2016 New Year’s Resolutions

OMG, I haven’t updated in a month!!!  It has been quite a hectic last few weeks with the holiday season.  Hope everyone enjoyed it with family.  And now it’s 2016!!!  How the heck did that happen?!  Anyhoo, here are my resolutions for this year.

  1. Try to be off the grid more!
    Is that possible in 2016?  Yes and no.  For me it means to check Facebook less.  I am really aiming to not be the parent that has their head buried in their phone while their child is happily playing independently.  While I still want my children to learn to play independently, I still want to observe the little quirks that make them unique.  If that at all makes sense to any of you.  The goal is just to stay present in the moments and take it all in.  However, you’ll still find me taking a few videos or photos for Instagram.
  2. Mom’s Night Out!!!
    The one thing I miss about SF are the mom’s I met while there. While I have mom friends here, we rarely were ever away from the kids.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s also difficult to have a very meaningful conversation especially now that our children are walking.  It’s usually a quick chat about a topic for 2 minutes before our children wander away from each other.  So I am trying to organize a monthly mom’s night out; away from the kids, away from the husbands so that we can reconnect as women over cocktails and food.  The first one went really well.  I just need to plan that second one.
  3. Be more active!
    Since moving back to the DC suburbs, it is really really easy to fall into that sedentary lifestyle–just sit on the couch or park bench and watch the kids play.  There’s just something culturally different between the East and West Coasts and our views on activity.  While I still play soccer, that’s not nearly enough to what I was doing in SF.  Granted the weather is a lot warmer and nicer there, that’s still not an excuse to not be outdoors and enjoying life.  So I’ve been taking advantage of the wetland preserve a mile away, which my son loves.  I have a zoo membership this year, which both kids absolutely love doing.  And we’ve gone to museums, which thankfully are mostly free here in DC.  We still walk to our local playgrounds.  But it’s nice to go out on a hike or walk, especially now Sammy just wants to walk all over the place (forget about baby wearing or stroller walking).
  4. Take pictures!
    I still primarily  use my iPhone to take pictures, but this year I really want to start using my DSLR more.  I used it a lot during my son’s first years of life, but I just haven’t done so with my daughter.  I always end up forgetting to bring it, but more often than not I’m just lazy about taking pictures.  This year it will change, even though I haven’t used it yet this year!!!  But we have some amazing trips (both with and without  kids!) planned this year, so it will definitely encourage me to pull it out and use it more.

So those are my resolutions that I hope to keep up this year.  I feel like it won’t be difficult, and I don’t want to say kids are the excuse.  What are your resolutions this year?

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Alcatraz Trip

alcatrazSo we (and by we, really me) decided that we were going to pack up the kids and go to Alcatraz. There was an art installation by Ai Weiwei that was in its last week at Alcatraz, and so I managed to find tickets for the first boat out on a Saturday–which is 8:45am!!!  I was a bit hesitant about going with an infant and toddler, but it was actually pretty easy (mostly because no one had a meltdown).

The whole place is actually handicap friendly, which means you can easily take the stroller.  We actually kept Oliver in the stroller most of the time because it was a lot of walking, and I knew that he would get tired of walking.  From the dock to the prison is a pretty steep hill for young kids, but it was probably the safest for Oliver to walk so long as you let your fellow travelers go ahead of you.  The prison has way too many people milling about and it was just easier to keep Oliver in his stroller.  So if you do ’86 the stroller, just be prepared to shield your child from the stampede as he/she slowly saunters about.

There is no food on Alcatraz!!!  There’s a snack bar on the boat that sells hot drinks and then junky food, like hot dogs and nachos.  It’s probably safest to pack some snacks for your wee ones and yourself.  You also aren’t allowed to eat in the prison, but the people there didn’t mind Oliver munching away when he was in his stroller.  You can eat by the dock, and there are benches to make it more comfortable.  You can only drink water in the prison; all other drinks must be consumed outside.

I kept Sammy in the Ergo, which was super easy.  If baby wearing is still comfortable for you, I highly recommend doing that as it just eliminates navigating a stroller through a crowd.  It also meant that Sammy could just easily take a nap whenever and where ever without me missing a beat.

However, I did have to pause my audio tour to feed Sammy.  You could technically try feeding the baby in a jail cell, which would make for an amusing photo.  But there are many people trying to take photos of themselves in these cells, so it’s best not to monopolize the time with your feeding session.  I fed Sammy in the library; we sat on the bench closest to the wall so that she wouldn’t be so distracted by the hoards of people coming into the library or walking down the halls.  The cafeteria also has many benches.  Outside the prison, there’s a few benches when you go through the warden’s office, although that area is pretty busy because you do have a great view of San Francisco from there.  There’s also a bench at the entrance to the prison and then the benches by the dock.

