Simple Fall Decor

I was so excited for fall this year. I couldn’t wait to put out all my fall decor. Then I realized, I literally have two flat surfaces in my home that I can decorate. For one thing, we’re living in a rental that we had to move into very quickly. It’s an old farmhouse so it was built for utility, not luxury. The other reason? I have a one-year-old who is into EVERYTHING. Anywhere she can reach is off limits for breakable items. Or items that could not conceivably withstand being coated in peanut butter. Needless to say, I’ve had to adjust my expectations for decorating this year. At first I was a little bummed, but I shifted my perspective and I’m challenging you to do the same. Instead of feeling like you have to buy something new, flex your creativity and be inspired by what you have. This is a good practice no matter what season you’re in.

Decorate smarter

For holidays/seasonal decorating, I like to pick a few key areas to focus on, rather than feeling like I have to fill the whole house. Like I said, my spots to decorate were chosen for me by my circumstances. I have our porch, our entry table (which is actually a buffet), and the top of our bookshelf. Since I couldn’t go too crazy on either of the indoor surfaces, I decided to focus most of my creativity on the porch. It made perfect sense because Lyla can’t wreck something she’s never around, and our porch isn’t big enough for play. I bought pumpkins and a mum from a local pumpkin farm. I had so much fun picking them out! I bought one bag of small pumpkins and one bag of gourds from the Walmart produce section. Other than fall candles, that was all I spent on fall decor this year. Since my other decorating was so minimal, I knew it would be silly to spend money on it. I laid out what I already had and picked a few simple things.

Decorate smaller

I always love grouping collections of small items together. It’s a great way for your decor to look intentional, it’s interesting without being too busy, and it’s inexpensive. I made use of our letter board by putting up a fall quote by my favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Don’t overthink it

On our bookshelf, I swapped out a quote I keep up year round for this fall-themed piece. On top I simply placed a pumpkin and a fall candle. These items have to be kept out of Lyla’s reach. The other shelves are for Lyla’s books and large books that anchor the shelves in place so she can’t pull them out. (Yes, that happened.) I left the rest of the space empty because she pulls everything off. We always discipline Lyla when it comes to her safety, but for me personally, I don’t think decorations are worth the fight right now. Of course she’s going to pull things down that she can reach. She won’t be this little forever, and a home is for living, not looking perfect.

As much as I love going all out and getting festive, sometimes it’s nice to pare it down and really focus on the memories made in your home rather than the decorations you put up. I still had fun figuring out how to use what I have in this new-to-me space, and the small touches go a long way in a small house. How are you decorating for fall this year? Do you go all out or keep it simple? Share in the comments!

Our Family Fall Bucket List

I quit making bucket lists for the longest time. I’m a Type-A, achievement-driven perfectionist, so I tend to treat a bucket list less like a wishlist and more like a checklist. Then I get stressed out if I don’t complete it. Y’all pray for Andrew…he has to live with this. BUT, having a baby has mellowed me out in a lot of areas, and this year I was excited to make a bucket list of experiences we’d love to have as a family. Last year during fall Lyla was a newborn and we were first time parents navigating a bad flu season. We went to a pumpkin patch for about an hour one day and that was it. This year she’s the perfect age for so many of our favorite fall traditions. Of course there are many things you can’t do with a one-year-old, but the sweetness of this age is so worth it! What are your favorite fall traditions?

Visit a pumpkin patch: We still want to visit another pumpkin patch and take Lyla for a hayride, let her play in the patch, and get some apple treats.

Make fall soups and casseroles: I’m going to share some of our favorite fall recipes soon. Andrew loves cooking and he couldn’t wait to bust out the crock pot and dutch oven this year. I think we made chili as soon as it dropped below 80 degrees!

Buy local cider and apples: Apple cider is my favorite fall drink (yes, even more than the PSL), and I love to snack on apples and caramel. To make the BEST caramel, leave a can of sweetened condensed milk with the label peeled off submerged in water in a crock pot on low for eight hours. It will turn into the creamiest caramel ready for dipping!

Eat kettle corn & apple cider donuts: Two of my favorite treats and I can’t let the season pass by without them. The smell of kettle corn is heavenly. We found a place in Lawrenceburg last year and bought it hot out of the kettle. Salty, sweet, and warm is a good combination!

Make S’Mores: I got so addicted to S’Mores one year, I Macgyver-ed a tool to push the top cracker down to smoosh the marshmallow in the microwave. I think we will wait another year to make them over a fire. I’m not too sure about my crawling, curious baby and open flames. Actually…I am sure. We’ll stick to other methods this year!

