Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas is for Kids; Christmas Eve is for Us.

I don't know about everyone else, but having a toddler this time of year is exciting. Last year, he really couldn't open presents and wasn't all that interested in their contents anyway. We set up his set of alphabet peek-a-blocks and a blow up bobbing penguin thing and he spent maybe ten minutes playing with them. And almost never touched the blocks again. He is terrified of the penguin even when you turn off the sounds. But at 6 months old, we had no real idea of what he would like.
This year, I expect playing Santa to be much more fun.
We are going to help him put out a cookie for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer, explaining to him again how the whole thing works. I assume he will promptly forget, sleep like a baby for the last time on Christmas Eve until he outgrows Santa, and wake up in the morning to see his brand new Little People Farm set and a stocking full of fun little toys and goodies. But, sadly, because of some recent over indulgences and the resulting refusal to eat anything and demands for cookies and candies, he won't be getting any candy. A clementine and goldfish crackers will have to do. We have some great little stocking stuffers I know he will love.
But the fun part for me isn't necessarily the Christmas morning.
Christmas morning is for the kids.
But Christmas Eve is for the adults. For the next however many years until our last little one ceases to be impressed by the fanfare of a nocturnal visit from a fat man in red with a hankering for cookies, Kenny and I get to play the best role any parents can ever play. We get to be Santa. Santa is purely fun. You don't have to give timeout or say no to another cookie. You just do something fun with no strings.
We can sip something cheery, munch on gourmet gift basket fare, and yell at the kids to get back in bed or Santa won't come. We'll stay up late, even though we are guaranteed to be roused early by footy-pajama-clad children. We'll stuff stockings with small, thoughtful gifts and a couple of fun snacks, maybe a little candy. We'll do silly things like use reindeer-hoof shaped kitchen sponges to make muddy paw prints all over the kitchen floor. We'll argue about who gets to eat the cookie and who has to eat the carrot. We'll drink Santa's hot cocoa and giggle like children on Christmas. Because for parents, the best part isn't being a kid on Christmas anymore. It's watching your own kids be kids. We'll be sure to take our time Christmas morning so that everyone takes time to appreciate their gifts, play with their new toys, and have a good time together as a family. But Christmas Eve, we get to be a couple. We're in it together, for better or worse, and Christmas Eve is one of those betters that make the worse not quite so bad.
There may be years when Christmas has to be really creative. There will be times when one child or another will throw a tantrum or get overwhelmed and the whole day will be trying. But no matter what, my husband is the person I want beside me while we navigate the difficult times, and the person I want beside me for the happiest times. And I just can't imagine playing Santa without him beside me for that, too.
I love you, SMcC-B.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Being Green v. Saving Green (A Christmas Story)

I struggle a bit as a first time mom with the idea of used baby gear. Most of the used items I have purchased I have loved, and what has held me back from buying almost everything used is safety combined with the wear and tear I see on items at consignment sales. But I was confident that I could buy Jack's Christmas presents (or at least some of them) used this year.

One thing I knew I wanted for him, but was willing to be flexible about, was a Little People set. I wanted to farm, but would have gone with a good quality used set with another theme if it had the pieces and wasn't too banged up. The price had to be right, too, of course.

I was hoping to save both money and a tiny little bit of space in a landfill, eventually.

However, I was unable to find such a set. In fact, I found tons of Little People sets at consignment shops and sales but not one came with the pieces. What is the point of a Little People play set with no Little People? I had to assume the sellers had bagged them and tagged them separately, hoping to make an extra dollar or two on the sale. But it appears that buyers are happily buying the pieces but not the sets.

So when the Little People farm set with extra bonus pieces went on sale for $29 at Target, I snagged it. The best deal I had seen used was half that for just the farm.

His other major gift is toy pots and pans and dishes and felt food I made, along with some wooden food toys we bought and a set of mama-made spices, salt and pepper, and a bottle of hot sauce (he loves hot sauce). I did look for used kitchen toys but the only ones I found were the cheap plastic kind that come with a bunch of cheaply made cardboard food boxes, usually in a really poorly made plastic shopping cart with wheels that don't work… Although I did find a few pieces that go with a kitchen that makes sounds when you put the pans on the stove or something along those lines (the seller wrote this on the tag). I was not thrilled with these options. I had been sure there would be hordes of eco-minded parents out there selling their much loved wooden play food that had made it through 4 kids and still looked just fine. But I was evidently setting myself up for disappointment.

