My Favorite Baby Gear From A-Z

With just over two weeks remaining until our “bun” is fully “baked”, I’ve been in full-on baby preparation mode lately. In the past week I have borrowed a bassinet and several boxes of *pink* baby clothes from friends. I’ve washed four loads of doll-sized clothing and sorted them into drawers and closets. I located our infant car seat and toured the birth center at our hospital. And, finally, I got my bags packed for the BIG DAY. We’re officially (almost) ready for show time!

Seeing as I’ve been hyper-focused on all things baby, I thought I’d put together an updated list of some of my favorite baby items (my very first blog entry on this site was on a similar topic, so feel free to cross-reference that post here). And just to challenge my foggy pregnancy brain a bit more, I thought it would be fun to make this list in an A-Z fashion. Where possible, I’ve included links so you can view (and if you so desire, purchase) the products I reference. And now, with no further ado:

Allison’s Favorite Things: The Baby Gear Edition, From A-Z

Amazon PrimeIf there is one single product or service that has most positively impacted my life as a mother, it is Amazon Prime. I love Amazon Prime so much that I’m seriously considering the name “Amazon” for our third child (it’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?). Seriously, though, it’s amazing. My new-mom dream was to be able to do my shopping in my pajamas while nursing a baby and never have to leave my house–and Amazon Prime makes this wild fantasy come true. With Amazon Prime I can order everything from diapers to nursery furniture and it will be delivered TO MY DOOR in two days (or less) for FREE (well, “free” after you buy a $100 annual membership. But it’s worth every last penny, so just buy it).

71N34lz3t-L._SX522_Baby Bjorn bibs: Oooh! I think I should get bonus points for coming up with one that has not ONE, but THREE B’s! These are my favorite bibs because they are basically plastic troughs that you can attach to your baby’s neck, which is basically what you need if you’re trying to feed a real live baby/toddler. Babies are the messiest eaters in the world and they spill every dang thing you feed them. The “spill pocket” at the bottom of the bib catches all the food that your little darling hurls out of their mouth and, since it’s plastic, you can just toss the whole thing in your dishwasher after the food dismemberment feeding time.

4Carseat Canopy: When you go out in public with a baby, everybody will want to see and touch your baby–never mind if the baby is sleeping or you just don’t want strangers getting near your offspring. Enter the carseat cover. You just strap this bad-boy onto your carseat’s handle and you have an instant privacy shade for your baby (*bonus: it keeps the wind/rain/sun off your baby when you’re out and about). I like the brand Carseat Canopy because they often offer freebies as long as you pay the cost of shipping–just Google “free carseat canopy promo code 2016” and you should come up with a few options for buying your own at a discount.

71sBhaQKMPL._SX522_Diaper bag: You really do not need anything fancy for a diaper bag–as long as you have some sort of receptacle that can carry a few essentials from point A to point B, you’ll be fine. That being said, I do prefer a backpack-type bag because you can wear it along with a baby in a front-carrier and not topple over to one side. And while any old backpack will get the job done, my favorite is the Petunia Pickle Bottom Boxy Backpack. I’ll be the first to admit that this is a splurge item ($150 for a bag that will literally hold poop), but they’re so dang cute…and practical. They are made of a strong, liquid-resistant outer material (this becomes essential as you realize the fact that babies are basically just tiny liquid-discharging machines) and can be worn as either a backpack or messenger bag. They also have a fold-out diaper changing station and plenty of pockets for storing essentials. Plus, you’ll use it every single day, so you may as well get a sturdy bag that you love.

As an added bonus for the letter D, you’ll want to stock your diaper bag with diaper cream. My choice: Bordeaux’s Butt Paste. It gets the job done.

61C+HfLHDRL._SX522_Ergo baby carrier: With two other busy boys to care for every day, I’m pretty sure baby #3 is going to live in her baby carrier. I’ve had my Ergo since baby #1 was born and it’s still in excellent condition after years of near-constant wear and tear (seriously…boys wear and tear everything they can get their hands/feet/mouths on). It’s comfortable for me to wear, easy to get baby in and out of, and compact enough to stuff into my diaper bag when I’m not using it. I also love that it can be worn in three positions: front (perfect for newborns and babies), side (to be honest, I have no idea how this position works so I’ve never actually worn it this way), or back (great for older babies and toddlers–I can still fit 3-year old Jacob in it this way).

814ykZ+Vs5L._SL1500_Food preparation: When your baby is ready to start eating solids, it’s great to have some options for making and storing your own baby food. Making your own baby food can save you money, plus you know exactly what is going into the food that you serve your baby (and they get a preview of the food that they’ll be enjoying for the entirety of their growing-up years: your cooking). I have a Baby Bullet that I use for making everything from rice cereal to veggie purees (it also comes with food trays and jars for freezing and storing servings). Another type of baby feeding product I love are reusable food pouches. There are several brands available, and they are a great option for baby self-feeding and food on-the-go.

41t+ZTXVOuL._SY300_Gowns: During the first few weeks of life, our babies live in these open-bottomed sleep gowns. During this time frame, babies need approximately 10 thousand diaper changes and everyone is sleep-deprived and groggy and doesn’t want to deal with a single button or snap or zipper. Sleep gowns are the perfect solution because you can just pull the gown up, change the diaper, and nod back off to sleep–all without even having to fully open your eyes.

download (1)High chair: You can spend a pretty penny on a high-end high chair, but you really don’t need to. What I have found to be the most practical (granted, not the most fashionable) high chair is a simple space saver high chair that straps on to a regular dining chair and can transition from baby chair to toddler booster seat. I also love fold-up booster seats for dining out and travel.

Fisher-Price-Cradle-n-Swing----pTRU1-18900932dtInfant swing: Our first baby needed to move All. The. Time. If he was not moving he started fussing (and, by fussing, I mean screaming his bloody head off). This constant need for motion was not conducive to any of us getting sleep. We would not have survived our first few months of parenthood if it were not for our baby swing (which, conveniently, can keep a baby in motion while Mom and Dad pass out on the floor next to him). There are hundreds of baby swings on the market–some go forward and backward, some go side to side,some jiggle around like a kangaroo, some have light shows and play music. My best advice: borrow one from a friend or find a cheap one on Craigslist. While I think a swing is necessary, every baby likes a different type of motion, and some babies (not mine) don’t like motion at all, so it’s really not worth investing hundreds of dollars on a swing right off the bat. Plus, if you borrow one from a friend you won’t have to store a big, clunky swing in your garage after the baby outgrows it in a few months.

71gjkTVIlBL._SX522_Jumparoo: These things are god-sends for busy parents. My babies loved jumping in their Jumparoos, and the Jumparoo gave me a safe spot to set baby while I completed necessary tasks such as cooking dinner or peeing by myself.

koala-baby-deluxe-blanket-matte-satin-gray-41389276-01Koala Baby Blanket: These blankets are well-made, soft, and adorable. David received a Koala blanket as a baby and, five years later, is still one of his favorite lovies (he calls it Gigi).

Lansinoh Lanolin: When you are nursing a newborn for 8-10 hours a day (Yep, you read that right) there are some areas on Mommy’s body that may become a bit…um…tender. I keep a few bottles of this lanolin stashed around my house: 1 on my nightstand, 1 in the nursery, and 1 in my diaper bag for whenever I need a bit of relief.

Madela nursing pads: I have tried just about every type of nursing pad (used to soak up breastmilk leaks…this is a real-world baby post, so no apologies for TMI) and these are my favorite. There are a few reusable types that worked really well for me, but they just added to the already seemingly endless piles of laundry that breed in my house when there’s a new baby. This brand is super absorbent and, due to their sticky backs, they stay in place well.

