Fall Comfort Food Recipes

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

Garlic Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

Turkey Chili

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

Vegetable Beef Stew

Ingredients:

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

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

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

Pot roast

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

Gift Guide for a One-Year-Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the Fall Things

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

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

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

My fall watchlist:

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

My favorite seasonal treats:

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

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

My fall color palette:

Image via Pinterest

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

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

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!

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!

End of Summer Meal Ideas

We are SO CLOSE to fall. I can’t wait. This year has been such a dumpster fire and I’m absolutely treasuring any little thing we can look forward to. But, if we’re being realistic, we still have several more weeks of hot temperatures before spooky weather. If you’re like me, you left your enthusiasm for meal planning somewhere back in February. Here are a few easy meals we’ve had on rotation all summer that beat the heat and are easy to throw together. They require no oven (it’s too hot for that nonsense), simple ingredients, and they pass the family taste test.

  1. Frito Bowls:
  • Ingredients:
    • 1 bag of chili cheese Fritos (Upgrading from plain to chili cheese is a game-changer.)
    • Ground beef (amount depends on how many people you’re feeding)
    • Taco seasoning

Layer with Mexican fixins’ to your liking. We do:

    • Shredded cheese
    • Black beans
    • Lettuce
    • Diced tomato
    • Green salsa
    • Sour cream
  • Instructions:
    • Brown the ground beef. Add taco seasoning. Layer ingredients in bowl in order listed.

2. Chicken Salad Croissants

  • Ingredients:
    • Approx. 1/2 chicken breast for each person being served
    • Mayonnaise
    • Red grapes, halved
    • Walnuts or pecans
    • Salt & pepper
    • Croissants, sliced
  • Additional options:
    • Pineapple chunks
    • Sliced strawberries
    • Tarragon
    • Craisins instead of grapes
  • Instructions:
    • Boil chicken. Shred with forks or in a food processer
    • Mix in mayo until chicken is coated
    • Add halved grapes, nuts, salt, pepper, & any other preferred ingredients to taste
    • Serve on croissants w/chips or cut raw veggies

3. BLFGT (Bacon, lettuce, fried green tomato) sandwiches

  • Ingredients:
    • Bacon
    • Lettuce
    • Green tomato, sliced
    • 1 Egg
    • Cornmeal
    • White bread
    • Mayo
    • Flour
    • Seasoning Salt
  • Instructions:
    • Cook bacon in a skillet, set aside
    • Use skillet with bacon grease to fry tomatoes
      • Mix cornmeal & seasoning salt together in a small bowl
      • In a separate small bowl, whisk egg.
      • Dip tomato slices in egg, then cornmeal mixture, coating thoroughly. Fry in pan until breading starts to brown.
      • Toast bread. Spread mayo on both slices while still warm.
      • Assemble sandwiches and enjoy!

I hope these will spark some inspiration for your end of summer meal ideas. I also wrote a post about easy dinner recipes you can find here. What are your go-to summer recipes? Share them in the comments!

 

 

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!

Moving? Here’s how to stay organized.

Is it just me, or does something go missing in every move? Or maybe several somethings. I’ve moved 17 times. I don’t mean I’ve lived in 17 different places, although sometimes I feel like I have. I mean I’ve packed up all my earthly possessions and moved them that many times. Between leaving my parent’s house for college, two dorms, one duplex, one janky apartment, one Disney College Program apartment, one internship, two townhouses, and now our farmhouse rental, I’ve got some serious experience under my belt. I’ve lived in three states, 5 cities. Moving can quickly overwhelm even the most organized person, and no matter how prepared you are, it has its unavoidable chaotic moments. Add in a global pandemic that complicates EVERYTHING, and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands. That’s why today I’m sharing all the tips I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Group like items vs. packing by room: Packing by room makes sense to a point. (Ex. packing the kitchen last). But it can get confusing when you have the same types of items in a bunch of different boxes. Categorize your belongings before you start packing. Categories that are stored in multiple rooms should be packed together to make unpacking easier. For example: maybe you have books in multiple rooms. It will be so much easier to pack all your books together and have boxes labeled “books” than it will be to have boxes labeled “bedroom” and “guest room.” Moving is hectic, and you won’t want to have to think about where specific items were in your old space. Group them together so you have everything in front of you when you’re deciding how to store them in your new space.
  2. Think like a professional mover: Pack books in small boxes so they don’t get too heavy. Place heavy items on the bottom of the box so lighter items don’t get damaged. Use towels, linens, and pillows to cushion boxes you aren’t able to fill up to the top. Wrap doors on furniture with plastic so they won’t open while being moved. Don’t pack anything that’s in a removable drawer. Take the drawers out to move the piece, then put them back in once it’s on the truck. Use your baskets, bins, and laundry hampers to collect random items that are left until the last minute. Do whatever you can to make the moving itself easier and smoother.
  3. Label, label, LABEL: The most frustrating part of moving is getting to your new house, looking for something specific, and wondering “Where did it end up?!” (We’re looking at you, Ashton’s retainer.) Your future self will thank you if you take the time to write down EVERYTHING you’re putting in each box. Be detailed. List it out, especially if it’s a random assortment of items. Examples: Write “winter clothes, outerwear, scarves/hats/gloves, winter boots” instead of just “clothes.” Write “Lyla size 18 months & up” instead of just “baby stuff.” You should be able to tell what’s in the box without opening it. And know that if you ever write “Miscellaneous” or “Stuff” on a box, I will crash through your wall like the Kool-Aid man and knock the Sharpie out of your hand.
  4. Always over-protect: If it’s breakable, assume that it will break and plan accordingly. Use foam wrap for dishware, bubble wrap for glass, and plastic wrap or newspaper for anything questionable. You can spend your time, money, and effort protecting what you have or cleaning it up and replacing it when it breaks.
  5. Invest wisely: Moving can get expensive fast. Choose where to invest to make sure your items get to their destination safely and without damage. If you’re using a professional moving company, look into their pricing and service offerings. It may make more sense to go ahead and pay them to pack up your items as well as load them. This would be a great option if you’re in a position where you simply don’t have the time to dedicate to packing up carefully. If you’re doing the move yourself, don’t skimp on materials. Good quality boxes, tape, and protective wraps will ensure that even in a DIY move, your belongings are protected.

These tips have served me well over the years. I’ve never had anything get irreversibly damaged, and 99% of my stuff seems to make the trip. For some reason there are always some clothes that seem to enter the spirit realm before we can reach our destination. Any moving hacks that have saved you? Drop them in the comments!