December 3, 2015

Pennant Quilt for Tuppy

Please explain to me how my kids friends are old enough to not only be married but starting families of their own!  This is both shocking, after all how can I possibly be that old????  And wonderful to see these young couples devoting their lives to each other as they serve the Lord and set out to raise up the next generation.  There are few couples who so purposefully strive for the Lord's will in every area of their lives as much as Brandon and Julianne.  And we are so incredibly excited to be eagerly waiting for the arrival of their first son.  Some time ago, when I was making Addison's quilt, I promised Julianne she would have one for her first baby.  So it was with great joy I set out to make this pennant quilt.  

November 2, 2015

Zig Zag Quilt for Baby G

I rarely make a quilt to give away.  Actually, I can think of only one time I have done so.  It just takes too much time and work and love to make a quilt.  And I hate the idea of turning it over to someone who might not love it as much as I do.  However, this summer we had a very special little one enter our world.  And no matter what gift I came up with nothing seemed just right except a quilt.  

I've been wanting to do a chevron or zig zag for some time and it seemed to suit this little fellow just perfect.  I started out wanting to do teals and reds but I couldn't find fabrics in those colors that were just right so I ended up with orange and a not quite turquoise.  I usually don't use kid sort of fabrics even when making a baby quilt because I want their quilts to grow with them.   However, I knew Baby G's nursery was going to be woodland themed so we worked in an adorable animal print as well.  It came out really cute, but I still worry that in a few years it will be too babyish for a little man.  

August 27, 2015

Princesses and the Little Ones

My big girls have been babysitting these little girlies since they were born.  And my little girls have grown up playing with these sisters.  And one of their favorite things to play together is dress-up.  When they are finished our house looks like Aunt Sherry's costume shop kind of exploded.  

August 20, 2015

Why Disney Is the Happiest Place on Earth for Families

Dear reader Jenny from Ohio asked how we manage Disney World with a large family.  I have gotten this question many times in the past but never had the time to really post about it.  I still don't have time to post about but I love to share Disney with others.  Aside from our favorite beach spot and a mountain resort near our home Disney world is our favorite family vacation destination.  There is a lot of stuff out there on planning a Disney vacation but lets face it not so much for the larger than 2.5 kid families.  We have successfully managed 5 trips with our family so I feel somewhat qualified.  Perhaps by the time Allen and I have taken jobs in the Kingdom to pay for the annual trek with our grand kids (yes, this is officially part of dear hubby's retirement plans) we will have figured it all out?

August 19, 2015

Saving For a Trip to Walt Disney World (or any vacation)

But it still costs so much money!  Yes, a trip to WDW costs more than any other domestic vacation.  I have no facts to back that up.  I'm just saying.  It costs a lot.  We are definitely not independently wealthy so a question we hear a lot (and by the way I think it is a rude sort of question) is how do we fund it?

August 18, 2015

Where To Stay at Disney

So you can't save much on tickets and you will spend a ridiculous amount of money on food.  As I have shared in previous posts there isn't so much you can do there.  But here is my favorite tip for people trying to plan a Walt Disney World Trip.  Don't Stay on Disney.

People get the idea that staying on Disney is like having the theme parks in your back yard.  That is not true.  Except for one or two hotels (which will not have room for more than a family of four) you must drive or take the bus or train to everywhere you want to go on Disney.  Although, Disney promotes their transportation as convenient, most guests report it is not.  It takes a long time (on average about an hour) to go anywhere using the Disney transportation systems.  Plus, you are locked in to their time tables.  It, in fact I am told, takes less time to get to the theme parks when staying in one of the surrounding towns of Kissimee and driving your own car.

The one down side to staying off Disney is the crazy parking expense once you get to the theme parks.  I think it was $14 a day last time we were there.  And it goes up every year.  When you are talking a day or two it is not a very significant part of your vacation expenditure.  And yet, if you are visiting the parks for ten days it becomes a hefty sun.  However, even with the added cost of parking, you save a killing by staying off Disney. 

Which brings me to my favorite tidbit.   For a fraction of the cost of even one economy Disney hotel room which is equivalent to a cheap econo lodge type room, we rent a 2600 (or larger) house with 4-6 bedrooms, a private heated pool, usually a game room, multiple bathrooms, a full kitchen (which means you aren't stuck eating out night after night - a healthier and less expensive option) etc... We usually plan extra non Disney days in our vacation to just stay at the house and swim and enjoy the various amenities such as a private movie theater, tennis courts or whatever else is offered in the community.  You might think a house like this is crazy expensive but with all fees and taxes included we rent these houses for the negotiated rate of $600 a week (that's with the heated pool option).

The closest thing Disney resorts offers that will house our entire family is one of their villas and it runs in the neighborhood of $4000 a week.  And we would still have neighbors upstairs and downstairs.

Now, there are perks to staying on property that may make the added cost work better for you.  Resort guests get extra magic hours, have access to the Disney meal plan and can make fast pass plus reservations 60 days in advance.  Non of these options are available if you stay off property.
However, even figuring all that in, we find staying in a private house works best for our family.  I have used VRBO, FlipKey and to find vacation homes.   One last word of advice, Whereas hotels, time shares, and rental companies won't negotiate price, private home owners will often agree to large discounts, particularly if you are traveling off season.  Make an offer or ask if they can do better on the price.  One home owner, whose house was listed for $110 a night during the off season plus a significant tax and fees, agreed to $600 a week, all included because we have rented with him multiple times before.

Still not sold?  Compare this listing with a Disney resort in the same price range.  

August 17, 2015

Saving on Tickets to Walt Disney World

When planning a trip to Disney everyone is always looking for ways to save money.  When it comes to park tickets there really is not very much in the way of savings to be had unless you are a Florida resident or in the military.  If you would go multiple times in a year, you may be able to save with an annual pass but the big savings on a annual pass really only come when there are a lot of factors all coming in to play....

