Saturday, August 25, 2018

Travel Tip: Earning and Redeeming Points and Miles

In the past six years, we've been fortunate enough to take five major trips and just booked our sixth for this fall. For three of those six trips, we redeemed credit card points for flights and hotels.
May 2017 Iceland Babymoon
Now, before I get any farther, I feel obligated to say that credit cards are not for everyone. If used responsibly, there are benefits; but if in the wrong hands, they can send you in a downward spiral. For us, we charge almost everything we can to card BUT immediately going online and pay it off, typically within the same day. We don't carry over balances and rarely do we have a balance on our card at all.

Okay, that being said, here is my limited credit card reward knowledge! As a note, we used Chase for all of our banking so I've gravitated to the Chase credit cards for the easy and accessibility of having accounts in one place, making it easy to pay balances.

We've had a Chase Freedom credit card for 8+ years. It's a good "starter" credit card (in my opinion) that allows you to earn one point for every dollar spent (1% back). It also offers quarterly category bonuses that offer 5% back with a $75 maximum. The categories are practical every day purchases like gas stations or grocery stores. There is no annual fee but there are foreign transaction fees. For the longest time, this was the only credit card we had and used it for everything.

A few years ago, we added the Chase Sapphire  Preferred credit card to our accounts. The interest in this card was two-fold: First, unlike Freedom, there are no foreign transaction fees (which are typically a 3% fee for every purchase made not in the US), making it a great card to use for international travel. Second, is that Sapphire gives you two points for every dollar spent for every travel and restaurant related purchase. Given that we budget to eat out 2-3 meals after, this adds up. This card does have an annual $95 fee after the first year; but if you're using the points to travel, the benefits well outweigh the fee (I'll hit on redeeming points below).

After realizing we typically fly United a few times a year, this year we added the United Explorer Mileageplus Chase credit card. I had debated on the Frontier card, but decided United was a better fit with our international travel goals.  The perks of the United card have actually improved since we got it. Now it's similar to Sapphire, with double points for every dollar spent on food and travel, plus you get a free checked bag for you and accompanied guest. Since United now charges for basic Economy bags, this saves $100 per roundtrip for two (at $25/bag/person/flight). There is not an annual fee nor are there foreign transaction fees; so overall, this card is a winner if you fly United! As a cardholder, you are also eligible for free upgrades on flights as well as discounts on reward flights (info below).

My friend Breanne got me into miles a few years ago. She and her husband actually quit their jobs and traveled the world for over six months using miles they accumulated. She gave me tips how to earn additional miles; something I will be forever grateful for!

What I use most frequently is shop-through sites for miles. Are you familiar with Ebates, a website which allows you to log-in and search for a store, click on a link to be taken to that stores website and shop on the stores website but you get a small percent back for what you spent in an Ebates account? Well guess what? Both United and Chase Ultimate Rewards (how you access your Chase credit card points) also offer shop-through options to earn points and miles! And, the rewards for those sites is typically higher than the percent given back by Ebates.

For example, on United MileagePlus Shopping, I log in and search for Target. Target comes up at 1 mile per $1 spent. I click on the link and I'm off to shop! If I spent $50 on diapers, then I get 50 miles deposited to my MileagePlus account. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but United also runs promotions where if you spent X-amount in a month, you'll get bonus miles. Last summer I use this to spent $250 in three months and I was given 1,500 bonus miles in addition to the reward miles for every dollar spent. I've been using Mileage Plus shopping for a little over three years and look at the top right for how many miles I've earned; this is NOT how many dollars I've spent.

Similarly, Chase Ultimate rewards offers the same program. Log in, selected Shop through Chase, search your store, select and shop!

The last way, which we don't use very often is MileagePlus Dining. Log in with your Mileage Plus account, save a credit card to the account and then every time you use the credit card at qualified purchases, you earn additional points (on top of the 2 points for every dollar with Sapphire or United card).

