Thursday, August 28, 2014

For the hard days...

I'm still chugging away here, trying to get things set-up, adjusting to Justin being gone for nearly 12 hours a day (plus working from home in the evenings).  I've had some other hard days, some other really good days, and I'm really looking forward to having my parents here to help us this weekend.

I wanted to share a few book quotes (part of my new "On My Bookshelf" tab).  I came to a certain point where I realized that I spend a lot of time reading books about management and sociology for my Bucknell degree, but no one was requiring me to read anything before embarking on this journey as a wife, mother, and homemaker.  I've since sought to read a lot on those subjects, wanting to absorb as much information as I can to help myself on the quest to be the best I can be.  I've come across a lot of great insights, and I want to share them and create a sort of catalog of resources in case anyone else is interested....(or just so I can remember the name of a book when I want to check it out again ;) )

If you're a frequent reader in the Catholic mom-blog sphere, you know that Jennifer and Hallie hosted the wildly successful Edel Gathering (conference for Catholic moms) last month.  I listened to the talks (available here) and read a lot of the recaps, which mentioned the idea of "building cathedrals" that was central to Jennifer's talk.  I was intrigued, and looked for the book that tells the story at our local library:

"The Invisible Woman: When Only God Sees"  by Nicole Johnson

This is a short, quick read, but it contains a lot of wisdom and great reminders.  It is told as a story of a mother who feels invisible and unappreciated by her family.  A friend gifts her with a book about the building of the great cathedrals of Europe, structures that spanned the lifespan of multiple workers who never saw their project to completion.  And so, by comparison, the job of a mother:

"It was almost as if I heard God say [...] 'No act of kindness, no peanut butter sandwich made, no shoe selection is too small for me to notice and smile over. I see your tears of disappointment when you feel overlooked or when things don't go the way you want them to.  But you are building a great cathedral and you cannot possibly see right now what it will ultimately become.  It will not be finished in your lifetime, and you will never be able to live there, but if you build it well, I will.'" (p 50)

I write a lot about the trappings of home - the physical environment that I hope to create, but ultimately all of this is because I'm trying to great something far greater for our family.  I want them, first and foremost, to know love.  To feel comfortable and secure despite this crazy world.  To experience peace, joy, and laughter.

In college, my favorite quote was: "The secret to success is being like a duck - calm and serene on top, but paddling furiously on top."  I suppose that applies a bit to life nowadays, too.  I want to create a home where the calm and serene are visible, and the necessary work that creates it falls behind the scenes.  I write a lot here about the paddling - intended as encouragement for myself and my mom friends - but ultimately it's not the higher purpose.

Johnson's book sums it up well: "Next Thanksgiving I don't want my son to tell his friends, 'My mom gets up at four in the morning and bakes pies and hand-bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.'  I don't want his attention to be called to the things that I do. [...]  I just want him to want to bring his friends home often, and maybe to say something like, 'You're gonna love it at my house.  It's a great place to be.'" (p 86).

If you're a mom out there (feeling appreciated or not), check out the book for a quick shot in the arm.  You know we all need it on those hard days.

And P.S., Mom, you got it.  All our friends know that your house is a great place to be.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Organization: control or calm?

Overall, I am very happy post-move, thankful for where we have landed and all of the blessings surrounding the new place and the move in general.  But I have to be honest, some days are hard.  Today was hard.  I don't have to go into the details, but you can sort of paint the picture of cranky (over-tired) toddler who was accidentally woken up prematurely from her nap, an 8-month pregnant mama whose to-do list far surpasses both her available time and current physical stamina, and a daddy who necessarily disappears to the office for most waking hours as he prepares for classes to start tomorrow.

There were all of the frustrations that naturally come with the aforementioned territory (like tiredly limping through the grocery store, trying to strong-arm a heavy cart with a stuck wheel while the toddler continually rivals Houdini with her buckle escape times in the front seat), but I realized that everything was significantly amplified by our extreme state of flux and disorder.

We're currently still sleeping in the basement, and I'm working hard to try to get the upstairs cleaned/organized/ready for us to move our stuff upstairs (slowed by the fact that walking up stairs, especially if carrying anything, makes my over-stressed/over-stretched muscles/ligaments scream the loudest of any activity).  Most of our possessions are still in the basement, but they're getting extremely disorganized because my attention (and, frankly, my desire to spend time) is upstairs.  Both the toddler and the dog have the typical toddler/dog make a mess tendencies, and since things don't have permanent homes yet, there's a lot for both of them to get into.

