Vi is ONE!

Yesterday, my sweet little Vi turned one year old. I can still remember meeting her so vividly – Justin saying “It’s a girl!” and her little body being laid on my chest. It doesn’t seem that long ago and yet, it is so hard to remember what our life was like without her. She was meant to be in our family!

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Since we already had her birthday party two weeks ago, we kept yesterday extremely low key. We opened a few cards that her grandparents and great grandparents had sent and I bought a few cupcakes so we could enjoy a special birthday treat. We sang “Happy Birthday,” LJ helped her blow out the candle, and then we all laughed as she fisted the entire cupcake into her mouth haha!

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Watching my kids turn another year older is always a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand, I’m so thankful for their growth, health, and life. It is such a joy and honor to get a front row seat to their lives and it truly is a celebration.

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On the other hand, birthdays are also a reminder that my baby will never be this little again. I love each stage of their lives and it’s always just a little sad to say goodbye to one stage, even though it’s exciting to welcome in another!

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For Vi, the baby year has been quite a ride. As a newborn, she gave us a run for our money: cluster-feeding, never sleeping more than 45-60 minutes at a time, and she did not like to be put down. The first few weeks were very challenging, and it took us about a month to hit our stride.

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Ever since then, Vi has been a mostly chill baby. She has a very mild temperament and is generally in a happy mood. The only time she gets fussy is when she is tired or when she wants mama. She is a huge mama’s girl and always wants to be held by me. She’s okay with other people as long as I’m not there, but if I’m in her sight or she hears me in another room, she immediately cries for me. It makes it a little hard to get things done around her, but it also makes for a lot of sweet snuggles!

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I think part of the reason Vi is mostly easy going is because she has a rough and tumble big brother entertaining her from the moment she came home. When she was an itty baby, he loved to hold her and kiss her. Now that she’s older, he’s giving her full body bear hugs and playing with/next to/sometimes ON her. We have to remind him a lot to be gentle with her but she takes it all in stride. She loves to be included in whatever he’ll let her play with and no one can make her laugh as much as he can – it’s fun to see their bond develop!

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Vi is very curious and super active. She loves to be held so she can be in on whatever is happening with people, but if she’s down on the ground, she’s constantly exploring. She loves to climb stairs, open doors and drawers, and get into whatever she can find. Remotes are especially captivating to her and I have to remove all the batteries before she gets ahold of them or she’ll keep changing channels on us. She is very close to walking and scoots along walls or the couch to move around and get where she wants to go. She keeps me on my toes for sure; I never know what she’ll try to get into!

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She also LOVES to eat. She will eat anything we put in front of her – hot, cold, spicy,  veggies, fish, new textures . . . she is not picky at all and usually ends up eating close to an adult size portion of food. She also loves swinging at the park, stroller rides, and crawling into our bathroom vanity cabinets haha. She loves splashing in the bathtub, playing in the water table, swimming, even just washing her hands under the faucet – she loves water!

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I wasn’t sure how quarantine would affect her relationships with people. From the time she was six months old to like ten months old, she almost never left the house or saw anyone other than her immediate family. But now that we are seeing family and some friends again, she is bubbly and friendly and interactive with others. She absolutely LIGHTS UP when Justin comes home each day and she adores her grandparents as well. She is a people person for sure and has such a joyful, smiley personality.

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Happy Birthday my sweet V! You are so precious to us and we are so glad to celebrate one full year with you!

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Vi’s Sweet and Simple First Birthday Party

Yesterday was a special day in our house because we celebrated our baby girl’s FIRST birthday! Where did this year go!?

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Even though her birthday isn’t until the 23rd, we decided to have her party two weeks early because Justin’s parents are in town visiting and this way they could be part of it. We kept things family only – just both sets of our parents, my grandparents, and two of my siblings and their spouses who live close enough to come out for the afternoon.

We keep first birthdays really simple around here. Our personal philosophy is that it doesn’t make sense for us to spend a lot of effort, time, and money on a party for someone who honestly doesn’t know it’s their birthday or what is even going on. If you love throwing a big birthday bash for your one-year-old, that is awesome and I support you! It’s just not our thing. We really believe you can have a meaningful, special celebration while keeping things pretty streamlined and simplified, and this party was just that!

I kept invitations super easy with a free evite that got emailed out to our families with all the party details.

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Instead of trying to throw together a whole meal, I decided on serving a variety of appetizers and desserts. I put together a large charcuterie board with meat, cheese, and fruit, some raw veggies and hummus, and tortilla chips with our family’s favorite dip.

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For dessert, I bought a small 4 inch cake for Vi’s smash cake and I ordered cookies from my friend – she runs a small cookie business out of her home and does an amazing job! I pretty much gave her free reign on what to do since we didn’t have a theme or anything and she designed this amazing cookie tile platter based on Vi’s outfit in a photo I had posted (how creative is that!?) They turned out so amazing and were such a special touch!

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We also had a simple ice cream bar with vanilla ice cream and a variety of toppings for people to enjoy.

Decorations were sweet and simple and made up entirely of things I already had on hand, like this letterboard with a poem I made up for the food table.

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I had made pink tassel garlands our of tissue paper several years ago for a Valentine’s party and have gotten so much use out of them  ever since – bachelorette parties, baby showers, and now, my girl’s first birthday!

