Living Simply K I D S

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Welcome back! I’m so grateful and excited that this series seems to be resonating with so many of you, it’s been on our hearts to share for a while! A little refresher… I’m teaming up with 3 of my favorite local bloggers to share how we are focusing on mindful, purposeful living in various areas of our lives this fall. Go here for week one which was all about mindful rhythms of self care for MAMA. This week is all about Living Simply KIDS and I hope it’s inspiring to you! I’m mostly excited to see how four different mamas seek the same goal of intentional living with different families, personalities and gifts.

The White Buffalo Styling Co / Amber Tysl / Grace While We Wait / Eileen and Co.

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For those of you who don’t know, I’m mama to three girls. 4 year old twins and a 1 year old. The twins came into the world fast and furiously at 31 weeks with an extended NICU stay. I talk a lot about that experience and how it shaped my experience of motherhood in this article on The Everymom. Wren was born at 39 weeks and got to nurse and come home with me from the hospital, both things I missed with the twins and it was such a redemptive experience. This past year with Wren and the twins has been such a sweet year. 4 is such a fun age and Wren just smiles all day and sleeps 13 hours a night (PRAISE).

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For this Living Simply KIDS week I thought I would share one of our overarching parenting goals and how we are pursuing that in simple and easy ways throughout our days. One of the most important principles of our parenting is to raise girls who are confident in their God given abilities and gifts and who work hard to pursue their calling.

Confident - because their confidence is rooted in the power of Jesus to work through every circumstance for their good.

Confident- because they have a family who is fighting for them to become who they were created to be.

Confident- because their gifts are being built up and encouraged.

Confident- because they were taught to think and not take things at face value but have the ability to dig deeper and make their own decisions.

Confident- because in Jesus weakness is strength and its not up to us to be perfect or strong.

Confident- because Jesus calls us enough and loved we don’t have to strive for other’s approval.

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Our goal as parents is to (imperfectly) live out and pursue these truths, speaking them over our girls so much that they become part of who they are. Here’s a few ways these truths play out in our home in simple ways that built on things we were already doing.

  • Independent thought. With the constant stream of questions coming from two 4 year olds I’m always trying to turn the questions around on them and ask them what they think and then encourage their ideas. “Why are there so many clouds mommy?” “Why do you think there are so many clouds? Do you think its trying to tell us something?” Their responses are hilarious.

  • Decision making confidence. I try to give the girls little decisions to make around the house and then encourage their thought process on those decisions. Even if its just asking them what they want to wear and then complimenting what they choose.

  • Getting one on one time is so important, especially with twins that are lumped together so often. We turn Trader Joe’s and Home Depot runs into dates.

  • Reading Reading Reading! Right now we are reading the Illustrated Hobbit out loud and its been so fun! It’s only 5 or 10 minutes most days but its becoming such a fun tradition. We snuggle on the couch with blankets and read right before bed most nights.

  • Lots of time outside. We got on walks almost every day and the girls will walk up to 3 miles with us. We are constantly talking about the colors of the moss on the ground and how soft it is or how the wind blows our faces and the trees.

  • Play based learning! Building forts is a great way to learn about structures and strength of materials. Role playing restaurant and house are also big around here.

  • We build chipmunk houses outside using leaves and sticks and make kitchen, baths and beds for the chipmunk at our local park and then they run to check on the chipmunk house every day when we walk!

  • Grace to mess up and have hard days. Teaching them that we all have hard days and mess up gives them grace and takes the pressure off of constant perfect performance. I try to apologize to the girls throughout the day as I mess up and always point it back to Jesus and how we all need Him and He gives us so much grace and forgiveness like we need to give to each other.

All these things we do are very easy and add onto things we already were doing. We already went on walks a lot but being purposeful about pointing out beauty while we walk builds a culture of beauty in our home. We already played in the playroom but asking the girls to build a fort and see how they attach the blankets and point out the structure is an easy 2 minute conversation. We already read books together but making it a special thing with cuddly blankets and a beautiful book makes it more purposeful. We already go to Trader Joe’s each week but calling it a date and taking one girl while the other two are at home with Daddy makes it special.

