Ho, Ho, Ho

>> 9.26.2012

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Or not. Here's what I am talking about: When my parents were over visiting yesterday, we realized that we're running out of time to create Ada's play kitchen. It's what we plan to give her as her big gift for the holiday -- along with some play food.

My play kitchen was on of my favorite toys. We're hoping it's the same case for Ada. She already cooks with me all the time and seems to enjoy watching me mix together brownies and cookies.

Anyway, we had initially set out to build one from scratch. I saw this tutorial on Young House Love and thought -- I could do that! But then my mom found this possible diamond in the rough at a local thrift/antique store for $30.

It's solid wood and looks a lot like this one that sells for $200.

Here are some of my favorite DIY play kitchens. (I already posted an earthy one I like here.) Even though we won't be structurally creating one, we will be modifying. So, I'm looking a lot at the colors and the bells and whistles.

(via Kicsi Haz)

(via Annchen)

(via Dekorella)

(via BeerlalaBlog)

My hope is that the next time you see Ada's kitchen -- you won't recognize it. At all! We're going to pimp it out, making it bright, lively, and more interactive. But we have a long way to go!

Have you ever made or redone a kitchen for your little one? Share your links in the comments below!

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Chalkboard Fun and Weekend

>> 9.24.2012

I know. Chalkboard walls are so 2009. But that's when I first fell in love with the idea! I vowed my kid would have one. And here we are. So, Sunday I finally got around to buying some chalk for Ada's wall. Not that she minds -- I think it will be a while before she is drawing on it herself.

Stephen and I did a good job filling it with some random stuff. Like all the weird nicknames we have for her.

I won't explain them all, but most derive from "Balloon" -- we started calling her this almost immediately. Whenever she was about to wake from all those newborn naps, she'd make this noise like a deflating balloon. It was probably gas.

She stopped doing it a long, long while ago. But the nickname stuck like glue. Then we called her the "Loon" for short. Then somehow "Lunesta" . . . . like the sleep-aid . . . slipped in there when we wanted her to snooze. Then shortened that to "Esta" and so on.

"Uh-DUH" is for all the people who are like, "Ava?" -- Uh-DUH, It's ADA! We're dorks.

I'm not exactly an artist. Photography is where the line is drawn there. So, no. I'm not posting this photo to show off my drawing skills. Check out those little hand prints. She enjoyed watching us. My only critique is that chalk on a plaster chalkboard is messy. Anyone used those chalk markers on this type of surface before?

(I already got a question about where that wooden train is from. We got it at Target. But it's also similar to this one by Melissa and Doug.)

I drew her a kitty. Her favorite.

Speaking of chalk, I highlighted my hair this weekend.

Mostly so I could color it occasionally using hair chalk! I'll try to post better photos soon. I've enjoyed it so far! (I feel the need to pause and apologize for my egregious use of the exclamation point today. I'm dragging, so I think it's trying to make up for it with punctuation.)

Here are some more photos from our trip to the local kid's discovery museum.

Special thanks to Natalie (my real-life friend, but also blogger at Nat's Distractions) -- momma of 2 gorgeous babes -- for the hand-me-down shirt. Ada loves all her fall clothes!

(Pssst: We covered Ada's spiffy new frame-clustered wall yesterday.)

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Sunday Morning: Nursery Progress

>> 9.23.2012

The tree mural in Ada's nursery (here's the tour for reference) fell down about a month ago. It was a sad, sad day. I actually cried because I vividly remember taking all that time to put each piece up. Almost exactly a year ago. All while I was still waiting and wondering what it would be like to be a mom.

Emotions aside, I didn't know what to replace it with at first. As I was walking up the stairs yesterday -- our art in the hallway caught my eye. I bought this Martha Stewart ABC animal card set at Michael's years ago; I can't find them or I'd link. Anyway, they're adorable for a child's room. I just mounted them in frames at random.

I think the wall turned out nicely.


We found that long lettered art piece at Home Goods. I like the messaging for Ada to read over and over as she grows from a baby to toddler to kid to teen.