1- you will make several trips in a year
2-you will be staying on Disney property
3-you will spend a lot on dining in the restaurants included in the food card discount plan
4-you will be driving your car to the parks instead of using resort guests transportation
5-you will be spending a lot in the gift shops
6-you will be traveling with a large group

We run the numbers every time and even with our gang we would not quite even break even on the annual pass for one visit.  However, do your research and run your numbers because everyone's circumstances are a little different and it may pay off for you.  Pay close attention, though, because there are tricks and exclusions.  For example, annual pass holders do receive a 20% discount on restaurant dining.  However, the card is an additional $100 and not good in every restaurant.   The ones included tend to be the more expensive ones.  So be sure to consider where you want to eat and if there will be reservations available during the time you plan to visit.
We do buy our tickets in advance from a third party and we save about $5 per person for a two week trip.  That's not really a great deal and probably not worth the effort if there are only four of you traveling.  For our gang it amounted to enough savings to add an additional day to our park tickets.  This gave us 8 days in the parks instead of 7.  We like the more relaxed vacation of having extra days so we can spend a day by the pool and after naptime go to the park for dinner and one of the evening shows.  That way we really enjoy the show instead of being worn out from the day and having little ones asleep in the buggy instead of enjoying the fireworks or program.  This trip we have three such days on the schedule when we will be seeing Illuminations, Fantasmic, and at Magic Kingdom Wishes and the Electric Magic Parade.

The first time we went to Disney we were a little concerned about buying third party tickets but Touring Plans said they were trustworthy so we gave it a whirl.  Back in 2003 the savings were very substantial.  After paying for a five day pass each additional day was only about a dollar a ticket.  We bought 14 day tickets and weren't bothered at all about whether we used all the days or not.  It was far cheaper than park hopper tickets and all the Disney options to give you the flexibility we were looking for.  We bought the tickets and had no trouble and we have bought our tickets this way for every single trip we've taken to Disney since.  Just one more reason I love the Unofficial Guide.

August 16, 2015

Choosing the Right Time For A Trip To Disney World

The time you choose to visit Disney World will in large part dictate your vacation.  We have been there in September, October, November, December and March.  There are things I love, and don't so much love, in each time frame.  I strongly urge you to give a lot of consideration to how you schedule your trip, taking into consideration your families needs, desires and vision for your vacation.  As a home school family and with Allen's slightly more flexible work schedule we can be more choosy as to when we travel but I will acknowledge not everyone has the same choices when scheduling time away.  If at all possible take your kids out of school and go during the slower times.  You will be so glad you did.

August 15, 2015

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

Back in January Carmella woke up one day and said, "Mickey Mouse wants me to come visit him."  I have no idea where that came from.  She has never taken any interest in Mickey Mouse.  She has never seen a Mickey movie nor as best as I can remember has she ever even read a book which features Mickey Mouse.  But she was determined.  Addison was at a very low point and it didn't look as if he would be up to even traveling to the mountains two hours away for my birthday celebration in February never mind being able to withstand the stress of a trip to some place as big and loud and hot as Disney World.  At that time he weighed in at fourteen pounds and his weight loss was a great concern for our family.  Allen told Carmella we couldn't take Addison to Disney World right now but when he reached 18 pounds we would take her.  True to his word, and because I think he was looking for an excuse to go to Disney World, Allen decided we would head to Florida this fall.
circa 2012
Now the time is here when everyone is looking forward to vacation.  Our typical beach planning is usually limited to emailing our land lady to notify her of our arrival date, calling on our pet sitters and putting a bathing suit and stack of books into a suitcase.  However, a trip to Disney World requires a lot more planning and strategy.  It really is a lot of work to get ready for such a trip however I truly believe when you are talking so many options and so many people the advanced planning makes for the best possible outcome.

I often get emails asking how to make a Disney World vacation work for a family of our size.  This seems as good a time as any to share some of what has been successful for us.  I have grand ideas about a nice series here.  However, let's be realistic.  Not many of my plans work out these days.  That is doubly true when it comes to this little neglected blog.  However, I will do what I can and we will all see how it comes out.  Leave your specific questions in the comment section and I will try, try, try to get them.

The very first thing I ever do when going to Walt Disney World is pick up the newest edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  This book covers everything you ever need to know to make a successful Disney trip.  848 pages covering lodging, restaurants and attractions as well as all the ins and outs of guests, cast members, cell phone charging stations, rest rooms, and a bunch of other stuff I can't think of right now.  If you need to know anything about Walt Disney World this is the place to look.  And, yes, I always buy the newest edition because 1- I always end up passing our marked up, wet from the pool, dog eared copy on to someone else and 2- the newest edition will have the latest attractions, like all new stuff happening in the new Fantasy Land as well as new protocol like Fast Pass +.  Yes, this is all available on line at various places but I like the simplicity of having it all in one place and these guys seriously have made a job out of finding ways around crowds and systems.  These fellows are also super friendly and helpful.  I have emailed them with specific questions about planning and timing over the years and they always get back to me with in the same day.  Along with the book we update our subscription to Touring which gives access to crowd calendars and a phone app which all truly make it possible for you to minimize your stress and maximize your family fun.  These days you can find lots of good stuff on their blog and on their Google+ page as well.  On our last trip in 2013 we decided to surprise the kids with a last minute trip during one of the busiest times at Disney and even with little planning we had a great time by utilizing these tools.

