Dear Claire: 18 and 19 Month Updates


(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire,
A year and a half, you have been my daughter and a year ago we uprooted you and moved from Georgia to my home state of Ohio. You have officially spent more time as a Buckeye than a Peach, and that fact is a testament to how quickly time flies.

Over these past two months, you took your first trip to the beach and dipped toes in the sand, hands in the ocean for the first time. You were not scared or stunned by it, but embraced it quickly, learning to love the splash and the salty breezes with gusto. You also started going into the nursery at church without a problem. I don't know when or how it happened, but all of a sudden, when we left the room you were completely at ease and played plenty until we returned at the end of the service. While I enjoyed getting to spend time with you in there and get to know the other nursery volunteers better with each passing week, I'm glad to get to sit through an entire service and know that you trust that we're not forsaking you, but that we'll be back soon. It's a good feeling knowing you feel safe, without having to shed a single tear in the process..

One of the things I've been noticing of late is how your personality comes out in different situations. For the longest time I was convinced you were an extrovert, always loving going shopping and waving hi to all the cashiers. But then when we went to a splash park where other kids were running through the sprinklers without a care, you stuck close to me, making sure to never let go of my hand while we watched and you inched close enough to dip your toes in a puddle. Then, we had a few families over for dinner and I thought you'd love the ample playmates, but the. I caught you playing on your own in the corner or wanting me to hold you most of the time. It's scenes like these where I feel I am getting a better grasp for who you are and what you need. (So far, I think you prefer adults and older kids (girls, especially) in small groups, though you're always up for people-watching, so long as you feel safe with mom or dad.)

Otherwise your personality at home continues to bubble over, as you're picking up new words fairly quickly. You were the flower girl (flower fairy girl, actually) in your aunts wedding, and we coached you to say "cheese," and you were practicing it in your sleep! Your vocabulary so far: mama, dada, no, uh-oh, ball, Elmo, shoe, hat, kitty, cheese, woof-woof, ah-ah (imitating a monkey noise), hot, hi, bye, home, duck, sheep, baby, eyes, please, two (as in "one, two, three"), amen, book, and you're adding to it almost daily it seems!

Your disposition continues to shine as such a cheery one. Your name, "Claire," means "bright," and I think that is so fitting. You are constantly smiling or laughing and always vying to make us do the same. Even when I try to discipline you, your lip might quiver for a moment, but then you bust into a smile and I can't help but smile back and laugh. There is an unending joy that bubbles up from within you and I love it. It makes my life so much brighter, too, to watch you enjoy and drink in this world around you.

You're also becoming more and more of a help to mommy. This morning, I was installing a new light in the bathroom we recently overhauled, and I dropped a tiny screw. You were playing at my feet, so I asked you to retrieve it, unsure if you even knew where it fell. But you found it and handed it to me immediately. I hope that servants heart of yours continues to flourish and bring joy to a world that is in so much need of help and that darling little smile of yours.

Also, seemingly overnight you began taking a huge interest in books, much to the delight of your mama and dada whose book collection spans an entire wall in our new house! You love to pick through your book collection (pretty vast, in its own right), and bring us book after book to read through. I am not sure where this came from, because for so long you would not sit still to read and had no interest except in turning the pages. But I did not rush or fight that, and still you developed a love all your own. Which is something that awes me, because, even in this limited, small instance, I can see the Lord at work, shaping you and making you something fascinating and beautiful—all on his own. I am here to walk alongside you and read the books out loud, but he is the one doing the work, creating you and breathing life into your interests and passions and development. As a mother, this is a great comfort to me, because I know that I do not do this work alone. I have the Lord to help me, a God who loves you far more than either of us can fathom and to fill in all the gaps of my failures and shortcomings when it comes to parenting.

All in all, both you and I are learning much together as the months continue to tick by, and for that I am thankful. We both are ever growing, ever coming into our own as mother and daughter, and as the people God so lovingly fashioned us to be. For that, Glory be to God.


Dear Claire: 16 and 17 Month Updates

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire--
Well, I'm consolidating two months into this update: your 16 and 17 month updates. Time got away from me, but, as you'll see, it was spent having a lot of fun!

Over the past two months (June and July), you:

- Have added to your speaking arsenal: "Oh boy!" "Hat" and (much to your GP's delight) "GI Joe." When it comes time to eat something, you also like to say, "Mmmm!" and after drinking, sometimes you'll go, "Aaah!"
- Love to dance. Sometimes if we ask you to dance, you'll start slowly spinning in a circle, like a little ballerina! And one morning, you were sleeping and heard your daddy's alarm go off. It's a song, and you usually will dance to it. But this morning, you were still sleeping but still managed to put your fist in the air and do a couple fist-pumps along to the music before drifting back to sleep! You have also started nodding your head along to the beat. Thanks to your love of music, we finally found a video that will keep you occupied (usually when it comes time to make dinner in the evenings), and that's sing-along videos from Baby Genius. When you see us load up Netflix, you get really excited and start pumping your hand in anticipation because you know what's coming next!
- Went on your first family vacation. We went to Breckenridge, Colorado and made a little day trip to Vail. You stayed on East-Coast time, which meant we were up every day around 5 or 6am, but that gave us time to tip-toe out of the suite we were sharing with family and go explore the town at sunrise. We found some cute coffeeshops and a couple of playgrounds that you enjoyed running free in.

