October 28, 2011

Our Favorite Baby and Kid Gifts

Until I had Mac, I was a little lost as to what constituted a "good" baby gift. I could find cute things or useful things, but what was both?

As he ages, my gift-giving abilities expand a bit. Were we invited to a five-year-old's birthday party, I'd be plum out of luck. But I feel like we've got a great handle on the two and under (and the baby-to-be) crowd.

Like many parents, we're not enthusiastic about migraine-inducing toys that flash, whistle, sing, dance, hop, buzz and never seem to die. We've found that Mac gets far more enjoyment, and thousands more hours of play, out of presents that engage his imagination.

(See also: Stuff People Are Trying to Buy Your Baby is Nice But Pointless)

As Mac has given and received more gifts, we've learned so much! The best part? His favorite and best loved toys aren't the priciest!

Little folks have a knack for loving the simple (or even the box the simple gift is in!), so I remind myself not to stress about finding something for the discerning one-year-old in our lives.

Our favorite gifts are always books. Beyond the classic baby titles, we've discovered (through the generosity of friends!) a number of other new, well-loved books:
I Love You, Stinky Face
All of the Curious George books
The Berenstain Bears books
Anything by Sandra Boynton
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

All in all, you can't go wrong with a book. Board books for the first few years, then hardback. Unless other toddlers are gentler readers than ours.

Non-book gift ideas:
*Personalized plates and bowls - great for when toddlers join the family table!

*Melissa & Doug Puzzle Maze: All the fun of a puzzle without pieces to lose? Win-win!
*Melissa & Doug Animal Magnets: Hours of fun in a box, or on our refrigerator, as it were.
*Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Set: Mac just got these, but he loves his "tooz" already.

And, while I'm on the topic, here are a few of my favorite gifts for babies-to-be:

All I need in my bag for quick errands - holds a travel pack of wipes and two or three diapers.

Curves around your neck as a burp cloth or snaps as a 360-degree bib for baby.

We never swaddled Mac in these, but they're the perfect weight and size for layering. We used them all the time.
Beautifully designed and the most absorbent ones we had. I wish we'd stocked up!

What are your favorite gifts to give the smallest people on your Christmas list? Care to help us branch out from our book and puzzle routine?

October 27, 2011

Finally - a Bump Picture!

No, sillies - not mine. (Hard for me to imagine people would care to see my stomach on the interwebs...) Jessica's!

Does anyone else find it interesting that she quite publicly saved herself for marriage the first go 'round, but is (by all accounts) expecting a baby before round two?

In her defense, it's none of our business if she's pregnant or not. And I didn't pay the rumors much attention (any woman without washboard abs is pregnant in tabloid-land) until this week.

The bump, however, speaks for itself. As do the boots, come to think of it. Eep, Jess. Your name is on an international fashion label; were these Martian boots really the best you could do?

That said, I feel it's wildly inappropriate for an obstetrician to speculate on how far along she is based on the size of her stomach. Whether I agree with his "six months" approximation or not, the very guess from a doctor feels icky, no?

Ladies in the tri-state area, I wouldn't use Dr. Dave David for that reason alone. And also because - Dave David? Really? (I'm starting to feel like Amy Poehler here.)

Hats off to J. Simp, though, for avoiding the mom uniform I've been sporting: jeans with brightly colored flats and a scarf. And a shirt, obviously, but I felt like that went without saying.

I like to pretend like I'm trying, but I'm nowhere near her all-black, space-wedge boot look. And I'm ok with that.

October 25, 2011

New Mom Meal Plan

I don't know about your town, but all signs here point to a baby boom in the next six months. The stork is extra busy around these parts and there are flocks of underfed, sleep-deprived new parents to prove it.

My favorite way to meet new babies is to come bearing supper. (Sweet Kristen lives by her mom's adage, "Knock with your feet!" I laugh about this when I have a toddler by the hand, a baby gift, a bag of food and my keys. I promise I'm not kicking your doors in, new moms!)

The uptick in new mom meals made recently has given me flashbacks of the unadulterated gratitude such suppers brought out in me. A moment of company plus a meal for our family once you're gone? Wow. Best gift ever.