With all the changes, I wasn't feeling the rug anymore. Too busy. (Many of you have asked where we got it. I wish I could mail it to you easily!) Anyway, I changed it out with the white shaggy one we had in our bedroom. I then layered Stephen's childhood quilt over top for some visual interest.

We also exchanged the rocking chair with the other one we've had floating around various rooms of the house. Takes up less space. Plus, Ada never enjoyed being nursed in the rocking chair, so it wasn't being used much.

She loves all those frames on the wall.

But we're still in progress. I don't have photos of the entire room. We moved some furniture to get more play space by the chalkboard wall. And I have no idea how to change up the stuff -- birds and mirror combo -- above her crib. It seems so plain over there now.

Any thoughts?

I might just make a new tassel garland that coordinates better with the colors in the room now. Or I might not. They match OK enough to pass. Thankfully, the curtains still match everything quite well.

I'll try to post more photos soon.

(By the way, a few people have asked how we dress Ada for sleep in the colder months. I've debated using blankets since we've been told a flat NO by the doctor. Last year we bought this merino wool sleep sack. At first, it seemed expensive, but it's good for all four seasons and ages 3 months to 2 years. She wears it every night.)

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(My) New Toy

>> 9.20.2012

I got my new lens today! The 30mm f/1.4 from Sigma. Wasn't sure about ordering a 3rd party lens, but so far -- it's been far from a disappointment. I definitely love the 30mm versus the 50mm lens for indoor shots. I don't need to stand back as far.

Which means self portraits! (This is my Halloween costume, by the way. It cost me 50 cents. Ada finds the mask absolutely hilarious.)

Why, hello!

This is sort of the dark side of the moon. Well, what I mean is: The lesser-photographed side of my face. I didn't realize it until I saw this photo. It looked strange to me. Then I looked at a few other selfies and discovered I favor my right side.

Weird. Do you have a preferred side?

We're on day three of intense teething over here. It's sad for Ada, but I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't driving me bat sh*t crazy. We've got 7 teeth going on 10, and they can't come soon enough. She's super cranky and clingy. Biting EVERYTHING. We give her a dose of Tylenol tonight. I hate doing that, but she was a wreck.

I'm planning to write a post about breastfeeding a baby with lots of chompers soon. So many people seem to wean or think about weaning when teeth come in. It's not been a big deal for us.

Anyway, back to today. By the time Stephen got home, I looked like this. (Yes. I realize this is a lot of photos of myself. I promise to never do this again. I went a little nuts with the new lens.)

Terrible. I've been feeling pretty low about my appearance lately. My brows are a mess. My hairstyle is nonexistent. I used to get dressed up and do my makeup for work. I haven't done either of those things in what seems like eons.

And all my makeup was from the stone age and probably not hygienic at this point. So, I invested in some new things and followed this tutorial. A mini-makeover.

Before and after.

I'm not much of a makeup person, I usually only slap on some gloss, mascara, and foundation (blessed with acne-prone skin since I was like 12). Anyway, I don't see a massive difference, but I do think I look more refreshed. I f.e.e.l more refreshed.

Simply the act of putting on makeup feels nice. Like I'm doing something just for me. Even if I only plan to parade around the park down the street, which is all I've been doing this week since one of our cars is being wonky.

Yes. Stuck at home all week with teething baby who won't nap. It's been fun.

I'll leave on a high note.

Today Ada's outfit was perhaps my favorite ever. Striped pants. A thrifted I heart NY shirt. A hand-knit sweater from my friend Dani. A bow. Love! She looks like such a toddler in this photo. Sigh.

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Some Answers and 10-Month Rundown

>> 9.19.2012

Yes. Even more photos. I have been having a blast with this black wall! I can't wait until we start drawing on it, but we have another coat of paint to go to cover a couple missed spots.

First, to answer a few questions.

Where did you get Ada's chair? It's cute, right?! We love it, but I didn't anticipate so many of you would, too. So, to answer it in one place: Land of Nod. It's called the Nod Chair. The particular yellow loop pattern we bought was on sale for $35 (normally it's around $125). The chair is suitable for ages 1 to 4, and there are still a few select patterns on sale.

