Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Photo by vastateparksstaff, via Flickr

Before my husband even considered joining the Army, I was working in an 8th grade English class. Motivated by a conversation we had with the students regarding Veterans' Day, the teacher adopted a platoon on behalf of our classes. We had only two responsibilities: write letters every week, and send one care package a month. The results were so inspiring, I adopted my own platoon when I became a high school English teacher.

(I really want to share our amazing stories with you, but first I want to tell you how you can support our troops!)

Adopt-A-Platoon is a fantastic organization. They really have their youknowwhat together when it comes to matching you up with a soldier (or marine, sailor, or airman--all branches are supported) or unit, they make if very easy for anyone to participate, and they are extremely clear about the rules of the organization and laws regarding OPSEC. Seriously, I knew nothing about the military, or even sending packages overseas for that matter, and had a ton of questions before I signed up. Their website is so thorough and intuitive, I never had to look very far for answers, and when I did have to send an e-mail, the responses were quick, personal, and just as thorough.

Even if you don't have 150 middle school students to help you write letters every week, you can still make a difference:

  • Adopt a soldier! As an individual or small family, you can adopt up to four troops. You'll be asked to send at least one letter or card a week and one care package per month. 
  • If you feel that you will be unable to send a care package, you can sign up as a pen-pal and send a weekly card or letter. A lot of soldiers don't have access to national news or current events outside of their job, so they like to hear about what's going on "back home." We always ended up sending the sports section of the local paper with our letters along with updates on upcoming movies, celebrity gossip, and other trivia.
  • If you want to send a single care package, you can sign up specifically for a one-time campaign, like Operation Holiday Eagle or Stockings for Santa.
If you would like to involve your church, company, school, youth group, or other civic organization (Rotary, Kiwanis, Boy/Girl scouts, etc.) I urge you to consider adopting a platoon. You will be in touch with a Point-of-Contact (POC) for the unit, and there is no guarantee you will hear back from the troops, but we always did!
     The first time, we were sent a flag, pictures, and letters from individual soldiers as well as information and a brief history on their specific unit. It was a GREAT learning experience for our students. A lot of them left with a new perspective on the military and even a new sense of self, realizing that a lot of the soldiers with which they communicated were very much like them. 
     The second time, our POC actually sent us a weekly newsletter (which I read to my 11th grade classes) and they loved that he commented on their letters! Once the deployment ended, he actually took a "Thank You" tour around the country to personally meet and thank everyone that supported his unit. He came to my classroom and spoke to my students! (He also took my husband and myself out to dinner *twice*. Not to brag, but how cool is that?! And as a new military spouse, the information and advice I received from him and his wife was absolutely invaluable.)

If you are looking for a way to teach your children about giving back this holiday season or you just want to support our troops, please check out Adopt-A-Platoon.

*It may sound like an advertisement, but I was not compensated or even asked by anybody to write this post. I believe strongly in supporting our troops, and AAP truly is a wonderful organization.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is Eating at Home Cheaper?

Photo by miamism, via Flickr.

We all want what's best for our families. That goes without saying. But, there are times when we may have to choose price over quality when it comes to food. I don't know anyone who actually believes Chicken McNuggets and a small fry counts as a balanced meal, but it (usually) does cost less than buying a pack of chicken fillets and fresh vegetables, and you don't have to cook. So, how can you eat at home and save money?

First of all, you do need to compare the quality of the food you are making to the quality of food you would be getting at a restaurant.

Example: A Happy Meal costs roughly $3 (according to my .25 second Google search since I haven't actually been to a McDonald's since high school...) and an entire bag of Tyson's chicken nuggets can cost you less than $5, and that contains 3-4x the number of nuggets you would get in a Happy Meal. So that is easily a $6-$9 difference! Just keep in mind that these are both heavily processed meals, meaning that they provide little nutritional value.

The initial cost of cooking at home may be higher, since you are accounting for equipment, condiments, and spices, but once you are down to replacing only what is missing from your inventory, it can absolutely be the less expensive option.

