A Simple Tip to Get Less Stuff This Christmas

It’s officially November. While I can appreciate the wishes of folks to push Christmas off until after Thanksgiving, I’m determined and excited to start planning and preparing early, shopping and wrapping early, and ultimately enjoying the holiday season in a far less stressful, more meaningful way.

So, today’s little holiday simplification tip starts with me. Or you. In other words, this is as much for you as it is the people who will be buying for you.

For the past *counts on fingers* um, several Christmases, I found myself looking under the tree at a couple piles of things I’d received. They were all purchased with a high level of love and thoughtfulness, I’m sure. A bunch were from my husband; others were from my mother and mother-in-law, and a couple were from other friends or family. And, admittedly, about 1/2 of it (sometimes less), I liked. Like, at all.

The guilt of unappreciativeness is rough. I’m always so grateful when I receive a gift, sometimes overly so, even if it’s something I’m not keen about. I’m a bit of a people-pleaser in that way; I hate hurting someone’s feelings, so why bring it up? But, so much ends up in the donate pile or just sitting, taking up precious space, going unused…and I feel horrible about it. 

So, this year, I made my Christmas list early. Or, at least, early by my standards. My mom probably would’ve preferred it in July. Heck, there was a time (when I clearly only shopped for a few people) when I got my shopping done before September. True story.

Anyhoo, yeah. On my list, Dave asked me to write down EVERYTHING I want, even if it’s a bit of a fantastic idea. I still feel like I have a couple of small, unimportant things to add to it, but for the most part, it’s solid. Tons of stuff I know I won’t get (too expensive), and secure knowing that I’ll probably get a couple. Or maybe I’ll at least get some money towards that more expensive stuff to save up for. Either way, all appreciated stuff. 

And, regardless, you can’t stop people from buying you random crap. You just can’t. I wish I could put out a big ol’ billboard on a local highway that says, “Seriously. I’d prefer a gift card to West Elm or Target. Love, Meg.” ‘Cause I really would.

By the way, I think one reason that I made a list with purpose this year is that the past few years I haven’t put much thought into what I wanted. I’ve truly only desired the, “All I want is everyone to be happy and healthy” and “just happy moments with the family” wishes for Christmas, so I’m sure this is why I’ve got unwanted stuff. With Hadman around, we’ve become even less materialistic (kid…crap…multiplies), and just time well spent with him is by far the best present I could have. It still is. I even jotted that down (along with Dave’s happiness, in all honesty) on the list. It’s true. And we both hate asking for ANY thing in the first place. If we all decided to buy a little less (both of our moms tend to get a lot), it would probably help the percentages, too. 😉

So, anyway, detailed list (even organized by clothes, entertainment (books/DVDs/etc), housewares, awesomeness “dream” items) + plenty of time for the giftee = far less crap to figure out where to go this Christmas. Hence the simplification. 😉 Otherwise, vague list (or no list at all) = too much stuff you don’t want.   

What about you guys? Do you know what you want? Are you keeping it simple this year? Have you already created your list? Are you still in a candy coma and would prefer I not even be talking about the “C” word yet? 😉

My next step is to finalize what I’m getting everyone else. Dave gave me his list, as did my mother, and Hadley’s is a constant work in progress. So, it’s the fun time where I have to truly figure out things for the people I’m clueless about. Any suggestions accepted and welcome!

Jarred

Hey, homies! I’m finally posting again! Been home sick with a sinus infection that went untreated too long. Long story short, glad to be on the mend!

I’ve recently realized my favorite little buddy in the kitchen (aside for Jasper begging for scraps – yes, he’s a cat – and Hadley wanting to “help”). While I’ve probably mentioned the beauty that is a mason jar before, it’s time to declare my undying love for them, along with a bunch of things you can use them for. Come. Let’s chat.

We’ve currently got a few sizes of mason jars floating around, but our all-time faves are minis (4 oz.) and half pint-sized wide mouth Ball jars. They’re perfect for storage (well, duh, that’s why they were invented), but you might be surprised as to how many ways that we use them. And, guess what! We don’t jelly/preserve a damn thing in them. I think I’m kicked out of the club. (One day, my friends. One day.)

Salad dressing – The tiny ones are perfect for transporting dressing for lunch. Seriously, just pour in your favorite or do what we do: olive oil, some vinegar, and seasonings.


This also deters anyone from sneaking your salad topper from the fridge at work. Seriously, a couple of weeks ago, I observed someone who had forgotten their salad dressing perusing the row of dressings others keep in the fridge, as if shopping. So, bringing one serving of dressing is perfect AND super easy.

Dry spice mixes – We don’t buy spice packets for things like tacos, chili, and salad dressing (Dave’s a fan of Good Seasons, but he hasn’t quite perfected the recipe yet). So, we double or triple the recipe and store the rest in our tiny jars. I use a dry erase marker to make a note of what’s inside, then just spoon it out as needed.

Mmm. Tacos.

Lunch packin’ – This is especially an awesome one for toddlers. We send breakfast and lunch to Grandma’s for Hadley, so we’re lucky that she’ll hear stuff up as needed. Most days I’ll pack his whole lunch in a glass container with a silicone-lined lid, but I’ll often split it up and give, say, his peas and carrots or corn in a tiny jar. They’re also a great size to fill with applesauce. Just like those little plastic cups at the store, only eco-friendly, reusable, and you can control what goes in. It’s also super cheaper to buy or make organic applesauce in large amounts and dole them out.