Go trick or treating: We’re hoping our church or another church will have an outdoor trick or treat event where we can take Lyla. She won’t totally get what’s going on, but she will have fun watching all the other kids and munching on candy.

Decorate our porch: I can already check this one off my list thanks to our visit to the pumpkin farm around the corner from our house! I’ll share photos soon!

Fall Comfort Food Recipes

There’s something so cozy about warm meals when the weather first starts to get cool. I rely heavily on my crock pot and dutch oven during this season. Today I’m sharing a few of our favorite comfort food recipes. These are all simple and can be made in a slow cooker. For more easy dinner ideas, visit my previous post Easy Dinner Recipes.

Garlic Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cube beef boullion
  • 1 TBSP cooking oil (I use olive oil but vegetable or canola is fine)
  • 1 pack lean stew meat
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1.5 cloves of garlic, minced (I buy jarred minced garlic)
  • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese
  • 1 bag wide egg noodles

Instructions:

  1. Pour boiling water into crockpot. Place bouillon cube in water. Stir and cover. Set crock pot to low. (If I’m in a hurry, I just do hot water.)
  2. Heat oil in large skillet. Brown stew meat.
  3. Add stew meat, soup, Worcestershire, and garlic to crock pot. Stir to combine. Cook on low 6-8 hours.
  4. About 30 minutes before serving, cube cream cheese and mix into crock pot. Cover and keep on low, stirring as cream cheese warms.
  5. Cook noodles according to package directions. Serve stroganoff over noodles.

Notes: Many people put onions and mushroom slices in their stroganoff. I leave these out due to personal preference, but you can add them to the skillet after the beef is browned, cook until warm, then add to crock pot. This recipe is nostalgic for me. It was passed down by my Bible study leader from senior year of college. She used to have us over to her house for the study and cooked a delicious meal WITH homemade dessert every week. It was so special and so heartwarming back in those college days where being in an actual house and having a warm, home-cooked meal felt like such a luxury. This is one of Andrew’s favorite things I make. It’s SO good and a great fall/winter meal that really sticks to your ribs. I serve it with roasted veggies, and rolls to sop up the sauce!

Turkey Chili

Ingredients:

  • Ground turkey
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • Diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 2 cans tomato juice
  • 1 packet chili seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking oil
  • Shredded cheese (for topping if desired)
  • Sour cream (for topping if desired)

Instructions:

  1. In a Dutch oven, heat cooking oil. Brown the ground turkey.
  2. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, and seasoning packet. Stir until combined. Cook, covered, on high until mixture is close to boiling, then turn down to low heat and allow to simmer, about 30 minutes.

Notes: We had frozen, homegrown tomatoes, which have a lot of water in them. Depending on how thick you like your chili, you may want some water or beef broth to add a little liquid. Or to use fresh tomatoes vs. canned for more water. I’m not usually a huge chili person but turkey was a game changer for me. The cooking time is not an exact science. Technically, once the meat is cooked and the chili is heated through, it’s “done.” But the longer you let it simmer, the more well combined the ingredients will be. This is a good meal to make on a Saturday, when you’re not in a rush to get supper on the table after work. Then you have leftovers ready to go on Sunday!

Vegetable Beef Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb beef stew meat
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 medium potatoes diced
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • Any other veggies you prefer, like onion & celery

Instructions: Combine all in crockpot, cook on low 8 hours

Notes: This classic veggie soup recipe doesn’t have to be exact. This is a great way to make use of produce you have on hand, and it’s the ultimate warm, sip-able supper. Serve with crackers or grilled cheese.

Pot roast

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag baby carrots (you don’t have to add them all)
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 1 packet brown gravy mix
  • 1 beef roast, any kind, about 5 pounds
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Instructions:

  1. Wash potatoes and dice into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Place roast in crock pot. Pour ranch packet and gravy mix over roast and rub in like a dry rub (you can use a basting brush if you don’t want to get your hands dirty!)
  3. Surround roast with carrots and potatoes.
  4. Pour water over roast & veggies. Cook on low 8 hours.
  5. Before serving, shred roast in crock pot with forks.

Notes: This always makes me think of Sundays after church when we would come home to the smell of roast in the crock pot. I personally prefer to cook my vegetables with the meat, because they soak up the flavor and it’s ready all at once.

Those are the recipes we look forward to most each year, along with the white chicken chili and ham & white beans I wrote about it my previous dinner recipe post. What are your go-to comfort food recipes or dinner ideas? Share them in the comments!