I can't be the only one who feels anxious in this environment...(photo circa 15 minutes ago)
(Seek and find: the top of my head, the computer (perched on the ironing board, incidentally), a sewing project in progress, boxes from Anna's new shoes, a baby gift waiting to be mailed, furniture that needs to go upstairs, and every toy Anna has played with for the last week) 

In the beautiful respite of a half-hour of daddy-daughter playtime after dinner, I cleaned up the kitchen and then sat, thinking and praying for a few minutes.  The disorganization and disorder is clearly causing me stress, I realized, and I wondered if this was just a side effect of a need for control.  Am I just unable to function if I'm not in control of everything, I wondered?  A materialistic obsession, masquerading as the nice-sounding cleanliness and organization?

But the more I thought, I just can't accept it as a bad thing to have order and organization.  I thought of the cloistered nuns in the novel I've been reading (In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, which I definitely recommend).  The sisters live in a highly structured environment.  They devote significant amounts of time to prayer, but they also devote a lot of time and attention to keeping their environment spotless.  They continually seek detachment from their possessions, but those possessions which they have are given impeccable care (the 90+ year old Dame Ellen is mentioned several times for the perfectly shined floors that fall under her responsibility).

Paradoxically, it is in giving the care and attention to belongings that these mere things fade into the background of life.  The nuns can be more focused on prayer and on the tasks at hand when there aren't constant distraction of things left out of place, messes left uncleaned, or cobwebs covering the church.  It may seem that one could simply detach from possessions and the physical environment by ignoring it completely - giving a superficial cleaning every so often, perhaps.  However, in this "detachment," the cobwebs and messes and constantly lost belongings, the need to replace and fix things that weren't cared for properly, the visual distractions of stuff piled everywhere mean that the surroundings demand more attention after all.  A well-cared for monastery (or home) removes the disturbances of dirt and of clutter, and creates an environment of peace.

It's not just the physical exhaustion of trying to get ahead of our mess and get things set-up that's been wearing on me, it's been the emotional distractions of disorder that have been so trying on days like today.  With things spread out throughout the house (and clothes throughout multiple closets), it's far more difficult to complete our normal tasks (resulting, for example, in me laying out Justin's outfit in the dimly lit room where Anna slept, only to discover after he returned home from work that I had sent him in blue pants - not black - with his black and gray striped tie), far more difficult for us to relax, far easier for us to be quickly overwhelmed by otherwise trivial daily frustrations.

While it sometimes seem like we'll never feel settled again, I know that with some patience and continued work, I'll reach a status quo where things are generally in the rooms where they belong and our bed is stationed between headboard and foot board rather than between piles of boxes.  If nothing else, this time of transition has strengthened my resolve in the somewhat crazy notion that a disciplined life where time and attention is given to keeping things neat and functional creates an environment of peace, and I'll continue my quest for organization - not for the sake of control, but for calm.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Movin' up!

Most days for the last 6 weeks, upon waking I would hear footsteps on the floor above as our host family geared up for the day.  This morning, I woke up at 5:15 (note: totally abnormal behavior) and the sound was decisively different.  Footsteps, yes.  But hurried ones, the quick pitter-patter conveying the urgency and excitement of such a big day.

At 7 AM, Justin and I stood in the driveway with the dog, waving as a minivan drove down the long drive, several suitcases bungeed to the roof.  Justin turned to me and said "...and then it was just us."

I was surprised by how sad I felt at the departure of our hosts.  In some ways, I've been anxious to get into our more permanent routine and spaces here in the house, but I've really appreciated the company.  It was SO quiet today with just Anna and I bouncing around the big house.

As the day wore on, however, the sadness and loneliness gave way to a new excitement at preparing our new home upstairs.  If you've ever had the pregnant nesting can imagine my crazy to-do list at suddenly "needing" to clean every surface in a 3,000+ square foot house.

We're still sleeping downstairs because I'm in no position to help Justin carry furniture up two flights of stairs (plus, all of the aforementioned cleaning I want to get done before we find some people to help with the heavy lifting).

Soon, enough, though, we'll be movin' on up.  The exciting thing is that we're not just moving up from the basement, we're really moving up from our accommodations at our beloved former home.

A few perks:

My very own sewing room / office (a huge step up from my tiny corner-of-the-bedroom I was working out of in Ithaca).  I used to balance my serger on the ledge of our foot board - it will be luxurious to have it on a table while in use!

