Tag Archives: Life

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

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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:

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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!

The truth about sunscreen

Happy summer solstice!  Mother nature seems to be celebrating with 100° heat and high humidity.  But the arrival of summer begs another discussion:  staying safe in the sun.

 

I grew up spending my summer days on the water and in the pool.  Days  of swim team, fishing, crabbing, boating, or just jumping off the pier were always capped by a week at the beach in August.  In other words:  sunburns were a rite of passage.  I looked forward to the golden tan that developed by the first day of school.  Sunscreen was always an afterthought.

Which makes this fact even scarier:    just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles your chances for melanoma.  These days, I no longer willingly and knowingly allow myself to be exposed to known carcinogens.  A sunburn is just not something to be taken lightly.  Not gonna lie, my vanity also comes into play:  we all can picture what middle age looks like on someone who had a little to much fun in the sun in his or her youth.  Hence, I have become super anal retentive about being protected whenever I’m in the sun.

Not all sunscreens are created equal, however.  There is startlingly little control and regulation over what sunscreens are permitted to advertise and promote in terms of their effectiveness.  There is little quality control over ingredients that may actually exacerbate skin damage.  While conventional sunscreens may prevent you from burning, thus giving peace of mind, they are not all equally effective against cancer.  This is an instance where our regulatory and industry controls have failed, and it is up to the consumer to do the research and protect themselves.

Luckily, the Environmental Working Group publishes a sunscreen guide every year, testing hundreds of sunscreens and reiterating these basic facts:

-UVB rays cause sunburn and cancer.  UVA rays cause cancer but not sunburn.  Many sunscreens are advertised as “Broad Spectrum” or otherwise protective against UVA rays … but very few actually are.  The rules are astonishingly lax.  Cross-reference the guide to ensure that yours is.

-Many sunscreens contain harmful ingredients
.  Vitamin A, or retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in about 25% of sunscreen.  Vitamin A actually increases the skin’s absorption of UV rays.  How does this make any sense????  Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in about 50% of available water resistant sunscreens, penetrates the skin, causing allergic reactions and is a potential hormone disruptor.  Mineral sunblock frequently contains nanoparticles.  Most FDA-approved UV blockers react with sunlight to cause free radical damage to the skin, even as it is protective against UV rays.  Other ingredients are known toxins and known to penetrate the skin.  It seems that choosing the best sunscreen is choosing between the lesser of two evils.  According to EWG, there are effective and safer UV blockers used in Europe that have yet to win FDA approval.

-Bigger is not better.  SPF of 30 should be sufficient protection, and SPF over 50 is false advertising — there is no evidence that these provide significantly better protection.  Don’t believe the hype.  Growing up, I was always told that SPF 15 was adequate, but it depends on how easily you burn, and for many people it is not enough for extended periods of time.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  There is no “perfect” sunscreen available in the U.S. today.  Luckily the EWG has some helpful advice:

Mineral blockers, for all their faults, are the best.  Nanoparticles, free radical damage, and pasty white skin aside, mineral sunscreens are the best thing available on the market today.  This is what I use, and while the thick white creme that doesn’t blend so easily took some getting used to, I am happy with them now.

-Sunscreen is not the best defense.  Stay in the shade.  Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.  Minimize your time in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.  Don’t assume that you’re good to go just because you’ve coated your skin in sunscreen.

-Educate yourself.  Check out EWG’s guide and see how your sunscreen is ranked.   You might be surprised!

Summer is such a magical time of year — don’t let a bad sunburn ruin it.  Stay safe out there!

Stay cool!

-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

Mastering the art of the mid-day workout

I don’t mean to imply by that title that I have come anywhere close to “mastering” this art.  And it is an art.  I’ve always squeezed in workouts on my way home from work, but for a variety of reasons lately that has been a challenge.  But I’ve always been in the camp that if you prioritize your health and your body, you’ll find a way rather than make excuses.  So I’m trying to find a way.  With varying degrees of success on any given week.

I’m lucky to have a gym with showers right in my building, and to work in a rather picturesque part of DC.  So in theory, a lunch hour jog should be perfectly feasible!  But we all know how easy it is to remain at our desks and get lured into more and more work.

But I read again recently how dangerous sitting is for long periods of time.  And when I do manage to get a run in, I am so much more productive the rest of the afternoon.  So it really is worth it to take the time for yourself — as hard as it can be to take those steps out the door, I’ve never regretted a workout.

So I try. And here is what I’ve learned along the way:

Pack ahead.  Because let’s be honest:  there is no way in hell I am going to spend my precious few minutes as I’m rushing out the door in the morning to gather my gym clothes.  And if I did, I’d surely forget a crucial element.  You certainly do not want to return from your run, all sweaty and gross, and realize you forgot your shower flip flops.  Ugh.
Pack your bag the night before and leave it by the door.

