Thursday, June 25, 2009

Free activities for kids!

Although I had dreams of taking Luke to a bunch of fun places on my maternity leave like Kings Island, some small water parks near our house, the zoo and the aquarium, it just isn't possible right now with me being on unpaid maternity leave. With my paycheck gone, we've really had to cut back in order not to dip into our savings. But keeping a toddler occupied at home, with the same old toys he's played with everyday, just wasn't working for me. The tv of course was working, but I HATE using the tv as a babysitter. I really like to limit it is one hour a day, or a movie. Anyway, I racked my brain for some free activities that would be fun and even educational and something that would keep him occupied while I took care of Brooke.

So early today, to celebrate his actual birthday, I took him to the Greene, an outdoor mall near our house. In the center they have one of those interactive fountains. It was packed, but really I think that was good for Luke. He was he youngest one there, and he's still a little timid about getting water in his face, but seeing th other older kids running through the fountain really helped. He had a blast. And the cost? Nothing of course!

Then, for my birthday, my aunt gave me a deck of cards called "50 Activies for You and Your Toddler." It's a simple idea, but a gift I'm really glad I got. My aunt knows that I love being a mom more than anything in the world, so why bother getting me a gift card or something when she knows all too well I'm just going to spend it on my kids. So what better of a gift than something I can DO with my kids!

Anyway, today I had Luke pick two cards from the deck that we could do during Brooke's naps. During her first nap, we did the card called "Color Changes." We followed the directions which said to fill a couple plastic cups with water. We had these left over from his party. Then I let Luke stick red, yellow, and blue markers in the glasses to tint the color of the water. Then, wth my help, we poured water into a couple other plastic cups, mixing the colors to make new colors. Of course he learned that red and yellow make orange and yellow and blue make green and so on. Something so simple in my mind, yet he thought it was magic. I loved seeing the delight on his face. During Brooke's later nap, he drew the card that said "Bowl Away." We grabbed 10 empty water bottles from the garage (leftover from his party as well, otherwise I'm not a fan of going though tons of plastic water bottles) and then I taught him how to roll a ball to knock them all down. He had gone bowling a few weeks ago with some friends down the street, and I was suprised to see that he totally knew what to do. Of course he wanted to cheat little, but I just looked the other way. The idea is to hae fun right?

And this past weekend we were at Home depot buying a nail gun for Todd's Father's Day present when I noticed these Mickey Mouse shaped cards in the paint section. Apparently Behr has a line of Disney colors. So these paint sample were just sitting there. I thought it would make a great, and free, matihng game for Luke. So I grabbed two in every color (a few are missing already if you can't tell) and threw them in my bag on the way out. So to help Luke learn his colors, I do a few different things with these. We can either tell him to match the colors, or we can turn them over and play memory, or we can just point to the different cards and ask him what color each card is. He has a blast and he'll sit there by himself for a good 20 minutes just going through his colors. My favorite is when he says they are all "yewo." Yellow is his favorite color and although he knows his colors.....sometimes everything is yellow just because he loves to say it. =)

Happy Birthday Little Man!

Dear Luke,

My little boy is two years old today! I seriously am in shock and have been starring at you with wonder all day. How the heck did two years just fly by? I know everyone says it flies by, but you really don't realize it until it happens. It feels like just yesterday that I was learning to become a mom and take care of this tiny baby in my arms, and now I'm chasing you around the house, and hearing you tell me no to everything. =)

Your dad and I love you more than you'll ever know. We've enjoyed every minute of the past two years and we think you are the funniest little dude ever. Although you test our patience on what seems like every minute of the day, you couple it with you quirky personality that just makes us laugh and wonder what we were mad about. We cannot wait to see the man you grow up to be. Love you now and always!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teaching an old dog new tricks...

and I'm the old dog! =) No, really though, I had a big well duh moment today and it was so good, I thought I'd share it. Normally when I return stuff to the store (which I do a lot because I can never make up my mind), I just ask for store credit and consider it free money. So then I'll walk through the store looking for something to buy. 99.9% of the time, it's not something I need, it's just something I decide I want and it's not a smart purchase. The returns are usually to big stores that I go to often to - Target, Walmart, Kohls - so its not like it'll be more than 10 days before I actually do go there for something I atually need.

