Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birth Control for Teens?

This week’s Friendly Debate with the Danielles is about whether or not you should provide birth control for your teen daughters.  My daughter is only 8 weeks old; I won’t be dealing with this issue for a long time, but I already know my answer: absolutely not!  I could answer this question from a faith-based perspective, but instead, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to share my own personal experiences taking birth control as a teenager because I believe that even if you put faith completely aside, birth control is not a healthy option for teens.

I started taking birth control when I was 12 or 13 years old for “heavy and irregular” periods.  I put that in quotation because, while they were heavy and irregular, most young women who have just started menstruating need a year or two for their cycles to regulate.  I never had that chance.  My mother took me to the doctor who referred me to a gynecologist.  My appointment was about five minutes long, during which the gynecologist said that I needed to go on the pill and that there was a good chance I would have difficulty having children.  I won’t go into the devastating effects of the second statement except to say that it was completely unfounded and caused me great anxiety until my daughter was born healthy just a few months ago.  As for the prescription of birth control, there was not discussion of the potential side effects or other possible treatments.  My mother and I left believing that there was something innately wrong with my reproductive organs, that the only treatment was birth control pills, and that it was a medication without risks or side effects.

When I look back on that appointment, I do so with great anger.  Why was the doctor so quick to prescribe birth control?  Why didn’t she discuss the side effects with me?  Over the past few years I have been angry with my mother as well.  Why didn’t she ask about the risks?  I was too young to make the choice myself, so I depended on my mother to make the decision for me.  Thankfully, I am no longer angry with her and I know that there are many other mothers in her position.  She took birth control herself for many years and was never warned about any health risks or side effects.  She also was raised in a time when a doctor was never questioned.  While I hate that birth control is now being peddled to women in TV commercials, I think that the required “side effects spiel” is a good thing because women are becoming aware that there are side effects and some of them are potentially life threatening.

That appointment was the beginning of over 10 years of birth control.  Every year or two I would return to the gynecologist because my birth control was no longer “working” and would be prescribed a new type.  I was on the pill, the patch, the ring, and even shots during that time.  There was one thing they all had in common – dangerous side effects.  And certain risks, like that for certain cancers, increase the longer you take it.  

Had I known about all these risks and been able to adequately evaluate my need for them, I would have never started taking the pill in the first place, especially since I didn’t actually have any real need for them.  When my husband and I became engaged, I decided stop taking the pill because we wanted to remain faithful to the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control when we married and started having sex.  However, knowing that the Church allows birth control for medical reasons, I acknowledged that if my periods were too heavy or painful, I would have to return to the pill.  After a few months, once the birth control hormones were completely out of my system, I was shocked to discover that my periods were regular and, while perhaps heavier and longer than most women experience, were still in the range of “normal”.  I had taken birth control for years, lived with the side effects (which for me, included mild depression), and increased my risk for cancer for no reason!  

As a mother, I do not want to give my child unneeded medication with some pretty nasty and dangerous side effects unless it is absolutely necessary.  Teenagers are unable to make such serious decisions without the guidance of an adult.  There is a great deal of research that suggests that teenagers’ decision-making abilities are not fully developed, especially when it comes to making choices regarding long-term risks and consequences (such as the risk for cancer 20 years in the future). 

But what about sex?  Although it wasn’t specific, I assume this debate was framed in the context of giving your teenage daughter birth control to prevent pregnancy.  I often hear the argument that providing birth control for your daughter does not condone sex, and while I may agree with that statement, I will say that it makes it a whole a lot easier.  

Because I was taking birth control pills for a medical treatment, I was never under the illusion that my parents condoned sex.  Even if my parents had given me birth control as a “just in case” measure to prevent teen pregnancy (which they never would have done), I would have known that they disapproved.  However, the fact that they put me on birth control would have told me that they had low standards for me; either they had little regard for my self control or they believed that sex was so tempting that is was impossible to resist.  Those certainly aren’t lessons you are to impart on your teen daughter regarding sex.  Actions speak louder than words, and what you do usually trumps what you say.  

Being on birth control made it much easier for me to have sex.  So much so, that I ended up having sex the first time the opportunity came up and I did so with the conscious thought that I was already on birth control so it wasn’t a big deal.  Had I not been on birth control, I certainly wouldn’t have had sex that night.  Even if the young man had a condom, I would have said no, because I believed that they were less effective (which they are).  I’m not saying that I never would have had premarital sex had I not been on birth control, I’m just saying that I would not have rushed into it and that my first time having sex would have been a much more informed decision.  I would have had to decide to get birth control, make a visit to the doctor, and take the pills for an extended period of time before having sex.  Perhaps it would have prevented me from making such a disastrous choice (and it was truly disastrous because it marked the beginning of a two and a half year relationship with a very abusive man).  

When I was first prescribed birth control, my father was very upset.  He didn’t want me on birth control because he didn’t want me to think that I could have sex when the opportunity arose.  Both my mother and I assured him that that would never happen and that the birth control was necessary.  We both thought he was just being a little overprotective.  And he was.  But that was his job as my parent, as my father (no, this is not just an issue for mothers!).  His fears were warranted.  He was right to believe the way he did and I wish he had fought harder for it. 

I write this, not as a mother, but as a young woman not much past her teen years.  And as this young woman, I beg you, be informed, be open with your child, and have high standards for them.  Even if they don’t want to, they depend on you to make the right decision for them.
How do you stand on this issue?  Join the debate and link up your opinion at Friendly Debate with the Danielles.

See my response to other Friendly Debates with the Danielles topics:

Monday, January 30, 2012


I recently came across a website that fit perfectly into the Baby on a Budget series I’ve been working on.  ThredUP is a clothing swap websites where moms (and dads, of course) can swap the gently used clothing that their children outgrew for other gently used clothing that will fit.  You do have to pay for the boxes that are shipped to you ($9 plus $11.95 for shipping), but you also earn money (up to $10) for the boxes you ship out (boxes are free and shipping is paid for you).  According to the website, the average box has more than 10 items, which means that each item comes out to $2 or less!  

