baby gear: 17 newborn essentials

12/06/2016

Creating a baby registry is a minefield. Without any past experience or formal training, how can you be expected to keep a baby alive, much less fed, swaddled, strolled, rocked, and happy? Moreover, when you’ve spent hours KonMari-ing your wardrobe and discarding anything that doesn’t spark joy, you dread the impending Fisher-Price siege of your living room. (And car. and every other nook and cranny in your house.)

Before Baby K arrived, I (like virtually all other mamas I know) spent many late hours reading Amazon reviews and scouring Craigslist for second-hand deals. To save you time and anxiety, I’m sharing the baby gear that was absolutely essential for us the first 3 months. (Much of it we still use now at 11 months; some Baby K outgrew.)

SLEEPING

1. Sleep sacks – In the Bringing Home Baby hospital classes they teach you to swaddle with a receiving blanket. WRONG. At 2 AM with precisely zero sleep, you will not only have forgotten how to tie the d*** swaddle, you will be desperate for anything that will buy you one hour of sweet rest. The gods of the Baby Gear world have your back. For newborns, the Summer Infant SwaddleMes are swaddles with Velcro. Buy at least two, since one will always be in the wash. You will find yourself marveling at the magic of Velcro, until the night arrives when you awaken in a panic to check on the baby and discover that he’s broken free of his swaddle. Tuck him into a Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit and soak up the moments of your peaceful babe bundled up like a miniature sumo wrestler. Once Hulk Baby is rolling, the Halo Sleep Sacks are the perfect armless swaddles. (For hot Houston weather, we love the Aden + Anais muslin sleep sack.)

2. Pack and play – Every family is different, but for us, the easiest nighttime arrangement was for Baby K to sleep in a pack-and-play next to our bed until we were comfortable moving him to the nursery. The Nuna Sena is our go-to portable crib (it’s easy to open and close with one hand, and very sturdy); for long trips, we bring along a Phil&Teds Traveller Cot, which is much more lightweight and packs into a compact carrying bag. This plush quilted pack-and-play sheet fits the Nuna Sena like a glove.

3. Bouncer/swing – Maybe you’ll give birth to one of those unicorn babies that sleeps through the night at, like, 5 days old. Or maybe you will proclaim your Mamaroo the best invention since Netflix. There are a lot of bouncers and swings out there, but the Mamaroo is our jam. We also scooped up a battery-powered Snugapuppy rock-n-play for our living room when we realized how much we needed a safe place to set the baby down for each room of our house. Most of the babies we know have strong preferences for and against bouncers and swings, so I recommend borrowing them or buying second-hand until you’re sure what your kid needs.

bouncer

4. Blankets – Aden + Anais are the gold standard. The muslin blankets are like a Shamwow for wiping up baby messes. If you tie one around your shoulders, it’ll double as a nursing cover. Buy three of these. You’re welcome.

5. Crib – We transitioned Baby K out of our room and into his crib in the nursery right before I went back to work, when he was 3 months old. I spent far too long pining after Pinterest nurseries and coveted the Stokke crib ubiquitous in designer homes. We settled for another midcentury-inspired crib, the Babyletto Lolly, which was a third of the price, and Amazon Prime-eligible. Isn’t she pretty?

crib

FEEDING

6. Bottles – Be forewarned that many babies have specific bottle preferences. I’d advise you to squash those nesting instincts and not stock up on All The Bottles. We have a variety of glass bottles (we try to avoid plastic, plus the glass bottles don’t get that awful milky film over time). Baby K’s favorites are the Lifefactory bottles and I’d be lying if I said I don’t love to match my water bottle with his. With the silicon sleeves, they’ve survived many drops on hard surfaces. Bonus: they’re compatible with my Medela pump, so I pump right into the Lifefactory bottles. Lifefactory also makes sippy lids so you can convert the bottles into sippy cups when your babe grows into a toddler.

bottle

7. Bottle washing – If you’re a working mom, bottle washing will be the bane of your existence. Sorry, sister. All of those bottles and pump parts won’t wash themselves. A good bottle brush (we love our OXO Tot brush – it has a built-in nipple cleaner) and foaming soap (Babyganics here) make it a bit easier. The Boon Grass is as functional as it is cute; it’s the perfect solution for drying bottles the tiny bottle parts that otherwise get lost in the kitchen shuffle. I suggest picking up a dishwasher basket, too, for those lazy nights when you just want to dump it all in the diswasher and press “Go.”

8. Nursing survival kit – If you plan on breastfeeding, do your postpartum self a favor and stock up ahead on nursing supplies. (Pst – these also make the perfect shower gift; no one really needs more onesies or stuffed animals.) Motherlove nipple cream doubles as diaper balm; the Lanisoh Soothies gel pads are heaven on earth (especially when paired with a Bed Buddy for hot/cold relief); the Milkies milk saver will catch your extra milk during a fast let-down; and a pair of Bamboobies will save you from public humiliation. And those are just the basics. I also became best friends with my Boppy nursing pillow and my Milksnob nursing cover. I wouldn’t say my pump and I are on the best of terms; it’s better classified as a modern-day torture device.

DIAPERING

9. Diapers & diaper rash cream – I’ve blogged previously about our cloth diaper routine. We have about two dozen all-in-one cloth diapers, and several packs of Grovia cloth wipes. When a rash flares up, I alternate between jojoba oil or coconut oil (both of which I buy at the grocery store), and the Earth Mama Angel Baby balm, which smells great and is safe on cloth diapers. We also keep a Grovia Magic Stick stashed in the diaper bag just in case.

10. Changing pad – You have enough laundry to do with a newborn without washing changing pad covers on the daily. Invest in a foam changing pad. They’re wipeable. Need I say more? Check out the rave Amazon reviews.

