Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fresh Catch

Happy Halloween from the house chef and his lobster!

For Tory's first BIG Halloween (when she wasn't just a wiggly little thing), I was set on her having her dressed in an adorably cuddly costume. In July, Andi and I picked out a cute lion sweatsuit for her to wear and I've been counting the days until I get to dress her up in it. See what parenting does to a lady? I don't even like Halloween and I'm excited for today.

Cut to a few days ago when my thoughtful (but sometimes rogue) husband posted a picture on Facebook of a baby in a lobster costume. "I found the perfect Halloween costume for Tory!" he said. What the heck?! She's suppose to be a lion! I refrained from writing a snappy comment on his Facebook post, because that's what good wives do, and when Andi came home from work that night I firmly reminded him Tory's going to be a lion for Halloween. He sulked around a few minutes, then agreed she could be both a lobster and a lion. After all, Amazon was already in the process of shipping the costume, stock pot and a chef coat to our house. 

So, the chef dressed up his little lobster last night and they had a ball chasing each other around the living room. Tory didn't mind the costume one bit, but she wasn't so sure about sitting in the stock pot. I guess every lobster knows when they're about to be cooked!

After work tonight, we're taking our little lion trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, then over to grandma's house for more celebrating. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Letters to Tory: 14 Months

Happy 14 months, Tory Bean!

You continue to amaze me, little girl, with your intelligence and charm. You've really blossomed into a toddler now and run everywhere, climb everything and pout when you don't get your way. We're living in a house full of locks and levers because you've learned how to open cabinet doors, drawers, the refrigerator and scale up and down stairs. It's pretty awesome to watch you discover the world around you. You love to fill up a bucket with toys and dump it out again, and puzzles are starting to peak your interest. I dug out plastic Easter eggs from the closet and they entertain you for hours. Dump! Pickup. Dump! Pickup. Over and over again.

Classic Tory pout

Baby dolls continue to be your very favorite toys. You pile them all together and rock them in your rocking chair, feed them with toy baby bottles and sway side to side as your comfort them in your arms. It warms my heart to see you be so sweet and gentle. You really like other kids and give out lots of hugs to every friend you meet.

Likes to pick out her own clothes

Before you were born, someone once told me it's the best thing to have your firstborn be a girl because they'll always be mommy's helper. It's completely true; you love to imitate things I do like cleaning up messes on the floor or stirring make-believe dinner in your toy frying pan. When I'm cooking in the kitchen, you're right there with me, digging in the Tuperware.

Remember a few months ago (alright, the entire first year of your life) when I said you never slept? It's almost as if you've decided to cut your dear ol' mama a break in the sleeping department because my little Tory Bean, you are the best toddler sleeper! I never thought the day would come when I could lay you down in your crib, walk away and you'd actually go to sleep on your own. It is simply glorious. You now sleep through the night consistently from 7pm - 6am and take regular naps around 9am and 1:30pm. Don't you feel better when you're well rested? I know Mommy does. Thank you for sleeping so nicely and please don't change your ways.

One of my other favorite things about you these days is your ability to communicate with us. You aren't saying many words just yet, but through gestures and sounds you tell us when you're hungry by smacking your lips together or when you want to go outside by bringing us your shoes. You've learned temperature and blow on your dinner to cool it or say "brrr!" when we let Chloe outside early in the morning.

Tory, you love animals and can identify and make the sound for cow, bear, dog, sheep, cat, monkey, elephant and alligator. If we ask you what sound an animal makes and you don't know the answer, you'll simply shrug your shoulders as if to say "I don't know." I laugh every time. It is seriously so cute. I was pretty surprised the other day when I was singing "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?" to you and you chimed right in with the barking sound, exactly in the right place. You also like to shake your finger when we sing "Five Little Monkeys." At least I'm not singing for own health; you seem to really enjoy all the little tunes we sing together.

Recently, you started to say "uh oh!" when something drops on the floor. Still no "mama" or "dada" yet and this one is driving Daddy crazy. He practices with you all the time and I'm starting to think you're holding out just to get to him.

One thing I've learned about being your mom is every month brings new challenges and experiences. This month was a good one - we had so much fun together - and I'm looking forward to all that's yet to come.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Date Night Dinners

Andi and I have this thing lately for date nights at top-rated Twin Cities restaurants. I used to hate going to dinner together because it usually involved sushi (Andi's fav; me, not so much) and my husband browsing a CityPages circular at the table. I struggled to drum up conversation between us and felt like a lush when I wanted to order a cocktail and he did not. Basically, I could think of a hundred different date nights I'd enjoy more than going out to dinner.

Two things changed in the last year: 1) We're parents now and it turns out we have a lot to talk about when there isn't a demanding (but lovely) toddler tugging at our ankles. 2) We stumbled upon a list of James Beard Award finalists and started pecking at the list one by one. We haven't been disappointed once.

There's just something about food that's prepared really, really well by chefs at the top of their game. We don't mind paying a few extra dollars for a dinner date when we always walk away with an amazing experience. I think Andi's turning into a bit of a foodie quite honestly, and working in foodservice for the last six years has rubbed off on me, too. I can't say I'd be able to cook any of the things on the menus, but at least I can pronounce the words.

