tulum, mexico :: places we went

Just one more post about Tulum. We gotta talk a few deets: Places to go! Things to see!

It was our first visit, and we were only there a week, so we are obviously the farthest people from experts on the area. Nevertheless, there were several places we really enjoyed during our trip, and I want to share them. Some are places I found before our trip through online research, while others we stumbled upon while there.

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PLAYA MAMBO ECO CABAÑAS
There are lots of hotels in Tulum, and all of them are small and locally-owned. No big resorts. But there are lots of choices. We wanted to be right on the beach, and somewhere that was more rustic, so Playa Mambo sounded like a good choice from what I’d read online. It was.

We reserved through booking.com and rented a bungalow with ocean view. There are two of these available. Both have the beach and ocean as their front yard. They are also a bit bigger than “cottage” options because they have a sleeping loft. I thought this would be a good option for the kids. It was a small loft with a window, accessible by ladder. It worked out well for Cameron; he slept up there in his travel crib and it was good for naps because we could go in and out of the cabana without disturbing him. Willa was freaked out. She slept on a mattress by our bed.

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Pros:

  • Location. Playa Mambo’s beach was beautiful. They had a small number of beach chairs/beds with umbrellas. There were several good restaurants nearby, as well as a mini-mart just outside the gate for cheaper beers and other snacks.
  • The hotel provided breakfast to guests. Coffee, fruit, and pastries. Eggs and such were available at an additional cost.
  • The staff were efficient and friendly. Our room was cleaned daily. The staff offered the kids beach toys on our first day.
  • Overall, Playa Mambo had a great vibe. It was laid back and casual while still being stylish and well kept. It seemed to attract friendly people; we enjoyed interacting with many of the other guests staying there at the same time.

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Cons:

  • No fridge. No cold drinks. No way to store perishable food.
  • Breakfast. We wanted to enjoy it because it was part what we were paying for, but it wasn’t quite enough. It was our first breakfast and then we’d go find a second breakfast.
  • Cash only. I alluded to this in a previous post. It is absurd that a place that charges what Playa Mambo does per night would not take a credit card. Or at least PayPal or some other electronic option. This was really to their detriment though; we would have bought many more piña coladas if we could have paid with plastic.
  • Value. While we really enjoyed our stay at Playa Mambo, it didn’t feel like a great deal. It was “eco-chic” which, in some ways, just meant “budget.” There was no air conditioning. The shower was a trickle. We only got new towels every few days. All of this was totally fine for us, but I’m not sure it matched the price point.

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RINCÓN POBLANO
I didn’t want to spend a week in Tulum and only be at the beach. (However, the beach was really nice!) We ventured into town one of our first days to check things out. The town definitely had a less tourist-focused vibe.

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My favorite thing to do when I travel is to do everyday activities like locals would, so it was nice to just walk into this random restaurant off the main street and have lunch. It ended up being a great choice. It was relatively empty; just us and one Mexican family eating lunch. The man working was quite friendly and the food was delicious. We ordered taquitos and a mole. And beers. And a smoothie. Willa got quite into smoothies on vacation!

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LA OÑDA
A few doors down from Playa Mambo, this place advertised “Best Pizza on Earth.” Now, I’d have to disagree with that bold statement, but the pizza really was quite good. The service was friendly and the beers were cold.

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BOLAS DE POSTRE (Balls of Dessert)
Being on vacation was no different than real life; the words “if you X, you can have ice cream” somehow at some point were uttered by some parent. That was much easier said than done however. On Tulum’s beach road, everything is run by generator, so freezers are few and far between. Willa was a good sport about it, but we did feel compelled to find ice cream at least once during the week.

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We’d seen an ice cream cart when we were driving to and from town, so on one of our last afternoons, we finally decided to walk down the road to find it. It was a bit of a walk; Willa was asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived, but it was so worth it!

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They called it “superfood ice cream” and all the flavors we tasted were divine. The Vegan Papaya Almond Bliss was my favorite, but the Cacao was also good and the Tamarind Jamaica was really delightful and refreshing. Willa initially said “yucky” when the chocolate came out (3 year olds!) but I think she was just thrown off by the nuts and other textures. She ended up devouring it. As did Cam.

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There were no real cons about this place for us, but my only somewhat negative thought was that all the soymilk they were using might not fly in a trendy American city, but that was no problem for me (tofu foreva!).

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ZAMAS
The New York Times told me to go to Zamas in the morning for the view and the huevos rancheros. So that’s what we did. And, unsurprisingly, NYT was right. The service was great, the food delicious, and the location on the beach was fantastic. This breakfast is a really happy memory for me; I’m so glad we went. (Notably, Cam cried through most of the meal. See, another vote for traveling with kids! Even when they cry it’s still a happy memory!)

