Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Letter from God to the Woman Experiencing Pregnancy Loss

My Dear Child,

My heart is breaking with yours right now. I have not forgotten you, but I am right here beside you, present in your pain. You are so precious to me and I bottle up each of your tears as you grieve the loss of your child. This tragedy was not my plan- it is the result of the sin of a fallen world, far from the perfect place I had originally created for you, dear child. I love you so much, and I am devastated that you have to experience such pain.

I understand your pain all too well. I also experienced the loss of a child when I sent my own Son to earth to die a painful death and be separated from me. But I have redeemed that loss, because the result was that your child is experiencing eternal life with me in heaven at this very moment. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when the pain of this world will be redeemed in the same way, for your present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory and joy that will be in that day!

Satan wants to use this loss for his own purposes, but if you continue to trust me through this dark time, our relationship will grow so much stronger than it was before. I will use this new strength to prepare you for other challenges and victories in the days ahead that can only be overcome with faith in the face of doubt. I know that you have a lot of questions right now, and asking them is good. Look in my Word and I will show you the answers. Listen to the truth that you find there rather than the lies that the evil one is whispering in your ear. If you can continue to put your faith in me, then even this terrible loss can result in something beautiful and good. Do not give Satan the satisfaction of winning this battle!

I know that you have certain plans in mind and are worried about the timing in which those plans will be complete, but my timing is perfect. I command the sun to rise and set, and I alone know what tomorrow holds. I am just going to have to ask you to trust me and know that I have your best interests in mind. I have a good and perfect plan for you. I know each of your children intimately, for I have created them. I know them by name, and love them even more than you do! I have a plan not only for your future, but also for today! You are right where you are for a reason, and even the waiting has a purpose.

I know that you feel betrayed by your own body, and you feel like you are unable to do what you were created to do. Your body is not broken- you are fearfully and wonderfully made in my own image! I have created you and know every detail from the hairs on your head to the days of your life. I know each part that is working properly as well as those that are working against you. This body that seems to have betrayed you is only temporary and will one day be made new, but it is still my very own creation! Where it has failed you, I will one day restore.

I know that you are hurting. I know that it is difficult to think about anything other than what you have lost. Just remember that there are many things to be grateful for even in the pain. Hold tightly to those who love you and the blessings that you have as you work through the grieving process. A grateful heart that counts its blessings is one that can withstand even the most devastating of losses.

I know that you feel like this is the end. You had so much to look forward to and now you aren’t sure how to move forward into the emptiness. Your heart is so shattered that you wonder if it will even be whole again, if it will ever experience joy again. Let me assure you- this is far from the end! Do not put a period where I have put a comma. My plan for you is not complete, and you can rest knowing that I, your Father, who loves you more than you can imagine, holds your future. I am in the work of redemption, and I am making all things new! I have so much more in store for you. Bring me the broken pieces of your heart, your hopes, and your dreams. Entrust them to me. Take my hand, dear child. Lay your head on my chest, release your pain and your fears and your hurt, and rest. Let me show you what I will do...

I love you more than you can imagine,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ninja Sleep Training Method: For the baby who fights sleep- we fight back!

Baby keeping you up all night? Having trouble getting baby to nap during the day? Are you exhausted and dread hearing that little cry yet again? Aren't we all! You know it's time. Sleep training. 

There are a lot of theories out there... But I have to say that none of them seem to fit my very advanced child, so I have come up with something new and groundbreaking.

Introducing: the Ninja Sleep Training Method (or N.S.T.M.) Other sleep training methods run the spectrum from very strict to purely free form, but they all tend to focus on the baby's inability to sleep as the problem. The Ninja Sleep Training Method focuses on the true root of the problem- not the child's sleep habits, but the parents' lack of ninja stealth skills to cope with them.

It isn't your baby's fault that they wake up when you put them in the crib, the parent must learn enough stealth skills to levitate the baby down so gently that they never even perceive the change in environment. This sleep training method not only allows for flexibility, it requires it. Some other methods claim that if you have to sneak out of the baby's room at night, you are doing something wrong. The Ninja method teaches that you are only doing something wrong if the baby wakes up while you are sneaking out of the room.

There are a few things that have to happen before I can publish my writings on this subject. I am a mother so I understand the sleepless nights, but this is obviously not enough credibility to speak authoritatively on the subject. Understandably I need to become a doctor of some kind, because staying up late studying for the MCAT or writing my PhD dissertation resembles the sleeplessness of mothers closely enough that I will then have the authority to tell all women everywhere how to raise their children. 

I intend to publish a 300 page book outlining all the details soon, but until then here is a chapter by chapter breakdown of what you can expect. 

Chapter 1- Why every other sleep training method is wrong

Chapter 2- Why the Ninja method is right

Chapter 3 and 4- Repeat what I said in chapters one and two so that every woman reading the book questions why she is wasting her time reading this instead of spending her precious time as a new mother taking a nap understands how important and true this information really is

Chapter 5- Overview of the system- this will help parents understand that their child's lack of sleep comes not from the child's inabilty to sleep, but rather the parents' lack of stealth training in creating the perfect environment of non-interference in which their child's sleep can truly thrive. You simply must make the baby believe that they have never left your arms for a single moment while in reality they are in their crib and you have full freedom to do as you please.

Chapter 6- Creating the environment- this will help you prepare your baby's environment for Ninja method success. This involves ridding any creaking doors, floors, and mattresses, clearing toys, learning to hold your breath, sneezes, coughs, etc., finding the perfect room temperature and sound machine setting, exercises in tip toeing, soundproofing your house from external disturbances, learning to use sign language or telepathy to communicate with your husband, and more.

