Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One Month: Happy Birthday, Tate!

Dearest Tate,
You will be one month old tomorrow! We will definitely celebrate, just like we celebrate every day that you're in our lives.
You are such a sweet, sweet boy, and we are incredibly grateful that you arrived safely and in strong health. You were over ten pounds at birth, which means you are quickly outgrowing your newborn diapers and clothes! You have to eat a lot to keep up your weight, and you make the cutest little snorting pig noises when you're hungry. You've also been incredibly strong from day one. You were born with amazing head control, and you seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding nipples when you're hungry. You even managed to latch onto your dad one time!

You also have the softest skin and the most kissable chubby cheeks. I honestly can't stop myself from kissing you constantly.
You also love to pee as soon as we take off your diaper. My favorite was when you peed on Henry. He wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, but once your dad and I started laughing, Henry laughed, too.
Speaking of Henry, he absolutely adores you. He seriously loves everything about you. He is incredibly gentle when he rubs your head or belly. He loves to touch your feet and give you kisses. He brings you a pacifier when you need it, and he's always wants to help when you're crying.

We've had a lot of love and support this month. Your Mimi and Uncle Dustin came right after the birth, and then Mimi came again later in the month when your dad needed to go to Las Vegas for a conference. We've also had a steady stream of generous friends delivering meals three times a week. We are so thankful for everyone's generosity. 
You have made our family complete, Tate. We are thrilled that you are here, and we enjoy watching you grow every single day.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Infant Montessori Environment

When I was pregnant with Henry, I started getting his Montessori nursery ready several months in advance. This time around, we didn't create a nursery for Tate at all.
In this particular instance, it's not a case of busy-second-time-momness. Really, it was simply a function of the fact that we were scheduled to move into our new house two weeks after his birth.
And then the builders tacked on a few more weeks until our house was going to be finalized and two weeks at our rental house with baby Tate started to turn into a month or more. While he still didn't need a full-blown nursery for a single month (since he sleeps in our room), he definitely needed more space dedicated to his needs throughout the house.
So here's a quick tour of the ways in which we've made space for Baby Tate in our home:
In our office/guest room, I set up a large mirror against the wall and pushed a crib mattress against it. I screwed a hook into the ceiling, so that I could hang mobiles from it. This space is perfect for working on blog posts at the desk while Tate watches his mobiles. Right now, I have the Munari mobile set up in here, but when he tires of it, I can put up the whale mobile, the butterfly mobile, or an abstract mobile.

We have a portable set-up that can travel with us to any room, and we mainly use it in the family room. We have a mat for Tate to lie on or we simply use his topponcino. He can either lie on his back underneath this wooden arch (I made black and white cards for him to look at) or he can lie on his stomach and look at this black-and-white accordion book. I like that the mat and arch can be stowed in a closet when not in use. It helps keep the cluttered feeling at bay.
In our bedroom, we have a mobile hanging above our bed (that can be raised out of the way when not in use). We also have a Moses basket that we use for napping and nighttime sleeping.

Tate gets lots of cuddle time while breastfeeding and while being put to sleep in the Moby wrap (once he falls asleep, we transition him to his Moses basket). During his brief moments of awake time, we try to give him as much freedom of movement as possible. We try to keep him out of confining contraptions as much as possible (e.g., no swings, infant seats, etc.) and instead let him lie on his stomach or back on a flat surface to give him the greatest range of motion to move his arms, legs, and head.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Post-Partum Update: Week Three

We are officially three weeks and three days into our new life with Tate (by the time this post runs, we'll be four weeks into it). I'm happy to report that--so far--it's much easier this time!
I don't want to jinx myself because we're still early into this journey and a number of difficulties could still pop up, but compared to where we were as a family 2.5 years ago with Henry, life is going well.
Several things are different this time. First, we aren't going through such a monumental identity shift. We were already parents. We already felt the gravity of what it means to take responsibility for another human life. We were already prepared to sacrifice some of our freedom (okay, a lot of our freedom), and to put our heads down to go straight through the hard parts. Getting through the hard parts (mainly sleep deprivation and seemingly endless breastfeeding) is easier because we have perspective this time. We know that the hardest parts will get easier relatively quickly and that our little guy will grow into his personality more and more with each passing day.
Further, my recovery has been so. much. better. People said the birth and post-partum process would be easier, but I was scared to believe them. I'm relieved that they were right! I was mobile so much more quickly. I've had much less bleeding. Plus, breastfeeding has been much less painful. I remember crying when Henry would latch on.
Our dear friend also set up a Meal Train for us, which means we have friends stopping by three times a week for a visit and to drop of deliciousness. It has made a huge difference!
I don't mean to make it sounds like it's all cake and roses around here. Having a toddler and an infant is just plan hard! They are at very different developmental levels and need very different things. Henry needs lots of conversation and gross motor activities and adventures into nature and cooking and art. Tate needs lots of quiet and rest and soothing interactions with his primary caregivers.
Honestly, one of the main things that makes the discrepancy bearable is that we decided to keep Henry in daycare from 8am-3pm every day. Although it's definitely a financial strain, he gets his needs met, and we're able to focus on Tate. The first two weeks, my family was here, and they got to shower Henry with attention. Matt took three full weeks off and is now working two weeks of half days. He's able to get Henry ready in the morning and drive him to daycare (which he will continue to do, even when he goes back to work full-time). He stays with Tate in the afternoon, while I pick up Henry. Then we're able to get through the afternoon/evening routine with all hands on deck. We still put Henry down at 6:30pm, and we try to put Tate down at 7pm (although "down" is relative, since he wakes up every three hours to eat through the night!).
I am definitely nervous about what our lives will be like when Matt goes back to work full-time and I have Henry and Tate alone every day for 2.5 hours. I'll have to come up with a plan. The most challenging thing we're facing right now is Henry's behavior. He's completely in love with his brother and treats him very respectfully and gently, but he has started testing boundaries a ton. He requires much more vigilant supervision. I can't breastfeed Tate in one room with Henry free to roam throughout the house.
Matt and I keep reminding each other that Henry is going through a lot of transitions. It helps us maintain empathy and patience for the little guy. We also practice "relay parenting," where one of us will be primarily in charge of Henry while the other one gets Tate. Then, when our patience wears thin (usually with the toddler), we switch.
Ironically, in our quest to get everything settled and to put down roots, we've introduced so many changes into our lives all at once. Hopefully things will settle down when we move into our new house and Henry's Montessori school resumes session again.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Birth Announcements

