My family became members at the KidsQuest Museum in Factoria more than a year ago because it was close to our house, my in-laws, and I could hit Target on the way to our car. When I heard they were moving to Downtown Bellevue, I was disappointed because that meant I couldn't just stop in while running errands. I was completely bummed. However, when I heard about all the cool new features, I figured we'd need to check it out.
Our favorite area of the old museum was the train table. I liked how the tracks were screwed to the table and the wall and there were plenty of trains for all the kids to play together. Our next favorite areas included the semi-truck and the water tables. We spent the majority of our time in those 3 areas.
Since we are members, we were invited to their members-only preview celebration. I brought my 3-year-old son and wore my 4-month-old baby in my Tula carrier. We arrived 20 minutes after they opened and the place was packed!
Let me start off by saying that the new museum is AMAZING! What's not amazing is the physical location. It's located on the North side of Downtown Bellevue next to Bellevue Library. They have about 20 parking spaces and some of those are reserved for donors. I received a map telling me all the places I could park near the museum, but when you're toting a baby and preschooler and have been advised not to bring a stroller, any distance is far. I ended up parking at Bellevue Library in the basement level of their garage because I couldn't find anything else.
When we entered, it was a bit confusing as to what was happening. No one gave me any directions as to where I could stash my diaper bag or where anything was located. It was a mad house. I ended up lugging my huge diaper bag around for about 15 minutes before I asked a staff member and she told me I could get a locker for $1. I was initially outraged that I'd have to pay to store something I could have easily put on my stroller (but didn't bring as a common courtesy) but I wasn't about to haul the bag everywhere we went. Later, I realized that there were a handful of cubbies underneath some bench seating but they were stuffed to the guilds by the time we arrived. They also had some coat hooks that were layered with coats.
The first area that we tried to explore was the On the Go Gallery. It was crammed with overflowing with kids and cardboard boxes and mail room carts, so we decided we might want to start upstairs and then head back down. This was a good move.
We ended up going straight to the train table and that's where we stayed for the first hour. I was itching to explore the other areas, but my son was more than content to stay put. Not only is is much larger than at the old space, but it has a gorgeous mural of Bellevue and Seattle in the background. And, the table features a Space Needle and Pike Place Market as part of the set. He would have stayed there the rest of the day if I hadn't encouraged him to check out the Bellevue Mercantile Co.
The Bellevue Mercantile Co. is a mini grocery store from back in the day. What I loved most about this exhibit was the signage around with info about Bellevue in the early 1900s. My son really enjoyed the ice cream cart, complete with cones and felt ice cream where he could make an array of ice cream cones for me to hold. When he ran out of ice cream cones, he started shopping for produce and waited in line to be rung up by a slightly older child who was working the cash register. She then informed an adult that she was the manager and sent another child to restock the shelves. It was a lot of fun to watch kids of all ages work together.
Another major feature of the Bellevue Mercantile is the large bean bin. Not only was this area usually swarmed with little kids who wanted to weigh the beans, but the kids ended up using the beans as a form of money for purchasing things at the store. There were beans all over the floor and I saw staff members constantly sweeping the floor. No one that I saw slipped because the beans basically crush when stepped on. This would be a great area for their kid-size broom!
I was especially impressed by Katarina, a staff member who took the time to play not only with my son but with a number of kids. She asked engaging questions as she roamed around and the kids seemed drawn to her. I also noticed helpful staff in the On The Go Gallery and Water Gallery. I didn't think the staff members interacted with the kids in the old location, so this was a pleasant surprise.
As soon as we left the Bellevue Mercantile, we headed straight back to the epic train table where he played for another 20 minutes or so. I finally pulled my son away from the train table and we headed back downstairs to find the Water Gallery area.
The Water Gallery is on the other side of the front desk and has tons of smocks for children. The area felt smaller to me, but I think it's because it was divided into separate areas. There was a quieter area tucked away that had a mirror, a squeegee and a spray bottle. Yes, it's an activity that teaches your kids how fun it is to clean windows. My son LOVED this area and did this for about 20 minutes.
It was nice to see an old favorite featuring PVC pipes and it was even better than my son could reach everything easily. What made this new was the bucket of water that dumped out once it was full. My son stopped to watch it several times. He only played here for a few minutes, but I think it's because it wasn't totally new. I'm sure he'll spend more time here when the newness of the other exhibits wears off.
When we finally made our way back down to the On The Go Gallery, things had calmed down a bit. There was an area for throwing paper airplanes (mainly used by adults who wanted something to do or a place to sit.) There was also a place set aside for matchbox cars. But, the main attractions were the new Semi Truck Cab (which has a CB radio, a horn and many fun buttons and knobs) and the package loading area. They have about 50 medium sized cardboard boxes for kids to cart around in mail carts, put through an x-ray scanner that shows the content, and then send up on a conveyor belt that drops the packages in 2 different locations. This area had the most energy as children quickly stacked packages on the conveyor belt and raced to pick up dropped packages. I felt like I was either in Santa's workshop or a secret kids division of the Amazon Distribution Center.
After the kids got tired of moving the boxes in this cycle, the kids decided that the boxes should be loaded in the Semi Truck. My son was on board with that and dutifully helped load nearly all the boxes into the truck, which made it crowded for the kids in the truck cab. I wasn't sure if that was something staff members had expected was going to happen, as I overheard someone commenting that of course kids would then load the packages on a truck for delivery. I then saw staff members unloading the boxes back to the mail room area, so I instructed my son that the truck was at it's destination and it was time to unload the boxes. He was only partly on board with that.