I haven’t used this site yet, but I’m excited to.  While I will be saving much of Lucia’s clothing for future children, I’ve realized that for certain sizes she just has way too much.  So once she outgrows each size, I’ll figure how much we really need to save and then send the rest off to some other mom who can use it.  Then I’ll be able to purchase a box when I encounter a size she doesn’t have much of (at this point, we don’t have much 9-12 month clothing). 

What I love most about thredUP from exploring the site is the simplicity of sending out the items.  You don’t have to take pictures of your items, just write a short description of what is in your box.  Everyone uses the same flat rate shipping boxes which are available free from the post office so you don’t have to worry about how to pack your items.  You can even send your items to their “concierge” service and they will pay you per item.

Buying seems easy as well, you can search for boxes by gender, size, and whatever other search terms you want (season, brand, color, occasion).  Some boxes may only have a few items if that stuffs them full (puffy winter coats, anyone?) or may have many more, but you can read about exactly what is in it.

The only “downside” that I can see from looking at the site (again, I don’t have any firsthand experience) is that it is truly aims to be a swap site – if you are buying boxes, you also need to be listing them in order to keep a “swap balance”.  This can be difficult if you need more clothes but don’t have any to swap at the time.  Another “downside” – how do you pick from all the amazing boxes listed?

Has anyone tried thredUP yet?  I’d love to hear your experiences.  Are there any other online clothing swap services you’ve come across or used?

UPDATE 02/01/12: thredUP is running a sale February 1st through 8th for new members: 20% off your first box of pre-loved spring clothing. Use code SPRING20 at check-out.

UPDATE 02/03/12:  I just discovered a new perk of thredUP.  When you buy or sell a thredUP box of gently used kids clothing, you can get points at Recyclebank.  If you aren't familiar with Recyclebank, it's a website where you earn points by learning how to be environmentally responsible; you can then exchange those points for coupons or discounts (I love their $10 off a $50 purchase at our local grocery store Harris Teeter!). 

If you are interested in signing up with thredUp, please consider doing so through the affiliate links in the post.  Thank you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (Take 44)

--- 1 ---

Remember this post I wrote back in September?  The one in which I said I was finally getting the hang of keeping house?  Well, that was obviously before the baby was born!  I definitely feel like I’m back at square one.  I am really struggling with taking care of the baby and keeping the house from looking like a complete disaster.  Any suggestions?

--- 2 ---

I had a great guest post earlier this week from Katie of NFP and Me about being married AND in med school.  Honestly, Katie really blows me away, not only is she balancing med school with family life, she also has time to maintain her own blog and write a guest post for me?  AMAZING!  If you haven’t already, go read her guest post now!

--- 3 ---

Anybody have any advice on buying cowboy boots?  I’m a bridesmaid for my soon-to-be sister-in-law and she’s planning a “rustic chic” wedding.  We get to pick out our own dresses within the color scheme (post to come on this – I need some advice on that as well!) and wear nude heels in the church, but she wants us to wear tan/brown cowboy boots for the reception.  I’m going to try to find some at thrift stores first, since they can be pricey, but I may ultimately have to find them new.  Any advice on how to find them for a good price, what kind to pick, getting a proper fit, etc.?  I’ve never owned any before and it seems like the selection is endless!
--- 4 ---

Speaking of the wedding, I would really like to get in shape before then.  I know that there will be some family pictures, and obviously wedding party, pictures taken at the wedding and I’d like to look my best.  My husband is the best man, so we’ll both be dressed really nice (and of course, we’ll put Lucia in a beautiful dress too), and I’m hoping that I can have someone take some nice pictures of the three of us as well.  I tend not to care too much about how I look, so I’m grateful that the wedding gives me some motivation to shed the baby weight and get into shape.

--- 5 ---

Speaking of weight, Lucia is 12lbs. 9 oz. already ( at 7 weeks)!  The midwife weighed her when we went in for my checkup earlier this week.  She is growing so quickly and is such a cute, chunky baby with rolls galore (and a double chin!).

--- 6 ---

Speaking of Lucia, she is starting to smile a lot, especially when I smile at her!  Of course, she never seems to do it when we are trying to take a picture, but my husband was able to snap this one the other day:

--- 7 ---

Recently while talking with some other moms, I started feeling like a negligent mother.  No, not because I ignore or truly neglect my child (because I don’t), but because we have no schedule whatsoever.  She sleeps when she wants, she eats when she wants, and I haven’t even tried to notice whether these happen at regular intervals or at consistent times from day to day.  Is this odd?  Should I be paying more attention to scheduling?  At what age was your baby on a schedule? 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


As I mentioned earlier this week, I made about $180 worth of cash and gift cards in the past three months (much of which I used to stock up for the baby) through rewards and survey sites.  Of that, the majority was from rewards sites.

Swagbucks is the rewards site from which I have earned the most rewards so far, however, it is also the site I’ve belonged to the longest and understand the best.  There also are a vast array of ways to earn Swagbucks compared to other reward sites I belong to, so I think it is also the site that works for the most people.  Since there are many different ways to earn, each individual can find a way to earn points that works with their lifestyle and time commitment.

How it works:  Once you join the site, there are a variety of ways you can earn Swagbucks.  Swagbucks are a form of currency that you can redeem for rewards. 

Rewards:  Although Swagbucks can be redeemed for a variety of rewards, I highly recommend that you redeem yours for Amazon gift cards.  For 450 Swagbucks, you get a $5 Amazon gift card.  Sometimes other gift cards are offered for less Swagbucks, however, read the fine print closely because most of these cannot be combined with other gift cards or discounts.  Amazon gift cards can be combined (meaning that I was able to save up my $5 gift cards to buy my dad a $50 tripod for Christmas).  Another benefit of Amazon gift cards is their high value relative to their “price” in Swagbucks.  For example, there are several board games offered for around 2400 Swagbucks but you can redeem those same Swagbucks for $25 in Amazon gift cards (and then buy the exact same board games for around $15, with $10 to spare).  Your Amazon gift card will be emailed to you about a week after redemption.