As I've mentioned a lot recently, I'm trying to be very conscious of the things I want to repeat for Tate (like a scrapbook of his first year) and the things that weren't really worth the effort, like birth announcements.
With Henry, we printed this collage as regular photos, slapped an extra-large label on the back that had the announcement, and sent it like a postcard. Although it was nice to have something for Henry's scrapbook, the tangible announcements felt like a waste of time and energy because of the prevalence of social media.
So for Tate, we decided to create a collage of some Instagram photos using an app (I am now on Instagram as "saracotner") and send it via e-mail with the following text:
Our ball of joy finally joined us! We are ecstatic to welcome another healthy baby into our family: Tate Estes (like Estes Park where we got married) Cotner-Bradford. Tate joined us via a waterbirth at home on July 1st. Henry slept through the birth of his 10lb. 3oz. brother!
Then I created a quick one-pager in Microsoft Word with the photo collage at the top and the announcement at the bottom. I uploaded it to to have it printed in color (since we only have a black and white printer at home). For 75 cents I have a sweet momento to add to Tate's scrapbook and everyone has been updated with the news!

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Great Purge of 2013

We are getting closer and closer to moving into our new house. I can scarcely believe it! Right now, all the work is scheduled to be complete at the end of the first week in August, but we're scheduling the closing on our permanent loan for a couple weeks later to leave some contingency time in case something goes wrong. A mid-August move-in date would mean seven months from start to finish (the original estimate from the builder was six to eight months).
We are getting close to locking in a 4.5% interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage. We've turned in all the paperwork; we're just waiting to hear that it's finalized. Right now, we have an 85% loan to value construction loan, which we will need to convert to an 80% loan to value permanent loan. That's why we have to bring such a significant amont of money to the closing. The bank recently informed me that they will reappraise the house, and if the value has gone up, then we might not need to bring all that money to closing. Normally, I would go ahead and put down the money we have and take out a smaller loan, but the extra money would be incredibly helpful in the next few months.
We had trouble getting the whole project to appraise as high as we needed it to back in October, but I'm hoping the Austin housing market boom will help us more this time around. We just found out that a house right down the street from us (a renovated 1960s or '70s ranch that's only 200 more square feet and on a much, much smaller lot that's not on a cul-de-sac and doesn't back up to a creek) went under contract for $5,000 more than the total cost of our house + land. We'll see what happens.
Also, we just forked over a huge chunk of change to purchase all of our appliances (since our project didn't appraise for as high as we needed it to, we had to pay for things like the appliances and a fence out of pocket). I've been watching the prices for the past seven months and researching how to get the best deals. We bought mid-range appliances, mostly from Lowe's (although we splurged on the biggest washing machine we could afford in order to significantly reduce the number of loads we have to do every week). We waited for the Fourth of July sale, looked for price matching, and applied for a Lowe's card to score another 5% off. We also mailed in all the applicable rebates.
Long story short, we're moving soon! And now that I'm on maternity leave, I'm much more motivated to purge and organize our house. I had every intention of doing it before Tate's arrival, but I could never muster the motivation. Now it's here!
The trick, I think, will be to break it down into the tiniest of tasks, so that I can tackle things here and there rather than get overwhelmed. I never know how long Tate is going to nap or look at a mobile, so the shorter the task, the better. If I can do more than one task during a chunk of time, great. If not, oh well.
So here's what I'm thinking:
  1. Organize under the master bathroom sink
  2. Organize the cabinet above the sink in the master bathroom
  3. Organizae the cabinet next to the shower in the master bathroom
  4. Purge the bookshelf in the master bedroom
  5. Purge the bedside bookshelf in the master bedroom
  6. Clean under the bed in the master bedroom
  7. Organize the contents of the bedside table in the master bedroom
  8. Organize the closet floor
  9. Purge old clothes
  10. Organize the top shelf of the closet
  11. Organize the hall closet
  12. Update filing system
  13. Organize the second bathroom
  14. Organize the right side of Henry's closet
  15. Organize the left side of Henry's closet
  16. Organize the left side of the third bedroom closet
  17. Label all the craft bins
  18. Organize the right side of the third bedroom closet
  19. Organize the card catalog
  20. Purge the bookshelf in the living room
  21. Purge the bookshelf in the front room
  22. Organize the pantry
  23. Organize above the refrigerator
  24. Organize the medicine cabinet
  25. Order a new spice rack
  26. Organize the spices
  27. Organize under the kitchen sink
  28. Organize the tupperware cabinet
  29. Organize the desk in the front room
  30. Shred remaining documents and empty the shredder
  31. Organize the laundry area of the garage
  32. Organize the shelves in the garage
  33. Organize the boxes on the floor
  34. Deliver donations
  35. Clean out the refrigerator
  36. Clean out the freezer
  37. Take photos of the dining room table and couch to sell/give away on Craiglist
  38. Write Craigslist ads
  39. Shampoo the carpets
  40. Fix the cabinets
  41. Procure moving boxes
  42. Procure packing tape
  43. Purchase closet organization systems
  44. Get closet organization systems installed
  45. Paint the wall of the kitchen island
That means we only have to accomplish one small thing a day! Breaking everything down into such discrete, tiny tasks makes it feel much more manageable. I know I'll be happier if we purge everything that we no longer want and organize our remaining belongings before packing everything up and moving it to the new house.
So my daily to-do list will look like meeting Tate's every need, showering, blogging, and accomplishing one small task in preparation for moving!

