Monday, May 30, 2011

What a summer's day should be

After a long week of rain, D and I were keen to be back outside in the sunshine. Today did not disappoint; even though we slept in a little (8:30ish), we were outdoors as soon as breakfast was over. D wore her new checked romper, and it is fantastic! This weather definitely calls for simple, one-piece cotton outfits, not to mention copious applications of sunscreen.

First, we played in the backyard while I hung up laundry (another tremendous advantage of sun: it takes way less time to dry than hanging clothes indoors). We were given a toddler swing, and our porch happens to have big sturdy hooks underneath, so we put it up last week. Swings and slides are D's favourite park items, so it helps to have one of each at home. Following laundry, we headed out for a walk with bottles of water and a camera. On the way to the bigger park (with swings and a gazebo), we passed the one around the corner, which was being cleaned up from some gross weekend graffiti. Honestly, kids, find a better use for your time. I guess the clean-up guys got the bigger park first, because they had left wet paint signs on the picnic table under the gazebo, which I didn't see until I had already sat down. Good thing the area I chose happened to be dry, because I happened to be wearing my new maternity jean shorts for the first time!

We didn't stay long at the park; the slides were too hot (it was 11am by this point), and the swings were in constant use, although I employ that term loosely. A couple of moms had stuck their toddlers in the swings while they chatted and watched their other kids. D was a little sad, so I went on one of the big-kid swings with her on my lap to cheer her up. We headed home for lunch after she tried to walk off an open section of play structure (I caught her by the back of the romper and pulled her to safety).

I started lunch, then decided to fill the kiddy pool a little so D could have a splash after lunch, and hopefully tucker herself out sufficiently for a nap. The water from the garden hose comes straight from the Arctic Ocean, and I thought it best to leave the pool in the sun to warm up a little. We had a picnic lunch on the porch (egg sandwiches, pickles, carrots, cucumber, cherries and chocolate chip cookies), and it was so lovely that I want to do it as often as is reasonable this summer! I had already brought out D's swimsuit, towel, and a few bath toys, but I couldn't find her swim diaper. It ended up being easier to just put her in the pool stark naked, and she splashed to her heart's content.

About 20 minutes later, she tired of the pool, and I wondered if she might be persuaded to nap. I got her a diaper and a bottle of milk, and set off on another walk with her in the stroller, fully reclined. We went around the block twice, and she didn't fall asleep, so I decided we'd go to my dad's office for a visit. One of his secretaries had made D a summer dress, and she would be in that afternoon. The dress is gorgeous! Sleeveless, pink cotton with brown and white polka dots, and a big sash. I'll have to post a picture sometime. Anyway, our visit was brief but fun, and as an added bonus, D fell asleep on the way home. We napped together on the couch until Hubby got home just before 5. All in all, a great day!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Testing out FreshCo

A few weeks ago, I noticed that we started getting a new grocery store flyer, just as we stopped getting another one. Price Chopper is apparently out, and has been replaced by FreshCo. They make a big deal out of being a better discount grocery store, and heavily advertise their price matching policy, so I gave them a try this shopping week. It's in the same location as the former Price Chopper, which is a little further away than our usual Food Basics. However, I figured if their price matching meant I didn't have to go to multiple stores (not that I do unless there's a really good sale to be had), then it would be worth it.

For starters, they do the thing with the carts where you have to put in a quarter when you take one and get a quarter back when you return the cart. I am not a fan. Particularly when it's raining. They had no carts in the store, and apparently no one employed to return the used carts inside. Some man who was leaving saw me carrying D and three empty shopping bins, and he took pity on me and gave us his cart, which had a car seat built in. It sounds great, and it was for the first 20 minutes or so. Then D didn't want to stay in her seat, and kept trying to move around or get down.

The store is very strangely organized, and they hide their specials really well. I had to ask a manager where the 2.99$/lb chicken breasts were, and they were tucked away in a far-off freezer section. Even though it was only midday on Friday (the first day of the sale), they were almost out of their 1.44$/dozen eggs. It took me ages to navigate the aisles, with the usual adjustments to where a particular store places particular items. They do stick to the general format of essentials being around the perimeter and convenience items in the aisles. Their produce section is much better than the one I'm used to, also.

