Family

6 Things I've Learned in 6 Years of Marriage

6 Things I've Learned in 6 Years of Marriage | Writing Between Pauses

Danny and I got married June 23, 2013. If you’ve followed my blog for that long (and honestly, some of you have!), you know that I blogged about my wedding heavily at that time. Over the years, just like most things, I’ve questioned how much to share about everything in my life. I try not to share too much about Forrest: this is a mommy blog without being the day-to-day, share too much mommy blog I’m used to seeing. I don’t write about my job at all. I even post less photos of myself these days.

But sometimes, it’s good to reflect and sometimes that means sharing more than perhaps I would normally.

Danny and I met in 2007. Can you believe that? We met in McCall, Idaho at our college’s freshman retreat that happened before classes started. We all moved into our dorms on a hot, sticky Idaho August day, then loaded into busses the next day and drove several hours to McCall. I can’t remember exactly when I met Danny, but I know I met him on that trip and he popped up throughout my freshman year. Sophomore year, we saw more of each other, both being in the campus writing club, writing for the school paper, and having a similar, overlapping group of friends.

It wasn’t until junior year that we really became friends. Over that summer between junior and senior year, he watched my apartment for me (thanks!) and visited me a few times when I had mild emotional breakdowns over my roommate (who eventually moved out). It was a rough, weird time for me. Then, senior year, we were in several classes together: a few literature classes and then in capstone.

And then, of course, we started dating.

Without being too sappy, I knew pretty early on (as in, maybe a month in) that we were pretty serious. We started dating April 20, 2011, exactly a month before we graduated. That’s right: we’d had 4 years together, 4 years rotating around each other, and we waited until a freaking month before I moved away from Idaho and he stayed behind.

It was great!

(It really wasn’t great.)

We graduated. I moved back to Oregon. My grandpa was extremely ill. We talked over Skype every day. I cried every day. It was an awful, difficult year, 2011-2012. My grandpa died in November after I graduated. I worked at a local grocery store and cut part of my thumb off in February 2012, then started working at a car dealership, which was soul sucking and made me feel like garbage.

But we made it. We got engaged after 3 months of dating and slogged through a year of long distance together. We planned a wedding and got Danny certified to teach in Oregon and built a home together. We changed jobs and went through the hardest days of our lives together. The months after I got fired. The months where Danny worked never ending substitute teacher jobs. Sometimes I think back to those days, when I made $11 an hour as a full time receptionist and Danny made about $100 a day as a sub, and how we somehow paid all our bills that way. It was so hard and I felt so embarrassed to let on about how hard it was.

This is all to say: in some ways, our relationship started out as totally idyllic. We liked each other—Danny continues to insist I’m out of his league to this day and I insist we are in the same “weird kid” league, both of us loving astrology, the occult, bats, and other weird shit—and we loved each other and that was enough. And even though the hardest parts of our relationship, I’ve felt like I always wanted to keep that part of us: we’re too weirdos who like and love each other, who learn from each other.

I know for other married couples, it isn’t quite that way. Everyone has their own story. But I think there are a few things that are universal, especially when it comes to marriage and relationships. So, without further ado, here are 6 things I’ve learned in 6 years of marriage.

Wedding Photography
Sweet Cheeks Winery Eugene Oregon Wedding

1. Having kids brings out the best (& worst) in you.

I feel like this is one I wish I had been told before I had Forrest. It goes without saying: kids are stressful. And as I’ve written before, I absolutely, positively hated the newborn months. I’d never been more miserable in my life and I was attached to a pump 12 times a day (for a grand total of 6 hours every day!). That’s something that Danny couldn’t help with. He also couldn’t quite understand what I was going through. It’s one thing for men to watch their wives or girlfriends give birth; it’s another thing for them to completely emphasize with how exhausted and wrecked you feel afterwards.

I felt like a foreigner in my own body. I didn’t recognize it; everything hurt; everything leaked; I had to wear diapers; I could barely walk for a week; my skin freaked out. And all at the same time, I was taking care of a new human being and Danny felt totally clueless (and was occasionally unwilling to guess at how to do things, which is generally his M.O.).

Sometimes, I think we are such good parents. But other times, the stress definitely gets to us and we get snappy or we take naps when we should be doing other things. It happens. But I think it’s important to keep perspective when you start to feel like you don’t recognize yourself or your partner after having a child: things won’t always be this hard.

2. It’s ok to be angry.

The most common relationship advice is always “don’t go to bed angry”… to which I call bullshit.

Go to bed angry. Sleep angry. Stay angry.

