Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crafty Christmas: Tic Tac Toe Game


Christmas Countdown: There are just 13 weeks until Christmas!

Hi, my name is Jess. I'm addicted to felt.

Before ya'll laugh, I really am.

Laughing aside, I'm in love with this project. So much in love that I made four: one for Bug and three for gifts this year. This project is relatively quick, super simple and easy on the wallet. My total out of pocket cost was $3.57 including tax. The only bit I had to purchase that wasn't already in my stash of crafting goodness was the buttons. And I have enough buttons left over to make two more of these games in the future if I so choose.

Here's what you need to make this project:
  • Felt in any color you desire (you'll need two 6 x 6 squares)
  • Embroidery thread in any color you desire
  • Needle
  • A total of 12 buttons: 6 in one color and 6 in another color
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Chalk
  • Measuring tape
  • Pouch/bag/container (for the buttons)
Here's how to make this project:
  1. Measure out two pieces of felt that are 6 x 6. Cut out.
  2. On one piece, measure and draw lines, using the chalk. The lines should be two inches apart. Two lines will be horizontal and two lines will be vertical. I drew one set of lines, then sewed, then drew the other set of lines.
  3. Pin the two pieces together, and sew along the chalk lines with thread.
  4. Put 12 buttons (6 of one color, 6 of another) into a pouch, bag or some other container.
  5. Play tic tac toe to your heart's content!
I first saw this idea in a Family Fun magazine. I love, love, love this idea for littles in your life. If you have littles of your own of an appropriate age, ask them to make this game with you. It's very simple and a good way to practice basic sewing skills.

Happy crafting!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: postpone the shower until after the birth, or skip it entirely!

photo credit
Throughout all of our discussions of "if we're ever pregnant/expecting a little," Jason and I always agreed: no showers. We're not a huge fan of showers, and it was a really easy decision.

Once we actually were pregnant, as I had expected, we faced a lot of opposition. My mum really wanted to throw us one, and other people we talked to thought it was crazy we weren't having one. But we had our reasons, and trust me, they were good ones!

We didn't want a shower because typically at showers, you get a lot of stuff. We don't really want a lot of stuff. We didn't need a baby swing, a baby bouncer, a million pieces of clothes bought at retail prices and a million receiving blankets.

And while some people have showers with the intent to stock up on diapers or formula/baby food, we weren't in the market for those items either. Bug is in cloth diapers, and she's strictly breast fed. In addition, once she is ready for regular food, we plan to let her wean herself to it, eating regular food.

I applaud those who have baby showers with a note to bring a book in lieu of a card. I think that's awesome. But we really love our local library {we should - Jason used to work there!}, and we don't need a million books in our home. We have a few, and we cherish the ones we have. They're very special to us. But make no mistake: Bug will be very familiar with the library and will utilize the services it offers - such as free books to check out!

If you insist upon a shower, I would really caution you against having one before the birth. I totally understand why people have one before: you want everything set up and you want everything you need right at your fingertips once the baby is here.

Here's the catch: you're not going to know everything you need. Everything we bought after Bug was born, clothes aside, I never would have envisioned needing. Some of the things we bought included:
  • SwaddleMes
  • A car mirror so we can see Bug while she's in the car
  • A neck pillow for Bug's car seat so her head doesn't loll around
In your case, you might have other things you want after the baby is born. And you will have to spend money out of pocket on those items.

If you do insist on a shower before hand, here's some tips that may help you:
  • Talk to a lot of moms around your age to see which products were absolute must-haves
  • If you're using disposable diapers and wipes, register for those - you know you'll need them!
  • Register for and ask for gift cards - this way, once your little is here, you can use the gift cards to get the items you didn't know you wanted
  • Always read customer reviews on items to pick the best one. After all, moms know best!
  • Keep any gift receipts you're given in case you really don't have the need for an item that's been given to you once your little arrives - store credit is always better than a gift that doesn't have a place in your home
If you're on the fence about a shower and are wondering about the perks of skipping it, I'll tell you that I didn't really have to deal with anyone telling me unwanted advice about my baby. That was really nice. Also, so many people bought things for Bug when she was born that I honestly didn't even notice I didn't have a shower! Some of the things that were gifted to us included:
  • A crib
  • A rocking chair
  • A million different outfits {bought at retail prices... ahhhhhhh!}
  • Bathing suit, sun hat and sunglasses {possibly the most genius gift given to me!}
  • Cloth diapers
  • Disposable diapers
  • A glow seahorse
  • Car seat toys
  • Blankets
  • Booties
  • Books
  • A stuffed animal
  • Cash for Bug's savings account
Even if you don't have a shower, I promise you will be blessed by the people in your life who adore you and want to bless your baby with a gift.

