Month: September 2008

“Living a Life of Impact” graphics

Our church has a “fall focus” every year when the students come back where everyone – children (sometimes), junior high and high schoolers, college students, and adults – comes together to focus on the same topic for six weeks. In the past, the church has used packaged “curriculum” such as 40 Days of Purpose or Living Beyond Ourselves; this year, the staff created their own material for what they’re calling “Living a Life of Impact: Learning from the life of David.” I created screen and print graphics for the main image that they’d be using.

I was given full freedom and initiative for the design. All I knew about the topic was from a short description of the topics for each week (looking at different aspects of David’s life) and that there would be a community service focus on one of the weekends.

After spending an hour or two browsing istockphoto, I chose this image of a wheat field. The metaphor of a harvest, or fruitfulness, is a common one from the Bible, and, I thought, fit in nicely with the theme.

Simply layering text over the photo seemed a little boring to me, so I started playing with different effects. The final image includes three circle shape layers of different shades of grey, set at various opacities with the Overlay mode to pump up the intensity of the colors. The rings emphasize the idea of “impact.” I was thinking along the lines of ripples, but looking at it again, it also works as a target. I used a Futura variant for the main font and JaneAusten for the script font.

I also created a print-friendly version of the graphic, using gold and brown text with the graphic limited to the circles. This was used for the cover of the devotional booklets, on letterhead, and in other printed announcements. I didn’t have control over the printed materials other than providing the graphics, but I think it turned out pretty good.

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Baby related thoughts: On the first two weeks

This is the fifth of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

I had imagined some nice bonding time with the baby after birth. We’d read and heard about skin-to-skin contact being the Very Best Thing for the baby, even, incredibly, about how newborn babies can “crawl” to the breast to nurse when they’re placed on the mother’s tummy/chest.

In another incident of broken expectations, however, Steven was immediately whisked away to the warming table (Steve didn’t get to cut the umbilical cord, either, because they were in a rush) so that the respiratory therapist could look at him. Because he had pooped in utero, they were concerned that the meconium (the tarry sticky “first poop” that babies have for the first few times) might have gotten into his lungs and nasal passages. They suctioned him off, bundled him up tightly, and let me snuggle with him just briefly, but then whisked him immediately off to the nursery to observe his breathing, which they thought was a little bit weak.

Thankfully, Steven was there for just an hour or two (we went to visit him after I got stitched up) and was brought back, limp and sleeping. In the meantime, Steve went out to call family. His parents, who live half an hour away, immediately drove over. I guess they had a tearful moment in the parking lot as Steve broke down after 75 hours of dealing with a laboring wife and an intense birth moment!

All of us, including the baby, were exhausted. We had a four hour block of sleep the first night. Little did I know that this would be the longest block of sleep that I’d have for a long time!

We stayed in the hospital an extra night because the doctor was concerned that Steven hadn’t seemingly peed yet. (In all likelihood, he peed when he had his first meconium poop – a big tarry sticky black mess – but there was no way we could tell!) At one point, we had to walk him over to the special ultrasound room so that they could make sure his kidneys were okay. Finally, they inserted a catheter, although Steven just started peeing all around it as they were trying to insert it.

My milk hadn’t come in yet, either, so Steven was surviving on colostrum and a few half-ounces of formula for the next few days. The pediatrician was concerned about dehydration because Steven’s urine was very concentrated, so they rigged up a supplementary feeding system with a tiny tube, taped next to the nipple, connected with a syringe that contained a few ounces of formula. As Steven ate, I was supposed to gently suppress the syringe so that formula would get into him. This way he could get extra nutrition without having to be bottle-fed and run the risk of messing up breastfeeding. Great concept in theory… in reality, the syringe didn’t have the finest control, so either no formula would come out or I would practically choke Steven with too much formula. Thankfully my milk finally came in the day after we got home, and we were able to scrap all plastic tubing and formula.

Refreshing my memory by looking back at journal entries, the first week was a mass of uncertainty. Was I breastfeeding right? Was I breastfeeding enough, or not enough? Was I breastfeeding for too long? Or not long enough? Was the baby crying because he was hungry or tired? Should we try to sleep or get other important stuff done? Was it warm enough for the baby? Were we swaddling the baby correctly? Should we try to keep the baby awake while feeding? Should we wake up the baby to feed him or let him sleep? Should we have people bring us food or try to get back to eating homemade organic stuff? Should we let my mom swab the baby’s umbilical cord with alcohol or tell her that the pediatrician told us it was unnecessary? Should we try to borrow a co-sleeper from someone? Was it bad that we were letting the baby sleep in our bed? Was it bad that we took pictures of the baby with the cat?

I felt very thankful that Steve was able to essentially take two weeks off of work – the first week, including three days of labor, and the following week. My mom also came out for a few days, staying at our old place with our old housemates and driving over during the day. She essentially cooked until our fridge was full of food, then left. She helped give the baby baths, but generally focused on cooking. I found it a bit stressful initially because this was the first time she’d been to our new house, and she spent the first 24 hours telling us all the ways that we could improve our lives, including going through each light bulb in our house and asking us if they were CFLs or incandescents. I finally had to kindly confront her and ask her to keep from spouting out her advice, and suggested that she write them down instead so that we could process them after figuring out how to be new parents. (She didn’t write anything down, but the flow of advice did slow down to a trickle.) I love my mom, but she’s one of the few people who can stress me out, so I was thankful that she wasn’t staying in our 990 sq. ft. home with us (not that we had room for an extra bed!) but was able to stay at our old place so that we could get some alone time at night. It was wonderful, however, to have deliciously prepared foods for us at every meal and long after she’d left.

We had a several visitors in the hospital, but then we shut down for a few days when we got home so that we could nap as needed. In retrospect, we probably should have napped more in the hospital, too, and tried to consolidate “visiting hours.”

