Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Making a House a Home

Well, we closed on our house last week.
Normally, I would put an exclamation mark after a statement like that, but it doesn't really deserve one since we still aren't allowed to move in! We are waiting to pass the city inspection.
In the meantime, we are putting together our IKEA Karlstad couch and living in limbo. We hosted a meet-up for Austin-area families who implement Montessori at home, but hosting in an empty house (we had to bring over toilet paper for the occasion) just doesn't feel the same.
Oh, well. I know the next couple days will fly by and we will be in our house before we know it. I'll forget about these seemingly endless days leading up to our move. P.S. If you want more up-to-date info about our lives, you can find more on Instagram: @saracotner.
I can't tell you how excited I am to move into our new house. Although I feel so grateful for many aspects of the rental house we've lived in for 1.5 years(!), I am eager to put down roots for the long haul. I am eager to organize everything from top to bottom and then to simply maintain a tranquil, beautiful, and orderly environment from day to day. And even though I firmly believe that "wherever we are together is home," I also know myself and know that I am a home body. I like to have a consistent, comfortable "nest" to retreat to at the end of the day.
I'm also thinking about all the ways in which our house will become a home over the years. I want our home to be the kind of place where we invite people to stay for dinner at the last minute and can whip up something delicious. I want our home to be the kind of place where children can run, explore, connect with nature, and swim. I want our home to be the kind of place where our family can curl up together on Friday nights to watch movies. I want our home to be the kind of place where everyone crowds around the kitchen island to help with dinner. And the kind of place where we gather around the table for board games in the evening. I want our home to be the kind of place where robots are built out of cardboard, Halloween costumes are sewn, cookies are baked, science experiments are conducted, and bird feeders are built. I want our home to be the kind of place where out-of-town guests choose to stay and where they find fresh towels and Aveda shampoo waiting for them. I want our house to be the kind of place where Classical music flows and spontaneous dance parties erupt. The kind of place where marshmallows are toasted while chatting in Adirondack chairs. And the kind of place where vegetables are grown and fruit is harvested. I want our home to be full of laughter, love, and joy.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wholefood for Children

The loveliest book arrived on my doorstep by surprise (from this lovely lady): Wholefood for Children. I've been hankering for a copy ever since I read Kylie's mention of it. When it arrived, I started to devour it right away.
It came at the perfect time in my life. Although I'm feeling pretty stable and balanced with our expanded family, I feel like one of our most neglected areas is health and wellness. The intro chapters of this book focus on the importance of cultivating health and wellness within our families and creating a conscious family food culture. Yes!
We've been doing anything but that lately. Although we had a steady supply of delicious and nutritious meals delivered by friends in the weeks after the birth, we often filled the other days with less than healthy meals. But more than that, I feel like Henry has been eating so much junk: juice and goldfish crackers from our amazing neighbor, more processed foods at church, and just carbohydrates for breakfast. Although Matt and I are back into the routine of grocery shopping and cooking several meals a week, we never seem to have time to make a salad or another side of vegetables.
Although I only weigh half a pound more than when I got pregnant (and 4 pounds more than my ideal number), I don't feel healthy right now. I lost so much muscle mass during my pregnancy (mainly because I replaced regular running with sporadic walking).
Once I hit the six-week mark, I decided to try jogging again. After Henry's birth, my midwife recommended that I not run while breastfeeding because the hormones can loosen your joints (or something like that). This time, I decided to pick up jogging even while breastfeeding because my pace is so slow; I don't think I'm putting too much strain on my joints. The trick is figuring out how to fit in runs. I can definitely go on Saturday and Sunday, but I don't see how I could go any other time (I hate pushing a stroller while running). Maybe I'll just do two times a week for now and yoga once a week. Then, when I have an income again, we can afford to join the YMCA and I can take advantage of their free childcare.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School Intentions