As for the prison itself… it’s great for the adults, not very valuable for young kids.  I kept telling Oliver this was the place where bad people used to live.  But he didn’t really care.  We also brought Oliver’s Leap Frog laptop with him to keep him occupied.  Ordinarily this would be problem, say in a museum.  But since your Alcatraz ticket comes with an audio tour, no one got distracted by the noises coming from his toy (from what I could tell at least).  He did walk around a little bit in the prison, once for a photo of him in solitary confinement and then another point because he was tired of being in his stroller.  But again, it was easiest to keep  him in the stroller because of the crowd.

The first boat that leaves for Alcatraz is 8:45am, but you have to show up 30 minutes early to sort out tickets and wait in line to get on the boat.  I believe the boats leave every 30 minutes.  The 8:45 start time was super early for us, but it worked out in the end.  It just made for a very long day.  For an adult, you will spend at least 2 hours on the island, but you should probably tack on an additional half hour to an hour to that when you are with children.  Because my husband and I have already done Alcatraz in the past, we just did the parts we enjoyed.  So we were able to make it back to the mainland in time for a noon lunch.

Alcatraz is definitely doable with young kids.  Just make sure you are very prepared and take your time while you are there.  I know that sounds counterintuitive as a parent because you are just anticipating that meltdown.  But if you are well prepared you can prevent the meltdowns and actually enjoy your tour!

Registry Items: Stroller

So I’ve been asked about what items to register for.  So I’ll try to start a series of registry items that I endorse and tips on how to choose the right item for you.  And we shall start with probably one of the biggest items new parents dwell on–the stroller!

There are so many freaking strollers on the market with varying price ranges and accessories.  You can easily suffer from buyer’s remorse with all the choices out there.  Here are a few tips to help you find the right stroller.

1.  Figure out how often you are going to use your stroller.
Evaluate what uses you are going to use the stroller and how often you expect to use it.  Are you going to be a stay at home parent who will be out and about without a car most times?  Perhaps a standard stroller is right for you.  Do you plan to do a lot of running with your baby or go “off-roading” more often than strolls in the park?  Maybe you should consider a jogging stroller.  Are you going to be a weekend warrior stroller type because you’ll be working and the baby will be in daycare most days of the week?  You might be able to get away with a light weight umbrella stroller.  Do you plan on having your baby in their car seat as you stroll around?  Then you might be interested in a travel system or snap-and-go stroller.  The point is, figure out how you will be using a stroller in your baby’s life.  You don’t want to invest $200 on a standard stroller when it is just going to sit in the closet save for your occasional trip to the zoo in the summer.  And you also don’t want to buy a $75 umbrella stroller than you’ll run into the ground after a year.  Once you figure out how you’ll use your stroller, then you can finally focus on a few strollers you’ll get good use out of.

2.  Test, test, test!
Registering is so easy since you can do everything online.  But if there’s one thing you need to physically go to a store for, it’s to test out strollers!!!  Going to Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby are good starts–and yes, you should go to both stores because not all stores carry all the strollers you can try.  The most important thing is to see how easy it is to fold and unfold strollers that interest you; no website can tell you how easy it is for you personally.  If you can borrow a friend’s baby, do it!  Can you fold and unfold a stroller while holding a baby?  Eliminate any stroller you think is heavy, especially ones that are heavy with a baby in the other hand.  Try to stuff things in the stroller basket underneath.  Do you think it’s adequate enough?  Is it easy to get your baby bag in and out?  You can read so many reviews, but you won’t know a thing unless you thoroughly try out every stroller on your short list.  And I’m dead serious about having a kid on hand; it totally makes a world of difference.

3.  The “perks”.
Now that you have narrowed down your stroller list to 2 or 3, figure out the “perks”.  Does it come with an adult cup holder for your water (technically you shouldn’t have coffee there since it could spill on your baby)?  Does it come with a baby tray?  Can the baby lie completely flat for naps?  Can you snap in a car seat or do you need to buy the attachment?  There are so many things to consider, and many of the high end strollers don’t come with these “perks”.  Figure out your budget and what perks you can live and live without.

It sounds like a headache, and honestly it is.  But if you follow these tips, hopefully you can avoid buyer’s remorse and you’ll be happy with your stroller purchase for a long time.

