Category: The Vacuum

The Vacation House Box

Have you ever checked into a vacation rental that bragged about their “fully stocked kitchen” in the listing only to find out that they think “fully stocked” means 2 chipped and flaking sauce pans, a dull grocery store knife, and about 4 tiny mugs? We have and it’s never a fun surprise! Ever since our oldest son was born, we’ve preferred to stay in rental houses instead of hotels. We get so much more space for the same cost (or less!!!) and have access to many more amenities that are helpful when traveling with small kids (in-home laundry, no shared walls or floors, bedrooms with doors for everyone, work space for adults, and more). After several trips of having to ship ourselves items from Amazon or making runs to Target to make up for the failings of the rental home’s offerings, we created a intentional collection of assorted things that make staying in a vacation rental as close to our normal living experience as possible without actually being at home. The Vacation House Box was born!

Let’s break it down a little more granularly.

  1. Power Strips: Electrical outlets are never in convenient places (especially in older homes)
  2. Airport Express and Ethernet cord: This has become less useful over time (it’s old tech from before we got married) but in a family with multiple internet-connected devices, being able to plug in our own router and have Kindles, Chromecasts, computers, phones, and anything else automatically connect to a known network is a BIG timesaver. We’re looking to replace the Airport Express with something else (once we figure out what that is)
  3. Expanding hanging drying rack: I tend to do laundry while traveling or we’re in a place with fewer hooks for drying swim suits than necessary. I found this at the grocery store several years ago (this one is similar) and it makes drying clothing simpler.
  4. Two pop-up laundry hampers: Purchased at the dollar store, these basic hampers help us stay slightly more organized and prevents clothes from getting lost and forgotten under kids’ beds.
  5. Mesh laundry bag: I used to bag up baby socks in the wash so they didn’t disappear but this bag has become useful when washing masks, delicate laundry, or things I don’t want to be separated (like the insoles of my Allbirds)
  6. White vinegar: More than once, I’ve thought while on vacation, “I bet this shower would work much better if I could get the hard water scaling off the nozzle.” Because I’m that weird, vinegar is in the box (also great for basic cleaning!)
  7. Stain pre-treater: Kids and adults alike have found this item useful! I like the Oxyclean gel stick for traveling because it takes up very little space and can sit on the clothes for up to a week before washing.
  8. Laundry soap: We’ve used Charlie’s Soap laundry powder since our oldest was born and still love it. It only takes 1 Tablespoon to wash a full load so all I need to bring along is a small jar and a scoop.
  9. Kids toys: Our kids love playing with extra straws, sticks, rocks, and other treasures they find on vacation but this small stash of toys and activities helps keep them occupied. Currently, the toy bag contains some inexpensive play food (found in the Target dollar section), felt play money, small jars of Play-doh, and laminated Play-doh mats.
  10. Grow in water toys for baths: Remember these from way back? They still exist! My mother-in-law likes to gift these to our kids for holidays so we always stash a pack of them in the Vacation House Box to make bath time extra special.
  11. Travel games: Rainy days happen on vacation too so we keep travel sized games and cards in our box.
  12. Baby-proofing items: Gotta keep the littles safe from themselves, even/especially while traveling
  13. LED nightlights: Helpful to find your way to the bathroom in the dark or make kids comfortable sleeping in a new space
  14. Collapsable fabric cube: Used most often to organize kitchen necessities when there isn’t cabinet space available
  15. Collapsable fabric organizer: This one is more of a tray with 3 sections that allows me to set out kitchen utensils, toddler dishware, and other small kitcheny things
  16. Clean sponge: Gotta keep up with the never-ending dirty dishes, even on vacation!
  17. Dishwasher tablets: So often, rentals provide enough dish soap for one or two days, which isn’t terribly helpful when you’ll be there for one to two weeks. Now we bring our own so we don’t run out.
  18. Dawn dish soap: I love blue Dawn dish soap with all of my heart. Obviously we use it for handwashing dishes but did you know that it’s incredibly good at getting grease stains out of clothing?
