Monday, August 3, 2015

A Letter To My Daughter

Dearest Hope,

You are going to be 2 years old in under three months. Lately I've found myself reminiscing about the days when you were tiny. But I also think a lot about your future.

I know that someday you will ask me how old you were when you did things like roll over, crawl, and say your first word.

I will remember some of these things, others are written in your baby book(s). But sometimes I won't have an answer, I already don't remember and I forgot to write it down. You might feel like I failed part of my duty as your mother. (I would know, I thought it about your Nana when I was young and didn't know any better).

I want to tell you something though. I want to tell you a few of the things that I DO remember.

Some of these memories are wonderful, some are sad, or hurt, others might seem selfish. But all of them are part of our journey together.

I remember texting your daddy a picture of that little blue line.

I remember being so scared that we would lose you like Noelle and John.

I remember how I felt when we found out we were having a girl, and we chose your name right then and there.

I remember seeing your beautiful face for the first time.

I remember the nightmare of trying to breastfeed you, and then being attached to the pump every 2 hours for the next 10 days.

I remember how your daddy got up with us every 2 hours to help feed you while I pumped. I also remember how much I cried when he went back to work only a week after you were born.

I remember the joy and relief when you finally latched and nursed and I knew I could put the pump away!

I remember your first real smile.

I remember the first time that Daddy and I left you with Nana so that we could go on a date. It was wonderful and scary all at once.

I remember how proud I was when you started using sign language, even if I don't remember exactly how old you were.

I remember that you got your first two teeth a week before your 1st birthday. (See, there's an age)

I remember your love/hate relationship with the insane outfit I put you in for your birthday party.

I remember all the people that showed their love for you that day.

I remember how excited you were to open gifts on your second Christmas. Just to unwrap them though, you didn't care about what was inside.

I remember when you got your first stomach bug. My heart hurt so much for you.

I remember the smile on your face at Easter when you saw your basket of eggs.

I always remember your laugh.

It also takes a lot of brain space to remember your favorite songs, toys, books, tv shows, and foods. I promise to do my best to to always keep up on those.

Then there are a few things that I pray I remember forever.

I want to remember how excited you were a couple days ago when I bought you a slide. You must have gone down it 100 times already.

I want to remember the way you tease Daddy and me when we ask for a hug or kiss.

I want to remember how beautiful you look when you are sleeping beside me.

I want to remember the sound of you and Daddy playing while I cook. The sound of him making you laugh.

I want to remember how strongly you feel emotions, especially joy.

So my sweet girl, ask away. I will give you answers when I can.
But remember, for every blank space in those baby books, there is a memory that is 100 times more important to me.

Love, your Mama

Friday, July 31, 2015

8 Ways Our Family Is Saving Money

Mr. Crunch and I recently made the decision that I needed to stop caring for other people's children because it was severely affecting my mental health. I won't go into details, and I still have things to work on, but removing that stressor has done wonders for my mood. 
(I believe strongly in removing the stigmas surrounding mental health. That is a post that I am slowly working on.)

The drawback though, is that we removed a somewhat steady income of $60 to $120 a week. Someday I want to use blogging for income, but even if I started now, it would be a very long time before I made any money, much less that amount.

There are lots of ways I could make money, in the home or out, but none of them are in line with my current need to take care of myself and my family.

That leaves us with the ever so obvious option of cutting costs. There are several ways we already do this, and many that I can be stricter about. 

1. Cloth Diapering: 
I hadn't been consistent in using them during the day. Hope has sensitive skin, so the brand we have to use is $9.99 for a package of 27 diapers. That price adds up quickly when I use them during the day, even just sometimes. But if we only use them at night, the package lasts almost a month. Major savings.

2. Minimizing Baby Wipe Use:
Mr. Crunch is absolutely against cloth wipes for poop, he tried them and won't do it anymore, and to be honest, I prefer disposable wipes most of the time too. But again, with Hope's sensitive skin requirements, we buy somewhat expensive wipes. I am now more careful to only use the wipes for poop diapers. Sure it's convenient to grab a wipe for grubby toddler fingers, but wetting a washcloth saves money in the long run. Those pennies add up!

