Health · Parenthood

Dear Second Child, I Didn’t Know How Badly I Needed You

Is a first time mom ever really prepared? Mom groups, Pinterest, blog articles like this. Read all you want, there are a million things you can’t prepare for as a parent. I’m not saying this to scare you, or maybe you’re already painfully aware, I just want to share my experience with you. When I had my first baby, I was as prepared as I could be. Had all the equipment I needed, read as much as I could to learn about what to expect, I even took classes to prepare me for childbirth. But even after all that, I still suffered from postpartum anxiety and depression for over a year after my baby was born because I was inexperienced as a parent and didn’t understand the signs. I was sleep deprived, suddenly eating anything and everything I could out of convenience, riding the hormone roller coaster, and spread thinner than I ever had been before. I couldn’t believe that being a mother was a miserable thing. I couldn’t believe that something I had wanted and looked forward to most of my life was a mistake.

Misery’s Company

I spent the first year of my first child’s life hating almost every second of motherhood. Never for a second hating my baby, but I couldn’t keep from wondering if I shouldn’t have tried so hard to become a mother. I looked at my rainbow baby, for whom I had fought through fertility issues, through tears and months of disappointments, and thought “why don’t I enjoy being a mother? What is WRONG with me?” I thought this over and over for months. Never finding an answer. I felt horrible for not desiring to leave my house or take my baby out into public. I didn’t want to join any mom groups because I feared that I was such a horrible mother for the way I felt that other moms would shame me for sure. Sharing this story now is hard enough because I’m sure there are still some moms out there who might be reading this thinking I was a horrible mom for feeling this way. Thankfully, postpartum depression and anxiety are gaining more awareness. More parents are sharing their journey. More parents are understanding the signs and signals. You can read my post about my postpartum mental health struggles HERE, complete with a long list of my personal symptoms.

“I looked at my rainbow baby … and thought ‘why don’t I enjoy being a mother? What is WRONG with me?'”

After a year of struggling as a mom with PPD and PPA (postpartum depression and anxiety), I finally realized that I needed to address my mental health. Being a mom is equal parts mental, physical, and emotional effort, but even after my moods improved, my brain fog lifted, and I started to feel less overwhelmed, I was still left with regrets and guilt. I regretted not being able to dote over my brand new baby, not wanting to do a newborn photoshoot, or even dress my baby up in his cutest onesie and show him off at church. I felt guilty that I didn’t enjoy being a mom, I didn’t wear cute coordinating outfits with my baby, I didn’t want to do playdates. And to complicate feelings even further, my hormones had started to tell me that I wanted another baby. What kind of cruel joke is it that our bodies can give us mixed signals like that?!

And Then Comes Baby…#2

To make a long post short, we became pregnant with our second baby when our first was only 16 months old. It was joyful and daunting at the same time. Exciting and overwhelming. I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, but I assumed that my hormones would torture me again and drive me back down the postpartum struggle highway. Fast forward nine months through a fairly basic pregnancy (for which I thank God), a week overdue, we decided to have me induced because my gestational diabetes had our baby measuring large to begin with. After an even longer and more difficult labor than my first, I figured it was just the beginning of my second round of struggles as a mom. Call me a pessimist, but suffering through PPD and PPA and feeling guilty about wasting your first year as a mom will have you seeing things in a cautious light. Things didn’t seem any different at first, but it wasn’t until I finally held my baby after the nurses cleaned her up, measured her, checked her health, swaddled her and handed her back to me that I started to be able to hear my own thoughts and notice a change.

For the first time since becoming a mom over two years before, I had a moment of calm. As I looked down at my second baby, I realized that I DID know what to do if she cried. I DID know how to hold her to breastfeed (even if I was a little out of practice), I DID know how and when to change a diaper. I wasn’t instantly overwhelmed or scared, and I didn’t feel alone. I felt confident that my husband knew what to do and that I could actually try to sleep in the hospital before we took her home. Then, I chose to hold my new baby not because I was afraid to put her down but because I wanted to look at her tiny, perfect face and take in everything about it. I was able to focus on tiny details like her eyelashes, soft cheeks, and tiny fingers instead of feeling overwhelmed by the hugeness of the situation and the responsibility of caring for a new life. I didn’t wake up in a panic when she would start crying. Not only was I prepared to be a mother, I was finally enjoying it. 

Starting Fresh

Remember the feeling of starting a new job and being awkward and scared to answer the phones or not have the answers a customer needed? Being a first time parent can feel kind of like that, but instead of disappointing a fellow adult human, you’re suddenly responsible for keeping a tiny human alive. No pressure, right? But once you’ve had that job for a while, you know where to find everything, you’ve learned the answers to almost all of the questions, and you have more confidence when answering the phone. This is closer to what being a second-time parent is like. Now, that’s not to say that parenting a newborn and a toddler at the same time is a piece of cake, but you might be able to approach the situation with a little more confidence than when you were a newbie.

Once we got our precious cargo home, it began to sink in for me that maybe I was on some sort of naive high from the pain medication from the hospital. I thought for sure that I would begin feeling overwhelmed at any moment. Thankfully, as the days progressed, my confidence stayed the same and even in the more frustrating moments, my brain didn’t fail me and gave me the proper mixture of patience and clear thinking that I needed. Late nights were rough but didn’t affect me the way they had before. I didn’t spend my hardest hours alone, struggling to feed my baby and crying in the dark. Instead, I would leave just enough light on so I could watch her sweet, little face looking up at me and shooting hearts out of her eyes at me while she fed. It immediately soothed my soul, calmed me, and restored my confidence as a mother. I hadn’t failed my children, I had just been fighting my body’s abnormal hormonal responses.

Redemption

My second baby restored my faith as a mother. She helped me understand that the feelings I had with my first were not my fault. Even if my brain was the one speaking the lies, I didn’t have to believe a word of them. My second baby showed me what it felt like to enjoy my opportunity to be a mom. She made me feel that even though I wasn’t (and still am not) perfect, it wasn’t about being perfect. Even though she wasn’t directly responsible for this change in feelings, I thank her for helping me realize that I didn’t fail my first baby. I didn’t realize how much I needed a second baby until I realized that that baby was my redemption as a mother. I didn’t actually hate the newborn stage. I didn’t actually hate getting up every two hours to feed my baby. I didn’t actually hate sacrificing my body and my comfort to feed my baby. I didn’t actually hate having to hold my baby until my arms ached. Those were just all cruel jokes played on me by my postpartum body after my first pregnancy, and I felt a new sense of purpose and pride in doing those things.

Rainbows and Butterflies

This is not to say that everything has been all rainbows and butterflies after this second pregnancy, but it is a stark contrast to my first. I share all of this with you to give you hope. If you are struggling, have struggled, or are afraid you will struggle again with your postpartum mental health, I want you to know that those struggles are NOT your identity. Those struggles don’t define who you are as a mother. And they aren’t written in stone. Your children love you despite those things and may never even know you struggled in the first place. Make your health a priority and seek help with a doctor, counselor, friend, pastor, or anyone who cares about you. You are worth that redemption. 

Cleaning and Organizing · Home Life · Life Hacks

5 Commandments for Cleaning and Organizing

Cleaning and organizing does not come easy to everyone. If you’re hoping to improve your methods and attack some cluttered areas, you’ve come to the right place. I have a passion for cleaning and organizing, but that didn’t always come naturally to me; I had to work at it over the years. Now that I’ve found some shortcuts and tips, I love sharing them to help others. Here are the 5 main ideas I use when first attempting to clean and organize something.

Number 1: Break it Down

This idea applies both to physically breaking things down to fit into the space better and to breaking the job down into manageable pieces. For example, if you want to organize a whole room, start with the closet. Even that might need to be broken down even further (i.e., organizing clothes before other items). This idea can take an overwhelming project and turn it into bite-sized pieces. Dedicate your time and energy into doing things carefully and slowly. Be aware of the fact that a project like a whole room might take several C&O (cleaning and organizing) sessions. Typically, I dedicate myself to one project per weekend since that’s the only time I can really focus on a task.

Our old high chair has a great break-down feature of folding up so it fits well in the space in our shallow closet under the clothes.

