Tuesday, September 30, 2014

School is in Session!

I am all about kids being kids and having lots of time for unstructured free play. I believe that is where the bulk of learning happens for little kids and I have no intentions of cutting that short in our home. 

But I also really like “school.” At least as far as it involves creative learning activities and school supplies. I’ve mentioned before here that Chris and I plan to homeschool our kids, but I’ll be honest when I say that’s only partly for the good of the kids. I also think it sounds like a ton of fun for me. During my brief foray into classroom teaching there were many things that didn’t suit me – the paperwork, the classroom management, the mulit-tasking – but the lesson planning was the part I actually enjoyed and felt like I was kind of good at. I’ve been excited to use that skill again since Charlie was born.

I’ve also been feeling for a while that it could be good to introduce a little more structure and intentionality to our day with Charlie. This kid gets plenty of free play time, but I sometimes feel like I could do a better job of making sure he gets to have certain experiences or gets exposure to certain concepts or ideas. And I know for me, that will only happen if I make a plan for it and put it in the schedule. I get the feeling that this could be especially handy when a new baby joins the family. I want Charlie to have a routine and time with mama that he can expect and depend on, and I want to have a routine in place to aim for and work back into after the baby is born. 

So. We started school today. I think it went well. We both enjoyed it and Charlie even asked to do it again when we finished. That’s a good sign, right?

School1

He’s being so studious. 

I’m trying to be realistic with expectations for this thing. I am very aware that 2 and a half is a little early to start school and that it might not work out beyond today. But I also love that there is absolutely no pressure that I succeed. I could decide to totally drop it all next week and no one would be hurt. Or probably even notice. 

Also, I’m keeping plans for school extremely light. Like maybe 15 minutes a day two or three times a week. Plans include things like calendar time, a journal, and three or four “big ideas” to focus on over the course of at least three months. 

Be watching for a more detailed post soon about my plans for the first few months of school. And probably an update on how it’s really going once the novelty has worn off. I’m interested to see how that one turns out myself. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Growth Chart

A couple years I stumbled upon a cute growth chart idea on Etsy. 

Etsygrowthchart

From Bean Signs on Etsy

I loved the simple ruler look of the charts and thought it would be a great way to record a child’s growth through the years while still looking attractive and stylish in a home. However, the charts were a little more than I was wiling to pay, and shipping for a giant wooden board was steep!

For a while I entertained the idea of just making my own. It couldn’t be that hard; just a wooden board, black paint, number stencils, and good measuring skills is all you would need. But I’m not great at getting around to crafty projects, so instead I hinted to my crafty and poor college student sister that such a thing could make a fun and affordable Christmas gift someday. Thankfully she took the hint and made us our own ruler growth chart!

Growthchart 

This past weekend I finally got it hung up on the wall in our hallway. Because I’m not a good blogger, I didn’t take pictures of the process, but it wasn’t very difficult. I simply drilled a pilot hole near the top and bottom of the board, found some long screws, and screwed it into the wall, using a level to make sure it was hanging straight. I chose to attach both the top and bottom because I didn’t want to tempt a small toddler I know into grabbing the wooden board and swinging it back and forth. 

I went back and looked at Charlie’s doctor’s records to get his height at different stages over the past couple of years. The first mark shows how tall he was when he was born. Later marks represent 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years. I’ll eventually add the heights of Chris and me, baby sister when she arrives on the scene, and possibly the dog. I’ll continue to update the chart each year as our family grows. It will be so fun so see it fill up over time!

Growthchart2

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

These Days // 3

these days
These days we are:
discovering: that mixing two or more colors creates new colors! Usually an interesting shade of brown.

painting

painting

learning: how to write a response to a “Request for Proposal.”

listening: to “Happy.” It gets a little old for Chris and me, but Charlie LOVES it. We find it’s a great song to put on during clean up time.

watching: the mower guy. It’s fascinating for Charlie and stressful for Mabelle.

watching

preparing: to host a small group potluck. Can it still be called small when you make 30+ chicken crescent pockets?

looking: forward to a vacation to Nashville for some pre-baby relaxation and a visit with my sister.

inventing: strange concoctions for dinner. Mainly out of desperation. This beef/veggie/cous cous mixture turned out to be pretty appetising, despite it’s apprearance.

dinner

Have a happy weekend!

paint

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to keep stuff from overtaking your home

I am by no means an expert in minimalism. In fact, I default toward packrat. I’m pretty good at seeing the potential in things and I can always convince myself that there’s a really creative use for whatever stuff is taking up space in the back of the closet. But I’ve learned that for the most part, this tendency just adds extra stress to my life. What I really want is a calm and clutter free home that I don’t have to constantly clean and reorganize. So there are a few things I’ve learned that can help a packrat like me live a more minimal life.

