New Mama's Must Haves: December '08

Babies 'R Us gives me a headache. It's overwhelming. Have you ever seen the sheer number of bottles, nipples, binkies they have? I thought Bed, Bath and Beyond was overwhelming, but Babies 'R Us is ten times worse. At least at Bed Bath and Beyond I know what I'm looking at and what it does. That's an ice cream scoop, that's a spatula, that's something for coffee...you get the idea. At Babies 'R Us everything looks the same, but it's all different. It's not until after I registered for the stuff that I realized I needed two more of this or none of that. In my four and a half short months as a mama here's what I can't live without. 

This soft U-shaped pillow is a god-send. I've used it to wrap around my waist when I breastfeed, I've put it on the floor to prop up my daughter, it's helping her learn to sit (it goes around her butt and legs), and she can use it for tummy time by laying with her belly in the hole and her head and arms over the top of the "U". The two covers are key! One's bound to get spit up on, pooped on or drooled on! Just unzip it, and slip on the spare while the other's in the laundry. 

This "spaceship", as my husband calls it, has saved me so much time it's crazy! Sterilizing bottles can be a pain in the diaper if you have to boil water every time. This container just requires that you wash and rinse your bottles, nipples, pump gear, binkies  load them in the bowl with about 7 oz of water, snap on the lid and microwave.  The two minutes in the microwave steams and sterilizes the bottles so fast. 

The bottle dryer goes hand-and-hand with the sterilizer. After I take everything out of the sterilizer I load it on the carousel. The two tiered carousel saves a lot of room on the counter and holds a ton of bottles, nipples, and all my pump gear. Thank goodness I don't have to lay out towels all over my counter so everything can dry. 

I have a Medela Breast Pump so buying all the bottle accessories was one of the best purchases I made. I can pump right into the bottles and then just add a nipple. No need to pour the milk into a different bottles.  Less clean up, and fewer bottles to dry! I'm all for that.  You can get a pack of three bottles, with lids, and nipples for less than $15!

Perhaps my favorite piece of baby equipment so far - The Bumbo! Not only does it help my daughter develop her back and neck muscles by allowing her to sit upright with the proper support, it 
keeps her safe and entertained while being eye-level with us!  

Never leave a baby unattended in the Bumbo.
It should be noted: the manufacture recommends
 keeping the Bumbo off elevated surfaces. 


Dinner's in 5!

As in 5 minutes! Yes, it can be done. Even with kids! For me, it's essential to have quick, easy, and affordable dinners that are still healthy and tasty.  I plan out a week's worth of dinners before I head to the grocery store for the week. Then I post the list on the fridge so I am never left asking myself "what's for dinner???" 

Okay so that doesn't put dinner on the table though...but it's what I do with that little list that saves me bundles of time. I'll take a few hours one day during the week (the weekend's easiest when my husband is home to watch the baby) and I'll cook several  dinners for the week. I try to make things that can be frozen and/or split into more than one meal. Then all you have to do is pop them in the oven, heat and serve! Wa-la dinner in 5! 

One of my family's favorites is Chicken Turnovers. They're so simple and delicious. Not only can they be made ahead, you can make two servings at once and freeze one for the following week. If it was up to my husband, he'd eat the second batch the next day, he loves this recipe! Another easy recipe that puts dinner on the table in no time is Pulled Pork Sandwiches.  I split the leftovers (click here for  ways to avoid wasting leftovers) up into two serving portions put them in ziplock sandwich bags and freeze them. Since this recipe makes about 10 servings you can have a pulled pork dinner ready in no time. Just defrost one of the bags, heat up some buns and you're done!  You can do the same thing with your favorite Chili recipe.  I've always made Homemade Manicotti...they're great for freezing and forgetting.  Manicotti sounds complicated, but it's fairly simple and once they're made, I freeze them individually, then throw them all in a freezer bag.  If it's just me and my husband I'll pull out 4 and heat them up, if I have unexpected company I'll grab 10 or 12 or whatever I need, pair them with store-bought frozen meatballs and there you have it - a traditional Italian dinner! Pair it with homemade cheesy garlic bread and your tastebuds will thank you!  If you like seafood this Salmon recipe is the absolute best....all you need is five free minutes.  Make it within two days of going to the grocery store so you don't have to freeze the piece of fish and then worry about defrosting it.  There's no need to cut the skin off the fish...it'll easily separate after you cook it.  Using a spatula (or your clean hand) spread a generous amount of dijon mustard on the flesh side of a large salmon filet.  Cover the mustard with 6 tablespoons of brown sugar. You can either put it in the fridge for later when you're ready to cook it or stick it in the oven. Just cook it on 350 for about 20 minutes or until the fish flakes apart.

