A Frugal Birthday

Disclaimer:  This post is being written later in the evening than most of my other posts.  This is because I was busy making cow costumes for my family to get a free meal tomorrow at one of our favorite fast food restaurants.  Sometimes it seems I’ll do anything for something free.

IMG_0297Last week we celebrated our oldest child’s fifth birthday.  Though we had celebrated her younger sister’s third birthday this past fall in Wisconsin, this particular birthday felt very different from the others we have celebrated with our kids.

In Virginia, our birthday celebrations looked pretty much the same:  I would spend most of the money on food, a bit on balloons, easy decor, and plasticware, then invite at least 30 friends and family members to eat with us and share cake with the birthday girl.

I had lots of help for these birthday celebrations, in addition to my husband, I’d usually have a friend or two, my sister-in-law, parents, and maybe my own sister helping me to cook and prepare.

With a fresh start in Wisconsin, I wanted to change up our birthday routine.  A change in our normal birthdays will take my girls’ minds off missing all of the friends and family we used to be near to.  I was hoping to celebrate the fact that we’ve made new friends.

I was also hoping to stick to a tight budget in light of our new financial goals.

Here is how we celebrated:

  • I asked my daughter what would mean the most to her for her birthday.  What she wanted most of all was a cake with Elsa and Anna (from Disney’s Frozen) on it.  Fortunately for me, my dad pays for our Sam’s Club membership, so we were able to get a half sheet cake with Elsa and Anna on it for under $20.  (Side note:  my daughter was so excited that the cake actually had her name on it.  I love the innocence of children.)
  • Instead of feeding everyone a meal, which is more necessary when you invite more adults and/or have older children, I made the party earlier in the afternoon.  We served easy, inexpensive snacks like string cheese, baby carrots, and “snowman building” snacks (marshmallows, pretzel sticks, and chocolate chips).  I grabbed some lemonade to wash it all down.  Snacks set me back about $15.
  • To continue with the Frozen theme, I grabbed a snowflake covered plastic table cloth, and pink plates and plasticware (birthday girl’s request).  Target delivered for $7.
  • Finally, we needed napkins and cups.  Both set me back $3.

We invited my daughter’s new friends to the park early in the afternoon, and fortunately for us, the local town pool is in the park my daughter chose.

The kids spent a couple hours having snacks, swimming in the kiddie pool, and playing on the playground.  I’m not sure about everyone else’s children, but my girls had a great time.  They slept well that night, too!

The local town pool charges a small fee for moms bringing their children to the kiddie pool, so all in all, we gave our little five year old a fun birthday party for about $50.

The best part:  When asked the next day how her birthday was, our little big girl said it was her best birthday party ever.

Of course, she probably doesn’t remember the last four…

But I’ll take it!

Milestone Birthday Over Here

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This little beauty turned 5 years old yesterday.

There is an immense amount of innocence, yet some seriously profound wisdom that comes with the 5-year-old heart and mind.  Her smile and laughter exudes joy.  She is insatiably curious about the world and the way it works.  She feels so deeply, not only for herself, but for others as well.

This little girl was celebrated yesterday with friends and family at her new favorite place:  the local pool.  In light of our new budgeting arrangements, we tried to keep the costs on our celebration as small as possible, while still making our big girl feel special.  I’ll detail more about how we did this in a post next week.

Enjoy your weekend, readers.

In Defense of the Parent at Home

I remember when I was starting out my job as a quality assurance specialist for the Department of Defense.  I talked to my parents weekly back then (as opposed to now:  they call me after a few weeks of wondering why I’ve fallen off the planet).  I remember telling my father on my one year anniversary on the job that I felt like I still had so much more to learn.

In hindsight, my 23-year-old self’s naivete is painful, but I digress.

My dad laughed and told me it takes about five years to really get the hang of a job.

I’m not sure if this is entirely true for every type of job.  Some jobs change often, requiring much more flexibility in terms of responsibilities and skills.  There are probably some jobs that truly keep you on your toes almost all of the time.

Air traffic controllers:  I’m looking at you.

As my oldest child rounds the corner toward her fifth birthday, I keep hearing this statement my father made to me years ago.  Do I feel like I’m getting the hang of this job?  This motherhood gig?