Tips for grocery shopping:
1. Check online grocers for your staple foods. This will prevent you from browsing and picking up more food than you need. You will also save time and money because these foods will be delivered right to your door and many offer free shipping and/or discounts like Amazon's subscribe and save program. I also like this idea because you can compare prices without leaving the couch.

2. Come up with a weekly/biweekly/monthly grocery list. It is possible to do your grocery shopping for the month in one trip. Once I try it, I will let you know how it goes. :) This is the list I plan to shop from once my family is in Texas, courtesy of Again, this will help you from getting off-track and making any impulsive purchases.

3. Subscribe to a "deals and steals" newsletter. I get weekly updates from since that is tailored to what will be my local shopping area. There are tons of local, regional, and national coupon newsletters available online! (I will try to investigate the legitimacy of some bigger websites in the future.)

4. Sign up for newsletters or coupon clubs from grocery stores you visit most frequently. I am a part of the Publix Baby Club and I get really valuable coupons (including BOGO and FREE products) every quarter for baby-related items as well as some "family" related items. For example, I just got $1 off coupons for fresh meat and deli items, which are extremely hard to find.
     And for my military mamas, don't forget to sign up for the Commissary Connection. The Commissary Rewards Card also recently became available worldwide. If you use one, leave me a comment and tell me how you like it!

5. This is the oldest trick in the book, but ONLY shop the perimeter of the grocery store. My husband and I have made a habit of hitting the produce, meat, and dairy sections on our trips. That way we aren't tempted to try out the new Ben & Jerry's flavors or pick up some donuts for an "easy" breakfast. (Because scrambling eggs is just so hard...)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Things Have Changed

Before you have kids, people tell you that your life will change dramatically. When you're pregnant, you think "Well, of course. I'll have a little person who will depend on me, and I'll feel love like I've never felt before." But, oh, there is so much more. 

Trips to the Store

Before Baby:
Thought like, "Oops! Almost out of toilet paper!" pops into head.
Grab keys and purse.
Put on shoes.
Go to store.
Get toilet paper.

After Baby:
Thought like, "Crap. We're out of toilet paper. I wonder if baby wipes are biodegradable..." pops into head for the fifth time that day.
Wait for baby to wake up from nap.
Feed baby.
Change baby.
Spend ten minutes convincing yourself that nobody will notice you haven't showered, put on makeup, or changed out of your pajamas.
Decide to go to Wal-Mart (instead of someplace classy, like Target) just in case.
Put baby in car seat.
Get in car. Curse under your breath when you realize the gas gauge is *thisclose* to empty.
Do some quick math to figure out if you can get to Wal-Mart without running out of gas.
Find a decent parking spot. Easier said than done.
Attempt to finish shopping before baby poops or needs to be fed again.
Get in the shortest line you can find (behind the person who can't find their debit card, of course.)
Get the hungry, crying baby back into the car seat.
Get home, feed and change baby.
Realize you never brought in the groceries.
Unload groceries. (So much for the ice cream...)
Realize you forgot toilet paper.

Getting "Ready"

Before Baby:
Start shower.
Wait for it to get warm.
Shampoo your hair. Twice.
Wash your face.
Lather up.
Stand under running water to wake up.
Shave *both* legs, armpits, etc.
Towel off.
Blow dry/straighten/style hair.
Put on moisturizer, concealer, foundation, powder, blush, eye liner, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick.
Pick out a cute outfit.
Get dressed.

After Baby:
Put baby down for a nap.
Jump into cold shower. (For the first time in three days.)
Lather from head to toe.
Grab razor to start shaving.
Hear baby cry.
Jump out.
Towel off.
Console crying baby.
Forget that you weren't done showering.
Spend the rest of the day in sweats.

Concept of Time

Before Baby:
Morning = 6AM - 11AM
Afternoon = 12PM - 4PM
Evening = 5PM - 8PM
Night = 9PM - 12AM
Wee hours = 1AM - 5AM

*After Baby:
Wake Up = 6AM
Morning Feeding = 9AM
Morning Nap = 11AM
Playtime = 12PM
Midday Feeding = 1PM
Errands/Chores = 2PM
Afternoon Feeding = 4PM
Afternoon Nap/Make Dinner = 5PM
Bathtime = 6PM
Evening Feeding = 7PM
Bedtime = 8PM
Sleep = 10PM - 6AM

*Who am I kidding? Does ANYBODY'S day actually go like this? No, wait. Don't tell me, because I might cry.