A "master" bedroom - technically, we're not using the real master bedroom of the house (that's on the first floor, and I'd prefer to be on the same floor as the girls), but one of the upstairs bedrooms has an attached bath, and that feels pretty fancy!  Also, it has about double the closet space of our room in Ithaca.

Lots (and lots!) of space! - if you look down the hall from our bedroom, you'll see another bedroom straight ahead, which will be where the girls will sleep.  There's a third bedroom upstairs that will be a guest room (in addition to the official master bedroom on the first floor), so having space besides our living room (and a semi-comfortable pull-out sofa) for guests is exciting!  The girls' room is more spacious than Anna's nursery at home, and has a pretty substantial walk-in closet to boot.

(Can you tell this was the boys' room?  They have no problem with me removing the spiderman wall stickers, so we'll be looking more girly pretty soon!)

As I look at the pictures now, it seems like I was aiming for the worst possible shots, so my apologies on that.  I was just trying to get some quick pictures to get this posted.  I'll have some better pictures (we hope) after a few days of my frenzied cleaning/organizing!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Goodbye Tour: The Kitchen

I think I've finally reached the point where I can look at pictures of the old house without crying (although, man, does it feel weird to call it the "old house!")  As I mentioned in our update post, I'm still sentimental about the house, and I miss it most especially in the sense of having things organized and having a routine (although I think my memory has failed me in remembering that the day-to-day wasn't always quite like photo-shoot days!)

Before it's too long gone, I want to finish my "good-bye tour" of the house so that we have a complete documentation of all of the renovations.  Writing these posts is good incentive because I also want to work on printing a photo book, and these posts force me to sort through all of the pictures.

The kitchen was by far our most extensive renovation on all fronts (scope, time, money, type of tasks, etc).  It is also one of the only projects that I actually documented consistently on the blog, so if you want to revisit the full play-by-play, all of the links are below.  Today, I'll give you the cliff-notes version (where, by the magic of the Internet, walls are stripped and rebuilt in a single scroll).

When we bought the house, every remotely absorptive surface had collected years of cigarette smoke.  One of the biggest offenders was the foam panels on the kitchen ceiling.  Less than 8 hours into home ownership, we made the (potentially rash) decision to remove the panels, thinking we'd just live with whatever (theoretically better) surface we found above until we were ready for a full renovation.

Weeeeelllllll, (first lesson of renovation), nothing is ever quite as easy as it sounds.  We discovered that the beadboard ceiling above the drop panels was sagging and leaking insulation, so we made the (potentially even more rash) decision to remove that too.  And then the weekend was over and I needed to go back to Harrisburg and my job, and Justin was left with a house where the ceiling was literally all over the floor.

See the bulging panel that remains?  That's because insulation is sitting on it.

I'll spare you the you-can-see-the-roof-joints pictures and fast-forward to the Fourth of July, when Justin and I spent the hottest possible day doing the hardest possible job (and thus completing the best possible marriage preparation) hanging drywall on the ceiling.

With that project done, we cleaned things up, and when Justin's lease ended at the end of July, he moved into the kitchen (the rest of the house was either too dirty or too actively being renovated to host him).  I rented a basement apartment across town, although I really only slept there, as I'd go directly from work to the house to have dinner and work on projects.

Everything he owned (and, he'll point out, everything he needed) was in the kitchen.  It was around this time that we had a contractor over to look at the roof, and we offered him a seat, at which point we realized that the camp chair on the porch was the only one we had.

We got married in October and I moved in to our newly renovated bedroom in the den.  I was thrilled to be permanently in the same place as Justin and very excited to be making a home.  I set up the kitchen and decorated it the best I could.

I was proud of my little space, and I didn't let the lack of function or the ugly paneling stop me from cooking fancy dinners or even from hosting friends.

Maybe not the most glamorous location for Easter dinner?

We knew that renovations were coming, and we added this conversation-starter we called "the panel list" - a list of the things we wanted to do before the paneling was removed, inspired by the bucket list concept.

Eventually, the other house projects were completed and the (non)charm of the paneling wore off, and we were ready to renovate!

The house lay-out, with the kitchen being the passageway from the upstairs to the rest of the house, made for a more complicated renovation, but we made-do with a plastic sheeted tunnel.  The refrigerator was banished to the back porch, and we would traipse from our temporary dining area in the den, out the front door to the back porch whenever food (or ice cream) was needed.

First round of demolition:

Second round of demolition:

Lots of (photograpically boring but very time intensive) projects related to plumbing and electrical commenced, and finally we could insulate and hang drywall!

