The 5 C's of Choosing a Daycare

March 02, 2015


When I found out I was pregnant with Liam, I had just started a new job. After the first day, I got into my car, called Chris and immediately started bawling as I cried, "But how can I do this job and be a mom and work and what am I supposed to do?"

It was all a bit overwhelming to say the least. (And I still say that to myself often, because it is hard.)

As my pregnancy progressed, we went back and forth with the idea of me continuing to work or not. During that time, Chris decided that he would return to school for nursing while we have just one kid in the picture, so that solidified our decision pretty quickly that I would indeed continue to work.

We toured five different daycare facilities before making our decision. Being completely new to the process, we were learning as we went along. 

Almost two years later, we could not be happier with the place Liam calls home during the day. He is thriving and learning, and it is amazing to see and hear what he has learned each day. I love that he runs into his class each morning and rarely looks back. In fact, there has only been two times since he was three months old where he has cried at my leaving. This is so assuring to me that he truly loves his school, teachers, and friends.

So, what do you look for when searching for the perfect daycare?

1. Cost

It's no secret that the cost of daycare is a kick-in-the-stomach to your budget. We are in that sacred spot where my take-home pay after daycare is still on the positive side and very much needed. But, still, it costs a lot.

Once you figure out how much you can afford a week or month, different places have different rates. Most places we looked at had a weekly rate regardless of how many days you would use. They also required you pay at least half of the weekly rate if you were ever going to be out of town in order to "hold your spot." While this is great if you plan on working five days a week every week, I work on a school calendar (minus all of the long breaks!) where we get random school holidays and I take time off at Christmas.

We ended up choosing a place that offered a daily rate - you just pay as you use it. This definitely saves us money each month and was a huge factor in our decision. Where this really comes into play is if Liam is sick, I don't have to pay for a day of missed daycare and a co-pay at the doctor on top of it. And the two weeks I take off at Christmas can be moved to the Christmas fund without us feeling the hit as much.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What's our budget?
  • How many days a week will we need daycare? 

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What are your daily/weekly rates?
  • What happens if we miss a day?
  • Do we get an allotment of "sick days" where we don't have to pay if we miss?
  • How often do we have to pay? Weekly? Monthly?

2. Conveniences

So with that cost, what does it include? When it comes to meals and diapers for your child during the day, those are typically a convenience of a daycare and not a requirement. Many daycares provide snacks, but not all of them offer meals.

As we toured, we were sold on the fact that our daycare not only provided breakfast, lunch and snacks each day based on the five food groups, but they also provided diapers. Diapers! This is huge, huge savings for us each month. I literally drop Liam off at school with the clothes on his back and they provide the rest.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have time to make breakfast and lunch in the morning to send to school?
  • Does your child have any specific allergies?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What meals and/or snacks do you provide? If not, what are we expected to provide?
  • Do we get a copy of the menu each month? Do you have a menu we could see?
  • How do you handle allergies?
  • Do you provide diapers and wipes? If not, what do we need to bring and how often?

3. Cleanliness

This stood out to Chris much more than me, but now I am appreciative of his keen eye. When we first started Liam in daycare, he was just three months old in the infant room. The first place we toured required that we put on booties to enter the room. It never struck me that we were tracking in our street shoes onto the floor where the babies were rolling and crawling around, so I was glad to see they were cognizant of that. This was good to see, because the next place just invited us in. I was mindful of not walking on the rug at least!

The place we chose has a half door that allows you to pass your baby directly to the teacher without walking into the room. The teachers even have special shoes they wear specifically for the classroom. 

They also send all of the toys to a sanitation center each night, and all of the sheets are washed and used by only one child each day. Mattresses are also sanitized each night.

Obviously, once you get to the toddler age, this is not all as important, but it was helpful to see the expectation of cleanliness they have as early as the infant stage.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What level of clean is important to me?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • How often do you sanitize the toys?
  • Do you wash the sheets each night? Mattress?
  • Will my child have his/her own set of sheets each day?

4. Curriculum

If Liam is going to be out of my arms for eight hours a day, I want to make sure he is learning and thriving. Each place we visited put a great focus on a specific daily schedule and centers where the kids would learn everything from math to letters to science.

