Sunday, April 3, 2016

All About Stella

Name: Stellaluna Gidley

Date of birth: October 9, 2015

Age: 6 months

Weight: 15 pounds

Best feature: Ears

Aliases: Miss Puppy, French, French Fry, Stellie Bellie, Stella Bella, Stella Bella Boo, Stellie Bells, El Toro Loco (The Crazy Bull)

Likes: Napping, bull pizzle, snuggling, chicken poop, playing, doing laps around the couch, chasing the boys, licking the water off our legs when we get out of the shower, ice cubes, walks

Dislikes: the vacuum cleaner, the baby gate, the 15 minutes that she's alone in the kitchen every night while we put the boys to bed 

Vices: eating copious amounts of "chicken candy," stealing laundry out of laundry baskets, farting when she's super relaxed, chasing Matchbox cars

Bringing Stella into our family was a GIANT leap of faith. I considered whether we should do it for weeks and weeks. On one hand, I felt like there would never be a perfect time to get a puppy, and she was soooooo cute. On the other hand, I already had my hands full with the boys, my long commute, full time job, and a million house projects at any given time. After we lost our German Shepherd to cancer in November, I thought it would be years before I was ready to take on the commitment of another dog. I was surprised when I felt the emptiness of our house so acutely after a few months without a wet nose in my face or a wiggling backside when we came home. But if we were going to bring home a new furry family member, I definitely wanted something less intense than our Shepherd, whom I jokingly referred to as my hemorrhoid, because he was up my rear all the livelong day. I had dreamed of getting a Frenchie since falling in love with my fur nephew Thor the French Bulldog a year before, and it seemed like the perfect fit: small to medium in size, easy care coat, quiet, lazy, not in need of intense exercise, an ideal family companion. And so Stella has been - the source of much laughter and play, her antics know no bounds. She loves to play with us and the boys, but she's equally happy to be my TV buddy or trot along behind me while I round up everyone's laundry, though this is most likely because she's waiting for her chance to nab a dirty sock ;) 

I knew having a puppy would add to the long list of things already on my plate, and in many ways, it has. What I didn't expect was the way Stella would force me to slow down and enjoy my days more...enjoy the outdoors more, play with my kids more. Before her, I was feeling like my days were full of mostly work. It's not that having a dog equals less work, but she has added a new element of playfulness and fun to our days, and for that, we are all grateful.

I mean really, how can this face NOT make you laugh?

What was once a tiny puppy is blossoming into a little lady with a thick bully neck, full belly and big girl haunches.


Fear the crazy eye.

We affectionately refer to Stella as our little old she is, complete with chin hair ;)

OMG being so cute is exhausting.

The snoring...oh, the snoring! Love.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Chicken Update

It's been awhile since I've written extensively about my flock. If you know me, you know I *talk* about them extensively (sorry about that), but I wanted to document where we're at, almost a year into our foray as chicken keepers. 

Simply put: we're crazy for our chickens. If you're reading this and thinking "I did not see this coming," you are not alone. Heck, I didn't see this coming. Me, lover of cleanliness and manicures and Nine West pumps. But you see, I also love nature, and simplicity, and a healthy dose of do-it-yourself, and it turns out that these things can coexist. So, what's cluckin'? 

Nearly a year ago, and with no small amount of trepidation, we brought home 6 (what we thought were) female "chickie babies," as Jake calls them. Who couldn't fall in love? They were ADORABLE. But we'd never done this before and I wasn't totally confident in our ability to keep them alive, despite the fact that we seemed to be doing ok with two human babies. 

Not only did they survive (in addition to normal every day chick concerns such as pasty butt, but also a close encounter with a heat lamp and an even closer one with our former pooch), they thrived. But as they grew, it became obvious that one was bigger than all the rest. A week in, Brian said he bet that one was a rooster. I scoffed. We had paid extra for sexed chicks! We ordered girls! Get outta here with your rooster. Turns out, chick sexing is about 95% accurate and we hit that lucky 5%. Dino Chick, as he came to be known, soon sported an impressive red comb and wattle and before summer was over, he was crowing with the best of 'em. Though I was dismayed at first at the idea of having a rooster, Dino proved himself to be friendly and gentle with the hens and with us, and we came to truly appreciate him. When he passed away of a sudden suspected heart attack, we were all distraught (I know, right? Over a rooster? What can I say?). Off we went on a day trip to fetch a new guy for our girls, and John Wayne entered our lives. His approach to being a rooster was a little, direct. And he is GOOD at being a rooster, if you know what I mean ;) 

When we moved onto our new 9 acre spread over Labor Day weekend, John Wayne, Crystal, Fuzzy, Daisy, Rosie and Marigold all came along for the adventure, and they have settled into their roles as country chickens beautifully. And they've acquired a friend, though they might not be ready to call her that. JoJo joined the flock after her own got picked off one by one by a predator. The story goes that she was the last one standing and she evaded that sneaky fox for months before our friends asked if we would take her, poor lonely thing. If nothing else, our girls have finally stopped kicking her out of line for food, and they do allow her to hang out with them now, so that's major progress! 

