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World’s Okayest Moms

Can we talk about the anxiety that comes with Motherhood? The constant worry. The ever-present nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something. The second-guessing and wondering if you’re doing a good enough job, or if you’re completely screwing your kids up. The overwhelming love that can sometimes leave you breathless when you look at those little people. The constant worrying. The self-reproach that comes with wishing they’d shut the hell up. The need for alone time, to not be touched or spoken to. The guilt for feeling like you need that time, and missing them when you do get away.

The confusion that comes with all of the rules, recommendations, and new research on this and that and this and how-the-hell-have-I-even-managed-to-keep-them-alive-this-far?! The. Constant. Worrying. The to-do lists that dance around in your head as you try to be present with your kids. The sadness that comes with the realization that they grow up so fast and one day you might regret choosing laundry over quality time, but oh my God, the laundry does have to get done, you know. The guilt of being a working mom who doesn’t get to see her children as much as she’d like. The guilt of being a stay-at-home mom who wonders if the time she’s spending with them is sufficient to make up for the financial cut-backs required to have a one-salary family. The way your brain races to keep up with the crying baby and the demanding 5-year-old and the husband who needs to ask you another question and the dinging cell phone and all the noise.

Is it enough? Is it too much? Am I enough?

The pure exhaustion you feel at the end of the day, even once your babies are consistently sleeping all night long. The need for quiet every evening that leaves you staying up far later than you know you should. Being talked to and talked at and questioned and pulled and pulled and pulled and the demands that really can wait even though they sometimes feel like they cannot.

Holy shit y’all, motherhood is hard. I don’t care how you do it, what decisions you make regarding how to bring them into this world in the first place or whether or not you should work or what or how to feed them or whether to let them cry it out or what preschool to send them to or how long you should rearface them or your approach to discipline or where they should sleep or or or….

It does not matter if you’re Type A or Type B or Type I-Don’t-Give-A-Flying-Fart. It. Is. Hard. And nobody can adequately express this to you before you have a child of your own. Nobody can quite convey how you will feel all the things and how all of your feelings will contradict one another and some days (or weeks) you’ll feel like you may lose your mind. Or like maybe you’ve already lost it. Or like you’re a complete failure. And other days you’ll feel like you’ve aced this Motherhood thing. But most days you’ll just chug on through and another few months will pass before you even realize that you’ve managed to survive and you’ve managed to keep your kids alive and mostly happy, even when you aren’t sure where the time went or how you did it.

These children, they’re exhausting. They tempt me and test me and push me to every limit I never knew existed. I don’t know if I’m always enough, and I do know that I often fail them.

But I also know that I’m the best mama for them and my God how I love these gorgeous, smart, funny, kind mama’s boys of mine with everything I have.

I am the World’s Okayest Mom. I’m alright.

 

Twins: Two for the Price of One!

Bullshit. Try two for the price of two. But if you’re pregnant with twins and starting your baby registry, you do not have to buy two of everything! Some things are necessary, that’s true. For instance, you’ll need two carseats. I haven’t figured out a way to safely stack babies in a carseat. You’ll probably need two cribs, though I know many twin mamas who used just one for quite some time. But especially when it comes to toys and nonessentials, the earlier they learn to share, the better.

One of the most commonly asked questions from pregnant mamas is: I’m having twins! What are your must-haves? For me, a must-have is anything that makes my kids scream less and lets me sleep more, knowwhatImean? But because all babies and parents are different, I didn’t just go on my own experience when I compiled this list. I stalked several Facebook groups full of twin moms and made a compilation of the repeat winners. You’re welcome. We MoMs gotta stick together!

Feeding Essentials

Go ahead and stock up on burp cloths—you’ll need them! I prefer to use Birdseye flatfold diapers. They’re cheaper and super-absorbent! If they’re meant to hold poop, you know they can manage a little spitup!

If you have a large house or multiple floors, you may consider getting a mini fridge to keep in your bedroom. This may seem excessive, but when you’re getting up and down multiple times throughout the night, it can be worth it. Think storing bottles or breast pump accessories!

Lots of ladies I know love the My Brest Friend Twins Plus Deluxe nursing pillow. For me, it was super uncomfortable and a major bust. I highly preferred the Twin Z Nursing pillow. It’s a little more expensive, but a lot more comfortable and versatile! I was able to use it for nursing, and also just for propping the babies up. You can’t do that with the Brest Friend.

I didn’t get much use out of them, but a lot of moms love the single Boppy, so it’s worth mentioning. For me, if I’m only nursing one baby, I don’t need a pillow. But many moms do love it for nursing one, and also as a prop for baby.

Those I know who formula-fed swore the by the Baby Brezza! It’s like a Keurig for babies!

When your babies get old enough to eat solids (usually around 6 months, depending on the baby), try opting for a space saving booster, rather than a traditional high chair.

But if you do want or need a traditional highchair, twin moms know that Ikea is the way to go. These are no muss, no fuss, and super easy to clean. The price tag is great too!

We make a lot of our own baby food and I adore the Infantino Squeeze Station! It’s virtually mess-free to squeeze the purees into pouches, and they take up very little room in the freezer. Plus, babies can learn to feed themselves pouches much earlier than spoons.

