Gift Guide for New Moms

This will be the last gift guide I share this year, but I didn’t want to let the season pass without acknowledging new moms! A baby’s first Christmas also means that there’s a woman in your life celebrating her first Christmas as a mama. Last year, Lyla was three months old at Christmastime. I was so tired and didn’t really know what to ask for because I didn’t even know what I wanted. My thoughts were completely consumed with Lyla. Chances are, if there’s a new mom in your family, she’s in the same boat. I tried to choose items I thought would appeal to most women, regardless of their personal style. You will note that none of these gifts are baby items. Moms are still women in addition to being mothers. New moms think about their baby and put them first 24 hours a day. Do not get something for the baby as “their” gift. Of course moms love getting gifts for the baby, but don’t forget to acknowledge that you still see her as herself and not just as baby’s mom.

Loopy phone case // I honestly don’t know how I would make it without this thing. As the mom to littles, you constantly have a million things in your hand. Being able to loop my phone around a finger or thumb and know it’s not going anywhere is so helpful.

Mom Q & A journal // My sister-in-law got me this last year and it’s been one of my favorite gifts. It has a short prompt for each day of the year, and you’ll answer each question/prompt for five years. There’s so much I want to remember about these days but it’s so hard to collect my thoughts. It all goes by so fast. Being able to focus on one day at a time and just write a couple sentences has allowed me to preserve memories I probably would have forgotten. I love that I’ll be able to look back each year at the previous years’ responses, too.

A massage // If anyone deserves a massage, it’s new moms. Their body has been through so much and they spend almost all day looking down, picking up a baby, and probably taking care of the housework, too. Get a gift certificate for a reputable, local massage therapist. Did she get pre-natal massages? Buy a certificate for that same place!

Baby’s initial/name necklace // The necklace linked is the most popular style right now. I ordered my necklace from this company. I love the cursive “L,” and I couldn’t find a letter necklace in cursive. There are lots of personalization options if you search “name necklace” on Etsy. You can incorporate birthstones, choose an option that allows you to add more names/initials in the future, opt for a monogram, or go with the letter trend.

A comfy robe // If she’s had a baby in the last year, chances are she’s going to be spending a lot of time around the house. Get something she won’t feel too frumpy in, like this soft, pink number.

A large tote bag // I linked a more fashionable option, but if you’re going for maximum functionality, I’ve heard great things about this Land’s End canvas tote. They have lots of sizing options and you can personalize. Most of the time, moms will be carrying the diaper bag. But it’s nice to have something to easily transfer your things to when you’re leaving the baby with someone else.

A gift card for a mani/pedi // New moms need pampering, but often feel guilty taking time for themselves. A gift card will give them a reason to go have some mommy time.

Cute sneakers // Whether she’s at the grocery, the pediatrician, running errands, or taking baby for a stroller walk, new moms will be getting some serious steps in. Get her a pair of sneakers that are comfy and go with everything. I’m also linking something more trendy here. I love Keds and these leather lace-ups can be worn with tons of different outfits. I would personally lean toward the Nikes because if you can keep white leather shoes clean, you’re a wizard.

Cozy slippers // I would opt for a pair with hard, non-slip bottoms. Bonus points if you get a matching robe, slippers, and a coffee mug for a themed present since that’s basically the new mom uniform.

Cute loungewear/PJ sets // I can’t stress enough the value of being able to feel somewhat put together but also comfy. Matching loungewear or pajama sets make it seem like you put an outfit together even when you’re just in sweats.

Beauty gift set // Ulta has a ton of great gift sets. You can get fragrance, skin care, makeup, or hair care products in trial sizes for a great price. They also have special holiday sets that feature seasonal colors, packaging, and combinations of a brand’s best-selling products.

