using Ab Rehab in pregnancy.

Remember when I went through the Ab Rehab program for healing my diastasis recti?  I had successfully shrunk the two-fingers-wide gap between my abs down to about a quarter-of-a-finger wide.  And then I got pregnant again.

(I only lost two pounds of body weight between the 'before' and 'after photos, so the difference you're seeing is almost purely the result of the exercises.  You can tell even my posture improved through increased core strength by the end.  You can also tell that I started tanning that summer... yikes, was I pale in the 'before.'  Sorry about that.)

Recently, I used the pregnancy guidelines for Ab Rehab to start up my exercises again.  I was wanting to keep my core strong for the rest of the pregnancy, help prevent pregnancy back pain, and set myself up for success during delivery and recovery.  So, for the last couple of months, I've been back on the Ab Rehab wagon, and it's been helping already!

Kelley (the gal who developed the program) says that, to do these exercises while pregnant, you'll need to lay at an incline against an exercise ball, to avoid laying flat on your back.  But since I don't have an exercise ball, I just pile a bunch of pillows into a kind of ramp on the floor and use that.  This is likely not the sanctioned way to go about this, but it's been working for me.  She also says to only go through exercises 1-3 while pregnant (there are five total on the DVD).  I've only completed exercises one and two so far (only doing one exercise at a time for about two weeks before moving on), and just started the last exercise.

When I started at about 28 weeks pregnant, my gap was about three fingers wide.  It is now about 2.5 wide, which doesn't seem like much of an improvement.  But considering a couple months have passed, and my belly itself has only continued to grow, and the baby it's supporting has only continued to grow, any decrease in the gap is a huge improvement.  I don't expect that it will get much smaller than this while I'm still pregnant, but I'm hoping that keeping those muscles strong will help me completely recover the gap once I'm sufficiently postpartum.

I also have noticed that, while I definitely have that 'big pregnant' feeling, I don't feel like my stomach is actually spreading all over my torso like it has in some of my more recent past pregnancies - the 'baby' fullness is staying right in front, and considering I'm about 36 weeks pregnant and I'm only now beginning to feel like I'm 'hauling' my belly around, I'd say that's a win!

I'll be continuing exercise three through the rest of pregnancy, then once I'm about 12 weeks postpartum, I'll begin at the beginning of the DVD again.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

For more info on the whole process of diagnosing my diastasis recti, and then using Ab Rehab to heal and recover, here is the whole series of posts:

Post Four: my diastasis recti: the final verdict on Ab Rehab
Post Five: Ab Rehab: using it in pregnancy.

just one more way in which God is providing.

When we lived in Story City, we had a huuuuge house - five bedrooms, three bathrooms, basement family room, finished attic, 3600 square feet.  Everything we would ever need in a 'forever' house for a large family, plus it was beautiful to boot.  It was built in 1913 and had all the original woodwork, chandeliers, leaded glass, pocket doors.  Dang.  I still tear up when I think about that house, so I'm not going to keep dwelling on it, and I'll just move on to the real point of this post.

We had purchased a double bed for one of the (then-empty) bedrooms, for guests to use.  But when we moved to Cedar Falls, we didn't have official room for it. (Our house at that point was three bedrooms, one bathroom, and 1100 square feet.)  So we laid down a big piece of scrap carpeting in our unfinished basement, and put the bed down there for guests.  Not ideal, but at least it was something.

Once we got to this current house, and all of the four bedrooms were allocated to permanent residents, we still had nowhere for our guest bed, so it's been weirdly sitting out in the relative middle of our basement family room.  It's somewhere for guests to stay, which is nice, since out-of-state church planting just kind of comes with lots of potential for overnight guests, so we've had a lot of need for it.  But the setup hasn't been ideal - there's no privacy for friends who are staying, and when the boys wake up and come out of their room, they just kind of... stare at our sleeping guests until the guests feel a heavy gaze upon them and wake up totally freaked out.

See how weird the set-up currently is?

Suuuuuuuuuuuper weird.

So I've been praying God would somehow provide a better bed setup for us that would accommodate the double mattress.  Essentially, I was wanting a twin-over-full bunk bed set for the boys' room, where guests could stay when they come, but the boys could use the rest of the time.

The other day, I got a rando text from a friend saying she was getting rid of a twin-over-full bunk set if I wanted it - for free.  It's solid wood, and super sturdy and everything.  (We have twin bunks, but they are SO RICKETY we can't bunk them anymore, but these are really secure.)  I told her I had been praying specifically for that very item, and she said she doesn't even remember me ever mentioning it, and honestly, I don't think that I had, either.  It just kind of came to her mind that she thought I was looking for one.  God is so funny and awesome.

