Miss Susanna is officially one, which means my baby gear days are officially done. Before they retreat too far into the past, I thought it might be helpful to offer a final round-up: of what we loved, what stood the test of time (and three kids), and what loved so much we repurchased. Of course, I stand by the claim I made even before my first pregnancy: babies don’t need much gear to be happy and healthy. Yes, there are some things that are incredibly helpful, but perhaps fewer than you might think. With that being said, here are a few that made the cut for us – some I’d consider true necessities, and others, fun extras.
Quick note for those who might be new: we have three kids, and the span from the oldest to youngest is 5.5 years.
Crib | After we retired the crib that June used (the same one I used as a baby!), we replaced it with this Jenny Lind style. I think it looks sweet for a boy or a girl, the price can’t be beat, and it still looks brand new after two babies.
Travel crib + bassinet attachment | Easy to set up and fold back into a backpack, compact, looks good… this pack and play has it all. One of my very favorite pieces of gear that we used for all three kids! They all slept in the bassinet in our room to start, then used it on overnight trips for the next few years.
Swaddle Me swaddles + Magic Merlin suit + sleep sack | There are tons of swaddle options out there (and aggressive opinions about all of them), but if you’re looking for somewhere to start your research, we used the Swaddle Me for all three babies and loved them! We did have to buy a new one each month because the velcro wore out, but they’re priced reasonably enough and work well enough that we were willing to do it. Just pull the end under tight tight tight :)
For the younger two, we used the ridiculous-looking Magic Merlin suit to ease the transition to sleeping arms-out once they could roll. We only needed it for about one month each, but it was incredibly helpful for that brief period! Your baby might hate it, though, so this is a great item to borrow from a friend, if you can, before buying!
Only our youngest has really used a sleep sack, but she seems to love this quilted version. I do not think it matters what kind you get – this one was a gift, I think!
Sound machine | Nothing fancy, but we love this one. Definitely get one with raised buttons or you’ll be feeling around in the dark trying to turn it on. This one is great for on-the-go.
Sweet crib sheets, blankets, and muslins | Each of our babies had 1-2 patterned crib sheets, a special blanket for naps at school, and a muslin for a lovey that was also used as a nursing cover, burp cloth, car seat cover… all the things. We have and love pieces from Little Unicorn and Clementine Kids.
On the Go
Stroller + stroller fan + parent console | Strollers, maybe the most out of all baby gear, are extremely personal; what you choose should depend on your lifestyle and how you plan to use it. That being said, we love ours! It’s lasted through all three kids and at this point, the wear-and-tear is showing: the brake has snapped off, the elastic is sagging, and there is significant fading. But we’re still loyal :)
Car seat + base | The Chicco is a classic for a reason. Nothing fancy here, but it gets the job done. We got an adapter for our stroller so we could attach it when they were very young, and that was great! We did have to repurchase this for Annie, since it was out of date by the time she arrived. Shows how much we loved it, because we purchased the exact same thing :)
Ergo | From her fifth day of life to about a year old, June rode in our Ergo 360 several times a week, if not every day… and her siblings followed suit. It was our baby-wearing apparatus of choice by far – easy to use, we could throw it in the wash, comfortable for both John and I to wear, and pleasing to all three babies.
Ikea high chair | To me, this high chair is the apex of form, function, and price. It is sleek, not overwhelming in a space, super easy to clean, and $30 (was $20 when we bought it!). Winner on all fronts. There are lots of cute stores on Etsy (like this one) that sell cushion covers and tray place mats and foot bars if you want to jazz it up a little, too.
Silicone bibs | So easy to keep clean, which is basically all I want in a bib.
Kiinde system | Like strollers and swaddles, there are strong opinions about bottles. The only thing we tried was the Kiinde bag system, and all three babies accepted it, so take that for what you will! While I wish it was more eco-friendly, the convenience of the bags moving straight from pumping to the freezer to the warmer to feeding was a delight.