Chapter 7- Specific techniques- Each of the following techniques will be taught and different belt colors will be awarded for mastering each new skill...
White belt- How to transfer the baby's mouth from breast or bottle to pacifier without waking
Yellow belt- How to lull a baby to sleep while checking social media on your phone without them noticing
Orange belt- How to place a sleeping baby into the crib without waking and effectively exit the room
Green belt- How to transfer sleeping baby from one spot to another without waking (from a carseat or stroller to the crib, etc.)
Blue belt- How to take a baby's temperature without waking them
Purple belt- How to change a baby's clothes without waking them
Brown belt- How to cook a meal requiring a food processor without interrupting a nap
Red belt- How to clean the house (including vacuuming in the baby's room) without waking the baby
Black belt- How to change a diaper in the middle of the night without the baby's awareness
*Most of these techniques require strong mind control and extreme stealth but can be achieved with practice. 

Chapter 8- The Catch- This chapter will explain how babies will actually absorb ninja skills that the parent has been learning through osmosis, especially if breastfeeding. Therefore, continued education and training is always necessary to stay one step ahead of the baby's ever-increasing knowledge of the methods used.

I haven't decided whether to market this as a simple 71 step program in a Bible sized book or offer it as a workout video series to get new moms back into shape post-pregnancy through stealth. Either way I'm sure it will be wildly popular. I'm also already working on a companion piece on how to get the baby to actually fall asleep called Wine and Dine: the art of drinking before breastfeeding Rock around the Clock: How to rock your baby for hours without getting seasick.

I hope that you are able to find your inner ninja and achieve the highest goal of any parent- sleep. Until then, just keep on keeping on, and know that you are not alone! When babies fight sleep- parents fight back!

DIY Lemon Extract

This is the first year that our lemon tree has given us a pretty significant amount of lemons, and I was thrilled to juice them all with dreams of dreams of blackberry lemonade this coming summer. However, I didn't want to throw away all the lemony zest of the leftover lemon peels. What can one make with a lot of lemon peels? Well, lots of things, but most importantly, lemon extract! The real stuff costs a pretty penny, but there is nothing like the taste. Once you know how easy and inexpensive it is to make it yourself, you will never run out again!

What you will need:
- Lemon peels (LOTS of lemon peels)
- glass jars
- Vodka (the cheapest kind you can find)

1. Zest the lemon peels or use a vegetable peeler or mandolin to remove only the yellow part of the peelings. You don't want to get any of the white pith because it will add a bitter taste to the final product. I could have zested, but when making this much I opted for the much less time consuming vegetable peeler. Be sure to juice your lemons and freeze it in an ice cube tray for easy use in other projects!

2. Put your peelings in a sterlized glass jar. It took about 18 lemons to fill a one quart jar.
3. Fill the jar with vodka and seal it.
4. Shake the jar every day or two and keep it in a dark place for 3-6 weeks. 
5. Strain out the peelings and enjoy as many lemony recipes as your heart desires!

So simple. So delicious. So inexpensive. 
It's amazing how such a small project can make the whole day feel productive!

Mulberry Chipotle Sauce/ Raspberry Chipotle Sauce Recipe

I love the mulberry tree in my yard, and I realize that Christmas is not the time of year for mulberries. However, I just happened to have a baby the week that the mulberries were ripe this year, and they have been sitting in my freezer, all lonely, waiting to be turned into something delicious until this week. This mulberry chipotle sauce is amazing! It is the perfect mix of sweet and spicy. After putting this over cream cheese on a cracker, I'm pretty sure I will never go back to pepper jelly again, as much as I used to like it. 

I first got the idea for this recipe when my husband planned a picnic lunch for our anniversary with crackers,  wine, cheese, summer sausage, chocolate, and a variety of spreads. Beautiful scenery and exceptional company- a girl couldn't ask for more!
One of the sauces was a roasted raspberry chipotle sauce that was out of this world. It cost $3 for the 2.5oz jar, and we both loved it so much that I decided to make a batch for us with a mulberry twist! And it turned out so delicious that I had to make another batch with raspberries. Both good!

Quick disclaimer for this recipe: I hardly took any pictures at all. Canning is not something you can really stop in the middle of once things get rolling, but I had to put a certain little girl down for a nap at the beginning...and then get her up again at the end (what are you doing awake again already?!?!). All of that to say, the pictures just didn't happen this time. Use your imagination!

What you'll need:
- jars (4oz, 8oz, or 16oz)- yields 42 oz. so divide it up as you will
- canning supplies
- 6 cups mulberries or raspberries
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 box Sure-jell

What to do:
1. Rinse and mash the berries. Mulberries are pretty hard to mash, but it doesn't have to be perfect. If you are using raspberries you can you a food mill to remove the seeds, but I just left them in.
2. Blend the chipotle peppers, garlic, and red wine vinegar in a food processor until smooth. (If your baby is sleeping in the room right next to you, get creative and take the food processor outside and plug in it in the carport...)
3. Combine the pepper mixture and berries in a large pot on the stove.
4. Stir in the Sure-jell and turn up the heat.
5. Stir continuously until the mixture boils while stirring.
6. Add the sugar, return to a boil, and keep a rolling boil while stirring for one minute.
7. Pour the mixture into your hot and sanitized jars.
8. Process jars in a water bath for 5 minutes.

All done! Actually no, next you have to enjoy some with some crackers and cream cheese! Sweet at first and then it finishes with a kick! I love it! This spread is also great on grilled meats and appetizers. Bon apetit!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Christian's Guide to Buying a House

Our family recently grew by one and while our current house has plenty of space for the three of us, we are anticipating a future with more kids. I would rather move with one child in tow than two or three, so my husband and I have been keeping an eye on the real estate market, knowing that we have plenty of time to make a decision, but wanting to be ready if the right house came along.

