Summer is in full swing, the days are getting hotter, and the kids are getting restless. Despite all this, I love this time of year! I love the sunshine (sometimes summer is the only chance we get to see it!) and being outside so much!

Last week, we got to spend some time with family in Alaska. The kids had never been, and it’d been about 8 years since Darren and I had gone. It was great to see family and we had a blast! The kids loved playing at the beach during low tide. They got to see starfish, sea anemones, crabs, clams, scallops and, of course, lots of mud! Flinging mud was definitely a favorite activity.

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Now that we’re back, we’re trying to find a new summer routine. Parks, play dates, outings. It’s going to be a great summer, and there are lots of adventures waiting for us!

{Meal Planning on a Budget}

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I’ve recently gotten the same question being asked quite frequently: How do you do meal planning while sticking to a budget?

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It’s actually not as bad as you think! Here’s the steps I take to making a great week of meals, keeping my pantry stocked all while sticking to my budget. I’ve also included a few tips to help keep you from overspending.

 

1. Gather regularly used recipes. Whether this be in paper form in a cookbook, or digital form (Evernote, Keep, Paprika or another recipe keeping app – or just write them down!), just get your recipes easily accessible in the same place.

2. Write out each day and the corresponding meals for each. Seriously. If you actually write out (or in your app) each day, it will be better to organize it, visualize it, and it’ll be more handy come the day of when you’re wondering what’s for dinner. I do this for lunch and dinner (two separate lists in the same app). I don’t worry about it so much for breakfasts, as many days we just do cereal or toast and fruit since we’re on the run.

3. Go through and add meals day by day. After you add one meal, go over the recipe at least twice and add ingredients you need to your grocery list. (I go to two grocery stores – one for produce and one for everything else, so I go over it at least twice to make sure I didn’t forget anything.) Once you add another day, you can just keep your lists going. It also helps for checking to see if you can get meals that overlap ingredients – a great budget saver! If it works better for you, just make your meal planning list and double check recipes at the end.

4. Recheck the pantry. I sometimes think I have something and don’t, or think I don’t have something and buy too much. When making your list, make sure to recheck it to avoid missing something or getting duplicates. While you’re in there, check on the levels of your staples – flour, sugar, eggs, sauces, condiments, etc.

Tips to stay on a budget:

- Buy your meat in bulk. Meat is typically by far the most expensive item on your grocery list (unless you count the wine). We buy all of our chicken and our beef at Costco to cut down on how much we spend at the grocery store each week. Even if you buy solely organic – Costco’s got it! One package of each will easily get us through a month.

- In fact, try to stock up on a few things at places like Costco. We eat a lot of cheese. A LOT. Therefore, we buy it from Costco. We also also get things like whole milk and pasta.

- Set a budget cap by week. I used to set a budget by the month, but quickly realized that by the last week of the month, we were eating tacos all week because they are so cheap. Instead, set a specific amount per week. Don’t go over that. Anytime you do, you cut into the follow week’s allotment. If you find that you are a little tight, try to figure out what you can cut down on. Maybe you have oatmeal at home, so you don’t really need that box of cereal this week. And *gasp!* it’s okay to forgo the wine or beer (or any beverages) for a week! Also, don’t be too strict with yourself. Be realistic. If you have a family of 5, you can’t get a full weeks worth of food (or at least GOOD, HEALTHY food) for $40. It’s okay to set it a little higher. If you find you’re continually spending less, then set your limit lower.

- Don’t be afraid to shop at more than one store. I typically use grocery shopping as ‘me’ time. I go every Sunday night after the kids are in bed. It allows my husband some free time to himself at home, and I get out of the house kid free! Because of this, I like to take my time. My first stop is usually the coffee shop. Hey, a girl needs her weekly treat, right? After that, I hit up the first store (Trader Joe’s for me) to pick up my produce. I’ve found that the produce here is actually a little cheaper and much better quality than my grocery store. (I shopped around a bit before I figured out which place to go.) I’ll usually get my spices here, too. Then I hit up my local grocery store (I go to Fred Meyer’s) to get the rest of my list. (And don’t forget your reusable bags! Stores around here, at least, give you $0.05 each for using your own bags.