In regards to breaking things down physically, this is definitely the first thing I do when I approach a project. Is there anything being stored in this area that could be broken down to take up less room? My most recent project was a closet stuffed full of baby items that we’ve grown out of in our current stage. This included things like a bassinet, a jumper, a baby swing, a high chair, etc. Some of these items were made with built-in storage features like collapsable legs or removable covers, but many of them can be broken down further. If you have no plans to use these items in the near future, breaking them down to their easiest-to-store size can be a huge help to you in the meantime. I go in to better detail below in number 4 about breaking items all the way down and the best way to store them.

Number 2: Vertical Space

Vertical space often goes overlooked and underused. If something can be stacked upright as opposed to laying down it can create a lot of extra space. You can also store items in stackable boxes. Depending on how large your items are, you can typically find shoebox-sized plastic bins at the dollar store that work great for stacking to make use of your vertical space. And make sure to label, label, label! Check out the last section, number 5, for more information on that. If you’re storing things like books or folders, make sure to stand them upright. If you still have some vertical space above those books or folders, look into making or buying small shelves that can create another shelf for stacking above them. Refrain from stacking books or folders on top of one another. This makes it extremely difficult to access books on the bottom should the need arise. And if you awkwardly pull something from the bottom, and it knocks down the whole stack, now you have a new mess on your hands. It’s better to think ahead for the sake of accessibility.

In photo #1, I am illustrating a good use of vertical space. The closet space extended vertically beyond the doors so I made use of that vertical space by stacking things upright. In photo #2, I show how things like folders and papers can be placed in a more upright position to save space as well.

Number 3: Out With the Old

Holding onto something “just in case”? Chances are, if that case ever happens, your feelings and circumstances might be different enough that you may not even need the thing you’re holding onto. For example, sometimes I hold onto some shirts or outfits with a plan that I’ll wear them again someday after I magically lose weight and gain confidence. In reality land, if the stars aligned and I was able to wear those outfits again, I’d most likely be more excited to buy new clothes because my tastes change over time as well as my budget and the available styles. As a personal rule, if I haven’t worn something in 6 months, I consider donating it. If I haven’t worn it in a year, I do. This rule can apply to anything you’re storing. If you don’t have a specific plan for the item, consider donating it after storing it for 6 months to a year. This will help keep your storage levels at a more manageable level and make room for newer items that may need storing.

Number 4: Keep it Together

This idea goes along with breaking items down. If you take something apart or break it down into smaller parts, think ahead to a time when you may need to reassemble it. Before I take things apart, I always make sure I have three things handy (other than tools): a small Ziploc baggie, a permanent marker, and tape (packing tape works best, but most tapes will work). As I remove small parts, screws, nuts and bolts, I place them all in the baggie. Then I label that baggie with the name of the thing I took apart and tape the bag to one of the larger pieces to make sure they stay together. Just throwing the small parts baggie in with the larger pieces creates a risk of losing them. Make the effort to keep the parts together. This method also works great if you’re disassembling furniture when moving. Labeling the baggie and taping it to the piece of furniture has saved me from losing the small parts several times.

Garbage bags work great to keep all pieces together but aren’t the best long-term solution. If something needs to be stored long-term, look into getting it its own storage container.

Number 5: Label Now, Find Later

Labeling things is a labor of love. It takes a lot of extra work and planning to keep things organized in the long run. I find it best to label things as I go and to commit to finishing the job completely, which means labeling things as best as possible before moving on to another section. Too many times have I started to label things only to get distracted by another section that needs my attention, and when I come back to where I was originally working, I’ve forgotten what I’ve packed in which bin. I find the easiest way to label is to use a white duct tape or colored masking tape and a permanent marker. This is the fastest, cheapest way to label. If you’re looking for a more polished look to your organization, you can always take things a step further and invest in a label maker or, better yet, use a vinyl cutting machine to stylize your own personalized labels. But unless you’re hoping to get a lot of likes on Instagram and saves on Pinterest, I suggest going with the quick and easy tape and marker method. It’ll keep you from hating the whole process and giving up before you finish.

In Conclusion

These methods only scratch the surface of deep cleaning and organizing, but they’re a great place to start. They’ll help you tackle any clutter, great and small. Just keep in mind that breaking your C&O jobs down into smaller chunks is the way to go. If the stuff you’re cleaning and organizing hasn’t gone anywhere in years, there’s no real rush if it means things don’t get done right.

Beauty · Health · Honest Product Reviews

My Honest Review Follow-up: Lumē Deodorant

Full disclosure: I DO NOT make any money or get any promotional kickbacks from Lumē for my review. I am reviewing this product only as a consumer/customer.

Well, here I am again. Back almost 8 months later to give you an update. I first tried Lumē deodorant back in January of this year (2019) and was pleasantly surprised by the results. But I knew, looking forward, that I wanted to conduct a little experiment to truly test the results. As I mentioned in my original Lumē review HERE, I’ve experienced sweating and odor since I hit puberty in middle school many, many moons ago. I’m not shy about it anymore, but you can be sure that I’ve put this product to the test.

Detox

I’ve read that when switching over to a more natural deodorant (without aluminum and some synthetic chemicals) your body tends to go through a bit of a detox period. Before trying Lumē, I had been using Dove deodorant for many years, believing that it was the gentlest non-natural deodorant I could find. That might have been true (it’s an unfounded theory), but I did experience clogged pores, ingrown hairs, and darkened skin under my arms consistently while using Dove deodorant. This leads me to believe that it wasn’t as gentle as I would have liked.

The first time I tried Lumē, I found that my detox period was surprisingly short, but I think that was due to the fact that it was still winter ,so my sweat levels really didn’t test the limits of Lumē’s capabilities. During my first trial run with Lumē, I did notice an improvement in the health of my underarm skin. After my detox period, my underarm skin was smoother, lighter in color, and less prone to ingrown hairs after shaving. 

Putting it to the Test

The weather this summer has been abnormally mild for us, but my armpits are still under a lot of stress, hormone level changes, and more temperature changes than they were the first time I used Lumē. We’ve shoveled literal tons of rocks in 90°+ weather this summer, plus I was finally able to finish my breastfeeding journey with my youngest, so my hormones have been up and down like a rollercoaster. It is possible that I’m still in the midst of my second detox period while using Lumē, but it’s been over a month since I started the new stick, so I’m hoping that’s not the case. To say I’ve been putting the product to the test is an understatement. I have noticed that I have been abnormally smelly…hooray. But I do feel like that has started to taper off.

This second time around, I don’t feel like I’m getting the same distance out of the Lumē formula that I was the first time. I’m definitely not getting more than 24 hours coverage out of the deodorant, plus I’m having to reapply occasionally, so I may be using up the stick faster. I’m hoping to be able to do a third review of the Lumē products later on this year, and I can update that review to reflect how fast I’m using the products based on the time of year or weather temperature.

What’s That Smell?

One thing I noted in my original Lumē review was that I didn’t like the smell of the original scent. In fact, I think that was the only thing I didn’t like aside from the cost. The original scent is called Lavender Sage. Usually I really like both of those scents, but for some reason I didn’t like the way Lumē had combined them. It smelled too much like chemicals to me (even though that’s not what I was smelling). 

This second time around I was planning to order the unscented stick deodorant, but when I went to order, I noticed that they had added several new scents. Aside from the Lavender Sage and Unscented, they added Juniper Berry, Jasmine Rose, and Silver Spruce. (These sound like names of kids you see trending on Instagram…) I chose to get two–one Juniper Berry and one Jasmine Rose–just in case I didn’t like one of them. Once I got the sticks, I noticed that neither smell really stood out to me as especially appealing, but I liked the Juniper Berry more, so that is what I’ve been wearing. I can imagine a lot of people will like the Jasmine Rose, but I’ve never really liked the smell of rose other than straight from the flower. I have a feeling that the scent might grow on me when I start using it. I’m also interested to try the Silver Spruce eventually. Initially, I didn’t order that scent because I was afraid it would be too masculine of a scent for me, but I think I’m now willing to give it a try.

Overall

After giving Lumē deodorant another try, I can say I do still enjoy the product. I’m using more than I had back when I initially tried it due to harsher conditions, but I think I get enough coverage that I don’t clear a room with my stench. I still don’t feel as fresh as I’d like, though. I’m not crazy about the scents that they offer either. Maybe it’s more that the base scent is something I’m not fond of, and the additional smells added to it are not agreeing with me. In reality, though, I don’t smell the scent often after I apply it, which is probably for the best. Ideally, you shouldn’t smell like anything unless you want to be distracting.

