Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Chaos

I feel like I'm part of some crazy holiday movie where the main character just keeps being faced with an increasing amount of chaos. Any minute now, I'm expecting to run into Ryan Reynolds, who will undoubtedly add another level of crazy to my month (I suppose "hoping" is a better word than "expecting"...).

Really... it's been a busy few weeks.

Busy making 2,408 batches of cookies? Yep.

Dealing with a 6-month growth spurt that has caused my adorable son to go on a nap-strike? Yep.

Trying to make 2,408 batches of cookies one-handed while holding a non-sleeping infant? Yep.

Batches 8, 24, 109, and 607.
Listening to my dog bark and go crazy everytime the mailman, UPS guy, FedEx truck (or any other person at all) walks near our house? Of course.

Finding time to shop for pressents, wrap gifts, decorate the house, mail boxes, send Christmas cards, clean the house, plan Christmas dinner and get groceries? Sort of...

Yes, that IS a stocking for our dog.
Keeping my sanity? I knew I was forgetting something...

It's funny how most of the items on the list are normal holiday-related tasks that I do every year. Yet for some reason, it all feels a million times more chaotic this year. I'm assuming it's the fact that I have another person to take care of. A person who demands my attention every moment he's awake (which, let's be honest, is A LOT considering this little bugger isn't really friends with my good yet distant pal "sleep"). I think he demands the attention of about eight people all at once.

Lauren keeps telling me to stop doing things. I just laugh at him in my head. And then out loud. Thankfully, his lectures on why I should cool it actually help me - but not in the way he'd like. When he tells me that I don't really need to bake 80 different kinds of cookies for everyone we know, I just remember why I do it: Because I love Christmas. I love having an excuse to be extra-kind and extra-thoughtful to the people in my life. I love going the extra mile and making sure everyone I care about knows how special they are to me. Yep, I'm going to make a Santa card for my nieces and nephew. I'm going to write a Christmas poem for my husband to read while he's opening his gifts. I'm going to bake hundreds of cookies for people I know. Because that's what the holiday season is about to me - spreading love and kindness wherever I can. And I wouldn't be me if I didn't go above and beyond and do more than I should. The people in my life do more than they should all year round. I like returning the favor.

Happy Holidays

To his cousins. From Brayden, with love.
I really wish this they had this in his size. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Baby Projects: Holiday Edition

I remember when my sister started having kids. We began receiving all these adorable craft presents for holidays and birthdays. (A wooden basket with a handprint of her fist born still sits in my dad's bathroom as a toothbrush holder) There's something so sweet about receiving homemade gifts from a little one. In addition it being a sentimental token for the recipient, the mother gets a whole new world of gift ideas at her disposal. Thank goodness for that. This year has been a bit chaotic so I was thankful that the Munchkin Craft Co. was around for my holiday needs.

(SPOILER ALERT: Grandparents may want to skip this posting. Unless, of course, you're okay with not being surprised on Christmas morning.)










Holiday Gift #1: Brayden's Footprint Art

I don't know why, but I love handprint and footprint art. Lauren would probably say it's because I'm as mature as a kindergartner. I'm okay with that though. With that in mind, Brayden and I made some pretty crafty art for his first Christmas. It was sort of a 2.5 person job at the beginning so Lauren helped me get Brayden's footprint on paper. Brayden was definitely interested in the process. He was more interested in trying to figure out what the crap on his feet tasted like. I was happy to see him fail at this. As I thwarted his attempts, Lauren just kept yelling out the words "NON-TOXIC." I kindly had to remind him that "non-toxic" doesn't mean you should make a three-course meal out of it. Shoes might be non-toxic too, but I don't think my hubby would be too thrilled if I served up a pair of camel colored pumps for dinner tonight.

Too confused to misbehave.
My little guy's big foot.

Once that was done, I used markers and wiggly-eyes to turn the footprints into snowmen, reindeer and Christmas trees.

If you couldn't tell, this one is the reindeer.
 I bought a five-pack of small canvas boards (I think they were 6x8-inches) at Michael's for a few bucks. I mounted the pictures onto the canvas and added a little scalloped circle to each one. The circle's read "Brayden's first Christmas." After that, I added cute little dotted or striped borders to each one (Lauren had been kind enough to cut the paper to the right size for the canvas) and called it a day. Brayden officially created his first piece of artwork.

From Brayden, with love (and confusion).

Holiday Gift #2: Brayden's Adventure Calendar

If you recall (or even if you don't), a while back, I took some crafty pictures of Brayden with fun backgrounds. My "adventure pictures" came out so cute that I decided to take a few more and turn them into a calendar for some family members. I used most of the pictures I had and assigned months to them based on the content. I figured out which months I still needed and came up with an idea that went with that month.