Arrive prepared.  Heading to the gym locker room when you’ve got a single hour for your workout is like the transitions in a triathlon:  you try and shave off as many seconds as you can.  Outfit permitting, I will put my socks/sports bra/etc on in the morning and carry my normal workday ones to change into in my gym bag.  I mean, it can take a long time to have to change your socks twice!
It’s also honestly a little weird to be changing in a locker room when at any moment you could run into one of your colleagues.  So I try to minimize my time there…

Have a plan.  I know how far I can run down the mall before I have to turn around.  I’ve timed it perfectly so that at the end of my 5 minute cool-down, I am walking through the door of the gym.

Transition #2.  One of my longtime hesitations about working out before or during work was:  how do I do my hair and makeup?  Do I really have to lug the entire contents of my bathroom drawers with me to work?  The thought of blowdrying my hair in the gym locker room was kind of a deal breaker for me.
So guess what?  I don’t.  I jump in the shower, rinse off quickly, but avoid my hair.  And it’s fine.  Nothing that a little dry shampoo can’t handle.  If you have long hair, you can pull it back too and no one will know the difference.
Sweat, unlike makeup, is water soluble so all it takes is a quick rinse in the shower with water to clean up — just make sure you have removed your makeup beforehand.   I don’t wear much makeup on days I head to the gym — just foundation and eyeliner, really, and quickly wipe it off as soon I get there.  When I finish my workout, all it takes is just another quick re-dusting of foundation and I’m good to go.

Now, if someone has any advice for how to still make it to the gym when your boss unexpectedly drops a pile of work on your desk just as you were heading out and the rest of your afternoon is filled with meetings?  I’m all ears…

-R

The sacred and the mundane

There is so much comfort in the familiar — in the same sights and smells that come back each season and provide a sense of renewal and yet fond reminiscence — a reminder that time is, in many ways, cyclical, not linear.
For me, here on the east coast of the US, this is what the spring means to me — thawing soil, lily of the valley, fresh-cut grass, new mulch, and yes, even the pleasantly unpleasant smell of those awful, invasive bradford pears that give the appearance of a fresh snowfall in March.  In the summer?  Fresh basil and Old Bay, tomato vines and charcoal grills.  In fall the familiar is harder to pinpoint — rotting leaves, crisper air, the hay bales at the pumpkin patch.  In winter it is the omnipresent smell of wood burning fireplaces, Christmas trees, clean, damp air.

And yet, in chatting with a friend who works for the travel industry, it occurred to me that some things I cherish the most are cherished precisely because they are exotic.  Perhaps one of my very favorite flowers is one that you’d never see here at all.  It is just something that reminds me of happy, youthful, relaxed and incredibly memorable trips I’ve taken to warmer climes.  So it got me thinking — what are some sensory experiences that take you back to somewhere NOT familiar — a place that is special to you even if you’ve only been once or twice, because of the fond memories it holds?

I have been fortunate in my life to have had work trips and educational experiences that have taken me to some of my favorite places on earth — but this is not just about checking foreign countries off your bucket list.  It is also about discovering the exceptional in the mundane.  Some of the items on my list are not really that exotic — I just think of them that way given the context in which I experience them.
So while I could go on and on about my favorite native Maryland flowers, foods and experiences, here are some things I love because they remind me of elsewhere in space and time:

Bougainvillea
The aforementioned favorite flower.  Quite simply:  you know you are in paradise once you see the bougainvillea growing.  On my patio of the house in South Africa I lived in for a semester.  Lining the retaining walls of southern France where I spent a summer in college.  Growing nearly wild and uncontained in Costa Rica and Vietnam.  It’s copious fuchsia flowers are hard to miss.  They seem to be always in bloom, like the perpetual summer that is the tropics, a place where you never have to worry about packing away your flip flops.

Photo from wikimedia commons

Garlic+Ginger
These two aromatics, when combined, will forever remind me of the cold 10 days I spent in China.  You’d be hard pressed to find a menu item that did not include the two.  It is on every person’s breath.

Cafe au lait
I was never a coffee drinker before I spent a summer in a French immersion program in Aix-en-Provence.  But France will change you like that.

Rosé wine
I’m not talking about any of that sweet zinfandel crap.  I mean the dry, Provençale rosé the southern French drink all summer long.  You can buy it here, imported, but some how it’s not quite the same.  When I cracked open a bottle I brought back myself, I was immediately transported back to Provence.  I haven’t found one here in the US that brings that same sensation.

