Friday, July 29, 2011

Frugal Fridays: How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom, Part 5: Aldi


Note: this post is Part Five in an ongoing series.  You can read previous entries here.

Today, I needed two things from the store: a pound of butter, and a watermelon (weird, I know).  I didn't have any coupons for these items, nor did I know of any good sales, but I wanted to be certain I got the best possible price.

So I went to Aldi.

For years, Aldi had a well-deserved reputation for offering off-brand junk food, canned vegetables, and highly processed frozen meals at frighteningly low prices.  We rarely shopped there for anything other than Halloween candy and the occasional box of breakfast cereal.  But these days, their quality and selection are vastly improved.  In fact, they've become my go-to store for quite a few items.

I don't buy meat, milk, eggs, or "dirty dozen" produce at Aldi, because they don't offer organic options.  However, I regularly shop there for beans, baking supplies, pantry staples, cheese, and "clean fifteen" fruits and veggies.  I'm always impressed with not only the staggeringly low prices, but also the quality.  Everything I buy there is fresh, tasty, and appealing.

Would I prefer to buy only locally sourced produce, pastured butter, and imported pasta?  Yes, of course I would.  But right now, my number one priority is to feed my family healthfully on a small budget.  And since the items I only buy organic are painfully expensive, I need to cut costs elsewhere.  Thanks to Aldi, I'm able to do that without resorting to processed foods.

So if you're still struggling to cut your grocery costs, I highly recommend giving Aldi a try.  Just steer clear of the "prepared foods" aisle, and you will most likely be quite happy with the selection.

Do you shop at Aldi?  Are there certain things you don't buy there?  Does your Aldi regularly beat supermarket prices?  Or do you have another "go to" store for rock-bottom prices?

For more money saving tips, visit Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ask The Gentle Mom: Bedtime



How do you get your son to sleep so late?  -Joanne

Joanne, it's actually pretty simple: we put him to bed late!

Now, I know the common wisdom is that babies should be asleep before 9:00, but that just doesn't work for Trey.  His entire life, he's always preferred going to bed late and then sleeping in.  When he was much younger, and everyone was constantly telling me my son was up too late, I actually tried moving his bedtime earlier.  It didn't work, at all.  He was miserable, and so were we.

These days, we allow Trey's bedtime to be dictated by his body's natural rhythms.  That means he's usually up until at least 10:30 at night, and sometimes as late as 11:30.  He generally sleeps until 10:00 or 11:00; the other day, he didn't get out of bed until almost noon!  And on those rare occasions when we have to wake him up early, he's grumbly and irritable straight through until his nap.  My son is just not a morning person!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gentle Books: Five Favorite Animal Books

Donnie and I love teaching Trey about animals.  In his short life he's visited the National Aquarium, three different zoos, and even a farm.  We've also read dozens of books about animals together.  Here are five of our favorites.






What are your favorite animal books?

(Full disclosure - if you click the links on this page to buy these (or any other) items from Amazon, I will receive a small payment.  If you're not comfortable with that, but still want to make a purchase, please open a new browser window).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Unfrugal


Image credit
Over the past month or so, I've really fallen off the frugality bandwagon.  I say "I," and not "we," because Donnie remains as steadfastly ungreedy as ever.  The man has almost no interest in material goods. 

Me, not so much.

I am not a natural minimalist.  I like to have new clothes every season.  Expensive handbags.  Cute shoes.  And, of course, now that I'm a mom, I want Trey to have the best of everything.  High quality, organic food.  Educational toys.  A home library full of good picture books.

And so I spend.  Even when I can't afford it.

My pattern is actually pretty predictable.  I'll go several months without spending a penny on anything other than food and bills, never going over my budget.  Then, slowly, I'll start to slip.  A few extra dollars at the whole foods store.  A single picture book that I just know Trey will love.  A cute new shirt that costs very little.  It all seems so innocent.

And then, suddenly, I'm up to my eyeballs in new stuff I don't need.  Stuff that costs way more than I can comfortably afford.