For the cover, I pulled out a suitcase, a map and some other travel related things and put them all together. With Brayden. I got some hilarious pictures of him sitting in the suitcase and used PhotoShop to put it together with a faded map as the background. The calendar came out pretty great so I'm excited for everyone to get it.

I love that Brayden looks like he's reading the map in the middle photo on the right.

Wearing a bow tie for his big date.

One of my favorite pictures in the calendar.
I have a few other projects I'm working on for the holidays, but as usual, things are too busy for me to be efficient. We'll see how many I actually get around to finishing. Thank goodness Christmas is still two weeks away.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Preparing for a "solid" start

We're getting pretty close to Brayden's six month milestone. He must think it's some kind of deadline for development, because he's been progressing like crazy the last few weeks. He started sitting on his own last week and has really been experimenting with crawling. He enjoys laying on his belly and kicking his feet wildly behind him. Lauren has dubbed it the "superman." I think he just looks like he's trying to do the breaststroke on land. Alternatively, Brayden will get his legs tucked under him, but when he raises his arms, the legs shoot out behind him half the time and he ends up going backwards (pretty adorable, actually!). He has had some success however. This week he was able to inch across a small quilt little by little.

Crawling. Sort of. In reverse.

I think Brayden also had a recent growth spurt (I can usually tell when these happen because he ends up suddenly feeling heavier in my arms) and seems to be organizing his sleep (finally!). The next item on his "to do" list is starting solid foods. The health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months really made it a goal of mine to come close to that mark. I'm really happy I was able to do this for little guy and continue to give him every health advantage I possibly can.

After considering the different philosophies of solid foods, I've decided to do sort of a hybrid between the traditional puree-based approach and Baby-Led Weaning. I read a great book that discusses both approaches as well as one that is specifically about Baby-Led Weaning. The BLW book is very informative, but clearly biased (and a touch judgemental). Because I already knew the objective facts from the other book I read, I knew when the author was sugar-coating or stretching the truth a tad. (Both books were helpful in their own way, but each had its own short-falls.)

Essentially, I'm going to take a BLW approach, but add in some homemade purees. I love pretty much everything about BLW -- it promotes experimenting with food; it allows babies to experience different textures, colors and tastes instead of having everything blended to the same consistency; it allows for greater independence; it avoids the potential problem of a well-meaning parent giving a baby too much food (or too quickly); it supposedly prevents fussy/picky eaters in the future. What I don't like about it is that it could take quite a while before the baby is actually eating the food (rather than playing with it or chewing and spitting it out). Several nutrient stores babies receive in the womb become depleted around six months (i.e. iron) and babies then start tapping into their own and needing more. The BLW book definitely down-plays this, but in my mind, it's better to err on the side of caution and not risk nutrient deficiencies. My ped - who also thinks BLW is a great approach - agreed with me on this and is totally on board with my hybrid approach. I figure I'll give Brayden three different fruits/veggies every 4-7 days. I'll put out the steamed/roasted strips of each and then also a puree of one of them occasionally. Best of both worlds.

Lauren and I are really excited to let the little guy start experimenting with food this weekend. Brayden definitely seems ready, too. Just this week, I was eating a banana while holding him. Before I knew what was happening, Brayden grabbed it and started sucking on it and trying to bite off a piece. When I took it away, he even complained a bit. Go figure. (He really must be picking up a trick or two from daddy)

It should be tons of fun seeing an opinionated kid like mine experiment with different foods. Pictures to come. Of course. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Playing "Red Light-Green Light" with Sleep

Back in junior high, we used to go to the skating rink on weekends (wow, that totally ages me!). The place we went to played that cheesy "red light-green light" game where you try to get to the finish line but have to stop when "red light" is called and go when "green light" is called.

I think Brayden is playing that game with sleep. But unlike the rink announcer, he's not calling out "red light" before he decides to stop sleeping or "green light" when he's ready to resume.

Three weeks ago, Brayden's sleep was a major "red light." He was waking up every 2.5-3 hours through the night. The only way he could get to sleep was nursing and the only place he would sleep was in his swing (a big change from him at two months, when he was sleeping for a six hour block in his crib). Oh - and he hates pacifiers, so nix that idea.

After getting pretty worried that he wasn't getting a healthy amount of sleep, I went back through all my sleep websites and re-read most of the books I have. I talked to my mom, my ped and other moms who had non-sleepers. Most of the advice was the same: I had to just let him cry to learn to fall asleep on his own. Lauren and I really didn't want to do it but reluctantly decided it was in his best interest.

