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Feel Good Shopping


Goodwill the SCORE!

Originally uploaded by ShotSnaps

The temperatures are finally dropping and my favorite season – Fall! – is on it’s way. This is the time of year I go through our closets accessing our needs for the season. Between consignment sales and hand-me-downs, I usually manage to purchase everything the boys need, including shoes, for under $100.

For myself, I’m always looking for ways to dress cute on the cheap. There are many methods – raid my sister’s closets, study the latest catalogs from Boden, J.Crew and LOFT and try to figure out how I can take what I already have and look fashion forward, know when I can get the best end-of-season deals at various stores, altering down beloved clothes from the postpartum period – but the method that provides the most personal satisfaction is going thrifting.

The key here is to give yourself about 2-3 hours at a thrift store closest to the nicest neighborhoods in your area. Two hours back in July yielded this haul from my local Goodwill; all practically new, name brand and cost a whopping $17. It’s also feel good shopping because you’re supporting a local charity and practicing sustainable clothing practices. But best of all, look how cute it all is!

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A Homemade Happy Birthday


Homemade happy birthday banner
Originally uploaded by ShotSnaps

Somehow I managed to make it 3.5 years before actually hosting a birthday party for one of my children. They are usually just family affairs with cake. When John turned 2, we were in Texas and my mother-in-law organized his party. It was at a splash park and all I had to do was make the cake.

I have a really great mother-in-law. :)

James will be 2-years-old tomorrow and this morning we had a party centered around James’ favorite book: Goodnight Moon. Six little friends came to celebrate, and this is what we did:

The party started at 10:00am – snack time in Toddler World – so we had cupcakes soon after everyone arrived. A friend of mine told me about Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes, which are wonderful because they are really easy for small hands to hold and eat. The kids got to decorate their cupcakes with sprinkles and mini-M&Ms. Some of them really loved decorating, and some really loved getting to put the decorations directly in their mouths!

After cupcakes, the kids colored on the long pieces of craft paper I had taped on the table. After that I blew bubbles over them for about five minutes, which was hands down the most loved activity.

Rather than people bring gifts just for James, we had a present exchange. The first birthday party John ever attended was for a little 2 year-old boy, and this is where I got the idea. Everyone brings a $3-6 unisex gift (in our case appropriate for ages 2-4), and then everyone gets to open and take home a present. It’s nice because the birthday boy was really happy with just one present. And so many of these preschool age kids really don’t understand why one kid gets all the presents anyway.

For those keeping score at home, here’s how the expenses broke down:

  • Snapfish Postcard Invitations: $13.68
  • Postage: $2.52
  • Helium Balloons Party Favors (because you had to have the Red Balloon!): $10
  • Playdough Party Favors (that also served as balloon weights): $3
  • Two Presents for Gift Exchange: $6
  • Cake mix, ice cream cones, sprinkles, etc.: $8
    TOTAL: $40.20

I used paper plates and napkins from previous functions, and I’m not counting things like coffee or the ingredients to make scones. I also painted a banner using the kid’s craft supplies.

James had a wonderful time. I know both boys wish that every day was a birthday party day.

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Apartment Therapy


Apartment Therapy
Originally uploaded by ShotSnaps

One of our college friends is coming to visit tomorrow. Last week I started looking around our apartment with new eyes and decided to make a few changes. Our master bedroom particularly stuck out to me as in need of some apartment therapy.

I also received a nice set of makeup brushes for Christmas and they, along with Leah’s visit, inspired me to make some changes.

We have led a rather transitory life and as a result have purchased exactly one piece of furniture in the course of our entire 7.5 year marriage. Whenever I get into these little home improvement projects, in the back of my mind there is always the looming possibility that we will move again soon, which has taught me to work with what we have and buy as little as possible. So this is what I did:

Cleaned Out – So much of decorating projects seems to be centered around finding new homes for things that have somehow ended up beside your bed. My sewing supplies and my professional portfolio were removed to new homes.

Lights Up! – I purchased two inexpensive IKEA wall lamps I’ve had my eye on for a while and moved our bedside light sources off our bedside tables and onto the wall.

Vanity – I turned my old bedside table into a dressing table by buying an IKEA table mirror and a WalMart bamboo drawer organizer for my makeup (and new makeup brushes!). I also bought a tiny stool that fits under the table so I can sit down to “make myself pretty” as John calls it.

