Lowering the Bar

This past Sunday evening, my friend hosted a little gathering at her house. It was a fall harvest party with chili and cornbread provided and everyone was asked to bring a side. I had the best laid plans to make a side from scratch – but life happened instead.

Justin worked long days last week so Friday night we laid low and enjoyed a slow evening at home with our little family. On Saturday, my parents came into town to spend time with LJ and watched him while Justin and I went to a friend’s 30th birthday dinner. Dinner and cake evolved into hanging out all evening with our friends and a spontaneous trip to play laser tag that had us coming back home at midnight, sweaty and exhausted (it was SO worth it though)! Then Sunday my parents joined us for church and lunch and after they left I spent the afternoon playing with LJ and ignoring my laundry during his nap time so I could cozy up with a book and recharge for the week ahead.

So instead of carving out time to prepare for and make a side from scratch, I spent my energy soaking up memories and restoring my body and mind. Instead of a homemade side, I took store-bought cookies, hummus and pretzels.

I showed up to the party with my tote full of Aldi purchases and made a self-deprecating joke about my abandoned “make something from scratch” plans. Everyone laughed because apparently, they all did the same thing! Every other person had also brought something from the store. We all had the intention to make something from scratch, and then we all ended up stopping by the store on the way to the party instead.

The point of this little story is that sometimes I think the best thing we can do for ourselves in simplifying life’s chaos is to lower the bar. We had a great time hanging out on Sunday night and no one thought twice about the fact that most of the food got picked up on the way to the party. It didn’t matter at all that the cookies were store-bought instead of homemade.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the “Happier” podcast and one phrase they often repeat is “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This phrase has become a mantra for me ever since I first heard it. I only have so many hours in the day. I can spend them stressing about making everything perfect, or I can lower the bar. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly don’t have any standards and have stopped caring about things. It just means that I find ways to accept when something is good enough so I don’t spend further time and energy to make it 100% perfect.

I could have made a homemade side. I enjoy cooking and baking and often show up to a party with something I made from scratch. But a store-bought side serves the same purpose and is just as good of an option and in this instance, that was what I went with. I was so much happier and less stressed with choosing this option and no one cared that my contribution was store-bought.

If there is some area of your life where you find yourself stressed out over making perfect, I hope this encourages you to lower the bar. It is okay to want to do things well, but it’s also okay to loosen your expectations. It is okay to find satisfaction in the “good” option instead of the “perfect” one. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

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October 2018 Book Review {Part One}

A couple weeks ago, I finished up reviewing all the books I read over the summer and planned to do one monthly wrap-up from then on. However, this month I have been able to read a little more than I anticipated so rather than have one huge review, I’m breaking it up into two smaller reviews. So here goes Part One of my October reads!

October 2018 Book Reviews - Crazy Rich Asians, Surprise Me, Behind Closed Doors

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians

New Yorkers Rachel and Nick have been dating for almost two years when Nick invites her to spend the summer holiday visiting his family and home in Singapore. What Nick does not prepare Rachel for is that his family is insanely wealthy and he is considered to be one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. A lot of family meddling and mishaps ensue and it’s all pretty amusing. This book alternates perspectives from a variety of characters – from Rachel and Nick to Nick’s cousins to Rachel’s friend’s dad and lots of others in between. There are so many perspectives but I actually think that makes it a super fun read. The way these characters live is larger than life and some chapters are downright zany. I thought this was a clever, charming, very entertaining story and I’m excited to read the next book in this trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend. If you’re looking for an amusing light read, I recommend checking this book out!