So once the carpet is installed next week, we'll get to assemble our brand new bunk beds and get the bed out of our family room.  I feel like living this house is starting to make more sense for us, and I'm so grateful.  It's these small (and not-so-small) things that God is faithfully providing lately that make me feel better about this being our house, and feel more and more 'at home.'  It hasn't been fast progress in that direction, but it's progress, and I'm really grateful.

Now, maybe with the new carpet and new bed arrangement, I'll finally get motivated to want to paint the basement - 1000 square feet of ceiling, walls, and trim, so it's no small deal, but it will be totally worth it.  IF I can get motivated to just do it.  And also figure out when I'm going to do it, since there's the tiny, insignificant issue of impending labor, birth and newborn... you know.  Shenanigans like that.

we're getting new carpet, and here's the 'how.'

So, I've already told you what happened with the carpet on the basement stairs - long story short, Todd was carrying a cooler full of milk in glass bottles down the steps, and the handle of the cooler broke off.  Shards of glass sprayed everywhere, and two-and-a-half gallons of milk saturated the stairs.  We had a company come to clean it up, but the guy was like, "I can make it look better, but I can't make it smell better.  You won't be able to get the milk out of the carpet and pad unless you totally rip it out and start over."

Because it started smelling so badly, Todd ripped up the carpet on the stairs, and some of the carpet in the family room downstairs, and we've been living with exposed wood stairs and exposed concrete on the floors since then.  We weren't totally sure what we were going to do, since insurance wasn't going to cover it, and we had definitely not budgeted anything like this into the finances for the year. 

We thought we'd go ahead and just recarpet the stairs, since sound from the basement is SO LOUD without the carpet up the stairs, and the boys keep stepping on exposed staples and stubbing their toes on the wood.  It felt necessary to get some carpet back down for functional reasons.  (Plus, obviously, it was dang ugly.)  Just doing the stairs would be cheaper than recarpeting everything, even though aesthetically it was less than ideal - the stairs would be one kind of carpet, the family room would be another (really, really terrible, dirty carpet tiles destroyed by the previous owners' dog), and the boys' bedroom would be another (the carpet from even BEFORE Dirty Dog Carpet got installed).  It was going to look janky, but it would do the job and fit the budget.  And at least it would look better than this:

But then I got a text from a sweet friend, saying she had overnighted me a package I'd have to be around to sign for.  I got the box the next day, opened it, and was pleased but slightly confused to find a pair of Old Navy boots she had sent to Laurelai after they didn't work for her daughter.  It was such a nice gift, but I wasn't sure why they needed to be overnighted and signed for.  But there was something else at the bottom of the box...

I pulled it out, and it was a check for the new carpet.  Not just enough for the stairs, but the whole basement.  I started sobbing at how big and faithful God was in that moment to provide for us.  (The kids were super confused, like, "Why are you crying if you're happy?")

Todd first tithed from the amount, since he's always so grateful that God consistently provides for us that he wants to respond with generosity and trust by holding even gifts with open hands.  (I love this about him.)  Then I got the name of a wholesale carpet guy, he came over and measured the basement, and guess what - the estimate came in at TEN DOLLARS UNDER what was left.  Ten dollars, you guys.  Ten dollars.  And this is fixed - this is the final amount he will be charging me for carpet, pad, and labor.  There won't be any hidden costs.  God provided exactly what we needed.

So the guys are coming next Tuesday to install our new (beautiful! clean! padded!) carpet, and I couldn't be more excited.  And instead of just getting new carpet, we have an amazing story how God, once again, came through for us in surprising ways.

I'm so excited to show you pictures once it's all installed!  Now, I just need to spend the remainder of the week getting all the furniture moved out of there, and the deep freeze and fridge cleaned out so they can be moved out of there... No small job, but totally worth it.  Pictures to come!

how to take a road trip with young kids: first aid favorites and car sickness survival.

Many of the first aid items that I take with us on road trips have stayed the same through the years (Tylenol is Tylenol), but many have been updated, or new items have been added to the rotation.  So, even though I already briefly covered some of this in a repost earlier in the week, here's what all we currently use and will take with us later this summer on this year's road trip.

I like to keep everything in clear, zippered pouches in my purse, so it's close on hand in the car.  It makes it easy to find what I need, and I don't have to worry something will leak all over my purse.  (My pouches are similar to these, I think.  I bet pencil bags from the school supply section would work, too!)

In the first pouch, I keep any essential oils I'll be taking.  I don't use oils every day or anything, but I do like to have them on hand for first aid.  My go-to, commonly used oils on a trip are (left to right):

**carrier oil, for safely using oils on kids.  ALWAYS dilute!!
**peppermint, for headaches and nausea.
**healthy hero blend (essentially kids-safe "Thieves," but not YL brand). This bottle is from the Edens Garden kid-safe line of oils, which I LOVE!
**stress relief, because, I mean, road trips with kids.
**tea tree, for cuts and scrapes.
**lavender, for skin issues and calming riled kids.

