Friday, June 28, 2013

Register Now: Purposeful Conception Course

My part-time job has officially ended, which is such a weird feeling. I'm getting closer and closer to being able to focus full-time on my passion, which is to start Austin's first public Montessori school (and then a national network of public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide).
Even though I've done very real things toward that end (i.e., founded a 501(c)(3), recruited a board of directors, raised half a million dollars, put two pieces of land under contract for the future school, etc.), it still doesn't feel quite real.
With some extra time on my hands, I wanted to host a Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy. I know all my "extra time" is going to evaporate as soon as Tate makes his grand appearance, but I actually think participating in the community will help make those long hours of breastfeeding go by a little faster! My mom got me a hands-free computer typing program for Christmas, so I'm hoping to be able to put it to good use.
Here are some thoughts from past participants:
  • "I want to recommend the heck out of this!"
  • "I feel like I have a really solid reference point; all the journaling these activities inspired created a larger awareness for me of what we’re getting ourselves into. We both feel a lot more informed not only about some specifics of preparing for pregnancy, but also that we have a broader groundwork with which to do more research and a better understanding of what we think and feel about taking this step. I feel more careful about how I’m organizing my life, more intentional about my time and space; my husband has had a chance to work through many of his fears and is more eager than ever to start trying! I think previously I was ready just to dive in and figure it out as I went, now I am a lot more confident in my ability to handle this."   
  • "To be honest, I was hesitant at first to spend the money on a class about preparing for conception (rather than saving it towards actually having a baby!). However, both my husband and I have benefited SO much from this; it's been worth EVERY penny and more. Truly. It's been fantastic and I'm so glad I 'splurged.'"  
  • "This was an excellent course and a lot of thought, research, hard work, and love went into it - that is obvious. It was comforting to find a community of others who are really taking the time to plan for conception and parenthood, because I don't find that among my local community. Great job, Sara. Really and truly. This course was a big help to me and I will definitely recommend it to others!"
  • "Thanks to all the reflection, guided discussions, and useful advice from this course, [my] worry/fear has pretty much disappeared. My partner and I have figured out what 'ready' means to us, and it's not as hard as we thought it would be to get there. We have a short to-do list with achievable goals. I'm happy to be where I am right now in my life."
  • "I was very ambivalent about having a child before taking this course. I now know that my husband and I are more prepared than I thought we were to have a child. For the areas in which we need some work, I now have concrete action steps to complete...It's wonderful to actually be excited about this next step instead of fearful or unsure."
For those of you who are thinking about conception or are actively trying, this online course might be for you! From July 14 through August 9, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a comprehensive range of topics, such as preparing your body through solid nutrition and exercise, finding balance between what you can and cannot control, making space in your life for pregnancy, deciding whether to track your cycle, building a solid partnership as a foundation for your future family, and much, much more. As a participant in the course, you'll receive information, tips, reflection exercises and prompts, and a community of like-minded kindred spirits who are on a journey similar to your own.

The course doesn't presume that doing x, y, and z will lead to pregnancy. Instead, the idea is to focus on the things we can control in order to create a solid foundation (e.g., nutrition, stress levels, relationships, finances, etc.) and to make peace with the things we cannot control about the process.
I want to be upfront that I am not a healthcare professional. I simply spent a very long time researching and preparing myself for conception. This course is a compilation of all that information in one convenient and concise place--alongside information I did not find in any of the books.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. The total cost is $99 USD. Register Now! Or e-mail me with more questions. Happy Conceiving!

