Sunday, May 31, 2009

KIDDOS: Throwin' a Girly Birthday Party on a (very tight) Budget

Two days after I got laid off my baby girl turned one. Two weeks later my older daughter turned five. While we didn't exactly plan to have two April babies (July must be my fertile month), it turns out that both our children will be forced to have joint birthday celebrations for at least a few years to come. We had just sent out invitations to 40 friends and family the day before my layoff and needless to say, when the party rolled around, we weren't in that much of a celebratory mood, nor was our recently shocked budget.

I'm not really into big, elaborate kids parties of any kind, and love making much of the necessary birthday needs by hand when possible. Also, since we are abiding by The Compact this year, it made the party even more of a challenge to plan. Especially when Lucy decided on a Tinkerbell party theme. My mom saved the day there, as she purchased Tinkerbell plates, napkins, a tablecloth and happy birthday banner, since she wanted to contribute and knows about both The Compact and The Layoff. I decided to mix it up with some other cute, whimsical decorations I had around the house. I made each girl a birthday crown out of recycled cereal boxes, decorated with vintage rick-rack, Contac paper, and fabric scraps; Lucy's had a "5" on it and Alice's a "1."The decorative highlight, however, was the handmade fabric banners their Auntie Crystal, a retro mama with amazing sewing skills, whipped up for the party. I LOVE THEM, and plan to reuse them for years to come, keeping them in good enough shape to pass on when Alice and Lucy are moms themselves. My parents made me this cake from an early 1970s Baker's Coconut cookbook for my first birthday. I recreated a version of it for Lucy's first birthday party in Minneapolis and again for Alice's first. I also made the cupcakes for Lucy's birthday, complete with the bright feather toppers from items found in our various craft tubs. Since it was an afternoon party we didn't spend a lot on food; the night before I hit Costco for a veggie tray, fruit platter, tortilla chips and a tub of their delicious seven layer Mexican dip. We got our extended family to contribute beer and I bought a box of wine for the adults. For games, we filled plastic Easter eggs, which I already had a ton of, with candy and gum and hid them all over the yard. I had purchased a reindeer pinata at Christmastime for cheap, and retrofitted her to be a spring fawn and filled her with candy too. Each of the kids at the party got a brown paper sack for all their candy, and that operated as their treat/party bags. The weather was lovely, so we all sat around the yard chatting, eating, drinking, and watching the kids thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is what kids' birthday parties are all about, right? And all for a little time, ingenuity, and less than $100.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Top Ten Tips + Expert Advice for new SAHMs

So now that I've been working this new gig as a full time stay at home mom for two full months now, I think I'm qualified to share some newfound wisdom. Or, at the very least, I guess I feel like I've earned the right to subject you to my chaotic mom ramblings. The transition from the career driven world we once occupied, ladies, into the world of a happy homemaker isn't, well, always happy. It's been an incredibly rough journey for me, at least, which may be compounded by the fact that I returned from a week vacation to a surprise from my boss. Guess what?! You no longer have a job! As a result, our lives have been topsy-turvy and it's caused me to reevaluate a lot of things, including our budget, lifestyle, my career, the kind of person I am and want to be. In other words, to quote my beloved Dixie Chicks in the song "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice," it turned my whole world around, and I kinda like it.

So here are some hints, tips, bits of advice, myths busted, and that sort of thing:

1) Your to-do list will be longer than it ever was when you were working outside of the home. Being here, you realize things like ants come inside and carry away stray Cherrios (need to spray) and your oven is coated in black (time for a cleaning).

2) You will never be able to keep up with this lengthy to-do list because you'll be too busy changing diapers, giving baths, getting out dress up clothes, wait, filling the swimming pool, and now turning on the sprinkler, and getting rid of that cat puke before your baby eats it, oh, it's too late, so you'd better get online to see if you need to call poison control over this one, and then you find out it's okay so you check Perez Hilton for the latest celebrity checking into catch my drift.

3) Have a box of wine in your kitchen and don't be afraid to use it.

4) There will be days where your daughter eats nacho cheese CornNuts for breakfast and never changes out of her pajamas. And it's okay.

5) Your new boss may be just as difficult and demanding as your old one, or even more so. You still have to clean up her shit, deal with her tantrums, listen to her whining and do everything for her. But this one gives cuddles, kisses, smells yummy and loves you.