Then comes the guilt.  The empty promise that I will never, ever, EVER waste money like this again.  The mad scramble to pay my bills, and the humiliation that comes when I realize I bought Trey a Phillie Phanatic Pillow Pet with money we needed for our mortgage.

And then, thankfully, blessedly, I embark on an easy few months of austerity.  It's never difficult to curb my spending after I've been bad.  I like to atone, and I'm good at it.

But after a long stretch of responsible penny-pinching, I always start to grow restless.  Weary.  Ready for some fun.  And when that happens...well, just watch out.

I have absolutely no idea how to break this vicious cycle, how to become more naturally frugal.  I'm not sure I can change my nature.

But I think I really need to try.

Are you frugal?  Does it come naturally, or do you have to work at it?  How do you keep your spending in line?  Do you have any tips for me?  Please help!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pasta with Creamy Pesto and Oven Roasted Tomatoes



This is an intensely flavorful meal - so much so that people with sensitive palates may find it a bit overwhelming.  If you prefer milder dishes, cut back on the garlic and use only a moderately aged Parmesan cheese.

Pasta with Creamy Pesto and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

1 lb hot cooked pasta
2-4 medium tomatoes, oven roasted and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cups Italian cheese (Parmesan, romano, asiago, or a combination), divided
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk

Pulse the basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and one cup of the cheese in a food processor until a thick paste forms.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until smooth.  Whisk in the milk, stirring until the sauce has the consistency of thick cream.  Remove from heat, and stir in the remaining cup of cheese.  Stir in the basil mixture, mixing until well combined.

Place the hot, cooked pasta in a large bowl.  Top with the oven roasted tomatoes and the creamy pesto sauce.  Mix together until well combined.

This recipe is proudly shared at Menu Plan Monday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom, Part 4: The Drugstore Game


Note: this post is Part Four in an ongoing series.  You can read previous entries here.

Did you know you don't have to pay for most personal care items, including toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, and deodorant?  I'm serious.  I haven't paid a cent for any of these products since early 2007, when I first started playing The Drugstore Game. 

The Drugstore Game is a nickname for the process of using loyalty programs to score great deals at CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.  These three stores offer rebates and rewards which will help you save hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars a year on toiletries, household supplies, beauty products, and more.  All it takes is a little know how, and a little planning.
CVS

CVS's ExtraCare Rewards Program is the gold standard of drugstore loyalty programs.  Not only has it been around the longest, it also offers the best deals.  I've heard some people describe it as "complicated," but I actually consider it to be pretty simple.

It all boils down to this: every week, CVS offers full or partial rebates on several dozen sale items, delivered in the form of store coupons called Extra Care Bucks (ECBs).  After purchasing a sale item and earning ECBs, you can then use your ECB coupons to buy additional sale items - thereby earning more rewards.  Using manufacturers' coupons further sweetens the deal.

Here's a simple example.  Let's say that CVS is currently offering a sale on Crest toothpaste: buy a tube for $1.99, and receive $1.99 in ECBs, with a limit of two per customer.  You also have a $1 Crest toothpaste coupon in your coupon collection. 

You pay $0.99 (after coupon) to buy one tube of toothpaste, and receive back $1.99 in ECBs.  You then use your $1.99 in ECBs to buy a second tube of toothpaste, earning back another $1.99.  In other words, you walk into CVS with $0.99 and a coupon, and walk out with two tubes of toothpaste, and $1.99 in ECBs to spend at a later date.  Not too shabby, right?

By saving your ECBs from week to week, and using them to make additional purchases that offer ECB rewards, you can buy dozens of personal care items without ever spending a penny.

Rite Aid

Rite Aid offers two unique savings programs: Single Check Rebates (SCR) and +UP Rewards (UPR).  These programs work very differently, and there are good deals to be had using both.

The SCR program allows you to earn actual cash rebates on select purchases.  No membership card is required; instead, you enter your receipt information at Rite Aid's SCR website after every shopping trip.  At the end of each month, you can request a check for the total amount of all rebates earned over the entire month.

