Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Time of Zwischen

I am 39 weeks pregnant, as of yesterday. Baby sister is due in less than a week now, on Christmas Day. I've crossed off the most important items on my maternity leave spreadsheet and Jon has crossed off all the important things I tasked him with. Our Christmas shopping is pretty much under control (though I'm afraid our gifting is pretty much limited to our immediate family that we're seeing this holiday season, despite my best intentions). We just need to wait for the final deliveries and find all the presents and packages that we've been squirreling away in random places. And, you know, wrap them...

I've washed all the baby clothes; rearranged the nursery dresser and closet; purged and organized the hall closet and bathroom; cooked and frozen at least eight meals that we can reheat easily once our hands are full with a newborn. My bag is ALMOST packed, the camera is ready to go complete with a new lens, I've finished the reference document for Alice's daily routines. My mom is here now, helping occupy Alice and helping me cross off the last things on my list, like baking Christmas cookies.

I know I should take advantage of this time to rest, to relax, soak up time with Alice, and enjoy these last days as a family of three. I'm having a hard time getting there. I can't stop thinking of things that could be done, organized, rearranged. I see dirt everywhere and I want to bleach it out of existence. I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, I've been searching and shopping the interwebs for Christmas presents and things we need for the baby. I add things to our daily "To Do" list calendar and buy things from my phone, in bed, in the middle of the night. We're getting multiple deliveries a day, piles of packages left on the porch. But our Christmas shopping is done, we have most everything we need, and I'm cutting myself off from internet shopping (or Jon is, he's threatening to turn off the internet when we go to bed. He's tired of waking up to new "To Do" lists).

I still have two more weeks before I have to cross this bridge, but I want to go into labor naturally before my health care providers try to induce me at 41 weeks on the dot. I don't want to have that fight again, I don't want that cloud hanging over me for the next two weeks during the festive holidays. I'm ready to meet this baby. I want to give birth and bring her home in time for Christmas Eve so everyone can have an extra-merry holiday snuggling a new little gift.

In addition to the flurry of holiday prep and fervently wishing that she'll be born before Christmas, I'm cranky and physically uncomfortable. Everything is difficult; sitting, standing, walking, sleeping, rolling over, getting up, sitting down, putting my clothes on. I'm done. And so I'm waiting. Waiting for this baby to make her move. Waiting for my body to give me the signs that labor is starting. I find myself, in the midst of difficult and uncomfortable moments, unconsciously uttering a single-word prayer. Please. 

Jana Studelska calls this The Time of Zwischen, co-opting the German word for between. This is the time between the motherhood of pregnancy and the motherhood of birth and the newborn days. She writes about it much more eloquently and evocatively than I can, in my weary state of zwischen. Her words comfort me, though, and I try to follow her advice and let myself go with it and be OK here. And so, I wait.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Wish List: New Mama

I am counting down the days until this baby is born and trying to find any and every way I can be as comfortable during these last two weeks and for the first few weeks afterwards. Here are some of the things I'm dreaming of! Maybe you know another new or expecting mama that would love to be pampered with one of these, too?

fig. 1: A pedicure. I can't reach my feet. They could use a little attention and some serious massaging!
fig. 2: A massage. Either prenatal, to relax and soothe my poor, achey body and promote labor; or post-natal, to relax and soothe my body after the stress of labor and hormones and infants and toddlers!
fig. 3: Infant Massage by Vimala Schneider McClure - I borrowed this book from the library when Alice was a baby and we enjoyed many a massage session together until she got too wiggly. I'd love to refresh my baby massage skills and think Alice might enjoy joining in, now that she's a bigger girl and can understand and participate in the activity.
fig. 4: Coconut oil - any unrefined/virgin/extra-virgin coconut oil is great for mama and baby. I eat it, cook with it, use it to moisturize face and body, and use it for all manner of antibiotic/antifungal needs. It's great during breastfeeding, both on sore nips and to eat; it's a great source of energy, helps promote mama's healthy weight loss, and provides essential, easily digestible nutrients to the infant and boosts the immune system. It's also great for baby massages, and cures thrush, cradle cap and diaper rash.
fig. 5: Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo - When a new mama just can't find the time to get in the shower, this dry shampoo can help keep her feeling fresh and lovely instead of greasy and gross (feeling like a person really helps morale when things can start to feel overwhelming!). This formula gets the best rating of all dry shampoos listed on the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, which tests, rates, and lists the harmful and toxic ingredients in the products we use on our bodies.
fig. 6: Milkstars "Erin" PJ Set - Milkstars is an nursing/maternity wear company. Their tops are designed to keep your belly and back fully covered during nursing so you don't have to expose half your body. I haven't tried any of their tops but I'd love one of their tees, or this comfy PJ set to wear around the house.
fig. 7: Pommery Pink Pop champagne - Every new mom deserves a toast! This is a perfect choice for new moms (in pink, or the standard blue). I can't wait to have a glass of wine, or bubbly, and this little bottle means mama doesn't have to share!
fig. 8: Malley's Pretzel Crunch Bar, or anything from Malley's really! Because you need extra calories when you're breastfeeding, right? Right??
fig. 9: Vosges Chocolate Italian Truffle collection - or again, anything from Vosges. Like the Aztec truffle collection, the Exotic or Holiday truffle collections, or the Exotic caramel collection. Makes me weak in the knees...
fig. 10: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Holiday Collection - or anything at all from Jeni's! The quality is amazing and the flavors are extraordinary. A true indulgence!
fig. 11: An hour or two of housecleaning service - once or a few times - to give the house a deep-clean before baby and company arrives and/or once we're all on our own again. I can't reach many of the places I keep giving the evil eye and don't have the time or the stamina to give everything the attention I'd prefer. Once baby comes, my body won't be any more cooperative and I'll have even less time to devote to the bigger jobs - let alone the essentials, like taking my own showers!!
fig. 12: Reliable Corporation steam cleaner - Once I have the time and energy again, this will clean and disinfect just about anything and everything in the house, naturally and chemical-free! Great for families with germy little kids!
fig. 13: An iTunes gift card - Great for applying towards the latest baby care app, music, games, or books to keep you occupied during the many hours spent immobilized under a sleeping/eating baby, and/or to keep your toddler quiet and occupied next to you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Wish List: Mama in the Kitchen

