Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our travels with a 14-month old

We just got back late Sunday night from a trip to St. Louis for a family event for Matt's grandmother. This trip marked the first of our plane travel with Natalie. Everyone, myself included, is always looking for travel advice with an infant or toddler. Although I can't state definitively how much of what we did is legitimate/will work for us again/will work for anyone else, I thought I'd throw this out to the interwebs.

To add more context to the trip, we left on a Friday morning and were scheduled to return on a Sunday night. At 14-months old, Natalie is fully mobile, relatively talkative (lots of single words, only one two-word expression: "good dog"), still drinks milk out of a bottle, drinks water out of a sippy cup, vacillates between 1 and 2 naps per day, and sleeps 12 hours at night. She loves books, doesn't really watch TV, is getting interested in toys with lots of parts (think blocks, finger puppet sets), has a mostly agreeable temper but is starting to get more fussy/express her will more vehemently.

Here's the climax:
We woke up early Sunday morning to a horrible weather forecast: 10 inches of snow predicted for St. Louis, and it would start any minute. We were scheduled to leave on a 5:20 p.m. flight. We didn't want to miss some family events happening that morning, but we really didn't want to risk missing a friend's funeral back home. We called the airline and got the flight changed to 11:55 a.m. We got ready quickly, let Natalie sleep as long as possible (9 a.m. for the win!), said goodbye to Matt's grandmother, and kept watching the flight status on the way to the airport.

When we were going through security, our flight was still on. Five minutes later, when we made it to the gate, our flight was canceled. We called the airline and got reassigned to the 5:20 p.m. flight we'd been on originally. The roads in St. Louis were treacherous at this point, so we knew sitting tight at the airport for about six hours would be the plan. By some miracle, as we watched the majority of flights out of St. Louis that day get canceled, our flight remained scheduled, and even on time.

In disbelief, we boarded the plane. Then we sat on the tarmac for one hour while the plane was de-iced. As the de-icing men boarded the plane, we looked at the other passengers and thought, "This is it. We're not going anywhere." Again, by some miracle, our plane took off about 15 minutes later. We hit some turbulence in the air, but nothing absurd. We landed in D.C. around 10 p.m., and by 11 p.m. our baby was asleep in her crib at home. Our 12+ hours of travel, though not what we would choose, were actually OK, and we have our daughter's mostly agreeable temperament and a little bit of preparation to thank.

Here's what we did.

Packing plan

1) Over pack.

I hate to over pack, but I know it's a necessity with a toddler in tow.

Starting about a week before we left, the weather forecast had been calling for a freak early-spring snow storm in St. Louis the day we were supposed to fly home. So I threw in an extra day's worth of necessities. That means extra outfits, extra PJs, extra socks, extra diapers and wipes.

2) Bring items for the night time routine.

For us this meant Natalie's Halo sleep sack, stuffed bunny, and a copy of Goodnight Moon.

3) Ditch the cloth diapers; put vinyl pants over the disposable diaper for the airport/plane.

Although cloth diapers are still working perfectly for us, we knew we didn't plan to travel with them. This was especially helpful for the dozen or so airport diaper changes we had to do. To hopefully save us from an unexpected diaper leak, we put Natalie in the Dappi vinyl diaper covers we originally bought for taking her in the pool.

4) Have a bags-within-bags baby carry on.

Of everything we experimented with on this trip, this is the thing I think we did "right." Diaper bags do not count toward the total carry-on bag allowance, so we ditched our normal diaper bag for this trip and instead used a giant Land's End canvas tote as our big diaper bag for the weekend. Inside we had three additional bags:

1) a lunch bag filled with food and drink for Natalie
2) a medium-sized canvas tote filled with books and toys
3) a small tote, no bigger than a normal purse, just containing diapers for the airport/flight,      changing pad, a travel case of wipes, hand sanitizer, dog poo bags (for containing any really gross diapers in a worst-case scenario), and diaper rash cream. This suggestion was a great one from a mom friend who said this made her travels easier because it minimizes how much stuff has to come with you into an airport or airplane bathroom for a quick change.

