Parenthood

A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning (+ Free Checklist!)

A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning | Writing Between Pauses

Back to School season is officially here! While I know many schools in the United States have already started, here in Oregon, school never starts before Labor Day. (And I am still thrown by those mid-August start dates from my friends!)

For many moms, back to school season is time to get everything back in order. The kids have a schedule again (that you don’t have to set yourself!), you have a little more free time or wiggle room in your schedule, and you’ll spend about 50% less on groceries now that you aren’t having to feed them 400 snacks a day. (I always thought that joke about kids snacking constantly in summer was a myth. Then I had a kid of my own and they really do snack more in summer.)

Even if you’re not a mom, there is just something about September, isn’t there? The weather is changing; summer is over; it feels like time to get serious again.

Every September or October, I do a massive deep clean on my house. I mean massive. Moving furniture. Shampooing carpets. Washing all my rugs. Organizing the closets that I’ve been throwing things into and closing the door on with my eyes closed. It makes a huge difference to how my home feels once the holidays roll around.

I wanted to share my tips for taking on a big, back-to-school (or just September!) deep clean. I know cleaning isn’t everyone’s forte. Some people hate it; some people just don’t think about it. But there is nothing like a clean, organized home for your mental health. Some people just are naturally messy or disorganized, but getting your house cleaned up can be great for feeling more productive or overcoming a mental health speed bump.

For me, cleaning is a stress release. It makes me feel better. An overly cluttered home makes me feel incredibly stressed. However, I’m also not perfect; sometimes I find it easier to take advice from people who are doing their best (and have a few messy rooms they let go because, why bother?! I’m busy!) and finding ways to be happy without it being 100% clean 100% of the time.

If this is the same for you, let me provide my guide for a big, massive deep clean to start your Fall and Winter right.

1. Start with a Game Plan

I’m a planner. I like to start everything with a list and a plan to make sure I have all my ducks in a row and everything in order. When it comes to my big back to school (or pre-holiday, if you will) deep clean, I like to have a specific plan in order to make sure I don’t have anything that could distract me from my purpose. Basically, here’s a rundown:

  • Schedule a week to spend deep cleaning. For me, this is either the second full week in September or the first week in December. Historically, that’s what it’s worked out to, because it’s when I have childcare & Danny is back at work. (Funny how Danny is a bigger distraction than Forrest!) Making sure I have a week off where I am not working has always been the most important part of my deep clean. Yes, I could probably cram it into a weekend… but it’s much more fun to have time off. Plus, scheduling it in advance means I’m more likely to do it.

  • Make arrangements to have a babysitter. If you have a child, then get that babysitter or childcare lined up! Paying for a babysitter for a week, if you’re a SAHM, or keeping your pre-existing childcare, if you work, is important for making sure you have no distractions. Plus, it’s so nice to have time for yourself to tidy your home. Maybe you can sneak in some self-care or trashy TV too.

  • Make a priority list. Usually, my deep clean has a focus. I want to get everything looking amazing for the holidays; I want to reorganize the living room; or I want to make sure our closets and garage are ready for a big clean out. Whatever it is, I make a list of my priority rooms and areas.

  • Download a few podcasts, audio books, tv shows, or movies. I like to have something playing while I clean. While I fold laundry and clean out my appliances, I often listen to podcasts or new music that I’ve been intending to. While I’m vacuuming or really getting into scrubbing, I like a movie or TV show that I don’t need to follow 100%. No matter what you like, get some media ready and lined up so you can listen and enjoy while you work.

2. Work in Order of Room

Everyone has a priority list (as discussed); now, make your list in order of those priorities. For me, I feel like my house is most clean when my kitchen and living room are in order, because those are our most used rooms. After that, it’s pretty much workspaces, bathrooms, and bedrooms. So, here’s the order I usually deep clean in:

  • Kitchen

  • Living room

  • Kitchen pantry & entryway closet

  • Office

  • Bedrooms & bathrooms

  • Garage

  • Other closets

This helps me, again, have a game plan. I might split it up into days. Say I have 3 days off from work to get it done. I’ll focus on the kitchen, living room, and pantry the first day. The second day, I’ll hit the office and bedrooms, as well as the bathrooms. Then on the third day, it’s time for the garage and closets, which often are the most tedious (because it’s just cleaning out). If I have an extra day, I’ll do all the laundry I cleaned out, bag up Goodwill stuff, and do Goodwill runs all day. Otherwise, that’s stuff I can do at home with Forrest.

To me, knowing the order I want to go in keeps me from getting distracted. Say I’m empty the dishwasher and putting stuff away, then remember we have some water glasses upstairs; I’ll run up and grab those, then remember I need to grab the dirty towels for the laundry; I’ll throw them in the washing machine, then notice a basket of clothes that need folded; I’ll carry those downstairs and start cleaning up the living room because I hate sitting in the living room when it’s messy; then I’ll notice how dusty the TV is and start dusting… and on and on until an hour later, I realize the dishwasher is still half emptied.

3. My Favorite Products

When it comes to cleaning products, I like to keep it simple. Yes, you can find some really good specialized products out there, but when it comes down to it, having a set of the basics is just so much easier than buying tons and tons of stuff and having to organize that as well. Here is everything I keep on hand for my day-to-day cleaning and my big deep cleans.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Everyday Cleaner - I use this for everything. Instead of bleach or similar cleaners, I like this for my counters and appliances. We have stainless steel appliances, so once every few months, I might use a specialized stainless steel cleaner. But I have found that this works just as well for my cooktop, sink, and more.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena Window Cleaner - I love a good window cleaner and this one is my favorite, plus it smells amazing.

  • Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner - I have tried every all-natural cleaner (like Mrs. Meyers & Method) and none of them work quite as good as Lysol. I try not to clean my toilets more than once a week, as I try not to put too much chemical cleaner into the water table, but I also want stuff clean, you know? Plus, I found that sometimes the scented Mrs. Meyers toilet cleaners made me gag. I don’t know what that was about, but… better safe than sorry.

  • Method Foaming Bathroom Cleaner - For showers & tubs, this really can’t be beat. The Eucalyptus and Mint scent is so good. I also use it on my kitchen sink every once and a while.

  • Method Squirt & Mop in Eucalyptus Mint - This is one of my favorite cleaning products of all time. I hate mopping, but our entire downstairs is hardwood now, so I have to mop at least once and while. This makes it easy! No bucket, no heavy mop. I usually just wrap a towel around my usual Swiffer and spray this, then mop over. Easy as pie.

  • Swiffer Dusters - the best dusting device out there. I use the heavy duty ones, but the regular ones work great as well.

  • Swiffer Heavy Duty - since we have a large inside dog, we need to use a Swiffer a lot. I have found that a Swiffer is much more effective than vacuuming hardwood floors. The heavy duty ones pick up a ton of dog hair and make it so, so easy.

  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser - We have hard water, so our sinks and showers often need extra scrubbing. Magic erasers are really the only thing that works without me having to break my back.

  • Scrub Daddy Sponge Daddy - These are the best spongers ever made. I don’t like the classic smiley Scrub Daddies. These ones are sponges with a scrub on the other side. I seriously love them.

That’s it! That’s my tried-and-true, every day arsenal, not including basics like laundry detergent, a vacuum, rags… you know, basic stuff.

4. Keeping It Clean

Once you’re done with your deep clean, here’s the thing: it is possible to keep it mostly clean. Here are a few of my tips

Establish a schedule throughout the week.

Every day, I try to do little things to keep my house clean. Daily, I wipe down my kitchen counters, wash dishes, and empty the dish strainer (put the dishes away, basically), as well as clean my living room and wipe down the bathroom sinks. Every weekend, I vacuum upstairs, Swiffer downstairs, vacuum the rugs, and run the dishwasher and do laundry.

Little cleaning, often, is more effective than waiting weeks to deep clean.

That bit about the schedule? Doing little cleaning tasks every week will keep deep cleans from being stressful, awful affairs. Cleaning toilets once a week, wiping down the shower when you get out, wiping down your appliances, and cleaning your fridge once a month means you won’t have a monster growing somewhere waiting for your next deep clean.

Find storage solutions that work for you.

I hate prescriptive storage blog posts; what works for me and my closets won’t necessarily work for you and your closets. My recommendation is to assess what you need to store in each closet, then find a solution for you. I typically buy all my organization stuff at the Dollar Store; no, it won’t be as cute as something from elsewhere, but ultimately, it’s not about how cute it is… it’s about it working in your space. Plus, it’s a closet; no one is even looking in there!

Decorate your space.

Having your space look exactly how you want it goes a long way towards you feeling proud about it. So, decorate! Really focus on making the space yours, even if it’s not trendy or what you see on Pinterest. As long as you love it, that’s what matters.

5. Download my cleaning checklist.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start with cleaning, I’ve made a handy-dandy checklist for a few major rooms in your house. Click below to download!

How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool

How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool | Writing Between Pauses

Forrest turns 4 this year. That’s right: 4 years old. I know a lot of people have read my blog for a very long time might be a little shocked by that—I mean, I’m shocked by it. And I was the one who was pregnant and has raised him for the past 4 years!

The first time your child goes to preschool, it feels like that first step towards “they’re not my little baby anymore.” It can be a big deal. Even for moms who work, going to school for the first time is a big first step. And for moms like me, who have radically altered their work schedules and how they work so that they can spend maximum time with their child, that first day of preschool can be big.

Forrest attended preschool last year, a year earlier (sort of) that he would if I followed a traditional schedule. Since the moment he was born, I’ve debated when to send Forrest to school; with a late September birthday, he falls just outside the typical cut off for birthdays. That means, he will either just a bit under a year older than his classmates, or I could send him to school early (aka get approval for him to start early) and he would be just a little under a year younger. We haven’t officially made a decision about kindergarten (we have some time), but we did try to find a preschool last year that would take him at 2-turning-3, instead of waiting an extra year.

(It goes without saying: he’s doing a second year of 3-year-old preschool this year until we decide what schedule we’ll be following for kindergarten!)

Even though I knew he was ready for school, and he was so excited for school, it was still a big adjustment for all of us. Some kids are definitely readier than others when it comes to starting school.

I know in some parts of the U.S., preschool has already started. But here in Oregon, school doesn’t start until after Labor Day. I thought I’d share a few of my tips I learned last year, and that I’m repeating this year, to help you prepare your child for school.

1. Act as Preschool’s Hype Man

Before your child starts preschool, talk about it constantly. (The same goes for daycare too! If you’re starting children at daycare after the age of 1, talking about how fun daycare is, and talking about it positively frequently, can make a huge difference in how kids react to it.) Talk about how fun preschool will be, all the fun things they will get to do, how many fun kids they’ll get to meet…

Basically, be a hype man… for preschool. Make it sounds like Disneyland. Make it sounds as fun as your kids favorite thing. This will get them in a positive mindset for school from the start.

One thing to definitely avoid is talking about “missing” them at school, or feeling sad that they’ll be at school. It’s totally ok to feel those feelings (no judgement, it can be VERY sad), but try to keep your child from knowing you feel sad or will miss them. If they say, “But I’ll miss you!” respond in a positive way.