- Don’t underestimate the value of coupons. Take 10 minutes (yes, even just 10 minutes can help!) before you go to check the online weekly ads of your stores and other sites like Coupon.com to see if there are any coupons for items on your list. I used to coupon like crazy – get the paper, cut out everything I thought there was a slim chance I MIGHT use and had it all organized in a large 2″ 3-ring binder. What? Who has time for that with toddlers?? Now, I just take a few minutes to do a quick check to see if there are any items on my list on sale or have coupons. The trick for sticking to a budge here is to ONLY get coupons for items already on your list. If you’re like me, I find I’m a target for impulse buying. If I have a coupon for something I don’t necessarily need but find it on sale as well, I’ll end up buying as much as I can and then I’ve just used up some of my weekly budget on things I don’t need.

What are your tips? Is there anything you do for your family to help keep you on track with meals and budgets?

Happy meal planning!

{Play Stations | Sick Day}

We’re home sick from preschool today. I was pretty bummed. The kids really get a lot out of it, get to experience new things and love playing with the other kids.

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Since we’re pretty much house-bound, I decided to create some play stations for them and see how it went. I set up four play areas; a shape sorter, a stacking toy, a pounding musical toy, and a lot of safari animals. Though after less than 10 minutes they were done with the stations and started combining the toys, it was fun to watch them run from station to station seeing what was next and trying everything out. It’s not like they were new toys, but to see them in a new light make them seem new and exciting. I didn’t get very many photos – they were moving so fast, and I didn’t have my camera out, so I grabbed my point and shoot and quickly took a few shots.

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I love playing with these two; they make it so much fun. It’s so awesome to get to watch their personalities and their imaginations grow and develop.

{Secrets | Cough Suppressant}

I feel like the fear of judgment may be holding us back. Everyone has similar thoughts but is afraid to speak their mind.

As a mom, I want to do everything I can to help my kids. So when they got sick, I was right there taking care of them. They got better, but still have a residual cough. I was up several times a night for four straight nights with my son. I’d had enough. No one was sleeping. The teaspoon of honey or honey tea that I’d been giving him (sometimes along with Tylenol) at bedtime was no longer working. He kept waking himself up by coughing and couldn’t get himself back to sleep, crying for long periods of time.

Its not like he didn’t know how to put himself back to sleep. We sleep trained them early. We decided early on that with two, for everyone’s sanity, they’d need to know how to get themselves to sleep. They’re both great sleepers, sleeping 12 hours since they were 3 1/2 months old.

I wanted to do something for him (and, frankly, me). We were functioning on little sleep and it wasn’t good for any of us. It seemed every mom I talked to said, “honey!” or some other simple home remedy that we’d likely already tried. But we’d tried it all. What else? Nothing. Even the doctors office said, “They’re too little. You just have to wait it out.” I couldn’t. I wasn’t functioning. And my poor little man was racking up the sleep deficit. It was awful. So finally, reluctantly, I turned to the internet. I usually find most of the ‘advice’ online hokey, so I try not to turn to it. But I was desperate. There wasn’t much. At least not for kids this little.  Then I came across a forum board from a while back. “Viks VapoRub,” they said. “On their feet.” What? Their feet?? I figured, what the heck? Why not give it a try?

The container of VapoRub says not recommended until their 2, but they’re so close I decided to try it anyway.  Also grabbed the baby version (pretty much just eucalyptus and rosemary oils in ointment form) while I was at it. Couldn’t hurt, right?

That night at bed time, I rubbed the VapoRub on their feet, tucked them into their footed pj’s, put some of the baby version on their chest and kissed them goodnight.

7 minutes. That’s how long it took for my little man to fall asleep. We did not wake up once that night. It was a miracle! Why had no one told me about this before? Did they just not know?

So I started talking about it. Everyone should know about this miracle cure! As it turns out, everyone I spoke to about it had heard about it. Whether or not they’d tried it, they’d heard about it. It was a lifesaver for us – so why was no one talking about it?

I feel strongly about the fact that motherhood is as much a community as it is a family. We need to help those around us, as we sometimes need help from those around us. Let’s share these secrets! It may not work for you, but if it worked for one of your kids once, its bound to be a lifesaver for someone somewhere.

Let’s be that strong, close knit community of moms who share with each other and help out. The world, and our kids, will be better for it. I’ll share my secrets whenever I come across them. I urge you to do the same.

We need that judgment free place to raise the best kids we can. Let’s teach our kids to be open, honest, caring people who love to love and help others. It starts with us. Who’s with me?