August 12, 2015

Top Seven Parenting Books

I can hardly believe I set out on my parenting journey without a single child training or parenting book.  I started reading parenting books about the time Emma was born.  I have enjoyed doing many reviews for such books over the years and have built quiet a library of books we share with parents who come seeking advice.  Before this post gets under way, clearly understand, with the exception of Proverbs, I do not endorse every idea or teaching in any one book.  You must read, think and decide for yourselves what is the best way to parent your child.  This is not an all inclusive list but rather the ones which came to my mind first.
If we go no further we can find everything we need to successfully raise our children right in this tiny book.  Make it a habit to read it every day of your life.  Better yet, read it with your children and you will all be better for it.

What to Expect When You Are Expecting  by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
This book was given to me when I was expecting Kaitlin.  In the days before the internet and with no mother figure to go to this was an invaluable resource for me.

Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Glade Curtis
Again, this book was given to me when I was expecting Kaitlin.  I loved reading each week to see how baby was growing and developing.  With modern apps I suppose it is obsolete now but my kids insisted it was a must for the list because we all still loved to pull it out with Addison.

On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo
I think all expecting parents would profit by reading and applying the principles shared by the Ezzos.

ESP Character Training by Kim Doebler
This book is an excellent volume on teaching your children self control and character training from toddler hood and up.

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman
This is a book is one I think everyone should read and apply to the relationships in their life.  It will help you love your husband, mother, friend and children better.  It will help you understand how they both show and receive love.  When I first read this book about 20 years ago it even helped me understand me better.

Shepherding A Child's Heart by Ted Tripp
An excellent book on how to reach the heart of your children and connect with those heart strings to have positive lifelong influence over your children.

August 11, 2015

10 Favorite Baby Board Books

Reading is one of the best things you can do for your little one.  It not only helps with brain development and will ultimately be the early steps to teaching your baby to read, but it also provides fun for playtime, transitions to nap times and wind down for bed time.  My favorite part about reading to baby?  I get to just sit and rock and snuggle as long as the books don't run out.  What you read makes no difference really.  Keep the books short and colorful with only a small amount of text on each page.  And makes sure its something that doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the eye.  There are some very lousy kids books out there.  Below are some of our all time favorites.  You really don't need more than 10 or so at first because up until about 3 years old your kiddos will want you to read the same book over and over and over.  Brianna's favorite book was Goodnight Moon.  We would return our copy to the library each week and she would check out another copy.  And we owned a copy at home.  We read it every day at nap and bedtime.  At least 3 or 4 times through.   Use your library when you are ready to expand the selection and if you are going to make a purchase check out Amazon and eBay for used books.  They will serve you a fortune!

August 10, 2015

Toys To Grow With Baby

Kids have too many toys.  They truly don't need much.  And giving them too much stifles their thought processes and creativity.  And its a waste of everyone's money.  We managed to raise our children with a few dolls, leggos, a doll house and a set of Thomas trains.  We also kept a running supply of bubbles, crayons and side walk chalk.  Our kids have always enjoyed playing on their own and inventing their own artistic and creative games.  I have NEVER heard the words, "I'm bored" and, with only one exception I can think of, visiting children usually delight in our play room and nursery and are sorry when it is time to leave.

Most of the toys kids own today possess no actual redeeming quality.  Which takes us to the why do kids have so many toys?  Because they get a toy whose amazing draw is the noise or flashing lights it exhibits.  There is little to no actual thinking or interaction going on so the child quickly becomes bored and that toy gets tossed aside.  In the meantime, they have not learned how to use their brains so they expect they need to have something entertaining them or a lot of input in order to stay interested.  It is a vicious cycle for sure.

We could all live in smaller houses, have less to pick up and enjoy more cash in our pockets if we would focus our children's play time on creative and constructive play versus toys with flashing lights and obnoxious noise.  Pots and pans along with a wooden spoon will create endless hours of play time as your little one cooks up some soup, becomes a robot and joins a marching band.

When we do invest in toys, it is more profitable to avoid the pitfalls of the latest and greatest and instead invest in educational toys which can build language and motor skills.  These toys are all the better if they will grow with our little ones.  A ring stacking toy makes an excellent teething ring for a 6 month old, a good way to practice find motor skills for a one year old and a good method to teach colors for the 18 month old.  Your little one can also practice banging the rings together and putting them in a bowl for more fine motor development.  Compare that to a stuffed animal which sings some annoying song in an electronic voice when you squeeze the ear.  No brainer in my book which is the better choice.

For our family we have always made it a hard fast rule not to have toys with batteries.  For one thing all those flashing lights and blaring sounds are not good for your little ones brain development.  And when baby has a full time diet of such toys he doesn't learn to look around his environment and observe and explore.  Children exposed to much stimulation tend to be fussier, have shorter attention spans and interrupted sleep habits.  And, to be perfectly honest, if those weren't reasons enough to avoid such play things, I can not stand all that racket.  It truly sets my nerves on edge within minutes.  As your battery operated toys level increases you will find the chaos and noise level quickly increase as well.  Before you know it everyone is shouting and kids are running in every which direction.

We were recently at a child's birthday party where multiple children were playing with multiple noise making toys all at the same time.  I couldn't make it five minutes in that room before I had to step outside. One glance at Addison and I saw he was shutting down from all the over stimulation.

Truly, all baby needs for the first few months is to see faces and hear voices.  Nothing else will make baby smile and giggle more or soothe that fussy little one than to hear pa sing some goofy made up song with a silly grin on his face.  Up until baby is several months old they will have no interest in play things, nor the motor skills to use them.  However, if you want to prepare for the first year or two there are some very nice quality toys you can invest in.

I personally try to limit the plastic in our house.  There are just too many chemicals and we have too many allergy sufferers.  I always go for a natural wood toys when possible. We are even more adamant about this since Addison came into our world.  Some studies show people with Down Syndrome are more sensitive to chemicals and the affects on brain development are substantial.  I certainly don't want to do anything which could make life more challenging for him than it already is.

