Helmet Head – Before & After

The original prognosis was that Elijah would have to wear a Doc band for 3-4 months, taking into consideration his age and severity of the plagiocephaly. However, it turns out that Eli is a professional at growing his head, and he was able to wear it for less than 2 months!

Here are some before and after comparison pictures to show how the helmet helped reshape his head.

As you can see, wearing the Doc band for just a few months has made significant improvement in the symmetry of his head. Although his head isn’t perfect, nobody’s is, and we are very happy that we made the decision to fix his flat spot. Not only was Eli able to wear it for a shorter period of time than expected, we also got a significant portion of the cost covered by insurance (see previous post).

At his age, his head is much less pliable, and he spends much less time on his back than in the first few months of his life. In addition, Eli has recently mastered the back to front and front to back roll and has decided that he is a tummy sleeper, so flat spots should no longer be a concern at all!

All About Chinese New Year

It’s almost Chinese New Year!

This year, the lunar new year falls on February 16th. 2018 is the year of the dog, according to the Chinese zodiac, which repeats every twelve years.

Even though China is beginning to incorporate more and more Western customs and holidays, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration by far. This is a holiday centered around family – an opportunity to celebrate all of the great events of the past year, and wishing for good fortune in the year to come.

CELEBRATIONS

Chinese New Year is typically celebrated for fifteen days, from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival.

Timeline of traditional Chinese New Year customs
Pre-New Year’s Preparations

  • Cleaning the House – A thorough cleaning of the house is done in preparation for the New Year. It represents a wish to put away old things, say farewell to the previous year, and welcome the New Year.
  • New Year Shopping – This is the time that people buy food, snacks, decorations, and clothes before New Year’s Eve. Right before Chinese New Year, like Christmas in the U.S., is prime shopping season.
  • Putting Up Spring Couplets – Spring couplets are paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink, and pasted one each side of the door frame. The couplets are filled with best wishes, and is thought to keep evil away.
New Year’s Eve

  • Decorating – Most people decorate their houses on New Year’s Eve. Common decorations used include red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and red lanterns.
  • Reunion Dinner – The New Year’s Eve feast is the most important event, with all family members reuniting, often having to travel long distances. People from north and south China eat different foods on this special occasion, although a few symbolic dishes are usually included.
  • CCTV New Year Gala – It has become a China custom for many families to watch the CCTV New Year Gala on New Year’s Eve. The show starts at 8 pm and ends at midnight when the New Year arrives, featuring traditional, folk, and pop performances from China’s best singers, dancers, and acrobats
  • Red Envelopes – Red envelopes filled with money are usually given to kids after the reunion dinner, wishing them health, growth, and good studies in the coming year. Money in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, as red is China’s lucky color.
  • Staying Up Late – This custom is called shǒu suì (守岁); to keep watch over the year. In the past, Chinese people stayed up all night, but now, most stay up only until the midnight firecrackers and fireworks die down.

 

New Year’s Day

  • Setting Off Firecrackers and Fireworks – The moment the New Year arrives, there is a cacophony of fireworks and firecrackers all around, even in rural China. You might want to use earplugs!
  • Putting on New Clothes and Extending New Year Greetings – On the first day of the New Year, it is traditional to put on new clothes, and say “gōng xǐ” (恭喜) to wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, and wish them health and longevity. In more recent years, particularly among the younger generation, those who don’t have time to visit their friends or relatives send a New Year’s card, a WeChat red envelope or a text message instead.
  • Watching Lion and Dragon Dances – Lion dances and dragon dances might be seen too on New Year’s Day in parades.
New Year: Day 2-7
  • Visiting Friends and Family – This is the time people spend visiting with friends and family during the celebration.
New Year: Day 8
  • Returning to Work – 8 is the luckiest number in China, so most businesses prefer to reopen on day eight of the New Year.
New Year: Day 15

  • Lantern Festival – This marks the end of the Spring Festival celebrations. People send aloft glowing lanterns into the sky while others let floating lanterns go in the sea, on rivers, or set them adrift in lakes. This is also when tang yuan are eaten.

SYMBOLISM

The Chinese commonly incorporate symbolism and homophones into their traditions and superstitious beliefs. For example, the unlucky number in China is the number 4 (四 sì) because the word is a homophone with the word death (死 sǐ). There are a number of these examples associated with Chinese New Year.

Fish

Fish is a staple on dinner tables during Chinese New Year, usually cooked whole. The word for fish (鱼 yú) is a homonym for the word surplus (余 yú), and a common sentiment spoken during this holiday is “surplus/fish year after year” (年年有余/鱼 nián nián yǒu yú). It is also tradition to have fish left over, to symbolize the surplus, especially in the head and tail (hope that the year will start and end with surplus).

Dumplings
Homemade dumplings and dumpling skins

Chinese dumplings are made with dough, rolled into skins, and filled with a variety of meats and vegetables. They are typically boiled, steamed, or pan fried. The shape of the dumplings resemble ingots, an ancient Chinese currency used as early as the Han dynasty. They are eaten during the New Year as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

Try this recipe for vegan Chinese-style dumplings!

Tang Yuan

Tang yuan are made from glutinous rice flour filled with sesame or red bean paste and served in the sweet broth that they are cooked in. Traditionally, they are eaten at the end of the celebrations, during the Lantern Festival. They symbolize family reunion, as their name is a homophone for reunion, and their round shape symbolizes togetherness.

Here is a vegan-friendly recipe if you want to attempt to make these delicious sticky balls on your own. They are also be purchased frozen at Asian markets, if you want to save time and effort.

Nian Gao

The literal translation of nian gao is “year cake (年糕),” and it is used to symbolize prosperity. Gāo can also mean tall (高), so nian gao also refers to ‘getting higher year on year’, and this symbolizes raising oneself taller (in wealth) in each coming year. Follow this  recipe to make this sticky sweet treat.

Fu

The word 福fú means good fortune in Chinese. The 福 sign upside down is translated to 福倒了 fú dào le, which also sounds like 福到了fú dào le (good fortune has arrived).

