Girl, Wash Your Face: Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

This book, Girl, Wash Your Face, brought me to tears so many times.

I have been absent from this blog for a bit. The reason for that is I felt burnt out and discouraged when I didn’t get the feedback I wanted from my past blog posts. I had also taken a step back from writing my novel (draft two) for the same reasons. I recognize that that is not productive or conducive to establishing a career as a writer. If I want to pursue that path I need to push through.

Rachel Hollis was an integral part of that motivation during this period.

Writing From the Heart

Hollis writes her truth and is unashamed of doing so. I love that. Sure, I could not relate to everything she spoke about or the way she approached certain topics but she openly acknowledged that her truth may not resonate with everyone. She offered her stories anyway, knowing she might experience pushback or complaints of alienation. This book is not about prioritizing her beliefs above others but offering her perspective so others experiencing similar things can take what they want and apply it to their own lives.

Hits Close to Home

Hollis delivers several instances of advice that hit so close to home to what I was (and am) struggling with. There are other personal things she hit on that I struggle with but the most impactful impressions were those relating to my professional goals. As a working mother, I felt like the advice she gave meant so much more. Had anyone else delivered these specific messages, I may have ignored it, scoffed even. How could someone who didn’t understand the pressures of my life tell me how to accomplish anything in my limited free time?

Hollis shares so many experiences with me as a working mother. She struggles with guilt for choosing to spend any time away from her children, she’s a small-town girl who grew up in a conservative environment. She’s a wife. I could connect with her and believe that the advice she gave was meant in earnest. Not only that but if she could accomplish all she has maybe I can do it too.

Permission

The biggest takeaway from Hollis’ book was the idea of giving myself permission to pursue my dream. Permission to fail, to rise, to face criticism and keep going anyway. Trying to do anything big, working towards a goal, these are scary and uncomfortable things. Its always going to be easier to not pursue them. But you are giving up the potential for so much happiness and fulfillment. Hollis demonstrated how that bravery paid off in her life. She gives me hope. I feel this atmosphere of support in her narration and in the community she has created online.

Boss Babe

Rachel Hollis runs The Chic Site, a lifestyle type website where she shares recipes, fashion inspiration, travel blogs, and general advice for women. The site combines her experience as a mother, wife, and Boss so make sure to check that out and get to know this fantastic author.

5/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

Hillbilly Elegy

A Court of Wings and Ruin

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

Publisher’s Summary

In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America’s “forgotten tribe” of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America’s recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to for Appalachians. The book offers a must-needed insider’s perspective on the region.

The Review

Elizabeth Catte is an East Tennessee native, with a Ph.D. in public history, which she received from Middle Tennessee State University, and co-owns a historical consulting company. Not only is she professionally qualified to write about the state of the Appalachian region today in relation to the history that fed our current issues, but she is a native and is intimate with the struggles of the residents in the poor, coal region of the Appalachians.

This book was short, a quick read, and that is really my only criticism and the reason this book is 4 stars instead of 5. I would have loved a longer book so she could go into greater detail on some of the topics she discusses. However, I understand the need to publish her book quickly on the tail of Hillbilly Elegy so that she could capitalize on its success and the conversation it ignited. It is incredibly difficult to get the mainstream media and average American to care about subjects such as this or be receptive to correcting inaccurate and painful stereotypes that Vance invoked in his disturbingly bestselling memoir.

As a historian and history consultant, Catte knows her history of the region and is a credible source for relaying that information to her readers. She takes the responsibility, where Vance negligently fell short, of setting the stage of Appalachia as it was developed through the years, the industries that took from the region, the evolution of local workers’ rights and struggles through this time, and most importantly, the assertion that Appalachia (as an immense region) is not wholly Scots-Irish or white.

She accurately describes the diversity of the region, its alignment with modern issues, and shuts down the notion of Other that so many paint Appalachians, that they genetically differ from the rest of the nation. We don’t. To paint us that way, Catte explains, is to promote eugenics (“the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”-From Dictionary.com). The idea of preventing the breeding of Appalachians through sterilization was promoted by prominent spokespeople from the area and beyond during the 1960s-70s. Eugenics was a favored idea of Nazis, FYI.

