April 25, 2016

Replacing Our Sliding Glass Door - Before & After

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SpringIntoClean #CollectiveBias

We moved into our house a little over a year ago (about a month before Taylor was born). Luckily, there wasn't much that needed to be done except interior painting. Of course there are still some projects we want to tackle to make it our own (like painting cabinets, replacing light fixtures, adding more storage, etc). We tackled one of the biggest DIYs on our list last month: we decided to replace our sliding glass door that's in our dining room with French doors. I didn't think it would be that hard, but it turned into a much bigger project than we anticipated. My brother is pretty knowledgeable in all things construction so he helped us a ton with getting it done right. Here are the before and after pictures:

As you can see the door made a huge difference (and getting rid of that original orange paint color - woof).

One thing I wasn't expecting was the never-ending mess that comes with a construction project. I knew that it would be dusty, but man-oh-man, my entire house was covered in drywall dust! The biggest problem I had was that this construction zone was right across from my kitchen. How was I supposed to cook in this mess? My other problem was that I had a crawling, exploring baby, and the floors were disgusting.

I had to bring in some serious back-up so I headed to Target to pick up some supplies.

Side note: Have you downloaded the Cartwheel app yet? If you plan on stocking up on spring cleaning products, you need to download it asap. Either scan barcodes in-store, or search through the current offers. You can find 10% off all Lysol cleaning products5% off all Air Wick products, and 5% off all Finish products on the app. Also, Lysol products are buy three, get one free right now. (All offers running until 5/14).

During the project, I had three main tasks I did each day to combat the dust and keep my kitchen somewhat usable. First, I would sweep and mop the tile so Taylor could crawl across a clean floor. Second, I would wipe all surfaces with Lysol All Purpose Cleaner. And third, I would do a load of dishes (and I would leave the clean dishes in the dishwasher since the dust seemed to make it's way inside my cabinets).

Yes, things would instantly get dirty as soon as we resumed work, but at least it made it livable and Taylor could play for a small amount of time. As soon as that door was finished, I did some serious deep cleaning. It was a two day cleaning frenzy to get my house back in order.

Our friends recently moved into a new house and I have been trying to think of a good house warming gift for them. After this little DIY experience, I realized that the most practical gift I could give them was a cleaning gift basket. Here's what I included:

Housewarming Cleaning Basket
I picked up that metal tub from Target's dollar spot to put everything in. With all the great offers that you can find on the Cartwheel app, this is an inexpensive and easy, but thoughtful, gift.

What do you give as a housewarming gift?
Do you have any big DIY projects in your future?
For more cleaning ideas, click here!

April 13, 2016

Exclusively Pumping - My Experience

Disclaimer: Every person's experience with breastfeeding, pumping, bottle-feeding (essentially caring for a child) is different. This was my experience. I share because I know when I was in the thick of things, reading other's stories helped me.

Before I was pregnant with Taylor, I never thought about breastfeeding. Of course, I knew well enough that breastfeeding comes with the territory of birthing a tiny human, but I had never thought anything beyond that. Growing up, I heard lots of things about pregnancy symptoms, labor, hospital stays, sleepless nights, and child rearing. However, breastfeeding never really came up in any conversation. Once I was, indeed, pregnant, I started researching all of the above topics and more. I quickly realized that breastfeeding was sounding less and less like a "natural," "instinctual," walk-in-the-park like I figured it would be, and more like a painful and difficult skill I would have to master.

I know that for some breastfeeding is a cinch, and that just as many have all kinds of difficulties. For me, traditional breastfeeding didn't happen. It was extremely painful, and I was not able to deal with that pain, having just come from labor. So, I made the decision to pump exclusively. Pretty much from day two of Taylor's life, I have been pumping.

It was not an easy choice to make. I was on a rigid schedule of pumping every 2.5 hours, to make sure I maintained a supply. So even when Taylor was sleeping soundly at night, I would wake up and have to pump. It was especially difficult when Taylor was also awake. I had to hold, feed, and burp him, all while awkwardly wearing my pump (not to mention the times when he would kick or knock one of the pumps off).

There were times when I felt cabin fever setting in, as if I was chained to my pump. The day seemed like a revolving loop of bottles, burping, and producing milk. If ever I needed to go somewhere, the prep work involved sometimes made me re-consider: By the time I had finished packing up my child, the diaper bag and driving to my destination, it felt like it was time to turn back around. Eventually, I started bringing my pump with me, but that required even more prep time before we left the house. Once I got where I needed to go, I then had to find a private area to pump, as well as washing it out wherever I was. Maybe it's not as big a deal to some people, but I had a hard time with that.