So today I'm out running errands and returning things. I had stuff to take back to Kohls, Target, Walmart, and Hobby Lobby. But I was meeting my mom and grandma for my first ever sewing lesson in less than two hours, so I knew I didn't have time to shop. So as I ran my errands, I did the unthinkable, at least in my case. I just took the store credit and *gasp* actually put it in my purse for later!

So yes, while it's burning a whole in my pocket and I'm racking my brain for stuff I NEED, I'm not going to use it. The next time 'm at these stores and have to get something I really need, THEN I'll pull the cards out and get a good discount on my purchase.

So, like I said, it's probably a "well duh" moment, but for me, it's working and it's a change that'll help me save probably about $200 a month! And in a time when I'm on unpaid maternity leave, every $200 counts!

Our new favorite dinner recipe!

I read Darby's blog at almost on a daily basis. She is just such a fun writer and her kids are adorable. We have a lot in common, so of course it's easy to think we'd get along in real life. Anyway, Todd and I are both not big on veggies. We try to like them, we try to get them into our meals each day, but it's a struggle for us. We're cheeseburger and fry people at heart!

Zuchinni and yellow squash are one of our favorites though. We always threw together these chicken packets when we knew we wouln't have time to cook or didn't want to deal with the dishes to clean after dinner. Then we'd just serve it with a side salad, some crusty bread, or sometimes some roasted asparagus, another favorite of ours.

But I saw the recipe for chicken delight on her post. I had everything on hand, so I thought I'd give it a try. We ended up LOVING it and it's so easy. Just tear a couple square pieces of foil, lay on chicken, season with seasoning salt, top with sliced zuchinni and squash. Then top with marinara and some parmesean and mozerella cheese. Then fold up the foil packet leaving room for the cheese to melt and toss on the grill for 25-30 min.
For an easy side, I just tore off an extra square of foil, sliced up on of those 99 cent loaves of french bread from Kroger (on sale for $.68), top each slice with butter and a little garlic salt and toss on the grill for the last 8-10 minutes.
This recipe was soooo good......I didn't even get pictures of the final product. They smelled so good that everyone just dug right in! Maybe next time....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brooke's 1st Fashion Show!

I got this idea from a Nestie friend of mine, MeganBrian. She took pictures of her daughter in all of her newborn cloth diapers so that others could see how they fit on a 5 lb baby. I thought that was a great idea since we have different diapers and because Brooke is now at 7 lbs, so the typical size of a newborn. So here she is, in all her adorable fluff!

This is my absolute favorite diaper right now. It is a Sposoeasy AIO (all in one) in size extra small . I actually use these during the day, but only because they are easy for my mom to use. She just can't get down the whole prefold thing.

This is a small BumGenious 2.0 I believe. As you can see, they are a little big on her still, but they work on laundry day when everything else is dirty.
Here is Brooke in her XS Thirsties AIO. This is our scond favorite diaper. It's still a little big on her, but it's very trim and works well. It's also easy to use since it is just like a disposable.
This is Brooke in a orange edged Green Mountain Diaper prefold. I use the tri-fold and secure it with a snappi. It's not the trimmest thing in the world, but it does work. I usually just put the tri folded prefold inside the cover and call it a day though. I don't think the snappis are really needed until she starts moving around, but what do I know?
Here is a Little Bettle wool cover in size 1 over the prefold. This is my favorite cover, especially for use at night when Brooke sleeps for about 5 hours straight.
This is a Blueberries cover in xs. It fits her really well right now.

Here is a KL0 (Kissaluv size 0). I'm not a huge fan of these, but I can't say they leak. I just don't like how big and thick they are. Brooke can barely move her legs once a cover is on top.
Case and point, here is a Bummis Super Whisper Wrap in size XS over the KL0. The cover fits well over a tri-folded prefold, but I'm not a fan when pired with the KL0.

Here is a Very Baby fitted I find on Hyena Cart in size newborn. I have yet to find anymore, but they are BY FAR my favorite fitted. Not only is the paisley print the cutest thing on earth, but it's trim, leak proof, and one of the few diapers that fit her when she came home at 5 lbs, 2 oz.

This is another of our favorite fitteds, a Happy Heiny in size 1. It's very trim, yet absorbant, and works well with any cover on top of it.

