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Dear Owen,

You are ONE! I’m not quite sure where this year went, but in the blink of an eye you went from a wrinkly, mushy infant to a laughing, moving, curious, intelligent, fabulous toddler. You won’t remember it, but to celebrate your first year on earth, we had a big party in the backyard with family and friends. It had been raining for days, but on the morning of your party the sun came out and it tuned out to be a beautiful, fun day. You had your first taste of cake, and while you liked it, you didn’t smash it into your face as I expected, rather picked up pieces deliberately and ate them one by one. You’re so funny!

You amaze me every day. Watching you learn new things is such a joy and I am surprised constantly when you show me the things you can do. Everything from cruising around the house (how DID you get over there?) to trying to put socks on your feet. You know that socks go on your feet! Who taught you that? You are such a sponge, absorbing the world around you.

You’re not a walking on your own yet, but I know that’s coming soon. You’re still babbling away a mile a minute (“that! that! that!” to every single thing), and your vocabulary grows by leaps and bounds every day. Of course, I think Dada and I are the only ones who know what most of your words mean, but we understand you for the most part. My favorite is when we ask, “Where’s your bum?” and you smack your bottom while saying “Diaper!” Cracks me up every time.

You are still nursing, but we are slowly working away from it in the daytime. You have started doing what I call drive-by nursing, and I’m not a fan. Basically, you toddle up to me, pull down my shirt and practically dive inside while yelling “Nuh! Nuh! Nuh!” If I’m not wearing a bra, you latch yourself on to me before I even know what’s what. We are introducing you to cow’s milk this week, and I’m hoping you will take to it and be interested in that during the day instead. We will see! I am thrilled we made it one full year of breastfeeding, though. It was a personal goal of mine and I’m glad we reached it together.

You LOVE to eat. Everything I put in front of you is fair game, except for pears and occasionally kiwis if they’re not ripe enough. Other than that, you’ll eat it all! You’ve had a little chicken, but no other meat yet. Your favorite food is bananas and you would eat it all day long if I let you. “Nana!!!” You also love cheese, zucchini and blueberries.

You adore Dada and practically do cartwheels when he comes home from work. You also call your own reflection “Dada”, which amuses me greatly. Other things you enjoy are reading, dancing to all types of music, Elmo, stacking your new wooden blocks, crawling everywhere at top speed, the dog, jumping on your mattress, going for walks in the stroller, taking a bath, brushing your hair, and standing in the window pointing at cars going by while shouting “Doh!” (window).

You have seven teeth making up the most adorable full-face smile and a laugh that is contagious. Your skin is deliciously soft and your hair is still very blond. From my estimates, you weigh about 25 pounds. Your weight has slowed down, but you continue to get longer and longer. I’m pretty sure you are going to end up being a bean stalk just like Dada.

You are such a love. You come up to us going “mmmmm”, then lean in to share big, wet kisses. You snuggle and nuzzle and love to be held.

Now, Owen, you’re not always a peach. You’re in a major whiny stage that I really hope you grow out of soon, and you like to shout “NO!” while chucking whatever is in your hand across the room. Blocks, your cup, a spoon covered in food. You have also started doing what we call the Wet Noodle, going limp and falling backwards when you don’t want to do something. Let’s move on from that, shall we? You also like to come in our bed first thing in the morning and climb all over us like a monkey, while kicking Dada and punching me in the face. You are a wiggle worm!

All in all, it’s been a really fantastic year. You made us parents, kiddo, and for that we are eternally grateful. We love you, through and through, and cannot wait to see what year two brings.

Love,

Mama

Owen and I just returned from a walk, in which we went to a local bakery to order him a birthday cake.

I am both relieved, and riddled with guilt about this.

How many of you just laughed? Rolled your eyes? I KNOW. But the guilt is real.

We’re having a fairly big party for his first birthday. Between family, friends and their children, at peak party time there will be about 35 people here. I know, he’s not going to remember it. Not one bit. I mean, he’s probably going to go take a nap before the party is even over.

But it’s really more about us than him. It’s a big milestone — our first baby turning one. And it’s a milestone for our family, too — first-time grandparents and aunties celebrating the new life that has brought them joy this year. The friends who are attending either have children around the same age who we turned to over the year for commiseration, advice, or just a laugh, or long-time friends who have watched us go from college sweethearts all the way to parents.

It’s a celebration, and we intend to celebrate hard. (We also intend to just have family parties for him in the future until maybe his 5th birthday or so.)

