Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Most useful baby items during the first 6 months: Ergo carrier

and the list continues. I had intended to post more than one recommendation here today, but I have such unabashed love for the Ergobaby original carrier that I'm dedicating an entire post to it.

5) Baby carrier -  Ergobaby

Carriers are great, when you have a baby who HATES her stroller
Truth be told, our little one was pretty cranky for the first four months of her life. She had reflux and was extremely colicky as a result. When I say "extremely" I am not kidding around. She would cry for 13 or more hours a day - uninterrupted - during most of her second month.

The word on the street is infant carrying eases colic. The idea is that much of the crying stems from indiscernible reasons and that being close to Mom or Dad is comforting despite whatever discomfort or oversensitivity the child is expressing. That might be true for some kids. It is very hard for me to judge, because our daughter was so uncomfortable with reflux and cried so much it was nearly impossible to leave the house. We, literally, could not put her in a carrier or car seat or stroller for the first 2 months. She would scream hysterically and unrelentingly. This meant that all tasks outside of the house had to be completed by one parent, while the other one sat at home holding the baby with both hands. However, once the reflux and colic started to ease up, the very first tool that let both H and I out of the door at the same time was the infant carrier. For that reason alone, I will always be indebted to Baby Bjorn and Ergo.

Around month three, we managed to get our little girl into a baby bjorn classic carrier. Once ensconced, she would travel with us to the grocery store and even sleep on my chest while we ate at a restaurant. We even used it to get her down for a nap, on occasion. I really liked this carrier because it had several easy to snap into place locks on the shoulder and waist that made it easy to slip and secure the baby into place - and, importantly, lay a sleeping baby onto a bed and release the carrier without waking her.

The baby bjorn classic carriers are a two piece structure of straps for parents and a separate pocket structure that attaches to those straps and carries the baby. The pocket attaches, with a number of locking mechanisms, chief amongst them a large plastic lock that forms part of the carrier seat. Around month 5 this large plastic lock became very uncomfortable for our little one. All of her weight sat on it and she would cry every time we put her in the carrier. At this time we moved onto the Ergo, a one piece cloth carrier, the seat of which is formed by a large cotton pocket that tightens against the parent's stomach via a large and well padded waist strap. While the baby bjorn places the baby's weight on the parent's shoulders and between their shoulder blades, the Ergo places most of the weight on a parent's hips. As a baby grows, this carrier becomes infinitely more useful, as the child's weight is carried by the primary weight bearing parts of a human's body. Weight placements and the over structure of an Ergo means that a child can be carried until a child reaches 45 pounds in this carrier - outstripping most other carriers by at 15 pounds.

We were introduced to the Ergo coincident with our discovery that our little girl hated being in a forward facing stroller (the only way our current stroller faces). Turns out, many children are not magically induced to want to face away from their parents the second they turn 6 months and can no longer be left in a bassinet stroller or a car seat stroller without danger of injury. Our little girl wanted to see us at all times. With the bjorn carrier too small, and the stroller too forward facing, we were a miserable bunch. All of our outings were marked with the anxious screams of a poor little girl who didn't want to face the world alone. The Ergo was such a life saver - again allowing us to leave the house without hysterical screams.

I would say, between the two, the Ergo is a the better deal. It retails for a little over $100 and can be used (with an insert) from infancy to 45 pounds. They are continually posted on craigslist for less than $100 and are easily washed.  It can be adjusted to hang off a parent's side (presumably accommodating twins if you have two carriers) and, when the child is older, it can be positioned on a parent's back.  If I could go back I would have used an Ergo with an infant insert from the very beginning. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Most useful baby items during the first 6 months: Part 1

Okay, clothes are useful too...

It has almost been a year since our little one was born. I've been thinking about this one way ride, and how our baby changed so much so fast. When we found out I was pregnant, two big, panicky thoughts reverberated  1) does anyone here know what to do with a baby? and 2) how the hell are we going to afford this?

An industrialized mommy complex has been unleashed in the last 10 years that is almost on par with the wedding industry. While throwing a large party that is supposed to embody a relationship and make absolutely everyone with an opinion happy can be stressful, at the end of the day a wedding is an event at which a couple signs a contract agreeing to be, ideally, legally joined to each other.  Caring for a child so that said child, say, stays healthy, meets milestones, defecates in a diaper that has been put on properly requires a great deal more preparation, money and time. The objects and experiences available to "help" new parents keep a baby alive and help it thrive are not only infinite, but amount to a lot of cash. Unlike with a wedding, raising a child comes with almost immediately recognizable and barely surmountable responsibilities, along with a healthy dose of persistent guilt that you haven't done it correctly.