I ended up having to cart him away from the exhibit to grab my diaper bag and head out. We'd been there 4.5 hours and he still wasn't ready to go. We hadn't even seen the outdoor space, explored the Climber longer than 5 minutes, or the Art Gallery area, but we had to leave something for our next visit.
What's New at Kidsquest Museum
Since I was wearing my baby at the museum, one of the staff members came up to me to let me know about their nursing lounge in the Tot Orchard. She reassured me that I was free to nurse anywhere, but that they now have a dedicated lounge available. I checked it out and I was glad they had so many options for toddlers who want to stay near Mom if she's nursing. I liked that it was in the gated off toddler area so kids are also welcome to explore around in a safe environment. I ended up nursing my son in the Bellevue Mercantile simply because that's where my oldest was when my baby was hungry.
My Thoughts on the New KidsQuest Museum
When I talk with other families about traveling with young kids, many of them tell me they won't travel because they are afraid it will disrupt their child's sleep routine. Some of them have specific routines that are hard to replicate other places. We've traveled the world with a baby and we've picked up a few tricks.
One way that we've had success with baby sleep while traveling is that we follow a bedtime routine that incorporates SleepSacks. They are easy to pack and don't take up nearly as much room as a full blanket. When we change his diaper and put our son into his jammies, we slip on a SleepSack so he's ready for bed. Then I usually nurse him one last time, pop the binky in his mouth and I'm able to set him in his bassinet or crib while he drifts off to sleep.
HALO has a new design of SleepSacks available and they sent me one to review. Here's what I thought:
What I Like:
What I like most about our HALO SleepSack is that I feel like I'm keeping my baby safe while he sleeps. I love using my cute blankets when he's in the stroller, in his swing or anywhere where I'm keeping my eye on him, but I get a bit nervous at nap time or at night. The fleece is the right thickness for our house in Winter so I don't worry about him being cold. I'm also able to clip my son's pacifier right to the SleepSack so it's always nearby and not pulling on his clothing.
HALO's Safe Sleep Tips
To enter to win a HALO SleepSack, head to my Instagram page.
When I was newly engaged and busy planning our wedding, I needed another distraction to keep me from obsessing about all the details. My Aunt was really into genealogy and I realized that I didn't know much about my Dad's side of the family. She walked me through how to use Ancestry.com and I began my treasure hunt.
I started with my paternal Grandfather's side of the family. He was 16th out of 17 children born to German-Russian immigrants. Their story is fascinating! They were born in small ethnically German villages in present-day Ukraine and then moved (or were sent to) Siberia where they had their first child. From there, they made the trek to Buenos Aires, Argentina to join a sibling for awhile and then had another child. Then, they worked their way through Mexico and earned enough for a boat trip to Canada, where they had planned on settling permanently. However, another sibling was ill in North Dakota, so the family relocated yet again to help with the farm.
I was fortunate that the eldest sibling had written down the basic story of how she and her parents came to the U.S. but I still had so many questions. Through my research online, I was able to find a photo of him in The Seattle Times coming home from the Korean War. I brought this clipping to him and his face lit up and he told me all about what had happened moments before the photo was taken! At Christmas, we were talking about what life was like growing up with immigrant parents and he started speaking German. None of his children had ever heard him utter a word of German, so it caught the whole room by surprise! I got to spend a lot of time with my Grandfather asking him questions about what he remembered from his childhood, having him identify people in old photos, and telling me a bit about his parents. He never knew any family history past his parents, so it was a true honor to be able to present him with a book I pieced together highlighting his ancestors. He ended up passing away less than a year later, which makes me so thankful for the time we spent together reminiscing.
Through my research, I'm now really interested in visiting the villages in Ukraine where my Great-Grandparents were born and I'd like to go to Argentina to find out more about where they went and what they did when they got there. I've been inspired by the show Who Do You Think You Are and would love to do genealogy research in the actual places my ancestors lived.
The common theme amongst all the stories in our family is that hard work does pay off. Our family is full of determined people who have overcome quite a lot to make their mark on the world. The people who came before us play a big role in who we are today. I'm glad that I have a written account of many of these stories to show my children and hopefully their children.
How to Get Started:
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If you ask me about my Holiday Season, I can sum it up with the words: The Snowy Day. Thanks to Amazon Prime, my 3-year-old and I watched their version of The Snowy Day about 50 times (I'm not exaggerating.) I had surprising never read the book as a kid, but it seems to be everyone's favorite winter-time book for kids. After seeing the Amazon Prime version, I see the appeal. So, when I was invited to Seattle Children's Theatre's The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats, I had the perfect date in mind.
My son has had limited experience with live theatrical performances. We took him to see a kid's show at Teatro ZinZanni last month, but it was mostly music (from Grammy-nominated Recess Monkey) and circus acts. He also really enjoyed seeing Daniel Tiger Live at McCaw Hall a couple of months ago. We'd taken him to a few movies and he was entertained throughout the end credits. Since he loved the story of The Snowy Day so much, I had a feeling this would be a good play to try out.
We arrived about 5 minutes before the show started. I let my son pick out our seats and as we walked around, I realized that ALL the seats were good seats. It was nice to see the theatre full of families with small children. The family next to us had a young toddler who wanted to walked up and down the aisle and we saw Dads bouncing babies in carriers. As the show started, the crowd quieted down and then I started to hear little tiny voices around us asking "Why? Why is it getting darker? What's happening?" It's always fun to experience something through the eyes of children. My son kept asking "When is the movie starting?" and I explained over and over that we were seeing a play, not a movie. But, since he had never seen a play before, he just couldn't comprehend what was happening.