I'm no Paula Deen, nor am I the world's most normal eater (we'll discuss my bizarre list of pickiness over super-plain sandwiches sometime), but I'm getting better with practice.

Casseroles aren't really my thing - too much cheese, not quite enough variety. I realize I'm the only person south of the Mason-Dixon who feels this way, and that's ok.

Other one-dish meals, though, can be easy to fix and very much appreciated.

Here are a few of my latest fall favorites to bring to homes after the stork stops in. Add in a side of salad and, depending on the meal, either corn muffins or Italian bread and voila - you're a gourmet chef!

*Pioneer Woman's White Chili - Such a favorite around here. We're having it tonight, actually!

*Aunt Lynn's Lasagna - She may not be a household name to you, but my aunt's recipe quickly became a classic during my college years. When she'd send up two at a time, I became the most popular girl in my building overnight!

*Butternut Squash Soup - Again, a Smith family favorite. Creamy, easy to double and perfect for chilly nights.

*Pasta e Fagioli Soup - Patterned after an Olive Garden recipe, this is such a hearty meal. Perfect in a big mason jar, the ultimate "don't return me" dish. If only it came with the addictive OG breadsticks...

*Chick-fil-A Deliciousness - While I haven't actually delivered one of these meals, some thoughtful friends who know us all too well brought us CFA after Mac was born. Boy, did we enjoy it!

My grandmother visited once with a Chick-fil-A lunch in hand, a homemade banana pudding for later and a gallon of CFA sweet tea to top it all off. I nearly died of excitement!

Bottom line: don't be intimidated when cooking for new mom friends; all they're really hoping for is a bright spot in a hectic day.

Pick up take-out, make sandwiches, bring by a gift card - just come. Leave enough for leftovers and be sure your containers are tossable.

Start and end the visit with a big hug and assure the mom that she, the baby (and the house, if she's a stress case like me!) could not look better if she tried. But that you really, really hope she didn't try.

What are your favorite recipes for new parents? Any casseroles to try that will change my mind?

October 18, 2011

Fat (Talk) Tuesday

There's irony in the fact that I came across this video just after examining a "pregnancy weight gain chart" online*. We'll get into that another time...

Right now, I'm beginning to process the full (figurative) weight of our future daughter - the blessing she is already and the high bar I need to set as we raise her. Especially for myself.

I'm going to be a girl mom. It will be my responsibility to help shape and shepherd the heart of a sensitive, sweet being who may always, as I do, worry about how she looks. I'm terrified.

Take a look at this video and think about the many casual phrases we toss about in daily conversation. The "jokes" we laugh off about our looks and bodies.

Notice our constant references to backsides, stomachs, hips, "cankles" and "thunder thighs." I could give you a list of the (genuinely funny!) things I've said about myself, but you'd probably just roll your eyes - and rightfully so.

Pick up on each thoughtless comment about ourselves at mealtimes, after dessert, while trying on clothes or when we catch our reflection in a mirror. How aware we should be of these when little ears are picking up on them!

I don't mean to dismiss the value of healthy living or the effects genuine obesity can have on a woman. That's another issue entirely. I do, however, intend to clean up my fat talking act - and fast.

If I've learned anything from my two years of parenthood, it's that children absorb far more than we realize they do. Mac spits things back out that I don't even remember saying - but I know I have. (No toddler says "oh my word" and "oh no!" this often. Or corrects the dog with a, "No, sir. We do not do that." Mind like a steel trap, I tell ya.)

Just as damaging as any four-letter word can be the subversive, easily overlooked insults to ourselves. Our children, who for a time feel like extensions of us, can only absorb those same ideas - and oh how I'd like to save this little girl from every ounce of heartache fat talk has caused me.

The truth? (It's difficult even to type this, fighting the urge to qualify or deprecate or joke.) I've never been obese, or even overweight. But I have spent the bulk of my years feeling large, misshapen, puffy, odd, awkward, out of the ordinary, "curvier," bigger than other girls, too tall, disproportionate and just plain unpretty.

