Friday, December 30, 2011

All Caught Up!

After several days of double posts, I'm FINALLY all caught up with my half-written post backlog! I'm very excited, for the first time in ages and just in time for the New Year, to be all caught up. (I think this new picture of Eleanor will be my standard one for any "excited" post from now on. It really just captures that emotion so well.)

I met and (barely) surpassed my goal of 120 posts for the year. The year Eleanor was born I only managed 94 posts, so I'm happy with just meeting that goal. If I get to about the same number of posts again next year, I'll be happy with that!

I'm not so bold as to make numerous crazy New Year's Resolutions like I did when I first started blogging. (Read 50 books!) All I'm willing to commit to is that I will do my best to maintain the status quo, in real life and virtual life, as Declan grows into a crawling, drooling, babbling, then walking, talking baby. I'll do my best to keep eating as well and no better, clean the house just enough so that it doesn't get any grungier than it already is, and run as many races in 2012 as I did in 2011. (I think that commits me to one 5k only.) I promise to work towards continuing my mediocre email response time and relatively reliable, if not prolific, blog posting.

Happy New Year!

Photo Challenge: Black and White

I've missed several weeks of blogging about his pictures, but Keith never has. For the past 52 weeks, come rain or shine, new baby or beach vacation, Keith has taken, edited, and posted a picture by the weekly Wednesday deadline, every time. This blows my mind. As someone who often struggles to post some cogent thoughts 10 times a month with no need to set up shots and choose then edit a finished photo, I am in awe of his dedication. Some weeks were more fun and easy, and some less. But he always did it, and I feel that says something about the person that Keith is. That's the kind of guy I want to be married to.

Anyway, the final week of the year's challenge was "Black and White." As you can tell, Declan didn't really like the reindeer suit, although we thought it was adorable.
Black & White

Some of the other pictures that I've missed over the past few weeks succinctly tell the story of our first weeks after Declan was born. The first was taken a week before Declan was born: It was the picture Keith wanted to take for the prompt of "silhouette" but the prompt didn't come in time.
Silhouette - First Take

The next week, Keith had no trouble finding a "square" picture at the hospital:

And our brand new baby boy was an easy choice for "blue."

Even with a newborn, life continued on for Eleanor. Keith made the most of a gorgeous Fall day to first blow most of the leaves to the front curb then rake a special leaf pile for Eleanor, and then take some pictures of her jumping into it. (To be fair, it also helped that his parents were visiting that weekend, and his dad brought the leaf blower.)

Finally, "silhouette"! This turned into sort of a companion piece to the silhouette picture he'd wanted to take.

Keith said that he's going to sign up for another photo challenge next year. He admits that it's a lot of time and effort, but he strongly feels that his picture taking and editing skills have been challenged and improved through the Flickr challenge group in ways that he would never have done on his own. It's his photography equivalent of a workout partner. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with! (And sometimes blogging about it.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Family Christmas

Once we made it through the hustle and bustle of buying, making, baking, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, and re-buying things I forgot or ran out of (like wine), our Christmas was good.

We had so much fun because this was the first year that Eleanor really got it. She knew all about Santa Claus. We decorated gingerbread houses, baked cookies, bought special Christmas outfits for the kids, visited Santa, bought presents for her immediate family and wrapped them. She loved all of it.

One of our favorite Christmastime activities this year was an interactive Advent calendar by Jacqui Lawson that my Mom sent us. There's a couple options, but we got the London one since Keith and I have fond memories of that city. There was no temptation to skip ahead, since it only lets you open that day's door and previous days. We also had a "real" paper Advent calendar that we opened at dinner with Keith, but Eleanor and Declan and I would open the computer Advent calendar first thing in the morning. Then Eleanor would spent the next 10-20 minutes opening old days or the same day over and over again. It was a cute calendar that brought back fond memories of my time in England, and it was also a nice way to ease into the day.

Christmas Eve we hosted a small family gathering in the afternoon. In the past we've had it later, but with the kids and the fact that I like to fit in church service at some point, it seemed easier to have it in the afternoon and then everyone could disperse to any other gatherings/activities they desired. It did feel lower maintenance to have it in the afternoon, and to serve the food buffet style instead of a sit-down meal.

