Friday, August 31, 2012

A laundry miracle

You might have picked up on the fact that I've been a little down-in-the-dumps regarding the spit-up factory in our house that is still producing quite well (though not creating new jobs/stimulating the economy). Finally putting on nice-ish clothes only to get covered in spit up again has made me close to tears on several occasions.

Then, to add insult to injury, I found that many of my shirts were mysteriously coming out of the wash with weird stains that I didn't remember. My frustration hit an apex when a shirt I had just purchased and wore one time came out with a giant stain smack in the middle of the front side.

What was causing the mystery stains? Was something wrong with our washing machine? Though I don't really want to spend the money on a new machine at this moment in our lives, I did get excited for a hot minute about getting a front-loading washing machine because I'm convinced the agitator in our top-loading machine isn't the best for our clothes' longevity.

Finally, after a recent load of laundry I realized that the culprit is, in fact, spit up. A shirt came out of the laundry with a giant stain right where Natalie had spit up all over me. Sigh. At least I solved the mystery. I can't believe it took me weeks to figure that one out.

Now, how to fix it? Pre-baby I've never been one to fret much over my laundry. I just separate my clothes into two piles, lights and darks, and just run each load on delicate because so many of my clothing labels recommend the delicate cycle. I'm not particularly clumsy or messy, so stain removal hadn't been much of a concern. A baby, though, complicates nearly everything in life, including laundry.

I brought up my dilemma with my mom group friends yesterday, and one of the girls recommended throwing some Oxi Clean in with my regular detergent. So simple! I already use a scoop of Baby Oxi Clean with each load of Natalie's laundry (though I do not use it on her cloth diapers), and her clothes almost always come out stain-free.

I ran a load of my most offensively stained clothing through the wash, on a cold cycle no less, and the stains nearly came all the way out. Another friend recommended hanging my stained clothes outside to dry rather than running them through the dryer to help further lift stains, and I think that did the trick!

Man, although a baby brings great joy into my life, stain-free clothing is a pretty close second on the joy-o-meter.

While I was shooting these pictures out on the deck, I also realized how well this year's round of deck planters have turned out. Geraniums have such incredible staying power, so much so that we also cashed in a Groupon for a local nursery and stocked up on some end-of-season geraniums on sale last month for the front yard. Next spring I'll just remember to plant geraniums even earlier in the front so we can enjoy them longer. Last year's mild fall meant our geraniums on the deck continued to bloom through much of November. Maybe we'll get to have a similar experience this year (cue statements about the problems associated with global warming).

I hope your flowers are still blooming and your clothes are stain-free. If they're not, maybe my little experience can save you some headaches.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You can stand under my umbrella (stroller)

Before we took the mini-vacation-that-wasn't-meant-to-be I decided we should test out our umbrella stroller, the Maclaren Triumph. Natalie had turned 6 months old and could mostly sit up on her own. More importantly for road-trip purposes, the desirable feature of an umbrella stroller is its ability to fold up compactly. The Snap 'n Go concept is wonderful, but a major downside is how much trunk space the stroller frame takes up, particularly in our small Mazda Protege.

As soon as we took the Triumph out for a test drive I knew we'd made the right stroller decision. This umbrella stroller is so easy to maneuver -- amazingly smooth wheels. The handle bars are also at a perfect height for me, a 5'4" female teetering somewhere between the petite and regular-length clothing categories. Both of these attributes make the Triumph superior to the Snap 'n Go for longer walks. The Snap 'n Go still wins out, though, as a quick and easy way to transport Natalie when getting in and out of the car on quick errand runs.


A major downside to the Triumph, however, is its sun shade. The shade does not offer much protection, and it's not adjustable, which is the double whammy. Our Graco Snug Ride car seat's sun shade offers lots of adjustment possibilities; not so much with the Triumph. While researching Triumph accessories (specifically, I was looking for a cup holder, another small ding against this stroller), I came across the Protect-a-Bub sun shade. When I ordered it the cost came in around $30, which I figured would be a reasonable price if the shade did its job of keeping Natalie happy on stroller rides. The Triumph's small sun shade was causing Natalie to shift around uncomfortably, seeking a way out of the sun.

As I took the Protect-a-Bub out of its packaging I started laughing at its sheer size. It seemed rather comical before I put it on the stroller. After I tied it onto the stroller it seemed less comical but still questionable. It was only once we took Natalie out in her stroller on a sunny day that I realized this product, potentially ridiculous looks aside, does its job.