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In addition to the food table, I had to give her high chair a little something special too. 😉

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The last element of parties is typically gifts. We personally prefer to not have gifts during our children’s first birthday. We are fairly minimal people and don’t want to accumulate a ton of toys just for the sake of gift giving, not to mention at this age our kids are just as happy playing with a cardboard box or a plastic cup haha! In my experience, just saying “no gifts, please” doesn’t always work. It can feel uncomfortable to show up to a birthday party empty handed, which is understandable. But then some people still bring gifts and some don’t…and that can be awkward for everyone. So what we do instead is include on the invitations an option for people to give a donation in lieu of gifts if they want. For LJ’s first birthday, we asked for book donations for a local organization that distributes them to hospitalized children in our area (LJ got three books when he was in the NICU). For Vi’s first birthday, we chose a ministry at our church that distributes basic essentials to local families in need. Through this pandemic, there have been many families financially struggling and we felt this was one tangible way we could help. Those who still wanted to bring a gift were very happy to be able to bring donations in Vi’s honor.

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The highlight of the party was Vi getting to dig into her little cake. She didn’t hesitate to get into that frosting  ! We did not let her eat the whole thing but she really enjoyed it while she could. 😉

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That last picture was right before we took away the cake – once it was getting in her hair we figured she’d had enough haha!

We had so much fun enjoying the beautiful weather outside and hanging out with our families. We ate delicious food, we played cornhole, we talked, we laughed, we had a great time celebrating our little girl!

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I cannot believe my baby girl is almost one! She is such a joy and I’m so glad we could have a special day celebrating her life!

Road Trip Tips for Traveling with a Toddler (and baby!)

When I was sharing about our family beach trip over on Instagram two weeks ago, I got a few messages asking about traveling with kids and the tips and tricks we use to make the experience as fun as we can. Travel is normally a big part of our life (in this pandemic, the beach trip was our one and only trip planned for the foreseeable future) and I’ve previously shared about simplifying trip preparationroad trip tips for traveling with a baby, tips for flying with a baby, tips for hotel stays with a baby, and simplifying packing for travel with a baby. I feel like I’ve sufficiently covered what works for us and traveling with a baby, but a long road trip with a toddler is a whole other ball game! LJ is now 2 1/2 years old and we definitely needed to adjust our travel game accordingly. Today I thought I’d share some of the things that we do to make the road trip a fun extension of the vacation instead of a miserable bookend to an otherwise great trip.

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Just like every baby is different, every toddler is too – these are just the things that work well for our family when we travel.  I just wanted to share in case another parent out there might find one of these ideas helpful. I think the travel sets the tone for the start of your vacation so whatever we can do to make it a little more positive is great!

Pack. Snacks.

This is an obvious one, so I won’t waste much time elaborating. Pack a ton of easy snacks and have them accessible (I keep the big back of snacks right behind the driver and passenger seats) as well as water bottles. I would say pack more than you think you’ll need too – you definitely do not want to run out!

Load up on mess-free non-food treats

I got a small plastic basket at the dollar store to store things to occupy LJ throughout the trip. Our van is 14 years old and far from swanky, but it does have a DVD player and for that we are thankful haha. If your vehicle doesn’t have one, a portable DVD player might be a worthwhile investment for a long trip. We were in the car for 12+ hours, so an hour or two here and there of screen time helped all of us pass the time.

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I also like to have little mess-free activities for LJ to have every once in a while. I’ve had people tell me that they have little things to bring out at milestones (like every 100 miles or every hour or something), but I just brought things out as needed. I hit up the dollar spot at Target before long trips to find little activities for LJ – things like felt books, mess free markers, stickers, etc are perfect for the car!

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We also have a few of these Water Wow books and they are a HUGE hit. LJ loves them and will color them over and over. You just put a little bit of water in the brush and the water colors in the picture. Then it dries clear and you can color it again. These occupy him for a long time!

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Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. In the moments where the kids are going crazy or crying (or both) and we just can’t stop quite yet, my solution is bubbles! While not necessarily 100% mess-free, bubbles floating around the back of the car instantly turn both my kids’ moods around and can help make a tough stretch of driving much more bearable. This is also something we can break out during a pit stop and need a little something to do.

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And speaking of pit stops…

Plan to stop, but keep it flexible

In our experience, traveling with kids is not the time to have a tight schedule. We assume that we will need to stop at least once every 2-3 hours and plan our travel time accordingly. Each stop is about 30-45 minutes to give our kids adequate time out of the car seats to stretch and burn off some energy. So if a drive is going to take 8 hours, we mentally plan for it to be at least 10 hours with stops. This keeps us from getting frustrated when there are inevitably delays or extra stops.

We typically do not plan stops in advance. We have a general idea of places we’d like to stop (i.e. let’s see if we can make it to X city) but we don’t plan specific places, mostly because it is really hard to plan hours in advance when your kids are going to need to stop. When it seems like our kids are getting restless or it’s getting close to meal time or we need to stop for gas, we stop wherever we are.

Find a Green Space for Pit Stops

We try to avoid high-traffic areas like rest stops – especially in a pandemic! – so our trick is to search for green spaces.

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My process is simple. I open up Google Maps, find where we are, and look around at the upcoming exits (if you’re not on an interstate, just look at the next few miles of your route). I try to find green spaces within 1-2 miles off the road. You can also search “park” or “playground” to help find a good stopping point. (Note: I did pack plenty of hand sanitizer to use after we left each playground, even though we were the only ones playing at most of them).

