Wednesday, September 30, 2015

More Bang for Your Buck | Money-saving Tips for Parents of Young Kids

Kids are expensive.  For realz.  They require lots of stuff.  And that stuff adds up.  Luckily, baby showers can help offset the cost of some of those goodies early on, but what happens when your baby is a year old or older and you've spent all the gift cards and they've grown out of their swing/bouncer/jumparoo and all those sweet bitty clothes?  It still costs money to get them what they need...every day of their life.

This was our first baby shower haul for Max.  The only things that are still in use are those Sassy foam play mats, the Twilight Turtle, and some blankets.

There are some things that Max needs that I have to purchase pretty regularly.  Since I've had 16 months to comparison shop, I've come to find some great places to get what he needs at a fraction of the price. I'm sure there are other parents out there who are looking to save a buck here or there, so I thought I'd share a few products I like and places I like to shop.

Amazon Mom:  If you already have an Amazon Prime account, this is easy peasy.  Basically, its a subscription service.  And you get deep discounts on some products.  Like 20% off diapers.  We've used this service since Max was itty bitty, and we get our diapers and wipes delivered to our door...and lots of them.  When you buy the big bulk packs, you save money already.  And then when you use this subscription service, you save even more money.  AND you don't have to lug packs of diapers home from the store.  It's a win all around!

Costco:  I love Costco.  I get my photos printed there.  I buy lots of groceries there.  In fact, a lot of our furniture is from Costco.  You really can't beat their deals.  Two deals I have benefited from are the Diaper Genie Refill Packs and Similac formula.  I bought the generic Target refill packs for the Diaper Genie for a while, but then I realized that I could save a couple of cents per refill (seems trivial but hey, it all adds up, as my husband says) when I bought a pack of 4 at Costco.  I had to feed Max formula for about a month and half (he weaned himself from the breast at 10.5 months and I couldn't give him whole milk until he was 1), and we chose to use Similac.  Costco has the BEST deal for Similac--45% more than the traditional packaging for just about $5 more than what you'd pay elsewhere for the smaller pack--so if that's your formula of choice, get it there.  Also, if Huggies are your diaper brand of choice, they sell them at Costco, likely for a fraction of the cost.

Pampers Rewards:.  We are a Pampers family.  We started with the sensitive Swaddlers, used Baby Dry at night once Max started sleeping through the night, and now Max is chillin' in Cruisers.  We also use their wipes.  Most packs of Pampers diapers and wipes come with a reward code that you can enter at the Pampers Rewards website after creating a free account.  It keeps track of your rewards points and you can redeem them for a wide variety of goods.  We've used our rewards to receive a kid's cup, a free photobook from Shutterfly, and a Sesame Street DVD.  Who doesn't love free stuff?! 
This was the DVD we got.  As seen here, it normally costs $14.98!

Target:  Target has lots of great deals, especially if you buy their generic up&up brand.  I used their breastmilk storage bags, disposable nursing pads, and bottle inserts for Playtex Drop-Ins bottles. Perhaps my favorite thing of theirs that I use for Max is their acetaminophen, which is their generic brand of infant Tylenol.
It's the same as regular Tylenol, ingredient wise, but it's a) cheaper and b) dye free.  Max tolerates it very well and loves the taste.  Be sure to check with your child's pediatrician regarding dosage amounts, though.

Thrift Stores/Consignment Shops:  Obviously, you need to use some discretion when shopping for baby items at these locations, but sometimes you can find some great deals.  My mom found some very gently used Cincinnati Bengals gear at her local Once Upon A Child.  That stuff is expensive if bought new, and Max grew out of stuff so fast when he was a little guy that paying full price for something like that was ludicrous.  I also happened upon a Baby Bjorn at that same store, still in its box, for $40 (the same model costs $80 at buybuyBABY).

Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles/Other doting relatives/friends:  Ask me the last time I bought Max clothes. Seriously, ask.  The answer is...I don't remember.  Actually, yes I do.  I bought him some new pajamas a couple of weeks ago because he had outgrown all of his footie-PJs and it's getting cold at night.  But other than that, I can't remember the last time I bought him clothes.  That's because my mom, sister, mother-in-law, and other friends/relatives have taken care of that for me.  Every time I see my mom, she's got another stack of clothes for Max.  My mother-in-law scored some pretty cute duds from Portugal last summer, and he's got enough European-cut pants to last him through the winter.  I'm not even going to bother buying him clothes for Christmas.  I'm sure it'll be taken care of.

Coupons/Coupon Apps:  I have had great luck with the Retail Me Not app, and also with Target's Cartwheel app.  Also, buybuyBABY honors Bed Bath & Beyond coupons as well as their own...however I always forget to take them with me when I shop there.  One time I did remember my coupon was when we bought Max's convertible car seat.  That 20% discount put a huge dent in the price!

Returns:  Seriously, don't be afraid to return stuff, especially gifts.  I wish I had returned some of Max's birthday gifts.  He has 5 ride-on toys.  FIVE!  He enjoys them all in their own right, but I doubt he'd miss one or two of them.  Get store credit and use it to purchase something your child needs or really wants one day instead of hoarding a bunch of stuff you don't need.
Multiple ride-on toys do come in handy when friends are over.

Hope some of these tips were helpful!  How do you like to save money when it comes to products for your kids?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Oh hey, Friday! | I'm diggin fall, y'all!

Oh. Em. Gee.  I love fall.  I know it only "officially" became fall on Wednesday, but I have been soaking in the fall-ness for the past week and a half, and I'm on cloud nine.

Here are 5 things I've been loving most about Fall 2015.

  1. Trips to local farms/orchards.  Last weekend, we went to a local farm with our friends and their kids, and it was the perfect way to welcome autumn.  The kids (ages 14 months, 16 months, 23 months, and just over 2 years old) had a blast playing on all the equipment and visiting with/feeding the animals.  We enjoyed apple cider and cider donuts, as well, which was like the icing on the cake of a wonderful day.  I'm looking forward to visiting at least one more place before the season is over. 

    Max loved this white pumpkin.  Perhaps because it matches his skin tone.

    Feeding goats!
  2. Cooler temperatures.  Praise the good Lord that we haven't seen what my mother begrudgingly calls "armpit weather" (hot, humid, sticky weather) for the past few weeks. Exploring our yard during the day with Max is much more enjoyable when we're not sweating and trying to hide in the shade.  This week, it's been crisp and cool in the mornings, reaches the low-to-mid 70s during the day, and gets chilly again when the sun begins to set.  The AC has been off for days. 
  3. All the cozy things.  I'm actually wearing PJ pants to bed, and the other night, I almost put socks on to sleep in.  We snuggle under blankets when we read or watch TV/movies.  I throw on a sweatshirt in the mornings until it warms up enough to wear short sleeves.  Max is wearing footie pajamas to bed, which makes him look more baby-ish (give me all the heart eyes). 
    Ok, so he looks like a HUGE baby, but still baby-ish, nonetheless.
  4. Overcast/rainy days.  These types of days in the fall and spring are the best, especially if you don't have to go anywhere.  I'm hoping for a few days like this in the coming months...we need rain pretty bad, and I wouldn't mind an excuse to stay inside watching movies, reading, or taking a big family nap.  There's an 80% chance of rain on Sunday and we have nothing on the calendar.  Bring it!
  5. Cooking and devouring warm meals.  My passion for cooking really comes to life in the cooler months.  I love making delicious warm meals for my family.  Give me all the chili, casserole, and soup recipes!  Last night I made a white chicken chili recipe that I haven't made in years.  Yum!  
    Enjoying leftovers on the couch with SVU during naptime.

Something I've realized I need to find STAT are some slippers for Max.  He's typically barefoot when we're in the house during the day, but his little footsies are getting cold as he stomps all around on our hardwood floors.  I had him in socks the other day--the ones with the grippy words on the bottom--and he slipped and fell and hit his head on the floor.  No bueno.  Any suggestions for good house shoes/slippers for toddlers?

