New Years is coming soon... have you begun to think about your resolutions yet? I have.... I want to learn to use my awesome camera, and also learn to use Photoshop. Here is one of my first efforts with Photoshop.... here's hoping it can be used as a benchmark for better things to come.

Merry almost Christmas, to those who celebrate!

In this series I will share with you interesting tricks and tidbits that I have learned over the past 12 13 months of baby-raising. Some things I discovered myself, but most I’ve picked up from other parents who have successfully made it to the 12-month mark.

One of my greatest fears about becoming a parent was losing personal time: my trips to the yoga studio and to the gym, leisurely hours spent at coffee shops and the now-defunct Borders reading fantasy novels or world news, that sort of thing. It’s true that I rarely have the time to do these kinds of activities anymore. Once in a while, with a great deal of effort and coordination of the work schedule on the part of my dear husband, I am able to make it to yoga and I treasure those precious minutes where my body belongs completely and only to myself. As much as I do miss the old ways that I used to relax, unwind, and be present within my body, my new role as a mommy has actually created new delicious spaces in my life for free thought.

Working as a caretaker for an infant is often difficult, but it is not often intellectually challenging. Some things do require presence of mind, like reading to your child or playing games. But if you are not busy with those kinds of activities – for instance, when you are feeding your baby, rocking her to sleep, changing her, or walking her in the stroller, it is usually safe to let your mind wander.

In my child-free days, I used to wonder how on earth parents ever could work full-time and also take care of their children. My previous job took up many, many hours each week (more than I care to admit), and when you add onto that my daily commute, I was basically only ever home for sleeping. Many of my colleagues had children, and I just couldn’t understand how it was physically possible to meet the demands of our firm and also take care of their families.

I don’t think it is possible to do intellectual-type work in the first couple months, while the baby’s sleep routine is still wonky. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible for me (although I do know some people who can make it happen and others who must make it happen). But now that the baby is a bit older, I’m beginning to understand how balance could be achievable. You can be as present for your baby as she needs, while at the same time allowing your mind to work on more creative problems. In fact, that necessary quiet time while I am putting my baby to sleep is one of my most creatively fertile times of the day. These days, I wonder how I was ever able to do my old job and come up with any creative ideas without that half hour or more of resting time in the evening.

Such a revelation!

New parents tend to go overboard when it comes to preparing their homes for the new baby. New gadgets and gear can accumulate and quickly overtake a modest-sized dwelling. The funny thing though is that new babies really don’t need that much stuff to be perfectly content and developmentally on track. Don’t get me wrong – new babies are indeed high-need individuals - however they don’t need much in terms of material goods. What they truly can never get enough of is time spent cuddling and interacting with their caregivers. In my experience there aren’t a whole lot of items that you can buy that will truly make life better/easier for you or the baby. Here is my short list of items that worked really well for me, and that I think would work for every other parent out there, regardless of the size of your home or location. If you think I’m wrong or have missed something, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

**I've edited this post to include costs for these items. Clever parents will find better prices than the ones listed here.
Discussions of cost-related issues will be in a forthcoming post.

1.       For brand-new newborns (up to eight weeks of age), you will need a few onesies that snap up the front, either kimono-style or something similar. Newborns hate having clothes that go over their heads.
Cost: 5 x $12 = $60

2.       For the slightly older newborn (2-4 months of age), you should have about seven regular onesies on hand. The season and your climate will determine whether they should be long-sleeve or short-sleeve. For instance, if your New England baby will be three months old in December, you probably won’t need any short-sleeve onesies in the 0-6 mo size.
Cost: 7 x $8 = $56

3.       Footed one-piece outfits – these are my husband’s favorite. They are super easy to get baby out of after a diaper blow-out. You should have at least 5 of them.
Cost: 5 x $14 = $70

4.       Muslin blankets – so soft, and they get softer every time they are washed. Their versatility is what endears them to moms - they can work as a makeshift nursing cover, a changing pad for when you are out and about, work well for swaddling, and many other various and sundry uses.  
Cost: pack of 4 = $40

5.       Wrap carrier – my baby loves being carried. Even if the Attachment Parenting philosophy doesn't particularly appeal to you, I still think this is a must-have. I went with the Baby K’tan and it has worked very well both for me and my baby, but there are many different brands and styles available.  
Cost for one: $40