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise Me

Married couple Dan and Sylvie finish each other’s sentences and know everything there is to know about each other. When they find out they might be married another 68 years, they both panic at how long that seems and decide to add some fun to that time with project Surprise Me, where the goal is to surprise one another with out-of-the-box gifts and experiences. Obviously, not all surprises go smoothly and things start to spin a little out of control. While the premise seemed interesting enough, this book was not especially fun for me to read. I did not connect with the main character, Sylvie, who seemed neurotic, desperate, and annoying. Even though the author clearly tried to build interest by dropping hints that there were things going on around Sylvie that had yet to be fully revealed, it was hard to drum up enthusiasm for how things were going to play out. There were some boring parts and some cute parts. Overall it was an okay read – I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors

Jack and Grace have a picture-perfect marriage. Jack is a successful lawyer and Grace is a charming homemaker. They throw delightful dinner parties, take exotic vacations, and live in a gorgeous mansion. They seem to have it all, but you never really know what goes on when the guests go home and the doors close. I have read a lot of psychological thrillers lately and I have to say, this was one of my favorites! The plot is intriguing, original, and hair-raising. I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare and kept trying to find a way for them to “escape” – it was gripping and terrifying and so so good! This book made me turn on the lights at night, even days (weeks?) after I had finished reading it. It is just haunting. I highly recommend if you want a good thriller!

As always, let me know if you have a great suggestion for what I should read next!

Finding Balance with Toys

While I love the simplicity of living with less, there is one area where things can quickly move into chaotic overabundance: TOYS.

That being said, I honestly do not feel overwhelmed by the toys in our house. I don’t feel like our living space has been taken over by toys. I don’t spend hours picking up toys and in fact, spend less than four total minutes putting away all our toys. And while I am going to share how I organize all our toys, spoiler alert: there is no magical storage system or organization strategy that makes me feel in control of our toys. I feel in control of our toys because we limit our toys to a manageable amount. Simply put, we do not have more toys than we can handle. Justin and I both agree we would rather LJ have fewer toys that he actually plays with than more toys than he knows what to do with. And while I know our choices in this department will not be for everyone, I wanted to share what has worked for our family in case there is someone out there who feels like they are drowning in toys and wants suggestions for ways to simplify the toy chaos and take back control of their house.

LJ in playroom

How we keep our toys manageable

1) We rarely buy toys for LJ.

In a minute, I’m going to show you every single toy in my house. And since LJ has been born, I have bought exactly one of these toys (a xylophone). While there are a lot of beautiful, fun toys out there that I know he would love, I also know that at this point he is so happy with the variety of toys that he was given through my baby showers and Christmas last year. He gets exposure to other toys when we go to the library, play dates with friends, or grandma’s house and I do not need to spend money on more infant toys in our home for him.

2) We keep a loose definition of “toy”

LJ regularly plays with the hard plastic water jug I got from the hospital where I gave birth (he particularly loves the straw). He loves the ridges and crinkly sounds of a recyclable plastic water bottle. He is just as happy playing with these as he would be playing with a $20 toy from Target. Free promotional balls from local sporting events, books from Kids Eat Free night at Chik-fil-A – these are all fun for him to play with and also very easy to dispose of or put in a 25-cent garage sale bin when we need to make space for toddler toys down the road.

3) We’re honest about gifts

Both sets of our parents know about and respect our desire to live with less. We have communicated honestly with them that we love seeing their love expressed through quality time spent with LJ, cards, video chats, etc and do not need them to constantly gift LJ toys. We totally understand their rights as grandparents to occasionally spoil, so if they happen to see something that they just can’t resist giving him, of course that is okay! The key is occasionally and we so appreciate that they have mostly limited gift-giving to Christmastime or special occasions.

And speaking of Christmas, we don’t fill LJ’s wish list with toys. We do choose a few toys or books we know he’ll use throughout the next year as he develops and grows, but we also include other necessities (clothes, diapers, wipes, stroller attachments, money towards a convertible car seat). He is too little right now to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. Gifts don’t have to just be toys!

4) We toy swap

We currently have a musical walker and learning table that we borrowed from friends – their first child has outgrown these toys and their second child is still too little. By the time LJ is done with both toys, our friends’ younger son will be ready to play with them! It’s a win-win; neither of us has to take up space storing these toys when our kids outgrow them. I do this with baby gear too (my niece is currently using LJ’s doorway jumper and Justin’s colleague is going to use LJ’s baby swing) which really helps keep storage spaces manageable!

5) We clean up when we’re done playing

When we’re done playing in a room and ready to move on, I very quickly scoop everything up and put it back in place. I’m a big believer in “outer order, inner calm” (thanks Gretchen Rubin!) – I am much less stressed when my house seems somewhat orderly and toys aren’t left everywhere. The mess always seems manageable because it is confined to one room and not spread throughout the entire house. Plus, I am always amazed by how little time it actually takes to get things back to baseline. Just a minute makes a huge difference!

