Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Flying with Presents (Besides Gift Cards) - Tips & Tricks

Over the holidays, we typically fly back to Colorado to spend time with the family and to enjoy the festive weather.  There is just one problem with flying back to Colorado over the holidays: presents.    Call me crazy, but I like to give presents that aren't in the form of gift cards or money.  These gifts can be bulky, liquids, or fragile and therefore, can be difficult to bring on an airplane.  Also, even if I plan on bringing gift cards for my loved ones, I definitely will relieve something besides gift cards in return.  I've taken a few years to get it right, but I think I've determined how to fly and give everybody the gift that I really want them to have, no matter the size.  Here are the few tips that I've learned through experience.
1.  Get your shopping done BEFORE flying - Nothing is more stressful than arriving in another state just before the holidays and still having holiday shopping to complete.  Also, it's a little depressing when your guests arrive and then head right back out the door to go to the store.  So, get it done early!  Your guests will appreciate spending the extra time with you. 

2.  Buy presents online and have them shipped.  Odds are that you will want to give someone in your family a gift that is physically large or is fragile.  I recommend buying as many presents as possible online ahead of time and having them gift wrapped and shipped.  That way, you don't have to worry about wrapping or traveling with anything large or fragile.  The best days for online shopping are definitely Black Friday and Cyber Monday because everything is obviously on sale and most sites offer free shipping. 

3.  Think small, soft presents - If you can't ship your presents, try to buy presents that will travel easily with you.  Small and unbreakable presents are your best bet.

4.  Do NOT wrap your presents -  Whether you check or carry-on your bag, airlines do not allow wrapped presents because they can't easily see what is inside.  If you happen to have one of the lucky bags randomly selected for a search, they will UNWRAP ALL OF YOUR PRESENTS.  Unfortunately, I know this from experience.  I was quite depressed a couple years ago when I opened my bag and I saw a neat little "You're bag has been searched" flyer on top of all my unwrapped presents (Thanks, TSA).  You don't want to wrap all your presents twice, trust me.  It stinks.  I bet they had fun unwrapping all of them, though.

5.  Bring gift bags and tissue paper - Your relatives may have some wrapping paper on hand, but they probably need it to wrap their own presents.  I usually just add a few gift bags and some pieces of tissue paper to my suitcase.  When I arrive, I quickly throw the presents in the gift bags.  Easy-peasy.  My mom was pretty astonished the first year when I announced that I was going to my room to wrap presents, and I returned with several bags in my hand five minutes later.

6.  Check your bags - Did you know that you can put all sorts of stuff in your checked bag that normally is not allowed in a carry-on bag?  That 10 oz bottle of peppermint shower gel that would definitely be thrown out in the airport security line is totally allowed in your checked bag!  You can research exactly what is allowed on your airline's website.

7.  Fly on an airline that will allow you to check bag(s) for no/little additional cost - I like flying on Southwest because they allow each person to check two bags for free.  My husband and I each bring one bag for clothes and one bag for presents.  If we don't need all four bags on the trip there, we will just stuff a duffle bag in one of our suitcases.  We always fill all four bags on the return trip!

Hopefully these tips help you prepare to travel with those wonderful presents and reduce some of your stress! Happy gift giving season!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cake Smash - Tips and Tricks

I used to look at cake smash photos and think "...ARE THEY CRAZY!?"  The mess looked simply horrible.  I mean, frosting is not super easy to wipe up.  It seems to stick to just about everything.  They gave about thirty handfuls of frosting to a wiggly, squirmy bundle of joy who has no concept of cleanliness.  Right.  Just the thought of sticky, buttery goo all over someone's house still sends shivers up my spine.

Not to mention, once he puts his adorable, grimy hands in that cake, it is ruined.  No one is going to want to eat that cake.  Do you know how hard it is for me to see a cake and then not get to eat it?  It's basically impossible.  You are wasting an entire cake so you can spend hours cleaning it up.

So, naturally, we had a quiet birthday party for my son's first birthday that centered around a cake smash.