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Anniversary Traditions

I love how traditions create a rhythm to the year.
Matt and I celebrated our 5th anniversary on Friday (half a decade!), and we're still implementing the tradition we started on our 1st anniversary. Every year, we take turns--one person writes a letter to the other person about our year together, and the other person plans an experience.
We opted for a ritual devoid of presents because, frankly, we already feel enough pressure to buy each other creative and interesting presents year after year for birthdays and Christmases.
This year, it was my turn to plan the experience. Before Tate's arrival, I spent some time brainstorming ideas. I decided that we really needed to get out of town. I turned to my new best find a small cabin in the Texas Hill Country. It has hammocks and a hot tub and acres of uninterrupted land. And we can bring Hoss!
We'll probably go when Tate is around three months old. The small town has an antique fair the first Saturday of every month, which sounds so fun. Other than that, we'll probably just hang out and relax. We might even invite another family along, since there are two cabins on the property. Maybe we could take turns cooking communal meals. Or perhaps we'll just go by ourselves.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Strengthening Our Support Network

The most recent round of Purposeful Conception: Preparing Your Mind, Body and Life for Pregnancy started this week. The first lesson is a holistic life assessment. I love working through the exercise every couple months with each new class. It's interesting to me how much our family's strengths and areas for growth can change in such a relatively short amount of time.
Right now, our biggest area for growth is our Support Network. It's definitely grown tremendously since we moved to Austin 1.5 years ago (has it really been that long?). My dear friend Sarah (author of Monday's post about living car-free) set up a Meal Train for the month following Tate's birth, and we've had a steady stream of friends delivering meals for us on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. We are incredibly grateful!
I specifically want to forge friendships in our new neighborhood, and I want to connect with other moms who are on maternity leave so Tate and I can have some companionship in the coming months.
I definitely think it's difficult to make new friends as an adult. My primary strategy is to be intentional about it. I try to brainstorm specific next steps related to meeting new people. Participating in this round of Purposeful Conception inspired me to brainstorm these ideas for making more connections:
  1. E-mailing our neighborhood listserv to see if there are any new mothers out there who would be interested in getting together.
  2. Signing up for a beginners tennis course through the local community college (and asking the listserv if anyone wants to also sign up and carpool with me). (Sarah, if you want to sign up, I can swing by and pick you up on my way down 183!). 
  3. Starting a Montessori in the Home monthly meetup group to get together with other families who are interested in implementing Montessori.
  4. At the beginning of each month, intentionally scheduling get togethers with friends.
The other area I really want to work on is exercise. Once my body is finished healing from my pregnancy and birth, I want to start jogging multiple times per week and going to yoga at least once. I know it's going to be extremely difficult with two children, but health and wellness are important to me, and I want to prioritize exercise.
I want to join the local YMCA as soon as we have enough money, so I can take advantage of their free childcare and exercise during the day. I also want to start playing tennis from time to time. (As a side note, if anyone plays tennis and can recommend an inexpensive but decent racquet for me to purchase, please let me know!)
I'm feeling really inspired by these specific, actionable next steps for improving some of my areas for growth!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Maternity Leave Guest Post: How to Offer Sincere Condolences

Photo by: Muffet

By Adinda E.E. Delporte

Death and sadness are as closely connected to life as birth and happiness, yet people generally tend to avoid talking or thinking about these subjects. With reason, I suppose, because filling your life and mind with sad thoughts doesn’t exactly evoke happiness. Yet from time to time, we have no choice but to acknowledge death and grief and think about how we deal with it; how we help others deal with it. In recent years, I have lost two uncles and one great-uncle and while I was definitely shaken by their deaths, these were in no way my dearest loved ones. Their deaths touched me, but what mainly affected me was the grief of their loved ones, rather than my own. I felt a great urge to comfort the living rather than grieve the dead, and offering support really did make an impact.

