Gift Ideas for Any Dad – Father’s Day 2012

As I get email after email with Father’s Day gift ideas and guides filled with cuff links, leather bag, monogrammed golf balls or other sports related paraphernalia, gear for the grill, watches, beer & alcohol accessories, etc., I’m struck by the fact that most of them would be terrible gifts for my husband (or even for my own father!)

So since I was looking around myself anyway, I thought I’d share my short list of the gifts I bought for the father of my babies this year. Hope they help you too! Remember, your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive, it just has to be well thought out and from the heart.

1. Bag O’ Books by DaddyScrubs – Never underestimate the power of a good book. After reading Swagger by Lisa Bloom (totally recommended btw!), I appreciate even more how important it is that daddies read to their kids just as much as mommies do, and these dad-themed books are exactly the type of nice push that’ll work wonders for everyone.
2. Father’s Day Coupons by LivingLocurto.com (click the image to buy/print) – I love that the coupons are for things all dads could use like a back rub (20 min limit – haha) or a free chore pass. Plus they’re perfect for last-minute-mommies since you just print, cut, glue the coupon holder together, and you’re done in 5 minutes tops.
3. T-Shirt and Onesie Set on Amazon – You can almost never go wrong with a t-shirt. And this cute duo comes with an outfit for baby too. My favorite shirts are the ones with really nice and just slightly embarrassing messages on them – things he’d never buy for himself but will still actually wear (remember the key to a good gift is that the recipient will use it). For another idea, check out this cute dad t-shirt too.
4. Any DIY Project – Especially if you have older kids, any DIY project they come up with will hold a special place in dad’s heart. My husband painted a version of this handprint collage for me for Mother’s Day so I’m posting this up just because I would have done it if he hadn’t gotten to it first (sneaky guy). Especially if you have young children who aren’t at the glue, scissors and googly eyes age yet, this is a very simple memento to make and very sweet. Just trace, cut, glue, grab a nice frame and you’re done!
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Confession – I Wanted More Than Just a Healthy Baby

I’m just going to come out and say it. I desperately wanted, with my whole mind, body and soul, for my first child to be a girl. I wasn’t going to love a boy any less, of course, but that didn’t stop me from hoping that I could make my baby be a girl through sheer psychic brain power and force of will (of course I knew that the sperm decides the gender and I had pretty much no choice in the matter, but did that stop me from wishing? nope). In the end I was very blessed to have my wish granted (and I made the sonogram operators check multiple times because I couldn’t believe it, haha).

My baby girl (so long ago!)

I’m sure there are some people who genuinely don’t care whether they have a boy or a girl, but I was never one of them. And getting flak for saying something more than “I don’t care as long as they’re healthy” is crazy. I remember being completely shocked when I read an article about the public getting mad at Vanessa Lachey for saying she was hoping for a boy. Of course Vanessa and I both wanted healthy babies, I just also wanted mine to have a vagina. What’s wrong with that? All babies are going to be one or the other and there are differences between the two, so you can’t help wondering. And I’m sure we both would have loved the opposite gender just as much if that’s what we were given instead.

But of course I had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about it. I don’t think boys or girls are necessarily better; I’m in love with a great man and I know lots of amazing women. I think my feelings came from the fact that I have one sister myself, grew up with my grandmother living with us, and nannied for 2 girls for a few years. I’m just more comfortable around girls, I know what to expect with them,  I know how “girls” (stereotypically) play, etc. And, as a fashion lover, I admit I was swayed by the idea of being able to pass down my clothes, shoes and bags to a daughter as well as by the significantly greater clothing freedom given to girls. My experience with young boys was limited to a few short babysitting jobs – so it was mostly just fear of the unknown.

Now that I’m expecting baby number 2, I was really surprised that I did not have strong feelings one way or the other this time. I actually felt a little guilty that I didn’t have a strong preference! (My only real reason for leaning one way or the other was the fact that we could pass down & reuse a lot more clothes if we had another girl – not enough to make a difference in my opinion). And, in the meantime, my sister had had an adorable baby boy and she and I had already spoken some about the differences in diaper changing. So when my hubby and I found out we were definitely going to have a boy this time around, there was only a tiny bit of panicking and a lot of excitement.  :)  I can’t wait to meet you #2!

Number 2 is a Boy!

Big City Moms’ Biggest Baby Shower – Review and Gift Bag Show & Tell

I attended the 2012 Biggest Baby Shower Ever in New York City hosted by Big City Moms a few days ago and the swag I brought home was unbelievable (see pictures below). In fact, the things I’d picked up just from walking around the vendor booths were already digging into my arms after 2 hours (not the best decision making there but I couldn’t help myself!) so I was feeling pretty nervous as I waited in line to get my official gift bag (not visible from the line). But in a twist of fate, they rolled out a Peg Perego stroller with the gift bag balanced on top of it!!! (which I believe was my shower gift for visiting 40 vendors – they handed out Bingo style cards when you entered – and attending a seminar). And, as you can see this was a literal lifesaver (since I was on my own to get all this stuff home – my personal handbag isn’t even on the stroller in this picture), not to mention AMAZING!