As for the price matching, they only do it for name brand items, which we don't purchase often, as home brand prices are generally better. They did price match one produce item for me (cucumber), but refused to match a chicken, claiming that it was Food Basics' own brand of chicken. Here are the prices they did match for me:
-Tostitos multigrain chips
-Ragu pasta sauce

I'll have to compare their regular prices to those on my latest grocery receipts to see if it's actually worth it to keep shopping there. I'd also like to find out their policy on rain checks (FB doesn't do them). It was a lot busier than I'd like, and the store layout lends itself to congestion. The parking lot was really crowded, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Border shopping done better

Hubby, D, and I (and Cashew by extension) spent the long weekend in Virginia, and as Hubby's dad was there on a conference, we jumped at the chance to see him. One of the things I didn't do well at last year (as evidenced by this post and confirmed by my recent receipt tallying) was border shopping. This time around, I took stock of my and D's wardrobes, and determined what we would need for our respective next stages.

For me, it's fairly simple: I'm fitting into my maternity clothes from last time around, and while I had borrowed some which I later had to return, I have enough pieces to get me through the summer. A couple of exceptions: a swimsuit (no bikinis for me, thanks) and some shorts (I had two pairs, but both were on loan). At Marshalls (like Winners), I found a non-maternity bathing suit with a very stretchy tummy and a tiny ruffle of a skirt, and it was 19.99$. I actually came out of the change room to show Hubby, that's how good I felt! I had been looking at retro-style swimwear like this online, and it's pretty expensive- upwards of 90$. I'm very happy with that purchase. I found maternity jean shorts (knee length) at Burlington Coat Factory (also like Winners) for 14.99$, and they fit great. I also hadn't bought new running shoes in a shamefully long time (I was given my most recent pair by my mom a few years ago- she accidentally bought a size too big for her- and my last pair before that dates back to when my parents still bought my shoes for me). So when we stopped at an outlet centre in Pennsylvania on the way home, I found some Asics that fit the bill. I knew my prices, and although these particular runners weren't the brand I was after, I was happy to pay 35$.

Now for D, the gap in her wardrobe is more substantial. We love hand-me-downs, and we have a few things left from our last haul, but I don't expect other people to clothe my child for free. I went through her things a few weeks ago, weeded out the small/out-of-season clothes, and made a list of what she needed. I didn't want to over-buy, because she already doesn't wear at least a third of the clothes she has for any given stage. Plus we are well-supplied with dresses, thanks to grandmas and aunts. Sadly, she's almost out of the footie pyjama stage, and once she's potty-trained, zip-up jammies will be neither helpful nor welcome. So got her four sets of two-piece pyjamas (one of which has a matching bathrobe), all on clearance at BCF. (No picture available- they're in the wash.) At 6-7$ a piece, that came to under 30$. The picture below shows all the new clothes for her summer wardrobe, excluding dresses.

Top row: three pairs of stretch pants, two of which have coordinating tops, two rompers, and the shrug I knit her for Easter. Each piece or set was 4-5$, except for the BCF denim romper which was 8.99$ and which I guarantee either of my sisters would wear if it came in their size. If last summer is any indication, D will get copious use of her rompers this year. Not shown: a little hoodie with coordinating loud floral stretch pants. Total came to 44$, all from the clearance racks at Carter's outlet or BCF.

Bottom row: the plaid outfit was from a free rummage "sale" at a friend's church, and the yellow top with the white shorts were a gift from the lovely in-laws at Christmas in Australia.

Along with a number of onesies and dresses, this makes up the bulk of D's wardrobe. For her feet, we bought 12 new pairs of socks (half unisex white, half fancy, all sized for 2-3 years old) for 8$, and two new pairs of shoes for the late summer/early fall, at 20$ a pair.

