My husband and I love those shows where they throw a guy out in the wilderness and he shows how to survive in seemingly impossible situations. The more I watch them, the more I realize that I likely will never need to survive in the Sahara or the Sub-Arctic. I do however find myself feeling on an almost daily basis as if I've been cast out into a strange world full of obstacles to tackle and unknown creatures to cope with. This will be the chronicle of one woman trying to survive the jungles of parenthood.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blogging for Books Review #1

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck by Kathleen Y’Barbo
     This is my first book review for the “Blogging for Books”  program from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group. I’m reviewing a digital copy of The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck, a historical Christian romance by Kathleen Y’Barbo.
     The story flows seamlessly between the polished, cultured world of the English nobility in London during the late 19th Century and the open, natural setting of the American west in the same time period. The transitions could have been very jarring if they weren’t so smoothly written. It follows a very young woman with family ties in both arenas and an English astronomer who is the younger son of an English lord. It also weaves real historic people and events into a fictional story in a charming way.
     Readers who frequently read historical romances set in this period will not find the storyline to be strikingly original but as someone who does read a lot of these stories that generally isn’t what I’m looking for. There s one place where a 4 year gap in the characters lives is skipped and it does take a bit of time to adjust to the changes in their personalities and motivations in that space. One could wish for a bit more character development although isn’t too hard to fill in the blanks with a bit of imagination.
     The spiritual aspect of the book is fairly scarce early on and comes in more in the later chapters. It centers on the human tendency to rebel against the Lord'’s will for our lives in deference to our own desires and the havoc that such choices tends to wreak in our lives.
     Overall it’s a sweet, feel-good book with a witty, fast-paced storyline easily devoured in an evening or two.. If “chick-lit” historical romance isn’t your cup of tea then definitely move on to something else but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s definitely one I’d recommend and I look forward to reading the other two in the series
     If you're interested in the Blogging for Books program, check it out at this site. :) A great, free mama-time resource for bloggy mamas and other bloggy book lovers too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Take On Affordable Cloth Diapering

     When we started cloth diapering over a year ago the two big motivating factors behind the switch from 'sposies were the severe rashes that Sugar always seemed to be dealing with and saving some money!  There have been lots of other benefits like feeling good that we've made a responsible choice for the environment, knowing there are less chemicals around our girls, never having to run to the store because we've run out of diapers and the fact that they're just so darn cute but rashes and cost were definitely the big two at our house. I was totally overwhelmed by the choices when I first started looking into cloth and again when I was choosing pocket diapers to fill out our stash before baby Sweetness was born. Buying second hand online can be a good option but I was really just wanting to make one or two purchases and be ready to go with a full complement of diapers! In hopes of helping other parents dealing with a similar quandary, I've decided to put up a list and a quick review of some of the more economical choices we've found that work well for us.

      Our original stash of diapers was almost completely prefolds and covers with just a handful of pocket diapers. After doing a little research, most of it on diaperswappers.com where there are lots of parents using every kind of cloth imaginable, I decided to try Little Lions seconds prefolds and have never regretted it. I've ordered several different styles of seconds prefolds from their clearance department and while they may not be totally perfect they've all been absolutely functional and I can't imagine spending more for their non-seconds counterparts. They're lovely and soft and we've never had trouble with the absorbency. Prices vary by size and style as well as if you're buying by the half dozen or by the dozen but these are a great buy regardless. If you're looking for cotton prefolds at an affordable price, I highly recommend trying these.

     I recently ordered a set of these super cheap contoured cotton flannel diapers from Amazon and I've been using them as prefolds on baby Sweetness occasionally and primarily to stuff pockets with.  For the price, 60 dipes for $20, you can't beat them, especially for pocket stuffing!  Because they're flannel they're also more difficult to grab with the Snappi's teeth but it is possible with a little trial and error to get the right method figured out. They work well with pins though for anyone not wanting to fool with the Snappi/flannel conundrum. They're a little bit snug to use with a Snappi on Sugar's chunky toddler frame but work in a pinch although they have to be doubled. For infant prefolds, stuffing or tri-folding in a cover though, they're fantastic. I've come to prefer natural fiber stuffers for my pocket dipes as I just find them easier to get clean and keep from repelling than the micro-fiber alternatives and these really fit the bill. Since they're flannel and only two layers everywhere but in the center soaker portion, they're nice and trim compared to traditional quilty prefolds. There is the extra step of folding them over but I suppose if you were going to use them exclusively for stuffing you could fold them and then run a line of stitching down the center so they'd stay folded although that would add to your drying time. As mentioned in some of the customer reviews on Amazon, some of the center padding is colored instead of white and sometimes shows through the white outer layers but we've had no issues with bleeding of dye. Also, some of the inner layers aren't caught quite as well with the stitching that holds them in place so there's been a little bunching on a few but it hasn't caused any real problems for us.