51-RRZZqrfL._SL1000_Nose Frida nasal aspirator: This one may gross you out–Jon can’t even be in the same room when I’m using it–but it’s one of the most useful tools I have in my baby care arsenal. Babies get all forms of gunk stuck in their tiny noses and, since infants are terrible at following simple directions like “blow your nose into a Kleenex”, nasal aspirators are quite helpful. As long as you can get past the fact that you literally have to suck the snot out of your baby’s nose (don’t worry, there’s a filter in the tube so nothing ever passes from baby’s nose to your mouth), this device works like a charm.

51bqoE-8TcL._SY679_Odor-free diaper pailAdmittedly this one is a bit of a stretch for the letter “O”, but it’s important so I had to fit it in somewhere. I’ve used the popular Diaper Genie but I got fed up with buying pricey liner refills every week or two. My new favorite is the Baby Trend Diaper Champ–it’s simple to operate, it uses standard garbage bags (which you can buy for pennies at Costco), and it does a great job blocking odors.

61JHmam7RlL._SX522_Portable cribThis is an essential baby item in my book. A portable crib is useful for setting up an extra sleep or play space for baby anywhere in your home or for use when you’re traveling. My two favorites are the basic Pac ‘N Play and the KidCo Peapod (basically a tiny tent that folds up into a pouch and can fit in a carry-on bag–awesome for airplane trips or stuffing into an already-packed car).81vFpOKT4fL._SY679_

Quiet book: Think of a quiet book as part story, part activity book. They are engaging for both baby and parent (which is important, because you’re the one who will have to read it 60,000 times). And, while we’re at it, just go ahead and stock up on books in general. The more books, the better!

Rocking chair: You will use your chair every day when you are feeding your baby or helping them fall asleep. A comfortable rocking chair or glider with a foot stool will make your life oh-so-much easier. If you choose a chair for sentimental reasons (you know you’ve had your eye on that old wooden rocker that your grandpa made for your mom when you were a baby) just make sure you find one that doesn’t creak or squeak–the last thing you want is for your chair to wake a just-now-sleeping baby!

51-tH1-Qy4LStroller: I actually have four strollers because I use them all for different purposes. I have a cheap umbrella stroller (seriously cheap…I think I got it for $8 at Target) that folds up compact for those times when I just can’t fit another piece of anything in my car. I have a snap and go stroller for when I want to push around the baby car seat and a few essentials. I have a BOB jogging stroller for when I want to exercise or have an all-terrain “vehicle”. And I have a Phil and Teds double stroller for when I need to transport one or more smallies and still want supreme maneuverability. Excessive? Nah. I mean, you wouldn’t ever just own one pair of shoes, would you?

81zalEX4A9L._SY679_Teethers: You’ve gotta feel for those poor babies when their razor-sharp teeth start poking out. My babies never had terrible teething pain, but there were a few cherished teethers that helped them through the hard times. Sophie the Giraffe is an all-time favorite with her soft rubber body and yummy scent. I also really liked these fresh food feeders by Munchkin–I’d just slip a piece of frozen fruit inside the mesh pocket and baby went to town. Although I’ve never used them, I have friends that swear by amber teething necklaces for baby to wear (they help with inflammation) and silicone teething necklaces for mommy to wear (fashionable and chewable. Trés chic.).

Under garments: Fact: moms need practical, supportive under garments while they are nursing. I’ve never found a nursing bra that I really liked, but I love wearing nursing tanks. They help me stay covered up while nursing…and also help a bit with holding in that lovely post-partum tummy th.

Video monitor: Being able to monitor baby once she moves to her own space can help put your mind at ease. A video monitor is particularly useful because you can spy on baby to see if they truly need your assistance or if they’re just faking it for attention (or you can just look at how stinkin’ cute they are while they’re sleeping).

51GBK5Pv31L._SL1200_Water bottles: When I’m nursing I basically turn into the Sahara Desert: I’m parched all the time. Now I keep water bottles in every room of my house so I can quench my thirst on a whim. My favorites are the no-spill type with a 81KhpJObTvL._SX522_straw like these made by Camelbak and Contigo.

eXersaucer: This little gem keeps baby entertained and your hands free. What’s not to love?

Yum-yums: When baby starts eating solid food, you’ll want a good supply of snacks. Some of my favorites are puffs (they’re truly delicious–make sure to save a few for the baby if you decide to sample them) and yogurt melts. You may also want a snack cup with a lid to serve them in, especially if you’re on the go. I also love squeezy pouch baby food (carried in all grocery stores, and even Costco has a great selection now).

81dhKS8PJOL._SX522_Zippered sleep sacks: Apparently babies are no longer allowed to sleep with traditional blankets, so sleep sacks can help keep baby warm at night. Zippered sleep sacks can also serve a dual purpose: if you have a toddler who is prone to removing their own diaper (ewwwwwww….but it happens), just put the sleep sack on backward and zip it up. Bam: baby straight jacket.

Whew! I did it: the whole alphabet of must-have baby items. Now that you’ve read my list, what are some of your favorite baby products? Just let me know if you need my address so you can send them my way–I’ll even let you use Amazon Prime 😉

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Surrendering Your Story: Reflections on “Called” by Ryan J. Pemberton

“Being called means surrendering the story we’ve been fighting to tell, and to instead accept the story God wants to tell with our lives.”
–Ryan J. Pemberton, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again

I first met Ryan during my junior year of college. We were both attending a campus ministry group called The INN and I was co-leading a small group Bible study called a CASA there (coincidentally, the co-leader I got paired with that year, Jon Peterson, later became my husband–but that’s another story for another day). Ryan was one of the core members of our CASA group way back in 2003.

Before we began the “official” study in our CASA, Jon and I decided to go through a book with our group that we both shared an affinity for: C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. If you’ve never read it, you should. Today. Like, right now go to Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy. Besides the Bible itself, no other book has ever spoken to me so clearly and deliberately about the Truth of God’s person and work. It was the perfect springboard for a group of college students seeking God’s will for their lives as we entered the brave new world of adulthood and independence.

Mere Christianity struck such a chord with Ryan that he began spending his free time studying Lewis’s works and theology. After college graduation, Ryan married his high school sweetheart and was working a “safe” job in marketing. It was then–in the midst of his comfort and security–when God interrupted his story and called him to something totally new and unexpected: to study theology at C.S. Lewis’s former teaching grounds, Oxford. Ryan was called to leave behind the very things he had worked his whole life to achieve and follow God in faith.

In his first book, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again,  Ryan explores what it looks like for the Christian to truly surrender and follow God’s calling–wherever that may lead them. Even if that means trading a steady job for the life of a poor college student halfway around the world.

Called is the story of Ryan’s journey to Oxford (where he actually got to live in C.S. Lewis’ house!) but, more than that, it is also the story of what it means to truly follow God. It is the story of the peaks and valleys, the triumphs and the disappointments, the joys and the struggles that come with following God. It is the story of listening to God’s calling on your life and following without abandon. No matter what the cost.

And as much Ryan wrote this book about his journey, it also took me on a journey of my own. In turns, the heartfelt stories made me laugh and cry. They transported me to the hallowed halls of Oxford and the unpretentious quarters of C.S. Lewis’s home, The Kilns. More importantly, though, the stories also caused me to reflect on my own life. Where is God calling me, and what would it look like if I truly surrendered to that calling?

As I was reading Called I was convicted of what it looks like for me to personally surrender to God’s call. You see, I suffer from this disorder called control. In this disorder, I have the misconception that I am entitled to control over my own life and that, in fact, I am currently in control. The side effects from this disorder include, but are not limited to: disappointment, fear, regret, anger, stress and frustration. Thankfully there is an anecdote available for people like me who want to control themselves, their world, their story. Called reminded me that the solution to my “problem” is one seemingly simple act: surrender. We must lay aside control over our own plans and surrender to the calling God has in our lives.  Then, and only then, is when the most beautiful story of our lives can finally be written.