Glider | I was on the fence about getting a glider, but I’m SO glad we did. (I went the semi-homemade route: bought a $25 glider on Craigslist, bought fabric, and took it to the upholsterer. My favorite thing about it is its petite scale, which makes it easy to get in and out of with a sleeping baby!)
Burt’s Bees cotton burp cloths | I don’t know whyyyyyy these are so expensive, but they really are superlative. We probably have 20 – all white – and there were absolutely days in the first few months when we’d go through all 20 before bedtime. So soft, so easy to fold neatly because of the seams, not too big, not too small… I wish I didn’t have to recommend them so strongly, but I do.
Back soon with part two and the final three categories! In the meantime, I would love to hear any of your favorites in these categories, or a popular item you did without! :)
Though I hadn’t classified this trip in my mind as a family reunion, I’m pretty sure it fits the bill: 30+ extended family members, a scenic lakeside location, a century-old house, and matching tees, to boot :)
Our last visit to John’s extended-family cottage in Northern Michigan was in 2017, when June was 1.5. This year’s trip was delayed three times over (in 2019 because both of John’s sisters gave birth, and in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID), so we were beyond thrilled to finally return. I would love to share a few photos, if you’d like to see! I also have a few thoughts to share on why this trip felt so removed from everyday life, and in that way, refreshing – because if I notice something, it’s hard for me to resist digging down into the roots to figure out what’s going on :)
The first layer of novelty that set our time in Michigan apart – and made this vacation feel especially refreshing – was physical. The weather, of course, was delightfully different than North Carolina in July: a crisp, sunny, 75 degrees during the day and a hint of chill at dinner, with almost no humidity in sight. I got to wear a sweatshirt! Almost every evening!
Because of the mild temperatures, we enjoyed true indoor/outdoor living, something I miss dearly about New England summers. We were in and out of the houses a million times a day and the windows and screen doors were open at all times. When inside, outside sounds floated in: children laughing, the slap of the bags hitting the cornhole board, the buzz of a boat on the lake. And the reverse when outside: pans rattling on the stove, the murmur of adults talking, and the gentle suck of the refrigerator door opening. I love living this way, but North Carolina’s 90+ summertime temps make air conditioning and closed windows a necessity.
The last physical layer? We move a LOT more in Michigan than I do in my everyday life. We walked the road between cottages multiple times a day. We ran and jumped in the sand dunes. We swam. We kayaked, we canoed, we paddle boarded. We tubed. We knee-boarded. We went to bed tired and with a gentle ache somewhere in our bodies pretty much every night.
And finally, of course, Northern Michigan is just incredibly physically beautiful: striking blues and greens everywhere you look.
The second novel layer is our schedule. The sun doesn’t fully set until 10pm, so the days seem to stretch and stretch. Unlike at home, where my time is pre-scheduled, regimented, and fairly routine, the days here unspool with languor. Our schedule is loose, and I’m largely not in charge of it – I’m often only vaguely aware of what’s going to happen next. Go on the boat? Sure! Take a detour to the lighthouse? Sure! S’mores at the big house? Sure! The kids play for hours at a time under their own steam, dashing past just often enough for us to confirm they’re still on their feet.
The third layer is relational. Here, we spend more time together as a family than we do in our everyday life, where we split off to school and work during the week. More than that, though, we’re surrounded by extended family in Michigan. There are aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins galore. There’s always someone to play with or have a conversation with or go on a paddle board with, and there’s an easy sharing of the weight of cooking, kid-minding, and logistics that falls on just John and I when we’re at home.
June bonded tightly with one of her cousins who was born just five weeks after her (remember, they last saw each other at a year and a half!). One of the sweetest parts, though? Seeing the big cousins hang with the little cousins. There are several high schoolers in our group, and they were unbelievably kind, patient, and goofy with our kids: reading to them, tubing with them, and allowing them to chase them around the house with badminton rackets (this happened multiple times a day, accompanied by shrieks of delight).