3. Cloth Napkins:
I prefer cloth napkins now, so I have no desire to return to paper. We store them in a basket on the back of our dining room bench and I wash them with our kitchen towels. My napkins were given to me as a gift, but buying them doesn't cost a ton up-front, so still very worth it!

4. No Paper Towels:
I bought a couple packages of inexpensive barmop towels a little while back, we haven't looked back. I do keep a roll or two of paper towels hidden in a cabinet for microwaving bacon or cleaning up during stomach bugs.

5. Mama Cloth
This one is more...controversial? Not really the word I'm looking for, but it works. I know this isn't for everyone, I thought it was gross when I first heard of it. Mama cloth are simply reusable menstrual pads (TMI yet?). I have always hated tampons, so a menstrual cup doesn't appeal to me, but I have several friends who use and love them if pads really aren't your thing. I find them super easy though, I just wash them with Hope's cloth diapers every couple of days. I also made several of mine to save even more money, but honestly, I much prefer the ones I bought.

6. Money Saving Grocery Apps
This is a combination of immediate and long term savings. For immediate saving I use the Target Cartwheel app during our monthly trip to Target. I use Ibotta and Walmart Savings Catcher for long term saving. These rebates are not counted towards our monthly grocery budget since I only use them for things we would already buy. Instead, I'm saving those rebates for Christmas shopping. I'm hoping to avoid using any of our normal budget for Christmas gifts.
(I know there are other apps that can be used, but I didn't find them to be worth my already limited time. I am always open to suggestions!).

7. Limit Gas Use
We are a 2 car family, it's not necessary per se, but it keeps me sane. In order to afford this, we have minimal insurance coverage, and I limit my gas use. I only fill my car once a month. If I run out of gas, I don't go anywhere. I can of course save some spending money for gas if I really want to go somewhere at the end of the month. Fortunately, I get great gas milage and don't usually go far. It's also common for me to go places with my mom and sisters, meaning we take their van because we need the extra seats.

8. Freeze Our Debit Cards - Literally
We have never used credit cards, so that is not an issue. But Mr. Crunch and I both have difficulty with impulse buys, usually small amounts of money, but we all know how quickly those add up. In order to curb this spending, we froze our debit cards in cups of water, labeled them with the date, and challenged each other to see who could keep theirs frozen the longest. Winner gets to choose a location for date night (within our date budget of course), while the loser has to scrub every inch of the bathroom.
In order to prevent 'budget resentment' we both get a small amount of cash each week to spend or save however we want. When it's gone, it's gone, and the only person who 'suffers' is the spender.

Mr. Crunch gets his paycheck on Thursday night. He leaves it out for me to deposit on Friday morning. Hope and I take a walk down to the bank, deposit his check, and take out cash for spending, groceries, and gas. It gets us out for a walk and keeps us on budget!

These are only a few of the ways we save money. I pray that some of these suggestions can help you stick to your budget or reach your saving/debt payoff goals!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Surviving Mass With A Young Toddler

 Going to Mass since The Minion became mobile has been a challenge to say the least. Sometimes, especially when Mr. Crunch is gone, I seriously consider staying home. If I'm being honest, I have stayed home a few times because just thinking about going is overwhelming and stressful.

The Minion is 20 months old on Tuesday and I think we are finally through the hardest time. Not to say it's easy now, but I no longer feel like bursting into tears halfway through Mass, today I didn't have to leave the pew and stand in the back with her, NOT ONCE! I am absolutely sure I just jinxed myself, but at least I have hope.

Did my daughter magically become an angel child? (No way, as evidenced by the grapes all over my dining room floor). Is 20 months a magic age? (No, some kids are never this hard, and some are worse for longer). So what happened? Time and consistency. We have been going to church almost every Sunday since she was 4 days old. Plus she is finally getting old enough to understand the limits of the pew.

