Mama + 2 Muchachos

Simple advice for parenting babies and other little ones

Category: Recommendations

New Mom (and Dad) Chaos

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As one of my dear friends gets set to end maternity leave soon, I am going back to a reflection I wrote long ago.  I hope most moms and dads are easier on themselves than I once was. . . .

I remember being on maternity leave one of those days breastfeeding in front of the TV  and watching an interview with Soleil Moon Frye (moonfrye.com), the child actress from my youth who played Punky Brewster.  She wrote a book called Happy Chaos which came out right after my first baby (I have never read it however).  I clearly remember her saying, “Embrace the chaos,” and I really felt like she was crazy.  My life was totally different than before.  The life of this little creature was all in my hands and it made me feel out of control.  I used to be pretty much in control of my life and now it seemed I never would get it back.  How could I embrace the chaos? If I was not embracing the chaos, it was most lovingly embracing me.

If I was not embracing the chaos, it was most lovingly embracing me.

I felt so much love for my new baby, more love than I’d ever felt in my whole life (and still do).  I could spend hours just holding him, and because he could actually breastfeed for a whole hour at a time, I had to sit for hours holding him.  But I also still felt tied to doing things like making amazing food, being an attentive wife, getting ready to go back to work and keep up with all the things I was missing at work.

The thought of paying bills and hosting all the people who wanted to come over and visit my baby made me want to cry.  So I cried sometimes . . . sometimes a lot.   And even though I thought it was crazy, the phrase, “Embrace the chaos” stuck with me.  Obviously, not everything is chaos, but with children, I have learned to let go of some things.   I try to make it easier on myself which sometimes requires asking for help, something I am not always good at. 

Some things that have made my life easier:  pre-cooked bacon, take-out coupons, and ground coffee.  I used to buy the beans and grind them.  I loved the smell, but with breast pumping, washing bottles, measuring milk and packing it every day for daycare, the smallest time saving innovation feels like a lifesaver.   I’ve listed many of them on my Recommendations Page.  Keep in mind that I didn’t have to buy all of these things on my own . . . as you read on you will discover many of them were given to me by friends. 

Even the razors that have the soap already attached like Venus and Intuition became time savers.   

Another big help was the Beco Gemini Baby Carrier I used to own, but have now passed on to a dear colleague.  While reading up on baby carriers, I learned NOT to purchase one before the baby is born.  I took that advice to heart and test drove many options at our local baby store, the Little Seedling.  The people there were super helpful about finding the most comfortable carrier for me and my first born, which worked just as well for my second.  You have to make sure you can put it on by yourself for doing things like grocery shopping.  I also really enjoyed vacuuming with my oldest attached to me on the baby carrier.  If you go to sporting events, the baby carrier is also a must. 

By this time, I also have a Pinterest Board full of easier-to-make recipes for busy  moms and dads.  I remember the days of sitting the babies in the bouncy chair in the kitchen, playing music to them and singing while I cooked.  While I am working full time as a teacher, I also allow myself one day of take-out for the family per week.  Look for future posts about good take-out spots and coupons.

My other source of stress, the amount of people I felt I had to host with a new baby could not really be avoided.  People naturally want to see your baby, love babies, want to hold babies.  But don’t be afraid to ask them for help.  Many of my friends also reached out to me.  They brought me food.  They made food for me in my own kitchen.  My mom and sisters-in-law would come over, hold my  baby for hours while I did crazy things like sleep or try to make homemade ricotta lemon pancakes with blueberry syrup.  Sometimes they would clean for me. 

Honestly, I also felt overwhelmed with all the gifts and hand-me downs too.  My wonderful co-workers threw me a beautiful shower and after carrying everything into our tiny condo, I remember looking at the bags lined up on the floor and feeling completely exasperated.  How could I even use all this stuff?  One of the retired teachers filled about three large shopping bags with garage sale finds.  I got it all packed away in the nursery. 

A couple of months later, my friends Luis and Ingrid (another Mama + 2 Muchachos) gave me almost everything from their nursery:  Bassinet, bouncy chair, swing, clothes, towels, almost anything you could imagine filled the back of my dad’s truck.  I will never forget getting home, getting it out, and furiously organizing it all while my husband told me to relax.  It took most of the afternoon and evening, but that’s the  incredible nesting instinct.  As soon as I sat down to rest, I went into labor.  And I have used about 99% of the hand-me-downs and garage sale items.  They were such a big help!  So take them!  Take them all!  And don’t be exasperated or overwhelmed.  At least TRY not to be!  And when you are done with all the things you used for baby, lovingly pass them down to the next mama who needs help.