Scripture tells me I'm created in God's image, that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. For a lot of years, and in a million moments since I've "grown out" of those feelings, I would have disagreed. How I wish I could tell you I've just switched off those instincts.

My prayer now, not just for Fat Talk-Free Week but for all of my girl-raising days to come, is that I talk about what matters. My heart, my hopes, the world around me, the lives of others, what I'm doing and who I can help - notsomuch about how I look while I'm doing it.

I'm grateful for a healthy body that has carried a beautiful boy and is growing another baby as I type. I'm thankful for a life easy enough that my mind can even wander to such superficial thoughts as the size of my thighs.

I'm glad to be able to get around, to care for our family and myself without assistance. And I'm grateful for the people in my life who make me laugh so hard I feel beautiful - while forgetting about looks altogether.

For those of you who are raising daughters, or who are daughters yourselves, how do you combat the urge to 'fat talk'? How can we fight the subtle 'you're not good enough' messages we unintentionally send to girls without putting too much of a focus on looks in general?

This week, I'm going to talk about things that matter. And cellulite, my friends, does not.

*More irony? Wanting to take down pics from yesterday's post because they are "unflattering." And being afraid that they're not unflattering, just accurate. And looking at pictures of oneself long enough to have such opinions. Oh, I have work to do.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."-Psalm 139:14

October 17, 2011

A New Day

To be this happy on a Monday is a rare and much appreciated treat. Very thankful for the prayers, emails, comments and calls so many of you sent our way after last week's session. I'm thrilled to report that it is a new day!

Naps are back, scream time gets shorter by the day and our happy, rested boy is back. For the most part. Toddlerhood brings challenges all its own, and I know those will take a while to work out. (As will the incisors.) But what a blessed gift sleep is!

Our happier, napping Mac had a wonderful weekend with his family. We visited the park and took a long walk with friends, picked a few "punkings" with Daddy, made pancakes, laid low and just had a quiet, relaxing two days together. Heavenly.

Mac has fabulous taste in pumpkins, even befriending this one:

I'm posting a few pics, but keep in mind I changed right from workout/playground (read: sweaty and unkempt) clothes and sprinted to the pumpkin patch. Hence the fabulous coiffure you may notice.

Regardless, it was a great way to spend an afternoon and the weekend has melted into a lovely start to this week. Here's hoping the same is true for all of you!

Now to go catch up on all the things left undone amidst the screamy, sickly, scared-this-would-last-forever reality I've been experiencing these past few weeks.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your sweet words and support.

Happy Monday!

October 14, 2011

How to Do Black Tie

Absolute perfection. The hair, the smiles, that dress.
They can do no wrong!

October 13, 2011

In the Tunnel

Have you ever read something that put a lump in your throat immediately, that spoke to just what you were needing to hear? I just had one of those moments. Someone on Facebook posted a link that has changed my day.

The truth is, I'm in a tunnel. The last three weeks have been some of the hardest I've had as a parent.

Newborn exhaustion I understand. I seek to encourage friends with small babies - bring meals, send notes, write long emails answering questions about nursing and schedules and taking care of yourself amidst the very steep learning curve of those early weeks.

A month ago, I would have told you we'd hit a great stride as parents. We knew Mac well, we understood his needs, we had a successful routine and when we hit a roadblock, we figured out a way around it. Gold stars all around!

I suppose pride always comes before a fall, and the last three weeks have been a disastrous tumble. Mac, my sweet sleeper, has screamed through naptime eight of his last ten tries. He's not a child who can do without sleep, much like his mama, and has taken to screeching, "Mama where are you RIGHT NOW?" while I wonder exactly how miserable he'll be the rest of the day without his much-needed rest.

And "rest" is not what he's getting. He won't read, settle or even sit down for the duration. It's torture. We NEED that sleep - but more than anything I need not to hear and see my child so unhappy.

There's a lot being neglected in the meantime: work, the house, the Y, carefree chit-chat with friends, non-essential activities, a long to do list and, worst of all, my mental health.