Gift Guide for a One-Year-Old

We’ve had a one year old in our house for a few weeks now, and, I have to say, one is fun! We’re enjoying this age so much as Lyla becomes more and more of a tiny person. Lyla got really good gifts at her birthday party and I’ve been looking into Christmas gifts. I compiled all her favorites along with what I’m thinking of getting her into this guide. A couple of these will overlap with my Favorite Toys in the First Year post, but I wanted to have all my recommendations in one place. If you have a one year old in your life, hopefully this will give you some good ideas! Share your own suggestions for this stage in the comments!

Crawling toy: I bought this for Lyla around six months and she was terrified. #momfail. I brought it back out the day before she turned a year old and she’s obsessed with it. She smiles and claps when it lights up. It has settings for carpet and hardwood, and attempts to redirect itself like a robot vacuum when it gets stuck.

Shape sorting toy: There are hundreds of versions of this classic developmental tool. You can go with the OG Fisher-Price version, Montessori (aka hipster) style with a wooden option, or choose an activity toy that encourages pretend play. Lyla has this Leap Frog picnic basket and loves it. It has multiple settings she will be able to use for imagination play as she gets older. In a similar vein is this tea set she got for her birthday. I could hardly get her to open her other presents because she wanted to play with it right away!

Crawling tunnel: I wanted to get Lyla one of these for her birthday, but we’re saving it for Christmas. I’m still deciding between a few different options: a crawling tunnel by itself, a tunnel with a tent, or a more aesthetically attractive tent.

Palm Crayons: We don’t have these, but I put them on Lyla’s Christmas list as soon as I read about them. They’re designed in an egg shape, for babies who might enjoy coloring but are too little to safely be given a regular crayon.

Large stuffed animal: Lyla fell in love with her stuffed animals at this age. She takes turns hugging them and handing them to us to love. About 12 inches in length is a good size at this age. They can really bear hug it. She also LOVES her Squish-Mallow. Just make sure to get one that can be machine washed. They will likely go through a lot!

Suction Kupz: This is another item Santa Clause might be bringing Lyla. These multi-use silicone cups sold me when I learned they could stick to the fridge for her to play with while we try to get dinner on the table. (Is than an Olympic sport in anyone else’s house, or just me?)

Push walker: I mentioned the Sit to Stand walker in my favorite toys post. Lyla loves hers and a walker of this type was suggested by her pediatrician as being a good developmental toy for encouraging independent walking.

Wooden puzzles: These are in every nursery, classroom, and daycare for a reason. A puzzle with knobs on the pieces will go a long way in helping babies at this age conceptualize matching the shapes.

Building blocks: I’ve been wanting to get these for Lyla forever, and I think she’ll finally be the right age at Christmas. I like that these come with a bag for storage.

All the Fall Things

I’ve always loved fall, but this year it feels extra special. We were deprived of so many experiences because of COVID, but you can’t cancel fall! I have lots of fall posts coming, but I wanted to kick off the season by sharing some of my fall favorites. From my favorite candles to what’s on my Disney+ watchlist, these are all the things that make the season feel special to me, rounded up in one place!

My favorite fall candles:
I only buy candles at Bath & Body Works. I really think they give you the best bang for your buck if you shop their sales. I look forward to their fall and Christmas scents every year. They’re potent enough to fill your house but not overpowering. My faves are:

Salted Butterscotch (this was sold out online & in my local store, but you might catch one in store), Pumpkin Pecan Waffles, Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin, Caramel Pumpkin Swirl, Pumpkin Vanilla Creme, and Welcome Home.

My fall watchlist:

I have to watch Hocus Pocus every year. I love it so much and it takes me back to childhood. Same for Halloweentown. For some reason I have such vivid memories of getting excited for them to come out and waiting for them every year on the Disney channel. I’m a little salty because my other favorite Halloween movie is Under Wraps, which was the first Disney Channel Original Movie, and it’s not on Disney+! I also watch the Greg Pikitis Parks & Rec episode, the Witches of Penbrook Boy Meets World episode where Candace Cameron guest stars, and the Scream parody episode of Boy Meets World, “And Then There Was Shawn.”

My favorite seasonal treats:

Like any card-carrying Basic White Girl, I love pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. But I also make it a point to get apple cider from a local orchard, apple cider donuts, and seasonal treats from local places, too. For fun, festive additions to your grocery cart, look at displays in the middle of walkways. Stores often keep their main shelves stocked as normal, and rotate seasonal items on smaller displays that can be moved throughout the store. This goes for the refrigerated section, too. So far I’ve found all my fall baking ingredients, seasonal baking mixes, Halloween Funfetti, Haloween break & bake cookies, and pumpkin spice coffee creamer in middle displays. None of those items were stocked on regular shelves, so if I hadn’t looked I would have missed them!

