I hesitate to call this post anything like "tips" or "advice" because everyone's experience is different. But I wanted to gather a few of the things that have worked for us in the past eight months, in case any readers out there see something that gets them thinking.
Spud.ca - the organic, local grocery delivery service. I thought I could only get produce from Spud, but I was quite wrong. I can get nearly everything I used to get at the grocery store (one notable exception is baby formula). While it's true that the products themselves are slightly more expensive, being organic and all, I think I spend less on groceries now than I did when I went to the store, and here's why.
- No impulse purchases (ie, "It's on sale! I'll buy twelve!")
- No junk food purchases
- I know exactly what my total will be before I check out, and if it's too much I can pare down
This also means I plan my menu more instead of approaching the grocery store with some haphazard idea of what I need, coming out with twenty things that don't add up to a single meal, and then throwing out half the stuff I buy. All that, PLUS it's good for the environment. The Spud website tells me every week how far my groceries will travel from the farm to my door, and compares it to the average distance from farm to big box grocery store (2600 km). I try to keep my total under 100km.
Add to that the convenience of not having to get to the grocery store with a baby in tow, and you've got a clear winner.
Zip.ca - a DVD rental service that works through the mail. Chris and I turned to this about a year ago when we found that whenever we found the time to get to the video store, whatever we wanted wasn't available. We'd usually wander around the store all dazed for half an hour until finally grabbing something out of desperation, which inevitably turned out to be crap.
Zip.ca lets you create an online list of all the movies you have any interest whatsoever in seeing. Then, depending on what membership you pay for (we have 3 rentals at a time), it sends you that many DVDs, based on the availability and the priority you assign. (When you make your list, it automatically assigns priorities based on the order in which you add the movies, but you can edit this if you want to.)
As soon as you watch a movie and send it back, another one gets shipped to you. There are no late fees because there's no return date. You always have good stuff to watch in your house. Shipping is free. You pay your monthly fee and can then rent movies as fast as you can watch them. Everyone wins.
This works especially well for us because we get most of our movie information from the 'net, so it's super easy to hop over to the Zip site and add something to our list. There are lots of older releases on our list that would never have drawn our attention at a video store, and also many obscure/foreign/documentary titles that a local store probably wouldn't even carry. And not having to go to the store, of course, appeals to our laziness.
Cloth diapers - surprisingly, after eight months of diapering I find I like cloth diapers better than disposable. I always knew I wanted to use cloth, purely for the environmental reasons. But since we use disposables when we travel, I've had ample opportunity to try both, and I can honestly say that for me, the fit, absorption, and ease of use for cloth is superior. Also, the cost can't be beat. There is a large outlay of cash at the beginning - I think I paid $200 for my starter kit - but if my calculations are correct, that's equal to about a 3-month supply of disposables, while the cloth diapers will last a couple of years.
Smaller loads of laundry - right after the cloth diapers, I have to comment on my new laundry philosophy. Giving credit where credit is due, this was my sister Sarapants' idea; in fact, I think our Mom suggested it to her. My previous methodology for laundry was as follows:
1. Wait until you have nothing to wear and/or laundry hamper is overflowing.
2. Spend an entire day/night washing, drying, folding, and putting away everything you own.
When you have a baby, especially a baby in cloth diapers, this just doesn't work anymore. We all know the laundry increases exponentially when a baby joins the family, but the bigger factor here is the extreme decrease in available time. I just can't spend an entire day and night doing laundry anymore. However, I do have smaller chunks of time throughout the day (naptime! Yay!). So I now do one small load of laundry pretty much every day. Either Gwen's diapers, or her clothes, or grownup darks, or grownup whites. It still irks my OCD to leave clothes in the hamper after sorting the laundry, but I press on, because it's much more likely that I'll have time to do that load the next day than that I'll succeed in getting two loads finished in one day.
Bathtime/bedtime routine with INSANE teamwork - pretty much every baby sleep book or website will tell you that you need to develop a bedtime routine and stick to it. Ours moves from dinner at 6, to a bath immediately after, then into pajamas, bottle feed, storytime, prayers, lullaby, and bed no later than 7pm. We work together on this every night, but switch off the jobs: basically, one person deals with Gwen while the other prepares the next task and then cleans up from the last one (ie, getting the bath ready then tidying up the highchair after Gwen's dinner).
It's gotten to the point where we barely need to communicate during this routine, since we both just work together so smoothly. The whole thing - from finishing the meal to getting Gwen into her crib - usually takes about 20 minutes, but during those 20 minutes we are both constantly in motion, focussing on the tasks at hand, working together and separately to ensure that Gwen has a smooth and enjoyable transition to bedtime. It's one of the few times that we spend all together as a family, all doing the same thing, and it's a task that I feel we definitely excel at as parents.
A simple addition to this plan, but one that makes a huge improvement to the rest of the evening, is that while I give Gwen her bottle, Chris goes downstairs and puts all her toys away. This means that when I finish getting her to bed and come to rejoin the adult world for some adult time, that world is CLEAN. And that makes a huge difference to my psyche.
Miracle Blanket - speaking of Gwen's sleep, there wouldn't have been any of that for the first seven months of her life if not for this blanket. They call it 'miracle' for a reason. We were pretty sure we'd be swaddling her until her first birthday, although she outgrew the leg pouch around 12 weeks and from then on we only swaddled her arms. However, once we did sleep training she seemed to suddenly lose her need for swaddling. Still probably the best $30 I've ever spent.
Sleepsense.net - yup, still on the topic of Gwen's sleep. I don't think I had any clue, until becoming a parent, how sleep becomes the all-encompassing topic of constant conversation. There was a time, only a few weeks ago, when I could not answer a simple question like "How are you?" or "What's new?" without somehow referencing Gwen's sleep. It truly was the only factor that influenced my life, my sanity, and my mood. Or, for that matter, my will to live.
Anyway, the sleepsense program is the one that worked for us. Here's what I believe sleep training boils down to:
- Knowledge of how much sleep your baby needs; willingness to do what it takes to get him or her that sleep; and acceptance that to do so will almost definitely involve some tears
- Creating a solid bedtime (8pm at the latest), a good bedtime routine, and a night-waking strategy
- Put the baby in the crib awake; create the environment and opportunity for sleep, then let the baby choose how to respond
One of the things I felt made the Sleepsense program different from other books/websites/etc. is that it helps you formulate a specific, step-by-step plan for the bedtime routine, the naptime routine, and how you will deal with night wakings. It even goes so far as to provide forms for the parents to fill out and sign with the acknowledgement of the fact that "sticking to this plan consistently for at least 10 days will help my child learn to fall asleep." For me personally, having a document signed by both of us helped me not give in when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore.
I have never been more proud of Gwen than as I watched her learn to fall asleep somewhere other than my lap. And I'm infinitely glad that we dealt with this issue before she learned how to stand up in her crib. (More on that in another post.)
What's been working for YOU lately? Care to share?