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😉

10 Confessions of a Homeschool Mom

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This year we embarked on one of our most monumental adventures to date: homeschool. Many aspects of our daily life have changed, and almost every area of our family life has been impacted in one way or another by this decision. It’s been a huge adjustment for our family–and by family, I mean ME. Because ME had to give up solo runs while the boys were at preschool. Because ME had to re-learn how to take kids to the grocery store. Because ME had to spend time on the weekends planning for the week ahead. Because ME had to change.

Homeschooling these last few months has been a learning curve and a glimpse into a new world for me. I’d always wondered a bit about those crazy women who decided to educate their own kids–how on EARTH did they do it? And WHY on earth would they do it? Now that I’m (proudly) one of those crazy homeschool moms, I have a few observations to share with you. While these observations stem from my own very limited experience, I know many other homeschool moms who would agree with me on these points.

I now present to you: 10 confessions of a homeschool mom

1. Every family homeschools for a different reason
The reasons why a family chooses to homeschool are as varied as the families themselves. Some families homeschool for academic reasons, some for religious reasons, some for flexibility in their schedule, and some for behavioral/social reasons. Our decision to homeschool this year was based upon a bit of each of these.

I wanted David (who started this school year as an almost-5 year old) to have one more year in a less-structured, less-academic learning environment. David is a very active boy and I wanted him to have freedom to move and learn by doing–and have lots of time each day for play and exploration. I wanted him to have a Christ-centered education and to study the Bible. I wanted to be able to take random vacations and take time off school when we had visitors in town. I wanted the ability to adjust his school schedule to meet our family’s needs (Jon’s job requires lots of late nights, so starting the traditional school day at 8:00 every morning would require an early bedtime, and thus missed opportunities to spend time with Dad every day).

2. You do not have to be a teacher to teach
I have a background in teaching and spent my pre-motherhood years teaching in both public and private schools. While this may seem like an advantage for homeschooling, it’s actually been a bit of a detriment. I’ve spent most of the last few months un-learning many of the methods and approaches I used to employ in the classroom. Homeschool is a different kind of school, and it requires a different approach. As it turns out, love and commitment to your child’s learning is the most important “credential” for a homeschool teacher. This sums it up pretty well:

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3. Homeschool days are short and sweet
In a traditional school there is a lot of busy work and transition time–that’s just what happens when you have to pace 20 children throughout the day. At home, however, you can just do what you need to do for your kids and be done with it. We usually spend about 1.5-3 hours per day “doing school”. That’s it. This frees up lots of time to pursue other interests each day, which I love.

4. Homeschool can be both highly social AND incredibly isolating
…and most days it is both. Between homeschool co-ops, field trips, park days, church activities, clubs, and sports many homeschoolers spend the majority of their time “socializing” with the outside world. On the other hand, much of your time as a homeschooler is still spent at home “doing school” with the same people you eat, sleep, and breathe with the rest of your life. There are times where I feel like I just need some downtime at home to get a break from all the activities…and there are other times where I feel an undeniable urge to get out of the house and be with people (People who are not my kids. Specifically, grown ups.).

5. Homeschoolers know they are different
While homeschooling is the fastest-growing form of education in America, it is still not the most common choice. When I tell people that we’re homeschooling I get a lot of mixed reactions. Many people are supportive of our choice, but others are confused by it or disapprove altogether. When we are out in public during “school time” I am often thankful that my kids are still young enough to not get too many quizzical stares or questions from bystanders wondering what they’re doing out of a classroom–and I wonder what it’s like for homeschooling moms with older kids or teens who are out and about during the day. We know that we are different, and we kind of like it that way!

6. You are not in this alone
One of the things I was most concerned about when we decided to homeschool this year was that I would be all alone trying to figure this whole homeschool thing out. Not the case. Not at all. There are vast support networks for homeschool families and seemingly limitless resources. I have found a great community of homeschool families that have walked alongside me and encouraged me this year. I have felt many things during my first year of homeschooling, but solo has not been one of them.

