Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Gotta Be One of the Two: A Boy or a Girl


T minus 11 days until we find out the gender of baby #2. Everyone keeps asking me if I think it's a boy or a girl... and I honestly have no idea! Every time I think I know, something happens and I start thinking the opposite. Here is my "research" so far...

Gender Prediction Charts
According to TheBump.com's Gender Prediction chart, this baby will be a girl. BUT... that same chart said Paige would be a boy. So was it just wrong with Paige? Or is it always wrong? All official "Chinese Gender Prediction" chart says this baby will be a boy. And that one was right for Paige, and all of my friends (except for my sister... it said girl, and she is having a boy).

Old Wives' Tales
The telltale sign that confirmed I was having a girl weeks before the actual ultrasound confirmation was the brown mark that appeared on my face. The same thing happened to my mom while she was pregnant with my sister and then with me. But I haven't gotten any brown spots yet. So that means it must be a boy, right? But I HAVE gotten two fat deposits (little white pimple looking things) in the last two weeks.. one under each eye. I read that those marks may also signal a girl is on the way.

The Swinging Ring
Have you heard the gender test where you tie your ring to a lock of hair and hold it over your belly? If it moves in a circular motion, then you are having a girl. If it moves like a pendulum, then it means you are having a boy. I just tired it out and it swung from side to side like a pendulum. Check one for the BOY box, right? Well... not so fast my friend. It swung the same way for Miss Paige back in August 2009 (I checked my blog archives).

So can you tell why I really have NO idea on the gender of this baby? We'll know for sure on January 6. I have a fun way to let you all know, too : ) So stay tuned...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Being a Stay at Home Mama: Making it Work Financially


Over the last year or so I've received more than a few inquiries on how I've been able to be a stay at home mama on a single income. I've always responded individually, but I think it's a very valid question and so I figured I'd write a post about it.

First of all, it's not easy. We're not independently wealthy, nor does my husband make so much money that going from a double income to single income family was an easy decision. It was actually very difficult for our hearts and our brains to meet up on the final decision for me to resign from my job and stay home with our baby. Both my husband and I instantly felt like it was the best thing for our family - but would our dollars stretch enough to cover all our expenses? Mortgage payments, car payments, utilities, groceries, and unexpected expenses? As soon as I found out I was pregnant the first time around, we looked at our budget and figured out where we could cut back. Then, we basically lived off Daniel's salary and put mine in our savings account (or as much of it as we could) each month.

After my last official paycheck came in February of 2010, it was definitely a shock to us financially. We had planned for it, but seeing our monthly income cut in half was a real eye-opener. We're going on a year of single-income living, and to be 100% honest, we take it a few months at a time and then reevaluate financially. We pull from our savings for unexpected expenses (i.e. medical, house stuff) and we stretch our other dollars as much as we can. Here are a few ways I found to cut back... my motto is "Every Little Bit Helps..." And if you are determined to stay home, there is always a way to make it work.

1. Refinancing our Mortgage: This may not be an option for everyone, but we were able to refinance from a 6.5% to 5.25% mortgage last year. We didn't have to bring any money to the table, and were able to reduce our monthly payment by around $300. Not a HUGE amount, but enough for groceries each month!

2. Cut out Cable Extras: Daniel and I LOVE our TV shows... especially HBO. It's our time to relax and spend time together once Paige goes to bed. But at an extra $30-$40 per month for the "movie channels", we couldn't justify the cost vs. the two or three shows/movies we watched each month. So I called and had those cut from our plan. Now we get the shows we missed from Netflix, or catch up on our favorite shows when they do "Free Preview Weeks" on the movie channels.

3. Buy in Bulk: Now, I'm not talking Costco kind of bulk (we personally don't have the room to store 500 cans of green beans), but I grocery shop every two weeks instead of every few days. I buy what's on sale and that's what we eat for the next two weeks. Spaghetti, chicken, rice, homemade pizzas - you'd be surprised how creative you can get when you are on a budget! I need to get better about coupons - I use them all the time for Paige's necessities (formula and diapers) but always forget to look for them before doing my regular shopping.

4. Look at What You Can Sell: For us, it was our cars. After some research, we realized our Jeeps were worth a lot more than we owed on them, and we were able to sell them for a significant profit. We then downsized to 4-door sedans vs. gas-guzzling SUVs to save on gas. Our payments were also cut in half. Do I miss my SUV sometimes? YES! But I'm very happy with my car and the fact that selling the Jeeps gave us enough wiggle room for me to stay home for a while longer.