4/5 Stars

Hillbilly Elegy Versus What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Catte’s book is obviously a direct and scathing rebuttal to J. D. Vance’s Hillybilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (my review of his book is linked). That is critical in understanding her position while writing this book. I felt similarly enraged and misrepresented after reading Vance’s “memoir” and felt somebody local to the region needed to step up and refute his claims. A better person could not have stepped up to the plate. I will thank God every day for women like Elizabeth Catte and her little (enormously important) book.

The historical perspective she frames in this book is so important to the discussion of Appalachia, coal mining, employment in the areas coal mining has left economically destroyed and/or stagnant, and the greater discussion of white insecurity in America at the moment. So often you hear the cliched phrase, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere is that phrase more chilling and pertinent than this book where Catte exposes the similarities in moments in our local history that do seem to repeat themselves and will continue to do so while these images and beliefs about Appalachians exist.

Catte explores the role of activism in Appalachia, the tactics corporations and politicians used to undermine those activists and their message. She is also honest about race in the region, the history of racism white Appalachians participated in, where Vance tried to absolve us of any blame which is grossly historically inaccurate. She relates several documented instances which inform her position on this. But Catte does absolve the region of its accused blinding whiteness. People of color do occupy Appalachia, share the history of the region, and the struggles of their profession in the coal mines, on the railroad, etc. Diversity exists here where outsiders insist it does not and they subsequently try to erase the ownership of the region of people of color, the lives they’ve built, and the inroads for the progress they’ve made.

Vance excludes people of color from his memoir when discussing Appalachians and his beloved “hillbillies.” He repeatedly refers to the Scots-Irish ancestry of the region and how Appalachians have retained that genetic heritage more than any other community in the nation. Catte astutely accuses him of racist generalizations by erasing people of color from the region and culture, not to mention the settlement of French, German, English, Swedish, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc., and his tendency to favor the eugenics theory, that the shortcomings of Appalchians are a result of shared, flawed genetics. His book, when viewed through this lens, should scare the shit out of us. Because we are not genetically different from the rest of the nation though the notion is so widely shared by outsiders. Because sterilization has been considered to limit our population. Because corporate interest is such a powerful force with our government at all levels.

Catte goes further in her accusations against Vance’s theories on the area by charting his preference for sources favored by white supremacist and nationalist individuals. The eugenics theory and practice, “brain drain,” the proud Scots-Irish genealogy should all be viewed as red flags of his priorities, especially as there is no doubt he will run for a political office in the next five years.

K.O.!

Overall, her authority shines through and makes Vance’s novel and theories pale in comparison. His lack of research, lack of insight into the sociopolitical structure of the Eastern Kentucky area he references repeatedly, and insistence on their (consequently his) genetic purity really expose him for what he is, a politically ambitious, pseudo-intellectual with white supremacist tendencies. Even more stark after reading Catte’s response is the insincerity of Vance’s assertions that writing his memoir did not mean he intended to be a spokesperson for the poor, white working class. Yet he continues to tour and speak on the topic, he published a book on the subject knowing very, very little of the truth behind the struggles in the region. It is glaringly obvious when read in conjunction with Catte’s rebuttal that he intended to capitalize on national insecurities using Appalachians to justify white insecurity and nationalist trends.

In short, read What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, not Hillbilly Elegy.

Hillbilly Elegy: Book Review

Hillbilly Elegy Book Review Book Cover

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

In the introduction to Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, he admits he finds the existence of this book “absurd.” After reading it, I have to agree with him. This review will read a little bit like a rant.

A Little Context

Jackson, Kentucky is the seat of Breathitt County, a small town in a big county nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Built on the banks of the North Fork Kentucky River, Jackson was once a bustling timber and coal town. The decline of the coal industry meant coal jobs vacated Jackson in the 70’s/80’s. Fairly recently, however, the coal temple located off Hwy 30 W outside Jackson city limits has opened back up, igniting a spark of memory and hope in the locals.

The town of Jackson and the communities in the surrounding county don’t have a lot of things to make us hope these days. Our children continue to be our biggest source of inspiration. We transfer our broken dreams onto their small shoulders, put all our resources into their education, their abilities, and hope they will achieve the dreams we never had the opportunities to achieve. It’s why, in the currently raging debate on statewide K-12 education in Kentucky, we so staunchly defend teachers and are willing to take on the burden of higher taxes to provide a well-funded pension system for them. Though our legislators seem to be struggling with the logistics of actually fixing said pension system using any method. Lawyers have a way of muddying these things.