How to earn Swagbucks:  As stated above there are many ways to earn Swagbucks and once you use it regularly you’ll figure out which methods work best for you and which ones aren’t worth your time.  Keep in mind that each Swagbuck (if you are redeeming for Amazon gift cards) is worth a little more than 1¢ and use your time accordingly.

1. Search.  The top way that I earn Swagbucks is through using the Swagbucks search engine for my normal daily web searches instead of a regular search engine.  Swagbucks aren’t earned per search, however, you will randomly “win” Swagbucks while searching.  I’ve earned between 7 and 28 Swagbucks at one time.  If you do 5-10 searches every day, you probably would win at least once, and the more you search, the more you’ll win.  There is a search box on the homepage, but I strongly suggest that you download the Swagbucks toolbar so the search is more accessible.   (On Fridays, there are supposedly more chances to win through searching.)

2. Daily Poll and NOSO.  These are sure ways to earn Swagbucks each day.  By answering the daily poll, you get 1 Swagbuck.  By clicking through the No Obligation Special Offers (NOSO) - you don’t have to sign up for any of them, simply click “See Next Offer” or “Skip” until you get to the end and fill in the Captcha - you receive 2 Swagbucks.  I know, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but those little points add up and they only take seconds to do.  These are available on the “Earn” dropdown menu on the home page. 

3.  Swag Codes.  There is usually at least one Swag Code released every day.  If you find the code on the Swagbucks blog, facebook, twitter, etc., and put it in the “Enter your Swag Code” box on right side of the homepage it’s usually worth 5 to 10 Swagbucks (sometimes more).  These are sometimes difficult to get because they are available at different times everyday and expire after only a few hours, but if you get them, they are worth it.  And every once in a while, Swagbucks announces that they are having a code extravaganza and will have several codes throughout the day.

4.  Swagbucks TV.  For every 10 videos you watch on Swagbucks TV, you get 3 Swagbucks.  This is how I earn many of my Swagbucks.  While I’m doing other things on the internet, I’ll click on the videos and listen to them (although not necessarily watch).  Most of the videos are short (often a minute or less), and I usually watch the news clips or catch up on my celebrity gossip, but they also have cooking videos, fashion advice, home improvement how-tos, etc.

5.  Check your email and Swagbucks inbox.  I get Swagbucks newsletters every once in a while (thankfully these are the only emails I get from Swagbucks!) and they have some great advice on how to earn Swagbucks and any special events they are running that can help you earn points.  There is a Swagbucks inbox (you can see whether you have mail on the top bar of the Swagbucks homepage) where you will receive other information and offers to earn more Swagbucks.

6.  Special Offers.  There are many “special offers” that you can complete to earn Swagbucks.  I will warn you though, some of these require you to buy something, fill out personal information, etc. so be careful about what you complete.  I don’t earn a whole lot through special offers, but I do check them out often, because sometimes they are as easy as downloading a Facebook app, watching a short video or ad, or signing up for a mailing list (I have a separate email for these so I don’t clutter mine up). 

7.  Ad Rewards.  If you click on “Special Offers” in the “Earn” dropdown menu on the homepage, you’ll see a menu bar with many types of special offers - click on “Ad Rewards”.  Although I warn you to be cautious about the other Special Offers, I definitely suggest Ad Rewards.   You’ll watch commercials and get Swagbucks for them.  Pretty quick and easy.

8.  Shop.  If you are going to buy something online, check to see if you can buy it through the Swagbucks site.  If the store you are planning to buy from is one of those listed on Swagbucks (and there are hundreds of the most popular stores, so you've got a good shot that they are), you’ll get 2 Swagbucks per dollar spent if you get to the site by clicking through Swagbucks "Shop and Earn".  Sometimes there will be special rates, and you will earn even more at certain stores (that’s one of the reasons you should check your Swagbucks mailbucks, you’ll be notified about these special rates).

9.  Daily Deals.  If you are going to buy something through a daily deal site, you can get to those sites through Swagbucks too and earn Swagbucks while getting your amazing deal.  Groupon deals aren't often listed on Swagbucks "Daily Deal" page, but you can still earn Swagbucks by searching for Groupon on the "Shop and Earn" (see above) and entering the site that way.

10.  Surveys.  You can take surveys to earn Swagbucks.  However, often you can take these same surveys through survey sites and make more money that way (post on my favorite survey sites to come).  However, if you don’t want to mess with signing up for other survey sites, you have a lot of extra time, etc., you can make many Swagbucks this way.  Do be prepared though, sometimes you’ll spend 5 minutes answering questions only to be told that you didn’t qualify and therefore you didn’t earn anything for your time.   

11. Coupons.  You can print online grocery coupons through Swagbucks and you will receive 10 Swagbucks for each coupon you use.  This one is definitely win-win, you save with coupons in store and are earning toward free gift cards!  It takes several weeks or months for you to receive those Swagbucks, but it is really nice when you notice that your Swagbucks jumped and you realize it was due to a coupon you used!

There are many other ways to earn as well, these are just the ways that I use regularly and that I have found work for me.  If you join or already belong to Swagbucks and want to earn more, I suggest you try out different methods to earn, as well as search the internet for other suggestions from other Swagbucks users. My goal every day is to earn 50 Swagbucks through a combination of these methods, which would mean that I’d earn a $5 Amazon gift card every 9 days.  Usually I exceed my goal.  Good luck!

If you plan to join Swagbucks, please consider doing so through one of the affiliate links in this post.  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Marrying Young: Finding a Balance

I wrote a guest post for Katie of NFP and Me a while back and now she is returning the favor.  And she has such a great story to tell: she is a young wife AND in med school!  I know what it is like to be married to a grad student, but I love hearing it from the opposite perspective (and I have an inkling that med school is quite a bit more strenuous that my husband's PhD program).  Many people wait until school is over to get married, and for many people that is perhaps the best choice for them, but Katie reminds us that there are many people out there that choose to marry during school...and are better for it!  


