Friday, November 27, 2015

Budget Reboot Before the Holidays

My budget has been a little too flexible in the last year. Once we settled into our house in December 2014, I began to be a little more lax on our budget. Oh, I spent $50 too much in one category of my budget? I'll just increase the budget... That will make up for my mistake... Right? HELL NO! It doesn't erase bad behavior and today my friend posted a quote that reminded me of this.

So, as the holiday season approaches, what are you going to do? Are you tracking your spending? Are you counting your debts and making a plan to pay them off, or are you oogling all the pretty things you don't need and can't afford this holiday season? About three years ago, I decided to pay off our student loans, and we totally did that. Then we saved for a house, and we're now in it. But now we have two car payments that I'd rather not have and another small debt I'll be paying off next month.

Let's do this. Stay strong. Budget like crazy. And keep your eyes on the prize: financial freedom.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Recommendations on Natural Birth in Houston, Texas

Several months ago, a reader emailed me saying he was looking for a midwife who would support his wife's vegan diet. I immediately took time to respond with my thoughts on my birth team and recommending additional resources to him. He and his wife just discovered the pregnancy, and he was grateful for my honest opinions and feedback. After reading the information below, he and his wife chose the same birth center I delivered my daughter at in February 2015. I'm hoping my information below will help other couples when it's time to choose plans for their births, too!

I highly recommend Holly Shearman, my midwife who delivered my daughter in February, at West Houston Birth Center. They were supportive of my vegan diet during the pregnancy and were amazing. I miss going to my appointments and wrote a testimonial soon after delivering.

I haven't yet posted my birth experience, but Holly was very patient while I labored 7 hours at the birth center (and 11 at home!). She was calm and helped me birth the baby without any complications or fears. I also hired Debbie Hull, a doula here in the Houston area to be my birth coach. Together they were an amazing team and have worked together during dozens of births in the past.

West Houston Birth Center
I never hesitated to go there and always felt very safe, even at hour 18 of my labor. Holly has been the midwife at nearly 20 breech births (out of the hundreds she's attended), so I was totally confident in her experience and ability to handle any situtation that arose.

I made an appointment when I was 5 weeks pregnant, so I was under their care from weeks 5 to 38.5. They were prompt, friendly, and experienced. I became comfortable with several of the RNs there and there were a few midwives (although Holly is the owner).They were supportive of the Bradley method and Hypnobirthing. Neither of those methods worked for me while I was in labor, but nonetheless they are open to your "birth plan" and wishes.

We also didn't call our family until we were on our way home from the birth center.

Debbie Hull, doula
Debbie is very knowledgable. As I said, the class was intense, but it gave me the confidence and strength to get through labor. She offers a free interview with her and you meet up for coffee and chat to see if you like her and want to hire her. Well worth the money I felt!

We also attened Debbie's couple's class called BirthWorks which delves VERY deep into the entire process of birth. It is a 15-hour course spread over five weeks (three hours each), so it is intense, but extremely helpful. I was able to use that knowledge for multiple birthing positions that I otherwise wouldn't have even know to try during labor. I purchased the package that included the BirthWorks class and Debbie's support during and immediately after labor. A few hours after I gave birth to Eleanor, I looked at Debbie as I got into the car (three hours after the birth... they send you home within 2-6 hours or so if all is well) and practically wept because she made the experience moving and also gave me the strength to literally push as she talked me through each contraction.

She showed up at the birth center after I labored at home for 11 hours. I immediately leaned on her basically hugging her through some contractions and swaying with her. She spoon fed me yogurt and offered me a sip of juice and water between every contraction. She didn't leave my side during labor and was next to me always.

She also made sure my husband was OK. Debbie never overstepped her boundaries and does an in-home visit a month before the due date to discuss your and your partner's wishes during the labor and to see what you want her to do specifcally—very thorough.

We didn't want anyone else at the birth except my husband, Debbie, and the birth center staff (which was Holly and a nurse named Meagan). That was it. During our initial interview with Debbie, she asked me how I was feeling, and I found myself spilling everything that had been weighing on my in the past few months and my issues with too many people potentially attending the birth. 

Debbie immediately began brainstorming with me on how approach this issue and how to come to the conclusion that I felt most comfortable with. My bottom line: this is about you and your partner. And that decision can only made by you. My birth team fully supported me and respected me for it. It was awesome to be confident in my decision and focus on me and my baby during labor.

I can go on and on and on about how great they were! It's been more than a year now since I found out I was pregnant and I remember being terrified and elated all at once. To those who are also expecting a little one, go with your gut and do what you feel is right for your and your family. I never once doubted my birth team and I had such an awesome experience.