A shower can be truly special, but you must work to make it that way. Choose the special people in your life to attend. Keep it small and meaningful. Register for the items you only really and truly need.

I'm incredibly grateful that our lifestyle is minimal, and our home and Bug's room are a reflection of that. She is so blessed - by our love, and not by things. That's how I want her to grow up. I don't want her to be one person in a mountain of things. I want her to be one person who moves mountains.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Saving the Moola: the best income-producing ideas for your personality type

photo credit
A reader and dear friend recently asked:

What would be your top pick for a way to bring in a little extra cash if you could only pick one? I've seen your blogs about Swagbucks and such but I'm not sure where to start. I'm trying to maximize my downtime and minimize our budget.

When I thought on it, I realized there really is one top income-producing strategy we utilize, but how one chooses to increase their income really is all dependent on one's personality. I'm also going to answer this question assuming that everyone reading this is already living a frugal lifestyle. You have a budget, you menu plan every week/month, you have a garden, you turn off the lights when you leave the room, you dry your clothes on the line when the weather is appropriate, etc.

If you're not coming from that kind of place, I really recommend you do all of the above things to maximize the income you already have.

If, however, you're already living a frugal lifestyle but still find yourself needing extra income, I have good news for you! There are ways to improve your income without taking on a traditional 9 to 5 job.

Jason and I know the struggles of living on a modest income. We both work full time, and while we're very grateful for our jobs and careers, we really don't make a lot of money. We've become very good at managing the money we have, but we have big goals for the future. To ever meet those goals, we've had to improve our income in non-traditional ways.

The No. 1 Best Way to Produce Extra Income
If you're willing to do anything to make extra money and you cannot take on a traditional second job, Swagbucks is going to be the best for you. When Swagbucks was first introduced, each household could only have one account. The company has since changed their policy, and now more than one account can exist per household. When Jason and I both focus on Swagbucks, together we earn $50 in amazon.com gift cards per month.

This helps our budget tremendously as we use those gift cards to order things like groceries, personal care items and items for Bug {like a Baby Bjorn potty seat}. Amazon.com's Subscribe and Save program helps maximize our gift cards. We are then able to put the cash earmarked for these items toward our other goals because we didn't have to pay for these items.

Swagbucks is the best way to earn extra money for a couple of reasons:
  1. Anyone can do this. You don't need a special skill set to earn money... except for knowing how to navigate a computer. So if you're reading this blog post, congrats! You have the required skill set.
  2. You can Swag as little or as much as you want. Miss a day? Who cares!? I do Swag activities most days, but the day our car was totaled, I never went on swagbucks.com. And I didn't have to explain myself to anyone.
  3. It involves very little work on your behalf. It does require time: it takes however many seconds to complete the Daily Poll. But in general, if you want to earn money, that takes time. There's very little thought that goes into earning Swagbucks, though. You don't need to build a customer base, you don't need to design anything to sell. You just need to sit at a computer and complete activities.
There are many rewards you can choose from if you don't shop at amazon.com often. You can even just cash out your rewards with PayPal if you so choose.

To maximize your Swagbucks earning potential, be sure to complete each day's Daily Poll and NOSO. For an easy buck, use the Swag toolbar. Aim for two search wins a day, and be sure to allot time for surveys most days of the week. For extra bucks, be sure to refer all your friends to Swag. You'll get up to 1,000 Swagbucks for each friend you refer. If you shop online at all, be sure to check if the store you're ordering from is part of Shop & Earn. Some of my favorites are Land's End, Kohl's, QVC and JMS.

With just completing the Daily Poll, NOSO, using the toolbar and getting two search wins a day {and only earning the minimal amount each time for a search win}, you'll earn $60 in amazon.com gift cards a year. You can read about Jason's take on Swagbucks here.

Take it up a notch!
Swagbucks recently released a Swagbucks credit card. For every dollar you spend, you'll earn 1.25 Swagbucks. On your first purchase, you'll get a bonus 1,000 Swagbucks. If you use your card once each month for six months, you'll get a bonus 2,500 Swagbucks. While Jason and I are not a fan of credit cards, PerkStreet is closing their doors and we were looking for a way to earn perks on our normal purchases. We now have a Swag credit card and are using it for groceries, gas and our "fun money" each month. By using our card for these items, we'll earn about $10 in gift cards each month.

If Swagbucks isn't your thing and doesn't sound like something that piques your interest, no worries. I have a few more ideas, and one of them is bound to suit you.