He has a specific schedule they follow each day, which is great to know as working mama. I can look at the clock and know that he's eating or napping or just waking up. What makes it even better is that if we follow that same schedule on the weekends, it works so, so well.

Integrated between meals and naps are times for math, story time, science, art, outside play, songs and so much more. He comes home singing songs and naming objects which just reassures me how much they are teaching him.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations of what he/she should learn?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What is the daily schedule?
  • When is nap time? How often do they nap? What do we need to bring for nap time?
  • Are we able to see the curriculum each week?

5. Character

You want to feel like the place your child is at each day is a safe, warm, loving place and you want to feel beyond confident in your choice. Watching the teachers interact with Liam continues to make me more and more confident. They are truly excited to see him come each day, and the staff is always welcoming as well.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What environment do you want your child in?
  • And as you see the facility, how are the teachers interacting with the kids? Each other? Parents?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What qualifications do the teachers have?
  • What are their expectations of students in regards to behavior?
  • What is their discipline policy?

Overall, it's a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. It's hard! But beyond all of these questions and options, you'll know when you walk into the right place, that it is the right place. 


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Hitting the Jackpot {A Giveaway!}

February 26, 2015

I love having candles around the house. However, since Liam arrived and he has considered it his life's mission to undo anything decor-related in our house, most of our candles are hidden on shelves behind frames or in boxes. Chris often tells me that we should get more candles, and I remind him that we have about 16 hidden. It's just a game of find-the-candle-if-you-want-it.

I was recently sent a Jackpot Candle to try out, so for an entire week, I had the candle lit in our house in many different spots. As soon as Liam would find it, I moved it to a new spot. The candle graced every surface of our house.


The smell is amazing. As soon as you walk in, the smell of toddler and dog disappears and my house smells clean and refreshing. I love it. And it makes me miss all those other candles I've had to hide.

One unique feature of the Jackpot Candle is that there is a fun piece of jewelry hidden inside. I'm an earring girl, so I picked one out that had earrings hidden beneath the wax (wrapped in a plastic bag and foil, of course). After burning it for just a few hours, the jewelry started peeking through.


I just realized there is a PRETZEL in the above picture. Further proof that Liam was here.


I took it into the kitchen and dug out the foil packet with a spoon. There's the pretzel.


I quickly opened it up to see what I had received! The packet of jewelry comes with a code to enter online - some jewelry can be worth up to $5,000!


I ended up with these cute studs valued at $16, but I was actually in need of some new "diamond" studs, so there you go.

And now we can keep enjoying the candle...until Liam finds it.

Do you want a Jackpot Candle of your own? Just leave a comment telling me about your favorite piece of jewelry. I will pick a winner next Friday, March 6!




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The Business of Marriage

February 20, 2015

We celebrated Valentine's Day with an early dinner on Sunday night - just the two of us. Once you have a child, dinner alone as just adults is one of the most rejuvenating experiences. All you have to think about is your own meal and eating at your own pace and minding your own silverware without concern of impatient screams and knives getting into the wrong hands and spilled drinks. Like I said, it's rejuvenating. 

On actual Valentine's Day, Chris had to work, so it was just me and my other main man for the day. We had a lunch date at Chick-fil-a and an afternoon trip to the library and park, which are all direct ways to his little heart. 


After we picked Chris up that evening, we ate a quick dinner and I promptly headed out the door to go grocery shopping at 9 p.m. Because the idea of going to the grocery store by myself when the rest of the world was preoccupied with their plans and the chance at using a regular cart as opposed to the ones with a plastic car attached was also a huge deciding factor in my late night spree. I walked up and down every aisle just because I could.

I am seriously considering doing our grocery shopping every Saturday night because my life has come to that level of excitement.

But back to dinner. We left Liam with his always-willing grandmother and grabbed dinner at 6 p.m. because, truthfully, I wanted to piggy-back on the happy hour prices. We sat side-by-side, shared an appetizer, ate our meals, and then continued to sit for 45 minutes to just talk.


And here's the thing. When you're married with children and jobs and a hectic schedule that leaves you going in different directions all the time, sometimes it's good to just sit and talk. No kids. No silverware flying off the table. No place to be next. 

