It's Been A While!

It turns out that raising children takes a lot of time and energy. Shocking, right?

Anyway, here we are, over 5 years later. Mr V has started elementary school, and he has a little sister who's now two years old. Here they are the day they met.


And here they are today, helping Mommy fix the family bike.

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Lots has happened in between, but at the moment, life is running smooth enough that I can imagine having time to blog every once in a while!

Kids' Music For Grownups

There is an entire subgenre of children's music meant to appeal first and foremost to the parents. Particularly when it comes to baby and early toddler music. Kids that age don't really have peer groups they're trying to fit into, and very little in the way of preferences. So, if mom and dad are going to listen kids' songs, why not at least make it enjoyable?

Children's music is also a great place to reconnect with mediocre pop and soft rock artists from fifteen years ago. The gold standard here is probably Caspar Babypants, who makes grownup music as the lead singer for Presidents of the United States of America (don't lie, you like "Lump" and "Peaches" when they came out), but in his spare time has some hilarious kids' albums. Mr. Babypants is a local celebrity in Seattle, making regular appearances at public libraries and Top Pot Doughnuts.

Other successful nineties acts who've expanded into children's music include Lisa Loeb and They Might Be Giants.

Frances England, who I had never heard of pre-baby, has lots of fun original tunes plus a few classic tracks. She's fast becoming a favorite in our house, with tunes like "Bicycle, Bicycle", "Cookies & Milk", and "Jacques Cousteau".

Adult artists performing genuine kid songs (think "Wheels on the bus") are harder to find. The Muppets Green Album is pretty good. The For the Kids series has a few decent tracks. 
Last but not least, reconnecting with the children's music of your childhood era can be fun. As an added bonus, you'll already know the words to many songs.

The rise of free and cheap online music makes it super easy to sample this stuff. Give it a try!

One Month of VCB

This past Wednesday, V turned one month old. Here's a nice collage showcasing his first 31 days on the outside.

VCB's First Month
He's become quite the charmer, is beginning to stay awake during the day, and give mom & dad a solid 4-5 hour stretch of sleep each night.

Ideas on How to Organize Your Diaper Changing Station

Life with baby is full of incredibly banal decisions that you still have to make and for which you have no real preparation, like

How do I arrange my diaper changing station?!?!

To which the real answer is "whatever, you'll figure it out after two or three weeks of changing 12 diapers a day. Take a deep breath". But let's try to do a little better than that.

The main thing to think about when considering changing station layout is "how do I make things as quick and easy as possible at 2:30am?" We did this by putting everything that we could possibly use on a regular or semi-regular basis within arm's reach. There's no real right or wrong way to do this. Whether the area to the left of the changing pad holds Purell, Snappis, or wet wipes is up to you. Just make sure that everything close to your arms will be used frequently.

If you must know, the items seen around the changing dresser, going clockwise from the bottom left, are: diaper pail from Baby Diaper Service; step can for used wipes; window sill for extra cloth wipes orphaned clothes that need to find a match in the next load of laundry (single socks, onesies without matching pants, etc.); top dresser drawer stores baby clothes; to the left of the chaning pad are Purell, cloth wipes, coconut oil, and diaper rash cream; changing pad; on the raised platform are snappis, covers, prefolds, and wet wipes; the wet bag is hanging from a drawer that stores the spare pad cover, other rash creams, and emergency disposables; and finally a laundry basket for everything other than covers and really soiled clothing.

We found our dresser/changing area on Craigslist, and it's great for having lots of stuff accessible during diaper changes. It's similar to the Davinci Kalani combo dresser, but you can find others that have the same raised storage section on Amazon, Babies 'R Us, other baby/child furniture stores, and possibly even regular furniture stores.

Keen-eyed readers may notice that in the bottom right-hand corner is a clear plastic tub holding some loose disposable diapers, and a couple of rash creams. The tub will be going to West Side Baby, which collects diapers to give to low-income households. Because diapers aren't food, the two main social support programs for poor children, WIC Nutrition Service and SNAP (aka food stamps) can't be used to pay for diapers. This borders on the criminal. If you have leftover bags of diapers, consider giving them to a food bank or other non-profit that will accept them. Even better, turn your kids' first birthday party into a diaper drive.

Our Baby's Favorite Swaddle Blanket is The Summer Infant SwaddleMe

The primary struggle for new parents is getting their squishy newborn to Go the F**k to Sleep. Newborns need to eat constantly, they eat more frequently at night, and they have a terrible time calming themselves down to the point where they can fall back asleep, or at least relax.

The latest hotness in newborn-calming techniques is Dr. Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block. He's got a book, a DVD, and an Amazon Video with tips. Karp's main idea is that newborn babies are calmest when their surroundings are familiar, which to a newborn means that things look, feel, and sound like being in the womb. Life in utero is full of loud swooshing noises, being bundled up, and bouncing around as mom walks goes about her business.