11. Diaper pail – K, I’m going to recommend another expensive baby item that may cause an eyeroll or two, but I’m sticking to it. The Ubbi diaper pail is a stainless steel workhouse. After an intensely hot summer in an under-airconditioned house, I can safely conclude that it excels at blocking diaper smells.

TRAVEL

12. Stroller – I’m far from a stroller expert; there are pros and cons to any stroller. After memorizing the section on baby strollers on Lucie’s List and testing them out in-person, I convinced Dara that we needed an Uppababy Cruz. This was our big splurge, and I regret nothing.

13. Car seat – Because we are simpletons (and lazy), we opted for an Uppababy car seat that’s compatible with our stroller. We found a Mesa gently-used on Craigslist and it was Baby K’s cozy little nest until he turned into a beanpole and outgrew it. (At some point, these bucket-style infant car seats become too heavy to lug around, anyways.) We now have a fleet of three Diono Radian R100 convertible car seats, chosen for their reputed ability to fit 3 side-by-side. (We might want three kids. Are we crazy?)

carseat

14. Diaper bag – There’s this whole tribe of mamas out there who are steadfast devotees to high-end diaper bag brands. I’m not one of them. We started out with a Skip Hop Duo, which got the job done. Once Baby K was on the go, though, I wanted a hands-free option, so we switched gears and scooped up a backpack instead. We currently have a Fawn Designs backpack. I like it fine. (I’ll write a review soon, promise!) I’m holding out for the self-organizing diaper bag that doesn’t look like a miniature tornado inside, and that re-stocks itself every time we come home.

stroller

BATH

15. Soap – Baby skin is extra sensitive, so it’s probably best to buy baby her own bath products. The Burt’s Bees baby shampoo smells like honey (yum!) and lathers nicely. In spite of all the tempting baby-care gift baskets out there, I suggest starting out with a small bottle of soap as a trial until you’re sure your babe won’t have a negative reaction.

16. Cold care – No matter your best efforts to wash your hands frequently, keep sickos at bay, and drape a blanket over the car seat during public outings, your kid is going to get sick at some point. Every parent should have a Nosefrida when that times. I won’t lie, it is a bit nauseating of a process to suck out your child’s boogers, but someone has to. We also relied on a rectal thermometer (provided by our hospital) and Infant Tylenol to ride out those early colds.

17. Tub – Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, it’s time to start a bath routine. In the great old days, parents bathed their babies in kitchen sinks. I planned to do this, but when the time came, I was terrified of some kind of head-to-faucet accident. We used a gift card to spring for a Puj tub, which gave me peace of mind and conveniently folded up to fit under our small bathroom vanity. Once Baby K was easily sitting unassisted (around 6 months), I moved him to the regular bath tub.

…And those are our essentials. Are there enough baby toys and play gyms and bouncers out there to entertain a whole kingdom? Yes. Do you need them? No. My kid’s favorite playthings consist of: spatulas, remote controls, CDs, adult shoes, and toothbrushes. Santa’s bringing him a brand new potato masher for Christmas.

local fluff: cloth diaper resources in Houston

12/01/2016

I think a small celebration is in order – we’ve survived (almost) 1 year of cloth diapering! Truth be told, it’s overall been much simpler than I expected. Even now that Baby K’s on solids and we’ve needed to bust out the SprayPal, I can’t complain much. The cost savings and environmental impact are more than worth it.

Here are some local resources for Houston mamas considering cloth diapering. I struggled with finding information on where to buy the diapers locally, so hopefully this little primer will help someone out! 🙂

 

WHERE TO BUY NEW CLOTH DIAPERS IN HOUSTON

  1. The Pure Parenting Shop – This (new) sweet shop in the Heights is my Amazon wishlist, reincarnated. They offer everything you need to cloth diaper, as well as cloth diapering classes, baby carriers, make-and-take craft events, and all kinds of things to make a parent’s life easier.

pureparentingshop

via Yelp

 

2. Sweet Baby Pearl’s Eco Emporium – It’s like a food truck, but packed with cloth diapers instead of tacos. What’s not to love?

sweetbabypearl

Sweet Baby Pearl sells Blueberry diapers, Capri covers, Rumparooz pocket diapers and covers, Eco-Posh fitteds and trainers, and all kinds of cloth diaper accessories, from soaker inserts to diaper creams to wet bags.

 

3. Blossoming Mama – Another great Bayou City baby boutique well-stocked with cloth diapering essentials. Located in Vintage Park, Blossoming Mama offers Kissaluvs, Sloomb, Bumgenius, Applecheeks, Bumkins, GroVia, Best Bottoms, Imagine, and other beloved brands. (**update: Blossoming Mama’s retail store is temporarily closed; however, their online shop is active and they’re available for local pickup of orders within 5 miles of 77070**)

blossomingmama

 

4. Spider Monkey Designs – In case you’ve been living under a rock, the whole “cloth diaper” product category has expanded significantly to include handmade diapers from “WAHMs” (work-at-home-moms). Spider Monkey is a Houston-based WAHM cloth diaper business with some really cute prints and even overnight dipes. I’m a sucker for these cheery monsters:

spidermonkey

 

5. Nurtured Family – While not a brick-and-mortar store, Nurtured Family has a large online shop and offers local Houston perks, including cloth diapering consultations, free shipping, and curbside pickup. Their treasure trove of cloth diapers includes GroVia, Blueberry, Best Bottoms, Thirsties, BumGenius, Mother-ease, and OsoCozy, as well as the whole gamut of cloth diapering accessories – reusable wipes, Snappis, detergent, etc. (Pssst- they even sell Tulas.)

