My Peaceful Christmas Season

christmas nativity

I turned my shopping cart down the aisle in the big box craft store and felt tension immediately creeping into my neck.  It was September and I was staring at trees, lights, ornaments and wrapping paper in an explosion of green and red.  That tension was a sign that I was bracing myself for the stress that usually overcomes overs me in regards to the holiday season.  Only this year it was already starting in September.  The stress was also known as Christmas.

The holiday season is often a silent scream that is aimed at adults, often times moms who seem to often orchestrate the magic that surrounds the holidays.  TV commercials, Facebook event reminders, school events all become reminders of the traditions and magic that should be created each year.  As a mother and wife I took that responsibility on, to make the season magical for my loved ones.  Pinterest and Instagram brought the expectations to a whole new level these past few years.

christmas

I can sit and reflect on past years where gifts, stockings, hosting parties, decorating the home, taking the perfect photos, all left me feeling empty and breathing a sigh of relief on the December 26.  But this year as I sat at a recent MOPS meeting, watching a video about this exact stress, I decided that this year Christmas would be different.

Christmas is about love coming down to Earth.  It is the story about a mother and her baby.  In particular I am reminded of the verse “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke, 2:19).  I look at my three beloved children and am reminded every day of how quickly they are growing.  About how limited my time of actually having them under my roof really is.  It is all fleeting moments and I am determined to not let the stress take over my holidays anymore.  Instead I have made a conscious decision to limit our commitments, and choose family and quality time this season.

nativity

My husband and I have decided to focus on three festive events this Christmas season.  Beyond that we are not stressing about fitting everything else in.  If we can squeeze in a few extra events, great!  If not, no big deal.  We actually took out our calendars over Thanksgiving and scheduled in activities to make sure that time was blocked out.

meadowlark

For our family, the first event we chose was experiencing the lights at Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Vienna, Virginia.  This spectacular display of holiday lights that you can walk through has been on my list of things to do for 10 years now.  By strategically planning our time we were able to accomplish this event and were lucky enough to pair it with a visit with great friends.

meadowlark

If you are planning on going to Meadowlark make sure to go online and purchase your tickets earlier in the week.  The time slots do sell out on the weekend.  There are often discounts offered weekdays through Certifikid or their Facebook page.  Dress warm as you will be outside for an hour or so.  We brought the stroller which worked well for our 17 month old.  Even though it was 7, his bedtime, he was so distracted by the beautiful lights that he was fine.  At the end there is a stand to purchase hot cocoa, smores supplies to roast by the fire, and popcorn.  If you are looking for a good quick dinner before or after, try Church Street Pizza.  It’s delicious, in particular their white pizza and meat lovers.

How do you manage the holiday stress?  Are you starting any new traditions this year?

 

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Flying with Baby: What to Pack in Your Carry On

flying with baby

 

With the holidays upon us, traveling is inevitable.  And traveling with a baby, especially flying, is tricky.  But traveling light with a baby, hahaha, it doesn’t exist.  There are extra car seats, strollers, luggage, possibly a pack and play.

However you can still maintain some sense of packing light when it comes to your carry on.  Gone are the days when you could go for a two-week trip in Europe with only your backpack,. Just embrace the fact that if you can get all essential baby items in a backpack you are golden.  This does take a little planning, a little practice, and some trial and error.

WHAT DO I PACK IN THIS SUPER IMPORTANT BAG?

Lucky or unlucky, I have flown a lot with kids during these last 12 years.  I find a backpack to be the most practical bag to use, and I have actually had the same REI bag since 2006!  It is our designated travel type diaper bag, as it leaves our hands free and fits nicely under the seat in the airplane.  Th.ere are lots of pockets and has worked well even when carrying my baby in the ErgoBaby.

ITEMS FOR COMFORT:

  1.  Swaddle blanket-  These are perfect for keeping baby warm, wiping spit up, as a scarf for mom, and as a cover for nursing.  They are super lightweight so is definitely a space saver.
  2. Small toys-  Toy keys, a music toy like the baby Einstein music box, Sophie the Giraffe, some stuffed animals, or any other special lovey.  It is a good idea to have some variety to keep your baby well entertained for the flight.
  3. Pacifier and clip-  Go ahead and bring several pacifiers, even if your baby is not the biggest fan.  It is a good idea to have the pacifier attached to a clip so that it won’t fly out of their mouth and fall onto the dirty airplane floor.  They easily could roll under a seat to never be seen again!
  4. Dropper Stopper-  This is a smart idea I wish i had years ago with my first two children.  attach it to any toy your baby is playing with, and then strap it to your wrist so that you are not bending down every 5 seconds to pick the toy up off the floor.
  5. Extra clothes-  Do not attempt to fly without some extra clothing in your bag.  One piece jammies are a great option because they take up less room, keep their feet warm, are easy to change a diaper in that teeny tiny airplane bathroom.  It may even be worth it to stash two pairs in there. You will be amazed at the messes that can occur when traveling.

 

DIAPERING ESSENTIALS:

      

 

  1.  Diapers Pack alot of diapers, more than you think you will need.  A good rule to follow is about 1/2 times as many as you think.  It is always better to have more than you need.
  2. Travel wipes case–  I like the one from Huggies, but there are several on the market.  It is easy to refill, is small and thin, and has a great strap that can attach anywhere.
  3. Diaper rash cream–  We ran into a big problem years ago after a long flight to Alaska, and my baby had the worst rash.  We had to run around through the airport trying to find diaper rash cream before almost missing our next flight.  Find a travel size and toss that in your bag.
  4. Diaper wet bag–  These are great to put a dirty diaper in, wet or soiled clothes, and can also be used for wet bathing suits once you get to your destination.  I like the type with two sections, as it can easily be brought with you to change a diaper with a clean and dirty section in the bag.