The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats features 3 actors and many shadow puppets. The other stories consist of Whistle for Willie, Goggles! and A Letter to Amy. I had never read these stories before and I was excited to experience them with my son. For the most part, he was interested in the acts and asked me a lot of questions throughout the play. I think the shadow puppets were confusing for him and I wished we would have gotten there early enough to play with them before the show started so he'd understand what was happening. However, shadow puppets aren't very common and I'm not sure when he'll have the opportunity to see them live again.
What was really cool about this production is that it follows Peter over a period of a few years, so he's a constant character. My son turned to me halfway through and told me "Peter is growing because he sleeps a lot and drinks lots of milk and eats his dinner." It's always nice when the arts underline messages we give our kids.
There was also a lot of kids trying to whistle during Whistle for Willie. It was adorable to hear the audience try right along with Peter. And when Peter finally whistled, the kids were so excited for him! I loved how engaged the audience was with the show!
Something that I wasn't expecting after the play ended was that they actors came back on stage for a Q&A. What made this special is that the actors had questions for the kids before the kids asked questions of the actors. At the end of the play (spoiler alert!) there's a scene where Peter blows out the candles of his birthday cake. One child asked if the candles were real (they were not.) The next kid asked if the cake was real (it also was not.) So, the actors asked the kid what kind of cake would he like for his birthday, to which he immediately responded, "A REAL one!" It was a fun dialogue.
There also was an opportunity for kids to see how the shadow puppets worked and meet the actors. My son is an observer, so we waited until almost everyone had come up to the actors to get autographs, ask questions and look at the puppets before we approached them. I really appreciated this part because it made the whole theatrical experience more accessible for him.
For those who are unfamiliar with Seattle Children's Theatre, it's internationally recognized as a leading producer of professional theatre, educational programs, and new scripts for young audiences. As of December 2016, SCT produced more than 251 plays, 110 of which were world premiers, inspiring more than 4 million children. SCT's School Children Access Programs provides $1.4 million in significantly reduced complimentary tickets for schools and community organizations in the Puget Sound area.
The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats runs January 19-February 26, 2017 at Seattle Children's Theatre located at Seattle Center. They have snacks available for purchase, a really cool gift shop, and booster seats available for the show. There is also a great park located at Seattle Center if your little ones need to burn off energy before or after the show.
Seattle Children's Theatre provided me with 2 complimentary tickets for review purposes.
Science World is a "must-do" if you are visiting Vancouver, BC with a toddler. It's such a well-thought out museum with tons of things for children and adults. Even if you aren't a fan of science museums, it's a fun place to play with your kids. We checked it out last year when our toddler was 2 years old and we returned this year when he was almost 3 years old along with our 2-month-old baby.
We arrived right when they opened at 10am on a Sunday for a fun activity to do before we drove back home to Seattle. We easily found parking in their paid lot and loaded up our stroller. If we had gone in the summer, we would have skipped the stroller, but we wanted a place to stash our heavy coats and the diaper bag and the camera bag. Since we are members at the Museum of Flight in Seattle (a partner museum), we just showed our membership cards and we were able to enter for free.
Since we had been before, we headed straight to the Kidspace exhibit area on the 2nd floor. It's a room geared for kids ages 6 and under and is filled with hands-on activities including climbing structures, building blocks, science experiments and more. My toddler spent almost an hour playing with a red boat in the water table. They have smocks in all different sizes and styles so kids can protect their clothing from getting too wet. They also have lots of small step stools. Inside the water table, they have small pieces of plastic where kids can create water streams to put their boats on and race down to the end.
Once he had thoroughly enjoyed the water table, he decided he wanted to do the face-painting. I liked that the face painters asked if he'd like it on his hand or face. My son prefers getting it on his hand so he can look at it throughout the day. He opted for Santa Claus and we were impressed how well it came out.
The next big hit were the virtual drums. They had circles on the floor that lit up when stepped on and made sounds. Some of them made drum sounds and some told jokes or made funny sounds. I sat there and watched almost every kid (and several adults) hop on them as they walked through the area.
One of my favorite things about this museum is that my husband enjoys it as much as our toddler! It's fun to hear him explain the physics behind some of the stuff while my toddler pays close attention. Then, they end up laughing because they are having so much fun! It's cute to see my husband get distracted trying to "win" at all of the stations while my toddler is ready to explore the next area.
The big hit for both of them was a large stand where they turned steering wheels to get the propellers to move, which moved the entire base around (like a merry-go-round.) My son spent about 45 minutes doing this by himself, with my husband and with other children. At one point a young toddler was placed on the base and she just was there for the ride! It was really cool to see my toddler study the whole thing and experimenting with changing the direction of the wheel to see what would happen.
My ultimate favorite thing about Science World is that it's a great museum for parents to interact with their kids and show them how to problem solve. My toddler was completely occupied and engaged for hours. Had we not needed to head back to Seattle, we easily could have spent another couple of hours exploring the exhibits.
4 Tips for Science World with Babies + Toddlers
My family loves to go up to Vancouver, BC. It's just a 3-hour drive from Seattle and there are fun things to do and super friendly people up there. So, when I saw a deal from Travelzoo for the Executive Hotel Vintage Park, I was happy to have an excuse for our next trip.
We usually stay near Robson Street in Downtown Vancouver, so I was intrigued to stay a bit South of that area. There was a traffic accident so we ended up arriving about 2 hours later than we had planned, meaning it was past our kids' bedtime and we hadn't had dinner yet. My husband was able to run into the lobby and check us in before we parked in the hotel garage and unloaded our car.