A huge perk to take advantage of ioth the Sapphire and Mileage Plus credit cards is their offer for initial bonus miles if you meet 3-month spending criteria. Sapphire offers 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $4k in the first three months; so we timed this card with work we were doing on our house at the time. MileagePlus offers 40,000 bonus miles if you spent $2k in the first three months (which unfortunately was easy with daycare). Some merchants, such as daycare, do charge a smile credit card fee, but it was worth paying $36 in fees to use the card to get the 40,000 miles (which as mentioned below is equivalent to $400 in rewards). You also can receive 5,000 bonuses for each card by adding an authorized user (for me, Ben).

Okay, so there's the three credit cards we use (Freedom, Sapphire, MileagePlus Explorer) and what they all offer as common rewards, so how do we accrue our points and miles?  and how many miles does it take to get some where?

In general, points and miles are redeemable at every 1000 points equals $10. Chase credit card points (i.e. Freedom and Sapphire) are earned and tracked separately for each card, but they can be combined together.  As mentioned above, Chase points can be earned or redeemed through their Ultimate Rewards program. You can also book travel on their website at up to 25% off retail by redeeming with points.

We pretty much exclusively use our Sapphire card (because a lot of where we use our cards is dining out or breweries); however, I do pay attention to Freedom quarterly bonus categories so that we can take advantage of the 5% back (verse Sapphire 2% back on restaurants and travel and 1% back on everything else). We use the Sapphire card over the United because Chase points can be redeemed on their (see Ultimate Rewards info below) OR they can be transfered to travel partners, like United. The miles we earn with the MileagePlus credit card DO NOT show up in our Chase account; they only show up as United miles and cannot be transfers elsewhere (however, they do not expire).
However, the big for your buck is transferring Chase points to travel partners, such as United. Chase Sapphire has a travel partners that allows you to convert your points to miles for the travel partner account. So 50,000 Chase Ultimate rewards points transferred to United becomes 50,000 United Miles. United offers reward travel called Super Saver at below dollar-value flights. I keep all of our Chase points in our Ultimate Rewards account until we are ready to book a United flight. I then log on to Ultimate Rewards and transfer to United, where they're instantaneously available and book. Once you transfer points to miles, you can't undo the transfer

 Generally a roundtrip domestic reward flight is 25,000 miles (12,500 each way); when you think of the 1 to 100 ratio, this means you can get a domestic reward flight for $250. Now, there are a lot of domestic flights you can generally find under $250, so unless in a pinch, this isn't necessarily a huge savings in regards to bang for your buck. However, longer flights are easier to see the benefit. A "good rate" for an international reward flight is 60,000 miles (30,000 miles each way). 

For both domestic and international flights, there are reward flights available for more than 12,500 and 30,000 one-way but these are not really getting your money's worth... so I only book rewards flights when the flight miles follow the rule of thumb above (12,500 or less for a one-way domestic flight and 30,000 miles or less for an international flight).

I'm not sure if any of this making sense, so here's an example.

For a roundtrip flight from Denver to Hawaii (our April 2016 birthday trip), booking an United Economy flight (so upcharge for selecting your seat and checking a bag) would cost you $736. as shown on the left below.

However, the same flights booked as reward flights as a Mileage Explorer cardholder is  45,000 miles, which is equivalent to $450 (plus taxes). Comparing the cash to miles costs, for a roundtrip flight to Hawaii, you could save $275 after taxes; well worth it! (Especially when you consider that you could have 45,000 miles when you first get your card if you earn the initial spending bonus and add and authorized user).

It's also worth noting that when we booked our Hawaii flights we didn't have the United card so we paid 50,000 miles. Now searching for flights as a cardholder, having the card, saves you $50, when you compare the reward flights mileage of 45,000 to 50,000.

Similar to above, for our fall trip we just booked we paid 120,000 miles + $505 (you still pay taxes on flights; we also paid 10% fair fee for Grayson for international lap infant rate); which equates to $1,705 ($1200+$505). Had we paid cash for our flights, it would have been over $3,300! We basically paid half of what the flights would have cost if we paid cash. Obviously points well spent!

