Celebrate September

September might as well be called Celebratember in our family (except that would be a mouthful). It is filled with birthdays and all of the fun that comes with them. It kicks off with our oldest nephew's birthday, followed by our oldest niece. Another nephew, me, and my husband follow.

The month of celebration is especially nice after a summer during which two close family members left us to go to heaven. Lots of balloons and party hats and candles and smiling children can't help but bring a little joy.

The only slight wrinkle in the September bliss was my birthday. The celebration itself (over the weekend since I had a Sunday birthday) was lovely—a family trip to the zoo, eating out (for free!) at several favorite restaurants, dessert fondue with great girlfriends, cheesecake with family members, opening presents and cards—but it struck me as that birthday when I had to be grown up for good. Yep, I'm now 30.

I mentioned this to my husband. His response? I am pretty much already grown up if I am married and have a child. No turning back on this grown-up thing now, I guess. Still, it seems my 20s were still sort of "young." And it is when so many big, exciting things happened in my life—college graduation, the launching of my career, engagement, marriage, my son's birth, new friends. It feels to me as if that particular "young" chapter in my life is closed (which it is) and I am officially old (please don't snicker, people who are much older than me :-).

A few days after I turned 30, life seemed a whole lot less grim. I didn't feel really that old (although I do have plenty of gray hair). I felt like life was fresh with possibilities.

Exciting new things continue to happen in my life, regardless of my big birthday. My family is healthy and happy and wonderful. God is good and gracious and faithful, no matter how old I am. And that fills me with all the joy a 30-year-old heart can hold.


One small step...

About a month ago, Jack made his big move. We had been waiting for it for some time. We expected it to happen around 12 months, because he was on time with crawling, and early with teeth and some other developmental markers. So we figured walking would be right on "schedule" (wherever the schedule comes from).

He had a little walker wagon that he loved. We encouraged him a great deal to take a step. But he was too busy climbing—on everything—to care very much. At the same time, he was getting heavy to carry everywhere that we didn't want him crawling. (We have a big boy. He is consistently at or above the 95th percentile for his height and weight. This means some people probably thought it odd that our "2-year-old" wasn't walking yet. [Yes, people have actually told me they think he's two.])

On the eve of his turning 14 months, I moved a toy, not thinking much of it. But he wanted that toy. He took a couple steps toward it. Well, it was more like a shuffle because he was in a sleep sack at that point, headed to bed, but it counted of course.

For a couple weeks after that, it was just a few steps here and there. He's a fast crawler and wasn't interested in making the switch to being shakily upright. But now that we've passed the 15-month mark, walking has moved up on his priority list. He walks at least 50 percent of the time, if not more—and a little more every day. His steps are still slightly wobbly but he's much more confident and walking greater distances than he was just a few days ago.

So now I think I can officially say that I have a walker. And a toddler. Welcome to the world of walking, little Jack!

Doing a bit of walking today


A downtown adventure

July and August are always great times to celebrate the love that my husband and I share. It was five years ago that we met and went on our first date, and four years ago that we were married.

This year, we had the luxury of an overnight stay downtown while Grandpa and Grandma kindly spent some quality time with Jack (and apparently, he didn't scream the whole time—screaming just for the joy of hearing the noise is an interesting habit he's adopted of late). To make it more of an adventure, we turned down the offer of my parent's car (let me interject that I really wanted to accept the offer, but it was more adventurous to ride public transportation I suppose).

We got kicked out of our first hotel (So sorry, a group came in last night and we overbooked) and stuck in another one a few blocks away. This is fine, because the first hotel footed the bill for the difference, which was about $140 (since we had originally booked on Priceline). Then we wandered around Granville Island, and ate dinner at a very fabulous steak place. The next day, we ate doughnuts for breakfast, had a pre-lunch at a Chipotle-type place called Steamroller (we split a burrito), strolled through Gastown and got a couple souvenir shirts for Jack, and then made our way through some very sordid streets to Chinatown in hopes of finding dim sum.

Although it was broad daylight (well, cloudy and raining and my husband got soaked because he was very chivalrous—and didn't want to get poked in the head—and let me have the umbrella all to myself) it was a little creepy and very sad to observe the lives of people who have nothing but destructive addictions. We walked right next to a rescue mission where, in an alcove on the other side of the street, a few people were huddled with big umbrellas doing drugs and shaking. Another woman on the corner was obviously very troubled and talked randomly to herself. Heartbreaking.

Arriving at Chinatown was no better, except for a soggy stroll through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. Standing on the not-so-desirable streets, we suddenly felt uncertain about which restaurant to choose for our lunch, part II. Then we stumbled upon some graffiti with these kind words: "Kill Whitey." Um, no lunch for us. We found the Sky Train, made our way back to my hometown, and visited a local mall in search of dim sum. We found Triple O's instead. Yum. By that time, we were all out of adventure and a good, old fashioned BC burger tasted just about perfect.

This may be the most adventurous date we've had. We laughed, we ate, we got wet, we ate some more, we walked miles, and we were so happy we married each other. And that's what really matters.
Me and the Gastown steam clock

One of our favorite wedding-day photos. I love my husband!