A quick note about deciding to give birth "without drugs"—you won't regret it immediately after the baby is born. It hurts, but I was completely alert within seconds of birthing our daughter. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Best experience ever.

Documentaries worth checking out:Happy Healthy Child—Great series that offers four hours of info on natural birth. Several experts in the field are interviewed. The trailer makes me super sappy just watching it! Well worth the money.
Birth Story—Ina May Gaskin and the midwives at The Farm in Tennessee. You'll hear her name often as you research natural birth and midwives.
Pregnant in America—Documentary a guy made when his wife was pregnant. My favorite scene that describes natural birth, as told by Robbie Davis Floyd [5:08-7:05]. Full doc is on YouTube.
The Business of Being Born—If you have any doubts about natural childbirth, this will calm your fears. Full doc is available on YouTube.
What Babies Want—Interesting doc on the conciousness of babies. It's about how the feel pain and are acutely aware of their surroundings and have emotions like adults. Full doc is on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Snag Some Deals Using Groupon Coupons

You're standing in line at [insert your favorite place here] and you've been contemplating whether or not you should make this purchase. If you're like me, you immediately whip out your phone and Google [store name + coupon]. And why wouldn't you? Everyone loves a deal. Groupon now offers coupons, and with more than 75,000 coupons available at over 9,300 stores, you should be typing in [store name + Groupon coupons], or better yet, check their site for the complete listing to shop smarter.

I'm a (new) mom, so the first place I clicked during my coupon hunt was the "Babies & Kids" category. There are eight categories to choose from and all the top names you shop at anyway as a parent (BabiesRUs, The Children's Place, and, to name a few!).

Not a mom? No problem. There's a total of 48 categories to choose from, ranging from Art and Haircare to Free Samples and Pet Supplies. No matter where your interests are, there's a coupon out there for you. In my attempt to round up the best categories for my readers, read on and find the persona that best describes you!

Mommas | I'm the mom who had a cabinet full of baby food—when Eleanor was only three months old and not even thinking about solids. Guess how I stocked my cabinet? That's right. Lots and lots of coupons. I'm a big believer in saving money when and where you can, because I'm constantly looking at our budget and trying to reallocate funds to make it all work.

Categories you'll love: Babies & Kids | Cleaning Products | Free Samples | Grocery | House & Home

College Students | This was me, nearly a decade ago! I totally get it, and I know how super broke it feels to be a student. I always wanted to rebel against the sky-high textbook prices, although I never really knew how to take a stand. Luckily, there are great deals to be found online for used textbooks. Because, seriously, how do they charge $140 for a book that looks to be seven years old? Insane. Save your money for your college loan payoff!

Categories you'll love: College & Education | Computers, Laptops & Tablets | Electronics

Creatives |  I guess it's just my love for words, but I find myself gravitated towards to all things DIY and crafty. I've found myself scrolling through Pinterest saying, "I could totally make that myself" one too many times. And I often surprise myself every time it turns out just as good or even better. Crafting can become expensive, so it's best to save where you can so you can splurge on more glitter.

Categories you'll love:
Art | Craft Supplies | Hobby & Collectibles | Musical Instruments

Night Owls | While my nights are filled with snuggles and eskimo kisses with a seven-month-old baby, I dream of the days where we spontaneously drove to a movie theater (Without even looking at the movies playing beforehand!). Those were the days! Now, I tend to stream more than anything and settle for episodes of Chopped! instead of going out with a baby. Because, really, I just don't have the energy anymore! But for those of you who can sneak away from the house or have some time, this is perfect for you!

Categories you'll love: Event Tickets | Movies & Music | Flowers & Gifts | Restaurants & Bars

Young at Heart | I consider this persona as someone who loves to have fun. I'm talking about the person who always volunteers to have a party at their place, or is up for adventure whenever! I love playing games (and only wish I had more time to log hours on some good ol' RPGs, but alas).

Categories you'll love: Costumes | Outdoors | Party Supplies | Toys & Games | Travel

Pampered Divas | I'm all about saving money, but when I have to spend it, I'd like to get great deals on food, clothing, and all things beauty-related. I've bought Groupons for great deals at my favorite vegan restaurant ($15 for $25 worth of food!), but this is when you're standing in line with a pair of jeans at Kohl's (see scenario I described in the first paragraph) and want to snag an extra discount. You know what I'm talking about! And I can't even tell you how often I'm looking for a great deal on a massage, either. Nothing beats a great deep tissue massage.

