The 2nd Time Around — Baby Gear

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was very intentional about trying to figure out what items I really needed.  I didn’t want to accumulate a lot of stuff and I didn’t want to spend money on or receive as a gift something that I wasn’t going to get a lot of use out of.  We made sure to get (almost) everything in gender neutral colors so that we could use it for future children regardless of their gender.

As far as “baby gear” for the first child, we went with the bare minimum: car seat & stroller, breast pump, and video monitor. We received the crib, dresser (to use as a changing table), high chair, pack & play and activity mat as gifts.  Friends told us that they had a swing we could borrow, and when they brought it to us, they also had a vibrating baby seat and a rock & play.  As she got a little older, we purchased a bumbo seat and an exersaucer.

As we were preparing for the arrival of our second child, we tried to decide what we needed that we didn’t already have.  It’s not a very long list, but three of the five items were big investments and I’m so happy that we got what we did.

Baby Gear the 2nd time around - maximizingdaysblog.com

  1. 4Moms Mamaroo – We weren’t able to borrow the swing and rock and play this time, so those were at the top of the list.  Elida used the swing a little, but I knew that baby #2 wouldn’t be held as much as she was and that I would need to put him down (#reality).  I had seen the mamaroo in  a couple stores and read about it online shortly after Elida was out of the swing stage.  I was intrigued by it, but, at the time, it wasn’t something we needed.  When we had our first discussion about what we needed for baby #2, this was at the top of my list.  I had since done more research and decided that if we were going to get a swing, this was the one I wanted.  We have a tiny living room, and the Mamroo takes about 1/3 of the space that most swings do.  I also really liked how it had a range of different motions at different speeds that were made to mimic the way parents move when they hold infants to soothe them.  We’re eight weeks in to this little guy’s life, and I love the Mamaroo!  He spends four to six hours a day – waking and sleeping – in it and it was totally worth it.
  2. Aden & Anais Burpy Bibs – Every other mom I know sings the praises of Aden & Anais swaddle blankets.  We received one as a gift when Elida was a baby, and I liked it, but not as much as I liked our other swaddle blankets.  I didn’t know what all of the fuss was about.  But when I saw these burp rags, I was intrigued.  I liked the size (MUCH larger than most) and shape (made to drape around your neck and over your shoulder).  I was not, however, a fan of the cost.  $10 for one rag?!  My grandma bought one for us as a gift.  It took me less than a week into Wyatt’s life before I bought more.  Not only are the size and shape so much better than any of the other rags I’ve used, but they are also super absorbent.  They’re expensive, but I don’t need as many of them as I did other rags because of their absorbency.
  3. Bob Duallie Stroller – We actually bought this stroller before I found I was pregnant with our son.  But we knew we’d want a double stroller at some point, and found a stellar deal on this one (25% off at REI). Much like the Mamaroo, I did some serious research on this.  I talked to a LOT of people, and everyone that I knew that owned a Bob swore by it.  There were a few other double strollers that were good options as well – namely the Uppababy Vista.  We “test drove” both of them at baby stores (I’m not kidding), and loved them both.  Ultimately, it came down to the fact that the Bob was less than half the cost of the Vista.  Wyatt was born in October in Minnesota and he’s already logged quite a few miles in the stroller.
  4. Beco Gemini Baby Carrier – We registered for a carrier when I was pregnant with Elida, but didn’t receive one.  There were a few times that we wanted to use one, and just borrowed one from a friend.  I knew that the second kid would be worn in instances where kid #1 was carried, so a carrier made it on the list of purchases.  We tried a few varieties when we borrowed friends’ carriers, so I had some idea what we were looking at.  I found the Gemini at a baby store in St. Paul, MN and they had a generous return policy, so we tried it.  I liked that I could wear him on the front with him facing in our out, on my back or on my side and that we didn’t need any special “newborn inserts” or any additional equipment for it to be comfortable.  At least once a day, Wyatt wants to be held when I need my hands.  I strap on the Boba and have gotten very good at doing dishes while wearing him.
  5. Rock & Play – We didn’t even know what this was when our friends gave us theirs to use with Elida.  But use it, we did.  It was an obvious purchase for baby #2.  It’s great for portability and he can sleep at an incline when he’s congested.  He’s sleeping in it next to me as I’m writing this.  I would put this item on any one’s must-have baby gear list.

