Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hardwood Floor Upgrade

If anyone has had old, dingy carpet, you know how gross it can become, especially in high-traffic areas. Ours were the original carpets that came with our house which which was at least 18 years old and after 2 cats, a dog and a growing toddler boy running around, I'd begin to cringe everytime I looked down. Cause no matter how much you vacuum, spot clean and even deep clean, that awful bone color would never look truly clean or nice. Plus know how much cat and dog urine, poop and vomit its been through, its hard to believe its ever truly clean again.

So after much whining, pleading and pouting, I finally convince the hubs to get hardwood floors in the living and dining room. And we LOVE them!!!

We decided on the click-lock, engineered wood by the Home Island brand in Hickory Tuscany found at Home Depot and since HD did such a great job with our roof, we also let them install it. It took about 6 hours but we have been more than pleased with the end result.

3 weeks later, I can say that the maintenance so far has been minimal. I sweep once a week and while I have cleaned it once, it barely needed it.

 I'd read a lot about cleaning dark wood floors and how they show everything and can be high maintenance but I can honestly say that after our old carpet, I'd take a wood floor with some lint and prints on it over that nasty, odor and stain-absorbed thing any day. And the whole room feels bigger and cleaner!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kitchen Reorganization with IKEA

About a year or so ago, my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house and put up a folding table in the kitchen to add for space for the food. Days after the holiday, the table proved to be so useful in holding things we needed that we decided to leave it up longer.

Longer ended up extending to weeks, then months. And I began to hate it!
Cause a folding table with a tablecloth thrown over it and nothing else on the wall or in the area just looked crappy.

I hate the table and I began to hate the whole wall. It just looked sad and junky and just needed to be better. So I began searching for pantries and other food storage options. I found some I liked but hubby and I could not agree. 

Then I saw a Buzzfeed article on how to use Ikea furniture for different purposes and liked the idea of using a bookcase for kitchen storage. Hubs was on board but went a step further and suggested hanging all our pots and pans on rods on the walls an getting metal shelving. I also wanted to add a calendar and corkboard for to hang things we need like date sensitive mail, cards, coupons, etc.

So we set off to IKEA and we're both pleased with the results. We picked up the KALLAX bookshelf (which replaced the beloved EXPEDIT) and the GRUNDTAL rails and wall shelves with accessories.

For the corkboard, I actually found these great 12 x 12 corkboards at Michael's that you can mix and match with chalkboard and a magnetic calendar. 

I chose 2 patterns from Joann fabrics and covered the cork and added the family initial and little flower. Michael's even had cute decorative pushpins.

And voila! Gone was the rundown looking folding table and bare wall. In its place, lots more storage, not to mention all the extra cabinet space from moving the pots and pans.

Hubby feels like a professional chef with all his cooking toys out on display and I get to have a nicer, less craptastic-looking kitchen! 

Double win!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

DIY: Homemade Baby Food

So soon as my son began chewing at around 11 - 12 months, we started experimenting with different foods and were buying Gerber and Earth's Best baby food for his age range. I was happy with that for a bit but after awhile decided to try and make his food at home.

Looking at the ingredients on the baby food jars. It seemed really simple. Most were just "peas, water", "carrots, water", "apples", etc. So I figured this was doable and maybe a bit cheaper than spending $.72 to $1.50 per jar, where baby boy was quickly eating 2-3 jars a day.

I started off simple with fresh fruits and veggies: sweet potatoes, apples, peas and corn, green beans and peaches. Many of the very things I was buying in a jar.

The process went like this:
  • skin veggies
  • chop
  • boil (to soften and kill off germs)
  • puree in food processor
  • portion out
  • store in fridge or freezer

The first try was a bit daunting but I quickly got the hang of it. To create the portions, I used the same 6 oz jars of baby food that were saved and used then to measure. Once portioned, my hubby had the great idea of storing them in freezer bags for space-saving. That way they could be flattened and stacked, like pancakes, saving room in our already packed freezer. Once they were frozen hard, they can be set oupright for even more room.

