Monday, December 30, 2013

DIY Child's Toy Box

We are so excited to show you our (finally) completed toy box for our little one! We have spent months working on this project (not necessarily grueling hours, just many short intervals of time). We are very pleased with the results. 
One side
Other side.



Don't you love it?!?! 

We started with a wood toy box my father-in-law made for us when we found out we were pregnant with our first child. I swear I took a before picture, but can't find it anywhere. Oh well!

We then went to our nearest paint store which happens to be Ace Hardware. We picked out a basic color scheme to start with:

An added bonus, I had coupons for 2 free samples of paint. This palate was the starting point or us, so we stayed with more neutral colors. We knew we would be adding in some color as we went. The rest of our colors used were leftover paint we had from other projects.

Like with most of our projects, we started with one idea and ended with something entirely different. Our ideas evolve as the project goes on!

We wanted our design to include owls because, since birth, our little one has loved a toy owl she was given. This theme seems to suit her! We were given owl stencils and purchased a family tree wall art design from Hobby Lobby. I also splurged (no coupon used... I did try to find one though) and bought the Play lettering on top of the toy box through Etsy for 19.50 (with shipping).

We want to add more owls to the front as our family grows (God willing)! For now, we have a mommy, daddy, and baby owl to represent our little family!

Once all the painting was done, we did 3 coats of polycrylic protective finish. This should help to protect our work and the wood over the years.

As in the past, I kept a running total of our cost for thos project! The cost of our toy box:

Wood Toy Box: Free, gift from family, made from scrap wood
Owl stencils: Free, gift from family
Family tree wall art: $11
Play wall art: $19.50
Paint: $9 (most paint we already had from previous projects, 2 cans were free with coupons, the paint we did buy was in the smallest size possible and on sale)

Total: $39.50

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tips for Setting New Year's Resolutions

It is that time of year again where many of us are starting to reflect on what we want to happen in the next year. Some of us will set New Year’s resolutions within the next couple of weeks. Many of us will also unsuccessfully break those resolutions before the end of 2014 (a few may even give up before the end of January… not naming names or anything).

As I begin to make my own resolutions, I wanted to share some tips for making yourself successful in obtaining your resolutions for 2014:

1.       Be realistic. Know your limits.
·         Do you really have the time to write 5 books this year?
·         Do you think you can successfully achieve climbing Mount Everest before the end of 2014? 
     You know what you are capable of. Don't set yourself up to fail. Aim for success!

2.       Keep the goals small and achievable. If a goal is too large, it can seem progress is not being made. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward and increases self-confidence and competence.

3.       Use positive statements; that is, express goals positively. Such as, “I want to become healthy by exercising at least 3 days/week,” rather than “I want to not be overweight.” Although, both statements may be true, focus on the positives.

·         Make your focus be on the appropriate behavior you would like to achieve rather than on what you are lacking.

4.       Be precise and specific: Use dates, times, and amounts to measure achievement, to know the exact goal to be achieved, and to take satisfaction from having completely achieved it.

  • Each day of exercise, I will exercise a minimum of 45 minutes.
  • Each week, I will block out 3 days and timeframes that I will exercise for the week.
  • Every two weeks, I will earn a reward (I am thinking chocolate) for maintaining my exercise schedule.

5.       Set priorities: When you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals and helps direct attention to the most important ones.

6.       Record goals on paper and place them where you will see them daily (such as the main living room, bathroom mirror, next to bed, in your bible, in your car) to continue to motivate you and remind you of your goals.

7.       Record your progress! Keep track of where you are and where you have left to go.

8.       Celebrate along the way! Each time you move a step forward towards meeting your goals, CELEBRATE!

9.       Tell others about your goal(s)! They can help to support you, give you motivation when you need it, and also encourage you to continue when you hit a “bump.”

10.    Plan for setbacks. Heck, we all have a rough week (or month). Don’t let that deter you from meeting your goal. One off week doesn’t mean to toss your whole plan for change in the trash! Give yourself a break and start again!