Our favorite thing to do is get the tasting menu at a restaurant if they offer it. It's a great way to try lots of different foods on the menu (and even some that aren't). We did the tasting menu at Travail this summer and the entire experience was unbelievable, right down to an appetizer being assembled on the back of our hands, table side, with our eyes closed. Andi and I went back here a few night ago and the tasting menu had changed with the season, was again delicious and at $60/couple the price couldn't be beat.

Last month, we dined at Heidi's and ordered their tasting menu as well. It was a celebration of the restaurant's top customer-favorite recipes and each one was very excellent. I even ate cow's tongue which honestly, tasted just like beef. Back in the day, my old boss would take me to fancy restaurants when we traveled together for work and I'd always order the one menu item that included a side of French fries. He would've been so proud of me that night!

All this to say, my husband and I have discovered a new found common interest. Isn't it so great when an old married couple like us can still find new things to enjoy together? These date night dinners have been an awesome way for us to escape together for a few hours every month or so, and I love how romantic it feels to sip wine and devour gourmet food over intimate conversation.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Baseball Baby Shower Weekend

Last weekend I co-hosted a baby shower for my very dear friend, Ashley. My friend Val and three of Ashley's other friends shared in hosting responsibilities so it was the seriously the easiest shower I've ever put together. The theme was baseball for her little man due to arrive in November and I was in charge of invitations and thank you's. I ordered this invitation on Etsy (my new favorite place to order party invitations, by the way) and made semi-homemade thank-you notes. I bought blue and white thank-you notes at Target and added baseballs I made from scrapbook paper on top with a little sticky dot underneath each one to give the baseball a raised, 3D look. For an extra touch, I pre-printed address labels for each envelope so all Ashley would have to do is write the thank you and drop it in the mail.

Val was in charge of decorations and used Cracker Jacks boxes as party favors, made pennant banners to hang near the food table ("concessions") and "little slugger" for the fireplace mantle. We served croissant sandwiches, fruit and cupcakes. One of the gals in charge of games made a tie blanket for the baby which everyone at the party put the finishing touches on by "tying the edges together" for Ashley's baby boy. It all turned out really cute. Unfortunately, I didn't get one single photo of the party because I was too busy hosting and wrangling a certain 13 month old (ahem, Tory) who was along for the ride.


Val and I left for Omaha, where the shower took place, on Friday morning. We were quite the sight - my backseat lined up with two car seats, toys galore, bags, party decorations, two pack-n-plays, a high chair and more. We made it a true girl's weekend with Tory and Val's little girl, Linden, along for the ride. The little girls handled the 7 hour car ride great, with only a few outbursts every now and then. Val and I took turns riding in between their car seats in the back row and kept ourselves busy with girl talk the entire way. Isn't it awesome when two friends can chat for 14 hours in a weekend without ever turning on the radio, flipping open a magazine or falling asleep?

Other fun memories from our trip:

Tory's first French fries (or fast food meal, really). 
Val and I stopped at Culver's half-way to Omaha for lunch and to give the girls a break from their car seats. The restaurant was PACKED. Who knew fast food joints were so hoppin' on a Friday afternoon? We fed both girls and attempted to shove a few bites of food into our own mouths amongst the crowded dining room. I dipped a few French fries into ketchup for Tory and at first she wasn't sure what to make of the weird taste. Soon enough, she was dipping her own fries and licking off the ketchup. It was pretty cute. When we piled back in to the car, we both let out a huge sigh - wrangling kids is a lot of work sometimes, especially when it's in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

My friend Ashley has a fairly good-sized television in their living room and I think it was the first time Tory had ever seen a tv that big. She wouldn't stop staring at it and snuggled right up onto the couch with Ashley's husband Neal while he was watching a baseball game. Tory does this cute thing lately where she shrugs her shoulders if you ask her questions, as if she's saying "I don't know." I asked her "who's playing in the baseball game?" (shoulder shrug) "I don't know," she motioned. "What's the score?" (shoulder shrug) "I don't know."

Sing, Sing, Sing
Val and I sang so many kids songs on the drive to and from Omaha. It was the only way to quiet both girls when they started fussing. At first it was the standard Old MacDonald and ABC's but then we got creative and pulled all kinds of songs out of our memories. There's no shame in making animal sounds and singing off key in my car!

Ashley's husband and my longtime friend, Neal, is a bit of a clean freak. We all know this about him and try not to scare him too badly with horror stories of how his life is all about to change with a new baby on the way. Val, Linden, Tory and I left for the baby shower on Saturday afternoon. I forgot a back-up outfit for Tory so we circled the block and I ran back into the house to grab one. We hadn't been gone for more than 10 minutes and Neal was already vacuuming the carpet! I tried so hard to keep all of Tory's toys and bags picked up and to wipe down every little mess she made during meal times. I don't think Neal and Ashley minded us being there one bit, but I bet they were glad to get their house back to normal after a whirlwind weekend. It really was cute how much Neal wanted the house to look nice for all of their visiting guests.

