Our Relaxing Cabin Weekend, and Some Thoughts on Kid-Free Vacations

Last weekend, Joe and I rented a cabin up in Wisconsin for a little adults-only mini-vacation. It was the first time we’ve been away overnight since Lillian was born, and it was by no means a long trip — we left on Friday afternoon and came home Sunday afternoon, during which time Lillian was in the capable care of her loving grandmother (aka my mom).

It was pretty low-key as far as vacations go. There were no big events or sightseeing tours, just the quiet beauty of forest and farmland surrounding the cabin where we stayed. In some ways, it felt like we completely left civilization — the cabin was so secluded that you had to drive through a shallow creek in order to get to it.

Wooded Rental Cabin with Creek

The narrow dirt road leading through the creek and to the cabin.

But despite being so far from civilization that there wasn’t the slightest hint of a cell phone signal, the cabin also came equipped with every comfort you could want. Like a kitchen with a full stove and refrigerator, and a flat-screen TV with a DVD player. And most surprisingly, there was even a nice fast wireless internet connection.

Top: views of the comfortable cabin interior. Bottom: my attempt to take a picture of the wifi.

The wifi turned out to be really useful, since our cell phones were useless for making calls and we couldn’t seem to get the landline phone to work. Did you know that you could make actual phone calls, to people’s phones using their phone numbers, through Gmail? I don’t think I was aware of this possibility before the cabin trip. But it was really nice to be able to call my mom just to check in that everything was going well while we were gone.

Another noteworthy aspect of the cabin was the front porch, which featured rustic style wooden furniture and a panoramic view of the forest.

The cabin’s front porch.

And when you’re staying in a cabin in the middle of the woods, it’s probably only a matter of time before some wildlife wanders by.

The deer we watched from the front porch.

One of the best things about the cabin was the hammock slung between two trees outside. It was large enough and strong enough to hold up two people, and wonderfully relaxing to lie in the shade drifting gently in the summer breeze after feasting on a big block of Wisconsin cheese.

The hammock outside the cabin.

All in all it was a nice little getaway, and even if it was only for one full day, Joe and I came home feeling relaxed and refreshed.

But moving on to the second part of this post, I wanted to talk a little bit about the whole concept of parents taking kid-free vacations — because when you read enough parenting blogs and websites, you’re bound to run into the mentality that raising a healthy well-adjusted child requires the physical presence of a parent 24/7/365.

Take for instance discussions like this one about how selfish it is for mom and dad to leave their baby to go on vacation, or this advice piece by Dr. Sears, the founder of “attachment parenting” philosophy, which seems to suggest that it would be better to take a toddler along on a trip to Africa than to leave him behind with his grandmother.

While I’m sure you could just as easily find discussions and advice pieces that swing in the other direction, in general there seems to be a lot of guilt-tripping and judgement about the One Right Way to balance parenthood and family life with your relationship with your spouse. But my personal equation is that happy relaxed parents = happy relaxed baby = happy relaxed family, and I’m fully supportive of taking a weekend on occasion to relax, recharge, and reconnect.

What do you think of kid-free and baby-free vacations? Have you ever taken one? And if so, have you faced any kind of disapproval or criticism for it? Feel free to leave your thoughts or stories in the comments.

Neighborhood Block Party #2

This past Saturday was our annual block party, the second one we’ve attended since moving into our house. The street was closed off to car traffic starting at 10:00 AM to leave a wide open space for the party, and we made ourselves at home with folding chairs, a cooler full of refreshments, and even the playpen for Lillian to nap in.

Chilling in front of the house.

I wrote a blog post about last year’s block party, which talked about the experience of meeting lots of our neighbors and generally getting a feel for the neighborhood, but what I’ve realized since then is just how much bigger all of the surrounding block parties are compared to ours. When the neighboring streets are roped off, you’ll see tents and gigantic inflatable bouncy castles and dozens of kids running around everywhere.