So once again, I kept my eyes open for a good deal and even up saving a lot of green by buying new. The Green Toys cookware and dish set went down to about $20 on Amazon, where I had a gift card on file, and I snagged it for him. I know he will get lots of use out of it, and I imagine his siblings will as well (when he has them…eventually). The best part? Even though it's new, it's kind of green because it's made from recycled milk jugs. It's also gender-neutral – something of an issue when you are looking for a toy for your son that is sold in the aisle next to the barbies.

I've also been looking for a good set of wooden blocks for Jack and have failed to find them used for more than about $5 less than the price for a new set, and usually the used set is somewhat dirty and missing pieces. To me, it's worth $5 to have a clean, new set, especially since we are talking about wood, not plastic.

Have you been able to score some good deals on used toys? Or do you prefer to get a great deal on something new?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Holiday Spending a Non-Issue

In years past, we have not done much planning for Holiday spending and that tends to lead to some headaches. This year, we decided to do things differently. My husband had inquired about Christmas accounts at our bank and they didn't offer them and for a while, it never occurred to us that we could do it ourselves. Then one day I realized that we don't have to keep our money in the bank. So every week we put a set amount of cold, hard cash into an envelope marked "Christmas".
Before we started, we determined how much we expected to spend on every person on our list, using the higher amount of the price range we usually aim for, and added everything together. We assumed, for example, that we would spend $100 or less on our son, since he is only 18 months old. He is also the only grandchild for my parents, the youngest by 10+ years on my husband's side, and the newest great-grand child by a similar margin all over. This means that he will typically be spoiled rotten by just about everyone, so there's no reason for us to spend even that much.
We then added all the amounts together and divided by 50, assuming that we would need to be done shopping by mid-December. The number was shockingly low. We don't have a huge number of family members and friends to buy for, so we were able to put that money aside without missing it at all. We expect to be able to do this in 2011, even with our coming mortgage payments, without any issues.
In mid-November, we assigned envelopes to each person, noting the amount we intended to put in each envelope, and started filling them. The idea here is the same as with any budgeting system that relies on envelopes – when the money is gone, it's gone. You can't over spend. You also don't forget anyone. We also had an additional envelope to cover holiday portraits and frames, which were gifts in addition to whatever else we give.
I cannot tell you how liberating it is!
We had never had trouble paying for holiday gifts (although we are still not at a stage where we are tempted to buy an expensive "it" toy for our son…) and have never used credit cards so we haven't had to face a big bill in the mail in January, but we did have certain anxieties about holiday spending. We tended to buy as we went, holding out for another paycheck when needed to finish shopping. Sometimes we spent more than we intended because we shopped impulsively. And I always hated when I discovered the last few days before Christmas that I forgot to get something for someone and had to go to Target and pick from the leftover gift baskets, which I generally find kind of boring and impersonal.
So this year, we finished shopping early, were under budget, and haven't forgotten anyone, thanks to our envelope system. We also were actually able to shave several weeks off and combined with what we had already put aside, we bought new laptops as our gifts for each other and don't feel the pain of the expense.
I'm planning to add birthday envelopes and do more year-round shopping in 2011!
How do you simplify your holiday shopping?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Clothing your big cloth-bottomed baby

If you were to get hold of your own old baby clothes, you'd probably notice they were a big roomier in the back than baby clothes are today.  This is because back when you were a baby, cloth diapers were at least still used a lot if not the primary and preferred method of diapering.  Around the time I was a baby, disposables were just begining to gather steam and my parents used cloth only with my older brother, but a mixture with me.  Seems I suffered the same affliction as my little guy - yeast rashes.

These days, we have so many cloth options out there that the only problem is finding clothes that fit your little one.  Chances are, t-shirts will be true to size, but pants are another issue.  When Jack was a bitty thing, onesies were an issue.  There are, as I see it, two main options.