Yogurt keepers – Similar to the applesauce idea, yogurt is a great snack that is the perfect match for mason jars. The little ones are awesome for the little guy (just check out that link!), and I use the slightly-larger size for my own. Again, cheaper, reusable, and easier than you’d think!

Snack ‘n dip – Half-pint jars are a great way to make a tasty, healthy snack alternative. Just put whatever dip you like in the bottom and the fruit or veg spears of your choice standing up on top of it. Carrots sticking in ranch, apples in almond butter, celery in peant butter. Really, the combos are endless, and make otherwise boring snacks something to look forward to.

On-the-go snacks – Speaking of snacks, the 4-oz. size is awesome for toddler treats on a little trip. Fill ’em with raisins, mini crackers, pretzels, or dry cereal and skip the baggie.


Serve up some fun – Use mason jars (plain or decorated) to serve appetizers or little snacks for company. I even like the idea of creating a salad or taco bar by filling separate jars with toppings and just scooping out your favorites with a spoon or fork. Simple, rustic, fun.

Bank it – Hee hee. While Hadley has an incredible robot bank for his millions (uh, no), Dave and I use a few jars, labeled with simple cut-out paper rounds on the top, to sock away for future goals. It’s cool to look and see our change filling up these jars that have super happy connotations. Just seeing the vacation jar brings a smile to my face.


Oh, and surprisingly, none are swear jars. Knowing me…one probably should be. 😉

Coconut oily goodness – Dave and I both use coconut oil for different (and wondrous!) uses. He keeps a tiny jar of it nearby to style his hair with, and I have some mixed with essential oils (namely, peppermint and an “alignment” combo) for occasional aches and pains. Like, now. On top of getting stupidly sick, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder/neck. *didn’t say I was smart*

Decorating – Pinterest has a million awesome decor ideas using mason jars. I used the large ones to display fruit skewers at Had’s second birthday shindig and they provided some “height” and purtiness (totally a word) to the table. I’m dying to try one of the painted jar crafts, too!

Gifting – This is a great tip that I hope to use for the holidays, but you can use it all year long. Fill a pint jar with some candy, a favorite product, or something homemade, like granola or a “recipe in a jar” layering dry ingredients, and tie on a tag (I suggest printing something quirky/dorky like “we mix you a merry Christmas!” for a recipe mix). Embellish with ribbon or raffia…or don’t. Either way, the jar acts as a beautiful presentation, so you may not even have to put it in a gift bag.

Flower “vase” – Looking for a no-nonsense, sweet, rustic alternative to those flower shop vases? (Sometimes they’re okay, but mostly outdated or too frilly-looking.) Well, mason your vase game! The cool thing is that you can split up a mixed bouquet and use various sizes of jars to create a tiered, layered look. 


Holding collections – We have one jar that stores rocks and sticks that the little guy “collects” on walks. I’m sure that, as his “collections” grow, we’ll be splitting them up into organized items, too. And, not only does he feel that the things he finds are validated in their special containers, but they look cool all lined up. Which I can’t say for most of his toys. Ahem.

So, that’s just some of the ways we use our beloved little jars! Do you have any awesome ways that you utilize them that you’d like to share with the class? Go ahead in the comments!

Gotta Stay on Top of My Life, Gotta Stay on Top of My Life

Is it just me, or is September kind of like January’s nerdy kid brother? Given all the back-to-school craziness and a return to “normalcy,” I tend to be confronted with the fact that I clearly didn’t do enough of a productive nature over the summer (even if I actually got a ton done). I flounder and stare face-to-face at a necessity to get my life in order. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Teachers, parents…hey, even single or retired folks. Something about that chill in the air, am I right?

January’s the cool kids’ turn to pick some resolutions in an attempt to kick start some positive change. I see September as a quieter, yet tad more frenzied time to do the same. All those lists that people consider on January 1st are just as relevant on September 1st. Perhaps because they’re not under a microscope as much, they may not be as intimidating…maybe?

So, obviously I’m taking a few steps to “stay on top of my life.” (If you don’t know the Kids in the Hall already, I beg of you — check out the video. If you’re not into a bit of bloody violence or quirky humor, please, for the love of God, don’t click. Oh, and this was a huge part of my adolescence. Explains lots.) For a simpler take on this, I provide you with this hilarious (or, if you’re not in the know, ridiculously random and stupid) take…


Yeah. I made that. Ahem.

Back to the point. Given that September is equivalent to January, I thought I’d share a little list of the “resolutions” I’ve already started working on. Some are relevant to being back at school and having more structured time (which means focusing on using my time more wisely) and others are just good ol’ self improvement things.


For the record, I hate the word “resolutions”, too.

Bed by 10pm (on school nights). Dang nabbit, I’m doing this. Depending on the night, falling asleep by 10 is easier than…coming up with an analogy. Other nights, my energy level is higher and I’ll force myself to lay down, sans TV/cell phone/any screens whatsoever and read. It’s helped me get to the conclusion of the book I’ve been reading ALL SUMMER, so that in itself is pretty rad. It also makes me far less grumpy come 6am. Um. Generally.

