Spoiling Children

I now understand how parents can want to give their child the world — both figuratively and literally. Every cute outfit, every neat toy I see, I have to dig deep inside to find some restraint so I don’t wind up with a cart full of kid stuff in my cart at the store. Target, I’m talking about you here.

Between Christmas in December and Miss Frugalista’s first birthday in February, we were inundated with toys and clothes. I did think to request summer outfits in a larger size — which our little chunker is quickly growing out of already — and some small beach/pool items for our upcoming trip to North Carolina.

Toys are in abundance here, too. We have lots of little toys that play songs and teach the alphabet and numbers, along with the more traditional wooden blocks and fabric dolls. There are a few larger items, too, such as an outdoor water table and slide (two separate items), a music table, rocking horse, bouncy turtle, and a small Fisher-Price Little People dollhouse. That’s all in addition to the Little People ZooTalkers zoo and about 15 different animals that go with it. (Aside: Do you know how freakin’ hard it was to find most of those animals? They’re never in stores, so I wound up ordering many of them from the Fisher-Price website at $3 a pop.)

She has a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, a Radio Flyer wagon complete with seats, seat belts and canopy, and, not to be outdone, a motorized mini Power Wheels car. Then there’s the stuff at her babysitter’s house.

Since her birthday in February, I haven’t bought her anything “major” besides some extra ZooTalkers animals and her Fisher-Price dollhouse. However, I do have my eye on a little outdoor playhouse for her…

Do you have trouble controlling your spending impulses when it comes to your little ones? Please tell me it’s not just me!

Trying to Eat Healthier (Again)

Now that our little one is eating “real” food, I’ve started changing what I buy at the grocery store. She needs healthy, nourishing meals — foods without fillers (pink slime, anyone?) that are dense in nutrients. I don’t want her to grow up to be a vegetable-hater, like me.

It took until I was 21 to eat a salad without gagging. I still don’t enjoy them, unless it’s a salad full of things that aren’t good for me. Caesar salad is delicious for some reason that I can’t figure out — maybe it’s the anchovies in the dressing? I’m also the same person who doesn’t like tuna fish but will eat raw tuna sushi.

The biggest change has been an increase in the fruit and vegetables in the house right now. I like a combination of fresh and frozen veggies, as the frozen ones last longer and can be portioned out.

Right now, Little Frugalista is OBSESSED with meatballs and bread. It might be our Italian heritage, or it might be her mommy’s predisposition to loving anything that’s carb-filled or full of fat, but a toddler can’t live on meatballs forever… right? So I decided to make a healthier version of my mother-in-law’s delicious red-meat Italian meatballs.

I substituted turkey meat for the ground beef and add minced broccoli florets. I call them…. broccoli balls. I don’t put anything fancy in them, and I’m sure you can substitute other soft-cooked, minced vegetables. I’m going to try increasing the veggie content and reducing the bread crumbs in the near future. But for now, here’s the recipe I came up with on my own.

Broccoli Balls

1 pound lean ground turkey

1/3 cup chopped broccoli florets (I buy them frozen)

1 egg

1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes

1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray or olive oil. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands. Shape into balls. Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Other Food Ideas

Some other toddler food recipes I’ve come across include “veggie patties” made using flour, eggs and vegetables. I’ve even gone so far as to smear pureed peas on a slice of bread, adding a piece of cheese and grilling it like a grilled-cheese sandwich. Everything still has to be cut up into little bite-size pieces. We also give Little Frugalista white-meat chicken bits, diced fruit, diced peas and carrots, and bananas, which may be her favorite food, ever. For fruit, I’m looking forward to introducing her to cantaloupes and honeydew melons next!

Any other ideas for getting more vegetables into our diets?

Work and Family: It’s a Balancing Act

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I work a full-time job with a crazy schedule that allows me some extra time to do some freelancing writing and editing. I’m not a TV-watcher like my husband, who could spend every minute of the day (and night) in front of the boob tube, so in my free time, I hustle for a little extra money to offset any major expenses and pad our savings account.

