Quarterly Co: The Subscription Service I Still Love

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I'm not as excited about subscription boxes as I used to be. The fad just sort of wore itself out on me--the cost added up, stuff started being repeated between boxes, and I've just kind of lost my taste for the whole thing. That said, there is one subscription I have kept active for quite some time now: Quarterly. Co. 

Quarterly Co. is slightly different than a lot of other curated subscription services. First, it's quarterly, rather than monthly, which both keeps the cost down (it's $25/quarter for most boxes) and makes getting it feel more special. You can be pretty sure you'll have gotten around to opening the last box before the next one comes. Secondly, the "theme" of Quarterly Co. is much more varied than a lot of other subscription programs. When you sign up for Quarterly, you choose one of their "cultural icon" curators--anybody from Moonwalking with Einstein author Joshua Foer to "Style Girlfriend" Megan Collins--and that person decides what will be in each of your quarterly boxes. Each curator has a general theme to his/her mailings, but nothing too specific. For example, my curator is Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Her theme is "things that lift your spirits by making your life and home more beautiful, more productive, and more full of fun." One month, it was a nice notebook and colored pencil set. Another time, it was a collection of tiny objects with tiny boxes in which to put them. Each box has filled me with delight--these aren't things I need, of course, but they are things that make me happy.

This month's box, Gretchen's fifth installment, was no exception. On the enclosed card, she explained:

I love to make food festive with food dye, sprinkles, and bright wrappers. In fact, one of my favorite new traditions is the "holiday breakfast." On major and minor holidays, I now make a holiday breakfast for my family. I put out some holiday plates and placemats, a centerpiece, and--my favorite part--I dye the food to some theme-appropriate but crazy color...

Sprinkles, colorful wrappers, and the fabulous gold dust can transform a dish or an entire meal-with very little time or energy. Which is good, because for most of us, time and energy are in short supply. it's so much fun to play with food this way.

And what did she send?

Quarterly Co. THP05

Opening the box was so much fun! Each thing I pulled out, from the tiny canister of gold dust to the six pack of high-quality food coloring, made me want to squeal. None of these are things I would have bought myself, but they're all things for which I can think of fun uses. They're also things that can be used until they're used up--not adding to my clutter.

As far as value for money goes, I'd say Quarterly Co. has been about average--if I add up the Amazon.com value of the five items in my most recent box, I get right around $25. However, Quarterly Co. is definitely not selling value-for-money. Nor are they necessarily selling novelty, though I suspect many of the products their curators send are new to the folks who receive them. Instead, they are very much selling the joy of a getting a little gift in the mail. Disillusioned as I may be with subscription boxes at present, I still dig that.

Were I to recommend one of the Quarterly Co. curators, aside from Gretchen Rubin, two I'd check out would be Liz Danzico, who promises a "series of portable explorations that help you mark time" and Joel Johnson, whose mailings will be inspired by his grandmother, with "a worldly sense of style filtered through post-Depression hillbilly pragmatism." Both are boxes I'd love to try, and if I weren't so pleased with the things Gretchen chooses, I'd probably jump ship to one of them.

I know there are some subscription box fans among my readers--have any of you tried Quarterly. Co.? Whose boxes do you get? Have you been happy with them?

To be clear--I am in no way being compensated by Quarterly Co. for this post. Didn't even get a free box to review. I just love 'em!
 
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Come Shop With Me: Ikea for Babies

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English: Logo of Ikea.

English: Logo of Ikea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike a lot of my demographic, I have very mixed feelings about Ikea. On one hand, I'm a big fan of a lot of the aesthetic, and I love walking through the store and checking out the model rooms. However, I often end up disappointed and a little bit angry when I check out items up close, as the quality, particularly of the furniture, leaves a lot to be desired. I know it's unusual these days, but I really want furniture that looks like it's made out of wood to actually be made out of wood, you know?

That said, Ikea is the undeniable king when it comes to some things. So, after a hiatus of a few years, my little family recently made the hour or so trek to our nearest store. Our intended prey? The Antilop. For those not in the know, the Antilop is Ikea's cult favorite economy high chair. While it's not the world's most attractive thing, it is easy to put together, a snap to wash (it's all plastic, so it can literally be hosed down), and costs only $25 with the tray.antilop-highchair-with-tray__36000_PE126861_S4.jpg

Antilop Highchair with tray, Ikea, $24.99

Since we were there anyway, of course, we looked around. And, as usual, I saw a lot of things I liked from far away and liked less up close. However, I did notice that there were a number of inexpensive items in the children's section I liked all the way around. None of them were things we need right now, so I didn't bring any home, but I picked out a few to share with you:

Best of Ikea for Babies

I've always liked the textiles at Ikea, and found them to be totally reasonable quality, especially for the price. The babies' and kids' textiles, though, are even better than the adults'! It was hard for me to narrow down which ones to show you, since there were so many cute options, but I especially liked the mix of green plaid with bunnies and hedgehogs on the Vandring Igelkott set; the graphic bears and wolves of the Barnslig Ulven set (which also comes in red/white); and the mellow colors and fun tracks and animals on the Vandring Skogsliv set. Each set (a duvet cover and a pillow case) is $15-$20.