6.       Infant bucket car seat – duh. They don’t let you leave the hospital without one. Nearly everyone I know has chosen the Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat, in part due to the seat’s top rating with Consumer Reports. That is not to say that the Keyfit is necessarily going to be the best seat for you; there are a huge number of perfectly serviceable seats on the market, and if you are purchasing a travel system then it’s nice to have the seat that fits properly into the stroller base.
Cost for one: $200

7.       Snuggly winter bunting – get two of them. Avoid the thick down puffy kind, though – not only do they tend to be more expensive, but they create a safety hazard when used in combination with the car seat, as the seat belt needs to be as close to baby’s body as possible. At any rate, you probably won’t be outside in the bitter cold with your new baby for very long, if at all. With the thinner one-layer buntings you can easily transition your baby from house to sling to car seat with no adding or removing of extra layers, and not worry about baby overheating when you are wearing her in the sling.
Cost: 2 x $40 = $80

8.       A place for baby to sleep – there are so many different and wide-ranging options that it’s impossible to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation. In the end, your baby will be the one letting you know what she needs to sleep best. We went with a mini-crib for our city apartment and it works for us. Other choices include: co-sleeper, full-size crib, or a mattress on the floor (before baby can roll over by herself, this can work very well as a temporary solution in the early months when nighttime feedings are frequent and side-nursing is necessary).
Cost: $100 (crib) + $20 (mattress pad) + $18 (3 fitted sheets) = $138

9.       Rocking chair – essential for nighttime feedings, whether you are breast or bottle feeding. I’ve seen others not recommend the old-fashioned kind, but the gliding rocker so that little fingers don’t get caught underneath. It makes sense. More important, especially before your baby is mobile, is to make sure there are no holes in the chair large enough for a baby to fall through if you nod off momentarily. The chair is NOT a safe place for you to take a nap with your baby and I don’t want to be misconstrued as condoning this.
Cost: varies, most around $200-$800

10.   Diapers – whether you go with cloth or disposable, you will need something to keep your baby’s bum clean, and all the accessories that go with that fateful decision (diaper ointment, wipes, diaper pail, etc). We went with disposable diapers. I think that it is worth mentioning that if this was my husband’s list of baby essentials, the Diaper Genie would surely be at the top of the list. It’s pretty good at minimizing diaper odor. In my opinion, if you are taking your garbage out every day you don’t actually need the Diaper Genie, unless your sensibilities are very easily affronted.
Cost for disposables: $40 (Diaper Genie) + $40/mo for diapers, wipes, and ointments

ABOUT $1,200

Earlier this week I felt myself coming down with a cold. Colds have been making the rounds in Boston recently with the fickle weather - bone-chilling and drizzly one day, warm and sunny the next. I'd noticed a sore throat coming on over the night (you people you are not parents of infants, I envy how you can blissfully lose sentient awareness for a full eight hours in a row!), and woke up with the sniffles. I was determined not to get hit with the usual yearly debilitating flu - now that I am responsible for a little one, I simply don't have time for bed rest. So I made myself a big bowl of kimchi soup for lunch, and by the evening, I felt completely better. The sore throat and sniffles didn't come back over the night, either. It's like magic!

If you are a vegetarian and an American, you might (like me) miss the chicken soup cure that you probably enjoyed as a child - vegetable broth soup, while tasty and healthy in its own right, never felt like a "remedy" the way chicken soup did. This soup has a spicy kick that opens up your sinuses (especially if you accidentally inhale it...) - therefore performing even better as a cold remedy than chicken soup. Plus, you avoid chicken meat which has spent time marinating in its own feces. Sorry to ruin it for you.

Simple kimchi soup

I am a huge kimchi fan, much to my husband's dismay. Kimchi is Korean-style spicy fermented cabbage, with a strong, distinctive odor that tends to invade the entire refrigerator once it takes up residence there.* When twin heads of Napa cabbage showed up in the share one week, I decided to give making it the old college try.

I had tried making kimchi last year and the results fell short of what I'd hoped for - too spicy, not salty enough, and flat-noted - it had none of the complex flavors in the store-bought kimchi that I love, even though the ingredient list was the same. What a disappointment! Because of that first failure, I let the second two heads of Napa cabbage from my share get pushed to the back of the drawer, eventually needing to be tossed. However I had more experience with pickling cabbage under my belt this go-round, and felt confident I could improve on last year's results.

On a side note, spell check thinks that "kimchi" should be "Chickie." That's adorable.