I think if we were sitting down to coffee and we were talking about this topic face to face I would encourage you to define your parenting goals and find little ways to reach those throughout the day by being purposeful with things you are already doing. Every family and parent has different goals with different gifts and personalities and Jesus gives us creativity and grace to pursue our individual calling. There isn’t just one way to be purposeful as parents. If your family loves music maybe you are purposeful to point out music all day as you hear it around town and sing in the car. If you love to travel maybe its building a family culture of travel by trying different restaurants around town from different cultures and learning about each culture. There are so many ways to be purposeful about your parenting and I would just encourage you to hold fast to what you love!

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“They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did.

What would they do with this curious kid,

who wanted to know what the world was about?

They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out?’

And that’s what they did- because that’s what you do

when you kid has a passion and heart that is true.

They remade their world- now they’re all in the act

of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact.

She asks lots of questions. How could she resist?

It’s all in the heart of a young scientist.”

Ada Twist, Scientist

One of our favorite quotes from one of our favorite books!

Living Simply M A M A

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Welcome! I’m so glad you are here today for the beginning of our Living Simply series. I’m teaming up with 3 of my favorite local bloggers to share how we are focusing on mindful, purposeful living in different various areas of our lives this fall. We’ve been brainstorming this series for a while as its been on all of our hearts’ and we will be talking about living with purpose as Mamas and how that relates to our Kids, Home and Routine. This week is all about Living Simply MAMA and I hope its inspiring to you! I’m most excited to see how four different mamas seek the same goal with different families, personalities and giftings.

The White Buffalo Styling Co / Amber Tysl / Grace While We Wait / Eileen and Co.

A little about me. I’m Eileen. I live in Greenville SC with my husband Luke and our three girls, 4 year old identical twins and a 1 year old. I worked in design before the girls were born and now I stay home with them while building and selling bedswings with my husband. See more about me here if you so desire and more information about our bedswings here.

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When we decided the first week of our series would be about Mama and what self care looks like for ourselves in this busy season of having young children, I knew what I wanted to share. You see, over the past year my viewpoint of self care has changed a lot. It used to be just an idea of ‘treating myself’ with new shoes or a pedicure (both of which I love and do!), but that was as deep as it went. It was a definition defined by what our consumerist culture tells us is self care. While those things are good and a definite part of self care, I’ve been working through a deeper understanding of what it should look like in my life in my daily rhythms and home.

This time last year I was floundering, a newborn at home and 2 three year olds meant our house was busy and I felt like I was running myself ragged. Nothing felt really joyful in our home because I felt like I was always behind the eight ball and striving to catch up. I didn’t see how seeking daily beauty and peace in my home could coexist with 3 kids, 4 and under even though I desperately wanted it in my soul.

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I then read a book that changed my mindset and home dramatically for the better. “The Lifegiving Home” by Sally and Sarah Clarkson. This mother daughter duo wrote a book about creating a home that was filled with joy and creativity and how that pursuit can reflect the ultimate giver of joy, God. It was such a breath of fresh air for me and validated my desire to create beauty in my home. This quote sums up the book so well. “The essence of home, you see, is not necessarily a structure. What makes a home is the life shared there, wherever that may be. And cultivating the life of home requires intentionality, planning and design. There must be someone (or several someones) to craft the life, the beauty, the love, and the inspiration that overflows from that space.” (page 8)

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I’ve highlighted and dog eared so many pages in this book. They talk about everything from creating the feeling of home and belonging in a hotel room on a business trip, to stock piling your pantry with stuff for soup and homemade bread in the fall and the importance of having specific family goals and traditions. It goes month by month talking about the specific joys and possibilities of each month. Its all laced with the idea that everyone is different and will have different priorities and strengths but the overarching message is to create a personalized sense of joy and beauty seeking rhythm in your home.

It was like a light switch went on for me and since then the joy I’ve had in building this home has increased dramatically. The world screams at us all the time to hurry up, rush, no one has time to slow down and enjoy the day so why even try?? No. Stand against that rush. And I know we all have times when we can’t even shower we are so busy or everyone is sick and it feel so overwhelming and its just about survival. This is more about creating a permeating culture in our homes of rest and beauty in whatever way sings to our own creative soul. That creativity looks different for our each of us. Some of us may love baking with our kids, some of us love to design beautiful spaces in our home. Some of us fill our homes with sweet animals and some of us love working out every day to strengthen our body. God gives each of us different forms of creativity and delight and they all bring joy to His heart. One way is not ‘better’ than the other so don’t compare your gifts to others. I’m not a baker so I order takeout for all my kids birthday parties but I love going to my friends’ houses who bake homemade cakes for their kids. I celebrate their capacity by eating their cake and enjoying it a lot but I shouldn’t let that shake my joy in my Costco cake takeout.