Before I knew it, our open house party was over and Mom, Eleanor, and I headed to the traditional Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland. Keith and Eleanor and I have been to the church several times before Declan was born (that's a whole different post) and I really like their approach to religion and spirituality. I was a little leery of a Christmas Eve service there, however; there's not many parts of traditional religion that I like, but I have always loved Christmas Eve carol services. It seems like the month of December and the actual holiday pass by so quickly, I really value attending the Christmas Eve service and taking an hour to calm down, breathe deeply, and think about family and what the holiday really means to me. So although I wasn't sure what to think beforehand, it was a lovely service--traditional, true to their word--in that there were plenty of Christmas carols and the story of Jesus's birth. Yet untraditional when the homily mentions, "Some Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God incarnate" and they mention that the Christian advent wreath is based on the pagan wheel of fire.

So I did enjoy the Christmas Eve service, as always. Then we went back home, my parents and older sister stayed a little while after Eleanor went to bed and then they headed home themselves. Keith and I took turns holding Declan and wrapping presents, and finally got to bed around midnight.

Our first (and best) Christmas present was when Eleanor AND Declan both slept in until 9 o'clock on Christmas morning. The next best moment was hearing Eleanor call, "Is it morning time? I want to go look and see if Santa left us presents!" and watching her eyes light up as she opened presents. We took the present opening very slowly, letting Eleanor set the pace as she opened a present and really looked at it and even started playing with a few before moving onto the next present. Even taking our time, Eleanor got worn out. We'd saved the Santa presents for last and she had one more to open when she called a halt to the proceedings.

We stared at her incredulously. "Do you want to wait until after breakfast to open your last present?" we asked. She confirmed her intentions and we trooped off to breakfast.

Halfway through breakfast Eleanor suddenly sat up and said, "I never got my ballerina fairy baby doll!" She'd gotten everything else that she'd asked Santa for, but not that.

"Well, you have one more present," I reminded her. "Do you want to go open it?"

We got up from the table and ran back into the living room where she opened her final present, triumphantly holding her ballerina (not fairy) baby doll aloft.

The rest of Christmas Day passed in a pleasant haze of delicious food, good company, and relaxation. We played with Eleanor's toys, held Declan, opened presents with my family, and watched as much of A Christmas Story as we could fit in between other activities. I also really enjoyed Boxing Day, when Keith slept in and Eleanor, Declan and I came down to the living room in our pajamas and spent several hours opening and playing with her toys.

Our first Christmas as a family of four was a fabulous success. I'm already so excited for next year, when Declan is 14 months old and Eleanor can help even more with the baking and decorating and present-buying. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Crafty Christmas

I've found that there's a spectrum of Christmas gift-giving through which I move, depending on my mood and our financial situation. The year that Eleanor was born, and again this year, I've made most of our Christmas gifts. My thought is that I'm home all the time, and we don't have a lot of extra cash.

And yet, I spend so much money on all the craft supplies .... I wonder if doing all of this extra work is even saving any money?!? Of course, I do enjoy making gifts, which is part of the motivation, but it's still a lot of time and effort. I promised myself that, this year, I would actually write down everything I spend instead of just guesstimating. This way, if I spend just as much as I would have if I had bought presents, next year I will buy online with no feelings of guilt.

One place my gift-giving spectrum never goes is to the malls. I have no desire to shop in overpriced stores with cookie cutter inventory. If I'm not making my gifts, I'm most likely buying them online via Etsy or Amazon, or in person at Target or discount stores like Marshall's and Tuesday Morning (that's where nearly all of Eleanor's and Declan's gifts came from this year).

I'd like to post links to some of the items we (Keith helped a lot!) made this year, but since we haven't exchanged gifts yet with Keith's family, I can't really do that. Instead, pictured is the
no-sew tutu I meant to make for Eleanor. I even bought the supplies, but ran out of time. I guess it will be a random, Thursday morning in February gift, whenever I get around to making it. Incomplete crafts: The gifts that just keep on giving!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Missed Moments: Halloween

You can tell when Eleanor started picking her own Halloween costumes. Her first two Halloweens she was a pirate and a sushi chef. Then last year she was a (pink) ballerina and this year she was a (pink) fairy princess. She had told me she was just going to pick out something from her regular dress-up clothes to wear, which was fine with me.