I've borrowed most heavily from David Lebovitz in creating this recipe. I checked a few other sources when doing this but depended most on his version, which was a good move!

I'm very satisfied with the results and when I make kimchi next time, I don't think I will be making any serious adjustments to the methods, ingredients, or proportions listed here. While not exactly the same in flavor as the kimchi I buy at Hannaford, which is a bit lighter in flavor, it has a great deeper savory note from the gochujang.

*The hubs isn't so much against the smell - he's a Ukrainian and used to having fermented things around - it's the spiciness that he hates. Such a waste of perfectly good pickled cabbage, in his mind! No higher use for it, in mine!

Simple Kimchi

I had the opportunity to speak with Liza Drew, RD, LD on Wednesday to discuss two important aspects of prenatal nutrition: protein intake and prenatal vitamins. Liza is a registered dietician with an office in Peterborough, NH.

Protein: how much is enough?

One of my greatest concerns while pregnant was whether or not I was eating enough protein. I’d read that I should aim for 50g of protein a day. For those of you who have never counted protein grams before, this is a HUGE amount – the equivalent of five jumbo beef hot dogs, every day. If you prefer beans to beef, then you’ll have to down 2 3/4 cups of lentils. Every single day!

The important thing, according to Liza, is to make sure you eat as many whole, minimally processed foods as possible. If you do this, chances are good that you are consuming enough protein, since protein resides in things like dairy and whole grains as well as beef. Rather than the 50g benchmark I was using, she recommended aiming for 1g of protein per kg of body weight (that is, your body weight before pregnancy. Here is a converter for you.).

Good sources of protein include eggs, whole grains, and two servings a week of low-mercury fatty fish, such as sardines, herring, and wild salmon. It’s worth splurging on free-range eggs because of their higher omega-3 fatty acid content, which studies have shown help with prenatal brain development. Good vegan sources of protein and omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. I’ve yet to taste these trendy little seeds because they are rather expensive, and they always bring to mind the little sprouting clay animals from the 90s along with the super-annoying “ch-ch-ch-chia” tagline. Apparently I am missing out: Liza tells me they are quite tasty with a mouthfeel similar to that of poppy seeds.

Prenatal vitamins: Mega-dose, stick to the RDA, or avoid altogether?

There are many contradictory opinions about vitamin supplementation in the wide world of the Internet and television. Best-selling author, doctor and Oprah show frequenter Christiane Northrup recommends mega-dosing on vitamins, even during pregnancy. My personal doctor prescribed for me a daily prenatal vitamin at a conventional dosage. Still others (such as PBS motivational speaker Dr. Fuhrman) state that if you are eating right, there is no need for vitamin supplementation, even while pregnant, and that supplementation can even have deleterious effects on health. Confused yet?

Liza recommends taking a daily prenatal vitamin at the prescribed dosage to fill in any gaps you might have in your diet. Most of the vitamins are water-soluble, so your body can easily rid itself of any excess. A plant-based vitamin derived from food (such as these from New Chapter) is the better choice, since these vitamins are more easily absorbed by the body. 

A word of warning, however, about vitamin A: too much can cause birth defects, and it’s found in very high doses in some natural cold remedies like Airborne and Emergen-C. Since vitamin A is fat-soluble, it is not so easy for the body to flush away excess when it reaches toxic concentration levels.

Here’s a smoothie recipe from Liza to help you pregnant ladies beat the heat this summer while reaching your protein goals too. Cheers!

Strawberry spinach smoothie





Picturenot me, but could have been.*
WORK has been sucking up my spare time and all my creative juices for the last month. Yes, work, as in a real, paying gig. The company I worked for before I left to take care of my baby asked me to write a report, and I accepted. I was able to work during my baby's naps, and sometimes also after she went to sleep in the evening - so all in all, I was able to fit in about 2 hours a day of intense slide-deck-writing.

I was crazy with worry after accepting the offer that my baby would get sick or switch up her sleeping schedule and ohmygod I don't have a back-up babysitter lined up and who would I trust to watch the baby lady, anyway, someone I found on the Internet???.... Luckily, I was able to channel that "energy" (read: psycho obsessing) into the report, and not only did it come out pretty kick-butt (if you ask me), it was finished freaking AHEAD of when I promised to deliver it. Since I'm somewhat notorious for blatantly ignoring deadlines, that was pretty big. The baby didn't get sick (although she did, ahem, swallow a piece of rubber :( ), her nap schedule was as wacky as you could expect which meant some (anxious nail biting) days I wasn't able to sit down to write at all, but even despite that I got it done, with the hubby's help with babysitting a couple of Saturdays.