The final layer is historical. Since John and I didn’t grow up in North Carolina, our surroundings don’t conjure childhood memories. There’s something particularly powerful and sweet about seeing your children experience things you loved when you were young in the exact same place, even (especially?) when they’re different from the everyday.
Take this crazy flipping maneuver on the right. Apparently this is a longstanding Thomas tradition – my husband and his sisters remember doing it when they were young. The kids run at full tilt into a grown-up’s feet, get flipped over the adult’s head in a full pike position, and land on their feet. It is as astonishing and hilarious as it sounds, and the kids could not get enough.
From hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes to eating at the A&W to simply sitting on plastic Adirondack chairs, watching a lake day slide by, I’ll take nostalgia and relationship over extravagance most days of the week.
And that’s pretty much where we ended up. This vacation is about as far from glamorous as it gets, and family time can be messy and frustrating, but it is beyond precious to us. We feel so incredibly lucky to get to take our kids here – to have them experience the natural beauty, the laidback fun, and the relationships with people we love – that the siblings all vowed Michigan will be an every-other-year adventure for the foreseeable future. There are a million destinations I’d love to see in the world, but I know I’ll never regret prioritizing this one at this time.
P.S. Annie celebrated her first birthday on this trip! She did it in true Michigan style: digging into a cherry pie serenaded by a circle of smiling relatives.
The celebrations were not without incident, as a certain sibling leaned on her high chair tray and knocked it loose, causing the pie to crash to the ground…
… but thankfully, we had about 547 pies to feed our crew, so the birthday girl still got her happy ending :)
I have systematized a lot of things in our family life, but birthday parties are not one of them. As of now, we have no set pattern or household rules to follow about who gets one when, what they look like, or who is invited. Thus far, we have had:
And now, a fourth birthday party for Shep at a local park! (Of course, on years we haven’t had official parties, we’ve celebrated birthdays in other ways, either with small family-only meals, birthday fun days, or very casual park meet-ups with friends.) His party was a sweet little delight, and I would love to tell you about it.
A few months ago, Shep started asking about having a birthday party. Given how COVID had changed the landscape for much of his preschool career, he hadn’t really attended any birthday parties until earlier this spring. Once he did, though, he was hooked, and expressed interest in a “camping and nature” themed bash for his own number four. This was most definitely a theme I could work with, and so my planning assistants and I got to work.
First up: location! We chose a somewhat out-of-the-way local park, with a pavilion tucked right up next to a small playground. The park is on a lake, and given the heat of July, I figured a morning soiree next to a body of water gave us the best chance of surviving an outdoor party.
We invited a truly eclectic selection of guests: my sister and her family; four “family friend” families; two newer-friend families from church; and the families of four preschool friends. If everyone had been able to attend, we would have topped out at almost 50 guests, but with summer travels and last-minute sickness, we ended up with a small group: my parents, Kate’s fam, my younger sister (who flew in as a surprise!), and three preschool friend families. It worked out perfectly: I joked that the only people Shep really cared about being there were his two best buddies from school (they are inseparable!), and he was positively thrilled to spend the morning with them. We sent out Paperless Post invitations to keep things simple.
Since it was a morning party, we opted for brunch-y food: chicken minis, of course, and a fruit salad from Chick-fil-a; bagels and cream cheeses from a favorite local shop; mini muffins from Publix; a mix-your-own trail mix bar; and juice boxes, water, and Waterloo to keep everyone hydrated. E-A-S-Y was my watchword.
The trail mix bar included Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, peanuts, mini pretzels, m&ms, bunny grahams, and mini marshmallows (which promptly stuck together into big clumps, ha – not the best choice for the heat).
In lieu of a traditional cake, we continued the brunch theme and opted for a tower of Duck Donuts.