But how does one do that, offering support to someone in mourning? When my first uncle died, I was barely 20 and studying for my bachelor’s degree. I was unable to attend my uncle’s funeral because I had mandatory college practicums and absence was only permitted for the funeral of a (grand)parent, child or sibling. I did offer my aunt my -rather standard- condolences and made sure she was aware that I really cared about her loss and I regularly inquired about her well-being.

When my great-uncle died, I was 22, I had moved abroad and I was working a full time job. Even though his decease wasn’t unexpected, I was hit quite hard. My great-uncle was my grandfather’s brother and he married my grandmother’s sister, making family relations a bit tighter, and he and his family lived only two houses away from my grandparents’ family for most of their lives, which led to both families blending very closely together. Since both my grandfathers had died before I was born, my great-uncle sort of filled that role for me. I booked a train to go back to Belgium for his funeral a week later, but I didn’t want to wait until then to console my great-aunt. I decided against calling, because I knew she would be mainly with her children and her siblings, I’m not very good on the phone and her hearing is not 100% either.

I decided I would write her a heartfelt letter in a beautiful, serene card, and I posted it the same night, at half past ten, lucky to have international priority stamps in the house. I figured that words on paper would reach both her and her children, and she would be able to revisit the card whenever she felt like it. Also, she wouldn’t have to keep a strong face for me, show that she’s coping, she could really let her feelings be. I’m making this sound like a very conscious process, but it was more of an impulse really, and I am ever so happy that I acted on that impulse. It’s been two years since my great-uncle died, and every single time I have spoken to my great-aunt since, she tells me again how much those words have meant to her, that even now, she still regularly reads back what I wrote and that she and her children have drawn so much support from it. I did put a lot of thoughts in those words, but writing that letter took no more than two hours. Seeing how much of a response that has caused, how important this has been to my grieving relatives, has really moved me to keep this up, and to spread awareness.

A year ago, I received the notice that an uncle on my father’s side of the family died. My brothers and I are estranged from that side of the family since my parents divorced, and even before that, contact had been rather scarce, but still, I felt that a connection was severed and that now, I would never have the chance anymore to reacquaint myself with my uncle, who was still in his early sixties. I did have fond memories of the man, and I felt very much for my aunt and cousins, despite not having contact for at least six years. Again, I took up pen and paper, because I wanted to offer my estranged aunt some of the comfort I had given my great-aunt. Again, I formed a connection, and again I got a strong response.

What I believe is important when offering condolences, is first and foremost, to actually offer them! Even if you’re not very close to somebody, every single offer of sympathy will be appreciated. If you have given your sympathy face to face, try to also follow up on paper. In the first days and weeks, there is a lot of attention for the people dealing with the loss, but it dies down quickly as others pick up their lives again. A card doesn’t stop coming for coffee, the people in mourning can easily return to all those kind words if they’re in need of support.

You want to make it meaningful though, so forget about all the standard formulations. They’re better than silence, but after how many iterations of “We were shocked to hear about Mr. X’s departure from this world and would like to offer our sincerest condolences to you and your family. You have our full sympathy in these hard times. Please know that we are thinking of you. May you find solace in each other.” do those words start to sound hollow? If you are unsure of how to convey your sympathy differently, don’t hesitate to use these formulations, because really, every single offer of support does make an impact. But if you want to go beyond, maybe how I go about this could help you too.

As in “the standard”, I will usually start with the fact that I was shocked/stunned/saddened by the news of their loved one dying. Then, I will describe my relationship to the deceased, accurately and honestly. I did not have strong ties to my estranged uncle, but I did feel a connection and I tried to really capture that. Describe the person they were to you, how they touched your life, in what way, however minor, they have been significant to you. Anything you might have learned from them. Try to capture the fragments of their personality that you discovered, describe as what kind of a person you saw them.

For my great-uncle, this was that every New Year’s celebration, he would buy a scratch card for every single person in our extended family of nearly 60 persons. He didn’t have a great fortune, but with what little he had, he would try to give every single one of us a great fortune. Every year, he had high hopes that one of us might win the jackpot and he wanted to give every single person that chance. He was a man that believed in sharing what you have, in family and in good fortune. That was who he was to me: my great-uncle who wanted the best for everyone and who would make an effort in his own style to help us along the way, against the odds, and a man who gave me the notion that the biggest fortune is not the money you can win, it’s the people that care about you, that believe in you and who wish only the best for you, and knowing that they feel that way. 
It’s a very valuable thing he gifted me. 

For my estranged uncle, I wrote about how to me, he was a man in the background who was around most of the times we visited my grandmother. A man whom I knew as a handyman who would fix leaking gutters and paint the shutters and mend the bikes, and mainly the man who nurtured and maintained my grandma's garden and vegetable patch. A simple man, who enjoyed simple things. I always saw him happiest when he’d wash garden soil off his hands and join us for an uncomplicated lunch. Boiled potatoes he had grown himself, fresh carrots he just harvested that morning, a piece of meat and a cool beer. That, to him, was a feast in itself, to eat what he had grown, to see us enjoying his harvest. He wasn’t one to get sentimental about it, our even talk very much about anything, but you could tell: that was what made him happy, that was what mattered to him. He taught me to appreciate simple things and inspired me to grow my own garden.