For six months there has been nothing to write home about, but this week, we found the house. The perfect house. Vaulted ceilings, laundry room, great neighborhood, yard for kids, gorgeous kitchen. It basically looks like the reveal of a Fixer Upper episode. It checked every box on my list...except for the price. It was bigger than what we had originally been looking at, but would be enough space for all the children we wanted to grow up in. Of course I prayed and asked God for direction and wisdom about whether or not the house was right for us. We didn't want to get in over our heads.

In the middle of the night while I was awake dreaming about walk-in closets and double ovens, the still small voice began to speak, and He had a lot more to say than a simple yes or no. He spoke, as He so often does, in the form of Bible verses that I have read and reread, memorized and cherished over the years. Here is what He said:

1. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
Houses are a good thing. However, the place where we invest our time, money, energy, and thoughts becomes where we place our heart. Something good can become a real distraction from what is truly important if we allow it to take first place in our hearts. It is definitely something that I have to actively guard against in my own life.

2. "Men may make their plans, but the Lord directs their steps." Proverbs 16:9
We have wonderful plans about what we want our family to look like, but even this early in our marriage and family life we have faced many situations in which things did not go the way that we had planned. But one thing I know for sure, every time God has directed us away from what we thought we wanted, His plan was so much better. So we can plan ahead about what our future may look like, and it not come out anywhere close to that. I don't want to be so tied down to the things of this world that I hesitate when He calls us to something different than we had originally envisioned. I don't want to jump on something good, or even great, and miss out on what He has, which is best!

3. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation- the old has gone and the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17
Part of me has this idea that a new house will change some things about me. For example, if I had a better kitchen, I might be more inclined towards the gift of hospitality (which does not come naturally for me). Or, if I had more closet space, I would be more organized. I have a view of who I would be in the new house. And honestly, it is pretty crazy to think that changing the four walls around me will magically make me love cleaning house, give me the ability to stay on top of the laundry, and make dinner always finish on time. In fact, it is most likely the opposite! If I can't keep my current sized house under control, how would I expect to keep a larger house clean and tidy? The verse says that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, not if anyone is in a new house. I cannot depend on a house to transform me; I have already been transformed! God has already taken my heart and redeemed it, making me a new creation. If I cannot accept that renewing act and embrace it, but instead look to a house to do that work, I am certainly wasting my time!

4. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
Another lie that I was listening to was almost opposite from the one above, although simultaneously in my mind- this house is too good for me. I don't deserve such a beautiful house! I am so incredibly blessed- how could I possibly ask for more? Satan wants us to feel guilty about the things that God gives us, but in the end, it is His choice to give and take away, and our choice how to be good stewards of those gifts. If we get this house, it has nothing to do with whether or not I personally deserve something so nice. And if I did feel like I deserved it, then I would not have the gratitude that God desires when He gives us good things.

5. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen in temporary and what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18
Why do I really want this house? What is my motivation? Is it so that I can have a place to raise my family in a safe and loving environment? Or is it so that my everyday can look like my "dream home" board on Pinterest? Am I investing more of my time and energy into square footage than I am into my relationship with God and others? Will this house contribute to those relationships or distract from them? If I am being honest, I don't like the answers to those questions...

6. "Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has the resources to complete it? Otherwise, if he lays the foundation and is unable to finish the work, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This man could not finish what he started to build.’
In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:27-29, 33
God has called us to be good stewards of the resources that He has given us, and they are not all for us to spend on ourselves. We need to count all of the costs involved- not only the price of the house, but also higher property taxes, utilities, upkeep, etc. as well as the lost income from what could have earned through investing the money over the long term rather than putting it into a house. Knowing all of the numbers is a good thing, but ultimately this parable was talking about sacrifice- giving up what we want for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We have to count the cost and make sure that this house will not stand in the way of us being able to be generous with others.

7. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
Feeling financially secure when looking at the numbers is great, but ultimately the rock is Christ. I have to find my significance and security in Him and Him alone. Not in our savings, our house, our investments, or anything else! It can all be gone in an instant, and all that will be left is Christ. If we have built out lives on Him, then no loss or gain of temporary things can shake us. I think sometimes having too much can be a trial of faith just as much as having too little, which is why it is so important to keep our foundation sure.

Like I said, I asked for wisdom, and He gave me plenty to think about. So what does all of that mean? Yes or no? I think what it means, is that God is not as interested in the beauty of where I live as much as He is in the condition of where He lives- my heart. If I have a house a beautiful as a Chip and JoJo remodel, but have not love for Him first, I have nothing. If I am the perfect housewife, mother, and host, but have not a priority for the eternal and get caught up in external appearances, I gain nothing. If I have security in the world's eyes but have not built my life on the rock of Christ, I am nothing. So whichever way we move forward, I need to spend just as much time cleaning, organizing, and preparing my heart as I do my house, and make sure that I am not letting the temporary take the place of the eternal. Looks like I have quite a job ahead of me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Real Personalities of Breastfed Babies

I don't know about your little eater, but my baby seems to have the widest range of emotions and personalities that come out only through her eating style. Each feeding is a surprise- I never know which feeding personality I will be dealing with that day. There are so many different moods that come out when she's eating, and I'm sure the it's the same with your lo. Here are just a few of the many real personalities of breast-fed babies!

The self-sabotaging eater
This baby hasn't quite figured out how to control their arms and legs. When frustrated baby pushes against mom with her arms, she wonders what is keeping her from latching. Just when mom pins the arms down, baby pushes against the arm of the chair with her legs and unlatches. Baby gets infuriatingly frustrated at this force keeping her from latching! If only she knew that she was the culprit...

The head banger (aka the woodpecker)
This one usually goes hand in hand with the self-sabotage. Once mom is using both hands to hold down the rogue arms and legs, the unsupported head bangs against her chest trying to latch. This is a lose-lose feeding scenario. Once mom lets go of some limbs to support the head, baby repeats self-sabotage as stated above.