I think the most valuable thing I’ve gained from using the Lumē product is cleared and improved skin in my underarm region. Since puberty, my armpits have been a point of reservation for me. I’ve always struggled with excessive sweating, sweat marks, odor, and generally unappealing underarm skin. For years, I’ve tended to cover up and hide the problem, ashamed to show my armpits or wear anything other than black. After using Lumē, I’ve noticed an almost instant improvement of my skin. My underarm skin has been smooth, less bumpy and dark, and less prone to ingrown hairs. That said, I feel that the novelty of the product has worn off, and I’m a little disappointed that I’m constantly worrying if people around me can smell me. I do hope that it’s possible that I’m not fully through my detox period and that my freshness will improve with time and usage.

Based on the differences from my original experience, I think I might have to downgrade my rating to give this product: 3 out of 5 Bear Tracks. Hopefully my impression of this product will improve by my next update!

Favorite Recipes

Chicken Taco Crunch Wraps

The best thing about tacos is that they’re so versatile! This is a fun variation that makes a very hearty, portable meal. This recipe is similar to the Crunchwrap Supremes you find at Taco Bell but with some changes to the ingredients. All ingredients are optional and flexible based on your personal taste.

  • Prep time: approx. 2-3 minutes per wrap
  • Cook time: approx. 6-10 minutes per wrap
  • Makes about 4 large wraps

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans of canned chicken breast
  • 1 8oz. brick of cream cheese (room temp)
  • About 4 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • Small can green chilies
  • About 1/4 cup taco seasoning
  • Tostada shells (at least one for each wrap you plan to make)
  • Large flour burrito tortillas (the largest you can find)
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Pico de Gallo (or just tomatoes)
  • Sour Cream
  • Refried beans (optional)
Most of the ingredients you’ll need to make delicious Crunch Wraps. Not pictured: lettuce, taco seasoning, optional beans.

Instructions:

  1. Open and drain water from canned chicken. Place all canned chicken in a large bowl with cream cheese and about 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese. (Cream cheese can be warmed in the microwave for about 30 seconds to make mixing easier).
  2. Begin mixing ingredients with large spoon or spatula. This can also be done in a stand mixer to make things a lot easier.
  3. Mix in green chilies and taco seasoning with chicken mixture. Stir until all ingredients are evenly mixed.
  4. Create a work station with an assembly line for burrito tortilla > (opt beans) > chicken mixture > tostada shell > lettuce > pico > sour cream > shredded cheese > (opt tortilla circle).
  5. Place a burrito tortilla on a plate or cutting board.
  6. In the center of the burrito tortilla, (spread optional beans in a thin layer first) place about a cup of the chicken mixture- flatten and shape it to be about the size of the tostada shells.
  7. Place 1 tostada shell on top of chicken mixture.
  8. Place about 1 handful (or 1/2 cup) of shredded lettuce on top of tostada shell.
  9. Top lettuce with 1-2 Tablespoons of pico de gallo and 1-2 Tablespoons of sour cream.
  10. Top ingredients with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese (this will melt and work to seal the wrap during grilling).
  11. Fold one edge of the burrito tortilla up and over ingredients reaching for the middle on top of all the ingredients. *If it seems like your burrito tortilla will not reach to meet all edges in the middle, you can cut out circles from extra burrito tortillas using a cereal bowl to trace around with a sharp knife. These circles can then be used directly on top of the wrap ingredients before wrapping the burrito tortilla.* Continue to fold up the edges going around the wrap in one direction. You will end up with a wrap that is shaped like an octagon or something close to it. You can place a small salad plate on top of the wrap to keep it folded. See video below for example.
  12. Warm a large frying pan or a griddle or grill to medium heat. Oil or butter the warming surface.
  13. Carefully place wrap fold side down on your heated surface.
  14. Place a heat-resistant plate on top of the wrap as it is grilling to ensure it makes the most contact with the hot surface as possible.
  15. Heat the wrap for about 3-5 minutes depending on how hot your surface is. Use a spatula to tip up the edge of the wrap as it is cooking to check for doneness.
  16. Once desired doneness level is reached, carefully flip wrap over to other side and repeat grilling process. 3-5 minutes.
  17. Serve hot and enjoy!
Build a tower of deliciousness, one ingredient at a time.

Nutrition:

  • Serving size: 1 grilled wrap
  • 1 serving is approximately 141 Calories; 2.1g Fat; 1.1g Sat. Fat; 20.6mg Cholest.; 152mg Sodium; 28.7g Carbs; 0.4g Fiber; 17.4g Sugar; 2.6g Protein.
Health · Parenthood

How I Overcame Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

As the title suggests, this article contains some possibly triggering subjects including depression, anxiety, miscarriage, surgery, and infertility. Please read with caution.

I’ve been putting off writing about this for a long time now because it is an incredibly difficult subject to write about. It’s hard to revisit the feelings and events. It’s hard to describe my experience accurately enough for others to grasp. It’s hard not to turn this into a 500 page novel because I want so badly to share every aspect of my experience if it means that one person can find helpful information in it. So here it goes.

My Origin Story

I’ll start by giving you a synopsis of my history and reproductive health. Middle school is a time for change and growth…and crazy bonkers hormones. In my case, my hormones were less focused on chasing boys and more focused on causing me a lifetime of physical issues. I wasn’t diagnosed with PCOS until I was an adult and found a doctor who would commit to the diagnosis, but I had been living with the symptoms since I hit puberty. Irregular periods, debilitating cramps, facial hair and acne (which is extra humiliating when you’re a school age kid), low sex drive (which is rough as an adult), and unpredictable PMS. And on top of that, moments when I thought I would die from the pain of a burst cyst.

Me at a high school dance. Already dealing with PCOS symptoms.

After dealing with PCOS for years, I asked my doctor about treatments. There were none. “Try these pills,” they said. A few miserable days later, I quit them cold turkey. I couldn’t live like that. I asked my doctor if I would be able to have kids. She said she wasn’t sure, but she was optimistic. Other doctors were not. I knew I wanted kids, regardless of how helpful my body would be. Once I finally got serious about trying to conceive, I found out that I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit that needed to be removed. The good news was that the cyst was non-cancerous; the bad news was that it had wrapped itself around the ovary it was attached to, and there was no way to remove the cyst without also removing the ovary. Are you kidding me? Now I’ll never get pregnant, I thought.

To make a long post shorter, I WAS able to have kids. I miscarried once but was able to get healthy, find a product to help me balance my hormones, and have a healthy pregnancy and a very healthy baby. Sleep during pregnancy wasn’t too much of a problem for me, and neither were cravings, constipation or hemorrhoids, or mood swings. Sounds like an easy pregnancy, huh? It definitely could have been worse. I still had plenty of other symptoms, but I was thankful for a fairly boring ride. Most of my struggles came later.

A Tiny Human Just Came Out of Me

I didn’t sleep for 72 hours when my son was born. It was the first time in my life when I dealt with serious sleep deprivation. It turns out, 72 hours without sleep piled on top of pushing a baby out of your body results in what feels like the most wicked hangover you can imagine. And I’m supposed to take care of a tiny, fragile, new human at the same time? What fresh hell is this parenting gig?! That’s most likely where my PPD and PPA began creeping in.

My first born and me immediately after a fast and hard labor. No sleep 24+ hours before AND after.

At my six-week checkup, my doctor’s office handed me a one page “survey” about my current feelings situation. I passed with flying colors, but the reason for that was that six weeks postpartum was probably the high point for me. I had been parenting long enough that I didn’t feel like a total failure. I had a little sleep under my belt. I had lost all of the weight I had gained while pregnant plus some! I was feeling pretty awesome. So I hadn’t lied on my survey. I really did feel good. No feelings of wanting to harm myself or my baby. No crying. No out-of-the-ordinary outbursts. My doctor literally said the words “I see no signs of postpartum depression in you. You’re good to go!” She asked the wrong questions at the wrong time. 

Early on in our new parent experience, we had a bit of extra help. My parents were living a mile away from us, and my mom was able to help out with some things. Soon after my six-week checkup, my parents began discussing the possibility of moving away…3 hours away. That may not sound like a lot for some people, but losing my best babysitter and some of my moral support so soon after becoming a mom was just the first ingredient in my stress stew.