When you are just starting out, as H and I are, the perceived expense of a baby and the things you are "supposed" to buy or do are really overwhelming. When I think back to those first few months of our little one's life, there are only a few things that we really needed, and fewer still that helpful but optional. Here are the top five items that helped us slug through the first 6 months.

 1) Bouncer chair

Handy for a little one that needs to be "held" to nap.

When our little one came home she needed to be held constantly. She had difficulty settling into the crib and would cry for hours and hours. We eventually discovered that she would sleep if we placed her in the bouncer chair. I guess it closed in around her a little bit. In those very early days, one of us would stay awake with her in this chair, while the other guy slept. As she grew, the chair became a place where she could sit and watch us while we did little tasks in the same room. We used it right up until the day she could sit up on her own. A friend of ours very generously gave us the Fisher Price My Little Lamb Deluxe Infant Seat, which vibrates and plays music. Honestly, we never used those features. They kept the baby awake. There is very likely a cheaper version of this seat that would have served the same purpose.

2) Muslin wraps

Muslin wraps are handy for the swaddling challenged.

Best.swaddling.blanket.ever. Hands down champion. These wraps are long and stretchy, making swaddling a breeze. Our little baby was very uncomfortable with reflux during her early months, and swaddling made her feel marginally better. We now use these blankets to cover the ground when we sit in the park, or to cover her legs in the stroller/car seat on a mild day. They are also useful as make-shift sun shields. We got by with two by Aden and Anais, which I snagged on sale for $10 a piece.

3) Microwaveable bottle sterilizer

You name it, we sterilized it in here.
Once the bottles are boiled that first time, they still need to be sterilized before every use during the first 4 months of a child's life. With this sterilizer and 200 ml of water, 6 bottles can be sterilized in the microwave while a busy parent accomplishes other things. Four minutes on high, followed by four minutes of rest and the bottles are ready to go.

A friend of ours gave us her old Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles and sterilizer. The bottle folks would have you believe that their microwaveable sterilizers only fit their bottles. Anyone with depth perception can see that isn't true. It is particularly untrue of the the Tommee Tippee sterilizer, as it is designed to fit Tommee Tippee bottles, which are extra wide and sometime very tall. We were able to stick pacifiers, Avent bottles as well as Ameda and Medela breast pump bottles in here no problem. In fact, this sterilizer was most helpful during the period that I pumped milk at work. Breast pump bottles absolutely have to be sterile. Every morning, I would pop the bottles into this sterilizer, get ready for work, and pack them into my purse on the way out the door. Indispensable.

4) Breast pump - Ameda, Purely Yours

Breastfeeding: great for baby health, and
budget friendly too
I almost recommended my bottle brush over this pump. I didn't have much success pumping at work, as there was no space to do so. That said, this pump worked well at home. Since it is closed system, the pump cannot be contaminated by cytomegalovirus and other such nasties, so the device is easy to resell or donate when a mother is done with it (sans the tubing, filters and cups, of course). In this respect, The Ameda Purely Yours double breast pump is very similar to the hospital pumps.

I was the happy recipient of this pump, which had been used by two other women. When I first returned to work, my supply dipped so I rented a hospital pump for a month in the hopes of boosting my supply. I found no discernible difference between the two pumps. In the end, though, this little guy gave out about 4 months before I stopped breastfeeding our little one. I guess four years of virtually constant use was too much. If you consider that a week's supply of formula for a 6 month old is roughly $30, investing $200 in a new pump to use for a year is kind of a budget and health no brainer.

5) Sherpa - as diaper wipes, face wipes, miracle clean up fabric

Best baby purchase ever, hands down.
Photo credit: Wazoodle
So this was a bit of a surprise. Babies seem to require an insane amount of fabric be invested in mopping up messes everyday. Between pee spray, milk drool, bum wiping, wetting themselves mid-diaper change and the unidentifiable muck collecting around hands and face, babies need to be wiped down constantly. An easy cleaning fix is to buy cartons of diaper wipes and keep them handy during all baby interfacing. Diaper wipes, however, are usually made of some kind of polyester mix. This means they do not break down in land fill. While cheap on a per pack basis (around $4 for a small pack), the ludicrous amount of wiping up required to keep a baby alive and healthy means that in the very short term diaper wipe buying becomes expensive.

