Saving money while still making the season festive

We are living on a single income for what’s becoming a big family. We’ve had years where money was REAL good. And others where unexpected expenses made it impossible to save up to cushion this season. This year just happens to be a year where money is tight (hi moving then getting pregnant with no insurance.) But no matter what the budget, no holiday season ever felt better or worse than another because of it. We just have to make adjustments. I hope others find this list useful. And as someone who was once an unemployed single mom I did try to keep in mind things that could be purchased with food stamps! 

Budget Friendly Activities:

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1. Dough ornaments (Average cost: $5-$8) who didn’t see this coming? lol. But I’ve never met a child who tired of getting to play with dough. Salt dough is simply flour and salt. And cinnamon dough is just cinnamon and apple sauce. They also make great gifts for kids to give to relatives.

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2. Tree Lightings or Holiday Markets (average cost: $10) It may be too late this season but many towns will have a tree lighting. There may even be a parade. It’s free and local businesses will set up booths with candy canes or even hot cocoa. We also love to hit up the holiday markets. In Edmonds there’s a free holiday trolley. The key is to say we are looking not buying then surprise them with buying a fresh pastry.

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3. Homemade Garland (average cost: $10) you can use popcorn or cranberries.  Dried orange slices  or paper chains . The most expensive part will be the twine to hang it on but that can be used for countless other crafts too and instead of ribbon of gifts so it’s actually a great thing to have around. 

4. Tv Christmas Movies (average cost: FREE) Look up when holiday specials and movies will be on tv instead of letting little ones talk you into renting or buying. If you have a DVR or Comcast go through and take like 10 minutes to set recordings for all the good ones.

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5. Hot Cocoa dates (Average cost: $8) One on one time is so special to kids and means more than toys to them in my experience. Instead of Starbucks hot cocoa randomly in the the drive thru, set up a time to go to a coffee shop and make a big thing of it. Most coffee shops put loads of whip and sprinkles on top especially this time of year. Or make a hot cocoa bar at home with marshmallows and crushed candy canes. It’s a good opportunity to talk about what gifts they want to give others or retell them the nativity story if that’s what you’re into! 

6. Make anything you need to get anyways a gift. (Average cost: depends) Example. The girls need holiday dresses so instead of just ordering them I made it an advent calendar activity for Dad to take them dress shopping. Hold off on new jammies and wrap them with a library Christmas book. Only big kids will even notice the library lable and they won’t miss the book when it goes back cause most are all christmas’d out by January.

7. Tablets and Cellphones (Average Cost: Free-ish) I know it sounds out there and isn’t for every family. But in the past we got Lucy a phone just cause it’s a ‘big item’ that will cost us nothing the first month. Especially this time of year, by adding another line your bill won’t go up by much and you get a free phone and/or tablet and there are often other freebies. We got some sports watch thing and a speaker from Sprint the last time we were eligible to upgraded our phones, which Justin went and sold on eBay for over $100. We actually made money by upgrading our phones. 

8. Decorate Stockings (average cost: $15) target has $3 stockings this year and dollar tree has $1 stockings which are simple and screaming for some kid crafty decorating and piping their names at the top. Crayola sells glitter paint pens for $5. Bells are also a fun addition and some dollar stores have. If kid crafty Christmas kills your aesthetic let them hang them in their room. Or give them to grandparents to hang for the kids.

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9. Bake something connected to a tradition in another country (average cost $10) the ingredients are rarely pricey and going to European delis or markets are an easy way to get unique ingredients cheaper than gourmet shops. We do St. Lucia Day buns  and a Vasilopita cake with a lucky coin or almond baked in. We make pomander orange balls which are just oranges with cloves stuck in them. It’s a way to explore your own family heritage or learn more about traditions in other parts of the world or other eras. My kids are always fascinated by new traditions!

10. Remember that gifts don’t make Christmas (average cost: free) we’ve had years where the kids got hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of toys. And years we had to go for the $10 baby doll and wrapping everything from thrift store puzzles to new tooth brushes. They’ve never said “wow! We can tell you were really financially irresponsible this year. Thank you!” Or alternatively “This Christmas sucked.” They remember decorating cookies and they remember going to the Christmas carousel or driving around looking at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music. And my favorite memories are just lazing around Christmas Eve! 

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Pitfalls to Avoid (if you can swing it no shame. But if you can’t…skip these):

