Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dressing a Baby Girl on a Budget

In my dream world, I would buy all of Anna's clothing from Zara, Baby Gap, and Tea Collection.

Money is a moot issue in a dream world, right?

I love picking out Anna's clothes.  The fact that we don't live in a dream world, but instead, a world where we only have one full-time income, means that the process is creative and challenging. While I would love to exclusively dress my daughter in outfits that are spot on current trends, the budget - and, if I'm honest, my convictions about where our money goes - say nope.

Last week, Shannan shared her secondhand genius for girl shopping, which got me thinking about sharing Anna's fall/winter wardrobe.

I have a few guiding parameters when shopping for Anna.  One, I steer away from animals and cutesie sayings.  Two, I don't buy a ton of pink.  I'm not die-hard against pink, but neither am I a huge fan of lots of pink and ruffles.

My basic process is to start with garage sales and thrift stores.  During the summer, I look at the online classifieds to find garage sales that specifically advertise baby/toddler girls' clothes.  Anytime I'm at a thrift store, I take a few swipes through the baby racks.  Anything I find that is cute and cheap at these places comes home with me.

At this point in Anna's life, it works best to have her clothes paired into outfits.  So after I have an assortment of secondhand tops/pants, I pair them together and take notes on what I still need.  I still keep an eye out for those gaps at garage sales/thrift stores, but I also start looking on Ebay or ThreadUp.  (More on ThreadUp at the end.)

As far as retail shopping, I rarely buy anything new full price.  Mostly, I shop online, because we live in a small town where the extent of retail shopping is Wal-Mart.  I wait for end of season sales or 30-40% off coupons and sometimes the stars align, and websites offer free shipping on top of the coupon.

Are you ready to peek into her closet?

Monkey pajamas: $0.50, garage sale
Carter's cotton footy pajamas: $1.00 each, garage sales
Carter's fleece footy pajamas: $1.00 each, garage sales

Total: $5.50

(Soo, my animal rule does not apply to pajamas.  Let the girl sleep swaddled in a menagerie.)

Carter's aqua rain jacket: free, gift from Aaron's mom
Baby Gap yellow jacket: $6.00, Ebay
Old Navy pink fleece: free, hand-me-down
Old Navy navy/white striped jacket: $4.00, consignment shop

Total: $10.00

(She probably has too many jackets???)

New Balance tennis shoes: $1.25, thrift store
Tan booties: $1.00, thrift store
Slipper socks: $2.25, Target clearance
Blue shoes: free, hand-me-down
Brown boots: $1.00, garage sale
Black Mary Janes: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $6.00

(Neutral is the name of the game for shoes!)

Outfits (Short sleeves for early fall but paired with cardis to take them into winter) 
Carter's hot pink cardigan: $7.00, clearance
Carter's love t-shirt: $5.00, clearance
Garanimals grey leggings: $0.50, garage sale
Old Navy white heart tee: $3.00, clearance
Old Navy heart leggings: $3.00, clearance
Old Navy gray cardigan: $8.00, sale
Old Navy yellow onesie: $3.00, clearance
Garanimals khaki pants: $1.00, thrift store
Children's Place white cardigan: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $31.00 (That seems like a lot after the other categories!)

(I'm obviously determined that she will love cardigans as much as I do.)

Carter's peach top and patterned denim leggings: $4.00, JCPenney with $10 off coupon
Old Navy ivory pullover: $1.00, garage sale
Children's Place jeggings: $2.00, consignment store
OshKosh striped tunic: $2.00, consignment store 
Children's Place jeggings: $1.00, garage sale
OshKosh coral striped top: $1.00, garage sale
Garanimals brown yoga pants: $0.50, garage sale

Total: $11.50

(I think I would wear the patterned denim leggings myself, if I could.)

Uh, Mom, why are you laying all my clothes out on the bed?  That's weird. 

Garanimals ivory top with lace: free, gift from my mom
Zara khakis: $6.00, ThredUp
Carter's chambray shirt: $12.00,
H&M flowered leggings: $7.00,
Old Navy green shirt: $1.00, garage sale
White leggings: $2.25, Kohls clearance
Circo white tunic: $0.50, thrift store
Orange leggings: $1.00, thrift store

Total: $29.75

(The chambray shirt outfit is her birthday present.  I really wanted to buy her this outfit, but $19.00 for a baby outfit is crazy expensive in our world, so that money came out of the present fund.)