Take Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Yale Law School graduate. California resident. Marine vet. Self-described hillbilly. But not really.

There Are No Hillbillies Here

I cannot find fault in all of Vance’s book or his experiences as he escapes from a difficult domestic situation. That is an understatement. He had a Hell of a childhood and his teen years seemed to have been worse. I sympathize. He had a difficult life growing up with an unstable mother and rotating cast of fathers. As he mentions (repeatedly), he was able to overcome those difficulties and achieve a happy, successful (to date) life.

But this book is not about hillbillies. This book is not about Appalachia. This book is not about Jackson, Kentucky however often he invokes our name, invokes hurtful stereotypes that weren’t true even in the 40’s when his grandparents out-migrated for work in Ohio at the tender ages of 17 and 14.

The Jackson, Kentucky he describes is not the Jackson, Kentucky I was raised in and now raise my daughter in. The majority of the book, as a memoir of an individual growing up in Middletown, Ohio, joining the Marines, then going to Ohio State and Yale Law, has nothing substantial to do with Jackson, Kentucky, Appalachia, or “hillbillies.” He has a habit through the book of imposing the bad habits and poor choices of his family members on their status as transplanted hillbillies.

Hurtful Stereotypes

Let’s be clear, his Mamaw is mentally ill. She did a heroic thing, taking her grandchildren in like that but her actions are clearly unhinged. Her birthplace has nothing to do with her described behavior and mannerisms. I lived with my Jackson, Kentucky grandparents nearly my entire life and they behaved nothing like this. Growing up in Jackson, Kentucky, attending churches, funerals, going through the school system, meeting my friends’ families, marrying another Jackson, Kentucky resident, I have never noticed this behavior as the norm of us “hillbillies.”

I lived down a holler. That’s a road off the main highway. These hollers may be one lane, paved or gravel, and the people who live up them are usually related somewhere down the line. And if they’re not yet, they will be. Hollers are basically the driveway to Appalachian communes. There are wild residents like every other community, but the majority, especially Vance’s grandparents’ generation, behave like any other person in that age group. With a little more cooperation when it comes to feeding each other, tending family farms, and delivering errant cattle.

My grandparents were church-going people, I was pretty much raised in a pew. My Granny sang hymns and my Grandpa taught Sunday school. They dressed to the nines, stockings, slicked back hair, shaved face, and copious clouds of Avon cologne and perfume. They sparred verbally but the swearing and such is not the norm for that generation. I was raised to expect soap in my mouth for uttering a bad word. To be clear, fart was considered one such bad word.

An Epidemic

The drug problem in Southeastern Kentucky ranks among the most concerning in the nation. Admittedly we rank close to Middletown, Ohio. But I don’t think the reasons behind our shared problem resonate similarly. I do think the shared opioid addiction is the reason Vance evokes Jackson, Kentucky at all. And named his book what he did, though the title and the references to Kentucky are incredibly misleading and misrepresent his content.

Misrepresents Himself

I picked up this book expecting something entirely different and relevant to my culture. It had nothing to do with us, a wasted read. I don’t share Vance’s political ideas. I can’t relate to his experiences being raised in a middle-class family, even struggling with a drug-addicted parent. Growing up in a single wide trailer for much of my childhood, then a doublewide trailer into adolescence and young adulthood, I find it hard to think of him bereft living in a non-mobile home. Being able to buy a house (still in Jackson, KY) with my husband was a huge life achievement for me.

The whole book did read as a kind of appeal for “outsiders” to not judge white, working-class men for voting for Donald Trump. And I just don’t think they need any more help or understanding in that area.

There are several conflicting ideas in Vance’s book, for instance at the end when he puts out a call for action to Jackson, Kentucky to rise up and meet the needs of our at-risk children. But he had spent the beginning of the book exalting the culture for our emphasis on family. It just reflects his deep misunderstanding of the culture and the work being done to protect our kids here in Eastern Kentucky.

Its all well and good to draw attention to social problems afflicting our area (and nation) but Vance offers very few (half-assed) pathways to solutions. In fact, he admits there are no solutions and that we can only hope to save a few. But again, Jackson, Kentucky is not Vance’s home and he doesn’t have to help us. He doesn’t have to live with these problems. Vance escaped his Middletown problems. So, why write a book with emphasis on the problems these areas are facing at all?