7. Some of the greatest benefits of homeschooling have nothing to do with school
As I mentioned earlier, we had many different reasons for homeschooling this year. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were some of the positive by-products of our decision. For instance, this year I have seen my boys’ sibling relationship grow closer as they have been learning and collaborating together. Our family has been more relaxed without rushed mornings or curricular commitments. We play together every day. We spend lots of time outside. We can wear super-hero costumes or our pajamas all day (Let’s be honest–I’m 8-months pregnant and I hardly ever wear not-pajamas any more. It’s a win-win.).

8. Homeschool moms need a break, too
There is no shame in driving to the gym just so you can take advantage of the free childcare. Catching up on Facebook while you mosey along a treadmill is totally legit, right?

9. Homeschool is not for everyone
Just because I have made the decision to homeschool, I do not look down on other people for making different education choices. There are huge advantages to other forms of education, and I truly believe that each family needs to do what is right for them and their kids. I never thought I would homeschool because I didn’t think it would ever be the right choice for us, yet here we are. Each child and each parent and each season in a family’s life is unique. Just as traditional school was not the right approach for us this year, homeschool may not be the right approach for your family this year (or ever!). I’m cool with that.

10. Sometimes homeschool moms want to quit
Being with your own kids 24/7–and trying to get them to learn something every day–is exhausting. There is endless work, there are defiant children (who sometimes just don’t want to learn), there are sibling spats to work through, there are household chores that still need to be done…and it’s enough to make us want to give up. Every single homeschool mom I know has days when she wants to quit. But you know what? Those days are balanced out by a thousand other days where we feel accomplished and proud and awed by the whole experience. And that’s really the whole reason we’re doing this in the first place.

My first year as a homeschool mom has been a crazy, incredible journey and I’m so thankful to be on it with my kids. It’s been a growing experience for all of us, in the best way possible. I don’t know how long we’ll be on this journey together, so I’m trying to embrace it for what it is and enjoy the time we have here–however long that will be!

And now that you know all of my secrets, give me a hug next time you see me–or at least a firm reprimand to get out of my pajamas before noon.

 

Preparing For Baby: #1 versus #3

Jessie's photo shoot 002When a new baby enters the scene there is no shortage of preparation that must be done: the research, the planning, the buying of absolutely necessary tiny things. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. What I have found is that the level and extent of preparation for a new baby is directly (negatively) proportional to the number of children you already have under your care.

Right now we are awaiting baby #3’s imminent arrival, and the contrast between our “preparation” this time around versus when our first baby was born is stark. Here are a few of the standout differences:

Time spent preparing:
Baby #1: From the moment I saw our positive pregnancy test until his birth, I spent some time approximately every waking moment preparing or thinking about preparing for our first baby’s birth.

Baby #3: You may not even remember you’re pregnant until your water breaks. We’ve been so busy lately with work and school and travel and holidays that I nearly forgot WE’RE HAVING A BABY in a few weeks. I went so far as to make an actual entry into my Google calendar this week that said “nesting”. Better late than never.

Critical Research
Baby #1: I researched circumcision doctors.

Baby #3: I researched headbands.

Birth Classes
Baby #1: We went to not one, but THREE sets of birth classes when I was pregnant with baby #1. The first class was this kooky meditation-type class that had us personify our hormones that would be present during labor and delivery and paint pictures of our anticipated birth journey (true story). We made it through approximately 3/4 of one class before we were running for the hills. Birth class #2 was hosted by a hospital and provided lots of practical information like how to change a diaper and not kill your baby (in that order). Birth class #3 was a series of mini-lectures hosted by our midwives that outlined how to have a successful (most likely pain-free) all-natural birth.

Baby #3: Here’s the only lesson you need to learn before you have a baby: just go with it. In the throes of labor there will be no breathing technique or meditation that will save you from a 48-hour labor that won’t progress past 8 cm and a baby with a cord wrapped around his neck. Birth is crazy and awkward and painful and full of unanticipated surprises. Just go with it. It’s good preparation for the next stage that lies ahead: parenthood.