In the midst of this most difficult season that I find myself, I would like to surrender my story to God so that He might write the beauty into my pain. As a writer, I know that the author has a purpose in their writing–a goal they are hoping to achieve. So as I go through this journey called life–with the peaks and valleys, the triumphs and the disappointments, the joys and the struggles–I will trust in God’s plan for my story. After all, I am the main character in this story, experiencing as I go, but only God knows the ending.

I am humbled that I got to witness part of Ryan’s journey as he followed God’s calling. I am equally grateful that he wrote it all down in his book for so many of us to benefit from. It is my hope that you, friend, will find the beauty that God has written into your story. And if you need a little inspiration, pick up a copy of Called–you won’t be disappointed!

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**The Goods** 
Look for “Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again” by Ryan J. Pemberton on Amazon (available on Paperback or Kindle) or BarnesAndNoble.com (available in paperback or Nook). You can also learn more about the book and follow Ryan’s blog at calledthejourney.com

Allison’s Favorite Things

Last week I went to a “favorite things” gift exchange. It was brilliant. Everyone brought a wrapped gift–one of their favorite things–then we exchanged them “white elephant” style so everyone could see and experience some new favorites together. The only problem with this little game was that I struggled for weeks to narrow down just one favorite thing to wrap up and bring to the party. There are so many products and services that I love–so many things that I could write a whole blog post about them.

So, because I know you’ve all been dying to know, here are a few front-runners for the 2014 edition of: Allison’s Favorite Things.

Flat ShotsOrla Kiely
I fell in love with Orla Kiely last year when we were living in Ireland, where everyone who was anyone sported her styles like they were…um…going out of style.  Orla Kiely is an Irish contemporary designer with the boldest, most beautiful prints you’ve ever seen. She designs all sorts of home and fashion accessories: purses, wallets, dishes, blankets, gardening tools, notebooks, clothing. Unfortunately, it usually costs you an arm and a leg to get into the world of Orla Kiely. That is, until TARGET stepped in (I should write a whole post on how much I love Target. Maybe next time.). That’s right, Target now sells Orla Kiely, and for a piddly fraction of the cost. Peruse the selection here or in store, but just make sure you have a hanky handy to wipe your drool off the floor.

sandalsRainbow Sandals
I know that I’m a bit late to the game here, but I’m new to this whole California-living thing. Rainbow sandals are the best–they’re made with real leather and, for a flip-flop, are incredibly supportive. From what I hear, they also last forever. And, now that I can actually wear flip-flops year-round, I’m getting a ton of use out of them.

 

Herbs_de_Provence_1024x1024Herbes de Provence
Really? An herb on your favorite things list? Yes, and don’t knock it til you try it. A friend introduced me to this stuff and now I put it in just about everything I cook: roasted veggies, marinades, mashed potatoes. I just hope my family loves it as much as I do! And, for the love, if you ever have to buy herbs/seasonings/pantry staples of any kind, please visit the bulk foods section at WinCo. You’ll thank me later.

amazonprime

Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has changed my life. Seriously. I am yet to find a single product in this whole vast world that I can not order on Amazon–and, with Prime, I get it all shipped in two days to my door. For FREE. Now, you do have to pay upfront for your Prime membership ($99 for a year), but it the benefits far outweigh the costs (plus, you can always do a free trial of Prime for up to 6 months depending on when you sign up). We get items shipped to our house via Prime almost every day–everything from diapers to clothing, to pantry staples, to our new BBQ (the same item shipped to our house from Home Depot was going to have a $50 shipping fee added on). Not having to leave my house to do my shopping is reason enough for me to order Prime. But wait! There’s more! In addition to free shipping, Prime Members enjoy a number of benefits: online access to Instant Video (similar to Netflix, but with much less selection), Prime Music (similar to iTunes Radio), Prime Photos (free unlimited photo storage online), and access to the Kindle Users’ Lending Library. I could go on and on about the amazingness that is Amazon Prime, but I’ll try to restrain myself. If you don’t already have Prime, sign up here. Now.

Airbnb-2AirBnB
2014 was the year of travel for our family, and it was all made possible by AirBnB. Traveling with two young children can be challenging, and finding the right lodging made all the difference for us. AirBnB.com allows you to rent a space directly from the owner, so you can find many more options for temporary or travel housing than your standard hotel: a single room in a house, a bed and breakfast, a full apartment, an entire house or even something more eclectic (think windmills in Holland and houseboats in Seattle). And, since you’re renting directly from the owner, the prices are usually very reasonable. When we were in London, for instance, we had a 3-bedroom apartment with our own kitchen and laundry facilities, a few blocks from the tube, for half the price of the cheapest hotel room I could find in the same area. I heart AirBnB ❤

nivea lip balmNivea Lip Balm
My sister in law got me hooked on this stuff a couple of years ago, and I just can’t stop. This is, hands down, the best lip balm I’ve ever used. My lips have never been smoother or balm-ier. Thank you, Nivea. Some of the balms come tinted, too, thus eliminating my need for extensive lip-makeup routines (let’s be honest here: If I manage to swipe some tinted lip balm on in the morning, I call it “putting on my make up”). Find your new favorite balm at any drug store or online here.

61yhxs1BiUL._SL1500_Double Walled Starbucks Cold Cup
If you have seen me in the last few months, then you’ve probably seen me holding this: a reusable double-walled Venti Starbucks cold cup (the name of the cup is just about as complicated as the names of their drinks).
I love this cup for the following reasons:

1. It’s big. I drink lots of water and I don’t want to be running to the faucet every two seconds to refill an insufficient cup.
2. It has a straw. I drink far more liquids when I am drinking through a straw and, since we’re all supposed to drink more water, this just makes sense. Plus it wouldn’t mess up my lipstick…if I ever wore lipstick.
3.My hands never get cold when I’m holding it. Since it’s double-walled, the cold stays inside the first wall and my hands only touch the insulated outer wall. Bring on the ice!
4. It doesn’t “sweat”. Again, since the cup is double-walled, you don’t get any condensation on the outside of the cup. And, since I hate using coasters, this is a hand feature.
5. It fits in the cup holders in my car and stroller (my favorite water bottle does NOT. Boo.)

Buy your own fancy cup at the ‘Bucks or online here.

PumpkinCupcakes
Alright, so my obsession with cupcakes is not new to 2014.  What has changed, though, is my close proximity to some of the best cupcake shops in the world. Within minutes I can be at no less than a dozen cupcake bakeries that have been featured on Food Network or the pages of foodie magazines. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, check out some of my (new) favorites: Kara’s Cupcakes, Sprinkles, Icing on The Cake, Frost Cupcake Factory, and Minicakes.

61N-ivATQYL._SY355_UnderArmour Gold Gear Jacket
This is the most versatile jacket I’ve ever owned and I wear it almost every day. It’s warm, but not too warm. It keeps the wind and rain (at least, California “rain”) off you. It’s the perfect weight for wearing pre- or post-workout…or just lounging around the house…or running the kiddie carpool. It has tons of zippered pockets so you don’t lose your keys or your phone or your mind. As an added bonus mine is neon pink, so I’m sure to always stand out in a crowd! Get yours here.

 

29823-spicy-chai-mixTrader Joe’s Chai Tea Powder
I’m not a coffee drinker, so I have to get my fix from other sources. And, as we’ve already established with my cupcake entry here, I have quite the sweet tooth. Chai tea is my favorite sweet, warm beverage to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night. As a chai tea connoisseur, I have sampled many different varieties. TJ’s powdered mix is my new favorite and it comes in a variety of enticing seasonal flavors (try the pumpkin spice chai in the fall and salted caramel in the winter). At less than $5 per container, the price point is also pretty sweet. Find yours in the Trader Joe’s beverage aisle next to the coffee.

article-1250992-083E2A01000005DC-544_468x324Sleep
For the first time in half a decade I have two children who consistently sleep through the night–which means I am back to a regular schedule of sleeping (in my own bed, until a humanly-sane hour in the morning). It’s pure bliss, and I can not recommend it enough. Find your own good night of sleep with a weekend getaway or having older children who literally run around ALL day to the point of pure exhaustion. And, if you are lucky enough to find sleep, it’s priceless.