John Wayne is a very good rooster. Here he is showing his girls that he found them a tasty morsel. He makes a soft "gurking" sound to call them over, then bobs his head to the ground to impress them with his generosity. Then when they're busy sampling, he usually takes the opportunity to mount one. Ha. He is gooood at being a rooster. 

Here's the flock working the compost heap. Yummy. But see how the girls all have their heads down and their butts in the air, busily digging out all manner of bugs? Not JW. He is all business. Watching the skies, taking in their surroundings. Ready to sound the alarm in case of trouble. In fact, when I let them out this morning, I am almost positive I saw a bald eagle sailing in the sky above our yard. I glanced at John Wayne and was impressed to see him watching it, too. It went on its way, but he would have called the girls to safety if he had sensed he needed to.

See? He heard me sneaking up on them and reeled around to check it out. 

Our flock helps us out around the yard. Brian had freshly tilled our future veggie garden, and they got right to work scratching and aerating the soil for us. Thanks ladies!

And of course, the best perk of having chickens! Our girls have hit their egg laying stride this week, capitalizing on their age, the warming temps and longer daylight hours. It makes me feel that all my hours of lugging fresh water out to the coop at 5 am in the freezing cold, when the hens weren't giving me anything but a grateful purr, were well worth it. You can use supplemental lighting to get your hens to lay all winter, but I read that because you're essentially messing with their hormones, it's been linked to cancer and other not so pleasant side effects. Plus, something about forcing my hens to lay eggs when their bodies naturally wouldn't just didn't feel right to me. I kept saying if they got the winter off, they'd better step it up come spring and they are definitely delivering!

We have learned so much and had such a great time raising our little flock. I honestly can't see us being without chickens from now on. The only problem we will face is what to do with the girls when their egg laying days are over. We know we can't eat them, or send them off to be eaten, we know them and their goofy personalities too deeply. But we don't have the space to keep an entire retirement flock in addition to any new layers we'll if anyone wants some spoiled pet chickens in 3 years or so, let me know ;) 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fave Products of 2015

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Hello, my name is Stacy, and I am a product junkie. I just love products - love to try them, use them, find what I like, see what other people like...there are worse things, right? Today, I thought I'd dust off the old blog to share the products that I just kept coming back to in 2015. I repurchased these multiple times, because they are just that good!

Amaki Skincare Bentonite Clay Mask

If there is one product in my entire life that has made a major difference in my skin, this is it. It's amazing. It comes in powder form, and you mix it up with water (I throw some raw apple cider vinegar in there too), and paint it on your face with the included brush. In 10 minutes or so, it tightens up and draws a serious amount of gunk out of your skin. It gets so tight, I can't move my facial muscles enough to speak! Then, you rinse it off and your face feels like it just did an hour of hot yoga. Bentonite clay is a miraculous natural substance that can be used in a huge variety of ways, and this tub is very generously sized. I got it on Amazon, and it included the brush and a free Konjac sponge (another fantastic natural product that made it into my last round of reviews!)

 Shea Moisture Raw Shea Chamomile and Argan Oil Baby Wash and Shampoo
This is absolutely my new favorite shampoo and wash for the boys. First of all, it's free of nasty artificial ingredients and parabens. Secondly, it smells scrumptious. I can't stop sniffing my kids after they get out of the bath. They just smell sweet and delicious and clean. And it doesn't irritate Cole's eczema, which is a major consideration for any product I use on him. I usually grab it on Vitacost or Amazon, but I've seen it in Target and CVS.

 Epsom Salt
I'm not loyal to this particular brand, although I have used it. Any plain Epsom Salt will do. It's fantastic for adding to the bath - both mine and the kids'. When someone is coming down with something, I'll use it to mix up a detox bath, with baking soda, ginger, and sea salt, and it's been very effective at stopping a few would-be viruses in their germy little tracks. It's also great for just a relaxing, weekend soak with some lavender essential oil, or when one of the kids has a sore bottom or rash - very soothing and healing. I threw this bag into an Amazon Pantry order, but Epsom Salt is widely available, even in most grocery stores.