Ours, on the other hand, is what the neighbors affectionately call “the geriatric block.” The majority of people are middle aged or retired, and there are so few kids that they don’t even bother to rent one of the bouncy castles anymore. The result is that our block party is a subdued affair where people mostly sit around in front of their houses, enjoying good food and catching up with their neighbors while the handful of kids ride their bicycles, tricycles, and battery-powered toy cars around in the empty street.

This is about as busy as it gets on our block.

Just like last year, a DJ came by to play music in the evening, and early in the afternoon a firetruck came by just for show — you can even see it at the end of the block in the above photo. The firetruck probably happened last year too, though we somehow missed it, and this year we only watched it from a distance since Lillian was napping the whole time it was there.

Sleeping through all the excitement.

A lot of the neighbors hadn’t met Lillian before, though many knew she was on the way since I was visibly pregnant at last year’s block party, and so she got to meet lots of new people over the course of the day. She greeted everyone with smiles and sunshine like she always does. And she seemed to really enjoy watching the older kids ride their bikes back and forth:

Watching the older kids.

And we got to meet some neighbors that we hadn’t met before, too. Like the new family that moved in across the street only a month ago, with a 3-year-old daughter and another baby girl due this fall. And an older couple down the street whose three grown children (with various grandchildren) all chose to buy houses within walking distance on the neigboring blocks. They jokingly call the neighborhood their commune.

It’s interesting how neighborhoods cycle through the generations, and between us and the couple of other young families who’ve moved in on our block, it looks like it’s already starting to happen — so it’ll be fun to see how the atmosphere of the block party changes from one year to the next. (And in the meantime, maybe we’ll sneak off to one of the block parties on the next street over so Lillian can enjoy the bouncy castles as she grows!)

DIY Nursery Mobile with Butterflies

As promised way back in that last nursery update, which talked about furniture additions, today I’m finally back with the details of the handmade mobile I put together for over the crib. It was a simple, inexpensive, not-very-time-consuming project, and the following is a sneak peek of the end result:

A preview of the finished butterfly mobile in the nursery.

The idea of using butterflies for the mobile seemed to fit in well with the overall animal-and-wildlife theme of the nursery, and plus it seemed like a nice little feminine touch in an otherwise gender-neutral room. The supply list was as follows:

  • 1 large embroidery hoop
  • 1 dowel rod
  • 1 package of craft beads
  • Heavy paper in several different colors
  • Spool of florists’ wire (optional)
  • Thread, glue, scissors, small hand saw

Although I’ve lost track of the exact total (one of the unfortunate side affects of writing crafty blog posts too long after doing the project) the whole thing was somewhere in the ballpark of $10 or $15 worth of craft supplies from Michael’s. For the paper, I picked five different colors of heavy cardstock, and also a few different colors for the thread, although in retrospect this was mostly pointless since the thread is too thin to see from any distance.

Paper, Beads, String (Craft Supplies)

String, paper, and beads for making the mobile.

The top of the mobile was made by attaching the solid part of the large embroidery hoop to two pieces of the dowel rod arranged in an “x”, which I measured and cut down to the correct length using a simple handheld saw in our basement. The pieces were glued together, and for added sturdiness I reinforced the seams by wrapping them in florist’s wire. (This may have also been pointless, but I seem to have bad luck with glued things falling apart and didn’t want to have to worry about it.)

Embroidery Hoop for Craft Mobile

Embroidery hoop with dowel rods for mobile base.

For the butterflies, I expected to be able to find a good butterfly template online, but this proved surprisingly difficult… so I ended up making my own. I did a bunch of Google image searches for butterflies and settled on four different “styles,” which I then drew up in Adobe Illustrator, printed out onto a standard piece of 8.5″ by 11″ paper, and cut out to trace onto the heavier colored sheets.

Cut Out Paper Butterflies

Butterfly shapes cut out of the printed paper template.

If anyone is interested, my printable PDF butterfly template is available for download here. If you end up using it for a project, feel free to drop me a comment or an email — I’d love to see how it turns out!