If I’m going to spend money on something, I want to make sure to get a lot of use out of it, and if we didn’t use any of these items any more after today (which won’t happen), I would buy them all again.  And I don’t like spending money, so I think that says something.

Family To-Do Lists

Living in Minnesota means that I spend about 8 1/2 months a year looking forward to summer and all the spoils that come along with it.  The only thing that makes enduring Minnesota winters worth it and soaking up all that Minnesota summers have to offer.  The problem is that they offer so much and there is such a limited window of time in which to take advantage of those offers.

Going into my first summer as a stay-at-home mom, I knew that I wanted to be intentional about doing as many of those things as I could.  I’d seen ‘Summer Bucket Lists’ that my friends did with their kids and I loved the idea.  I also knew that I had so many ideas of summer activities that floated through my head through the non-summer months, that if I didn’t write them down, I’d forget them and get to September and realize that I never did fill-in-the-blank.  And I hate living with regrets, so I made a list.

Upon completing the list, my OCD kicked in.  I decided that an arbitrary list of activities wouldn’t be helpful to me without some sort of timetable.  I found three pieces of tag board and made calendars on each of them.  Using my cricut, I cut out the letters for ‘June’, ‘July’ and ‘August’.  That’s about as artsy as I get.  I wrote each of the bucket list items on a small post-it.  I wanted to be able to map out the calendar of activities, but I also knew that there was no way that I could know in June what day in August would be best to make a Cheerio necklace.  I also made a ‘To Do’ board for the activities that weren’t yet scheduled.

I hung the calendars and to-do list on the wall by our basement steps.  It was a high-traffic area where I was reminded each day of the things I wanted to do.

Family Calendar 1

Family Calendar 2

Here’s the thing.  It became more of a task to get post-its off the ‘To Do’ list and on to a calendar.  I wouldn’t say that it went so far as to take the fun out of summer, but what was intended to maximize our summer days became a little bit of a chore.  In hindsight, I made what I assume is the typical rookie mistake: I had WAY too many activities on our ‘To Do’ List.  By the middle of August, I made peace with the fact that not every post-it would leave the ‘To Do’ list.  I decided that the goal of the ‘To Do’ list was to give me ideas of fun things to do with my family and make the most of these wonderfully warm Minnesota days; not to be one more thing that just had to get done before September came.

That was a game changer.

Family Calendar 3

Family Calendar 4

Family Calendar 5

Family Calendar 6

 

After summer, I decided to make family to-do calendars for the fall as well.  I had learned my lesson (or so I thought), and I was due with Baby #2 in October, so I wanted to make sure to enjoy the last few days with just one child and make sure that I didn’t use pregnancy/newborn as an excuse not to enjoy all the things I love about my favorite season of the year.  I was very conservative in our activities for the Fall.

Not conservative enough.  It turns out that taking care of a newborn AND a toddler is a perfectly good excuse to let fall fly by.  I should have made post-its that said ‘Keep 2 children alive’, ‘Change 10-12 diapers a day’,  or ‘Shower once a week’.  (Now that I think of it, only two of the three of those would have made it from the ‘To Do’ board to the calendar.  I’ll let you guess which ones….)  By the end of November, more post-its were on the ‘To Do’ board than on the calendars, but I’m okay with it.  We had a great fall.  And we did a lot of fun things.  And we became a family of four.  AND I kept 2 children alive.  Success.

It took me two seasons to learn a few important lessons, but now that I have, the Family To Do calendars are here to stay.  It’s a great way to be intentional about getting the most out of these days with young kids and create memories with my family.  I look forward to when the kids are big enough to help me make the lists.

Menu Planning – Part 3

Menu Planning - Getting from a Blank Calendar to a Full Fridge :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Staring at a blank meal planning calendar makes me feel the same way I did in college when I stared at a blank page knowing that I needed to fill fifteen of them.

Ugh.

Meal Planning – Getting from a Blank Calendar to a Full Fridge

1 – Start in the Deep Freezer

Read about how I organize that here.  I peruse the whiteboard with all of the deep freezer contents and pick at least one main entree item from there.   Another catalyst for me is looking through our fridge and pantry and seeing what I have that needs to be used up.  This helps to make sure that food is not wasted.  I wish I was better at this, but even with being as intentional as we are about not wasting food, I inevitably end up throwing something each week.  I refuse to admit defeat, however, and so I incorporate this into my weekly meal planning.

