#19for2019 and Christmas Re-Cap

Hi friends! Happy New Year!

I always love the fresh-start feel that a new year brings but I’m not usually one for resolutions. However, you know I love the Happier podcast, and one thing they have been talking about lately is a “19 for 2019” list. It’s like a combination resolutions list + to-do list and I enjoyed hearing about their “18 for 2018” lists last year so when they started talking about 2019 lists, I decided to write one as well. Today I thought I’d share my list and also give a quick re-cap of our Christmas travels since I’ve been unplugged from the blog through the holidays.

My 19 for 2019

1- Rough start, but this one is personal and I’m keeping it to myself. If there comes a point where I feel I want to share about it in this space, I will, but today is not that day. Next!

2- Plan an adults-only trip for Justin and I (We may not be able to actually take the trip in 2019 but I want to start planning and budgeting for it now!)

3- Update instagram account and create Chatbook for LJ

4- Select pictures for family photo albums (I want to do one for each year of marriage. We’ve been married 5 1/2 years so this is a big project!)

5- Plan out family photo albums (Such a big project I had to break it up into two items!)

6- Create a master list of my top book recommendations (I get asked for recommendations so often and I want to have a go-to list to easily share)

7- Replace our ugly brown recliner (Justin bought it used for $20 in college. It has lived a good life and it’s time to move on. 😉 )

8- Write and track our monthly spending budget

9- Send birthday cards

10- Find a local tailor

11- Find a reliable, nearby babysitter (we have some already but weeknights are always tricky to find someone)

12- Have house siding washed

13- Find comfortable black heels

14 – Plan our will with an estate lawyer

15- Invest in buying plastic alternatives (stainless steel straws, etc)

16- Set up accounts for LJ’s future

17- Have budget meeting with Justin for each paycheck (roughly 2x/month)

18- When buying clothing or shoes, look for fair trade, ethically made options

19- Learn more about finances (401K, 403B, investments, etc.) through books or podcasts

We’ll see how this goes. Some items are quick, one-time items that I just need to schedule time for. Others are ongoing or very time-consuming. I’m going to take it one step at a time and just try my best!

As for the recent holidays, we spent about 10 days away from home. It was a lot of travel but it was so great to spend so much quality time with our loved ones.

Christmas

Chicago

We left after lunch on the 21st for Chicago for Christmas with my mom’s side of the family. My uncle lives in Chicago and while his apartment didn’t have room for everyone, we were able to rent out the entire Lang House B&B nearby and stay together as a family. The B&B was absolutely gorgeous and we all enjoyed our stay there!

Friday evening most of the family (minus Justin and my dad, who stayed back at the B&B with LJ) went downtown to see “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. The play was amazing – the actors were all super talented and the set and special effects were incredible. We all enjoyed it!

Saturday was spent exploring Michigan Avenue in the morning and early afternoon. We did a little shopping and just enjoyed walking around in the festive atmosphere. Justin, LJ, and I ended up heading to Christkindl Market with my two sisters and my sister’s fiance and while it was extremely crowded, we did feel like the Christmas spirit was going strong! It was fun to walk through the tents and see unique ornaments and other decorations.

We all headed back to the B&B in the early afternoon to relax and rest up for a big night ahead. LJ found the L ride home especially relaxing 😉

Chicago17.jpg

Saturday night was one we had all been looking forward to for a long time: a 1920’s murder mystery! Months ago, my uncle purchased the scenario and assigned us parts. He put in a lot of effort to give everyone a part that worked with their real-life personality and all the details he put in place were just perfect! We all worked hard to get costumes in place and learn about our character. We had a catered meal, only to later discover that while the meal was catered, all the “servers” were actually friends of my uncle who were characters in the scenario as well. Justin actually was the one who was murdered, but he got to come back in Act II as the detective investigating the mystery. It was SUCH fun evening! Everyone got super in to their characters and we had all an awesome time.

It was a great weekend with extended family!

Ohio/Virginia

Sunday morning we packed up after breakfast and headed to Ohio for an evening Christmas celebration with my parents and siblings. Then we headed out early on Christmas Eve for a week in Virginia with Justin’s family.