And speaking of coffee creamer, my vote is Coffee Mate. I tried International Delight this year because it was cheaper, and it tastes really artificial.

My fall color palette:

Image via Pinterest

I know it sounds unbelievably extra to have a seasonal color palette, but color is something that makes sense to me. Setting a color palette for the season helps me when shopping for clothes and decor. Everything goes together and it’s easy to say no to things that don’t fit in because I know they won’t coordinate with what I already have.

And finally, I’m linking my fall Pinterest board for all the cozy fall inspiration. Did I mention I love fall? It’s just so nostalgic for me. It always reminds me of college. It starts off the best part of the year when all the holidays happen. Andrew and I both have fall birthdays. My love for fall is real. I hope this post was a fun read that helped you get excited for something in a year that feels tough to be excited about.

What’s in my [Diaper] Bag

I used to love when magazines would feature a glimpse into a celebrity’s purse. They always called it “What’s in my bag?” The designer totes were filled with things like luxury beauty products, gorgeous personal care items, and interesting odds & ends. Well I’m no celebrity, but I have a bag! Today I’m showing you what’s in my diaper bag, from what kind of bag I use to how I pack it for every possible situation.

The bag:

When I was pregnant, several friends advised me to get a diaper backpack instead of a tote bag. Their reasoning was that it’s so much easier to have it on your back and have one less thing in your hands with baby in tow. I totally get what they meant because babies do require a ton of stuff, and any time you’re out with your baby you feel like you have a million things you’re holding. However, I found the backpack to be frustrating. No matter how many pockets it has, the big section of a backpack always turns into a black hole. I hated not being able to just reach into it for things. I had to unload whatever I was carrying and take it off to get into it. After using it for about six months, I switched to an open, structured tote and haven’t looked back. I like being able to glance in and make sure it’s all packed. I reach into it all the time while it’s on my shoulder, and toss things in on the top when needed. This particular tote is from a store that went out of business so I can’t link it, but I’ve linked some similar options below.

Links: Amazon tote (comes in lots of colors), H&M Shopper, Walmart leopard straw tote

The contents:

Our diaper bag stays packed with diaper changing supplies, a change of clothes for Lyla, small toys, basic baby care items, my purse items, my wallet, phone, glasses/sunglasses, and keys. I put a full itemized list at the bottom that you can use as a checklist! To keep everything organized, I use these clear bags. I use the larger ones for travel, and three small ones in the diaper bag: one for clothes, one for toys, and one for baby care. For my stuff I use a zipper pouch so that when I need to leave the diaper bag with Lyla (like in the church nursery or at grandparents’ houses), I can just put the pouch in my purse and have all my stuff ready to go.

In addition to these staples, make sure your bag can also fit feeding supplies, baby’s outerwear (jackets are supposed to come off in the car seat and oftentimes they get hot in their stroller), loveys/stuffed animals, and any other random thing you might find yourself needing to carry. Basically, make sure your tote is large enough that it has negative space. There will be so many times you just need to get something out of your hand and it’s so helpful to be able to just toss it in.

I hope this post is helpful to those of you in the diaper bag stage of life. I clean mine out multiple times a week to keep it from becoming a bottomless pit of junk. Below is a checklist you can use to pack your bag. Modify it according to your needs!

Lyla’s First Birthday Party

Let’s be honest, first birthday parties are for the parents. I chose a donut theme for Lyla’s party for two reasons. One: I used to work for a photographer who did a lot of one-year sessions. Moms would buy these cute smash cakes for their babies to tear in to, and the babies usually just stared at them. Additionally, Lyla gets uncomfortable when a lot of people are looking at her. I wanted to avoid a big buildup to the moment she would eat her cake, so I started thinking about alternatives. Two: Andrew loves donuts. I mean he is literally passionate about them. I knew if I chose a theme he was excited about, too, it would make planning the party a lot easier. Below, I’m sharing my inspiration for the party along with some photos from the day.

Source: Twinkletwinklelittleparty.com

The colors:

The first thing I choose when I’m decorating something is the color palette. Color is what makes the most sense to me in design and the first thing I notice. Lyla’s signature color is lavender, but most girl stuff is pink. I went with a purple, pink, and teal color palette to make choosing my decorations easier.