I write about how they have inspired me (and there is inspiration to be found in everybody!) and how I will honor their legacy. I bought a scratch card after my great uncle died, because well, I think he still would want people to take their chance and win their great fortune. I told my aunt how my first peas were nearly ripe for harvest, and that I would dedicate my first harvest to her husband, and I did. I cooked my first peas in his honor.

Then, I write something along the lines of “if they were just that to me, and I am already touched by their death in the way I am, I can but imagine how their death affects you, as they were so much more to you” and I will write about how I perceived the relationship between the person in mourning and their loved one. How I think that now, sadness will be the main feeling for them, but how I hope that they can find comfort with their loved ones, that they can find strength when they need it, and that over time, they will be able to think of their dearly departed with fondness and happy memories of the time they shared, rather than with sadness and regret for the time that was taken from them. If you are both religious people, or if you are religious and know the other party is comfortable with that, I suppose this would also be a good spot to tell them that they and their loved ones are in your prayers, or to include inspirational scripture. (Personal insight of an atheist: if I know somebody is religious, I would be honored that they're keeping us in their prayers, but scripture has the ability to put me off. If you don't know how somebody feels about religion, avoid making someone feel uncomfortable and leave it out of the equation all together. Death is delicate enough as it is.)

It’s quite simple really, but it makes a huge impact. All it takes is sincerity. People will know you most likely won’t miss any sleep because the driver of your daughter’s school bus died of a heart attack during his afternoon nap on a Sunday. They will know if the person never greatly altered your life, so don't fall into the temptation to assign this person more importance than they had. If you make your message personal and sincere, people can tell, and it will help them. So yes, if all you know about the bus driver is that she always wore pink lip stick, waved your kid goodbye from behind the steering wheel and that the bus is still over half full when your kid gets dropped off, just write about that. Either they will recognize what you have written and find solace in the fact that somebody, besides them, knew a bit about their loved one, or they will discover something they have never known, expanding their image of their loved one, adding your own happy memories to the pile.

In times of grief and sorrow, we need to be there for each other. I hope this can help you help others, and would love to hear how you comfort others in these situations, or what has helped you deal with a loss.


Adinda Delporte lives, laughs and loves in Belgium. As an internetworking specialist, she's a rare woman in a field dominated by men and she loves to challenge others to fight stereotyping. Girls in IT and guys in nursing? Splendid! When she finds the time, she blogs about life at Verder in Vlaanderen. Strictly for those who've mastered the basics of the Dutch language though!

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Maternity Guest Post: Thoughts on Living Car-Free with a Child

By Sarah Kay

My husband Henry and I are wrapping up our first year as parents and our fourth year without a car. We sold our car--my beloved "Rocketstar"--back when we lived in Oregon and could easily bike and walk everywhere we needed to go. Two years and two states later, we were living in Austin when we found out we were expecting our first child, HP.

Upon hearing the pregnancy news, well-meaning friends and family often asked us some version of the following: You're going to have to get a car now that you're having a baby, right? We responded that we hoped to continue our car-free lifestyle with the new addition, but if necessary, we would reevaluate once our son arrived. We do not live without a car to make our lives more difficult--it is something we enjoy, so we did not want to preemptively abandon our car-free ways before trying to make it work as a family of three.

Here we are, a year into parenthood, with five bikes and zero cars in our garage. Saying the past year has been challenging is an understatement. I could blame those challenges on our lack of car ownership, but I am not sure that is fair or accurate. Figuring out who we are as parents and meeting the needs of an infant is hard--with or without a motor vehicle. There were times that I felt isolated in my new role as a mother, and while not having a car did not cause those feelings, it intensified them when they came. 

My husband's month of paternity leave ended in July and he biked off each day to the world of adults while I stayed at home with the tiny human being we created. It took less than a week on my own to start Googling "biking with a newborn." I was desperate to get out.

Frantic internet searches aside, we decided not to bike with HP until he was at least nine months old.  Until then, we would travel by bus or foot. The prospect of riding the bus with my newborn son terrified me for the first month of his life. What if he needs to nurse? What if I need to change him?  What if he cries? Once I mustered up the courage and just did it, I realized my worries were unfounded. HP loves being on the bus. He likes the motion, being snuggled in his carrier, and observing fellow passengers or the scenery out the window. A handful of meltdowns aside, he has been an excellent bus rider.

We (mostly) happily bused around town for the first eleven months of HP's life. Ninety percent of our busing experiences were positive, the other ten percent tested my patience and resolve. At various points I cursed buses for being early, buses for being late, the lack of shade at the stops, erratic drivers, irritating riders, and most often, Henry and myself for deciding it was a good idea to continue living without a car. In those moments I tried to put my frustration in perspective and remind myself that this season of exclusive bus riding was a small piece of our lives and soon we would be back to our preferred mode of transportation--cycling. 

In May, we made the much anticipated switch to bicycles. It is no exaggeration to say that biking with HP has revolutionized my life. We are no longer at the mercy of the bus schedule or routes and it feels fantastic. Biking = freedom.

Now that we are happily cruising Austin's roadways on our bicycles, I could romanticize the past year and gloss over the challenges of being car-free with an infant. Let me be clear: there were moments of frustration when I thought we would not see it through. But most of the time? We were just living our life and raising our kid. A year later, I can honestly say that I am glad we stuck it out and made it work for our family.