We got all geared up and ready for a week of misery. The night we decided to start, I nursed him as usual and had a nice long talk with him about what we were going to do. I moved him to his crib (instead of his swing) and braced myself for some heavy tears. Instead, within ten seconds, this was him:

"I love messing with mom and dad's sanity levels."
Seriously? Are you kidding me? I called Lauren (who was working late) and told him. He assured me that within two or three hours, Brayden would wake up and be really mad. After 2.5 hours, he did wake up. He complained for a bit, and started to cry... but went back to sleep within 10 minutes. (Lauren and I decided Brayden was deriving much satisfaction from messing with us.) Within three days, he wasn't even waking up before the morning (we started off feeding him when he woke around 11 to make sure he wasn't hungry before morning). "Wow - that was so easy," we foolishly thought. "He never even really cried."

Jump to today and laugh at my previous naivety.

Things are still way better than before, but the sleep light seems to be changing to red again. After about five days of awesome sleep, Brayden started waking up about 20 minutes earlier each day. Lauren joked that he was on a 23-hour day. It got to the point where he was waking up at 4:45 to start his day. No amount of nursing or coaxing could get him to go back to sleep. I didn't really like the choices we had - either let him cry until a set wake-up time or nurse him and try to get him to go back to sleep (and when that didn't work, he'd still end up crying).  We went back to a "dream feed" at 11 in hopes that it would help him sleep longer. It didn't make too much of a difference. I tried putting him to sleep even earlier (since most sources seem to tout the value of an early bedtime), but that led to another 5am wake up call. (He goes down for the night around 6:45-7:15 these days. Do I really need to move it even earlier???)

His naps have also diminished a bit. He used to take three hour-long naps (or two 1 hour 15 minute naps). Yesterday, he took three 30-40 minute naps. Not very restorative, really.

So here we are again, playing the "what the heck do we do?" game. We're not fans of Brayden starting his day at 5 am. Nor are we fans of him crying for an hour and a half each morning. Our most recent idea is to stop his 11pm feeding and wait until he wakes up on his own sometime after 11 and feed him then. Our concern is that it will promote a return of night-wakings (if he knows we'll feed him when he wakes up, why not wake up more?).

Advice on how to get the light green again is always welcome. In the meantime, I'll do what I usually do at red lights: WAIT. And Lauren will do what he usually does at red lights: CURSE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

At this time one year ago...

November 15, 2011. Doing the pregnant thing and loving life.

At this time one year ago, I was sketching out drawings for our nursery while my fifth period English 9 Honors class took their Fahrenheit 451 test. I was probably feeling a bit nauseated at the time. I had just started the phase of my pregnancy that Lauren laughs about. The sleeping-all-the-time phase. I would come home from school, make dinner, and then pass out on the couch. Around 7:00. Every day. At 11, Lauren would wake me up and tell me to go upstairs to bed. And I would. It was awesome. I don't even remember what that much sleep feels like anymore.

At this time one year ago, I was basking in the pure joy and excitement of being pregnant. It was still a secret from most people. Lauren and I had told our immediate family a while ago but only recently shared the wonderful news with our friends. Lauren sent an email out to them that included the following sentiments:

"Krystin and I have something exciting to tell you. Yes, yes....the inevitable has happened. I have procreated, and I have chosen Krystin as my lucky host! ... Now that my genes are being passed on, you can all rest a little easier."

At this time one year ago, I had no idea whether Lauren and I would be welcoming a baby boy or a baby girl into our lives. We were probably arguing about girl names (because for some reason, those were so much harder for us to come up with) and thinking about what life would be like when we expanded our family.

At this time one year ago, I was thankful for my amazing life. It was full of unbelievable blessings. An incredible husband who (as much as I hate to admit this because it will only add fuel to his fire) is hilarious and constantly makes me laugh. Two active and loving dogs who make it nearly impossible to have a grumpy day. Supportive family members, amazing friends, a great house, excellent health, a job I was good at. The list went on. And I was expecting it to get even better.

At this time one year ago, I had no idea how much better it would actually get. I thought my life was amazing then. I can't believe how much more amazing it is now. Funny how a little bit of perspective can change everything. Now - one year later - my heart is full of more love than I have ever known and my life is full of more joy than I ever thought possible.

He just makes my heart melt.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Great Pancake Debate

This weekend, I made pancakes. A lot of pancakes. Seven different kinds of pancakes, actually.

The stack-filled weekend was not the result of a lost bet. Nor was it evidence of my growing insanity into house-wifery. It was all part of my master plan -- my "pancake showdown" if you will.