  19. Brillo disposable cloths: I picked up this tip from my parents camping kit. These useful cloths are great for cleaning little kids’ faces and hands, wiping up spills, and washing dishes. They’re really large so we cut them in half.
  20. Lysol wipes: Have you ever had to stop at a Walmart in the middle of Indiana because your baby is sick and leaked nastiness out of their diaper into their car seat? I have and vowed right then and there that I wouldn’t travel without minimal cleaning supplies ever again.
  21. First aid kit and baby powder: Bandaids and cleaning wipes are always good to keep around and baby powder is one of the most effective ways to remove sand from skin that I’ve found.
  22. OTC meds of all sorts: Travel packs of Lactaid, headache drugs, and OTC painkillers are clutch
  23. Bug repellant and travel tissues: This one feels rather self-explanatory but the tissues are for noses and the repellant is to stay bite-free.
  24. Toilet paper: I will do many things to save money but using or buying cheap, thin toilet paper is not one of them. Paper products like TP are often one thing we run out of during a longer-term stay so keeping a spare roll in the box allows for a less urgent trip to the store.
  25. Coffee filters: For coffee! But also great for craft projects!
  26. Clothes pins: For pinning! But also great for creating temporary bibs from napkins or games
  27. Kitchen trash bags: For trash! But also great for transporting dirty laundry home.
  28. Zip-topped bags (quart and gallon sized): For leftovers, travel snacks, wet socks, etc
  29. Disposable rain ponchos: Rain ponchos made their way into the box during our annual trips to Disney World. Getting caught in a pop-up Central Florida storm and spending the rest of the day with wet clothes is not fun!
  30. Disposable to-go coffee cups: Also originating from our Disney trips, these cups come in clutch when we’re rolling out the door early in the morning to make it to the theme park but I don’t want the responsibility of taking a real travel cup from the rental (if there is even one there)
  31. Pizza pan and cutting boards: A cheap pizza pan can bake almost anything in addition to pizza (cookies, garlic bread, chicken breasts…). Many rentals we’ve stayed in haven’t had cutting boards at all or the only one there looks like it had never been washed. A 3-pack from the grocery store has made cooking much easier.
  32. Basic cooking seasonings: If I have specific meals in mind, I’ll pack pre-measured spices from home but almost never travel without salt, pepper, oil, and OG Mrs Dash
  33. Parchment: For lining pans!
  34. Aluminum foil: For lining pans! And occasionally wrapping things!
  35. Chef’s knife: My favorite knife at home is a small chef’s knife so I travel with this inexpensive (but nice!) knife from Ikea and a universal knife cover.
  36. Kitchen scissors: For opening packages, cutting food for kids, making paper snowflakes. Kitchen scissors are one of my most-used items in the box.
  37. Silicone scraper and spoon: Our goal was to pack the fewest number of items that were useful in the largest number of scenarios, hence the scraper and stirring spoon. I’d like to find a small silicone spatula that doesn’t melt to add to the box too.
  38. Can opener: Have you ever gotten ready to make dinner and discovered you couldn’t open a can of tomatoes for chili? I have! Now I have a can opener in the box.
  39. Measuring cups and spoons: No longer am I at the mercy of the single 1/3 cup measuring cup and 1 teaspoon I found in a vacation rental kitchen!
  40. Oven mitt: No more towels as oven mitts or trivets for me!
  41. Kid-friendly plates and bowls: Having parented toddlers for 8+ years, we’ve learned that we are more comfortable giving our accident prone toddlers plastic plates and bowls (this collection from Target is my favorite and are recyclable when they reach end-of-life)
  42. Take and Toss Cups/Bowls: Similar to this set, our set of take and toss sippy cups, snack cups, and bowls have tight fitting lids to prevent spills but aren’t so precious that we are concerned about misplacing them while traveling (or tossing them if they get too gross)
  43. Plastic food storage containers: These are mostly used for storing leftovers but have come in handy for car snacks or drive-through lunches on road trips
  44. (Not pictured) Cooking tongs, a frying pan, and dish scrub brush: Tongs are one of the most versatile kitchen utensils out there (and great for pretending to be a lobster!). An oven-safe frying pan can be use for cooking almost everything save the largest roasts and meals (even boiling water for pasta). The scrub brush makes washing really baked on messes much quicker.

