Sunday, December 29, 2013

Feeling Humbuggerish

      I was so gung-ho to get our tree up soon after Thanksgiving. It was our 5th married Christmas! We kept things laid back. No rushing or traveling or overwhelming ourselves.

      Here it is still a few days from the New Year and all but my snowman cookie jar is packed away. We have a lot going on in our lives this coming year. I'm not sure if it will be more or less than 2013 but I'm guessing it will fly by just as fast! I feel like I have so much to get done. We'll be moving soon. I'm thisfar away from being done with my associate's degree. We'll have birthdays and holidays and lots of other plans and events. We're working towards getting debt free and we'll make some big leaps this year, I hope, after taking two steps back. By the fall, I intend to start home-pre-schooling Bitty Bug. Sweet Pea will hopefully potty train.

      2013 was a crazy, exhausting year for us. It was a joy with the addition of our little Pumpkin. It was a challenge with balancing family and jobs and school without a network of friends or family nearby. Miracles happened: Bitty Bug potty trained. It was hard with job loss and new jobs and unexpected things. 75% of it is a total blur. I have so many things I want to do this next year. I think I made some resolutions last year. I need to figure out if I actually did and where that list is so I can look over it!

     Christmas may be over but here's to a New Year! I have ~360 days to prepare for all the things I found on Pinterest for Christmas 2014.  hahaha!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Awesome Action Figures - $2 Coupons at Target

      My kiddos have a healthy appreciation of certain comic super heroes and star wars. We love the Marvel Universe, Star Wars, and Transformers action figures that we've found at Target. Just before Christmas Hulk was on sale from $12 to $9.99. They had a B1G1 50% off deal. And, I had two coupons for $2 off. I'm not sure if the sale is still going. It will depend on each store but you can still get the coupons here for Transformers or Star Wars. You should be able to print each coupon twice. The kiddos have Spiderman, Ironman, Hulk, a Stormtrooper, and Anakin so far. Target also has a coupon for the Playskool Heroes. We have a growing collection of those, as well.

       Now, for your viewing pleasure. Here's a picture of the Hulk punching Anakin Skywalker in his smug, baby face.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh pacifier, oh pacifier

 Paci, nubby, bub, bink, sucker, nu-nu, mama, tati, pass, lolli, wubby, sassy, dummy, plug, popper, soother, nuk, poppy, kiki, button, boppy, and bubby. These are all the names I’ve heard over the years for the little piece of rubber or plastic formed into an artificial nipple-ish shape that is used by many to console their sweet babies.

     My kids, I think, are odd. They’ve never really taken to the pacifier. I’ve always had some on hand if even only for those times we’re in the car and really can’t stop. Each of them, so far, had a different brand preference, if and when they would take one. One liked soothies or Nuks, one liked playtex, one DID like mams for five seconds until deciding they sucked. (just re-read this. oopsy. pun not intended.)

      Not even my bottle-fed babe really took one but on occasion when she was particularly cranky. Certainly not to the point that any true weaning was ever a thing. But gracious, would it have been nice on those nights where my sweet girl would not go for any method of “sleep training” or “self soothing”. (All of which I have more disparaging opinions on now but it was what it was and that was then.) Even if it just meant she stayed calm and quiet while I held her all night and day!

    With my second, I was hyper-focused on successfully breastfeeding after barely making it a couple months with my first. I did NOT want her having a pacifier in her mouth evaaarrr. Ever. For the sake of my supply and our success. Well, not only did she not really accept a paci but she wouldn’t take a bottle. The two or three times she was offered a bottle she’d only drink an ounce or two and wait out the time it took me to get back from wherever I was and then she’d nurse like crazy. Maybe to prove a point to me? More likely to ensure herself that all was well in her tiny world. Regardless, we made it to 17 months of economical and/or exclusive and/or on-demand breastfeeding.

    Now, here I sit, typing this up and wondering if it’s even coherent. My sweet Pumpkin (baby three) was up ALL night last night. Nursing on and off, fussing, burping, farting, fussing, staring at the ceiling fan in quiet, fussing, cooing, smiling, nursing more, NOT SLEEPING. It was definitely the hardest night in all of these ~2 months thus far. Considering this child has been an excellent sleeper even though he does not let more than 3 hours pass without eating and he’s only had the tiniest smidgen of mixed up days and nights. I don’t know why but that plastic paci gets to be very appealing when your little babe has been on and off for 30 minutes at a time (30 on, 30 off, that is), both sides, for over 6 hours. At some point, my husband just HAD to take over and let me sleep for a full hour while he sang and rocked our very-awake baby at 4am. Thankfully, this little buddy is a peach and he’s pretty content 98% of the time. Just not last night.

      Apparently, the paci he had taken to a couple weeks ago is not his flavor anymore. He acted like I was torturing him by responding with gags and funny faces when I touched a different one (the kind we’d tried originally) to his little pursed lips. I venture to guess he’s going the way of my second in totally denying any soothing from a rubber nub. I guess he just prefers the original pacifier, if ya know what I mean. (Nipple. I’m referring to female, human nipple.) 

     Here’s to coffee, I suppose!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER! (Perfect with Christmas M&Ms!)

     These turned out so great! I'm thrilled. I usually can't stand making cookies because they don't turn out how I like them. I don't like them to be super crunchy or hard. I like a little bit of crispiness around the edge and perfect gooey chewiness on the inside. I decided to wing it with the recipe. Thankfully I wrote it down as I went. Do note that it is doubled. Use half the amounts of ingredients listed or you'll have A LOT of cookies. They are so tasty and so unhealthy!

2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar (packed)
4 eggs 
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups shortening
3/4 cup butter (soft)
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3-4 cups chocolate chips

*don't forget this recipe above is doubled so you only need half of this for a regular batch*

     A few things: 1) The butter needs to be soft. Not hard. Not melted. It just needs to get to room temperature.  2) I didn't use a mixer for these. I used a spatula then my hands. 3) This dough really needs to sit in the fridge or freeze for at least a few hours but overnight is even better. 4) If you need to preheat, go for it. I don't because our current oven doesn't like it.

      In one bowl, add the sugars and butter and cream them together. Add the shortening, oil, and eggs and stir with a spatula until it's all blended together. In another bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. (The BEST way to do this is with your hands!) Finally, add in the chocolate chips.

    This dough is slightly crumbly but it should press together really well and hold it's shape. Put it all on some parchment and let it set in the fridge for at least a few hours. Roll the dough into small balls, press gently for a flatter cookie or leave it round for a puffier cookie. Use a non stick pan or butter it up. Cooking spray is fine too but butter works better, in my humble opinion. (Add M&Ms!!) Bake in the oven at ~325 degrees for 8-10 minutes. They are done when just the edges are golden. The center will still be pretty mushy. Let them sit for 10 minutes or so on the pan. If you try to move them too soon they'll just break or fall through the edges of a cooling rack.

     Oh yeah, and I let my sweet girls help "make cookies" (put the candy on top) and they are really great at it! They have perfect proportioning skills at just 2 and 3 years old.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Young Kids Aren't As Selfish As People Like to Think

      This Christmas season has been different for me. I have such a natural joy in my soul. Honestly. I’m not trying to be a cheeseball. It’s like my perspective of the whole holiday has broadened. My thoughts aren’t so narrow and selfish as they used to be. Though, I have a long way to go still.

     I’m attributing these changes in me to my children. Having three people become the priority in your life over yourself in every way is a challenge but it has the potential to create beautiful change. I hope that’s what it does for me, anyway. Even being married is a learned prioritization of another over yourself. You have to make yourself do it. It's not like that for me with my kids. I wear myself ragged trying to do and be everything for them. Something about having children, at least for me, is absolutely humbling (in the most vividly real meaning of the word) and I doubt I'm the only one to feel that way. I can visualize all of the potential on the paths at their small feet.