Final Thoughts

After reading his book, I don’t understand his intentions, except to brag that he is successful. I don’t know if he thinks of himself as a hero to poor kids in Appalachia. I hope not, that would be incredibly sad.

As I said before, I sympathize with the struggles he did endure. But I think he greatly exaggerated his position as poor. Maybe its the “hillbilly” in me but I can’t consider him poor when his grandparents were willing to step up financially in cases where they did struggle with his mother’s mismanagement of her money.

Co-Opted Experience For Gain

I grew up poor, one of three kids to a single mother working part-time at the local Walmart (not a supercenter), living in a used, single wide trailer. My grandparents were also poor, legally blind, and unable to work beyond some small-scale farming that kept us in frozen vegetables through the winter. They owned a small plot of land inherited from my great-grandfather and their house was built by some charitable organization or another.

We had food stamps, Medicaid, CHIP, LIHEAP, and welfare. You name a government social program and it probably kept us fed, warm, housed, or alive. These same programs that Vance derides as a crutch for his drug-addicted, domestically challenged neighbors provided opportunities for me that allowed me to stay with my family, kept me and my siblings together and got us through.

Lack of Awareness

These programs evolved from the New Deal Era programs targeted at defeating poverty. Obviously, that hasn’t happened but I think its a little too nail on the head to blame stagnant/declining employment and wages on social welfare as an enabler for “freeloaders.” From my work with local oral histories, I have listened to countless stories from the time period that praised the New Deal for saving the region from total collapse and starvation.

Our Problems Are Bigger Than This Book

Places like Jackson, Kentucky have other much more complex problems keeping us in the hole. Our isolated location, difficult terrain, corrupt local politicians and their large land holdings they refuse to develop/charge high rent for, and crime rate (the name Bloody Breathitt was given to us for our tendency for violence not our WWI volunteer rate, FYI) are just a few of the issues that keep us from achieving the same economic growth as the rest of the nation.

I’m not even sure Vance addressed the employment problem in Jackson, Kentucky, the fact that 30% of our population has left in the last 20 or so years. I believe he was tenuously trying to connect the loss of factory jobs in Middletown to the loss of coal jobs in Kentucky but that isn’t really a fair comparison because we are not located in an area where other industries can easily supplant lost ones. Our roads are woefully out of date, among other infrastructure concerns, and many of our cities are one bad year away from insolvency.

There is a difference in individual poverty and institutional poverty.

Frustrating

I am just a little riled that Vance tried to use my culture, my home, and my people as a way to justify his political ideologies.

I did not enjoy this book, found it to be confusing and uninteresting. His title and summary were unrelated to the actual content of the book. The author posits himself as something poor kids should emulate but he doesn’t seem to understand that kids in poverty lack the resources he had available to him, regardless of his mother’s addiction.

2/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Heartless

The Fiery Cross

A Court of Wings and Ruin: Book Review

A Court of Wings and Ruin Book Cover and Link to Amazon Affiliate PageA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

I don’t know where to begin with this review. Sarah J. Maas is everything I aspire to be as a writer. I fell in love with this series when the first book was released in 2015. A Court of Wings and Ruin is an excellent culmination of all the emotions and switchbacks this series has thrust upon me. Not to say the 3rd book wraps up all the storylines neatly, it does not (hence Book #4 or 3.1 according to Goodreads, A Court of Frost and Starlight which I hope will address the fates of a few more of our beloved characters).

Also, the film rights to this book series have been purchased so look for this already incredibly popular series to explode on the mainstream very soon.

A Court of Wings and Ruin Review (And Much Spoiling)

I read Book #2, A Court of Mist and Fury when it was first released in 2016, so there were a couple of years between the last time I entered the Court of Thorns and Roses world. A Court of Wings and Ruin picks up where A Court of Mist and Fury ended. Feyre is spirited back to the Spring Court. Tamlin believes she has been bewitched by Rhysand, that she still loves him, and that he can heal what he considers to be broken within her.

However, unbeknownst to him, Feyre is tricking him and his Court. She bides her time, hides her power, waiting to unleash her revenge for ripping her away from what we know to be her mate. And for betraying her sisters to Hybern.

