Season’s Greetings!

It’s that time of year! Outfits have been chosen, pictures taken (and retaken), photos critiqued, and finally selected. Now for the cards! There are so many wonderful options out there, and the styles seem endless. Picking the perfect one can feel daunting if you’re anything like me. I wish just one stood out, but there are so many amazing designs (and some really great deals as well)!  Each is equally unique, seasonal, beautiful, or glitzy as the next. Plus, you can customize many of them to look exactly like you want. How is a family to choose? Well, I haven’t yet. But I have narrowed my favorites down to a few…five. Here are the ones I am loving this year:

From Minted (www.minted.com)

From Minted

Since I’m getting down to the wire and still have a little one’s second birthday to celebrate, picking one might become very easy because if I wait much longer, I’ll be considering Happy New Year’s cards instead. Hmm, I bet there are some cute ones out there…

Have you ordered or sent your holiday cards yet? If so, what kind of cards did you choose this year-and how did you pick?

Well Read

The title of this post is a play on words…you see, currently I am far from well read. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have not picked up a book for pleasure since we moved to Raleigh. Which means, other than kid lit (not to be confused with children’s literature-which I have read my fair share of-kid lit refers to the books parents immerse themselves in with their first child), I have done barely any reading at all-unless you count flipping through a magazine here and there, or skimming various blog posts a few times a week. Oh-I also read Yahoo headlines almost everyday.

So, the title of this post is not a description. It’s a suggestion. Or a command maybe. I need to read more. I want to read more. I love to read, so amid my recent complaining about this, my husband said, “Well, read!”. How simple, right? I hope so. But just in case something (or everything) gets in the way, I made a plan. Yes, I scheduled my reading time. Each day I have set aside a chunk of time for my book and me to get better acquainted. And I have to say, I’m quite excited.

My youngest sister recently read a book for her first college class and then passed it along to me. I am not sure it’s one I would have selected myself (not even sure if she would have picked it out-it was required reading and the author is an alum of her school), but I have a copy now, which made it a strong contender. Also, I figure she might want to discuss the novel, so that’s motivation for me to prioritize reading.

The Starboard Sea by

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

Once I finish The Starboard Sea, I plan to read:

TheSignatureofAllThings

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

ROOM

Room by Emma Donoghue

WeAreWater

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Given my recent history, I am guessing that will be it for 2013, sadly. But I hope to begin the new year with a book in hand and not let a month (or four) pass without finishing something I am reading just because.

Have you ever fallen into a reading rut? Any suggestions to get my 2014 started strong and keep me reading?

Ways to Brighten a Rainy Day!

Since moving to Raleigh in June we have had many sunny days, some cloudy ones (what I refer to as relief in the summer), and few washouts. Most of the rain we have had passed quickly, so getting outside everyday hasn’t been out of the question. It looks like that might all change this week though. It’s early in the week, and I’m already like, “WHAT WILL WE DO IF IT RAINS EVERYDAY???!!!” “We should make some indoor plans in case the inclement weather keeps us indoors.”

Staying inside for the whole day can be quite difficult with a toddler. So I try not to. My go-to rainy day activities still involve leaving the house. Our favorites around here are:

1. Going to the library to checkout books (if we can catch story time, that’s a big plus)

2. Heading to the kids’ museum (ours is amazing)

3. Hitting up a Gymboree class (a past time Madeline loves in rain or shine)

Some days though, you just can’t make it out the front door. Perhaps it’s storming, or going to, and your child is scared. If you’re like me, it could be that you just don’t really like driving in torrential downpours. Or maybe it’s not even raining very hard-or at all. The reason for staying in doesn’t really matter. What you are going to do to entertain a rambunctious tot until nap time is what’s important. So, here are a few of our most reliable (ie: fun and stimulating) indoor activities:

1. Play Picasso

I was admittedly nervous to break out the paints and let Madeline embrace her artistic side. I just had visions of mad chaos overcoming our entire home and no paint making it onto the actual paper. But I put my fears aside and finally bought some finger paints to try out (Crayola’s washable paint is incredible-seriously, it wipes off of everything like water). I covered four paper plates with different paint colors, placed them on the floor around a canvas, and showed Madley what to do. She caught on very quickly and went at it. Needless to say, she loved painting and had a blast creating her first masterpiece.

This is awesome!

This is awesome!

I'm a mess! Now what Mama?

Are you sure I’m supposed to get this messy Mama?

The finished product

The finished product-Brilliant!