Categories you'll love: Clothing | Fitness & Diet | Food & Gourmet | Haircare | Health & Beauty | Jewelry | Department Stores

This conent has been sponsored by Groupon.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bird & Bear Boutique Wooden Teething Rings Review

I have no idea how or why, but it seems as though my daughter has been teething since she was two months old. In a very short time period, I realized she hates cold teething rings, and will sometimes scream out in pain without absolutely any warning at all. Only two things have worked for her: a good 'ole knuckle and wooden teething rings from Bird and Bear Boutique. Since the teething rings are prettier, this post is solely about them!

I love natural products and was looking for an alternative to the hated cold teethers and wet washcloths. I instinctively searched Etsy for natural teething rings and found the Bird and Bear Boutique selling wooden rings with adorable bunny-eared fabric.

The fabrics were beautiful and I carefully selected three teethers (one for home, one for the diaper bag, and one for daycare). The total was less than $29 and I was so excited to receive these in the mail. They did not disappoint one bit!

I have kept all three scattered around the house for easy access. The crinkle fabric in the ear makes them fun to play with, and she's grabbing and holding onto so well, even as early as two and a half months.

The fabric also easily slips off to be tossed in the washer if needed. I love that she uses this as a toy and brings it to her mouth all on her own when she wants to use it for teething relief. I highly recommend these to anyone looking for a natural teething ring or needs an idea for a great baby shower gift,

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Octopus Tentacle Decal in Eleanor's Nursery

Even before I knew I was having a baby girl, I had chosen a nautical theme for the nursery. My theoretical nursery was a vision I had slapped together with dozens of pins from Pinterest. I had seen one in particular that really stood out of an octopus decal above a bathtub.

I knew I had to have this on the wall. I didn't really even look into buying it myself, but chatted with some friends and family about using it for inspiration to paint on the wall.

My brother works for a sign company, and was able to redraw the graphic,
enlarge the image, and then print it off as a decal. The results were fantastic. Once Eleanor was in her crib, it was all smiles. She loves it and is fascinated by it as she stares at the tentacles.

Monday, May 25, 2015

8 Simple Hacks for Your Baby Budget

Since I have nothing but my baby keeping me busy nowadays, there is a strong focus on how she is affecting my budget. I've compiled a few tips for how to hack your baby budget and save money for the more important things like healthcare!

1. Buy (or at least try) generic diapers. 
I was fortunate to receive nearly every brand of diaper in newborn size from the three showers I was given by my friends, family, and coworkers. This allowed me to test out each one. While I had no issues with Huggies, Luvs, or Pampers, I also had no issues with Parent's Choice, which just so happens to be the cheapest diaper sold at Wal-Mart (and is also the Wal-Mart brand). Say what you will about Wal-Mart, but my wallet does enjoy this money-saving alternative and costs as low as $0.13 a diaper versus upwards of $0.25 a diaper for the brand names. I'm sold.

2. Download coupons from Kroger (if you're near one).
I downloaded the Kroger app and have a reminder set to check the latest coupons every Sunday morning. Not only am I saving on my entire grocery budget, but they also have great deals for free and clear laundry detergent (alternative to using the costly Dreft), coupons for diaper creams (I'm embarassed at the amount I have stocked up), and diaper coupons which may help if you go with Huggies, Luvs, or Pampers. The "e-coupons" save directly to my Kroger card, so there's no need to print off coupons. Easy.

3. Buy secondhand clothing.
I rarely purchased anything new the last few months and was lucky to be near a Rhea Lana's consignment sale before my daughter was born and right after. I was able to purchase plenty of essentials for only 30% of retail. Not only do they have thousands of items to choose from, but you also buy high-quality clothing that will be outgrown faster than you can snap up that onesie. Perfect for my budget. Which leads me into number four...

4. Resell baby clothes, toys, and maternity clothes at a consignment sale.
Rhea Lana's also happens to be a place where you can make upwards of 70-80% back on everything you sell there. I've already prepped several pieces of clothing our daughter has grown out of, as well as my maternity jeans, shorts, and shirts. I also packaged up a few headbands, newborn size shoes, and books for the next sale, which will be this Fall. It takes a little time up front to prep the items and enter them into the system, but with a payoff of 70%, it's well worth the effort.

5. Breastfeed your baby.
We all have heard of the benefits of breastfeeding, but it can save you over $1,000 in the first year in formula costs. It takes some time to get the hang of it, but once you do, you can write blog posts without even thinking about it while your baby eats at the same time, ha! But in all seriousness, it's been a great bonding experience for my baby and I with the added perk of not costing me anything. It's always available, warm, and ready to eat.