“Headboard” – Our mattress sits on a basic metal bed frame in all it’s Grad School Days glory. I am completely over this look. I started poking around the website Apartment Therapy looking for some ideas and came across a suggestion to hang an interesting piece of fabric behind the bed to give the illusion of a headboard. My “headboard” is from a $3 duvet cover I bought in the IKEA “As Is” section last fall and used to make an accent pillow for our bed. I still had the other half of the cover and tacked it to the wall after ironing it. I’m planning on sewing it and hanging it properly on a curtain rod eventually, but this was the best I could do this week.

I’m really pleased with how it all turned out. I get a big smile on my face every time I walk into our bedroom now.

What are some of your best decorating therapy tips and ideas? Pictures too!

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Grocery Shopping on $200 a Month

A few months ago on Facebook I made the big mistake of bragging that I only spend $200 a month on groceries. Since then I’ve had a number of people ask me how I manage this. I’ve put off writing about this largely because it can be one of the most boring topics on earth.

There are 1,384 ways of being a frugal grocery shopper. What works is very much dependent on many unique family variables, and ultimately you have to work out for yourself what works in your situation. But the public must have what the public wants so here we go.

Shop Once a Month – I found an interested statistic on Get Rich Slowly that said 25 percent of grocery store purchases were impulse purchases. I started paying more attention to what I was putting in my cart when I made a quick trip to the store for one or two items and realized that was true for me as well.

Plan a Monthly Menu – When I was working fulltime and a new mother, I made a weekly dinner menu because it made my life 800 times easier to come home, look at a list, and start cooking. After I realized that each grocery trip I made ended up with my spending more, I expanded this concept from one week of meals to a month of meals.

Basically, the way this works is I make a list of about 22 dinners, a list of breakfast items, a list of lunch and snack items, and a list of “special event” items such as whatever we need for Cooking Club that month or the items John is required to bring for his snack day at preschool.

One of the nice things about this is it allows me to see easily what items share ingredients so I can get the best price for something like sour cream while not getting too much (and letting it spoil) or too little (and having to go back for more).

Finally, at the beginning of the week, I look at my monthly menu list and pick the meals I want to cook that coming week. It allows me to look at my calendar and determine how much time I had to cook on a particular day, and it gives me a degree of flexibility.

This was challenging the first month or two. In the beginning I didn’t realize how many boxes of crackers we go through in a month and I had trouble coming up with meal ideas until I started bookmarking random recipes I would come across during the month.

Shop Around – My monthly shopping day looks like this: I start at Aldi and buy things like dairy products, meat, canned goods and dried fruit. Aldi doesn’t always have the same items consistently, so it’s helpful to start here. From there I hit WalMart as they tend to have the best prices on staple items like flour and sugar. Finally, I go to Kroger on the first Wednesday of the month to buy the remaining items on my list where I use my Dad’s Kroger Plus card to get his 10 percent senior discount.

Cook From Scratch – When we lived in Denmark I was forced to start cooking from scratch because the Danes have very little prepared food and it is extremely expensive and not very good. I started doing things like making my own marinara sauce, which I quickly learned is really easy and tastes so much better. Doing this you also have the added advantage of eating more healthily (no added salt, sugar or corn syrup) and being more environmentally friendly (prepared food tends to have a lot of packaging).

Eat Less Meat – Again, another something we started doing in Denmark where a pound of ground beef costs $12. With few exceptions I tend to use meat merely to flavor meals now. Where I once used a pound of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce, I use 1/3 a pound. I also cook with a lot more beans and vegetables.

Cut Back on the “Fun Food” – We all have our vices and we should still indulge them a little or this kind of thing will never work. Each month I lay in a supply of six $1 bags of chips of various kinds from Aldi, I hunt until I find Coke and Diet Coke for around $3 for a 12-pack, and I buy 12 bottles of good beer. Two of those are my own personal vices.

WIC, Baby – This is really the secret to our only spending $200 a month. We buy everything at the beginning of the month, then go back each week use only our WIC checks. They provide us with our perishable items like milk and bread, and give us about $100 a month in groceries. God bless America.

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Taking Your Working Boobs to Work

When I became a mother a little over three years ago, I started nursing and I started reading The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. From time-to-time they have blog “carnivals” where various people offer their different perspectives on the same topic. This carnival of breastfeeding is on working and breastfeeding, something I spent about eight months doing after John was born. I hope others who are or may be considering workplace pumping will find this helpful. Please check out the other carnival participants for additional information.

