One week from my due date – now over a year ago – on one of my first days of my maternity leave, I slowly, slowly walked my larger self to the Danforth to go shopping. The walk should have taken me no more than 25, maybe 30 minutes, but since I was dealing with some pretty painful sciatica and sore hips, it took me at least an hour. But, this trip was important, something I needed to do before this baby came.
Monthly Archives: August 2015
Believe it or not, even though I haven’t talked much about this lately, we’ve been pretty successful in cutting back our food budget like we set out to do.
(If this is the first you’re hearing about this, check out my previous posts about the project.)
In July, we spent $489.92 on groceries. That’s just over $100 a week for the month and is the least amount we’ve spent on groceries in 6 months. Obviously, we have a little more shaving to do, but I’m pretty confident that we can get below $100 with a little careful grocery shopping and some intentional meal planning.
I know August is not going to be nearly as pretty. We’ve had a couple outings – a much needed date night, a great visit with old friends, a girls’ night with some newer friends, a trip to the zoo – which all necessitated a little more relaxation in our budget. I’m not sure yet how to consider those outings. On one hand, I don’t want to take them out of the food budget altogether. After all, shouldn’t we be able to do a date night without blowing the budget at a nice restaurant? On the other hand, a restrictive budget for those kinds of things will mean we do them less often, which is a problem in itself.
Those issues aside, I’m really happy with how well I’ve been able to make a meal plan and more or less stick to it. We’ve had good weeks and bad, but we haven’t had to throw away a head of lettuce in over a month which feels like an amazing accomplishment in itself. I’ve been sticking to very simple meals that are fairly easy to pull together in 15-30 minutes, and not being shy about using convenience foods where they make my life easier. Frozen hamburgers, taco seasoning and shells, frozen pizza, I’m not shy about using any of them if they’re going to help me get dinner on the table and stick to a budget at the same time.
Which brings me to this: my favourite chicken. One of the goals of this whole thing is to find as many “back-pocket recipes” I can find, the recipes that don’t feel like a hassle to make, the ones I can whip up without thinking at a moments notice as long as I have all the ingredients on hand. This is the first. Mostly, it’s not actually a recipe. I guess it is, but it doesn’t feel like it. Either way, it’s delicious and simple simple simple.
Baked Montreal Chicken
1 package of chicken thighs
Montreal chicken spice to taste
Yup, that’s it. I suppose I could make my own Montreal chicken spice, and maybe one day I will, but for now, I just buy it. I preheat the oven to 350*, lay the chicken out on a broiling pan, and sprinkle pretty liberally with Montreal chicken spice. Sometimes, I decide to toss the thighs with a little olive oil before the spice mix, in which case, I do it in a bowl before laying the pieces out on the pan. Then, I bake the chicken for about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour if the pieces are a little larger than normal, until they’re cooked all the way through.
And, that’s it.
I’ve served the chicken on a salad, or with veggies on the side, or however I feel like it on that particular day. My favourite method, hands down, is the one shown here – wrapped up with all the fixings in a tortilla wrap. Any leftovers get popped into a tupperware container and saved for the next day’s lunches, sliced thin with avocado and goat cheese on toast, or added to a soup later in the week.
What have you guys been eating lately that you’ve loved? Do you have any “back-pocket recipes”? And, tell me – how do you deal with date night, dinner with friends, and any other kind of outing in your food budget?
Our attic has been finished for, what? 2 years now? No, not quite. A year and a half maybe. Ever since we finished it, we’ve been sleeping on our bed with the box spring on the ground. Finding a proper bed frame has been pretty low priority. A bed frame doesn’t necessarily affect the functionality of a bed, so we just ignored it, and ignored it and ignored it. There have been far too many other things taking up our attention – and our finances.
I’ve been running a lot lately. I’ve been hesitant to mention it too loudly here in the blog, since technically, I’m training for a half marathon that I’m still not entirely certain I’m going to be ready to run. Even if I don’t manage the race, I will have finished the summer in the best shape of my life. I have to admit, I owe a lot of that success to my jogging stroller.
