Challenge Accepted!: Cute boys clothes on a budget

Boys clothing on a budget

Alex (at age 1) sporting a Baby Gap windbreaker and jeans, courtesy of consignment shopping.

It has been my personal mission to dress my boys in cute, yet age-appropriate clothing (I made a promise to myself not to dress them in adorable animal characters, or anything embroidered on the bum, past the point of appropriateness. You’re welcome, Alex and Charlie.) I love the thrill of a good deal, and I really enjoy the hunt for something other than your traditional striped shirt. It’s pretty easy to find adorable clothing for girls – I mean, leggings, headbands and ruffle-bum tights are AWESOME. Hopefully someone else in the family has a girl, or else I’m in for a long wait for a granddaughter. But in the meantime, I’m going to pour all of my crazy shopping energy into two boys who, thankfully, wear what I purchase without complaint.

This will be a two-post series in the interest of breaking up my deep and personal thoughts on this very important matter.

To start, here are the two most important things I’ve learned to date:

1.) Don’t buy ahead. I know, it’s tempting. All of those summer things are super marked down, it seems like the way to go. But I have been burned more than once doing things this way. At least for this baby to toddler stage, I have not been able to accurately predict growth. So we may never actually get to wear the thing I bought last year, because by the time the season came around again, it’s either too big or too small. Already. Most of what I bought ahead ended up getting consigned.

This is specific to New Englanders, but the spring/summer/fall weather can fluctuate so much. This year the summer weather was seriously late to the party. I ended up having to buy Alex extra long sleeve tops to get him through. Extended summer weather or an early fall could also effect your wardrobe plans. Long story short, sometimes it’s just not size that’s hard to predict. Maybe pick up a few pieces if you really like something. But know there are other affordable options for next year. (I’ll get to that in a moment!)

2.) Don’t panic. I have a tendency to freak out the first day there is unseasonably warm or cool weather. I launch into new wardrobe mode and overbuy or overspend or pick things I don’t really care for that much, all so Alex can have a weather-appropriate wardrobe for the one week before the weather changes again. Part of this panic comes from the craziness that is retail seasons. Fall clothes showed up in July, and now I’m getting catalogs with winter coats in August. It’s insane. But that also means that it can be hard to find a sun hat in September, even though it’s still 80 degrees out, because retailers clear out the past seasons’s inventory. The take home message here is to do your best to get seasonally appropriate accessories on the early side, but for everything else, you can get by. No one is going to overheat or freeze in one day, or even one week. You’ll be happier with your wardrobe choices if you buy when you see something you really like, or even better, when it’s on sale.

In the next post, I’m going to talk about my favorite brands for boys clothing, and how to get the best deals, but for now, let’s talk consignment stores and sales. Consignment stores carry clothing for babies and kids that local parents bring in to resell. Typically the store takes 40-50% of the sale for prepping and displaying your clothes, and you get the rest of the sales price when the item sells. Clothes are in new or excellent condition, and you can pick up tops, pants, outerwear and accessories at 50% or more off of retail prices. Every store is different so you have to visit them to see what the selection is like. Some stores specialize in high-end brands, others are less picky. Once you find a good place, you can count on being able to pick up at least a few pieces to start your wardrobe building each season.

Consignment sales, which are typically weekend-long events, are a new and growing trend that I LOVE. I participate in at least one sale every fall and spring, and can make anywhere from $75-$200 depending on how much of the past season’s clothes and gear I have to get rid of. This type of sale is held at a temporary retail location rented out for the duration of the sale. Seller’s price and tag their own merchandise. Because you don’t have the overhead that a traditional consignment store would have, prices tend to be lower. Expect to see brands like Carters for under $5, Gymboree and Baby Gap in the $5-$7 range and Hanna Andersson, Mini Boden or other higher-end brands at $8 and up. These sales usually run Friday-Saturday, with a half-price event on Sunday (or whatever the last day of the sale is). You may not find the top brands on the last day, but you can definitely get good deals on basics, like jeans, t-shirts and button-down shirts.

For both consignment stores and sale events, you can find local options just by doing a Google search. Consignment Mommies is also an excellent resource.