The nights were most difficult in the first few weeks. Perhaps because the baby had day-night confusion, he was fussier during the night than during the day, so he cried more in the middle of the night, inconsolably. We’d try swaddling him, try holding him, try rocking him, try shushing him. Looking back, I don’t know if there’s anything that we were doing “wrong;” Steven was probably just trying to figure out this big new world just as much as we were trying to figure him out. We just had to all hang in there and do the best we could. At the time, though, I remember wondering what we were doing wrong and trying to change different variables to see what worked: adding white noise, turning up the heat a little bit, having him sleep in our bed. I remember consulting The Happiest Baby on the Block and trying the “5 S’s” (swaddling, side, shushing, swinging, suckling) which surprisingly worked most of the time. But there were times that it didn’t work, and I wouldn’t know how to soothe Steven other than to try to nurse him – which also only worked part of the time. I can remember giving up on the 5 S’s after what seemed like hours of crying, putting Steven to the breast, and dripping tears onto the back of his head because I felt so sad for him and frustrated with my inability to soothe him.

It took just about two weeks, and then Steven fell into his own 2.5 – 3 hour “routine” (which means that he woke up every 2.5 or 3 hours to be fed, ate for half an hour or more while I tried to keep him awake, then went back to sleep). We also went through many “sleep training” discussions, books, and plans. Right around two weeks is also when we transitioned Steven from sleeping in our bed to sleeping in his crib. It’s also when Steven went back to work and I was on my own during the days. Although Steven was what many people would call an “easy baby,” falling into his own routine, there were still many “routine exceptions” some days or some nights so that we never quite felt like we “got it.” (And we still don’t.) Interestingly (to me), after about two weeks, Steven’s night sleep got very consistent and regular, while his day sleep was unpredictable and sometimes not routine.

I feel pretty fortunate that I had an “easy” baby, that breastfeeding went well (more on that later), and that I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression (although I definitely had emotional ups-and-downs). A lot of my friends had very tough starts as mothers – but we’ve all survived.

Some practical-type thoughts about the first two weeks:

  • Read The Happiest Baby on the Block. The 5 S’s have worked pretty well for most of the people that we know who’ve tried it. (And for the ones who haven’t been as lucky, Your Fussy Baby by Marc Weissbluth of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child fame comes highly recommended.)
  • Our baby slept much better when swaddled. This is sort-of empirical fact, as we tried it both ways. (But maybe your baby won’t care.)
  • Skin-to-skin contact comes highly recommended by recent research, not only for bonding (Steve did some skin-to-skin cuddling with Steven, too) but also for breastfeeding. The contact helps to stimulate hormones that increase milk production, and for some babies, makes nursing go a lot more easily. I had a relatively easy time getting breastfeeding going, compared to other friends who have had a lot more challenges. I don’t know how much of the “easiness” was attributed to skin-to-skin contact, but I don’t think it hurt. I’d do it again, despite the unsupportive question someone asked me at one point of when I was going to start breastfeeding “normally.”
  • A lifesaver for me was figuring out “side-lying nursing,” or nursing the baby while lying down. The mother and baby are facing each other, tummy to tummy, and the baby nurses while the mother snoozes. I found it easiest with my bottom arm extended out or curled under my pillow and my other arm cuddling the baby close. I also needed a pillow between my legs and another pillow behind my back for support. On those days when I was really, really tired, it was really nice to be able to nurse and sleep at the same time. Usually the baby would fall asleep while nursing, too, and we’d just have a nice nap together.
  • Everyone says it so it seems old, but I’ll repeat it: Sleep as much as you need to… and even more than you think you need to. Have a friend arrange meals to be brought. Be environmentally unfriendly and use disposable plates if you need to, or have friends come and help you do dishes and clean up. Do everything you can to maximize your naps: Turning off phones, putting a sign on your front door that tells people you’re sleeping, having a trusted friend come over to take the baby for a walk so you can sleep, having a messy house, not putting on makeup. The more sleep you get, your milk may come in sooner, and you’ll have the emotional and mental energy to deal with a crying baby.
  • I found the family and friends who were willing to do “little stuff” such as cleaning our house and running out to get us food, without needing us to entertain them to be the most helpful.

Anyone else want to chime in?

Referencing other Google spreadsheets

I’m more and more impressed with Google spreadsheets as I get into them. Today’s new trick that I learned, as I was helping my sister figure out how to do it, was how to pull in data from one Google spreadsheet into another — and the data will theoretically update automatically in the second spreadsheet when you update the first.

I can’t think of immediate applications yet, so I’m posting this for my own reference in case I need to do it in the future!

Using ImportRange to pull in a range of cells from one spreadsheet to another:

Inside your new spreadsheet, select the top-left cell of the area where you want to pull in data. Then type this formula:

=ImportRange(“spreadsheet_key“,”sheet_name!range“)

  • spreadsheet_key: The “key” variable in the Google spreadsheet link. For example, the bold text here is the spreadsheet key: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=abcdefghijklmnop&hl=en
  • sheet name: The text that is in the bottom tab of the spreadsheet.
  • range: This can be a single cell or a range of cells – for example, B2 (single cell) or A3:A5 (part of a column) or A2:E10 (a block of cells).

Another seemingly roundabout way to do this is to use ImportData.

First, publish your original spreadsheet. In the Publish tab is a link for “more publishing options.”

Change the File format to CSV, pick the specific sheet you want to import, and type the range of cells. Then click the Generate URL button.

Use this URL in the ImportData(“published_url“) formula.

I’m not really sure what the pros and cons are of one method over the other, although ImportRange seems simpler if you’re working with your own spreadsheets as you don’t need to mess with publishing.

Anyway – it takes Google a minute or so to refresh new data from the original spreadsheet, but I think it’s pretty cool!

Soy Happy

My talented friend Holly has opened up a CafePress store called Soy Happy where you can indulge your taste for Very Cute Designs, including some of the below:

Soy Happy Together (ha!)

Soy happy together

Dino

Save Water

Cute but Vicious

And, ahem, my personal favorite for obvious reasons: Nutmeg. Holly created a custom design featuring MY CAT (!) doing what she does best.

Nutmeg could theoretically eat out of a bowl featuring herself!

As is typical with Cafepress products, you’re not going to find any bargain tees, but if you fall in love with one of the characters, you can support a starving artist. The profits from a purchase should be good for at least a couple packs of Ramen.