Give your stuff physical boundaries

Anytime I find it difficult to find the space to keep my stuff, I know it’s time to purge. It’s natural to think that you just need to get more containers and boxes and storage units to hold your stuff, but in my small house I don’t have the space for those things either! So rather than try to squeeze things into the space I don’t really have, I find it’s useful to decide on the space I have first, and start filling it from there. I make sure I include the best/most useful items first and anything that doesn’t fit when I run out of space gets kicked out of the house.

One example where this has really been useful is with kid’s toys. We recently started to feel like Charlie’s toys were taking over the living room. So we gave them some boundaries. He can have the amount of toys it takes to fill one drawer in our console cabinet, the shelves on a small bookcase, and a couple of cubbies in my desk. Everything else had to go! My living room is now able to be used by adults and Charlie hasn’t missed any of his old toys!

Find a worthy cause to take your stuff

One of the hardest things about getting rid of excess stuff is getting over the feeling that you’re “wasting” it. Especially if it’s something that is perfectly useful and sometimes barely used! I’ve found that it really helps when you have a plan to give that stuff to a person, cause, or organization that will appreciate it much more than you ever did. Goodwill is always an option, but if you look a little harder most communities have ways to make donations that will go directly to people in need. For example, a homeless shelter can always use good clothing, coats, blankets, and shoes to give to the people it serves. Our town has a ministry that helps refugees set up house in their new country. These people sometimes come into our country with nothing, so donations of furniture, household and kitchen items, and bedding can go a long way to help these people get settled and comfortable. A crisis pregnancy center could make good use of all your old baby gear. Getting rid of that perfectly good set of pots and pans feels a lot better if you know it will be used by someone who really needs it.

Be honest with yourself before you start purging.

I find this tip to be most helpful when dealing with my closet. Even though I may have good intentions to mend that hole in that shirt I wore once, or make some simple alterations to make that cute dress actually fit, the truth is that I will never actually get around to doing those things. So before diving in and trying to decide what should stay and what should go, I find it’s good to think about the reality of my life. I’m not going to do any sewing. If something is uncomfortable, I won’t wear it, even if it is super cute. And if something doesn’t fit, chances are neither I or the clothes are going to magically morph size or shape. When I have some guidelines in mind it’s a lot easier to be ruthless when getting rid of things that are just taking up space.

I’m pretty sure I will foreverandalways have more stuff in my house than is necessary or useful, but I feel like over time I’ve slowly but surely started to open up the space in our home by following these guidelines. I might need to work a bit faster in the next few months though. We have to make room for a whole new person!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Full Frames

If you’ve been to my house sometime during the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed the thoughtfully arranged gallery of frames above the couch. If you bothered to look at if for more than two seconds you probably also noticed that all of those frames were empty. 

Frames1

Well, no more, my friends! I finally got around to filling those frames with a collection of some of my favorite pictures from the past two years and I could not be happier with it. 

Frames4

We started with a collection of Ikea Ribba frames. Chris and I stocked up on these during one of our rare trips to Ikea (the closest one is a few hours away) because the frames are so cheap and they have a clean simple style that can work in just about any room. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to hang them yet, so we just got a variety or sizes and colors. 

After those frames sat in our garage for a few months, I got around to thinking about a gallery arrangement over our couch. I tried a tip I had seen some time ago about using tissue paper or newspaper templates to plan out a gallery wall. You simply trace the outline of your frames on some old newsprint, cut out the shapes, and tape the templates to your wall. Moving pieces of paper is much easier than moving nail holes for the actual frames and it gives you a much better sense for how the arrangement will work in your space. Once you have the arrangement down, you can nail straight through the paper to avoid any measuring and rip the paper off the wall before hanging your frames. It worked great, and it made it really easy to create the balanced but non-symetrical arrangement I was hoping for. 

Frames2

My dad helped us get all the frames hung on the wall one afternoon while he was visiting. You can see him nailing through the last newspaper template here. 

Fast forward about a year. After having those empty frames hanging over my head for all that time, I finally got around to printing some pictures when I was planning for my ProjectLIfe book. I added a couple larger prints we had from an old professional family photoshoot and piece of Charlie’s artwork to fill up the other big frame, and voila! my gallery wall was finally complete!

Frames3

Granted, it’s basically a Wall of Charlie right now, so eventually we’ll need to switch out some pictures to reflect the new member of our family who will be joining us. But for now I think it does a great job of capturing the different aspects of Charlie’s personality and our memories together as a family over the years.