I was a little uncertain about a few things before going to this event:

  1. The ticket price was pretty hefty: $100 for the Super Pass ($125 if bought after 4/1) – was it going to be worth it? As a comparison, the lowest price tickets were $60 for basic entry with no gift bag, which is still substantial.
  2. I had just gone to the MommyBites Summit the previous week. Were all the vendors (and goodies) going to be pretty much the same?

But it turns out I shouldn’t have worried: the ticket price paid for itself instantly since all attendees were given a Mombo Taggies pillow (retail $49.99) and all Super Pass holders were guaranteed a new Britax baby carrier (retail $139.99). Plus the Peg Perego stroller? Um, retail $399.99!!! So yeah, I think I can say, without even opening the gift bags, this event was worth the ticket price.

Second, I visited almost every booth and definitely less than a quarter of the vendors were repeats. Even most of the food vendors were different! And, as you’ll see for yourself below, there surprisingly weren’t even many repeat gifts between the two event’s gift bags (except for Mama Mio Skincare products, which I was totally fine with having more of!!).

So, I have to break this down into the actual event gift bag (which was bigger than a Moses basket for a baby – In fact, if I could find a way to safely convert it into a Moses basket, I almost would) and the gift bag I created just by walking around the event and/or buying products at special Biggest Baby Shower prices. Let’s start with the contents of the official Biggest Baby Shower Ever gift bag pictured below (this was all inside the black tote with pink writing if you’re looking at the picture at the top of this post).

I’m going to try to make this list as organized as possible since it was near impossible to get everything facing forward without blocking the view of something else. Here’s what was inside:

  • The Huge Gifts – Comfort & Harmony Deluxe Mombo nursing pillow & Infant Positioner, Britax organic baby carrier, Peg Perego Pliko Four stroller in denim (I know some other moms got diaper pails instead and maybe there were other shower gifts rotating as well).
  • Bottles – 6 full-size baby bottles from MAM (anti-colic), Evenflo (Bebek), Tommee Tippee, Similac (Simply Smart), Lansinoh (Momma) and a Playtex drop-ins premium gift set. As well as an insulated straw cup from Munchkin ( 12m+) and a Enfamil newborn formula sample set with D-Vi-Sol.
  • Clothing & Accessories -Moby knot hat, Baby K’Tan hat, Gerber bib, 7 A.M. Enfant 0-6m baby booties, Maclaren Travel Kit for baby (lavender scented), Sun Safety Bands courtesy of KSpin Designs, Eco Store Baby Nappy Balm, Boogie Wipes sample.
  • Home & Bath – Safety 1st Essentials Childproofing Kit, Squiggles – A Drawing Book courtesy of J&R jr., Episencial Sweet Dreams bubble bath, Dapple baby bottle and dish liquid, Clean Well antibacterial hand & face wipes, Think King Jumbo Swirly Hook (for strollers), M.A.Z.E cord blood laboratories water bottle, Q-tips (full-size), OXO Tot bottle cleaning kit, Oopsy Daisy playing cards, Little Pim foreign language DVD, Pantone Colors children’s book.
  • Just For Mom – Boob Tube and Tummy Rub samples from Mama Mio Skincare, Simplisse sample pack (nursing pads, nipple cream, breast milk storage bags), Bio-Oil, Palmer’s Tummy Butter, Destination Maternity Edamame Spa coupons, Premama vitamin drink mix sample, Fit Pregnancy magazine.
  • Food – Belvita breakfast bar, Kind Plus bar, Pretzel Crisps, Peeled Snacks, Sensible Portions Apple Straws, Godiva Gems, Little Ducks Organics Tiny Fruit, and baby food pouches from Organic Mash-ups, Ella’s Kitchen and Happy Baby.

And that’s not all, folks! (haha). Here’s the great stuff I was given (pictured above) by just stopping at all the vendors’ booths and entering their their giveaways or joining their mailing lists:

  • Free Samples – pacifier wipes and laundry detergent from Dapple, Eco Store laundry liquid, healing balm and hand soap from The Honest Co., Colief infant drops for colic, Camilia homeopathic teething aid, BabyGanics lip & face balm, Innobaby small baby food storage container, The Bump stroller ID tag (brilliant!), Tommee Tippee spill-proof First Sips Cup (4m+), retractable measuring tapes from both Project Nursery and from Ergo Baby, a baby food pouches from Happy Tot and Plum Organics.
  • Gift Bag from the ToyInfo.org booth featuring: a small parts tester, Crayola My First Washable Markers, Cloud B Mimicking Monkey, Ugly Doll small stuffed toy, BKids Go With Me soft cell phone toy (3m+).
  • Bought at a Discounted Event Price – Lucky Legs from Mama Mio Skincare (they gave me a larger sample of O-Mega Body Buff with purchase), WeanGreen glass baby food containers in green, BuggyLove organic stroller cleaning kit.
  • Plus LOTS of Coupons

There were food vendors sampling juice cocktails, baby burgers, cake pops for your baby shower, frozen yogurt and baby food if you wanted to try some out yourself. There were stroller and diaper pail demos, lots of photography studios, gorgeous sample nursery set-ups and tons of great speakers (Jessica Alba, Tia Mowry, Dr. Bob Sears,  Melissa Joan Hart and many more). Everyone was really excited to be there and the good mood was contagious. I had so much fun and I LOVED all the goodies I got (and I think 99% of them I’ll actually use too!). The Big City Moms Biggest Baby Shower Ever is an absolute must for any brand new or expecting parents.