2. Remind Them You’ll Come Back

“Grown ups come back!” Thats the song featured in the Daniel Tiger episode about the first day of school—and it’s one I highly recommend for all kids starting school, even if they’ve gone before. Kids can struggle with being unsure, so reminding them, as often as possible, that you’ll leave them at school, but you will come back is a big deal.

As you’re hyping up preschool, it’s important to also keep up with the reminders that school isn’t forever (all day), that it’s just a few hours and you will be back to pick them up. Or, if they’re being picked up by someone else (like a daycare employee, your mom, whoever), that person will be there to get them and they are safe.

3. Pack a Reminder of You

If you’re really worried about your child feeling separation anxiety, pack something to keep close to them of yours. Most preschool teachers would prefer this not be a toy (nothing like a good fight over a toy from home right at the start of the year). However, pictures, a special locket they can wear, or a small trinket from home can help them feel more secure. They can look at it or hold it for a while; otherwise, it can stay in their backpack for most of the day, just a small reminder that you’ll come back to get them or see them later.

4. Make Your Goodbye Quick

This one is easy: when dropping them off that first day, you’ll be tempted to watch them, stay with them, or play with them for a little while. But I encourage you not to. Say hi to their teacher, give them a quick kiss and hug, remind them you’ll be back to get them, and leave. Don’t linger and definitely don’t cry as you leave. (I definitely cried the moment I got in the car after dropping Forrest off the first time!)

A quick goodbye keeps them from being able to drag it out, get upset, or get used to you being there. Make sure they are introduced to the teacher and feel comfortable with them. Then make your getaway, treat yourself to a nice Starbucks (or coffee of your choice), and enjoy a few hours while your kiddo is at school.


That’s it! 4 tips that might make your transition to preschool just a little bit easier this year (or whenever you send your baby to preschool for the first time). Do you have any other tips? Share with me in the comments!

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?

The Moving Diaries: Is It Normal to Feel Sad?

The Movie Diaries: Is It Normal to Feel Sad? | Writing Between Pauses

5 years ago, Danny & I bought our first home together. It wasn’t perfect. There were a lot of things, right from the get go, that we didn’t love. We had our home built on land I already owned, so we considered it our forever home.

Fast forward a few years: several job changes, a pregnancy, a newborn turned toddler turned preschooler… and suddenly that house just wasn’t right anymore. It felt tiny. We were cramped, on top of each other, and the prospect of adding another child felt absolutely impossible.

A year ago, we decided to build a second home. We would make better decisions this time! We will pick a better plan, build in a better spot, do all the things we didn’t last time. (I will write more about the process of building your own home later. I know this is a totally privileged thing that many people can’t imagine, so just know, if you’re gaping at your computer, I totally acknowledge that.)

Our home was completed last week. It was about 2 or 3 weeks behind schedule by that point. And when I say completed, I don’t mean… “completed.” It wasn’t really completed. (Again: I can write about this later.)

But either way, we started moving our things out of our home into our new forever home. I was ecstatic.

We moved things for 3 days in the evenings: piece by piece, it felt like the slowest process ever. But there was only so much we could do as two people! On Friday, we went to IKEA to buy some new furniture (including a new kitchen table) and then thankfully Danny’s parents arrived and helped us move boxes and furniture.

Friday night, we all slept in our new home for the first time. Forrest’s room was mostly put together, but in our room, we only had our mattress on our box spring on the floor (our bed frame is still on a delivery truck somewhere!). I had a suitcase and my toiletries and that was about it.

I told Danny, “it feels like we are on a really weird, shitty camping trip.” That feeling isn’t helped by the fact that our contractor hasn’t really finished our upstairs toilet in the master bathroom (again, more on this later!) and 50% of our possessions are still in a different house.

My anxiety was high Friday night. Like really high.

Remus is also an anxious being (in that specifically hyper chocolate lab sort of way), so he woke me up 3 times during the night. He would run outside and pee, then look at me as if asking, “Can we go home?”

And at 3am, my last wake up, I briefly thought: let’s just go home. I started to panic. Do I really want to live in this strange house that doesn’t smell like me? Do I really want to leave all my memories behind?

I thought of all the memories I have of our old house. I let Remus back inside, locked the patio door, went upstairs, and cried while Danny slept. I panicked and cried and felt horribly sad.

I thought of bringing Forrest home—anxious, swollen, bleeding, looking wretched—and seeing the sign my sister-in-law Amy made and put on our front door. I remember sitting upstairs with him, pumping and feeding him, while my family sat downstairs. I thought of the hours I spent holding him during naps on the couch: the light shining through our windows in such a specific way.

I thought of painting our living room wall grey last summer, our breakfasts in our kitchen, standing at the counter making Christmas cookies with Fo.

For once, I thought not of all the things that I didn’t like about that house (the cramped layout, the lack of a closet in the master bedroom, the teeny tiny bathrooms) and I thought about all the things I loved. Sitting with Forrest in his room, reading him Harry Potter. Being in his room when he was 2 weeks old and wouldn’t stop crying and not knowing what to do. The long nights I spent awake and pumping. The sink where I washed all his bottles. Seeing him walk for the first time. Getting home from Disneyland with him and being so relieved and sad.

When Danny finally woke up, I told him I felt panicked. I think a lot of it was the feeling of being totally overwhelmed: we still have so much to pack and move and I feel rushed and anxious to get it done. I want to do it, but I also wish I could hand off the wheel and let someone else (anyone else!) do it! Mostly, I just felt sad.