Baby related thoughts: On baby gear

This is the fourth of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

When I first put together our baby registry, we were under the assumption that we were still going to be living with our friends, Rich and Liz, who were themselves expecting a baby a couple months after us. We were essentially limited to our one bedroom, space-wise, and were planning to keep the baby in there with us until we moved out in August. Little did we know that we’d purchase a house and that the baby would have his own room from the start!

Steve and I try to be minimalists and non-materialistic anyway (the key word being “try”), so we ended up borrowing things and getting lots of things secondhand. We’re lucky to be in a community of generous parents who were more than happy to send gently used baby clothes and gear over to us. But even with trying to be minimalistic, we still ended up with a lot of stuff!

Here’s our registry list which shows all the stuff we got, the stuff we didn’t get, and relevant comments.

  • Cradle – Our friend gave us a beautiful handmade wooden swinging cradle that she had used for her son. She said that he used it up to 5 months. (We ended up using it only briefly because I found it easier to have Steven in bed with us for the first two weeks; then we transitioned him to his crib – see below.)
  • Crib – We didn’t originally register for a crib because we thought we wouldn’t have room and were planning on just using the cradle (see above) initially. When we found out we were going to be in a house, we planned to just find one secondhand after we moved. Our generous friends surprised us with a gorgeous used crib at my baby shower!
  • Crib mattress – We wanted an expensive organic wool and cotton crib mattress, and while it was listed on our registry, we didn’t expect to get it from anyone because of the hefty price tag. We ended up purchasing this ourselves as one of our big-ticket baby items.
  • Bedding – We registered for organic sheets (didn’t receive), organic mattress pad (received 2), and organic blankets (we received the two we registered for, plus about 10 other blankets!). We did not register for matching bedding/decor (sheets, blankets, crib bumper, diaper dispenser) as having a matching nursery was not a priority for us. We got one set of sheets but haven’t used them yet; up to this point, we just have the mattress pad and a waterproof wool pad over that as it’s easier to pull off and wash when it gets soiled. Now that Steven is starting to roll around in his crib, though, the pad isn’t enough coverage so we’ll have to start using sheets. I’ll probably pick up another set of sheets soon.
  • Receiving blankets/swaddling blankets – We used extra-large flannel receiving blankets and “swaddling” blankets the first few months until Steven outgrew them; Steven slept much better when he was swaddled. Steve never felt like he mastered the swaddling technique, so he really liked the Kiddopotamus “SwaddleMe” blanket, which has handy velcro tabs that wrap around and secure the baby tightly. We got the “large” SwaddleMe blanket when Steven outgrew his “small” one.
  • Sleep sacks – These “wearable sleeping bags” come with sleeves or without and zip up so that the baby stays warm without the risk of suffocation. We didn’t use them until Steven was 4 months old, and it took a day of letting him cry while going to sleep as he was used to being tightly swaddled. He still sleeps better when he’s swaddled, so we usually use the SwaddleMe at night and sleep sacks during the day. We got all of our sleep sacks from family and friends, although I bought an organic lightweight sleep sack because the ones we had were all fleece.
  • Bookshelf/changing table – We got an Ikea “Expedit” bookcase for the baby room, intending to use the top surface as a changing table. We got a few bins which have been useful for stashing baby stuff.
  • Changing pad – We registered for one of those contoured changing pads that go on the top of changing tables, but didn’t receive one. As it turned out, we just used a folded towel on top of the bookcase for padding and that has worked fine.
  • Baby monitor – We got a baby monitor but didn’t follow the instructions for charging it, so I think we broke the battery for the mobile receiver. It still works if you plug it in, but what’s the use of that? As it turns out, we haven’t really needed it, because I hear the baby fine from our room next door.
  • Baby health care kit – Includes a digital thermometer, aspirator, nail clippers, medicine dropper. The digital thermometer was very cheap, taking about 10 minutes to read one’s temperature, so we ended up buying another [better] digital thermometer later. The nail clippers were the most useful thing but we’ve since misplaced them – baby nail clippers are tiny and easy to misplace!
  • BumGenius diapers – We intended to cloth-diaper, and after some research, these were the ones I picked. We bought 30 of them. More details coming in another post.
  • Custom-made diaper pail liner and wet bags – On the recommendation of a friend, we bought two diaper pail liners and three wet bags from happytushies.com. I’ll save cloth diapering remarks for another post.
  • Diaper wipes warmer – Despite getting a reputation as one of the most useless pieces of baby gear, I enjoy using our wipe warmer because of the easy-dispensing and because cold wipes seem slimy and clammy to me. So it’s more for me than for the baby.
  • Seventh Generation Baby Wipes – I get these in bulk through Amazon; we’re on our second shipment.
  • Allen’s Naturally Liquid Detergent – Also recommended by a friend, this concentrated detergent is all-natural, so I use it for washing all the baby clothes and diapers.
  • Bath stuff – We started out using Johnson’s Head to Toe Body Wash, but then received an assortment of Kiehl’s baby products and found the foaming body wash very fun to use. It’s almost gone so we’ll be going back to Johnson’s. We got a few hooded towels and about thirty washcloths, some which are still unwrapped (but I’m sure we’ll use them at some point!), including ten or so thin, tiny newborn-type washcloths. If we were the non-disposable wipe type, those would probably work nicely as reusable wipes; I’ve been finding them handy more lately for wiping up Steven’s mouth after I give him some infant Tylenol. The hospital had a little flexible plastic brush, which we brought home and found useful for washing the baby’s hair. My mom got us a big bottle of baby oil, which is good for cradle cap, and I got a jar of Cetaphil, recommended by the pediatrician, for Steven’s dry skin.
  • Clothing – We got plenty of clothing, used and new. I didn’t realize initially that “newborn” size is very different from “0-3 months,” or that “0-3 months” would be different from “3 months.” Sizes are not very consistent across brands, either, so that gets confusing, too! Steven outgrew his “newborn” clothes in about two weeks, outgrew 0-3 months by month 2, and has stayed in the 3-6 and 6 month range ever since (he’s now 5 months old). I don’t think you can really prepare that well for clothing and seasons and ages; you just won’t know if your baby will be in the 95th percentile for height (like Steven) or if they’ll be tiny for a long time. The larger clothes are boxed up in labeled boxes and stored in the closet.
  • Avent bottles – We got a set of Avent bottles which are yet unopened. I’m holding onto them in case we adopt a baby who can’t be breastfed.
  • Avent microwave steam sterilizer – Used for sterilizing bottles and breast pump components. The one we got came with bottles (which is why we haven’t opened our other pack of bottles). I pump/bottle-feed so infrequently, we’ve only ever used two of the four bottles that it came with.
  • Medela Pump-In-Style – A friend shipped us her breast pump, saving us the trouble of having to buy one.
  • Breast Friend feeding pillow – Recommended over the “Boppy,” this feeding pillow straps around your waist and supposedly positions the baby better for breastfeeding. I used this for the first month or so, but went with no-pillow breast feeding after that. Luckily a friend gave us hers, as they aren’t cheap, but now it’s just collecting dust.
  • Baby food stuff – We got a used food mill, lots of used and new bibs (which have been handy for the car seat, as Steven seems to spit up a lot when he’s in the car), Super Baby Food and Feeding Baby Naturally, and various used spoons, bowls, and sippy cups. (I haven’t yet started solid foods, so we’ll see how it goes!)
  • Feeding seat – Instead of a high chair (which wouldn’t fit in our home), we got the kind of seat that straps to an existing chair.
  • Baby carriers – We found a Baby Bjorn for only $8 at a thrift store which we’ve used the most frequently. We got a couple different kinds of baby slings, none of which I was able to figure out how to use successfully with Steven. I also bought an expensive Moby Wrap, basically a very long piece of fabric, which is more comfortable than the Bjorn for longer periods of time but more of a pain to get on. My sister gave us a Kelty backpack which we can’t use for a few more months. (I’ve heard from other moms that the Ergo Carrier is the best one out there – easy to put on and good back support.)
  • Car seat – Our friend is letting us borrow their once-used Graco infant car seat. I’ve ordered a Britax Boulevard car seat, as the same friend is having another baby soon and Steven is outgrowing the infant seat anyway.
  • Bike trailerWe’re holding off on getting one since they can’t be used until the baby is a year old.
  • Car mirror – My sister also sent us a car mirror that attaches to the back seat so you can see your baby… unfortunately it doesn’t work with our car!
  • Bouncy seat – A friend gave us a bouncy seat (the kind with a detachable lights-and-noise toy piece that goes across the front). So far this has been one of the most-used pieces of gear, although now that Steven is starting to be able to roll over, he doesn’t last as long in his chair anymore.
  • Pack and Play – We got a cheap one from a used kids gear store, and much to our regret, it’s impossible to close without two people wrestling with it. Next time… open it up and close it up to make sure it works easily! (We may try to ditch this one and get a better one, as we’re starting to use it more and more often.)
  • Jogging stroller – This was our other major purchase; we got a fancy Phil & Ted’s Sport stroller, which can be converted to hold two children (infant + toddler or toddler + toddler). Although one of the selling points of this one was that it reclined to hold an infant, Steven did not like riding in the stroller until he could sit up in it, so we’ve only started using it frequently. We also sprung for the shade cover.
  • Books – Lots of books, both used and new. Steven was very interested in Baby, Baby, which pairs photographs of babies with similarly posed animals, from about 3 months old. At 4 months, when he was able to sit up a little bit better, he started to enjoy having us read him other books, too.
  • Toys – Not many toys. A few rattles which Steven is mildly interested in (if hanging above him), several stuffed animals which he has no interest in yet, and some organic cotton “teething veggies” which he can’t hold to chew yet.