Old Navy coral dress: $6.00, ThredUp
Circo brown dress: $1.00, garage sale
Circo butterfly dress: $1.00, garage sale

Total: $8.00 

Grand total drumroll?  44 pieces for $101.75.  $100 still feels like a lot to me to spend on baby clothes, but it's spread out throughout the year as I pick things up here and there, and it averages out to $2.31 per item, which seems a lot easier to swallow!  

About ThredUp.  Have you heard of it?  It's an online consignment shop where I bought the Zara pants and the coral Old Navy dress.  Although you have to wade through some not-so-great stuff, it's a good place to find nicer brands for cheaper than retail.  Sometimes, the garage sales around here are full of animal/cupcake/pinkpinkpink little girl clothes.  ThredUp is a way to find some labels I really like but could never buy new.

The best thing about them is their referral program.  Every friend that signs up gets $10 credit, and if that friend makes a purchase, you get $10 added to your account.  Since there are a lot of things priced under ten bucks (even with shipping added in), it's a win/win.  Your friend gets something free, and you get $10 added to your account.  Obviously, I would be thrilled if you joined ThredUp through my referral link.  Then, go get yo' friends to join so you can get some credit too! Aaron teases me that this is my pyramid scheme - it isn't a pyramid scheme - but yes, I am excited about ThredUp.

And because I can't say pyramid scheme without thinking of that Office episode, here you go: 

"Yes!  Thank you!  You will get rich quick.  We all will!"  Makes me laugh every time.  

What about y'all?  How do you shop for your kids?  Secondhand all the way?  A good mix?  Wouldn't touch a garage sale with a pole?  Do share.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Garden Lives On

In a surprising plot twist, the zucchini and the cucumbers are no longer with us.  RIP.

But!  The peppers pulled through their blight and are now popping out little progeny all over the place.

And the sunflowers are bent on world dominion.

Gardening is such a head-scratcher. This is about the time of year that I want to pull everything up, even the plants that are producing well.  You can only blanch and freeze so many green beans, and when you're scared of canning tomatoes because of botulism, well, you run out of ideas for using them all.  We are becoming the neighborhood dispensary for tomatoes.  (Which, as it turns out, giving away food you've grown is as much fun as eating food you've grown.)  

Our little garden grows and grows, through the August dryness and burning sun, and even though I sometimes want to give up on the entire caboodle, mornings find me outside with the hose.  Later, before Anna's nap, we sashay to the garden to pull a few weeds or deadhead the petunias.  Anna always eats a marigold.  (Don't worry - I googled it, and marigolds are only just a wee bit poisonous.)  After dinner, Aaron joins our parade out the back door to pick beans and pluck tomatoes.  Before returning inside, we stop and stare at our three glorious watermelons.  Our watermelon discussion is cyclical; every night we return to the same question.  "So, uh, do you think they're ready?" 

All those tiny seeds, finger-poked into the ground months ago.  Seeds that have turned my yard into a lavish mass of green, polka-dotted with yellow, red, pink, purple.  (There were also a fair amount of impulse bedding plant purchases.)

I'm already thinking of bulbs for fall planting.  Our new house hasn't one tulip to its name, although Mrs. Smith, the lady who built the house and lived here 50 years, had a special predilection for pink ladies.  (Did you know that if you pick your pink ladies and bring them inside, a curious and very pungent mothball smell will fill the air?  Live and learn.)

It's been the summer of the garden.

A great summer, indeed.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Days

I've never been good at blogging during the summer.

There is only so much sunshine in a year, you know?  And during the summer, we live outside, we go on trips, we welcome friends for weekend visits, and at night, the whir of the ceiling fan draws us into our bed early.

It's so good.  Summer always gives us the room to slow down and just be.

The garden is bountiful, though we are not without our share of farmer troubles.  The peppers have a fungal blight, and our patty pan sqaush plant produced odd, oblong, green pumpkinish fruits...not quite what we were hoping for.  Did we have cross pollinated seeds?  I don't know. Nonetheless, we've got cucumbers and zucchini galore, enough eggplant to satisfy, and the tomatoes are creeping up to an riotous explosion soon.

