Monday, February 27, 2017

Blogger Love v.14

I drafted this post about a month ago and for whatever reason, neglected to publish it. However, I love the posts mentioned so I feel it's still worth posting. With a few more recent ones tagged on the end for good measure.

but I am just a mom by Just Enough Brave

As a SAHM, sometimes my confidence in myself and my value as a member of society feels diminished by my seemingly inglorious day job. I love that Katie not only gets this feeling, but goes a step forward to drive home the fact that as Moms, we are the movers and shakers of the world!

On Being a Christian and Being a Feminist...and Belonging Nowhere by Sarah Bessey

The ugliness and the discord that the 2016 election stirred up was a huge motivating factor for me in returning to the Church. I wanted to surround myself by believers who sought peace, healing, and reconciliation for the world. Fortunately, I have found a Church community that also believes in the equality of all people and so I haven't had as difficult time reconciling how to be a Christian and a feminist as I know many people have. Sarah's post speaks to this dynamic beautifully.

Parental Leave: Be Your Own Advocate by Dayton Moms Blog

This post is chock full of practical information for informing your self regarding existing parental leave laws and how you can become an advocate for an improved parental leave system in this country!

The Yellow Crib by Hippie at Heart

Candace talks pregnancy with a third baby, and how her husband's impending deployment has her feeling uncertain and apprehensive about her family's future.

12 Months of Meals: A Practice in Generosity by The Lady Okie

I love, love, loved this post by Amanda at The Lady Okie and committed to replicating her practice of giving monthly meals to those in need in 2017.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kid-Friendly Fried Eggplant Sandwich w/ Frisch's Tartar Sauce

Now that Charlie is two, the personality is coming out full-force. He is an independent little man who knows what he wants and is not afraid to make it known. This also means that he's figured out what his eating preferences are (and are not) and has become a much pickier eater as of late. If it were up to him, the menu would be bread and Goldfish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I've had to get creative in how I incorporate fruits and vegetables into his diet. Spinach smoothies are a big go-to and I always fall back on adding peas or broccoli to our mac and cheese.

Since this kid loves chicken nuggets (sigh), I thought I would try something a little different and do a fried eggplant sandwich. I basically used the same process I would use to make Eggplant Parm, but mixed it up with a toasted brioche bun and Frisch's tartar sauce.

Believe me when I say, no one is more shocked than me that Charlie actually ate it. I guess kids will eat anything as long as it's fried, crunchy, and slathered in condiments!

I used an egg wash and panko crumbs for the breading and fried my eggplant slices in olive oil. Once they were dark brown and crispy, it was just a matter of toasting the bun and adding my favorite condiments- tomatoes and Frisch's tartar sauce. (Pro tip: If you make this for yourself, plan to use a ton of olive oil because the eggplant soaks it right up).

This year, Frisch's Big Boy is founding National Tartar Sauce Day the Friday after Lent. The Lenten season is renowned for being chock full o' fish fries, but this tartar sauce is for way more than just fish; not least of all, the Big Boy sandwich. If you live in the greater Cincinnati area, be sure to check out Frisch's Big Boy on Facebook during Lent (March 1-April 13) for even more crazy good Tartar Sauce-inspired recipes.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Frisch's, but all opinions, photos, and content are my own.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Ultimate Blogging Cliche: The Coffee Date

It's come to attention that the audience of this blog is probably 50/50 bloggers and non-bloggers. So for the bloggers, you can skip this part, you know what this "coffee date" deal is about. For you non-bloggers, there exists a completely cliche and overused blogging prompt called "the coffee date." Basically, I pretend I we're going on a coffee date and spill everything that's been happening in my life as of late that's allowed me to leave this blog utterly neglected. It's cutesy and requires a minimal amount of effort which is great for those seasons when life is chaotic and brain power is hard to come by.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd make a lame joke about meeting my coffee quota for the day since I'm breastfeeding and limited to one cup of day. Which is just about the most depressing thing ever.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd whine about how sick I've been the last few days. Seriously, this house has seen so much toddler and Mommy puke in the last week. It's terrible.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd fill you in on my latest family drama. There's been crazy stuff happening as of late. Seriously, crazy. Unfortunately, I cannot divulge as of now, but when certain situations have been resolved, I will absolutely be sharing because woah man, woah.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd talk about the various side projects I've started working on. I'd tell you that I'm worried I may be over-committing and stretching myself too thin because being a full-time Mom is enough of a job in and of itself. I'd confess that I'm stressed about our finances and frustrated that all of the side hustling I'm doing doesn't seem to be yielding anything in return.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd try to lighten the mood by talking about all the fun ideas I have to decorate and remodel our home. I'd tell you that being home 24/7 has really given me new motivation to make our house more home-y and has brought out the interior design bug in me that I never knew I had.