DNA Ancestry Testing – Am I Really Chinese?

Unlike my husband’s family, who has been in the U.S. (and North Carolina) for generations, my parents were the first people (that we know of) to immigrate to the United States from our family. I like to joke with my husband that I’m a “pure blood” (lame Harry Potter reference), unlike his mixed and somewhat far removed heritage in Europe.

My husband took a DNA test through 23 and Me about two years ago to figure out where his ancestors came from. The results indicated that he is 100% Northwestern European – 62% British/Irish, 10% French/German, and 5% Scandinavian.  At the time, I didn’t feel a need to do the test because I was confident that I wouldn’t get any surprising results, but I was still curious about what I might find out.

My husband bought the kit for me for our 3 year anniversary present, and I sent my sample in. 

My results from 23 and Me are shown below, as well as the analysis of a few other websites using different databases. WeGene is based in China and specializes in DNA analysis for people of Asian descent. DNA.LAND is operated through a collaboration of scientists from the New York Genome Center and Columbia University.

It was very interesting to compare the different interpretations of my DNA. My Chinese percentage ranges from 88% to 92%, although it is difficult to compare since the definition for “Chinese” varies from site to site. For example, 23 and Me and DNA.Land does not consider Mongolian descent as Chinese, whereas WeGene does.

23 and Me believes me to be more Korean than Japanese and WeGene believes the opposite. DNA.LAND has combined the two ethnic groups into one. Overall, my Korean/Japanese ancestry seems to be somewhere in the 3-5% range.

The rest of my ancestry seemed to vary quite a bit between the three sites – Mongolian, Southeast Asian, etc. It was very interesting to see from WeGene, the breakdown of the specific ethnic groups classified under Chinese as well.

23 and Me

WeGene

DNA.LAND

Although I didn’t get any crazy surprising results, it was very fascinating to see the breakdown of where my ancestors came from. Another perk of getting your DNA analysis done is that through these sites, it’s also possible to find and connect with people with whom you share DNA. I would definitely recommend getting the test done, even if you’re confident you know where your ancestors came from. You never know, you might get some surprising results!

Helmet Head

Back is Best

The Safe to Sleep campaign (formerly known as Back to Sleep) was launched in 1994 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended that parents put their babies to sleep on their backs in order to reduce the occurrence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). This recommendation was made based on physiological evidence and lower rates of SIDS cases in other countries where this was practiced more often. Since then, the incidence of SIDS has decreased more than half!

However, babies sleeping and laying on their backs for prolonged periods of time inevitably leads to more instances of developing flat spots. This is obviously a much better trade-off than SIDS, but it is an issue than can cause problems later in life. Although no evidence has been found linking a misshapen head to brain, vision, or hearing impairment, other concerns must be taken into consideration: jaw misalignment, hat/helmet fit, wearing glasses, facial asymmetry, etc.

Flat Spot

At Elijah’s 3 month appointment, his pediatrician noticed his flat spot. It was mostly due to him always favoring one side when he slept and a slight case of torticollis (tightening of muscles in the neck which can restrict range of motion). She referred us to Cranial Technologies to get his head evaluated. I really didn’t want my son to be one of those babies who had to wear a helmet. I didn’t want him to have to endure months of discomfort (although most babies get used to it after a few days). I didn’t want to have to possibly spend thousands of dollars on the helmet. And I didn’t want people to see him wearing the helmet and assume that there was something wrong with him.

Where did this stigma come from? Why do people associate headgear on children with mental disabilities?

I did extensive research on helmet use in children. I read about studies that indicated that there was no evidence that helmets actually improved head shape. Others said that over time, especially once the baby is mobile, the baby’s head will round out naturally by 18 months of age. Our pediatrician said in order for the helmet to work the most efficiently, it should be fitted before 6 months of age. So, I put off taking him to be evaluated and took it upon myself to make sure he spent as little time on his back as possible, when awake. I also tried to reposition him when he was sleeping, on the side of his head that he did not favor.

At his 6 month appointment, his pediatrician said that the flat spot had significantly improved but that she believes he would still benefit from wearing a helmet.

As his mom, I felt like I had failed him.

We took him to get his head evaluated, holding out hope that there was still a chance that the specialists would tell us that his case was so mild that no intervention was necessary.

After his evaluation, we were told that he has a moderate case, and that he would need to wear the helmet for ~3 months. I asked if it was possible that his head shape would resolve itself over time and was told that it most likely wouldn’t get worse, but it probably wouldn’t completely fix itself. I knew that even if there was a chance, once he got old enough for us to know for sure, it would be too late to correct. We did not think that was worth the gamble.

Insurance Coverage

The next step was figuring out if insurance would cover the costs. The full price of the helmet is $4000. Cranial Technologies has a deal with our insurance company where we would only have to pay $2500 out of pocket, if it wasn’t covered. If it was covered, we would pay $250. Which price we would be paying depended solely on whether or not there was an exclusion for helmets in our insurance plan.

A few weeks later, we got the call that the helmet would NOT be covered by insurance because it was considered an aesthetic treatment. Needless to say, my husband and I were not very happy about this news. It seemed ridiculous to us that the insurance company could justify that we were putting him through this treatment just for looks.

After getting this news, I scoured the internet forums for any options we had left to get coverage for his treatment. Some people suggested appealing, while others said appeals were typically fruitless if an exclusion was spelled out in the plan. One person mentioned that the exclusions are specific to the employer’s agreement with the insurance company and that they were successful in getting coverage after contacting their HR department. I figured it was worth a try and emailed my HR representative. She forwarded the email to the Benefits group, and they said they would look into the matter and get back to me. I didn’t hear back from them after a week and figured that was a dead end. However, 3 weeks later, I received an email stating they had reviewed the case and will make an exception and cover the treatment. The insurance company paid $3600 of the $4000 total, which was a huge help.

If your insurance is denying you coverage, contact your employer’s HR department and see if they can make an exception!

Progress

At his 3 week checkup, they saw a lot of progress on head growth. He’s been working hard growing that noggin and he may be able to get it taken off sooner than expected. They say that he will only need to wear it another 4-6 weeks!