Since I have way too many recipes for pancakes, I decided it was time to find the "best" one. The only real way to do that is to have a taste-test and see which one comes out on top. So that's what we did. I looked through my saved weblinks, dog-eared cookbooks, and torn magazine pages, and found the ones that sounded best. I decided on seven different kinds and set up shop for the weekend.

The timing of the event was pretty good, since we would have an extra pancake-eater for the weekend. As part of my husband's (early) birthday gift, I flew his best friend in from Indiana as a surprise. It was quite a relief to have a third person to help tackle the 60-something pancakes I ended up making.

I made the dry mixes in advance, so I'd have less to measure out on the morning of pancake day(Actually, I instructed my wonderful husband to measure everything out and put it all in ziplock bags).

Day 1 of my systematic approach to figuring out the best pancake recipe.

It always baffles me how different pancake recipes can be. Some use milk, others buttermilk, others ricotta or cottage cheese (my mom even told me about some phantom pancake that uses club soda!). The first round of pancakes I made were buttermilk or milk based; the second day's pancakes were ricotta or cottage cheese based. For the record, the cottage cheese one was pretty inedible (for two out of the three of us). All the others were at least decent. In general, I thought the milk/buttermilk ones were better than the ricotta. They were more traditional and more of what you think of when you're looking for "good pancakes."

The weekend taste test was interesting. It was nice to slow down and really focus on how something tastes. Flavors, textures... it all went into consideration when we were figuring out which one was best. Some were flat, others chewy, others light and fluffy.

In the end, two pancakes came out on top. I liked one more than the other; my hubby had the order inversed. Since this is my blog and not his, I'm putting the recipe for my favorite one here. It's a definitely the more traditional of the two - a fluffy, tasty, buttery buttermilk pancake. Lauren liked one of the ricotta ones. It was definitely more decadent than the buttermilk (using stiff egg whites gently folded into the batter to make them crazy light) but not quite as traditional. Both of them were super yummy though.

The weekend wasn't without its irony, however. I finally found the recipe for "perfect" pancakes. But in the process, I ate so many that I won't be making them for quite some time. :)

Day 1 Pancakes: Buttermilk & Milk-Based
Day 2 Pancakes: Ricotta & Cottage Cheese-Based
Winning Pancake Recipe
Alton Brown's Buttermilk Pancakes

Instant Pancake Mix:
Make this in advance and store in an airtight container. The day you want pancakes, you'll use some of the mix (like you would store-bought mix) and add wet ingredients.  We halved this part easily. With how yummy it was though, I wouldn't mind making a full batch to keep some on hand.

6 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Buttermilk Pancakes:
2 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk (I made sure not to use the low-fat kind)
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups "Instant Pancake Mix" (from above)

On Pancake Day:
Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg milk mixture in a larger bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work out the lumps. (I made sure to use a lot of restraint here... leaving some patches of flour and not mixing it until it was smooth -- or even combined).

Make sure the griddle is hot enough (place a few drops on the surface. If the water dances across it, it's ready). Lightly butter the griddle by rubbing a stick across the surface. Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle. Sprinkle fruit on top, if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until pancake is set.

Makes about 12 pancakes.

*If you're in the mood for something a bit more decadent, here's the recipe for the (runner up) Ricotta Pancakes. We didn't make the lemon curd, but it looks tasty.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Random Thought on Bad Cooks

I should start by emphasizing the fact that I love cooking. Love it, love it, love it.

I love experimenting with food, trying out recipes, and coming up with new things for me and the hubby to eat. I especially love making something myself that is usually purchased from a store. If I can find basic guidelines or a recipe for something, I'm up for trying it.

So, last week, I was getting pretty excited about making food for Brayden in a few months and was thinking about how much things have changed over the years (yep, this is a "good ol' days" posting). The conclusion I came to was this: If you're a bad cook, it's not really your fault. It's one of those unfortunate "changing-times" things. Allow me to explain...

I'm always surprised by how many of my female friends tell me "I'm such a bad cook." Or alternatively, how many of my male friends complain about their wife's "sub-par" kitchen skills (because clearly using "bad cook" in the same sentence as their significant other is a no-no). I have quite a few of friends who eat out regularly because they simply "can't cook." For the most part, when you think about our grandparents' (and to a lesser extent, our parents') generation, this just wasn't the case. You think of the proverbial 1950s housewife (donned in an apron) taking a pie out of the oven while her husband and 2.5 kids eat an elaborate rack of lamb. You don't typically think of that scene ending with the family pushing away the meal because it tasted like something you clean your car with.

