Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No Candy Easter Basket for a One Year Old

Since today is Ash Wednesday, I thought we should talk about Easter Baskets since Easter is now less than 6 weeks away.  Since I try to do things on a budget, I had everything purchased for LB's basket less than a week after Christmas.  I tried to take advantage of the after Christmas sales especially on toys to fill her basket.

We love clearance at my house.  DB jokingly calls it Clarence.  He says Clarence is nice fellow always making things more affordable for shoppers.
Some toys, though, are still on clearance left over from the holidays.  In fact, just last week, I picked up one of the GoldieBlox sets on sale at Walmart for 70% with the intentions of saving it for a present for DB's niece's birthday in June.  So, it's still possible to score some deals for Easter Baskets.

Since we don't do candy or processed snacks with LB, I had to think on what to get her for her basket.   I, also, felt like I had just gotten her many of the things I would put in an Easter basket in her stocking.  Since Easter is so early this year, many of these things will be barely used by Easter.

I decided to not go with a traditional basket again this year for her.  I was concerned how she would do with one, so I'll just use the fabric one she had last year.  We're also going sans grass in the basket since I'm worried she'll either eat it or drag it everywhere.

LB with her Easter basket last year.

Here's what I got for her Easter Basket.

1. I ordered 2 of these hand puppets from Gearxs for $2.99 each with free shipping.  LB loves hand puppets and finger puppets, and this price is just amazing.  I was completely surprised by their quality.  We got her the ladybug since I have a thing for ladybugs and the crab since we live in Virginia.  The butterfly and caterpillar, though, would be quite appropriate for spring.

2. I bought a 3 pack of bubbles at Christmas from the Dollar Store.  One went in her Christmas stocking.  One will go in her Easter basket, and the other will be for when those two are empty.

3. Socks.  I got some Teenage Mutant Ninja Mutant fuzzy socks clearance down to .10 cents at Target after Christmas.  I think she'll like the texture, and we're starting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle collection for her since it was her dad's favorite as a kid.

4. A stuffed bunny.  I had got a new one with tags from Freecycle from someone who was moving before Christmas along with some books and other toys.  Since it was still new, I decided to use that bunny instead of buying a new one.

5. Light up Ball.  Her last one died recently, so I picked up a new one in the dollar spot at Target.

6. The Foot Book: Dr. Seuss' Book of Opposites.  LB loves Dr. Seuss.  I try to pick up used copies of Dr. Seuss books whenever I can find them.  However, I had to shop for a first birthday present for one of her playmates, so I ordered two copies off of Amazon since it was a cheaper price than I see Dr. Seuss books elsewhere.

7. Freeze Dried Fruit. We are pretty conservative with our snacking options for LB.  We prefer homemade puffs, homemade applesauce, fresh fruits, veggies, and hummus.  With her lactose intolerance and our preference to avoid processed treats.   However, especially when we're out and about, we like freeze dried fruit. Before the Superbowl, lots of stores have most snacks on sale.  Target still has their brand of freeze dried fruit on Cartwheel until April.

8. Five Little Monkeys finger puppet book.  LB loves books and finger puppets, so we've been meaning to get her a finger puppet book.  When Aldi added the Little Learners finger puppet books as a special buy, we had to pick up one.  I've since picked up another for her to play with now.  They still have a few of these at our local Aldis.

9. Bath fingerpaint, I picked up in the dollar spot at Target.  Yes, I know I spend way too much time at Target.

Other ideas for a one year old that aren't candy:
1. crayons
2. sidewalk chalk
3. headbands or barettes
4. sippy cups
5. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
5.toddler silverware or tableware
6. bath toys
7. bath mitts
8. finger puppets
9. sensory balls
10. toothbrush
11. sand pail
12. toy cars
13. bath crayons
14. new shoes
15, musical instruments especially a shaky egg
16. blocks
17. toy camera
18. toy phone

Monday, February 8, 2016

Organic Matcha Powder Review #Matcha

Let's be honest, being a mom is exhausting.  Don't get me wrong.  I love LB and really couldn't be happier to be a mom.  It is still draining.  My little toddler is my alarm clock and non stop action from then on.  Now that I am not breastfeeding, I definitely get my fair share of caffeine.