A meal delivery service subscription or gift card: This year has been extremely hard on new moms. Because of COVID, many went without the support they so desperately need. Mama didn’t get a meal train when baby was born? Make up for it by getting her a subscription to Hello Fresh or another meal delivery service.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Coffee mug // For obvious reasons
  • Hair accessories // Baby is going to be grabbing mom’s hair 24/7. Thankfully, hair accessories are trending right now. Headbands, scrunchies, and clips, oh my!
  • Wet Brush // Once I switched to a wet brush, I couldn’t go back. I linked classic black, but I have my eye on this Disney Princess one.
  • Beauty tools // Make her makeup routine as easy as possible.
  • Nail polish // This Target brand is the best I’ve found at not chipping.
  • Gift cards // For clothing stores so she can work on her post-baby wardrobe.
  • Hand lotion // She’ll be washing her hands a lot.
  • Lip balm // Baby takes all your moisture with them when they’re born.
  • Soft, cozy socks // for plodding around the house for night feedings
  • Small candle // Because babies fill your house with ALL the smells
  • Pom pom keychain // So she can easily feel her keys in her purse
  • Jewelry // Doesn’t have to be expensive, just something that matches her style
  • Sheet mask // For quick, at-home self care.
  • Mascara // Get a trial size of a more expensive kind for her to try, or stock up on her fave.

And that’s all she wrote for gift guides around here this year! If you haven’t gotten your shopping done, now is the time! Shipping times are getting crazy, stores are getting busy, and things will go out of stock. If you need more ideas, check out my gift guide for men, gift guide for one year olds, and best baby buys!

My Fall/Winter Mom Uniforms

When I decided I wanted to have a baby, I knew it would change my body. Through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, I accepted the differences because I believed wholeheartedly a healthy baby was worth it. Sure, I wish my stomach would stop bending over when I do, and that my neck didn’t look like a deflating balloon. But I truly was at peace with the fact that my body had changed. What I wasn’t prepared for was how dressing this new body would become a source of stress. After Lyla was born, I continued wearing my maternity clothes. As the weeks passed and maternity clothes grew too large, I panicked. If I had to get dressed to go somewhere, I would sit on my bed and cry–staring at my closet overwhelmed. I didn’t know what size I was, or what would fit, or what would look good on me. Something about that was so unsettling to me. Having to re-learn a skill as basic as getting dressed sent me reeling. And if there’s one thing moms don’t have enough of, it’s time to spend on themselves. I rode it out in baggy lounge clothes until I was ready to try everything on, pack up or donate what didn’t fit, and start filling holes in my wardrobe with pieces in my new sizes. Over the last year, I’ve developed a few tried-and-true “uniforms” I can use to combat outfit anxiety before it starts. Today, I’m sharing those with you along with a few general tips for looking and feeling your best. One of the best things we can do is let our kids see us shine, too!

Loungewear looks: Let’s be real, as a mom in 2020, I spend most of my time at home having various substances wiped on my clothes. I try not to put pressure on myself to look Insta-worthy at all times, but I do feel significantly better when I actually get dressed. (Read: Take off my pajamas and put on other clothes) My criteria for an around-the-house outfit is: 1) I have to be able to answer the door in it without feeling ashamed. 2) I have to be able to jump in the car and take Lyla to the pediatrician if there’s an emergency (yes, this has happened multiple times). I generally alternate between two uniforms: Leggings with an over-sized graphic tee & joggers with a tank and cardigan. I can throw on sneakers with either outfit if we have to run out the door. I get most of these clothes at Victoria’s Secret (I only shop their semi-annual sale and their stuff lasts really well), Old Navy (great for comfy tees, tanks & cardigans), and Walmart (great for basic tees & cheap men’s tees that can be worn with leggings.) This outfit: Tee from Walmart, leggings are Chaps brand from Kohl’s that I got at Goodwill and I love them. The material is thick and good quality.