Because of Justin’s work schedule, he hasn’t been able to travel to Virginia to see his family since last Christmas. It was SO wonderful to get to spend some good quality time there with his family. Our six-year-old nephew especially was excited for uncle Justin to come around and play with him and it was sweet to see their special bond strengthen. And don’t even get me started on the sweetness of seeing LJ with his cousins! I didn’t take many pictures during this trip but our four-year-old and ten-month-old nieces each had some especially precious moments with him that I managed to capture on camera. Oh my heart.

We were able to squeeze in a few short visits with some friends in the area but for the most part we focused on spending time with family and were so thankful to not only have Christmas Day together but also be able to get together other days for meals or just to hang out. It was a great holiday!

We got back home on Sunday night and spent Monday as a family of three (five including our dogs!) together at home. We got LJ one small present and the dogs each had treats in their stockings, but other than that, we kept it super low-key and just enjoyed a cozy day at home with each other. It was the perfect way to cap off a great holiday season.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday as well! Cheers to 2019!

Macie & Scout: Our First Babies

LJ tends to steal the show around here, but today I thought I’d share a little bit about the two fur babies that complete our little family. Today is all about Macie & Scout!

Justin and I always knew that we wanted to have a dog at some point. While we didn’t expect to get one at the start of our marriage, when two of Justin’s good friends bred their two labs together and offered us one of the puppies as a wedding gift, we joyfully accepted. In July 2013, on our one-month anniversary we became parents to eight-week-old Macie.

Macie is a pure lab mix. Her dad was a huge yellow lab and her mom was a small, field bred black lab. She was a spunky whirl of energy from the beginning!

MS3.jpg
Puppy Macie with her dad, a 90 lb yellow lab!

Macie is very smart and she picked up on her training really quickly. Honestly, she made puppy parenthood a breeze. She crate-trained easily, she learned new tricks, and while she kept her high-level puppy energy for a full two years, she was usually very obedient. We loved taking her with us everywhere and to this day her enthusiasm for everything (snow, swimming, fetch, hiking, etc) makes her such a fun dog to have around!

After about six months with Macie, we started to feel a little bad for her. She had SO much energy and we were both so busy (me with my full-time job 40 minutes away and Justin with his full-time schooling) that we started talking about getting a second dog at some point so she would have a little buddy and not be bored. Macie is so sweet and fun but she can be a little bit clingy – ha!

While a second dog was in the back of our minds as a “someday” possibility, we weren’t seriously looking into it. But in January 2014, my friend found two small puppies outside her home. She lives in a wooded area and it was clear that the two puppies had been dumped into the woods by their previous owners. Did you catch that it was January? These poor puppies had been dumped in the snow and left to fend for themselves.  My friend already had two dogs and couldn’t keep the puppies; another friend of hers had claimed one of them but the other was still in need of a safe, loving home. We drove out to Ohio “just to see” if this puppy would be the right fit for us but I think Justin and I both knew we were going to take this puppy in. One look at his sweet little brown eyes and we were all in!  Enter Scout.MS6.jpgAfter verifying that no one had called in to the shelter reporting missing puppies and that he didn’t have any collar, tracker, or identification, we took him home and he instantly became the missing piece to our little family.

Macie took to her little brother right away. I think it helped that she had only been with us for six months so she wasn’t too set in her only-dog ways. She and Scout also naturally fit the alpha and beta dog dynamics and fell into a brother-sister groove quickly. It made us so happy to see them bond from the start!

It was pretty apparent from the beginning that Scout had experienced trauma in his early life. The vet determined he was likely about 12 weeks old but it was difficult to tell exactly because he was malnourished. He had two types of worms in his belly and had frostbite on his belly and the tip of his tail. He was super skittish and fearful of new things. He resisted his crate and howled and cried when we tried to put him in it. It was heartbreaking! His training was completely different than Macie’s and our goal first and foremost was for him to be healthy and feel safe and loved.  Scout was never comfortable with crate-training and we decided not to force it for our own reasons. We eventually got to the point where both dogs could hold their bladders all day and not destroy things – since then we have let them roam the house when we’re not there. It was worked really well with very few mishaps.

