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When people find out I have six kids they ask me two questions: Do you know what causes that? And how do you afford Christmas?


The answers are: yes I do, and by planning ahead and creative thinking.

When the kids were younger and their Christmas wish list changed regularly, I used the five dollar bill method as my Christmas savings. Any time I receive a five dollar bill as change, I put it aside – depositing it into a savings account, or simply stuffing it in an envelope at home.

Not only did I never miss that five bucks out of my wallet, but all those five dollar bills quickly add up to a significant savings account.

Now that the kids are older and their wishes are more costly, I start my Christmas shopping in August by purchasing one gift per payday. By the time the beginning of December rolls around, I’m pretty much finished with my shopping, except maybe for last minute stocking stuffers or wrapping paper.

Speaking of wrapping paper, I’m not above buying half-off Christmas wrap on December 26th and storing it for the next year. I’d much rather find room to store a few rolls of paper than pay full price during the last-minute Christmas rush.

The gifts my children enjoy most, though, are usually the ones that benefit the whole family:

Quality, not quantity.

Last year, my kids knew they would be getting just two gifts each. What they didn’t know was that one of those gifts would be orchestra section tickets to a Broadway show at our local theater! More affordable pricing and seating options are available by purchasing tickets for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening show.

Consider one gift that can be used multiple times.

Local museums and attractions offer discounted family memberships that often include special events for members only. A few years ago, I purchased a zoo membership and was able to add a family friend to the membership. I definitely got my money’s worth – she took my kids to the zoo quite a few times, and I enjoyed the break.

Take the kids swimming inside when it’s snowing outside.

Local YMCAs and rec centers often see a decline in membership during winter months. Check for special, limited time membership deals. Aside from swimming, many also offer other fun family activities like game days or movie nights.

Plan to cheer for the whole year by purchasing advance tickets to different local sporting events.

Big-league tickets prices may be out of your budget, but local triple A leagues offer cheaper ticket prices with just as much excitement. Check for lawn seating or standing room sections for even more discounted pricing. Game-time snacks are also more affordable at local team concessions.

Go to the movies.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Despicable Me 3” are just a few of the exciting movies planned for release in 2017. Many theaters offer gift cards in any denomination that can be used on all new releases. Keep the gift cards handy and be prepared to hit the theaters on opening weekend.

Give redeemable vouchers for gifts and experiences.

Another single mom I know gave her kids 12 handmade gift certificates under the tree last year. The certificates were good for one gift (or one date) per month with mom for a year. She was able to spread out the cost of Christmas over 12 months, and gave her kids something to look forward to as well. 

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

When my daughter was only six months old, I found myself with baskets and baskets full of toys—and things only seemed to get worse as she grew older. I got to the point where I was so totally tired of cleaning up these toys—especially because she barely seemed to play with most of them.

And that's when I decided to get rid of almost all of her toys.

I suddenly found myself more at peace, with less to clean and in little time I saw my daughter begin to finally play with the toys she did have. This saved me so much frustration.

Here's what I learned (and now do) to keep us from getting back to that place of too many toys:

1. Buy toys only on special occasions (or not at all)

It's so easy to see a toy on sale or to give in to the constant whining and buy a toy. But before you give in, try to remind yourself of the number of toys you already have at home and resist the urge. Instead, find another activity or form of reward—a trip to the park, to the ice cream place, to laser tag, etc.

2. Create a wishlist with your child

Instead of buying a toy your child wants, or you think they will like right away, create a wishlist with your child that you can hare with family for birthdays and holidays. I have an Amazon wishlist for both my children with the toys they want (or I want them to have) and I send it out to my family a couple weeks before birthdays and Christmas.

Try as much as you can to limit the amount of toys your child is allowed to have on the list. Go through the list with them and ask them to pick their absolute favorites. Maybe five max? Find the right number that works for you.

3. Get your kids involved in a toy garage sale

If your kids are a bit older, get them involved in a toy garage sale where the money they get from the sale will go to one new toy they can have. This process will teach your kids a little bit about making money and working—and it will incentivize them to get rid of some of their old toys.

You'll be surprised at how easily they can let go when it means they can have something new. If you don't have the space for a garage sale, team up with a mom friend who does and do a joint sale with friends.

4. Ask relatives for experience-based gifts

For my daughter's second Christmas, we asked our family to gift us a registration to a toddler class instead of toys—and my daughter loved it. I took photos at the class and sent them to our family every week to show them the exciting new things she was learning—and so they truly understood that it was a gift that kept on giving.

Express to your family how much your child loves a specific activity and how gifting them a related experience can be a great gift that your child will love.

5. Donate and get rid of the toys that are no longer being used

I totally understand how difficult this one can be to do, depending on how busy we all get. But if you can do a big clean, take a day and then plan for a donation drop-off. If you can only get rid of a few things throughout the year, then that's all you can do, and that's okay. My most helpful strategy is that I clean out our home and donate toys and unnecessary "stuff" before birthdays and holidays.

