Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas In Our Home

*Note: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.com. I am a personal affiliate with Amazon.com, and as such receive a small compensation for each product purchased through the link provided. (Thank you!).

     The holiday season is a thrilling time! When you marry and then have children, the opportunity is presented to determine your own family traditions. How will you celebrate the Christmas season? What traditions will you carry over from your upbrining? What traditions will you create to be uniquely yours? If I may, I'd like to share with you our celebration of Christmas in our home.

      Life has changed quite a bit over the last few years. As I flipped through our family's past Christmas cards, I laughed to myself at seeing our card from just three years ago with just David and I, last year a card with our family of three, and then this year our card with our family of four! Each year has presented another opportunity for me to reevaluate and refine our celebration of the season and holiday. 

Focus 
      My heart is for Christmas to be simple yet abundant with a focus steadily on making the most of moments together and creating memories. That is, in fact, our family philosophy for the season/holiday. We decidedly don't celebrate the occasion as a religious occasion. We have also not incorporated the Santa Claus element (we've not denied it, but not emphasized it either. It's moot at this point, and the children are unaware). Similarly, we don't place great emphasis on presents or Christmas Day being about presents (though we do offer gifts on this day). Our goal is to be intentional throughout the month in creating moments and memories together. 

(Advent) Activities
     Eager to celebrate the Christmas season in some way each day, I began this holiday season much like I had our Thanksgiving season by filling in the calendar with an exciting list of possibilities. And, like the previous holiday I quickly discovered that so much activity was not feasible or good for our family at this time. With two very young children, I found myself unable to adequately plan, prepare and orchestrate an extra element in our days. (We're often so busy just taking care of the necessities of life already!). 

     I began to be disappointed with this unmet expectation. Then, after discussing the matter with my wonderful husband, I realized I needed to reevaluate the notion of a daily Christmas Advent. I concluded that it's okay for us to not have a Christmas book to read or an activity to do every day of the season! Traditions are things that are built over time. So, add a couple of books and/or activities each year, instead of trying to do it all at once!

     I made a list of ones that I knew we would be able to easily accomplish as these are just a handful of activities that we've done every year. This year we:

  • selected a Christmas tree and decorated it
  • drove through the local lights display
  • took photos and created a family holiday card
  • shopped for gifts to donate 
  • made Christmas cookies (Chai Spice cookies- yum!)
     We did add a couple of new books and activities:
  • The Littlest Christmas Tree by R. A. Herman
  • Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  • We made white chocolate peppermint bark for our mail carrier
  • I traced cookie cutters onto a piece of white cardstock paper and Tennyson enjoyed painting in the shapes
  • I created a sorting activity for Tennyson by using bows of different sizes that we already owned ("tot school")
     We also did things like watch lots of Christmas movies and listened to holiday music. Whenever the moment presented itself, we read our (small) collection of Christmas books. At dinner, David and I enjoyed using Christmas conversation cards.

    Simple, yet effective holiday activities! Next year, I hope we can add a couple more books and activities. Perhaps decorating a gingerbread house!


Decorating
       I really simplified decorating this year- as in, I only put up a tree! Unpacking and setting up the rest would have expended more energy and time than I had available. I would have also had to constantly contend with those items being within reach of a curious toddler, and it wasn't worth fussing at my child over. So, we decided to simply put up the Christmas tree, and never even missed the other decorations. (Are they even necessary then? Hmmm). 

     Since we do have very little ones presently, we opted for a little three foot tree. We pushed our end tables together, and used the combined surface to lift the tree even higher out of reach. It worked out perfectly! The small tree was fitting for our small home and budget. We all really enjoyed it!

     I did add one other Christmas element to our home, though I'm not sure I'd call it "decor." It's purpose was just for the simple delight of the children noting how tree lights are simply delightful for a young child. I have a tiny artificial tree from my childhood that I set up on top of a dresser in the children's room. It was just the tree and colored lights. I didn't even put the mini ornaments on it. Tennyson loved it nonetheless! I set it up on a timer to be one when he woke and fell asleep. I adored hearing "tree! on!" coming from the bedroom as he settled down for sleep or his excited face brightening up first thing in the morning when he saw it on. Simple touch, but so delightful!