The excitement of having walls! (and someday washing dishes somewhere other than the shower) got me through lots of spackling and sanding.

Finally it was time to paint:

When I came home from work to see the cabinet installer's first day of work, I cried at my little dream house coming together:

From there, there were plenty of other little projects (the kitchen sink, the dishwasher, the microwave/range hood, etc, etc, etc) until it was fully a functional kitchen.  Here's a photo tour from just before we started packing:

It came a long way, wouldn't you agree?

 A few last before-and-afters for good measure:

 Lots (more) detail about everything that we did...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Anna goes to the zoo!

As I promised last week, for anyone who made it through my extensive update post, here is your reward in the form of Anna at the zoo pictures.

Last week, I got hit pretty hard by a cold virus that had me spending most of the day in bed for the better part of the week.  On Thursday, I thought I was feeling better, but about a half hour after breakfast, I found myself asking Justin if he would watch Anna so that I could take a nap.  I awoke 3 hours later to find a note saying "At the zoo.  Took sunscreen, cell phone, snack, water.  Love you."  My heart swelled with thankfulness for such a thoughtful and wonderful husband who even thought to preempt my type-A worrying that Anna might get hot or sunburned (and thankfulness also for the relative calm-before-the-storm he has work wise before the semester starts; I won't be able to take leisurely naps, sick or not, in a few weeks!).

When he showed me all of the pictures he took at the zoo, I couldn't help again but be so thankful for this wonderful man - such a great daddy - and for our sweet little girl!  We have both been enjoying Anna's recent developments communication and understanding of the world, and it's so much fun to see her discover things and delight in the little joys of life.  These pictures were just too cute not to share :)

This was Anna's first trip to the zoo.  On the way, Justin was asking her if she wanted to go to the zoo and see animals.  He said she lit up and said "doggies?!"  Sweet girl was in for a surprise that there were "MON KEEEEYS" and "ele pents" and "fishies" to see, as well as a dinner date (with some shared "ICE KEEM!") with daddy on the way home.

Although most of these shots are of her back, I love that you can see her excitement and interest just from her poses.  Sorry if they come out sort of grainy, they're from Justin's cell phone.

Apparently, shortly after this, the baby monkey headed right for Anna and she got scared and ran back to Justin.
(Anna tells me: "Monkeys.  ehh ehh (her fake cry sound).  Daddy.  Up pease."

Friday, August 8, 2014

4 weeks in: an update

4 weeks ago, I sat at a table in a lawyer's office, making a blubbering fool of myself as I (unsuccessfully) tried to hold back the tears at giving up my "first baby."  (No, not Anna; other people have been confused by my silly reference to the house, too).  If it were any secret before, the whole process of leaving our house showed me just how much that old structure meant to me.  Thankfully, the leaving was much harder than the having left, so I haven't done nearly as much I-miss-home crying in the last few weeks as I expected (only once, I think, since the tearful hotel-room post I left you with way back when).

The last few weeks have been - perhaps surprisingly so - calm, happy, and joyful.  As we were discerning our move last fall, it basically felt like God had done all but put the flashing red arrow above this town and this job, and if it was evident then that this was where we were meant to be, that sense has only grown in actually being here.  There have been several such moments, but one memory stands clear in my mind: only hours after arriving, our large crew of unloading helpers (all who sought Justin out and offered to help) made up of other University families paused for a pizza dinner.  A large group of kids, adults, and hungry teens suddenly paused and offered a loud chorus of a prayer.  Something about that moment, about a community so willing to live its faith (in lifting up prayer, and in lifting a whole lot of heavy boxes for people they'd just met) gave me chills and made me think "this."  This is what we came for. 

And so for all who have been patiently waiting, asking, and praying about our transition, I offer the following updates.  I apologize for how long I've put this off from both pure busyness and also a loss for how to think about such big changes and what exactly to say.  This post is a mix of practical updates (look - pictures of where we're living!) and philosophical musings on the ideas of home and homemaking in a scenario when our traditional concept of "home" has been turned on its head.  As a reward for making it through this wordiness, I'll post some Anna at the zoo pictures later this weekend.  :)