Here is a Thirsties XS cover over the Happy Heiny's fitted. It's still a little big, but I do really like it. It'll work great over a tri folded prefold in another pound or two.

Luke's 2nd bday party.....on a dime!

My husband hates parties. I seriously think something is socially wrong with him. He loves going to parties of course, he just turned into a maniac anytime we actually throw one. So since I'm off work, on unpaid maternity leave, I promised I wouldn't go overboard. It was my version of "low key." Apparently to him it STILL cost too much and was too over the top, but whatever, he came around once he saw how much fun Luke was having.

Anyway, the first thing I had to find was a cheap place to have the party. This is probably the toughest part because while there are tons of ideas, a lot of them can be ruined by rain (hence his party last year when we ended up cramming about 60 people in our 2 car garage!) or cost an arm and a leg since you need to buy a whole "party package." The city we live in has GREAT parks though.....the Centerville Washington Township Park District. They recently started building some really nice covered pavilions at a couple parks per year. One of our favorites is at a park called Activity Center located on State Route 48 just behind Marions for you locals. It has your typial baseball fields, tennis courts, etc. But it also has an incredible "spray garden" as well as a really nice play ground. Here's a few pictures so you can see how nice it is:

The party was supposed to be really low key. We asked that no one bring presents (frankly because I don't have the time anymore to pick up anymore toys OR write thank you cards) and instead for everyone to bri9ng a side dish. With Brooke only being a month old, most people asked anyway, so I figured we'd just do a word of mouth thing. We provided 2 liters of pop, water, cupcakes, chips and a party sub from Walmart. We only invited family and a few very close family friends. All the kids were either younger than Luke (cousins/family friends) or much older, like 10, so they could care less about the games and favors, so I skipped those.

I got simple pirate invites from Target that just ran right through the printer. With all my medical problems before the pregnancy, I never got around to sending them out until two weeks prior to the party though. Invites were $16 though, no exactly cheap, but I was desperate at that point. Then I just got matching red and black paper plates, napkins, cake plates. I also got plastic silverware, clear plastic cups, and a sparkler shaped in a "2" for Luke's cupcake. I was able to get all of that, plus a few extra small presents for him from Flower Factory for $40. I then ordered a 4 ft sub from Walmart which was going to come to $29 for three meats, cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato (on the side), and packets of mayo and mustard. Oh, and the cost to rent the covered pavilion was only $30. The 2 liters were $1 each, so $6 for 6. I also got chips for $2.88 a bag (had to support our local Mike Sells) so a total of $8.64 for three bags. The cupcakes were made by a friend for only $25 (thanks Nestie DS1013!). Oh and we had some bottled water on hand already and a bag of ice was $3 at Sam's Club. So total cost would have been $156.64 for 40 people.

However, here is where the chaos begins. My good friend who made the cupcakes said she'd drop them off Sunday morning. As luck would have it, I of course waited too late to give Brooke a bath. So just as I'm getting her out of the tub, my friend Gwyn shows up. We put the cupcakes on the dining room table, I pay her, and I run back to Brooke crying in her room. (I laid her in the crib, just on a towel only.) Todd goes back to his sweeper. The second I heard it I went running for the dining room table. I KNEW Luke was going to want to check them out. Just as I turn the corner, down comes one of three boxes of cupcakes.....and yes, the lid fell off and they all rolled onto the floor! So we were down to about 34 cupcakes before the party even started.
Then, we had to go to Walmart to pick up the sub. Since the party started at 1pm, I figured 11am would be perfect to pick it up. We'd keep it on ice at our house till the party and all would be well. HAHA! We ended up choosing to order the sub from our brand new Walmart. It had only been open for four days. I had this gut feeling it wouldn't be ready, but the manager assured me everything would be fine. Well, surprise, surprise, we get there, ask for our party sub and they look at us like we have three heads. So not knowing what the heck we'd do, they said they could have it made in 20 minutes. So we headed for the toy section and let uke loose. We figured we'd give them a little extra time and played there for 30 minutes....all while Brooke is screaming because she needed to eat and I wasn't about to breastfeed at Walmart, not that I'm that good yet anyway. Anyway, long story short, it took them close to an hour to get the sub done. At this point, I complained and got it for free. Oh and we never got mayo and mustard packets, all the condiments were on the sub, and we discovered that the lettuce was atually shredded cabbage. Sweet!