I hope this helps you as you successfully work towards your New Year’s Resolutions.

So, what resolutions are you making for the New Year?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saving Money by Getting More Money with New Credit Card Offers

I received an email about this offer today. If you have read this post, you know that I believe you should only get credit cards if you can continue to live within your means. This means, you will only charge what you know you can pay off when the bills come. If you can do this, look into getting cards that offer amazing new member offers like this offer is. If you can't do this, stay away from credit cards!

For this offer, American Express is offering $100, a 1 year subscription to Amazon Prime, and up to 6% cash back. My husband and I currently have Hulu, but if we like Amazon Prime we could cancel Hulu and save $84 in a year. We are currently looking into that.

The hook that really has me buying into this offer is the $100 free and up to 6% cash back. The $100 free is typically what I get with new credit cards (done with both Discover and Visa). You typically have to spend so much within a certain time frame to get the money, in this case $1000 in purchases within the first 3 months of having the card. This is no problem for us because I can easily switch all my online bills (utilities, trash, water, electric) to this card, even temporarily. We will also use this card exclusively for the first 3 months, or until we reach the $1000.

If you pay your credit cards on time, you want to take advantage of the cash back rewards.This card offers up to 6% cash back, while our other credit cards only offer up to 5%. In reading the fine print for this offer, only groceries will get 6% cash back. Still, that sounds good to us because we definitely go grocery shopping!

So I was all set to go, until I saw that there is an annual fee of $75/yearThis is why you must read  the fine print before you agree to ANY TERMS. I live by the rule that because we are not using credit cards as a line of credit, they must NOT cost us anything!

However, if you look at the offer American Express has on their Everyday card, you can get $50, 1 year of Amazon Prime, and up to 3% cash back with their Everyday card. That is a deal I can go for. There is no annual fee. Although the cash back is less than I have earned on some cards, the other 2 free offers make it a good deal!

How do you know a credit card offer is a GOOD deal?

*note: this post is NOT affiliated or sponsored by American Express or any other company. This is 
solely my own expressed opinion.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Getting Through the Day on Zer0 Energy

As I started my day today, I found myself wondering how I was ever going to survive a full day? My child got up at 4am for a feeding. She struggled falling back to sleep after eating so I snuggled with her and rocked her back to sleep.

After laying my peaceful, sleeping baby down, I raced to my bed to fall back to sleep; only to lie awake waiting for sleep to come. The dog then wanted outside so I took him out. It all went downhill from there. The dog wanted to play, the baby woke back up; needless to say, I did not return to bed.

While in the shower I began to consider how I would ever find the energy for the day. Along with being a new mom, I have a full-time job and I (for the most part) run our household. As I focused on getting through the day, here are some tips I thought I would share with you. You know, in case you ever pull an all-nighter and have to survive the next day! 

1. Breathe.
A few months ago, I took a class on using yoga in therapy sessions (read about me here) and learned that you actually breathe through one side (right or left) of your nostril at any given time. Meaning, we don't naturally breathe through both nostrils. To learn more go to this article.

So, we did this breathing exercise at my training and I have been using it ever since:

Take your finger and cover your left nostril. Breathe lightly in through your right nostril, exhale out through your mouth. Repeat for 1 minute. 

Now, take your finger and gently cover your right nostril. Breathe in lightly though your left nostril, exhale through your mouth. Repeat for 1 minute. 

Do this throughout your day, as often as possible.

2. Shower.
Taking a shower is a good way to start the day fresh. Now, the temperature And length of time will depend on what works for you. I find a long, warm shower a good way to start my day and get me going. My husband would say that would put him to sleep. He prefers a cool, quick shower to wake him up. Now that would send me running back to my covers!