     I will likely continue to keep decorations simple, though I may add a few additional touches in future years. I'll do like I do activities, though, and add just one piece a year. Perhaps a festive wreath. Perhaps some garland by the entrance stairwell. It doesn't have to be much to bring delight.

     Keeping decorations simple is really pleasant for our budget as we're not buying lots of things for use one time a year. We're also not having to store or display extra items, which can very easy clutter our small home. Lastly, simplicity saves me time and energy. We still thoroughly enjoy the season, even with just a few pieces of decorations!

Gifting
     I desire for our focus during Christmas to not be entirely on presents. It's so very easy to slip down the slope of materialism during this holiday! We have a few family "rules" when it comes to gifting:

  • I shop within a set budget amount for everyone on our list, including our children. (I put money into an envelope each week all year long so that I can purchase Christmas gifts without putting a strain on our finances).
  • The children are not allowed to provide a "want list," even if requested. I don't want my children to come to see Christmas or relatives as a means of getting what they want. That's using the person or occasion for personal gain, and that's unacceptable. So, no specific item may be provided. However, we do allow them (or us) to offer suggestions for areas of interest. This is helpful for family who we see infrequently but wish to send Christmas gifts (and I ask for an interests list for their children as well for the same reason). 
  • For gifts for our children, I prefer to focus on books and toys that are open-ended, classics, educational and high quality. I opt for quality versus quantity. 
  • We budget the same amount for donation gift(s) as we do our own children. I also aim to purchase toys and clothing according to the same standards I have for my own children. The desire is for the children to see that 1) we don't spend so much on ourselves that we're unable to give fully to others and 2) every child or person is equally valuable and deserving. If the case were to come that we would need to spend less for Christmas gifts, then all individuals including our children would receive a smaller amount from the budgeted envelope so that we may maintain the ability to donate fully. It's a very important element of Christmas gifting to me. 
  • David and I don't exchange gifts. "Gifts" isn't the love language for either of us, and so exchanging gifts between ourselves isn't important to either of us. So, we are able to enjoy all other elements of the season without fretting over finding a suitable gift for each other in the midst of everything else. (We both have January birthdays anyways, and do exchange then).
  • We reserve Christmas Day for our own family celebration, including opening gifts from within our family. The children open gifts from extended family on the days Christmas Day. We allow them to open one family's gifts each day, unless there are so many that they need to be spread out to two days so as to not be as overwhelming. 
Conclusion
     This year has probably been one of the best Christmas celebrations. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me in how I direct our family celebration with the children. I've really enjoyed the simplicity of less- less decorations, less activities, less expectations. In exchange, I enjoyed a Christmas of more- more peace, more fun, more joy. 










Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Baby Items for the First Year: Feeding

This post is a continuation of a "Baby Items for the First Year" series. In it, I'm sharing items that we've found to be essential as well as those that we've not found necessary. Every Mama's list is going to look different based on preferences and lifestyle. The following is simply what we've found useful for our two children. 

We've already covered BATHINGSLEEPING, TRAVELING and so today we'll focus on FEEDING.


*Note: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.com. I am a personal affiliate with Amazon.com, and as such receive a small compensation for each product purchased through the link provided. (Thank you!).  