A Hospital Bag for C-Section Mommies

Well, I just found out I’m going to have to have a repeat c-section for my second baby. My first c-section was planned and we had a great anesthesiologist who insisted on being our personal photographer for the birth, haha. It ended up being a calm, happy experience and I had no issues with pain or healing or anything. So… I feel okay with this. Deep breath.

Now that that worry is out of the way, I have begun (very early, I know) my search for the perfect hospital bag and creating it. I originally thought about taking the easy way out and buying a hospital baby bag that was already made (yes, this is related to my gift bag obsession). But I was really surprised that although the lists are plentiful, it was really hard to find pre-made labor bags for sale (let alone C-section specific bags which don’t necessarily need the essential oils, relaxation CDs, stress balls, etc.).

One standout is the Push Pack from Small Batch Studio (pictured above) which contains items useful for any type of delivery – including a note pad, pen and thank you cards! The company also informed me that a special C-Section pack is in the works for this summer – awesome!

I also found My Pure Delivery Mama Bags (pictured below). The Posh Mama Bag, one of 4 the site offers (pictured below), packs 39 items including Earth Mama Angel Baby products which are free of yucky chemicals like phthalates, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and a breastfeeding-friendly gown from Hot Mama Gowns for your hospital stay and beyond! The back massage tool might be more for laboring mamas, but I’m not one to turn down a back rub any time and I’d gladly stash that away for later.

(Updated) Due Date Bags just launched and although they’re back-ordered until January 2013, their ‘Labor Queen’ Mom Hospital ‘Go’ Bag (pictured below) is a fashionable option for c-section mommies. The set includes a nursing cami, nursing pads, nipple cream, a little outfit for baby & more packaged in your choice of pink or blue trim. The only item geared more towards a natural birth than a c-section are the cute undies that say “Shop Closed for 6 Weeks” – they’d just need to add in the word “approximately” for the c-section-ers, haha.

There’s also another cool company called BFFL Co. who aim to improve the patient experience with all sorts of care bags. One of their newest additions is the Mommy/Delivery BFFLBag and they really thought of everything! (see below). Although they don’t have a separate bag for c-section mommies, all bags include a wound/incision care pack. The tag is on the higher end, but 15% of the net profit from your purchase will be donated to the Harvard School of Public Health Women’s and Health Initiative so you can do some good for others while helping yourself.

BFFLBag

Last, I also found these LaborKits which unfortunately are all sold out right now (but take a look at the contents for more ideas). If you know of any other companies selling hospital bags for new moms, please let me know!!

Things I wish I had brought to the hospital the first time but forgot:

  1. My Kindle – those pain meds did NOT make me sleepy like they do for many people and man, was I bored! I was begging to leave the hospital. A Kindle (or other electronic reader) is a lifesaver when you have the baby taking up one arm as I found out after I got home: one finger (or even one toe – voice of experience there) can turn the page. A regular book has to be held open the whole time and turning pages can be an Olympic feat.
  2. My bath towel – I use huge bath sheets at home so the towel they gave me to use at the hospital felt like the size of a washcloth.
  3. Serious snack food – hospitals feed you on their schedule, not necessarily when you’re hungry. And if your visitors have left and daddy has gone home to take a shower, etc., you might be stuck in your bed not healed enough to walk to the vending machine yourself. I recommend GoPicnic ready-to- eat meals which have served me well so far during this pregnancy to tide me over during my commute home.
  4. A notebook with attached pen – you never know when you’ll need to write something down or be struck by something amazing about your adorable new baby.

Hospital kits for new dads are even more rare. Nikki at Nature’s Heirloom made her own and it was pretty awesome if you want to get some ideas. But I just have one piece of advice for new dads who are accompanying their baby mamas into the operating room – those scrubs you have to wear are see-through!! (My hubby found this out when everyone started commenting on his Spongebob boxers… oh man, it’s still funny). DaddyScrubs (pictured above) has that problem solved at least. As mentioned above too, DueDateBags.com also has a super cute “Labor Coach” kit for the Dad-to-be along with really inspired Hospital ‘Go’ Bags for Big Bro and Big Sis (pictured below). Definitely don’t want to forget about your first-born! And I found one more great list for making your own hospital survival kit for daddy from the blog, Scott and the Tiny Human.

Best wishes for you and your coming bundle!

Narrated Playtime – Whoa, I Totally Do That!

or, A Review of Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

I just finished reading Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I almost didn’t bother, but when I read reviews that it is more autobiography than parenting manual (which I generally try to stay away from), I changed my mind and I’m glad I did. The book logs her efforts to first define the Parisian/French parenting style (which turns out to be more work that it sounds) and then to understand why it is so different from the current NYC/American style. You can tell from the reviews which people actually read the book and which just assumed it was just another American parent bashing tirade.

I appreciated that Druckerman clearly states her upper-middle-class and central Paris/elite Manhattan biases in the beginning and reminds us of them throughout the book so you know that not everything she describes necessarily applies to all of France or all of the US. But don’t let this dissuade you from reading; wherever you are, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen or done many of the parenting acts she describes in this book and will be able to relate.