Once we got to the lobby, we asked an employee how to get to the condo side, since our elevator didn't go up that high. He told us to go down some stairs to another elevator. As we had 2 rolling suitcases, a double stroller and a toddler with us, we know that wasn't a viable option. So we hunted around for another employee who told us we'd need to go to the 9th floor and then walk a bit to another set of elevators to get to our room. We passed the elevators the first time because there was no button on the outside, just a slot to put a hotel key so we assumed it was for staff-only. After walking a bit more, we figured that must be the correct elevator. It was.
The first thing I noticed about the room was how cold it was. We cranked up the heat and when that didn't seem to help, we found some open windows (they were hidden behind the shade.) Then we looked through the hotel guide to figure out how to order room service so we could get our toddler fed and to bed. We saw that they had a restaurant and it said there was a room service menu in our room. We looked around and didn't find one so we called the front desk. They told us the restaurant didn't do room service, so we decided to just eat at the restaurant and we loaded up the kids and headed down. When we arrived, we were told it was a pop-up restaurant and they were unable to accommodate us and had no knowledge of the hotel restaurant or where we could get food. So, we had to go on a different elevator and headed to the lobby to ask the front desk. They pointed us to another desk that had delivery menus on it. We perused them and ordered Chinese take-out. Forty-five minutes later, we were finally eating dinner.
The next morning, we were able to enjoy the room before heading down to breakfast. My favorite part of the room was the large shower! It was great to not rub up against a curtain or wall. It was also nice to be able to see the street from our bed. My toddler had lots of room to play with his trains and walk around.
Breakfast at the restaurant was very nice. The dining room is divided into two parts, so we were able to head to the less-crowded part. There was a large assortment of breakfast items and we were able to find items for everyone to eat. The staff was the best part of breakfast. They were so friendly and accommodating!
We spent the rest of the day out exploring holiday festivities (Stanley Park Miniature Railway, Vancouver's Christmas Market and the Polar Express Train up in Squamish.) When we returned, the parking garage was full and we had to park on the street in the rain. It was a long day and we arrived back at the hotel in time to give our toddler leftover Chinese food (yay for the fridge) and my husband walked to Il Giardino to get us take out Italian food. It was quite nice to sit in the dining room and have a sort-of date night while the boys slept.
When we woke up the next morning, we discovered two more open windows in different areas (again hidden by shades.) They must have been opened when the room was cleaned. We closed them to keep the heat in and headed to breakfast. The staff again was so friendly and they remembered us!
We packed up all our stuff and headed down to the lobby to check out. Again, it took 2 elevators and some fanagling to get us all down there. My husband left us in the lobby while he got our car from the street and we loaded up. There were 4 other cars doing the same thing and the driveway was pretty crammed. Another guest complained to us about the parking lot situation as were were all freezing trying to load up our cars.
What I Liked about the Executive Hotel Vintage Park
What I Didn't Like about the Executive Hotel Vintage Park
While I appreciated the larger suite, the hotel definitely was lacking a lot of amenities and accessibility for families with young children. I'd probably take a smaller room at a hotel that had an onsite restaurant that offered lunch/dinner and was a bit more user-friendly.
Packing for any trip can be stressful. Add in the fact that you are pregnant and probably don't fit into your go-to items, it can be overwhelming. And you may not feel super cute (depending on how pregnant you are) which just complicates things even more. I've made the mistake of packing clothes that were non-maternity and didn't fit or maternity clothes that made me feel frumpy. Not a great way to start a vacation.
I've traveled a bit while being pregnant. I was able to do Vancouver, Italy, and Hawaii when I was pregnant with Owen (before I was put on bed rest.) I was able to explore Disneyland, Portland, Suncadia, Hawaii, Vancouver and Victoria while pregnant with #2. With each trip, I adjusted what items I brought with me as I pared down to just the essentials.
5 Must-Have Maternity Travel Items
My husband's family loves to travel together. It's how they like to bond, connect and make memories. It's a lot of fun and we've been able to see a lot of fun places and share stories from our trips. So, when we found out earlier this year that everyone was heading to Maui for the 4th of July, we were disappointed to miss out. You see, I was newly pregnant with a history of pregnancy complications and the threat of Zika was widespread. We just didn't want to risk traveling to a tropical area.
Fast-forward to mid-June. The pregnancy is going extremely smoothly and Zika hasn't spread to Maui via mosquitos. My husband Darren and I go back and forth debating if we should try to make this family trip work and in the end we decide that if we can get airline tickets and lodging that we'll make it happen. Low and behold, we not only find a condo at the same location as the rest of the family (in a nearly-sold out week anywhere on Maui) but we also find seats on the same flight as most of his family! This trip is shaping up nicely!
We have a really smooth flight from Seattle to Maui and we're feeling pretty good about heading to the condo and enjoying some pool time. So, we send Darren and his brothers to fetch the rental cars while we gather the luggage and wait at the airport with all 6 kids. We then hear that the rental car place is slammed and it will be a 45 minute wait. Staying positive, we think that it's great that we stayed at the airport because at least there's a Starbucks and the kids can run around. The positive thinking waned a bit 10 minutes later when we found out that there was a brush fire causing delays on the highway to get to our condo in Ka`anapali.
Trying not to worry, we figure that we will grab some lunch/dinner at a nearby Hawaiian restaurant, Da Kitchen, that was just featured on Food Network's Drive-in's, Diners and Dives. I had eaten here before with Owen and I was excited to bring the rest of the crew to try. This was such a silver lining because most of us were ready to eat and it was nice to chat and catch up. At this point, we hear from Darren's brother (who had attempted to drive to the condo) that the highway was completely closed and people were parking their cars. Not a good sign. So, they attempt to drive an alternate way and promised to keep us posted.