6) You never have to wear nylons again. In fact, you can wear your favorite Levis, tank top, and flip flops every day of the week, ladies.

7) Your house will be messier now that you are in it full time with two kids under 5 than it ever was before. This came as a surprise to me at first. It will not be clean. Ever.

8) Schedules be damned. You had enough accounting for your time at your former workplace. At first, I tried to designate this day to laundry and that day to storytime at the library. It became impossible to stick to and I just felt like a failure (which god knows I don't need). Also, it's the beginning of summer. We make smores in the firepit past bedtime and play too long at the park.

9) Join Facebook. Or Twitter. Start a blog. Or at least surf the web to see what other new SAHMs are doing, feeling, hating, loving, and learning. This can be an isolating profession in many ways, and it's nice to know you aren't alone.

10) This new career is harder than my last one. But it is also more meaningful and fun. Take it for what it is - enjoy napping with your baby, teaching your toddler to build sandcastles, wearing a tiara and a clown nose all day long. Clip coupons, bake cookies for your neighbors, have a yard sale. Don't worry about tweezing your eyebrows today and, sometimes, let happy hour start at 4pm.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

ARTSY: Threadless Tees

A friend turned me on to Threadless tees many years ago, and I own several (including the half done Paint By Numbers one and the sweet little til death do us part number called "Evolution" pictured above). Threadless is a community-based tee shirt company with an ongoing, open call for design submissions. They pay artists or graphic designers who come up with quirky images and slogans if they make it through the online voters forum. Anyone can vote or submit and it is a great little program with fantastically priced items made in the USA, as the tees are usually Hanes or American Apparel (a bit of advice, order a size larger as they tend to run small). Sign up for their weekly emails to get notices on their $10 sales, which is how I acquired this cutie:
And this one for my daughter's 2nd birthday when her favorite song was "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" (their children's tees are darling):

If you haven't heard of Threadless Tees or ever purchased one, I highly suggest you check out their great website and get onboard. You might just find the perfect one for that sarcastic teenager in your life or for your crazy grandma. But hurry quick, as the limited runs sell out fast.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FOODIE: Yummy Yogurt Smoothies + Frozen Pops

Yogurt smoothies are a favorite in my house, usually for breakfast, but are really yummy at any time of day. There are really no rules when it comes to smoothie making, just throw in what you have or love. For us, this usually consists of:

-about 1 cup of orange juice

-about 1 cup of yogurt (usually plain or vanilla, but any flavor will do)

-1 frozen banana (you can also use fresh, but freezing your overripe bananas for smoothies is a great way to reduce food waste)

-a handful of berries (also usually frozen)

-about 1 tablespoon of either honey or Agave nectar (the latter being our FAVORITE)

We toss it all in the blender and mix, adding a little more of something if desired after taste testing. I usually make an extra large batch, so we can all have one for breakfast and then pour the rest into homemade popsicle molds for treats later in the week or even a quick breakfast on the run. I bought the popsicle molds at IKEA years ago for $1.99. I also see them at Winco quite often and you'd be surprised how much you use them, especially if you have kids. It's super easy and fun to make your own healthy frozen pops, especially as summer is just around the corner!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Livin' The Compact in 2009

I have always been a thrifty gal who gets a thrill out a great deal, be it after Christmas sales at the mall or a fabulous retro find at a flea market. Most of my wardrobe since high school has consisted of funky items from the Goodwill mixed with stuff from the clearance rack at Old Navy. I'm also a sucker for well-loved antiques or other misfit cast offs. I love both their history as well as their potential, and have rescued many a defunct piece of furniture, painted it, and turned it into a great new find. It isn't just thriftiness or living on a budget that has drawn me to this type of lifestyle, though, but also the importance of reusing as a major component in recycling. Over the years our family has become avid recyclers, and we try to produce as little waste as possible, buying in bulk, using our own shopping bags, reusing yogurt containers and cereal boxes as building blocks for Alice, and taking our travel coffee mugs to Moxie Java. So, it probably wasn't a big surprise to Eric when just after Christmas I announced that I wanted our New Years Resolution to be committing to The Compact for one year.

