Saturday, October 13, 2012

Life Skills Audio Book Recommendations - Great for a stress free commute!

I learned that every cloud has a silver lining recently when my work location changed for about 6 months. The new work location brought my daily commute from 5 minutes to one hour in Northern Virginia's horrendous traffic. The first few days, I was exasperated. Sitting in traffic and watching people drive on the shoulder, run red lights and block intersections was infuriating. I tried classical music in the car, which helped a lot. After a few days I would get bored with it though.

Being a frequent flier at my friendly neighborhood library, I decided to try audio books. Instead of just grabbing the latest best seller, I decided to upgrade to self help books. I didn't want this time during my day to be wasted and there were tons of things that I wanted to learn more about. I would go through about 3 audio books each week and after 6 months, I'm thrilled with the results. I learned so much about business, finances, nutrition, budgeting, investment, taxes, relationships, stress management, pregnancy, and child care. What went from a stressful bitter 2 hour commute each day, turned into 10 hours a week of bettering myself. Go me:)

If your interested, you can read the original post on utilizing the library for free audio books here.

Here are my recommendations for what were my favorite audio books:


1. The Money Book for The Young, Fabulous, and Broke. - Suze Oreman
      This was hands down my favorite. I listened to it 3x. If your not that young, only a tad fabulous and not quite broke, listen to it anyway. It was the most complete, easy to understand financial book that I've listened to. When I finished this book, I understood every concept that she had talked about.

2. The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom - Suze Oreman
     As you start listening to different financial gurus, you'll end up agreeing with the style of one over the other. I took to Suze like peanut butter takes to bread. I love her outlook I love her teaching style, I love that she understands people.  I would recommend any of her books, but to save you a long list, I chose my favorites.

3. The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness - Dave Ramsey
     While the concepts are all similar, the means to get there are slightly different. I enjoyed listening to both Suze and Dave so that I could understand each perspective and not just blindly follow the advice of one.


1. Rich Dad/Poor Dad- What the Rich Teach their Kids About Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not.
     This was really motivating. I learned more about starting a business and thinking outside the box than specific financial advice as in the finance choices, but I really enjoyed it. I kind of felt a bit bad for his poor dad though.

2. Awaken the Giant Within - Anthony Robbins
     I liked the concepts and Ideas that he brought up, but the one consistent thing that I found with the "motivational speaker" type books was that they all seemed very into themselves. It took me a few chapters to get over that but once I did, I really enjoyed it. In hindsight, they probably need to brag about themselves since they need to illustrate why we should listen to them. Be forewarned though, Anthony takes himself very seriously.

3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People- Steven Covey
     This is really the self help starter book. It's exceptionally written and you'll get a lot out of it.

Nutrition: *Warning- While I learned a lot in this category, it was the hardest to learn. Nutrition is a lot of really long words and biological processes and it was much more difficult to stay focused on this topic.*

1. The China Study- The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted - T. Colin Campbell
     This is the only book on this list that I haven't actually listened to. The book I got on nutrition was extremely detailed and I wouldn't recommend it. It also took 5 days to complete because it was so detailed. While I certainly learned something from it, I have much more faith in this. It's on my wish list now.


1. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work- John Gottman
     As a newlywed still in the "Honeymoon Phase", I was originally going to skip the marriage self help books. Then I figured, Maybe this is the time to learn this stuff, rather than down the road when we actually have problems. I'm so glad I included it! It's heavily based on scientific research and less of "I think", and it helped me to understand the concept of marriage more.

2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families- Steven Covey
     Hilarious. Seriously. I was actually excited for my unborn child to grow into a teenager so I could try out his habits.

Stress Management:

1. Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress -  Rita Emmet
     I was surprised that I loved the stress management CD's! The only warning is that when they do the chants and gentle music at 7 am when I've just woken up, it would lull me to sleep... Which is great, unless your driving on the interstate. One of my favorite things that I picked up from this is to take two breaks from work, the first is 5 minutes, the second is 10 minutes. I would turn off anything around me that made noise, bow my head and sit in silence trying to clear my head of all thoughts. I realize I sound weird, but it made such an enormous difference to my stress level!

