Four years of Avery Grace

Avery in the car tonight, counting down the days until she turns four

Avery in the car tonight, counting down the days until she turns four

At this time four years ago, I was in labor. Tonight, instead of timing contractions, we were putting together a princess bike and wrapping ballet slippers. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that Avery was born, but in others it seems like forever since it’s hard to remember what our lives were like without her. And who would want to?

I started to write that Avery has really come out of her shell in the past year, but who am I kidding? She was never in a shell.  She was always a character, now she just takes on new characters as she is introduced to them. On any given night she could be Queen Elsa from “Frozen,” Miranda Lambert on the Country Music Awards or Miley Cyrus singing “Wrecking Ball.” The latter is the most frightening, but fortunately she has never seen MTV. She loves to perform and has no issues being the center of attention.

Avery’s smile is infectious. She makes us laugh all the time and when I told her a few months ago that she is funny, she was adamant in her repeated response saying, “I’m not funny,” with a deadpan look on her face, which only made me laugh harder.

I used to tell Avery that if I knew they all would be just like her I’d have 100 babies. But no one is just like her. She’s one of a kind.

On this, the fourth year of the tall, skinny blonde dynamo we often call Avery Gracie, I’m so proud of my outgoing, beautiful, fun, stubborn, confident, independent, smart and compassionate little girl. We all know I’m not having 100 babies. Even if I did, none could hold a candle to her. She holds a special place in my heart and plays an even more unique role in the lives of her dad and brother.

We all love you so much and are excited to watch you ride your new bike in ballet slippers. Because tennis shoes are just too ordinary for a girl like you. Happy 4th birthday, baby girl, we can’t wait to celebrate with you tomorrow night!

Mommy guilt…let it go

I know all moms feel “mommy guilt” at some point. Monday was my day.

It’s spring break for Clay, but since this is one of the busiest weeks of the year at work I couldn’t take time off. Chase is busier than ever at work right now too, so he’s only able to take Friday off. Clay’s school offered a spring break camp, so we signed him up. He was fine with going. Camp means he gets to play sports all day long, and there is nothing he’d rather do.

The summer camp is always full, but apparently I underestimated how many parents either take time off work this week or find other child care arrangements. Chase called me after he dropped Clay off Monday and told me he was the only kid there. Now, clearly, other kids showed up just minutes after he did, and it meant he got one-on-one time with his favorite teacher. But for some reason I pictured him sitting there all alone. I felt terrible and immediately looked up the date of my work event next year, to confirm it’s not the same week as spring break (it’s not, phew!).

Still feeling guilty, I picked him up early. I walked in, feeling nervous that he’d complain about being the first kid there. Instead, he rushed over to show me the mohawk in his hair that Ms. Tracia helped him style with water. He told me he couldn’t wait to bring his football helmets the next day to finish a project with Mr. Brendon.

Crisis averted, the guilt in this case was unwarranted. As it usually is. We put so much pressure on ourselves as moms (and dads) to be there for every moment and feel guilty when we can’t.

Maybe you’re there now. Feeling guilty that you shouldn’t be at that yoga class or pedicure or girls night because you should be home with your kids. Or maybe you rush home from work, not even going to the bathroom before you leave the office because you want to see your kids that instant. I’ve been there. But at the end of the day when you walk in the door from work or the gym or the grocery store, your kids are happy to see you and that’s all that matters. The kids are all right. Now we need to let go of the guilt.

 

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

photo1. Crest White Strips
I’ve used these for years and have always had great results. I don’t drink soda or coffee or smoke, so they may not work as well for people who do, but for me when my teeth are looking a little dull, I use these for a week or two, and they’re nice and white again. You wear them for 30 minutes a day, so it’s easy to find time to do it and for $30 you can’t beat the results!

 

photo-22. Costco Egg Whites
I’ve been struggling with breakfast lately. I leave the house really early, so I don’t have time to sit and enjoy a leisurely meal, but smoothies, etc. don’t fill me up. I actually bought these egg whites for Chase to add protein to his smoothies and read on the side I could cook them in the microwave for 90 seconds, so I decided to try it. I threw in a kale, chard and spinach mix (also from Costco) and a bit of cheese and was out the door in two minutes flat. And it actually tastes good! They were about $10 for a six-pack, which I’m guessing is about a month’s worth. Cheap, easy and yummy!

