Thursday, August 26, 2010

First Family Vacation, First Tooth

We took our first vacation last weekend and joined all the Senges for a family reunion in San Diego. Alice did great in car, in the hotel, on all our day trips, and at the family dinners each night. We were able to keep her on schedule and haven't had any issues now that we're back home. It went so well, we promised to take her with us when we visit Livermore over Labor Day weekend!

Here are a few photos and highlights from our trip!

Me & my little koala check out the other koalas.

Alice wore her giraffe outfit to the San Diego Zoo, because really, what else does one wear to the zoo? She slept through the giraffes though, so I didn't get a good picture with her and her long-necked friends in their matching spots. Next time we'll go see them first instead of on our way out when we're too hot and sticky. I didn't know you could feed them giraffe-food biscuits, we will be sure to do that next time as well! Check out their fancy fence that lets them reach right down to your hand.

Alice wore her only sea-life outfit to Sea World. You may think her onesie, below left, translates to "Death 2 Whales" but I assure you, Alice is not a whale terrorist and bears no ill-will against them. It is actually an eponymous design from 826 Valencia, an organization devoted to helping children improve their writing skills. Each location is themed differently, my sister was an intern at the Pirate-themed San Francisco location. Hence the outfit. 

Alice and I in front of the Moon Jellies (the Aurelia aurita), above right. See previous posts about the various meanings of the name Aurelia. 

Alice has breakfast at the dolphin pool. Best place EVER to breastfeed.

Jon's cousin, Alexis, works at Sea World in Orlando and treated the Senges to reserved seats for the Shamu show, Believe, and the Dolphin/Pilot Whale/Acrobat spectacular, Blue Horizons. Above, a killer whale demonstrates its awesomeness during the show. Below, we hung out with the Blue Horizons dolphins backstage. We were all mutually amused.

We had a great time visiting with family and being tourists in the city we called home for five years, five years ago. But the real surprise of the weekend came during our last family dinner on Saturday night. I was letting Alice gnaw on my finger and she bit me! WITH A TOOTH! Guys, she was only one day past her 3-month birthday, I was NOT expecting this. Sure, she'd been pretty drooly and chompy lately, but those signs of teething can last months before any tooth actually appears. Lo and behold though, she's got the sharp corner of a pearly white poking up from the left side of her lower gum. I'll try to get a good photo soon. She's growing up so fast, I said "what the hey," and ordered her a beer.

Just kidding. I'd never feed beer to a baby, just so we're clear. The beer was for me, I needed it after the shock of being bit by a 3-month old - I definitely almost cried...

We're already looking forward to the next Senge family reunion, whenever and wherever it is. And until we meet again, stay classy, San Diego.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

30 for 30

I'm too young to be almost 30. 

I like birthdays less and less every year and 30 seems older and older the closer I get. I know 30 is supposed to be the new 20, but I'm just not ready to be that old! In much the same way I get stuck in November every year, refusing to come to terms with the fact that it is now February, March, wait, what? Almost September?!? of a new year, I seem to have gotten stuck somewhere around 26. I don't feel much different than I did back then. I certainly don't feel almost 30. 

Anyway, instead of spending the rest of my twenties dreading getting older, I've decided to really work on becoming the best version of 30 I can be, at least physically. I'm going to try to lose 30 pounds by my 30th birthday next July. That would put me right in the middle of the healthy BMI range for my height. I haven't weighed so little since the peak of my physical condition as a high school varsity swimmer.

I've long been meaning to lose the extra pounds I've accumulated over the years. I had intended to do it before I got pregnant, so that growing a person and then losing that weight wouldn't be even harder than it already has to be. Last summer, it occurred to me that I should probably get started on this plan but didn't make a whole lot of progress before taking that positive pregnancy test. Now that I actually AM a mother, I think it's time to really make this happen.