Required Reading
Baby #1: I could start my own traveling library with the number of books I read leading up to the birth of our first child: Books about what to expect and what to think and what to buy. Books, books, books.

Baby #3: I have an app on my phone that reminds me when I have an OB appointment. It’s called my calendar.

Pregnancy Diet
Baby #1: Eat a rainbow of vegetables every day. Avoid cold lunchmeat and soft cheeses. No caffeine. No refined sugar. Healthy fats in moderation. Remember to take your vitamins and midwife-prescribed supplements. Small meals spread out throughout the day to eliminate heartburn.

Baby #3: Pizza, cheeseburgers, and the entire bakery, please.

Rest
Baby #1: I would come home from work every day at about 4:30 and take a little nap before dinner. After dinner I’d relax for a couple of hours before going to bed at a reasonable hour. On the weekends I’d sleep in until I felt good and ready to start my day. After all, I needed to conserve my energy for the baby.

Baby #3: I remember sleep! I love sleep! I want sleep. Alas, I have two highly-energetic little boys who are solely under my care for 10-12 hours a day. They don’t nap, and they don’t approve of the notion of me napping either. Actually, they’d probably love it if I took a nap…then they could finally find out what happens when you run with scissors or color with Sharpie markers on the living room walls.

Setting Up The Nursery
Baby #1: Four months before his arrival, we had the nursery painted, decorated, and stocked with necessities. I hung sweet decals on the walls and crafted hand-made mobiles. It was gorgeous.

Baby #3: Technically, she has a room. It’s currently being used as a guest room/playroom/storage space for all the crap we can’t figure out a better place for. I think we have a Pac ‘n Play in one of our closets that I can set up next to my bed for the short-term. I’ll also buy a box of diapers and wipes the next time I go to Costco.

Medical Decisions
Baby #1: I planned an all-natural out-of-hospital birth with midwives. I wanted ZERO medical intervention. In the unlikely event that it became necessary for me to transfer to a hospital (shudder), I had a detailed birth plan ready to hand over to the insolent doctors who might try to pressure me into something drastic. Like pain medication.

Baby #3: Scheduled C-Section, baby! Not only am I willing to go to a hospital with an actual licensed doctor, but I am thrilled at the idea. I may even do my hair and paint my nails for the occasion.

Emotions
Baby #1: I couldn’t wait to be a mom. My heart swelled every time I thought about this new little person who I already loved but had never met.

Baby #3: I can’t wait to be a mom again. My heart swells every time I think about this new little person who I already love but have never met.

Four more weeks, darling. I’ll be ready!

 

 

The Big Truth I Learned In 2015

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At this time of year I typically spend some time reflecting on the past 12 months. Some years are full of happy memories and hope and promise. Other years are full of shattered dreams and disappointment and the twinge of loss. And other years–like my 2015–are a chaotic mix of the two. 2015 has been one of the most challenging, heart-breaking, life-changing years of my life…and, yet, it’s also been filled with more hope and joy and grace than ever before.

My take away this year? The one big truth that I learned? God is faithful. Time and time again this year I have seen God keep his promises and remain unchanging in His love and care for me. Through both the hope and the disappointment, through the promise and the shattered dreams, through the joy and the hurt: God is faithful.

2015 began on unsteady feet and my whole world flipped upside down when we discovered in late-January that we would inevitably miscarry what would have been our third child. We’d only learned about the baby a few weeks before, on Christmas Eve, and the hope and joy we’d entered the year with was quickly replaced with fear and heartache.

The pain I felt during those first few months of 2015 was so real and so deep that I didn’t think it would ever go away. Truth be told, it probably won’t ever go away–not completely. Yet things have gotten better and, through it all, a resounding truth has sustained me: God is faithful.

I knew God’s faithfulness each time I was spoken to with love and truth from His Word, friends, family…even strangers who came alongside me in support. I knew His faithfulness each time I looked at my boys and relished in the vivacity of their lives. I knew His faithfulness when I observed new flowers blooming in the spring, bounding forth as new creations after the dark, cold days of winter. I knew His faithfulness when, in early summer, we discovered that we would be blessed again with a baby. Through some of the darkest, coldest days of my life His light never dimmed. God is faithful.