Stress Levels Rising

At the time, my parents were living in a townhouse that we owned. It was my husband’s first house, and we rented it out to my parents when they needed a place to live. In order for my parents to have a nice place to live once they moved out of our townhouse, we offered to help them buy a house that we all approved of. This meant that we would have to sell the townhouse to be able to afford buying a different home for them. In order to sell the townhouse, we had to move my parents into our house temporarily, pack up and hide most of their belongings in the townhouse to be able to stage the home, clean it from top to bottom to make the house sellable, and then hope that the market was in our favor for the sake of our sanity. This process took several months and began when my son was only six weeks old.

My stress levels were rising. My mom was still recovering from multiple hip surgeries, my dad and husband both had to work full work days, and my brother had recently moved out of town. I was the only “able bodied” person who could drive the process and do most of the heavy lifting, literally AND figuratively. Plus, I was still trying to figure out how to be a mom. While my parents lived with us, my stresses were building as I struggled to coexist with my family and run my own home. I’ll spare you the details, but I will add that ice cream and carbs had become my “therapy.” My weight got out of control. I gained every pound back that I had lost before my six week check up. As my cortisol levels (stress hormone) spiked, my body began to feel like a fat, disgusting prison.

Cry Me a River

My husband was just as green to new parent life as I was. He didn’t know what signs to look for to recognize depression or anxiety. And even if he did, I’m not sure he would have known that I spent hours alone, cradling my new baby, struggling to feed him and crying my eyes out. Crying harder than I had in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried before I became a mother. I wish I could say I cried tears of love and joy when my son was born, but in reality, they were tears of relief. Relief that my son was healthy, relief that we had both survived, and relief that I was DONE being pregnant (at least for the time being).

My husband finally becoming Daddy. Also very low on the sleep levels. But I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

Tears were something that came easy after my son was born. Tears of frustration. Tears of anger. Tears of fear. I became scared of everything. Having this new human in my care meant that I instantly became paranoid that everything harmful in the world could and WOULD hurt my precious package. How could I possibly pile on that amount of responsibility to my already toppling tower of fear and stress? Easy. I had no choice. My brain ran constant terror scenarios of the worst case you can imagine. Things you only see in movies or read about in the most click-baity articles ever written.

Shut Up, Brain

At night, my brain lay awake in the short opportunities I had for actual sleep, thinking up all the best ways to prepare myself to defend my family and protect my tiny baby from the evils lurking around every corner. Being unprepared was not just a fear at that point but my legitimate reasoning for not leaving the house with my baby unless absolutely necessary. I would see social media posts from friends happily leaving the house with their new bundles of joy for a day in the city, a family trip to the zoo, or even just a coffee date with other mom friends. Mom friends? What was that? At that point, I was so afraid to leave the house unprepared that my friendships were suffering.

In solidarity for all the parents suffering.

During the day, I was irritable. But not like just easily annoyed. Like full on rage at the drop of a baby bottle. I tried so hard not to take it out on my husband, but in reality, he took the brunt of my rage like a boxer takes hits to the face. I could see some times when his immense amounts of patience began to wear thin. I could see that he was as confused by my anger and outbursts as I was, but he didn’t know that my outbursts were really cries for help. He didn’t know that I was confused. I was so afraid for my baby to want or suffer for more than a few seconds that I truly believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was the only person capable of caring for my infant child. I was the only one who knew what he needed and how to interpret his cries. 

My anxiety came to a peak one day when I had ventured out of the house on a simple errand. Driving my sweet baby around in the car, in his perfectly safe car seat, in one of the safest cars on the market. But at that point I wasn’t able to trust any other person enough to drive my son around. I’ve never doubted my driving abilities. I’m a very cautious driver without being overly cautious. But that day, my anxiety was in full swing and I was anticipating disaster around every turn. I was driving through a neighborhood I had driven many times, with a speed limit of 25mph and I was doing 20…15…10. When it hit me. Nothing. No one was around. No one behind me. Yet, I was approaching every intersection with a level of caution that was insanely paranoid. Looking both ways more times that necessary. Stopping at stop signs for ridiculous amounts of time. Because my brain had left me terrified of the hypothetical dangers. And then the full blown panic attack set in. Heart racing, trouble breathing, tunnel vision. I pulled over. And for the first time through this emotional rollercoaster of parenting, I heard my brain ask me WHY I was reacting this way.

It’s painful to think back on how I didn’t get to enjoy my son’s first year of life while I had undiagnosed PPD & PPA.

That was abnormal for me because I tend to be very self-aware. I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy every day being aware of why I do what I do and how I interact with my surroundings. As I sat in my car, I reflected on what I was experiencing and why that could be. After dealing with similar situations and breakdowns, outbursts and paranoia, I came to the conclusion that I had been suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety for almost a year. And I KNEW that I had to do something about it. 

I Need Help

I was ready to pursue therapy and medication if necessary. I began researching therapists in my area. At the same time, a company I trusted released a new product that caught my attention. It was a natural ingredient probiotic that was specially formulated to lower cortisol levels and help reduce feelings of stress. I figured, if nothing else, trying this could help me with my every-day mom stress. I was really skeptical that I would even notice a difference, but I was willing to give it a try as a first line of defense against my PPD and PPA. I was ready to try almost anything to have a chance at finally enjoying my son’s first year of life, even if I had nearly missed it.

Do it for you BECAUSE you do it for them.

I do my best to stay as healthy as possible, trying natural remedies before turning to other options. I tried the probiotic; I was skeptical, but I tried it. To my surprise, IT WORKED. Not only did it do what it promised, but I felt my PPD and PPA symptoms (that I was clearly aware of by this point) melt away within the first week of trying this natural method. I was shocked. I thought for sure that it was temporary, but I’ve been taking it for two years now, and I can say that I am a believer. If you’re interested in the product, please follow the link at the end of the article.

But Seriously…

Every person is different. Every momma needs something different in those most vulnerable moments. I’m not here to prescribe anything or tell you that this is the end-all method of treating PPD or PPA. I’m ONLY sharing what worked for me. I can’t tell you exactly why this method worked so well for me, but I continued to take this probiotic through my second pregnancy/birth, and it was a night and day difference in terms of mental health. Situations were different. Stress levels were different. Inevitably, hormones were different. But what I do know for sure is that I was able to enjoy my daughter’s birth and newborn stage in a completely different way than I did with my son. Even in my highest stress moments with my daughter, I was able to look down at her sweet face, take a deep breath, clear my mind, and even enjoy those times. It breaks my heart to think back to the first year of my son’s life and how miserable I was. I was so deeply entrenched in fear and doubt that I couldn’t enjoy those newborn moments with him.

If only I had known better the signs of PPD and PPA. If only I could have seen how abnormal my behavior was, or if only someone could have seen it in me. The best I can do is share a list of the behaviors I experienced during my difficult year to raise awareness. If you or someone you love is experiencing ANY of these symptoms or any behavior or feelings out of the ordinary, PLEASE contact your doctor and make them aware of EVERYTHING. The more your doctor knows about your experience, the better they can help you. Please do not suffer alone. Do not think that others will not understand. Thousands of women have had completely different experiences with PPD and PPA. There is no cookie cutter way to diagnose it. 

List of my symptoms:

  • Anger towards loved ones.
  • Extremely quick to frustration.
  • Paranoia of unrealistic situations.
  • Fear of leaving the house.
  • Fear of being unprepared.
  • Neglecting relationships.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Extreme PMS-like symptoms.
  • Heart racing with no stimulant.
  • Feeling the need to be overly cautious.
  • Questioning life choices.
  • Feeling like your baby is purposely inconveniencing you.
  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
  • Brain fog stronger than regular “Mom brain”.
  • Irrational fears driving your actions.
  • Abnormal nightmares.
  • Waking nightmares (visions of irrational fears).
  • “Lost time” moments when you realize you’re unaware of how you got somewhere or accomplished a task.
  • Inability to trust anyone with your baby.
  • Inability to trust anyone to help you.
  • Inability to connect with baby
  • Inability to see baby as anything other than a very important task list

For the Dads

Please also be aware that dads can experience the same or similar symptoms. They experience the birth of their children through different eyes than we moms do but can hurt just the same. Please watch your loved ones for behavior out of the ordinary, and make sure to check in on their mental health. The only way we can protect ourselves is to protect each other and to raise awareness of these struggles. Parents need to know that they are not failing when they have these feelings. There is help and they are NOT alone.