Playing in Newberry, Michigan

Quality Inn, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, Seder’s Pizza, and the School Playground

Usually before or after we travel to Mackinac Island each summer, we also like to visit Traverse City, Michigan.  It’s a beautiful place, but this year the hotel rooms were completely out of our budget.  So we decided to look elsewhere.  Although I would love to go back to Traverse City at some point, I am so glad we broadened our Michigan horizons and went on a new adventure in Newberry, in Michigan’s wonderful Upper Peninsula.

This adventure started on a night when my husband fell asleep with PBS on the TV.  He had been watching Under the Radar Michigan . . . and then I continued watching it as the host traveled to Newberry to visit Oswald’s Bear Ranch.  My oldest son loves bears, so it really caught my attention as visitors could observe many rescued bears in this beautiful habitat that Mr. Oswald had created for them.  As I explained to my dad who is a cattle farmer, “It’s just like you having cows, except he has bears.” 

So we looked at the map, decided on plenty of things to do in the area, and made a hotel reservation at the Quality Inn in Newberry after reading a few reviews.  The hotel also fulfilled my vacation hotel wish list — has a refrigerator in the room for leftovers and milk  and has laundry facilities for after going to the beach.

Close enough to Newberry are the Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks, two natural wonders that I wanted to see along with my boys. 

So after getting off the boat from Mackinac Island, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge that connects our two peninsulas and is another cool thing to do any way. 

The Quality Inn was a good place to stay with the family, clean with a free hot breakfast.  It doesn’t have a pool though, and by talking to other travelers along the way, it seemed like a pool in the area hotels may be a hard thing to come by.  It had a huge hot tub, which I imagine caters to many snowmobilers in the winter.  In any case, I got the room with a refrigerator that I requested.  The mini-fridge was big enough to fit all our stuff and keep our ice packs semi-frozen. 

As soon as we checked in, we were off to Oswald’s Bear Ranch.  For $20 a car, you can observe the bears in 4 different habitats.  So load your car full of people and be sure to go around 4 pm because around that time, they feed the bears. 

Loving the bears.

I can’t speak of any other time, but when we were there, most of the bears were up near the fences, easy to see.  Some were even up in the trees.  We got to see them play, get in the water, climb trees, and eat.  You can purchase a bag of apples and feed them yourself by throwing the apples over the fences.  (There are 2 chain link fences separating humans from bears.)  We preferred to save our money and watch everyone else feed the bears. 

When the owners feed the bears, they go in with an ATV, give them a whole bunch of food that looks like leftovers from area restaurants, and they even pet them and tell you their names.  They seemed like such gentle creatures, and for my bear lover, this was his very favorite part of the trip.

At the bear ranch there is also a gift shop with many affordable souvenirs for your little ones. 

Little items from the gift shop.

They also sell snacks and have small tables to sit an enjoy these snacks.  There was also a fire pit and several wood carvings of animals outside that my smallest son enjoyed playing with. 

After the bear ranch, we decided to have dinner at Seder’s Pizza, a small wood fired brick oven pizzeria on the main street of Newberry.  My husband had read good reviews about it, so even though it was Friday at 4:45 pm (an early dinner for us), we decided to get some pizza.  And it was a good thing because as we were eating, the place totally filled up and there was no other place to sit.

Our recommendation is to order a large pizza (or more if your family is bigger) with your favorite toppings — it was delicious and provided us with leftovers to eat the next day so we didn’t have to go out for dinner.    My husband had also read about Seder’s Pizza’s famous “Stinky Sticks” so we decided to order some and see what the hype was about.  My youngest is very sensitive to smells, so if your kid is like mine, don’t order the Stinky Sticks.  Just stick with regular garlic bread sticks.  The dough is tasty, but they were covered, perhaps “slathered” was what the menu stated in garlic butter and freshly grated Romano cheese (the stickiness factor).  So if that sounds good to you and you have no sensitive smellers — go for it. 

After dinner, kids usually need to blow off some steam, use those calories they just ingested . . . so we asked our waitress about area playgrounds.  She pointed us to the school which was just up the street.  It had a great playground where our kids played with two little girls from Wisconsin for about an hour.  This is where we learned that the pool in the Wisconsin family’s hotel was broken + the dad gave us some great advice for the Pictured Rocks Cruise the next day. 

But that is for another post.

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