By and large, our generation's cooking skills just don't hold a candle to our grandparents'. I'm sure there are dozens of reasons for that, but I think one of the biggest (and most unfortunate) reasons is because of the way meals have shifted to outside of the home. Our grandparents didn't have a McDonald's on every street corner or the ability to eat out at restaurants every week. Eating out was a luxury - a treat.  The way they fed themselves (and this is a novel concept here...) was by cooking. Practice makes perfect and they practiced all the time.

The other part to this is that because meals were cooked and eaten inside the home, kids grew up around cooking and typically helped out during the process. I'm sure most of our parents or grandparents spent countless days helping their own parents in the kitchen. They were righ there next to their parents -- mixing, blending, breaking eggs and observing. From an early age, they were exposed to cooking. From an early age, they were learning skills of the kitchen. And, from an early age, they were being taught that there's nothing wrong with spending an hour preparing a meal with love. This is so much different than today's generation who I fear is learning that speed and convenience is far more important than quality. Or that food is an afterthought or something to fit into a busy schedule. There's really no replacing homecooked meals made by people who love you and enjoyed at the table with your family (Recently, there's been a plethora of scholarly research done about the diminishing "family meals" and how important they really are for families and children).

Because so many more families eat out (and eat out often) these days, there just isn't the same focus on homecooked meals. And when parents do cook, I wonder how often they include their children in the process. I'm sure a good many of them do... but I'm also betting it's not nearly as it once was.

When my dad came to visit me in Virginia last summer, we went to a local farmer's market to get fruit for some jam I was making. He was so shocked that I knew how to "do all that kind of stuff" and was able to make a batch of (super-tasty!) jellies and jams that ended up lasting almost a year. This was normal in our grandparent's generation. Canning, preserving, making homecooked meals and being a good cook were the norm. They seem more like the exception these days. And you know, that's sad to me.

Personally, I'm really excited to expose my kids to cooking and to make it a point to eat together as a family at the kitchen table. I'm excited to have them help me in the kitchen and to teach them everything I can. I also know that I'm a fairly skilled cook. It seems to take more effort these days to know your way around the kitchen. But in my opinion, it's totally worth it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Favorite Baby Things

While I was pregnant...
Everyone: "They grow up SO fast."
Me: (With moderate disregard) "Mmm hmm."

Four Months later...
Me: "Oh my god! My baby is already four months old! They grow up SO fast."

It's funny how one the one hand, it feels like Brayden has been part of our family forever while on the other hand, it seems like just yesterday I was going to the bathroom for the 52nd time that day and fielding overly personal questions about pregnancy from my sophomore English class. It's also funny how Lauren and I bought all these great baby toys while I was pregnant without realizing that it would be months (we're talking 6 to 8) before our little one would be playing with any of them. Silly us. We have had some winners, however, and Brayden certainly has strong opinions about what he likes and doesn't like.

I've also learned along the way that the 0-4 month age range can be so much fun. At first, I didn't know what I could really do (other than change, talk to, nurse and love) a baby who can't even see across the room or keep his head up. But I have simply loved this age and have had so much fun interacting and playing with the little guy. It has been fascinating watching him develop and grow along the way. In addition to my own antics (I have become quite a pro at making up songs and silly games for infants), we've been lucky enough to score some points with Brayden on a few toys. I've listed them chronologically - starting with his earliest favorite things and ending with the most recent. At the end, I've also included a few Mommy favorites.

Brayden's Top Ten...

When Brayden was only a few weeks old, we were looking at these books together. Developmentally, babies see black and white first - so images of high contrast stand out to them and are interesting. Brayden would actually stare at the pages for quite some time. I loved the first few books so much that I ended up buying several more (mostly the ones by Peter Linenthal). There was also one that unfolded like an accordion (Black & White by Tana Hoben) that I propped up next to his changing table. He was always looking at the wall anyway, so I figured it would be more interesting than green paint. He loved these. His earliest "favorite" thing for sure.

I know, I know. Some babies hate bathtime. I've seen a picture of my grumpy husband during his first year to know this isn't for everyone. But Brayden loves bathtime. It was actually the quickest and easiest way to get him to calm down during his first month. We even started making it part of our bedtime routine. We had a couple baby baths, but the one that ended up being the best was the Fisher-Price whale one. There's a great little divider that props up babies not old enough to sit (I found this better than the slings/seats that come with some baths).