And Finally…

I’ve also recently written about my journey as a second-time parent and how postpartum depression and anxiety played a part in that. Please read that HERE.

As promised, here is the LINK * to the probiotic that helped me. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper recommendation without a proper disclaimer:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Crafts · Tutorials

Bowling Pin Upcycling Craft

In our house we do our best to recycle our paper, glass, and plastic. We also love upcycling whenever we can. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term that sounds like a word for a hipster bicycle, “upcycling” is when you take something that would otherwise be discarded (like boxes, food packaging, or lightbulbs, as a few examples) and turn it into something new. It’s a simple practice that many of us have just been calling “crafting” or “junking.” Well, now there’s a new, fun term for it and thousands of great ideas from people like you and me who are inspired to use the things they see in front of them to make something brand new.

In this tutorial, I will show you how I took a simple baby snack food container and turned it into a set of fun outdoor toys for my kids. Because these baby snacks are something we use frequently at our house, we didn’t spend any more money than we normally would have for this craft. But if you’re looking for a ballpark cost for this craft, it cost me about $2 for each container and I made 6 bowling pins in total. The other materials I had on hand, so it was mainly the cost of the containers, which would total around $12. Not bad for hours of toddler entertainment!

MATERIALS

  • Baby snack food containers (I made 6 total so we could arrange them in a pyramid formation for bowling)
  • Red permanent marker
  • Hot glue and glue gun
  • Play sand or dirt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Empty your snack food container by feeding your baby, your toddler, your dog, or your neighborhood birds. No need to waste the contents just for the craft!
  2. Cut off and completely remove the outer label.
  3. Use a red permanent marker to add line designs to the outside of the “bowling pin.” Our particular containers had extremely convenient lines imprinted in the plastic that I just used as guides. You can look up different bowling pin designs online for inspiration or just make it up as you go along! Toddlers are easily impressed.
  4. Temporarily remove lids and add play sand or heavy dirt to the bowling pins.
  5. Make sure to fill the pins only partially to give them a weighted bottom. This will allow them to stand up but make them slightly more challenging to knock over. In picture 5, I am using my fingers to show the level to which I filled the pin with play sand. I tested it a few times, and this seemed to be a good fill point. Any more and the pins would have been too heavy and too difficult for my toddler to knock over with his bouncy ball. Any less and they would have been knocked over by a stiff breeze.
  6. Next, use your glue gun to add glue around the entire lip of the container and quickly replace the lid before the glue cools and dries. Try to add enough glue to ensure a good seal. That way you don’t accidentally have sand or gravel flung around your living room or yard, depending on where you choose to play.
  7. Go forth and enjoy your creation! Upcycling is cheap, easy fun. We use these bowling pins outside AND inside the house. My son not only loves to kick his bouncy ball at them and knock them over, but he also loves to use them for stacking and knocking them down, shaking them for musical instruments, and stacking them like logs in the back of his large toy dump truck.

Leave a comment below about how your family has used this craft at home. I would love to hear how you have used your imaginations to find new ways to see something old. Have fun!

Crafts · Parenthood · Tutorials

Teaching a Toddler to Hypothesize

I’m technically not a homeschool mom, but I never turn down an opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time. A couple months ago, I decided to make a colored rice bin for my toddler son to play in because one of his favorite activities is putting anything into anything else. He’ll spend large parts of his play time filling containers, baskets, nooks and crannies with his toys, and hiding every object he can find behind the couch cushions or in the dog kennels. He even has a large bin of random bottles we’ve collected from the recycle bin just for him to experiment with. He’s quite the up-cycler at two and a half years old.

Making a rice bin is cheap and easy and has already provided us with hours of enjoyment. We use many different sized cups and containers in the bin. Plastic bugs to dig for, scoops, ping pong balls, etc. You could also use the rice bin as a cool digging quarry for small diggers and dump trucks. The whole project cost me around $10 to make with the plastic bin being the most expensive part. Here are the things you need to make one:

  • A decently sized plastic bin with a locking lid. I went for one that was about 9” x 12” and 7” tall.
  • One or two 5 lb bag(s) of white rice.
  • Liquid food coloring.
  • White vinegar (helps seal color into rice grains to prevent color bleeding).
  • Gallon ziplock bags for coloring rice. 1 for each color you want to make.

Easy Directions for Making Colored Rice

  1. Separate white rice into ziplock bags. One bag per color.
  2. Add several drops of food coloring to a bag of rice (do one bag at a time to ensure most even color absorption).
  3. Add one teaspoon of white vinegar to bag of rice.
  4. Zip bag closed.
  5. Massage rice bag to thoroughly mix color and vinegar into rice. (You can add more food coloring and repeat this step for brighter colored rice.)
  6. Repeat with each color/bag.
  7. Open bag zippers and leave bags open, sitting in a place where it won’t be disturbed for 24 hrs or longer. This allows the rice to dry and keep the color from transferring to hands or other surfaces. You can also spread the rice out in a cookie sheet or tray to help it dry faster. The rice will smell a little vinegary at first but this will air out over time.
  8. Once the rice is dry you can dump it all into your bin and enjoy!
Our original colored rice. It turned out great! Time to mix it up.

*A word of CAUTION: we learned the hard way that if you have dogs or other small animals who roam freely in your home, DO NOT leave the rice bin open and unattended. Our dog got into our rice bin and ate some of it. He was not hurt, but he did end up with an upset stomach and potty problems for a few days. Not fun for any of us. Plus, we had to throw away some of our rice that he got wet with drool. Now we’re diligent to not leave a single grain unattended.

Learning to Experiment and Hypothesize

The rice bin (or sand bin, or whatever medium you choose) is a great segue into learning the scientific method and fueling curiosity about the way things work. Free play with the rice bin will usually yield all sorts of creative experiments on its own. But if you have the time and want to introduce some new ideas to your kids, here are some ways you can do that. Of course, this is just a very small list of prompts to get you started but there really is no limit to the ways you can use this rice bin to learn. And don’t worry about your kid’s age. If they’re old enough to know not to eat the rice, then they’re old enough to begin to question the world around them.

Here are some examples of tools we used to enhance our rice bin learning experience (these items can be found around your home or purchased for cheap from the dollar store). These items are not necessary but can be fun additions. Get creative with what you have available:

My son, using a watering can, container lids, a tambourine, and a scoop to experiment with his rice bin.
Imaginations are the best tool!
  • Toilet paper tube
  • Scoops from baby formula containers
  • Ping pong ball
  • Small plastic cups and dishes
  • Plastic bugs
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Empty pill bottles, caps, and lids

Helping a child learn to hypothesize is simply about asking the right questions. Hypothesizing is guessing an outcome to an action based on what information you have at that time. All of my son’s hypotheses were based on what experience he already had with the rice medium and how it works with other objects.

I started by standing a toilet paper tube up on end on top of the rice and then filling it to the top with more rice. I then asked,

“What do you think will happen to the rice if we lift the toilet paper tube straight up?”

My son looked at the current situation, considered the information he already had, and then guessed that the rice would spill out the bottom of the tube. He was right! We celebrated that. And I could tell he was curious to try something else. So I took the TP tube and placed it up on end inside a plastic cup. I then filled it back up with rice but took care to fill only the TP tube. Then I asked,

“When I lift this paper tube up, where do you think the rice will go?”

Again, my son studied the situation and made an educated guess. He guessed that the rice would spill out into the bin. He was wrong, but that was good! He was surprised to learn that when I lifted the paper tube, the rice only filled up the plastic cup. And I learned that the cup we chose held exactly the same amount of rice as the filled paper tube. We both learned something!

After we tried a few more experiments learning about volume, I decided to try some experiments with movement and resistance. I used my hand to shape the rice in the bin into a tall slope. Using the ping pong ball, I then asked my son,

“What do you think will happen to this ball if I place it at the top of this slope?”

I was wondering if he would remember seeing an episode of Sesame Street where they experimented with whether or not different materials would slide down a slope. That might have been part of the information he pulled from when he formed his hypothesis. He guessed that the ball would roll down the slope. He was right again! Smart little guy.