I never had trouble with my weight as a child or teenager. Swimming (and youth) helped keep my metabolism nice and high. I never thought twice about what I ate, including the time I ate an entire box of Hostess Ho-Hos for lunch before a swim meet. As soon as I stopped swimming competitively, I started to notice the consequences of eating a 20pc chicken McNugget meal.

I went to off to college soon after I quit swimming and gained the obligatory freshman 15 (20?25?), thanks to the healthy dining options at SDSU. I lived and dined on campus for two years before spending a summer working outdoors at Disneyland selling popcorn, churros, cotton candy, and pretzels. Because I was on my feet all day there, sweltering in the pants I had to wear to cover my partially-removed tattoo, I dropped a good chunk of weight without even trying (I've never owned a scale, so I'll never really know where I started and ended up). When I say I didn't try, I mean exactly that. I ate WAY too many Big Macs and root beer floats that summer, and enjoyed subsidized soda, chicken tenders, and/or tuna melts during every shift at the various Cast Member restaurant locations in the park. 

I returned for another semester in the dorms at SDSU and probably put some of those pounds back on before I left to study abroad in Paris for three months. Despite walking many miles and climbing many flights of stairs in "The City of Light," I ate many more croissants, crepes, cafe creme, and cheeses (and baguettes, and ice cream, and so on and so forth). I returned from Paris looking like I had enjoyed myself very much.

When I moved back to San Diego this time though, it wasn't to the dorms. A studio apartment just across the street from campus meant no more campus meal plan! In hindsight, I'm not sure I was better off. My unit was part of a questionably legal addition to a single family home. A screen door led from the living room of said home into a "sun room" which was to function as a kitchen for the four studio apartments behind the house, attached to the "kitchen" by a small foyer. Unfortunately, the landlord was a total a**hole and for most of the time I lived there, the "kitchen" was missing all the windows in the external wall that qualified it as a "sun room." The glorified patio was overrun with all manner of spiders, crickets and other pests that crawled or slithered up from the canyon we overlooked. Furthermore, instead of one appropriately-sized refrigerator, each studio had its own mini-fridge.

This awesome set-up (plus vermin) made food storage and preparation quite challenging. I ended up buying my own chest freezer (which I generously shared with the other studios) and limited my diet to easily frozen and microwaved meals - I called it the "poverty diet." While Hot Pockets, taquitos, hot dogs, and ice cream aren't the healthiest of foods, when you buy and eat them in the pathetic quantities a college student can afford, you're bound to lose weight. It worked like a charm!

As soon as that lease ended, I moved down the street to a 1-bedroom apartment with a proper landlord and property management situation. The kitchen had a black and white-tiled floor and my own apartment-sized appliances, including a real fridge with a freezer and a teeny, tiny oven. While my eating habits weren't completely improved, I was at least experimenting with fresher and healthier food items. I'm not sure I knew it then but looking back at the photos, by graduation I think I was the thinnest I'd been in at least 7 years.

Jon and I met during my last year of school. Two years after we met, we were married and living in a great 1-bedroom apartment in Burbank. We have fond memories of being broke that first year of marriage while I freelanced as a movie set lighting electrician, but we learned to manage our finances incredibly carefully. I'm still not sure how we managed to make three homemade meals a day on our $30 a week grocery budget. But we did, and I learned to cook, and slowly grew confident that some day I'd be able to feed a human child a more balanced diet than hot pockets, taquitos, root beer floats and Big Macs.

I started counting calories last spring and lost 10 lbs more easily than I ever had before, I intended to continue losing weight until I got pregnant. I gained most of that back during our Parisian vacation in the summer (damn those croissants) and then started suffering from morning sickness in the early fall. Morning sickness is a great diet for some, my solution to any malady is to find the perfect thing to eat. I gained more weight than my doctor would have liked (she admonished me at every check-up throughout the pregnancy) but I gained the exact same amount every week whether I counted calories or not. So I chose not and just kept eating like normal without worrying too much about it. Fortunately, breastfeeding has been the best diet I've ever tried and has already miraculously returned me to my pre-diet, pre-vacation, pre-pregnancy weight of last summer.