While we were checking out the Antilop, I noticed a few other things in the kids' feeding section that were worth noting. The first is the Kladd 5-pack of bibs. We were gifted a set of these a bit back, and they are great--simple white terry bibs with colored piping, perfect size, easy wash, and holding up well. Only $3.99 for 5! Another good deal I spotted was the Smaska 6-piece baby spoon set, which includes 3 short-handled spoons and 3 long-handled ones for $2.99.

I have to admit it--the high point, for me, was the toys! I had no idea Ikea had such cute toys, and the prices were really reasonable. Again, it's difficult for me to narrow down my favorites, but I know I liked the Klappar Cirkus finger puppet set ($4.99), the awesome Mula wooden magnetic truck ($14.99), and the Duktig fabric vegetables ($7.99 for a 14-piece set). I'd seen the extremely economical Mula stack & nest cups before and knew they were great ($2.99). My biggest temptation, though, was the amazingly cute Leka Cirkus fabric book ($7.99). I'm kinda sorry we didn't buy that one.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to the Måla art easel ($14.99)--I can't wait until my kid is old enough for one of those!

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Baking Up A Storm

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So since I've been a SAHM, I've been baking a lot. I've always been a baker, but I'm trying to up my game a little bit and move into new terrain recently, and I've come across a few recipes that I love (as do my favorite folks to bake for, Mark's lab). Since I know I have some bakers reading, I thought I'd share some I'm particularly liking:

1. Dessert Bible/Christopher Kimball Blondies

I've never liked blondies before, but I love these. They are so rich and buttery and good. I can't find the recipe online, but this how you do it:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablesepoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (I replace this with chunked up dark chocolate)
3/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the center position. Butter a 9X13 pan and line it with parchment, or use baking spray.

2. Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Beat the butter in an electric mixer for a minute or so, then add the sugar and beat for 3 or so more minutes, until it's light and fluffy.

4. Add the egg one at a time, mixing after each.

5. Beat in the vanilla.

6. Add the flour mixture and beat on the lowest speed until almost completely mixed.

7. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and mix on low or fold with a spatula until incorporated.

8. Spread the batter in the pan.

9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm.

10. Cool on rack. Cool completely before cutting.

2. Smitten Kitchen/Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread

I probably made this a half dozen times in December--it's that good. One note I'd add is not to try to make it in a tube pan; the bundt pan really is a necessity.

3. Levain Bakery Ginger Valrhona Cookies

I've been making these for a couple of years, and they're always really popular. I don't make them quite as large or quite as raw as the recipe indicates, and generally use Trader Joe's chocolate rather than Valrhona, but otherwise follow it pretty faithfully. 

4. Nutella Brownies

I love Nutella. I love brownies. And I love these brownies. I'm generally a <gasp!> box brownies girl (Ghiradelli FTW!), but these are worth doing it from scratch.

5. Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns

This is another one I've been making for a couple of years, and it's just amazing. I double the topping to make sure mine are extra sticky and caramel-y. These are great to make and freeze unbaked, too--then you can thaw/rise overnight and bake them fresh for breakfast!

I have a Pinterest board full of other recipes I want to try. How about you? Baked anything great lately?

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Making life easier: new online tools I'm trying

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As always, I'm on a quest to improve my online life with fancy tech tools and shortcuts. Recently, I've found a few I really love, so I thought I'd share. Realize, as always, that I may be years behind here and I wouldn't know it. If I am, feel free to laugh.

1. OverDrive
I think I've mentioned that I recently started using my iPad as an ereader. OverDrive is the software my library (and a lot of other libraries) uses to allow me to download borrowed ebooks (and audiobooks) to my various devices. I love it. It's easy to use and so far works seamlessly.

2. Zemanta
Zemanta is a fantastic blogging tool that you can get as a plugin for your platform or as a browser add-on. It instantly suggests related articles as you write your post, as well as possible tags and images. It also provides the option of creating automatic links in your text, without the need to go to a website and C&P. I've only just started using it, so I'm not familiar with everything it can do yet, but it seems like an absolutely fantastic way to both blog faster and more efficiently and make connections that might be difficult to come up with on your own.

3. Apple AirPlay
My laptop is too old for AirPlay, but my phone and my iPad aren't, and I cannot tell you how exciting I find the ability to send Downton Abbey to my AppleTV wirelessly from Amazon Prime Instant Video. It pretty much makes my life.

4. C25KFree
Everybody has heard of Couch-to-5K, right? Well, I started the program a few weeks back, and I am aided immeasurably by a free iPhone app, C25KFree. It's a super simple to use interface, and it allows you to play your music/audiobook with minimal interruptions for instruction. Love it.