And for those of you who are interested, we are a Baby Jogger family.  We started off with a travel system because it seemed sensible at the time.  But after a month of using it, I hated and really dreaded going out with the stroller.  We have two Baby Jogger strollers (which I know seems a bit excessive).

Our first one is the City Mini.  It lives in our car trunk (which you can see below).  Once a week my son and I would go to the zoo, museum, Golden Gate Park, etc.  It’s compact and great to keep in our car trunk since it folds up flat.  We’ve also taken it with us around the world.  It fits easily through the x-ray machine at airports, and is a snap to fold up when you have baby and a carry on to juggle when you drop off the stroller at the gate.  It serves us well, and we are very happy with it.

city_mini_1 city_mini_2

Our other stroller is the Summit.  It’s definitely heavier and bulkier to the City Mini, but we use this when we are going to walk to our destination from home (at least 2 miles worth of walking each trip).  With the steep hills of SF, it’s nice to have a hand break and the stroller doesn’t go on it’s back wheels because it is heavier.  We’ve also taken it off-roading and I’ve jogged with it a few times.  It’s really nice and smooth.

Baby Jogger is a bit pricey, but we are happy with them.  We also get really good use out of them too.  I also like how the accessories we’ve bought work for both strollers (we have the child’s tray and car seat attachment).  And with baby #2 on its way, I’ll probably end up getting the roller board that also works with both strollers.

Definitely don’t enter your stroller decision lightly.  It’s one of the most expensive purchases you’ll make or register for, so make sure you pick out something you’ll love!!!

Infant Flying Tips

 

Oliver_beachBaby Monster is a traveler like his parents, taking his first trip to Puerto Rico at the tender age of 2.5 months.  My husband and I were invited to a good friend’s wedding in Puerto Rico way before Baby Monster was conceived.  We went back and forth whether or not to go to the wedding with a newborn.  In the end, we bit the bullet and booked everything.  Our decision to go was made easier because my mom and brother came too (to enjoy Puerto Rico and help with the baby).

It sounds overwhelming to travel with a new human being, especially flying.  Baby Monster is now 18 months, and we’ve flown to Europe twice, across the country almost a handful of times, Puerto Rico, and to Seattle.  Of those times, Baby Monster and I (meaning without husband) have flown together twice.  It’s scary, but doable.  I still freak out and I swear I won’t fly by myself again, but we do it.  I always get told by other passengers that my son is very well behaved, meanwhile I think he was a hellion.  Anyhoo, here are some tips (other than packing lightly) to the parents out there that are freaking out about flying with an infant.  These things worked for our family, and hopefully you may find them helpful for yours.

1.  Book flights on Wednesday or Saturday

Why Wednesday or Saturday?  They tend to be the least busiest, meaning more empty seats!  Business travelers tend to fly Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  And your young friends tend to fly on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, sometimes Mondays if it’s a long weekend.  So yes, Wednesdays and Saturdays (for the most part) are not quite as busy (although I think in summer all bets are off).  A full flight is the worse with a baby!

2.  Book the aisle (and window if you can)

Most planes now have rows of three.  If you fly by yourself with your infant, book the aisle.  You get quick access to the bathroom for the diaper changes.  And if your infant is a crawler, he can crawl in the aisle.  If your partner is flying with you, book that window seat!  The last seat fellow travelers will want is that dreaded middle seat.  So unless your flight is fully booked, the likelihood of having a free row increases when you book aisle and window.  If there is someone who ends up getting stuck in the middle, they will happily exchange for the window seat so you and your partner can sit together.

Some planes, especially international flights, offer a bassinet if you sit at the bulkheads.  Don’t book these when you buy your tickets because they charge extra (unless you want to of course).  When you are at the desk getting your bags checked, ask if the bulkheads are available.  If they are, they can change your seats to the bulkhead free of charge (both United and Virgin Atlantic).  There are pros and cons to the bulkhead.  The pros are the bassinet is super super nice to have your baby nap in instead of your arms (the bassinet also has a harness to keep them strapped in there), and there’s more room at your feet so your little one can just play on the floor in front of you.  The cons are if your baby already rolls over in their sleep the bassinet is pretty useless, and you can’t keep your baby bag in front of you because bags need to go overhead.  So keep that in mind.  For shorter flights, I could live without the bulkhead.  For long flights (5+ hours), the bulkheads are probably best.

3.  Gate check your stroller and car seat

Many people don’t know this, but you can check your stroller and car seat free of charge when you are traveling with a baby (and children!).  Some people can live without the stroller and prefer a carrier, but we do both.  Sometimes we carried Baby Monster and used the stroller to push around our carry ons.  But most of the time Baby Monster likes to zip through the airport terminal in his stroller.  It definitely gets you to your gate faster.