The examples above are partnering Chase points with United. We haven't used other Chase Travel partners, but if you google there are tons of blogs to help you get the most use out of your miles and other airlines or airline alliances, like Star Alliance. I really like The Points Guy

Another way we have used our Chase points was to book our Iceland Babymoon trip directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards. As advertised, we booked our flights for 25% less miles than the dollar equivalent.
We booked our flights for Iceland using Ultimate Rewards and spent 79,608 Chase Points total for two flights, which is $796 value. However, Chase considers it a $995 value with their 25% savings booking through them. Compared to the flight cost outright, granted this is 15 months later, but looking now on Iceland Air's website, two flights from Denver to Reykjavik would cost $1,788.

So similar to our fall 2019 trip, using miles basically we got our flights for half the retail price!

Flights booked with Chase Ultimate Rewards
Flights booked with Iceland Air directly

There you have it, how I've learned to earn miles and use them efficiently without flying on a regular basis to accrue miles. I hope you were able to follow and that this insight inspires you to make your adventure dreams come true! (Remember, spend only what you can afford, but take advantage of the rewards available).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Deja Vu

Here it is the end of July, 2018 and I'm feeling very much like I did this time a year ago.

Last year we had our first pregnancy and come July 2017, we were preparing for our first baby, due September 8th. My pregnancy had been relatively smooth sailing. I was trying to mentally prepare for baby and childbirth.

I'm not sure why or how, but I always knew I wanted an unmedicated birth. We hired a duo of doulas and were enjoying our last two months of us and of summer when my OB said that the baby was measuring large and she wanted to do an ultrasound to double check (we didn't know the gender at the time. Now that Grayson is here, I typically still refer to him as "baby" in utero out of habit).

We found out baby was breech and I spent much of the rest of my pregnancy as hormonal and emotional as it gets. (You can read about it here); and now I'm feeling much of that anxious emotion again right now.
Grayson is ten months old and not crawling yet.  To this point, he hasn't been a physical baby. He's never done log-rolls and is content sitting and playing. He's trying to get on all fours and army crawls backwards but he's not moving. He was a "late" sitter (at seven months and one day) also. At his nine month pediatrician appointment, our ped recommended we do an assessment with our state's Early Intervention program. It took a while to actually get the appointment scheduled and since then Grayson has shown more interest in crawling, so we considered cancelling the appointment.

Yesterday we went to it. He was evaluated with a play-based interview. An occupational and speech therapist asked us questions as they played with him. At the end of the interview, there was a definitive "yes, he qualifies", which surprised both Ben and I.

I spent yesterday afternoon feeling very emotional, similar feelings that I had to our breech pregnancy last time. I know there's an end; our breech baby was going to be born no matter what, just like in time, Grayson will crawl and will walk no matter what. But, it's the unplanned and unforeseen; it's the uncertainty, the stress, the emotional and mental push to get into the light is weighing heavy on my heart right now.

I'm going to give myself a moment to think "why me?". I had many moments, days and probably weeks of this feeling when we found out the baby was breech. But after allowing myself time, I quickly started to think, I don't want to give up hope and schedule a c-section, so what are my options? Similarly for Grayson's gross motor skills, as a parent there's only so much I can wallow. He can't fight for himself yet, so it's up to us to figure out what's best for him, even if we're learning as we go.

Just like Grayson's birth, he's following his own path and knows what was best for him;  I am reminding myself that this is also his path and we're here to help him progress along on it. This isn't the end of the world. This isn't something life-threatening or dangerous and I am thankful for that. This is just another step along parenthood and motherhood that is a learning moment for us all. There will be plenty more of these in his life. Bigger and scarier trials.

Some friends have had their children in the same program and rave about the impact it's had on their children, although they admit it can be hard also.

Moving forward, we'll be assigned an occupational therapist and a coordinator who will come to our house for a biweekly appointment. On the off weeks the OT will visit him at daycare so that he is in his natural settings, and from there, we'll move forward. Literally and figuratively.

Whatever happens, this child will always be the light of me life.
Photos by Courtney Heckler

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Motherhood: Find Your Tribe

Exactly a year ago today I was just over six months pregnant and my evening was double booked. The neighborhood facebook group of expecting/new moms with babies in 2017 was having a “happy hour” and I had a women in construction event to network with other women in the industry. As I usually do, I decided to squeeze in both events and now a year later, I’m so glad I did.

