Monday, December 11th, 2017

Gift Ideas For The Hard To Shop For

It’s two weeks to Christmas, how are you guys doing? All ready to go? Save for a couple stocking stuffers and a little wrapping, I’m all done. My husband on the other hand is still complaining that I’m hard to shop for.

He’s nodding in agreement beside me right now.

So on that note, I thought I’d throw some ideas out there for others who may be in a similar situation.

As per usual, the links are not affiliate. Just trying to be helpful.

For The Person Who Is So Over “Stuff”

I have been following Cait’s blog since the early days back in 2010. I’ve met her in person, and she is one of those people that I can say is a good and decent person through and through. To say she has changed her life is an understatement. She broke the cycle of consumerism, paid off her debt, changed her life and now she’s written a book about it.

If you know someone who is overwhelmed by their stuff, or just wants to change their life in general, this could be the book for them. The book itself won’t drop until January, but there’s a handful of pre-order extras that will get them started until the book arrives.

For The Hands On Person With A Shop Full Of Tools

Do you know someone who is constantly misplacing their tools when they’re working? How about someone who is active, but their knees are giving them a hard time? How about a gardener who is constantly moving around one of those little foam mats they kneel on? Someone who never has enough pockets for everything they’re trying to carry?

Herock, a company in Belgium, makes work pants with 15 pockets (yes, 15), and are designed to accommodate foam knee pad inserts. No more discomfort on rocky surfaces, no more fussing around with knee pads, no more carrying tool belts. Just everything you need within reach whenever you need it. I bought a pair for my husband last year, and he is absolutely in love with them. I picked them up at Lee Valley.

For The Particular Caffeine Junkie

Odds are if it was as easy as a buying someone a coffee maker, this person wouldn’t be hard to shop for. There’s only so many mugs a person can find cupboard space for, and a tin of coffee from the grocery store doesn’t quite have the right feel.

Why not try a coffee subscription? Availability for this kind of service depends on what country you live in, but here in Canada I know Transcend (an Edmonton roaster) includes shipping to anywhere in Canada in their subscription cost.

Is your giftee really particular about their beans and only uses freshly ground coffee? Maybe try a hand grinder so they can have their coffee on the go, whether they’re out of town for work or in the middle of the back country (or in a former coworker’s case, in his cubicle).

For The Budding Anti-Plastic Eco-Warrior

If your eco-warrior is a teenager, this would be a great time to start them out with reusable items. A water bottle and straw in either metal or borosilicate/lime soda glass. A metal tiffin or bento for their lunch and some cutlery in a wrap. A metal thermos or coffee mug. A pretty napkin. Wrap it all up in a cotton tote bag to avoid the waste implications of traditional wrapping paper and they’ll be even happier.

If your eco-warrior is an adult, moved out on their own, odds are they already have some of these things. Cloth produce bags, beeswax wrappers or anything that might help them move in the direction they’d like to go would be an idea worth considering.

The Person Who Goes Out And Immediately
Buys Everything They Mentioned Wanting

Don’t bother fighting it. Seriously. You’re busy enough this time of year, don’t waste energy you don’t really have to spare.

Rather than trying to stay ahead of buying the objects in question, consider gifting an activity related to the object instead. Kitchen gadget addict? Try gifting them a professional knife skills course or send them to a canning/preserving seminar. Young beauty junkie? Try a makeup lesson. All about the bath products? Get them a spa body scrub, or maybe try a floating session? Golfer? Get them lessons. Health nut? Send them to whatever the newest fitness class in town is.

All about their tools? It’s not an activity, but you could consider getting them stocked up on bits and blades. They do wear out, so if they’re using their tools often they’ll be quite happy about it.

For The Parent (Or Grandparent) Who Doesn’t Want Anything

My dad is traditionally very difficult to shop for. He never wants anything!

Years ago, I took 52 blank cards and filled them with things I admired about him and anecdotes about how I took after him. Every Monday, before he started the work week, he would open one at breakfast and start the week off on a positive note.

It’s not an expensive gift, it just takes a little time to put together. You still have two weeks though, so there’s time if you want to do something like this.

What do you do for the difficult gift recipient in your life?



Friday, December 8th, 2017

What Worked – The First Year

Realistically this could have been a precursor to my post on what’s working now that I’m back at work, but there’s something to be said for hindsight. Looking back, these were some of the things that made a big difference for me while I was on maternity leave:

Sticking The Playpen By The Kitchen Table

I struggled with eating enough, especially in the early days. It didn’t help my energy levels, which after the first two weeks were stretched thin, and it didn’t help my milk supply either. Running up and down the stairs between the kitchen and the nursery wasn’t working while I looked after munchkin, and I would go all day without eating.