How we keep our toys organized

We spend most days at home so LJ plays with his toys often. While I know I could keep them all in one room, I prefer to have them stored in three main areas as we move throughout the house during the day. Keeping toys in a few strategic places helps prevent the feeling that they’ve taken over our entire house but they are readily available where we hang out most frequently.

Nursery

Nursery Toy Storage

In LJ’s nursery, I have an old crate that I use as an end table + storage. This is where the bulk of LJ’s book collection is kept because we often read in the rocker. I store stuffed animals in a fabric basket and found the perfect little wire basket that fits just right to house a few other toys – crinkly books, rattles, animal links, and a wooden ball toy.

LJ and books

LJ frequently pulls everything off the shelf, but because it is a limited amount of toys and everything has a clear belonging place, it takes me between 30-45 seconds to put things back in order when we’re done playing.

My Bedroom

bedroom

I often have LJ in my bedroom with me if I need to fold laundry or get dressed to go out of the house. I keep a small basket with textured balls and a few other toys so he stays occupied playing while I do whatever I need to do. I timed our clean-up after the last time he was playing with these – it took ten. seconds. to throw everything into the basket and put the basket back against the wall. Just ten seconds out of my day and my room felt put back in order. Totally worth it!

Playroom

Playroom toy storage 1

We have a small den in our home that has become our main hangout space. It’s got a comfy sectional and our TV so it’s where we naturally gravitate as a family and is therefore where we have created a little playroom for LJ by blocking off the doorways with the sectional ottoman and a baby gate. I painted a buffet hutch that was handed down to me and we use the entire bottom to house LJ’s toys.

Playroom Toy storage 2

While I have the doors open to show you how I store the toys, I rarely have the doors open while we’re playing in this room. Instead, I’ll alternate taking out a basket or two at a time and close the doors so LJ doesn’t pull out the rest. I know eventually he’ll be big enough to open the doors himself, but for now, this method works really well for us in preventing all the toys from being pulled out every time. Examples of things I’ll bring out at any one time are:

Side note: You’ll notice I keep some of these toys in their original packaging. I know I can just throw everything into a bin, but I personally don’t mind spending an extra 10-20 seconds putting things back in the plastic pouch so I can store them vertically (space-saving) and make sure I have everything (easy to see if I need to search under the couch for missing items).

Last night I snapped a picture of the playroom after LJ went to bed but before I cleaned up.

nightly clean-up

I timed myself picking things up just to see how long it took. It took me ninety seconds to put away everything you see here. Then it took me an extra 49 seconds to grab my broom from a nearby closet and retrieve two balls that had rolled past my reach under the couch. A total of 2:19 and the room was back in order so I could relax and enjoy the evening!

Bonus – pack n play

While it’s not frequently used anymore, I do also have LJ’s pack n play set up in our main living room for anytime I need to set him down and leave the room. I keep just a couple toys in there so it’s always ready to plop him down into. I also keep his activity center next to it, although now that he is so mobile he does not like being in the activity center much so this will soon get converted to a toddler table when we give our friends their learning table back.

pack n play

And that’s it! That is literally every single toy in our house. There’s nothing hiding out in a closet, there’s nothing I pulled out of pictures to seem like we have less. This is everything LJ has. I hope you can see that just because we choose to live with less does not mean we deprive our son. He still has plenty of toys to play with that engage his mind and help with stages of development.

Did you notice how much time it takes to clean up when we’re done? On an average day, I spend less than four minutes cleaning up. Four minutes is all it takes to get back to baseline for the next day. FOUR. MINUTES. This is not because I’m a magical cleaning wizard who can put things away at super-speed. This is not because I’ve discovered the perfect organizational system to store toys. It is because we have decided on what “enough” toys looks like for our family and we stay within that amount of toys. Living with less toys has simplified our lives and allowed our home to still feel like a relaxing haven rather than the inside of an overstuffed toy box.