There were about 15 of us soon-to-be mommas at the happy hour. It’s funny because sometimes I consider myself an introvert when it comes to meeting new people, but I could talk motherhood, pregnancy and babies for a week straight. I plopped down on the couch near a group of girls and started chatting. We were all due within about 2.5 months of one another. Our baby (at the time we didn’t know the gender) was due on one of the girl’s birthdays! I spent about an hour there chatting with the girls about our general life background.

For the five of us chatting in the corner, it was our first child. Afterwards, we connected via Facebook and decided that we should continue to get together during pregnancy on a smaller scale (verse the large group). We met up twice after during pregnancy and shares texts of symptoms and excitement. We went to dinner on a Thursday night and that Saturday, the first of our baby crew was born! It was getting real!

When my water broke and we were admitted to the hospital, I waited to text the group until the next morning (the day Grayson was born). I got a group text one of the girls (the girl who’s birthday we were due on), that they was also admitted in the hospital, 2.5 weeks early from their due date with their daughter. Our kids were born just a few hours apart from one another; birthday buddies!

While it was fun conversing during pregnancy, I couldn’t have known then how much I would come to rely, trust, and love these girls once our babies were here. The daily texts; questions, comical events, successes and woes, brought us even closer together.  We first got together when we had three babies in the group and two women were still pregnant. It was so fun to see the littles we created in person and give the others a glance into their near future.

And maternity leave; I don’t know what I would have done without those who I shared maternity leave with.  It means so much to: 1. Get out of the house, 2. Get out of the house and be around people who GET it. They know it’s not easy and we’re still learning our babies ques. We’re still learning about ourselves as a mother. Having familiar faces to share library story time with, go for a walk or grab a beer, helps you ease into the new normal. During maternity leave I was living in the moment, as one should, and I didn’t realize how much these girls truly meant to me until I got back to work and missed them so incredibly much.

Now, nine months after our arrivals started, we all constantly get the babies together. Now more than previously, we share our successes, our  questions, our concerns, our tips. I have a constant 24-hour support line. Someone who’s willing to come over and babysit at the drop of a hat on a Saturday night when our babysitter cancelled. Someone who our kids will (hopefully soon) share the same daycare class. Someone who I can lament with over how cute baby girl clothes are. Someone who brings us all flowers from her garden just because. Someone who lives two blocks down the street from us for impromptu playdates that I hadn’t meet in the previous year of living in our house. As the babies start to interact more and more, it all continues to get better and better. As each child hits milestones (whether its sitting up, sitting in a highchair, eating solids or crawling), we learn from one another and are happy for each baby as if they were our own.

I mentioned above, we all met because of a facebook group for 2017 babies. While I was lucky enough to find my close mom tribe, there are so many friends we’ve made from this larger facebook group too. Would you believe it, there are 437 women with babies born in 2017 for my neighborhood and surrounding area that part of this private group? Not everyone posts on the group or is able to make it to events, but everyone that I have met and interacted with has helped or supported me in some way or another. There is ALWAYS someone to meet up with, share a similar experience, go for a walk, borrow an item, weekly happy hours.

When my maternity leave was ending and I was at our last library story time, one of these moms asked how I was doing and I lost it. I started sobbing in the middle of story time. She just held me and told me it’d be okay, and afterwards insisted we get a drink 😊 These are my people. People who get it (motherhood), who get me, and I’m grateful to know. It’s not easy and it seems weird, scary, or intimidating to meet new people, especially from the internet, but social media can be a powerful, and life changing tool. It’s worth it.

If you’re a mom, newly pregnant, or planning to be pregnant; put yourself out there. Find your people, your tribe. Find the people that you can send pictures of baby poop too (I don’t remember if I’ve actually done this, but I know I’ve contemplated it). Find the people that will bring you up, that will let know you it’s okay if you’re struggling to breastfeed, who will cry with your when your baby takes their first big fall, who know exactly how you feel when need to vent about your husband, who can tell you how they’re getting their kid to sleep through the night, who will loan you breastmilk when you’re going out of town for the first time and don’t have enough, who check in on you to see if baby’s cough has gone away, who help you feel confident breastfeeding in public, or who are just as eager to go to happy hour with a baby as you.