High School Graduation
I never dreamt I would get married young. My group of friends tended to not really date guys, but instead just hang out with a group of people. I had just one boyfriend in high school and my three best friends never dated anyone either. (My pride is insisting upon informing you that this wasn't because we weren't popular. My best friend was the homecoming queen.  Honest.) We just preferred to hang out in a group with our guy friends and leave it there. I think that is one of the advantages to going to the same small school your whole life. All the guys become brotherly and you could NEVER imagine dating them. Gross. So my whole life I’ve had one guy I actually ever called my boyfriend and just a couple that I would have said I was “talking” to (What does that even mean anyways?). That is until Steven came along. 

In case you can't tell by all the teeth, I was excited.
I met Steven when I was 19 through our college’s Newman Center. We were both in the middle of a reversion to our Catholic faith and couldn’t have met at a more perfect time. Funny how God knows these things. We started dating in the spring of 2008 and we got engaged in the fall of 2009. Our dating story was pretty typical except for the year of long distance when Steven did work with Americorp in St. Louis. The engagement and married life is where it gets a little more…fun? Sure we’ll call it fun.

We got engaged just after I submitted my standardized applications for medical school. (Quick rundown of applying to med school- standardized application, then supplemental application which varies by school, then the on campus interview, then up to a month before acceptance or rejection letter.) We had no idea what our plans would be after I graduated, where we would be living, what kind of job Steven would have, or if I would even be accepted that year. It was a stressful time for a Type A person like me. Fortunately God came through with one of those “I’ve got this” moments. I was accepted into 4 medical schools including my number one pick, KU.

I do-ing
But everything can't be perfect. School started two days before the wedding which was stressful and meant no honeymoon. As if the first year of marriage and first year of med school weren't enough, it was also the first time I'd ever lived outside of my parents’ home and outside of my small hometown of 1500 people. It was quite the adjustment.

And by adjustment I mean living hell. I was studying all the time, Steven had just started a new job, I had to do dishes, and laundry, and vacuum (Isn't that what moms are for?), and I was trying to make new friends. As you could imagine I was more than stressed. It showed in my schooling and in my marriage. Steven and I fought about the dishes, laundry, and vacuuming. I kept thinking "What the hell did I get myself into? I can't possibly keep up with everything.” I felt inadequate in every role I was partaking in.

Those first few months were really hard as I tried to define myself as a wife, student, classmate, and daughter. But when I look back on it now I have no idea how I would have gotten through it without Steven. He was my rock.  Being married added to some of the stress, of course, but it took away tenfold of what it added. Steven may not have been the best at seeing the sink was full of dirty dishes but he took care of all the bills, health insurance (and car, and renter's, and life), and did all of the rest of our finances. When school got to be too much, he was there to play a game or quiz me over the immune system or, most importantly, just sit and listen to me vent.

Maybe for some people holding off on marriage until after school, after getting a certain job, or some other worthy achievement may sound ideal. I am thankful that isn't how it worked out for us. I cannot imagine this past year and a half of my life without Steven. We all have our cross to carry and right now the countless hours of studying, devotion to the God of medicine, and infuriating emotional roller coaster that is medical school is mine. I am so very thankful that God blessed me with my very own Simon. Someone who was fearful at first of this world we would be navigating for the next 7-8 years, someone who has since carried me through my weakest of times, someone who gives so much of themselves for me to be able to fulfill my duty on this earth. I am blessed that I found him at the young age I did because it means that I have that many more years to love him, grow with him, and hopefully, if I'm lucky, help him as much as he helps me.

Katie blogs at NFP and Me about her life as a pro-life Catholic medical student (quite the enigma), being a wife to Steven and dog-mom to Jack, and you guessed it: the joys and pains of practicing Natural Family Planning.

Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my On Marrying Young series.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Baby on a Budget: Rewards and Survey Sites

Most of our baby necessities we were either given as gifts, were found at garage sales, consignment stores, or if we bought it brand new, found for a great discounted price. However, there have been some products that we have needed to buy for full price brand new because they weren’t available used or because we couldn’t wait to find them used or on sale.  For many of these items, we've been able to use Amazon or other gift cards and cash earned from a variety of rewards and survey websites.  

Here are all the items I’ve bought with my free Amazon gift cards since October:

1 Planet Wise wet bag – small
2 Planet Wise diaper pail liners
1 bottle Lusa Organics Baby Wipe Juice
2 packages Rockin’ Green Cloth diaper detergent
1 Kissaluvs Cotton Fleece Booster Doublers – 6 pack
1 Joby GP3 Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod
(my dad’s Christmas present)

That’s $145 worth of items FREE

The vast majority of what I make I have redeemed in Amazon gift cards, although I did make about $35 additional in cash and other gift cards during the same time period. I am able to make as much as I do because I am a stay-at-home mom and have some free time during the day to devote to these, however, even if you work full time and can only give a few minutes to them each night, I would think it would be worth it, because you'll still end up with some free gift cards, just with more time between them. 

In the future, I'll be putting up posts about my favorite rewards and survey sites, which will include a rundown of each site and how I personally use it to earn free gift cards and money, as well as any other tips I think you might find useful.  You'll find that there are many other places on the internet where you can get advice on how to best use these sites and I encourage you to check those out too. 

Current Posts:

Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my Baby on a Budget series

In the meantime, if you are interested in joining some of these sites to get started, the three main rewards websites that I use: Swagbucks, Gift Hulk, and Crowdtap.  I would appreciate if you would consider joining through the links in this post.  Thank you!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Sister's Necklace

When I was three years old, my mother gave birth to a little girl.  She left this earth on the very same day she entered it.  I was too young then to remember it, but I’m sure that I was old enough at the time to acknowledge that something had happened.  My mother was always open in talking about the baby girl she lost and I don’t remember any specific time when my mom first told me about her.  Yet when someone asked how many siblings I had, I’d always say my one brother; it’s not unusual to only include living siblings when talking with strangers, but it was never intentional, I never thought to include the child my parents lost in infancy.

