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 😉

Why Being A Grown Up Is Better Than Being A Kid

Earlier this week I was dealing with a crisis. David was lying on the floor shrieking because I was forcing him to put on pants before we left the house, or some other similar form of child-torture. I told him suck it up, kid, and we pulled up his pants anyway and left the house. And about five minutes later, another similar scene ensued and I realized what I’ve always known: being a kid is a tough job. You’ve got these “grown ups” who just like to boss you around and dictate your entire life–right on down to the pants you have to wear in public.

I remember being a kid and just wishing I could be old enough to finally call the shots. And, luck of all lucks, now I AM the grown up. I get to make the rules–not just for me, but also for my tiny minions. It’s a good gig. Actually, it’s a really good gig.

Being a grown up is better than being a kid because…

You get to say “because I told you so”–the sweetest 5-word phrase that will ever pass your lips.

You get to lick out the whole bowl when you’re baking brownies. You can also eat frosting right out of the jar and nobody’s going to stop you (I may or may not have eaten entire jars of frosting. Just because.)

You don’t have a curfew.

You are allowed to use real dishes and glasses at family gatherings.

You can decide for your own dang self if you’re going to eat your veggies.

You don’t have to deal with cliques…at least not as much. Among my grown-up friends I have a jet-setter, a prom queen, a book-nerd writer, a sorority sister/cheerleader, a former professional athlete, a Dungeon Master, an artist, a homeschooling mom, a songwriter, and a business leader. Tell me which high school would foster that group of friends?

You drive a car–the ultimate form of control.

You can wear a t-shirt out in a snow storm, and nobody’s going to yammer at you to put on a coat and a hat and gloves and some boots, for pete’s sake.

You can wipe your own bottom after using the toilet.

You don’t have to feel bad if somebody isn’t sharing their favorite toy with you. You can be as selfish as you want and just buy your own if you want it so bad.

You are expected to make your own decisions rather than having them dictated to you (like, deciding whether or not you will wear pants when you leave the house today…)

You don’t have to get “pokeys” every time you visit the doctor.

You’re tall enough to ride all of the cool rides.

You don’t have to do homework or take tests (even if your kids do test your patience every minute of every day).

You can order off the “real” menu when you go out to a restaurant.

When you wear mismatched outfits that don’t make any sense, people call you a trend setter.

You get to experience the magic of childhood from the other side.

You can stay up late drinking wine and writing your blog when you’re supposed to be in bed sleeping 🙂

 

To all the grown ups out there: Happy Friday!

 

 

Our Family Recipe For The Most Amazing Cheesecake

This Sunday will be Easter, and that means we’ll be eating an Easter feast. And there’s no better way to end an Easter feast than with the perfect cheesecake. Luckily, I have the recipe for Perfect Cheesecake. This recipe really is incredible, and it’s traveled a long way to get on this blog. We got the recipe from–ready?–my husband’s college roommate’s dad’s campus pastor. You know that it’s gotta be good if it’s been passed down through that many layers.

Most cheesecakes I’ve had are rich and dense, making it difficult to consume vast quantities of the dessert after polishing off your Easter Feast. And I always want room for dessert! This cheesecake is different. It’s smooth and not too heavy, perfectly sweet without being overpowering. Over the years we’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe (OK, they were actually mistakes, but they ended up tasting really great so we left them in!). This is a great recipe for making a day ahead if you’re pressed for time on Easter morning. You may want to make a few of these cheesecakes–one to share, and one for yourself!

Raspberry Cream Cheesecake

1 recipe for Graham Cracker pie crust or 1 store-bought Graham Cracker pie crust
3 eggs
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese (brought to room temperature)
3/4 cups white sugar
A few dashes of vanilla
8 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries (you can use whatever berry you like, fresh or frozen, but this is our preference)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make your pie crust and set aside. Combine the eggs, cream cheese, sugar and a dash of vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend until creamy. Pour the cream cheese mixture into your prepared pie crust and bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool (the puffy browned top will fall and create a depression). Whip together the sour cream, sugar, another dash of vanilla and your berries. Spread the berry mixture over the top of the cooled cheesecake. Bake for another 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days (if you can manage to keep a cheesecake in your house that long without eating it!).

Quick and Easy Toddler Lunches

Feeding a toddler is difficult. They tend to be picky eaters, they eat on sporadic schedules, and they need a lot of assistance at meal time (I wonder at what point can I expect my child to safely wield a steak knife?). Lunch is always a bit of a struggle for me because it happens to fall right in the middle of the day between the time that I’ve just cooked and cleaned up breakfast and have to start prepping for dinner. I have, however, found a few tried-and-true lunches that are my go-to’s on busy days. Note: I always offer milk or water and at least two fruits and/or veggies with each meal. My 2-year old will always eat the fruit and, more often than not, he goes for the veggie, too. Here are some of my faves:

IMG_1346

  1. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll even make them into “t-balls”–use the top of a glass to cut out the sandwich bread into circles–and use string cheese to make the “T” and the “bat”. If you know my son, you know that this is about the coolest lunch in the world to him). 
  2. “deli tray”- cubes of lunch meat and cheeses
  3. breakfast foods: oatmeal, scambled eggs and toast, a muffin and yogurt–breakfast is usually my son’s favorite meal of the day, and who says you can only eat those things in the morning anyway?
  4. quesadillas with salsa “dip”
  5. anything on a stick: fruit, cheese cubes, chunks of meat, grilled veggies
  6. mac and cheese (yeah, it’s terrible but he loves it…)
  7. smoothies (you can sneak all kinds of good stuff into thesese guys!)
  8. leftovers from whatever we ate for dinner last night
  9. chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries
  10. pasta (he usually loves any kind of pasta)
  11. hummus with crackers, pita wedges and veggies for dipping
  12. tortilla roll ups (lay out a tortilla, spread on some cream cheese, layer on lunch meat/cheese/spinach/lettuce, roll up, and slice into rolls)
  13. grilled cheese and soup
  14. prepared tuna fish spread on crackers (or with goldfish crackers swimming in the tuna fish “sea”)
  15. healthy nachos (multigrain crackers baked with shredded cheese, beans, etc.)
  16. english muffin pizzas (1/2 a whole wheat english muffin spread with pizza sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese and whatever toppings you like, then baked in the oven)
  17. “beanie-weenies”–baked beans with little hot dog pieces
  18. yogurt parfait (plain greek yogurt layered with granola, berries, and honey)
  19. mini whole-wheat bagels topped with peanut butter, bananas and a drizzle of honey
  20. “pigs in a blanket” (wrap a ‘lil smokies sausage or slice of turkey inside 1/3 of a crescent roll, then bake)

I’m always looking for new ideas, so feel free to leave a comment if you have any other great lunches!

Weekend Waffles and This Week’s Menu

photo (22)

Most mornings in our house are a bit hectic–we’re all in a rush to get ready and get out of the house. But Saturdays are different. Saturday mornings are usually our one chance in the week to laze around (unfortunately, not to sleep in–we do have two children under the age of 3, after all) and enjoy each other’s company. And where I come from, that calls for a good meal.

We’ve started a bit of a tradition involving baked goods and, usually, lots of syrup: The Saturday Morning Breakfast. The meals are usually pretty simple–pancakes, waffles, or scrambled “cheesy eggs”–but they’re always delicious and they get our weekends off to a good start.

This weekend I made one of our all-time favorites: Great-Grandma Doreen’s light-and-fluffy as air waffles. They’re made with whipped egg whites so they puff up beautifully–and then they literally melt in your mouth with each bite. And, if you’re like me, you know that the only way to eat waffles (or, really, just about anything) is smothered in whipped cream and fresh berries. They are so delectable that our 29-pound 2-year old polished off two of them in one sitting. So, go ahead, make these waffles for your family next weekend–I bet you can’t stop at just one!

Weekend Waffles Recipe

2 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil

Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff (forming soft peaks). In a separate bowl, combine the 2 egg yolks, milk, and oil. In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour , baking powder and salt. Add the egg/milk/oil mixture to the flour mixture and blend well. Fold in the stiffened egg whites. Spray a waffle iron with cooking spray, then spoon waffle batter into the iron and cook according to your iron’s instructions. Serve hot with mounds of whipped cream (or whatever other toppings you like!). Makes 6-8 waffles.

This Week’s Menu

Monday: Slow-Cooker Pot Roast with carrots and baby red potatoes

Tuesday: Bible study potluck–I’m bringing Caesar salad with homemade dressing (I may have to share my recipe for the dressing on here some time. It’s the best Caesar dressing ever because there are no gross little sardines involved.)

Wednesday: Butternut Squash Soup–This is already in my freezer from when I made it a few weeks ago

Thursday: Southwest Turkey Burgers with Avocado-Garlic Aioli–an amazing recipe that I got from a friend, and they’re actually better cooked inside on a griddle (I’m not quite ready to brave the wind and the rain for our outdoor grill yet!)

Friday: Dinner with friends

Saturday: Roasted Chicken and Rosemary Ravioli–Pre-made from Costco. They’re delicious.

Sunday: Chicken Broccoli Rice Bake–made with cheddar cheese and a bit of curry powder for some kick

This Week’s Menu and My Recipe for Guinness Beef Stew

While we were in Ireland last week I spent the whole time trying to find some authentic Irish food. To my great disappointment, I discovered that you can’t find Irish food in Ireland. We found Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian and American food–everything we ate was delicious, but it left me yearning for some hearty Irish fare. Although they disappointed me in the food department, the Irish spared nothing when it came to their beer. There was no shortage rich, dark beer in the homeland of Murphy’s and Guinness. So, this week I salute Guinness–and the Irish stew I never found. Find my recipe for Guinness Beef Stew at the bottom of this post–it may just transport you across the Atlantic!

This week’s menu:

Monday: Enchilada Casserole–using up leftover tortillas and beans from our fajitas last week

Tuesday: Potluck meal at Bible Study–I’m bringing potato soup

Wednesday: Grilled Chicken–a quick dinner for after soccer practice

Thursday: Greek Moussakas–this is a new recipe I’m trying from Rachael Ray

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: Garlic Pasta Primavera

Sunday: Guinness Beef Stew (recipe below)–I’ll be making a double batch because we’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Guinness Beef Stew


guinness

1 1/2 pounds round steak
5-6 Tablespoons oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
2 1/2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can/bottle Guinness beer (or any dark beer of your liking)
1 can beef stock
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons butter
Egg noodles, cooked according to package instructions

Cut meat into 2 inch pieces. Saute onions in hot oil until golden brown. Add meat. Season with salt and pepper and saute until well browned. Add brown sugar, red wine vinegar, bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Pour in beer and cover with beef stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover with lid and simmer for 60 minutes or until meat is barely tender, adding more beef stock if necessary. Thicken with a dark roux (2 Tablespoons melted butter and 2 Tablespoons flour). Simmer 20-30 minutes more or until meat is tender. Serve in bowls over egg noodles.