I hope this encourages you to know you can still live abundantly without an overabundance of toys for your baby. What tips/tricks do you use to manage toys within your home? I’d love to hear what works for you!

On days when I little boost

Being a stay-at-home/work-from-home mama is a joy for me and I love it, but it does have its challenges. It is not just lounging on the couch relaxing at home – it is a true job and I work hard each and every day. Sure, some days I stay in my pajamas all day long but that doesn’t mean I was lazing around. It just means I was comfortable while I worked. 😊

LJ and books

Let me be very clear: I love staying at home and am very, very grateful that I can do so. Justin and I talked it through and we were both 100% agreed that this was the right thing for our family right now. I am thrilled that I get to spend my days as the primary caregiver for our son. I am so thankful for a flexible administrative job I can do from home to bring in a little income. I am really and truly happy with our current situation.

BUT. There are some days that just hard. There are days that feel monotonous. There are days when I get a little stir crazy. There are days where it feels like my husband will never get home from work. There are days when I feel lonely and crave adult interaction. There are some days when I just need a little boost to lift my mood or my energy level. Today, I thought I would share some of my tried-and-true mood-boosting, spirit-lifting pick-me-ups for days where I just feel overwhelmed, stressed, lonely, etc. and need a little something extra. They work wonders for me now in this season of staying at home, but many were also strategies I used when I was teaching full-time and had a hard day.

My mood-boosting, spirit-lifting pick-me-ups

1) Listen to a podcast

I have mentioned my love for Gretchen Rubin on the blog before and one of the reasons I love her so much is the podcast “Happier” that she does with her sister Elizabeth. I started listening to it after LJ was born as I washed dishes, cleaned the house, drove him to appointments, etc. I quickly became obsessed and went through all the episodes (there are over 190 of them)! It is uplifting and fun and has given me a ton of practical, manageable tips and tricks for building happier habits into my daily life.

Other podcasts I enjoy are The Purpose Show, Rise Together, and The Goal Digger Podcast. I also occasionally listen to Binge Mode (they are currently binging Harry Potter!), The Minimalists, and The Dave Ramsey show. Each podcast gives me some type of insight into a part of my life and I enjoy having a moment to uplift and uplevel my mind during the day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

2) Go for a walk

Sometimes I get pretty stir crazy in the house and just need a change of scenery. Going for a walk never fails to give my spirits a lift and calm my stir-craziness. Often, I will just put LJ in the stroller and walk around our neighborhood. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll also take our dogs along (we look like a traveling circus but it’s fine). There is also a nice public trail near our house that I sometimes drive to for an extra change of scenery. If it’s a rainy or cold day, I will drive to the mall and walk loops indoors. This may surprise you since I just professed my love for podcasts, but I typically do not listen to anything while I’m walking. Walking is a chance for me to shut my brain off and just enjoy the sounds of nature or the buzz of people around me. It refreshes my mind and the movement gives me an energy boost.

3) Light a candle

Something about just lighting a candle feels indulgent to me. It makes my house smell good and is so cozy and festive (right now I’m loving Farmer’s Market from Yankee Candle – the perfect fall scent). It instantly gives me a little mood boost!

4) Carve out reading time

Some days, when nap time rolls around I put housework or other tasks on pause and take a little mental escape into a book.  I feel so relaxed and refreshed and ready to jump back in to work after 30 minutes cozied up on the couch with a snuggly blanket and a good book!

Side note: I often hear people say that they don’t have time to read. Honestly, I just don’t buy that. You have time to do whatever you prioritize doing. If you have ten minutes to scroll through your Facebook feed, you have ten minutes to read. If you have an hour to binge something on Netflix, you have an hour to read. Reading might not be what you choose to do with the time you have, but you can make time for it if you want. For me, I just love reading so it is what I find the time to do instead of other things.

5) Exercise

I really cannot emphasize this one enough. Exercise has so many positive benefits for both my mental and physical health. The feel good endorphins that I get from a great workout will keep me energized all day long. I love the classes offered at my local YMCA and try to go to their spin class 1x/week and bootcamp class 2x/week. This is only possible for me because of the YMCA childcare, which I am so thankful for. If your gym does not provide childcare, consider trading babysitting with a friend so you can swap going to the gym or find an at-home workout you can do during naptime (there are tons of free workouts on YouTube).

