Saturday, July 24, 2010

Budget Bitch(es)

My husband and I are getting ready to take our kids on a 10 day family vacation. To be honest, this is the first real week long family vacation we have taken that isn't connected to moving or looking at a graduate school. Therefore, we are incredibly, crazily excited, perhaps even more excited than our poor children who have had to listen to us discuss our plans at excruciating length.

Now "planning for a trip" for me includes making a detailed packing list and researching the restaurants that I want to eat at while on the trip. To Matt, however, it includes making a detailed budget on Excel, replete with pie charts and purchasing many things ahead of time so that we are not forced to spend extra money on, say, expensive beverages and ponchos. Twice this week I have met him after work to go to Wal-Mart and Target to buy these things. As I write, I can look over to the side of my living room and see 2 24-packs of water, 1 24-pack of Coke, 1 24-pack of Diet Coke (my guilty, guilty pleasure), a package of swim diapers, four new pairs of aqua shoes, two new memory cards, and 3 full bottles of sunscreen. And that is just a start. Matt is currently at a comic book festival with Sam, carrying around his two lists which are written on index cards for easy access, ready to pounce on anything extra that he could possibly need and that he might find on sale.

I love my husband, and besides that, I really admire him for his ability to do this kind of thing. As I have said before, I am simply wretched with money. Yes, I have gotten better over the years, but I still tend to spend much, much too much. My husband knows when to indulge me, but also knows when to tell me to just can it. I am thankful for that. I often jokingly call him the "Budget Bitch" because of his ability to keep me in line and his even more honed ability to decipher a supermarket price tag.

A little while ago, we were looking at the budget he has created for the trip. Our biggest expense is going to be food, as we are staying in a suite with no kitchen and will thus be eating every meal out (although a full breakfast is free at the hotel). We made a couple of good decisions--using Trader Joe's and our small refrigerator for lunches and cheap picnics--but then I got a couple of great ideas: and Groupon!

I managed to get 2 $25 gift cards for a Thai restaurant for $4. We all LOVE Thai, and it is incredibly hard to get around our home in the sticks. I checked out the menu, and it looks great, plus it is relatively close to our hotel. SCORE. Then, the other night, I bought a $100 gift certificate to Shabby Apple (clothing, not, er, fruit) for $40 from Groupon. I started checking out the site and found our vacation spot. Sure enough, yesterday they ran a deal for a restaurant that is near a zoo we will be visiting. $25 for a $50 gift certificate. Yes, it is more than $4. BUT...feeding my group for $25 is awesome. I was exceedingly proud of myself, and I believe that my husband was amazed at my abilities. He even called his mother to tell her about what I had done. That night as we were closing everything down, he remarked loudly, "Looks like there are two budget bitches in this house!"

Little does he know that I have one thing in mind: discretionary fund. Matt builds a discretionary fund into all his budgets, and he had already told me that anything we don't spend on food goes straight into that. I am wanting to hit up the bookstore at my alma mater (yup, we are visiting where I went to school) and buy some new gear, as my beloved college sweatshirt is now miles too big and only ok to wear around the house. Plus, there is a new Loft that I am wanting to visit. Ulterior motives, as you see.

So check out and check out your city and anywhere you would like to visit. It is a different deal everyday, but you may just find something for a future trip. And is available everyday and right now, $25 gift certificates are $2 with promo code "PLATE".

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vacation (All I've Ever Wanted)

These are some of our family vacation pics from the trip I recently took with my mom. Yeah, I know, no one really likes looking at someone else's trip pictures. But, you know, it's my blog, and well, I can't resist an opportunity to show off some pictures of the kids being their awesome selves.

The funny thing about taking a vacation when you are my age and slightly unhinged (as I probably am) is that it makes you question things in life. I know, I know. I love going to the beach. A lot. It is something that I have done every summer, and a good deal of these trips have been taken at Kure Beach, NC. Kure Beach, to me, is the perfect beach. There is stuff to do in nearby Carolina Beach (a boardwalk, ice cream shops, a few shops, the best frickin' doughnuts you'll ever put in your mouth), but it is quiet enough to where you can go and just enjoy the beach and not feel any pressure to do anything but read and chill on the beach. Thus, I have always kind of thought that someday I would buy a beach house, possibly with my mom. I think I started seriously considering it during this trip--my mom and I looked at some real estate listings and she talked in some detail to the real estate agency where we rented our condo. With as frugal as my husband is and the way that he handles our finances (if I have anything to do with them, we are on a one-way track to Overdraft City), this is something that we could feasibly do, not now, but within a few years.

