Monday, October 31

Top 5 Baby Toys

Happy Pumpkin Day, and Happy Reformation Day*!  We'll post fun pics in the coming days of costumes and pumpkin carving.

Here's a little snapshot from our weekend away in a cabin by the Chesapeake Bay.  We're so grateful for sweet friends who spoiled us with a vacation, home cooked meals, and wonderful fellowship.

The Father Daughter vest combo is my favorite!

So in honor of Bella's soon to be birthday, we're continuing my Top Five Favs today with Baby Toys:

Here's my philosophy on baby toys.  They must to be versatile, space efficient, last longer than one baby phase, and if they make music- for my sanity's sake- they must have volume control.  For example, you'll notice on this list, that I don't include things like bouncy seats or exersaucers.  The bouncy seat only lasted one short phase for us, and an exersaucer is too big for our small apartment.

If you live in a home with more than 675 square feet, I think you'll find my top 5 toy list is a little different from your's.  But believe it or not, I've kind of enjoyed the challenge.  At any given time, I try to have only one bigger toy that sits out in our living room, and then I fit everything else in one basket under our coffee table.  Yes... one basket.

I love it that friends come over and exclaim, "I can hardly tell a baby lives here!"  But I really love seeing that my little girl is happy, learning, and having fun.

So, here we go!

1) Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes
This toy is small, has volume control, and has been a friend of Bella's for her whole first year.  It was one of those baby shower gifts where a friend gave it with a note that read, "This was our kids favorite toy.  Just trust me."  I never thought in a million years that Bella would enjoy this toy all the way up to this day, but she has teethed on it, swayed with the music, and stared at the dancing lights... and she really gets in to it!  Sometimes you just have to trust your friends.  Thanks, Carin!

2) Stack and Roll Cups
Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Stack & Roll CupsSomewhere around the five to six month mark, I got tired of toys that only Bella could play with.  I wanted to have a toy that I could play with her.  So the hunt began, and I landed on this genius of a toy.  These cups stack, and they form five rolling balls.  Bella has learned how to bang them together, how to put things in them, how to roll them, how to open them.  I've put all sorts of random objects inside the balls and had her open them to see what's inside.  And she loves the random happy face ball.  And this toy is not done yet!  We'll be practicing numbers and colors and even shapes (yes, they're on each cup, you just can't see it in the picture) in the days to come.  And did I mention this takes up minimal space?

3) Dominoes
Not a kid toy, you say?  Wrong.  One day, a girlfriend stopped by, saw our dominoes in the cabinet, and decided they would be the perfect toy for Bella.  She was right!  Bella demolishes any towers we build.  She bangs them together.  She takes them out and puts them back in.  She teethes on them.  She even tries to pick up the whole set and dump the  bucket out.  Our little she-woman... so cute!

4) Playgrounds & The Great Outdoors
So playgrounds may be a bit of a stretch, but they have a lot of big toys on them.  And when you live in a small space, you have to get out.  We've been walking, jogging, and laying out in the grass from the beginning, but somewhere around nine months, I introduced Bella to the playground.  She is a great crawler and climber, so she has really enjoyed exploring a bigger space.  And I love exploring it with her. Plus, getting out of the house pulls me away from all the many distractions I face at home and allows me to give her my undivided attention.

5) Buckets filled with random objects.
Bella loves emptying out bins, cabinets, her toy basket, etc.  Anything that looks full, she loves sticking her hands in and going to work on.  Sometimes this looks like her pulling out everything under our bathroom sink while I'm getting ready in the morning.  More constructive examples take place at Nana's house (Nana is a genius when it comes to creative games for kids).  She keeps a bucket of balls at the bottom of the stairs.  She climbs up the stairs with her grand kids, and then has them pick out each ball and roll/bounce it down the stairs.  Bella has loved this game and could play it all afternoon!

There are all sorts of creative and space saving ideas out there.  I hope this post encourages those of you who are tight on space or budget.  Just look around and put your creative thinking cap on.  And don't forget to have fun with it.  I must confess, it's a blast to be a kid again!

*‎"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see." -Martin Luther 

Thursday, October 27

First Steps!

We interrupt this little Top Five Favs series I've got going on here for a very important announcement:

Bella has decided that she would like to take her first steps before her first birthday.  Oh dear!

Before we shot this video, she officially took her first three steps for Daddy.  So, you get the leftovers... the fourth shaky step.  But hey, you're in the moment with us.  That's got to count for something!

I love how she is so aware of the camera.  I wonder who she got that from...?

We'll post more first steps in the coming days.  Things are about to get crazy around these parts!

Wednesday, October 26

Top 5 Baby Essentials

Newsflash: Bella Mae's 1st birthday is coming up!  