Babies bring about so much joy, but they also bring frustrations, fears, doubts, and change you. As much as I needed Ben to enter parenthood together, I needed these girls to help me enter motherhood. I’m so glad I found them to do into it together.

To my mom friends, you all will forever hold a special place in my heart that will never be forgotten or replaced. Love you!

I can't put into words how much these women mean to me, but I tried. Now excuse me while I go find a box of Kleenex! 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Portland Favs

Portland has been on our travel bucketlist as long as we've liked craft beer, so years. A few months ago my parents asked if they could come see Grayson for Memorial holiday day and instead we suggested a family vacation. Since my sister lives in Seattle and my brother's family is in Chicagoland, we agreed upon Portland.

To save cost on hotels we looked at Airbnbs. It was impossible to find a place with four bedrooms and at least three bathrooms; so we settled on renting two two bedroom , two bathroom condos in Pearl District at Block 17 (managed by Stay Aflred; found on Homeaway; they even had a pack and play for us). The location was unbeatable; we could walk to everything, and having two units across the hall from one another allowed us to hang out together but also have some breathing room (much needed with seven adults and two young kids).
Here's a few highlights from our trip:
Day 1

  • We used public transit to get to Washington Park. This park is huge and houses the zoo, children's museum, rose garden (free) and Japanese Gardens.
  • We started walking to the children's playground then we realized there was a free shuttle to get there! Portland's public transit system (trains and buses) is extensive and easy to use. Google maps navigates it for you and you can buy an all day pass for $5
  • We walked the trail out of the park and hopped on a bus to get back downtown
  • Lunch at Deschutes (the quinoa "burger" was awesome!)
  • Walked to Italian dinner at Mama Mia Trattoria (yum! we were able to book reservations in advance. Our biggest fear was trying to find dinner for 9 people so we booked ahead where we could)
  • After dinner beers at Bridgeport Brew
Day 2
  • Walked to breakfast at Daily Cafe. It's an order at the counter type of place but all of our food was delicious!
  • After there we walked down to Portland's Saturday market; which is a huge vendor type market-like an art fair. It was worth checking out but after a while everything looked the same and we left
  • The majority of the day was an unofficial brewery tour. We went to Wayfinder Beer, Hair of the Dog, Cascade, Rouge and Modern Times. Cascade was the crowd favorite with their sours and desserts. We had lunch at Hair of the Dog and Modern Times hadn't been on our list but we walked by and are glad we stopped in. Their IPAs are awesome!
  • For dinner we went to the Kennedy Schoolhouse. We took Lyft to get there. It's an old schoolhouse converted to hotel, theater and restaurant. It was an interesting place! The old classrooms were the hotel rooms! 
Day 3
  • All of the lists raved about Mother's Bistro for breakfast/brunch. They open at 8am so we got there right when they opened and were seated right away. It did not disappoint! By the time we left there were crowds waiting, so if you go, go early or be prepared to wait.
  • We were itching to get out into the pacific northwest woods, so we hopped in the car and went to the closest waterfall hike we could find which ended up being Latourell Falls, about 30 min from Portland. Again, another crowded spot but thankfully we were able to find parking. The hike was about 2 miles and pretty easy coming from Colorado elevation. The hike itself was beautiful!
  • On the way back we stopped at hoping for lunch but they had a limited brunch menu. Instead we went to Ex Novo Brewing and had a great lunch with good beer.
  • We regrouped and walked to Salt and Straw ice cream. The line, as anticipated, was insane! About two blocks long. Thankfully my girlfriend had given me a tip to skip the line and order pre-packaged pints to go; so that's just what we did and even bought a cone to scoop our own ice cream. It was fantastic! Rhubarb crumble! And salted caramel!
  • From there we walked to Powell Book Store; which was huge and intimating!
  • We had to follow our tradition of Sunday Night Pizza Night and our family joined so we went to nearby Oven and Shaker. We had no issues walking in and getting seated about 5:30p (but when we left it was packed). We all agreed this was our favorite dinner
Day 4:
  • With just my family and my parents left this morning, we walked to Slabtown area and had brunch at Besaws. It was so good my parents went back there for dinner that night!
  • We also wanted to check out Forest Park, the largest US park in a city, so we walked some of Lower Macleay Trail (which was wide enough to take the bob stroller on and we weren't the only ones. We saw three other families with bobs)