You can also check your car seat at the desk when you do your check baggage.  You can buy a car seat bag (we use the Brica version) or use a garbage bag.  You want to cover your car seat to protect it from the elements and grime of plane travel.  But before you check your car seat, ask the desk people if your flight is fully booked.  If it’s not, and you happen to have an empty row (they really do try to keep rows with lap infants free) you can bring the car seat on the plane with you for free (if your car seat is FAA approved, and it should say so on the side or in your manual).  This is great when your baby is super young and they easily sleep in their car seat.  It becomes trickier when they are more active, e.g. start rolling, crawling, etc.  You have to put your car seat in the window seat, which is fine.  You can also do this with a convertible car seat, but it’s trickier (doable, but trickier).  Another pro tip is you can stick extra diapers or clothes in the car seat bag if you are checking the car seat in.

Why gate check vs. normal check?  The likelihood the airline/airport loses these essential items are minimized if you check them at the gate.  Airlines manage to lose luggage or forget to put luggage on a plane.  Can you imagine finding out you don’t have your car seat when you get to your destination?!  Also your stroller and car seat can easily get damaged from the 50 lb. bags that come shooting out of the baggage carousel.

4.  Bring enough food for the flight and more!

It’s actually not that difficult to fly if your baby is strictly on breast milk because their food supply will never run out.  If your baby is starting solids and you have formula to boot, it just involves extra planning.  You basically need a bottle for take off and a bottle for landing because the sucking helps the babe’s ears deal with the changing cabin pressure.  I also find it soothes them during a crazy (and loud) time during the flight.  You can also use a pacifier for times like these.  Try to keep your baby on the feeding schedule they are used to (home time zone of course).  And then plan for extra feedings or food if they get fussy in the middle of the flight.  And as a traveler you should know that delays happen (Baby Monster and I dealt with a 2 hour delay last week).  So you want to prepare for that as well.  You can never have enough food with you.  It’s a hassle to get it checked at TSA, but it’s worse when your child is hungry and you are in the air and they can’t eat the wine and cheese plate they are offering for $12.

5.  Bring light toys and books

I pack 2 or 3 of his smallest and lightest toys he enjoys.  I only take them out one at a time.  When he’s bored of one toy, we move on to the next.  This usually entertains him for most of the flight.  You don’t have to, but I also buy a small light toy or book he’s never seen before.  This usually entertains him twice as long because it’s new and exciting.  Save these toys and books for the flight.  Don’t pull them out before you board.

6.  Run around the terminal

Before you board your flight, let your baby explore the terminal especially if they are active!  They’ll have more room to move about and the terminal is just as exciting as any toy you brought along.  A lot of airports now how safe kid spaces for children to play in before you board.  Check to see if your airport offers one.  Even if your baby isn’t active, walk them around and point and talk about the new and exciting things they see.  The idea behind this is to exhaust and stimulate them that they will be sleepy by the time they get on the plane and you give them that bottle or nurse them at take off.

7.  Bring the infant carrier or Ergo

I know it may seem like over kill when you have a stroller and car seat to deal with, but you should bring it.  We use the Ergo when we go traveling, but bring whatever you are most comfortable with.  Traveling domestically in the US, you can have your baby in a carrier when you go through the metal detector.  For international flights you must carry your baby.  Having the carrier is super super helpful when going through security because it keeps your hands free.  Once TSA checks our boarding passes and IDs and we are about to hit the security bag check, I take Baby Monster out of the stroller and strap him in the Ergo.  I then have free hands to get my shoes off and put that in the bin, etc.  Depending on how quickly we need to get to the gate (or how comfortable he is), I keep him in the carrier and load up our stuff in the stroller.  When they make that announcement at your gate that boarding will begin in 5 minutes, I put him in the Ergo and put our hand carry in the stroller.  Again, you have your hands free to fold the stroller and set it aside by the plane, and again when you have to put your hand carry away.  We still use the Ergo at 18 months.  Do this–you won’t regret it!

I think those are all my pro-tips regarding air travel with a baby.  It’s doable.  I curse myself every time I have to travel by myself with Baby Monster, but I did it again.  And it’s so so so easy flying when they are really young.  Flying to Puerto Rico was by far the easiest flight we have ever taken with him.  It gets progressively harder as they get older and I hear it doesn’t get better until closer to 3.  But don’t let it  stop you from traveling because it is doable!  And remember the reward you get for traveling!!!