The book was clearly well researched with tons of footnotes documenting the studies, articles and people she pulled from (I hate when people just write, “experts believe…” and leave it at that). And Druckerman was careful to interview and compare experiences between persons both native to each country with those who immigrated to the US or France, and between experts and regular moms  – all things I also appreciated and expected coming from a former journalist. But the book also felt very honest (she shares quite a few embarrassing parenting experiences) and was pretty amusing in many parts too. This book is an opinion piece, it is not straight investigative journalism, but even so, it seemed balanced and reasonable (not at all pushy). So whether you agree with Druckerman by the end of the book or not, you won’t regret reading it and it may give you some things to think about too.

But here is the excerpt in question that totally caught me by surprise:

American-style parenting and its accoutrements – the baby flash cards and competitive preschools – are by now cliches. There’s been both a backlash and a backlash to the backlash. So I’m stunned by what I see at a playground in New York City. It’s a special toddler area with a low-rise slide and some bouncy animals, separated from the rest of the park by a high metal gate. The playground is designed for toddlers to safely climb around and fall. A few nannies are sitting French-style on benches around the perimeter, chatting and watching their charges play.

Then a white, upper-middle-class mother walks in with her toddler. She follows him around the miniature equipment, while keeping up a nonstop monologue. “Do you want to go on the froggy, Caleb? Do you want to go on the swing?”

Caleb ignores these questions. He evidently plans to just bumble around. But his mother tracks him, continuing to narrate his every move. “You’re stepping, Caleb!” she says at one point.

I assume that Caleb just landed a particularly zealous mother. But then the next upper-middle-class woman walks through the gate, pushing a blond toddler in a black T-shirt. She immediately begins narrating all of her child’s actions too. When the boy wanders over to the gate to stare out at the lawn, the mother evidently decides this isn’t stimulating enough. She rushes over and holds him upside down.

“You’re upside down!” she shouts. Moments later, she lifts up her shirt to offer the boy a nip of milk. “We came to the park! We came to the park!” she chirps while he’s drinking.

This scene keeps repeating itself with other moms and their kids. After about an hour I can predict with total accuracy whether a mother is going to do this “narrated play” simply by the price of her handbag. What’s most surprising to me is that these mothers aren’t ashamed of how batty they sound. They’re not whispering their commentaries, they’re broadcasting them.

When I describe this scene to Michel Cohen, the French pediatrician in New York, he knows immediately what I’m talking about. He says these mothers are speaking loudly to flaunt what good parents they are. The practice of narrated play is so common that Cohen included a section in his parenting book called Stimulation, which essentially tells mothers to cut it out. “Periods of playing and laughing should alternate naturally with periods of peace and quiet,” Cohen writes. “You don’t have to talk, sing or entertain constantly.”

Whatever your view on whether this intensive supervision is good for kids, it seems to make child care less pleasant for mothers [footnote to a 2009 study]. Just watching it is exhausting. And it continues off the playground. …”

(I wanted to copy more but I’ll stop there)

Now, I know I’m definitely not narrating just to flaunt what a good parent I am because I do it when we were completely alone at the park and, as Druckerman mentions later, off the playground as well. But reading this and suddenly realizing that she was describing me, had me searching for the real reason why – at least my reason why.

So I think part of it came from reading that hearing language (reading and speaking to your child) is good for them and will help build their vocabularies. And since I suspect my 2 year old is dyslexic (her father is so there’s a 50% chance right away) and since she seems to have trouble saying the small sounds in words – I guess it was très américain of me to think the more the better, right?

And the other part was probably because we were alone. I’m a talkative person so I was  probably just chatting to fill the silence and to keep my daughter company. I’ve realized that this could be heading her down a path where she’d become one of those people that has to be stimulated constantly (like some of my college classmates who couldn’t write a term paper unless they had both headphones on and the TV going). Being able to handle quiet time is a skill that needs practice too.

So I went to the park today with my newly 2 year old and I consciously didn’t narrate. And guess what? My toddler was chattering away half the time and quiet half the time but still content the whole time. I also didn’t go up onto the actual playground tower with her this time (she usually asks for my hand to go up the stairs, etc.) but I didn’t sit on the sidelines since my little daredevil monkey loves the big kid area which is pretty high off the ground. I stood near every opening she approached just in case, but I was happy to be of no use there – we didn’t even have a near close call. And she handled every staircase, obstacle and maneuver with ease.

Things were going great! Then, my daughter then decided she wanted to try climb this terrifying (to me) curvy ladder instead of taking the stairs. Think a repeated S shape with a straight bar down the middle of it. Then bend that entire form from the top of the playground to the bottom and add an undulation to it. Fantastic.

Even though she could barely get her foot from one rung to the next, I let her try it (while holding a hand both in front and back of her lest a foot or hand slip, with visions of bloody lips and broken arms trying to force their way into the forefront of my thoughts – as is the normal state of my brain) and didn’t encourage her constantly along the way (which is much easier when you would really rather they back down, haha).