I have a few serious weaknesses, including cameras and cookbooks. So far, I've managed not to indulge my penchant for photography gear, as the price tags are often prohibitive. Cookbooks are another story...

While I'm home on maternity leave, I'd love to go through the ones on my shelf and see if we can find some new family favorites to fold into our rotation. This year, I've been drooling over a few brand-new books by some of my favorite food bloggers, and dreaming of a few high-quality tools and ingredients that my cupboards are missing. Perhaps there's something here your favorite cook would love, too!

fig. 1: Dinner, A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach - I love the DALS blog and would love this resource on my cookbook shelf to aid in the never ending quest to feed a family, including a picky toddler.
fig. 2: Some great salt, like Maldon sea salt and these finishing salts from Williams-Sonoma. And
fig. 3: This lovely salt keeper to go with! From Williams-Sonoma
fig. 4: Waring Quik Stik Immersion Blender - I've resisted getting one for years but I can no longer deny that I make enough dishes where it would be super useful and save me a lot of time.
fig. 5: Benriner Japanese Mandoline Slicer - Another one I've resisted but have recently found myself wishing for more and more.
fig. 6: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman - I love the Smitten Kitchen blog and have read enough wonderful praise of the cookbook that I know it deserves a spot on my shelf and would give me a number of trusty and delicious go-to recipes.
fig. 7: Parents Need to Eat Too by Debbie Koenig - I love this family-friendly food blog and know this book would be a valuable tool in our family's meal planning!
fig. 8: Kauai cutting board - Totally Bamboo - We need a nice, big, wooden cutting/serving board but don't have room to store much (I'd love a legit, end-grain chopping block some day!). I like that this is big enough to be useful, but thin enough to slip into one of our cabinets, or on top of the microwave when not in use. Plus, it's sustainable and pretty enough to use on the table!
fig. 9: Pure Komachi 2 Series Chef's Knife - I hear great things about this super affordable knife. I need a more professional and reliable option to move beyond my favorite $2.99 IKEA knife that I've been using for years...
fig. 10: Some great olive oil, like Katz Chef's Pick EVO or something from McEvoy Ranch, and an Olive oil cruet like this one from Sur La Table
fig. 11: Silicone spatulas like those from Williams-Sonoma. I am woefully bereft of mini spatulas.
fig. 12: Nielsen-Massey vanilla, from Williams-Sonoma. For when desserts really need a top-notch, stand-out vanilla flavor.
fig. 13: Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson - Joy's blog is delicious and I have no doubt her new cookbook is as well. Because you can never have too many delicious recipes at your fingertips!

What about you? Any cookbooks or kitchen gadgets on your wish list this year? Have you cooked from any of these blogs or books?  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas Wish List: Crafty Mama

I'm trying to get all the Christmas shopping and wrapping done ASAP before the baby comes, but I fear I'll end up doing most everything at the last minute as per usual. I vowed to have everything done by September this year (as I always intend to do) but I just never seem to have the inspiration until the signs of the season start appearing. And, you know, I've been a little preoccupied this year!

As I try to think up and track down the perfect gifts for everyone on our list, I like to put together a little wish list of my own for any loved ones that ask for a little direction. I remember back in high school, making a wish list catalog by cutting out photos of everything I loved from my favorite catalogs (dELiA*s) and magazines (Seventeen, YM) and pasting the images onto pages that I embellished with my own marker art. Thanks to Pinterest, I can now collect all the lovely little things I wish for all year!

Of course, all I really want is a safe delivery and a healthy baby (and mama) but here are a few other things I wouldn't mind seeing Santa leave under the tree! Maybe there's a crafty mama on your shopping list who would love a few of these things, too!
Crafty Mama Wish List
fig. 1: Tripod - Very handy for taking self-portrait shots, especially with a...
fig. 2: Wireless shutter release - I want to start take photos of myself with my sweet girls, and that's hard to do with just the timer setting on your camera - especially with a baby! A wireless shutter release would be super handy in our house.
fig. 3: Initial and birthstone necklace for mamas - Pottery Barn Kids - so I can keep my kiddos close to my heart.
fig. 4:  My Prudent Advice: Lessons For My Daughter - I'd love to write out thoughts and advice for my daughters, with these thoughtful prompts. I love the Prudent Baby blog/website, and am sure this book is written with the same enjoyable flair.
fig. 5:  Makeup brush set, like these or these from Sephora - because I've been using a pathetic hodgepodge of three old, broken brushes for as long as I can remember...
fig. 6: Narrow hem foot and Ruffle foot - I think both will be very useful in sewing for daughters. I see a lot of ruffles in my future!!
fig. 7: Silhouette Cameo cutting tool - Such a fun and awesome tool that opens up a million new possibilities in everyday crafting.
fig. 8: Watercolors, like these Daniel Smith tubes or this Winsor & Newton artists' set - I took a watercolor class last summer and would love to continue learning and experimenting but had to return the paint set to class!
fig. 9: Washi tape - Because there isn't anything you can't make prettier and more fun with washi tape!