While looking into how to make our own cloth diapers (more on that later), I found a very absorbent and inexpensive knit fabric called "sherpa" referenced frequently as a good absorbent layer fabric. A quick google search led me to a New Jersey company named Wazoodle, which sells organic cotton sherpa for around $13 a yard. I bought a yard and a half, cut it up into roughly diaper wipe size (no sewing required, since the fabric is knit) and haven't bought a wipe since. Not only does the fabric absorb over 3 cups of liquid per square yard/square meter, it is softer than most terry clothes and its nap is the best dirty bum cleaner we have every used. We keep a little homemade diaper wipe solution beside the changing area and dip these bad boys into it at change time. We have another set that we keep just for wiping food covered faces. At the end of the week, we wash the sherpa with either the cloth diapers or regular clothes (depending on how it was used). The purchase of this fabric, no lie, was the most budget friendly and clean-baby making decision we ever made.

What items have you found most useful? Any DIY baby supply suggestions?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Etsy engagement rings part 2

Squeeeeee!!!! SO PRETTY!
Photo credit: Marajoyce
The Christmas season is fast coming upon us. With trees and mistletoe comes, inevitably, a slew of Christmas time proposals. A Christmas time proposal might mean snowy romance and glowing lights to some. Eternally budget-minded, for me Christmas engagements mean an important expense at a expensive time of year. 

Couples have varying views on what an engagement ring should be. I knew at the time that H proposed to me that I wanted a pretty, reclaimed ring for under  $300. 
As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a huge proponent of hand-crafted engagement rings that use reclaimed materials and semi-precious stones (I ended up finding a beautiful piece featuring a semi-precious stone on eBay for $102). I love the aesthetic of such pieces. Buying such rings has the added benefit of supporting a small business, having greater control over design and, in the case of rings made from reclaimed materials, the benefit of  being environmental friendly and avoiding the ethical muck of blood jewels.

Here is a selection of handcrafted rings for under $200 a piece currently available on Etsy*. 

Moonstone &14k Solid Gold Ring by Ringsland - $149
I LOVE the bezel set and the misty quality of the stone. So pretty!! Ringsland makes some rings to order, so there might be wiggle room on stone size and color. 

2.5ct Cushion Cut Ring , Green Amethyst 
                                                 or Citrine Ring by Baragent- $125.94

Photo credit: Barargent
I could not choose between these two very chic rings featuring cushion cut stones available at Baragent. The company's designs tend towards art deco style and statement pieces, with multi-faceted stones. Almost all designs in the shop fall under the $150 mark, with a few pieces coming in at just over $20.

 Aquamarine Twig Gemstone Ring, Silver by Marajoyce - $153.32 
Photo credit: Marajoyce
I am a fan of the bezel set ring, in large part because it reminds me of ancient Mediterranean jewelry. Most of the designs by Marajoyce have a distinct Roman feel to them, with some pieces featuring real Roman era coins.  This particular ring, in my view, is a bit of a departure from the other designs in the shop, both in its stone color and band width. Many of the pieces are larger statement pieces, multi-colored and many featured. Beautiful, but for my taste, this ring really hits it out of the ball park - just a lovely and peaceful mix of aqua/azure tones paired with a silver, tactile band. 

* I have not purchased any items from these vendors. I just dig the rings.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Making a blanket out of pashmina scarves

$25 and some street haggling later,
 I have a throw blanket
Our current apartment is very small. It is approximately 450 square feet. As we were packing to move I realized that for the space to feel orderly and clean, it would have to be well organized and coordinated in terms of both shape of items and their color.

We decided to buy some new furniture to fit the space. I went on the hunt for the perfect throw blanket for the living room couch. I knew that I wanted the blanket to be predominately white and turquoise, without a lot of intricate patterning. This turned out to be a fruitless search, as the gods of West elm, CB2, Target etc. all seemed to conspire to be really into gray and yellow at the time I started the hunt. This is when I decided to make my own blanket.

