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.

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

Best Baby Buys

 

We’ve almost made it through the first year with our little Lyla Rose! Over the course of that year, we’ve come to know and love baby products that have made our lives easier. There are so many baby products out there, things can get overwhelming fast. That’s why I’m sharing the things we’ve used the most. Of course every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. But each of these products is certainly worth a try! I also wrote a post about baby registry tips that you can read here!

Fisher Price Sit-Me-Up-If I had the brain space, I would write a love song to the Sit Me Up. We got so much use out of this thing. Lyla loved it, and it allowed us to be hands-free with her while knowing she was both safe and entertained. I squeezed her in it until she couldn’t squeeze no more. This is truly my favorite piece of baby gear.

Hatch baby rest & portable sound machine-If you’ve read a baby products post in the last year, you’ve read about the Hatch Baby Rest. It’s a white noise machine and nightlight that can be controlled from your phone. White noise is an essential component for baby sleep, and this thing is worth every penny. You’ll also want a portable sound machine for on the go. I’ve heard great things about the Rohm, but I think just about any sound machine that has the option to plug in and use battery will do. We have this one.

Fridababy Baby Basics Kit-We had used everything in this kit by the time Lyla was 4 weeks old. The silicone brush is great for cradle cap, the nail clippers and file are so helpful for those impossibly tiny fingernails, the gas passer saved us on a couple occasions in the newborn days, and the snot sucker is legendary.

Fisher Price Space Saver Hi-Chair-I’m always interested in products that can transition through different phases with baby. This hi-chair can be used for bottle feeding, starting solids/table foods, and as a booster seat in the toddler stage. It also saves space by attaching to a kitchen chair you already have. Every part of it is machine washable or dishwasher safe. I even take the straps off once every couple weeks and run them through the washer in a garment bag. We love this thing!

Aden & Anais Burpy Bibs-These burp cloths cover the most surface area, are soft and absorbent, and have a snap closure for use as bibs. They come in so many cute prints and colors. We’re still using them as we approach one year. I can’t promise you won’t get spit up on (actually I can promise that you will), but I can say these are your best chance for keeping everyone’s outfit clean.

Zarabee’s Daily Bottom Balm– This is the only diaper cream we’ve found that truly keeps diaper rash at bay. Lyla never had a problem with diaper rash until she started solids. This was the cream that cleared it up, and we’ve stuck with it ever since. If she does happen to get some redness, it’s gone within 24 hours. We apply it every night as a preventative. And a bonus–this cream is more like a gel than a thick paste, making application easy. And it doesn’t stick to every surface like some of the creams we’ve used.

Ubbi Weighted Wipes DispenserWe received this as a gift from one of my dear college friends whose eye for practicality I always trust! It keeps your wipes from coming out one million at a time. It fits every pack of wipes we’ve tried, and the simple design doesn’t clash with nursery decor. Trust and believe, it will be a diaper changing game changer!

Hello Bello Diapers & WipesIf you can’t tell by now, diapering is a huge part of the first year of baby’s life. I first tried Hello Bello diapers because they were significantly cheaper than Pamper’s in the bulk size. I’m always skeptical of celebrity brands, but I’ve been so happy with Hello Bello products. Their wipes are 99% water, and I think the combination of their diapers and wipes with Zarabee’s diaper cream is what keeps Lyla’s booty clear of diaper rash. You can bundle their diapers through their site or pick them up from Walmart.

Pampers Wipes For Cleanup-We may be a Hello Bello household, but no shade to Pamper’s. I keep a pack of Pamper’s wipes on hand for clean up because they contain more soap. I also use them in the diaper bag since they are multi-functional. It’s not that Hello Bello wipes don’t work for cleanup, I just prefer to keep all my diaper changing supplies stocked for that purpose only. It makes it easier to grab a 3-pack of Pamper’s, knowing they will only be used for messes and on-the-go. These things work wonders on smeared peanut butter, messy hands and faces, and wiping down surfaces in a pinch.

Gas Drops & Tylenol-Plan to have a few basic medicines on hand before baby arrives. We used these gas drops SO much during Lyla’s first couple months (hello, milk allergy!). Tylenol is just good to have on hand. Obviously, I am not a doctor. Always consult your pediatrician before giving your child medications.

What I wish I’d gotten:

There are a couple items I didn’t get that I will be getting if I have another baby. Learn from my mistakes!