It may feel like a small step, but it's actually huge—you've made a commitment to start decluttering your home of toys that don't provide your family with a purpose. Plus, if you involve your children in the donation process, they will begin to understand the importance of giving back to the community.

You've got this, mama.

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[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman's emotional journey with miscarriage.]

I knew something was wrong when my nurse didn't say anything after what seemed like an eternity moving the ultrasound wand across my gelled belly.

As many as one in four women trying to get pregnant will have a miscarriage—and yet I had no idea it was that common. You don't hear much about miscarriages until it happens to you or someone close enough who may share it with you.

So how could I have been prepared for it when it happened to me?

What they don't tell you is that by my 8-week appointment I had experienced the joy of that positive pregnancy test, of telling my partner, our parents and even some close friends. And in this modern era of pregnancy—I had worked diligently to follow my ovulation cycles, I peed on so many pregnancy tests, and then tracked every little thing I did on an app, checking to see what new fruit or vegetable or development was in store for my little one that week.

By that first appointment, I was already well into daydreaming about how to announce our baby and what my baby shower would be like and where I should take maternity photos and what names would be on our list.

And when that all comes crashing down after a somber midwife performs an internal ultrasound to double check what the first nurse already knew—I was too devastated to do anything but cry when the doctor told us our options.

Despite the lack of heartbeat, my doctor had us wait a week to be absolutely certain and to let things progress naturally.

That week was the hardest week of my life.

I would go to sleep crying as my husband gathered me into his arms, so strong for both of us. I re-watched the entirety of Game of Thrones as a distraction since misery loves company, even fictionally. When the bleeding started, it was almost a relief that it would be over soon, and we could begin to move forward, to try again.

On our third wedding anniversary, we ended up in the ER as my cramping pain got worse and worse. We spent a sleepless night at home, then went in the next morning for my scheduled D&C (dilation and curettage), where they checked that every piece of my baby was gone as I lay drugged and dazed on the table.

The next month was a blur of depression, wild hormones, and yes, wine and some bitterly eaten sushi. It was hard not to feel like I had done something wrong. Especially since, when so few people even knew I was pregnant in the first place, my miscarriage felt like a shameful secret instead of just a fact of life.

It truly helped me to be open about my miscarriage, to acknowledge my baby so it didn't feel like they never existed. I found myself telling far more people than I had told about my pregnancy, so if it happened to them they would at least know they weren't alone.

Two months after my miscarriage, we found out we were expecting again. Despite being overjoyed, my second pregnancy felt so different—gone was the carefree excitement of our first, in its place was a crippling fear that we could lose our baby again.

I went overboard on the things I could control—double checking that everything I ate was pregnancy safe and doing my best to keep my stress level down with workouts and breathing exercises. While people told me how lucky I was not to have much morning sickness, I wished I did as a sign my baby was okay (I didn't have morning sickness the first pregnancy either).

I nearly cut off my husband's circulation at our 8-week heartbeat appointment until the midwife said our baby was okay, then cried as I watched her, so tiny and so perfect. I don't think I truly let go of my anxiety until our 20-week appointment when they showed us every finger and toe and told me everything looked okay.

Even now, it helps that her kicks remind me she's alive and well.

Our little rainbow baby is due any day now, and I am so thankful we had friends and family that knew what we had been through to support us through the post-traumatic anxiety, the pregnancy pains, and the new parent fears. I cannot wait for them all to meet her, and continue being a part of our baby girl's life.

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With the school year in full swing, you may have already approached that school lunch slump. As a parent, you want your kids to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal, but you also want to make sure your child eats what you pack. The last thing you want to do is fill your kiddo's lunchbox with junk or unhealthy fare or get stuck on repeat meals that may bore them.

So how do you make sure the healthy lunches you pack get eaten? Here are a few tips:

1. Prepare lunch together

Children should be part of the process so discuss what they would like, and even have them choose foods to include from the various food groups. The more involved your child is in making their lunch, the more likely they will eat it.

2. Meal prep

As a parent, busy weeks can let healthy habits slip. Be prepared with healthy options by meal prepping at the beginning of the week. That could mean pre-making containers of cut up veggie with dips like hummus or ranch, or pre-packing nut-free trail mixes that fit perfectly into a healthy lunch box.

3. Encourage eating together with friends

Lunch is a social time and more enjoyable when surrounded by family and friends. Ask your child who they sat with and discuss lunchtime with them.

4. Make meals for appealing

Kids eat with their eyes, so adding bright colors or shapes helps make the meal more appealing. Think red peppers, orange clementines, black beans and green edamame. Even lunch boxes can have bright, fun colors so kids enjoy toting them to school.

5. Leave some love

My kids always loved when I left them a personalized not in their lunchbox. They would come home with all smiles. Even a simple "I love you," or "hope you're having a great day!" can help.

6.  Opt for allergy-friendly options

Many schools are nut-free, so make sure to stay updated on their lunch policy. Fortunately, there are many options now available at your local markets.