 

Sleep Training

After you bring your new baby home, sleep becomes one of life’s most precious commodities. When the baby doesn’t sleep, one or both parents also don’t sleep. Some babies are naturally great sleepers while others require hours of bouncing, rocking, and soothing, just for a short nap. To make things even harder, there are so many precautions and recommendations about safe sleep for babies.

SIDS danger. Back is best. No loose blankets. No stuffed animals. Nothing in the crib. Flat, firm surface only. Sleep in the same room until 6 months. Don’t co-sleep. Avoid sleeping in car seats, swings, bouncers, etc. Make sure the baby is not overheated.

This can be extremely overwhelming, particularly when a desperate and exhausted parent is trying to get the baby to sleep by any means necessary.

‘The baby will only fall asleep in the swing. Does this make me a bad parent?’

In the first three months, you’re in pure survival mode. Don’t worry about bad habits, spoiling the baby, or holding the baby too much. Do whatever needs to be done to keep the baby thriving and happy. But after the baby gets to be 4-6 months old and is still waking up 6 times a night, the idea of sleep training starts to get tossed around.

What is sleep training?

It refers to helping a baby learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night without assistance. This is done by taking away sleeping aids (rocking, patting, shushing, feeding, pacifier) that the baby depends on to fall asleep and letting the baby fall asleep on his/her own by learning to self-soothe. The belief is that if the baby is used to having these aids to fall asleep and wakes up in the middle of the night without them, falling asleep again will be much harder to do. Successful sleep training would ideally result in better rest and less stress for both the baby and the parents.

Research

Critics claim that allowing the baby to be in distress for prolonged periods of time could be detrimental to development and cause learned helplessness. However, there is not yet any evidence that support these claims. A study that examined the differences in children who had and had not been sleep trained five years earlier found no significant differences in traits such as sleep problems, behavioral problems, mental health, and attachment issues.

Studies do show that sleep deprivation has long-term negative consequences and can lead to depression-like symptoms and attention issues. This would not only affect the health of the parents but also their ability to care for their child effectively. Sleep deprivation of the baby also affects the baby’s mood and can inhibit attention and learning.

Sleep Training Methods

It is agreed upon across the board that newborns should NOT be sleep trained. They have not yet developed the ability to self-soothe and cannot form good sleeping habits at that age. Four to six months is the most common age range that sleep training experts believe a baby to be ready for sleep training. There are a wide range of methods that are commonly utilized. The five most well-known methods are listed below:

  • No Cry Sleep Solution – Uses gentle techniques such as fading (using a preferred sleep association less and less each night) or substitution (substitute a sleep association with a different sleep association; easier to eliminate since it is not as preferred by the baby)
  • Sleep Lady Shuffle (Gradual Withdrawal) – Sit in a chair next to the crib and verbally soothe and shush baby. Move the chair further away from the crib every night until you are out of the room.
  • Pick Up Put Down (PUPD) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Pick up baby to soothe and then put down.
  • Graduated Extinction (Ferber) – Put baby to bed awake and check on baby at graduated intervals (i.e. 3, 5, 7 minutes) if baby is still crying hard. Verbally soothe or pat baby to comfort.
  • Weissbluth (Cry It Out, Full Extinction) – After the bedtime routine, put the baby in the room and do not return until the next morning (except for feedings).

Elijah’s Sleep Training Story

We decided to start sleep training Elijah when he was around four and a half months old. He has never been a terrible sleeper but was constantly waking up three to four times a night, and it was really taking a toll on my sleep. His primary soothing mechanisms were feeding and the pacifier, so the goal was to eliminate both of these sleep associations. For the bedtime routine, he had a bottle before bath time, in order to separate any feeding associations. Because he was still relatively young, I did not cut out night feeds entirely, but I did not feed him until it had been at least four hours since the last feeding to make sure that he was actually hungry and not looking to eat for comfort. I also took away the pacifier at night time. 

My original intention was to use the Ferber Graduated Extinction method for sleep training. I purchased and read the book, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems,” in order to prepare. Once we began training, however, I quickly realized that checks at intervals did not soothe Elijah but rather prolonged his distress. So I stopped going in, and I watched him on the baby monitor to make sure he was okay. The first night was the longest stretch of crying (~25 minutes) before falling asleep. He also woke up a few times during the night and cried around 10-15 minutes each time. He adjusted quickly and after a few days, there was no crying at all at bedtime before he fell asleep – just some grumbling. It also helps that he’s not a crier by nature, so I can typically tell when he’s just fussing and when he actually needs something.

Just because a baby is “trained” does not mean they will be a good sleeper from that point on. Regressions can happen when the baby is sick, teething, or for seemingly no reason at all. He does still have nights where he wakes up more often, but this is not the norm. I try to stay consistent with my techniques, and he typically goes back to his normal sleep patterns after a day or two.

Final Tips

A baby’s personality is very important to consider when deciding whether or not to sleep train. Only you know your baby best and whether or not he/she is ready for sleep training and what method will work the best. Some babies respond to training faster than others and methods can be adjusted accordingly.

Sleep training is not necessarily a requirement to foster good sleeping habits. Some babies are able to develop good sleeping habits naturally over time, but in other cases, bad sleep habits are carried into toddler-hood, preschool, and beyond, when bad habits become much harder to change.

Sleep training is not for everyone, but it did work for us.

 

✿ Katie ✿

Featured image by Alison Wong of New Mom Comics

Baby Registry – What Do I REALLY Need?

Who knew bringing home a tiny human required so much STUFF? In the nine months I had leading up to arrival of my son, Elijah, I mostly spent time researching what I did and did not need, to make our lives a little bit easier. With the things I decided that we did need, I tried to find the most cost-effective way to obtain them.

Obviously, babies will have different preferences for what they like, but oftentimes, we don’t know these preferences until weeks after they have arrived. These are the items that were must-haves for me and little Eli, and this list can be a guide and starting point for soon-to-be mothers who are a little overwhelmed by it all.