When I first got pregnant, I knew the one place we wanted to buy quality was in a stroller. I figured we would use our stroller so much, we would want something that could stand up to some abuse and be easy, even fun to use. I knew I wanted a jogging stroller, so I could give myself the best chance possible to get active again. Do 5 minutes of online research into jogging strollers, and it seems pretty unanimous that the BOB Revolution is the best in the industry.
In the end, we didn’t have to pay the $500+ to buy it ourselves. It was gifted to us by Isabel’s grandparents instead.
I started using the stroller with Isabel the day we brought her home. With an adapter, her car seat snapped right in and she was good to go. We walked everywhere in those early weeks. Once I was given the go-ahead by my doctor to start running again, we even went for a slow, easy jog. BOB doesn’t recommend running with the car seat attached at all – it makes it top-heavy and more liable to tip – but I felt comfortable enough running on smooth paths at a very slow pace. I would white knuckle the handle and keep a careful eye on Isabel to make sure she didn’t bounce around too much, and we went.
Those runs weren’t long, and over the winter, came to a complete halt. It’s pretty much impossible to run through the snow with any stroller at all, even one with wheels the size this one has. In fact, over the winter, I hardly used my stroller at all, preferring instead to pop Isabel into our Boba baby carrier. But, it still got plenty of use, two days a week, through all types of weather, by Isabel’s awesome babysitter.
We switched Isabel out of the car seat after I had stopped running with her, as the weather got colder, when she was about 4 months old. According to the manual, BOB recommends using the car seat adapter until babies are 8 weeks old, but cautions against running with them until they are 8 months old. Obviously, I broke that rule, but by the time I was ready to start running again in the spring, Isabel was their recommended age, and was thrilled to come along with me on my runs as they got longer and longer and longer.
Some things I love about the BOB:
- The wheels! They’re air-filled and huge, allowing it to glide like nothing else. The large wheels also mean stairs aren’t a barrier to us. While I still tend to seek out elevators for convenience, we’re quite capable of bouncing down or up a set of stairs. There’s one entrance to the path I run on which is accessible only by about 50 steps, and they have never stopped us.
- The maneuverability. I can steer this bad boy easily with just one hand. Tight corners are also easy to navigate, since the three-wheel design means I don’t need a lot of space to turn. Rocky, muddy, or snowy terrain don’t stop us either.
- The fold. For being such a large stroller, it folds down pretty flat and, since all the wheels are easy to take off and put back on again, it’s no chore to fold it up to put it in our car. We drive a Volkswagen Golf hatchback, so we don’t have a lot of space, but it fits without any problems.
Some things I don’t like about the BOB:
- The storage. The basket is fairly small and difficult to get things in and out of. There is a pocket on the back of the seat as well, but I mostly find it useless for storing anything of note. It also doesn’t come with a caddy, so all of this storage is out of reach while you’re walking, so there’s no such thing as multitasking.
- The size. It’s huge! I have taken it on the subway twice and have felt self-conscious and in the way both times. We now have a small umbrella stroller for those trips, and to take anywhere there might be crowds or really tight spaces that the BOB just doesn’t fit into.
- The seat incline. I guess it makes sense that, for running purposes, Isabel should not be sitting entirely upright. It’s probably safer for her to be somewhat reclined. But, I wish there was another setting, a strolling setting, so I could put the seat into a fully upright position when we’re walking around and she wants to see the world. She spends a lot of time clinging onto the snack tray so she can see everything.
- The accessories. The BOB comes very stripped down – just the stroller and nothing else. We had to purchase the car seat adapter separately and, later on, I added a stroller caddy for a place to put a cup of coffee and my phone while I’m walking. I bought a rain cover and, I shelled out the $50 for the snack tray for Isabel. Some of these accessories seem to me like they should be included – the snack tray and the stroller caddy in particular. But, the big problem isn’t that they don’t come with the stroller. The problem is how expensive they are, and how inaccessible. If I had purchased the BOB car seat adapter, the BOB snack tray, the BOB stroller caddy, and the BOB rain cover, I would have been looking at another $200+ in accessories. I managed to find a stroller caddy and a rain cover that were much cheaper, however. Perhaps an even bigger problem is that I had difficulty getting my hands on both the BOB car seat adapter and the BOB snack tray. They don’t actually carry these things in store; they need to be ordered and shipped. For some reason, at the time I ordered the snack tray, the only place I could get it had it on back order, while everywhere else that had previously carried it last year mysteriously removed it from their catalogs or upped the price by a good $20.
