Thursday, April 26, 2018

A build-a-bear birthday!



I'm not entirely sure how this is possible but I have a six year old! My daughter turned six last this month and we celebrated over the weekend with a party at build-a-bear workshop. 

When it comes to party places,  there are literally an endless supply of options! Even the most unlikely places offer party packages for little ones so narrowing that choice down to one can be tough.  In the past few years we have been to an unbelievable amount of jumping, bouncing and bowling parties with a few house parties sprinkled in for good measure!  I decided to try something a little different especially since her last party was a jumping party. Once I realized our local build-a-bear offered VIP private parties I was sold!  As with all party options there are always pros and cons and I'll share my experience below.

Pros

Firstly and most importantly if you are a Costco member you might be able to get an awesome deal at build-a-bear. This is because Costco frequently runs promotions on build-a-bear gift cards with as much as 30% savings.  Build-a-bear accepts these gift cards as payment for their party packages so you can walk away with a great deal! 

The way the party is set up, each child gets a stuffed animal of their choice to take home.  This means the favor is built into the party so that's one less thing to worry about. Of course if you are a DIY addict like myself and you thrive on making your own favors then you may or may not consider that to be a benefit. One thing about the stuffed toys as favors is that they are more likely to actually be used and enjoyed for years to come compared to favor bags or other tokens that have a drastically shorter life span. 

The VIP party is great because it grants you access to the store at a time when it would normally be closed. Its pretty cool having the entire store to yourself, the kids had a blast with their private shopping experience.

If you have ever been to a build-a-bear workshop then you probably know the process of involves choosing a 'furry friend', giving them a name, adding a sound and then bringing them to life by putting a heart inside them before adding the stuffing.  Birthday parties are extra sweet because each person gets two hearts and they all make a wish on the second heart and all those hearts go inside the birthday girls bear! Such a sweet moment.  My daughter loves the fact that her bear has all those extra hearts inside with all her friends good wishes.



Cons
As much as we loved our build-a-bear experience there are some downsides to keep in mind.  I nearly didn't book a party with them because of some of these but I'm so glad I planned around them because it all worked out well. 

Firstly most Build-a-bear workshops are located in malls and do not have party rooms. This means the party takes place in store,  which can be chaotic if there are other shoppers basically crashing through your party. The good thing is most stores offer the VIP option so you can plan the party at a time before or after regular business hours. 

As a result of the lack of party rooms there is no place to eat or cut a cake; this essentially  requires you to plan an "after party" somewhere else in the mall or close by, for food and drinks. After looking online to see what other parents did for their "after party" I decided it was simpler to just head upstairs to the food court and enjoy the irresistible Hot Dog on a stick! I printed out a menu and took orders during the party so we could have the food hot and ready right on time. Everything on their menu is delicious!!



Having to split the party between two places makes it tricky to incorporate a cake since transporting it can be a hassle and slicing and  serving it can get messy.  I thought about just giving each child a cupcake to take home but then decided to try mini pies instead. The pies were a huge hit  and I'll be posting about it soon.

One final point is that the bear options and accessories that each child gets all depend on the party package you choose. There is a big difference between the lowest and highest packages. The base package allows each child to choose between a very limited number of bears and then they get a t-shirt to go with it. The highest package allows them to select any bear in the store, add a sound,  choose one clothing item, a pair of shoes and a backpack.  The children had the most fun choosing outfits and shoes so I would definitely recommend a higher package combined with a smaller group of children. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Giant Cupcake - Take Three!



My son turned one last week!πŸŽ‚ How is that even possible?! It's such a cliche to say this but his first year just flew by! Balancing an insanely hectic work schedule with wife and mommy duties has been intense as always, but I make sure to make time for the things that matter!

I couldn't decide what kind of cake to bake for his birthday, and I thought why not do the giant cupcake again? I mean I already had the cake pan and I had baked it twice already so it seemed like a no-brainer. Of course if you remember from my previous two attempts, the giant cupcake is such an anxiety inducing feat to pull off, I wondered if I  would be able to get it right again. For a moment I considered ordering a cake from some of the many delicious bakeries around but then what would be the fun in that!

With my 5 year old daughter as my trusted little helper, we assembled everything we needed and set to work on the cake. I pulled up my old blog post of the minnie mouse giant cupcake I made for my daughters 2nd birthday and followed those instructions to a tee. I am always so thankful for this blog!