Feyre revenge is succinct and timely, but Lucien becomes entangled just as she unleashes it. Forced to take him along, they flee through the courts, their magic dampened by faebane. They sneak through Lucien’s own home, the Autumn Court and by his murderous family. They must travel on foot until they can reach a place where their magic is restored enough to winnow home.

This part is full of harrowing near misses, including their discovery by Lucien’s older brothers including Eris, who we know to be the Morrigan’s former betrothed.

After a battle on the ice in the Winter Court, Cassian and Azriel swoop in to save the day as per their usual. Feyre’s power as High Lady and her status as a Made creation of the High Lords in which she absorbed their gifts is revealed.

Home At Last

Feyre and Rhys’ reunion is as satisfying as we all hoped it would be, full of lovemaking and tenderness. This part reaffirms their mating bond. They belong together, and this scene leaves no doubt. Especially in such stark contrast to the violence Feyre experiences at Tamlin’s court from the disgruntled High Lord of Spring.

Her reunion with her friends is as satisfying. We are reintroduced to Mor and Amren, and the group’s dynamic is as entertaining as always. New to the Court of Dreams brood are newly Made Nesta and Elain, and the journey roughened Lucien who Cassian and Azriel also rescued.

Though Nesta’s spirit remains unwaveringly defiant, Elain suffers as a Fae. Though her bond with Lucien was revealed in ACOMAF, she still loves her human fiance. The book’s treatment of Elain is the only thing that borders on slightly tedious. The author does give us a few thrilling moments with this character that makes the set up worth the wait.

A Sleeping Evil Awakened

The majority of the book focuses on their plans to stop Hybern from destroying the wall that divides Fae from humans. The High Lords make another appearance after the Summer Court is attacked by Hybern’s forces, his intent towards their destruction becoming evident.

Unfortunately, that means convening the High Lords of Autumn and Spring as well. Beron, Lucien’s sociopathic father, and Tamlin are the most reluctant High Lords to join an alliance against Hybern. Beron, out of self-interest and spite. Tamlin, for more obvious reasons. His armies are still unrecovered from Feyre’s sabotage.

The alliance discussions go as well as you’d expect from so many strong personalities. Throughout we glimpse more of Nesta’s power. She is connected to the Cauldron, having taken some of its power when she was Made. During the discussions, the Wall is destroyed by Hybern, and the alliance is tenuously agreed upon by the majority of the High Lords. Tamlin is non-responsive. Unbeknownst to Beron, Eris has made a deal with Rhys, Feyre, and Keir of the Court of Nightmares to ensure Beron’s compliance in exchange for their assistance in overthrowing his father to take his throne.

We are also handed some delightful sexual tension between Cassian and Nesta, who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his interest for most of the book. Of course, that makes me ship them even harder.

At this point, Lucien has departed for the continent in an attempt to find the human queen, Vassa, who is cursed but commands a large army to try to gain her support in the war. Elain still mourns the loss of her fiance and the life she envisioned with him as humans.

The Wars Waged

A Court of Wings and Ruin continues with Rhys, Feyre, Cassian, Azriel, Mor, and Amren trying to find a way to defeat Hybern. In addition to pledging the support of the other HIgh Lords and their armies, they want to use Nesta’s power to wield the Cauldron against Hybern.

Nesta’s training and lessons from Amren on the Cauldron are tedious and not promising as Hybern continually moves forward, attacking and confusing the High Lords’ forces. The battles are bloody and detailed. Maas, who I am assuming has never been on a battlefield, describes them very well. What she captures even better is the fear in Feyre as she awaits the end, feeling for Rhys to make sure he is alive. As a military spouse, I appreciated that particular recognition of potential loss with each battle.

The final battle begins in the human realm at the coast. Hybern’s forces are enormous, and the High Lords are outnumbered. Even with Feyre and Rhys’ recruitment of the Others, the Weaver, the Bone Carver, and Bryaxis, they lose ground. Hybern pushes into them, and for a very long time, they seem poised to lose it all.

That Ending Though

At the final (nearly) moment, the fabled Drakon and Miryam arrive with their army of Seraphim. Also in tow, Queen Vassa’s human army. Elain’s former fiance, Beron, and Tamlin arrived with their armies earlier to aid the Court of Dreams. Even then they seem outmatched.

As I mentioned before, Elain’s general damsel-in-distress act was wearing a little thin, but she more than makes up for that in the end. Hybern locates Nesta who tries to use the Cauldron’s power as a distraction to draw him away. It works, a little too well.