(1) Living Arrangements

As most of you know, we have the opportunity to house-sit for another family who will be abroad for the coming academic year.  They will leave later in August, at which point we will move upstairs to their bedrooms.  For now, we're happily tucked away into the basement bedroom.  The basement is divided into two rooms, one of which has our bed, two extra twin beds, Anna's crib, two couches, and a half-bath.  The other, larger, room is a big playroom (Anna LOVES it) where I've set up my sewing machine table and a card table for a desk.  As much as I loved our house, I have to admit that in some ways, our basement accommodations are more comfortable, or I guess I should say more practical in letting us spread out and have space for different activities (rather than me spreading papers or crafts all over our old kitchen table, or Anna's play space being limited to the space where Justin was also trying to do some work).  I'd probably change my mind after months down here, but for now it's a pretty sweet arrangement.  Given that it's temporary, we haven't really set things up (Anna's entire wardrobe is on top of a dresser, our "linen closet" is folded piles on the extra bed, and we're still using our toiletries out of our travel bags), so I think all three of us are looking forward to having some more organization and permanent storage solutions once we move upstairs, but other than that I really have no complaints.

I may have neglected to mention that in addition to one twin bed being our "linen closet," one is also our dirty laundry pile.  That's what happens when your laundry boxes are all full of miscellaneous toiletries and cleaning supplies!

(2) Building up vs. tearing down

In one of my last posts before we left our house, I lamented the fact that the process of packing our house was antithetical to my life's vocation.  I take great pride in working to create a home for our family and visitors that is a lovely and comfortable place to be, and one that provides for their needs, whether that be clean clothes, good food, or a peaceful place to rest.  Putting everything (essentially, my tools for the job) into boxes was incredibly stressful because limited my ability to provide for any of these needs, and was a direct un-doing of what I generally focus on doing.  I've found that setting things up here (even a very primitive and temporary card-table desk/sewing area) has left me feeling much more positive than taking things down at the house.  Taking apart the house and packing created disorder, and restoring order, I've learned, is very important both for my own sanity and for the greater good of our household/family.

More crafting/work space than I had at home!
It still can use some work, but it's pretty well organized for the time being :)
(3) Possessions

I had an internal debate, you may remember, during packing about whether I was a minimalist or overly materialistic.  I worried about having placed too strong a value on mere things.  Now that everything is boxed, I find myself primarily in an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality where I don't feel particularly attached or in need of our things.  Granted, our essentials (clothing, toiletries, and even our own bed) have been unpacked and are in use.  Also, we're living in a fully-furnished home that is fully equipped and decorated for a family much larger than our own, so our needs are met.  However, I worried that I would miss our dinnerware (those of you who know Justin and I know the ridiculous saga about plates that preceded our marriage!*) or things like that.  It turns out that I've missed practical things, like less common but useful kitchen tools (my food processor, for one), in a utilitarian sense.  As long as we have plates - and a way for me to serve our family dinner - it hasn't seemed to matter what they look like.  Of course, once we set up our own home again I'll be happy to have the ones that I chose, but it's freeing to know that I'm not as overly attached to them as I feared I might be.  I think the practical appreciation of things for their usefulness (including their beauty) is the healthy approach to possessions, so I'm hopeful that I'm at least somewhat in line with that ideal.

My little sewing area is to the right of this picture (if you walked past the futon and turned right), and the door to our bedroom space is to the left.

(4) Vocation of motherhood & homemaking

If the move has confirmed one thing for me, it is that I truly do have a vocation to motherhood and homemaking.  I don't say this to preclude work that I have or will do outside of the home over the course of my lifetime, but I have reconfirmed the value that I find in making a home, providing for our family's basic needs, etc.  As I've mentioned before, it was so difficult to take things apart, but to rebuild and reestablish (even temporarily) here has felt so right.  The first night we arrived, I was loading the dishwasher and wiping up the kitchen counters here at our hosts' home, and they asked me why I was worrying about the work (given that this was after a long drive and unpacking the full U-Haul(s)).  I hadn't thought about it until asked, but the process of restoring order and of doing normal, everyday work was so comforting.  After weeks of emptying drawers, packing boxes, eating take-out meals, it made me happy to be able to put silverware in its drawer and dishes in their place.  I suspect this feeling will wear off and I'll find myself often in a messy kitchen without a sense of joy in the cleaning tasks at hand; but perhaps this lesson will remain quietly inside as a reminder of the value and joy in the daily work of one's vocation.

In retrospect, I guess it's not news that I like the whole housewife thing (throwback photo to making our first Valentine's Day fancy dinner in our not-so-fancy pre-renovation kitchen!)