Diapering

It’s certainly not a necessity, but we found that a spare changing table is very helpful. I used ours a lot if one twin woke up from a nap earlier than the other. There’s no way in hell I’m going to disturb a sleeping baby if I can help it! A lot of my twin mom friends also get a lot of use out of having a spare changing table if they have multiple floors in their house.

Baby Jail

Don’t argue with me. Just buy one. There are lots to choose from!

I personally prefer the Summer Infant Pop ‘n Play. I can easily take it with us when we go to the park, beach, or a friend’s house, but it spends most of its time in our living room containing my heathens (the canopy comes off).

We didn’t get the one with the canopy and regretted it. However, you can purchase them separately.

Strollers, etc.

I started off with a City Select and really thought I would love it! As it turned out, I didn’t. It was super convenient to quickly snap their infant seats in, so I tolerated the fact that it was really hard to navigate. I thought a tandem stroller would be easier to navigate since they’re long and narrow, but I was wrong (at least about this one). It was hard to turn, and downright dangerous on any type of slope—I almost tipped it over many times.

Once they moved to regular seats in the stroller, I was just fed up with it. Not only did I still have the issue of it being difficult to navigate, but it was a pain in the ass to take in and out of the car, since the seats had to come on and off each time. I ended up buying the City Mini and fell in love with it! It’s a side-by-side, which I thought I’d never own, but it’s super easy to navigate (it’s as wide as a standard-sized wheelchair, so we never have an issue getting it through doorways), it’s lightweight, and it’s easy to open and close. I highly recommend it!

If I had it to do over again, I’d buy a Double Snap-N-Go for the early months while they were still in their infant seats, then move to the City Mini when they moved out of their infant seats.

We’ve also found that it’s convenient to own an umbrella stroller. These are great to have for quick trips and vacations, when you may really need your cargo space for something other than a bulky stroller!

If you prefer tandem, Kinderwagons are an alternative–if much more expensive–to an umbrella stroller. I’ve never owned one, but my friends who do swear by them!

I’ll just say I don’t know one twin mama who owns only one stroller!

It’s worth mentioning that baby carrying can really come in handy with twins! I love wearing both of mine, but I never used a twin carrier. When they were very small, I wrapped them together in a moby or my husband and I both wore one. As they got older and could sit unassisted, I wore both of them by putting one on my back in an Ergo carrier and one on my front in a Tula.

I love both carriers, but of the two, the Tula is my favorite.

It’s also super handy to babywear while you’re grocery shopping. You can put one in the cart, and wear one in a carrier. Or you can also attach mommy hooks to a double stroller and use those to hold canvas shopping bags or a shopping basket for small trips. Does the trick!

Once they’re sitting unassisted, we really like our wagon for certain trips (like the zoo or the ballpark). The Triple Play has seat belts, cup holders, and built-in storage.

Better add a canopy!

Seating, Swings, & Bouncers

I sometimes tandem-nursed my twins, but I typically preferred to nurse one a time. Not only is it much easier, but it also gave me some rare individual time with each baby. I usually nursed one baby, while bouncing the other in a bouncer.

The Boppy Lounger adjusts for very small babies, and they love using them as beanbag-type chairs when they’re older.

We owned Mamaroos and they were nice. My babies loved them when they were very little, and I liked that I could operate them using my cell phone while my tired ass sat on the couch. But hands down, both of my babies preferred these glider swings. Most moms I know agree, the glider swing beats the Mamaroo by a landslide. And the price tag is much better!

Y’all. The Sit-Me-Up. Is amazing. I prefer this to the Bumbo so much. And more importantly, so did my babies. It provides more upper back and neck support, so you can start using it a little earlier. But user beware: it was dubbed the Shit Me Up in one of my mom groups. We had many a diaper blowout in these chairs! Still worth it.

Once your babies have good head and neck control, you can use exersaucers and jumpers to help keep them entertained. These really aren’t highly recommended for long periods of use, but they work great for 15 minute here and there!

It’s worth it to grab a portable activity center too. Even owning just one is helpful to free up some hands, since you can alternate babies.

Or even a simple Go-Pod will work.

My babies adored Bright Starts’ Around-We-Go! This is a fun new twist on the typical exersaucer. And once they’re standing better, you can take the seat off and prolong the life of the toy.

Finally, grab a couple of walkers if you live on one level or can securely block off any stairs. For the love…please do not use a walker if you have stairs and cannot secure them! But if you have one level…these are so much fun! This is one thing I’d say to get two of, just because it’s really fun to watch Bumper Babies!

Sleep Gear

For the love of all that is good in this world, buy yourself two auto rock ‘n plays. Do you want to sleep? Yes? Buy this. It’s the best piece of baby gear out there.

Another essential piece of sleep gear is a good sound machine with white noise. We still use a sound machine in our oldest son’s room. We don’t have this particular one, but I have many friends who swear by it.

Travel sounds machines also come in handy.  We hung ours from the oh shit bars in our van next to the twins’ carseats and it helped a lot with them in the beginning when they hated being in the car. And we never travel overnight without one!