Now that we have Baby Frugalista — who turned 1 year old on Groundhog Day, and will always be my “baby,” no matter her age — I’ve sought out fewer gigs so I can spend more time with her. It’s a no-brainer, but it gives me more pleasure to spend an hour at the park with her than to write an article. But with the costs associated with raising a child (CNN reports a 40% increase in the cost of raising a child in the past decade), such as food, clothing, daycare and saving for college, I find that we could use that extra money.

Compromise

After our daughter was born, I was on maternity leave for 6 months. So not only was I not getting my usual salary, I wasn’t freelancing, either. When I went back to work, I was able to find a balance — I’d only take on freelance assignments if I would be able to complete them in the evenings after the baby went to sleep. That meant not working on projects on my days off or weekends. As she settled into a bedtime routine, I found that this is what has worked for me. We still have family time, and I still get to keep my skills sharp and increase our cash flow.

The good thing is that I can accept most projects offered to me, but I’ve also turned down a few that didn’t fit into my self-imposed limitations.

It’s just one of the ways my life has changed since her birth. As parents, you’re supposed to make sacrifices for your children, and I do so willingly and lovingly.

Working parents — how have you sacrificed when it comes to balancing work and family?

Another of My Frugal & Financial Quirks

Oh, the neuroses multiply. Today, I fully recognized another of my fabled frugal quirks: If I want to get rid of an old box, I faithfully cut the UPCs off the box of every major item we purchase.

Well, maybe that’s two quirks.

1. I hold on to the original packaging of most electronic items, or other merchandise if I deem it will be useful sometime in the future. You never know, in 2024, I might finally need to put the bed blanket back in the plastic zippered pouch it came in. Cell phones, handset phones, laptops, cameras — you name it, I have the box around here somewhere. I kept a lot of the boxes to Baby Frugalista’s stuff for a while, just in case we needed to return a defective swing or Pack ‘N’ Play.

2. When I finally decide to toss one of these boxes — either after I can no longer return the item for a refund or I go on a decluttering binge — I have to cut the UPC out and save it. Many times, the item’s model number and serial number are also printed above or below the bar code. I’ve never actually had to use it, but it will eventually help if I need under-warranty service on any of our stuff. Again, perhaps in 2024.

Lest you picture our house as a box-filled hovel, realize that we rarely buy new electronics and use the hell out of most other things. I do periodically throw stuff out, and any boxes we’re still holding on to are carefully secreted away in one of the closets or in the basement storage area.

As for papers and books, I gleefully admit that I hoard those. In fact, I’m staring at a huge pile of papers right now. It’ll get done, eventually. Right after I rake the leaves in the yard this weekend. Or not.

Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips and a Box of Hair Dye

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

— Carly Simon

It doesn’t take much to make me feel a bit better about myself and how I look. I’ve never been too into looks — back in high school, some of you may remember my uniform of jeans, boots and a flannel shirt with my wallet in my back pocket — but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken more interest in the way I look. Call it vanity or self-esteem, but I’ve learned to put on makeup without looking like a clown and expanded my wardrobe (although the jeans and boots have yet to be kicked to the curb). I get pedicures, and once in a while, when my nails are long enough, I’ll let the one of the Korean ladies at the nail salon give me a manicure, too.

I’ve even been going to the gym on my lunch hour. While I can’t spend a ton of time there, every minute on the treadmill or elliptical is a minute more than what I’d been doing: nothing. Between the gym and a modified diet, I’m starting to see results, finally. Baby weight, be gone!

So tonight, I decided it was time for a little pampering. My grays are making themselves known again, and I don’t like it. Before the baby, I never cared, but now that I’m a mom, it suddenly matters to me that I not look old. So I whipped out my $7.99 box of dark brown hair dye (mimicking my natural hair color) and went to town. And while the color sat on my hair, I slapped a pair of Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips on my teeth.

Why the teeth whitening strips? Well, all the coffee I’ve inhaled since Baby Frugalista’s arrival has done a number on my pearly whites. Well, “pearly” is a stretch, because I have a can of Coke Zero every day, but the coffee compounded the issue. And the coffee stains a lot more than the tea I used to have in the morning. So I blew $30 on a medium-strength-peroxide version of the Crest Whitestrips. We’ll see if it’s worth it in the end. I haven’t used them in years, but the original Crest Whitestrips actually did a good job 5 years ago for the “low” price of $20.

