Category Archives: Bungalow Living

Baby essentials for the first few months

I always like reading these types of posts because I learn about new things that I never knew existed — case in point, I just yesterday discovered these bottle labels from one of my kid’s classmates.  Genius! So here are the things that have gotten me through the first five-ish months of parenthood.

The early days                
There’s not a whole lot to taking care of a newborn…pretty much just eat, sleep repeat. The most important thing was having HELP — not help with the baby, since I was nursing, but help with the household, dog, cooking, etc.  But there are a few products that did stand out.

Nursing essentials
the first few weeks of my baby’s life were pretty much all about breastfeeding.  Nursing-friendly clothes, a pillow, nursing pads, lanolin — all key to survival!  I liked the lansinoh brand of lanolin best — yes, it was really sticky, but also effective.

Rocker/glider
My parents very generously gifted us this one, which I liked because it fits well in our compact living space, and can still be used long after our babies no longer need to be rocked to sleep.  I seriously lived in this thing during my maternity leave.

Muslin swaddle blankets
Aden + Anais are the preferred brand for the royal family, but honestly I have some carter’s brand too and can’t really tell the difference.  These are great all-purpose blankets, for things like draping over the carseat in the germy pediatrician’s office, covering your boppy pillow when it gets drenched in spit-up and you haven’t had a chance to wash it, as a burp cloth, floor mat, and for a little warmth on chilly fall/spring days.  I didn’t use them much for actually swaddling, though.  For that, I used:

Velcro swaddlers
So much easier in the middle of the night, and they actually stay swaddled.  There are a bunch of different brands — we started with these, which were fine, but not multifunctional.  In retrospect I would have just gone with the Halo Sleep Sack, which we used to wean him off the swaddle and are still using as a regular old sleep sack on chilly nights.

New Yorker Subscription
Not exactly a baby item, but essential nonetheless!  It’s striking how when you have a newborn, you feel like you scarcely have a chance to get up to pee or eat, and yet are basically spending most of your day sitting around.  While I am not the best reader of books, I am a voracious consumer of long-form journalism.  I pretty much devoured each issue of the New Yorker when it came each week, keeping me intellectually stimulated during those middle of the night feedings.  A Netflix subscription was pretty great to have too!

Amazon Prime
I resisted for a while, but it has really cut down on the time I wasted running errands or waiting until I reached the minimum order amount to qualify for free shipping.

 

Out and About
Once we moved past the “fourth trimester,” it became less about survival mode.  These items helped me when we ventured out of the house and when I went back to work.

Stroller
I think I won’t LOVE any stroller until someone engineers one that is magically the weight and compactness of an umbrella stroller and yet fully-featured and rugged like that of an expensive stroller like the BOB or UppaBaby, with the ability to convert into a double.  We settled on the Britax b-agile because it seemed like a hybrid of the two, and I DO love that it folds so easily and compactly and fits well in my car/home.  But, I feel like it is still too big and heavy and will ultimately end up getting an umbrella stroller anyway.  And if I’m going to still going to end up with two strollers, well I kind of wish I had just gone with a big, fancy stroller to begin with.  But at the end of the day, I also think that it would have been a pain getting a huge stroller up and down the 10 steps to my house, and loading (and fitting) in and out of the car.  So I probably wouldn’t change anything, could I go back in time.

Stroller bassinet
Another thing I do love about the britax b-agile is that it is compatible with the bassinet attachment.  While it surely fulfilled my fantasies of pushing a baby around in an old-school pram, I also found it very useful as a moses basket for little naps around the house, and as a travel crib.  It folds down flat and doesn’t take up too much precious space in the car!

Soft-structured carrier
It took me a while to get the hang of using a carrier/wrap, but I am now totally a believer in babywearing.  It’s an instant baby-calmer and sometimes that is the only place he’ll nap!  I’ve also gotten the hang of breastfeeding while wearing him which is very convenient when out and about.