So, there you have it! Some oldies, some newbies and, always, some goodies. Hope you enjoyed a little peek into some of my favorite things. What’s going on your “favorite things” list this year?

 

How To Shop Childrens’ Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

JBF1Two weeks ago something rare happened: it rained in California. Seeing as we are in the middle of Autumn the presence of precipitation should come as no surprise, yet we were all caught off-guard. The toys we’d left strewn about the yard overnight got drenched. The laundry I had on the line got re-washed by nature. And when I went to get David ready for school in the morning, I came to an unfortunate realization: he didn’t have a single pair of shoes that fit him.

After spending all summer barefoot or in sandals, we hadn’t donned a pair of shoes in months. And in those months, my boy’s feet had grown gargantuan. Just like the rest of him. So, then I came to the even more disheartening realization: it was time to buy the boy a new (larger) wardrobe–which would undoubtedly come with a massive price tag to match.

Fact: kids cost money. Oodles and oodles of money, all the time. Any time I can save a bit of that money, I’m all for it. And that, my friends, is why God created children’s consignment sales.

If you’ve never been to a children’s consignment sale, just imagine a massive garage sale taking place inside of a Costco warehouse–full of all the stuff you keep having to buy for your very expensive offpring. Children’s consignment sales are a collection of consignors (aka “moms”) who are selling merchandise (aka the stuff their kids don’t use/have outgrown/just don’t want any more). They sell everything from toys and books to clothes and shoes to baby gear and maternity wear. In short, consignment sales are da bomb.

With two growing boys who DON’T EVEN HAVE SHOES THAT FIT THEM, I have become a bit of a consignment sale shopping expert. You might call me a professional shopper-saver, if you were so inclined. And now, dear friends, I will share my wisdom with you:

How To Shop Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

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Research the sales
Consignment sales tend to happen seasonally, so research your local area for a schedule of sales that will be coming up soon (a quick looky-loo on Google should pull up several results). There are several large consignment sale organizations that franchise around the country, like Just Between Friends and Rhea Lana’s and locally, like Outrageous Outgrowns (California Bay Area) and Jack and Jill (my favorite in the Seattle area). Sign up for the email list on consignment sale websites so you’ll be notified of sale dates and special discounts.

Always visit the sale’s website before you go to the sale so you have accurate information on the sale dates and location. Sometimes you can also print off coupons from the sale’s website for free or discounted parking or admission.

Selling vs. shopping
If you have baby and/or kid stuff that you want to sell, sign up to be a consignor. As a consignor you’ll make money off every item you sell and get special privileges like shopping the sale before the public. If you don’t have anything to sell you can always attend the event as a shopper.

Timing your visit
Sales typically happen over a weekend and last 2-4 days. If you have specific items you want to buy, or if you are particular about the types and quality of the products you buy, you’ll want to go on the first day of the sale while the inventory is fresh. If you want to save even more money, visit on the last day of the sale when the remaining items are typically sold at half-off. Or, if you’re really serious about this whole consignment sale thing, you could always visit twice: once on the first day of the sale and again on the last day of the sale to pick up some bargains.

Try to arrive at the sale early in the day. Like when they open. Or, better yet, before they open. Think of it practice for Black Friday. These things get packed, and fast. The earlier you can get in and out, the better off you’ll be. Otherwise, aim for lunch or dinner time so you can take advantage of the lull when most shoppers go home to eat.

Set your expectations
This is not Nordstrom’s–heck, this is not even Nordstrom Rack. You are buying used kids stuff. And if you have kids, you know what kids do to their stuff. They beat up their toys, they spill juice on their shirts, they draw with Sharpie’s on their furniture. Consignment sales are full of bargains–if you’re willing to compromise. The nicer and newer the condition of the item, the more expensive it will be. If you’re willing to put up with a few bent pages in a book or a dress that has obviously been off the rack since last season, then you’ll be grand. If you’re expecting perfection, sales may not be for you (but please give me your contact info so we can get in touch when you’re ready to offload your kids’ gear…).

To kid or not to kid
Consignment sales are for kids, but they are not FOR kids. Yes, you buy kid stuff at the sale. No, you should not bring your kid to the sale. Why? Because it’s a Costco warehouse-sized kids garage sale. There are toys and books and bouncy things and all sorts of other temptations everywhere you look. Your children will whine about literally every item in the sale. All 20,000 items. And you will get so fed up that you will just throw up your hands and say WHATEVER and get in line so you can check out and get the heck out of there. And then you will realize, as you are trying to find the end of the line that snakes around the Costco-sized-kids-garage-sale that there is not back of the line. The back of the line is in Mexico. Or Canada. Or whatever country is furthest away from where you are right now. And then you will finally get to the front of the line and you will wonder was it all worth it. (I brought my kids with me to a sale last week)

Have a shopping game plan
If there is something special that you know you want to get, make a beeline for that section as soon as you arrive. Big-ticket items like cribs, strollers and rockers can go faster than a toddler’s temper. Seasonal items like Halloween costumes, outdoor gear, and fancy Easter clothes also get picked over quickly, so grab yours before they’re gone.

Plan for the future
Since sales typically only happen a few times a year, think ahead to what you might need in the months between now and the next sale. Will your child be moving up a size soon? Will the seasons change so you’ll need more seasonal clothing? Will your baby become a crawler/walker/toddler and require different types of toys or gear? Do you have birthdays or Christmas coming up that you want to buy gifts for? Take advantage of the bargains now so you won’t have to break the bank in a month or two.

Bring cash
Some sales create special (shorter) check-out lines for people who are paying with cash. With the average consignment sale check-out line lasting about an hour, bringing cash has saved me countless hours of line-waiting.

Bring the right gear
Bring these things with you to the sale. Just because I said so.
-wagon, empty stroller or shopping trolley (like the ones you see little old ladies bring on the bus) so you have somewhere to put all the cool stuff you find at the sale
-baby carrier–Sometimes you just have to bring the baby with you. With a baby in tow, it will usually be easier to put your baby in a carrier and have your hands and (now empty) stroller available for shopping.
-shopping bags–most sales do not offer you a way to cart your stuff home. Bring your own.
-snacks and water–this shopping is serious business (especially if you find yourself stuck at the end of a 2-hour check-out line)
-cash (see above)
-empty back seat and/or car trunk–you may go to the sale for one thing, but we all know how that’s going to end…

 Happy shopping, and happy saving!

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

Battle of the Squishy Food Pouches: A Product Review

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Perhaps the greatest invention since sliced bread is the squishy food pouch. If you have a child under the age of 5 you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are these little squishy pouches filled with fruit and/or vegetable purees. Simple, right? And sometimes the simplest things are the best things. As is the case with the squishy food pouch.

The great appeal of the squishy food pouch is that it’s easy to transport, it’s easy to feed to a baby (no spoon required!) and a toddler can feed himself with very little mess.This product has truly revolutionized the way baby food is transported and administered. Of all baby products on the market today, the squishy food pouch is probably in my top 3 of “items I could not live without”.

The popularity of the squishy food pouch seems to be on the rise lately. In the last few months I’ve seen several new products that are catering to people (such as myself) who love, love, love their squishy food pouches. I, of course, had to test a few of them out. Here’s my review in: The Battle Of The Squishy Food Pouches.