A wonderful Grandpa

I lay down to sleep last night
All cozy in my bed
And as my mobile danced
I snuggled down my head.

Across town Grandpa sat down
To close his eyes a while
But instead of waking up like me
He woke up to Jesus’ smile.

To our wonderful father, father-in-law, and grandpa: We love you and we will miss you terribly.


Tall shoulders

We had fun celebrating Dad yesterday. Since Jack can't talk yet, I made a sign for him to give Daddy when he woke up: "Happy Father's Day, Daddy!" Then it was off to the grocery store to pick up Dad's favorite breakfast: doughnuts. Before we left for church, he and Jack opened his gifts and cards.

We had a couple family dinners to go to yesterday, so we were pretty busy, but even then my husband found time to demonstrate his good dad skills, changing some diapers (even though I told him he didn't have to on Father's Day). We also sneaked in a lovely all-family nap.

Thank you for being a wonderful Daddy and giving us your big heart and strong, tall shoulders! We love you!

And a big hug to our dads, who took such a great deal of time and energy and love to shape us into the people we are today—and still give much. We're grateful for and love you!


Money-Saving Monday: Family fun

Saving money doesn't have to be painful. Consider these suggestions (and please share yours!) for free or cheap ways to enjoy meaningful family time this summer. Actually, I've discovered that some of the cheaper activities are sometimes the most fun and memorable.
  • Get outdoors: Pack a picnic and play in a nearby stream afterward, go for a walk in the woods or on the beach, go for a night hike with flashlights, play at a park you don't usually go to, fly a kite, throw a ball or Frisbee, play tennis, camp in the backyard, splash in a neighborhood pool (usually cheap), go berry picking, or invite a few friends over to run through the backyard sprinkler or play on a slip and slide. If it's raining, don rain boots and coats and let the kids splash away through the neighborhood. Even if you're not a child or don't have children, some of these activities can be very refreshing and fun.
  • Cook together: Make a homemade pizza—or another dish that everyone can have a part in—adding sauce, cheese, and creative toppings. Then, make sundaes for dessert. Provide as many toppings as you can think of—nuts, sprinkles, whipped cream, fudge, bananas, candy pieces—and admire and sample each other's creations. Or make cookies (or one giant cookie) and decorate them together. If the weather's nice, enjoy a cookout in your backyard that everyone helps to prepare, and play outdoor games together. 
  • Find free fun: You may have free (or cheap) attractions, festivals, concerts, or other family friendly fun within driving distance that you've never before experienced. Take in an evening of music in the park or browse a hometown museum. Also, several stores—including Home Depot and Micheal's—offer free crafts and activities for kids on certain days.
  • Stay home: Pop some popcorn or make some indoor s'mores (in the microwave) and rent a movie for cheap or free (free Redbox codes are available constantly online). Have a family board game tournament, or just play a variety of games and enjoy the friendly competition. Get out old home videos and photo albums and reminisce and laugh. If you're musical, have everyone pick up their instruments and play (or sing) a few tunes in your inpromptu band. If you're artsy, set up a project you can all do and enjoy together. Or one family member can share a talent; maybe dad can teach the kids how to do a simple woodworking project. If you're ambitious, throw a thematic mini-party just for your family, such as a luau, using simple items you have around your home (or ones that are inexpensive to purchase). Do the limbo, don your Hawaiian shirts, eat a pineapple, and play luau music.


Money-Saving Monday: The mighty coupon

The coupon is a wonderful thing. But I didn't realize this until a couple of years ago. I had used coupons very rarely when they happened to land on my doorstep for something I happened to need right then, saving maybe a few dollars a year. And I took an occasional coupon on trips out to eat. But that was about it.

Since then, I've learned a lot about how coupons can come in handy for all sorts of purchases, and save all sorts of money.

Going out of my way to get coupons made a huge difference. Lots of coupons are on the Internet (such as product coupons on company websites); you'll find links to them on frugal blogs. Coupons.com and other sites devoted to coupons are great resources for loads of good coupons (see other sites on the right).  Some people subscribe to a major metro paper just to get the weekend coupons (you can get a weekend-only subscription), and they say it's more than worth it. Other sources, among many, include in-store coupon booklets, coupons that come with free samples, and coupons in magazine ads.

Many people say that coupons can only be used for things that aren't important, or that they don't buy. They claim that coupons can actually make you spend more because you'll purchase things you wouldn't ordinarily. And that can be true. But if you use them wisely, you can often get stuff you use all the time (eggs, milk, toothpaste, cereal, diapers, and more) for free or pennies on the dollar. Yes, it might be most economical to bake your own biscuits—unless you can get the Pillsbury pop-'em-in-your-oven style for free (which I have). I used to purchase the generic brand to save money. Now, my coupons often get me name-brand (and in my opinion often higher quality) products at much cheaper prices than generic ones.

One caution: Being brand-picky is typically not helpful. You might not get to buy your favorite brand of shampoo—but washing your hair at no cost ever again is too good to pass up (at least for me). Most people have some brand loyalties. Limiting those brands that are super important to you can help you save even more.

Couponing is work. Frugal bloggers make it easier by spelling out specific deals for you at specific grocery stores and other retailers. But since the savings can be so significant, it is like getting paid a decent salary for your work.