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Birthday Celebration

We're getting ready for a birthday around here. I'm writing this post in advance and scheduling it to run next week on my due date (which is today for those of you who are reading this on Wednesday, June 26th), so it's hard to know whether to talk in the present or future tense!
We've been talking to Henry constantly about his brother's imminent arrival. He knows that baby Tate is "in mama's uterus" and that he's going to come out my "vagina." He knows that the only thing his brother will be able to ingest is milk from mama's "nipples." We try to help him understand that the baby won't be able to talk or walk or play with him at first, but we emphasize that the baby will love to watch him do all those things. We talk about how he'll be able to hold the baby, but only if Mama or Dad is present. We talk about how Tate will sit in the carseat that is next to Henry's in the car and that he'll sleep in our bedroom for a while. We talk about how Henry's going to go to Ruby's house during the birth and how he'll get to come home and meet Tate. We emphasize how to touch babies gently--by rubbing their bellies, holding their hands, or touching their feet. We remind Henry that we never touch another person's eyes (or any living creature for that matter). We reiterate that he's going to be such a good big brother because he will be gentle and nice.
And we talk about these things over and over again.
I don't actually believe there's any way for a toddler to comprehend the enormous changes that new siblings usher into the family's life, but I do think that talking about these things over and over again is helpful. We'll repeat many of the same things after Tate's arrival, so he can connect all of those previous discussions to his current reality.
I thought about giving Henry a present from Tate like I see so many other families do, but it felt inauthentic. It felt like a lie to say to Henry, "Here's a present from your brother." But I liked the notion of tying a positive experience to Tate's arrival, so I proposed the idea to Matt that we celebrate Tate's arrival with birthday cake (which, honestly, Henry will love more than a toy!) and that we help Henry give a present to his brother. I think we'll let Henry choose between ordering this book and this book, since black-and-white books are so good for newborns. Then Henry will be able to "read" the book to his baby brother by naming the animals or items on every page.
As for the cake, Henry and I might make one together and then freeze it or else we'll just buy the berry Chantilly cake from Whole Foods, which was one of our primary wedding cakes and brings back good memories. We've also hung the birthday banner in preparation for Tate's arrival.
As for everything else on the to-do list, I'm feeling really good. We're getting into what feels like "bonus territory"--things that are nice to have done but we could have lived without. I set up a basket with burp cloths on Henry's shelf, so he's able to help with the baby as needed. I also borrowed a moses basket from my friend, so we're able to have more than one option when it comes to putting the baby to sleep in the early days. Matt and I have talked through the list of things to do once I go into labor to make sure we're both on the same page about what needs to be done and how to prioritize each item.
I know I'll never feel completely ready for yet another monumental life change, but at least I feel like everything is prepared and in order.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Our family scrapbook starts in 2006, a year after Matt and I started dating. The other day I was completely unmotivated to do anything else, so I started flipping through the scrapbook.
The book contains page after page of adventure. There are trips to Baton Rouge for Spanish Town Mardi Gras (complete with elaborate and fun, hot-pink costumes). There are camping road trips to Utah and Idaho and Vancouver and California. There's a sailing trip around the Greek Isles (with a stop-over in Paris). There are Random Acts of Kindness Scavenger Hunts and trips to the mountains of Colorado to celebrate birthdays with friends.
And then there's a picture of a pregnancy test and shortly thereafter pictures of Henry start appearing.
I don't often flip through our family scrapbook. It's much more common for me to flip through Henry's scrapbook which fills me with gratitude and joy and nostalgia.
Looking at our family scrapbook felt different because the transition from life before babies to life after babies was so transparent. It was a very different sensation to transition from our days as an independent, adventurous couple to our days as a family. Although I don't have a single regret about deciding to have children, I do miss what feels like a very distant life.
Part of the distance is absolutely necessary. Matt and I believe that providing the best possible environment for infants and young children involves a certain amount of sacrifice. For example, we try to honor Henry's need to nap regularly and his early bed time. We go to bed by 11pm on weekends, so we are ready to greet Henry (and the day) at 7am.
But part of the change came from choices that we made. I chose to stay home with Henry for 14 months to provide a solid foundation for his future development. At the same time, we chose to move to Austin, while also deciding to buy land and build house (so we could hurry and put down roots as a family). Once Henry started school, I chose to work only part-time, so that I could continue to spend quality time with him in the afternoon, while also having enough time to focus on my long-time dream of starting a school.
With baby Tate on the way, these kinds of choices (the ones that distance us further and further from our former life) continue. I am choosing to resign from my part-time job, so that I can provide Tate with the same solid foundation that Henry had.
And although all of those choices make sense to me, sometimes I am struck by the enormity of how much difficulty Matt and I have invited into our lives. We left a really strong network of new families in Houston and moved to a completely different city, right when I most needed support as a stay-at-home mom. We bought land and built a house, right when our income was at an all-time low.
Again, I understand why we made these choices: I didn't want to postpone my professional dream any longer (which is why we needed to move to Austin) and Matt was eager to move. We wanted to buy land and build a house when the market was still stagnant and the mortgage rates were low. Plus we wanted to put down roots in a neighborhood as soon as possible.
But stretching our budget so thinly has made this stage of life so much harder. Because we are in a new city with fewer connections, it took us a while to get a free babysitting co-op up-and-running, which means our date nights as a couple have been few and far between. Because we can't afford babysitters, we have to stress a lot when I have work obligations that don't fit within the typical structure of my work day (such as board meetings in the evening when Matt has to travel to Houston or meetings in the afternoon when I'm supposed to pick up Henry and Matt is supposed to be working). And not being able to go on vacation has disrupted our yearly rhythm of adventure and newness.
There's not really a single decision that I can look back on, pinpoint, and wish we would have done differently. I understand every choice we've made and still think that the sacrifice will be worth it once we're settled in our new house in our new neighborhood with two full-time jobs and two boys in the school I'm working at. But, darn, we've made the transition into parenthood even harder than it needed to be! (And don't even get me started on our choice to live in Austin as opposed to Florida where my family is or Indiana where Matt's family is.)
I'm so thankful to be able to see the end of this tunnel. Our house will be finished mid-July. Tate will be here any day. I'll start receiving a part-time salary again in October and a full-time salary in January (assuming the charter gets approved). I see paid babysitters on the horizon (when we need something in a pinch and no one in the co-op is available). And vacations! And date nights!
[Caveat: As I write this post, I recognize that none of these things are real "problems" and that perhaps I should delete this whole post and instead write it from the perspective of gratitude. I mean, Matt and I are healthy and we have a healthy son and hopefully another healthy one on the way. And we have maintained employment through the economic downturn in the United States. And our families are healthy. And we are incredibly privileged in so many ways. Taking a second to highlight the difficult parts isn't intended to subtract from the gratitude I feel on a daily basis; it's just a chance to say to myself, "Yes, new parenthood is hard; you've chosen to make it even harder; but the benefits of those choices are about to come to fruition--knock on wood. Just be patient."]