Spending over an hour picking up the sub totally through our shcedule off. The second we got home, we literally just started throwing stuff in our cars and crossing our fingers we remembered it all. We got to the park just as guests were showing up. Thankfully, we have the best family and friends in the world and they all just chipped in to get it set up. In the hurry of the day, I only got a few pictures though. =(
Regardless, Luke ended up having a blast and so did everyone else that attended. Everyone really helped me out by bringing some awesome side dishes, everyone ignored the fact that the sub had cabbage on it, and of course everyone ignored my plea for no gifts.....I think he got more than Christmas! PLUS, everyone brought presents for Brooke. Too generous!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Newborn cloth diaper review!

WE have officially been using cloth diapers on Brooke for three months now and wow, do we love it! I've been a little one the fence about cloth diapering Luke. Yes, it saves money, keeps him from getting diaper rash, it's better for the environment, etc. BUT I really hate those #2's. They don't smell up the diaper pail or anything and pretty rarely is it anything but a big ball that just plops right into the toilet but still, I don't look forward to them. Anyway, we do really like cloth diapering during this newborn stage for sure. Not only do they keep the diaper rash away, but they also contain those early blow outs great. But I will hae to say there are a few slight downsides. For us, Brooke was too big for anything we had on hand when she first came home from the NICU. At 5 lbs, even a prefold with a cover on it made her bum twice as big as her head. The best solution during this time was a trifolded prefold which we just placed inside some of the newborn sized Prowraps and they were still big, but the least amount of fluff. Also, like I said, most of the diapers are SUPER thick. While this is good for absorbancy, it also looks down right ridiculous on such a small baby. By the time I get a super thick Green Mountain Diaper prefold around her, the a cover, or a KL0 fitted and a cover, her bum is HUGE. Literally, the diapers go down to her knees and she can't even move her legs. So while we still do it, I only use these once we are out of everything else.

So what are my favorite diapers? Well, we've leaned towards AIOs for sure. At this size, they really don't take long to dry at all and they are just so darn convienant and worth it because they are more compact. The Sposoeasy ones were the only ones that fit at first and are still by far my favorite. I got them on a local craigslist and haven't heard too much about them. She recently has grown into her XS Thirsties AIOs and we really like those as well. The only fitteds we like are the newborn Very Baby we have (pictured above). Not only is it the cutest print in the world, but it fits pefectly and works very well too. It runs SUPER small though.....I wouldn't get newborn size if you plan on having a baby over 7 lbs or so. Brooke is currently close to outgrowing it at 7 lbs. We also really like our Under the Nile fitted. It is very compact yet absorbant, just what we like. As for covers, our Little Bettle wool cover is our favorite. I think I ruined ours, but it's still my favorite. I gt it used, again off the local craiglist, and didn't realize it was wool. I've washed it in the regular wash now several times. Still works great though, just not as soft as when I first got it. The Prorap covers are okay. They do their function but of course aren't the softest and look boring too. Now that she is gorwing into her Thirsties and Bummis Super Wraps covers, I've decided I like them both about the same.

Well, thats about it. I'll continue to update my thoughts on the whole cloth diapering thing as we go along. I wonder if I'll change my mind.....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We may not be perfect...

but at least we had fun! I'm speaking about Brooke's newborn pictures we had taken at our house this past Sunday. I had fully intended to get her pictures done within the first two weeks, but since she was in the NICU, it got pushed back until she was 3.5 wks old instead. I was a wreck though......her nursery STILL wasn't done, the house was a mess, and let's just say Todd enjoyed the wedding we had attended the night before just a little too much! We've been working with this new photographer though, Alison Kamper from and she was incedible once again!

I like getting the whole first year of photography done from the sme photographer so that you can mix and match them and they all look like the same "style." But I just couldn't afford our old photographer any longer. The best deal she could do was $1500 for 5 sessions the first! So I went on a search and as luck would have it, a friend of mine from work found out her neighbor was starting a photography business. So, the Saturday before Easter, we decided to try her out with a little "urban" shoot for Luke and Brooke while she was still in the belly. I don't think I ever shared those pictures, but here is a few of our favorites.