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LA EUFEMIA
While Tulum was overall a great travel destination, and we really enjoyed our time there, there’s no getting around the fact it’s quite touristy. Perhaps it was once off the beaten path, but beach road is now the path. It’s full of folks from Brooklyn or London (or Denver), looking for some tasty tacos. Luckily, just a few places down from our hotel, was La Eufemia. It ticked all the boxes for me: casual, fun, delicious food, good drinks, reasonable prices, and an authentic vibe. It was the only place we went twice. It was also the only place we spotted the young, hip staff from our hotel eating after they clocked out.

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They had a 2×1 drink special the first night we were there, and we didn’t really think it through before Dan ordered a piña colada and I ordered a mojito. So when 4 drinks came to the table, we were like, “hey, I guess we’re having a big night!” The second time we went, we were ready and just ordered one piña colada. Although I don’t judge anyone who enjoys multiple. They were good!

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LAGUANA KAAN LUUM
The morning I did my paddle boarding + yoga outing, they took us to this public lagoon. SUP Tulum has their own private lagoon, but it was quite windy that day, and Kaan Luum was smaller therefore less wind.

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It was beautiful. When we arrived at 9:45am we were the first ones there. By the time our class was over, around 11:30, there were probably 20-30 locals there swimming. The sandy bottom of the lagoon was pretty squishy, which took some getting used to, but the water was gorgeous and a perfect temperature.

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SOL
Not a place, but I feel compelled to note that while on the beach, the refreshing taste of Sol made it my preferred cerveza.

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Salud, amigos!

mexico :: what we packed

When it comes to packing for recent trips, I’ve felt like a fish trying to swim upstream. I try so hard to pack minimally, but still we end up taking what feels like WAYYYYY too much stuff.

Usually, I blame carseats. When we were planning a family vacation for 2016, our first thought was to do a trip entirely without carseats. We thought through a lot of itineraries, but couldn’t come up with one that made sense for us. When we decided to go to Tulum, we pondered whether or not we could make the trip work without a car, but in the end we opted for a rental car. It was the right choice.

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But still, even with the carseats, packing light had to happen. How much do you really need for a beach vacation anyway? I was thankful I could reference what we’d taken to Costa Rica a couple years back, and I tried to pack even a bit less since this trip was shorter and we had to use the same size suitcase for one extra human. So anyway, here’s what we brought (minus Dan’s clothes, but he packed about the same as I did, perhaps a tad less).  This list is mostly for my reference in the future, but maybe someone out there will find it useful, too?

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willa’s clothes
2 pair leggings
1 pair shorts
2 tank tops
2 t-shirts
2 dresses
1 beach cover-up
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 swim shirt
3 bathing suits
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
2 pair socks
1 sunhat
1 pair sunglasses

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cameron’s clothes
1 pair pants
2 pair shorts
1 full-piece pjs
1 long-sleeved onesie
1 long-sleeved shirt
2 t-shirts
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 tank top
2 swim diapers
1 swim shirt
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
1 pair socks
1 sunhat

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toys + other kid items
Cheer Bear
3 books
folder of coloring/art materials
2 matchbox cars
2 stacking cups
2 small plastic spoons (for sand play)
1 small ball
AquaDoodle
1 book of puzzles
1 BrainQuest
1 pair earphones
kids’ camera
Ergo
Solly Baby Wrap
2 life jackets
2 carseats
travel crib

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my clothes
2 short dress
1 pair lightweight pants (“vacation pants!”)
1 pair cropped legging
2 pairs shorts
2 t-shirts
1 lightweight cardigan
1 long-sleeved shirt
3 tank tops
1 beach cover-up
3 bikinis
1 swim shirt
1 sports bar
1 regular bra
2 pairs socks
running shoes
flip flops
sunhat
sunglasses

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non-clothing items
2 bags of toiletries (lots of sunscreen; minimal make-up)
laundry soap
travel knife
12 Lärabars
fruit leather
canvas bag
4 water bottles
2 snack containers (plus a few we used as sand toys and then recycled there)
Steripen to purify water
2 books
2 magazines
2 iPhones + 1 charger
iPad + 1 charger
camera
2 headlamps

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reflections on our week in tulum, mexico

We’re just back from a trip to Tulum, Mexico. As Denverites, we feel a to need to get ourselves to a large body of water from time to time, and all the better if it’s in a tropical locale. We somewhat spontaneously booked this trip a few months ago, and were so excited to take the whole family south for a week.

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Traveling with the kids is challenging for sure, but I think it’s only by getting out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow. That goes for both the little ones and the adults. The challenges are part of what make it fun and memorable. (They’re also what can make it momentarily miserable, but you do your best to just move forward, right?!) Making memories and having experiences together as a family always outweighs the inherent difficulties of embarking on an adventure with little ones in tow. (If it sounds like I’m giving myself a pep talk here, that might be somewhat the case.)