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Here’s how that journey has looked for me. What fills my soul with delight is a beautiful home where my family and friends feel safe and inspired. Lots of time outside. Clutter bothers me mentally so I’ve created daily rhythms to keep it at a minimum (I’ll talk specifics on how we do that on our daily rhythms week!) Our house has lots of noise all the time with three young girls but I know I love feeling at peace so I play lots of music throughout the house on spotify that inspires me. Right now its lots of The Oh Hellos, Need to Breathe, Bethel, and Celtic music. Reading as a family feels magical to me (probably because we did it a lot when I was little) so we read about 5 to 10 minutes of the illustrated Hobbit (a gorgeous edition!) with the girls almost every night. I’m dying for them to be old enough to read Harry Potter. I have the illustrated copies of those ready to go when they are! I work throughout the day to make dinner time as easy as possible and set us up for success because dinner, bath and bed with three littles can feel like a never-ending marathon! I love making the house cozy so we do lots of soft lamplight and music after the girls go to bed. Taking a nighttime shower is a ritual I don’t miss and something about that steam makes me relax. We have worked really hard to make the girls love sleep and thankfully they all do. Right now ha! We had about a year when the twins didn’t want to go to sleep until 9:30 because they wanted to play together in their beds. That was rough. We finally dropped their afternoon nap and they started going to sleep at 6:45. Cue the angels singing.

Striving to create a home full of magic and memories for my family restores my soul. Sure we have crazy days and tantrums and sickness and all the normal life things but it has been more about creating a culture. A culture that reflects our family values and loves and gifts and creativity. When things get crazy we hold onto those traditions and ride the wave until things settle down. This is what home and a vital part of self care means to this mama now. I want to “create a home that nourishes, nurtures and sustains life and beauty. It is about how to order your living space and what happens there to embody the joy and beauty of God’s own Spirit.” (Life Giving Home page 14 of the introduction).

Adult and Kid friendly design

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I am thrilled to share that I was featured on The Everymom last week for a home tour and interview. I shared lots of pictures of the house and the interview questions ranged from parenting goals and challenges, our NICU story and what my design process looks like. It was such a honor to be featured and answering all those thoughtful questions really got me thinking about why we do things a certain way in our family. I talked in depth about how I designed our home to be kid and adult friendly and I thought I would do a blog post with more information on our systems. 

*Big disclaimer. I talk about this in the article a lot but I feel very strongly that every family is different and what works for one family won't work for another. I love how different personalities and goals allows each family to pursue its own path and I never ever think that there is only one 'right' way to do things. So this is what works for our family with our personalities and goals but never feel bad or insecure if my goals aren't your goals or strengths. For me, I hate visual clutter. I am willing to sacrifice time and things to keep a relatively visually clean house. It may not bother you at all and I never want you to think that it should bother you just because it does me. But if it does, maybe you will find some tips below on how to organize your home so both you and your kids feel comfortable. So, onward! 

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*hidden toy storage in the above picture! Scroll down to see...

Kids seem to collect things. I swear toys multiply on their own around our house and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so. Last fall Luke and I both felt like we were drowning in stuff and we were staying up until 10 at night cleaning the house. We sat down, addressed pain points and came up with schedule for daily straightening and organizing. We cleaned out toys and got rid of a lot. Some toys I put up in bags in the attic and every few months I will pull those out and switch them out for the toys left in the playroom. Presto, 'new' toys! The twins totally forget about what I have boxed up and its exciting when I pull them down and switch them out. We also set up storage in our families shared spaces for the girls things so everything had a place. We have been following this plan consistently for the past 8 months and its changed our lives. 

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*Wren's walker and toy basket tuck away out of site easily. 

Here's the short version of what we did that made the biggest difference. 

- We all respect our families' shared space and work together to keep it clean. The girls bedroom and playroom are their space and we give them as much freedom as possible in those spaces. We only straighten up their bedroom and playroom once a day (if that) but all work together to keep the common spaces straight throughout the day. 

