Happy Birthday Ruthie!

Today’s blog post is a special one – this weekend my youngest sister turns 27 (on the 27th – golden birthday!) and I wanted to take some time to give her a shout out. So if you’re not Ruthie, feel free to skip this one šŸ˜‰

Ruthie is the biggest, most loyal supporter of my blog. She refreshes my site daily to look for new posts, she is always super encouraging, she gives me ideas for new posts, she finds my typos, she celebrates milestones and cheers me on every step of the way. Simply put, she’s my ultimate hype woman and it only feels right to surprise her when she refreshes the site today with a post about her.

I feel very lucky to have the type or relationship where Ruthie is not only my sister but one of my best friends. Even though we now live 800 miles apart, we talk multiple times a week and are very much a part of each other’s lives. Ruthie is a safe space for me to be wholly myself and I can share my stresses, triumphs, failures, worries, joys, and everything in between with her. She’s supportive, she’s non-judgemental, she’s thoughtful, she’s compassionate, and she’s always willing to give perspective when I need it or just listen when I don’t.

Ruthie is an intentional friend, sister, daughter, and aunt. She sends my kids little notes in the mail and makes sure they feel special and loved even from afar and it makes my heart so full!

Ruthie is also the life of the party. She’s energetic, she’s outgoing, and she can make friends with absolutely anyone. She’s just a fun person to be around. To know her is to love her, and man do I love her.

Happy birthday Squirt. You’re one of my favorite humans on this planet and I hope your weekend is as golden as you are. ā¤

Tackling DIY with Little Ones at home

If you’ve been following my blog for really any length of time, you know that I love a good DIY project. I often get asked how I have time to do these projects with small children around, and while I frequently use evenings after my kids are asleep, I also do quite a bit during the days. Today I thought I’d just talk about some of the ways I make this happen. I’m not going to pretend that these are the best ways or the only ways, but these are the things that work best for me personally in tackling DIY projects as a stay-at-home mama to two children under the age of three.

Dual Nap = Naptime Hustle!

Probably my biggest strategy is the “naptime hustle,” which just means that the moment my children are sleeping, I jump into project mode.

This has obviously varied a bit with the ages of my children (newborn sleep is a whole different ballgame!) but I have worked really hard to keep our daily routine as consistent as possible so both kids are used to napping at the same time each day. There’s a lot that I’m pretty relaxed about in motherhood but sleep is not one of them. We’re consistent with our routines, we’re consistent with the time, we’re consistent with being home in the afternoon (no afternoon playdates!) – I try everything I can to provide a solid foundation for my kids to nap well. If there is one day we are out of the routine, it’s not a big deal; however, that does mean that I make sure the next day is right back on track. For the most part, this has worked really well and my kids are both great nappers. Right now, they both go down around 1:00. Vi will sleep about 1.5-2 hours and LJ usually sleeps about 3-3.5 hours.

Screen Time is not the Enemy

I think sometimes screen time gets a bad rap and society makes us feel guilty for allowing any TV time, but there is no shame in my mama game to say TV has been a wonderful tool for us to use in moderation. When Vi goes down for her morning nap (usually about 9-10:30 or 11), I have no problem letting LJ watch a couple shows so I can have some time to work on a project. Justin and I both credit TV for actually helping him with language and learning – so many shows have value with teaching new words, showing how something works, teaching simple problem solving, or introducing concepts like letter sounds, counting, etc.

Do projects in small chunks

It’s almost never safe to just leave things out when I’m not working on them because my kids will inevitability get into the tools, paint, wood, screws, etc. Whenever possible, I try to break up a project in small chunks so that it’s easier to get the task completely done in my small work window and then quick clean up when I’m finished. It makes for smaller bursts of work at a time, but that adds up to help get a project finished.

Set up nearby activities

Before Vi was walking, I would often set her up in the pack n play next to wherever I was working on anything, DIY or otherwise. Sometimes LJ would want to join her in there and they’d play together -contained but nearby.