     At the same time, I see the inborn ills of humanity in my children. I see greed and vanity and selfishness during this holiday season. As their mother, I realize my whole life purpose now is to guide these small loves of mine to compassion, love, and selflessness. I can’t show these things without learning them myself and all of this is, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever needed to do.

     I see my sweet, spirited Bitty Bug gazing at all the stuff in the catalogs and in the store. “I want . . . I want . . . I want. . .”. I don’t think there is anything wrong with simply wanting things. At just three years old, she is still so innocent and unaware. She just sees these dazzling ads, beautiful dolls, and fun toys and she just inherently has the urge to possess it all. I think there is a problem though when you become unfoundedly entitled, envious, or obsessed with getting more and more. This is fueled early and easily in our society. We are surrounded with consumerism and greed. We let it take us over. I want an alternative experience for my kids but I want balance too. I don’t want to cut out gift giving or go straight to homemade-only presents (honestly, that would be much more work on my part, right now!) I just want to start curbing these gut reactions in my Bitty Bug.

    So, we decided to have our little daughters (Bitty Bug, 3.5 and Sweet Pea, 2) pick out gifts for each other and their new baby pumpkin. I was thrilled with them. We explained to them on that shopping trip that we were “thinking about brother and sister” today and not ourselves. I took Bitty Bug with me and the hubster took Sweet Pea. I just kind of walked around the store and asked what she thought her sister would want or need. “What do you think her favorite color is?” and “Which one of this or this would she like better?” I wanted her to be focused on thinking of someone else. That’s a very big thing for a 3 year old to do! VERY big! She pointed out some things she wanted. She told me about all her dinosaurs (again). She initially wanted to get one thing for her sister but it was way over the little budget I gave her (5 dollars). Then, as we went down one more aisle, I noticed a little dress up purse and pointed it out to her. “What do you think of this?” and she gasped and exclaimed “Look! It’s pink! [Sweet Pea] has that one. It’s pink for her. I have a purple sparkle purse. I put all my crayons in it. [Sweet Pea] wants that one. Yeah.” I was delighted. Same thing for Pumpkin. She saw a wooden, rainbow stacking toy and decided “He will like those colors! He can play with me!”. I know I beamed with pride. It might seem like such a silly thing but she showed so much thought and she was so happy to pick those things out herself. Sweet Pea had picked out things for her sister and brother that I would’ve picked out myself. A little yellow car for Bitty Bug and a tiny stuffed monkey for Pumpkin. Bitty Bug LOVES hot wheels and she also likes the color yellow (second only to pink and purple and sparkles). I don’t know if my 2 year old is really that intuitive or if it’s a perfect coincidence. On Christmas day, I’ll have them give those gifts to each other instead of just putting them under the tree. We’ll definitely do the same thing next year.

     Although, I may be doing shopping the day before Christmas to keep things a surprise between them because Bitty Bug has told Sweet Pea about her pink, sparkly purse only 15 times now. Somehow it all goes right over Sweet Pea's head or she simply doesn’t hear it. Then again, when my sister and I bought each other Christmas presents we almost always ended up giving up hints and guessing what we got each other before Christmas morning!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

That Phil Robertson Suspension is Silly

     We don’t have cable so I don’t have full access all the time to either the A&E network or the Duck Dynasty show but I have seen plenty about the family in other news outlets and on the rare occasion I watched the show at another person’s house. It’s pretty clear what values the Robertson family holds. The anti-homosexuality sentiment has always been tightly linked with Christianity, especially in the mainstream media.

     If we’re going to be real then his statements comparing homosexuality to bestiality might have been disturbing or upsetting to certain people but that's because of their own personal values. There is a broad spectrum of personal values, morals, and beliefs. Every individual falls into a different part of this spectrum. Likewise, every individual is completely mobile on this spectrum; able to move from one end to the other based on their own changing knowledge and experiences. Homosexuality is acceptable to some. Bestiality is, in fact, acceptable to some. Neither are acceptable to others. For those that think neither are acceptable they would indeed be viewed as equivalent. Just as some believe eating all meat is acceptable, some believe eating only some animal products is acceptable, and others believe only no animal product whatsoever is acceptable. It is a completely separate issue, perhaps on a different level than sexuality, but the principle and the concept is the same.

     What I find fascinating is that he also mentioned sleeping around in the same quote in equal comparison to both bestiality and homosexuality but no one is freaking out about that. I would think more Americans would be upset with that (because it is applicable to a much higher proportion of people) than the not uncommon homosexuality and bestiality comparison. In fact, in the context of his statement the order of offense was homosexuality, then bestiality, then sleeping around. If you take it literally and want to attribute higher offense to the order of his words than sleeping around, not bestiality is the worst of these.  Why isn't anyone freaking out over that??

     Regardless, Phil Robertson is a self-acknowledged bible-thumper. He is a Christian. His family is Christian. They live based on the teachings of Christ and the truths found in the Bible. They have all been open about their biblical beliefs from the beginning. His statements, whether anyone agrees with them or not, are derived from the Bible.

     Furthermore, he made very clear in a separate statement soon after his full perspective regarding this issue: "I myself am a product of the '60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

     With these statements, he confessed to having been what he now views as sinful. He was not condemning or damning anyone. He was stating what he accepts to be true. That homosexuality, bestiality, and sleeping around are sins.

     In the end, A&E should have left it at “Robertson is not our representative. We do not share his opinions, values, or beliefs. We choose to air the Duck Dynasty show despite these differences. We will continue to support homosexual group A, B, and C as we have before.” or what have you and left it at that. One thing A&E and the Duck Dynasty show will be getting out of all of it is a whole lot of publicity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Finally getting the hang of Christmas baking

     I love baking. I had to learn to enjoy cooking but I have always enjoyed baking. Cake, cookies, brownies. Yesss. I wrote my own recipe for brownies when I was a teenager. That's how much I love brownies.

     We probably spent more time in the kitchen making stuff at Christmastime than the rest of the year combined when I was growing up. Shaped sugar cookies, breads, buckeye balls, chocolate dipped pretzels, chocolate chip m&m cookies. Yes, yes please! Now that I'm all grown up and have my own kitchen and my own stuff I continue to make many of the same things we made when I was a kid. My kiddos seem to enjoy it just as much as I did! Even at their sweet little ages I try to let them help and learn as much as they can so they can have fun making things for their own families some day.

     It never fails though that even with all I was taught over the years I am continuously learning things in the kitchen. The little tricks and tweaks that made my mother's and grandmother's foods taste like heaven on a plate. But gracious, half the time, I feel like a moron for not realizing some things sooner.

       Like, you know, when you make a bread (like pumpkin, banana nut, or zucchini) you should mix the dry ingredients separately from the wet, mix those together, then add in your mushy fruit or nuts. It all blends better that way and you're much less likely to get a blub of flour somewhere. OR, if you let the pumpkin bread get nearly done and the top center is still mushy there is a solution! You can turn the temperature down and press some foil around the edges of the bread pan just over the loaf and like magic, after a few minutes, it will firm up.

      As I discovered yesterday, homemade biscotti is actually NOT that hard to make at all! (Making it uniform and pretty may be another story.) It just takes some time and some hands-in-the-dough-squishing. About an hour and a half in the oven. You can have whatever type you want and it's way cheaper than buying it in a can from the store. I used this simple recipe and added in some chocolate chips. I have more than will fit in my favorite cookie jar.


     Isn't it the cutest cookie jar ever? I've had this thing for 8 years now. My sweet husband chose this for me. I remember telling him Frosty the Snowman was my favorite because we almost never got snow in Alabama. He gave it to me just before he went back home (3 hours away) after we saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together. It was the first Christmas present he's ever given to me! That feels like it was a million years ago now.

     Another thing, I've learned that in place of a double boiler (because it is necessary for the safety and prosperity of chocolate) you can just put a bit of water in a skillet. Then, put the chocolate you intend to melt in a regular saucepan and place that inside the skillet full of water. Yay for no burnt chocolate! Yay for no wasted space in my small cabinets!