Getting in some exercise. I’m not taking on the PXButtKickandLiftChallengeXXI or whatever, but I’m hoping that by incorporating variations of cardio/Pilates/yoga/core strengthening, I’ll be gaining some much-needed extra energy as well as *hopefully* toning up some of the squishy bits. I’ve already mentioned it, but Spark People is a great free site that provides a variety of videos at various levels (hello, beginner!) and numerous lengths. I’ll probably move on to other sites if these ones aren’t cutting it anymore, but for now they’re perfect.

I think one of my issues in the past is that when I get it in my head to do something — anything — I go gung-ho initially and have a hard time following through at ANY pace. Apparently it’s something my father did in areas of his life. When it comes to exercise, I’ve done this but also burnt out thanks to overdoing it from the start. So, I’ve started out by doing one medium-length or two shorter videos at a time, breaking a good sweat but leaving myself feeling energized rather than totally zonked. I’ll build on.

Oh, and I’m doing this 3-4 days during the week and 1 day on weekends, while keeping track a) the exercise(s) and b) duration of workout on our family calendar, partly for motivation and partly because I have the memory of a…of a…I don’t even know what.

Setting boundaries. This. Is. Hard. I fall into this trend of not leaving school until after 4:30 (our contract says we can leave at 3:30). And it’s not like I’m doing anything super important. I’m just fiddling here and there with stuff that can totally wait ’til the next day. So, I’m trying to leave by 4 (and earlier on Fridays, can you imagine…). This helps with the aforementioned exercise goal (fitting in the exercise, a shower, and getting dinner underway before the guys get home) and will help me stay focused during the day on what needs to get done instead of putting stuff off ’til the end of the day.

“Money money money mooonnnneeyy. MONEY.” (That stupid song that’s used for “The Apprentice.” Gah.) I’ve mentioned this lately, but I’m going to be paying close attention to my spending, writing down my purchases, analyzing where my cash is flowin’ and why, and researching some ways to keep it under tabs.

For those in the balcony seats, let me project: I’M NOT GREAT WITH MONEY. It’s tough to admit that, as an otherwise generally responsible adult who thus far HAS been fine with moolah. (And I don’t have massive student loans as an excuse like my awesomely-getting-on-top-of-it husband.) But, yeah. We’re looking at some pretty big goals as a family and if I don’t focus on this area of life, it’ll be my fault. Not cool.

Thank goodness for cool, approachable sites like Our Freaking Budget. We also glean some good advice from Dave Ramsey, so you don’t have to leave any “Dave Ramsey is a GOD; we got rid of $1 million in debt and now have $1 million in savings thanks to him!” spiels in the comments…unless you want to brag. In which case, go on with your bad self.

Oh, and I’m even considering taking part in one of those “zero spend” challenges. Maybe. We’ll see. I’m gonna go cry now.

Planning meals. This one will help with finances but I’m also highly interested in seeing if meal planning truly does help me a) cut back on food waste, b) save ka-ching at the super and farmers’ market, and c) make life easier. I’ll check back if it does and let y’all know. And I’m on the hunt for real food cook-ahead and slow-cooker meals. SO hard to find slow-cooker recipes without a can or bottle of something super processed to bring it all together (and undoubtedly make it yummy).

Simplify, as always. This is kind of a life goal that sits on my shoulder everyday. I’m pretty lucky, though. It’s more like the cartoon angel version on the right side rather than the naughty/devilish kid on the left side. So, there’s that. But, yeah. PURGE is the name of the game. A lot of our house is looking more and more like “us”, and I love that, but we still have storage spaces (and, heck, out-in-the-open spaces like the toy explosion storage in our living room) that need another once-over. The basement is also in dire need of straightening and hoeing out (who you callin’…) AND painting, so there’s that.

The thing that sucks for me is that, well, again…I’ve got my dad’s gene of needing the motivation before getting up and DOING something. Takes me forever to finish a project, but once it’s done, it’s done pretty darn well. So, I can’t say on Monday that I’ll plan on working on the basement Saturday. I may wake up Saturday feeling motivated to do something else that’s equally important. Or play with Hadley all day. Or sit on my tush watching the world whiz by (while the laundry’s going…because at least then I’ll feel like I did SOMETHING). Whatevs.

But, I think the only way to break this is to just DO. Like, we wouldn’t have gotten our recent front porch project completed if Dave hadn’t said, “Okay, I’m going to start this.” (Once he started, I had to finish, so I didn’t want to let his hard work be overshadowed by my laziness.) And, believe me. I did NOT feel like doing it, but when it was done…well, awesomeness ensued.

Live in the moment. Observing the changes in Hadley. Enjoying the humor that my students pump into random lessons. Looking for moments of simple joy and lucky experiences. Contacting friends to hang out or come over for meals or meet up for coffee. In general, remembering to savor the good and hold onto the bad momentarily. 

Hey, look! Seven things in my list. Whatchya know? So, what about you guys? Do you feel like this time of year is a bit like New Year’s with its feeling of “let’s start this season on a new foot”?

Or are you just psyched for pumpkin spice everything? Really, though. Who can blame you?

Anti Clorox Wipes

In a house full of cats and an active toddler around, messes are inevitable. Namely, messes of the bodily function variety.

That’s right. Cat pee and potty training smears.