FEEDING

     Before we begin, I should highlight that I have done a wide variety when it came to feeding each of my babies. Each child has been a different situation, which called for a different response. So, this may not be a complete view of any particular method exclusively. You can read more about our breastfeeding story here


  • Waterproof Sleeved Bib- I purchased several of the standard terrycloth bibs initially, but messes always seemed to make their way to places beyond the bib's coverage. Since the material is absorbent versus waterproof, I was constantly having to wash them in the laundry. I then found a wonderful full size bib that covers all needed areas and simply wipes clean! This particular bib is a bit more pricey, but I've considered it well worth the cost. (It's certainly a great value compared to the cost of stained clothing!). I then got rid of all our other bibs and we just use this one for each child. After use, I simply wipe it down with a wet cloth and hang it on the back of the children's chairs. Occasionally, they need a good cleaning and I'll either wash them with the handwashing dishes or toss it in the laundry, and then back on their chairs to dry. I highly recommend this one bib! (Note: we also use them as art smocks for messy projects).
  • Weighted Flexi Straw Trainer Cup- We have had zero success with sippy cups with a simple spout. Neither of my children have grasped the concept of turning the cup (and their heads) back to get the liquid out of the cup. I also tried offering them a straw cup, but they had difficulty with it too because they couldn't get anything out of it when they'd move and the milk or water would also move away from the straw end in the cup. Then, I found the Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Flexi Straw Trainer Cup, Blue, 7 Ounce! This cup has a flexible straw and weight at the bottom so that regardless of how they moved it would always remain in the liquid. These cups have been amazing. I've even suggested them to friends who had babies who refused to switch from a bottle to a cup, but yet they took to this particular cup! We keep three of these cups in the cabinet: one for milk, one for water, and one to be an extra. 
  • High Chair- I initially borrowed a highchair. I thought the folding feature was fantastic (as well as the fact that it was free to me at the time!). We hated this chair. It had a simple bucket seat that wasn't contoured for little bodies and only a three point buckle, and so the fit was awful. We would have to stuff towels and whatnot around Tennyson for quite a while to keep him properly positioned in the seat. We also constantly tripped over the wide-span of the legs. After use, I discovered that a highchair that folds for easy storage was nonsense, because we were always using it and so it was always out. So, for our second child, I returned the borrowed chair and purchased the Fisher-Price Spacesaver High Chair. It was a rather expensive purchase, but we have thoroughly enjoyed it and feel as though it was money well spent. I liked how it attached to our chairs, which saves us space in our small home. It also has three seat settings (recline, upright, and booster), which allows us to use this one seat from infant to toddler. I highly recommend this chair for a highchair option!
  • Bottles- My babies have both refused a bottle. Once they were comfortable with breastfeeding, they have responded to a bottle as though it was the greatest insult. So, we moved from nursing to the weighted straw cup when it was time to wean Tennyson. Annelise is warming up to the idea of a bottle, and for her we're using the NUK Butterflies Orthodontic Bottle. It's really been a game of trial and error though when introducing a bottle or a cup!
---the following is a list of items I found helpful for breastfeeding ---
  • Breast Pump - Prior to my first baby, I purchased a basic breast pump thinking that it wouldn't see much use because I was going to exclusively breastfeed. Well, that plan along with many others were changed when my baby was born premature. I then needed a high quality breast pump because it would have to establish my milk supply while my baby was in the NICU and really too weak to do so himself. Fortunately, the lactation consultant knew that according to new government regulations all mamas who desire to breastfeed but have babies born with some sort of barrier are issued a high quality breast pump free of charge. I'm so grateful for the pump I received ($425 value at the time!) because I used it constantly. After establishing a supply with the pump, I became dependent on it because my supply was so excessively high (I actually donated milk and fed two babies!). We used that frozen pumped milk for several months after I was no longer allowed to nurse due to expecting my second baby. It was a wonderful resource! I don't know much about pumps due to mine having been provided. I do know that quality makes a difference (though you probably don't need a $425 pump!). I have heard of other insurances covering pumps. I have friends who are teachers and their pumps have been free through insurance. I highly recommend calling your insurance company to learn of any coverage that may be available. 
  • Breastmilk Storage Bags- We went through these like crazy! When I donated milk, she would bring me a box of milk storage bags in exchange for filled bags! haha. I haven't used as many for my second child because I haven't pumped and stored like I did with my first (after being dependent on the pump for every feed for six months, I was not interested in even seeing the pump the second time around! haha). 
  • Disposable Nursing Pads- I tend to have a forceful letdown, and so I don't just leak at those times, I pour. Add an ample milk supply, and I can easily go through a box of 100 disposable nursing pads in a week during the early months when supply is establishing. These boxes cost about $12, so that expense has been significant at times. I tried resuable cloth nursing pads, but they were super bulky and would saturate and wick onto my clothing. So, I just stuck to the disposable ones. Fortunately, at around 5-6 months my supply backs off a bit and I'm able to make one box stretch two or even three weeks. I know some women that don't need nursing pads at all. It just depends on your body. 
  • Nursing Cover- I adore the full coverage of my nursing cover. The wonderful aspect of the poncho style is that no matter what I'm wearing or how wiggly the baby is I'm always covered. Breastfeeding is natural and all about the baby, but I still prefer to maintain full modesty. 
  • Nice to have: 
    • Mesh Food Feeder- These make a perfect tool for soothing teething gums! I fill the pouch with frozen peas or corn, which surround and soothe sore gums better than any other teething tool! When they're thawed and soft, I simply toss the contents, rinse it out and refill! 
    • Reusable Food Pouch- We have used these on occasions such as traveling. These are a fantastic alternative to those pricier pouches found in the store. Simply fill it with the desired food, and you're ready to go without having to fuss over a jar and spoon. We've also used them to transport things like hummus, yogurt, peanut butter etc. when traveling, so they have great use beyond the baby years!
    • Travel plate- Tennyson decided he was ready for real food only at about 11 months, and so anytime we would eat out we would bring along this collapsible plate and offer him bits of our dinner plate onto his. It has been wonderfully convenient!