3. Hydrate.
Water, water, and more water. This is vital for any reason you didn't sleep, but especially if loss of sleep from partying! Alcohol can be extremely dehydrating so drink plenty of fluids! Water can help give you that burst of energy you need to get through the day. Focus on drinking 2 glasses right away (like now) as you begin your day. Then, constantly keep water with you for the remainder of the day. Shoot for at least 2 glasses of water at each meal as well. As much water as you can do will help you with energy. Why not start now?!?! Go ahead, I'll wait!

4. If caffeine must be used, keep intake to a minimum.
Oh yes, caffeine can do wonders! I can almost taste it just thinking about it in my insomniac state! Caffeine can lift you up quickly but also will make you crash hard. Try to refrain from this if possible. I sometimes will have a few sips of coffee, just enough to get me going, but not enough to make me crash later either.

5. You have to move it, move it.
The more you sit still, the more you will want to sleep. As you go through your day, pick today as the day to go out of your way to get more body movement. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, do a few jumping jacks, or walk for a few minutes. Any exercise (although brisk as you don't have the energy for a workout)can help get your energy going! So take a few minutes to dance! It will pay-off as you survive today!

6. Turn music ON.
I forgot about this until I was in the middle of jamming out to, "All the Small Things," by Blink 182. Play at least one song you love to blare, sing, and dance to. This will instantly give you a pick-me-up!

7. Power nap.
If this is possible, take a nap at some point in your day to rejuvenate yourself. As a mother, this is rarely an option but power naps do help!

8. Take Quiet Time.
Okay, so power naps aren't always possible. Find a few minutes to just be still. Clear your head. As in, stop thinking. Do this several times during your day. Silent moments can be just as rewarding as power naps.

9. Reward yourself for surviving.
You will have more motivation to get through your day if you have something to look forward to. It could be something you already had planned, like a dinner date with a friend or something that will motivate you in that moment, like "I will get to take a relaxing bath, if I get through this day". Either way, knowing you will be rewarded makes survival much more appealing.

10. Do what you HAVE to do.
Set your priorities. Stick to the things on your list that must be done today. The rest can wait until tomorrow. If you can, delegate tasks to others. Cut yourself some slack today.

11. Take frequent breaks.
Come on, you're exhausted, so give yourself a break. Frequent brain breaks will help you to clear your head and refocus on what you are doing. Just make your breaks short and brief.

12. Eat.
Like with water, you need to give your body fuel. Eat something. I am always on the go so I shoot for 3 meals and a few snacks during the day, but most research I have seen says 6 small meals each day.

You willl especially want to focus on quality (which I am sure you already do anyways) with your food. Fast food and big meals are heavy and can quickly put you in a slump. Combined with exhaustion, this could be a train wreck waiting to happen. Instead, you will want to focus on the healthy stuff. Think lots of fruits and vegetables. 

Now if you are anything like me, you are thinking fast food sounds quick and easy. Yep, this is one of my many addictions (don't worry, I didn't have any today):

Don't even drive near those tempting food joints! You could also be the opposite and not want to eat at all. But your body will thank you, even if all you can manage is a banana.

So for whatever reason you are running on Zer0 sleep (maybe you had too much fun partying last night, were studying for a big exam today, or maybe you have a kid), I hope you find these tips helpful. At our house, long gone are any reasons of exhaustion besides baby...

Good thing she is soooo worth it!

What other tips do you have that get your through your day when you are exhausted?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Tis the Season to Give

Having a child really made me think a lot about the meaning of Christmas this year. With the popular Elf on the Shelf, I have also thought a lot about tradition, more specifically, the traditions I want my daughter to grow up with.

I want her to have a giving heart. To meet this goal, I have to start with myself. It isn't enough to tell your kids what you expect of them, you must lead by example.  My grandma gave me a wonderful opportunity to give this year. She gave me 2 quilts:
... and an experience I will never forget.

The Giving Quilts

My grandmother asked that we give a quilt to 2 people or families that were in need. Although my family is very blessed this season with our health, being together, and able to give presents, not all families are in this situation. We never know when we may struggle as a family either.