In my second pouch, I have summer prep stuff:

**spray sunscreen.  I very, very rarely ever use sunscreen on my kids, and when I do, it's only on their 'hot spots' (nose, cheeks, ears, shoulders, feet) in intense sun.  I typically just rely on physical barriers like clothing, and staying inside during the most intense parts of the day, and letting them take in that Vitamin D the rest of the time.  But on vacation, it will be nice to just spray them quick if I need to, if we're out and about.
**hand sanitizer, because Gas Station Bathrooms.  Yes?
**new skin.  Easier than replacing Band-aids every time they get wet or something, and great for covering blisters they get from their shoes.
**all-natural, oil-based lotion.  Great for chapstick or for diluting tea tree oil to put on cuts. (We LOVE this lotion for everything, actually.  We literally buy pounds of it at a time.)
**mineral sunscreen.  Healthier than spray-on, and easier to use on just a few target spots rather than all over.
**bug spray.  This stuff smells SO GOOD (like vanilla), and works SO WELL.

In my third pouch (and a smaller bag I keep in my purse at all times), I keep items that are great for general first aid:

**bacitracin, in case the tea tree isn't cutting it.
**tweezers, for emergency relief from splinters and rogue chin hairs.
**first aid kit, bandaids.  This one is adorable and space-efficient, and it fits SO well in the console!

**arnica gel.  This stuff is so, so wonderful for soothing sore muscles and healing bruises.
**arnica pellets.  These work like homeopathic ibuprofen - I've even used it for pain management after birth.  I'll be taking them along this time for pregnancy-plus-car-ride back pain.
**drawing salve.  This stuff pulls splinters right out of skin like you wouldn't believe.
**green salve, for taking the itch out of bug bites.
**adult Tylenol
**kids' Tylenol

Now, our all-out arsenal for treating carsickness.  Pretty much every single time we head out on a long trip, at least one kid ends up barfing, if not multiple kids.  We have tried All The Things, and these have proven helpful:

**peppermint oil on the wrists and bellies of sick kids.  If they're too young (under 6) to have peppermint oil applied directly to them, I've had luck putting a few drops on a cotton ball and tucking it into their carseat straps or into the air vent above their seat.
**ginger oil is great on a cotton ball as well, though I've never applied it to their skin.
**tummy aid oil.  Another Kid-Safe blend from Edens Garden.  This one is good applied on their wrists or bellies after having been diluted.
**sea bands made a world of difference for Atticus (our sickest car-sickie) last time we traveled!
**Kids' Dramamine.  When all else fails, I have no problem resorting to Dramamine!  It works really well.  I've also never noticed any drowsy behavior in the kids after taking it, which I've heard is a concern.  My kids have always acted normally.
**Altoids contain real peppermint oil and very little sugar, so these are really great for settling tummies of kiddos who can handle the spice.
**chewable ginger tablets.  We've never tried these before, but I have them on hand to try out on this upcoming trip.
**cotton balls, for aromatherapy use of the abovementioned oils.

And, not pictured: Ice cream bucket with lots and lots of plastic bags to use as liners.  Make sure the plastic bags do not have holes in the bottom!  This makes it so easy to tie up the mess and toss it in a trash can, instead of having to rinse anything out in a nasty gas station bathroom.  I also roll up an old towel next to the bucket, for use in cleaning up any 'overspray'-type messes, or for aproning over a really sick kid - worst case scenario, you lift up the ends to catch the mess, and then hobo-bag the corners of the towel and throw the whole thing in the trash.

The very second a kiddo starts complaining of a belly ache, I start busting out the remedies.  There isn't time to 'wait it out!'  Not only do I use the products mentioned above, but I make them look out the window  instead of down at their books or at the DVD screen, and I either open their window or blast the air conditioner on the 'arctic' setting.  If I need to, I hustle to the back to hold the bucket.  Barf can singlehandedly make or break a trip, so I do whatever it takes to stay ahead of it and keep it from getting out of hand.

And that's how we (try to) prepare for unforeseen injuries and inevitable barfing incidents!  What tricks do you have up your sleeve to help with these situations?

how to take a road trip with young kids: planning the itinerary.

Time for the next post in our Road Trip series! Let's talk itinerary.

 It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that 99% of you reading this have smartphones and Siri and other kinds of witchcraft at your disposal, so you may not need my old fashioned tips for planning the best routes and stops.  But as for me and my house, we will just continue to spend $25 a month on our ancient phone plan and use our crotchety old fingers to Googlysearch the cybernet for our trip planning.  Because YOLO.

All that to say, I've never used GPS or other technology on our road trips before, so I'm blissfully unaware of how much harder I'm making this on myself.  Just humor me; take any advice that might be helpful, and just smile and nod along with the rest.