I, of course, thought they turned out wonderful and since then I couldn't WAIT for our little Brooke to get here. Of course just one of the reasons was so we could get photographs taken by Alison again. And for $200 for a two hour plus session PLUS a CD of all the images she takes, holy crapola, what an awesome deal! To anyone who reads this blog within a 100 mile radius, I highly suggest having your families photos taken by her, even if just once. What an awesome memory! Here is a few of our other favorites though from Brooke's newborn pictures. Be sure to check out her blog though which has about 30 more photos.

So between the house being a wrekc, Luke not wanting to sit still for more than 2 seconds, Luke not following any directions what so ever, and Brooke peeing, pooping , or crying for 90% of the shoot, I have no idea how she got so many amazing shots. And I never knew such little elements of our house, like the wood floors, could look so incredible in pictures! Does it sound a little strange that I want her to come photograph just the house?!?!? Hehe!
PS - you notice the blanket in the basket?!?!?!? It was the present that just kept giving! Thank you again for spending your peaceful prebaby days making us a blanket that'll be in our family for years and years to come! You are a true friend.....even if I never have met you in real life! Someday our Destin trips will collide.....hopefully sooner rather than later!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A slower pace...

Brooke came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon and since then, it has been an emotional roller coaster in our house. We just cannot believe how fast Luke has grown and that now we are a family of four. We are so thankful for everything we have and yet sometimes it doesn't seem like enough. If only there was a way to stop time, at least for a little bit. But we all know there isn't, and that life keeps moving forward. Our children are going to continue to grow up and we're going to continue to get older. So as we cried ourselves to sleep last night (tears of joy of course), Todd and I decided that we really need to slow down some and just enjoy life. We work so hard for what we have, yet sometimes the sweetest things don't cost a dime. We've also worked hard to be in the financial position where we can enjoy the money we have earned and we decided there is no better time than now to really start doing that. So we decided to come up with a list of 10 things we want to do/accomplish in Brooke's first year. Sure, she probably won't remember any of them, but it will just be a new thing for us.....spending more time as a family, putting aside things that "have" to get done, and enjoying life. So here is the 10 things we put on our list:

1. Have a picnic in the park. Todd and I started saving money for our first house just a few months after we started dating, when we were 16. People thought we were crazy, but we just knew. Anyway, we'd often go on picnics instead of going out to eat. One of our favorite spots was the top of an ampitheater near our current house. We'd go there when there wasn't a show, set up a picnic, and look out over the town. Now we'd like to take our own kids there, bring dinner in a basket, and then play at the playground afterwards as a family. Just a nice relaxing night AND it wil give me a chance to try out some of those picnic recipe ideas in the Real Simple magazine this month.

2. Go to the zoo. This one probably seems dumb, but Luke really loves animals. For over a year, we've kept saying, we really need to take him to the zoo. Yet, somehow, we never have found the time. Well, we decided we just need to put an end to this. There are many other places we want to go to too, like the Boonshoft Children's Museum, the Aquarium, etc. but the zoo was the one place we've kept saying we needed to go and never have.

3. Make a family stone for the backyard. Luke is really getting into arts and crafts type projects and I thought it would be great to spend time as a family making something that would remind us of this great time in our lives. So I thought a stepping stone with all of our hand prints would be a great idea.

4. Find a volunteer opportunity to do as a family. We are big on not wanting to raise spoiled children that become brats. Growing up we weren't very thankful for what we had, but we don't want our kids to follow in our footsteps. We each volunteer, but we'd like to find something that we can do together, as a family. We think Luke is old enough now to understand giving and sharing and helping others, so we're going to look for something that we can all do together.

5. Enjoy a week long vacation without worrying about money. We had decided to skip vacation this summer. We had a lot of projects around the house, Todd's business has been booming despite the slow economy, and I'm already having to take mostly unpaid maternity leave. But the more and more we think about it, we need that week to just spend time as a family and enjoy ourselves. Normally on vacation, we watch our money very closely and don't allow ourselves to get dessert when we go out to eat, buy a t-shirt from the trip, etc. But this year we decided we just need to enjoy time as a family and not worry about anything else. So if we want dessert, we'll get it. If we want a souvenir to remember a special day trip by, we'll get it.