So, we have given a quilt to 2 families. One is struggling financially and dealing with a recent death of a loved one, the other dealing with a recent diagnosis of cancer and the financial burden of treatment.
From this experience, I appreciate the blessings in my own life more. I also appreciate that I am able to give this holiday season.

What do you do to give back?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saving Money on Holiday Decorating Part 2

Decorating the outside of my house was a bit more expensive than the inside has been (read about that here). Our outside decor is still a work in progress as I still have several things I would like to do such as add 2 more wreaths in the house windows and 2 additional wreaths on the garage. I also want to get huge lanterns and add candles to them for the front porch area. Maybe after Christmas this year when retailers have slashed their prices I will find a steal of a deal!

I digress. Back to topic! Around the same time we purchased our home I came across a beautiful picture in a Pottery Barn catalog. See a picture of this catalog's photo below:

Our house
is similar to the house in the Pottery Barn picture, for the most part! Thus, my inspiration was born! As with decorating the inside of my house, I purchased most decorations after Christmas when retailers discounted their decor by up to 90% off. That included all of the ornaments used, ribbon, and wreaths. We had the hardest time finding enough lights after the Christmas sale. These are fairly picked through after the holidays! That means, we unfortunately paid full price at Menard's (minus some rebate cards I had on previous purchases.

The 2 wreaths (window and front spot) were handmade and given to us. If you are someone that is hard to buy for, consider putting your favorite holiday decorations on your wish list! These item can be great gifts that last you years! Also, making your own decorations will generally cost less and you just might be more satisfied with the product! I know I love my wreaths more than department store's!

Although none of my items were purchased used via sale listing sites (Craigslist, Local area Facebook exchange page) or garage sales, this could be a great option for someone on a tight budget! Just keep in mid the style and theme you are going for so you don't end up with a hodge podge of decor (unless that IS the look you want). A good deal can cost you more money if you end up changing your mind or deciding the item doesn't match with the overall design. 

My breakdown for the outside decor so far:

5 pre-lit strands of garland- $35
2 big containers of solid colored ornaments- $25
Icicle lights- $40
Various single ornaments for front entry way big decoration- $30
Front door wreath- FREE (gift from family)
Window wreath- FREE (gift from family)

Total: $130

That may be a bit higher than I would like it to be but I am quite satisfied with the progress! 

How do you save money on outdoor holiday decorating?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Confessions

Okay, so I must confess! Each year, my husband and I struggle with making it to Christmas to open presents to each other. This year, we made it to December 14th, which is actually better than last year. That year we gave in on the 8th!

We are like children so excited to open presents and no one is there to stop us!

So what do we do around Christmas with just our family if presents are already opened? We traditionally have a big meal and lounge around the house watching tv series shows together (ever heard of the show Corner Gas, we watch that series at least). Basically, we try to get some good, quality family time together. Sometimes just being together gives the best feeling in the world!

How do you make it till Christmas or do you open up presents early, too?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Saving Money on Holiday Decorating Part 1

I aim to do everything in life on a budget. Generally, a TiGhT budget! Holiday decorating has been no exception. I wanted to share some pictures with you from my home, with the costs, and how I scored some of my bargains! Let's begin with the inside (outside will be Part 2):

The tree is always a good place to start. The actual tree itself came into my life during a time I didn't even know I wanted one! I had just moved to the city for college and my mom, on the whim, decided to stop at a garage sale. We looked, found nothing, and started to leave. I paused to look at a huge box on the edge of this person's driveway. "If you want that, I will give you one great deal," someone shouted at me. Honestly, I had no clue what I was looking at. My mother started talking about how I will eventually need a tree at my apartment for Christmas. That's when I figured out that the box was an artificial tree! This tree was marked $10. I walked away, tree in hand for $5. Seven years later, I still marvel at this steal of a deal!