Here’s an example of a place I found just looking ahead at our route when we drove to the beach:

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Even if there is no playground, a place like Schwartzkopf or Millcreek Park is a good place to try because it’s near the interstate we’re driving, the green space is relatively large, and there’s a creek next to it. At the very least, we could run in the grass and find sticks and rocks to toss in the river (which we did!) It turns out that that park also had a small playground though, so it was a double win!

This is another park we found and I ended up saving it in my maps for future road trips because it was an exceptionally good stop: it’s off the beaten path, there’s a scenic walking trail around a small lake, a nice playground, and working bathrooms. It’s definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again!

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The “search for green space” method has honestly never steered us wrong. The worst case scenario would be we show up and it’s just a flat space of grass. Even then, we could still run around and hunt for rocks or sticks or dandelions or bugs, or we could break out the bubbles I brought along. The point is to get energy out and have some fun so that the kids (and adults) are happier for the next stretch of driving. (And for the record, so far it’s never been just a boring flat space of grass. There has always been something!) This is also good for Vi – at 10 months old, she loves the change in scenery of a park or playground and there is also usually a bench for me to use to sit and breastfeed.

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Pit stop for meals too

In a pre-pandemic world, we would always stop at a restaurant and eat inside, even if it was fast food, instead of just going through a drive through and continuing on. This actually saved us time later because it counted as a pit stop for our kids to get out some energy and would allow us to keep going for another 2-3 hours after eating.

In this pandemic, we obviously did not want to stop and eat in a restaurant. Instead, we got drive-thru food, took it to a park (again, just looking around on Google Maps for nearby green space) and had a little picnic.

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I keep a picnic blanket in our van at all times and this is handy to pull out if there’s no picnic table around! It also makes for a great place for Vi to crawl around since she’s too small for playgrounds.

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I can’t emphasize this enough: try to make your pit stops fun! If you only allow for a 10 minute stop + bathroom break, your kids will likely not last as long back in the car before needing to stop again. Trying to power through a long drive with babies and toddlers, at least in our experience, just leads to a more miserable time in the car because they are cranky and tired of sitting in their car seats. By incorporating a little bit of fun through pit stops, it not only makes the actual time in the car more pleasant (and quiet), but it also makes the traveling feel like a fun part of the vacation too and not just something to endure to get to the good part. Our pit stops were all fun and unique times to explore a new area as a family and create memories just like the actual time at our destination did. So worth it!

For extra long trips, consider stopping overnight

Our beach trip was a 12 hour drive with no stops, so we planned for it to be at least a 16 hour trip with stops. We could have tried to power through and do it in one day, but we had the ability to stop overnight and break it up into two 8 hour travel days instead and we were all much happier about that. It’s not always feasible, but when it is, this can be a really helpful option! Hotels have cribs and pack and plays for use (usually for free!) and we can usually find a good, relatively inexpensive option (we love Holiday Inns) last minute. If we happen to know someone who lives along our route, we’ve also asked to stay with them to break up the trip!

If we do plan to stop overnight, I pack a small suitcase with everything we need for the night: toiletries, LJ’s blankets and stuffed animals, our sound machine, pajamas, etc. We pack it last, so it’s right there when we open the trunk and it’s super easy to just grab that one bag and take it in without trying to wrangle multiple bags and kids.

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And an extra tip, the Slumberpod is an absolute GAME. CHANGER. for traveling with kids. Our family of four shared a hotel room in our overnight pit stop and then we shared a room at the beach house with Vi, and this thing was AMAZING. It is a black out tent that fits over the pack n play. It is breathable and totally safe, but it completely blacks out the crib so baby can easily sleep in the middle of the day or we can keep the lights on in our room at night. We will absolutely take this on all future trips with babies! (Also, in the beach house Vi did sleep in the large closet, but we didn’t close the doors 😉 )

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It worked so well in the hotel room too because Vi went down before LJ did and we could leave the lights on for him until it was his bedtime too. Win!

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Take along a Toddler Potty

LJ is 90% potty trained at this point, and he does not wear diapers on the drive. We keep his little Paw Patrol potty right in front of his seat, so when he tells us he has to go, we can stop anywhere. We’ve pulled over on the side of the road (if it’s safe), pulled into empty church parking lots, pulled into subdivisions to park along a quiet street . . . when he tells us he has to go, we can stop wherever. I highly recommend this if you have a very young toddler who cannot hold it to wait for a bathroom. This was also really helpful in the pandemic because it meant LJ never had to go inside a gas station or restaurant to go potty during the trip.

 

What tips do you have for traveling with a toddler?

Beach Week 2020

Beach Week 2020 is in the books!

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Justin’s parents rent a beach house in the Virginia Beach area every other year, and this year we were scheduled to go. They had booked the house back in 2019 . . . and then, the pandemic hit. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to go but after closely monitoring the situation and discussing the options with our family (Justin’s parents and siblings), we all agreed to keep the vacation. I know everyone is in a different situation right now at I want to be sensitive to that – so much depends on the area you’re in (the infection rate, the current recommendations and regulations), the health needs of your family, the precautions you can still put in place, etc. We’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have. We were very familiar with the area we were traveling to and felt confident we could keep things socially distanced from those outside the family. We stayed well over six feet away from others on the beach and didn’t leave our house other than to walk across the street to the beach or go for bike rides. We either made all our meals at home or got carryout. It was definitely a little different from “normal” years, but we still had a great time and I’m very thankful we were able to go!