Sarah writes about parenting, gardening, and her family's adventures biking in Texas at Affirmaison

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Class Starts This Weekend!

Class starts on Sunday, and we would love for you to join us! You can register here...
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, July 10, 2013

First Montessori Mobile: The Munari

Image courtesy of bella's casa on Etsy
My dear friend Karla let me borrow her daughter's Munari mobile for baby Tate, and I am extremely grateful. I was incredibly daunted by the thought of following these directions and making one myself, but now that I've seen it in person: a) I promise you can make one, if you're interested! and b) it's worth it--it's so beautiful!
I remember the first time I ever walked into a Montessori classroom full of productive and focused 3-6 year-olds. It looked like magic. The children were contentedly working all around the classroom on different things, but all of them were confident and competent beyond what I had typically witnessed from children that age. I was in college at the time, and I remember being blown away by watching a 3 year-old use an apple slicer to cut an apple (with the slightest bit of teacher support), arrange the pieces on a ceramic plate, and walk around the classroom to offer slices to her classmates.
The thing about Montessori, though, is that it isn't magic. It's a systematic, sequenced approach to preparing the physical environment and modifying our interactions with children in response to their needs to support their optimal development and help them complete their formation of self.
The focus, concentration, competence, confidence, and respect that I witnessed in that classroom connect directly back to the first mobile in the Montessori sequence: the Munari.
I'm not saying that every child in that classroom had experienced Montessori from birth. In fact, I bet most of their families came to Montessori around the age of three. But I am saying that the Munari mobile is designed with that 3-6 year-old classroom in mind (and the 6-9 year-old classroom, and the 9-12 year-old classroom, and the well-adjusted adult, etc.).
It's designed to give the infant exactly what s/he needs to push her/his development forward in the right way at the right time. It's so easy to spend all of our time holding newborn babies. While that kind of contact and nurturing is important, it's also important to give them time to freely develop their movement. Placing them on their backs under developmentally-appropriate mobiles gives them the stimulation and freedom they need to begin to develop their eyesight (the ability to focus and track), their concentration, and control of their bodies.
When I talk about "stimulation," I'm not talking about the kind of stimulation that stems from parents' desire to get their kids on the Ivy League track as soon as possible. I'm talking about providing exactly what a child craves--a developmental challenge that is within and just beyond their range to satisfy their natural desire to grow and form themselves.
The Munari provides just that. The black-and-white images optimize how much a young infant is able to see of the mobile. The glass bulb (you can use a Christmas ornament) is shiny, attractive, and intriguing. The lightweight mobile is designed to catch air currents and move slowly enough for an infant to practice tracking. The mobile has four different elements to it, which is in the recommended range of 3-5, so as not to overstimulate the absorbent mind of young infants.
Here's how I use the mobile with Tate: Throughout the day, we move through a continuous cycle of breastfeed, activity, sleep. During the activity time, I sometimes place him under the Munari mobile and give him uninterrupted and sustained time to watch it. I don't interrupt him by talking with him. Instead, I engage in my own work, which might look like writing a blog post, leaving the room to put in a load of laundry, or reading a book. I follow his lead when it comes to how long he wants to watch the mobile. I also watch for signs of drowsiness. For example, when I start to notice yawns, we start preparing for a nap.
Right now his awake time is very short, so he only spends about ten minutes under a mobile. We have three different options that he rotates among. Pretty soon we'll add in other things like looking at a black-and-white accordion book on his stomach, going outside to lay under a blanket beneath a tree, dancing with me to music, etc.
P.S. If you're interested in the Munari mobile but aren't creatively-inclined, you might consider purchasing it from the following site:
REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Postpartum Update: Day 4

I'm writing this update on day four of our expanded family. So far, so good! The "cocoon stage" isn't my favorite, but I need to remind myself to savor each stage as much as I can. It's such a special, quiet time as a family, and it will pass all too quickly as the boys grow.
My healing is coming along well, but it's still difficult to experience the discrepancy between what my mind wants to be doing and what my body is actually capable of doing. I need to find more ways to enjoy this down time. Right now I primarily occupy myself with Facebook, which is definitely not nearly engaging enough for a whole day's entertainment. I'm also not entirely ready to switch on my productive mode and start working again. Blogging helps, but I don't have that much to talk about right now! Perhaps trying to get my hands on some good books might help, as well as starting a good series on Netflix and playing games with my family. I should also think about what kind of to-do list makes sense for my life right now, so I can at least remember some of the things I want/need to get done.
Both my mom and brother will be here for the next ten days. The extra support is invaluable. We had to take care of ourselves for 2.5 days after Tate's arrival, and it was stressful. Although Henry loves his brother and is always eager to see him and talk to him, he's also demonstrating challenging behavior and testing our patience (which is already thinner than usual because of the irregularity of our sleep). We remind ourselves that he's going through immense changes right now, and we try to focus on and celebrate all the positive choices he makes. We also try to maintain consistency with our expectations and boundaries. We say "yes" as often as we can, but when we say "no" we mean it (in a positive, calm way).
Tate is just as sweet as can be. We're still in that honeymoon phase when he sleeps all the time, but it's so fun to see glimpses of his personality when he's awake. I'm amazed by how much newborns can actually move. He can definitely slither his way into my armpit and will scoot closer if he feels me move away. I find co-sleeping to be simultaneously amazing, stressful, and uncomfortable. I imagine we'll keep it up throughout the Symbiotic Period (which, according to Maria Montessori, lasts for 6-8 weeks after birth and is the time of most intense bonding).
I'm trying to take it easy as much as possible, so that I continue to heal quickly. It's hard to rely so heavily on others to take care of my basic needs, but I definitely feel it if I try to push myself too hard. I'm also trying to stay nourished, hydrated, and de-stressed so that breastfeeding goes well. So far I've been able to take a shower every day, which really helps keep my spirits up.
I'm sorry for such a mundane post! There really isn't too much going on. I already underwent the seismic identity shift from an individual to a mother with Henry, so this transition is much less difficult (so far). It also helps that we kept Henry in school until 3pm every day. Although I'm gearing up to head into the really difficult two months of frequent nighttime breastfeeding, it's easier knowing that it won't last too long. It's easier to have perspective the second time around.