If you are traveling with young kids during daytime hours, plan on stopping every two hours or so.  This year we pushed the average closer to three, but it was the first year we were able to do that.  We don't have any "questionably potty trained" kids at this moment in time, and Rocco eats about every three hours or so, so it just worked for us this year.  I would suggest ALWAYS erring on the side of stopping too frequently rather than not frequently enough. Stop before you feel like you need to, if that makes sense.  ("Kill it before it dies" is always my organizational mission statement, and generally how I try to live my life.) 

I will point out: this frequently means you should have planned in advance where you're going to stop, instead of just getting in the general vicinity of where you're hoping to stop and then crossing your fingers something worthwhile shows up before the kids start melting down.  Plan. It. Out. so that the trip doesn't get on top of you. 

Always, always make every single child go pee at every single stop. They will tell you they don't have to. They will tell you they haven't even had any sips of water since the last stop. Don't give in!! You are the grown up, and by golly, you know enough to know their acorn-sized bladder is already hatching plans to derail the whole trip. Don't fall for it.

For our first stop, I always just plan to find a nice, civilized interstate rest area. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, since we don't stop for long. We take the kids to the bathroom, feed them a snack, let them stretch their legs, and get back on the road.  I usually search the DOT site in advance for rest areas that have amenities of some kind that tell me it's regularly maintained and supervised.

The next stop usually falls around lunchtime, though, and this is where we pull out the big guns.  We stop at a park, do a full-on picnic lunch, and let the kids play to their hearts' content.  (And then, abviously, I make them go pee again. I don't mess around.). I plan in two hours for this stop, and we usually leave feeling revived, well-fed, and ready for naps.  Smartphones are probably great for finding nearby parks while you're on the road, if you haven't already put the legwork into making an advance plan, but I just use Google (again, I can't stress this enough: in advance) to look at city maps of the larger cities we'll be driving through, to find parks that are close to the interstate. Falls Park in Sioux Falls has become our favorite lunchtime spot on our regular route. 

We try to plan at least one fun or unusual stop into the rest of our day.  Sometimes state tourism websites will tell you what there is to see along a specific road. Other times, I use sites like and to find quirky places to check out (keeping in mind the distance between stops).

For dinner, we often stop for hot food somewhere. A hot meal just revives tiny people (and grown ups) like nothing else can.  To find good places to eat, I look ahead at where we'll be around dinnertime, and check TripAdvisor for yummy spots.  Sometimes you can find some great hole-in-the-wall places; other times you end up being like, 'meh.' But you're fed and everyone has had a break from the car (and, obviously, gone pee again), so you're still winning.

I usually spend an afternoon or so planning our whole trip- both there and back.  I like to have the planning done at least a few days in advance.  Then I print out our maps and directions (because, as should be clear by now, I live with abandon about a decade behind the times, so I can't keep any of this info on my phone).  I also print a shorthand schedule, mostly for my own crazy town brain to keep things organized.

I like to overestimate our times so that I feel awesome about making good time.  It's how I feel like I'm winning at life.  Which I will admit is a tiny bit sad.

And that's how I plan our itinerary to keep things running as smoothly as possible, and to try to provide opportunities for the kids to make some fun memories! If anyone has any other itinerary hacks, or even smartphone tips and apps for traveling that you'd like to share with other readers, post them in the comments!

how to take a road trip with young kids: master packing list and favorite first aid items.

After the first or second time we took Atticus anywhere - anywhere - I realized that this whole "being a prepared mom" game was no joke.  You can't just take the baby.  You have to have the car seat, and the diapers, and the wipes, and the changing pad, and an extra change of clothes for both you and the baby, and a pack and play, and a breast pump, and bottles and bottle liners and extra pacifiers and OHMYWORDMAKEITSTOP.  Pretty soon, you learn to just ball up in the fetal position out of pure animalian fear any time you have to go to Walmart.

And then comes The Weekend Away To Grandma's.  The Family Vacation.  The Road Trip.  And you're basically paralyzed from the heavy responsibility of it all and you turn in your mom badge and check into the insane asylum for the rest of your livelong days just to avoid having to pack.


I'm here for you.  Together, we can save your family a lot of grief and a lot of sad frozen dinners while you're away at the looney bin.  I promise you can do this.  Because... it's really, really simple.  Check it out.

Let me give you a rundown of what you're looking at.

First, this is a list based on a summer trip, so you'd need to adapt it if you need to pack all-weather attire.  Second, this list calls for packing half the clothes you will need, assuming you will have access to laundry services at least once on your week-long trip. This is especially easy if you're going to visit family or something, but even if you're not, I strongly suggest even hunting down a laundromat if you need to while you're gone.  It cuts your packing in half, and it saves you a ton of headache once you get home and are slapped in the face with the reality of being back to normal life - less to pack, less to wash, less to put away.  Win-win-win.