But back to the guilt. This is my first time throwing a big party like this and I want it to be nice. If the weather holds out (please, oh please), it will be held in our big backyard — burgers and hotdogs on the grill, a table full of salads, pastas and goodies, and kids running around playing wiffle ball and the like. (If it rains, I somehow have to squeeze 35 people into my very small home. The thought is giving me heart palpitations.) I had originally wanted to go all out with a total dog theme, but in the end decided that the party doesn’t need to look like it could be featured in a magazine, it just has to be a good time.

Once I let go of the idea that things had to be “perfect”, I relaxed and started to enjoy it more. I have some great friends who have offered to bring some dishes, so I won’t have to cook as much as I originally thought. The invitation is dog-themed and adorable, there will be dog bone cookies to go home with guests and the cake will be modeled in design after the invite.

(Personal info removed, but you get the idea. Notice the dog is Kodiak? My friend Megan listened to me ramble my idea and then created the pdf for me. She is fabulous — and for hire if you’re interested!)

The cake. The source of my guilt.

It’s a tradition on my family that a baby’s first birthday cake is a carrot cake, homemade with love by their momma. My mom made my cake, she made my sister’s cake. I planned all along to follow in her footsteps and do the same.

Except that….I don’t really like carrot cake. And more importantly, carrots tend to give Owen diaper rash and I can’t think of a worse birthday present than an itchy, sore bum. Happy birthday, kiddo. This is how much I love you.

I started looking around for another “wholesome food” baby cake, but let’s be honest, he’s hardly going to eat any of it, so other than a few bites, the whole cake will be eaten by others. So I caved.

I walked into the bakery and ordered a delicious homemade-but-not-by-me cake which will match the invitation and can be picked up ready to go on the morning of the party.

A huge sense of a relief, a huge sense of failure as a mother.

I know it’s ridiculous, I do. But a small part of me feels like I dropped the ball on this one. Even though I’m telling myself I’ve basically made every last bit of food that’s gone into his mouth over the past year and really, I can pass the baton on this one and cut myself some slack.

Right?

RIGHT?

I’ll make him a cake next year, when he can appreciate it. When I’ll only be baking for a handful of people, rather than a caravan.

I have a feeling the Mommy Guilt will only get worse over the years. I mean, if this isn’t a First World Problem, I don’t know what is. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to feel like when the guilt creeps in over actual important issues.

But for now, I’m just going to have my guilt and eat it too.

I bet it’s delicious.

Oh, hey there bloggy friends! This poor space gets neglected when it’s nice out. I can’t help it. Plus, we’re deep into First! Birthday! Party! Mode! which is occurring on Saturday, the day before my not-so-baby baby turns one. SOB. We’ll talk about that later.

Anyway!

I’ve touched on it here and there, but after a VERY successful food budget month, I wanted to come back and tell you exactly what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learned. I’m super proud of myself and surprised at how with just a little planning and practice, it is really easy to stay within a food budget. It’s a long post, but I hope it can help anyone looking to implement a food budget in their own home.

I’m writing this on Sunday, June 19th. I’ve shopped three times since June 1st and will probably go one more time before the end of the month. I am excluding the food purchases I will be making at the end of this week for Owen’s party, because that’s an abnormal addition to the budget and one that won’t happen every month.

Budget: $400/month
Spent thus far: $262.34
Balance remaining for one week: $137.66 (which is more than I will need!)

Before I go to the store, I “shop” in my kitchen. I go through the freezer to see what I have on hand already, and use that as a jumping off-point for my meal plan. I usually have chicken on hand. It freezes well and I stock up when it goes on sale. I like to buy bone-in chicken breast because it’s super versitle, but also like thighs and occasionally boneless breasts. Depending on how prices were earlier in the month, I may have some ground beef or turkey also. I also see which vegetables I have left over from the previous trip that need to be used before they go bad.

Next, I’ll check the grocery circulars to see if anything I normally buy is on sale. I say normally, because “ON SALE!” can trick you into thinking it’s something you need just because it costs less. I will make a side-by-side list of sale items at the three closest grocery stores to see if one offers a better selection for my dollar that week. To be honest, based on what we buy, I have never shopped anywhere for our regular shopping except our local, smaller market, even though I check each week, because it offers the best prices on what we eat. Plus, they have the better selection of produce and meat so I think it’s a win-win. The only exception is when we run out of K-Cups for our Keurig, or the chai I drink, neither of which the smaller store carries.