Where to Register

It seems like every single store that sells baby items wants you to create a baby registry with them. Here are the ones that I found to be the most useful and have the most perks.

  • Amazon – After creating a registry at Amazon, add something on the list that you were going to buy anyway that is at least $10. Purchase the item and check off the rest of the boxes on the Amazon baby checklist, and you will be eligible to receive a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, worth $35. Although boxes will vary, I received: helicopter toy, hedgehog swaddle blanket, Avent bottle, full size baby wipes, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nursing pads, Aquaphor, diaper cream, and baby shampoo.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off (15% for Prime members)!
  • Target – After creating a baby registry with Target, you can pick up a free welcome bag at any Target stores, if they have them in stock. I received: MAM bottle, Nuk pacifier, Pampers diaper clutch & 2 newborn diapers, and samples for nipple cream and Dapple dish soap.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 15% off!
  • Babylist – I ended up creating and sharing my registry at Babylist with friends and family because I can easily add items from wherever I want. I really like the layout and design, and the customer service is easy to work with.
    BONUS: Anything left on the registry that you did not receive, you can purchase for 10% off!

    *See the items that I mention below on my Pinterest board*

What to Buy Secondhand

There are a few options for where to look for secondhand baby items. I mostly used Facebook Marketplace to find items that were being sold locally. I also occasionally used Craigslist, although the response time was usually a lot slower. Thrift stores, Goodwill, and baby consignment shops are also great places to look for gently used items.

  • Diaper pail – Some people claim that a diaper pail is a waste of money because the smells of poop cannot be contained. Elijah hasn’t really explored the world of solids yet, but so far, his formula and breastmilk diapers have been contained fairly well in our Diaper Champ (except when we are changing it out, but that is to be expected). The other plus is that we can use regular trash bags, which is a huge money saver. Other popular diaper pail brands include Diaper Genie, Munchkin, Dekor, and Ubbi. Ubbi is another one that doesn’t require special refill bags.
  • Swing – For a fussy, colicky baby, a swing is a lifesaver. Our swing put our baby to sleep when nothing else would work. We bought a discontinued Graco model secondhand, and it has definitely served its purpose well. I would recommend getting one that will plug into the wall if you don’t anticipate moving it around often.
  • Bouncer – These are very easy to find used. There are lots of different brands to choose from, and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $10 for one. There are also swing/bouncer combinations as a space-saving option.
  • High chair – Once your little one is able to try some solids (4-6 months), a high chair is a very handy to have. If your family frequently eats in the dining room, a booster seat style high chair would work well; it’s also more portable. I found a Graco Duodiner high chair in great condition for $10, and it has been the perfect place for Elijah to try out solids.
  • Changing table – Although some people end up changing their babies on beds or couches, I always liked using the changing table because all of the materials I needed were within reach and easy to access.
  • Swaddles – I loved using the Swaddleme pods and velcro swaddles for the first three months. They keep the baby’s arms contained so the startle reflex doesn’t wake them up multiple times a night.
  • Pack n Play – Although Eli didn’t spend a lot of time in his Pack n Play, it served as a baby station for the downstairs. It was a place to set him down when I needed my hands, and the changing station for the downstairs was a lifesaver.
  • Exersaucer – This won’t come in handy until your baby gains complete head control (~4 months), but it can entertain your baby for quite awhile. They are pretty expensive when purchased brand new but can be found secondhand fairly easily. Because they tend to take up a lot of space, try to find one that can be collapsed and/or converted when they get older, like the Evenflo Exersaucer Triple Fun.
  • Rock n Play – Moms swear by the rock n play when newborns have a hard time going to sleep. Although it is not technically sleep safe, the inclined hammock-like sleep surface is liked by a lot of babies and can be a lifesaver for extreme cases of reflux. Paying a little more for the auto-rock option is worth the money, in my opinion.
  • Fisher Price Sit Me Up chair – Eli started favoring sleeping on one side from the first day we brought him home. This resulted in a flat spot on one side of his head. At such a young age, it’s difficult to keep the babies off their heads all the time, since tummy time can be so tiring and uncomfortable. This chair keeps the baby upright in a natural position, without the need for complete head control. Having this seat was crucial in helping his head grow back into a nice round shape.
  • Nursing pillow – I have the Leachco Cuddle-U pillow, and it created a soft surface for me to rest my arms and the baby, when I held him for a nap or when feeding him. It’s also a great baby lounger and works as a prop up pillow for tummy time!

    Big Ticket Items

    These are the items that I knew I wanted but were priced on the higher end. When close family and friends ask what they should get you or if you need ideas for Christmas/birthday gifts, choose from this list.

  • Crib – Babies get transitioned to their rooms and their cribs at different ages. I wasn’t sure when I would be willing to graduate Eli to his own room, but I ended up doing it sooner than anticipated (4 months). This has done wonders for my sleep at night, and Eli has been sleeping in his crib very well. If you don’t have a nursery or have limited space, a mini-crib may be more a more suitable purchase.
  • Baby monitor – This is must-have if you have a fairly large house or if you plan on sleep training. We have the Summer Infant Dual View baby monitor, and it has been working well so far.
  • Glider – A glider is not a must-have and may not be feasible, depending on the size of the nursery, but I really enjoy using it for nighttime feedings and story time.
  • Travel system (with extra base) – It’s a good idea to invest in a quality travel system because it will cause a lot of headache if you don’t like the one you have. I opted for a budget-friendly one by BabyTrend, but if I could go back, I most likely would pay more for Chicco or Britax. The three-wheeled jogger-style stroller are much easier to maneuver than the four-wheeled style. Make sure to add an extra base to the registry if you anticipate multiple people or cars driving the little one around.
  • Convertible car seat – This is the car seat that will grow with your baby. These typically have a weight range of 5-40 lbs and can be used rear or front facing. The only downside is that it is not portable and must stay in the car, so it’s not as convenient for infants.
  • Dockatot – I debated for a long time before finally pulling the trigger on this expensive baby bed. Some people claim that it is a miracle product and will get your baby to sleep through the night. I can guarantee that does not happen with all babies (it didn’t with mine). But this is a great flat sleeping surface for babies that don’t like sleeping in a bassinet or crib. It’s also extremely lightweight and portable for sleepovers at Grandma’s. The deluxe size claims to fit babies 0-9 months, so you will get a lot of use out of it.