About a month before my wedding, my mother handed me an envelope.  In it was a hundred dollar bill that she had tucked inside that envelope twenty years ago.  And she told me it was from my sister.  My mother put that money away for me after my sister passed away, because she was sorry that I wouldn’t be able to have her at my wedding as my maid of honor.  That’s when it hit me, I did have a sister.  And for the first time in my life, I thought about all the moments I didn’t have with her.  I was never able to help my mommy change her diapers.  I didn’t get to be her big sister and protector in school.  There were no late nights up discussing boys.  And she couldn’t be the maid of honor at my wedding.

Then I realized that while I never thought of the missed moments, my parents had, everyday of their lives.  Now that I’m a mother, I have a greater understanding of how difficult it must be to lose a child, of how the loss must continue to haunt them.  Every Christmas, every happy family occasion, every family picture, thinking of the child missing.  And every year her birthday would come around.  Her day of birth, the day of her death, the only time they were able to hold their baby girl. 

I took the hundred dollar bill to a jewelry store and bought a beautiful necklace.  Then I went to my parents’ house to show my mother, who handled it with tears in her eyes.  And when I put it around my neck on my wedding day, for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of my sister.  She wasn’t my maid of honor, but she was there with me on my wedding day. 

Now when people ask how many siblings I have, I still say one little brother, but I think of my little sister too. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (Take 43)

--- 1 ---

Last Saturday, Kendra of The Nerdy Wife and Stacy of Catholic and Crunchy came over to hang out with me and Lucia.  I have to say, moments like that make me realize what a blessing the internet can be.  Not only did I meet my husband online, I also made two great new friends in my new city.  This was the first time I met Stacy, but Kendra and I have been meeting up about once every week or two for months now and I truly consider her one of my closest friends.  I wish we had taken a picture of our #cathsorority meet-up (I even took my camera out beforehand, but completely forgot while we were in the depths of good conversation!), but I promise I will next time.

--- 2 ---

Speaking of #cathsorority, I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned it on my blog.  Kendra explains it so eloquently on her blog that I’ll just direct you to her explanation, What is #Cathsorority?  To give you the quick version, it’s a group of Catholic women who have created a community of support over the internet through Twitter, Facebook, and our personal blogs.  After having recently read The Church and New Media, I can’t help but feel that we are a small part of the movement to put positive models of Catholicism on the internet.

--- 3 ---

Yesterday, over at the National Catholic Register Simcha Fisher wrote “To the Mother With Only One Child”.  Being a mother with only one child, who often struggles to just take care of the one and wonders how I will ever be able to do this with more children, I found it to be very comforting and refreshing.  It’s been all over the internet, so chances are you’ve already seen it, but if you haven’t, go read it.  Please.  It’s wonderful!

--- 4 ---

I wrote a guest post yesterday at The Alluring World about growing up in a mixed-faith family.  I’ve mentioned on my blog before about my father not being Catholic and my grandfather just recently converting (my husband and I are his godparents, how cool is that!).  However, I haven’t gone into much detail about how their difference of faith affected me, mainly because I didn’t really think about its impact on me until Kayla asked me to write a guest post.  And boy am I glad she asked, because writing this piece put into perspective many things that I had taken for granted about my upbringing and made me contemplate how I want to raise my children. 

--- 5 ---

In last week’s Quick Takes, I included a video about Mark Wahlberg discussing his Catholic faith.  I guess that’s starting to become a tradition because I came across another great interview of his again this week. 

--- 6 ---

Last week, I put up a new post in my “Baby on a Budget”series entitled “What You Really Need”.  I included a link-up for other moms to link to their own blog posts about baby necessities, unnecessary baby items, or other such lists.  If you have a post like that (or want to write one now), be sure to link up.  I found it really helpful to read through lists like this on other mom’s blogs while I was pregnant to figure out which items fit my needs and parenting style and thought it would be helpful to have one place that lists a bunch.  If you are pregnant, go check them out (there are already some great ones linked), and if you aren’t pregnant yet, bookmark it for the future. 

--- 7 ---

Yesterday, Lucia suddenly stopped crying while sitting in her bouncer on my bed.  I assumed she had fallen asleep, but when I turned around to look, there she was, wide eyed and staring at the crucifix.  She proceeded to do so for about five minutes until she fell asleep.  It was beautiful, just beautiful. 

And while it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, here is the token cute baby picture of the week:

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Time of My Life

For those who think that the best days of your life are over when you marry and have children, you couldn't be more wrong.  I've traded coming home in the wee hours of the morning each Friday night for getting up in the middle of the night (every day of the week).  I don't look forward to trips to Europe, instead I look forward to getting out of the house for a trip to the grocery store.  Instead of watching my favorite band play, the highlight of my day is getting on the floor to play with my little girl.  My life as a wife and mother may not look exciting and it may not sound exciting, but I'm truly having the time of my life.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How We Cloth Diaper Our Newborn

Our little Lulu is about to outgrow her newborn cloth diapers, but before she does, I want to do a overview of how we cloth diapered our newborn.  She was in newborn cloth diapers for such a short time (and even shorter because we were out of state on vacation much of the time and used disposables).  I'm glad that a few of the diapers we used for her were multi-sized diapers that will continue to fit her, and that I didn't spend much for those that were truly newborn sizes.  Below is an overview of the cloth diapers we used, how we felt each one worked, including how we washed them, and a rundown of how we do cloth wipes in our house.  If you have any questions/suggestions, please comment.  This is our first experience with cloth diapers and we'd love your input.

Our newborn cloth diapers (and supplies) stash:

2 BumGenius XS Bamboo Fitted Diapers
1 Nikky polyester diaper cover
(all of the above) bought used (in like new condition)
on Ebay for $20

FREE! won through the weekly Thirsties Thursday giveaway

Thirsties Duo Diaper Size 1
bought new for $12 (Black Friday special)

1 dozen organic Cloth-Eez prefolds
bought new through Craig's List for $18

3 Newborn Bummis Super Whisper Wraps
bought new through Craig's list for $24

6 Kissa's Cotton Fleece Booster Doublers
FREE! with Amazon gift cards received through 
Swagbucks and online survey sites
(originally $18)

Total cost: $74 

Based on the cost of disposable diapers (with coupons!) and how many Lucia went through while on vacation, we would have spent at least this much on disposables, however, in the long run, I think the savings will be substantial since we can continue to use our Thirsties Duo diaper and wraps for many more months (the company suggests size 1 for 6-18 lbs or 0-9 months).  As for the rest of the diapers, even though she outgrew them so quickly, they too have the potential to save us more money in the future: with our future children.  Since they were used for such a short period of time, they are in amazing condition and I foresee them diapering several more newborns (if God blesses us with more) before they wear out. 