Boppy Pillow-Per the advice of friends, I registered for a Boppy Newborn Lounger and a My Brest Friend pillow. In hindsight, I could have gotten the original Boppy and it would have performed both functions and grown with Lyla. Lyla didn’t care for the Newborn Lounger and it doesn’t really function past the newborn stage. My Brest Friend is a great tool for nursing, but leave it in the package until you’re sure you’re going to nurse. I wasn’t able to, but I couldn’t return it because I had brought it to the hospital. The Boppy pillow is a place to prop baby, a nursing pillow, and will serve as a support when they start sitting up. If I had it to do over again, I’d just get the Boppy and get the My Brest Friend if I needed it for nursing help.

Ottoman-This may seem really out of left field, but I would get an ottoman for your rocker if you have one that doesn’t recline. I love our rocker and I wouldn’t want a different one, but I do wish I had something to prop my feet on for those long nights when baby needs to be held. No matter what kind of sleep training you’re doing, those nights will come!

A Letter To My Pregnant Self

Dear Ashton,

I know you’re restless. I know you’re so ready to meet the sweet baby in your giant belly…to see her, to hold her, to know her and watch her grow. I know it’s hot. And your ankles have fat rolls. And she’s sitting so low in your pelvis, you’re having chronic nerve pain that some (probably male) jerk has eloquently named “lightning crotch.” And I promise not to go all Trace Adkins on you and tell you you’re gonna miss this. Because you’re not. No one misses those things. But I am asking you to do something crazy. Enjoy it.

Enjoy it because it will never be like this again. Go walk around a store and take as much time as you want. Go get an Icee at the gas station because the whim strikes you. Get in and out of the car a hundred times running pointlessly around town. Nap when you’re tired. Watch a movie. Sit your butt on a couch and watch TV and eat snacks uninterrupted and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHERISH IT!

You’ve always been such a good student. You’ve read all the books, taken all the classes, asked all the questions, and sought out advice. And sweet pea…none of it will prepare you. Because nothing on this planet can prepare you. You weren’t a mother before, and now you are. A fundamental cosmic shift has taken place. The Lord is doing a new thing. I know you know this intellectually, but I know it experientially, and it cannot be overstated. Don’t worry about being prepared. Walk into that delivery room with open hands and a heart willing to give all of yourself to this child and you will have done everything you need to do. I mean, yeah, build the crib. But don’t get bogged down in some “pre-baby checklist.”

You’re going to wonder if you’ve made a mistake. You’re going to wonder why you wanted this in the first place. You’re going to wonder if you’re cut out to be a mom and know that it’s too late to wonder that. You’re going to sit in the bathroom floor with the fan on to drown out the sound of your baby’s cries, shouting at God that if he controls the whole universe…why can’t he help your baby GO TO SLEEP?!

Your baby’s spit up will defy physics. You will watch as the carpet, the couch, the rocking chair you obsessed over, are all covered with stains you would need a degree in chemistry to get out. Actually, scratch that. Your husband and father both have degrees in chemistry and the stains are still there. You will sit burping her, bleary-eyed in the dead of night, and feel the cups of your bra fill with her vomit. This, despite the fact that you are wearing a tank top, t-shirt, and robe over said bra.

And that bra. While we’re on the subject, it’s your nursing bra. You’re not using it for nursing. You’re using it because you realized it was you or breastfeeding, and only one could win. You made a survival decision for you and your baby both. And now your breasts, the same ones who would not release their milk as your baby screamed a scream so fierce it made you dizzy with nausea, are taunting you by leaking that milk on all your shirts.

You see, dear girl, this mothering thing is not for the weak. So in the moments where you feel weak, remember that you’re not. No one weak could do what you’re about to do. No one weak would go through a 14 step process just to use the bathroom and then walk out and pour love and warmth and comfort over the squirming little creature that tore some very important things on its way into this world. I need you to hear me when I tell you that you CAN do it. You are meant to do it. You are the best person for the job.

And can I tell you something else? It’s not all combat. In fact, when you add it all up together, the hard moments don’t seem to matter much in comparison to the sweet ones. You will hold that baby in the hospital, just a few hours old, and feel more like yourself than you’ve ever felt. You will hold her in the warm yellow glow of her nursery, making silent, awed eye contact with your husband, feeling like if someone were looking in the window at this scene, it would look like something out of 1950’s Disney animation. Yes, your world will burst into Mary Blair-style technicolor when she smiles, when she coos, when she rests her fat little cheek on your shoulder, and when she sleeps peacefully…a teeny tiny burrito in her comparatively giant crib.