{True Friendship – Mom Edition}

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Let’s face it. Making good, true friends as a mom of young kids is a really hard thing to do. Not only does it take energy you don’t have left from keeping your kids alive all day, it also takes time that you’d rather be sleeping. Or, at least, trying to sleep.

 

But us mom’s have to stick together. There’s so much judgment and negativity out there when it comes to raising kids. It seems that no matter what choice you make on any given decision in motherhood, you’ve made the wrong one and twenty thousand people will tell you why. Motherhood is hard enough on it’s own. We don’t need that. We need to stick together and build each other up.

I’ve been really lucky to be a part of several groups since having my kids. They’ve helped me establish myself post-baby, and given me an identity both as a mother and as a person apart from my kids. It’s also helped me to meet an incredible group of women that I don’t know if I’d ever make it through this thing called ‘parenting’ without. They have quickly become the truest friends I’ve ever had.

This isn’t a list about how we’re always honest, there for each other when we need them at 4am, and how we forgive everyone all the time for everything. Let’s be real. As a mom, that’s just unrealistic. Our kids and our families are our first priority, as they should be. So, we’re there for each other. Until it’s time for little Billy’s nap. Then you can bet we are headed home. No one wants to be around Billy at 5pm when he hasn’t napped. And unless it’s a true life or death situation, you better not call me at 4am. I’m either already up with my kids, or FINALLY sleeping after quieting my teething baby for the umpteenth time.

Our rules are a little different. It doesn’t mean we love each other less, just differently. My friends are still the truest I’ve found, and our relationship looks a little different.

Here’s a couple of ways that I can tell I’ve found a true ‘mom friend.’

1. You never have to clean before they come for a visit. You know that their house looks the same way and really, the kids are just going to just destroy it in minutes again anyway. You might light a candle before they come in so they garbage can full of dirty diapers doesn’t smell quite so bad. In the same way, your friends never clean for you before you come over. You walk in and immediately know to step over the pile of shoes in the doorway and make your way to the kitchen where the coffee is.

2. You don’t discipline your children differently in front of them. I’m talking mostly about the well avoided subject of spanking. Almost everyone does it to some degree (spanking can mean a lot of things, not just butt swatting). But no one wants to talk about it. It’s one of those subjects where you’re afraid if you mention the word, 1200 eyes of judgment will reign upon you. But with your friends, you can tell your child to start listening or they’ll get a spanking free of judgment. Or actually just give the spanking.

3. You can raid their fridge without asking and go number 2 in their bathroom. Enough said.

4. Small hiatus’ are no big deal. It’s okay to take a ‘break’ from people. Mostly it happens when, over the span of three weeks, every member of your house is sick at different times, preventing you from entering the civilized world for those three, excruciatingly long weeks. But when you do re-enter the world, all is right and your friend is right there, ready to pick up where you left off.

5. There’s no such thing as going ‘dutch.’ Friends want to take care of each other. So when you do break free of your house, your kids and your spouse for an evening with your friend, the line becomes so blurred between whose turn it is to pay for the movie tickets that you end up arguing that it’s your turn and for her to JUST PUT THE WALLET DOWN!

6. Communication is key, even when it hurts. Cliché? Perhaps. But seriously. That scarf does NOT go with that shirt. Also, you have baby puke in your hair and your left boob is leaking.

7. Your WiFi connects automatically upon entering their house. In today’s world, everyone needs to stay connected. No need to worry –  your phone’s already done all the work for you.

8. You never worry about repeating stories. It happens. After a while, especially with baby fog brain, you start repeating stories over and over again. It doesn’t matter that Sally’s heard the one about your brother and the goat farm 16 times. She’ll still just nod and laugh at the punch line, knowing that she’ll hear it again next week.

9. You can think out loud in front of them. They won’t judge you for your random incoherent thoughts. In fact, it’s how many harebrained schemes are born.

10. You have your own language. Or at least you can decipher the one they’re speaking today. Even if they’re words come out jumbled and incoherent, you still know what they’re talking about. “Did you get those thingys from that eating place?” “Yep, I got the cupcakes from the bakery.”

11.They encourage your guilty pleasures. And perhaps they even share a few of them. Milk Duds and an episode of The Bachelor? They’re right there with you – or a least texting you – the whole time.

12. You may keep each other too updated on your bodily functions. You’ve got the {awful, smelly} toots today and your friend is coming over with her kids. Oh well. She’s going to love you anyway. And you don’t even try to blame it on the kids. Now that’s true friendship.

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