Okay, with that being said, the above list is for a week(ish)-long trip.  I can get all my stuff AND all the kids' stuff AND the diapers for the trip into one normal-sized suitcase.  Todd packs his stuff in a separate, smaller suitcase, and then we have a small toiletries bag/backpack.  We like to pack light because it makes it easy to get to the cooler on the road since it's not covered in stuff.  Plus, we usually buy something to commemorate our trip, and we like to make sure we'll have room for it on the way home.  (Last year it was a buffalo skull, so we're not messing around when we say 'leave room for new stuff.')

Make sure you print off an age-appropriate list for each child, so you can just check things off as you go.

Each year there are one or two things that get crossed off or added - like this year, I crossed "bottles and feeding accessories" off the list, since Rocco is still breastfeeding, and I added "box fan," since he sleeps SO much better when the din of the other kids is well-muffled.  All that to say, this list is meant to be tweaked and modified however it needs to be, depending on the specific trip and the specific kids and the specific year.  But it's a great jumping-off point.  The heavy lifting has been done.

And here's how we organize some of the smaller, first aid-type items that are handy to have in my purse or right up front in the van with me:

changing pad | kleenex | toilet paper | diapers | wipes | glasses cleaner | sunscreen
(this is last year's photo - we have since switched to this sunscreen and won't be going back!)

Here are my Purse Packs:

yeah, yeah, yeah, I've already showed you the Dramamine, but that was in the console.  This is in my purse.  Because carsickness is Persona Non Grata in these parts.  And TYLENOL?!?! Billy, don't be a hero.  After paying a million bucks for a bottle at Wall Drug that first year we made the trip because Penelope was screaming her head off and I had a migraine, I got less idealistic.  Pack the Tylenol.

arnica gel | motion eaze oil blend | melagel | Tide pen | more bandaids because: Kids.

Not all of these are 'essential' oils (harhar).  If you're just going for the essentials, pack peppermint (for headaches and nausea), lavender (for skin issues and sunburn), and tea tree (for open owies) - and I have a dropper bottle of carrier oil in there, too - don't forget to dilute oils used on kids!  As for the brand, we use and love Edens Garden.

(As an only-slightly-related sidenote, we all know the wonderful MLM companies that sell oils, and the quality of those is outstanding.  But there are a couple really high quality brands out there if MLMs aren't your thing - Edens Garden, Plant Therapy, Veriditas, Native American Nutritionals, and Mountain Rose Herbs all make very, very high quality oils as well.  Just my two cents.  Not looking to pick a fight, though, so use whatever oils you're most comfortable with, if any.)

And there you have it!  My master packing list for large-family trips, and some of my favorite first aid/health products.  (Update: I'll do a new post with some updated/new products we'll be taking with us this summer, too!)  Anyone have any products they love taking on trips that I didn't mention?

Tomorrow, I'll cover some tips on how to plan a fun itinerary to keep the day interesting.  See you then!

how to take a road trip with young kids: food and snacks. (including gluten- and grain-free!)

One thing that seems to stump me every. single. year. as I get ready to pack for our road trip to South Dakota is what on earth to feed everybody on the way.  Feeding seven people on a daily basis is hard enough, but once you factor in needing to pack foods that won't melt, rot, stain or smell, and that don't pose the risk of choking, and that can be easily passed back and forth without spilling... ugh.  And add to that the fact that I'm very strictly gluten-free, and this year the kids have been mostly grain-free... well, I felt a little overwhelmed when it came time to plan for food.  But it really didn't end up being that complicated!

We pack a box of dry foods in the front of the van, and a cooler of refrigerated stuff in the back.  If you pack light (which I will talk more about tomorrow), you'll have plenty of room for a cooler.

This is all I packed for a family of seven for a week and a half away from home.  (There is a pack and play behind the cooler.)  I'll show you my packing list tomorrow!

For breakfast, we just do something simple like granola or Larabars and water while we drive our first stretch.  It kills time, and it doesn't make a huge mess.  Then I'll frequently let the kids have a snack at our first rest stop a few hours later, which is usually just something small like an applesauce pouch or a fruit leather, with water.

We usually take a much longer break over lunchtime to eat a picnic lunch and play at a park.  That's when we'll pull out the cooler and dole out stuff like deli meat, string cheese, fruits and veggies, a small soda, etc.

For our post-naptime afternoon stop, I may or may not let the kids have a snack, since I don't want them to spoil their appetite for dinner (we don't usually serve any snacks at all at home, so they're used going for longer periods without needing something).  For dinner, we usually stop somewhere quick for hot food, which seems to revive everyone enough to make it through until we get to our destination.

So you see that, other than breakfast, the kids aren't really eating in the car at all.  They're not making a huge mess.  They're not getting grouchy from boredom-eating.  They're still eating (semi-)healthfully.  It's a win-win-win.

Most of this stuff was found at Aldi, and while all of it is strictly gluten-free, it is not all strictly grain-free (some contains corn oil, etc.)  Make sure you check ingredients for yourself!