Breastfeeding in the workplace first entered my imagination my freshman year in college when I was on the debate team. Our topic that year was workplace discrimination, and my debate partner and I advocated a plan that required the federal government to make employers provide accommodations for nursing mothers in the workplace and to do otherwise was gender discrimination. Thanks largely to breastfeeding, there is a first place traveling debate trophy out there somewhere with my name on it.

Fast-forward almost ten years later: I had a great job as a communications director of a top-ranked public law school, Michael was in graduate school and I was pregnant with our first child. I’m the oldest of eight children, my mother nursed all of us and, much like the way we all tend almost unquestioningly do things the same way our parents did, I was planning to breastfeed. I was also planning to keep working after my maternity leave since I was the one with the good insurance and Michael had the more flexible schedule to keep the baby. Here are a few things I learned along the way about breastfeeding while working:

Take a Class, Then Take Another Class. You must take a breastfeeding class. It seems intuitive – here is a baby, here is a breast, let the feeding begin! – but you need to approach nursing armed with knowledge because it can be challenging. THEN you must take a class specifically for nursing working mothers that covers very specific topics like how to pump, how to store breastmilk, how to successfully bottle train your baby while still maintaining your breastfeeding relationship, and how to keep your supply up.

Buy or Rent a Good Breast Pump. My first two months of pumping, I used a hand held pump. During those months I made gallons of milk. I was a regular fountain of mom juice. But it still took 30 minutes for me to pump a few ounces. Then I started using an electric pump – a Medela Pump in Style – and it was worth every penny of the $250 I paid for it. Pumping now only took about 10 minutes and was much less frustrating.

I loved nursing. I tolerated pumping because I loved nursing. I could tolerate pumping because I had a great breast pump.

Find a Comfortable Place to Pump at Work. I used to think this meant buy a fluffy pillow. You know, get comfortable. But really this means find a place where you can get half naked, attach cones to your breasts and somehow manage to relax enough to effectively pump because stress doesn’t help your milk let down. Some workplaces have special areas set aside just for pumping, and some people end up in closets or in their cars. Whatever environment you have, do whatever you can to make it a little sanctuary for yourself.

I pumped at work until John was about 10 months old. I appreciated how much money we saved by my pumping rather than giving John formula. It also allowed me to reach my personal goal of exclusive breastfeeding until six months and continued nursing until 12 months and a bit beyond. But really, pumping allowed me to continue to start and end my day by cuddling and nursing my sweet little baby. There is something very unique and precious about the relationship you share with your nursing baby, and I’m glad pumping made that possible.

At one point I asked my mother how she managed to continue nursing me when she went back to work part time as a mental health professional after I was born in 1978. She told me how she would nurse me just before she went to work at 8:00am and then would half run back over to my great-aunt’s house at noon when she got off work to nurse me again. She described her feelings those first few weeks after going back to work as “schizophrenic.” To me it really underscored the great, great distances women have come both as working women and as breastfeeding women.

Other posts in the topic include:

Breastfeeding At My Family Daycare by Breastfeeding Moms Unite!
A Job Where Everyone Breastfeeds by The Milk Mama
Sorry, Facilities Guy by Momnesia the Book
Working and Breastfeeding a Toddler by Strocel.com
Working and Pumping by The Marketing Mama
Breastfeeding and working is possible, and you can make it work by The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog
Do you really need a pump? by Chronicles of a Nursing Mom
I Think This Officially Makes Me a Mommy Blogger by Vanderbilt Wife
What About Breastfeeding When I Go Back to Work? by babyREADY
My Breast Pump and I Didn’t Get Along by Stork Stories
Tips for Breastfeeding and Working by Breastfeeding 1-2-3
Breastfeeding and Working in the UK by Breastfeeding Mums
The 5 biggest mistakes working & pumping moms make by Blacktating
This is a Breastfeeding Office by MumUnplugged
Beating the Employment Booby Trap by Best for Babes
Nursing Mothers Need Workplace Support by My World Edenwild

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Ground Beef in a Leaf


Rolling Grape Leaves
Originally uploaded by ShotSnaps

“Ground beef in a leaf” is what my friend Abby calls grape leaves. Abby is my co-teacher at the little Mom’s Day Our program where I teach two days a week, and I think I’ve been weirding her out with the random things I bring for lunch, like grape leaves.