While deeper reflections on reaching the 1st year milestone are to come, I want to have a little fun and throw out a few of my "baby favorites".  So, I'm going to be posting my Top Five Favs in areas like "Baby Toys", "Baby Books", and "Baby Essentials."  We'll start with the essentials, okay?
Ergo Baby Carrier

1) I have loved my Ergo Baby Carrier.  This thing allows you to carry the weight of baby in your hips instead of your shoulders, and it frees up both your hands.  Essential?  Yes.  You can wear your baby front or back, and I've found it much easier to strap on than a Moby and more comfortable than a Bjorn. (Props to my hip Moby wearing mommas.  I'm just not that talented.)  This thing is so awesome you can even go hiking in it.  It's been a must for many trips outside the home and has often substituted for a bulky stroller in our crowded city.

2) The Miracle Blanket is a funny concept.  Some think it is the equivalent of a straight jacket, but others think it is the ultimate in swaddling and recreating the mother's womb for baby. While I'll hold off on confessing how long we used this thing on our poor child, I must credit this amazing contraption for many hours of sleep that would have otherwise been lost.  So while we loved the hospital swaddling blankets for the first few weeks, we eventually landed here and never turned back... well, until just recently.  Confession.

3) I realize a Cuisinart Handstick Blender is not advertised as a baby tool, but this thing has been THE tool for making Bella's baby food.  I steam or roast any variety of items and just stick this little device in the pot or throw everything together in a bowl and plunge my handstick blender in.  Ten seconds and wa la!  Baby food is ready to go.  No messy blenders to clean up, and no expensive baby food making machines to buy.  P.S. I love this tool for so many grown up soups and smoothies.  And it is the ultimate in space saving for our small apartment.  Oh, and it even comes with a chopper attachment.  Eeee-sential!

4) Our Bob Stroller has literally become my new vehicle of transport.  I'm pretty sure Bella has logged more hours in it than in her car seat this first year.  If you love outdoor activities, then this is THE stroller for you.  I had a personal goal of running a 10 miler a few months after Bella's birth, and this guy made it all possible.  Whether it's running down the Mall or trying to tackle the Hill's bumpy sidewalks- this stroller has been a great investment for us. Essential... and worth every penny.
Newport, Rhode Island, June 2011 = Freezing on the beach

Boppy Nursing Pillow with Slipcover

5) And finally, the Boppy Pillow has been a must for me this first year.  There are so many versatile ways it has been used in our home, besides the obvious.  From helping baby learn how to do tummy time, to providing a place for a snug nap (even though I know they say never to do that).  Most recently, we've laid Bella down on it with her bottle at dinnertime, and it buys us a few precious minutes to enjoy dinner together in peace and quiet.  Never thought I would say this, but this freak of a pillow has been an essential.

So there's my top five!  What are your baby essentials?

(By the way, I don't get any kind of special deal for mentioning these products.  I have truly just loved these products!)

Thursday, October 20

More Pumpkins, No Apologies

Last night, I received pictures from friends we joined for our Fall Festival adventure this past weekend.  What can I say?  Their pictures are just so much better than mine.  I can't help but share a few.

And so... more pumpkin pics!

I've been waiting to capture this expression on camera!  Mission accomplished!

Melt my heart.

 A great picture of mommy taking a picture that won't compare to these awesome pictures.

Proof that we're not completely brainwashing our child with all things cow.  I mean, she does have a promising future with Chick Fil A, but we think she can appreciate goats, too.

 I dedicate this picture to Amy.  Sorry you're missing it.

Peek a boo!

All right.  I'll stop here.  Pumpkin pics are officially done, and now we can all turn our eyes toward Halloween costume pics.

Goats have freaky looking eyes.  Cows are so much cooler.

Sunday, October 16

Oh Yes, We Have Pumpkin Pictures

My mom got a little nervous last week when I posted apple picking pictures, because although Fall apple pictures are cute, she was afraid I might have forgotten about babies and Fall pumpkins and how they're a marriage meant to be.

Because my mom is not so fond of the internet, little does she know that Facebook walls and blogs are filled with pumpkin patch pictures right now.  She should know I wasn't going to let Bella miss her chance to join the masses.  C'mon, Mom.

And so, Bella dedicates this picture to Nana:
Hi Nana!  And Papa, and Gigi, and Poppi... and all you others out there who wuv me!

And just guess where this pumpkin patch was hanging out in the middle of?

In Virginia, smack dab in the middle of the Shenandoahs. Nice!  And yes, those are apple trees you see there that we picked yet even more apples from.  We are swimming in apples in our little home right now.

So as exciting as that view was- and as fun as apples and pumpkins are- I have to say that the stinky, gigantic, muddy beast of a cow hanging out on the farm was definitely Bella's favorite part.