For more detailed information on couponing, check out these excellent resources:


Say "Awww"

My sister-in-law had her tiny little boy yesterday. He is simply perfect. And he has perfect, soft, black hair. Her and her husband have a beautiful family.

As we took turns holding him, my husband remarked that he couldn't quite remember Jack being that small. It was strange to think that just a year ago we had embarked on the world of parenting with a teeny bundle of our own. Now, he looks like a giant next to his newborn cousin.

It was also odd to peek into the very same hospital room where I had held my son for the first time and remember all the emotions and well wishes and, despite reading gobs and watching videos and attending childbirth classes, how extremely clueless I was about parenthood.

I think Jack seemed big at the time because he seemed like such a big deal. A big responsibility. A huge representation of change in our lives. He was placed in our arms for the next 18 years at least. We loved him more than we could express, but it was a bit overwhelming.

Now we're enjoying parenthood immensely and learning to take it one day at a time, and to enjoy little Jack's journey and our own.

And I have to admit holding the precious little guy made me think about making Jack a big brother someday.

Say "Ahhh"

While a kid with eight teeth hardly needs a dental cleaning, the staff at our dentist's office suggested bringing Jack in during my appointment for a quick peek at his pearly whites so he would be more familiar with the concept when he reappears for a real visit in a couple years.

He loves to say "ahhh" at home. Of course, he wouldn't do it for the dental hygienist. But she still managed to look inside his mouth with a little mirror and pronounce that everything looked good.

The best part for Jack was a new whale bath squirter from the treat box.

The worst part for me was that I let him play with a (clean) wipe in the waiting room (yes, I know, that wouldn't be among the criteria for the Mother of the Year award, but I didn't let him put it in his mouth and I knew it would keep him happy—for a few seconds at least). I saw the dental hygienist, flat on my back, and chatted with her as much as one can while propping one's mouth open, brought Jack in for his little visit, saw the dentist, and went out to the front desk to pay. Only then did I notice the large piece of wipe dangling from my shirt.



Money-Saving Monday: A bit too thrifty

This is not an inspirational account about how to save money. This is a simple tale of woe.

Since I had heard several people say they get really good deals by printing Internet coupons on more than one printer (you're limited to a certain number of coupons per printer, typically two), I thought it would be worth it to revive my printer. (Plus, I wouldn't have to bug my husband every time I wanted to print something at his computer.) I purchased a black ink cartridge for my eight-year-old machine, thinking I would try to spend minimal money to get it up and running. No go—the printer required a black and a color cartridge to work.

Begrudgingly, I purchased the color cartridge and took it home, where I printed a few signs for my little guy's recent birthday party. Other than a few hiccups I'd expect from older technology, everything worked beautifully.

Later, I tried to print just an ordinary black-and-white document. Um, no. Spaces in the wording made it pretty ugly. Oh well, I thought. At least I can use the color cartridge.

I printed a couple practice documents as I was preparing to print some wording for invitations I'm currently making. Great! It was good to go.

Until I tried to print the actual thing. A little red light went on, and it was very stubborn. It supposedly meant there was a paper jam but there was not even a shred of paper in it. I unplugged it and turned off my computer. When I turned the printer on, that lovely little light just stared at me. I looked up Epson's trouble-shooting site and tried all the tricks it recommended. At the end, it gave me a standardized message saying I needed to take it to get it repaired, but it probably wouldn't be worth the expense.

Thank you so much.

When I told my husband, exasperated, he inspired me with these words: "You know, you can probably get a new printer for $30." Excuse me. I paid far more than that for the ink cartridges, which I now have to throw out because they are for such an archaic machine.

I'm sure I'll get over it, but just wasting money totally annoys me.

So the moral of this story? Sometimes I can be too thrifty. And being too thrifty, ironically, can cost a great deal. I should have tossed the old printer instead of trying to resurrect it after four years of latency.

I haven't completely given up, though. And if I get it to work, I suppose thriftyness will triumph after all.


A little look back

A year ago, we took Jack's first photo with his big bear. Our little guy was just three days old.

Since then, the bear seems to have shrunk substantially. And he is now sporting a fine little party hat.

Money-Saving Monday: Party planning

Yep, it's Tuesday, and yep, there was no money-saving post last Monday. A little family vacation and then Jack's party ate up much of my time.

Unlike previous parties we've hosted, my husband and I decided to set a firm budget for Jack's barnyard birthday. It would have been easy to get really carried away because celebrating his first year seemed like a big deal to me, and there were so many fun possibilities with the farm theme. So we set the budget at $100 (not including his birthday gift and his party outfit) for invitations, food, paper goods, games, prizes, favors, and decor. I think we may have gone a few dollars over when we had to run to the grocery store for some last-minute ingredients, but basically we stuck to it. Here's how:

  • Reuse: I found various craft supplies around the house that I was able to use or repurpose for the party, including cardstock, markers, and foam shapes for paper-bag puppets we made at the party. In addition, I was able to use a candle screen and some blue fabric I had left over from my wedding to create the "fish pond" (children "fished" for candy treats), and various baskets and boxes I had to hide plastic eggs in the "chicken coop."
  • Make it: Except for a $1 stick-the-tail-on-the-donkey game, I made simple games and activities rather than purchasing them. And while I usually order a grocery-store bakery cake, my husband and I baked and decorated the cake ourselves, which was actually quite fun.
  • Shop carefully: I found several items at a local dollar store (including a straw hat for Jack) that worked perfectly, plus I used coupons and found sales on several of the items. 
  • Get free money: I wrote some reviews on a mommy website that was offering a $5 Target card for contributing 10 reviews, and earned another $5 gift card with a Target purchase. Plus, I got at $21 check from Ebates after doing some online shopping that I would have done ordinarily. This made my budget $131.
  • Splurge a little: There were some elements to the party I couldn't save much on, such as watermelon and hay bales (although the feed store staff suggested I purchase straw instead of hay for a bit less, and I did). I didn't mind spending the money because I felt those were important elements and I was able to save in so many other areas. 
How do you save on kids' or other parties while still making them fun?


A Barnyard of First Birthday Fun

Jack is one today.

That means one whole year has passed since those 12 hours of labor and ensuing C-section and waking up from the anesthesia to a brand new baby—and a whole new beautiful life with him. I remember coming to and thinking, in my morphine-engulfed state, "I just had a baby. I had a baby. Somewhere in this hospital is my baby." I asked the kind nurse all about him—how much he weighed, how he looked—and after what seemed like forever my husband stood at the door of the room with a little hospital-blanket-wrapped bundle.

I didn't look like those mommies who are made up and ready for photo ops. I looked completely awful—sweat-soaked hair, glasses, and all. I felt more than out of it from all the medication the surgery necessitated and the surprise C-section and the previous hours of labor. My husband placed him in my arms; I held baby Jack and just stared and him. I had waited to see what no ultrasound could reveal for so long. He was mine.

Fast-forward a year. So much has changed. He's grown tall (as in more than the 95th percentile tall) and has a cute little personality. He giggles and crawls and loves to be tickled. He's all boy, exploring, climbing, and reaching for everything. He splashes in his bath and intently watches Daddy work on home improvement projects. He does other not-so-adorable things, like throwing food off of his high chair tray, and letting out angry little shrieks when he doesn't get that thing he so desperately wants.

To celebrate his big first birthday, we turned our backyard into a little "farm" with a fish pond, hay field, petting zoo, chicken coop, and craft barn (all pretend of course), and invited some folks to join in on the fun. We decked out a farm-and-animal cake (see the instructions), played games, gave out barnyard-themed prizes (everyone wins when you're that small), and served up "cow pies" and "hay stacks" (cookies). The party culminated with the big cake-tasting by Jack himself. Once he figured out the cupcake animal was indeed edible, he ate it. And ate it. He only got a few crumbs on his shirt (we dressed him in it with the thought it would be nearly destroyed) because he was so excited about eating it. He also loved his first taste of ice cream.

One little baby and one short year has changed my world in the biggest—and happiest—ways imaginable.

The food table, with a wheelbarrow holding drinks

The cake

A banner of monthly photos

Jack loved his party guests pulling him around in his new wagon.

Playing games: fishing, finding eggs, and sticking the tail on the donkey (or on its stomach, actually)

Discovering how much he loves cake

Our birthday boy, ready for his nap after the big bash


Money-Saving Monday: Sharing

Saving money (and getting things free) is a wonderful way to share with others. Here are some examples:

  • Give away free stuff: If you notice a product that is free at a drugstore or grocery store, and you can't use it yourself (or you get too many of the thing to use yourself), consider giving it to a friend who could use it, or donate it a local shelter or other charity that provides services for people in need. My church assists a church in Mexico, partly by sending Christmas gifts to the children and adults. I was able to tuck a few extra things in the gift we sent this past year because of freebies from Walgreen's.
  • Donate expired coupons: Perhaps you're an avid coupon clipper, but, like me, don't always use each one before it has expired. At least two charities organize programs designed to help you get your expired coupons to military families, who are able to use them at commissaries. Check out the Military Family Coupon Project and/or the Overseas Coupon Program if you are interested.
  • Use your savings to give: Saving money on unremarkable things such as toothpaste and pasta enables us to give in a way that might make a remarkable difference to someone else.
What are your ideas for saving to share?


A year together

The family photos we took for Jack's first year were a bit of an adventure. First, we were a tad rushed because I was disorganized and late. Then, Jack didn't follow my little plan and take a nap in the car, so he was not in the mood for smiling. The photographer, who graciously accommodated my not-so-gracious lateness, jumped up and down, tickled Jack, and made every silly noise I'm sure he could think up, but still Jack just stared him down. Quite the opposite from his six-month photos; Jack could hardly stop smiling then.

He did get a smile out of him every once in a while. Here are some of the results:


So blessed

Sometimes in the midst of life, I forget. Three poopy diapers and a crazy day of deadlines and worrying about family photos turning out and cleaning my house frantically kind of rolled in a like a fog today.

It's days like these at a frenetic pace that I feel trapped, as if I need to take a step back and really see life. And then life comes into focus again when, for example, my little munchkin falls asleep on my lap, and I take a bit of time to reflect.