Ever since the wee one’s birthday, however the toy situation has exploded. The bookcase became flooded, messier and messier. We were constantly battling the creeping mega bloks, the carpet of books, the baby dolls under the kitchen table, the walker abandoned into a random corner. Nothing had a proper place anymore. We knew something had to be done about it. It was incredibly clear that the bookcase wasn’t working anymore.
We woke up in a messy house. I cleaned all day yesterday, so the floor was a little shinier, but there was still mess everywhere.
Isabel had a muffin for breakfast, and then half of my muffin. I drank coffee. Or, at least I drank half my coffee. I can’t remember if I actually ate anything for breakfast.
She spent an hour exploring the bathroom. At some point, she found the dental floss and unwound it all from its spool, leaving it in a waxy coil on the hallway floor. She crawled in my lap for a cuddle while I was exploring Periscope. She started a broadcast with her poking fingers. Eight people watched her record a view of our living room couch. At least one of those people promptly followed me on Twitter. (Periscope is weird.)
We took a walk. A nice long walk, hoping she would fall asleep in the stroller. She didn’t. I bought a new French press since Mark broke our 8 cupper and a new travel mug to fit in my stroller caddy. On my way home, I met up with a mom-friend and took a second walk. This time, she fell asleep, her head lolling uncomfortably against the side of the stroller.
She napped for half an hour.
We stopped at the park, just for a quick push on the swing and toddle around the wading pool. She didn’t really want to be there, so home. She needed a proper nap.
She disagreed. We fought for 2 hours. She won. Usually I win. Not this time. I stared at the clock, waiting for Mark to come home, hoping that today he would be quick. I fed her dinner. I gave her bath. She became manic, giggling, and rushing to climb anything, unaware of the potential to fall.
She fell asleep for the night before 7.
I collapsed on the couch with a Strongbow.
This gets better, right?
On Monday, we packed up our tent for the season. Swept it out carefully, flipped it over on its ceiling so its underside could dry, and rolled it up tight with its poles for another winter of storage in the shed. We love camping; we’ve gone on at least one camping trip every year we’ve known each other. Since Isabel’s birth we’ve gone on three camping trips: once with my parents, on a bitterly cold Thanksgiving weekend; once with a group of friends in mosquito infested Bon Echo Provincial Park; and once, just this past weekend, with Mark’s family.
Let me pause for a moment and be perfectly clear about what we consider camping. Luxuriating in a trailer, complete with running water, hydro, air conditioning, a television with satellite, and readily available wifi is not camping, not even close. When we camp, we use a tent, a little two burner, propane stove, a charcoal barbecue, and coolers filled with ice to keep all our food cold.* We rarely have hydro and even when it is accessible to us, we may not use it. We rough it. We love it.**
Isabel loves it too. We have found that camping with a baby is really not difficult at all, though we have learned a few things during our three separate trips.
- Skip the playpen unless your little one is used to it and plan to co-sleep. I know, co-sleeping isn’t for everyone, and since every baby and every couple is different, this bit of advice might not work for you either. But, I found our pack’n’play took up a lot of room in our tiny little car, but Isabel refused to sleep in it both camping trips we attempted it. It gets cold at night while camping, and being all by herself in her little bed wasn’t warm enough. We ended up co-sleeping instead so we could keep her warm, and feeling safe and secure with our body heat. It also made it easy to quickly sooth and nurse when she woke up in the middle of the night, so we mostly managed to avoid waking up our camping buddies.
- Related: pack warmer clothes than you think she’ll need. Those fleece sleepers that you’ve packed up because it’s summer? This is the time for them. It gets cold at night while camping, especially in August. If you’re camping in the fall, like we did last year, you’ll want to think about even warmer clothes. I packed Isabel a big chunky knit sweater for cool evenings and even cooler mornings and I was so glad I did.