My favorite toy companies are Melissa and Doug, Hape, Lakeshore and Plan Toys.  There are lots of other good companies out there but these companies offer good quality at better prices than most and their products are readily available on the web.      

My top 10 favorite toys for little guys, in no particular order:
Shape Sorter
Little Vehicles... plans, cars, etc...
Little People Farm
Pop Up Fire Truck

Bonus:  For our newborns a favorite toy has always been a little tiny silver bell with a teething ring attached.  I am sure this does not pass modern safety standards.  It has been around since my brother and I were babies.  Why do I love it?  It is easy for baby to grasp and light enough for even the youngest of babies to get a sound out of.  Even Addison with hypotonia was able to enjoy this toy almost from birth.

August 9, 2015

Items You Actually Need For Your New Baby

So now that we have all that nasty business out of the way the question still remains what does baby actually need?  This is every single thing, and a few extras, that I find we use with our little ones... say 6 months and younger.   And truly there are still items on this list you could do without if you are tight on cash.

Don't forget to check out Good Will, eBay and other second hand outlets for used items.  Even after 9 kids many of our baby items still have lots of life in them.  You can find almost new items for a fraction of the retail cost by searching thrift stores.

Also, ask your friends who have little ones slightly older than your baby.  An infant car seat can set you back as much as $200.  Most children only use them for 1 year.  Federal law prohibits car seats to be sold second hand so you can't save on the purchase.  Most children use them for only 1 year before they move to a forward facing car seat.  They can run up $300 or even more.  The infant car seat gets stored.  In Maryland, I don't know if this is federal regulation or not, infant car seats must be replaced every 5 years.  So for most people they would have to buy a new infant seat if and when they have another baby.  I am sure your friends would be happy not to have an unused car seat sitting around taking up space in their garage and you can save some cash for that trip to Disney World.  Can you tell what's on our minds these days?

For diapering
Diaper ointment
Baby powder

Diapers:  cloth or disposable.  Only buy one or two packages of the newborn size and have a package of size 1 on hand as well.  Many babies will never fit newborn diapers at all.  Those who do will very quickly outgrow them.  Even our preemies fit newborn diapers only for a month or so.  If someone is throwing a diaper shower, which is quite a popular trend these days, opt for size  2 diapers which babies use for much longer.  With our last two babies we joined Amazon Moms and when combined with our Prime membership we save a lot on diapers and they are delivered right to our front door.
Wipes:  I use these for little faces, hands, cleaning the high chair tray and even diaper changes.  You can stock up because you will find lots of uses as well... say when you are on an 18 hour road trip and an overwhelming urge hits to clean the dashboard.  There are some good generic brands out there which will save you lots of money but not all are created equal.  I love the Sam's Club brand (Member's Mark) but never liked the Walmart Equate brand.
Diaper ointment:  Balmex is my all time favorite.  It really protects but does not require a lot of strenuous rubbing to clean it off baby's bottom.  Some brands are so difficult to clean it causes pain to already tender skin.  Usually one application knocks out diaper rash.
Baby powder:  This is really not necessary but purely because I love the finishing touch of powder on a fresh bum... and it smells so sweet when you scoop your little one of of bed.  Don't use Balmex and Powder at the same time... yikes!  It's like papier mache.


Baby Soap
Baby nail clippers
Baby wash clothes (1 or 2)

Baby Soap:  I am very partial to the old fashion Johnson and Johnson no more tears... it smells like a baby should smell.
Baby wash clothes:  The small size is really best for getting at those little eyes and hands.  A regular washrag is very bulky to manage on a little person.

For Bedtime

Crib/bassinet/cradle and mattress
Crib sheets (3-5)
Quilted mattress cover (2)
Recieving blankets (7-10)

Crib sheets:  You will be glad to have an ample stock of these when you have a midnight diaper blow out or a stomach bug hits your little one.  Trust me on this one.
Bumper: I know these are very controversial items these days but... When Carmella was about a year old I took hers out to wash.  It was not quite dry at nap time so I put her to bed without it.  She woke up screaming like something crazy, which was very unusual for her.  When I got to her room her little leg was stuck in the crib rail and was marked and bruised.  Furthermore, I figure all my kids used both quilts and bumpers and seemed to be no worse for wear.  But I have always lived on the edge like that so proceed at your own risk.
Quilted mattress cover:  Most, if not all, crib mattresses are made of plastic these days.  This makes it not only uncomfortable but can cause baby to sweat.  Which causes baby acne and a plethora of skin irritations.   A quilted mattress cover makes it more comfortable for baby and prevents these irritations.  Have extras for those unfortunate accidents which happen with little ones.
Recieving blankets:  Holy Cow!  What don't you use these for???  Swaddling... burping... nursing... roll them up and tuck one in front and behind baby to keep him supported on his side in bed... tuck them around baby to help him keep his head up in the car seat... wipe up spit up... toss over your shoulder so baby doesn't get something on your dress before church... seriously, I think you can scarcely have too many receiving blankets.  Look for the nice large size if you will be using them to swaddle.

Feeding time

For The Nursing Mama
Nursing pads

Lanolin:  I swear by Lansinoh brand to prevent chapping and pain when you first start nursing.  This product came on the market when Emma was a newborn and I was quite devastated to know I didn't have to suffer all that discomfort I did with my first two babies.  Buy it.  Use it.  After every single feeding.  And only the Lansinoh brand, please.  It is taken from sheep raised exclusively for their lanolin for nursing moms.  That means it is pure and free of the toxins typically found in lanolin.  No need to wash it off and no risk to baby.  Also, I want to mention, I have a very high sensitivity to wool.  I can not even knit with wool yarn without an itching like crazy and launching into an asthma attack.  I have no allergic issues with this product.  One tube will last you through the early days of nursing when skin is tender and sensitive.  This is also great for chapped lips, dry elbows and calloused heels.
Nursing pads:  Oh my word.... Bamboobies are the best of all nursing pads.  They seem pricey but after years of many lesser quality, not nearly as protective, and uncomfortable mishaps with both reusable and disposable nursing pads, I will vouch that these are worth every penny.  Buy a dozen.  You do go through them quickly at first.  Two sets for nighttime is adequate.  They call for more delicate washing but truth be known I tossed them in with whatever wash load I was doing and they held up use after use through two babies.  This is for sure one of those products I so wish they had when my first was born.