Here are some of the foods that have worked really well for our kids:

Dry foods:
Dried apple slices
Gluten-free granola and granola bars*
Potato and sweet potato chips
Fruit leather
Applesauce pouches
Beef sticks
Beef jerky
Veggie crisps
Freeze-dried fruit
Dried seaweed (um, we only tried this once.  Never again, but maybe your kids will love it.)
Bark Thins chocolate (just for grown ups!)
Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, peanuts
Rice cake snacks*
Pouched tuna or tuna salad

Cooler foods:
Hard boiled eggs
Deli meat or salami
String cheese
Grapes (or other easy-to-eat-without-getting-sticky fruit)
Baby carrots
Cold drinks

*Gluten-free, but not grain-free

I also make sure I have ample chocolate on hand for myself, and sour gummy worms for Todd, because: Road Trip with Tons of Little Kids.  Grown ups need special fuel.

I put the box of dry food somewhere that I can reach it from my seat, and where it won't get trampled by little legs or feet.  You can also see in the picture below that I pack a jug of water - it makes it easy to refill water bottles without needing to use rest stop bathrooms (gross!), and when you're traveling with bottle-fed babies like we have in the past, it makes it a breeze to just mix up a bottle when you need to.  (Or, if your baby is picky about temp, heat up some extra water before you leave and keep it in a Yeti or Thermos.)  Last year, I found an awesome jug of water with an easy-pour spigot, which made things even simpler.

Tomorrow I'll show you the master packing list I always use for packing the van and our suitcases.  It makes it so much easier to make sure I'm packing light (but not too light), and that I'm not forgetting anything.  It's easy to lose track of something when you're trying to organize travel for so many people!  This list makes my life a million times easier, plus I've found a couple products I can't live without on our trips that I'll tell you about.  See you tomorrow!

how to take a road trip with young kids.

It's that time of year again, when everyone is planning summer trips.  We'll be headed on a road trip sometime this summer, so I've been pulling out my trusty master lists to get prepared.  This week, I'll be reposting a series of road trip posts I wrote, in case it helps anyone else prep for their own vacations!

The first year we made our annual trip to South Dakota, Atticus was two and Penelope was 16 months old.  (The other kids were but a glimmer in Todd's eye, so we had tons of leg-room in the van.)  Penelope spent six hours each way screaming her tiny head off, and approximately forty minutes total sleeping.  Considering it was a sixteen-hour drive (one way!), it got really long, really quick.  I was all, NEVAH AGAINNNN!

But the draw of getting to spend so much time with Todd's parents each year kept pulling us back, and we've now made that long drive four or five times.  It has actually gotten easier each time, even though we add a new kid to the crew pretty much every year.  I have gotten much better at preparing for and organizing our trips, and it has made a world of difference, so I thought I'd spend a couple of posts sharing some of the wisdom I've gained from the School of Road Trip Hard Knocks.  Today, let's talk about what to actually have in the van to make it more likely everyone survives the day.

Car bags: I pack a bag of stuff for each kid (and myself!) to keep everyone as occupied as possible over the long-haul.  Usually I let the kids pick one or two toys and books of their own to take, but then I fill the rest of the space in their bags with dollar store items that are kept a surprise until the morning we leave.  Here are some of the items that have been winners for our kids:

*Coloring books and crayons
*Pencils and notebooks
*Window stickers
*Barbies, dolls, action figures
*Where's Waldo? books
*I Spy books
*Board books or chapter books, depending on the age of the reader

Food and drink: On an all-day trip, we usually eat a simple breakfast in the car, a picnic lunch at a park on the way, and dinner from a drive through or restaurant.  We also shake up our normal routine a little and allow for a snack or two throughout the day.  I try to pack food that doesn't smell, rot, stain, or melt if spilled, and I try to limit the carbs, since everyone gets crabby if they're chowing down sugar and starch all day.  Things like beef jerky, hard boiled eggs, fruit and veggies, nuts, deli meat, string cheese, Larabars, and a limited amount of raisins, chips or crackers have worked well for us.  I will do a more in-depth post soon about this, including how to road trip while grain-free.

Latching pencil cases make great road trip plates.  You can load them up with food, and then close them in order to pass them back and forth from the front to the back of the van without spilling stuff everywhere.  Plus, they're easily washed, and they stack pretty flat when not in use.