6. Borrow big items from friends and family.
I have a neice that's ten months ahead of my daughter and have been lucky enough to borrow her clothes. I've also borrowed a few toys and even maternity clothes from friends and family. Everyone would be more than happy to lend out a swing or exersaucer that's taking up their living room if they don't currently need it for their own family. I had coworkers who were offering me strollers, new car seats, baby baths, toys, and much more, all at no cost.

7. Return duplicates of gifts in exchange for a gift card.
I received several duplicates and ended up returning multiple items to Target or Wal-Mart. I downloaded both of their apps and used the scanner to see what items were sold where. Wal-Mart has a return policy of no more than three returns without a receipt in one year, so be sure to pile up everything before heading there. I exchanged these items for gift cards which in turn I used for diapers, bath essentials, and a couple of "fun"items. These really helped out and didn't count against my budget at all.

8. Purchase books and toys from thrift stores.
Fill your child's library up with gently used books from Goodwill. It may take some digging, but I was able to find several classic board books for less than $1 each. I even found two baby sign language books. Regular prices for books can be expensive and an entire collection of books can be costly. I was lucky to have two large boxes from childhood to add to our bookshelf, so that helped, too. I can't wait to see which ones will be her favorites.

Do you have more hacks? Share below!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hava Baby Sling Review

I had read about all of the benefits of babywearing and even sat through a quick intro class at the B.I.R.T.H. Fair held in Houston when I was a few months pregnant. After knocking on the door of my coworker to visit her and her two month old son a couple of weeks ago, I was greeted by a happy mama wearing a happy baby—yep, wearing him—in a sling.

I was curious as to which brand sling it was since I knew of them, and watched her as she easily adjusted her baby in a few different positions. I had received a Baby K'Tan from my baby registry, but found that it was probably one size too small for Eleanor and I. It felt like I was shoving her into a tight outfit (and we all know how terrible that feels!). Once my coworkers told me how much she loved her Hava sling, I was intrigued.

The next day, I went to a craft show with my mom, and I asked my husband to load up the heavy, bulky stroller. My husband mentioned that he leaned it away from her so it wouldn't roll around in the backseat during turns and hit her carseat. This thing was huge, I'm telling you! Once we stopped the car, I dreaded unloading it. After I dragged it out of the trunk of my hatchback, I fiddled with the straps and secured her in under a full minute. I attached toys, my stroller bag, and unlocked the brake. We were finally ready.

And after five minutes, she started to cry at the top of her lungs. Nope. I ended up pushing an empty stroller for thirty minutes while my mom carried Eleanor in her arms. This wasn't going to work. That night, I knew I was sold on the Hava sling. After checking out their Chic options, I settled for the Claudia design, which was on sale for $69. Hey, I like a bargain and it was gorgeous (see below).

I couldn't wait to receive it in the mail and was ecstatic to try it on. The first few tries were a little tough, as I wasn't confident in the size I had purchased. Luckily, every purchase comes with a super helpful DVD which includes instructions (you can alsoview it in its entirenty on their YouTube channel). I loved the aluminum rings, and the fabric, which was thick enough to feel secure but also thin enough to be breathable and not super hot (a must here in Texas!). The sling also featured a padded shoulder and the "rails" (top and bottom of the sling) are padded, too, for optimal comfort. I can even wear Eleanor up to 35 lbs, well into her toddler years.

Two days after I received the sling, I made my way to their store, Nurtured Family, in north Houston thinking I would switch it out for a smaller size. The woman working at the store was more than happy to grab a sample sling and demonstrate how to wear my baby (thank you!!!). It turns out I had the right size and didn't need to switch it out. At least I was now armed with a few positions that would work for us and was now much more confident. I also bought a car adapter and some extra membranes for my breastpump, so the trip was well worth it.

On our way home, we stopped by a nursery to pick out a few trees for our backyard. I grabbed the sling and in less than 15 seconds, I slipped Eleanor into it, just as I had been taught by the Nurtured Family employee. My "tail" of the sling was a little long, so I wrapped the end of it around the rings to cover them with the extra fabric. Eleanor was comfortable and content while we shopped, and after about 15 minutes, I looked down to see that she had fallen asleep.

I highly recommend the Hava slings and can't wait to wear her through to toddlerhood in this. The comfort is beyond amazing, and I know it will be a memory I hold dear as she ages. Feeling so close to her while providing her with soothing attention is extremely important to me. I believe it was well worth the price and looks like it will last us through a few good years. I may even get a second one later on just for a different fabric option.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Buy This House for $150 (If You Write the Winning Essay!)