While Feyre and Amren try to disable Hybern’s hold on the Cauldron’s power, Nesta battles the man himself. But Hybern has their father, the human who led an armada of others, to fight against him. She has little control and quickly loses ground, especially when Hybern breaks their father’s neck, killing him instantly. She finally throws herself atop Cassian in the last resort to either save them both or die together (again, shipping so hard).

At the moment before their death Elain comes alive and strikes the first, debilitating blow against King Hybern, taking him down. Nesta finishes the job, delivering the killing strike that she promised him after being Made.

That still isn’t the end though.

*Deep breath*

RHYS IS DEAD?!

Feyre, our main heroine, is the one who has to end this story. Amren had tricked her into grasping the Cauldron alone. She wants her to release her from the Fae body to which she had been bound. In order to save everyone. Feyre does and Amren makes a neat job of wiping Hybern’s now autonomous forces off the battlefield.

The act of releasing her destroys the Cauldron, splitting it into three pieces and leaving its power uncontained. The Cauldron is poised to consume the world they’d just saved.

Rhys arrives and together, they use their power to remake the Cauldron. But Rhys, already drained from fighting, dies from the effort.

So, at this point, I am sobbing. Feyre is sobbing. I am thinking of how cruel Maas is to make us fall in love with Rhys so much, to reunite Feyre with him only to rip him away. But lucky for us, especially me, this author seems to be a sucker for happy endings.

In the same way Feyre was revived and Made, the High Lords give a piece of their power to bring Rhys back. Tamlin is the final one, in his act of redemption. I can, almost, forgive him for everything to this point. Rhys stutters back to life, dragging Amren back with him. Though she is now pure Fae with no Other, she is still the same salty Amren we know and love.

Final Thoughts

I love this series and the world Maas created. My hope is that she returns to it beyond A Court of Frost and Starlight. I would like to read a prequel about Juriel, Drakon, and Miryam’s origins.

The writing was on point as always, though I’ve seen other reviews that criticized the writing as rushed and in need of further editing. I did not notice that. The book was polished, well-structured, and the characters felt genuine to previous books. I felt like this was an excellent ending to the main storyline, to Hybern’s reign of terror, Feyre’s rift with her siblings and father. The whole love triangle that was actually a love line with a dot outside was wrapped up nicely as well. Tamlin found some redemption and Feyre was able to release any guilt she may have had about leaving him for Rhysand.

5/5 Stars

Check out my other book reviews!

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

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The Ultimate Baby Cheat Sheet

My daughter is about 16 months old. As our first child, we had a lot of buying to do to get ready for her arrival. We had a baby shower of course but ended up buying most of the more significant items ourselves, except the crib which my coworkers at my old job bought for us as a gift WITH a crib mattress (they were seriously the most amazing people in the world, and I miss them every day).
The cost of preparing for a baby can be enormous, especially when confronted with all these lists of what baby should have. I scoured these lists on Pinterest for months. I made my own lists, I made Amazon wishlists AND baby registries. I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything this unknown nugget would throw at me, especially as my husband was preparing for an overseas deployment a month after my due date. Anything that would make my life easier as I solo parented a newborn was a must have.
As a result, we ended up buying many things it turned out we didn’t need/would never use. I realize every baby is different and for some the items we ended up wasting money on could have been useful. However, I think our experience was pretty standard. Some of the things we didn’t use because she had zero interest in the item, like a cosleeper bassinet. Some products I honestly forgot I had bought and got by fine without.
The items I did use were used heavily and were actual life-savers. This post is dedicated to those beautiful objects that sometimes made parenting a breeze. Or at least made me not want to rip my hair out as badly.
I will link all the items to Amazon for easy reference to what they are and an estimate of cost. Of course, you can buy these from your retailer of choice if you decide you need them.
Boppy

Version 2
Usually passed out like this post feeding.

Easily my favorite baby product and the thing I used the most. A boppy is a nursing pillow that fits around your waist. It is technically a nursing pillow but is useful for bottle feeding as it allows you free use of one hand at least. I breastfed, so the boppy allowed me to have both hands free (once Little Bit had learned to latch and stay latched correctly). Once she got older, we would prop her in this to help her strengthen her neck, and she learned to actually sit up using this pillow. My mom would even lay her in it for naps, and it was convenient for stuffy noses. The only caveat is that you need to invest in multiple covers. I had one, and the regular milk dribblings meant a lot of washing and not having a cover for the pillow itself which I needed during washings as well. I’d say a minimum of two but three might be better if you can swing it.
 