But then we were shopping at a discount store and I found a pink fairy costume for only $5. It looked like $5 was a fair price for the flimsy dress, plastic wings, and bent crown. But it also only had to last one night, right? We bought it, I let her try it on once at home, and then we put it away to heighten the anticipation (and keep it intact) until Halloween.

What struck me most about Halloween, and about the first few weeks following Declan's birth, was that life continued on pretty normally. After Eleanor was born our world was turned upside-down, inside-out, and any other phrase indicating a complete and total break from life before baby. I know it was partly because she was our first born, and going from married couple to parents is a big change. Even if you have pets; sorry, it just doesn't compare.

But another reason life with Eleanor had been so challenging is that we had a lot of problems with feeding her. She didn't want to eat and she wasn't reliably gaining weight. (Sometimes she would do fine, and then sometimes she plateaued, which little babies are not supposed to do.) All she really wanted to do was sleep, which her doctors told us was not allowed. So we would spend hours trying to wake her up and night and get her to eat, with very little success. On top of that, I was also pumping to try and increase my milk supply, and her feedings could easily take an hour at least. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that, for the first few weeks, I was spending nearly 20 hours a day trying to feed her or in feeding-related activities. It was awful.

After a while we calmed down and things got better. We started letting her sleep through the night (rather than go against medical advice, we just assumed she was old enough and stopped asking the doctors if it was okay) and that improved everyone's disposition a LOT. We figured out a feeding system that worked for us, and I stopped relying on the scale to tell me if I was succeeding or failing as a parent. Eleanor was old enough that she could tell us how things were going, and she was a very happy, smiley baby.

This time around, I've done a much better job of ignoring the scale from day one. We went in for a few lactation consultations, and I specifically requested they NOT weigh him, so I couldn't obsess over the numbers (nor could they). I'm not perfect, and I nearly had a breakdown at his two-month appointment a few days ago because I thought he hadn't gained enough weight. The 15 minutes between getting him weighed and hearing the doctor say he was fine were self-imposed torture. But I NEVER voluntarily weigh him, and I'm doing a much better job of letting Declan tell me if he's hungry.

So anyway, this relates to Halloween because it was a mere two weeks after Declan was born and instead of being lost in some weird baby vortex, separated physically and mentally from the normal world, we were just getting on with things. Making and eating dinner at a reasonable hour, getting Eleanor to preschool, and enjoying her first Halloween where she trick-or-treated with friends.

Of course, her friends live down the block, and we still didn't even make it off the block before she called it quits. But we got to walk around with the other parents and watch the kids run eagerly up to every house. I felt like part of the regular world, even if I was getting up two times a night to feed the baby. At least this baby wakes up and cries, eats, and goes back to sleep. How amazing!

Said baby stayed at home during trick-or-treating, cuddled in Grandma Karen's arms while she handed out candy. But next year! Next year he will be a sushi chef or race car driver ... just preferably something not pink.

Missed Moments: The Birth (of Declan)

So my birth experience with Eleanor was, overall, even better than I had hoped for. It was very quick, I made it through without pain meds, and I woke up already in labor so I didn't spend a lot of time worrying about false contractions. The second time around, I hoped for more of the same.

Ha! First of all, as I have already extensively complained about, Declan was a week late. A week! That's like a whole other 9 months to a hugely pregnant woman. The waiting is excruciating. Plus, I had serious false contractions on 2 or 3 separate occasions. I woke up in the middle of the night with a tingle of anticipation, sure that it was happening just like Eleanor ... and then nothing.

I tried very hard to wait patiently and go into labor naturally. As we waited for Declan (or "Little Sibling" as we called the baby before it was born) to decide to make an appearance, I had several non-stress tests and an ultrasound to make sure the baby was still safe and happy in the womb. The ultrasound estimated the baby's weight at 8 lbs, 13 oz, and my doctor strongly encouraged me to think seriously about inducing.

I was adamant about waiting, though. I would let this baby come when it was ready; I wasn't going to be induced just because it was more convenient and easier for me. Plus, if I were induced that labor would probably take longer, and I would probably be more likely to need the epidural .... I felt like inducing would start a domino effect of many choices taking me further and further from the natural birth I had experienced with Eleanor, and wanted again.