We think that this is a set-back, but we were planning on hitting Costco anyway, which would eat up some time. And surely the brushfire would be contained by the time we were done shopping. So we grabbed our cart and stocked up on supplies for the week, including fresh seafood and dairy products. We decided that we'd also take the alternate route, so we shopped quickly so we could head out before traffic got crazy.
By the time we got to the car, we found out that the alternate route was now also closed and they were turning people away. We weren't sure what to do at this point, so we opted to all meet in a parking lot to decide our next move. This was a good idea because the kids all needed to get out of the car and run around a bit. I took this opportunity to head inside the store to grab sand toys and snacks. I never miss an opportunity to shop!
A plan is decided to head down to Kihei because that road was open and it would get us a bit closer to Ka`anapali. At this point, we are getting text updates from my Mom (who lives on Kauai) and my Mother-in-law's friend who lives on Maui about traffic conditions and speculation on when roads might open. We also are using a traffic app that's linked to social media where people post traffic updates. We're hearing that roads may open in an hour, a few hours, or not tonight. Not very promising, so we decide that getting ice cream is probably the best use of our time.
While stopping at the store for ice cream, we hear that the roads might be opening soon, so we get more dairy products and snacks and head back to the car. Then we hear that the fire has spread and no one is moving. So, making lemonade from lemons, we head to a nearby beach so we could watch the sunset. It has been 6 hours since we landed and it's now 2 hours past our toddler's bedtime.
We figure that we can either wait at the beach or just get in line on the highway. We might as well be in line so we will know what's going on. We start to caravan toward the highway but quickly get separated, with our car leading and the two other cars behind us. Thankfully we all have cell phones and could constantly update each other. By the time we made it to the highway, we could see a burning bush on the side of the road and we were able to talk to a police officer who told us it would be several hours, but we'd be able to get to Ka`anapali that night. We took that as a good sign and slowly made our way onto the highway.
We found out a few moments later that the last car in our caravan was now stopped by the police officer because the fire spread again. At this point, we could see huge flames on the side of the road and the air was thick with smoke. But our car was at least moving, so that was a good sign for us. And our toddler was asleep (just 3 hours past his bedtime.) Then we were detoured off the highway.
At this point, people turned off their engines and got out of their cars. We knew we were going to be here awhile. Thankfully, we were parked right next to a public bathroom and Owen was still sound asleep. We tried to take naps while Darren roamed around trying to get status updates. It was a few hours before we saw cars starting up again and things were moving!
They opened the highway and cars were moving! It took about an hour before our car made it to the highway and then it was a slow go on the highway. When we got through the brush fire area, the rain started to come down. We took this as a good sign because the fire had to be contained. As we drove further on the highway, we saw lots of abandoned cars and couldn't believe how long the line was to get out of Lahaina. We thought about how lucky we were that we were able to stretch our legs and get food and have a bit more freedom that the folks stuck on the West side.
After almost 12 hours of trying to get from the airport to our Condo, we finally made it at midnight (3am Seattle time!) That's when we discovered that the Condo was locked and we didn't have keys. Oh, and that there was no cell service or wifi due to the highway closure (they shut it down because it was an emergency.) Thankfully, we were able to locate one of the staff members who was able to open the door and we all crashed.
This wasn't how we expected to spend our first day in Maui, but I was really proud of Owen for keeping his cool (which is difficult when you're 2.5 years old) and that our family didn't complain or get upset.
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When I found out I was pregnant for the second time I started to take inventory of the baby items I had. I'm usually a fairly frugal person and I'm all for re-using items. I figured I was all set for baby items. Then I really thought about what I liked and disliked about the products I used with my oldest. I realized that I bought a lot of items without doing much research. After being a Mom for a couple of years (and talking to countless other Moms) I had a better idea of what I needed.
I reached out to each one of these companies individually and requested to review the products after I combed the Internet looking for highly rated baby items. Many of them have won awards or have a lot of buzz around them. These are items that I would have purchased.
Here's what I came up with:
1. A Better Nursing Cover
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I knew very little about breastfeeding and I went on Etsy and ordered a cute Hawaiian print nursing cover that shielded my chest and clipped in the back. It was very flimsy and I could never get it to feel comfortable, which in turn made me less comfortable nursing in public.
This time, I had a much better idea of what would work for me. Covered Goods sent me their Classic Grey & Ivory Stripe multi-use nursing cover. It's a poncho-style nursing cover, which makes it easy to slip on and I don't have to worry about side-boob. You can also slip and arm through the neck hole to make it a one-shoulder style nursing cover. It can also be used as a car seat cover, cart cover and make-shift blanket (or burp cloth) and it easily fits in a diaper bag. The fabric is stretchy and more absorbent that my first cover, which is nice if you need to quickly sop up milk drops. It also makes a handy rain poncho when I wear my son in a carrier. It comes in a variety of prints. I chose this print because I wanted to feel more discrete when breastfeeding in public this time. Though there are other companies who offer nursing ponchos, Covered Goods is the true original.
2. Somewhere Safe to Set the Baby
When we brought our first son home from the hospital, we ended up holding him almost non-stop all day everyday. This was awesome for bonding!
However, this time around, we also have a toddler who has meltdowns and needs physical attention (including long hugs and being carried), too. This is why our Dock-a-Tot has been vital to survival in our house. It's been so helpful to have a safe place to set the baby down when I need to turn my attention to my toddler. When he's in the Dock-a-Tot, I don't have to worry about him rolling off the couch or getting stepped on. It's lightweight and easily taken up and down the stairs (unlike our bouncers and swings.) It's also a good place to set him when I'm reading to my toddler or getting him ready for the day.