Bottle Sanitizer (if you don’t have a dishwasher with the sanitize option)
My apartment did not come equipped with a dishwasher, so a bottle sanitizer was a must for us initially as I did not want to boil water constantly. There are several variations of bottle sanitizers including some you can put in the microwave but we went with a plug-in appliance that sanitized in less than 5 minutes. It worked great and was definitely much easier to use than more traditional methods. However, once we moved into our house with a dishwasher with sanitize functions, we no longer needed this appliance.
Diaper Genie
I have heard people bashing the Diaper Genie, that is was an overpriced garbage can, for years before I got pregnant and so was a little hesitant about this purchase, but it honestly makes a huge difference in odor. Where there are babies there is excessive amounts of poop. And that poop just progressively gets stinkier and stinkier as baby progresses from milk to solids (I have also heard formula fed babies have smellier poops than breastfed babies). The Diaper Genie shuts these odors in and includes a charcoal filter for additional smell protection. Your nose and the noses of your house guests will thank you. We bought two, by the way. You will need to purchase refills for the bags and the charcoal filters, but you can buy these in multi-packs.
Cloth Diapers for Burp Cloths
We did not choose to use cloth diapers over disposable diapers for our daughter. I really wanted to but in the end was too intimidated to
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She loved playing with the clothes too.

try. However, I got these flat fold cloth diapers to use for affordable burp cloths, and they were invaluable. They are simple cloth squares you can prop under baby’s cheek while feeding to catch dribbles, the keep nearby for spit up, for the use of general spills while unable to move to grab an actual towel, etc. They are super cheap to buy in bulk, and you can bleach the crap out of them, literally. Burp cloths with cute designs are way marked up for their purpose and not nearly big enough anyway. I had some burp clothes I had received as a gift at my baby shower, and they were suitable for one use before they were ready for the laundry. Not nearly as absorbent as the cloth diaper either.
 
Glider Rocker
This was a more significant purchase as a piece of furniture but also definitely worth the cost. There is only so much manual rocking a human being can do, even my National Guard hubby who lifts. A rocker is a huge help, and a glider rocker has the smoothness necessary for undisturbed soothing and near effortless transition from sitting to standing. They usually pair with a footstool which you will use, and you will be glad you bought both. We did not buy the glider linked above but bought ours from Walmart, and it has held up excellently and still gets some use today. Also, our kitty (RIP) peed on the cushion, and it came clean easily.
Pack ‘N Play w/Diaper Changing Station and Bassinet
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Bonus: You get pictures like this which are priceless.

I can’t recall the exact brand we have, but it looks very similar to the one linked above. We got massively lucky on this one, and our uncle found a gently used Pack ‘N Play with the diaper changing station and the bassinet insert (but not the little newborn bassinet on top) and gave it to us as a gift. Yard sales, by the way, are fantastic places to find baby stuff as babies grow so fast they don’t use anything long enough to really destroy it. But we used this thing regularly, the diaper changing station especially for quick changes in the living room where we kept this thing erected permanently for quick baby drops when I needed to have my hands free. I also would take it outside and let baby play in it safely while still getting fresh air during the summer.
 
Baby Gym
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The monkey was definitely her favorite.

This item gets a little less use just because the amount of time it is safe for baby to play with is so short. It is best for newborn to right before they start to crawl. After that, they start tugging it down on them or just crawling away to inspect more exciting things.  But my baby rolled over for the first time on this, and she absolutely adored the little toys that attached to it (and which un-attach for extended play options once the gym itself is no longer usable). I included it because you can purchase these at a reasonably low cost, no doubt you can find multitudes of them used in yard sales or at Goodwill.
 