Today, Scout is still skittish about loud noises (he always hides during thunderstorms) and he likes to perch on our staircase landing where he can see everything going on around him. For the most part though, he has really come out of his shell! He is a happy, lovable dog. He’s content to just snuggle and loves to have his belly rubbed. He warms up to people quickly and has the sweetest personality.

Our dogs were always our babies and we loved doing things with them. We took them on vacation, we went for long walks, we’d go swimming in a nearby river, we’d play frisbee in a park, we’d snuggle on the couch – whatever we could include them in, we did!

When I became pregnant, I worried about how the dynamic would change. Macie and Scout always did great with small children and we knew that they would be good siblings to a human baby, but I wondered if they would mind a baby that was now in their space all the time. I also worried because Scout is still naturally very skittish around new things so I worried he would be afraid of the new baby gear everywhere, the toys, the noise, the stroller, etc. We spent a lot of time letting them hang out in the nursery and sniffing LJ’s things so that when we finally brought him home, they weren’t stressed out by the new arrival.

I needn’t have worried. Macie and Scout LOVE LJ and have totally adjusted to his presence in our house. Scout was pretty quick to learn not to fear any of the baby gear and we’re able to go on family walks without him being afraid of the stroller. It has been so fun to see the three of them learn to love one another. LJ loves to watch the dogs and giggles when they do tricks. They tolerate his baby pats, they lay next to him on the floor, they love hanging out in his nursery. They always want to be near him! They are honestly just the sweetest with each other and it never fails to melt my mama heart!

If I had to pick one thing that really sealed Macie and Scout’s love for their little bro, I think it would be the high chair. Meal times are now their favorite time of day and if LJ is in his high chair they are never far away. They’re always ready to catch dropped scraps. Haha!

It has actually become a liiiiiiiittle bit of a problem because LJ loves to feed them and will often intentionally throw food down to Macie or hold food out to Scout. We’re going to have to work on that one!

While things are a little different now that we have a human baby, our dogs have always been our babies. We love them so much and are so happy as a family of five. ❤

 

A Simplified First Birthday

It doesn’t seem possible, but I now have a one-year-old.

I can’t believe LJ’s first birthday has come and gone. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I had the sweetest little newborn snuggled up on my chest. At the same time, it’s so hard to remember what life was like before him. He has changed our whole world and we’re so grateful for this year of his life!

Justin and I decided a long time ago that we wanted to keep LJ’s birthday party very low-key and simple. We know some parents choose to go all out with themes, decorations, coordinating food items, etc. and if that’s your thing, that’s great and we totally support you!  For us, we decided we wanted to focus on finding a few small ways to have a special celebration without a ton of work or stress. Today I wanted to share what we did to keep things sweet, simple, and fun!

A Simple 1st Birthday Party.jpg

LJ’s First Birthday Party

Our situation was a little unique in that LJ’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year and we were going to spend the day at my grandparents house with extended family on my dad’s side celebrating both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead of having a separate party on another day, we just decided to have a small celebration after the Thanksgiving meal but before the Christmas gifts. We called it ThanksBirthMas. 😉

After people were mostly finished with the meal, I set out a small dessert station on my grandma’s kitchen island.

BIrthday Cupcakes.jpegI had purchased cupcakes in three flavors from a local baker (chocolate with peanut butter frosting, vanilla with buttercream frosting, and blueberry with cream cheese frosting) and I set out a few toppings people could sprinkle on top if they wanted. I already had the cake stand and three dish serving set so I just brought those along to have a cute little way to arrange the items. I also set out my Letterfolk board to round out the display.

Our baker had also made a smash cake for LJ based off a picture I found of a cake I liked on Pinterest and I stuck a “1” candle on top. I also attached a gold “1” balloon to LJ’s high chair.

Birthday high chair.jpeg

I passed out party hats to everyone as a fun way to say “okay, it’s birthday time now!”

LJ First Birthday Party Hats.jpeg

We all sang Happy Birthday to LJ and ate cupcakes while he dug into his smash cake. His cake was vanilla with peanut butter filling and he loved it!