For Sick Days
Gripe water
Baby Advil
Bulb syringe
Vapor Rub

Gripe Water: Amazing for colic or a baby with gas pain.
Baby Advil:  Don't waste your time on Tylenol which, in my experience, doesn't work and is more concerning for the liver.
Bulb Syringe:  Keep the blue one they give you in the hospital. It is far better than any you can buy in the drug store.

Out and About
Car Seat
Stroller or Baby Sling
Diaper bag
Travel wipe container
Pack-n-play sheets

Car Seat:  Research Consumer Reports to find which ones meet the current safety standards and try to borrow one if you can.
Stroller or baby sling:  Which you choose really depends on how you will use it.  If you will be mostly using it for shopping and crowded situations the sling is my preference.  If you will be taking afternoon walks go for the buggy... its much easier on the back.  This may be one of those rare items where it is best to have both if you will really be out and about often with your little one.  There are many places you can not take a buggy and a sling will be your best ally.  Emma had severe colic and the sling was a wonderful way to comfort her.  I even wore the sling when I went to my tap dance classes.  Please note: I do not recommend making it a habit to carry your baby around in a sling 24/7.  This can cause baby to take cat naps that will in the long run interfere with her sleep and nap schedule.  It also prevents baby from getting necessary time on her tummy and back to play and explore and strengthen her little body.  I am very partial to Peg Perego when it comes to buggies but really it is a matter of preference.
Diaper bag:  You can go with a traditional diaper bag and carry your purse separately.  I had three babies in diapers at one time and three older kids.  I wanted as little to carry as possible.  And diaper bags aren't particularly stylish.   I prefer a nice large handbag which suits my style and can carry my purse items as well as baby's gear.  Allen gave me weekend bag from Coach years ago which, with all its pockets, made the absolute best diaper bag/purse ever.  It has seen me through lots of kiddos and lots of day trips and lots of shopping and errand days and lots of church days and even a few weekend getaways.  It was a far better investment than the 9 infant car seats we've purchased over the years. Really if you are breastfeeding all you need for most outings is a diaper or two, baby wipes and a receiving blanket.  If you are bottle feeding or baby is prone to leaky diapers (some seem to be more than others) you will also need feeding supplies and a change of clothes.  Don't forget a receiving blanket or two for nursing and laying on those public changing tables.
Travel Wipe Container:  I keep an extra wipe container in each car along with an emergency diaper. These have saved us a number of times.

To Keep That Mind stimulated
Board books (Look for a separate post regarding children's books)
1 or 2 at most dangle toys for car seat or buggy
Grow with toys (see separate post)

Summer Baby
Onesies (7-10)
3-5 outfits
UV swim shirt
Cloth swim diaper
Sun hat
Baby sunglasses

Onesies:  These are right up there with receiving blankets on the usefulness scale.  In summer they are a cool comfortable way to dress baby for both play and sleep.  In winter they are excellent for layering to add extra warmth to any outfit.  Start with 7-10 but you may need to add more if baby is the leaky diaper sort we talked about earlier.
Outfits:  When talking clothes, the season will dictate what you need.  Baby really needs very little in the clothing line.  They outgrow clothes every month or two at this age so its best to get just a few things you love and use them as much as possible and then use your savings to invest in a few more things you love when baby grows into the next size.
UV swim shirt:  If you swim at all or will be on the beach invest in this.  Get a long sleeve one if possible, please.
Cloth swim diaper:  Buy 2 if you will be in the pool any two days in a row.  These are $5-10 each compared to $15 for 24 disposable ones.  It is a huge savings to invest in the reusable ones if you will be in the pool on a regular basis.  Please note:  Swim diapers will leak.  They are made to contain pooh not urine, which is sterile and of no concern in the pool.

Winter Baby
Onesies (7-10)
Outfits (5-7)
Coat, bunting or Winter Car Seat Cover
Footed sleepers (3-5)

Socks: really don't get dirty so just 3-5 pairs is more than enough.
Footed sleepers: fabulous for little ones who won't stay under the covers.  And once they start to move they won't stay under the covers until they are 10.

"It sometimes happens, even in the best of families, that a baby is born. This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money." ~Elinor Goulding Smith

August 8, 2015

Why You Should Not Have a Baby Monitor in Your Nursery

One item almost no one should have for their nursery is a baby monitor.  What is the purpose of these devices and how does the intended purpose actually nullify the need for a monitor?

1- To hear when baby wakes up.  

My thoughts:  Mama, not baby should determine the schedule.  It is not necessary for mother to run to grab baby the second he makes a peep.  It is good for baby to have time alone to play and wake up.  It is not necessary for mother to hover every single second.  The crib is a safe environment and waking up an ideal time to learn and practice all these things.  

Establishing the schedule and mother's control over the schedule is key to a baby who is well-fed, not fussy and sleeps well.  In setting this principle from day one you are not only guaranteeing babies needs are met but you are setting an important principle which will carry you through your entire parent-child relationship until you little one is grown.  I very strongly believe, and have had success times 9, in keeping babies on a schedule.  Again, this allows us to know what baby needs and when.  And in Addison's case, his entire medical and therapy team have agreed, it was the only reason he was able to establish nursing, gain adequate weight and thrive despite his dysphagia and undiagnosed posterior tongue tie.