We've been reading more, sinking into our spots on the couch as soon as Anna is tucked away in her crib for the night. A glass of ice water, a good book, my husband beside me.  In my world, there's not a better way to spend a summer night.  Cool nights, we've hefted the windows open, (we we both prefer unless it is blazing hot) and the sounds of crickets and cicadas and the whiff of a neighbor's cut grass drift in.  Ahh, summer.

Friends from Topeka came two weeks ago, and a dear friend from Afghanistan (home on a visit) came last week.  We've cooked pizza and Turkish lahmacun, mixed scones and pancakes, torn through cartons of ice cream and pitchers of tea.  We've visited my family in Arkansas and Aaron's family in Kansas City.  We're home now for a month, and the number one priority?  Get our precious girl on a good sleep schedule.

It's summer.  And I'm loving every day of it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Back in the Saddle

I have loads of posts knocking about in my head.  But tonight it is late, and I promised myself that I would start going to bed earlier because I keep staying up too late, and someone tiny and cute is still not "doing her nights" as the French would say.  Aka, she is still waking up screaming at 2 a.m. wanting to eat.

Tonight is about jumping back onto the blogging horse.  It will be random.  More cohesive, well-thought out things are sure to come soon.

Anna came down with her first true sickness last week.  She had roseola, which meant three and a half days of a high fever followed by two days of a rash.  It was the saddest thing.  Whenever I put her down, she would just lay on the floor with her cheek to the ground.  She didn't want any food, just wanted to nurse all the time. Little babies with fevers are like furnaces - her body was so hot in the middle of the night.  Why is it that sickness always seems to peak in the middle of the night when there is nothing that you can do but pray and hope that the hours until you can give more Tylenol pass quickly?

She's back to her sweet self now, crawling all over the house, making messes, chowing down on food.

We celebrated our fifth anniversary June 20 with a quick trip to Sedalia to stay the night in an historic hotel.  Aaron surprised me with a manicure and pedicure, and the next day we wandered about Powell Gardens looking at plants to my heart's delight.  It has been, in many ways, a long and tough year of marriage for us...somehow this makes the anniversary all the sweeter.  The night away was a time to exhale, talk about silly things and serious things, and attempt to sleep in.  Of course we still woke up at seven.

Aaron has the next two days off, and we are going to knock some projects off the house list.  Tonight it is so cool that I am drinking hot tea.  Our baby is sleeping, the house is mostly clean, and there is a delicious breeze drifting in the front door.  Life is good.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pancakes for Dad

She woke up early.  6:00 used to be standard waking time for me, and I met the world cheerfully and expectantly.  Now at that hour, I roll over and shake Aaron's shoulder.  "She's awake."

But it was Father's Day, and so I rolled the other direction, and my feet touched smooth old hardwood.  I went and got that baby girl, and Daddy slept soundly.  Poor guy.  Only one day of the year his wife doesn't bring the baby back to bed so that everyone can share in the joy of being awake at 6:00.

The morning was still dim and calm.  Anna girl went into her high chair, pacified by a tray full of blueberry pieces.  I lit a candle and puttered around making coffee and opening and shutting the cupboards (sometimes I hope that a pre-made meal will magically appear). We had three hours until church started...breakfast in bed for the World's Greatest Daddy was the obvious conclusion. 

The Joy of Cooking is a staple around here.  It's a giant beast of a cookbook with no pictures, but it's the best.  Especially the pancake recipe. I'm picky about pancakes.  Fluffy, cakey ones won't do - they need to be thin and spongy and have a slight browned crust.

 Joy of Cooking Pancakes

Whisk together in large bowl:

1 1/2 cups flour
3 T sugar
1 3/4 t baking powder
1 t salt

Combine in another bowl:

1 1/2 cups milk
3 T melted butter
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla

Mix liquid quickly into dry ingredients. 

There are a few things I always do for pancakes.   I put the griddle on low-medium heat even before I start mixing.  That way it's the perfect temp by the time I'm ready to cook.  Pancakes always seem to burn when I heat the pan too fast.  Butter is the best thing to spread on the griddle.  Add more in-between each batch.  That's the ticket for that crunchy delicious crust.  (Can I step on a soapbox here for a moment and say for the love of all the fathers in your life, butter is not bad for you?  Your body needs good fat.  Don't be scared of butter.  Be scared of margarine because nobody really knows what is in that mess.)