Tory and I had a fabulous time on our girl's weekend to Omaha. The next time we see Ashley, her baby boy will be here!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Minute Scramble

My nanny is getting married in Florida this week. I've known she wasn't available to watch Tory on these dates for months now, but it doesn't make the hassle of finding back-up child care any easier. With showers and bachelorette parties and other life events popping up last minute, there's been several days recently I've coordinated people to watch Tory while Andi and I are at work. And that's only on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays! I'm lucky to have a fantastic mother-in-law who offered to watch Tuesday and Thursday this week (and many Tues/Thurs in the past) and my SAHM girlfriend Val who volunteered to watch Tory on Wednesday. I thought I had everything figured out - phew!

To throw a wrench in my plans, Tory came down with the flu on Monday night. I heard her cough / gag around 3am and watched on the video monitor for a few minutes to see if everything was alright. It seemed to be; she never cried and nothing appeared to be out of place. My MIL came over on Tuesday (as per the plan) to watch Tory for the day and I told her to keep an eye on her after the weird nighttime incident. She text me later saying Tory had thrown up in the night (poor baby!) but seemed to be fine now, eating her breakfast and playing with her toys.

I nearly died in my office chair. Damn Cry It Out! The last few weeks, Tory has been sleeping through the night consistently. I don't want to start bad habits, so I try not to go into her room after I've put her down to sleep unless she really needs me. And she really needed me. I should've trusted my gut and checked on her. Thoughts of her choking on her vomit and me never knowing flash through my head. Screw the method! Parenting is so hard, sometimes.

Tuesday night, as I rocked Tory to sleep, she vomited again. All over herself, all over me (and in my hair, ack!), all over the chair, all over the carpet. Poor, poor kiddo. I decided to stay home from work on Wednesday. I couldn't very well take Tory to my girlfriend's house and expose her two kiddos and I definitely wanted to be home with Tory if she wasn't feeling well. The bug quickly passed and on Wednesday, Tory seemed fine. She wasn't her playful self, but she didn't throw up anymore either.

Wednesday night, Andi's mom came over to stay the night before her babysitting gig on Thursday. Around 7pm, she came down with the flu and said she felt absolutely horrible. I scrambled once more to find child care for Tory on Thursday, calling my girlfriend Val and asking if Tory could come over to play for the day. Thankfully, she agreed.

Thursday morning, I loaded up Tory in the car and drove her to my girlfriend's house about 30 minutes away. After re-routing once because I forgot Tory's milk, I finally made it to Val's house 90 minutes after I'd left. It was raining and traffic was unbearable. Poor Tory took her morning nap in the car because the commute time took THAT LONG. After I dropped Tory off, I drove 30 more minutes to the North Metro for a presentation, back to my office near downtown Minneapolis for another meeting, back to Val's to pick up Tory, before finally heading home. As I was sitting in traffic, my stomach started to turn queasy. By the time Andi got home from work, I was curled up on the floor and felt like garbage. Andi took over parenting duties and I went to bed at 7pm. Thankfully, the flu bug I caught seemed to be short-lived and I'm feeling better today.

What a mess of a week! I'm thankful it's Friday and everyone's health seems to be back to normal. I accomplished absolutely nothing this week but shuffling schedules and coordinating child care. If I didn't have to work tomorrow, outside in the cold for 12 hours, I'd be glad it's the weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DITL: Fall 2012

Oh, Day In The Life posts, how I love you.

It's 7:36pm and I'm snuggled into bed. It's finally time to relax and reflect on the day. Andi's gone tonight so I shall drink my glass of wine (okay fine, my second glass of wine) and relive my day through photos.

Wednesday, October 17 
 - Working Mom Day -

My day started like most do, with an alarm buzzing and a swift tap to cancel the noise. I showered last night because I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn't be very interested in waking up before dawn to get ready for work. I was right, how insightful.

Snooze, snooze, snooze again. I drift in and out of consciousness. I force myself out of bed because I know the sounds of stirring baby aren't far into the future. I tiptoe around the bedroom, making the bed and opening the closet door quietly to pick out something to wear today.

... and right on cue, my little Tory Bean cries out from her bedroom next door. I hurry to finish dressing and putting on makeup before I greet her good morning.

I bring Tory over to her changing table and begin to discard her 17 pound nighttime diaper when I hear Andi walking down the hall. He comes into kiss us good-bye as he's leaving for a boy's trip to Canada today. Tory's still not fully awake and grunts at the feeling of Daddy's whiskers against her soft cheek.

Andi leaves for work and Tory and I walk out into the kitchen to let Chloe outside to use the doggie facilities. I notice Chloe's dog bowls are empty again and Tory and I work together to feed her. Tory gets a big kick out of pouring the dog food into Chloe's bowl and for the most part, she's a pretty good aim. I'm waiting for the day she attempts to sample a piece of dog food but so far, so good.