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When Willa was 20 months old, we traveled to Costa Rica. After that trip, I wrote a “things we learned” post. Looking back at it now, all those things are still true, and definitely applied to our trip to Tulum. But with this trip fresh in my mind, here are a few reflections I want to remember:

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Just because you travel well with kids doesn’t mean your kids travel well. That might be a bit harsher than I really mean, because, actually, I think our kids do travel pretty well. But what I sometimes need to remind myself is that I can’t control my kids or their feelings. It is possible that they won’t like traveling. They might not like sand (Cameron). They might miss Denver way more than I do (Willa). I can’t make them have fun. I can give them the opportunity and guide and teach them to the best of my abilities, but that’s it.

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Do you really want to eat out for every meal? Some people like to. I don’t. Even before kids, I don’t enjoy eating all my meals in a restaurant environment. Most days we ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and went out to dinner. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh fruit and snacks to eat throughout the day. However, our cabana didn’t have a fridge, so our options were limited. (This also resulted in some beers consumed earlier and faster than necessary after purchase since we lacked refrigeration.) We know we like having a kitchen, but there were a few reasons it didn’t work out this trip. We need to make sure it works out next time.

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Strollers can be great. I’ve been known to be a bit anti-stroller. For a long time, I didn’t travel with one. But, now that we have two kids and Willa is older but not a solid long-distance walker, it’s often really helpful to have a stroller. We used it in the airport on our travel days, for exploring Mayan ruins, and for walks down the main roads in Tulum. Willa enjoyed a nap or two in it, and Cam occasionally took a turn rolling.

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Baby carriers are the best. At the last minute, I packed my beloved Solly Baby Wrap. (Actually, I put it on as a scarf on our way to the airport.) It was so nice to have a lightweight wrap to wear Cam in the heat, and we were happy to have two carriers so we could walk along the beach with both kids. Perhaps we’re doing a disservice to them by not mandating marching, but we enjoyed covering some ground with the sand between our toes and the waves crashing against our legs.

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Research how you’ll pay for things at your destination. Duh, right? Tulum was totally “cash only.” I knew many of the smaller restaurants would be, but we were surprised how many places, including our hotel, wouldn’t take credit cards. Even the large gas stations on the highway back to the Cancun airport were cash only (or so the attendants said!?). We failed to plan ahead for this as much as we should have, and it caused a few wrinkles in our trip. Lesson learned.

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Plan some adventures. But not too many. Before we left for the trip, I booked myself a morning outing to stand up paddle board. I knew if I didn’t have it scheduled, I’d probably not end up going. It was a great decision; SUPing was fantastic and easily doable during our week-long stay. Likewise, Dan spent a morning golfing. As a family, we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Coba.  But otherwise, we mostly stayed at the beach. I often feel compelled to do a bunch of side trips and outings when we’re in a place where there’s “so much to do” but then I remind myself that staying in a hotel right on the beach is an outing in and of itself. It’s always important to balance relaxation with activities, and that balance likely shifts on each trip for a variety of factors. But for us, it’s been important to just “be” on vacation.

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go-to recipe :: sweet potato tacos

A few times this week, dinnertime has been less than ideal. Kids crying. Short tempers. No fun.

It’s definitely not always that way chez nous, but those hours at the end of the day can frequently be trying. I don’t think it’s necessary to spell it out here; I’m sure lots of you know what I’m talking about.

That time of day can be even harder when I have no idea what I’m making for dinner. Usually, I’m pretty good at meal planning. However, sometimes, it’s 5pm and I realize that I haven’t even thought about what I’ll make for dinner. Oops. So for times like that, it’s good to have a few go-tos in my back pocket. These are my number one. I make them probably twice a month. You should make them too. I mean, if you want.

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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

SWEET POTATOES:
2 large sweet potatoes, roughly peeled
olive oil
1T ground cumin
1/4t cayenne pepper
1-2 cups black beans

CILANTRO PESTO:
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup cilantro leaves and stems
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lime
1 serrano (or jalapeño) chile pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

TO SERVE:
tortillas
feta or jack cheese
lime wedges
green onions
hot sauce

1. Cut sweet potatoes into 1cm cubes. Toss to coat with olive oil, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until they reach the desired softness. About 30 minutes.

2. A few minutes before sweet potatoes are finished, toss the black beans into the pan to warm.

3. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, make the cilantro pesto. Mix all ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Add more olive oil if needed to reach the desired consistency.

