’t hate the idea that they might get rich. The evidence is in our behavior. Buying lottery tickets is a behavior. Let’s be honest. The majority of humans would have a surprised, pleasant feeling if they suddenly awoke and were in control of over 1.5 billion dollars–even if it was just to give away.

On a different note, I would love to make lots of money on my blog. So would you. Anyone would! But you know what? Unlike the random, “free” nature of the lottery (i.e. you only invest a few bucks to get a chance to win tons), it’s the market that will ultimately determine whether I EVER MAKE ANY MONEY ON MY BLOG. It’s also the effort, time and consistency that I put into it.  It’s the customer–the reader (or skimmer)–who determines whether they are interested in my (your) content. That said…

My goal isn’t to amass an enormous following and then suddenly be “restricted by my readers/followers as to what I can write”. I want to be able to write and post my creations for me.

I don’t want to feel like I have to censor myself for fear I’ll lose followers along the way. This is a struggle that many bloggers experience. If you’re not big yet, you may start to become big because of one blog post.  You’ll find that you have to reduce your blogging because your future blog posts may not all appeal to your current subscribers/followers. You’ll have lots of ideas slamming themselves into your consciousness, but then you’ll have to weigh them against your audience. Will they approve? Probably not.

You don’t want this to happen. Blogging is free. It’s a fun hobby where you get to polish up on your writing and communication, a skill that is considered invaluable in today’s attention economy. You get to weave your creativity and pictures into your posts.

I want my blog to be a grassroots process. That is, interested patrons coming back regularly because they are legitimately intrigued by my content…or how far I’ve gone (or not). It’s only just recently that readers are finding my blog via search engines–Bing and Google. This is completely new for me. I consider this progress! Now, if I can just retain those readers. 🙂

I POSTED AN AD FOR A BABYSITTER ON CRAIGSLIST for $10 an hour

I POSTED AN AD FOR A BABYSITTER ON CRAIGSLIST for $10 an hour

When you have children, lots of things change. The biggest thing, for me, has been my thinking. You start to value certain things more—like your time and your freedom. But this has a ripple effect; you start to value your money, your food and all your resources even more.

I think it’s because, as a mother, you’re working much, much harder than ever before. You’re doing ALL the clean-up, housework, diapers, baths, laundry, grocery shopping (maybe with a couple exceptions), bedtimes, meals and meal clean-up (don’t even get me started) and middle-of-the night feedings.

If you are lucky and privileged enough to get a babysitter or childcare worker to watch your children a couple times a month, it’s just heavenly. You can take a break from all the constant chaos that assaults your reasoning faculties—even if it’s just for a few hours.

Additionally, you’re probably looking for more educational opportunities. You know how detrimental– how disadvantageous it is to have gaps on your resume! And there’s lots of proof to back this up.

As a SAHM, you want to find ways to stay afloat in the career world once your children are in all-day school. Boring, repetitive labor makes you want to do less of it. Once you get the opportunity to do ANYTHING ELSE, you really can sink into it, value it and fully appreciate it.

You realize that your precious life is being replaced by labor. It dawns on you how valuable time is—how valuable your time is. Children are important treasures; no one ever said otherwise. Until robot children make their grand entrance, children really are our future, so I agree, we all should be investing in them!

But…it’s all the drudgery and clean-up that makes the situation different. Sure, there are some people who are quite fine with ignoring all the messes and letting them build-up for years in their homes while they instill Shakespearian prose and Euclidian geometry into their young one’s minds, but I’m not one of them. I can’t think when everything is in disarray.

We have moved a few times in the past couple years—from Washington state, To Europe, back to Oregon and now Alaska. I haven’t been able to make friends or establish a social community. I’m not part of a church. And, let me repeat, I don’t have friends in my city.

My Mother, a fervent Fundamentalist Christian whom I love dearly suggested that I “Join a church and I would meet nice ladies who would offer to help out with the childcare.”
But then I imagined having to explain myself: “So, what drew you to our church?” Me: “Oh, I’m not at all religious or a church-goer—I just joined for the free childcare”. You know how that would go–they would all embrace me non-judgmentally and welcome me into the fold without trying to convert me, or not.

The only solution I could summon was to look for a babysitter online. I needed someone for 3-8 hours each week–max and I couldn’t guarantee a set schedule. And what did I do? I first looked on Facebook but couldn’t find much there. In fact, what I did find on Facebook were TONS OF MOTHERS IN MY COMMUNITY LOOKING FOR CHILDCARE AND BABYSITTERS. Not exactly helpful.

I absolutely didn’t want to start an account like Care.com. You have to pay a monthly fee just to get in touch with possible caregivers/babysitters. And, I’ve heard they make it difficult to terminate your account. Not only that, but you’re going to pay a ton for the average sitter that you find. Some of them are asking for $15 to $20 an hour.

I’ve become a bit of a free market capitalist over the past few years. The free market is a better place to go even when finding something like a babysitter. You are probably just as competent to check references and “get a reliable candidate” as anyone else—you might even be pickier in the selection process. After all, they’re your children, you won’t be taking any chances.

WHAT DID I DO?

