Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Evolution of a Play Kitchen

When Bugga was around 11 months old, I started to notice that every time I picked her up from the gym daycare she was happily "cooking" in the daycare's miniature kitchen. Because I spend my days with my children, Bugga is in the kitchen for every one of her meals, and can watch the preparation from her learning tower. As children love to mimic what they see, my little monkey naturally wanted to "cook" in a kitchen.

I found this fantastic kitchen made my KidKraft at Costco. I am starting to like this brand for the creative designs, and they offer alternatives to all that kid plastic. Anyway, once I put it together (hear the pride in that, as it took awhile, but was worth it) Bugga has pretty much been playing with it ever since.

There are also about 7 billion kitchen accessories that are on the market for play kitchens. Between what we've bought for Bugga and what she's been gifted from others (pretty much the perfect gift for a 2-3 year old of any gender), here are some thoughts on what we have:

27 Piece Cookware Set - This is another KidKraft item (yes, it is plastic). My parents gifted this to Bugga this past Christmas. She uses it every time she plays in the kitchen, and the cups get dragged all over the house. This kid loves cups. To an obsessive level. Anyway...

Green Toys Tea Set - This is what started our home collection of dishes. I'm pretty sure most of the spoons have vanished at this point, but every single other piece is still in regular rotation. And it's GREEN - BONUS.

Just Like Home Toaster from Toys R Us - Not even going to give you the link for this piece of junk. We use a toaster every morning for Bugga's waffle breakfast so of COURSE she needs one for her kitchen. This one is great in concept but is terrible. An adult needs to push down the lever and it works 1 time out of 10. And the noise is horrendous. Don't buy this.

Pop-Up Toaster by Hape Toys - I bought this as a replacement for the first one. It's made of wood instead of plastic so even better. Plus, it has this cute stick of butter that can be "sliced" - I thought this would be a great way for Bugga to safely practice using a knife.

Duktig Fruit Basket and Duktig Vegetable Basket from IKEA - So many play food sets you see in toy stores include junk food, which is not what I want Bugga to be too used to. These fruits and vegetables are soft, healthy, and they've been very helpful for helping us talk about things like what goes into a salad, onto a sandwich, etc.

Just Like Home Everyday Cookware Set - This is a great all-inclusive set of pots, pans and accessories (despite the review of the toaster from the same toy line above).

Melissa & Doug Food Groups - Last week I noticed Bugga was serving less of her "imaginary" pasta and more "butter" as a meal. Yeah, so that had to stop. So I ordered this food group set to give her some common healthy proteins that she can learn more about without limiting herself to a bland butter-only pretend diet. Ha.

The final touch: the other day I quickly made some felt bow pasta for Bugga to put into her pots and she loves it. As I expected: she eats pasta several times a week, so this is a no-brainer for a toy. And SO east to make. Let me know if you need the instructions.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tips For Traveling With a Baby/Toddler

I need a vacation. Like, immediately. However, going on a vacation today means now managing the logistics of traveling with TWO children. As I'm trying to wrap my head around how to possibly climb this mountain, I thought I'd offer my advice on how to travel with one child under the age of two. Bugga traveled almost 25,000 air miles in her first year of life, and many of those miles included family vacations (we also moved to Alaska for a bit so those miles are a chunk of her total). Either way, we got to be seasoned parent travelers and lived to tell the tale.

Here's how we did it:
1.) Always bring a stroller. You will need this at some point. Even if you are totally into the baby-wearing thing (bring your sling too!) - the stroller carries both your child, and all of your child-related STUFF. And your stuff. And lunch to go in the airport. You get my point. When Bugga was still in the baby bucket we used this stroller, which I cannot recommend enough. You can even open and close it with one hand and it has a huge basket. When she was no longer in the bucket we used this stroller, which comes with a travel bag (for checking) and is still in great condition now after 1.5 years of a LOT of airports.

2.) Always bring a car seat. Sure you can get away with not bringing a car seat. But if you are traveling anywhere other than New York City or somewhere similar (and then plan to limit your transportation to subway or foot) your child should be strapped into their car seat. No, you won't get arrested for trying to get into a cab with an infant without a car seat, but if you get in an accident (and you KNOW how the cabbies drive) you will regret it. There are car seats on the market that double as strollers. Or you can get a backpack to carry the car seat in while you go through the airport (if baby isn't in the bucket already). Make sure you have a cover either way so the seat isn't nasty if you end up gate checking it.