It's finally time for Henry to return to Montessori school (photo is from his first day of school last year). This summer has been a bit hectic (to say the least) with a new baby, two different childcare situations, three visits from family, and an impending move. Since we didn't know when our house was going to be completed (which is in northeast Austin), we set up part-time childcare up there and part-time childcare near our rental house (which is in south central Austin). He was doing three days at one and then two days at the other until the three-day option ended in mid-July and he started five days a week at the northeast option.
I am so relieved to settle back into the school year, into our new home, and into our expanded family.
Whenever big transitions occur (like the start of the school year), I like to take some time to be intentional and to think about specific things I want to accomplish or new habits I'd like to form.
To prepare for the new school year, we:
  • Took Henry to get a haircut
  • Removed all the stains from his clothes using this method (he doesn't need new clothes yet because it's still summer here)
  • Wrote a thank-you card to the summer daycare (they still have the one we gave them last year hanging on the wall)
  • Entered the dates of all school events (vacations, family meetings, holidays, etc.) into our calendars
Here are some of my intentions for the year:
  • Make sure Henry gets a healthy breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner every day--Matt is in charge of breakfast, and he doesn't worry about protein the way I do. I can make Henry a healthy breakfast in the evening, so Matt doesn't have to worry about it in the morning.
  • Make time to put together thoughtful gifts for the teachers before the winter break and the end of the school year--and at least once a semester just randomly!
  • Set up a lovely Montessori environment in our home that is constantly growing and changing to reflect Henry's growing and changing needs.
  • Spend time each night restoring the environment and setting up two clothing options for Henry to choose from the following morning.
  • Invite friends from Henry's class over for play dates.
I'm really looking forward to the new year!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Montessori Toys for a One Year-Old

A friend of mine asked for Montessori toy recommendations for a one year-old, and I immediately went to Kylie's post. Sadly, I misread it and thought many of the links were only available in Australia, so I decided to recreate a similar list for my friend (and later realized the Australian links were in addition to the U.S. links!--how long can I blame the post-partum hormones?). There's some overlap, as well as some different items. Henry has enjoyed most of these toys for the past year and a half.
Here are the basic guidelines for choosing Montessori toys for one year-olds:
  • They are very concrete thinkers and they are trying to learn all they can about the world. Toys should help them build that understanding (like putting a ball in a hole and watching it roll out or doing basic puzzles).
  • As much as possible, toys should have a "control of error." In other words, it should be clear to the child when it's been done correctly or incorrectly (like stacking rings from largest to smallest). That process helps with their problem-solving and independence.
  • Toys should be beautiful, attractive, and made of natural materials (like wood versus plastic). Toys should require active engagement from the child (like blocks) as opposed to passive engagement (like battery-operated toys). 
  • As much as we should offer interesting toys in the environment, we should also just try to spend time outside in nature, following the child's lead as they pick up rocks, hold earthworms, etc.
In a Montessori environment, toys are set out on shelves that can be accessed by the child. Each toy has its own spot, as opposed to being thrown into a bin. The idea is that children's brains are literally absorbing the environment, and order in the environment helps them build order within their minds. It's also recommended to rotate the toys out every couple weeks (putting away the current ones and bringing out old ones), so the environment is stimulating and attractive. I never have enough toys to do this! Instead, I just have an area for Henry in every room (except our bedroom).
Honestly, many of the toys below are still on his shelves. He still plays with many of them, often in different ways. Most of the time, he plays with random things he finds around the house; his current obsession is playing with Tate's burp clothes.
Around 18 months, children will be ready for more "practical life" activities. I recommend buying a learning tower at the one-year mark, even though children won't actually use it for helping with cooking for several more months. They can use it to practice climbing for now. When they're ready to help with cooking, this site and this site have wonderful child-sized utensils. Those sites also have wonderful glass cups for young children to drink from, porcelain plates to eat from, and real silverware--all of which can be used from the time a child begins eating. Although things will break from time to time, it's helpful for children to learn that there are real consequences from throwing things or treating objects without care. Also, they love to mimic the adults around them by using child-size replicas of adult objects.
Without further ado, here are some toy recommendations!
With that toy (above) I put away the mallet and take out the rubber that lines the holes and instead turn it into a "put the ball in the box and watch it roll out" game. Great for understanding object permanence.