 

photo-33. Target flat sandals
I hate wearing real shoes and would wear flip flops every day if I could. That’s not realistic though, so I’ve become a fan of flat sandals. For the past five years, I’ve been buying inexpensive ones at Target. They are less than $20 and while some pairs hold up better than others, I’ve had pretty good luck with all of the ones I’ve bought – both the Morena and Mossimo brands. They have lots of cute styles and in my experience they’re comfortable too. They have a better selection online, so if you can’t find ones you like in your store, try looking there.

 

unsubscribe-link4. Unsubscribe from bulk emails
In my effort to keep my email inbox organized, I’ve been working hard at paring back my email subscriptions. Opening up your email and seeing 100 new messages with only 92 you care about can feel overwhelming. Then you just leave them in there, paralyzed by the effort it would require to scroll through and delete everything. So, clothing store I bought one thing from for Christmas 2012, you’re out. I unsubscribe from at least five lists a week, and I’m noticing the difference in my email. Also, if you have to provide an email address for something, but you don’t want their future emails, give them that old AOL address you don’t use anymore.  Less clutter for you!

 

s0438582_sc75. Washable crayons and markers
When my kids were old enough to hold a crayon or marker, I made a vow to not allow coloring tools in our house that were not washable. We have a lot of white furniture (including couches), so I didn’t want to take the chance. Sometimes the kids will ask to bring home the cheap crayons from restaurants. Not happening, kiddos. I don’t want to spend hours cleaning or worse yet, the money to replace something I love. We’ve only had one slip up so far. I have a Sharpie in the kitchen that I “thought” Avery didn’t know about. A few weeks before Christmas she gave two of her princess dolls chicken pox. We tried Goof-Off, but that also removed their eyes, which was super creepy. They were immediately thrown in the trash, so I think she’s learned her lesson…as did I (the Sharpie is back in the hall closet eight feet up). With washable coloring tools, you won’t have to toss Cinderella into the big gray trash bin. Wipe her with a baby wipe, and she’s good to go!

Finding balance

I did gymnastics until I was 15. Which I laugh about now, considering it’s only after two years of Dailey Method classes that I can finally touch my toes again and only on a good day can I hold positions that require balance. I wasn’t always like this, though. My best event in gymnastics was the balance beam. Maybe it was my height – I was too tall to flip around quickly on the floor or swing between the uneven bars. I wasn’t explosive enough for the vault. But my height and lack of lower body strength did not get in the way on the beam.

Though I’d be surprised if I could even walk across the beam without falling now, it’s another kind of balance that’s been on my mind lately. The kind where I can get through the day without feeling like I’m being pulled in 10 different directions, running to catch up and wondering if I ever will.

It’s been an odd year. Not a bad one, really, but one of transition. There were many things I loved about working for myself from home, but I didn’t feel balanced. I combined my work place and my home and didn’t do a great job separating the two. I felt relieved to be free of a job I didn’t enjoy, but also felt stressed trying to plot out my future. Trying to redefine who I was, in a way that provided balance for my family.  I don’t deal well with uncertainty, and I felt anxious at times. When I did, I would do one of three things: go work out, write or take the kids to the pool. They helped to clear my head and allowed me to focus on one thing, rather than the 100 things I “should” be doing.

I had to trust myself and that I would find the right balance for my family, not certain at first that another office job would be the best route. But, it was. I’m feeling more in control being back in an office. I can separate work and play. I can give 100 percent to work in the office and 100 percent to my family at home. It’s bizarre that I feel more balanced working out of the home, but it’s who I am.

I’m sure I’ll struggle again in the future, as my career progresses and my kids have other commitments that require more of our time. But, for now, I’m taking a taking a deep breath and enjoying this time, fleeting as it may be. And looking for a balance beam to test my skills…

 

Wanting something new

By nature, your 20s are a time of transition, and thus, new things. From ages 21 to 30, there is always something new. A new job, a new apartment, a new relationship, another new job, a new city to live in. Change can be scary, but it’s also exciting. In most cases (and certainly mine), your 30s are less transitional. We have the two kids we wanted, the house in a neighborhood we love, jobs we enjoy.

For some reason lately, I’ve been thinking about people’s desire for something new in their lives. Friends of mine are still having babies, so maybe that’s where it came from. I’m thankful every day that I have the family I always dreamed of, so I don’t want another baby. Instead, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I should get a dog for the kids.

I like our house and have done a lot of work to make it the way I want it, but then my mind wanders when I stop by an open house or model home. I picture my family there and run numbers in my head to see if we can afford it. Okay, maybe I’ve done an online mortgage calculator once or twice. And casually looked at pool furniture online.