(5) Loneliness and community

In Ithaca, I had a wonderful group of friends - many of whom were also stay-at-home moms with young families - and yet moving here has made me realize how terribly lonely I was.  Those friendships were wonderful, but we didn't see each other nearly often enough - in most cases, there was at least a 15 minute drive between us, and that sort of distance requires pre-planning for play dates, not a quick call over the backyard fence if you've run out of a cup of sugar.  Our street in Ithaca was busy with traffic (we lived next to a bank) but people scurried in and out with their deposit slips, probably not even knowing that Anna and I were home in the house next door.  It has been refreshing to work alongside with our host, making dinner with her, chatting about recipes, and hearing stories of their interesting past trips abroad.  I've found myself less drawn to blogs and an unhealthy amount of computer time because I don't need to seek an artificial community when I'm beginning to find one here.  We met another family and visited their recent yard sale, which stretched along the block of Catholic families.  Everyone was outside, their kids playing together, the moms chatting about the blenders they were trying to sell.  It felt to me like the neighborhood where I grew up, and one that I know I want to find to fight the loneliness that can otherwise plague the modern homemaking mom.  [See my post from November: Working Alone]

(6) Siblings

I know part of my loneliness in Ithaca was that it was just me and Anna.  Her vocabulary and communication has exploded recently, and it's becoming a lot more fun (and far less isolating) by the day to spend time with her.  Don't get me wrong, I've always loved to be with her, but I know I'm not the only one who realizes that 8 hours with someone non-verbal gets to be a little tiring.  Our hosts have 5 kids in the house (ranging from 4 to 18) and while the activity level is certainly more than I was used to in our quiet little Ithaca existence, it's a very positive and lively environment that has made both Justin and I excited for the years that are to come with Anna and Julia and (God-wiling) their future siblings.  I've enjoyed interacting with the kids in ways that Anna's not yet ready for - baking a cake together, answering questions, telling each other knock-knock jokes.  It has given me a glimpse into the future, a future that some veteran mom bloggers have talked about, a future that's not quite as difficult (or perhaps just difficult in different ways) as having only very little kids.  It's more fun to make a picnic for Anna AND her 4 and 7 year old "siblings" than to get everything out just to make one lunch, not to mention how nice it is that she can sit at the picnic table outside the kitchen door with them while I make the sandwiches.  I have no delusions that my hard days are over (in October I'll have a newborn and a 2 year old and a husband with a very busy new job), but I think I'll be buoyed in that time knowing that there are less overwhelming years (we hope) to come.

This picture doesn't adequately capture how much fun all three kids were having (Anna's in the wagon), nor how comfortable I was watching with my feet propped up on a lounge chair and being thankful for big kids who are happy to pull a wagon around...and around...and around.

I haven't even mentioned how great it's been for Anna to have playmates and companions.  All of the kids have been wonderful with her, and I'm sure their example (and constant "Anna, say....") has contributed greatly to her recent verbal developments.

(7) Missing the house & finding a new home

If there's one theme you've gathered from my writing over the last 6 months, it certainly would be about my emotional process of leaving our home.  In moving, I thought the rough days were still ahead, and I pictured myself lying awake in bed crying about wanting to go home.  Short of a few dreams, I haven't thought of it that much, unless I look at our recent pictures.  We were starting to outgrow that home in some ways and feel frustrated about some of the things about the layout, so we were honest with ourselves that we would have had to look for a new place even if we were staying in Ithaca.  I'll always love that house, always feel very attached to all of the work that we did to make it our home, but the thing I miss more than the house is the sense of home.  We are incredibly comfortable here and the hosts have been incredibly gracious (and incredibly fun) during our time together.  But despite all that, there is a sense of being in your own space where your things have a designated place and you have your family routines and your family pictures and decorations that hasn't entirely been fulfilled in staying in someone's basement.  Thankfully, that sense of home can be recreated, to a decent extent here over the next year, but eventually in our future home.  Justin and I are excited about searching for that home and have both memorized most of the new listings that have come on the local real estate website over the past few months.  We frequently drive through new areas, seeking out new neighborhoods and areas we want to target for our search.  We're both anxious for the time to come for us to be in that (hopefully "forever") house, but we are both very thankful for this year to assess our needs, get to know the area, and do a thorough search for the best future home.

