Can That Jam!: How to host a canning party

A few weeks ago, my new favorite thing in the world began. Hanging out with friends, new and familiar, and learning to make stuff. I’d been admiring a friend’s macrame creations on Instagram and she FINALLY offered to show a few of her admirers how to make macrame plant holders. (FYI it’s easy as long as you’re relatively focused. This is hard for me.)

After I posted some photos of my newly canned strawberry jam, she suggested I return the favor and host a jamming session. As you can imagine, I did not hesitate.

But there’s only so much traditional strawberry jam I really need in my life so we voted and opted to take it up a notch to strawberry balsamic black pepper jam. I had never heard of such a jam but after googling “fancy strawberry jam” I repeatedly came back to this notion. Before you wrinkle your nose at my jam, you should know it doesn’t taste peppery or like balsamic. It just tastes deeper and richer than normal strawberry jam. It was a hit.

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1// The first thing you need when hosting a canning session is fantastic snacks. I thought I was doing pretty good by purchasing cheese and crackers but my guests took it up a notch. Check out this spread!

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2// Then you should designate a notetaker. Canning is not intuitive and the directions are important. If you have a bunch of people over then socializing may take over and they’ll never know how to do this again unless you provide details.

3//Choose a very reliable recipe. Unless you’re awesome at this, don’t make up your own recipe. Because botulism.

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If you have chickens, save them the strawberry tops!

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And then we decided to make a second batch. 17 cups of strawberries were sacrificed to make jam on this day. 

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Sometimes my house is cleaner than this. Not on this day, obviously. 

I chose a recipe from Serious Eats which did not disappoint! Here’s the basics:

Ingredients

  • 7 cups sugar
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped strawberries (from about 3 farm stand boxes)
  • 1/4 cup best quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One (1.75-ounce) package regular powdered fruit pectin
  • 1/4 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • mason jars, brand new lids, rings
  1.  Boil your jars for ten minutes then let them sit in hot, simmering water. Your jars should be piping hot when you fill them.
  2. Measure the sugar into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. To get a nice consistency, mash the strawberries in the pot.
  4. Whisk in the pectin until dissolved. (FYI: 1.75 ounces of pectin is 3.5 tablespoons. Google says so.)
  5. Add the butter and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
  6. Add the sugar all at once and return the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and skim any foam from the surface of the jam with a cold metal spoon.
  8. Ladle the jam into hot sterilized jars. Leave a quarter inch of headspace in the jars. Keep the edges of the jar clean so it will seal properly, because botulism. I dip a paper towel in my hot water pot to use to clean the edges.
  9. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Pro tips:

  • Follow the directions exactly. You don’t want to double or add extra strawberries or go rogue. Your jam will not have the right consistency!
  • I always boil one or two extra jars. If your berries have a high water content, you may need them.
  • If you forget your potato masher for smashing strawberries, you can use a large bottomed jar with a decent handle, such as white balsamic vinegar.
  • Post really good photos of Instagram during the process. Your followers will thank you. #influencer
  • When you put the rims on the jars, only put them finger tight- AKA using two fingers you be able to tighten and loosen it. Everyone wants to use their super strength to tighten the jars, resist that urge. They might not release the air inside and seal otherwise. Then you have to put them in the fridge and eat them up in the next few weeks.
  • You can reuse jars and rings but you cannot reuse lids. Once they’ve sealed a jar, retire them.
  • FYI: It can take up to 24 hours for the lids to pop. So while you can tap, touch and look at them lots you should otherwise, leave them alone. I like to hit the tops with a spoon, because you can hear if it popped. If it thumps in a hollow way, it has not yet popped. If it just kind of thuds, like a car hitting a wall, then it has popped. You can also tell by looking, because the popped ones will have a bit of a divot in the middle, and the un-popped ones will still have a tiny hill. Another option is to try to open it but without using your full strength. You should always be able to open it with your full strength, because otherwise what is the point.
  • It can take a week for the jam to fully set, but you can eat it as soon as you want. If it is too runny, put it on pancakes or ice cream.
  • How do you know if the jam has botulism? You don’t. So wash your hands, sterilize everything and if it doesn’t seal, don’t leave it on the shelf!
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Only a few jam makers are captured in this moment. I think we all feel like this photo is flattering. I have since gotten a haircut. And washed my hair. And cleaned my kitchen. 