Flying with an 8 month old wasn't too bad. We checked luggage and the carseat and took the stroller with us through the airport. Coming back, we checked everything and wore him in the ergo through the airport. It was so nice to have just him and the diaper bag! The flight back was a little difficult for Grayson. It was naptime but he had issues staying asleep so he'd wait and be cranky. Even though I nursed at takeoff, it seemed like his body couldn't adjust to the pressure on his ears because as soon as we were off the plane, he was fine!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Grayson - 7.5 months

My Sweet Grayson,

You’re approaching eight months old. It’s true what they say, time goes by even quicker with kids.  We’re closer to your first birthday than the day you were born and it’s crazy how quickly things change, progress, and you grow.

There was a brief time we discussed the idea of not having children so that we could travel more and purchase a second home, etc, but deep down there was always a voice inside me whispering and I knew I was meant to be a mother. I’ve read and talked to a lot of moms who said their first baby was AMAZING, until they met their second child and realized their first born was amazing, but only because they didn’t know any better. I can confidently say, you truly are an amazing baby. 
Everything with you, and to you, is new and (mostly) exciting. Two weeks ago you started to sit independently.  Leading up to that, we spent a month or so of mornings before work practicing. We had you sit supported by the Boppy pillow and happily play with your activity cube as I sat next to you, eating my breakfast. One rainy Friday night (at 7months old and one day), for whatever reason, Dad decided to sit you down without the pillow and you did it! Like magic, all of a sudden you could sit on your own! It just clicked! Later that weekend, when I tried to take a picture of you sitting on your own, you were so proud and excited you threw your arms up in a squeal of delight and the momentum caused you to fall backwards! Now that it's been two weeks, you prefer to sit instead of laying down and you've reverted to hating tummy time when we practice your crawling.
First night of sitting, April 6th, 2018
 You’ve been sleeping through the night for months now, even with dropping your dreamfeed (a nursing session right before I went to bed), you're still able to sleep through the night. We never had to do formal sleep training with you because you learned as you grew. Starting Babywise with you at five weeks old was one of the best things I could have done for you and for our family.  The four month sleep regression hit a little early (at 3.5 months), but within three weeks, you rebounded like a champ and have been sleeping 7p to 5:30/6:00am almost every night since. We have an early wakeup here or there; those days I’m definitely more tired, but then I think of the friends we’ve met who still at this age rarely get more than five hours of sleep at a time and I’m so grateful that you’ve got the sleep thing down.

The not-so exciting part is that a week ago Sunday, you decided to boycott your naps. Prior to that you were taking at least two solid naps a day totaling at least three hours, both at school and home. Last Sunday, you wanted nothing to do with your naps. Ever since we and school have struggled to get you to nap more than 30 minutes at a time. You poor boy! You must be so tired every night at bedtime.

We introduced solids (real solids as in Baby Led Weaning, you eat what we eat, not purees) shortly after six months. I left you and Dad for a weekend getaway with Aunt Maggie and I missed you so much that on the flight back I read the entire Baby Led Weaning book! It took you about a week to get the idea and hang of it, but now when we set you in the high chair you get excited and start reaching for your food. Initially you loved roasted sweet potato and then we introduced you to roasted broccoli. Daddy hates veggies, so it cracks me up that this is your favorite food! This past weekend we gave you utensils for the first time. I was fascinated by how quickly you caught on. The second night of utensils, I gave you a fork, in addition to the spoon from the first night, and you immediately picked it up correctly and brought it to your mouth! Proud momma moment!

