Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Planning Our First Big Trip with Baby

When Todd told me he might have to go to a tournament in England this summer and asked if I wanted to make a family trip out of it, I don't think he expected me to say yes. Oliver will be barely a year old, and the thought of flying overseas with him is intimidating, for sure.

But then I thought about it: It's not gonna be much easier a year later, when he's a toddler. Or a year after that, when we might have added another kiddo to the mix. Or for several years after that. So do we put travel on hold for the next decade, or do we make it work with our new reality?

We won't be walking for miles and miles each day, or spontaneously dropping into a cafe to share a bottle of wine, or lingering over romantic meals in candlelit bistros. We definitely won't be hopping between destinations every other day, trying to cram as much into our trip as we possibly can. But we're going to keep feeding our love for adventure and travel even if it is a little challenging and inconvenient, and I can't wait to bring Oli along for the ride—even if he won't remember a thing.

At this point, we're planning to do London and a bit of England, Edinburgh, and Paris with maybe a few day trips around France if we're feeling ambitious. As usual, I'm going a little overboard with the planning already, and discovering some distinct differences between trip-planning pre-baby and trip-planning now:

  • Travel Time — Our last trip to Europe, we flew to Boston first, then to Paris with a middle-of-the-night layover in Iceland, then to Portugal. Back then, it was worth it to travel as cheaply as possible. Now, I'm more focused on getting there as quickly as possible and minimizing time in the air—which is why I've chosen destinations that are easily accessible via train from London.
  • Apartments — We almost always rent apartments rather than hotels when we travel, which makes even more sense now that we have a baby—we need a kitchen, laundry, and room to spread out more than ever. But it's also a little tougher to find baby-friendly places, especially in these old European cities. That fifth-floor walk-up apartment with a creaky balcony may have seemed charming before, but now, all I see is potential danger for the baby. It's also more important to find a nice apartment that we enjoy hanging out in since we will be staying in more than usual due to naps and early bedtimes. (Better to be realistic about our expectations, right?)
  • Research — Trip-planning is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and there are a few resources I always fall back on during my research—the New York Times' 36 Hours series, Travel + Leisure, Rick Steves, Anthony Bourdain. But now that we have a baby, so many of the recommended restaurants, stops, and itineraries just aren't practical for us. At the same time, I find most "family travel" articles and websites depressing—I don't want to build this trip around playgrounds and restaurants that serve chicken fingers. It's a little tougher to piece together plans that will work for us, and I realize we're going to have to be a lot more flexible.
The trip is still a ways off, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear all your baby travel tips and any recommendations for the places we'll be visiting!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Essentials: What You Really Need in Baby's First Month

In my previous post, I shared my "new mama must-haves," highlighting some of the products that have helped us get through this first month of little Oliver's life. But the truth is, none of these are truly necessities—if you don't buy a swing or a Wubbanub, for instance, you're going to survive. They're just nice to have.

I've always loved the idea of Finland's government-sponsored maternity packages, which have been distributed to new parents since the 1930s. They include clothing, blankets, toys, and other necessities—baby can even sleep in the box! With that in mind, I thought I'd write a follow-up with the items that have been truly necessary for us—and those that aren't.

Things We Used 
  • Blankets — These are strewn all over our house. These include large muslin swaddles, small felt blankets, and big fuzzy blankets. We throw them down for tummy time, wrap him up when he's fussy, and cover his car seat when he's sleeping. 
  • Burp cloths — For nursing sessions and the occasional spit-up, you'll want these close at hand—which is why we also have these hanging out all over the house. We just bought a 10-pack of plain cloth diapers, which are super absorbent.
  • Pacifiers — I realize some parents choose not to use pacifiers, but they really do soothe him when nothing else will. Also, I like the idea of controlling the situation as opposed to letting baby control things via thumb/finger sucking. (I've seen way too many kids carry on that habit way too long). That said, the cheapies are just as good as the expensive blogger-favorite Natursutten.
  • Breast pump (manual and electric) — I've really appreciated being able to pump and allow Todd to take on feeding duties, especially at night. It gives him a chance to bond with Oli, too. The electric pump gets things done quickly, but the manual is key if you're out and about and need to relieve pressure (as I learned the hard way). 
Things We Didn't Use
  • Cute clothes — When you're changing baby's diaper 10+ times per day, you don't want to be messing with excessive layers, buttons or snaps—or even pants. That's why Oli has basically lived in onesies. I do look forward to putting him in separates soon, though.
  • Cloth diapers — Besides the fact that his Bumgenius diapers are way too big for him (even at 10 pounds), we've decided to wait until he's stopped peeing and pooping so much to start cloth diapering.
  • Dr. Brown's bottle — Now, some parents/babies might love these bottles, but the point is, Oliver didn't, so I'm glad I didn't get one of the packs with multiple bottles that we registered for. Instead, I bought a few different styles to try out and we found one that he really likes.
  • Wipe warmer — He really doesn't seem to care if his wipes are warm.
  • Bottle warmer — Place it in warm water for a few minutes and you're done.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My First-Month Mama Must-Haves