- Enjoyed your first encounters splashing and playing in the pool in our neighborhood as well as the resort pool on vacation. Sometimes you are timid about it and other times you love getting to splash. (Especially when Daddy took you down the water slide on vacation!)
- Love push toys as well as toys that other people will push you around in!
- Blowing bubbles!
- Have started taking to carrying purses or bags around with you wherever you go. You have a couple that are your favorites, including a brightly colored garden-tool-holder bag, an adorable little floral-print chain purse I held onto for years in hopes of someday having a girl, and a little vinyl pink pouch that has a carabiner on the end.
- Are still fascinated by people watching and love engaging with people anywhere we go. You love saying hi and I love watching how a small little girl can light up a stranger's day with a simple smile and acknowledgement. To an introvert, it's so impressive and admirable.
- Are getting adept at helping mommy when she asks you to "Clean up your mess!" (Because you are forever making little messes!) You don't seem to mind though, and sometimes enjoy the clean-up just as much as making the mess! You still love to throw things away (I fished out a handful of felt toys from the trash this morning).
- Recently took up coloring with crayons and splashing in the kitchen sink in the morning.
- Graduated into size 4 diapers, which gave us the chance to try out Walgreens' exclusive baby-care brand Well Beginnings brand for the times when we need disposables. They've proven tto be pretty soft and quite absorbent. We haven't had a single leak with them and no diaper rash, thanks to the fact that the inner liner features natural botanicals, vitamin E, and aloe to soothe your baby’s bottom. We've also enjoyed their sensitive wipes (moisturizing and clean up messes well with few wipes needed) and baby bodywash that is tear-free, soap-free, dye-free, paraben-free and hypoallergenic (making it milder than baby soap) and smells nice and fresh! We haven't had any need for the electrolyte drink, but it's great to already have on hand when the need arises. (Thanks to Walgreens and Mom's Meet for the opportunity to add these essentials to our baby-care arsenal!*)

All in all, it's been quite the summer for you, and with the leaves starting to change already, I'm looking forward to all the changes this next season will bring for us, too!


* I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms MeetSM program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms MeetsSM blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinon on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.


Riding in Style: Getting Around the Neighborhood in the Zuzu Stroller

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Mom Central for GB. I received a gift card to purchase a GB stroller to both facilitate my review as well as thank me for my participation.

I've mentioned before Claire's love for being outside. Multiple times a day, she grabs our hand and pulls us to one of the doors to go out and play. And recently, shes started pulling us to her stroller to let us know she'd like to go for a nice long walk.

That's one of the things I love about our new neighborhood. it has lots of walking trails that weave in and out of woods, greenspaces, playgrounds and even around a lake. It's a nature lovers dream come true!


That is, so long as you have a stroller that can withstand all those outings! That is why I was excited to get to review the new GB Zuzu stroller, available exclusively through Babies R Us.

It's a lightweight travel stroller that includes a lot of features normally only available on a more full-size model—making for the best of both worlds.

After putting it together, Claire was eager to hop in and go for a test run (well, walk) with it. Immediately I was impressed by how soft and comfortable the handles were. Our sidewalks can be really uneven, which was problematic for our old stroller, which couldn't even make it over the bumps without you stopping to lift it. This stroller however took the bumps like a champ. It made them almost imperceptible, and I didn't have to stop once. Also, it is very light weight so it's easy to push for long distances, which I appreciate for how often Claire wants to go on walks, sometimes!


As for her, Claire seemed quite comfortable riding in the stroller although she did un-Velcro the strap cushions and pull them off about halfway through. I liked that I could check on her by unzipping the canopy and peeking through the mesh to see how she's doing. It does have a nice size basket beneath where you can stow any belongings or toys. However, there is no tray for mom or child to put things like keys or beverages, which I enjoyed on our other stroller.

Finally, it folds up into a surprisingly compact size to make for easy travel or storing. It's not quite a one-handed operation (at least not for me yet, after having only used it for about a week), but the stroller is small enough as it is that I don't foresee having to compact it down all too often for that to be an issue. It fits fine in the trunk of our car when laid down on its side. Additionally, while this does not affect me, I was impressed that it also is compatible with select Graco® and Chicco® Infant Car Seats.

If you ask me, it's a pretty well-rounded stroller. Although it lacks a couple of features of more full-size strollers, you get that in exchange for a really lightweight and compact-able item that I personally think is worth the difference. I anticipate lots of long walks in my future!

And if you'd like a snapshot critique, here are my thoughts, in bullet-form:

Pros of the Zuzu Stroller
  • Handles are really comfortable
  • Stroller is lightweight, making for easy pushing for mama!
  • provides a smooth ride; our sidewalks can be quite uneven and it took the bumps without a hiccup
  • Large canopy to keep the sun out of child's eyes, but also features a zip away window in the top of the hood so that you can still see your child
  • Good-sized basket underneath
  • Folds down into compact size easily
  • Can customize the recline and leg-rest angles to fit your child's size and needs
  • Gender-neutral color and silky soft cushioning
Cons of the Zuzu Stroller
  • Does not feature any kind of beverage holder
  • Does not feature tray for child

A Sneak Peek at the New House!