If you like to cook or craft, sell your items to friends/family
This can be a great way to earn extra income. Jason and I can jam for ourselves and have made a few dollars by selling jars of jam to relatives. We also give jars of jam for Christmas gifts {we make all our Christmas gifts so this saves us money in that regard}. I make beaded earrings and have earned a few dollars by selling my designs. I've also given earrings for Christmas gifts.

Take it up a notch!
Participate in craft shows and sell your goods there. Jam and jewelry are just two examples of items you can sell. You can sell knitted items, homemade food, such as muffins and breads, simple sewn items such as scarves or handbags - the possibilities are endless. If you find craft shows are going well or there are no craft shows in your area, open an Etsy shop. I recently bought a homemade headband for Bug on Etsy for a very reasonable price from a work-at-home mum.

If a hobby of yours is shopping, why not pair shopping with earning money?
Secret shopping is a fantastic way to earn money for shopping and dining at establishments you may already frequent. Jason is a mystery shopper for multiple companies and earlier this year, he bought a Kindle Fire with his profits. He easily earns $40 a month in profits from mystery shopping - not to mention the free food and other products he is reimbursed for. You can read more about this here.

One note for secret shopping: if you live in a very rural area, this may not work well for you. Check out what shops are available in your area. There are many shops in our area so mystery shopping works well for us. If you live in Cheboygan in Michigan as one example, you probably won't have as much luck finding shops in your area.

Take it up a notch!
Sign up for all the legitimate mystery shopping companies available. Make up a route to hit multiple shops in one day. This would be a good way to spend only one day a month shopping and earning a lot in that one day.

If you like to write or share what's on your heart, find your niche in the blogging world
We earn a modest income from this blog. And by modest, I mean our income from this blog is three figures. We don't take any pay from the blog, in that we don't take a salary. Whatever money we earn from the ads placed here, we just use to pay our blogging fee {$5 per year} and put the rest toward whatever is needed in our personal lives. Our last blogging check paid for quite a lot of needed items, such as cat food, water fountain filters, gas in our car, groceries, etc.

Anyway, I digress. If you like to write, start a blog! It will be free or very low cost. You can maximize your blog's visibility by utilizing Pinterest and creating a Facebook page for your blog. This blog is super fun for us to run, so it's just silly we actually earn money from doing it.

Take it up a notch!
Write and sell an e-book in your area of expertise. Price your e-book low so your every day reader can not only afford it, but is compelled to buy it. Generally speaking, I'll buy most anything for $1. I've long considered writing an e-book but haven't yet found the time. And with a little one on the loose, I doubt I'll find the time soon, but I hope to one day!

You can do this
Let me reassure you that if you're looking for creative ways to improve your income, you can do this. Jason and I are amazed at all the things we do that add up to several hundred dollars' worth of extra income over the course of each month. We could make it on our income without these things, but we live what we consider a luxurious life because of these extra perks. There's nothing like going out to a sit-down restaurant and enjoying a night out for free because Jason's completing a mystery shop so our food is free and he earns a shopper fee for his time. It's really nice when we cash in our Swagbucks points for amazon.com gift cards and can order a big bag of food for Preston for free. By doing that, we just saved $30. When a blog check comes at just the time when we're needing extra items and don't want to pay for them, my heart sings for joy.

Share with us: What is your favorite way to earn extra money on the side?

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Day in the Life

Through pictures and journaling, I chronicled Sunday, September 15 for you. Here's what I was up to!

3:44 AM: Feed Bug.

5:45 AM: Feed Bug. I also change her into a sleeper and change her diaper. I was shocked when she went to bed at 7 PM the night before, and as such, she went to bed in a onesie. We snuggled up in bed, so she stayed warm, but it's pretty cold outside right now, and the windows are open. I love fall air.

8:25 AM: I wake up for the day. I've slept in late because I was so tired, but I'm feeling slightly panicky at the time. I immediately start making breakfast: sausage, donuts and cider. While the sausage is cooking, I start stocking our snack bin and recruit Jason to help me.



8:51 AM: Jason's taking care of Bug and breakfast is over. I snuggle under the blankets for a few moments of warmth.

9:03 AM: I'm getting my clothes together for church. I usually do this on Saturday evenings - clearly this did not happen then. And boy, oh boy, am I paying for it today. I realize I have no clean underwear. I don't go commando. Instead, I wear what I always wear when I have no clean underwear (and the fact that I have a back-up underwear substitute I use frequently is not lost on me. I likely need more underwear!!!). I wear this part of boy shorts that is part of a pajama set. It's pretty uncomfortable and I have a wedgie all.day.long. Lesson learned here: Get more comfortable back-up underwear! Oh yeah, and buy more underwear.

9:42 AM: I'm all showered and ready for church. I tackle the kitchen which is pretty messy.


10:02 AM: Here's the after shot of the kitchen...


