A Thrifting Guide for Mommas on a Budget (Part One)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vintage Love

Thrift shopping is a great way to find cheap vintage clothing, housewares and other secondhand treasures.

My thrifting romance was nurtured from a very young age. Tagging along to the thrift store with my grandma was better than taking fistfuls of cash into the toy store. I never knew what sort of secondhand treasures I might find on any given day. My thrift shopping adventures have given me a keen eye for adorable vintage apparel and home goods on the cheap. I have also always felt like I was doing something humanitarian and eco-friendly by supporting thrift stores. I would say a good 75% of my wardrobe is of the secondhand nature, but you’d never guess. The best part is—I get to enjoy things that no one else has!

In this thrift shopping series, I will share my best tips for shopping secondhand on a budget:

1. Shop alone. Unless you can find someone who is just as content as you are with spending several hours rifling, examining, digging and scouring in a secondhand store, I suggest going it alone. I would also recommend leaving the kids at home unless they love it too. Forcing them is not good for anyone involved. However, in the unlikely event that you bring a toddler (because they’re screaming, holding your ankles, insisting on coming along), make the experience a fun, interactive (and short!) one, and make sure they’re well-fed and well-rested beforehand.

I recently had the best time with my Peanut lately at the local thrift store. Every time I tried on a leather jacket, he tried it on too, looking like a goofy mini Sherlock Holmes. I pointed out all sorts of things throughout the store and let him touch and hold some non-breakable items. Then, as a reward for being an angel child, we explored the toy section and even went home with a new little doctor kit. I've had my blood pressure checked a million times since then.

thrift shop adventures

doctor kit

2. Clear your schedule. If I’m going to scavenge the thrift store, I know that I’ll need to block off a good hour or two—and I better have a meal beforehand! There’s just no easy way to comb the clothing racks without enough time set aside. I know it will never work if I just decide to drop in for a quick 15 minutes. Do you know how unnerving it feels to think you might be missing something in all the aisles you didn’t have time to check? On the same vein, you need to be patient. You need the extra time to comb through racks and racks of distasteful nick-nacks to find those hidden gems. It really takes patience--and it's not for everyone. It is not uncommon to only find one or two notable items for each 1-hour trip.


3. Start a list. The back page of my agenda book contains a constantly-changing list of things I’m looking for at the moment. If they happen to be items I can pick up secondhand for pennies, I'm always grateful. At the secondhand shop, in particular, I’m always on the lookout for craft supplies, vintage dresses, beautifully-illustrated children’s books, and pretty printed sheets to repurpose. But I might set out for a silky scarf for a project or dainty plates and mugs to turn into a tiered display. It’s helpful to have ideas of what you need for your home, so your attention stays focused. By bits and pieces, you’ll eventually craft some well-curated spaces in your home.


4. Expect the unexpected. You probably won’t find anything on the list above on your first try. Always keep the list in the back of your mind, but keep your mind open. Most of the things I take away from the thrift store are things I never had on my mind. This is especially true for clothes. You cannot approach the racks hoping to find one specific item, but you might find three new things you would just die to have. And you probably won’t have to die for them at $1.00 each!


5. Give and take. Every time I plan on visiting the thrift store, I take along a box of donations. I try to donate more than I buy to avoid the packrat trap and to keep the supply steady and flowing for others. Our needs and tastes are always changing, and this ebb and flow allows us to change things out of rotation every once in awhile without breaking the bank.


I hope this article is sparking some great ideas for you or just giving you that itch. I know that itch all to well. Even writing this article is making me itch for a trip to Vinnies.

Check back next week for Part Two of this thrift shopping guide for even more tips on browsing and unearthing some real treasures.

Rummage Saling Adventures

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Recently, we had a truly memorable rummage saling experience. None of us was feeling it that day. I had a $10 bill in my pocket to find some necessities, and once that was gone, I just wanted to go home. We lost my grandfather the following day, so the day felt bittersweet in a way that's tough for me to describe or even talk about.