There is one simple (or not so) rule of The Compact: buy nothing new for a year. The Compact is an idea that started a few years ago with a group of people in San Francisco and has since spread nationwide. The group has several stated aims:

1) To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc.

2) To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er)

3) To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

We've agreed to follow two principles:

#1 Don't buy new products of any kind (with some exceptions like food, toiletries, and underwear!)

#2 Borrow, barter or buy used

Eric and I had been trying to simplify our lives for a while, and the idea of The Compact really appeals to us (admittedly, more to me than him, but he has been converted). We knew it would be a challenge, but we were up for it. We live in such a materialistic society, one that got us into this economic crisis in the first place. And even for us, it was still going to be hard to break those old habits of purchasing new. The fundamental question for us was (and still is): will we be happy without as much stuff in our lives? We're well into month 5 and I have to say, we are.

Monday, May 11, 2009

FOODIE: The Idaho Fry Co.

A couple of weeks ago our dear friend Michele from Oregon came to visit for the weekend. Our times together are always filled with laughter, relaxation and good food. After a long morning of walking through Julia Davis Park and all over the BSU campus, we were starving. We wanted something simple, quick, and kid-friendly, as the girls were getting pooped at this point and needed naps. We had heard mixed reviews about the newly opened Idaho Fry Co. but are suckers for burgers and fries (um, who isn't?!), so decided to give it a try.

The place is located in a nondescript strip mall on Broadway Avenue in Boise, in between an Avon shop and a new Middle Eastern restaurant. The decor is modern and the art of a local artist, Ben Wilson, covers the walls, which I always like to see. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon when we arrived, and the small, hip shop was pretty busy. The staff was sweet and helped us decipher the confusing menu and ordering process. We decided on three bison burgers and 5 different kinds of fries. The Idaho Fry Co. prides itself on promoting the fry to the head of the class, featuring it as the main dish and the burger as the side. I can't remember all the names of the types of potatoes we ordered, and they don't have a menu on their website, probably since their fry options change almost daily. We had some russets, blue potatoes, and a sweet purple Hawaiian potato fry. The fries are dished up in fancy paper cones, and the burgers on a minimal restaurant platter. They also offer almost 20 different dipping sauces, from black bean to molasses. I have to say, after trying them all, we agreed that the traditional fry sauce was our favorite. Our bill totalled around $40 - not really a cheap lunch for three.

I really wanted to love this place, as I wholeheartedly support local businesses, especially those using organic, local, and fresh ingredients. I can forgive the confusion of the servers (they were slow and messed up our orders), as they, too, are just learning the tricks of the trade. I have to say, however, that the food wasn't as wonderful as I'd hoped and the limited menu is bit gimmicky and not quite diverse enough to make you want to come back again. There are a lot of burger and fry joints in Boise, and I'm not sure their fancy take on the fry is enough to keep them in business, especially with their high prices in this difficult economic time. I do wish them the best and hope they keep experimenting and expanding their ideas. If you live in the Boise area, give them a try - your burger and fry palate may be more sophisticated than mine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

THRIFT + STYLE: The Hair Experiment

So, I've always had problems with a dry scalp and, consequently, dry hair. Over the years, I've gotten more gray hair, continually colored or highlighted it, and have watched it change from thick and curly to course and wiry from pregnancy to pregnancy. Like most ladies, I've experimented with a variety of shampoos and conditioning treatments, from cheap drugstore brands to expensive ones from salons. They all work for a bit, but always seem to have some unlikeable side effect like making my hair feel sticky or oily or stripping my expensive highlight job. About nine months ago, in a postpartum dry scalp funk, I started to do some more online research about natural remedies and came across a magical recipe starring these two simple household ingredients:

Oh wonder of wonders! Two things that we have always had in our pantry have changed my world. I first read about this solution here and immediately gave it a shot, altering the amounts for my short hair. I use two reusable plastic breastmilk bottles that came with my pump that I never used to mix 1 tablespoon baking soda with 4 oz of water. I pour it over my hair in the shower once or twice a week (there has been lots of research done about only washing your a few times a week), paying careful attention to rubbing it into my scalp. I leave it on for a few minutes, rinse, and create another mixture with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar mixed with 4 oz of water, pour that on my head, and rinse. I was reluctant to believe that my head wouldn't smell like Easter eggs once I got out of the shower but Evany was right. It really does smell like I've been swimming in a mountain lake. And my hair feels noticeably soft and clean and shiny. I was admittedly sceptical of this at first (can it really be that easy? or cheap?), but I've been doing this since August and love the results. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 4, 2009