He was upset when we decided he had eaten enough and took it away. I think he takes after his mama’s sweet tooth!

LJ after cake.jpeg

Justin and I had decided we wanted a “no gifts” party and had let our family know this desire a few months ago so everyone was on the same page. In lieu of gifts, we asked people to bring a donation to a local charity. We chose a local organization that distributes books to hospitalized children throughout our region. This organization is near and dear to our hearts because LJ had to spend a week in the NICU after birth and he received three books from them during his time there. We so appreciated this kindness during a very stressful time in our lives and wanted to pay it forward to other families.

Our families were totally on board with this and were more than happy to bring donations instead of gifts. Some people chose to wrap the books and LJ had fun tearing off the paper and opening his birthday cards. We were thrilled to get to make a donation to a great organization in LJ’s honor.

Birthday Book Donation.jpg

Once we had collected the books and LJ had opened his cards, we thanked everyone and the birthday portion of the day was finished.

Justin and I were very happy with how the party turned out. It wasn’t perfect or Pinterest-worthy. It was simple but still felt very special and celebratory. Even if we wouldn’t have had a combo Thanksgiving/Christmas on the same day, I doubt we would have done much more with the party. The point for us was to hang out with family and celebrate and we have lots of wonderful memories of our time together!

And just for a little walk down memory lane…

Happy birthday my sweet little LJ! We love you SO much!

 

 

A Simplified Halloween

In Tuesday’s post, I talked about lowering the bar and not stressing out so much over perfection. For me, this is never more important than during the holiday season.

Halloween is the kickoff to the holiday season and while that always feels magical and exciting, it can also feel a little overwhelming. It’s easy to look around (in real life and on social media) and feel like you aren’t doing enough and are falling short in trying to do all the things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with homemade costumes, elaborate decorations, holiday-themed treats, etc. If that’s your thing, go for it! That is awesome and I’m cheering you on. For me, Halloween is one area of the holiday season where I lower the bar and just enjoy the time with family. Today I’m giving a quick little recap of our low-key Halloween festivities this year.

My little hometown had trick-or-treating on Tuesday this year, so we drove out (it’s around an hour away) after Justin got off work to surprise my grandparents and pass out candy with them. LJ wore a sweet little jack-o-lantern onesie before putting on his costume and it was so adorable!

j-o-l

I absolutely love dressing up and doing themed costumes, whether couple or group costumes; however, since LJ wasn’t going to actually go around to houses this year, we kept things fairly simple. I got a little Pooh costume and some animal ear headbands and a tiger tail and boom – Tigger, Rabbit, and Winnie.

Family costume

LJ was such a trooper in his Pooh costume. He did not like the process of putting it on but once it was on, he didn’t seem to be bothered by it. I think it helped that he loved looking at all the kids in costume and sat in fascination the whole time. My grandparents have a really popular neighborhood for trick-or-treating and they had 278 kids come by in 2 hours! We had so much fun that I forgot to take pictures. Oops!

Real life Halloween
Just a friendly reminder that for every perfect picture taken with an 11-month-old, there are likely outtakes like this 😉

Wednesday was our neighborhood’s trick-or-treat which felt like a little bit of a let down after my grandparents (we maybe had 60 kids total) but my mom came by and LJ loved extra snuggles with her.

Trick or Treat

He also loved the crinkly sound of the candy wrappers and commandeered two Twizzlers to “eat” and play with.

LJ twizzlers

We hung out outside and passed out candy until we got too cold and then we headed to our neighbor’s house for some soup and trick-or-treat re-cap. It was a perfectly fun and laid-back Halloween!

J and Pooh

Now the real question is, how many of you are already decorating for Christmas? 😉

On days when I need a 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.

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?

 

I got by with a little help from my friends

It is SO tempting to compare yourself to others on social media. It’s easy to look at someone else’s Insta-perfect hair/outfit/makeup/family/home and assume that they have it all together and you somehow don’t quite measure up.

This picture was snapped after lunch yesterday. We are still dressed up from church and look like just another happy, loving family that has it all pretty much together.

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But can I just be real for a minute?