You might also ask around to see if there are any Facebook groups in your area for selling kid’s clothes (sometimes you can find them just by searching on Facebook, others are by invitation only), and you can also try Craigslist or Ebay. These methods are a little more hit-or-miss and can be time-consuming, so I don’t use them as often. If you’re looking for something specific and don’t need it right away, I do recommend setting up an Ebay search – you can choose to get new listings that match your search emailed to you. This is nice if you know the size and brand you want. I was able to get Alex Hanna Andersson snowpants this way last year (they were awesome, and cost nowhere near the $69 list price!).

Have any tips you’d like to add? I would love to hear it! With two boys now the budget is a bit more slim.

Next time: My favorite brands and when to pull the trigger on ordering.

 

Currently 8.25.14

Thinking about: Fall. I’m scouting out apple picking orchards, trying to find the most toddler-boy friendly location. (Meaning lots of other things to do besides apple picking.)  I’m also thinking about the end of summer. This was one of our best summers yet, which I’m pleased to be able to say since it’s also the first summer we’ve had two kids to entertain. Charlie has been super great about being dragged all over creation for our summer activities. Its been fun watching Alex grow up so much this summer, too.

Reading: “Mistborn,” a science-fiction trilogy. I thought it might be a little too science-fiction geeky for me, and it kind of is, but I still love it. All 1,000 pages.

Listening to: Charlie fuss talk while rolling on the floor. He’s really into the bookcase he just rolled into. Or he’s done being on the floor. It’s tough to tell sometimes.

Thankful for: My family. I know I take them from granted, but they are everything to me.

Photographing: Charlie. I try to take photos of Alex, but when I get the camera out, he has a tendency to want to see the pictures, even before I take it. His classic maneuver is to stand still for literally one second, and then run over to me so he can see the picture I didn’t get a chance to take. Charlie is a much easier subject to photograph.

Charlie wants to eat the camera

Charlie attempts to eat the camera.

“Currently” is a weekly blogging check-in — I’m participating this week to meet some of the other great bloggers out there! I’m linked up at www.whenathome.com.

DIY Bath Paint: Vat style

DIY Bath Paint - Bulk Recipe!

Alex has always enjoyed painting, so when I saw bath paint at Target, it practically leapt into my cart (a frequent occurrence at Target). The kit came complete with a fish sponge and a little hand-shaped palette. I doled out the paint portions and Alex went to town. Well, sort of. The paint was rather gel-like, so it was translucent in appearance. And within about two minutes, Alex got some in his eye and was in tears. While increasing his misery by rubbing his eyes with a wet wash-cloth, I wondered how on earth any company could make bath paint for children that would cause eye irritation. Haven’t they heard of tearless formulas?

We also had less-than-stellar experiences with bath crayon quality, so I threw up my hands and did what any desperate mother would do: I turned to Pinterest. In no time at all I had a decent-sounding recipe for bath paint. Just body wash, corn starch, water and food coloring. Easy peasy. And quite a bit cheaper than the bath paint kit I purchased. I mixed up paint for Alex several times over the course of a few weeks, but it was kind of time consuming to do in small batches, so I decided to modify the recipe for bulk proportions. This recipe will yield 7 cups of bath-time fun. If you have covered containers, it should keep for a few weeks.

Bath Paint Ingredients

I used a 24 oz. container of Dove sensitive skin body wash for my eczema-prone children, though the original recipe said any body wash would do. I think you will have better results with a creamy formula (to avoid the aforementioned gel-based translucence). Squeeze out the entire bottle into a bowl, and add the contents of a 16 oz. canister of corn starch. Add 1 cup of water.

Start stirring. You may see some alarming-looking froth, but persevere with your mixing. Before long, you will have a bowl of fluffy goodness.

Ed said if he didn’t know what I was doing, he would have thought it was frosting. I tell you this so that you can make the decision to tell your loved ones what you’re making, or just leave it a mystery. The latter option could be useful if you have a dough-eating sneak in the family.

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The consistency should be on the goopy side. If you’d prefer a more thinned out version, you can add more water. I found that Alex adds extra water on his own, so I prefer a thicker paint.

I highly recommend using paint cups to store your homemade paint. We got ours from Discount School Supply. Most school supply stores have them. (If you’re in the market for paint brushes, we like the Melissa & Doug version. The bristles keep their shape, even with all the toddler abuse.)