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Turning 32: Acceptance, Love and Hope

In only a month I will be 32. Today I am in an unfamiliar city, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world and I am enjoying it tremendously, despite having cried three times already for missing my baby.

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My boys without me

I am listening to two adorable baristas discuss giving up sugar. They are tiny, young, friendly and energetic. One is petite with a pixie look and a valley girl intonation. My 20-year-old self wouldn’t have tolerated her in conversation but completely envied her style. The other has an androgynous look and I am drawn to her smile instantly. My twenty-year old self would have followed her all around campus. I’m still eavesdropping.

But in a month I will be 32 which somehow feels more significant when I turned 30. When I turned 30 I was pregnant for the first time which overshadowed everything else. Two years later I am pregnant again, less overwhelmed by the enormity and more…surrendered? My life, in a long term think-about-the-future sort of way feels paused while I create new life, someone else’s life. My mind has shrunk- unable to take in much beyond my house and the people who live there. I know that since becoming pregnant two years ago I have not been as good of a friend as I once was. I forget birthdays and don’t return emails, never on purpose but simply because. 

I no longer write, travel or create crafts often- all of which are my favorite things. There is a half-finished gray knit hat in a plastic bin in my attic among piles of yarn waiting for me, hoping I will come back for it. But I don’t have the time or money (two things to enjoy traveling) or the energy (required of writing or crafting). Although I sometimes long to do one or many of these activities, mostly I don’t care. It’s become normal but in waiting Haines grow and become more independent, I have seen the light. It won’t always be like this. This is just a phase of life where I will do me, as best as I can do me, and this is enough even though it won’t look anything like before.

Normally in a new city I would be racing around, walking every street. Today I worked remotely, found amazing Mediterranean food, bought two books in the book store where I am now very unhurried. I am sipping tea from an actual teacup and saucer. The afternoon light is casting a gentle flow across old wood floors in the café and I’m admiring the energy of nearby baristas while I write.  

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This is a sign of my age right? When taking time to be slow is just as important as seeing the sights? Then again, bookstores have always been “the sights” for me. I am old enough to have only bought 2 books (it’s called living on a budget) but not old enough to know I should go ahead and buy all the books, because books are invaluable. 

I believe the new year really starts on your birthday. I always look to the new calendar year as a fresh start but birthdays are far more inspiring. So what do I want for my next year? What do I hope for 32?

I hope for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

I hope for calm in the face of chaos.

I hope to have a few moments like this one where I feel contented in everything, fully knowing that all is not perfect.

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Ten years of friendship

I hope to spend time with friends and have a few laughs. I hope to hold hands with my husband after the bab(ies) have gone to bed.

I hope to read a few good books and enjoy a few warm summer nights.

And if I am lucky, I hope to get a few good nights of sleep.

All in all, I think this could be a wonderful year.

 

First Trimester Survival: Making It Work the Second Time Around

If you are in or entering your first trimester, you may be experiencing total internal chaos. It’s not a pretty sight. You’re excited and happy (hopefully) but also feeling any sort of degree of terrible and terrified.

I’m coming to the end of my first trimester with my second pregnancy and honestly, it’s a totally different experience.

Morning Sickness

Last time around, the first trimester just felt like a constant mild hangover. My head hurt, I was tired and I was queasy. But my queasiness could always be settled with a few crackers or a banana. It wasn’t much of an issue.

I’m still lucky in that my nausea is mild compared to many, but damn it’s worse. We’re on our fifth bag of jolly ranchers (although in fairness Tyler has been helping me) at our house and I keep other candies in my purse, car, desk drawer and anywhere else I think I could need it. Same with crackers. I’ve started taking Unisom and B6 to help but I feel like it’s mainly a placebo effect. Regardless I’m very unnaturally attached to it.