Frames5

Frames6

Seeing these pictures out and in the open in our living room makes me so happy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 2

My last post on my breastfeeding experience left you with lots of thoughts, but not a lot of helpful information. It’s easy to find posts and articles out there with tips and strategies on how to keep going with breastfeeding. There seem to be a lot less on how to quit. So for those mothers out there that find themselves needing to wean a baby (well, toddler at this point) who would be happy to keep nursing forever, here are a couple of things that helped me.

A few weaning strategies

Don’t ask, don’t refuse

Sometimes a mother can get used to asking her toddler if he wants to nurse, to which he will of course say yes. But if you don’t ask, sometimes the kid will forget about or be distracted enough not to notice that you’re skipping a feeding every now and then. This can be a gentle way to phase it out, but it can move pretty slowly.

So maybe sometimes refuse

Sometimes I knew Charlie was asking for milk simply because he was kind of bored and it sounded like a good way to pass the time. When this happened I started to just say, “Not right now, you can have some milk before bed (or whenever the next routine nursing time was)” and try to direct his attention to something else. This worked to make nursing less of a recreational activity and eventually we were just nursing during those times that it was firmly planted in our daily routine. So for those instances…

Change up the routine

For a long time Charlie nursed every morning. I would bring him back to our bed when he woke up and we would snuggle and nurse for a few minutes before getting up to get ready for the day. So eventually I started to make an effort to up be and moving before he started to stir. Then once he woke up, rather than bringing him back to the bed which he would automatically associate with wanting to nurse, I would or get some toys out for him to play with in the living room or let him hang out with me in the bathroom while I finished getting ready. I found that by changing the regular routine he didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t get to nurse that morning. This worked well for the morning, but I still struggled with how to do away with nursing before naps and bedtime. So that’s when it was helpful to…

REALLY change up the routine

As in, leave town for a while and have somebody make a new routine with him. In my case, I went to visit my sister for five days while Charlie stayed with his dad and grandparents. While the trip wasn’t planned as a way to finish up the weaning process, I kind of suspected before going that it might do the trick. Even if Charlie wanted to continue nursing after I got back I wasn’t sure that I would still have milk to give him. (I didn’t.) So for five days Charlie got in a new routine with his daddy of a cup of milk (not from mama) before bedtime and nap. Once we were reunited I just continued with the new routine. On the few occasions that asked to nurse I just explained that mama didn’t have any more milk but he had his cup of milk that he could drink. Since he had done well with the new routine already he didn’t put up much of a fuss about it and just like that we were done.

The End

Even though Charlie didn’t exactly wean himself, I could tell he was ready and that I was going about weaning in the right way because it felt like a gentle process. I didn’t experience any engorgement or discomfort, which told me that I went about it gradually enough. (All of these strategies put together probably took about 2-3 months.) And Charlie never had any melt-downs or fits at the prospect of no milk for the day. On the occasions that he asked and I refused, he would easily accept the answer and move on to other things. I’m thankful that it wasn’t emotionally difficult for him, because that would have made it much harder.

The hardest part was my own emotional response. While I was ready for him to wean and knew that I wanted there to be some space before the next baby came, it was still a bittersweet change. Some of our sweetest moments together had been while nursing, from his early newborn milk-drunk smiles, to the games we would play where I would nibble on his fingers and send him into a fit of giggles. In many ways it felt like the end of nursing was the end of babyhood for him, not exactly an easy thing for a mother to come to grips with. And on top of all that, I’m pretty sure weaning caused some pretty significant hormonal changes for me. I spent the week or so after Charlie had weaned for good feeling very emotional. Sometimes because I was mourning the end of nursing, but sometimes over a variety of insignificant and unrelated things. Basically, I spent about a week needing a really good cry at the end of each day. My emotions eventually evened out and got back to normal, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that particular emotional roller coaster.

In all, I nursed my first child for 28 months. I’m thankful we stuck out the early challenges and were able to keep it up for as long as we did. But while the nursing relationship is definitely a special thing, it’s the mother-child relationship that has real staying power. Obviously our bond hasn’t diminished at all with the lack of nursing sessions. We’ve found plenty of ways to get our quality time in together. The bedtime nursing routine was quickly replaced with story times and back rubs and night-time lullabies. Morning snuggles under the covers still happen if we’re not in too much of a rush (and sometimes even if we are). And while babyhood may be over, I’m finding toddlerhood to be a pretty fun stage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Project Life: First Spreads

So a few weeks ago I told you about my fear of forgetting my children’s early years and what I was going to do about, namely, start a physical album of photos and journalling based on the ProjectLife method of scrapbooking. I’ve completed my first few spreads so I wanted to report back and share what I think about this method and lessons I’ve learned thus far.