Anger is natural human emotion. We tend to view anger as a negative emotion (which it is), but also as one we shouldn’t feel, especially as women. And when women get angry at their husbands, they are often brushed off as “crazy,” “nagging,” or “shrill.”

Again, I call bullshit.

My advice is to be angry. Make your anger heard to your husband. Your feelings matter in a relationship and if your anger is justified (your husband seriously won’t stop leaving crumbs all over the counters or drops his socks at the bottom of the stairs or exactly 2 inches from the hamper), then let him feel it & let yourself feel it.

Anger in relationships isn’t bad, but remember you also need to talk it out, express your anger in a productive way, and make sure that your husband understands how you need him to behave. (Put his damn socks in the hamper! It’s right there!)

3. All relationships have highs & lows.

There will be bad days. It’s easy to think that you’ll always be happy, happy, happy. But there will be bad days, hard days, rough days.

When I lost my job in 2014, there were many bad days. I was stressed about money and feeling like a failure. Danny was working hard, but feeling adrift as well. We were dirt poor and had just bought a house, using food stamps, and just trying to get by. Sometimes, it felt like we barely knew each other.

Then, things got better.

Again, I think in the end, this is something that just needs perspective: sometimes your needs in your relationship won’t always be what they were in the beginning. You won’t always be super clingy, super talkative, or super interested in being together 100% of the time. You’ll want distance. Or you’ll want to go grocery shopping alone. Or you’ll just want to sit on the couch and watch Teen Mom without being interrupted or having to watch someone play video games. It’s ok. There will also be times where you’ll want the opposite of all those things. That’s just how relationships are.

Cutting Cake Wedding Photo

4. You should take breaks from each other.

Going along with number 3, it’s important to spend time away from each other.

In 2017, I took a weekend trip to Sunriver alone. Solo. Without Forrest or Danny or anyone else. I drank wine, watched Netflix, took walks, treated myself to dinner, and did all the things I felt I couldn’t do while watching Forrest or cleaning or cooking or whatever. It was amazing. It made me feel rejuvenated.

Every time Danny and I spend a weekend apart, I feel like we’re always 100x happier to see each other than usual. When you spend all your time with one person, you can get sick of them, even if you really love them. I really love Danny, but sometimes I do need a solo shopping trip or a long drive by myself. It’s just better that way.

5. Find routines that work for you & your family.

In my ideal world, I would wake up every day around 7am, make coffee, make breakfast, clean up the house, write a little bit, get dressed, and go do something fun.

That’s not really how it works with a kid and a husband.

Danny likes to sleep late. Generally, he stays up later than me. However, we both get up whenever Forrest gets up, which is usually between 5am and 6am (although he’s been pushing 6:30am lately). This is an early morning for nearly everyone. We’ve gotten used to it over the years, but it is still really hard to wake up at 5:30am every single morning without fail.

As well, Forrest being awake isn’t super conducive to me making my coffee and drinking it alone. I have always preferred to be alone in the morning; I don’t feel like talking right when I get up and I tend to be pretty cranky. I’ve had to adjust my routine; Danny has had to adjust his routine. Forrest gets to run his routine!

This is my way to say: you might have things you really like to do each day, that are part of your routine. As you get older, as your relationship shifts, you might not be able to hold onto those things anymore. I really miss watching Food Network and cooking breakfast every morning, like I used to before I had Forrest; sometimes I miss it so much, I just wish I could scream! But I know life won’t always be this way (life won’t always be this hard) and so I just adjust my expectations & my routine… and move on.

6. Delegate responsibilities.

I know we’ve all seen those articles about emotional labor and about how today, even with progressive husbands, women still perform the vast majority of household tasks.

It goes without saying but that’s true in my life as well.

It’s not really Danny’s fault; he has less stringent requirements for home cleanliness and while I’ve relaxed about mine in some ways (at a detriment to my mental health), I still wish he did more around the house.

I’ve learned over the years that I have to delegate. I can’t run everything on my own. I can pretty much handle one floor of our house and that’s it. It’s either upstairs or downstairs! So in our house, I’m in charge of inside. Danny is in charge of outside. And I stay on top of him in regards to keeping our outdoor areas nice, especially in our new house! As Forrest gets older and can take on chores (he’s still a little young), we will definitely start giving him responsibilities as well.

I don’t want to put the onus on women to delegate chores to their husbands; they aren’t children, after all. But sometimes, we just have to say: you’re in charge of this. Figure it out! It’s not hard!


Thanks for reading! Tell me: if you’re married or have been in a relationship for a significant amount of time, what’s the number one thing you’ve learned?