Pregnancy/Child Care:

1. The Secrets of The Baby Whisperer - Tracy Hogg
     I really enjoyed this one. I have a 6 week old now, and I often use her advice. She has a very caring, understanding approach to child care. If your a fan of the Ferber Method, this probably isn't for you. If you tend to go with Dr. Sears, you'll love this book.

2. You: Having a Baby - Mehmet Oz
     This is an awesome book for anyone in their first trimester. I listened to it in the third trimester and spent at least 3 hours freaking out that I've already ruined my baby for life because I drank Dr. Pepper and was stressed out in the first trimester. Then I ate a cheeseburger to calm down.  (Kidding- kind of.) The good news? Michael was born healthy and happy, and I took a lot of his advice to heart for the remainder of the pregnancy. I even gave up Dr. Pepper!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Local Review: Diet To Go Food Plan

When I first started on this budget journey, my biggest problem was food. I would buy groceries for the house, then we would eat out instead because neither of us felt like cooking and we worked weird schedules. One of us would look at the other and say "We should go to PF Changs for dinner!" and the other would readily agree (What can I say, we like to support each other). The very first thing I did when establishing our budget was to go through our bank account and categorize every single charge for the previous month. It was painstaking. What I discovered was we had spent 1,600.00 on food in a month. How is that even possible??!?!?!?!? I could feed an entire village on that now. We tried unsuccessfully for the next several months to change things and we kept doing the same thing that we had always done. I started to think outside the box. I researched "Diet To Go", which is a company that makes food fresh and you can pick it up twice a week. It's meant to be a calorie reduced diet plan that is nutritionally balanced.

For $131.59 per person per week, they give you breakfast lunch and dinner, all made fresh without being frozen. The portions are reasonable (for a diet) and the food was surprisingly delicious. Chugwater chili and ham and cheese sandwiches made with french toast were my favorites. You could substitute any meals that you didn't like and the menus are available here on their website. The food isn't frozen, it's made fresh and delivered to a diet to go pick up location. Ours was at my gym (at the time) - Gold's Gym in Lorton, Virginia. They also operate in PA, NJ, CA, and MD.

This cost us 1,056 dollars per month, which is a ridiculous amount of money to feed two people. However, I am so grateful that we did this. This started us on the path of making much better choices. It sounds silly, but we actually saved money that first month compared to what we had been doing.
By the end of that month, we both had lost weight (I can't remember how much now because it was so long ago-but we felt fantastic), we got used to eating proper portions, we stopped craving foods that were bad for us and we had so much extra time from not cooking, shopping and doing dishes that it made the next phase easy to transition into. After that month, I started making everything from scratch with whole ingredients. That lasted another month with the opposite affect. OH MY GOODNESS that was a ton of time spent cooking!

To me this has been a process... a long process that will most likely continue for years as we improve with each phase and always try to balance health and money. I'll always be grateful for diet to go for giving us the shove in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Newborn Essentials- What to Buy and What I Wished I Had Skipped.

A little bit about those first few weeks:

So, Five weeks into this whole parenthood thing and for the very first time, I feel like I might actually have the hang of it. The sleep deprivation is still overwhelming, but beside that, I feel like I have the hang of this. Pretty impressive for a girl who when left on her own for the first day was crying and catatonic when Jon came home from work. I had these insane expectations that I would get the house straightened up from when family had been in town, and establish new routines for the family, and get myself straightened up - hair, nails, outfit, the works. Then I planned to go grocery shopping with my adorable cooing little tyke, who of course would be dressed in adorable cargo pants and the cutest little baby henley. I expected Jon to come home to a roast chicken dinner, which I would then shred to make soft tacos for the next night. What actually happened? I breastfed for hours, when he would finally fall asleep, I would dash off to start my plans only to hear him whimper and rush back hysterical thinking that the 2 minutes it took me to make it back to him has scarred him for life and he will now end up a serial killer thanks to my neglectful parenting. I actually got NOTHING done that day. Seriously, not a single thing off my list. I felt like a failure and at the time, thought that every day would be like that.
If you have a newborn and feel exactly like this... fear not... you aren't alone. Needless to say, Jon was pretty shocked to see me in that state. A lot of good came out of it though, I realized that my expectations had to change considerably. At the time, I really didn't expect it to get better for several months. Thank god I was wrong about that! I would ask friends and family for advice, I was scared to death that this would be my new life forever. Most of their advice was to let the other stuff go and just enjoy the baby. Since I was insanely hormonal and freaking out, this just made it worse because now I felt like a complete failure and I was a bad parent because I wasn't "enjoying the baby" enough. In my mind, how much love am I showing him if I don't have clean outfits for when he messed himself, or diapers because I didn't have time to order them, or clean bottles? Looking back, I realize what they meant but at the time, it was hard to reason clearly.

I changed my expectations and I came up with a new priority list and took over my kitchen dry erase board to list them in horrendous scribbled writing.

  1. Baby is happy and healthy.
  2. Jon is happy and healthy.
  3. Rowy is mentally and physically OK. (At the time, I thought happy and healthy was a bit of a leap)
  4. Drink enough to nurse.
  5. Eat enough and relatively healthy. (My incision had gotten infected and I had almost no appetite for a few weeks).
  6. House is picked up enough to not be a safety hazard.
  7. Bottles are washed. (We switched to paper plates and plastic silverware until we got the hang of this).
  8. Laundry is kept up enough so that we each have clean clothes.
  9. Maintain family finances.
  10. Flying Club finances (I'm the acting treasurer of a local flying club)
  11. Blog
This hastily scribbled list made a huge difference to me because it gave me permission to ignore everything on the bottom of the list until I got a handle on the top of the list. Some days (like that first day), only #1 got taken care of. By day two, the first 5 were done. By day three, I had gotten to the first 8. By three weeks, I could routinely do 1-8. Now, at 5 weeks, I can routinely do all of these. In a few days, when I feel comfortable with this, I can raise the bar and start establishing those routines that I love so much. My original plan did have to change drastically to complete this. I pictured Jon working during my 3 months off, and handling everything at home by myself. Taking care of the baby, the house, the meals, etc. I'm still convinced that's not possible and single parents have become by personal hero's. I have NO IDEA how you guys do it. You should all be given a congressional medal.


What I consider to be essentials:

  1. A reasonably priced crib. Ikea sells cribs for $69.99. Ours was $119.00 from there and we love it. It can grow with the baby and converts into a toddler bed.
  2. A firm mattress that fits into the crib. We got ours from Ikea as well. They start at $34.99, ours was $54.99. 
  3. A changing table. We got ours from Ikea for $59.99
  4. A changing table pad and 2 covers.
  5. White square protectors that you lay on the changing table to protect the cover so you don't have to change the cover every day.
  6. Diapers (duh.)
  7. Formula (even if your breastfeeding, we had to supplement and I was so grateful that we already had a canister ready to go).
  8. About 4 Crib sheets. (I bought about 12 in a thrift store and he's never had an accident on one).
  9. A rocking chair (We covered my Opa's chair which has been in my family since the 1950's- It's nice to have a comfortable resting spot at night when your up with him).
  10. A foot stool - a 10 dollar walmart cube will do, just something so you can put your feet up.
  11. Baby Wipes (duh.)
  12. A breast pump if your breastfeeding.
  13. Burp Cloths (I made mine with instructions I found on pinterest- I adore them!)
  14. 5 Bottles (We probably have about 50 of different types and sizes- We came to Richmond for two weeks while Jon has training and I only took 3 bottles- What a difference! You just wash them and reuse - no running all over the house and collecting them- as soon as I get home, I'm gathering most of those bottles up and storing them away!).
  15. Storage bags if your breastfeeding.
  16. 2 baby blankets (Not for the crib- It's recommended that you keep blankets out of the crib until the risk of SIDS has passed, we use them on the swing or just for cuddling.)
  17. 2 sleep sacks- These are fleece wearable blankets that the baby wears at bedtime instead of blankets to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  18. Around 10 easy to get on and off onsies. Buttons or zippers all the way up and down. We have MOUNTAINS of clothing. He actually rotates through about 10 onsies that meet the above criteria. I'm changing 10 diapers a day on 6 hours of sleep- I need easy.
  19. A car seat- I'm actually a certified car seat inspector, I had to take a one week ridiculously intensive class to get that certification and the most important thing I learned is that as long as it's commercially sold in the US, price doesn't matter. They are all equally safe. Buy the seat that's easy for you to use and if you need help (almost all that I inspect are incorrect), call the local police department or fire house. If you still can't get any help. Write me an email and I'll do everything I can for you. Don't buy a used seat because you don't know its history and recalls are common. Costco sells a newborn car seat for around $60.00. If you honestly can't afford one, email me and I may be able to find your states local program for free child seats for certain income levels.
  20. An electronic plug in swing- We got ours off of amazon for $99.00 after a desperate night of crying. It's the best 99.00 I have ever sent in my life.
  21. A pack and play with changing table if you live in a multi level house. We use ours on our middle level so there's a safe spot for him to nap and a place to change diapers without breaking our back by bending over.
  22. A Boppy with two covers. I adore that thing! I use it as a back brace for me when he's napping, to lift him up to chest level when I'm breast feeding, and to relive my very sore arms when I've been holding him forever.
  23. A stroller that connects to your car seat if you can afford it. Stupidly, We didn't do this because we had a free stroller from a family friend. When your baby falls asleep in the car seat (as they always seem to do), he'll likely be out for about 2 hours... Unless you wake him up to transfer him to a stroller in which case he'll scream his head off for the entire walmart trip.
  24. A diaper back pack - We bought two, a black backpack style for Jon and a beautiful girlie one for me. The girlie one is still unused. The backpack is so great theres no way I could use anything else, I can stuff it full, it keeps my back from being sore and I don't even have to carry a purse, It has so many compartments, I just switch the purse stuff over to it.
  25. Earplugs and a sleep mask - If there are two of you, nights can get pretty tense. I adore Jon Groner more than anything else in the world. But when we each have minimal sleep and the other person is making a ton of noise as they take care of him, it's like a battlefield in our bedroom. It's almost commonplace now to start the day off with "Sorry about last night." If it's my "shift" to take care of the baby, Jon can slip on that mask and put in those earplugs and it's like he's on an island. This enables him to get good sleep, which will later enable me to get good sleep when it's his turn.
  26. An iPad- okay, it's a bit expensive, but watching TV shows on HULU or ABC Player at 3 in the morning when he refuses to go to sleep makes my nights considerably easier. I can rock him in that chair for hours without losing my cool if I can watch Grey's Anatomy while I do it.
  27. A baby bath- Porcelain is hard:( If baby's going to bump his head, I'd much rather it be in his plastic tub.
  28. A foam gardeners knee pad (these are cheaper than the baby bath ones that they sell), because kneeling on your bathroom floor isn't exactly comfy.
  29. Baby wash, nail clippers, desitin, lotion, and vaseline (if it's a circumcised boy).
  30. Baby Monitor if your bedroom is away from the nursery.
That's it! If I had to do it all over again, those are the only things that I would buy.