6) Enjoy a phone call

I am really close with my sisters and mom and I talk to at least one, if not all, of them every week. While they all work at jobs outside of the home, they each have breaks in their day and if there is a day that I really need to chat with a human over the age of one, I’ll send one of them a text to call me over their break. Spending a few minutes catching up always perks up my mood!

7) Put on real clothes

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of days where I stay in my sweatpants all. day. long. But I often put on jeans and a casual top instead – it might sound crazy but real clothes make me feel put together and accomplished and sometimes I just need that mental boost.

Bonus – Go to a coffee shop for a hot chocolate

Some days are just extra hard. Maybe LJ was teething and extra fussy. Maybe one of the dogs threw up on the carpet. Maybe LJ skipped a nap and our whole day was thrown off. On days like this, I communicate my needs with Justin. We have a coffee shop about 3 minutes from our house and I might say “hey, when you get home, I would really like to just go to the coffee shop by myself for a little. Is that okay?” He is always so supportive of me going and it feels like such a treat to just sit by myself drinking a hot chocolate and reading a book or working on my laptop for an hour. It gives him quality one-on-one time with LJ and gives me a mommy break so I can come back refreshed and ready to love on both my guys with my best self. I’ve only done this maybe 3 times since LJ was born so each time feels special and indulgent and SO rejuvenating!

 

What is your go-to trick that gives you an instant mood boost on the days you need a little something extra?

Remembering My First Baby

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Rememberance Day, and is part of October’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a loss – this is my story.

October 14, 2016 started as a day just like any other except for the fact that Justin and I were keeping a big secret – I was eight weeks pregnant!

Baby #1 Pregnancy Test

My first official ultrasound was not scheduled until ten weeks, but I had no risk factors or symptoms to indicate things were going any other way than perfectly. Justin and I were over the moon and could not wait to share our news with the world.

Baby #1 - 5 weeks
My first “bump” tracking picture @ 5 weeks

This particular day was a Friday. I had just finished eating lunch in my classroom and headed to the copy room make a few quick copies before my next class. As I was walking down the hall, I realized I felt sick. VERY sick. I immediately changed course and headed for the bathroom.

From there, things quickly spiraled downhill. I didn’t just have a little pregnancy nausea; I experienced an extremely violent sickness. I will spare you the details but suffice to say it was worse than any other illness I’ve ever had. By the time Justin got off work, I was also experiencing searing side pain. He immediately rushed me to the ER where an ultrasound confirmed terrifying news: my pregnancy was not going as perfectly as we had thought and our baby was not growing in my uterus but actually within my right fallopian tube – a condition known as an ectopic pregnancy. To make matters even worse, my tube had ruptured and was causing a very serious amount of internal bleeding that was life-threatening to me. I was immediately taken into surgery to remove the pregnancy and stop the bleeding.

October 14, 2016 marks the day we lost our first baby. It was, quite honestly, the absolute worst day of my life.

Waking up from surgery was like waking up in a nightmare. I was devastated by our loss and also in a tremendous amount of physical pain. I had to undergo four blood transfusions due to the significant blood loss from the rupture. I couldn’t even sit up without passing out. And perhaps worst of all, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even cough without having to brace my abdomen with a pillow, let alone do what I really wanted: scream, howl, and ferociously ugly cry to mourn the loss of my sweet little baby.

The days and weeks following my surgery were full of sorrow and recovery. I took ten days off work and spent my time lying on the couch with my dogs snuggled up beside me, my eyes puffy and red from constant crying. I wouldn’t wish the pain and sadness of those dark days on my very worst enemy. My long, slow journey of healing had only just begun.

Baby #1 - hospital bed
The first small step towards healing came when I woke from a nap and realized Justin was sleeping next to me in the hospital bed, holding my hand. The road to healing would be long and difficult but in this moment I was so thankful that we had each other to lean on.