- Set the girls up for success to help. Create ways so that they can easily help us organize and keep the house straight. We don't have out glass or breakables within reach of the girls reach and big pieces are furniture are bolted to the walls.  We have a cream/beige sofa in a performance fabric and I keep a throw blanket folded over the seat of the sofa. Its even easier to clean a throw blanket than a slipcover!

- Create storage areas in our families' shared space for the girls things so they know where everything goes. 

- Create 'stations' around downstairs for the girls different activities so they can move around throughout the day and have a new environment for playing. Puzzles are in the kitchen, crafts in the dining room and toys in the stairwell. Special toys are under the tv.

- Wren has a separate basket for her toys right next to where she plays during the day and her walker tucks under a side table when not in use. Her basket and walker shown in the above picture.

- Clean up one station at a time as they go throughout the day.

- Have a catch all basket for toys. As toys come downstairs during the week I collect them and throw them in the basket and then once a week or so as it fills up I take it to the playroom and unload it. 

- The girls playroom and bedroom are their space. I try to let them have as much freedom as possible in their space for playing. We clean up this space only once a day (if that) and its right before bedtime. 

Here's a few ways those guidelines play out in our house...

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When we first walk in, the girls hang their jackets on the hooks right next to the doors and then drop their shoes in their basket. I have a basket for Luke and I's shoes and one where all the girls shoes go. 

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I showed above where Wren's toys tuck away out of sight so our living room can stay clean. The gold trunk next to the sofa houses blankets for movie snuggles and fort building. 

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Next to the stairwell lives the toy catch all basket where I put all the random toys that accumulate. Once a week I run them up to the playroom and unload. Its tucked next to the girls workbench from magnolia line from target and the clean wood tone disappears in the space. 

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The girls' table and chairs hides behind the sofa but is centrally located for crafts and dinners. 

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One of the girls favorite things to do is crafts and that console under the mirror is stuffed full of them. The girls will do crafts for hours and the dining table will be covered with glue, markers and stickers. The Eames chairs are plastic and clean off so easily with a baby wipe or a magic eraser. 

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This shelving unit in the kitchen is super functional for us. I have baskets for the girls bows and brushes, puzzles, paperwork and receipts. The covers keep the paperwork out of site but easily accessible.  


With these easy organizations in place, I feel like our house is so much straighter than it was and its so much less stressful to clean it now that everything has a home. I do a quick sweep of the house before dinner and it takes about 5 minutes to put everything back in its place. We go into most dinners with a clean house and it helps my stress level tremendously. Anything that helps stress levels is a win in my book! Any other tips for me? I always love learning about other peoples systems so hopefully this was helpful to some of you! 

Favorite Trader Joe's Buys

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Trader Joe's is such a happy place. Where else can you get amazing cheese at such reasonable prices, 99 cent greeting cards and peonies for $7.99? We've been shopping at Trader Joe's for a long time and I still find new stuff every time we go! I'm rounding up some of our favorite buys and easy dinners that aren't the typical cookie butter, orange chicken finds (which are still so yummy!) but hopefully these are some new finds for you. 

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First up, some easy 15 minute dinner ideas that we eat on a regular basis. 

1- Falafel. Head to the frozen section and grab a thing of falafel and frozen brown rice (showed below). Both heat best in the microwave in minutes. Make a simple tzatziki sauce with grated cucumber, lemon, salt and greek yogurt. Layer the rice with more chopped cucumber, falafel, tzatziki and some feta cheese for extra credit. Yummy bowl in 15 minutes!

2- Throw a bag of fire roasted red peppers, already cooked and shredded chicken, black beans and diced tomatoes with taco seasoning in the crockpot on low for 8 hours. This makes an amazing fajita filling, bowl or salad topping. 

3- Veggie fried rice is such a yummy 15 minute dinner especially if you add in a scrambled egg or two. We add some Trader Joe's egg rolls and call it a dinner. Extra points if you add the sweet chili sauce from below. 

4- Cauliflower fried rice is so good with roasted veggies and chicken on top. And yep, chili sauce here too. 

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1- Corn and chile salsa is kinda spicy and so good. 