And yet. I had another follow-up appointment on a Monday, exactly a week after the original due date. Sunday night, Keith and I discussed it and I was still firm in waiting as long as possible before being induced. My doctor had told me he was willing to wait until Wednesday, and that's how long I would give it. But as I stood in the shower Monday morning before my appointment, I suddenly had this feeling that this baby was NEVER going to choose on its own to come it. It was digging in its heels (quite literally, it seemed like I could feel them poking my ribs) and would not be coming out unless forced. I finished my shower, got dressed, and came downstairs.

"I want to be induced," I announced to a very surprised Keith.

We were still surprised, however, when we got to the appointment and I told the doctor I wanted to be induced. I figured he'd tell me to check into the hospital that night to be put on a Pitocin drip, and the baby would be born in the morning. Instead, he told us he's not at the hospital on Tuesdays, so I could either check into the hospital in a couple hours and the baby would be born that very night, or I could wait and check in late night Tuesday, so the baby was born Wednesday morning.

Well, since I had decided I was done waiting, hanging around for another day and a half before checking into the hospital for an inducement wasn't really an option. If I was going to be induced, I wanted to just go ahead and do it!

So we went home, made sure our bags were packed and made arrangements for Eleanor's care, and headed to the hospital. It felt so surreal, to be casually driving to the hospital on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, knowing that next time I drove home, it would be with a baby.

As I had feared, choosing the induction changed the whole progression of labor. We were at the hospital for nearly two hours before the paperwork and initial assessments were done, and I was put on the low level Pitocin drip. Then I was on that for about 3 hours with very minor cramping--definitely nothing strong enough to feel like I was in labor.

We'd asked my parents and Keith's mom to bring Eleanor up to the labor and delivery room during this low-key phase of the process. When we'd said good-bye to her before preschool that morning, we had been expecting to pick her up a few hours later and continue on with life as normal. Instead, we went to the hospital and she went to a friend's house, and it made me sad to think that it had been our last moment as a family of three and we'd missed it.

Unfortunately, with Eleanor's nap the timing worked out that they arrived mere moments after the doctor broke my water. That meant it wasn't low-key and casual anymore, but getting to serious labor very quickly. I wanted so much to enjoy some time with Eleanor and our families, but immediately the contractions were very intense. Keith saw the look on my face as I tried to refrain from showing Eleanor that I was in any sort of discomfort and he quickly shooed everyone else out of the room.

The doctor stopped by again not long after that and told me that everything was progressing quickly; if I wanted an epidural, it would have to be soon. This time around, I didn't really even try to resist the lure of a nearly pain-free labor and delivery. I'd had too much time sitting in the hospital, thinking about what was coming. Add to that the fact that the real contractions started when Eleanor was visiting, and I felt completely unprepared, mentally, to handle a natural birth.

In retrospect, I don't think the pain was any worse than it had been the first time around, but my reaction to it was the polar opposite. Instead of breathing through it and focusing on something else, I focused 100% on the pain and kept telling myself just how painful and terrible it really was. That's not really a good pain management strategy.

So, shortly after that, I got the epidural and Keith and I settled back into the low-key waiting phase. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. By this point I was starting to feel more pressure, so I figured the epidural was wearing off.

The doctor reappeared (what do they do in-between?) and announced that the increased pressure actually meant that I was ready to start pushing. Which also meant I'd been ready to start pushing for some time, but hadn't realized it. Whoops! "That happens all the time," the nurse assured me. Well then, why didn't anymore warn me that increased pressure did NOT mean the epidural was wearing off, and I should call for the doctor?!?

But I digress. One minute we were watching Final Jeopardy in a comfortable hotel room with low lighting. The next minute, the end of the bed was ripped away, people in surgical gloves and masks surrounded me, and intensely bright surgical lamps were shining in my face. It only took a few pushes, maybe 15 minutes if that, before Declan was born.

I was honestly surprised Declan was a "he." I was surprised when Eleanor turned out to be a girl, because for some reason Keith and I both thought she would be a boy. And I guess there was a part of me expecting Baby #2 to be a girl just because that's what happened the first time, even though I know logically that there's a 50/50 chance of either sex.