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Post-Partum Comfrey Tea Compresses

One of the few items left on our pre-baby to-do list is to make comfrey tea compresses. They were recommended by our first midwife, and I found them to be immensely soothing.
  • Boil comfrey tea leaves (directly in the pot) for approximately 15 minutes
  • Meanwhile, fold gauze pads into a shape that will be most comfortable in your underwear post-partum
  • When the tea is cool enough, dip the gauze into the pot and then place inside a snack-sized baggy to freeze each compress separately (it makes it easier to access each compress when you need it)
The midwife said it's beneficial to let the leaves stick to the gauze. They supposedly promote healing even more.
I definitely want to check off this item before Tate arrives. I think I might try to coordinate meal drop-offs, too, since we haven't gotten around to freezing anything. It would be fun to see friends for a little bit every other day once we're more settled.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Final Days

My "due date" is next Wednesday, but according to my due range, the baby could come at any time. I'm so relieved he made it to 39 weeks!
Unfortunately the supposed "nesting instinct" has not kicked in. Instead, the "oh-crap-I-am-officially-full-term-and-we-are-not-ready" realization kicked us into high gear. We got Henry's old infant car seat washed up and installed, ordered and organized all the supplies from the homebirth kit, hung Tate's first mobile, hung up the clothes in his closet (which are all stain-free, former Henry clothes), finalized our recipe binder so my mom has some go-to recipes to cook for our vegetarian/half-gluten-free family when she and my brother are here for ten days, typed up directions related to caring for Henry during the delivery (luckily our friends volunteered to care for our sweet pea), drafted the birth announcement, picked up our room to make it more conducive to post-birth relaxation and healing, ordered a bunch of things from Amazon (like lanolin and nursing pads), and stained our new couch legs so we can hit the ground running when our house is finally ready.
I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting, but that's all I've got right now.
I'm trying to let go of the fear I feel about the pain of birth. Henry's labor was 45 hours and it hurt for most of those hours. 
I don't like when people say, "But second births are so much easier!" because there's no guarantee. And the last thing I want to do is get my hopes up.
With Henry's birth, my mantras were things like, "My body was built to do this" and "Surrender." This time, my mantra is something like "This is the last time you have to do this."
Sheesh, writing this out makes me realize how cynical I'm feeling!
The truth is, I'm not as focused on the birth part as I was with Henry. This time, I'm focused on the infant part. I'm thinking about how to balance my need for healing with Tate's needs as a newborn with Henry's need for support through the transition with our needs to stay connected as a couple with my need to stay on top of developments at work--we'll get through it. We will.
As for the house, it looks like it will be done in mid-July. Although the timing won't be great, I've definitely stopped worrying about it.
I mainly spend a lot of time being grateful for our life and immensely thankful for another healthy pregnancy [insert some wood-knocking].

