First Days of School: 2017-18

It’s “fall” once again – school, preschool, MOPS, ballet lessons, and church nights are all getting back into our routine. Here are our traditional first day of school pics and interviews. Hannah – Second grade

  • Class of 2028
  • Favorite book: whatever currently reading
  • This year I want to learn: cursive and multiplication
  • When I grow up, I want to be: a vet

Violet

  • Class of 2031
  • Favorite book: The Pigeon Takes a Bath
  • This year I want to learn: about animals
  • When I grow up, I want to be: a mommy and a ballet teacher

Cora

  • Class of 2033
  • Favorite book: anything Star Wars/Moana/princess
  • When I grow up, I want to be: in music theater
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Meet My Happy Boxes: Planning that Works for Me

img_2700With each seasonal transition, I’ve seen tons of posts about fitness goals, healthy eating challenges, and planners. People ask for planner advice, but after years of hit-and-miss techniques I feel like there’s no straight answer. And the options are indeed overwhelming! Printables, bullet journals, Erin Condren, binders, monthly/weekly/daily, white boards, phone apps! There are a lot of factors for planner success such as age of kids, number of activities, what you want to plan. I’ll share what works for me, and maybe you can adapt it for your family.

I’ve been using this particular style of planner for two years, and I like that it has the option to go by the school year instead of the calendar year. This works much better for me as I can sit down in August with Hannah’s school schedule and fill everything in.

My favorite thing about this planner – the boxes. I labeled the boxes with the categories that I want to track:

  • Schedule – These are our daily activities. It includes scheduled events such as “parent-teacher conference 10am” as well as errands and to-do items such as “pick up Rx.”
  • School – First grade was a whole new world of responsibilities. This helps us keep track of the days’ specials (need gym shoes?), tests, homework due, library book due, guided reading book due, bring xyz for a science experiment, wear purple for the principal’s birthday, etc.
  • Food – Meal planning is huge for me. This helps me think ahead for smart shopping and coordinate meals with the day’s activities. For example, I’m not going to plan a slow cooker meal on a MOPS day because I won’t have time in the morning to prep it. I also star meals that are family favorites so I can remember to make them in the future.
  • Housework – I don’t have a cleaning schedule or a to-do list. Instead I have a “did” list. Usually I shoot for one thing per day. It could just be a load of laundry. But I write down what I DID, and it’s a documentation of productivity.
  • Memories – These are funny things the girls said or little things we did that I want to be able to look back on. It’s a very small journaling aspect.
  • Work – I don’t have work for a “job,” but this box includes my MOPS tasks, Kansas City Moms Blog schedule, and planning for this blog.

In the summer, I order the new planner and transfer anything from the previous year. (would stickers and color-coding jazz it up? yes, but I like the clean simplicity of pen and boxes) I go through the school calendar and fill in the new paper calendar as well as our Google calendar.

The Google calendar keeps Brett and I on the same page and provides a mobile version of our main activities. I only include appointments and scheduled activities on the Google calendar. There are a lot of schedule/calendar apps (I’ve heard rave reviews of Cozi for bigger kids!), so look around for what meets your needs.

The third form of calendar that I use is a white board in our eating area. This is for family reference – activities and dinner plans. Now that Hannah’s a reader, this is especially useful.

I keep my planner always open on my desk as part of my “mommy workstation.” It helps me keep an eye on things and easily jot down what I’m doing.

Maybe this seems overwhelming: the meal planning, the planner, the online calendar, the whiteboard, etc. But I didn’t start doing all that at once. If you’re jumping into better planning, pick one and add later.

I think the two most important aspects are meal planning and writing down commitments. Meal planning is huge for sanity and budget reasons. Writing down responsibilities for work or school or friends is also of great importance because we forget! Time gets away from us, and we can drop the ball and let people down if we lose track of our commitments.

So it takes three things to keep us on-track with our schedule. I’m still tweaking, such as now using pencil for my planner instead of pen, but this works well for us. Paper planner for me, mobile calendar app for us adults, and posted white board for the family.

I plan according to the school year not the calendar year, so I’ve ordered my next blank slate and can’t wait to fill in those boxes!

Clothes: Where I was, What I did, and What I’m doing next

used-clothes

A little over a year ago, I was staring at my closet. My style and my sizes have fluctuated over the last few years, so I’ve had a pretty high turnover of fashion. I’ve gotten rid of a lot. It felt good. I feel like I’m finally finding my style. What I buy and how I buy have changed a lot in the last few years.

Looking over my closet, I noticed that about 70% of my clothes were purchased used. I’ve been a big fan of ThredUp.com (aff link) for years, and our house here is literally a mere 90 seconds away from a good consignment store (seriously, it’s dangerous) Clothes Mentor. So a challenge entered my head – if such a high percent of my clothes was already being purchased used, why not shoot for 100?

So I did it. And then I wrote about it. Of course, I’m a blogger. Read more of my reasons and what I did in a full post over on Kansas City Moms Blog. I detail the why and how of my year of buying used. And I never even set foot in a thrift store.