So there you go, I just planned a week's menu...and the best part, you'll have a second or maybe even a third full serving in the freezer for the following week or whenever you need to get dinner on the table in no time!  Be sure to check out all the recipes and let me know what you think. 

Homemade Manicotti with Cheesy Garlic Bread


Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Since I've become a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) I've been far more conscious of how much money is coming in and going out.  At this point, I'm more concerned about what's going out since we're still getting used to living on one income.  The biggest way I'm saving right now is by watching how much I spend on groceries. When my husband and I went over our budget my father-in-law asked us to estimate how much we spend on groceries a month. Both of us, without hesitating said "$400." Our credit card statement told a different story. It was closer to $800. The scary part was we didn't even realize how much we were spending.  

From that moment we totally changed the way we buy groceries. I'm finding that by following these steps I'm actually saving enough in my first three monthly grocery trips, that I'm getting my fourth trip free! Here's my weekly process. 

1. Keep a notebook (with a pocket for your coupons) in the kitchen. As soon as something runs out I write it on the list.  This helps so I don't forget anything when I'm at the store. I use to always forget something and that meant another quick trip to the grocery store. But I'd always end up leaving with way more than just the one item I forgot. 

2. On Thursdays I scan the online circulars to several local grocery stores. I write down what's buy one get one free and what's on sale ie 2/$5. I know that if it's b1/g1 I have to get two, but if it's 2/$5 I can get one at $2.50.  Make sure to make a notation next to the item on your grocery list if you have to buy more than one to get the sale price. Also indicate if you have a coupon so you don't forget to use it! 

3. I clip coupons wherever I can find them. Don't forget the internet (sites like couponmom, redplum, smartsource), the back of last week's grocery receipt, and the newspaper. 

3. I use my list of "on sale" items and coupons to create a menu for the week.  If chicken breasts are on sale I get two and freeze them. That way next week when they're not on sale, I still have some in the freezer.  You can always find coupons for rice and frozen veggies so I make sure I have enough "sides" as well! 

4. When I create my menu I also try to repeat ingredients in different meals. For instance if one meal calls for half a pepper, I try to find another recipe that calls for a pepper as well. That way nothing goes to waste in the back of the refrigerator. 

5. I avoid middle of the week grocery runs. This used to hijack my grocery budget! I could never just run in, get my item and get out. I'd always pick up something else along the way. Before I knew it I'd spend $35 or $40. Do that 3 times in a month and that's $120!!!!  

Each week I get more excited as the price on the register drops! I usually save about $25 on what would normally be about a $90 order! That means in three weeks I've saved $75, enough for my fourth and final monthly grocery run! 

**For more simple ways to save money see the links on the right side of the screen. 


Starting Holiday Traditions with Children

When I was growing up Christmas was always and exciting time.  Not only for the obvious reasons but because we came to look forward to the traditions our parents had established. We'd spend a weekend or two after Thanksgiving in the kitchen making every kind of Christmas cookie you could imagine.  The tins would be stacked 5 high in the garage just waiting to be eaten (and given away, boooo!!) We'd take a night every year to drive around and see the Christmas lights and pick which house was our favorite. We'd go to Christmas Eve mass. When we got home we'd slip into our flannel pj's...made new each and every year by my mom. We'd read The Night Before Christmas and slip into bed.  The next morning we'd open presents at home, then get into our dresses (again made with love by my mom) and head over to Grandmom and Grandpop's house. After dinner we'd sit around and watch a movie or play a game like Taboo. They were small traditions nothing too fancy, nothing extraordinary, but they were ours. 

My husband's family always drove nearly an hour to go to the same tree farm to cut down a real Christmas tree. It was something my sister-in-law held onto for years after her older brothers were long ready to give it up. But it was something that was special to all of them.  And they created a lot of good laughs and memories doing it! 