I witnessed God’s faithfulness again in August when we were forced to move out of our comfortable and still-new-to-us home at seemingly a moment’s notice. Granted, the circumstances were highly unusual–our landlord had been murdered (What the what?!?!) and his family had to sell the house–but I took the whole transaction very personally.

We had literally moved halfway around the world and had just begun to settle in to a new life in our community. Finding out that our home was being taken away from us after less than a year was frustrating and incredibly stressful (if you’ve ever tried to find a home–or two–in one of the most competitive real estate markets in the nation–while dragging two young children along with you to every open house within a 20-mile radius–then you totally get it). I began to question our very existence in this land of over-priced, unavailable housing. But then I was reminded: God is faithful.

As a last-ditch effort I put out a plea for housing to my local mommy running group’s Facebook page. Within a few hours I had gotten several responses from people vowing to help us find a house before our move-out deadline. By the end of the week we’d not only signed a lease on one of those houses, but we got it for below the budget we had set out to find. Add to that the fact that our neighbors are truly some of the most generous people I’ve ever met and our new community has embraced us with open arms. I feel like we hit the housing jackpot. My fears of homelessness and being uprooted from our home were replaced with amazement the moment we arrived at the place He had planned for us: home. God is faithful.

In September I experienced God’s faithfulness again when we finally settled on an education plan for the boys during this school year.  After months of considering our options and feeling unsettled about decisions that had already been made, we decided to scrap it all and try something completely different: homeschool. I had never wanted or planned to homeschool our children, but as soon as we made our decision I felt at peace.

Over these last few months as I’ve spent time teaching, learning, praying, and playing with my boys at our little “school” I have seen God work in amazing ways. The boys have shown a great interest and joy in learning, which basically fulfills my wildest teacher fantasies. Their relationships with each other, with us, and with God have grown deeper. The flexibility we have with our time and our schedule have positively impacted our family in so many ways. In the end, this decision that I had dreaded and attempted to escape has actually turned out wonderfully. God is faithful.

And there have been countless other times this year when God has proven his faithfulness in the ordinary moments of life.

Like that time when I was walking through a parking lot with both boys and a car backed out of their parking spot to within about an inch of my big toe before slamming on their brakes.

Or the time when I was having a particularly rough day and an unexpected care package arrived on my doorstep.

Or the time when our house in Washington just would NOT sell and we were paying overlapping rents in California and  I was sure our checkbook would never find it’s balance again–and we received a long-forgotten Irish tax refund in the mail.

Or that season when a beloved family member passed away and we were able to rekindle family traditions in her honor and pass them on to our children.

Or the hundreds of times when, out of the blue, one of my boys randomly professed his undying love for me or snuck in for a kiss or called me beautiful…and I knew I must be doing something right. Time and time again, God has shown His deep love for me through His faithfulness.

So, there you have it. My big lesson of 2015 is that God is, always and forever, faithful. Life will have its ups and downs and there will be times when nothing seems to be going my way, but that’s…life. Even during–maybe especially during–these hard times, I need to remember that I am not alone. God’s plans are always bigger and better than my own, and His big picture holds many more details than my sliver-of-the-picture that I can see.

As this year concludes and the next one begins, I hope that I can keep this truth close to my heart. For all of the challenges that this year has brought me, I am grateful. Grateful because the challenges have changed me, grateful because it has made me appreciate the not-so-obvious blessings in my life. I am grateful, because God is faithful.

And on that bombshell, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Family Road Trip Survivial 101

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Tomorrow we embark on what is probably the most iconic (and, might I add, stressful) of American past times: a family road trip. This particular road trip will take us from San Jose to Seattle: 900 miles, 16 road hours, and two winter mountain passes to navigate. Oh yeah, and we’re doing this with two young children, a dog, approximately 1 thousand Christmas presents, and a very pregnant lady. All I can say is, wish us luck.

