Wednesday, December 23, 2009

hungry mungry

We thought we were going to wait the widely-recommended 6 months before we gave her anything besides breastmilk, but Ruby was showing so many signs of being ready earlier (speck of a tooth coming in, lunging for our food with her mouth wide open, and insatiable appetite) that the pediatrician told us to go ahead and give her some rice cereal. So, at 5 1/2 months, Ruby has officially ended her liquid-only diet.

First thing we needed: a high chair. We couldn't fathom adding yet another stand-alone object to our little apartment, so this Fisher-Price space saver was a great find! It fits securely onto most standard chairs and Ruby seemed comfortable and happy in it from the first time she sat in it.

Next order of business: a bib. Because we don't have a washer and dryer in our apartment, we need to conserve throwing stuff into the laundry as much as possible. The Bumkin waterproof superbibs are actually exactly what they are called: superbibs. They are cute and functional and can be wiped down between feedings rather than laundered.

Next, we can't actually feed her if we don't have any food. Jude--a chef--has for months now been making all her fruit and veggie foods that she's going to start eating in January. He wants her to eat local and organic foods, so he thought to start making (and freezing) the foods this fall so that she can have more variety than what's available at the farmer's markets in the dead of winter! For starting to eat, though, we chose rice cereal (the most common starter food) because it can be mixed with breastmilk and it's very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. We chose HappyBellies brand brown rice cereal (below link is for 6 canisters, which will last a long time).

We have a couple of beautiful silver and/or stainless steel spoons that Ruby was given as baby gifts, but those will be used later. For now, we needed to find a spoon with a soft tip so that--as she learns to chew and eat--she doesn't damage her tender little gums. My other criteria, of course, was that it had to be BPA-free. These inexpensive spoons from Munchkin did the trick.

And lastly, we got these matching bowls--also BPA-free--for her cereal. Pretty cute, and so much cheaper than most of the other dishware out there that is advertised as BPA-free.

jetsetter baby

Let's be honest: the prospect of flying with your infant is terrifying, especially around the holidays when planes and airports are chaotic and full of anxious travelers. I have heard lots of people recently talking about giving their children Benedryl or other sedatives for flights, but I am wholeheartedly against giving anyone--much less a BABY--any medications that they don't need. Clearly, if I can break my foot while 4 months pregnant and walk around in a cast in NYC for two months without even taking one Tylenol, I am not somebody who is about to shove chemicals down my baby's throat for a plane ride! I also recently read about a plane that had to be diverted for an emergency landing because a sedated baby stopped breathing (no, thank you)!

That being said, a whole day in airports (with an almost 4 hour layover in Detroit--yuck!) with a 5-month-old is not exactly my idea of a fun day.

My biggest worries are Ruby's safety in my lap (we did not pay for an extra seat) in the event of severe turbulence, her ears popping upon takeoff and landing and scaring her into a crying fit, diaper changes in an aiplane bathroom, and her ability to nap in the bright airports and aircrafts.

Here are some things I am carrying with me to combat said worries:

1) Safety Harness

This is a pretty clever little tool that allows your baby freedom of movement on your lap, but holds her close in case of intense turbulence. To me, it's worth the price to have an added safety measure in place.

2) Pacifiers

During take-off and landing, I think breastfeeding is the best option to both soothe baby and help keep her ears clear. However, if baby's not hungry, a pacifier will help do the trick. Also helpful in the airport and for getting to sleep on the flight. For travel, I like the Haba chains that clip to the baby carrier so she can't knock her pacifier to the ground. Also, the soothie pacifiers are BPA-free and my daughter LOVED hers from the first time we offered it. Wubbanubs are also great--they have a Soothie pacifier attatched to a little stuffed animal that makes it easier for baby to hug and hold onto it.

3) Hooter Hider

Breastfeeding is definitely the easiest way to feed (not to mention soothe) baby on the flight). No need to worry about how much milk you're bringing with you in case of delays or layovers. The Bebe Au Lait covers are great because of the boning at the neck to help make a line of vision between you. However, I love-love-love the Busy Baby Wrap because they are simple and stylish enough to leave on as an extra layer on-flight or could double as a blanket for baby.

4) In-flight Entertainment

The key to bringing toys on the plane is that you want stuff that is small enough to pack and also quiet enough to not bug your neighbors (ie. not rattles or squeaky toys). Here is an assortment of some non-toxic toys and teethers that fit the bill.

5) Clean-Up and Cuddling

They are a splurge, but I adore Aden & Anais muslin blankets. They are oversized, which makes swaddling easier, but they are so thin that they can fold up tiny in your bag. I use these for everything--burb cloth, wiping up spit, peek-a-boo, swaddling, cuddling, sun shade, nursing cover, etc. Plus, they're adorable.

6. Diaper Station

There's not a lot of room to change a diaper on an airplane. Keep everything in one place so you're not dragging baby plus five other things into the lavatory.

jumperoo? don't mind if I do!

Ruby has been loving her jumperoo since she was 4 1/2 months old. She bounces around like a drunken sailor and giggles and coos. At 5 1/2 months, she is still slightly too short for the contraption, so we put a yoga mat and a board game box underneath her feet to give her a boost. This was incredibly quick and easy to put together, too!

Ruby enjoying her jumperoo at about 5 months old:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

I'm writing this a lot later than I wanted to, but I have been busy moving apartments (moving + full-time jobs + baby + Thanksgiving weekend + jury duty + painting old apartment back to white = chaos; thank goodness for my mother-in-law's help!). Now that we are settled in, though, I can focus more on my favorite time of year: the winter holiday season.

Starting a family has made me and Jude start thinking more carefully about what kinds of family traditions we want to uphold in our household. We want Ruby to have a sense of her own history and have consistent things to look forward to that punctuate her years with warmth, kindness, and excitement. We've thought about our own family traditions that we celebrated growing up and some others that we want to start on our own to be special to our new little family. One great place to start getting your creative juices flowing is Cafe Traditions. Their website and blog have all sorts of fun things from crafts to ideas for traditions for different holidays and occasions.