2- To keep track of baby during playtime.  

My thoughts:  When baby is not in bed she should, in theory, always be within ear shot and visible to mama.  This does not mean you are entertaining or fiddling with baby during all waking hours but that baby is in a place where she can hear and see you and vice versa.  This is a huge part of baby's development as she gains much knowledge and many skills from observing the people around her.  You will naturally develop a habit of talking and singing together during your separate activities which will develop into a life long running commentary between mother and child, and mother and teenager, and mother and adult.  In this way we have developed endless open communication with our children which I feel is 99% responsible for the close relationships we share with our them.  Which, I feel is very much responsible for the good choices and solid foundation our children have.
In regards to monitors then, in addition to interrupting these two important parts of parenting your baby, I believe monitors are detrimental because they interfere with the natural sleep rhythms of both parent and child.  All babies make noise in their sleep or upon waking and during the process of falling back to sleep.  God has designed mothers to be in tune to their babies sounds and noises.  Each and every little noise causes you to wake up thereby disturbing your sleep.  And even if that was all, it is a constant disturbance to your sleep which causes sleep deprivation and can cause you to be less alert and moody.  That, in my opinion, is enough reason not to own a baby monitor. 

 However, it goes further because it doesn't stop there.  You respond to babies noises.  This usually takes one of two forms.  A- you feed her.  This not only disturbs her sleep, it confuses her hunger patterns and leads to unhealthy habits for your little princess.  B- You soothe baby back to sleep.  If baby is left alone she will, even from birth, naturally put herself back to sleep with little to no fussing.  This is the natural sleep/wake day/night rhythm God has instilled in our bodies.  However, when we put baby back to sleep (even by simply patting her back) we teach her to rely on help and props and make it difficult for baby to fall asleep on her own.  This is a very bad and unhealthy habit which is prevalent in just about all babies in America.  (Interestingly enough this is not the case in other countries).  

It is shocking how many mamas come to me to learn how to teach their babies to sleep when their little ones are a year or even two or three years old and still not falling asleep on their own or sleeping through the night.  This is particularly upsetting because babies already know how to do this when they are born and we create a difficult, stressful and emotionally draining situation which must be overcome... one that would never have existed if we had let baby do what comes naturally from the beginning.  

Please, please, please note, because I know someone will use this advice and information in the wrong way... this sleeping through the night business applies to the healthy, typically developing child.  There are exceptions to this rule and you need to be in tune to your chIld's needs.  

For the first few weeks of her life Carmella (who was born a month premature to this diabetic mama) needed a few ounces of formula during the night to keep her blood sugar stable.  We woke her on a schedule for this feeding and then she went back to sleep on her own.  

 Addison, likewise, because of his eating and weight issues had to be awakened during the night for extra feedings.  I want to point out that this need to wake him up began around 18 months of age, which is unusual.   Even though it is less urgent for him to be awake for feedings during the night he now regularly wakes up during the night wanting to nurse.  He is still underweight so I use the opportunities when he is awake to get a few more calories in him.  But glory be I sure do feel the strain of getting only a couple of hours uninterrupted sleep a night.  I know it will be a long and unpleasant job of getting him to sleep through the night once again.  And I am definitely not looking forward to the experience.  The moral of this story is use every effort to allow baby to sleep through the night from day one and it is my opinion baby monitors interfere with that goal.

I was really racking my brain trying to think of an application when a baby monitor would be necessary.  The only good use I could come up with was a child with complex medical needs.  Addison periodically stops breathing in his sleep.  This becomes severe when he is sick.  I think a baby monitor could actually be useful for such times.  However, he sleeps in a bedroom with the two oldest girls and when he is going through a period of breathing issues we put his bed in our bedroom so we can monitor his breathing.  And from other families we know who also have children with medical needs I believe they all tend to sleep in baby's room or bring baby into their bedroom when there is a medical crisis.

Stop back tomorrow for a list of my essential baby items... and a few I just love to have even though they aren't really needs.

August 7, 2015

Thoughts on Baby Gear

My friend, Julianne, is expecting her first baby this December.  Yay!  I am so happy for this amazing couple.  And I am really looking forward to getting my hands on baby Tuppy as soon as possible.  Although, I was much younger when I gave birth to my first baby, it is still kind of something for me to realize my daughters' friends are getting married and having their first babies now.  Anyway, my darling, and oh so practical friend, asked me for a list of the items baby really needs versus what is simply fluff?  And oh, I love this question!  Because in my 23 years of parenting 9 children I've seen a lot of gadgets intended to aid the new parent come and go.  And right along with it lots of the new parents hard earned, and usually very limited, income go right out the window.

One of my very favorite baby gifts was a keepsake our friend made which included a photo of Addison's feet and a favorite scripture verse.  His feet are still my favorite feature second only to his stunning blue eyes.  So to have them preserved and on display just makes me happy.  The fact that her loving hands put it together made it all the more special.  Other ideas for friends and family who insist on gift giving could include:  a deposit in Tuppy's college fund, a gift to a crisis pregnancy center, a gift certificate for a new born photo session, coupons for babysitting, gift cards to real restaurants that serve real food carryout style, diapers, wipes and other disposable items.  These are things I personally found helpful, anyway.

Truly as I started writing this post I quickly realized it could be three or four posts including one of what baby needs and a post of what baby does not need.  Because as I was writing I realized a lot of what you will bring home for baby has a lot to do with your parenting style.  And you can't be a reader here for long without knowing I have a lot to say on parenting.  So I would consider this part one in a series because there are some items, such as the best books for baby, that just have to have their own post... because it is simply too much fun.  And there are others which really require a lot of discussion such as why you should not buy baby seats and monitors.  