Mix in Mac's birthday double ear infection, recovering from hand/foot/mouth, currently cutting four incisors and two school "holidays" and you'll find a schedule that's unrecognizable and a household that could use a serious do-over for the whole month so far.

Mac, ever the overachiever, has taken a flying leap into two-year-old behavior; our days must be two-thirds discipline and one-thirds waiting for discipline. I feel for him, as this must be difficult for him to understand, and I unabashedly feel for myself as we navigate new, pretty darn murky waters. Where did our obedient little guy go?

As many challenges have come these last few weeks, there have been just as many sweet moments. Fleeting moments, sure, but they give me a flash of the Mac I'm used to and it's a comfort. I remind myself that this is just a phase - because it is. (Right? Please!)

It's my job to be consistent, calm and loving to Mac in every season of his life. I can't expect him to work through unexpected emotions and make good decisions no matter his impulses unless I do the same. But this is tougher than I anticipated.

Hand me a breastfeeding problem, a baby with reflux, a nighttime routine in need of reshaping or a "when to start cereal?" question and I'm prepared(-ish). These new issues, though, have thrown me into a tailspin - and have me making the ultimate rookie mistake: feeling like there's no end in sight.

Just as I felt as a new mom, when I presumed "this" must just be what parenthood is, I can't see the bigger picture right now. I'm too entrenched in the "getting through" part to realize how quickly this stage, like every other, will pass.

This morning someone gave a name to my season: the Tunnel. The power of naming something can't be overstated; it's the very idea that someone else has been where you are, that it's real, that you aren't alone, that you're not crazy.

In addition to naming it, this post reminded me how different parenthood looks from just a few years away. I can already feel how swiftly the calendar is flipping past; we're nearly done with 2011 and I can barely believe we're past Easter. But that kind of perspective and reassurance from a mom who's been there, several times over in fact, is invaluable.

If you're a mom who's in the Tunnel of the first five years, when physical and emotional needs change constantly and you're wondering if the Lord has entrusted your sweet munchkins with a mother capable enough to cope, let me point you in this direction.

If you have a newborn and you want your hand held and your eyelids propped open, please call me. I'd love to encourage you.

If you've been squarely in the toddler tunnel, bouncing between gratitude for a healthy boy and a growing baby on the way and sheer panic about this is all going to work out, feel free to impart your wisdom on me. Or just excuse the circles under my eyes and four crumbled up Kleenexes in my hand at all times.

Wherever you are, "they" say every stage just gets better. I believe that, I do. I see the developments and I hear the new phrases every hour. I wouldn't go backwards for the world, but I'd sure love a little sunshine in our rainy week.

If you need some too, let a blogger who isn't throwing herself a pity party this mom encourage you today.

The good news: the Tunnel doesn't last forever. The bittersweet part: we'll miss being needed this much when it's all over. But that's another issue for another day.

Honorable mention: This post, for the "weary mother," has stuck with me all week. No matter what I'm facing, I'm reminded it's an act of worship to let the little children, including my own handsome, sleep-deprived, teething toddler, come to me.

Happy Thursday, friends. Thanks for being there!

*Disclaimer: Despite what might seem like a whine-fest, let me be quite clear that I'm tremendously thankful and in love with our little family. I wouldn't trade my Mac for the world, and I'm grateful for the sweet, silly big brother our baby girl will be getting. I would, however, love to get a brain transplant with a wise, more experienced, totally laidback and fully confident mom. And also I'd like a long nap. But I said I'd stop whining, so let's go back to the lovefest. Wouldn't trade my challenging, wild and utterly adorable little man, currently saying "So-ee, Mama" for a headbutt/nose kiss combo, for all the tea in Charleston. The end.*

October 10, 2011

Coming Home to Clemson

Saturday the boys and I went to Tigertown to celebrate Clemson's Homecoming.

We were so looking forward to showing our little man around campus, enjoying the floats and catching up with friends. Mac was mostly excited about the "cook-ghees."

This picture was taken two seconds after we arrived; he refused to stop eating even to smile. A boy after my own heart!