5. Remember Tax Time!: If you're income is cut in half, most likely you will drop to a lower tax bracket... which means a bigger tax return (in most cases)! Also, if you own a home, you'll get a large tax return based on that alone - so stash that away in a savings account for those unforeseen expenses that may come up. Or, to transfer over a few hundred each month to help supplement your husband's paycheck.

6. Get a Side Hustle: My friend once told me that, "You always need a side hustle..." What exactly is a "side hustle" you ask? Something to create a little bit of cash flow when times get tight or to bring in a little extra money each month. I have two "side hustles" - this blog and my make-up business. Neither is creating a gold mine for me, but each brings in a little money each month without a ton of overhead expense. Beyond finances, a side hustle lets you retain some part of your former self and have adult conversation (or vent to other adults, in my case with this blog). : )

So, you can see I'm definitely not an expert on this topic. But since people asked, I figured I would pass along tips on how I've managed to make it work over the last year. The first step is to layout ALL your monthly expenses - mortgage payment, average grocery bill, car payments, utilities, entertainment - and compare the total to the income of the parent who plans to continue working. Is it enough to cover the necessities without going into foreclosure on your home or defaulting on loans? If not, what is the difference? Can you save that much x 12 to cover you for a year of staying home before the baby is born? Is there a "side hustle" you can manage to maintain on a part time basis? Do you have a family friend or grandparent who can watch the baby one or two days a week so you can work part time? Sometimes the answer is flat out "No." And in that case I think it's better that both parents stay working than to put your family's financial future in jeopardy. But if you can manage to swing it, it definitely is a rewarding experience.

And in the meantime, we can all keep hoping for a lottery win one of these days, right? : )

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Sequential Screening: Why I Changed My Mind


All the pregos know that between 11 and 14 weeks, the OB suggests (usually somewhat firmly) that you receive the "Sequential Screening". In a nutshell, Sequential Screening is a way to estimate the chance that a baby will be born with Down syndrome, trisomy 18, or an open neural tube defect such as spina bifida. During my first pregnancy I had a very firm response back to the doctors when they suggested it: No Way. My husband and I had already discussed it and decided that it really didn't matter - we loved our baby no matter what. I wasn't going to get an abortion, so what did it matter what the baby did or didn't have? At the time, I felt the Dr.'s assumed that if there was something "wrong", I would have opted for an abortion. But I really can't blame them for making that assumption based on the track record of so many mamas - studies show close to 90% of babies found to have Down syndrome are aborted. Shocking, I know. I'm not going to judge the decisions of those mothers - I can only imagine it was the hardest thing they've ever had to go though. But I know that abortion isn't an option for me. So, I firmly denied having any genetic testing done on Miss Paige while she was still in my belly.

Then, at about 6 months, I was given some potentially devastating news. Here is the post I wrote documenting that event: http://sweetleighmama.blogspot.com/2009/08/last-few-days.html

At the time, I wasn't able to write specifically about what the doctor had told me because it was too raw, but I will now... After all, the experience is forever burned into my memory.

During the ultrasound, the tech saw a suspicious raised area on the bottom of Paige's spine. She kept zooming in and taking pictures of it. I immediately knew something wasn't right. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "This doesn't look good. I need to go show the doctor immediately." And she ran out the door, leaving me on the ultrasound table, all alone, wondering what had just happened. I couldn't breathe. It felt like hours passed before the tech returned with the doctor. They both stared at the screen, again zooming in on Paige's tiny little spine and the "bump". The tech kept asking the doctor, "Do you see it? Do you see it?" And the Doctor would squint and say, "Not really, but it definitely looked like something on the picture you printed out." This back and forth went on for about 15 minutes as the tech tried to convince the doctor of what she had "seen." During this whole time, no one was telling me anything. Finally I asked - What is going on? What does the bump on her spine mean?! The Doctor looked at me nonchalantly and replied, "Well, it could be Down syndrome, but most likely if it is what we think it is, it's an open neural tube defect... spina bifida." At that point my mind went blank. Absolutely blank. Then she said, "But you got the Sequential Screening done, right? What were the results of that?" I informed her I hadn't gotten the screening done... but said I would get it done now to know for sure. She told me it was "too late" - that the only way to tell now was through ultrasound screenings or an amniocentesis. She told me to come back in two weeks, where they would do another ultrasound and determine if an amnio was necessary.

