Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top Five Overrated Baby Items

Our youngest kiddo is about to turn 1-year-old and after now having two kids progress through infancy (Evie's almost at toddler stage), there are two things that I've come away from this stage with:

  1. Every kid, every family, every situation is different for everyone - so don't expect that your advice will port from you to another mom (or another kid) seemlessly.
  2. The baby industry will try to sell you just about anything they can. And they can - because you're so emotional and it's all adorable and you clearly need your baby to be super happy all the time. 

I remember when we were registering for Will there were so many things that we "thought" we needed that it turned out we just... didn't. We learned this either by trial and error, common sense, or anecdotes from other moms that had been before us. Over the course of the last 3 years, I've come up with a list of what I think are some of the most overrated baby items and submit them for consideration to moms everywhere, in no particular order...

Nursery Decorations & Bedding: When we were registering while we were pregnant with Will, a big point of contention was what we were going to decorate the room in. Colors, patterns, whatever. We finally decided on monkeys and palm trees, landing on the pattern of "Ahoy Mate" from NoJo. Now - what we forgot in this process were all the things they tell you NOT to do to avoid SIDS. No big blankets. No crib bumpers. No toys in the crib. So we of course registered for the $180 bedding set and the $50 mobile. Let me be clear - this is ALL for the parent just so you can have a pretty nursery. The kid 1) can't use most of the stuff and 2) doesn't give a rip about the mobile. By the time your kid is old enough to care, they're not even going to want their bedroom decorated the way you made it anyways. We just transitioned our son from his crib to a toddler bed, and all he wanted in there was Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine. They go really well with the monkey & palm tree $70 lettering on his wall from Etsy. Bottom line: you can seriously get suckered into overpaying to decorate your nursery for no reason other than you feel like you decorated a nursery. Is it really worth it?

Baby Food Makers/Prep Items: Way to go, marketing people in the baby product market. You have managed to make parents who already own blenders, food processors, "Magic Bullets", and immersion sticks think that they need yet another thing in their kitchen that does the same thing as what they already have. Oh, but you have special containers? That's wonderful. People - I made my kids their own baby food. Boiled carrots, peas, broccoli, mixed vegetables, sweet potatoes... all sorts of things. I used standard pots and pans, a Cuisinart blender that we got when we got married and a couple of ice cube trays we had laying around. I stored the cubes in Ziploc freezer bags. Don't waste your money or precious registry space on a "Baby Bullet" or whatever other food prep system is out there. It's just a marketing ploy BECAUSE THEY CAN.

She told me she was horribly offended I didn't make her veggies in a Baby Bullet.
I told her when she got a job she could tell me how to make her food.

Diaper Pails: People swear by these things and we had one too. We had the Munchkin Arm & Hammer version of the pail because the refills were cheapest and it used baking soda - a tried and true odor removing tool - to keep the smell of the diapers at a minimum. The thing broke on us 9 months into our first kid. Now, the fine folks at Munchkin were kind enough to send us another one for zero dollars (side note - ALWAYS contact the company of your product if it breaks within a year or you lose parts... they'll often send you replacements, coupons, etc. for free), but then that one broke too due to the same design flaw about 1 month into kid 2. We went back and forth between buying a Diaper Champ (some friends had one that used just regular bags and didn't need refills) or just throwing the diapers away. What we learned: at the end of the day, we were emptying the diaper pail anyways - so why not just throw it in the garbage can under the sink? We also learned that most of our friends who had diaper pails were doing the same thing anyways. "But what about when it smells horrible at 2:00 PM?" Well... baking soda is cheap. I dump some on the trash and the smell goes minimizes. Save your money - just use grocery bags, baking soda, and your regular trash can.

Seriously guys... don't bother. So not worth it.