What about you? Have you had your shopping done for months? Are your gifts all wrapped and ready to go? What are you wishing for this year?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dear Alice; You Carry My Heart With You

Dear Alice,

This was my first "official" week of maternity leave. I feel like I have one million things to do before baby sister arrives, but the thing I want to do most is soak up every moment with you as an only child. Even though I know having a sister will be a wonderful gift for you and a joy for our whole family, for some reason, it makes me sad that you will have to share me soon. In fact, that was my first thought and emotion when I saw that positive pregnancy test this time. Some parents worry that they won't be able to love another child as much as their first. I'm not afraid of that, though I can't yet understand how my heart can possibly have enough room for this much love times two when it already feels like it will burst with my love for you.

I joke about a lot of things being my worst nightmare (dropping my keys down the crack in the elevator) but honestly, my very worst fear is that you'll be taken from me too soon and I'll have to live without you. That fear gets more painful with every day I get to spend with you. I can't do anything about that except do my best to protect you from the harms of the world (and yourself), and love you as fiercely as I can each and every day. And try not to worry, but that's a bit of a lost cause.

My next worst fear is that I'll be taken from you too soon. There's nothing I can do about that either but at this point, it breaks my heart to think that you won't remember me and you'd never have the chance to know the depth and breadth and specificity of my love beyond the photos and words that I've shared here, on the internet, of all places.

You won't remember that I call you "Sweet Pea." Or the game we play where I ask how much I love you ("Teeny tiny much?" I say, and you say, "No! Big much!"). You won't remember that we hold hands while we eat breakfast, or that you sit on my lap while I sew and talk about sewing machine foots and bobbins. Or that if I do anything that makes you laugh, I will do it again and again and again, as many times as you ask and more, until you are bored with me, because I love the sound of your laughter so, so much.

You won't remember that I recite e.e. cummings "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)" when I tuck you in, sometimes two, three, more times ("again?") while I rub your back - under your shirt, as you demand ("open it").

You won't remember how I lift you from your sleep each night; your soft, warm body clinging and molding to mine, how you hug around my neck, still mostly asleep while you perch on the big potty for one last tinkle so you stay dry through the night. I never get to cuddle you in your sleep and you are so tender  and sweet, wrapping your legs around me like a little monkey and burying your face in my shoulder, it makes me want to stay awake holding you that way all night.

You won't remember how I watch you while you play, how I can't believe how breathtakingly beautiful you are and wonder what that beauty will look like when it is all grown up. You don't yet know, because you are too young for me to explain it, that all I want is for you to be happy. I want you to be healthy, strong, confident, passionate and compassionate, to love and be loved, but mostly, to know what makes you happy and to be brave enough to give if to yourself, even if you have to fight for it.

Maybe it's pregnancy hormones but I am acutely aware of you right now; of every touch, gesture, and need. I memorize your face - your beautiful blue eyes; your smile with your little overbite; your impossible curls complete with the little cowlicks that come peeking through your bangs at your temples. I want to remember how you ask "Mama, you're tired?" when I groan and sigh with the effort of this pregnancy. Or how you asked "Mama, you're sad?" when I wept into your hair the other night and I had to tell you that I wasn't sad, I was crying because I just love you too much sometimes. I want to remember how you ask me to kiss you wherever it hurts, even if it's your tongue, and how completely that solves your problem. Or how I offer to kiss your hurts when I think you need it and you assure me, "I'm fine!" when you  don't need me. Or how you assure me (and you) - "Mama, you're fine." - when I hurt myself, or have any complaint, dismissing my plight so it doesn't make you too nervous. Today, you asked me, "Mama, you crabby?" and I just laughed...

I try to tell myself, "i fear no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)." It was my fate to be your mother and I will always be your mother, no matter however long or fleeting our physical time together may be. I just wish on every eyelash and birthday candle and shooting star that I will live to see you as an old woman with children and grandchildren of your own.

It is true, I carry your heart with me and everything that is done by only me is your doing, my darling. Anywhere I go, you go, my dear. But anywhere you go, I am with you, whether you see me or not. For your heart was formed by the rhythm of my heart, by my very flesh and my blood coursing with love for you. Your heart will beat with my hopes and dreams, my love for you, as long as you live, even if I am not here to tell you what each murmur means. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Merriest Place on Earth

Yesterday, we headed to the merriest place on Earth for a little Christmas-y fun. We didn't want to miss Christmas at Disneyland this year and though my first week of maternity leave would be our best shot; we hoped crowds would be light on a post-Thanksgiving weekday and figured I might not be able to handle it if we waited any longer. Alice has been SO into Christmas this year, we thought she'd really enjoy the decorations and festivities. And sure enough, she did.
The "castle friend" all decked out in holiday finery. Alice loved it and wanted to "be closer" all day, especially when all the lights came on at nighttime.