So here I am, 29 years old with a husband and a human child of my very own. In a matter of months, she and I will begin to experiment with home-cooked baby food. Then she will turn one and not long after that, I will turn 30. 

In the last 10 years, and especially the last 5, I have learned to pay close attention to my body and how it responds to the food I feed it. I've learned to cook healthy and delicious food for two, that can someday feed a family. I've learned to plan meals and grocery shop weekly to make cooking easy and convenient, save money, and avoid unhealthy snacks and temptations. I've learned to auto-correct when my diet is too carb-heavy, or I'm not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables. I've learned that I'm allergic, or at least sensitive to dairy proteins and that right now, so is my baby. I've learned that I CAN lose weight by counting calories. Now I'm going to put these puzzle pieces together for real and quit saying, "Someday..." 

So 30, here I come. When I see you, I hope to be 30 pounds lighter. I hope you'll mistake me for that varsity athlete I used to be. We can celebrate with a cake - because, come on, I'll deserve it!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"DON'T BUY this bulky stuff" - A product review worth reading

The Kolcraft Contours Tandem Stroller in Tangerine
I was admiring my cousin's new double stroller (don't worry, we're NOT in the market yet), so I did a little web-based research to see if it was something we might be interested in someday and I found THE funniest product review I have read to date.

I read product reviews semi-obsessively. I read as many as I can find about whatever product I'm interested in, throw out the junk and average the data to make my decision. I generally read the worst reviews first to see if any major problems are commonly identified (for example, Fisher Price cradle swings are known to catch fire. We didn't buy one.), and then I read the best reviews. I also like to peruse the mid-range reviews to see if anyone mentions anything interesting. So basically, I read them all.

Anyway, this review was just too good to keep to myself, I am still laughing about it. I posted it on Facebook a while back but it is so funny I just had to post it again here. And now, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy the only one-star review for Kolcraft Contours Tandem Stroller in Tangerine:

"Monster" by Ann Soraya 

I have read, review, looked at many double strollers in many sources and site. though I AM SO READY for bulky stroller, but this kolcraft contour tandem: 

1. The correct dimension L:56" W:25" H:40, imagine you push 56" long stroller! you look so dumb!!!
2.The way we recline the seat back is really annoying and is hurting my hand.
3.IT IS SO MONSTERY BULKY!!! even when you fold... it so HUGE! more than HUGE! cannot fit to my honda odysey or my husband lexus. and when we go to the elevator, PEOPLE HATE US SO MUCH!!! it takes all space in the elevator!!! this bulky stuff is just IMPOSSIBLE for elevator or escalator!!!
4.If you live in a palace or castle with a wide area and you have big VAN or truck as your car... this stroller will be just OK!
5.YES its heavy!!! YES people will think "GEE, what is this woman push? a TANK?"

1. My son loves to ride it, smooth ride and the cup holster are perfect! i like the belly bar too
2. The reversible seat is "BAIT-ing" point of this strolle for this price...
3. The carseat attachment is OK, than nothing....
4. Price are affordable for such a sturdy and stable stroller.

My conclusion... DONT BUY this bulky stuff, find something more compact, and pushing 56" long stroller is really LOOK WEIRD, people look at you and think you are really shameless, especially when you need to take an elevator!!! BAH!!!

if i live in america, i would have returned it...

For the record, we are currently strolling around with this sweet ride - the Baby Trend Expedition Travel System - only slightly different than the one pictured here:

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Great Diaper Debate

This post is all about diapers. If that doesn't interest or apply to you, I won't be offended if you head back to Facebook, or Go Fug Yourself, or wherever it is you spend your time online. Though I do think that the disposable diaper stats might be interesting and relevant even to people who aren't in the diaper trenches themselves.