4. If you’re feeling fancy, warm or char your tortillas on the stove or microwave.

5. Assemble tacos with desired accoutrements and enjoy!

how to see santa at union station

The most anticipated event of our advent activities last month was to take the train to Union Station to see Santa. Willa had been asking to take the light rail for a long time, and while driving to a station outside the city to ride downtown didn’t make tons of logistical sense, it still sounded like a fun family adventure. So. That’s what we did. Only, it wasn’t that simple. Here’s how it went down:

IMG_2234^^step 1: buy tickets.^^

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DSC00126^^step 2: ride the train. arrive downtown.^^

IMG_2242^^step 3: realize the “real” santa isn’t there on the sunday before christmas. WHAT!?^^

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IMG_2239^^step 4: have lunch while you try to regroup. mercantile dining & provision.^^ 

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DSC00149^^step 5: try to make up for your parenting fail by buying your children sugary treats. throw in some adult holiday drinks as well. wreak havoc in the middle of union station when hot cocoa is spilled (why is the “kid’s size” so damn big!?).^^

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DSC00207^^step 6: check the santa’s schedule online, and then go to union station again. this time, by car. observe santa and families in action for several minutes. try not to feel too weird that you’re just watching.^^

DSC00226^^step 7: go eat lunch at zoe mama. because, the best. and what else would you want to eat on christmas eve?^^

DSC00241 ^^step 8: ice cream. because the line for that is much shorter than the line to see santa.^^

DSC00232Hurray! That’s our story! Live and learn, friends.

wish list + wise purchases

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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(Actually that was in October when we had friends visiting and went hiking above the snow line. But still. It’s currently snowy in Denver. Promise.)

Christmas is about so many things: Making memories with my family. Remembering memories of past holidays. Hugging. Eating. Eggnog. Spinach Balls. Joy. Surprise. LOVE.

But it’s a little bit about gifts too. Try as I might (and honestly I’m not able to try that hard) you can’t completely eliminate materialism from Christmas. And I’m not sure we should. Exchanging gifts is part of the spirit of Christmas. Reciprocity is an important part of our culture. And desire is human nature, no?

That said, here’s my Christmas list. Things I’ve been lusting over. And after my desires, I’m listing some of my favorite products. Things I’ve been given or bought in the past couple years that have literally changed my life. If you need gift ideas, they’d make someone very happy. Promise.

DESIRES //

A new Patagonia fleece. I had this one in brown for a few years, but I made a mistake and got the wrong size. So I never really enjoyed wearing it. It was always too small. I finally accepted the reality, and passed it along to a friend, but I’ve been missing it. It’s so warm and perfect for those not-super-cold winter days that Denver has a lot of. I’m not loving the options Patagonia has on their site right now, but perhaps REI or another retailer has some other options. Also, investing in a brand like Patagonia that prioritizes repairing products (that are already made to last in the first place) instead of buying new ones, has my vote. Great company that truly values sustainability.

Slip-on sorta-winter boots. Not very specific, I know, but I’m not sure exactly what I want. Maybe someone can suggest some for me? I have a pair of Sorels that I love for real snow boots, but I need want some that I can slip on when it’s just a little bit snowy or slippery. I suppose my Uggs from 2002 fit this purpose…but they’re Uggs. So 2002.

“Get to Work Book” planner. Here’s a very specific one. I want this exact planner to get my life in order in 2016. I’ve thought a lot about my goals, big and small, and researched books. This one is what I want. If you don’t buy it for me, I’m buying it for myself. You might want to buy it for yourself too?

My Mom’s gold star necklace. My mom has a beautiful star necklace. It looks a lot like this one. Ever since the first time I trolled through her jewelry box, I’ve wanted it. Now I’m making it public. Mom, fork over your necklace! Kidding. But think about it? I love you!

Frame Jeans – Flares. Flared jeans are finally back in style. Hallelujah! I like these. Now I just also need sewing lessons so I can hem them myself. Therein lies the problem with non-skinny jeans…

Something from Kit + Ace. Technical cashmere seems like something I should probably have in my life.

LOVES //

Minnetonka Fringe Boots. I got these in black a year or two ago, and there are not words to express how much I love them. They are so comfortable. It’s basically like wearing slippers. They also have the effect of making me feel like a youthful teenager and a hip thirtysomething simultaneously. That shouldn’t even be possible, but it is and it’s a good feeling. Get them.

Casio Watch. This is the ultimate parenting watch. The top right button sets an alarm for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes (one press is 1 minute, press twice for 3 minutes, etc.). I use it about 75 times per day. “Willa, we’re leaving in 3 minutes.” Or, I set it for myself: “When the alarm goes off I better be putting on my shoes or we’re f-ed.” It’s good for cooking too. It has a stopwatch and alarm function too. It does not, however, have Indiglo, so it’s not so good for night wakings with babes. Thankfully, that is very recently no longer an issue for me.

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine. We saved and saved for this and finally splurged right before my birthday last year. That was also right after Cameron was born. It perhaps sounds ridiculous, but this machine has seriously improved the quality of my life. It’s easier to wake up in the morning knowing I have a coffee shop quality latte in my near future. The built-in grinder feature is key.

Cuppow drinking lids. Make any Mason jar a travel cup. Ditch plastic and single-use cups.

Car phone mount. I’m all kinds of against using your phone while driving. But let’s face it, no one’s buying a new Garmin when their iPhone has the capability of providing directions. This mount makes your phone easy to view while driving and it’s nice and small for travel too. Just set up an app to block messages, and you’re good to go!