The NOT asleep eater
This baby isn't eating, she's asleep! Try to pull away and she is determined to show you she isn't asleep at all! Suck, suck, suck! And then back to sleep...until you try to pull her off again. Suck, suck, suck! Who can pull away from this little eater that keeps snuggling in?

Intimate romantic
This baby wants to look deep into your eyes while eating. And stroke you gently with her little hands...ahhh! It is so sweet, but sometimes that look is too intense... I swear that baby can see right into your soul!

Food critic
This baby has something to grumble and complain about and wants mom to know it. Oh she'll eat all right, but you're going to hear about it. "Mrrm, mrrm, mrrrrm..."

Playing with her food
Not hungry anymore but definitely not finished playing! This baby likes to lick, rub their nose back and forth, and blow milk bubbles all over mom.

Down to business
No games, just milk. Eyes ahead and steady sucking, that's all.

Lazy messy eater
When baby latches sort of and then unlatches with a mouthful of milk, dumps said milk all over you and repeats until you are both so slippery that latching is impossible, and you both have to change clothes.

Angry eater
This one consists of more screaming at your chest than actual eating. Baby is hungry, but way too mad to do anything about it. Or maybe she's not hungry...but either way the joke is on mom because she sure has mom stressed out trying to get baby to latch while she leaks everywhere.

Worm on a hook
This one only happens when baby is in a swaddle. They latch on and then wiggle their whole body around like a worm on a hook. Not sure if they are trying to free their arms but they sure won't unlatch to give mom the chance to take them out!

Snooty eater
You've seen this one. Eyebrows raised, noise in the air, stating just over mom's shoulder at something much more important. "Mom, I'm to good to give you eye contact today."

The satisfied customer
This is a happy eater with no complaints. She quietly finishes her meal and unlatches with a satisfied smile and a little "ahhh..."

The glutton (aka milk drink)
When baby eats just past the satisfied customer stage and continues into complete unconsciousness. Hope mom wasn't planning on play time after because this flopped over baby is good for nothing but a nap!

The greedy eater
This baby doesn't realize that mom only has two sides. She eats on the first sides, burps, the second side, burps, and then is ready for the third side... How long will it take before she realizes that side three is actually side one again?

The anxious eater
This baby is worried that you will run out of milk any second. She eats so fast that she chokes and makes anxious noises as she frantically eats. Where does she get the idea that there won't be any milk? She eats all the time and it's always there!

The bluffer (aka the pacifier)
She acts like she's hungry, so mom offers food. Baby latches happily, sucks for like two seconds and goes to sleep. Can't believe mom fell for that!

The multi-tasker
Baby is hungry but also needs to go #2. This involves a mix of intermittent sucking and straining. No real eating happens until the deed is done. Let's face it- babies are horrible at multitasking.

The independent eater
This baby's motto is "I can do it all by myself!" Don't try to help this baby latch. A lack of motor skills will not stop this baby from trying to latch on her own. Too bad her hands end up in the way and she latches on those instead. But don't try to help, mom, really, I got this...

The fidgety eater
This baby has busy little hands while eating. Pulling on mom's shirt and hair, sometimes even her face, scratching tiny fingernails on mom's arm, etc. Mom finally offers a finger for her to hold on to, but we all know that won't satisfy the fidgeter for long!

The burper
For the baby with reflux, this is a common one. They get halfway through a feeding and then feel that air bubble in their belly and start to flop and writhe around in pain. Burping is not in order, but they don't have time for that! You will hear all about how hungry they are during the burp break until eating is resumed. This can happen countless times in a single feeding.

The biter
They say not to bite the hand that feeds you, and the same should be applied by this little eater! Enough said.

There are really more than I can list! Which ones does your little one use most often? Which ones did I leave out? I would love to hear your additions to the list!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Things to do While Breastfeeding

The first six weeks of having a baby is a lot of feeding. I mean hours and HOURS and HOURS of breastfeeding. Clocking in at around six hours a day, it is quite literally a full-time job just to feed your newborn. It can start to get monotonous really fast, but instead of turning to games on your phone or marathons of daytime television, make the most of the time with these activities...

1. Stare at that Sweet Baby
I could do this forever. Study that sweet face, wrap your finger in her tiny hands, play with those little toes, and look into those precious eyes.

2. Pray over Your Child
Thank God for the incredible blessing and miracle that you are holding in your arms, ask for wisdom to raise them with character and integrity, and pray for the person that they will become under your influence.

3. Read
This is the perfect time to put some ebooks or audio books on your phone. You will be amazed at how fast you fly through them. This is a great time to read some books on raising a baby, but also pick some that have nothing too do with babies. Pick a good fiction that you can get lost in or a nonfiction on a topic that interests you.

4. Overcome Pregnancy/Mommy Brain
At first you will be too exhausted to think clearly but once that phases passes, your body will be busy but your brain will be bored. Find some apps to exercise your mind! With the amount of hours you have to work on this new skill, the possibilities are endless- learn a new language, memorize scripture, learn the basics of acrylic get the idea.

5. Eat
Sleep when baby sleeps and eat when baby eats is my motto! Get a box of healthy (or not so healthy) snacks to put by your breastfeeding spot so that something to munch on is always within arm's reach.

6. Journal
Keep a journal on your phone of all of baby's firsts, funny faces, and quirks that you will want to remember. It doesn't have to be a novel- bullet points are fine. You'll be glad you did!

7. Call a Friend
If you have a slow and quiet eater, this will work for you. If you have a loud eater, skip ahead to the next one... Go ahead and call a friend on speaker phone. Talking to another adult will do wonders for your sanity!

8. Talk to Your Baby
Adult talk time is good and so is baby talk time. Tell your baby how much you love them, how special they are, and the things you love about them. They may not understand what you are saying, but it will create a habit of positive affirmation from you so that it comes naturally later when they do know what you are saying.