I really wanted to unplug a bit and focus on family time, so I didn’t have my phone on me very often. It was absolutely wonderful to just be present in a moment instead of try to document every single one. Because of this, I have a ton of memories, but not a ton of photos. Today I just wanted to share a few snippets of moments that were captured throughout the week. As you can see, it was full of lots of family time and outdoor adventures!

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Justin and I celebrated our anniversary (seven years!) on the 22nd with a kid-free date night: a bike ride to get some carry-out ice cream! SO thankful I get to do life with this man.

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The kids got really into digging in the sand and one day they dug a faux “pool” with help from Justin and his brother.  LJ and his cousin, who is only four months younger, loved playing in their mini ocean after it filled up with water from the tide.

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LJ got really into finding shells on the beach and designated mommy as his treasure-holder. There is something so sweet about being a boy mama ❤

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I am a minimalist, “let’s-take-as-little-as-possible-out-to-the-beach” kind of person, but a collapsible beach tent is absolutely worth it as something to take. It folds up small, is lightweight, and provides a shaded, sand-free area when kids need to take a break (or babies need to nap)! I got this one at Aldi two years ago and it came in so handy throughout the week both on the beach and at the pool.

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Vi got her ten month photos taken on the beach. She was such a trooper all week and loved getting to experience the sand and ocean for the first time!

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The best part of the whole week was watching my kids with their grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. Justin’s parents and siblings all live within five minutes of one another, and it’s hard for us to be the family that lives far away, which makes trips like these even more important to us. It is so wonderful getting to see our kids develop relationships with everyone and this week of concentrated family time definitely helped them strengthen their bonds. This was the first in-person visit where LJ could say everyone’s name and associate names with faces and it was just the sweetest thing to see him make those connections. And all the cousins playing together all week was just so sweet!

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I already can’t wait until the next time we can be together!

 

Macie is Seven!

Long before I was a human mama, I was a dog mama. And today, the girl who made me a dog mama turns seven.

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SEVEN!

I can’t even believe it. To celebrate, today’s post is all about my Mace Face. Macie Girl. Macie Bug. My sweet Macie!

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Before we got married, Justin and I knew we wanted a dog. When two of Justin’s good friends bred their labs and offered a puppy to us as a wedding gift (they knew we wanted a dog), we said YES. So Macie came into our lives exactly one month into our marriage and has been with us ever since.

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Macie has always been full of energy. The “puppy” phase with her lasted about 2.5 years – she was just go go go from the very start. She loves tug of war, fetch, and going for any type of run/walk/hike/outdoor adventure.

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She is also a huge lover of water. If there is a body of water around, she will happily jump right in and swim to her heart’s content. Sometimes we have to make her come out of the water and rest for a bit because I get nervous that she’ll wear herself out without realizing it – she swims so much.

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Macie definitely follows typical birth order personality types 😉 She is incredibly obedient and smart. She is a huge people-pleaser and has always worked to get approval. She is the dog we can have off leash or without the electric fence collar without worry because she will listen to us and stay where we tell her to stay. As a puppy, she crate trained like a dream and has had the run of the house since she was like 8 months old. Justin has taught her several tricks over the years and she’s done super well with them. She’s one of the most intelligent dogs I’ve ever met and I don’t think that’s just my parent pride speaking (although I guess it could be haha).

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You know in The Little Mermaid when Ariel sings “I want to be where the people are”? If Macie had a life mantra, that would be it. She loves people and wants to be right in the middle of the action. Wherever we are, she is there too.

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She is on the smaller side for a lab and thinks she’s a lap dog ha!

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She wants to be the first one greeting a guest at our house, she wants to sit right next to me on the couch, she wants to follow us around the house no matter if we’re going inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs – she is up for anywhere as long as there are people. If I happen to go outside without her, she protests loudly. She just wants to be around us. I was super thankful for this when Justin had to work night shifts and I was home alone. Macie would snuggle next to me on the couch and curl up next to me in bed so I didn’t feel like I was alone. And when I say snuggle, with Macie, you either get an adorable little curl up…

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…or her classic flop. It cracks me up every time!

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Macie has transitioned to her big sister roles so well.

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First, when we brought Scout home, she did a great job of adjusting to another dog being around. Macie is definitely alpha and Scout is beta and they get along so well. When we got pregnant, I wasn’t entirely sure how Macie would react to a new little human around but she adjusted like a dream. I have never once worried about her around my babies.

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She will snuggle next to them, let them crawl all over her, humor LJ as he attempts to play fetch with her – she is just a dream big sister.

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Macie meeting LJ for the first time – she was so excited!

She takes everything that LJ does in stride and just let’s him love on her and it is the sweetest relationship. They love each other!

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We absolutely adore Macie and can’t imagine life without her. Happy seventh birthday to our sweet and spunky girl!

 

Mother’s Day 2020

I’m still smiling after this past weekend. It was just the best!

Justin had the day off Friday and he spent the whole time working outside getting all the yard work done so that he would have the entire weekend free to be with the kids. He came in with a bouquet of flowers Friday afternoon – he said he wanted to give them to me early so I could enjoy them the whole weekend. So thoughtful!