Once I’ve decided where I’ll be shopping, I write out a meal plan. This step has amounted to the biggest savings by farCreating a simple seven-day dinner menu allows me to know exactly what we will be eating, so I know exactly what to buy. No more wandering around the store trying to come up with meals on the fly — it’s already in my hand. Not only does this make the trip more efficient (absolutely key with a baby in tow), but it has helped reduce waste. Far fewer vegetables go bad in the fridge because I bought them and forgot about them. I write the meal plan on a Post-It and stick it to the magnetic notepad on my fridge. I don’t make a set “eat this on Monday” type of list, but just make sure I have a balanced menu that I can pick and choose from during the week depending on how busy the day is, what I need to defrost, etc.

Then, I make my shopping list. I refer to the meal plan to see which items I’m missing, then list out my regular basics (fruit, milk, etc.). Depending on how the previous week went, sometimes the list is short, other times it’s long. But I find they tend to balance out in the end.

After that, I’ll go through my coupons to see if there is anything relevant. I’m not an extreme couponer by any means. I go through the Red Plum flyer that comes for free in the mail each week, and occasionally I’ll print some off line for things like the organic milk we use. Checking out websites of companies you buy from often might result in some surprise savings.

Now it’s time to shop! And shop with cash. Since I’ve budgeted $400 a month, I figure an average of $100 per weekly shopping trip. Of course sometimes I will be under and others over, so I tend to bring about $140 with me when I go. The cash is tangible; an amount I can hold in my hand and know that is my window to work in, unlike a debit or credit card which can give the false sense of having more than you do. Swipe! It’s done, and you forget about it. But seeing a stack of twenties disappear holds more weight in my mind.  I also find it helps me stick to my list and avoid impulse buys. Now I’m not saying I don’t buy “fun” items, I do. But I try to only veer from the list if I know it will stay within my weekly budget, or if there is a deal just too good to pass up (like, ground turkey on super sale, for example. I might buy a few pounds and freeze them for future dinners.)

Using cash also gives me a clear idea of what I have to spend next time. Two weeks ago I had planned out our meals so well and we had eaten so efficiently, that by the end of the week our fridge and cabinets were completely bare! To restock took about $135, leaving me with $65 for the following week. I was prepared to dip into week three’s pot, but following my system, I was able to get all I needed plus “extras” (cookies!) for week two for around $50. It works!

Grocery store rewards programs are also a huge budget helper, and the store I go to has a great one. Rather than using your card to get items on sale (at this store, if they’re on sale, they’re on sale. You don’t need a card to get the sale price), for every dollar you spend you earn one point. Then you can log onto a website and redeem your points for items. There’s a whole store of things — random crap, mp3 downloads, credits at local stores — but there is also an option of earning gift cards for the very grocery store I’m already shopping from. So, for every $350 I spend, I get a $15 gift card. It might not sound like a lot, but when you factor it over the course of a year, earning on average one gift card per month, it’s like I got $180 back in my pocket to put towards groceries, which is about two weeks worth of free food.

Every store is different, so it’s worth looking into yours to see how it can best help save you money.

Is the system fail-proof? No, of course not. There will be times when I’ll spend more than I want to, or have to run back to the store later in the week because we ran out of something faster than I anticipated. Maybe I want to make a dinner that requires some items I don’t keep on hand, or I’ll run out of staples that I always have at the same time and need to stock up, causing a higher total. It happens. As the summer goes on, I’m also going to be buying more of our vegetables at the once-a-week farmers market, which might not bring the price down, but is supporting local agriculture and is super yummy.

But in general, this system has changed my budgeting forever.

I shopped yesterday. I bought dinner for five nights (all include at least one vegetable), sandwich fixings for the week (lunch meat, cheese, bread), fruits, veggies, drinks (including pricier organic milk and apple juice), yogurts and cheeses, and two kinds of cookies (mmmm). I didn’t buy any breakfast foods because we weren’t out of them yet. Unless we blow through bananas (because Owen could eat them for every meal if I let him), I shouldn’t have to go back to the store for at least six days.

I spent $68.23. Just over half of my weekly budget.

With a little planning, I’ve made a huge difference in how we spend our money, and I don’t feel like we haven’t been able to buy the food we want because of it. I am SO happy.

 

My 10-year high school reunion is coming up. TEN YEARS. This makes me feel really old. A Facebook group has been created and the day after Thanksgiving, I’ll find myself surrounded by the same people who saw me through my spaghetti-strap tank top phase (it lasted a few years), homecoming dances, awful physics classes, soccer games, house parties…you name it.

I was friends with lots of different people from different groups in high school. I had my core group, but seemed to mesh well with whoever. Over time though, I really only stayed close with one person from high school. Close in the sense that we talk on the phone, she was in my wedding, etc. The rest of those people? We’re friends. On Facebook.