I have been a stay-at-home mom for just over four years now; my first year of motherhood was spent working 40 hour weeks while my husband played Mr. Mom (hopefully minus feeding the baby chili).  There are definitely aspects to this job that I feel I have gotten the hang of.

Cloth diapers?  I can use them, wash them, get poop off of them, use them on outings if I need to, etc.  Nailed it.

Breastfeeding?  Check.  I haven’t had a baby that didn’t love nursing.

Reading to Kids?  Got that one down.  I start reading to my kids in the first month of their lives, and it’s one of the things I do most consistently.  I love children’s books, and we visit the library often so I can get my fix.

There are other tasks that I am not so fantastic at when it comes to motherhood:

Baby nap schedules?  I am the worst.  Well, maybe not the worst, but apparently not as good as my husband.  I have had my two youngest babies home with me from the time they were teeny newborns, and I wasn’t able to get either of them on a consistent nap schedule before six months old.  My oldest, raised by her daddy for the first 10 months of her life?  That girl napped like it was her job and slept through the night at 6 weeks old.

Ugh.

Disciplining preschoolers (especially dramatic ones)?  I struggle with this every. single. day. of. my. life.  I have one child that simply doesn’t like to hear the word no or to be told what to do without a full written explanation.  Somehow I feel I have to justify myself to someone who can’t manage to remember to go to the bathroom when they are excitedly playing with friends.

I still find myself researching different aspects of motherhood, trying to improve my game at home, so to speak.  Of course, every once in a while I come across articles like this one, and it blind sides me, causing me to re-think my existence.

The reality is that I struggle with my worth and value as a stay-at-home mom more days than I don’t.  My days are filled with menial tasks:  cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, picking up toys.  The in-between times are filled with book reading, tickle fights, walking the dog, gardening, and sometimes reading.  Do I see real completed work on a day-to-day basis?

Absolutely not.

Unless you count a clean sink at the end of the night real work, I’m really not accomplishing much in the course of a day.  I am simple doing a lot of little tasks that help to maintain the health and well-being of my family.

The author in the above article is of the opinion that this type of work is a privilege and should not be considered a real job.

Although I will agree that being a stay-at-home mother is not a job in the traditional sense, it is certainly hard work, and for many, it is not a privilege.

I had recently had a conversation with the grandmother of one of my daughters’ friends.  She helps care for her three year old granddaughter on a daily basis while her daughter works outside of the home.  She brings her granddaughter to the park, to the library, to doctors appointments, plays with her, and cares for her needs throughout the day.  She is her nanny, in a true sense of the word.

This grandmother has three children of her own, and while she raised her own children (in a country with centralized government childcare and schooling) she worked full-time outside of the home.  This woman confessed to me that as a young mother she felt she was “doing it all”; because she was both a mother and a contributing member to society bringing home a paycheck, she felt that she truly was working twice as hard.

I have heard this argument so many times from working mothers.  They do all the things stay-at-home mothers do, but they work a full-time job on top of that.

But wait, this grandmother let me in on a secret:  she felt that her current situation, being the sole caretaker for one preschooler, was much more challenging than working full-time while having children.

Of course, age is a factor here.  She is at least 30 years older than the last time she had children of her own to care for.  Her point, though, remains valid.

Staying home with one’s own children, though it is something to be thankful for, can be a very difficult job.  Throughout the course of the day, stay-at-home mothers have to do many things that working mothers miss out on:  making three meals a day (probably from scratch to save $$$), reading aloud, planning any day trips, teaching/doing preschool activities, kissing boo-boos, playing, and cleaning up after all of these activities.  Working mothers, who do work very hard, I know, pay some one to perform these tasks while they work and earn a paycheck.  If the care and teaching of children isn’t considered work, why do working parents need to pay someone to do it for them?

There is another contributing factor to the debate of whether or not staying at home with one’s children is considered work:  the value placed on mothers who choose to stay home.  I find that there are two kinds of stay at home mothers:  one stays at home for a short period of time, anywhere from 2-5 years until her child(ren) go to school, and the other stays home for the foreseeable future to care for and nurture her children as long as they need, often taking on the task of homeschooling them.