Sunday morning, after Violet woke up and I fed her, Justin took her and insisted I get back in bed to sleep in a bit. Sleep is truly such a gift these days and I so appreciated the extra time!

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When I finally got downstairs after sleeping in (and getting my bowl of cereal delivered in bed), I came down to the sweetest gifts.

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Heartfelt cards, a few yummy treats, and a rubber tree I asked for. Just perfect ❤

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Both Saturday and Sunday were a wonderful blend of time to myself and time with my family. Justin encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, and he fully took over the meals and taking care of the kids. I got to spend time working on a few projects (re-potting my new plant, finishing off a DIY frame, and getting more work done on the basement kitchen) and relaxing by catching up on reading, listening to podcasts, and just resting.

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I also got some snuggles and fun moments with my kids, and it was extra enjoyable because I felt refreshed and taken care of.

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I think part of the reason this was such an enjoyable holiday for me was because I talked with Justin in advance about what I wanted. I told him I would love some time to myself. I also said I didn’t care if we ate take-out or if he made meals, but I did not want to have to prepare a meal (we got take-out Saturday and he cooked a delicious dinner on Sunday).

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And I took the guess work out of gift-giving by saying I wanted a plant from my friend’s small business. I gave him the website and directed him to the exact plant I wanted. He asked if I could just order it and I said no, then it wouldn’t feel like a gift. Haha!

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There was a time where I wouldn’t have been so clear with my expectations. I would have just wanted him to surprise me with something but not been specific about what I wanted. It was stressful for him and frustrating for me if I felt disappointed by whatever he chose to do. I finally realized that it might not feel like a romantic notion to say “here’s what I would like” but it makes things SO much better. He was thrilled to know exactly what to do and not have to guess or worry and I was happy to have my needs heard and met. I felt so appreciated and loved and the fact that it wasn’t all a “surprise” didn’t affect me at all. He still threw in a few unexpected treats that I wasn’t expecting and that all just felt like an awesome bonus. I thanked him several times for a great weekend – he listened to my desires and made it happen for me. I felt so well taken care of!

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There was a time when I wasn’t sure when I would be a mom. After our first pregnancy was ectopic and ended in a traumatic rupture and the removal of one Fallopian tube, I felt so hopeless and sad. I prayed so many prayers and cried so many tears with each passing month of not getting pregnant. I do not take a moment of the life I have now for granted and I’m so profoundly grateful for these babies who call me mama. Mother’s Day is now a joyful celebration for me, but I still remember the time when it wasn’t. If this holiday is a struggle for you due to longing or loss, you are not alone and I was thinking of you yesterday too.  I truly hope that my journey can give you hope that your story isn’t finished ❤

Happy Birthday Justin!

Today is Justin’s 32nd birthday, so today’s post is all about celebrating him (with a few throwback pictures sprinkled in!)

I first met Justin when he was 22 years old. We were friends for a long time before we started dating, but even so it’s crazy to think I’ve known him for nearly a full decade!

This was from our first “official” date way back in August 2011 after being friends for almost a year.

I had planned to surprise him with a weekend away with some of our good friends for his birthday, but that unfortunately we had to cancel our plans when this pandemic hit. I’m so bummed that we aren’t able to have the adventurous weekend I envisioned, but we were still able to enjoy some small celebrations at home.

2012 – We were engaged and he insisted on mutton chops because we were headed to a country concert that night.

I got some of his favorite sweet treats (root beer floats, Krispy Kreme donuts, and mint chocolate chip ice cream) to indulge in throughout the weekend, he choose our dinner menus (Saturday night pizza and Sunday ribs) and we gave him a gift we knew he would love: 5 free hours on Sunday afternoon to use however he wanted! He chose to spend  time walking in the woods and then in his woodworking shop – some of his favorite hobbies. When he gets home from work today, the kids and I will have a few other small surprises for him to celebrate with dinner and family time.

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Truthfully, he has never been someone who likes to celebrate his birthday (a concept that I, as a huge birthday lover, just cannot understand) so I know he appreciated just a low key weekend with a few special treats and lots of time to relax.

20200308_093841Justin is full of energy. He is the kind of person that makes others feel comfortable right away. He can find a way to relate to everyone he meets, and he is just such a genuinely FUN person to be around that people always gravitate to him. Everyone just enjoys being around him!

He is also one of the hardest workers I know. He is competitive and athletic and spent years of his life honing his skills in various sports, then he chose a career in healthcare and worked his tail off to do his absolute best through years of studying and training. He’s one of those people who just seems to be good at everything he tries (which is  annoying when I just want to beat him at something one. time. haha). A lot of it is natural talent, but a big portion of his successes come from the fact that he just keeps working and trying to improve in whatever he does, from his job, to the way he takes care of our family, right down to hobbies like golf or woodworking or how he plays a board game.

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I have loved watching Justin grow into his role as a father. He is truly a partner and our marriage and parenting feel like teamwork. LJ and Vi both light up when he comes home from work, and I’m constantly amazed by his ability to leave work at work and jump right into dad mode when he walks through the door. The picture above is such a great example of the type of guy he is – professional job, but he wears fun socks to show his personality. He gets home and the first thing he does is pick up one or both kids, and a dog is usually not far behind. We all love when he comes home. 🙂

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He also is really thriving in his role as toddler dad with teaching LJ things like how to kick a soccer ball or reel in a fishing line and my heart gets all melty watching them together. 