The invites:

I found tons of cute, customizable options on Etsy. I chose these and asked for the design to be tweaked just slightly to match the party colors. I had them printed on cardstock at Office Depot and picked up A7 envelopes while I was there.

The food:

We ordered from a local donut shop called Munal’s Donuts. They customized an icing color for us at no extra charge! We did donut kebabs using these paper straws, also from Etsy. Andrew built the donut board and I have hopes to use it for future parties. Rumor has it the Krispy Kreme recipe originated at Munal’s Donuts. An employee there branched off and created Krispy Kreme. They have a non-compete contract clause that states Munal’s cannot lay claim to the Krispy Kreme recipe, but Krispy Kreme can never open a location in the Paducah area. Paducah is so cool!

Since the donuts were so sweet, we also served healthy and savory finger foods. We did a vegetable tray and Chik-Fil-A nuggets. I wish I always had a tray of nuggets in my house. For drinks we did milk, coffee, and bottled water. We went very simple with the food and I felt like we had plenty. I don’t think anyone shows up to a child’s birthday party expecting a huge meal.

The decorations:

The decorations ended up being a little challenging. I had everything picked out from Party City, but they kept canceling my order as soon as I placed it. I had to make do with what I could find at other stores, and most places aren’t stocking party supplies right now. I ordered this set of serving pieces from Amazon. Full disclosure: the color on the plates and napkins is a yellow-ish ivory, not white. I got a lavender plastic tablecloth at Target and a banner from Hobby Lobby to go over the food table. I put together a backdrop with the intention of using it for photos with the birthday girl, opening presents, and to sit her hi-chair in front of for her donut & singing “Happy Birthday.” I got a fringe curtain from Amazon, a tassel banner from Michael’s, and balloons from Target. I’m not linking the fringe because it fell down approximately one minute after being put up. It was adhesive but if you do something similar, I would tack it in with thumbtacks. The banner had to be strung and tied so I’m not linking it either because I found it super frustrating that it didn’t come assembled. And the balloons ended up being a hassle. We had to find somewhere to get them inflated, the place we went had obviously not trained anyone on how to use the helium, and the balloons ended up deflating by the time of the party. So my dreams of Pinterest perfection were dashed. But for a brief, shining moment we had a cute backdrop.

I also made two banners for the party, one to go on her hi-chair and one to display her monthly photos throughout the first year. I used thin purple ribbon from Michael’s. For the “ONE” banner, I used scrapbook paper, cardstock, and sticker letters from Hobby Lobby. I am cursed with being creative but not artistic, so I had Andrew cut out the pennants. For the photo banner, I got square prints of her photos and used mini wooden clothespins from Hobby Lobby to hang them. I loved it so much I hung it in her nursery after the party!

The favors:

Since most of the guests at the party were going to be either adults or babies who can’t have anything that would present a choking hazard, I opted not to do favor bags. Instead, I ordered these thank you stickers from Etsy and put them on food-safe white bags from Michael’s so people could take home a donut. I knew we would have extra and the personalized stickers were such a cute touch.

We had so much fun at Lyla’s party! She did great and she had a blast getting all the attention. It was a bittersweet day for me as my family was unable to be there while my Dad fights leukemia, but we were blessed by the family and friends who were able to join us. My best friend since 5th grade, Victoria, even drove up from Mississippi during some of her rare days off from being an ER doctor to be there! It felt too good to be true!

I’m linking my Pinterest board for the party below for more inspiration! Hopefully this will give you some ideas for your next party!

Lyla’s Favorite Toys: The First Year

When I was pregnant, I had the startling realization that I was completely clueless about childhood development. I didn’t know what babies needed or wanted. I knew as long as I had the basics covered (food, diapers, and a crib), the child would survive. But I had no idea how to entertain her! In case you’re in the same situation, I’m sharing the toys Lyla loved most in each developmental stage of her first year. I tried to choose things that she continued to play with rather than things she only cared about for a few weeks. Every baby is different, of course, but hopefully this will give you a starting point or spark some ideas.

0-3 months:

Activity mat >> Lyla used this all the way from 0-6 months. There are a million varieties and you can’t go wrong. My only advice? Get one that’s easy to disassemble & is machine washable. It will get spit up on and probably worse…

Stroller toy/Activity toy >> Just like the activity mat, there are endless varieties of these toys. They can clip onto a stroller or really anywhere you want them. I would clip this to Lyla’s activity mat and she would grab it & kick it.

O-ballz >> This was Lyla’s first favorite toy. Her eyes would light up when she saw it. It was the first thing she could grab. She still plays with it to this day.