I do see artificial trees for sell in our area for less than $100. I would say that in this case buying a used artificial tree is the cheapest route. Purchasing used during the off season (summer garage sales anyone) will most likely help you score the deal of a century! The best part about finding a good deal?!?! You can brag each year about it as you pull your tree out!

The decorations are next. They cost me nothing! Read more about that here. If I had to buy, I would get my decorations within the week after Christmas! Why?!?! Most retailers mark down holiday decorations up to 90% off when the season is done. You will want to go as soon as these deals begin though because they can be mighty picked through if you wait too long! This route means you are preplanning for the next year already! How organized does that make you feel?

Garland on the stairs just adds a little something extra! Last year, the day after Christmas, I snagged 2 boxes of garland from Walmart clearances out! I paid about $12. I then wrapped the strands together and added some candy cane decoration I picked up at a yard sale for $.50. I want to eventually add some colorful ball ornaments but haven't had the time yet.

Last but not least, this little gem! He was also purchased from a garage sale a few years ago. I paid $1. I am afraid next year, with a toddler, he will have to be moved higher!

I have tons more decorated areas I could show but don't want to bombard you! Basically, I look year round for decorating items. The best deals seem to be during off season when people and retailers don't want to store holiday seasonal items any longer.

What tips for money saving while holiday decorating do you have?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Saving Money on Housekeeping

I think this may seem like common sense when it comes to saving money but I personally know how easy one can quickly spend money in this category. This post is less on how I save money on housekeeping and more on the lessons I have learned the hard way.

1. Clean you house yourself.

I have never paid anyone to clean my house. That said, I know the temptation to pay someone. When my child was born the house was such a mess and I saw a personal ad on a local site for a girl that charged $15/hr for cleaning. I thought to myself, "Wow, I could swing that and would kill for someone to clean for an hour." Needless, to say, my husband vetoed that idea (much to my surprise). That alone saved us $210 that I would have racked up in the last 7 months. 

2. Make your own cleaners.

In the last few years, I have gone pretty green... But I still struggle with this one. Maybe it is just me, but homemade dusting products have nothing on Pledge. So, I still buy Pledge. Other than that, I have found combinations of vinegar, Dawn. and/or baking soda can clean just about anything. Look for homemade cleaner recipes on Pinterest.

3. Refrain from purchasing all those fancy cleaning gadgets.

There are millions of tools out there to clean. My experience has been if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. For instance, we bought the animal Dyson which, at that time, was about $200 more than the regular Dyson. I thought it was a must since we had 2 dogs, 1 of which sheds like crazy! You know what I believe the only difference to be, well, besides color? The animal vacuum had a few extra attachments. That's all. If I could redo, I would have saved that money and purchased the regular Dyson! In any case, I do LOVE my vacuum.

We also bought a Swiffer. Aren't those the coolest things?!?! We love it, but the reusable pads add up very quickly without you noticing. I would say if you can live without it, do that. We can't. So... We had my mother-in-law make us some cloth covers and they work great and are reusable!

4. Take care of the cleaning gadgets you do have.

I think we all forget this because since our cleaning items clean.... Why should we clean them?!?! Regular maintenance on your cleaning products can contribute to extending the life of that product and help the products to clean better. I clean my Dyson every 6 months (reminders are set in my calendar), my dishwasher every month, and my laundry washer every few months.

5. Shop sales.

This can be a category that we tend to buy more on the whim. I know I do it! In the middle of grocery shopping I may remember that I used up all the Pledge. So, I throw in a can not paying a bit if attention to how much I am spending. Stock up on these items when they are on sale or buy them at stores where you know they are priced extremely competitively.

There are my tips! I believe I used to spend about $480/year on cleaning (about $40/month) but now I spend closer to $180 (about $15/month).

What are your tips to keep housekeeping within budget?

Quiet Moments

As a new mom sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I get to going in my routine and I forget to enjoy the moment given to me. The hustle and bustle of balancing everything on my plate and let's face it, surviving another day makes it easy to lose focus on the blessings we have been given. 

