Fall Dessert Recipes

“In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning, can pull everyone from bed in a fog. Food is better in November than any other time of the year.”
― Cynthia Rylant, In November

Now that Halloween is over and we all have Election Feelings to deal with, we should talk about dessert! The holiday season is here and we’re all looking for ways to celebrate and create wonderful memories in spite of literally everything. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite fall dessert recipes that would be a wonderful addition to any Thanksgiving table and welcome little helpers to the kitchen. Food creates the coziest atmosphere that can transcend any heaviness that may accompany your holiday season. (We just won’t worry about the heaviness it may cause!)

No-Bake Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • Crust:
    • 1 box gingersnap cookies (you won’t need the whole box but I’ve never seen them in a smaller quantity)
    • 1/2 Stick of butter
  • Filling:
    • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese, softened
    • 3/4 cup of pumpkin
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tub Cool Whip, thawed
    • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 tsp nutmeg

Instructions:

  • For crust:
    • Pulverize 2.5 cups of cookies in food processor. You will want 2.5 cups of crumbs when finished.
    • Melt butter in microwave & mix with cookie crumbs.
    • Press into pie plate and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
  • For filling:
    • Beat cream cheese in mixer until smooth
    • Add pumpkin and mix until combined
    • Add powdered sugar and mix on low
    • Add Cool Whip. Beat on high several minutes.
    • Add pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg. Taste mixture and add more if desired.
    • Spread filling into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate until set up, at least a few hours. Set out cheesecake about 30 minutes before serving to allow crust to soften enough for cutting.

Notes: Thanksgiving treats us to so many warm, rich, heavy foods, this cold dessert is a nice finisher. The crust can be modified with more cookies or butter depending on how you like your crust consistency. This cheesecake is simple and fairly plain for those who don’t like decadent dessert. If you want more going on, get creative with garnish. Top with gingersnaps, sprinkle nutmeg, drizzle caramel…or whatever sounds good to you!

Brown Butter Maple Pecan Blondies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped toasted pecans, divided (1 cup set aside, 1/4 cup set aside)

Instructions:

  • For brown butter:
    • Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until butter browns and smells nutty (5-7 minutes). Immediately pour into a bowl. Place in fridge or freezer to cool, whisking every few minutes until thickened and creamy (about 20 minutes). Butter should look like melted peanut butter when done. (If you’re making this all at once, use the freezer for faster set up. If you’re making the brown butter ahead of time to use as an ingredient later, use the fridge.)
  • For blondies:
    • Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs & sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
    • Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add slowly into egg mixture, alternating with cooled butter, beating on low after each addition. Slowly beat in maple syrup and vanilla. Beat just until combined. Fold in 1 cup of the pecans with a spoon.
    • Pour batter into greased and floured 9×13 inch baking pan and spread into an even layer. Top with remaining 1/4 cup pecans.
    • Bake in preheated oven 35 minutes, or until golden and a wooden pick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool in pan 1 hour before cutting.

Notes: This Southern Living recipe makes use of toasted pecans and maple…two underrated flavors of fall. DON’T FORGET: The brown butter will need time to set up. I hate when I get rolling on a recipe and have to stop and wait. Make the brown butter the night before or in the morning and plan to bake later in the day, or just build in extra prep time.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is no way I could improve upon this recipe from I Heart Naptime. Visit her site for the recipe so she gets all the credit.

While these aren’t the traditional pumpkin and pecan pie desserts we usually see at Thanksgiving, I hope they will inspire you to try something new or give a jolt of creativity for some of your tried-and-true recipes. I truly believe there is always more to be thankful for than there is to mourn, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I pray you would know that hope this holiday season.

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?

Men’s Gift Guide

I decided to get a jump start on Christmas this year. This is my fourth year as the woman of the house (aka The Gift Buyer), and I’ve learned my lesson about waiting. Things sell out online and stores get too busy. I expect both those factors to be even more chaotic this year because of COVID. I’ve already got all of Lyla’s presents (Check out my Gift Guide for One-Year-Olds here). Next up is buying for the men in my life! Shopping for men can be so challenging. They never “want” anything, or the things they do want are expensive. Here, I’ve compiled every gift I’ve gotten Andrew in our six years together (not to brag, but they’ve all been home runs), as well as the things I have my eye on for upcoming holidays.

Men’s Gift Ideas:

  • Duffel bag & matching toiletry bag // Most men refuse to spend money on themselves. The gifts they’ll appreciate most are practical things they can actually use, but would never have bought on their own. This was one of the first things I bought for Andrew and he has brought up time and again how much he loves it.
  • Winter weather accessories // Again, men don’t buy things. There’s a reason God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Stock your man up on hats, gloves, and scarves for the winter months. Some for dressy outfits, some for working outside, and some waterproof for snow days.
  • Record player & records // If the man you’re buying for is an old soul, he’ll appreciate the unmistakable sound of a spinning record. You can buy new albums or turn hunting for vintage ones into a fun hobby.
  • Updated clothing basics // When I met Andrew, his wardrobe was comprised entirely of things he’d owned since high school and clothes his mom had bought for his dad at a consignment store that were too small to fit so they got passed on to Andrew. He wanted to update his style, but didn’t have the time or desire to shop. Even slight upgrades to his basic tees, jeans, and shoes went a long way. Don’t try to change him, just pick out comfortable, easy-to-pair staples that reflect his personality and style.
  • House slippers // A good pair with hard bottoms will last a while and keep him cozy when he goes to check out what that noise was at night.
  • A staple pair of tennis shoes // Andrew is very hard on shoes, and he tends to wear one pair for everything until he literally wears holes in them. A pair of shoes specifically for casual wear will make his other shoes last longer.
  • Wallet // When I posted this link, this Ralph Lauren wallet was on sale for $17.99. Is your husband’s wallet hanging on by a thread? A new one that matches his style will be appreciated for its utility and thoughtfulness.
  • Car cleaning kit or car wash membership// In my search for a link to this kit, I also stumbled across this cleaning gel that I now want to order for my car. There are also vacuum cleaning kits with multiple attachments if you want to get into some serious detailing. If your man isn’t one who enjoys washing his car, or doesn’t have the time, you could get him a membership at a local car wash.
  • Cologne // Andrew prefers this body spray to actual cologne. I linked a low-priced option, but if you’re searching for something more high-end, you could browse a department store and choose a cologne you like. Andrew told me he didn’t care what it smelled like, he just wanted to smell like something I want to smell.
  • Grilling utensils w/their favorite team’s logo: Whether tailgating at the game or hosting friends to watch at home, he’ll love showing these off.
  • Clothing/hat from their favorite sports team: While it may seem too obvious to we women (who, ahem, tend to overthink things), men are happy to rep their team no matter how much gear they may already have.
  • Insulated tervis: I got a small camo tervis from the brand linked and it performs as well as our Yeti tervis for a fraction of the price. Keep water cold in the summer and coffee hot in the winter.
  • Yoga mat & resistance bands: Yoga mats aren’t just for yoga. Gyms are still kind of weird here in 2020. These bands will allow him to work out anywhere. Yoga mats can be used for any type of floor exercises or stretching or, of course, yoga! Andrew has done yoga with me a few times and he says it gives the best stretches for his hip flexors, just FYI.
  • Robe: Even the most hot-natured hubby will be chilly on winter mornings. Plus, a good robe is a rite of passage for the man of the house.
  • Personalized tie bar: Tie tacks aren’t as much of a thing these days. Opt for a tie bar he can pair with any tie. You can buy a set with different metals/finishes, or go with a personalized option for something meaningful.
  • Portable speaker: I got one of these for free from work once and gave it to Andrew and he raved about it. He used it when working out at home, outside washing the cars, and while studying.
  • Biography of a man they admire: Andrew enjoys reading but after reading so much for school, it took him a while to get back into it. I got him this book about John Wayne and he read the whole thing quickly.
  • A book related to their interests: In a similar vein, you could get a book about something you know your man loves and wants to learn more about. Business, a historical figure or period of history (like WWII), a sport he loves, a criminal case that relates to his field of work…the possibilities are endless.
  • Outerwear: Andrew always seems to have 100 jackets and yet none of them serve the function needed in the moment. Make sure he has a rain jacket, a winter coat, a dress coat for church/events, and a light jacket for casual outfits.
  • Gift basket themed around their interests: OK so I couldn’t find a link for this one, but if you’re really stumped, choose a theme and make a gift basket around it. Andrew loves all things Kentucky and cooking, so my parents once got him an Ale-8 themed basket that had marinades and other food items from the Ale-8 brand. Small, local shops are a great place to find gifts like that.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Multi-tool: I got this wood-handled multi tool for Andrew’s brother and Andrew claimed it before I could wrap it he loved it so much. We use it frequently around the house.
  • Car air fresheners: Go with a clean, masculine scent
  • Beard balm: If your guy has facial hair, gift him with a beard balm that will keep his skin and hair moisturized through the winter.
  • Mini flashlight: I think my dad carried his Mag-lite on his person every day for 20+ years
  • Favorite candy: Hit up the Dollar Tree candy aisle and stock up for your next movie night
  • Gift cards: To gas stations, his favorite stores, or restaurants
  • Lip balm: Once again, something he will need but probably not think to buy himself.
  • Novelty socks: Andrew wears “crazy” socks with his scrubs every day so he can have a conversation starter with patients. I get him at least one pair for every occasion.
  • Coffee mug: Andrew loves this gigantic American flag mug from his stocking a few years ago.
  • Locally made bar soap: A lot of men use bar soap instead of body wash. Why not support a local business and serve a practical need?
  • Back scratcher: I just feel like every man should have one of these.

So there you have it! Everything I could think of that a man would actually use and enjoy. Have you had any big hits with your gift giving? Share them in the comments!

P.S. The photo for this post is one of our engagement photos. It was taken five years ago when we had gotten a lot more sleep.

Our Family Fall Bucket List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Comfort Food Recipes

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

Garlic Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

Turkey Chili

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

Vegetable Beef Stew

Ingredients:

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

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

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

Pot roast

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

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

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 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!