One of my favorites that we do here is directly stolen from a Cafe Traditions reader. The year we got married, Jude and I bought a simple journal (we chose one that doesn't have pictures or designs on it so we won't get sick of it and it won't go out of style) and wrote on the first page: "giving thanks." That year, we each--separately--wrote a journal entry in it on Thanksgiving about everything we were thankful for in our lives and in the past year. Now, each year, we do the same. We have had three Thanksgivings so far in our marriage and it's so much fun already to look back and read what we wrote before. This year, of course, we added Ruby to our family, so there is a lot to be thankful for. As time goes on, Ruby will eventually write entries, too, as well as any other family members we may add in the future. Our hope is that this piece of history becomes a coveted family heirloom for generations to come.

My mother-in-law is starting a nice tradition this year. She got Ruby a special Christmas ornament at an art fair in California and said she will continue to give Ruby a new special ornament each year at Christsmas so that she has her own collection of ornaments. I love this tradition, and there are so many variations. Maybe when Ruby gets older, the two of them will do art projects and make Christmas ornaments as well. If you're looking for unique holiday decorating, I love all the handmade ornaments on Etsy.

Mothering magazine's most recent issue had a great article entitled: "Sustainable Season's Greetings" with lots of wonderful ideas for making a warm and merry holiday season with green practices for entertaining, cooking, and decorating, as well as interesting traditions borrowed from various cultures and different winter holidays. They are selling a digital reprint (immediately available for download and/or printing from your own computer) of the article, along with a collection of staff favorite holiday recipes and tips, on sale for $3.99 this month!

Jude and I try to make a unique gift each year to give to family and friends who we see during the holidays. Two years ago, Jude jarred picked shallots and an herb mustard and I made little paper baggies with the dry ingredients to make my favorite ginger cookies (see below for recipe). We use to create the stickers for packaging. Last year, Jude canned a sweet apple butter and a savory apple butter and I made all-natural holiday apple crisp layered soaps.

Jude's parents have a holiday party almost every year at their home in Los Angeles. In the past few years, my mother-in-law has begun to make some sort of craft each year for the guest to take home with them. Two years ago, she made hair clips from found objects around the house. Each guest could choose one. Last year, she used up old scrap quilt materials to make various pot holders everyone could choose from.

I also love making holiday cards. Usually I put a lot of thought into making a fun and unique card, but this year there was too much going on with work and the move to find the time. So this year we just took a family photo (with a tripod) and I'm just doing a simple photo card through Kodakgallery.

One of my many favorite things about the holidays is holiday music. I tend to sing Christmas carols year-round, which--quite simply--drives Jude totally nuts. Now that it's December I have the green light on "Silent Night" as a suitable lullaby to put Ruby to sleep. One of my favorite winter music albums is The Hotel Cafe Presents: Winter Songs with a lovely assortment of sweet songs by various artists. My favorite is "Winter Song" by Sara Bareilles. Another is This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday, Volume 1.

And what is the holiday season without baked goods, really? My mom comes from a big family of people of who love to bake. She herself is a great baker, too, but she rarely graces us with her talents. Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, are another story. Each year growing up, I so looked forward to "helping" mom make cookies and pies and cakes and bars for the holidays. By helping, of course, I mean standing around ready to pounce on the leftover batters and doughs to lick from beaters and scrape from bowls. And, naturally, making snickerdoodles by taking the excess pie crust scraps and dousing them in cinnamon and sugar to bake into cookies.

I have turned into my mom in this respect--I can bake pretty well, but I only do it for these two favorite occasions. My all-time favorite cookies were aptly-named "Ginger Delicious Cookies" in our household growing up. My mom got the recipe from a "crazy lady" she knew when my parents lived in Beirut. Below is the recipe. Enjoy!

Ginger Delicious Cookies
½ cup oil
2 t. baking soda
1 cup sugar
¼ t. salt
¼ cup molasses
1 t. cinnamon
1 egg
1 t. cloves
2 cups flour (plus a pinch more)
1 t. ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Form small balls. Roll in sugar. Place round balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Pull them out before they start to brown and let them cool on baking rack. These should be moist and chewy.

Makes 3-4 dozen small cookies.

Tip: I highly recommend you use a mixer to form the dough – I can never get the texture right by hand!

no, you won't get a booger in your mouth

I'm not going to beat around the bush on this one: my sweet little daughter has a LOT of boogers. She has since the day she was born. Jude and I have worked tirelessly to keep her little nostrils clear, but it's taken a lot of patience (both from us and from Ruby). We had a nasal aspirator that came in a baby care kit we were given as a gift. We would stand over her at the changing table and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze, but it would take up to 10 or 15 tries before the booger blockade that was restricting her airflow would dislodge and be close enough to the outside that it could be grabbed and pulled out. I can't tell you how many times this sentence has been uttered in my apartment: "How can something so big come out of that little micro-face?" We tried a couple of different drugstore aspirators, but nothing worked well.

The NoseFrida changed everything.

This little contraption is everything I love in a product: a common-sense idea-turned-incredibly-useful-and-simple gadget. It was originally created in Sweden by pediatricians and ear, nose, and throat specialists. All the thing is is a little plastic tube compartment that you place at the edge of baby's nostril. That is connected to a longer, skinny, soft tube that runs--yes, it seems strange--to your own mouth. There is a little rubber mouthpiece there for you to suck the snot and boogers right out of your baby's nose.

Clearly, the first reaction to this is: what?! I may be her mother, but I don't want her boogers in my mouth! But this is the beauty of this get to control the amount of suction to clear your little darling's nose, but there's no way you could get anything but air into your own mouth.