I really wanted to take Alice to see Santa at Disneyland. Last year, we visited Santa at the Grand Californian hotel and while Alice was a bit apprehensive, she didn't really know what was going on and let us take plenty of photos while she sat on his knee, a bit confused. This year, we visited him at the Big Thunder Ranch and Alice was instantly intimidated. We only waited in line for a few minutes and had to let a few families go in front of us while we tried to get Alice used to the idea of Santa Claus. She just wanted me to carry her, with her face buried in my shoulder, and was reluctant to even look at him. By the time we got up to see him, she seemed excited to sit on his knee but then regressed and grabbed me around my neck, half on his knee and half suspended in mid-air. We got the whole family in for a photo, but she's sitting on MY knee instead of Santa's. He looks pretty bewildered about it.

Mrs. Claus was waiting by the door and snagged Alice for a chat about their shoes (they were wearing very similar pairs) and Alice's candy cane shirt (Alice pronounces it "candy can"). Alice was much more willing to chat with Mrs. Claus and they had a very cute little conversation. 
We squeezed in all of Alice's favorite things, it's a small world (where Alice sang along, loudly!), Dumbo (where she wanted to fly way higher!), Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion (to visit the scary friends, where she said "Yay! Scary Friends!" in the stretching elevator), Winnie the Pooh, and Pirates of the Caribbean (where she was a "brave kitty"). 
We also took a short trip on the big train, which "has lots of steam!" I love how excited she was in the shot below, for someone usually so outwardly calm in photos.
We were hoping to have dinner at the Big Thunder Ranch, it's really festive during the holidays with a cute show during dinner where country singers sing holiday standards and invite kids up on stage to participate. The last time I saw it, without any babies of my own, the kids were totally distracted by the Christmas tree and all the toys and decorations on the little stage and one kid kept running off with shiny ornaments and other treasures. Unfortunately, it was a bit drizzly yesterday (with rain in the forecast exactly before and after we were planning to play), and the ranch and restaurant were closed. We were also disappointed that Santa had left all of his reindeer at home in the North Pole. Alice would have really enjoyed the reindeer and the dinner show. Alas, we changed our reservations to the Blue Bayou and arrived at 4pm for the toddler/senior early bird special. 

Alice was incredibly well-behaved and enjoyed her macaroni dinner and a few tastes of daddy's "fancy bacon" aka filet mignon. I couldn't resist the surf and turf, which was a delicious first experience with whole lobster tail (I don't know how that could ever be bad). Alice spent lots of time coloring, which was the only shot we got inside the restaurant because I'm totally not in the habit of taking instagrammy photos of my food. I eat it too fast...
After dinner, we found a spot to watch the parade (or, the "huh-rade??"), parked right across from the giant Christmas tree.
As always, Jon loved the toy soldiers - his one great regret in life was that he didn't get to be a toy soldier, playing a herald trumpet. 
 Alice loved the princess float, and Chip & Dale, and all the friends she recognized. She was riveted the entire time and when it was over, asked for it again. I wish I could have orchestrated that for her.

While we were waiting for the parade, Alice told me she wanted a treat. I told her we could get a treat after the parade. She told me she wanted to eat a treat AND watch the parade. Jon said she is definitely my daughter... I explained that the line at the treat store was too long and the parade was starting too soon, and that we'd get a treat after. So as soon as I explained that the parade couldn't come out again, we hustled to the ice cream store. Alice had candy cane ice cream last weekend, and loved her first candy cane just the other day, so she was pretty eager to get "special Christmas" candy cane ice cream again. We all enjoyed our treats, sitting on a bench, until the castle lit up with special lights.

Alice wanted to "see closer," so Jon ran her up to the front and I ambled along behind and finished her ice cream (she said she was done! Then she asked this morning to finish it...). 

When we talk about Disneyland, Alice ALWAYS says she wants to go "in the nighttime" and see the fireworks. So we make a point to make that happen for her.

After the castle lighting, Jon went off to make sure that fireworks would still happen if it was drizzling and Alice and I strolled around to find a place to sit and watch the show. A nice woman was sitting on a bench, waiting for her other half, and had just enough room for Jon and I to join. It was a Christmas miracle to find a comfy, dry place to sit right in front of the castle. Even better, when I sat down and parked Alice's stroller, I saw that she'd fallen asleep where she'd been awake only mere moments before. Magical. 
We let her sleep for a good hour while we chatted and snuggled and woke her up about 5-10 minutes before the fireworks started. She was sound asleep and hard to rouse, and was pretty disoriented for a few minutes and was super extra cuddly. Jon got the sleepiest cuddles and when she was finally coherent, she wanted to sit in my lap to watch the fireworks - which was totally fine by me. In fact, it was the best fireworks I've ever had, watching cheek to cheek with my sweet girl.
I was surprised I lasted a whole nine hours at the park, with plenty of walking, but I actually felt great by the end of the night. So great, I opted to walk back to the parking structure instead of waiting and hassling with the tram. Granted, I walked at a snail's pace - so slow, Jon and I weren't sure I could make it across the street before the light changed (but I did!). People kept piling up on the sidewalk behind us and Jon joked that we needed a blinking CalTrans arrow on my back so people could change lanes. I seriously don't know why people wouldn't just pass us, but when they did, they all saw my belly and gave me understanding smiles...