I spend the next 10 minutes or so frantically cleaning up the kitchen before the nanny arrives. I have this weird panic-attack phobia about people visiting my house when it's dirty. Unfortunately, my husband doesn't share the same feelings and there are last night's dishes on the counter, an empty soda bottle and sippy cups waiting to be washed next to the sink. I worked late last night and Andi was on daddy duty so that explains the chaos.

I begin to make Tory breakfast - butter toast and a banana - when the nanny arrives. We recap yesterday's events since Andi relieved her yesterday afternoon and chat for a bit before I head off to work. Tory's starting to become more aware of her surroundings now, and cries when I put on my shoes and head out the door. It breaks my heart when I leave her like that, but I know she's in good hands and it only makes it worse if I hang around longer.

Off to work. During my commute, I listen to the news on satellite radio. We cut out cable last year, so my commute time is my chance to catch up on the day's news. Today's mostly about last night's presidential debate which I didn't watch so I'm learning about for the first time.

My work desk. The observant reader will note the new office chair and carpet which was recently installed. Really moving up in the world, aren't I?

I kind of fall down a rabbit hole of web browsing for the first few minutes at my desk. It always takes my brain a few minutes to adjust to critical thinking before I'm ready to tackle email and the like. I *may* have freaked out a bit on my student intern yesterday for adjusting my office chair without my permission. It's the little things in life, you know? I can let a lot of things slide, but there's nothing that gets me fired up more than coming back to work on Tuesday and having my office chair all jacked up. I don't care if people use my desk while I'm out of the office, but at least they can have the courtesy to leave my desk and chair as they found it, right? Okay, end rant. I may have labeled my chair with a sticky note to reiterate my earlier point. I'm serious about this, it's annoying.

Oh, thank goodness! My office buddy sends me a text message and asked if I'd like a Starbucks beverage on her way into the office. YES PLEASE! Free Starbucks may be the best thing about my current job. That, and the warm private bathroom at our main office. It's heavenly in there.

My day of shuffling crap around campus begins. I rush over to one of our food courts to deliver survey materials to one of the interns. While I'm there, I mail Halloween cards to all my nieces and little cousins. One major benefit of working on a large college campus is the city-like atmosphere. I love having a few post offices (with no lines!) within walking distance of my work space.

I arrive at another food court and set up a marketing table for surveying. I'm not jazzed about standing around at a table for the next hour or so, asking people to take a customer satisfaction survey but you do what you gotta do.

After the student intern arrives, I grab lunch for my co-workers and I, then drive back to my office. I have lunch at my desk - an asiago cheese bagel and broccoli cheese soup -  while I read a few blogs and check my email.

I gear up to take an online wage and hour training course for work. It's boring as all get out, but the quizzes are getting so tricky as of late, I have to pay attention or I'll be forced to take it all over again. It should be noted, I'm basically a superstar because my picture appears in this corporate training. No idea how they got my photo, but nonetheless - famous.

I make the rounds to pick up all the intern survey materials I distributed on campus earlier in the day. Stops at both student unions, then a c-store to help a new manager with ordering and merchandising.

I call it a day and head home. Missing my girl something fierce today. Lots of hugs and kisses from Tory as we recap the day with the nanny and send her on her way. I change out of my work clothes, which is a bit challenging while holding a toddler. Tory is ultra-clingy when I get home from work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays so I struggle to pull on pajamas pants and a t-shirt while holding her in my arms.

I dig out some plastic Easter eggs and an empty egg carton for her to play with and she's in heaven. The little eggs fit perfectly into the palm of her hand and she's having a ball carrying them all around the kitchen.

I spread a plastic trash bag onto the kitchen floor, pour some washable paint into a disposable pan and draw a few Halloween pictures for Tory to paint. She dives right in and finger paints a lovely ghost and pumpkin. This lasts about 6 minutes before she signs "all done."

I wipe paint off her hands and body and clean up the mess. It hardly seems worth the trouble until I catch a glance of my refrigerator door and then I melt from the cute. I love being a mom so much!

Meanwhile, Tory is tugging at my pant leg and begging to be held. Silly girl. How I can refuse this adorable face?

I pour myself a glass of wine and start dinner. Since Andi's gone, I make an Amy's Organic box meal for Tory and I to share. While dinner's on the stove, we change a load of laundry and chase each other around the living room.

Dinner time! Beef strognoff (from a box - not recommended), steamed broccoli and carrots and peaches. Tory eats the carrots and peaches. I eat a few bites of noodles - blegh!

Bath time for Tory! Lotion, jammies, brush teeth. The works.

My girl and I. I love her so much I could squeeze her! In fact, I do just that ...

Another load of laundry, then books before bed. For as engaged in reading as she's been all her life, lately Tory is more interested in crawling around and bringing me books to read than she is in actually listening. I suspect it's because walking and climbing have given her a newfound freedom and it's hard to sit still for long. Tonight, Curious George at the Zoo holds her attention for a minute before she's scaling the rocking chair ottoman and climbing all over me.

Milk for Tory and a snuggle session in her rocking chair before I lay her down to sleep. The ease in putting her to bed these days makes me forget those long, exhausting nights of holding my breath as I tiptoed out of her bedroom.