Survival tools:

  • Sour skittles
  • Jolly ranchers- watermelon preferred
  • Lemonheads
  • Saltines
  • Unisom (at night)
  • B6 (in the morning)
  • Tic tacs/ice breakers mints
  • A lot of other weird new habits like breathing solely through my mouth and mentally waving away bad smells
  • Be physical, be social, do something even for a few minutes. There’s nothing that helps like breaking away from your funk.
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A 20 minute bike ride two weeks ago gave me so much energy!

 

Fatigue

When I was pregnant with Haines I just wanted to sleep my life away. I came home from work and laid on the couch. During dinner I would often eat with my head laying on the table and then immediately go to sleep.

Now I just have to keep moving, which isn’t hard as Haines is always moving. 100% of the time. But at work the moment I sit at my desk, I almost immediately start to slump down. It takes no time at all before I am borderline horizontal. The same happens at Haines’ bed time.

Pregnancy Brain

The first time around I did not believe in pregnancy brain. I was a doubter, I’ll admit it. But after I thought Tyler still spent time in Alaska and I tried to find a dresser that we’d left in Austin I admitted it was a thing.

I thought I was starting off strong but this weekend I left my laptop at work which was the most important thing I needed. I had spent 15 minutes carefully packing my workbag to make sure I had everything and completely missed the mark. I’ve also done some other dumb things but I just blame those on Tyler, which I think is fair.

Peeing all the time

Expectations are everything! Since I didn’t know about peeing all the time in the first trimester last time I thought it was extreme and complained about it constantly.

Now I feel like it’s not even a factor. It’s all about expectations. Sure, I got up 3 times last night but that seems totally fine. Right? That’s just the same for everyone?

Emotional State

With Haines, I was completely terrified from the moment we knew we were pregnant. Even though we were pregnant on purpose, the moment we found out I started questioning the decision. Panic set in. What were we doing? Did we really want to change our lives like this?

Now, I don’t feel any of that. I’m much more terrified of the logistics of having two small children, not of the decision. It doesn’t mean this hasn’t had its emotionally scary moments but the sense of calm, internally, is greater this time around. I know what to expect from myself, from Tyler, at least on some level. I know our strength a little bit more.

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Family!

 

Physical Changes

I was shocked at the changes my body went through in the first trimester last time around. Everything seemed to happen so quickly! I vividly remember laying in bed and thinking, “Are those my organs moving?”

Now I look down and think, “Oh, I remember you.” It’s like welcoming an old friend back. It was only a few months ago that the skinny, tan line on my stomach disappeared. Now, it’s still gone but I’m already showing. I already want to rest my hands on my belly although there’s hardly anything to rest on.

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2016: pregnant but still a secret!

 

And there’s the feeling grateful and excited part. Every day we get closer to the second trimester, I think we’re getting closer to feeling safe, that we can start talking about logistics and other practical things. There’s no such safe zone, anything could happen but I am glad to be here whatever happens.

Growing Family

Children are not logical.  They’re adorable, pretty fun (some of the time), and make your heart explode with joy on a regular basis. They are not; however, logical. They cost lots of money, sleep, time, sanity and home cleanliness.

And yet, here we are, ready to do it again. Not just ready, excited. (ILLOGICAL!) Another little one will be joining our family at the end of October. And if I’m totally honest I’m terrified. Bringing a new person into the world, our little world, could not be more intimidating.  But I don’t think being afraid is a bad thing. It just means something important is at stake.

It was an enormous decision to try for baby number two. There were lots of reasons to go one and done. There were two reasons to try again:

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1. I have loved watching Haines grow. I have loved every milestone, every new word, even every painful new tooth. Watching Haines grow from a fairly boring baby to a tiny, humorous person is joyous in the most quiet, incredible ways.

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2. I have a sibling who is almost 11 years older than me. I love her and our family just the way it is but growing up I often wished we were closer in age. I want Haines to have the full sibling experience… even though I know that means two kids under two, crazy fights over toys, personal space and the like.