TWO WEEKS?! You want me to sit on my big butt for TWO WEEKS and wonder if my baby will never walk?! I would have given anything in that moment to have the results of the Sequential Screening. Not because I would have aborted her or wouldn't want a baby with a major disability such as spina bifida, but because I truly feel NOT knowing is worse than having all the information up front. I don't deal well with surprises or unpredictable situations. I like to know as much information as possible right off the bat - so I can process it and move forward with an appropriate plan. If Paige really did have spina bifida, I would have liked to have spent the last 4 months reading, preparing and educating myself on the condition so I could be the best mama to her that I could be. I felt unprepared and completely caught off guard.

And while additional ultrasounds proved there was absolutely nothing wrong with the baby girl growing inside my belly, I vowed to not ever be caught off guard again. So this time around, I opted to get the Sequential Screening done. So far I've gone through the first stage of it, and all looks good - no signs of Down syndrome, trisomy 18 or an open neural tube defect (spina bifida). And I'm confident that even if the results had come back to show the baby may have one of the above, we would have been ok. Would it have been devastating? Of course! The hardest part for me during the scare with Paige was wondering what her life was going to be like. I would cry at the thought of her having any difficulties or obstacles to overcome. Every parent wants their child to experience nothing but joy. But I know a number of strong mamas who have the most wonderful, amazing children with Down syndrome and other conditions.. and I knew we would be ok, too.

So... when people ask me my thoughts on the Sequential Screening, I'm always honest with them - I think it is a valuable source of information. Some people may not want the information. But I know now, that when you can't touch or hold or see or comfort the precious miracle growing inside your belly, it's best to know what you CAN do to prepare for the day when your baby is snuggled tight in your arms.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Best Gift I Ever Gave


SWAGG is a free mobile app (download here) that lets you shop smarter using your mobile phone. Buy, send or swap SWAGG GIFTS and organize your old school plastic gift cards. For every download of the app between now and Dec. 31, 2010, SWAGG will donate $1 to Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) , up to $125,000.

Clever Girls Collective and SWAGG are sending a pair of movie fans to the Sundance Film Festival! Download the SWAGG app and then visit the Ultimate SWAGG Getaway Sweepstakes site to enter to win a trip for two to the Sundance Film Festival. Entry deadline is January 3, 2011, 11:59pm, PST.


When my new friends at SWAGG - who happen to know I'm an iPhone junkie - told me about their new online shopping app, I was immediately hooked! My favorite part is being able to download store coupons on the spot, and then have them scanned right at the register! Super cool, IMO.

To celebrate the holiday season (and of course drum up some business and interest in the SWAGG app), my new found friends asked a bunch of us bloggers to write about the best gift we ever gave. It took me a hot second to think of something because honestly, my gift giving prowess has had the breaks put on it in the past year or so once I decided to resign from my job and become a stay-at-home mama to Miss Paige. The money isn't quite coming in like it used to : ) I haven't let that dampen my joy of gift giving though - I just had to get a little more creative! But I definitely have to separate my gift giving life into two parts - DI and SI (dual income vs. single income).

So - the best gift I ever gave "SI" was definitely to my favorite niece last Christmas. (I can say favorite because she is my only niece... but any future nieces have big shoes to fill to take Miss Ellie's crown!) My niece is super creative and imaginative. At 4 years old, she has an amazingly creative mind. So for Christmas last year, I knew I wanted to get her something that would allow her to keep dreaming, exploring and playing all year long. My concept started big and needed to be scaled back a bit... initially I wanted to create a "Costume Closet" for her full of everything any little girl could dream of for playing dress up and make believe. I knew my highly organized and "everything has its place" sister wouldn't go for that much craziness, so I scaled my idea back to a "Costume Bag" (you're welcome GiGi!).

I started the day after Halloween, hitting all the big box stores and picking up clearance costumes and accessories - crowns and boas and dresses and shoes. Then I raided my own closet for pre-mama/college wear that I was still holding on to - glittery belts, trendy hats. And finally, I hit up the craft store to get a few more must haves for any legitimate Costume Bag - beads, feathers, pom poms, long flower stems - basically anything fun and glittery. When I finally put the gift together, the large tote bag was spilling over with all things fabulous. When my niece saw it, her eyes lit up with the possibilities of what could be inside. In less than a second, the bag was tipped over and all the dress up goodies were spilled all over the room. We spent that entire weekend running around as fairies with wings, playing cowgirls with our pink bandannas on, and pretending to be princesses with our bejeweled tiaras. It was a blast, and I realized I could create magical moments and perfect gifts without spending a small fortune. It was definitely the best gift I ever gave!