One of Karp's primary soothing mechanisms is the age-old technique of swaddling a baby. The two keys here are to get your newborn packed up in the blankets very tightly, and also getting baby to keep his arms down. It's this second part that can be tricky; if your baby likes to try sucking his thumb, he'll punch through a number of swaddling blankets.

The baby industry has made umpteen different swaddlegizmos to try and solve this problem -- the Halo Sleepsack, the Woombie, Aden & Anais giant swaddle blankets, and so on. Which one is the best for you? I have no idea. Which swaddlegizmo your baby likes depends on how well you wrap them with it, how well their body type fits it, and a million other factors that can't be anticipated. Just by a bunch of them from a store with a good return policy, try them out over a couple of weeks, and send back the ones that are no good.

The Summer Infant SwaddleMe has worked
wonders for us. Give it a try, but if it doesn't work
try something else!
For us, at least, the winner is the Summer Infant SwaddleMe. The SwaddleMe features a roomy pouch to fit baby's legs, plus velcro that sits really high. The velcro makes it easier to keep baby's arms down by his side while still leaving enough room to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia. Thanks to the SwaddleMe, VCB has gone from waking up 3-4 times per night to once or twice. Just as importantly, when we bundle him back up after feeding, he goes back to sleep quickly. Or at least calms down, meaning mom and dad can get some rest themselves.

VCB's first week

To celebrate his first week of life, we took young Master Valentine out for his first trip outside! Mostly, mom & dad wanted to get coffee. We also posed him for his first of many time lapse photos.

Here's a "making of" video ... my first attempt to use the GoPro.

The Best Clothing for Newborn Babies is Kimonos & Leg Warmers

We are five days into the parenting thing (seven -- SEVEN! COUNT' EM! --  if you count the two days in postpartum recovery), so naturally as a first time parent I have all sorts of advice for the rest of the world. And what is the Internet for if not handing out ill-informed, unsolicited advice? AMIRITE? I know enough about baby-raising to know we don't know everything. But at this point we do know something, particularly about this first few days where mom and dad are just gasping for air trying to keep baby happy and alive and maybe get a little bit of sleep. I thought we might use this experience to help you.

So here's the scenario: you're gift shopping for that yuppie-hipster (yipster?) friend of yours, who has a baby shower this weekend. Sure, you could get something straight off the wishlist, like diapers or an infant carrier or a Rock n Play. But you want your gift to be special. And thoughtful. To show that you care about your friend's baby. So you get something small off the wishlist -- maybe a pacifier or a stack of prefolds/burp rags -- then head to the baby section of the department store, where you see just the cutest little outfit, maybe with a big ol' monkey face or a turtle on it. Your baby-related emotions overtake everything else in your brain and you rush over to the rack and

woah. Woah. WOAH. Eeeeeeasy there, tiger. Let's stop think about this for a second.

I can appreciate the sentiment. Nothing screams cute like baby clothes. They are engineered by marketers to trigger all the "d'awwwww" receptors in the human brain. But there are a number of reasons why picking the cutest outfit off the rack isn't exactly special and/or thoughtful.

What is the point of buying this swank diaper cover
if it's just going to be covered by a onesie?
  1. Everyone else has the same idea. Well, not everyone. But there will be multiple guests that decide the best gift they can buy is the cutest/hippest article of clothing they can find. Clothing is always appreciated. But there comes a point where the parents might wish they had gotten something else that might see more regular use. This is the biggest reason to be a bit more careful with off-the-registry giftgiving.
  2. It's probably too big. The display clothing is usually meant for babies aged 6 months or older, sometimes as old as 15 or 18 months. Now, there are two schools of thought here. One school says that gifts for older kids will be nice when there are fewer people who are in a gift-giving mood. The other says that by the time baby gets to 6 months, mom and dad have got this whole parenting thing at least partially under control, while on the first day home from the hospital it's just 24x7 CRISIS ALERT! and simple, practical, workaday items will be a godsend. Consider your gift recipients and the other guests when deciding which school to follow. But as you do so, be sure to keep reason #1 in mind. (a third school says not to register for clothes at all, because that's what everyone is going to give you anyway. That, and blankets.)
  3. It might not keep baby warm enough. Newborns lose heat very quickly. For maximum comfort and health, they should be dressed roughly one layer warmer than the adults in the room, and/or swaddled with additional blankets. Short-sleeved clothing won't do unless it's summer somewhere warm, or mom and dad keep their house at sauna temperatures. Most decorative/standard baby clothing seems to be short-sleeved.
  4. Even if it's newborn-sized, it might be a pain to put on/take off. More on specific clothing types in a minute.
  5. It probably hides the diaper. This is only applicable if the parents are considering using cloth diapers. You're probably thinking "cloth diapers? but, poop! in the laundry! EWWW!!!"  ... That's not how it works, but that's another post for another time. For now, just understand that one of the reasons to use cloth diapers is that cloth diapers are stylin'. Most baby clothes are optimized for parents trying to hide their kids' Huggies. Nothing wrong with that, but check with the parents-to-be to see if they're considering going cloth.
Did you get all that? Yes? So we're going to step away from the display rack? Right? Yeaaaaah. There we go. Now, what to get instead. You want to get something the parents will love, but still want a gift that has a personal touch. Imma hook you up right here.