You’ll need several swaddlers. I love Halo Swaddle Sleepsacks and we’ve graduated all three of our kids to Halo Sleep Sacks and then Halo Wearable Blankets.

 

In between the Halo Swaddle and the Halo Sleepsack, we use Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. It seems like a gimmick and I don’t know how it works. But I do know two things: 1. It does work and 2. I want one in an adult size. These make great transition pieces from Rock ‘n Play to Crib, or just from swaddle to sleepsack.

Finally, get zip-up sleepers. Buttons are crap. Ain’t nobody got time for that. You don’t want to dress your baby in too many layers to sleep overnight, or he’ll overheat. We just used short-sleeved onesies under swaddlers. But when you do graduate to sleepsacks, zip-ups are the way to go.

Health & Safety

I’ve written a lot about our favorite baby items here, here, and here. I’ve even written about things that really aren’t that necessary. So please, make sure to check out those entries! I’m only going to list a few of my favorite things here.

The digestive system is the last system to develop, which means it’s usually still underdeveloped during the first few months of life. We moms will throw all kinds of money at products that just might help ease our babies’ discomfort. The truth is, we just have to wait it out. But while we’re waiting, there are a few products that offer temporary relief. Gripe water is one thing that has worked well for all three of my babies. And not all gripe water is created equal! Mommy’s Bliss has been the go-to for each of my sons.

Another thing that worked surprisingly well was the Windi. I absolutely made fun of this product when I first saw it, but you better believe I snatched it right up at the first sign of gas problems in my boys. And it works!! These things actually work. We’d often have a baby awake at night screaming his little head off. Put a Windi in his butt and he’d fart for days, then sleep peacefully.

My final must-have is the NoseFrida. Probably, if you’re sanitary, you should buy two. Frankly, we only own one because I figure they’re going to share all their germs anyway. A bulb can only do so much. This thing will get all the snot out! Don’t nobody like a snotty baby.

Things You Cannot Buy…

My final three suggestions are this: Join a twin mom support group, shamelessly ask for help, and join a nursing moms support group if you choose to breastfeed. I have made some lovely girlfriends in my local MoMs group. We love to travel in packs because nobody understands a multiple mama like another multiple mama!

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I know you must be thinking, “man, this woman REALLY likes yogurt!”

And you’d be wrong. I don’t like it all that much. Well, I didn’t until I learned to make my own. I never particularly cared for the sweet mixed with tart flavor combination of store-bought yogurt, but the great thing about homemade yogurt is that the tartness increases the longer you incubate it. So if you incubate it for the minimum time, it’s not very tart at all. If you like the tartness, just incubate it longer.

In a previous post I explained how to make your own yogurt. You can check that out here, but since then I’ve learned an easier method. It requires less hands-on time and it’s much more fool-proof since you don’t have to reach certain temperatures. It’s not quite as cost-effective, but it’s still cheaper than buying yogurt.

Before we get started, here are the tools you’ll need:

  • An Instant Pot with the capability to cook yogurt. Some models do not have this capability, so if you’re buying a new one, look for that feature. These are a little pricey, but they do frequently go on sale. And they do so many things I’ve found that it was worth the investment.

  • Fairlife Milk. This is important, it must be Fairlife or some other ultra-pasteurized milk for this method to work. Fairlife has 50% less sugar, 50% more protein, and 30% more calcium than regular milk. It’s also lactose-free, so this is a great option for those who need to avoid lactose. I use whole milk, but you can use 2% or even less. If you want to read further about why it’s necessary to use a particular type of milk using this method, check out Frieda Loves Bread‘s explanation here.

  • A yogurt starter culture, which is a blend of healthy bacteria that consumes lactose. You can purchase starter cultures at health food stores or online, but you can also just use 1-2 tablespoons of high quality store-bought yogurt. The good thing about using an heirloom variety of a starter culture is that it can be reused over and over, simply by mixing some of your last batch of yogurt into the milk for your next batch of yogurt, as long as the yogurt is less than 7 days old.

I use plain, non-flavored, yogurt as a starter. Fage brand works well, but I’ve also used Chobani. If you use store-bought yogurt as a starter, look for one that is high in live and active cultures. The packaging should say that it contains live and active cultures. Made with live and active cultures is not the same thing, and it will not work.

That’s all you need to make yogurt using this method! The big difference here is that you don’t have to boil the milk before incubation. You just pour the milk in your instant pot liner, stir in 1 tablespoon of yogurt starter, cover the pot, and set it to incubate by pressing the Yogurt button until it reads normal. It’s that simple.

I set my incubation time to 8 hours, but I think you could actually incubate it for 6 hours using this method because it turns out incredibly thick and creamy. When it’s finished incubating, the display time will read YOGT.

Just like in the previous method, once the yogurt has finished incubating, you can be done if you want. I prefer to strain mine. To do this, you can use a yogurt strainer, or you can make your own using kitchen tools you probably already own. Before I bought my strainer, I stacked the steamer rack that came with my IP in a large mixing bowl. On top of that, I stacked a regular mesh strainer lined with a flour sack dish towel (you can also use cheesecloth). Then just pour the yogurt in and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.

I prefer using a yogurt strainer simply for ease of use. They cost about $15, but I think they’re worth it.