It comes with a piece of cardboard that slides into the mattress area so it will keep its shape when stored or transported. This is really important for those of us who travel, because it's so easy for items to get crushed and not hold up. It also comes with a nice carrying case with a handle on it.
3. A More Functional Diaper Bag
As with most items purchased as a pregnant, first-time Mom, I chose my diaper bag more for aesthetic reasons than functionality. My first diaper bag was cute, well-made and could store a lot of things, but it was heavy. Even after I consolidated the amount of things I packed in it, it was still heavy.
This time, I chose Lassig's Green Label Neckline diaper bag. They sent me their Black Melange one to try out and I love it! There is seriously a pocket for everything so I feel somewhat organized. And did I mention that it's pretty stylish? I've had about 20 Moms ask me about my diaper bag in the few months I've been using it.
This also makes a great travel bag because of how spacious it is. I recently took it on a trip to Vancouver, BC and I was even able to zip it up because everything had it's place in the bag.
4. A More Comfortable Baby Carrier
Since I can't devote 100% of myself to my newborn (unlike the first time around), the baby carrier has been essential to getting additional snuggles. Chimparoo sent me their Ocean Woven Wrap and I love it! I was too intimidated to try to wrap my oldest, so I met with a babywearing consultant who showed me exactly how to do a very simple newborn wrap. I was amazed how much more comfortable wrapping was compared to my soft-structured carriers. Not only is it completely adjustable to my body, but my baby feels really secure and supported. And because it isn't stretchy, I know I'll be able to comfortably use it through toddlerhood.
This is actually my husband's favorite carrier. We probably have 12 carriers in our house, but this is the one he grabs most often. It only took him a couple of tries to figure out how to tie it and adjust the fit. He loves to wear our infant while he plays video games, works on the computer, cooks dinner or is just trying to soothe him. Our toddler likes sitting on it while my husband pulls him around the house, magic carpet style!
5. My Brest Friend
I've had great luck with My Brest Friend nursing pillow.
When I nursed my firstborn, I just couldn't get comfortable. I had another brand of nursing pillows and I still needed to prop pillows under the nursing pillow to get my son at the right height. I ended up only using it for bedtime nursing and just used pillows the rest of the time. This time around, I knew there had to be a better option.
My Brest Friend sent me an Organic Nursing Pillow to try out and I found a cute cover on Amazon. While it isn't a new product, it was new to me and I was excited to try it out. First off, I love that there's a pocket! I mean, I feel like most things become a hundred times better when they have a pocket. It makes sense with the nursing pillow because I don't have to hunt around for creams, nursing pads and snacks. I also like that it clips behind my back, so it feels really secure. The pillow is firm, which alleviates a lot of pressure from my arms.
I started using it as soon as I came home from the hospital and after the first feeding I regretted not bringing it to the hospital with me! I love how firm the pillow is and that it offers back support. I'm able to clip the pillow around me so it doesn't move (something I had a problem with in my old pillow.) It's so comfy that I usually end up wearing it while I burp my son and sometimes he falls asleep laying on it. I really wish I would have had this My Brest Friend pillow for my oldest.
6. A Sound Machine
We used a cute giraffe stuffed animal that also had some white noise built in for our first baby. We used it on occasion off and on and then stopped using it. He is a great sleeper and we trimmed our nighttime routine to an almost embarrassingly short ordeal and we figured we'd eliminate anything from the routine that we could.
This time around, I was petrified that the baby would wake up our sleep-loving toddler. For those who don't know, sleep-deprived toddlers turn into little monsters that make parenting about a thousand times harder. I did not want to jeopardize anyone's sleep. I had been hearing good things about Marpac's Dohm Sound Machine from my Mom friends and was excited when Marpac sent me one to try out.
It was a lot smaller than I expected, which is a good thing! I thought I would use it primarily in our nursery, but that hasn't been the case. We've had our baby sleeping in our room and my husband's CPAP acts kind of like a sound machine (which means our baby will definitely need the Dohm in his nursery in order to sleep later on.) But, we've been using it a lot in our toddler's room so he isn't constantly woken up by our baby's hunger cries and general fussiness. It's also helped during our toddler's nap time because it downs out the other sounds from around the house (especially when we have older kids over who no longer nap.)
7. Milkies Milk Savers
Breastfeeding was really hard the first time around. My son had been born 5 weeks early and had a stint in the NICU. He wasn't able to latch for several weeks and I ended up getting mastitis that turned into a staph infection and it was a whole ordeal. I pumped every 4 hours around the clock for 3 months to make sure he had enough milk. I was exhausted.
This time around, I'm trying to set myself up for success at every turn. Milkies sent me one of their Milk-Savers to try out and I was instantly intrigued. The basic concept is that when you nurse your baby, you wear the product on the other side so it will collect the milk that is released. I'm all for anything that could potentially cut down on time spent pumping.
I first tried it when my baby was 6 weeks old and our nursing routine was established. My son is a power eater and is often stuffed after 5 minutes of nursing, so I was a bit skeptical on whether I'd collect any milk. I was pleasantly surprised to realize I'd collected about half an ounce in those few minutes. The Milk-Saver was also pretty comfortable, as I forgot about it once I started nursing. While this product is great for me, it's also perfect for those who nurse for a longer time at each session.
8. A Puj Tub
The first time around, I figured that the newborn phase would be short, so we got a baby tub from a consignment sale and just held our first baby in it for the first few months. It was made of hard plastic, so we usually had to put down a towel or something to make it more comfortable. Bathtime was a horrific ordeal and we would get stressed out just thinking about it.