Hope you're all enjoying the cozy fall weather!  Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Recipes That Rock | (Leftover) Quinoa Bowl

This past Sunday, Victor was at the Redskins game with a friend and Max and I ventured to a housewarming party and a going away party, then came home for naptime.  Once I sat down to relax, I found myself feeling particularly impending cold icky: sinus pressure in my cheeks, down my neck, in my ear, etc.  The last thing I wanted to do was make dinner, but I knew that my icky-ness would be magnified if I ate take-out food or heated up some frozen "party food" (like popcorn chicken or taquitos from Costco) for dinner.  I knew soup would be a good choice for dinner...but I didn't feel like soup.  We had some leftover quinoa for earlier in the week, plus lots of veggie options, so I decided to whip this up:

I followed a recipe for something similar to this a month or two ago, but it was bland bland bland.  So I revamped it.  And it rocks.

(Leftover) Quinoa Bowl

"Leftover" is in parentheses because you don't have to use leftovers to make it, but it's super duper easy if you do.  This recipe is a "make it your own" type because you can pretty much substitute in any meat, beans, or veggies based on what is in your fridge, pantry, or freezer.  You can use leftovers or you can make it fresh.  

  • 1 cup raw quinoa
  • 14.5 oz can chicken/veggie broth
  • your choice of cooked meat, if you want it: choppped/shredded chicken, shrimp, salmon, ground turkey, etc.
  • 1 can beans of your choice, rinsed and drained
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup each of your choice of 3-4 chopped veggies: zucchini, squash, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, etc.  You could also substitute a couple veggies for 8 oz. of frozen veggies (that's about half of a normal-size bag).

  1. Combine quinoa and can of broth in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, on low until all liquid is absorbed.
  2. If you are using frozen vegetables, prepare them according to package directions and drain.  You'll want to start this before you begin sauteeing vegetables in the skillet.
  3. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add chopped onion and saute until translucent.  Then add minced garlic and any fresh veggies you are using.  Add more olive oil as needed and saute until veggies begin to tenderize.
  4. Add rinsed/drained beans (and cooked frozen veggies, if you're using them), and meat.  Stir to combine and add more olive oil, if needed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat for approximately 5 minutes or until beans and meat are heated through and vegetables are tender.
  5. Combine quinoa and meat/bean/veggie mixture in a bowl.  Top with shredded cheese, if desired.  And gobble it up!

I LOVE everything about this meal: you can throw it together on the fly and adjust the ingredients based on what you have.  I think what gives it all its flavor is the sauteed onions and garlic (which the recipe I had tried before didn't have), so make sure you include those!  For the bowl shown above, I used chopped zucchini plus half a combo bag of frozen peas, carrots, corn, and green beans.  Next time, I'm going to use some bell pepper and spinach, for sure.  And I think some avocado would be a great addition as a topping.  

How would you prepare your own (Leftover) Quinoa Bowl?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stitch Fix | You GOTTA try this!

Have you heard of Stitch Fix?  I've seen it around the blogosphere and also in Facebook ads and I decided to give it a go.  

Here's the gist.  You create an account at Stitch Fix and you fill in your "style profile," which includes specifics like height, weight, bra size, typical sizes you wear in various types of clothing, types of styles/fits you prefer, etc.  Based on this information, a stylist selects 5 items for you and ships them to you.  You try them on in the privacy of your own home (and you can pair them with items you already own).  Then you decide what you want to keep and what you don't.  If you keep all 5 items, you get 25% off the entire total.  If you decide to send back everything, you're only out the $20 styling fee; if you keep even one item, that $20 styling fee is deducted from the cost of the item(s) you keep.  Sending stuff back is super easy because they send you bag with prepaid postage, so all you do is pack it in and drop it at the post office.