Mac has been to one other Clemson game, last year's Homecoming. (The rest of the games his grandparents are more than happy to keep him company while we cheer on our Tigers.) He's grown a little since last year, though, and is past his "nap in the stroller" days.

What a baby! Homecoming 2010
This year, he rode to our tailgate in a "wed gagon" filled with food, books, toddler gear and a 35-pound chunk of a boy. He got more than a few second glances strolling downtown in this get-up!
Despite how it appears here, the boy didn't sit still. We had tickets, as well as high hopes of taking him into Death Valley for his first game, but it was not to be. He wouldn't stay in one spot for a millisecond, so I knew bringing him into a crowd of 80,000-plus would be a sticky situation.
Mac loved the floats, especially the giant "tactor" on Bowman Field. I loved the nostalgia of walking through campus and remembering long nights spent pomping the floats (or bringing cookies to the boys who were actually doing the work, to be honest) and not requiring caffeine to stay up after 11pm.

If you want to feel old, walk around campus pregnant with your toddler and husband. Smile at the pretty freshmen and remind yourself that you wouldn't trade places. (Because you wouldn't.)
We ended the day much like we started it: rolling across campus - this time without a nap and with fewer cookies on board.

While we didn't get to make it inside to cheer on the Tigers, we were happy to get another victory and a day spent in one of our favorite places!

October 9, 2011

You at Two

Dear Mac,
Last week you turned two; already I can sense a definite shift in you. It sounds crazy, I'm sure, but you're just more two. More independent, more verbal, more opinionated, more sure of yourself. You're a whole new boy.

A few things I'll always want to remember about your birthday and you at this sweet, new age:

Eating "bird-day finch toast" with you and your daddy yesterday.

Watching you use the honey (I didn't give you syrup; you're sweet enough) as a hair product and a breakfast topping.

Taking you for a "birthday haircut" - anything becomes celebratory with the word "birthday" in front of it!

"Melmo get bird-day haircut, Mama!"
Letting you have not one but two cupcakes before bed.

Helping you open the presents that arrived on our doorstep during your nap. Lights and music and Elmo, oh my!

Hearing you pick up new phrases and sentences in an instant.

Listening to you recount your day and marveling at what's in that brain of yours.

Glancing around at the cards and gifts surrounding you and thinking I can't wait for you to write your own thank you notes. But I can wait for you to grow up...

You do so many sweet and funny things, Mac. I could write for ages about the times you have us in stitches, or the times we have to bite our lips to keep from grinning when it's time to be serious with you. That's another post for another day, though.

For now, I want to remember how willful and smart and independent you were on the very day you turned two. You got the memo, you moved from baby to boy and you left us all scrambling to catch up. So slow down, ok?

And be proud that this year your mom didn't cry! I'm far too proud to be sad about time flying.

We love love love you, little man.

October 4, 2011

Celebrating Early

Mac "hosted" playgroup yesterday with a table full of healthy treats complemented by the world's largest dish of banana pudding, courtesy of his great-grandmother. (I purposely didn't share forgot to put it out at his party.)

You can imagine which snack he was most interested in and how much of it he consumed. Fruit+dairy+homemade = healthy, yes?

In the spirit of "keeping it real," I present to you a bedheaded, messy-faced, crumb-covered, nap-skipping, punch drunk and giddy-for-his-own-birthday Mac.

He has been singing Happy Birthday to himself for the better part of four days. What will he do tomorrow when it's his actual birthday?

I don't know that he could muster up anymore enthusiasm than he does here, despite the fact that he's running on fumes. (See: exhausted face, bursts of energy, crazy demeanor and the fact that, midway, he stops to say, "Cheese!" after just realizing I am filming him.)

October 2, 2011

What a Weekend!

Last week was one of the hardest I can remember - but this weekend? This weekend made up for it a million times over. Can't wait to share pictures, details and some non-"woe are we" talk!

For now, I'm soaking up every last moment of the weekend that remains. (Probably forty-five minutes 'til I hit the hay, but still...)

Hope you all had a fabulous weekend, too!


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