I only let the kids have water in the car, for two reasons: 1) if it spills, it doesn't stain or smell, and 2) they don't "bored-chug" water.  They really only drink when they're thirsty, so then we're making fewer unexpected pee breaks.  For lunch, I usually pack each of them a small soda.  They almost never get soda the rest of the year except for occasional little sips of mine or Todd's, so they really look forward to having their own, and it's become a special road trip tradition.  I've loved packing those little mini cans of 7-Up, or small bottles of real-sugar New York Seltzer.  Whatever it is, I make sure it's clear so it doesn't stain their clothes if it spills.

we do pack DVDs, but we really try to push them as long as possible before putting one in.  If you start the DVDs too soon into the day, they get super bored and antsy and grumpy.  Since we try to drive in two- to three-hour stretches, we let them spend the first stretch without a movie, which usually goes well.  They spend the time eating breakfast, then digging through the new stuff in their bags.  But then the second stretch is 'movie time,' and we alternate the stretches this way throughout the day.  We don't put a movie in after lunch, since the kids are more likely to fall asleep if they're not watching something.  We make sure to pack full-length movies and episodic stuff.  This year, the kids really liked watching the old 60's episodes of Batman.

Bring a really wide playlist of music everyone in your family likes.  Don't just pack those horrible preschool singsongy tunes.  Our whole family loves Family Force 5, if you're needing some inspiration.  We spent hours listening through their albums on this last trip.

Other necessities: Pack a potty chair and some plastic bags to line it with.  You probably won't need it, but on the off-chance you do, you'll be super grateful you have it.  Even big kids can use it in urgency/emergency situations.  Don't forget toilet paper and flushable wipes!

Kids' Dramamine, a barf bucket (with a bunch of plastic bags for easily-disposed-of liners), and an old towel have also been necessities for us. This year, we also had some success with Altoids for the littler kids, and letting them sniff peppermint essential oil.  I think next year, I'll try adding child-sized Seabands and ginger chews to our arsenal.  (Update:  I'll be doing a new, separate post this year on what our carsickness toolkit looks like now.)  The last things you want in the van are sad, barfy kids and the pervasive, wafting scent of vomit on a long drive.  Ask me how I know.

Scissors, quart-sized ziplocks, paper towels, and plastic grocery sacks can cover a multitude of travel problems.  Pack more of each than you think you'll need.

Surprise Fun Attacks: I like to pack some special things in my personal bag for when some of the stretches get really, really desperate.  Usually, this happens on the way home.  Everyone is tired, and grouchy, and sick of being in the car.  At this point, I'll pull out some funny items I've packed for this very reason.  Some of the things that have been hits with our kids:

*Nose glasses
*Paper crowns (the kids spent over an hour covering these in stickers)
*Stick-on mustaches
*Glow sticks and glow bracelets
*Glittery, holographic or bubble stickers

But most importantly, keep calm yourself.  Pack yourself some coffee and chocolate.  Road trips with kids can be really, really fun, and they're making great memories, but it's also chaotic to organize it all.  See the funny in stuff - just laugh about it as best you can.  Because that's the stuff you'll remember - I remember laughing so hard my stomach hurt, and my face ached, when Finneas was sitting on that potty chair in the Badlands.  Yeah, it meant we had to carry a turd in a plastic bag in our van for a few hours before there was an available trash can, and we had to throw his undies away, and everything kind of smelled like poop.  But daaaang, that photo op was hilarious.  Your kids will feed off of your mood, and you can set the tone for a really fun day - or a really crappy one.  So choose to have a blast!

Tomorrow I'll be posting about great road trip snacks and foods for kids, including the gluten-free and grain-free set.  Thursday, I'll give you a run-down of the master packing list I use to make sure nothing gets forgotten when packing for a large family - but it's easily adapted to smaller families as well!  Stay tuned!

'what's up' weekly.

Last weekend kicked off with Todd heading to an overnight leader's retreat, so I ordered in Jimmy John's and the kids and I laid low.  Saturday morning, we went shopping for kids' clothes and grabbed McDonald's for lunch. (You can tell when I'm pregnant, and tired, and Todd's not home, because I spend way too much money on really crappy food.  However, during the week when Todd is around - but I'm still pregnant and tired - it's not much better.  For dinner this week, we had chicken nuggets and fries TWICE, and once we had hot dogs and mac and cheese.  The way I'm feeding my kids (and husband) is really becoming concerning.

Saturday night, I rounded up a sitter for the kids so Todd and I could go to dinner with some of the other leaders and their wives, and I chose to get dressed up.  This proved to be a mistake for three distinct reasons:

1. I wore a white dress and immediately spilled strawberries on it.

2. Said dress required wearing Spanxx because (pay attention, because they don't tell you this) pregnancy makes a person really lumpy.  Like, you think you're signing on for just the one big lump in the front, but with it comes all kinds of smaller rolls and bumps and mounds in weird places which need to be smoothed out.  But they also don't make Preggo Spanxx, which I think is motivated by the pure common sense that says pregnant ladies shouldn't wear shapewear.  So I attempted normal-lady Spanxx.  Spoiler: it was a terrible idea.

3.  I was the only one who dressed up, so I felt really overdressed.  Until I spilled strawberries on myself, like I said, which really brought the whole look back down into the realm of 'very casual.'

Sunday evening, we had a member's celebration at church.