Product:
Pre-filled disposable pouches (There are dozens of brands available. Some of my favorites are made by Plum Organics, Happy Tot Organics, and Ella’s Organics)

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Price (*Note* All prices are an average of what I could find online or in my local stores. ):
$1.50 – $2.50  per 4.2 ounce pouch (35 cents – 59 cents per ounce)

Pros:
Super-convenient–just grab one and go. There are a lot of flavors and varieties to choose from. Organic options are readily available. Varieties are available that would be suitable for older children and even adults (don’t tell anyone, but my husband likes eating the squeezy applesauce!). Coupons are readily available to get the price down a bit. No prep work or clean up required–just throw the pouch away when you’re done.

Cons:
Expensive (if you consider that a baby eats 3-5 times per day you could be spending upwards of $10 per day on pouches!). Creates a lot of waste because you are throwing away each pouch after only one use.

Product:
Beaba Babypote Reusable Food Squeeze Pouch

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Price:
$11.95 for the 4-ounce pouch, plus the cost of whatever puree you put in it.

Pros:
Reusable, easy to fill, fun colors, the mouthpiece is made of hard plastic (my 2-year old hasn’t destroy it yet despite constant biting), dishwasher safe. You can fill it with whatever purees you like, homemade or store-bought (applesauce, yogurt, rice cereal, and baby food all work well). No waste because it is reusable. BPA free.

Cons:
Food squishes out way too easily, so it’s not something you can give to a child who is still learning how to feed himself.  Expensive for one pouch.

Product:
Squooshi Food Pouch

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Price:
$16.99 for a 4-pack of the smaller pouches (2.5 ounces) – $38.88 for an 8-pack of the larger pouches (4.5 ounces). This comes out to $4.24 – $4.86 per pouch. This means that after 3-4 uses, each pouch will pay for itself. You would also need to pay for the puree that you put in the pouch.

Pros:
Easy to fill with a ziploc-style opening on the bottom. Easy to clean up (use a bottle brush to scrub it out or put it in the top rack of your dishwasher). Fun designs. Feels and works just like the disposable pouches so it’s an easy transition if you’re used to those. You can put homemade purees in the pouches (which can be very cheap if you puree food you already have on-hand). You can also fill the pouches with store-bought purees so you don’t have to do any prep work for much less cost than the pre-filled pouches (you can get organic applesauce at Costco for about 4 cents per ounce). Food doesn’t squirt out too fast and my 9-month old can use it to feed himself (see photographic evidence below).

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Cons:
Not a lot, really. It’s slightly more time-consuming to fill a pouch and clean it when after each use than to just grab a pre-filled pouch and throw it away when you’re done.

Conclusions:
For ease and convenience go with the pre-filled pouches. If you’re interested in saving money in the long-run and/or are environmentally conscious, go with the Squooshi pouch. Since they both meet slightly different needs, I will continue using both the pre-filled and Squooshi pouches on a regular basis.

Allison's Exhaustive Guide To All Things Baby

IMG_2086If you are not pregnant, don’t plan on becoming pregnant any time soon, or are a dude: Please disregard this post.

A friend of mine who is pregnant with her first child recently asked me for my recommendations on all things baby. And, to be honest, I’ve just been WAITING for someone to ask me about this. Having just been through the new-baby thing twice in the last two years, I have developed some pretty strong opinions on baby products. Since I have a lot of friends who have recently entered (or are about to enter) parenthood, I thought I’d write out a comprehensive list for y’all on what you REALLY need for a new baby. A little disclaimer: This list is written according to my preferences, so you may find that some of these things work well for you and others don’t. Now, like I said, I have a lot of opinions and I’m not short-winded, so bear with me. I’ve started each review with two categories:

Desirability:
Must have- This is a product you can not live without. Buy it now.
High priority- Get it if you can!
Nice to have- A good product, but not necessary for your baby’s overall health or well-being

Acquisition:
New- This is a good investment, so buy it new at the store.
Used- Find it on Craigslist or at a garage sale to save a few bucks. I also love the seasonal kids’ consignment sales (My favorites are Jack and Jill and Just Between Friends)
Borrow- Just beg, borrow, or steal from your friend/sister/neighbor/co-worker who just had a baby and is no longer using it
Repurpose- Re-use something you already own

Anything marked with a double asterisk (**) is one of my personal favorite products

Also, if it’s not on my list then I don’t feel it’s something totally necessary to have. You could go to Babies-R-Us and go bananas buying every baby product under the sun. Really, though, there are a lot of useless products out there that are just a waste of space, time, and money.

For our purposes, this “guide” is only for baby’s first year. After that, you’re on your own.
With no further ado, here are my favorite must-have baby items:

Transportation

Carseat (Must Have, New)
So, here’s the thing with carseats. You have to have a carseat or they won’t let you leave the hospital with your new baby. There are about 5,000 models to choose from and a price range of anywhere from about $50-$400. In the end, though, if you buy your car seat in the USA, they all have to pass the same safety standards and, really, they all work about the same. The main thing you want to keep in mind is the type of carseat you want (I recommend an infant seat for at least the first 9 months) and the brand (find one that works with the stroller system you decide to buy: see below).  Always buy your carseat new because you never know what could have  happened to a used carseat.  If the carseat was ever dropped or involved in a car accident, it can have hairline fractures that you can’t see but that compromise the safety of the seat.  Bottom line: Don’t spend a fortune on the car seat, just buy a new one that you like. (For the record, we have a Graco Snugride and it suits us quite well).
P.S. You can also buy additional bases for your car seat. We have a second base for Jon’s car, but I really don’t think it’s that necessary because we just don’t transport the kids in his car that often. However, if you go between vehicles often (especially if you share drop-off/ pick-up duties for child care) you’ll definitely want a second car seat base. This is something you could easily buy used or borrow rather than buying additional bases at full-retail.

Stroller (Must Have, New or Used)
Alright, I have a confession to make. I don’t have a stroller. I have 5 strollers. And I love them all. Do I NEED 5 strollers? No. But does a woman NEED more than 1 pair of shoes? You see, they all serve different purposes. I have the cheap umbrella stroller that I got for 8.99 at Target (because it fits in the tiny trunk of Jon’s car). I have a snap-and-go stroller that I can use to transport Jacob while he’s sleeping in his car seat. I had a **BoB single- jogging stroller and I loved it so much that now I have a BoB double-jogging stroller (which I have nicknamed “The Beast”. It’s massive). And I have the swiss-army-knife of all strollers, the Phil and Ted’s with Doubles kit.  Another versatile stroller that comes highly recommended to me is the Baby Jogger City Select. So, what is my recommendation? Get what you need (or, in my case, just buy them all). I jog and take the boys with me to a stroller exercise class several days a week, so the jogging stroller is essential. I have put hundreds of miles on that thing. But it’s HUGE and takes up the whole back section of my car and doesn’t fit between aisles at the store. So, I have a skinny double decker stroller for taking on trips or to the mall. And I have the wee little strollers for when I just have Jacob or when we’re going somewhere in Jon’s wee little car. The important thing is that you need a stroller that works for you and what you’ll be using it for. For the love, don’t drop $400 on a jogging stroller if you don’t plan on ever taking it jogging! Also, just about every stroller on the market today has some way you can use it with an infant car seat (which you’ll want to be able to do–nobody wants to wake a baby who just fell asleep in the car,  just to transport them to a stroller, just to have them fall asleep again in the stroller, and then have to wake them back up again to put back in the car at the end of your walk). That being said, find a stroller that works with the car seat you like…or find a car seat that works with the stroller you like 🙂

Infant carrier (High Priority, New)
I have an **Ergo and I love, love, love it! I use it just about every day to hold Jacob while I’m doing some other task–chores, playing with David, going to the bathroom (did I mention that once you have a child you’ll never get to pee alone again?). The thing I like about the Ergo is that it’s comfortable to wear, it holds the baby in a healthy position (some baby carriers are actually bad for baby’s back), it is relatively easy to stuff in a bag or under a seat while traveling, it’s good quality (like I said, daily use with 2 kids and it’s still in excellent condition), it retains it’s value well (this is why I suggest buying it new: if you can find an Ergo on Craigslist, it will be selling for about the same price as a new one–so why not just get a new one and have something special!), and you can use it for a long time (David was about 16 months old before he got too big for me to carry him comfortably on my back).  There are many other options in this category. Several of my friends rave about the Beco Gemini and the Moby Wrap.  If you can, find a few different carriers to borrow from friends for a  “test drive”  before you choose one (some of the specialty baby stores also have several models you can try on in-store). Carriers all fit a bit differently and you will probably find some to be more comfortable (and, thus, more useful) than others.