Things We Didn't Need:
     We've not needed things like terrycloth bibs (as mentioned above), bottle warmer, bottle/cup/pump sterilizer, drying rack, or even a nursing pillow (Boppy). To dry the cups, I simply lay them on the towel that is used for air drying all our handwash dishes. We were told by the NICU that as long as your home environment is clean and the bottles/pump parts are thoroughly washed with warm soapy water after use, they don't have to go through a sterilization process. If there is any question about those conditions, they will then recommend sterilizing feeding items. 
     I have a Boppy, but have rarely used it and found it to take up too much space in our small home. 
      

Up Next:
  • dressing
  • diapering
  • playing
  • healthcare/ grooming



Thursday, December 10, 2015

November 2015 In Our Home

   
A blurry attempt at a family photo. Taking a photo with
 two young children is a bit of a challenge. haha
         November marks the beginning of the holiday season. I was so excited to bring out our "30 Days of Thankfulness" activities, and had such high hopes of going through them with the children. In reality, we did just a few. I feel like I'm so busy taking care of the basics of life with two very young children most days that I just don't have the capacity for an extra something. I was a little disappointed that we didn't do things as planned to celebrate the Thanksgiving season because the heart behind the activities and celebration is very important to me. However, I had to remind myself (yet again) that the children are still very young and life won't always be so demanding.

     David's parents came in town for a visit the weekend before Thanksgiving (they live about 14 hours away). These visits are always difficult in terms of strain of relationship, extra work, and the capacity of our very small home. They chose to stay in a hotel and took care of their own breakfasts during this visit, which made the visit much more pleasant. I enjoy having company, but I grow weary quickly. Nonetheless, I'm glad they got to spend time with David and their grandchildren.
Making yummy pumpkin bread together!

        I don't get to visit with my family as frequently as David does with his, and I know how hard that can be so I'm glad he gets that time with his family. For whatever reason, after they left and the Thanksgiving holiday arrived, that void hit me hard. I ached and cried on Thanksgiving Day to be with my family. I typically am okay with our distance and try to stay connected in other ways. However, the holidays have a way of bringing out a longing for family.
 
