Sunday, January 31, 2010

one year ago...

I hosted an annual work event this weekend that had me standing outside for hours on end. Even though it was bitterly cold this weekend in NYC and my toes were totally numb by the time I got home last night and tonight, I couldn't help but think about this same event a year ago and be grateful that the temperature was my biggest problem...

One year ago, I was in the beginning of my second trimester. I was thrilled to be feeling my sweet baby move inside me and was loving having a big belly forming that I couldn't keep my hands off of.

But, alas, I also had another large round swelling on my poor body. After leaving my OBGYN's office one afternoon, my husband and I were crossing the street and I slipped on ice and (lest I hurt the precious bundle held in my belly by falling all the way down) tried desperately to right myself...which only resulted in me taking three or four giant, awkward, painful steps after the initial crunch.

YUCK! And these were taken over a week after the initial injury!

I don't recommend getting injured while pregnant for many obvious reasons: one is that they can't do any major testing (no x-rays, no MRIs, etc.) and another is that you can't take any good pain killers (they say you can take Tylenol, but I didn't take that either because the thought of sucking down chemicals that my baby didn't need made me uncomfortable).

Moreover, I really don't recommend getting injured while pregnant in New York City! It's hard enough to be pregnant in a town where you lug your new-found weight up and down flights of stairs in the subway stations, ride to and from work standing up shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, and pound the pavement constantly...but going through my entire second trimester with a "boot" up to my knee, having to slip away from work to go to physical therapy three times a week, and trudging up and down the stairs of my third-floor walkup every day was ridiculous. It took over two months before the swelling went entirely down (I had apparently torn a number of ligaments in my ankle) and I could walk normally in a regular shoe.

My poor ankle still clicks when I walk these days, but overall it's fine.

Just one of the many things I can chalk up to the whole idea of "it-was-all-worth-it-because-Ruby-is-amazing!" There sure are a lot of those things...that must just mean that Ruby is extra amazing!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

your baby will Skwish she had this toy!

The Manhattan Toy Company's Skwish is one of Ruby's favorite toys now (at 6 months), and one of the first ones that she started grabbing for and holding purposefully when she was still tiny. It's easy for little mini-hands to grab with so many skinny areas and makes an interesting sound (with the moving beads in the middle) that is attractive to babies. As you can see from this video, the Skwish can entertain Ruby for long periods of time.

Even though it is marketed for 6+ months and it seems to be very sturdy, it still makes me super nervous sometimes when she chews on it because I am afraid she'll pop off one of the wooden balls. Probably unfounded, but I still watch her like a hawk when she's playing with her Skwish! I don't want Ruby to be a stat in a toy recall.

gDiapers are gEnius!

The last time I wrote about diapers here, we had settled on Seventh Generation. I still hold to the fact that they are the best choice out there if you need to use disposables. However, we had chosen disposables before because a) we couldn't get cloth delivery service (for a variety of reasons--read about it here), and b) we didn't have good options for laundry (laundromat not conducive to washing out poopy diapers).

We moved in the beginning of December to a bigger place. While we still don't have the luxury of diaper service nor a washer/dryer in our apartment (so rare for NYC), we do have laundry access in the building now. With this upgrade, we decided to try out a new diaper regime.

We still didn't feel totally ready to go fully cloth, considering we both work full-time outside the home and it's still somewhat of an "outing" to do laundry here. However, we learned more about gDiapers--those clever little hybrid cloth-disposables-- and agreed to give them a whirl.

I stated previously that we didn't try gDiapers because we'd heard horror stories of the disposable inserts not flushing like they say they will. We still don't flush them. We actually tried to flush one at my parents' home over the holidays, but--alas!--it clogged the bowl (sorry you're learning this by reading it, Mom and Dad--we didn't tell you at the time because you had enough to worry about and knew you'd stress out) and took a day to break down fully before it would go all the way down.