When she reached for my hand to help, I calmly said “You can do it.” And she immediately, without any kind of fuss, tried it herself – if she’d asked a second time, I would have helped or gotten her down, but she didn’t. She climbed that stupid thing 3 times all by herself. She even got stuck at one point and I watched her figure it out. Despite mommy almost having a heart attack, it was pretty cool. If I had been coaching, cheering and helping the whole time, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use her brain a bit and it actually might have distracted her.

I found myself pointing things out or mimicking back the words my daughter said (“That’s right, a car”) as we left the park. I was narrating our walk, I guess. But I know the intention of this part of the book is not to say that you should stop talking to your kids, of course not! The point is just to make sure there is balance. And I’m glad this book gave me the opportunity to think it through.

The Truth About Strollers – Smart Questions to Think About

Let’s get right down to it. Here are some useful things the sales people probably won’t ask you to think about when you’re looking to buy your first stroller:

  1. Will you be taking the subway/train regularly with your stroller?  If so, look for a stroller with 3 wheels instead of 4 since they’ll be less wide and take up less room. Also look for a stroller that you can easily fold 1 handed and that’s light/compact enough for you to carry with 1 hand – especially if you’re in NYC, there are NO elevators in most subway stops (found that out the hard way). My favorite and the stroller we ended up with? The popular for a very good reason Baby Jogger City Mini (pictured).
  2. Some strollers have flat, bassinet-like infant attachments, like the Bugaboo Cameleon (pictured), or the strollers can be modified to be used with an infant car seat, like most Graco travel systems. But my husband and I preferred to trade off strapping our baby to us in a wrap or carrier, so we never had any use for a cradle-type stroller design. Our daughter was always happy as long as she was snuggled up close and in the action and since she was a small baby, we carried her for at least 6 months, probably more (pregnant brain memory lapse). But depending on the size/weight of your baby and their temperament, any back problems you might have, personal preferences, etc., this might not be the same for you. If you think you want to try wrapping though, see if you can hold off on the stroller at least until baby is old enough to sit up on their own. (BTW – More on wraps & carriers coming soon in a new post!).
  3. Also, before you spend $1000 on an admittedly awesome stroller (like the Stokke Xplory pictured), consider how long you’ll use it compared to the price. For example: my daughter is just about to turn 2 and we’ve used our stroller about 10-20 times at most. We go on walks just about every day and have rigorously practiced hand-holding so ever since she’s learned to use her legs, walking is usually her preferred method of travel. We still bring out the stroller though if we’re going to be in a really crowded area or if we plan on walking around the city all day long – so definitely still useful to have a stroller, but I would have had serious buyers remorse if I’d gotten some of the other models I looked at.
    However, I often see people pushing their 4 year olds around in strollers and although I don’t see that happening for us, we’re not there yet, so who knows!? If that’s the case though, and the weight limit on the stroller is high enough (and the straps adjust in case your child is very short or tall), it can definitely be worth the money (especially if you’re planning on using the stroller for multiple children) – I think it really just depends on the child and the parents. Just something to think about.
  4. I mentioned before that we preferred to wear our daughter with wraps and carriers but the one exception was when it was cold and rainy or snowing. Of course you prefer to not go out in bad weather, but sometimes it’s necessary and baby can’t be home alone so they have to come to. I still haven’t found an acceptable baby ski mask (joke), so although you can bundle baby up pretty well from neck to toes and stick a nice warm hat on, there are days when I’ve have my face wrapped up in a scarf so I certainly wouldn’t want baby’s face exposed either, even for a few minutes. In these cases, a rain cover over the top of your stroller acts nicely as both an umbrella and wind blocker. It’s also a better way to bundle up our little toddler – even though she’d prefer to walk, mommy’d prefer she stay warm. So if you live where there’s snow or a cold wind chill, make sure the stroller you decide to get has a removable rain cover or that generic covers (like the Jolly Jumper Weathershield pictured) will fit your stroller.
  5. Two words: cup holder. Make sure your stroller at least has the option for you to get an attachment later. I found it essential (and if it’s large enough or will adjust to fit baby’s bottle/sippy cup, even better!).

 

Do you have any other slightly uncommon stroller suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Ainar – Make This Middle Eastern Tea to Celebrate Your New Baby

I found this info and recipe while looking through the Penzeys Spices catalog. I’m copying it here directly – never heard of this and I love it!!

Sasha writes, “Introducing Ainar, the tea brewed especially for baby mamas and the guests who stop in to dote on their pretty newborns. In case you didn’t know, mamas need lots of things after having a baby: rest, love, good, warm food. And this tea. The cool thing about Ainar is the treat at the bottom of the cup. Nuts. After cooking a bunch of warming, fragrant spices like cinnamon, caraway, anise and nutmeg in a large pot of water, the hot tea is splashed over assorted nuts and as much sugar as you can stand. Walnuts, almonds and pine nuts are the most common. This is a Middle Eastern tea to celebrate the birth of a new baby. The spices are believed to help the mother heal as well as bring good luck to the new family.”