2. Churn Your Own Butter

We recently went to a Meet-up event hosted by Organic Valley where we got to churn butter out of heavy whipping cream. It was so fun! My girl is a little young to appreciate how remarkable the activity was, but I  really enjoyed it and will definitely keep it in the rotation for the future. Eventually, I think it’s something she’ll love doing. Best of all, it was so easy and much faster than I would have guessed. We were given a glass jar with a lid filled with 4oz of cream.

photo (2)

After shaking it for about three minutes, we had a cup of whipped cream. We kept shake, shake, shaking, and within five to seven minutes, butter! Once you have your final result, you can eat it plain on toast, etc. or season it with garlic, herbs, sugar and cinnamon, and so on. Neat, right?

Voila!

Voila!

3. Go Down “Unduh”

Unduh. That’s how Madeline says, “under”. She loves to climb under our dining room table with her, “yee-ul books” (meaning board books) and read. She brings out blankets and then crawls between the chair legs to settle in. This makes for perfect rainy day fun if you simply hang blankets off the sides of the table and cram under there with a flashlight, a few books, or even some paper and crayons. Basically, just build a fort!

4. Sugar Coat It

Yes, when in doubt, bake! I’m all about keeping it healthy(ish), of course. But whipping up a batch of cookies, then decorating them, or making cupcakes to frost together can be a wonderful way to pass the time. Plus, there are many opportunities for your child to learn while baking. From measuring, to counting, or telling time, this activity really lends itself to sneaking in a teaching moment or two.

Mmmm...Candy Corn! Perfect for Fall. (Best served after nap!)

Mmmm…Candy Corn! Perfect for Fall.
(Best served after nap!)

5. Think Inside the Box

Then there is the simplest way of all to make a last minute plan: keep a rainy day box on hand. Yep, it’s that easy. Stock up on a few of your child’s favorite things, store them in a box or bucket, pull it out and pop the lid off when necessary. Boom! Tons of fun at your fingertips. Madeline spends forever just sifting through all the options before choosing what we will do. I suggest puzzles, Play-Doh, streamers, bubbles, pipe cleaners, string, dry pasta, and food coloring to start. But honestly, the possibilities here are endless!

Hopefully these ideas will come in handy next time your plans are thwarted by Mother Nature. In the meantime, if you see it’s pouring out and cannot decide if it will be worse to venture out or stay home, Keep Calm and…Keep your Kids Busy! (I know, it’s been widely overused and totally exhausted. Please excuse me).

What are your best rainy day plans to keep little ones entertained? Please share!

Mamas Must-Have: Priorities

Well hello my little blog! Oh, how I have missed you.

Since returning from our trip home last month I have been preoccupied with a multitude of tasks, worries, and plans, all of which have taken a clear precedent over blogging. From preparing for Hurricane Sandy to hosting Thanksgiving dinner, it’s been a busy few weeks. Couple that with a month of nightly wakings to soothe and nurse a teething baby, and you have one exhausted Mama. Indeed, we all have to keep our priorities in order and sadly, writing has not made my list recently.

In addition to not making time to write, I have found myself feeling uninspired as of late, and therefore concerned about the content I might produce. I cannot deny that this has made me reluctant to post as well. I do not want to write just because I have a blog. Above all, I do not want what I share to lack authenticity or seem forced, so after a few moments of stressing about not having a “must-have” for moms on a particular Monday, or needing a new recipe to boast about for an upcoming Friday, I concluded that perhaps my current schedule has become restrictive. With that in mind, I have decided to alter the format of Must-Have Love a bit. I still plan to write primarily about the same general topics, but you can now expect to see a wider variety from day to day, or week to week.

My hope is that these changes will allow more freedom in my writing and give me new opportunities to post often. Although that isn’t something I anticipate really happening until the new year, as I am currently consumed with planning a first birthday party, floating among more DIY projects than one only semi-crafty person ever should be. Many details to follow…

Just getting started…

Until then, thank you for continuing to read my ramblings. I hope you will stick with me through this transition.

Mamas Must-Have: Food on the Go

Since starting solid foods, I have only fed Madeline at home. When making plans we schedule everything around being home for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Until this week. Between traveling, and visiting family and friends in South Carolina, I have been forced to get comfortable eating meals with my little one while out and about. Now that she is eating finger foods, bringing food along wherever we go has been easier, but it still took some adjusting for me.

After one week and many meals on the run, I feel like a pro when it comes to feeding my baby away from home. Experience, above all, has helped me relax and enjoy dining out with Madley. And these staples make packing food to go a snap:

1. NutureMe Dried Baby Food

We make Madeline’s food most of the time, but after receiving a sample packet of NurtureMe, I knew they would be perfect for traveling. I was right. Ordering a couple boxes to have on hand has been a lifesaver. They are a bit pricey compared to our usual homemade options, but they are organic and have no additives. For occasions like this week, they are definitely worth it. And because you only have to add water, they are easy to prepare on the go.