What we learned, though, is that the disposable inserts can also be composted (another thing that doesn't help us in the City, but a nice thought!) or thrown away more responsibly than other disposable diapers. The inserts are pastic-free, 100 percent biodegradable, and certified "Cradle to Cradle" (meaning that all of the elements break down and return to nature in a benign or even helpful way).

When we first tried gDiapers, I bought a starter kit, which was a nice non-commital way to break in and see if we liked them. Unfortunately, I don't see them on the gDiapers website right now and only available in large size on Amazon, so they must have discontinued this option. At first I was a bit puzzled with how to shove the seemingly-gigantic disposable insert into the plastic liner, but, once we got the hang of it, it became second nature.

During our first trial week of gDiaper use, I yanked out one of the snap pieces from the diaper itself. It seemed like I had just gotten a lemon diaper, so I e-mailed the company and heard a response within a day from someone who apologized for the inconvenience and asked for my mailing address so she could send me a new diaper cover immediately (which she did and I received promptly). Since then, we now have 8 diaper covers that we use constantly and have never had another problem.

The other big issue with gDiapers is cost. I'm not going to lie: they are pricey. The giant bags of diaper waste we were throwing out each week when we were using plain-old disposables, though, made me ill to think about the damage we were doing to the environment. While gDiapers aren't fully cloth (actually, they do sell cloth inserts that are washable, too, but that's a whole other thing), our waste has shrunk and is a lesser evil for the environment. I believe that if we want to make change to ensure our children actually inherit an earth that is still inhabitable, we need to invest resources (in this case money) in this future. I have no problem paying a little more for something that is paving the way for greener pastures for sweet Ruby.

This being said, there is a limit to my generosity of spirit. The little corner supermarket closest to our apartment has the standard bags of gDiaper disposable inserts for $29.99 each (32 per bag for the medium/large size that Ruby is in now)! This is shockingly high: almost 94 cents per dirty diaper (let alone the initial costs of the cloth outer pants and plastic liner)! I simply cannot afford that kind of nonsense. I like to support local businesses, but that markup is out of control. One bag retails on for $14.49. I buy mine on Amazon, because they have packages of 4 bags (128 diapers total) for $52.00. This is actually the same price as they are on, but Amazon gets me with that free shipping. Plus, you can do the Subscribe-and-Save option on Amazon and save another 15 percent, making them $44.20 for four bags (compared to $119.96 if you bought them from my local grocer!). I like the Subcribe-and-Save option because you save money, plus I can easily turn it off after I make the purchase and then turn it back on again when I want another batch (diaper use changes from week to week, so it's not easy to just say you want them every X number of week).

After our trial week, we went exclusively to gDiapers and haven't regretted it. Below is what I think is great and less-great about them in a nutshell:

  • better for Mother Nature
  • soft and comfy on baby
  • super cute
  • very seldom leakage onto the cloth part of the diaper
  • have only had leakage onto baby's clothing one time in two months (amazing, considering how often it used to happen with our Seventh Generations and earlier disposables)
  • price
  • slightly more labor- and time-intensive to put together than disposables
  • constantly rinsing out the plastic liners, which get poop on them with nearly every dirty diaper
Although they're not perfect, I love gDiapers for their ingenuity and their ability to bridge the gap between cloth and disposables for people like me who want to do what is best but don't have the logistical capabilities of the full cloth experience!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

nursing in public (television)

This makes me so happy! Three cheers for Sesame Street (in 1977) doing what our society today can't always seem to: making nourishing our babies commonplace and not something to be hidden. Don't we all have something to learn from Sesame Street?

Friday, January 22, 2010

show Haiti the money

There is so little to say about the earthquake that hasn't been said...The vastness of the suffering it has caused is breathtakingly shocking. As a new mother, it is especially unfathomable. My heart breaks for all of the mothers and fathers who have lost children, and all of the children who have lost parents. It is all just too sad for words.