  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tb anise seed
  • pinch ground nutmeg (1/4 tsp or so)
  • 6 cups water
  • Garnish (to taste)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup total nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, slivered almonds)
  • 1/4 – 1 cup sugar

In a saucepan, add the spices to the water (use a tea ball or cheesecloth if desired) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. You can also simmer longer for stronger flavor. Pour through a spaghetti strainer if you did not use a tea ball. Serve in teacups over mixed nuts and add sugar to taste.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 15-30 minutes

Serves 4-6

The Baby “Essentials” You DON’T Need

As a first time mom, I did nothing but research for about 7 months. I was obsessed. I didn’t want to waste money on things that weren’t necessary, but I definitely wanted to be prepared for any and all circumstance that might arise. What I learned by the time my child was 1 though, is that the climate where you live, the time of year your baby is born, the size of your house, the temperament of your child – these are all things that effect what baby products you need.

For example, a winter baby in the Northeast needs some big, warm footed onesie suits (zip-up not buttons!!) to go over their clothes and thicker woolen hats. A summer baby in California needs a wide brimmed hat preferably with UV protection and sunshades for the back windows in your car, maybe even some baby sunglasses. Likewise, someone in a small apartment with paper walls may not need a baby monitor, but someone in a large, 2 floor house might find it a necessity.

As for temperament, my firstborn was what our pediatrician called “a happy spitter.” She wasn’t bothered by it at all, but she spit up so much that we couldn’t have enough burp cloths (I think our final count was around 20). Other families might just need 2 or 3. Last, you can’t know in advance how fast your child will grow. They all grow out of clothes quickly, but my daughter was wearing 9 month clothes on her first birthday and my sister’s son was in 9 month outfits by the time he was 4 months old! That can make a lot of seasonably appropriate clothing unusable.

So, remember that there is no one size fits all checklist. And it’s impossible to be completely prepared in advance (sorry). But you can start with the absolute basics and add from there as needed. Here are some reputable sites with basic baby essential lists:

The Bump ***** Parenting.com ***** Parents ***** WebMD

However, what I would have found most helpful as a new mom and couldn’t find anywhere, was a list of the things you DON’T need along with the reasons WHY so I could judge for myself. I remember reading so many debates about wipe warmers but I couldn’t figure out exactly why people felt so strongly one way or the other. So here’s my list of the baby essentials I think you can do without, and the reasons to help you decide, if you or your circumstances disagree with me. Good luck!