UPR is a newer program, closely modeled on CVS's Extra Care Rewards.  It follows the same pattern of issuing rebates in the form of store coupons, which can then be used to make additional purchases. 

Walgreens

Walgreens' Register Rewards Program is very similar to the ECB and UPR programs, in that you earn store coupons called Register Rewards (RRs) by purchasing select items.  Those coupons can then be used to make additional in-store purchases.  However, there is an important catch.

You cannot "roll" your RRs by purchasing the same sale items and earning the same RRs over and over again.  For example, say you take advantage of a deal that pays you $10 in RRs when you spend $20 on Unilever products.  If you try to use your RRs to buy more Unilever products, you will not earn an additional $10 in RRs.  You can, however, save your RRs to use on the following week's RR deals.
With time and practice, anyone can master the fine art of The Drugstore Game.  In fact, after a few months, you'll probably have such a large stockpile of free personal care items that you'll be able to share your purchases with family, friends, and charities.  It's one of my favorite ways to help others - and it literally does not cost a dime.

Do you play The Drugstore Game?  How much have you saved?  Which drugstore is your favorite? 

For more money-saving tips, visit Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask The Gentle Mom: Cloth Diapering

Looking good in his disposable diaper.
Do you cloth diaper?  Why/why not?  --Anonymous

This is actually a rather fraught topic for Donnie and me.  Before Trey was born, we absolutely intended to use cloth diapers.  We truly believe it's the right thing to do.  And yet, at this time, we're using disposables.  There are a couple reasons for this.
Price.  Cloth diapers are expensive.  Yes, disposables cost more in the long run, but the prospect of spending several hundred dollars at once on nappies, covers, liners, and wipes, is fairly intimidating.

Mess.  Like most sane people, I want to spend as little time as possible dealing with excrement.  Disposable diapers make it much easier for me to do that.

Time.  As a first-time SAHM, I'm struggling to keep things in order around here (for instance, right now it looks like a small tornado touched down smack in the middle of our house).  I'm not really prepared to add "launder stinky diapers" to my daily to-do list, at least not just yet.

Generosity.  For the past two years, my mom has given me a year-long diaper subscription from Amazon as a Mother's Day gift.  Why mess with a good thing?
Please don't get me wrong: I feel incredibly guilty about using disposable diapers.  But right now, I'm just not prepared to make the transition to cloth.  However...

Donnie and I recently spent the weekend with friends who are successfully cloth diapering, and they made the process seem not entirely terrifying.  So maybe someday I'll be ready to try.  If not with Trey, then perhaps with a future child.

Until then, I'm just giving myself permission to be selfish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gentle Books: Five Fabulous African Picture Books

Africa is home to a diverse array of languages, traditions, and histories, about which Americans know very little.  These five books are a great introduction to the fascinating peoples, cultures, and stories of this beautiful continent.






Do you have a favorite book about Africa?

(Full disclosure - if you click the links in this post to purchase these books(or other items), from Amazon, I will receive a small payment.  If you're not comfortable with that, but still want to buy the book, please open a new browser window to make your purchases.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Returning Home after Vacation

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For the first time in twelve days, Trey and I are alone together in our own home.  We're also surrounded by a colassal mess.  In fact, I'm feeling rather intimidated by the prospect of returning the house to livable conditions. 

First and foremost, there are suitcases to unpack, most of which are (thankfully) well organized.  But there are also plenty of bags overflowing with odds and ends tossed in at the last moment, without any rhyme or reason aside from the imperative to clean out our room as quickly as possible.  Returning their contents to their proper places will take hours, if not days.

Then there is the embarrassing truth that we did not leave our house in spotless condition before heading off to the beach.  So once we've finished unpacking, we'll still be left with dishes to wash, toilets to scrub, and mountains of clutter to be put away.  On top of all that there is, of course, the daily destruction rendered by a rambunctious toddler.  It's hard enough to stay on top of that mess when the house is in decent shape; it will be nearly impossible to do so as I wade through the deluge of traveling bags threatening to overtake our home.