In retrospect, these would be my top “for sure” items (besides the necessities, like a car seat and clothing) for at least the first five months:

  • BumGenius diapers
  • Jogging stroller
  • Bouncy seat (I probably would have only tried to borrow this if someone hadn’t given it to me for free, though)
  • Breast pump (again, would have tried to borrow this – or rent it as necessary – if we hadn’t received it for free)
  • SwaddleMe blankets (the velcro had nearly worn out on our one SwaddleMe blanket, so I don’t know if it’s as likely that we’d have been successfully trying to borrow this from someone else)
  • Infant Tylenol and good working thermometer

And my “probably could do without” items:

  • Excess of baby bottles. If I were to do it again, I’d just get one or two and then run out and buy more if we needed to. But if breastfeeding hadn’t gone as well as it did, I’d probably be thankful to have lots of bottles on hand.
  • Moby wrap: The few times that I’ve used this have been great for me, but so far the Bjorn is just a lot more convenient. The Bjorn is about to get grown-out-of, though, and the Moby wrap works with older babies and toddlers, so I may change my mind in a few months!
  • Breast Friend feeding pillow. I only really used this for a few weeks, and I don’t know if it was really that necessary… but since a friend gave this to us for free, I’m not complaining!
  • Cradle: I can see how a co-sleeper (one that comes right up next to the bed) would have been convenient in the first couple weeks of bed-side nursing, but a laundry basket (padded with a towel) would have worked just as well as the cradle we received! We transitioned Steven to the crib fairly quickly, though, and I know other mothers have used a co-sleeper for much longer, so it probably depends more on what your plans are for co-sleeping or not.
  • Infant caps: We got about eleven different infant caps of which we only ever used one – the one that we received from the hospital that we used on a few chilly evenings! (Steven was a spring baby and the weather was just starting to get warmer.)
  • Baby oil: We probably did not need such a BIG bottle of baby oil for cradle cap. A couple of little sample-sized ones would have worked!
  • Baby monitor: We aren’t using it since I broke it… and our house isn’t big enough to use it!