It happens. Daily. Gross, but it’s kind of a moot point when you’re in love with those little rascals.

So, when we recently ran out of my OCD-ish husband’s favorite clean-up tool, disposable Clorox wipes, I found myself hesitant to buy some more. I knew full well that it was contributing to an eco-hater status, which I cringed over every time we wiped a potty seat. Plus, the nasty chemical makeup of the wipes bummed me out.

Of course, I did what every mother does when faced with a dilemma: I took to Pinterest.

There actually wasn’t as much as I thought I’d find, but I really only needed to find one great pin. And I found an awesome resource for you guys at Live Renewed. You’ve got not one but TWO recipes for a natural disinfectant.

I decided to take her Castile soap (ahem, I hope you all know we mean Dr. Bronner’s when we say that, right?) and tea tree essential oil recipe and run with it, mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand.

Side note: My essential oil experience has been a fun experiment that’s working out quite well so far, and I still haven’t ordered my replacement lemon (and any new ones I’d like to try out, so any suggestions for new “flavors” would be welcome in the comments!), which is why I didn’t try the other recipe. I’m loving the quality and non-pressure system that Native American Nutritionals has in place compared to others.

Anyhoo, back to the wipes. Here’s how I put this shebang together:


 
For the reusable wipes, I just cut up a couple of (*cough* too small *cough) soft old T-shirts, which gave me…like…maybe 16-20 wipes per shirt, depending on how big you make your wipes. You can also use old cloth napkins (I cut up a few of those for the days I’m out of T-shirt rags) or your husband’s old boxers or whatever. Just check first. Let’s just say I’m waiting for mine to give up on a couple of crappy white tees to sacrifice for the cause. I’m not sure if color really matters or not; it’s not like I care whether they get stained since they’re rags, but I’ll be sure to update you if the color runs. (That said, if you have something white to cut up or use, um, choose that. Probably best.)


Here’s the stuff I mixed up. Per her recipe, I used about 10 drops of tea tree oil (which actually SMELLS like it’s disinfecting, I kid you not! Like Lysol, but natural!), two tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s, and a cup of water. I ended up splashing a little more water in to moisten all the wipes, but I think it’s because I put the solution on the bottom of the container instead of pouring it over the top.

Doubt that this stuff works as well as Clorox? Behold…doesn’t this look all disinfecty? If that were a word, of course…

Right?? So, I put the solution at the bottom of my empty, de-labeled and washed Clorox container…

Sexy. Anyhoo, this is the point that I cut up my reusable wipes. I wadded them together, kind of in a roll, and pulled them up in the middle (I didn’t end up using the old white napkins on the outside since there wasn’t room in the tube)…



Don’t overthink it. Just shove it in and pull in the middle. It works. Okay, this is probably the point I should have poured the solution over everything, but I had already put it in the bottom hoping that it would seep upward. I’m sure it probably would have seeped just fine, but I’m an impatient mama and love to see results. So, I splashed a bit more water on the top and shook the thing. Here’s our final product:


Yup, I grabbed a marker and labeled it with a cheeky description. It also has the recipe in small lettering on the other side, just in case my husband feels like whipping some up next time, or in case my incredibly shoddy memory fails me. Again.

I’m keeping them where we kept our old wipes, under our bathroom sink. It’s where we dump Hadman’s potty and where they get used most frequently. This also happens to be where our laundry hamper lives, so it’s perfect. If I think it’s gross to toss these in with the laundry, I’ll grab our old wet bag from cloth diapering days and keep them in there ’til all the rags and linens need to be washed. No big deal.

Whatchya think? Would you try reusable wipes, or are you addicted to your current method of disinfecting? No judging here.

(By the way, there’s an affiliate link or two included in this post. Just a warning. It won’t blow up your computer, and if you purchase anything off of Amazon after clicking through my links, even if it’s not a product I listed, you’ll be helping to run this here little blog. Which is awesome of you and earns you a gold star for the day.)

Shave Time, Shave Money

We are nothing if not simple folk. I know some who know us might disagree — we’re not Amish, by any means (and if I’m offending any Amish…what the heck are you doing on the Internet??). But, ultimately we feel that it’s better to live a simple life than a life full of too much stuff, too many complications and too much drama.

So, simple we are.


That said, when the Dollar Shave Club (yes, that Dollar Shave Club, founded by Mike, himself) asked if I’d be up for a “Shave Time, Shave Money” challenge, I was like, “You know who I AM?!” Er. Stay cool, Meg. Stay cool. I was like, “You betcha!” in my best mock Sarah Palin voice. Seriously, I’m a sucker for a challenge, even if it’s failing miserably while attempting it. See also: junior high basketball attempt…and volleyball.

I thought I’d share a handful of ways that we have stumbled upon that have shaved time and/or benjamin-spending from our family’s daily routine. See if you’re doing any of these simple life hacks already or if they’d help you out…

Tea and coffee, coffee and tea. Hot water + plant life that’s been toasted beyond recognition = an item that many can’t make it through the day without.

And know what takes more time than you may realize on a daily basis? Waiting in line for your morning fix. Even if it’s a drive-thru, it takes at least 7 minutes in our neck of the woods (and if you have to go inside? Fuhgettaboutit.). Not to mention the cost. Even a basic $2 coffee (and we all know it’s not $2, especially a soy mochafrappamachiacino) adds up to $10 a week, or $40 by the end of the month. So, yeah. We don’t play that game.