We tried one last experiment. With this one, I gave him very little information to start with to see what he might come up with. Placing the ping pong ball on top the rice surface, I asked,

“What do you think will happen to the ball if I use my finger to push it down in the rice?”

This was the first time he looked genuinely confused, like he had no idea what would happen. More likely, he had no words to communicate what he thought would happen. So he just waited to see what happened next. I then used my finger to push the ball all the way under the rice until it was completely submerged. I loved his surprised face! Even though he didn’t have a hypothesis for this experiment, he learned the meaning of the word “bury.”

After we concluded our experiments, I left him to his free play. I could see him trying to replicate some of our experiments. This told me that not only did he enjoy what we had done, he also knew that he wanted to try to gather more information. Even if his brain wasn’t using those terms, specifically, he knew that he wanted to learn more. I’m so excited to find more ways to help him learn to hypothesize and test the world around him. It’s one thing to tell someone else the way things work, but if you ask them to make an educated guess and try the experiment out for themselves, they build many more mental connections and synaptic pathways in their brain than they would have otherwise.

The rice bin has been a great tool for learning already, and I know we’ve only scratched the surface with its teaching potential. I love when the cheapest toys are the most valuable!

Favorite Recipes · Hmm, Pinteresting

Olive Garden Alfredo Recipe

Who doesn’t love pasta? Of course, some of us have to watch our intake because it’s easy to get carried away, but indulging once in a while is such a treat. Alfredo has always been a “treat” for me, a special meal that I look forward to. But I’m also very picky about the taste. It has to be just right. I’ve never found a jarred sauce or a recipe I like. Olive Garden’s Alfredo sauce has probably been my favorite for years. I know there are plenty of people who don’t like OG. That’s okay. But what you can’t deny is that fat and salt can really pump up the flavor in a dish.

Thanks to good ol’ Pinterest, I came across a recipe one night that claimed to be “Olive Garden’s Alfredo Recipe.” Out of sheer curiosity I read the comments left by other Pinterest users. Several of them were claiming that this recipe was incorrect because of one or two of the ingredients. Personally, I didn’t know any better, but I was willing to believe these keyboard warriors because several of them corroborated the story. Further down the comments, I found that someone had posted a comment claiming that Olive Garden actually provides many of their recipes on their website. RECORD SCRATCH. That was news to me. So I did some digging. I was salivating thinking that I could get ahold of the OG Alfredo recipe to make myself. At the same time I was worried that I’d have to get a wider front door put on my house once I ate my weight in Alfredo. Click HERE for the entire online catalog of Olive Garden’s recipes.

Sure enough, after some digging, I found a collection of Olive Garden’s recipes on their website. I scrolled and scrolled until I found the treasure I was digging for. Click HERE for the Olive Garden version, unaltered. Below, I have included the recipe with changes I made after the asterisks (*).

Ingredients

  • 3 oz wt butter *I used ½ cup salted butter or 1 full stick, only slightly more than their recipe calls for.
  • 1 Tbsp garlic *I used a fresh bulb rather than the pre-minced version I usually keep in my fridge for quick recipes and added probably 2 Tbsp because there’s no such thing as too much garlic in a recipe like this.
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 ½ cup milk *I ended up adding this last and only used ½ cup since I wanted my sauce to be a little thicker than the recipe calls for. Also, I used whole milk.
  • 1 ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese *I used closer to 1 cup+ because I wanted the cheese to be the main thickening ingredient.
  • ½ cup romano cheese *I did the same thing as with the parm, 1 cup+.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *I also added about 1 lb of chopped rotisserie chicken for protein.

Instructions

  1. Fried the chopped garlic in the butter until it started to become fragrant and the butter started to turn golden in color.
  2. I then added the flour and mixed it in to make a roux which would help thicken the sauce.
  3. After that was thoroughly mixed, I added the heavy cream and stirred it all until the coloring of the sauce was even.
  4. Then I added the cheeses and stirred until they melted evenly.
  5. After that, I added the milk, salt and pepper, tasting in between additions to make sure I didn’t over salt the recipe (which, in my opinion, is the only downfall of the Olive Garden recipe made AT the restaurant. It always seems too salty to me.)
  6. Finally, I added my chopped chicken and let everything simmer a bit until it reached my desired thickness.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the recipe was good. Very good. I’m glad I added the extra cheese and didn’t add the same amount of milk that the original recipe called for. It was so much richer but most likely with a lower sodium content than what you get in the restaurant. If I was to try anything different the next time around, I would sauté the chicken in the butter/garlic mixture at the beginning to help give it a little more flavor. When I made this recipe I was in a hurry so I didn’t get the chance to think everything through and use my instincts as much as I like to. If you don’t hear from me again after this post, it means I’ve eaten Alfredo until I burst. But don’t be sad. At least I died happy 🙂

Life Hacks · Parenthood

My 5 Favorite Potty Training Tricks

Let’s just get this out on the table now. Potty training sucks. It takes all the fun out of raising a tiny dictator and turns it into…well, poop. If you’re lucky. I used to be hopeful about potty training. My mom told me I potty trained in a night when I was my son’s age. She said all it took was me peeing my pants at night one time to motivate me enough to use the toilet. I’ve heard all sorts of similar stories from parents. In an online mom-group, I read a ton of success stories that filled me with confidence in that we’d be 100% potty trained in no time!

On the advice of MANY other moms, I read a highly recommended potty training book. This book was well written and suggested a method that aligned with my own thoughts and feelings about PT (potty training). Better yet, it made me believe that it would only take us a week to fully day train! I was willing to split up day and night training if we’d only need a week. That sounds great!

Me- genuinely wondering if we’ll ever be done with potty training.

When I first read the PT book, I was 8 months pregnant with our second kid. Looking forward to the future, I knew my toddler would be just about the right age to start PT when the baby arrived. My husband and I both read the book to make sure that we were on the same page with the training method. I read the book twice to make sure all the rules stuck in my mind. We schooled Grandma and Grandpa on our chosen method since we’d be living with them during this big life change. We bought the travel potty, the potty seats, flushable wipes, a couple of potty-related kid’s books, and enough puppy wee-wee pads to blanket the entire house multiple times.

We hid the entire living room floor in the wee-wee pads and covered the couch in towels. Potty training was upon us. But we knew we wanted to focus on it after the baby arrived. At the end of my pregnancy, I was so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be mobile enough to help my son to the potty over and over. We also knew that once I had the baby, my husband would be on paternity leave, giving us one more person to help. We were so hopeful. What was a week of our time to focus on such an important step in our lives?

As I write this, we’re over 6 months into our potty training journey. Yup. You read that right. 6 freaking months. And we’re still not done yet. I’m not writing this to tell you HOW to potty train. I’m not writing this to tell you which method is best. And I’m sure as heck not writing this to tell you that potty training is easy, fast, or terribly convenient. I’m writing this to tell you that potty training is freaking hard no matter which age you start or how smart your little genius is. But over the last six months, we’ve tried many different methods, tricks and hacks and I’m writing this to tell you which of those tricks worked for us.

1- REWARD SYSTEM

The potty training method that I chose to follow expressly discourages a reward system. But hey, we’re a family of rebels and our parenting motto is “Whatever Works!” because we all get to a point sometimes when it’s more about just getting things done. We didn’t start out our training with a reward system in place. Again, we started this adventure as hopeful parents. Weeks into our PT journey when we were deep in discouragement, we decided to give rewards a try. We started PTing in the fall so we had tons of pre and post Halloween candy at our disposal. One of my favorites that I kept stocked in the house was candy corn. Love it or hate it, most kids don’t care. It’s a special, sweet treat. Our rule was one corn for a pee and two corn for a poop. For a time, it was a great motivator. You could substitute a different food treat in place of candy. I’ve also heard of people using potty charts with stickers given as a reward. If you’re not opposed to a reward system, test out the things that motivate your child.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

The last thing I want to mention about this method is that it did NOT completely ruin our PT results. This singular trick is not the reason we’re still struggling to get to 100% trained. The reward system worked well for our kid, for a time. We were actually able to quit the reward system cold turkey because we eventually ran out of candy corn when it went out of season. Thankfully, our toddler is pretty flexible to rule changes like that, and after asking multiple times finally gave up and accepted the fact that he didn’t need a reward to use the toilet. This method helped transition us from the little, portable potty to the big toilet. So, I consider it a small win in the long game.