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He is supportive of my dreams and his constant affirmation and support has helped given me confidence in many areas of my life. He always finds a way to make me laugh and I have just as much fun traveling the globe with him as I do hanging out at home.

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2016 – Adventures in Cinque Terre, Italy ❤

I could go on and on, but I know this post is probably already way overboard in his mind so I’ll just end with this: Justin is simply my favorite person to be around and there is no one else I’d rather be quarantined with.

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Happy birthday to our favorite guy – we’re so glad to celebrate another year of your life!

A Day in the {Quarantined} Life

I love writing up the occasional ‘day in the life’ posts. Even though life is anything but normal right now, I thought it would be nice to document what our new normal looks like in these strange days of social distancing. This is definitely a unique circumstance and one day when this is all said and done, I think it’ll be interesting to look back and remember how we spent our days “quarantined” in our home (we’re not sick, so we’re not technically quarantined, but Indiana has a shelter-in-place order so we are not leaving our house for anything non-essential). I documented last Thursday – here’s what it looked like!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

I woke up around 7:00 am and quickly got dressed, did my quick 2 minute face wash+serum+moisturizer+contact lenses routine, and headed into the nursery to feed Vi. Once she was finished, we headed downstairs and I set her on the floor with a few toys to play with. This girl is rolling all over the place and in less than one minute was already this far away from her toys – we think she is close to crawling!

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I ate my breakfast and read my daily bible study while Vi rolled around and played.  Justin came down and grabbed a quick breakfast and kissed us girls goodbye before heading off to work around 7:30.

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LJ woke up around 7:45, so I went up to his room to get him and bring him down for breakfast. He chose two banana chocolate chip muffins that I made last week (trying especially hard not to let food go to waste since we’re not going out to the grocery store often).

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After breakfast, the three of us hung out in the playroom reading books and playing with trains.

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Right before all this social distancing started, Justin’s parents came to visit and brought some books that my sister-in-law was handing down to LJ because her kids have outgrown them. I’ve been slowly pulling out one thing at a time and it’s such a nice treat to have something “new” for LJ to get now that we’re stuck inside. This lift-the-flap tractor book is one of his favorite new things!

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LJ is big into coloring and using stickers right now, so we also spent some time crafting. He drew a picture and I traced Vi’s little handprints and wrote a short letter to Justin’s grandma so we could send her some love via mail!

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Around 9:15, Vi was starting to rub her eyes so I quickly fed her and put her down for a nap. In “normal” life, I get together with a small group of women every other Thursday morning. Since we couldn’t meet in person, we met via Zoom. I turned on Mickey Mouse on Disney+ to keep LJ occupied so I could meet with my friends.

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It was SO good to get to see other faces and hear how everyone is doing. We are all obviously dealing with this global health crisis in our own ways and everyone has their own struggles, so it was nice to just get to lean on one another and feel supported and loved.

Our call ended around 11:00 and I realized I should’ve known when LJ was being so quiet in the other room that he was up to something. Haha!

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Vi was up from her nap, so I went up to get her and change both kids’ diapers. I got some lunch around while chatting with my youngest sister on the phone. Sandwich for me, chicken nuggets, cottage cheese, strawberries, and an apple for LJ.

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Once we finished up lunch, we noticed that our neighbors across the road were outside with their tractors. We know them well, so we decided to take advantage of the warm sunny day and burn off a little pent up energy by walking across the road to say hi. I strapped Vi in our Ergo carrier and we set off!

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LJ is obsessed with tractors so he was so excited to go on a little adventure to see them. The day was perfect – sunny and warm!

We waved to our neighbors from afar and LJ got to get up close to one of the parked tractors. We watched our neighbors drive one of the other tractors for a while, then had to head back to our house for naptime. LJ was so cute about wanting to say goodbye to the tractors; he kept turning around every 5 steps to wave and say “bye tractor!” as we walked back down their lane.

We walked back to our house and brought the garbage can back in from the end of our lane. I love that LJ is in a stage where he loves to be a good helper!

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We spent a few more minutes soaking up the warm sunshine while LJ played in Justin’s truck. He loves pretending to drive and rolling the window up and down.

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Around 1:00 we headed inside. I put Vi in her activity center so I could take LJ upstairs and get him down for his nap. He’s starting to really stall when it comes to sleep so he wanted to keep reading books. We read a few books and sang a few songs and then I put him down.

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Back downstairs, Vi was also starting to look sleepy so I fed her while answering a few work emails. Once she was done feeding, she went upstairs for her nap around 2:00.

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Once Vi was in her crib, I headed straight down to our basement to get my Expecting and Empowered workout done. I have learned that it really helps keep my mental health in a good place to have some sort of exercise/movement each day and I’m more thankful than ever for at-home workouts. I completed leg day while listening to a podcast and it was a much needed boost!

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In between sets, I edited a letter of recommendation that my sister asked me to look over.

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Once I was done with my workout, I settled into the couch to get work done for my job (I’m a part-time administrative assistant for a nutrition counseling company) and had While You Were Sleeping (one of my favorites!) on in the background. I stayed here until I heard LJ wake up around 3:45.