 

6. Beloved Cub – another online natural parenting store that is based in Houston, Beloved Cub offers free local pick-up near NRG Stadium. Swoon-worthy website aside, they carry a wide variety of cloth diaper brands and prints (I’m eyeing those new Grovia Ballot diapers!) and a generous rewards program. I recently ordered a new Grovia O.N.E. diaper and was excited to receive some free swag as well, including a mini Grovia Magic Stick. (It’s like buttah. Or magical unicorn paste. I am a sworn member of the Grovia Fan Club!)

belovedcub

 

7. Southern Comfort Fitteds – Another Houston-area WAHM business, with a specialty in fitted diapers with cute prints.

 

8. Lalabye Baby – I recently discovered these great-quality pocket/all-in-two diapers with bamboo inserts, which are getting rave reviews. They’re sold at Blossoming Mama and Nurtured Family, and the family business is Houston-based (diapers manufactured responsibly in China).

Baby K *needs* this sweet diaper, amiright?

lalabye

 

9. Babies R Us – My general M.O. is to support local businesses and avoid big box stores like the plague, but if you’re in a pinch, some Houston-area BRU stores stock BumGenius diapers and wet bags.

 

10. BuyBuyBaby – Again, I’m not the biggest supporter of big retailers, but BuyBuyBaby does carry a few cloth diapering essentials – recently, they’ve stocked GroVia magic sticks (i.e. diaper rash treatment) and Charlie Banana cloth wipes.

 

WHERE TO BUY SECOND-HAND CLOTH DIAPERS IN HOUSTON

1. Threadthread – I dare you to step into this charming Heights children’s boutique and leave empty-handed. While there’s no guarantee they’ll have cloth diapers in-stock, every time I’ve been in there I’ve spotted a few for sale. You can give them a call or comment on Instagram and they can fill you in on their current inventory.

thread1

 

2. Lollipop – I live inside the loop and haven’t yet ventured to Pearland, but I’ve been told this shop offers new and consigned cloth diapers. They also have a kids’ area – yay!

 

3. Craigslist – A perennial favorite of mine for buying anything second-hand (from a mid-century buffet to a DSLR camera to houseplants), I’ve found there are always at least several local Craigslist ads for cloth diapers and diapering supplies. Hint: if you’re lazy like me and unwilling to drive far and wide for a Craigslist purchase, change your view from “thumbnail” to “map.”)

 

4. Facebook Buy-Sell-Trade Groups – If you’re not a member of at least one buy-sell-trade group on Facebook, you probably live under a rock. Or maybe you’ve lived out of the country for awhile. There are too many to count, but here are a few local groups that are dedicated to cloth diapers – Houston Cloth Diapers, Houston Area Fluff-Minded Cloth Diapering, and Houston Cloth Diapering Mamas And Such. There’s also a huge national (or international?) group, Fluff Love Buy, Sell & Trade, if you’re ok with paying for shipping, and a BST group dedicated to just about every cloth diaper brand. Most, if not all, of these groups require approval by an admin, so once you request to join, it may take a few hours – or up to a few days – to be added to the group.

Where do you buy cloth diapers? Are there any Houston-area resources that I missed?

 

our cloth diaper routine

10/11/2016

Anything you buy for a baby, before you have said baby, is EXTRA stressful because in reality, you have no idea what the kid will want or need. Cloth diapers are no exception… In my pregnancy-related cloth diaper research craze, I came across parents who pointed out differences in how different diaper brands fit, some with superior absorbency, complaints about leaking at night or tricky laundry routines.

And so I did whatever I do when I’m in the home goods section at Anthropologie and can’t decide between the embroidered kitten tea towel or the boho Turkish hand towel. I BOUGHT THEM ALL.

Just kidding… Kind of. I decided to take my chances and stock up on mostly Bumgenius Freetime diapers, but I also bought a few different kinds as back-up. That way if the Freetimes were totally failing us, we’d had a Plan B, without waiting the OMG-48-hours for a shipment of new cloth diapers via Amazon Prime.

Plan A worked out fine. With 10 months of cloth diapering behind us, we’ve settled into a very comfortable, easy routine.


DIAPERS

We’ve firmly settled on the all-in-one style of diaper – no stuffing one part into the other, or snapping inserts, or any confusion at laundry time. We just toss the pail liner with all dirty diapers directly in the washing machine, along with any dirty wet bags, and go on our merry way.

As I said above, most of our cloth diaper stash consists of Bumgenius Freetimes. The majority of them I purchased used from local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups and Craigslist, but occasionally when a new pattern comes out, I’ll spring for a new diaper.

freetime

 

Besides the Freetimes, our other tried-and-true AIO diapers are Smart Bottoms 3.1 AIOs (love their prints and wish we had more!), Blueberry Simplex, and GroVia AIOs. We also have two GroVia O.N.E. diapers for nighttime for our little heavy-wetter.

 

WIPES

I surprised even myself by staying aboard the cloth wipes bandwagon. To the uninitiated, they seem to cross the line between eco-conscious and gross. But as it turns out, they’re not much maintenance – as long as the baby is exclusively breast-fed, you can toss them right in the wash with the cloth diapers; once you introduce solids, and you’re spraying diapers, just give the wipes a quick spray too.

These super-soft GroVia wipes are my jam. We’ve never tried any others, and Grovia wipes, we’ll never cheat on you!

wipes

…Except for when we’re on the road. Keeping a stocked diaper bag is enough of a headache without worrying about packing a pile of wipes and a bottle of wipes solution. When we’re away from home, we have a pack of Honest Co. disposable wipes that get the job done.