It's been about a month since we bought our house, and we've spent the past weeks doing project after project to make it look like it's been our own all along.

There still a ton to do (and frankly there probably always will be) but I figured it was time to give it to share a little sneak peek (with slightly blurry cell-phone pics).

The first thing we did when we bought the house was give the living room, dining room, and kitchen fresh coat of white paint, thanks to a lot of help from friends and family. That change alone did a lot to update the house and make it feel a lot brighter and show off the natural light that streams in from all the windows.

After that were a series of other projects, like repainting the kitchen cabinets, removing the doors to make open shelving and adding new hardware. Previously the owners had given the cabinets a really bad faux bois paint effect, so sanding and painting them white was a huge improvement right there. But I've always had a thing for white kitchens so I was pleased to finally have my own. The one thing I didn't expect however with how much dirt the white would show. That's why I was excited when Mom's Meet and Walgreens sent me some of their new cleaning products from their exclusive natural-products brand called Ology.

They make cleaning up any of the fingerprints left on the cabinets or food splatters a breeze. Plus, the all-purpose spray has a lovely basil lemon scent that freshens up the kitchen beautifully, and I adore the fun packaging. There are tons of other Ology products, from household cleaners to baby products (which I can't wait to try!), toiletries to toilet paper. I have also been using their free-and-clear laundry detergent, which I've found to be gentle on clothes and our sensitive skin while still fighting stains well. I love that like all the brand's products, they are free of dyes, artificial fragrances, phosphates, harmful chemicals and instead feature natural plant-based and mineral-based ingredients.

The last stop in the kitchen (which I didn't photograph), is a corner nook. I'm searching for a table and chairs to fill it, but for now a tableclothed card table is doing the trick. And I envision a lot of fun, colorful artwork hanging on the walls but those are usually finishing touches for me.

Because we lost a lot of kitchen space compared our old house, I had to get smart about creating storage in other places around the house. For instance, I made a China cabinet fashioned from an old cabinet that was in the garage of our old house by painting it white and adding classic gold cup pulls. Inside you'll find a lot of our plastic Tupperware and extra cups and mugs that don't look pretty with the open shelving. It sits in the dining room that adjoins the kitchen, so everything is still at hand whenever it's needed. (Pretty sure that artwork will hang here but as I mentioned earlier, I like to save art-hanging for last.)

The dining room segues directly into the living room, which features some really great, tall walls with windows at the ceiling that allows for tons of natural light. (And hence, plenty of potted foliage!)

Oh and did you notice anything else? We finally broke down and got a television as our Christmas present to ourselves this past year. We got a Roku and a digital antenna and have been quite pleased! They've made for a great way to rewind after a day spent toiling over project after project.

One of the things I was excited about with having wooden floors in nearly every room. Along with that, however meant upgrading to more rugs, and finding ones with personality proved to take some sleuthing but I think we hit the jackpot with the living room one. I love the lived-in feel it adds and the spunky color that ties in with the lampshades I picked up at a thrift store.

That is pretty much the main level, save for the entry way but there's really nothing to showcase there. I'm going to suspend the tour here because this is where most of the work has taken place and the updates are most evident. I'll try to post another update of one of the other floors in another couple weeks. Till then, I'll be keeping myself busy with projects aplenty and a cute little kid running around the place!

(I received the Ology products for free from the sponsor of the Moms MeetSM program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms MeetsSM blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.)

Dear Claire: 15 Month Update (and a Look Back at a Year Ago)

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire,

You keep on growing, growing, growing! We had your 15 month appointment, and you weighed in at 19.5 lbs and 30 inches. And, I recently just had to get you new shoes in size 5!

I got you dressed the other day and realized it was nearly the same outfit you'd worn a year ago when I did one of your first real photoshoots, back when you were only three months old, that we had done on our old house's back deck. So I went on and captured the moment, taking you out on our new deck to document the differences a year can make. See for yourself:



and for fun, because it was too adorable:

Speaking of the new house, we've been here full-time for a couple of weeks, and I don't think the transition has phased you much (except that it still isn't quite as dark in your bedroom as the basement was during naptime). So far, you seem to love it. Especially the outside. We have told you that you can only play outside if you have shoes on, so you say, "Shoe, shoe" when you want O-U-T. (We've had to start spelling it!)

Your Mimi bought you a new swing for the swingset, which you love to play on, as well as have people take you down the swingset's slide. You also discovered the surprise strawberry patch that popped up on the side of the yard and (on your own accord) picked off the only two red strawberries to eat. Between you and the birds/bunnies, the vines are now clean!

Otherwise we've just been settling in here, which you've been keen to play a part in, yourself. You are big into "helping" right now. You love to make a mess and when I tell you it's time to pick things up, you eagerly help. Sometimes, though, you take it a bit too far and pick things up when they shouldn't. For instance, you really like throwing things away--shoes, cell phones, Tupperware. I am on the lookout for a new trashcan whose lid you can't so easily lift. You also love flipping the light switches when we go into or out of a room.

Also, you've started to make some friends in the neighborhood. All around us are little kids (boys, mostly) within a year of your age. Across the street is a boy who's only a day younger than you! We've only hung out with them once or twice for a homemade music class, but I imagine that over the next few years, you all will get to know one another quite well!

