November 4, 2011

Save Money by Insulating Your House

Winter is upon us and some nights are dipping below freezing. One task on my mind is to improve the insulation of our house for better energy efficiency and comfort. Currently, I am focused on the garage. Although the garage is usually considered an unheated space and not insulated, this is not completely true in our case. We have a raised ranch house with the bottom floor being the 2 car garage, laundry room, and family room. The 3 bedrooms we have are above the garage, and the rest of the upper floor is the living room, bathroom, and kitchen. The floor of our master bedroom is often cold, and I suspect that the insulation between the floor and the garage below is not very good. Heat also leaks from the family room and laundry room into the garage through a thin wall. To make matter worse, the north side of the garage exterior wall is currently not insulated. It is just 2x4 wood studs with exterior sheathing and wood siding, on top of 9" concrete block foundation. The insulation R-value of this wall construction is about 2, which is pretty low.

We can calculate how much heat is being lost to the outside by measuring the temperatures on the two sides of this wall. I used a hand-held infrared thermometer to measure the temperature at 9PM on November 3rd, 2011. The outside temperature was 39.4°F; the inside of the exterior wall was 53.3°F; the temperature inside the garage was 57.6°F. With these 3 temperature readings, I can calculate the R-value of the concrete foundation to be 2.9, and the wood stud wall above it has a temperature reading of 51°F and a corresponding R-value of 1.9. Based on a rough area estimate, the heat loss is about 1000 BTU/hr in this mildly chilly night. We use a 95% efficient natural gas furnace for heat, so this amounts to about $10 a month in heat that’s lost. If I add the heat lost through the 2 garage overhead doors and the concrete floor, it’s about $30 a month in heat loss!

November 2, 2011

Parenting 101

Ever wish there were training classes on how to be parents? How about take classes, get a degree, and then getting to know everything there is to know on how to be perfect a parent? If only that were true...

While no class can possibly prepare you for every situation, having some basic framework and skills sure help! Our good friends recommended some fantastic parenting material that's a joy to go through. We will share them here with you! Keep in mind, we are still working through these so we will be coming back with updates often. Also, we would be interested to hear about your reactions to the material and any recommendations you'd like to share. So please leave comments!

The Village Church Parenting Class - The series is divided up to 6 one hour sections, and taught by Jeff and Jennifer Wilkin of The Village Church in Texas. The class is based on the Christian faith, but you don't have to be Christian to appreciate the learning points. Applicable to children ages 9 months to ~15 years old.

Care Group - Various lecturers from the Xenos Christian Fellowship.  The goal is to provide relevant teachings on parenting using biblical principles from experienced, mature Christian parents.  Topics include: "Boys and Girls: Developing and Nurturing Each One" and "Understanding your Child's Personality"

September 30, 2011

Free Blurb Book Contest

Micah's First Month Book
During Micah's first month, we took lots of pictures of him, sleeping, yawning, on his tummy... you name it. Soon we had more pictures than we knew what to do with. Then came the idea of making a book using these pictures that's similar to a story book! We thought it would be fun for us to keep and to show it to him when he gets older; it turned out that it's a hit with the grandparents too! Click here to preview the book!

We had a good experience with using Blurb for our wedding guest book (filled with our engagement pictures), we also made a book of pictures from our wedding day. Now I need to disclose upfront that we are an Blurb affiliate, and that we did receive a free book as part of a promotion. But honestly, even there wasn't a free book offer, we would have used Blurb to create our book anyway. Keep reading to find out how you can win a FREE Blurb book ($75 value)!

August 13, 2011

Our Favorite Disposable Diaper

We are all for using cloth diapers, economically and sustainability wise, it just works out. But there are times when disposables come in real handy. For long trips and overnight, we use disposable because it's easy and absorbent. I know some folks use cloth exclusively, but I just didn't feel like lugging around dirty cloth diapers! Cloth works really well for us at home, but when we are out for 3-4 hours at a time, it can be hard to find a place to change the baby. Since disposables are more absorbent, baby is ok not being changed for a bit longer than if he had cloth.