 

DIAPER PAIL + LINER

To those without kids, it may seem fairly crazy to spend $70 on a glorified trash can. However, just wait until the hot, humid summer mingles with some dirty diapers to create a terrible stench, and you will be glad you forked over the money for a decent diaper pail. We love our Ubbi.  Some people claim that they will continue to use it as a trash can one their kids are out of diapers, but let’s stop making excuses.

ubbi

If you’re using disposable diapers, most likely you’re lining the pail with trash bags, but with cloth diapers you’ll need a washable pail liner to prevent mold. The Planet Wise pail liners are the gold standard – they can stand up to countless heavy-duty wash cycles while keeping in the moisture. We have two, so we’re never in a pinch on laundry day.

 

SPRAYING

Get a Spray Pal. Just do it. Worth every penny.

 

LAUNDRY

The Fluff Love & CD Science group is an incredible wealth of information on anything cloth diaper-related. I bought a “bad” laundry detergent (harsh on cloth diapers) and was guided back on the golden path by one of the admins, who recommended a laundry regimen for me based on my detergent preference (all-natural) and washer and dryer.

Every 4 days (or sooner, if it’s been a baaaaad week), I toss our cloth diaper laundry in the washer for a quick rinse on the heavy duty/heavily soiled setting with 1/4 capful of Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus detergent, and then I add more laundry (Baby K’s clothes, plus any towels laying around) to top off the load with a full cap of detergent and run a heavy duty cycle. Everything then goes right into the dryer.

detergent

Once every six weeks, I add a tab of GroVia Mighty Bubbles during the laundry cycle to help prevent mineral build-up.

 

RASHES + DIAPER OINTMENTS

If you haven’t started diapering yet, you may not know that most of the traditional diaper rash creams are NOT safe on cloth diapers. I repeat, do NOT use Triple Paste on your cloth diapered kid. In a nutshell, those products can impact the absorbency of the cloth, which is a no-no. We have enough diaper balms to treat an entire army of babies. Our favorite, however, is the Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm. I also lather on a little coconut or jojoba oil after each bath to keep Baby K’s skin moisturized.

earthmama

ON-THE-GO

Rule #1 of leaving the house with a cloth-diapered baby: always pack a wet bag. Ignore this warning and thou shalt encounter mold. Our #1 faves are the Planet Wise wet bags, of which we have many. We also have a GroVia wet bag which has held up well to the test of time and heavy-duty laundry cycles.

Having a few different sizes of wet bags on-hand can be helpful. I keep an XL wet bag hanging from a hook next to the toilet sprayer, so that freshly-sprayed dipes can be stowed away in a stink-free place until the next laundry cycle.

wetbag1

 

why we cloth diaper

10/10/2016

On more than several occasions, we’ve been met with blank stares or – worse – incredulity when we’ve mentioned to others that Baby K wears cloth diapers. But for us, it was really a no-brainer once we learned of all of the benefits of cloth diapers.

 

SOFT AND FREE OF CHEMICALS

Have you ever felt how soft the inside of a cloth diaper is? Because the only thing softer is baby skin itself. After 6 months of exclusively cloth-diapering Baby K, I picked up a pack of disposables for a trip, and had a visceral reaction to the crinkly, coarse paper dipes. No surprise, considering the disposables contain:

  • Dioxin (from bleach)
  • Sodium polyacrylate
  • Dyes
  • Fragrances
  • Plastics
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Dipentene

softdiaper

via Baby Gear Lab

 

LESS $$$$$

Cloth diapers involve an up-front capital cost (i.e. “buying a stash”); however, there are no long-term costs. They’re even more economical if you cloth diaper multiple kids. It’s easy to buy gently worn second-hand cloth diapers on Craigslist and buy-sell-trade Facebook groups. We spent ~$250 on second-hand diapers for Baby K (I’ll share our stash & regimen in an upcoming post!) and hope to use the same diapers for future kids.

diapercost

via Mama Natural

We also use reusable bamboo wipes, which cost ~$25 for a stash of 20. We occasionally buy a new package of disposable wipes for on-the-go, but for the most part, we’re saving money on the wipes front as well.

 

LESS LANDFILL WASTE

Dara’s main incentive to cloth diaper Baby K was cost, but for me, the number one reason to cloth diaper is to prevent heaps and heaps of diapers from ending up in a landfill. Assume the average American baby goes through 5 diapers a day – that’s 1,825 diapers per year, or over 5,000 diapers in three years. Imagining all those diapers in a landfill makes me nauseous.

landfill

30% of non-biodegradable waste in landfills comes from disposable diapers. Surely we can make a tiny dent in that.

 

CLOTH DIAPERS ARE CUTER

Is your kid’s diaper covered in vintage campers?
adventure

via B. Lime

Even the solid-colored diapers are adorable. This year, our 4th of July game was strong.

julyfourth

 

LESS BLOWOUTS

This is purely anecdotal, but cloth diapers are believed by many to result in fewer blowouts. Any parent who’s experienced an extreme blowout (I’m gonna go ahead and definite extreme as “full-body bath needed, including but not limited to the baby’s hair”) will do whatever it takes to prevent recurrence.

The elastic on the back of cloth diapers does a great job of holding it all in.

 

MORE ABSORBENT

We know a couple families that use cloth diapers at night for their heavy-leakers. Based on our experience, I wouldn’t say all cloth diapers have incredible, superpower at holding in liquid. But show me a disposable diaper that can contain a gallon of pee, and I’ll show you a Grovia O.N.E.

 

 

SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES

Look, if contributing to the profits of corporate behemoths is your M.O., you do you.