If we were on a coffee date...I'd tell you that up until I got sick, I was getting really into exercising with Daily Burn. I'd really like to get back into running now that I don't plan on having babies any time soon, so I'm starting slow with some postnatal yoga and working my way back into shape!

If we were on a coffee date...I'd ask you whether you had plans for this spring and summer. Personally, I need some Vitamin D in my life and can't wait to be outside every day walking, hiking, swimming, and gardening!

If we were on a coffee date...I'd apologize for having to duck out early, but these crazy kiddos of mine won't stay still for long. I'd give you a hug and make sure you got a Charlie squeeze too. I'd bid you adieu and promise myself that I'd get out of my blogging rut and hopefully not have to resort to a make-believe coffee date to document my life for a good long while ;)

Friday, February 17, 2017

7 Must-Reads for 7 Kinds of Moms

Now that the cold, winter months are upon us, it's the time of year when not leaving the house has never sounded so good. Tis the season for cups of hot tea by the fire with a great book in hand. Here are seven must-read books for you and the Moms in your life:

Check out my list over at Dayton Moms Blog!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Portrait of a Hufflepuff

Okay. First things first, if you are a Potterhead who has not yet been sorted into your Hogwarts house, I demand that you do so immediately.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way...

I took the quiz on Pottermore a couple years ago and a little to my surprise, was sorted into Hufflepuff. You see, I've always loved writing, loved reading and thrived in academia. It seemed like a natural fit that the sorting hat would deem me a Ravenclaw. As I read on, however, I realized the Sorting Hat (and my sister who repeatedly told me I wasn't a Ravenclaw) knew me better than I knew myself.

Hufflepuffs value "hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play." It was the Hufflepuff common room that really sold me, though. A bright yellow room, located down the corridor from the kitchens, filled with various plants and natural light. Yup, if any one common room fit me, it would be that one. Not long after I was sorted, I also watched an interview with J.K. Rowling on why Hufflepuff was possibly her favorite house. She described the Gryffindors as being rather "show-boaty," whereas the Hufflepuffs are more humble. Hufflepuff House has produced the smallest number of dark wizards and as the Battle of Hogwarts loomed, Hufflepuffs were the second largest group (besides Gryffindor) to stay behind to fight. Not because they were particularly strong or brave, but because it was the right thing to do. I also love that founding wizard Helga Hufflepuff refused to turn away students that didn't fit into the mold of the other three houses. Anyone who wanted to learn was welcome in Hufflepuff house.

I realize that doing the amount of research I did about Hufflepuff House is fairly ridiculous (and reminiscient of a Ravenclaw), but what can I say? I'm a card-carrying Harry Potter nerd.

I love that I belong to the house that is inclusive. That is filled with genuinely good people who don't feel the need to boast of their accomplishments. I love that it is the house grounded in the "earth" element. That its members are inspired by the natural world (Newt Scamander, Professor Sprout). I can't say I am always this person, but the values of the Hufflepuff house are values I try to model in my own life.

What's your Hogwarts house? Do you feel like it fits you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Boys' Bedroom Remodel: Inspiration

When we first bought our house in August 2015, we were so excited by the fact that it had a fourth bedroom. We wanted the flexibility to allow the boys to have their own rooms when they were older, as well as have a guest room and possibly an office. Except the fourth bedroom is...awkward. While it was listed as having four bedrooms to increase the house's value, technically, it's more of a finished attic. There is no window and our living room fireplace goes right through the middle of the room. There is also no real closet space; just a few shelves squeezed into an awkward corner nook. 

That being said, it has potential. The odd layout of the room is also what gives it some fun character that would make it a perfect little boy's bedroom.