It's the business of marriage, this time set aside. It's the talking about the mortgage and the plan of where we want to be next. It's the talk of money and how much and what to do with it and future promises of more. It's the talk of what's going on in your heart and who has hurt you and where the sting is still fresh. It's talking about all things that come together to run the biggest business we got: us.

Because when it all comes down to it, if we run in different directions, we will never meet. And isn't marriage really about meeting? Meeting during the messes, the fights, the 2 a.m. wake-ups, the tears, the joys, the burnt dinners, the never-ending list of projects, the life changes.

If we focus on meeting, there will always be a reason to meet. There will always be a yearning to meet.

So on Sunday night, we met. And we talked. And our silverware stayed on the table.

And I hope we can do it again soon.

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Meal Planning for the Busy Mom: Freezer Meals

February 18, 2015


Ah, freezer meals. As in, dinner-is-already-done meals.

I recently started integrating freezer meals into our weekly rotation because first, it makes the 5 o'clock hour a thousand times less hectic, and second, it truly saves on groceries throughout the week. 

The other weekend, a friend met me at my house during Liam's nap time (except he refused to nap that day, so we had a wild Sioux chef running around). We had made a master plan ahead of time as far as what meals to cook and what groceries we needed. This was a trial run and I am happy to say we already have round two on the calendar.

We made six recipes this round which was enough for us to each take home 15 meals. By planning on integrating two freezer meals a week, that will last us two months!

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole (2 meals)
Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas (2 meals)
Lasagna Roll-Ups (5 meals)
Tex-Mex Chicken Casserole (2 meals)
Cilantro Lime Chicken (2 meals)
Sweet and Spicy BBQ Chicken (2 meals)

Here is our grocery list for the meals (click to enlarge, save and print!):

While conquering our first freezer meal afternoon, we came across a few helpful tips:

Plan ahead. We started planning this out about three weeks in advance so that we could spread out the grocery expense and start collecting the items needed. This helped us watch for sales. For example, natural chicken went on sale for $1.97 a pound which was a great savings for eight pounds of chicken. 

Come prepared. Before meeting, we both pre-cooked the rice and some of the chicken so that it was easy to throw into the recipes as needed.

Share. For the most part, we shared oils and spices since we didn't need a ton and it was easier than each dragging out our own.

Use the same bowl and spoon. Clean up was a breeze partly because we just used the same mixing bowls and spoons, and rinse them out in between recipes.

Set all ingredients out. We use my kitchen table to set out all of ingredients and then grabbed what we needed for each recipe as we went along.

Label. I pre-printed labels for the recipes that included the name and cooking instructions. We slapped these on the bags and tins ahead of time so that we don't have to dig out the recipe again when it's time to cook the meal.

{Not pictured: Lasagna Roll-ups}

Overall, the process took us just about two hours and clean-up was a breeze. We simply started on a recipe, did it together (even throwing in spices in the other's dish), and when it was done, we moved on to the next one. 

Bon Apetit!

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Meal Planning for the Busy Mom: Grocery Shopping

February 16, 2015


Grocery shopping is sometimes the thorn in my side when it comes to the weekend because first, it's a non-negotiable expense, and second, it's usually accompanied by a restless toddler. If I can get in and out efficiently, under budget, and with a happy kid, I consider it a success.

After I find meals for the week and plan out our dinner schedule, I make my list.

I first break the list down into categories based on aisle location so it's easy to shop from: Home Goods/Toiletries, Drinks, Snacks/Cereal, Baking Goods/Bakery, Dry Goods, Frozen, Dairy/Cheese, Meat/Deli, Produce. 

I then write down all our weekly needs that aren't tied to a recipe. This includes items such as bananas (we seriously go through 3 bunches a week), drinking water, and milk.

Next, I go through each recipe and add everything needed for each meal. While doing this, I
 double-check what I already have on hand in the fridge or pantry. 

Finally, I check the ads and match them with any coupons I have to stock up on any great deals that will save me time and money on future trips.



By going in with a meal plan and a list, I spend way less than what I would if I went in unprepared. And I can make it as fast as possible for a toddler who is over it after the first ten minutes.

Bon Apetit!

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