It is hard to describe the roller coaster of emotions that come with the loss of a pregnancy. One moment you can be numbly watching Netflix on the couch and in the next moment you’re screaming and crying into a pillow over how unfair life is. You might see a pregnancy or birth announcement on social media and try to conjure up happiness for the other person but you really just want to smash your phone into a thousand little pieces because you desperately want to be able to make that announcement too. You finally get up the energy to leave the house for a much-needed date or outing with your husband and you enjoy yourself, only to post a picture and then feel like a fraud because your marriage looks perfectly together online when in reality you’re both just trying to deal with your grief and make it through one day without breaking down in tears over the “what could have beens” for your family. You aren’t sure if you will ever really feel like yourself again and wonder if this cycle of anguish and heartache is just your new normal.

Then finally…finally…you have a day where you are truly okay. And then another day when you’re okay. And then another. And suddenly, you’re just okay. Until you’re not. And then you have a hard, hard day where grief encompasses you all over again. But this time, it’s a little easier than your last hard day. You get back to being okay a little bit quicker. And the long cycle of healing continues.

Justin and I are so grateful that we were able to get pregnant again (a miraculous story for another time) and did not take a single moment of my second pregnancy for granted. We welcomed LJ into our lives with so much joy and tears of happiness and gratitude. We are so in love with him and so SO thankful to be his parents. But this doesn’t erase 100% of the grief from our first loss. Two years later, reliving it all by writing this blog post has brought me to tears several times. When I was pregnant with LJ, I cried during the Mother’s Day church service and again on our baby’s due date (May 25, 2017). I still trace the tiny scar on my belly from my emergency surgery – my only physical reminder of the life I carried for eight weeks. And I still hesitate whenever a curious stranger making small talk asks me if LJ is my first because the truth is, LJ may be my firstborn but he is not my first baby (but it’s way too heavy and complicated to explain to a stranger making small talk that my first baby is actually waiting for me in the arms of Jesus so I just smile and say “yes” and walk away with a twinge of sadness in my heart).

Pregnancy loss is an ongoing journey. It’s messy and hard and multi-faceted. If you are struggling with the loss of a pregnancy or infant, know that you have been in my thoughts many, many times over the past two years, even if I don’t know your name of your story. I am praying for you and sending you so much love. You are not alone.

September 2018 Book Reviews

Today is the final installment of catching up on book reviews from my summer reading list. After this, I will just have one book review each month. I’m currently working through my October reading stack so that review will likely come in a couple weeks.

September 2018 Book Review

Let’s jump in to what I read in September – I’ve got an eclectic mix this time around!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

You Think It

I saw this collection on the featured shelf in the library and decided to give it a chance since I rarely read short stories. There is no doubt that this author is talented and the stories are well written; however, I just didn’t connect with or enjoy the majority of them. This is an unfortunate example of how sometimes it doesn’t pay off to start a book you know nothing about – from a manipulative one-night-stand to emotional/physical cheating to contemplation of extramarital affairs, there was subject material that was just not my cup of tea. After the first two stories fell flat for me, I considered stopping but ultimately kept plugging away since the book was short. I did like a few stories (like Bad Latch and Off the Record) but most just left me feeling sad or cynical for one reason or another. This is sadly not one I enjoyed or recommend.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls.jpg

Three women, Lisa, Sam, and Quincy, have never met but are uniquely bonded together as “final girls” – they are each the sole survivor of a horrific mass murder. We primarily follow Quincy, who has no memory of how she survived a cabin weekend where all her friends were brutally killed. After Lisa is unexpectedly found dead, Sam shows up on Quincy’s door and forces Quincy to deal with the past she has blocked out, which leads to a heart-pumping race to figure out the truth of what really happened that horrible night in the cabin. I have to start by saying the first 40% of this book went slower than I expected; I could tell it was meant to build suspense but it just wasn’t really working for me.  But then, the first major twist/revelation occurs and my interest level completely changed. The pace picked up, the story became more intricate and suspenseful, my heart started beating faster – I could not put it down! There were some shocking twists that kept me guessing until the very end. I gasped. I shuddered. I turned on ALL the lights. Even now just writing this review, I have literally looked over my shoulder no less than five times. This book is the perfect blend of psychological thriller + slasher movie (and I say this as someone who flat out refuses to watch any even remotely scary movie, let alone a horror/slasher flick). I loved the unique premise, the flashbacks to the night in the cabin, and the surprising twists throughout. So even with the disappointingly slow start, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