When Bella first laid eyes on this beast, she couldn't contain herself.  She "mooo-ed". A whole lot. It was one of those awesome moments in early mothering where you feel like you know exactly what your child is trying to communicate: Cows rock my world.

Some children giggle and squeal when they're around animals.  My child gets this intense determination in her eyes, and she is suddenly all business.  Did I mention this cow was gigantic?  Maybe the biggest I've ever seen. I was totally scared.  Bella however, was ready to take him down.

Okay, okay.  More pumpkin pics!

That little hand Bella does on the bottom right we like to call her Italian hand.  She loves holding up her hand and shaking it like she's saying, "Mamma Mia!" I don't know where she could have gotten that habit from.

Speaking of Italians, Daddy couldn't join us on this adventure since he was traveling for the weekend. So no pics with him this time around. Bummer.

But Mamma Mia loves her Bella!

Oops!  Looks like it's time to go home.  Somebody is all pumpkin-ed out!  

Tuesday, October 11

My Apple Pickin' Adventure

Guess what I got to do yesterday?

Pick me some apples.  It was awesome.

Mommy and Daddy dwove us out to this place with lots of twees, and lo and behold, there was weal apples growin' on them!

We even got to take some of our best fwiends... like "Uncle" Danny.  It's so cool to have other people who wuv hanging out with me.

See?!  I'm a master picker... and eater.  Well, I twied, but Mommy's going to have to make me some applesauce so my gums can handle all this goodness.

She also loves making this wecipe during apple pickin' season.  It's the perfect breakfast with a dowup of yogurt or the perfect dessert with a wittle homemade whip cweam:

Cran-Apple Crisp:

8-10 apples, cored and sliced (I tend to leave the peels on)
1/4 cup honey (approximate)
1-2 tablespoon(s) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (or more) ground cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice (not needed if you use craisens or cranberries)
1 cup craisens or cranberries - optional; if you use cranberries, add a little more honey
dash of salt

1 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup wheat germ
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
Place the sliced apples in a 9x13 inch pan. Mix the honey, 1 tablespoon flour, lemon juice, craisen/cranberries and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples. Pour water evenly over all.
Combine the topping ingredients (oats, flour, wheat, brown sugar and softened butter). Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 45-60 minutes.

What's your favorite apple recipe??

Monday, October 10

All About Marriage

My good friend and neighbor, Shannon, over at the Scribble Pad is doing a fun series on marriage. She and her husband just celebrated five years, and she decided to take a break from blogging in order to celebrate.  To help keep her blog and the marriage celebration humming along, she's invited some of her friends to celebrate their marriages on her blog. So fun! It's all about the Mannina Marriage today, so go check it out!

Tuesday, October 4

Anniversary Tea for Two!

Yesterday, Mike and I celebrated TWO years of marriage.  Yay!  We made it!  As my mom and a few others said, "It's only been two years?"  I know.  A lot has happened to us in two years.  

All the more reason to celebrate!

Mike began the day by waking me up with Georgia and Texas biscuits served on a "WE are special today" red plate.  Ha!  Georgia suffered from some Texas pride before I took this picture. :)

Bella celebrated by asking for "more" cheerios.  She's getting really good at her sign language.  But she kind of asks for more of everything.  More food, more toys, more of me, etc.  I think I've created a monster.

After breakfast, she proceeded to perform a knife show for us in the dishwasher.  Come to find out you don't get to take a break from parenting on your anniversary.

Then, Mike was all romantic and left me this note as he rushed to his busy Monday.  Tea for two?!  At the Mayflower?! Yes, please!

A tea party anniversary, complete with champagne!  Mike really has come so far in only two years. I think mountains are in our future for next year. (Sorry, even the fanciest of waiters always take fuzzy pictures.)

But may I just point out that Mike loved the clotted cream?

Mike brought pictures from the last two years to our tea, and we had so much fun going over all the Lord has done in such a short time.  It's such a great thing to step back and take a look at the big picture in a marriage.  Remembering God's specific faithfulness to us left us encouraged and looking forward to the years ahead.

But then, our coach turned in to a pumpkin.

Or perhaps I should say that our child turned in to a gremlin.  A special thanks to our dear friend Jennifer for helping us celebrate!

It's been a wonderful two years full of love and trials and joy and new life!  So much of our conversation these past few days has revolved around all the friends and family that made our wedding and these last two years of marriage and parenting a real success.  We are so thankful and truly indebted to you all.  

Let the fun continue!

Oh wait!  Just one more very important thing about today.  A special Happy Birthday to my mother in law, Gigi!
I love celebrating you right around our anniversary because you gave me such a wonderful husband in your son.  So thankful for your life and how it blesses our marriage.  Happy Birthday!!