We’ve been on our fair share of road trips in the last few years–in fact, I estimate that we’ve spent well over 100 hours road trippin’ this year alone. That being said, I’ve picked up a few tips that are helpful in making it through the whole ordeal in one pleasant little piece. Whether you’re planning a road trip this holiday season or thinking ahead to the warmer summer months, read on for my lesson in family road trip survival 101.

Is a road trip even worth it?
There are many benefits to a road trip that you can only get with a road trip. Taking in the scenery. Stopping at lovely and unusual places along the way. The ability to pack more gear than will fit in a carry on bag + personal item per person. Family bonding time (hahahahahahaha). Saving money (This one is real, especially as your family grows in size–on this particular trip we’ll save over $1000 in airfare…after you factor in the cost of gas and hotel stops during our drive).

Plan ahead
Even though we’ve driven this exact route half a dozen times before, I still spent several weeks planning for our upcoming road trip. I review my notes (yes, I take notes when we road trip) and write out an itinerary. I research lodging options and possible stopping points along our route (particularly those with McDondald’s playgrounds, Starbucks, and/or parks close to the highway). I check road conditions and pass reports in the days leading up to our departure.

It’s usually a bit overkill, but it sure does make me feel better knowing that I know something about what to expect (actually it just gives me a sense of control over a situation that will almost certainly spin out of control once we add the two young children and dog to the mix but, hey, whatever works.).

Vehicle maintenance
One of the worst/most memorable road trip experiences we had was driving back to California from Washington after Christmas in 2008. We had just crossed the border from Oregon into Northern California when our car started going crazy. Long story short, we broke down on a snowy road outside of a ho-dunk town in the middle of the night. It was quite the trial and, while the experience made for lots of interesting stories, it’s one I hope to never repeat.

Before we leave on a road trip we always make sure our adventure-pod (family car) is in full working order: oil change, air in tires (that’s another interesting story…), gas in tank (oh yeah, another good story on that one…), maintenance-required lights off. We also load the car with travel safety essentials like jumper cables, basic tools, a First Aid kit, an actual paper map (yes, there are still places on God’s green earth that do not get cell phone reception or sat nav), and snow chains (even if there’s only a remote chance we’ll encounter snow). We basically just adopt the boy scout motto: Be prepared.

 

Packing
In addition to your usual culprits (clothing, toiletries, and the like) you’ll want to pack some extra goodies for your road trip. Bring plenty of drinks and snacks to keep hungry husbands and little mouths happy (road trips are one time where I let my kids binge on their favorite fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers with very little interference from Health-Conscious Mommy).

Make essential items easily accessible: coats to throw on during pit stops, diaper bag (or a change of clothes for each person in your vehicle…you never know what surprises you may encounter whilst rolling down the open road. And while we’re at it, make sure a few plastic bags and a roll of paper towels are also within arm’s reach), your kid’s lovey, a blanket to throw on a child who nods off (please, Lord, PLEASE let them sleep…).

Entertainment
This is priority número uno when planning for a road trip with children. Thankfully both of our boys are old enough now to enjoy hour upon hour of movies and iPhone games (in fact, this exact scenario is their idea of heaven on earth), so that’s what we start with (*pro tip: make sure to bring plenty of chargers/batteries to keep those essential devices juiced up).

I also try to bring a few novel toys to introduce when they start getting squirrely (a quick trip to the dollar store is usually quite fruitful in this department), some favorite books, and a couple of beloved toys from home. I also love these paint with water books from Melissa and Doug. Perhaps when they’re older we’ll be able to play License Plates or Road Trip Bingo, but for now we stick with the basics.

P.S. If you’re traveling with a baby or a toddler, the only “entertainment” you’ll need is a set of earplugs or high-quality noise-canceling headphones for yourself. Bless.

Build anticipation
Talk up the road trip itself–not just the destination. Guess what kids? We’re going to drive in our comfy car and eat nummy snacks and watch cool movies! Won’t that be AWESOME?! And if you’re really good, we might even stop at MCDONALD’S for lunch!!! And we’ll get to stay in a hotel with a SWIMMING POOL! How much fun will that be?!