But if you want to support small American businesses, there are a lot of kind, hardworking people who have built the foundation of the cloth diaper movement. Many cloth diapers (including Thirsties, Bumgenius, Blueberry, Bummis, and Best Bottoms) are made in the U.S., and many cloth diaper retailers are small businesses.

 

how to survive a plane ride with a 9-month-old

10/07/2016

When we found out I was pregnant, I swore up and down that we wouldn’t become that couple that gives up on travel once kids are in the picture. We live for travel and spend many long hours dreaming about where to go, planning trips abroad, and relishing every moment of our vacations.

Even with a squirmy baby in my arms, I remained determined to travel as a family. We have a couple trips under the belt and more trips on the calendar, and I can safely say that we have survived air travel with our party of three. It takes a little extra planning (ahem… no more packing 2 hours before our flight) and a whole lot more patience, but it isn’t as daunting as I once expected.

While we’re hardly pros, here are our tips on how to survive air travel avec bebe.

 
1. Pack snacks

This is critical, as snacks can double as sustenance and entertainment on a long flight. The answer to parents’ prayers is the “snack catcher,” which will allow your kid to feed himself small snacks one by one without turning your aisle into a disaster zone. D laughed in shock and awe when he saw the size of the Cheerios bag I packed for our most recent flight, but said Cheerios provided at least 30 minutes of entertainment. I’ll take what I can get.

snack-catcher

Munchkin 2-piece snack catcher

2. Bring new toys

I learned this trick from my mom, who is a seasoned veteran of traveling with kids. She would always buy us each a new toy for the plane ride, and I still have fond memories of the joy of unwrapping the little gift as our plane taxied. Baby K is entering a new stage of loving everything that is plastic, colorful, and loud – and we have begrudgingly discovered the Fisher Price aisle at Target.

For our last trip, I picked up this caterpillar, which turned out to be perfect: colorful, lots of “flaps” to lift and buttons to press, and devoid of the Old MacDonald loop that would drive our fellow passengers to insanity.

caterpillar

Fisher-Price Flip & Surprise Caterpillar

3. Breastfeed during take-off and landing.

This is a surefire way to soothe and distract her while protecting her ears. Sucking on a bottle or pacifier can also help.

 

4. Pack a lovey and a blanket.

Planes are as frigid as Siberia, and are a great place to take a nap – said no one, ever. Help mitigate some of the discomfort with a soft blanket and lovey. We also dress Baby K in warm pajamas before we leave the house, so he’s as comfy as possible.

bee1

Burt’s Bees Organic Lovey

 

5. Prepare for blowouts

This is a sad truth about babies and planes: the chances of a diaper blowout greatly increase when you’re 39,000 feet in the air. The best we parents can do is pack a lot of diapers and wipes, a change of clothes for anyone within close proximity of the infant, and save the stories for future girlfriends and wedding toasts.

6. Purchase a seat for the baby

We generally travel on a tight budget, but we recently flew on a flight that was far from full, and having a whole row to ourselves was an incredible relief. If you can afford it, buy a seat for your kid, and enjoy the extra space!

 

7. Check the car seat, wear the baby

If buying a seat for the baby isn’t within your budget, I suggest checking the car seat (the JL Childress gate check bag does the trick) and wearing the baby onto the plane. Going through security with the baby nestled in a carrier is a breeze, and you’ll be glad to have your hands free to navigate the airport and rummage through the diaper bag.

lillebaby

Lillebaby Carrier – a.k.a. travel lifesaver!

8. Bring a book or magazine for yourself

Listen… Unless you are one of those magical unicorns who actually sleep on planes, you will find yourself wide awake and trapped underneath your hopefully sleeping child. Perusing the absurd gadgets hawked in SkyMall will only entertain your sleep-deprived self for all of 5 minutes before you’ll find yourself restless and craving a margarita. Do yourself a favor and pack some sort of entertainment.

Cook Smarts review – meal planning for busy new parents

09/27/2016

This post is not sponsored in any way by Cook Smarts, I’m just an exhausted new mama who needed someone else to take over the meal planning for our little family.

 

Before Baby K was born, I used to spend hours meal-planning. I’d perch on a kitchen stool, poring through recipes I’d pinned, anxious to make the BEST MEAL EVER and always anxious to try new things. And then D and I would spend our Sunday afternoons gathering groceries for the week ahead. By Friday, much of the produce would be wilting, untouched after a busy week of happy hours and social events. There is almost nothing that gives me worse guilt than the act of throwing away food – fresh, healthy food that we were just too busy to eat.

 

It drove D crazy as well when we’d be driving around Houston and pass our favorite grocery store, and he’d propose running inside to pick up groceries for the week – but NOPE, we couldn’t possibly set foot in the grocery store without the official Meal Plan and corresponding Grocery List. And so we’d return home, where I’d spend a minimum of an hour going through my meal-planning routine, trying to choose meals with overlapping ingredients or with sides that could be enjoyed again later in the week.

 

This was obviously unsustainable.

 

So when Baby K was around 2 months old, I said a quick prayer and signed up for the meal-planning service Cook Smarts. For those of you who are uninitiated, Cook Smarts offers weekly meal plans, cooking guides (including video tutorials), and online cooking classes for a small monthly fee (~$8/month, depending on the subscription you choose). The weekly meal plan is emailed to you each Thursday, and you have the option to choose the number of servings for each meal; modifying the recipe to be GF, paleo, or vegetarian; and replacing a meal with one from the archives.

cooksmarts

Then, if you pull up the meal plan on your phone’s browser, you can click on the Grocery List for a complete checklist of ingredients; as soon as you change your meal plan, the Grocery List automatically updates. This is genius for our problems that I outlined above – now, instead of spending 1+ hours at home glued to my computer, attempting to meal plan, I can select our meals and generate a grocery list in the 2 minutes it takes us to walk from our car into the grocery store. I can also “favorite” the best recipes so I can quickly retrieve them later.