     My first pocket diapers were Kawaii brand and I've ordered several more from them since them and loved all of them! The only varieties we haven't tried are their Pure and Natural diapers (designed to fit slightly smaller babies and likely to fit sooner than the regular one size but not last all the way through potty training) and the velcro version of their standard Heavy Duty diapers as I prefer square tabs for hook & loop diapers (hook & loop is Velcro or Aplix). If that "square tab hook & loop thing doesn't make sense, just go look at the different dipes on their site and you'll see what I mean. My favorites from them are the Bamboo Minky diapers which have an inner lining and two stuffer inserts of organic bamboo fiber and a soft, fuzzy fabric called "Minky" laminated with TPU for the waterproof outer layer. I like that these dipes only have natural fiber touching the girl's skin and I've found them to be one of the best fitting pockets both for the itty-bitty just-growing-into one-size dipes baby as well as for my big, chunky almost-ready-to-train toddler. We also like the Overnight dipes they offer (probably my favorite of all the hook & loop dipes I've tried) and both the non-bamboo "Snazzy Minky" diapers and the snap version of the "Heavy Duty" diapers have served us well. Their covers were the first ones I ever bought and they've held up really well but I've found another similar brand that I like slightly better for covers. They also now offer a pull-on, waterproof cloth trainer that we haven't tried yet. You can get these diapers from a few other sites but unless you really only want one or two, it's much more economical to get them straight from theluvyourbaby.com in a quantity large enough to qualify for free shipping. Bought that way, the prices for their pocket diapers include two inserts and range from $6.99 to $11.20.  The woman who runs the site has always been quick to answer my e-mails as well.  These diapers are made in China and ship from Canada so it takes a bit of time for them to arrive but they're well worth the wait.

     The next brand of pockets we've really found a love for are Sunbaby diapers. They come in adorable prints and are a nice fit for both my big and little girl. My one big complaint is that they don't have a crossover snap but I bought a plastic snap pliers and some snaps on the cheap (see the part about Assunta Store lower down) and added them and still came out with really cheap, cute dipes. The patterns change up fairly frequently so if you see some you love now grab them and if not check back.  We've been using our Sunbabies on both girls for 5 months now and they've held up to very heavy use. Running as low as $4.50 a diaper with one insert per dipe in a package that includes free shipping these would be great for starting a stash on a budget. If you prefer natural fiber inserts over microfiber this is a good brand to go for as I've heard that if you e-mail them they'll sell them at a discount without the included insert(s). Like the Kawaii diapers, these are made in China but these also ship from China so again, plan ahead when you order for a fairly long shipping time.

     If you're looking for a U.S. made option, Nubunz diapers are by far the most affordable pocket diaper option I've found. Fully made in the U.S.A. (something not even the almighty Bum Genius can claim) these are good, solid pocket diapers that come in mostly sweet baby pastels and are backed by a decent warranty. We have both the super cheap "seconds" (stay away from those for anything but back-up diapers unless you plan to handwash or cold wash only and always hang dry) and the ones they currently have on sale that are the older model. We've been super happy with the sale diapers and I love the hook & loop ones for our newborn especially although they don't stay on as well on my chunky two-year-old toddler. Their snap diapers do have a somewhat odd configuration of snaps where the "hip snap" is set in a line along with the other two snaps but I haven't had any issues with leaking and it actually seems to make for a diaper that will fit a really chunky bellied baby especially well. The sale they have going right now on their 2010 stock puts them soundly in the same price range (including what you'll pay for shipping) as the China made diapers but even the regular priced dipes are still a great bargain if you're looking for a domestic manufactured option.