5. Simple Timer
This one is basic, but it does the job. It's a Firefox add-on that puts a teeny little timer in the corner of your browser, which you can use to count up or countdown. I am doing some hourly freelance work right now, and it's the easiest way I've found to keep track of my time, especially since it's dead simple to pause and re-start it when I click off my work window and over to Facebook or my email or something.

Hopefully someone out there will find one or all of those suggestions as helpful as I'm finding them. Please leave me a comment and tell me about your latest tech toy or discovery--I'm always on the lookout!
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Post-Partum Work Capsule Wardrobe

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As promised, I have created a possible post-partum work capsule wardrobe. I put this together with myself in mind, but I think it might be transferable to someone else in my position. This is a capsule specifically with going back to work in a casual professional office in mind.

Post-Partum Work Capsule Wardrobe

These are the pieces you see:

1. Black ponte wrap dress: This one is a standard recommendation for a reason. Endlessly versatile, easy to wear, easy to launder, and even easy to nurse in! I actually go with a faux wrap, for a bit more coverage and an easier fit--actual wrap dresses often hit me in the wrong place. The one I chose is on sale for $30 at Land's End, too!

2. Slim black ponte pants: Do you sense a ponte theme? These are again, very versatile and easy for an ever-changing post-partum body to wear, while still appearing sleek and professional. The ones shown here are from White House Black Market ($78).

3. Wide leg gray trousers: I don't like all of my bottoms to be black, and I find a medium gray to be an equally versatile option. I also don't feel like wearing slim cut pants every day, so I think a wide-legged pair is a must. I actually had a workhouse pair of pants similar to these before getting pregnant that I hope to fit into again at some point. In the meantime, this pair is from White House Black Market, on sale for $50.

4. Black pencil skirt: Another classic recommendation. This one is not without its issues on the post-partum body, but a high waisted version might work well for tummy camouflage. Once again, I'm choosing a ponte option for maximum flexibility, from Gap ($55).

5. Ponte peplum blazer: With its distinctive peplum cut and aubergine color, this blazer might seem like a strange choice, but I think it would actually be a really versatile and handy addition to this capsule. I like peplum cut for drawing attention away from the post-partum lower belly issues, and the deep aubergine color can be worn with a surprising number of things, but looks particularly good with the black or gray bottoms I've selected. And, once again, choosing ponte for flexibility and washability. This one is sold out, unfortunately, but it was on sale for $27 at Dorothy Perkins.

6. Long cardigan: Assuming you don't have a super conservative/dressy work environment, I think a long cardigan is a must have wardrobe item, especially for days when you just want to feel a little bit cozy at work. I chose a merino option, to keep things looking nice, and a great bright color, since I didn't want the capsule to be completely neutral. This is one is on sale for $40 at J. Crew.

7. Patterned faux wrap top: Much like the faux wrap dress, this top allows easy access for nursing and a flexible fit for a changing chest. The high waist line also draws attention away from the lower belly problem area. This one, with a mellow floral pattern in pink, green, and blue, also offers a much needed pop in a pretty somberly toned wardrobe. It is on sale for $27 at Yumi.

8. White v-neck: Another one of those oft-suggested workhorses, but for a reason, as this top can go anywhere, from under a suit jacket to with jeans on the weekend. Though it's expensive for what it is, at $60, I like this Banana Republic version because of the half-length sleeves and slight dolman cut. I think white is a good choice for this shirt, too, since the capsule tends towards dark colors otherwise.

9. Print tunic: This is one that probably will only work in a fairly casual environment, but if you happen to have that sort of leeway in your wardrobe, I think it would be a great addition, especially on the days you just want to hide your post partrum figure. I like this economy version, $23 at Target, for its forgiving neckline and very cool bird print.

10. Chevron striped tank: Any sort of striped tank would work, but I love a chevron. This is a layering item, for sure, but I think it's still versatile enough to warrant inclusion in the capsule, as it easily pairs with all of the bottoms and both the cardigan and the jacket. I love adding a crisp, geometric type option, too, since this capsule tends towards less precise prints. This plus-sized option is apparently sold out, but was $26 at Maurice's.

11. Flat/low heeled knee high boots: Obviously, heeled boots are an option, but in an effort to keep things wearable, I chose a low heel. One cannot overestimate the versatility of knee-high boots, and they're available at all kinds of price points. This nice pair the Sam Edelman Loren, and they're on sale for $150 at My Wardrobe.

12. Black flats: Again, heels are an option, but not the one I'd choose at this point in my life. I do like a little wedge, though, instead of something completely flat, so I this pair, from Monsoon ($60) fit the bill nicely. I like the low wedge and the simple knot detail.

Total pieces in capsule: 12
Total cost of capsule: $626

And how many different outfits can it make? Well, I stopped putting them together at 16, but I'm sure there are more.

Did any of you attempt a capsule wardrobe when you went back to work after having a baby? How did it work out? Any must-have pieces I missed?