Here are some more notes I made over the past month of changes you've shown:
  • You know where your belly button is (a trick Daddy taught you!) and if you see a picture of him, you can say "Da." (If I point to a picture of myself, you just stare at me blankly, though!)
  • You love to say uh-oh and then drop things.
  • Your Mimi loves to sing a nursery rhyme to you about a blackbird snipping off your nose and as soon as she starts to sing it, you pinch your nose because you know that's coming at the end!
  • You can make monkey and seal pup sounds (which you learned from one of your animal-sounds books).
  • You love to try to make people laugh and you discover something that makes us laugh, you will keep doing it over and over again.
  • You love to empty drawers!
  • You can climb up and down stairs pretty smoothly, so we haven't even bothered to try to babyproof the stairs here. (We have however, babyproofed a couple of drawers, if you see the point above!)
  • You love anything that is your-sized for sitting. I finally found you a little wooden chair at a thrift store that you sit in quite a bit!
  • You also are getting into baby dolls and if I ask you, "Where's baby?" you run off to find the one your Grandma got you for Easter!
  • Your hair is long enough for a ponytail although your bangs are still growing out and get in your eyes.
  • Foods you've liked over the past month include hummus, sloppy joe meat, raspberries and raisins. You go through phases with nearly everything, but your morning oatmeal is a staple.
  • You also went swimming for the first time! The neighborhood pool is just down the street, so we took you on opening day and you loved the baby pool. I can foresee quite a few afternoons spent there this summer!
So, as you can see, it's been a big month! I love watching your personality blossom and your insight and intellect grow. Here's to another month and a summer full of fun!


A Week In Our New Home

It's been a week now that we've been living in this place that we now call "home." And a little less than two that we've owned it. And yet, it seems so much longer than that.

In that short amount of time, we've had friends and family give up their own busy schedules to help us paint and organize, drop off meals, watch Claire. We've put together new furniture, started dozens of projects, made incredible progress and already mopped up a geyser of water from a washing machine gone ruly. 

Our sweat and elbow grease are all over this place and it shows--it finally is starting to feel like us.

It is a grand thing, this place of home. And Claire already understands that, somehow knowing that the room with the room with the brightly-colored carpet and neon walls is hers. She loves opening all the cupboard doors and playing on the open deck. I think she understands this is home, our home.

Dear Claire: 14-Month Update

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.) 

Dear Claire,
I am convinced after all your leaps and bounds this month, that you are a genius. It is obvious now that you understand so, so much.

For instance, your love for playing outside is evident when you walk up to us, put your hand up to us so that we’ll hold it, and then walk us to the door where you where ask “ball, ball” (because there are always balls outside to play with, which are now your #1 toy). Sometimes you’ll say, “outside.”

Like I mentioned, your number one toy right now is a ball. It doesn’t matter what shape or size; you’ll walk up, pick it up and walk around with it. You now can throw it and love to try to put it in a basket—just like your uncles when they play basketball. They sure have rubbed off on you! Your other favorite toy right now are baby dolls, sparked by the doll you received in your Easter basket from Grandma. You love to sit in your little chair (perfectly sized for you!) and hold your baby, which is absolutely adorable!

Every once and awhile, I used to play peekaboo with you. I’d usually use a piece of clothing and hold it over your face and ask, “Where’s Claire Bear?!” Then I’d pull it away and say, “There she is!” I honestly didn’t play it that often but this month you started playing it with us; you’d hold something over your face or cover your face with your hands, pull them away and say, “Der she is!” Which of course would get us to play along with you—exactly what you intended.

Along with that, you feel pretty strongly about getting your way and can throw quite the hissy fit (usually involving shrieking loudly) when you don’t. That’s pretty usual for kids your age, I guess, but still, you’ve got quite the dramatics in you!

You can also follow simple commands. I realized this the other night when I found an empty Kleenex box and put some cloths in it and asked you to pull one out. I didn’t demonstrate, but still you reached in and pulled one out. I asked you to do it again, and you did. Then I asked you to put the ones you pulled out into a pile. You followed that command. I’ve been experimenting with more and more commands, such as today when I opened the door to get a package. I asked you to pick it up and carry it to Grandma, which, of course, you did!

You still love shopping and getting out to see new people. Especially so that you can wave at them and blow kisses to strangers and revel in their affection and reactions. (Still, though you love being around people, you don’t have any interest in being held by strangers. Close but not that close is your motto, it seems.)

We have let you start to spoon-feed yourself sometimes, which is obviously quite messy. You do pretty well with your morning oatmeal most days. But a new favorite is to try to feed me (Cheerios, usually) while I’m feeding you. You find it hilarious. (And I find that it helps you eat more—a good thing because you still are quite the dainty eater!)

Consequently, you’re still pretty small, able to fit pretty easily into some of your 3- and 6-month size shorts and bloomers. (Your waist, it seems to be is the smallest part of your body, making you the envy of women everywhere!) Otherwise you’re mostly in 12-month pants and shirts, though some of your summer clothes from last year still fit, just albeit a little snugger and much shorter!

All in all, you’re growing up quickly and before our eyes, blossoming and blooming like the summer weather that is now upon us. Just in time, because next week we close on our house, which is ready and waiting for you with a swing-set in the backyard and plenty of rooms to explore. It’ll all be a crazy whirlwind for a little while, but we’re looking forward to settling in and turning this house into what you will come to know and love as “home.”