First, let me say, this is my only child. I am by no means an expert. This is all compiled from advice that was given to me, things I've tried, and things that I've seen other parents do.

What to bring:

Cheerios or Goldfish in a snack cup are great options. I've seen parents with crackers, popcorn, fruit loops, pretty much anything that is dry and easy to sweep up. Tip from one of my mom friends: fruit gummies are nearly impossible to get out of a carpet when they have been stepped on, don't bring them to Mass.
Oh, and don't forget a drink, water is easy clean-up.

Prayer books are always good, but really, any book that doesn't roar, sing, chirp, or make other loud (embarrassing) noises during the consecration.

Same rules apply as books. Pretty much anything that doesn't make noise. I try for soft or rubber toys because they aren't as loud when they get banged on a pew or thrown on the floor, but whatever keeps the kid happy. Happy kid noises don't bother people nearly as much as unhappy ones.

Crayons/Pencils and Paper
Bring at your own risk. This has worked for us though.

Now What?

1. Pick a Mass time that works for your schedule.
Before The Minion was born and when she was little, we usually went to the noon Mass at our church in town. We enjoyed staying in bed, eating a big breakfast, and basically just lazing around before Mass. The problem now is that we usually eat lunch around 12:30, then naptime is around 1:30. Expecting a toddler to be contained from noon to 1(:15) when she is tired and hungry is a recipe for disaster. I recently discovered that waking her up and taking her to Mass at 8am works really well, she is still sleepy for the majority of Mass and mostly cuddles, nurses, or plays quietly. But 8am doesn't work for Mr. Crunch's work/sleep schedule. So when he is home, we try to go to 10am Mass in the next town over. The short drive is worth it for a happy toddler, plus they have more space in the back of the church for kids to wander.

2a. Let your child pack their own church bag
I only figured this out today. I let my Minion pick her own books, and toys. Then I had her put them in her bag along with her cup and goldfish. For the first time ever, she was actually interested in reading her books instead of precariously flipping through the church song books (Why has nobody figured out that those pages need to not rip so easily??).
Remember that too many choices can be hard for toddlers, so let her pick from just a couple of her favorite books and toys.

2b. Have designated toys and books for church
Keep a bag by the door or in the car with a few toys, books, and snacks that are specifically for Mass. Don't let her play with anything in the bag unless you are at church.

3. Find ways to prevent a morning rush
Obviously this isn't always possible. But if it's a problem for you, maybe try picking a different Mass time. When we go to 8am Mass, I try to make sure I'm totally ready before waking The Minion up. Then I tell her that we are going to church, let her pick a dress, let her pack her bag, and generally just take our time. (I try to do this with all our outside activities, not just church.)

4. Be consistent
It may seem like the easy way out, but the less often you go to Mass, the harder it will be for your toddler. Kids need consistency and routine in order to thrive. If going to Mass isn't familiar to them, there is a higher chance of meltdowns and they will have a much harder time staying in the pew.

5. Engage your child in the Mass
It's ok to talk a little (in a soft whisper of course) to teach your little one what The Mass is all about. Start with the practical aspects: "Listen to the pretty music." Do you see Mr. Smith? He is reading us a story about God."
My daughter's favorite part is when the bells ring during consecration and I tell her "Jesus is here now!"

6. Remember...
Just because you have walked into church doesn't make your toddler any less of a toddler. She still can't sit still, he still hasn't learned to whisper, she still hates shoes, he still loves to talk to every person he encounters. All of that is OK. Really.
The little old lady sitting behind you loves interacting with toddlers because she misses having them.
The teenager doesn't care because he is looking for every excuse not to pay attention to Mass.
The young couple can't wait until they have a toddler of their own.
The other parents aren't paying any attention to your kids because they have their own to worry about.

If your child is yelling, running around, or has a tantrum, remove them temporarily. That is simply respectful of those around you. But a bit of whining or normal toddler exploration is no reason to leave. You getting up every 5 minutes is probably more disturbing than a little noise.