 Honest Company Soothing Bottom Wash
No one relishes diaper duty, but at least if you have to deal with #2, you can have this little gem in your arsenal. We use cloth wipes much of the time, and a few sprays of this directly on the bum, or onto a wipe, takes care of any messes and smells heavenly while it's doing so. It's got an Orange Vanilla scent that is super pleasant, but not overpowering, and it doesn't leave behind any sticky residue. It's also excellent for cleaning up hands and faces!

 Essential Oils
Oh, essential oils, I love you! Let me state for the record, that I am not in favor of the super expensive oils sold by the MLM companies out there. I think their prices are way inflated and that they promote unsafe practices such as ingesting the oils, and using them freely around little ones. I am, however, very impressed by the brands I have tried so far: Eden's Garden, NOW Solutions, and Plant Therapy. There are entire books written about what you can use them for, but my very favorites are lavender, which we go through very quickly because it's so versatile, and:
A kid-safe version of the popular "Thieves" oil to support the immune system. I'll rub this on the boys' feet or diffuse it in the house if someone is showing symptoms of something.
Original Thieves oil (so named, by the way, for the spice merchants who were robbing victims of the Black Plague back in Medieval times. When caught, they received a lighter sentence in exchange for sharing why they hadn't caught the plague, even after touching so many of its victims. Turns out they were wearing masks doused with these oils over their faces). This is what I use on Brian and I if we're feeling the need for an immune boost. I've also made roller bottles and given them away to others for this purpose, with good feedback! I like to make homemade foaming hand soap out of this as well.

 Kiss My Face Moisture Shave in Cool Mint
Best natural shave cream out there, hands down. I'll never buy any other kind, ever again. My husband loves it, I love it, it smells great and lathers up, and gives you a fantastic shave. Go buy some! You can get it on Vitacost, Amazon, or in many grocery stores (Wegmans for sure, if you're lucky enough to live near one). 

 Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
This product is another game-changer for my skin. It has super-fine scrubbing granules, and lots of skin-loving ingredients like French green clay and lemon peel. It makes my face feel so refreshed and woken up, without any chemicals or synthetic fragrances. I've even caught my hubby using it ;) Grab it on Vitacost or Amazon (where else?), or Target.

 Out the Door Top Coat
Ok, I can't even pretend this product is natural. It isn't. Not even a little bit. But, sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do in the name of beauty ;) I love a nice neat manicure. It's a small way to pamper myself, and claim my femininity in a house full of smelly boy socks and farts. I have a LOT of nail polish. You know what I don't have a lot of? Time. That's why this top coat is seriously my beauty BFF. 5 minutes, people. In 5 minutes, you can have a shiny, cured manicure and return to your regularly-scheduled life. I would never paint my nails if this product didn't exist. Can you guess where I got it....? My old friend Amazon.

So, not a beauty product, but no Favorites of 2015 list of mine would be complete without mentioning my flock. I love the first 6 so much I've got 16 more coming my way in April (I know right, 16? Weird number. The minimum order is 15, plus the free bonus chick, just in case you were wondering ;). They provide us countless hours of entertainment and laughs, wholesome fresh eggs, and lots of learning opportunities. They live outside, they don't shed on my clothes, and they would probably eat me, were I to pass out in their coop, but gosh, we are chicken-obsessed around here. Over breakfast, Jake peruses any of the various poultry catalogs that arrive in the mail these days, and Cole will request to eat his afternoon snack "outside, with 'nicknens?" Plus, how cool is it to have a flock of the closest living relative to T-Rex running around your yard? Right? You know you want some. McMurray Hatchery, my friends. But be warned, you can't have just 6... ;)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Girl Power!

Oh man. I was just getting back into the blogging groove and enjoying it when life intervened. When you are juggling the precarious balance of working full-time and parenting full-time, it only takes one little thing to tip the scales unfavorably! So, on the very favorable side of things, my mom and I took a blissful but far too short trip to South Florida for my sister-in-law's baby shower. I had an awesome time and loved seeing my brother and SIL, but I couldn't shake that nagging feeling that something was going to go wrong at home while I was away. Sure enough, while I was basking in this:

and eating ice cream for lunch...


the dreaded winter tummy bug invaded my house. It started with wee little Cole, who hardly seemed phased by it, except to pause and toss his cookies every now and then. By the day I arrived home, already none too pleased at returning to sub-zero temps and knee-high snow, it took out Jake and my husband. Worst welcome home ever! After that, I just couldn't get it together for weeks! I was behind in grocery shopping and meal planning, and spring cleaning and the list goes on...