Here are a few examples of outfits purchased in the last year, just to show that a person can have a used wardrobe on a budget without looking frumpy and dumpy (I hope, haha). And buying used doesn’t just mean sketchy brands from thrift stores.

pink-shirt

Spring – Here is an Express shirt (ThredUp) paired with some 7 for All Mankind jeans (Clothes Mentor). Total outfit cost $28 for me. New would have been over $150.disney-shirts

Summer – This isn’t my favorite shirt, but this picture shows a money-saving tip from our Disney trip. I wanted us to all have Disney shirts to wear on the trip, so the girls could feel festive (without paying park gift shop prices, yikes!). So off to our local children’s consignment store I went. All our shirts above (Mickey, Minnie, and Cinderella) were found and purchased for about $4 each. I found two for myself by looking in the 14-16 size (girls) section.

roller-coaster

This one just makes me laugh. So fun to take Hannah on her first big roller coaster, even if she wouldn’t sit up front with me. :) This Minnie tank top is still in Disney parks gift shops for $34. Mine was $4 at Once Upon a Child. date-night-outfit

Date night! Gap shirt (Clothes Mentor) and distressed jeans (ThredUp).vest

Fall – Almost everything in this shot is used. Downeast tank, Lands End vest, and Steve Madden shoes were from ThredUp, and Old Navy maternity jeans were from Swap.com. I think my coffee cost more than my tank top. ;)

If 2016 was my year of buying used, what is 2017? 

I still plan to buy used as much as possible, but I want to branch out into supporting more small businesses. This is not as budget-friendly as buying used, but I think there are a lot of other economic advantages of supporting small businesses. Plus, cute and unique items. So Target has been permanently dethroned as my primary clothes source, though it is no longer completely off the table.

And I’m not one of those writers that takes on crazy personal challenges for the sole purpose of personal publicity. When 2016 began, I was in a nine-month blogging “break” and Kansas City Moms Blog was nowhere on my radar. So the clothes thing started just for me, but I’m excited to share it to encourage others to think about other shopping options.

So here’s to new adventures in 2017, and happy shopping!

Expecting Over Christmas: Deep Thoughts, A Funny Story, and the Name Reveal

Even though this is our fourth baby, it was the first time we’ve been expecting over the holidays. We’ve previously had 0-3 month olds at that time. The first holidays with a newborn are so sweet. They’re so relaxed; extended family doesn’t/shouldn’t have many expectations from a family in the newborn stage. Everyone snuggles the little one under the twinkling lights, and there’s the visual of “Unto you a child is born.” You pose the baby under the tree and feel like a new version of your family as you start the new year.

Being pregnant over the holidays is different. I couldn’t gorge myself with the excuse that I’m breastfeeding and need the extra calories. Nope, instead I was having visions of the scale at the next prenatal appointment. Put that extra cookie down.

And instead of feeling sweet family togetherness, I was feeling a missing person. We had four stockings hung on the mantle, and the girls talked excitedly about the new baby. But the new baby isn’t here. He has an identity, he has a name, he’s a subject of much conversation, but he’s not with us, and I think we all felt it more acutely than expected.

It seems natural at the holidays to grieve a loved one who is gone, but it’s a weird feeling to grieve the absence of someone who hasn’t even been born yet. It’s not the achy longing of infertility, it’s the acute knowledge that part of my family is missing.

And that’s my deep thought – a sense of incompleteness in a season of joy.

The funny story involves our name surprise. For the girls, we waited until birth to announce the name. Seemed like a fun surprise for everyone and prevented any weird comments. We picked a name and planned to do the same this time around.

Then the stocking.

I was afraid our classic Pottery Barn style would be discontinued before next year (and after their disastrous change of manufacturers this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, but that’s another story…), so I went ahead and ordered a monogrammed stocking to match the three girls’. Excited to see it, I immediately opened the package… and realized Hannah was standing next to me… and remembered Hannah can read.

She’s no dummy. “I know the baby’s name!!!” she announced. Yep, the secret was out, and Brett and I decided it was easier to go public than try to keep the girls quiet for four months.

So welcome, baby Grant! We can’t wait for you to join us in three months. You are already so loved and anticipated, and next year you actually get something in your stocking. ;)

The Year in Review: 2016

I’m squeaking in the last few moments of 2016, but I wanted to look back. This year I was able to be a little more active on the blog with 20 posts from June-December. Dead air for the nine months before that, though. Sorry.

So there were a lot of things that unfortunately haven’t been written about – Hannah’s kindergarten year, our trip to Disney with Brett’s family, lots of recipes, etc. – but I’ve enjoyed getting back in a bit of a writing routine. The increase in posting was prompted by my application to join the Kansas City Mom’s Blog contributor team. I remembered how much I enjoy writing and the value of documenting our little life stuff.