Shag Rug or Rug Pad
So, as my baby was learning to sit up, crawl, and walk she was constantly falling like every other baby. The tumbles I could not prevent, but we had hardwood floors in the house. We needed to provide padding to diminish injuries, especially for her soft noggin. I ended up buying a shag rug for the thick pile AND a rug pad which resulted in the cushiest flooring I have ever felt. It is impossible for Little Bit to hurt herself when she falls on this rug and is super comfy just for floor play, especially for people like me who had hip problems during pregnancy. There is an upfront cost investment for this but entirely worth it. The rug pad also helps protect my hardwood floors and keeps the rug on top from moving which are additional perks. You could probably buy a rug with a smaller pile, and still be just as insulated, no doubt our setup is slight overkill.
Baby Sleepers
So. Many. Sleepers. I preferred these Carter’s terry cloth sleepers, but you can buy plain cotton ones as well. Honestly, this and onesies are all my baby wore as she spent most of the beginning of her life sleeping. Even when I took her out, she was usually dressed in a sleeper, though she was born in November, so the cold weather was a factor. Honestly, cute (often overpriced) newborn outfits that look like adult clothing is a money racket in my opinion. I bought my daughter some cute outfits, but they never seemed as comfy and would disrupt her sleep sometimes. A coming home outfit and special occasion clothes are really all you need besides sleepers and onesies in the beginning.
Onesies
Besides sleepers, I kept my baby dressed in onesies. On a couple of super cold nights in our old drafty apartment, she would wear both. But onesies are great basics and accessible to both put on and remove (you can roll them down over the shoulders and pull off from the bottom). They come in a million and one patterns and colors and are usually made of cotton.
Baby BathtubIMG_2945
Another baby object I have heard people say is overrated is the infant tub which sits in your regular tub. I found mine incredibly useful and much more comfortable than the sink. For one, the bathtub is ergonomically shaped for the baby to lean back on and support their heads. In the sink, without any additional support, you are using your own hand/arm (you will still need to keep one hand on the baby in an infant tub, at least until they can support their own head). But the tub also comes with a little hammock for newborns which was super useful and could be thrown in the washer afterward. The bathtub I use has three different options for baby to use, the hammock, a side sans hammock for newborns, and an infant side, all with varying angles as the baby develops. It saved water and offered additional support for baby. I bought mine for $5 at a Peddler’s Mall.
Baby Carrier
Finally, a product I found absolutely invaluable was a baby carrier. This particular one is a front carrier and is not meant for newborns. I think they recommend only using this product on infants 8 weeks and up as newborns cannot support their heads well. I attempted to use a Moby wrap, but my daughter hated the constriction of the wrap. The carrier allowed her hands and feet freedom, and she was able to use my boobs as a pillow. While solo-parenting this was the only way I was able to grocery shop as I couldn’t fit my food and her car seat in the shopping cart. This carrier felt comfortable on my back even after an hour of use, and the straps are adjustable. The carrier can be used up to 32 pounds, about the weight of my daughter now at 16 months.
Jumperoo
 
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Buttons and babies go together like PB&J.

Another of my favorite products, my daughter absolutely adored her jumperoo. Doctors advise against baby walkers so we bought this as an alternative for individual play and building leg strength. it has three height settings so it lasts quite a while (unless you have an early walker) and has a variety of entertaining toys. My daughter could spend hours in her Jumperoo bouncing and playing with the toys and listening to the music. Worth the investment and the space it takes up for sure. If you can find it gently used all the better! We had to buy ours new though.
 
 
 
Baby Swing
Baby swing barely made this list. Honestly, they are not worth buying brand new. Look for a nice, gently used one (always check for recalls when buying products used and always register new products for recall alerts). My sister-in-law found ours at a yard sale in excellent condition for about $20. They cannot be used for a long time, babies shouldn’t sleep in them. If they fall asleep you will need to move the baby to a safer sleep environment. And the weight and height limit is low, my daughter grew out of hers by about 4 months. But it did help with soothing some of my daughter’s colic symptoms which were bad from the time she turned 6 weeks to 3 months. Baby swings also take a lot of batteries and drain them quickly which can get expensive.
 


 
Besides diapers, diaper cream, formula, bottles, baby soap, etc. these were the most useful items in the beginning. Though I received a crib as a gift it got very little use and still is not used as baby cosleeps and has since birth. This is more common for breastfeeding mothers to do as they need to be fed more often and you get more sleep. Your comfort level for cosleeping is your own business, FYI. I never had a problem with my daughter and was always highly alert to her position on the bed. Also, solo parenting is terrifying and having her next to me in case of an emergency was very comforting.
I could easily raise another baby on just the items above, which don’t get me wrong, is still a house full. So save money and time and stick with the things that work.