Huh?  Why the change of heart? As I started thinking about it more, I realized that I could change a few things about the traditional cake smash to make it actually kind of fun.  Here are a few tips and tricks that I did to make what I once thought was an incredibly stressful event to a super fun day.

1.  Take your cake smash outside
You know what's great about doing your cake smash outside?  There is virtually no clean up!  Your baby can run wild and smear neon blue icing all over the grass and throw pieces of cake ten feet, and it's not a problem.  The birds and squirrels will probably thank you for the snack! If he does manage to hit something important, just get the hose out.

Also, your photos will probably turn out amazing because natural sunlight is the best light!

2. Move everything of value away from baby
Move everything that could get ruined or that is difficult to clean at least ten feet away from the baby.  That includes you and your outfit!
3. Put baby in an outfit you don't mind ruining
For me, this was a cheap "wild one" outfit I found on Amazon.  I was planning to use the outfit as pajamas after the cake smash because I thought the neon blue frosting would stain.  However, it came out after one wash, so he still wears the outfit outside all the time.
4. Think about the background
Place your baby in front of something that you will actually want in the pictures.  I chose to put my son in a grassy patch in our backyard in front of a hibiscus bush.  I also put a couple of things from his room behind him (But not too close! Remember tip #2!) because they went with the theme and are special to us.
5. Bake a second cake
Save yourself some heartache and bake two cakes: one for smashing and one for eating.  Furthermore, make the cake for eating better quality than the cake for smashing.  He is just going to fling that cake everywhere and you deserve something tasty!
6. Take a step back
Now that you are totally prepared to handle the mess, take a step back and allow your baby to explore the new treat in front of them.  It's so adorable to see their first reactions.  My son smiled happily and then gave me a sideways look while he poked the cake as if to determine whether or not cake poking was allowed.  The picture of his questioning expression is now one of my favorite photos of him.
7.  Take pictures of the little things
Take pictures of everything.  The setup, his hands, his feet, and his frosting-covered outfit all became super cute photos in my experience.

That is how I went from cringing at the idea of a cake smash to making a blog post about my son's cake smash.  It seems that all of my pre-concieved notions about cake smashes were completely wrong, but I guess that's pretty much how parenting has gone so far.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Native American Wild Rice

The part of my son's heritage that I find most interesting doesn't come from my side of the family; it comes from my husband's side.  He has Native American roots (Cherokee and Choctaw, to be exact), and it is a great source of pride to him.  Through him, I've been able to learn more about the Native American heritage and have grown to really respect their beliefs.

I've also had the pleasure of experiencing some food inspired by what they ate.  It is amazing.  They tend to combine a variety of flavors (salty, sweet, savory, bitter, and spicy) to create full experience in one meal.  My favorite dish is a version of wild rice inspired by the Osage Nation tribe, a Midwestern Native American tribe.  The wild rice combines spicy peppers with sweet corn and bitter berries and the result is simply outstanding.
My husband is bringing the wild rice to a Thanksgiving potluck again this year.  It's always a big hit.  What could be a better Thanksgiving food, a holiday where we celebrate the pilgrims and Native Americans coming together, than delicious food actually inspired by Native Americans? 

He also likes bringing it to the potluck because it is super easy to make and warms up well later.  You basically throw everything into a big pan and wait for it to brown.  If you burn it, it tastes even better.  I'm not kidding.  It adds extra savory flavor.  Here's how to make it:


2 cups multi-grain rice
3 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp butter
2 Poblano peppers (diced)
1 can corn (15.25 oz)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pecans (diced)
1 tsp chili powder


1. Bring broth to boil.  Add rice and 1 Tbsp of butter.  Simmer until rice has absorbed all broth (~20 min).
2. In a large skillet, blacken peppers and corn with 1 Tbsp of butter and and chili powder for about 5 min.
3. Add pecans continue cooking for 2 min.
4. Add rice and cranberries cook for an additional 2 minutes to brown rice.
Yum!  I think I might incorporate this warm dish into our Thanksgiving feast next year!  We never eat the stuffing anyway!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Oh, Hi There!