What is a high school reunion like in the age of Facebook? On one hand, we already know pretty much what everyone is doing. Where they live, if they got married, had kids, traveled. We “stalk” each other daily through status updates and photo albums. We even talk to each other, even if we didn’t really talk while in school.

Because of Facebook, I’ve actually become really friendly with a group of women who while we talked occasionally in school or ended up at the same events, I wouldn’t have considered them part of my circle. Now, we’re all new moms and have been emailing, commenting on photos and even planned a get together. I’m really excited to see these girls.

On the other hand, when we walk into that room, is it going to be weird? Awesome? Somewhere in between? My graduating class had over 500 people in it. I remember sitting at graduation and hearing names I had never heard before in the past four years. Will this event be the same?

I wonder if people have changed. If the people you avoided for whatever reason have grown up, grown out of it. And am I still the person they thought I was…whatever that is? Will the boys I once flirted with be there? The girls I once rolled my eyes at? Will my high school boyfriend be there and will I introduce him to my husband? Will that be totally awkward, or surprisingly normal?

Reunions are weird. High school seems so long ago; a time you look back on, but have moved away from. I’m curious if putting all these people back in a room together will transport us back, or form into something new.

I’m both excited and apprehensive to attend. And obviously need to find something fabulous to wear, even though it will most likely be shrouded by same lame “My name is…” sticker sporting my maiden name.

Did you/are you attending your high school reunion?

 

- Remember back before I got married and I confessed that I had never had a pedicure? Well, here’s another confession: I haven’t had one since the wedding. Almost three years ago. It’s not that I don’t want to. I mean, I’ve had manicures, I just never think to get a pedicure. I always think I can spend the money better elsewhere, especially since I’m not all that kind to my feet. Case in point: I broke in those super cute skimmers I got on sale by taking a long walk with Michael and Owen. By the time we got home, my heels and baby toes were blistered and I spent the next two days popping them (ew) and applying antibacterial ointment.

Once they heal, they will callous over and I’ll be able to wear the shoes comfortably as they break in even more. After they callous over, my feet will actually look worse than they do now. But here’s the thing: I’m a shoe person (like you didn’t know.) And since I’m not talking sneakers here, that usually means some pain for beauty. I guess I’d rather have ugly feet if I can wear the pretty shoes (virtually) pain free.

And I nuts? Should I just get the stupid pedicure?

- My kid is backwards. He sat unassisted way before he rolled over. He pulled up and started cruising along the furniture before he crawled. And in the two days since he officially started crawling (no longer army-crawling, but hands-and-knees for real crawling), I am shocked to see how fast he’s progressing. He’s thisclose to just taking off and walking. I spend my day now chasing him around the house, trying not to impede his progress, but also trying to keep him from a face-meets-table situtation. Forget putting him down and watching him play with his toys. That ship has SAILED. No, no. Now we’re on the move and that’s all he wants to do. Today he’s been PISSED OFF and me all day too. Like, all day. Screeching, flailing. I don’t know what’s up with him, but I am praying that he takes one of those rare two-hour naps because whoa, could he use it. Well, let’s be honest. I could really use it.

Who says an 11-month old can’t make a mess? Not pictured: the huge pile of books he dragged off the shelf.

- So, I never got around to those budget posts. Gah, I’m all talk, aren’t I? I just…I don’t know. I didn’t do well the first month. If you’re really, really interested I can write one out for you. But in brief: Yesterday I tallied up my grocery bill for two weeks and spent less than $140! With my goal of $400/month on groceries, this is awesome. I’m super proud of myself. The biggest change to my pre-budget shopping habit was making a meal plan for the week.

I start with looking in the freezer to see which proteins I have and then go from there filling in the blanks. Sticking to not only a grocery list, but a specific meal list really cut down on unneccessary spending and buying of things I already had but didn’t remember I did. I used a few coupons here and there, but nothing significant. And all this was achieved while still buying fresh produce and meats and some organic items (specifically milk and apple juice, which tend to be pricey), and without skimping on treats. (Michael is a cookie guy and always likes them on hand. I bought a pint of ice cream that I am embarrassed to say did not last me more than three days. Oops!)

Also, I paid in cash. I had my debit card on me in case, but I had $200 for two weeks with me and I think knowing I had a tangible amount in my hand to work with made me really prioritize. Once I really master this, I’d like to tackle some other areas of spending in our lives and see if I can get those down too.

- Are there any good shows starting up this summer? I’m at a loss now that my usuals had their finales…

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