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Mommy's Interview Wear

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As I've indicated, I am having trouble with clothes. I am having a LOT of trouble with clothes. And this week, that trouble was more than just my typical embarrassment at wearing yoga pants in public. I had to figure out something to wear for a job interview. With most of my closet still in bins labeled "maybe this will fit again someday," and no extra cash to buy anything new.

All things considered, I'm happy with what I managed:

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I think this works for a couple of reasons. The skirt, which is a black a-line I've had forever (Josephine Chaus, via Ross, I believe), is structured enough to appear professional but forgiving enough to still fit my post-partum body, and has a blessedly high waist to hold all that business in. The gray pinstriped jacket (Calvin Klein, thrifted) is a little bit of a problem, as, if you look closely, you see that it's not really the right size for my current chest, but the low single-button style makes it wearable anyway--not ideal, but workable. Underneath, I have a blank tank with a slightly ruffled front (The Limited), which is actually half of an old sweater set. Again, not the ideal shell, but it works to cut down a bit on the severity of the outfit, and it was one of the few options I could find that currently fit, so I went with it. The shoes (Aerosoles) might not strike everyone as interview appropriate, but I felt that they gave just enough whimsy to an outfit that was pretty serious--and frankly, a little boring--otherwise. I kept my jewelry simple, as not to go overboard with the whimsey--just a small silver and stone necklace and simple bead earrings.

What do you think? Appropriate, or do I still kinda have that "Mommy hasn't left the house in six months" look?

I'm thinking I am going to have to try to put together a "new working mom" capsule wardrobe of some sort when I go back to work. Anybody have thoughts or advice on that?

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Note: Please realize as you read this that I know breastfeeding is a sensitive and emotionally fraught topic and I am in no way interested in debating it or in hurting anybody's feelings. My thoughts are simply that anybody who wants to breastfeed her child should be supported in doing so. Alternately, anybody who does not want to breastfeed should not be pressured to do so. I also realize I am writing with the enormous privilege of someone for whom breastfeeding was and is extremely easy.

***

I was really unexcited about breastfeeding. I planned to try, but the idea was never appealing. However, six months in, having had pretty well the world's easiest time with it, I'm a big fan. I don't get any warm fuzzy feelings from it; it doesn't feel like a special type of bonding or anything like that, but is is extremely convenient and simple.

Except for the pumping and storing part. Incidentally, that part was pretty much skipped by every professional with whom I've spoken about lactation and most of the non-professionals. While at least two dozen people have given me positioning and latch advice, I don't think anybody every told me how to store breast milk. At least, not until I had been doing it wrong for a while. And so, in the interest of hopefully helping someone out there who is similarly ignorant, I'm going to tell you a couple of things about breast milk storage.

(Please note that this advice all assumes you have adequate supply to stockpile milk.)

The big thing is this: frozen milk takes up a lot of space. We have a small standing freezer, and it's nearly half full of frozen milk. That's with my pumping only once a day, for less than six months, and taking six weeks or so off from pumping completely. In part, my stockpile is taking up so much space because of bad storage practices early on. So much so, in fact, that I have seriously considered throwing out hundreds of ounces of pumped milk in order to free up space. Anybody who has ever felt like she spends her life lashed to a breast pump knows that's a complete travesty.

So you're going to build a pumped milk stockpile. Here's what you need:

Breast Milk Stockpile Supplies

People have all sorts of ideas about the best brands for these things, so I'm just showing you the set-up I use, with which I am quite satisfied. Some people are not at all fans of the Ameda Purely Yours pump, though, so do your own research there. If you're going to be pumping a lot, you definitely want a double electric pump of some kind. Also, if you're planning to pump on a daily or multiple times daily basis, do yourself a favor and get a hands-free pumping bra. Makes the whole task quite a lot less irritating.

I'm not going to go into the logistics of pumping, since that stuff that is both very individual and better shown than told. If you meet with a lactation consultant at the hospital/birth center/whathaveyou (and you definitely should, if you have the opportunity), ask her specifically about pumping. It's not, at least in my experience, completely self-explanatory.

I am interested specifically in talking about storage of your milk once you've pumped it.

Do not do this:
IMG_1365_zps6e162dbf.jpg

When I got Snappies in my breastfeeding bag from the hospital, they seemed like such a good idea to my immediately post-partum brain. They were so cute! You could probably put some sort of nipple on them and feed right from them later when you thawed the milk! With an adapter, I could pump right into them! Fabulous!

Space hogs. If you need a large quantity (and if you're stockpiling you will), expensive. Didn't take me long to realize that was a bad idea.

But so was this:
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Breast milk storage bags come handily marked with ounce measurements. They are also those kind of bags that can stand up on their own, so you can stand them up and see how much is in them. That doesn't mean you should freeze them standing up. See those bags on the right in that picture? Those were frozen standing up. And they take up a ton of space, even when they're packed into containers as tightly as possible.