Because most of these purchases were made in PA, where they don't charge tax on things deemed to be necessities (like clothes and shoes), and because we were in the States for three days, we didn't have to pay taxes or duty on the way back in. As a result, I ended up spending less than I did on my two previous border shopping excursions, and I know from my prior research that the prices were good. Hubby is keen to do an annual trip where we stay for a weekend, having done our research beforehand, and buy all our clothes and gifts for the year.

Total for D: 122$
Total for me: 70$ (actually, 82$- I indulged in a 12$ skein of Berocco Ultra Alpaca to make the beautiful Damask)
Hopefully, this will take us through to the fall and beyond!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Budgeting basics from my girl Gail

It is very likely that I'm the only person who will find this fascinating, but I've got some neat budgeting links for today. Hubby and I are making the effort to track our expenses carefully to determine some budgeting basics. Since the summer of 2009, we've been keeping our variable expense-related receipts in envelopes (one per month), and from time to time, I'll tally up the totals by category. Being a big fan of Til Debt Do Us Part, I used the same categories that Gail Vaz-Oxlade does:

-Food/Personal Care
-Transportation (gas, car maintenance and repair, parking)
-Hobbies (which she includes under entertainment, but I prefer to track separately)
-Other (home maintenance, photos, postage, stationary, everything else; interestingly, most of our "Other" receipts came from Walmart or Home Depot)

and I added:
-Baby (gear, furniture, mostly one-time expenses; any gifts, clothes, food or personal care items would go into those categories)

On the show, when she's teaching a couple how to budget, they will have sent her three months' worth of receipts for their variable expenses (as well as their total income and fixed expenses), and from those amounts, she works out how much they require for each category per week. Then she puts that amount in cash into jars labelled by category, and the couple has to get to the end of the week before they get to the end of the money. They generally get their variable expenses cut, too, in order to teach them not to live from paycheque to paycheque, and to help them chip away at their debt (usually student loans, car loans, or consumer debt, not mortgages).

Fortunately, Hubby and I are debt-free aside from our mortgage, but we're using the interactive budget worksheet Gail offers on her website. Our finances are pretty tight, and we want to make sure we're not overspending anywhere without realizing it. If you're in a similar situation, I highly recommend watching the past episodes of her show (which has finished its 8-season run now, and even has some follow-ups with a few couples). Not only will it probably make you feel a bit better about yourself, but you'll likely pick up some great tips on keeping your spending in check.

And now, it's naptime. Budget talk puts D to sleep.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bread, soup, and Jane Austen

It's a cold, rainy day, so with no hope of going to the park, we've settled into a nice day inside. I've made two kinds of soup: a cheese vegetable soup for lunch, and a roast tomato soup for dinner. The latter is from a cookbook I got for Christmas from my mother- and sister-in-law, and although it's Australian, I think it will translate well. I had an amazing homemade tomato soup this weekend at a wedding, and I'm hoping this one will be comparable.

I'm also making bread today, in a further effort to keep our grocery budget down. I calculated ages ago that, based on ingredients, it costs me 41 cents to make a loaf of bread, whereas to buy the cheapest one would be 1.99$. When you consider that we go through a loaf of bread a week, if I were to make a batch of bread twice a month, that would work out to 1.64$. To buy the equivalent in loaves would cost 7.96$, so 6.32$ more. If I made bread for a year, I'd save just over 75$. Also, I decide exactly what goes into my bread, and it would be made without preservatives. I'm trying out a new whole wheat recipe that I found, of all places, in the manual for my 5-year-old Kitchen Aid stand mixer. The dough hook attachment means no kneading, and that suits me for the moment.

The mood of the weather was matched by one of my favourite movies, which is on Global's website this week: Sense and Sensibility! I check the video section of their site every now and then, and they put up 6 or 7 movies at a time. It's a great free activity, with an admittedly limited selection. And they do recycle the ones they choose to play. I think this is the second or third time Sense and Sensibility has been on. The ending always gets me: "so you are... not married?" "My heart is, and always will be, yours." Baby D sat through a fair amount of the movie with me, enthusiastically pointing out any horses she saw and waving when Hugh Grant was onscreen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Toonie Tuesday au cinéma

Loss: driving 20 minutes each way to the library, with 2 toddlers, only to realize I missed toddler storytime by half an hour. Rats. And gas is 1.32$.