I was literally down to my last quarter, but my husband insisted we stop at THE very last rummage sale (so unlike him) at the very edge of town. I'm so glad that we did. Not only did I find the coolest pair of shorts straight out of the 1960s (for a quarter!!! Ha!), but we also stumbled across a hidden gem of a farm. It was truly unusual in all the neatest ways. And I happened to have a point-and-shoot in my pocket.

We noticed some bird coops as we pulled in. While I was checking out the sale goods, my husband asked the owner if it was ok if he looked around at the animals, you know, thinking there would be typical barn animals at this farm. We found out that they raise exotic birds. Wow!


Peacocks seemed pretty run-of-the-mill next to some of these pretties.




Black Swans!!!!!


This artistic bird was having a full-on conversation with me and followed whichever direction I went. His orange eyes were piercing, but friendly. And I loved his elfin stand-up whiskers. God must've had fun designing each one of these gorgeous birds.

Even the pond had a surprise in store for us. We could here all the gloating, but it took a minute to spy these blender-inners. The pond was so lush and green, just like the...


Ribbits, as Peanut likes to call them.

We will definitely be scoping this place out next year when the citywide rummage sale comes around again. Here's to hoping they'll have a sale again next year! We were secretly hoping the owner would offer to let us drop by any time we'd like. Even though he didn't (we're strangers, that's ok), he was kind enough to give us a full guided tour.

Good Eats: Chicken Salad for Lunch

Monday, June 25, 2012

I don't normally get very excited about my work lunches. True confession, I've been known to bring a sodium-laden Lean Gourmet a time or two (per week, eek!) to work. Mostly I bring the previous night's leftovers. Most days, it's almost like a plug-your-nose-and-swallow type of reaction. Sad, I know. However, a few weeks ago, I prepared three days' worth of chicken salad. And even though that is not very exciting, it was something I don't normally prepare and I really liked it.

Here's a picture of my lunch on my cubicle desk. This is what I like to call real life food photography. Ha!

Chicken Salad

The best part is, most of the ingredients for this entire plate came from Aldi's, so the cost is literally pennies. I also think this would be a great way to take care of any leftover chicken or turkey you might have.

This is how I made it: I mixed about 10 ounces of shredded chicken breast (leftover from a restaurant chicken dinner) with a few Tbsp of mayo. Some recipes call for relish, but I'm not a fan, so I chopped up three dill sandwich slices and mixed them in. Then I mixed in about 1Tbsp of sliced almonds for a nice crunch. I didn't have any onions on-hand, but if I did, I would've thrown in a handful. The second time I made this, I threw in a handful of dried cranberries and snipped chives. Experiment! Makes around three servings.

And yes, that's a hot dog bun. It was whole wheat and the last lone bun we had in the house, so I didn't want it to go to waste. Trying to practice sustainability, ya know:)

Don't quote me on this, but this is a rough estimate of the nutritional value of one serving of chicken salad on a wheat hot dog bun (according to the Sparkpeople nutrition tracker):

Calories: 270
Carbs: 23
Fat: 16 (note to self: use fat-free mayo next time)
Protein: 10

My Foray Into Freelance Writing and Tips

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I’ve also checked another item off my bucket list, this one a little more meaty than the last. It’s not so much something I want to do before I die as it is something I want to do while I’m making a living. I’ve always wanted to dip my feet into the freelancing waters, bringing in some extra cash for my family, expanding my knowledge, and adding new fields to my resume. I think a lot of us middle-ground-ish folk have toyed with the idea of getting a second job for fun money or just to make ends meet. This is my way of doing it in my own home, with my Peanut next to me stealing my headphones because he likes my Pandora stations too, ya know.

freelance article

The cash factor isn’t the only reason why I wanted to freelance. It also sounded so intriguing to me. Writing from home, developing articles, researching new subjects--it all just expands me. I'm learning so much about subjects I had never even thought of before. The doors that freelance writing could potentially open are also intriguing. Perhaps one day I will pen an article that will be accepted for SHAPE magazine because of the accumulating evidence that I actually can write well.

freelance article

Here are some of the best tips for freelance writing that I've quickly learned:

#1: Pick a time to do the work and stick with it.
I was in a frenzy during the first few weeks of my second job. Every night I would think, “I could be writing right now” or “I should be researching the next article instead of going to the park.” The constant inner nagging was wearing on me. Instead, I chose two nights during the week to dedicate to the job. I leave home, grab a coffee and a two-hour internet pass, and get to work. This way, I can enjoy all the other nights, guilt-free. Structure is important. Without structure, before you know it, you've blown three hours on a researching tangent (off the clock, naturally) for a 500-word article. And you haven't written a word. And you're kicking yourself because your family is waiting for you to go on a bike ride. Structure the time, just like you do at your "regular" job. This is my best gem of advice.