I received my first "Fix" a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say, I loved this entire process.  As Max has gotten older, it's gotten increasingly more difficult to go shopping for clothes with him.  I typically purchase things I like, try them on at home, and then return whatever I don't like to the store.  Or I shop online and do the same thing.  The reason I like Stitch Fix so much more is because someone else chooses the clothes for me, so I get to try on things I might not normally choose for myself.  It's also so incredibly easy to return stuff.  You can request regular Fixes on a monthly basis or go onto the site whenever you want to receive a new Fix.  You can also specify what types of items you'd like to have in your Fix: perhaps you need cocktail dresses for a wedding, date night options, or casual, everyday items, etc.  And, BONUS: they offer maternity and petite options!  Seriously, why wouldn't you try it out?

Here are the items I received in my Fix.  I think my favorite part was this style card insert, which offers suggestions for different outfit combinations for each piece.

1.  Market & Spruce Spencer Striped Jersey Dress: $54

Totally my style.  So comfy and cute.  I kept this and wore it last weekend.  Love.

2.  41 Hawthorn Moni Geo Print & Camisole Blouse: $58

A coordinating camisole came with this blouse.
3.  Mystree Skylar Asymmetrical Knit Zip Up Jacket: $78

I was very intrigued by this.  But it was so different that I was afraid I wouldn't wear it.
4.  Papermoon Samara Printed Maxi Skirt: $58

Not crazy about the shape and fit of this skirt.

5.  Papermoom Descanso Beaded Neckline Blouse: $48

I already have a few blouses similar to this, so I passed on this one.

After I tried everything on, I went onto my Stitch Fix account and provided feedback on each item for my stylist.  I have to say, she nailed my style quite well.  I told her that I'd like to steer clear of blue next time since that's always the color I gravitate toward when I shop for myself.  All in all, I LOVED this experience and I'm looking forward to the next Fix!

Also, just so you know, Stitch Fix has no idea I'm writing this post.  I just wanted to spread the wealth since I'm sure lots of other gals out there would love to try this, even just once.  Just click here to get started!  I hope you love it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Labor Day Weekend 2015

I hope you all enjoyed the last "official" weekend of summer!  I don't know about you all, but I am SO ready for fall.  Temps have jumped back into the 90s again this week here, so I'm starting to get a bit impatient.  Plus, I just bought these gray Keds and I'm pining for the days I can rock these with some skinny jeans and flannel shirts.

My mom and sister were able to fly in for the weekend, so we had lots of fun visiting, even though it was short.  Here's a look at our weekend in photos.

My mom and sister flew in early Saturday morning (I picked them up at the airport at 7:30 AM), so we had the whole day to play.  I took them to a local vintage barn sale (which is where I got my china cabinet), and it was a BIG hit with my best gals.  There are lots of vendors who sell their items there, and there are so many great finds!  Perhaps one day I'll get into furniture painting/rehab, but for now, I prefer to let other people do the work and I just drool over how beautiful the pieces are.

The shop is called Sweet Clover and is located in Frederick, MD.  If you're local, I highly recommend checking it out!  They're only open the 3rd weekend of every month (with a few the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend), so you have to plan accordingly.  But I highly doubt you'll be disappointed.

An abundance of knobs

My mom purchased some of these typewriter ones.

I loved this desk so much.  I was so tempted to buy it.  But it's a little small for what I need.

Max found this outside.  He didn't want to get out of that chair.

Love this dresser!

This is an old apothecary desk.  I should've taken a picture of me standing next to it to give it some dimension.  I'm 5'4" and the top of the desk comes up to my chin.  It's quite tall.

There's that desk again.  I kept coming back to it.  Can we just talk about those copper drawer pulls?!?

I loved these chairs!  I would've bought one, but they came as a set of 6.  I don't need 6.

Cute scarves

How you entertain a 15-month-old at a vintage barn sale: put him next to a metal basin filled with old billiards balls.
On Sunday morning, my friend from high school and her daughter came over to play.  Max's abundance of ride-on toys came in quite handy.


Max loves having Grandma and Auntie in town. 