This past week was a doozy for me. You know those weeks where you feel like you’re running behind from the get-go and just never catch up? That’s what I’ve felt like. Coming back from the vacation high straight into the tasks of daily life with a mile long to-do list, an over-committed schedule, and a teething baby who started waking up multiple times every night. I quickly went from relaxed vacation mom last week to frazzled, hot-mess mom this week.

My default has always been to try to handle things myself. I’m a recovering perfectionist who likes to be able to do it all and do it all well. But it is an absolute LIE to believe that I can do everything all the time. Supermom is not real. She needs help and so do I.

Which brings me back to this past week. How did I manage to make it through?

When Justin had to unexpectedly work late one day instead of come home to be with LJ, I reached out to a friend who was more than happy to watch him for an hour so I could make it to my eye doctor appointment on time.

When another friend made a large crockpot meal and invited us to dinner one evening, I gratefully accepted and crossed “figure out dinner” from my to-do list.

When it was time for my weekly cycling class, I prioritized my own physical and mental health by going to class and utilizing the YMCA childcare services for an hour.

And when Justin and I needed a full night of rest to refill our depleted sleep tanks after this long week, I asked my parents for help. They were SO thrilled to have LJ at their house for dinner and a sleepover. My mom didn’t even mind his waking up at night because it meant she got extra cuddles with him. It blessed my parents to have special grandparent time and it blessed us with a night of uninterrupted sleep. When we were reunited with LJ today, Justin and I were refreshed, recharged, and ready to be our best parenting selves and love on our little man so hard!

So don’t let my cute little family photo fool you or make you feel bad about yourself in any way. In fact, don’t let any picture on social media make you feel that way. There is always more going on beyond the little 2×2 square. Yes, we are a happy, loving family. Yes, I was able to actually do both my make-up AND curl my hair instead of choosing one or the other. Yes, we really were having a fairly pulled-together moment with smiles on our faces here. But it doesn’t mean we just had an easy-breezy week and our life is picture perfect. We didn’t get to this moment alone. It truly takes a VILLAGE and there is no shame in my mom game to say that we had help getting through this past week.

I get it, it’s hard to ask for help. It means that we have to admit that we cannot do it all. It can makes us feel like we fell short somewhere or we aren’t enough somehow. I have felt that way too but I have come to realize that I’m a better wife, mom, and human when I’m not frazzled, stressed, and overwhelmed. And I can’t do it all without help.

If you are having one of those day or weeks (or months or years) where you feel just overwhelmed by whatever life is throwing at you, I hope this encourages you to ask for and accept help from others. We are all in this together. ❤

Stay in the picture, mama

In Monday’s post, I shared a bunch of pictures of my family’s recent vacation to Virginia Beach. After publishing the post, I noticed something about the pictures I chose to share as highlights. Mainly, I noticed I wasn’t in them.

Allow me to indulge in a brief trip down memory lane. When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon 5+ years ago, I posted a ton of pictures of our trip on Facebook. I mean, why not? We had an absolute blast on the trip and we documented it well. In many of these pictures, I was in a bikini.

Honeymoon balcony

Everyone from my best friends to my husband’s grandmother could see my bikini pics and I didn’t think twice about it. I was dang proud of my body. In the months before our wedding, I created and stuck to a workout regimen. I went to the gym for at least an hour 4-5 days each week. I ate healthy foods. I ran for miles. I worked hard for months and months and when the wedding rolled around, all my hard work paid off. I felt confident and proud in my wedding dress.  And on my honeymoon, I rocked my bikini like I never had before.

Honeymoon

Flash forward 5 years, and we took another beach vacation. Once again, we had an absolute blast on the trip and documented it well. Once again, I wore a bikini for a lot of the trip. This time, however, when it came time to post pictures, my bikini pictures remained safely on my phone.

My body has experienced drastic changes over the past 19 months. I gained and lost 45 pounds; I was stretched out and didn’t shrink back the exact same way. To be clear, I am so thankful for my body. I was able to get pregnant and grow a human, something I worried wouldn’t happen after the loss of my first pregnancy. I have breastfed my son for over ten months and am so grateful that my body can provide him nourishment. I take walks with my family, attend a weekly cycling class at my local YMCA, and squeeze in a bootcamp class when nap time allows. I don’t say any of this to brag, but to honestly say that I truly am proud of what my body has done and can still do.