9. Indulge in Guilty Pleasures
Finally! It's OK to watch some episodes of your favorite reality show or zone out scrolling through some social media, just let it be one of many things you do rather than getting sucked into hours of mindless time killing activity. Let it be a treat when you really need it!

Have some other ideas? What do you do to fill the time???

What to Register for if you are Cloth Diapering

There are a lot of exhaustive baby registry lists to help make sure that you get everything that you may need for your baby, but one thing that I had trouble finding was a good list of things to register for if you plan on cloth diapering. Many hours of research later I was able to make my list, but I figured I would save you some time and let you know some of the things that will make cloth diapering a lot easier. Don't forget to add these items to your registry!

1. Cloth Diapers
This one is pretty obvious. In the same way that you would register for disposable diapers and wipes, put the diapers of your choosing on your registry. Cloth diapers can be expensive if you plan on buying the whole stash yourself, so put some on your registry in case family and friends want to pitch in. I won't get into all of the different kinds of diapers, but a really good size stash would be 20-30 diapers.

2. Cloth Wipes
When cloth diapering, it is a lot easier to use cloth wipes as well so that you can put the diapers and wipes all into one place to wash instead of having a laundry pail and a trash can. Cloth wipes can be very expensive, so it is a good item to register for. I would recommend at least 2-3 dozen wipes. If you don't want to register for these or if no one gets them for you, these are one of the easiest baby items to make on your own. If you can sew in a straight line, I would definitely encourage you to make some for yourself!

3. Baby Wipe Solution
If you are using cloth wipes, you are probably wondering how a dry wipe will clean a baby's bottom. That is where the baby wipe solution comes in! Once again, you can make your own or buy a concentrated mix that you add water to. If you don't feel comfortable making your own, find a mix that you like and add it to your registry. There are two ways to use the solution- either keep the wipes sitting in the solution (they stay moist) or put the solution in a spray bottle and spray the wipe before you use it. I prefer the second option since everything wet where I live grows mold.

4. Wet Bags
Wet bags are a place to put your dirty diapers until you wash them. They get washed along with the diapers and have a waterproof layer that keeps anything from seeping in or out. Wet bags come in a wide variety of sizes. I would suggest 2-4 smaller ones that hold 2 diapers each for when you are on the go or have someone else watching your baby, and 1-2 large ones that hold the dirty diapers after you change them. The large ones can be used as a liner in a diaper pail and the little ones go in the car, diaper bag, and wherever else you may need them on hand.

5. Cloth Diaper Detergent
Yes, you need a special detergent just for cloth diapers. The most important things to avoid in your detergent are perfumes, dyes, and any kind of soap, which can keep the diapers from being absorbent over time. You can make your own cloth diaper detergent, which is what I did, or you can register for one of the many highly recommended brands available.

6. Wool Dryer Balls
I would actually recommend this to anyone with a baby registry, not just for cloth diapering. Wool dryer balls are exactly that- wool balls that you put in your dryer. They reduce the amount of time needed to dry clothes and take the place of dryer sheets (which should not be used with cloth diapers because it blocks absorbency). I was skeptical when I read about this, but it works wonders! I can run a full load on the energy saver mode and they come out dry every time. With as much laundry as you will be doing with all of those dirty diapers, this small purchase is definitely worth it.

7. Disposable Diaper Liners
These are a life saver when it comes to #2 once you get past the beatnik poop. They look kind of like a dryer sheet that you put inside the diaper when you put it on your baby. If they go #2, the diaper liner catches the solids, so when you you change the diaper, you simply dump the flushable liner into the toilet with all of the solids. This makes the job of cleaning the diapers later a lot less messy.

8. Diaper Sprayer
Here is another great tool for dealing with #2 after your baby starts eating solid foods. A diaper sprayer is basically like the water sprayer you may have on your kitchen sink, except that it attaches to the toilet. If you have a #2 diaper, you simply hold it over the toilet and spray the solids off to be flushed. These can be pretty pricey, but it is worth getting a good one, so put it on your registry!

9. Spray Pal
If you use your diaper sprayer a lot, then you will love your spray pal splatter shield! The spray pal is a plastic cone with a clip on it. You clip the diaper inside the cone and then spray it off with the diaper sprayer. This helps prevent any splattering or messes when using the diaper sprayer. This is super handy to have around!

10. Cloth Diaper Safe Rash Cream
Supposedly with cloth diapers babies are less likely to get diaper rashes, but honestly, every baby's skin is different. If your baby does get a diaper rash, make sure the you are using a cream that will not ruin your expensive diaper stash. All natural is best, and do some research before you choose which one to put on your registry.

11. Diaper Storage/ Organization
There are an infinite number of ways to organize your cloth diapering system. Some people like to hang dry covers and machine dry inserts, some people organize clean diapers by size or color, some want their diapers out of sight, while others stuff them while changing the baby! Figure out what you want your system to be and how you want to organize and store them, and then register for any supplies you may need for that. Whether it is a drying rack or an over-the-door hanging organizer, find what will work for you and put it on your registry.

I hope this helps you as you put together your baby registry with some items that will make the world of cloth diapering just a little bit easier and more affordable!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

12 Things to Pack in the Hospital Bag for Intervention-Free Birthing

There are lots of lists out there to help you know what to pack in your hospital bag, but there are lots of things in my bag that didn't make any of the lists. Why? Because 32% of births in the US are c-sections and another 42% have epidurals or spinal blocks, leaving only 26% delivering vaginally without pain medication. If you are planning to give birth without an epidural or c-section, here are some helpful things for you to pack.