It is in the first category of mothers that I often see women who feel de-valued.  They see their time at home with their children as a break of sorts.  Or at least they see it as that before they enter into the reality of life at home with children.  They feel they are on some sort of work hiatus, and some don’t recognize the work they are doing that is contributing to their child’s well-being and to society as a whole.

There are definitely mothers in the latter category that succumb to these feelings, as well, but more often, they see the longevity in their work and focus less on the menial, day-to-day annoyances.

I would venture to say that many of the mothers who feel their work at home is not contributing to the world around them jump at the chance to find employment outside the home when they become available for it.  They put less effort into their work at home, and they may be less intentional with the time they spend with their own children.

In short:  not considering the work done with children on a daily basis as “real work” allows one to settle for a lower standard of quality.

Those mothers who see their work at home as valuable and their position as important often spend more time planning and working to create experiences, routines, and opportunities for learning.

This friends, is where I often find myself.  At this crossroads of valuing vs. not valuing my work at home.

Some weeks I feel desperate to seek outside employment or to do anything but be home.  I want more than anything to earn a real paycheck, to make things, to do things, to complete things, and to pee alone.

But lately, I find myself being challenged to put value into the work I do at home, especially as I grow into the role of teacher with fall and homeschool kindergarten quickly approaching.  I hope that as I learn to value my work at home, and my role as stay-at-home mom, I will be better equipped to handle the tasks that this position requires.

Domesticated Happenings

Friends, there are always as many as three blog posts being written on the computer, as well as 7,000 being written in my head.  That is how my brain just functions.

Sometimes I get around to writing these fantastic blog posts I have in mind, but most of the time, these posts end up in the graveyard of dead and lost ideas.

Yes.  I have one of those.  It looks very similar to the elephant graveyard a la The Lion King.

Since a few things have been happening around here that I haven’t mentioned, this will be a hodge podge blog post.  A few of these things I will elaborate on more in future blog posts, but others will just have this small cameo appearance.

First, we have finally settled into our new rental home.  It felt like it took forever for me to get all of the boxes unpacked and to get everything where I would like it.  Because we didn’t move with very much furniture, we had to collect some new-to-us furniture.  There was a one month season where we had a free but very smelly couch.  The day I decided the smelly couch needed to go into a burn pile, friends of ours gifted us their old couch because they were buying a new one.

(Side note here:  The entire time we had said smelly couch, I would walk past it singing “Smelly Couch” to the tune of “Smelly Cat”, the tune written by the beloved Phoebe of the television show Friends.  My girls wondered how I made up such a clever tune about our unfortunately odorous couch.)

Our neighbors’ boss (yes, that possession is correct; both of them work for the same person) gave us his old dining set.  This was an unexpected blessing since we had never met this man before, and we really needed a larger table to accommodate any potential dinner guests.

I finally straightened up the office today, as well.  Our office/playroom is characteristically a dumping ground.  Even in Virginia, if the office was cleaned, I must have had some serious free time that day, or I was having company.  It’s nice to not have visual clutter staring me down each and every time I sit down to check e-mail or blog.

Our trusty old SUV is no longer safe to drive due to some rust issues and a non-functioning master cylinder.  Rather than repairing the car (which would probably cost more than the vehicle itself is worth), we looked into selling it to someone who would be able to repair and enjoy it.  In the meantime we had three children, all with car seats, in the back of our commuter car, a 2-door coupe.

I will mention here that we learned a valuable lesson through this experience:  Most car seats are very safe, but it is the most expensive car seats that are narrow and allow you to put multiple children in one row of a vehicle.  We did not consider this when we originally purchased car seats for the kids.  Oh boy.

After a few weeks of hauling a family of five in a scionTC, we grew tired of the “clown car” feel.  We scoured the internet for minivans that fit a few very specific criteria that my husband was not willing to budge on.  Fortunately for me, the search led us to a van in Illinois, just a few hours south of us.  Off my husband went one day last week to rescue me from having to squeeze my adult-self in the back seat of a 2-door coupe to buckle in my three children.