My car is paid for and in good shape, but I see the super-cute Tesla everywhere I go. Not only does the car look awesome, their website calculates “the true cost of owning a Tesla,” factoring in the time you save not getting gas. Time is money, so it’s like they are marketing to me directly!

I can only imagine how much debt in this country is a result of people just wanting something new. Because I want something and on paper can “afford it” doesn’t mean I should buy it. Except maybe that dog.

 

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

photo-41. Annual passes for local museums and attractions
My kids are lucky, living so close to fun attractions like the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Sea World. When I was growing up outside of D.C., it was the National Zoo and the Smithsonian (and they are free!), but no matter where you live there are fun museums and theme parks for your family to enjoy. I think some people shy away from these places fearing the cost. My solution? Buy annual passes! With the exception of Disney parks, they don’t cost much more than a one-day pass and offer other perks (parking and food discounts, etc.) to members. The other advantage is you can go for a few hours and get out of there before the crowds and not feel like you have to stay all day because you want to get your money’s worth.

 

photo-22. Lorac Behind the Scences Eye Primer
I love eye shadow, but it makes me crazy when it creases or fades. Before I found this product, my eye makeup would look great when I left the house in the morning, but not as great by the end of the day. I started using this primer a few years ago and no longer had this problem. It helps keep eyeliner in place too. It costs $21, but it lasts forever (six months using it every day) and saves times since there is no need to reapply makeup if you’re going out that night. (side note: I use Dior eye shadow and they work great together)

 

 

photo-33. Tarte Poreless Perfecting Primer
I guess you could say I’m into primer right now, which is interesting considering it takes an extra step (and therefore some time). The thing is it takes an extra 15 seconds, but saves you so much more when your makeup looks good all day/night. I am at work at 7:00 a.m. and this awesome product helps my makeup (Laura Mercier Silk Crème Foundation) look good until I wash my face at night. I have fairly oily skin, so this is impressive. It costs $30, but one tube lasts six months, and like the foundation brush I mentioned a while back, it makes your makeup go further, so it saves money in the long run, too!

 

 

intuit4. Intuit QuickBooks Online
I have many friends who are business owners, from direct sales consultants to Etsy shop owners and large businesses with many employees. Last year when I started my business I wanted an easy way to keep track of income and expenses, so I turned to Intuit. Their online version of QuickBooks is easy, inexpensive and organizes everything for in a user-friendly interface. I have a business bank account, which is linked to QuickBooks, so every purchase/deposit is automatically uploaded. All I have to do is log in every once in a while and click on drop downs to categorize the transactions. It took me all of five minutes to export reports for my CPA, and though it costs $12.95/month (which is a business expense for tax purposes), it saves so much time I’d pay more for the convenience alone (don’t tell Intuit though). They also offer a 30-day free trial, so check it out to see if it works for you!

 

photo5. Shout Free Stain Remover
I’ve been a fan of Shout for years, but more so in recent months as Clay now plays flag football, basketball and baseball. I don’t have time to do laundry every day, but if I let the dirt/grass/food sit on his clothes until laundry day, they’d be ruined. I spray them (pretty much every night) with Shout and they’re good for up to a week. I like this new “Free” version – no strong fragrances. It takes five seconds, costs $3 and saves his clothes. Couldn’t live without it!

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

IMG_03021. Nordstrom Rack for iPhone cases
When I bought my iPhone, I really wanted a monogrammed case. I paid way too much for it, Chase laughed at me and it didn’t even hold up very well. Hence, the need to buy a new one.  I’ve seen them at Nordstrom Rack in the past, but never took a good look before last week. They have a ton of Tory Burch and Kate Spade ones for less than $20 (regular price $50). So, if you can get out of there without buying a pair of shoes, you’re saving money!

 

images2. Costco pizza
Costco’s pizza is just like everything else there – a really good price for way too much food. The crust is a little thick for Chase, but when you get 30 pieces for $20 ($10/pizza), you can just toss the crust and get another piece. Or if you have a kid like Avery, feed it to her. Either way, it’s pretty tasty, filling and a bargain. Just remember to bring cash because the food court doesn’t take cards (I’ve learned the hard way!)

 
Unknown3.  A personal (web-based) email address
In this day and age, people rarely stay at one job for their entire career, so save yourself some trouble and get a personal email address instead of using your work one. It is a huge pain to change your email address with everyone and can also be difficult to install work email onto a smartphone or tablet. I personally use Gmail, but there are many free, web-based options.

oil4. Drive-through oil changes
I used to hate getting my oil changed. I had to get out of the car and hang out in their dingy waiting area, then some guy would come out and try to upsell me on a $40 air filter or $27 tail light. Our local place changed ownership so now I drive through, and I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes. I don’t have to make Chase take my car anymore!