Spoon about one cup of the mixture into a paint cup, then food coloring. I used Wilton paste food coloring. These produce vibrant colors, but are kind of a pain to get out of the container (try a toothpick). McCormick food coloring is handy because you can more easily control the color mixing since you’re dealing with drops, but the colors are lighter. Just use whatever food coloring floats your boat.

Paint cup and food coloring

Use a spoon or mini spatula to mix in the color. Once evenly distributed, put on the lid, and move on to the next paint cup.

In the end, I had 6 cups of paint. If you don’t have a total failure attempt at making purple, you will have 7 cups of paint. Certainly enough to keep your tiny-Monet happy for a while.These wash off both your kid and the tub surround easily, and nobody’s skin was inadvertently dyed (bonus!). Alex requests these for just about every bath, and Charlie handles being a human canvas quite well.

Little brother problems.

Little brother problems.

Taking Back Date Night

takingbackdatenight

It seemed like an easy goal. One date night a month. Every four weeks, 12 times a year, Ed and I would do something fun for an evening.  This brilliant plan failed the first time I instituted, it and each and every time I re-instituted it.

I failed to appreciate how often small children get sick. Alex and his daycare cohorts swapped germs like there was no tomorrow. The viruses always seemed to show up on Friday or Saturday, which made for some fun weekend doctor visits. When Alex felt better, I just wanted to catch up on sleep, preferably before the next cold virus paid a visit.

On the rare occasion we had a free evening and found a babysitter, I couldn’t stop watching the clock. I kept a mental tally of how much the date was costing us. I remember distinctly sitting in a theater watching the Muppet Movie sequel, and feeling angry because the movie wasn’t great, and the babysitter meter was up to $30. Things did not improve at dinner. We ended up at a Chili’s because of long wait times everywhere else. (I’m pretty sure their business model is built on being everyone’s third choice.) At that point we were up to $60 on the babysitter meter, plus movie tickets and chain restaurant quesadillas. This did not inspire going to the effort of setting up more date nights.

My goal was simple. Ed and I needed to do something, just the two of us. Something to remind me that he was more than childcare relief and the guy who takes out the garbage. In a note that came with my birthday flowers, Ed mentioned that I was his best friend. I teared up a little, because in the small-child-chaos and my 24/7 state of sleepiness, I forgot about that.

We had to reclaim date night, and we needed something we could do at home. I saw suggestions online for dancing together (too mushy) or just holding hands (puh-lease). Seriously, am I the only one who needs some hands-off time after having a 2-year-old somehow attached to me for the day? Toddlers do not respect personal boundaries. Toddlers laugh at boundaries.

Prior to having children, Ed and I went out to eat a lot, which I enjoyed. That practice has been suspended indefinitely, pending Alex’s ability to sit for more than two minutes without the aid of Chuggington episodes or ice cream. So, to reclaim a small part of that, I thought we could try getting take-out on Friday nights after the kids go to bed.

We avoid the usual kid-friendly suspects, like Panera and Five Guys, and try to pick a restaurant we haven’t been to. One of us heads out to pick up the food, and then we sit down together to eat while catching up on shows we recorded five months ago. No one is dropping food in their milk. No one is melting down over the “no television during dinner” rule. No one is sitting on my lap and eating off my plate, having rejected the exact same food served to them. It’s heavenly.

I love your faces, but mommy needs a break.

I love your faces, but mommy needs a break.

When I make the food run, I do occasionally feel some jealously toward the people who are actually able to eat at a restaurant after 8 p.m. And I somewhat reluctantly leave the bustling energy behind for a quiet house with (fingers crossed) sleeping children. But even though it’s just dinner, I really look forward to Friday nights now. It’s less about the food, and more about consciously making time for one another outside of our parenting duties. However, thanks to the real Mexican restaurant in the next town over, I rediscovered my love for queso dip and now eat that several times a week. I’m obsessed. So there are lots of benefits to this date-night-in model.

What do you do to connect with your spouse? I promise not to judge you if it is dancing or holding hands. Most people probably have greater affection reserves than I do.

5 Books for Busy (toddler) Boys

Two years ago, bedtime at our house was a tranquil time. I settled into the rocking chair with a burp cloth, bottle and a few carefully selected children’s books. Alex would sleepily drink his bottle while I read him Newbury Medal winners and enhanced his worldview while sending him off into a magical dreamland.