In 1974, a fairly unstable Vietnam War veteran tries to get a fresh start by moving to rural Alaska with his wife and teenage daughter, Leni. They are welcomed into the small, tight-knit community and things go really well at first. Leni even starts to believe that maybe life will really be different for their family in Alaska. But then, winter comes and it turns out, even Alaska isn’t far enough away for her father to escape his demons. This book was fantastic! In May, I reviewed Kristin Hannah’s book Summer Island and it just fell short of the standard I have for her books after her excellent novels The Nightingale and Winter Garden. I was hopeful that this book would redeem my high expectations for her and it did not disappoint! It is vibrant, poignant, and captivating. The descriptions of the Alaskan wild are so vivid I feel like I have actually seen it with my own eyes. I came to love (most of) the characters and became so invested in their stories. There are some pretty heavy mental health issues included that are heartbreaking to see play out but contribute to an intriguing, emotional plot. It’s not a light read by any means but gosh, I just loved it. Highly recommend!

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation

Sherry Turkle is a trained sociologist and psychologist who takes a deep dive into how the pull of technology has led us away from conversations. She examines how our departure from conversation affects relationships with our family, friends, work, and even our own self-awareness. People are losing the ability to be empathetic and connect with others beyond the surface level. While I did enjoy reading this book and feel everyone would benefit from its message, I realize not everyone wants to read a nonfiction, heavily researched book about the effects of technology and devices on our view of ourselves, our relationships, our work life, etc. This book did get a little long and dense at times which led to me skim some of the sections. In a nutshell: while it can be a great resource, there are limitations with what technology can provide. Use of a device simply cannot serve as a replacement for face-to-face conversation. Conversations bring creativity, deeper relationships, and change and it is important for us to turn outward to others rather than downward to our phones or other devices. Turkle makes some compelling arguments for conversation and overall, I was pretty fascinated and took a lot of notes. I feel like there will be a separate blog post in the future where I can expand more on what I took away from this book so stay tuned for that!

And that’s a wrap on my summer reading! Now what do I need to include on my fall reading list?

 

 

 

Traveling with a Baby {Plane Tips}

Disclaimer: In this post I do mention a few specific items and provide links for them. None of these are sponsored and I was given no compensation for mentioning or linking them. They are all just items that I loved having on our flights and wanted to pass along!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I shared some tips for simplifying road trips with a baby. I’ve mentioned before that Justin and I love to travel and while we have done several road trips with LJ in tow, we have also gone to a few destinations by plane. LJ has flown to Florida at 11 weeks, Texas at 4 months, and Minnesota at 8 months and all seven flights (we had some connections) have gone smoothly.

Austin, TX
Enjoying the view of Austin, TX with four-month-old LJ

We have another plane ride coming up in November for a short work trip so today I wanted to share some of the tips that have helped on our flights with LJ so far.

Travel Tips for Flying with a Baby

Before I begin, I want to reiterate that I know every baby and mama are different and these tips might not be for everyone. These are the things that have helped our family simplify the chaos of flying with a baby so we could enjoy our travels – I share them in hopes that someone else might benefit from hearing what worked for us. Let’s get started!

Tip #1: Take a nursing pillow

LJ in airport
LJ chilling at the airport gate at 11 weeks old.

Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, I absolutely recommend taking along a nursing pillow. I use this one but I think other brands would work just as well. I have used this pillow for every single flight and it has been so helpful in a variety of situations besides just breastfeeding. Even tiny babies get heavy after a while and it’s nice to have something comfy to help hold them. I’ve used our Boppy on top of a muslin blanket on the floor to let LJ lounge at the gate while waiting to board. I’ve also placed it on my lap during every flight so he can rest on it. This keeps me from having to actively “hold” him the entire time which gives my arms a nice break and allows him to be nice and cozy. I have used this item as my “personal item” and it has worked out great!