Now that she’s bigger, I’ll try to set up an activity in the next room that I can monitor. As I worked on putting together our Ikea cabinets for the office, I broke apart the box and gave LJ markers to draw on it right outside the room (the doors have glass so I could see) while Vi watched and played with the box. When I worked on the basement kitchen, I blocked off the couch area using boxes and end tables so the kids could play there while I painted cabinet doors on the other side. Neither child is old enough for unsupervised independent play longer than about two minutes so finding ways to partition them from the project while still keeping them nearby has been a big strategy for working while they’re awake.

Let them help!

In each project, I try to find at least one small thing that LJ can help with. This often means letting him help me paint a wall or use something simple like a screwdriver.

In my current project of working on the office, he was thrilled to get a small hammer and helped pound in a few tiny nails into the back of the cabinets. He may only be two but it’s teaching him responsibility, it’s encouraging him to have a sense of pride and ownership, and often, it helps satisfy his urge to meddle in the project, haha! When a project is forbidden, it just increases his curiosity to get involved. When he’s allowed to have a part in it, he’s happy and then will move on and go play with something else and leave my project alone. It’s a win for both of us!

And speaking of help . . .

Childcare is a huge help to me when I’m in the midst of a project. As a stay-at-home mama, every little bit of outside help makes a huge difference for me. LJ recently started preschool and is now gone for three hours two times a week. Since Vi usually naps during this time, it gives me a bonus naptime hustle. My parents live about an hour away and they have also been incredibly helpful to me with childcare. They like to take the kids for a day or two every once in a while and they’ve also come here to watch them so I can get things done. This is especially helpful when I’m in the middle of a large scale project like painting tile floors or kitchen cabinets and need blocks of time beyond what a naptime provides. Pre-pandemic I also hired a babysitter twice a month to come watch the kids for a few hours so I could get a little work done without interruptions.

Recognize other areas will slip

The reality is, when I’m in full-on project mode, other areas of my life often slip a bit. I don’t try to do everything, and my time gets prioritized differently. Our house isn’t as clean. I have bigger piles of laundry because I’m not doing it as frequently. I don’t have the free time to read. I can’t do it all, so I’ve had to just recognize that sometimes these seasons of projects mean other areas are a little more lax and that’s okay.

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Of course there are seasons where DIY projects aren’t as feasible (looking at you again, newborn stage) but I truly believe that just because you have small children at home doesn’t mean you can’t tackle a project if you want to. Start with a simple job like spray painting some frames or swapping out hardware. When you start small, you learn to roll with the punches, find out what works best for you, your family, your daily schedules, and then you can work your way up to larger scale projects. DIY with small children around is not without its challenges, but it can be done and I’m cheering for you!

If you have finished a DIY project with small children around, what tips and tricks did you use to accomplish it?

My 32nd Birthday Weekend

On Friday, I turned 32! I’m one of those people who love their birthday and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen all my birthday week updates in stories. I love getting flowers, wine, chocolate, cards, phone calls . . . it doesn’t have to be big and fancy, but I love celebrating and I love the warmth and appreciation that I feel with each birthday wish. It always feels a little extra special when my birthday falls on a Friday, so today I’m recapping my birthday weekend since I love using this blog as a way to document our life.

Note: I’m going to be sharing photos and talking about different activities we did. I’m not going to include the many many many times we wore a mask, used hand sanitizer, washed our hands, made sure to socially distance, etc. Navigating life during covid involves a lot of things and rest assured, we were very conscious and took precautions with everything we did. Just because it’s not easy to see in a blog post doesn’t mean it didn’t happen ā¤

Friday afternoon, my parents came to pick up the kids and take them for the weekend. My parents were so excited for time with their grandkids, my kids were so excited for special time with grandma and grandpa, and I was SO excited for a few adults-only days. It was a wonderful gift!

Friday night, Justin and I went out to dinner with a few friends at one of my favorite restaurants downtown. It was a nice day so we could enjoy patio seating and it was so fun to have a delicious meal and a night out. Afterwards we went to get ice cream and ran in to a few other friends unexpectedly so it ended up being a fun little hang out on picnic tables outside.

Saturday morning we got to sleep in (heavenly!) and I got a quick bike ride in on our stationary bike. I love morning workouts but it’s hard with little kids so it was a treat to get to take my time today. We got ready and headed down to Indianapolis for the day. First stop, Ikea! I drew some serious inspiration from their displays. Just look at this gorgeous green kitchen!