When I was still pregnant, I heard so many horror stories about the first few weeks of motherhood. A broken body in recovery. Sleepless nights. A constant barrage of dirty diapers and painful breastfeeding. And while I've experienced all of these things at one point or another, these first weeks have been some of the sweetest of my life. Oliver is a pretty laid-back babe, but I think it's helped so much that we were prepared with lots of gear to get us through the early days. Here are my 10 new mom MVPs:

New Mama Must-Haves

1. Fisher-Price Cradle 'n' Swing. There are certain times of day when putting Oliver in the swing is the only thing that will calm him down. It allows us to get a bit of work done, too. That said, it's kind of massive, so if you have a smaller house you'll need something more compact.
2. Wubbanub. Newborns are soothed by sucking, and unless you want to use your boobs as a pacifier, you may want to consider giving him an alternative if he gets fussy between feedings. The Wubbanub, a ridiculously named and admittedly overpriced pacifier accessory, helps keep the thing in baby's mouth so you don't constantly have to rush in and replace it when it falls out. It's key for when he's in the swing or car seat (but we don't use it when he's sleeping).
3. Boba wrap. Oliver loves taking walks in the wrap—he usually falls asleep immediately. Also, it's good exercise to walk around with a 10-pound infant strapped to your belly.
4. Bluetooth speaker. Breastfeeding takes up a lot of time, so I set up a little corner with a speaker where I can play music, podcasts etc. It's helped me look forward to "boobie time."
5. Nursing tanks. Whether worn alone or under a shirt, they just make the whole breastfeeding process much more comfortable. I like the ones from H&M.
6. Water bottle. Because breastfeeding makes you ridiculously thirsty.
7. Miracle Blanket. This makes it so easy to swaddle him, which helps him sleep soundly. He starts yawning the moment I start wrapping him, and he's often out by the time I'm done.
8. Not pictured: Sleep Sheep. But any white noise device will do. This is also a really effective way to signal that it's time to sleep.
9. Baby Tracker app. This has been so useful, especially in the early days, for keeping track of feedings and dirty diapers. Without it, I'd be lost because I have no memory for those kinds of things.
10. Cherish the First Six Weeks. I mentioned this book before, but it's been even more helpful now that Oliver's here. It answers so many questions you'll have in the early days and helps you create a non-stressful sleep schedule from day one, which has been crucial for us.

Every parent—and baby—is different, so I'd love to hear: What's on your list?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Baby Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Judgey

Soon after finding out I was pregnant, I did what many women do: I went online and ordered a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Then the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, then The Happiest Baby on the Block, then about a dozen more books on pregnancy and babies and parenting.

Yes, I went overboard. I filled my head with so many different facts and philosophies that I didn't know what to think—but ultimately I don't regret it. In a way, it's what I've needed over the last 10 months to help me feel even just a little more confident and educated as I approach my due date. I know some women who didn't crack one book during their pregnancies—and I respect that, too. But if you're interested, these are the books that I most enjoyed—and the ones that I thought were a waste of time.

The Best

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy — If you want one straightforward, fact-filled pregnancy bible, this is it. I bought both this and the classic What to Expect, and found Mayo to be more straightforward and less judgmental. Todd also enjoyed reading it cover-to-cover—and I'm so glad he did, because my pregnancy-addled brain has struggled with remembering things.

Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother — This is a light, easy read based around letters written from a poet to her young friend during her first pregnancy. It's sweet and emotional and it made me cry happy tears more than once.

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know — Written by an economist (and new mom), this book looks at the data behind all of the rules imposed on pregnant women—from not eating sushi to not drinking alcohol. It was definitely an interesting read that conflicted with a lot of the leading literature out there, but ultimately I went with my doctor's advice on everything instead of this book.

Cherish the First Six Weeks — At around eight months, I realized I'd mostly only read books on pregnancy, and I didn't feel prepared for actually bringing our little one home. This book set my mind at ease, particularly when it came to calming our babe and (hopefully!) getting him to sleep. It's all about creating a sense of structure early on, which is definitely a philosophy that appeals to both me and Todd.