And I think: Really, what am I doing? How did I get here? All of a sudden, here I am, all grown up. I've had my dream wedding, complete with poofy white dress and antique car. I've spent years with the man who God designed to be my mate—laughing, talking, traveling down the journey of life. Now I have a little boy just shy of a year old. I have a flexible job with a gracious employer that lets me be a mom and still keep my brain in gear and my skills polished. My husband has a flexible job with an outstanding employer (himself), allowing him to be an even more wonderful daddy to Jack. We take family walks or go to the park in the afternoon sometimes, just because we can.

Really, my life is bursting with blessings. And that is what I want to keep in the forefront of my mind, especially when the days seem overwhelming.

Thank you, God!


Money-Saving Monday: The little stuff

My husband and I signed up for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at our church about a year ago. We were doing fine financially so we originally weren't planning to join the video-based course. But when a family member asked if we'd sign up to go with her, we said sure. We figured it would probably benefit us. And it did more than we imagined!

I highly recommend the course. It is a common-sense, plain-English approach to smart money management. It's helpful whether your finances are in line or you're completely disorganized and lost in an ocean of debt. Dave is funny, engaging, and has a lot of practical tips (and paid me to say none of this, I promise).

With a baby on the way, we might have been extra motivated to save, but the course was a little extra push to get us to save the amount Dave suggests. And maybe the biggest benefit was learning the importance of budgeting.

We've never been crazy with our money, but we hadn't kept track of every dollar either. So when we started a more disciplined process of budgeting (which still isn't in any danger of perfection), it really opened our eyes to ways we could save. Just cutting out little things here and there can make a huge difference.

Some people, for example, don't realize how much they spend at Starbucks. Those little cups of fancy-schmancy coffee are super expensive! We don't have this particular issue because we both hate coffee. However, we found that we could cut some other things.
  • We ate out way too much, and some of that had to go. We still enjoy eating out plenty, but now we have a limit that we try to stick to, instead of just going out whenever we feel like it. 
  • We also decided to cut cable (and not just for financial reasons). It's not much a month, but after 12 months, we could use our savings to purchase a plane ticket.  
  • We limited what Dave likes to call "blow money." A trip to the craft store here, and a book on Amazon.com there adds up, so now we just try to stick to some stricter limits. (OK, I admit that my trips to the craft store were probably more frequent than my husband's book purchases.)
How do you save on the little stuff?


Money-Saving Monday: Good gifts

I love giving gifts. It's quite fun to pick out presents for bridal showers and baby showers (really, what better excuse to look through teeny tiny clothes and find the cutest ones and ooh and ahh), discovering stuff for birthday gifts, and thinking about what I should get the person I randomly chose in the family Christmas gift exchange.

But let's face it: Gifts can add up.

As usual, I'd love to hear your ideas for saving on meaningful gifts. Here are some of mine:

  • Shop all year. As I find quality clearance items in online and brick-and-mortar stores, I purchase them. For example, I take advantage of Black Friday sales. In 2009, I only made it to a couple stores' sales, but I scooped up Christmas gifts for my son and gift exchange person, a birthday gift for my father-in-law, and a Father's Day gift for my dad—all great deals. My husband chuckles that I purchase gifts so early, but why not? It saves not only money but also later time and the stress of finding a suitable present.
    Some items that I purchase are more generic, which I use for prizes at parties or hostess gifts or something similar. Some are just perfect for a particular person, and I tuck them away for that individual's birthday or other special occasion, even if it's months away. If online, I purchase several gifts at once so I have the minimum purchase amount for free shipping (for stores that offer such deals).
  • Ship in a suitcase: I only visit my far-away family a couple of times a year, but when I do, I try to bring with me gifts for the next several months' birthdays and celebrations. This saves me shipping costs and no doubt the gifts are a little prettier since I bring wrapping supplies with me and put the presents together there.
  • Offer your talent: It's true that the most meaningful gifts come from the heart. Use your talent to offer a loving gift or a thoughtful act of service.
    I'm not too crafty, but it's fun to make my own greeting cards on occasion, which save a little and seem more personal. I've also made people small photo albums of memories and written and framed poems.
    A few years ago, I purchased a frame with three photo openings to give my dad for Father's Day. On one side, I inserted a picture of my little-girl self with my dad; on the opposite was a picture of the two of us walking down the aisle on my wedding day. The center photo opening held a poem of gratitude that described our close relationship through the years.
  • Recycle: You might think this is terribly tacky, but I know I am not alone: I re-use gift bags and tissue paper that are in good condition. I think I'm set for life for baby gift bags after many generous people gave me beautifully wrapped presents in anticipation of Jack's birth.
    I admit I have on occasion also recycled gift cards. If I receive a gift card I am not particularly excited about using for myself, I use it to purchase a gift for someone else.


Almost one!

Before I had my little boy, I was astounded at how sentimental moms seemed when their daughters and sons were approaching their first birthdays. Now I am standing in their cute mommy shoes and I know exactly what they mean.

The other night Jack fell asleep in my arms and I just sat and stared at him for a long time, watching his tiny eyelashes and perfectly round cheeks and listening to his soft breathing. I want to hold on to moments like that and tuck them away forever. I never want to forget Jack's first-year baby months as he goes through potty training and preschool plays and spelling words and school sports and (gasp!) college. It's hard to believe that here they are, drawing to a close.