     My most recent affordable diaper find is the Assunta Store. Another China based business, this little web store carries onesize pocket diapers, both sized and one-size covers and diaper making supplies as well as some other sewing paraphernalia. All sales from the store benefit Little Flower Projects which is a USA registered non-profit organization  providing hospice and/or medical for premature and otherwise medically fragile Chinese babies as well as long term foster care support for developmentally disabled children. I've been reading this group's blog and following them on facebook ever since discovering the store and they do some amazing work with these tiny, precious little ones. Even the babies who don't make it are recognized, cherished and given value that they might otherwise not have in their short time on earth. In addition to the fuzzy warm feeling of knowing your purchase from this store is helping some adorable little kidlets, they have great prices and all the items I've gotten have been of good quality. Their diaper covers (both sized and onesize) are my new favorites for everything beyond the very tiniest newborn stage and beyond the fact that they don't come with crossover snaps, I've had no problems with their pocket diapers. I also purchased my snap pliers and snaps from this store at a very affordable price and have gone snap happy adding crossover snaps and extra snaps to extend my size options on some of my other diapers and to other projects for the girls including anything that keeps me from having to sew buttonholes. Their customer service in unparalleled too. My first order with this company went astray due to a postal error that they were totally not at fault for and the woman at the other end immediately tracked the package down here in the states, had it sent to me super-fast at their own cost and also gave me a $10 coupon code to use on a future purchase which I made soon after.

     My experience with fitteds is admittedly limited but one well-priced option that I've tried and loved are the adorable soft-cotton flannel stuffable fitteds from WAHM company Gemcloth. They fold down nicely for different sizes and since they're stuffable the trimness and absorbency are very customizeable for what your little one needs. If you're looking for fantastic mama-cloth, flannel wipes or nursing pads this is also a great place to look. There is sometimes a wait on getting a slot for custom stuff but the delay is well worth it!

     I posted a while back on affordable cloth training pants so I won't go into that too much but I will mention the overall winner from our trials with those again. See WAHG (Work At Home Grandma) QT Bunns on Etsy for our hands-down favorite.  She also offers other diapers which I have yet to try but if the quality of her training pants holds true for her other products, I wouldn't hesitate to buy.

     Hopefully this list of my pet favorite brands will be helpful to someone else looking for cloth diapers that will save them both hassle and money. I wish you and your little ones happy diapering and that you'll love it so much you get to be as hooked on cloth as I am!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Genesis 21:8 Party

     I was reading in Genesis recently when I came upon something in a verse referring to Sarah, Abraham and their son Issac that I'd never noticed before but that caught my attention now. "The baby grew and was weaned. Abraham threw a big party on the day Isaac was weaned." Genesis 21:8 - The Message. If you have a bible with footnotes or do a little outside research you'll quickly discover that babies in bible times were nursed well into toddlerhood, likely to around age three. I thought it sounded like a fantastic idea that when babe was ready to wean, Dad threw a party! What a great way to both acknowledge the hard work mom has done and to recognize the special relationship that the nursing pair have had. 
     I didn't think about it again very much until this week. Then I realized a few days ago that Spice hadn't nursed for a solid week. There were two days when she asked but I was doing something else right then that couldn't be put on hold and she never asked again. Also she's developing herself a pretty fantastic set of comfort tools that don't involve "Mama Milkos" now that the new baby is here hogging it up so frequently. I decided that a Genesis 21:8 party would be the perfect marker to take some of the bitter out of that bittersweet milestone for both of us. I mean, people have parties when they say good-bye to diapers and good-bye to binkies, why not a good-bye breastfeeding party to end things on a positive note for both me and my sweet Sugar? 
     This will be a fairly modest affair, I bought some ice cream and toppings for a sundae party that will either be just us or shared with family or friends this weekend depending on how our rather crazy schedule works out. Maybe by the time baby Sweetness' Genesis 21:8 party rolls around I'll have SurvivorDad a little more on board and he'll join in and do his part in planning the whole shebang but right now he's having a bit of a crazy time at work so just showing support by attending will have to do. 
     So my challenge, a particularly fitting one given that this is World Breastfeeding Week, is for you other mama's out there with babes nearing the end of the nursing period. I challenge you to either plan for yourself or ask someone to plan for you a Genesis 21:8 party because you deserve it!  Whether you met your nursing goals or had to cut your nursing period short, breastfed for 3 months or 3 years, birthed your babe yourself or did the extra hard work of adoptive breastfeeding it should be recognized that you've made the effort to do something pretty fantastic for your little one and shared a bond that can only happen between a mom and their baby.