We heard Alice chatter for about two minutes in the car, and then her quiet baby snores for the rest of the ride. And this is how we found her when we got home. So tuckered. We had a great time, despite the rain and the change of dinner plans, and I am so glad I was able to make it through a whole day of Christmas at Disneyland! I can't wait to go with two little girlies next year! 
We're working on getting Christmas into full swing at our house, just in case we run out of time. Alice has been pretty thrilled about the whole thing, that deserves a whole post of it's own! I hope the holiday spirit is making it's way to your house, too! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shop Small/Small World Saturday

We skipped all the Black Friday nonsense, except when we had to fight our way through traffic around the outlet malls in the middle of LA. Luckily, the day after was Small Business Saturday so we eagerly planned a day full of errands and activities to support some local small businesses. There was a store I'd been wanting to visit in Montrose, a nearby town up in the hills above us, and it turned out to be just down the street from one of our favorite restaurants. Things just took off from there!

We passed a Trader Joe's and popped in to pick up bread for dinner this week, but mostly to stock up on holiday treats to enjoy while we decorated our Christmas tree. We were totally jealous of the orderly parking lot, with one-way lanes of traffic. It was like heaven compared to the overcrowded death-trap we navigate when shopping at the TJ's in our town. The store itself was also huge and spacious and much less crowded than ours, so we let Alice drive a tiny shopping cart.

She loved it and did great until she bumped into a trash can and knocked over a few cans of green beans from a corner display behind it. Luckily, there was no damage and she was a bit more careful as we continued filling up the cart. When we got to the check-out, I was surprised to see a bunch of other little carts in line. Alice was particularly interested in the little girl in front of us, wearing her ballet class outfit. We're lucky if we see one or two other kids riding around in carts at our store, I don't even know if they have the little carts!

After we loaded our car full of treats, we headed off to our first stop, Bellies, Babies, and Bosoms so I could sign up for a free breastfeeding support class. Even though I've done this before, I can use all the support and info I can get, especially when it comes to producing enough and managing the return to work. The shop was really nice and full of adorable things for mamas, babies, and bigger kids. We spent our Shop Small dollars on a little Christmas present for Alice (I love that we can shop right in front of her!) and something sweet for baby sister.

As we were leaving the store to get lunch, we saw a holiday carriage pulled by two lovely white horses. When we pulled in to the parking lot, we ended up parking right next to the horse trailers. When we made it up to the main street, we were surprised to also see a pair of ponies! Their handler was saddling up another little guy and invited Alice along. At the low, low price of free, we couldn't refuse a ride, courtesy of the downtown merchants. Before Alice had a chance to think about it too much, we strapped her in for a quick little trot down the street on a spotted gray pony named Cisco. And you better believe we followed alongside taking about one million photos of Alice's first pony ride. She was a bit unsure for the first few minutes, but really enjoyed the whole deal (despite her characteristic lack of outward emotion in the photos). 
I had my eye out for the quilt shop that's in the vicinity but Alice's pony ride took us past another handicraft shop and I ducked in to see if they had what I needed. Needle in a Haystack carries supplies for needlepoint, cross-stitch, and knitting, but I just needed plain old polyester thread for my sewing machine. Alice dismounted her noble steed right in front of a vacuum and sewing machine repair shop and I spied a few displays of  thread. I also spied an enormous bulldog drooling in the front door. He'd been sitting so still, Jon thought he was a statue they placed in front of the door when the shop wasn't open. I could tell he was real because no statue would have such long and realistic strands of drool dripping from it's jaws.

Alice was pretty intimidated and had no interest in meeting the dog, so I picked her up and dodged the drool. We learned that Stanley was incredibly friendly and popular with the locals. Jon gave him so love while I held Alice safely above the action and tried to avoid making any contact with the impressive drool stalactites. They were so solid, they didn't even break or leave marks when they touched Jon's jeans (I only mentioned this to him later). We actually had to go back on our way out to get a photo of him and the owners got a kick out of us popping in again just to visit him. If When my beloved sewing machine needs servicing, I will gladly drive all the way out there to patronize their shop and pay Stanley a visit. Besides Stanley, the best part of that visit was that even though I forgot to bring a swatch of my fabric, I ended up with the perfect color thread anyway!
Stanley the bulldog, drooling on Jon's pants.
After our impromptu pony ride, thread in hand, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants to enjoy our favorite meals. The Black Cow Cafe has a delicious BBQ chicken sandwich we periodically recreate with a few close approximations from Trader Joe's but we always love a good reason to get out there for the real version. We were so proud and thankful that Alice is so well-behaved and lets us enjoy a nice lunch together, complete with a 20-30 minute wait for a table. She was cheerful, adorable, and hilarious, making us laugh by asking us every few minutes during our meal, "How are you doing?"

We couldn't resist the ice cream counter for dessert and I couldn't resist an opportunity to expose Alice to a new delicious treat. I follow this advice and use ice cream to help Alice try new things, since she'll surely enjoy any ice cream flavor she tries! I gave her a choice between "sweet nuts" (butter pecan) - because she loves glazed pecans - and "Christmas candy cane" ice cream. She loved her peppermint ice cream, but she did keep asking Jon for bites of his "cookies" ice cream. I think cookies and cream is already her favorite flavor, and she's only had ice cream like five times...
As we were heading back to our car after lunch, we passed a group that included one very familiar looking guy. I was trying to figure out how I knew him, and glanced back for another look just as his wife was glancing back at me to do the same. At the same moment, we recognized each other as former neighbors from the apartment building we lived in as newlyweds, before we moved into this house. We each lived in the two front upstairs units of the building, right across the hall from each other. We hadn't seen them since we moved out in 2008 and we all exclaimed about how much has changed (babies! another on the way!). We asked after each other's kids and found that both Alice and their son were 2 1/2. I asked when his birthday was and was totally incredulous to learn that he and Alice were born on the very same day. What a crazy small world coincidence. There must have been something in that apartment building! They lived there a bit longer than we did and finally moved a few blocks away before their son was born. We exchanged contact information and vowed to get together soon, though that may not happen until we settle into a routine with baby sister. But it was great to run into them and reconnect. 