Given the opportunity to try Organic Matcha Powder imported from Japan, I jumped at the opportunity for any extra caffeine in my life.  I read up on the metabolism boosting powers and was sold since I packed on more than a few extra pounds since I became a mom.  I like that green tea is an all natural means of helping me with that extra weight that has been used for generations as opposed to a fad diet pill.

Opening the package, that bright green almost took my breath away as I ADORE lime green.

It has an earthy smell I enjoy as well.

Up until now, I had only tried Matcha in smoothies at one of my favorite Japanese spots in a local mall.  So, I thought I would start off using the package directions to make some hot tea.  I made the mistake of adding a bit extra since I normally like my tea even green tea strong.  Big mistake.  A tiny bit of this powder really does go a long way.  I had to throw the first cup out and try again.  This time I used less than the 1/2 teaspoon per 3 oz recommended.  It took a bit of stirring for the powder to dissolve.  When it did, I got this gorgeous cup of tea.  I was concerned it might be chalky due to it being a powder; however, I found it to be smooth almost silky to drink.

I added a touch of honey as I always do with hot tea and sipped away.  

The tea helped me make it through our evening routine without feeling drowsy.  I can't say much about the fat burning benefits since I've only been using it for a few days.  If so, it's definitely a delicious way to help me out with working off the baby weight.

I'm also looking forward to trying this for some adult only cooking due to the caffeine content.  I'm trying my hand at a green tea faux ice cream made with bananas first, but haven't mastered the right mix yet.  I can definitely see some Matcha cookies or a cake in my future with St Patrick's Day fast approaching.  

If you're interested, you can purchase some from Amazon here.

I received this product for free in exchange for a review, but all opinions are honest, genuine, and my own.

Toddler Friendly Vegan Butternut Squash Chili

Meatless Monday

Toddler Friendly Vegan Butternut Squash Chili

Since yesterday was Superbowl Sunday, I felt it appropriate to make some chili.  I know the title is bit wordy, but I wanted to reflect that this chili is toddler friendly unlike my normal 5 alarm chili.  While my child likes spicy food, I felt it necessary to tone this down.  Additionally, since toddlers have sodium restrictions, I made this without salt and added it to our dishes individually.  Frankly, I think my little one preferred the natural sweetness of the chili as is.  She had two ladlefuls along with a piece of pumpkin cornbread after eating a clementine and some frozen peas.

Last fall, I started adding butternut squash to chili because I wanted to add more veggies to my chili and felt the texture somewhat simulates ground beef.  Even DB who is definitely a meat eater loved the chili.

You could easily make this with just one type of beans instead of 5, but I prefer the differences in the size and colors of the beans.

1 butternut squash
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 can light red kidney beans
1 can white kidney beans (cannelli beans)
1 can small red beans
1 can pinto beans
1 green pepper
1 white onion
3 cups tomato juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
olive oil
salt to taste
optional: 1 bag of vegan meat crumbles

1. Prep the squash for peeling by cutting the ends of the squash then poking holes in the squash all over with a fork.  Place the squash in the microwave for 3 1/2 minutes.  Once the squash cools, you will be able to peel the squash much more easily.

2. Once you've peeled the squash, remove the seeds, and cut the squash into 1 inch cubes.

3. Roast the squash on a parchment lined pan for 25-30 mins until golden.

4. While the squash is roasting, dice the onion and pepper.

5.  Place enough olive oil in the bottom of a pot to coat it.

6. Saute the diced onions, peppers, and minced garlic.

7. Drain and rinse all of the beans.  I prefer to do this in a colander.

4. Add the beans, tomatoes, spices, and meat crumbles if you are using them to the pot.

5. Puree the squash with as much tomato juice as is necessary to allow for a thorough puree.

6. Add the puree and any remaining juice to the pot.

7. Bring the chili to a boil, and then, turn it down to low to simmer for about 20-30 minutes. 

Yootech MicroUSB cable Review

Recently, we seemed to have reached a point where all of our charger cords are either going missing or on their last breath.  The main reason why the cords we have seem to be slowly dying is that the area where the cable connects to the USB connector tends to receive stress from ending up at a 90 degree angle.  In need of new cords, I was glad to review Yootech's MicroUSB cable.  