I remember after about two months I found an "exclusively pumping" mom group online. It was really helpful to read other's experiences and I was able to ask questions and get advice. Some of the topics said things like, "I've made it 6 months!" or "I'm finished with pumping forever after a whole year!" Two months had already felt like eternity and I couldn't fathom making it a whole year. It was so much work and so time-consuming! There were times when I would cry from frustration as I pumped (because #hormones). Sometimes, I just wanted to go to bed, but I couldn't - not until I got my pump session in. Once I finally hit that six month mark, I was able to drop the middle of the night pumping. That made a world of difference in my attitude. I could finally sleep more than a 5 hour stretch. That first night I got a full night sleep, I felt amazing. Then by 10 months, I was down to only needing to pump 3 times a day and still producing enough for Taylor. The more sessions I could drop, the more I felt like my life was less controlled by my pumping sessions.

Eventually, pumping became part of my routine, but that still doesn't mean I wasn't extremely excited to hit that year mark and pack up my pump for good. My pumping app I used to track my sessions says I've pumped for a combined total of 20 days and have produced over 70 gallons of breast milk over the past year. And you know what, I am so proud of myself. It was a lot of hard work and effort, but I was able to feed my child and put big chubby rolls on his thighs. I'm so lucky that I was able to keep up my supply for an entire year. If it hadn't worked out and I had to do formula, that would have been fine too. #fedisbest

This whole posts sounds a little like it was all doom and gloom for me, but it wasn't. Motherhood is hard and trying to figure out how to feed your child can be overwhelming (especially with the pressure out there that only traditional breastfeeding is acceptable). That's why I'm sharing my experience. If pumping is something you're going through right now, I want you to know you're not alone if you get discouraged.

Here are some tips that helped me maintain my supply:

1. Drink lots of water.
I think this is one of the most important things you can do to keep your supply up. It's also probably the easiest thing you can do, but since it's so simple it's often overlooked. ALWAYS have a water bottle with you. I promise, you will notice a difference on the days you don't get enough water.

2. Drink Gatorade.
I read this on every discussion board post about upping supply. I didn't really think anything of it, but the few times I had a Gatorade, my supply sky-rocketed.

3. Try lactation cookies.
There are a million recipes online for lactation cookies. I usually just modified my favorite normal recipe and added in a little brewer's yeast, flax seed, and rolled oats. If you do it right, you can't even tell they're not normal cookies. If you aren't able to find a good recipe, email me and I will hook you up.

4. Eat oatmeal for breakfast.
Maybe I should say first: eat breakfast! Sometimes it's hard to get yourself a meal when dealing with a newborn, but it's important. Oatmeal is a great breakfast food to help with your supply.

5. Continue with your prenatals.
My doctor told me to keep taking my prenatals. They help you get the extra nutrients you need while also helping out your production.

Some things I wish I knew beforehand:

1. You're milk coming in is the worst.
No one really warned me about the pain that comes along with your milk coming in. My milk came in about day two. I had managed to get through my pregnancy without getting any stretch marks, but my milk came in so fast (and in such a large amount) that it caused me to get stretch marks on my boobs overnight. No one told me this was possible, so I'm telling you.

2. You don't always leak.
Some people leak constantly, some only leak when their milk lets-down, and others don't leak at all. I only leaked on rare occasions. As in, I could probably count the times on one hand (mostly at night when I waited too long between pump sessions. I'm counting myself extremely lucky). Don't be too concerned that you'll never be able to go out in public without soaking through your shirt.

3. If your supply decreases, it's not the end.
There were so many times when my milk supply started dropping and I was convinced I was drying up. There are lots of things that affect your supply (periods, hormones, what you eat/drink, how much you sleep, etc.) That doesn't mean all hope is lost. Usually it just corrects itself. If it doesn't seem to be going back to it's normal production, you can pump more often or try some of the tricks I listed up above. You can even usually increase your supply with some work.

4. Getting your body to stop producing can be tough.
I thought when I was finished pumping, I could easily stop my production. When we were in the hospital, the nurse made it sound like if I put cabbage leaves in my bra, my supply would dry up overnight. Not so. It was an intense week of pain as I tried to make my body realize that I didn't need to make milk anymore. There's a lot of tips on how to dry up your supply, but it seems that each suggestion only worked for certain people. Some people swear by cabbage leaves, drinking tea, consuming peppermint in any form, and so on. For me, cabbage leaves seemed to do nothing, but Sudafed helped some. I think it really just takes time (sometimes months!) Hang in there, the pain (and milk) will go away eventually. Pop some ibuprofen in the mean time.

+What are some of your tips, tricks, or 
advice for those exclusively pumping 
(or breastfeeding, bottle feeding, etc)?
+What are some challenges you faced?

April 11, 2016

Taylor's Donut Birthday Bash

I didn't think I'd be the mom who would throw first birthday parties for my kids, but here we are. Taylor might not remember it, but I sure had fun putting it together. 