I like to flip through them like a book!

I do have to note that while this may be healthier for the baby, it definitely takes up more time! In fact, I have easily spent 2+ hours just preparing baby food. But I would do it on a weekend and make enough for the entire week. As some time went on, I did found ways to cut some corners, like buying frozen veggies to eliminate the skinning and boiling time and buy already peeled and cut fruit. 

Since my son attends daycare, I pack his meals for the next day, the night before. So I thaw and spoon the food in baby food jars but had added chalkboard stickers to them and label them with a chalkboard marker (available at any craft store like Michael's or Target). It's probably not necessary, but its kinda fun to label your own jar of homemade food. 

For his home meals, I simple pull the frozen portions out the night before and leave them in the fridge and they go right in the bowl to microwave for eating.

Things I Learned
While I originally thought it would save some money, in the end, it didn't really. Fresh foods do cost more and I found what I was spending on them was coming to about the same as the jarred food. But prep and cooking time was obviously a lot longer. Also a lot messier. But there is still a lot of satisfaction in knowing your baby is eating something you created and even better, loving it!

  • To keep food moist, I'd added purified water.
  • Make sure to buy freezer bags as they are meant for this. Others have had success with ice cube trays and other freezer containers.
  • If using a chalkboard marker, make sure its really dry before you write on it and let it dry after. Otherwise, it can smudge right off. It smudges easily in general.
  • Ditalini is a great pasta for babies who are able to chew. Its just their size. 
  • One cup of brown rice (not the instant but real brown rice) can create a lot of food. I've made 4-5 servings of food with it mixed with veggies.

Some of the meals I've created include:
  • brown rice & peas
  • brown rice & zucchini
  • apples
  • peaches
  • spinach
  • creamy spinach from Birds Eye (sooo good)
  • peas & carrots
  • carrots
  • green beans
  • peas & potatoes
  • brown rice & squash
  • artichokes and asparagus (Wegman's)
  • Ditalini pasta & cherry tomatoes

So that's it. Now if only I could put as much effort into my own meal planning! 

Got any other great recipes or meals for toddlers. Leave me a comment!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Things That Surprised Me About Going From Relaxed to Natural

Its been 3 years since I finished transitioning and chopped off the remainder of my chemically relaxed hair and went 100% natural. I'd been relaxed since I was 8 years old and it was something I'd never considered for years had only recently just a year prior began to appreciate the beauty and versatility of natural African texture and finally decided to give it a try.

Here's what surprised me most:

It takes much more work!

When I was relaxed, it did take much less effort to style me hair (except for the whole relaxer process, that is). I'd shampoo, condition, throw back in a ponty to air dry, then later flat iron and wrap up at night. Every few days, I'd throw some grease on it and I was good to go (So I thought).

If anyone has ever caught a natural black hair blog, its easier to see that natural doesn't always mean easier or less work. I've learned that to keep my kinky curls in check, I need daily moisturizing and had to create a very specific routine to keep my hair healthy and growing. Its still a work in progress and I"m still learning new techniques. But serious hair care needs serious effort.

My hair did not magically turn big, thick, or long.

I think I maybe had some delusions.

I think I did think that when I went natural, my coily hair would magically turn into this huge, fluffy afro or that I could create big, fat chunky twists and curls using all these methods I'd seen online. And if you see most of these pics, its easy to think that all natural afro hair is big and voluminous. Or that I'd grow this long, hair all down my back

Truth is, I was born with fine, thin hair (thanks mom!) and I will always have fine, thin, (and I just learned the term "low porosity") hair. On a very good day and with some good product buildup, I can create the illusion of thickness but the reality is I don't have thick or full hair. And the rate of my hair growth is the same: 3-4 inches for year. On top of that, my hair is also very fragile. I have the kind of hair that breaks if it regularly touches clothing which is why I have a touch time getting past shoulder length. So it still takes a LOT of patience and a LOT of protective styling to retain any length at all.