But then I started thinking about it: I would love to be able to teach and then leave the day after school is out and spend the summer at the beach. That would make me happy. But what about law school? If I do that, obviously we would be much more able to afford a beach house and I would do what I want to do and it would be awesome. But I wouldn't have the luxury of the time off. And although I thought I would be miserable this summer being home all the time, I really have loved it. Lord. Decisions, decisions.

Someday I really want to get to the point where I can do things without having to consider how it affects the rest of my life....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Like Father, Like Daughter

Wednesday is Comic Book Day in our house. On Wednesday's, my husband goes to his comic book shop, usually with my son, and they come home laden with their new issues. This week, my son is at my mother in law's house where he is staying while Bible school is going on. So, I dressed Alice up to go.

The shirt is from Old Navy's Collectabilitees line. I buy a lot of these for my kids. They are really cute and usually look kind of vintage-y, and they always have characters that my kids like (Sam especially). I would say at least 40% of Sam's shirts are from this line. Last Christmas, I even scored him a Wolverine hoodie! Even better, this particular shirt was on clearance with an additional 50% off! I think I got it for about $3.

And since I was taking pictures of everyone else, I took one of myself:

Yes, I'm in a car. I didn't wear a comic book shop t-shirt--my shirt is sailor stripes and I bought it at Target. I wore my new Loft lean boyfriend chinos (rolled at the ankle), Land's End leather flip flops and silver hoops from American Eagle.

And yup, that picture is sideways because I'm sort of an idiot, but I refuse to ask my husband how to fix it. Let's hope I figure it out and can edit this soon!

As Promised...Disposable Diapers Totally Work (If You Like Waking Up in a River of Poo)

Last week, I went on vacation with my mother. My mom and I have this tradition where every year we go to Kure Beach, NC with my kids and stay in a condo and eat fried seafood and ice cream for a week. We do other stuff too, but the main sticking points are the fried seafood and ice cream. We eat a lot of it. And every morning when we get up, we immediately begin talking about where (and how much) we will actually eat.

ANYWAY, because we stay in a condo, it is much like just traveling to another home. There is a washer and dryer and a full kitchen and all of that. Because of this, traveling with cloth diapers was no biggie. I just put our stash into a repurposed Gap bag and took it with us. And I washed diapers on the trip, just like I would at home. I actually washed them more often because Alice used quite a few as swim diapers during the day (just took the insert out of the pocket) or got her AIO sandy at the beach (I found that to be the best thing for her to wear to the beach--trim and absorbant). So I washed nearly every day. It was fine though--not a big deal.

When we got back home late Saturday night, my mom dropped the kids and me off at our house before she went down to my grandmom's house where she was staying (about 30 min. away). It was about 1:30 a.m., so we didn't unload the car--I just grabbed my toiletry bag because it held my contact solution and case. Because I was hella tired, I just carried Alice in to bed (she and the other kids were already asleep), said hello to Matt, and then went on to bed myself. Alice was wearing a nighttime diaper (extra stuffed FuzziBunz), so not a big deal.

However, the next morning, I realized that I had left our full stash in my mom's car. Because I knew that my mom was probably really tired from the trip home, I decided not to bother her and just put an old fitted and a wool soaker on Al until I could get the rest of the diapers. Approximately 30 minutes after I hatched this plan, Alice pooped. I couldn't let her sit in that, so I found a BumGenius that I hadn't packed because she had used it the night before we left for the beach. I washed out the cover on my hands, dried it quickly in the drier and then stuffed it with a combination of extra inserts. Whew, I thought. Crisis averted. But then, I realized that the trip had not been so kind to Alice's digestive track. Yup, more poop. Since I had exhausted my source of forgotten diapers, I begged my husband to go out and buy some disposables. After some convincing, he did it.

There were no real problems during the day that I let her wear it. Mom brought back all of our stuff, and I didn't think about it. But that night, I was changing Alice for bed. Sure enough, the bag of dipes was still sitting in the living room. The disposables were just laying near her crib. I thought, "What would it hurt? I spent $10 on those things, I should probably use them." So I just pulled one out, slapped it on her, and put her to bed.

The next morning Alice wakes up all happy and joyful. She is playing around in the bed between Matt and me--just smiling and being sweet. I love these times in the morning--the house is quiet and we just lay there and watch her, smiling at her movements and sounds. It is our time to devote all our attention to her and we all love it. All of a sudden, I hear the tell-tale sounds of baby gas. Now, on a normal day, Alice is pretty regular, so this is pretty normal for her. I think nothing of it and just let her get to her business. I shut my eyes and lay back and...