Instead, while we’re running around putting lunches together, we put on the teapot or get the coffee going. By the time lunches are done, our hot beverage is ready for sugar or honey or milk. A big pro here is that we have complete control over the ingredients. Let’s just say that even organic coffee or tea is mere cents a cup made at home vs. $2 at Dunkin’ or Starbucks.

You can be like my awesome stepdad and measure out the coffee and fill the machine with water to make it easy in the morning to just flip the switch when you’re ready.


Speaking of lunches, prep is key. If you make a conscious decision to make, say, one huge salad on Sunday night, it’ll make weekday mornings markedly easier. I kid you not; stay in bed 10 more minutes. Just store items like sliced tomatoes, sliced strawberries (seriously, don’t laugh, they’re soooo good with feta in a salad), or diced cheese separately to avoid slimy grossness, then just assemble quickly in the morning (or, better yet, the night before).

We’re cool with salads (plus some grilled chicken or varied toppings) everyday; just grab a cup of yogurt, an apple, and a bag of pretzels or popcorn. We throw in a wrap (also made in advance, filled with some of the salad ingredients) or leftovers once in awhile so that the salads don’t get boring. Packing a different flavor of dressing or vinaigrette, or using a variety of ingredients helps, too. We find that a handful of almonds can really add another level of flavor.

Not only does this provide a healthy option, but it also makes it easier to “just say ‘no’!” to a takeout or fast food lunch. It’s definitely way cheaper to do the Ford assembly line method, too.

Is “Just Say ‘No’!” too 80s to reference anymore? Too Nancy Reagan? You can be honest, I can take it.


– This one’s for you die-hard money saving fools out there. We’ve talked before about our decision to switch off the cable, but it’s the perfect time to bring it up again.

We were sick of the high cost of cable and the fact that we only watched, say, 20 of the 70 channels. So, we bravely switched to the 11-station plan. Um, I say “bravely” because we were addicted, and we didn’t know anyone taking that step. (Compared to, say, soldiers…we ain’t brave.) Since then, we’ve adjusted fine and even have a few friends and family cutting back, too.

If there are certain shows you need to, like, exist, don’t sweat. Hit up Google to find out what streaming device will hook you up with your faves and put a chunk down to buy it. Seriously, still way cheaper in the long run.

Luckily, Dave and I love PBS (hellooooo, Downton, History Detectives and Sherlock!), Hadman’s also a PBS lover (Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger!), and we’ve had Netflix streaming on the Wii forever. It suits us just fine.

Share and share alike. What’s simpler than purchasing only ONE of everything? This is a tad different with a toddler around, but the Dorky Daddy and I share a lot of the basics, and it cuts back on extra purchases and makes shopping super easy. We use the same toothpaste, soap, shampoo (I’ve even been known to use Hadley’s), deodorant…yeah. A lot. It’s also helpful to keep an eye out for coupons and know that you’re saving even more. 
But don’t share razors. Ew. If you’re looking to streamline your shaving experience and pay less doing it, try the Dollar Shave Club. For one low monthly price, they send you “f$%&ing great” razors and keep you smoother for cheaper. Seriously, for as low as a buck; what’s cheaper than that? $12 a year?! That’s nothing. Have you BEEN through the razor section of a store lately? Insane.
 
Dude, shop at a grocery store. This may sound weird, but my advice is to shop at a grocery store for your groceries.

*crickets*

Yyyyyyeeeeaaaaahhh. By this…what I mean is…okay. If you’re used to shopping for groceries at a store like, say, Schmalmart, think about how many times you’ve come home with something that wasn’t food or food-related. I’ll wait.

*clicks on Canadian TV station*

*clicks off*

*looks around*

*takes a drink*

Figure it out? Back when I used to shop at Schmalmart, in my glamorous bachelorette days, I spent about the same amount of cabbage that I do today at my local grocery store. While buying just food. For THREE people.

What busted my bill so badly back then? Extra crap. “Oh! $5 t-shirts! Seasonal candles! Clearance flats!” See what I mean? I ALWAYS bought something else — something I didn’t need — when I went grocery shopping.”

Side note: I also bought stuff like bottled water, soda, and a million more processed items back then. We’ve since gone “real food” and while organic is more expensive, the fact that I’m not adding on stuff like that helps balance the cost. Just sayin’.

While I know there are pitfalls of shopping at a grocery store (I do get my dish soap, washing detergent, toilet paper, etc. at the grocery store), it’s mostly food, so it’s harder to fall prey to the “buuuuuuyyyy mooooorrrre” monster. Also, I don’t kill an entire afternoon or a couple of precious hours shopping anymore. 

Make more sense now? Sweet.

Think old. It’s no secret: Dave and I are old souls. We probably over-romanticize the past and long for simpler, wholesome times (without all that bigotry and hatred). To be blunt, I wish we could live in a Capra movie. And it looks like Hadley is on the same track, preferring ’40s big band for dinnertime listening to anything else and he still kicks up his heels to Fred Astaire songs. (It’s like he knoooowwwws.)

But, I’m not suggesting that you take it to our extremes or start dressing all vintage or join a swing dance club. What I am suggesting is that you just take a step back and think about life back then and how you’d like to slow down your modern life a bit.