Wait for the tiny bubbles to appear and flip.

When we took in the tray, Aaron said, "I've never had breakfast in bed!"  Truly, a picture perfect first Father's Day...until someone who shall remain anonymous thought that breakfast in bed was intended for her too.  Attempts to pull her off of the tray were not met well.  Daddy's ladies left him to eat alone. But it's boring and sad to be given solitary confinement on Father's Day, so he soon followed us out to the dining room.

We tried.  :)

"I want all the food!  You never feed me!  I'm so hungry!  Have you seen these thighs lately?  Practically wasting away!"

Happy First Father's Day to the man our daughter adores.  I couldn't ask for a more involved, attentive, loving daddy for my child.  She kicks her legs when you walk in the room.  She gives you wet open kisses all over your face.  It's obvious you have her heart.  And mine.  I love you!

And to my own father, who celebrated his 32nd Father's Day, sorry I couldn't make you breakfast in bed.  You probably would have rather had cereal instead.  You've given me so much wisdom and love, you've told more corny jokes than anyone ever expected, you're the whiz of whizzes at saving money and reusing stuff, and you're a stellar Poppa who Anna delights in.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Aldi, The Cool Kid

My mom shopped at Aldi in the 80s, way before it was cool.

I was so embarrassed that our cereal boxes said things like Crunchy Os or Rainbow Whirls.  I coveted the bright yellow box emblazoned with Cheerios, and I wanted Toucan Sam to join me at breakfast. The virtues of buying name-brand were clear to me, the most important being, none of my friends would think we were poor.  

Now I shop at Aldi.  It's come a long way from the dingy, flickering-bulb aisles of my childhood. They have organic cheerios now! (Also, I don't mind now if people think I'm poor.  In many ways, 29 definitely has the upper hand on 7.)

I went last week to just pick up a few things.  I can never go to the grocery store to pick up a few things.  I have a fear that things I want will run out before I get them.  I'm sure this says something deep about my psyche, but I'm not sure what.  When we were in Rome, I pushed Aaron through the entire Vatican full of pulsing crowds (it's kind of huge) because all I really cared to see was the Sistine Chapel, and what if it somehow evaporated or caved in or exploded before we got to it? 

I feel the same way about food.  It's like the Aldi marketing team knows this secret of mine, because all of their coolest foods are labeled with tags that say "Special Edition" or "Seasonal Buy" or "Limited Quantity".  The bags of flour stacked up on a pallet will be there week in and week out, but the Artisan Smoked Honey Cranberry Parsley Sage Gouda?  Who knows when it will disappear?  If I don't buy it this week, I may never get the chance!!!

I present to you my most recent Special-Edition-Seasonal-Limited-Quantity buys.

Salt and Vinegar Chips.  (I had to prop up the bag to make it look like something was in there - but it's empty.  2 days after I bought them.  It's the vinegar.  It burns my tongue, but I can't stop!)

Cashew Butter.

(I already succumbed to the Almond Butter the week before...)

Yogurt Cheese.  (YOGURT cheese?  So interesting and different.)

Shelf Stable Almond Milk.   (We are not lactose intolerant.  So I bought two boxes.  I don't know.  I really don't know.)

Edamame and Brussel Sprouts.  (Because these are way more fun to have in my freezer than corn and green beans.)

I clearly need to send Aaron to the store if I have a short list.  He is not enticed by the hand-crafted cheeses and hippie milk.  He also probably wishes that he could have seen more of the Vatican.  

Aldi, I love you.  Bring me your special foods year round.  This will give me the time to decide if we really need three different kinds of nut butter.  "While supplies last" is just too hard on me.  Kind regards, a loyal shopper.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

All's Well That Ends Well

It all began with a text.

We were playing games with two couples (I was probably about to win, but that detail is a little fuzzy), and Aaron got a text from one of our K-Life leaders.

"Do you guys want a puppy?"

Did we want a puppy?  We looked at each other and laughed.  "I want a puppy! I've always wanted a puppy!" I said.