As I was thinking up my mental to-do list in my head and rocking my child to sleep for a nap. I was caught off guard as she started babble talking to her owl blanket. It was such a sweet moment. A moment I probably missed half of because I was too far into my own thoughts! 

Take the time to enjoy the small moments. After all, they are only a moment. And then they are gone. Those precious moments, whatever they may be, will be the memories you will hold the closest to your heart.

My photo at the beginning was taken during another almost lost moment. I was shoppig at Target with the hubby and little one. At one point, while looking at housing goods we heard a quiet rumbling sound. We checked on the little one to find her softly snoring and sleeping so peacefully. Yes, it was a good moment! I couldn't help but just stand there watching her!

Nothing is more precious than watching a baby sleep. Don't you think? So take the time to enjoy the precious moments you are given today. As I post this, I will be going to snuggle with my little one and I promise I will enjoy every second of it!

What moments do you find yourself missing half of?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Apology to My Fur Babies- I am not always enough

Dear Wes and Maggie,

When I first found out I was pregnant, you were the first two I told. We then hatched a plan to tell your Daddy! I told you about how exciting this time would be in our lives. We couldn't wait to bring this bundle of joy home. We couldn't wait to start a family.

What I didn't tell you was that you would be giving up mommy and daddy time. Your daily walks would almost cease to be for an uncertain period of time. That with the birth of a new baby, Mommy and Daddy may treat you like ghosts, walking around the house with little acknowledgement of your existence. Your water and food dishes may sit empty for a longer period than you would like.

For all of these reasons and many more, I am deeply sorry. I didn't realize adding a child into the mix would change your lives so much, in ways that are not always for the better. I also didn't realize in my quest to start a family, as hard as that journey was, that I already had a family with the two of you. You both came to me at different times in my life, but during times when I needed you more than you needed me. I promise to work harder on being the person you need me to be, the person you knew before.

Although you may be doubting this experience we are undertaking with a new child, I can tell you this. With our expanding family, you will always have a playmate. Our child will love you as unconditionally as you already love her. 

You will find satisfaction and happiness in moments where we all pile on the couch together, just like we used to, to watch tv or read books to our newest addition. You will love following alongside our little one as she rides her bike down the street. You will kiss her tears away in the same way you have ours. In return, she will run home to you as quick as she can, she will welcome you into her bed to sleep, and she will share her food with you. 

My two fur babies, please forgive me. I solemnly swear to try harder. I haven't given you my best recently but I am working on that. 

Love always.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Our Christmas Memory Tree

I love looking at beautifully decorated Christmas trees. You know, those elegant trees that are perfectly coordinated in complementary colors. That is not my tree.

When I was born, my mother decided she wanted to create a special family holiday tradition. She took me to a small town, local shop and asked me to "pick an ornament that describes my year." Now, at that age I wouldn't have been able to comprehend the question. So, she picked for me.

Thus, our family tradition was born. Each year we would pick out an ornament that helps to describe the twelve months we recently experienced. 

As a child, I definitely made some interesting choices and am unsure of the meaning. For example, look at this little gem here:

Care to guess my yearly story for that ornament? Yeah, I don't know either. I guess it's fair to say, some yearly ornament choices just make for a good laugh.

The best part about this yearly collection is that when you leave your parents home and begin to build your own nest, your collection of ornaments goes with you! Your Christmas tree will be decorated with pieces of your childhood attached.

In more recent years, I have collected some ornaments that really,truly represent memories that have been made. Memories time stamped for my own children to see. My pictures on the side include the following events: buying our first home, one of our two dogs joining the family (the other dog has his own ornament as well), and our first cruise. Each year as I put my tree up, my husband and I discuss the ornaments and what they mean to each of us.

Little did I know how meaningful my trip to the store with my mother would be. Now, I am preparing to make my first tip with my daughter to pick out an ornament to start her collection. Her first Christmas!

What traditions does your family do that is meaningful?

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