Haiti needs our support right now, specifically in the form of monetary donations to organizations involved in rescue and relief efforts. It's a nice thought to want to collect other "things" to send to Haiti, but the only "thing" that is truly helpful for most of us to give right now--logistically-- is money. Here are some choices for where to donate:
  1. The American Red Cross
  2. Clinton Bush Haiti Fund
  3. Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund
  4. Partners in Health
  5. Global Fund for Children
  6. OxFam International
  7. Doctors Without Borders
  9. World Food Programme
Also, see if your place of work--like my husband's-- is matching contributions to double your impact. It's worth checking into.

I saw a heartening story this morning about seven-year-old Kiki, pulled from the rubble and then immediately throwing out his arms and flashing this brilliant smile. This beautiful moment was made possible by the brave and selfless people who are working night and day to help. But for every glorious moment of rescue, there are a hundred more profoundly sad moments. If you can't be there to offer your manpower, the next best thing you can do is make a donation.

Already made one? Great. Now think about making another. Unfortunately, this is far from over.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

baby photography for dummies

I love to capture memories with photos and I especially love to take pictures of babies (this is not a new phenomenon since giving birth to Ruby--I have always had this hobby)! While I am nowhere near a professional photographer (I honestly know just about goose egg of anything technical), I do really enjoy taking photos, critiquing them, and savoring them for years to come. When we live in the age of digital with so many options for taking, storing, and printing pictures, I am often surprised at just how bad people's photos can still be. It is such a shame to see sweet babies being captured forever in ultra-crappy photos.

Here is my take on simple photography that is not going to hurt your brain or swallow up your time.

First things first: you need a decent camera. This being said, I hate it when people see your photos and immediately assume you have a fancy camera. With a discerning eye, you can take good pictures with anything--I even use my phone a lot these days if that's what is nearby.

My oldest brother once gave me the advice that you should choose a camera from a company that's primary focus is in cameras, because they are the most committed to quality photography. I have been using only Olympus cameras (with the exception of one small Canon) for about 12 years now and I love them. For a mid-range camera that is as nice as you should go without going for a digital SLR, I am a big fan of the 500-series ultra-zoom line. The one I own is the SP-500 UZ below, but it has limited availability these days as everything is getting megapixel-ized like crazy. The newest version of the same camera is more expensive but has twice the megapixels--if that's important to you, by all means get it, though I personally don't think the extra megapixels are going to help you take any better of photos (unless you want to blow up your photos the size of your living room wall, it doesn't really matter). I love this camera because it has a great zoom lens and, more importantly to me, a great macro setting that allows for high-quality close-ups.

Although my 500 UZ is what I use most often with Ruby since I can leave it out and grab it whenever the moment strikes, I also own a digital SLR that I love for traveling and more heavy-duty photography. It's an investment to get a new camera, but if you can take great photos of your baby yourself, you may take her to a professional less often. If you do splurge on an SLR, I recommend getting a nice macro lens for amazing close-up baby photography and one good lens that has a big range for zoom and nearby. Below is the Olympus Evolt camera that I bought a few years ago. It's great, but I originally made the mistake of buying the package deal that includes two lenses. I say this is a mistake because if all you're going to have are standard not-that-great lenses, I actually don't think this is very much of a step up from the 500UZ non-SLR camera that I was talking about earlier. To be honest, I think that if you feel compelled to buy an SLR, then you need to do it right and get good lenses. In that case, my recommendation would be to buy the body-only and separate lenses. Since I bought the two lenses listed below, I have literally never again touched the two that came with my package deal.

Okay, regardless of what camera you are using, here are my tips--in no particular order--for capturing good photos that will showcase the beauty of your little darlin' in all of his or her glory:

1) The background does, indeed, matter! Plain backgrounds for photos of your baby look the best, especially when she's so young that all your photos are of her lying down. Spread a blanket down underneath her, or a bed sheet, or a piece of cloth--anything that will serve as your background. When I say "plain," I don't necessarily mean a solid color...Actually my favorite backgrounds are the incredibly beautiful quilts that our friend Mary has made for us (one for our wedding and one for Ruby's birth) that are anything but "plain." More so, I mean just have one background. For example, if I use my busy quilt, I will make sure that when I frame my picture the entire photo will have the quilt (rather than some quilt and some of the room behind the quilt). Also, find interesting backgrounds when you're out--living in a city lends itself well to finding exciting backgrounds--like graffiti, brick walls, city skylines, etc.--for photos.