Happy baby
 

Not-as-happy baby

A downside to the Protect-a-Bub sun shade is that it attaches to the stroller by tying in four places. The problem with this is that the shade must be taken off and on each time you want to fold up the stroller. Fortunately, we keep this stroller unfolded in the garage the majority of the time, ready to go on daily dog walks. If you plan to use your stroller for different purposes, though, this might not be the best product.

If you compare the angle of our sun shade when attached to the stroller to the one displayed on Amazon you might notice that ours looks different. I'm still playing around with the arrangement of the four ties, hoping I can come up with a way to keep more sun off Natalie's ever-so-tan legs.

And though I still find the overall look of the sun shade attached to the stroller somewhat comical, the good news is that from baby level Natalie still gets a clear view of the world from underneath her traveling umbrella.


Monday, August 20, 2012

The anatomy of: beginning solid foods

I did not look forward to Natalie turning 6 months old because I knew that was when we should begin feeding her solid food. I did not want the mess and the extra work when I knew Natalie would still be getting all or almost all her caloric intake from breast milk. Although it is true that starting solid food is a little messy (and I'm a neat freak, obviously) and there is some extra work, in the last couple of weeks it has started to get a lot better. In retrospect, my initial fears of solid food were a little silly, if nothing else than for the fact that it truly is the start of weaning, something I have been looking forward to beginning.

Solid food gear

Before you can really begin solid food you need some basic gear -- a place to seat the baby, sturdy bibs, and some unbreakable and sensitive-gum friendly dishes and utensils. We have made some splurges in this process, or more aptly our generous friends and family splurged for us, but I must say that almost everything we've used thus far has been great.

High chair and accessories

When I wrote about our baby registry choices I called the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair our "wishful thinking" big-ticket item. I was absolutely thrilled that a group of girlfriends gifted me with it at my baby shower. Not only is it pretty, as I knew before we'd put it to use, but it also takes up little space which makes it a true winner for me in the world of baby gear. Babies are so small, why must so much of their gear take up so much space? Not this magical contraption. If you're not willing or able to splurge on this purchase, the booster-seat-on-a-dining-chair option seems like a great route to go.

Because the high chair was a gift I felt justified in purchasing two additional and seemingly essential accessories: Stokke Tripp Trapp Baby Set and Stokke Table Top. Both are investments, both have received mixed reviews from other Stokke Tripp Trapp users, but I am pleased with these two products coupled with our high chair. (Disclaimer: This may be partly due to the fact that I used gift cards to purchase the Baby Set at Buy Buy Baby, and I only dropped $60 on Amazon for the Table Top, though at the time of this writing the Table Top is even cheaper on Amazon.) The price tags are high, which is probably the biggest drawback of this high chair system. But, if you are able to stomach the price or get gifted these items, you will not be disappointed.

The Baby Set fits Natalie well, though for what it is worth she is on the small side. Still, even for larger babies the front piece of the Baby Set can be easily taken on and off the high chair, allowing for babies to enter and exit the contraption with minimal fuss and hopefully limited tears.

The Table Top really does its job by staying in place. It's large enough to cover an adequate baby feeding area while containing the mess. It is also easy to take off and wipe down.

I opted not to purchase any of the cute seat cushions that coordinate with the Tripp Trapp. I'm happy with this decision because it would just be one more item to clean, and I think a real advantage to the Tripp Trapp system is how easily it can all be cleaned. Also, our dogs are in dog heaven when Natalie's eating solid food and will gladly lick up anything that falls on the high chair's legs, or the floor, or Natalie's hand when she reaches down to pet them.

Bibs

Hands down, get the Baby Bjorn Soft Bibs. Though the name is a bit of a misnomer -- these are not really soft at all -- the product is amazing. Truly catch-all. Two should suffice.

Dishes and utensils

We have...
3 Boon Stayput saucers -- so far, these are as advertised (they stay put!), and the compartments are the right size for Natalie's serving portions.

3 Boon Catch Toddler bowls with spill catchers -- I want to love these, not only because of the "spill catcher" but also because of the suction-cup bottom. Unfortunately, the suction cups are not particularly effective, or at least not on the Stokke Table Top, which is made of plastic.

2 sets of Oxo Tot bowls -- Love these. Great sizes, microwaveable, covers fit nicely.