As you can see, the yogurt is nice and thick and creamy, even more so after draining!

That’s it, you’re done! You now have plain, simple, homemade yogurt. You can use this as a base for mayonnaise, salad dressings, or smoothies. Or you can use sugar, maple syrup, fruits, jams, or other sweeteners of choice to flavor the whole batch. Or divide the batch and make several different flavors.

When I made this batch, I used a small can of sweetened condensed milk to flavor it. I just mixed it in with the milk and starter before cooking (although you normally need to reserve flavoring your yogurt until after it has incubated). It made a vanilla-flavored yogurt that is delicious!

For other flavoring ideas, look here!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

We are better than this. We have to be better than this.

The recent violence in Charlottesville has once again stirred up the conversation on racism. It’s an uncomfortable conversation that brings with it feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and fierce loyalty. But nevertheless, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. Unfortunately, it also tends to bring with it political arguments. The reasons for this are vast, and many are accurate, but the fact is that racism isn’t something that can be neatly shoved into a left or right category. It transcends politics and it brings with it enough strong feelings that adding those that come along with politics only causes a further mess that makes it feel almost untouchable and beyond repair. Historical and present political issues are certainly tangled with racism, but racism is not a political matter. It is a heart matter, a human issue. Politics are man-made and we simply cannot value them over our neighbor. Racism deserves a discussion that is not mired in the competitive fervor that is politics.

We cannot hide behind our political ideals, we cannot continue to point fingers and throw stones. “An eye for an eye” will only cause the problem to persist. And at the end of the day, many of those who are responding so defensively to violent acts being called exactly what they are — racist — are part of a group that, as a general rule of thumb, is not disenfranchised. It’s so hard to have empathy for a group of people when you yourself have never experienced true disenfranchisement. It’s easy to shut down their feelings with your anger, to shut their voices out with your own righteous indignation.

I’ve seen many people respond to recent admonishments against White Supremacy groups and Neo-Nazi slurs, against bigotry, religious extremism, and racism, by pointing fingers and casting blame in other directions: well they did it, too! His actions excuse my behavior. My attitude is justified because his behavior was also poor. As a friend pointed out to me, we don’t even allow that type of behavior in Kindergarten. How can we condone it in ourselves?

I’ve seen this a lot geared specifically toward the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll go ahead and be honest here and say that my initial response to hearing Black Lives Matter was “Woah there, guy! All lives matter.” But then I did something incredible: I stopped and thought about it. Yes, all lives matter. But we already knew that, didn’t we? Or did we? Here’s where I ask you to allow yourself a moment to lay all your defenses down and put yourself in another person’s shoes. Your neighbor deserves that moment from you, your children and grandchildren deserve it. You deserve it. Because exposing your heart and vulnerability, allowing yourself to be open and possibly learning that you’re wrong, are actually really wonderful experiences if we allow them to be. This is how we grow and learn, this is how we become better. This is how we set the stage for our children to learn and be better than us.

Now ask yourself this:

If in response to violence on women and rape culture, a popular chant became, “Women’s Lives Matter,” would you respond with anger? Would you call it sexist?

If in response to child abuse people began shouting, “Children’s Lives Matter,” would you rush to the defense of the abusive adults and point out the obvious, that all lives matter?

If you’re firmly against abortion and heard at an abortion protest, “Unborn Lives Matter,” would you respond with, “All Lives Matter?” Or would you even blink an eye?

There are, I’m sure, a few of you who will adamantly insist that you would absolutely respond the same way in each of these scenarios that you do to Black Lives Matter. And I’m here to tell you, friend, that’s bullshit.

We can pick and choose our morals, religions, and ethical beliefs. None of us are ever going to agree on everything. But y’all, can we at least not be hypocrites? Can we at least agree to firmly stand against things we know to be wrong? Can we stop pointing fingers and start making changes? Can we stop worrying about defending our side? Can we stop getting so caught up in hating one another for our differences and start coming together on the things that we do all agree on? Because we do all agree that all lives matter. But can we now please open our eyes and see that some lives are not being respected? These supremacy issues — the idea that one skin color is more valuable than another — have happened before and the whole world said it wasn’t okay. We literally fought a war against it.

I’m raising three white men, and I have to do better. Because there are moms out there who are terrified of sending their sons into the world simply because of their skin color. I cannot even begin to fathom how those mamas feel, and I won’t be so insulting as to pretend to grasp a full understanding of it. But I will try and I will stand next to them, mom to mom. I will do better.

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Homemade Yogurt, Part 2: Make it any flavor you want!

In my last post, I explained how to make your own yogurt using just an Instant Pot, a yogurt starter, and milk. If you’ve already attempted to make your own, you probably figured out pretty quickly that you can flavor it any way you want! So far, I’ve only made it as snacks for my kids, but I’ve made several different sweet flavors that they’ve loved. Savory is next on my list to play with.

I like to divide each batch of yogurt and make a variety of flavors. But before dividing it, I sweeten the entire batch with 1/3 cup of sugar. I’ve used coconut sugar and simple white sugar. Both turn out just fine, but you might need a little more if you use coconut sugar. It just depends on your preference. Or you can sweeten it with honey, maple syrup, or any sweetener that you want.