Jack, however, is not waxing sentimental. He's giggly and fun and crawling and cruising like crazy. He still loves to put most things in his mouth but he's learning more and more how to actually play with toys and keep himself amused for a time. It would be his dream come true to crawl into the dishwasher, but we don't let him.

He likes to eat still, but some days he's pickier than others. However, he has rarely turned down cheese, applesauce, apple juice, or yogurt. Veggies are a whole different matter.

So here's to one more month of official babyhood before the barnyard birthday and a dive into his own piece of cake signal that toddlerhood has officially arrived.


Snip, snip, snip

The sentimental mommy within me procrastinated this haircut forever, but Jack's hair was growing over his ears and collar and getting rather unruly on top, and his first-year photo shoot is fast approaching.

I worried that he would wiggle like crazy or maybe even cry, but he kept reasonably still and took it all in for a time, and then got a little squirmy near the end. And my patient hairdresser took it all in stride.




Money-Saving Monday: Indoor Dates

Since Jack was born, it has become more of an ordeal to go on a date with my husband. No more hopping in the car and heading out to do something fun and romantic at the last minute. And less planned-ahead, more-elaborate dates. We have entered the world of babysitters, working around a baby's schedule, and making our little guy a priority as we do things as a family. 

We waited two years before becoming pregnant so we could enjoy just the two of us for a time, and then fully enjoy our children together, never needing to wish we could go back in time. Devoting time to diapers and cooing and crawling races full of giggles is truly a joy (except maybe a few particularly potent diapers!).

But at the same time, keeping our marriage relationship strong is important. So we have found time for indoor dates instead.

This type of dating comes with a perk: It's a money-saver. As it turns out, we can cook up a fancy dinner with appetizers and a quality cut of steak and a tasty dessert and still save over dining out. I tried a few tips from this The Motherload post and found them helpful and delectable.

We also do simpler indoor dates, such as renting a movie and making brownies together to munch during the film, or playing Scrabble and eating favorite snacks (have you noticed we love eating?).

I think this concept can apply whether you're single or married; before tying the knot I had fabulous times with my friends having potluck dinners and playing board games (and still do!).

What are your fun indoor/cheap date or entertainment ideas?


Money-Saving Monday: Stockpiling

Stockpiling is the art of finding free (or practically free) stuff and acquiring lots of it so that by the time you need more of that particular thing, you can find an excellent deal on it again. This works especially well for toiletries and for food items, such as cereal or pasta, that have a long shelf-life.

Recently, I've been stockpiling more things. Last week, for example, dental floss and shampoo were free at Walgreen's, so I got several of each. Cake mixes were on a great sale at my local grocery store, so I stocked up on those, too. I'm looking forward to using this strategy to really cut down on our grocery spending. (I've done this for a while with toiletries such as toothpaste and shaving cream.)     

The one little wrinkle in the stockpiling plan is storage. My husband cleaned out some cupboards in his office so we could keep some of our extras there. We also use cupboards in the laundry room and the linen closet for some items. It's amazing how motivating it is to create room for free stuff!

Do you have any stock-piling tips or creative storage solutions? Please share them!      


A very happy little Easter

Everything—especially Easter—becomes a bit more delightful with a little one in tow. Something about the beauty of the Resurrection and of new beginnings and of spring winds and blooming flowers makes the heart a little lighter.

Conveniently, Jack recently learned how to put items into a container, so that will be helpful when we have our own little Easter egg hunt tomorrow. He got some practice (below) at a playgroup Easter party.
Oh, the wonder of spring!


Money-Saving Monday: Shopping Around

I am not a money-saving expert by any means but I have tried in the last year or two to follow frugal blogs, clip coupons, and watch for deals.

However, I think I could do a lot better when it comes to groceries. Typically,  I grocery shop at one store (Wal-Mart) and use the coupons I have for the things I need (or can stock up on). I save $10 or $15 doing this. Lately, however, I've realized I can save a great deal more on our food budget.

Yesterday, we were having dinner guests so I ran to a nearby grocery store (City Market, a Kroger store) to pick up some last-minute items. While there, I noticed that there was a very good sale that included items we reguarly use: pasta, pasta sauce, and salad dressing. I ended up with 16 extra items, but the sale meant I saved about $30 on those items. I also noticed that that the price on Betty Crocker cake mix (for which I have a coupon) was cut to $1, and that Pantene shampoo, for which I have a $2 coupon, was $2.97. I will be headed back there, coupons in hand.

This inspired me to read fliers and visit other stores at least once in a while, instead of just assuming Wal-Mart has the lowest prices (it obviously doesn't). While it's a bit of a hassle, the savings might well be worth it!

Do you shop at various grocery stores or just one? What has worked best for you?


Ten terrific months!

Sometimes when I look at little Jack I am a little excited and a little saddened to see that my baby is growing into a little boy. We have many adventures ahead of us, I am sure!