Aden + Anais burpy bib
Everyone says that cloth diapers make the best burp cloths, and while they’re really absorbent they’re kind of small/awkwardly shaped.  You can’t really drape them over your shoulder well.  Enter the burpy bib.  They are contoured so they fit well on your shoulder AND are large enough to protect the front of your blouse.  So essential for our morning commutes in the carrier to keep my work clothes dry!  As a bonus you can snap them on your baby and voilà, it’s a bib!  Love anything multifunctional.

Nosefrida
You’re not really a “mommy blogger” (ugh…) until you have dedicated blog space to extolling the virtues of this disgusting and yet effective mechanism for clearing your child’s nostrils, are you?  By the way this product is raved about online, I practically expected it to cure the common cold itself.  Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.  It is not a miracle worker.  I can see, however, how someone who had been previously using one of those useless bulb aspirators would find this product revelatory.

LifeFactory bottles
I am kind of weird about storing and serving things in plastic, so I knew I wanted to use glass bottles.  These are expensive but I swear to you, I throw them in my bag, take them on the metro, and at daycare they go from fridge to crock pot and they do.not.break.  When you’re through with them as bottles, you can add a sippy cup top, or just a regular screw-on top and use them as reusable water bottles for yourself!  Worth every penny.  My only complaint is while they fit on my Ameda pump at home, I learned the hard way that they are not really compatible with the Medela pump I use at work.

Favorite Brands

Splurge…

EarthMamaAngelBaby
In spite of the stupid name and high price tag, I have yet to find a product made by this brand that isn’t miraculous.  LOVE their diaper rash cream, baby lotion, and their line of “mama” products for, ahem, postpartum relief.

Under the Nile
He has a footed sleeper and a few toys from this line, and they are the most unbelievably soft organic cotton you’ve ever felt.  The sleeper is a flannel-like material that is nice and warm, and I like to put him in at night now that it’s cold.  I read that synthetic, fleece pajamas all inherently include flame retardants, and felt like my efforts to find a healthier mattress would all be moot if I am just putting him clothing that contains the chemicals.  So I am glad to have discovered a line of clothing that is warm and safe.

Save…

Carters
These clothes just seem to fit him perfectly — they are made for long and skinny babies!  And they are so affordable.  I’ve also heard, but have not verified, that Carter’s is one of the few remaining brands whose outlet stores are actually outlets, rather than “factory stores.”  They hold up and wash very well for the price!
The one thing I DO hate about them is how half of the stuff they make has some ridiculous and cutesy wording like “mommy’s little cutie pie” on the front.  Ugh.  Carters, why must you ruin a perfectly good onesie with a stupid little saying???

Ameda
My insurance company sent me an Ameda Purely Yours pump, and though it was free to me (well, “free,” I do pay through the nose in premiums), it retails for like half the cost of the Medela pumps and I think it works really well!  I use a Medela hospital grade pump at work, and can also say I think the Ameda is much more hygenic and has fewer little parts to wash.  Their customer service is also great — when I was having some suction problems they overnighted me an entire new pump kit.

Favorite books

I haven’t really found any parenting “how-to” books useful — as mystical as it sounds, you know your baby and you need to mostly let your instincts take over.  But there are some that are not so much guides as they are informational and thought-provoking, and helped with my perspective and approach to things.

Breastfeeding Made Simple

Bringing up Bébé

The Wonder Weeks

Nurture Shock

What baby items have you found essential?  What products does everyone rave about that you could do without?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

-R

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Cloth diaper love!

Having only been at this for a couple months, I am far from the definitive voice on cloth diapering advice :). There are plenty of other blogs for that! Really, I just love my cloth diapers so much I feel the need to rave about them.

We used disposables for the first few weeks, and after one very unfortunate public poopsplosion incident, we finally switched over and have never looked back. We like them so much that we lugged our entire stash with us to the beach last week instead of just a few small compact packages of disposables. Here is why:

1. They don’t leak. Maybe it was just the brand of disposable diapers we were using, but I never met one that didn’t leak. Haven’t had a single problem with our cloth diapers!

2. For some reason, in our house, running errands — especially to big box stores– is the bane of our existence. I just KNOW that if we used disposables, we’d find ourselves having to do emergency Target runs at 9pm on a Sunday. I like that with cloth diapers, I am always just a laundry load away from a replenished stash. Plus, I figure I have to wash his clothes less anyway since we don’t have to deal with leaks.