1. Birth plan
Of course you need a birth plan. This is basically just a bullet point list of your desires for how you would like the pregnancy to go in terms of interventions. The best way to approach this is with an open mind- you never know how your birth story will go, and things may not happen as you have them planned out in your mind (in fact they almost certainly won't). Make sure that you have a contingency plan. For example- let labor begin on its own, unless 42 weeks or later. Make several copies of the plan. Go over it with your doctor in advance so that they know what your expectations are and to see if there are any areas where you don't see eye to eye ahead of time. Make copies to give to the nurses and discuss it with them when you get to the hospital- they may not agree with what your doctor agreed to, but clear, kind, and open-minded communication will go a long way to making the birth what you would like for it to be.

 2. Exercise ball
I. Love. This. Ball. I spent weeks leading up to pregnancy sitting on this ball. When you feel all that pressure and no position is comfortable, this ball is a life saver. Not only does it feel good, but it also helps get the baby into the correct position for labor. I sat on this ball throughout the entire labor until the pushing stage and it was the best thing ever. No lie.

3. Music
This is for early labor. Pick out some relaxing music that will keep you calm and happy during the early contractions. Once things pick up, you may not want any extra noise breaking your concentration, but it is great for the early stages.

4. Something to distract you
Depending on how early you go to the hospital and how slowly your labor progresses, you will need something to distract yourself during early labor. My husband read a book out loud, we watched some episodes of our favorite show, but my favorite distraction was some adult coloring pages! I think it will be neat to put our artwork in her memory box and tell her that we made it while anticipating her arrival!

5. Something that smells good
A lot of people use different essential oils, diffusers, candles, etc. for this- each one has different ways that they help in labor. I used a soap that was made with frankincense and myrrh essential oils that smelled amazing! After each contraction ended, I would smell the soap. It was almost like a little reward for getting through one more contraction :) Do some research on essential oils and find the one that is right for you.

6. Knee pads
There are several comfort positions that are on hands and knees, or kneeling while leaning on the exercise ball. Your knees will be in a lot of pain if you don't bring something to kneel on. I bought a bathtub kneeler from the dollar store and cut it in half to make two knee pads. They worked great!

7. Crock pot and washcloths
The nurses will ask questions and give you strange looks for this one, but don't go without it! Put a little water in the crock pot with some washcloths and you have an instant hot compress machine. Put one in to warm up while you use the other and keep switching them out between contractions. This is great for the lower back! This also came in handy for hot compresses during the first few weeks of breastfeeding when your milk is coming in.

8. Visuals
Bring a picture or a visual to focus on. I brought a framed 5x7 ultrasound picture of our little girl. It really helped to look at it and be reminded of the reason for the pain- the end goal is worth it!

9. Lists of affirmations
My husband is a software developer, which means he is great with numbers but not always with words. He spent some time writing up a list of affirmations to use to encourage me while going through labor. He read them to me a few days before we went to the hospital, and they made me cry! Yes, I was being pregnant and hormonal, but just hearing someone that you love tell you verbally that you can do it is a very powerful thing!

10. Peppermints
I brought these but didn't need them. A lot of women get nauseated during the later stages of labor and say that sucking on a peppermint helps.

11. Snacks
You are not allowed to eat at the hospital during labor, which is why I snuck in plenty of snacks. Not only did I eat peanut butter crackers, trail mix, and applesauce during labor (when the nurses weren't around), but our bag of snacks also came in handy for my husband to eat and for me to eat in the middle of the night while trying to figure out breastfeeding the next few days. You will be glad that you have them!

12. Birth partner
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! Have a birth partner who has gone to the classes with you, prayed with you, gone over the birth plan with you, and practiced with you for the weeks and months leading up to the birth. This person will be vital to the success of your natural birth. I just have to say- my husband is incredible and I couldn't have done it without him!

You may not use all of these things. We packed way more than we needed and didn't use all of the things that we planned to for coping with contractions, but you never know what is going to work for you until you are in the middle of it all, and it is better to have more tools in your bag than you need than to be wishing you had brought something and not have it. With this in mind, I will tell you that the most important thing that I used to get through contractions was something that we didn't bring at all!

Bonus Item- Plastic Biohazard materials box
Yes, you heard me right. I found that rhythmic tapping to keep my breathing steady was the best thing for me to get through contractions. My husband went on a search around the hospital room for the perfect thing for me to tap on and found a red plastic biohazard materials box. It had the perfect solid hollow sound, and it did not leave my side until we had the baby! So yeah, you never know what will come in handy when the time comes! Be as prepared as possible, and if all else fails, get creative and resourceful!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar Recipe

On a vacation last year, my husband and I bought some Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar and fell in love with it. It quickly became the ONLY dressing I would eat on a salad. It was just the right amount of sweet, tangy, and fruity. Purchasing the bottle of vinegar had been pricey, but completely worth it...and then we ran out. I looked into ordering some more, but the shipping was out of the question. So of course, I decided that there must be a way to make some myself. It turns out that the process is pretty simple, so I thought I would share it with you to enjoy!

There are a million different combinations of fruits, herbs, vegetables, etc. that you can combine to make just the flavor that you like, but I decided to start with a Blackberry Ginger :)

What you Need:
- 17oz. balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
- 2 tbsp. dried ginger flakes (if you grow ginger, you can make your own)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- glass container (that seals)
- cheesecloth

1. In a non-reactive saucepan, pour balsamic vinegar and add blackberries and ginger. I used blackberries from the backyard, and dried ginger that I harvested and dehydrated from the garden this past fall.

2. Smash the blackberries with a potato masher and then let the combination cook down and thicken on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remember to stir occasionally. Just a fair warning- this will make your whole house smell like vinegar. It may not smell so bad to you if you are in the kitchen the whole time, but my husband came home mid-project and said that coming in the door the smell slapped him in the face :)

3. Once the mixture has thickened, pour in the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved. Make sure that the mixture does not return to a boil during this step. Once it has dissolved, pour the mixture into a sterilized mason jar and seal tightly. Let the mixture sit for one week in a cool dark place. Shake the jar every day to keep the flavors mixing.