Our new van is a Honda Odyssey (surprise), and although it isn’t new, it is new to us.  It has some things that our family could really benefit from, like leather seats (ever taken crayons on long car rides??) and a low, deep trunk (for those of us who might be vertically challenged).  I had dreaded this stage of motherhood:  the acquisition of a “mom van”, but now that I’ve sat in the driver seat, the idea of a mini-van is growing on me.  It certainly is much more convenient than I had previously anticipated.

In light of purchasing a new vehicle, the Beard and I took a long, hard look at our finances.  Although we had taken Financial Peace University (a Dave Ramsey financial planning course), we had fallen off the bandwagon somewhere along the way.  We had, at one point, been throwing lots of money towards our student loan debt, but as of late, our zeal had waned.  Adding a car payment to our budget gave us a reality check, and we have decided to put all of our financial efforts into paying off debt before anything else.  Before buying another house.  Before buying another anything that is not absolutely necessary, in fact.

And finally, friends, I am working on taking my job at home more seriously.  As it happens, every year or so I go through phases where I feel like my work at home, raising babies, cooking, cleaning, etc. is just not “real work”.  I can feel a bit unaccomplished.  Of course this cycles downward quickly, and I find myself in pajama pants at 2:00 PM.  In order to circumvent this cycle, I intend to value and put effort into my work at home, both in order to find satisfaction in it, and to do it to the best of my ability.

That is all for this holiday weekend.  I hope you all enjoy some hot dogs, fireworks, and a toasted marshmallow or two!

Why I Really Need to Stop Looking at Facebook (And Other Time Wasters)

Guys, I don’t often talk about how I feel on this blog.  I like to use it more to share things that I think other homeowners, parents, or life participants will find helpful in their everyday.

To be honest, I don’t often talk about how I feel in real life, either.  I’d rather talk about other things that are far more interesting.

Today, I will be sharing some of how I have been feeling lately, only in light of some of my recent activities.  I will be sharing what I have been changing, and how it has changed how I have been feeling.  I hope THIS helps some people to make connections with their habits and their mood.

When Baby Brother was first-born, a good friend of mine warned me that the third child makes you child like none before them.  I thought she was joking.  I had survived going from childless to mother smoothly enough, and I survived having two little girls 17 months apart (the second of whom never liked to sleep).

How could my third child, following his sister by a full three years, be any harder?

I can’t say for certain that having Baby Brother has been more or less difficult than when Squishy Bean was born, but I will say that I find myself markedly more tired.

All.

The.

Time.

So tired, in fact, that I feel like I need a nap by about 8:00 am most days.

A little over a month ago I actually visited our doctor to make sure there wasn’t anything else wrong.  Not only had I been extremely tired for months, but I had some serious heartburn.  I later learned that lack of sleep can cause overeating (surprise..), which can cause heartburn.

With a house full of small people depending on me for a lot of their livelihood, I really had to be on my A-game most days.  Being that tired and sluggish did not allow me to be on my A-game.  Thus, something had to change.

The biggest change I had to make was making time to get enough sleep.  I didn’t just need more rest, I needed more sleep.

As an introvert, I need time to myself to wind down and recharge everyday, and with three small children and a husband working second shift, time alone is hard to come by.  I usually find my alone time at the end of the day, after the kids have gone to bed.

My typical evening went like this:

I could easily spend an hour on Facebook or Pinterest, then read blog posts and articles about different things until 10 or later.  I would still have dishes to do, so then I would drag myself into the kitchen to clean up.  Finally, victorious over the sink full of dishes I’d left all day, I would treat myself to a little Netflix in bed, not getting to sleep until close to 11:30 or 12.

For some people, getting to bed at midnight is not a big deal, but when you have an infant that may or may not wake up to nurse around 3 am, then again at 6 or 6:30 am, midnight really isn’t early enough to get enough sleep for the night.

In the last month since finding out that there is nothing medically wrong with me except my lack of sleep, I have significantly cut back on the amount of time I spend on the internet everyday.  This has allowed me to hit the pillow closer to 10 or 10:30 at night, often while giving Baby Brother his dream feed.