So what did work? Sticking the play pen beside the kitchen table. My son could coo and giggle (and later play with his toys), while I made a cup of coffee and had something to eat. It didn’t always work for lunch, but once I moved the playpen downstairs I was able to eat breakfast without fail.

If he got fussy I would throw him in the stroller and do laps around the kitchen island, but that’s a story for another day.

Thrifting

I recognize that there are some women who can give birth and leave the hospital in the same clothes they fit before they got pregnant, but I am not one of them. In fact, I was several sizes larger.

I could have worn my maternity clothes, but it was summer and most of my clothes were better suited to winter and spring. Lets be honest, I was also tired of wearing the same things on repeat. Buying a whole new wardrobe retail would have been prohibitively expensive, and only would have fit me for a couple weeks. Months at most.

Enter thrifting:

Half Thrifted ^

Not everything I purchased was thrifted, but purchasing some of those transitional clothes second hand allowed me to transition between sizes regularly without completely breaking the bank. Not only that, but as I was no longer familiar with my body or what looked good on it, it allowed me to experiment with a variety of styles that may not have been easily available in stores.

Wearing A Bra That Fit

Following up on the clothing train of thought. I seriously struggled with the changes my body went through after giving birth. Some people really embrace the, umm, expansion that happens when lactating. Me, not so much. If you don’t believe me, check out my second trimester recap.

When it was all said and done, I topped out at a 32L. Not exactly department store sizing. Between the excess weight, deflating postpartum stomach, and the insufficient bust support, looking in the mirror wasn’t a great time. It was hard on the self-esteem.

So what helped? Getting a bra that actually fit. Not only was it better for my back, which was already lacking in abdominal support, it was better for my self image. Lifting everything up exposed my waistline and showed something closer to the figure I was used to having. It was just better for my head overall. It still is.

Instead of trying to find a nursing bra that worked, I had myself fitted for a proper bra and then had it converted to a nursing bra. I had a bra that actually provided the support I needed, and if I recall correctly the conversion was less than $20.

If you’re in the Edmonton area, I went to Dawn’s Bra-tique off Jasper Ave for my bra. If you don’t live in a major city, you could try an online brand like ThirdLove out of the US. If you need a more extended size range, Bravissimo out of the UK works as well.

Wrapping

Also known as baby wearing. There’s many, many variations on how to do this, from pre-made carriers to more traditional, regional methods.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what the proper name for my wrap is. It is literally a long strip of fabric. It was woven by a good friend of mine who used to have a business weaving baby wraps (Mama Minnow if you’re curious). We designed the pattern together using the lower mainland of British Columbia as inspiration.

But back to the main reason why this was a game changer. I can pick munchkin up and have my hands free at the same time.

Fussing while I’m making supper? Tie him to me.

Hazardous items on the floor? Tie him to me.

Farmers market isn’t stroller friendly? Tie to to me.

Can’t get home anytime soon and he needs a nap like crazy? I can tie him to me!

I find I’m resorting to this most frequently when he’s teething. He wants to be comforted, which is understandable, but sometimes I still need to get things done. Out comes the wrap!

As a bonus, the wrap is long enough that my husband can wrap him as well. If we’re going to be out for an extended period of time (several hours), he carries our son.

Being Flexible

This was a big one. Sometimes I have a mental image of how things are going to work out, and it just doesn’t.

Take diapering for example. I was adamant I wanted to do cloth diapering, and for the first two months it went great. The third month however, things went downhill hard. Munchkin ended up with a rash that I just couldn’t get rid of. I changed the soap, stripped the diapers, changed the rash cream, changed the absorbency material, added a barrier layer, added additional absorbency layers… nothing worked. It took a week in disposables to get rid of the rash. When I swapped back to cloth diapers the rash came back again within the day.

I couldn’t justify hurting his skin for the sake of keeping him in cloth diapers, so I relented and we switched to disposables. His skin has been much better since.

There have been lots of trade offs since then. I made his food purees at home, but when we travelled we bought pre-packaged options. We purchased books and quiet toys, but didn’t prevent him from playing with the noisy flashing toys his grandparents bought. When he wasn’t nursing we provided milk in glass bottles, but didn’t freak out if he drank something in a plastic cup.

It’s a trade off. You have to figure out what works for your family unit and run with it. Opinions be damned.

What worked for you?

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Friday, November 17th, 2017

Baked Oatmeal – My Breakfast Saviour

As promised, my baked oatmeal recipe!

The original recipe, which to be honest I never followed exactly, was this one from Epicurious. The ingredients list was a bit long for someone pressed on time, but I liked the idea of baked oatmeal. So, I played with it.