Anyway, cutting out the 20 individual paper butterflies was hands-down the most time-consuming part of this project, which I ended up tackling leisurely during a couple of TV-watching sessions while Lillian was in bed. Once cut out, I folded the butterflies slightly at the base of the wings, avoiding making hard creases in the paper, and then poked a hole in the center to thread the string through.

A closeup of the butterflies.

The pearly-looking craft beads served to stabilize the paper butterflies, and were threaded above and below each butterfly and secured with knots. These were probably optional as well, but they seemed like a nice touch to add some shininess and weight to the mobile. The end result is that the butterflies spin and drift gently in the air currents of the room, and even when we have the fan on, they don’t seem to get overwhelmed, tangled, or generally blown away by the breeze.

DIY Butterfly Nursery Mobile

The finished butterfly mobile.

Between the strings and the beads, not to mention the paper cut fodder and possible wooden sliver hazard, I probably don’t have to mention that this mobile is intended for decorative purposes only, and isn’t meant to be touched or played with like some of the plush or plastic ones you might find in a baby supply store. Ours is currently hung high enough that Lillian shouldn’t be able to reach it even standing, but if it ever seems like she’s coming close, it’ll have to get relocated to another area of the room.

Anyway, as I usually do with any kind of crafty project, I’ve already thought up a list of ideas for possible improvements:

  • Using smaller butterflies and/or more of them
  • Using patterned paper for the butterflies instead of solid colors
  • Painting the wooden frame of the mobile — either white or another color to complement the colors of the butterflies
  • Making the frame larger to allow for a wider spread of butterflies

And that’s the long-overdue butterfly mobile post. What do you think? Have you seen any nifty DIY nursery mobile projects on Pinterest or elsewhere lately? Or maybe even made one of your own? Feel free to share your thoughts or links in the comments!

Crawling, Teething, and Other Baby Milestones

It was barely over a month ago that I posted the last baby update, and we’ve passed some huge milestones since then — it’s a little crazy how you’ll get these long stretches of equilibrium and then bam, everything changes at once. The biggest development by far is that Lillian is becoming mobile.

Way back in the five-month update, I posted a video showing how she was starting to do pushups and scoot around on the floor, and we predicted that she’d start crawling any day. Instead, she was content to just scoot around like that for the next few months, until one day she finally decided she needed more mobility to better go after toys and stuff. The first time she crawled a few feet across the living room rug was a moment that we were actually lucky enough to capture on video:

And in just a few short weeks, she’s gone from that first tentative crawling to moving confidently across the room:

The world is hers to explore now, and any object within baby-reach instantly becomes the most interesting thing in the world. Our efforts to baby-proof the house are barely keeping up, although we’ve gotten the living room into a reasonably safe state by tucking away all the wires and breakables, and by installing that child safety gate (which we previously used to keep the cat out of the nursery) in the living room doorway.

In addition to crawling, Lillian can stand for short periods of time as long as she’s holding onto something. She’s even pulled up once or twice using the furniture, though it seems like she’s still getting the hang of that part.

This past weekend, we were at my mom’s helping out with house stuff, and we set up the playpen for Lillian outside. We somehow forgot to mention the standing thing with everything else that’s been going on, so the result was that my mom came outside and randomly saw this:

Standing up in the playpen.

As you might guess, she was rather blown away by the sight.

But Lillian’s new abilities to crawl, kneel, and stand have meant a few other baby containment steps had to be taken, like lowering the level of the crib mattress so she doesn’t topple out.

Standing up in the crib with its newly-lowered mattress.

For some reason, we decided to get started on the mattress-lowering task one evening about five minutes before Lillian’s bed time, which in retrospect might not have been the wisest idea. But luckily it just involved taking out the crib mattress, unscrewing the four brackets, and then rescrewing them back in at the lower position, all of which was pretty fast and easy on our particular crib model.

As the title of this post suggests, the other big development is teeth. The two bottom ones are starting to come in, though they’re surprisingly difficult to catch in a photo. The best I was able to get was this one where she was chewing on something:

An attempted closeup of the newly sprouted baby teeth.