People grew gardens. People knew their neighbors and said ‘hi’ and sat on their stoops and dropped off cookies for no real reason (except maybe to say ‘thanks’ for watching their kids last-minute the week before). People only owned a handful of outfits, enough to fit into a single armoire. People owned the basics, but knew how to be happy. People were thrifty by nature and it wasn’t looked upon negatively.

How can you fit some of these into your daily life? We try to purge every season (and sometimes more than that) and keep only what we love. We question our purchases. We stop to talk to neighbors when we have a minute. We shovel their walkways when we have extra time. We wave when we drive to or from home.

And the occasional day offline helps you feel more connected with the life around you, a well. Our grandparents were the original YOLO generation; it’s good to look to them as models of a good life.

So, there we have a handful of methods that we like to utilize to “cut” (get it? Cut…) back our money a-spending and time a-wasting. Do you already use any of them? What tips would you add to the list? Did I rise to the “challenge”? Am I the only 30-something who joneses to watch “This Old House” and “Antiques Roadshow”? Answers! I need answers, people!

***Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated or provided with free products for my feelings. Dollar Shave Club and I partnered for the topic of this post. As always, all thoughts are completely, 100% my own.***

Garden Drawing

It was a casual Saturday afternoon while the baby slept and it rained depressingly cold outside. I was sick of the immobility of winter, the constant laziness, so I picked up a pad and pen and insisted, “What do you want to eat this summer?”

Pulling poor Dave from his own restful thoughts, he gave me a list. “Well, tomatoes. We don’t really eat cucumbers. Maybe peppers?” Before too long, I jotted down the items we’d be growing. On the top of the page, I drew two rectangles — the main event (raised garden beds) — and a few smaller circles — potted plants to be located at a later date. Maybe near our garage, maybe one our deck.

This is what we came up with…

Hard to look at a bit, I know. Sorry! The asterisks are for marigolds or oregano (funny, we don’t each much oregano)…or maybe thyme, which are all good for keeping pests at bay and adding nutrients for the other plants. Oh, and pretty. They’re pretty. The jalapenos are for eatin’ but also to keep pests (namely, the neighborhood kitties) away. The numbers of the other plants are up for debate, but they’re a good starting point. The bell peppers are so “plentiful” because I’m hoping to have a few kinds.

Oh, and I’m also thinking of putting up some sort of short fencing to keep things looking orderly (and, yes, keep pests at bay).  

Last year, we tried to grow all of our raised bed plants and herbs from seed with middling success. (We also had a couple of hand-me-down tomato plants that took over our front porch.) If I had the space/capability of starting my seeds indoor without risk of cat interference, I’d be all over it. But, a few years ago (we’re talking pre-Jasper), Winston took matters into his own hands…and we remain a “let’s just buy the plants” family. Maybe some day.

I think half the battle when gardening (whether your gardens are massive fields of food or a tiny container set-up) is admitting your boundaries. Don’t over-buy, but don’t underestimate how much you can grow in a small area. Bringing this sketch along will help me to remember approximately what will fit where. It’s all in the planning.

While sketching, I also brought up a chart similar to this one on my phone to determine what plants work well together. This way, I knew that carrots and tomatoes could be in the same bed without fighting each other off. I also took into consideration that the tomatoes like to take things over, and since they’re a high-growing plant I put them in the back so that the carrots will *hopefully* still get enough sun. I’m also going to try to be obsessive about caging them this year. Good stuff to think about.

So, as I write this, I’m anxious to get my hands dirty. In Upstate NY, it’s wise to wait until the end of May to plant anything (frost abound), and I’m jealous of folks I know who have already been out working. We’ve had some crazy arse weekends that have left us with minimal time and/or energy to get much done. I mean, dude, I haven’t even weeded yet. It’s jungle city over here.

I’ll keep you posted on our garden journeys (anyone ever hear that phrase before? Our local news station has a segment called “garden journeys” and I always wonder if that’s a “thing” or if they pulled it out of their you-know-whats), and do tell — what are you growing this year? Anything?  

Boys’ Tees That Don’t Suck #2

I recently explained my frustration in the current t-shirt situation for little boys, along with a shout-out to Kohl’s for carrying some shirts that weren’t super masculine or rude-sounding that helps bridge the divide.

After the fact, though, I realized that I had recently ordered a handful of t-shirts from Old Navy on sale (always on sale; never over $10, people!) that I was also happy with. Here’s a few of them, along with a few that I saw on their website recently that I also like (but don’t yet own):


Clockwise from upper left, here are very brief descriptions of why I think they’re rad.

1. He’s almost 2. This says “It’s my 2nd birthday” without screaming it. Plus, he can wear it beyond the big day. #instantbirthdaysuit #notthatwayperv #justkiddingiloveyou

2. Because he just is.

3. We love our (organic) mac ‘n cheese. He’s wearing this shirt today, and I freaking love it.

4. He loves a good chomping animal. (Gotta buy this one when it’s on sale, but anything shark, dino, alligator will do.)

5. Speaking of chomping creatures… Dino + guitar? Fughettaboutit.

6. Because Father’s Day is coming up, and Dad is both of our heroes.

Again, PLEASE don’t let the cuteness factor fool you. I advise that you only buy these when they’re on sale. That’s half the battle here! 🙂

Boys’ Tees That Don’t Suck

Just when I thought I’d have to either start sewing my own t-shirts for Hadley to wear (nah. gon. happen.) or begrudgingly send him out into the world touting ridiculously high-octane, high-testosterone phrases, I found some BETTER t-shirts. Hey. I’m a mama, and he’s still in the “little boy” (ALL boy, as they say) yet still super sweet, sensitive, untouched phase. I’d rather not plaster him with skulls and sports quite yet. (Or ever, if he’s not into that. Up to him.)