That’s it! The contents of the box have changed over time and I’m ready to make some changes again (no more baby proofing necessary! I want a colander!). We don’t use every item on every trip but its so useful to have fully packed crate (like this) ready to go at a moment’s notice. Do you have a travel-ready box? Are there items you bring with you every time you travel?

Nanny Needed!

School starts FAR too soon and when it does, we lose the summer nanny we’ve grown to love. That also leaves us in a place where we’re looking for part-time child care in our home for 3 boys (1 year, preschool, and 1st grade). 

Both of us adults work from home and our work hours are flexible; I can work around when I know my kids are taken care of. Most of the time it’ll be just the two younger boys. I aim to have childcare coverage between 20 and 25 hours each week, which seems like a good fit for my employer and myself. Even if you can’t fill a full 20-25 hours, I’d still like to hear from you!

This would be a great position for a college student with a few large blocks of time out of classes or a homeschooled/alternative schedule high school student or retired adult who wants to spend time with kids.  If you are interest or have a suggestion of someone who might be, please let me know!

Cloth Diaper Recommendations

Dirty Diaper Storage

Diaper Pail: IKEA Knodd (it has a tight fitting lid that has held up through 2 kids and 5 years of diapering)
Pail Liner: Planet Wise liner (We rotate through 2 of these and haven’t noticed any waterproofing failure over hundreds of washes)


I started building my cloth stash knowing I ultimately wanted to use BumGenius 4.0 (since updated to 5.0!) because they were about as simple as cloth diapers can be. My husband had never changed any diaper before our first son was born and we felt we didn’t need to add more complication to our lives. I still feel strongly that we made the right choice!
However, I knew there would be a period of time between newborn stage and when our babies reached the BumGenius weight limit that I would have to find an alternative. Enter Green Mountain Prefolds and waterproof covers. If I were to start off my stash on a shoestring budget today, I’d definitely go with all prefolds and covers. Two dozen newborn size prefolds and 2 dozen small prefolds kept us fully supplied until the boys were around 9 lbs.
We tried many different kinds of diaper covers (wool, fleece, PUL) but liked the PUL best, particularly the kinds with extra leg gussets for my skinny legged boys. Thirsties Duo Wraps with snaps were my top favorites (I’ll likely have to buy more for Baby 3) but Bummis Super Whisper Wraps were a close second. The Bummis covers don’t have the leg gussets so we had a few more problems with explosive leaks. For older babies, we liked (and still use) Flip covers, made by the same folks as BumGenius diapers.

Washing Cloth Diapers
Every washing machine is different but essentially you’ll want a cold soak, a hot wash, hang dry anything made of PUL, and dry everything else on high to kill off bacteria. I wrote more about our specific washing routine in this old post.

A few helpful additions:
Charlies Soap: An additive-free detergent that rinses clean and doesn’t leave build up in diapers or clothes. Since starting to use Charlie’s 5+ years ago, we’ve since switched to washing all of our clothes in it. I bought a large 5 gallon pail in 2013 and am just starting to scrape the bottom in 2017, in spite of washing diapers, clothes for 4, and household items in it.

Diaper Sprayer: Breastfed baby poop is completely water soluble so this wasn’t something I needed to bother with for the first 6 months but you might need it! Any solids should be removed from the diaper before putting it in the pail for washing and the easiest, mess-free way to do that is investing in a diaper sprayer that connects to the water line of the toilet. It’s super simple to spray off solids, flush, and put that diaper back in the pail.

Biokleen Bac-Out: If you find that your diapers are a little funky smelling and don’t smell clean after washing, try spraying them with Biokleen. The enzymes in the spray start breaking down the odor causing bacteria while the diapers are in the pail and gives you a fresher smell after the wash (and prevents build up that can cause diapers to repel liquids)

Diapering Accessories
Bummis Fleece Liners: Cotton cloth diapers don’t do a great job of keeping moisture away from sensitive newborn skin and my babies kept getting rashes. Those rashes stopped once I started using a fleece liner. To be fair, these are literally rectangles of microfleece and anyone with scissors and some cutting skills could make their own for much less money

GroVia Magic Stick: An excellent everyday diaper rash stick (that you don’t have to get your hands gooped up to use!)