What brand of chalkboard paint did you use for Ada's wall?  It's Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint in black, obviously. I sort of wish I had picked it out with Stephen way back when because it also comes in GREEN! That may have changed the nursery entirely. I'll try not to dwell.

Do you have tips for getting my baby/child to sit still for photos? This one made me laugh. I've gotten quite a few emails about how Ada is such a good poser. But that's so not true! She's rarely still. In fact, to take these photos, I had to basically put her back on the chair each time and take a split second shot before she would run away again.

A few tricks that have been helpful:
  • I wait to take photos when she has found a way to occupy herself. Sometimes she's just in the mood. So, I take full advantage.
  • I give her something cute to play with. Like the book in the photos above. Or a piece of ribbon. A cute rattle. Something that might occupy the mind for a couple seconds.
  • I use Stephen whenever possible. Since I'm often using my 50mm lens, I need to stand back from Ada to get more than just her face in the frame. So, Stephen can position and/or spot her if she's doing something a bit crazy and might fall. (That sounds like I put my daughter in danger just for cute photos, which isn't true. Babies tend to topple before they're walking, as I'm sure many of you moms know!)
  • I give up and just make sure I'm in good lighting with a relatively fast shutter speed. Then, shoot away. That's really the best trick -- take LOTS of photos. Many will be blurry. Maybe a few won't be. So, even if I just get a couple, it's a win.

  • Height/Weight: No idea -- we don't have another pediatrician visit until the day after her 1st birthday. She is getting really long and heavy, though. Sometimes I find it difficult to believe she's mine.
  • Words: Ba-Ba (bye-bye), Dada or Daddy (obvious), MumMum (me/food), Ktsssss (kitties), nay-nay (no!), a-DA(she says her name, but it's not quite right. we just know it's her name because she uses the same inflection we do after we say it to her.)
  • Walking? Not yet. So extremely close it hurts, though. No, really. She falls a lot trying.
  • Other developments: Enormous sense of humor -- finds tons of ways to make us laugh, as well as herself. Very social with other babies. Clapping! Wow. There's actually quite a bit new.
  • Nursing sessions/day: 5, I wrote more about it here.
  • Solid food/day: 2 meals -- a lunch of fruit/cereal/yogurt and a dinner of vegetable, beans/tofu/cheese/other protein and bread/rice/pasta/grain.
  • Favorite food: Tofu. Cold, unflavored, and cubed.
  • Sleep habits: Goes to bed at 7:30, dream-feed at 11ish, gets up at 7:30. Two naps, both between 1 and 2 hours long, on a good day.
  • Favorite toy: Remote controls. But actual toy, probably tambourine or cow bell.
  • Best time of day: 3pm, after all naps
  • Transportation: Still using the Beco a lot. BOB on jogs (probably every other day between my/Stephen's runs)
  • Activities: I had hoped to do some sort of class by now, but we're in such a transition with naps and feedings, it's been hard to get out.
  • Favorite book: Where is Baby's Yummy Tummy? (It's all about the flaps!)
  • Most adventurous: Ada ate some restaurant food this month -- some "zesty vegan carrot soup" and a small piece of haddock.
  • Halloween costume: Picked out, purchased, but not sharing until the holiday. Where's the fun in that?
  • First birthday thoughts: Theme decided (loose theme -- wild animals!), going to be small and intimate, and going to replicate my first birthday cake! So much fun . . . so overwhelmed. ONE?!
  • Looking forward: To the holidays. She was so tiny last year, I cannot wait to celebrate x-mas and play in the snow with her.
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these two . . .

>> 9.18.2012

I moved around some furniture in Ada's nursery so we can have better access to the chalkboard wall for drawing and such. The "and such" is countless photo sessions with a nice, matte background (Still getting the hang of shooting indoor on manual mode with low lighting using my bounce flash.) Stephen had just returned home from work -- by 4 pm, Ada is bored with me. So, she was super happy and giggly.

I definitely see that Ada looks like me. But in these photos, it's undeniable. She's her father's daughter.

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>> 9.17.2012

Sometimes a writer's inspiration comes from odd places. For example, hanging around with dairy cows got me thinking about breastfeeding this weekend.