Oh, hi there! It's been a while!  I've been gone for a few months because its been pure chaos over here at the Harps.  Though, I can't say that I regret it because we made a lot of really wonderful changes!  In chronological order, my husband found an exciting job with a company he loves, we bought our first house, and I quit my job to become a stay-at-home-mom for a couple years.

Between a full-time demanding job in the aerospace industry, breastfeeding my baby, teaching my baby to sleep, teething, and buying a house, I was having trouble finding the time in the day to eat and sleep.  I seriously couldn't even imagine spending 20 minutes on a blog post.  Just think about how many calories I was missing out on!  And don't even get me started on how great of a cat nap you can have in 20 minutes.

Now, however, I feel like I'm beginning to get the hang of this stay-at-home-mom gig (I both eat and sleep), and I'd love to share our adventures.  I'm planning on posting every week and steadily making improvements to my blog.  I'm telling you that so I actually do it.  Get ready for posts about babies, pregnancy, yummy food, and crafts!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

You get really excited to go to Target at 8:00AM because diapers are on sale and you haven't left your home in four days.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 Every other word out of your mouth is basically "latch" or "supply."

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You know that breast pads exist and are so extremely necessary.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You blow through an entire season of a show on Netflix in 48 hours while nursing.  

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You proceed to deplore at the fact that your show has ended and then search Netflix for a show that has at least three seasons.  Come ON, Netflix. Get with the program.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You catch yourself absentmindedly singing nursery rhymes to yourself. All. The. Time.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You know what pee tastes like.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You slept for 2 hours last night and can function all day.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You walk around with spit up on your shoulder for five hours and have absolutely no clue it's there.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 Someone informs you that you have spit up on your shoulder and you think, "Yeah, so what?"

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 It no longer embarrasses you to talk about any bodily function in extreme detail.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You can and will prepare lunch, eat lunch, start a load of laundry, put away the dishes, go to the bathroom, clean the litter box, and take out the trash in 20 minutes flat while a certain someone naps.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You haven't taken a shower in three days.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 You finally get to take a shower and it feels like HEAVEN.

You know you're a mom of an infant when...

 Your entire world revolves around a tiny bald chubby person, but you wouldn't have it any other way.

These are some events and thoughts that certainly shaped the early days of motherhood for me.  Please add to my list in the comments and let me know when you knew you were a mom of an infant!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Little Harp's Birth Story

I'm not going to lie; I was hesitant to post Little Harp's birth story.  This story has a huge range of emotions that I don't normally like to display, being a naturally shy person.  However, I love reading other blogger's birth stories.  It's amazing how different they all are!  I think every birth is beautiful in its own way and it's important to share our experiences with each other.  Little Harp's birth was definitely unusual despite my normal pregnancy.  So, here it goes!
When I was 36 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I woke up in the middle of the night to my entire uterus hardening and a pain that felt like a belt tightening on my upper stomach.  After about a half hour, I realized that pain kept coming back every 6 minutes and it lasted for about a minute each time.  This feeling was a contraction!  I was in labor!  I excitedly jumped out of bed and paced around the apartment to speed things up.  Sure enough, the contraction frequency increased to 5 minutes.  My husband awoke from the sound of my footsteps, and as we were discussing if we should go to the hospital my contractions suddenly slowed down.  They were suddenly super erratic and lengthening to 15 minutes.  We decided to go back to bed.  Somehow I managed to fall asleep.

Think I'm going to tell you how I had the baby later that night?  Nope!  I woke up surprised to find that I had no contractions and no baby.  I was supremely disappointed, even though something inside of me told me it was for the best since he wasn't quite full term yet.