The next thing I know there is baby poop FLOWING down my new 500 threadcount sheets. Like not just a dot or a smudge or a tiny leak. A FULL ON LAVA FLOW. Add full on flow to moving baby and it is EVERYWHERE.

And I, of course, being the idiot that I am, think of nothing but this:

Yup, a Family Guy episode. To Live and Die in Dixie. In it, Peter Griffin gets mauled by a raccoon and then happens to be in an outhouse when it is tipped over by a bird. (I couldn't get a picture of the actual tipping.) Anyway, when this happens, and Peter is covered by the contents of the outhouse, he yells, "IT'S EVERYWHERE! IT'S IN MY RACCOON WOUNDS!" So of course, I jump from the bed, scream an expletive and then yell at the top of my lungs, "IT'S IN MY RACCOON WOUNDS!" My lovely husband gets the joke, but instead of quoting more of the episode (or even laughing at my funny) jumps out of bed and yells, "MY SHEETS!! MY AWESOME SHEETS!"

(Because did I mention that these were the sheets that I bought as a gift to us after our lovely anniversary trip as a way of bringing the luxury and romance home to us to stay? No? Because they were. They also cost a good deal more than I have ever spent on a piece of bedding and a good deal more than my husband even knew about. Had he known how much I actually spent on them, he probably would have chosen that moment to puke.)

Now, lots of people talk about cloth diapers being better for the environment, better for the baby, etc. But how about just better? We have never had a "diaper blowout" with cloth, never had that awful "poop up the back" that you get with disposables. We have had an occasional issue with wetness in the jumperoo and once some leakage when she managed to take off her diaper while in the jumperoo, but that's it. And compared to waking up to a veritable Amazon of baby poo? NOTHING. My husband said it best when he said, "Disposable diapers BLOW."

But...ah, the dilemma. Next week, Matt and I are taking our kids on a week-long family vacation to Williamsburg, VA. (One of the pluses to being a teacher, ya'll!) We are not staying in a condo--just a suite in a hotel. There is a guest laundry, but you have to pay for the wash, and it is not in the room so inconvenient (especially when we are planning on being out all day and tired at night). Before Poopgate '10, I had planned on taking disposables just for the ease of it. I don't know. The way I see it, I have three options: 1) Take disposables and LOTS of clothes and Bac Out and Tide pens and just hope for the best, 2) Take our stash and just do laundry a lot, or 3) Buy a whole new diapers system (like Flips) that have a cover and a disposable insert. If I do that, I'm going to be out the money for the new system, and the money for fast shipping to get it here before we leave on Sunday. I'm just at a loss.

So we will see. I have to make a decision soon (for obvious reasons). However, aside from letting me hash out my options and maybe get some feedback from my -4 readers, I hope this post convinces someone out there to go with cloth. It is really the best option, and no, I'm not that crunchy or anything. I just like stuff to work the way it should, and well, disposable diapers do not. I am interested, also, to see if anyone googles "waking up in a river of poo" and happens upon this. Because if the internet has taught us anything, it is that if you can dream it up, someone out there enjoys it and is looking for video.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Stuff

For some reason, I have the inclination to become a better blogger. This is one of those things that just hit me the other day, kind of like thinking "I should really organize my spices" or "Maybe I really should get a free credit report." So who knows if I will actually stick to it? But at any rate, I did some housecleaning. I have pictures of my family at the beach coming (because everyone knows that family vacation pics totally bring the boys to the yard), and some interesting things I want to write, one of them under the title "Disposable Diapers Totally Work (If You Like Waking Up in a River of Poo)." So stay tuned!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Land's End Is More Awesome Than You Thought

In the past years, I have ordered a few things for Land's End--snowboots for my kids, a diaper bag, a t-shirt dress, sandals, etc. However, it wasn't one of those places that I just looked at online for giggles. It was more of a website that I went to to find a specific basic. Plus, a lot of times, things looked a little too old for me--cuts were more modest and full than what I would normally wear, colors and prints were maybe a bit more staid than what I desired.
But then I started hearing good things about the Land's End Canvas line. One night, I won a bet with my husband, which entitled me to a superfluous online order of my choice. I decided to order this dress.