Now all I have to do is follow through with the whitening strips, and maybe get that pedicure I’ve been dreaming about for 3 months. Yeah. Right. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Enter to Win!

I’d ordered the Crest Whitestrips long before I saw that Shannyn at Frugal Beautiful is giving away a similar Crest Whitestrips product. To get your own box of Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips (these have a higher strength of peroxide and work even faster), head over to Frugal Beautiful to learn how to enter her giveaway!

“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word, Part II: How We Got From There to Here

This is a two-part series about a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now — our road to having a baby. I hope it inspires others to try to achieve their dream of becoming parents — know that you are not alone. Read Infertility: Part I here.

Soon after Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I married, I giddily tossed my pack of birth control pills out the window — okay, I stashed them in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, but you get the idea. While I knew it could normally take up to a year to “get the timing right,” I didn’t think that would be the case. You see, I’m a planner. I had stocked up on a bunch of ovulation test strips so there would be little doubt about when would be the best time to try to conceive.

I figured all I’d have to do was just wait for Aunt Flo to show up once I stopped the birth control pills, and then about two weeks later, start POAS (“peeing on a stick” in the world of TTC, or “trying to conceive”) using the ovulation tests. August turned to September, and September to October with no signs of getting a period. Well, I had tons of phantom signs, but nothing ever materialized, so to speak. I knew something was very, very wrong. While I’d been on the pill for 13 years, I’d been nothing but regular before that — my cycle was longish, but 32-33 days is nothing when you’re going on 100 days of waiting.

Eventually, Aunt Flo showed up, but when it was going on 90-plus days the next time, I was in full freak-out mode. My body was ruining my chance at motherhood.

I sought the advice of my ob-gyn, who gave me some pills called Provera to “jump-start” my menstrual cycle. The good news is that they worked to start the bleeding, but the bad news was that it only cleared me out, so to speak. It didn’t make the next cycle any shorter — I was still about 3 months in between periods.

At this point, I did some research and self-diagnosed myself with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. The last time I diagnosed myself with something, it was my hypothyroid disease, and I was correct. Unfortunately, I’d turn out to be two-for-two.

Moving Forward

The ob-gyn was up front with me and said there really wasn’t anything more he could do for me, since we didn’t know the root of the problem. He suggested that I see a specialist and mentioned the dreaded word: “Infertility.” But he was kind enough to write down “amenorrhea” (lack of menstruation) on my referral. Gee, thanks.

Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I decided that seeing a reproductive endocrinologist — which meant going to a fertility clinic — was our best option. We both wanted children, and it didn’t look like it was going to happen naturally. We were going to need some help.

The doctor we chose was very nice and interviewed both of us. Then, during a VERY thorough exam of my interior lady parts, he diagnosed me with PCOS. “Duh,” I thought, “I already KNEW that. What are we going to do about it?” Later, I would see on my paperwork that the doctor noted that I was “anxious” during this initial interview and examination. Ya think?

In addition to my physical exam, 8 vials of blood were drawn — I passed out twice. I don’t do well with blood draws, and little did I know that it would become an almost daily occurrence! My husband also had to go through the bloodwork and had to provide a, uh, sample. Neither of us had any issues, and his little guys were moving along swimmingly. Basically, our issues lay with my reproductive system.

Initially, we were advised that IUI (intrauterine insemination, aka artificial insemination), was our best bet. This would require a round of Clomid (pills), to stimulate my ovaries to make lots of eggs and grow them to maturity.  Then, after an extremely-painful HSG (hysterosalpingogram) test, in which dye was injected into my fallopian tubes as I screamed bloody murder, it was discovered that one of my fallopian tubes were blocked. A second HSG test didn’t unblock the tube, especially after the x-ray machine up and died toward the end of the procedure. I elected not to go back a third time, because despite being medicated with a Valium and some Percoset, I was in agony (and again screaming bloody murder).

We re-weighed our options, which were pretty much limited to in vitro fertilization (IVF) because in addition to the PCOS and my autoimmune thyroid disease (which was already under treatment for a decade), we now had a blocked fallopian tube. I’d read there was a chance that eggs from the ovary on that side could ‘float’ to the other tube, but it seemed like a ridiculous idea.