You can divide it at this point however you want. I like to make individual portions so that I can send them to school with my oldest son for snacks and lunches. I originally bought some small Ball jars with plastic lids, but several of those lids cracked within the first use, so I had to find something different. Yogurt jars cost a little more than I wanted to spend, but with a little patient digging and watching, I was able to find some for a good price.

One of the easiest flavors to make, and my oldest son’s favorite, is “fruit on the bottom” yogurt. Pick any fruit you want, dice it up, sprinkle it in the bottom of your jar, and top it with yogurt. So far I’ve done this with blueberries and strawberries, but I can’t wait to try fresh peaches and mangoes!

For a few jars, I made a carrot and apple purée. You can’t taste the carrot, so it’s a sneaky way to get some veggies into the mouths of picky toddlers. I puréed 3 carrots and 1 apple together for this, and I used some of the drained off whey to help it purée. For another batch, I puréed 2 bananas and a heaping cup of fresh spinach. Again, I used some of the drained off whey in it.
You’ll have extra puree, so just freeze it in covered ice cube trays. You can use it later in more yogurt, or in smoothies. I use these trays a lot and really like them!
For another batch, I puréed frozen strawberries with drained off whey. At J’s request, I decided to add some chocolate to this batch. I mixed 1/2 cup of yogurt with 1/2 tbsp cacao.Honestly, I thought it was disgusting and J agreed with me. S & B, however, ate it up. I don’t like chocolate yogurt at places like Yogurt Mountain either though, so I don’t know if it’s just my personal preferences, or if it was truly disgusting. A friend of mine suggested flavoring it with Nutella, so I can’t wait to try that!

Finally, just plain sweetened yogurt is delicious! And it’s even more delicious when frozen. I found these silicone tubes on a Lightning Deal on Amazon and snatched them up.

These are a huge hit with all 3 boys! They’re also ideal for school snacks and lunches (not frozen, of course). The lids screw back on if they don’t finish it all, and they do not leak.

That’s it for now! Get creative, have fun! It’s pretty hard to mess it up!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

Introducing my latest obsession (and money saver!): Homemade Yogurt for the Win (I accidentally typed “wine” there, because habits)!

This is my second post in a row about the Instant Pot. I realize that may seem a bit…obsessive. And it kinda is, but in a healthy way. This thing does all the things: pressure cook, slow cook, saute, steam, sterilize…

And it makes yogurt….delicious yogurt! And I don’t even like yogurt! My children, however, love it. And I love for them to have it because it’s a healthy snack, full of calcium, vitamin A, protein, and healthy fats and calories. But I end up spending a boatload on it each week because most yogurts you find on the shelves at the grocery store are full of sugar or other artificial sweeteners. They’re also full of GMO’s, artificial colors, artificial flavoring, thickeners, and preservatives….which honestly? Meh, I don’t care all that much about these things. Do I love them in our foods? No, but I do see some of their benefits. However, if you put two products in front of me, all else being equal, I’m going to choose the one with the least amount of anything artificial. But if I’m shopping on a budget (and I am!), I’m going to choose the most cost-efficient one, artificial crap aside.

Except for artificial sweeteners. I’ll choose real sugar any day over artificial sweeteners, even if I have to pay more. But have you seen the amount of sugars and sweeteners in most yogurts? I hate when a product is promoted as healthy, but is actually packed full of unnecessary sugars. My kids get plenty of sugary sweets; they don’t need it in their healthy snacks too. So when I’m shopping for yogurt, I usually have to buy one of the more expensive brands in order to get some level of health benefits that outweigh all the extra fillers. And that means paying top dollar.

But not anymore! I get so much pleasure out of preparing anything from scratch. There is satisfaction in realizing that I can do something. There is pride in being self-sufficient (okay, kinda self-sufficient). And there is peace in feeding my kids foods that I’ve prepared myself, in knowing exactly what they’re putting in their growing bodies. I’m far from being a “health nut,” but I do love it when I can make the healthier choice for my family, enjoy the process of getting there, and reap financial benefits from it.

To make your own yogurt, you need very little hands-on time and very few products. You can even make it in the oven if you choose to, so an Instant Pot is not a necessity. However, there are some products that make it easier, so before I dive into the how-to, these are the tools I prefer:

Luxury: An Instant Pot with the capability to cook yogurt. Some models do not have this capability, so if you’re buying a new one, look for that feature. These are a little pricey, but they do frequently go on sale. And like I said before, they do so many things. I’ve found that it was worth the investment.

Necessity: Milk. I just use regular whole milk, but you do you. I have yet to be convinced that the health benefits of organic milk outweigh the financial benefits of non-organic.

Necessity: A yogurt starter culture, which is a blend of healthy bacteria that consumes lactose. When it’s added to milk, it converts lactose to lactic acid. You can purchase starter cultures at health food stores or online, but you can also just use 1-2 tablespoons of high quality store-bought yogurt. The good thing about using an heirloom variety of a starter culture is that it can be reused over and over, simply by mixing some of your last batch of yogurt into the milk for your next batch of yogurt, as long as the yogurt is less than 7 days old.