3.) If traveling by plane, check your baby gear at the gate, NOT at check-in. Yep, you can check your baby items for free in both areas. Maybe you think it's a pain to drag all these things through the airport, especially if you don't have a ticketed seat for your baby and won't be using the car seat until you arrive at your destination. Doesn't matter. When you gate check these items, they are out of your sight and have a chance to be damaged by someone else for a mere MINUTES before they are put underneath the plane. Hand them over at check-in and they are out of your sight for potential HOURS that someone might drop or damage your goods in any number of ways that are undetectable to you when you pick them up at Baggage Claim. You will regret this too.

4.) Pick your flight carefully. If you are booking early enough, pick a time that coincides with the time your child sleeps. I now prefer red-eye flights with my child because I KNOW she will sleep then. We ran out of luck after awhile booking during nap time because it was just too exciting for her to sleep, and then we had NO nap. Not my preferred way to vacation. And avoid layovers whenever you can. Just GET THERE.

5.) Pick your seats on the airplane even more carefully. If your flight isn't overbooked, you might be able to avoid paying for a ticket for your baby, then find a row with an empty seat. Gate agents will even move you to a row with an empty seat if you ask nicely because they know as well as anyone that no one wants to sit next to a baby on a plane. Don't be offended - use this to your advantage. And try to get these seats next to a bathroom so you aren't waiting behind 5 other people who got there first when your kid has a loaded diaper. If your child is moving around on his own and can maybe even stand and walk, get bulkhead seats, so you have the extra space in front of you. My daughter loved to sit in her own "space" once we reached cruising altitude and didn't have to be constrained.

6.) If budget allows, book a suite at a hotel. A lot of inexpensive hotel chains nowadays have suites for great rates. It pays (in dollars and sanity) to do your research. A suite gives you the freedom to not be sitting with your spouse in the dark when your child is sleeping. And remember how much they sleep, day and night. With a suite you can essentially set your separate room up as a nursery and keep it dark, use white noise, etc.

7.) What if you can't book a suite? It happens for any number of reasons, but you can still survive. (First world problems, I know.) First, try to get a balcony. We didn't feel like forking over the hundreds of extra dollars on our Hawaii vacation with Bugga so the next best thing was a balcony where my husband and or I could hang out while the baby took naps. I spent plenty of relaxing vacation name with a book, a cocktail, and a view all while Bugga napped safely just mere feet from me in total darkness in our room.

8.) What if you can't book a suite OR a room with a balcony? Here's what you need to add to your luggage: a dark-colored, full-size (or bigger) flat bedsheet, two command hooks that can hold as much weight as possible, and a couple chip-style clips. Use these to drape over the hotel crib you stick in the corner of the room to create a dark area for your child when she sleeps. The command hooks (attach them to the wall) and clips hold up the sheet, and the hooks can be taken down later when you leave. You still need to be quiet in the room, but it's nice not to need to be in darkness. Now you and your spouse can at least watch a movie with headphones on the iPad or something. Wink, wink. Oh, and don't forget crib sheets from home.

9.) Bring a white noise machine. I mentioned it above, but this is an essential piece of kid gear in my book. Even if you don't use one at home, outside noises can be unpredictable when traveling (especially in hotel hallways) so if you can block out anything that might disrupt your child's sleep, your life is better! How many times have you been stuck in a hotel that has construction going on above or below your room?

10.) Baby's gotta eat. If your child is eating solids, don't forget to grab a banana from the breakfast buffet to have in the diaper bag later. Boxes of raisins travel well too. Kids under 3 usually eat at buffets for free, so take advantage of that. And don't forget to ask your server what the chef is able to do. We ordered plain pasta with olive oil off the menu from a higher-end Italian restaurant when we were there for their breakfast so we could have lunch ready to go later for our daughter. Oh, and bring bowls with lids to refrigerate any leftovers so you always have something. (Most hotel rooms have a refrigerator lately, I have noticed.)

I have tons of other suggestions for all parts of travel if anyone has any additional questions. Also, if anyone wants to offer up any tips for traveling with more than one kid I am ALL EARS!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Project: Homemade Valentine Picture Frame

I've been chomping at the bit waiting for Bugga to be old enough to do arts and crafts. Yes, I know, even babies can start pretty much from the womb with the art projects. We even tackled finger (body!) painting last year when Bugga was 10 months old; I'm sure many moms jump on it far earlier than that.