The Guilt

I wondered what I did to deserve this diagnosis. I wondered if I did something to cause my infertility. I’d always wanted to be a mother, and now, after marrying my husband, I had visions of never having the family we’d dreamed of. I wondered why, when I was so responsible about not getting pregnant all these years, I was the one who had to deal with it. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of “artificially” making a baby.

I had crying jags. I lashed out. I wanted to decline invitations to baby showers. I couldn’t even listen to people talk about their pregnancies. My husband supported me through all of my emotional swings with the patience of Job. He talked me down from ledges, held my hand and told me that we WOULD be successful.

Then I realized I wasn’t the only one out there. I discovered a number of friends and acquaintances who have had to deal with the same thing. I managed to put together a support team, so to speak. Our parents knew we were going to have to “work” to get pregnant. We kept them apprised throughout the process.

Getting Pregnant, Getting Lucky

Despite my medical maladies, our reproductive endocrinologist did okay one shot at IUI, despite getting us approved for IVF treatments. But instead of using the Clomid pills, I would have to “move up” to injectibles. As someone who can’t even stand the sight of her own blood (but I was an EMT in a past life, so I’m okay with other people’s injuries, go figure), the thought of poking myself with needles every day for weeks was terrifying (refer back to my anecdote about bloodwork).

Also terrifying? IUI procedures have the highest risk of multiples, because you can’t control how many eggs are produced and possibly fertilized. Ever hear of Jon and Kate Gosselin? Kate had six babies at once because she produced too many eggs during the IUI/injectables cycle. She and her husband were advised to “cancel” the cycle — meaning, to abstain from sex — because if all of those eggs were to be fertilized, it’d be a very risky pregnancy. You all know that they ignored that advice. Unlike the Gosselins, we’d follow our doctor’s advice to cancel the cycle if it came down to it, but there would still be a chance of multiples if we went ahead with two or three mature eggs. Or, we’d even have to consider selective reduction if there were “too many” fertilized eggs to have a safe pregnancy. We didn’t even want to think about that, though.

So we had to wait for Aunt Flo to show up again, and she finally made an appearance on Memorial Day weekend of last year. I had already gotten my stash of needles and medications through the specialty pharmacy. I would be on the Follistim to “grow” a number of eggs to maturity, to be followed by two injections of Ovidrel, which serves as the “trigger” medication that tells my ovaries to release their mature eggs.

I had bloodwork and an ‘internal’ ultrasound (use your imaginations) every two days. The clinic hours for this were from 6 am to 7:30 am, and I had to travel 20 minutes in each direction to do so. If it was a weekend or a holiday, it was a 40-min trip each way to their other location. I had to give myself a shot of Follistim at the same time every evening. As I went in for morning monitorings, the doctor would check my ovaries for signs that follicles (eggs) were growing, and on which side.

After nearly two weeks, there were 6 egg follicles near maturity. Five of them were on the right ovary – the same side as the blocked fallopian tube. Of course. One was on the open, clear side, the left. I was devastated because our chance of success was reduced. After two  days of Ovidrel shots to trigger the release of the mature follicles, we went ahead with the insemination portion of the IUI cycle. Let me just say that Mr. NSF was a trooper, because he had to go two mornings in a row to give a ‘sample’ at the clinic. About an hour later, I’d show up, ready for my injection of ‘cleaned up’ sample. It sounds so gross, but it was a better shot than us doing the deed ourselves.

Then, the waiting began. We were heading to Vegas for a vacation with family and friends, but I knew I’d be a wreck the entire time — the blood test to check for pregnancy was scheduled for the day after our return.

The night before we were to leave, I started bleeding. I couldn’t believe it — I’d gotten my period. I didn’t think it was going to work on the first shot, and now, I figured I’d be able to have a good time in Vegas. We got on the plane the next morning. But the bleeding had stopped. I was confused. I decided to abstain from alcohol completely just in case.

Being the planner I am, I brought a few pregnancy tests to try, just in case. It would be a few days before I would know for sure, but I wanted to find out before the scheduled blood test. When two little lines showed up, I was in shock. I took two more tests before telling my husband. It was a miracle — it only took the one little egg!

I wasn’t 100% convinced I was pregnant until I went for my blood test after our return home. When they called me a few hours later to confirm it, I was in shock again. The nurse said I could have had implantation bleeding, as the fertilized egg was nestling itself into the uterine wall.