Learn more about the coolest new app that revolutionizes the whole shopping, gifting, and gift card-organizing experience and Download the SWAGG app to your iPhone or Droid. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity.


More info about Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)
http://www.standup2cancer.org/


SWAGG has partnered with non-profit Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). For every download of the app between now and Dec. 31, 2010, SWAGG will donate $1 to SU2C up to $125,000. Awesome, right?! Visit the SU2C site for more info http://www.standup2cancer.org/


More info about the Ultimate SWAGG Getaway Sweepstakes
http://wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/82357


Clever Girls Collective and SWAGG are sending a lucky pair of movie fans to the Sundance Film Festival! The sweepstakes is offered exclusively through the Clever 1000, and it has a pretty kick butt prize, including:


* 2 night/3 day stay at Yarrow Hotel in Park City Utah (Jan 21 - Jan 23, 2011)
* Ground transportation to and from hotel to airport in Park City, Utah
* Dinner for two at Tao Lounge, including 2 nightclub passes
* All access to The House of SWAGG Gifting Suite
* 2 tickets to a movie premiere on Saturday, January 22nd -- movie tbd
* $4,000 value

Friday, December 17, 2010

Floor Dweller

Most everything is the same with this pregnancy as the last. Morning sickness - check! Extreme fatigue - check! Food aversions - check! (Although last time it was BBQ sauce and marinades that made me gag... this time it's anything made of beef). However, there is one major difference. Last time I couldn't have enough pillows when I slept. In addition to my giant pregnancy pillow that I strategically wrapped around my body each night for maximum comfort, I used at least 5 other pillows. This time around, it's the complete opposite. The pregnancy pillow has been banished to the hall closet. The thought of sleeping on more than one pillow makes me feel like I might suffocate. AND - the icing on the prego cake - I feel like my mattress is way too soft and I might drown in the pillow top. At first the mattress in the guest room seemed to be better. But that joy lasted about 3 nights before my body decided that mattress was also way too soft. So what's a mama to do? After I decided that crawling into the crib with Paige might not be the best idea, I went for the next best thing... the floor : ) And let me tell you - it is the BEST sleep I've gotten in weeks!! Just me, the carpet, a single pillow and a light blanket. HEAVEN! Of course my husband thinks I've lost my mind as he peers down at me from our Queen size bed. But I can't get enough of it. I've even started taking my daily cat naps on the floor. I'd probably sleep on the driveway if it wasn't 18 degrees outside. And you'd think I'd wake up in the morning with terrible back pain, right? WRONG! I feel totally refreshed. I'll keep you all posted on how long this phase lasts - but after 2 weeks and still going strong, I think I've found my manger : )

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Awkward Encounters and Questionable Confrontations

I wouldn't say that I enjoy confrontation. But if the cause is just and weighing on my heart or mind, I don't back down from saying how I feel. Especially if it is in someone else's defense. There have been a few recent encounters that have caught me off guard, when I should have said something and didn't... and from now on I vow not to keep my mouth shut again.

Each of these awkward moments involved one of two words: "retarded" and/or "gay." Specifically, using these words as inappropriate adjectives. For example, when someone says, "That is so gay!" or "That thing is really retarded." Even writing those statements makes me uncomfortable. With the billions of words available, is it really necessary to poke fun or criticize at someone else's expense? It makes my blood boil when people use these words in that context. I can't say that I've never ever used them myself (although I really can't remember why or when I would have), but it's about time we take them out of our daily vocabulary and think up a few, more appropriate, adjectives.

The thing that makes confronting someone who used one of these words a little awkward is that I don't think they use them on purpose - it's more of a habit. I don't think they consciously say, "I'm going to offend all disabled people right now by describing my hairstyle/clothes/car/random thing as "retarded"." I would imagine that they've never thought of the power behind what they are saying, or how it could be construed as offensive. However, with that said, ignorance is NOT a defense, and they need to wake up and realize what they are saying. It's immature and naive to not consider the meaning of words that you speak. And using the words "retarded" and "gay" as inappropriate adjectives must stop NOW!