When Kaitlin was born I had a bassinet, a car seat, a few hand me down outfits and a stock pile of diapers.  When she developed an allergy to disposable diapers this became cloth diapers which were leftover from when my siblings and I were babies.  As she got older we added a crib and dressing table (handed down from my aunt) and a buggy.  When she started eating, a thrift store high chair salvaged from a diner in the 50's found its way to our dining room.  I would venture to say she somehow made it through not only her early years but into adult hood with some semblance of stability.    

With that being said, you can call me old fashioned but the whole idea of a baby registry seems over the top.  I am sure it was intended to help new moms provide their little ones with what they need to get started.  However, it seems to be more of a way to get new parents and their well meaning friends and family to buy a lot of junk baby doesn't really need.  This point is well depicted by the vast numbers of these barely used items filling Good Wills all over the nation.  In addition to wasting valuable resources which would be better spent on investing for future needs, college, or even a trip to Walt Disney World (when your little one reaches four or five), some items really interfere with our ability to parent and can even be harmful for baby's well being.

Take for example all those products designed for baby to sit in... bouncy seats, saucers, musical seats, swings, etc... How many places does a 7 pound person need to plop their bottom?  Seriously, outside of our dining room our family of 11 has 5 places to sit on the main floor of our house.  I've been in homes in which one little baby has as many seat contraptions just in the living room.  Crazy!  Not only is it crowded it is not necessary and, in my opinion, detrimental to your baby's development.
When not sleeping, eating or spending time with family, the best place for your baby is on a blanket on the floor where they can stretch, develop their muscles, explore and strengthen their backs.  This type of exploration not only develops their bodies it helps them learn and build their brain.  This floor time is even more critical in these days when parents are encouraged to always put baby on her back to sleep.  Addison's physical therapist once shared how she has had a huge number of otherwise perfectly healthy kids in therapy because they were always on their back in bed and in little "convenience" seats during playtime.   When on their tummy, naturally curious babies lift their heads and arch their backs to check out the world around them.  This is essential to the development of core and back muscles necessary for crawling and walking.  Therefore kids who are not allowed adequate time on their tummies do not crawl or walk on time and end up in physical therapy.  If there are times when baby needs to be upright or if, like me you like to have your little one on the counter while you cook dinner, use your car seat.  This is great because you get more use out of an already over priced item which takes up a lots of extra space when not in use.

And what about all the seats (and while I am at it I will throw in all gadgets and toys) meant to soothe a "fussy" baby?  I have two thoughts on such things.  1- Most, not all, but most fussy babies are the product of poor training, someone jumping to pick baby up at the first sound they make when they were simply trying out their voice and she would have otherwise settled it on her own in a few minutes.  A child whose needs have been met, and this includes the very real need of play time with mama, will rarely be fussy.  Not to go too far off topic, but the added benefit is that when a baby is well trained and his needs are being adequately met you can quickly know if something is wrong when baby does fuss.  2- If baby is fussy, and it is not an issue of training, perhaps instead of trying to soothe baby in some new fangled seat contraption we should pick her up and enjoy some precious time in the old fangled rocking chair singing, reading scripture and snuggling.  Those days zoom by way too fast and you will never be sorry for having a few more extra minutes of these special times.  Plus, you will be thanking me when you have one less corner of your house filled with baby gear.

Stop by tomorrow to learn why you should not have a baby monitor in your nursery.

August 6, 2015

Summer School

It used to drive me nuts, back when we were first home schooling the girls, when someone would ask what they learned in school that day and the kids would say, "Nothing."  As if we spent the entire day lying around watching television, which we didn't even own a television.  I realized somewhere along the lines, as annoying as these questions and answers may have seemed at the time, the girls answer was in fact evidence we were doing a good job of home schooling.  Our kids took learning as such a natural part of life they didn't see a line between school and recreation.  Which was always one of our goals in homeschooling our children.  For learning to be a pleasurable and regular part of life instead of a chore children find boring and something to dread.  

It seems people always want to know when we will finish school for the year or when we are starting the next semester.  We do have official start and stop dates for our "table work."  But the truth of the matter is we school every day and all day.  October through May we sit at the table with our books and June through September my kids are in Summer School.  We may spend most of our time at the pool or on the play ground but we are learning even more than ever.  We don't pull out many (or really any text books) but our kids are reading around the clock, sometimes a book or even two in one afternoon.  They listen to educational CD's or audio books at rest time and on car trips.  And there are music and art lessons.  Each summer we have various activities and games focusing on different subjects.  As a general rule I use the official school semesters to work on the core subjects such as math and grammar.  In the summer months we focus on social studies, history, geography, and science as well as fine arts and whatever strikes our fancy.  

Last summer we learned about all the presidents from George Washington to Barak Obama.  We learned Andrew Jackson wasn't quite all there and did you know John Quincy Adams went skinny dipping in the Potomac River?  This summer the kids were studying the 50 states and memorizing state capitals.  And then there is lots of time to explore on their own.  This afternoon Aedan and Samuel were doing science experiments in the driveway.  

 It's amazing how a jug of vinegar and a box of baking soda can keep them entertained for two hours.
 First they amazed us with their rocket

 And then they wowed us with their volcano
Learning needs to be something your kids want to do every day... something they drag you out of the hammock to see... something so fun they can't imagine 3 months of summer without it... otherwise something isn't right.

How do you keep learning fun and exciting?  What's on your school table this summer?

"I was thinking that we all learn by experience, but some of us have to go to summer school."  Peter De Vries

August 4, 2015

August Already!

I hate that summer is already on its way out the door!  Around here pool supplies have been replaced with notebooks and pens at Target and kids are getting ready to head back to school in a few weeks.  And we are already harvesting apples from our backyard orchard.  