You're laughing more and more! Each time we hear your sweet giggle, Daddy and I beam in smiles and start to laugh. You love it when Daddy holds you up and swings you back and forth to "tick tock". You smile and laugh when Oscar comes in the room and when I blow "bubbles" on your belly.
Being your mom continues to be a rewarding task and one that I’m so lucky you chose me. I can’t help but look at you and be amazed by that we created you. You remind me that the simplest tasks are not to be taken for granted and that life itself is truly a miracle. Thank you for showing me!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Back to Work Update

I've never been a great blogger. Since we moved from Chicago, I started feeling like I was spending more time living life, than documenting it. That's how it should be.

However, time goes so incredibly fast with a baby that I try to document what I can to remember it all. We're approaching five months old, Grayson is pretty close to double his birth weight and it's almost already hard to fathom that he used to be this small.
Photos by Courtney Heckler Photography
 If you follow me on instagram, then a lot of this point may not come as a surprise to you. I love using instagram stories to document photos and stories from the day.

I went back to work when Grayson was 13 weeks old. Prior to that, we tossed back and forth trying to figure childcare. We thought we had a daycare spot, then we didn't, then we were going to sign a contract for a nanny-share with another family and the night before we go a call that we did have a daycare spot. Aye-yi-yi.

However, the daycare spot we landed didn't start until a week after I was to start back at work. My parents willingly offered to come out from Illinois to help. If I'm being honest, I was hesitant at first. It was a big enough change already and I wasn't sure if I would be stressed by having more people in the house. Then I thought about the upsides: Grayson could stay in our house and even though I wouldn't be there, it seemed like a good transition step for him to go to daycare; cooking! When my parents came out when Grayson was born, they kept us well fed and made some amazing dinners. So going back to work, knowing Gray would be in good hands, knowing I could come home and snuggle him up while someone else made it dinner; yep, sold.

The week prior to going back to work was THE worst. I tried not to think about it, but inevitability every day when the thought crossed my mind, I would tear up and start to cry. At home, in the car; even storytime at the library when a mom friend asked how I was filling. It was awful. I was anxious to move into yet another "new normal". Then my parents got here and the day arrived and I was fine. I barely even cried when I left in the morning! I survived work, came up and snuggled him and slowly, every day got easier and easier until I realized that I would sometimes go an hour or two and not think about him once.

It completely helps that Ben has taken on the majority of drop-off and pick-up. We went together the first day and I occasionally do it, but Ben's office is a mile or two down the street (whereas daycare is 20 minutes out of the way from my project). I really like our set up. I get Grayson ready in the morning (more in a minute) and Ben does the driving. If I feel like I'm missing out, I tell Ben I'll grab him after school and it's no big deal.

Grayson is still tiny; at his four month appointment he was 12lb 7 oz and 23" long; which puts him around 5th percentile in weight and under 1st percentile in height. I'm still shocked! I was an 8lb 15oz baby and born two weeks early. Ben was 10lb 4oz! I mean, we're not big people now, but we were tiny beans babies. He still is wearing newborn (size 0) shoes, size 1 diapers and mostly 0-3 and 3 month clothing. As of this week we starting pulling out some 3-6 month clothes.

I keep this calendar with his milestones and memorable moments. Although, again, sometimes time passes so quickly I forget to write things downs and then I struggle to remember exact dates or flip through photos on my phone to try to remember. The weekend before I started back at work Grayson slept his night straight! We moved him into his room and his crib, after consulting with our pediatrician, just before 4 months.  I feel like I was ready for this, but it was a big deal for Ben. Our master suite is on a separate level in the house than Grayson's nursery. I remember Ben saying, "Are you sure? It's so far away!" But as our ped suggested might happen, I think we're all sleeping better being in separate rooms.

He also started to laugh when he was three months. Now, it's more consistent and louder and so stinking cute! At four months he started arching his back. Nearing five months, he's not rolling over quite yet, but he will roll from his back to his side so I think we're nearing the full rolls.

 Workday Schedule
Our normal/ideal workday looks like something like this:

5:30am - I wake for work and get ready. I shower the night before to help minimize prep time.