 After a delightful afternoon in Montrose, we headed further up north to Nancy's Ranch, a Christmas tree farm where you can cut your own tree. I just learned about the place last week and couldn't wait to recreate my childhood Christmas tree traditions. After an Apple Maps snafu, we finally found the farm, nestled quaintly between ENORMOUS power lines. The ones you see in the below photos are actually the baby lines, the shadows are from the huge huge huge ones. Super picturesque.

Alice really enjoyed riding around in the tree wagon, but she was getting tired and running out of good, so we had to remind her way too many times to sit on her bottom and hold on with two hands. She finally escaped the wagon and was running around in the field (among an inexplicable bunch of smashed watermelons) between the two trees we were considering. When we asked her which one she wanted, she had an utter meltdown.
Here, she's saying "I don't want a Christmas tree!" Literally.
I guess, that one. If we must.
The trees in the field were beautiful with great, full shapes (and about half the price we usually pay), but they were very delicate with lots of needles and not very many branches. I was afraid that we'd run out of places to hang ornaments and that this variety wouldn't be able to handle our heavier ornaments. Jon insisted that he'd pay double at least what we normally pay to make sure that I wasn't unhappy with our tree choice, so after a lot of hemming and hawing (I'm really indecisive these days), in the end we went with a pre-cut Fraser fir.
Alice was in love with the tiny trees and I was totally tempted to bring one home for her, but we just don't have space (as much as I'd love a tree in every room!). Instead, I'm working on a felt Christmas tree that she can decorate to her little heart's content.

Nancy's Ranch also grows pumpkins and had a few lingering enormous specimens. Alice is still pretty into pumpkins, so we hung out with them while Jon settled our bill and made sure the tree was securely fastened to the car. I just love how grown up her face looks in this photo.

Anyway, it was a great day full of fun and randomness and we were thrilled to support local small businesses. Did you shop small on Saturday? Get a tree? Decorate it? Do anything else to get into the holiday spirit? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Potty Training: We're DOING It!

WARNING: This post is entirely about bodily functions and "toilet learning." Feel free to skip, if that's not your jam.

Sometime in August, I heaved Alice up on the changing table to change her diaper and thought, she is too big and I am too pregnant to keep doing this (and it was only August!!). I told her, "Tomorrow, you're going to wear your big girl underpants and start going potty in your little toilet." And that's what we did. 

I had bought a little potty, training pants, and princess underpants a long, long time ago. She showed some initial resistance to the training pants and underpants, and had a few accidents, so we didn't push it. We plopped her on the toilet periodically when we could catch her about to poop. She did that successfully a few times but wasn't keen to do it voluntarily, so we didn't push that either. No pun intended. 

But this time, we had some success right away. She was keeping her underpants dry between bathroom visits, was willing to sit on the potty when we suggested that she try to go, and if I recall, she even peed pretty immediately which was pretty thrilling for all of us. We went on casually like that for a little while, with a few interruptions (like our Labor Day weekend trip) and then we hit a little road block.

One Sunday, I thought we might be safe to venture out of the house in underpants because she was doing so well at staying dry for so long. We were actually headed out to pick out some potty training ammo: a new set of underpants, a reward for doing so well, and another incentive toy that she could earn after filling up a chart with stickers for successful trips to the potty.

I got her dressed and we were in the bathroom brushing our teeth when she had an accident. Didn't even attempt to use the potty or tell me anything, just peed right where she was sitting. No biggie, I cleaned her up and we headed off to Target. 

We spent a long time in front of the underpants, trying to choose between the many options; Cinderella, My Little Pony, Dora (no.), Rapunzel, Minnie Mouse, etc. At one point she seemed set on the Thomas the Tank Engine set from the adjacent boy's display, and I had a brief internal struggle with that. I have no problem with the "boy" characters, but I couldn't decide if the difference in construction would pose any problems. Jon's opinion is that the construction of male underpants is virtually useless, and it's only good for visual interest. In any case, Alice finally settled on Hello Kitty. And then she chose a stuffed Nala and Simba as her reward and incentive. 

We took her new friends home and gave her Nala right away to reward her for doing such a great job going potty so far. We put Simba on top of the fridge and made a simple little chart that she could fill with stickers for each time she went potty, to earn Simba as a reward. The chart, combined with the accident earlier that day, really seemed to shake her confidence. She definitely seemed to be having a mental setback. She had a few more accidents that day and the next, and was refusing to sit on the potty. 

The following Tuesday morning, I decided it was time to get her back on the horse pot. I offered her stickers for just sitting on the potty, which she agreed to. I got her to sit on the potty three times before I left for work, and later that day she took herself in and peed. From there, it only took her a few days to fill her chart with ten star stickers and get Simba down off the fridge and into her arms.

Since then, she's been great about taking herself to the potty when she needs to go, and more recently, telling us when she needs to go - which is important if she's ever going to be able to leave the house in underpants. 