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LJ normally wakes up from his nap in a super cranky mood and he needs about 20 minutes to adjust before he’s back to his normal self. I still had a few emails to finish up so I did those while he ate a snack and watched an episode of Mickey Mouse.

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Justin and I had decided to support a local restaurant (and give ourselves a cooking break) by ordering carry out for dinner, so I called in to place the order right before going upstairs to get Vi from her nap.

Justin got home from around 5:00 with dinner in hand. We ordered Italian – I love a good spinach tortellini!

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After dinner we hung out as a family and then Justin took the kids upstairs one at a time for bathtime. Vi hates bathtime but she was all smiles once she was squeaky clean!

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I fed and put Vi down for bed while LJ had his bath.

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After his bath, LJ wanted to play hide and seek for a few minutes. I honestly love the two-year-old phase. He just has the sweetest, most fun personality!

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LJ chose me as the one to put him down for bed (he’s going through a bit of a mommy phase right now 😉 ) so we read a few stories together, then I sang him a few songs and put him down.

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Once both kids were down, Justin and I grabbed the monitor and headed out to the workshop for our DIY Date Night. We made two book ledges for the little nook under our stairs and it was a really fun way to unwind and spend some quality time together working on a project!

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Once we finished our project, we cleaned up the shop and headed inside for the night.

Writing this day down was pretty therapeutic for me. It not only documented what our life looks like in this strange time of shelter-in-place, but it also made me realize that our days aren’t quite the “groundhog day” situation they feel like. There are small ways to make each day unique and special, and I want to remember that too. ❤

 

 

Six Months with Our Girl

Yesterday, our sweet Vi turned six months old.

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It feels both longer and shorter than that somehow. I cannot believe it has already been half of a year since this moment when I heard the words “it’s a girl!”

. . . and yet, I can’t even imagine our family without her. It feels like she’s always been with us.

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It’s all going a little too fast for this mama’s heart to handle, so today’s post is all about this girl and what life is like with her these days.

Relationships

Vi is honestly one of the happiest, sweetest babies. She is so smiley – I can’t help but smile too when I see her face light up! She especially loves her core family members. As her mama, I know we share one of the closest bonds. Whenever she’s upset, just the act of me picking her up and holding her usually calms her down right away. I love spending my days with her!

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She is totally a daddy’s girl already. When Justin comes home from work, she gets a huge grin, makes happy noises, and starts kicking her arms and legs in excitement. She adores him!

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And speaking of people she adores, her big brother LJ also tops the list. Oh my word. These two make my heart all melt-y. LJ loves to smother her in hugs and kisses and she follows his every move. She smiles when she sees him, tracks his movements across the room, and seems to genuinely like being near him (which is a good thing because he doesn’t exactly respect personal boundaries ha!) LJ is one of the few people who elicits genuine giggles out of her – she will laugh at the silly things he does or funny noises he makes and he loves it! One of their favorite little ‘games’ right now is he’ll blow zerberts on her belly and they both laugh. So sweet!

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When it comes to other people, it can be hit or miss. Vi is starting to recognize “stranger danger” – she will sometimes get a huge frown and cry if she’s staring into a face she doesn’t know.  It will occasionally happen with a babysitter too but we’ve learned that I just need to hold her facing out so she can observe the new face from the comfort of familiar arms until she warms up to the new person and then it’s fine. She is beloved by the ladies in the church nursery though – she’s always sweet as can be there and they love having her!

Sleep

Vi didn’t really have a 4 month sleep regression and has pretty consistently slept 8-12 hours every night since we moved her into her room. She either sleeps 8 hours, wakes up around 4 am, feeds, and goes back to sleep, or she’ll just sleep the whole way through the night until 7 or 8 am. Obviously, I prefer those nights 😉 but waking up once at four isn’t bad either. Maybe once every other week or so we’ll have a night where she’s waking up more frequently than that, but for the most part, she’s consistent!

While she’s great at night, she’s less consistent with naps. She sometimes takes a morning nap, she usually takes an afternoon nap, sometimes both, rarely neither. I think her inconsistency comes because of our schedule: mornings are generally the only time we can get out of the house during the day so we’re not always home. She’s pretty go with the flow and will at least fall asleep in her car seat if we leave the house, so that’s nice!

Food

We’ve just recently started introducing solids to her. Her very first food was avocado and she was … less than impressed.

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She’s also had some tastes of banana. So far she’s not really interested in food other than just playing with it or watching us eat.

She still does really well with breastfeeding and has always fed on demand. She started out wanting to feed every 60-90 minutes, which was exhausting for me. Nowadays, she will occasionally still want to feed that frequently, but she’s also able to go up to four hours in between feeds during the day. Similarly to LJ, she took a bottle well really early on, but once she got a little older and recognized she was drinking from a bottle, she wanted nothing to do with it. Now that she’s finally able to go longer in between feeds, I’m able to leave her with Justin or a babysitter to run errands or have time by myself which is good for both of us.

Activity

Vi is so interested in her surroundings and is always in motion, interacting with whatever is near her. If we put her on the ground, she’ll roll all over to reach and play with toys. She also loves playing in her activity center and is generally content to play there if I need a safe place to put her while I get some other work done.

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She also loves to look at herself in the mirror. I love watching her watch herself – she’s so proud of herself when she stands! (And those scrumptious leg rolls!!)