So, how should you do it? Well, here's the best way I've found:

1. Pump.

2. Using a funnel, fill freezer storage bags with milk. My preferred brand is Lansinoh, but other brands are fine, just keep using the same brand once you start with it, so your bags will all be uniform. There are lots of theories as to how much you should fill each bag, but I tend to just let it depend on how much I've pumped in a given session. I never put more than 4-5 oz in a single bag, and never less than 2 oz. So, for example, if I pumped 7 oz in a given session, I'd probably fill one bag to 4 oz and one to 3 oz.

3. Push the air out of the bag and seal it carefully. Make SURE it's sealed.

4. Label the bag with date and amount. Be sure and do this, because the next step will make it so that you can't judge the amount of milk in a frozen bag if it's not labeled, and you need to know when you pumped it so that you don't keep it for too long.

5. Place the bag carefully, flat, on the space you've designated in your freezer for immediate milk storage. It needs to be somewhere you can access quickly, and needs to be able to lie flat there without being disturbed. We already had this set up for freezing flat bags of homemade chicken stock, so I just commandeered it:

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6. Before your put your next bags in, put the ones you last froze (assuming they are frozen solid) in a plastic storage box. I have some from Sterlite that were cheap and are exactly the right size. Line them up sideways, by date:

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When you fill a container, stack it in whatever secondary freezer you have. Keep the oldest milk on top, so that when you need to use it, you'll use it first. According to the card the lactation consultant gave me, breast milk stored in a deep freezer is good for 12 months; 6 months for a refrigerator freezer.

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Thrift Finds, 1/14/13

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Now that the holidays are over and there is little chance of my accidentally revealing anything here that is going to end up a gift, I can return to sharing my thrifted scores with you all! My thrift trips these days are usually smaller than this one, but once in a while I have a day where things just seem to jump into my cart. This was one of those:

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Not the most exciting thing in the world, but I was glad to snag this set of six Glasslock containers with lids. We're always in dire need of proper sized leftover containers with fitting lids, and these are particularly nice ones. Nothing wrong with a little practical thrifting to start things off, right?

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This Farberware storage grater was another item thrifted to fill a pretty immediate need. We have a microplane grater (two of them, actually, don't ask me why), but no regular box grater, and the microplane is just not meant for things like shredding cheddar for nachos. This one is.

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This box of Medela Quick Clean bags, for microwave sterilization of pump parts, is another super practical buy. I see these fairly often at the thrift store, unopened, and I always grab them. They're super convenient to use, and for $1 or so, they're a great buy--much better than the $8 or so I'd be paying for them elsewhere.

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I have no idea if Stretch Genie actually works. However, I have a couple of dozen pairs of shoes that are now, post-pregnancy, just a wee bit too small to be comfortable, so I figure, for the thrift store cost of trying this out, maybe I'll get a miracle?

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This Sassy baby book is a purchase I probably shouldn't have made--how many more toys does a baby who just had Christmas really need? However, I've been wanting to get him one of these, since he seems to like to try to turn pages, and this one was definitely the right price, and new in the package, so I don't feel too bad about it.

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How cute is this little Japanese bento box? It's practical, too--I've been on the hunt for something with small compartments and a lid, for freezing single servings of homemade baby food purees, and this is the perfect size!

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Do we need a new container for flour? Well, strictly speaking, no. But this one is so vintage cool and in such perfect shape! There is no way I was leaving it there. I can re-purpose the current flour-holding jar into something else, I'm sure.

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Oh look, something I actually went to the thrift store intending to buy! Each of these pieces of heavy weight decorator's type fabric is about a yard, so they're perfect to serve as backdrops for Buzzy's weekly photo shoots (we've been using blankets, but we're just about out of those). And fabric is expensive, so thrifting it is definitely my best option when I'm just going to be using it once and then recycling it or giving it away.

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This one is a totally frivolous buy, but isn't it pretty? I've always wanted a perfume atomizer, and I love the look of this porcelain one. I almost put it back, after chiding myself about buying things I like but don't need, but then I noticed the "Hand Painted in West Germany" sticker on it, as well as the $3 original price tag from a Washington D.C. department store that hasn't existed for at least 20 years. When I thought it was new, I could resist it, but being an antique pushed it over the edge for me.

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These guys were a no brainer! I collect carved wooden animals, and all three of these little wee ones were in a bag together, for I think $2. No way they weren't coming to live with the rest of the collection. I think they're the smallest members, but they're mighty!

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This heavy wrought iron bunny hook set is either old or just made to look old, but either way, isn't it adorable? I think it's going to go in the baby's room.

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Finally, my favorite find of the day and one of my favorites of recent years--this is a full set of brand new hand bells. There is no information of any kind in the case, so I haven't the foggiest idea who makes them, but how great are they? Pending her permission, they're going to go live in the toddler playland that is my friend E's house--she has 1.5 year old twins, and these seem like a great gift for them.

All in all, a very good thrifting day. I love these types of trips, where I get an assortment of stuff that is both fun and useful. The baby was happy for part of the time and slept for part of the time, so I had a couple of hours to walk around the store and check things out, and I love the collection of stuff I came home with. It's days like this, more than the occasional great big store, that make me such an avid thrifter.