As soon as I opened the package, I noted how much more durable this cable appeared than expected.  The cable is nice and thick.  I would even say it is thicker than the factory cables I already had for my products.  I suspect this will reduce the pinching of the end of the cables that seems to be destroying my cables currently.  

Also, the USB connector is feels sturdy as well.  All too often these are not reinforced and easily bend making it difficult to plug them into a USB port.  As you can see from the picture, the white plastic piece is an added protection from bending happening.  

The cord itself is shorter at just over 3 feet than I would prefer as I often prefer to plug into a wall socket to charge products, but at this length, I can easily attach it to my laptop or car charger when needed.  

I received this product for free in exchange for a review, but all opinions are honest, genuine, and my own.

Stratos Spheres Game Review #ThinkFun

I love games.  In fact, this summer,I had so many board games I had to get rid of a few of them I rarely play anymore due to lack of space.  Part of why some rarely get played anymore is that we are nervous about the choking hazard some of the small pieces are with a little one around.  Stratos Spheres seemed large enough to not be a choking hazard, so I was definitely interested in trying this game.

The first thing I noticed when opening the package when it arrived was the nifty bag they included for the parts.  I was definitely impressed with the company for thinking of including this bag and a set of instructions small enough to be thrown in the bag.  I can't tell you how many times we've had to search for a part that fell out of a box especially during transit.  And, if I just use the bag, I don't even need to keep the box.  The bag filled with the spheres takes up less than half the space of the original box which I love.  It also makes it easy to grab for travel.

After our little one had gone to bed, we decided to try the game out.  Conceptually, it is basically a four in a row game.  However, they have added an additional layer of difficulty with both the 3-D aspect and the prongs.  As you can see in my pictures of our second game, not all sides have prongs on them.  So, you have to be careful when aligning your pieces to ensure you have them in the correct direction to attach them together.  Additionally, you can use the prongs as blockers since you can't move pieces to attach new ones.  

Here are the results of our second game.

So, even though the game is rated for 8 and up, as adults, the two of us had fun playing the game.  Due to the compactness of the game, we were able to play in bed and set the bag on the nightstand when we were finally done several games later.  The spheres attach firmly, so we could easily pass it back and forth in between turns,  We will definitely get lots of use out of this game.

Another view of the second game.

You can purchase the game for yourself from Amazon by going to this link.

I received this product for free in exchange for a review, but all opinions are honest, genuine, and my own.

Getting back on track

Unfortunately, we had a family member end up in the hospital out of town this week.  As a result, we've spent much of the week on the road.  Friday alone, I spent over 8 hours driving various family members in different directions beginning my day at 4:10 am and not ending until 2:30 am.  While he is now on the road to recovery and back home, I got behind blogging.

I missed Thrifty Thursday, but it will be back this week.  I do, however, have a Meatless Monday post ready to roll tomorrow.  Plus, you'll be getting lots of product reviews this week.

Please be sure to leave me some comments with your feedback on my posts.  I'd love to get your perspective.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to prepare for shopping consignment sales

I'm not sure what it's like where you live, but where I am, we are getting ready to begin consignment sale season.  There are seven separate sales in the area I live I am already planning on shopping at between the last weekend in February and the middle of April.  However, going in to these sales without a plan can be both overwhelming and not nearly as beneficial as they should be.

1. Assess your needs.

For me, I find this is a process which takes a couple of steps.