Sunday was the first really sunny day since last weekend when Penelope turned seven, so Todd took her "7" photos.

Monday, I had a midwife appointment, where she told me everything is progressing just fine.  But I'm still pretty overwhelmed by the unknowns of having a baby in this hospital system, so those fears weren't really alleviated at all by being weighed and sent home.  I think I need to schedule a hospital tour.

Tuesday was my first completely free day in a long time, and I was so looking forward to it.  We're on break from school, Connection Group is on break for the summer so I didn't have to clean, and I didn't have anything on the agenda.  I didn't even change out of my pajamas the entire day.  And, wouldn't you know it, I had no idea what to do with myself, and even now, I'm not totally sure how I spent it.  I know I spent time reading... and answering old emails.... but like, that might have been it?  Fail.

Wednesday was normal - my trip to the Amish, a stop at the library, and a last get-together with my Wednesday college girl before she leaves for two months on a missions trip to Vietnam! 

Thursday's big news is that I made my very first sale of something I listed on a B/S/T page.  I have to say, I was weirdly freaked out by the prospect of having a stranger come to my house to pick it up.  But it went really well - I didn't get murdered or pillaged, in case you were wondering.  Now here's to praying our loveseat and jogging stroller sell, too, so that I get some space in the garage cleared out.  I'm wanting to move our clothing bins out there and install a family closet in our laundry room, but it all kind of depends on the big stuff in the garage selling first.  (Hint, hint: anyone local in need of a loveseat, or a jogging stroller/bike trailer?)

Which brings us to today.  I'm wanting to focus on getting the basement cleared out.  The carpet guys are coming to install our new basement carpet on the 30th, and sometime before then, I need to get the whole basement cleaned out so that we can just move the furniture out of the way the day before.  But this means cleaning out the deep freeze so it can be unplugged, and finding storage space for a bunch of books and d├ęcor in the meantime.  I'd also love to finally haul away the dead washing machine that's been sitting in my laundry room for months.  And a friend is giving us a bunk bed set for the boys' room, so I'll have some rearranging to do in there.  So, lots to do before the 30th! 

Wish me luck!

how I store kids' clothes.

So, I walked you through how we buy kids' clothes, but the natural next question arises: what do we do with it once it's home?  Short answer: we try to get it organized into storage as soon as possible.

Long answer: When we head out for our yearly shopping trip, I'm primarily going for the biggest two kids' next sizes.  For instance, Penelope is currently in a size 6, so most of our recent shopping was for clothes in a size 7.  This way, we're prepared ahead of time.  So I make sure to have empty, labeled bins on hand for when we get home.  This picture is hard to see, but it's a photo of my 'Girls 7' and 'Boys 8' boxes, which were basically empty before our shopping trip.  I leave them out so that once I get home, I can just dump stuff right in there, check off the list I keep right in the bin, and then put the bins away until they're needed.

We also purchase some 'straggler needs' items for the other kids as we go, such as replacement 5T shorts for the ones Atticus totally destroyed, and that Finneas will need soon, etc.  If there is a lot of stuff in these other sizes, or if I'm feeling particularly motivated, I'll pull out all the necessary bins and just pop stuff in them at that point, too.  Though I'm often not that motivated, so I frequently just dump them in our 'everything' bin, which I'll get to in a second.

On the off-chance that we bought a few items that were even bigger than the next size up (like that time when Atticus was four, but I found a pair of killer size 7 jeans on clearance at Old Navy for 47 cents!), I keep a single bin labeled, "Too-Big Clothing."  (I realize my use of English when labeling isn't great, but it gets the job done.)  I put all those items in there to be sorted later, once I have individual bins dedicated to those sizes.  (Again, janky photo.  Fluorescent lighting in a windowless room.)

However, sometimes random stuff comes trickling in - say, a few hand me downs from a friend, or just buying a single item in one size - and I don't feel like pulling out the proper bin just to sort one or two things.  (You can see in the top photo that all my storage bins are kind of precariously stacked on top of each other, so it can be kind of a hassle to get one out every single time there's something to put away.)  For those instances, I have an open bin (the 'everything bin') I just dump stuff into all willy-nilly, and once it's full, I'll take an hour or so to sort through it and put stuff where it goes.

I basically do the exact same thing with shoes - I have labeled bins for each gender and size, and one large bin for shoes that, for whatever reason, need to be sorted later.

I also like to keep two other lidless bins close on hand - one for winter items to take to consignment/Goodwill, and one for summer items.  That way, as I'm putting outgrown clothing away and I find something that never really got worn, or that I didn't like seeing the kids in for whatever reason, I just stick it right in there, and it's ready to haul at donation time.

And that's basically how we keep clothing from overrunning our life.  If you want further clarification on our storage bin system, you can check out this past post.  The photos are from the storage area in our last house, so the room I'm currently working with is different, but the overall organizational system has stayed the same.