3-6 months:

Bouncy seat >> Lyla used this from the time she was a newborn, but she really came to love it around three months. There are automated bouncers, rockers like the one pictured above, and bouncers you will have to bounce manually. It all depends on your preference. In those early days, this is one of the few things that allows baby to sit up.

Crinkle toys >> Lyla went through a phase where this crinkle giraffe was her favorite thing. We would hold it over her while she laid on her back and boop her nose with it and she thought it was the greatest thing ever. She has a crinkle book that she still plays with at 12 months.

Rattles >> The OG baby toy. There are approximately one billion of these out there, so don’t overthink it. Lyla favored wooden rattles (she would chew on them) and bright plastic ones like the one pictured above. They always love the cheap toys.

Teethers >> Even before babies start teething, their salivary glands develop and they drool constantly. Combine that with sensory development and a natural curiosity and you can guarantee everything is going in your baby’s mouth. With that in mind, it’s good to have a variety of safety-approved teethers around to offer instead of, say, the TV remote.

6-9 months:

Stacking cups >> Oh my word. The cups. A family member got these for Lyla around six months and girlfriend has not STOPPED playing with them. These are around $3.00 and we have gotten hours of playtime out of them. So good for sensory learning and can be used for activities into the toddler stage.

Sleep lovey >> PLEASE note: The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official recommendation is no blankets of any kind in the crib until the age of two. Always educate yourself on safety risks before making a change in baby’s surroundings, especially when it comes to sleep, when SIDS is a higher risk. Around eight months, Lyla went through a bad sleep regression. We took a sleep training course when she was first born and tried everything to get through this regression. When we still didn’t see improvement, I assessed my baby and our situation and felt confident she was ready to have a comfort object in the crib with her. It solved our issues almost overnight so I know it was the right choice for our family. She still sleeps with it and we often see her on the monitor hugging it as tight as her little arm can squeeze!

Exersaucer >> This is what we graduated to when we retired the bouncy seat and activity mat. Besides a Pack n’ Play, it’s really the only thing that allowed me to be hands-free with her in this stage, and still is to this day. (Baby-wearing never really worked for us.) Lyla loved this thing pre-crawling, and it helps baby develop leg strength they need for all the developmental milestones to come. Post-crawling, we had to do a little work to get her to see it as fun and not a leg prison. But if we do it in short spurts, it still allows me to get housework done while being engaged with her.

9-12 months:

Board books >> We’ve always read to Lyla, but it wasn’t until 9-12 months that she seemed interested in handling books herself. I of course promptly eliminated any book with paper pages from our rotation once that happened. She loves to turn the pages in board books and is getting more interactive with them by the day in terms of feeling textures, lifting flaps, and pointing to pictures.

Bouncy balls >> Andrew’s parents had a medium-sized bouncy ball in their toy box and Lyla loved it. I subsequently bought her a bouncy soccer ball because I saw it in a store and used it to keep her entertained in the cart while I focused on the errand we were running. You would have thought I bought her a pony. She laughs and claps for these things and they’re so cheap! I like that we can easily play with them outside, too.

Stuffed animals >> Lyla didn’t care a bit for stuffed animals until she got to this stage. And then she decided they were her favorite thing. She loves to hug and lay all over large stuffed animals, like this Winnie the Pooh we got her for her birthday. She carries around little ones, showing them to us and bringing them with her when she crawls. I can already tell we’re going to be a household that gets overrun with stuffies.

Sit to Stand Learning Walker >> I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating. I love any baby item that will move through stages with your baby. It all goes so fast and I hate spending money on something we will only use a few weeks. This activity board detaches from the walker frame. You can lay it flat for baby to play with when sitting up, then attach it to the walker when baby starts pulling up and cruising. You can also lock the front wheels. Baby will still be able to push the walker on hard surfaces, but it will slow down the speed enough to prevent them from getting it out ahead of their tiny arms.

What I wish I’d gotten:

Metal teethers >> This is the one thing we didn’t get and I wish we had. I think it’s a little late to get them now. Lyla loves chewing on anything metal because it’s cold, which is soothing on swollen gums. To be honest, she’s cut so many teeth lately these may end up on mommy’s Christmas list before it’s all said and done.

I hope this gives you a rough idea of where to start when buying baby toys, some gift ideas for the babies in your life, or sparks an idea for something new to put in your current rotation. What are the superstar toys in your house? Any you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Let me know in the comments!