My Minion likes to sit on the floor just outside the pew. She doesn't wander off or bother anyone, she just plays at the opening to our seats. This would only be a problem during communion, and she is very much occupied by other things during that time, so it doesn't matter. She will learn to sit quietly with us in time, as we teach her.

Someone got annoyed at your toddler? Say a prayer for them. Maybe they are having a hard day/week/year. Maybe they just can't see how much joy a toddler has. Whatever their reason, that you don't know, say a prayer. Then sit near someone else next week.

7. Read this post
and remember that bringing your children to church MATTERS.

*images from Google search

Chime in: Do you have trouble with your toddler in church too? What tips do you have for us parents in the trenches?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Harry Potter Closet

We have this wonderful closet under our stairs, we call it our Harry Potter Closet (for obvious reasons).

This is the perfect place to store seasonal items that we aren't using, Winter coats go there in the summer and flip flops in the winter. We also keep gallons of paint and paint supplies in the very back since the closet is wonderfully deep.

It also happens to be a convenient place to shove things that don't really have a home. Like unused carseats (one of which was crashed and can't be used anymore!)


Got rid of the crashed seat, stored the other one in the nursery for now.
Several of my shoes are from my days as the office manager at a local opera house. I had to dress up regularly and wore heels a lot. All of those fancy heels went in the yard sale pile, along with many other pairs of shoes that I don't wear anymore, and haven't worn in a very long time.
Army backpacks went in the closet with my husband's other Army gear (go figure!)
Maternity clothes that were given to me, but are either ugly or way too big, went in the yard sale pile.
Hat on the door went upstairs with my other hats.
Yoga mat.... I used it once, the day after I bought it.... probably 3 years ago.... Yard sale.
Outdated phone books - recycle bin. (who even uses phone books anymore?)
A big pile of manuals and various notes left by the previous home-owner has yet to find a home. I am working through our 'filing' boxes today though. They will soon have a proper (and useful) place.

Embarrassing story time:
This winter we got a leak in the ceiling of the playroom. It was caused by an ice dam in the upstairs porch, which was caused by too much snow on the roof above it. We hired someone to come clear the snow and the leak went away.
While cleaning out this closet, I re-discovered all the notes that the previous homeowner left us. Right on top was a note telling us to clear the snow off that roof because it will cause leaks.
Homeowner Fail.

That is what poor organizational skills and clutter will do to you.

Aaaaaaanyways, I know you are ready for that after picture now!

We actually wear all those coats at various times throughout the year. Darn New Hampshire weather.
The 2 pairs of heels/wedges that I actually wear. Plus a pair of flats (my other 2 pairs of flats joined them)
Our flip-flops hadn't come out for the year yet.
2 bags stayed on the door because they have winter hats and mittens in them (one bag for my stuff and one for the kid stuff)
Basket of winter boots and maternity sneakers. Mr. Crunch's winter boots don't fit in the basket.
A single backpack (far right) that Mr. Crunch actually uses pretty regularly.
Paint and supplies in the back are actually accessible now!!

All in all, this turned out to be a super successful project.

Chime in!  Leave your decluttering victories (or failures) for this week in the comments.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Homemade Orange Cleaner, with a bonus superpower!

Every frugal homemaker has come across the idea to use vinegar as a cleaner. But I don't like the smell of vinegar on its own, I'm also not sure I trust its supposed disinfectant qualities. So instead, I make an orange infused vinegar cleaner. 

Orange peels have lots of great qualities that make them perfect for cleaning. These qualities include being anti-microbial and anti-fungal source 

To make the cleaner, you will need
2-4 Large Oranges
White Vinegar
A Large, Clear Jar (Approximately Quart Size)

Start by eating a couple oranges. Feed them to your kids, your husband, or some random person on the street. SAVE THE PEELS. 

I let her play with her food when I need cute pictures.