Running errands/Casual looks: High-waisted jeans with a striped tee & flannel is my errand-running uniform when the weather cools down. No matter the temperature, it gets HOT lugging around these babies. I love being able to tie my flannel around my waist. You can do this look with leggings too, I just prefer jeans because I’m really particular about having my shirt be long enough when I’m wearing leggings. When the weather gets really cold, opt for a sweater, Sherpa, or cardigan over a thinner shirt so you still have layers to work with. I pair with sneakers (I love Keds, TJ Maxx, and Walmart for cute canvas options) or low-heeled booties. This outfit: Lucky Brand jeans from TJ Maxx, tank & flannel from Old Navy. Mickey Mouse Keds old from Disney World but I love any style Keds.

Church/Dressy looks: Once I became a mom, I retired my beloved mini skirts and dresses. Not because I don’t like how they look (I still love them!), but purely for practical reasons. I’m constantly bending down to pick up Lyla or something she dropped. She pulls on my clothes when she’s on my hip. In short: modesty is key! I’ve adopted the midi/maxi peasant dress as my weapon of choice. I opt for high necklines and easy lengths (nothing I could trip over in flats). I usually pair them with heeled booties. Belt them for a more polished look, or wear loose and flowy for a laid-back style. (Or, realistically, if you plan to eat a big lunch after church). I’ve found the most luck with midis and maxis at Old Navy and Target. This outfit: Dress from Old Navy (they have several prints), Belt from H&M (a friend gave it to me so I don’t know the exact style)

Date night/Girls’ night/Baby-free time: When I know I’m going to be away from Lyla for a few hours, I like to have fun with my outfit. I wear necklaces because she always pulls on them and I end up taking them off. I wear an above-the-knee skirt or dress because I won’t be carrying her around. Or, as pictured, a white sweater which I would never dream of wearing around her! I will say, I wouldn’t advise buying clothes you can’t wear around your child. But this is a good time to pull out old faves you don’t typically get to wear anymore. This outfit: Sweater Old Navy last year, Hat from Walmart which is where all the cute, cheap hats are.

General tips: If you find yourself regularly facing what I’m calling “outfit anxiety,” here are some general tips that have been helpful for me.

1) Lean in to what works. Try to narrow down to a consistent color palette, a few fabrics you really love, or patterns that make you feel put together. For example, I wear different colors seasonally, but I always have mauve-y pinks, dusty blues, and neutrals because those are my favorite colors. As a result, a lot of my outfits can mix and match. I really love chambray, and white, flowy cotton tanks. I can pair them with lots of things. If I find good ones in my budget, I buy them. I feel great in stripes so a go-to outfit for me is a striped tee, jeans, and flats or sandals. No need to overthink it. If your wardrobe starts looking like slight variations of the same outfit, in my opinion that just means you’re honing in on your signature style.

2) Eliminate variables. If you’re putting an outfit together and you have one sticking point, swap it for something else. For example, you have on leggings but you’re having a tough time finding a top that looks good with them. Swap the leggings for jeans and go from there. If you find yourself in one of those high-stress moments when getting dressed, just start putting clothes on. Choose undergarments. Choose a pair of pants that work with the underwear (Example: if you put on dark underwear, you can’t wear white pants. That eliminates one option.) Choose a top that works with the pants. (Example: You chose black jeans, so choose a top that pairs well with them.) As you put on each piece, commit to it and don’t let anything you see in your closet derail you. Sometimes you have to treat yourself like a toddler to get out the door on time.

3) Put away things that don’t fit: Keeping up with your wardrobe is impossible during the baby years. There’s so much fluctuation and you want to keep things in case you have another baby in the future. Do your best to pack away anything that doesn’t fit you right here and now, and store it somewhere out of sight. Decision fatigue is real and having things in your line of sight you can’t wear just makes getting dressed harder.

Those are my tips and tricks for simplifying getting dressed for the day! Whether you’re staying around the house and won’t see a living soul other than your kid(s), or you’re getting out and about, I hope these were helpful! What about you? Do you have uniforms?

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!

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

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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!