2- BATH CRAYONS

These were an item that we already had laying around from bath time. Bath crayons are washable crayons that can be used on the walls of a shower or bath tub. We found that they work great on the glass doors of the shower in the bathroom we mainly use for PT. Many times we found ourselves stuck in the bathroom with a stubborn toddler parked on the potty waiting for results. We were spending anywhere between 10-30 minutes in the bathroom with our son who refused to go on command even when we knew he needed to. So, what do you do to pass the time? We’ve read books, watched videos with him on our phones, or just sat and memorized the back of the shampoo bottle. But once we figured out we could use the bath crayons, we opened a whole new world of bathroom entertainment.

These are the bath crayons we use. They’ve come in handy so many times in our PT journey.

We used the bathtime crayons to draw on the glass shower door immediately adjacent to the toilet. We worked on our ABC’s, colors, numbers, etc. But the most helpful was learning new words. I would write a new word on the door that was related to our training, regardless of how long the word was. Our favorite word was “COOPERATE” which was written above definitions like “to help” and “work together.” While my son sat, trapped and bored on the toilet, I would read the big word to him and give him a little explanation and story to define it. My son amazed me when we came back after only doing this a couple of times. He not only remembered all the words (not quite site reading but more memorization) and had a grasp of what those things meant. This helped us a lot in our journey because my son is BIG on communication.

I was also able to use the crayons to draw or write things my son was interested in and create stories around those to help him learn concepts like “focusing” thanks to something Cookie Monster once said, team members “obeying” the direction of the captain on a football team thanks to his love of the Seahawks, and I also fabricated a story about how Stormtroopers have to “communicate” to Darth Vader when they need to go potty. That one might not be canon, but it worked for us! You know your kid best. Use these tools to your advantage when helping them learn about the PT process. And if you don’t have a shower door to draw on you can always just use regular paper and tape it to a wall and use regular crayons or markers. Time to get creative in the bathroom!

The shower door is a great opportunity to learn new things since we spend so much time in the bathroom while potty training. Here, we learn words we commonly use plus new words that can help us in our PT journey. Right now our big word of the week is “communicate” which has been a big speed bump for us.

You can also use the bath crayons (or dry erase markers) to draw on the inside of the toilet seat. If your child is having a hard time focusing on staying on the toilet, you can flip them around backwards (facing the toilet seat) and let them draw on it to pass the time. This worked for us for a while and made for some interesting bathroom art to surprise the next unsuspecting toilet user. Click HERE for a link to the bath crayons we use. These ones work really well and also wipe off without a lot of effort. We found them for a few dollars at Walmart and I don’t make any money off this recommendation.

3- TALLY MARKS

While we’re on the subject of the bath crayons, I want to mention one of our latest tricks. We’ve started writing a tally mark on the shower door for every pee and poop made without an accident. Unfortunately, when there is an accident, we erase that line of tally marks and start over. We started this idea without a solid plan for it. We weren’t offering a specific reward or punishment. We just wanted to build into practice the idea that the tally marks hold value.

It’s hard to get a good picture of it but this is our crude tally mark portion of the shower door. Obviously, we’ve had a recent set-back in the pee department.

Recently, after another big accident-related set back, I impulsively offered ice cream as a reward for accumulating 40 tally marks. In the past, my son has only hit 36 tally marks without an accident as his personal record, and he’s never had ice cream in his two and a half years on this planet. So, I’m not sure if it means a darn thing to him, but I’m willing to try it. For science! And for ice cream! Because we all know Momma Bear is going to get some of that ice cream too for her hard work.

Alternatively to the tally marks providing a reward, they can also provide a means of understanding hard work lost. When we have an “accident” (and, to be clear, these are hardly accidents at this point because my son knows the rules, knows our routines and still refuses to use the toilet without prompting) we erase all of the accumulated tally marks for either pee or poop depending on the accident type. When we do this, we make sure to stress that these tallies are valuable and that we’re disappointed to have to erase them. I do see that my son is starting to understand their value, and losing them finally has some significance to him. I am curious to see WHEN (because I remain hopeful) my son reaches 40 tally marks, if getting ice cream makes a positive impact on him in terms of motivations. Stay tuned in for an update!

4- TAKING SOMETHING SPECIAL

This trick came to me on a whim. We had been struggling for weeks to get my son into the bathroom at our prompting (based on his regular and predictable pee schedule), and every time we even mentioned the word “bathroom” it became a massive fight. It became increasingly difficult to keep our composure and creative a positive experience. At one point, before prompting for a bathroom break, I decided that I was not going to use my usual verbal prompt. Instead, I would ask him these words exactly: “What are we taking with us?” I didn’t give him any warning, or any context for the words’ meaning, but I would get up and start to suggest specific toys or items in the room to “take with us.” Then, once he had selected the items, we would carry them to the bathroom (without any resistance, surprisingly), and find a place for them on the bathroom counter while we did our business. It worked! And it still works!

Today’s “chosen” few consists of some magnet tiles, a horse, a spider, a dog toy, and Mommy’s hair clip. Whatever works.

Every time we use this method, we take something different. We’ve taken every toy, some more than once. We’ve taken really obscure objects from different rooms in the house. We’ve even taken random pieces of paper, ads from the mail, or small bits of (what I consider) trash. There have been very few items that I have said “no” to taking with us. Because remember, WHATEVER WORKS. Sometimes we take a specific toy to “show” it how we go potty like a big kid. Or we take a specific book to read. It’s really about the novelty of getting to choose (almost) anything to take with us. Most of the time my son puts the items on the counter and completely forgets about them while we’re taking care of business! This method is probably my favorite.

5- RESPONSIBILITIES

This PT trick has been an interesting one for us. We started working these responsibilities early into our routine. At first, we were having to help our toddler with every step because he was still in that physically awkward phase where things like pushing his pants down was too difficult for his little fingers. Slowly, over many MANY repetitions, he’s been able to take over the responsibility of moving his step-stool, putting up the toilet seat, placing the potty seat on top of the toilet seat, pushing down his own pants, sitting down on the potty seat without assistance, flushing the toilet, writing the tally mark on the shower door, and moving his step-stool to the sink for hand washing.

“Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better WHY we’re potty training.”

All of these things are steps towards his potty independence. All of these learned routines have saved me a lot of work. Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better why we’re potty training. The latest responsibility we’ve given him is to pee standing up. This one seems to be particularly special. For months, we offered it to him as an optional change but he kept refusing. We didn’t push it because we wanted him to feel ready. Thankfully, he found that peeing standing up “like Daddy” was a very special privilege, and it has been the most successful milestone we’ve had in months. I know this particular responsibility doesn’t work for girls, so once we get to the potty training age with my daughter, I’ll let you know what new methods we come up with.

Overall, potty training has been an uphill battle for us. We’re still not through it. But these 5 methods have helped get us through different stages and learn new things about what our toddler needs and how to communicate with him. I don’t expect anyone reading this to need or use all of these tricks. Hopefully, you’ll only need one or two. But I wanted to compile them all in one place so that you can keep them in your parenting “tool kit” and only use what you need. I’d love to hear about any other methods, tricks or hacks that have worked for your family. Please feel free to add a comment or two to this post and share your PT wins or struggles with the Average Momma Bear family.

Decorating a Home · Hmm, Pinteresting

Geeking Out Your Interior Design

Choosing wall colors, cabinet styles, furniture, decor, and making it all work together is hard enough. What about trying to define and capture your own style? Sure, you can cruise Pinterest for hours, days, years and save a million amazing ideas, but how do you take that collection and make it your own?

There’s a reason those Instagram pictures and Pinterest pins of farmhouse, boho, shabby chic home decor have thousands of shares and saves. They’re beautiful. They feel intentional and put together. Personally, I’m obsessed with many of those and strive to make my house look like the pictures I see online, but in reality, I know my house will never look like those. This might be for a few reasons. First of all, those pictures are staged and heavily edited. I know no one who has a family, especially kids, can live in a house that looks like that 24/7 and stay sane. I also know myself well enough to know that I always try to recreate the home decorating styles I see online but my personal style frequently creates an odd mashup that might not be Insta-worthy.