We had the obligatory diaper discussion before Alice was born. I was pretty sure I wanted to go the cloth route but with so many different options and factors to consider, I had to do some research and make sure Jon and I were both in agreement. 

Disposable diapers began changing the landscape of babies' bottoms in the mid-20th century. In 1955, virtually every baby in America wore cloth diapers. Pampers were in introduced in 1961 and 30 years later, about 90% of babies wore disposable diapers exclusively. Clearly, disposables are still the predominant choice in the U.S., but many parents are taking a second look at the health, economic, and ecological impact compared to today's cloth and reusable options.

Here's what I found out:

Disposable Diaper Cons
  • About 18 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills each year and can take as many as 500 years to decompose, due to the synthetic materials and lack of oxygen.
  • Disposable diapers are responsible for about 500 million tons of untreated waste in landfills, which can contaminate ground water.
  • Disposable diapers are the third largest source of solid waste in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers (also fairly inexcusable). Disposable diaper waste is estimated to total about 2 billion tons.
  • It takes upwards of 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp (about 250,000 trees) to manufacture the disposable diapers for babies in the U.S. alone.
  • One study found that disposables use 3.5x the energy, 8x nonregenerable raw materials, and 90x the renewable material as cloth diapers. Disposables also use 2x the water, even when growing the cotton for cloth diapers is factored in.
  • Disposable diapers may lead to male infertility due to a prolonged increased scrotal/testicular temperature.
  • Disposable diapers expose babies to potentially dangerous chemicals (sodium polyacrylate, dioxin, tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene, isopropylbenzene). 
  • Disposable diapers have been linked to asthma (see dangerous chemicals, above).
  • Disposable diapers increase diaper rash. One study by a major disposable diaper manufacturer found that the incidence of diaper rash has increased from 7% in 1955 to 61-78% in the last 40 years. According to another study, 54% of 1-month old babies had diaper rash, 16% had a severe rash.
  • Disposable diapers can prolong potty training (because they prevent the feeling of wetness). Disposable diaper-wearers are toilet trained by 36-42 months on average. Cloth diaper-wearers are potty trained by 24-30 months on average. In 1957, 92% of children were toilet trained by 18 months of age.
  • Delayed potty training = higher cost over time.

Cloth Diaper Pros
  • The average cloth diaper is used 100-150 times before enjoying a second life as a rag.
  • Waste is treated and processed through the sewer system.
  • Laundering cloth diapers at home only adds about 2 extra loads of laundry per week, or 4-5 extra toilet flushes a day, on average. 
  • Using a diaper service economizes water usage even more.
  • Diaper services may also pH balance cloth diapers to match baby's skin.
  • Convenient velcro diaper covers and all-in-one products make cloth diapering easier than ever, no pins!
Today's parent also has a lot of products to choose from in the cloth diapering arena. bumGenius makes a conscientiously manufactured, organic cotton, one-size-fits-all, one-step, no-stuff, washable, reusable cloth diaper. You can diaper your child, and even future children, for a one-time investment of about $250-500. I seriously considered these, but decided I didn't want to have to worry about doing all that laundry. Sherry, of, wrote about how well the bumGenius diapers are working for her family. You can read that here.

The bumGenius Organic One-Size All-In-One

We eventually decided to use a diaper service, which typically costs the same or less than disposable diapers. You can't beat the convenience of having someone take your dirty diapers away to launder for you, and deliver a fresh supply each week! Plus, they provide the diaper pail, bags, and deodorizer, and the diapers are treated with an odor neutralizer, so they never stink up the nursery!

Then, we just had to decide how to cover the cloth diapers. My mom used rubber pants over cloth diapers for all of her kids, my mother-in-law actually sewed her own rubber pants. Today there are all kinds of different options on the market. After reading tons of user reviews on Amazon, I decided to try the product with the most 5-star reviews and haven't regretted my decision at all. 