Wild Blueberries
One of my (guilty?) pleasures is buying specifically the wild frozen blueberries to add to my morning oatmeal.  Because they remind me of the amazing week I spent in Acadia National Park, where you can grab blueberries by the handful on the side of the road in August.  I had never seen anything like it.


Sweet tea
I prefer my iced tea unsweetened, but when in Rome (AKA the south)…you do as the southerners do, and drink sweet tea, in spite of the inevitable sugar overload.

Champagne
One of the more disturbing trends I have noticed encroaching into weddings throughout the US is the serious lack of sparkling wine flowing all night.  Champagne may not be everyone’s usual drink of choice, but it is what you imbibe when you are celebrating something.  When you drink it, it reminds you of those happy, celebratory times.  But it goes beyond that:  weddings, new year’s eve, life transitions:  champagne is what we drink when we want to mark the optimism of a new beginning.  It signifies not only joy, but shared hope and anticipation.  Life will not always be easy and fun, but it’s important to take time to stop and celebrate on those occasions, when, if only for a moment, everything you see on the horizon is going to be perfect.  Life needs more champagne, not less.


Fondant
Everyone says that this icing tastes terrible, that it is just for decoration.  But I love it, probably for the same reason I love champagne.  I did not have it on my own wedding cake, a decision I have come to regret.

Pomp & Circumstance
Because I needed an audio cue to add to this list.  Graduation season is upon us and I count myself among those who will be enduring another long-ass graduation ceremony this year (LOL, sorry honey!).  But no matter who it is, even I, an avowed graduation-hater, gets a little choked up when this song starts playing.  Partly because it brings back fond memories of my days in high school band.  But in all seriousness, completing a degree is a significant achievement, no matter how long it takes or what number it is, and I’d venture to say that hearing this song allows us all to relive that unique combination of relief and accomplishment we once felt about that onerous final paper being done and done once again.

Cannoli
I know, I am probably one of 100 million people who would list this as well, but any time I am in a little Italy, whether NYC, Baltimore…I must get myself some cannoli.

What are some things you love precisely because of the rarity with which you experience them?  Nutella?  The smell of Jasmine?  UNsweetened iced tea?  Leave a comment!

Winter survival

Winters in the midatlantic are the bane of my existence.  There are few things more miserable to me than a 3 month stretch of 40° and rainy.  Except for the few times we actually get snow, and I’ve got to dig my car out and navigate streets through a city whose approach to winter road maintenance is “snow:  it’ll melt.  Eventually.”  But the weather is just the salt in the wound created by the darkness, all the time.  Dark when I get up.  Dark when I leave.  Dark when I get home.  When spring finally rolls around, I feel a veil lift from me that I hadn’t realized had been there.  I feel like a new person.

Do you suffer from self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder?  What strategies do you have to manage?  Here are a few of mine:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  Well, I don’t exactly agree with this.  Of course there is such a thing as bad weather.  But appropriate clothing certainly helps.  I live in the city and take transit/walk to work, so being prepared for the elements is key.
First, look to the Canadians:  I have a pair of Blondo boots that are completely waterproof, salt proof, super warm…and yet work-appropriate and stylish.  Not cheap, but so worth it.  I wear them all the time on rainy, nasty winter days. La Canadienne is another brand of stylish winter boots, but I think they’re even more expensive.
I also recommend down.  My down puffy coat may look a little…puffy, but it is nearly impervious to cold once I have it on a few minutes.  I love it.  Finally, I believe that if I am going to spend money on clothing, it should be multifunctional.  I should be able to climb Everest in the morning and show up at work in the afternoon wearing the same outfit.  Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea.  One item I have that I love is this dress from Nau (this one, maybe?) that is just the perfectly normal little black dress — you can wear it out or office it up with a cardigan and belt — but it’s made with wicking, quick-dry fabric so it’s the first thing I grab out of my closet on rainy days.  Retailers like Nau and Patagonia are expensive but if you catch their sales (I never pay full price) they are about the same as non-outdoorsy stores.

Get sunshine when you can.  I always have to force myself away from my desk in the afternoon, but I am always glad I do, even when it’s freezing.  Being outside, in the sunshine just really lifts my mood.  Most of the year, I am a major stickler for sunscreen, but in the winter, I use a moisturizer with no SPF.  You want to get as much vitamin D as possible, and often my face is the only skin exposed to the light!

Don’t neglect yourself.  It’s easy to lock yourself indoors with an endless mug of hot chocolate and rich, decadent food in the winter — but take care of yourself.  You will really feel so much better.

At the end of the day, though, no matter what I do, I’m still pretty much a miserable, short-tempered mess all winter and the only real cure for me is spring.  Do you have any recommendations?  Do you use a light box or other device?  Take up winter sports?  Or some secret miracle drug?  Share your ideas!

-R