 


water5. Starbucks ice water

When I was pregnant with Avery, water tasted horrible to me, but I knew I had to drink it. That’s when I became obsessed with Starbucks ice water. They filter their ice (to use in their iced drinks) and their water is delicious. Even better, it’s free! I get it every time I go order my hot chocolate and even my kids like it now, so I save some money. On Clay anyway, Avery the sweets lover still wants her chocolate milk!

 

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

valentines1. Store-bought valentines
I have fond memories of tearing through my valentines as a kid. Back in the day when you could just give valentines to kids you like and didn’t have to give them to everyone, for fear that someone’s feelings would be hurt. As much as I loved getting the valentines, I can’t tell you if the valentines were handmade or store bought. The truth is, I didn’t care. I still don’t. It’s the thought that counts, and for my family, store-bought works just fine. They cost $2.50 per box at Target and just addressing them with a three- and five-year-old takes enough time. If I had to cut and glue and write, I might lose my mind.

photo-22. Express legging jeans
I seriously considered pulling a photo off the Express website rather than using this one since not only is it not flattering, it’s blurry. But, Clay took it, and he was so proud of himself for helping that I had to use it. Anyway, I resisted skinny jeans for a long time, but I’ve given in. Turns out I actually like them, but I’ve had a hard time finding a pair with enough stretch to be comfortable, but not so much they’re falling off my backside by lunch. My brother got me jeans from Express for Christmas, and it turns out they’re great. Best of all, Express always has sales and coupons, so when I went back for another pair they were less than $50!

 

survey3. Online surveys
I’m a sucker for an online survey. There is part of me that truly wants to be helpful (the part that was tortured making up surveys in communications research methods in college), but I also know there is usually a reward at the end of the survey. To spend less than five minutes (likely while watching TV) and get a discount code or free meal, is worth it to me. I even serve on an panel for Gap Inc. that sends me occasional surveys, in return for discounts. I know there are companies that do online surveys, which probably make some great money, but I don’t think I have the time or interest for that. But, want to know about my taco buying experience in exchange for a coupon? I’m in!

photo-44. Old Navy ballet flats
I’m pretty sure I walk five miles a day at work. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but I walk all over a campus multiple times. I was cursed with feet that hurt pretty much no matter what shoes I wear, with the exception of flip flops. I bought $200 Delman flats a few years ago (on sale) because The New York Times said they were great for walking around the city. They killed my feet…and I couldn’t return them. Anyway, I was ordering some leggings for Avery a few weeks ago and saw a pair of ballet flats on sale for $7. What the heck, I thought. If they are terrible, I’ll just take them to Goodwill. The good news is they’re not terrible. They’re comfy and while not the cutest thing ever, they’re not hideous either. Which is more than I can say for my work carpet on which they were standing for this photo!

 

photo5. Throw lunch boxes and coozies in the washing machine
I’ve seen some retro lunch boxes like we used to have, but most of the time these days they’re made of fabric. The problem is, food and liquid get in them over time and they get pretty gross. I clean out the inside with baby wipes, but the outside was looking pretty dingy. We’ve had the same one since Clay started preschool, so I was willing to take a chance. I threw it in the washing machine, figuring it didn’t matter if it crumbled. To my surprise, it didn’t. And it was cleaner than it’s been in 18 months. I’m not sure why I didn’t try this before. Anyway, I later did the same thing with a few coozies that came with us to the National Championship game (and therefore smelled terrible). They’re fresh and clean again too!

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

Living Proof shampoo1. Living Proof Full Shampoo/Conditioner
I have written before about my struggles styling my hair. It’s fine, I’m impatient, so it’s usually not pretty. It looks better when I curl it, but unless I win the lottery and can get a blowout daily, that only happens on weekends. I’ve found a solution, thanks to Sephora and the samples they give when you order online. They gave me a sample of Living Proof Full products, and I tried them while we were in North Carolina. My mom and sister-in-law told me that my hair looked the best they’d ever seen it, so naturally I bought it right away. It’s not cheap ($24/bottle), but I have been using it for a few weeks and I swear my hair is fuller. The best part? I’ve been crazy busy this week and haven’t even bothered drying it, and it’s not sticking flat to my head like it normally would. A hair miracle and time saver for sure! (note: they have other lines for different hair types if you weren’t “blessed” with fine hair like me).