Grape leaves are always good. They are good hot. They are good cold. They are good for lunch, dinner, a snack and I’ve even eaten them for breakfast. They are a little time intensive, but totally worth it. And it’s completely hilarious when 3-year-old John tells me he wants to eat “weeves” (leaves). My friend Nikki is married to a guy who is a half Lebanese, and this recipe is largely thanks to her and her delightful Lebanese mother-in-law.

Grape Leaves

Jar of grape leaves
10-12 ounces raw ground beef
1 cup uncooked non-instant brown rice
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon Allspice
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice

Drain and rinse the grape leaves in cold water. Cut the stems off and pat dry. Mix the next six ingredients in a large bowl. Lay out a grape leaf on a piece of paper towel. Place a spoonful of mixture at the base of the leaf. Follow my Flickr pictures that guide you in rolling the leaf. The trick is to not roll it so tightly that the rice can’t expand a little as it boils. Place rolled leaves in the bottom of a standard pot, lining the grape leaves around the bottom of the pan, then the middle, and repeating the pattern on top until you’ve used up all the leaves. Fill the pot with cold water not quite covering the grape leaves and add a generous splash of lemon juice (about 2-3 tablespoons). Bring water to boil and simmer for about one hour until almost all water is absorbed.

This recipe is great with pita and fresh hummus.

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How to Shop A Children’s Consignment Sale

Last weekend was our local MOPS fall/winter children’s consignment sale. It’s hard to describe what this is to the uninitiated. I certainly had no concept of what was going on when I took my first bewildered steps into a seasonal consignment sale two years ago. Now I know that you have to approach children’s consignment sales with goal setting, strategy, training and grim game day execution. It’s like football for parents. Here’s what you need to know.

Pick A Good Consignment Sale. Ask around and find out which sales are the most careful about picking through the clothes they accept (no stains, etc.) while not being incredibly overpriced.

Sign Up for a Volunteer Shift. If you volunteer, you get a preview ticket. With a preview ticket you get to shop early and get the best selection.

Consign Clothes You Don’t Need. I did this for the first time this year. Based on my experience, you need at least 35-40 items of clothes to make this worth your while. Try to find a consignment sale that has an electronic tagging system. The tagging process is so much faster when you can type your information into this system, and it spits out printable tags with bar codes. My goal was to earn as much at the consignment sale as I spent on clothes for the season. Just take into account how much gets taken off for consignment fees and percentages ($8 and 30% in my case).

Make A List. I shop for almost everything my boys need for the season at this single event, so I go in with a list detailing how many shirts, pants, pajamas, shoes, etc. that they need and in what sizes.

Arrive Early. This will vary by sale size, but I arrived an hour early for my consignment sale and was about the 15th person in line. Bring a book. Call and catch up with a friend. It may seem a little nuts but I was the first person going through clothes in my area, where last year I ended up having to crawl under clothing racks to get to the clothes I needed to go through.

Prioritize. I have two boys. I’ve found that as the selection of boys clothes go up in size, the selection is much slimmer. So I always start with my older son in the largest size I’m buying for him. I go to consignment sales largely for the clothes, but other people may priorize toys and other large ticket items over these things. There is usually a mad dash for the area of the room with the Pack-n-Plays, glider rockers, strollers, bikes, tricycles, etc.

Bring a Laundry Basket. I brought a large cloth bag with me this year and it was completely inadequate. Plus it got really heavy. You can kick a laundry basket around on the floor as you go through clothes.

Bring Cash or Checks. While this isn’t true of all sales, many consignment sales only accept cash or checks so be prepared.

Utilize the Half Price Sale. Most consignment sales have a half off sale. If you are able to fit it into your schedule to go back for the ½ sale, this should change your strategy a bit. At the preview sale, buy only what you really love and wouldn’t want to risk not being there for the ½ sale the next day; the adorable sweaters, the practically new shirts and pants. Then come back for the ½ off sale and buy the play clothes. I ended up finding two pairs of barely worn pants made out of sweatshirt material for 50 cents each. Perfect to send John to school in because, at 50 cents, it really doesn’t matter how much paint gets splashed on them.

When the dust cleared last Saturday afternoon, I had bought almost everything I needed for my boys for the fall and winter and spent only $7. I earned $73 on items I sold and bought $80 worth of clothes and toys including four sets of pajamas, a sweater, nine pairs of pants, seven shirts, two pairs of barely-worn shoes (Keds and Stride-Rite), a 48-piece Melissa & Doug puzzle, a Little People Noah’s Ark for my Mom’s Day Out class and the $5 Clifford costume that is now John’s greatest joy in life.

Happy hunting.

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