Another point to note: I am not a huge fan of messiness on purpose. Let's be honest, kids are a lot of work and mess without TRYING to make a mess. So painting with a toddler kind of scared me.

With Bella still so small at 7 weeks, she still hasn't had her vaccinations yet so we aren't leaving the house for much more than Bugga's once-a-week gymnastics class. And a bored kid is hard on everyone (all you parents on the East Coast know exactly what I'm talking about right now since you've all been stuck inside for days due to the snow with school cancelled). So I bit the bullet and pulled out the paint.

Grandma had gifted Bugga some fingerpaints and a smock for Christmas, so this was as good a time as any to try them out. Plus with Valentine's Day fast approaching Bugga could make a homemade gift for Daddy on behalf of her and her sister. I even managed to stretch this into a TWO DAY PROJECT which is always good.

So I dressed Bugga in clothes I don't like (we all get those gifts) and her new smock, and taped down some newspaper to our kitchen counter. She climbed up into her learning tower (best invention ever) and we proceeded to go to work. 

I squirted some of the paint into paper cups left over from her 1st birthday (we are slowly and finally getting through those) in Valentine colors. Since the Crayola Fingerpaints only come in red, blue, yellow, and green I had to incorporate some white from my collection to make pink. Oh, and trying to make purple with the red and the blue was a bust so nevermind that. 

I used several sponge brushes (yep, still not in the mood to handle more painting with our hands) I had left over from another project of mine, and we went to work.

I purchased a simple wood heart frame from Michael's for barely $1.00 and Bugga had a blast painting it with the various colors. 

She also seemed to love the different effects she could make with the brushes, taking advantage of the sponginess (huh, that's actually a word). 

Once she was done we let it dry overnight. in the meantime, the other colors had grabbed her attention so I found some paper and let her create another masterpiece. 

She had a blast and it wasn't too difficult to clean up. 

Oh, and meanwhile, the baby hung out in the bouncer next to us and watched.

The next day I pulled out a bag of foam heart stickers and the frame so we could decorate. Bugga quickly figured out how to use her fingernails to peel of the backings, and we were in business. I had a giant flat foam heart she could also decorate as well.

Seriously, she decorated this all by herself with no guidance from me whatsoever. Such style.

And here is the final result, all ready for Daddy!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Don't Bet On It

The first time Bugga met her little sister Bella
Back in December when I was nearing my due date for baby #2, I had tons of questions about the upcoming childbirth experience. I knew that if things went exactly as they had for baby #1, then I'd be thrilled (and relaxed, since I'd know what was coming). Unfortunately, outside of a scheduled c-section (and even still) childbirth is ALL about the unknown. Below are some questions I had while I waited to feel the build-up of the first contraction, and how things worked out in my case.

1. Will the baby come early/on time/late?
My first was 4 days late. They say on average that babies come earlier and earlier with each labor. However talk to ANYone who has had a baby and it seems to me the verdict is split. This baby came 6 days late. So there ya go.

2. Will I go into labor on my own?
I went into labor naturally with my first. As I was sitting around on Friday night, 5 days late, I feared I would have to be induced. Even worse, it would be scheduled for Christmas Day. I dreaded the thought of a) my toddler missing out on Christmas morning traditions the year she is finally starting to understand, and b) my poor second born would have a holiday birthday and forever hate the fact that people would always be giving her combo presents. I went into labor naturally that night, and Bella was born 6 days late, with no induction.

3. Will my labor start the same way as it did the first time?
The first time around, my contractions started as a dull pulsing at 9 AM already coming every 3 minutes, and lasting about a minute for the first hour. Then things intensified and I had the baby later that day. This time around, my contractions started around 10 PM, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, and coming anywhere from every 5 minutes to every 30 minutes. They were all over the place. This was a bit stressful since second babies can come a lot faster than the first. So of course during these hours of initial labor I had inspriring visions of birthing this baby in our car on the way to the hospital. Totally not a cause for concern at all. Right. Anyway, these random contractions went on through the night, never building enough in intensity or frequency enough for us to feel like we needed to head to the garage until about 6 AM. And then things started to move very quickly...