Just be sure to leave out the bummer parts about how they’ll be strapped into a car seat for seemingly endless hours and how Mommy and Daddy will become grumpy every time you hit traffic or hear incessant whining radiating from the back seat.

One final tip before we conclude: as always with children, expect the unexpected. No matter how much preparation you put in to your trip, no matter how well it is planned, unforeseen circumstances will arise. Bring your patience and a sense of humor, and the journey surely will be half of the adventure.

The Pros and Cons of Having Two Children Close In Age

Jacob week 1 - 0449As we quickly approach the birth of our third child (holy moly we’re in the single-digit countdown now–9 WEEKS TO GO!) I keep thinking about how this time around will be different from when our boys were born. David and Jacob were born 21 months apart and, now that they’re independent 5 and 3 1/2 year olds, I know that adding another baby to our family will be a completely different experience. I finally have the time and space to reflect on what that stage with two-under-the-age-of-two was like…and simultaneously panic about how it’s all about to change again.

You see, having two children close in age has many benefits. It also has many challenges. For instance:

Pro: you never leave the baby stage between children
The fact that one child is still in diapers (and possibly still nursing) by the time baby #2 arrives on the scene means that you never get complacent in a new (more simple) stage of life before it is disrupted again. You learn to thrive survive on a concoction of caffeine, adrenaline, and silent prayers. Another added bonus in those early years: at least one of your children, probably both of them, still nap: CHA-CHING!

Con: you never leave the baby stage between children
You basically live in a fog for 2 or 3 years and if it weren’t for smartphones and social media you probably wouldn’t have a single recollection of the whole experience. You forget what sleep is, you don’t even know what it’s like to eat a hot meal (let alone a meal where you can use both of your own hands to feed yourself), and your clothes constantly sport some sort of kid-splatter. You never leave the house without your giant diaper bag and double stroller–there is always so. Much. Stuff.

Pro: your children have similar age-appropriate interests
You never have to question if an activity or an outing will be appropriate for both children because, chances are, if it’s good for one of them, it will work for both of them. When they’re toddlers, you can still take both of them to Gymboree and toddler story time at the library–and they both actually enjoy it. When they’re older you can take them to little tikes soccer, and they’re in the same age group so you don’t have to wait around for multiple practices. If they’re like my boys, they LOVE having their sibling with them as the camaraderie helps ease the transition from “our things” to “their things”.

Con: your children have similar age-appropriate interests
You’ve seen Finding Nemo, right? Remember the seagulls? “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!…”

Pro: your kids can share clothes
Laundry multiplies exponentially with each child you add to your family. Thankfully, with kids close in age it’s never a huge concern if half of their clothes are still biding their time in dirty clothes purgatory: just grab an extra shirt or clean pair of pants out of their sibling’s drawer and call it good.

Con: your kids can share clothes
…but they don’t want to. They both want to wear the exact same thing errrrrrrrrrrry day. Oh, he’s wearing the green Ninja Turtle t-shirt? I want to wear the Ninja Turtle t-shirt! NOOOOOO! Not a BLUE one–the GREEN ONE!!!! And since you’re sanity is worth more than a $6 t-shirt from Target, you go out and buy another dang green Ninja Turtle t-shirt.

Pro: your kids will grow up and leave the nest at about the same time
Because of the timing of our boys’ birthdays, they will only be one year apart in school. So, when David is getting ready to graduate as a senior in high school, Jacob will be sending off his college applications. David will turn 18 and supposedly move out to begin his own adult life (at this point in my life it’s difficult for me to even imagine that this day will possibly even happen in the future, but I hear that this time does come…). Then, 12 short months later, Jacob will do the same. Which, if my math is correct, means that in just 13 years we will go from a household of three young children to a household with one independent teenager and two semi-free parents. Crazy.

Con: your kids will grow up and leave the nest at about the same time.
Although I kinda like the idea of my kids growing up and becoming independent adults, I actually can’t think about it for too long or my eyes start to perspire. My BABIES will GROW UP and they will LEAVE ME. I just can’t even.

