Handmade, please!

I love making things. When I was a kid, I loved to draw, sew, garden, paint, crochet- you name it. I was fortunate to come from a crafty family- my grandmother was a professional seamstress and my mom knew how to do all kinds of artsy things. My childhood friend's mom was a very talented artist and we would spend hours learning painting and drawing techniques from her and using her sewing machine to make things. I would sit at my desk and draw for hours on end and give my artwork as gifts to my parents. It was my favorite thing to do.

I miss those days. Over time, I lost touch with my creative side. Life got consumed by other pursuits like track and band and school, and before I knew it I forgot how to do so many of the things I worked so hard to learn.

Crafting and creative life is making a huge comeback nowadays, and I couldn't be more thrilled. Sites like Etsy give artisans the opportunity to showcase and sell their creations and gain notoriety that the average booth display could never do. The marketplace can never become saturated with so many original ideas- there is always something fresh and new to discover when it's one person's unique work on display.

I hope to get back into the swing of things, most specifically sewing. I have had aspirations to begin an apron business for more than a year now, and so far I have made one whole apron. This is due mostly to a total lack of a sewing machine over the past several months. However, my grandmother is moving here next weekend and will bring with her a particular sewing machine she set aside just for me. I cannot wait to begin using it and taking lessons from one of the people who influenced my creative side so profoundly in my formative years.

Once we learn what we will be having (in a little more than two weeks! Yay!), I am going to start seeking out projects to begin for our little one. Knitted and crocheted items will be key since he or she will be a winter baby. I also hope to support other artisans who carefully and lovingly make handmade items for babies, such as Baby Mae Couture, a friend of many friends of mine who is tremendously talented at her craft. I will treasure most the things that I know were intricately made by a person rather than processed my a machine en masse.

I love discovering handmade items by talented artists. If you have a favorite, I want to hear about it!

Coupons, coupons, coupons!

And more coupons! I am a huge fan of clipping coupons. There is nothing more satisfying than walking out of the grocery store after a long shopping trip and discovering on your receipt that you saved nearly half on your grocery bill. I wanted to share some of the best resources I have found that have helped me save no less than 40% on groceries for our growing family.

First off, when there are some things that you prefer not to buy generic, do your best to buy it using a coupon. One thing I have found, however, is that even with the coupons, sometimes the generic brand is still cheaper. At that point, you won't see the same percentage of savings on your receipt had you used the coupon for the more expensive item, but you won't have spent as much money on the value brand. The coupons are great, but they are cunning, but sometimes they will play mind tricks on you to their advantage. Don't be fooled by their craftiness.

I just spent some time on the Fry's Food Web site, and it was a wealth of coupons and tools designed to help shoppers save money. There are three different coupon sites where you can sign up to have coupons loaded directly on to your shopper's card: P&G Brand Saver, Cellfire, and Shortcuts.com. You simply upload the coupons of your choice, print out your list, and head to the store. Instead of handing the cashier paper coupons, the savings are automatically deducted when you swipe your card. The savings will appear on your receipt as coupons, so you will know where you saved money. Great stuff. Another thing I liked about the Fry's Food site is that the weekly circular is available online, important for me since we don't get it in the mail or in our paper. I always make it a point to match up the coupons I have with items that are already on sale at the store. My current shopping list already has several sale-coupon matches- score!

Another invaluable resource is the Coupon Mom, a great place to go if you want the headache taken out of matching up coupons with in-store sales. She is eager to teach others her secrets to saving money, and provides many, many more sites you can visit for savings galore. You can also download restaurant coupons, sign up for free samples, and find deals at online retailers like Amazon.

I'm so glad there are resources out there like this… especially since someone keeps stealing our Sunday paper right off our driveway! What are your favorite ways to save- at the grocery store and beyond?

To sell or not to sell…

…That is today's question. As I search for ways to generate an income from home, one of the most prevalent things that comes up is direct sales, a.k.a. network marketing. If you are not familiar with the title, think Mary Kay and Pampered Chef. Whether these bring up good or bad connotations in your mind, I'd like to know your opinion on this type of income source, especially for a stay-at-home mom. I dabbled briefly in a direct sales company called Petlane last year, and found it hard to branch out. It's a great company, and they sell fantastic pet products, but for me it honestly was hard to get past the cost of shipping when pet owners can go to their favorite pet supply store or boutique and get similar products for less AND not have to pay shipping. In this economy, how can you convince people that it's worth it? 

I will be the first to admit that I skimped on the effort required to make it lucrative because I let myself get discouraged too easily by things like this. One thing about direct sales is that if you believe in your products enough, you can convince anyone that it is worth it. Sales is nothing more than shared enthusiasm, no? But how do you keep up that enthusiasm past the initial contact with a client or potential team member?

In one of my random searches I came across a relatively new network marketing company that sells some of the cutest jewelry I've seen in a long time. They have a celebrity following and founders who are stay-at-home moms. I'm not necessarily planning on jumping on that bandwagon, but in my mind, in this economy, items like this may be easier to sell than something that fulfills an everyday need; the buyer isn't diverted because of extra costs like shipping, she is interested because it's unique and stylish and makes her feel beautiful. The ones who are even looking at the products are ready to splurge; those who cannot afford it simply won't look. I think most people these days are familiar enough with the home sales party concept to know what they're in for should they decide to partake in the festivities.

So, thoughts? Opinions? Advice? I would love to know how to sustain an income on this type of model. Most people I know, including myself, were part of the huge percentage of direct sellers who never got anywhere with it. I would never bash the concept. I have just learned that it is harder than most of the companies make it look to earn an income that outweighs the cost of maintaining the business over time.