7. Keep food safety in mind

Some kids eat lunch early at school while others have a later lunch hour. If your child eats later, you want to make sure to keep their lunch cold. Look for insulated containers to pack lunches, and use several ice packs to keep it cold. You can even speak to the school as some will refrigerate lunches if needed.

What to know about kid's nutrition

According to a recent survey by Revolution Foods, the nation's leading healthy school and community meal provider, 80% of parents and 60% of students agreed that balanced nutrition, including a selection of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies, is extremely important when it comes to school lunches because it gives children the opportunity to take in the nutrients they need for successful growth and development.

Nutrients children need include:

  • Calories: Children need to take in enough calories, which depend on age, gender and activity level. Your child's pediatrician or registered dietitian can crunch those numbers. Most of the calories should come from nutritious foods.
  • Protein: Children are growing and need protein to do so. Protein is also important for strength and muscles. Choose lean proteins whenever possible like skinless chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, tofu, eggs and fish.
  • Iron: Children are at risk of not getting enough iron in their diet. Foods that provide iron include meat, poultry, beans and leafy green vegetables. For the iron to be better absorbed from plant foods (like spinach), pack them together with vitamin-C rich food like strawberries, citrus fruit and bell peppers.
  • Calcium: Needed for strong bones and teeth, calcium is another nutrient kids require. One of the best sources of calcium is cow's milk and dairy products, but you can also find it in calcium-fortified juices, calcium-based tofu, beans, soy milk and leafy green vegetables.

Here are some recipes we love:

Turkey Tacos

Total: 25 mins

Prep: 15 mins

Cook:10 mins

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 or 2 fresh chili peppers, like serranos or jalapeños (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey meat (or 2 cups shredded cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (chopped)
  • 1 lime
  • 8 corn tortillas (or taco shells)
  • Optional: salsa, guacamole, spring mix lettuce, cheese, and sour cream

Steps to make it:

  • Gather the ingredients.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic and chiles. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the cumin and cayenne and stir to combine until spices sizzle, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the turkey and salt. Stir to combine and break up meat with the back of the spoon or spatula.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until the turkey is cooked through. Note: if using shredded cooked turkey, also add 1/4 cup of water, stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover to heat everything up and let the flavors blend a bit, about 10 minutes.
  • When the meat is fully cooked, take it off the heat, and stir in the cilantro.
  • Juice the lime over the meat and stir to combine.
  • Heat the tortillas, if using, and top each one with some ground turkey, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce (or fill each taco shell). Add sour cream or shredded cheese, if you like.

Serve and enjoy!

Easy Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas

Total: 15 mins

Prep: 5 mins

Cook: 10 mins

Yield: 6 Quesadillas (3 to 4 Servings)

Ingredients:

  • 6 flour tortillas
  • 2 (9-ounce) packages cooked diced chicken
  • 1 cup shredded Colby cheese
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup salsa

Steps to make it:

  • Place three of the tortillas on a work surface. Top the tortillas with half of the cheeses, then the chicken, then the remaining cheeses. Top the filling with the remaining tortillas. Spread outsides of the quesadillas with the butter.
  • Heat a flat pan, large skillet, or griddle over medium heat. Add the quesadillas, one at a time, and cook, pressing down with a spatula, until bottoms are browned, about 2 to 4 minutes. Turn quesadillas and cook second side 2 to 3 minutes or until the tortillas are browned and crisp and the cheeses melt.
  • Remove the quesadilla with a spatula to the work surface and cut into quarters. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. Serve immediately with salsa for dipping.

English Muffin Pizzas

Total:10 mins

Prep: 3 mins

Cook: 7 mins

Yield: 2 English muffins (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 English muffins, preferably whole grain (see Note), split
  • 1 cup store-bought or homemade tomato sauce
  • 4 slices (1⁄4 inch thick) Mozzarella, preferably fresh
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)

Steps to make it:

  • Preheat a toaster oven or standard oven to 350°F.
  • Toast the English muffin halves until very lightly brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon 1⁄4 cup of the tomato sauce evenly over each English muffin half.
  • Top each English muffin with a slice of mozzarella. Lightly salt, and sprinkle on the oregano if desired.
  • Bake or toast the pizzas until the cheese is melted and a bit bubbly, about 4 minutes. Serve, making sure your kids know that the pizzas are hot!

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There's nothing better than cuddling up on the couch in cozy pajamas with your favorite drink and tuning into a Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, they *all* have the same plot line and I'm willing to bet on how each one ends, but there's just something about the holiday spirit, a little magic and a happily ever after that sucks you in.

We've got some good news, mama: You can start enjoying these holiday movies next week... as in before Halloween even arrives.

The lineup will officially start on October 27, featuring 22 original movies. Of course, movies from seasons past will be playing all day long too, but most of the new ones will premier on Saturdays and Sundays. Did we mention Chad Michael Murray is starring in one? Cancel my weekend plans for the rest of the year, please.

Here's the full downloadable guide


Host that girl's night you've been putting off, enjoy a date night at home with your partner or binge-watch all by yourself because #self-care.

Happy holidays, mama!

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