2- Sweet Chili sauce. Get it and put it on EVERYTHING. So yummy on the cauliflower rice or vegetable fried rice. 

3- Sweet Onion Bacon Vinaigrette. The name says it all. 

4- Any of their cooked sausage is such a staple and easy dinner. Our favorite way is to make a bowl with roasted veggies, feta and sausage over rice (bacon vinaigrette so good here too). 

5- Uncured black forest bacon. Best I've ever had. 

6- Pork Tenderloin. Already flavored and so yummy in the crockpot or on the grill. 

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1- Creamy Toscano cheese. AMAZING over anything, pasta, salads, breads. And such a great price, most blocks are between $3 and $4. 

2- Shaved Parmeson, Romano and Asiago cheese. About $5 for a big tub and we put it on a lot.

3- These butternut squash zig-zags are so fun roasted in a veggie bowl or on the side of chicken tenders for kids. 

4- Zucchini and carrot spirals are a good option for littles as well. 

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1- I consider myself a macaroni and cheese enthusiast. Never met one I didn't like and this frozen version is a good as (gasp!) momma's home cooking. My twins are obsessed with this! 

2- Brown Rice / Quinoa. We keep these frozen brown rice/quinoa bags stacked in the freezer. Such a easy dinner addition or base for bowls and its ready in 3 minutes. 

3- Burrata, Prosciutto and Arugula flatbread. At home date night anyone? 

4- Cauliflower Stirfry. Another good basic. 

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1- These little mini cones are the perfect size for a treat!

2- Frozen large chocolate chip cookie. As good as it looks.

3- I keep these frozen chocolate strawberries in the freezer for after the girls go to bed and I want something sweet! So yummy. 

That about wraps up this installment of Trader Joe's favorites. Hopefully you found something new to try for dinner this week or a new thing to grab next time you go! Would love to hear your favorites or anything I should try! 

France Trip and traveling abroad with a 6 month old

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My first post on the new Eileen and Co. website is a good one. Here comes a big fat recap of the France trip we took this spring!

Luke works for a company that is headquartered in France and he takes trips over there pretty frequently. He had a trip for a 3 day conference planned this past spring and we decided that Wren and I would tag along. Were we crazy taking a 6 month old on an overnight 9 hour flight followed by multiple train rides? Maybe. 

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We left on a Sunday morning and flew overnight to Paris Sunday night, arriving at midnight our time but 6 AM local time Monday morning. We then took a few trains headed to the south of France for Luke's conference for a few days. We rented an AirBnB flat for the conference and then we had a train lined up to come back to Paris for a few days before flying home the next Sunday. 

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I'm going to do a little recap of our trip and then round up what we traveled with for us and Wren. We took one checked bag and carried on 2 small backpacks (one for us and one for Luke's work computer) and a duffel we used as a diaper bag. We ended up buying a $15 duffel while we were over there to bring home the clothes we bought for the twins which I had kinda planned on. We didn't bring a stroller or carseat either. I like to travel light and it kinda pained me that we had to do a checked bag at all. 

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Look at how naively excited I am and confident that our 6 month old would handle the flight like a champ. Spoiler: she didn't. Wren is an amazing sleeper at home so I figured she would be fine on the plane but poor baby had the hardest time. She couldn't get to sleep so Luke and I spent 9 hours walking up and down the aisles and trying to catnap when we could. It wasn't pretty. We arrived in Paris at 6 AM local time each having gotten about an hour of sleep the night before. We grabbed our first train at 9 AM and arrived to our AirBnB that afternoon where we promptly showered, grabbed dinner from the local market and went to bed at 8. We both slept pretty well and didn't deal with that much jetlag for the week (probably because we were so tired from not sleeping on the plane we adjusted well to local time.) I did nap during the morning the first couple of days then was fine the rest of the week. 

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We spent the next few days exploring the town we were in, napping and cooking in our little AirBnB. I think having that down time was one of the reasons that Wren did so well in Paris when we got there and were on the go all day. She had the first few days just resting and adjusting to local time. 

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Nutella waffles are my favorite European food group. 