Since the introduction of solid foods marks the beginning of the weaning process, I guess you could say we are actively weaning. However, Ada's still nursing between 5 and 6 times a day. And her fruits, veggies, and other twice-daily mealtime favorites make up less than 25% of her daily calories.

(Today she had some spaghetti squash for lunch!)

Here's when we nurse (approximately) on a typical day. I wish, for my sake, it was quite this predictable. It's usually within a half hour either way.
  • 7:30 AM 
  • 10:45 AM
  • 2:30 PM
  • 5:30 PM
  • 7:30 PM
  • 11:00 PM
We don't have plans to stop our breastfeeding relationship anytime soon. In fact, while I was pregnant, I had set the "cutoff" for 1 year . . . then extended that in my mind to 18 months after Ada was born. Despite how difficult breastfeeding has been at times (more like MOST of the time until recently), it's been mutually beneficial.

Actually, I've been thinking of extending more to like two years -- that is, if it's still something we're both into. Stephen and I don't have plans to try for another child until Ada is at least two years old, so I guess we'll see what happens. That's 14 months in the future. But, researcher that I am, I've been trying to learn more about how the whole process goes down.

I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. There isn't a clear-cut, this-is-what-you-do pamphlet. Or if there is one, I have yet to find it.

I try my best to go with the flow.  As I've already written, though, that's not really characteristic of my personality. Breastfeeding has brought out more of my tendencies to be schedule-driven than perhaps anything else. Ever. When Ada ate just one meal of food a day, we were on a predictable pattern. Nurse every three hours. Almost without fail. She rarely ever asks to eat, but I'd offer. She'd nurse. We'd complete this cycle day in and day out.

Now? I'm confused, really. A lot has changed in the past couple months. She's eating another meal of table foods. And eating more table food at each meal. (Some) milk feedings have gotten shorter. Others have disappeared one day only to emerge again the next.

For example, depending on what time of day Ada gets up, which can range between 6:30 am and 8 am, she may not eat at 5 pm. Instead, she'll nurse around 3:00 pm and then again at 7:00 with a dinner in-between. Confusing.

It's hard for me to break out of the cycle we were in. I offer, she refuses. I go do something, she's hungry. I have so many questions.
  • At 10 months, how often does a "typical" baby nurse? I've read anywhere from 2 to 12. Twelve! Wild range, indeed. Thanks, random BabyCenter forums.
  • Do some feedings turn into quick snacks at this age? Sometimes she won't eat for longer than a few minutes and seem find for another couple hours!
  • Do you continue to feed milk before meals or start to flip that? And how long should I wait between milk and food?
  • Should I still be dream-feeding? She eats from both side usually, but I know few people still in this practice this late in the game. I've been too afraid to drop it because I've fallen in love with sleeping from 11 to 7.
  • When do table foods take precedence? Is it at one year? We're doing two meals right now -- lunch and dinner. When should we switch to three?
  • Are there any good pro-extended breastfeeding books that explain the weaning process? I feel like I would benefit from just reading about weaning. I have browsed KellyMom and LLL, but I'd love some more in-depth info.
  • Would it be silly to buy a new pump now? Mine (manual) has sort of bit the dust. We don't do a lot of bottles, see below. However, is a pump useful during weaning for potential engorgement issues?
  • If I'm not around, should we offer breastmilk in a bottle? We don't do a lot of bottles. OK. We haven't done any bottles since like May. Ada drinks water out of a sippy cup or practice cup now. If I need to leave her to take photos or something, how should we give her milk?
  • What about the baby who doesn't EVER show hunger signs? Ada is so preoccupied most of the time, I really feel like I need to be her gauge for when it's time to eat. I have read that some babies are too busy to eat during the day, so they eat at night. Selfishly, I would rather not get into that habit.
If you have answers to any or all of these, I'd love to hear them. And collect them. Even if you just have some personal experience to share. I might even put them in a post just as a resource for other moms who are confused. I know I'm not the only one!

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More Reader Questions: WAHM

>> 9.14.2012

It's been a while since I've written about being a stay-at-home mom. I started the conversation with a post about Budget and Sacrifice, how we crunched the numbers to see what would work for our family. Then I answered some of your questions.