10:07 AM: I update my chore list for the day and figure out what I can realistically get done today. I decide dusting and washing our bedding can wait until later in the week.

10:16 AM: I'm expressing milk for Bug and while doing so, I complete my daily Swagbucks activities and read my Bible and devotional.

11:01 AM: We're singing our hearts out at church.

12:16 PM: I'm co-leading the mommy group at church this year with three other wonderful mamas. One of the mamas video tape me saying a bit for a video we're making.

12:39 PM: We head to lunch at Boston's, a new restaurant in our area. The food was good, but the entire atmosphere and food is a bit pretentious for our tastes. We will not return.

1:27 PM: Home for the day. I feed Bug and change her diaper and clothes.

2:04 PM: Jason's asleep for the day. He works third shift and will be heading to work later tonight. I'm on Bug duty. I start the first load of laundry, declutter the house and make muffin batter. Bug plays happily on her mat while I'm busy.


2:52 PM: I switch the laundry to the dryer and start a second load. The muffins are baking in the oven.

3:02 PM: I put Bug down for an afternoon nappy. I unload and reload the dishwasher (isn't my life exciting?!?! Haha).

3:10 PM: Muffins are done! I declutter the house a bit more and pop a few tomatoes in my mouth.

3:17 PM: I finish the muffins. I dip them in butter and then roll them in sugar and cinnamon. After I'm done with that, I decide it's time for a break. I eat an apple and read some of my current book, After Her by Joyce Maynard.


3:43 PM: I change the trash bag in the trash can. Bug stirs so I feed her, and she goes back to sleep.

3:54 PM: I bring in the first load of laundry and switch the second load to the dryer. I take out the trash and run to the store to pick up groceries for the rest of the month. We'll go to the store as needed for fresh produce, but this is pretty much it for the rest of the month. We have so much food in this house!

5:03 PM: I arrive back home, bring in the second load of laundry and put away groceries. Bug and Jason are both asleep. I turn on the oven for dinner. Before church, Jason put together a casserole and popped it in the fridge. This will make dinner really easy for me!

5:09 PM: I start folding laundry.

5:34 PM: The laundry is mostly all done. A certain cat has decided I'm done, at least. I load up my computer and charge my iPod. I check on my chore list to see what else needs to be done today.


5:50 PM: Dinner is all done. Bug is up and playing on her mat. Jason wakes up to eat with me.

6:33 PM: Done with dinner. Time to finish the laundry now that a certain cat has decided to move on to something else (or is plotting new ways to torture me).

7:02 PM: Laundry is finally finished. I also fed Bug and played with her. I head back to the kitchen to clean it (again).

7:14 PM: The kitchen is done for now. Time for playing with Bug and reading her a story.


8:09 PM: Jason takes over on Bug duty. I whip up homemade cat treats for Preston. In the process, I spill cornmeal all over the floor. Jason graciously offers to clean it up for me because I'm just really upset.


8:33 PM: Preston's treats are in the oven! I can't wait to see how these turn out and if he likes them.

8:51 PM: I check in on Bug and Jason. I declutter a bit and start getting ready for bed.

9:02: The treats are done and in the fridge for cooling down and storing. I promise Preston he will get a treat tonight before I'm officially in bed.


9:24 PM: I'm reading magazines in bed with Bug next to me. I'm just waiting for her to be ready for sleeping officially.


10:02 PM: Bug is asleep. I feed Preston a treat from the fridge. He gobbles it down. I turn off all the lights in the house and head to bed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

This Book Room: Eventide

Honest and faithful Elsie Keim falls for her new neighbor, Landon, but she can’t bear to tell him the truth: She’s going blind.

Landon is enamored with Elsie. When Elsie’s brother Roman steps in and shares the truth of Elsie’s disease, Landon is floored. His job is demanding and takes him away from home, sometimes for days at a time. He wonders how he’d be able to keep up with his responsibilities and take care of Elsie.

In Eventide, three generations of the Keim family come together to make their dreams come true.

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Days of Redemption series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here.

My thoughts: I think from the first book, I was really just waiting to read Elsie's story. She is such a little firecracker and yet so vulnerable due to her eye disease and her family. They are quite overprotective! It's easy for her to let her family speak for her, but she must learn to stand on her own two feet.

Elsie's character really hits home for me. I have my own opinions but in an extended family like mine, my opinion often gets lost because I'm not the one shouting. So no one can hear me. I remember always running to my parents for their opinion when Jason and I were in a serious relationship. That all changed the day we married - he was, from that second on, the head of our household and the head of me. Thankfully, I married a godly man, and he answers to God first and foremost. That makes it very easy for me to feel safe and comfortable with being the second in command at our home.