2 sets of Oxo Tot spoons -- I don't think there's much of a science to choosing a baby spoon, but these are holding up nicely, and so far having 4 spoons total has served us well, though I could imagine investing in one more set as Natalie starts to eat 3 meals a day.


We have some other solid food gear we haven't tested out yet, but so far what we have is serving us well. Most importantly, everything is dishwasher-safe.

Making baby food

The choice to make at least the majority of Natalie's baby food seemed like the best decision for Natalie from a health perspective and the best decision for our family from a financial standpoint.

Making your own baby food doesn't require much in the way of gear investments. The biggest ticket item is whatever kitchen tool you plan to use to do the pureeing. In our case we chose our food processor, but I know we could have easily used a blender. There is the popular Beaba Baby Food Maker which allows you to steam and puree foods all in one device, it just seems like a lot of money for a gadget you're likely to only use for a couple of months.

The only new item we needed to purchase for making our own baby food was this set of two Tovolo Perfect Cube Silicone Ice Cube Trays. The 1 ounce ice cube compartments are an ideal size for freezing baby food portions. I was looking for ice cube trays that are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe, and these meet both criteria. As an added bonus, it's easy to extract the contents of one cube at a time, but that doesn't really matter to us because we empty all the frozen cubes out of a tray at once and then store the contents in a labeled Ziploc freezer bag.

One small lesson I've learned is that 1 ounce of baby food is a lot for a baby, or at least our baby, getting a first taste of solids. If I was doing this over again I would freeze partly filled ice cube trays when a baby is just starting out with a food. Thawing and reheating a complete ounce of food is often too wasteful.

When it comes to the physical act of pureeing, I don't think we have much to add to the dialogue except to say Natalie really prefers the smoothest purees possible, so we've added a lot of water to the batches. She hasn't taken to mashed avocado or banana, so we've even pureed those. The consistency she most prefers is the kind achieved in the Plum Organics pouch blend. We had a free sample of the pear and mango blend that she thoroughly enjoyed. I can see the appeal of those pouches. They're healthy and convenient though of course a little pricey.

Our solid food schedule

As you have probably noticed or guessed, I am a bit of a rule follower, so Matt and I have chosen a fairly traditional approach to starting food.

We began with rice cereal right after Natalie turned 6 months old, using the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies be exclusively breast fed until 6 months old. We offered Natalie rice cereal once a day for three days before beginning to introduce different types of fruits and vegetables. The first few times Natalie had rice cereal we mixed it with breast milk, but after that initial span of a few days we started mixing it with water instead. I don't have a strong reason to share as to why we did this other than the simple fact that she won't be drinking breast milk for the rest of her life and needs to learn to adjust to other flavors.

At first Natalie would only tolerate a few bites of rice cereal. Then she would start screaming. I thought my worst fears regarding solid foods were being realized: she hates it, I hate it, our floors hate it. Turns out, though, all it takes is a little patience. Within a week or two she was eating most of her helping of rice cereal, and today she even seems eager for more.

After we got Natalie eating rice cereal we started to add one new fruit or vegetable puree every 3 days. Although there really is no particular order in which babies need to be introduced to foods (and we've read plenty of conflicting information from health professionals), here's what we've done so far, just to give you an idea:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Pears and mangos
  • Carrots
  • Avocados
  • Apple sauce
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower

Next up:
  • Peaches
  • Bananas mixed with blueberries

Not surprising news: Natalie is not a huge fan of vegetables, particularly peas and cauliflower. This has resulted in me singing, "All we are saying is give peas a chance!" over and over again to no avail. Natalie has also demonstrated that she would rather choke than eat cauliflower, as she has now revealed on three separate occasions.

When Natalie was 6 months old we were giving her one meal of solids per day. In the beginning it was just rice cereal, and then it was just rice cereal and one other item, and eventually we started giving her three foods at once. We continue to keep rice cereal as part of each meal and incorporate one vegetable and one fruit on a rotating basis.

At 7 months we started giving her two meals of solids per day. Almost like clockwork she simultaneously started going from 5 breastfeeding sessions per day down to 4. This was heavenly.

Our plan is to have her start eating 3 meals of solids per day at the 8-month mark.