First, buy a pack of onesie extenders.  We have them.  We hated them.  But many, many moms swear by them for cloth and sposie bums alike as a great way to extend the life of your child's wardrobe.  For us, we turned onesies into t-shirts after about 15 months and haven't looked back.  For a pretty tiny price, you can give them a shot.

Second, buy the next size up.  This is what we did for a long time, until somewhere around 15 months when we suddenly found that Jack's clothes fit better than they used to.  If he weren't so tall for his age, he could still be in 18 months size.

As far as where to shop, I have found that the 5-packs of Carter's onesies are longer and stretchier.  Knit is your baby's friend!  They have some great little knit pants that come in two packs.  I have also found that their onesies with snaps ont he shoulder are not as long or stretchy.  If your little ones is on the shorter side, you may find that they fit well in Children's Place and Osh'Gosh.  Thesir clothes all seem wider to me and shorter, so I imagine they are great for cloth bums on shorter babies.

We didn't even try to put jeans on Jack much before the last few months.  Because he does seem to fit in his size better (he's 90th for height, 50th for weight), we are able to get by with one size up IF the jeans have those adjustable waists.  I have to yank them all the way out to make the waist fit, then cuff up the bottoms.

Another option is Baby Legs!  They are perfect for cloth bums, great for diaper changes and potty training, and look adorable.

Because of our current situation of being half moved and not at all settled, we are waiting until we ARE settled to get Jack potty trained.  All the experts seem to agree that in the middle of something like a move, its best to put it off.  So we have the groundwork laid and I have high hopes that this year's clothes will fit next year, too, once we get rid of that big bottom!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A used toy that taught me just how much my son knows....

A while back I found a listing on Craigslist for one of thsoe big blown plastic play kitchens from Step2.  It was $20 and I couldn't turn it down, and while it tends toward a fair bit of purple, it's fairly gender neutral.  I figured it would be a good way to see if it is worth investing in a bigger one, new or used, in the future.  I thought he was too young, but would grow into it.  I was delightfully wrong.

He loves it.

He started putting his sippy cup on the "water dispenser" in the fridge door almost right away.  He was about 14 months old when I bought it and I had no idea that he realized we were getting drinks from the door in the big fridge.  But he was watching more than I realized.

Since then, I have been amazed at what he understands about the goings on in the kitchen, and the rest of the world around him.  He brings his toddler plates (which he steals from the dishwasher when we are unloading...or loading...ew) and "washes" them in the sink.  He will put his cup or snack in the fridge when he is done with it, and if I'm not paying attention, it might just stay there a day or two...yuck.

We bought him a set of Melissa and Doug "Pantry Food" when he was about 15 months old and he knew without being told what most of them were.  My dad held up the box of "frozen waffles" and asked him what it was and he said, "faffles," before I had ever heard him say the word before.  If we asked him to go get the juice from his fridge, or the butter, or the milk, etc., he would go in the play room, open the fridge, find it, and bring it back.  And he closes the fridge door, which I love.  He understood right away that it was play food.  I made him felt cookies and he pretended to nibble them without actually putting them in his mouth.

While Jack was saying many of the early toddler words by his first birthday (mama, dada, nana, papa, etc), I didn't think he was ahead of the game.  And I had no idea how much of a sponge he was.  By 14 months, he was regularly using at least 2 dozen words.  Now, at 18 months, he can repeat just about anything and is speaking in 2-4 word sentences frequently.  He is no longer using signs unless, for example, his mouth is full of food and he wants his sippy cup.

He is learning the alphabet and numbers.  If you say the alphabet, he will usually say the next letter rather than repeat the one you say.  It blows me away.  His pediatrician told me that this language skills are very advanced.

There is the unfortunate side effect of having him repeat what I say in frustration at another driving in the car.  No cussing, but a fair bit of impatience and not-so-niceness.  But the benefit is that I told him that cars say Hi by beeping their horns and if you ask him, "What does a car say?" he responds with, "beep beep! hi!"  Adorable.

He knows the animal sounds for about a dozen animals, thanks in part to Sandra Boynton's "Moo, Baa, LaLaLa," a personal favourite.  If you don't have any of her books, you need them.  A big step up from Goodnight Moon.