Things that are on lots of “must-have baby gear lists” (which you might find in Parenting magazine and the like) that we haven’t missed (but which many other parents find useful, I’m sure):

  • Contoured changing pad: The folded towel works fine… and is easy to replace and wash.
  • Baby bathtub: Not needed because one of us gets in the bath with the baby. It’s a team effort to give the baby a bath, but it works for us right now. Moms or dads who would be giving the baby a bath by themselves would want some kind of baby bathtub, most likely, as they get pretty slippery when wet!
  • Car seat stroller frame: This is a frame with wheels that fits an infant car seat. Since we already had a jogging stroller and were only borrowing the car seat, we didn’t bother getting one.
  • Swing: One mom was shocked that we didn’t have an infant swing, asking me, “How are you going to get your baby to sleep?” I can see how a swing would be very useful for napping a fussy baby, but Steven has been quite easy and we haven’t noticed the lack of a swing. We don’t have the room for one, anyway.
  • Diaper cream: With the kind of cloth diapers I used (BumGenius), the microfiber/fleecy interior lining wicks away moisture so Steven never has diaper rash. We aren’t supposed to use diaper cream on the diapers, anyway.

Anyone else with opinions? What did you find most or least useful? In retrospect, would you do anything differently with baby gear acquisition?

Maui Memory Pizza

I love Round Table’s Maui Zaui pizza. I haven’t had it in months and we’ve already blown our “fun” budget for September, so I decided to try to make my own. After some unsuccessful attempts to find a copycat recipe online, I made my own version from memory. One of these days I’ll compare it with the real thing, but for now, you may enjoy my “Maui Memory” pizza recipe, which features a sweet-and-sour pizza sauce with pineapple, chopped ham, red onions, mozzarella, bacon, and green onions on top.

All amounts are approximated… I didn’t do much measuring when I was making this!

Makes 1 rectangular pizza, approximately 9″x13″. Serves 2, 3 if you have salad or other side dishes.

Ingredients

Crust (adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

  • 2 c bread flour
  • 1/2 envelope of active dry yeast (1 1/8 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7/8 cup warm water

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Toppings

  • 4-6 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 4 slices canadian bacon or similar-sized ham, chopped
  • 2-3 slices pineapple, chopped
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 green onion, chopped

Combine dry ingredients in a standing mixer with a dough hook, then slowly add the olive oil and water as the machine is running. Mix until the dough comes together and all flour is incorporated, let it rest for 2 minutes, then run the machine again for 5-8 minutes, adding up to 1/4 c of flour until the dough forms a smooth ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (takes about an hour for me).

Turn the dough out and shape into a rough rectangular shape. Cover with the plastic wrap and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees and heat a baking stone. (If you don’t have a baking stone, you can preheat a rimless baking sheet, but not for as long.)

While the dough is resting, cook the bacon in a frying pan until crisp, stirring occasionally to allow the bacon to cook evenly. Drain.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat until simmering, then turn the heat down and simmer until reduced – about 15-20 minutes.

While the bacon is cooking and the sauce is simmering, you can prep the rest of the ingredients, if you haven’t already.

Stretch the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper (approximately 9″x13″) to form a rectangular shape. Smear the pizza sauce over the dough, then sprinkle the chopped ham, pineapple, and red onions over the sauce. Top with shredded mozzarella, then sprinkle bacon on top.

Slide the parchment paper and pizza onto the baking stone (using another rimless baking sheet makes this easier). Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown and the edges of the dough are starting to brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with green onions.

Let the pizza cool for a few minutes to let the cheese set before slicing and serving

Baby related thoughts: On labor

This is the third of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

What we did to “prepare” for labor and delivery:

  • We took an “open-minded childbirth class.” The first two weeks, we learned about the stages of labor, watched videos of women in labor, and learned about medical interventions (from suctioning to C-sections).
  • At the class, we spent a few minutes doing a “pain management” exercise. Steve held an ice cube on my wrist; the idea was for me to practice breathing and focusing to help deal with the pain.
    • It must be admitted that during the “baseline” ice-cube-on-the-wrist round, when we were told to focus on the pain, my entire body started shaking with pain and tears sprung to my eyes. Steve whispered to me afterwards, “Uh…. I don’t know if you’re going to make it!” Ironically, the next PowerPoint slide was “Tips for the coach: #1: Be encouraging and positive, tell her that she can do it!” We had a good laugh.
  • I read Birthing From Within by Pam England. There were some good focusing/pain-management techniques and visualization suggestions that I found helpful as Steve and I practiced at home with ice cubes… which we only did once. I wasn’t very diligent about practicing pain-management techniques.
  • I also read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Both books are very pro-natural/non-medicated labor. Ina May’s Guide, in particular, really influenced my decision to attempt a non-epidural delivery; the many stories within really helped to communicate a “you can do it!” attitude.
  • I asked one of my good friends about her labor and delivery experience. She delivered at the same hospital that we were going to be at and didn’t have an epidural (and had a bit of a hellish experience). I appreciated her honesty in giving us a detailed account of what happened, what she was thinking, what she was feeling.
  • We did not write out an official “birth plan.” Our mental birth plan was something along these lines: “Labor at home until contractions are 3 minutes apart. Try to have a water birth in the tub. Try to not have an epidural. But if medically or emotionally necessary, be okay with it.”
  • We took a weekend trip to Santa Cruz with the specific goal of laying by the ocean and listening to the waves. One of the visualization exercises (I think… doing this from memory) talked about thinking of labor pains as “waves,” with each wave bringing you closer to the birth. I wanted to absorb the sound of the ocean and keep it fresh in my memory.