Thirsties Diaper Covers

Thirsties diaper covers are made from a single layer of polyester laminate. You just fold the cloth diaper into thirds, lay it inside the diaper wrap, and velcro tight! They are breathable and waterproof, can be rinsed clean after small messes between washings. The inside elastic gussets can get a little dingy after too many rinses, but have always come clean in the machine and you can't really see them when they're on baby anyway, so it's cool. We ordered size x-small to start, which are meant for babies 6-12lbs. At around 14lbs, the x-small is still fitting Alice perfectly with tons of room to grow, so we can get a lot more mileage out of these than we'd planned. We started with five covers, which seems to be a perfect amount but I wouldn't mind having one in every color! That's the the other plus over disposables or the rubber pants of yore, these are awfully cute peeking out of baby clothes. I must admit that I always try to color coordinate diapers to outfits...

We had accumulated a bunch of newborn disposables from various friends who hadn't needed all of theirs. We used them for a little over a week after Alice was born before we started noticing little beads of gel from the diapers left behind on her bottom. That, and some awesome blowouts finally prompted us to put the cloth diapers into play and we've never looked back. There's been hardly any leaking to speak of, they don't smell when they're dirty or wet like disposables, and Alice usually lets us know right away when she needs to be changed which helps keep her clean and dry. I hope that her aversion to a wet diaper will help with early potty training as advertised. The whole notion of diaper changing was pretty intimidating to Jon before Alice is born, but even he's become quite the cloth convert. Besides, every diaper change is another chance to see those cute baby buns!

Cite your resources:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Are we having fun yet?

My emotionally priceless child, clearly enjoying some of our parenting.
So, I'm a little late to the party in discussing this article on my blog since it has already been much discussed all over the interwebs, but better late than never. NY Mag ran this feature on July 4th about why "parents hate parenting." Apparently, we parents (especially moms) are less happy than our childless peers, having children is bad for our marriage, and each child we add makes us increasingly more unhappy. At least that's what this article and a bunch of studies would have us believe. What's especially interesting is that parents generally don't believe the data. They don't believe that they are unhappy despite apparently reporting that they are.

I think what the article boils down to though, is that most of these studies are measuring day-to-day, moment-to-moment happiness. Where parents might not report being as happy day-to-day (thanks to the endless grind of diapers, arguments, homework, lessons, etc), studies widely show that parents are more likely to report having a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose than the childless.

One group of mothers ranked child care as the 16th most pleasurable of activities, out of 19. They ranked talking on the phone, watching TV, shopping, napping, exercising, cooking, and housework (among other things, I guess... eating? sex?) as more pleasurable than caring for their children. The article does not say what they considered to be less pleasurable than parenting.

One of the experts speculates that this phenomenon might be because parenting itself has changed. One expert discussing this article said that children have become "economically worthless but emotionally priceless." Where kids used to have to pull their weight at the homestead/farm/family business, today's kids are sheltered and cultivated like little pearls. The trendiness of competitive-sport parenting puts a lot of pressure on parents to raise perfect, high-acheiving child specimens, and while many people seem to be playing the game it sounds like many are also finding they don't particularly enjoy it.

I think it's also interesting that the longer people wait to have children, the more unhappy they're likely to report being and that each successive generation reports being more unhappy with parenting than the previous generation. I think it's safe to say that having babies is sort of trendy right now and that plenty of young people are doing it, certainly many of my peers have started or finished having kids by the time they turn 30. But even still, I would bet that the current child-bearing generation is waiting longer, on average, than any other generation in history. Our lifespans have increased significantly, the fertility industry is more sophisticated than ever, and women have more choices regarding child-bearing than ever before. 

One of the experts in this article notes that humans are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy. I think that while we are liberated in many ways by the choices and options available to us today, they have also helped to create the belief that only the perfect job/partner/house/outfit/car/experience/weight will do and that we can't possibly be happy with anything less until we find it. I think this has something to do with people delaying parenthood and with their reported disappointment with it. For better or worse, I don't think this is something our grandparents struggled with and by all accounts, they may have actually been happier overall.