Fast-forward to now. Bedtime chaos. Just ask Charlie. (Note the “what on earth is going on behind me right now” face.)

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For a long time, we couldn’t even get Alex to sit down to listen to a story. We read at him while he played with his trucks or just ran around. I generally have a decent amount of patience for these “seasons” of toddlerhood, but after several months,  I figured we were going to have an illiterate son who hated his English teachers.

Thankfully, Alex is old enough to realize that the more books we read, the later he can stay up, so he is back to participating in story time and I no longer feel he hates words.

These 5 books are the most frequently requested and feature his favorite past time: Things that move.

goodnightconstructionsiteGoodnight, Goodnight Construction Site
by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

This book definitely tops the list as favorite bedtime story. It follows five construction vehicles as they end their day and go to bed. Highlights include crane truck falling asleep clutching a teddy bear, and a tiny blanket thrown over the top of cement mixer. The story has a nice pace to it, and there is plenty to talk about on each page. I personally found it helpful to learn the actual names of the different types of construction vehicles. Categorize that under “things I should have paid attention to.” Alex is teaching me so much about trucks.

steamtrainSteam Train Dream Train
by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Steam Train Dream Train has been in the book rotation for several months. It starts with a huge train pulling up to a platform with animal workers ready to load the train for its nightly journey. Monkeys load jungle gym equipment, polar bears and penguins snack on ice cream in the reefer car and a team of turtles load up the race cars. I like the rhyming scheme, and I just about have the entire story memorized. I can usually finish reading a section, even if Alex has already turned the page.

fireenginemanFire Engine Man
by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

If you happen to have two boys in your life, this is the cutest series of books EVER. Fire Engine Man follows a little boy who is obsessed with fire trucks. It starts out in the boy’s playroom, but soon you see him driving a real fire truck (that he owns, of course), fighting fires and making sandwiches in the fire station kitchen. His baby brother always comes along for the adventure. There’s a scene where the two brothers are sitting next to each other in the fire truck, baby brother in the car seat, drinking a bottle. Adorable. The text is simple, which is great for the toddler set.  Train Man and Digger Man are equally excellent and follow the same story pattern.

littlebluetruckLittle Blue Truck
by Alice Schertle; illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Alex and Little Blue Truck go way back. Like before Alex was born. Ed picked out this book, probably to get free shipping at Amazon. Alex ended up requesting it as soon as he was able to state his opinion on such matters (somewhere in the 12+ month range). There are animal noises – always fun – and a good rhyming scheme. Alex is currently obsessed with the giant yellow dump truck, who drives too fast and gets stuck in the mud. Ed does an excellent “HONK” for the dump truck scenes. And we learn about friendship and lending a helping hand along the way. Another win for the toddler set.

allthroughmytownAll Though My Town
by Jean Reidy; illustrated by Leo Timmers

I bought this book through Alex’s Scholastic Book Club at daycare. (Yes! They still do this, and the fliers look pretty much exactly the same as when I was in elementary school. I love it.) It sat unread for a while, but has recently made its way into the rotation. The book follows a young bunny and his mom as they run errands. The illustrations are bright and busy, and the text is largely descriptive tongue twisters depicting the action. There’s lots of animal doing silly things, and lots of vehicles. I can see why Alex likes it.

At some point I will need to do a companion post of my top 5 favorite books, which we are unable to read because my kid likes to read the same books every night. I’m not kidding. He physically takes the book away from me if it does not meet with his approval. I have hope for a more democratic story time with Charlie.

“Yes mommy, we can read ‘The Day the Crayons Went on Strike,’ because it is clever and you like it.” Thanks, Charlie.

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Brinner: It’s what’s for dinner

If there’s one unsung hero of dinner, I’d have to say it’s Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. I don’t know how they manage to fit so much flaky goodness in one little tube, but I’m grateful for it.  I love them on their own, but those little dough squares make an excellent base for an all-in-one egg dish. I’m not really a morning person, so I don’t often go to the trouble of making a big breakfast. I do, however, pull out all the breakfast stops for brinner (brin-ner : foods you usually eat in the morning served for dinner. Delicious and inexpensive and completely necessary for happiness in life).