2 – Peruse Your Favorite Recipes and Pick What Looks Good

Don’t overcomplicate this.  Make what you want to eat.  Period.

When something looks appealing, I assign it to a day and move on to the next one.  Like I’ve mentioned before, for my husband’s sake, I try to keep some variety, so once I get toward the end, I pay special attention to what I have on there, and then sort my recipes again to filter out the options that I’ve already chosen.

When all else fails, I just ask Josh what he wants.  I always do this last, because 90% of the time his answer is “Whatever you make.”  He means it to be nice and supportive.  I appreciate his sentiment and choose not to get upset that he isn’t being helpful at all.  🙂

3 – Make a Grocery List

Once the week is completely planned, it’s time to make the grocery list.  I use an app called GroceryIQ.  Josh and I found it on a display iPad at Best Buy years ago and I’ve been in love ever since.  Much like Pepperplate, it it easily customizable, is compatible on multiple devices (both of our phones, the iPad and our desktop computer), and was FREE.  It allows you to keep lists for different stores and my favorite feature is that it sorts the list by aisle, which minimizes the time in the store tremendously.

Go through each recipe on the menu for that day and add any ingredients that are needed.  I have a note on my phone called ‘THAW & CHECK’.  When I come across and item on the menu that’s in the deep freezer, I put it on the thaw list and when I come across an item that I’m not sure if we have, I put it on the check list (because I do our menu planning at our computer in our basement, which isn’t near the kitchen).  To complete the grocery list, I go upstairs and look through the check list and add the items that we don’t have.

4 – Reference Your Grocery Staples List

The last step to making the grocery list is going through our “masters” list, which is a list of staples that we keep on hand.  One of the great features about Grocery IQ is that my husband can add things to the list from his phone when he uses the last of them.  Occasionally, one of us will use the last of something and not put it on the list, so I’ve learned that this masters list is necessary. To make this list, I went through the history on our Grocery IQ app, which was super easy & quick.  Smarter people than me could do it by their memory.  Or you could peruse your fridge and pantry to see the things you buy weekly.

Like most topics I write about, this system has worked perfectly for us.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.  But, my hope is that there are at least pieces of it that you can take and make your own.  Or that reading about my steps help you think through yours and create your own system that maximizes your meal prep and grocery buying.

 

Friday Faves

I thought I’d share a few of my recent faves……

I’ve written of my love for all things Skip Hop in the past, and I’m pumped because I finally bought this back pack.  I’ve always thought it was the cutest thing, but I didn’t really have purpose for it.  Well, E has reached the age where I sometimes need to bring a few things to entertain her when we go places, and this back pack is the perfect size.  Plus, she LOVES wearing it.  I thought it was cute on it’s own.  On her back, it’s a million times cuter.  And it holds a TON of stuff.

This instagram feed is fantastic.  Every day, I find encouragement in it.

I haven’t purchased this (yet), but I’m thinking that this tool would be a perfect addition to my kitchen tools drawer.  I wonder if it works as well as they say it does….

I got this FitBit bracelet for Mother’s Day and I love it.  Now my FitBit feels and looks like an accessory and not just a black, plastic band on my arm.

My hair is getting a little thicker and it has more texture lately.  I love the good parts of pregnancy – here’s hoping that it doesn’t all fall out and give me bald spots again.  I’m finally able to not have to wash my hair every day, which I am loving.  However, I don’t really know how to style day-old hair.  I’m not a big you tube-er, but I’ve been watching quite a few of her hair tutorials lately.  My hair doesn’t look nearly as good as hers, but I’m making progress.

Speaking of hair tricks, I just discovered texturizing spray.  It.is.awesome.

My daughter is about the easiest kid in the world, and I am ridiculously lucky.  I know this.  That being said, she has just entered the stage where when I ask her to do something, she shouts “No!” and runs away.  I’m not normally one for things with sayings, but this mug came across my instagram feed this week, and I totally wanted to get it.  I don’t have room in my mugs cupboard, so I didn’t, but I considered taking a screen shot and making it the lock screen on my phone.

Menu Planning – Part 2

The Secret to Successful Menu Planning - Recipe Organization :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Everyone does menu planning a little differently, and there are lots of ways that work.