Before Baby:
Put on PJs.
Wash face.
Brush teeth.
Watch TV/read.
Sleep until alarm goes off.

After Baby:
No need to put on PJs. Already wearing them...
Splash face with water.
Check on baby.
Convince yourself TONIGHT is the night baby will sleep for 8-10 straight hours.
Drift off to sleep.
Wake up to a crying baby 15 minutes later.
Soothe/nurse baby back to sleep.
Play games on phone/read until you're tired again.
Sleep for 2-3 hours.
Wake up to feed baby.
Go back to sleep for 3.5 hours.
Wake up in a panic because baby hasn't woken up crying yet.
Go back to sleep.
Wake up 15 minutes later to nurse/soothe crying baby.
Go back to sleep.
Wake up 1 hour later to a smiling baby who's ready to start the day!
Roll over to see it's 6AM.
Accept defeat and make a pot of coffee.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rockin' Green Sponsor Spotlight/Review

If you are considering cloth diapers, one of the most overwhelming aspects you'll come across is the wash routine. You will hear a variety of responses when you ask (or Google) about length, temperature, detergent (How much? What kind?), bleach, soaking, stripping, drying, and so forth. While it will be a matter of trial and error depending on your machine, diaper material, water hardness, and your baby's diet, the Rockin' Green website is a fantastic place to start.

The site features a wealth of information that can help you determine the best wash routine for you, and if you're still having trouble, Rockin' Green employees and fellow consumers can help you out in the Community section of the site as well as the Support Page.

From the About Us page:

     Rockin’ Green is an award-winning manufacturer of eco-friendly cleaning products designed to make cleaning easier and greener. Most well-known for their clean-rinsing laundry detergent formulated for use on all fabrics and especially useful on cloth diapers, Rockin’ Green produces detergents for hard, soft and normal water conditions (known as Hard, Soft and Classic Rock varieties).

I was mailed three samples of the Classic Rock variety (which was the right formula for the type of water in my area) in the Smashing Watermelons scent so I decided to wash a load of diapers and then soak some of the stinky microfiber inserts I have been using.

Since I have a front-loader, I consulted the Frontloader Database to figure out which wash cycles are recommended for my particular machine. I found this to be extremely helpful because front-loaders operate a little differently than top-loaders and it does make a difference! I realized that I needed an additional pre-wash in my routine. Who knew?!

I ordered the Smashing Watermelons scent, which was yummy, but not overwhelming, which is probably at least partly because all of the scents are natural. You can also get Rockin' Green laundry detergent in unscented (Bare Naked Babies). I thought my diapers may end up scented (like my clothes normally do when I use other detergents) but instead, they smelled CLEAN! I can't describe it in a better way, but if you've ever had a yucky smell after washing diapers, you know how relieving it is when they end up smelling like NOTHING. It's a good thing. ;)

I was having some issues with the microfiber inserts I use with my pocket diapers. They hold in the ammonia stink and I can always smell it, however faintly, even after I've washed them. While checking out the Rockin' Green website, I came across the "How to Rock a Soak" page. Since I have a front-loading washer, I can't soak in my machine, so I used the bathtub instead. I soaked them for 60 minutes and then threw them in the washer on a rinse cycle. It worked! The ammonia smell was gone! I was thrilled. Microfiber is pretty high-maintenance, though, especially if you are using it in an overnight diaper. In that case, Rockin' Green recommends trying their Funk Rock ammonia bouncer (which you can win along with a Rockin' Bundle from me in an upcoming giveaway!)

Even if you don't use cloth, Rockin' Green detergent can be used for clothing (and so many other things!) as well, and as far as I know, it is the only detergent with three different formulas to accommodate your water hardness. They also provide pet-safe detergent for chew toys and bedding, a garbage pail freshener, and odor neutralizing spray!