I had so much fun participating in the One Room Challenge for our basement kitchen that I’ve decided to join again for the fall challenge. I’m going to tackle our our office, and while I’m still working out a few details, I knew I wanted to do built-ins along one wall. Online it said the cabinets I wanted were out of stock but we asked the lady in store and she had the exact amount we needed – it felt like a birthday gift haha! She drew everything up in their program which was awesome to see and get absolutely everything we needed. I’m so excited to get started!

After Ikea, we picked up lunch from a place called Thaitanium (delicious!) and headed over to our friend’s house to eat lunch with them. They recently adopted twin boys and we haven’t had a chance to meet them yet. It was so nice to get to catch up with them and meet their boys!

We didn’t have plans for the rest of the day – our only goal was to explore and have some fun! We utilized the bike sharing program to rent bikes (our favorite way to navigate new cities!) and biked in and around downtown.

Once we got to monument circle, we decided to trade in our bikes for electric scooters – while initially this was pretty stressful for me (there’s a bit of a learning curve to balancing and the scooters go so fast!), once I got the hang of it, they were so much fun! We ended up scootering all over the cultural trail which was a fun way to explore the city.

My favorite place to explore was around the canal. It’s beautiful and peaceful! I of course had to take the most touristy picture possible. šŸ˜‰

On our way back downtown we stopped in at a place called The Whit, which is an adult arcade. Lots of fun retro games to try out! I was impressed by all the covid precautions they had in place there and we enjoyed getting to play some very old but new to us games.

We started to get hungry so we headed back to Mass Ave to walk around and find a place to eat. The vibe of this street is so fun – lots of patio seating, people walking and biking around, pedal taverns (Justin made friends with some guy on a passing one which was pretty hilarious), etc. It’s just a fun place to go! We ended up grabbing some pizza at a place called Goodfellas and eating out on the patio while people watching. Then we slowly meandered back down Mass Ave, grabbed some more bikes, and headed back to our car to head home.

Initially, we thought we might stay overnight in Indy but I’m so glad we headed home instead. Sunday morning was so relaxing – we got to sleep in, watch church online without the distraction of two small children, and I got to lounge and read a new book while Justin went to pick up the kids. There is something so great about just getting to chill at home without worrying about a to-do list. It was such a nice, refreshing, restful day and the perfect way to cap off a great weekend!

I am undoubtedly a blessed woman. I’m so thankful for all of the past 32 years – the ups, downs, good days, bad days. They all led me right here and I am so thankful for each and every day. Cheers to the next 32 years!

Keeping the Playroom Manageable

When Justin and I first became parents, we decided to make a conscious effort to minimize the amount of stuff we accumulated. The baby/kid market is oversaturated with things and from the very beginning we’ve tried to be very intentional with what comes into our home. Yes to a breastfeeding pillow. No to a baby bathtub. Yes to a baby carrier. No to a wipe warmer. Amid all the decisions like those, it really wasn’t too challenging to avoid stocking up on toys at first – a few books, a couple rattles, a wubbanub (we had no idea how beloved that thing would become!) and we were good to go.

As LJ grew, we started to accumulate a few more toys. We rarely bought him anything, but he would get occasional gifts from grandparents and receive a few things around the holidays. I wrote this blog post about two years ago and showed all the toys we had during his first year of life and how I stored them and kept them manageable. (Look at baby LJ! Where does the time go?! Also, notice the musical lion walker – we’ll circle back to that in a bit).

LJ in playroom

We’ve slowly added to our toy collection over the past two years as LJ’s interests have grown and changed and we added another baby to our family. While we obviously have more now than we did then, it still feels very manageable. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I do to keep our playroom from becoming overwhelming. I definitely don’t have all the answers or think this is the only way to do things – these are just the things that work well for our family to keep our playroom a fun space where everything gets used!

Low-key holidays and birthdays. For each of our children’s first birthdays, we asked for no gifts (read about LJ’s here and Vi’s here). Honestly no judgement here if you love gifts for your one-year-old, but asking for donations to different organizations in lieu of gifts was a great alternative for us. Then for LJ’s second birthday, we got him one big gift (a train table) and had our families decorate their own train car as their gifts to him. This was a great option for making his day special without going overboard.