Earth Mama Angel Baby Diaper Balm: Definitely a more intense ointment but still cloth-safe

A wet bag for dirty diapers on the go: I started off with a smaller wet bag but quickly decided that a bag that could only fit 2 diapers tightly rolled wasn’t very helpful. I fell in love with the wet bags from Alva Baby; they’re roomy enough for many diapers and include a second pocket for dry clothes or spare diapers. As a bonus, they work GREAT for spare clothes during potty training as well (I bought a second bag for our preschooler’s backpack when he started 3s preschool).

Pending Post: Disney Recap

We went on vacation! We drove to Orlando for nearly two weeks of (mostly) computer-free family time. Once I pry photos away from Brian, I’ll write up a proper recap post. 

For now, I’ll leave you with these:

Teddy Toddler Tantrums

Our Teddy is almost 18 months and has discovered that he can throw a fit. He’s really good at it too; most times the only thing I can do about them is to carefully lower his tiny, rigid body to the floor and wait for him to start sobbing over something tiny and insignificant. 

He had tantrum after tantrum for a solid hour this morning so I decided we needed a hard reset. I plopped him in his crib with toys, books, and all the comfort items he might need if he spontaneously decided to take a nap. I put a favorite Baby Einstein on my laptop across the room and crept into the bathroom for a shower.

Teddy needed some downtime

Shout out to all the parents who have already done resorted to their backup strategies to make it through the day!

Happy Independence Day 


Benny and Brian at the parade
Teddy and me at the parade
Teddy’s first time in a swing. He was all smiles!
Ben discovered my silicone cupcake cups this morning and carried them around all day
M’ boys

Day in the Life: 2 Years and 3 Months Edition

Now that life has settled down a little and we have a tenuous schedule again, I wanted to write another day in the life post, mostly for my own benefit. I get a kick out of looking back at these months and years down the road and reminisce about life with younger babies. I had high hopes that I’d remember to take enough photos throughout the day that it wouldn’t be all text but nope, that definitely didn’t happen.

4:15 AM: My day starts far earlier than I’d like when Teddy starts grunting in his bed next to mine. I had slept pretty deeply though so this wasn’t the worst wake up I’ve ever had. I feed the baby, put him back in his bed, and fall back asleep.

6:15 AM: Again, Teddy? Teddy lets me know that he is awake by talking to himself and loudly filling his diaper. I pray that a diaper change and another meal will put him back to sleep for a little while. It does! I don’t want to move him back to his bed because he would surely wake up again so I settle myself next to him and doze off.

7:30 AM: Teddy is still sleeping but I can hear Ben shuffling around in his room. Ben knocks on his door when he is ready for us to get him up so I have time to check email and Twitter. Brian is gone at Pressnomics right now so I don’t have backup for mornings and evenings.

7:50 AM: Ben knocks and Teddy is still sleeping. I slide out of bed, leaving Teddy sound asleep and let Ben out of his room. I change a gross diaper and get his breakfast while cleaning up the kitchen and listening for Teddy.

8:00 AM: Ben requests to watch Toy Story 3 and since we don’t have any plans to leave the house today, a long movie isn’t going to throw off the day. He also wants some frozen veggies to snack on. Weird, yes, but my thought is that he likes how cold they are on his gums. We’re all ready for him to be done teething!

8:30 AM Teddy wakes up and goes to play in his activity gym while I drink a chai latte and start this post from the floor next to the baby. I also complete a few surveys since my computer is out and the boys are happy. Brian thinks the surveys are silly since they don’t amount to much cash flow but over the years, I’ve paid for my maternity wardrobe, got free gift cards for presents, and funded an iced coffee addiction without a cent coming out of our bank account. I redeemed enough points earlier this month to get $70 sent to me via Paypal for our Disney trip next month. Every dollar helps and $70 is a lot of dollars!

9:30 AM: My mom and youngest sister come over to play! I didn’t tell Ben and he is thrilled when he sees his Grammy’s van pull into the driveway. My youngest sister and Ben play really well together and Mom volunteers to snuggle the baby (hardship) so I can shower in peace.

