A Colourful First Birthday Party

We recently celebrated our son’s first birthday. Um, how has it been a YEAR already?!

It was a perfect Sunday, sunny and hot. I love late summer just before it tips into fall, and now we have an extra special reason to have a party every year around Autumn Equinox.

I created a Pinterest board to share our photos. Enjoy!

We love you, little man! You’ve brought so much love and joy into our life, wow. And we’re only one year in! Happy Birthday Baby…


Making Holiday Magic

As Joni Mitchell sings, “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cuttin’ down trees, they’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace…” and some of us LOVE the holidays, whereas other wish they had a river to skate away on.

Winter Solstice 2013

I for one look forward to Christmas holidays, even as a Pagan. For me, the celebrations start on Winter Solstice and carry straight through to New Years! I suppose it helps that I get along with my family and my inner child still loves the magic of the season and all the special traditions like decorating, having a Christmas tree, singing carols, baking and cooking.

This year is extra special because we have a new addition to the family. I’m already a sentimental person and I’m even more so now that I have a child. Even though he won’t remember these first few years, my wife and I have already been talking about which family traditions we will keep.

Like decorating the outside of the house and yard with lights and hanging a wreath on the door (but not before December 1st!)…

Baking special cookies that we eat only at this time of year, like ginger snaps and shortbread…

Lighting pillar candles or starting a fire as the sun sets on Solstice and keeping them (safely) burning all through the longest, darkest night (a ritual I hold dear to my witchy heart)…

Reflecting on the year you’ve had and writing down what you want to let go of, and burning it in the Solstice fire…

Finding the perfect tree and decorating it with all the beautiful and nostalgic ornaments that we’ve collected and hand made over the years…

Opening a single present on Christmas Eve, and our stockings on Christmas morning (filled with chocolate and mandarin oranges)…

Skating, tobogganing, snow-shoeing, x-country skiing, or just walking in a winter wonderland with the family…

And gathering with loved ones to sing and make merry together tops my list of favourite holiday traditions.

The way I see it, it’s a personal choice to make the holidays memorable and magical! And it doesn’t have to cost much money at all. As a dear friend recently told me, it’s about presence, not presents, yes?

Here’s wishing you all a magical Solstice, a merry Christmas, and a very happy new year!!

Saving money as New Parents

It’s no secret that having a child incurs a lot of expenses. A lot of couples who are planning to conceive worry they haven’t saved enough to be “ready” for the baby, whereas other Moms-to-be who are caught by surprise don’t have the luxury of time to build a nest egg before their little one arrives.

As I said before in my previous post, ‘How much does it really cost to have a baby’, it really depends on the individuals involved, their financial means and personalities, how much babies cost. Since my wife and I live fabulously frugal, I want to share how we are saving money now that our bundle of joy is here.

1. Breastfeeding. Not only is human milk the best possible food for human babies, it’s free. Added bonuses: it’s convenient, always with you, and feels great for Mama and Baby (once you get past the initial ouch-ness).

2. Cloth wipes and diapers. Wipes warmers seems to have a bad rap, often listed as the most useless thing you can buy, but I think that’s because people aren’t using them for cloth wipes. We just add some water and a bit of liquid baby soap, place the folded cloth wipes inside, and we have wipes for 4 days. When they are done we do it again with our remaining wipes while the used ones get washed. It’s great! And I’m sure I don’t need to convince anyone that cloth diapers save money, and are easier on the environment too.

3. Second-hand clothes. This one should also be obvious. I mean, they only wear these baby outfits for a few months! Our little guy wore a few of his pajamas only two or three times before he outgrew them. Pretty much his entire wardrobe was given to us and we gladly accepted them; even the larger sizes (we have them stored in bins).

4. Craigslist. If you need anything; crib, stroller, breast pump, Exersaucer; check Craigslist first. We got a fantastic stroller for less than half the price new, and it included the car seat adapter.

5. Accepting the generosity of friends and family. When people find out you’re having a baby, the gifts just start flowing in. Aunts and Grannys start knitting, baby showers and blessing-ways are organized, and even friends of friends and people you don’t know very well suddenly surprise you with a present for the baby. One of our friends set us up with a Meal Train, and that was an incredible help in the first month. When you are adjusting to life with a newborn for the first time, dinner delivery isn’t just welcome, it keeps you alive.