I'm told that orange peels will stay good in the fridge for several days, but I've never needed to try that because we can easily eat 3 or 4 oranges in one sitting.

Stuff the peels into a large, clear jar. I use a quart size mason jar. My oranges were big, so I only used 2. Loosely filled the jar about 2/3 full.

Fill the jar with white vinegar and cover with a plastic lid or plastic wrap. 
Vinegar can corrode metal, so avoid metal lids. 

Place your jar in a bright, warm place to aid the infusion process. Also, so you don't forget its there.

Mine goes on the cookbook shelf in my kitchen. Nice and high where the Minion can't reach it, but out in the open where I can keep an eye on it.

Let the infusion work for about 2 weeks. I check it every couple of days to make sure that none of the orange peel is sticking out of the vinegar. It has the potential to turn moldy if it sits above the vinegar for too long. Just push it back down and stir it in every so often. 

Another tip is to write the strain date on your calendar. I never remember when I started it, so if I don't write dates down somewhere, it ends up sitting for a month. Not a big deal with this infusion, but it turns out a nasty apple cider vinegar. 

It's also a good idea to label your jar. I sometimes have a couple different infusions or fermentations going, so its nice to know exactly which is which.

After straining the vinegar, put it back into the glass jar.
To use: for everyday cleaning, dilute it about 50/50 with water. For more intense cleaning, you can dilute it less. It won't hurt anything to use it straight.

I promised to share the bonus superpower of Orange Vinegar. 

It Repels Ants!!!!

I don't know if that is as exciting for you as it is for me. We have an ant colony living  under our driveway, so they are bad. I haven't had a single ant on my counter since I started cleaning with this orange vinegar. I scrubbed the playroom with it, and no more ants. I will have to do that room again I'm sure, but that's only because I don't already use the cleaner in there on a daily basis like I do in the kitchen and dining room.

That's about it! Super easy. I'm going to try an infusion with Thyme and Lavender soon too. I heard that it smells amazing.

Chime in!! Do you use a homemade cleaner in your home? What else do you make yourself?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Perfect Cinnamon Pancakes

I know, I know, everyone claims their recipe is the one and only perfect recipe. So I will just say that these are perfect for my family. We can't get enough of these when I make them.

Yes, we sometimes sit on the floor to mix pancakes.

Since we don't eat them often, I splurge and use all white flour instead of half wheat flour like I do with every other baked good. Although I have tried using half wheat flour and they are still very yummy.

The secret is the melted butter. That is irreplaceable. If you are one of those people who thinks butter is evil, I recommend reading up on healthy fats and then adding some real butter into your diet. I promise, you won't regret it!

Mickey Mouse pancakes are hard....

One more thing, I ALWAYS double this recipe. Even if I'm just cooking for myself and The Minion. These freeze really well and I love having homemade grab and go foods on hand. I just throw them in the toaster to defrost and reheat, Mr. Crunch microwaves them, either way works.

It annoys me when people type up a huge blog post and all I want is the darn recipe, so I will get to it.

Perfect Cinnamon Pancakes
Adapted from this recipe.

1 and ½ cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 and ¼ cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Add milk, egg, butter, and vanilla to dry ingredients.
3. Whisk until a smooth batter forms. Heat a skillet over medium heat.
4. Pour ¼ cup batter into circles.
5. Flip once bubbles appear and sides are lightly golden.

These are also really good with fruit in them. Blueberries, strawberries, apples, whatever!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fixing the Printer

Sometimes all it takes is to sit down and mess with settings.

Our printer wouldn't connect to my husband's laptop (which is currently the only one we own). Turns out we needed to send documents to the printer marked as Samsung, rather than the one marked as Samsung Copy 1. Simple fix, no clue how it happened.

I've been printing things at my parents house for 6 months because I didn't take the time to declutter the desk, which is what turned a 5 minute problem solving task into a 30 minute cleaning task.

Now I have a working printer AND space to use it!!


Also, don't forget to check the printer when you have toddlers around....