The Gift of Taking Time to Get Outside and Play

Some of my most treasured memories are those that involve getting dirty, getting wet and getting intimate with the outdoors as a child.

I can still remember summer days spent splashing in a creek while my dad fished crawdads out from the murky, twig-strewn water and let me see the creatures up close and personal. I can remember my parents taking me by the hand and spending hours walking the paths that encircled a lake near my childhood home, stopping to feed the geese and marveling at all the leaves and greenery around.
I can remember my father finding animal tracks made in the mud around our garage and pointing out whether it was a raccoon or a skunk. I can remember digging through piles of gravel in our side yard, on the quest for uncovering fossils that I kept safe in an old tackle box my father handed over to me when he spotted in me a budding archeologist.

These memories were simple gestures that my parents fostered in me during my earliest of years. They were nothing extravagant, and yet they meant the world to me, and still do. Those days spent losing time in the outdoors gave me an appreciation for the world around me that can’t be found just by seeing pictures of the natural wonders on a computer screen or watching a documentary on the television.

No, the soil that sifted through my fingertips and the treasures I discovered with my own hands brought this world of wonder to life for me in a way that still shines bright for me today: With my windows thrown open, I listen to the crickets and the cardinals chirping outside, a melody that Mother Nature orchestrates daily. When I’m feeling stressed, I lace up my sneakers and take a stroll through a leafy part of my neighborhood, where the sights and sounds are a balm to my soul. When I want to truly connect with someone, whether it’s my spouse or a friend from years past, I invite them to take a walk or a picnic on an open, grassy plain where words can flow just as the wind blows ‘round.

All this stems from those early days lost in nature’s reverie, a gift that my parents gave to me as a young girl as they encouraged me to get outside and get lost in the beauty of this world. It’s that same gift that I hope to pass along to Claire, starting even now, as I take her outside to let her play (sometimes multiple times a day) and let her discover and adventure and dream in the great outdoors.


My Favorite Baby Items: Nursing & Feeding Must-Haves

When I was building my baby registry while I was pregnant with Claire, I poured over different people's lists to see where I should spend my money as well as where I could skip. (If you want to see what made it onto my original baby registry list, check out this post.) Even now, I love seeing what other parents recommend for their children.

So, I thought, as I'm looking back over Claire's first year, I'd recap some of the items we got for Claire that have been the best hits. I'll be sharing these favorites (the things I'd buy over and over again) in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, divided up by category. (You can see all the posts in this series of my favorite baby items.)

Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter: I tried some other kinds but this blew them all out of the water. It's more expensive, but there's a reason for that! I haven't even used half the tiny tub, it was so effective.

Nursing Tank a la Undercover Mama: I didn't want to have to buy a new nursing wardrobe, so I ended up DIY-ing two of these nursing camis (thanks to this tutorial), which I have been using ever since. This way, I can keep my normal wardrobe (although I now stay away from dresses or tops that have belts, but that only eliminates a handful of options) and still be able to easily (and discreetly!) nurse. (Notably, I never had any luck using a cover to nurse her.)

Sassy Wonder Wheel: Once Claire was in a high chair, we needed to start using toys to entertain her so that she'd stay up there long enough to eat. This toy attaches to the tray with suction and then you can spin it and there are balls inside that rattle. Claire liked it a lot at first, but now she's pretty used to it, though we still have it fixed to her chair.

Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker: This little gadget is so helpful if you're interested in making any of your baby's food. I use it all the time to make batches. I love that it's an all-in-one device so that you can steam the food and puree it without dirtying multiple containers. And it works so well. It steams quickly and purees foods smoother than any food processor I've used. (In fact, if I'm just making a small batch of anything that I need blended up, I often opt for this instead of my big processor!)

OXO Tot Baby Blocks Freezer Storage Containers: I love these little containers! After making a big batch of baby food, I'll freeze helpings in an ice cube tray. When it comes time to pick out a new "meal" for Claire, I'll pick a couple of the frozen foods, drop them in these containers and then pop them in the fridge. They're a perfect size for the size of meals that Claire likes to eat, so they don't take up space or feel wasteful. Plus, they're really sturdy and have held up great.

Medela Breastmilk Bottle Set: This came with my breastpump and it turned out to be the only kind of bottle Claire would take. (Of course, I had bought bottles specifically for breastfed babies and she still preferred these!)

Dear Claire: 13-Month Update

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.) 