6. Track your spending. As I outlined in my previous post, ‘The Newlyweds Make a Budget’, my wife and I use a budgeting app to track our spending and stay on budget. We find that this helps us manage our money well, avoid splurging, and makes saving easier. This has been even more important since I stopped working- having only one income forces you to ‘tighten your belts’ financially. All I want for Christmas is my EI Maternity benefits…

Everything considered, we are doing pretty well. With the holidays coming we are budgeting for extra expenses, but our families understand that what makes Christmas special isn’t extravagant gifts- it’s thoughtful gestures, homemade treats, and quality time together.

So to all you thrifty parents out there, how do you save money?

Making natural baby products

As someone who cares about saving money and the planet, making my own natural baby products just makes sense. Before I even had the time to think about it, my Mother had already done the research and wild crafted the flowers. So during our last visit, we made Baby Bum Ointment and Baby Powder. It’s so easy! These recipes came from wellnessmama.com

Baby Bum ointment

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 Tbsp calendula flowers
1 Tbsp chamomile flowers
1/4 cup jojoba butter
optional: 1 tsp arrowroot or zinc oxide powder or more to thicken if needed- these will add additional drying power for really bad rashes

How to Make:
Heat a couple inches of water over medium high heat in a double boiler or small sauce pan. Melt the coconut oil in a glass bowl or double boiler top above the boiling water. Add the calendula and chamomile flowers and keep the heat going on low/medium for at least an hour or until coconut oil has started to turn yellow and smells of chamomile and calendula. Make sure to check the water level often and make sure it hasn’t gotten too hot or evaporated off.

Carefully strain the flowers out, reserving as much of the coconut oil as possible. A fine mesh metal strainer is best for this, or a cheesecloth will work, though you’ll lose more of the coconut oil. Make sure all visible pieces of the flower have been removed.

Add jojoba or shea butter to empty pot – add strained oils and warm until stirs easily – pour off into small jars.

Store in a small glass jar and apply as needed. Use a liner with cloth diapers. This is much more concentrated and effective than store-bought versions and a little goes a really long way! It can also be used for adult yeast infections or for healing of the perineum postpartum.

Baby Powder

1/2 cup arrowroot powder
1 tsp chamomile and/or calendula flowers, powdered in small mill and pestle

How to Make:
Powder the chamomile or calendula if using. Mix with the arrowroot powder and store in a glass jar or sugar shaker for easy use. Use as you would regular baby powder.

I am also planning to make our own Baby Wipes! Have you ever read the ingredients on the packages? Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Benzyl Alcohol, Hydroxymethlyglycinate… whaaaat?! No thanks. Check out the recipe and instructions HERE.

It’s so important to look past the “greenwashing” that has become popular these days. If a product says “natural” that actually means… nothing.

Next week I’m attending a Cloth Diapering 101 class led by New and Green. At this point our plan is to cloth diaper and use biodegradable eco diapers for nighttime and when out of the house for long periods, or traveling. This way we can save money and not send more plastic diapers to the landfill. Did you know they take 500 years to decompose? That means that every diaper that’s ever been used is still out there, somewhere. Rotting. Gross.

What eco-responsible choices are you making with raising your family? Do tell!

How much does it really cost to have a baby?

image from thefiscaltimes.com

image from thefiscaltimes.com

The answer to this question is, of course, subjective. There are basics that you will need, but every parent-to-be is going to spend a different amount, depending on their income, location, and personal preferences.

Since my personal preference is to be as frugal as possible without compromising quality (or style), second-hand items in good condition are the way to go. Which is great since so many people have wanted to GIFT us baby items! We were told this would happen, but my wife and I were taken aback (and still are) by everyone’s generosity. And not just friends and family — even practical strangers, friends of friends! It’s been a wonderful blessing and we have gratefully accepted nearly everything offered to us.

Early on, before I got pregnant, we made a budget (because that’s the kind of couple we are). We estimated how much we could save in the next 10 months to a year, to be ready for my loss of income and the increased expenses. Well, since I got pregnant right away, we lost a bit of that time to save, and of course unexpected things came up (like me having to pay back the government my GST credit, since my marital status changed. ouch!) so we haven’t quite reached our goal — but we’ve come pretty darn close!

Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve already spent:
$200 on maternity clothes (more than I wanted or budgeted to spend, but a life-saver!)
$100 on nursery items and decor
$200 on a stroller (from Craigslist)
$125 on our Doula deposit (we’ll owe another $125 after the birth)
$250 on the birthing tub rental (a necessary luxury for a home birth)
$55 on our prenatal classes (thanks goodness for sliding scale!)
$60 on a glider and ottoman (from Craigslist)

For a total of $990! Amazing since we budgeted to spend $1000 to get ready for baby.

Since we pretty much have everything that we need to get started, we won’t be buying anything else until after our baby showers. Fingers crossed that people get us gifts from our registry — the items we really need (no more onesies or receiving blankets! Lol!). Btw, I set up our registry through babyli.st and it’s awesome.

Another way we’ve saved money is by using our PC points to shop at Superstore. We use our PC Financial Mastercard to buy groceries every month, and once or twice a year we get to go shopping for free with the points!

For now we’ve saved enough to live on despite my loss of income and the meager maternity benefits I’ll be getting. I’m so thankful to live in Canada where we have federal maternity benefits! I know that having a child will just get more and more expensive as they grow older, eat more, take lessons and play sports, etc, but at least we can enjoy our baby’s arrival without stressing over money. Thanks Mom, for teaching me to be thrifty!

Meal Planning: Easy & Economical

My wife and I have been meal planning for years now, so it’s second nature to us. I smile when I read articles about how to simplify your life or save money on groceries and they mention meal planning. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it!

In case anyone is still unclear about how it works — and how easy it is! — I’ll break it down for ya.

You need two slips of paper for two lists, and maybe 15 minutes, tops.
One list is for your weekly meal plan, what you’d like to make and eat. For us, we just plan dinners since we take care of our own breakfasts, and lunch is often dinner leftovers, or we’ll make a sandwich, wrap, or grab something out if need be.

The other list is for the groceries you need to buy to make those meals, plus anything else you are running low on.

Before you go grocery shopping, spend this time planning, looking at what you have in your cupboards and fridge already, and what your week looks like. By knowing what you’ll be making, you know what ingredients you need to buy. Simple! This saves you money because you’re only purchasing food that you will use. We waste very little in our house because of how we plan.

Also, it’s fun having meals to look forward to. To make it even easier, you can theme your nights. For example, we often do Mexican Mondays, or Pasta Wednesdays. Meal planning saves you time at the grocery store, but also in your day, since you won’t be wasting half an hour or more figuring out what you can/want to cook when you get home from work!

Here’s a sample of our weekly dinner plan:
Sunday: Tuna Mac Casserole
Monday: Bean & Cheese Quesadillas
Tuesday: Solo (we both work late on Tuesdays)
Wednesday: Pesto Veg Pasta (soon I’ll post my recipe for homemade pesto which saves a lot of $$!)
Thursday: Coconut Thai Green Curry on Rice
Friday: Nachos
Saturday: dinner out

We also decide who is cooking what meal, according to our work schedules. It makes our life very smooth during the busy work week having these plans in place.

I should also mention that we are still open to spontaneity. Things come up, plans change, and that’s life. We can usually still make the missed meal a day or two later, or use the fresh produce in something else before anything goes bad. We find that having a weekly meal plan is a structure that gives us more freedom, not less.

Do you already plan this way? Or are you newly inspired to try it? Let me know!

Tuna Mac Casserole

A few months ago I said I’d start sharing some Practical Diva recipes, but I’ve yet to make good on that promise. So today, here is yummy, cheap, tuna macaroni casserole!

30 minutes prep, 30 minutes in oven.

1 can of white tuna (drained)
2 cups dry macaroni (shells work too)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1.5 cups of cheese, grated (my fave is white cheddar)
3/4 cup of mayo
2.5 cups of veggies- broccoli, peas, carrots
corn flakes, crushed on top

Boil macaroni as per package instructions.
Saute the onions, do not brown.
I like the throw the veggies into the boiling water with the mac for the last two minutes.
Drain, and pour mac and veggies back into the pot.
Mix in the mayo, tuna, onion and cheese.
Spread into a buttered 8×11 baking dish.
Cook at 350 for 30 minutes.
Crumble the corn flakes on top for the last 5 minutes.

This meal provides four satisfying servings. We love having the leftovers for lunch!

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