Don’t get me wrong. I think we’re at times pretty hipster in our “How cute! An irreverent shirt for a toddler!” way. But, for the most part, cute, chill, and sometimes funny is my t-shirt preference for the monkey. And the fewer licensed characters the better. But, because of a few “likes” that he has developed, he has one Elmo shirt (gift) and a couple of superhero ones (he pulls Dave’s comic book sets off the shelves and pushes them at him until he “reads” it).

So, a few Throwback Thursdays ago, when Zulily displayed a vintage-themed grouping of t-shirts for adults AND kiddies, I was drooling. Tons of 1980s-themed tees. Mister Rogers’ face left and right. Awesomeness.

Unfortunately, the thing about Zulily is that it’s a timed selling. So, I can’t even track down the images or brand let alone a direct Zulily link for ya. Wop wop.

Another great place that we’ve been collecting hilarious t-shirts is Woot. Just recently, I heard that they went from an “only the voted upon tee designs become worthy to sell” (creating a similar “timed” purchase period…which forces you to either walk away to avoid the pressure or plop down twice what we normally spend on a kid’s shirt to grab it quickly) to a more “normal” shopping experience, but the site still looks the same to me.

Regardless, the price usually has me shaking my head. Dave, however, has plunked down some cash a handful of times on shirts he couldn’t turn down for the monkey. Needless to say we have to wait until he’s a 4T before we can use them.

More recently, however, I landed across some shirts at Kohl’s that made the clouds part and the sun shine through. The sale price was a fraction cheaper than Zulily and Woot (admittedly not all of the choices are as cool, though), so it gave me some faith. And guess what! A few of the selections are actual Woot designs!! Hooray for business partnerships!

Here are some that I’m drooling over for the Hadman. (We own a couple of them, but these weren’t all available locally. On the same token, not all of the shirts I purchased were available to show you online, either…so, until I can get a rad DSLR camera, our little model will just wear his outfits for only us to see.)


See what I mean? Fun. Not too crazy. Oh, and he’s terribly into alligators (chomp chomp) and he knows a dinosaur stomps, so those are kind of relevant in our toddler’s world.

What about you? Have you found any great places for kid threads? We’re obsessed with keeping his wardrobe cute but cheap (all of these t-shirts are currently on sale for between five and six bucks).

Gotta run! Munchkin just woke up from his nap saying “Uh oh!” That’s never good.

Happy Friday!

I thought that it would be a fun way to celebrate Friday (even on shortened weeks, a Friday is well-earned lately!) to provide a lil’ guide for Black Friday.

Wait, what?!

Yep, I said Black Friday.

Dude, it’s mid-October!!

I’m aware.

But…like…we haven’t even had Halloween yet!!! Isn’t Black Friday, like, 6 weeks away??

Mhmm. BUT, Thanksgiving is wicked late this year (it even overlaps with Hanukkah for the first time, like, ever! No, that’s not true, but it’s the first time in a super long time), meaning that Black Friday, too, is super late and pretty darn close to Christmas.

So, if you’re hoping to scoop up some good deals and get a great crack at your Christmas list on that Day o’ Craziness, I’ve got some tips to help you make the most of the day — meaning spending less money, wasting less time, and maintaining some semblance of your sanity.

It’s kind of funny because we may not even keep our Black Friday tradition this year. My sister and I have been doing it since…well, at least 6 years, I think, but it might go back even further (with every gray hair that shows itself, my memory wanes a bit more). We’ve had every type of experience you can imagine, sans the violence (although there has been some national news-making violence at nearby stores while we were at a nice, safe department store…those wackos). Now, with a couple of cuties (not our husbands, though we lucked out in that department) at home, we want to be sure it’s worth our while to get up at 3, or 4, or 5 to fight the crowds. It looks 50/50 right now, depending on how our lists stack up.

Anyhoo, we still have plenty of knowledge to pass on, so here’s a list to get you ready; the name of the game is PREPARE YOURSELF!:

Know your ads! We’ve had years (last year was one of them) that we didn’t even peak at the ads until Thanksgiving evening. Not saying that’s stupid…but it’s not the smart thing to do. 😉 Sign up for email updates to see when the ads are leaking (hint: they’re already starting! I got the MACY*S one today…and, if you’re brave enough, the Walmart one is available, too.), and I even downloaded the free app to my phone from blackfriday.com (there are plenty of reliable sites like this one, too). Compare prices in advance!