Although our budget is not exactly remodel-friendly, now that I'm home full-time I have the time to devote to doing small projects here and there to transform the space. I've utilized some paint and primer leftover by the realtor who sold us the house. We also made a trip to our local Habitat for Humanity Restore and scored some painting tools for less than $3. However, my most valuable asset is our family friend who is a retired builder and gives me occasional tips and tricks.

This is the "before" shot of the space:

I hate the paint color. I hate the stupid, sports-themed border and light fixture. I hate the paneling on the back wall. I hate the random nook in the corner that's too small to be all that useful. Sigh. 

So far with few resources on-hand, I've been able to remove the border, light fixture and my aforementioned friend helped me to remove the trim and paneling off the back wall. Currently, the room looks like this:

Priority number one will be installing a window, and then I hope to put up some rustic-looking wood boards on the back wall. This will likely be the largest expense, so we'll have to wait until we pay off a little bit of debt and have more income coming in before we can justify making the change. My hope is to play off of the sloped ceiling and make it a campy, rustic, cabin theme.

This is my inspiration board:

So, what do you think of the theme? Do you have any tips for home design on a dime?

Monday, February 6, 2017

CROSBY | 5 Months

Man, a LOT has happened in the last month. I've been trying to get some work-from-home side projects going to get more involved in my community, as well as earn a little bit of supplemental income. There is a lot that is still up in the air so I don't want to broadcast anything just yet (but stay tuned!). Let's just say, this Mama is going to have her plate full!

Up until a few nights ago, Crosby was still waking up on average every three hours to eat. I'm happy to report he's started sleeping 7-ish hour stretches! I trusted my Mama's intuition on his sleep habits and just trusted that he would figure out the whole sleep thing on his own, and he did! He finally did! 

I'm still maintaining a weight that makes me happy, but this winter weather has not been good for my activity level. I finally broke down and signed up for a free 30-day trial with Daily Burn. Charlie and I tried kickboxing together. And although he preferred climbing all over Mommy when she was planking, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I've never enjoyed working out from home, but since it's currently my only option, I'm giving it a shot!

As for Crosby...

With so many side projects happening, I'm on my computer and phone all day long. Sometimes I really have to remind myself after hour three of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood to back away from the screen and actually spend some quality time with my kids. It's harder to accomplish than it sounds because I'm someone who thrives on feeling productive and accomplished. There's no feeling of productivity from tickle fights and reading Little Blue Truck (which makes me sound like the worst mother ever). I really need to be more intentional about this. Motherhood is my full-time (and most important) job and these sweet boys deserve a Mommy who is actually present.

This has been a big month for his sensory development. He finally has some hand-eye coordination and loves laying on his play mat and batting at his toys. He smiles and laughs when we tickle his belly and blow raspberries. We also gave solid foods a try! So far, he's tried rice cereal mixed with breastmilk and some sweet potatoes. He seemed to like both, but still hasn't quite gotten the hang of this whole spoon thing. 

Crosby won't visit the doctor again until his 6-month appointment, but according to our bathroom scale he's weighing in around 15 lbs 13 oz. He's still in Size 2 diapers and pretty much exclusively 6-month clothing, although even some of those are starting to look tight! I feel like I just broke out the 6-month onesies and sleepers and I'm already going to have to sort through Charlie's 6-9 month hand-me-downs!

> > > 

Happy 5 months, Crosby Loren! I have so enjoyed this last month of smiles, laughs, and snuggles with you. I'm so excited to see what this month has in store for us.

Can we all take a minute to appreciate this outtake that makes Crosby look like an evil villain? Haha!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What I Read | January Check-In

It feels strange not to have my usual list of book challenge categories to cross off. As you may remember, one of my 2017 goals was to hit the pause button on reading challenges for a little while. I found that I wasn't enjoying a lot of what I was reading and I wanted to get back to solely reading for pleasure. Not committing to a reading challenge in January really didn't alter the frequency or the quantity that I read, but it did feel liberating to give up on books that I lost interest in, or completely change course when something new struck my fancy.