Your eyes will fill with tears drawn from a well deep within when she is–all of a sudden–able to do something she couldn’t do before. One day she could only lie flat on her back, and now she can roll! One day she could only scoot, and now she can crawl! And so quickly it will become, “One day they laid her on my chest, and now she’s pushing her walker across the floor, calling me ‘mama.'”

For no cliche has ever been more true than this one: The days are long, but the years are short. There will be long days, to be sure. Days when you pray for a time machine to fast forward past the crying, past the sleepless nights, past the feelings of helplessness you both have. But there will also be days where you are planning her first birthday party, and you actually cannot believe her life can be measured in years now.

So treasure these days, dear heart. Rest as much as you can. The sun is setting on your newlywed days and I want you to soak them up for all they’re worth. You’re about to be broken down and built into something different, so just love who you are right now.

And please, for the love of all, eat something more than a bowl of ramen noodles on the night of September 8th, 2019. Trust me.

How To Make Housework Manageable

Running a household is a full time job. Now more than ever, I think we’re all acutely aware of just how overwhelming housework can be. It often feels pointless and thankless. All the tasks are never-ending. Even if you get it all done, you just have to do it all over again the next day. As things pile up, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and, consequently, paralyzed. And yet, none of us want to live in a filthy house. So how do we make it work? Today I’m sharing tips for how I’ve made housework feel manageable in our home. As you read them, please remember that I don’t have a job. If you’re one of the many who are balancing a job AND managing your home during this insane time, please give yourself a heaping helping of grace. I believe these tips can help everyone, whether you stay home with kids, work from home, or are back at your workplace, but remember–perfection is not the goal!

1. Know your why:

This is a concept a lot of business coaches talk about: honing your purpose so that when things get hard, you can go back to that core “why” statement and focus on what motivated you in the first place. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? Here’s my why statement:

I want my home to be a place of peace for those I love, and a place that readily welcomes guests.

I stay on top of housework because I believe clutter and messiness cause avoidable stress and chaos. There’s so much in the world I can’t control. I can’t protect my husband and daughter from what the world throws at them, but I can make sure the place they come home to is a respite for their hearts, minds, and souls. I can structure the day-to-day realities of our lives to be seamless and serve our needs. I can make our home inviting for guests so we can practice Christlike hospitality. I have a policy that if someone asks to come to my house, the answer is yes. Keeping these core values in the back of my mind makes doing housework feel purposeful and even rewarding.

2. Break it down:

Once you know WHY you’re doing housework, the next thing to tackle is HOW to get it done. I believe this will look different in every household, but here are some broad principles that can be tweaked to your lifestyle:

  • Make a daily list: This is a list of chores you want done every day. Think through what things are the most urgent, pain points in your daily routine, things that get the dirtiest/messiest, etc. My daily list is: make the bed, tend to laundry whether that’s washing or putting away, pick up in each room, sweep main living areas, wipe down kitchen surfaces, wash dishes, clean out litter box, and shake out small rugs. I make the bed in the morning and the rest gets done during naps and after Lyla goes to bed. Remember that tidying goes a long way. Oftentimes if you just pick up in a room you’ll realize there’s really not much to do other than quick, basic cleaning. Create a habit of picking up after yourself as you go about your day. Build from your daily list until you have tasks you tackle daily, weekly, and monthly.
  • Be realistic: Set yourself up for success by having realistic expectations. The point of this exercise it to make housework manageable, not stress yourself out even further. For example, I’ve heard some people say to do laundry every day to stay on top of it. I tried that method and it didn’t work for me. I need to be able to feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete a task in order to stay motivated. Finishing laundry each day knowing I was just going to turn around and have to do it again the next day was so depressing. I now do laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Mondays to start the week fresh, Fridays to get us through the weekend, and Wednesdays to catch up in the middle. If I don’t manage to get it put away day-of, Tuesdays and Thursdays act a buffer. Think about yourself laying down to sleep each night. What completed tasks would make you breathe a sigh of relief? Focus on those as your daily tasks and prioritize the rest based on your working style and household needs.
  • Take time off: The cold, hard truth is: housework is never-ending. Has anyone else gotten the hamper empty only to pick up dirty clothes to put in and thought about running away and starting a new life? Just me? The point is, you have to take time off or it will drive you crazy. I take off weekends just like you would for a 9-5 job. My “job” is being a stay at home mom. That means I never clock out. I never get a lunch break. I don’t get a drive to and from work to decompress. I am at my job 24/7. If you’ve been working from home during COVID, you know what I mean! We all need permission to play, and there’s no bigger fun suck than housework. Have a designated time where it’s allowed to fall by the wayside, and don’t feel guilty!