There was a lot that could be cut out of the original recipe. The important part was the base. If you memorize this part, you can muck with it until the cows come home. It’s basically foolproof:

  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • grease a square pan
  • bake at 375F for ~40 minutes

That’s it!

Now granted, eating it plain day in and day out would get boring, so I mix it up often. A little maple syrup for sweetness, flavoured extracts and ground spices for depth, ground nuts or flax for added nutrition, etc… It’s pretty receptive to add ins.

These are some of the flavours we’ve eaten in the last 6 months:

  • Strawberry (frozen or fresh diced strawberries, depending on availability)
  • Blueberry (frozen or fresh blueberries, depending on availability)
  • Raspberry (Frozen or fresh raspberries, depending on availability, almond meal)
  • Peach (Frozen or fresh peaches, depending on availability, almond meal)
  • Pineapple Coconut (Frozen pineapple, shredded coconut)
  • Peanut Butter Banana (pureed over ripe bananas, peanut butter)
  • Cherry Almond (frozen cherries, almond meal, almond extract, maple syrup)
  • Apple cinnamon (diced apple, cinnamon, maple syrup)
  • Pumpkin Pie (see below)

For this recipe I add an additional 2/3 – 1 cup of oats. The pumpkin puree adds a lot of moisture to the mix, so extra oats are needed to help absorb some of it. Other than the base ingredients I don’t personally measure anything, so take the quantities with a grain of salt. They’re estimates.

If you want something to use up the last of the pumpkin, I’d suggest a smoothie with banana and the same spices as the oatmeal. What can I say, I’m an addict.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups flaked oats
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a ~9″x9″ pan or casserole dish. Spread the oats evenly in the pan. In a 4 cup liquid measure (or small bowl), measure out the milk, followed by the pumpkin puree, and then the remaining ingredients. Mix the liquid mixture until thoroughly combined. Pour liquid mixture gradually over the surface of the oats. Give the mixture a light stir to make sure the liquid makes it all the way through to the bottom oats. Tap the bottom of the baking dish on the counter a couple times to make sure there are no air pockets. Place in oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the centre has set.

It will come out looking something like this:

Not the most photogenic breakfast, but to be honest that’s not the top of mind in the morning when we’re trying to get ready to go. It’s tasty, healthy, and my toddler eats it willingly. What else could I ask for?

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Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

What’s Working?

I haven’t met anyone who says being a working mom is easy. While we all acknowledge that there are ups and downs, I don’t often see anyone writing about how they make it work. When I do find those types of posts, the authors often either work part time, or work from home. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I don’t find it overly applicable for my life. The only blogger I can think of offhand who is a mom, works full-time outside the home, and actually discusses how she makes it work, is Sherry at Save Spend Splurge. I know of other working moms who blog, but they rarely talk about family life. If you know other ones, please share! I’d love to hear your suggestions.

I originally wanted to do something like this to recap my first year with the munchkin, but apparently that post is buried somewhere in my drafts folder. I think I’ll finish it up and post it shortly (better late than never!)

I definitely don’t have a complete lock on work life balance, but this is a list of things that have been making things work around here.

Alternating Wake Ups

When I was on maternity leave, for better or worse, I did my best to do all of the night waking sessions and early mornings myself so that my husband could go to work somewhat rested. As I stressed out about going back to work, my husband reminded me that he was there, I don’t have to do it all myself, and he’s more than capable of parenting as well. What this has evolved into is that my husband and I alternate who gets up with our son in the morning. One person will get him up, change his diaper, take him downstairs and get his breakfast started. The other is given an extra 5-10 minutes to wake up slowly and laze a little. The next day it swaps, save for sick days and other extenuating circumstances.

Batch Cook Breakfast

Our son eats oatmeal every morning during the week. Since he’s not overly skilled with a spoon yet his food needs to be finger friendly, so I whip up a batch of baked oatmeal every Sunday. It’s convenient, because all I have to do to serve breakfast is cut a slice out of the pan and cut it up into small pieces. The flavour changes every week to prevent monotony, and we’ll usually slice up a bit of fruit for him once he starts eating it. I’ll post the recipe for you guys soon, it’s too easy to keep to myself.