Wipe Warmers: I had a friend who registered for one of these once and my reaction was "Really? That's a thing?" I can't even begin to explain what a waste of shelf space I think these things are. In a society that I think kids are already too coddled, we now need to warm up the things that wipe turd off their rear ends? Seriously? I must be the worst parent ever because I would never even consider having one of these things in my home. I don't get warm wipes every time I deliver a number two, why should I start training my kids to think that warmth and soothing is going to ensue when they make a poopie in their diaper? Forget that. Toughen up, kids. You'll get room temperature wipes and you'll like it.

Three years of regular wiping - and still fine.
Diaper Bags: If I could get back the literal hours of deliberation that went into choosing what diaper bag to put on our registry, we could have gone on three more pre-kid dates. An extra day of pre-kid vacation. We registered for not one, but TWO diaper bags - one for me and one for Steve - and by the time Will was 9 months old Steve's had a rip in it and I wasn't even using mine anymore. I ended up using a regular messenger bag for a while and then when the second kid showed up and I needed both hands, I started to use the same backpack that I had used for the 2 years prior to having kids. My honest advice for diaper bags: just get a good backpack or messenger bag or large purse that you'll actually USE and are COMFORTABLE with. You're going to be carrying this thing with you everywhere for at least 2 years - more if you have more than one kid. Make it something that is actually you and not something you think you need to have. It's just a bag.

See that backpack? It's traveled with me since 2011. Old Faithful.
Runners Up: Receiving Blankets & Bottle Warmers: What I learned about receiving blankets is this: the ones they give you in the hospital are much bigger than the ones you get at the store. We had like, 3 different brands and could swaddle our kid in NONE of them (both of our kids hated the "Swaddle-Me" things, which are AWESOME, but just not their thing). We got a tip from a pediatric nurse about these waffle blankets that are stretchy and swaddle great. Our kids strongly preferred to be swaddled in those AND they use still now. Receiving blankets in our house turned into back-up burpcloths (which you can never have enough of). And bottle warmers... my mom always just used a cup of warm water. Maybe I have no leg to stand on because my kids weren't really bottle fed (one refused and the other just drank her rare bottle cold), but this seems like another thing "the industry" came up with that our parents did just fine without.

Look, I know that some of you out there reading this are thinking "Man I swear by my (fill in item from above) - it's totally NOT overrated". And that's OKAY - I repeat my earlier statement that everything is different for every kid/family/parent/situation. This is what I came away from my first couple of years parenting and my experience with and it's the answer I give to the question "What items did you not buy/would you not buy again and why?".

Weddings, funerals - and babies. It's where they know they can hit your wallet and convince you that you need things you just don't. Save your money and registry space - you're going to need the diapers.

In fact... in hindsight, that's what I would have asked for instead of some of the things I got above that I "really wanted and needed". A giant. Pile. Of. Diapers.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Recipe: "I Can't Believe It's Not Peanut Butter" Cookies

I love peanut butter cookies.

Needless to say, with a peanut-allergy kid I don't get them very much these days. But they are delicious aren't they? And I have missed them.

I don't anymore.

About a year or so ago, we discovered Sunbutter: a buttery spread made of sunflower seeds that tastes about as close to peanut butter as you can get without it actually being peanut butter. It's cheaper than almond butter (Will is not allergic to almonds) and my family all enjoys eating it. We've tried a couple of different brands, but Sunbutter brand is definitely our preferred brand.

Recently I decided that I wanted to see how the Sunbutter held up in a batch of peanut butter cookies. I checked out a couple of recipes and put some of the things I liked about them together to come up with the one that I am sharing with you here. As I was pulling it together, I was uncertain about how they would turn out and decided that the gauge would be Steve. He's always honest with me about a recipe that I'm working on and as such I rely on him to help me develop things.

His response? "These are the best 'nut butter' type cookies you've ever made."

Ok then.

I made them a second time with a few tweaks and here is the final recipe. This is a great recipe for anyone who has peanut/treenut or egg allergies and can be adjusted for folks with milk allergies. It's also great to make with the little ones because there are no raw eggs to worry about when they those desires to stick their hands in the dough to sample it. So - go ahead, make some. Enjoy!