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep — This book echoes a lot of the ideas in Cherish, but because it's written by a doctor, it has a bit more of a scientific tone—though still very approachable. You'll learn all about the five S's and how they can be used to calm a baby.

Bringing Up Bebe — I really loved this book, and not just because I secretly wish I was French. Written by an American living with her family in France, it's all about how French parents care for their children from the time they're born (breastfeeding and sleep training) to early childhood (education and discipline). Ultimately, it's a very practical, almost old-fashioned approach to parenting that focuses on mutual respect and independence. It also highlights a lot of problems with American parenting, from dependence on tech devices and overstimulation to the "child king" syndrome. More than anything, this book made me recognize that this is a parenting philosophy I've been piecing together since long before I was pregnant.

The Worst

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding — I bought this later in my pregnancy after getting spooked about how hard breastfeeding could potentially be. This guide from La Leche League just scared me even more with its preachy attitude. I know that "breast is best," and I certainly hope that I'm able to breastfeed my child for a reasonable amount of time, but this book seems to focus on how doing the "wrong" things—getting a C-section, putting your baby on a sleep schedule, stopping breastfeeding before age 2—can scar your baby for life.

From the Hips — A favorite blogger recommended this one, saying it was a more conversational, honest look at pregnancy. Turns out, I hated all of the "real mom" anecdotes and found myself wanting just the facts. Plus, the cluttered layout is high-school-yearbook-ugly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Most Surprising Things About (My) Pregnancy

Over the last 8.5 months, my pregnancy has been pretty predictable. I've gotten bigger. I occasionally cry about silly things. I've become obsessed with baby clothes and supplies, and I spend too much time reading way too many articles and books on pregnancy and parenting. But there have been some surprises, too. The biggest one:

Every pregnancy is different. Symptoms vary dramatically from woman to woman. The best ways to deal with those symptoms vary too. The way that we react to challenges, and the way that things affect us over the course of these 10 months—it's all over the map. You can ask for advice from fellow mamas—and you probably should, at least to get some empathy—but ultimately, this journey is yours, and you've got to figure out your best path.

Doctor's visits are pretty painless (at least for the first nine-ish months). I'd always imagined that being pregnant would involve endless doctor's visits with endlessly uncomfortable pelvic exams, but I've been surprised to find that most visits are quite routine—even boring. Blood pressure check, weight check, heartbeat check, any questions? And I'm on my way. My last month of visits will be weekly—and sans clothes, I've been warned—but I'm relieved everything up until now has been so simple.

Some people just love a pregnant woman. Sure, I've gotten the occasional rude comment about my size—that wasn't a surprise. But what I didn't expect was so much genuine joy and curiosity directed at my belly. I mean, there are a lot of pregnant ladies out there. I rarely give them a second glance, myself—never have. But since I started really showing, I've learned that some people will grin broadly when they see me, ask questions (When are you due? Boy or girl?), and sometimes even talk directly to my belly (Hi, baby!). It's impossibly sweet and it always makes me feel good.

Birth plans don't really matter. There's so much talk of birth plans on the internet today that it seems like a crucial part of preparing for baby. A lot of it comes from mommy bloggers who position themselves as experts because they've had a few babies. But you know who the real experts are? Doctors. Nurses. Midwives. They're the ones who will guide you through this crazy, completely unpredictable experience called childbirth, and it doesn't really matter what kind of a la carte birthing experience you've carefully outlined using some template you found online. Talk to your doctor about what you want, then trust them to get you through the process.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Two Days in Porto

It's been nearly a year since our trip to Europe... seems like a good time to share some photos, eh?

Our visit to Porto did not start off well. We flew in from Paris in the morning and had problems with the metro, which led to us missing our meeting with our Airbnb host. By the time we finally got into the city, it was raining hard and we were quickly soaked through to our skivvies. Eventually, we found refuge in a little restaurant next door to the apartment, and the kind waitress poured us each a big glass of wine and let us use her phone to call the host.

A few minutes later, we were checking in to the most beautiful Airbnb we'd ever seen. Massive French doors opened up to a small balcony and a view of the ancient rooftops and the Douro River. We changed into dry clothes and collapsed onto the bed, where we were perfectly content to watch the deluge and drift off into a nap until nightfall, when the rain mercifully began to subside.