    Basic Necessities

  • Diapers/Wipes – Have at least one pack of newborn diapers on hand, and you can never have too many wipes. We have had great success with Pampers and haven’t really tried other brands. I also prefer the sensitive/fragrance-free wipes to minimize irritation.
  • Burp cloths – Babies spit up a lot. Or they drool. Or they leak milk when eating. I didn’t like using blankets as burp cloths because I felt like I had to wash them after doing that. I always have to have designated burp cloths within reach. My favorites are Carter’s terry cloth burp cloths. They are extremely soft and absorbent and in a very handy shape. I also purchased Gerber’s prefold gauze diapers, which work great as well.
  • Blankets – Blankets can be used to keep the baby warm, as a swaddle, as a burp cloth, or as a changing surface. They typically come in flannel or muslin varieties. I like using the muslin blankets more because they are lightweight, breathable, and more stretchy.
  • Bottles – Bottle preference is very specific to the baby. We tried Dr. Brown’s Wide, MAM, and Avent. My favorite to use are the MAM bottles. The nipple is slightly flattened to fit into the baby’s mouth to form a tight latch with minimal leakage. The holes on the bottom of the bottle allow the bottle to vent perfectly, with no nipple collapse. The nipple was constantly collapsing with Avent bottles. The smaller size bottles hold 2 ounces more than most other small sized bottles. And the gradual angle of the shape of the bottle allows all of the milk to travel to the nipple easily. I didn’t like how the milk would get trapped in the Avent bottles. Other popular brands that we didn’t try include Comotomo, Tommee Tippee, Playtex, and Lansinoh.
  • Pacifier – There are a lot of differing opinions about the use of pacifiers, but studies have shown that using one at night can reduce the risk of SIDS up to 6 months. We tried the Wubbanub pacifiers, but Eli was not a big fan of the flat soother style nipple. He really enjoyed using the MAM brand pacifiers, and the glow in the dark ones are extremely helpful when searching for a pacifier at night.
  • Nose cleaner – Baby nose holes are teeny tiny, and the bulb syringe is not very effective at removing snot. The Nosefrida looks and sounds scary, like the baby’s brains are getting sucked out, but it works well. The oogiebear ear & nose cleaner is the perfect tool for cleaning out external ear wax and dried boogers from little noses. The product also claims, “Friendly bear design won’t scare baby.”
  • Diaper cream – All babies will need diaper cream to protect their bottoms. I like to slather it on before bedtime as a preventative measure, in case he poops at night. I like Bordeaux’s Butt Paste brand, and I’ve also heard great things about Desitin.
  • Babybum brush – Diaper cream is very waterproof and will adhere to your hands. It can also be hard to apply far enough between the cheeks to where irritation is present. This brush is very helpful in keeping my hands clean and reaching easily between the butt cheeks. The cream comes off the brush easily with a wipe.
  • Formula pitcher – If you plan on exclusively formula feeding or supplementing with formula, the Dr. Brown’s formula pitcher is a must-have. Instead of preparing bottle after bottle throughout the day, up to 40 oz of formula can be prepared at once and stored in the fridge. The mixer in the pitcher prevents clumps and makes formula preparation a breeze. I also use warm water for formula preparation, which completely eliminates clumps every time.
  • Mini fridge – We have a two story house, and we spend the majority of the time on the second floor. The mini fridge was the perfect place to store my pump parts (between washes), expressed breast milk, and prepared formula. It saved me so much time and energy that I did not have.
  • Baby bathtub – The bathtub we use is the Skip Hop MOBY Bathtub with Sling. It’s easy to fill and clean and supports the baby’s neck and body very well during baths. It’s also shaped like a cute whale.
  • Drying rack – If you use bottles, you will want to have a dedicated bottle drying area. Different bottles brands and sizes will fit better on different types of racks. I like the Boon grass because all bottles and parts will be able to fit. I also have the Munchkin drying rack, which is great for nipples and tall bottles.
Photo of my chunky dude dozing in his Dockatot

✿ Katie ✿

Vegan Weight Loss Journey

My husband, Kyle, was overweight for most of his childhood. He comes from a divorced household, and he frequently sought comfort and stability in food. Growing up, he often dealt with teasing from other kids, and even family members, contributing to his low self esteem and self-image issues.

Kyle with his mom at his college graduation, 1 year before we met (May 2013)

In December of 2013, he decided to seriously start trying to lose weight through eating fewer calories and exercising more. He ran regularly, attended martial arts classes, and stayed active at his job as a Health and P.E. teacher. He lost over 50 lbs, and when I met him for the first time, I had no idea that he had been heavier for most of his life.

Kyle and me at the beach, 1 month after we met (June 2014)

We got married in December of 2014. With the combination of married life, less free time to exercise, as well as switching to a sedentary office job, Kyle went back to old habits and gained back more than 70 lbs.

Kyle holding our newborn son (June 2017)

When our son, Elijah, was born, he was at one of the heaviest weights he had ever been. He knew it was time for a change but didn’t have enough motivation to stick with a plan for more than a few weeks.

Kyle’s family had recently watched a movie on Netflix, “What the Health,” which talks at length about how diet (specifically animal products) affects chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The movie also emphasizes the inhumane treatment of animals bred and slaughtered for human consumption. Although some of the claims that the movie makes are based on weak evidence, it is undeniable that a plant-based diet is better for overall health and for a sustainable world. After watching this documentary, Kyle felt very inspired to change his own food choices. The next day, he became a full-fledged vegan and hasn’t looked back since.

In the beginning, when trying to lose weight quickly, Kyle ate a diet consisting of mostly fruit and also fasted intermittently. He ate cooked meals a few times a week until he got closer to his target weight. As the weight fell off, he began to feel more agile and able to exercise on a regular basis. His knee and ankle pain improved drastically. He strove to get 10,000 steps per day by taking long walks and staying active. He was able to lose 60 lbs in 3 months.