3. They don’t smell (yet) and when I am tired of having a nasty pail of dirty diapers sitting around, I don’t have to wait for trash day…they can just be dumped in the wash.

4. The environmental benefits may be debatable, but it is nice to know they’re not ending up in a landfill any time soon.

5. Cost! This is a huge one for me. I have spent about $200 on our entire stash. I have a few more of the expensive kind that I received at my shower or that I bought for fun but don’t really need to have in my regular rotation. As he grows out of our current stash I will need to buy larger sizes again, but there is also a large market to buy and sell used diapers, so you can recoup some of your cost. I love not having to spend money on diapers every week.

6. No gross chemicals or plasticky feeling against baby’s skin. I really didn’t like how the disposables would adhere to his skin, and also just get all bloated and fall apart when full.

An extra load or two of laundry a week is much preferable to us over buying diapers, but of course others may feel differently. It just depends on your chore preference, I guess!  Also, breast milk diapers are super easy because they can go directly in the wash. Once he starts eating food, I will have to dispose of the solids in the toilet some how, which of course adds an extra layer of complication. But for now I really feel that cloth diapers are much easier and cleaner than disposables!

Here is what we have in our stash:

Prefolds

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These are the old-fashioned kind of diapers your parents or grandparents probably used. They are just a rectangular piece of absorbent cotton, with a waterproof cover you snap on top. With a cover, you technically don’t need to fasten them together first but I find it much easier to secure the diaper with a snappi (no pins needed!). We have 30 in our stash plus 4 covers and that is about enough to get us through 3 days without washing (though I usually do a load every other day as the pail gets full!).
Pros: Very affordable — each diaper is maybe $1-$3. Low maintenance — the prefolds are not as finicky about detergents, rash creams, or line drying — just wash and go. They also don’t get an ammonia smell the way the microfiber does on my other diapers.
Cons: A few extra steps to getting these diapers on — easy, but not as easy as a disposable or pocket/AIO. You have to buy multiple sizes. You have to actually touch the wet diaper during changes.

Pocket diapers

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These diapers have a “pocket” that holds an absorbent insert.
Pros: Adjustable, one-size diaper that can theoretically work from newborn through potty training. Snaps or velcroes on, mimicking the ease of a disposal. You can adjust the absorbency for daytime or overnight. Fleecy lining stays dry to the touch, also like a disposable.
Cons: Some find stuffing the pocket to be an annoying extra step. You can’t use conventional rash creams or detergent with microfiber. “One size” may not work out that way in reality.  More expensive.

All-in-one diapers

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Often abbreviated AIO. Like pocket diapers, the cover and absorbent part are integrated, making these most similar to disposables. Unlike pockets, the absorbent layer is sewn in so you don’t have to remove or stuff any inserts.

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Pros: it doesn’t get any easier! Truly just snap and go.
Cons: Many are not one size, though the BumGenius Freetimes I have are. Again, you have to be careful with washing and rash creams. The absorbency is not really adjustable, so they may not work overnight for everyone.  Expensive, especially if you have to buy more than one size.

There are SO many different kinds of cloth diapers, and so many brands on top of that — all the choices can get overwhelming!  I like the simplicity and low cost of prefolds, but it can be hard to resist adding more “modern” cloth diapers to my stash here and there!  Do you use cloth diapers?  What is your favorite system?

-R

Updates

Posting from my phone, seems like that’s all I have time for these days! So excuse the brevity, typos and poor iPhone photos :).

Okay, I know I said I’d update this blog at least once a week, and clearly I have failed on that count. We have been devoting nearly all of our free time to preparing the house for our new arrival in just an estimated 10 weeks!

New bathroom:

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Some new and old windows:

20130416-073000.jpg

Plus tons of painting, patching, stripping, electrical and miscellaneous sprucing up.

And of course, when you start opening up walls you inevitably discover more projects. Turns out our simple electrical job is not so simple and the house needs significant re-wiring!