Its much harder to color my hair.

When I was relaxed, I stayed with highlights in my hair. I used to color my hair every 3-6 months, trying new colors, sometimes mixing them up. It was so easy. I'd buy whatever $5-6 color I could find, put it in and BAM, new highlights! Soon as I cut off the rest of my relaxed ends and tried to color the same way, I was shocked when I pulled that towel off my freshly washed hair to find it the same way it was before. It didn't take. And the next didn't take and the next. I'd never had an issue coloring my hair before and now nothing was taking. I had to actually buy a hair lightening kit to get any color in my then very dark brown hair. After that it got easier but still, its very hard to get the same color I see on the box. As I did before.

My natural hair does not always photograph well.

In the mirror, I am happy with what I see. When I take a pic, it oftentimes looks TOTALLY different! Which is why I have far fewer selfies and pics on my Facebook than before. Perhaps, its the lack of sheen hitting the lighting or the fact that the eyes cannot distinguish the texture as well as with straight hair or because my curls are so tight, the camera just can't capture that much detail but I have come to find my photos since going natural are really a hit and miss. When my hair was straight, I had a much higher satisfaction with the pics I took.

Its not hard at all to get my edges relaxer-straight.

I'd had relaxed hair since I was 8 years old and because if this, I'd never really styled my hair in its completely natural form. So when I considered going natural, a concern was that I would have this totally frizzy, hair that I'd never be able to get back into a sleek ponytail or bun without bushy edges sticking out.

Not so. One of the surprising things about natural hair is, the same way I smoothed my edges down (water and moisturizer and a tiny brush) the same exact thing worked with natural hair. In fact, getting smooth, straight hair, also is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be and its very possible to get natural hair just as straight as relaxed with the right tools and methods.

My husband digs the afro!
When I met my hubs, I was weaved down my back. In fact, I remember having the uncomfortable conversation when I revealed that what he saw was not all me. Being a total sweetheart, he did not care but surprised me more when a few years later, I expressed the interest in going full-on natural and he not only was all for it but was my biggest supporter (love you shmoopie!). The next surprise was while I am not in love with my natural afro on me, he finds it sexy. Um, bonus!!

The fear that stinkbugs (or other bugs) will get caught in my 'do.

Never had this fear while relaxed but I remember the day I was at work and a stupid stinkbug started flying around. When it whizzed past my head, I was actually scared to death that it would somehow sly right into my hair and get stuck and then I'd have to run around like some crazed cartoon, crying for someone to get it out!! True story! Another reason to hate bugs!!

Going natural has been a learning experience but overall, a really good one. There is something liberating about breaking away from long-held beliefs that something about your physical self is not acceptable and embracing the real you, the way natural intended. My hair is still a work in progress and I am still learning new hair care methods and what works and what doesn't but I am much happier this way and I hope to never go back to the creamy crack.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Things That Surprised Me Most About Having a Baby

While pregnant, I thought I did all the reading, watched all the YouTube videos and consulted with all my birth board gals and fellow preggos about life after baby. So I thought I pretty much knew exactly what was coming and how things would be.

But, of course, there are always surprises.

The Lack of Sleep
Duh!!! Right! Well, maybe I was too optimistic but I honestly thought you bring the baby home, you get up in the night often for maybe the first 2-3 months and that somewhere, somehow, the baby would fall into a nice routine and it would be over by like, I dunno, month 3.

I don't know where I got this idea that the lack of sleep would only be in the very beginning because as I type this, my son is 10 months and 2 weeks old and he still does not sleep through the night most nights. Yes, sleep training got him sleeping better and going back to sleep better but he still sleeps very inconsistently.

Of all the things I was worried about when I was expecting (breastfeeding, money, time, etc.) I didn't really think my #1 issue would be lack of sleep. I didn't know how obsessed I would get over sleep. I was sooo naive!