Keep a list! Santa does it; you should, too. Yes, you should have a list of everyone you need to buy for and what to get them, but this is a different list. I tend to set it up by store, then item (sometimes in parenthesis I’ll jot down who it’s for…as you can see, I love a good parenthetical notation ;-)) WITH BRAND NAME, COLOR, SIZE, AND HOW MUCH IT COSTS. The last thing you want to do is grab the wrong brand name and end up paying $10 more for a shirt (this doesn’t sound like much, but this is the meaning of BF — the difference between paying $27 for a dress shirt and $17 — and don’t get me started on $9 jeans!!!). You will NOT have time at the check-out to run back and grab what you meant to get. Plus, that line of folks behind you will definitely be shooting you the Grinch-eye. Oh, and keep a polite-but-firm eye on the cash register as things get rung-up. Know thy sale item, know thy price.

Know your stores! Keep in mind what your favorite stores/products are. If you don’t usually shop at a store, it’s cool to check out their ads in advance, but generally if you don’t like their products (sorry, Sears!), it’s not worth your time and energy to go to that store. Our favorites to peruse in advance are JCP, MACY*S and Kohl’s, with the occasional Old Navy or Target check. This year, I’ll also be staring down the Toys ‘R Us ad, mostly for clothes (since we’re swimming in toys, and we let Santa get the nice, eco-friendly toys that we enjoy playing with, too ;-)). Then, we pick which ones are the most worth our time and visit them in order of relevance. Some years, JCP is our big haul (they have great sales on sheets and towels, and most of Dave’s clothes come from awesome BF sales; I over-buy and put stuff aside for his birthday, which is in February…sneaky wife), while other years Kohl’s is.

Team up! You may notice I don’t mention Kmart or Walmart. I’ve learned from past experience that Kmart is not usually worth our energy (plus, the one we go to tends to be a bit…ghetto….), and if we need something from Walmart or Best Buy, we send in the big guns: Dave’s brother-in-law and his young adult sons. I swear, they have nerves of steel and are MADE for the strategy of The Great Electronics Battle. Mary and I stay safely in our comfort zone of slippers and ties and pillows. Even Target and Old Navy are rare (unless there’s a huge deal) because folks get cut-throat at these places. Like, crazy.

There is power in numbers, though. If it’s worth the trip, (meaning, you can check a lot of items off your list) walk in the door already knowing what you need, let your partner-in-crime jump in the already-long-line and hunt down BOTH of your items. Be sure to bring along a cell phone to check in (“did you want this color blue or that color blue for John’s sweater?”).

Heck, we even have an annual early-morning phone call with our mom (she’s usually up before 5am, anyway) to let her know how our haul’s going and whether we were able to pick up the items she gave us to grab her. Oh, yeah, we also help out family with anything they may need. It’s the season of helping/loving/sharing, folks!!

And, here are some stress-lifter ideas:

Remember the reason for the season! I’m not getting all religious-y here, but I’m just reminding you that the reason you’re buying gifts is that you want to share them with the people you love the most. This is NOT about “the hunt” (much as those Target ads try to teach you); it’s about the giving. And if you can save some cash in the process, hooray for you!

That being said, back when Mary and I used to stand in line before the doors opened (I’ll get to that in a minute), we had a habit of drinking cocoa/coffee and singing Christmas carols — especially if there were flurries in the air. Some folks would start singing along; others gave us the evil eye, but we had fun! It was like we were welcoming in the holiday season in our own, crazy way. I highly suggest doing this, or even making your own tradition — go in PJs, or ugly holiday sweaters, or wear Santa hats!

DON’T knock down the doors! Over the years, we learned that if we waited even 15 minutes, we didn’t have to wait in a line in the cold, pushing our way in (that’s not really our style, anyway); we could leisurely stroll in since the line had already dissipated into the store. The deals WON’T be gone if you wait 15 minutes, or even 30 minutes, or maybe even 1 hour. Oftentimes, we’d go to a pillow display and think they were all gone, only to have a clerk roll out a bin to re-stock. If you can’t find something, ask.

Also, a lot of these deals actually extend over the weekend, so stop by that Saturday or Sunday. The crowds will still be there (heck, that’s how it’ll be up until Christmas Eve; for me, it’s not the crowds, but the crazy drivers that drive me NUTS), but a little less exuberant/rude, and you still might get some good deals.

Stay home! Yes, I said that. We may do it this year; who knows? Some of these deals are available online. Heck, some deals are available at midnight (or 8pm on Thanksgiving…but I’m not a fan of that) online, so find out if it’ll be worth NOT fighting over a TV and try to grab it online. Oh, and a lot of these deals extend for weeks, so keep checking back over the coming weeks to see if their stock is replenished.

Know the store’s hours and procedures! Save yourself a headache. Some stores are opening up earlier and earlier, so the “doorbuster” deals may not be worth it if you show up at 5am only to realize folks scooped them up between 8pm and 12am. Also, some stores hand out vouchers to the first 50 people (or some number like that), so even if you show up at 5, the people who have been in line since their last bite of turkey the day before claim dibs on the item. This is most common at electronics stores like Best Buy (and sometimes at Walmart).

So, there you have it! Some ideas for those of us who are brave enough to venture out on Black Friday.

What about you? Have you ever done Black Friday? Any tips to add? Or do you have a post-Thanksgiving tradition (whether shopping or movie-going or cooking or decorating)? Do tell!

Side note: We do try to buy a good percentage (between 25 and 50%) of our gifts from local producers/sellers.

Image is a royalty-free image from Getty Images.