ANYWAY, I am pleased to announce that in the whirlwind of boys that make up my life, we have finally welcomed some little ladies into the mix! We had talked about how wonderful it would be to have "homegrown" eggs for a long time. We easily go through 2 dozen in a week! So when our fabulous and oh-so-generous neighbors offered us their coop set-up as they transition out of backyard chickening, we jumped at the opportunity. We did our research and decided on Buff Orpington hens for our little flock. Their gentle, tolerant nature appealed to us, and they are reported to be great egg layers with great personalities. We also read that they're apparently the fluffy-butted divas of the chicken world, so without further ado, meet Julia, Scarlett, Meryl, Mariah, Beyonce and...Fluffy. We let Jake name one ;) Sorry, Fluffy! Who knows, maybe you'll be the biggest diva of all!



For divas, they sure do poop a lot ;) They're currently residing in the warm glow of a heat lamp (not unlike South Florida!) in their cozy chick condo in our basement. Jake is completely enamored with them. Every morning he jumps out of bed, puts his slippers on and goes downstairs to say "good morning, gwirls!" and every night he holds each one before he goes to bed, turns out the basement light and says "good night, gwirls, I love you!" I die <3

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fiscal Fast February

I will be the first to admit that one of my weaknesses is impulse buying. Ug, bad, I know! I partially blame modern technology - I mean, it's so ridiculously easy to get that thing you need want on Amazon when the app is on your phone and it stores your credit card info. Click, click, it's on its way in 45 seconds.

Or let's talk about this little phenomenon, shall we?

Running in to Target for one thing is like a joke for most of us, no? So when I heard about this little thing going around called "Fiscal Fast February" on a few of the Youtube channels I watch, I was intrigued. It's basically exactly how it sounds: for the entire month of February, you only purchase necessities. I see it both as a way to retain money in my bank account, as well as to perhaps just get used to living without those little impulse purchases - a new nail polish at the grocery store, the do-dad a coworker tells you she got on Amazon that you decide you can't live without (yes, I just said do-dad), a quick run into Old Navy for a white cami that ends with a shopping bag much too large for just a white cami. Let me just say that I shop FAR less after having kids than I did before, and that in the grand scheme of things, I feel that most of my purchases are kid-related, however, I know these frequent little purchases are a habit I'd prefer to break. So how'd I do?

What necessities did I buy in February?
Groceries - but I am proud to say I did not purchase one thing that wasn't food, beverage, or household-related (ie cleaning products, tissues, etc).  
Gas - 'cause, well, I ain't walkin' to work ;-)
Gifts - I have a baby shower coming up, and got the kids each a little Valentine's Day present
School supplies - Jake needed Valentines for his class party, and I certainly wasn't going to deprive him of those for the sake of my little experiment. If I was hard-core, I'd have made them by hand with supplies we already have, but listen, I work, I have two energetic kids, I'm tired people. For $7, he got his Paw Patrol Valentines and some organic gummy bears to hand out and he was happy.

*And of course, though I'm not going to list them individually, all of our mortgage and utility expenses got paid, because those people do not take kindly to being called "unnecessary." 

Did I fall off the wagon?
The short answer is yes. But first let me say, I really and truly tried to stick to the spirit of the month, and I think I did a decent job. For example, two days into February, my Bluetooth speaker in my car bit the dust, and had it happened a week earlier, I would have just hopped on Amazon and ordered a new one. But, I refrained, and you know what? I've easily made it through the month without it. Weeks ago, I lost my favorite white cami that I wear all the time, and I was itching to replace it, but I resisted the siren's song of Target and Old Navy and guess what? I found it this morning buried in a pile of clean laundry!, my all-time favorite website for natural products, keeps sending me coupons, gosh durnit, and I keep deleting them. Those are just a few examples of times where my check-out finger was itchy, but I stuck to my frugal February guns, and I have to say, I enjoyed the feeling!