The Lack of Energy
Another one of my new-mom naivete's: I actually thought that after a few initial months, of losing sleep, I'd jump right back into my former routines. I'd put baby to bed, then go workout, do some chores, pack lunch, play on the computer or whatever, til I went to bed at my usual 11pm.

11pm!! There's still an 11pm? Cause for the first 6-7 months, I could barely stay up past 9pm!!

What I didn't account for was how incredibly tired I would be, for months and how ready for bed I would be immediately after putting the baby down. For the first 6 months, after the baby was asleep, I was in a mad dash to get some house things done so I could finally get to the most sought after place in my life, MY BED at around 9-9:30 PM!!! 7 days a week! When my friends were going out, hitting movies, watching all the good TV shows, my butt was curling up in PJs dying, begging for a good 4-5 hours before that middle-of-the-night wakeup call. What workouts? What computer time? None of this stuff existed anymore.

Yes, I saw this meme on Facebook and thought it funny but I didn't take it seriously!

Some Babies Aren't Good Sleepers in General
Maybe because I had friends whose newborns were sleeping through the night at 6 weeks, 2 months etc. and babies who seemed to sleep most of the day that I got the idea that babies, well sleep a lot. And some do. But some don't.

My dearest baby boy napped well in the beginning. You'd give him a bottle and he'd pass right out for a good 2 hours, several times a day, leaving me with precious time to do anything else. Then something happened and around 3 or 4 months, he stopped doing that. His naps became shorter and shorter. Some days he'd be down for a mere 20-30 mins. I became lucky if he napped for a full hour. All day!!!

But the worst sleep habit by far was the middle of the night party sessions. Around 6 months old, my son stopped falling back asleep in the night after a bottle and began not only staying wide awake but was ready to play and party for the next 1-2 hours. If you put him down, he'd scream bloody murder. So there we were holding this kid for an 1+ every night, while he kicked, hit, laughed, and played and I sat there stewing, waiting for him to pass out so I could return to my warm bed. This went on for about 3 months!!!

Thankfully, in time, with some sleep training and as he gets more active during the day, my little one is sleeping better and some days so am I.

How Comfortable You Become Handling Poop
This one just occurred to me last min but before baby, the thought of handling poopy diapers seemed, well, icky! After baby, I was surprised at just how easy it was to adjust to handling daily poop and how nonplussed I've become with the whole thing. Got it on my finger? No biggie. Some onmy clothes? yeah that happens? I can even look at a poopy diaper and determine what food baby had the day before. Oh yeah sweet potatoes! (I decided not to post an accompanying pic. Your welcome!!)

The Good Surprises!

My body bounced back fairly quickly, even after a C-section. Being a new AMA ("advanced maternal age") mom, I honestly thought bouncing back weight-wise was for 20-somethings. I expected to gain a good amount of weight and carry it for the year. But I was pleasantly surprised when most of the weight fall off during the first 6-8 weeks postpartum and by 3-4 months, I was back in my regular pre-pregnancy clothes. Skinny jeans and all. (I will blog more about how I got my tummy down later.)

Beautiful Nails (for awhile)
Not sure what postpartum hormones I had coasting through my body but for 3-4 months, I had the longest, strongest nails I ever had. It was wonderful...while it lasted.

Lack of sleep and energy aside, it has all gotten better with time. And I am sure there will be more surprises as time rolls on.

What things surprised you as a new parent?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I Let My Baby Cry It Out and How It Improved His Sleep

For the first four months of my son's life, night wakings went like this: he'd waking up crying, I'd change his diaper, fix a bottle and feed him while rocking him in the chair. After his bottle, he'd be milk-drunk and couldn't even keep his head up. I'd carefully place him back in his crib and it was nighty-nighty til next feeding or morning.