Our time in the city was limited to just a couple of days, but Porto is small enough that we were able to get a solid sense of things despite our schedule. These are just a few highlights from our stay.

Francesinhas (and Other Fine Foods). Porto is not a culinary capital, which I'll admit was almost a relief after the sometimes intimidating scene in Paris. Even so, we enjoyed some truly memorable meals in the city, from simple pastries from a quiet bakery to the famous francesinha. You'll find Porto's signature sandwich in restaurants all over the city, each one boasting to have the best. The recipe is the same in most places: Ham, sausage, and steak are sandwiched between two thick slices of bread and topped with cheese, an egg, and a tomato-beer sauce. It's all served on a bed of salty fries, preferably with a tall glass of light beer. We felt terrible after eating it, but I'm so glad we did it. (We had ours at Restaurante Girassol.)

We also stopped by the beautiful Art Deco Majestic Cafe, which is a popular place for coffee and cakes. And we had a traditional Portuguese seafood dinner at the cave-like Adega de San Nicolau, which was tucked away right under our apartment. I really wanted to eat at Book, but we ran out of time.

Aimlessly Wandering. We woke up before dawn and decided to go out in search of a place to watch the sunrise. As it turned out, the city's narrow, winding streets (said to have inspired J.K. Rowling's depiction of Diagon Alley) can really do a number on your sense of direction. While we didn't find an overlook, we did discover some beautiful spots, and we enjoyed watching the city slowly wake from its slumber. We continued our wanderings for the rest of the day, thankful for the bright sunshine after the rain.

A New Perspective. Eventually, we did find the dramatic views we were searching for—first at the Clerigos Tower, then from the Dom Luis Bridge. We also took a cable car ride over the river and the city's famous port factories.

The next morning, we headed to the train station to catch a ride to Lisbon, feeling satisfied with our explorations of Porto. There's a lot we didn't have time to do—like tour the port factories, visit the Crystal Palace Gardens, or explore the Douro wine region and Piscina das Mares—but I'm sure we'll return. The short but sweet stop solidified Portugal's ranking as one of our favorite countries in the world, and I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Traveling with Baby: Finding Inspiration from the Pros

There's a lot to worry about when it comes to having a first baby, so it might seem frivolous that one of my concerns has been travel. Will we ever travel again? Will it be enjoyable with kids, or will it be a nightmare? How do you even fly, drive in a foreign country, or eat at a restaurant with a baby? It's seriously unfamiliar territory that seriously stresses me out.

The thing is, I think Todd and I have gotten pretty good at traveling over the last few years, and we've been lucky enough to take some amazing trips. I hate to think that those days could be behind us. In fact, I refuse to accept it—despite what some parents are quick to tell me.

For every parent out there who tells us to kiss our days of fun and travel goodbye, I've found someone else who's making it work—and who's eager to share their tips for successfully traveling with kids. Ultimately, I know we'll have to find our way, and eventually I hope to offer my own voice to this dialogue, but for now, these are the bloggers and posts that are making me believe that we just might be able to have some adventure in our lives—even with a baby in tow.

What kind of crazy person would take two toddlers to Mexico City? Ashley from Hither and Thither, that's who—and probably Todd and I, within the next few years. Whether headed to Italy or Paris, she's honest about the challenges of traveling with kids, but she also offers solid advice for making it work—and even enjoying the experience.

Fact: My life will never be as glamorous and travel-filled as Amber's from Barefoot Blonde. But while she seems to have unlimited vacation time and a travel budget to match, she also offers some valuable insight into seeing the world with babes. I like her attitude on using travel to create stronger, more open-minded kids and to bring the family closer together.

Naomi of Love Taza is one of those perpetually cheerful mommy bloggers that haters love to hate. She's got three little ones, she lives in a shoebox-sized NYC apartment, and she's still always smiling. She also travels often with her brood, and she's created some inspirational videos and posts about their experiences. This one has a lot of useful tips.

This Mother Mag post on traveling to Tulum with a baby inspired what I hope will be one of our first trips with our son. I'm already browsing hotels in Tulum for the winter.

I also love Chelsea's (Lovely Indeed) Tulum travel guide, which has great tips for the area whether you're traveling with a kid or not.

Joanna at Cup of Jo has shared several posts on traveling with kids, including this oldie but goodie on flying with a baby. I also love this guest post on vacationing in Positano with a bunch of kids.

Megan from The Fresh Exchange is a new mom who's inspired me with her travels since long before she was pregnant. Now she's sharing her experiences seeing the world with her baby boy. So much sweetness.