My Biggest Lessons as a Rookie Parent

#themalicotes-32

Parenting years are like dog years. Even though I’ve only been a parent for one year, I’ve learned so many things (usually the hard way) that I want to share. Below are my biggest takeaways and hardest-won wisdom from the first year of parenting.

  • No one remembers the newborn stage.

These wise words were passed to me at one of my baby showers, and now I’m passing them on to you. When you say you’re having a baby, everyone pictures a six month old. Anyone who has children over the age of three has forgotten the newborn stage. If we all had vivid memories of the first few months of a baby’s life, the species would not survive. People will have expectations for you that aren’t realistic. People will make ignorant comments about your choices. Everyone gets so excited when a new baby is added to the family, and they start picturing all the wonderful memories they’re going to make. Then the baby gets here and…they don’t do anything. They just lie there and soil diapers and cry. Be loving, patient, and firm as you help jog their memory on the realities of newborn life. 9 times out of 10, they will have a That’s So Raven-style vision of themselves in your situation back in the day.

  • Snaps in the streets, zippers in the sheets

Repeat after me: snaps in the streets, zippers in the sheets. Do not put your baby to bed for the night in snap pajamas unless you want to teeter on the brink of insanity at 3 o’clock in the morning. Zipper jammies are the only jammies. Bonus points if they have the option to zip from either the top or bottom. For the newborn stage, I preferred snap-on outfits for daytime. You can lay them completely flat, lay baby on top, and snap them in. The alternative is having to pull something over your baby’s teeny tiny head multiple times a day.

  • Never move a happy baby

As a new parent, you constantly feel like you should be doing something for your baby. You try to anticipate their needs, often to avoid hearing them cry when they get dissatisfied. Please hear me when I say: never move a happy baby. Make this your parenting mantra and repeat it to everyone who comes over to see the baby: If baby is happy, we leave baby alone. Because, inevitably, they will start crying. Guess what? If your baby needs or wants something, they will cry. It’s their WHOLE thing. Crying is their only way to communicate. If they are at all displeased with their current circumstances, you will know it. I’m not saying only pick up your baby if they cry. I’m just saying, less is more. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If they’re playing happily on their activity mat, don’t say, “Oh they’ve been playing here for a long time, they’re probably about to get bored. I’ll move them to their Boppy so they can prop up!” NO. Do not do it. Leave that baby playing happily on their mat. So much of parenting is just learning to breathe through the moments.

  • Every mom has a capacity; operate at yours.

This is another nugget that was doled out to me by a mom friend. Every mom is different. Every baby is different. Some moms feel like they can snap their baby in the car seat and go all over creation, no problem. Some moms are overwhelmed by the thought of a simple errand (it me). Some babies are super low-maintenance and easygoing. Some babies thrive on a schedule or are more sensitive. Your household, your lifestyle, your personality, and your baby’s personality are all unique. Find what works for you and own it! Lyla was every bit of four months old before I felt comfortable taking her places. At her 48 hour checkup, the nurse said, “The flu’s already started this year. Stay home!” As a brand spanking new mama, those words embedded themselves in my brain. I was convinced we had to stay home for all of flu season, and then flu season ran long. Eventually, I was ready to start trying outings. I started with a small grocery run, then worked my way up. Lyla and I both prefer to follow a predictable routine. I stick to it as much as I can while also leaving room to live life. Some days we get out and about. Some days I just don’t have the energy and I know we are parked at the house that day. Don’t get caught up in what you “should” be doing. There are a million ways to do this mom thing right. Find your way and stick with it!

  •  Don’t be a glutton for punishment

When Lyla was 5 weeks old, we found out she had a milk allergy. There are only two types of formula in existence that she can drink.  Both of them are $40 a can. Stretched thin by the cost, we tried to be frugal. We had ONE bottle in our entire house. ONE. We tried several and returned the ones that didn’t work for us. Instead of buying more of the bottles we were using, we washed one bottle and reused it every time. It sucked. And it wore out the nipple so we had to buy more. When she moved up to the next bottle size, we bought a multi-pack. One day into using it we were laughing at ourselves. Why had we ever lived with one bottle?! And yet, we didn’t learn our lesson. Fast forward to the sleep sack. Lyla sleeps and takes every nap in a sleep sack. For MONTHS we only had one because we were too cheap to buy another. If she peed or spit up and got it wet, we were out of luck. If it was in the wash…you guessed it, out of luck. We realized it was the bottle situation all over again! We bought a second sleep sack and don’t know how we ever lived without it. The moral of these stories is: don’t be a glutton for punishment. Don’t make life harder on yourself when there are resources available. If sleep is a nightmare and you don’t know how to fix it, take a sleep training course (We did Taking Cara Babies Newborn Course). If there’s anything you use as part of your daily routine, buy multiples! Of course sometimes there will be financial constraints, but try your best to skimp in areas other than baby care. It will save your sanity just as much as it will serve your baby.