UPDATE: We ended up taking ice cream and sundae toppings out to Grandma's house to celebrate and made an attempt at watching The Sound of Music for the first time. They loved the ice cream but the movie was a bit of a flop as Grandma's is just to exciting to permit any extended screen time. :) We made a second attempt at the movie during the day later that week and my girlies and I all snuggled up and watched the whole thing with a few breaks for exuberant dancing on the part of the oldest two. The couple times that Sugar has asked about "Mama Milkos" since then I've just reminded her about how she's a big girl now and that we had ice cream with Grandma to celebrate how she's big enough to not need to nurse now and we've moved on painlessly to other topics every time. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Unplanned Sabbatical

     If you look at the date of this post as opposed to the date of the last post you'll see that a rather long time has gone past without a post. In fact the last post was about the annual Big Latch On event which we're planning to attend again this Saturday so it's been just over a year (I wonder if I could get away with just reposting that one again with the new dates). You'll also see no mention of why I've not posted in so long. I thought for my first post back, I should take the time to introduce you to the reason for such a long, unannounced break. The little darling in the picture below is our newest blessing; we'll call her Sweetness. We found out we were expecting her just about the time last year that my posts stopped and due to the fact that we weren't sharing that news with most of the people close to us right away, I figured it was better safe than sorry and avoiding posting all together would prevent any slip-ups. By the time we chose to share our joyous news around 20 weeks I decided I was tired and busy enough being pregnant and keeping up with two little girls that I'd just wait until baby had arrived and we'd all suitably recovered before trying to get back into the swing of things with blogging. Well, now I'm back with a goal of getting in at least one blog a week for the time being! I figured an appropriate first post back would be sharing our birth story so if you're squeamish about the details you may want to just look at the baby pictures and move on. 
Angela, the photographer from Simple. Creations Photography came by while we were still at the birth center and did some beautiful newborn portraits of Sweetness in spite of the fact that she didn't want to cooperate!