The actual sequence of events* of my 75-hour labor**:

  • Sunday night, 6 pm: Contractions start. Unlike previous “practice” (Braxton-Hicks) contractions, these don’t stop. They aren’t at all painful, though.
  • Sunday night, 9:30 pm: Bloody discharge, or “show.”
  • Monday morning, 4 am: Wake up because contractions getting uncomfortable. Feels like menstrual cramps.
  • Monday, daytime: Frantically wrap up last bits of work. Go on walk with hubby. Go to [scheduled] prenatal appointment; find out that the contractions are 5 minutes apart and that I am 2.5 cm dilated.
  • Monday, evening: More laboring at home. We don’t sleep; contractions are more painful.
  • Tuesday morning, 5am: We call the midwife hotline to check in. They advise that I come in to get medication to help me get some sleep.
  • Tuesday morning, 6 am: At the hospital, we find out that I’m only 3.5 cm dilated. They give me Visatril, which is supposed to be sort of like Benedryl in that it knocks you out. It doesn’t work at all.
  • Tuesday, day and evening: I don’t remember much because I was soooo tired. I think it was more of the same.
  • Tuesday night, 7 pm: Our friend Amanda (who is an ER nurse) stopped by spontaneously to see if she could give Steve a break. He thankfully took a nap on the couch while she sat with me in the bedroom for three hours and talked me through my contractions. In retrospect, my pain “peaked” during this time. Although I didn’t know that this was the worst the contractions would get, I do remember thinking, “I can do this! If this is what labor is like, I don’t need pain medication.”
  • Wednesday morning, 5:30 am: My contractions are 3 minutes apart. We check in to the hospital and find out that I’m 8 cm dilated! Very exciting.
  • Wednesday morning, a few hours later: I’m 9 cm dilated. The doctor suggests that they break the bag of waters to see if that speeds things up. There is meconium (early baby poop) in the fluid, which rules out a water birth. DIscouragingly, I actually go back down to 8 cm – breaking the bag of waters caused the cervix to “deflate” a little.
  • Wednesday, 4 pm: Back up to 9 cm. They start a Pitocin drip to try to encourage more regular contractions.
  • Wedneday, 6 pm: Fully dilated, start pushing. They have me go through various position changes. It’s incredibly exhausting.
  • Wednesday, 9 pm: Baby is born!

Some thoughts in retrospect:

Hold all expectations loosely — that’s one of the main things I got out of the birthing class. Not out of the class itself, necessarily, but mainly from the emailed birth stories the other people sent out after their babies were born. One couple had a super-short delivery time; they labored at home for a while, then were in the hospital for only an hour before she was fully dilated and started pushing. Another couple was in labor for 40 hours before the woman finally chose to have an epidural. Another couple had a hard time figuring out when contractions started and ended, so they ended up going to the hospital perhaps earlier than they needed to. All the couples in our class had indicated that they hoped for a natural birth experience.

Steve and I had sort of hoped for a water birth, although we were sort of ambivalent about it and weren’t crushed when we couldn’t. I had definitely hoped to have skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, but in reality it was close to an hour and a half before that happened because of the pooping-meconium-in-the-amniotic-sac thing. Neither of us ever dreamed that we’d have a 75-hour labor experience!

I don’t know how I got through 75 hours of labor and delivery. By the grace of God? I don’t feel like I was especially prepared. Steve and I kept having the best intentions of “practicing” breathing exercises and pain management techniques, but we really only did it once at home. We were slackers!

I think Steve was an awesome, supportive labor partner and coach. He was very encouraging, telling me verbally that I was doing a great job, touching me a lot, really trying to be there for me. It was exhausting for him, too, as he didn’t get much more sleep than I did. He also felt extremely lonely in the hospital when he was alone with me as I was pushing; I would conk out in between pushes, and Steve really felt at a loss.

Amanda said that I was an “easy person to coach.” I think I’m usually a rule-following, compliant kind of person, so maybe that helps. (I’m often concerned about “doing things right” and “following the rules.”) So when Steve suggested that I do something, or when the doctor explained how to push, I’d just do what they told me to do.

I think it was really helpful for Amanda to be there Tuesday night, especially as she was able to give Steve a break. I think I’m still glad that Steve was my labor coach for most of the time, but since he did need a break, Amanda was an awesome coach to have as well. One thing Steve said was that it was hard because he felt like he was saying the same things over and over again — “Good job, good job, good job. Breathe, breathe, breathe.” As someone who had gone through labor herself, Amanda was okay with this repetition, because she knew that each contraction had to be dealt with anew, and was incredibly patient. She also had a very calm and quiet demeanor which was very non-stressful. I would highly advise having someone like this as a backup person — I think that’s sort of the role that doulas play, but for me, it was important to have someone that I knew and trusted (instead of a stranger). I can also see that it may have been helpful if Amanda had been there to coach Steve as a coach, at least for Steve’s own confidence — I think that Steve did a great job!

There were some visualization and self-talk things that I did during labor:

  • One of the books I read talked about imagining your cervix as a flower, slowly opening with each contraction. I had a much less poetic image! I thought about the sausages we get from the co-op and how at times I’ll squeeze the meat out to cook it in broken-up format. So I imagined squeezing the sausage at the top (the contraction) and the opening at the bottom of the sausage opening up and the meat coming out. Weird, I know, but it worked for a while!
  • I did find myself muttering to myself, “Open. Open. Open.” during contractions. Other times I alternated between “Open. Relax. Open. Relax.” to help me with controlling my breathing while also envisioning my cervix opening.
  • Amanda gave me the tip of imagining myself as a breeze blowing on a mountain lake and making gentle ripples to control my breathing (in contrast to violent waves).
  • Amanda had me make low-pitched moaning sounds (as opposed to high-pitched keening noises). I forgot to mention before that the doctor also had me do this during contractions at the hospital as well, because the lower-register tones actually help your muscles to relax and allow the contractions to do their thing; making higher-pitched noises can cause the muscles to contract and be counterproductive.

I was happy that I got to experience a natural birth. Some of my reasons for wanting a natural birth from the books I read:

  • Pushing is longer when an epidural because the woman is less coordinated or can’t feel her contractions.
  • Initial breastfeeding often goes better without an epidural — possibly because the baby is more alert or something like that.
  • Getting an epidural can often lead to more interventions. The midwife told me that if I had an epidural, I probably would have ended up with a C-section in the end because my labor was so long.
  • Cutting out the pain of childbirth means that you also miss out on the endorphin rush at the end, and you may miss out on the “fulfilling” feeling of having completed something important.