Now we've tried lots of brands of disposable diapers including Pampers, Huggies, Seventh Generation, the best one we found and settled on is Nature Babycare by Naty. Micah has never had diaper rash in these diapers and rarely has blow-outs. Since Micah reached 4 months old, we started not changing him in the middle of the night. He now lasts from 11pm to 7am in one diaper without any problems. Yay for sleep! Here are some key benefits:

Biodegradable: These diapers are made of 60% biodegradable materials in contrast to conventional brands which are often composed of up to 80% oil-based products which do not decompose easily. Conventional diapers can take hundreds of years to decompose, these decompose in a fraction of that time.

August 8, 2011

Our Birth Plan

Today Micah and I went on a spontaneous trip to visit a friend from church at St. Mary's hospital. We also stopped by the Childbirth Center there to say hi to the nurses and deliver a birth announcement card. I guess the announcement part was totally unnecessary since they were the first ones to find out, but I think they appreciate getting the card anyway. The nurses who helped us give birth were not there when we visited, but the other folks were delighted to see the now grown up (5 months!) Micah and will pass the card on. The visit led me to remember our birth experience and how lucky we were to have found such supportive hospital staff who were sensitive to our needs. 

Everyday, there are thousands of babies and moms who are not treated with evidence based care in this country. (Check out the movie section of this blog for a trailer of The Business of Being Born.) One way to make your wishes known is by writing a birth plan such as the one below. It's not so much a "plan" of how you want the birth to progress, but a list of preferences to help the hospital staff understand your needs. Feel free to use the following as a template for your own birth plan or you can also make one for free on the Earth Mama Angel Baby website.

August 2, 2011

Interview with Debra Goodman, Physical Therapist

Debra is a fantastic physical therapist specializing in pregnancy and postpartum fitness in the Capital Region. I had the pleasure of taking her prenatal exercise class when I was pregnant with Micah. Besides learning great exercises and feeling relaxed after each class, I also made great connections with other women in the class. I started to get sciatica in one hip starting at about 20 weeks pregnant, and after one private session with Debra, the pain nearly disappeared instantly. I've been recommending her class to all my pregnant friends ever since. In this interview Debra shares a bit about her own motherhood experience and offers practical tips for all expecting and postpartum moms. Enjoy!

How did you get interested in physical therapy and decide to pursue it as a career?
Growing up I was a dancer, so I was always interested in exercise and how the body worked.  Originally, when I went to PT school, my goal was to work with professional dancers.  After graduation, I moved to NYC and worked at a clinic in Manhattan.  We were the therapists for New York City Ballet, School of American Ballet, and Julliard.  We also saw tons of modern and Broadway dancers.  It was a lot of fun, and I was fortunate to work with great manual therapists.  Eventually though, I became interested in women's health and started changing my focus.  After taking courses on treatment of the pelvic floor, I saw how effective manual treatment of the pelvic floor was in helping many different lumbo/pelvic/hip problems.  I also became interested in prenatal exercise and began training to learn how to each that kind of prgram.  After four years of dance medicine, I opened my own practice with a new focus in women's health with an emphasis in prenatal/postpartum physical therapy.

July 24, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why Moms Need Dads

Moms are no doubt amazing at taking on the main role of child-rearing in most families. Our bodies change to accommodate the growing child, produce milk after the child is born, and survive on minimal hours of sleep. And dads just donate the sperm and are done with it? However, after millions of years of evolution, dads are still around, and for good reasons beyond just the sperm. Let's give credit where credit is due. Ladies, remember these reasons next time the toilet seat is left up and appreciate all the things dads do that are often taken for granted!