3. Give it grace: Once you have your list of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, remember that none of it is rigid. A couple weekends ago I had a burst of cleaning mojo on Sunday evening. I usually take weekends off, but I was feeling productive so I tackled a few things that ended up saving me time on Monday. Breaking everything down is just a tool to give you a starting point. Know that some days the housework is just not going to happen. Life is for living, not cleaning. Some days your kids are going to be needy. Some days work is going to demand your time. Some days you need to sit motionless on your couch eating snacks because you just NEED A MOMENT. As with any good habit in life, if you are disciplined and faithful most of the time, you can afford to be lenient some of the time.

I hope these tips will inspire you to tackle your housework with a new mindset. What tips have helped in your house? Share them in the comments!

Helpful Household Rhythms

The uncertainty and turmoil in the world right now can feel like such a heavy load. I wanted to share some simple, non-strenuous habits that have helped me care for myself and my household well. Now more than ever it’s important that our homes feel like a refuge. These tips can be implemented in any home.

1) Self-care before chores: You know how you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else on an airplane? Running a household is kind of like that. You can’t care for your loved ones if you’re constantly depleted. I used to turn into a Tasmanian devil of productivity during Lyla’s naps. She would wake up and I’d be frustrated because I hadn’t gotten to do anything for myself. I was acting like Cinderella pre-Fairy Godmother—a servant in my own house. I re-prioritized. I read my Bible, eat something decent, and try to move my body before doing housework. I check in with myself. If I’ve got cleaning mojo, I turn on a podcast or music and see how much I can get done during a nap. If housework sounds like a huge bummer, I rest or do something creative.

2) Help with hydration: If you’re reading this, you’re dehydrated. When Andrew and I were newlyweds, I would tease him about being obsessed with hydration. But during my pregnancy, I became really intentional about staying hydrated. And y’all…I felt so much better! Ever since Lyla was born I’ve had the hardest time drinking enough and I can tell a difference. Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, kidney problems, digestive problems, and so much more. If you’re like me and you have a hard time getting water down, here are some tips:
-Use a straw. I drink so much more when I use a straw. You can get re-useable straws everywhere now.
-Make up a pitcher of water with fruit slices to keep in your fridge. Having that little bit of taste will make you more likely to drink. I use orange slices. If you don’t find this realistic, try buying Hint water, which doesn’t have added sugars.
-Use a water bottle with hours. You can find these on Etsy. This has helped me be mindful about how much I should be drinking.
-If you’re really struggling, try making unsweet, decaffeinated tea and adding fruit slices or fruit juice. This isn’t ideal as there is a lot of sugar in juice, but it’s better than a Coke or nothing at all.

3) Donate unwanted items: I’ve been asking myself recently “Doesn’t anyone just give things away any more?” Every time I get on social media, someone is selling something. I understand wanting to be frugal and get money back from an item you’ve purchased, and I’m certainly not judging anyone! But I also wonder if it’s worth the time and energy. For me personally, there’s no way the money I would make could justify the time I’d spend. Look for a charity that is currently able to take in-kind donations, or pass the items along to someone in need.

4) Set smartphone limits: I had to ask myself, “Do you really not have time to do everything you want to do in a day, or do you not have time to do it AND scroll your phone for hours?” I’m still a work in progress, but I set boundaries based on what I didn’t like. My ideal phone use in a day would look like: no scrolling first thing in the morning, no scrolling in bed at night, and no scrolling during Lyla’s awake time. I don’t nail this every day, but setting those goals keeps me mindful and accountable. It’s incredible how much I can get done when my phone isn’t slowing me down.

5) Slow it down: Speaking of slowing down, be intentional about things that force you to slow your pace. Quarantine has given us all this opportunity. After living in Lexington for four years and having our time there end so traumatically, the slower pace of life in Western Kentucky has been so soothing to my soul. Sun tea steeping on the porch, picking blackberries, playing under a shade tree on a tattered quilt, and trying new recipes have all felt like such luxuries.

I know there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel with COVID and it can send us spiraling from time to time. But even as the months wear on, I’m convinced there is goodness to mine from the slowed down pace we’ve been forced into. What’s something from your childhood you can bring back now? What’s something your grandparents taught you? What’s something you always wanted more time for? It’s now or never! I hope these suggestions will be helpful and encouraging. Even as we all battle the fear and hardship that so permeates our world right now, I am hopeful that each one of us can find some sense of peace by living intentionally. How are you doing this? Let me know in the comments!