A Busy Mom's Guide to: Road Trips (Featuring Hungryroot!*)

A Busy Mom's Guide to: Road Trips (Featuring Hungryroot!*) | Writing Between Pauses

Danny and I love taking road trips. It used to be something we really looked forward to, especially when we were first dating and, later, first married. Once Forrest was born, we definitely scaled back on the amount we spend driving every summer--but we still love taking a few road trips every single year!

This year, we’ve already been on quite a few road trips: we’ve been to Sunriver several times and Idaho several times. Coming up this summer, we have plans for a big trip to the coast, as well as some smaller trips to Portland, the coast, and Central Oregon.

By no means am I a road trip expert--but I feel like I do know how to do a road trip with an infant, a toddler, and now a preschooler in a way that keeps me from feeling like I’m absolutely losing it! I want to share all my tips and tricks for a perfect summer trip. At the end of this blog post, I’ll also have a FREE download with packing checklists, memory sheets, and much more to make your road trip go just a little bit smoother. I also have an exclusive deal for some Hungryroot snacks!

Packing for a road trip with a toddler

I’m a consistent overpacker. And honestly, I will defend my overpacking: sometimes, you just need extra stuff, especially with kids. The days of Danny and I breezing into hotels or houses with a bag each, and maybe a cooler, are over. These days, it looks like: a storage bin, a bag, Forrest’s suitcase, my bag, Danny’s bag, my computer bag (gotta work!), my tripod… It’s a bit like a clown car.

I just don’t like having to spend money unnecessarily on trips, especially if we are pinching pennies already. That means, I often try to pack anything I can think we might need in an emergency. For us, that’s extra medications, plus any kids medicine we might need (such as suppositories, cough medicine, Ibuprofen, and band ads), as well as a flashlight, some extra food, and a small stash of water.

Here’s a rundown of what my packing list often looks like:

  • Medications

  • Medicine: kids Ibuprofen, kids suppositories, band aids, antibacterial cream, sanitizer

  • Cleaning wipes*

  • Emergency kit: two gallons of water, extra food, extra clothes, matches, small candle, flare

  • Travel potty if your toddler is younger, recently potty trained, or just prone to accidents

That’s just a few extras I add alongside everything else we’ll need, like clothes, laundry bags, extra bags for souvenirs, our charging cables, and more. You know what you’ll need best on vacation, but it’s important to remember on road trips to prepare for what you think you’ll need. In case of an emergency, I prefer to have everything with me, including extra water and more.

A note on cleaning wipes: I know single use wipes have become increasingly unpopular--and I totally agree! However, if I’m traveling and staying at a hotel, I like to do a quick wipe on everything just for that extra level of clean. It helps me feel more at home and feel much better. I like to use the new Everspring line from Target; these wipes are compostable, cruelty-free, and ammonia free. They come in three scents: Lavender & Bergamot, Lemon & Mint, and Citrus & Basil. I like the Lemon & Mint the best. Even better, they are very affordable. You can find them on Target here.

Hungryroot snacks on a road trip

One thing I also like to make sure I have packed? Plenty of snacks! I get bored when I’m driving, especially during long stretches where there isn’t anywhere to stop. When we go to Idaho, we cut through Bend and Burns to Caldwell. The stretch from Bend to Burns and then Burns to Ontario are absolutely grueling; each leg is only 100 ish miles each, but there is nothing between! Nowhere to stop, nowhere to go to the bathroom, nothing. So, snacks are important.

That’s one of the things I love about Hungryroot! On our most recent trip to Idaho, we took along a big box of Hungryroot snacks: the salted pili nuts, coconut cashew granola, crunchy bean toppers, superfood almond butter, and almond milk maca matcha. These were the perfect snacks to have on the road--much better than my usual Cheez-Its! Not only did we feel better about our snack choices, we avoided that nasty travel stomach that is so common from eating food on the road. Plus, all of these options gave us ways to customize hotel breakfasts: we grabbed a few extra yogurts to eat with the coconut cashew granola. Our hotel had a smoothie bar (!) and we used the almond milk maca matcha in our smoothies. Plus, the almond milk maca matcha made a great drink in the morning to get the day started throughout our trip.

If you’d like to stock up on some healthy snacks before your next road trip, I can’t recommend Hungryroot enough! And even better, you can use the code PAUSETRAVEL to get $25 of your first two boxes (that’s $50 total).

Hungryroot promo code $25 off
How to plan a road trip with a toddler

“But Michelle,” you ask, “how am I supposed to keep a toddler entertained on a road trip?”