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Obviously, there will come a time when our kids have opinions and desires for their birthday gifts and we will honor that, but when they’re this little, it’s nice to keep birthdays very simple and intentional.

We’re not at all opposed to gifts or toys and Christmas is always a fun time for our relatives, particularly our parents, to gift things to our kids. I’ve previously blogged about how we usually ask for things like non-toy gifts and experiences or toys with a greater purpose (looking for toys that either support a small business, are made in the USA, are sustainable, use proceeds to support a cause we believe in, etc). These types of gifts do sometimes cost more, which means our children might get fewer gifts, but that is okay with us. We’d rather have fewer things that are meaningful than a bunch of stuff just for the sake of more. Do our kids still get toys and gifts outside these lists? Of course. I’m not going to stress myself or my relatives out with being too vigilant about this. It stops being fun when we try too hard – we just do the best we can.

Borrow (and return!) Toys. I am a big fan of swapping toys and baby gear with friends. There are so many things that your child only uses for a short window of time, so instead of cluttering up your house or filling up your storage spaces, see if anyone you know could make use of something. Remember that musical lion walker from earlier? That belongs to a friend of ours. Our kids are alternating ages, so when their oldest was done with it, we borrowed it for LJ. Then we gave it back when LJ was done so their second child could use it. Then when their second outgrew it, we borrowed it again for Vi. We used this same system for their rock n play, and we’ve borrowed a few other things over the years like a musical activity center and the beaded maze toy you see below.

We’ve also lent things like our baby swing, bassinet, and slumberpod out to friends and family as well. Toy and baby gear sharing is such an awesome way to save money, space, and sanity! You’re not only not spending a ton of money on ALL this stuff that will likely only get used for a short period of time; it’s also more sustainable and helps keep your homes less cluttered because you’re not storing a bunch of unused stuff in the interim between children. Win, win, win!

And on the topic of borrowing toys, I also “gifted” LJ three library books for Christmas last year. I chose three I knew he’s love, we read them a ton in our three week loan window, and then returned them. He had gotten enjoyment out of them and it didn’t result in permanent clutter. Score!

Purge Regularly. Even with borrowing toys and being intentional with gifts, we still accumulate more over time, so it’s important to regularly check in and assess what you have to make sure it’s manageable. At the end of the day, I like to be able to clean up ALL the toys and restore order to the playroom (and all the other rooms toys have migrated to) in under five minutes. Now, if every toy – every single block, train, ball, book, etc. – was taken out of its storage container and was strewn about multiple rooms around the house, it would definitely take me longer than five minutes to clean up. That’s okay though because that situation is rare; normally, not every toy gets played with every day. I want the average, everyday toy mess to be manageable and for me, that means able to be cleaned up in five minutes or less.

Anything that is broken or damaged gets fixed or removed. I also remove things that don’t get played with. Sometimes this is hard. Sometimes it’s a toy that you spent a decent amount of money on or it’s something that you think is adorable and wish your child wanted to play with or it’s a gift someone else gave. Ultimately though, if your child never plays with it, it’s just taking up space and there is likely another child out there who would love to actually play with it. If it’s been several months since it’s been chosen to play with, it’s time to find a new home. I just collect and donate these items to a local charity. I do keep a small amount of baby toys, but I really try not to keep too much because honestly, babies typically prefer to play with the toddler stuff anyways.

When I see something that fits in one of the above categories, I usually take it out then and there. But sometimes, I need to sit down and spend time just going through what we have and taking out things we don’t use. By doing this regularly, it keeps things super manageable and keeps it from getting too overwhelming.

Lately I had been feeling like our playroom was a little too much to handle. It was starting to take longer to clean up, and even when it was all cleaned up it still felt cluttered. So I spent about 15 minutes going through the room – we returned the toys we had borrowed from friends, I took down the pack n play from one corner (I used to corral Vi in there), and I took out the toys that the kids don’t play with. I also took out this plant because seriously…what was I thinking? Oy vey.

Our playroom now feels fresh and spacious again and we still have plenty of toys to play with. In this case, less really does feel like more! More space, more time not spent cleaning, more time spent playing because we’re not overwhelmed with too many choices. ā¤

What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your playroom manageable?