Our Favorites/Least Favorites

Without any doubt, our favorite diapers (and the ones that were reached for first after every wash) are the BumGenius XS Bamboo Fitted Diapers with the Nikky cover.  They fit a newborn perfectly and are a trim fit, barely larger than a disposable.  Even though the cover is thin, it never leaks.  Unfortunately, these BumGenius diapers are no longer available, so getting them secondhand is your only option.  The Nikky covers are still available, but you'd have to find another trim fitted diaper to pair them with.  Does anyone know of any other wonderful trim fitted diapers?

The prefolds with the Newborn Bummis Super Whisper Wraps are our second choice.  We prefer the Bummis wraps over the Thirsties Duo wraps because, although there are snaps to resize the Thirsties, they just don't fit a newborn as well.  This is more of a critique on multi-sized diapers than a critique on Thirsties though.  And since this diaper can be used much longer, we have to figure the savings into the equation, which is a substantial bonus.  There is one additional aspect of the Bummis wraps that make them our next best choice after the fitteds: we don't pin on the prefolds, we simply fold them and lay them in the cover and the Bummis wraps have a pocket in the front into which you can tuck the folded prefolds, which makes it a little easier.

Our least favorite diaper is the Thirsties Duo Diaper, which we actually expected to be our favorite.  It leaks every time we use it!*  Again, I think this may have to do with the fact that they are multi-sized and don't seem to fit a newborn very well.  I look forward to seeing if it works better when Lucia's a bit older.


FREE! with Amazon gift cards received through 
Swagbucks and online survey sites
(originally $16.50 each)

Rockin' Green Detergent
FREE! with Amazon gift cards received through 
Swagbucks and online survey sites
(originally $14 each - currently on our second bag)

 Total cost (so far): FREE! 
(I'm sure there are some additional water/electric costs
but it's small and I don't know how to calculate it specifically)

 Each morning before he leaves for work, my husband throws the diaper pail with our dirty diapers in the wash.  When I get up, I put the diapers in the dryer and the covers on our drying rack.  So far, we've used Rockin' Green Detergent almost exclusively, but I've also made a batch of homemade cloth diaper detergent to try out if we run out of the Rockin' Green.  I haven't calculated the costs, but I know the homemade detergent is much cheaper than buying any and I am determined to only use homemade if we don't have free Amazon gift cards to pay for it.   

Cloth Wipes

24 baby washcloths from the dollar store

Lusa Organics Baby Wipe Juice
FREE! with Amazon gift cards received through 
Swagbucks and online survey sites
(originally $17)

Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipes Warmer
bought at a garage sale for $1
(originally $20)

Total cost (so far): $7

If cloth diapering hasn't save us much money yet, using cloth wipes certainly has.  They wash along with our cloth diapers so they don't add anything extra in terms of detergent or utilities.  Lucia won't outgrow them, so we'll use them until they wear out which I can't imagine would be anytime soon.  They also take very little time to prepare.  

Every two to three days I mix one cup water with one teaspoon of wipe juice (the included directions say one to three teaspoons, but one works great).  I've seen some homemade wipe solutions online, but haven't tried any out yet.  I may do so if I don't have any free Amazon gift cards when I need to order more wipe juice, but the wipe juice bottle I have now will last for a long time because it still looks like the bottle is 90% full (it says one bottle will make 2 gallons of solution).  I dunk the washcloths in the solution, wring each one out, fold it in half and put them in the wipes warmer.  In total, it takes me about five minutes.  

*After writing this post, I realized that the leaking from the Thirsties Duo diaper was coming from one specific place.  Upon close inspection, I noticed a flaw in the left leg gusset.  I contacted Thirsties customer service and they sent me a new diaper right away.  I was very impressed with how promptly they addressed the problem.  Not only that, but return postage is included and if they are able to fix the flawed diaper, they donate it to a family in need.  Oh, and the new diaper hasn't leaked once!

(I have written more detailed posts about how I earn free Amazon gift cards - and sometimes cash and other gift cards - through online surveys and rewards sites, such as Swagbucks and online survey sites.)

Linking up with the Cloth Diaper link up at Milk-Friendly:

Friday, January 13, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (Take 42)

--- 1 ---

We flew home Monday from our 16 day trip to Colorado.  It’s so weird going away for such a long time with a newborn – Lucia came back double the age of when she left!  Some of the newborn/0-3 month clothes that we didn’t bring with us no longer fit her when we returned.  Here’s a picture of us when we arrived at the airport in Denver on Christmas Eve – she doesn’t look like that tiny baby anymore.

--- 2 ---

It was surprisingly easy traveling with a newborn.  She slept or nursed the entire plane flights to and back (and we even had two flights there because of a layover).  I have a feeling it’s going to be a whole different story when we fly once she’s a little less sleepy and a little more mobile in only a few short months from now.

--- 3 ---

Lucia was baptized while we were in Colorado.  She was so great, slept through the entire Mass including when the water was poured on her head.  It was extra special because she was baptized on January 1, a holy day of obligation for the feast day of Mary, Mother of God, so the homily was about motherhood.  She wore the dress I wore at my baptism, and even though I was 5 months when I was baptized and she was less than a month, it fit her well enough.  I wrapped her in the blanket my husband had at his baptism, which was made for him by his grandmother (who was at the baptism and recognized the blanket!).  We invited friends and family from the area and were very blessed to have many of them join us, including several who were not Catholic or from faith traditions with infant baptism.  We had a small party afterward and enjoyed celebrating with our little one. 