In short, I am overwhelmed.  The only thing I can do is tackle one task at a time, whether it be unpacking a duffel bag, making lunch, or returning Trey's toys to their rightful location.  If I can accomplish just one or two things a day (no small feat, considering my son is clingy and grouchy from teething), then our house should be put to rights some time before Trey graduates from high school.

The truth is, even the smallest jobs feel nothing short of monumental when undertaken with a toddler in tow - so much so that I often wonder how Donnie and I are going to make it through the 0-3 years with our sanity in tact.  And the only conclusion I come to is this: we must keep pushing foward, every day, no matter how impossible things may seem.  Life will be messy, complicated, and exhausting, but we will continue to muddle through, day after day, year after year.  We will build a life for ourselves and our son.  An imperfect life, to be sure, but one filled with laughter and love.

And we will not regret it, no matter how chaotic our house becomes.       

Monday, July 18, 2011

This Week's Menu Plan - Week of 7/18


Trey is tired of restaurant food!
Today, instead of posting a single recipe, I thought I'd share our meal plan for the week.  I always enjoy reading other people's menus; they're a great source of inspiration, particularly when I've fallen into a bit of a cooking rut.

We've just gotten back from 10 days at the Jersey shore, where we ate our fill of rich, heavy meals.  So for the next week, we'll be keeping it simple, focusing on fresh, organic produce and grass-fed meats (click here for more information on how I choose organic products).

Breakfasts
Banana Raspberry Muffins (recipe coming soon)
Peanut butter and banana smoothies
Homemade cinnamon buns
Fresh fruit

Lunches
Tricolor tortellini with organic tomato sauce
Burritos (from the freezer)
Italian Quesadillas (recipe coming soon)
Leftovers

Dinners
Dinner at my mom's house (probably homemade pizza or paninis)
Beef soft tacos, black beans, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese
Easy Greek Chicken Wraps
Rotini with Creamy Pesto and Oven Roasted Tomatoes (recipe coming soon)
Spinach Alfredo Pizza (recipe coming soon)
Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh corn on the cob, broccoli au gratin
Fruity Chicken Salad Wraps (this is a new recipe; if we like it, I'll share it soon!)

What will you be eating this week?

For more great meal ideas, visit Menu Plan Monday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More Summer Fun


At the top of the Cape May lighthouse.

This Friday, I'm taking a break from the How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom series.  We're still having fun at the Jersey shore, and Trey is playing and learning new things every day.  Since my last post, he's...

...climbed the Cape May lighthouse.

...become the proud owner of two pet hermit crabs.

...tasted lemon sorbet for the first time.

...jumped into the pool with Daddy, over and over again.

...visited the white leopards at the Cape May Zoo.

...read lots of new books, including Where Is Baby's Beach Ball? and I Loved You Before You Were Born.

...watched the Coast Guard running cadence in front of our hotel.

...helped Mommy and Daddy find the best fudge in Cape May.

...learned how to throw and catch a beach ball.

...flirted with about a million waitresses.

Trey is having a blast, and so are we.  There's nothing we love more than spending time together as a family!

How are you learning and playing with your kids this weekend?

(Full disclosure - if you click the links in this post to purchase Where is Baby's Beach Ball? and I Loved You Before You Were Born (or other items), from Amazon, I will receive a small payment.  If you're not comfortable with that, but still want to buy the books, please open a new browser window to make your purchases.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ask The Gentle Mom: Feeding Toddlers

Trey eating his afternoon snack: peas, cheese, blue corn tortilla chips, fresh blackberries, and leftover breakfast smoothie (stored in the fridge, of course!)
Please, please can you help me?  I have no idea how to make sure my toddler is getting the correct portion sizes of fruits, grains, veggies, etc.  How much is a toddler supposed to eat?  How much do you feed your son?  -Aimee

Thank you so much for asking, Aimee.  This is a really complicated question.  I think if you asked thirty different parents, they would give you thirty completely different answers!