What have you thrifted lately? Anything practical? Anything completely impractical?

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Once more on unemployment

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So, as I've mentioned, I'm unemployed right now. The details aren't important; suffice it to say that I lost my job, through no fault of my own, while I was on maternity leave. (And, because I know someone will ask, no, I did not lose it in a way that is illegal under FMLA or similar.) So, I've been out of work since mid-June. For the first 8-12 weeks, I'd have been out anyway, so that didn't bother me a bit. The next eight or so weeks didn't bother me much either--I started looking for a job, but was happy enough to have my maternity leave extended and didn't worry too much about it.

Now, coming up on the seven-month mark, I think it's safe to say I am bothered. A few possible jobs have come up, but none of them have worked out for one reason or another. My unemployment insurance benefits will be running out soon (and I am still not sure if they'll be extendable under the new federal deal or not, something I should probably find out), so I'm increasingly worried about money. It's more than that, though--I just need to be working. This time at home with Buzzy has absolutely been precious, and I'll own up to being glad, ultimately, to have been laid off and forced to take more than the 8-12 weeks I'd planned, but it's really time to get back to work.

This experience of unemployment has been quite different than the one I had two years ago. I think that is mostly down to having just had a baby and focusing on that, rather than on having a job and what it means not to have one. There is probably also an element of having been through this before and come out of it in better shape than I started, which increased my confidence. Though I am frustrated by having taken so long to find anything, I can see it (most of the time, at least) as a structural problem with the jobs available, not as a personal problem with my skill set and self-presentation.

There is, however, another obvious reason that this time is different--by virtue of having a baby, I do not present to the outside world as an unemployed person, but as a stay at home mom. When I was a random unemployed 31 year old woman, it was clear that being at home for several months was not a life choice, but a circumstance. This time, it appears the opposite. It is almost bizarre how different that makes things feel. There is almost no outside pressure to find a job. In fact, if anything, I'm getting the opposite, as people keep asking me if I'm sure I want to find one, or suggesting I just plan to stay home for the first year/two years/whatever. In effect, Buzzy gives me the perfect reason to be unemployed for a long time and not have it questioned.

This clashes completely with the other new feeling, which is my abject horror in having a dependent for whom I am not providing financially. Sure, Buzzy is being provided for, and financially my family as a whole is doing fine, but I'm not personally contributing anything beyond the paltry sum I get from unemployment, and that bugs me. A lot. Much more than just feeling like I was mooching off Mark when I was unemployed without a kid. This makes little sense, since I am certainly contributing more to our family by staying home with our baby than I was during my period of baby-free unemployment, but the feeling remains persistent.

Ultimately, I think what I am experiencing is one of my first experiences with the phenomenon known as "Mommy Guilt." While being unemployed in and of itself is easier this time, having been through it before and feeling more-or-less professionally confident, the baby makes the fact that I am not bringing in much money sting even more than it otherwise would. And I'm sure, once I find a job, I'll feel guilty about leaving him for 40+ hours a week, even though I am very comfortable with day care as a concept, and with the particular day care options we have. For some reason, knowing that no matter what I do, it's going to feel like I'm doing it wrong? That makes this all easier to deal with.

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As always, resolutions

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Image via Falling Fifth.

I am an inveterate resolution maker. I can't even remember a time when I wasn't--every year, I have a list of resolutions. Most of them don't make it out of January. Some years ago, I started making lists of goals instead, but it really amounted to the same thing. Then I started with vision boards, which are slightly different, in that they include dreams and things that aren't within my control, but it all comes from the same place.

I've been thinking a lot these first few days of 2013 about whether the spate of new year's resolutions I always make, and the ones I see around me, are healthy. On the surface, what's not to like about committing oneself to eat better, exercise more, save more money, keep a cleaner house, and so on? These are all good things, right? But they're not completely good, because so many of us bite off far more than we can chew and end up discouraged, disappointed in ourselves, and right back in the same place we started. Or, we make resolutions that are so vague as to be meaningless, and then never come back to address whether or not we met our goals, which is its own kind of problem. I thought, for the first few days of this year, that this year I'd give it up--I'd resolve NOT to make any resolutions. But after a few more days, I decided that just isn't me. I may not be perfect, and in fact, my progress at any given goal may be at a snail's pace, but it's worth it just to be trying. I feel better about trying and failing than about not trying at all, I guess? Anyway, my days of thought put me right back where I started--making a list of 13 resolutions for 2013, with the intention of making them as quantifiable and achievable as possible. So here we go:

13 Resolutions for 2013

1. Read 40 books. I've really got out of the habit of reading over the past couple of years, and I want that to change. I figure that if I keep three books going at any one time--one electronic on the iPad, one audiobook on the iPhone, and one paper book, I should be able to meet this goal. As I have in past years, I am tracking on GoodReads.