We decided to invest in some pull-ups so that we could venture out without having to disrupt potty training by constantly backtracking to diapers. That way, she can have an accident without us needing to bring multiple changes of clothes everywhere we go, and without ruining her car seat. We got the pull-ups just in time for our weekend at Disneyland. The pull-ups arrived a few days before and I had Alice try them out, explaining that they were "bigger underpants." And she promptly told me, "Alice not like 'em." Great.

Jon got her accustomed to them during the couple of days before our trip, and she started treating them just like underpants. She would take herself into the bathroom, take them off, and go potty. Perfect! She would even tell us, "Alice not go potty in pull-up pants."  So we tried them out on our trip. We made a bathroom stop mid-morning during our first day at Disneyland, and her pull-ups were dry but she said she didn't have to go. A bit later, we were passing by Disneyland's Baby Care Center and decided to try out the little potty they have. It looks just like a regular toilet, but in miniature. We had those in my kindergarten classroom, I have always loved them. Alice thought they were pretty neat, too. I helped her up and held her steady and she peed right away! We were ALL so very proud. We put her pull-ups back on, and went on our way.

Later on, at the hotel, I had her try sitting on the big toilet in our bathroom and she peed right away! She did it again later that night in a regular bathroom at Disneyland, and the next morning in our hotel room again. I was getting ready and she just marched herself right over and took off her underpants. I helped her up, and voila! 

It didn't take long for us to consider her daytime potty trained, but I we thought it might still take a while to conquer poops. She has a tendency to do that overnight or during a nap, so we thought it would be hard for us to get her to the potty for that business. Then, all of the sudden, she started telling us when she needed to poop and marching herself right in there whenever she needed to. 

Ironically, I wanted to start potty training so I wouldn't have to change diapers so often (or on two kids at once), but I was hauling her up on the changing table about as many times as usual since I get her up in the morning and was putting her to bed. I haven't been putting her to bed since Daylight Savings ended, and then we had another huge development that cut down on the morning diaper change...

She's woken up every night this week with a dry diaper. Amazing. I was super excited the first morning but didn't want to get my hopes up that it would continue. Lo and behold, it has. She woke up a few nights last week for one reason or another and we always end up making a trip to the bathroom. Last night, we decided to get ahead of the game and do a preemptive wake-up to have her potty while we were getting ready for bed. She peed, half-asleep, went right back to bed, and didn't wake us up again until the morning. I'm not going to put her in underpants quite yet, but I am totally encouraged. We may get to pack up her diapers and fill those drawers with newborn sizes, and my wish of only having one kid on the changing table may actually come true!

We've gone about this super casually, with no set expectations or time deadlines, without any real strategy or psychological insights, but I am shocked and pleased at how easy it's been. And I'm ridiculously proud at how well Alice has done, each little victory has felt like such an exciting accomplishment. Thanks for letting me share them here!

Friday, November 9, 2012

She basically called me a whale.

Friday is movie day at our house. Last Friday, when Alice woke up, Jon suggested they watch Fantasia 2000. Apparently, Alice remembered that they'd watched it before and that it had whales in it. 
Movie day! Also, whales!
She talked about whales all morning, all through breakfast. She and I ate together and talked about whales and looked at photos of orcas online. I said we'd have to visit SeaWorld some day so she could see some whales, and told her about the time we took her there when she was a baby. Then we had the following conversation.

Alice: Alice see a whale at the zoo.
Me: Well, whales live in a special zoo for ocean animals. Whales are too big to live at the regular zoo, whales are big, big, big!
Alice: Like Mama!

Awesome. And then this happened the other day. Jon sent me this photo with the explanation, per Alice, that Squirt was "measuring" her tummy and that there was a "baby on the computer." I guess she's been paying attention at all our prenatal visits! 

 And here's a little video of the action...

Squirt, the OBGYN from Growing Up Senge on Vimeo.

Alice is definitely getting more excited about the whole baby sister thing. She likes to feel my belly and give "the baby" hugs and cuddles. She seems to be more interested in being a "big sister" and doing things with baby sister and showing baby sister things like the zoo, the pumpkin patch, etc. I'm going to capitalize on this excitement and really hype it up in these final few weeks.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Built a Bed!

Remember way back to Erin’s Labor Day recap and there was a fleeting reference to me making some kind of weird toddler bed? Well, that bed’s done and has been slept in. Mission accomplished. 

Months back, Erin and I began thinking of what Alice’s next bed should be and what it needs to do. Everything we add to our small house must heroically serve us to justify its existence. We weighed the options in various store-bought toddler beds, which can be purchased and setup immediately, or thinking up a design that might give us more functionality in the space. Alice and the new kiddo will be sharing a room so adding kid-safe storage is a huge need in our house. 

We came up with this plan:

The cubby bed. Lots of cubic foot cubbies with a bed on top. Basically its a grid of 1x12s which overlap at their joints, and then a top and bottom sheets of wood. The inner construction draws inspiration from this type of thing:

One of the benefits to making it ourselves was to be able to choose the exact materials. So many pieces of furniture are solid MDF, made up of glues and chemicals, and paints of unknowns contents. I, of course am speaking from a position of not knowing the extent to which any of those things are bad, I just know any of these chemicals have to be worse to inhale than not having them, and the smaller the user is, surely the more potent whatever badness is happening will be. The materials we chose for this bed: regular ol’ pine boards, pocket screws, and zero VOC weeks of off-gassing time before its first use. 