Firsts of all, you'd be flattering yourself if you thought you were powerful enough to get anything more than an inch into the plastic chamber that catches the nose treasures. Second of all, there is a filtering sponge that separates the plastic chamber from the long skinny tube that goes to your mouth, so even if you are a human vacuum cleaner, you're still safe.

The NoseFrida is easy to use, clean (dishwasher safe), and store (comes in it's own little hard case). And, best of all--it's safe for baby and works significantly better than a regular bulb syringe aspirator.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

raising a little citizen of the world

There are so many dreams that I have for my baby girl and so much that I want her to know and see and experience. But my greatest wish for Ruby is that she feel comfortable in this world and, as she grows, makes personal choices that will bring peace, joy, and hope to the lives of others. Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World, and it is my job, as her mama, to help her embody what this means.

In the summer of 2008 during a speech in Berlin, Barack Obama famously called himself a “citizen of the world.” His leadership has breathed new life into the promises our country was founded on and he has been a role model for how far respect and humility can take you on the world stage.

I found out two days after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States that I was pregnant with Ruby. It made me so proud and unapologetically happy that I was bringing our first child into a world in which an African American man had become the president of the United States. She is an heir to a nation in its proudest moment.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I am so glad that this is the village that will raise Ruby.

As I said before, Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World. As her mama, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to live up to the ideals of the wave of hopefulness that was sweeping the nation at the time she first made contact with this world. I want to teach Ruby to interact with the world, yet know that it doesn't revolve around her. I want to teach her to respect and admire other people and cultures and ways of life, and to always seek to understand before judging. I want to teach Ruby to give back and to feel blessed and humbled by, not entitled to, good fortune. I want to teach her to love and be loved, to smile at strangers, and to always help someone in need. I want to teach Ruby to fight with words and understand the power of her actions. I want to teach Ruby to be kind to the earth and rejoice in Mother Nature's bounty in exchange. I want her to experience all that is good and wonderful in this world and to continue to bring joy and laughter into it. I want to teach Ruby to be passionate and compassionate and to always strive to be the best version of herself that she can.

The hard part is figuring out how to do this. How do we, as parents, raise our children to be upstanding Little Citizens of the World?

My own parents raised four Little Citizens of the World. Sometimes I wish I could wrap up my childhood in a nice little bundle, tie it up with a big beautiful bow, and give it to Ruby as a gift. My parents were lucky enough to expose us to an amazing breadth of experiences. I was born in Singapore and grew up between there, Hong Kong, and La Crosse, Wisconsin. By the time I graduated from college, I had traveled to over 30 countries and much of the United States.

Although we were very blessed by our family’s ability to provide these experiences, my parents did not allow us to feel entitled. They taught us that hard work was the necessary exchange for any good fortune in life.

My parents were able to give us these experiences because of their personal choices, the right career circumstances, hard work, and their eventual financial security. They could have easily not taken the overseas assignments or chosen to stay home during the summers for a much simpler lifestyle and the elimination of a lifetime’s worth of logistical nightmares. But they chose to take advantage of every opportunity so that they could show their children the world.

Jude and I do not have the luxury at this time of jobs with overseas assignments, much less the flexibility or disposable income to travel the globe with our little family. With Ruby, we are going to have to be creative and find less obvious ways to expose her to the world and teach her the lessons we want her to learn.

Ruby is only four months old, but we have already been trying to show her the world. There is no time like the present--even if she is too young to consciously remember these things later in life, I believe that we are shaping her worldview with every day that passes.

We have brought her to museums to see art. We have taken her all over New York City to see new faces of strangers every day and experience all of the sights and smells and sounds of urban life. We take her to parks and gardens as often as we can so she gets constant doses of “tree energy” (as grandpa Victor calls it). We take her to street festivals, neighborhood gatherings, and community events like watching the NYC marathon. We read books and look at photos and talk and talk and talk with her.

As she grows older, we want to teach Ruby about different cultures and traditions and religions so she can learn from them and decide what is important to her. For example, Jude has a family tradition of celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos with a shrine to honor all those loved ones who have passed away that we have carried on in our own home.

We also want to instill in Ruby a sense of civic duty and social justice. I am excited to share with her my passion for community service and volunteering and finding ways to be the change that you believe in.

Jude will teach her to appreciate food, to cook fresh meals, and to invest in our future by buying locally and eating whole foods. I want Ruby to be the kind of person who thinks to write a thank you note to the farmer who grew the vegetables she cooked for a particularly delicious meal!

I want to teach her to think of the ethics behind her choices and to make informed decisions based on what is best for more than just herself. I can model this by supporting local businesses in my neighborhood and others that I believe in--like Tea Collection, a wonderful company that sells adorable children's clothing reflecting cultures around the world and that donates to organizations like the Global Fund for Children. Tea Collection's tagline is "for little citizens of the world," which inspired this post.

One year ago, on election night, my regularly quiet Brooklyn neighborhood was uncharacteristically exuberant and abuzz with joy. Jude and I floated with a sea of neighbors celebrating the strength of our fellow Americans. People were singing, dancing, hugging strangers, crying happy tears, and spontaneously chanting, in unison, “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”

I know that someday, when Ruby is a grown woman with a strong moral compass and a humble heart full of compassion and passion, Jude and I will sit back and smile, happy that we--with the help of this village--raised a Little Citizen of the World. And we will look at each other and say: “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

does this baby go with my outfit?

People were wearing babies well before they were pushing strollers, but parents' different lifestyle needs have a lot to do with how often they do it these days. If I lived in a place where I was zipping around in a car, then my car seat/stroller combo would be the logical choice for most outings. But here in NYC, I'm not going to lug my stroller around up and down the subway stairs or into the tiny corner store to pick up some groceries if I don't need to. People definitely have strollers here, but they can also really get in the way (cut to mom with a double-wide taking up the whole sidewalk while I was rushing to get to work the other day). I have watched many mothers patiently waiting on the subway platform for a train empty enough for them to squeeze in with her kid's stroller. The solution? Make your baby part of your outfit.