I can say that being in bed closer to 10 has allowed me to enough sleep that I can function better in the mornings.  I am able to wake up before the girls again (which I have been in the habit of since I quit my 9-5), allowing me time to exercise, read my Bible, pray, breathe, and perhaps even drink a few sips of hot coffee.

As a brief aside, there have been two things that have truly been the keys to my sanity and productivity as a stay-at-home mom, and one of them is waking up before the kids.  The other, of course, is not leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight.

Of course I still love my time to myself at night.  I have learned, though, that my useless time at night (on Facebook), can be traded for more meaningful time to myself in the morning (a run with the dog).

I can say that although I still don’t feel 100% myself lately, I do feel a lot better.  Most importantly, I’m getting enough sleep that I am not suffering from heartburn anymore.

This experience has taught me a few key things about self-care and being the best, most present mother I can be:

  1.  I need sleep to be able to pay attention to the ramblings of a three and a four year old.  And there are a lot of ramblings.
  2. Sleep happens more at night than in the mornings.
  3. Facebook and the internet in general prevent me from getting enough sleep, and they do not allow my mind to rest.
  4. Morning runs with the dog are the perfect cure for many of life’s ailments.

 

Big Day for a Little Guy (And Something Else I’m Working On)

Baby Brother is rounding the corner to his half birthday, and in this house, that means he is able to start having some “solid” foods.

**I say “solids” because, let’s be real:  there is nothing solid about baby food.**

At about 2.5 times his birth weight, this guy has been better at gaining weight than his sisters were.  And at 5 1/2 months he was already sitting well unassisted.  Over the past couple of days, I offered him an empty spoon to see what he would do with it.

Of course he put it directly into his mouth.

Homeboy doesn’t play.

So this morning, just eleven days short of his sixth month, our little guy enjoyed some mashed avocado.

It’s too soon to tell whether he enjoyed it or not.  It seems each of our babies has made a face of disgust when tasting food other than breastmilk for the first time.

Starting solid foods brings a whole host of new things into the job of caring for baby:

  1.  You always have to make sure you have baby food on hand.  I have made all my babies’ foods except for the odd squeeze packet bought on a road trip here and there.  I intend to continue this trend by making and storing all of our own baby foods for Baby Brother.  This morning the girls helped me prep three different kinds of puree, and in addition to these I always have bananas and avocados on hand for easy mashed baby food.  I find once I get in the hang of making baby food, the process goes quickly, and I make purees in large enough batches that I have at least 10-20 1 Tbsp servings to put in the freezer.
  2. Babies who get solid foods need water.  This is pretty simple to take care of.  I had to grab a couple boy-colored sippy cups for Baby Brother.  Not that he couldn’t use the pink ones I had from the girls, but they had already been used for two kids.  The plastic spouts tend to wear from use, and if I’m buying new ones anyway, Little Guy can get blue.
  3. Solid foods in, solid poops out.  Now, this doesn’t happen immediately.  Thank.  Goodness.  But once solids become an established part of Little Guy’s diet in a few weeks, I will no longer be able to just toss his whole cloth diaper in the wash any longer.  I’ll have to actually put solid waste in the toilet, then put the diapers in their bin.  It’s not that painful of a process, but it does take an extra step.  An extra messstep.
  4. More laundry.  Is that even possible?  I’ll be washing more bibs, more of Little Guy’s clothes, more of my own clothes, plus a few more cloths that I use to wipe up spills.  It doesn’t sound like much, but in the course of a week, it can really add up.  I would say I am adding an extra load of laundry per week when I have a a baby eating baby foods.

Regardless of the extra work, introducing a baby to foods for the first time can be so exciting.  I’m thrilled to be doing this all over again, and I can’t wait to find out Baby Brother’s tastes.

In other, almost related news.  I have been working on a new project.  I am creating a downloadable menu plan that is both healthy (think whole foods) and inexpensive (about $50/week depending on how big your appetites are).  Having lived on one income for the vast majority of our marriage, our family is very accustomed to stretching a dollar in the grocery budget.  I have learned a few tricks along the way that I’d like to share about how to eat healthfully without breaking the bank.  Stay tuned for this menu plan to be available within the next two weeks!