Alex and Ani earrings. I wear these almost every day. Love their bangles too!

choose your own adventure

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You know what’s great about not having a “regular” job? The flexibility. You know what’s super overwhelming? Flexibility.

Pretty much every day I have a long stretch of time without any plans. Hours that can be filled however I want. There are things that need doing: grocery shopping, work, meals, dishes, emails, diaper changes, exercise, laundry… But most of those things don’t need to happen at a specific time. I can work out in the morning or in the afternoon. We can go to the park whenever. Willa can nap at noon or 1:30. The grocery store is open all day.

This whole stay-at-home/work part-time thing has been tough for me to master. It’s a work in progress. Before Cameron, I felt like I sort of had things down. We’d go out and do something in the morning, and then come home for lunch and naptime. Even if we didn’t get out the door first thing, we still had time to do something. But now, Cameron naps mid-morning and so it sometimes feels like I’m being held hostage in the house with my almost-three year old. Good times. Notsomuch.

This summer, I need to figure out a bit more of a schedule. I need to be the driver of our time. It is wonderful to be able to design our days just how we want them, but it’s not without challenges. Sometimes it feels like the day slips away from me. I’m totally okay with staying home and not doing much, but I want it to be an intentional choice.

Here some reminders for myself as I work to achieve a more scheduled life that balances work and play. Maybe you have some pointers too?

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Have a plan. So simple. So obvious. Yet hard to execute. The days we have a plan and somewhere to be at a certain time, we get ourselves there. The days that are open-ended are when we sometimes get a bit cranky. Even when I don’t have an obligation or scheduled meet-up with a friend, it helps immensely if I make my own schedule ahead of time. I’m working on a “bucket list” for the summer to make sure we get to all the things I want to do.

Make use of small blocks of time. Don’t underestimate the short or simple outing. Everyone’s mood gets so much better with a little fresh air and stimulation from the outside world. But, I tend to overestimate how much time it takes to do things, so often I don’t go somewhere because I don’t think there’s enough time. It’s good to remember that a quick outing can be quite restorative, so squeeze something in between naps or whenever you can!

Ditch the schedule. But only sometimes. My kids like to nap in their beds. I’m not sure if it’s their nature or something we’ve fostered, but they don’t sleep very well in strollers, carseats, etc. As a result, I have a love-hate relationship with naptime. I love the break it gives me but I sometimes hate having to be home for it to happen. It’s good to throw naptime to the wind occasionally. This lets you have the whole day to do whatever you want. Sometimes this totally backfires and you’ve got meltdown madness on your hands. But usually everyone adjusts. It’s important for everyone to learn/remember to be flexible.

Do things you enjoy doing. Since becoming a mom, particularly a mom who is primarily at home, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to do certain activities. “Kid-friendly” things. Many of those things are a lot of fun. But some of them aren’t. At least not for me. But what I want to do is constantly changing. There are things that sound fun today that last year I swore I’d never do. I try to remind myself that there are many ways to raise kids, and children can benefit from a wide range of experiences, so it’s okay to just do what you want to do.

Be gentle with yourself. I’m working on this one. I try not to stress too much if I forget something or am a bit late to meet someone. I do the best I can, but things are hard enough without beating myself up. Yes, I try to remember the sunscreen. But if I forget it, we’ll find some shade and everyone will be okay.

Use television strategically and sparingly. I don’t have a real issue with kids watching TV, and I certainly make full use of our Netflix subscribtion. However, I’ve noticed that the more shows Willa watches, the grumpier she is afterwards. With summer coming, I need to remember that playing outside is much better for everyone. I want to try to limit our “screen time” (mine too!). I hope to reserve shows and movies for times we can cozy up on the couch together to enjoy the experience.

Slow down. As much as I enjoy doing things, it can be equally important and beneficial to stay at home or to just walk around the block aimlessly. I can be nice to just let the day unfold as it will. Some of the best memories can be made when you aren’t trying too hard.

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baby items you (i) actually need :: the first year

Last month, the food blog Eater published a post about editor Andra Zeppelin’s “Personal Denver 38.” For each city covered by Eater, there’s a list of the “Essential 38 Restaurants.” This is my go-to resource for where to eat. But I loved the idea to feature people’s personal lists, because everyone is a bit different. Different food preferences, different neighborhoods, different lifestyles.

The same is definitely true for baby items. (I can tie any topic back to food, apparently.) There are so, SO, many lists out there about the “essential” baby items. But what that person needs isn’t necessarily what I need. And what I need is not exactly what you need. Someone in a city needs different things than someone who lives in the country or the suburbs. You get my point; there are a few universals, but most baby stuff is a matter of choice depending on your lifestyle, parenting preferences, and more.