Anyway, I was so happy with this story. A little predictable, but it's predictable for Amish fiction to be predictable. I think that makes sense! If you like Amish fiction, you will adore this story.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saving the Moola: Tips for Buying a Used Car, Part 2

Our new car, Sandy
We've shared most of our best tips for buying a used car in part 1. But here's our number one best tip:

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
We're in our new car, which wasn't yet our car, and we're driving it back from my parents' after driving it there during our test drive. We're talking over our strategy for negotiating the price. The car was priced $940 over retail value, so in my eyes, we had a lot of wiggle room for talking the price down. Jason and I took Financial Peace University in 2012, and in one of the lessons, Dave Ramsey covers negotiating. After making your offer and receiving the counter offer, if it's not good enough, say, "That's not good enough." Then, shut.up. So I'm sharing this with my dad, as technically it is his (and my mom's) money that is paying for the car. I had never negotiated a car before, so I wasn't really confident in negotiating what is really someone else's money. In short, I didn't want to screw this up.

We all know the strategy, and my dad is going to lead the way. We arrive back at the dealership. The sales associate we had been working with, Scott, comes over. My dad lets him know we're ready to make an offer and tells him what it is. The offer is about $900 less than what the car is currently priced at. Scott says okay and leads us into the dealership office to write up the paperwork to present the offer to the dealership owners.

While Scott writes up the paperwork, he starts noting all of these extra fees. Since none of us had ever bought a car from a dealership before, we were, well, in sticker shock to say the least. We would've made an even lower offer if we had known about these fees! Anyway, we all agree that if the dealership owners agree to our offer, the deal would be done. I sign on the line. This is the first clue I have that I'm the one negotiating (dude, Dad, what happened? You're the one who is supposed to be talking here!!!).

Scott takes the paperwork to the owners. While he's gone, Jason, my dad and I discuss all the extra fees thrown in. I'm pretty much in shock, as are they, and we all agree we wouldn't really budge a lot on the offer we made. This is already adding up to more than we imagined (more than our initial offer and more than I wanted to take the car for), so we discuss how much we'd be willing to negotiate. It wasn't a lot, I can tell you that.

Scott comes back with an offer in the middle of the road. And by middle of the road, I mean it's an offer I'm walking from. When he presents the offer, my dad says, "That's not gonna work." To reinforce what he said (and to use the exact verbiage Dave Ramsey recommends using), I say, "That's not good enough."

The longest pause of my life ensues. And by pause, I really mean the whole world stops. Jason, my dad and I all go silent, as agreed. Only Scott does, too. Hmm, maybe he took a class on negotiating, too! Here we all are, all silent. For a full bloody minute. If you think that doesn't sound like a long time, I really recommend going silent for a full minute in a situation like this. I really thought I was going to die.

I was biting my tongue. I wasn't going to be the first to break the silence. I was not going to back down. This was do or die.

Finally, finally, Scott breaks the silence. He reiterates this is their offer. I let it be known that we're walking then. Scott quickly backtracks and says, "Oh no, I mean, do you have any wiggle room?" I name my final offer. I tell him I wouldn't go a penny over. I tell him I'm walking if that amount can't be agreed upon because there's no way I'd pay more for that car.

I sign on the line for the new offer. Scott leaves to talk with the owners, then comes back.

And the deal is done. The car is mine.

I share this story for several reasons: 1. Because it was an epic moment for me. I felt so powerful. I knew what I was doing and I knew what this car was worth. I knew how to negotiate and I felt so strong. I felt like Superwoman. 2. Negotiating works. If you do it right. 3. Because I want you to know that if I can do this, you can do this, too. You can do this. You can do this for phone service, you can do this for dry cleaning, you can do this for a new car.

By negotiating, I saved $695 off the car's sticker price at the dealership. I also saved sales tax on that $695, which was another $41.70. Negotiating works.

Really, buying a used car wasn't just a lesson in a buying a used car. Buying a car taught me a lot about buying, selling, trading. I will never forget the feeling I had when we left the dealership - I felt on top of the world. My confidence was through the roof. That moment definitely changed me forever.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: Why I Believe Breast Milk is Best... and How You Can Provide This for Your Baby No Matter What!

Skin on skin care while in the hospital with Bug after a breastfeeding session
I want to first start this off by saying I don't judge. Really and truly. Whether or not you breastfeed your baby is totally up to you. You will find no judgment here.

If you've struggled with breastfeeding, if you've struggled with providing breast milk for your baby, if you don't believe breast milk is best, this post is for you. I'm not the most knowledgeable on this subject, nor do I pretend to be. For solid information on breastfeeding, please consult with a lactation consultant, a good doctor, breastfeeding books and information on the internet. Family and friends are also good resources.