You know those two 100-mile stretches between Oregon and Idaho I mentioned? Those are often our hardest on the road. So here are my tips:

  • Play car games. Whenever Forrest starts to get whiny or bored, I say, “I spy something… blue!” And we start a game of I Spy. Or, we’ll play Bingo. Car games seemed so lame to me when I was younger--my parents were not fans--but I totally get them now. This can fill up time and keep your little one from getting too distracted.

  • Get a travel DVD player. LISTEN! I know what I say about screens and we don’t let Forrest have a tablet… but I would literally lose my mind without our travel DVD player. It is perfect for when there is no stop along the way to stretch our legs. Pop in a Daniel Tiger DVD and hit play, then Danny & I can relax. You can find these for really affordable on Amazon and in stores too.

  • Look ahead and plan fun stops. One thing Danny and I do before any road trip is plan somewhere to stop for fun. Whether it’s just a cute shop we see on our route (such as the Crescent General Store after the Willamette Pass) or something bigger (like a rose garden), we try to plan a few short (like 15-20 minutes total!) stops to stretch our legs, let Forrest have a bathroom break, and break up the monotony of the drive.

For me, these things are all part of planning our trip. We aren’t just looking at hotels to stop along the way, but rather activities we can do together. This might include things like stopping at the Mount Shasta viewing area on the way to Disneyland (this feels like a lifetime ago!), going for a walk along the river in Bend on our way to Idaho, and more. If you’re staying a few nights at a hotel on your road trip, you can always look for places to go around it; you’ll have a few hours in the evening, of course, so you can always do some walking (to release pent up energy!) and find somewhere fun to eat.

One important aspect of planning your trip… is planning how you’ll pack your car. Danny and I like to pack the car in a way that makes sense to us, although we used to just throw things in and hope we all made it in one piece! Now, we arrange everything depending on what we know we’ll need throughout the trip. This means, our travel potty is in the back seat, along with some paper towels and a trash bag; our snack bag is within reach; our bag with activities for Fo is right in front of him where Danny or I can reach it. How you arrange your car is totally your preference, but this will save you so much hassle on the road! Basically: organize your car and keep it organized!

Staying in a hotel with a toddler

It goes without saying, but: on vacation, your child just isn’t going to sleep like they do at home. That’s an important expectation to keep if you’re staying at a hotel throughout your trip or just on a few stops on the road. They might get better as time goes on through the trip, but I think it’s so important to keep your expectations quite low when it comes to sleep when you travel!

When we travel, I make sure to bring two things to make it easier on Forrest: his sound machine and one of his blankets. Before, we would bring stuffed animals he had been sleeping with, but Forrest isn’t a lovey kid—he doesn’t have anything he feels particularly attached to. However, having a familiar blanket definitely helps with the sleeping. As well, the sound machine helps all of us sleep, drowns out noise from the rest of the hotel, and reminds him of home. He usually still wakes up at 3am on the dot in hotels, but it could totally be worse.

The sound machine we use is not currently made anymore, but this one is from the same company and looks like it has many similar features.

As I said in the planning section, doing something fun at the hotel when you arrive, even if it is perhaps a little later than usual for your family, can help little ones settle in, burn off some energy after being in the hotel all day, and sleep better. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Visit the pool to splash & play around before dinner.

  • Walk to dinner! This is a great way to explore the area, find somewhere interesting, and stretch your legs (as well as get some steps in if you, like me, are a slave to your Fitbit)

  • Visit a local attraction for a quick visit. A good option is a rose garden or an art exhibit.

  • Find a local ice cream parlor to take everyone to.

  • Window shop!

Once you’ve made it through the evening, grabbed dinner (I highly recommend getting pizza delivered if you’re absolutely exhausted, which kids also love), and slept (maybe), it’s time to think about breakfast!

Like I said, Hungryroot is a great way to augment a potentially lackluster hotel breakfast—if your hotel provides one. It might not, which is totally possible! Hungryroot can help there too. A great option are the Hungryroot oatmeal cups, like the Cherry Chia Maple Oatmeal; you only need to add hot water, so if your room has a coffee maker, you can easily use that to heat water and make oatmeal for everyone.

However, if your hotel does offer breakfast, you can use plenty of Hungryroot options to make it just a little bit better: adding some granola to those little tubs of yogurt makes it much more filling and delicious. Or you can add some granola on top of a waffle or eat with milk and any fruit offered. The hotel breakfast doesn’t have to be sad, cold bagels and bad coffee. A little planning ahead can make it much more filling and healthy for everyone in your family. Don’t forget you can use my code PAUSETRAVEL for $25 off your first TWO boxes of Hungryroot; that is $50 total.

Once you’re ready to head out, check your room for anything left behind and get on with your vacation!