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Father's Day Recap

On Friday afternoon I realized that Father's Day was--um--right around the corner. Henry and I have a tradition of making Matt a card with one of Henry's footprints. But beyond that, I was clueless. I brainstormed ideas as I drove to pick up Henry from daycare. I thought of just the thing to buy Matt, but then I decided that I didn't want to set a precedent of buying him a big present for Father's Day (since it's already hard enough to come up with good ideas for Christmas and his birthday).
So I tabled the present idea and instead decided to have a "sweet treat" theme for the entire weekend. Henry and I rushed to Whole Foods to grab a gluten-free muffin mix for breakfast on Saturday, gluten-free cupcakes for Saturday night, and gluten-free cinnamon rolls for Sunday morning.
Matt loves sweet things, but we don't usually keep those kinds of things around the house. I think it was the perfect way to celebrate all the sweetness he brings into our lives.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Meal Plan Update

 Master sheet with drop down menu
Final shopping list with the selected meals + standard list
Printed shopping list
I'm so happy that my initial enthusiasm about our new format for meal planning still stands! We've been using the new approach consistently for two months.
On Sunday afternoon, Henry and I open up the Excel document and click on the five meals we want to eat that week. We also click on our "Standard List." Excel then spits out our shopping list for the week (organized by section of the grocery store). We print and we're on our way to the grocery store!
When I explained the system to my neighbor, she said that when she was growing up, her family ate the same five meals every week. While I absolutely understand the drive to make things as easy as possible, I also don't want to drag my family into a rut. That's why the trick to our new meal planning system is going to be pushing ourselves to add new recipes from time to time so our repertoire is broad and interesting. It's easier said than done because a) we are lazy cooks who want a meal to take 30 minutes from start to finish b) we are cheap cooks who don't want to spend much money on a ton of ingredients c) we are vegetarian d) Matt has a gluten allergy and e) we are kind of snobby about ingredients and don't like to take too many shortcuts by starting with processed foods.
Anyway, I'm declaring my intention here so I make it a habit: I need to regularly try out new recipes to identify more candidates for our repertoire. A concrete next step would be to add a food blog to my reader. Any ideas for fast, fresh, vegetarian recipes?
In the meantime, I'll share a recipe we added to our repertoire: fried rice. (I apologize if I've already shared this!) We don't use celery, carrots, or peas, but we add shredded cabbage, another egg, and edamame. We also use brown rice instead of white. It's delicious! It's even better the next day...
For those of you who are interested, you can download our meal planning template here. The actual content won't be particularly useful because the ingredient lists are based on the recipes we have in our binder, but the formatting might come in handy.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Montessori Moments: 2 Years, 3 Months

These "Montessori Moments" posts are meant to highlight some of the ways we implement the Montessori method in our home. Many of the activities that are featured--cooking, cleaning together, going out into nature, etc.--overlap with other parenting philosophies or might seem like things that parents just do with their children intuitively. I've still chosen to highlight them here because they are integral to the Montessori approach to parenting and education and fit within a comprehensive continuum of activities that support children as they undergo the important work of forming themselves. For more information about incorporating Montessori into the home, I recommend How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way for a basic overview. For more insight into Montessori as an educational philosophy, I recommend Montessori Today. When trying to implement Montessori with infants and toddlers, I recommend Montessori from the Start and my favorite resource, which is a DVD documentary of Montessori at home with a 20 month old called Edison's Day.

Montessori Moment #1: Vacuuming the Floor
  • The other night after dinner, Henry climbed out of his high chair, retrieved his vacuum, and began running it over the kitchen floor because he had gotten some food on the floor during dinner. It was such a beautiful moment on so many levels. I love the Montessori emphasis on the connection between competence and confidence. Between the ages of 0 and 6, children are literally working on the formation of their "selves" and constructing their personalities. When they are given opportunities to do the things that the adults around them are doing, they build their self-confidence. He is most successful when we give him child-size tools that he can manipulate. We bought this one at Montessori Services, but you can buy any sweeper that has a segmented handle. When you assemble it, you simply leave out the middle piece of the handle to shorten it for toddlers.