Even though my back has been killing me since the second trimester of my pregnancy (try walking around in Manhattan all day with a bowling ball and two milk jugs strapped to your torso) and it's only getting worse with how much I hold Ruby and wear her in slings and carriers, I LOVE TO WEAR MY BABY!!!

There are so many benefits to baby-wearing--parent-baby bonding, baby's feeling of security in a womb-like environment (Jude dubbed our Hotsling with the newborn cradle hold his "man womb"), mama being hands-free while getting stuff done, etc.

I'm not gonna lie. I have an absurd number of carriers. Partly because I received some as gifts and partly because I have gotten advice for my aching back that has led me to try new ones. I am actually glad that I have more than one, because at this point I like different ones for different reasons and use a couple of them pretty regularly. That being said, now that I know them each so well, I could do with 2 or 3.

Here's what I have and what I think of them.

Moby Wrap:
Pros: most comfortable, cozy, affordable, various holds
Cons: time & space for getting it on
Regular Price: $39.95

This is the best wrap when Ruby is sleepy...or it puts her to sleep when she's not! The newborn holds are just so comfy and cozy--for mama and baby. The real selling point for me is back comfort--this is hands-down the most comfortable of the carriers for my back because it distributes the weight throughout my entire torso, hips, and shoulders. It's so kangaroo-like that it feels a little bit like being pregnant again, too...which makes me believe that it feels a little bit like being in the womb again for Ruby. She has always been immediately calm and content in the Moby. The downside, though (and it can be a pretty big one) is that it is a little trickier than the others to put on and take off. If this were as easy to put on as, say, the Bjorn, I'd wear this one every day! But, alas, it's not. It's one looooooong piece of fabric that you need to have room to spread out and then tie around you and pull around your back and over your shoulders. It's not that it's actually hard to do conceptually--it's actually quite simple--but you need space and time for it. If you've taken the baby out of the carrier to feed her in a restaurant, for example, it's hard to manuever in tight quarters to get the thing wrapped again. I use it whenever I'm fairly confident she's going to sleep through the whole outing.

Pros: easy to take on and off, various holds, great cradle for newborns, lots of fabric choices
Cons: weight on one side, less "hands-free"
Regular Price: $44

For the newborn cradle hold, this is very cuddly and womb-like. My Hotsling was my go-to sling for longer outings while Ruby was newborn to about 2 months old when it got replaced by the Bjorn as they easiest to get her in and out of. Now it's still easy and quick to use, but since she's sitting up in it, it makes her feel less secure to me and I end up "holding" her anyway; thus, not "hands-free." Also, the weight of it really drags down one shoulder, so I always hold her up from the botton to relieve some of the pressure.

Maya Wrap (lightly padded):
Pros: beautiful fabrics, easy breastfeeding, pocket on "tail"
Cons: difficult to maneuver the rings, baby squirms
Regular Price: $59.99

I really, really, really want to love the Maya Wrap. The fabric is gorgeous and I love that it is built to make breastfeeding easy in public (baby can feed from inside the sling and you can toss the "tail" over the top for privacy). However, I always struggle to get the fabric pulled comfortably through the loops and to get the tension and slack correct around the baby. And, while Ruby loves to be in every other sling, this is the only one that she squirms and squirms in to get comfortable.

Baby Bjorn:
Pros: fool-proof & quick on and off, best for dad
Cons: overpriced, weight pulls on shoulders & upper back, boring fabrics and design
Regular Price: 79.99 (currently $59.00 on

The Bjorn is the one that I never felt particularly compelled to love, but it quickly became our most-used carrier as soon as Ruby was old enough that we didn't feel like we were doing permanant structural damage to her body by holding her up between the legs (something that looks so uncomfortable to me, but she has never seemed to mind). When she faces in she put her head down to the side and snoozes. When she faces out (started doing this at about 10 weeks) she holds onto whatever she can grasp (we usually give her our thumbs) and takes in the world with awe. It's not very cozy, but it's just so darn easy to get on and off that it's a no-brainer to grab it and run. This, however, has been to the detriment of my poor, poor back. This one is the worst of all of them on my back, but the best on Jude's. I think it is because it hold all the weight from the shoulders and upper back and pulls down in the front, which is where women carry all their weight anyway, much more so during pregnancy and early motherhood. Still, though...did I mention just how easy it is to put on?

BabyHawk (BabyHawk Mei Tai):
very comfortable, sleek custom fit with different options for ties, most choices for fabrics & design
Cons: expensive, there is an "in-between" phase for babies where neither hold seems right
Price: starting at $80

This is my new favorite carrier! I just got it recently after trying on a friend's and finally breaking down to take the $80 plunge in the name of pain relief! Not only is the BabyHawk similar to the Bjorn in terms of ease to put on and take off (though nothing is as easy as the Bjorn), but the base of the weight you're carrying is set down into the hips because of the waist tie. The first time I used it I was amazed at the comfort. I didn't think anything could match the Moby, but this does. The only thing I can say mildly negative at this point is that Ruby is at an odd age for it right now--she's not quite big enough to comfortably straddle my whole torso for the basic hold, but she's also a little big for the newborn hold at the moment. I think within a few weeks this will be the best of the bunch! As for buying options: you can buy basic designs ready-made on, or you can customize your own by choosing from hundreds of gorgeous fabrics and accessories on their web site. This is what I did and it was so much fun, though you have to wait for the custom order (which is why some people prefer to order it ready-made).

I heart the BabyHawk.

Buy ready-made Babyhawks on
Buy custom-made Babyhawks on the company's site.