Side note: that something she’s chewing on is the ear of the stuffed bunny from when I was taking her 9-month photo, which I shot on another one of the colorful blankets we received as a shower gift.

The nine month baby photo.

(As usual, you can check out the rest of the photos in the series here.)

But getting back to the teething: much to our relief, it doesn’t really seem to be bothering her that much. There have been a few episodes of fussiness around bedtime where we’ve broken out the baby Orajel to swab her gums, and it has seemed to help, but those instances have lasted only a few minutes and she’s never missed sleeping through the night. Hopefully this trend continues as the rest of the teeth (including the molars) come in, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

For anyone who’s had experience with a teething baby, how did it go? Does an easy go of it with the first few teeth translate into an easy teething experience in general, or does it get worse as time goes on? I’d be curious to hear any thoughts or stories on the matter.

When Breastfeeding Advocacy Goes Too Far: Mayor Bloomberg and Latch On NYC

Latch On NYC poster from here.

The intricacies of the breast vs. bottle debate were barely even on my radar until Lillian was born and, despite originally planning on breastfeeding, we ended up using formula due to a severe and unexpected lack of milk production on my part. (You can read that whole story here.) Since then, I’ve found myself reading more and more about the issue, and feeling more and more strongly about it.

I bring this up because over the past few days, there’s been a story in the news that really hit a nerve for me. In New York City, mayor Michael Bloomberg has been pushing this “Latch On NYC” initiative, one of the most restrictive pro-breastfeeding (and anti-formula) programs in the nation. An article in the New York Post explains:

Under Latch On NYC, new mothers who want formula won’t be denied it, but hospitals will keep infant formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications.

With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why she should offer the breast instead.

“It’s the patient’s choice,” said Allison Walsh, of Beth Israel Medical Center. “But it’s our job to educate them on the best option.”

Lisa Paladino, of Staten Island University Hospital, said: “The key to getting more moms to breast-feed is making the formula less accessible. This way, the RN has to sign out the formula like any other medication. The nurse’s aide can’t just go grab another bottle.”

I’ll just come right out and say that I don’t have an ounce of respect or patience for this kind of overblown breastfeeding evangelism. Don’t get me wrong: if someone wants to breastfeed and can, wonderful. If someone wants to breastfeed and is struggling, by all means help them out. But lecturing every new mom who asks for formula? Trying to manipulate every woman into breastfeeding no matter what her situation or preference like it’s some kind of one-size-fits-all thing? It’s nothing short of insulting.

The reality is that all the education, guilt-tripping, and manipulation in the world will do nothing to force the breasts of women like me to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed for those recommended first six months. It will do nothing to ease the tremendous burdens that breastfeeding places on women in a multitude of individual life circumstances. But why bother to face any of the real issues when you can demonize formula like it’s a dangerous drug and belittle women for making the “wrong” feeding choice?

I think the worst part about this whole crusade for breastfeeding as a “public health issue” in the United States is how wildly out of proportion the rhetoric is with the actual proven benefits. When it comes to breast vs. formula, we’re not talking about something with measurable health consequences at the individual level — we’re talking about differences so minuscule that you can’t even detect them without looking at statistical trends across large populations. (And even then, the better you take into account confounding factors like maternal income and education, the tinier they tend to get.) That we’ve gotten to a point where anyone thinks it’s justified or defensible to lecture and pressure all new moms into breastfeeding at all costs, as though failure to do so will surely damage their babies, is a sign of just how badly we’ve lost all sense of perspective on this issue.

At least, that’s my take. What do you think about this initiative in New York City? Or about the state of breastfeeding advocacy in general? I’d love to hear any thoughts in the comments, and feel free to share this post as you see fit.

Update: Since writing this post, it seems that there has been a lot of backtracking and watering down of the Latch On NYC initiative, which I can only say is a good thing. But for anyone wondering if the outrage over the initiative was overblown or misplaced from the start, check out this excellent write-up which compares and contrasts the document that made everyone so angry with the one that quietly replaced it after the firestorm started.