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Tate's Birth Story

I had so much fear heading into Tate's birth--fear that it would take 45 hours like my first birth, fear that we would again have to give up hope for a home birth and transfer to the hospital, fear of the pain during and after labor, and fear that I had so much fear that I would make the process that much more difficult for myself. 

I am so relieved and overwhelmed with gratitude that the reality was so far apart from all of my fears. 

Here's the story:

Around 5am on Monday, July 1st, I started to feel low, crampy contractions that were distinctly different from the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been feeling for months. I tried to watch the clock to see if they were coming with any regularity but soon realized that I only felt them when I flipped sides that I was laying on. 

Since my job had officially ended the week before and I had essentially checked off every to-do item (and then some), I decided to take it more slowly that morning. I worked on a few things and then noticed that the contractions were coming more regularly. Once I started timing them, I realized that they were coming every 12 minutes and were lasting for about a minute. 

I picked up Henry at 3pm and we drove to the Soup Peddler to pick up smoothies for the labor. Although I was still able to drive and talk through the contractions, they were more uncomfortable. Once we parked, I sat in the car longer than usual to let a contraction pass, and Henry asked, "What are we doing?"

When we returned home, we headed over to our neighbor's house from about 4-5. By then, the contractions were coming more frequently and were a little more difficult. I could still talk through them, but definitely with a little grimace. I still hadn't told Matt that I was having consistent contractions because I halfway expected them to just stop and resume a few days later.

Once Matt got home and offered to cook dinner, I realized that nothing except a simple quesadilla sounded appealing. Then Matt and Henry took off to purchase Tate's birthday cake from Whole Foods. I noticed that the contractions were easier to handle when I was laying down, yet they slowed down. I didn't know whether I should slow them down and rest through the night to gear up for labor the next day or if I should walk around and try to speed them up. Because of all the fear I felt, my first inclination was to slow them down. But I somehow managed to talk myself into speeding them up and getting it over with as quickly as possible. 

Matt put Henry to bed around his normal 6:30 time. We still weren't sure that the labor was really happening, so we didn't want to infringe upon our friends who volunteered to take Henry quite yet. We also knew that Henry was a sound sleeper and that it might be possible for him to sleep through the whole thing. 

The contractions continued to get closer and closer together. I pushed myself to walk around a lot and stand through them because they were more painful and felt more productive. I worried, however, that I was going to wear myself out, since I was already beginning to feel tired. 

I was still talking between contractions, responding politely to Matt, and reading the midwife handbook about labor, which led me to believe I was still in early labor. Matt kept asking when we should call the midwife. We had been texting her updates throughout the day. Around 9pm, he decided to call her, and she said she would leave her house in the next half hour or so. 

I was regretting our inability to afford a doula this time around because I still thought I was very early in the process. With Henry, I had intense contractions every 5-6 minutes for at least 35 hours without very much dilation at all. I was convinced that the midwife would take one look at me, see that I was still talking and joking, and tell me that she would come back in the morning.

Instead, when she and her apprentice arrived at 10pm, they began setting up for the birth. I continued to stand through my contractions and began vocalizing a bit. I moved to the bathroom to sit on the birthing ball with my head resting on a pillow on the counter. My midwife assured me that sitting wouldn't slow my progress any, even though it felt like sitting on the ball was pushing him back in. 

Although the contractions were intense and difficult, I still thought we were very far away from Tate's arrival. My contractions with Henry were definitely equally intense for much longer, and at the end I needed Pitocin, which intensified the contractions immensely. I still thought I was in early- to mid-labor.

Once the birthing tub was set up in our bedroom, I asked to get in it and to get my dilation checked. I was expecting to be about 4 or 5 centimeters dilated based on what happened with Henry but was instead told that I was 9 centimeters dilated! 

The birthing tub was much smaller than the one we used with Henry, so it was difficult to find a truly comfortable position. With Henry, I was able to kneel and support myself with my arms, with the water reaching all the way to my neck. In this tub, I decided to prop myself up on my left side with my elbow. 

I continued to vocalize loudly through every contraction. Because of all my fear, it was much more difficult to relax through the contractions. I kept telling myself to relax my face, my mouth, my shoulders, and my pelvic area, but I couldn't relax anything. Instead, I focused on the tension in my face, which took my focus away from the tension and pain in other parts of my body. 