These last 16 months have not been very easy. I have a tendency to isolate myself when I feel low and having a young child naturally keeps you at home more. This is something that I constantly have to work through- making sure I get of the house, reminding myself to make plans, to reach out to others. My company, nor Haines’ or Tyler’s, is not quite enough to give me all that I need. I’m not actually sure what does give me all that I need.

I assume that’s because I’m a growing, evolving person whose life has become much more complicated since adding 1 (and soon 2) children. So what I needed once, isn’t exactly what I need now. Plus before Haines I didn’t have it all figured out either.

I thought that by the time I had children I would be a pretty perfect, mentally sound person. I’m actually still me, which is more complicated and will probably make for a better mother overall.

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So, littlest Barrack we are not perfect. We will always make mistakes, but we will love you more than you can possibly imagine. See you in a few months baby B!

 

Tiny Adventure: Coffee Crawling and Boat Cruising

So I’m pretty much down for anything that gets me outside on a pretty day. Make it stroller friendly and add free samples- I’m in! So this coffee crawl had my attention immediately.

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The Wilmington Coffee Crawl was well attended making it not as stroller friendly. One stroller was fine, but two strollers in a coffee shop or even near the shop- total traffic jam. It made it a little less relaxing than I would have hoped but I was in it for the adventure, right? To be fair, I don’t like coffee. I don’t like anything remotely coffee flavored. I’ve tried drinking chocolate milk with a thimble of coffee and it still makes me want to barf. I was in it for the danish samples (I’m always in it for the danish samples).

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Better Than Never blogger, Chrissy, and I strolled Haines through a light rainstorm to three different coffee shops and a brewery. He was a champ! We used a beer at the new Edward Teach brewery to calm our caffeine/sugar overload. Sometimes you need an afternoon downtown to remember how much our town has going on.

Haines is pretty tolerant of his stroller. Tyler and I have started jogging recently and Haines rarely fusses. BUT he does not like to be contained. When Tyler wanted us to go on a Valentine’s sunset cruise, dinner included, I was skeptical. Haines wants to walk around and explore 98% of his waking hours, not wear a life vest and stay in my lap. Still, we did it! Tyler picked up burritos, chips and queso- literally the food of romance for me- and met me at the marina with a few tulips and a baby fresh from daycare. We were able to take a short sunset cruise and eat dinner on board although I did have to walk around carrying Haines most of the time. Being seated was unacceptable.

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I’m working on tolerating the stress of going places with a busy baby. The other option is being at home which I already do quite a bit! In the end, I’m exhausted, a little bit fried and pretty proud of myself.

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Baby Money: How to pay for your new baby $$$

One of the most stressful parts of adding a person to your family, is figuring out how to pay for that person. They’re not exactly contributing to your household income (slackers). Most couples are faced with the choice- does one person stay home or do we hand our paychecks directly over to daycare? It is very easy to understand why many parents decide to become a single-income family. One month of daycare is just shy of our mortgage. I feel nauseous just writing that.

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That’s my baby being the biggest boy at his daycare.

It didn’t make sense financially for either of us to stay home, but even more significant it didn’t make sense for us emotionally. I definitely wish it was something we could have felt was a real option, but when it comes down to it both of us really like our jobs. It was important to us to keep them. That didn’t stop me from being an emotional wreck going back to work. I also periodically re-lose my mind over being a working mom and all the guilt that comes with it. But that’s parenting no matter what you’re work situation is.

I’d love to tell you about how we saved and prepared for all our new costs in advance but…not really. Here’s what we had to tackle and how we handled it.

//Medical// First you have to birth a baby and that’ll cost you. Then they’re going to get sick and you’re going to have co-pays for the pediatrician ALL THE TIME. I was very lucky that a previous employer I had a Health Savings Account. Through employer funding and my contributions I had almost $6,000 saved by the time Haines came along. When our non-medicated birth delivered by a midwife was only a little over $1000 I was so excited that we had more we could use later. But only two weeks later we were back in the hospital for twelve days. Thank goodness we had those extra funds. Even with a healthy baby, you never know what could happen. Now, I make sure to fund a Medical Flexible Spending Account each year to get the tax savings on our inevitable medical costs.