Danny & I enjoy road trips. And even though I’m on record as saying I don’t love traveling, I do love giving Forrest memories that last forever. Road trips can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re a new mom or you’re just an anxious person (like me). I hope these tips help you make the most of this summer. And of course, I hope you take the chance to try some delicious Hungryroot snacks & food options to make your summer even better.

As an added bonus, I have an exclusive download just for you! This include itinerary planning for your trip, hotel information sheets, journal pages for your memories, and packing checklists perfect for new moms & experienced moms alike! Click the button below to download.

I’m turning it over to you! What are your big tips for traveling with kids?

Disclaimer: Products for my recent road trip were provided to me by Hungryroot in exchange for mentioning them, as well as a small kickback whenever you use my code. Posts like these have helped me keep Writing Between Pauses going! If you’d like to learn more about my disclosure policy, click here.

What's So Special About a Trip to the Pumpkin Patch?

What's So Special About a Trip to the Pumpkin Patch? | Writing Between Pauses

Every October, we do a traditional visit to the pumpkin patch with Danny’s parents. They only visit about twice a year, so this is a big occasion for us. Last year, Forrest could have easily spent about 2 or 3 hours in the pumpkin patch. This year, he wasn’t quite as obsessed with pumpkins, but he still had a lot of fun.

We went to Lone Pine Farms in Eugene, which is where we go every year. I suspect they did not have a great pumpkin harvest this year; a lot of the pumpkins were rotten, damaged, or just starting to turn already… and the patch has only been open 2 weeks! We still found quite a few great pumpkins, though, so we can’t complain.

Pumpkin Patch Visit
Say Pumpkins!
Batman and Pumpkins
Lone Pine Farms

It was one of those perfect Fall days that feels absolutely perfect. It wasn’t too hot (mid-60s, a little windy), but it was sunny. The patch was crowded, but not like last year, so crowded that it felt claustrophobic. There was room to take all the photos I wanted of Forrest. It was just a day that felt really perfect and special.

Some of my friends often ask why our trip to the pumpkin patch is such a big deal. Well, first of all, pumpkin patches are really only open for one month a year. October. That’s it! That’s all the pumpkin patch you get! As well, the farm stands attached to pumpkin patches really depend on the business, as they often close for the season on November 1, or shortly after. Visiting local farms during the summer to buy produce, and then buying pumpkins from them instead of from a grocery store, helps me to support a local business.

Second of all, pumpkin patches are fun. There is always a lot to do. Lone Pine even has a whole playground set up so kids can play for a little while as their parents pay or browse the farm stand. There are games. There are hayrides. A cow train. Horses and goats to pet and feed.

It’s a special trip we take every year and one we all look forward to. If you don’t regularly visit a local pumpkin patch, you’re really, really missing out on an opportunity to not just have fun, but support a local business.

Family Photo at Pumpkin Patch

What’s your October tradition?

3 Genius, Last Minute Kids Halloween Costumes

3 Genius, Last Minute Kids Halloween Costumes | Writing Between Pauses

Originally, for Halloween, Forrest was going to be going as one thing... but then, my mom found my vintage, circa-1989, pumpkin costume. And considering Forrest is absolutely bonkers for pumpkins, it was meant to be. However, we have his other costume as a back up for pre-Halloween parties and activities; it's much easier to wear than a pumpkin costume! 

This got me thinking though: sometimes, it's just not practical to dress a toddler or young child in their "official" Halloween costume, either because it is too bulky or not appropriate for school. (An example is one of my friend's is dressing her child as the Little Mermaid; it has a flesh colored netting that isn't allowed at a school function, so she can only wear it trick-or-treating.) 

So here are 3 easy, last minute kids costumes: things you can make with just a few hours notice or that you already have. 

1. The ABCs

This was Forrest's original costume! I bought a black long sleeve and a pair of black sweatpants from Target, plus foam sticker letters and fabric glue. Wash the clothes, then unstick the letters and fabric glue them. (Make sure to put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt to prevent it from gluing it together!) Once they're dry, voila! You're the ABCs. Quick, easy, education, and affordable; the entire thing cost about $14. 

2. Cat (or dog) fan 

This costume sometimes gets called "Crazy Cat Lady," but I hate that term. (It's ableist and sexist.) Even more fun, you could make this cat or dog Instagram star! Basically, dress in normal clothes, carry around a dog or cat toy, and either a toy phone, an old phone that you're not using anymore, or make one out of cardboard. Perfect! 