- 1/2 cup butter (for milk allergies, use 1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan baking sticks
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sunflower seed butter
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce


- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

- I recognize that my next step is probably going to make some bakers cringe, but it's seriously how I make all my cookies these days. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and let it run until the dough sort of comes together in a ball. You may need to stop it occasionally and scrape the sides/bottom to make sure you get everything in the mix. Why a food processor? Well for me I find it saves a TRUCKLOAD of time when making cookies. Also, for the purposes of these cookies it pulverizes the oatmeal which kind of makes a faux-crunchy-sunbutter feel to the cookies - great for those who like their nut-butter cookies with nuts in them. 

- Scoop the dough out using a spoon and then using your clean hands form it into little dough-patties about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. The dough is going to seem crumbly: that's OK, just squish the dough together into the little round patties. The dough doesn't spread much while baking, so I can usually fit about 18 patties on a cookie sheet and get about 3 dozen total cookies.

- Bake the cookies in your preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. They should still be soft to the touch when you pull them out; I find that for our tastes, we cook them for 10-11 minutes in our oven. 

- Let them cool ON THE COOKIE SHEET for 8-10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to finish. If you take them off of the cookie sheet too soon - they WILL fall apart (remember what I said about the dough being crumbly); leaving them on the cookie sheet for a bit allows them to cohere a bit better. 

The cookies are usually ready to eat after about 15-20 minutes out of the oven. These cookies are deceptive; to handle the dough and look at the finished product, you might think that these cookies would be a bit dry all the way through. This, however, is not the case. The cookies are dry-ish on the outside and pretty moist on the inside (I know, moist-haters, but I can't think of a better word). 

Most importantly - they are delicious. 

And addictive. 

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Faith in the Stepping

Our daughter, Evangeline, is just over 11 months old. She has been a go-getter from the day she was born; she came out screaming and by day 2 was holding her head up for 5-7 seconds at a whack (it's not abnormal to see a brandy new baby hold their head up for 1-3 seconds - she even shocked our pediatrician). Evie was fully mobile with commando crawling before she was 6 months old and was fully adept at climbing up the stairs to her room before she was 8 months old. She took her first step without holding on to anything before she was 10 months old and has been pushing around her brother's ride-on toys ever since. When pushing them around wasn't enough, she decided that getting on them and riding them would be much better.

But when it comes to walking, our boisterous little Evie-girl is nervous.

She will cruise along the wall, hold on to chairs (even push them across the kitchen), and walk around with her little hand gripping my finger or even just my sweater sleeve. When it comes to letting go, however, her boldness seems to dissipate and a look of trepidation creeps on to her little smiling face. If we put her out at arms' length and let go, she will only take a step or two (sometimes now three or maybe four) before diving back into Mommy or Daddy's arms. Sometimes, if she's overtired or overstimulated, she will just drop to the floor and crawl onto our laps.

In all instances, she covers up her nervousness with a hug and a kiss on my shoulder. So at least she's cute about it.

Regardless, Evie just hasn't found the faith in herself to let go yet, and this has been going on for about 2 months now. Her cruising distance will get farther and farther with her figuring out new ways to cruise from one thing to another (I've noticed she'll cruise the path of least crawling these days), but she will not let go and walk from point A to point B yet. The little face tells us the story of the reason why every time we let go - she's scared, she lacks the confidence, she wants us to help her.

As I was contemplating this one night, I opened my Bible up to work on my current reading plan. As it happened, Matthew 14 was one of the chapters for the evening which contains the story of Jesus walking on the water in the storm while the disciples are on the boat (Matthew 14:22-33). Whenever I have read this story or heard it preached, the highlight has been the need for us to place our faith in Jesus because He will get us through the storm - which I fully agree with (short version). This particular evening, however, I was struck specifically by Peter's actions rather than the words of Jesus.