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How to Build a House

A few folks have asked me to write a post about the process of building a house. I've been resisting it because I honestly don't have that much to say! But I will give it a shot...
First, let me explain why we opted for the least environmentally-friendly option (buying an existing house or renovating an existing house is way more responsible than building new). For the longest time, my dream was to build a pocket neighborhood. I wanted to buy two acres of land and invite like-minded people and families to build their homes within an intentional community. (Editor's Note: This plan involved building rather than renovating because it would have been nearly impossible to find that many adjacent homes that people wanted to purchase.)
That plan led me to research ways to build in an environmentally-friendly way which led me to pre-fab. In case you aren't familiar with it, the pre-fab movement is pretty amazing (check out old issues of Dwell to see what I'm talking about). Pre-fab houses are more eco-friendly (because most of the components are manufactured in a factory, which reduces waste, site impact, etc.). They also bring amazing design to the masses at affordable prices.
More research led me to Ma Modular, an Austin-based company that does pre-fab. Matt and I signed up for a tour of their Luna home several years ago. I don't even consider myself a huge fan of modern architecture. At the time, we were living in a 1930s bungalow, which I loved. What I really like--regardless of overarching architectural genre--is a ton of natural light, open spaces, high ceilings, and wooden floors.
Ma Modular was very appealing to us because it's a design-build company that strives to be a "one stop shop." The woman who gave the tour of the Luna house was a realtor, and she ended up helping us find land. They also recommended a mortgage person to help with financing construction and then the permanent loan. They have in-house architects who do the design and then work with the general contractor to oversee the construction process.
When Matt and I moved to Austin, we made a really concerted effort to build our pocket neighborhood. We found several acres of land (and even a family willing to consider living next to us!), but the land turned out to be in the flood plain.

Next we found someone who was building his own pocket neighborhood and we considered building on his land, except we were ultimately uncomfortable with his admitted drug usage.

Further, we went to meetings of the Austin co-housing group, but their project fell through when the economy tanked.

Finally, we thought about purchasing two acres ourselves and then selling off pieces of it as families became interested, but we realized we couldn't afford to buy that much land and build our own house at the same time.
Meanwhile, I was doing home visits with families who were interested in enrolling their children in the school I'm working to start. Several young families all lived in a particular neighborhood which was in our target geographic boundaries for the school in East Austin. I asked my realtor to do a search for land, and she came up with a 1/2 acre on a cul-de-sac that backs up to a creek for only $49,000 (which is VERY cheap according to Austin standards). By that time, we had done so much research and work toward building rather than buying/renovating, that we decided to continue down that path.
My first piece of advice is:
  • Connect with a mortgage lender early on in the process to see what you can afford
There were several points throughout the process when we had to hand over large sums of money. When we bought the land, we had to pay a downpayment and closing costs. We had to pay the architect $5,000 in cash to modify the design of the house (the basic plan is the same as the Luna and the Ford). Then we had to pay a downpayment and closing costs again when we were ready to start construction. Then, every month, we had to pay interest on our construction loan (which increases every month as the builder takes out more and more money for the process). Finally, we had to pay another downpayment and more closing costs to secure a permanent loan.
We connected with a mortgage lender early in the process (again, someone who was recommended by our builder) and he was able to share the most amazing spreadsheet with us. It gave us conservative estimates for how much we would need to spend at every point in the process. When we were working with the builder to finalize the construction budget, we could enter different scenarios into the spreadsheet and see how the ultimate cost of the house affected everything from our downpayment requirements to our monthly mortgage payments.