2. Happy Baby Puffs

These were love at first bite for Madeline. Simply seeing the canister excites her. Puffs are a great beginning to a meal, dessert, or just a snack. Not to mention they are easy to transport and serve practically anywhere.

3. Yogurt

While it may not be super easy to pack and bring along on trips, yogurt makes my list of convenient foods because you can purchase it almost everywhere. A winning option in a pinch.

4. Cheese cubes

I cut cheese into small bites to give Madeline with lunch from time to time. She loves it and because it stores well and is mess free, so do I.

5.Peas

Peas are the easiest veggie to serve a new eater while away from home. Like cheese, it’s easy to take along and is less messy than most other favorites. Plus, it’s a healthy alternative to its equally convenient snack foods.

Lastly, these two (non-food) items have made traveling with food and eating out with Madeline much easier as well!

What foods to you bring along when you’ll be away from home during a meal or snack time? I definitely need some variety for the rest of our time down south, and would love some suggestions!

Mamas Must Have: First Books for Baby

We have been reading to Madeline since she was born. Before even. From her first days she heard the cadence of our voices, rhythmically saying words on a page as we showed her pictures that her unfocused eyes surely couldn’t make out. Then when she was about three weeks old, her “Nana” and “Pop Pop” gave her Goodnight Moon and our first reading routine began. Now, at nine months, Madeline’s book collection has grown significantly and we try to provide a lot of variety with frequent visits to the library.

There are many board books she enjoys looking at on her own. Others we always read to her. Some of her books have few or no words, and others are much too long for her to sit through at this point. However, we just want to expose her to as many books as we can, hoping to instill a value of reading at an early age. As a former teacher, I want my daughter to develop a love of reading and books. And with so many wonderful stories to read and illustrations to see, why not start early?

While her favorites have changed over time, and her preferences vary from day to day, these are some of the first books we read to Madeline that she enjoyed from early on and still loves now:

1. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

A bedtime classic

We read Goodnight Moon every night before listening to a lullaby and putting Madeline down for the night. It’s her favorite part of our bedtime routine.

2. Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

The first in Bemelmans’ beloved series

It’s probably obvious why we love the Madeline books. When we received this book (thanks Melissa!), I didn’t plan on reading it until Madley was much older, but we were looking at the pictures one day and she was really into it, so we gave it a try and she loves it! I think it’s because it’s a rhyming book and there is very little text on each page.

3. First the Egg, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

A fun, simple read with beautiful illustrations

This is a short book with colorful and captivating pictures that draw little ones in. The repeating format makes it enjoyable for even the smallest readers (or listeners).

4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

A favorite of nearly everyone

The Very Hungry Caterpillar has always been a favorite of mine to read aloud. It’s silly and the layout is fun.

5. Photo Look Book, by Sassy

A perfect first photo album

So, this one isn’t technically a book you read to your child. But it was an early favorite because you put your own pictures in and babies love to look at faces-especially real ones and other babies. Since we live so far from almost all of our family, we filled this foam photo book with pictures of our loved ones and show them to Madeline often, naming each relative.

By introducing books early, I hope Madeline will appreciate them and find joy in reading as she grows. There’s no guarantee by reading to her now that will happen, but we both love story time and we’re sure having fun in the meantime.

What are your must-have books for babies and young children? Any favorites from your own childhood that has lasted through the years?

Mamas Must-Have: A Fashionable Teething Soultion

My very thoughtful youngest sister gave Madeline and me an awesome gift when she came to visit a couple weeks ago-a teething necklace. Both recipients love it! There are many soothing options to choose from when your little one is teething. Babies are so different from one another, including how getting those first few teeth effects them. Some babies are sensitive teethers, others don’t even seem to notice the changes happening inside their mouths. However, all babies want to taste everything and chew on most things, especially when their pearly whites begin coming through. That’s what makes the fashionable teething solution Hannah gave us so perfect! Madeline can safely chew the string of beads I’m wearing. Not only can I have a necklace on without worrying, but also gnawing on the accessory feels great on my girl’s puffy gums. Mom win, baby win.

Our Chewbeads were an immediate hit

And the Chewbeads my sister got us at Bumble Boutique in Columbia, SC (available for online purchase here) come in a variety of colors to suit any style. They look super cute worn with or without baby as well, if I do say so myself.

Can’t keep her hands off of ’em

Thank you Hannah! Madley and I are loving the teething necklace-I wear it nearly everyday! Anyone else tried Chewbeads or have another teething solution worth sharing?