"Then Peter called to him, 'Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.' 'Yes, come,' Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. 'Save me, Lord," he shouted." (Matthew 14:28-30)

Image from "The Brick Bible" - which, yes, is a thing and yes, we will own someday.,
After I read those verses that night, I put down my little highlighter and I put down my Bible and I just thought for a minute. Then in my head, I did this:

"Then Evie looked at her, 'Mom, if it's really you, tell me to go to you, walking on the floor without holding on.' 'Yes come,' Mom said. So Evie took a step on the floor toward Mom. But when she saw the open floor and nothing to hold on to, she was terrified and dove into her mom's lap. 'Catch me, Mom!' she said with her eyes."

Peter and my Evie girl have a lot in common, don't they?

In fact, I would say most of us aren't that different from a child learning how to walk when it comes to trusting Jesus to help us through scary, new experiences. Or through the storms of life.

But even though Jesus tells us He will be there, we still get scared. We still have a small (or large) part of us that loses faith that He will carry us through or give us the guidance we need or provide the resources necessary. In the same way, even though I am standing right in front of Evie ready to catch her if she teeters - she still does not have the full confidence to take more than just a few steps.

I would even argue that as parents, we have a lot in common with Jesus who asked Peter why he had so little faith. When Evie gets nervous, I always tell her "Evie-girl, I'm RIGHT HERE! I won't let you get hurt, it's OK to walk - I promise!"

With that perspective, maybe next time I'm being called to step out in faith or I'm in the middle of a storm - maybe I should better remember what Jesus did for Peter.

"Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. 'You have so little faith,' Jesus said. 'Why do you doubt me?'" (Matthew 14:31)

At some point, Evie will stop doubting that I will be there and she will have the faith she needs to walk. And when that happens, there will be no stopping that determined, energetic little girl.

If we stop doubting Jesus and have faith - there will be no stopping any of us.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Thoughts on Bringing Babies to Walt Disney World

I am a nervous person.

I try not to let it show, but I am. In fact, it's part of why I ended up experiencing a bout of mild post-partum depression after our son was born - I was nervous to go just about anywhere because he might cry/need to nurse/do anything that wasn't sleeping. It's part of what sometimes makes me a "wet blanket" - I play out the many scenarios of whatever it is and decide it's better to just avoid it rather than risk anything bad happening.

I'm a nervous person.

So when faced with the idea of heading to Walt Disney World with a still-nursing infant and a toddler, complete with their needs for scheduled naps and constant diaper changes - you can imagine that I took some time to pause and really think about whether or not it was a good idea. After talking with some friends of ours that went when their youngest daughter was 9 months old and doing a bit of research, we decided to book the trip.

Yeah, I was still a little nervous.

I did lots of research into what parks were best for toddlers, I bought bathing suits, I did a mental fit of all of our luggage PLUS the double stroller (because like heck I wasn't bringing the portable nap mobile), I way overpacked clothes for the kids and ordered half of a month's worth of diapers to be delivered.

And I was still nervous... and excited. As time passed I became excited for our son who LOVES Mickey Mouse and all the Finding Nemo characters, and continued to stay nervous about our 10-month old daughter who would be just as happy staying home for a week with a cupboard full of pots as she would be going to Walt Disney World.

It turned out that bringing our infant daughter to Disney was a lot more fun and easier than I was anticipating. Here are a few of the reasons why.

1. She was Free. Kids under the age of 3 do not have to pay for admission into the parks nor do they have to pay for a plate at a buffet. As far as the buffet goes - joke was on Disney there, since she eats as much as I do some days - but that's besides the point. At any rate, since it costs about $100 to get into a Walt Disney World park for a day and anywhere from $25-60/person to eat at a buffet - this cost savings was nothing to sneeze at. Incidentally, since Will isn't quite 3 yet this applied to him as well. This made us feel better about Evie not doing much in the parks or eating as much as an older kid because we didn't pay for her - so we clearly got our value.