Then around the 6 month mark, something changed. He'd wake, I'd do my usual but this time instead of the milk-drunk sleepiness, he was now wide awake. Jumping, hopping, hitting, grabbing, laughing, babbling, you name it. 2am, 3am, 4am, he did not care. He was wide awake and ready to party. For no less that an HOUR. EVERY NIGHT! Sometimes up to 2 HOURS!!! Worse was he did not want to be put down or be put in the crib or he'd scream and cry. So for 1 - 2 hours a night, my hubby and I held him while he partied his butt off and decided he was then ready for sleep.

This went on for nearly 3 months. Then I got fed up. Because jobs aren't really that understanding when you can barely keep your eyes open at work.

So I began reading up on the Ferber Method, also known as the "Cry It Out" method.I was ready. This baby was not going to break me. Basically what it entails is after you have established a strong bedtime routine and have taken care of your usual for the baby, you put him down in the cry, while sleepy but still awake and the baby has to learn to soothe himself to sleep instead of relying on you to soothe them.

So after an hour of sitting up with him at 2am one night and finally getting him to sleep in my arms, I gently put him in his crib and like he often did, he popped right back up like a piece of toast and went from snoring hard to sitting up and crying in a nanosecond, I said enough! And goodnight!! I patted his back, told him goodnight and I left the room.

And he cried. For 25 mins. Then he got quiet. He then fell asleep. I did this the next night and again, he cried for 25 mins, then passed out. Then next few nights he slept better but as I read more about the method, I realized I wasn't doing it fully. I was still rocking him to sleep while putting him to bed. What I read is that babies get used to certain patterns in going to sleep and get so accustomed that they can't get back to sleep without them. Just like how I rocked my son to sleep every night. He would not go to sleep unless rocked.

So I decided to stop rocking him to sleep him while putting him to bed. It was a Thursday in March when I told my husband we would try not rocking. I did my usual and fed him his bottle and when he turned to be held and burped, I burped him, held him for a few, kissed him and held him tight and while he was sleepy but still awake, put him right in the crib.

He began to fuss and I left the room. I grabbed the baby monitor fully expecting a 25 min crying spell and was prepared to go in at the 10-min mark to rub his back.

But something happened I didn't expect. At 3 mins, his crying died down. And at 4 mins, he was asleep. And that night, he slept through the night.

The next night, same thing. Slept through the night. By Night 3 of this, when he woke in the middle of the night, when put down he cried for only 2 mins before falling asleep. In the first 8 days, he slept through the night 6 of those nights and the other 2, he was back asleep in under 15 mins of being put in his crib. He was learning to self-soothe and put himself to sleep without me. 

One month later, my son goes to sleep immediately after being put in the crib 90% of the time, without any rocking and he is sleeping through the night about 70% of the week. The other days, when he wakes, he usually is sleepy right after a bottle and sleeps shortly after being put back down. 

Teething and colds have caused some setbacks. I forgo this method while he has been teething or if he's not feeling well and go back to rocking him to sleep. But he falls back to sleep much quicker and easier than before. I also think his crawling has helped tired him out more during the day. But overall, he has much better sleep habits, which I hope continue.

Every parent needs to asses what may be better for them and their baby so there isn't one method that will work for everyone. You may also find that you may need to tweak some things for your particular situation.

Sweet dreams!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why This Blog?

Why another blog for me (this being my 4th)?

After having my son in July 2013 after what seemed like a long and physically demanding pregnancy, I fell into a lull creatively and quickly began to miss writing or doing anything remotely creative.

Upon reflection. I also found there were dozens of areas in my life that needed a sort of makeover or some improvement and care. So I set out to begin working on nearly every area of my life in what I called

Project: Beautiful Life: my personal goal to enhance the overall quality of my life, one goal, one step, one area at a time.

And there was my new blog.

And I'm not going to lie, I may get busy, bored, preoccupied, distracted, what have you as I journey through life and may have to step away from blogging again as I have before but for right now, this is a personal mission.

And I'd to share my experiences along the way.

I hope it inspires your own life projects.

Hope you enjoy!!