Brinner: It's what's for dinner

The original recipe for Bacon and Egg Crescent Squares comes to you courtesy of Tablespoon.com. The ingredients are simple, and if you buy crescent roll dough in bulk like I do, you probably have everything on hand.

Brinner ingredients

You will need one tube of Pillsbury Crescent Roll goodness, 4 eggs (extra large if you have them), bacon, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese (optional).

Precooked bacon works fine for this recipe, but if you want to cook up your own, I recommend baking it in the oven. It’s super easy, splatter free and a cinch to clean up. Warning: The ease of preparation may cause an increase in bacon consumption. You have been warned.

Just lay out your strips of bacon on a foil-lined pan with sides. Pop them in a cold oven. Then set the oven to 400 degrees. Walk away. Come back in 17 minutes to a pile of sizzling deliciousness.

baconimage

Now let’s start transforming that magical tube of dough. Pop open the crescent rolls and carefully lay out the dough flat. I did this right on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Separate the dough into four rectangles, being careful not to stretch it out too much.Pinch the dough together along the middle seam, then roll up the four edges a bit to make a self-contained crust. This needs to hold the egg in place, so make sure your edges are raised enough.

croissant dough

Crack one egg onto each section of dough. I’ve made this a couple of times, and I’ve had one overflow incident every time. It’s okay. You can try scooping it back in, or admit defeat and let it cook next to the dough. Toss a little salt and paper and a pinch of Parmesan cheese onto each egg. If you’re using pre-cooked bacon, go ahead and add two slices to the top of each rectangle.

eggs in dough

Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes. If you’re making your own bacon, you can put these in on the bottom rack without any trouble. When the eggs are cooked and the crust edges are slightly browned, remove from the oven. Add bacon to the top if you haven’t already, and marvel at your fancy (but super easy) brinner creation.

Finished Brinner Product

This doesn’t happen a whole lot at our house, but Alex ate his entire dinner. Ignore the 2-year-old watching Toy Story at the table and marvel at the empty plate.

Alex eats his brinner

Meet my busy kid

He said it rather nonchalantly, but Dr. Cooper’s observation of “he’s busy,” was something of a defining moment. Not hyperactive, not out-of-control. My kid is busy. It sounded like an okay thing, while we watched him inspect the cabinets, exam bed, rolling chair and everything else in the room. I needed to hear that, because raising a busy 1-year-old who also was not the world’s greatest sleeper was taking every ounce of patience and fortitude I had. And of course I was wondering if it was all somehow the result of some fault in my parenting.

I kind of knew I was in for it. Alex spent the latter part of my pregnancy kicking his legs seemingly nonstop. You could actually see his little feet poking out. As a baby, the kicking continued. He would kick his legs super fast and screech, because that’s fun.

He was a little late to the party on rolling and crawling, but when he figured out how to stand up on his own, it was fast-track all the way to walking, then running, then climbing. And most recently, requests for “fly!”

Some things have gotten easier with time. We can communicate with each other better. He’ll sit and watch Thomas the Tank Engine or Barney so I can get something accomplished without worrying about him being in mortal peril. But at 2.5, the meltdowns are pretty dramatic. And there’s the flying. I’ve found that with parenting a busy kid, things get easier over time, but there’s always a new challenge waiting in the wings. Long story short: never a dull moment.

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Alex’s little brother, Charlie, joined our family 7 months ago. I said it as kind of as a joke to my husband, but really very seriously, that it would be unfair for me to have two busy kids. The universe agreed, and delivered to me a quiet, sweet little boy. I am so grateful for his peaceful spirit. It’s keeping me somewhat sane in this season of raising young children. I continue to enjoy watching Alex grow and develop into a little person, and I can’t wait to see how Charlie turns out. I know it will be (quietly) epic.

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I decided to start this blog in part because I needed a better evening hobby than playing Candy Crush. There are probably some useful things I could do around the house, but 2.5 years into this parenting gig, I can tell you that I don’t make super productive use of my time after 7 p.m. This way I can be creative, and perhaps put my other addiction - Pinterest - to good use.

I thought about joining the mommy blogger fray in the past, but I didn’t think I had anything new or interesting to add to the discussion. It’s true there is a lot out there on parenting and raising kids, but there’s just one me and one Alex and one Charlie, so that’s something. And if I can build a little community of tired-out moms who love their busy boys (or girls!), then all the better.