Baby-wearing is a wonderful way to connect with your baby, even while you're getting things done--at home or out on the town. It's like a permanent hug. How can you say no to that?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

it's not called liquid gold for nothin'

The guy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding had his Windex. For my dad, the magic cure is SkinBracer. He calls it “good-all” (when I was a kid I always just thought of it as “green stuff”) and he puts it on anything that hurts. For me, an unexpected gift of motherhood has been the discovery of the Holy Grail of all healers—a chemical-free, perfectly natural fix for just about anything: human breast milk!

I first learned about the healing properties of breast milk during Ruby’s first week of life. She was latching on so hard and, when she finished her meal, pulling off forcefully with her mouth clamped down. This led to horrifically painful and raw skin. Even though you “train” your baby very quickly the correct way to latch and de-latch, there is still a period of time while you are healing (and the healing takes longer because you can’t give your boobs a “break”) that breastfeeding hurts. A lot. Pain makes people tense, and tension is not conducive to a pleasant feeding experience for mama or baby. I called my insurance company and talked to a nurse. I learned that this is a very widespread problem for brand-new mothers. Apparently, this period of severe pain that many women experience is a common cause for many women to give up on breastfeeding all together.

Anyway, the nurse told me various things that I could do (dip my breasts in a saline solution, use lanolin, etc.), but she said that the single most helpful thing—and she was right—was to rub your own milk over the sore areas. Mother’s milk is designed precisely for the purpose of healing the cracked skin and cuts that your poor boobs can go through during the start of breastfeeding.

When Ruby was about a month old, it was the end of the summer and we started getting mosquitoes in the apartment that drove me crazy during the night. I would wake up in between Ruby’s feedings scratching my arms and my legs, tormented by bites. I didn’t want to rub anything chemical-y (like cortisone) into my skin because I try to be as pure as possible for Ruby’s sake. So, one night, I had the idea to rub some of my milk into my mosquito bites. It was incredible how quickly it provided relief! Not only did the bites stop itching almost immediately, but—even more amazing—the itchiness didn’t return. It was as if the bites were gone all together!

I have gotten a few hormone-induced blemishes on my face since having Ruby…but they are no match for my magical, magical milk.

No matter how often I cut and file her nails, it seems like Ruby always grows new daggers overnight. She gets little scratches all over her face sometimes from her busy little hands. I dab milk on each one and they are so quick to disappear.

I will be sad when Ruby is done at the boob and my milk dries up for many reasons, not least of which is that my incredible good-all will cease to exist. I feel like I should freeze some just for future cuts and scratches!

Milk. It really does do a body good.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

an open love letter to life in the city

Dear Brooklyn,

It is times like this weekend that make me remember why I love you so much. Even if you sometimes make me angry ($1,800/mo. for a small 1-bedroom, really?!), or frustrated (like when your A express train stops at High Street-Brooklyn Bridge, even though barely anyone gets on or off), or annoyed (why do I have to wade through so many busted hipsters in Williamsburg to eat at my favorite breakfast spot?), deep down my love for you is unwavering.

It makes me so happy that you have so much to offer me and my family. It warms my heart that you have so many friendly neighbors that smile and hang out around the ‘hood. The trees that line your streets and give at least one side shade at all times energize me, especially in the spring when they explode into pink and white fluff. The sheer amount of babies you have grown inspires me every day. The richness of your history and the depth of your convictions make me want to be a better person. But, Brooklyn (or any other city for that matter), the thing that makes me love you the most is this: I can walk out my door, baby strapped to my chest, and be within a few minutes walk to such a wealth of opportunities for playing, shopping, eating, seeing, singing, smiling, and chilling.

This weekend was no exception. Yesterday--Halloween--I got Ruby packed up and put her on. Within a 10 minute walk, we were at the main entrance to Fort Greene Park, where we stopped at the weekly green market (NYC’s name for a farmer’s market) to grab a 50 cent apple cider sugar doughnut and a glass jug (returnable) of Ronnybrook Farm chocolate milk. Yum. Then, we entered the park--Ruby dressed in her pumpkin outfit--and walked around admiring costumes and all of the hard work that went into turning the park into a children’s Halloween festival with hay rides, a pumpkin patch, a bug exhibit, games and races, and a “cemetery” full of activities.

After leaving the park, we strolled over to Habana Outpost, the fun, seasonal outdoor Cuban place in the neighborhood. They were having a Halloween party for kids for their last hurrah before closing down for the winter.
On our way back home, we stopped by the Brooklyn Flea (a weekly outdoor flea market full of crafts, antique furniture, delicious foods, etc.) so mama could get herself something delicious to eat. I ran into friends who were waiting for their food at the Asian hot dog stand and debated with them whether or not to wait in the long line at the pupusa stand. I finally decided instead to get an open-faced sandwich from the people with the pig leg sitting out who slice your prosciutto off for you to order and serve it on slices of baguette with homemade ricotta, arugula, olive oil, and sea salt for $3. It was so delicious that I decided to buy a 1/2 lb. of their ricotta to bring home.

As we got close to home, I heard a band playing around the corner, so we passed our place to see what was happening. The street next to ours was blocked off and there was a band playing music for children, who were dancing--in costume--to the song: “Roly Poly Guacamole” as we walked up. Ruby and I danced for a bit and then stopped at Choice Bakery to buy a baguette for my ricotta (which I have been eating for the past few days with various toppings, including honey, kalamata olives, berry preserves, and sea salt).

Last night, when Jude got home from work, we packed up Ruby again and headed back out into the neighborhood for the annual Carnival of Carnage that neighbors on Clinton Avenue put on each year. They do an amazingly well-crafted play every half hour from five until nine. This year it had a freak show theme. Ruby loved the bright lights on the dark street and the crowds of people.

This morning was the New York City Marathon, which always brings New Yorkers out in droves to celebrate their city. Lucky for us, it runs right past our place. Each year, we wake up and open our window so that we hear the first cow bells going that tell us that the wheelchair marathoners are coming through. By a little after 10 a.m., the top women run by, followed shortly after by the top men. We always watch this from our window so that we get a good bird’s-eye-view. It’s truly amazing, at mile 9, to see how fast they are going!