While watching the news last week, I saw a story about a house selling for $150. That's right. Only one zero. You have to submit a 200 word essay and you'd be responsible for the title and taxes if your essay is chosen. The seller is looking for 3,000 submissions (which would mean he would sell it for $450,000!). The house is a super cute with two bedrooms and one bath in The Heights of Houston. Even though we just moved in to our home six months ago, I considered submitting an essay just for the hell of it.

Ultimately, I decided not to submit the essay, but I've pasted it below just because I didn't want to waste any words. After reading the inspection report, I decided the repairs wouldn't be something I would be able to afford, even if I only bought the house for $150 (plus title and taxes). I had originally looked for something smaller, but we ended up in our 1,653 square foot home.

Check it out and submit your essay if you're interested! The deadline to submit your $150 and essay is June 13th, 2015.


Living large in a small space (and on an even smaller budget) has been my goal the past few years. Reevaluating how we lived and ultimately our life story has resulted in some life-changing decisions.

That very idea prompted us to pay down our student debt by tracking every penny we spent in our quest for financial freedom. During our journey, we erased $17,000 of student debt in less than 18 months, moved from Austin to Houston in hopes of finding better jobs, and established the careers we'd always dreamed of in the fields we studied. With these accomplishments behind us, we then expanded our family from two to three and welcomed our baby girl earlier this year. 

This home would suit our minimalist lifestyle and, when paired with my knack for balancing budgets, could prove to be the perfect match for our family—both financially and environmentally. Without a mortgage, we could secure our financial success for years to come and focus on raising our daughter to instill the very values that led us to the path we are on today. We'd love nothing more than to stroll down the sidewalk in The Heights with one less stress.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Settling in to My New Role as a Mother

I had this long witty post all ready to go, and then I clicked the wrong button and it was all gone. No use crying over lost words. Onward we go. I'll try to paraphrase what I had written.

I love motherhood. It's been tiring, and I've had sleepless nights after restful nights. I knew some of what to expect and then was surprised by many things.

I also thought that during my time off for maternity leave, that I would have plenty of time to write blog posts. Ha. Ha. Ha. It's been endless nursing sessions, diaper changes, naps, spit up changes, and laundry. As soon as I think I have a few minutes, I remember that she's almost out of clean onesies or that I really, really need to finish washing the dishes or put them away.

So, please excuse my delay in content. I swear it's on my mind. I keep thinking about what's the next thing I can write. And then my baby cries. Ha! I'll get there soon enough. Keep an eye out for new stuff soon. As time allows!

In the meantime, here's a family picture that we took on Mother's Day.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bunnies By The Bay Gift Set Review

I received an email before my daughter was born from a representive at Bunnies By The Bay. I had been so pleased to hear they enjoyed my blog and they wanted to send me a small gift for the arrival of Eleanor. Before I received the special package, I checked out their products or "harelooms" as they like to call them, and saw so many cute things. I especially loved their plush toys and

I was so excited to see what they had sent and let out a big "Awwwww!" when I saw the items wrapped in tissue paper with carrots. I carefully unwrapped it to reveal a Kiddo Romper Gift Set and a Kiddo Bye Bye Buddy security blanket, both of which were absolutely adorable. I couldn't wait to put Eleanor in the romper, but she was only a few days old when the package arrived.

When we finally could put her in the 0-3 month outfit, we set up a mini photoshoot and dressed her up. Her patience was running thin, as we had several outfits to try on, but we snagged two good photos!

I also ended up putting the little bluebird on her crib between the wall and the side of the crib. She loved to stare at it during the early days of being in her crib and I often shook it since it served as a rattle, too. The security blanket is also extremely soft and cuddly.

The "harelooms" from Bunnies By The Bay include books, toys, apparel, blankets, and gift sets. Check out their site!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Now We Have Everything + Free Digital Print

I had wanted to make a piece of art for Eleanor's arrival that shouted, "We only have ONE kid!" and settled on a design I saw on Etsy. It took me about 20 minutes to recreate in Paint.NET, and I printed up another with my niece's name for her first birthday, as well. I thought it turned out cute and wanted to share!

If anyone wants this print (8x10) with a quick switch of a name, I'd be more than happy to email you a digital file. I won't be able to switch out the colors, but I can quickly pop your kiddo's name in. Email me with your request with one child's name. Or I can send you the one below that simply says, "Then we had you."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rhea Lana's Richmond-Rosenberg: March 29-April 2 + 6 Shopping Tips to Maximize Your Budget at the Sale!