The park setting was lovely and perfect for our theme, so we added just a few touches: a string of felt bunting to mark the pavilion, kraft paper runners with animal track decals for the tables, and paper goods. Very important: we brought two large standing fans to bring a breeze and keep the bugs away! They were quite effective.
And there you have it! A fun and low-key morning for our best little guy. “I really loved my party,” he said on the way home, which was the sweetest thing to hear.
Thanks for taking a peek, friends! An attendee and I were discussing whether we thought at-home or on-location parties are less stressful. I came down on the side of on-location (where the main stressor for an outdoor location like this one is remembering to bring everything you need – candles, tape, scissors, etc.!), but I’d love to hear what you think!
Happy August, friends! It’s a big month around here – as of today, I am transitioning to working four days a week. This might seem like small news, but to me, it looms large. I’m very much looking forward to this change, and yet I’ve also felt conflicted – not necessarily about doing it, but about sharing it. If it would be of interest, I’m willing to attempt to untangle my many thoughts in a future post, as I think conversations around women and moms and household responsibilities and “work/life balance” (ick) are often shout-y, shallow, and all-or-nothing. This would decidedly not be that, but it’s still a delicate topic. Let me know what you think.
On that note, the main driver of this shift is to give more weight in my work/life balance to our home and family’s management, but I do expect it will give me a bit more time to write here, and for that I’m very grateful, as this blog and community are a joy of my life. (Still no plans to make it a job, though, ha.) Thank you, as always, for being here! xo
On my calendar this month: — A week in Maine and a week in Connecticut! Two of our favorite places with some of our favorite people. We feel very lucky. — The first day of school!
What I’m loving right now: — S’mores game changer: use original Fudge Stripes cookies in place of both graham crackers and chocolate bars. You’d think the ratio wouldn’t be quite right but it is perfection. Heartfelt thank yous to the Michigan cousins for making our introduction! — We listened to several episodes of the Along for the Ride podcast on our recent road trips, and they were delightful! Each episode has games, stories, and conversation starters, and though they’re geared towards kids, we all enjoyed listening and playing along.
As a reminder, you can find alllll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!
What I read in July: — The Prophet’s Wife | I picked up this fictional novel about the wife of the founder of the LDS church in a bookshop in Michigan on a whim. The writing and interweaving of time periods felt a little clunky to me, but what bothered me most was the seeming liberties taken with the interior thoughts of the main character: her feelings towards her husband, her faith, and the church he founded (all largely negative, in her imagining). Though the author takes pains to note this is a novel, not a biography, the plot follows the historical record so closely that I guess it seems a little cheap to impose such strong feelings onto a historical figure without evidence for them. Also, I had flashbacks to reading The Paris Wife with this one: you know you’re headed to an unfortunate ending, and so a sense of minor dread hangs over the whole novel. Not my favorite.
Revisiting my July goals: Write the service I’m giving at the Island in August (Yes! This soaked up much of my extra time last month, as evidenced by my lack of activity here. But I think it was well worth it to show up for one of my most special in-person communities.) Edit June in June, Volume 7 Use Cultivate’s Leap Ahead Day to plan our Bermuda “marriage summit” …and strategize and plan ahead for family meeting topics(More to come here, but got started!) Write out a personal reading plan for the rest of our current sermon series Complete June’s baby book Make kitchen decisions and order things (I am not checking this off, but I did get organized to make decisions… I basically gathered everything I need to make the decisions and laid it all out very neatly so that Callie can come over and we can knock them out in an hour or two. That date is on the calendar!)
August goals: — Enjoy our time in Maine and Connecticut — Edit June in June Volume 7 — Plan and enjoy our back-to-school dinner — Make kitchen decisions and order things — Make powder room decisions and order things (light, mirror, hand towel!) — Complete June’s baby book — Adjust to my four-day work week rhythm
As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2022 goals!
I hope the second half of summer is treating you well, friends! If you’ve had any fun adventures lately, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! :)
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hi! my name is em.
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