For all the joys and all the trials of having two children close in age, I wouldn’t change a thing. Those early years were some of the most difficult and most rewarding years of my life, and I can’t wait to see what the years ahead will bring us. For better or worse.

 

 

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How To Not Suck At Disneyland With Young Children

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We just returned from one of our most epic family vacations ever: our first visit to Disneyland with children. And, although Jon and I have been to Disneyland several times before, this was our first time taking our kids (ages 3 and 5) with us.

I purposefully did not plan too much for this vacation because I knew that we were going at one of the worst times of the year (crowd-wise, anyway) and I just wanted to go with the flow since this would be the boys’ first visit. That being said, I picked up a few useful ideas during our time at The Happiest Place on Earth. Read on to see how to NOT suck at Disneyland when you’re bringing young children along for the ride.

Timing, timing, timing

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There are certain times of the year where the park is virtually empty (these dates usually align with when most students are in school). There are also certain times of the year where the park is so busy that they literally lock the gates once the park reaches full capacity (we chose to go during the latter).

Unless you enjoy waiting in obscenely long lines and losing sight of your children in a sea of people, choosing a not-so-busy time will probably be in your favor. Several websites keep track of crowd volume at Disneyland so you can plan your trip for a less-busy time of the year (I liked the crowd forecast predictor at isitpacked.com).

That being said, I did not take my own advice on this one. Jon had the whole week of Thanksgiving off work and we wanted to squeeze in a vacation before Christmas and baby arrive, so we decided to bite the bullet and go during one of the busiest weeks of the year. Knowing ahead of time that the park would be crowded, however, saved us a lot of headaches and gave us a proper perspective for what to expect!

Keep track of your stroller

strollersFirst of all, BRING A STROLLER. Even if your kids are bigger and don’t usually ride in a stroller any more, bring one if they can still possibly fit. Little legs still get tired of walking (and standing in lines), and sometimes it’s just nice to throw them in there and get to where you’re going without complaining/wailing/gnashing of teeth. Strollers are also a handy spot to spare jackets, snacks, sunscreen, extra water bottles…all those things you don’t necessarily want to lug around in a backpack.

There are literally thousands of strollers at Disneyland on any given day, which can make parking and locating YOUR stroller a bit of a puzzle. Especially when you go to the park at a particularly crowded time like we did and the Cast Members (Disney employees) will oh-so-“helpfully” “relocate” your stroller without your knowledge so they can make room for more strollers.

To help reduce the panic-inducing surprise of returning to retrieve a stroller that is no longer where you left it, make sure you always park in a designated stroller parking zone. You can also try using a “marker” to easily locate your stroller amongst the masses: tie a helium balloon to the stroller’s handlebars so you can spot it from a distance, and hang a family identification card on the back of the stroller so you’ll know which burnt orange Bob Duallie is yours (find some cute free printable Disney stroller tags here).
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Ask for helpCast_Member_2The Disney cast members want you to enjoy your magical experience. So, if you have a problem, seek one of them out. In my experience, they’ll do whatever they can to help you–whether it’s locating your “relocated” stroller or finding the nearest potty.

We had one experience where a cast member totally saved the day (or, at least, our sanity). We were about halfway through the line for Pirates of The Caribbean when both boys simultaneously announced that they had to go potty. NOW. I ducked out of line with the boys and ran to the nearest restroom while Jon kept our spot in line. Right before we returned, however, the line went inside a building and Jon had to step out of line to wait for us–and now the line had grown to over an hour-long wait. When I told a cast member at the entrance what had happened she ushered us to a separate entrance and allowed us to get right onto the ride. Hey, if you never ask, you may never get!

Get Fastpasses and Rider Switch Passes

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Most of the major rides at Disneyland have Fastpasses available. A Fastpass allows you to skip the regular line and go through a shorter Fastpass line, which can save you a lot of waiting. As soon as you arrive, get a Fastpass for the ride you want to go on most and, as soon as you are able to, get a second Fastpass for another ride you want to make sure you get on (the times for when you can use your Fastpass and when you can pick up another one will be printed on your Fastpass ticket).