When I got my gig as Deals Editor with Wise Bread, I entered the work-at-home mom club. And now that I've slowly started to launch my own photography business, things are getting busy.

As you guys have followed, I have received a few more questions that I thought I'd address on the blog versus via email.

#1: How did you get your at-home job? Were you looking for work?

At the time, I wasn't actively looking for a position. I had planned to let the first year roll on and start looking for something after the 2012 holiday season. In part, I decided to wait to give myself a break. My last months working at the university weren't the best. However, and more importantly, I wanted some time to adjust to my role as mom.

Actually, let's take a step back. I started training for a job at the local YMCA when Ada was just 6 weeks old. I was psyched to get a very casual gig as an aqua aerobics instructor. After attending and shadowing classes for a while, things just weren't working out with childcare, naps, nursing, etc.

More times than not, the entire time I was away, Ada was freaking out, not taking her bottle, or refusing to go to sleep. I would return home to a screaming baby. After a while, I dreaded leaving and it became absolutely overwhelming. I realized I had started the job-thing too soon for our situation. So, I bowed out of that, but would love to revisit the opportunity someday.

So, I took my break. If you can call being a mom to a newborn and breastfeeding round-the-clock a break. I have a friend who works for WB, and she has always been so fantastic about passing along freelancing opportunities to me via ProBlogger. Anyway, several months after the YMCA-fail, she told me about the gig. I didn't know if I was ready. I felt intimidated and out of practice having been home for so many months. However, at only 10 hours a week with all work from home, I decided to take the plunge.

I applied, interviewed via email, and got the job. It was perfect timing because Stephen was home for the summer, allowing me to ease into learning the responsibilities and figuring out how to make it work with the little one at home.

#2: I am looking for part-time, preferably at-home employment. Do you have any suggestions for where I should look?

I got this question from many people. As I mentioned above, if you're a writer or other freelancing type, ProBlogger has some great opportunities. I had also considered writing for Demand Studios, as my mom currently writes for them and makes good money.

For other legitimate work-at-home situations, see this article with 10 of the top "real" at-home jobs. I am always very skeptical of online work that I come across, so I can't speak much to other avenues. I would just suggest being discerning in your search.

Better yet, try to seek out local offices that might offer some flexible at-home tasks. I know my mom once did some light office work, like preparing mass mailings for a local company, from our kitchen table.

#3: With Stephen back at teaching, how do you schedule your own work without childcare?

I'd love to do my work in the super early mornings or late evenings when Ada is sleeping. I can do some of my blogging that way, so I do. But to be entirely honest, I am wiped out a lot of the time, so I try my best to go to sleep at a descent hour and get in 7 to 8 hours whenever possible. You never know when your child might wake every 15 minutes. And as you all know, that happened to us not too long ago.

I digress.

For my job at WB, I work 2 hours a day and need to complete everything by 12 pm ET. Typically the best deals aren't posted in various places until around 9 am, but more like closer to 10 am. So, I am heavily relying on Ada's first nap of the day right now.

Thankfully, there is enough for me to start work on around 8am, so the schedule looks a bit like this:
  • 7:00 am (roughly) wakeup/nursing/changing
  • Then we play. I also turn on my computer and check a few emails.
  • 8:00 am -- I put Ada in her Pack 'n Play and she watches a Yo Gabba Gabba for 24 minutes on the dot. I work the entire time.
  • We play some more when the show is over. Until I see her rub her eyes and yawn.
  • 9:00 am is nap time. Usually for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. At least for now. I work mostly the entire time. I usually finish up 10 minutes before she wakes.
I have a worst-case scenario plan. If she doesn't nap, I do my work in spurts, going to check on her every 10 to 15 minutes, if necessary. Thing is: She usually only needs a few checks. She has been napping really well lately (knock on wood!).

I see so much about TV and children under the age of 2 being this terrible thing. Obviously babies shouldn't have too much screen time because their brains are still developing. They need experiences and stimuli -- non-TV stimuli -- to to learn. I don't think 24 minutes a day, though, is going to have a big impact.