I'll be happy to tell you how we handle feeding issues in our house.  Our method works well for us, but remember - it certainly isn't the only "right" way to offer meals and snacks.

Donnie and I are fans of Ellyn Satter's philosophy of a "division of responsibility" when it comes to feeding kids.  Parents are responsible for deciding the what, when, and where of feeding; kids are responsible for deciding whether and how much.  This can be a difficult concept for some parents to accept, but it works very well for us. 

I offer Trey healthy foods at regularly scheduled eating times; he decides whether or not he's going to eat, and, if so, how much.  Donnie and I don't make a big fuss either way.  We don't encourage Trey to eat more or less than he wants; we don't criticize him for refusing to eat; and we don't praise him for cleaning his plate.  We just serve him a meal, and let him be.

We try to offer a good mix of new and familiar foods at each meal.  That way, Trey is exposed to a variety of tastes and textures, but he always has something he enjoys to fall back on.  We trust that Trey will eventually grow to like most of the things we give him, even if he doesn't at first.  When he rejects a food, we don't force him to eat any more of it; we just offer it again another day.  He has learned to enjoy many different foods simply by repeated exposure.

We make a point of serving healthy, nourishing meals and snacks, consisting of fresh produce, high-quality meats, and whole grains.  We never offer Trey "junk" food.  However, if he sees us eating something unhealthy, and asks to try it, we allow him to do so.  We don't want to create the impression that any foods are "forbidden."  Our goal is not to prevent him from ever eating anything unhealthy; but rather, to cultivate in him a love of good, wholesome, nutritious foods.

Trey eats regularly scheduled meals and snacks throughout the day.  He isn't much of a morning person, so I keep his breakfast simple: a smoothie made from milk, peanut butter, and bananas.  He's also welcome to share the food on my plate, if he wishes.  For lunch, I offer him whatever Donnie and I are eating (usually leftovers from the previous evening's dinner).  Around 4:00, I serve a snack that contains a small portion each of fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and protein.  At dinnertime, Trey eats the same thing Donnie and I do - a meal that contains healthy grains, protein (from meat, dairy, or beans), and fresh produce.  On the rare occasions that Donnie and I eat dessert, Trey is welcome to have some (usually homemade cookies or cakes).

I don't worry too much about how many servings Trey eats of any particular food group on any given day.  By the end of each week, he's usually sampled plenty of different fruits, veggies, grains, and proteins.  As long as we keep offering, he keeps eating.

Our goal is to teach Trey to love healthy, nutritious food.  Donnie and I want him to start eating when he's hungry, and stop when he's had enough, without us telling him how much he "should" eat.  We trust him to try different foods as they're offered,  and also to decide whether or not he wants to eat them on any given day (I don't feel that the two are mutually exclusive).

So far, this method has worked well for us.  Trey enjoys a variety of different healthy foods (as well as some that are rather lacking in nutritional value!)  He seems to be quite comfortable with not only his own appetites, but also his ability to decide how much or how little to eat at any given time.  He isn't a big eater, but he is healthy, strong, and thriving.  We couldn't ask for anything more.

How do you decide what to feed your toddler?  What are the "food rules" in your house?  Do you let your kids eat as much or as little as they like, or do you impose portion control?  How do you deal with junk foods?    

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fun in the Sun

Image credit
Donnie, Trey and I are on vacation in Cape May, NJ, with our extended family.  Trey is having a wonderful time playing and learning every day.  Since we've been down here, he's...

...visited an antique car show.

...eaten lots of pineapple gelato.

...scribbled with sidewalk chalk.

...blown colorful bubbles.

...played in the swimming pool until his skin turned blue.

...splashed in the Atlantic ocean with his daddy.

...dug deep holes in the sand.

...taken a long, moonlit walk along the Cape May Promenade.

...found lots of beautiful rocks and shells on the beach.

...eaten in several fancy restaurants - and behaved himself very well.

I'm so thankful that my mom made it possible for us to take this wonderful vacation with Trey.  He's having a blast, and we're loving every second of it!