Since only 2 out of the 4 of us could go on the Fastpass rides (Jacob was too short and I was too pregnant), I just got 4 Fastpasses to each ride so Jon and David could go twice in a row if they wanted to.

Related to the Fastpass is the Rider Switch Pass. If you have one or more children who are unable to ride on a Fastpass ride and one parent has to stay behind with the littles, you can request a Rider Switch Pass at the ride so that the other parent can return and go on the ride without waiting in line. We never actually did this since the other parent, me, couldn’t go on the Fastpass rides either–definitely worth remembering for next time, though!

Download the Disney app

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There is a free Disney app that we found really useful. The app showed real-time ride wait times, times and locations of character appearances, special events, and park maps.

There are also apps (and the Disney website) where you can purchase park tickets ahead of time to avoid additional lines at the ticket counter.

Bring snacks and water

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Let’s be honest: kids are just tiny snack monsters. They want to eat all day long–especially if there are tempting treats they can view in every snack kiosk and restaurant you pass. With a cup of grapes costing $6 inside the park, however, you may go broke before you fill those little tummies.

You are allowed to bring in any foods and beverages you want into the park, so pack up a cooler (or two) and save a buck (or 100). We brought granola bars, fresh fruit, Uncrustables sandwiches, crackers, fruit snacks, bottled water, juice boxes–even McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches and leftover Halloween candy. With their appetites (mostly) satiated, we were able to pass (most) food temptations without much of a fuss, allowing us to splurge for a few giant corn dogs and bags of sticky cotton candy.

Dress for the weather

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Southern California is not known for it’s terrible weather, but it is known for one thing: sunshine. Make sure to bring all of your sun gear (hats, sunglasses, sunscreen). No matter how hot it is during the day, however, nights can cool off dramatically. I was really glad that I brought warm jackets and long pants for us to change into in the evening so we could stick around for the nighttime parades and firework shows in comfort. Also, double-check the weather forecast before you leave home to see if you’ll need rain gear (precipitation  happen)–the last thing you want is to be walking around in a rain storm with your flip flops and sun visor!

Don’t go on the teacups

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Because they’ll make you puke. Oh, just me? Alrighty, then. Moving on.

Find lodging close to the park

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I’m usually the queen of finding obscure, affordable housing when we go on vacation. For this trip, however, I just wanted to be CLOSE. I knew that we would have long days at the park and we’d be toting around a lot of gear, so I wanted a hotel that was close enough for us to just walk to the park and not have to deal with traffic or parking.

We stayed right across the street from Disneyland at the Howard Johnson on Harbor Boulevard and it was perfect. Our room had a Queen-size bed for Mom and Dad, and bunk beds for the boys. As a bonus, there was a water playground at the hotel with a pirate ship feature that doubled as a Disneyland fireworks vantage point.

Kids will be kids

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Kids are KIDS…even at Disneyland. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much fun you’re having, no matter how magical the place is…kids are still kids. They will melt down. They will throw fits. They will get tired and cranky and hot and cold and hungry. Just go with it. This, too, shall pass. And, unless you’re like me and you get some sort of sadistic enjoyment from documenting these moments on film, nobody will probably even remember the meltdowns.

Leave space
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I have a tendency to plan, plan, plan–especially when we’re going somewhere that will cost as much as a mortgage payment. Since this was our first time bringing the boys to Disneyland, however, I purposefully chose NOT to plan. I wanted to allow the kids to explore at their own pace and to do what they wanted to do without having to stick to some sort of prescribed schedule or optimal timeline.

As a result, some of my favorite moments on this trip came from allowing the kids their own space. They wanted to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride 3 times in a row, so we did. They wanted to leave early the first night and have some time to swim at the hotel, so we did. They wanted to skip the (truly mesmerizing) firework show and look at a Toy Story-inspired shop window for 20 straight minutes, so we did. This trip was about them, not us, so we let them take the lead.

Now go forth and embrace the magic–happy travels!