This might have been his longest running favorite "toy". He's only now starting to grow wearisome of it (and I suspect it's because he's wanting more room to roll over and move around). He would lay on this and play for a good 15-30 minutes even when he was just a month or so old. The toys at the top are interchangeable and I would switch them out with others that I bought (not necessarily designed for the activity center, but all you need are rings to attach) to give Brayden some variety. He actually noticed when I changed things, which was really interesting. I love using toys that make noise when he hits them or pulls on them (like the Sassy Chime animals or the Bright Start Take & Shakes). He would pick up on the cause & effect pretty quickly and then work to keep doing it. Because my boy is a kicker (oh, is he ever!) he adored the piano at the bottom. When he was lying down, he would kick the crap out of it (kicking = music). And the piano switches around so he can play with his hands once he can sit up. Super cool, IMHO.

Maybe my baby just knows how cute he is, but he adores looking in the mirror. His activity mat has a small one on top that he always looked into and laughed at. We finally had to get one for his crib so he could talk to himself and stare at his big blue eyes more often!

Similar to the high contrast picture books, these are pretty cool cardboard cards of animals. On one side, it's black on white; on the other side is the same image white on black. We propped these up everywhere (by his bath, his changing table, his activity mat, etc.) or would just flip through them with him. The company that makes them has numerous sets depending on what kind of animals you like. We have the farm set, the sea creatures (which is probably my favorite) and the peek-a-boo set (which has a weird peacock thing that looks like a turkey and a frog my husband thinks is smoking a pipe).

This was a gift from another mom. Since Brayden is a non-sleeper, anything that has the possibility of helping him unwind is great for me. I started giving him little baby massages with this lotion after his baths and he just loves them (it has now taken the place of baths in our nightly routine). He smiles so big when I start rubbing his feet with the lotion. Now, at night, when he just sees the bottle of lotion, he calms down a bit and knows that sleep time is coming.

This one was my husband's doing. He insisted on getting Raffi cds that he remembered from his childhood. I think my little guy is just a music man in general, but he definitely does enjoy these songs. There are some in particular that I swear he recognizes and likes more than others.

The key here is small. A few people gave us normal-sized stuffed animals as gifts. They're a bit too big for Brayden right now. He really likes animals that he can hold (and fit into his mouth).

Now that Brayden is moving his limbs with more precision (and holding things like a champ), he enjoys toys that utilize these skills. The top of this toy spins and makes rattle noises and the bottom plays music when the keys are hit. He watches me spin the top and then does it over and over (and over) again. Or he just pounds away at the little keyboard and listens to some classical tunes belt out. It's pretty small (about the size of my hand) and was a cheap, good toy.

Not only did this one score major points with my son, but it keeps my husband occupied for hours, too. All I heard for a week was how cool the toy was. When someone (baby or husband) hit a flower, it plays a loud piano-like note. All of the flowers have different tones so it becomes quite musical. When hit, the flowers also light up, which is pretty cool. My little guy loves this toy right now. As soon as we put it in front of him, he starts smacking at it.

Some Mommy Faves...

As a new mom, there's a lot I didn't know. I have friends and relatives who have kids, but the idea of calling them at 3 in the morning with a question didn't really appeal to me that much. These were the two most helpful books I had. The Baby 411 is so practical. I still reference it when I have a question. It was particularly helpful on the breastfeeding front and even gave a specific timeline of what to expect the first two weeks (how often to nurse, how hungry the baby will be, trouble shooting, etc.).

My little guy enjoyed swaddling but couldn't stand having his arms pinned down. Yes, I know, the guy from Happiest Baby on the Block would tell me to do it anyway. But I'm telling you, Brayden was calm with his arms inside the swaddle but across his chest and frantic with them at his sides. These blankets are awesome because they're a jersey fabric that allows for a bit of stretching. They were easier for us to get a good swaddle done than regular cotton ones. They're also super thin and lightweight, which was good for a summer baby.

Brayden is a big fan of music. It calmed him down from week 1. The cd was also a gift and it has become quite useful. We play it before (and during) every nap. Brayden now knows that when the music comes on, it's sleep time. He immediately relaxes and starts to unwind when we play it. And bonus for us, it's music we can tolerate. The line of cds has quite a few bands whose music has been turned into lullaby form (no words + soothing).

There are a million books on sleeping and weaning and everything else you can think of. But these books are about the psychological and developmental progress of tots. Brain Rules was one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time (and I'm a big reader, so that really says something). It discusses what components are correlated with developing intelligence, happiness and morality (and what you can do to foster each in your child). His writing is witty, objective and backed up by loads of research. Highly recommended. The Wonder Weeks is the practical book on development. If you're wondering why your baby is suddenly not sleeping and is cranky all the time, check the book. Your baby might be going through one of the developmental growth spurts (rather than physical) that the authors discuss. It has been frighteningly accurate for our baby's moods. I just recently got this one and was wondering why lately Brayden has been on sleep strike. Turns out, week 17 is a huge "fussy" period. The authors talk about the changes that the baby is going through and even gives very cool lists of activities and games you can play to engage the developing skills. It's a bit pricey, but really a great book. I probably recommend these more than the general parenting books. You can find all of the parenting info online easily. This stuff is super interesting and not found on every baby site out there.