2. Send birthday cards to my friends/family. This is something I've been inconsistent with in the past, and I really want it to be something I just do. I have a cousin who sends everybody perfectly chosen cards, always on time, and I admire the heck out of it. I'm setting up calendar reminders for birthdays and plan to make myself some sort of card file to organize cards in advance, in hopes that will keep me on this one when things get busier. As a means of tracking, I'll tally up cards sent at the end of every month and see how I do.

3. Use the 52 Week Savings Plan. Being unemployed, saving money is not exactly my strong suite right now. However, when I came across the 52 Week Savings Plan online, it seemed like it would work out. The idea is that you save $1 on the first week of the year and $52 on the last week of the year, with savings corresponding to each week in between. The total saved for the year, if you follow the plan, is $1,378. Ideally, I'd like to save a lot more than that this year, but it all depends on when I get a job and what it pays, and this at least keeps me committed to a bare minimum savings. I already set up direct transfers for every week, so it should all happen automatically, and I'll hopefully be working well before the weekly withdrawals get large enough to make much difference to my checking account balance.

4. Prioritize visits with friends (at least 4). Having a new baby makes socializing more difficult, and I was never that great at it to begin with. So, I really want to make sure not to let my friendships fall by the wayside this year. One way to do that is to prioritize visits with my friends, almost all of whom are far away. I am aiming for at least four overnight or weekend visits over the course of year, either convincing folks to come and visit us here, or going to visit other places.

5. Complete the Couch to 5K, then re-assess. I was in good shape before I got pregnant, and that is all gone now. I want to get back to where I was, but I recognize that it's unlikely I am going to commit the kind of time (1.5 hour gym visits 4-5 days/week) that I was committing before I had a baby, at least not right now. So, I need to start smaller. The plan is to begin with the 30-minute 3 days/week Couch-to-5K program, with the goal of adding in a day of weight training every week as well, and then reassess in eight weeks after that is finished. My major concerns right now are regaining cardio conditioning and core strengthening, and this seems like the most reasonable and time efficient way to start. I would like, at some point, to run an actual 5K, but I am not making that a goal for this year, as I don't know how possible it's going to be (I have a lot of allergy-related trouble running outside, and am already having some joint-related trouble with running at all).

6. Blog at least three times a week. I really, really miss consistent blogging. For much of my pregnancy and the first few months after Buzzy was born, I didn't even have ideas to blog about, much less the time and energy to actually write. That is changing now, so I need to work on the discipline side of things and get back into the blogging groove. I haven't quite figured out how that is going to work yet, schedule-wise, but I am going to start with attempting three posts a week and go from there.

7. Do something to improve my space every month. Mark and I have been talking a lot lately about how we kind of failed ourselves when we moved into this house, as we never thought of it as permanent or long-term, and thus never put much effort into making it a nice place to live. After being here for three and a half years, it's clear what a mistake that attitude was and is. So, even though our time here may wrap up within the next year, we both agree that it's important to do what we can to improve our space, ideally in ways that are transferable. This could be decorating, a big cleaning/reorganizing project, whatever. I'm on a big kick right now and have made several improvements, but the trick is really going to be keeping them going throughout the year.

8. Volunteer. I'm pretty disgusted with myself lately when it comes to how much I am giving back to my community (pretty much nothing). The unemployment financial squeeze has cut my charitable giving down to almost nothing, and I haven't done any real volunteer work in ages. That needs to change in 2013. I'm not sure how or where, yet, but I need to set myself up with some ongoing volunteer work.

9. Institute a gratitude practice. For several years, I've read online about people's gratitude practices, from Karen Walrond's gratitude.2012 visual gratitude journals to Miss Britt's Happiness Highlights, there are a million ways to do this. I'm not sure, yet, what the best way will be for me, but I need to figure out something and make it a habit, because I have so very much to appreciate, and I need to make sure I am aware of my gratitude.

10. Re-engage in social media. This is a funny one, since so many people are resolving to spend more time with their computers and other various screens off, but I am resolving to get back into social media. In particular, I want to start reading and commenting on blogs again. I got out of the habit when the baby was born, and it's a world in which I really miss participating. I'm not going to set a specific goal for this one at this point, but I cleaned out my feed reader and am starting fresh, so hopefully I'll be able to keep on top of it from now on.

11. Get a new job. I saved this one until the end of the list as not to be a downer, but I have got to get a new job, and it needs to happen soon. I am not suited to not working, even if we didn't need the money, which we do. The time I've spent at home has been great, but I really need to go back to work. At this point, I am pretty satisfied with my resume and the logistics of my job search, it's just a matter of keeping at it until the right thing comes along.

12. Play with the baby. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it's really not. It is too easy, I think, to get caught up in the baby's needs, and the ideas I have about what is best for him, and forget to enjoy him. I'm only going to do this once, and he changes every single day, so probably the single best thing I could do for myself this year is to slow down and enjoy being with him. It's something I try to remind myself every day.