So let's dive in: how can anyone provide breast milk for their baby? I would say "easy peasy," but it's not always easy, but it's always, always doable {except for in rare cases}.

First, it's work. If you thought providing milk for your baby would be easy right off the gate and gave up on the notion of providing breast milk for your baby because it was too hard, you had unrealistic expectations. That said, some mamas and babies may catch on to breastfeeding right away. Bug had good and bad moments with breastfeeding in the hospital - and let's not forget, I was learning, too!

To get yourself off on a good start, I highly recommend reading the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding while you are pregnant. The knowledge and information found there will put you one step ahead when it comes time for you to feed your baby.

Second, there's no such thing as not being able to produce enough milk to keep your baby thriving and growing. But, it.is.work. Work, work, work. I'm talking completely from experience. My milk did not come in until a full eight days post partum. Eight. Days. I was terrified. I really thought my milk would never come in. I thought I had defective breasts.

Keep in mind that God gave you the ability to make, carry and deliver babies, and you have everything you need to make milk {that said, there are a small number of people who cannot make milk for their babies, but I've talked with many mamas who thought they couldn't and I'm rather sure some of them don't really fall into this category}.

So some of you are saying: no, really, I tried and I couldn't produce enough!

Either could I, until I did the following things {I did not do all of these things, but here is everything you should try before giving up on providing your baby with breast milk}:
  • Take fenugreek, Mother's Milk or some other equally effective herbal pill to increase milk production. These are totally safe and can be found on amazon.com. Start with a small number of pills per day, say 1 or 2, and up as necessary until you see your milk come in or increase. Note: you may smell like maple syrup.
  • Feed your baby often. In the beginning, offer your breast often. Feed on demand. And feed when you just want to offer. The more your baby eats, the more milk you will produce. Make sure you're switching sides.
  • Pump. Invest in a high-quality electric double breast pump. I'm a fan of the Medela Pump N Style pump. Yes, it's expensive, but formula is more expensive over the cost of the first year. Spend the money now and thank me later. Once you have purchased the pump, pump every two hours for 20 minutes total for 10 minutes at a time. Do this until your milk comes in. And it will come in. You may start out with only pumping 1 or 2 ounces but you will be pumping anywhere from 4 to 10 ounces in a go when your milk comes in. Even if you're actually breastfeeding, pump when baby is done to fully empty your breasts, create a small fridge or freezer storage and keep your supply up.
  • Bake and eat lactation cookies. These contain ingredients that will boost milk production.
  • Speaking of eating, read up on what kinds of foods will increase your milk production. Oatmeal is one such food. I personally ate oatmeal often and found that it truly increased my milk supply.
  • Shake what your mama gave you. Shake those boobies for all they're worth! This will kick your milk production in full gear and help with a good letdown.
  • Make sure you're cuddling your baby skin on skin early and often. Bug and I did a lot of skin on skin care in the hospital. We had the odds stacked against us because she wasn't allowed to stay in the room with me, but I'm glad we could cuddle together often and early on.
  • Avoid giving bottles, pacifiers or sugar water. Your baby needs to learn to work your breast. Giving a bottle will make getting food too easy, and she won't learn the techniques she needs to get milk from your breast. Sucking on a pacifier sends a signal to baby's tummy that she or he is eating and is thus full. Because of this, she or he will want to eat much less, which will cause your breasts to make less milk because baby isn't eating enough from them. Your breasts work on supply and demand. The more you demand, the more will be supplied. The less you demand, the less will be supplied.  
I have full confidence that if you do everything above, you can provide enough milk for your baby or babies, in the instance you have multiples. If you do have multiples, you'll definitely want to check out a tandem nursing book to learn tricks and tips for breastfeeding more than one baby. I also found this story of a mama breastfeeding triplets incredibly inspiring.

So maybe you're not sure if you're interested in breastfeeding because formula has come a long way and you're not sure breast milk really is best. First, I can assure you breast is best for baby. For so many reasons.
  1. It creates a special bond between you and baby. I can promise you will bond with your baby anyway, but you have an extra special bond that you wouldn't have had before.
  2. There are so many nutrients and antibodies in breast milk that just isn't present in formula. That is an absolute fact. Try to prove me wrong. I double dog dare you.
  3. This one is my absolute favorite: when your baby's mouth connects with your breast, your baby is sending signals to your body. If your baby has been exposed to germs that could potentially make your baby ill, your body will produce milk with antibodies to help prevent your baby from getting sick. Can you imagine? Your breast milk is constantly changing to meet your baby's needs. Your milk for the feeding in the morning will be totally different than your milk at night. And as your baby grows and his or her needs change, your milk changes, too. Crazy!
  4. You will save money. Breast milk is free! If you purchase a pump, breast milk storage bags and other accessories, you will still save money overall. We purchased a pump, consulted with a private lactation consultant, purchased many breast milk storage bags and purchased bottles and liners for those bottles, and we have still saved money, even if we had purchased the cheapest formula for Bug.
At the end of the day, you know what's best for you and your baby. But I would highly encourage you to give breastfeeding a try. Try it for 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks, if you really, truly can't do this anymore, fine. And also just know that any amount of breast milk you can provide for your baby is truly a gift. Do the best you can, mama, and you'll be doing great.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Saving the Moola: August in review