     You're probably wondering why we waited so long to tell our families we were expecting. Part of it was just wanting to keep the news as just belonging to our family for a while but also there was the fact that Sweetness was one of identical twins and her sister died in the womb very early on for unknown reasons. Because they were identical and as we had no way of knowing if it may have been the result of a genetic flaw that could have affected both girls we waited until our "big" ultrasound to tell anyone other than a small handful of close friends from church who supported us during those long weeks of waiting. When the day for the scan arrived, everything looked text-book perfect other than the fact that she was already measuring a big ahead of schedule by their guess. Once we knew for sure that the lost twin would have been a girl we named her Julia, one meaning of which is "young" and also because she was conceived in July and I wanted to choose a name that honored her short life rather than acknowledged her death. The babies' gender was actually quite a shock to Survivordad and I. In spite of the fact that we were both cheering for another girl, we both had strong feelings that it would be a boy who showed up in the spring. Only 2 1/2 year old Sugar got the gender right as she'd insisted all along we'd be bringing home another sister.
     We chose an out-of-hospital birth this time at a local free-standing birth center with a fantastic direct entry midwife, apprentice midwife and student midwife.  If you live in the Portland, Oregon area and are looking for a midwife for either a birth center birth or a home birth I can't speak highly enough of the women at Alma Midwifery. We saw the same team of women for hour long appointments throughout the pregnancy and I've never felt that level of respect and dedication from a care provider before.  It was a fantastically different experience from the traditional western medicine world of obstetrics. The birth center itself is a gorgeous old Victorian house fronted by a gated garden and ringed by a building containing the midwifery clinic and some other small businesses. 
      Sweetness arrived at 39 weeks and 5 days on April 14th after several weeks of anticipation, a full week and 3 days later than Spice and 2 weeks 2 days later than Sugar did. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. on the button and felt a strange, high pop at the top of my uterus. I am fairly sure it was a sharp kick that resulted in a tiny tear in the amniotic sac that only lead to a small amount of  leaking as her head was already so low. At 6:01 a.m., after 3 solid weeks of wimpy, barely have to pause contractions every 10 - 15 minutes I felt the first serious contraction which was rapidly followed by another.  After a short mental conversation with myself about the fact that no, it probably was not just intestinal cramps (which I'd convinced myself the contractions were with both of the other girls) I got out of bed and used the bathroom. Survivordad knew something was up as he was starting to get ready for his 7 a.m. shift at work and I let him know that he probably shouldn't be going today before I called the midwife to talk about heading in to the birth center and left a message for our good friend who's been there at all the girls' births. 
     SurvivorDad got the girls up and dressed with some very minor pointing and prompting from me in between contractions while I slid on a comfy skirt and shirt and we all loaded in the car. It was lovely to be heading for a place that they were welcomed to be with us for the birth as we didn't have to stop and leave them at the sitters. They'd already been well prepared for the big event with videos and information as a bonus of Mama being a childbirth educator in the making is she's got lots of good visual aids. In fact Sugar was so well prepared that a couple months earlier when asked by a kindly, older cashier at the grocery store if the stork would be bringing her a baby sister she replied politely with, "No, my mama will go to the midwife and go HOOAH and push our new baby out her vulva." Not so lovely was dealing with contractions that were slowly going from 2 minutes down to 1 minute apart while sitting in the passenger seat of a minivan and fighting weekday-morning freeway traffic. 
     We finally did arrive and I was by that point feeling some pretty major pressure. There were no last minute baby-belly photos as planned, I just wanted to get up to the beautiful birthing suite where I knew three very gentle women and a large tub of warm water were waiting. After a few quick words exchanged with the midwives, I used the restroom (at which point I was already feeling pushy although I tried to talk myself out of that fact too) and stripped down to the manky old nursing bra I'd worn to bed the night before and crawled into the tub. The black nursing tops I'd ordered specifically to wear in the tub so I'd look halfway decent in my birth photos stayed tucked firmly away in my bag and I had to have one of the midwives pull my hair back for me as I couldn't get myself together enough right then to do it myself. One of the girls got an "in labor" picture on their little fisher price camera and it was the only one taken before baby was actually crowning.  My friend rushed in just a few minutes before I started really pushing and made it just in time to settle down and talk the girls through the actual birth.
     SurvivorDad managed to get my cd playing for me on the cd player there and that was an amazing help as I could just focus on the baby and the music. Everyone just let things happen as they happened, letting me do whatever felt right at the moment and I ended up flipping from a semi-sitting position onto my hands and knees in the water. Over the course of 5 pushes total spaced out over 3 contractions, baby girl girl first crowned in the caul, then emerged with her head in precisely the intended position and finally arrived fully at 8:46 a.m. to the words of  The City Harmonic - Manifesto. The entire labor had lasted less than three hours. The midwife passed her between my knees to my waiting arms and I flipped back to my back and snuggled her close. As the midwives subtly checked her over on my chest I remember being amazed and overwhelmed at the instant and total sense of possession as I felt for her that had been absent at the hospital births of the other girls where the emphasis was on how long I'd be "allowed" to keep the baby on my belly before they were whisked away to be suctioned and examined while the O.B. dealt with me. 
     We relocated to the bed with some assistance and delivered the placenta (thankfully intact after having experienced a D & C to deal with retained placenta at the last birth).  My good friend cut the cord as hubby has never had any desire to do that part of things and Sweetness and I got lots of time to cuddle and start working on nursing while the midwives dealt with the blood loss that seems to be the norm for me when it comes to birth. I ended up getting a few shots of pitocin and after passing out in the bathroom (yay for the midwife apprentice who caught me before I slid to the floor) I also got an i.v. of pitocin and fluids but in spite of all that I felt 100% better than I ever had after delivering a baby before. When all was said and done, she  was a full 23 inches long and weighed in at 10lbs 3oz, 13 ounces heavier than Spice who'd been 13 ounces heavier than Sugar.  I had no tearing and my only pain at all was from a sore tailbone which I suspect had less to do with the actual birth and more to do with transitioning in the car for forty minutes with all the pressure of baby's head on that area and from the pretty heinous afterpains that pitocin and nursing bring on but they were doing their job. At no point while we were there did anyone ever tell me to pass the baby off or touch her or me without asking permission and explaining exactly what they were doing and why and then leaving me the choice of whether that was ok.  
     The big girls got to spend the afternoon with us meeting, holding and cooing over their new baby before SurvivorDad left to take them to our friends' house where they'd be staying for the two nights I was still resting up at the birth center. After the midwives felt that everything had settled down with my bleeding they left me in the care of the fantastic postpartum doulas there who spent two days helping me to and from the bathroom, checking our vitals at our convenience, bringing me snacks and meals at request (so much yummier than hospital food) and brewing me nettle iced tea.  One morning while I was there I got to enjoy a postpartum massage and the masseuse also gave Sweetness a sacro-cranial adjustment to help ease any issues from where her head was still molded from the birth. I remember laying in bed one night snuggling my sleeping baby and looking out my second story window down on the gated garden and feeling like a character in one of those old stories who's been given sanctuary at an old fashioned convent with the feeling of peace that pervades that space. The primary difference being that the patient, loving women caring for Sweetness and I were not wimpled nuns but rather pierced, tattooed, unshaven hippies which was just fine in my book.
     When the time finally came for us to go home I snuggled Sweetness close in the ringsling and walked with SurvivorDad and our doula out into the grey, drizzly Portland morning and snuggled her down into the waiting carseat for the first time. As happy as I was to start our life as a family of five instead of four I definitely didn't have that same relief to leave that I'd always had leaving the hospital with a baby. I got to go home feeling alert and well-rested and other than some lingering fatigue from the blood loss and anemia I felt ready to face the added challenge of a new little creature in our own particular parenthood jungle.