Tip #2: Use a pacifier

LJ first airplane

If your baby will use a pacifier, I highly recommend taking it along. It helps with the ear-popping at take off and landing and can offer soothing comfort to your baby during the flight. I particularly love this WubbaNub because the stuffed animal helps prevent it from popping out easily and it’s easy to locate in a diaper bag.

Tip #3: Take a baby carrier

Riverwalk
Justin and LJ enjoying the San Antonio Riverwalk

We have not taken a stroller to any of our flying destinations thus far. First of all, I prefer to have my hands free through the airport and not be pushing a stroller. It’s one less thing to lug around and keep track of through the airport and at our final destination. I also don’t want my nice stroller to get banged up and knocked around in storage on the plane. So far, this has worked out great. We have been able to wear LJ in his carrier through the airport and around every destination without a problem. Now that LJ is getting bigger, we will need to start thinking about taking along a stroller. I picked up a gently used umbrella stroller for $4.50 at a consignment sale recently and I’ll be taking it along on our next flight in November. It’s lightweight, easy to fold/carry/store, and won’t be expensive to replace if it gets banged up on the plane.

Tip #4: Backpack Carry-On

Magnolia
Enjoying Magnolia Silos in Waco, TX with our faithful diaper backpack in tow.

I can’t stress this enough – the more you can do hands-free in an airport, the easier everything becomes. If it’s at all possible to pack your carry-on in a backpack, I recommend you do it! Our diaper bag is a backpack and it is so easy to carry around the airport and our final destination. I also recommend consolidating as much as you can and taking the least amount of bags possible. Airports can be stressful as you navigate security and find your gate or rush to make a connecting flight, especially with a baby in tow, and I prefer to simplify things by having fewer bags to keep track of. I don’t take a purse with me anymore and instead use the front pocket of my diaper bag for all my “purse items” (check out my diaper bag posts here and here to see what I mean). When I flew with LJ by myself to Minneapolis, I even consolidated all our items into his diaper bag (the trip was only 1.5 days) so that it was the only bag I had to keep track of. That is a more extreme example and wouldn’t work for the majority of our trips, but the point is, streamlining what we take into as few bags as possible has simplified airport travel tremendously.

Tip #5: Check Airline Policies

I’ve flown different airlines with LJ and I have been pleasantly surprised to find out how accommodating each one is for flying with a baby. Every airline is slightly different so make sure to check out their policies online before leaving. Some things to check for:

  • Items to Gate Check: We have been able to gate check our car seat for free with each airline we’ve flown. LJ has been able to chill in the car seat while waiting to board and it’s right there waiting for us when we reach our destination so we don’t have to go to baggage claim. If you check a car seat, I highly recommend a car seat bag. It keeps the car seat protected from getting banged up and dirty on the flight. We use this one which is a backpack (lightweight and super easy to carry) and fits either an infant seat or a convertible seat. Airlines are different with what you can gate check for free (some let you check a car seat and stroller, some a car seat or stroller, some also allow a pack n play, etc) so just make sure to check your airline’s policy.
  • Diaper Bags: Some airlines will allow you to bring a diaper bag on board without counting it as your carry-on or personal item. So it’s essentially a bonus item you can bring on. Make sure to take advantage if this is a perk your airline offers!
  • Family Boarding: Some airlines allow families with small children to board first. This is nice because it allows you to get to your seat without bumping into people or holding up the line while you get settled.

Tip # 6: Bonus Items

These last few items were all helpful to me to have along to make life a little easier while on the plane.

  • Nursing cover: Nice to have privacy when I needed to breastfeed on the plane and it doubled as a blanket when LJ slept on the Boppy.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Chlorox/Lysol wipes to wipe down seat, armrests, other surfaces (I did not do this but LJ and I sat next to someone who did this for us and it was nice to know our area was clean)
  • Baby layers: Hat, socks, mitts, etc. Keeps your baby warm on the plane and also prevents strangers from touching his head/hands/feet when you’re trying to minimize the spread of germs
  • Handheld breast pump: I’ve occasionally given a bottle on the airplane and I also prefer traveling with my inexpensive manual pump instead of my electric one.

 

And there you have it! These few little tips have helped simplify our travels greatly. I’d love to hear what has worked for you! Have you ever flown with a baby? What tips/tricks have you learned?