#2: Limit time spent surfing the web.
Similarly to #1, you need to limit time spent researching. Do not fall into the trap of surfing non-related stuff, for sure. But when you actually are researching for an article, keep a time limit. Yes, you will hear that perfectionist voice in your head telling you that you could find out more statistical evidence about teen weight issues, but you probably already have enough information to write a solid article. You could go off on "idea tangents" only to never return. And just because you've booted up your computer doesn't mean you need to check your email, Facebook, favorite news page, favorite blogs, Pinterest feed, and everything else while you're at it (including, ahem, catching up with your favorite fitness personalities).

freelance article

#3: Reward yourself.
As with any job well done, set up a simple reward system for your achievements. Say, for example, after every 5 articles, you buy yourself a new magazine. After every two months of success, you enjoy a dinner out. Just going to the coffee shop to work and getting a good latte seems like a reward in itself. Positive reinforcement is important for self-motivation. You shouldn't be doing all that extra hard work without reaping some rewards for it.

#4: Work With Your Family.
Work with members of your family to prioritize and organize a writing schedule that works for everyone. I have a little bit of buffer time between my personal deadlines and the actual article deadlines, just in case we have a doctors appointment or other priorities to tend to. Before I even accepted the freelance writing offer, my husband and I decided on an action plan to make it work--and to even decide that it was feasible. When I'm working at home, I work with my son to ensure that both of us have what we need. Yes, sometimes that means letting him listen to my headphones while I type out an article. I always give him notice and explain to him what I need from him when I'm working so that expectations are clear. However, my son comes first, so when he really needs me, I clock out. Find that balance.

#5: Refuse to Believe in Writer's Block.
Yes, I too have days where my wording seems sloppy to me or I just can't think of another thing to write about. This is a classic sign of burnout. Take the night off. Sleep. Go back at it in the morning. There is something so miraculous about sleep that seems to vaporize any concerns from the previous day and wipe out those vigilantes that live in your head. I don't believe in writer's block. I think it's just a really good excuse that some people demised to take responsibility away from themselves. Go to a museum, hang out on Pinterest, or zen out with yoga until your mind is freshly abuzz again.

#6: Get Into the Practice of Writing.
My mind has been so abuzz with ideas lately, because I’m in the practice of writing again. I remember when I was in college and the last page of all my subject notebooks was filled with little idea dribbles. Anytime a thought struck, I would quick flip to the back page and write it down. Those little dribbles were sometimes expanded upon later into poems or storylines. It seems like when I'm a little pressed toward my limits, the ideas come a whole lot easier. And I enjoy being in a place where ideas flow readily and I feel the writing energy at full voltage. I enjoy teetering on that fine edge between underwhelmed and overwhelmed. I don't like either side of those "whelms," but the middle is "just right." But just getting back into that daily writing practice makes everything seem lemon fresh.

I owe this freelance writing job to a friend of mine, and I am so thankful to her for bringing it to my attention:) I owe her a drink, doncha think?

Book Pages: Magic Eye

Monday, June 18, 2012

My bucket list contains a few typical adventures, but mostly it contains everyday "appreciate what you have" type of endeavors. However, there are one or two items on the list that seem pretty trivial (no sugarcoating). They are skills that I've wanted to experience for a long time. One of them was to be able to see the "Magic Eye." I was never able to see them as a kid. They were all the rage when I was a kid, but they frustrated me. I was a straight-A student, but when I couldn't accomplish certain things like this, I felt downright dumb. Only once, I almost saw one, but with my undeveloped youthful eye, I looked away.