Danny assured me that this seemed normal: we’re in a new house that doesn’t feel like “us” yet even though it is very “us”. We will get used to it and we will love it.

The same feeling hit me later on Saturday. (I’m actually typing this up Saturday, so it’s a particularly fresh memory.) I ran to the old house one last time—at 8pm, of course—to get my computer. I needed, in order to feel sane, to set up my computer. To get all my desk things and arrange them on my new desk and sit and work and feel normal. I went to the house and packed up my office… then I went into Forrest’s room.

Forrest has gotten a big bed in the new house. He’s incredibly proud of it. But in his old bedroom, his toddler bed is still sitting there, along with some of his toys and some boxed up clothes. About half his books are still there too. (Like I said, so much to move still!) I collected up all his clothes to pack into the car and as I walked out of his room, I started to cry. Again.

It hit me like a wave. To me, that was Forrest’s room. It always will be. I took all his weekly and monthly progression photos in that room on his chevron carpet. I rocked him to sleep every single night for two years—and have read him a story and sang him 3 songs every single night for about 1 and a half more. That room is his room: it feels like him, it smells like him. But we’re emptying it out, shaking out all the things that are Forrest to make into a new space. And while he loves his new room, I can’t help but think of him crawling across the floor, the nights I ran in when I heard him sick and crying, reading him Harry Potter while he drank his last bottle for the night. That toddler bed will be moved to the new house and have the front put back on in anticipation of a new baby: one I don’t know yet, who will fill our lives the way Forrest does.

Moving is hard. As someone said to me on Twitter, moving is nothing but trauma. Change is hard and locational change is particularly difficult for me, someone who is incredibly anchored by my physical space. Not being able to clean and organize the way I want makes it hard for me to feel anything but adrift.

I don’t know if it’s totally normal to be sad over moving. I cried when I moved out of all of my college dorms, however; I cried when I left my college apartment. I cried when I drove away from Caldwell, Idaho, a town I had viscerally hated for 4 years (and now return to on vacations at least twice a year). I cried when I moved out my parents’ house. I cried when I moved in our old house. I suppose for me it is normal, but it feels like this time it has hit me a lot harder than it did before.

It’s a total cliche, but it’s true: moving is hard. It stresses everyone out. And now being the one in charge of the moving (no one is holding my hand and helping me make these decisions!), it’s even more stressful.

I don’t have a real clear message to end this post on. It’s a much more personal one than I usually post. I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t know if it’s “normal” to feel sad when you’re moving, but with emotions running so high, I can’t imagine it’s a new phenomenon either. If you’re moving and feeling sad, tell me about it!

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer | Writing Between Pauses

I am incredibly lucky that Forrest is a highly independent, easy-going child. Most of the time. He thrives on routine, which is why when school finished up, we needed to sign him up for something; thankfully, his preschool offered a summer program & we jumped at the opportunity for him to have more school.

But I know once August rolls around, he’s going to be tired of staying at home.

To save money, I often try to find fun things to do at home. I’d love to be able to take him to the beach (a 70 mile drive) or to the zoo (a 3 hour drive), but all those things cost money. Outside of his summer school, swim lessons, sports team, and everything else costs money—and with moving into a new house, we are trying to save wherever we can.

My husband is a teacher, which means I’ll be trying to work as much as possible during the summer and he will have a nice break. However, he’s not quite as used to how quick Forrest’s behavior can turn from his normal easy-going self to his “I need to go somewhere” attitude. Forrest is, after all, a total social butterfly and extrovert; he is not like us at all and he is not a homebody. He likes projects and visiting people and always having a plan for something to do.

I’ve already started looking for things to keep Forrest from becoming a total handful this summer—and I thought I’d share a few things we’ve had success with.

1. Workbooks

Some kids are not interested in workbooks whatsoever. They don’t want to do them, they just aren’t interested. I’m a bit fan of physical workbooks as opposed to online programs or TV programs. I just think the less kids have access to the internet, computer & tablet screens, and all that blue light, the better. (That’s not a judgement; you do you, but I love workbooks!) Workbooks will help them learn how to write, hold a pencil or crayon, and to do homework assignments.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The Scholastic Preschooler Workbook Bundle: we have several of these workbooks and they are wonderful. Colorful, fun, and interesting, perfect for a few 10-minute sessions throughout the day. We especially love the early reading skills one, as Forrest is very interested in learning what letters are in every word. You can also find these individually at Target.

  • Bear Fairy Education Workbooks: you can find these on Amazon and they are lovely! Simple, affordable, and designed by teachers. Forrest specifically likes the letter & number tracing one, because he can color the pictures on each page, then work on writing his letters and numbers. This has really helped him even out the size of his letters and numbers! He has also started writing his name and tries to write out the words on each letter page (including elephant!)

One note about workbooks: I usually select a few for Forrest to have complete access to at his art table, just like coloring books. These are ones that don’t have a lot of instructions; the Bear Fairy workbooks are perfect for this, as they are just tracing. The Scholastic workbooks, or more complicated ones, often have instructions and we will sit at the table for a few minutes and do those.

2. Kinetic Sand

I am normally not a fan of messy things like this: Playdough, slime, sandboxes, etc., just make messes and I think kids get bored of them quite quickly. But about a year ago, I bought a small container of kinetic sand and a few cookie cutters and Fo loves it. I keep it in a Pyrex container with a lid and store it with the outdoor toys; he knows to keep it in the container and just spends a lot of time cutting out shapes. This is such an easy activity and especially for younger toddlers, provides a lot of sensory information! You can talk about how it feels, teach them to cut out shapes (manual dexterity!), and use words to describe the sand itself. I like these packs here.