5) Bring two bottles' worth of milk. Put them inside a big Ziploc bag with a freezer pack.

I knew prior to the trip that you could take breastmilk and formula through airport security. I wasn't sure about whole milk. Good news: bottle that stuff up and bring it with you. Two 8-ounce bottles were enough for us. Starbucks also sells whole milk in small cups (for $1.35 in St. Louis, at least), and a waiter at the airport Chili's who has three small kids of her own and feels bad for you might bring you a cup of whole milk, too. The Ziploc bag is crucial, as we learned, thanks to the changes in air pressure inside the cabin causing a tightly sealed bottle to still leak.

6) Take a small stroller to the airport, put it inside a travel bag, and gate check it.

We originally were not going to travel with a stroller. We were staying with generous family friends who happen to be grandparents who have a fully stocked nursery. There was a car seat, crib, stroller, and high chair waiting for us when we arrived. At nearly the last minute, we decided to take our own umbrella stroller, fearing getting stuck in the airport on the way home without a stroller. A generous neighbor lent us her umbrella stroller bag, which gave us peace of mind when we checked the stroller at the gate. I'd read strollers can get rather knocked around on airplanes and didn't want to risk it.

Airport/airplane plan

1) If traveling with a partner, have one person in charge of parking the car and handling most of the luggage. Have the other person in charge of the diaper bag and baby.

This fits into our plan of minimizing how many forms of transit Natalie had to be on and increasing how many opportunities she had to run around before getting on the plane.

2) If traveling with a partner, have one person board the airplane with all the luggage right after the first-class passengers board. Have the other person run around the airport with the baby and be the last people to board the plane.

Natalie really wanted a water bottle, so I made her chase me around the airport for 20 minutes while I held the bottle and the other passengers boarded.

3) Don't bring out the milk bottles until you can hear the plane's engine getting ready to take off.

We've all been stuck on planes on the tarmac. On our return flight, we were stuck for one hour on the tarmac while they de-iced our plane. Natalie did shockingly well, but to keep her from drinking her milk too soon I had Matt distract her while I got a bottle out of the bag, otherwise she would have seen it and wanted it.

4) Remember to save some milk for landing.

On our first flight from D.C. to St. Louis, Natalie drank too much too soon and therefore wasn't interested in milk during the descent. This led to a not fun time thanks to the pressure on her ears.

5) Let your child play in the aisles for as long as humanly possible.

Our flight to St. Louis was pretty uneventful because Natalie could play in the aisle fairly indefinitely while we were at our cruising altitude. Snowy turbulence on the way back to D.C. meant basically no time in the aisle, aside from the one hour waiting on the tarmac. Thankfully, by squeezing Natalie super tight (despite her significant protestations), I got her to sleep for about 30 minutes on that flight.


1) Take some favorite books.

We opted for variety: a couple lift-the-flap, a couple first words, a couple calm/bedtime stories.

2) A few weeks/months before the trip, hide some favorite, small toys, and bring them out on the plane.

We did this with Natalie's Green Sprouts stacking cups and Sassy linking letters. When we reintroduced them on the plane they led to over an hour of distraction.

3) Bring non-toy, tried-and-true distractions.

Natalie loves to wear my big, chunky necklaces (which she calls "'sazs"). Seeing as they are likely choking hazards and whatnot, she only gets to wear them under close supervision on special occasions. Airplane travel seems like an appropriately special occasion. Taking the necklace on and off repeatedly is a favorite pastime.

What we didn't use

1) Ergo carrier.

We brought it along, but Natalie screamed in it at the airport despite a week of re-training her to love it prior to the trip.

2) iPad apps.

We downloaded six free Fisher-Price apps to the iPad before we left. We didn't let Natalie see them prior to the trip, either. We never had to resort to using them, which is for the best because she's never really used an app before and likes the iPhone/iPad solely for looking at pictures of herself.

"OK, as you take that picture of me, you also must let me see it."

3) Cheap toys/stickers/PlayDoh, etc.