I was monitored by the fertility clinic until I hit 8 weeks. Every week, I held my breath as they did the ultrasound. At the 6-week visit, we saw the heartbeat, a little flicker of life in this apple-seed-sized embryo.

I would hold on to my secret for a few more weeks. It may have been bad karma, but we originally lied to our families and told them that the procedure had failed. I wanted to be sure the pregnancy continued to be viable. After the morning (and afternoon, and night) sickness appeared, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide it much longer, so we shared the news with gifts of baby onesies.

My pregnancy was normal with no issues until Baby Frugalista decided to bust out of her amniotic sac five weeks early, and enter the world on Groundhog Day. What a holiday to be born on! It was worth traveling through the aftermath of an ice storm to receive the greatest present in the world.

The Takeaway

I know how damned lucky we were that the IUI worked on the first cycle, and that we didn’t have to move to IVF. I know people who waited years to have their children, and those who are still waiting. That’s why I want anyone facing an infertility diagnosis to know that you’re not alone. We’re out there.

I don’t know what it will take to have a second child should we decide to give Baby Frugalista a sibling. But I do know now that we know what we’re facing, it will be easier to deal with what life throws at us. And I know that even if I never have another child, I know how lucky we were to have the one.

“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word: Part I

This is a two-part series about a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now — our road to having a baby. I hope it inspires others to try to achieve their dream of becoming parents — know that you are not alone.

Every day I gaze at our amazing infant daughter and realize how lucky we are. Every time she gives that toothless smile, says “Mama” or rests her little head on my shoulder, I thank my lucky stars that we were blessed with her, after everything we had to go through to conceive.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m infertile. Although many are reluctant to talk about it, infertility isn’t a dirty word. it doesn’t define who I am and, obviously, it didn’t stop me from becoming a mother.

The Infertility Diagnosis

Turns out that 13 years of being on birth control pills to not get pregnant masked the fact that I have PCOS — polycystic ovary syndrome. When left to do their thing, my little ovaries go into overdrive and produce a ton of follicles, few to none of which mature enough to make it down the fallopian tube once a month. No ovulation equals no chance of conception, which is hard enough to achieve as it is, believe it or not. Couple that with another diagnosis of a blocked fallopian tube, and our chances of conceiving, even with fertility treatments, dropped even further.

I won’t lie: hearing the word “infertility” tossed out by my ob-gyn and, later, my reproductive endocrinologist hurt — a lot. My reactions mirrored the five stages stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I lingered under “anger” and “depression” longer than I care to admit. I was barely past the age of 30. I wasn’t 16 and pregnant. Why me? I started a (mostly) private blog to get out some of the thoughts and emotions that were slowly eating away at me, which helped to some degree.

It took visits nearly a year’s worth of visits to doctors and specialists before getting pregnant — a LOT of $40 insurance co-pays. In addition to my ob-gyn, I was seeing an endocrinologist to keep my pre-existing thyroid disease under control, and visiting my reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility clinic every few days for months at a time. There were also a few trips to a radiologist thrown in for good measure. Despite being told it would never work due to my blocked fallopian tube, after just one cycle of IUI (“artificial insemination” — use your imagination, folks), we had our miracle.

Discussing Infertility

While I didn’t announce to the world that we were having trouble conceiving, close friends and family knew what my husband and I were going through (he’ll want me to mention that his swimmers are fine, in case you were wondering), and everyone provided support in their own ways. I discovered that others I knew also had needed fertility treatments to conceive, and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. Eventually, I resolved to talk about our experience freely. If I could help guide others on their journeys, why not?

From a young age, I knew I wanted to have children one day. When we were in our late 20s, I had friends who would say, “I’m too busy living life to have kids,” but for me, it was never a question. I never saw my future children as impediments to my happiness — they would be my happiness, my fulfillment.

Today, I smile every time our baby wakes at 2 in the morning or throws her food all over the place. I almost relish dirty diapers, and I gladly baby-proof the house. Because despite my infertility diagnosis — and her 5-weeks-early arrival — Baby Frugalista is here.

 

Tuesday: Look for Part II in this series, How We Got From There to Here