3. Bat

Almost every kid has a slightly raggedy, almost-outgrown sweatshirt somewhere. It's so easy to turn into a bat costume! Just cut fabric into two triangles, with a triangle-scallop on one edge. Then fabric glue one straight edge to the torso of a sweatshirt, and the other straight edge to the arm; repeat on the other side. Voila! You've got a quick-and-easy bat costume. You can add a black hat with ears (you can fabric glue these on too or find one with ears at Target or TJ Maxx). With a few changes, this would also be a cute vampire costume: just add teeth, a little bit of make up (pale face, dark under the eyes), and all black clothes. 

5 Non-Scary Halloween Movies for Kids

5 Non-Scary Halloween Movies for Kids | Writing Between Pauses

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and I love all the movies related to Halloween. I think I've written so many lists of my favorite Halloween movies that it would be impossible to round them all up. But trust me when I say: if a Halloween movie exists, I've probably watched it. 

Now that I have a toddler, I've had to adjust my favorite Halloween movies. Some are just too scary for Forrest to watch, especially if they have dark scenes or any really suspenseful parts. For my fellow moms out there, I've put together a list of our favorite non-scary (or not too scary movies) for kids. You'll notice one of my favorite movies ever is not on this list; I find Hocus Pocus to be just a little too scary for Forrest yet. But maybe next year! Here are our favorites right now. 

1. Halloweentown 

I love Halloweentown and thankfully, Forrest does too. This is one of those movies that has some slightly scary parts, but not scary enough to really scare a toddler. I have great nostalgia about this movie because it was one of my absolute favorites when I was little. We recently bought the double feature of it from Amazon. 

2. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! 

This is such a classic; everyone loves this movie! I've been searching for this movie relentlessly for months and finally, it popped up on Amazon for $10. Thankfully, though, it starts being played on TV as Halloween gets closer so we've watched it several times already. 

3. Trick or Treat on Sesame Street 

Forrest's number one obsession is Elmo and Sesame Street. He loves this DVD. It's basically a collection of Elmo trick-or-treat episodes and scenes. There are also some great special features on it about dressing up in costumes that aren't along the gender binary, which is my favorite part. As with any Sesame Street DVD, there is lots of subtle teaching: counting, learning how to talk to others, being creative, and how to deal with jealousy are the biggest themes. 

4. Spookly the Square Pumpkin

This is a TV movie (that you can buy on Amazon) that came out when my oldest nephew was a toddler. It's about a square pumpkin named Spookly who is different from the other pumpkins. It's a really cute, slightly spooky (but not scary) movie with lots of cute Fall imagery and a really great message about how being different makes you special. It's one of Forrest's favorites. 

5. Hotel Transylvania 

This is one of those movies that... really starts to grate on me after a while. But as a parent, I have to put up with it a little bit! It's definitely not on my list of favorite movies, but Forrest really enjoys it, it's not scary, and it doesn't have anything that I particularly object to (unlike other movies). 

3 Tips for Taking Your Toddler to Disneyland

disneyland with a toddler

Hi, I'm Michelle and I kind of royally screwed up a vacation to Disneyland. 

Ok, hear me out: I really thought my toddler would enjoy it. As I wrote in my newsletter over the weekend (oh, you don't get my newsletter? You can sign up here), I made the terrible mistake of assuming that my child was essentially a very small clone of myself and would enjoy everything I do. 

Well, lesson learned: you gotta ease your kid into it. You can't just jump on your favorite ride and think they'll be ok with it. Especially if you already know that your toddler is terrified of loud noises and enclosed spaces like elevators. Oops.

In all fairness to my husband and I, we've never really taken a family vacation before. We just didn't know a lot of things. And this trip gave us a chance to figure out how to make the most of even crappy situations. Midway through the second day, I wanted to cry; I felt like I wasn't having fun, like Forrest wasn't having fun. I felt really bummed. Instead of giving in and just calling it a bust and not trying, my husband and I talked it out: we came up with a plan to make our last day in the parks as fun as possible. And you know what? It worked. We really hit our stride. 

So, that's a really long way of saying: we made mistakes; we learned from them; we learned how to have fun regardless. 

This week, I'll also be posting my packing list dos and don'ts, so I won't be mentioning any tips relating to packing in this post. These, however, are my tips for making Disneyland a fun trip--something my husband and I didn't figure out until our last day (which really did redeem the whole trip). 

1. Adjust your expectations.

First and foremost, a toddler cannot and will not experience Disneyland the same way a child, teenager, or even adult does.  Toddlers, especially young toddlers, aren't great at drawing the line between reality and fake yet. To them, a lot of things seem "real" because they don't know any better. So when I took my son on Pirates of the Caribbean, he thought it was real. And terrifying. Can you imagine? 