Like all things with babies, it seems like once you get a routine going it gets better. Tomorrow's adventure: peaches.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mid-tour break

The other week I went to a party in honor of my friend's boyfriend who was on his mid-tour break from his assignment in Afghanistan. I am sure he appreciated the respite and she appreciated spending time with him.

I was hoping to have my own little mid-tour break as Matt and I planned a trip to the Finger Lakes with Natalie and two of our friends. We planned it a couple months in advance and scheduled it for right when Natalie turned six months old. We could have never predicted, however, that Natalie would be at the apex of her teething pain right as we hopped in the car (well, after several days preparing) for our trip. Getting there wasn't too bad as we tacked about 1.5 hours worth of baby pit stops onto the 6.5 hour trip, but being there while Natalie was in the throes of teething pain became simply unbearable and not at all fun. After two days of unpleasantness we waited until her bedtime to get back in the car and head home, driving through the night so we wouldn't have to make any stops nor listen to Natalie let out a series of blood-curdling screams and the occasional whimper.

A few photos from our vacation that wasn't meant to be

So, we had a failed vacation, which obviously isn't the worst that could happen when you have a six-month old. A quick trip to the pediatrician upon arriving home confirmed that, yes, we are not crazy and Natalie is just simply a baby who seems to have more severe reactions to teething pain. At least it wasn't something more serious. True to form, the day after our doctor's visit Natalie's second tooth (her other central incisor) erupted. Her teething pain is the worst about five days to one week before the tooth erupts. We just scheduled our trip at exactly the worst possible time.

While not the end of the world, I was looking forward to some time away from home in a new environment spent with friends who are two of the world's most patient and easy-going travel companions. But the mid-tour break wasn't meant to be.

I think because of this failure lately I've been itching for a break even more. When we first had Natalie I felt, rightly so, that it was a relatively easy time period. She slept all the time and only woke to eat. I read a bunch of books in between feedings. I didn't sleep too much at night, but that's what I expected, and I thought, "This isn't so bad." I was completely right. I figured it would become more difficult over time, and it has. This line of reasoning is similar to how I feel about parking lots that have spaces reserved for pregnant women when there are none reserved for families with small children. During my pregnancy I would always think, "Save those spots for when you really need them, when the baby has arrived and you have your hands totally full." Six months later I have those same thoughts.

Why am I itching for a break? It's not because Natalie doesn't sleep well at night, because she totally still does, and I know we continue to be very fortunate in that regard. But the waking hours? Those are always challenging. Stop reading here if you don't want to hear my keeping-it-real dose of reality. I have a great baby and a great life, but I definitely don't experience sunshine and rainbows every day (though I did see this killer rainbow during an evening commute yesterday).


Here are some things I am ready to see change:

...being covered in spit up. I am ready for that esophagus to be strong enough to keep food down. I am similarly tired of our floors being covered in spit up. And my cell phone. And our dogs.

...how much of our day still revolves around eating. Even though we started introducing Natalie to solid foods when she turned six months old, understandably hardly any of that food is actually making its way into her stomach, and the little that does isn't containing enough nutritional value to serve as a substitute for breast milk (or formula, if I wasn't still breast feeding). So adding solids is just more work on top of the liquid diet. And she doesn't seem to really like anything yet. And it's super messy.

...not having a clear schedule, and I am tired of living my life in two-hour increments between naps. Natalie still takes three naps a day, and she is clearly too tired by the late afternoon to be ready, as some babies her age are, to drop the third nap. When she actually takes her naps is solely dependent upon when she wakes up for the day. She might choose to wake up at 6:15 a.m., or  she might shoot for 8:15 a.m. instead. When she starts her day subsequently affects the way the rest of the day will pan out. Then I have to wait and see, when it's time for a nap, will she take a 30-minute nap or a two-hour nap? I don't know, you tell me. Once she is awake again she can only stay awake for about two hours before she gets cranky and clearly needs a nap again. Although I like to keep busy, this sporadic napping schedule obviously cramps our style.

Of course, having attempted a vacation with a baby, I've learned it's probably easier to just stay home. I'll share with you the little I learned in a future post, but I can now say I fully appreciate the Some E Cards meme I saw the other day that said, "You know you're a mom when a vacation sounds like work and a trip to Target by yourself sounds like vacation." It makes me feel kind of pathetic to absolutely relate to that sentiment. My friend who's been down this road before me told me last month that this 5-8 month period is what she considered the most challenging. I wonder if my experience will align with hers.