(8) The future of the blog

I was asked recently if I'd continue blogging now that we've moved and the renovations are done.  I dare say that we found the former glory in our old house, and in that sense my mission has been complete.  However, if you've read my updated "About this blog" section, you'll see that my search has expanded beyond just renovating that house.  I'm looking for former glory in the ideals of home and family in our society that has begun to devalue both.  I'm seeking the former glory of a lifestyle/career choice that is no longer popular or particularly respected for a college-educated woman.  I've even begun to convince Justin of my crazy ideas that an old, tired house is far more fun to buy than a beautifully renovated "turn-key" one, so we'll hopefully have plenty more renovation projects to share as well.  We'll still be searching for former glory, and I hope you'll still be following along as I document the journey on all of those fronts...

*Side note for anyone who knows the "dishes" back story, my editor Justin would like me to share that this family happens to have some of the exact Corelleware dishes that he had in his bachelor apartment.  And I'm enjoying using them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cloth Diapers

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the move (in fact, the packing/traveling/new place has caused us to go for the longest stretch ever in disposable diapers) but I've been meaning to post my thoughts about cloth diapers on the blog for a while now.  I was about to say that this topic doesn't have a whole lot to do with my blog theme of making a home, but then again - let's be honest about the amount of diaper changing that goes into raising the little people at home!  I initially wrote most of this information in an email over a year ago, and have since been asked about our cloth diaper routine by friends or friends-of-friends several more times, so I keep updating the email.  Another friend just asked recently, which gave me the kick-in-the-pants to finally organize this well enough to be a blog post instead of a really wordy and overwhelming email :)

Choosing cloth

Living in Ithaca (which we affectionately refer to as a very "crunchy granola" kind of town), cloth diapers were extremely popular.  Almost all of my friends (and we weren't even the "crunchy" crowd) used cloth diapers at least some of the time.  For Justin and I, cloth diapers seemed like a natural (ha) choice because we're green enough to balk at the thought of hundreds of pounds of diapers going into the landfills over the course of our young family's lifetime and cheap enough to balk at the hundreds of dollars required to keep the babies' bums covered in disposable diapers.  Sure, there's an upfront cost and some carrying costs (mostly in time to wash them, although some for detergent and water), but that seemed (and proved to be) worth it for us.  I also (probably weirdly) think that disposable diapers (the clean kind!) have a really funky smell and I was happy to avoid that.

Bonus: cloth diapers are way cuter than disposable ones, and if you make sure to have an orange one (and some black construction paper) in your stash, you can delight grandparents with this Halloween photo-op.
Building your stash

From everyone we've talked to, deciding WHICH cloth diapers to use is far more labor-intensive and difficult than choosing WHETHER or not to use cloth diapers.

As you've probably seen, there are tons of variations of diapers on the market.  Some parents choose to have a stash of a variety of types (or try out a variety before committing).  There was a great store in Ithaca (Jillian's Drawers) that has a trial system, which you can also do by mail.  Personally, I wanted to have the deciding (and the acquiring) finished before Anna arrived, but I think the trial system has gotten great reviews.  I think it's also somewhat popular to have a "stash" filled with various types/styles/etc, but my personal preference is to have consistency and simplicity, so I decided to research just one type of diapers and completely commit.

We use Bum Genius diapers, which I initially learned about from a home improvement blog I follow (Young House Love) (cloth diaper post here).  The bloggers are very good at doing a lot of research in advance, so I trusted them to do some of the leg work for me in term of initially selecting a brand.  The additional research I did confirmed that Bum Genius is one of the consistently highest rated diapers out there.  Granted, they're also one of the most expensive, but I have learned (through reviews, our friends' experiences, and our own experiences) that you get what you pay for.  It was better in our opinion to spend the money upfront to have high quality diapers that really work, and that will last through several children's diaper days.

The diapers we decided on are the Bum Genius 4.0.  These ones come with 2 inserts (a thick and a thin).  We like this for two reasons: 1) the inserts can be dried in the dryer and the outer shells on the drying rack (meaning that the snaps don't get beat up in the dryer, and they last longer), and 2) we can vary the amount of absorbency (we put in 2 pads overnight).  We have the snap version, which I also highly recommend over the velcro.  We have 14 diapers.  Once Anna got a lot bigger and was sleeping a lot longer, we purchased some hemp inserts to use overnight (the two regular Bum Genius inserts were no longer absorbent enough for a full night's worth).  

We started out with the Bum Genius Newborn diapers because the "all-in-ones" don't fit consistently until the baby is 12ish pounds. I haven't decided yet if I'm glad we had those ones or not.  They leaked for us a lot, but I think that's because Anna is a pretty heavy wetter (she needed the heavy pad in the larger diaper as soon as they fit her).  We had a bunch of newborn/size 1 disposables that we'd received as gifts, so we used them a lot.  With Julia, I'll probably be more inclined to use the newborn reusables because I'm familiar with the wash routine and whatnot, but I'm on the fence as to whether or not I'd recommend them, though.