Dear Claire,

Here are the latest updates in this budding little life of yours over the past month:
  • You have started blowing kisses, especially when you see daddy.
  • You can wave “hi” and “bye.”
  • One of your favorite games is to go up to a photograph and say, “Who is that?” You especially love Grandma’s gallery wall where you point at pictures of yourself and your uncle and ask that over and over.
  • You also love to ask, “What is that?” when you see something you’re interested in.
  • When you see something you like, you often will say, “It’s a ball!” (Everything is a ball.)
  • Your appetite has slowed and you’ve rejected a lot of the foods you formerly loved, so I’ve been trying to experiment with new ones to keep you eating enough solid foods. Lately, you’ve been enjoying oatmeal, peanut butter, hummus, almond milk. And you still love rice cereal, chips/crackers/pretzels, and bananas, so long as we let you feed them to yourself.
  • You still nurse a handful of times a day, and I love those moments with you.
  • A favorite little game you like to play is walk up to someone and start running in place, in hopes that we’ll do it back to you. Then, you start back up and we do it simultaneously. You love this!
  • You went to your first baseball game of the season and loved all the action!
  • Also, the weather has turned nice and so you’ve been playing outside when it’s warm enough (it has been unseasonably cold this spring!) and have loved getting to walk around in the grass, discover rocks, pull up leaves, and otherwise get to adventure!
  • If we ask you for a kiss, you’ll lean your head in toward us so we can kiss you. It’s so adorable!
  • You are now up to 8 teeth: 4 on top, 4 on bottom. The last two came in at the same time this past month, but you bore it like a champ. I think you’re teething right now, because you have been drooling a lot lately, but you never let me look in your mouth so I usually don’t realize you’ve broken anything until it’s well through.
  • For the past month or so, you’ve been taking one long nap around lunchtime, usually for 2 to 3 hours. Nighttime you usually go to bed around 9 or 10. If you accidentally fall asleep in the car, that throws everything off, but we have learned to roll with the punches around here, so I don’t mind. We can always get back to the swing of things tomorrow!
  • Much to my joy, you are starting to get a little more interested in books, finding them and opening them up and looking at their pictures. You’ll sit still long enough for us to read a couple of pages before you take it away and insist on playing with it on your own. We still don’t really read on a daily basis but I’ve been trying to incorporate it more.
  • You still love to dance and clap and anything music-related. We may not read daily, but we sure do make time to dance and sing multiple times a day!
  • You also are our little opportunist who gets into all sorts of things that you know you’re not supposed to. It’s like you have radar, when a certain door opens that we otherwise keep locked or closed. You make a beeline to try to get in before it closes and see what damage you can do. If we aren’t careful there will be grocery items or Q-Tips or office papers strewn all over the floor in just a matter of minutes!
  • Your hair just keeps getting longer and longer—and, consequently, crazier and crazier. If I stretch it out in the back, it can reach down your back a couple of inches (but typically curls up to look like a bob), and your bangs are past your nose. I try to keep your bangs pulled back, but you pull your barrettes out so more often than not, you’re peering out at the world through a fringe of bangs!
  • You love your family and squeal with joy when you see one of us return after being gone for awhile. It is utter joy that makes us feel so loved. On the flip side, you still hate when we leave you. Consequently, I’m still hanging out with you in the nursery at church during the service!
  • You’ll walk along beside us, holding a finger. If I hold it out, you’ll come running up and grab it to walk with me. If I ask you to come, oftentimes (but not always!) you’ll come.

Finding a New Home

Life as of late has been lived indoors, thanks to the off-and-on cold and/or rainy weather that the Midwest has been sending our way. (There's talk of snow flurries this week. Talk about a welcome home!)

But it seems fitting, this drive to the indoors, because right now we’re in the throes of house buying and are actually under contract on a house right now. It's been an exciting time, as we could see ourselves staying in this house for quite some time.

There's plenty that I'd like to do to this home (it currently is a mess of tans and decorating projects gone bad, including faux-bois on the kitchen cabinets and kids' painted handprints in the bathroom), and so I find myself researching all sorts of DIY ideas and paint colors and furniture purchases and a myriad of other things you can monitor along with me on Pinterest.

But the best thing we love is the location, which is in a part of town that's woven with walking paths and a pool just down the block and lots and lots of families littering the neighborhood. And it's not far from my husband's work (10 mins), church (5 mins), or our families (20 mins). I didn't know if it was possible, but things are starting to come together, it seems...

We are pacing ourselves in the process, trying to keep the future firmly in mind (along with the reality that life with a toddler naturally limits a lot of remodeling or redecorating) rather than get whisked away by pretty hardwoods and freshly renovated kitchenscapes. It can be quite the balance to strike!

I find myself having to remind myself to hold things loosely, that phrase that I feel as a banner over me now. I look at the stained floors and the pretty hues and I tell myself to calm. I look at the ridiculous wall paint choices or the cramped closets and I tell myself to calm. It is just a house, but I know the Lord cares about it for us all the same. I trust that he will guide us, as he did the first time around, to a house that will—in the end—suit us perfectly, as our first did for the year and a half that we lived there. And then when we needed to leave it behind, it sold without a hitch. The Lord saw us through that and I trust him to see us through this next one.

So I hold these things—the hopes, the hitches, the possibilities and the problems—loosely. I am learning this process slowly. I am being taught to practice at it constantly. But what matters, is that I am learning. And I am loosening this grip of mine.

My Favorite Baby Items: The Unexpected Essentials

When I was building my baby registry while I was pregnant with Claire, I poured over different people's lists to see where I should spend my money as well as where I could skip. (If you want to see what made it onto my original baby registry list, check out this post.) Even now, I love seeing what other parents recommend for their children.

So, I thought, as I'm looking back over Claire's first year, I'd recap some of the items we got for Claire that have been the best hits. I'll be sharing these favorites (the things I'd buy over and over again) in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, divided up by category. (You can see all the posts in this series of my favorite baby items.)

Brica Baby In-Sight Mirror: I never realized how much I'd rely on this little mirror that straps onto your seat so you can keep an eye on the babe in the car. But even now, a year in, I still love being able to check on Claire while we're driving around, whether it's to see if she's falling asleep or figure out why she's mad (Is the sun in her eyes? Did she drop a toy?, etc.).