Now that my husband and I have a daughter of our own we're looking forward 
to celebrating her first Christmas. We'd like to establish a few traditions of our own that she can grow up with and look forward to. I think it's an important way for children to celebrate and more importantly make memories. These are things she'll look back on years from and hopefully think of fondly.  This year, for the first time we're hosting Christmas breakfast at hour house. Maybe it will become a tradition, maybe it will be something that each and every year we look forward to...getting both sides of the family together to exchange gifts and celebrate the true meaning to the season.  



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Losing Pregnancy Weight

It takes 9 months to put it on and many people will tell you it never all comes off. Pregnancy weight. The first trimester of my pregnancy I actually lost weight.  While I never had morning sickness, I barely had an appetite. My stomach would be telling me "I'm hungry" but it would also be screaming "eww, don't even think of eating that!" My lack of weight gain concerned me, how could my baby be growing and developing if I wasn't gaining weight. But as everyone promised, the weight finally did catch up with me. 
      5.5 weeks       12 weeks                           27 weeks
I gained about 22 pounds with my daughter who was 5 lbs, 14 oz when she was born. 

Of course, I lost about 10 pounds immediately after delivery and then returned home baby in tow, but still looking 6 months pregnant (and a few stretch marks to go along with the belly).  

I still have a membership to my local gym even though I haven't been there since I was about 5 months pregnant. I was too tired, working the overnight shift and busy getting ready for my baby. Now I'm a busy new mom who is lucky to get a shower some days, let alone get away for an hour or two to workout. 

But I have found a way to lose the pregnancy weight in about 5 months without stepping into the gym. Almost immediately after my daughter was born I started taking her on walks in the stroller. I was lucky enough that the weather was warm when my baby was born so I could walk with her outside. I walked everyday while I was on maternity leave. I'm also breastfeeding which I swear has helped me shed pounds quickly and without really trying. Not just because nursing taps into some of your fat reserves, but also because it's forced me to eat as healthy as possible because I know what goes in my mouth, also goes in my daughters.  When I have time, I also pop in a Pilates DVD and do a little weight training and toning with a Swiss ball in my living room. I've also found my baby acts as a great "weight" when I can't squeeze a quick workout in, I just use her to lift up and down a few times. And hey, lugging that carseat around with her in, that's got to be toning some muscles and burning some calories. 
I'm happy to report that 4.5 months after delivery I'm not only back to my pre-pregnancy weight I'm actually a little under...and without hitting the gym or starving myself. Now, don't get me wrong my belly needs a little toning, but that will come with time and work

Oh yeah, and the stretch marks have all but faded!

For more ways to lose pregnancy weight without really trying check out this article.  Here's another article with great ways to workout at home. 

Crying It Out: The Last Resort

I'm one of those moms who swore I wouldn't let my baby cry it out. For the first four months I did it...never allowing my daughter to cry more than a few minutes.  (With the exception of one day where I was at my wits end, got in the shower and stayed there until the monitor went silent.) Instead, I decided I'd follow advice I found in several books Happiest Baby on the Block and Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake up Happy.  The methods worked for getting my daughter to sleep...but it was staying asleep that was the main problem. She'd nap fine...sometimes I'd even have to wake her if her nap went 2.5 hours or more. But at 18 weeks she still isn't sleeping through the night. We did have four consecutive and gloriously peaceful nights when she slept through, waking up at 6:30. For the record, these were nights when I was still working overnight, and therefore didn't get to enjoy.  But since then and before then it's been a struggle. 

I believe part of the problem is just as she was learning to sleep through the night, she got sick. She had a cold which developed into an ear infection for three weeks. She got better for a week (hence the nights she slept through) and then developed another cold and stuffy nose which has gotten us to this point.  I also believe part of the problem is she's sleeping too long at daycare. (If you're thinking, "I thought you were a stay at home mom?" well I am, but I had to keep her in daycare until the end of the year because we signed up for it.) There are days when she'll sleep 5 hours before 2pm. Most babies at her age don't need more than 4-5 hours of sleep ALL DAY.  And I KNOW part of the problem is me and inconsistencies.  I'm enabling her to do this...her knowing that I'll come running. But no more. All this has landed me at my last resort: cry it out.  Here's how it's gone so far. 

Night 1:  Baby wakes up crying at 1:15 am. I give in and feed her (problem #1, I know) she falls asleep in my arms. As soon as I put her down, she cries. I pick her back up, take her down to the swing (problem #2, I know) that doesn't work. It's now 2:30 and I feel I have no other choice...I decide for the first time to let her cry it out.  By 2:56 she's asleep...and stays that way until 7am. 