If you are in Texas, I definitely recommend contacting Dan Reagan at If you're outside of Texas, you can search the Cornerstone website for a lender in your area (I hope they'll be as good as Dan!).
Fortunately, Matt and I had a lump of money because we sold our Houston house ourselves which helped us save 3% on realtor fees and we had bought in a popular neighborhood, which meant that the value went up in the three years we lived there. We were able to buy that house in the first place because we only spent $2,000 on our wedding. When we moved to Austin, we kept that cash liquid by renting.
I want to reiterate that Matt and I do not have tons of disposable income. We both work in the non-profit world (specifically within the field of education for economically-disadvantaged children). However, we've both been in the field since graduating from college and we're in our thirties, so our salaries have continued to increase over the years. What really helped us was that lump of cash from the sale of our first home and our extremely frugal lifestyle from October 2012 through August 2013.
The other thing that helped us was living in a vibrant city (the real estate market is booming in Austin) and buying in a neighborhood that is increasingly popular (young families are getting priced out of central Austin). The appraised value of our project went up $50,000 from October 2012 (when we closed on our construction loan) to August 2013 (when we closed on our permanent loan).
So once you have a clear sense of what you can afford:
  • Do your research and find a company you trust.
I definitely recommend contacting the company's clients for references. We were able to tour two houses and talk with the homeowners about their experience.
  • Ask a lot of questions.
Even though we love the company we chose, we still had to ask a ton of questions to uncover the hidden costs of things and to understand the process from start to finish. I think, in general, a lot of people who build their own homes have a lot of disposable income, so builders aren't necessarily used to talking about every nickel and dime. Well, when you're literally saving every nickel and dime to make it work, you need to know! I just remember poring over every document and every budget and every line item so I could ask questions and understand what was going on. For example, I really pushed our builder to tell us actual bids for most of the line items in our budget, versus just using historical bids.
My penchant for planning really helped throughout this process. It also helped that the builder had already built the house twice in Austin. Touring those houses helped us understand what our house would feel like, and it helped clarify what kind of changes we wanted to make. Honestly, I don't think I would have liked to build a house from complete scratch. I don't think I have the spatial reasoning skills to predict what it would feel like and what I would like.
I literally spent hours upon hours visualizing the house (based on the two versions of it that I had toured) and thinking through everything (that's how we ended up with a sponge drawer, a built-in soap dispenser, and pull out trash and recycling bins). I also spent a lot of time anticipating things and proactively reaching out to the builder (for example, we picked many of our finishes way in advance so we had a lot of time to think about them instead of deciding in a rush).
My other piece of advice is to:
  • Build relationships.
Matt and I always try to show genuine appreciation toward the people we interact with. Whenever we say nice things about people behind their backs, we try to take a second to send an appreciative e-mail or thank them to their face the next time we see them. Builders are accustomed to working with very demanding and entitled people; Matt and I tried to be the opposite. By the end of the project, it felt like the builders were going out of their way to stay within budget and help us.
In retrospect, I am both glad that we decided to build a house and glad that it's over. I am so eager to live within the same neighborhood where I work, my husband works, my children go to school, and I exercise. I am also incredibly grateful that we get to live on a 1/2 acre, on a cul-de-sac, on a creek. It feels like the perfect place to raise two children, a bloodhound, and chickens. I can't wait to garden in the front yard, build a pool for endless spring/summer/fall fun (we have a really long hot season in Central Texas!), and clear out some of the forest down by the creek for a fire pit and some Adirondack chairs. I am giddy about the idea of a home flooded with natural light, tall ceilings, and wood floor.
As I type all of that, I still can't believe it's actually happening. Although I wasn't able to actualize my dream for a pocket neighborhood, I am still grateful to have been able to dwell in possibility and create this kind of homestead for my family.
Definitely let me know if you have specific questions about the process!