3. Sidewalk Chalk Paint

Forrest loves sidewalk chalk and he also loves painting. Combining the two is an instant win. I bought two small containers of sidewalk chalk paint from the Target Dollar Spot section and he loved them—while Googling to see if I could buy more for cheaper, I found that you can make it easily at home! Even better! I whipped up a batch and it was as good as (or perhaps better) than the store bought. This is a more messy activity and would be perfect for those warm summer days where the sprinklers are on, you’re all outside with the wading pool, and you’re all getting baths anyway! You can find that tutorial here.

4. Rotate Your Toys

This is one of those tips I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think of earlier, but has been recommended by nearly every mom I know. As I’ve been packing up Forrest’s toys for our move, it became a lot easier to do: pack up toys into 3 or 4 different bins, then store all but one of the bins away (in a spare room, in your closet, wherever). Switch out the bins every 5-6 days to keep your preschooler on their toys when it comes to their toys. They’ll rediscover things they used to love (Forrest with his tool belt from Christmas this week) and stay interested. Plus, it helps decrease the clutter in your living room, playroom, or child’s bedroom. Perfect!

5. Have a Party

Most young kids love routine—but they also love when parents disrupt the routine for something fun. I already have plans to throw an “at home luau” for Forrest (complete with pineapple string lights I found at the dollar store and making paper leis), but there are a million ways to do this and have fun together.

  • Tea parties: whether you have a boy or girl, kids love tea parties. They can help set the table, make the sandwiches & cookies, pour the “tea” (water, or you could make herbal tea), invite the guests (Teddy Bear Tea Party, anyone?), and more. Plus, this is a subtle way to teach manners.

  • Dance parties: I got this idea from Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, but fill a jar with your favorite musical artists and have your child pick one slip at a time. Play one song on Spotify and dance it out. Pick a new artist and repeat until your child is exhausted.

  • Invite some friends: Invite a few friends over who have kids and just hang out at home. Seriously! I know this is basic, but I often don’t think to reach out to my friends; we’re all busy and I just assume, “you know what? They’re probably busy today!” But they might not be! Fill the wading pool, make some sun tea, and start the grill for some hot dogs for the kids. Boom, everyone is entertained for a few hours!


What are your tips for keeping kids (preschool age or not) entertained during the summer?

My Favorite Hungryroot Foods & How to Get Kids to Eat Them

My Favorite Hungryroot Foods & How to Get Kids to Eat Them | Writing Between Pauses

You guys know I love Hungryroot. I’ve written about them a few times and as they’ve changed how they deliver food, I’ve grown to love them even more. Hungryroot is a great way to supplement your weekly grocery shopping with quick, convenient options. I wanted to share a few of my favorites, while sharing my tips for getting (slightly picky) kids to eat them.

If you want to try Hungryroot, you can use my promo code PAUSEPREP25 for $25 off your first two boxes of Hungryroot; that’s $50 total! Click here to visit Hungryroot and sign up for your first box today. I promise, you’ll love it as much as I do.

1. The Superblend Salad Mix

Sometimes, you meet a salad mix that is just absolutely perfect. I have a love-hate relationship with salads in general; I find them delicious, but hard to make and eat. Plus, buying lettuce and all the ingredients for a great salad can be expensive—and it all goes bad so quickly, I can barely use it all.

I know this is not an attractive photo, but superblend salad + brown rice + ground beef is the perfect burrito bowl.

I know this is not an attractive photo, but superblend salad + brown rice + ground beef is the perfect burrito bowl.

Enter the Superblend Salad mix, which has a combination of (wait for it) Brussels Sprouts, Napa Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Carrots, and Kale. It is…. perfect. When I tell you this salad mix works for everything, I mean it. Salads? Sure. Taco bowls? Yep. Coleslaw for tacos? YUP. In wraps? For sure. You name it, I’ll eat it. I’ve ever sauteed it for stir fry and it’s good that way too. It’s so freaking good.

And get this: even Forrest likes it. A sprinkle in his burrito (beans and rice only please, no cheese) (yes, he hates cheese) for a little crunch, or on his taco as coleslaw. He also likes a little sprinkled on top of his ramen when I make that at home, because he’s a cultured toddler like that.

But in all seriousness, this is a salad mix that isn’t droopy or plain; it has crunch, it has variety, it has flavor. It’s so, so good and perfect for using with kids. Like I said, it totally works as a coleslaw mix. A few suggestions: use on tacos, barbecue chicken sandwiches (!!!), or alongside fried (or baked!) chicken. Mix with ranch dressing and serve in a BLT wrap. There are so many ways to add this to the things you and your kids are eating anyway, for extra nutrition.

2. Superfood Almond Butter

A classic waffle topped with Superfood almond butter & syrup—this is Forrest’s favorite breakfast!

A classic waffle topped with Superfood almond butter & syrup—this is Forrest’s favorite breakfast!

We are bit peanut butter fans in our house—and swapping classic (aka sweetened, not very good for you) peanut butter has been a huge challenge for us. I’ve yet to find an almond butter that I love as much as I love JIF (and lemme tell you, I love JIF). However, Hungryroot’s Superfood Almond Butter is the closest thing I’ve found. Here are a few ways we love it in our house:

  • On toast with slicked strawberries or peaches on top

  • On waffles with syrup

  • In smoothies with banana

  • As a dip for apple slices in the afternoon

  • Mixed with oats as a crumble for pumpkin bread

  • Paired with local honey in an almond butter & jelly sandwich

  • On top of my morning oatmeal

  • Danny mixes a hearty dollop into his Kodiak Cake Flapjacks every morning before going to work.