I was skeptical about "CD-specific" detergents going into this review, but I can honestly say that I absolutely LOVE Rockin' Green detergent! Their products are of the highest quality, eco-friendly, and bio-degradable and the website is more than just an online store. I have learned so much about my wash routine from visiting their site.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Great Pumpkins!

For some reason, I have wanted to go to a pumpkin patch for the past three years or so, but apparently people look at you funny if you are in your twenties and go without kids. I finally had a little person to take with me, so even though she is way too little to know what was going on, we went to one yesterday. I was beyond thrilled to get a chance to take pictures of my little girl (who sits up by herself quite nicely now) with all of the pumpkins!

Things I learned today:
- There is a reason it's called a 5 o'clock shadow. The term may refer to facial hair, but it applies to photography as well. Late afternoon is a horrible time to take photos outdoors. It's almost impossible to get a shot without funky shadows or having to squint because the setting sun is in your eyes.
- Babies have no concept of posing or looking at a camera, so expect to take a ton of pictures. Most of them will be blurry or feature the side of your kiddo's head, especially if they are in a new place. At least, I know all my baby girl wanted to do was look at everything around her and she could not care less that I wanted a cute picture of her holding the pumpkin in front of her.
- Check the prices before you go. Find out what's included in your admission fee. We went to a Fall Festival/Corn Maze. I didn't expect to pay so much for entry and food and the little pumpkin we took home. Major bummer since we were only there for about an hour and didn't visit any of the attractions besides the pumpkin patch and about 20 feet of the corn maze.

We did end up getting some great pictures, but next year I think we will go to a smaller (free) pumpkin patch and save the festivals and fairs for when the little one can actually enjoy some rides and games.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's here! Yankee Candle giveaway!


Welcome to the Yankee Candle Fall Festival Giveaway! 

     Real Mom Reviews has teamed with an awesome group of bloggers to bring one super lucky reader three large Yankee Candle Jars in fall scents. The traditional design of Yankee Candle signature jar candles reflect a warm, relaxed sense of style that's always at home. Convenient and easy to use, the large Housewarmer Jar Candles provides 110 to 150 hours of true fragrance enjoyment! The seasonal candles one reader will win help celebrate the best of fall with fragrances inspired by the beauty of nature and the bounty of harvest.  

  • Apple Cider is a welcoming aroma of hot cider spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg! 
  • Spiced Pumpkin will quickly fill your home with the smell of fresh pumpkins baked in simmering spices of clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and sweetened with brown sugar. 
  • Autumn Leaves provides a vibrant scent medley of birch and maple leaves with pomegranate, juniper berry, and orange blossom that will leave your whole house smelling like fall! 

One lucky reader will win them all! Giveaway is open to US and Canada. Entering is simple, simply read over the giveaway rules and then enter using the Rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In and Out

I'll be honest. I'm exhausted, overwhelmed and feeling slightly unmotivated. My husband will be home in about two weeks and we will be picking up and moving (driving!) to Texas with our 6-month-old. Not only that, we're moving with the Army, so that means lots of paperwork and phone tag and red tape.

Until then, I am cleaning out closets, going through boxes, running errands, and trying to keep up with my active little monkey on a daily basis. (I'm sure there are mommies out there are rolling their eyes at me while I drown in my unfolded laundry.)

I have two Sponsor Spotlights in the works for the Merry Fluffy Christmas giveaway event, so keep an eye out for those! And I will continue to update my Wordless Wednesdays. I have drafts and ideas for posts, but they will remain as such until I can dedicate enough time to publishing quality material.

I guess what I'm saying is, please be patient with me! I have high expectations and huge goals for this blog, and I'll be able to meet them better once I've settled into Army life with my family next month.

Wordless Wednesday: Bad Hair Day

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Make it Paleo *Review*

The Food Lovers Kitchen was one of the first websites I visited while researching paleo meals and nutrition. Their website is incredibly easy to navigate and full of useful information. The recipes are separated by course (breakfast, entrees, sides, treats, etc.) and they even have menus for planning special occasions like football games, Thanksgiving, summer cookouts, and birthday dinners.