Time to get the lumber. In order to best utilize the boards I was buying, I setup the entire plan in Adobe InDesign and made digital boards I could play with the layout and cut list to get the most for my board. 
Below on the left is the overhead view of the bed with its various components in magenta. On the right is the way I determined what was possible to cut from how many boards. The yellow lines are the full board lengths that are on the shelf at the store. The purple lines are what I need to have once its all cut, so it was just matching things up and counting the number of yellow boards at the end. 

Below is the same type of thing but for the top and bottom sheets of wood. These were to be made of 1x12s laid flat and fastened together, like a tabletop.

Cut list in hand, we headed off to Lowes. The hardware stores I use will cut lumber either for free or very cheaply. Lowes is free. 

Lowes train.
I began over Labor Day weekend at my parents’ house in order to get the inner boards cut right using my dad’s radial arm saw.

Some math, lots of drawings, and careful sawing led to this in-progress shot:

Quite a relief that it actually worked!
The following Saturday I laid out all of the boards that were to be the top and bottom planks and pocket screwed them to make one big sheet of pine. If you’re interested, the pocket screw tool is a Kreg Jig, frequently featured on John Petersik’s Young House Love projects. I now see why he loves it so much—it’s a novice carpenter’s godsend. There are several ways to join wood together this way, and even some options of pre-glued pine tabletops that I could’ve bought, but we came back to the unknown chemical problem again, so we went with mechanical hardware.

Four 1x12s will become one.

Once the top and bottom were done, I had to attach them to the huge beer box grid in an attractive way.  I learned those little specialty boxes of hardware at the store have some pretty neat little bits of fasteners and screws in them. I went for what they call elevator screws. They work a lot like Ikea hardware. Nice bronzed allen screwheads on top that fasten into threaded bits in the receiving piece of wood. This part turned into the most agonizingly precise step of the whole project. My modest skills combined with wood that wasn’t perfectly straight gave me some troubles in spots, but I eventually got it all together. Oh yeah, it was over 100° F out there that day, so there’s definitely sweat stained into this wood.

Ready for its lid.
Almost done.

The last thing missing in the above pic is the bracing in the corners. Sitting on those corners might have been okay, but just to be safe, I cut support blocks to further reinforce it. Side note: my dad is a notorious over-engineerer. Everything he makes is way stronger than it needs to be. I’ve also never seen anything he’s made break. He taught me what I know, so yes, this bed is seriously over-engineered for a thirty-pound kid, but Erin wanted it to be strong enough to support both of us while we hung out in there and read goodnight stories.

Reinforcing side blocks installed in corners.
I would’ve painted the bed at this point but it was well over 100° again and paint likes sub-80° temps so as to not dry on the roller, so I parked it in the back of the garage for cooler days.

We jumped on a couple of other fun projects in the downtime.

1. A new garage door. I have to say, this was definitely the smoothest, and most worth-it professional construction installs I’ve seen. It took them two hours to install. TWO!

A luxury I did’t know how much I was missing.

2. A shelf to go behind our big L-shaped couch, which pre-shelf, offered zero useable horizontal drink-holding space. When you sit in the corner, you’re waaay out of reach of the coffee table. Plus, we had exactly one place to put exactly one lamp in the whole room. Yes, embarrassingly, we’ve lived here four years and now just put more lamps in our living room. A couple of fun facts about this shelf: there are two power strips built in under little doors that flip up, it’s held up by enormous L-brackets and lag screws (see over-engineering dads above)...I think I could probably stand on it, and finally, the ends of the shelf have horizontal pieces that go down to the floor to give it all the illusion of a real console behind the couch, and prevents kitties/babies from finding their way behind the couch.

Fast forward to October painting weather. Three thin coats of zero VOC paint, with lots of drying time in between coats, and it’s time for the install. The thing must weigh well over a hundred pounds assembled and it’s huge, so I did the install in the room on top of a mover’s furniture pad to keep the white paint off the dark floors. 

Oh yeah, labeling pieces was critical when I took it apart for painting. Because it’s handmade and less than Norm Abram precision, each piece had to be labeled and reinstalled in exactly the same spot. I used the surfaces that wouldn’t be seen ever to make my inventory marks. 

There was a moment when I thought the pieces weren’t going to fit back together because of the added paint thickness, but some help from a hammer and a block of wood got it done. Now to put all of the elevator screws back in. The first time I did this, I went around the bed in a circle drilling the holes and tightening the screws. That made the last few almost impossible to get in right since each previous screw makes the bed more and more rigid, and because the wood and screw holes aren’t perfect, the last few were nearly impossible.

This time I did the four corners and then did opposing sides, kind of like tightening lug nuts or a drum head in a star sequence. That worked much better.

The beer box is back together, making sure to not entomb Marci.

Top view.

Don’t lose this guy either. 
The bed sits on five big wooden ball feet. These are off-the-shelf pieces that resemble the feet on the other furniture in the room. They have a threaded screw on one side that allows them to screw directly into the furniture. I painted one by holding it by the tiny half-inch long screw and brushing it when Erin suggested I temporarily attach them all to scraps of wood. My hand thanks her. 

Screw on the feet, flip it all over, clean up, and we have a bed!

All finished and ready for sleeping, which did happen that very first night! This was a difficult project, and it took forever, but seeing her in it at night makes it worth all of the weekends and sweat. For anyone interested, I’m more than happy to share my cubby bed or couch shelf designs.