I heard about Puj after seeing that my cousin had registered for one. She usually has well-thought out products, so I knew I needed to try one out. Puj sent me their tub to test out plus their travel version. When they arrived, I was surprised how flexible and light-weight the tubs were and how easily they could be stored.
My husband and I tested out both of these and I have to say I'm a fan! We tried both of them in our bathroom sink (since it's the closest room to the nursery) and the travel version was a perfect fit for our son for the first 2 months! It weighs practically nothing and my baby seems really comfortable in it. I was able to leave the water running (our pipes take awhile to heat up) and it kept the right amount of water on my baby the whole bath. After his bath, I can pick it up one handed and empty the water and put it away. Plus, it folds up so it's easy to pack for trips.
The regular size would be perfect for those who do baby baths in the kitchen sink. We thought we would this time around, but our house layout doesn't make this an ideal option. It fits (barely) in our bathroom sink, but I seem to spill a lot of water when trying to empty it. I usually use mine as a liner for the baby bath tub we used with our oldest to make it a much more comfortable experience. That means we use a tub inside of a tub inside of our bathtub. If our bathroom sinks were larger, I would just use the Puj tub for simplicity's sake.
9. Kangaroo Care Shirt
I did skin-to-skin with my oldest as soon as I was able in the NICU and after I saw the amazing effect of it, my husband and I continued for months after.
I just discovered kangaroo care shirts a few months ago and was delighted when Vija Design sent me one to try. While I'm a big fan of babywearing, I love that it takes literally no effort to get my baby secured on my chest. This is great for when I need to use both my hands to help my toddler with something or I don't have a carrier nearby. I also like that it converts to a nursing top. You can read my full review here.
10. An Easy Nursing Necklace
When I nursed my oldest son, he would pull on all my regular jewelry and I was afraid my special necklaces would break. So, I went on Etsy and found a couple of nursing necklaces. I wasn't sure what I was looking for and I ended up getting some that pulled my hair a lot. I spent a lot of my time adjusting the necklace and fidgeting with my hair.
This time around, I decided to find a necklace that wouldn't pull my hair. I came across Vintage Honey and really enjoyed perusing their selection of necklaces. They offer a lot of prints and colors that are fashionable and are easily added to any outfit.
It's super comfortable to wear and it doesn't feel bulky. My son likes to grasp it when he nurses and I like to watch his little figures exploring the beads. I also wear it when I babywear sometimes so he has something to hang on to.
11. Chewbeads CB Go Links
It's amazing how important it becomes to find toys with rings when you have a baby. It's the best way to attach toys to strollers, car seats, swings, other toys, etc. The problems I ran across were that not all toys came with rings and those that did weren't always the right size. That's where Chewbeads CB Go Links come in.
I like to use them in a chain to create my own mobiles. We have a lot of toys with clips that I can hook onto the links. I also like to attach rings to my laundry basket so my baby can do tummy time (while trying to reach the toys) and I can fold laundry and watch him. It's really the only thing that makes folding laundry interesting for me.
They are also made for teething. It's easy to add a couple to any baby carrier to carry teethers or use them as teethers themselves. I like to attach our Little Saplings Airplane Teether and TrendyMommyDesigns Owl Teether using the rings to my baby carrier.
12. Teething Toys that are Attachable
With our oldest, I collected quite a few teething toys to see what he might like. It turns out what he liked most was to throw the teething toys. With baby #2, I learned to seek out teething toys that could be leashed to something.
I was really stoked to find the Chewy the Hippo teething toy. It's really easy to squeeze to make it squeak. It comes with a velcro loop that makes it easy to tether it to stroller or carseat straps. The hippo arms are also easily linked to other stuff using the Chewbeads CB Go Links. It's similar to our Sophie the Giraffe, but less "throwable." Sophie is nearly impossible to keep inside a carseat or stroller as she can't be attached very easily. I love all the little ear nubs, feet, etc that are perfect for little mouths to nibble on.
It's no surprise that I was instantly drawn to the Little Saplings Airplane Teether. I love the airplane design so much! I'm also a fan of wooden toys and thought this would be a great thing for my baby to teethe on since wood is natural. It's also very sturdy However, the big selling point for me was that there was a big hole in the center so I could attach it to just about anything!
Finally, I was determined to try the TrendyMommyDesigns Owl Teether, after seeing one of my babywearing friends using one on her carrier. I love that it has silicone beads as well as the large silicone owl. There are a lot of areas for babies to gnaw on and it's actually a cute accessory for my baby carrier. I like that it has the look of a nursing necklace, but isn't a necklace. It's like jewelry for my carrier. It's also easily attachable to any carrier, and I tend to keep it in my diaper bag and attach to whatever carrier I'm using.
13. Goumikids Mitts
There are few things when raising a baby that terrify me. One of them is cutting their nails. I've had one too many experiences of clipping their fingertips and it's truly heartbreaking. I'm so nervous about it that I have completely handed off nail maintenance to my husband, who has better luck then I have.
So, the Goumikids Mitts have been a lifesaver for me. Baby nails grow so quickly that it seems like as soon as you cut them, they are sharp again. In order to prevent our baby from scratching himself, we put these mitts on his hands. After my son gained more control over his movements, I still used them so he wouldn't scratch me when he nursed. It has made our nursing sessions much more pleasant!
14. Drool Bibs
I didn't understand the importance of drool bibs with my oldest. I figured he had so many cute outfits that I would just change his clothes if they got wet. And I thought the bib look was really lame. Then, I started noticing that his chest was always red and I realized it was because his shirts were always wet. So, I grabbed his terry cloth baby bibs and started using them.