If you are like me, you will already have hand me downs or items you've already purchased for the next size or sizes.  You need to have a list of exactly what you already own in order to figure out what you need. My little one despite being almost 16 months old is currently in 6-9 month clothing.  So, I will be looking for items in the 9-12 month size and possibly 12-18 month size.  I try to have lists for each size stored in my Kindle as I find it easy to retrieve when I mobile as well as able to save to my cloud.  For me, I find it most helpful to keep these lists as detailed as possible.  In the fall when I was shopping for 6-9 month clothes, delineating whether her sleepers were cotton or fleece allowed me to see that I would need more fleece sleepers for winter months.  I try to update each size whenever I shop, receive hand me downs, or receive new clothes for her as gifts to prevent me from having to do this all at once when I am preparing for the sale.

These sales usually take place twice a year, and the spring sales are usually geared towards spring and summer and fall towards fall and winter.  Many sales even explicitly exclude items that are not part of the seasonal guidelines they have set.  So, I don't expect to find any winter coats at these sales, I'm going to.  However, sometimes items do slip through like last fall where I was able to purchase an infant swim float for $2 that had survived through to the half off sale as it wasn't for the upcoming seasons.  In general though, you will be  shopping for the next two seasons.  In addition to knowing that you're looking more for short sleeved items when shopping spring sales, you will also want to think about any special events during these seasons you will want clothes for.   For instance, I know I will be looking for an outfit for Fourth of July at these sales.  Seasonal items are actually some of the best deals to be had at these sales since they normally get very little use especially holiday outfits.  But, don't forget accessories like sun hats and swim suits that cost an arm and a leg to buy brand new if you have to wait until you need them.

Also, consider how many of an item you need.  Even though I usually remember to put a bib on LB, she sometimes pulls her bib up or drools while eating snacks that can stain like freeze dried blueberries when I don't have a bib on her.  So, I know I need extra shirts especially to account for outfit changes due to stains.  I also take into account how frequently I can do laundry.  I usually only get to laundry once a week due to limitations as to when we can use the washer and dryer.  So, I try to make sure I have somewhere between 14-21 shirts or onesies in either short sleeve or long sleeve depending on the season.  I go through this process with each type of clothing.

2. Know your kids.

This means taking their measurements as well as knowing any special needs they may have.  For instance, my kiddo tends to have a longer torso and shorter legs.  This means sleepers were fine when she couldn't walk, but now that she can, she tends to trip over them.  So, I look for footless sleepers or 2 piece pjs instead of footies.  The measurements are important as sizes aren't the same from brand to brand.  The more well known kids brands sizing ie Carter's, Gerber, Old Navy, etc can often be easily found online in nifty charts like this one for infants.  Sometimes though you will run across brands you don't have information on or even an item that isn't on the chart.  Just last week when I was at Old Navy, I saw an adorable hat marked medium.  I asked a store associate what medium meant for hats in baby/toddler.  Not a single one could answer.  Eventually, we had to try it on to see if it would fit. If you have plan on having your kiddo with you at the sale, you can always hold items up to them to test them, otherwise, you may want to take a tape measure with you.

Additionally, I find it helpful to try to estimate what size they will be next season.  This can be tricky since growth spurts don't always happen as planned.  My daughter plataeued at 24 inches for months until she was below the zero percentile for height.  Then, she hit a growth spurt where she grew 4 inches in a little over a month.  However, you can often do a decent job of guessing by looking at the
CDC's growth chart and follow their curve especially when looking for kiddos under 4.

Taking all of this into consideration will allow me to make my list for clothing items I in search of.  Having a list to shop from not only makes sure you don't buy items you already have plenty of, but also helps ensure you don't forget things you will need.

So, I know my clothing list for the sale includes: 12 month short sleeved shirts, 12 month swimsuit, a 12 month outfit for Fourth of July, 18 month pants, an 18 month long sleeved black top, 6-18 month socks or 12-24 month socks, and training pants(We're getting ready to start potty training).

Once I have made my list for clothes, I, then, consider the other things I want to include on my list.  Some items are permanently on my list to look for at these sales such as wooden toys, books, hand puppets, and finger puppets.  This season, I will also be on the lookout for items to go with toys she already has such as Little People, doll accessories, and more play kitchen items.  Additionally, I am looking for a latching board and a farm set.