But we are incredibly lucky to have such wonderful families who have devoted a sizable amount of assistance and sweat equity in this journey! I really don’t know where we’d be without them. SOL for sure! So perhaps I’ll run out of time before I have a chance to DIY a pinterest-worthy nursery. But you learn there are more important things. It really takes a village, and we are so lucky that this baby will be welcomed into his or hers with so much love.

So that is where I’ve been. When I have a chance to breathe, I’ll post about our bathroom, refurbishing the windows, and all our other adventures. Stay tuned!

Happy holidays! And happy news…

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Greetings and happy holidays!  And apologies for my extended absence.  The thing is, I just haven’t felt up to cooking, eating or doing much of anything these past few months.  I’m 14 weeks pregnant today and just now gradually emerging from the fog of sickness and exhaustion that was my first trimester.  Didn’t think my steady diet of bagels and clementines was really worthy of a blog post :).

We moved into our first house a year ago, on Christmas day, and I’m so happy with the difference a whole year makes!  This year, instead of unpacking boxes we will be hosting our first Christmas dinner, cooking in our new kitchen.  And of course, it would not be the holiday season without our first Christmas tree.

I’ve always been solidly on the real tree side of the debate.  The smell and texture of a live tree in your home is just one of those quintessential things about Christmas.  And I’ve always believed they’re the more eco-friendly option.  Artificial trees are made of petroleum, whereas real trees do cycle carbon, provide habitat, prevent erosion, etc during their lifetimes.

I have been reading recently, though, about the inordinate amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are used in many tree farms throughout the country.  Christmas tree farming is a long-term investment.  When you plant a sapling, it can be more than a decade before that tree makes it to a market.  The market also demands a perfectly shaped, fully and bushy tree.  This necessitates a pretty chemical-intensive farming model to ensure a large and speedy return on investment!

With the purging of chemicals on my mind lately, this concerned me.  How could I cope with the cognitive dissonance that perhaps, PERHAPS, my beloved real trees were not the most environmentally sensitive choice after all?  I started googling to see if there were any organic tree options in the DC area.  Turns out there is exactly one:  Licking Creek Bend Farm sells their sustainable Christmas trees to order and also weekly at the Adams Morgan farmers market.  So into the city we went in search of the perfect tree.

We came home with the most beautiful and fragrant concolor fir, cut only days earlier.  Its branches may be a little more sparse than your typical generic tree, but I think it looks natural and perfect in our home.  You’d think an organic tree would be astronomically expensive, but  they had a variety of price points and the one we selected was comparable to the prices you’d find at a nursery.

I also very much believe in decorating your tree with ornaments that are sentimental, meaningful, or handmade — no color-coordinated, themed trees in my house!  So since this is our first Official tree, it seems a little sparsely decorated as we slowly build a collection.  But I still love it.

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2012 so far has been a very special year to us, and I’m so happy to celebrate this holiday season with my loved ones and welcome in the new year.  Excited to see what 2013 will bring!  Best wishes to a beautiful holiday and prosperous new year to you!

-R

 

 

Windows and doors: soul of a building

Becoming the 5th owners of a nearly century-old house with a few years of neglect has been a blessing and a curse.  Nothing more exemplifies this dichotomy than the doors and windows of the house.

They are (okay, were) all original.  All 100% wood and glass.  All coated on the outside with chipping lead paint.  And all in various states of disrepair.

When you get into a situation like this, it is tempting to rip it all out and throw in the cheapest option.

But I truly feel like becoming the owner of a 90+ year old house is a commitment to its preservation.  I really believe that the concept that we should not invest in our own homes, that we should spend as little as possible, that we should only consider how to short change the next potential owner to maximize the return on our dollar rather than consider what is best for the house, for ourselves, is part of what got us into this housing market mess in the first place.  A house is a financial investment, and a big one at that, but should we really go about our lives thinking only of our immediate returns?  A house is so much more than that.  It is also a home.

All that, plus you know, I really hate vinyl.