From now on, if someone uses one of those words in my presence, I'm not going to be afraid to say something. In fact, I've already thought through my response (so let me know what you think): "Would you mind not using the word "retarded/gay" as an adjective in my presence? I find it offensive." I know it's going to create a few awkward moments, but not speaking my mind and doing my part to eraticate ignorance is far worse in my opinion.

OK... I'm off my soapbox.  Now I can continue on with my day with a clear conscious : )

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Birthday Tree

It's hard to believe that last year at this time I was anxiously awaiting Paige's arrival. I knew my life was going to change, but I never could have predicted how amazing my little angel would be, and how much I could love her. Daniel and I can't look at her without smiling - she is just such a precious gift!

As many of you know, I ended up going into the hospital last year on Christmas Eve, was induced on Christmas Day, and Paige arrived via C-Section on the evening of December 26th. Since that day, I've interviewed every "Christmas Baby" I could find, asking how their lives were growing up with their birthdays so close to (or on, in many cases) Christmas Day. Luckily, all of them were well adjusted folks, with no lasting issues or resentments. PHEW! : ) But there was one resounding response: no "two-in-one" presents. That we needed to try to separate the two as much as possible, keeping each special in its own right. And so, in an effort to keep my "mommy of the Year" crown, I created the Birthday Tree!

The Birthday Tree is pink and sparkly and beautiful. It's decorations are 100% birthday themed - cupcakes as of right now. Plus, each year Daniel and I will give Paige a special birthday ornament to add to her tree. This year it's a smiling sunshine - since she's out little sunshine : ) I also got her a "Big Sister" ornament for her Birthday Tree. The plan is that all birthday presents will go under this tree in the front living room, while Christmas presents go under the official Christmas tree in the family room. Genius, right?! : )

But I'm left with one important question... Since Paige is getting a special Birthday Tree, will Baby #2 also need a Birthday Tree? And because his/her birthday will be in June, is a Christmas tree the most appropriate? I'll need to keep thinkng on this one. Maybe I'll do a Birthday Palm Tree for Baby #2... or a Birthday Cactus?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Awkward Pregnancy Photos

O.M.G. I have found the best website ever. I know it's been around for a while, but only recently did I realize the website Awkward Family Photos has a Pregnancy section! What were these women thinking?! And how in the world did they talk their husbands into this trip to crazy town? Let's blame it on the hormones... : )

If you are prego, I warn you - view at your own risk. Hysterical laughing may cause sudden, uncontrollable peeing. : )



Here are a few of my favorites:

"Tiny Dancer"
http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/08/03/tiny-dancer/
















"Roadside Assistance"
http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/06/26/saturday-night-special-roadside-assistance/
















"Venus De Swamp"
http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/05/01/saturday-night-special-venus-de-swampo/

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Biting the Double Stroller Bullet

Chugga, chugga, CHOO CHOO! Here comes the Baby Express! As soon as I found out I was prego again, I knew a double stroller was in my near future. I love being able to bring Paige all over town with me... everywhere I go, she goes too : ) I know it's going to be a lot harder to tote two bambinos around, but I'm hoping a double stroller will make things a tad easier. So on Monday I logged onto Babies R Us and bit the bullet - I purchased a double stroller. They were having awesome sales because it was Cyber Monday (the biggest online shopping day of the year) and I just could pass it up. The double stroller I wanted was $50 off - $150 vs. $200. Can't beat that! My options were somewhat limited because I didn't want to have to get a new infant carseat/carrier. Paige's is still in awesome condition (minus a few spit up stains for character) and so I plan on using it for this baby too. I also decided I wanted a "stadium seating" set-up versus the "side-by-side" variety. My rationale was simple on that decision point - I need to be able to navigate the aisles of our favorite shopping destinations. Side-by-side would not allow me to do that, and we can't cramp our shopping style! This is the stroller I ended up getting: http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3958894 It's the Jeep Traveler Double Stroller. Everything about it seems pretty great. The only thing that scares me is the weight of it. According to the reviews, it's a TON. But I really wouldn't expect anything less from a double stroller. It does, after all, need to be sturdy enough to cart around two babies! Maybe it will help my post-baby fitness plan? Mama's gonna need all the help she can get! Do any of the two-time mamas out there have any reccos for keeping up with two babies? Which double strollers did you get and love?