We always love marathon day, but this year was especially fun with Ruby. We went down to the curb to cheer people on--we had various friends running--and she was absolutely mesmerized by the hustle and bustle of the street and the rhythm of the runners. She was wide-eyed and alert while we yelled and neighbors talked and rang bells and celebrated the day. Lots of runners smiled and waved at Ruby and a few even touched her as they ran by. She liked the attention and I’m glad she could be a tiny source of joy for them as they accomplished their amazing feat.

You know what, Brooklyn? There’s something in the air here that just feels right. Exciting, yet relaxing. Electrifying, but calm. Maybe it’s the changing leaves and the cool, crisp air…but I think, more likely, it’s just you, Brooklyn, in all your glory.

Oh, Wisconsin…How often we are tempted by the seduction of your promises…grandparents, siblings, cousins within a stone’s throw…fresh, breathable air…big, bright stores with all our household needs…parking lots…yards with room for swing sets…open areas for big wheels and cartwheels…space, space, and more space.

You might win some key battles, Wisconsin. But you’re losing this war. Your modest charms cannot compete with the kind of perfection Brooklyn gave us this weekend.

Thank you, Brooklyn, for keeping it real. Keep on keepin’ on.

Love always,
Annie, Jude, & Ruby

Sunday, October 25, 2009

natural birth: si, se puede!

Does it hurt to give birth? Yes! Can we handle the pain? Yes!!!

Last weekend, I went to my birthing class reunion. We had all met in June for two full days of class (mainly learning breathing techniques for pain management and about the birthing experience itself) when we were very, very pregnant.

Before the class ended, we had gone around the room and each shared with the group what our plans and hopes were for the births we were about to experience. Most everyone there said that they were hoping to have a natural birth, without drugs. Some said that they were “open to” pain medication, though, if they “needed” it (I’ve actually never known anyone who has said this and still ended up doing it naturally). Others, like myself, were not considering an epidural or any other drugs. Many of us were planning to use the natural birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. You have to be pre-authorized by your doctor to use it and, once there, you do not have the option of an epidural because they don’t have that sort of intervention in the rooms.

At the reunion, there were five couples there with their babies. We went around the room and told our birth stories. Of four women who had planned to use the birthing center (including myself), none of us were able to in the end (two of us due to being labeled “high risk” during a complicated labor, one because her baby was two weeks past his due date, and one because her baby was crowning in the car ride over and she gave birth within 15 minutes of being taken via wheelchair into the hospital!). I had been so crushed when they didn’t let me use the birthing center and my birth plan was turned on its head…I wish I had known then how common it was to be turned away, so I didn’t feel like such a failure in the moment. At the same time, I have to wonder: who the heck does get to use that beautiful facility? If I had realized how difficult it would be to get in and that I was going to have to have a hospital birth in the end anyway, I probably would have chosen a hospital a lot closer to home!

But the big surprise of the reunion for me was this: three of the five moms there ended up having epidurals--even two of them who had been planning to use the natural birthing center. The woman who was crowning in the car and gave birth witin minutes of arrival, clearly, had her baby naturally. I also gave birth without pain medication. What I heard from the other four mothers were things like: ”I tried to do it without drugs, but it was necessary to get the epidural in the end” and “I just couldn’t do it.”

I am not trying to belittle their pain or say that it is bad that they went with an epidural. It is, of course, a personal choice. I just left the reunion being really sad, though, because these were women who had wanted a natural birth experience and didn’t trust their bodies enough to let them have it. Clearly, we--as women--were made to give birth and, of course, to be able to handle the pain. It’s part of what separates us from men and I think it is a great gift to be able to test and stretch the boundaries of our strength in this way. It was hands down the most empowering thing I have ever experienced.

Ever since I have given birth to my daughter--after 36 hours of labor (much of it back labor because Ruby was trying to come out the wrong way) and getting her manually turned inside my belly (yow!)--I have felt a renewed sense of energy and conviction that I am, in fact, a strong and capable woman. If my back hurts from carrying her around all day in a sling, or my feet hurt from trekking around the city, I find myself constantly thinking: “Suck it up, girl. If you could go through all that without drugs, then you sure as hell can do this.” And it works. I used to go out of my way to figure out routes in the city that invovled less walking. Now I walk constantly. I used to feel tired walking to the park and back. Now I can strap a baby to my chest and go the whole day without pooping out.

Was labor the most painful thing I have ever experienced? Yes! I’m not going to lie: it hurts. It really, really hurts. You’ll never really understand the term “ring of fire” until you feel it for yourself. Jude asked me what it felt like when Ruby came out and this is what I said: “Imagine a hole on your body that is full of nerve endings and is very sensitive getting stretched out to 10 times its regular size, then sliced with a million tiny papercuts treated with gasoline that is then subsequently lit on fire.” It’s called labor for a reason and that’s because it’s a lot of hard work! It may be beautiful, but it's sure not pretty!

But the second my beautiful baby was placed on my belly, none of it mattered. It didn’t matter that I had been keeled over in the lobby of the hospital throwing up into an overflowing garbage can with my dad holding my hair back from my face. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept in over 48 hours or eaten in 36. It didn’t matter how much I had hurt, or how much I still hurt. Because Ruby was bright-eyed and alert and latched on for milk within minutes of facing this world. I was fully present in that moment, my senses on overdrive. I felt so much love for my husband and my baby girl that I thought my heart would break. And I felt every stitch that the doctor pulled as she sewed me back up!

There are so many benefits to natural birth, not least of which is that it helps you to understand the changing parameters of pain (a 10 on the pain scale will never be the same in my eyes again!) and your perception of your own strength.