However, I wanted to keep an “open mind” about epidurals, especially as I had no real idea what my pain tolerance level would be. It helped to have some friends who unashamedly encouraged me that there was no shame in requesting an epidural. It also helped to read the birth stories of the various couples from our birthing class to see how different all their experiences were and how getting an epidural was really the right choice for some of them.

Going into it, I was torn. I really wanted a natural birth, for my own sake as well as for the baby’s, and I wanted to be confident in that desire and not let others discourage me in that — but I also had no idea what it would really be like so I wanted to keep the option open for an epidural.

In the end, I’m glad that it turned out the way it did.

Some women talk about how the “pain of childbirth is washed away by the joy of delivery.” Well, I definitely got all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as soon as Steven was born, which is pretty amazing when you consider that I hadn’t really slept for three days and had worked really really hard, but I can’t say that the memory of the pain was “swept away” by any means. Generally I think it’s impossible to truly “remember” pain of any kind in the sense that you can’t really “recall” the feeling, but I certainly remember the facts of how miserable I felt, how out of it I was, and the toll that each contraction took on my body! My whole body was really sore in the next few days, especially my arms, from tensing my muscles so strongly during contractions!

In conclusion… If I were talking to a newly pregnant woman about labor and delivery, I guess my main pieces of “advice” would be to hold expectations loosely, and, if she thinks it would be helpful, to listen to other people’s labor stories to get an idea of how different people’s experiences can be. If she were interested in a natural birth, I’d be very encouraging and recommend Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

Other women who’ve gone through this: Did you find anything helpful to prepare for labor? What kind of labor and delivery experience did you have?

* I have a REALLY long and detailed version. Email me if you’re curious and I can send it to you.

** I count my labor as when the contractions started and never ended, even though they weren’t actually painful at first.

Photographing a picture frame

We’re taking a brief break from my mommy-blogging to take a look at some Photoshop finagling that I did this morning.

I just completed a Custom Shadow Box project and wanted to get a photo of the box that was relatively presentable to email to the client (and perhaps use it in a future update to my gallery).

The big challenge for me was getting a good photo of the shadow box without catching my reflection of me taking the photo. First, I tried leaning the shadow box back against a fabric background, angled against the ceiling. My initial thought was that since the ceiling was white and lacked objects on it, that there wouldn’t be weird object reflections. Unfortunately, what I really ended up with was a white sheen over the glass which wouldn’t go away despite many attempts in Photoshop.

While Photoshop can do wonders, it unfortunately can’t compensate for some “bad photography.” Back to the drawing board… er… camera.

So what I really needed was a black background that wouldn’t reflect light back onto the glass. Unfortunately, large swathes of black fabric are a scarce item at our place. Next best – a black sweatshirt, which I forced Steve to hold at awkward angles to try to get the right coverage. The sweatshirt wasn’t quite big enough, so I took two pictures with him holding the sweatshirt at different heights while I tried to keep the camera still (too lazy to set up a tripod):

You can see Steve’s fingers, over the edge of the sweatshirt, in the right top corner reflection of this photo below:

I did some Photoshop magic to overlap the two pictures. Laying one photo directly over the other in two separate layers, I set the top layer to “Difference” mode, then moved the layers until the whole thing was almost black. For each pixel in a photo, difference mode takes the RGB value of one layer and subtracts it from the second layer – so if the pixels are the same, you end with R:0 G:0 B:0,” aka black.

After lining up the layers, I added a layer mask to the top layer and painted out the reflections.

The next step was using Photoshop’s Lens Distortion filter to straighten out the photo. Given the angle of the original photos, above, I was pretty impressed that Photoshop could twist my shadow box so that it looked like I’d taken the photo almost head-on. It’s not perfect, of course, but you’d probably never know at first-glance!

A few Levels and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers added to lighten things up and make the flowers more true to their actual colors (my camera tends to oversaturate reds), a few passes at sharpening the photo using the unsharp mask filter, and I ended up with a fairly presentable photo of the shadow box:

Baby related thoughts: On pregnancy emotions

This is the second of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

I realized that my last post was a bit clinical, talking mostly about symptoms and physical changes, but not disclosing much about the emotional landscape of pregnancy. So here’s a “part two,” if you will.

First of all, Steve and I were “mostly trying” to have a baby, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when I got pregnant. In the previous year, I’d gotten the chicken pox vaccination (never got it as a child), Steve swore off hot tubs, I read Before Your Pregnancy by Amy Ogle, and we stopped using birth control. But I didn’t try to calculate ovulation dates, basal body temperatures, or anything like that. We just let nature take its course, and it happened to work out for us.

On Monday, August 6, I mentioned to Steve that I’d missed my period. He surprised me that evening with a pregnancy test that he’d surreptitiously purchased. It was positive! We talked briefly about keeping it a ‘secret’ for a few months or telling people. Neither of us are good at keeping secrets, and we figured that if something wrong (i.e. miscarriage) happened, we’d share it with close family and friends anyway, so we called family up the next two days and sent emails to our good friends. There was a definite air of excitement for the next several weeks, up to and including our first ultrasound, although I had a moment of anxiety when the doctor was fiddling with knobs and dials with a puzzled frown on her forehead. Was she going to tell us that we were mistaken, that there was no baby there? I was secretly relieved when the doctor showed us the small blinking blip on the black-and-white screen and said, “There’s the baby’s heartbeat.” We were both awed to be able to catch a glimpse of the new life that was growing inside of my belly. Another similarly significant experience was the first time that we heard the baby’s heartbeat through the doppler wand thingy or whatever it’s called. The staticy and surprisingly fast whoosh whoosh whoosh brought big smiles to our faces. Again, we were relieved that the baby had a strong, healthy heartbeat, and that (despite physical evidence to the contrary) we weren’t making things up in our heads.