12:30 PM: I tuck Teddy in bed for his nap. He falls asleep in about 3 minutes. I make chicken nuggets and sweet potato waffle fries for the kids for lunch while mom and I figure out details for our upcoming Disney trip. Mom asks Ben if he’d like to spend the night and the answer is a resounding YES from both of us. He hasn’t slept over at my parents’ house since Thanksgiving and he is very excited. I’m excited to just have the baby tonight and hopefully sleep in tomorrow.

1:00 PM: Ben goes down for his nap and I pack for his night at Grammy and Papa’s house. I sit down for my own lunch and figure out my plans for nap time. I put together some baja butternut squash soup in the crock pot to cook while I’m bringing Ben to my parents’ house later. I finish fleshing out my grocery list because I’m going to stop on my way home tonight. Grocery shopping with only one kid sounds like such a treat!

3:45 PM: Both boys are up from their naps. The first words out of Ben’s mouth were, “Go to Grammy’s house now!” He is totally ready. It takes a while to get this circus out the door though. I stop at our rental house on the way to pick up some mail that got delivered there instead of to the new house.

4:30 PM: At my parents’ house, Ben takes off like a shot to find his toys. Mom cuddles the baby (again) while I hunt down the rest of the bedding for the doll bed Mom returned to me last week. Ben has loved putting the babies to sleep and telling us all to shhhhh so I know he’ll appreciate having enough blankets to go around.

5:15 PM: Teddy and I give Ben kisses and leave to go grocery shopping. Shopping takes me at least three times as long because I decided to go to a different store than usual. I do find everything on my list though plus an extra special loaf of sourdough bread that was still warm from the oven.

6:45 PM: We arrive back home and Teddy is grumpy and exhausted. I feed, change, pajama, and swaddle him and put him in bed. He is asleep in no time. I puree the squash soup in the crock pot, slice the fresh bread I just bought, and collapse onto the couch for a few episodes of Iron Chef America.

10:00 PM: Bed time for me! It takes forever to get the kitchen cleaned up to my liking, toys put away, and get Teddy fed and changed again. I have the brilliant idea to see if Teddy would sleep better without a swaddle blanket so I don’t wrap him after he eats. He flails around for a while but seems to sleep ok. Maybe this will work?

11:50 PM: Going without the swaddle was a bad choice! I give up and swaddle him again. Teddy falls asleep immediately and so do I. Good night!

Winter Slump

DeathtoStock_Creative Community8Sometimes I wonder if I’d enjoy going back to work part-time. Has the honeymoon period of being a stay-at-home mom worn off? I love being home with the boys but it is really hard most days and relatively thankless, even with as great of a husband as Brian. The boys never seem to thank me for cleaning up poop or scraping dried food bits off the dining room wall. Having two very small people dependent on me 24 hours of every day of the week makes it hard to measure personal accomplishments in any other units of measure than “two kids still alive and relatively clean” or “4 loads of laundry washed today.”

I know so many people who work in a field they love or, if they stay home with their kids, have a hobby that stretches and reenergizes them. I have yet to find a pastime that does the same for me and while I was a superb administrative assistant, that was not my life’s calling. I loved being around people and enjoyed having new stories to tell at the end of the day though. Staying at home with kids is as tiring as I expected but more lonely than anticipated.

Part of me says I keep revisiting this idea because we’ve been cooped up at home for one too many days during frigid weather over the past few weeks. Cabin fever is alive and well here in Michigan during the winter! Maybe I just need a change of pace? January is always a bit of a letdown after all the excitement of the Christmas season.

Part of me says I think of this often because, while many of the risks we took last summer for our family’s finances have paid off, not all have and due to that, we are in the process of dusting off skills we haven’t used in years and figuring out what thrift looks like for a family of 4. If I worked even just a little, that would help our budget’s bottom line.

Part of me says that while my job is to manage and stretch our family’s resources to the best of my ability, it is difficult to reconcile being the one who only spends money and never replaces it.

In short, I don’t know where this is heading. I used to think that by my upper 20s, I’d be all grown up and not need to make any big life changes or decisions. I’m starting to realize that there isn’t an “up” to grow to and that we should all continuously grow forward in one form or another but where is my personal forward leading?