I'm obsessed with budgeting and have a knack for finding the best deals on everything from groceries to clothing. When we found out we were expecting with our daughter last June, I then added another category to our budget labeled "Baby Folmar". She's just celebrated her first month birthday and has officially grown out of newborn clothing. So how did I stock her closet months before she arrived and well under budget? Two words: Rhea Lana's!

This budget-friendly consignment sale takes place twice a year and is easy on the wallet for families across the country. Here in Houston, I'm fortunate enough to live close by to the Richmond-Rosenberg sale, and it's open to the public from March 29 through April 2 located at 1106 Herndon Dr Rosenberg, Texas 77471 (Behind Papa Mex in the Lamar Plaza).

During the fall sale last year, I snagged adorable onesies and outfits for only a few dollars each, and some items had multiple pieces of clothing (translation: lower cost per item and more bang for your buck!).

So here are my tips to make sure you get the absolute best deals and stock up for your family at Rhea Lana's (including toys, bedding, furniture, walkers, strollers, brand-name clothing, shoes, and more) for a fraction of retail costs.

6 Shopping Tips to Maximize Your Budget at the Sale!

1. Arrive early to the sale to ensure you get the best picks of the day. Shoppers are known to line up outside the door, and if you're looking for a hot item, it's best to get in the door first!

2. Know what you're on the hunt for and prioritize your must-have items. Playpens and other well-priced items go quickly, so make a beeline for the bigger items that are highly sought after.

3. Set time aside to really look through the store. There's thousands of items at each sale, so it may take you some time to really catch all the great deals you're looking for. It's extremely organized and all sections of the store are labeled, making your search that much easier!

4. Leave the kids at home with a friend or relative. This will help you maximize your free hands and find the best deals without distraction. As a new mommy, I know I'll be doing this! Look at it as a mini vacation and shopping spree all rolled into one.

5. Return on the last day for the half-price sale. A selection of items will go to half price, saving you even more money! My strategy during the last sale was to purchase adorable clothing items I loved on the first shopping day and return on half-price day to stock up on a few more items that were well within my budget.

6. Consign at the next sale and earn upwards of 70-80% on your items. Many moms will consign and see their sales in real-time on their mobile to budget for what they want to spend during the sale using their earnings. This means you can rotate out the old items your family no longer needs and bring in new clothing, toys, and gear to suit your family's needs!

If you're a coupon clipper like me, then I know you'll love this sale. For more information, see their Facebook page or website.

My daughter, Eleanor Jane, wearing a onesie I
purchased during the Fall 2014 Rhea Lana sale for only $3!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Our Newest Addition: Eleanor Jane

I gave birth on February 20th to our little Eleanor Jane at 12:05 a.m. at the West Houston Birth Center. After laboring for 11 hours at our house, we headed to the birth center and labored there for another 7 hours. It was intense and probably the most challenging thing I've ever experienced in my life. My husband, doula (Debbie Hull), midwife, and an RN were present during the labor and then we called our family members once we left a few hours after Eleanor arrived.

Here's a couple pictures, and I'll be sure to add more soon. Just wanted to give an update that all went well and I'm trying to get the hang of being a mother. It's going well so far, but there are some tiresome nights and then there are easier nights. For now, I'll share a few photos of Eleanor in her first month.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bunnies By The Bay: Sweet Surprise!

I've been laying low since before the birth of our daughter, but I wanted to resurface to tell you about a Sweet Surprise on Bunnies By The Bay (with discounts up to 50% off!) tomorrow, March 20th. I'm a mother now, and I love deals, so I thought I'd share it with you all. I'll be posting a review of some Bunnies By The Bay products in the next several days, but in the meantime, head over and see what sweet surprise you can snag!

I'll be posting more soon, so keep an eye out for new content as I settle into my new role as a mother and jump back into The Little Red Journal as a blogger.

- Kelsey

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Minimalist's Approach to Revamping a Pair of Wedding Shoes

I talk frequently about letting things go as a part of my journey into minimalism. I whittled down my closet to the essentials, and even during my pregnancy, I lucked out by scoring some maternity pants from a coworker. When we moved from Austin to Houston, I packed up several boxes of items, including many pairs of shoes. While living with Kendan's cousin for nearly a year, only a few pairs made it into the closet of a spare bedroom we were renting.

When we bought our house, I couldn't wait to unpack and give away more donations to Goodwill. I know that sounds kind of odd, but we hadn't used anything in the boxes for nearly a year, as they had been stacked in my parents garage, rearranged dozens of times and remained unopened. I finally found the box labeled "Kelsey's Shoes" and knew which ones I had wanted to keep.