- Relax on hygiene. I mean, a lot. Isabel had the best time while we were camping when we let her roam free a bit, which meant crawling around on the dirt, finding sticks, maybe ended up with those sticks in her mouth, and dirt all over her face. Her clothes got messy and it felt like we were scrubbing dirt out of her hair for a week after, but she was the happiest, most easy-going baby during those hours we just let her go. Of course, not every kid is going to love being grubby. For those kids, bring a big tarp or picnic blanket to play on out of the dirt instead, and, no matter what your kid is like, bring a good stock of wipes to get at least a little cleaned up before dinner and bed.
- Stick to your schedule. This one might be tough, especially if you’re camping with people who don’t also have babies. Isabel naps twice a day, once at 9 and again at 1 or so. She eats lunch around 11:30 and dinner around 6:30, and promptly goes to bed right after. Her need to nap and eat didn’t change just because we were camping. One of the days we were gone this past weekend, she fought her afternoon nap, so we gave up – a little too easily – and simply skipped it. By 4, she was almost unbearable and when food wasn’t quite ready in time, we were in melt-down mode.
- Bring a baby monitor. This wouldn’t have worked for us this time around, but in the future, we’ll definitely be adding this to our camping gear. This past weekend, our group included another couple with a baby. It was great to have the girls together, and we love that Isabel has a cousin who is very close to her age. But, our site was well out of ear-shot from their site, which meant that after bed time, it was impossible to have all four parents settled around a campfire at once. Someone always had to miss out. A baby monitor wouldn’t have helped much, since I think the sites were too far apart for it to have worked, and since our site didn’t actually have the appropriate hydro hook-up, but if we had been just one or two sites away, I could have put Isabel to bed and rejoined the party, knowing I could hear her on a monitor if she needed me. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a trip with another family with young children.
I’m actually kind of sad that we’re done camping for the season. Maybe we’ll tag along with my parents on their annual fall trip again. Maybe we’ll take a couple day trips to the beach before the summer is over. Either way, itself definitely time to start planning for next year already!
*I know, lots of you might protest that even this isn’t camping. Air mattress instead of a sleeping bag on the ground? Camp stove instead of boiling water for coffee slowly over an open flame? A car to get to your site? Such luxury!
**We will readily acknowledge that if/when we can afford to purchase a trailer and store it somewhere on our property, we will both be ready and willing to make the change. The idea of a real bed is just too attractive. I won’t call it camping though. I don’t know what I’d call it. Just, not camping.
I have a new toy.
On Sunday, I left Mark and Isabel to fend for themselves for four hours in the evening. I drove myself up to our church in the north part of the city and participated in a couple hours of “musicking”, followed by dinner with a few of my musical friends. Part of this musicking involved learning three chords on my very own, brand new ukulele. It was challenging, especially as my fingers began to get a little tender. It was noisy, as 10 or so of us struggled through the beginning stages of learning something new. But, it was fun, envigorating, exciting. I didn’t want it to end.
I came home that night to a quiet house. Isabel was sleeping and Mark had just finished watching a movie on Netflix. I settled in and showed him my new instrument and played each of the new chords I had learned. As we talked, we realized this was the first thing I had done on my own in months.
Sure, I run. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been training for a half marathon on and off all summer. Often I run with the stroller and bring Isabel along, but I’m even more likely to wait until evening and after her bedtime to hit the pavement with my running shoes. I go for an hour or so, and those runs are a nice chance for me to refresh and recharge, but they’re not an escape from my every day.
At the end of the day on Sunday, I felt so much like myself again. I don’t mean to say that I am not myself when my days are consumed with Isabel. I don’t like that rhetoric, and I hope that I don’t set aside who I am for her. I don’t believe that’s good for either of us. However, I think allowing her world to become my world can sometimes be far too easy, especially during these months when I have no classes, no essays, no group projects that demand my attention. Those few hours on Sunday doing something I enjoy were important to remind myself to hold on to that identity and, in turn, share it with my daughter.