For me, I found that the biggest difference-maker is having all of my recipes in one place.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been menu planning for a couple years now.  But my old system used to take a long time because of my recipe system – or lack thereof.  I had a recipe box where I accumulated written down recipes from people, a recipe board on Pinterest, three or four cookbooks that had anywhere from 1-5 recipes in them that I actually used and an account on foodnetwork.com where I saved recipes.  Each week, I’d pull the cookbooks and the recipe box out of the cupboard and pull up foodnetwork.com and Pinterest on our iPad.  I’d flip/scroll through the recipes and pick what to make for the next week.

To say that the process was tedious would be an understatement.

I finally took my techy husband’s advice and decided to digital-ize the process.  I began looking for an app where I could store all of my recipes, categorize them, and plan out meals for certain days.  I found pepperplate.com and it was love at first sight.  It did exactly what I wanted to, it had great reviews, was compatible with all of our devices (desktop computer, iPad and cell phones) and it was FREE!

I will admit that the conversion from my old system into Pepperplate took a little bit of time and work, but it was totally worth it.  Some of my online recipes could be imported, which was super easy and quick.  The rest of them had to be manually imported, so I just did a few each day and everything that I would want to cook was now in one place.  I typed in the few recipes from each of the cookbooks that I used, and then got rid of the cookbooks (except for the two sentimental ones).  I also was able to get rid of the recipe box, which freed up precious cupboard space.  It was totally worth the time that it took to get the account set up.

Because of the way I plan out our weekly meals, it was important to me that I be able to classify the recipes.  Pepperplate allowed me to create as many categories as I wanted and tag each recipe with as many categories as I chose.

In the same way that my physical recipe box had categories, I wanted that same organization here.  However, the box or my foodnetwork.com account only allowed me to classify each recipe in one way.  I wanted breakfast dishes separate from supper dishes.  And within that, I also wanted the supper dishes broken down into type of meat because I have a tendency to to make three chicken dishes in the same week if I’m not intentional about creating some variety.  I also created tags like “fast”, “grilling” and “crock pot” which are helpful when I’m looking for something specific.

When I was importing recipes, I thought of a list of categories before I began, but the list got tweaked as I entered them.  I have also adjusted it as I’ve gone along.  Which is another nice thing about Pepperplate  – it’s very easily editable.  For a reference, I use the following categories:

  • Appetizer
  • Beef
  • Bread
  • Breakfast
  • Chicken
  • Cookies
  • Crab
  • Crock Pot
  • Dessert
  • Egg
  • Fast
  • Fruit
  • Grilling
  • Ground Beef
  • Italian
  • Main Entree
  • Mexican
  • Pasta
  • Pie
  • Pork
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Side
  • Soup
  • Steak
  • Turkey

Like almost all organization tools, you have to find something that works for you.  A menu planning app may not be your thing.

The key is to find a way to have all of your recipes in one place so that they are easily and quickly accessible.

Once the recipes were in the app and categorized, I had everything I needed to start the newly refined process.  I use the planner function on Pepperplate, which allows you to assign recipes to each meal for each day.  If it is a recipe that is in the system, there will be a link to that recipe from the planner.  If it’s not a recipe, you can also enter any text.  I do this for anything that is part of our meal that doesn’t have a recipe (most often it is the fruit and veggie part of our meal).

I menu plan weekly because I have to go the grocery store that often to replace staples like milk and eggs and also to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.  We are part of a CSA from June to October, so during those months, I plan the day after we get our box, and I plan around the vegetables we receive.  During our non-CSA months, I plan on Thursday so that I can go grocery shopping on Friday.  It’s just what I have found works best for us for now.  This ebbs and flows as life changes.

Regardless of when I menu plan, it always starts the same way.  I open up Pepperplate, then I pull up our calendar.  What’s going on in our lives each day affects what we will make and eat that evening and for this to work, I must take our schedule into consideration.  This week we have a  volunteer training dinner on Monday, so I know that there’s no need to plan anything for supper that night and I have appointments on Thursday afternoon, which means that I won’t want to make anything that’s prep intensive if we want to eat while the sun – and my daughter – are still up.

As a reminder, I will be collecting any questions you have about menu planning on my Facebook page or in the comments section of these blog posts and answering as many of them as I can at the end of the month.  Whatever you’re wondering regarding meal planning, shopping and prep, let me know.