I love all the seasons but why is it Summer never seems to last as long as the others?  With lots of busy things on the calendar up until now it seems summer is just getting started.  We have also had a much cooler and wetter summer than we are accustomed to here in Maryland which makes it seem like summer hasn't quite arrived until now.  The last week it has dried out (much to the dismay of my tomatoes) and gotten hot and humid.  This morning as I was drinking my coffee on the deck the sun started rising and with it steam from the floor of the deck where rain had fallen over night.  We are trying to finally kick into low gear and enjoy a few quiet weeks by the pool and in the garden before the season has passed us by.  Enjoy a few photos from this week.

Not quite in the garden, a pumpkin sprouted in the chicken yard where the kids had thrown scraps last fall.  We were going to mow it over but the boys insisted we save it.  
 And this week they have their first fruit.  Which might not even be a pumpkin after all but they are excited.
 The sunflowers are in full bloom
 A volunteer from the bird feeder
 This summer several of the children applied for music scholarships at the local community college this fall.  Saturday Nathaniel and Aedan had their auditions.  I am so proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zone.  We are very proud of their hard work and dedication to music and their practice time and we are excited to see where it will take them but most of all we are grateful to the Lord for giving them music to help them through these times of trial and uncertainty.
 Carmella noticed Elisabeth was wearing this dress in a photo hanging in our nursery.  She was so excited when she recognized it she insisted we do her hair the same way and take her picture.  Carmella is always so tiny and Elisabeth has always been on the larger side of the height scale.  Ellie was 2 when she wore this outfit and Carmella is now 4.
 This praying mantis has been hanging out with Samuel for days now.  He will sit on Sam's hat, sleep on a plant in his bedroom and even perch on his favorite plane.  I've never seen anything like it.  But that's Sam for you.  He can tame anything... cat, chicken or praying mantis.  I am so glad he is not into rodents and snakes!
 Samuel, Elisabeth and Carmella made these tents yesterday.
 They spent all afternoon curled up inside reading.  That's Sam, the boy who could have not cared any less about reading, spending his summer afternoon with Popular Science.
 And the girlies keeping cool on their little islands in the pool.  I love watching these girls play together and I hope they will always be best friends!

"I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives."

Ann Voskamp

August 3, 2015


Addison has started to show signs of healing in his mouth.  And with the structural issues finally resolved he has been working hard at oral placement therapy for the last four months to build muscle strength and coordination in his mouth.  His hypotonia will never improve so we really don't know if, how or when we will ever see an improvement in swallowing but we continue to hope that one day all this will be a thing of his distant past.  And in the meantime I am going to trust that one day he will simply take off eating and that will be all she wrote.  And so I feel as if my job at this point is to simply keep him nourished and gaining weight until that time comes.

But in the meantime therapy comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Addison's issues are so unique that most of his therapy is trial and error.  And it looks different everyday.  It will most likely look different from anything you would expect.  And, to be quite frank, many days I don't even know what therapy will be until the moment strikes.  

Addison is starting to show some interest in food... as a toy more than something to eat.  But interest just the same.  And there has been some indications his taste buds may be healing.  We work everyday to try to promote greater interest in taste and texture.  This has to be a little tricky because food has not been Addison's friend up to this point.  Kids with Down Syndrome are notorious for food aversions and the last thing we want to do is create anymore issues with eating. 

One day I was trying to think of ways to get him to taste food.  I can put any toy on his high chair and he will play with it and put it in his mouth but he rarely if ever will put food in his mouth and will often resist if we offer him food.  I thought maybe if I tried it in reverse I could get him to taste something if I disguised it as a toy.  And maybe, just maybe, he would taste it.  And he would like it.  And he would come back for more.  And at long last he would start to have some positive interactions with food and his poor little mouth.  

I looked around for something not too messy for eating out of the high chair and settled on raisins.  And then I thought I had better not put it in a bowl because he might recognize it as food and that would be that.  There was the question of what to do.  In the end I just put a pile of raisins on the floor with his blocks and balls and other toys.  And then I backed away and did my work in the kitchen pretending I wasn't looking to see what he would do.  

And guess what.  It worked.  Sort of.  He played with the raisins.  He spread them all around.  He put some in his mouth.  I don't think he chewed or swallowed even one.  But he had fun with them. 

Addison can become easily overwhelmed so we limit his toys to just a few at a time.  And he needs a lot of repetition to get into a toy.  So every morning I pull out a few toys and put them in his play spot for the day.  We rotate these toys everyday so he is working on the same skills but with a different set of toys each day.    At the end of this therapy session I left his raisins there with his toys for when he came back for his afternoon therapy session.

Except, it happened to be Wednesday.   Which is a massively busy day in our house.  Addison's Physical therapist came in for their weekly meeting.  And then Nathaniel's trombone teacher came in.  And then Aedan's trumpet teacher.  Later a friend from church picked the three boys up for their monthly orthodontist and luncheon date.  Our neighbors daughter in from the shore stopped by as did Allen's buddy and our contractor.  The UPS man and FED-EX were by and the Avon lady.  

After dinner, when we clean up Addison's toys for the day, Emma pointed out there were all these people coming and going all day.  And what could they possibly be thinking about us having raisins all the floor?  

First, I had to giggle.  Because since Addison entered our world our perspective has changed.  A lot.  I never even thought twice about the fact that raisins were food.  And they were on my floor.  And I was hoping my baby would EAT them.  

 Then I thought for a few minutes trying to imagine what others would think.  I finally concluded, if it was anyone else's house they might have a lot to say.  But anyone who has been around our place for any length of time, wouldn't even think anything of it.  I am still not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  But that is the happy reality of our life thinking outside of the box.