6:10/6:15am - I wake Grayson. Sometimes he's already stirring and other times I rub his tummy to wake him. He immediately nurses and I love this time together. He's still kind of sleepy but as he starts to eat he becomes more alert. His big blue eyes look up and lock in with mine and then he'll pull off and smile. After he finishes eating, we do a diaper and clothing change. I'll pour myself a bowl of cereal and he sits in the Bumbo chair with me while I eat until Ben finishes walking Oscar and is ready to go.

6:45am - We're all out the door for the day

At work, I ideally try to pump three times (8:30a/11:30a/2:30p). If I do this, I typically pump around 16 oz; which is 4 bottles. This is awesome become Grayson is only taking 3 bottles at school which means we get to build a stash. However, the majority of the time I end up getting busy at work which means I get in two pumping sessions. I still produce 12 oz during from two pumps which means we're sustaining the amount of milk needed at day care.

5:00pm - Usually we're all home by 5pm. Sometimes Grayson will have fallen asleep during the drive home and sometimes not. I nurse him at 5:30p and then we work on dinner. (Ideally I get home at 4:30 and can squeeze in a workout before it's time to feed).

7:00pm - Grayson's bedtime. We rotate who puts him down but have worked to establish a routine that includes a diaper change, pajamas on, storytime and bedtime.

Once Grayson is down, it's time to try to fit everything else in. Washing pump parts, shower, layout clothes for the next day, sit down and relax with Ben. There's a lot to squeeze into a little amount of time but I'm trying to make it a priority to dedicate time to us being us.

8:30/9:00pm - Dreamfeed.  Now that Grayson's older, he's able to successfully dreamfeed; that is, that he'll nurse without fully waking. I give him a dreamfeed before we head to bed.

I didn't experience any noticeable postpartum thoughts or feelings during maternity leave. I think because we worked hard to establish a routine and schedule (Babywise), that our regular activities and daily meetups with other new moms kept me busy enough not to fall into a funk, but also gave me an outlet to express what I was feeling, when I was feeling it with others who could relate. This was so so helpful! I really had no idea that when I met a group of pregnant women six months into my pregnancy how much they would mean to me in those first several postpartum months (and still now!).

However, I will say that returning to work and putting Grayson in the hands of someone else during the day IS hard. Returning to work and working full days on shorter nights of sleep is hard. Finding energy to come home after work and play with baby, make dinner, exercise, do chores and spend time together as a couple is hard. Like everything in pregnancy, and so far as parents, it's a learning game. Learn what works, learn what doesn't and make adjustments.

Not being able to do everything that I want to, when I want to is hard. Forgetting to write notes in Grayson's calendar or clothes in the washer is frustrating to me. I have my mental to-do list, but it's not at the forefront of my brain and I'm trying to learn that's okay. Life is short and time moves fast. The most important thing I can do is be present for it. So if that means a pile of clean, folding laundry waits three days for me to put it away, then it waits. If a thank you card isn't mailed out in a timely manner, then it isn't and hopefully it's the thought and fact that I remembered to send one that counts. If we go to bed and the couch pillows are in disarray thanks to Oscar, then they look sloppy, but who cares? (Me!)

Things aren't the way they were before. My body isn't the way it was before. Finding time to exercise and even how I exercise is different. I don't have the strength and stamina from when I ran my marathon six months prior to getting pregnant. It took nine months to grow this beautiful boy so it's going to take time to adjust and go back. It's going to take work and time. Things will never be how they were before and that's okay too. It's worth it.

Overall, as a new, first-time mom, I don't have it all together. I try and sometimes I have good days, but some days are hard. I don't always know what I'm doing, but together with Ben, we make it up as we go. I'm trying to give myself grace. It's not always easy and certainly has it's frustrations but eventually I will be me; a new and improved me: mentally, emotionally and physically. Most importantly, every day, every minute, and every second of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and sometimes self-pity, is so worth it for this being that we created.

 (PS - I'm working on a separate post regarding our Babywise schedule and sleeptraining)

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