Win: driving somewhat further to pick up my best friend, who just finished teacher's college, and celebrate with Toonie Tuesday at Rainbow Cinemas. An added bonus: it's a movie I've wanted to see since it came out! And the movie is literally 2.00$ admission. (Of course we're getting popcorn and drinks, what kind of a question is that?)

I recommend that you:
a) double-check when storytime is before leaving for the library

b) get your butt to the theatre tonight (but not before me, please!)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring evening

After a morning of cleaning and an afternoon of napping, it was with great delight that D and I welcomed Hubby home from work. He was very enthused about the weather (18 degrees and sunny), and suggested we go for a walk. Actually, he was going to take D and leave me to my knitting, which would have been lovely, but I was keen to get some exercise. We had a nice 45-min walk with D in her stroller, and got home in good time to make a BBQ dinner, which we enjoyed on the porch. Our mealtime entertainment was provided by the kids next door, who were playing basketball; the younger brother was asking his older sisters all kinds of questions, my favourite of which was "is Lady Gaga's mom Madonna?"

Following dinner, D was a busy little bee, flitting from her slide to the driveway to the tulips (which we suspect were uprooted from our neighbour's garden by squirrels and transplanted in ours) to the car, where she hopped into the front seat, patted the passenger seat for Daddy to join her, then enthusiastically waved "bye-bye" before placing both hands on the steering wheel and pretending to drive away. Hubby minded her and I seized the opportunity to do the spring cleaning task I was dreading most: cleaning out the green bin. I even put a sad face next to it on my list.

I had a three-pronged plan of attack: rinse with the garden hose, dump in baking soda and vinegar, then rinse with boiling water. It looks way better than it did, and I repurposed the water (except for the vinegar/baking soda stuff, which went into the gutter) to a sad little patch of the lawn. The progress did not warrant photos.

While I finished with the green bin and brought our dinner dishes inside, Hubby bathed D (who needed it- the kid was a mess, albeit a very happy one). I diapered and dressed her, she had a bottle, we both read her stories, and she was in bed by 8. So all this fun spring evening biz took place in about 4 hours. It felt like a long, luxurious summer afternoon.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My third Mother's Day

In 2009, baby D was known as Peanut, and I was only a few months along in my first pregnancy. In 2010, she was 7 months old and we dedicated her to the Lord at our church, surrounded by family and friends. In 2011, she is getting ready to be a big sister, and we had a lovely day together.

Being a mom means the world to me. When I was growing up, this is what I always wanted. I am grateful to have been in a position to make the choices that made motherhood possible. For starters, I chose to get married young (thankfully, I had met the man I love most in the world, who loves me just as much). I chose to study and travel abroad for a year before settling down. Once I got married, I chose to finish university and teacher's college, and work in teaching for two years, so that we would be in a better financial position when we were ready to have kids. Together, we chose when we were ready, and made changes to our lifestyle so as to live on one income. I also chose to stop working full-time outside the home, so that I could raise our daughter. I know many moms who wish they could stay home full-time, and just as many who wouldn't dream of it. I'm thankful that I have the option to stay home.

Hubby, thank you for supporting our family by working hard at a job that is far from your dream career. Thank you for your kindness to me and D, not just today, but every day. Mother's Day wouldn't be possible without Dad.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A tale of two library visits

A good friend of mine, who is so great with kids although she has none of her own, asked me when baby D was very little if I was going to take her to the library for story time. I assured her I would, and promptly forgot all about it until fairly recently. Maybe not so much forgot as didn't think D was quite ready; she does love books and reading, but it's tricky to get her to sit still. When I finally looked into it, I was surprised that they have story time for babies (0-18 months) and toddlers (the improbably age category of 18-35 months). At the libraries nearest us, toddler story time falls on the days I babysit or on Wednesdays, when I have ladies' Bible study. So, if I was going to be able to go at all, I'd be taking two toddlers. One day, I was crazy enough to do so.