     Now I can make pretties like these lovely red velvet cake balls with "Christmas sparkles" (quoting my three year old) without wanting to smash things.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Nerd!

Check these ideas out! There's even some great deals! They are sure to bring a smile to your favoritest ever nerd. Just be sure you choose the right obsession fandom. No two nerds are alike!

(I take no responsibility for your choices based on this page. Know your nerd before buying for your nerd.)

World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2 - the Black Friday prices on these two popular games are officially good through January 1, 2014!

This adorable robot tea-infuser. Want. (Also, there's a monkey.)
Credit: Amazon and Kikkerland

ThinkGeek has 25% off plus free shipping on orders in the US! The geeks (and nerds and fan freaks and dorks alike) will smile!!! (ends Dec 16). Great stuff is always on clearance sale too!

Just trust me. This.

Or this pretty with these pretties.
Credit: Amazon and The Noble Collection

Star Trek Catan. Because ruling the world needed to be cooler. (It's a board game, dear.)

Captain America literally saving things. Or . . . Domo.

Lego City Advent Calendar: this one or this one

Even better! Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar: 2012 or 2013 (Looks like 2013 is out stock almost everywhere. Sad day. Check your local Walmart or Target though!)

Cute or creepy!?

Basically, any of these.

Stuff for their wall: inspire, tell time, lighten things up, and prettify.
Credit: Zazzle and Bin Gifts

Some friends for that tea-infuser.

For your very own superman.

For the not-quite-smarty-pants. (Get it? Get it? I'm so funny.)

A fancy subscriptions to feed their favorite hobby: Gamefly

 And the best stocking stuffer ever (besides cash and diamonds, obviously).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Glade Winter Collection Deal!!

     I love the Glade candles. They are long lasting and smell amazing. I used plenty of their autumn scents and the winter collection has been out for a few weeks now. I was able to get the 4oz candles for under $2 each PLUS the $5 gift card.

Check your local Target ad to be sure but at mine there is a deal for buying 5 of the 2.99 glade winter collection products and getting a free $5 gift card.
     To do the same . . . search the Target coupons for "Glade". There are a variety. Now go to Coupon Network and do the same thing! These are coupons for $1 off two. You can use the one for $1 off 2 "Winter collection" (doesn't specify spray, candles, wax melts) on any of the products and there are item specific coupons as well. When they print you will see the difference between Target and Manufacturer in a bold black block at the top of each one. Depending on which items you want you can save several dollars.
Apple Cinnamon Cheer + Sparkling Spruce

Monday, December 9, 2013

We Survived!!

    Yes! Not only did we survive our road trip for the holidays but my finals are over too! I'm in 100% Christmas mode now. I've all ready made a few loaves of pumpkin bread. I also attempted fudge.

    Here's the recipe  that I've been using for pumpkin bread. I just substitute one can of pumpkin for the legit, fresh pumpkin. I also splash in a good bit of allspice and extra cinnamon.

     And . . . for the second time in my life I totally ruined what is supposed to be an easy thing to make. Lame. I even gave the muck a second chance to sit in the fridge and become something magical overnight. Utter failure. I said many fudge-related words over the fiasco last night. I really wanted some fudge dangit!! It turned out like a burnt-chocolate, oily, melty tootise roll mess. Crap. It was a pile of crap. Even my three year old opened the fridge this morning and I kid you not (I wouldn't make this up) she says "That's not supposed to be in there, mama! IT goes in the POTTYY!" She sounded pretty offended.

(Yeah, I was so traumatized by the first failed attempt it took me over 10 years to try again. I'm sticking with normal baked goods. No more candy duds for me.)

     In other news. I'm an Auburn fan. In case you didn't know that! So, I'm pretty happy. Iron Bowl and SEC Champs!

Anyway . . . I'll be posting more cheery, festive junk in the next couple weeks! Just as soon as I get over that fudge I'll be baking up a storm too . . .

Speaking of storms . . . I hope everyone is enjoying the ice and snow more than I am!! Let it go! Let it go! Faaaar awaaaay.

The end.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Few Things for Your Travels

Here's a bunch more things I found to share! This goes along with the last post about road trips but there's plenty you might want to check out whether you have travel plans or not.

Spotify! (referral link) If you don't all ready use this awesome application you should try it. There is a great selection of music. You can get a free 30 day trial of premium so you can listen to music without ads and offline. Who doesn't love listening to "What Does the Fox Say?" 30 times on a road trip?! (my goobers certainly will)? *

#2 The modern version of books on tape. Click the link to make your way to a free download! You just need an amazon account. There's a free 30 day trial and one free book each month. *

We <3 Ramsey. His advice has saved our poor, greedy butts lots of times. We hope to be debt free by continuing to follow his methods. There are even some MP3s oriented towards kids like "Battle of the Chores" and "A Special Thank You" recommended for ages 3-10.  These are regularly $10-20.

From iTunes for the Kiddos:
Baby Animals (free)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's that time of year . . . road trips!

     Hours-long car rides, road trips, and cross-country flights! Hooray! Ha. There's a good chance you may be driving a little ways for a holiday gathering very soon. I know we are and even though it's not our first trip I always have something new to figure out. There's always something I almost forget. There's plenty of things that I do forget.

Maybe you've visited this blog before and know I've posted about this before!

One way or another here are some of my tips for road trips:

Road Trips Ain't For Babies: The Basics - Part 1

Road Trips Ain't For Babies: The Basics - Part 2

If you don't want to read through all that here are my top quick tips and recommendations for making things go a little bit smoother:

  • Clean out your car beforehand. A quick clutter-pick-up or a deep cleaning. It feels better to be in a nice clean vehicle on a long drive.
  • Triple check your car seat installation!!!
  • Make a packing list. Double check it as you pack. As you put things in the car, mark it off. Go over it one more time right before locking up and leaving.
  • Keep a fresh copy of your list to make it easier to re-pack when you head home!
  • Use disposable diapers for any liquid spills. They rarely leave even the slightest damp spot if you get to it quickly. Cheap cloth diapers work great too.
  • Always have a spare towel or some old rags in the car. 
  • However many diapers, pull ups or changes of clothes you might need bring at least double. I personally keep a few diapers or pull ups and/or one change of clothes for each kid in the diaper bag and another bunch of diapers, pulls ups, and clothes in a fabric bin. Don't forget socks. 
  • Bring a change of clothes FOR YOU. If you don't want to fill up the front of the car just put an easy outfit in the top of your suitcase, duffel bag, or an extra bag with some spare room.
  • Every day things like toiletries, sunglasses, or your cell phone may slip your mind. Add them to your list or keep extras in the car.
  • Create a "misc bin" for those things you'll need for accidents or that might be easy to forget.*
  • Try to enjoy the ride or flight. Sing, read, talk, be quiet, play games. It will be over soon.

  • If you are short on space one (or more) of these back seat organizers are relatively cheap and sturdy. They are out of the way but they can hold a lot of little things like phone chargers, tissues, snacks, emergency flashlight or umbrella, bandaids and neosporin, hand sanitizer or baby wipes, card games, notepad and pens, sippy cups or bottles, small toys, a list of phone numbers, or maybe spare change.

  • The girls each have their own suitcasesbackpacks (err "pack pack", as they say), and tote bags. This makes it easy to pack for them and to distinguish their things. It has also made it simpler to save space in the diaper bag (or one day again my normal people purse) for necessities.

  • I love these fabric bins for car-trip toys, a snack box, and for those spare changes of clothes and extra diapers and my "misc bin". They are flexible yet sturdy. They fold up flat when they are empty too!

  • This thing right here (the fisher price rock n play sleeper) is going to be my savior on space this trip. (And right this moment it's on sale!) It's lighter and smaller than the pack n play (but still sturdy). It folds flat so it will fit easily in the trunk of a sedan or anywhere in a van. I don't have to bring TWO pack n plays and it's much easier to move from room to room wherever you're going as well. We will still have a traditional pack n play for Sweet Pea. Bitty Bug now sleeps on this comfy little cot. This also folds up small but kind of like a camping chair though a good bit smaller.