Run the Dishwasher Every Night

I was clued into this by a friend a couple months ago. When I was growing up, you ran the dishwasher through when it was completely full, not before then. As a result of this habit, I often found myself pulling critical items out of the dishwasher to wash and use before the dishwasher was full, or I’d be cleaning up from a meal and not have room to put everything in there. It’s not that I’m incapable of washing dishes in the sink, it was just more effort than was strictly necessary when I was already exhausted. One of our mutual friends looked up the water consumption of his dishwasher and filled his sink with an equivalent volume of water. It didn’t even fill their sink. We replaced our dishwasher recently, and when I checked the specs on our dishwasher I found it it also uses less than a sink full of water. It takes more water to wash our dishes by hand than it does to use the dishwasher. It runs every night now, even if there’s a couple cup spaces left, and I start every day with everything I need clean and ready to go.

Saturday Shop, Sunday Chop

This doesn’t happen every week. The weeks this doesn’t happen I feel like I’m constantly running three steps behind. I try to come up with a handful of meals I want to make on Friday so that I can check the pantry and fridge for missing components. Saturday I try to integrate grocery stops into whatever it is we’re doing so I have everything in the house by that evening. It makes it easier when I’m making things like almond milk or beans where you have to soak the components in advance. Sunday I try to prep and pre-cook any components (like the oatmeal) that I might need for the following week. By the end of the day the fridge is full of assorted containers, along with munchkin’s lunch.

Freezer Pizza

Took a page from the Frugalwoods book on this one. Costco sells two packs of gluten free cheese pizzas for $14. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried ordering take out gluten free pizza before, but you can’t buy one full size gluten free pizza for $14, let alone two. The days that I’m completely done and anything more than takeout seems like too much effort, I throw one of these in the oven. Sometimes I dress it up with roast chicken, BBQ sauce, diced tomato, etc… but sometimes it’s just plain. This has saved us a reasonable amount of both time and money.

“Plus 1”

Kids can come with a lot of stuff if you’re not careful to avoid it. For the most part we’ve kept it down, but there are definitely child specific items in our cupboards. We tried having “just enough”, but found we ran into instances where having an extra one would make life easier. We had one lunchbox for our son, which worked fine, but it meant I had to wait until they got home to make his lunch. As a result, I would be making his lunch at 8 or 9 pm instead of doing it when I was preparing dinner when it would have been more convenient.

We have enough drink cups for three meals, and an extra stainless steel one for travel. We have two bottles for daycare, and one for at home that gets used in case daycare forgets to send one home. We have one set of Tylenol/Orajel/Vitamin D/nail clippers for home, and one for travel. This way we’re not constantly searching for these items trying to figure out where we had it last, it’s either in the bathroom or in his backpack. If we go out of town for the weekend, we pack one outfit and one pair of pyjamas for each day, plus one extra. This works for us.

Getting Help

I fully acknowledge that this is a luxury, but it has been one of the best decisions we made with me going back to work. One of our friends started a house cleaning company so that she could stay home with her young son most of the time. We pay her to come in every two weeks to wash the floors and clean the kitchen and bathroom for us. It’s a win-win: we help her stay home with her family, and she allows us to spend more of our weekend playing with munchkin instead of cleaning. It sets us back $40-50 every two weeks, and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m spending time on my hands and knees to play with my toddler, not scrub the shower.

Days of Rest

I have more vacation time than my husband does, and a week of his vacation is called for with his annual motorcycle trip. As a result, I have two weeks of vacation that we can’t use together as a family. This has turned out to be quite a boon. I ran myself ragged the first couple months back at work, because I wasn’t making time for myself. It was other people, all the time. I’m slowly learning that I can’t do this and retain any semblance of my sanity or general health. Now, every month or so, I take a day off all to myself. I run a hot bath and have a spa morning with bath salts, candles, masks, moisturizers, the whole nine yards. I have coffee and a nibble at a fancy coffee shop. I browse and/or purchase clothing for munchkin and myself. I read. Basically, I do whatever I want. This usually lasts until 2pm, when I get the urge to catch up on stuff around the house. When I head back to work I’m refreshed, and I’ve gotten a head start on whatever needs to be done around the house that usually gets left behind.

They’re little, but all together these have been game changers for me. Finding that elusive work/life/family balance is tough, and I’m still working on it.

What do you do to install balance in your life? What tips and tricks do you have up your sleeve?



Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Monthly Update – October 2017

Hola!

So how about that October? October seems to be a consistently brutal month for us. Super busy.

I’ve been contemplating the direction I should take this blog given my inability to take outfit photos on an even remotely consistent basis. It’s dark when I leave for work in the morning, and dark by the time I leave the office in the afternoon. The weekends are busy with doing the things we didn’t get to during the week, and generally spending time playing together as a family. I won’t cut into that last wedge of time for a hobby. It took me months to hit my stride in terms of balancing work tasks and home tasks, but as you can tell around here some things had to give.