But a "he" it was. Keith and I immediately started crying and smiling as I held the baby in my arms. Eleanor was now officially a big sister, and we could finally meet and hold our new baby.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Missed Moments: The Birth (of Eleanor)

Alright, so this post is 10 weeks after the big event. You may all be over this and ready to move on. But since Declan's birth, I've tried to remember with more precision what the early days were like with Eleanor, and I have no record of that, which saddens me. I'd like to better know what I was thinking and feeling in the moment, and be cognizant of how it's changed this time around.

So, with that in mind, this is really a story of two very, very different births. To review, Eleanor was born 3 days after her due date. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning already experiencing some pretty intense contractions. I got a quick shower (Why? Because people had said to, and it was stuck in my head.) By the time I got out of the shower, my contractions were more intense. Still erratic, but wavering between 4 and 7 minutes apart.

After all my worry about what we'd do with the dog, we did nothing. It was the middle of the night, and he rolled over and went back to sleep. By the time he was ready to wake up in the morning, my in-laws were at the house to let him out.

The precise times are a bit fuzzy, but I think I woke up a little before 4am, checked into the hospital by 5ish ... and Eleanor was born at 9:14am. When we got to the hospital, I was experiencing a lot of lower back pain. I told Keith through gritted teeth that I wasn't sure I could go through with a natural birth. Bless him, he tried so hard to say the right thing.

"You can do it ... if you want to ... but if you don't it's okay .... but if you do, then I'm sure that you can...."

I settled in and decided to try and use breathing and visualization techniques to at least get me through the next few contractions. Then I could always re-evaluate.

What followed next seemed very independent of time or outside influence. When I felt a contraction coming on, I started my deep breathing and focused on my calming image: Beckett and I taking a nap on the living room couch on a hot, sunny, quiet afternoon. I kept my eyes closed during and between the contractions, and even fell asleep sometimes.

"Can I do anything?" Keith anxiously inquired. "Do you want a back massage?" Unbeknownst to me, he was worried because I was acting like the contractions were very intense, but they were barely even registering on the monitor ... until the nurse adjusted the monitoring belt, and then the next contraction was through the roof. Keith breathed a sigh of relief.

A nurse (on-call doctor maybe?) came to check and see how far along I was, to see when they should call the Ob-Gyn from my practice to come in and deliver. I think at that point I was already at an 8, or at least definitely further along than they were expecting.

When the doctor arrived and checked me, he was surprised (as we all were!) to find out that I was fully dilated and ready to push. Keith tells me I pushed for about 45 minutes (I had no clue about the time throughout the entire process). Finally, Eleanor was born.

to be continued

Baby Projects: Blankets

In early October I had several blog entries about baby projects (which were really about Eleanor's new room and sewing her curtains, since getting Eleanor out of the baby's room was the most extensive part of our preparations). This was meant to the final baby project post, but we never took any pictures of the blanket until there was actually a baby in it, ergo I'm just now posting.

I made the exact same baby blanket I've made about ten times before--I'm definitely a creature of habit when it comes to knitting projects. If it ain't broke, and you're making the same blanket for a new baby, why change?

I was disappointed, though, because this baby blanket is seriously tiny. It barely covers Declan now, and he's only 2 months old! Although I used the same pattern, I did use smaller needles and smaller yarn, and that had a much bigger effect than I was anticipating.

While knitting Declan's blanket, I was also working on a second blanket for Eleanor. Her first is getting old and worn and is a little small for her. But my primary motivation for making her a new blanket was that she's incredibly attached to the first one. She calls it her "Mommy Blanket" because she knows I made it for her when she was still a baby in my belly. She always sleeps with it--not covering her, but cuddled in her arms. It is amazing to me that it means so much to her, and I turn into a puddle of goo whenever I check on her in bed and see it in her tight grasp. But I also worry about the serious meltdown prospects if something happens to it.

I let her pick the yarn (baby pink, of course!) and for this I did use a new pattern, but a really simple one. Knit 7 rows with really big needles. Then knit 7 rows with small needles. Repeat. It's amazingly simple, but looks very nice.