  1. Mowing and watering the lawn, weed-wacking action, trimming bushes and any renegade plant-life in the yards.
  2. Squishing or evacuating spiders, ants, mosquitos, and any unwelcome guests
  3. Taking out the trash and compost material
  4. Doing odd jobs around the house like fixing a leaky faucet, painting a wall, or installing a 3-way light switch
  5. Playing with the baby so mom can take a nap or take a shower
  6. Fixing the computer when the hard-drive fries or reconciling internet issues
  7. Doing most of the driving and carrying in and out the car seat which with ever increasing weight
  8. Moving heavy objects (rocker/glider, book shelf, bags of top soil, you name it...)
  9. Giving mom back massages (even though he needs a massage himself too)
  10. Praying blessings on our family and living out God's will

Got some more dad duties you'd like to share? Leave a comment below!

July 20, 2011

Birth Story Part III: Postpartum

This is the last part of my birth story, but really it's the beginning of the story of our life with our baby. It took me a while to finish this post because I feel like is not coming to an end yet and it has already been almost 5 months after Micah was born! It's still hard to believe that we have a baby on our hands now, although it seems like we've had him forever. Becoming a mom has been an incredibly transforming experience. Although I never felt I was missing anything, after Micah was born, I feel a new completeness and contentment that I never knew I could have. Holding him in my arms, even though he's heavy at times, truly makes me feel that it was all worth it, and excited at the same time at what the future holds. Now let me flashback to the Saturday night in March right after Micah's birth.

Having Milk

When Micah was born, he was slippery and wet, warm and cuddly, and vivacious! The first night he slept a lot which allowed us to get rested too. We breastfed at least every 2 hours, and I mostly did it lying down or reclined on the hospital bed. The nurses were pretty good at helping with latching on because the lactation consultant was out on medical leave. I just kept nursing the baby knowing that he's getting colostrum which is really good for him. My mom would ask me if I "had milk", and I would say "yeah, I think so." After all, the baby seems to calm down after nursing. Little did I know that "having milk" would feel totally different.

July 4, 2011

Top 5 Picks for Breastfeeding Moms

While breastfeeding is natural, free, and so easy once mom and baby gets the hang of it, the first few weeks can be extremely frustrating for new moms. I read the books and even went to a breastfeeding class so I thought I was prepared. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

A wise mom once told me, if you can breastfeed for 2 weeks, you can breastfeed for 2 years. I think its absolutely true, the first couple weeks were really rough. Although moms and babies are naturally equipped with everything they need to successfully breastfeed, these few items that really helped me cope during those early days and beyond.

1. Medela Hand Pump
After my milk came in a couple days after birth, my boobs were so engorged I thought they were going to explode. My doula told me that it wouldn't be helpful to pump because pumping would increase my milk supply and make me even more engorged. She recommended cold compresses between feedings to help calm the engorgement and hot compresses right before and during feedings to encourage the milk to flow. Also hand expressing with hot compresses was helpful. 

However, after the first 2 weeks past, I was so glad to have this hand pump because I still had an over supply of milk though not really engorged anymore. It was really nice to have an option to pump and store if baby was not hungry and I was very full, such as early mornings. The suction cup on this Medela pump is really soft, it's so much more comfortable than the Avent one I got for free from the hospital. Also it has a "let down" button on top of the lever which imitates baby's small sucks to encourage "let down". Once "let down" starts, I use the larger lever to pump milk more efficiently, (this imitates baby's longer sucking strokes as well).

June 18, 2011

Artique Co-op: A unique shopping experience

Marcelle and Lauren, fellow crafters, at the Artique checkout
When I first walked in, I was immediately taken aback by the delightful range of visuals. On my left, was a beautiful antique hand-carved wood screen door, and on my right was friendly staff at the counter ready to help me find what I needed. There were gorgeous handmade, unique items everywhere offered by over a hundred independent vendors. The merchandise range from jewelry to stationary, hand made soaps to antique bowls, re-purposed, antique items, and much much more, all displayed thoughtfully and beautifully in vendor "booths". But "booth" is really not the right word because it looks nothing like the long windy aisles of home shows or craft fairs. However diverse the merchandise and vendor personality, the store really looks cohesive as a whole and feels much more homey and interesting than any craft fair could ever be.