So far, I’ve just used plain, non-flavored, Fage brand yogurt. I bought the smallest cup possible, scooped out a tablespoon for my starter, then froze the rest of it in tablespoon increments. It’s worked just fine, for the most part (more on that later). If you use store-bought yogurt as a starter, look for one that is high in live and active cultures. The packaging should say that it contains live and active cultures. Made with live and active cultures is not the same thing, and it will not work. Also make sure it has less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. If it has too much sugar, it can prevent the yogurt from culturing. The starter yogurt must come from a freshly opened container as, once it’s opened, the live cultures begin to die.

Necessity: A digital thermometer. Cooking temperatures are important and need to be as accurate as possible, so invest in an inexpensive digital thermometer.

Luxury: A Greek Yogurt Maker. This is far from being a necessity, but I finally broke down and ordered one because it’s just easier and I’ve been making a ton of yogurt here lately. You don’t even have to strain your yogurt, but I choose to do so because I like to make mine thicker and creamier. So if you choose to strain yours, you can use this yogurt strainer or follow the directions I’m going to show you later for a method that a friend of mine showed me.

Luxury: Yogurt jars. Again, certainly not a necessity. I like to flavor mine individually, and I wanted something for my oldest son to take to school in his lunches, so I found a good deal on these.

Just for fun: Reusable silicone sleeves. Not necessary, but the kids love them! And they’re freezer-friendly, so you can use them for popsicles too.

So once you have all your tools, necessary and not, let’s get started! The first thing you’re going to do is make sure you’re starting this process at the right time of the day to fit your schedule. The incubation period is 8 hours, so make sure it’s not mid-day when you start. Some people start in the evening and let it incubate overnight. I choose to start in the morning, then set it to strain in the refrigerator overnight.

To start, pour 8 cups of whole milk into your Instant Pot. Use a plate or a glass lid to cover it, or just use the regular IP lid. You do not have to use the sealing feature though.

On the Duo Plus model, press the Yogurt button until the display says “boil.”

Mine takes about 27 minutes to complete the cycle. When it’s finished it will beep 3 times and display “yogt.”

Use a digital thermometer to make sure your milk has reached 180 degrees or higher. If it has not reached that temperature, use your sauté setting on low to bring the temp up. Make sure to whisk it continuously, but do not scrape the bottom (it has cooked on yucky milk chunks, and you don’t want those floating around in your yogurt).

Once you’ve reached your high temp, you need to decrease it to 110 degrees. To do this, you can set it out at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes, but you have to make sure it doesn’t go below 90 degrees. I like a more controlled environment, so I set mine in a sink of ice cold water, just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl.


Stir it while it’s cooling to prevent hot spots, but again, don’t scrape the bottom. It takes me about 3 minutes to get the temp to 110 using this method. Watch it closely because, remember, you don’t want your temp dropping below 90 degrees.

After it’s cooled, use a ladle to remove about 1/2 cup of milk to a separate bowl. Using a whisk, mix in your starter of choice.

I used 1 tablespoon of Fage the first time I made yogurt and it turned out perfectly. I froze the remaining Fage in tablespoon increments and, the next time I made yogurt, I used 1 tablespoon of frozen yogurt. I set it out to thaw while the milk was boiling, then mixed it in. However, with this method, my yogurt didn’t turn out as nicely; it was a little runny for my preference, even after being strained. The next time I attempted to use frozen yogurt, I used 2 tablespoons and it turned out perfectly again. Coincidence or not, I don’t know, but my recommendation is to use 1 tablespoon of fresh yogurt or 2 tablespoons of frozen (thawed) yogurt.

After you’ve mixed your starter with a small portion of the cooled milk, add it back to your big batch of milk. Again, mix it well, remembering not to scrape the bottom.

If you placed it in a sink of water to cool, wipe off any residual water from the outside of your liner before placing it back in the IP. Press the Yogurt button until it reads normal and set your incubation time to 8 hours (more if you like a more tart flavor–I don’t).
Once the yogurt has finished incubating, you can be done if you want. As I mentioned before, I prefer to strain mine so that it has a thicker consistency. To do this, you can use a yogurt strainer, or you can make your own using kitchen tools you probably already own. Before I bought my strainer, I stacked the steamer rack that came with my IP in a large mixing bowl. On top of that, I stacked a regular mesh strainer lined with a flour sack dish towel (you can also use cheesecloth).

Then just pour the yogurt in and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.



That’s it, you’re done! You now have plain, simple, homemade yogurt. You can use this as a base for mayonnaise, salad dressings, or smoothies. Or you can use sugar, maple syrup, fruits, jams, or other sweeteners of choice to flavor the whole batch. Or divide the batch and make several different flavors.

Also, make sure to save the liquid you drained off your yogurt. This is whey and it can be used in protein shakes or as a buttermilk substitute in baking.

And if for some reason your yogurt turns out too thin, don’t dump it! Sweeten it and pour it into popsicle molds and make yogurt pops!

Or mix in homemade fruit and vegetable purees to make baby food. I added in some baby cereal to thicken up a thin batch that I made, and my babies ate it right up!

And loved it!!