  • *Here's what we put in our "misc bin" or in a safe place for just-in-case along with a tool box: 
  • paper towels (either a full roll or 10+ sheets)
  • toilet paper (the tiny roll in the camping aisle)
  • travel-size baby wipes
  • a trash bag
  • several plastic bags (like target or walmart)
  • a few ziplocs
  • multi-tool
  • fix-a-flat
  • tape (packing tape or duck tape)
  • flashlight
  • jumper cables
  • ice scraper
  • umbrella
  • a piece of cardboard and/or a towel (for getting out of mud or ice)
  •   And a final but very important note, don't forget that there is a good chance any after-market products for your kid's car seats, whether it's a cover, a toy, or another accessory, will likely void the warranty! Safety-wise it seems there are only anecdotes but most car seat manuals specify that any extra add-ons that aren't specifically manufactured or sold by the manufacturer of the seat may not only pose a safety risk but will deem your car seat non-replaceable in the event of any accident or recall. Check the manual! If it's not still attached to the seat itself you can probably find it online easily.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Merry Thanksgiving

     That's what you say when you become one of those people. Yup. MERRY THANKSGIVING! We put our tree up all ready this year. We had replaced our scantily clad 6.5 foot artificial tree with a glorious, less-shiny-stemmed 7.5 foot beauty. I even managed to have our living room furniture oriented in such a way that it could sit in front of the window for all the world to see!!

      So yes, according to my hubby we are officially "those people". I like it though. I had the urge to decorate the day after Halloween so I'm calling it even, anyway. We'll go off for our Thanksgiving festivities and after a long half-day drive back home on the last day of November we'll be able to wake up on the first glorious day of December with Christmas spewing from every corner of our home and nothing left to do but make giant mugs of hot chocolate and enjoy it!

     Besides, if I didn't do it now we'd have to wait a whole week into December to decorate because we'll be gone the end of November and finals week is the first week of December! Waiting that long is simply not an option, people.

Bonus #1: it totally balances out all the hoopla of Black Friday overtaking Thanksgiving. I think decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving just adds to it and balances out the crazy greedy shopping with a whole other kind of crazy.

Bonus #2: Rearranging all the ornaments is totally keeping my normally rambunctious Bitty Bug and Sweet Pea occupied for quite a while. I got some dishes done this morning!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Homemade Salsa and Easy Pumpkin Spice Cookies!

It just occurred to me this past week that it could be awesome to try homemade salsa and if we liked it to jar some! Hello, duh! Everyone stop buying the canned and bottled and jarred stuff at the store. It's ridiculously easy to make it at home and it tastes so good. Plus, you can tweak it however you like! Here's the recipe I came up with after reading a few different ones like this and this

3 vine tomatoes
3 tomatillos
1 very large bell pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 large clove of garlic
lemon juice
2 tsp cumin
a lot of cilantro
1 tsp sugar

      I tossed everything, one or two at a time, into my blender and added it all together in a bigger bowl.  My blender is annoying so any big chunks I'd just throw back in for a minute. We won't be saving this batch so I put it right into the fridge for a while to let all the flavors meld together. This is a sweet, tangy salsa with a decent kick to it. I left the cores and seeds of the peppers out or it would've been much spicier. I also used just a little bit of lemon juice to make sure everything stayed pretty and fresh but it also adds a nice smidge of flavor. My husband (salsa connoisseur) prefers a heavy, bold restaurant-style salsa but he liked this too! It's so easy to pick up the produce, chop it up, and throw it all together. You can tweak it however you want too so it's more to your taste.

 Also, I've seen this simple recipe bouncing around pinterest the past few weeks so I finally gave it a try. There are only TWO ingredients: a boxed spice cake mix and a can of pure pumpkin. I plopped the mixture on the pan and put them in my oven at 350 for about 15 minutes. They came out very soft, almost sticky. They are comparable to cookies you'd make with pudding. Definitely a quick and easy, festive cookie.  Oh, and if you get the cake mix and pumpkin at Aldi's then it's only going to cost a couple bucks! I wish I had some butter pecan ice cream to go with them. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of these. The kids ate them up before I remembered to take one. They were sneaking them so have no doubt they were tasty!

Monday, November 11, 2013


     Didn't I mention back in September I might get slow about posting? I wasn't kidding! But, here I am again. Things might appear slow at our house to the casual passerby but our plates are full and things are in high gear.

     The biggest, best thing this year happened a few weeks ago! We became a family of five! Our Little Pumpkin arrived. We are so thankful for our new addition. I am so thankful NOT to be pregnant anymore. ha!

    I'm still recovering, of course, but I'm also back to full time mama-to-toddlers duty and scraping by to keep up with my part-time student status. #3 is a whole entirely different experience than #1 or #2 (that's a post all on its own). We're enjoying most of the changes but I won't lie. It's crazy and hard. Imagine literally juggling the three most important things to you. That's not even a good analogy but it's all I can think of right now.

    Soon I'll be back to writing more regularly. The semester is almost over too so all that time I would be using to study and that I should be cleaning . . . I'll be on here! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Priorities. Shutdown. Way to go America.

Make your merry way over to the Let's Move website.

Now try to go on over to the Amber Alert website.

This is probably what you've opened up:

Click the Image for Larger View

I haven't been posting as much lately since we are expecting a baby soon. But frankly, this is appalling and it needs to be shared. Priorities, people.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Don't Breastfeed in Public Because People are Crazy!

The whole trend of blog-to-blog response is totally in so I'm going to try it. Go read this gem right here. Then come back to read my responses. I certainly have nothing better to do at 4:45am on a Saturday morning than to blog-back to a random article on cafemom.

1. Children are the ones who are being breastfed. I've never met a child that was the LEAST bit disturbed, alarmed, or bothered by seeing a baby or toddler nurse.  Many who have seen or met me while I was nursing just point out the baby and say nothing else. One time a ~5 year old stayed true to the awkwardly honest nature of a 5 year old and blurted loudly "What's she doing with that baby?!" Mom's response? "Feeding it." (Tada! End of story!) At first I thought the sentence "I wouldn't want him splashing around and . . . " was going in a different direction like say "I wouldn't want him splashing around and disturbing the mom and baby by covering them in chemically water in the middle of a feeding." Nevermind. Just another typical no-nipples-please post.

#2. Nipples turned you off your appetite? I hear this. I think . . . I bet it doesn't turn your appetite off when you see them in a sexual setting. Just in the biologically nourishing setting. I mean, I get it, nipples are kind of random and squishy. Boobs are generally rounded and squishy too. But, do bottles gross you out too? It kind of looks like a bottle with skin color, a boob. At least, I'm pretty sure that was the whole idea behind the design of bottles. Stay away from the baby aisles at Target they have hundreds of nipples displayed all over the wall. Some are clear but some are tan or pinkish!!

#3. I get the logic here. I really do. But,  I have a better solution. Start kicking perverts (aka creepy men) in the balls, poking them in the eyes, and taking them off airplanes. If they must travel tie their hands under their butts, buckle them in, and put duck tape down on their closed eye lids. Yay.

#4. See my answer to #1. I can totally guess what my three year old would say . . . "IS THAT A BAAAYYYBAYYYY!?" or "Is that LADY feeding that BABY over there mom??" My answer: yes, thanks for talking so loud because now I have no ear drums. I mean are you taking your 7 year old to hooters regularly and teaching them to scream "TITTIES!!!!" at the sight of a boob? I could see how that might be totally embarrassing for you. Don't go to the beach with them.

#5. Yes, elaborate. I guess your logic is that all the repentant perverts are at church so we should cover up so as not to disturb their time of worship. Yes, no, maybe? I personally think it's much less noticeable to dip a top down and latch a baby then to throw a cape made of dazzling, eye-catching fabric over your head. It's super rude to passive aggressively announce that you're a superhero in the middle of church.