This almond butter is just perfect. It’s not too sweet, but not too plain; it tastes like almonds without being aggressive; and it’s seriously healthy. It has almonds, chia and hemp seeds, coconut sugar, goji berry powder, and pink Himalayan salt. Honestly, it’s perfect. The packaging is also perfect because it’s easy for me to put the entire thing in my bag; it comes in a resealable tube not unlike a packet of baby food. It’s easy to dispense and great for traveling.

3. Brown Rice & Quinoa Blend

I am terrible at cooking rice (like, really bad at it), so these Brown Rice & Quinoa Blend 90-second pouches from Hungryroot are basically the answer to my prayers. Finding quick cooking brown rice, as well as quinoa, is like running a gauntlet, but Hungryroot pretty much took the baton from me and ran the entire race. They actually snapped their fingers, ala Thanos, and got rid of the race. These are perfect for nights where you have leftovers you need to use: leftover taco fixings? Make a burrito bowl. Leftover stirfry? Heat it up! Just need a quick dinner? Some brown rice and salad greens and call it a night! They are perfect.

Forrest loves rice and beans, so I pretty much can always make him happy with a scoop of homemade refried beans (just heat a can of low sodium black beans and mash with a fork, voila, homemade refried beans) and a scoop of rice. Add a few torn of tortillas (or even better, some of the Sprouted Wheat wraps from Hungryroot) and he is set. It’s a quick, easy dinner for a toddler who loves one thing and one thing only: carbs.

4. Energizing Green Juice

Personally, I love a green juice—the more vegetable-y, the better. And this one from Hungryroot really fits that description: it has cold-pressed cucumber, apple, celery, lemon, spinach, ginger, kale, mint, and parsley. It mostly tastes like cucumber water with a hint of lemon. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, go ahead and try it, you might be surprised.

However, this makes an excellent non-dairy base for a smoothie. Forrest and I love smoothies; it’s our normal afternoon snack. Here are a few of my favorite smoothie combos:

  • A bottle of green juice + pineapple, watermelon, cherries, & a frozen banana

  • A bottle of green juice + 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (you can freeze this in tablespoon size ice cubes and it makes a great ice base too!), ginger & nutmeg, a banana, and a little bit of honey

  • A bottle of green juice + strawberries, a frozen banana, and a big spoonful of the Superfood Almond Butter

These are our three absolute favorites. Even better is to make a smoothie then freeze into popsicle molds for a quick, super healthy popsicle on hot days. This is Forrest’s absolute favorite treat during the summer and being able to offer a healthy option with the energizing green juice makes it even better.

5. Red Lentil Fusilli

Do you find yourself making spaghetti, like, 3 times a week in your house? Sometimes, it’s all I want to eat; it’s all Forrest wants to eat; it’s all Danny wants to eat. It’s so quick to boil some noodles, crack open some sauce, and move on with my life. That’s why I love that Hungryroot now has some quick grain options—including plaintain luinguini! But my favorite is their Red Lentil Fusili; I’ve also loved lentil pastas, they are a great, easy swap and they don’t taste any different from regular noodles. But you get an extra dose of iron, protein, and fiber.

Obviously, you can pair this pasta with any sauce (we are partial to red sauce in our family) and your toddler will probably wolf it down. However, Hungryroot also has some great, kid-friendly sauces, like Superfood Tomato Sauce (a classic!), Beet Pesto, Chickpea Pesto, and Garlic Parm.

If you had told me a few years ago that I was regularly eating red lentil pasta with chickpea pesto sauce, I would have told you that that wasn’t possible; I was a tried-and-true box of pasta and jar of store brand marinara sauce lover. But this really is just a better option—and it’s delivered to your door!

Final Thoughts

Hungryroot isn’t just for adults, is what I want you to take away from this. If you want your kids to try new foods, and develop a love of some healthier foods, Hungryroot is a great way to do so. Plus, it’s just so easy to pick a few things and have them delivered to your door. No wandering through Whole Foods, trying to decide what to pick; no spending more than necessary. That’s why I love the subscription element; you pay the same price every week and get exactly what you want! These are just a few of my favorite items, but if you follow me on Instagram, you can frequently see what Hungryroot foods I’m eating every day.

Again, don’t forget you can use my code, PAUSEKIDS, to get $25 off your first two boxes—$50 total! You can also stretch those boxes over a month, getting one every other week, to see how often you would want a delivery.

Disclaimer: I am a Hungryroot affiliate, which means every time you use my code, I will receive a small kickback. Posts like this help Writing Between Pauses keep going! This post was written on my own and all viewpoints expressed remain my own. I just really love Hungryroot! If you’d like to learn more about my disclaimer policy, click here.

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule?

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule? | Writing Between Pauses

When Forrest was first born, I had this (slightly) bad habit of obsessively reading blog posts about baby schedules.

I would read first-person blog posts that detailed 3- to 4-month-old schedules. Articles about how to set a schedule for a baby. And everything in between. I would read about the pros and cons of feeding on demand, the different ways to setting schedules, certain schools of thought regarding baby scheduling.

As he got older, I started to get less obsessed with the idea that I was doing him a disservice of not having a very set schedule—but I still thought about it a lot. And I still tried to keep things regular. Thursdays were Grocery Store Days, followed by a walk in the park. Fridays were “Fun Days” where we might go to the mall, a book store, the coffee shop, anywhere.

Now that he’s in school, we do have a much more set schedule, some of which revolves around making sure we always do the same few things every single day (like washing our hands, going potty, picking up our clothes—you know, basic stuff).