Stroller and Carseat Accessories (Nice to have, new or used)
There are lots of accessories you can buy for your stroller and car seat. While none of them are totally necessary, they do make life easier. Some of my personal favorites are  a stroller cup holder, diaper bag clips (to hold the diaper bag when you run out of storage underneath the stroller), a stroller weather shield (necessary for keeping baby dry outside on 90% of our Seattle walks), a bundle me (necessary for keeping baby dry during 90% of our Seattle walks), and a carseat canopy. You can usually get a promo code for a free carseat canopy from the advertisement section in the back of Parents Magazine to use on http://www.carseatcanopy.com/ You just have to pay shipping ($8.99) making this a pretty decent deal.

Vehicle (High Priority, new or used)
We had a Jetta sedan when David was born. We outgrew it in about 2 seconds. Yes, babies are small, but they always need a whole lot of STUFF. And the dang car seats are so big you can hardly fit another full-size person in the car once they’re installed. When we started talking about having a second baby, we knew our little Jetta wasn’t going to cut it any more. We upgraded to a Honda Pilot 2 weeks before I found out I was pregnant with Jacob and we LOOOOOOOOOOOVE it! You don’t need a huge car or an over-sized SUV with a baby, but be warned: whatever vehicle you are comfortable in now is about to become cramped and very UNcomfortable once baby joins you!


Sleeping

Crib (Must Have, new or used)
Your baby has to sleep somewhere, so you’ve got to buy a crib. Again, this is an area where you could spend a LOT of money, but it’s not necessary. The main thing to keep in mind with a crib is safety. The space between the crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8″ (about the width of a pop can) and it should not have a drop-side. If you have a chance to see the crib assembled in person, give it a good shake to see how sturdy it feels. Your newborn will sleep peacefully in a little ball wherever you place it, but soon that infant will grow to be a toddler who is standing up and shaking that crib like a caged monkey. As long as you can find a crib that meets basic safety specs, go ahead and get a used one or an inexpensive new crib (I don’t recommend borrowing a crib because it seems like everyone I know who has ever done that ended up having to give it back to the original owners for THEIR new baby before they were ready to relinquish the borrowed crib).

Portable Crib (Pac-N-Play) (High Priority, new or used)
We use our Pac-n-Play quite often. It’s where our new babies sleep next to my bed before we move them into the nursery and it’s what we use whenever we travel. I know a lot of people who use their pac-n-play as a napping space downstairs when the baby’s room is upstairs. We don’t use it every day, but it is sure handy to have one when you need it. Costco actually sells a nice basic model Pac-n-Play for about $50, which is about the same price as a clean used one sells for on Craigslist.

Swaddling Blankets and Sleepers (Must have, new)
New babies need to be swaddled when they’re sleeping. In my sleep-deprived middle of the night fumblings, I could never figure out how to properly swaddle a flailing baby, so I relied on the SwaddleMe for the first few months with each boy. If you want to go for a real blanket, though, don’t buy a standard receiving blanket or swaddling blanket from the baby store–they’re never big enough or stretchy enough to work properly.  Though I don’t have one, I love the over-size muslin swaddling blankets made by Aden and Anais. After the first 3 months or so, baby doesn’t need to be swaddled, but you still shouldn’t cover your baby with a blanket (it’s a SIDs risk). We use Halo Sleep Sacks, and having about 3 per size seems to be sufficient.

Baby Monitor (High Priority, new or used)
This is yet another category where you could spend a LOT of money. You can buy fancy video monitors with iPhone apps so you can watch your baby sleeping from half-way around the world. While this sounds neat, it’s not necessary. In fact, we have a friend with one of those fancy video monitors that allows you to watch baby sleeping from half-way around the world. Our friend’s mom watches the monitor feed like it’s cable television programming. Grandma will call her in the middle of the night to inform her that her baby is awake (“Yes, Mom, I know. I’m walking up the stairs now.”). We had a very cheap monitor that we ended up hating because we were picking up signals from our neighbor’s house and could hear inside their baby’s room (which makes me think they could hear inside MY baby’s room. Creepy). We have a new monitor now that was inexpensive and works well (and, best of all, it’s a closed circuit so we’re the only ones who can hear what’s happening on the monitor!). The monitor we have now is made by ** Samsung and it’s great. In all truth, though, I only use the monitor about 20% of the time now, because I just don’t want to hear all of the little sounds Jacob is making. If he’s really crying I can hear him just fine without the monitor, so I really wouldn’t spend a lot of money here.

Feeding

Breast Pump (Must Have, new)
Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby, so if you’re at all skeptical about it, just give it a try. Even though I don’t work out of the home, it’s useful to have a breast pump for those nights when baby actually sleeps through the night and you don’t want to wake him to have him empty your engorged boobs. It’s also useful if you ever want to have a date alone with your husband and baby needs to eat while you’re away. I have a simple Medela manual breast pump and it works perfectly for my usage. If you spend more time away from your baby, though (like if you work outside the home), you’ll want a nicer electric breast pump (which you can also rent from a hospital, but my understanding is that it ends up costing about the same to just buy your own). Always buy your breast pump new because there’s something about cross-contamination of breast milk that can be harmful to your baby.

Extra Bottles and/or Breast Milk Storage Bags(High priority, new)
It’s a good idea to have extra storage space for your breast milk. Breast milk can be frozen for up to 6 months and you can even make baby food with breast milk, so it’s nice to have a little supply on hand in your freezer.

High Chair (Must have, new or repurpose)
Unless you want to hold a squirmy toddler on your lap at every meal, you need to have a high chair. We just have a space-saver chair that sits on top of our dining chair at the table. It was about $30 and it’s worked fine for the last 2 years. We also have a ** portable booster seat that I got at a consignment sale for about $10.  We use it any time we eat over at a friend’s house or travel out of town. Now that Jacob is about to start eating solids, we’ll use the portable booster seat as David’s chair at our table at home and let Jacob sit in the high chair.

Nursing Pillow (Nice to have, new or used)
It’s nice to have somewhere to lay baby while you’re feeding him and I find that I’m more comfortable having the boost of a pillow. Regular pillows that you have at home work fine, but I like having a nursing pillow during feedings. Nursing pillows also make great places for baby to rest during tummy time. I had a Boppy and a Brest Friend, and I prefer the Brest Friend. It snaps on so you can move around while “wearing” it. It’s also nice and firm so baby doesn’t get lost in the pillow.

Baby Bullet  (Nice to have; new, used or borrow)
I make all of my own baby food. Here’s my reasoning. It’s cheap (I can make 20 servings of rice cereal for about 50 cents), it’s really not that difficult, it’s healthy (100% fresh with no preservatives) and it exposes my baby to the exact same foods that I’m eating so he’ll start developing a taste for my wonderful cooking early on 🙂 I’m not opposed to pre-made baby food–I still use pouches and puffs from the store for snacks–but I use that stuff as a supplement to the homemade stuff. I use the Baby Bullet to puree all of my baby food, but you could really use any standard blender or a food mill just as well. If you’re not sure you want to commit to making all of your baby’s food, just try using a blender you already have and see how you like it.