Part of why I thought I was so early in the process was that I remained distinctly metacognitive. I never entered a primal state and instead kept thinking about what was happening and then thinking about the fact that I was still thinking about what was happening. I recalled the concept of "breathing out your baby," and felt like I was doing just that. Before I had the urge to push, I could feel Tate descending down the birth canal with each contraction. When it came time to push, I was incredibly motivated by how close we were to the end. My midwife reminded me to channel my vocalization into my pushing, and she suggested that I flip onto my knees and lean against the side. I pushed a couple of times in that position, and his head came out. Once his head was out, I felt like I had summited the peak and that the rest would likely be much easier. Then his body was out and he was somehow in my arms before I knew it. It was 11:42am, and hour and 42 minutes after the midwives arrived.

I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Our son had arrived safely! I was still alive! None of my fears about the birth came true! It was over! It was fast! I had given birth in the water! Our family was complete!

It was better than I could have imagined. I had somehow managed to give birth to a 10lb. 3 oz. baby with the tiniest of tears, which did not require any suturing. 

We talked with both sets of grandparents via FaceTime while I was still in the tub with sweet Tate on my chest. The midwives cleaned up everything and we were asleep in bed by 2am. Henry slept through the entire thing and woke at 7:20am. He was so excited to learn that his brother had arrived and he was thrilled to eat birthday cake on our bed for breakfast. 

I wasn't attached to any machines or awoken and prodded all night. I got to sleep with my husband and our baby in our own bed. It was incredible.

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

DIY Kid Pants

Thank you for all the support and love! I look forward to writing an update soon. For now, here's a post I wrote before Tate's arrival...

Now that summer is in full swing in Austin, so are the mosquitoes. Henry must have the sweetest kind of blood or else he spends an inordinate amount of time outside or maybe his mom is adverse to using the kind of bug spray that actually works (no DEET for us) or perhaps he scratches bug bites and scabs more than the average kid.
Or all of the above!
I've tried keeping his nails really short, applying non-DEET bug spray religiously, using band-aids to prevent the scratching, and taking a more laissez-faire attitude and letting it all go.
So far, nothing has worked. Now it's time to switch to pants.
Of course Austin summers and pants are archenemies, but I am honestly out of ideas. I figured the only way to wear pants during a Texas summer would be to find them in a seersucker material. Since we try to facilitate Henry's independence as much as possible in our Montessori home, we also look for pants with an elastic waist  so he can pull them up and down with ease when dressing or using the toilet. And since we're on a tight budget as we prepare to drop back down to one income, we look for pants that are cheap, cheap, cheap.
The best option seemed to be to make them. Fortunately, I found this amazing, free pattern and tutorial (thank you, Dana, for putting so much goodness out into the world!). I was able to purchase four yards of seersucker (in blue and red), elastic for the waist, and new thread for less than $35. Since each pair of pants takes a 1/2 yard, the total cost for each pair is about $4.38.
When making the pants, however, I realized that I could only make two pairs out of each yard by running the stripes horizontally. I won't lie about the fact that I'm pretty disappointed that Henry will not look as stylish as Dana's son (with his vertical seersucker pants), but a budget mama has to do what a budget mama has to do. I simply couldn't justify doubling the cost of the pants simply to run the stripes the other way.
Oh well.
The process was pretty simple as far as sewing projects go. I used pinking shears to prevent as much fraying as possible along the seams (since I don't have a serger). The waist band was a little tricky since the pants are designed to sit lower in the front than the back. But overall, it was a pretty quick and painless process.

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Welcome to Our Family, Tate!

Thank you, Universe, for the safe arrival of this little sweet pea!

The birth was awesome and I can't wait to tell you all about it when I'm not pecking away on my phone. He's 10 pounds, 3 ounces!

We are over-the-moon with gratitude. I hope all is well with you!

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Our Ball of Joy Is on the Way!

Consistent contractions have started. I'll see you on the other side!

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Bonus Time

The most common thing I hear from strangers these days is: "Wow. You must be tired of being pregnant in this heat. I bet you're eager for the baby to come." I usually shock them by saying that I'm perfectly content to be pregnant because it's a lot easier to be pregnant--even in the summer--than to have a newborn baby.
I'm writing this post on the eve of my due date (and scheduling it in advance), and I'm so thankful Tate has given us a little extra time to get things in order. Everyone thought he was going to be early (given the way he's been lodged in my pelvis for months), so the fact that we made it to his due date feels like a gift.
Now that we've checked off the "must-dos," I am so much more motivated. The bonus tasks are way more fun--like planning our anniversary, buying birthday gifts for friends, making Henry a total of eight(!) pairs of pants, deep cleaning our ottoman and couch pillow know, random things.
Henry and I go swimming at the park behind our house pretty much every day. I'm a little sad that my summer swimming will come to an end once Tate arrives (in order to give my body a chance to heal and because we'll be homebound for a while), but we'll find other ways to have fun.
My miscarriage feels farther and farther away, but I still reference it in various conversations because I want to help normalize the experience for myself and others.
And even though my ligaments feel like they are separating and I'm all sorts of rickety, I am trying to bask in the amazingness of pregnancy and to savor what will likely be my last one. I feel so fortunate to be female and to be able to nurture life into existence. It's astounding. Thank you, Universe.
REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on July 14. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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