I’ve always been told that kids thrive on structure: having a schedule is vitally important. But there is so much information out there about scheduling our kids: when is it too much? When is it too little? What if your kiddo gets bored? What if your toddler gets overwhelmed? How do you know what to do?

As I wrote in my blog post about TV time, I’m not an expert. I’m just one mom who thinks about these things… a lot. I’m always trying to make the “right” decision—and often, we don’t know what that decision is.

I do want to share what I’ve learned along the way when it comes to schedules, and then I’ll conclude with… are they really necessary? Or can we be a little more loosey-goosey with our kids?

1. The Infant Months

For me, having an infant was about one thing and one thing only: both of us surviving. That’s especially true of the newborn months.

When Forrest was a newborn, I was in the unique position of not really getting to experience those first 3-4 calm, sleepy weeks. The thing about newborns (as in, brand spanking new newborns) is they sleep a lot. Like… nearly all the time. If you’re at home and comfy, cozy during those times, it’s a really simple, beautiful part of your life. For us, we were still in the hospital for the first week; then, the second week we were running up to the hospital every single day for blood tests. Then, the third week we had mutiple doctor’s appointments still. (For my preeclampsia, I had three check up appointments to ensure my blood pressure had returned to normal and I was no longer leaking protein.)

We were all over the place those first few weeks, which meant it was so hard to know when the hell we were supposed to do anything. I was barely able to be home during the day and then I was essentially awake all night (following an incredibly strict feeding and pumping schedule 6 times through the night).

Looking back, if I had been able to have a more “normal” newborn phase, I definitely would have been able to keep a better schedule. As it was, I was frequently pumping in the car on the way to and from doctor’s visits, carrying a breast pump, multiple bottles, and a cooler every single place I went. God, it was exhausting!

This is all to say: for us, a schedule just simply wasn’t possible for the first month or so. And then, by the time he was 2 and 3 months old, I still felt absolutely frenzied. I was exhausted all the time, sleeping 4 hours or so every night, and still pumping. (I don’t think I will ever be able to convey simply how much I was pumping in those first months. And it didn’t even establish a good supply! Thanks, body!)

As odd as our experience was, I think most people struggle with schedules for infants. When Forrest was a bit older, we implemented the Play-Sleep-Eat routine, which is less a schedule and more just an order of doing things (to avoid associating eating with sleeping). We kept that routine from about 4 months to about 7 months, when we switched entirely to formula feeding (which gave me significantly more time to do things while he slept or played, instead of just frantically pumping).

2. Young Toddlers

As he got closer to a year, that’s when we started getting more of a schedule going. We would wake in the mornings, have a bottle (or once he was about 13-14 months, a sippy cup), eat breakfast, then play until naptime. Then after nap, we would go to the grocery store, go on a walk, and head home for lunch, then nap. That was pretty much our routine until he was about two or so.

Young toddlers (I would say this age group is whatever age your baby starts to walk until about 2 1/2) are really easy to schedule. In fact, I would say they need a schedule. They like the feeling of security it gives them. And I know for Forrest, whenever we deviated from our schedule, he was much fussier and struggled more to do just about everything. (And it should be said: some days we just had to deviate the schedule for whatever reason.) Here’s a little bit more information about why toddlers crave schedules and routines:

Creating a regular routine is an essential way to give toddlers the security of knowing “what happens next” in their day. It also develops the prefrontal cortex, the planning and executive function part of the brain.

(Source)

In short: getting a routine in place by 14-18 months will help your child be better at time management later, as well as helping them emotionally mature.

3. Preschoolers

Preschool age is usually considered about 2 1/2 to 4, so Forrest is right smack dab in the middle of it. Everything about schedules for young toddlers still holds true, but it’s important to deviate the schedule as they mature and grow older. Here is a sample of our usual day right now:

  • 6am, wake up and have milk

  • Breakfast

  • Play time

  • 8:30am, Forrest gets to watch Daniel Tiger

  • 9:30-10am, naptime

  • 11:30am, lunch

  • Forrest goes to preschool in the afternoon

  • After preschool, he’s allowed to pick a movie from our selection and watch it while I make dinner

  • 4pm, dinner

  • 5pm, play time

  • 6pm, wind down, read books, no TV or screens

  • 7pm, bedtime

That’s it. It’s very simple and easy to remember. And it should be said: no schedule for any one child is prescriptive. As I said, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of looking up other toddler schedules and thinking, Am I doing everything wrong? The answer is, probably not. Fo thrives with this schedule and does really well. On days where he isn’t at school, we might spend the afternoon at the park or go to the library, it just depends. By age 3, some kids have given up naps entirely, depending on how well they sleep at night—however, Forrest just isn’t quite there yet.

Again, having a schedule helps kids stick to a routine and learn time management. However, Forrest is definitely at the age where he’s more likely to get bored—so I spend more time trying to think of creative things to do during playtime (like painting suncatchers, doing small lessons, and more). That’s a bit more active than during his younger toddler days, when he was content to wandering around with a spatula!

4. So Are Schedules Necessary?

Short answer: kind of.

The longer answer is that it very much depends on your child. It’s one thing to look up information and see that schedules help children mature emotionally and mentally—and it’s another thing to actually implement that! Some people, and of course, some children, feel too claustrophobic with a strict schedule! This is the problem with all parenting advice: it really is so intensely personal to your child. Just as we can’t prescribe a specific eating method to every child, it’s impossible to prescribe a way to keep your child occupied during the day—even if perhaps you desperately want to do so for a bit of routine yourself!