4. After a week, strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth to get rid of all of the pulp. Store the vinegar in a glass container with a tight seal. Some people say to keep it refrigerated and others claim that it will keep just fine for a year without it. I'll be keeping mine in the cabinet, but the choice is yours.

 5. Now, enjoy your delicious blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar! Use it as a salad dressing, a sauce for meat, or drizzled on top of cheesecake or ice cream! The possibilities are endless, and you will not be disappointed with this gourmet taste for a fraction of the cost of the fancy vinegar shops!

Monday, April 4, 2016

How to Save Money when Preparing for a New Baby

Everyone loves getting a good deal, but my mother raised us to take this mindset to the extreme. There are people who rarely buy anything for regular price, but in my family, we rarely even buy anything new. As you know, putting the word "wedding" or "baby" in front of anything automatically triples the price, but there are plenty of ways to get everything that you need for your baby without breaking the bank. Here are some tips to help you get started!

1. Make your list EARLY!
Start a registry (unpublished) or comprehensive list of everything that you will need or want for your baby as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. It will take a while to comprise the list because let's face it- new moms really have no idea what they are going to need for a baby. But go ahead, start researching, look at suggested lists online, and make one that you can add to and edit as you go along. As you find and buy things on your list, take them off so that the only things that remain on your registry are the ones that you still need. Also, know how much everything on your list costs, because you only know if a deal is good if you know the retail price of each item. This is another good reason to have an actual registry- you can just check the price on your phone wherever you are and compare it.

2. Begin your Search
Now that you have your list, you know what you are looking for and you know what it would normally cost! The next step is to begin the search for all of the things on your list. Here are my favorite places to find things:
        1. Borrow from other people- Why pay anything if you can get it for free?! See if you have any friends or relatives that have baby items sitting in their attics that they are either not going to use again or will let you borrow. This is a great place to get some of your big items such as cribs, bouncers, swings, high chairs, etc. It is great if you can borrow these items because babies don't use them for long and then you give it back and don't have to find a place to keep it! This is also a good place to get some items that you don't want to buy used, like your crib mattress or breast pump...
        2. Garage Sales- This has been where I have found the most items and for the best prices. Garage sales are the best for 3 reasons- 1) They just want to get rid of the stuff so it is priced to go, 2) You can negotiate on the already rock bottom prices, and 3) You get things that people actually used and can ask them how they liked it, etc. The best items to get at garage sales are clothes- they are almost always in excellent shape because babies grow out of them so fast and you can usually get them for around $0.50 a piece. Don't even step into a Carter's for clothes! Even the clearance rack adds up fast. The down side to garage sales is that while sometimes you strike the jackpot, other times you strike out. The key to success in garage sales is to do it consistently over a long period of time. It is not the same as shopping in a store, because you never know what you will find or when you will find it, but if you keep at it, you will be amazed at how many items on your list you will be able to accumulate over the course of your pregnancy.
        3. Goodwill- Goodwill is great for bigger items such as furniture, strollers, etc. However, baby clothes is not a good item to purchase here. At $2 a piece, you can do much better at garage sales. Once again, the key is to drop in the store on a regular basis to see what they have. When they get something good, it goes fast!
         4. Craigslist- This another great place to find your larger items such as bouncers, swings, car seats, cribs, etc. It is also good for finding some specialty items that people don't want to sell for pennies at a garage sale, such as cloth diapers, baby carriers and wraps, etc. You will pay a little more for the items on craigslist and have to check frequently to see what is available, but you will eventually find what you are looking for!
         5. Ebay- this is my last option (well, before stepping into a real store, that is...). The prices are higher on ebay than craigslist because there is more competition, but if there are a few items that you just couldn't find anywhere else, this is another option of finding things cheaper than store prices.

3. Look for the Little Things
While I know you have the list of big ticket items first and foremost in your mind, it really is the little things that add up when buying for a baby. Things like socks, rattles, and books. You can pick up these things for practically nothing at garage sales, but if you buy them new in the store, they add up really fast! Socks are $2 a pair (I bought a bag of 37 pairs for $1), little baby toys that rattle start at $5 each (I bought a box of 20 for the same price) and books don't go below $6 a piece (on average they run $0.10-$0.25 at garage sales). Look for things like pacifier clips, hair bows, baby utensils, plates, bowls, outlet covers, bibs, etc. Trust me, it isn't worth what you would pay in the store, but you will be glad to have them in exchange for the coins rattling in the bottom of your purse. And once again- CLOTHES! Baby clothes and shoes are so pricey, and they hardly even have a chance to wear them before they don't fit! My motto is to not pay more than $1 for any clothing item, and I have a whole closet full of smocked dresses, Mud Pie outfits, and Baby Gap clothes that I was able to find within that price limit.

4. Publish your Registry
There will be things that you won't be able to find used such as medicine, diapers, wipes, shampoo, etc. These are the items to put on your registry and hope that people actually buy you for the shower. Try to only register for the things that you need as much as possible because you will get plenty of "cute" stuff like blankets just because.

5. Do It Yourself
There were some things that I really wanted to be very specific, such as the nursery bedding and decor. I knew what I wanted and it was really pricey, so I ended up making it all on my own and saving a TON of money. You would be surprised how easy it is to make some of this baby gear yourself even if you aren't an expert seamstress or overly crafty. Check out some easy diy baby projects here.