  1. Blankets – I can almost guarantee someone is going to give you a blanket, it’s like the favorite baby gift. But I’m surprised to see them on baby essential checklists since you can’t use blankets in the crib until your child can at least sit up easily on their own (some say not until age one or older). A single blanket may be useful to tuck around your child in a stroller or to throw over their car seat as you transport them into your house – but you probably already have a small blanket for that, if needed. Swaddling blankets, btw, are a different story – they usually have a different shape, a slightly stretchy, breathable material, and I do think those are necessary to have on hand. I love Aden + Anais swaddles. Possible Exception: You plan on making your blankets do double duty as burp cloths, portable crib sheets, stroller and car seat liners, tummy time blankets, change table covers, etc., in which case the hand knit blanket from grandma might not work so well. I personally bought those things separately though.
  2. Infant Gowns – the kind with elastic bottoms. I might have been was paranoid, but I felt a lot better having 3 little snaps make sure my baby wasn’t going to wiggle out of those 2 paltry velcro straps holding her diaper on and get poo everywhere. Also, you can only use infant gowns for sleeping – they impede movement when baby is awake – so why not just get onesies that you can use anytime? If you’re looking for warmth, most infant gowns are just light cotton and don’t do much, but Halo makes some great sleepsacks in both lightweight fabrics and warmer fleece to zip around any nighttime outfit (some have built in swaddles too!)
  3. Jumpsuits – (and convertible infant gowns) Adorable, but at least 9 snaps, sometimes more, in the middle of the night. Not enough to convince you? Just wait until your baby wants to start flipping around or kicking on the changing table while you’re sleep-deprived and trying to snap those snaps. Considering that a separate pair of pants with an elastic waist could be slipped on in less than 5 seconds, jumpsuits are just not worth it in my opinion. I also ruled out zippered jumpsuits myself: the zipper only goes down one leg so it always seemed like it was uncomfortable to get the opposite leg in.
  4. Undershirts – Babies do a lot of wiggling around on the floor until they learn to crawl (tummy time is important!). So my experience with undershirts is that they just ride up and have to be constantly pulled down. Save the shirts for when your child is walking and for special occasions (can’t resist a baby in a button down and bow tie). Also, a onesie can be a complete outfit.  An undershirt needs a bottom. Why get 2 things when you only need one? Possible Exception – we used the long sleeve undershirts we were given as light jackets, and for about 4 days before baby’s umbilical cord fell off.
  5. Booties/Crib Shoes – The best thing for babies is bare feet. But tiny toes can need protection, so I’ve found that socks with non-slip grippies on the bottom (most infant socks have it) are the only thing you need for non-walkers. Most crib shoes and booties don’t stay on very well and are really just for decoration. But if you absolutely must have some stylish baby shoes, look for elastic around the opening (easy to get on and more likely to stay on) and fabric-like, soft soles. Even for winter babies in a cold climate, I’d prefer to not let the wind have a chance to sneak up between the shoes and pants and would go for a footed one-piece suit (over socks) instead.
  6. Crib Bumpers – Bumpers should NOT used at all due to the risk of suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment according to guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (read more here). Unfortunately, most crib bedding sets at big name stores still come with bumpers, like the one pictured here from Walmart (they also come with a pretty useless quilt, see blankets under #1). I really wonder why no one has protested against Babies R Us, Target and the like for selling these yet? Luckily, some companies are stepping up and offering bumper-free crib bedding sets like these adorable ones from Skip Hop.
  7. Baby Bathtub – Holding a slippery, soapy baby while bending over a bathtub is not my idea of a good time. And although there are lots of cool positioners that fit into your sink (like the Blooming Bath), because of the way the faucet sticks out awkwardly right in the center and since it requires extra cups/bowls to collect and pour the water onto the right places – it just seemed like too much work when I was overtired myself. The best solution I found? Take baby in the shower or bath with you (make sure the water isn’t too hot for baby), then dry them off, throw on a diaper, and stick them in a lounger or hand baby to your partner, and finish bathing yourself. Two clean people in the time for one! It worked for this tired mommy. Possible Exception: Baby bathtubs for the sink would probably work great in the kitchen where you possibly have a detachable spray nozzle – but then the sink size might be too big for it to hold baby properly – be sure to check the instructions/warnings.
  8. Bath Towels/Washcloths – Yes, they’re cute, but I know you already have some towels (unless you’re currently of the drip dry persuasion …). And guess what? Your towels work the same, plus they’re very likely bigger which means it’s easier to wrap/dry baby. But what about the attached hoods on baby bath towels? Cute but not necessary in any way, shape or form. Since your towels are so large compared to that tiny baby body, you’ll have more than enough towel to make a faux hood and cover the rest of them at the same time. Possible Exception: These definitely could be a useful persuasion tool for a toddler who is not a fan of bath time (or ending bath time) but that’s about 2 years off.
  9. Bottle Warmer – This one is debated pretty frequently, but I encourage you to do your own test. Heat a bowl of water in the microwave or run hot water to fill your sink a few inches (if it’s a small sink) and stick a bottle of about 4-6 oz of liquid in it (room temp or refrigerated depending on if you’re making formula or warming breast milk). Time how long it takes from the moment you start until the liquid is warm on the back of your hand. Now – look at how long the electronic bottle warmers take from start to finish – it’ll be on the box. From my experience, bottle warmers do not actually save much time, if any. And, once you know how long it takes for your bottle to be the perfect temp, it won’t change until you go up a bottle size. Possible Exception: portable bottle warmers like this one can be a lifesaver when you’re in your car or on the go (trying to beg hot water from a restaurant and then somehow getting a container big enough for your bottle is a nightmare).
  10. Wipe Warmer – Here it is, the big one. I’m putting this on my list of things you don’t need but with a Possible Exception: if you don’t have good temperature control in your house (drafty old building, heat controlled apartment, etc). You can bundle up baby to sleep snugly in a cold room but I definitely felt bad putting icy wipes on her behind on top of forcing her to be half naked for a few minutes while we were in our apartment the week or so before they turned on the heat. Other than that, if your baby’s room is a comfy 68-72 degrees, the wipes will be too, and there’s no need for any type of warmer. (Gross but true – it’s no more shocking to their bottom than the room temp. the pee is at by the time you get to changing them).
  11. Baby Specific Laundry Detergent – Don’t do it! Buy as pure a laundry detergent as you can (dye free and perfume/fragrance free) and use it for everyone’s laundry all the time. If you want to go the extra mile, look for plant and mineral-derived, non-petroleum ingredients – see this link on the Whole Food’s website for a good rating guide. Buying a “baby specific” detergent is a gimmick to exploit your mommy fears and they’re often not as all natural as they claim. Definitely wash clothes before baby wears them though. The chemical finish on new clothes could irritate a baby’s sensitive new skin and (if you want to be extra paranoid) the clothes could have come in contact with dirt and bugs while in shipping and/or germy hands in a retail store.
  12. Bassinet or Cradle – Bassinets need completely separate bedding from your crib, maybe a separate mattress if it doesn’t come with one or you don’t like the existing one, and have a very low weight limit (you’ll probably get 3-4 months use). Now, you may need a safe place just to put the baby during those random I-just-fell-asleep-cause-I’m-a-newborn moments, when you want to slide out from under them as slowly as possible so they stay asleep while you run to get something done for yourself. My daughter would fall asleep in my lap while I was working on my computer or sitting on the couch, and since I could not leave her unattended on either of those surfaces, I needed another solution. But instead of a bassinet, I suggest a bouncer or something else you will probably buy anyway (lots of bouncers recline to a laying position as well as a more upright one for when they’re older, and they all have buckles to make sure baby is secure). Possible Exception: If you have extra money and have a separate room for the crib but want to keep baby in your room for late night feedings for the first few months (which is recommended).
  13. Travel crib/Play yard/Pack N Play – Not necessary with the Possible Exceptions that you are either traveling somewhere, or you need to keep baby from being attacked (with affection) by pets or other kids in the house, and/or if you are using the Play yard (which features a detachable bassinet top) for the reasons above.