FEEDING:

  1. Bib– I personally like the silicone bibs that can easily be wiped and cleaned up.  Just make sure your baby does not have an allergy towards it, as my youngest child did for several months.  This one bib will last you the entire trip since there is no need to throw it in the washing machine.
  2. Spoon with travel case–  A spoon with a case is great when you can’t get to a sink to wash it during the flight.  Honestly a plastic baggie would work just as well, but this is a cute option.
  3. Bottle-  If you are formula feeding, go ahead and prefill with the amount of water you will need.  TSA will just need you to take the bottle out and run an extra test on it.  You can also ask the flight attendant  for a small bottle of water as soon as you board, so that it is ready when you need it later on.
  4. Formula dispenser – This is extremely useful when trying to make a bottle mid flight.
  5. Squeeze pouch baby food-  these are the ultimate in convenience and don’t know how I lived without them while my first two were little.  They make eating on a plane so much easier, just make sure it doesnt’ explode when you open it.
  6. Puffs-  The entire container may take up too much room, so go ahead a fill a smaller container with the puffs.
  7. Wet Ones-  The antibacterial wipes are good for cleaning the tray table, seats, arm rests, and anything else.  The sensitive skin ones are good for items like toys that will end up in your baby’s mouth.
  8. Infant Tylenol- You just never know when fever is going to strike.  Keep it in a baggie so that it can be removed while going through security.

MOM ITEMS:

  1. Earbuds-  You may get lucky and your baby falls asleep for a while.  Go ahead and try to watch some of that movie, listen to music, or even an audio book.
  2. Phone-  This seems like a given nowadays, but make sure you have some books and magazines downloaded on there as well.
  3. Wallet-  Another essential, make sure you have it tucked somewhere you can easily reach.
  4. Shout wipes–  There is no doubt that babies are messy, and these little wipes are great for getting out stains.
  5. Baby birth certificate copy-  It is not a bad idea to keep a copy of the birth certificate in your bag in case the airline requests to see one in regards to the age of a lap baby.
  6. Extra t-shirt-  If you have extra room toss a shirt in your bag.  Babies get sick, throw up happens, and it’s usually on mom.

Happy Travels this holiday season.  What do you travel with?  Have I forgotten any essential items?

 

 

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Family Bike Ride: Mason Neck State Park

mason neck bike ride

Many of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around my pastel colored bicycle.  Bike riding provided a type of freedom as a child that I craved, and this love has carried into adulthood.  With 2 older children that are pretty good at riding, I was patiently waiting for my baby to be old enough to pop in the seat attached to my bike.  Mason Neck State Park was the choice for our family bike ride on a beautiful fall day.

mason neck nature trail

This past weekend was our first family excursion with baby in tow, on our bicycles.  And Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia was the perfect location to go ride and be outside to enjoy the beautiful fall scenery.  Mason Neck State Park, along with Pohick Bay is tucked into the corner of Fairfax County, Gunston Hall to be specific.  It’s right next to Lorton, and just down route 1 from Woodbridge.  A quick turn onto Gunston Hall Rd. and you feel like you are way out in the country.  You will pass some large horse farms that look straight out of the movies.

mason neck family bike ride

If your children are older and can handle a longer ride, I recommend actually parking at a pullout on Gunston Hall Rd.  and riding on the awesome paved trail into Mason Neck Park.  Seeing as this was our first attempt with the baby seat, we actually drove a little further, into the actual park and nature preserve, to park at the trail lot.  Your other option is to drive all the way to the education center on the water, and park there.

mason neck family bike ride

The best biking is done on the High Point multi-use trail.  It is rated easy, and is paved which makes for great riding.  The awesome thing about this trail with kids is that it is pretty much flat, just a few rolling hills, and you basically have the trail to yourself, even on a beautiful fall day.  In over an hour on a Saturday, we only had one other cyclist pass us.  With that being said, I wouldn’t ride this trail alone for obvious safety reasons.

mason neck family bike ride

Along the High Point trail are a few picnic tables as well as restrooms.  At the Visitor Center you will find rangers ready and willing to answer questions, some interactive displays, and life size bald eagle statues.  There is a children’s learning room with lots of items for them to feel and touch, as well as some aquariums with fish and frogs.  Outside of the visitor center has bird houses set up which make for great viewing,  And if you are lucky you will spot some Bald Eagles on your trip.  Take some time to look at beautiful Belmont Bay, it offers some peace and quiet from the business of Northern Virginia.  Looking for other weekend outdoor fun, check out my guide to Great Falls hiking with kids.

mason neck visitor center

 

Wildlife Viewing

Though exploring the refuge is restricted to established nature trails, you’ll find that these winding forested corridors are rich in nature and history. Visitors to the refuge can enjoy hiking our 4 miles of trails to view birds and other wildlife, or simply enjoy the solitude.

Download the bird list (pdf)

mason neck hiking trail

Hours of Operation

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, including federal holidays, from 7AM – 5PM October 1- March 31 and 7AM-7PM from April 1 – September 30. Staff temporarily closes the refuge during managed deer hunts in November and December. Call the headquarters office or check this website for scheduled closures.

 

Location

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

Its address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Mason Neck?  Where else do you go biking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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