As with my previous attempts, things did go wrong. I somehow managed to overfill the cake pan even thought I put exactly right amount of batter in the both sides of the pan. So it dribbled over my brand new oven! I had to leave it in a lot longer to make it bake all the way through, so the edges were crispy to say the least! Thankfully the crunchiest parts got trimmed off, so it all worked out.





This time I used baking pam spray instead of the crisco &flour combo and the cake fell out of the pan beautifully! πŸ™ŒπŸΎ We left the cake to cool and got to work on the edible cupcake wrapper. Everyone who saw  the pictures of the cake assumed the cupcake was in a silicone wrapper. I'm not sure why I never thought of that option, I could have potentially saved myself a ton of work last time but that would be too easy. Its so much more fun when the entire cake is edible! The last time I attempted this, it took a few failed attempts before I finally got it right.  This time I knew exactly what to do so it was pretty straight forward.  I melted down the candy melts and applied a thick layer to the inside of the pan. Allowed it to set in the freezer and then repeated that with another thick layer and left it over night in the freezer.





The next morning we assembled all the parts. First by trimming and frosting all sides of the bottom of the cake to get it to fit inside the cupcake wrapper shell. This is the most nerve wracking part because the shell could just crack into pieces if not properly made. Once that was done the rest was pretty straight forward. I added the top of the cake and frosted it. I clearly need better frosting skills, I tried to use a whipped frosting which kept melting right off the cake and looking goopy so I scraped it off with a knife to give it a more 'cinnamon swirl' look and then we added his birthday candle and brought my son out to see it!


I have to say, he was altogether supremely unimpressed with the cake, he loved the candle but couldn't possibly have cared any less about the cake. But it was still totally worth it! My daughter and I had a blast working on it together and he will get to look at the pictures one  day and realize how much his first birthday meant to all of us!


Sunday, April 9, 2017

We started solids (AGAIN)!

When baby J turned 6 months old we had already started to assemble all our baby food making gear. We kept all the gear from last time such as the mumi & bubi trays, the mash & serve bowl and of course my trusted blender. But instead of the ball canning 4oz jars we used last time,  I decided to try the plastic food jars by sage spoonfuls

These are supposed to be a better option because they have measurement markings on the back and since they are made out of plastic you don't have to worry about them cracking from the wear and tear of being frozen and heated up. After using these for the past few weeks I can say they are satisfactory but nothing special. They don't seem to have a fully airtight seal especially in the freezer. I wouldn't buy these again or recommend them, but I'll make the best of them since I already have them. I would rather use the mumi & bubi food trays for freezing. 

I also decided to switch things up a bit and not offer my son his first foods in the same order as I did with my daughter. I have to say that my blog has become such a good source of information for me 😁, I am constantly so thankful that younger me somehow had the time and dedication to post such detailed information about everythingπŸ˜‚!

We decided to start with pureed carrots which he loved, followed by smashed peas and mashed avocado.  All three were super easy to make, the carrots were cooked in water til soft and then pureed in a blender with breastmilk.

Pureed carrots in Sage Spoonfuls jars
When it came time to offer peas I decided not to blend it but instead go back to using my NUK mash and serve bowl the good thing about that bowl is it preserves some texture and is perfect for mashing small portions that would simply disappear under the blades of a blender. I cooked them in a small amount of water until they were as soft as peas can get.



The avocados were by far the fastest and easiest because there was no cooking involved, I just put a few slices in the mashing bowl and had a quick batch of basic guac ready in seconds. He gobbled it all up!! I guess so far avocado is his clear favorite.











I'm constantly asked how I find the time to make all this baby food and I genuinely have no special answer to that question. I'm  passionate about the food my kids eat and I think of introducing solid foods as such a fun adventure to embark on, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A quick fix for cradle cap

Cradle Cap:
/krādl kap/
A newborn scalp condition causing dry flaking and/or thick crusting of skin.


My daughter didn't get cradle cap so I didn't even know what it was until my son developed it. He had excessively dry skin all over which cleared up quickly except in his eyebrows and on his scalp. I noticed he had a thick layer of crusty skin on his scalp that looked like a terrible case of dandruff.  Initially I thought I could get rid of it with wash cloth and Cetaphil baby shampoo but it turned out that shampoo was causing more harm than good. I'll post more about that in detail later.