I was at the library one day recently looking for something completely unrelated, and this book was stuck in among various psychology titles. So, I checked it out along with the books about the brain. How fitting, eh?

bucket list-magic eye

My friends, I cannot tell you how excited I am to tell you that I saw one! I finally saw one!!! Actually, I saw an entire book of them! I was just as fascinated as any 1980s child to bring the book to bed with me and go through the pages. I finally have the wonky eye technique down, and I couldn't be more proud, if only for the little girl in me that tried so hard.

magic eye

If you're dying to know how to do it too, you put the book pretty close to your face (as if you're trying to read it without reading glasses--about 1-ft). Then, you "soften" your gaze, so your eyes aren't focused, but they're not cross-eyed either. Then, just stare off "into space" as though you're looking right through the book. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's what worked for me.

magic eye

Next "trivial" item on the list--learn how to hula hoop. The little girl in me still watches people that can do it with wonder, because I've never been able to coordinate the hip-hoop movement. I can twirl it on my arm, yes, but not my waist. Anyone know the trick?

Peanut Picnic: Where the Deer Roam

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Peanut and I have picked up where we left off in fall with our weekly picnics while Daddy's in school. Peanut and I returned to the "scene of the crime" as we'll call it. Just a few days earlier we kinda lost our dog at this very same park after he took off deafly after a couple dozen deer in the clearing. The incident was quite emotionally draining for all of us, but Titus returned happily to us without incident.

In my attempt to keep the incident from traumatizing the Peanut, we returned to the nature trail, just the two of us, to reinstate the place as "safe." And to enjoy the beauty of the place in a more relaxed circumstance was just what we needed to return favor in the place.

The view was perfection:

Asylum Pt Park 4/14/12
Isn't the crook of the neck the most precious, kissable spot on a Peanut?

May 14, 2012
Sandhill cranes chillin' nearby


Check out this huge intricate fungus formation. Wow!

May 14, 2012

See, we're quite happy with this nature area again. The boy's face says it all.


He even brought a few "friends" to share the experience with.


There was certainly a lot to marvel at this time around.

Kayne took this pic
Even Peanut wanted to take some pictures.

This happened to be the day after Mother's Day. After a whole day dedicated to marvelling at the work of a mother, I saw this beautiful example of parenting in nature. Imagine having to wrangle all of these babies. One momma did lose track of two of her brood. She dropped everything and started squawking to find them. They happily peeped back until they were all rejoined.


Day after mother's day


This was one of the most peaceful evenings I've enjoyed in a long time. I love how taking our dinner outdoors changes the ordinary, everyday into something more remarkable.

The Grass Really is Greener

We recently got a new fence at our home. I felt that same amazement at the makeover as I did after we painted wood paneling in our home. I knew this fresh wood was going to look much nicer, but I didn't expect it to transform the entire atmosphere.

New Fence

We hired out for this project after much penny-saving, because this was a little bit too far out of our time/ability range. I'm sure we could've figured out how to erect a fence ourselves, but it sounded too much like a nightmare. Some things you just have to allow someone else to do for you. I'm trying to learn that, I really am.

New Fence

I wish I had a good "before" picture, because this new fence actually makes the grass on our side of the fence look greener. Well, you can kind of see some of the "better" parts of the old fence in this picture:


New Fence

This dandy is a 15-20 year "no touch" fence, which means it might even outlast our stay. And we never have to whitewash, varnish, or paint it. In fact, the builders told us that painting it could actually decrease the lifespan of the fence. Hallelujah. That's my kind of fence! Now if only this bright, new wood look would never fade...

I'm so excited to have more parties, backyard picnics, and friend-filled barbecues in our "new" backyard this summer. I've got some plans for a Peanut backyard birthday party in the works, and so far, I've kept one of my summer goals to keep S'more supplies readily on-hand in my pantry at all times.

That humble plot of garden you see in that last picture there is all filled with veggie plants now. I've been accumulating zucchini, tomato and cucumber recipes so we never have too many veggies than we know what to do with. I will know what to do with them now!

Oh summer, how I love thee...