As for the all-in-ones, I don't have a single complaint.  They've been fantastic.  They're super easy to put on, they've held up really well, and compared to the times she's worn a disposable, they're much better at containing the mess.  I think she's had a major blow-out just about every time she's in a disposable [this was written a while ago, when disposables were very rare!], but has had I think only 2 blow-outs in the Bum Genius in the 4 months that she's worn the all-in-ones.  (Update, I'm still very happy with the all-in-ones, and they still look almost new after 20+ months of constant use).


 I wash them approximately every other day.  We store the dirty diapers in PlanetWise wet bags which have been remarkably successful at containing both moisture and smell.  We have a few different sizes (one in her room, one in the bathroom, one for the diaper bag).  When it's time to wash (typically when there are 2 clean ones left), I dump the dirty diapers into the washing machine (often followed by the bag if it's messy), run a large load with cold water and no detergent, then a large load with hot water and 1 scoop of Charlies Soap.   Apparently, this detergent actually voids the warranty of the diapers, but I learned that after it was too late (the local store recommends it as the first thing to try with washing diapers).  It's been successful for me so far, and Anna hasn't had any reactions to it (I've read that there's been some kids who get a rash).  So, it may be worth doing some additional research on the detergent selection, although what we're doing has worked for us.  Once a month (around the 3rd, since that's when she was born and it's easy to remember), I add 1/4 cup of bleach to the cold cycle.  I dry the inserts in the dryer and the shells on the drying rack (although in a pinch I've thrown 1 or 2 in the dryer to get them ready quickly).  Just before the move, I was starting to notice that the diapers weren't smelling clean, even after a wash cycle.  I think it was mostly because we had started potty training and she wasn't going through the stash as quickly as before (and I was leaving them dirty longer than I should have).  I purchased this "stripper" and was happy with the results (but be prepared for LOTS and LOTS of rinse cycles!)

Oh!  I almost forgot - we also have the toilet sprayer, which is an ABSOLUTE necessity once baby starts solids.  In fact, we've abandoned cloth diapers while traveling/visiting families since they don't have the sprayers (trying to scrape a dirty diaper with a plastic spoon into the toilet only had to happen once for me to call that done!), although we did successfully travel with cloth diapers until she was 6 months or so.  (If baby is exclusively breast-fed, the dirty diapers are still water soluble and don't really need sprayed before washing).  If you get a sprayer, DO NOT EVER FORGET TO TURN IT OFF.

What about wipes?

We also use cloth wipes (we just wet them with warm water if necessary, or use them dry).  These wipes has been great, although I know plenty of people who use disposable wipes with their reusable diapers.  I just prefer the ease of putting everything together in the wet bag, rather than separating dirty wipes for the trash from the dirty diapers for the laundry.  I have dabbled in research for DIY wipe solutions and thought about keeping a spray bottle of water near the changing table (and I will probably ramp this up before Julia's arrival) because needing to run into the bathroom to wet a wipe does make the whole process a bit annoying.

Also, you can't use rash cream (like Desitin) if it will touch the diapers directly (it can mess up the absorbency or something like that).  She very rarely gets diaper rash, and if she does it often clears up on its own in a few hours.  If we do need to use Desitin, we use the Bum Genius fleece liners as a barrier.  They have to be washed separately from the diapers (and I've found that they never get completely clean) but they do the job at keeping the diapers clean & baby's skin healthy with the ointment!  (Update: I later got very annoyed by the liners and basically just switched to disposable on the rare occasions she needed diaper rash treatment).

Other resources

Jillian's Drawers (the store I mentioned in Ithaca) has a lot of the products, as well as some helpful online resources as you do your diaper research:

Bum Genius FAQs (including the official washing instructions):

Cotton Babies (website that sells a variety of cloth diapers; I bought ours here, and they often have good sales (buy so many and get one free, etc).  They also have package deals (6, 12, etc) where the price is better than purchasing the diapers individually.

We've been happy with these cloth training pants for the potty-training stage (although that process has also been derailed by the whole moving thing!)

I hope all of this makes sense!  Feel free to ask any questions to clarify!  For those of you who already use cloth, talk to me with your wipe wisdom :)  (Or share your favorite cloth diaper advice in the comments!)