Mamas Must-Have: Skincare for Baby

I have very sensitive skin. Always have. As a child I can remember times when a new detergent would cause my whole body to flare, making me wish I could crawl out of my skin. Once in middle school I begged my mom to buy me a bottle of some fruity shampoo, hoping to envelop my hair in a green apple-scented cloud. Instead a splotchy rash of raised red bumps erupted on my scalp and neck. And I won’t even get into the cracking, inflamed dryness that each winter bestows upon me. Or the hives that mysteriously popped up just a few years ago, turning my pale skin hot pink for nearly two weeks. So when Madeline was born, I was prepared for her brand-new baby skin to need extra gentle care. I looked into several products, determined to find a hypoallergenic line that would not attack my little one’s delicate body.

Luckily, because so many newborns have sensitive skin, the options when choosing body washes, shampoos, and lotions are limitless. I decided to go with Mustela initially, but after receiving a Burt’s Bees gift set I decided to try that first. I studied the label and felt hopeful none of the ingredients would irritate Madeline’s skin. We tried the Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash and loved it. It’s light and natural. Unfortunately, after slathering the Nourishing Lotion all over my girl, a map of tiny prickly spots appeared within hours. Inherited sensitive skin confirmed. We stopped using the moisturizer immediately, but have remained loyal to the Baby Bee Body Wash.

Around the same time we started looking for a new lotion, Madeline developed moderate eczema on her arms, legs and belly. A pharmacist recommended Aveeno Eczema Therapy Cream. We tried it and within two days Madley’s skin was completely clear. This fragrance-free moisturizer is thick, but easy to rub in and quickly absorbed with no icky residue. It quenches my dry spots just as well as the baby’s (side note: Aveeno makes an eczema cream specifically for infants as part of their baby care line, which contains the exact same ingredients as the adult one).

At around five months old, we started light baby massage as part of Madeline’s post bath/bedtime routine. Now, at eight months old, when she sees me reach for the California Baby Calming Massage Oil, her fists bunch up and she kicks her little legs in excitement. Needless to say, she enjoys these few minutes each evening. California Baby products are allergy tested and made from pure, cold-pressed oils. Not only does it hydrate skin beautifully, it smells divine. After saturating the baby, I always wipe any excess oil into my hands and arms.

When it comes to caring for a baby’s new skin, the selection is vast. Finding what works for your baby may take some trial and error, but what’s most important is protecting that precious, unexposed skin. These are the products that have worked for us so far. What’s been best for your child’s delicate surface?

Mamas Must-Have: Citrus Lane

About a year ago I read a Daily Candy article about a subscription gift box service for babies. I immediately thought Citrus Lane sounded brilliantly adorable: a monthly care package for parents containing age appropriate items selected by a team of experienced moms. Genius! While I loved the concept instantly, and was pregnant at the time, I didn’t consider purchasing a membership for my future bundle, but I noted what a wonderful gift it would make.

About six months later I was in search of the perfect baby gift for a dear friend who was due with her first daughter fourteen weeks after me. Knowing what to get Angela should have been easy since I was experiencing things so shortly before she would, but after discussing nearly every detail of bringing baby home through the first few months, I had already told her everything I found useful, including what to buy. Then I remembered Citrus Lane. I immediately looked into purchasing a gift package for Madeline’s newest friend.

While browsing the website and looking through boxes from previous months, I loved what I saw and found myself buying a subscription not only for my friend’s new addition, but also for my own child. We received our first box in May and at least one item has become indispensable every month since. Of course some months have been bigger hits than others, which is to be expected, but overall Citrus Lane is worth the $25 price tag. Especially because I really enjoy being introduced to new products for little ones that I may not hear about otherwise. And of course Madeline loves her monthly box of goodies as well.

Here is our August, “Back to School” themed box from Citrus Lane:

August Arrival

Our August Box from Citrus Lane

List of contents from our most recent Citrus Lane box

Madeline loves the stroller toy from this delivery, which has a teething ring attached that she chews incessantly while riding around. I am a big fan of the baby food containers to easily transport meals on the go. And we both adore the counting book for its gorgeous illustrations. Some favorites from past boxes have included: a sunhat that arrived just in time for Madley’s first beach trip…

Cutest sunhat protecting cutest beach baby

…and these stacking cups, which Madeline currently plays with more than any other single toy.

M. seems to love these stacking toys more and more each day

Citrus Lane makes a fantastic gift for expectant friends, new arrivals, birthday boys/girls under three, and of course for your own child. If you are interested in learning more about Citrus Lane or joining to get or give a box each month, click here.