Thursday we headed back up to Paris. We took a train in and Luke had ordered a car service to pick us up at the train station and take us to our hotel. We used this car service and they were great! We communicated with them through text and let them know we needed an infant car seat (they didn't have a 5 point harness seat though).  They arrived promptly and had great service. The drivers speak English as well. We used them again to get to the airport a few days later. We figured that a taxi would have been about $50 and we paid $80 I think for the 40 minute drive which was so worth it to have a guaranteed ride with a car seat that already knew where we were going and took credit cards. They drove us in a really nice Mercedes van which was super comfortable. I did not want to do the metro with a baby and luggage and am very happy with our decision and experience.  

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We stayed at Hotel Jardins d'Eiffel which was recommended by Rick Steves and I highly recommend it. It was super quiet and clean and right around the corner from Rue Cler (the market street) which was super fun. We were also close to the Eiffel and an amazing takeout pizza place was right across the street. My family has loved Rick Steves and his backdoor approach to Europe since I was in high school and his France book was great. We watched a lot of his France shows before the trip and it was a fun way to get excited and learn more about the culture.

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We spent the next couple of days exploring Paris. We got up super early and walked to the Notre Dame and the Louvre at sunrise one morning and it was hands down my favorite part of the trip. No one was out, we had the gardens of the Louvre to ourselves and it was magical. Highly recommend it. We didn't end up going into the Lourve museum, with a 6 month old I figured it was better to keep moving and stay outside. Our goal with this trip was just to explore, eat crepes and macaroons and drink lots of coffee. I think that made the trip much more successful with a 6 month old than if we had tried to see every museum. So we explored, headed back to the room for Wren to nap, explored some more and then ate dinner in bed from the best takeout Italian and Greek places around the corner from our hotel. 

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Sunrise at the Lourve gardens. This place is crawling with people most of day but we were were some of the only ones here early in the morning. Top experience for sure!

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Overall it was a such a fun trip. The flights there and back were NOT FUN but totally worth it. I did so much research before we left about how to travel with a 6 month old abroad and I'm going to share our must haves and how we packed *relatively* light since it was still cold and we needed big jackets and all the baby gear as well. 

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GEAR

We didn't bring a stroller or car seat. The streets of Paris are packed and narrow and I didn't want to fight a stroller through crowds. We rented a car seat when we needed on and used our Tula wrap for everything else. Highly recommend doing this- it was so much easier to get in and out of trains with no stroller and I loved having Wren snuggled up on me. Luke and I took turns as we walked with the carrier and I never got tired of it. Wren is used to being in a carrier so she loved it as well. 

We took one checked bag with mainly our clothes, toiletries and some baby food for Wren. We carried on my weekender bag which we used as a diaper bag with all of Wren's stuff and snacks for us all. Luke carried technology in his backpack. 

We used this bassinet for her to sleep in and it was great. We even took it on the plane for our first flight but she didn't want to sleep. Did you know you can bring a bassinet on a plane and it doesn't count against your carry on count? We actually asked and got moved for the flight back home to the bulkhead seats which have a built in bassinet. It wasn't available on our flight over there but its always worth asking for! We flew Delta and had a great experience. 

We kept her toys clipped to her with these- great for trains and airports with yucky floors. 

These disposable changing pads were great for a quick change or for a playmat in the airport. 

We brought this portable fabric high chair with us but didn't end up using it. Loved how small it was though!

These compression bags are how we got our down jackets in the suitcase. Helps save so much space! I bought Wren a down snow suit from gap and compressed it with our jackets. The weather is super unpredictable at that time of year but it ended up being great. It was highs in the 50's and sunny and we never got cold, even being out super early. We did bring small lightweight rain jackets because Paris is notorious for spring rain but it only misted on us a few times. 

I nursed on the go with help from these nursing tanks. Great to layer under normal shirts and still allows you to nurse. We also packed a few Aden and Anais swaddles which are always good to have for nursing and they fold down so small. 

We were planning on only bringing enough diapers and wipes for the plan ride and then buy more there to save on space but we ended up having extra room in my carry on and I put some extras in there and it ended up being enough for the whole week!

I bought these $10 sunglasses and wore them the whole trip and still wear them every day. Love em!

These sneakers and these waterproof booties are they only shoes I packed and they were great. My jacket is from Gap (not available now). It was the best and I wore it the whole trip. 

Whew, I think thats it! Kudos if you made it to the end of this long post! It was such a fun trip and I'm already planning our next trip!