The next few weeks continued in the same manner.  Contractions would randomly occur about once a week for a few hours and then suddenly disappear again.  Though, they were never as close as they were the first time I felt them.  I was still working full time during this period, and it was quite a challenge to focus when I felt the contractions during work hours.  I think I gave a few people some really strange faces on more than one occasion.  This is me getting ready for work at 38 weeks pregnant and a whopping 1 cm dilated.
Around 10:00 or 11:00PM on November 1st, I started feeling contractions yet again as I was getting ready for bed.  I was 38 weeks and 6 days pregnant.  The contractions felt the same as they had in the past except there was more pressure lower.  At this point, the contractions were about 8 minutes apart.  I assumed that it was false labor yet again, crawled into bed, and waited to be taken away by dreams of adorable babies that I would seemingly never birth.

However, I couldn't fall asleep.  Every time I was almost asleep another contraction would hit, and they were just painful enough to wake me up.  After a couple hours, I gave up and hurled my huge belly out of bed.  I decided to watch Frozen (because I'm an adult...), walk in place, and eat toast until it stopped hurting.  It was during the chorus of "Let It Go" that I realized these contractions might actually be the real thing.   They were 5 minutes apart and had been for longer than I care to admit, despite the fact that I had changed my position, hydrated, and eaten.  I woke my husband up to get his opinion, and we had a long period of indecision caused by my confusion about what a "real" contraction felt like.

At 3:00AM, we were driving to the hospital.  It was so exhilarating knowing that Little Harp might be on his way!  My husband kept suddenly exclaiming "We're having a baby!!!"  When we got to the hospital, I was asked a series of admittance questions by first the emergency room attendant and then the nurse.  (Now I know I should have preregistered.)  Neither one of them seemed to think I was in labor, since I was able to hold up a conversation with both of them.  My answers to their questions just become a bit more succinct during the contractions.  As the nurse put it, women in labor were usually a "bit more... focused..."  At this point, I was embarrassed that we had driven to the hospital after what appeared to be more false labor.

At 4:00AM, the nurse checked my cervix to determine if I was in labor.  I was 4 centimeters dilated!  That meant I was in active labor and I was going to be officially admitted to the hospital.  Little Harp was actually coming!  Yahoo!

I continued to confuse all of the nurses as my labor progressed.  I definitely was in pain, but apparently I wasn't showing it.  I'm not sure if my pain tolerance is quite high or if I had simply gotten used to the pain after my bouts of false labor.  The nurse asked me if I thought I needed pain medication at all, but we agreed to start the preliminary blood work for an Epidural.

At 6:00AM, the nurse returned to inform me that my platelet count was only 65,000.  A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000.  Mine was far below average.  Platelets clot your blood when you get a wound to prevent further bleeding, so they are super important during childbirth.  Also, you can not receive an Epidural with low platelets.  I never had any issues with platelets or clotting before.  In fact, the typical platelet counts that are performed a couple times throughout pregnancy all came back normal for me.  I told the nurse of my history, and she left to relay the information to my doctor.  They decided to run the analysis again on the same sample and take a new sample.   I overheard some muttering that the seemingly healthy girl couldn't have a platelet count that low and that the new lab technician probably messed up.  They took more blood and determined that I was 6 cm dilated.

At 7:15AM, my husband and I could tell that something was not right.  There was suddenly a huge commotion in a hallway outside my room.  A bunch of new people had clearly just arrived and were talking very quickly to each other.  Finally, my doctor came in to inform me that my platelet count had in fact dropped to 61,000 in the second sample.  I was quite sick, and I was apparently getting slowly worse.  Because she didn't know exactly what was causing the issue and I still had a few more hours of labor left, she said I needed C-section for my own health.  Furthermore, due to my low platelets, I couldn't get an Epidural or a Spinal; I would have to get general anesthesia.  This meant I would be completely put under and my husband would not be able to come in the operating room.  I hated the idea of what was about to happen, but when you have about twelve people frantically rushing around in the hallway getting your operating room ready, you aren't going to say "No."  I'm guessing that I was 7 or 8 cm dilated at that point because my contractions were about 90 seconds apart.