STAYCATION pt. 3: Cleo's Ferry Museum + Nature Trail

For the final part of our staycation, we headed south on Highway 78 and turned off onto Highway 45 as they met at the Snake River, just between Murphy and Melba. We turned into Dan's Ferry Service gas station and headed down the hill, with old metal equipment, toys, tricycles and planters leading the way. A hand painted billboard announces the entry into Cleo's Ferry Museum and Nature Trail. It was our first time there and although the weather had turned a sunny and warm 60 degrees, we were the only visitors. From what I understand of the history, Cleo Swaye and her husband, Dr. Swayne, built the eclectic vernacular art environment on this idyllic section of the Snake River in the 1970s. Dr. Swayne's medical office was there, as well as their home. The couple built a variety of other rock structures to house their eccentric collections of oddities, including unusual medical supplies, clocks, religious artifacts and other antiquities. Dr. Swayne died in the late 1970s and his wife, Cleo, operated the facilities until she died last spring. There are caretakers who live on the site and manage the Nature Trail portion but sadly, the museum buildings have not been open to the public since Cleo's death (the board of trustees, which consists of family members, is trying to decide what is best for the property and collections).
We got out the stroller and headed up the paved Nature Trail, signing in at the kiosk and dropping a donation in the box (entry is free, but donations are welcome). Handcrafted birdhouses line the trail, as well as a plethora of religious signage, asking you to "believe in Jesus" and "tame your troubles." The trail offers sweet little respites, like the pond and meditative area Lucy discovered (above) as well as a replica tomb of Jesus. The God is Love Chapel has hosted over 140 weddings and a charming little family cemetery is also on the site.
There are an insane amount of bronze sculptures along the trail, depicting the Virgin Mary, children at play, and even a life size tribute to Albert Einstein. Our favorite part of the Nature Trail, however, was the Enchanted Forest.
It included all the things fairytales are made of: twisted trees, gnomes, fairies, mushrooms, frogs, and children. The girls loved it.
The trail wanders around in a circle, leading you back to the cluster of museum buildings and the home. The caretakers, a lovely couple, greeted us, told us a little about the history of the place, and even let the girls feed the peacocks on the property.

Cleo's Ferry Museum + Nature Trail is truly a hidden Idaho gem. We spent about 1.5 hours out there, and it was time well spent. We plan to head back out there in December, if not sooner, for their annual holiday lights display. I couldn't recommend this place more. There is a lovely picnic spot, so bring your lunch and make an afternoon of it. Or at least grab some CornNuts and sodas like we did up at the gas station. And don't forget to check out the handcrafted public outhouse while you're at it. It's worth it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

STAYCATION pt. 2: Givens Hot Springs

After lunch at The Orchard House, we headed south on Highway 55 through the darling little town of Marsing, where we got onto Highway 78 for an afternoon of leisurely swimming at Givens Hot Springs. Founded 127 years ago, the site was settled by the Givens family, who were Oregon Trail pioneers. They created some private pools that became so popular, especially with miners who looked for the miracle waters to soothe their ailments, that the Givens' built a hotel in 1903. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1939, but there is still a campground and the current poolhouse was built on the site in 1952.

We got to the pool around 1pm and paid the $19 for admission ($7 per adult, $5 per child, and babies swim free). The caretaker, who is a descendant of the Givens family, was very kind, and gave Lucy a quarter from the register and kept calling her "Two Bit." The poolhouse seems to be pretty much in its original 1950s condition (with a working telephone booth still out front, which was a pleasant surprise for me). The dressing rooms (complete with showers) and the pool were both clean and spacious. The pool water was warm and lovely, and there is a separate wading pool for little ones (you can see Eric, Lucy and Alice in it above). Fun floaty devices can be rented for minimal fees (we brought our own). There were only a few families with young children, so the atmosphere was pretty calm. After about 2 hours we decided to move on to our next adventure, and finished up our stay at Givens Hot Springs with 25cent Popsicles that we ate outside in their picnic area. A great time was had by all, and we felt like we were celebrating summer early!