August was a bit disappointing in terms of our finances as we found ourselves scrambling to purchase a new-to-us car when our car was unexpectedly totaled. Needless to say, we didn't send a single extra penny to my student loan institution and now have a car loan. Ay yi yi!

The good news is that we were able to pay off about 30% of our car loan when the insurance company valued our car much higher than we were expecting. Let me just tell ya: it was beyond worth it to have full coverage on our car. I knew it was, but I didn't know just how much. I'm incredibly thankful we had made that decision a year or so ago to keep full coverage on our car.

Because of this new debt, we realized we wouldn't be able to be debt free this year. This was my dream last year, and then we became pregnant. We started stockpiling money last year when we knew we were pregnant and because of that, we were unable to be debt free. Then, this year, we were going to be debt free.

But as we all know, we plan and God laughs. Because His plan is always better than our plan. That's so reassuring to me in times where my plan goes bust. Like now.

I'm embracing the season of life we're in and am incredibly thankful for the blessings we've been witness to and have experienced because of our car being totaled. I'm very thankful for a car that runs very well and has a working air conditioner. I'm very thankful that we had an emergency fund to pay for a rental car and get us through a few days of not being home very much and being on the road a lot, which led to extra money needed for gas and take-out.

Even though we ended up spending quite a bit more in August than we had planned (cars aren't exactly cheap, ya know!), we were still able to practice frugality to some extent:
  • I cut Jason's hair.
  • I made a toy for Bug out of felt, thread and some buttons.
  • I started work on a toy for Bug out of a milk carton we had received for free from Meijer.
  • We got a free jar of peanut butter and a free gallon of milk from Meijer with our mPerks card.
  • We carefully menu planned the entire month and ate out as little as possible.
  • We've been feeding Bug only breast milk (this has been ongoing since my milk came in and was enough to satisfy her, so about 2 weeks of life on).
  • We cloth diaper Bug every day. The exceptions to this are when we're out of the house, at night and if she has a particular horrible rash that paper will likely clear up. Then, she's in paper. I keep our paper diaper costs low by shopping the diaper deals when we need a new package. A package of 36 diapers lasts us at least three weeks since she's mostly in cloth.
  • We picked 4.5 lbs. of blueberries.
  • We've harvested about 75 cherry tomatoes so far this gardening season and about 25 big tomatoes. We canned two big jars of tomatoes to use later to make chili.
August was a bit of a sad month, besides the totaled car, as we decided it was time for Jason to leave his job at the library. This was for a variety of reasons, the main one being that he was working way too much and seeing Bug far too little. He's been working overtime at his main job, and it's really important to the both of us that he cultivate his relationship as a father to Bug. Fathers can be really underrated, but to me and him, the father plays an important role for daughters (and sons). The last week in August was his first week free from the library, and it really helped our routine and his time with Bug.

I'm hoping September is a calm month as August definitely was not! We're plugging away at keeping our expenses low and our income high while taking care of our Bug.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

State of Our House Address: August in review

The big news for us in August was that we bought a new-to-us car when our car was unexpectedly totaled. Here's what we bought:


I'm really proud of the negotiating I did to get the price we got on this car. And I'm really happy that we've already paid off more than 30% of the loan.

While our new car was the biggest thing for August, we were pretty busy in August but spent a couple of full weekends at home which was very restoring for my soul.

We made it back to the blueberry patch one time in August. Speaking of blueberries and food, Bug started baby-led weaning in August. We were out to dinner and she plucked a stalk of celery from Jason's plate. I'm not sure she liked it so much, but the look on her face is so priceless.


Bug also accompanied us car shopping. I'm super thankful that my parents live where they do. We went in that area one day while car shopping. They weren't home, but I called to see if we could stop over to feed Bug and possibly put her down for a nap. I don't have a house key (although I may get one in the future for instances like these), but they have a great backyard. We just set her down on a blanket on the grass. She never fell asleep, but she ate and we ate and it was really good. Here's a sweet picture I captured of her. Jason says her eyes look like blueberries, and this photo really captures that:


We have been harvesting a ton of big and cherry tomatoes. So much so that we were able to can two big jars of tomatoes for use later this year. This is our first jar:


We had never canned tomatoes before, but it was shockingly easy.