WubbaNub Pacifier: I already mentioned in my previous post that this was an essential toy for Claire, one that she always had with her. The fact that it brought her such comfort is why it was such an essential for me, too! I had never anticipated needing to use pacifiers (especially since I never took one as a baby) but when I saw the difference it made, I was a convert!!

Hotslings Adjustable Pouch Baby Sling: This was the main sling I used with Claire, having tried three others in a vain attempt to figure out what would comfort her (since she always wanted to be held) and would provide me some comfort in the process. I say "some comfort" because since most of her weight sits on one shoulder, as she got heavier, it got more burdensome. But for the most part, it was bearable and she adored being held tight in here. (In spite of the fact that she hated being swaddled, surprisingly.) It was one of the easiest ways to get her to sleep.

Ergo Baby Carrier: This was my second favorite carrier, and one my husband used a lot. While I could get it on single-handedly, it was a little cumbersome and hard to put on once baby was already asleep. The only thing I don't think Claire liked about it was that she couldn't see and people-watch as easily as she could from her perch in the sling pouch. Still, it was very comfortable for me to wear and I like it even now because it transitions into a side carrier for putting her on my hip and being able to multi-task with ease.

Pack n Play with Changing Table and Bassinet: When Claire was first born, she would not sleep in her crib. I think it was just too big for her. But we found that she would sleep in this bite-sized bassinet. We also liked using it as a changing table and likely will use it for that purpose whenever we buy our own house.

Apple iPod Touch: Oh, beautiful, wonderful technology. My husband bought this for me as a pre-birth gift before having Claire. So once she was born, my apps were already loaded and ready to go, which was so helpful in tracking her schedule as well as taking my mind off those late-night feedings when I could read an e-book or catch up on Facebook. It also enabled me to easily snap impromptu photos, especially of the sleeping variety when Claire wouldn't leave my arms. I think this helped keep me sane so much back then!

Celebrating My First Year as a Mom & A Look Back at How It Changed Me

Now that I’ve crossed the threshold of my first year of motherhood, I can look back on it and see the beauty of it. There was plenty of hardship, as I’ve shared countless times through the course of this past year. But becoming a mom has brought so many changes. Not just to my sleep cycle or the fact that being peed on doesn’t gross me out in the slightest. It has changed me....

Now that I’ve crossed the threshold of my first year of motherhood, I can look back on it and see the beauty of it. There was plenty of hardship, as I’ve shared countless times through the course of this past year. But becoming a mom has brought so many changes. Not just to my sleep cycle or the fact that being peed on doesn’t gross me out in the slightest.

It has changed me.

There have been so many times when I don’t want to do things for Claire. When I don’t want to change another diaper or stop what I’m doing so I can pick her up and comfort her. When I don’t want to hold my frustration in and respond with a smile instead of a scream.

But I know that my actions matter. In a way that they never have before. My love matters. I know that I have the choice with how I respond to her and what those responses can add up to. There is power in how I treat her and how I love her.

And I have seen it shape this crazy little baby who started out crying all the time into a toddler now who is filled with joy. I like to think that I have helped give her that joy. That my selflessness—even when it was forced out through gritted teeth—has made a difference.

Certainly, I make mistakes in my mothering, and I would never claim anything near perfection. But I know I have tried hard and I can say I’m proud of the mom I’ve become, proud of the woman that being Claire’s mom has made me. Her pitiful, soul-shattering cries have taught me patience. Her unwillingness to sleep except curled up in my arms has helped me become flexible and learn to let the tasks and expectations of the day slip to the ground. Her stubbornness has taught me to laugh instead of stew.

Through it all, I’m learning to melt myself into this role of being a mom, a role that is shaving off the prickly parts of my heart and creating in me a version of myself richer and deeper than I’d thought possible. And we’re only a year in. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of decades have in store!

In celebration of how becoming a parent can make you a better person, BlogHer has teamed up with the Dreamworks' movie, Delivery Man. In it, David (Vince Vaughn) finds out that he’s a dad and goes on a hilarious and heartwarming journey to find his long-lost children—and his true self. The movie comes out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on March 25, which you can pre-order here. (Watch the movie’s trailer or visit the Delivery Man Facebook page to learn more about the movie.)

Plus, BlogHer is offering up a $100 Visa gift card to one Life Blessons reader who comments, letting me know: “How have your kids changed you for the better?”

Sweepstakes Rules: No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods: Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry. This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winner will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules are available here. This sweepstakes runs from 3/20/14 – 4/17/14. Be sure to visit the Delivery Man page on where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win! 

My Favorite Baby Items: Toys from Birth to Six Months

When I was building my baby registry while I was pregnant with Claire, I poured over different people's lists to see where I should spend my money as well as where I could skip. (If you want to see what made it onto my original baby registry list, check out this post.) Even now, I love seeing what other parents recommend for their children.

So, I thought, as I'm looking back over Claire's first year, I'd recap some of the items we got for Claire that have been the best hits. I'll be sharing these favorites (the things I'd buy over and over again) in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, divided up by category. (You can see all the posts in this series of my favorite baby items.)