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Before Cameron was born, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we’d actually need for him and whether or not we needed anything new. I’ve written about some of my thoughts regarding all the stuff marketed to parents; all the stuff we’re made to think we need to successfully raise our children. I struggle with this. A part of me strives to be minimalist, but I also feel an urge to have the “right” stuff to make my life “easier.” Carefully selecting quality, useful items can indeed add to your life. But I’ve come to realize that too many material things makes me feel overwhelmed. It can be hard for me to focus on what really matters when the living room is a cluttered mess.

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When Willa was a baby, I discovered we actually didn’t need anywhere near as much stuff as I’d thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn’t cost us anything!

Before she was born I’d tried to take a “less is more” approach to my registry, but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We’ve since gotten rid of some of those things, but we’ve held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I’ve of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that’s absolutely a necessity, here’s what I’d recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you’re going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you’ll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn’t realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of “all-in-one” car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We’re a fan of the Diono Radian because it’s one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!)

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Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don’t need to get into here.) I’m a fan of cloth diapers primarily for economic reasons. There are lots of debates about whether or not they’re better for the environment than disposables (I’m inclined to think they are), but it’s impossible to debate the fact that you save money by using cloth. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip “diaper system” is awesome (so glad Alli recommended them to me!). And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as bamboo liners so you don’t ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you’re squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Oh and make sure you have a diaper-friendly detergent. I love Nellie’s. You need so little that I only went through two bags in the 2.5 years Willa was in diapers. See, economical!

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Cloth wipes. I use these for everything. Diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I love these particular ones because they are soft and have held up well after hundreds (thousands?) of washes.

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren’t just for attachment parents, they’re for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it’s good for toddler carrying too.)

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Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we’ve had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we’ve moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I’m providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I’d buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it’s approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than “sets.” Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It’s a racket! No one needs both a 6″ and a 8″ chef’s knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here’s the thing about bottles: your baby can’t drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn’t be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don’t need 10. And if you’re not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, two.

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Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it’s way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they’re not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don’t want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you’re sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don’t need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You’ll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

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Highchair. I believe it’s super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won’t. They need straps.) I like chairs that don’t have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it’s hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it’s that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted’s chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I’m a big fan of this one because it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don’t work on wood or any porous counter/table). We don’t, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. Willa loves using the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. Around the house I give her food on small plates we already own. However, when she was first started eating I did buy one plastic plate and one plastic bowl from Goodwill. And don’t get me started on sippy cups…I’m a big fan of regular glasses…but I did really liked this cup as her first sippy (although beware: it leaks!), and I’m hoping my bottle-hater will take to it in a couple of months. For some reason “they” try to make parents think that kids need all kinds of special items for eating (fancy Disney plates, for example!?) but chances are you already have some small plates on hand as well as a cup or two that it won’t matter if it breaks. You also need a few bibs. I like these because they’re plain and the velcro doesn’t wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they’re labeled “boys.” They’re primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don’t waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn’t really need any toys. And that’s somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

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That’s it! But I’m certain I’m forgetting something essential. So you tell me: what are your “must haves?” What could you have done without that surprised you?

the first night home with a newborn

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I’ve always been a concrete thinker. When someone tells me what they do for work, what I’m really wondering is not what their field or job title is, but what they actually do all day. More than once I’ve asked someone, “ok, so you go into your office, you sit down at your desk, and then what?” I like the details. I could give several other examples of this…Recently, I asked a friend whose house is always super clean, “Seriously. How do you do it? When do you clean? For how long? Tell me your secret!”

It amazes me, then, that despite the 998,230,301,394,720 things you can find on the internet about having a baby and caring for a newborn, there are very few outlines of what you actually do when you first bring home your baby. There’s lots of general advice about feeding and sleeping and taking care of yourself and the baby etc. etc. But where’s the step-by-step guide?

Both times I’ve had a baby, the first day home has caused me to freeze a bit. (More so the first time, but this time as well!) Nighttime comes, and we stand in our room with the baby, and say to ourselves, “Ok. Now what?” It doesn’t matter what advice you’ve read or which parenting philosophy you’ve “chosen.” In that moment, you have to do something.

So, if you’re one of the 5 people who read this blog of mine, you’re in luck! Because here’s my detailed version of the ins and outs of a first day at home with a newborn:

1:30pm – Arrive home after an uncomfortable car ride during which you noticed bumps on the road that never seemed to be there previously. Limp into the house hoping the neighbors don’t see you. You’re not quite ready to be cheery. Have husband carry carseat into house. Set it on the floor for the dog to smell.

1:45pm – Send husband to fetch a blanket to cover the couch. Lots of potential for messes in the coming days, and the last thing you want to worry about is cleaning the couch. Have big sister hold the baby before Dad takes her upstairs for naptime. Take a few pictures, but you’re not really feeling “photo-ready.”

2:00pm – Attempt to nurse baby. At this point your milk may or may not be coming in, but either way it’s important to offer things up. Change your baby’s diaper to rouse him, and then he’ll likely proceed to poop again while nursing. Rookie mistake.