When I first pulled the dress out of the package, I didn't know if I was a fan. The fabric of the skirt seemed a little drab, and I started worrying if it would fit correctly. But then I put it on. This dress is awesome. The fit is great--it slid over my huge ta-ta's, but still fit at the waist. It wasn't too long (as is the case normally for me). Plus, it has POCKETS! Yea! But more importantly, this dress is the perfect canvas for styling. You can be very creative with this dress. For work, I paired it with a navy blue Jackie cardigan and a necklace made of layers of sea glass. For play, I have worn it much as the model in the picture is wearing it--with a chunky necklace, a casual bag and plain sandals. A great buy (and I didn't even get it on sale as it is right now).

I remembered this experience, and have looked at Land's End Canvas a bit more recently. I haven't ordered anything else, but that's not for lack of desire. In fact, I was on my way there to check out new offerings one morning, when I noticed that Land's End was having a bathing suit sale. I had bought a bikini to take on my anniversary trip, but needed something a bit more substantial to run around in with the kids this summer. I decided to see what they had to offer. I had just started looking, when a chat screen popped up and I noticed that someone was asking me if they could assist me in my search. I told the representative what I was looking for and she asked me for my measurements. I found a tape measure and gave them to her. Within seconds, she had decoded it for me and told me that I would need a 6DDD (!!!) top and a 4 bottom. I combed through the offerings, and found a great halter tankini and bikini bottom and ordered it.

When it came in, I discovered bathing suit nirvana. The top has soft cups, but holds everything up like an underwire top. It is incredibly comfortable. Plus, everything is so adjustable--I can decide if I want to show a bit of my stomach or not. And even better--my top is minimized in a way to where you look at me and don't immediately think "BOOBIES!!!" It is a perfect suit. I am so excited about taking it to the beach next week--for the first time probably ever, I am going to be totally comfortable on the beach and will gladly whip off my cover up to hang with the kids.

Along with the suit, Land's End also sent me a coupon for $15 off a $75 purchase. I decided to use this to treat my mom and me to some new beach towels for our trip (along with a new pair of sandals and a cardigan for me....). However, I had just placed the order when I realized that the towels would probably not come in by the time we left for the beach. I called customer service to upgrade to a more expensive shipping option. When I explained to the agent what had happened, she said that she could get the package to me on Saturday without upgrading if it was put through immediately. I told her that I would be gone by then, and she asked me where I was going. When I told her that I would be going to the beach for a week, she asked me for that address. I had never thought of it, but we decided to send the package to the beach house where it would be waiting for me when I got there. I gave her the address, and she waived any fees for shipping to multiple addresses. Plus, she was super friendly the whole time and just incredibly helpful.

I will definitely be doing more orders with Lands End. They are super helpful, and seem to genuinely care if you get the kind of merchandise that you are looking for and that you get it in a timely fashion. I am super impressed!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stuff I Have Bought Recently That You Might Like Too

One of the many cons to living out in the middle of nowhere is that you are surrounded by trees. Now, to all of you city folk, this sounds like a good thing, and I guess it is in a way. But if you actually did it, you'd find out the many ways that it sucks. For one things, lots of trees means a shit load of leaves. You cannot imagine the number of leaves we have to rake/leaf blow around here come October. We have about four acres of land, and most of it is covered in leaves. We're talking taking entire weekends just to clean off the leaves. Ick. Plus, in summer, trees are absolute hell to deal with during thunderstorms. For one thing, limbs break off and land on power lines, thus knocking out our electricity. And trees serve as big ole lightening rods which can mean that lightening strikes your house and savagely murders just about every electrical device you own.

Which is a long of saying that I had no internet for about two weeks while things were being repaired. What did I do during that span? Well, read for one (which was a good thing). And spent many a lazy hour at the pool. And bought stuff. Whether this was a good thing, I'm not sure. At any rate, here are just a few of the things I bought and would recommend.

1. Physician's Formula Healthy Wear Powder Foundation I read about this stuff in Health magazine, and thought it would fit my lifestyle well. It is SPF 50, which is wonderful for my pale skin. Especially given that I have a rather spotty record of remembering to put sunscreen on my face during the day. I know that every magazine everywhere tells you to do it, but I'm absolutely crap at remembering. I have bought countless moisturizers and things like that to help me remember, but I either end up not liking the formula (too greasy, too smelly, etc.) or I forget about it too after a while. However, I would tend not to forget my make-up (which is pretty vain of me), so this is a good fit. I looked for it and found it at Ulta. One caveat to this is the packaging. It is encased in a little plastic cube, so you can't pull it out and look at it, and you can't see what color you are buying. Not cool. However, I always get the lightest thing I can find, so I bought it, sight unseen. And the color is...nice. It is a little pale, even for me, but I can wear it, and my husband says it matches my neck well (he has this pet peeve about people's make up not matching their neck). I would say that it is even a little paler than the same shade of Physician's Formula Organic Wear Tinted Moisturizer, which is my daily summer make-up. The coverage is good--heavier than the moisturizer, but it is not too much, even for summer. It does leave the skin feeling silky, which is good. Overall, it looks really good under some Nars bronzer--it smoothes out the skin and gives me a good pallette for my other make-up.