June 14, 2011

Swagbucks: Earning Prizes Online

 If you're like me, you would want a hassle free way to earn Amazon gift certificates online. Swagbucks is a simple way to to do just that. Swagbucks is an online program that allows you to earn "swagbucks" for searching, doing surveys, etc, and these "swagbucks" can be redeemed for gift cards, entries to sweepstakes, and other prizes. It's completely free to join and relatively easy to use. The best deal for me is earning the $5 in Amazon gift certificate for 450 swagbucks. There are several ways to earn swagbucks, here are my favorites:

June 12, 2011

Loving Babywearing

Since we've had Micah, I've gotten a good work out everyday from holding and carrying him. He gained about a pound a week in the first two months, so each day was a new challenge. I would wake up with sore arms, chest, back, and even my finger tips hurt.

I knew I wanted to use some kind of baby carrier even before Micah was born, but we hadn't bought anything since he was 3 weeks early. We heard great things about the ERGO Carrier , but we hadn't bought the Ergo by the time he was 2 months old because we thought he was still too small and not enough head control. We did get a Maya wrap ring sling which came with a DVD that shows different ways to use it. The videos made it look so easy, but but it was a lot harder when came to using it myself. It wasn't until I went to a Capital Region Slingbabies meeting that I learned I should put the wrap through the laundry a few times to make the fabric more slippery, therefore easier to adjust.

I tried a bunch of different carriers at the meeting, and it was a great way to meet other moms and learn new ways to wear babies. The warm in-person, hands-on advice was so much better than DVDs! Ringslings are great for some people, but the one shoulder carrying position made me sore after about 20 minutes of carrying. I also tried the ERGO, but found that it was near impossible for me to reach the snap closure in between my shoulder blades. I guess I lost some flexibility with being so tight from carrying the baby.

The type of carrier I settled on is really simple, the Bali Baby Breeze wrap from Wrapsody. I love this wrap because of its versatility and comfort. This wrap can be used with the baby face towards or away from mom/dad, and on mom or dad's back.

How I came to choose our Little Giant Ladder

Ever since we moved into our first house, we've been doing home maintenance work and improvements one after another.  One of the first things that we needed was a ladder, because we wanted to replace our bathroom fan and need access into the attic.  I did some research online to see what options are out there for ladders and how much they cost.  At first I was interested in the telescoping ladder such as the Xtend & Climb types because I saw our home inspector use it to get access to the attic door, and it is very compact when folded down and easily fits into a car trunk.  I read some reviews and saw that some users find it not very durable and not long lasting, and it can only be used against a wall or some kind of support; it cannot stand by itself, making its use somewhat limited.  Right off the bat, I didn't want to get a regular ladder because it would be almost impossible to move it around inside the house and get to the room with a small closet that has the attic access hatch.  Very quickly I am converging on the articulating type ladders.  Little Giant is a well recognized maker of articulating ladders.  This type of ladder has a hinge in the middle, so it folds in half.  It can be opened partially to form the A shape for self-standing position, or opened completely to lean against something.  The legs can be extended to reach higher places but retracted for compact storage.  There are other companies selling articulating ladders such as Werner and Gorilla for less money, but after seeing those ladders in person, I've decided to spend more and get the Little Giant Alta-One M17.

June 9, 2011

Green Horizon Diaper Service Closing

Green Horizon Diaper Service is closing their doors as of June 12th, 2011. Too bad we are losing a diaper service company in the Capital District. However, this is a good chance to get used cloth diapers or diaper pails if you are interested. Just contact or 518-275-0595. You might be able to get some good deals!

If you live in the Capital District and are interested in a cloth diaper service, visit Sonrise Diaper Service. Vikki is a cloth diapering guru and will do a free in-home demonstration, answering all your questions about the ins and outs of cloth diapering.

June 7, 2011

Stop Junk Mail

One of the little things that gets me excited everyday is checking the mail. There's something about the unpredictability of it that never fails to intrigue me. Would this be the day that I would get a handwritten note from a long lost friend? Or a card or pictures from a family member?