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Monday, August 19, 2013

The New Normal

I remember someone talking about how scary it is to take two young children out of the house when you first have a baby, but then you just do it and it gets easier and easier.
Matt has been out of town for work the past two Wednesdays in a row. The first Wednesday, I was so fearful of having Henry and Tate alone for the entire afternoon and evening that I desperately invited myself over to my friend's house. I kept asking for more favors: "And would you mind if we stayed for dinner?" "And would it be possible to give our kids a joint bath?"
The following Wednesday, I somehow managed to take Henry and Tate to the swimming pool at the park behind our house all by myself. I wore Tate in the Moby wrap, and the three of us hung out in the shallow pool.
What a difference a week makes!
Although life with two young children is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, it's just so much easier than I anticipated. I was so unprepared for how difficult my transition into motherhood was the first time around; this time, I was envisioning the worst. Luckily--knock on wood--it's way better than the worst.
We go to bed around 10pm, and Tate wakes up twice to eat in the night. Our day starts at 7am. I'm not good about fitting in a nap during the day because I have too much work to do, but I'm hanging in there. I'm generally tired but not exhausted. Matt and I are doing a good job with balancing responsibilities and handling this whole parenting thing like a team. He puts Henry to bed while I feed Tate; I bathe Tate while Matt cleans the kitchen. Matt tries to fit in runs by taking Henry in the stroller or going during nap time.
We definitely don't have a ton of balance in our lives. We don't really have free time, I'm not exercising yet, and we don't go on any dates, but it's easier to keep it all in perspective. It's easy to cherish the feeling of Tate sleeping on my chest to savor the sensation of my lips pressed against his soft cheeks or to work hard to make him smile. I know the really hard parts are finite, and it's easier for me to focus on soaking up every sweet moment of infancy.
I know I've mentioned this before, but the two things that have really eased this transition are 1) keeping Henry in daycare from 8am-3pm every day and 2) nudging Tate onto a schedule. Tate and I enjoy such quiet, tender days together, and then we have fun with Henry in the afternoon. Matt and I tag team through dinner, bath, and bedtime for Henry, and then we enjoy a quiet night with Tate from 6:30pm on. I have predictable chunks of time to work from 8:15am-10am and 11:15-1pm.
I don't mean to paint an entirely rosy picture. There are definitely hard parts. Have I mentioned that I'm having trouble with my gallbladder and had to go to the emergency room? (Sorry if I'm repeating myself. The lack of sleep definitely affects my memory.) I've had five very painful attacks. Plus, the post-partum hormones still make me cry from time to time, and Matt and I get into more frequent arguments because we're so tired and taking care of other people's needs all the time.
It's just that all of those things seem to fade into the background. My focus really is on the gratitude I feel for being able to welcome a second, healthy baby into this world; the excitement I feel about the house and life we're building together; the passion I have for starting Austin's first public Montessori school; and the joy I feel for having found an amazing life partner to walk hand in hand with.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Built-in Desk

One of the last things we need to think about for our house is whether or not we want to have a built-in desk. The entryway to our home is huge (it's similar to the photo above, except there is more than 2-feet deep of wall space underneath the narrow window). Since the house itself is a modest size (relative to the average size for upper-middle class families in our area--at ~1,800 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms), it makes sense to try and maximize that space as much as possible. At first I thought we would use our giant IKEA bookshelf as a dumping zone for the stuff that goes in and out of the house, but I'm wondering if we could put the space to better use.
Tate and Henry are going to need their own rooms for the first year, since a) I don't want them to sleep together until Tate is sleeping through the night and b) I hope to hire someone to create a little in-home Montessori environment to take care of Tate and two other children until my school opens next July (fingers crossed!). During that time, it would be awesome to have a large desk space for work.
After that, I hope to combine Henry and Tate into one room and then use the third bedroom as an office and arts/crafts studio. At that point, another desk is a bit redundant. But then, before we know it, the boys will likely want their own rooms.
The only other thing I can think to do with that space would be to put a piano there. No one in our family plays the piano (beyond a few songs I've memorized), but I like the idea of having musical instruments around for the boys. I would hate to hinder their exposure and access to authentic musical instruments, simply because Matt and I don't play.
If we do go with a built-in desk, I think it will simply be IKEA kitchen cabinets plus a wood top. I'm thinking about this cabinet for the middle (24") and these cabinets for the left and right side (15" with the door mounted on the left for the left side and on the right for the right side). I'm also thinking about this kind of top for the desk.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kitchen Organization