But the bikini pictures remained on my phone.

To be completely open and vulnerable, for as proud as I am of what my body has done and can do, I still struggle to wholeheartedly love the way it looks. It’s easy to post a bikini picture when you have rock-hard abs and nothing jiggles. It’s harder to post when your stomach has a stubborn post-baby pooch and you’re soft around the edges. I felt pretty good about the fact that I even wore a bikini on our vacation, but I wasn’t about to share the pictures.

Until I took the time to really look at them.

LJ and Mommy 1 (2)

Look at my son and his pure joy in this moment. He doesn’t care that his mommy’s belly is squishier than it once was. He doesn’t care that her hips are bigger and her baby pooch never left. He doesn’t care that mommy isn’t standing at a flattering angle to the camera or that oops, her c-section scar is showing (did you even notice that? My inner mean girl sure did).

LJ and Mommy 2

My son cares that his mommy is playing with him. He cares that his mommy is focused on him. He cares that he feels safe and loved and knows mommy is going to catch him every time she throws him up in the air. I see love and happiness in these moments captured from my son’s first beach trip and I’m so glad I have these pictures.

LJ and Mommy 3

It would be easy to hide these pictures. It would be easy to keep them on my phone or in some remote corner of my hard drive where they’re never seen. It would be easy to forget they exist. It would even be easy to stop taking them in the first place.

But here is the truth. I want to be in the pictures. Even if I’m not looking my best, I want these sweet moments captured from this all-too-fleeting baby stage of my son’s life. I want us both to be able to look back years from now and cherish the fun we’ve had together. Plus, I want to raise my son to know that a woman is worth so. much. more. than her outer appearance – I can hardly teach him that truth if I’m not living with the confidence of knowing it’s true about me too!

So I am going to continue to ignore the narrative in my head, the critical inner voice who says my body isn’t “back” and I’m not “ready” to be in a bikini. I am going to continue to throw that suit on and make memories with my son at every stage. I want to be the mom running around in the splash pad with my toddler, sliding down a water park slide with my six-year-old, and challenging my ten-year-old to a cannonball contest. I can’t waste energy comparing my honeymoon body to my mom body. My body has changed and I am not the same 24-year-old who could spend 60-90 minutes in the gym every day. But ten months ago, I brought a human into this world and I am dang proud of all my body has accomplished since then.

If you are a mama struggling to love on your postpartum body, I just want to encourage you today to stay in the picture. Don’t sit on the sidelines, don’t keep out of the frame. Keep loving on your kiddos no matter if you’re bundled up in snowsuits building a snowman or splashing in a pool in your swimsuit. Make those memories. Cherish those times. Take those pictures. Your kids don’t care what you look like. They care that you’re there. ❤

 

Simplifying the Diaper Bag {Newborn}

When my son was a few weeks old, I realized that while I loved being a stay-at-home mom, our days got pretty monotonous and long if I took my job title too literally and spent all of our time at home. I soon got stir crazy and longed for a little change of scenery once in a while so I started to look for small outings that he and I could make out into the world to feel like part of civilization again. In order for these little trips to be successful and (relatively) stress-free, a well-packed diaper bag was crucial.

But oh, how the diaper bag could quickly become a chaotic mess.

Seriously, I *knew* babies need a lot of stuff but I didn’t really KNOW how. much. stuff. that could end up being.  I wanted to hit the delicate balance between having whatever my 7 pound baby might actually need without throwing my back out lugging around 70 pounds of his stuff (which only felt like a slight exaggeration at the time). 

After a little trial and error, I struck that balance and it made leaving the house so much easier. Today I wanted to break down what my newborn diaper bag contained in case there is another mama out there trying to figure out how to leave the house without taking half of it with her. I know that each baby is different and each baby/mama is going to need some different items. This might not be the perfect diaper bag for anyone else, but it’s what worked for us!