I pick up toys, sweep and mop the floor and wipe down the kitchen countertops and appliances before turning in for the night. I flip open my laptop, type up this post and enjoy the remainder of my quiet evening.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall Days

I worked Saturday, so Andi and Tory spent a daddy/daughter day together. Hard to believe just a few weeks ago, my husband was so nervous about spending an entire day solo parenting. Now he's a pro! Andi even organized a daddy play date at a nearby indoor playland with his friend Nick and little boys Joel and Alex. I'm told Tory had a blast playing in the ball pit, going down the slides and climbing all over the foam blocks. Andi and Nick even took the kids out to lunch afterwards and when I asked Andi what they talked about, he said he had nothing to report; they basically wrangled kids the entire time. Yep, sounds just like a play date!

After I got home from work on Saturday, we hopped into the car and drove to our lake cabin for the night. These working Saturdays are really cramping our weekend cabin life, but we're trying to make the most of it and get up there even if it's only for a day. To keep things easy, we grabbed dinner at Bona Casa restaurant when we arrived into town. Tory was a big fan of the homemade cheese and raisin ravioli. Andi and I were less impressed, but what do you expect for an $11 meal that fed an entire family of three (with leftovers to spare). Andi and I spent the rest of the evening having a cocktail and spotting Tory do this a gazillion times.

Somebody has learned the stairs.

Somebody also learned how to bust out of the kid gate.

Sunday, Tory slept in until 7:15am (!!!) and we chilled around the cabin all morning, making pancakes for breakfast and watching Felix's jump from the edge of space stream over the internet. In the afternoon, we played outside in the leaves and took Tory for a walk through the woods. She was having so much fun throwing leaves into the air with Daddy.

Another perfect weekend (minus the work part) with my little family. Amazing how a short 90 minute drive to the country makes the world slow down and our family so close together.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Parade Play Date

Last Friday, I invited Raising Snowpeas over to my house to watch my neighborhood's high school homecoming parade. I'm not sure if I was living under a rock last fall when I had a newborn baby at home (um, yes I was), but I don't remember having a parade roll by my house. When I learned about it this year, I thought it'd be fun activity for the kids to attend.

It was an unseasonably cold afternoon in the Twin Cities, so we bundled the kids up and walked down the street to the parade route. The parade included this year's homecoming royalty, the high school and middle school bands (seriously the cutest thing seeing little kids marching with giant brass instruments - adorable!), high school clubs and groups of local elementary school children. Our own kiddos cleaned house with treats and candy handed out during the parade. Snowpeas' little girl Allie was a candy magnet and the back pocket of the stroller was bursting full of her loot. Tory wasn't sure what to think of all the excitement. She didn't make a peep the entire time.

Tory, Allie, Jake and Raising Snowpeas watching the parade

Before I became a parent, I rejected suburb life so hard; I didn't want anything to do with quaint neighborhood gatherings, far removed from the heart of city. Now, the sounds of a high school band practicing their instruments or the roar of a crowd at Friday night football games fills my heart with so much happiness. It's awesome to be a part of a community who embraces their school and it's traditions. It reminds me of my own hometown and gives me hope my children experience all the best parts of growing up in a small place inside their big city life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Le French Bakery for a Wee One

Tory and I have been using the outdoors to learn temperature and seasons. It's pretty cute the way she says "brrrr!" when we step foot into the three-season porch in the morning to let Chloe outside as a burst of chilly fall air hits her face. Tory also has this toy with a turning sun / moon dial so we practice finding the sun during the daytime and the moon in the evening. On my SAHM days when the sun rises in the morning, I point out the window and say "look Tory, the sun is awake!" so she visually sees different parts of the day.

All of this instruction is partly education and admittedly, a selfish ploy to teach her the difference between day and night. Bedtime for Tory has always been a strict 7:00pm/7:30pm by her direction. A minute later and it's meltdown city. For the last month of so, she signs "nap" and points to her bottles sitting on the counter to tell us she's ready for bed. I'm totally fine with the early bedtime, but lately her wake-up time has crept up earlier and earlier. On Saturday morning, she woke up at 4:30am - wide awake and fussy as all get out. Andi and I tried to snuggle her in our bed for a while before we finally got up, dressed and made plans to visit our favorite area French bakery. The upside of having a toddler who wakes up at the crack of dawn? First dibs at the pastries ... oh yes we did!

The last time we visited the French bakery, Andi ate mysterious tiramisu poop. Thankfully, this trip was much smoother. Tory gobbled up her first taste of ham and egg quiche and was a big fan of the napoleon dessert, just like her daddy.

We finished our breakfast and made it back home in time for Tory's morning nap, when she willingly slept for two hours. Early mornings definitely come with the parenting territory. And as sleepy as I might have been, some of my favorite moments are times like this with my two favorite people. Oh, and croissants ... freshly baked French croissants might have been worth my lil' rooster's wake-up call.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Fly with an Infant/Toddler

My little jet-setting Tory Girl has been on a dozen flights in her lifetime and we're gearing up to take her to Switzerland and Italy next spring. Traveling with an infant at any age is challenging in its own right, but it's not impossible. In fact, it's not even miserable if you have a positive attitude about it all and accept the fact that you'll probably have to laugh off whatever embarrassing situation you're about to encounter.