Since I spend an inordinate amount of time breastfeeding these days, I've been using my time to plan our imminent move. For example, I've been focusing on our kitchen. the space is relatively small (and we have an inordinate number of appliances), so we're going to have to be strategic about maximizing every available inch.
Here are some of the space-saving strategies we're thinking about implementing:
1) Using tension rods to create vertical storage for baking sheets, cutting boards, etc.

2) Using cabinet organizers to store aluminum foil, parchment paper, etc.

3) Hanging brooms/mops/etc. on the inside of a closet door.

4) Storing spices in a rack attached to the inside of a cabinet.

5) Creating diagonal storage for cooking utensils.

6) Hanging cleaning supplies on a tension rod under the sink.


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Monday, August 12, 2013

Design Advice

We are set to close on Friday--assuming everything gets finished up in time! And I need your help decorating our main room, if you're interested!

Here's what we have so far:
A reclaimed wood dining room table (which will run parallel to the island) with these dining room chairs

We're thinking about a 3-sided sectional from IKEA in light gray (chaise + couch + loveseat) like this couch but in this light gray color with the chaise and loveseats on the opposite sides. We were thinking about having the U-shape open toward the far sliding glass door in the photo and pushing the loveseat side all the way to the right-hand wall (the chaise would be on the left side). We are replacing the IKEA legs with wooden mid-century modern legs.

The hole you see in the far wall will be a built-in bookcase in white.
Here's what we need:
  • A rug (I'm thinking 8 x 10?). I would like it to be comfortable and family-friendly in terms of stain-removal or hiding stains (if possible). I'm thinking wool.
  • An ottoman (ideally a storage ottoman)
  • Curtains (for a window to the right that is not pictured in the photograph--the other window is high enough to not need a window covering
  • A side table or something to run along the back side of the couch?
  • Maybe wallpaper or wrapping paper to line the back of the built-in bookshelf?

    Do you have any specific suggestions? Pretty please? With a cherry on top?