Many friends recommended stocking up on items from the $1 bins at Target. I think this is an awesome suggestion for slightly older kids. I just knew it wasn't in the cards for Natalie, so I didn't follow the advice this time.

You know, it's not that bad

We went into this trip prepared for just about anything, and we experienced just about everything. While on the trip, we were able to accommodate the weekend's schedule and make Natalie's schedule fit around it. Natalie was exhausted at night and slept like a champ. For the first time since she was about four months old, Natalie actually fell asleep on top of me Saturday night. Holding her in my arms while she sweetly cooed reminded me of how she's somewhere in between infancy and toddlerhood. Maybe that's what parenting is all about: moments when your child reminds you of what she used to be and what she's becoming.

In the 11th hour of travel, when we were about 30 minutes away from landing in D.C. Sunday night, as Natalie was falling asleep on me, her head nuzzled against my chest, I poked my almost-falling-asleep husband and said, "Isn't our daughter adorable?" He said, "Good job with that." We watched the lights of D.C. emerge from under the clouds. Sure, she started her meltdown about five minutes later, but we made it, and we are better for it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gifts for a one-year old

It's relatively easy to buy gifts for a newborn (or yet-to-be-born) baby. Go to the registry.

It's harder to buy for a one-year old. The child has a year's worth of stuff. You don't want to duplicate anything the toddler already owns. You also don't want to clutter your friend's home (at least that's a major gift-giving principle for me). You probably don't want to buy your friend's kid anything too potentially annoying (for the parents), lest karma get you back down the line.

Here are some items Natalie has either received recently as gifts or has gotten as a hand-me-down or a rare item we've purchased for her. I hope this can give you some ideas next time you find yourself searching for ideas, as I did all the time pre-baby.

My number-one go-to gifts for babies and children are books. Not only are they gender-neutral, but they don't take up much space and they can be enjoyed for many years and easily shared among siblings. Added bonus: books are easier to return than clothes or toys, in my experience; take them to Barnes and Noble, even sans gift receipt, with your baby in tow and you'll probably get store-credit pity.

I highly recommend the Baby Einstein 12-Book set. Each book has a different theme (shapes, colors, letters, farm animals, etc.) and only contains about 10 pages. This format has worked well with Natalie, as the books fit nicely in her tiny hands and the simple pages have taught her some basic vocabulary words. Down side: she wants to read each of the 12 books over and over, which is exhausting, but she's super happy.
Other recent favorites include any books of words, such as Baby Einstein: First Words and First 100 Words by Bright Baby.

Something book-like that Natalie adores are these DK Publishing My First Touch and Feel Picture Cards. She received the colors and shapes ones as a gift, but I'm sure any of the varieties they sell would be great.

I'm much more cautious when it comes to giving toys or even buying them myself for Natalie. I'm a fan of more interactive toys, ones that have more than one function and require a little imagination. Of course, that needs to be tempered by the fact that Natalie is not yet in the imaginative play stage. She's more in the putting things in and out of boxes phase.

Number one toy-buying rule: if it's electronic, make sure it has an off button.

Regardless, here are a couple winners these days:
The Earlyears Pound N Play -- I had something quite similar to this as a child. Natalie loves watching the balls slide down the ramp. It's also amusing to watch her walk around giggling while holding a plastic hammer. She is starting to (very slowly) understand that she needs to put each ball in the correct spot on the toy, so I guess there's some hand-eye coordination developing there.
B. Parum Pum Pum Drum -- OK, so this 7-piece musical instrument set violates most of my gift-giving principles, which is why I bought it for Natalie myself and haven't given it to anyone as a gift. But this toy is awesome. Again, I remember lots of happy playtime as a child spent with my now-obsolete Fisher-Price music set, and I'm glad Natalie gets a similar experience with this toy. It's easy for a one-year old to manipulate, but I think it's a toy that will grow with her, too. Though it doesn't have an off switch, I have carved out a drum-sized space in the toy box so I can make the set disappear when I've had enough for the day.