Those are my MVPT’s (most valuable parenting tips)! I’m certainly not an expert. I have a lot left to learn; but I hope these tips will be helpful to someone who’s a step behind me on their parenting journey. What about you? What were the greatest pieces of advice you received about parenting? Any lessons you’ve learned the hard way? Share them in the comments!

Dear Lyla: A letter to you on your first birthday

Dear Lyla,

Today you are one year old! I’m finding myself in the same position of every parent: grateful and excited to welcome this new stage with you, while also mourning your baby days a little. I’m telling myself you’re still a baby until you’re two, and then you’ll be a toddler. But the truth is, we’re transitioning from the baby stage to the toddler stage. You’ve grown so fast!

The first week with you was complete bliss. Daddy was home with us and we did absolutely everything as a family of three. Mommy and Daddy were too full of excitement and adrenaline to realize how exhausted they were. Every day since then has been a girls day! Mommy and you stay home together while Daddy goes to work. In the evenings, we welcome Daddy home, have supper, play, have bath time, then Daddy puts you to bed. On the weekends we have family adventures and enjoy time at home together. It took the better part of a year to get our days to look that way. The first four months held many sleepless nights, tears (from you AND mommy & daddy!), and challenges as we navigated parenthood for the first time. There will always be good days and bad days. There will be nights you don’t sleep well. But we have truly taken time to savor each stage with you, and we end each day so grateful for the joy of getting to have you. We don’t take a single moment with you for granted.

This year you experienced your first Halloween, first Thanksgiving, and first Christmas. No sooner had you gotten big enough for mommy to feel brave to take you places than the world was struck by a historic pandemic, and everything shut down as never before. The last 6 months have been so heavy, dark, and depressing all over the world. In the midst of that, our family has had its own hardships. But through it all, you have been our constant comfort. If you are healthy and happy, the rest can worry about itself. Yet at the same time, we don’t make your health and happiness an idol. We know Jesus is always on his throne, and his hand holds and guides your life.

Some of my favorite memories from this year include holding you in the hospital, feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world that you should be here and I should be your mommy. That first week with Daddy, doing every single thing together and talking about everything we were experiencing each night as we waited for the next feeding. Dressing you in all your little outfits like my baby doll. Seeing you all wrapped up in your towel after a bath. I think a squeaky clean, rosy cheeked baby in a towel might be the cutest thing in the world. Dancing with you in the kitchen. Discovering new ways to entertain you, like piling the laundry on you fresh out of the dryer (always taking out anything with metal buttons first!) and having you “help” me fold it. Watching you reach new milestones like rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and pulling up. Realizing you are always out ahead of me and I’m playing catch up. Hearing you babble and talk. Rocking you and singing you lullabies like my mommy and daddy used to sing me. This year has been so special-full of memories too numerous and precious to name- and, following the example of Mary in Luke, I will treasure it in my heart.

You are in such a fun stage right now. We’ve had so many days recently where I’ve thought “This is just plain fun!” You give the best hugs! You squeeze so tight and lean your whole body in. You know what “Can I have a smooch?” means and often reward us with the sweetest, wettest kiss we could hope for. You don’t say anything on command, but you say “mama” and “dada” occasionally. You are very tactile. Your little hands are always working. When you play with something, you turn it over and over in your hands, wanting to examine it from all sides. You feel your feelings HARD. You smile big, laugh big, get mad big, and cry big. You love to eat and you will try anything. You are so good at figuring out new finger foods and love to eat your veggies! You are sensitive and affectionate like Daddy. You are clever and curious like Mommy. We see so much of ourselves reflected back in you but we also know God has made you unique and we can’t wait to learn more about who he created you to be!

As I look out over this next year, I’m–as always–intimidated by the unknown. You’re our firstborn, so everything with you is an experiment. We’ve never parented a one year old before! But those feelings are vastly overshadowed by my excitement about experiencing new ages and stages with you. I’m excited for this fall and holiday season when you will be a little more interactive than last year. I’m excited to watch you become more of a tiny person as you begin to walk, talk, and discover more about the world around you.

There’s a reason I so often call you angel/angel baby/angel girl. God has revealed his goodness to me so much through you. Today I will thank him a little extra, for the gift of holding you for a year.

Love,

Mama