Meeting the characters is something that our baby girl loved - not all babies will be as willing to check these guys out though, and in fact Evie wasn't at first either. But you never know - so give it a whirl!
2. So Much to See! Babies LOVE bright colors, music, things that light up and blink and move, and new things/places to explore. Everywhere we went was something new to see, and for our little Evie girl who LOVES music there was always a new show to see or music to hear/dance to. Even some of the longer shows like Finding Nemo: The Musical or Festival of the Lion King were great for Evie because there was enough to see and enough that changed that it kept her attention for the majority of the performance. I'll admit that entertainment of the baby and boredom were things I was worried about - and it turned out that this wasn't an issue either.

3. The Amenities. Every single restroom was equipped with a changing table, and for the first time ever we were out in public and Steve didn't mind taking the kids to the men's room for diaper changes. Why? Because he was blown away by the fact that they were immaculate - at least in the changing area (seriously, he's complained to management at restaurants before because their changing area in the men's room was horrendous). As if that wasn't enough - every park has the wonderful accommodations of a Baby Center. These are spots that have a big, clean changing area, a quiet nursing room, a spot where your kids can take a timeout and relax, and a sort of gift-shop full of baby-related items incase you find you have run out (think diapers, formula, changes of clothes, etc.). For me this was amazing because Evie still nurses twice during the day; it gave me a place I could just nurse her without distractions or needing to find a discreet place to whip out the old milkbag and feed the babe.

The Baby Center at Epcot. Clean, well stocked. I was impressed.
4. The Cast Members are There to Help. I cannot say enough about how patient, kind, loving, and understanding the Cast Members were when it came to Evie. The Character Spot at Epcot "technically" doesn't want you to bring your stroller through and will move it to the end of the line for you to pick up. As soon as I told them there was a sleeping baby in the stroller - they had big smiles and let me keep the stroller (as long as they could peek at the sleeping baby first to coo over her). Hyper baby at dinner? Server will bring you an empty cup and lid for her to play with - as well as 15 spoons to replace the ones she will inevitably throw on the floor. Need help getting on or off a ride with the baby in your arms because your spouse is chasing the other one? Cast Members will help you there too. I have always been impressed with Disney's staff, but bringing my kids to "The World" really gave me a deeper appreciation for how willing they are to help.

But... In full disclosure I have to say that there was one thing that was kind of a pain but completely understandable. I mentioned in my post about traveling with little ones that our double stroller was the single most useful tool that I brought with us. Having said that, it also turned out to be our biggest inconvenience. A lot of the places in the parks require that you leave your stroller outside of the building/attraction before entering. It's totally a space thing (and you'll understand that once you see the sea of strollers at various locations throughout the parks), but sometimes I wasn't mentally prepared for needing to unload the kiddos. The Cast Members that oversee the stroller parking, however, have it down to a science. As people leave, they move strollers down to fill the empty spaces and have steel trap memories for where they move them to. They chase down birds that try to take up residence in stroller buckets and make sure that no one is stealing things (like lunches and backpacks) from strollers that aren't theirs.

I had to disrupt a nap on more than one occasion... annoying, but necessary. Learn from me and plan appropriately.
So I guess the stroller thing was really a minor inconvenience and at the end of the day it's not like I wouldn't have brought the stroller even if I knew that. It's just one of those things you need to plan for, just like everything else that comes along with bringing a baby anywhere that's not... well... home.

I'll say this - when we left, I realized how silly I was to be nervous about bringing Evie down to Walt Disney World. It was seriously easier to bring an infant and toddler to Disney for a week - for me - than it was to bring them both to the beach for a day. It turned out to be one of the best experiences we've had so far since we've had the kids, and it made me excited to see how much more they both enjoy about WDW as they grow. If you're hesitant about bringing your little ones, let me reassure you - as our friends reassured us - that it is well worth going when they're little. Let them be little, let them explore, let them wonder, and enjoy watching them take it all in.