I looked online and saw recommendations to try coconut oil and a brush but I guess the brush I used was the wrong kind so it didn't help much. It would lift some of the flakes off his scalp but the problem still persisted. His pediatrician told me not to worry about it because it resolves itself, but he has thick curly hair and so the flakes were basically trapped on his head. She told me to use mineral oil (baby oil) with a brush. But I still didn't have much luck getting rid of it.

In doing additional research online and speaking to fellow blogging moms I finally got some great advice that was able to eliminate his cradle cap within a few days. The advice was to combine two awesome products;
 



1. Mustela Foam Shampoo For Infants
 
This foaming shampoo is awesome and I'll continue to use it even though his cradle cap is gone now. It has great cleansing power without being too soapy and rinses out quickly. Using it on its own without the brush wont eliminate cradle cap though. Trust me, I tried πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚.

2. Bean B Clean Cradle Cap Scalp Massaging brush
 

Unlike a regular hair brush, this brush has thick rubbery bristles that gently lift flakes off the scalp and away from the hair. The brush comes with the below instructions on how to properly use it. Its also important to take it apart after each use so it can dry properly

 

 
After using this brush just twice, the cradle cap had totally disappeared! Thanks to the awesome moms who recommended it to me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A tale of two pumps: Spectra S2 & Evenflo Dual Electric

Can I start by confessing that I thoroughly hate pumping.😧 I really hate pumping. I feel like I need to get that out there loud and clear. Every single thing about pumping and storing breastmilk grates my nerves, and yet I "suffer" through it because its so totally worth it.πŸ˜πŸ’™
When I had my daughter in 2012, Obamacare had not been implemented yet, so I narrowly missed out on getting a free breast pump.  At the time I didn't want to spend too much on a pump especially since pumps aren't returnable and I didn't even know if I would be successful at breastfeeding. I ultimately decided to go for the Lansinoh pump and posted about my experience with it here. The pump worked well for me although it did break down at about the 9 month mark and I had to get into a fight with the company to get a replacement. Nevertheless I was happy with the pump until I stopped pumping once my daughter turned a year old.

This time around I had every intention of benefiting from the free pump. I was excited to get to choose a pump without worrying about the costπŸ’°. My insurance company provided me with a list of medical equipment suppliers that I could get the pump from in order for it to be covered. All of them seemed to offer the same options; with one pump from each major brand such as Medela, Ameda, Lansinoh and Spectra. I was 100% certain I would go for the Medela but then I remembered realized it has an open system; meaning there is no barrier between the milk and the tubing. This can potentially allow milk and condensation to build up inside the tubes. For me this was a total no-no.  I decided Medela just wasn't right for me. During my hospital stay I used a Medela pump provided by the hospital and it seemed like a decent pump however I didn't like how delicate the membrane pieces were. After doing a lot of research I decided the best choice for me was the Spectra S2.

Based on all the reviews I gathered that it featured a closed system, a quiet pump and "hospital grade" suction. So I went ahead and ordered it.

 

As you can see from the photo above it features a convenient carry handle and bottle stand in the back. I'm really not sure why there is only room for one bottle considering that this is a double pumpπŸ˜’Once I started using the Spectra pump I noticed a few things that I did not like:

  • Firstly it doesn't have a battery option. Not that I've ever had to pump using a battery but its nice to know that if there is no power the pump would still work
  • The screen doesn't light up, so if you are pumping in a dark room you can barely see the screen. Instead there is an independent light that shines down on the screen that just seems out of place and doesn't help you read off the screen.
  • The pump always starts out in the expression phase and not the let down phase. This.makes.no.sense. πŸ˜’πŸ˜’ Let down always comes first and with my Lansinoh pump it was set to always run the let down phase for 2 minutes and then automatically switch over to the expression phase. The Spectra pump always starts in the expression phase so you have to manually switch it over to the let down mode. Then you have to manually switch it back to the expression mode in a minute or two. Keep in mind that you only have two hands and you are already using both your hands to hold up the pump bottles. I     just   don't      get    it. πŸ˜’
  • The pump comes with two different size flanges but its just not comfortable regardless what size you use. There is something about the shape and angle of these flanges that makes them no fun to use. The lansinoh flanges had a silicone comfort ring that made it a lot more comfortable than the Spectra.
The main things that I like about this pump is how super quiet it is. It is quieter than a phone vibrating in your pocket.  With the tv on I can't even hear if the pump is on without looking at the screen to see that its working.