Multiple people offered to get us a swing. We didn't think we needed a one. We were wrong. So, so wrong. This thing has been a lifesaver. Our son is actually napping during the day now. Can. Not. Believe. It.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Sleeping Babies...

I see and hear about you often. You're the adorable snuggly babies who photographers can pose any way they want. You slumber on soundly while you're stuffed inside country baskets and firemen's hats - never stirring at even the most outrageous handling. (Aren't you just adorable in that open-weave strawberry hat?)

You understand that sleep is, well, awesome, and you're more than happy to take regular vacations to the Land of Nod. You do the obvious - sleep when you are tired. You gently drift off at night and find daytime naps just lovely.

My darling son seems to have missed the conference you all held where you explained exactly why sleep is amazing and how to go about doing it. (I'm not sure how this happened, since clearly he didn't sleep through the meeting.) I've had trouble admitting this so far, but the stone cold truth is that my son is a non-sleeper. He simply abhors it. He would rather be flashing my dogs his gummy smile, giggling at Mommy's crazy antics, or exploring the world via his oral cavity.

Brayden simply has much better, much more exciting things to do than sleep thankyouverymuch. For heavens sake, mother, something might happen while he's asleep. And that, as we all know, would be a travesty. So he resorts to basic instinct - fight or flight. He either fights sleep with everything he has, or he runs from it. There's not really much of a third option here.

So babies, please tell me - is there an off switch I haven't found yet? A magic word perhaps? Or is it just about ratios - with only a certain percentage of babies allowed to sleep at any given time? If that's the case, I beg of you to get your hands on an espresso so my munchkin (any myself) can have our turn.

I sincerely love my baby's enthusiasm for life. His vigor, excitement and active nature are some of my favorite things about this firecracker. I just wish that occasionally, the traits would take a (decaffeinated) coffee break.

Very Tired in Virginia

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

He Gets Around

(The "Adventure Pictures" Baby Project)

There's something wrong about using that title in reference to my son. I think I'll give myself a free pass though, since he's only three months old.

Two weeks ago, I took pictures of Brayden every day at noon(ish). This past week, I decided to get crafty and tackle another mini-project. It started because whenever Brayden is laying on the floor near one of our dogs, I think about how funny it would be to position him in a way that makes it look like he's riding her. Unfortunately, the resulting series of events wouldn't just look like Brayden got kicked in the face. He actually would. Since that's out of the question, I decided to channel my creative energies for the week by exposing him to other amazing places and situations.

I like to refer to these as his "adventure pictures" since he's doing some pretty stellar things in them. I know there are people out there who takes pictures like these professionally. I'm certainly not a professional, nor am I trying to be one. I just thought these were fun. I made the backgrounds for my little guy with things laying around the house - blankets, socks, dessert plates, laundry baskets... you get the idea.

I took one each day of the week, starting last Monday. They're posted in the order I took them. I think they got better as I did them (practice makes perfect, right?). My least favorite is probably the garden one. If I did that one now, I think I could do a much better job.

The pictures were a lot of fun to make and since I have a bunch of other ideas for more, I'll likely spend another week in the near future doing it again.

Brayden's Wild Adventures

On Monday, we went surfing at the beach. He did remarkably well for his age.

On Tuesday, he went to n garden to pick lemons and tend to the flowers. A butterfly even landed on his overalls.

On Wednesday, he took a ride in a hot air balloon. He used his periscope to see all of the crazy things on the horizon.

On Thursday, some citizens were in trouble! He quickly threw on his Super-Baby outfit and flew to the rescue.

On Friday, we found out that Michigan's soccer team was a man short. They called up Brayden and asked him to step in against the always-dreaded OSU. He scored the game-winning goal (he's just like his father!).

On Saturday, he got geared up for Halloween by exploring some spooky woods near our house (good thing he had his flashlight with him!)

On Sunday, he finished the week by heading north... way north. We went to northern Canada and had some fun ice skating. Brayden is so good, he only needs one (broken) skate.

Hope your week was as awesome as his. :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don't set your clock by him

My husband and I always known when it's 7:00 p.m. Not because we can tell time by the sun's position (although that would be sweet) or because we're just awesome (although we are). We can tell because we feed our dogs at 7:00... and at 6:59, one of our dogs goes and lays by her food bowl. She has the most insane internal clock. She even watches out the window for Lauren to come home from work each day around the same time.