Here's what I read in January:

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (★★★)

I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting but I felt a little disappointed. The whole book felt like a cobbled-together attempt to capitalize on the buzz around the Gilmore Girls revival. She did get me excited about the possibility of more future Gilmore Girls, but that was about it.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (★★★★★)

I am so thankful to have just finished a book I couldn't put down for the first time in awhile. There are so many things I want to say, but don't want to spoil the plot. The protagonist was wonderful and gave so much insight into women in situations like hers. Frankly, all the characters were fantastically written. The author's note at the end made the entire book for me, however. This was one of those books that just needed to be written. I will definitely be reading more from this author.

March: Book One by John Lewis (★★★★★)

I've never read a graphic novel before, but this was the absolute best one to start with. Written by Congressman John Lewis, this three-book series tells his story through animated flashbacks of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. This book read quickly and was absolutely fantastic. I'm planning to read the other two ASAP and purchase the series so that my boys can read it when they get older. I have been so fired up with everything happening in our government right now. With the Women's March fresh in my mind, I am so glad I picked up this book when I did. 

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (★★★★★) 

Chuck and I have been on a kind of self-imposed budget trim down. That's what happens when you try living off of one income. However, as we've been reviewing our past spending habits, we've had to face the fact that we've been completely irresponsible with our money when we've had it and are trying to reform our ways. We want to be good stewards and this book came at the perfect time. Hatmaker sets out to eliminate excess in seven areas of her life and documents her endeavor through a diary-style narrative. It was so motivating for me to get our own finances under control and nudge us in the direction of a more simple, less wasteful lifestyle.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (★★★★)

As far as celebrity memoirs go, this is a good one. It felt authentic, light-hearted and not overly cheesy, much like Kendrick herself. I particularly loved the chapters in which she talked about her past relationships and how she grew from them.

Currently, I'm alternating between The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. What are you reading?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

6 Expenses We Cut That Saved us $1400/Month

In November, I quit my full-time nonprofit job so that I could stay at home with my boys. My husband and my combined income were not enough to give us this option after we had Charlie. After we had Crosby, our income still was by no means impressive, but with double the childcare costs it made sense for us to see if it we could sustain our family on Chuck's income alone. Obviously, we took a huge financial loss, but I figured out that by cutting spending in a few areas of our life, we could make it work. Here's how we did it:


Upon going back to work, Chuck and I had two options:
1. Put both boys in at-home childcare. At a minimum this would have cost us $150/week. The woman who was watching them could not guarantee she would have spaces for them past January and on any days that she wasn't able to watch them, we would have had to scramble to make other arrangements. It just was not ideal for us.
2. Put both boys in daycare. We live in a small town that has one credible daycare that accepts infants. Because of this, when I called prior to Crosby's birth I was #14 on the waiting list. Even if we had been able to secure a spot for Crosby, it would have cost us around $1,100/month. Ouch. 

In terms of transportation, Chuck and I were able to cut down our spending in two categories:

1. Gas. I had a one-hour work commute so a tank of gas would only last me two days. Obviously, this added up quickly. Now that I'm staying home, Chuck gets $100 every pay period to cover his gas for two weeks and I can make due on about $20-25 for the month. We're fortunate to live pretty close to our town's downtown area so the library, playground, CVS, and one of our banks are all within walking distance. The only times I generally use my car are for grocery shopping or doctor's appointments. We went from spending around $393 per month to $220 per month which gave us a $173 savings.
2. Auto insurance. My driving record is not pristine. I've gotten a couple speeding tickets in the last 5 years, as well as been involved in two accidents (only one was my fault). This meant that my spotty driving record and our long commutes equaled crazy high premiums. Right before I quit, our monthly payments went from $253 to $240 per month. This was not great. So I shopped around and through changing my policy provider, I managed to get a new rate that now costs us $148/month. $240-148=$92

I talked at length about exactly what we did to trim our food budget here. Basically, we stopped eating out, ordering takeout and getting fast food which saved us about $250/month. We then started using a cash-only system for our groceries which saved us $200/month. $850-450=$400


Although we debated canceling our internet, that would have meant no blogging for me. So for now, we're sticking with it! However, we did manage to save in a couple other areas:

1. Gym membership. Let's face it, that thing wasn't being used anyway. So before I even went on my maternity leave, we cancelled it and saved ourselves $48.
2. Satellite TV. We were stuck in a two-year contract for an impulsive purchase that we got ourselves into so that my husband could watch football at home instead of going to his parents' house every Sunday. He rarely watched games at home and we were stuck paying $80/month for a service we didn't use. We did have to pay an early termination fee, but it paid for itself in two months so we made our peace with it. My sister got Chuck an Amazon Fire Stick for Christmas and we mooch off our family members' Hulu and Netflix accounts, so we now pay nothing for TV.
All in all, these cuts to our expenses have saved us upwards of $1400/month! 