At month 10, he has eight teeth and no doubt more will pop up soon since he's been teething of late. He crawls everywhere, loves to explore, and has a nifty little talent of high-powered crawling when he is headed for some mischief. He still delights us with his happy noises and precious little giggles; he's added some new and creative sounds to his repertoire of late. And he loves music; he often bops or sways to tunes, enjoys clapping, and occasionally we hear him with singing along to a CD we have playing (with his own words, of course).

He's making progress toward walking (he walks behind his walker toy and around furniture) but can't seem to see the point when crawling works so splendidly.

Hard to believe we are heading so soon toward birthday number one!


A teddy bear to love

This teddy bear is adorable; I found it as a link from one of my friend's blogs, who is a talented teddy bear designer (I'm sure that's not her official title).

The good news is that this particular beautiful hand-crafted bear is being given away by the its creator, Ginger, on her Bearbits blog. The contest is open until March 31.


Money-Saving Monday: Baby Bargains

It's actually Tuesday, but since Money-Saving Tuesday doesn't have the same nifty alliteration, I'll stick with the title even though I'm a day late.

Since I have had my baby boy (and several months prior), I have been engrossed in the world of strollers, diapers, and toys. This has challenged me to make my little one's world sparkle, saving money all the while.

My husband and I had fun doing our inexpensive nursery. We found bargains and reused some things from other parts of our home. But not so long after the nursery was complete, our little Jack came along, which meant reasons to find even more bargains. Here are some great ways I've found to save money:

  • Read Baby Bargains. I am forever grateful to the person who recommended this book to me. It's especially helpful for major purchases when you're preparing for baby. It includes reviews and ratings based on cost and quality for many different baby products, including car seats, strollers, diapers, cribs, toys, and more. As a first-time parent, I was overwhelmed with all the brands and choices and safety claims and gadgets. I wondered if I didn't have this or that if I would be a terrible mother or perhaps my baby would implode. This book is really helpful in that department plus it identifies as the best deals (for price and quality). Then you can watch for sales on the best-deal products you select.  
  • Watch for diaper deals. Frugal bloggers (see right side) are a wonderful find in this area. They are constantly posting deals or coupons. Friend Pampers and Huggies on Facebook for more deals. Subscribe to the Babies R Us (which, outside of wearhouse clubs, have the best prices on large boxes of diapers in my area—even better than Walmart) flier and wait for sales. They often offer gift cards or discounts. Some people would rather use no-name diapers to save; this can work, too, but if you are willing to spend time clipping coupons, major brands can be the same price or cheaper (and perhaps better quality, depending on your opinion).
  • Join diaper clubs. This is mostly just for fun, but both Pampers and Huggies have reward programs. They are free to join; members enter codes found on diapers and wipes (and on frugal blogs) and collect points to win prizes. Just the other day, I got my first reward—a free toy—from the Huggies Enjoy the Ride rewards program. It was about a $10 retail value and provided some extra entertainment for Jack. 
  • Buy consignment or use friends' gently used equipment and clothing. I am pretty picky about used clothing that I purchase, but I have found some quality (and even new) clothing at yard sales. And friends who have given us clothes are wonderful (thank you!). I still have fun buying my little guy cute new clothes, but we sure have to buy a lot less. Since most babies are in and out of sizes in a flash, it seems crazy to spend gobs on little clothes. One caution in this area: Beware of purchasing/getting used car seats (could be damaged if they have been in an accident) and other major equipment, such as cribs, that are older and may not be up to current safety standards.
  • Save on toys. Toys R Us, Babies R Us, Amazon, Target, and other stores often have toys on clearance. Combined with coupons, toys can be nearly free. If you are looking to get a few more toys for your little one, watch for these types of sales and take advantage of them. For example, Babies R Us had a sale recently: buy one Fisher Price toy, get one free. I had a gift card that I received from a diaper deal, plus 2 $5 coupons. We walked away with four new toys that would normally have totaled $110 for about $35.
  • Get free stuff. See my previous post for ideas, but I have received free diapers, a board book (one of my son's favorite books), a sippy cup, and more baby-related items.
Please share your ideas for saving on baby stuff, too!


Money-Saving Monday: Free Stuff

Recently I asked my Facebook friends about their best money-saving strategies. A couple of them said the obvious: Don't spend it. That's a pretty good idea.

While there are lots of ways to avoid spending money, one of the most fun is getting free products. We haven't, for example, paid for toothpaste in at least a year, and we have seven free tubes sitting in the cupboard, so we're not going to run out any time soon. Here are some easy ways to get free stuff:

  • Follow frugal and freebie blogs. There are dozens and dozens of these types of blogs; a few are listed on the right side. Find the ones you like and check them regularly,  follow them on Facebook, or sign up to get daily emails that highlight their posts. This is a fabulous way to find giveaways from companies. Some give small samples; others mail you coupons for free products or send you a full-size version of the product itself. Thanks to these amazing bloggers, I've received free diapers, a sippy cup, a ABC board book, baby food, coffee, and many other products.
  • Combine coupons and sales at drugstores, grocery stores, and discount stores. Again, the frugal blogs are an excellent help. The bloggers take the time to figure out the best deals based on fliers and current coupons. Print or clip coupons (again, look to the right for some sources) that come along if you might possibly use the product. Unless you need the product right away, wait for a sale to come along (often highlighted by a blogger). You'll often be able to get things for free—and even make money on the deal. For example, this week at Walgreen's Colgate Total toothpaste, priced at $3.99, comes with a $4 Register Rewards coupon that you can use on a future purchase. Combine it with a $1 off coupon, and you'll make $1.01 off the purchase. 
  • Join online money-making programs. Two I've joined are Swagbucks and Ebates. Swagbucks is a program that gives you points for doing various simple tasks, such as searching the Internet using its search engine and shopping at various online stores. It's simple and fun. You can redeem the points for prizes, such as Amazon.com and Target.com gift cards. Ebates is a program that gives you certain percentages of cash back for shopping through its site at various Internet stores that you'd shop at anyway. Every once in a while, a check arrives in the mail—free money.
I'd love to hear your tips for getting free stuff. Happy saving!