First off, sizes. Focus on newborn and/or size 0-3. Most babies will need newborn (typically 5-8lbs) sized clothing for at least a couple of weeks. Larger babies will fit 0-3 clothing at birth. That size will get used for longer, but probably still give the parents that feeling of "zomg your gift totally pulled my ass out of the fire".

This is the kind of easy to take-on/off outfit that
mom and dad will love in the early days.
Now lets talk outfit types. Your first and best bet is long-sleeved kimono shirts plus leg warmers. The shirts should fasten together with snaps. Not buttons. Not zippers. Not ties. Snaps! Kimonos -- sometimes labeled side snap shirts -- are far and away the easiest clothing to put on and take off a squishy newborn, with minimal baby fussing and parent frustration. Place on the diaper changing pad at the end of the change, fold over baby, snap, snap, snap, and done. Leg warmers are similarly easy to put on; you just wad them up, slide them over the feet, stretch them out, and that's it.

For your kimonos, Baby Soy has a nice set of kimono tops made out of "natural azlon soybean protein fiber" and, I dunno, crystals and aura and the tears of investment bankers or whatever. They look cute and comfy, so I'll take it. On the budget side of things, Gerber makes plain white baby kimono shirts, which have the added bonus of fold-over wrist cuffs to keep baby from scratching up his face. "But plain white is so boring!" you say. Well, give them a chance to jazz it up. Borrow their ultrasound photo and print it onto iron-on transfer paper, or include a pack of such paper in your gift. Leg warmers can also add additional flair to your clothing gift. You can find nice leg warmers in newborn and other sizes at  BabyLegs or juDanzy or maybe you can find some friends to split a 50-pack from alva baby. carries both BabyLegs and juDanzy, but I found it difficult to search the styles on their website.

Up next is full kimono outfits or side-snap sleepers. These are just like the plain vanilla, center-snap sleeper, only with three or four fewer snaps. They're probably the best choice for parents that plan on using disposable diapers. Baby Soy and Little Me both make side-snap outfits.

Your third option is the center-snap long-sleeved sleeper or footed pajama. For many parents, the sleeper is the workhorse outfit in baby's first few months. It's suitable to almost all temperatures except blazing hot, keeps baby feeling pretty snug to minimize distressed crying, and you can usually find them with a cute print even in NB/0-3 sizes. Any baby or department store will have a ton of these, just make sure they're the right side, have feet, and a cute hat.

The fourth best option is the long-sleeved pullover shirt, again combined with leg warmers. The long-sleeved pullover has no snaps, which can be great for robing/disrobing baby. However, some parents are a bit afraid of pulling and stretching fabric around their newborn's fragile little head and hands. NOTE: newborns are way less fragile than most people's instincts tell them. Watch the nurses in recovery as they do diaper changes, burping, or other basic baby maintenance. They're not exactly gentle; they've gots places to be. Nonetheless, pullovers are still more clumsy than the super-simple kimonos or even sleepers.

What you don't want to give is newborn or 0-3 onesies one-piece bodysuits (Gerber has a trademark on "Onesie", c.f. Kleenex, Xerox, etc.). Because, it turns out, onesies are a huge pain in the derriere. Very young babies can't sit up, so donning a onesie requires sliding it down baby's back while he wiggles on the changing table. Not fun. And again, if mom and dad want to show off their adorable cloth diapers, you've just become the funcrusher. Let the other guests pick out onesies while you hand over the newborn clothing survival pack, consisting of:

  • 1x 2-pack of newborn Gerber long-sleeve white kimono shirts: $8
  • 2x 2-pack of 0-3 Gerberg long-sleeve white kimono shirts: $18
  • One nice kimono shirt from Baby Soy: $15
  • A pack of iron-on transfer paper: $10
  • 4-5 sets of newborn leggings (Note: leggings can continue to be used later in life as thigh warmers, wristlets, or other silliness. Don't worry about overbuying leggings): $30
  • 2 newborn sleepers -- either side-snap or center-snap: $30
  • 2 0-3 sleepers: $30
Okay, so it's a nice shower gift. $150 is a lot. If it feels like too much, stick with just the plain white shirts and the leggings, or the sleepers if they're planning on using disposables.