I pulled out my wedding shoes and tossed them in the keep pile. After much debate, I decided to revamp my wedding shoes. I found the Houston Shoe Hospital and dropped them over the next day for a total makeover. The dingy creme-colored pair of shoes were slightly dirty from my bridal photography session (by an amazing photographer—Sassani Photography), and the handful of times I had worn them since then. When I picked them up a few weeks later, I was absolutely stunned at how they turned out.

There are now only five pairs remaining out of the nearly dozen or so pairs I had accumulated over the years, which include
  • one pair of black flats
  • one pair of tennis shoes
  • one pair of flip flops
  • one pair of silver heels
  • one pair of black (wedding) shoes
My point is this: Don't let go of something that means so much to you. For me, keeping this one pair of shoes and revamping them as my only pair of black heels was important to me. I donated my other pair, as I only need one black pair of heels. Invest in a high-quality piece of clothing or item that makes you happy, and be OK with that! I can't wait to rock these new heels, but I'm currently nearing 9 months of pregnancy, so we'll have to wait a few more weeks. 

Check out my before and after photos below!

Photo Credit | Sassani Photography
Photo Credit | Sassani Photography

Friday, February 6, 2015

5 Benefits of a Vegan Pregnancy

Once of my concerns when I announced my pregnancy was how others would take to my veganism. I had already been vegan for two and half years, and I had not intention of going back to my omnivorous way when I found out I was expecting. I had just read Skinny Bitch: Bun in The Oven and knew I was going to stay vegan. Here are some benefits that I found to my plant-based pregnancy.

1. I didn't have to worry about what not to eat in the prohibited food list. Shellfish? Not a problem. Here's a list of items you shouldn't eat, all of which are excluded from a plant-based diet: (Source: WebMD)

  • Hot dogs
  • Luncheon meats
  • Unpasteurized dairy foods
  • Rare meat
  • Raw oysters 
  • Clams
  • Sushi (Although I did eat lots and lots of avocado sushi rolls!)
  • Unpasteurized eggs
  • Raw cookie or cake dough
  • Homemade eggnog
  • Large fish (such as swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel)
2. Meeting my requirements for nutrients isn't that hard. I tried to eat a pretty balanced meal and didn't have to face too much criticism about my choices.

3. Cooking isn't hard either. I opted for lots of veggies and rice. Although I wasn't perfect by any means, I usually brought my lunch to work and drank a smoothie on my way there. Dinner was no different than before I became pregnant.

4. My diet has saved me from gaining too fast. I did have an embarrassing appointment with the midwife where she gave me "the talk" about juices. I had no idea how much sugar was in a teeny tiny can of pineapple juice and I was chugging it for a few weeks there. That's when I gained 7 lbs. in one month. Otherwise, it was pretty steady.

5. People actually applauded my veganism during pregnancy. No one that I knew was overly concerned that I wasn't getting the nutrients I needed or that my lack of dairy would equal missed calcium for my baby and I. Luckily, I'm surrounded by super supportive people who all understand why I went vegan in the first place.

Monday, February 2, 2015

DIY Sewing Ribbon on Burp Cloths

As many of you may already know, we're expecting our first baby in about four weeks! Several years ago I purchased a pack of plain white burp cloths with the intention of adding some ribbon to them as a gift. I never made the time to do this, and instead stashed them away in a box labeled "Baby" for our future first born. Now that I'll be a mommy soon, I finally bought some ribbon with the intention of using them myself.

If you suck at sewing, then this is the perfect project for you! I can barely sew a straight line (and these admittedly aren't perfect), but they'll be covered in spit up, so I wasn't going for perfection here. I'll just jump right in and you can check out the photos for a more detailed view.

Items you'll need
One pack of burp cloths
3 spools of 9-ft ribbon
Sewing machine

1. Choose a ribbon and measure from end-to-end on the burp cloth. Leave about 1/2-in on the top and bottom.
2. Pin to the burp cloth and use the trifold creases as your guide. I wanted mine to be on the edge if it was folded, and I achieved this easily by eyeballing it.
3. Start with your short end of the ribbon and stitch back and forth a few times to secure it really well.
4. Sew along the sides of the ribbon and again, backstitch for durability on the short end of the ribbon.
5. Trim the excess ribbon from the top and bottom of the burp cloth.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Healthy Vegan Coleslaw

My grandmother liked to give me a hard time about me being vegan, albeit in a loving way. She made an amazing coleslaw that happened to be vegan. She passed in October 2014, and while I was moving into our new home, I found this recipe laying in my nightstand drawer. I figured it was time to post it, and have added the recipe below. Enjoy in memory of my grandma!