Montessori Moment #2: Peeling Bandaids
  • Henry has been getting gobbled up by mosquitoes this year and he frequently scratches his bites until they bleed. To prevent this, we cover them with bandaids to let them heal more quickly. Henry loves peeling the bandaids himself (he says it's like peeling a cheese stick). The process takes him forever from start to finish, but we wait patiently so that he can continue to build his fine motor skills in authentic ways, strengthen his focus and concentration, and develop his confidence.  

Montessori Moment #3: Hanging the Mobile
  • We are getting ready to welcome baby Tate any day now.  Henry and I hung up a black-and-white mobile for him. I made the mobile for Henry (using this metal mobile as a base), following Montessori principles. First, the mobile is designed to be looked at from the bottom up. I'm frequently surprised by how many nursery mobiles are easier for the adult to see from the side than the baby to see lying underneath it! The mobile is simple with only five separate elements (Montessori recommends about 3-5 to avoid over-stimulation and to help the baby develop focus, concentration, and the ability to track objects). The mobile moves with air currents as opposed to batteries. The mobile is made with abstract pictures (or realistic pictures) as opposed to fantasy pictures because babies are trying to absorb and understand the concrete world. Since the first mobiles in the series are used only when the baby is looking at them (as opposed to batting at or grabbing), I was able to screw only a lightweight hook into the ceiling. I made the cards with thick black-and-white paper. A variety of mobiles is an essential part of implementing Montessori with a newborn. The mobiles provide visual stimulation as they spend time flat on their backs with the freedom to move their arms and legs. Mobiles are considered their first "work."

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When Good Is Good Enough

I've talked a little about how I'm trying to be very intentional about the things I replicate about my pregnancy with Henry and the things that I let go. For example, it was important for me to start a scrapbook for the new baby during my pregnancy, just like I did for Henry. I also made the new baby a simple quilt like I did for Henry.

A while ago, I stated my intention to also make a pillow for his bed. My reasoning was more aesthetic than sentimental; I think Montessori floor beds can look pretty plain. For Henry I designed a little house pillow. This time around, I wanted to use a bigger and more comfortable pillow for breastfeeding in the middle of the night (after about the two-month mark when the baby starts sleeping in his own room). I settled on this design, which I was excited about because I was going to learn how to do piping.

I bought the pillow early on during a trip to IKEA but started dragging my feet about buying fabric. I didn't want to spend money on new fabric, but I also wasn't happy with anything in our existing collection.

And then I hit 36 weeks and started fretting about my lack of preparation. I definitely think I was overcome with panic rather than the classic nesting urge. I finalized our to-do list, starting shopping for non-perishable labor snacks, set up a little lamp with a dimmer switch for breastfeeding, ordered our birthing kit, delegated tasks to Matt, organized our bedroom, etc.

I also decided it was time to do something about the pillow (or lack thereof). I went into our craft room (which also functions as our guest room), and laid down on the futon that we had recently set out for out-of-town guests. I must have laid there for a solid 15 minutes just staring at our tupperware bins full of fabric. These days, it feels so much better to lie down than to stand up. I had serious trouble mustering the motivation to move.

So I didn't. I just lay there and tried to figure out what I wanted to do about the pillow. I happened to be laying on an old pillowcase from IKEA (which I bought in 2003 when I first moved to Houston), and that's when the idea hit me. Why not repurpose one of them into the baby's new pillowcase?

I had to sew two straight lines to decrease the width and height of the pillowcase to make it fit the new pillow. Then I trimmed the excess fabric, turned it right-side-out, put it on the pillow. And voila! A simple, inexpensive solution (that just happens to have sentimental value!).

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Still Dreaming of an Intentional Neighborhood

I know, I know. This post is going to make it sound like I'm never content with what's right in front of me.

Here we are on the verge of moving into an awesome house that we had built on a half-acre of land at the end of a cul-de-sac that backs up to a creek. And I'm about to start talking about our next house after that. 


Well, yes and no. On the one hand, I am so eager to put down roots (which is my mantra for the year) and to build ourselves the most amazing little sanctuary. And we're definitely moving forward with this plan (and we're not going to hold back, simply because we might move in the future). 

On the other hand, I'm still dreaming and scheming about living in a co-housing community (or, at the very least, a little intentional pocket neighborhood). I worked really hard to find this (and then create it) in Austin, but I just couldn't make it work. But I don't want to give up on the idea. At our current rental house, we have the most amazing neighbors ever. Henry and I head over to their backyard several times a week and spend hours on end just hanging out. Henry explores and I chat. It's such a beautiful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Of course you can create this with neighbors (case-in-point) accidentally, but I'd like to create it intentionally.