Now that I'm on baby #2, I wanted to find "cool" drool bibs and just use them from the get-go. Matimati bibs have been a great fit for us! Not only are they bandana style (which makes all his outfits look a bit more hip) but they come in trendy prints. I figure if my baby has to drool, he might as well look cool doing it. Plus, when you order a set of bibs, Matimati will donate a portion of the sale to Chain Reaction, a nonprofit fighting human trafficking in Asia.
While there are a lot of companies making bandana style bibs, the layer of fleece on the back of Matimati bibs really sets them apart. They truly keep clothes dry, even if your baby drools or spits up a lot. We like to keep at least one in the diaper bag at all times.
There is nothing worse than when your baby has a cold. Well, there are actually many things worse, but it's quite heartbreaking to hear your little one struggle to breathe. And no one seems to get any sleep. My family loves our Nosefrida. We love it so much that we have acquired 3 so we have one in every spot we'd need one. It's great for clearing out goopy mucus (and entertaining to watch someone else do it.) But, when our baby has dried boogers making it hard for him to breathe, we reach for our Oogiebear. It's a tool designed specifically for this purpose.
It's the perfect size for gently scooping out the boogies in your baby's nose. Like many parents, I used to try to get them using my fingernail, which was way too big for my baby's nostrils. It also was tricky to get much out. Now, I just use my Oogiebear for a painfree way of removing the boogies. My baby doesn't even seem to notice it. It also has a handy design which prevents parents from digging in too far into their baby's nose or ears. It keeps us from being too vigorous, which is appreciated.
16. SnoofyBee Changing Pad
Like many new Moms, I primarily used the changing pad that came in my diaper bag when I was out and about. I even used a changing pad from my sister-in-law's old diaper bag as my go-to changing pad downstairs in our house. As you might have guessed, once my oldest started moving around more, the changing pad became a slip-n-slide and I had to hold his arms back with my leg and grab his legs with my hand, leaving just one hand available for the actual diaper change. Then I noticed an ad on Facebook for the SnoofyBee that looked like a real game-changer.
SnoofyBee sent me their brand new changing pad. I like that it's easy to wipe down and is a nice size. We keep it downstairs in our living room for daytime diaper changes and it's been really handy. Right now, my infant is too small to use the coolest feature, which is that the top part of the changing pad creates a cone that keeps little hands away from the diaper area. There are also places to attach toys, which I'm excited to try out in a few months. It also folds up pretty compactly and will be great to take on trips with us or stash in the car. I also think this would be fabulous to use on changing stations in public restrooms to keep my baby from getting dirty. The only thing I don't like about it is that the velcro snags on some clothing items and it can be tricky to fold up one-handed while holding my baby.
17. Zoocchini Buddy Blanket
Babies tend to accumulate many blankets, especially through baby shower gifts. It just happens. We have a whole tub of baby blankets from when our oldest was born and we realized we only used blankets that were made especially for him or swaddle blankets. When I came across Zoocchini blankets online, I was very curious to see this hybrid in action.
Zoocchini sent me their Giraffe Blanket Buddy to try out. What makes this blanket unique is that there is a toy attached to it, so the toy won't get lost and little hands have something to explore on stroller walks. My baby is just 2 months old, but he's able to grasp the leaves and the ears of the giraffe, which is fun! I really like how soft the entire blanket is and it's perfect to keep my baby warm in his carseat or swing. I think it will be good for tummy time because he can try to grab the giraffe. My toddler also likes to pet the giraffe and asks me if the baby need his giraffe blanket quite frequently! If you're planning to give a blanket as a baby shower gift, this is definitely one to get!
Dock-a-Tot offered me a discounted rate. I was offered the rest of these products at no charge in exchange for honest reviews.
When traveling with a baby, one of the most important things our family can pack are some good swaddlers and sleepsacks. My husband is a self-proclaimed "Master of the Swaddle." He took a class at our hospital, watched YouTube videos and practiced with baby dolls before our oldest was born. He can swaddle our son with just about any blanket, towel or piece of fabric he comes across. Every time he's near a friend with an infant, he always asks if he can swaddle their baby. I, on the other hand, am not as passionate about swaddle blankets as I'm usually exhausted by the time baby needs another swaddle. So, I'm a big fan of swaddlers.
Babies are picky and what works one month, might not work the next. Or baby blew out/threw up on their swaddler or sleepsack and you need a clean one. So I contacted several companies that create innovative swaddlers and sleepsacks so I could test them out and compare them.
Below are my reviews of each one. I'd like to note that I tested these on my son from the time he was 4 weeks until he was 13 weeks old. Before that, he was only swaddled with blankets. My son is a good sleeper, is in the 95th percentile for height and weight and (thankfully) doesn't suffer from colic or have any health issues. It's been my experience that different babies react differently to being swaddled and when they go through "leaps" (according to The Wonder Weeks) their sleep can be affected.
Embe Classic 2-Way Swaddle
What I Like:
Embe Signature 2-Way Swaddle
What I like:
Nested Bean Zen Swaddle
What I like:
What I like:
Milkmaid Goods Swaddle Set
What I like:
What I don't like:
Bitta Kidda Sleep Sack
What I like:
I'm really glad we had the opportunity to try these different swaddling products. As I said before, my son is a solid sleeper and he slept well in all these products. I appreciated the different weights and designs, especially when I thought about how well they would travel. If you've tried any of these, please leave your review in my comments!
Nested Bean, NuRoo , Milkmaid Goods, Bitta Kidda, and Embe provided products for review purposes.
I'm a mom to a 3-year-old and a baby. We believe in traveling as a family as soon as possible and sharing our tips and tricks with other families!