Windows and doors, perhaps more than any other architectural feature, say a lot about a building.  You can tell so much about a house immediately simply by standing on the curb and examining the detailing and symmetry of the windows and doors.  Here is a website with lots of photos that explains it quite well.  Different historic periods had very specific ways of conveying the aesthetic of the day through the doors and windows.  On my morning commute through a few distinctive neighborhoods of DC, I love looking at the beautiful detailing and originality of the windows on the Victorian row houses.  And you can immediately tell when they’ve been replaced cheaply.  They simply don’t make ’em like they used to.  I mean, you’d never see a lovely stained glass transom light above the door of your average house built today.  People simply don’t build pretty things anymore.  They build cheap things.

Vinyl windows don’t have a very long lifespan.  They warp and generally need to be replaced after 20-30 years where they end up in a landfill.   They cannot be repaired.    They are quite ugly.  Their one claim to fame, their energy efficiency, is kind of diminished when you consider that they ultimately warp and bend out of shape.  And it is the opinion of many preservationists that a properly maintained, properly working wood window is not substantially less energy efficient than modern windows.

As for my improperly maintained wood windows?  I can attest that these are less energy efficient, ha.  But with adequate weatherstripping and those optically clear plastic sheets you hang over them with a hair dryer, you can gain a big improvement and reduce a lot of draftiness.

Here is one of the prettier casement windows in my house:.

Another one, plus a sleepy cat who thinks he’s now mantle decor?

Now, there are a few windows on the sides of the house, toward the rear, that we have absolutely replaced with cheap vinyl windows.  We also had the lead-painted trim wrapped in aluminum.  These were a little more urgent and a clear safety hazard (one was in our kitchen, one was preventing AC in our bedroom!).  And in the rear-side of a house, where it can’t be seen from the street, it’s not as critical to preserve its history.

But there are a few beautiful windows in the front that we so far just can’t bring ourselves to destroy.  And the door.  We NEEDED a new door!

Windows are very much one thing, but when you go through a doorway every day, it gets a lot of wear and tear.  I think if we really wanted to, we probably could have stripped and sanded and reglazed the glass on this door, but it was ultimately too much work for an old and flimsy door that really needed replacement.

Here it sits on our front porch waiting to be taken to Community Forklift where someone will hopefully upcycle it into something creative and pin it on pinterest.

It still even had the original doorknob with old-timey lever lock keyhole  (We switched out the knob with a cheap replacement as a temporary solution when it broke).

This historic door could not be replaced by just any door.  We wanted something that matched the historic feel and character of our home.

Our contractor and some of our friends/family were SHOCKED that we were not getting some sturdy, nondescript and cheap fiberglass door.  They also were taken aback by our choice of a door that had a similar lite (glass pane) pattern.  WON’T KIDS THROW ROCKS AT IT, BUGLERS BUST THROUGH IT, ETC ETC?! Um, well they haven’t in 90 years.  And if children really wanted to throw rocks at glass, everyone may as well get rid of their windows too.  Why is it so weird to have glass on a door these days?

Anyway.  We picked out a door from Simpson with traditional Arts & Crafts styling made of ash and stained.

If you would like a wood entry door, it is important that it is in a covered location and that you choose an appropriate species of wood.  It’s a good idea to have a storm door too.  That part is still on our To Do list.

But it’s a beautiful door, no?

We also ordered some period-appropriate hardware.

It is also incredibly sturdy, energy efficient, and should last this house at least another century.

Repairing the old windows is our next project.  Stay tuned!

-R

Kitchen REVEAL!

Okay, that title is a joke, in case it isn’t obvious.  This is definitely not HGTV!

In fact I’ve been putting off writing this post because there are so many little projects and loose ends that still need to be tied.  Some drywall needs patching.  Electrical work.  Transition pieces and shoe molding.  But a funny thing happens in the process of renovating a house:  you get to about 99% done, are satisfied with the results, and suddenly it’s a new season and there are new things to worry about.  Like yard work.  Or studying for the bar exam.  Or avoiding the heat.  Or replacing the front door that your dog walker broke.  You know, those things.  So finishing that last 1% may have to wait until it’s cool enough to feel like working hard again.  But I wrote enough about my kitchen reno over the winter that I don’t want to leave you hanging!