In short, our dog = reliable time-keeper, reliable schedule. Our baby? (Insert laugh here) Although our household is making progress on the sleep-habits front, the little guy sure is putting up the good fight. Brayden crosses enemy lines often and has broken his father more than once. He comes equipped with a great set of lungs and a propensity for psychological warfare (is he sleeping? is he not? is he going to wake up any second and start screaming?). I'd hate for him to face a lesser opponent.

At three months, Brayden is doing pretty good at night (We'll ignore last night's fiasco since that was just a comedy of sleepless errors). He goes down for about 10-11 hours in his crib and wakes up just once or twice to eat (and goes right back to sleep). We really can't complain much there - especially after hearing stories from some of our neighbors about their own guerrilla tactics. (Exhibit A: One family had to place their pack-n-play next to their bed, place their daughter in a bouncer and place the bouncer in the pack-in-play. A ribbon was then tied to the bouncer so when their daughter woke up, they could just pull the ribbon to bounce her back to sleep. Exhibit B: A couple kept a vacuum in their room because it put the baby to sleep. They would turn it on every time the baby woke up in the night.)

His nights are fairly orderly, but during the day is a completely different monster. Brayden's naps aren't quite regular yet and he still enjoys fighting them with everything he has ("I will NOT be put to sleep. I will NOT miss a single moment! Something EXCITING could happen!"). He can only get to sleep during the day being rocked in his carseat and then ever-so-gently put down. A bit annoying? Sure. A bit necessary? You bet. He's only three months old and the whole rocking-to-sleep is a common card in the infant deck. Every week he gets a bit older and a bit better at soothing himself. Progress is slow, but it's there. We'll see where we're at in another month or two. For now, I'm not going to trouble myself about his naps. He gets what he needs during the day - even if it is a bit annoying for the parental units.

Unfortunately, his choppy nap schedule means I have an unreliable day myself. I am certainly not one of those lucky moms whose infant is on a schedule and can plan on, you know, doing stuff. We're on a routine, sure. But the times of each event vary quite a bit from day to day. With that in mind, I decided to check in with baby boy every day around noon for a quick picture to see what he was up to. (I figure this game will be much more exciting when he's a toddler getting into all kinds of colorful trouble!)

Now Showing: Brayden @ Noon EST
Below are the shots from the past seven days. The only rule I had was to take a picture (or eight) everyday around noon (give or take 15 minutes). So here's a cross-section of my baby boy's noon-time fun. He's such a sweetheart! :)

Wednesday, September 26
12:04 p.m.: Zoning out on the changing table.

Thursday, September 27
12:09 p.m.: Having fun in his crib. The middle picture makes me giggle. He's been loving putting his feet on things lately.

Friday, September 28
11:50 a.m.: On his changing table again. He's also been loving grabbing his tongue lately (he gets his strange quirks from mommy and daddy thankyouverymuch).

Saturday, September 29

12:08 p.m.: Fun with tummy time! He's rolling over like crazy and really tucking his legs under his body to try to crawl. The middle picture shows him taking a break from all that hard work to suck on his hand a bit.

Sunday, September 30

An afternoon play session!
12:10 p.m.: Having fun looking at the baby in the mirror.
12:12 p.m.: Daddy and baby playing with a new toy.
12:23 p.m.: ...And onto his activity mat for more fun.

Monday, October 1
Post-nap nursing session.
12:15 p.m.: "I'm hungry and I'm pissed!"
12:39 p.m.: (Stretching after a good meal)
12:39 p.m.: "Mmm.... food coma."
12:40 p.m.: "Now I'm happy again!"

Tuesday, October 2
12:01 p.m.: Just waking up from a nap and not happy about it.

So that was the last seven days. Now we're back to today.

After last night's chaotic mess, please send your most effective good luck thoughts my way. As counter-intuitive as it is, I find that when baby sleeps better at night, he sleeps better (and more) during the day. When he sleeps poorly one night, he has trouble sleeping the next day. You'd think if he was tired from not sleeping last night, he'd crash hard today. But alas, if it were only that easy. When he's overtired, he has a very difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep. This is only evidenced by the fact that he's been down for his first nap for an hour and 20 minutes and has already woken up four times so far. It kinda takes the fun (and productivity!) out of a nap when I'm having to go in and put him back to sleep every 15 minutes. Ah, well. As my doctor told me while I was in labor, I "knew what I signed up for!" :)

Here's to a better (more restful!) afternoon. :)