One of our concerns with Bug was wondering how Preston and she would get along. Preston is absolutely our first child, so "getting rid of him" never crossed our minds. Well, actually it did, in that we had to defend this decision to everyone and their mother, but that's another story. Everyone can put their fears to rest: Preston and Bug adore each other. One day, while Jason was rocking Bug, Preston decided he wanted in on the action, too. We need to work with Bug some on her petting skills as this photo clearly shows she only grabs, not pets. Also, I should note that this photo was taken about 5.34981 seconds before Bug spit up all over Preston. He didn't care, just kept right on purring.


He loves to sniff her feet, and her eyes follow him everywhere. Bug is in love with her big brother and it is so sweet to watch.

September has lots of fun things in store, and it will be fall. I can smell the fresh autumn air as I type...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Life & Style: September goals + an update on August goals

Here's how I did on my goals for August:

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for August, I'm working on eating at home for every meal {or as many as possible}.
-Work on one other habit per month - for August, I'm sweeping the kitchen floor each day.
-Craft weekly - for August, I'm making 3 gifts for Christmas and sewing a fleece hat for baby Bug.

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

Mothering
-Continue tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day
-Continue gross motor activity skills with Bug
-Pray with and for Bug each day

Financial
-Send as much money as we can to my student loan institution

The month of August was kind of in turmoil due to the fact that the car we owned was totaled. So while we sent as much money as we could to my student loan institution, we also spent a lot of emergency fund on a rental car, gas, etc. We've since re-funded our emergency fund almost completely, and we're now re-directing our financial goals to re-paying the car loan as soon as possible. You can more about that journey in Saving the Moola: August in review which will be posted soon.

We're no longer going to be focusing on the gross motor activity skills we had been doing with Bug. I'm going to research to find new ones that may be more suited for her current age {almost 6 months - ahhhh!!!}. We also no longer need to focus on putting Bug on her tummy to do tummy time. Since she rolls all day and all night and every minute and second that exists in the day, she gets plenty of tummy time on her own.

My Amplified Bible and I haven't really been connecting. Well, let's just be honest, I haven't really been connecting. Jason suggested I focus on the New Testament, which is generally always easier for me to connect to. Thanks, boo, for the suggestion! I'm going to focus on re-prioritizing the Amplified back into my daily routine.

I'm pretty excited about the goals I have set out for September. It's the season of fall, and I just love fall. I feel like we both stay home and go out more. I know that's not really possible, but it just is. I think. I don't know. I have mommy brain. Most of what I say nowadays doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Thank God for His grace.

Anyway, before I just ramble on and on, here's my September goals:

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 7 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for September, I'm working on eating the rainbow: green, purple/blue, orange, red and yellow in fruits and vegetables. I started this in August and did well each day, so I'm looking forward to upping my fruits and veggie counts each day in September now that I'm purposefully focusing on this.
-Work on one other habit per month - for September, I'm working on not losing my mind. Seriously. Which pretty much means saying only nice things. I'm sure I'll fail miserably, but I'm really going to try to be nice. Every moment. Someone please give me some chocolate.
-Craft weekly - for September, I'm baking homemade cat treats for Preston, making 1 toy for Bug, making 1 Christmas gift and canning two batches of raspberry jam. I also would like to start planning out busy bags for Bug. I've started compiling which ones I'm going to make, but I only have 3. I would like at least 2 more. And then I need to make a materials list of things I need to buy/find for them. I'm hoping to get that done by the end of the month, too.

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

Mothering
-Read to Bug each day
-Pray with and for Bug each day
-Continue signing to Bug each day - we're teaching num nums, mama, dada, Bug {the sign we made up for her}, sleep/night night/tired, book/read, all done, more, eat, drink, bunny, kitty/brother {we call Preston brother as well so this is just an all-inclusive sign for him}, bear, potty
-Start potty training. Yup, that's right. We're crazy. We're buying a potty this month and will be putting Bug on it at key moments of the day. I expect absolutely nothing. We're just getting her used to the potty, diaper free, and experiencing this part of life.
-Continue baby-led weaning. At around 5.5 months of age, we started giving Bug her own plate with baby appropriate food. We usually give her a piece of toasted bread with a dip {yogurt, pasta sauce, hummus, etc.} or whatever we're having. Her favorite meal so far was steak and raw red pepper.

Financial
-Send as much money as we can to our car loan holders {aka my parents}

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.