His phone buzzed again.

It was a picture of the puppy.

"Well, maybe we could just go see it."  Aaron passed his phone around the table.  It was a very cute puppy.

This is the point of the memory at which I think two things,


2.  How did we not know that "just going to see it" meant that we were DEFINITELY GETTING A PUPPY???

We went to see the puppy the next day.  She came with a leash, a small bag of food, a few toys, and potty training pads.  What a good deal!  How could we ever possibly need anything more for the puppy?  She was so little!  She was so cuddly!  She waddled!

The first night of our puppy ownership, we had 20 K-Life kids over to hang out, and she slept through it all, under a chair.  We had clearly been gifted with the most easy-going, sweet, docile puppy in the world.  The universe had smiled upon us, and we were well on our way to the perfect American family with 2.5 kids and a Golden Retriever!

(Did I mention that we were 8 weeks pregnant? And that I was sick, sick, sick?)

Our eyes were blinded with puppy love.  We named her Maggie.

Perhaps bringing home a puppy is a little like having a baby.  Bear with me.  The first night in the hospital, the baby sleeps so well.  Your body is full of magical endorphins, not to mention chest-bursting pride at having born a human being, and the tiny baby appears to do nothing but coo and lay contentedly in the plastic bassinet by your bedside.  You arrive home, and that night, the darling baby wakes up every hour, and she is not cooing.  She is CRYING, and she wants SOMETHING, and you are so tired and confused, and you sort of wonder if they would readmit you at the hospital if you drove there right now.

It only took 24 hours to see that this was not a docile puppy.  This was not an easy-going puppy.  She was sweet, yes, but we had unknowingly become the owners of a dog with an extreme case of hyperactivity WHO WOULD NEVER, EVER BE TIRED.

It's only a stage, right?  She'll grow out of it, right?  We asked other dog owners - wasn't your puppy like this?  They would stammer something and exit the conversation quickly.


We did pretty well the first seven months.  Maggie was smart. She house-trained quickly. She learned every trick we taught her.  She thrived on attention.  She loved to go on walks and runs.  Aaron and I had the time and margin to throw a squeaky toy across the house 500 times in a row.  She never did learn not to jump (a euphemism for throwing her entire weight upon a person and humping them rapidly) on visitors.  My mom started coming to the back door because she was afraid.

Then we moved in with my parents.  My dad hates dogs.  My parents don't have a fence.  We had a baby two days after moving in.  You can imagine that all these factors combined into a swirling vortex of the worst possible dog-owning situation ever.

My brother said he would take her.  That lasted four days.

We moved into our home.  For a while, it seemed like maybe we could make this work.  I think it was February, when the long, cold days of being in the house with Maggie and Anna seemed eternal - as if May were only a mirage - that I knew Maggie needed a new home.  She needed attention; she needed exercise; she needed a therapist...none of which we could provide for her.

Tuesday, Maggie went to live with her new family.  They're a young couple, childless.  We gave them the complete and honest scoop on our pup, and they still wanted her. The husband has a lot of energy himself and likes to run 6 miles every morning.  As they retreated down the sidewalk with Maggie pulling them along on her leash, my heart constricted a tiny bit.

"I miss Maggie," I told Aaron later as we cleaned up the dinner mess.

"You miss her hair everywhere?  You miss her barking at you because you're not petting her?  You miss her digging holes in your flowerbeds?"  he replied.

"I don't know.  I just kind of miss her.  I'm a wildly sentimental person, you know."

He shook his head.  (I still amaze him!  After five years of marriage!)

"Hey," I continued.  "What if she comes back to us, like the dogs in The Incredible Journey? What if she came back five times in a row to us like that?  Would we keep her then?"

"Um, no."

I may be wildly sentimental, but the man I married is strongly realistic.

Last night on the couch, Aaron nudged me.  He was on Facebook, and the couple had posted a video of the husband playing with Maggie.  "She's being so calm!" Aaron whispered, as if she might hear us through the screen and begin to hump it.

"Wow, she is being calm.  I guess it's working out."

We both stared at the video, transfixed, and I knew then that Maggie's new home was going to be a great fit.

The day Maggie left.  I realized we had no family pictures of the four of us, and we had to have complete documentation of that time we had a dog.