As soon as she walked out of my room, the nurses came in to wheel me to the operating room.  I gave my husband a kiss and I was on my way.  That was probably the most scared I've been in my life.  I was scared my baby and I would have breastfeeding bonding issues since I wouldn't be able to hold him immediately.  I was scared I wouldn't remember my baby's first moments since waking up from general anesthesia is a slow process.  I was scared of complications from surgery.  I was scared of my ridiculous platelet count.  I was scared for my life.

When I got in the room they gave me some oxygen (I'm guessing they noticed I was about to give myself heart attack), and shortly after that I was out...

At 7:51AM, Little Harp was born.  He was 7 lbs 9 oz and 19.75 inches long and healthy as can be.
When I woke up, I pushed as hard as I could threw the fog created by anesthesia and pain killers in an attempt to build the memories I so desperately wanted.  I managed to retain some glimpses of what happened while the anesthesia was wearing off.

I remember my husband smiling down at me as someone on my right asked if they could place my baby on my bare chest.  I obliged and I felt a sudden warmth.  I looked down at that cute little face as he squirmed down my chest looking for food.  The lactation consultant to my left clapped excitedly.  Definitely no baby bonding problems here...

I remember frowning at the camera when my husband took a picture of us.  I must look horrible.  I can't even control my lips they are so numb...

I remember asking my husband to take a picture some time later when I realized he was right.  This was a moment for a picture even if I couldn't feel my face.  He kindly obliged...
I remember the anesthesiologist telling me that I was OK...  

I remember sending the message to my friends, family, and coworkers that Little Harp was here...

I don't remember much else from that day, but I know that there was a lot of sleep.  At that point I'd been awake (or been getting surgery) for at least 30 hours.

The next couple days were quite challenging.  I was gradually getting sicker, but I wasn't showing the typical signs of common pregnancy-related diseases.  In addition to my platelets, my liver enzymes had begun to reach unsafe levels.  Not to mention, I was learning how to breastfeed and recovering from a major surgery.  My strategy for coping with this was to simply ignore it and focus on my adorable newborn.  Once again, the nurses couldn't believe my mood.  But come on, look how cute this kid is!
Then, my doctor informed me that she was going to have to send me to another hospital with a better hematology unit if I didn't exhibit the proper symptoms to suggest a few possible diseases or simply get better by the next morning.  After she left, the feelings I had been suppressing for days finally came spilling out and it wasn't pretty.  That happened to be right when some relatives arrived.  Sorry, guys.  A couple hours later I developed the symptoms that supported one of my doctor's theories: high blood pressure and hemolysis.

It was official, I had HELLP syndrome, which is a life-threatening variant of preeclampsia.  I just happened to get HELLP syndrome the day I went into labor, and I just happened to show the symptoms in reverse order.  I got the severe symptoms like low platelets and and elevated liver enzymes first and the more benign symptoms like high blood pressure last.  I'm a medical anomaly!  Luckily, the cure for preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome is to have the baby.  I had already managed to do that, so all I had to do was wait.

The next morning I was already getting much better.  My platelet and liver enzyme levels were rapidly approaching normal levels and were completely normal within 24 hours.  Also, the incision from my C-section was healing as if I never lacked platelets at all.  I continued to have hypertension the next couple days, but we determined that there was a heavy correlation between my blood pressure increasing and when nurses came in the room.  Clearly, I had developed a fear health care professionals.

On November 6th, I was finally released from the hospital as a healthy new mother with a healthy baby boy.  I was so excited to leave the hospital and felt a wonderful rush of freedom as I exited the hospital doors.
If you stayed with me to the end, I'm impressed.  That was more than just a birth story; it was a recovery story.  I couldn't end it at the birth and leave you hanging!  Despite the last-minute struggles, my pregnancy and birth were a fantastic experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.  Because of those experiences, I'm blessed with the best reward ever: a healthy, adorable, wiggly boy.  Little Harp has brought such joy to our little family and undoubtedly will continue to do so!  Welcome Little Harp!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Breastfeeding Essentials: What to Buy to Make Breastfeeding Easier

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this post. These are simply my honest opinions!