 

Rusk hair dryer2. Rusk Speed Freak Hair Dryer
I guess you could call this the “how to fix bad hair edition” of the Friday Five. I finally decided that I should invest in a hair dryer that cost more than $30 because often you get what you pay for. I mentioned this to my mom, so she got me one for Christmas. This one isn’t super expensive and dries my hair so quickly. It also doesn’t make it fuzzy (at least using my new fancy shampoo). Quick and easy, the way I like it!

 

carrots3. Costco Organic Baby Carrots
I know that real carrots are healthier and some would argue they taste better than baby carrots. The problem is that you have to cut and peel them to get kids to eat them. I’ve been eying the gigantic bag of carrots at Costco for a while, but didn’t buy them because I wasn’t sure if we could actually eat 1,000 carrots before they went bad. Then I realized as much as I hate wasting food, for $4, if I throw some away, who cares? Turns out, as you can see from the almost empty bag, we can mow some carrots. Easy, healthy…and cheap!

 

cookies4. Pre-Made Cookie Dough
Chase went to a friend’s house on Saturday night after the kids went to bed, and I got caught up on my magazines. InStyle had a feature on the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. They all looked so delicious that I was nearly drooling. Sadly, I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I planned to get everything at the store the next day. By Sunday morning as much as I wanted to try the new recipe, I was too tired. So, $3 and 14 minutes later, we had fresh cookies. I know they aren’t as good, but to cure a craving they work just fine and the price is right!

 

 

DN card5. Local Discount Card
Our local high school sells discount cards for neighborhood merchants to raise money for their athletic programs. For $20, you get discounts at all kinds of places and the money is for a good cause. Check to see if your neighborhood school sells something similar. Give back and save money all in one handy little card!

 

Easy Ways to Save Money on Baggage Fees!

Remember the good old days when liquid items of any size were allowed in carry-on bags? It was great…I would get off the plane and exit the airport with barely a glance at the people waiting for their items to appear at the baggage claim.

Though I’d love to be out of the airport that quickly, I can’t leave my Rodan + Fields products or favorite toiletries behind. Oh and I have two kids. So, when we travel, I have to check bags.

My mom retired from a major airline, so I understand the financial strains they’ve faced in recent years. That doesn’t mean I like paying baggage fees though, so here are some tips to save some cash:

1. Have an airline miles credit card
I’ve written about this before. I have two airline credit cards. Though I pay an annual fee on both, the benefits far outweigh the cost. Each person in your party gets one bag for free, so for a family of four flying Delta (like we did at Christmas), you save $100. 

2. Make your kids (and spouse) carry their own stuff
Each passenger is allowed one carry-on item and one personal item. I could easily overload my bag with kids’ iPads, books, coloring supplies and Chase’s laptop and DVDs. Instead, the kids each have a backpack, and Chase has a bag of his own. It’s better for my back and gives us more space for no cost!

3. Stow away extras in a car seat bag
This one only applies to parents of kids who use a car seat, but car seats are considered “special items,” so there are no baggage fees for checking them. When Clay was a baby we bought a car seat bag to keep his seat from getting beat up during our flight. I didn’t realize that the $20 we paid for it would more than make up for itself.  Not only can you check them for free, but you can also easily throw extra items in with the seat, saving room in your checked bag. We did this with our coats for trip to North Carolina. 

I always tell Chase that I know exactly how much to pack in our big suitcase to stay under the 50 pound weight limit, but the fancy new hair dryer I got for Christmas is pretty heavy, so I was over by a few pounds. I quickly opened up the suitcase and transferred a few items to the car seat bag, which saved us $100 in overweight bag fees.

4. Bring a rolling carry on 
In our family, our small rolling suitcases are commonly referred to “rollies.” These bags were my only luggage back in the pre-kid, pre-liquid restrictions days. On our Christmas trip, we brought partially empty rollies, so we’d have some extra space to bring back the kids’ favorite gifts. We didn’t have to pay for them, but with most flights now being overbooked, it’s pretty likely they’ll check them at the gate for free to save overhead bin space. We had plenty of space for Clay’s Wii and Avery’s princess dresses, and we didn’t even have to roll them through the enormous Atlanta airport.

After two weddings and a Christmas trip, we won’t be flying anywhere for a while. But, when we do I’ll be saving money on baggage. Hopefully some of these tips will help you save too!