So I tested this at my town's all-day 4th of July festival. I put it over some primer (Philosophy The Present--a really old tube, if I remember correctly) because I knew I would be out all day. I took my kids to the pool and then to the park for the festival. Then I came home to fix supper and change out of my wet bathing suit before going back for music and fireworks. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I noticed that I didn't really need any touch-ups. It was still on, and looked pretty good. That is saying something, given that I had spent the better part of my day trying to teach a six year old how to do various water tricks. Granted, I did not immerse my face in water ever (we stayed in the 3-4 foot), but I did sweat and exert myself. Plus, I was burn free. Not even the least bit of ruddiness or burn on my cheeks. You gotta love that.

If you know what color you would normally buy, this is a good bet, and perfect for shepherding kids around. I definitely recommend.

2. Ecotools Bamboo Brushes. On that same trip to Ulta, I picked up some of these brushes. I got the eye set and a big fluffy blusher brush. Now, I needed brushes like WOAH. I bought these because of the eco-ness (I had just read a fantastic article about bamboo and how fast it grows and all of that) and because they were cheap. My other brushes are Sonia Kashuk from Target, and yes I know that you are supposed to spend money on brushes, but I'm sorry. I just can't. I would rather spend it on the actual make-up. Oh well--we'll call it a character flaw. Anyway, I like these. A lot. I especially like these little eye tools. There are six brushes in the case, and they are each labeled on the handle with what you should do with them. That I liked a lot, because I end up just using them for whatever I want and then get mad when I don't get the results I like. This is a gentle reminder to do things the right way. Plus the case is cute and packs up nicely--awesome since I am going on two week long trips this summer. So if you are in the market for new brushes, I would recommend these. They might not compete with something fancy, but they get the job done, and the price is right.

3. Boon Snack Ball Container. This definitely goes in the file of "Where was this thing when I had my other two kids?" This thing is great, and I almost feel stupid about saying that because it is so simple. It is just a hard plastic ball that you put snacks in. Yup. I had been packing snacks for Alice in plastic baggies to take to the pool, and that is a habit I would like to get out of because a) it is bad for the environment and b) her snacks would always get broken/smashed when they got sent to the bottom of the pool bag. No such problem with this thing. Plus, it is easy to find in a crowded bag. Also, it can double as a toy in a pinch--Alice loved gnawing on it and passing it from hand to hand for a while during a trip to the zoo. One caveat--she dropped it while we were sitting at a picnic table on the same trip, and because we were sitting on a gentle incline, it rolled for a good ways before I caught up with it, something my husband found rather funny. But, it definitely is nice. I have bought a couple now, and yes, they are also awesome.

4. Gap Long and Lean Jeans. I have owned these jeans before, way back when I was a size 14, and well, they weren't my favorites. There were some gapping issues, and for some reason, the crotch just seemed long. Like disturbingly long. I remember wearing them in the Las Vegas airport and feeling like something was rubbing my upper thigh in a very uncomfortable way, and well, it was the crotch. I really should have returned them, but I got them for Christmas, and just didn't feel like going through the hassle. I had kind of marked them off the denim hemisphere, and then I saw them on a blog, and decided to try them again. This time, I went to the store, and tried on. The 6's (my normal size in jeans) were too big, so I ended up getting the 4's. This, my friends, is vanity sizing at its finest/most annoying. On no planet should I be a size 4. However, they look AWESOME. Like I actually look long and lean and well, I'm neither. Despite my weight loss, I'm still curvy as all get out--big boobs (partly from nursing), smaller waist, and larger hips. These fit and flatter that.

And the next best thing is that they come in white. Now, I don't know about you ladies, but to me summer is all about the white clothing. I love white pants, white jeans, white shorts, white skirts, you name it. And these are some perfect white pants. They are very flattering. And you can really wear them with a variety of tops. I've done a shorter tunic (kind of knockoff Tory Burch from Target), t-shirts, even colorful ribbed tanks, and they look good and not in a I'M WEARING WHITE PANTS kind of way. So if you are looking for white pants, check them out.

One caveat though--I'm short and wear the ankle lengths in the blue jeans. However, there are no ankle lengths in the white ones, and they are long. I ordered a petite from the website.