So there you have it. Another year, another resolution list. I feel good about it, though. I think everything on the list is accomplishable, and working towards these goals, even if I don't meet every single one of them, will improve my life. What more can there be?

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Musings on thrifting for a baby

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It has come to my attention that I haven't been posting much about thrifting lately. It's not that I'm not doing any thrifting--I tend to hit the thrift store once a week, either with Buzzy in tow or when he's at home with Dad. My recent luck there has been fair-to-middling, I'd say; no amazing scores, but never coming home totally empty-handed. I've also be thrifting for far different things that I used to--namely, things for the baby.

Buzzy always needs clothes, so I always look at those, and I've gotten a few great things and a lot of useful things for $.99-$4.99/item. My best score on that front was an 18-month size Land's End parka, barely worn, found a mere week or so before we headed to the chilly climes of Minnesota for Christmas. Felt good about that one. I scored a $.99 Hanna Anderssen striped onesie that I love. I've snagged a number of pairs of Gymboree pants, which are my preferred brand right now, because they seem to fit him just right. Clothes are a fairly easy one, because I can tell at a glance what kind of shape something is in, and they are completely washable.

Toys are a bit harder. At this stage, when everything goes immediately into Buzzy's mouth, I'm only really willing to thrift toys for him if they are new-in-packaging, or can be completely washed. Basically, that means only hard surface stuff, like the vintage-esque Fisher Price pull phone I brought home recently. I so thought that thing was circa early 80s--it looked just like the one we had when I was a kid!--but the bottom says copyright 2009! I had no idea they still made those. Anyway, something like that can be fully submerged and soaked in hot water and vinegar, then scrubbed, so I feel OK about giving it to him. Things that can't get that treatment, though, I can't quite do yet. Hopefully I'll get over that when he's a bit bigger, as the toy section has always seemed to me to be one of a thrift store's high points.

Another easy-thrift, I've found, is baby linens--receiving blankets, crib sheets, etc. We don't actually need any of those things, having been very generously handed down and gifted a big stockpile, but I did buy him one crib sheet that I just couldn't resist--it has squirrels on it and was just too cute not to bring home. And again, completely hot water washable, so my germ fears are abated. I've also been checking out the fabric section of my thrift store lately, since we are just about out of blankets to use as backdrops for Buzzy's weekly photos, and I'm going to start needing to buy pieces of fabric. WAY cheaper to do that at the thrift store.

I've been thrifting a surprising number of super practical baby-related things new in the package. For example, I've found multiple unopened packages of breast milk storage freezer bags, and a number of unopened packages of pacifiers and bottle nipples. Those kinds of things can be very expensive. For example, a 50-ct box of milk storage bags is around $12 on Amazon, and they're generally $.99 at the thrift store, so if they are brands/varieties I think we'll use, I always grab them when I see them.

The biggest category of successful baby thrifting I've done, though, is for larger items. On my last trip, I came home with a little rocker type chair with a tray for Buzzy. Perfect for him right now, as he is loving sitting up, but isn't quite able to do it on his own yet, but also something that he'll only really use for a few weeks, so I wouldn't want to pay full price for it (probably around $50 for the kind I got). All of the fabric parts are removable/machine washable, so it was easy to clean up so Buzzy could use it, too. As I've mentioned before, Buzzy's pack n' play, changing table, and dresser are also thrifted. The pack n' play was a bit of a challenge, since is is fabric and can't be machine washed, but I satisfied myself with hot water, vinegar, and sunlight, and it has worked out great. Right now, I am on the lookout for three new higher ticket items--a foldable stroller (for the day, coming soon, when the bucket car seat caddy won't work anymore), an exersaucer/walker, and a high chair (I saw one of these for $5 the other day and I wish I'd bought it).

It has been interesting to me, as someone who has for more than a decade been willing to thrift just about anything I want or need, to realize that I do have different "rules" or "standards" when it comes to my baby. Would I thrift shoes for myself? Absolutely, if I could find any. For him? Probably not, unless they were new. Have I ever worried about the possible issues with thrifted furniture in the past? Honestly, no. Am I worried now? Absolutely. Which is probably good, honestly--I've been lucky so far, but that luck would have to run out eventually, and I'd end up with bed bugs or lice or scabies or something. Nothing like looking out for someone else to make you realize the ways in which you've neglected to look out for yourself.

How about you, fellow thrifters. Do you thrift a lot for your kids? What won't you buy? Any tips to make sure thrifted items are really clean before you give them to your baby? Leave a comment!

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What did Buzzy get??

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I have had a few requests to show you all how Buzzy did on his first Christmas on the outside, and really, how can I resist? I'm extraordinarily proud of our family/friends for getting the little dude such great stuff, in such moderation (remember, this represents a huge family, so even though it's a lot of stuff, it's not a ton per-person), and basically making the present aspect of his first Christmas fantastic. He didn't open a single thing that I cringed about, and most of what he was gifted I just plain love.

Buzzy's Christmas Haul

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