4. Will it hurt more/less the second time?
So it definitely hurt the first time. I labored at home as long as I could (5 hours) and then once we made it to the hospital I was ready for my epidural. I dilated pretty fast so that was the best decision I made all day, and the baby was born 3 hours after I received the epi. This time I thought I'd entertain the thought (ha) of doing this unmedicated, figuring it might hurt less since my first baby had already blazed the path down the birth canal. Yeah, right. When I got to the hospital at 8 AM I was a whole 2 cm dilated. The nurse in triage told me to go walk around for two hours. I was disappointed, but the second my feet hit the ground from her examination, my body had other plans and I dilated three more centimeters almost instantly. And WHOA BOY did that hurt. Yep, I was the screamer in Triage. Sorry, other pregnant people in the room. This time around, however, though I asked for the epidural around the same time in my dilation progression as I did with the first baby, the nurse had a painfully hard time getting my IV in, which has to be done first. Painfully is what I mean literally, as she stuck needles up and down my hands and arms, jabbing me until she finally found one that worked. And at that point I was fully dilated. She asked if I was sure I still wanted the epidural. Oh yes, I had earned it from the IV disaster. 

5. Will it again take forever for my milk to come in, resulting in my baby having jaundice?
With Bugga, it took 4 very long days for my milk to come in. Babies are built with fat storage to cover this amount of time (along with the colostrum), but after four days the billirubin had still yet to be flushed from her system and she became jaundiced. For first-time parents, this was somewhat terrifying. We were lucky enough that Bugga did not have to spend any time in the hospital under the lights, but she did have a bilirubin blanket delivered to our home that she spent 48 hours straight wearing. She looked like a little baby glow-worm. The second time around my milk came in after two days, so though Bella's jaundice numbers climbed for a couple days, the availability of milk to help flush her system seemed to have helped her ward off the jaundice successfully.

6. How fast will I deliver my second baby?
I heard from many (many) people that their second baby came so fast that they delivered in the hallway, had no time for an epidural, and/or their spouse had to play the role of the obstetrician because they were nowhere near a hospital. So of course I entertained the thought that we'd need towels and such for the car ride just in case. I was in labor with Bugga for 11 hours, from the first contraction to seeing her little pink face. With Bella, using the same milestones, it was around 16 hours. From point of arrival to the hospital, it was about 6 hours for both.

So this is how it worked for me, and not many of my questions could have been answered with "just like the first time". It seems that each of my children are completely unique and different, and these differences start from the date of conception!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Project: Personalized Alphabet Book

If you've read a couple other posts, you know I am trying to expose Bugga to the alphabet as much as possible. Right before her 2nd birthday I thought it would be a great occasion to gift her with her very own Alphabet Book! Since I knew she loved her books so much and read them over and over, combined with knowing that she loves looking at our pictures of her on our phones, an Alphabet book using pictures of HER would be perfect.

I used, which is my go-to company for making photo books. You can pretty much set the layout to ANY design you want, versus the other companies that have very rigid templates that I used to get so frustrated with.

Some examples I saw online used just one word for each letter, but I noticed Bugga latching on to that one example and not letting go. (For example, "H is for Horse" is what she calls "H".) Therefore, I used several examples wherever I could (there are some very difficult letters to find photos for) so she knew that MANY words started with that letter.

Here is an example of 4 of our pages from the book:

To help you out, here are the words we used for each letter:

A - Airplane, Art, Asleep
B - Ball, Beans, Beam, Bath, Bunnies, Bucket, Beach
C - Chicks,Climb, Cuddle, Crying
D - Dig, Dress, Dog
E - Eggs, Eye, Elephant
F - Family, Fingers
G - Giraffe
H - Hat, Helmet, Hiking, Horse, Happy
I - Ice
J - Jeans
K - Kicking, Kiss, Kitchen, Kitty
L - Laugh, Letters
M - Messy, Mommy, Mirror, Motorcycle
N - Naptime, Nose
O - Ocean
P - Phone, Play, Puzzle
Q - Quack
R - Read, Relax, Ring
S - Shoes, Slide, Stripes, Sunglasses
T - Toes, Tongue, Toys, Tunnel, Tutu
U - Up
V - Valentine
W - Water, Window, Watermelon
X - Xylophone
Y - Yogurt
Z - Zipper