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Implementing a Routine

There are many divisive topics within the realm of parenting, and deciding whether or not to nudge your child into a routine is one of them. I continue to talk about this topic because I think dialogue about the most controversial topics is particularly helpful. Even reading something that we disagree with helps us clarify our own thinking and choices. At the end of the day, how we parent is a choice that each of us makes based on what we think is best for our children and what will leave us feeling proud of ourselves as parents. Those choices are definitely going to vary from parent to parent, child to child.
In short, I share my thinking simply to contribute to the dialogue and peel back the layers of my logic--not in an attempt to try and convince anyone that our choices should be their choices.
I've written a lot about my first three weeks with Henry and how it was difficult to read his cues and discern what he needed and when. That's when my friend introduced me to the book Baby Wise, and I learned about the basic routine of Eat, Play, Sleep every 2.5-3 hours. The simple concept had such a positive impact on our interactions with Henry. When he woke up from a nap, I would feed him. Then he would have a short period of activity time, during which I would watch for clues of fatigue (namely yawns). If he started crying then, my first response would be to help him get to sleep (rather than feed him). If he woke up before 2.5-3 hours, my first response would be to try and soothe him back to sleep (rather than feed him), which generally worked. If it didn't work, then I would see if he was crying from hunger. This kind of routine helped us to better anticipate and therefore meet Henry's needs. For us, "scheduling" is not in opposition to "on demand." Both Henry and Tate get to eat when they want to eat; it's just that we consider where we are in the schedule when deciding what to offer first.
Plus, with Henry, a routine had the added benefit of providing a structure to our days and lives. For example, I could make sure to shower daily simply by setting Henry up for activity time in the bathroom right after a feeding. Also, Matt and I could continue to enjoy things like going out to dinner. I would feed Henry, Henry would have his awake time in the car, and then we would let Henry sleep in the Moby wrap while we enjoyed our meal.
We quickly realized that implementing a routine felt like the best way to meet everyone's needs. Our parenting approach is very much about looking at the family as a system.
Throughout Henry's life, we constantly watch for signs that the routine needs to change to meet his changing needs. We make adjustments as necessary. For us, the routine is part of what helps Henry feel secure and safe.
We knew that we wanted to nudge Tate into a routine, as well, so I read a couple different books before his birth. I liked the advice in Baby Wise, which is to not worry about a routine in the first two weeks. However, we quickly found that Tate's natural inclination was to sleep all day and then wake up every hour all night long to make up all the feedings he missed during the day. We also learned that Tate uses the same signals to indicate that he's tired and hungry.
Very early on, we decided to try waking him up every three hours during the day for a feeding to see whether that would impact his sleeping during the night. It had an immediate effect. When we helped him fit in feedings during the day, he then stopped waking up every hour at night (and instead stretched it out from 2.5-3 hours). Because we immediately saw positive effects, we decided to continue with that approach for the first two weeks.
At the end of the second week, I took Henry and Tate to church (Matt had a soccer game), and I met a woman who used The Contented Baby to get her daughter on a schedule for the first year of life. She explained that the book provided detailed schedules that changed frequently throughout the year.
I decided to download the Kindle version (Editor's Note: I just discovered the Kindle app, which makes breastfeeding so much more fun!). I appreciated the level of detail in each of the schedules, and I appreciated that they changed frequently throughout the year to match the child's changing needs. We implemented the schedule for a couple days, but Tate didn't really seem to like the "split feeding" concept, and I didn't like the way the schedules significantly decreased the amount of nap time throughout the first year. The schedules didn't seem aligned with the kind of sleep that Henry wanted/needed during his first year.
That's when I found my way back to my post about baby routines and decided to try out the routine from the Baby Whisperer. So far, Tate seems to be doing really well with it. It follows the same Eat-Play-Sleep pattern every three hours. Tate wakes up twice to eat between 10pm and 7am.
For Matt's and my personalities, knowing generally what to expect and when to expect it helps a lot. It's easier for Matt to fit in a run when we know that Tate is highly likely going to be sleeping for the next hour and 45 minutes. I can schedule work phone calls during expected nap times, and I can shower every morning after Tate's first feeding of the day. He eats really well during the feeding times and falls asleep quickly when we start to put him down for naps.
It's definitely a lot harder to adhere to a routine with a second baby because it requires a lot of time at home. In general, I'm able to implement it every day during the week, but the weekends are much more difficult. Tate doesn't nap nearly as well when we are out and about, so it's easy for him to get over-tired on the weekends. We're hoping that our approach with Tate leads to the same results that it has with Henry. Henry is a great sleeper (he definitely has his difficulties--especially when it comes to napping on the weekends these past couple months), but in general he goes down easily and sleeps well. I know every child is different, so we'll see what happens with Tate.
Definitely feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what works for your family. I appreciated the discussion we had about these issues a couple months ago!