Vegan Coleslaw
yields 12 servings

1 bag coleslaw mix
1/4 c. bell pepper
1/4 c. onion
2 stalks green onion shallots
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 c. vinegar
1/2 c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. poppyseed

1. Add coleslaw mix, bell pepper, onion, and shallots together and toss well in a bowl.
2. Mix dry mustard, salt, and sugar together and add to vinegar and oil, stirring until thick.
3. Combine all ingredients and add poppyseed until well mixed.
4. Chill coleslaw until ready to serve.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Top 3 Places to Donate & Cash in on Clutter

While researching for this blog post, I found an amazing article by a minimalist that covered a detailed list of where to donate anything. If you're looking for that kind of guide, be sure to read Miss Minimalist's guide, 101 Places Your Clutter Can Do Good. I thought I'd cover a few places where I like to go when I'm ready to get rid of something. With the three of these, we've been able to pare down much of our possessions to what we truly need and care about. Because, really, do you need 50 t-shirts?! I've found that with less clutter, I have way more time to focus on The Little Red Journal and spending time with my husband while we're not at work!

Goodwill | There's over 2,700 locations nationwide, and I can think of two within a three-mile radius of our new home. Not long ago, I found myself bringing home less than $450 a paycheck cleared after taxes. I had no other choice but to shop at Goodwill for clothing. They will literally accept nearly any type of household item or article of furniture and clothing. You're also creating job opportunities for people who sort, price, and sell the items, which I always thought was a great perk. Their pricing is great, too, if you're needing a new item of clothing or are looking for some used furniture. I'm all about donating, and think it's great to free your home and mind of the clutter.

Half-Price Books | I don't know how we amassed a library of books. When we lived in Huntsville, Texas while I attended Sam Houston State University, my now brother-in-law asked me, "Who do those books belong to?!" As if they magically appeared out of thin air or we were storing them for someone else. When we moved from Austin, we filled up two reusable bags and hauled them over to Half-Price Books. I was stunned to be offered nearly $50 for the lot. I cashed out and tossed it into our savings. We saved the hassle of packing two boxes during our move and we haven't even missed those books.

Craigslist | This one can be hit or miss, but when we moved out of Austin to Houston, Texas, we definitely cashed in on some items that we wouldn't need for one year. We sold a couch to some total hipsters (vintage holds its value in Austin) for $300 (and I made $50 profit!), and we sold a record player cabinet for $130 that I had only paid $100 for originally. So for higher-priced items, it is definitely worth it, but I wouldn't recommend trying to sell items of clothing or small trinkets around the house. Not worth the time you will spend going round and round with a potential customer. Big items, though—YES!

Interested in minimalism? Read some inspiring posts!
How Minimalism Made Moving Day Less Painful
Minimalism 101: We The Tiny House People
Skipping the Holidays: Minimalist Style
Cutting the Clutter: The 5 C's to More Happiness
5 Lessons I've Learned by Decluttering
Cutting the Clutter: Kitchen Revamp
Top 5 Reasons for Cutting the Clutter
Embracing a Minimalist Lifestyle

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vegan Cheesy Spinach Manicotti

While thinking about what I was going to buy at the grocery store, I suddenly became overwhelmed with the idea of manicotti. I haven't had a nice manicotti in a long while, so I knew this had to be the first dish that I cook in my brand new kitchen. It wasn't pretty while I was in the process of stuffing the manicotti, but it turned out amazing and I ended up eating this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's how good it was!

yields 6 servings

1 package manicotti shells
1 package meatless crumbles
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 jar tomato and basil sauce
1/2 bunch spinach, stems removed
2 garlic cloves
1/4 c. fresh parsley
1 bag Daiya mozarella style shreds
1 package silken tofu
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. nutritional yeast

1. Cook manicotti shells according to package instructions.
2. Brown meatless crumbles in a nonstick skillet with olive oil. Add water while scraping the bottom of the skillet with flour. Pour in tomato and basil sauce and simmer on low heat.
3. Combine spinach, parsley, and garlic cloves in a food processor.
4. Add in 3/4 of the bag of Daiya shreds, tofu, spices, and nutritional yeast to the food processor.
5. Stuff manicotti shells with filling and add to 9×13 and 8×8 Pyrex dish.
6. Top with meatless crumble sauce and top with remaining vegan mozarella shreds.
7. Cook at 350° for 40 minutes.