It was a simple and easy party. Our immediate family came over to watch Taylor dig into his birthday cake. As for theme/party decorations, I bought two dozen BoSa donuts and picked up some clearance party supplies from Target and called it good.

All in all, it was just a great excuse to eat donuts and was a lot of fun to watch Taylor's confused look when everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to him.

April 4, 2016

What I've Been Reading

I have already read more books in three months than I read all of last year. 2015 was not my year when it came to reading. I am making a conscience effort to make time for books this year. Below is what I've read so far. I'm currently in the middle of four different books right now so expect another list in a few months.

Must-Read Books: You're life won't be complete until you read these.

"A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author's own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon - from child to determined young adult to loving mother - she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her, and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose."

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one when I first picked it up. I'm usually not a huge fan of books that take place on the Western frontier, but this is probably my favorite book I've read in a long while. It was fantastic and I recommend it to everyone!

"It is 1939 France. It is the period when the country surrenders to the Germans, and the Nazi regime begins its occupation. While the city of Paris takes in most of the heat, the quiet village of Carriveau is on the brink of changing forever. The once peaceful and bucolic town has turned into a horrific show of airplanes, war tanks, bombs, and the scary sight of Nazis from the SS, the Gestapo and the regular Wehrmacht all over. Vianne Mauriac, the young wife of a recently drafted soldier, is obligated to host a Nazi in her home while the war goes on. Her younger 18 year-old sister, the impetuous Isabelle, chooses the dangerous path of joining the French Resistance and risking everything in the process: her life, her safety, and her emotions."

Another book you have to read! I'm sure you've seen this one going around, it's been quite popular as of late. I love World War II books and this one is worth the read.

Great Books: Some entertaining books I would recommend, but maybe not life-changing.

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage.
 A strange collection of very curious photographs.
 It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive."

I thought this quick read was fantastic! This is soon to be made into a movie (directed by Tim Burton. Yay!) so make sure to read it fast. It's a series, you can get the full box set here.

"On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?"

As a warning, this is a slightly twisted book with a bit of language if that bother you. But it's suspenseful and will keep you reading until the end. I thought the twists throughout were brilliant. If murder mystery is your thing, you'll love this one.

"Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations."

This is definitely a feel good book. It's a fairly easy read too. I think I sided with the grumpy old man a few too many times. Haha.

"Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price--and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first."

I thought this book was so interesting! It's a bit difficult at first keeping all the characters straight, but once you get in the thick of things, you won't be able to put it down.

Okay Books: If you have some extra time, you could give these a read, but aren't missing out if you don't.

"Tane and Rebecca aren’t sure what to make of it—a sequence of 1s and 0s, the message looks like nothing more than a random collection of alternating digits. Working to decode it, however, they discover that the message contains lottery numbers . . . lottery numbers that win the next random draw! More messages follow, and slowly it becomes clear—the messages are being sent from Tane and Rebecca’s future. Something there has gone horribly wrong, and it’s up to them to prevent it from happening. The very survival of the human race may be at stake!"

I really wanted to like this book. And the first half was great. But in the end, things got weird and didn't quite make sense. The logic of it all is quite a stretch and I hated the conclusion.

"Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. 

So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book."

Most people I know loved this book. I was so excited to get started on it and I ended up not really liking it. Since so many people liked it though, maybe don't listen to my opinion if this book has been on your radar.

"Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch - "Scout" - returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee."

I know a lot of people didn't like this book because it's so different from To Kill A Mockingbird. I was sure I'd be able to separate the two books and give it a chance, but even with that, it turned out to be just okay. I didn't think the ending was that profound. 

If you want to see what I'm reading, you can visit this page or add me on Goodreads. I'd also love to know what your favorite books are. Leave a comment telling me what I have to read next and it will be added to my mountainous "to-be-read" pile.

April 3, 2016

1 Year of Taylor

Just like that, my little baby is one. I know a lot of parents say that they don't want their baby to grow up. I guess in a way, I agree with that statement. When I look back at pictures of my itty bitty newborn, it sure makes me miss those milk drunk baby cuddles.

As much as I loved the newborn stage, in reality I do want him to grow up. It's so rewarding to watch your little human get bigger and learn new tricks. I don't want him to stay small, I want him to grow and progress. I want him to develop his little personality and become his own self.

This first year just flew by so I'm pretty sure Taylor will be a teenager by next week. As quickly as time passes, I will still try my hardest to soak it all in.

To see more Taylor cuteness, follow me on Instagram (@aliciareneesnow) and Snapchat (@aliciahanley).

Month 1 | Month 2 | Month 3 | Month 4 | Month 5 | Month 6 
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