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.



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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why Summer Pregnancies Don't Completely Suck

Let's just pretend like this is a picture of me, even though I wouldn't be caught dead in a bikini right now.

Often when I tell people that my due date is in late August, I get the same response: a wince, a sympathetic shake of the head, and usually something along the lines of, "It's going to be a long summer for you!"

Of course, I can't help but agree. This summer feels extra hot and sweaty, and I'd give anything to enjoy a nice bottle of crisp wine on the front porch—without living in fear of mosquitos. But it's not all bad. In fact, I think there are a few perks to being pregnant in the summer. Here's what I'm feeling happy about:
  • Having a simplified maternity wardrobe. I'm in my third trimester, but still most of my day-to-day wardrobe consists of non-maternity items—extra-long tanks, tees, and elastic-waist skirts. Sure, it's boring, but I'm glad I haven't had to spend a lot of money or time searching for sweaters, coats, and pants that fit my bump. 
  • Sandals. Related to the above point, but worthy of its own bullet: I didn't even realize my feet were getting swollen because I've been living in sandals. I tried on a pair of my ballet flats today, and though it was definitely a tight squeeze, I just felt lucky that I have other options this time of year (and I don't have to go out and buy a bunch of new shoes that may not fit in a few months). 
  • Summer food. Thanks to the abundance of fresh local veggies and our tendency to grill out, I always eat more healthfully in the summer months than I do in the winter, when I crave mostly carb-heavy comfort food. Granted, ice cream is a major part of my diet these days, but I'm pretty sure I would have gained a lot more weight so far if I'd been pregnant in the colder months.
  • More sunshine. Longer days mean I'm more likely to be out and about staying active. I may not be hiking or playing tennis, but I'm moving and that's helping me feel stronger as I approach my due date.
  • Looking ahead to summer birthday parties. Yep, our little man isn't even here yet, but I'm already thinking about how fun his birthday parties will be. I myself was a winter baby, and parties at the park or pool just weren't an option.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Baby Boy's Bright, Travel-Inspired Nursery

Baby's Bright Nursery

Baby's Bright Nursery by ericajackson

Baby boy's nursery is already turning out to be a lot brighter than the rest of our house, thanks to a vintage yellow campaign dresser I found on Craigslist. He was still about the size of a peanut when I found it, but I could just imagine the drawers filled with his little cloth diapers and onesies. Here's what else I've got planned:
  • The dresser will also serve as his changing table, and I'm leaning toward this Keekaroo changing pad because it can be easily wiped clean and I don't have to mess with fabric covers.
  • Cribs can be seriously expensive, but I found this one at Walmart, of all places. I love its midcentury modern look, which fits with the rest of our house, and that it converts into a toddler bed. Plus, it's on sale now, so I got a great deal on it.
  • I don't love the look of gliders or rocking chairs, and I wanted something I could use after the baby (or babies) grow up, so I searched for big, comfy chairs that match the rest of our decor at home.
  • We're planning some big adventures with our little one, and we're hoping he loves traveling as much as we do. For the art and decorations, we're searching for pieces inspired by our favorite places, like this Lisbon print and Mexican bunting.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Remote Work Life



Most people I know have no idea what I do for a living—even my close friends and family members. Many seem to think that I don't have a "real" job at all, since I don't go into an office every day, and they struggle to believe that I could have a thriving, fulfilling career without leaving my house.

So here's the truth: I've been working remotely (30-40 hours) for a Boston-based content marketing firm for two years now, plus freelancing for a number of publications and companies on the side. I've had some tempting opportunities for positions that would require me to return to a traditional workplace, but honestly, I don't know if I can go back. I feel grateful every day that I can work when, where, and how I want.

After seven years of working in traditional offices, I was more than ready to make the switch to remote work. I loved my editor jobs at publications in Charleston and Boston, but I always felt trapped and a little bit stifled by the 9-5 grind.

The thing about what I do is, it doesn't really matter where I do it. Writing and editing can be done anywhere with an internet connection, but for me, I do it much better when I can choose the setting and do it on my own terms.

Here's a look at one day this week—a pretty typical day—in case you're curious, or considering making the switch yourself.
  • 7:30 a.m. Alarm goes off. I grab my phone and start scrolling through emails, news and social accounts while I wake up. (This is a habit I'm trying to break.)
  • 8 a.m. Stumble downstairs, let the dogs out, and make coffee. Now that the weather's warmer, I take my coffee out onto the front porch with my laptop and start planning out my day (I use Stickies on my desktop) and sorting through work emails.
  • 9 a.m. I don't have any morning conference calls, so I hop in the shower, get dressed, and walk the dogs up the street to peek in on our renovation project to see how it's progressing, taking pictures for the blog. I then head home, make some scrambled eggs with sliced tomatoes, and decide where I want to work for the morning.
  • 10 a.m. I have an office that I share with Todd, but I like to move around when I'm working. Right now, I tend to switch between the front porch and a table on the back patio, since the weather's so nice. I set up my laptop and notebook outside and start working my way through the day's tasks, taking a quick conference call with a New York-based writer at noon.
  • 12:15 p.m. We've been in D.C. for the last four days and I haven't had time to grocery shop, so we decide to try a new-to-us deli downtown for lunch. We take our laptops to make it a working lunch but find out they don't have wi-fi. Luckily, we have hotspots on our phones so we keep working for an hour after lunch while watching the action on Grace Street.
  • 2 p.m. Todd has a meeting, so we head back to the house and I set up shop with my laptop and iced coffee on the back patio. I work through some editing projects and call in to the Boston office for a company-wide Skype presentation while soaking up the sun and watching the dogs roll around in the grass. 
  • 3 p.m. I keep working through my to-do list, but sometimes I'll switch to freelance projects in the late afternoon, depending on my workload and meetings schedule. This usually involves research, phone interviews, writing, and sometimes in-person interviews around Richmond. 
  • 5:45 p.m. I force myself to turn off my laptop and do a bit of tidying up around the house while Todd finishes his workday—watering plants, cleaning the kitchen, laundry, and vacuuming. 
  • 7:30 p.m. After a walk, dinner, and running some errands, I settle onto the couch for some TV time. I have an article due tomorrow so I work on it while half-watching House of Cards.
  • 9:30 p.m. The pregnancy fatigue sets in, so I head upstairs and prep for bed. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies until I can't keep my eyes open anymore.
I know this lifestyle isn't for everyone, and I do miss the camaraderie of office life sometimes. Who knows, I may even decide I'm ready to return to it someday. But for now, I'm just happy to have this flexibility—especially with motherhood approaching.

Is remote working something you'd like to try, or do you love going to the office every day?