Where does your family vacation?  What do you do while you're there?  What are your favorite tips for traveling with kids?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Angel Hair with Arugula, Ricotta, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes


Trey loves this simple, healthful vegetarian dish (although he usually picks around the vegetables).  I like to serve it with a side of steamed, fresh broccoli, and some Buttery Texas Toast.  The best part about this meal is that it's a snap to prepare!

Angel Hair with Arugula, Ricotta, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

1 lb angel hair pasta
1 lb arugula
4-6 tomatoes, oven roasted and cut into bit sized pieces
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup boiling water (can use some of the pasta cooking water)
8-10 torn, fresh basil leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook the angel hair according to package directions, until "al dente."  Drain and place in a large bowl.  Top with the arugula, tomatoes, cheeses, olive oil, cooking water, and basil.  Mix together until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

This recipe is proudly shared at Menu Plan Monday and What's On Your Plate?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Frugal Fridays: How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom, Part 3: Lowering Your Grocery Bill


Note: this post is Part Three in an ongoing series.  You can read previous entries here.

One of the best ways to reduce your spending as a single-income family is to lower your grocery bill.  Fortunately, it's not hard, and you don't have to become one of those scary Extreme Couponers you see on TV!

There are a few simple steps you can take to start saving right away.  As you become more comfortable with bargain hunting, you'll naturally become more proficient, and your weekly grocery bill will plummet.  In a few weeks, I'll also be sharing some frugal cooking tips which should help you save even more in the kitchen.
Accumulate some coupons.  There's no need to dumpster dive or use a professional clipping service to start a decent coupon collection.  Subscribe to the Sunday paper, check coupons.com a few times a week, and let your friends and family know you'd be happy to have any coupons they don't want.  Sort them into a few labeled envelopes (meat, dairy, vegetables, frozen foods, etc), and you're all set.

Read the weekly circulars.  Some people recommend going to every store every week, and buying up all the best deals.  Personally, I think that's a waste of time, unless the deals are incredible.  You're better off just checking the circulars every Sunday, then visiting one or two stores with the best deals.

Make a list.  As you read your grocery store ad(s), take note of any good prices you see, then check your collection for matching coupons.  Whether you actually decide to buy an item that's on sale will depend on a few different factors: whether you have a coupon that makes it even cheaper; whether the item is a staple in your family's diet, something you enjoy eating occasionally, or something you would never usually buy; whether you know you can get it for a much better price at another store, and so on.  Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what to buy.  Just be sure to write down everything you plan on purchasing (I like to jot the price down next to each item, as well).  Don't forget to include pantry staples you'll need regardless of whether they're on sale (milk, eggs, produce, and so on).

Plan a menu.  Take a look at your grocery list, then check your fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Ask yourself, "What can I make that uses the sale items on my list, plus the stuff I already have on hand?"  You probably won't be able to come up with a complete menu using only those ingredients, and that's okay.  Just choose meals that include as many of your sale and on-hand items as possible, then add any additional ingredients you'll need to your list.  For instance, if you have ground beef on your shopping list, tortillas in your freezer, and salsa in your pantry, you may want to buy some refried beans and have beef and been burritos.

Don't be brand loyal.  Sometimes you'll be able to get your favorite brands at rock bottom prices, by combining coupons and sales - and sometimes you won't.  In that case, it just makes good frugal sense to try different brands (including private label or "generic" items).  Choosing foods by price, rather than the names on the box, will often save you a dollar or two per item - and that really adds up!  Plus, you may discover that you can't taste a huge difference between premium brands, bargain brands, and even no-frills store brand items.

Be vigilant at the store.  When you get to the grocery store, buy only what's on your list.  Don't roam the aisles checking out new products, and don't give into your kids' requests to buy everything they see.  Simply purchase the items you need, and leave.  Believe me, those little "extras" (a bag of chips here, a box of cereal there) can really add up!