No really, I hear the concern for mamas and babies. Please, grab that mama a glass of water and a snack. Go buy her a gift certificate for a back massage. Offer her a more comfortable seat. Punch a pervert. Those are much better ways of showing your concern IMHO.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In case you wondered . . .

      Probably not but just in case. I'll be slow in the coming weeks posting. Things may seem relatively random. I don't know if I ever mentioned it but financial aid DID come through for us so we are enrolled this semester (yay!) so that is taking a lot of my attention. We're also preparing for the new arrival! There's a lot to keep me busy and blogging is skipping down lower on the priority list.

     I do have several posts in the making. I pretty much half-write something the moment in comes to mind but I hold off on posting it until, you know, it's legible. If anyone is out there I'd LOVE to hear suggestions or questions for future posts. Right now I have drafts for an art project, night lights, my first real experience with freezer meals, toy reviews, and some details on my grocery-list-making process. Yeah!

     To keep up with me in the meant time go check out the facebook page and follow on pinterest! Links for both are here on the sidebars.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

What's in YOUR freezer?

     Oh, hormones and craziness. I cleaned my freezer out just before 7am this morning. Because, I felt if I didn't something tragic would surely happen, I guess. The fridge in our apartment is just your average, ugly-tan, mid-90s variety. The freezer is small and obnoxious but hey it discourages the purchase of too much crap food, I guess (not really but I tell myself that).

     For everyone's sake (mostly mine) I only have after pictures. We'll pretend I forgot and that I'm not intentionally being coy with the innards of our fridge. hehe Anyway, it was uber nasty. Some black eyed peas had fallen out of the bag and stuck to the back wall. Something brown (ice cream or . . . coke?) had congealed in one spot on the bottom. Colorful pink and purple splatters from either popsicles or fruit were on the inside of the door. It looks better now. I threw out a lot, unfortunately: 2 cornish hens (oops, they were buried so I forgot), unopened package of boca burgers, a half bag of baby shrimp, a bag of lima beans, that bag of black eyed peas, and a bag of blueberries. Oh well.

  But have you ever seen those posts about the contents of people's refrigerators being totally indicative of their entire lifestyle and personality?

     Fascinating, right?  So what the heck. I have a blog. I do what I want. I'll post a picture of the freezer and the fridge even if it's gross, embarrassing, and pathetic. We'll pretend I "forgot" to take a picture of the inside of the actual fridge and didn't feel like going back. It's ok. We'll pretend this is just about the freezer! YAY!

 In the freezer door: 
  • small ice pack
  • two cans of OJ concentrate
  • box of popsicles
  • three boxes of butter
In the freezer:
  • bags of homemade waffles
  • chicken breasts
  • boneless leg of lamb
  • ground turkey
  • green beans
  • broccoli
  • sliced carrots
  • asparagus spears
  • kidney beans
  • black beans
  • raspberries
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • mango smoothie blend (mango, pineapple, strawberry)
  • mango
  • fresh local spinach! 
In the fridge door:
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • ketchup
  • mustard
  • mayo (the real stuff!)
  • raspberry hazelnut vinaigrette
  • ranch dressing
  • kikkoman soy sauce
  • sweet baby ray's
  • grape and strawberry jellies
  • sliced jalapenos
In the fridge: 
  • half a jar of salsa
  • 3 blocks of cheese (sharp cheddar and colby jack)
  • hot dogs
  • applesauce
  • pickles (vlasic, not claussen or homemade, sadly)
  • a little less than 3 dozen eggs
  • half gallon of almond milk
  • half gallon of dark chocolate almond milk (for me!)
  • partial gallon of skim milk
  • one orange vitamin water
  • one kombucha canned drink
  • two monster energy drinks (eww) 

     So this is the contents of mine (after cleaning and before a big grocery shopping trip). Don't think anything of it. We totally ate digiorno, hot pockets, and loads of icecream last week. Not sure why I'm saying that. Frankly, the total lack of bacon makes me very sad.

 What's in yours?!

Friday, August 30, 2013

SMILE! A Few Incredibly Helpful but Super Quick Tips on Potty Training

1) Lower your expectations. Whatever they are. Lower them. A bit more. A bit more. Ok good.

2) Get over it. The inevitable mess I mean. The pee in the car seat, the sudden accident right after your offer to go to the potty is vehemently turned down in the middle of Target, and the surprisingly large pile of poo left in the closet that you had to sniff-search for. Now go buy some stock in Febreeze and carpet cleaner. You're welcome.

3) Do the slosh test. That kiddo is gonna wanna carry the potty seat full of pee into the big toilet all on their own and you certainly wouldn't muffle their independence by saying no (riiiight?). Fill that potty seat up with water and go ahead and see how far you can make it go in a small area. Now you'll be prepared to identify the height and width of splashes when it's a potty full of pee. Just tell yourself that pee is sterile. It'll be ok. (Calm down. Don't really waste time doing this. If you do, while you're busy doing this your sweet child is probably going to be ripping a poo-filled diaper off or squatting happily on the rug.)

4) Giant feces. Surely by now you're over poo. You've probably seen a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. (Oh hush with the "Ewwww" you whiner.) Somewhere between 2 and 3 years old kids begin to develop a talent. This talent is creating the most gigantic turds you've ever seen in your time on earth.  This is why parents take their kids to the zoo. The dung in the elephant exhibit makes every parent feel better about the commode-clogging feces from their own talented spawn.

5) Lose the attitude. I don't care where anyone is on the potty training spectrum. From newborn elimination communicator pro all the way to the parent saying $#!& my kid is now 62 months old and is still scared of the potty. Knock on wood. Hold your tongue. Speak not. Ever heard of karma? Potty training regression is like karma for know-it-all potty trainers that think the fact their kid plopped a pile on the porcelain at 18 months means they win a prize. The only prize is that you did NOT have to fully change that would-be nasty diaper. This is a participation game people. Accept your "participation award" and move along. Let's all be glad that one day our kids will at least be too embarrassed for us to wipe their bums so surely they'll manage to figure it out by then.

6) Be prepared to accept a high five and a proud hooray every time YOU use the bathroom. It's a perk. Nothing wrong with that. Until your 3 year old is declaring "GREAT JOB POOPING, MAMA! You gotta flush! Did you wash your HAAAANDS?!" in the echo-prone public restroom.

7) Do whatever the heck works for you kids. We're teaching beings that would biologically prefer to squat by a bush alone to instead sit awkwardly on top of a large, cold ceramic bowl that makes a loud flushing sound. THEN we push it further by limiting the amount of time they get to splash in the sink and make bubbles. And we expect this to go well! So, by all means: bribe, reward, sing, dance, make a chart, and give yourself a cookie and when you've accomplished this task publish it on facebook!! (Muahaha now all the non-parents are freaking out about their feeds being covered in potty-success announcements accompanied by turd-in-bowl pictures. Calm down. You'll likely be giddily filling in your status bar with something similar one day. Really though people: turd-in-bowl is unnecessary.)

8) This is really a close follow-up to #5. Don't lick your fingers. Ok, really though. Poop and pee won't hurt you, friends. We don't rub our eyeballs or pick our noses whilst disposing of a certain toddler's mess, right? Feel free to make a face and congratulate the kiddo on their impressive odor but don't freak out over every (inevitable) mess.

9) Give yourself a *high five* if you thought I was building a potty training acronym for the word "SMILE".

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Love Reading: Find Reading Resources on a Budget

   All right, I said I would do these three posts. I'm gonna do it! A lot of this post will be oriented around the local library. I know some people may be in rural areas or their closest library may be small, old, or underfunded. I'm assuming if you are reading this that you have internet access too. I'll do my best to cover all the bases on this topic because I think it's very important for everyone to have access to literature. There are so many free or very cheap resources out there! There is absolutely no need to spend a fortune at Barnes & Noble on new books.