What I wish I had skipped:

  1. The vibrating chair. The swing is about a million times better.
  2. The play mat. He prefers a blanket on the floor.
  3. All of those clothes!
  4. All of those bottles!
  5. Shoes, mittens, hats, socks.
  6. Baby towels (Our towels work fine)
  7. Baby wash cloths (see above).
  8. The million pacifiers we bought (he doesn't like any of them).
  9. The nanny timer (we ended up with an iphone app that does the same thing for 4.99 and is much more complete since you can pull up his history.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Back Up Plan: Pantry Lunch Options for Work

One of the problems that kept popping up when we first started to pack lunches was the fact that life is unpredictable. Life doesn't care that you made very exact menu plans and that you have your time allotted out in 15 minute increments (I'm kidding... Kind of). Unless you can be flexible, your doomed to fail in every plan you will ever create. I handle this in a typical obsessive compulsive way... I make back up plans. Then I make back up plans for the back up plans. Then I make back up plans for the back up of the back up plans. Okay, Okay... You get the idea. You really don't need that many back up plans unless you're attempting to pull off an "Oceans 11" style casino heist.

Here's a quick list of some packed lunch back up plans for when life interrupts your carefully laid out plans and you can't follow your meal plan. Just grab the ingredients for a few of these options and keep the kitchen stocked. If you really want to go all out, print off the list (or make an adorable pinterest style dry erase board using a photo frame... see here), so that when life does throw you a curve ball, you aren't desperately searching the poorly organized archives of my blog trying to find this post and remember what ingredients you bought.

*Shelf stable and ready to eat soup.
  1. Peanut Butter and Jelly: A classic, and for good reason. You can freeze 2 slices of bread in ziploc baggies. You don't even need to purchase an extra loaf for this. Since I only freeze bread for about a month at a time, Just grab 2 or 4 slices out of the loaf that your currently using. I normally have a few slices left by the time it expires so this works out well. Keep Peanut Butter and Jelly in the pantry (it probably already is). You can spread the peanut butter and jelly onto the frozen bread, it will thaw by the time lunch comes up. If you actually like PB&J and plan to have it more than once a month, keep in mind you can also freeze already made sandwiches.Just make sure to spread a bit of peanut butter on both sides of the bread to prevent soggy bread. Again, I only keep bread frozen for about a month so I wouldn't do this unless you plan to take it in the next month.
  2. Spaghetti: A few times, my issue has been that I missed my grocery trip and didn't have lunch ingredients at the house. If you have time to make lunch, but just don't have the house stocked with ingredients- I do this. Keep angel hair pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese in the house (cheese is optional, but it keeps Jon from knowing this is a "back up lunch", he just thinks I made him a special lunch. If you happen to have frozen pre-made meatballs (I use these for meatball subs in my meal plan and often have leftovers hanging out in the freezer), microwave them and throw them in. You can either pack this in a microwavable container or a bowl covered completely in saran wrap and then foil. I like to add the foil though it probably isn't necessary. Just make sure when you place the bowl in the lunch bag that you keep in upright.
  3. Ready made soup: I bought 3 or 4 of these and sent them to work with Jon along with some plastic spoons. You can also send some shelf stable snacks and drinks. This serves several purposes. It's a back up in case he forgets to bring his lunch, it's a great thing to have around if he ends up having to work very late or if he's already eaten his lunch and is still starving.
  4. Chicken salad sandwiches: Keep a can of shredded chicken in your pantry and mayonnaise in your fridge (you probably already have this). Freeze 2 slices of bread in a ziploc bag (I keep mine in freezer for about a month). If you need it- Mix the chicken and mayonnaise, add salt and pepper and any other ingredients you have hanging around and scoop between frozen bread. By the time lunch rolls around, the bread will thaw. ** Please use a cooler pack in addition to the frozen bread to keep the sandwich cold.
  5. T.V. Dinners: If you have a microwave available at work - keep a few TV Dinners in your fridge. I always grab the healthy choice meals when they have a good sale. Just stick one or two in a cooler with a fork and your done! Couldn't be any easier than that!
  6. Ravioli: I'll admit I have a guilty obsession with beef ravioli in a can. It's so bad for you, but it's so good. If I need something quickly, I just dump this in a microwavable container, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and I'm good to go.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. We only have this happen once every few weeks, so I would only keep one back up on hand at a time.