However on most days, I'm instead not entirely surprised to get a pile of junk mail to sort through. It's actually become a chore to decide what to recycle, what to file away, and what to keep on our coffee table indefinitely then throw out later. More clutter, that's exactly what I need, not.

Did you know that 44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened? And that Americans pay $370 million annually to dispose of un-recycled junk mail? The best way to deal with the flow of junk mail is to stop it at the source.

There's a few classes of junk mail that I get and how I deal with them:

June 4, 2011

Saving money with cloth diapers

When I was a baby, my parents used cloth diapers for me because that was all we had at the time in China. It was laborious to hand wash, hang dry, and fold. Nowadays, it's the norm to use disposables here in the US as well as cities in China. With the convenience, also comes a significant strain on the environment. We throw away about 18 billion diapers per year, and it's the single most common consumer item found in landfills. The environmental proposition for cloth diapering is a strong one, but I will save that topic for a future post. Today I will compare for you cloth diapering to disposable diapers from a purely economic perspective for the average family. Does it really save money to use cloth? Let's look at a few case studies.

Pampers Swaddlers Dry Max Diapers, Newborn, Size 0, Big Pack, 84 CountDisposables diapers: Cost $1387.00 for 2 years
Newborn Pampers 30% off from Amazon Mom + Subscribe and Save: $0.19 per diaper
Assume 10 diapers per day
$0.19 per diaper X 10 diapers per day = $1.90 per day
$1.90 per day X 365 per year = $693.50 per year

Most babies use diapers for 2 years, so overall cost for one baby is:  $1387.00

Thirsties Diaper Cover- Celery, Small (12-18 lbs)Cloth diapering with prefolds: 
Cost 612.67 for 2 years, Save $774.33

Diaper Covers:

Diapering with prefolds requires waterproof diaper covers. I prefer using Thirsties covers because they are soft and fits my baby well. Other brand diaper covers work well too and cost about the same. I will use Thirsties in this example for convenience.

3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, X-Small (6-12 lbs)   $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Small (12-18 lbs)     $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Medium (18-28 lbs) $11.50 = $34.50
3 X Thirsties Diaper Cover, Large (28-40 lbs)     $11.50 = $34.50

Total for diaper covers = $138.00

May 30, 2011

Amazon Mom

I first starting shopping at in college getting deals on textbooks online. Who would have thought that I would be ordering everything from diapers and wipes, to DVD player and organic pesticide. I love the Amazon Mom program, it's truly amazing.

May 28, 2011

5 Must Haves for a Healthy Happy Pregnancy

It was always a challenge for me to to remember to stay hydrated even before I was pregnant. And since staying hydrated is the number one reason for pre-term labor, it was even more important for me to stay on top of my water in-take. It took effort to remember to drink water periodically during the hussle and bussle of the work day, and it was a pain to carry around a heavy water bottle everywhere I go. This double-wall insulated cup keep my water cool and looks cool too. The best part is that I can take little sips without having to unscrew a lid and lift up the bottle to my mouth to take a gulp. I know it sounds really lazy, but I was amazed at how much more water I was drinking without even trying with this cup. I also like to flavor my water with a fresh slice of lemon. With this cup, I didn't have to worry about it clunking on my face if I had used a stainless steel bottle instead.

May 26, 2011

Our Birth Story Part II: Labor and Delivery

Jenn: My water broke early with no contractions at 6am on Thursday March 3rd. I woke up and found the bed under me was wet, and felt like I was peeing, but couldn't control it. It wasn't a big gush or anything dramatic, just a slow trickle. The first thing we did was to call our doula, who was getting ready to attend an all-day seminar on breastfeeding. She had told us earlier that this was the only week that she would not be available during the day time. She wanted to stop by with her amniotic fluid test kit to confirm if it's in fact my water that had broken, but as she got on her way, she quickly realized that there's no way she would be able to make it to our house, and then to Albany with rush hour traffic and get to her class on time. She did mention that amniotic fluid should be basic, so we applied our chemistry skills. I had these big pads under me in bed by now, and once in a while, there would be a bit of fluid leaking out making a little puddle. We used our fish tank test kit and put a few drops of the pH test solution on the big pad. We then put some tap water on a different spot on the pad and dropped the solution there too to act as a control. In fact, the amniotic fluid spots turned blue, meaning basic, and tap water was brown, near neutral. As scientists, we knew then that without a doubt our baby is on the way.