Money-Saving Monday

Don't worry—it's still Friday. But since Monday is right around the corner, here's a small preview.

Becoming a stay-at-home mom is most rewarding, but it's also reason to be a bit more careful with the family budget. I've been extremely inspired by reading frugal blogs and other resources and discovered that I love getting free and cheap stuff! It's fabulous to not have to spend money on things like toothpaste and cereal and be able to free up room in the budget for vacations or toys for my little guy or giving or paying down the mortgage or any number of other things.

To keep me disciplined and perhaps help others (and maybe make your Mondays a tad less foreboding), I thought I would weekly share some of the dollar-stretching tips I've learned from excellent frugal blogs, books, friends, and experience.

In the meantime, be inspired by this super coupon queen. Watch this ABC newscast about a woman who is so determined that she literally feeds her family for $4 a week.


Life after cable

Before I married my husband, I had never had cable TV. My parents weren't that into TV; we didn't even have a television until I was almost a teen, and even then we used it mostly for watching movies. So when I lived on my own I didn't feel any need to fork over the fees for cable shows.

My husband has never not had cable, and so when we married he just kept his subscription and I enjoyed the luxury of watching TLC shows, NCIS reruns, and movies on demand.

Being parents had made us rethink some things—and I'm sure it will change our lives much more dramatically in the future. We opted to cancel cable TV. It's saving us a little bit, but mostly we cared about the character development of our little guy.

I'm not by any means saying you can't have hundreds of channels and raise kind, godly children. But for us, it was the best choice. We found ourselves watching shows with language and action that could be a detriment to Jack's little life—while he was in the room—and probably did nothing for us, either. Even commercials are pretty tasteless sometimes.

Anyway, this cutting off of cable came as a bit of a shock to the system when we were used to watching TV at night when we felt like doing nothing else, or in the morning to catch the news. The other day I came to the realization that the living room is pretty underutilized these days. It was an eye-opener to recognize that most of the time we spent there was consumed with TV.

In the past few days, we've rediscovered another item in the living room—our piano—and enjoyed making music as Jack pounds away at a few keys he's figured out how to reach. We didn't spend excessive time in front of the tube before, but we've been doing more reading, playing games, and talking. (Admittedly, we still watch a few favorite shows online—but that's also time we spend together since we make a point to do so rather than aimlessly channel surfing.)

We may head back to the land of cable someday. But for now, we like it here.


Nine months already?

It's hard sometimes to believe that little Jack has been growing, changing, and making us smile for nine months. On the move (crawling and pulling himself up to stand), he likes to get into everything. Despite the fact that we bought more toys for him, he still loves to grab onto the hot water heater, rip paper, pull CDs of the shelf, and get into other little bits of mischief. But he charms his way through it all (most of it, anyway) with a seven-toothed grin.

I love this little guy and am so blessed to be his mom.


Yes, I still scrapbook

I have to admit that my scrapbooking goal (get caught up on my albums) did not so much get accomplished before Jack was born. My intentions were glorious, but all the moms who warned me that it was highly unlikely to happen were absolutely spot on. (Feel free to say, "Told you so!")

After Jack popped his little head into the world, I spent entirely too long making baby announcements (they weren't super fancy, but it just took a while); in fact, the last ones were sent when he was three months old. Then I made two mini albums for each set of Jack's grandparents that feature pictures of his grandparents holding him when he was fresh and new, and his one-month portraits.

Currently I'm working on one more project (a surprise for someone so I can't say). I hope to finish it this weekend.

And then, at long last, I will try to get caught up (currently, I'm on December of 2007) so I can get on top of Jack's baby book. My goal is to at least start on it by the time he is a year old—and I hope sooner (even if I'm not totally caught up on my other albums). I'll try again to use this blog as a form of accountability for myself so I won't sidestep my goal this time.

We shall see...


Eight great months!

We celebrated Jack's eight months by going to a local park and seeing the animals there: deer, bighorn sheep, and bison. It was great fun and the park (a big tourist attraction) was very quiet since most of the attractions had closed down for the day. Even though it was rides-shutting-down time, the older man running the carousel said there was one more ride of the day and let Jack ride on it with Mommy.

Jack's big accomplishments this month were crawling (and he gets a little braver about exploring the house every day), standing (while holding onto something), and the pincer grasp (picking up finger food and getting it into his mouth). It's so much fun to see him grow and grow and grow...

Related Posts with Thumbnails