Five weeks into using this pump it shorted out and failed to power on. It happened late at night when I was about to pump before going to bed. There was no way I could just not pump until I could get a replacement so my husband rushed out to Walmart and got me the first pump he could find there. It happened to be a discontinued EvenFlo pump


Can I just say that this pump looks like its from the stone ages. There are no tubes because the pump connects to the bottle directly. Yes that's right. No tubes πŸ˜• πŸ˜’.  So that means instead of having one pump that connects to two bottles using tubes, the Evenflo pump is actually two independent pumps that each connect directly on top of the bottles. Let that sink in. πŸ˜• 
So every time you go to pump you have to carry not just the bottle but the entire pump for the whole duration of the pumping session! Who thought of this?  Mind you, the pumps are quite heavy.
To make matters worse there is no screen because this isn't a digital pump, there is just an on off switch and a dial on the top of each pump so there is no let down phase and no option for  different pump speeds. The dial on top allows you to control the suction strength only, but how on earth they expect you to be able to reach the dial while pumping is beyond me. πŸ˜’πŸ˜ž
This pump is also insanely loud, and keep in mind there are actually two pumps going at the same time so no one can even hear the tv if this pump is on in the same room!
Aside from all that, the main negative about this pump is that milk can get inside the pump unit itself if you don't hold it perfectly upright which is just bizarre. Since pumps can't be returned I used this for the few days it took to get a replacement pump sent to me from Spectra and I now have this as an emergency back up pump.

Having said all that, there were some surprisingly good things about the Evenflo pump. Firstly the price is less than half of what most double electric pumps cost. It retails at Walmart for $62 which is nothing compared to most pumps out there. The low price is most probably because it has been discontinued. Another awesome thing is that it comes loaded with accessories😍. There is a tote bag to carry everything, a cooler bag, two ice packs, bottle stands and spare parts. I was definitely impressed with that because the Spectra pump came with none of these accessories.



 Additionally the suction on this pump is ridiculously strong, I guess because there is no tubing? Even on the lowest setting it seemed really high suction which meant I was done pumping in under 10 minutes.  Additionally the flanges on this pump come with a silicone insert for extra comfort.


After pumping with the Evenflo for a few days it felt weird pumping with my replacement Spectra. The suction seemed very weak in comparison and it seemed to take forever to pump. However I'm glad I don't have to use the Evenflo pump everyday because it clearly isn't designed for regular use. Here's hoping I don't ever have to use it again!



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Update on her Uptown Espresso Kidkraft kitchen

A while back, I posted about two toy kitchens I was torn between but I forgot to post the update about which one we finally decided to get for her second birthday! I ended up sticking to my original choice which was the uptown espresso kitchen by Kidkraft.

When the box was delivered I was slightly overwhelmed by how much assembly was required, This felt a lot less like assembly and a lot more like building it from scratch! There were just so many loose parts with this kitchen it was pretty intimidating. Thankfully my husband was able to put it all together.




Once it was fully assembled it was really quite heavy and not that easy to move, so we definitely should have assembled it in the right spot. We had to move ours afterwards and that wasn't fun.  Since the kitchen doesn't come with any food or accessories I gave her a mini pan and cooking spoon from my kitchen and purchased a pack of Kidkraft pretend food. The food wasn't the best quality especially the cartons; they were super flimsy and crushed within minutes of gentle play. 


  



Overall my daughter loved this kitchen even more than I thought she would and even now two years later she is never bored of playing with it. She already can't wait for her little brother to be old enough to play along!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Recovering from a repeat c-section

Our Hospital Room

In many ways a c-section is simply a drawn out reverse of a natural birth, you have a quick and a somewhat "painless" birth and then you are in excruciating pain for weeks afterwards but the first 24 hours are the most challenging. As I mentioned in his birth story everything they told me about controlling the itching was all a big lie. The OB told me the anesthesiologist would handle it, the anesthesiologist assured me the nurses would take care of it by giving me something in my IV line. The nurse looked at me somewhat blankly when I mentioned it a few hours after the surgery when I was finally wheeled to my room. She came back and told me they only had benadryl  in the form of a pill. A pill!!!!  There was no magic itch relieving medicine that would go in my line and start working right away. no. There was a pathetic benadryl pill that would basically take 30 minutes to get into my blood stream and would still do nothing.
The itching gradually built up in intensity to the point where it was unbearable; I was itchy from head to toe and also in terrible pain. My face was the itchiest especially my nose and mouth. The nurses all seemed focused on controlling the pain and not really as concerned about the itching. However in my opinion the itching was far worse than pain. Pain is a constant that you can kind of get used to but itching crawls all over your skin and is impossible to ignore! They assured me the itching would start to go away in about 24 hours. The longest 24 hours of all time.