I think one thing to consider is to not think of it as a schedule—but as a routine. Having a set routine is different from having a set schedule, but both are very good for children. Doing the same few things every single day in the same order helps ground your child. Healthy sleep routines (such as bath-book-bed) can help encourage your child to sleep more soundly, because they know what to expect. The same goes for each day of the week! Forrest knows we go grocery shopping on Thursdays, he knows he gets to go to school on Fridays, and he knows he gets to go to the park on Saturdays. That’s just our routine!

Just as with all parenting blog posts I write, I feel like I ended this one rather wishy-washy as well. But it’s the truth: I can’t tell you whether your child needs a schedule or not. You know your child best. There is no harm in working on getting a set pattern to your day (especially if it helps you get things done as well!) and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out! No harm, no foul.

I’ll turn it over to you now. Does your child have a set schedule or routine? What does it look like? And what do you think, are schedules a necessity or too much?

My Tips for Packing to Travel with Kids for Spring Break

My Tips for Packing to Travel with Kids for Spring Break | Writing Between Pauses

It goes without saying: almost everyone loves the idea of traveling, but the actual traveling is hardly anyone’s favorite part of it. Moving from A to B, B to C, and C to every other letter of the alphabet definitely takes more patience than anything else.

Now add to that a child, who may or may not be old enough to understand patience (or might just not feel like it at that moment), and things get really sticky. I’ve written about traveling with young toddlers before in the form of everything I learned about taking a (mostly) solo road trip and my 4 tips from when we went to Disneyland (and drove the whole way).

We were just recently looking at our photos from our trip to Disneyland. It’s funny to think that was two years ago—and Fo looks so small in all the photos! He was a younger toddler then and now he’s a kid—and things are definitely different now.

When we first had Forrest, it felt like we might never be able to travel again. Even just a trip to the mall felt like I needed to pack an entire army—and if we did travel anywhere, it felt like I had to pack up my whole house and just take it along. We ended up at our destination with bags and bags and bags of stuff for just a few days! And don’t get me started on the pain in the ass it was to take along all my pumped milk, plus my pump, plus formula, plus bottles… I still remember trying to label the tops of my expressed milk to take in the car on our first spring break road trip after having Forrest, pumping in random parking lots throughout the 9 hour drive there, and much more.

I’ve definitely been able to streamline things as Forrest has gotten older, especially when it comes to packing. I thought I’d share my tips for how I keep everything organized in the car. If you’re planning to travel (for the first time or the 100th time) with kids this Spring Break, this one is for you.

1. Invest in Boxes

The best decision I made before going to Disneyland nearly two years ago was buying 2 clear packing containers. They are about a foot deep, measuring 12 inches by 10 inches at the lid. They aren’t super big, but they aren’t teeny tiny either. I used them to pack supplies for Forrest on our trip and so they would be easy to stack and see inside of.

When I tell you I use these every single road trip now, I’m not joking! They make it so easy to keep supplies together. I tend to keep all our travel stuff in one of them; that includes things like sunblock, our emergency kit, some non-perishable emergency snacks, and things like that. I also keep the small DVD player we use in the car for Fo in that bin as well, just so I always know where it is!

2. Everyone Gets One (1) Bag

I’ve definitely made the mistake in the past of packing In a way that doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, like packing one bag for clothes and one bag for makeup. In general, I know if I need more than one suitcase, I’m probably overpacking and need to talk to myself about what I’m doing.

Overpacking is a great way to ruin your spring break (especially the traveling portion), so our rule now is: everyone gets one bag, even Forrest. He gets one bag for clothes and toys. That keeps us from overpacking and means we have room for everything else we need, or any souvenirs we might pick up on our trip.

3. Keep Snacks Contained

My husband Danny and I are very big on travel snacks. It gives us something to do as we drive (especially on a long road trip) and also makes it easy to keep Forrest occupied (“throw him another snack”). I know this isn’t the healthiest way to travel, but honestly, what’s the fun in having a super healthy Spring Break? (Ok, there might be some fun in it.)

We often have this issue of snacks getting absolutely everywhere in the car: bags of candy in the glove box, bags of chips open in the backseat, you know the drill. Suddenly, I need to vacuum my car really bad.

We designate one spot for snacks in the car (as well as where we store extra drinks and water) and really stick to it now. This keeps me from absolutely feeling like I’m losing it and also keeps the car clean. We usually choose the space behind the passenger seat, as it’s easy for Danny to get out and grab (as I usually drive).

4. Think About What You’ll Need Access To

Have a DVD player for your kiddo? Keep movies within arm’s reach of the passenger seat.

Know you want to drink lots of water? Keep water bottles handy within reach.

Pack your car so that you have access to the things you know you’ll need to grab as you drive—and don’t worry about the rest. Charging cables and extra battery packs can be kept in the glovebox or console; books can be kept in door pockets. Pack accordingly.

5. If you’re stopping midway, think of what you’ll only need for that night.

We often have a bin (throwback to item one on this list!) that is just things we need for at night. Oftentimes, we break up long drives with a stay overnight along the way—traveling with a toddler, it’s just easiest for us. We don’t want to totally unload the car, so we usually just take what we need: our bags, our snacks, and the overnight bin (as well as anything valuable, like laptops). That means leaving in the morning is way less hectic as we don’t have to repack the entire car.

6. Remember a Trash Bin

All those snacks, as well as stops along the way, wiping faces, and more… you need a trash bag. I usually grab 4-5 plastic Target bags and stow them in the car, then we use this as trash bags through the drive, throwing them away whenever we stop. It just makes it so much easier to keep the car clean if you have a specific spot to put trash.