Stick to your menu.  The hardest part of frugal meal-planning is actually following your menu throughout the week.  This is why it's so important to choose meals you enjoy, which can be prepared in a reasonable amount of time.  Personally, I'm much more likely to order takeout on any given evening if I don't like the meal I have planned, or if it takes hours to prepare.
These tips have helped me save hundreds of dollars a month on our grocery bill.  The best part is, this is only the first step on your savings journey.  Next week, I'll show you how to save BIG TIME on personal care items and toiletries - without a lot of hassle!

For more money-saving tips, visit Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ask The Gentle Mom: Schedules for Toddlers

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Do you have a schedule for Trey?  If so, how strict is it?  I'm reading so many different things about the best way to schedule a toddler's day, and I'm completely confused.  I'm looking for some real life examples to help me decide.  Thanks!  -Tracy

Hi Tracy!  Thank you so much for your excellent question.  I understand your confusion.  Scheduling is a topic that people feel pretty strongly about, so most of the recommendations out there are rather...passionate.  It can be hard to make up your mind in such a volatile environment!

Yes, Trey and I do have a daily routine, but it isn't rigid at all.  In fact, I've been criticized pretty sharply for my lax attitude towards scheduling (and bedtime in particular).  But, as in all things, my primary goal is to respect Trey's unique, individual needs.  He's a person, with his own tendencies and preferences.  There's no reason for me to shoehorn him into a strict schedule that meets my needs, but not his.

And so, Trey's daily life is very relaxed.  Although activity times and durations often vary, his day generally looks something like this:

10:00 AM - wake up, breakfast, get dressed
11:00 AM - play independently while Mommy cleans up the kitchen
11:30 AM - play with Mommy
12:30 PM - help Mommy make lunch
1:00 PM - lunch with Mommy and Daddy
2:00 PM - nap
4:00 PM - snack with Mommy (and sometimes Daddy, depending on his work schedule)
4:30 PM - help Mommy do household chores
5:30 PM - play with Mommy (and sometimes Daddy)
7:00 PM - go for a walk with Mommy (and sometimes Daddy)
8:00 - help Mommy and Daddy make dinner
9:00 - dinner with Mommy and Daddy
10:00 - family time, shower with Daddy, get ready for bed
11:00 - bedtime

Naturally, there are days when Trey wakes up early or sleeps late; days when he naps for much longer than two hours; days when he is playing by himself so well that I get much more work done around the house; days when he's so clingy that we do little other than nurse and prepare meals; and, of course, days when Trey stays up past 11:00 because he isn't tired.  And we're just fine with that.

Donnie and I see no reason to impose rigid guidelines on a toddler's life.  But we also understand that young children crave consistency.  This is why we try to keep mealtimes, nap time, and bedtime fairly regular.  We don't force Trey to eat or sleep if he isn't ready, but we do actively initiate the sleeping and eating processes at around the same time every day.  As long as we do that, the rest just seems to fall into place without much effort on our part.

Do you follow a schedule with your kids?  What does it look like?  Do you spend much more time taking care of your house than I do (I'm betting the answer is "yes!") 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gentle Books: Twenty Favorite Rhyming Picture Books

Donnie and I love reading aloud to Trey.  We particularly enjoy simple, silly stories that rhyme.  Sometimes we even sing the words, instead of just reciting them. 

Here are twenty of our favorites - books that are truly a delight to read aloud!

by Sandra Boynton

by Bill Martin, Jr.
 
by Bill Martin, Jr.
and John Archambault
 
by Dr. Seuss
 
by Richard Buckley
 
by Dr. Seuss
 
by Eric Carle
 
by P.D. Eastman
 
by Dr. Seuss
 
by Al Perkins
 
by Maurice Sendak
 
by Bruce Degen
 
by Nancy White Carlstrom

by Sandra Boynton
 
by Audrey Wood

by Maurice Sendak

by Dr. Seuss
 
by Lucy Coats

by Emily Perl Kingsley

What are your favorite rhyming read-alouds?

(Full disclosure - if you click the links in this post to purchase these books (or other items), from Amazon, I will receive a small payment.  If you're not comfortable with that, but still want to buy the books, please open a new browser window to make your purchases.)
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