I've received several emails from friends and blog readers asking for tips on how to fly with an infant/toddler, so I thought I'd sum up my advice in one location to reference. In no way am I an expert when it comes to traveling with a small child, but I have learned a few things along the way that have helped make life easier!

1. Car seats check for FREE! I didn't know this until after we accidentally paid online to check ours. When I got to the airport, the nice TSA worker told me car seats and strollers check for free, but only inside at the regular ticket counters (not outside at the skycap check-in places). When Tory was an infant, we checked her infant car seat planeside, which is also an option if you want to lug it through the airport with you. Once she moved up to a convertible car seat, however, checking it at the ticket counter made things so much easier.

I bought this car seat cover from Amazon which has backpack straps for transport. It's easy enough to carry on my back for the short distance from the car to the ticket counter / from baggage claim to the car. We also purchased this convertible car seat to use specifically when we're traveling, as it's only 11 pounds (compared to our daily use Britax at 28 pounds). Do I recommend you purchase an entirely new light-weight car seat just for airport travel? No. We fly quite a bit, however, so it made sense for us. Plus, I like the fact our nice Britax won't take a beating through baggage claim.

2. Bring a kid carrier. I always bring our Baby Bjorn along to carry Tory through the airport. If you bring your stroller along and your child doesn't mind riding in it, it's probably not necessary. For me, it's mandatory as we rarely travel with our stroller and Tory's always clamouring to get out of the stroller when we do. You can also wear the baby through security in the baby carrier; they'll just want to swab your hands with some magic cloth to "test" you're not carrying explosives. This is waaay easier in my opinion than wrangling a stroller and all that jazz.

If you do bring your stroller, the child has to come out of it (vs. being able to wear the baby through security) and send the stroller through on the security belt (usually they have to hand check it if it's too big to fit). To speed up the process, flag down a TSA person as soon as you approach the belt and let them know you'll need to have your stroller hand-checked. Make sure everything's out of the stroller (papers, blankets, toys, etc). before they screen it.

Tory is almost too big for the Baby Bjorn now and the last time I carried her through the airport in it, my back was pretty sore by the end. I'm planning to purchase an umbrella stroller like this one to use for travel. I specifically like how this one can be folded up and carried on your back if needed. Also, if you do bring a stroller along, you can gate-check it planeside, so you can use it as you navigate the airport and it's waiting for your when you get off your flight.

3. Family Lane. Did you know the airport security areas have "family lanes?" This is my husband's very favorite part of traveling with Tory in tow ... there's almost never anyone in these lines so he gets to cut to the front of security.

4. The bottle low-down. You can bring baby bottles of milk or water through security check, but they have to be pulled out separately in the gray bins for TSA to test them. Don't worry, the TSA employee doesn't physically touch or test the liquid inside. They use a swab to test the air inside the bottle for harmful substances. Last time I flew, I brought empty baby bottles with me and then when to Starbucks once inside the airport and purchased a cup of milk warmed to 120 degrees. That worked nicely and then I didn't have to deal with security checking the bottles (and slowing us down in the process). Even if it's not a scheduled meal time during our flight, I always arm myself with a bottle of milk to feed her on the plane. This ensures she has a fully belly and usually diverts any major meltdowns.

I always bring along a small 4oz. baby bottle to fill with water. This entertains Tory the most out of anything and also helps her ears adjust to the change in cabin pressure as she drinks/sucks on something during take-off and landing. If your child uses a pacifier, that would be another option.

Don't forget to pull out any other liquids or gels you have in the diaper bag (diaper paste, etc). These have to go into your 3oz. Ziploc bag through security screening.

5. Snacks are key. Have plenty of crackers and baby wipes handy to clean off the baby's hands as he/she eats on the plane. I've found the least messy ones to be the Gerber Graduate Wagon Wheels and Puffs, too. Teething biscuits and Gerber Lil' Crunchies are too much of a hassle.

6. Toys and books. I also bring a few of Tory's very favorite toys on the plane and a book to read. Toys and books are nice-to-have's but honestly, she's never entertained for long playing with one of these items. They take up a lot of space in the diaper bag and it's a lot of work to make sure she doesn't throw the items three rows ahead of us (which is typical) or drop them onto the germ-infested floor (also typical). Once they hit the floor, I won't let her play with them again (because germs, eww) so toys and books only last so long.

7. Screen time. Recently, I started bringing along our iPad loaded with Backyardigans episodes in case I needed it in a pinch but up to this point, Tory hasn't shown interest in watching it. She's too little for earbuds or headphones so I'd have to turn the sound down reeeally low for her anyway.

8. Airplane magazines are your friend. What isn't fun about flipping (or should I say ripping) through pages of dogs and people in the SkyMall magazine? They say those magazines are free to take, right? Well, we use them for entertainment and ripping them up definitely excites her. This has been one of our best activities yet.