Tips for Simplifying a newborn's Diaper Bag

First things first, I use this diaper bag. I wanted a backpack style bag so that my hands could be free and I chose this neutral shade so it would go with anything I wore. I love the simple, clean look – I get tons of compliments on the style and people are often shocked it is a diaper bag! I have seen many reviews saying it is too big and “boxy” for small frames. I am 5’2” and it is a little boxy but I adjust the arm straps as tight as they go and it works well for me. My 6’0” husband prefers a slouchy backpack and so he doesn’t love the fit as much through the arms even when he loosens the straps all the way; however, he carries it less often than me so this hasn’t been a big deal.

Magnolia

I also chose this backpack is because it didn’t have 587 pockets. I know some people want a lot of pockets to store things in a diaper bag. For me,  if I see a pocket, I’m going to want to fill it and as a minimal-ish mama, I didn’t want to be carrying around more than I needed just because I had pockets to do so. So I liked that this one had just a few pockets that I could make good use of. This diaper bag has three major compartments and I’m going to go through what I carried in each one.

Newborn diaper bag essentials (and a few extras)

The front compartment is “mine” and stores everything I need to carry around for myself.

Mama Pocket Items

This pocket contains: my wallet, checkbook, 1-2 pens, headphones, chapstick, hand sanitizer, a snack, and gum. There is also a small pocket in this compartment where I slipped two disposable nursing pads (leaks happen!) and a packet of Motrin. That’s it! It is actually a little shocking to me that this is now all I carry around because my pre-kid purse had m-u-c-h more than this in it, but I have come to find that this is really all I actually need! 

Mama Pocket

The back pocket is for diapering and diapering only.

Diaper Pocket Items

I keep it simple so all I need to do is unzip and peek in to make sure I have what I need before leaving the house. It also ensures that when the inevitable diaper emergency happens, I can quickly access what I need without wasting precious seconds desperately rummaging around. The bag came with a very handy machine washable changing pad that I keep back there. This pocket also contains: diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream,  and this diaper bag dispenser (handy when there is an extra stinky diaper).

Diaper Pocket

The middle/main pocket is where I keep everything else.

Main Pocket Items

This main pocket contains: a muslin blanket, a flannel blanket, three burp cloths, a bib scarf, my nursing cover, 2-3 outfit changes, and 1-2 baby toys.  In the newborn stage, I did not waste precious space on lots of toys. My baby was usually asleep when we were out and about but if he was awake, he was largely entertained by just looking around at people. I stored everything by rolling the items and placing them in vertically so I could see everything in one glance. This compartment also has two small pockets in the back where I stored socks and a hat (due to having a winter baby), a pacifier with clip, 2 gallon ziploc bags (to seal up a messy outfit – blowouts will happen!) and animal links.

Main Pocket.jpg

Notice how when everything is stored like this, there is still so much room on top! This is so handy if I’m out and about and there’s something I need to stuff in there quickly (such as LJ’s coat or a purchase from a store).

This diaper bag also comes with an insulated side pocket which we used occasionally when we needed to take along a bottle with pumped milk. The other side has a pocket the perfect size for me to take along my Swell water bottle to stay hydrated.

Side Pocket

That’s it! My minimal-ish diaper bag. I cannot think of a time where I was ever out and about and realized I was suddenly desperate for something other than what I’ve listed. Simplifying my diaper bag allowed me to leave the house with confidence and have minimal stress and wasted time rummaging around looking for things when I’m out and about. Win-win!

A few tips for simplifying the chaos of a diaper bag:

  • Have 4-5 diapers packed each time you leave the house.
  • Use a refillable wipes clutch so you always have plenty of wipes with you
  • Get in the habit of quickly checking the diapers/wipes before leaving the house
  • Take distinctive burp cloths. Someone gifted me three Gerber cloth diapers/burp cloths with colorful ribbons sewn on. These are the ones I take out and about since they are unique and therefore harder to lose at childcare/playdates/etc.
  • Take multi-functional items. My nursing cover doubles as a car seat cover which was a wonderful asset during the winter and allowed me to get two major uses out of one item.

What is one must-have in your newborn diaper bag?