I posted an ad on Craigslist. Craigslist is free and super easy to use. At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m insane. “What? You posted an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter?” Yes. Yes I did.

But this didn’t happen without spending some time to think about what I was doing. Do people do this? Has anyone else thought about doing this before? I started by perusing Craigslist ads. I wanted to get acquainted with the market.

I only found one Mom who had thought of my idea to post an ad on craigslist. She was looking for someone to babysit her 3 young children. In her ad she said that she was a Christian mother willing to pay $10 an hour and expected all 3 of her little children all in diapers (because she had a set of baby twins and a 2 year old) to be taken care of as well as the bathrooms cleaned once a week and the house kept clean. She wanted a resume, 3 professional references and (obviously) to meet up first in a public venue for an interview.

I thought her ad was a bit over-the-top. What cretin would accept only $10 an hour to babysit 3 children, clean bathrooms and maintain a clean house? That’s like asking for a caregiver and a janitor ALL IN ONE—for only $10 bucks an hour. Would anyone do this? Taking care of young children and keeping things clean is an overwhelming amount of work.

For a week I thought about her ad. What a greedy BIT—um, person. If I post an ad, I won’t be greedy. I’ll say, “I’m giving you $14 an hour to take care of 2 children and you don’t have to do any cleaning.”

But I kept thinking about this woman’s ad. It was a very bold. After a while it began to dawn on me. What if she wasn’t (necessarily) greedy but just understood economics better than I did? I realized that when you post an ad its probably better to start at a LOWER hourly rate than a HIGHER one.

You want to test the market—see if anyone responds. If no one responds to the ad, there’s your answer: you’re low-balling and no one will be interested in the offer. That is, there is no one in the market who will don their services for the price you’re offering. Alternatively, if you offer too much $$ you’ll be slammed with responses. Sorting through them will be a labor in itself.

I decided to start with a very simple ad for a babysitter: “I Will pay $10 an hour for a babysitter. If interested, please contact me and we can plan on meeting at a public location for an interview.”

Once I posted the ad, all hell broke loose

I received an overwhelming number of interested candidates. I had no idea SO many people were looking for work. I received a surprising number of male candidates which I promptly dismissed.

I only respond to female candidate because I tend to trust them more around my children.

I wanted to zero in on the best candidates, so I looked at female candidates with resumes, references and descriptions of what kind of childcare experience they had. I kept these in my inbox and thought about it for a few days.

I had my first interview with a lady whom we’ll call Molly. I met her at Barnes and Nobel. She was there right on time with her resume and references in hand and pressed and polished for our meeting. It felt very odd being the one to “hire” someone.

I thought she was a good fit until I learned that she didn’t have a car and would depend on public transport. The bus stop closest to our house was over 3 miles away. So anytime she babysat, I would have to pick her up from the bus stop. We both decided that she wasn’t a good fit.

I few days later, after being slammed by yet more interested candidates, I met with another young lady at a coffee shop. She was very sweet, professional and ready for the interview. She, too, had references and a resume. After our meeting, I knew she was the one. It’s just one of those gut feelings. I would still go and check up on her references before I decided to have her start.

Would I Recommend Finding A Babysitter on Craigslist?

Absolutely!

All you have to do is:

1. Meet any/all your prospective candidates at a public venue before you decide to exchange phone numbers or even emails.

2. Have your candidate come with a printed resume and a printed list of references. You will also come with your own 6th sense, intuition and brain as you interview your candidate.

3. Always ask your candidate if they have reliable transportation.

4. Ask your candidate about the last place they worked, how long they have been looking for work and if they plan to find other jobs in the meantime (I was only looking for a few hours of sitting each week, so I encourage my candidate to continue to look for work and that “I would work around her schedule”)

5. After you’ve met your candidate and you think you have a possible fit, go home and check references and review the resume with your husband/significant other.

6. Interview at least 2-3 of the best candidates you come across. You want to get an idea of the different kinds of personalities out there and which ones might work best with your children.

7. Have your preferred candidate come over to your house for a test-run. Let them babysit your children for 1 hour, maybe 2 (at most!). You can even be in another room in the house working on another project while she babysits.

8. Ask your children what they thought about the new babysitter.

We found a terrific candidate (FOR FREE) using this process! Craigslist is free. Care.com is not. You’re going to be much more selective for your children than ANYONE ELSE.
We found an amazing babysitter who is real Alaskan—3rd generation—not some recent transplant like ourselves. Her father is a native fisherman and she even brings us FREE seafood—crab, halibut and salmon.

We are so lucky to have found her! She is the ultimate baby whisperer.

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If you use the method I’ve delineated above, you won’t have trouble finding a good, reliable babysitter.

What did I learn from my Craigslist Post?

The major thing I learned from my post was that there are TONS of people willing to work for $10 an hour. LOTS. I can’t emphasize this enough. If I had advertised the position for $14 an hour, my computer would have blown up, truly.

I learned that you trust your intuition when reading through all the (anonymous) craigslist email responses. Only respond to the few that seem to stand out as “good” and “honest” candidates. In addition to a resume, references and a cover letter, my babysitter went to the trouble to send a link to her personal Facebook page so that I could get to know her and see her activities there. She came across as very transparent and honest.