  1. Custom Photo Christmas Cards. Photographer mini session are a great money saver and photographers are booking now. It’s also a wonderful way to support small business owners! Still it’s around $100 which for us just doesn’t fit in our budget. Also. Printing the cards is around $2.50 each unless you order more than 75. This means to send out 40 cards could easily cost you more than $300 after postage. Comparatively, Target’s selling 40 packs of Christmas cards for $15. Most people can see up to date photos on social media, and for the few people in your life who aren’t on social media you can get prints from Walgreens to put in the card for around 10 cents each.
  2. The Nutcracker. Major company productions aren’t cheap. PNB, the most popular in Seattle, tickets start at $100 and quickly go way up from there. Instead find a local ballet school and go to their showing. Tickets will be a fraction of the cost and the show will likely be shorter which is a perk for most children who will find bigger productions too long. This year we can’t even afford that though and Justin’s taking the girls to a matinee showing of the Nutcracker movie. 
  3. DIY gifts. So often I see diy suggested as a money saver. It can be. But it can also be a trap. Take homemade soap or bath bombs. By the time you buy all the ingredients, which individually can be pricey and may require buying in bulk, the molds to make them, then the packaging to gift it nicely…you may have just been better off ordering from an Etsy shop which still offers the homemade feel but saves you money and is an opportunity to shop small. I think used books are the real cheap gift VIP.
  4. Santa photos. There are free options out there. The photos rarely turn out good. The nicer quality photos are expensive and require standing in line at a mall which is a major spending trap. And there’s pressure to get nice outfits for the photo. All that work and chances are your child will cry or bad cheesy grin. If you love them. Treat yourself. But I’ve never regretted missing out on this tradition. 
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Vegan Name Day Danishes

For Orthodox Christians and many Catholics, a Name Day is like a second birthday. In some countries it’s even bigger than your birthday. It’s the feast for the saint who is your namesake. For our children since they were named before we were orthodox, their saints or baptismal names don’t match their names given at birth. Lucy is Tatiana. Mila is Olga. And Vincent is Alexander for Alexander Nevsky who’s feast it is today!

When a feast falls in the middle of a fast it’s kind of a contradiction. On one hand you’re celebrating and a big meal and a dessert is expected. On the other hand we’re supposed to be observing the fast, abstaining from meat and dairy, and eating small simple meals. How we strike a balance is with just a treat and we try to keep it vegan as to not break our fast. 

This year I made Vincent a traditional walnut danish but with some hacks to make it fast friendly.

Vegan Walnut Danish 

Ingredients:

1 can crescent dough

1/2 cup vegan butter 

3/4 cup chopped walnuts 

3/4 cup brown sugar 

1 tbsp vanilla 

2 tbsp non dairy milk

1/4 cup powder sugar  

Instructions 

  1. Pre heat oven to 375
  2. Spray a cooking sheet with non stick spray 
  3. Roll out crescent dough and pinch seams shut. Roll out so it’s flat.
  4. Mix butter melted, brown sugar, walnuts and 1/2 tbsp vanilla. If mixture is too loose add more sugar and nuts. Vegan butter is unpredictable.
  5. Slice sides of dough making 1/2 inch flaps to braid then pour mixture down the center.
  6. Braid flaps over alternating sides.
  7. Close ends to prevent spillage.
  8. Bake 18-20 minute until golden brown.
  9. Cool. Make simple powder sugar glaze by stirring powder sugar, remaining vanilla and non dairy milk. Drizzle over top. Serve immediately.

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Vincent Aleksander part 2

Im about to just dump photos. in order. but its not the most cohesive collection of images. But that could be a perk to organizing these photos and thoughts months later. Because in the moment I find myself just wanting to post the ones showing off my 4 week old fully smiling or that perfectly focused shot. Or I may not post one cause someone’s shirt has a stain or is inside out.
And not only that. Some photos you don’t even realize will remind you of a certain time until that time is over. Its like that blurry one lucy took of me in my black robe holding Vincent. Seeing that took me right back to that moment.
And the truth is he’s spent a huge portion of the first year indoors. And those are some of my fondest memories. Sure we went to the beach a lot. Which only reminds me of trying to slather the kids all in sunscreen and keeping the baby from eating sand. And there was fun there too! Especially for the kids. And it’ll be fun to see which photos they like to look back on.
The down side is that I struggle with the words, and story telling. So much of the first year past those early weeks is a blur. I know the time pasted. But its hard to come up with specifics. He learned to crawl. He rolled over. He rolled over off the bed. That was traumatic. For me more then him I hope.
The rest was extremely ordinary. Teeth grew. There were nights where we slept a lot and nights I got no sleep. Luckily the no sleep nights were few and far between.
And his first birthday is coming up soon and I feel like I have nothing profound to talk about. What has this first year of his life meant!?! He wont remember it and I apparently don’t have many thoughts about it. And its sad. Its depressing AF.
But I met Vincent. That’s what happened. I met vinny vinny Vincent. And he’s funny. And he’s sensitive and whiny and needy. And he loves being in the living room. And he bites my legs if I ignore him.
He went through a phase of eating EVERYTHING in sight and now all the sudden its a chore to get him to take 3 bites of his dinner and he just wants to nurse. He is a mama’s boy. He fits right in as another family member who basically just wants to be with their family and no one else. He likes getting into trouble and being wild. Then he wants to be scooped up and held and he will yell until you do.
Ive always identified as a newborn/infant phase person, who loves this age over all others. But with Vincent I’m enjoying this time but also exciting about each age to come. Im not sad that our “baby days” are soon to be behind us. Im ok. I got my fill and now I’m looking forward to having a toddler again.

Vincent Aleksander part 1

I dropped the ball in writing about my pregnancy with Vincent and then against with his first year. So this post is a major catch-up.