I want her to see who I am as more than her mother. I want her to know that I have a myriad of interests, many of which don’t centre around her, and that I’m not shy about continuing to pursue them even as my primary role remains her caregiver. I want her to know what I care about and, in doing so, encourage her to find her own things as she gets older.
We’ve had fun with the ukulele the past couple days it’s been in my hands. I’ve discovered that lullabies provide the perfect framework for learning new chords and transitions. Isabel loves to touch the instrument as I’m playing, and it’s a lot of fun watching her try to figure out exactly how I bring the sound out of the strings. The ukulele is becoming a place, a place in which my role as a mother and my self before Isabel arrived are coming together, melding into one. And that is the way I believe it should be.
Last week was, more or less, a meal planning success. We overspent the week before, so I pulled meals together based on things we already had. We also had a plethora of produce that came from my grandmother’s garden; beets, green beans, onions, rhubarb. We managed to stay very close our $100 budget, mostly because I didn’t step foot in a grocery store for – well, almost – the whole week.
The plan last week looked like this;
- Monday Beet salad with Easy Tilapia with Wine and Tomatoes
- Tuesday Hamburgers with homemade buns
- Wednesday Chicken and Goat Cheese Salad
- Thursday Roasted Yam and Kale Salad with chicken
- Friday Beet green salad
- Monday Frozen pizza. (Again. Mondays are the day I have the most difficulty sticking to a plan, so if we start off easy, I hope the rest of the week will be easier too.)
- Tuesday Meatloaf with green beans.
- Wednesday Fish tacos.
- Thursday Meatless quesadillas.
- Friday Leftovers. (AKA meatloaf and green beans!)
We were up at 6 am, but really at 2 am, with a teething but playful baby who really really didn’t want to sleep. Coffee didn’t help – brewed, creatively, through a paper towel, since both coffee presses were in the dishwasher, and drunk black because both the cream and the milk went sour in the fridge two days ago. We dragged ourselves through the first hour or so of the day, lazily making plans for the hours ahead of us.
And then, we leapt into chaos.
Isabel has been difficult lately. Her incisors are breaking through, months ahead of schedule, and the pressure of teeth descending out of her gums has stolen away my happy baby and left behind this shrieky thing. I find myself moving through each moment with her just waiting for the next one, willing nap time to come soon, begging her to play by herself, just for five minutes. It feels terrible, this waiting. No stage of this parenting thing lasts for long and sometimes I fear that I’m allowing it all to slip through my fingers. Every so often, I find myself standing in Isabel’s nursery, rocking her growing body back and forth, wondering how I go here, how I landed in the world of motherhood. The baby she was has slipped out of my memory, but this toddler in my arms? I hardly recognize her and it terrifies me that I am letting any moment go for the sake of survival.
But survival it is. I try to be easy on myself. Motherhood is hard. Day in, day out, my life is governed by a toddler’s moods. I steal moments of rest from time I’m meant to be doing dishes. I fold laundry between redirecting little feet and knees and hands away from the stairs. I try – and usually fail – to block out tired, teething squeals. Annoyance creeps into my voice more often than I wish it did.
This Saturday was productive. All those clothes got put away. We did our groceries and made a trip to Home Depot. We got a few fun projects done. And yet. I sit here with my feet up and my baby finally sleeping and I can’t help but worry that this was just another day I moved through, passing Isabel off to Mark as frequently as I could, ignoring the fussiness, but also not slowing down so I can catch the giggles, few though they may have been.
Toddlerhood is short. A lot of toddlerhood – so far – doesn’t seem particularly fun. I’m ok with that and, most days, I’m ok with resorting to survival mode. But, I need to make sure I break out of it every so often to sit on the floor with her and flip through her favourite books, to build duplo buildings so she can take them apart, to take her outside and let her splash around in the kiddie pool. In those moments, I know I will find the energy to hold on, to survive the next difficult night, the next inexplicable fit of crying and clinging.
And soon, we’ll be on to the next thing, a better thing, maybe and I’ll be wondering, nostalgically, where my toddler went.