My hope for Ruby is that she will learn to believe in her own strength…to be fearless…to push through the lowest lows in order to revel in the highest highs…and to live a life full of vibrancy and color. I feel compelled with a maternal urgency to try to be this kind of person for her. A person Ruby can be proud of.

Millions of women have done this before me. Millions of women will do this after me.

I am woman. Hear me roar. RAARrrr.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

solving baby sock chaos

Ruby has a lot of socks. I actually didn’t purchase a single pair of socks for her…but, inevitably, people buy babies socks for presents. I think it’s because they are adorable (people are suckers for anything that is the miniature version of what adults wear–like a suit and tie for a little boy) and they come in sets with cute packaging that make them irresistable to a gift-giver.

In any case, what I ended up with was a bin full of baby socks of all different colors, patterns, sizes, etc. It was immediately out of control and it drove me crazy for the first two months of Ruby’s life–I would put on Ruby’s outfit and then pull out the bin to find some socks to match and would dig and dig for the right color and then the match for the sock I chose.

If you live in a small apartment like me, you probably don’t have the luxury of a whole drawer dedicated to baby socks that would make for easy searches. Instead, they’re all stuffed into a tiny space.

My solution: take plastic sandwich baggies, quart-sized, and divide all of the socks up by color, style, etc. and then line them up in a small storage container. Label the baggies in permanent marker. My categories are: pink-whites, light pinks, medium pinks, dark pinks, yellows, greens, blues, others (red, purple, etc.), and shoe-socks (ones made to look like ballet slippers, mary janes, tennies, etc.). I keep leg warmers and tights loose outside the baggies.

My new system is working out beautifully…It take me a fraction of the time it used to to dress her cute little feet.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

staring at letters is the new reading

I started "reading" books to Ruby when she was only a week or two old. She is now almost four months and will often sit quietly--totally entranced--through 4 or 5 board books before turning her attention elsewhere. She is mesmerized by both pictures and, surprisingly, written words. She will just stare and stare at the sentences on the pages. I hope this translates to a love for the written word when she is older, too!

Here are some of her favorites (i.e. that produce the most smiles!):

1. Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children
Ruby can't get enough of these babies. She stares at each of them and gives smiles freely to them. She reaches out and touches them these days, too! Babies LOVE babies!

2. Happy Baby: Colors by Roger Priddy

The bright colors in this book made it an early favorite--especially the last few pages that show multi-colored things (like beach balls and macaws) and the black-and-white page!

3. In My Nest by Sara Gillingham

There is a whole series of these books with little finger puppets sticking through the hold in the middle of the book. Ruby grabs at it all the time as I make it move around!
4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

Ruby loves the pictures in this book and loves the rhythm of the words as I make silly voices to read it aloud.
5. Duck Ellington Swings Through the Zoo: Baby Loves Jazz by Andy Blackman Hurwitz and Andrew Cunningham

This actually comes with a CD inside the book that plays selections of "Duck Ellington" playing jazz in the styles of some of the greats--Monk, Coltrane, etc. Ruby loves the colorful pictures and the music on the CD is very calming. I suggest stocking up on good music for baby that doesn't annoy you to death!
6. Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

This is an adorable classic with pictures that are easy to tell a story to. Sometimes it's hard to come up with things to "say" to your baby after a while, but this one is easy to babble about!
7. Olivia's Opposites by Ian Falconer

This is great because it's all black, white, and red--which, since babies first see only contrast, are the easiest and most exciting colors for them to look at early on!
8. Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli

This is a cute book with cute pictures!
9. B is for Bear by Roger Priddy

Another Roger Priddy favorite. This is a touch-and-feel book with bright, clear
10. There's a Wocket in my Pocket! by Dr. Suess

This is one of the master's classics. I remember this one so vividly from my own childhood that I get crazy dejavu as I look at the pictures. I have a feeling Ruby will remember them vividly as well, the way she squints her eyes and stares at the creatures on the pages! My favorite is the Nooth Grush on the toothbrush!
I hope your baby's like these, too! Feel free to comment and suggest others!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

dressing up the twins

Nothing about my beautiful baby depressed me after her birth. One thing that did make me sad, however, was the realization that I was going straight from maternity clothes to nursing clothes for at least another year. I needed to invest--yet again-- in some new shirts that actually fit me (pre-pregnancy too small, maternity too big) and that have easy access for my little guzzler. People tell you that when your milk comes in that you can expect to gain another 1-2 cup sizes...which is terrifying if your prenancy has already swelled you to a 36E-F!

I knew I was in trouble when I realized that it's close to impossible to find nursing bras in my size, much less anything cute! *sigh*

When you are this well-endowed, it's really hard to find shirts that allow for easy feeding access (many of the slits in nursing shirts are too small for me) and that are stylish at all (so many are just out-and-out dumpy). So far, the best two brands that I've found are Aimee Gowns for dressing up and Momzelle for dressing down.

Aimee Gowns only has one style of nursing shirt in both a short-sleeved and a long-sleeved version. It is incredibly comfortable and the fabric has a beautiful sheen to it that makes it stand out as a dressy top. The short-sleeved version is a little bit more flattering because of it's cute fluttery cap sleeves. It comes in black or a deep ocean blue. The long-sleeved version comes in black or a deep garnet, perfect for the holidays. What I like most about this shirt is that you can choose between a hidden opening below the boobs to lift up for feeding/pumping, or the v-neckline can be easily pushed aside. The fabric stretches, but bounces right back and doesn't get stretched out. I usually wear a scarf or a shawl around my neck at work, though, because the neckline is pretty low.

Above photo by Emily Rumsey @ Mamabella Photography

Aimee Gowns also carries ultra-comfy nursing nightgowns and pajamas that I love. However, to call them "bra-less" (they do) is an absurdity if you have the size problem or any leaking issues.