It took me a little longer to commit to this lifestyle change. Meat, dairy, and eggs have been a vital part of my diet ever since I was young, and I was reluctant to completely eliminate these foods from my life. After a few months of seeing the changes in Kyle and knowing how much he wanted me to join him in this lifestyle change, I hopped on board. I also wanted to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and knew that this would be a step in the right direction.

We have converted our household to have only vegan food items, with minimal processed foods. We intend on raising our son on a vegan diet, as much as possible, until he is old enough to make his own food choices. I’m still learning the ropes in terms of vegan cooking, but I hope to share some of my favorite vegan recipes with all of you here.

Kyle and Eli (Oct 2017)

Here are some of Kyle’s own thoughts about his experience so far: 

 

What differences did you notice after becoming vegan?

Less inflammation/swelling, my joint pain started to go away. I had more energy overall. I feel like I regained my sense of taste after eating whole plant based foods, when before, it was hard to enjoy certain things (like apples) when I was used to drinking soda and eating Wendy’s.

How has becoming vegan affected your ability to keep the weight off? 

I think I have control over myself more. I’m not perfect but I’m more capable of making more health conscious decisions and not feeling ruled by food. I’ve been able to take control back. Because it limits what I eat, it makes it easier since my selection pool is smaller to choose from.

What made you decide to commit to being vegan?

I like being vegan, not only for health purposes, but also because of the ethics and the world of the future. Fighting for justice and equality for all people, feeding all people, reducing greenhouse gasses. The slaughtering of animals is appalling to watch, and that’s not something I want to support.

What are your favorite vegan foods?

One of my favorites is definitely Mediterranean. I like Chinese-style tofu, rice, and cabbage, which my wife and mother-in-law make often. I also really enjoy Thai, Indian, and sushi.

✿ Katie ✿

 

A Tour of China

Even though I was born in China, I moved to the U.S. at the age of four, and I have no memories of living there as a child. Aside from my parents and my brother, all of our family is still residing in China, so we don’t get to see them very often. I have been back to visit three times. The first two times, I went back with my parents and only visited the two provinces where my maternal (Hebei) and paternal (Hunan) grandparents lived to visit with family. For my most recent visit, I brought my husband back with me, and I had the opportunity to visit many of China’s popular tourist attractions for the first time with him.

We purchased the tour on Groupon, through a company called Affordable Asia. The cost included airfare, 5 star hotel rooms with breakfast, and the major tours in each city (Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai). I also used Ebates and got 6% cash back! Overall, it was a terrific deal, and I would highly recommend it.

BEIJING 

Our first stop was Beijing. On the first day, we visited Qianmen, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

Qianmen (Front Gate)
Qianmen Archery Tower

Qianmen once guarded the the southern entrance into the Inner City.

Tiananmen Square

This was a very meaningful spot for me. The Tiananmen Square protests (Tiananmen Square Massacre) took place in April-June 1989. I was born only 20 days after the protests ended. My father was was one of the students who were present, and my mom talks about how she was afraid that I would be born fatherless. I hope to interview my dad about this and expand on this story in a future blog post.

Forbidden City

The Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty the to Qing dynasty. It contains 9999 rooms and was forbidden to the common people.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is composed of lakes, gardens, and palaces, and was the summer retreat for the emperor.

 

The next day, we saw the Great Wall, Ming’s Tombs, and the Olympic Park.

The Great Wall is one of the most well-known landmarks of China. It spans over 5000 miles and is still considered one of the most impressive architectural feats ever constructed.

Great Wall of China

I have never been to the Great Wall before and didn’t know what to expect. The first realization I made about the wall was that it is EXTREMELY STEEP. It was also extremely crowded, as most tourist locations in China are, so it was even more precarious to try to maintain balance while climbing up. For some reason, people liked to stop randomly in the middle of the wall, so that proved to be an additional challenge. Going back down wasn’t easy either. I had to use my knees to keep myself from propelling face first down the wall, and towards the end, my legs felt like jello. However, after seeing so many photos of this impressive structure, actually being at the Great Wall was pretty amazing and surreal.

The next stop was the Ming tombs. There are 13 Ming dynasty emperors buried in this area, a spot specifically chosen according to fengshui  风水 principles, surrounded by both mountains and water.

Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion

A 7 kilometer road, known as the Spirit Way, leads into the complex. It is lined with stone animals and officials, which guard the tombs. At one end is the Dragon-headed Turtle Tablet Pavilion.

For our last stop of the day, we went to the Olympic Park, which is where the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest are located. I still am in awe of the opening ceremony that China organized in the Bird’s Nest in 2008. It really was unparalleled.

Hepingmen Restaurant

Our tour guide told us about one of the most famous Beijing roast duck restaurants, HePing Men. A group of us from the tour decided to go there for dinner that night. Everyone relied on me to converse with the waiters, since none of the workers there spoke English. We ended up with way too much food, but the roast duck was superb. We also gave the restaurant a huge headache when we told them that we wanted to split the bill. This is simply not done in China. Somebody always foots the entire bill, and fighting for it (including physical contact) is required in order to save face.

XI’AN

The next city on the itinerary was Xi’an, a city full of historical treasures. It is one of the oldest cities in China and was the former capital. The city marked the starting point of the Silk Road and is home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. We visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terracotta Army that day.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda originally built during the Tang dynasty. The pagoda has five stories and leans to the West.

One of the pagoda’s main functions was to hold sutras (scripts) and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by Buddhist monk and scholar, Xuanzang.

Pit One – Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army was constructed for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and took over 700,000 workers to complete. The site was discovered in 1974, by farmers digging a well in the area. Four pits have currently been excavated, and excavation is still ongoing. Pit one is the largest pit and contains over 6000 figures.

Musicians Playing Traditional Chinese Instruments

That night, we went to go see the Tang Dynasty Show, one of the most popular attractions in Xi’an. The performance started out with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments while we were served dinner. The two ladies wearing purple and red dresses are playing the erhu 二胡, which is actually the instrument that my mom played and performed in college.