//Childcare// If you are a dual-income family, chances are someone is watching that baby part of the day. I liked the daycare route for several reasons. I wanted Haines to learn good social skills and  having some structure and routine around his day will be helpful when he transitions into school. I felt like daycare could provide more of that. It also seemed to be the most cost effective option (barely). I put the maximum into a Dependent Care Account which isn’t nearly enough. This part is painful. There’s no denying it.

//Diapers// We chose to cloth diaper via a diaper service for the first year. It cost about $80 a month, which was gifted to us. This is definitely the easiest way to cloth diaper- we loved it! But it’s not the most cost effective. Currently we do a mix of washing our own diapers and disposable. We’ve always had leak issues with cloth at night and when we travel we bring disposables. Still using cloth keeps our diaper costs down as well as our environmental impact.

//Formula// Obviously if you can breastfeed throughout the first year, you can avoid buying formula. That’s not always possible. We had to buy formula for 5 months which probably cost around $320. And that’s buying it at Costco. Now, daycares are required to provide formula so we could have saved by using their formula. But at around the same time a chemical, GenX, was found in our local water system. I wasn’t okay with our local daycare mixing the formula with tap water so we brought our own.

//Food// Haines ate pureed food for less than 2 months. He is not a fan of having people feed him. We made all of his food to keep costs low. I think it’s a little much to buy a special blender for baby food- I mean it’s just a tiny blender but we were gifted a freezer tray for baby food and I’m a huge fan. Now I freeze chicken stock in it.

Now he’ll eat most (like 60%) of the things we make for dinner but we keep certain staples on hand for him at all times: fruit canned in its own juice, applesauce (most often homemade and frozen), frozen veggies (corn, green beans, lima beans, peas) and either Chex or Kix.

//Clothes// Most of Haines’ clothes are gifts. I try not to buy much for him and as he’s the only grandson in our family, people are very generous! Anything we have to buy is from second hand kid clothing shops and semi-annual consignment sales. We probably spent around $50 last year on his clothes. I bought one pair of Target pajamas, two pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of shorts, 3-4 pairs of pants and a couple sweatshirts. Once he outgrows something it goes into a bag underneath his crib. Hypothetical baby number two and/or friends with babies will benefit!

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One of our best second-hand finds!

//Toys// With very few exceptions, we don’t buy toys. We have plenty from hand-me-downs and gifts. We have purchased 1 second hand wooden train set and 1 activity walker from Fisher Price. We’re going to keep this up as long as possible by saying yes to hand-me-downs whenever they come!

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//Baby bullshit// One person’s baby bullshit is another’s must have item. You know what yours is. I won’t call you out.

Paying for babies isn’t for the birds. Someone once told me that babies are cheap when they’re little. I call baby bullshit.

I’ve also been told that when it comes to babies the money always just seems to work out. It did for us, but it has almost entirely been through the generosity of others. Maybe that and a little luck. So the amounts here may seem small to you (if you have a child) or they may seem enormous (if you don’t). But it worked out. And it was worth it.

Medical $7,500
Childcare $7,020
Diapers $15/ month in disposables, plus free cloth diapering
Formula $320
Food insi
Clothes $50
Toys $50
Bullshit $30

Baby’s First Year Survival Tools

One of the things expecting mothers always panic about is all the things. You feel you need all the things! In reality, you won’t need half of what you end up with when you have a baby. A lot of people will try to give you things. You’ll most likely accept everything  thinking, how am I to know what I need? You don’t, so cut yourself some slack. I don’t know what you need either, but I do know what I used to get through HEB’s first year. If we have another baby we’ll probably need totally different things! But hopefully not because we’re not buying anything.

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Newborn hell (or 0 to 3 months):

I have to be honest, those newborn days that everyone (without a newborn) glows over… those are pretty intense. Even if you are not breastfeeding you may start to think, surely this is impossible! Horribly enough we all started off as extremely needy, up all hours of the night, feeding every 2 hours, adorable little babies.