The birth dilemma.

Now that I am a full 17 weeks along in my pregnancy (for you normal people, that is roughly the equivalent of four months… twenty weeks marking the halfway point), I am starting to consider the type of birth I want to have. My doctor(s) have not broached this subject with me yet, but thanks to the shenanigans of Dooce and the birth story of her second child, I'm becoming increasingly intrigued by the idea of attempting a natural birth. I use the word attempting very generously, because there are no words to describe the fear that I have of this whole process. I cannot guarantee that I'm not going to chicken out at the last minute, throw caution to the wind and snatch the doctor by her scrubs demanding that they shove the giant epidural needle up my spine FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. I'd like to think that this is a fear I share with most pregnant first-timers out there, perhaps with the exception of my mom who claims that giving birth was the most easy thing she has ever done. And I was born breech! You must take into consideration the fact that she is a tough Icelandic Viking woman, and she gained 60 pounds during her pregnancy eating nothing but oranges, all of which fell off almost immediately after giving birth and she went back to looking like the supermodel that she is. My dad totally scored.

The one birth-related question I did sneak in at my last visit was whether the odds of me carrying a breech child are higher since I was born breech and so was my mom. The doctor said that it has nothing to do with genetics, but more with the build of the woman's body than anything. She said that if I'm built more like my dad's side of the family I may be in the clear. Good to know since I'm built EXACTLY like my mom, who is built EXACTLY like my grandmother. Awesome.

So despite the fact that back in the dark ages of maternal medicine when breech babies were delivered vaginally, and came out perfectly normal (I mean, how am I not the picture of normal? Why the funny look on your face?), the chances of me being able to deliver my baby, should he/she turn out to be breech, without a c-section are slim to none. While I do unabashedly question my level of pain tolerance in the throes of labor, there is a huge part of me that feels like I will be missing out should I not be able to deliver my baby naturally and epidural-free. Women have been doing this FOREVER, with no medical intervention (did I mention FOREVER?), so why the heck can't I do it too? I'm scared to death but more than that I want to experience the hormone-induced high and full awareness that so many women who give birth naturally describe. 

I'm not gonna lie, come labor time, I could totally think the pregnant me was absolutely out of her mind thinking this ever should have been done without the assistance of an epidural. The pain is going to be horrendous, I know, but I dealt with some pretty outrageous stomach cramps in my track days that still go down in the record books as the worst pain ever. Granted, those plagued me for an hour at a time, not so many hours that it almost equals an entire day. 

I'm doing my research though, and I want some opinions from the moms out there. Tell me what you know, what you experienced, what you believe about the state of maternal medicine today, and share advice. I'll be the first to admit that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, but in light of that, I want to be as educated as possible as I approach that day in January when our little one comes into this world, one way or another. 

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Recipe on-the-fly.

Last night after returning from a fantastic weekend in Sedona with some of our dearest friends, I began flipping through one of our cookbooks and came across a recipe for bow tie pasta with red pepper sauce and peas that looked pretty tasty. But because we simply didn't feel like getting back into the car to go get the necessary ingredients after a long trip home, I decided to see if I could improvise with what we had on hand. What I came up with was actually quite tasty! There's nothing better than making a great meal with little notice using what's already sitting in the pantry.

I started by chopping five cloves of garlic into eighths (I didn't finely chop them because they are too easy to burn for a novice like me) and sautéing them in olive oil for a few minutes. I then added a can of diced stewed tomatoes that were lightly seasoned with herbs, some julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, basil, coarse sea salt, and fresh-ground pepper, and let it simmer on low for an hour or so before I began preparing the rest of the meal.

The rest of the meal consisted of whole wheat fusilli pasta and cooked frozen peas. I thought we had regular frozen peas and was worried that the sweet peas with butter sauce wouldn't work with the recipe, but I decided to chance it and it was delicious! The butter sauce was light enough that we couldn't taste it- only the sweetness of the peas came through. 

Cody made chicken breasts marinated with garlic and herb sauce, and we sliced that up and put it on top. I preferred mine without a lot of chicken but it added a good bit of protein to the meal, something that my pregnant body needs much of these days. 

Tonight, I'm going to make salmon cakes with French cut green beans, yet more ingredients we already have on hand to make a great meal. 

On a slightly unrelated note, I went to the grocery store to stock up for the weekend with my budget-friendly-and-delicious-too-cooking-sensation friend Jessica. This girl is a champ at coming up with delicious meals on a budget, and that's exactly the goal we had in mind for our weekend jaunt up north with our group of six. We purchased the ingredients for five meals for six people, including snacks, for less than $100! It came out to a little more than $30 per couple for three days' worth of food. The only meal we didn't make ourselves was lunch on Saturday because we were in Flagstaff. I take no credit for any of it- she came up with the meal plan and made the shopping list- but it was great to shop with her because I learned a lot about saving on food for a family. 

We had a fantastic time. The house where we stayed, which belonged to our friend Alex's parents, was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, but most of all Cody and I enjoyed bonding with these two amazing couples with no agenda except to rest and relax. Our pups, THOR! and Hanalei, were clearly in heaven, what with encountering a tiny human for the first time (which was a great run-through for us!) as well as access to floor-to-ceiling windows where they could watch every conceivable desert creature scurry by. Cody and I didn't take any pictures, but being the professional photographers they are, Jason and Jessica documented our time there, complete with a mini photo shoot in Flagstaff, so stay tuned. 

We can't wait for the next trip. But for now, it's dinner time!