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In my 20 posts of 2016, I hit an all-time personal high after my post about what I buy at Aldi made its way around Facebook and I got close to 800 views in one day. Most of my new posts get about 40 (thank you, friends and family, for reading!!!), so that’s a significant difference! My second top post of the year was something I’d shared with my MOPS group during October for pregnancy loss awareness month. I talked about my faith maturing after our miscarriage and how I had to let go of my plans.

By the way, I was indeed added as a monthly contributor for the Kansas City Mom’s Blog, so you can check out some of my posts over there like The Bins and Experience Gifts in the Kansas City Area.

So I hope to be more faithful in blogging in 2017 by documenting more life things and having the guts to hit publish on some deeper thoughts that have been rattling around for a while. Cheers to 2017 – my 35th year of life, my 13th year of marriage, hopefully several dozen more posts published, and a new baby to add even more adventures along the way.

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Trader Joe’s Favorites – What’s Always on My List

I heard the praises of Trader Joe’s long before I set foot in one. First, the blogosphere was proclaiming its wonders. Then one opened in Kansas City, so my mom was getting in on the goodness and reporting back. Finally, it came to Austin.

As a regular Trader Joe’s shopper for several years now, I’ve established my list of regular items. Though we have one relatively close here in Kansas, it does not carry wine. (yay Kansas) So once a month I make the trek to the Kansas City, Missouri location for my standard stock-up.

My usual grocery shopping routine is Aldi weekly, Costco monthly, Trader Joe’s monthly, and another grocery store for occasional holes in between. They all have different items I prefer, so my list at each is tried-and-true favorites.

Here’s what’s always on my list at Trader Joe’s:


Cereal and flour

We go through a lot of cereal at our house, so if the girls are with me I let them pick a fun box in addition to our regulars. My mom also stocks up at cereal at TJ’s because they have Barbara’s brand at the best price (interestingly one of the few non-Trader Joe’s brands on the shelves).

I always get the White Whole Wheat Flour because it’s the best price I can find around here ($2.99).


Seasonal items, salsas, and sauces

The seasonal items are HOT and come in limited quantities, so I stock up when I spot them. Their pumpkin items in fall are my very favorite (mucho boxes of Pumpkin Pancake Mix), but the Peppermint Jo-Jo’s rate highly.

The Organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa is our family favorite. It’s got great flavor and a little heat – but all the girls eat it! The green Hatch Valley Salsa is quite tasty as well. I normally grab a couple jars of each. I also like the size of the jar of Traditional Marinara Sauce.

(not pictured: organic chocolate syrup)


Great to have on hand

These are items I don’t necessarily have on the meal plan, but I know I’m going to use them. Frozen Microwaveable Brown Rice is super convenient. Frozen waffles are always great on standby. And my girls think edamame is so fun. The chicken sausage comes in a ton of flavors and is easy to grill or sauté or put with pasta… tons of possibilities.


Frozen convenience foods

Though I like to make a lot from scratch, I have some favorite frozen convenience items. These are great for a quick meal and much cheaper and healthier than fast food. My kids like all of these, so they’re a nice easy dinner when needed. Violet even requested the Orange Chicken as her birthday meal when I said she could pick anything.


Beverages

Cheap wine. Nuf said. Okay, I’ll say more. The “two-buck Chuck” is famous (Charles Shaw, actually $2.99) and we like a couple varieties. But usually I stick with some good options in the $4-$5 range. And cheap beer – not bad in a can for $3.49 for a six-pack.

Brett likes their selection of coffee, so that’s usually on our list. Many organic and fair trade options.


Not food

Sorry to all my Mary Kay and Rodan+Fields friends, Trader Joe has taken over my skincare. Weird, right? But after trying multiple brands, I’m happier with my skin than I have been in years, and it’s a great price. So I go with what works.

(not pictures: fresh flowers starting at $3.99!!)

What I DON’T usually buy – overlaps of other stores. I don’t usually buy much produce at TJ’s because I can get better sale prices elsewhere, and I don’t think their quality is a significant difference. Same with meat and regular cheese (though they have good fancy cheeses). There have even been a few items that I have bought and not liked such as the french fried onions and chicken stock.

So my cart is a mix of everyday essentials and fun favorites.

What are your favorite Trader Joe’s items? 

trader-joes

Not Award-Winning Chili

chili-bowl-wordsAnyone else get tired of browsing Pinterest and coming across so many versions of “Award-Winning Chili” and “Best Chili Ever”? Let me make it easy for you. Just make this one. I entered it in a chili competition, and it did not win. But want to know what? People really liked it. Really liked it.

Fall is the perfect time for a hearty bowl of protein and veggies. And beer. Yep, all of that is in here. Top with Fritos and cheese.

Not Award-Winning Chili

  • 2 lbs. ground beef, browned
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced or pressed
  • 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large (30 oz) can pinto beans
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 1/2 can pumpkin purée
  • 1 can/bottle (12 oz) beer
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt

Combine in large slow cooker and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.