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wooden Toys from IKEA

Before Tate's arrival, Henry and I took a trip to IKEA to purchase some fabric to make a new bed for Hoss. His old one finally bit the dust after five years.
I struggle to walk through stores like IKEA and Target without finding things that I suddenly "need," even though they weren't on my original list. That's why I try to avoid shopping as much as possible!
However, I love the two toys we bought and wanted to share them with you.
First, I bought Henry a train set. There were four different boxes with various pieces (for about $10 each), so we bought all four. Together, they create a varied and comprehensive set. It includes pieces to make bridges, straight pieces, curved pieces, tunnels, and forked pieces. I love that the toy gets constructed in new ways every time and that the variations are seemingly endless! Sometimes we make small loops of a track and other times we twist it all around the living room. I also love the "control of error" that is inherent in the toy. In other words, it's very easy for Henry to tell when he's made a mistake and when he's corrected the mistake. For example, most of the pieces only have tracks on one side. If he sets it up the wrong way, the train won't lock into the track and he knows to flip it over. Also, there are very specific ways that the pieces connect to each other, so he knows to try a different piece it they aren't lining up.
Also, the train cars are magnetic, so some ends repel each other, while the opposite ends attract. Henry has to use problem-solving to figure out how to get the trains to connect.
Further, it's a toy that requires care and attention. Henry has to manually push the train around the track and it will sometimes slip off. He has to pay attention to when that happens and then fix it.
Further, I love that it's a "big" toy that breaks down into small pieces that fit within a basket on the shelf. It helps our house feel organized rather than cluttered and chaotic. Plus, I find the wood material and the colors simply beautiful.
It's definitely a big hit around our house! Not only does he enjoy it, he also learns a ton from playing with it. He learns patience and delayed gratification as he constructs the tracks. He learns persistence and problem-solving when he encounters glitches that need to be solved. He internalizes pride and self-confidence when he successfully sets up and plays with this toy.
According to Montessori theory, children essentially construct their personalities in the first six years of life. It feels good to provide Henry with experiences that will have a positive impact on his development!
The other toy we purchased was for Tate. For something like $8, we got a simple wooden bead toy. It will look beautiful on the shelf of his nursery (when we finally move and get it set up for him), and it will provide good incentive for him to learn to pull up and sit up.
If you're interested, here's a link to all of IKEA's current wooden toys...

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Monday, August 5, 2013

A New Sibling Book

I loved k.'s comment a month or so ago about making a small photo album for her child to take to school after the birth of a sibling. Matt and I have talked so much about the new baby for the past nine months and have tried to be really intentional about building Henry's understanding and his enthusiasm. I'd like to keep that enthusiasm going for as long as possible.
My first idea was to buy a really inexpensive, small photo album from the dollar store and slide photos into it. Easy peasy!
But then I thought that it could be a really sweet keepsake, and it would be nice to have something to read to Henry. I thought about making him another board book, since we had such a great experience with the first one. Although I liked the idea, I didn't like a) the price tag and b) the fact that it would take a while to get the book back. I knew that Henry would be eager to bring it to school soon after the birth.
That's when I settled on the idea of buying a slightly nicer photo album and making it into a book by printing text on cardstock, cutting it down to 4 x 6" and sliding it into the album alongside the photos.
I wanted to frontload the work as much as possible, so I bought the album and wrote the text before Tate's arrival. Here's what I came up with:
  • I have a new baby brother named Tate.
  • We've been eagerly awaiting his arrival.
  • My mom was pregnant with him for nine months.
  • Then Tate joined our family.
  • He was born on XXX and weighed X pounds, X ounces.
  • We celebrated his birthday with cake, and I gave him a present.
  • Mimi and Uncle Dustin came from Florida to visit us.
  • He is very tiny and cute.
  • He has small feet and hands.
  • I like to hold him.
  • I like to talk to my brother Tate.
  • I like to show my brother how to do things.
  • I like to share with my brother.
  • I am very gentle with my little brother.
  • I help my parents take care of him.
  • Tate will grow quickly and we will have fun together.
  • We have many adventures ahead of us as brothers and friends.
  • We are very lucky to have a new family member.
  • I love Tate, and Tate loves me.
I created a single column table in Word and set the dimensions to 4 x 6 for each cell. I used Century Gothic as the font because I find it to be the easiest to read. After printing the pages on cardstock, I used a paper cutter to cut them down to size. I used some of Henry's artwork for the cover. We ended up purchasing a very inexpensive plastic album from Target, but it is already ripping.
It ended up being a very simple project!

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