We've talked about where else we can trim our spending. Recently, we changed our electric supplier so our monthly bills will be a fixed rate for three years, as opposed to subject to the fluctuating coal and gas industries. We're not yet sure how much this will save us long-term. We've also discussed changing our cell phone provider, but we need to pay our phones off before we can switch.

How has your family cut down on expenses? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me?

Friday, January 27, 2017

The House that Built Me

You know what's entertaining after the babies are asleep and you have nothing better to do with your life? Google Maps stalking yourself. There's something so sentimental and nostalgic about looking at all the places you've lived in your life. How they've changed, and how they haven't. The memories that each living space carries with it.

Like the house in California that your Mom and Dad first brought you home to after you were born. Where you lived for the first four years of your life until your parents decided there was too much crime and the cost of living was too high.

Or the one on the shores of Lake Ontario. Where you spent your childhood being pounded by feet upon feet of snow in the harsh winters of Upstate New York. Where your dad built a back porch and flower bed and you learned to ride your bike in the driveway.

Or maybe it's the house you try to forget. The one you moved to when your parents got divorced and your Mom got remarried. The one set back in the woods that was filled with mounted deer heads, and nights of screaming, drunkenness, and abuse.

Or perhaps the one that you only lived in for a year before leaving for college. The one that had a killer sledding hill in the back. The one you never quite got acquainted with, but always represented freedom for you, your Mom and sister.

Or like your first home-away-from-home. The grungy dorm building with the shared bathroom and corkboard walls. The one that housed the campus grill on the first floor and whose popcorn chicken was solely responsible for your freshman year weight gain. The one that held midnight dance parties to Pussycat Dolls and where you talked to your crush back home for four hours.

Like the walk-up apartment building in Philly Chinatown that rested above a bakery that produced X-rated fortune cookies. Where you lived for two months while interning for an HIV/AIDS organization and dealt with crippling reverse culture shock and isolation after your semester abroad in East Africa. Where you had your groceries delivered and ate entire Domino's pizzas by yourself alone in your room.

Or perhaps like your first grown-up second story apartment. The one where you learned how to pay rent for the first time, had a raccoon in your attic, and witnessed more than your fair share of cockroaches. The one that was quite honestly, a gigantic shithole, but will always be the spot where you remember kissing your husband for the first time the night you met.

Or the first apartment you lived in when you loved to the big city for grad school. The one that had a turret and former alley for a yard and backed up against the not-so-nice part of town. The one that was sparsely decorated by will be remembered by its abundance of yummy vegetarian meals made in the newly updated kitchen.

Or your second Pittsburgh apartment that is a solid hour closer to both you and your husband's new employers. The one that doesn't have a bathroom door or any overhead lighting. The one you barely see because you and your new husband are both working two jobs to begin paying off your student loan debt. The one just down the street from the Fro-Yo place that's perfect for cheap dates, and the yoga studio where you sometimes so with your only Pittsburgh friend.

Or the house you rented when you moved back to your husband's hometown. The one that came with the sucky landlord, but allowed you to plant sunflowers and was just steps away from the park. The one with the tiny kitchen and bathroom. But the one where you brought home your first, sweet baby boy.

And finally, the one you bought. Your first home to truly be your own. The one with the literal white picket fence. The one two blocks from the library and one block from the local elementary school. Your (hopefully) forever home where you brought home sweet baby boy number two and will watch them grow with each passing year.

It's so much fun taking a trip down memory lane. To see the towns and cities that shaped me. I've moved around a lot. Although I'm grateful for each amazing place that has helped mold my story, it feels really, really good to finally be home sweet home.