Mamas Must-Have: A Way to Travel

Traveling can be extremely stressful for everyone. Flying in particular lends itself to feeling especially edgy. With so much out of your control, for those who are already more anxious than not, like myself, boarding a plane can trigger the most intense bouts of nervousness. Add a baby to the mix, and it hardly seems worth it. Unless of course you live nearly one thousand miles from most of your loved ones. Then it becomes a necessity. So when traveling by train, plane, or automobile with a little one, being prepared, but flexible is the biggest must. And in my limited experience as a mother so far, here are a few more easy and effective ways to take some of the stress out of air travel:

Little Flyer:
Madeline waiting to board her first flight

 

1. Be open to taking the first flight out

With an infant you’re probably used to being up early these days. Well, since you’re awake, just go ahead and get going. Many people avoid booking the first flight with a baby thinking that other passengers will want to sleep or worrying that business men and women fill these flights and may be less tolerant of little first time flyers. This is not necessarily true. Most early bird flyers are up and ordering coffee on board, ready to start their day, not trying to rest. Another advantage of those first flights is the decrease in delays. Many morning flights depart on time and sticking to a schedule always makes life easier with a baby. So if it’s possible to get to the airport and get your trip started first thing in the morning, it’s often worth it.

2. Have a flexible packing plan

Once you have a child, packing will never be the same. Gone are the days of  keeping it light with your perfectly stuffed carry-on. In a previous life, my husband and I didn’t wait at baggage claim ever. Those days are over. Accept it. Pack smartly, but be flexible and plan on checking a bag. This actually makes life easier because you can bring everything you might need without wondering if you’ll use it, and not concern yourself with measuring liquids, plastic baggies, etc. Somehow despite being so small, babies’ stuff takes up a lot of space, so just give in and load up that big suitcase. Then hope you booked your flight with an airline that isn’t charging some ridiculous fee to load your luggage under the aircraft (one of many reasons we <3Jet Blue).

3.  Purchase a car seat bag

Someone suggested that we buy a car seat bag if we were planning to hold Madeline on our flight. Thank goodness we listened! This travel bag was a lifesaver because it straps on like a backpack, so it’s fairly easy to transport. Even holding the baby, I was able to wear it into the airport on my own. Also, it’s very roomy. I packed Madley’s favorite toys, a blanket, and all of our pumping/nursing/bottle supplies in the bag with plenty of space remaining. And best of all, car seats and strollers check for free, so no extra cost for this additional bag.

4. Load up your diaper bag

Because your carry-on will most likely be your diaper bag, it should be well stocked. I would recommend doubling up on essentials to be prepared for the unexpected, like delays. An extra outfit, lots of diapers and wipes, pacifiers (if your baby takes one), and a few of your baby’s favorite items. I found a familiar toy or two especially helpful to keep Madeline occupied when she was awake on the flight. Next time we fly, I will also be sure to have a snack or two just in case since our girl is now eating solids.

5. Be seen!

On our first flight, we found a seat near the gate at JFK and waited to board. Unfortunately, by the time we gathered our stuff and got the baby situated, they gate attendant had already called for the next group to get on the plane. He hadn’t seen us, so assumed there were no young children on the flight. Waiting for a few people to go wasn’t a big deal, but the more time you have on the plane to settle in and get comfortable, the easier and more relaxed you’ll feel. Also, it’s nice to be in your spot as everyone else finds their seats, as opposed to seeing the worried faces, wondering if your baby is a screamer, as you pass each row.

6. Focus on your baby’s experience

Remember that your baby is doing something new, so may need some extra comfort to adjust. Even if your little one has become a seasoned flyer, it’s not an everyday occurrence, so stay focused on his/her needs instead of other travelers. Most people will be patient and understanding if your young child isn’t perfect, especially the other parents on board. But not everyone will be and that isn’t your problem. Clearly no one wants an unhappy baby crying on a flight. Well, guess who wants that least of all? Their parents! If your baby is having a hard time, spend your energy trying to soothe him/her, not apologizing to everyone around you. Their reactions may increase your stress level, which could further upset your baby. Don’t take that chance. Just stay as calm possible and keep all your attention on your little one.

Traveling can be quite unpredictable, and therefore very stressful. Bringing an infant along only increases the tension for many, but it doesn’t have to be miserable or an added source of unnecessary anxiety. Being prepared, planning accordingly, and  focusing on your child can make your trip much easier for everyone. There are no guarantees when it comes to flying-your little one may be a perfect traveler, or she might have a very difficult time en route to your destination. There’s no way to tell. Just do the best you can, then sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.

What are your travel tips for a successful flight with baby?