  • Netflix– get it, gift it, don’t judge yourself for binging it.
  • Chicco Keyfit stroller caddy– We loved this for the ability to plop our carseat right in and start strolling without ever disturbing our sleeping babe. There’s also tons of storage underneath so I could throw his diaper bag in there. I preferred using this for grocery shopping (heavy things in the caddy, light things in a basket) rather than a cart when he was small.
  • A breastfeeding station- Find yourself a Boppy or a Brest Friend or whatever and keep it near your comfiest chair or couch. Near that fill a basket with granola bars or easy to eat snacks, your kindle or your TV remote and remember to bring water when you’re sitting down to feed. Two minutes in and you’ll suddenly remember you’re DYING of thirst.
  • Rock n Play– Haines slept in the Rock n Play for the first 4 months of his life and absolutely loved it. Admittedly though we never put the batteries in so it didn’t rock him on its own. I would reach out and rock him to sleep in the middle of the night if needed, but never used the actual function. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to stop.

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3-6 months:

This was a pretty tough time for me. I went back to work and Haines’ sleep had really gotten worse so the level of fatigue was high. At the same time though H started to interact with us. He was alert and playful. It really lifted me up.

  • Bouncy chair– This is something we didn’t know we really needed. It was a hand-me-down (as is everything else) and I wasn’t even sure why we would want it. Um… you want to carry this lightweight all over your house so you can get things done! This is what baby lays in while you cook dinner, go to the bathroom, type your blogs- all the important things.
  • Frozen meals- I had fixed some items in advance and my mom and Natalie also stocked my freezer as well. The first few weeks/months we were the beneficiaries of a meal train but that comes to an end well before the fatigue does. Having the world’s easiest meals on hand is very helpful. I also froze muffins to help me with my constant need to snack.
  • Ergo– We started out with a 2nd hand Chicco carrier which worked okay, but it was a huge upgrade when a friend gave us an Ergo. After a little while you start to want options for going out and having some sort of baby wearing device is a must. (Also, I tried a wrap and found it to be an enormous pain the tush.)

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6-9 months:

The first turning point! Everything was fun during these few months (minus sleep training and ear infections). Haines was excited for everything- food, Clara, being outside. There were also so many milestones during this time. He sat up, crawled and walked all between 7 and 9 months.

  • Kiddo food trays- I LOVED using these to make Haines’ baby food. I made all of his food at home which was much easier than I anticipated. When he napped on the weekend, I would dump all the veggies into a steamer before blending in our Nutri-bullet. Any blender will do. The only downside here- HEB moved on from purees pretty quickly. He wanted to feed himself!
  • Baby proofing- This turned out to be much more in depth than I would have expected. We had to get rid of several pieces of furniture that we deemed being too annoying with a baby to keep. If you’re going to try to limit your “No! Don’t touch that!” conversations than I will suggest going beyond outlet covers and cabinet locks. Every trash can in your house should have a heavy lid, your toilet paper should be moved near the ceiling and any knick-knacks resting within 3 feet of the floor should be moved. Probably just get rid of your blinds now.
  • Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy- For months this was Haines favorite toy. It could entertain him indefinitely. This is probably the only thing we ever tore up the house looking for.
  • Nursery rhymes- Start practicing now. This was the only way we could get perk up a cranky baby during diaper changes or going into his carseat.

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9-12 months:

This was the second turning point. We have a routine. We can mostly anticipate Haines likes and dislikes. He’s fussier and harder to console but also easier to distract. Children are weird.

  • Alphaprints book & The Itsy Bitsy Snowman are Haines two favorite books right now. They are guaranteed to lift his mood!
  • Bathmat– If your baby wants to crawl all around the bathtub then I recommend getting a non-slip bathmat for the tub. It has cut down on his falls tremendously and ours has a hook so it can hang on the shower to dry.
  • Spoutless sippy cup– Haines has struggled with all the other cups we’ve given him but took to this one right away! (Full disclosure: we still use a bottle most of the time, but this cup has helped a lot).

 

If you’re stressing about needing all the things, don’t. Get a carseat. Figure out a safe place for the baby to sleep. Buy a few diapers (and expect many more in gifts). Collect every hand me down you can. You’ll figure out the rest.

And remember, for better or for worse, this is only temporary.

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