Toddlers aren't going to want to ride the big thrill rides, or anything extremely dark and loud. To start, stick with the classics: the carousel, It's a Small World, and the Dumbo ride are great. If your toddler is apprehensive, pick a ride they can watch for a while to get a feel for what's going to happen. Also, take advantage of shops, walkthroughs, and character meets. They'll have much more fun with those than most rides. 

2. Download the Disneyland app. 

This really was a lifesaver in the park. The Disneyland app is a place where you can buy and link your tickets and Fast Passes, link your Photopass for character meet and greets, and get a list of waiting times for rides, meet and greets, and restaurants. Seriously. It was great for planning which area to go to next to maximize our time. It's also how we ended up meeting Tinkerbell with zero planning and zero line; we were the first people there! 

3. Establish a good routine.

The maximum amount of time Forrest (age 22 months) could handle in the park was... about 2.5 hours. Yeah, that's it. We got to the parks at 7:30, got in the gates at 8:00, and by 10, he was usually ready for a nap. We would walk back to our room, get him down for a nap, and then go to lunch. We would go back to the park from around 1pm to 3pm, then back to the room again for him to have some chill time: a movie, dinner, and milk, then bedtime at 5:30pm. 

After that, our other family members would stay in the condo with Forrest while Danny and I enjoyed the parks. It was a perfect situation. We got time with our son in the parks and then time with just each other. This won't always be possible for us, but it worked this time. And, hopefully, you'll find a routine that works with you too. You know your child best and you know your child's routine--and for the best vacations, honestly, that should be maintained as much as possible to prevent tantrums. 

3 Things I Stopped Buying in 2016

2016 was a big year for me in terms of learning to budget and, most importantly, learning to save money. 

I've always been what financial types call "a spender." That isn't to say I didn't save money; I did. I regularly went through phases where I saved more than I spent, mostly because I was lucky enough to not need to spend all my money on boring things like bills. I've also, however, gone through periods of time (especially when I was a teenager and right after college) where I spent every penny I made every single paycheck. 

That's not a super fun way to go through life, but you live and you learn, I say. 

However, 2016 really changed things for us. Why? 

Firstly, Forrest's birth was considerably more expensive than we thought it would be. I was in the hospital for a total of 10 days (that bill still makes me cringe) and Forrest was in the hospital for a total of 7 days. Yeah, you read those numbers right. That's 17 days being billed between us, plus labs, medications, and everything else. 

Secondly, because breastfeeding didn't work out for us the way I always planned, we ended up spending a lot of money on feeding supplies: bottles and sanitizers I didn't buy, a bottle drying tree, bottle drying brushes. And then, as time went on, formula. Have you ever looked at how expensive formula is? A 3-day supply (a single can) costs around $17.99 for the more affordable brands. Seriously. By the time Forrest was 8 months and exclusively formula fed, we were spending about $40 a week on formula. 

All these expenses meant it was time to really get a lock on our finances and start saving money. Mainly, I wanted to have more in savings for a rainy day, plus we have some goals for ourselves. Thanks to some clever budgeting and payments, we're going to pay off our car in half the time. 

When it comes to saving money, however, it's often the big, unchangeable expenses that can blow your budget. Most people spend more on rent, food, and utilities than they would like. Without those expensive payments, it was be easy to save money! However, I do believe there are a few little things that anyone can cut out to help them save a little money. 

So, these are the 3 things I stopped buying in 2016 to help us save extra cash. 

1. Impulse grocery shopping. 

My husband and I both got into a very bad habit of stopping at the grocery store every single day. Oh, I want a soda? It's only $2 at the grocery store! Want something a little extra for dinner? Swing by the grocery store! We were regularly doing our grocery shopping, plus we'd spend $5-20 every other day or so. Individually, that doesn't sound like a lot. But if you spend $5 at the grocery store, or convenience store, every single day, plus do a weekly grocery shopping trip, you're breaking your budget. 

Now, I set a grocery budget ($70 a week, usually) and stick to it. We're lucky in that we only have one, small toddler at the moment, so it's easy to stick to $70. And if we need something at the store that I forgot, well, that's just too bad! I put it on the list for next week. 

2. Take out.

Another bad habit: picking up dinner on the way home. Lots of couples do this and it's easy to think, "Oh, this $10 pizza isn't a huge deal!" But if you're buying groceries plus spending $10+ on dinner every night... then why are you buying groceries again? One week, we ended up spending something like $120 on food and I put my foot down! There is no way two people need $120 worth of food in a week! We were wasting groceries and wasting money. So now, we eat at home and that's it. Once in a while, we will have a planned treat, but we budget for it and I don't buy groceries for that day. We've saved so much money this way! Plus, we aren't throwing out food anymore. We use what we buy. 