IKEA Finger puppets -- I won't link to these, because they are constantly revolving products, but I will say that Natalie received a set of three finger puppets (a dragon, a butterfly, and a snail) and these are some of her favorite objects to carry around and put inside boxes and baskets. They're small enough to throw in the diaper bag and make excellent distractions in restaurants or in the car.

Speaking of baskets, though I've never given nor received this gift, I have thought about how the perfect gift for someone Natalie's age would be a basket small enough for a toddler to carry around, filled with toddler-friendly items such as egg shakers, stacking cups, Munchkin Snack Catchers, etc. As cliche as it is, it's true in my experience that a toddler would rather play with packaging and small household goods than play with a fancy toy.

This is the third main category for kids' gifts. Based on my experience, my three pieces of advice would be:

1) Buy clothes for the season ahead in the size ahead. For example, if a baby turns one in September, buy him/her winter clothes in size 18 months. The baby probably already has enough 12-month fall clothes by the time the first birthday comes around.

2) Buy clothes from (slightly more expensive) places the average parent is unlikely to buy from on a regular basis, such as Nordstrom or Baby Gap. That will decrease the likelihood of you buying something the child already has in his/her closet.

3) Buy accessories. Think hats, socks, hair bows. Toddlers receive a lot of outfits but few accessories. Bonus: accessories are more likely to fit and last longer than outfits.

For her first birthday, Natalie received an Amazon gift card that I promptly used to purchase her first pair of real shoes (these Stride Rite sneakers).
I will probably be stealing this idea in the future, giving a gift card designated for baby shoes, either from Amazon or Stride Rite. Baby shoes are expensive, yo. The parents will be super happy. Plus, I've learned that it's quite easy to order baby shoes online and skip the hassle of wrangling a toddler inside a shoe store. Simply go to the Stride Rite website, print the sizing chart, put your toddler's feet on the chart, plug in the measurements online, and you'll easily wind up with the correct size. Then you can browse the seemingly endless choices online while your toddler sleeps.

What gifts have you given/received that were a big hit for a toddler?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Quest for the Holy Sippy

When Natalie was around 6 months old, our pediatrician recommended we start trying to offer her water through a sippy cup. As a perennial rule follower, I obliged. We already had a couple sippy cups in our house, thanks to our baby registry and a couple gifts that arrived soon after Natalie's birth. Because I'd read in Baby 411 that it's best for babies to drink from straws rather than spouts in order to avoid future orthodontia disaster, or some such nonsense, I started off believing Natalie needed to learn to drink from a straw, stat.

Oh, silly me.

It turns out there are some children under the age of one year old who have no problem drinking out of a straw. (Our little buddy Sammy is a straw-drinking champion, mastering the art at age four months or so.) It turns out my daughter is not one of these champs.

So, I started stocking up on seemingly every type of sippy cup imaginable in what unfortunately became The Quest for the Holy Sippy.

After starting out with the Safe Sippy and the Playtex Baby First Lil' Gripper Twist 'n Click Straw Trainer Cup we moved on to no-straw sippy cups, starting with the University of Virginia sippy cup with the traditional spout (like the Auburn ones pictured here, apologies to my alma mater). Then we moved on to Nuby sippy cups (both this kind and this kind). No dice.

Take N Toss sippy cups were a hit at Natalie's first birthday party; unfortunately, I don't think Natalie actually got any liquid out of then, though she loved carrying them around.

Finally, when I thought I couldn't get more sippy cups into our cabinet space, I found this Tommee Tippee Explora training cup. It's like the clouds parted and guided me to this cup. Natalie drinks out of it, successfully. And the thing doesn't leak. Every sippy cup claims it doesn't leak, but this is the one that has actually passed many toddler shaking and dropping tests.

Coming in at runner-up in the Quest is the Camelbak Eddy Kids' bottle. Sammy, of four-month-old straw-using fame, gave this bottle to Natalie because he's been able to drink out of this style of bottle most of his life, and it looks shockingly similar to my Camelbak that Natalie loves to try to drink out of, albeit unsuccessfully. Natalie can get a decent amount of water out of this bottle, thanks to the way the straw stores water in its tubing. This blessing, though, is also a curse because this causes the bottle to leak some. Still, I gladly give Natalie this bottle, too, because she likes it and it works most of the time.