--- 4 ---

I’m sad to leave family, but very happy for the comforts of home.  A few of the things from home that I missed while we were gone:
  • Real maple syrup: The “maple flavored” syrup at my parents and in-laws just doesn’t cut it.
  • Cloth diapers: I know it’s possible to travel with cloth diapers, but there was no way we could have done enough loads of wash while at my parents to keep up.  Unfortunately, the disposables were expensive, leaked way more than our cloth diapers, and we experienced both diaper rash and blowouts which we haven’t seen before or since with our cloth diapers.
  • Changing table: I hated having to get out all the diaper changing necessities each time she needed to be changed.  Having them all together already at the changing table makes life so much easier.
  • My own bed: Is there anything nicer than sleeping in your own bed after a long time away?

--- 5 ---

My husband brought me roses Wednesday!  The first several months of marriage, he brought me roses at least once a month, but because of finances, it’s been a long time (I had to find the box with my vases in it, so it means that I haven’t received flowers since we moved here in July, if that’s at all telling).  I absolutely adore roses (after all it is my middle name and the middle name of our baby daughter). 

--- 6 ---

Have you seen this video of Mark Wahlberg on the “CBS This Morning” show earlier this week?  In recent years, I have been very impressed by his faithfulness and his willingness to speak about it publicly (and in such a nonchalant manner).  If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, skip to the second half where he speaks about the new Roman Missal translation, his prayer book, and his gratitude to the Lord.

--- 7 ---

My husband and I met on the online dating site Catholic Match. The company sends out onesies for babies of couples who met on their site and ours was waiting for us when we returned from vacation.  Here’s a picture of our Catholic Match baby:

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baby on a Budget: What You Really Need

Having just spent 16 days out of state with my newborn, staying at relatives’ homes and living out of suitcases, I think I have a good handle on what a baby really needs.  Yes, I’m glad to be home and have access again to some of the baby items that make life with a little one more convenient, but I realize that those items are simply that: a convenience and not a necessity. 

Source: shopboppy.com via Mandi on Pinterest
New parents and parents-to-be are bombarded with advertisements and advice that make it seem like every item in a baby store is necessary.  The truth is, babies need very little.  And because each family’s circumstances and parenting style is different, there is no one-size-fits-all set of baby items to buy.  When I was preparing for my little one, I scoured the internet reading lists of baby necessities and lists of the most worthless baby products.  What I found was that some of the same items were on both lists (especially the Boppy Pillow, it seems you either love it or hate it – I personally am in the former category).  So instead of making my own list of baby necessities (and what do I know really, my little one is only a month old), here are some questions to ask yourself as you make your own list of what to buy for your little one on the way.  By asking yourselves these questions (and answering honestly), you should come up not only with a list of necessities but also a list of which items you should look for used.

At the bottom, there’s a link up for other bloggers to link to their own lists (which, although they don’t all agree still are immensely helpful to read to help decide whether they work in your circumstances). 

1. Is it necessary? The following questions will help you narrow down items that you aren’t sure whether you will need or not, but before you get to them, I’m sure there are many items that you can rule out simply by using common sense.  If you can’t think of specific reasons or situations why you might need something, or if you are just wanting to get it “just in case”, “because everyone has one”, or “because it’s cute”, than it is probably not a necessity.

Source: target.com via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Shoes for toddlers, matching nursery bedding and decor, shopping cart covers.  Yes, some people use these, and some germaphobes may consider the shopping cart cover a necessity (and yes, I actually do have one, given to me brand new by a friend that received one for her first child and never used it with either of her kids), but these are not necessities.  A cute nursery is great (and we do have one), but if you decide to forgo one because of lack of space, you plan to keep your child in your room with you, you just don’t want one, don’t feel bad.  One of the main reasons I have one is because family insisted (but we had the room and they bought us much of the decorations!).  I would say you need to have some kind of furniture to keep baby’s clothes and items though, but a dresser in your room could work just as well (and doesn’t need to be bought special, see below).

2. Do we have something already that will work?  For each traditional baby items you think you may need, consider its function and whether you already have something in your home that can fulfill that function.  Just because something isn’t made specifically for a baby, doesn’t mean it can’t be used for one. 

Ex. Furniture. While you probably don’t have something just hanging around your home that can function as a crib, you may already have furniture that can serve as the remainder of the nursery furniture (if you are having a nursery; that in itself is not a necessity).  My husband’s parents bought him a very nice bedroom set when he moved out of state to start grad school.  When we got married, my furniture became our bedroom furniture and his became guest room furniture.  When we found out we were pregnant, we decided to just get rid of the bed and keep the rest of the furniture for the baby.  We simply needed to find a black crib to match it. 

3. Is there something else “non-baby” that will work instead?  Similar to the last question, can you buy something similar without the “baby” label to do the same function.  It seems that anything found in the baby section automatically has a mark up in price (I found the same thing regarding “wedding” items when I got married a few years ago). 

Ex. Diaper pails, furniture.  Diaper pails can be ridiculously pricey and require specific pail liners.  It’s much cheaper to buy a nice step on trash can and use regular trash bags (or a few washable pail liners if you are cloth diapering). Perhaps they don’t contain the smell as well (although I’ve heard that they don’t really work any better), but that simply means you have take the diapers out a little more often.

4. Do I have room for it?  Many people who are starting a family on a budget are doing so in a small home or apartment.  You may not have room for all the baby gizmos and gadgets that some others consider to be mandatory.  My husband and I are fortunate in that we have been able to afford a two bedroom apartment, however, we would have welcomed our daughter into a one bedroom as well.  Even being a two bedroom apartment, our home is small and there are certain things we’ve forgone because of space.  Keep in mind how much space each item will take and that may help you narrow down what is necessary.

Source: ikea.com via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Full sized bassinet or crib, changing table, baby bath tub.  While we do have a full nursery with a crib, we opted for a non-traditional changing table.  After scouring the internet for a foldable changing table, I found this one at Ikea.  Although we keep it up all the time, it is smaller than a traditional changing table. Some other options for a changing table is to buy a crib with an attached changing table, a changing pad for the top of a dresser, attach a pull-down changing table to the wall, buy a pack-and-play with a changing table included, or simply forgo it all and change your baby on the kitchen table, floor, wherever.