3. Lunches. 

My husband and I got very used to buying lunch every day at work. But once we had Forrest, that just wasn't possible anymore. I was the first to stop getting lunch every day, which saves us an extra $15+ a week. Then, finally, my husband relented. Every week, I make him 5 breakfast burritos and 5 lunches to take to work; this saves us over $25+ a week, considering my husband would often stop to get breakfast and then get lunch!

It's amazing how a little thing like grabbing a sandwich or a donut in the morning can add up, but it really does. It's also very easy to get into patterns of going to the bagel shop for lunch every day. Now, I make my coffee at home and I pack something small for lunch (usually a cheese stick, an apple, and a bit of leftovers from dinner), and I don't have to worry about spending the extra money! 

On Going Back to Work

I went back to work January 4, after about 14 weeks away. In those 14 weeks, I had had an emergency induction, had Forrest, spent at least 500 hours pumping (seriously, that's about 24 days in total), and had attempted to rapidly adjust to my life as a new mom. 

At first, I went back part-time and we settled into what I like to think as a Very Good routine. However, as Forrest got older, his sleep deteriorated and I was left feeling just as sleep-deprived and vulnerable as I had in the beginning... with the added bonus of being the sole content marketing team member at a promising startup (and wearing multiple hats, like Content Entry Specialist and Graphic Designer and Marketing Strategist/Analyst/Copywriter, etc.) After we decided to sleep train, things improved rapidly, though

The best part about Danny being a teacher is that he gets summers off. At the end of June, Danny started staying at home with Forrest full-time while I went to work. The role reversal has been eye opening for both of us. 

What Danny's Learned

I don't write this to call Danny out or anything, but he really didn't understand how difficult it was to stay home with Forrest all day, provide 100% of the care, and not get any help in the evenings. It's a really common attitude among men, especially new fathers (and even experienced fathers!). The logic Danny had was that he was at work, while I was at home pumping, feeding, and taking care of a baby--all while watching TV. Was it that hard? In the evenings, if I asked for help, Danny would often respond that he was 'tired' or he had had a 'long day.' Which very well might have been true--but I had long days with Forrest too. In fact, every day was a long day, even if there were fun parts. Cooking, cleaning, getting groceries with a newborn, pumping, feeding bottles, holding him for hours and hours of naps... it wasn't a walk in the park. 

I think to Danny, he really didn't think that taking care of Forrest all day would be difficult or tiring. In fact, I think he thought he would have all kinds of time for things. 

The first day though, the minute I walked into the house, Danny said, "I'm sorry I wasn't nicer to you." He genuinely meant it and, you know what? He wasn't nice to me during my maternity leave, or even when I was a part-time  stay-at-home-mom. He expected me to do the majority of the housework, the cooking, and all of the care for Forrest, just because he went to work. He didn't seem to understand that being a mom and dad are 24/7 jobs--even if you go to a "real" job the rest of the day. I forgive him, though, because everyone has to learn sometime. 

And I like to think I'm being nicer to him than he was to me. 

What I've Learned

I have a very difficult time finding balance in my life even at the best of times--but especially now. My day starts at 5am and I don't really stop working or taking care of Forrest until he goes to bed at 6pm. And then, once I have time for it, I find myself putting off housework. I bounce between work-Michelle, mom-Michelle, and rest-Michelle--without ever being able to stop and do the things I need to, like vacuum the house or make the bed or fold the laundry that's been sitting at the end of the bed for a week. 

Working full-time is a true challenge for me. But I also find myself being happier than I have been. I love being able to go to work, to succeed  in my career while also being a great mom. I find a lot of personal satisfaction from working and having a career--and as much as I love Forrest, I'm not totally willing to give up being both a competent mother and writer. Being both, however, is a real challenge. 

What We've All Learned

Every day, around 1:30, right as I'm starting to pack up my office... I get a text message that says, "Forrest misses you." From 6:30am to 1:30pm is about as long as Forrest can go without seeing me. I'm sure if he had his way, Forrest would be able to spend all day playing on me or near me, but that's not the world we live in, kiddo, sorry. 

A few other lessons include the fact that, when I let go of things, Danny is perfect capable. Danny has so far kept Forrest fed (both bottles and table food, although he's nervous about feeding him things other than Gerber puffs) and has kept him entertained. They've also done lots of fun stuff together, like read books, go on walks, and drive into town.

I worried when I went back full-time in late June that Danny wouldn't be able to handle things without me--but the reality is, it's harder for me than it is for him.