Natalie is still drinking almost all her whole milk out of her Dr. Brown bottles, but by 15 months I'd like her to be exclusively drinking all her liquids out of her sippy cups. We've only got five weeks to make the transition complete!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Treat Yo Self: jewelry cleaning, tailoring, waxing

I love Aziz Ansari's character on Parks and Rec, and I love that he has given me Treat Yo Self.

I'd been lagging in some much-needed treating of myself, so I took care of a few items lately that are worth sharing.

1) At-home jewelry cleaning

You know those little round bottles of jewelry cleaner that cost $5 a pop and kind-of sort-of get your ring clean? I'd been using those for years (specifically, the 6.5 years we've been married), but my ring was never really coming out that clean. I wanted to recreate that sparkly-just-got-engaged ring of 2005. It's been recreated twice, both times when Matt took my ring into a jewelry store and asked someone to clean it. Because I feel pathetic taking my ring into a jewelry store every month to get it sparkly again, I started looking for alternatives. Matt found the well-reviewed Sonic Wave CD-2800 Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner on Amazon.

Let me say this product is amazing. It's pretty inexpensive (we paid $27), it doesn't take up much space, and most importantly it makes my ring sparkle perhaps more than it did on the day we got engaged. It's also kind of funny because it looks like a little spaceship for your jewelry, and when you turn it on this blue light comes on (which to me looks like the future). It takes about 3 minutes for the machine to complete a cleaning cycle.

Matt also read that putting a drop of blue Dawn dishwashing detergent in the machine will further enhance the jewelry's sparkle, so we invested in a bottle.

So, if you want brand-new looking jewelry, treat yo self.

2) Saving busted jeans thanks to a good tailor

You know how I love me some too-expensive Citizens of Humanity jeans? Aside from my maternity jeans purchase (which doesn't count), I only owned two pairs of these jeans, and they've gotten me through many, many wearings over three years. Then I had a baby. No, my body actually didn't change, and the jeans continue to fit me perfectly. But having a baby means lots of crawling around on the floor. So one of my pairs of jeans got a giant hole in the knee. That pair was beyond repair and now is my an around-the-house-only pair of jeans. My other pair of jeans got two holes in the crotch area, but the holes are so tiny and hidden that I thought I should try saving these jeans with the amazing tailor I found about five years ago.

I am so glad I took my jeans in for patching a few weeks ago. I spent $20 to get them professionally patched, and I think that small amount of money was a great investment for what will hopefully prolong the life of the jeans for at least another year, perhaps several more. My tailor put some black material inside the crotch area of the jeans and by some act of voodoo sewing made them look perfectly new. Seriously. Amazing. I'm especially glad I saved these particular boot-cut pants because they are practically obsolete, as a recent jean-shopping expedition to Nordstrom revealed.

3) DIY bikini waxing

Man, if I could choose an area of my body to never have to remove hair from again, it would be my bikini line. Because I don't want to invest the time and money into laser hair removal, though, I've experimented with various DIY waxing options, including wax strips and sugar wax. Prior to our recent Bahamas trip -- which I dubbed our second honeymoon, so I wanted to look especially good -- I went on the lookout for some new products. I stumbled upon the Parissa Strip-Free Hot Wax for face, brow, and bikini. I will admit I was both intrigued and terrified by the idea of strip-free waxing, not to mention the idea of applying hot wax to my own body.
I have to say I am now converted. Though a bit messy, I found this product way easier to use than I imagined it would be. We have a gas stove, and I placed the metal wax container straight over a burner. It only took about a minute or two for the wax to warm up. One pot of wax can definitely be used for several different applications. Sure, using the wax was a little painful, but beauty is pain, right? I've never had a pain-free waxing experience. Also, the results really did last a long time, and that's what matters most.

So, ladies, go out and treat yo self.