I was given a copy of their cookbook Make it Paleo to review for you guys, and I have to say I really was impressed. I found several cheap and easy recipes that I could try without even needing to make a trip to the grocery store. I read in a few reviews that some of the recipes were too simple. How is that possible? As a mother, the most basic things tend to slip my mind, and yes I am one of those people that needs a recipe to make bacon and eggs. :)

I love that (as someone new to paleo) you can find recipes to replace meals that tend to be considered staples in most homes. I can still eat waffles and pancakes for breakfast! There is also plenty of useful information in the front of the book for someone just starting out on this path including:
- a list of seasonal fruits and veggies
- a basic overview of what foods do and do not fit into a paleo lifestyle
- essential ingredients for paleo cooking and baking

It was really difficult to narrow down which recipes to try out for this review, but I decided to build my menu around seasonal produce and stick to my skill level and cooking preferences.
For dinner, I made pot roast in the crock pot with turnips, onions, celery, and carrots. It was seasoned with a bouquet of fresh herbs, which made me feel fancy. It called for parsnips, but I won't lie. I had no clue what a parsnip looked like and I was too embarrassed to ask, so the roast was sans parsnip. (Now I know, it's kind of like a brown carrot.)

The 2.5lb chuck roast fed six people with no leftovers. 
I made mashed cauliflower (to replace mashed white potatoes) and they were delicious! I don't have any pictures, but I think you can paint a mental picture here. ;)

Amazing meal. I am clearly *not* a food photographer.

For dessert, again I wanted something seasonal and not too complicated. So, we had baked apples. They tasted just like a healthier version of apple pie. I cannot wait to make them again! Even my dad, who doesn't eat fruit, ate the whole thing.

Cheap, easy, healthy, and delicious! Can't beat that.

Overall, we had a successful meal and it was simple enough for someone like me--the dummy who catches a paper towel on fire while trying to wipe down a gas stove... while it's still on. It was also inexpensive. I fed six people (including my hungry Army man) on less than $50.

Prep/Candid pics. Just because:

In the kitchen. What my brother would call "a woman's place."
Hubby, chowing down. (Ignore all the non-paleo condiments please...)
The whole family. Clearly, I am not *any* type of photographer. 
Tl;dr - If you are considering paleo, you NEED this cookbook. Like I said, it is very user-friendly. Great for beginners. Lots of information without being overwhelming.

Where to get it: The Food Lovers Amazon Store. It's $19.01, but you can also purchase the Kindle edition for $9.99 if you don't mind being deprived of the food photos.

Also: If you're not ready to purchase, at the very least, you need to download their myKitchen app for Android and iPhone. It includes 400+ recipes and you can customize weekly meal plans and shopping lists. Great for those days when you can't decide what to make!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My ring sling is worth its weight in gold.

Some days my little girl is so active. If I try to take her for a walk in the carrier, she will squirm and wriggle to get out because she wants to move around. She's becoming so aware of her surroundings, she wants to see EVERYTHING! I'm always a little bummed when I have to cut our walks short because she is just not happy sitting still.

Today, however, poor baby had a cold and she just wanted to snuggle. Unfortunately, I had several loads of laundry to do, reviews to write, and information to gather on this upcoming PCS. I couldn't spend all day holding her like she'd prefer and my relief was coming home late, which would be a huge issue if I didn't have my lovely Girasol ring sling. Because of this beautiful (and somewhat ancient) invention, I was able to get all of my chores done for the day and comfort my sick baby all at the same time!

My Light Rainbow Girasol Wrap-Conversion Ring Sling is my new favorite carrier. I love the quality handwoven material of the Girasol, and I absolutely love the excellent construction and traditional SBP-style pleated shoulder provided by Sleeping Baby Productions. If you have a wrap you'd like converted, Sleeping Baby Productions is definitely the place to go. Check the FB page if you need any convincing.

Also, I discovered three new reasons to love babywearing as a new mom:
1. It hides my new mommy muffin top.
2. It hides my now clownishly lopsided boobies (which are due to baby girl insisting on nursing exclusively on the right for the past week.)
3. Nobody cares that you haven't showered, brushed your teeth, or put on makeup when you're wearing a cute little baby!

Monday, October 8, 2012

This makes five!