     I think the fact that we had nothing special planned for Thanksgiving while everyone else gathered with family was a catalyst to those melancholy feelings. David and I talked about perhaps doing things differently next year. Perhaps next year we'll try to find and invite another family who doesn't have anyone or anywhere to be on Thanksgiving to join us, and our two families can have Thanksgiving together. I consider a divine purpose to this experience. Perhaps the longing in my heart is a call to be the resolution to another's longing. In other words, God desires for me to use my situation to reach out to others. That will be my prayer until next year.

Tot School/ Baby Book Club
       We did still try to fit in some Thanksgiving themed tot school activities, which we also used for this month's meeting of our Baby Book Club. The Baby Book Club went well, but was still a struggle. The idea is for it to be an opportunity for mamas to really engage with their child(ren) in exploring the book and activities. It seems like anytime mamas get together they have the children go play while they chat. I completely understand the need for this social break! However, there is another opportunity for that during the month and the baby book club is to have a different purpose. I talked with David about my frustrations over elements of the gatherings, and my temptation to quit. Then, I considered the children and the fact that without me trying they wouldn't have the opportunity at book+activity exposure, which is something I'm passionate about. If I feel strongly for the matter, then I must persist. I did decide to skip gathering in December. As much as I'd like to plan some Christmas books and activities, I don't want to completely overwhelm myself during such a busy time.

He enjoyed the Thanksgiving dinner
pretend play activity! I love his big smiles!
       For our tot schooling, I only planned a week's worth of activities for us knowing that we would already be busy with the "30 Days of Thankfulness" and Thanksgiving activities. However, the same five activities for the entire month got old, and we ended up getting out of our tot school routine. It's not just a learning opportunity for Tennyson, but a wonderful time for he and I to have one-on-one time. I always miss that time together when we skip it (and I'm sure he does too).  Hopefully, I can find some time and plan some upcoming units.

5 months old & 22 months old! Best friends!
      Life has just been really busy (and, admittingly overwhelming). Caring for two little ones and the home is quite a task! Tennyson is a busy little toddler eager to explore. His speech and language skills improve daily. It's incredible to be able to communicate so well with him! We have daily moments which serve as teaching times for proper behaviors and accepting boundaries. I try to keep that perspective in mind as we work through tantrums. He's learning! Annelise is as sweet as can be. She grins and her entire chubby face transforms. Lately, she has taken an even stronger attachment to Mama. She doesn't like to be apart from me much. It can be difficult to care for another young child, and our home with a child that won't separate well. She also continues to not sleep well. She sleeps in 20 minute increments day and night. We've compromised our preferences for the sake of everyone getting adequate rest (she's currently taking her afternoon nap in the Ergo, for instance). Honestly, many days try my patience. I love my children dearly, but this role of Mama can be so demanding and exhausting at times. So many days have included a momentary cry. I know that certain behaviors are just phases or a need for teaching. But because I'm always "on the job" as a Mama, I encounter those moments over and over and over again.
She rolled from back to belly!

     Mothering well certainly necessitates a dependence on the Lord. I need His wisdom and strength! I haven't been as diligent and/or faithful in reading and/or studying the Bible or praying lately. And, my reliance on faith to push through difficult moments has waned. I'm prayerful for greater time spent in devotion and faithful living.

  
I want to remember so many of the little
moments with the children, but easily forget.
So, I picked up a simple weekly planner
 book, and each day I jot down a
 little something that one of them
did or said. I love having all these little notes!
           I did well at maintaining my daily yoga routine! ....and then I allowed it to slip again. I can definitely tell a difference in my body and mind when I take just 10 minutes a day to pause and stretch. I need to get back to it!

     I'm hopeful to plan some fun Christmas activities for the children for next month. My heart for Christmas for our family is to create it to be a time that is concentrated on meaningful moments together. The key will be for me to orchestrate those activities and moments without being completely overwhelmed. We shall see. Either way, I think it will be a lot of fun this year with Tennyson being nearly two years old! Hard to believe that the year before last we had no children, last year we had one, and this year we have two. Wow, how life changes. :)
   
   


   

    

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