 

Here are the pros:

  • Huge time-saver. Queuing up a meal plan and grocery list on the Cook Smarts website is super efficient; even in the most difficult days when Noah was a fussy infant and I was running on 3 hours of sleep, I managed to cook a few fresh meals a week.
  • Great variety. We’ve tried a lot of new things in the last 6 months, and I can’t say we’ve ever fallen into a funk of same-old recipes – among our favorites that I’ve cooked repeatedly are turkey kofta (Turkish meatballs), beef and broccoli soba, dukkah-spice salmon with pickled shallot and chickpea salad, beer simmered brats on pretzel buns,  and tilapia with herb and olive gremolata. I’ve learned how to roll my own spring rolls, and I’ve made my first frittata.
  • Nutritious. While there are some comfort foods that I wouldn’t categorize as “healthy,” most meals include a side, often roasted veggies or a salad with a homemade dressing. I love the paleo option to steer clear of buns and starchy noodles.
  • User reviews. At the bottom of each recipe is a reviews section, with a space for a star rating (out of 4 stars) and comments. I find other users’ reviews helpful and usually do a quick scan of the reviews before I begin cooking in case there are any modifications others recommend.
  • Easy to follow. No one is going to set you up with a timer and expect you to create a flawless souffle. If you’re unsure of how to cut into an unusual vegetable (Japanese eggplant, I’m looking at you) or could use a refresher on the art of poaching eggs, there are awesome little videos linked in each recipe.
  • Efficient use of ingredients. Often you will make extra portions of one ingredient (cauli rice, farro, and vinaigrette, to name a few) that are incorporated into another meal later in the week – who doesn’t like to kill two birds with one stone? Each meal plan also includes ideas for leftovers (e.g.: “add stock to leftover burrito fixings for an easy Southwestern soup”) and a link to a freezer guide in case you end up with any excess ingredients.
  • Weekend prep tips. I rarely get around to meal prepping on the weekend, but when I do, this is a sweet feature – for each meal plan, Cook Smarts provides a list of steps to prep everything for the week ahead. If I do follow the weekend prep routine, each meal takes under an hour – often under 30 minutes – to prepare. That, my friends, is the key to the universe of Busy Parenthood. On Day 1, God created take-out, and on Day 2, God created easy weeknight meals.
  • View recipes by photo. One option in Cook Smarts is to scan the archives in photo view – so I can hand my phone over to D and let him pick a few meals from the photos. This is actually much simpler than scrolling through pages and pages of a food blog, and then scrolling through walls of rambling text to dig up a photo of the meal just to say, “Hey, this is what we’re having tonight!”
  • Seasonal ingredients. I’ve seen a progression in the meal plans over the last 6 months, as spring turned to summer which is slowly turning into fall (at least, in the rest of the country) – the ingredients will shift to fresh food that’s in-season, and the Cook Smarts team will offer up a fun meal plan for each holiday (the 4th of July caprese burgers were a big hit in our household). This is much harder to accomplish when you’re doing your own meal-planning.

 

And here are the cons:

  • Under-seasoned. I suppose that’s the pitfall of meal planning for the masses, but I find many of the recipes too bland and usually add additional seasonings.
  • Uninspired vegetarian recipes. We like to include meatless meals in our weekly routine, but I haven’t been too impressed with the vegetarian Cook Smarts recipes.
  • No “average rating.” In this world of Rotten Tomatoes scores and Amazon reviews, I need all the data! As I mentioned above, the reviews from other users are often helpful – but there is no way to know the average star rating of a particular recipe, which would be useful in choosing an old recipe from the archives to sub in for a new one when creating a weekly meal plan.
  • Simplified ethnic recipes. While I appreciate the attempts by the Cook Smarts team to offer a myriad of international cuisines, many recipes fall a bit short. For example, a recent recipe for Banh mi sandwiches called for a “spicy mayo” blend of mayonnaise and hot sauce. I really missed the pâté that’s typically stuffed in Banh mis at Vietnamese restaurants.

 

I’m at a crossroads where I’m not sure whether we’ll continue along the Cook Smarts road or try something new. A couple weeks ago, the default meal plan included Italian sub sandwiches with chips, which was… a bit disappointing. On the other hand, we’ve developed a nice, quick and easy work week routine and our food waste has declined to almost zero.

 

Whew. Who knew I could have so many feelings about a meal-planning service? If you have any questions or recommendations for another meal-planning service to check out, leave a note in the comments below!

travel Thursdays: planning a babymoon abroad

10/29/2015

D and I are pretty travel-obsessed. We plan our trips months in advance, savor every moment, and sift through trip photos and video clips periodically afterwards. We also have a very ambitious travel bucket list (it basically consists of the full list of United Nations member states, minus a few countries that we both agree are too dangerous to venture into at the moment). So with our unexpected pregnancy news, we wanted to squeeze in one more international trip before Baby K arrives.

We spent days, if not weeks, tossing around destination ideas. Southeast Asia, Morocco, and the Galapagos were all taken into consideration. Ultimately, we wanted to choose a place with a decent healthcare system in case I needed immediate maternal care, relatively relaxing activities in case I wasn’t feeling up for strenuous adventures, and accommodations that wouldn’t break the bank. (Maldives, I love you, but you’re so dang expensive!!) We finally decided on Greece as a fun place we’d never traveled to together that checked off all our boxes.