It went pretty much exactly the way I thought it would. I made sure that if I had one kid waiting around (to be buckled into a carseat, or for other other to get out), it was my young charge (E) and not D, since E is better behaved. I got to the library, parked, unbuckled both girls, and made my way inside, carrying D and holding E's hand. I got their coats and shoes off, since that's what the other moms and kids were doing, and we all sat on a big rug. D was really excited to be there, and not the least bit cowed by the presence of many unknown kids and parents (or to be more accurate, nannies and grannies). She was very keen to sit on the rocking chair, unaware that it was for the librarian. E was quite shy and reserved, and stayed by my side.

As for the format, it was very organized. We had a number of songs to get the kids to shake their sillies out, as it were, and then everyone sat for the stories themselves. Anytime D wanted to get up and walk around, I would grab her and have her sit on my lap, to her great consternation. The other kids were pretty good about sitting, and most of them seemed used to being there. One or two of them would be up and about. There were more songs towards the end, this time accompanied by maracas (one per child) and some dancing. We finished up with a craft, which I felt would be beyond the girls, so we left. The librarian came over and gave them each a sticker to take home.

This week, D and I were able to go on our own to story time at our nearest library. This one was completely different! For one thing, there was a wider age spread (kids who looked younger than 18 months, and some who were definitely older than 3 years). For another, the librarian wasn't as strict, so the kids would walk around. As soon as a couple of older ones went and picked up puppets from a bin at the front, D went for it, too. When other kids saw that the librarian didn't mind, they grabbed puppets initially, then other things, like letters from the felt board, props from another song we did, etc. There was a lot more wandering around, and while I wasn't as anxious when D did so, it was also a lot more chaotic. I plan on going back next week, so we'll see if it's more of the same.

Even though the other library is farther away, and the librarian more strict, I think I prefer going there since it will eventually teach her to follow rules. I'd also like to find a playgroup in our area, for another chance to get D used to other kids and routines.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Not a morose Monday

We had an unexpectedly good day at home. Baby D came down with a nasty cold this weekend, and she was quite miserable yesterday. She was also uncharacteristically sleepy, and had three naps of varying lengths. A visit to Grandma and Grampa cheered her up a little, aside from a brief episode of vomiting and fever. It's always an adjustment from weekend to work week for her, going from having many adults around to just me, and I wasn't especially looking forward to it today. However, our baby girl surprised us by sleeping soundly all night (Hubby had planned to stay in the spare room with her if she woke up).

Although she was sad and sleepy today, she was a star. We took it very easy, watching Cars in the morning while folding laundry (and she was, for once, unmotivated to undo my work). From 11:30 until just before 2:00, she slept soundly on my lap, only waking the odd time to squirm and fuss before dozing off again. I got through the bulk of the newest Shopaholic book, which I didn't like as much as its predecessors. (I don't find uncontrolled spending and unnecessary deception as entertaining as I used to, I guess.) My brother is overseas at the moment, and we got a chance to catch up with him over Skype, which thrilled D to no end. She was contentedly munching on goldfish crackers and occasionally offering up one of her new words (most favourite: "La-you" for "love you). After a late lunch, it happened not to be raining, so I bundled her into the stroller and made for the polling station, which was not remotely busy, as it was 3pm. Once we got back, D wanted to watch more Cars, probably because she missed the ending, so I played it for her and before we knew it, Hubby was home!

Tomorrow will likely be more of the same, only I'm hoping The Little Mermaid will be acceptable viewing. I remember a time when I could play the entire movie in my head from memory, including soundtrack (but not credits). Sick days are an okay thing in moderation.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have election results to watch (in half an hour when the publication ban lifts) and treats to eat (courtesy of our latest houseguest- thanks, Kirk, we miss you already!). It's going to be interesting!