As our move coincided with the last three months of my pregnancy, grant season and a major publication project, I knew I didn't have a lot of time to quilt or knit a blanket. Moreover, I had just seen the perfect turquoise color on the streets of NYC - a "pashmina" scarf being sold by a table vendor. Fake pashminas  pepper Manhattan. They are sold by every street vendor in the city, for about $5 a piece. That's when I decided to make a throw blanket out of pashmina scarves.

My street shopping bounty 

I picked up two turquoise scarves with white scarf for contrast,  and then more or less followed the blanket-making instructions I found at Centsational Girl. I made a few adjustments, mentioned below. The blanket is basically a striped duvet cover that sewn directly over a piece of quilt batting. The total cost of this project is $25-$35 - $15 for the scarves, and $10 or $20 depending on whether you want polyester or cotton batting.

Cut the scarf into strips and pin the first
 two strips together

Three scarves will make a blanket about the size of a twin coverlet. The first step to make a striped blanket is to cut the scarves in half, lengthwise. The scarf strips will, eventually, be assembled and sewn in two groups of three. The two sewn groups are then sewn together. To start, pin two of the lengths together, right side in, and sew them with a straight stitch. Since the scarves fray, I found it helpful to give myself a little bit more than the standard 1/4 seam allowance. I left about 1/2 inch of allowance.

It is helpful to leave a 1/2 inch seam allowance

To this pair of sewn strips, add and pin the third strip and sew. Repeat this entire process a second time to make a second sewn panel of three strips. Then assemble the two panels, right side in, pin and sew along the two long sides and one short side. Leave one short side open. Turn the newly assembled blanket cover right side out and carefully line up with the quilt batting and temporarily pin it in place. Us as few pins as possible, as these scarves sort of lack a self-healing ability. The holes left by the pins might be apparent.

 It's possible, due to differences in scarf, seam allowances and batting widths that the cover will be slightly smaller than the batting. At this point, the batting can be trimmed if needed. I found that the batting needed to be trimmed, though Centsational Girl seemed to get her batting to slip in effortlessly - no lining up, no trimming.

No pic of the lining up process, sorry

After trimming the batting,  it's a simple matter of guiding the batting into the gigantic duvet cover just sewn and straightening it so that the batting corners fit into the cover corners. Once the batting is in place at the corners, I stitched the batting to the cover in a few places, along the fringe of the scarves. I don't have pictures of this process because in the tiny apartment in which I assembled this blanket, I had to slip the batting and then hang the blanket across a door and a few other structures to complete this task. Presumably, you have a more spacious apartment and won't have to spread you blanket across two separate rooms to get the batting into place.
hand stitch the open side of the cover
and you are done!

Once the batting is in place, be sure to lay the blanket flat, smooth the cover and batting and pin the open end to the batting in a handful of places. Hand stitch the open end of the blanket closed using a slip stitch, or whatever stitch rocks your world. Centsational Girl likes colorful and apparent stitches so she used very colorful thread. I prefer less apparent stitching, so I used a more subtle color.

The finished product in its usual place. 

Three final thoughts on this project. 1) I love the blanket (it is super warm), but would have liked it to be a bit more square. If I were to redo this project I would resize the batting 2) the blanket actually holds up really well. It has collected a few snags from heavy use, but that's hardly a problem. 3) I really like this project because when the cover eventually gives out or I grow tired of the colours, the batting can be used again and again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Scratch and win pregnancy announcements

The itty bitty, teeny weeny, faintest of lines
that changed everything
Photo credit: me
A few weeks after I deposited my dissertation, H and I decided to revisit our plan to have children. We were very quiet about trying to get pregnant, discussing the possibility with no one but my doctor.

We weren't private for long, because 10 days after we decided to try I found myself holding the plastic wand pictured above.  Unabashedly excited about this child, I decided to come up with a playful way to tell my parents the news.

Around 13 weeks, we decided to make scratch and win tickets by following these instructions. Basically, I designed a game-like card and printed it on cardstock. I made mine in powerpoint, saved it as a tif and printed it on our colour inkejet printer at home.

Now to make it a scratch card. Martha Stewart's tutorial suggested painting the circles with a mix of liquid acrylic paint and dish detergent. The trick to making the card easy to scratch is to first cover the areas to be scratched with clear packing tape before painting.  If you just paint the card, you'll have gooey paint on a card that will not scratch off.