Tang Dynasty Show

The show was primarily comprised of dancing, accompanied by a live orchestra, that told the story of the concubine Wu Zetian, and how she rose to power to become an empress. The combination of the music, dance, and costumes, made for a breathtaking performance. 

SHANGHAI

Shanghai was the last city on our group tour as well as the most populated city in China. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great while we were there, but we were still able to enjoy much of what the city had to offer.

The Bund – Shanghai

The Bund runs along the Huangpu River and from it, you get a glimpse of the impressive modern skyscrapers in the Pudong district. It was formerly part of the Shanghai International Settlement and features 52 buildings of various architectural styles from all over the world.

While in Shanghai, we went shopping during the day, and at night, we went to a few bars as well as karaoke, with our new friends from the tour group. Then, it was time to say goodbye and fly into Changsha, Hunan to see my dad’s family.

HUNAN

We arrived in Changsha and was picked up by my uncle and my cousin-in-law, whom I had never met before. We drove back to my uncle’s condo and unpacked our things. For dinner that night, my aunt, cousin, and her husband took us to a restaurant that served street food local to Changsha. The Hunan province is well-known for its love of spice in its dishes. My husband loves eating spicy things, but my relatives in China were skeptical that an American could handle the Hunan level of spice.

Street Food – Changsha, Hunan

At the restaurant, my husband definitely had to step out of his comfort zone when my cousin ordered chicken feet, snails, and whole turtle, just to name a few, all of which contained lots of spicy peppers. His favorite were the spicy crawfish (called little lobsters in Chinese). My relatives were very impressed with my husband’s ability to handle the spiciness and keep up.

The next day, we drove with my uncle to the town of Zhangjiajie, which was a four hour drive from Changsha. After arriving there, my uncle told me that he was deathly afraid of heights and that my husband and I would be seeing the sights on our own.

Tianmen Mountain

On the day that we arrived, we rode a cable car for 30 minutes to the top of Tianmen Mountain. We climbed to various spots around the mountain and also walked on the glass bottom bridge.

Glass Walkway – Tianmen Mountain

It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. It was extremely crowded, though. I’m at least glad this didn’t happen when we were on the bridge.

Tianmen Cave – Tianmen Mountain

To come down the mountain, we rode escalators for what seemed like an eternity. Then, we had to walk down these 999 steps, going through the Tianmen cave, which formed naturally after a cliff collapsed in ancient times. My legs felt like jello again, for the second time this trip.

The next day, we went to Zhangjiajie National Park, the first national park of China, and covering over 50 square miles. What sets Zhangjiajie apart are the pillar-like formations throughout the entire park.

Zhangjiajie National Park

The park contains an abundance of flora and fauna due to its high humidity and subtropical climate. The pillar-like structures were formed by physical erosion due to the vegetation that grows on it and when ice on the peaks expanded during the winter.

Floating Mountains – Zhangjiajie National Park

These peaks were the inspiration to the floating peaks featured in the 2009 movie, Avatar. This particular column shown has been renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of the movie.

 

Overall, the trip was a magnificent success. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to visit the iconic landmarks of my homeland with my husband, as well as be able to visit with relatives I hadn’t seen in years.

 

✿ Katie ✿

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Review & Personal Reflection

The author, Amy Chua, and I have a lot in common. We are both Chinese-American women with respectable careers, married to American men, and born to parents who immigrated from China to America. Now that I am a parent, I am also able to relate that aspect of her life on a more personal level. Although I didn’t have tiger parents myself and don’t intend on strictly using the “Chinese” method of parenting for my children, I appreciate the way Amy Chua depicted the contrasting belief systems about parenting between Asian and Western cultures. This book depicts her parenting approach but also reveals how she was unexpectedly humbled by her daughters in the process.

Amy Chua with her husband, Jed, and her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, and their two samoyeds, Coco and Pushkin

When Amy described her parents’ experience of coming to America for the first time, I was also reminded of my parents’ story.

“With only their student scholarships to live on, they couldn’t afford heat their first two winters, and wore blankets around to keep warm. My father got his Ph.D. in less than two years and became an assistant professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.”

I stayed with my grandparents in China for two years while my parents got settled, before my dad came back to bring me to America. My dad told me recently that is one of his biggest regrets, and he still wonders if leaving me impacted me and made me feel abandoned on a subconscious level. My mom had to waitress without a work permit in order to make ends meet, and my dad completely switched majors in order to get a better paying job for our family. Even though we were poor for a long time, my parents made sure I never went without, and I had no idea.

“We started off as outsiders together, and we discovered America together, becoming Americans in the process.”

I acclimated to living in the United States much faster than my parents did, due to my young age. But I still felt like an outsider along with my family for a very long time. We looked different, ate different foods, and spoke a different language at home. At times, I resented my family for not being more American, eating pizza once a week or having a family beach house instead of traveling to China to visit relatives. I was embarrassed that my parents had an accent and often made grammar mistakes when speaking English. What I didn’t realize was that their accent, and all the accents of first generation immigrants, symbolizes the adversity they had to endure, and the obstacles they overcame through sheer determination and hard work to get to where they are now.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.”

Only now, as an adult, have I come to realize how unique and precious my childhood was and how hard my parents worked to give me everything I could ever want.

When it comes to marriage, I had always assumed I would marry another Chinese man, mostly because my friends were predominantly Chinese. However, my husband appeared suddenly in my life at precisely the right moment, and we both knew right away that our fates were sealed. Amy Chua expounds on her feelings toward marrying a non-Chinese person below.

“A tiny part of me regrets that I didn’t marry another Chinese person and worries that I am letting down four thousand years of civilization. But most of me feels tremendous gratitude for the freedom and creative opportunity that America has given me. My daughters don’t feel like outsiders in America. I sometimes still do. But for me, that is less a burden than a privilege.”