Plus, when I am not working, I am present with Ada. We play indoors. We go for walks and jogs. We go to the library. We go to the Discovery Center. She sits in her high chair while I cook and talk to her about what I'm doing. Basically, I try to find ways to engage her the rest of the day.

At the same time, Ada has had a huge jump in her ability to have independent play in the past month. So, I go with it. If she seems content  crawling around and talking to her toys, I encourage it. She'll sometimes do it for a half hour. Once even 45 minutes. I was there the whole time, but was able to actually read some of a book. It was fabulous.

#4: How many hours do you work each week? And do you feel like you are making enough $$$ to make it worthwhile?

My WB job is 10 hours a week. Blogging, which does not pay our mortgage by any means, is about 10 to 15 (but I enjoy it so much!). Anyway, I have been thinking of other ways to bring in a little money here and there.

Ideally, I would like to be able to bring in half of what I used to make at my desk job after taxes. Those of you who have done independent contractor work know that approximately 40% of your take-home pay goes to the government. It hurts!

I thought about starting an Etsy store. I wanted to make hair bows. Or sew children's clothing. Or something related to kids and babies. I might revisit this in the future, but it's rough to create stock and maintain a store when you have a child under the age of 1. Too difficult for me, at least.

I had also considered looking for part-time employment out of the house. The problem with that is childcare, as I didn't find many affordable part-time options in our area. Basically, any of the PT jobs I would get couldn't cover the cost of the childcare, so it wouldn't have made much sense.

So, after taking photos for friends and family for the last several years, I have decided to start my own photography business. Right now, and likely always, I am focusing on doing family photography sessions for friends and friends of friends, etc. I am hoping that by taking on a bit of work, I will improve on my own skills and also make a little extra money to help us buy groceries/etc.

We'll see where it goes, but so far I have had an encouraging response. But with starting a business comes expenses. Like registering a business name, maybe a new lens or two, photography props (and I have fun ideas for those!), etc. It all adds up.

To answer the question of if I feel it's worthwhile for me to piece together a career and stay home with Ada? YES. Definitely. I am working a lot. It's hard. I don't get vacation days or sick days. At this stage in my life, I am willing to sacrifice and be creative to make it work. I just hope it continues to work as well as it has!

If you have any more questions, I'd be happy to answer them in another post. Just email us at writingchapterthree [at] gmail [dot] com.

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9 Months of Cloth Diapering

>> 9.13.2012

Ada turns 10 months on Sunday. This shot may be my favorite photo yet. Sometimes I capture her in just the right way, and I feel convinced it's what she'll look like as an adult.

What do you think?

What this also means is that 9 months of stink has been collecting in her cloth diapers. We've had so many #2 false alarms in the past month, it was time to do something. So, I decided to bring out the big guns and strip her diapers.

To recap, here are all of our cloth diapering posts for your reading pleasure.

Cloth Diaper Introduction
Diapering Plans, Pre-Baby
One Month In: How It's Going
Phase II: Cloth Wipes
Cloth Diapering On The Go

I researched various natural ways to strip the diapers. Honestly, they had gotten so rotten, I didn't think many of them would work. And after taking advice from some forum threads -- ultimately, we went with the Bum Genius manufacturer's instructions.

To strips diapers, wash in HOT water with 1 teaspoon of classic Dawn (the blue kind) for HE machines (1 tablespoon for regular machines) + 1/2 cup bleach. After that, do two or three additional rinse cycles. Dry as usual, preferably in the sun.

Yeah. I didn't love using bleach. For various reasons, but at least after several rise cycles, I felt pretty confident none of it would linger and have a negative impact on Ada.

Verdict? It worked. The diapers smell . . . well, actually, they don't smell anymore. At all. I guess it's good to do this process every few months to keep them fresh. I am investigating better detergents in the meantime so I may not need to use such intense cleaners.

Have you stripped your diapers? What would you say is the best way?

In other related news, I bought Ada a potty. I know it's really early, but Zulily is having a sale on a BeBeLove potty, so I jumped on it. I'm not sure how much longer their sale goes on, but it was the same as this one except only $11!

And now for the cutest video EVER.

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