9. Carry-on necessities. Always bring a back-up outfit for your child in your carry-on, of course. If there's ever a time your baby will have a diaper blow-out, chances are it'll happen at the most inconvenient time and the airport ranks right up there. If at all possible, I usually try to wait and change Tory in the airport bathroom but there's also a fold-down changing table in the airplane bathroom if needed. You can imagine, it's pretty tight quarters in there so I only use it in emergencies.

I've had other moms advise a back-up outfit for me is also key, but I never bring one. I usually try to travel pretty light and thus far, I've never needed a change of clothes for myself. That said, I usually have cracker smeared on my shirt and jeans, but it doesn't really bother me.

Bring lots of diapers in your carry-on (like double what you normally have in there). I always seem to change Tory more in the airport because she's drinking more liquids.

I always bring a blanket to cover Tory with on the plane, and try to dress her warmer (long pants, socks, etc) because planes are cold. This rule especially applies during the wintertime. When she was a smaller infant, I carried on her car seat blanket cover also because I didn't want that going through planeside gate check with the infant car seat.

This tip might be a superficial one, but dress your baby in gender specific clothing. As in, I always dress Tory in a pink outfit. Why? Because nothing irritates me more than a stranger telling me "what a cute little boy I have." SHE'S A GIRL! I also change said outfit as soon as we arrive at our final destination because again with the airport germs - eww.

10. Traveling alone with baby. When flying alone with Tory, I prefer the window seat because I'm in a more confined area. The last time we flew together, she occupied herself by lifting the window shade up and down and looking at the planes and lights on the runway for a solid 15 minutes. (There was a lot of "look, an airplane!" and "look, lights!" coming from our seat. Very thrilling). There's less room to chuck toys and food through the aisle if you're confined inside the row and only one person sitting beside you to apologize to if your child gets rowdy. Best of all, if I'm lucky enough to have a snoozing child, I sort of slither down in my chair and tuck a blanket around her. I'd like to believe this helps her sleep longer than if we'd be exposed in an aisle seat.

11. Fellow passengers. Generally, I've found people to be very friendly and always willing to help, especially when traveling alone. Don't be afraid to take them up on their offer if you need help lifting something or you drop a toy. One of the things that entertains Tory the most is playing peek-a-boo with the people seated behind us. I always try to make conversation with passengers seated around me so that it's not quite so awkward when the baby's flinging her bottle at them or offering them snacks.

12. Boarding time. You can board before everyone else so definitely take advantage of that time to get settled into your seat.

13. Personal time - ha! Don't even think about bringing a magazine or book to read ... because you won't have a chance. You'll be baby wrangling - no time! Decline the flight attendant's offer for a beverage and bring your own bottle of water because there's no chance you'll be able to manage an open cup of water or soda along with an active infant/toddler on your lap. The flight attendant will top off your baby's bottle of water, however, so that's an option should you need to feed/entertain the baby.

14. Stroller = high chair. I've found the stroller doubles for a high chair in a pinch. Out and about, in the hotel, airport, wherever. Way easier than trying to keep the baby still on your lap or sitting at a table.

15. Nursing. Breastfeeding can be a little awkward in an airport, depending on your comfort level. If you're not on the shy side, bring a cover up and nurse the baby while sitting at the gate while waiting to board or on the airplane ascending and descending to help the baby's ears adjust. If you'd like more privacy, it might be worth paying the one-time entrance fee at a Member Club to use their facilities. My husband's credit card gives him access to Delta's Sky Club and it was always a treat to isolate myself in a quiet, clean corner to feed Tory.

Above all, don't sweat the small stuff. If the baby is fussy or wiggly, try to smile and keep a positive attitude because it'll all be over in just a few hours.

Close to baby diamond status ... just a few more flights!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mom Friends

I've never been very good at making friends. In college, old boyfriends would tell me they thought I was a B until they got to know me. Um, thanks? I guess I'm not one of those people who "lights up a room" or whom everyone instantly loves. I have a hard time exerting myself to strangers. Sure, I'm chatty enough once you get to know me but until then, it just seems easier to keep to myself, thereby seeming snotty to others.

I'm not completely friend-less. I don't need you to pass a box of Kleenex my direction. I have a few close girlfriends who get me and mostly, that's enough. One of them, unfortunately, lives in Nebraska and we only see each other a few times a year. I have some friends in town and they have kids and husbands and an endless supply of activities which keep them on-the-go. Time with good friends is always in short supply, isn't it? I'm making it sound like they avoid seeing me, and that's not the case. It's just getting together often is hard because everyone, including me, is so dang busy these days. Since I began working part-time a year ago, I mentally dared myself to "get out there." I accepted a personal challenge to step outside my comfort zone and make new mom friends because ultimately, I day-dream of being PTA mom one day and how on Earth will I ever accomplish that if I can't even muster up the energy to say hello to a random stranger?

So, I stumbled upon a mom's group in our neighborhood and I asked to join it. I know - scary! It felt intimidating to put myself out there and ask to be apart of it, but they're just other moms like me, right? And in my neighborhood. I've love to meet another Mondays/Fridays SAHMs with similarly-aged kids to schedule play dates and swap last-minute babysitting in my area. Our immediate neighborhood is mostly middle-age and elderly couples with grown-up children so meeting other families in the area with young kids would be awesome. I know they exist; I've seen the Fisher Price toys in their backyards while out on walks with Tory. Without being a total creeper, I had to find a way to get involved so, DONE. I asked to join the group.