Bibs and Burp Cloths (Must have, new)
While baby is still on milk, you’ll want to have some good absorbent burp cloths on hand. My babies aren’t big spitter-uppers, so we only need about 5. If your baby likes to up-chuck after every meal, though, you’ll want a supply of at least a dozen. Your burp cloths don’t have to be cute, just make sure they can soak up a lot of liquid without making a big mess. We also lay down a clean burp cloth over our changing table so when we change a blow-out diaper (which happens at least once a day in our house) it doesn’t get the whole changing pad dirty. We can just toss the dirty cloth into the laundry and lay down another clean one for the next change.
Once your baby starts eating solids, you’ll need somewhere to catch all of their messes. And if your kids are anything like mine, there are LOTS of messes (in fact, some meals I think more food ends up on the bib than in my kid’s mouth). Far and away my favorite bib is the **Bjorn soft bib.  It’s spendy for a bib (about $10 per bib) but we use them multiple times every day and they work like a trough to catch everything from chewed up chicken to spilled milk. You can also toss them in the dishwasher. They’re fantastic, and I think every baby should have at least one.

Feeding Utensils (Must have, new or used)
You’ll want about 5 of each of the following: plastic plates, plastic bowls, plastic spoons, plastic forks. You’ll also need a range of sippy cups–I find that you just have to buy a bunch of different cups and see what works for your kid at each stage of their drinking capability.  David destroys any cup that is not enirely made of hard plastic, so that’s what we have now. We also have some small plastic cups (not sippy cups) that we try to use any time we’re at home and can adequately deal with spills. It’s also handy to have a nice pair of kitchen shears. We use them to cut up all of our toddler food into small pieces. The shears make quick work of cutting everything from chicken to spaghetti noodles.

Clothing
I’ll do this section a bit differently. For each section I’ll just say how many I think you need in each size. I do laundry 4-5 times a week now (yes, it’s ridiculous) so adjust these numbers if you don’t do your laundry as often and need to have more clothing in stock. I have borrowed, bought used, or received as gifts just about every article of clothing that my children wear. While it’s fun to go shopping for baby clothes, it’s really not worth spending much money on them because they usually grow out of them within a few weeks of starting to wear them.

Jammies- 4-5 pairs per size; I like the foot-less sleep gowns for newborns (makes middle of the night diaper changes oh-so-easy) and footie jammies with a ZIPPER from 3 months on (snaps annoy me to no end).

Onesies- 10-20 per size; I usually go through 3-4 onesies per day (everything gets very dirty when you have a pooping, spitting, flailing baby). Get some that are short-sleeved and some that are long-sleeved. I usually have my babies wear them alone, but they also make great layering pieces if you have cute shrits, vests, jackets, etc. that you want your baby to wear.

Pants- 5 pairs per size. Make sure they’re comfy for baby and easy to get on and off (read: elastic waist bands). If they have animal faces on the feet or tushie, that’s also a plus.

Foot Coverings- 5-10 pairs of socks per size. Once baby starts crawling and pulling up to standing I like having Robeez leather baby booties (although, I still try to have my babies go barefoot or sock-foot as much as possible because it’s best for their foot development). Once baby starts walking, I like Stride Rite shoes (they’re made to support baby’s foot development).

Other– You’ll need some seasonal accessories: a warm hat, coat, and mittens for the winter and a sun hat for the summer. If you plan on going swimming with your baby you’ll need a swimsuit and swim diapers.

Diapering

Changing Table (Must Have, used or repurposed)
It’s handy to have somewhere to change those thousands of diapers. We got a used changing table from a friend with older children. We also put a changing pad on the top of David’s dresser to use as a second changing table.

Diaper Bag (Must Have; new, used or repurposed)
You can get any diaper bag you want. Some features that I have found to be most useful: A top that zippers shut or velcro-closes completely, large pockets on the side (big enough to hold my water bottle), a small zippered pocket to hold your keys and cell phone, ample storage space inside the bag itself, pouches to hold diapers and wipes, backpack straps for carrying the bag. And, above all else, it needs to be durable. After all, you’re going to cart that thing around with you everywhere you go for the next 2+ years.  I also use my diaper bag as my purse anytime I have the kids with me (which is basically all the time), so I like it to have space for my wallet and other purse essentials. I had a standard diaper bag from Babies R Us with David, and it broke after about a year (all the zippers came off, it got holes in it, the fabric was fading). So, I splurged and bought a Petunia Pickle Bottom bag. It was ridiculously expensive, but it’s cute and durable and I love it. And the resale value is excellent if I ever reach the day when I have no more children in diapers. You could also just use any old bag or backpack you have lying around your house. Do what works for you!

Diapers and Wipes (Must Have, new)
Cloth or disposable, that is the question. Moms seem to get very passionate about their diapering choice. I say, if you want to use disposables, use disposables. If you want to use cloth, use cloth. Done. I can’t fathom doing one more load of laundry than I already have to do in the week so, for me, it’s disposables all the way. Whatever your choice, just make sure you always have about a week’s supply of diapers and wipes on hand. You don’t want to run out in the middle of the night and have to wake up your husband for a midnight run to the drugstore to buy more.

Diaper Pail (High Priority, new or used)
You can use a trash can for dirty diapers, but they do get rather stinky if you don’t take them out after each change. We had a Diaper Genie with David, but the refill “bags” were insanely expensive for a plastic sleeve that holds poop. Now we have a **Baby Trend Diaper Champ that uses standard trash bags instead of expensive refills. It works great for Jacob’s diapers, but David’s more rancid diapers still get stinky in it. Still, though, I can take empty the diaper pail every couple of days and it’s no big deal.

Bathing/Grooming/Health

Baby Bathtub (High Priority, used or borrow)
You can wash a baby in your kitchen sink (I’ve done it), but those little buggers get pretty slippery when you lather them up with soap. I like having a baby bathtub with an infant sling for when they’re super-tiny. As soon as the baby can sit up independently, he can sit in the regular bathtub. We also take our babies in the showers with us pretty frequently and they love splashing in the “rain”. You really don’t use a baby tub for very long, though, and they take up a lot of storage space after you’re done using them. For this reason, borrow a tub from a friend or buy one used.

Baby Shampoo (Must have, new)
Buy an all-in-ne baby shampooo (soap and shampoo) that is tear-free. Burt’s Bees and Johnson’s (the purple one) smell really nice.

Towels  (Must have, new or used)
Get 2 baby towels that are nice and soft. And a couple of wash cloths are handy, too.

Nail Clippers (Must have, new)
Newborns usually have long fingernails when they’re born. They need to be trimmed because babies always seem to be clawing at their faces, but clippers don’t work at first (the nails are too soft). I just use my teeth to chew away at the nails for the first few weeks (a bit gross, but it works well and you don’t accidentally cut your new baby, which is terrifying). Once the nails are a bit more solid, you can use small nail clippers to do the job.

Medicine (Must have, new)
It’s a good idea to have some infant Tylenol with a syringe dispenser on hand in case you ever need it. Also, if you have a baby boy that you know you’ll be circumcising, have a tube or 2 of Bacitracin on hand to help with the healing.

Thermometer (Must have, new)
Babies can’t tell you how they’re feeling, so there are times you have to analyze their vitals for clues. A rectal thermometer is the most accurate. I don’t like sticking probes up my baby’s bum, however, so I usually start with an infrared forehead thermometer. If I get questionable results off that, I’ll move on to the more-accurate rectal for the official read that I can relay to the doctor.