3. Create a budget.

You need to know before you shop how much you are planning on spending otherwise you may end up overspending.  Splitting your list into wants and needs will help with this.  LB needs short sleeve shirts, but wooden toys go on the wants list since she has some already.

3. Research the local consignment sales.

First, you need to find out what sales are available in your area.  There are several ways to do this.  You can check Consignment Mommies site, local mom calendar sites(In my area, the big two are Macaroni Kids and Fredparent,), and asking around in either local mom groups or forums.  Consignment Mommies has a lot of the larger sales, however, you will usually need to look to local sources to find out about the smaller sales often sponsored by schools or churches.  These smaller sales often have your best deals since they tend to have lower prices due to sellers getting higher percentages back.

Thoroughly read the websites of the sales.  I always begin by reviewing the schedules.  I prefer to go discount hours or days if they are available.  If there is no discount period, I try to get there early on the first day to get the best selection.  I always check any sort of restrictions they may have.  Many sales do not allow you to bring strollers with baskets.  Some take cash only or have cash only lines that move more quickly then their regular check out lines.  Some require you to bring your own shopping bags to bring your haul home.  Certain sales restrict items they sell to exclude car seats, cribs, or even infant clothes.  A few even charge an entrance fee.  Personally, I avoid those.  All of this information helps you be better prepared.

Reach out to other moms in your area for their opinions on these sales.  Often multiple sales will occur the same weekend.  In this case, you may need to choose which one to hit first or which one you may even want to miss out on.  Moms who have shopped these sales are really your best resource to help you decide.

4. Sign up for volunteer shifts if you are looking for bigger ticket items that will go quickly.

 If you are looking to get items which move quickly such as play kitchens, strollers, toy organizers, even baby carriers, the only way you can snag these items often is to hit the presale period if it is offered.  Depending on the sale, being able to attend the presale period is usually restricted to either volunteers or members of the military.  A few allow teachers or people in for a fee though this seems to be rare in my experience.  So, if you're in the market for those items which will sell quickly, it may behoove you to volunteer.  You will probably want to sign up early before the best slots are taken.  Most sales do not require you to consign to be able to volunteer though if you are many offer a higher percentage of your sales back to you making it doubly beneficial.

5. Arrange for someone to watch your kiddos if necessary.

Most moms prefer to go without their kiddos since these sales often take a couple of hours  of your time to sort through items and can have long lines.  I always bring my little one since I can babywear, and don't have to worry about her getting fussy or running away.  Another win for babywearing.

6. Find a friend or relative to shop with you.

I've tried hitting these sales by myself and with someone else.  Frankly, I think going with someone else makes things easier.  Even if you're looking for different kiddos, having a shopping buddy can be quite beneficial.  While an extra set of eyes is always nice looking for stains, holes, etc, the even bigger help can be having someone to watch your stuff to take a potty break.  I usually spend about 2 hours at these sales depending on their size.  Add my travel time to get there, and we almost always will need a potty break.  Only way to do that is with someone else with you.  It's also nice to have someone who can wait in the line if one of you is done shopping first.  Added bonus for me has always been that whoever comes with me always seems to find at least one outfit that she just has to buy for LB.

7. Clean out your car.

It is best to have the room just in case you find an amazing deal than have to leave it behind because you don't have room.

8. Set aside comfy shoes and clothes for the day of the sale.

I usually spend about 2 hours at these sales, but I know other people especially those shopping for multiple kiddos who put in much more time.  When you're standing that long often on concrete floors, you'll want to be comfortable.   You may have to do reaching and bending over to pick through items, so it's probably not the time to wear a skirt or shirt that may allow too much of your girls to be visible.

9. Throw a bag or foldable cart in your car.

Only some of these sales have bags you can use.  You need your hands free to look through the items, so I always pack a bag to keep my items in while shopping.  Personally, I like the big blue bags from Ikea since they are so roomy.

Now, you're ready for some consignment shopping.  Here's hoping you find lots of great deals.