I had Ruby at the farmer's market one day in October wearing a pumpkin hat and jack-o-lantern t-shirt. My photos at the market weren't anything that special, but, when I got home, I took off the black scarf I had been wearing and happened to lay Ruby down on top of it. It struck me that this was a great background, so I stuck two small pumpkins that we had bought on either side of her head and--voila!--I had a great shot that I ended up sending out as Halloween cards.

A lot of times, especially as baby gets older and can sit up, a solid-colored wall is a great background. Just think about what is behind her, though--is there an electrical socket in the photo that will cause eye traffic in the shot? Then move the baby a few inches to the side to avoid it or just take the picture from a different angle. My apartment may be cluttered, but my photos don't show it!

2) Natural lighting is your friend! Photos outside are always brighter, shinier, and more vibrant than indoor flash pictures that wash out and unflatter even the most gorgeous of people. Whenever possible, snap your cutie's pictures in natural light. And it doesn't have to be outside--just sit baby down to play next to a window and you have your shot. If you don't have enough light, then your pictures will turn out fuzzy (especially if your hand isn't steady). I tend to take most of my pictures on the auto settings, so my flash pops up when it wants to based on the light. I usually just hold it down manually if I don't want it, but then just brace myself against furniture or something that helps me keep a steady arm while shooting.

3) If you can't fix it, fake it! I am not somebody who does a lot of modifications to photos on the computer. For one, there's no time for it. But I also don't own Photoshop or any fancy post-production tools. That being said, the very basics are sometimes super helpful to someone (like me) with little technical photo knowledge. For example, all those photos from in the hospital when Ruby was only minutes old and Jude looked tired, Ruby looked bright pink, and I looked I had been in labor for 36 hours with no drugs! Turn them all black-and-white! Everyone will look better and all those nasty hospital lights that accentuated your imperfections are a moot point. When I take random flash pictures in my house, too, they sometimes get so washed out or the colors are just so "off" that I will just switch them to black-and-white on the computer and see if it helps.

I have also recently gotten an iPhone, which makes it so easy to text real-time photos to my parents and siblings. My new favorite app is a 99-center called ShakeItPhoto, which lets you turn any photo you took on your iPhone into a "Polaroid." I love it! Instead of fretting about the graininess or poor quality of my iPhone pictures, I embrace it and glorify it by making it into a retro-looking little square. So fun!

4) Use a couple of your camera's basic settings! Like I said before, I don't actually know anything technical about photography. However, I have learned what "looks good" through playing with my camera. Use the macro setting on your camera (depending on the lens, some will be better than others), which is the little flower icon, to take close-ups of your baby. Combine this with natural lighting from a window in the morning and you're in business! If you're taking macro pictures, then you need as much light as possible and to hold the camera very still. I took a bunch of close-ups of Ruby's face and body parts recently in my living room by the window.

Here are some from the beginning: the first one is Ruby at about three hours old in the hospital, next to a window. The next one is next to a window in my living room when she was about a month old.

The other setting I tend to use a lot is the action setting (the running man icon). This one I use whenever there is water in the photo because it catches droplets and waves really well. Also, if something is moving in the background, like the subway below or cars on a busy street. It helps to blur the action that is not being focused on.

5) Props help! Babies are going to do what they're going to do--don't try to force a "pose" for a picture or it's just going to end up looking unnatural and/or cheesy. I like to give Ruby props to hang out with when I'm going to take a picture and just catch her interacting with them (as opposed to interacting with me as the photographer). A Boppy pillow is a good thing to have a young infant stationed in. Stuffed animals make cute and fun additions to a photo. The red tutu picture below I recently took in an effort to make some Valentines. I wanted her to have something to play with while I snapped pictures, so I just cut out some hearts from pink paper and--sure enough--she was enthralled!