For starters here is a list of awesome online resources:

  • Scholastic has a wealth of free information for parents as well as free printable activities and coloring pages for kids of all ages. Go here for their information on age-based language and reading development. And click here for a number of book lists and reading challenge plans.
  •  The International Children's Digital Library and We Give Books are free websites "stocked" with hundreds of books that you and your kids can read online.
  • The Veggie Tales (I love them!) website has digital books with fantastic moral stories.
  • There is an incredible assortment of free educational material on almost any topic you can imagine (Biology, Civics, Weather, etc) for PreK up to 12th grade on the PBS LearningMedia website.  There are videos, learning modules, and printable labs and worksheets.
  • Crayola also has a ton of free printable pages. You can find anything from basic letters and numbers to Presidents of the United States
  • Jump Start has several resources available for new readers. You'll find a lot of school curriculum possibilities here from spelling to public speaking. There are worksheets and short stories as well. 
  • Go here on to search for local book fairs and related events in your area. 
  • World Book Online and have kid's encyclopedias.  
  • Don't forget to look through Amazon's Kindle eBooks, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and Apple's iBooks websites or apps for very cheap or free digital books.
     More than likely, your public library has a website. Google it or call them up and ask.  This is going to be your best bet for local resources, reading material you can borrow, and free or cheap programs for your kids. Even our modest library has an incredible selection of books, audio books, DVDs, and research media. Many libraries have story times and art activities for different age groups throughout the week. They may host summer reading contests for kids that anyone in the community can participate in. Here is another example of a sweet reading program at the Rogers Public Library (it involves a dog!). If you need help finding a library in your area go here.

    To find low priced books for your own collection go to Goodwill or other local thrift shops; spend one Saturday looking through yard sales; search Craigslist and your local Freecycle group or create an ad with specific requests; call the library or public schools or check the newspaper for information about local book fairs and festivals. Through these avenues you should be able to find lots of books for under one dollar.

   This Noob Mom's Tips:

     1.) I have found it really easy to do simple things like pointing out letters and sounding out words on signs (and the numbers, colors, shapes, etc) while we're out and about. It's not anything extra in that we don't have to make time for it. I don't have to buy anything. It really turns into quite the game. Now, Bitty Bug (3.5) will even point out signs and colors of things as we drive down the road. She's beginning to recognize familiar logos and signs. This is great since it makes those connections with the words and sounds!
     2.) Don't be afraid to read or explain things that are slightly beyond their capability. Adding words into your vocabulary within the context of things they all ready know can be an effortless way to help them learn. The more I think about approaching my kid's reading and writing as if they are learning a brand new language the simpler it seems. It can take a couple years for an adult studying avidly to become fluent in a second language depending on the language itself and the context of their learning. That perspective has helped think about this in a new way.

     In the end, the highest expenses you may have will be printer ink, any fees for a library membership, and possibly a few extra bucks in gas if you go to the library often or go in search for new books. Budget accordingly and you'll find it is very easy to access a lot of literature for nearly nothing!

    Don't forget to have fun reading with your littles. Reading is not only the key to escaping into whole new worlds but also to being capable of learning about almost anything we can imagine!
And for your convenience (and mine) here are the links to the first two posts of this little series:

Love Reading: Teaching Kids to Respect Literature

Love Reading: Printed Books vs. Electronic Books


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Homemade Carpet Cleaner: Dawn + Peroxide

     There are about 1000 posts about this on pinterest. I'm actually not sure where it even originated. I read about it a few weeks back and I've tried it several times on same vague grease and dirt spots where we have heavy foot traffic in the living room. So far I've had good results.

   Well, I've been working on getting our bedroom de-cluttered. (Not my favorite.) We switched with the girl's last year. There are some lovely leftover stains from their (unauthorized) acrylic paint art project. After trying some regular carpet cleaners, including Resolve and Nature's Miracle with massive spots still leftover I gave up. I hadn't gotten back around to it until now. Mind you, they got into my stash. They emptied multiple 2oz bottles of the stuff in shades of brown, white, and green in soupy globs all over the floor (and their little table, some toys, and the crib). It came off almost everything plastic and wooden ok since I got right to it but after getting up as much as I possibly could I assumed there would be a paint stain forever on the carpet.

    Not that I cared that much . . . it's the cheapest carpet available on this planet and we're in a rental. Anyway, it's still unsightly.

So here's what my results looked like:

Click to See A Larger Image

Not bad. There's definitely still some discoloration but it is much, much better. The green spot there near the top was actually from a spot of permanent marker. Yummy. I bet I could go over it again just one more time and you wouldn't be able to tell it was there.

So here's the recipe breakdown:

Hot water . . . however much it takes to fill that standard red mop bucket almost halfway.
Dawn . . . 4-5 good spins into the bucket while the water was running.
Baking Soda . . . just a few teaspoons dashed across the top
Hydrogen Peroxide . . . the kind in the dark brownish black bottle, maybe 1/4 cup

I used one of my handy dandy flat diapers and with a little bit of effort it obviously did what other cleaners couldn't quite manage. The water was definitely brown and gross looking by the time I was done with that area and a few other spots.

Next up: the chocolate syrup stain in the hallway.

Yeah, we'll see how that goes.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Choosing a Coming Home Outfit

     There are so many decisions to make when you're having a baby. Some of them, such as vaccinations, circumcision, or which form of pain management to use (or avoid?) during labor are a lot more pressing and serious. However, among all these new decisions are the fun ones like decorating a nursery or choosing a coming home outfit.

    Bottomline: you can pretty much choose whatever you want. Simple and comfortable. Frilly and detailed. Heirloom. Well-I-Don't-REAALLY-Care-This-Looks-Cute-It-Might-Fit-YAY. Something to wear over and over. Something you can pass down for the next generation. Something bought or something homemade. Something pink or something blue or something green!

   With my first, it was an easy decision. Automatic, really. Bitty Bug wore the same beautifully delicate white gown that my mother, my sister, and I wore that first day home. It's a precious heirloom. I love comparing the pictures.

    I had every intention of Sweet Pea wearing the same thing. Timing with checking out of the hospital just didn't work out so I'm thankful I brought along a "just in case" outfit. It was a soft, pink, cotton gown we happened to get as a gift when Bitty Bug was born.

    Now for the Little Pumpkin I've actually had to make some sort of an effort. Some part of me is on the Don't-Really-Care-But-Hey-This-Is-Cute. The other part of me could totally fathom spending big bucks on a specially made outfit complete with matching everything that matched the nursery and my own outfit.

   In the end, unless you're bringing baby home nude (which I'm gonna venture to claim wouldn't be recommended even in warmer climates) or using something that might hinder the safe use of the car seat or worse, void the warranty. This still leaves so many options.

Gown/dress or pants/sleeper? Gowns and dresses can work. If it's going to be chilly you're probably going to want to lay a blanket over baby or find some tiny baby leggings so their little appendages don't get cold. You'll just have to push the middle bottom out of the way to make sure the buckle of the car seat is placed properly.

Buttons, zipper, velcro, ties, or snaps? It seems like everyone has different take on what's most user-friendly.  Buttons are usually tiny and tedious. Zippers, well, I've managed to snag skin even with the strip of cloth behind it that is intended to prevent that. Velcro can actually feel stiff which might create an annoying texture on a new baby's skin. Ties may not provide very good closure. Snaps can leave gaps in the cloth which isn't ideal if you're trying to keep baby warm.  A lot of this will be based on the climate where you are. A one-piece that zips will keep in all the cozy warmth. A plain onesie with stretchy is just enough for comfort. Layering is key. That's what those plain white onesies and blankets are for!

One piece or two piece? Most newborn to 3 month outfits are either the long gown OR sleeper/romper style one piece OR a simple top or bottom-snap onesie with stretchy, soft pants. This is purely a matter of preference, I think. There may be some factors to consider when it comes to keeping any irritant off the cord nub or avoiding difficult diaper changes but most infant clothes are designed to be soft, loose, and simple. I've managed to change a diaper without taking a sleeper all the way off (even with feet in)and it's easy enough to slip little feet back in if you do pull them out. Same for pants. It really doesn't take much to slip the little pants off and on. A gown just slides up to their belly.