Today, we waited in the car while my mom ran into a store and he kept saying, "Hurry, Nana. Go, Go, Go! Run! Come on, Nana, Come on, Nana," and when I asked him why Nana should hurry up, he said, "Guggle."  Guggle is his word for Snuggle, or Hug.  He wanted to give Nana a hug.  Sweet, no?  He's going to be sad when we move.

But I think the best thing is that when I say, "I love you, Jack," he says, "I love you, Momma," and kisses me.  Melts my heart every time.  I'm trying to pretend this age will last forever.

Friday, December 3, 2010

So I've been kinda busy...

I knew I had more or less abandoned my blog but I didn't realize it had been so long.  I have been on a serious crafting streak and that, combined with the mayhem that is my husband's management interview process, has led me to just not make time.

But I am hoping to be back, especially since I am now in possession of my very own, my very first laptop.  I have had many computers over the last 15 years or so, but this is my first laptop and I am loving it to bits.  My husband and I each have our own (non-matching) laptops so I can organize photos the way I want and have the icons I want on my desktop and the mouse speed is perfectly suited for my fingers :)

At any rate, here are some of the projects I have been working on:

Made little man some PJ loungy pants.  I don't let him sleep in them yet because of the whole fire safety thing.  I also refuse to buy flame retardant materials (unless they are naturally so) so he sleeps in snug fitting jammies and wears these on those lazy Sundays.  I used Alexander Henry's 2D Zoo in Pool.  Loves it.

He's real pleased with himself for climbing up on the chair WHILE getting pants put on him.

Close up.  I made the cuffs nice and long and hid extra elastic in the waistband for my growing toddler
I searched high and low for more of this fabric.  I bought a yard at JoAnn with no particular plan for it.  Then almost immediately determined that I would do his bedroom in a jungle-y theme when we move and went back for more.  They were out.  So were the nearest stores I could concievably drive to.  So were my favourite websites.  And finally, I decided I was unwilling to pay inflated prices and gave up.  Then I found 2D Zoo in Chocolate and fell even more madly in love.  Not too much blue.  So I found a good deal online and ordered 5 yards, plus 3 yards of the Teeny Tiny Zoo in Chocolate.  So far I have made him a duvet cover, but since we never bought a crib bedding set, I also had to make a duvet.  That was the hard part!  Got the tute for the duvet cover from Prudent Baby.  Incidentally, I also got his pants tutorial at Prudent Baby.  I love that blog.  I wish they had more little boys!

Jack's big boy conforter in all its glory.  He just woke up form a nap but I think he was kind of wanting to take another.
 I didn't want to waste yardage so I used that soft and comfy blanky stuff in long strips on each side, which made it more difficult to line up perfectly.  And can I just say that I love snaps?  I had no idea they were so easy to apply.  I could have been making onesies!  Makes me want to have another baby just so I can make onesies.  But, alas, a good friend is pregnant so come January when we find out if its a girl or a boy, I'll be ready!

I also made Jack an I-spy bag with the Pool and I swear I took a picture but I can't find it.  Possibly because I haven't yet moved all my pictures over yet.

I made some things for the above mentioned friend but they are a Christmas gift so I can't post them.  I also already wrapped them and never took pictures, but it was nothing terribly impressive I'm afraid.  My original plan didn't pan out and I had to improvise.

And I have been making loads of felt food for little man for Christmas, but I think I will post those in one separate post.  I haven't taken pictures of everything just yet.

I have a bunch of handmade Christmas gifts planned but since my husband just got a promotion and transfer and is supposed to start on December 16th, I'm not sure I'll get things done.  But it looks like we may jsut hang on and move after the new year, with him doing a lot of commuting in the mean time, so I'm hoping I can get as much use out of my mom's clever little serger as I can before I have to kiss it goodbye (but let's face it, we are moving 3.5 hours away so I can always come visit).

I had big plans for a handmade felt advent calendar but it looks like it may be next year.  I'm hoping to at least get our stockings done, though.

Anyone out there planning handmade holiday projects?  I love to see the massive increase in craftiness this time of year!

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