1. It’s easier than scrapbooking, but harder than just sticking pictures in an album.

I like that I don’t have to embellish anything If I don’t want to, but I’ve found that it takes some time and creativity to make use of the different layouts and pocket sizes to create a cohesive spread in the book. It’s fun, but definitely not effortless.

2. It makes just as big of a mess as scrapbooking.

At least, I make just as big of a mess working on a layout for my ProjectLife album as I would on any scrapbook. I’m making my own journal pages, rather than purchasing any kits for now, so that involves lots of paper cutting and various markers and pens. Many of the pocket sizes have required trimming down my photos as well. All these paper scraps make it a little more difficult for me to find the time to work on it because I have to get out all the materials to start work and put them all away when I’m done. I’m working on creating a better project space for myself so I can leave things out and come back to them as I get the chance.

3. I’ve developed some opinions on photo printing.

I used SnapFish to print my photos. It was by far the most affordable option I could find, and they were running a special on free shipping during the time I was printing these. I got 400 photos printed (remember, I’m catching up on 2 years!) for just around $35.00. Even though I probably won’t end up using all 400 photos in the book, the price was good enough that it was worth it for the ease of editing down the photos as I went along rather than trying to make all those decisions on the front end. Making decisions is not a strength for me.

There are a few things I wish I had done differently though. First, during checkout I was giving the option to have everything printed as a 4×6 or to have those pictures that were taken with my phone printed at a slightly smaller size that wouldn’t require the photos to be cropped to fit the 4×6 ratio. I thought that it would be better to avoid cropping, but once I got the photos I realized that it would have been more useful to have them all be a full 4×6 inches. The slightly smaller sized photos can leave some gaps on the edges of the pockets that I’m not a huge fan of.

I also realized that square instagram photos don’t translate well into rectangles. Several of my favorite instragrams had major portions of the photo cut off. I’m looking into some other options to get photos taken with instragram printed.

4. I learned that 6×8 photo books and pocket pages can come with different specifications.

The binder I ordered has 4 rings in it. While the pocket pages I ordered only come with two hole punches. I didn’t even think to look at this while I was ordering supplies. It’s not a huge deal to add some extra hole punches to the pocket pages, but it’s an inconvenient extra step that I wish I would have avoided.

5. I probably could have done the bigger album.

Before I started I thought a 12×12 album sounded too big and overwhelming. Now that I have 400 pictures to put in an album, I think I probably could have filled out the bigger pages just fine. I’m finding the smaller page sizes to be not quite as impressive looking as the 12×12 album examples I’ve seen online. Then again, maybe it just takes practice to get things really looking good.

6. It does make for a nice way to document important moments in life.

I’m happy with how my album is coming along so far, even though I’m just a few spreads in. I imagine as I do more and get into a better rhythm that I’ll start to put things together a bit faster and develop a particular style that I like. I feel like I’m definitely in the experimental stage right now.

Projectlife2

I started the album out with a few images from my pregnancy with a couple of journalling cards to take note of the little details. I didn’t do a lot of documenting during pregnancy, so one spread pretty much covered all I had to say about it.

projectlife3

The next couple of pages are of our first moments in the hospital after he was born. I used a long skinny pocket on one page to write out a brief birth story and some of the vital stats (date, time, weight, and height – blurred out in this photo).

Projectlife1

The other side of that spread continues the birth story along with some pictures of Charlie’s first moments with various family members who were there.

I’ve only gotten through the first few hours of Charlie’s life so far, so I have a long way to go. I’ll keep you updated!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 1

In the beginning…

Like many expectant mothers, I learned all about the benefits of breastfeeding early in my first pregnancy and quickly decided that’s what I wanted to do. I read the books and the blog posts about what a proper latch looks like. I knew all about how a mother’s body is miraculously equipped to change and adjust to nourish her baby at each age and stage. I learned how it has many emotional and health benefits for the mother as well as the baby. It was the obvious choice for me.

I also learned a lot about what a challenge it can be. How despite being the natural way to do things it does not always come naturally. How a poor latch can make it agonizing and ineffective and it can sometimes only be fixed with the help of a lactation consultant. How some mothers, no matter how dedicated they are, may not be able to produce enough milk to breastfeed exclusively. While I felt committed to the idea of breastfeeding, I knew that I should be prepared to face some challenges.