The other day, Matt was talking about how he'd like to get a weekend house on the lake or how he'd like to find lakefront property in Austin someday. And that's when the idea hit me: Matt and I can save up $50,000 (and find others who can save $50,000 and are interested in community), pool our money, and purchase riverfront property approximately 20-25 minutes east of Austin. Then we can subdivide the land into separate lots and each build our own house at our own pace.

I have no idea how we could afford to live in our almost-built house while building another house, but I'm going to let this idea simmer in the back of my mind....

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reflection & Rejuvenation: June

Holy moly. It is highly likely that I will give birth this month. Can you believe it? I'm officially due on June 26th, but it kind of seems like Tate (probably?) is itching to come out. He's been super-low the entire pregnancy, and my Braxton-Hicks contractions have been increasing. I'm officially full-term today at 37 weeks, but I'm hoping he can hold on until at least 39 weeks, which increases the chances of more positive outcomes. My mom and brother don't arrive until July 4th, which is another reason I hope he doesn't come too early. My last day of official work is June 26th (although I will continue to volunteer as the Executive Director of my non-profit organization). We're anticipating that our house will be complete around mid-July (we have a couple steps of stucco and drywall left, flooring, trim, cabinetry, paint, and landscaping to go). 

The months have literally been flying by. I'm still "making space" in my life for pregnancy with frequent naps and walks (and occasional yoga), but my schedule is just packed between my part-time job at a school, my part-time work to start my own school, picking up Henry every day at 2:45, and blogging.

Let's see how I did with regard to my intentions for the month:
  • Enjoy quality family time at my cousin's wedding in North Carolina (on the Outer Banks): Yes! That was an easy one.
  • Get all the surveys done on the land for the school, in addition to contracting with an architect and a civil engineer: One survey is done, and I know which architect and civil engineer we want to go with.
  • Make significant headway on additional fundraising for the land: Still chugging along!
  • Get prepared for our home birth by following all of the steps laid out by our midwife: The birth kit has arrived from this store, and I have a list posted on our whiteboard. Now I need to work on it!
  • Work through the Hynobabies Self-Study Course to master some relaxation techniques in the upcoming months: I went through a lot of rigamarole to borrow someone's book and CDs, and I read through the entire handbook. However, I have not yet started practicing. I'm not sure I can dedicate 30 minutes a day for six entire weeks just to prepare for birth (and this is coming from someone who had a 45-hour first birth). Okay, maybe I'll work on learning one or two relaxation strategies in the next month.
  • Find a doula: I'm scheduled to attend a doula speed-dating type event this month.
  • Enjoy our little family of three! Yes! Another easy one...
And what are my hopes for this month--my last month of freedom before reverting to living at the very edge of my capacity? (My apologies for the melodrama...)

Did I mention that I've given up all goals of getting organized before we move? Normally, I like to completely purge and organize before moving into a new house. It seems like a total waste to move unwanted stuff into a new home. But I have zero motivation to undertake big organizational projects. This house does not motivate me to organize it at all! I'm hoping that our new house will...

So, with that goal out of the picture, here's what this month looks like:
  • Finish preparing for a home birth (and complete everything on my pre-birth to-do list)
  • Practice a couple self-hypnosis strategies for relaxing during the birth
  • Pick-up and organize the house just enough to help me feel comfortable giving birth at home and spending a couple weeks recovering here post-partum 
  • Use the babysitting co-op to go on more dates with Matt
  • Take it easy!
Photo Courtesy of the Nikki McClure Calendar

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Recommendation: Bebe Day by Day

I loved reading Bringing Up Bebe (review can be found here), so I was delighted when I realized that the author published a follow-up to the book that is more of a succinct summary of the original book's main points, called Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting

I definitely recommend reading the first book before the second one. In isolation, the second book probably wouldn't have as much of an impact, since each principle is only explained in a paragraph or so. 