I’m not ready to give up on this blog though. I love having this little creative outlet, though I may focus more on other subjects of interest more often, and a bit less on fashion. I have been finding it difficult to reconcile the drive for constant fashion spending with some of my sustainability leanings as of late, so I may explore those areas more. While I did purchase a couple items this month, at the moment I have no urge to shop. I’m happy with my closet, so why seek out more things to covet?

It’s a question that doesn’t get much thought that I’ve seen on the internet. What happens when you’re happy with your closet? If you’ve spent years “investing” in your wardrobe, at some point your wardrobe is largely made up of these pieces. They’re not going to fall apart quickly, so why keep shopping?

Anyway, like I mentioned before, you’re probably going to see other subjects cropping up around here.

This is a budget post though, and I mentioned above that I did purchase a couple items, so I’ll keep it brief.

I bought the Babaton Beekman Sweater in Constant Camel/Birch for $152.25. The weight, style and colour combo filled a gap in my wardrobe, and is making my fall/winter clothes feel more well rounded. I’ve worn it six times so far.

I also bought a pair of dark wash bootcut jeans from 7 for all Mankind for $106.47. I find bootcut jeans work better with the style of ankle boots I have for fall and winter, so I picked up a second pair. These were 40% off the existing sale price, and fit nicely, so they were a no brainer. I’ve worn them eleven times already this month, so they’re already down in the single digit cost per wear.

So that’s what’s going on around here. What’s new in your world?



Thursday, October 12th, 2017

What I Wore – Learnings and Ramblings

Talk about a reflective year. It’s one thing to think about your clothes every couple days when you’re writing a blog post, but it’s another thing entirely to track and reflect on your wardrobe every day. I’m a numbers person, so watching the cost per wear and total tallies change over time was right up my ally, but the act of tracking everything I wore forced me to look at my actual behaviours rather than an idealized mental version of myself.

For example, I live in jeans. Three years ago I thought this was a problem, so I tried to force myself to experiment with other clothes. While I’m glad I moved out of my comfort zone, jeans are a cornerstone component of my work and my lifestyle.

On the other end of the spectrum: I hate stiff, restrictive shirts and coats. I love the look, and I admire that some people pull it off beautifully, but dear god I hate wearing them. It doesn’t look good on me! The size disparity between my bust and shoulders makes finding shirts that fit well problematic. Also, if it needs ironing, it isn’t getting worn. Full stop.

Also, I have a toddler to get ready in the morning. Shaving is not happening every day. If I’m wearing a skirt its either happening on a weekend, or a Monday. *shrug*

Spending more on jeans, shoes, and coats is a good idea for me! Quality jeans that fit well and don’t deteriorate after being washed a few times will absolutely see heavy use. Shoes that fit well, and last once they’re broken in, are worth their weight in gold for my hyper sensitive feet. Likewise, after years of trying to make cheap outerwear work, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no substitute for a quality coat. I was reminded of that today when I walked out to my car in the miserable wind and didn’t feel a thing on my upper body.

After that little justification for spending more – it only holds true if you don’t have too many of them! Sure, I’ll spend $300 on a pair of jeans, but I can count all of the pairs I own on one hand. I have a lot of coats too, and some of them are only used in one season (heavy duty parka anyone?), but none of them are fashion pieces. They are multi-year coats. Some of them will be multi-decade coats.

Can I justify spending a ton of money on shirts? Not really. Shirts don’t hold up to the same level of wear and tear as jeans or outwear, so they have to be replaced after fewer wears. Likewise, since I own more shirts than bottoms, they get worn less overall. I’ve spent a little more on some of my sweaters, but other than that I have a hard time justifying expensive shirts.

This is probably evident to most of you, but I really don’t accessorize. I cannot justify spending money on accessories, because I don’t wear them! I have one really nice purse that I love, but I shouldn’t go out buy more expensive bags without a long term plan. That should actually go without saying. Even if I did wear bags daily, given the price point of the bags that draw my eye, I shouldn’t buy anything if I don’t see myself using it a decade from now. That means no fussy materials or anything that needs to be treated delicately. Durability matters. I hate fussing.

This post is getting long, so I’ll finish off with this last point. The act of buying something doesn’t mean I’ll wear it. Style doesn’t evolve through the purchasing of clothes, it evolves through the act of getting dressed, styling yourself and experimenting with what you have at your disposal. I made some expensive mistakes. At the same time, now I have a more realistic idea of what I wear and how I wear it. I’m curious to see how much it will evolve this year.

What have you learned about personal style?




Hi!

I'm Cassie.

I'm a petite hourglass, slow adopter, food geek, Engineer, wife and mom. Welcome to the little corner of the internet where I ramble on about random things. Mostly clothes.

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