Night 2: Pretty much the same thing, except she only cries for 15 minutes before falling back asleep. 

Night 3: Wake up time: around 2am. Wondering if she's uncomfortable in her carseat (where she's been sleeping for months at the dr's advice due to reflux) we move her to her crib. This seems to help. I resist feeding her this night, knowing that's part of why she continues to wake up. At 14-15 pounds she should definitely be able to make it through the night without eating.  I simply re-wrap her in her swaddle  (which she can't sleep without) give her a binky, and place her back in the crib. She cries for about 20 minutes, then goes back to sleep until morning. 

Night 4: I convince my husband he should go in when she cries since she smells me, her food supply. Of course, she doesn't wake up until 6:30 am . Praise the Lord...but will it last???

Night 5: Didn't think so!!! Wake up time, 4 am. My husband goes in reinserts the binky, gives her a little rub, says "love ya" and leaves the room. She cries for nearly 3o minutes then finally falls to sleep.  

Night 6: Same thing as Night 5 except she cried for an hour. I can't take it anymore, something must be wrong. I go in, give her the binky (resist picking her up...small victory) give her a little rub and leave the room.  She stays asleep for an hour until 5:40am then wakes up screaming. I don't go in to feed her until 6am. She goes back to sleep, and we have to wake her up at 8am. 

I'll continue to update you on our progress. I know it's a process and I know we have to break her and our bad habits. But hopefully sooner rather than later she'll be sleeping like a baby. 
Updated: 12/23

Night 7: My daughter woke up crying multiple times, but only because her swaddled got loose and she managed to wiggle her arms out. She can't sleep unless she's swaddled. Yes, I know, she's four months old. That's my next project! Anyway, everytime I reswaddled her, I gave her a little pat, a little kiss and a good night. And she went right back to sleep. She started crying around 5:50 and I thought, okay that's good enough. I went to pump a little before I fed her and by the time I was finished she was quiet. She had fallen back to sleep. She didn't wake up until 8:30!!!

Night 8: Praise the Lord she slept through the night without a peep! 7:45pm - 6:03am. 

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Becoming a SAHM

I'm new at this whole stay-at-home mom thing.  In fact when I had my daughter in August '08 I fully planned to go back to work.  I shouldn't say "planned" I actually did go back to work in November.  Never would I have imagined staying home with my baby.  I wanted to work, to have a career and to raise my family. My husband and I always said after the second baby I'd most likely stop working, but not after the first. 

But after being back to work for a month it just wasn't working. I was working overnights in a busy TV newsroom. I left home at 10:30 at night and got home in the morning at 8am. I'd have to sleep all day, which meant putting my daughter in daycare.  Working overnights isn't for most people, but it's certainly wasn't for me as a working mother. It just wasn't jiving with any of our lives..my daughter, my husband or mine. 

We had to come to a decision and after weighing the options...many of them...(from having an overnight nanny to begging our moms for overnight help) we decided it would be best if I left my job and stayed home. 

The biggest thing holding us back initially was the financial end of it. What would not having my income mean for us? How would we pay the mortgage? How would we buy groceries? How would we pay to fill up the cars? 

Fortunately we're on my husband's health insurance so that wasn't a factor. But we did go over our monthly expenses line by line and with a fine tooth comb. If I wasn't driving 50 miles round trip to work everyday that would save us a lot of money. I'd be filling up my tank maybe every 2-3 weeks instead of every 5 days. If I didn't have daycare I'd be saving a huge amount of money (about one out of every two paychecks for us). If I was home I could pay more attention to grocery specials and clip coupons, make dinner instead of grabbing it on the way home. That proved to be a significant savings..into the hundreds of dollars! We never realized how much money we were spending on food! We cut our bi-weekly spending money that each of used on "want" items in half.  We also changed our tax withholdings which means at least $100 more per paycheck. And even though I'm home now during the day, it doesn't mean I'm not contributing financially. I'm looking for ways to come up with income, no matter how small. I've started writing articles online, I've started selling stuff we don't use anymore (clothes that are too big, etc) on ebay and I'm considering getting into direct home sales.  Check out this article for more ways to make sure you're financially set to survive on one income.

Leaving work was a huge decision for me, as I'm sure it is for most mothers. I now have another job though, and that's taking care of my daughter and our household. I'm glad I can keep contributing even if it isn't attached to a paycheck. 
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