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. 

5 Things I've Learned About Parenthood (So Far)

Being a mom is more challenging than I thought it would be. You feed a baby, you change its diapers, you get it dressed—what’s so hard about that? From the outside looking in, it all seems easy. That’s the first lesson, really: it will never get easy. 

1. The things that seem easy actually aren’t

Between all the easy stuff (the changing diapers, the dressing), there is stuff that is deceptively difficult. I worried about feeding near constantly at the beginning (is he eating enough? how many wet diapers did he have yesterday?) and I did a Google search for every dip in my supply, every rash Forrest developed, every little thing. I researched sleep patterns, nap times, wake times, activities, and everything in between. I was obsessed with making sure he was getting enough, doing enough. Was his development on track? 

It seems so easy. The baby is hungry, you feed him. The baby is sleepy, you put him down and he falls asleep. But it’s not. It’s really not. 

2. When parents say they are busy, they are busy. 

Being busy, for parents, isn’t just something cute to post about on social media. It’s a reality. 

And amongst all of these secretly difficult parts of being a new parent—the feeding, the pumping, the changing, the tracking every detail, the reading, the holding him for every nap—I had to do basic things like clean the house, shower, cook dinner, pay bills, and eat. This is why I spent the first 4 months of Forrest’s life in leggings and sweatshirts. Don’t even talk to me about getting groceries when Forrest was younger than 6 months—it was an undertaking that required planning.

3. It gets “different” (not easier). 

It gets different though—not really easier, just different. That’s the thing about parenthood. I think I know just about how to survive and then Forrest does something different. 

By the time I had Forrest’s nap schedule, poop schedule, and feeding schedule down… he changed it up. He ate more per feeding, less frequently. Cool. He wanted to stay awake longer. Cool. He wanted to stay up late, or go to bed earlier. Or he went two days without pooping and then, bam! Like nothing had ever happened. 

I would love to be one of those parents who keeps their baby on a strict schedule: feedings, naps, meals, bedtimes. But it’s just not possible. I’m impressed by parents who manage to do this early on and can mentally keep track of it. Some days, Forrest’s schedule is set in stone and perfect; some days, he hasn’t had a nap all day and wants to go to bed at 4:30. It’s whatever. 

4. You spend money on stuff you never thought you would. 

A “treat” for me used to be going to Target and buying a new top or dress, or a new piece of home decor. Now, I splurge, almost every trip, on an outfit for Forrest, as many of the baby food packets as I can handle, and potentially a new toy. When we have extra money, we buy things for Forrest: a car seat, a music-playing projector, a big toy. I recently bought myself a new phone case for $8 and felt tremendous guilt about it. I haven’t bought new clothes for several months, but Forrest has enough clothes to last him until December without wearing anything twice. 

Our newest exciting purchase is a miniature toilet for Forrest to start sitting on. I used to spend $20 on a single eyeliner; now I’m researching and reading reviews on the best potty to potty train. 

5. You’ll do things you swore you would never do. 

Like sleep train, or formula feed, or join a mom’s group. Two things I swore I would never do: take a kid who wouldn’t remember it to Disneyland and throw a massive first birthday party. 

Well, Danny and I are planning both of those things for Forrest, so I’m really eating my words there. 

The truth is, you never know what kind of kid you’ll have (a non-sleeper or a good sleeper, a terrible eater or a great eater, an independent baby who can play happily on the floor for hours or a baby who wants to be entertained, by you, until nap time) and so you’ll never know what kind of parent you’ll be until you’re there. 

It’s easy to think things will be one way and only that way: you have a “good baby” or a “difficult baby.” But if I’ve learned anything, things can change day-to-day. Some days, it’s so easy. And other days, I want to tear my (greasy, unwashed) hair out. Some days, Forrest is an angel; some days, I swear, he’s trying to make me miserable. 

But then I get to kiss Forrest’s chubby little cheeks, read a book to him, and put him in his cute little shark pajamas, and I realize I get to experience the greatest journey of all mankind. Being a mom isn’t easy, but it’s also pretty great. 

I Promise Not to Wish It Away Anymore

I told myself I would take tons of great pictures of Forrest. As soon as he is sitting up, I thought, I'll be able to take him outside for photo shoots all the time. Well, the sitting up came later than I expected. The first three months of his life passed both agonizingly slowly and insanely fast. I blinked and suddenly he can ride in the seat of the shopping cart and he can hold and feed himself teething biscuits. 

He went from being a barely sentient lump to having likes and dislikes, favorite toys and songs and sounds. This is exactly the stage I hoped for when he was first born. 

And yet (of course there's a "and yet" here), I find myself wishing I hadn't spent those first few months wishing, wishing, wishing for the time to go faster, for him to grow up. I still find myself having those wishes: I wish he could sit up; I wish he could talk and tell me what's wrong; I wish his stomach could hold more milk at once; I wish he napped better; I wish he slept through the night. 

I wanted him to grow up... and he did. And (here's another), I wish I hadn't rushed it. 

As difficult as they were, I miss the days I spent on the couch with him, holding him as he slept, feeding him bottle after bottle, two hours on the dot without fail. I miss his sleepy faces and accidental smiles. I miss being able to swaddle him and lie with him in bed. I wish I'd taken advantage of that--to watch movies, to read, to whatever--instead of wishing he would get bigger, faster. 

On Saturday, I struggled to get a 9 month size onesie over his head. He ate pumpkin, banana, and oatmeal for breakfast. We played and read a book and sang a song. We went to Eugene and he rode in a shopping cart. I took his picture and I thought, I can't believe he's so big. 

Suddenly, I realized that time was drifting past me, whether I felt like it or not: time had gone by and I'd wished it. I don't have any professional photos of Forrest as a baby--only ones taken on my iPhone and a few vague attempts of my own. I dragged Danny outside to take pictures I'd been imagining in my head for months. 

"He's only little for so long," I said, very early in Forrest's life. While I believed it, I also, in the back of my mind, couldn't wait for him to just get bigger

I look at him now and all I can think is, just a few more days of this. A few more days before you crawl, before you stand up, before you walk over to me, before you talk. I can't wait to experience every day with Forrest; I can't wait to hear everything he has to say. But I also want just a few more nights cuddling, a few more long naps on the couch, a few more days where he refuses to hold his own bottle as he eats. 

Just a few more days with my squishy baby before he becomes a rambunctious little boy.