2:30pm – Find some place to put the baby down. Perhaps back in the carseat, or in a bouncer or swing or lounger or other baby item everyone told you that you “needed.”

2:45pm – Have a snack. Perhaps a sweet treat someone sent you, or fresh fruit, which you’ll likely be craving. Hydrate.

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3:00pm – Take a shower. Hopsital rooms have showers, obviously, but during both my hospital stays they seemed way too daunting. Showering at home, however, improved my overall mood tremendously.

3:45pm – Relocate necessary items from your room and the baby’s room to the downstairs. Having the nursey all “ready” always seems like a great idea until you realize you’ll be spending most of your time with your baby in the general living spaces of your house.

4:00pm – Settle onto the couch and nurse baby again.

4:30pm – Relax on couch while baby relaxes on you.

5:30pm – Friends visit! If you’re lucky like me, they bring you ice cream sandwiches. They hold the baby while hearing some version of his “birth story.”

6:00pm – The doorbell rings again while you’re nursing the baby again. (Take notes. This detail is a good one!) Out-of-town friend has sent the best local delivery option imaginable. Husband sets the table while you find a pillow or other soft item to sit on. You move the sleeping baby to the bouncer/swing/lounger that you’ve placed near the table. Take pictures. Eat more than you should have because you didn’t quite realize the still fragile state of your systems.

DSC053376:30pm – Move back to the couch. Nurse baby. Overwhelm yourself mentally with questions about breastfeeding that you likely won’t even remember in a couple days.

7:00pm – Say goodnight to  your toddler, not moving from couch. Upload a picture of the baby to social media. Nurse baby again in anticipation of visitors at 8pm.

8:00pm – Neighbors come over! They brought your favorite beer! Drink some! But not too much.

9:30pm – Neighbors leave. Nurse baby again. Drink a little more beer.

10:00pm – Head upstairs to bedroom. Settle gingerly into bed and nurse baby.

10:30pm – Have husband swaddle baby, because he’s basically a professional swaddler and you suck at it.

10:45pm – Place your baby on his back in the Pack ‘n Play, turn out the lights, lie down, and cross your fingers.

10:50pm – Baby starts wailing. Husband gets out of bed faster than you can, picks baby up, and bounces him for a bit. Baby is quiet until put down again. Cries.

11:00pm – Husband takes baby downstairs and holds him to get him to sleep.  You sleep, amazed at how much more comfortable your bed is than the hospital’s.

1:00am – Husband returns with baby. You take 5 minutes to get yourself to seated in the bed, and then take off the baby’s swaddle and pajamas so he’ll wake up enough that you can nurse him.

2:00am – Husband swaddles him again, and puts him back in the Pack ‘n Play. He fusses for awhile, but doesn’t fully cry.

2:30am-6am – Everyone sleeps!

6am – Nurse baby.

6:30am – Big sister wakes up. Time to head back downstairs to your couch. Real coffee awaits!

wastefulness in parenting

I sometimes feel as though parenting, in American society, is an endeavor fraught with wastefulness. Even before your baby is born, “they” (“we”?) hit you full force by making you think you need not only diapers and wipes but also swings and bouncers and bottle warmers and so many clothes and pacifier wipes and bottles and disposable breast pads and milk storage bags and more and more and more…Then, as your baby gets older, you suddenly need individual squeeze packs of baby food and more clothes and boogie wipes and disposable placemats and bright colored plastic dishes and then more individually packaged snacks and milks. And toys! Lots of toys. Plus books. Newly printed books.

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In the toddler years, it’s more than your own choices and the relentless marketing: if your child is anything like mine, once they’re around 2, they take wastefulness into their own hands and want to play with tissue after tissue and use three feet of toilet paper for each pee and squirt out excessive amounts of sunscreen “all by myself” when there’s not even a ray of sunshine in the sky. And don’t even get me started on how much she “washes” her hands with “just a little bit” of hand sanitizer. And here in drought-prone Denver, Willa singlehandedly wastes at least a gallon of water a day between playing with it in the backyard or washing her hands for several loooooong minutes. Ok and now that I write that, I realize that must be much more than a gallon.

As someone with an above average interest in waste reduction, this all drives me CRAZY. On good days, I was able to avoid most of the initial pitfalls. But sometimes those damn squeeze packs of applesauce just seem too convenient. And now that Willa is often the driver of our wastefulness, I struggle with how strict to be. Is it really that big of a deal if she wants to play with 5 tissues for her doll? And all that water play seems like it has some developmental benefits, right? Physics and such? Plus, we don’t have that many toys, so playing with water and tissues and hand sanitizer is cheaper than getting new toys?