6) You can get in your pictures, too! I can't tell you how many times I have been on a trip or at an event where I'm taking pictures like crazy, only to realize later that it doesn't even look like I was there at all because there are no photos with me in them! I cherish photos that I have of me with my parents when I was a baby, and I think it's important for Ruby to have photos with us in them, too. We might be trying to remember her in all of her baby cuteness now, but someday she is going to be trying to remember us the way we were "way back then," too!

Of course, if there are people around, you can just ask someone to a take a picture of you. However, if you've ever had a photo of you and your best friend's feet and an ancient Greek ruin at the Acropolis (no joke!), you know that asking a stranger to take your picture can be pretty disasterous. My advice to you is this: look around and scan for people carrying fancy cameras or looking like they're taking their pictures very thoughtfully--they will likely take the task of your family photo very seriously. And when someone then says to check and make sure you like it, take them up on it!

I usually prefer to set up a timer. This way, I can control exactly what the frame-up will be. I love to have a tripod and highly recommend having a simple one on hand, but I so rarely think to carry one (and who needs one more thing to lug around when you've got a baby and a diaper bag). You can get creative and scout your location--you may end up setting up your camera on a garbage can, a railing, or once my clever friend Coral even hung our camera from a tree by it's strap (which gave us a unique--albiet slightly crooked--picture)!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

splish splash, I was takin' a bath (with Ruby)

Ruby wholeheartedly loves the water. Not only does she get so excited about bath time that she starts kicking her legs and squealing in anticipation as soon as she hears my husband turn on the water for it from the next room, but she is mesmerized by the sight of running water and can distinguish its sound and look for its source.

My best friend, Coral, suggested that it's because she is a water sign (Cancer). I don't know about that, but what I do know is that Ruby was never all that interested in the water until--at about eight weeks--we started to do the baby baths in tandem. Until then, she was indifferent at best about bath time. Now it is something we all look forward to each night as part of our nightly bedtime ritual. I have found that it's great for bonding and fun for all of us.

I usually take the baths while Jude sits and supervises (for safety purposes, since a baby can drown in even a half an inch of water). Every once in a while, though, Daddy takes on the role of the bather (which brings about the whole question of whether or not he needs to wear a swimsuit: I don't think it's necessary, but he always does because he says it seems strange not to).

In the very beginning, though, it's hard to do your baths together. For one, mommy needs rest and may be healing from childbirth and told not to take a bath (I was told only to shower for six weeks). Also, baby is floppier in the first couple of months and can't sit up on you very well. People commonly buy baby bath tubs these days--mini tubs that can sit in your tub or outside it. But, if you live in the city, chances are you are trying to conserve space and don't need yet another hunk of plastic that you'll only use for a few months. To save space, I suggest a bath cushion like this adorable one from Safety 1st. This is what I used with Ruby. It didn't have anything to hang it up by, so I pierced a hole in the bottom of the frog and ran a little bit of rope through it to make a loop to hang it up by.

For entertainment in the tub, it's simple: she likes anything that involves water being poured. Her consistent favorites are a squirt bottle (the one that they gave me in the hospital after giving birth for my "home care") and a cup. She also likes squirting toys, too. I am pretty careful that anything Ruby comes in contact with is BPA-free, but especially anything for eating and/or bathing, since the chemicals can leach out into the water. Haba makes some good squirters and cute cups for bath time. Also, I love the Skip Hop bath toy storage unit--it stretches to fit all your stuff and the mesh lets the toys drain and dry.

As for cleaning products, I keep it simple here, too: Burt's Bees Baby Bee shampoo/body wash and their bar of buttermilk soap. The scent is heaven and I have been using the same bottle of the shampoo/body wash and the same bar of soap for the past six months and they are each only about half gone (and we bathe her with soap-down every night and shampoo every two-three nights).