May 21, 2011

Our Birth Story Part I: Pregnancy

Jenn: Our birth story really started with our pregnancy story. Like most of my girlfriends as I was growing up, I was terrified of giving birth. The thought of having a baby was almost subconsciously taboo from all the abstinence education from school, then soon I was married and it seemed like everyone around us was suddenly having babies. It seemed unreal that it was now "OK" to be pregnant, and even somewhat enviable. I found out I was pregnant 3 days before I was leaving for a business trip to China in July of 2010.

Paul: We had just gotten our brand new Simmons World Class king size mattress from on June 16, and I am pretty sure it was the sperms from those first few nights that did the trick.  By July 17 (week 4), Jenn started to have regular night time wakings to pee.  Another week passed and Jenn started to have an extremely heightened sense of smell.  I used to smell things before she does, but now she can detect smells that even I didn't notice. It was around that time that we were suspicious enough to use the pregnancy test kit, and sure enough, the test was positive!

May 18, 2011

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Breastfeeding

1. It's Free!
Formula feeding can cost between $1500 to $2000 in baby's first year. We do spend a bit more on food bills because I need more calories and nutrients to breastfeed, but pretty much negligible since I'm eating about the same diet as when I was pregnant.

2. It's Always Ready
No need to measure out formula or warm bottles. When baby needs food, the breast is always available as long as I'm home. If I know I'm going to be out, I pump some milk ahead of time. I also keep a store of frozen breast milk just in case as well. When baby travels with me, I don't have to worry about bringing bottles and formula. I can't help but bring my breasts and milk with me where-ever we go and it's always at the right temperature too.

May 13, 2011

Top 5 things for baby's first month

1. Play-yard with changing station
We got our play-yard (Graco pack 'n play) used from a co-worker for $15, and we are so glad we did. It came with a change station attachment and little compartments for holding diapers, diaper rash cream, nail clippers, and a built in compartment for wipes. Some parents use the play-yard as a bed for the baby, and we probably eventually will too, but for the first month, we used the "bed" area to store everything from extra clothes, diapers, burp cloths, cloth diapers, etc. The play-yard is a great investment since when the baby gets older, he can use it as a crib and a play pen. It's also collapsible and semi-easily movable from room to room. Graco is the preferred brand for play-yards, and it can last easily up to a few years! Many parents tell me that it's worth it even if you buy new.

May 11, 2011

2 months vaccines

Micah is so brave! Yesterday, he got two shots, one in each leg, at 11am. He cried of course with each shot, (one was Dtap and the other was Hepatitis B) but he was better after nursing a bit in the doctor's office. Both he and I took a nap after coming home and I asked Paul to get infant Tylenol as the Doctor recommended. It's interesting though that apparently it's hard to find infant Tylenol now (does anyone know why?), so he got the generic verion instead, which should work the same though. It was $8 (!) kind of expensive for a small bottle. Paul also found that the closest CVS closed down due to renovation, so he had to go to a different one.

May 9, 2011

Micah is born!

Our baby boy was born on March 5th, 2011 at St. Mary's hospital in Troy, NY. He was 6 lbs. 6 oz. at birth, and 18.5 inches long. See link below for pictures from his first month. He is 2 months old now, and almost 14 lbs.! So far he has been gaining about 1 lb per week, which is faster than average (they say 1/2 oz. to 1 oz. per day is average). His weight is between 75 and 90th percentile for his age now. Tomorrow we will go to his 2 month pediatrician check up, and we will get some more official numbers. He is also getting his 2 months vaccines, which are DTap and Hep B, the Doc says he might need infant Tylenol, so we are a bit nervous about that. The book my Mom is reading says that he will have reaction after 12 hours, and it will last about 24 hours. We will see how he does.

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