However, since it's been a while since I read the first book, the second book was a perfect refresher. Here are some of the principles that really resonate with the way Matt and I choose to parent:
  • Don't Panic About Sushi [while Pregnant]: Although I don't eat raw fish because I'm a vegetarian, I appreciate the idea that we shouldn't go through pregnancy within a "culture of fear." I still eat soft cheeses and go in hot-tubs that aren't too hot and sometimes sleep on my back.
  • The Fetus Doesn't Need Cheesecake & Eat for One (and a Bit): The recommendation is to eat about 300 extra calories a day when pregnant. I feel like in American culture, pregnancy is often seen as the time to indulge because it's the one time we are allowed to gain weight without being made to feel bad about it.
  • Be Polite [to Baby]
  • Don't Stimulate Her All the Time
  • Nudge Him onto a Schedule
  • Make Vegetables a Child's First Food: I agree that rice cereal is very bland and that we can more quickly introduce interesting foods to babies. That's why I love the Organic Baby & Toddler Cookbook. It's written by a European and it seems to introduce more flavorful and complex foods early on.
  • Do "The Pause": This strategy is about waiting a little bit before responding to a baby's cries in the night (approximately five minutes--give or take, depending on the family). The delayed response time gives babies a chance to connect their own sleep cycles more often and fall back asleep. According to the book, French babies--on average--tend to sleep through the night more quickly than American babies. Although I don't think I would want to do this with an infant during the Symbiotic Period (which is the first 6-8 weeks of life, during which Montessori believed intense bonding occurs), I might consider this strategy when our next baby hits two months-old.
  • Sleeping Well Is Better for the Baby
  • If You Miss the Window for the Pause, Let Baby Cry It Out
  • There Are No "Kid" Foods & Everyone Eats the Same Thing
  • There's One Snack a Day: Although Henry eats two snacks a day, I agree with this idea that children will be more likely to eat healthy lunches and dinners if they aren't snacking all day long.
  • Don't Solve a Crisis with a Cookie
  • Let Kids Cook
  • You Choose the Foods, She Chooses the Quantities
  • Drink Water: Although we do let Henry drink juice at other people's houses, we typically only serve milk and water at our own house.
  • Eat Chocolate & Let Them Eat Cake: Although we don't keep a lot of unhealthy food around, we do try to model for Henry how to eat sweets in moderation. We tend to eat really healthy food all week long and then treat ourselves on the weekend.
  • Don't Teach Your Toddler How to Read: I agree with the idea that it's really not useful to make toddlers memorize a bunch of things in order to look smart. They need to spend most of their time working on fine- and gross-motor skills, self-care, language development through authentic conversation, nature exploration, etc.
  • Don't Rush the Developmental Stages
  • Teach the Four Magic Words: I agree with the emphasis on explicitly modeling, teaching, and expecting good manners.
  • Encourage Insouciance 
  • Back Off at the Playground
  • It's Not Just about Outcomes
  • Give Kids Lots of Chances to Practice Waiting
  • Slow Down Your Response Times
  • Treat Kids as if They Can Control Themselves
  • Don't Let Your Child Interrupt You: We haven't started on this one yet because Henry is experiencing such a language explosion. However, I know that this will become increasingly important to us.
  • Don't Interrupt Your Child
  • Give Kids Meaningful Chores
  • Build a Cadre: This idea of building a clear structure of boundaries and then giving children freedom within the boundaries really resonates with me.
  • Don't Become a Referee
  • Keep the Risks in Perspective
  • Don't Raise a Praise Addict
  • Encourage Kids to Speak Well
  • Show Kids That You Have a Life Apart from Them
  • Don't Become a "Taxi Mother"
  • Your Baby Doesn't Replace Your [Partner]
  • Your Bedroom is Your Castle
  • Be Clear-Eyed About How Hard Kids Are on a Relationship
  • Pretend to Agree
  • Make Evenings Adult Time
  • Say "No" with Conviction
  • Say "Yes" as Often as You Can
  • Explain the Reason Behind the Rule
  • You're Not Disciplining, You're Educating
And here are some of the ideas I don't want to incorporate into my own family:
  • Pregnancy Is Not an Independent Research Project: Although I agree with the overarching idea that we shouldn't go too crazy as we prepare for motherhood, I do think there's a lot to learn and think about in preparation for such an undertaking. I'm glad I spent a lot of time learning about how to optimize my health, figuring out what kind of birth made sense for me, learning about the Montessori approach to raising infants, etc.
  • Epidurals Aren't Evil: Although I agree with the idea that natural childbirth shouldn't be viewed as a "heroic journey in pain tolerance or early proof of the trials a mother is willing to undergo for her child," I do think we have to be cautious when it comes to interventions. While many of the drugs that are used during medicated childbirths have been tested separately, there have been fewer tests on their combined effects. Yes, children are quite resilient, but the younger they are, the more fragile their systems are. We're seeing more and more children affected with neurological issues these days (autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, etc.). Although there isn't a lot of research on the topic, I still think it's better to be cautious when it comes to exposing ourselves and our babies to toxins.
  • Baby Formula Isn't Poison: Again, I agree with the notion that mothers shouldn't become martyrs and that breastfeeding shouldn't be seen "as a measure of the mom," but I do appreciate the cultural shift that has happened in America toward embracing the benefits of breastfeeding. I personally believe that breastfeeding is far superior to formula in most cases and that we give our babies the most solid foundation when we breastfeed them. Of course this doesn't mean that anyone should feel guilty if they can't breastfeed or if they make the switch to formula for various reasons that make sense for their families; we have to do our best as parents and then forgive any gap that exists between where we are and where we wish we were.
  • 50/50 Isn't the Gold Standard: Although I agree that everything doesn't have to be split exactly evenly and partners' contributions can look different, I do think the concept of 50/50 should absolutely permeate our relationships.
  • Treat Men Like a Separate Species
 I never expect to agree with 100% of something I read. I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Montessori Moments: 2 years and 3 months