In my next post I’ll give you some ideas on how to flavor your homemade yogurt. But it’s really up to you and your personal taste. The possibilities are endless, and the experimentation is fun!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

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Delicious and Easy Instant Pot Whole Chicken

In the days preceding and throughout Amazon Prime Day, there were a few deals on Instant Pots. Several of my friends took advantage of the sales and bought their very first IP, and I even bought a new one to replace the one I ruined by pouring chicken broth in it without the liner. Oops.

(Best mistake I ever made though, because I got the lovely Duo Plus 9-in-1 to replace my old LUX 6-in-1. The love I have for this particular IP is another story for another day, but I’ll give you a hint: yogurt.)

Since I may or may not constantly bow to the IP Gods and insist to anybody who will listen that their life is not complete without this amazing kitchen gadget, several friends have recently asked me how to use their new pretties. And honestly? I’m stumped on how to answer that question. I don’t know…you put stuff in it and turn it on. It really is that simple. Aside from looking up a chart on how long to cook different meats, I’ve never really followed recipes while using it. Instead, I tend to just grab meat from the fridge or freezer, throw it in with some water, sprinkle it with some seasonings, and turn it on.

But many people find the Instant Pot to be intimidating at first (I did too!). When they ask for directions, they want something more specific than, “throw shit in and turn it on.” So in the interest of helping out some friends, I decided to write down a few tried and true recipes. The first one is this yummy chicken. I like to cook a whole chicken, then shred and freeze the meat in 2 cup portions for later use in salads, quesadillas, or lunches for my babies (they love to eat plain shredded chicken).

So the first thing you’re going to do is heat 2 tbsp coconut oil in your IP on the Sauté setting.
I buy coconut oil in bulk for cheap at Costco, but you can get it anywhere.

Meanwhile, mix together 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ground thyme,  1 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.


Then rub your spice mix all over the chicken. Use it all up!


Place the chicken in your IP, breast side down, and sauté for 3 minutes. Flip it over, breast side up, and sauté for 3 more minutes.
Add 2 cups bone or vegetable stock, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and 6 cloves minced garlic to the IP.


Lock the IP lid, set the valve to “sealing,” and use the manual function to set the timer for 25 minutes. When it’s done, allow the pressure to release naturally. In just 36 minutes, you have a delicious chicken that you can serve exactly as it is, or shred it off the bone and make several meals with it. I’ve found that shredded chicken goes much further, since you can mix it in casseroles or salads. However you choose to eat it, save the the bones! After dinner, don’t bother washing your IP liner. Instead, throw the bones in it, fill it up with water, and use the slow cook feature to let it simmer all night. In the morning, voila: chicken stock! Freeze it in 2 cup increments for later use. My family of five can usually get 3-4 dinners and approximately 16 cups of stock out of a $6 chicken.

If you’re new to the Instant Pot world, I highly recommend joining the Instant Pot Community on Facebook. You can search the group, or ask any questions you may have.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

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The month we decided not to spend any money.

Y’all, I need to clean out my pantries. I need to clean out my refrigerators. And I need to clean out my freezers. All of them! I have 2 pantries, 2 refrigerators, and 4 freezers. And they’re all a mess! I love the extra storage space because I like to stock up on good deals and I like to make meals ahead and freeze them. But mostly I like to be able to just open the door and see exactly what I have. I can’t do that if everything is squished together in a small space.

My shame. And this is only one of them!

But it’s to the point in all of my food storage locations that I’ve become a little overwhelmed. The more overwhelmed I get, the more I tend to just open a door and throw stuff in. Then it becomes more of a mess, and I throw more things, and buy things we already have because I can’t find them or forgot we had them in the first place.

It’s a terrible cycle.

So it’s time to clean them all out. I don’t want to throw things away, so I decided we just won’t spend any money on (most) grocery items during the month of July.

Hmmm…

And then I took that a step further in my mind and decided…

No eating out during the month of July!

And then, like I do with most things, I ran with it…

No spending money during the month of July!

We’ll be bleeding extra money in August for back-to-school supplies, new shoes, and clothes. So why not take a month to reel it all in? It’s more than a cleaning binge…it’s a challenge! And I like a good challenge.

The rules I’ve set for my family for July are simple:

  • No eating out.
  • Extremely limited grocery trips.
  • No Amazon purchases.
  • No new clothes.
  • No unplanned outings that cost money.

Because I don’t want to quit this challenge by July 3rd, I did list a few exceptions for things that are okay to purchase:

  • Monthly bills. Obviously.
  • Fresh produce and other grocery necessities that will spoil, such as milk.
  • Gas for the cars and lawn mower.
  • Wine
  • 4th of July Fireworks: J can spend $10 on fireworks of his choice.
  • Medical, auto, or household emergencies.
  • Insanely good stock-up deals that I know, without a doubt, we’ll use up in less than 2 weeks that we’ve been waiting for sale prices on. This includes things like baby food pouches, yogurt, and school supplies. Everything else waits.
  • Events already planned on our calendar. For instance, we’ve planned a 1-day road trip to Botanical Gardens to see their very cool dinosaur exhibit. This will require some eating out and expenditures there. However, I’m going to pack our meals for the most part.