For me, a baby bath tub, although not usually too pricey, is still a waste, especially of space.  Some are inflatable, but to have to inflate it each time seemed to be too much work.  The plastic ones seem to take up a lot of room that we don’t have.  And since lining a sink with towels works just fine, no baby bath tub for us. 

5. How long will I use it for?  It’s probably no surprise that babies outgrow their clothes quickly.  The size labels are deceiving as well – our little girl has outgrown some of her 0-3 month clothes already (at barely over a month).  But babies outgrow other baby gear as well.  While your baby will certainly need clothes, and you may want to get him/her some of the other baby items that will be outgrown quickly, look for these things used.  They will be in great condition because they were only used for a short time.

Source: toysrus.com via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Bassinet, bouncer.  If your baby is going to sleep in your room for the first few months, but you don’t want him/her in your bed, you don’t have to get a traditional bassinet.  They are expensive and take up a lot of space (see previous question).  We got this Rock ‘n’ Play Sleeper as a bassinet, and even though we decided to have the baby sleep in our bed, it is great because, unlike a traditional bassinet, it can be easily moved around the house as a place to put baby while I’m doing housework, taking a shower, etc. and can easily be brought to someone else’s house. 

6. Does it fit our lifestyle/parenting style? It’s often hard to know exactly what your parenting style will be like before you are actually in the midst of parenting, but I many people have an idea of how they would like to parent.  Some items are more useful for stay-at-home moms.  If you will be working and your child will be in daycare, that may dictate some items that you may or may not need.  If you plan to attachment parent, certain items are no longer necessary.  If you are environmentally conscious, some baby items don't make sense (disposable diapers/wipes, plastic baby items and toys that will eventually end up in landfills).  So if you have ideas of how you would like to parent, keep in mind how that will affect the items you need for baby.

Ex. Baby wraps/carriers, strollers, cribs, waterproof pads. I knew we would want to sleep with our baby in our room for at least a few months, so I knew a crib wasn’t a necessity right away.  We registered for a crib anyway and received it as a gift from several family members (post to come about gift receiving), but if we hadn’t, we would have waited to buy one until we needed it or until it was on sale.  Lucia sleeps in the bed with us, so all we really need for her right now is a waterproof pad. 

Source: mobywrap.com via Mandi on Pinterest
If you plan to baby wear, a stroller may not be necessary.  I rarely use our jogging stroller (also a gift, registered for at my husband the runner’s insistence), but my Moby Wrap is a necessity for us. 

7. What if baby doesn’t like it? Many baby items are not easily returnable once you open them, wash them (everything fabric should be washed before touching baby’s skin), and put them together.  In many cases, it’s easier to wait to buy something until after the baby is here and you determine that you need it.  Although you might have to pay full price if you wait until you need it, so if you see something at a great deal or very cheap used, it may be worth it to buy it then.  Or if you receive something as a gift, you might want to wait to take the tags off and wash it until you need it. 

Ex.  Swing.  My baby hates her swing.  I know, all babies loves swings, right?  Mine is just strange.  Maybe she will still grow to love it, but right now, I’m so grateful that it was given to me by a friend who already got great use from it with her two kids. 

8. How many do I really need? This is very similar to the question above, you don’t want to have so many of something that some of the items never get used.  There are a few things that you probably can’t have enough of.  In our house, these are burp clothes, receiving blankets, and washcloths.  But most other baby items, buy sparingly, especially ones that will be quickly outgrown.

Ex. Clothing. This question especially pertains to clothing: if you take off the tags and wash them, most places won’t take them back.  Sure, babies go through clothes quickly, but you’ll probably be doing wash often so that items don’t stain when their diaper leaks or when they spit up, so you really don’t need that many outfits.  And you probably will want more sleepers, onesies, and matching pants than the adorable outfits.  We have found our favorite sleepers for Lucia and those get used very often while some of the more cumbersome items to put on and off only get put on when going out and when company comes over.  Every parent I’ve talked to has told me that there were outfits that their baby never wore because they outgrew them too quickly.  So don’t go overboard with clothes (plus, you’ll probably get many gifts when the baby is born, and these tend to be clothes, so be prepared for that).

Remember, just because you rule something as non-essential doesn’t mean you can’t have one, it simply means that you should budget for the essentials first.  You may very well receive that non-essential item that will make life so much easier as a gift or find it at a garage sale (in fact, garage sales are brimming with the “unnecessaries”!).  I’ll admit, I have many of the items I’ve listed above as examples of non-essentials.  Some of them I even love.  But I didn’t (and wouldn’t) pay full price for any of them, they were either gifts, hand-me-downs, or purchased at garage sales. 

Ex. Wipes warmer.  One of my favorite non-essentials is my wipes warmer.  My mom went crazy buying baby items at garage sales last summer while I was pregnant.  She bought us a wipes warmer for $1 (and later saw ones at other garage sales for $0.50).  It is certainly a luxury, but for that price, I certainly can justify the purchase.  It works wonderfully and Lucia loves having warm wipes during diaper changes, it’s definitely eliminated all crying on the changing table!  Would I suggest you pay full price for one? Never.  But if someone gifted it to you, gave you theirs, or you came across it at a garage sale, go for it!

Being realistic about what a baby needs is immensely important to saving money with a baby.  Once you have a list of what you think you will need, you can further budget for baby by acquiring those items in the most cost-effective way: asking for them as gifts, buying them used, acquiring them as hand-me-downs, buying them on sale or with discounts/coupons (posts on each of these to follow in the upcoming weeks). 

If you have written (or would like to write) a post on a similar topic, whether it be your “Top 10 Baby Essentials”, “The Most Worthless Baby Items”, or something more specific like your “Breastfeeding Necessities”, please link up your post here.  Since each baby and situation is different, it would be so helpful to get a range of opinions about which baby items did/didn’t work for you so that other moms can weigh their choices and try to figure out what are true baby necessities for them.  Thanks!

Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my Baby on a Budget series.