Shoes, booties, or socks? Any of these are likely to come off those chubby baby feet if they move around enough but it's usually a good idea to have something on their feet since they can get cold so easily. Most booties are just a slightly more structured sock. They may be a good choice for colder areas. Tiny newborn shoes are funny looking, in my opinion. Cute, no doubt, but they really serve no purpose other than achieving a certain look. No matter which you decide on there's a good chance that once you make it home you'll be pulling them off to stare at those perfect toes.

Mittens? Pretty much anywhere you shop for baby clothes you'll find tiny mittens like these. Maybe you all ready know this but newborns (especially those born a little later than average) tend to have tiny little fingernails that can scratch up their faces. Most new parents aren't quite ready to tackle clipping those microscopic things so the mittens protect them. When baby is at the birth center, hospital or home and swaddled up this won't matter so much but in the car or swing it's a nice option so you just don't have to worry about them upsetting themselves with a scratch on the cheek.

Hats? I've heard the theory that you lose most of your heat through your head. I've heard that's a myth too, at least for adults and big kids. But, with their funny proportions most of a newborn IS his or her head. There's probably no need for a bulky winter hat unless you're in the arctic but a simple knit beanie cap will keep their head covered. Babies aren't all that great at regulating their own body temp so even the littlest thing will help. Again, of course, you'll probably be slipping it off once you're home to admire their sweet newborn hair and itty bitty ears.

Boy, girl, or neutral? Obviously, if you know gender that might make this choice a no-brainer. Maybe you still want to go neutral so you can have all your kids wear the same adorable outfit home. You could pick one of each if you're waiting for the birth to find out boy or girl. I've seen way more options for neutral outfits that aren't that bright yellow or bland green lately. If you're looking for neutral something like this set from Carter's,  these options at Gymboree, this one-piece from Crazy 8, or even something silly like this onesie from Etsy. 

   Your baby will need something to wear. It's up to you. You can be as sentimental, comfort-focused, or carefree as you like. Worst case? You'll be birthing at home anyway OR the hospital will have shirts, hats, and blankets.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

FinAid and such

     Depending on financial aid to go to school really sucks. Lemme just say that. I've had a very busy week. Today was the peak of crazy with two sickly kids. Although, not so sick that they didn't manage to go and spread toothpaste on themselves and the carpet while I was trying to make emails and calls.

     Can I just say: work at home parents, I know not how you do it. I mean, I've been enrolled part time or full time in school off and on since Bitty Bug (3 year old) was 6 months old. That's hard. No doubt. I just assume that's a lot more flexible than most work-at-home jobs. I can barely make a quiet call to hubby during the day. Good grief.

     Anyway, classes are supposed to start Monday. I'm split between readiness, excitement and frustration. I may not get awarded in time to avoid being dropped from my classes. We're poor as dirt so we can't just fork out the dough for 25% of the bill right now. Particularly not when there are no refunds and FinAid is never guaranteed until you've got it in the account and signed on the dotted line. Oh well. I'll take this as a hint. Unfortunately, I won't know for sure whether I'm taking classes until I hear back from my adviser and FinAid on Monday or Tuesday. Blah. So much for getting so motivated for this semester.
     I guess I should avoid ranting.

     So yeah, it's almost 7 am on Saturday. Everyone else is asleep. I'm googling ideas to make this fall count for something. Ideas, anyone? CLEP testing is probably in the agenda. I'm sure I can focus whatever energy I'd spend on classes on ebay, my photography, and even this blog.

    Right now it seems like it will be a miracle if I finish this degree by the time the kids graduate high school. ha! 

P.S. I'm totally working on that last book-related post!!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stock Up On Food Staples For Under $100

      When we first got married we had the tiniest budget on the planet for food. We still try to keep our budget low for food and avoid eating out. We very rarely go to sit-down restaurants because that would mean either taking small kids along (no thanks!) or paying a sitter. We're fairly content making ourselves a delicious meal at home these days and on special occasions we'll splurge on things like steak. It's not easy to keep under a strict budget and eat healthy all the time. People like to make it sound like it's easy but it's just not that simple. Buying a small bunch of bananas is the same as one snicker bar? True and obviously one is a much better choice. However, when it comes to choosing higher quality versions of similar foods say whole grain bread or pasta over white or for another example organic apples over "regular" the price differences add up quickly.

      Thankfully, my mom taught us a lot about baking and cooking so I wasn't learning from scratch. We also went to the store with her a lot so price differences were evident to me well before I started shopping for myself or a family of my own. Still, keeping up a budget while buying healthy for a growing family isn't nearly as simple as buying for one on whim (want that organic, specialty ice cream from Fresh Market? One pint for $8? NBD!) or even as poor newlyweds.

     This list is made up of some of the things we buy most often or keep in our cabinets all the time. Everyone has a slightly different budget and different taste. Hopefully after reading this list you can use it to your advantage. Maybe it'll give you some ideas or inspire you to look for deals. It is based on a variety of name brands and store brands. The prices and estimates are average for this area (Northwest Arkansas) so it may not reflect anything close to what you'd see in other areas of the country. As much as I love some good local produce, organic foods, and all that I don't have the budget for being a total foodie snob all the time. If you're looking for ideas for high end brands you're in the wrong place! I shop Target, Walmart, Aldi, and Fresh Market the most and go to our local farmer's markets whenever I can. I flip through my local ads and clip coupons and orient our meals around what's on sale. You may not find prices like this at all depending on where you are but the idea that you can shop for off brands, look for sales, and buy some healthy staples for less than a bunch of processed boxes is likely to stand. Prices can vary so much anyway, especially for things like meat, produce and dairy so I spend more time than I'd like shopping around. I don't have nearly as many grocery store options as other places either. (Can we get a Trader Joe's and/or a Publix PLEASE?!) If something is overpriced for my standing budget ($8 for a small watermelon or $8 for that fancy pint of ice cream, for example) I just don't buy it. The lists, the budget, the coupons, and the prices change constantly. It's kind of annoying, really but it's something anyone can learn. Why waste money on the same sorts of foods when that money could be utilized much better elsewhere??

     All that said, now that I have some staples and things like seasonings "established" in our kitchen we spend anywhere from $400-600 a month on food just depending on our needs and wants, what I happen to have ready to go in the freezer or cabinets, and what I can manage to get for a good price on sale or with coupons. Like the title hints, I'm going to keep this list under $100. So here goes . . .

48oz Unsweetened applesauce: $2.00
It makes a great snack with (or without) some added cinnamon and also a super substitute in baked goods.

28oz Peanut Butter: $4.00
Who doesn't like a straight spoonful of peanut butter, a PB&J or some PB with apples or banana? You can get more for less if you go for the larger off-brand jar than the average on-brand jar. Natural and "organic" versions are becoming popular. The fewer additives the better but you'll definitely want to steer clear of specialty brands with fancy logos if you want to get bang for your buck (as they say).

A Dozen Eggs: $1.00 - 2.00
A healthy choice if you don't add a ton of butter or salt, eggs can be cooked up in so many ways alone, scrambled into a side, stuffed into breakfast burritos, or used in baking.

4 Bell Peppers: $3.00
Usually one bell pepper is around 75 cents depending on where you live. Chop it up and eat it raw, use in stir fry, stuff with rice and beans or meat, or add to a pasta dish.

6-8 Bananas: $1.50 - 2.00
Depending on the actual size and weight, they are very cheap. Eat them as a snack, with breakfast, or maybe on a peanut butter sandwich. For a treat they can be pureed for an ice cream texture or dipped in chocolate and frozen.

One Bag of Baby Carrots: $1.00 - 1.50
Another cheap snackable veggie that can also be steamed, added to stir fry, or a crock pot roast.