Decor examples from Pinterest (could not trace original author) using a neutral palette with some contrasting patterns or color. *Not my photos*

The common thing about most of those extremely popular decor styles is that most of them are based on a neutral palette. The main base color is usually a stark, clean white, and the majority of the large accent pieces are neutral browns, tans, and creams. Some designs incorporate black as the contrasting color, while some even go as far as to use a single, non-neutral color as an accent.

As much as I would love the look of a neutral palette, I tend to require a little more color in my personal designs. I do my best not to go overboard with color. A little goes a long way. That rule applies to all of the suggestions further in this post. That being said, some bold color choices can make for a playful and interesting aesthetic. Below, I have included a picture of the dining room wall I painted in my last house. I chose a bright teal because it is my favorite color, and I wanted to create a unique “pop” of color among our mostly neutral paint palette. Adding fun, geeky decor to your home is a nice way to hint at your style, but adding just the right color to a wall can brighten your day and put a smile on your face when you look at it.

A bold teal color I chose for my dining room wall. This became my favorite wall in the house because it breathed life into the otherwise neutral color palette and gave a beautiful color contrast to any artwork placed on it.

Getting to design your own interior space can be overwhelming, but it can also be freeing. Take into account the things you’re interested in. If that happens to be neutral, pattern heavy, boho-inspired, green spaces, then good news- there’s tons of inspiration for you online! But if you’re more like me and appreciate something a little more unique and a lot more geeky then I have some wonderful resources and ideas for you ahead.

“Our family is full of geeks. I can trace it directly to my geeky parents.”

Our family is full of geeks. I can trace it directly to my geeky parents. My husband and I have definitely passed it on to our kids. Because of this, I love finding ways to incorporate our personal, geeky style into our interior decoration. It can be tricky if you’re hoping to stay away from in-your-face, obvious fandom references. I have taken the time to compile several extremely geeky color palettes (found at the end of this article) that reflect different fandoms. These colors can be easily incorporated into your designs with subtle tricks such as decorative throw pillows, wall art, and thoughtfully placed knickknacks or more visible, yet aesthetically pleasing, hints like full colored walls, bedding, or murals.

These ideas should be used in small amounts. Too many of these ideas in one place can get a little too busy and quickly become tacky. So, try to spread the geekery throughout your house. It will be more like an Easter egg hunt for your guests to discover and less like a visually overwhelming mishmash from wall to wall. One way to hide geeky clues in plain sight is to add home decor items like the ones below. (All items can be found at ThinkGeek.) These items can easily be accents in rooms where they blend in with other regular decor. The red clock could be used in a farmhouse style kitchen as an interesting color contrast piece. The towels could be used as decorative hand towels, placed on top of solid color towels with similar palette. The constellation light could be a sweet feature on a guest room nightstand to brighten someone’s night.

Small decor pieces like these can easily be worked in to existing decor schemes to add geeky flair. (These items can be found on ThinkGeek.com)

Here is an example of geeky decor that can be added to even the most elegant dining room. These Harry Potter themed plate and flatware sets (also found at ThinkGeek) are a great way to hint at something without being too obvious. Don’t even mention their theme to your guests and see if they discover it for themselves!

Beautiful Harry Potter dinnerware and flatware can be an elegant way to geek up your dining space. (These items can be found on ThinkGeek.com)

If you happen to have a home theater or a movie viewing area, you can always find beautifully done, artistic posters that celebrate some of your favorite movies. The posters below are just an example of the great ones you can find on the internet. Nowadays, there is such a vast collection of artwork like these that you can use to hint at your fandoms rather than being blatant with an obvious movie poster. Take it a step further and put these artistic posters in wooden poster frames before hanging them. It will create an even more sophisticated and intentional look for your media room.

These posters would be beautiful in a family room or theater. What better way to showcase your favorite geeky movies than with these works of art? (These posters can be found on ThinkGeek.com)

Bedding doesn’t have to be boring. Adding some geeky bedding to your boudoir can allow you to sneak in some geek while allowing the rest of the room to be more neutral. Here are two good examples of geeky bedding that aren’t too flashy or juvenile. You could also carefully add in a themed pillow or two, nestled in with some matching, solid colored throw pillows.

These bedding sets are a fun way to use subtle, geeky prints in the bedroom. The example on the left is a Star Wars theme with TIE Fighters mixed in with the geometric pattern. The example on the right is a damask print using Harry Potter artwork for a more elegant approach. (Both sets found on ThinkGeek.com)

A bedroom is also a great place to make use of the fandom-based color palettes. For example, if you’re looking to hint at what Harry Potter house you belong to, you can always choose a color from the House’s palette, paint your walls with it and use the House’s secondary color as an accent in the decor. Here, I have provided two examples where I used the main color from one represented Hogwarts’ house (Ravenclaw in one example and Slytherin in another) and used the room’s decor as the secondary colors used in the Harry Potter movies. This is a neat way to use bold color schemes without overwhelming the visual aesthetics of the room. The remaining colors should stay neutral to keep the room from feeling too visually “heavy.”

Using Sherwin-Williams online color sample generator, I created two examples of room decor using Harry Potter House colors as wall paint and the secondary color in the room decor.

Using bold colors in your house doesn’t have to be scary. In our last house, my husband and I decided to incorporate our geeky personal touches into some of the most visible places. We researched the exact blue color of the TARDIS from Doctor Who so that we could paint our front door to match it. We wanted to make our front door look as much like the TARDIS as possible without being too obvious. So, we chose a door with windows at the top and used the bright blue paint color to give people that “hmm, this reminds me of something…” feeling every time they looked at it. We actually ended up loving the bright blue color so much that we decided to paint our powder room with the same color. It turned out great! It made that little room feel special and different without being out of place. Check out the photo of our TARDIS blue bathroom below.

We used Sherwin Williams 6811 – Honorable Blue as the paint color for our front door and powder room. This color was the closest color matching the TARDIS blue from Doctor Who.

Wall art can be a tricky decorating tool. So much of the wall art that you can buy in stores looks like stuff you see on the walls of a hospital or dentist’s office. Finding artwork that adds a little bit of geekery into your decor without being blatant can be tough too. Here are a couple examples I found that could work in a pinch. Below, you can see the first is a set of prints based on the art found in the newest Zelda video game, Breath of the Wild. That game has amazing visuals, but I liked that this art set was simple and graphic. Add these into a boho-feel room, and they’ll blend right in. You could even convince your guests that you purchased them abroad, haha! The second piece of art is a clever take on a classic piece of artwork. I love this one because it has a lot of color and visual interest. You could pull colors from this painting to add into your room in other decor pieces- pillows, lamp shades, rugs, etc. to bring the whole room together and keep this painting from standing out too much. Both of these examples have a lot of versatility in helping you visually pull a room together with simple decor using either style or color scheme.

Two great examples of artwork you can hang and enjoy in your home. Guests might not even notice the geeky hints!

And don’t forget about decorating outside your house! The front porch is the first thing people see when they come to visit you. If you’re like me and enjoy letting guests know a little about you before coming into your house, a geeky doormat is a great addition. To accent our Doctor Who door color, we found a great doormat that read “It’s Bigger on the Inside.” This was such a fun conversation piece when other “Whovians” would visit our home and recognize the geeky decor hints. Especially since our house really did look bigger on the inside!

Overall, there are a lot of possibilities and ways you can hint at your fandoms with your interior decor. It takes a light, creative touch. This is a subject I could write a whole book on if I had the time! And no, I don’t make any money off of my recommendation of ThinkGeek, but if you’re looking for anything from decor to gifts to clothes that are geeky in nature, that’s the place to go.

As promised, here are my fandom-based color palettes below. Each color has been assigned a hexadecimal color code (or hex code) that can be found at the bottom of the palette. You can read my previous post where I outline several websites I use when creating color palettes like these. These hex codes are used on several of the sites listed in my post to correspond to specific colors. With these hex codes and the websites I provide, you should be able to replicate these colors in other places for your own use.

Feel free to refer to these palettes when needing geeky color combinations, but please cite me as author. I put in a lot of time and effort developing these collections. Also, I would love to hear any suggestions you have of other fandoms for which I should make color palettes. If I use your suggestion, I will credit you in the next color palette post!

A few of my other favorite fandoms. The Harry Potter colors were borrowed from somewhere else (author unknown) because I felt that they were already pretty accurate. The rest of the palettes are my creations, most sampled directly from pictures of these fandoms.