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She experienced her first snow but she was more interested in watching us than she was at discovering snow.

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While Vi is generally sweet, happy, and easygoing, she does have her moments. In particular, if I’m not home and she gets fussy for Justin or a babysitter, it’s generally because she wants to breastfeed and refuses a bottle. She will also sometimes get cranky when she’s overtired and we have to be conscious of putting her down in her crib when she shows signs of fatigue.

These last six months have been an adventure and I’m looking forward to making many more memories with this sweet girl.

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We love her so much!

Reducing Waste: Snack Time

One thing I am passionate about is reducing waste. Whether it’s finding plastic alternatives, avoiding single-use items, using products made of recycled materials, choosing bulk items with reduced packaging, or just consuming/buying/using LESS, I like to try to make choices that are a little better for our environment. I thought I would start sharing some ways that I do this here on the blog in case anyone else is looking for some ideas about how to reduce waste in their life too. Today I’m focusing on a specific area of reducing waste that’s big in my life right now and that is: toddler snack time.

Before getting into this, I need to share a disclaimer. Part of me hesitated to write a post about reducing waste because I know there are other things I could be doing in this area. While I would love to use the best, most environmentally-friendly option for everything, it’s just not always realistic. There are barriers like expense and time that are prohibitive and I’ve had to make some decisions with what to prioritize. In some cases, I know I’m not making the most environmentally-friendly choice. But have you heard the parable of the starfish? I think it applies here – just because a change is small, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference. I’m just trying to do the best I can with what works for our family, and I know that is all anybody can do. If these small changes I’ve made inspire anyone else to make a swap and reduce their waste in even one small way, I’m happy!

Now I love snacks and so does my toddler, but there can be a ton of waste when it comes to food. Obviously, some of it is unavoidable and I’m certainly not perfect here, but there are a few little changes I’ve implemented that make a difference.

Reusable Snack Containers

20200206_151316When it comes to dry snacks, I buy the bulk package instead of individual serving size packages. Then at home I’ll just pour some into a reusable container like this or baggie like this and LJ has an appropriate portion to carry around and eat. This is a quick (literally takes a few seconds) super easy option both for home and travel, as both the container and baggie can easily be thrown in my diaper bag.

20200206_152939I also like to use these stainless steel containers when I have something like fruit to take along as a snack – it keeps the food fresh and protected from getting squashed.

Reusable Food Pouches

20200206_152116When it comes to applesauce, LJ is borderline obsessed. When it’s served over lunchtime, he’ll eat it from a bowl with a spoon but when it’s served as a snack, he loves the pouches. Honestly, food pouches are a parents dream – so convenient, so easy to use, and a mess-free way of delivering different nutrients. The problem is, with the plastic top and individual packaging (compounded by the fact that we go through so. many.) pouches feel really wasteful to me. I found these reusable pouches online and they are a great alternative! I can buy applesauce in bulk or use my mom’s canned version and pour it into the pouches; it’s great because I can choose the type of applesauce (I choose unsweetened, but you could get different flavors or use homemade purees) and the amount that goes into the pouch. Plus they’re dishwasher safe!

In the interest of full transparency: I do not solely use the reusable options. I do still buy the individually packaged ones (included in the picture above) because the reusable ones need to be refrigerated since I opened the bulk container. Refrigerated options are not always feasible for taking along outside the house. When it comes to reducing waste, I think the important thing to focus on is reducing. I’m not perfect, but I think any effort still makes a difference. Hypothetical situation: even if LJ eats 500 pouches in his life and 400 of them are single-use packages, that still means I saved a landfill from 100 extra pouches by using the reusable option and I focus on the positive of that 20% waste reduction.

Misc. Items for Restaurants

20200206_152525When it comes to eating outside the house, I have these items stored in my diaper bag: a food-grade silicone mat, reusable utensil, and silicone straw. We don’t eat out very often, but when we do it’s nice to have these options instead of using disposable plastic items from the restaurant.

20200206_152638When Vi is a little older and eating food as well, I’ll throw a silicone bib and reusable spoon + case (I love the ones pictured from the brand RePlay because they are made from recycled milk jugs, helping with the waste problem again!)

20200207_080329While we’re on the subject of meals, at home we use RePlay’s plates and utensils. These are also made out of recycled milk jugs, which means my purchase kept a few more milk jugs out of a landfill. I believe there is power in the purchasing dollar and I will gladly support companies trying to find ways to create quality products out of recycled materials and reduce our society’s overall waste.

Paper Towel Alternatives

20200206_152742I was gifted these Swedish dishcloths (similar ones here) from my mother-in-law and they are awesome paper towel alternatives! Perfect for cleaning up toddler spills or wiping LJ’s hands or mouth. He doesn’t like when his food gets really sticky on his hands, so I usually wet one of these dishcloths and put it next to his plate for him to wipe his hands as needed. These are easy to clean and reuse, which is great! When we do use napkins at home, I have actual cloth napkins that can be washed and reused or I buy these napkins made out of recycled paper.

Also, when it comes to reducing waste around food, I try to reduce the waste of the actual FOOD. Making sure not to buy more than we’ll go through, trying to use produce before it goes bad, keeping track of expiration dates – all these things are important too. Again, I’m not perfect but I do think the effort matters.

What ways have you found to reduce waste around snack and mealtimes? I’d love to hear other simple changes to implement!