Pretty soon after making the pregnancy public knowledge, I started having angsty thoughts about being pregnant. I definitely wanted the baby, but I was already feeling like I was losing part of myself, losing my personality, my individuality. I had a hard moment at a family party when it seemed that all that mattered was the pregnancy – that’s all people talked to me about. No one seemed to care anymore about getting to know me – I’d just been boxed in, labeled, and shelved as “pregnant girl.” It no longer mattered that I had a career, had written a book, enjoyed reading, or had thoughts and opinions on other things besides morning sickness and birth plans. A venting-sort of post in my personal blog read: “I don’t know if this is pride or self-centeredness on my part, being unwilling to sacrifice myself and subordinate myself to the needs and reality of having a child, or if it’s a healthy rebellion against being defined and valued only as a ‘mother’ and nothing else. Maybe both?” In retrospect, a big part of my angst stemmed from my general dislike of small-talk. I’m not a very good “chatter,” preferring one-on-one authentic conversations to polite pleasantries. But when you’re pregnant, most people – including strangers – small-talk with you about the coming baby, and there’s not much you can do about it!

I think it took a while for the reality to settle in. I can remember the first time I really felt “excited” about the baby, instead of just “pleased.” One of the exercises in Body, Soul, and Baby is a visualization exercise where you imagine your reproductive system talking to you. After getting past a weird mental image of a computer animated uterus mouthing words to me, I imagined my reproductive system telling me that it was excited to be able to do what it was designed to do. I felt my emotions settle down and click into place: a deep acceptance for this life change, a growing excitement for my body to do what it was built to do, and a loving anxiousness to be able to meet this new person that was going to be the result.

There were definitely times when I felt, though, like I was on a roller coaster and couldn’t get off. My body gained weight, stretched, and morphed. In a culture where dieting, exercise, and self-will are the keys to controlling the shape of your body, it was surreal to be in a situation where, for once, there was nothing I could do – and in fact, that it was good to have a growing belly!

Our 23-week ultrasound, the time when you can see the baby best and gender can be discerned if desired, was pretty cool. Steve and I were surprised to see the baby actively moving around. We realized that our mental image of a baby in utero had been influenced by still photos and ultrasounds. In our heads, we just imagined the baby floating in the uterus, frozen at a perfect fetal position. We laughed at ourselves, particularly as we started to be able to feel the baby – me from inside, Steve from outside – and my belly started doing random jiggle dances at inappropriate occasions.

Later in my pregnancy, I had a harder time as I got less and less sleep. Between getting up to pee every few hours and finding it uncomfortable to sleep on my sides, then waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and tossing and turning until I gave up and got up, I would feel frustrated with the unproductivity of my days (from being sleepy).

In general, though, I don’t remember any emotions that threw our lives into upheaval. On a day-to-day basis, things were pretty normal.

Any other moms want to share their experiences with pregnancy and emotions?

Baby related thoughts: On pregnancy

This is the first of a series of posts on pregnancy, labor, birth, and being a new parent. See intro and full list.

My pregnancy was sort of easy, but also sort of hard.

Sort of easy:

  • Minimal nausea for morning sickness in the first few months. No throwing up, ever. After that passed, I felt great.
  • Able to stay relatively active for most of my pregnancy, even biking around [our relatively flat] town up to a week or two before the baby came (although I needed Steve to help push me up and over the overpasses).
  • No complications that would have seriously endangered the life of the baby, no bedrest needed.
  • Since I work at home, I could take lots of naps.

Sort of hard:

  • I had impaired glucose tolerance (one step below gestational diabetes) and had to test my blood sugar four times a day and modify my diet… no sweets, low carbs, specific proportions of carbs, protein, and fat, etc. Because they tested me early for this (family history – my sister had GD), I had to endure this for seven long months. I felt like I was constantly having to think about food – to watch the clock and make sure that there wasn’t too much time between my meals/snacks and to remember to test my blood, to try to come up with meals that would work with my diet but that Steve would also want to eat (Steve does not like whole wheat pasta, for example, but I wasn’t supposed to have normal pasta), to write down my meals and try to balance out my protein/carb/fat intake in proper proportions. And while I’m normally a “salty” fanatic and don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I definitely got to the point where all I wanted was a big slice of moist, fudgy chocolate cake. For every meal.

Other than IGT, I had what seem to be fairly normal “difficulties” of pregnancy:

  • Hard time sleeping, particularly in the last three months. I would wake up and not be able to fall asleep again, which sort of prepared me for night-time feedings but also had me in a state of sleep-deprivation even before the baby came.
  • Swollen feet and ankles in the last two weeks, thanks to a day-long death march through Ikea as we tried to find furniture for our new home, after which my ankles never recovered.
  • Two outfits that were actually comfortable and presentable, but that would start to smell after wearing them for consecutive days at a time.
  • Feeling tired all the time, even before my sleep got messed up.
  • Having to constantly sleep on the side – I’m normally a back-sleeper.
  • Having to pee all the time in the last few months.

Things that I found helpful during my pregnancy:

  • I read a lot of books. Books on being pregnant. Books on labor. Books on baby-sleep. Books on soothing. Books on breastfeeding. Overall, I found it helpful to get a variety of perspectives and suggestions. When you read Author A saying one thing and Author B saying the opposite thing and Author C agreeing with Author A and Author D playing the middle line between Author A and Author B, you start to realize that maybe there is more than one way of doing things. (That realization comes, however, after a dark night of being frustrated that none of the “experts” agree.)
  • I slept with a pillow between my legs once I got to the point of having to constantly sleep on the side. This is what The Books suggest, anyway. I didn’t spring for a fancy Snoogle or a Snoozer or even “wedges,” just a normal extra pillow between my legs. (My friend Amanda lent me a body pillow, but I ironically didn’t really use it much during pregnancy, although I found it invaluable after the baby came. More on that in a later post.) Some women have told me, though, that wedging pillows to support their belly helps, too.
  • I took lots of naps. I had the luxury of doing this since I worked at home.
  • I did a few pregnancy mind-exercises. Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracey Gaudet was a great guide for reflective exercises to try during pregnancy and I had one of my most significant introspective moments* that way. Birthing From Within by Pam England has a lot of “birth art” exercises. Steve and I did some together a few weeks before the baby came. It was very rewarding – and fun – to be creative together and use the activity to discuss some of our feelings about having a baby.

Questions for moms or currently pregnant people: What did you find hard or helpful about pregnancy?

* Will draft a post about this later…