And face some challenges we did. It took what felt like forever for my milk to come in (all while the doctors were telling me that’s what my baby needed to be cleared of his jaundice). We had some struggles with latch at the beginning. I experienced both thrush and mastitis, neither of which make breastfeed particularly pleasant. And then there was just the fatigue of being constantly on call to feed a baby. During growth spurts it felt like that was all I did all day long, and I don’t care what the experts say about how breastfeeding should be painless when you’re doing it right; when you’re doing it almost constantly, it can hurt.

But my struggles were fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and we eventually figured it out. Nursing breaks became a (mostly) restful time for me to bond with my baby and overall we had a very positive breastfeeding experience. I reached a point where breastfeeding felt easy and natural.

My goal when I started out was to try to make it to a year. Other than my own mother, I didn’t know anyone personally who had made it much past that point, so I figured that would be the best that I could do. And the statistics backed that up. While about 80% of mother’s are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital, only 49% are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and only 26% make it all the way to a year. Among my friends, even those that were able to keep going past the first few months and establish a good breastfeeding routine would often comment that their babies weaned themselves by at least a year old when they started eating solids in earnest. I fully expected to experience something similar.

A year later…

So once Charlie reached his first birthday I quietly celebrated the fact that we had kept up breastfeeding for the first year. In fact, we were still going strong. Charlie still nursed several times a day, and though he was eating solid foods, we practiced baby led weaning and were very relaxed about how much he ate each day. I didn’t stress out about the solids he was eating because he was still nursing so well and I knew he was still getting plenty of nourishment from breastmilk. I knew that his solid food intake would continue to increase and become more varied, and his nursing needs would diminish. At this point it was pretty clear that we would continue nursing well past the one-year mark, but I still expected it to drop pretty drastically over the next year and figured he would be completely weaned well by the time he was two. By this time nursing felt so easy and natural to me that I didn’t feel any need to rush the weaning process or put it on a timeline. We were both happy with how things were going so I just let it be.

And a year after that…

Once we hit Charlie’s second birthday I found myself firmly in the camp of those that practiced “extended breastfeeding.” Charlie was still a big fan of mama’s milk and still asked to nurse about three times a day. For the most part I didn’t mind, but I was definitely in unknown territory. I didn’t know anyone personally who had gone for that long and I started to feel a bit self-conscious mentioning it to others. Would people think I was weird? Had I become one of “those” mothers? And even more pressing, would he ever actually wean himself? I realized I had spent so long expecting Charlie to just become disinterested eventually that I knew nothing about how to successfully encourage a child to wean. And honestly, at this point I was a little reluctant to try. Not because I wanted him to be attached to me forever, but because I had found breastfeeding to make so many things easier. It remained my one sure-fire method to get him to relax and get sleepy before bedtime. I knew that if he was hurt or sick that it would comfort him. And it was one of the only times in a day when he would actually be still and let me hold him for a while. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to give that up.

But once we became pregnant with baby number two I started to feel a bit more urgency to move the process along. First of all, although I knew tandem nursing was possible, it wasn’t really something I was interested in doing. But perhaps more persuasive was the fact that pregnancy had made breastfeeding pretty painful again. It was no longer a relaxing bonding time, but rather chore I had to brace myself for each time. I was also pretty sure that by this point I wasn’t producing much milk, either because Charlie didn’t need much anymore or because of the pregnancy, so I figured my body would be able to handle a transition to weaning pretty easily. But the question remained…how to do it?


Talk about a cliff hanger, huh? I found I had way too much to say on this subject so I’ll continue with some strategies that helped me next week. UPDATE: Here’s part two!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

These Days // 2

These days image

These days I am:

enjoying: a kid free weekend. My parents took Charlie to spend some time at their house, so Chris and I have had the whole weekend to ourselves. We went on one weekend trip without Charlie last year, but this is the first time we’ve spent time in our own home without him since he was born. It think it’s been a good time for everyone.

accomplishing: lots of little house projects that I never find the time to do with a toddler underfoot.

feeling: tired. It’s been a productive day!

anticipating: the arrival of our baby girl at the end of the year! We found out a few weeks ago that our life of cars and trains is going to be shaken up a bit by dolls and tea parties. We’re excited for the new adventure heading our way!


And here are some snapshots from recent days…

Itsagirl

We brought home some girly cupcakes to share the news with Charlie. While I couldn’t tell if he was excited about having a baby sister or not, he was definitely excited about having some cupcakes.

Moth

I found a pretty moth on my way home from work one day.

Selfies

Selfies with my boy