BUT, I had two transgressions. The first was minor. I had a Kohl's gift card (which, according to the rules, was exempt from FFF, because it was a gift to me). Everything I picked out for myself was covered by the gift card (go clearance racks, and go me!), but I could not pass up a winter coat and puffer vest for Jake for next year that were on final clearance, plus an additional 30% off, so I scored both for $12. In my mind, it would have been stupid to pass those up now, only to pay full price for them next fall. That's just bad shopping. The second was...well, not as minor. Ok, I bought a couch. But in my defense, have you seen the President's Day furniture sales? I will never buy furniture at any other time of year. We've been needing a new one for awhile now, and again, I'm not going to pass up a killer deal now to pay full price in a month or two. That's bananas.

So overall, I loved this little challenge. I will definitely repeat it every few months as a fun way to really think about what I'm spending, and I challenge you to do the same! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meal Plan Monday

Here's what's on the menu this week!

Sunday: Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops, Parmesan roasted cauliflower, and cous cous
Monday: Pasta with trees and cheese, bread and tossed salad
Tuesday: Lentil apricot soup with baguette
Wednesday: Slow cooker salsa chicken with black beans, corn, and brown rice (I didn't end up making this last week, so it's reappearing on this week's menu)
Thursday: Breakfast for dinner
Friday: I'm outta here! Heading to fabulous, warm South Florida to shower my sister-in-law with baby love :) The boys will be having Jake's favorite meal - Annie's Natural Mac and Cheese, Earth's Best Organic Chicken Nuggets, applesauce, and carrots.
Saturday: I'll be away, but I've tucked some meals away in the freezer for the guys. Tonight they'll be having homemade cheese steak pockets and sweet potato fries.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cole at One Year

I know, I know, he's almost 14 months old, but I wanted to do a one year post to capture this adorable phase in his life. Because really, everything he does right now is adorable

One Year Stats: 
Height: 29 inches/25th percentile
Weight: 21 lbs, 7 oz/29th percentile
Wears: Size 12 - 18 month clothes and is moving into a size 5 shoe

Likes: Food, eating, anything related to food and eating, being chased, being tickled, photos of people he recognizes, mirrors, emptying EVERYthing, blankie, binkie, peek-a-boo, the dog, messing up anything his big brother is playing with and walking on his own two feet ;)

Dislikes: Diaper changes (how DARE you make me stay still!), long car rides, hats, mittens, and waiting for food to be served (this includes all of the time it takes to prepare a meal. Any meal). 

Accomplishments: So very proud of his newfound walking skills! His favorite word is ball. Everything is a ball right now. He also says "Ma-Ma, Da-Da, Brub-er (brother), Bubba (his buddy next door), Blue, Uh-Oh, and roars like a tiger. He has mastered the straw cup and is pretty good at using a fork and spoon. He points to what he notices or wants, and has finally, FINALLY, settled into a decent sleep pattern in which he puts himself to sleep and generally sleeps all night.  

Dear Sweet Baby Boy,

You are growing so fast it makes my head spin. I remember so vividly this time last year, when you and I were snuggled up in our cozy warm house with your brother while the winter wore on and on. You were just a tiny bug then; now here we are with the snow piled up and the cold wind whipping again, and you are constantly on the move. But you still like to snuggle, bless your sweet little heart. You come careening at me throughout the day, the biggest grin on your face, so tickled to find yourself upright and powered by your own two feet, and just crash into me wanting kisses and hugs. When you're sleepy, you bury your face on my shoulder and breathe in Blankie's smell and your whole body relaxes. Let's talk about Blankie for a minute. You drag him behind you all day long and he's usually covered in dog hair and smells like baby spit and boogers, but man, do you love that thing! I secretly love it too, because it smells like sweet sleepy you, and because you think it's so funny when we play peek-a-boo with Blankie. Perhaps the only thing you love more than Blankie is food. Oh, your love affair with food! I've never seen a baby eat with such relish, and I'm pretty sure I could serve you sand from the sandbox and you would gobble it up and ask for more. Please don't ever lose your sense of culinary adventure! It thrills me, and cracks me up. 

Everything is wondrous to you right now. Everything is interesting and new, and worthy of exploration. I love seeing the world through your eyes, hearing your belly laughs, and kissing your soft dough-cheeks. I can't wait until spring is here, and all of us can take you outside and watch you toddle around the world and discover everything your brother loves. There is so much waiting for us, Sweet Bug. The sun on our faces, your first ice cream cone, your feet in the sand somewhere, and lots of chasing you through the grass. You brighten our days so much, little boy! We can't imagine our lives without you.

Love, kisses, (and food) forever,