Nasal Aspirator (Must have, new)
I have a **Nose Frida (a “snot sucker”) that works amazingly well. You just put one end on the baby’s nose, and suck through a tube to dislodge all the gunk in baby’s nose. There’s a filter in the Nose Frida so nothing goes anywhere near your mouth while you’re sucking, but it does make a gross sound as you suck out the snot. When baby is sick or stuffed up, this thing is a miracle worker!

Toothbrush (Must have, new)
To be honest, I never even thought about getting a toothbrush for a baby. They don’t have any teeth. But then a friend of ours who is a dental hygenist gave us a cute little toothbrush set for David’s baby shower. Turns out, even babies without teeth need their gums “brushed”. And once those pesky little teeth start poking through baby’s gums, you’ll need to brush those every day, too. We like this set by Nuk.

Toys/Entertainment

Infant Swing (High priority, used or borrow)
Every baby has different preferences, so some may love the swing and others may hate it.David loved his infant swing and, in fact, it was the only place he would consistently sleep for the first 3 months of his life. Jacob actually got upset every time we put him in the swing. You won’t use the swing for very long and they take up a lot of space to store, so if at all possible find one to borrow (this is what we did with each of our babies). If you use a swing, find one that plugs in to a wall for power and that has different speeds you can select. I also prefer the papasan-style for baby swings.

Jumperoo/ExerSaucer (High priority, used or borrow)
I’ve never met a baby who didn’t like their jumperoo. And I’ve never met a parent who didn’t like having a place to set their baby down where they would be safe and perfectly content for hours on end. As with the swing, though, there’s a relatively short time that baby actually uses the jumper or exersaucer and they’re quite large to store. Borrow from a friend if you can. We like the **Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo–it’s good-quality, highly entertaining for baby, and folds up easily for moving or storage.

Infant Seats (Nice to have, used or borrow)
It’s nice having a place for baby to sit before he can sit, stand, or move on his own. We like having a Bumbo and an **infant bouncer (find one that’s easy to bounce with one hand or foot. If it folds flat for storage, that’s a great feature to have.).

Toys (High Priority; new, used or borrowed)
Babies will play with anything. A plastic cup with a straw can be endlessly entertaining to a 6-month old. Find some simple, durable toys for your baby that don’t make obnoxious noises (balls, shakers, soft toys that crinkle). David’s absolute favorite toy of all time is his “lovey” Mimi, a stuffed monkey made by **Jellycat. I love the Jellcat toys so much that I just bought Jacob their stuffed giraffe for Christmas.  It’s also nice to have a soft toy that attaches to baby’s car seat or stroller to keep him entertained while you’re out and about. Lamaze makes some that both David and Jacob enjoy. Really, though, everyone else will buy your baby toys so you probably don’t need to run out and buy out the toy store just yet!

Books (Must have; new, used, or borrowed)
As a former first grade teacher, I feel it’s my duty to inform you that it’s never too early to start learning or start reading! One of the single best things you can do for your child’s future success in school is to read. Read to them, read with them, read by yourself and just let them watch you making it a priority. Really, just read! Soft books and board books are good for babies because they can throw them, chew them, mash them with a hammer and they’ll survive the abuse. I also love borrowing books from the library. You can check out board books by the bag-full at your local library to keep things new and interesting for your budding reader.
Another thing I’ve bee doing lately is making my own books. There are so many places that make photo books now, and with coupons I can usually get a custom book shipped to my door for about $10. I’ve made a book with photos of David doing our daily routine called “David’s Busy Day” and another one with all of our family members and text that tells about them. For a younger baby, you could also print out photos, glue them onto paper and write one word or sentence about the photo on each page. Then take your pages to an office store like Staples or Office Max to have the pages laminated and binded in-store.

For The New Mom
Here are a few items you should have on hand for yourself before you bring home that new bundle of joy.

Food
You likely won’t be cooking for a couple of weeks, so make arrangements for meals ahead of time. Cook and freeze meals, find friends to bring you food, train your husband to cook, or set aside the phone numbers for your favorite delivery restaurants.

Maxi Pads
Get at least one large package of overnight (super-absorbent) maxi pads for your postpartum blood flow. No tampons, just the pads.

Nursing Pads
You can get reusable or disposable nursing pads to wear in your bra to avoid milk leakage. I like the Johnson’s disposable nursing pads.

Nipple Cream
For the first couple of weeks you’re breastfeeding. I like Lansinoh Lanolin.

Comfort Items for Late Night Feedings
You’ll be spending about 8-12 hours a day breastfeeding during the first couple of weeks, so it’s nice to have some comfort items ready for all of those feedings. Make sure you always have a full water bottle handy (nursing makes you THIRSTY!). My favorite is the **Camelbak water bottle with bite valve–it’s easy to use one-handed and never spills. I have one of those bad boys planted in every room of my house so my water is never out of reach!
I also like having an iPod or my iPhone handy during feedings so I can read, respond to e-mails, watch a movie, browse the internet, etc.

Nursing Wear
Find what’s comfortable for you. I actually don’t like nursing bras, so I always just wear a normal bra that I can pull down easily or a nursing tank. I like the nursing tanks best because they cover my mid-section when I lift up my shirt to nurse. Also have some nice, comfy shirts that are easy to either lift up or pull down for access to the milk-makers. And, even though it’s not technically nursing wear, make sure you have some nice comfy pants. When you come home from the hospital you still have a belly the same size as your 6-months-pregnant self. So invest in some elastic waistbands for yourself, and maybe a pair or 2 of jeans that are a couple sizes bigger than you wore pre-pregnancy (because you’ll be SICK of your maternity clothes by the time you have the baby, but you won’t fit into your pre-baby clothes. For awhile. Maybe a very long while. It’s sad, but true. Call it your miracle belly if it makes you feel better!)

Things To Do With Your New Baby
Here are a few activities that I enjoyed doing with my baby during the first year. It’s good for baby to get out there and socialize. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s good for YOU to get out there and connect with other moms! It’s so reassuring to have other people who are in the same boat as you who you can share this journey of new-motherhood with!

Play Groups
Look for formal or informal play groups that meet in your community. This could just be you and some of your friends who get together each week for a walk with your babies (this is what I do!) or you can search for a group on http://www.meetup.com that meets in your neighborhood.

**Story Time
I took David to story time at our local library every week from the time he was 3 months old until Jacob was born. It’s a great free program that involves reading, singing and playing. Just about every library I’ve ever seen has some sort of baby or toddler story time program. I loved going each week for fun and making new friends. They also have story time at most book stores, they just aren’t as elaborate (however, I do enjoy the story time at University Bookstore because they give out free Top Pot donuts to the little guys).

**Stroller Strides
This is a new one for me. Stroller Strides is a fitness class for moms that you bring your baby to in his stroller. It’s really a great workout and they make the whole class fun for the babies. It’s very social and the other moms are friendly and health-focused. There are hundreds of Stroller Stride classes that meet all over the country every day of the week. Stroller Strides requires a membership and monthly dues, but I think health and sanity are worth spending a bit of money on!

Parks and Rec Classes
The Parks and Rec department in your city will offer a number of classes geared toward babies and toddlers. These classes may include music, dance, art, and even foreign languages. I’ve never actually done one of these classes, but they always look like so much fun in the brochures!

Swimming Lessons
We took David to his first swimming lessons when he was 6 months old. He loved splashing around in the water and we loved that our baby was getting exposed to water in a positive way so he’ll (hopefully) be comfortable being around water and swimming alone in water when he’s old enough. We did our swimming lessons at the YMCA and they were very reasonably priced.

Alright, folks, I think that’s it. Overwhelmed yet? In the end, a baby really doesn’t need that much. Get the basics, don’t stress about it, and know that grandma and grandpa will always fill in the gaps 🙂 Of course, the most important thing you can give your baby is your love–and that doesn’t cost a penny or require a minute of your time to research.

I’d love to hear what your favorite products and activities are. Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add to this list!