I force myself to talk to other moms at Tory's swimming class. This summer, I booted Andi from attending the Friday sessions and began purposefully showing up a few minutes early to see if any other moms were there. One day, "Ashley's mom" and I started to chat and it turns out, we had a lot in common. We both work part-time! We both have nannies! Our daughters are a few months apart in age! A few weeks later, she asked us over for a play date. Yes! Tory and I visited their house a few weeks ago and we had so much fun together.

Of course, there's my Internet friends. Many of you I've come to adore and feel like we could be real-life friends if a computer screen wasn't standing between us. Some convincing from e-friends Laura and Lacey earlier this year convinced me to attend The Blathering in November. I'm equal parts nervous as hell to fly half-way across the county to see ladies I've never met in person and school-girl excited to spend the weekend celebrating new friendships. I know we'll have a blast, I know we will. I'm also terrified I'll spend the first evening standing in a corner all by myself. Hold me closer, Tony Danza. Ha, just kidding.

There was a blogger get together scheduled in the Twin Cities this summer which I was unable to attend. Raising Snowpeas and I swapped emails about it as neither one of us could go, and ending up scheduling our own blogger meet-up at a park one day this summer. Her husband called it a blind date which sort-of summed it up perfectly, and we had a fabulous time. I loved meeting her kiddos and I felt like I made a new mom friend. She's someone who's husband works funky hours like mine and who works a somewhat part-time schedule like I do, too. It was awesome to already have the weird get-to-know-you stuff out of the way because we've read each other's blogs for so long. E-friends to real-life friends in an instant, just like that.

I guess I'm learning that' it's ok to put myself out there and to use my child to do it. (Ha! That sounds horrible, but it's true). Being a mom gives women an instant connection to one another, and it feels great to meet other people out there going through the same things in life as me. I'll continue to push through this weakness of mine because the benefits far outweigh the initial awkwardness. I hope this new life stage I'm in - motherhood - leads me to discover many friendships along the way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cabin Weekend, Just the Two of Us

Exciting news!

Andi and I decided to rent our lake cabin for an entire year beginning this October. We've been  toying with the idea of buying a cabin of our own one day and thought the best way to see if we'd use a cabin in the wintertime is to rent one all year long. It's a big commitment of time and money, so I hope we made the right decision. Andi's always one for good persuasion tactics and his promise of more quality time as a family won me over.

Originally, we'd reserved this past weekend to move everything out of the cabin. We have beds, ATVs, food and kitchen stuff there, plus the dock and boat in the water so it'd take a full day's work to accomplish it all. Andi lined up his mom to babysit Tory overnight so we could do it all without worrying about her. Since we didn't move out, we decided to use the time as a getaway for the two of us instead.

Saturday morning, Andi and I dropped Tory off at his parent's house and enjoyed the scenic fall colors along the drive to the cabin. It's peak fall weather in Minnesota and Wisconsin and the beautiful leaves were absolutely breathtaking. This is such a inspiring place we live in when it's not completely buried in snow and ice.

At the cabin, we met our friends Derrick and Ellie who were moving their stuff out. We'll be renting the cabin on our own this coming year, so we're expecting many friends and family to come visit us! The four of us took the pontoon for one last trip around the lake before the official close of summer. We made it all the way around without rushing back to shore with a screaming kid stuffed in a life jacket. It was glorious!
Our sexy boat captain
The boys pulled the dock and pontoon out of the water, while Ellie packed up a few things in the house and I sat on the deck and painted my toenails. I can't even remember the last time I was able to do that! It surely wasn't this summer, I know that for sure.
Out came the dock ... and summer's officially over.

The four of us went to the County Line Bar for lunch and Andi begged to drive the ATV there. We never get to do that when Tory's along, he said, so I agreed. It was thrilling, riding along the road with the wind whipping through my hair, arms wrapped around Andi's middle. We were living like teenagers or newlyweds or people who don't have a baby. Andi kept smiling back at me; we were having so much fun together.

Derrick and Ellie left and Andi and I had the rest of the evening together. We sat in the hot tub and day-dreamed about a future cabin we'd love to own one day. Then, we drove to Balsam Lake for dinner at Indianhead Supper Club. The people watching was excellent and our entrees were tasty, too. Afterwards, we stopped by our cabin landlord's place on the lake for a bonfire and beers. It was the perfect evening.

Sunday morning, we both slept in until 8:30am (weee!) and then drove back to the Twin Cities to relieve Andi's mom of babysitting duties. It sounded like Tory had a fun weekend playing with her cousins Connor and Mia, so she barely missed us. I'm struggling through the work day today because I feel like I didn't get much Tory time in this weekend, but it was also so wonderful to reconnect with Andi after busy August and September months. The cabin's good for us, good for our family, and I know we'll enjoy many more memories there in the year to come.