Oh, man. It felt so good to use my brain again you wouldn't believe it. It felt so nice to have my efforts rewarded with actual dinero. (Baby coos are a wonderful form of payment, but surprisingly aren't accepted at most major retailers.) It would have been even nicer to have gone into an office and interact with other adults, but, you know, baby steps. In doing the research I ran across some curious stats that I plan to share sometime in the next several weeks. Love it when I can find overlap in the disparate worlds that I inhabit!

*I wouldn't be wearing headphones though, not with a baby sleeping in the other room. of course.

I know what you are thinking. Coleslaw? You mean unnaturally sweet cabbage bits drowned in mayonnaise? If this is your only impression of coleslaw, then you have been missing out, my friend. It’s the perfect thing to bring to a summer BBQ because it’s easy to throw together, if you’ve subscribed to a farm share then you most likely have all the ingredients already, after a few hours outdoors it’s still pretty perky, you can rest assured that no one else will be bringing coleslaw (unless this is a BBQ with older relatives), and everyone is so tired of the same-old lettuce salad. Oh – and did I forget to mention – it tastes amazing (?!) and is a perfect accompaniment to beef or tofu hot dogs.

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. If I was going to be stuck on a deserted island and could only take one cookbook with me, this is the one it would be. If you want to see the original recipe in all its glory, it’s the Spicy No-Mayo Coleslaw on page 49.

I’ve made this twice with two different kinds of cabbage (thank you, Red Fire Farm!) and I’m sorry to say that I did not take measurements either time. I’ve rounded everything down, so you can add more of anything to your taste.

No-Mayo Coleslaw

Picturebaby love
I just read this article about the far-reaching negative effects that sleeping away from the primary caregiver can have on infants. The study found that sleeping just one night a week apart from the primary caregiver results in a significant difference in the level of attachment to that person. The deeper the level of attachment that infants are able to form in their first year of life, the healthier and more secure the relationships are that they form later in life, according to the study's lead author, Samantha Tornello.

Considering that nearly half of all first babies are born out of wedlock these days, this finding is very relevant to the modern family unit. Since the primary caregiver is nearly always the mom (and is even assumed to be the mom in this piece), if you do happen to be a mom it may be stressful to discover yet another way you can mess your child up for life before he has even turned one. Not only do you have to be hyper-vigilant about everything that you consume while pregnant, once baby is born you must take on primary responsibility for every feeding and bedtime, too? If daddy lives somewhere else or is not in the picture, this can be a heavy load for Mom to shoulder, especially if she has other obligations, like work (the kind you get a paycheck for, that is!).

I'm lucky enough to have a stable family situation with in-house baby assistance, which makes all the difference. Putting baby back to sleep after a night waking becomes a quiet, serene moment of bliss rather than the burden it could otherwise be. Having my baby sleep somewhere away from me would just be unimaginable. Single moms out there, I have so much admiration for you - and it makes me wonder whether the Peace Corps really deserves to have first dibs on this slogan, when you, single moms, are caring for nearly half of the next generation.

Picturethese guys have the right idea
Today is one of the hottest days on record in Massachusetts, and all along the eastern seaboard (so I hear). It is supposed to feel like 110 degrees today in Boston, when you factor in the humidity! Baby and I have escaped to the mall to beat the heat, and it seems like EVERYONE on the South Shore had the same idea. While there are always lots of stroller-pushing moms hanging out here, they seem to have reached maximum capacity today. Everyone who is not working in an office and has a means of transportation seems to have made South Shore Plaza their destination of choice! All the prime seating areas are occupied!

Even so, it does not feel as hot as a regular old summer day in Baltimore. Perhaps we haven’t reached the highest temperature of the day yet, but I remember working in Baltimore in the summer, getting to the office at 7:45am and even at that early hour, some days it was like stepping into a sauna when getting out of the car, even when parked in the shade. Perhaps because the hot weather down there lasts for so many weeks, even the shady parts of the city get thoroughly baked, while in Boston the cement and the shadows can capture coolness left over from the week prior (which was somewhat cloudy and quite comfortable).

The heat can be so much more uncomfortable when you are pregnant, especially if you are in the third trimester. What are you ladies doing to stay cool?