6. Be Patient and Keep all your Receipts
If you do break down and buy something new at the store, definitely keep all of your receipts and keep it in the box until you intend to use it. I actually did splurge and buy a set of Aiden and Anais swaddles new in the store (they were on sale...) and then found a set of 4 for $1 at a garage sale the very next weekend! I know the nesting instinct makes you want to check everything off of your list all at once, but be patient, and you will find the right deal! Side note- in my experience, the later you shop in your pregnancy, the better the deals get. I guess people are more willing to go down on prices for someone with a huge pregnant belly :)

7. Don't Lower your Standards
Just because you are buying second hand (and paying ridiculously low prices) doesn't mean that you have to settle for second rate items. If you want a certain kind of stroller, don't buy the first stroller you see for a deal, but wait until you find THAT stroller. It may take time, but you will find it (and kick yourself if you already bought a different one). If you want a certain baby carrier- get that baby carrier. Research what kind of bottles you want, and then wait until you find those. All of my items are high-end, name-brand items, many of which you can't find outside of a boutique baby shop. I have to confess that I have become a baby clothes snob in the last few months. Carter's clothes don't get a second glance from me- I want the expensive stuff! And it's definitely out there! The best part is, you are getting the best quality out there, for the best possible price.

Time to Brag
To give you an idea of just how much you can save, here is a list of some of the items I was able to find, where I found them, and how much I paid in comparison to the retail price.

Ergo baby carrier- $2 at garage sale (retail $110)
Baby Einstein activity gym- $2 at garage sale (retail $75)
Graco stroller- $10 at Goodwill (retail $80)
Crib- $100 on Craigslist (retail $300)
Baby Bullet- $3 at garage sale (retail $60)
13 NEW Fuzzibunz cloth diapers- $100 on craigslist (retail $260)
Bumbo seat- $3 at garage sale (retail $40)
4 Aiden and Anais muslin swaddles- $1 at garage sale (retail $35)
Wubbanub- $0.50 at garage sale (retail $14)
Coolwazoo shopping cast cover- $3 at garage sale (retail $50)
120 pieces of clothing- $35 at garage sale (retail $700)

These are just a few! I hope you have happy hunting for all your baby items. The search is part of the fun, and the deals are beyond worth it. Have you made a great deal too? I want to know what you found! What is a good find unless you can share it with someone???

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How to Restore Cast Iron

My husband's latest hobby is cast iron cooking. I am all for it! Number 1- using cast iron makes zero dirty dishes, and number 2, it makes delicious meals. I hope this hobby continues for a long, long time :) 

Cast iron does cost a pretty penny, though. Buying it new can be very expensive, and honestly it isn't made with the same quality as the older cast iron. Buying cast iron second hand can bring down the cost pretty significantly and give you a higher quality cookware. However, second hand cast iron often comes with a lot of rust. Some of the pieces my husband has picked up really looked beyond repair, but it is incredible what the right techniques can do to bring out that beautiful black cast iron look again. 

The method that you use to clean it really depends on the condition of the piece. For this tutorial we are going to use a 12" skillet that we picked up at a flea market for $8 as our example. This particular skillet had so much rust on it, that it literally had layers of built on coating that you could feel with your fingers. On the back, we thought there were no markings (but we found them once we finished). So yeah, if we can restore this piece, I think these techniques can be used to restore just about any piece!

Here is what you will need:
Vinegar (lots of vinegar)
Salt (lots of salt)
Basin of water large enough to completely submerge your cast iron piece
BBQ grill wire brush
Potatoes (5lb bag should do)

The first step is to give it a good scrubbing. The best way to start off with a first layer of scrubbing is using salt and potatoes. Yes, that's right, salt and potatoes. Cut your potato in half, and cover the entire surface of the cast iron with a good dousing of salt. Don't be shy with the salt, get a really good layer going and then scrub the pan with the potato, cut side down. The salt will form a kind of paste and begin to break off the first layer of rust.


The next step is to soak. Fill a container with water that is large enough to completely submerge your cast iron piece in. Our 12 inch skillet ended up going into a trash can :) Fill the container with water, vinegar, and salt. You should have a 1:1 ratio to vinegar and water, and add salt until it can no longer dissolve. Make sure that the skillet is completely covered and let it soak for a LONG time. Overnight is best. You will begin to see bubbles coming up from the rust as it literally separates from the skillet. By the next morning, the water will look really dirty with all of the rust that has fallen off and in our case, there was an outline of foam along the edge of the skillet that you could see on the top of the water. This water was clear before, I promise. Did I mention that this skillet was really bad off?

After soaking, it is time for more scrubbing. Start off with a wire brush (the kind that you use to clean the barbeque grill). Scrub, scrub, scrub. Use that elbow grease! You should see a difference, and maybe all the rust will be gone...but depending on the condition, you may still have more work to do.

Place your cast iron on the stove and heat it until it is completely dry. You will see all the steam coming off as the water evaporates out of the skillet. Once it is dry you will be able to determine how much rust is still left on it. Unfortunately, cast iron always looks darker (and cleaner) when wet. 

This process takes off one layer of rust at a time, so if your piece is really bad off, expect to do several overnight soaks with scrubbing sessions in between. Repeat the process (potatoes and salt scrub, vinegar, salt and water soak, wire brush scrub, and stove heat dry) until ALL of the rust is gone. You do not want to season your cast iron with rust still on it.

Once you have finally gotten all the rust off, it is time to season your cast iron. At this point it is probably a new color- not rusty orange, but not cast iron black- more of a silvery color. The black color comes after it has been seasoned. To get it to that point, when it will be ready for kitchen use, all you need is some Crisco. Use a pare towel to rub a layer of Crisco over the entire piece of cast iron. Next place it on a baking sheet and cook it in the over on 275 degrees F for an hour and a half. This process will also have to be repeated several times for the cast iron to soak up all of the oil and coat the surface. This coating not only protects the cast iron from rusting again, but also creates the layer of non-stick coating that flavors the foods that you will cook in it.

 Look at that beautiful black cast iron shine! I can't believe this is the same piece that we started with, and it has quickly become one of our favorites to use when cooking!

 Here are some before and after pictures of a griddle that we restored at the same time. This one only required one soaking and scrubbing, and it was as good as new!