My mom's birthday gift arrived on Saturday and I was so excited I gave it to her right then (her birthday isn't until later this month).  It's a custom watercolor portrait by the very talented Jennifer Vallez of Sophie & Lili.  Check out her's beautiful!

Before our favorite gals left town on Monday.

We went to Victor's parents' pool on Monday afternoon/evening and soaked in the last official day of summer.  Today Max and I have done a whole lot of nothing.  In fact, breakfast and lunch dishes are still in the sink.  I might go take care of those...or I might watch the season premiere of Ellen.  I'll probably watch Ellen.

Hope your weekend was fabulous!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Be NICE, gosh darnit!

I am getting very disheartened with all the meanness out there.  It's everywhere, and it makes me sad.  The recent MTV VMAs had me feeling really bad for some celebrities and all the ridicule they endured after the award show (Kim Kardashian's outfit choice; Justin Bieber's hairdo; Justin Bieber's tearful end to his performance, etc.).  When did it become cool to be mean?  I know some people might think it's silly that I'm using celebrities as an example, but they're the example that I have, so that's what you're getting. 

This is the first time I've linked up with Amy and Karli for Oh Hey, Friday!, and typically these posts are fun and light-hearted.  But all this nastiness is weighing heavily on my heart, so I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to give some lessons on being nice.  Maybe next week I'll do a fun Friday post.

5 Rules Nice People Follow
  1. Never ever EVER "boo" anyone...ever.  Kanye West and Justin Bieber both recently mentioned being booed at recent public appearances.  Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Kanye West fan, but I felt really bad for him when he brought that up during his acceptance speech at the VMAs.  I've always enjoyed Justin Bieber's music (I love pop music, I can't deny it), but I know he's made some bad choices over the past couple of years.  But the kid is trying to get his act together.  And when he told Jimmy Fallon this week that he'd been booed the last time he was at an awards show, my heart broke for him.  Despite their celebrity statuses, these guys still have feelings, and I bet they felt pretty wretched after being booed in front of thousands of people.  Regardless of your opinion of someone, I doubt they did anything to you that they deserve to be publicly humiliated for.  Booing makes me cringe.  Even so-called light-hearted sports rivalry booing.  It's such a mean sound.  Don't do it.  Not even as a joke to a friend.  Just don't.
  2. Never judge another person until you've walked a mile in their shoes.  Nobody is perfect...not even you.  Keep this in mind next time you want to judge or criticize another person.  People make mistakes.  They shouldn't need to pay for those mistakes for the rest of their lives.  Sometimes making mistakes can be a catalyst for change.  It's not your job to judge someone for the choices they make in their lives.  A lot of time this judgment and criticism leads to lots of gossip and unfounded assumptions, which can be toxic.  Stop it.
  3. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  If it would hurt your feelings, don't do/say it to/about someone else.  Don't make fun of people's clothes or haircut...don't make fun of anyone's anything, actually.  Don't talk behind people's backs.  Don't call people names.  Don't use a nasty tone when you speak to others.  Also, do nice little things for people that you would like others to do for you.  Let people merge on the highway or turn out of a parking lot in front of you.  Forgive the person who cut you off.  Open a door for someone when their hands are full (or they're struggling with a stroller).  Offer to help your friends or family with something and don't expect something in return.  Pay it forward.
  4. If you wouldn't say it to their face, then you shouldn't say it on the Internet.  The internet gives people a false sense of courage due to the degree of anonymity it provides.  Cyberbullying is NOT acceptable, regardless of whether the recipient is a classmate or a public figure.  I follow a lot of celebrities on Instagram, and some of the comments I see people posting are just plain mean.  These bullies/trolls/haters would most certainly not spout all this hate if they ran into these people on the street.  I'm sure some of the kids who are bullying classmates online wouldn't be so hateful in person, either.  Saying nasty things to and about others on the internet doesn't make you cool.  It makes you mean.  Stop it.
  5. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  I said this a lot to my kindergarteners when I was teaching.  There were many times that a little child would blurt out, "That drawing is ugly!  That doesn't look like a dog!" or "Your socks are weird" or something similar.  I always told my kinders that it's okay to have those opinions or thoughts, but it's not necessary to say them out loud just because that's what you're thinking.  I think this logic needs to be repeated to adults, as well.  Don't even start claiming your right to free speech on this one, either.  Some things are just better left unsaid.  You are certainly entitled to your own opinion, but sometimes your opinion doesn't need to be broadcast to the world, especially at the expense of another person's feelings.
If all else fails, keep this in mind:


Now, don't think that I don't have my own moments of weakness.  I am not innocent when it comes to "not nice" behaviors.  I have made comments about people's outfits (not to their face).  I've judged people.  I've participated in gossip.  I've used a rude tone when talking to others.  I know these practices are undesirable, and quite frankly, I think that they make me have a more negative attitude and mindset.  I'm working to rid these mean behaviors from my life.  And I hope that more people will, too.  It's simple: we need more nice and much less bad.

Be nice!

And have a lovely {long} weekend!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Every Girl Link-up: Fall Decor

Fall is my favorite time of year, hands down.  The air is crisp, sweaters and slippers abound, and there is an abundance of pumpkin- and/or apple-flavored everything at your fingertips.  The entire season just screams "cozy."  What's not to love?!  I am yearning for cooler temperatures, especially since it's been in the 90s all week and super humid...ick.  Max is already showing an affinity for leaves; he loves to pick them up, investigate them, eat them (and then spit them out), feed them to the dog...I have a feeling this fall is going to be lots of fun with my little explorer.

September 1 is my "It's go time!" date for decorating the house for fall, which was just in time for Astleigh and Rachel's Every Girl Link-Up this week (thanks for hosting, gals)!  Here's a peek at the subtle touches of fall that I incorporated in our house this year.

I whipped this wreath up on Tuesday night in the kitchen in about 10 minutes.  Tutorial coming next week on the blog.  It's super easy and you can customize it to your own style, and you can do one for all the seasons/holidays in the same manner.

Bottom left: #kennythedog photo-bomb!

 Look at all those freshly-fallen leaves on our porch.  Swoon!

I purchased this table runner at Target a year or two ago and I just love it.  I typically swoon over the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall, but this gray-blue goes so nicely in our dining room and still brings in the leaves for a nice touch of fall.

My main requirement when we built this house was a nice, big mantel.  And Victor delivered!  I love a decorated mantel (can't wait till Christmas!).

I found these stone jar-fillers at Michaels and loved the organic look they provided.  I was planning to get some crystal stones but just fell in love with this look instead.  They'll look nice across the seasons, as well, so it's a versatile decoration.  And how 'bout those vibrant yellow leaves?!

I got these wooden pumpkins from Michaels a few weeks ago.  They're just the cutest!

This bottle on the left is from Pier 1.  I love switching out the fillers for the seasons or just leaving it empty.  It has a fun look all on its own.

 We already have lots of photos and items on display on our side shelves that flank our mantel.  I didn't want to sacrifice those pieces, so I just added some simple fall touches on either side.

 This vase (which you can't really see) is actually part of our wedding china set and we have it out all the time.  I just added some faux mums to it and bam!  Fall-orized.

 Apothecary jars are great vessels for holiday/season-specific decor.  I put some straw in the bottom of this one, then topped it with little faux gourds.

These sparkly pumpkins are quite possibly my favorite fall decoration that I own, and I made them myself a few years ago.  Tutorial coming soon!  You can actually purchase sparkly pumpkins at Michaels now, but sometimes it's fun just to make your own.

 And there you have it!  I don't like to completely overhaul my existing decor for most seasons (except for Christmas), so I just like to put splashes of seasonal/holiday pieces here and there.  On October 1, I'll bring out more Halloween-specific items (the hubs loves the spooky/creepy side of Halloween; I'm more on the cutesy Halloween train.  Always a battle here!), and on November 1, more Thanksgiving-y items will appear.

Are you looking forward to fall?

Hill Collection