All these rules!! But here is my list of potential benefits:

  • Clean and organized pantries, etc.
  • A little extra money in the bank
  • New spending habits, since this will probably help us identify unnecessary money leaks.
  • We’ll find more things locally that we can do with the kids for free.
  • More space to pile more stuff in my clean pantries!!

I’ll be updating throughout the month, but check back in August for a final report on how this goes. Or if you want to, play along with me. I’d love to have some friends to play with, encourage me, and hold me accountable!

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What’s up with all the Mansplaining, fellas?

This morning I cooked omelets in my waffle maker, something I’ve done many times successfully in the past.
It makes a great finger food for the babies, and the whole family enjoys them.
After realizing how many different things I could cook in a waffle maker, I decided I wanted a larger one with removable plates. I used it this morning for the first time and things went terribly wrong. For reasons I still can’t figure out, the egg mixture leaked all out of the sides and the damn thing started smoking. We (my husband and I) could smell a terrible burning smell, so I quickly unplugged it and let it cool off.
Once I was able to take the plates off, I saw the problem that caused the smoking, so I told my husband about my discovery. Our conversation went like this:
Me: Ugh, here it is. It went underneath the plates and it burned to the bottom of the plate.
Him: That’s because it’s closer to the heating coil there. So when it leaked under, it got hot faster and that makes it burn easier.
Me: Ok yeah, now I understand. Thank you for explaining that to me.
Him: No problem.
Me: I’ll probably forget that piece of knowledge in just a few minutes though, when it slides out of my vagina.
Him: (blank stare)
He truly has no idea why this annoys me so much, to be explained to. And I have to say, I hate the term “mansplain” because it’s been so overused. And I don’t like directing such a derogatory term toward a man I love, and whom I know to be respectful of all people. But I guess I’m just going to have to be part of the problem here because at least there’s finally a term out there that explains why I want to throw shit every time he states the obvious to me.
Guys, it doesn’t have to be purposeful. Sometimes you’re sexist as hell without meaning to be. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but can you please just acknowledge it?

The best part is, as I’m writing this, suggested “tags” are popping up for me to choose from. The first tag is Donald Trump. Hmm.

Maybe somebody can explain that to me?

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Smart Ways to Save Money on Amazon

I’ve always been a bargain hunter; I admit to getting a little high when I find a great deal. But since I decided to stay at home with my kids while they’re little, it’s become a matter of necessity to budget. Not only have I managed to cut our grocery bill by more than 50% by planning our meals around sales, stacking multiple coupons on sale items, shopping discount stores, and making more of my own stuff (find a few of my favorites here, here, and here), but I’ve also learned how to find great deals for items for the kids and other household necessities by watching for price drops and stacking coupons on other deals over at Amazon.

I love sharing the deals I find! It allows me to shop vicariously, which is great, but I also genuinely love to help people find good deals! You can join my Facebook group here and follow my page here if you want to see what I share. But I also want to give you some tools to help you find specific deals you may be searching for.

Get yourself a Prime membership if you haven’t already.

It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to save money by using Amazon, I am making the assumption that you are a Prime member. If you’re not, you’re really not going to be able to take full advantage of these deals. The free 2-day shipping alone makes up for the cost of the membership if you do a lot of your purchasing online. But a Prime membership also offers early access to Lightning Deals, free video and music streaming, free photo storage, access to Prime Rewards (get 5% cash back with the Amazon Prime Visa or 2% back using your debit card), Subscribe & Save discounts with a free membership to Amazon Family (get 20% off diapers!!), and lots more.

Learn how to take advantage of the subscribe & save feature.

Once you’re a Prime member, check out my Subscribe & Save tutorial. It may seem a little daunting in the beginning, but once you have an understanding of how you can stack the coupons and discounts each month without committing to a monthly delivery, it’s very easy.

Know when and where to find the best deals.

Amazon offers daily deals with their Deal of the Day and Lightning Deal programs. But it’s important to note that, just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. I’ve especially noticed this to be true with Lightning Deals. Many prices are incredibly over-inflated prior to the sale, so make sure to compare prices before buying. I like to use Honey to view recent pricing trends (and I also find coupon codes and deals for other stores there too, so it’s worth a look!). Also, make sure to check the product reviews, make sure the reviews are natural, and check the seller reviews if it’s a third party seller.

Always check out Amazon Warehouse deals and Third Party prices before making a purchase.

Warehouse Deals are a great way to get deep discounts on refurbished or open box items. I’ve purchased here several times and never received a bad product. You can also find 3rd party prices on item listings and they’re often less than the original price. In this case, just check the condition of the item, check the seller reviews, and take note of the additional shipping costs.

Check for Coupons.

Just like when you’re shopping, make sure to use coupons when they’re available. Amazon offers lots of coupon deals and they have them divided up into easy to search categories. They’re also usually available on the individual listings, so just don’t forget to claim them!

Take the work out of it by following my Facebook page.

If you’re searching for baby and kid deals, cosmetics, clothing, shoes, and household items, I post several deals almost daily and I’m happy to share them with you. Follow my page, Fabulous Deals & Cool Stuff for Parents, to take the work out of deal-hunting!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

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