Dear Monkey,

     Where has the time gone? You are five months old today, and I can't believe my eyes. You continue to grow and learn every day and I'll never get tired of watching it happen.
     This past month you have found your voice. I know this because I hear you screech, and squeal, and grunt, and sigh when you feel like nobody is paying attention to you. You also chatter away with "bababa" and "dadada" sounds, which will soon become your first words. Sometimes these noises are tinged with frustration or boredom, but usually they are just silly, happy, baby noises. You are now very often a silly, happy baby!
     I began to get worried, I'll admit, that you were falling behind a little bit when you hadn't started to roll over on your own a month ago, but I was reminded last week that you are capable of amazing things. You just do them when you are good and ready. I watched you squirm around on your tummy at Grandma and Grandpa's house as the three of us cheered you on. You hitched up your leg over and over until you gained enough momentum, and just like that you were on your back! I picked you up and praised you, and I nearly cried because I was so incredibly proud of you.
     A few days ago, you discovered your feet. Now you've mostly moved on from sticking your hands in your mouth since these newly found appendages are so much more fun to grab.
     My new favorite thing is making you laugh. It doesn't take much these days. You laugh when I make silly faces and when I tickle your toes. You laugh at the TV and your polka dotted blanket. I will make a pretty big fool of myself just to hear your adorable little chuckle.
     I am convinced that you will never sleep through the night, but as long as you continue to wake up smiling, I may be able to get over it.

I love you, Monkey!
<3 Mama

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Baby Feet

(This part isn't wordless. Deal with it.) I decided to jump on the Wordless Wednesdays bandwagon in order to motivate myself to post more pictures and post more frequently. Right now, I'm participating in Wordless Wednesdays on the Natural Parents Network. Here's my photo of little miss Silly Monkey:

Her favorite place to nap. <3
EDIT: Oops! Looks like I'm a week ahead. :facepalm: I'll just switch with next week's which is Story Time!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What do I do with this stuff?

I've been going through boxes in the garage to decide what is and is not going to Texas with us on the PCS. For the most part, I'm not having trouble deciding what stays or goes. I mean, we will definitely not be needing a full set of martini glasses or a multi-purpose cake plate, and since they're fragile, they probably wouldn't make the trip anyway. My biggest problem is what to do after I decide to get rid of things I no longer have a use for.

There are three main categories for these items: Trash, Sell, Donate.
Trash: This one is pretty easy. Either something is broken, dirty, or otherwise unusable. (Don't forget that some "trash" can be recycled!) No-brainer there.
The next two get tricky. How do you decide something is worth selling? Where do you plan to sell it? Is it worth the trouble? If not, and you decide to donate it, where will you take it? Are you worried about the likelihood of it actually being used?
Sell: This requires more work on your part than making a donation. You have some options, but try to keep it simple.
     You can have a yard sale, but be realistic. Will you really get up at 6AM on Saturday and Sunday to set up your items? Are you willing to haggle with people and accept the fact that you probably won't sell much? If you think a yard sale is a possibility, make sure you sufficiently advertise and see if any of your neighbors would like to get involved. (I'll talk more about yard sales in a later post.)
     If you don't want to give up your sleep-in days, consider listing items for sale online. You can list most items on Craigslist (for free!) or eBay. If you have books, video games, or DVDs, you can list them on or the Amazon marketplace. ***Be sure to check each site's policies and listing fees.***  The pros here are that you don't have to physically haul your stuff in and out of your garage or worry about severe weather. Cons? It still takes time, and you have to be accurate with your descriptions. Either way, this stuff is still taking up your space until it's sold.

The best solution I've come up with here is narrowing down your options and forming a plan for the stuff that doesn't sell.
Scenario 1:
     I decide to have a yard sale. I advertise on Facebook, in the newspaper, and on Craigslist for a week. I make between $100-$500. Whatever is left over gets donated to the Salvation Army. Whatever they don't take goes in the trash or gets recycled. Done!

Scenario 2:
     I have a lot of books and DVDs to sell, so I post them on (I also advertise these listings on Facebook and any relevant online forums/communities.) If they don't sell by Christmas, they get donated. The end!

If you're more worried about recouping your space than your money, I'd say donating everything is the way to go!