I’ll share a recap of our trip soon, but for those considering planning an international babymoon, here’s our advice:

Consult your OB/GYN

This may seem obvious, but before pulling out your credit card to book anything, make sure to clear the trip with your doctor. If your pregnancy is considered high-risk, or if you’re hoping to travel late in your pregnancy, he/she may put the brakes on your travel plans. Your OB can also make copies of your medical record to take along, in case you have any complications and need medical care while abroad.

2. Research healthcare options, and know your insurance coverage abroad

This is a matter of personal preference, but I wanted to be within 2 hours of a health clinic with English-speaking staff. I researched these options in advance, and ensured that even the smaller Greek islands where we planned to babymoon would be able to provide care for me and the babe. We’re saving the exotic Southeast Asia backpacking trip for once I’m no longer growing a fetus.

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3. Book refundable travel and accommodations

We planned our trip for early September, when I would be 22 weeks pregnant (an ideal time, according to my mama friends who flew while pregnant) – but we wanted to book well in advance to take advantage of travel deals. We made sure to book refundable flights and hotels, and AirBnb apartments with “flexible” cancellation policies. We also read the fine print on our Chase Sapphire card (which is our go-to card for travel rewards) and learned that we’d likely be covered by Chase if we needed to cancel our trip due to a medical emergency.

I waited until much closer to the trip to book things like our ferry reservations, which I knew wouldn’t sell out too far ahead of time and were non-refundable.

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4. Pack light

I always advocate for packing light, but this is especially important when you already have your own extra luggage you’re hauling around in your belly. We each packed a small carry-on suitcase for our two-week trip, and we were grateful when we found ourselves lugging them up and down steep cobblestone streets on Santorini and lifting them up high into the overhead bins of buses and ferries.

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 Carry-on suitcases: check. Baby on board: check.

5. Prepare a flight survival kit

Being the hypochondriac that I am, I was paranoid that I would puke on our trans-Atlantic flight. I very fortunately escaped morning sickness in my first trimester, but I heard horror stories from other mamas. So that’s how I found myself at CVS the night before our trip, with a basket full of anti-nausea measures: Dramamine, Sea Bands, Bonine, and some Tum, Pepto-Bismol, and Benadryl for good measure.

My OB’s main concern was swelling, and she advised me to wear compression socks on the long flight. I found these cute polka dot ones on Amazon (see in photo above) and my ankles were only slightly swollen by the time our plane touched ground in Athens. I ended up flying frequently during my second trimester, so I got a lot of use out of the socks. I hear they come in handy during the final weeks of pregnancy, too.

6. Bring snacks

I learned long ago that the survival of our marriage was dependent on keeping my cranky husband well-fed. Once he reaches the level of being Hangry, things go downhill very quickly. Plus, there is nothing worse than being in a beautiful place (say, Paris) with a starving, cranky husband who refuses to go inside the Louvre until someone feeds him a pain au chocolat.

Learning from past experience, for this trip I swung by Target and picked up several boxes of Clif bars, and I packed a few into each of our bags (my purse, his and my suitcases, and his camera bag). These were a life-saver when we were stuck on long ferry rides without food readily available. I was in one of my ravenous-hunger phases of pregnancy during our trip, and having snacks readily available helped me keep my own hunger at bay between meals.

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7. Soak up the quality time along together

The first three years of our marriage have been amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to spend my life with. And to be honest, I will really, really miss our alone time when we’re towing around our little guy with us. It’s been a busy year for us, so 14 days of uninterrupted, unplugged time together was exactly what we needed.

I know our travel lust won’t go away, and we have big plans to keep exploring the world together even as our family grows. But our babymoon was incredibly special, and I wish every expecting couple the opportunity to relax alone somewhere together before embarking on the sleeplessness and stress of new parenthood.

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Where is your dream babymoon destination?

pregnancy survival: 9 months, 9 essentials

10/28/2015

When we found out I was pregnant, I was pretty nervous. We don’t have many friends with babies, I don’t have any sisters, and I felt like we had no idea what we were doing.

But you know what? You figure it out as you go along. We downloaded an app (Ovia) that gives us weekly updates on the baby’s development. My OB gave us a list of medications to avoid, and dangerous symptoms to watch out for. Once my bump became undeniable, I started receiving plenty of advice – solicited and unsolicited. I now know about 100x more about epidurals, baby-led weening, and prenatal vitamins than I would’ve imagined back in April.

Here are 9 essentials that have helped me survive the last 32 weeks:

9 pregnancy essentials

Top to bottom, from top left:

  1. Cocoa butter massage cream for stretch marks – I was pretty bummed out to learn from my OB and others that stretch marks are overall pretty unavoidable and are linked to genetics. There’s not much you can do to prevent them. However, there are all kinds of products to help minimize their appearance and to keep your skin hydrated. (Having an itchy belly is common while pregnant.) This cream is silky and long-lasting, and I love the almond scent.
  2. Nuts – I’ve gone through phases throughout my pregnancy where I am ravenously hungry. As in, eat a big meal and have a growling stomach an hour later. The only way I can make it between meals is by snacking on mixed nuts, which I keep stashed in my desk drawer.
  3. A great water bottle – The only thing worse than summertime in Houston is summertime in Houston while pregnant. I’ve been drinking water like it’s my job for the last 32 weeks. I love Lifefactory’s glass water bottles – and clumsy as I am, mine has survived being dropped all over the place (including onto hard concrete).
  4. A comfy body pillow – My regular doctor recommended this for acid reflux, and it’s been a game-changer for sleeping comfortably while pregnant. My husband has picked up on how great it is and routinely tries to smuggle it from me while I sleep.
  5. The perfect pair of maternity jeans – I outgrew all of my jeans almost immediately. The exception was, funny enough, my cheapest, most worn-out jeans – an old pair of Old Navy Rockstar stretchy skinny jeans. I can still squeeze into those, but life is so.much.better. with a stretchy waistband. These Paige jeans are perfect in every way. (Hint – you can find lightly-worn designer maternity jeans on eBay for far less than the astronomical prices at A Pea in the Pod. Mine were $20!)
  6. A go-to soft, plain tee – I planned to be an active preggo. I planned to be at the gym 5 days a week keeping my weight down, cooking healthy meals packed with vitamins, and busily checking off our pre-baby bucket list. Instead, here I am in a cotton tee and raggedy old yoga pants, halfway through a box of Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice cheesecake cookies. (Yes, they’re amazing, and you should probably run, not walk, to the closest TJ’s and try some yourself.) The entire Gap Pure Body line is incredibly soft and comfy and provides plenty of stretch as your body grows. I bought some v-necks in neutral colors and basically live in them.
  7. Chewable vitamins – OK, my main prenatal vitamins are massive horse tablets that smell like seaweed. (I made the mistake of buying a 300-count vitamin bottle off Amazon and feel obliged to use them all up. Sigh…) But I love these chewable calcium “truffles.” I chew two in the morning when I wake up, and I take my prenatal at night before bed, since calcium prevents iron absorption and it isn’t recommended to take both at the same time.
  8. Second-hand maternity clothes – Look, I know in your pre-pregnancy days, you eyed the maternity section at Target and couldn’t wait to fit into that stuff. But the reality is that clothing yourself over three seasons – 9 months of outfits – is basically like replacing your entire wardrobe, and that ain’t cheap. I’ve become a big fan of ThredUp, a great online source for second-hand maternity clothes which are usually under $10 per item. My favorite brands I’ve scouted on ThredUp are H&M, TopShop, Loft Maternity, Gap Maternity, and ASOS, although there are thousands of options in all different sizes. You can also find cute designer maternity clothes on eBay for much less than the tag prices.
  9. Realistic, break-it-down-to-the-basics registry advice – I’m kind of baffled at baby registry checklists that go on for several pages. Babies don’t actually need that much stuff. A wipes warmer? Nice to have, but babies have survived for most of history without them. Lucie’s List gives simple, honest advice on what you’ll really need and offers a few recommendations for the major stuff, like car seats and strollers. Figuring out what you need is exhausting; this takes out most of the guessing work.

Mamas and mamas-to-be – what are your pregnancy essentials?

2015

10/23/2015

Um… where did 2015 go? The last time I posted, I was recapping our trips to Italy in 2014.

Every year around our anniversary (which is in November), D and I start recapping our previous year of marriage. And every year, we remark how it was another one for the books. I think maybe this one takes the cake.

In April, we found out the biggest surprise of our lives – we’re expecting a baby boy, due on Christmas Eve! We couldn’t be more excited (and nervous… and scared…).

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When we found out, we put the lid on plans to travel to Japan in November, and I exchanged our airfare tickets for round-trip tickets to Athens in August. We called it our babymoon. It was incredibly relaxing, and we’re dying to go back and spend more time exploring some of our favorite islands.

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And now here we are, watching my belly expand and counting down the weeks until we get to meet our sweet little guy. The nursery is *almost* ready, and I can’t wait to share that with you!

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We have all kinds of things to talk about – cloth diapering, second-hand baby gear, crossing off items on the pre-baby bucket list, etc. Stay tuned!

travel thursdays: day trips from Florence

04/23/2015

If you’ve booked a wine-tasting tour from Florence, then you’re doing it right. There’s plenty of travel-guide fodder and veteran advice out there on the best Tuscan wine regions. But if you’re looking to get away from the tour buses, here are some alternative day trips from Florence (all easily accessible by train!) that provide the quintessential Italian adventure.

Siena

On our most recent Italian adventure, in summer 2014, we made a day trip from Florence to Siena, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Siena is what you think of when you think of Tuscany.

Sweeping views of the Tuscan hillside: check.

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Jaw-dropping medieval cathedral: check.

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Best chocolate cake of your lifecheck.

The whole town of Siena is divided into fiercely competitive “contrade” (roughly, neighborhoods) and they face off in an annual horse race in the main square. If you don’t happen to visit Siena during the Palio, there’s still plenty of people-watching and photo opps in the main square.

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Bologna

Don’t hate on this city just because of its association with lunch meat. Bologna is a pretty amazing, off-the-beaten-path gem nestled in the Emilia-Romagna region, Italy’s gastronomic treasure. Think aged Parmesan and balsamic, tortellini and prosciutto, in a city with the world’s oldest university (founded in 1088!).

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The botanical gardens are also something to write home about – they’re full of lush spaces, fountains, and oddities like a greenhouse dedicated to carnivorous plants.

All Italian cities have a lot of commonalities – lots of archways, crumbling old churches, and social life organized around piazzas. But Bologna is most recognizable for the salmon- and rust-colored buildings. The city’s just begging for a photographer far more skilled than myself to come snap some shots of the colorful alleys.

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Parma

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Genoa

 

Cinque Terre

Recognize this?

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Rick Steves single-handedly inspired countless tourists from all over the world to make the pilgrimage to these 5 cliff-side towns on the Mediterranean coastline. The views of the emerald water as you hike from town to town are stunning.

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Each of the five towns has its own charm, and there are charming little beaches to dip your toes in if you break a sweat during the hike.

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I was pretty blown away by the entire experience – breathing in the salty air, hiking along jagged coastlines and alongside family vineyards, and trying to soak in the colorful views of each town.

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I don’t think anyone goes to Cinque Terre and regrets it. It’s truly one of those magical, bucket-list places that you’ll never forget.