Boys Names and Gender Inequality

Since we’ve found out the gender of our coming little one, I’ve been scouring books, the internet and my brain for cool boys names. My husband and I feeling the pressure too since we gave our daughter a very unique name with a nice story behind it – so to name our son something in the top 10 “just because we liked it” seems really unfair to him. So…

  1. we need to have a good reason for picking his name (i.e. it should be related to something we like or did or saw, etc)
  2. it needs to be pretty unique (let’s say less than #500 in the current baby name ranking unless we really love it) and
  3. it needs to sound nice with our daughter’s name and, of course, our last name.

I know I’d be curious after all that, so I’ll tell you the story of our daughter’s name. “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s was playing constantly on the radio while I was pregnant. In browsing names, I suggested Lilah (this was a suggestion unrelated to the song). My husband said he didn’t like Lilah but did like Delilah and I vetoed that because of the song (which is a nice song, but at that time I had heard it about a million times too many). So I was walking to work one morning and thought to myself that the difference between the 2 was basically just a D sound, and to amuse myself I decided to combine Lilah with every letter of the alphabet. And when I came across O-lilah, which later because Olyla, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Luckily, my husband loved it too.

For her middle name, we picked the name of an island we visited while on our honeymoon that, by a stroke of luck, was in the middle of a butterfly migration path and just covered in butterflies. See? How do we match that?! (Suggestions are welcome, haha).

But one funny thing I did notice is that there are way more girls names available than names for boys. It kind of makes sense because, back in the day, most boys were given family names – the girls were just going to be married off so the parents could enjoy some creativity there – so maybe all those extra decades of creativity have left boys at a bit of a disadvantage now. It’s also funny that girls have been stealing traditionally boys names for a long time (Kelly, Alexis, Taylor, Blake, Reese, Hayden, Drew, Parker, Cameron, Jordan) but it’s pretty much unheard of for the reverse to happen (except maybe Adrian). Totally unfair sexism! (which, by the way, until a male Senator can openly wear a dress to a meeting of Congress, just like a woman can wear a pantsuit, which was also unheard of years ago, I think we’ll always have gender inequality). But am I going to name my little boy Sofia or Zoey? Probably not.

Just things I’m thinking about. Share your thoughts!

Baby Registry Freebies

Buybuy Baby - Cute Paper Gift Bag

Buybuy Baby Gift Bag contents

There are a ton of stores where you can buy baby stuff and most of those stores want you to create a baby registry with them so that all your friends will have to visit that store to buy you baby shower gifts, etc. Some stores, like Giggle, will even give you cute little cards to include with your baby shower invitations and/or birth announcements that tell everyone which store to visit to find your registry (helps prevent “Oh, you didn’t have a registry at the store I visited so I just bought you these bottles from a brand you don’t like and baby booties that you already have enough of.”). And, of course, every store will give you a checklist of the baby “essentials” you need to buy.

But even if you think nobody is actually going use your registry (and you might be surprised – we were), you should absolutely still make at least one (or as many as possible in case you have non-internet savvy family members who can only shop at actual stores nearby them). Here’s the first good reason: registry completion discounts. Most stores will give you a coupon for 10% off any of the items remaining on your registry that weren’t bought for you. So, if you’re going to end up buying stuff for yourself, put it on your registry and then wait for your coupon!! (Note: the coupon is mailed after your due date, so up your due date by a few weeks when registering to make sure you get the coupon in time to use it before you bring baby home).

Second reason to create a registry: free gift bags!!! Now, I am a bit of a gift bag addict, but I think everyone likes free stuff, especially when they’re things you actually need. I’ve only found 3 stores that give actual gift bags just for creating a registry with them:  Target, Buybuy Baby and Babies”R”Us so of course, I did the “hard” work of trying them all out for you. :)  Probably based on the season and availability, I know that what you see here is probably not exactly the same as what you’ll get, but it’ll give you a good estimate (2 years ago, with my first baby, I got a car sunshade and a bib, for example, which were not in the gift bags this year). These gift bags benefit stores because after you try the products and like them, you’ll use the enclosed coupons to go back to that store and make a full-sized purchase. And I loved that there were very few duplicate gift items between stores. Here’s the breakdown:

Babies"R"Us - Reusable Gift Bag

Babies"R"Us Gift Bag contents

 

* Buybuy baby gift bag: Fit Pregnancy magazine, Baby Talk magazine, a NUK orthodontic silicone pacifier 0-6m, an Avent 4oz baby bottle with nipple and lid, sample of grape scented saline Boogie Wipes, sample of Belli elasticity belly oil, sample of Johnson’s Natural baby lotion, sample of Mustela baby body lotion, Medela breastfeeding information guide, and coupons from BabyGanics, Gerber and most of the companies mentioned previously.

*Babies”R”Us gift bag: American Baby magazine, Disney baby growth chart, 2 samples of grape scented saline Boogie Wipes, sample of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (perfect for diaper bags), 1 newborn Pampers Swaddlers diaper and sample of Pampers Sensitive wipes, the Babies”R”Us new baby buying guide (but contains no prices!), $25 voucher and additional coupons for Kiddie Kandids portrait studio, assorted coupons from Huggies and most companies mentioned previously.

*Target gift bag: 1 Newborn Huggies diaper, 1 set of Lansinoh nursing pads, 2 Lansinoh breastmilk storage bags, $20 Shutterfly gift card, baby guide with Target coupons, and other assorted coupons.

Target - Reusable Baby Clutch

Target Gift Bag contents

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