Unfortunately, Mommy Blanket #2 runs a far distant second to the first, and I'm not at all convinced that she would be consoled by its presence if disaster struck Mommy Blanket #1. Knowing this, and seeing how small Declan's blanket is, I should probably start on his second blanket now. Maybe I'll be more successful in getting him to adopt it and love it equally with the first.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Great Escape

My wonderful mother-in-law is visiting for a few days this week. She always tells me that I should do whatever I want to while she's here; she just wants to spend time with the kids and help out. Oh, and she always brings a bottle of wine.Who wouldn't like a mother-in-law like that?!?

I did feel a bit guilty today, as I handed her the baby and dashed out of the house into the sweet, cold free air, that I always run out the door when she's in town. I take the opportunity to walk the dog or run errands without lugging a 30-pound baby and carseat and oftentimes unruly toddler with me. I relish the opportunity to go somewhere, anywhere, all by myself during the day, because it so rarely happens.

I hope she realizes how much I appreciate the opportunity to get out. I'm not running away from her, I promise! I'm running toward peace and quiet.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"My Baby's Got ... What?!?"

For a long time now, we've been playing a white noise CD in Eleanor's room during the night because we have squeaky old wooden floors and a dog who sometimes barks in his sleep. Now that Declan's around, the white noise is even more important.

A few weeks ago, however, she figured out how to change her iPod nano from the white noise to actual songs. Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about this. Will this keep her awake longer? There's still the benefit of background noise, but with lyrics and key changes, etc. As with so many other discipline issues of late, it comes down to the fact that I don't have enough energy to argue with her about it, so we chose a playlist of pretty mellow songs and left it at that.

I don't know if it keeps her up (any more than anything else), but I have discovered that she does listen to the lyrics. At naptime one day last week, Ben Folds's cover of "Golden Slumbers" was playing when Eleanor asked me, "Did he say 'Once there was a wedding'?"

I said, "No, he said, 'Once there was a way ... to get back homeward,'" and we then discussed the meaning of the lyrics before reading her princess stories and turning out the light.

So tonight she was all tucked up in bed, and the rest of us were downstairs in the living room. Suddenly, we heard her music start blasting and a pitter patter of feet as she hopped back into bed. Keith went up to check out the situation, and when he came back down he was laughing so hard he could barely talk.

Apparently, Eleanor turned up the music because she likes G. Love's "My Baby's Got Sauce." However, she told Keith he sang "My baby's got sores" and she liked that part. I'm guessing "sores" isn't really a part of her vocabulary yet, and I feel no need to enlighten her. We are going to have to listen to our music a little more closely, however, for profanity and the like before it makes it on her iPod and she starts singing it at school.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Congrats, Photographer Keith!

A few weeks ago, I posted that Keith entered one of his Photo Challenge pictures in a photo contest at our local library. They just announced the results, and Keith got second place!

His prize is a free photo shoot at MotoPhoto. We're excited/curious to see how it goes. I have to admit, we've never had professional pictures of Eleanor or Declan. Keith likes to take pictures, his sister also takes great pictures .... we've just never seen a need for the expense. Plus, we were a little concerned about how Eleanor would react. Whenever a stranger first talks to her, she acts shy and hides her head. How would that go for a photo shoot?

In talking about the upcoming photo shoot, we're also wondering whether we should do a full family portrait. Neither Keith nor I particularly enjoy having our pictures taken, but I sort of think it's a necessity. Shouldn't we get a picture with all of us? I guess we should at least have one taken, and if it's absolutely horrible, we just won't print it.

Which brings us to the final point: The photo contest prize is a free photo shoot. NO prints are included. (Yeah, it's a small prize, but that's not really why he entered.) What are the chances that we decide the prints are too expensive, and don't even get any? At this point, I'd put them at 50/50.

So even though all of our far flung friends and readers were not all able to vote, apparently the community at large enjoyed the photo enough for him to win second place. I'm so proud of him, both for the photo and for taking the leap of faith to even enter it. Of course, Eleanor says it's her prize too, since the picture is of her. And it's fair enough that she and Declan give us wonderful photo subjects! We're looking forward to taking pictures of them with Santa in the near future.

Congratulations, Keith! (and Eleanor)