6. Visit the Cincinnati farmers market and then make dinner as a family from the produce/meat we bought. I love to cook and I love when Todd helps me. My dream is to cook with my kids as much as possible. My mom didn't cook much, and when she did, I wasn't really allowed to help much because I'd make a mess. This is something I want to chance with my kids. I also think that Luke will have more of a love of fruits and vegtables than Todd and I did if we allow him to pick them out from places like a farmer's market or grow them ourselves. So I thought it would be fun to visit a local farmer's market I've wanted to go to for years and then cook up our produce all together.

7. Camp out in the backyard. Todd and I both "camped" out with our dads when we were kids. Ours usually consisted of sleeping bags in the basement and staying up late and watching movies, Todd's consisted of tents in the backyard. So until we can go to family camp outs when the kids get a little older, we figured the back yard would be a perfect place to set up a tent, roll out our sleeping bags, and even make dinner and some smores for dessert over a fire. Hmmm, just have to build that fire pit first. =)

8. Dance in the rain. Is there anything better?!?!?!? Luke LOVES water and worms and splashing in puddles and everything that goes along with a rainy day, but we've never let him hang out in the rain. So next time it's warm and raining on a Sunday, you'll find us dancing in the rain!

9. Throw a party just because. Todd hates entertaining. He just feels like it's a lot of work and is just for "impressing people." I on the otherhand LOVE to entertain. I think it's just a fun way to get to know people better and to share my love of food with others. It also doesn't hurt to hear my (fill in the blank here) was delicious and they'd like the recipe. Okay, okay, not the point, I know, but it is flattering. Anyway, I got Todd to agree that over the past couple years, our lives have really changed and we've changed. Our old friends just aren't the same and there are some new friends that we'd like to get to know better, but haven't had the time or the opportunity. So why not throw a party......a just because party. Who knows, we just might all have fun!

10. Tell each other one thing we are thankful for each and every day during dinner. While we do eat dinner, at the table, together every night, we sometimes just talk about our day and not the important stuff in life. So we decided to start saying something we are thankful for that day. Luke doesn't exactly have the words yet to say what he is thankful for, but he defintly understands. I figure by this time next year he'll be able t come up with something each and every day and truely understand what he is thankful for.

Spray Painting Tutorial

I recently spray painted for the first time and I thought it was going to be SO hard. The project sat and sat because I was so scared I'd mess it up. It was so easy though and turned out great, so I thought I'd share my tips and tricks for those of you who are scared of learning as well.

I had this "bath" sign I had bought at Bombay Company right before they had closed. It was just a simple wooden sign that said bath and had three little hooks on it for towels. For some reason, I loved it, but it was black. So I decided if I painted it brown, it could go in our guest/kids bathroom and would work great for Luke to hang his towels on. Todd was having a cow though, saying that I was going to ruin a perfectly good sign and that it would look horrible when I was done. I HAD to prove him wrong!

So I took a trip down the paint aile the last time we were at Lowes and I took a look at the spray paint. This sign happened to be wooden with metal hooks, so I needed something that would adhere to both materials. I found a product by Rustoleum that looked perfect.

First I taped off any area that I didn't want painted. Thankfully for the sign, there was only three small glass knobs. So I just grabbed some leftover newspaper, wrapped it around the knobs, and secured with some masking tape. Then I just followed the directions exactly like they said on the can. Only to get a really even coat, I wanted to "set" the sign up on something. So I just found some cups laying around the house. I wouldn't suggest spray painting in the grass though. One, it's probably not the best for the environment (what was I thinking?!?!?) and two, it left a huge brown area in our yard. Thankfully Todd was cutting the grass that afternoon and you can't even tell where I spray painted anymore.

But I think the real trick was waiting for a day that was a little cloudy and not too windy. Then setting the sign up so I could easily get every angle helped as well. Then just follow the directions about spraying distance and coutinuing to shake the can as you paint. I think I ended up doing 4 light coats, since I had read it was better to do a bunch of light coats than less heavy coats which could cause the paint to run.

It turned out fabulous and Todd had to admit it as well! I can say one thing for sure now - I'm addicted to spray painting. Next on my list......a lamp for Brooke's nursery and a chair that I'd like to use in the office/guest bedroom! I'll keep you posted!