Momzelle is a Canadian company that makes comfy, cute, and simple nursing tops. They make public breastfeeding so much easier, as the openings have enough fabric that you can really hide everything that the baby's mouth isn't covering. The only downside is that they are a little pricey ($45 for a basic t-shirt), but, in my opinion, they are worth it. My first order from them took a while to ship (from Canada), but the customer service was super friendly and they said they'd had some trouble with the U.S. mail but were working it out. My second order arrived in three days, so apparently they did, in fact, work it out.

Nothin' is hangin' out while Ruby is feasting!

The only nursing bra that I have found that fits properly, is comfortable enough to wear to sleep, and doesn't get stretched out from feedings is the Bella Materna Anytime Nursing Bralet. It is by far the most expensive bra I have ever owned, but considering that I had burned through three cheaper ones in a month after Ruby's birth because they got so stretched out, this one was worth the splurge. The material pops right back into place after each feeding!

The best part about these tops and bras is that they are cute and simple enough wardrobe staples that they aren't just going to get packed away in a box (like my maternity duds) after breastfeeding is over.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

diaper drama

Jude and I had naturally assumed we were going to use cloth diapers. We were both diapered in cloth as babies ourselves. My mom washed her four children’s cloth diapers at home. Jude’s parents used a diaper service. For my first two trimesters, when people asked if we had figured out what we were doing for diapers, our automatic response was always “cloth.” The image of bags upon bags full of disposable diaper waste was unfathomable…Cue drama.

We knew from the start that laundering our own cloth diapers was out of the question. We live in a one bedroom apartment in a brownstone (if you aren’t familiar with Brooklyn, think of the Huxtables on The Cosby Show) with no washer or dryer to speak of in the building. I couldn’t picture us (okay, not ”us”–I’m not going to lie; Jude does the laundry) dragging a big bag of poopy diapers to the laundromat every few days in addition to our regular laundry, not to mention our baby’s. Nope. We knew we were going to be using a diaper service.

The day finally came when I was about five months pregnant that I decided to figure out which diaper service to use. Jude was at work and I sat down at the computer to do some research. First hiccup was that there are a lot of diaper services that cater to Manhattan parents, but not a lot that do Brooklyn. Okay, fine, so I wouldn’t have a lot of choices. I’m over it. I got pretty excited reading about how it works. You just put all your dirty diapers out and get a fresh new load of clean, folded cloth each week. Brilliant. And they are very particular about not using any yucky chemicals in the washing of said diapers. Wonderful.

Anyway, as I was pricing them out, I decided to read some online reviews…this is when I came across a BIG problem: if you don’t have a doorman (apparently, these companies assume that if you’re paying for service, then you’re going to live in a doorman building), you have to be home when the truck comes to exchange your diapers or they will leave and not come back for another week! During this time, you’ll have to scramble to run out and pick up some of the dreaded disposable diapers to last you the week until the truck comes back again which, of course, defeats the purpose of the service you’re paying for (even on a week when you missed your diaper load) in the first place. I was upset for a minute, but then thought to myself: “Okay, fine, I can live with committing to being home during the window they give me for coming…” But no. They don’t give you a window. They give you a day! They may show up at 9 a.m. or they may show up at 5 p.m. You have to be home all day! Not out in the park enjoying the outdoors with your sweet little munchkin, but cooped up in the apartment waiting for diapers! How lame.

Poor Jude got a ridiculous phone call from his hysterical, hormone-crazed pregnant wife crying about diapers. This is how I became the not-so-proud consumer of disposable diapers.

So at this point I have broken down and come to terms with my diaper destiny. Now, which diapers? Since I am feeling bad enough that I am doing disposables at all, I am only considering the “greener” alternatives–Seventh Generation, Nature Babycare, G-Diapers, etc. I had heard horror stories about G-Diapers clogging toilets and ruining plumbing that made me not excited to try them, so I originally went with Nature Babycare for our first case of diapers (well, after the three weeks worth of Swaddlers that Jude swiped from our hospital room).

Honestly, going from the user-friendly Pampers Swaddlers with their dummy-proof yellow stripe that turns blue when the diaper has pee in it to these crunchy (literally), oddly-shaped diapers was a shock to our exhausted new-parent systems. The Nature Babycare diapers have very little contouring, no stretch, and it was a struggle each time I diapered Ruby to get these stiff rectangular diapers comfortably hugging her cute little bottom. I was tempted to throw them out and try a new brand immediately, but couldn’t bring myself to cause even more unnecessary waste, so I waited the two weeks or so that it took to finish the four packs (one case) of diapers. We did get used to them, of course, and they weren’t so bad to put on after a while, but they sure weren’t getting any softer!

The Pampers Swaddlers fit well (left).

The Nature Babycare were stiff and difficult (right).

Finally we started Seventh Generation diapers and found a match for our needs. Softness? Check. No dyes or bleach? Check. Stretchy leg holes and tabs? Check. Ease of putting on? Check. Competitive price? Check. We have been using these for the past few months now and they’ve been working out great. Sure, we’ve had some blow-outs, but I am pretty sure it’s more to do with her super-charged thunder-down-under than the diapers themselves. She was able to blow out the Swaddlers and the Nature Babycares, too!

Seventh Generation got it right!
The diapers themselves are chlorine-free, which is gentler on baby’s soft skin. I have yet (knock on wood) seen the slightest hint of rash or redness on Ruby’s bottom with these diapers. The fact that they aren’t bleached-out with chemicals makes them a more natural, earthy color.

We also use Seventh Generation's wipes. While it is annoying that they recently switched from 80-count refills to 70-count refills with the same pricetag, these wipes have been working out fine for us. Also, for some reason, the new 70-count refill packs smell better (or are more truly unscented) than the old ones, which I often found to smell a little sour.

I have made peace with the disposable diapers…though we are moving in a month’s time, at which point I’m going to reassess the diaper service situation!

For now, this: From one mother to another, M. Nature. I’m so sorry that your baby, Earth, has to suffer for my baby, Ruby, but I have a lot of factors going on here.