I have to say that I have similar sentiments as Amy. Even though I have no regrets about marrying my husband, the fact that he is from a different culture and doesn’t speak Mandarin creates more of a challenge to preserve my Chinese culture in our family and with our children. However, he brings an equally diverse background to our little family, and we are able to incorporate the best parts of both of our cultures into our lives. He is also working diligently to learn Mandarin since we are planning for our children to be bilingual.

Although the book details many of Amy’s seemingly harsh methods for parenting her daughters, it also includes a great deal of humor. She is quick to poke fun at and point out the absurdity of some of her own ideas when it comes to her children.

“I wanted her [Sophie] to be well rounded and to have hobbies and activities. Not just any activity, like “crafts,’ which can lead nowhere—or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs—but rather a hobby that was meaningful and highly difficult with the potential for depth and virtuosity.”

Despite the fact that Western and Chinese parenting contrast in many ways, it is indisputable that in both cases, parents love their children more than anything and strive to give their children the best life possible. Even though the journey may be different, the end goal is the same.

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

 

My husband and I on our wedding day, along with my dad, mom, and brother

 

 

✿ Katie ✿

How to Be Successful at Online Dating

I am by no means an expert at online dating. But considering that I met my husband on a dating website, I must have done something right.

An NPR article published a few years ago reveals that Asian women and Caucasian men are the most favored demographics when it comes to online dating. In that regard, my husband and I did have an advantage in the online dating sphere. However, the number of people who are using dating websites to meet new people is now higher than ever. It gives you an opportunity to interact with people you may never have met otherwise in a safe environment.

Obviously, I cannot guarantee that you will find a lifelong partner on an online dating website, but these tips will help you to utilize this tool in the most effective way possible.

    1. Spend time on your profile

      Your profile is the only way other people can learn about who you are, so use it to express yourself! If you only spend 5 minutes on it, no one will be able to get a clear picture of what you’re about, and it will seem like you’re not serious about meeting anyone new. Talk about your likes and dislikes, your childhood, your occupation – whatever you feel like represents the person that you are. Try to incorporate your sense of humor into the answers as well because that can be an important compatibility factor.

    2. Answer as many questions as possible

      On websites where compatibility is determined through the answers you give to questions (OkCupid, eHarmony, etc.), take the time to answer as many questions as possible. Although it’s not imperative that a couple has everything in common, it certainly provides a starting point, especially for things that are not negotiable. Which leads us to…

    3. Spell out any non-negotiables clearly

      Either in your profile or in the first few conversations that you have with a new person, make sure they understand what types of things you are not willing to negotiate on. These things may include religion, drug use, or anything else that you may feel strongly about. Have these things out in the open early on so that if an incompatibility does exist, no more time is spent on getting to know the wrong person.

    4. Post multiple photos of how you currently look

      We all want to put our best face forward when it comes to posting pictures, but using an outdated photo that does not accurately reflect how you look will only create problems down the road (unless you intend on having a purely online relationship). Use pictures with good lighting and taken from flattering angles, but don’t use a photo that is ten years old or 40 pounds off from what you actually weigh. Posting more pictures will give other people a better idea of what to expect if/when they meet you in person and whether or not they are attracted to you.

    5. Send meaningful messages (quality over quantity)

      When you find someone that you think you may be interested in, don’t be afraid to send them a message. The worst thing they can say is no (or don’t respond). The first impression message is a pretty big deal. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The first message should NOT be “Hey, what’s up?” or “I like your pics.”

      First, let the other person know that you took the time to read their profile. Talk about the things you liked reading about them and why you think the two of you would be a good fit. Keep it lighthearted, add some humor, and don’t ramble on for too long. At the end of the message, ask some easy follow up questions, such as “I see you like to run. Have you participated in any races?” This will make it easier for them to have something to write in their response and will also show them you are interested in learning more. Keep asking questions in subsequent messages to keep the conversation flowing as easily as possible. You can suggest moving the conversation to text or another mode, if you feel comfortable.

    6. Don’t get ahead of yourself, be realistic

      Don’t get your heart set on a specific person prematurely. Just because you may think you’ve met your soul mate after reading their profile does not mean this is necessarily the reality. Try not to get overly attached to the idea of a person that you may have conjured up in your head before actually getting to know the person. Be open to the idea that this person may not be exactly what you are expecting and to take things one step at a time.

    7. Arrange to meet as soon as you feel comfortable

      It’s definitely a good idea to keep interactions online-based in the beginning, for safety reasons. Be sure to look out for red flags that they’re not being honest and don’t proceed if you have any doubts. However, once you feel comfortable enough, arrange a meeting in a public place. The longer that you talk to a person via messaging or even on the phone without meeting them, the more likely you are to form an unrealistic idea of them in your mind – one that they couldn’t possibly live up to. In a lot of cases, you will have a much better idea of whether or not the relationship could progress after the very first meeting. If you realize after the meeting that they are not what you are looking for…

    8. Be honest if you aren’t interested, don’t lead them on

      Don’t string someone along just because you are scared to hurt their feelings or reject them. Making them think something may happen when you already know it won’t will be much harder to deal with in the long run. Be nice but direct and tell them that you have enjoyed getting to know them but don’t think the two of you are compatible. Don’t feel guilty about being honest about your true feelings.

    9. Be patient

      It can be easy to feel frustrated after not finding anyone that you click with after a few months of trying. Don’t give up. These things can take time, and you never know when you might meet the person you spend the rest of your life with.

    10. Don’t be ashamed to tell people you are dating online

      Using an online dating website does NOT mean you are desperate, unattractive, or unlovable. Thankfully, the stigmas surrounding online dating are beginning to disappear, but some people are still hesitant to reveal that they are online dating or that they did not meet their spouse the “natural” way. With technology advancing at lightning speed, meeting online is becoming the new normal. When I was contemplating trying online dating, the question that I kept asking myself was, “If I were to meet my spouse on a website, would I be upset that this was the way that we met?” My answer was always a resounding NO. Given the choice between meeting my spouse through online dating or not meeting him at all, I think most people will agree with my perspective.

Good luck with all of your online dating endeavors. Have fun and stay safe!

 

✿ Katie ✿