Someone also posited that it can be tedious to make every moment a teachable moment. I think this might be one of the keystones of competitive-sport parenting, one of those things that parents feel pressured to do without really enjoying. Talk to me in 5 or 10 years, but this is one of the things I am most looking forward to as a parent.

Don't misunderstand, I don't want to be an over-acheiving parent of an over-extended, over-acheiving child; I don't want concoct contrived learning opportunities just for the sake of it. I do want to expose my kids to things they are interested in and things they don't yet know if they're interested in. Furthermore, I think that children need to be explicitly taught far more than is currently in fashion.

Kids need time to play and discover on their own, for sure, and they do a great job of picking things up just from observing their environment. But way too often, I see parents out and about scolding their kids, saying things like, "If you don't behave yourself, then ___ (insert punishment here)." And from the kid's behavior and bewildered attitude, it seems to me that no one has ever quite explained to that kid what it means to "behave yourself," or at least what their parent's expectations are for that particular situation. Sure, kids (generally) figure it out eventually; when in public and polite company, they aren't supposed to yell, run around, interrupt, hit people, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I think too many parents take for granted that kids have a firm grasp on this stuff from their sometimes obscure instructions.

Kids are so curious about everything and such little sponges for information. I can't wait to answer all their questions, teach them how to find the answers I don't already know, teach them how to learn about themselves and the world around them. I might find that the sheer amount of time I devote to teaching my little ones becomes tedious, but I hope I enjoy it as thoroughly as I'm expecting to. I don't feel pressured to do this by society's trendy expectation of parenting, I feel like this should be a natural and required part of parenting. If you aren't already expecting and looking forward to this, well, then I guess you'll just be surprised when you check off the unhappy box every day.

I guess the point is that parenting isn't always fun and you'd have to be delusional to be surprised about it. Putting off having kids until you have enough money (you never will), or the time is right (it never will be) will certainly add to your displeasure when you finally get there and realize that having kids is not the dream reward you'd been engineering. Plus, just the waiting alone can make you unhappy, as will inevitably having to give up certain pleasures you may have enjoyed B.C. (before children).

As much as I'd prefer to sleep in the middle of the night when Alice would prefer to eat, I love seeing her little face light up when I get to her crib and I love any chance to hold her close and satisfy her every need. Changing upwards of 12 diapers a day may not be anyone's idea of fun, but I love the way Alice looks at the giraffe spots I painted on the wall just for her, and the way she does her best chatting with a bare bottom. Her babyhood won't last forever and not to be morbid, but I don't want a day to go by that I don't treasure every moment with her just in case I don't get another.

And lest you need a reminder on why you should cherish even the unpleasant parts of parenting, please read this heart-breakingly honest blog ( one woman's reaction to this article and her reality as a parent.

Also, if you're interested, read this article ( some interesting facts about the dual-earner, multiple-child, middle-class American household from a UCLA study; "the richest, most detailed, most complete database of middle-class family living in the world (Thomas S. Weisner, UCLA professor of anthropology).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Miracle Milk (In Honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2010)

The NY Times published an article on 8/2 about some new findings on how breast milk may be protecting infants (Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants A Protective Coat). Up to 21% of breast milk is made of complex sugars that cannot be digested by babies. Apparently, scientists used to think this content had no significance, but this new research is finding that it promotes the growth of good bacteria which feeds on these complex sugars and coats the lining of infants' intestines to protect from other, noxious bacteria.

Not only is breastfeeding free, convenient, and emotionally good for mom & baby, it lowers the risk of infection, illness, allergies, obesity, diabetes, SIDS, and breast cancer for baby and lowers the risk of anemia, breast/ovarian/endometrial cancer for mom. It really is a miracle, custom-made for every baby.

Don't believe me? Here's some food (or milk!) for thought:

101 Reasons To Breastfeed
World Breastfeeding Week 2010