Bright Starts Snuggle & Teethe Monkey Teether: Claire loved this little guy. We hung it on the side of her changing table and it was the first thing that made her smile. She never really played with him (especially not as a teether toy), but the fact that he was the first toy she ever took such an interest in is why he holds a special place in our toy box!

WubbaNub Pacifier: I don't know that we could have made it through the first couple of months without this. I never had any intention to use a pacifier but now I realize that as a parent, you don't really get to "choose." If your baby wants it and it's the only thing that calms them? Well then, baby gets it. The only thing I didn't like about these was how difficult they were to sanitize. In the haze of newborn-ness, I would often turn the water on to boil, only to forget about the WubbaNub draped over the side. Consequently, the stuffed animals on both her WubbaNubs have burnt tummies. Whoops. (And if you want to know why I included it in toys: Well, it has a stuffed animal attached to it. Claire's eyes would light up whenever she saw it come near!)

Fisher-Price Discover 'n Grow Kick and Play Piano Gym: This was such a fun play gym! You lay the baby down and they kick and make it play music. Even now, Claire will still sit down sometimes and pound on the keys, even though we long ago took the arch down. I also like you can detach the toys; she still plays with those sometimes, too.

Musical Bouncer: Claire was always interested in knowing what was going on around her, so using this as a booster seat made her a great deal happier. I'm not sure that she cared about the vibrating option but it was a huge help that she could entertain herself by hitting the musical components so that I could take a few breaks for myself!

Bunnies By The Bay Bye Bye Buddy Blanket: She always wanted to have something in her hand when she was falling asleep, so we used this blanket. Once she stopped using a pacifier (around 6 months), we stopped using this, too, because all she wanted to was put her thumb in her mouth. But I love how soft and cuddly this was--and it didn't have a rattle in it (surprisingly hard to find, but essential when you're talking about using it for sleep!).

What I Look For in a High Chair (And One that Fits the Bill)

Claire has been eating solid foods for the past six months. Over that time, I’ve had quite the crash course in high chairs, from ones that are expensive to those generic ones in restaurants to makeshift ones (we used the Bumbo seat for a lot of feedings when we first started out) and everything in between.

I’ve been on the search for the perfect high chair for my lifestyle, which is how I came across the Ingenuity ChairMate High Chair.

One of the things I’ve learned during this time testing and trying out different versions and attributes is that there are a couple things that are key to me:
  • I want my high chair to take up as little space as possible but be easily portable
  • It must have a washable surface that can easily be machine-washed (because Claire often loves to feed herself—which invariably makes for a huge mess that not only includes her face and hands but every other surface within reach)
  • I want it to feel safe and sturdy for my baby so that if I need to step away and grab something from the fridge, I can do so without worry that my darling is going to be in danger
All of these qualities come together in the ChairMate, which the folks at Ingenuity generously provided for this review. (Of course, as always, all opinions are my own.) Here is a run-down of some of those features this high chair offers:
  • The cover is easy to get on and off and features stain-resistant material that can easily be machine-washed. But my favorite feature is that there is a clip-on tray that you can easily pop off and rinse without having to unfasten the entire tray. It makes running it under the kitchen faucet a breeze! (It also is dishwasher-safe, but I haven’t tried that.)

  • It’s lightweight, making it so that you can easily move it around. And since it’s fastened to the chair easily with straps, it isn’t a chore to unbuckle it and move it if you need to, making it a viable option for on-the-go if you need it.

  • The high chair attaches directly to one of your own kitchen chairs. I tried it on a variety of chairs and never faced an issue. Pretty much as long as you can fasten the straps along the underside of the chair and around it’s back, you can use this high chair.

  • It was easy to put together. (I didn’t even have to reference the instruction manual it was so intuitive!) It also includes four different height positions so that it can easily accommodate almost any table or chair height. There are also two recline positions. (I do wish there was more customization for the recline position, because Claire still seems to sit back a bit further than she does in her other chairs, but that hasn’t seemed to cause a problem.)

  • Plus, it easily grows with baby by converting to a booster once they get older so that you don't have to buy something additional later one. This is an aspect that is taken into account with all of the products from Ingenuity: “When we can, we strive to save you money,” they say, “such as high chairs and floor seats that grow with baby by converting to boosters, and swings with patented technology that makes batteries last twice as long. Every product Ingenuity offers starts with one question: How can these meet babies’ needs, but make life easier for parents?”

  • While I was a little hesitant about using straps to secure the high chair at first, I haven’t had any issues with the stability or sturdiness of the chair. I’ve even picked Claire up while she’s strapped in and moved the chair (like for the photoshoot I did!) and the seat didn’t even seem to wiggle in the chair. I think as long as you’re strapping it to a sturdy chair and make sure you get the straps at tight as possible (which surprisingly is quite easy), then I don’t think there are any issues with safety.

  • The ChairMate high chair comes in a variety of designs, but the one I received is the “Emerson,” which is available exclusively at Babies ‘R’ Us. The Emerson features an adorable and gender-neutral teal and green polka-dot pattern with two smiley-faced hippos in the middle. Perfect for any baby who makes you feel like you’re feeding a hungry, hungry hippo!
All that to say, that this high chair has been a happy addition to our feeding routine and I expect it will continue to be for the years to come!

(You can find out more about the Ingenuity ChairMate High Chair, as well as other products from Ingenuity. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.)
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