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Parenting is a lot of work (shocker!). And the little things that make it easier can make a huge difference. I totally get that. And I agree! But I do think we should all take step back a from time to time to ask ourselves how necessary all the stuff we are buying actually is for our childrens’ development. I might ask these questions a bit too often; aggravating those around me with my constant analysis, but going against the prevalent disposable culture doesn’t always come easily or naturally. I have to constantly remind myself to make what I consider the better decision. And I also have to forgive myself when I cave and buy a ton of individually packaged snacks, wipes, and disposable diapers for whatever reason.

Below I’ve listed are some of the choices I’ve made related to waste and parenting in the past couple of years. Most are obvious, and as with most (all) posts on this blog, they’re really just reminders for me. I completely support everyone making the decisions that are best for their own life and family, but sometimes it’s good to realize the options. So these are the little things I try (key word) to do to reduce our family’s waste, but I also don’t think I’m an extremist. I like a snazzy new shirt or toy or book and I love eating a LÄRABAR when I need breakfast or a snack on the go. Balance is what I’m going for. (Although I’m not budging on the boogie wipes or pacifier wipes. Those are ridiculous.)

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Parenting choices to ponder to potentially reduce waste:

Cloth wipes. I really don’t think babies need as many disposable wipes as we seem to think they do. A gentle cloth on the bum or face that then easily gets thrown into the wash seems like a no-brainer. Save the money and the chemicals and the waste! These GroVia wipes are my favorite. They’re so soft and have held up great for over two years. And I honestly find they work better than the disposable ones for cleaning a soiled bum. So that’s something.

Cloth diapers. I was only a few months pregnant with Willa when I decided that we’d use cloth diapers. It just seemed logical. Cloth diapers have gotten all “fancy,” which means they are super easy to use. And for me, the most motivating factor is how much cheaper they are than disposables. Plus no driving to the store to replenish your stock, which is great for someone like me who never seems to be able to keep necessities on hand. I completely understand that there are tons of reasons that cloth diapers might not work for some families. But even if you use just a few cloth diapers in addition to disposables, that can make a difference to both the landfills and to your budget! And there are some diapers that are a hybrid, like gDiapers. Disposable inserts with a cloth cover. So many options!

Reusable Nursing Pads. (Apparently I’m starting with the cloth portion of my suggestions.) I loved using cloth pads during my early breastfeeding days. I had a few of both kinds, and found the disposable pads to be really scratchy and uncomfortable. You’re likely doing a good amount of laundry anyway, and chances are, that laundry already has some milk stains on it!

Eat meals at home. This one is super challenging for me! But, ever since Willa started solids, I’ve made an effort to, at least more often than not, have our meals and snacks at home. I not only think it’s good for her to learn that we should sit down for mealtime rather than continually eat throughout the day (and to be honest I really need this reminder too), but also this makes it easier to feed her fresh, whole foods instead of relying on prepared snack foods which have a lot of packaging and aren’t usually as healthful. This is definitely a goal of mine, not a reality, as I’m sure I could be “caught” several times each week giving her an individually packaged snack. But I try to keep it in mind. (Side note: She loves Nature’s Bakery “fig bars” that you can get at Costco, but I got annoyed of all the packaging. So I found similar ones at the regular grocery in less packaging, but they were 3x the price. Blargh. Lose-lose.) Related: teach your kids to drink from a regular cup by the time they’re one, as recommended by doctors. The sooner they use the same utensils as adults, the less plastic stuff you have to buy.

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Buy milk in glass bottles. I was determined not to have a baby who was obsessed with cow’s milk. Better luck next time, because we drink a lot of milk these days. It doesn’t help that once I tasted whole, non-homogenized, local milk, I was obsessed myself. I finally found a local milk that comes in reusable bottles, so I’m not recycling a carton every week.

Buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, Dan shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! Hit up eBay, Goodwill, thredUp, Kidizen, Swap.com, or borrow from your friends and neighbors!

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one near us, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that’s new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have babywearing libraries. Awesome.

Upcycle. Yogurt containers make great snack traps. Old baby blankets can be used as wipes or rags. And so many things can be used for craft projects or toys instead of being thrown away or recycled.

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Buy gender-neutral. This ensures you can use them again if you have multiple kids. I’ve had this on my mind a lot lately, since I’m having a boy (next month, whoa!). You can accent the greens or yellows by buying more “gendered” items that are specific to that one kid. For example, hair ties or tights for girls. I think this is especially important with bigger items like bikes. Why buy a “girl” bike that your daughter will outgrow and then your son might not be into riding given its pink and sparkly nature. I’d say the boy should just ride it anyway, but we can avoid that issue by just getting a neutral bike at the start.

Read things that support your parenting style. I get frustrated when Willa’s not playing independently “enough,” and I sometimes think it’s because she “needs” more toys. But I don’t truly believe this. So I find articles to support my views, which helps bring me back to reality. Self-serving? Yes. But keeps me sane!

There are so many more things I wish I could bring myself to do, but I gotta keep it real. We might be on the “rag system” for wiping up messes around our house, but I don’t see myself stopping buying toilet paper any time soon…