These "Montessori Moments" posts are meant to highlight some of the ways we implement the Montessori method in our home. Many of the activities that are featured--cooking, cleaning together, going out into nature, etc.--overlap with other parenting philosophies or might seem like things that parents just do with their children intuitively. I've still chosen to highlight them here because they are integral to the Montessori approach to parenting and education and fit within a comprehensive continuum of activities that support children as they undergo the important work of forming themselves. For more information about incorporating Montessori into the home, I recommend How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way for a basic overview. For more insight into Montessori as an educational philosophy, I recommend Montessori Today. When trying to implement Montessori with infants and toddlers, I recommend Montessori from the Start and my favorite resource, which is a DVD documentary of Montessori at home with a 20 month old called Edison's Day.

Montessori Moment #1: Helping with Dinner
  • Henry is chopping the mushrooms for the pizza, spreading on the sauce, and sprinkling the cheese. It is very, very hard for him not to eat while he cooks, but it's such an important lesson in delayed gratification, self-control, patience (sometimes we eat while we cook, but more often than not we try to resist the urge). The knife he uses is from Montessori Services ($2.95). It's kept in a place where he can retrieve it independently (just like the cutting board). Helping with dinner builds Henry's fine motor skills, helps strengthen his focus and concentration, gives him authentic opportunities to practice problem-solving, helps him feel like an integral member of the family, and develops his sense of pride.

Montessori Moment #2: Baking Together

Montessori Moment #3: Balling Melon
  • Henry uses a melon baller to create bite-sized pieces of watermelon. He's wearing an apron that I made for him that has a stretchy neck strap and a waist strap that can be fastened independently. There's a free DIY pattern available here (that needs to be sized down for toddlers), or you could buy one from my lovely friend who sells them on Etsy (including ones sized specifically for toddlers).

Montessori Moment #4: Working Independently at a Table
  • Each of Henry's toys has a separate spot on the shelf to minimize over-stimulation and help him absorb a sense of order. If we had more toys, we would rotate them out every couple weeks to help maintain interest and engagement. Most of his toys are made of natural materials, such as wood. We purchased this toy from Amazon and paired it with a ceramic bowl. The ceramic bowl helps Henry cultivate care. He knows that it will most likely shatter if he's not careful with it. It helps him understand natural consequences and cause-and-effect. Working through the sequence of taking the activity off the shelf, completing it, and putting it away helps him develop focus and concentration. This material has a built-in control of error, so Henry knows when he's done it correctly. He experiences his own sense of accomplishment based on his actions rather than relying on praise from Matt or me.

Montessori Moment #5: Lots of Time in Nature
  • According to Montessori philosophy, children at this age have absorbent minds and are literally forming themselves from their experiences. Being immersed in nature helps them internalize beauty, joy, and a deep appreciation of the world around them (which later helps lead to stewardship of the environment). Children this age are also trying to understand the concrete world. Instead of spending time in front of screens, Henry spends a lot of time outside. On the weekends, we try to take trips into nature. During the weekdays, we go on walks to the farm in our neighborhood, go to the park, or let Henry simply roam around our backyard.

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