Aside from the itching and hunger, the main challenge in the first 24 hours is the intensity of the pain, combined with being bedridden, the discomfort of the compression boots and catheter. Caring for the baby that first night fell fully on my husband once again. After the first 24 hours I was able to get up, take a shower and start feeling like a human again. I started to walk around a bit and hold my precious baby more. 

Just like last time, basic activities such as standing up, sitting, walking and coughing are excruciating because they all rely on the abdominal muscles and tug at the incision. However based on my last experience this didn't come as a surprise at all. The hospital provided me with a belly support binder that really helped me get back on my feet.

On day 4 after the c-section we were ready to go home!  I was told once again that the average heal time is 6 weeks and I was restricted to very light activity to allow the incision to heal. I foolishly expected the recovery to be similar or better than the first time but I was in for an unpleasant surprise. With my first c-section I started to feel much better at about the 3 week mark. By 6 weeks I was fully feeling fine and was able to go out with my daughter to run errands. I had no issue carrying her in her car seat or in the baby bjorn carrier. At 2 months post partum my husband and I left our baby at home with my mother and visited a theme park, we walked a lot and went on rides and I was fine doing all that.  Fast forward to this repeat c-section and the experience was totally different with a much slower healing time.

I've heard from others that their c-section incisions were sometimes held closed with staples but in both my surgeries the incision was initially covered with steri strips instead. The photo below shows the difference between sutures, strips and staples.




The strips eventually peel off by themselves like a bandaid or you have to remove them when they are wet. By the 3 week mark some of the strips had started peeling off.  The incision looked mostly healed but I noticed that one section seemed to be open and every time it got wet in the shower it seemed to be oozing. I waited a  week and then went in to see the doctor to make sure it wasn't infected. The nurse removed all the strips and confirmed that one inch section of the incision was still open! At 4 weeks!! She pressed and poked all over the incision and it began to ooze and bleed.  She had a doctor come and look at it and they both agreed that it just needed additional time to heal so she placed fresh strips over the section that was open. She said she felt like a suture on the inner layer was poking at it and not allowing it to heal in a timely manner. At this point it really dawned on me the reason why a c-section leaves you in so much pain; because they cut through multiple layers of skin, fat and part through muscle to get to the baby. So you are actually dealing with multiple incisions in the same area, one on top of the other.

 A week later it was still looking awful or maybe worse. I went back in and again they removed the strips and that section was still open and oozing and bleeding! Why!?! The doctor calmly explained that the incision site was uneven and that was delaying the healing process. I was so annoyed because showering and other basic things were a nightmare with this section of my tummy open! I also couldn't help constantly worrying about it because I wasn't sure if it was maybe getting infected! They kept telling me to give it more time and keep it dry, I was literally spending 10 mins after each shower patting the strips dry. Meanwhile holding my baby was tricky because I had to hold him in way that wouldn't put any pressure on my still super sore belly, which was basically impossible. It was also impossible to use my boppy pillow while feeding him without being in a lot of pain.

At 6 weeks I had my postpartum check up and once again the strips were removed and that section of the incision just fell open!! I could have cried. The midwife then proceeded to poke inside the incision with a cotton swab to determine how deep the opening was. Not fun!! She determined that the inner layers had mostly healed up and it was just the top layer of skin that was open.  She consulted with the doctor and they both agreed that at this point it was best to discontinue using the strips and just leave the incision open.  To be clear this is a one inch opening on my belly thats constantly oozing, bleeding and icky and they were telling me to leave it uncovered for two weeks and then return for yet another incision check! To say that I was frustrated would be a major understatement, but I had no choice but to take their advice and hope for the best. Naturally I was also googling it like crazy and finding many stories that were similar or even worse.

The first few days were the trickiest because the inside of my clothing kept sticking to the open section of the incision, however after a week I realized it was definitely looking much better with the open section shrinking daily. Today is exactly 8 weeks since the surgery and the incision is 95% healed with a small section of it still healing. This time around the recovery process was definitely not easier or quicker than the first time. To be honest I'm not sure how people claim to have a faster recovery the second time around, It actually makes sense that it would be a tougher recovery because the old incision with scar tissue is reopened so it is logical that it would take longer to heal.  To all the c-sections mommas out there going through a tough recovery hang in there and remember this too shall pass.