Now Justin wont admit this, but he was the one who seemed most into the idea of having another baby. I was hesitant as Mila had just weaned, and the thought of breastfeeding make me want to rip all my hair out. But I was watching a reality show where the son and his mother had a very sweet relationship and it made me want a little boy. So I told Justin, lets do it! I want a lil boy.

3. weeks. later.
I get a positive test. which was shocking since mila took so long to get. vinny

I had some really high hopes for my pregnancies as I had easy ones with Mila and Lucy other than gaining a lot of weight. But I was in a really good working out routine and was eating so well I didn’t stress it.

Then I found out I was bleeding internally. It’s called a subchorionic (no clue how to spell that) hemmhorage (nope. cant spell that word either. stay in school kids.) Then we found out Vincent has a two vessel cord. THEN we found out he had fluids on his kidneys. It was like every visit was another reason to stress the pregnancy. I laid in bed for most of the first trimester thinking every pain was me losing the pregnancy. And the morning sickness was rough. Nothing sounded good but if I didn’t eat I was sick. Then I just kept waiting for it to ease up. and the second trimester came and went and still it was just a daily battle with nausea. having to eat high protein foods almost constantly just to keep from getting sick. And in the 3rd trimester it was no better. The only thing that killed the time was that we could not agree on a name. And everyone hated our ideas. We just didn’t like any of the names that are more current or trendy these days. I guess you’d say we are into classic boy names. I liked Sam, James, and Vincent. And Justin hated every name. lol. He kinda liked Dominic or some really polish names I cant spell. And he definitely hated all my middle name ideas.
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So obviously I was so ready to go into labor. In fact I had scheduled an induction. DONT JUDGE. I had pre eclampsia with both girls and the induction was scheduled after my “due date” and was only if I was showing signs pre-e was creeping up again.
It was nice having a scheduled date like that though. We were able to get time off for Justin, we had house cleaners come the day before, my mom got time off. I got my nails done. it was like everything was perfectly planned.

Only then the day didn’t go as planned. Turns out early November is 40 weeks out from Valentines Day. That and a big storm meant a lot of ladies going into labor naturally and so I was bumped off the list at the hospital with other inductions or planned C-sections getting priority.
I WAS MISERABLE!!!! miserable. sick. tired. frustrated. not happy at all.
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Then finally a few days of being told still no beds I just accepted that I’d probably go past 41 weeks. So Justin went to work and I was home like a normal night. the house got messy again but I didn’t want to clean so I just built a fire. naturally. that’s when I got a call from the hospital that they had a bed.

Now I know being caught off guard about when you are going to have the baby is typical. But for someone with anxiety like mine this completely threw me off and I was in a panick before I even go there. Cause now I’m calling my mom to get the girls and calling Justin to get time off work at the last minute. The house was a mess. My nails are now chipped. THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN!!!!

Then we get to the hospital and the stress of it all gets contractions going. so now i’m bouncing on a ball like “wtf. this so isn’t what I was picturing. I am so not the big prego bouncing on a ball type.” I just felt like a whale. that’s when the anxiety started to kick in. and I started shaking. And the nurses were all “you are just progressing really fast!” or “Its the fluids for your epidural making you cold” but I knew it was a panic attack. The cold toes and hands and shaking. I didn’t know what to make of it cause with the girls I was SO calm through all my labor.
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Luckily Justin helped me relax and the staff and Northwest Hospital are fantastic and helped me stay calm and actually nap until it was time to push. And pushing went well. I push all my kids out pretty quick. And then he was here. November 17th, 2015. 2;28am. Vincent Aleksander Wojslaw. 8lbs 7oz. And the first thing he did was poop all over me.

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Then we were all shocked to see that he has blonde hair. The next morning the girls and grandma came to visit. Lucy who was so worried about having a brother, she wanted another sister, was INSTANTLY in love.

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We brought Vincent home, and if I hadn’t pushed him out myself I wouldn’t have believed he was mine. I loved him. But he was so different than I’d imagined. Just looking. But this was the case with all my babies. I can guess their personalities PERFECTLY! But in my dreams they look so different I was like “wait. where is my elvis baby with a head of black hair” he was peachy red with this white duck fur hair all over. Not just blonde. WHITE!
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The adjustment from 1 to 2 was nothing in comparison to going from 2 kids to 3. I did not adjust well. I just felt like such a pro I thought “Hey what’s another baby?”. 3 is a shitshow. I was drowning. I didn’t get a moment to enjoy Vincent because it was more like just carrying him with me as I attempted to take care of the girls and myself.
But I did lay in bed every chance I got. Mila and Lucy spent a lot of time in the living room watching cartoons together eating cereal straight out of the box just so I could rest with Vincent. Its not what I imagined the first few weeks or even months would be like but it was the only way I was getting through each day.
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This postpartum healing phases went on for weeks..and weeks. And actually months. We essentially hibernated for the rest of Fall and Winter. We got to know Vincent more and more. He’s very sweet and gentle and sensitive. But then also playful and wild but mostly just wants to be held cheek to cheek.

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