2 bags of Frozen Vegetables: $3.00 - 4.00
You have to be careful with the frozen veggies. From what I understand frozen is better than canned but, of course, fresh is usually better than store-bought frozen. I like to keep things like sugar snap peas, broccoli, and sweet peas in our freezer. Healthwise: beware of the sodium. I make a point of using seasonings other than salt when I cook frozen or canned veggies so I'm not topping sodium with more yummy sodium.

3 cans or bags Dried Beans: $4.50 - 6.00
I keep cannellini (white kidney) and black beans for crockpot chili in the winter. You can make some homemade hummus with garbanzo or maybe use refried beans for some burritos. Not to mention good ole classic rice and beans!

One Gallon of Milk: $3.00 - 4.50
Milk is expensive. It may cost even more than this in some areas. It's much cheaper to buy at stores like Sam's Club and Aldi. It goes with just about everything. We use it in cold cereal and baking. We prefer almond for drinking but it's usually twice as expensive at $3 or more per half gallon. If you can forgo it that might be a nice way to save some $$ just make sure you have another good source of calcium like cheese or yogurt.

18oz box Whole Grain Cream of Wheat OR 42oz can Old Fashioned Oatmeal: $3.50 - 4.00
These are much healthier alternatives to the typical sugary cold cereal and both can be made with water from the tap instead of milk. Add in some sugar and cinnamon or some fruit and honey and you have a tasty breakfast with a good amount of iron and fiber. 3tbsp cream of wheat or 1-1.5 cups of oatmeal will serve one person well.

1lb of Rice: $1.00-3.00
Cheap. A pound of this stuff goes a long way (should feed about 4 people, give or take, if you have small portions and/or don't go for seconds) and if you pair it with beans or meat and some veggies you'll have a very complete meal. There are lots and lots of varieties to choose from.

1lb of Whole Grain Pasta: $1.00 - 3.00
Also enough to feed four people, the price depends on what variety and what brand you might buy. Spaghetti and macaroni are usually the cheapest choices. You can make pasta in a lot of different ways. We love to make a meal with baked chicken, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, garlic, and pasta.

1 Loaf Whole Grain Bread: $2.00 - 3.00
I personally love Oroweat brand but we'll go for cheaper when we need too. Bread can be super cheap or very expensive. Some people don't ever eat much bread but we are not those people. One day I'll do a better job of making more homemade breads. For now, it's a staple on the grocery list.

24-26oz Pasta Sauce: $3.00 - 4.00
Cool people make their own. We don't. We like Bertolli but we'll buy store brand when it fits the budget better. Even cooking for four we'll only use about half a large jar. Tip: freeze what's left in a ziploc bag if you aren't going to use it relatively soon. Too many times I've had to throw some out thinking I would use it again within a couple days only to find it smells funny or growing a layer of mold. Ew. 

1lb Butter: $2.00
This is used in all sorts of recipes for baking and cooking as well as a spread on toast or sandwiches. 

48oz Vegetable or Cooking Oil: $3.00 - 4.00
Just like butter, this is used in all sorts of recipes. A little can go a long way. Some varieties like coconut or olive oil (especially EVOO) are much more expensive than say vegetable or canola. It's really just a matter of need and preference what you choose. I don't like the taste canola adds to things but I love coconut or olive for cooking (and moisturizing!) and use plain vegetable for baking.

60oz Box of Bisquick: $4.00 - 5.00
Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and a whole lot more can come out of this one box. Just add water, eggs, milk, oil or whatever the recipe (several handy dandy ones are right on the sides of the box). I like to use the Bisquick biscuit recipe as a base for chicken pot pie (or you know, just biscuits). The recipes for mini cheeseburger or chicken pot pies on are pretty great too!

1lb Baking Soda: $0.50 - 0.75
This is used in baking as well but it is fantastic for cleaning and deodorizing! Some people make homemade toothpaste with it!  You can find a huge 13.5lb bag at Sam's Club that will last you a very long time for around $7.

1lb Active or Instant Dry Yeast: $2.00 - 3.00
You can buy small packets or go for a big bag. If you want to make homemade sandwich breads, donuts, or any dough that needs to rise. There are two types: active requires you to "activate" the yeast with warm water and instant is just that. Some recipes may call for a specific type.

10lb bag of all-purpose flour OR sugar: $5.00
Flour can be used for all sorts of baked good from cookies to cakes to beads. Make homemade tortillas, rolls, cookies, or cupcakes. Sugar is used in lots of baking plus some people like to add it to otherwise plain hot or cold cereals or maybe to their morning coffee. Going for the biggest bag you can manage is a good idea because it can get used up quickly when most recipes call for several cups. (P.S. This is one of those things you can find much cheaper if you keep your eyes open! I found 5lb bags of flour at Aldi for just $1.25!)

Seasonings or Flavored Extracts: ~ $3 each
I've found that I just end up adding to my collection as I need things but some basics we use a lot are salt, pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. A little goes a long way.

Ketchup OR Mayo: $2.00 - 3.00
Or maybe you prefer miracle whip or mustard. Obviously these can go on sandwiches or burgers, top off some meatloaf or add substance and flavor in lots of different recipes. I'd venture to guess most people in America keep some or all of these on hand.

Four 5oz Cans of Tuna: $4.00
We aren't big fans of fish but we like our shredded, canned tuna. My hubby makes himself sandwiches (and our kids like this too!). We can also add it easily to pasta dishes!

1lb Ground Turkey: $3.00 - 4.00
The price of meat can vary a lot depending on what you're buying and when. I prefer turkey to beef as it's a bit healthier. It's very lean. Maybe you like beef better or maybe you don't eat meat and stick with something like tofu. I dunno. The only things turkey doesn't seem to like doing for me is sticking together for a meatloaf.  Otherwise, it's great! When prices shoot up I just don't buy it.

      Some of this stuff is very perishable and some of it will last a stupid amount of time sitting in the back of the cabinet. There are many recipes you can pull just from this list and many more that only need one or a few more ingredients.

So this is what it's going to look like based on the higher prices on my list:

Peanut Butter
1 Dozen Eggs
4 Bell Pepper
6 Bananas
1 Bag Baby Carrots
1 Bag Frozen Broccoli
1 Bag Frozen Sweet Peas
3 Bags or Cans of Beans
1 Gallon of Dairy Milk
Cream of Wheat OR Oatmeal
1lb Rice
1lb Pasta
1 Loaf of Bread
Large Jar of Pasta Sauce
1lb Butter
Vegetable Oil
1lb Baking Soda
1lb Yeast
10lb bag of Sugar
10lb bag of Flour
16oz Salt
4oz Black Pepper
2.4oz Ground Cinnamon
1oz Vanilla Extract
4 Cans of Tuna
1lb Ground Turkey
Total: ~$99.75

     Even after taxes you're not doing too terribly. If you can tack on enough in coupons then the extra tax may not even matter! (That's right, this list does NOT include the use of any coupons.)

     To give you more of an idea of what our food buying looks like. . .  As I said above, our basics are established in the cabinet and fridge. We buy 2-3 dozen eggs each week and 3-4 gallons of dairy and almond milk (both girls still drink around 16oz a day of just milk). No questions asked on those two things. We buy the same sorts of snack foods each week too like nuts, graham crackers, cheerios, greek yogurt, and fruits. Some of our much-used favorite staples aren't even on this particular list: chicken breasts, cocoa powder, coffee or tea, cheese and other baking ingredients. We sometimes like to buy orange or cranberry juice, vitamin water, or other bottled drinks but not unless they are on sale or with a coupon. The kids and I primarily drink water and almond milk. There are some things I'd buy more often if they were a little less pricey like kefir or certain cuts of meat (mmm steak!).

   So, no this isn't a complete list but I think it's a great base list. If you managed to spend closer to the low end and added in some good sales and coupons you could easily keep under $70-75 for all of it. With another $100 you could add a lot more and some random favorites without spending a crazy amount of money the rest of the month if you stick to eating at home.