Before…

Foolishly, I did not take any before photos prior to demolition.  The ones below are from the listing.  Suffice it to say that it was BAD.  We thought we might be able to live with it.  Just take off the cabinet doors, spruce up the paint, etc…but once we got in there we realized it was just one giant, disgusting mess.  The laminate countertops and vinyl floors were peeling off.  I could not unscrew the cabinet doors due to the 17 layers of paint, but luckily they were easy enough to pry off with a crow bar thanks to the poor condition of the wood.  There was so much wasted space.  And the pièce de résistance:  the most dreary foam drop ceiling and fluorescent light you have ever seen had been installed over what turned out to be a charming plaster ceiling with an exposed beam. It was HORRIBLE and just a few updates here and there eventually turned into a complete gut job..down to the studs.

After!

Cabinets, sink and countertop are from Ikea and were installed with the help of a contractor.

Drop ceiling was removed and we installed drywall with the help of some family members who know what they are doing.

The backsplash, open shelving and marmoleum floors were all also DIY and would not have been possible without the help of some wonderful and more construction-savvy friends and family!

The backsplash is made of glass subway tiles.  My kitchenaid was obviously the inspiration for the color :). The countertop is a solid wood butcher block.  The floor is marmoleum and described in further detail here.

The countertops, cabinets, sink and freestanding counter unit were all from Ikea.  While I would have loved quality, solid wood cabinets and what not, it was not in the budget and we also want to keep open the option of an even more extensive kitchen renovation by bumping it out into the laundry/utility room (see above).  Ikea seemed to have the best balance between price and quality and was also the most eco-friendly compared to others of similar cost — formaldehyde free (which is important for particleboard/MDF products!), low-VOC, and they make efforts to source their wood from sustainable suppliers.  I also prefer Ikea’s design aesthetic — I was pretty set on the idea of a farmhouse sink, and they sell one for less than $200, a price that is pretty incomparable to any other farmhouse sink I could find sold at other big box retailers!

Storage in a small kitchen can be an issue but I’ve tried to embrace the idea of having more things exposed — after all, a kitchen is meant to be used!  It also forces you to edit down your kitchen wares to what you really need and keep things clean!  The open shelving was purely a budget decision, but I like how it looks, and it has worked well for us so far. You can find instructions for a pegboard wall organizer à la Julia Child here.

Well there is obviously a lot of work left to do but I wanted to post an update here.  Maybe soon I’ll have a new front door to report on too!

-R

Terrariums!

Happy earth day!  It’s a rainy day here where I live, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting my hands dirty with nature :).

Apparently, according to all the home/garden/design blogs I follow, terrariums are the latest new trend.  I’ve been eyeing some wardian cases for some time now, as I have a sunny windowsill in my home that has been crying out for some plants!  When I got one for my birthday, I knew I had the perfect rainy day activity.

Well, a rainy day has finally presented itself after a long dry spell, so here we are.  It was super easy to do and provides so much beauty.  It would be a great activity for kids, too.  Plants are also important for improving your home’s indoor air quality.

Terrariums are a good way to start if you’re new to this whole growing thing — they thrive on neglect and once you’ve set them up, require just a few sprays here and there to keep them happy.

 

The nursery I went to actually had a whole terrarium section, with tons of plants and supplies all sold together.  I followed the instructions on the package I bought, which pretty much was the same as those in the link above:

-Find a suitable bowl/dish/vase/case to plant your terrarium.  In addition to the case I received as a gift, I used an old vase I had leftover from my wedding years ago.

-Choose the plants you want, some taller, some lower, some green, some colorful…i.e. kind of like the container gardening adage, “thrillers, spillers and fillers.”

-Create your terrarium by adding the following layers:

1.  gravel/stone, for drainage
2.  horticultural charcoal, to absorb smells
3.  sand or moss, to prevent soil from seeping down to the bottom
4.  potting soil (if planting succulents, be sure to choose cactus potting soil)
5.  Stick your plants in the soil, creating kind of a mound in the center or back for more height.
6.  More soil around plants as necessary
7.  Decorative elements such as moss, stone, etc

Spray with a water bottle to keep moist.

It’s that easy!

-R