Stick a stretch of packing tape to wax paper. The wax paper acts as the sticker backing. Cut the tape to the appropriate shape, peel the wax paper off and stick your packing tape sticker to the space you want to your recipient to scratch.

Then mix your liquid acrylic paint with a drop of dish detergent and paint over the tape. Let it dry and voila, a scratch and win card.

If I could go back I think I would have worded the card "November 23rd, 2012 is my due date". As I worded it my parents discovered I was pregnant when they scratched the first circle, leaving the the last two circles to be scratched after congratulations  and hugs etc.. All of that said, it was an easy project. My parents loved it and it introduced our little one in a fun and lighthearted way.

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013, gone so soon

My "home only" to do list the day before our little one was born
Lovely readers (I do count the hits on this site, and apparently there are more of you out there than I thought), I've been a bad poster of posts. I'm sorry for having been derelict in my duties. The period between my last 2012 post and today has been insanely busy.  To give you a little run down, since I last posted I have

- become unemployed
- landed a postdoctoral position outside of NYC
....and subsequently messed with just about every other life plan H and I have made in the last 5 years
- hired several immigration lawyers
- became pregnant
- made several weeks long trips to research centers to complete work for said postdoc
- moved to another country.

This is no small feat when you have possessions you intend to keep. A move like this requires a detailed manifest of every packed box with an estimate of how much the items inside the box cost. It took months to pack

- settled into a new home
- became the sole breadwinner on a much, much lower income.
- wrote many grants, and won three
- handed in one grant while in labor
- gave birth to a beautiful baby
- discovered the wonders of cloth diapering
- pumped out 4 publications
- started three major research projects
- started a work-related book proposal
- submitted quite a few permanent job applications

....and have started to pack up to move again. 

Huh, I guess that's it. It seems like more. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Moment of Happy in home decor

My dissertation killed the happy in my apartment

In the wake of my PhD I published papers- or at least I tried to publish papers. While I did this and waited for my postdoc to start, I dwelled in burnout. The author of my favourite blog in the whole wide world would call this "dwelling in possibility". That chick, however, gets stuff done. She is setting up a school, building and organizing a house, raising a two kids etc.. I, by contrast, sat on my couch, working up the energy to get to the gym at 2 pm. It occurs to me that had I taken a trip after my dissertation was deposited - if I had even chilled in a organized way that week, I would have been more productive in the weeks that followed. I might even be more productive now. 

I did however, reclaim certain aspects of my life and household. This included 1) destuffing/decluttering 2) reorganizing and repairing and 3) completing some decor projects.

My PhD years were fun, but the last 3 years were stressful. I worked veeeery long hours, in a very aggressive and unsupportive environment. For 3 years, I just came home and collapsed into bed. As a result, we never really settled into our apartment. It was filled with half done projects. It was messy. It wasn't a refuge. It was just something else I have to do.

So in the weeks after my dissertation, I decided to re-introduce the happy. H and I are worked a special project to pull the living room together. Before I put that up here, I'm posting my easiest solution to bringing in the happy - pretty drawer pulls. All found on Etsy - all pretty and delightful and welcome to replace the sad Ace hardware burnished brass pulls that dragged down our home.

VintageSkyes is a delightful Etsy shop that produces handstamped "vintage inspired" drawer pulls. The shop contains dozens of designs, most in black and white. While some stamped designs have 19th century science plate illustration feeling to them, others are dead ringers for late 19th century advertising typographic symbols, or actual government stamps (i.e. U.S. Post Office). I'm in love with all of them. At the cost of $7 a knob, I could happily see these ushering in the pretty in my kitchen.

 I am particularly fond of this Matryoshka doll pull. I've never seen anything like it before.  

Photo credit: VintageSkye

Veritas Inspired  sells recovered drawer pulls, amongst other metal objects. The feel of the shop is very shabby chic, but the owner does find some interesting pulls and will paint and shab them up anyway you might like. 
Photo credit: VeritasInspired

I'm not sure how this happened, but I have a serious case of the cutes that my grad school self would have found very amusing. I suspect it took hold after the birth of our little one (oh yes, a lot has happened since I last posted). The upshot is, I like cartoon drawings of fuzzy animals. I really dig the drawer pulls at Ebonypaws . They are adorable without being cutesie, simple but not dull, sweet but not saccharin. I have a particular soft spot for this sleeping fox pull below

Photo credit: EbonyPaws