When you are expecting and you first decide that you are going breastfeed, it can be super confusing to decide what you need to purchase.  I mean, you've never tried to breastfeed something before, and there are about a billion products out there with clever marketing.  How do you know what you are going to need?  Personally, I went from thinking that I only needed the baby and myself to thinking I needed every gadget on the market.  After a couple months, I feel like I've finally got a handle on breastfeeding and what products are actually useful.  Below are products that I found to be a good investment and will continue to use as my little one grows older.

  • Lanolin - Your nipples will thank you for this one, especially during the early days of breastfeeding when you and your baby are still learning how to breastfeed.  My baby had a shallow latch for the first couple of days, which resulted in two very cracked nipples.  My lactation consultant handed me Lanolin, and it made a huge difference.  I'm still using Lanolin when I feel sore and before showers.  I highly recommend keeping a tube of Lanolin where you breastfeed most often for easy access.
  • Breast pads - Inevitably, you are going to have some leakage, and no one likes milk stains all over their clothes.  You can find disposable and washable pads, depending on your preference.  I like to wear washable pads around the house because they are cheaper, and disposable pads in public because they are less noticeable under clothing.  I got my washable breast pads from breastpads.com. This site sells pads in a ton of cute designs, and typically offers your first 10 pads for free if you pay for shipping.  What a deal!
  • Nursing Bra - It's a huge pain to take your bra on and off for each feeding at home, and it's basically impossible to do so in a public area.  Nursing bras are an absolute must.  I recommend purchasing a nursing bra that does not have a wire, since the pressure from the wire can cause clogged milk ducts.  My favorite nursing bra was actually the super affordable Nursing Seamless Bra by Gilligan & O'Malley from Target.
  • Breastpump - This is a necessity if you are planning to go back to work and continue breastfeeding.  However, it will also come in handy if you are planning to stay home.  The pump will allow you to take a little time away from baby and will get you through breastfeeding issues if you happen to have them.  Most insurance plans started covering breastpumps for expecting or lactating mothers a few years ago.  If it's free, why not get one? I got my pump for free through insurance by contacting Aeroflow, and the process was amazingly simple.  I sent a qualification form to Aeroflow, and within 24 hours they sent my an email with a list of free pumps.  After I responded with my choice, my pump arrived on my doorstep within three days.  The Aeroflow qualification form is here, if you want to see if your insurance covers breastpumps and works with Aeroflow.
  • Formula - This may seem totally counter-intuitive, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people get upset about this one but formula has saved me on a couple occasions.  On one occasion, my baby decided that he wasn't going to feed from one of my breasts for roughly twelve hours because it was too engorged.  How's that for irony?  My other breast couldn't keep up with the demand and the result was a very frustrated, hungry infant.  Luckily, we had some Similac and Enfamil formula samples lying around to tide him over until he decided that both breasts were equal again.  My baby also had a bit of formula when he had a ridiculous growth spurt and on one mommy and daddy date night.  Thus, I think it's important to have a small emergency stash of formula laying around.  You don't even have to buy anything to start a stash.  You can sign up for free Similac samples here and Enfamil samples here that will be mailed to your doorstep.  There really is no reason not to sign up!
  • Boppy - The Boppy is a pillow that wraps around your waist and supports your infant for you while your feeding him.  It may not seem like a big deal to hold your 8 lb infant in position, but holding him or her in that position for hours each day will take a toll on your back and shoulders.  Moreover, the Boppy allows you to do something with your hands other than hold your baby, like eat, drink, or entertain yourself.  I was told that the Boppy was less comfortable if you had a C-section, but I loved it.  It was much more comfortable to have the Boppy pressed against my C-section scar than my baby kicking and kneeing it.  Below is the adorable woodland Boppy I use from Babies-R-Us.
  • Nursing tops - At some point, you are going to be caught out in public with a hungry baby.  If your baby is anything like mine, you have about sixty seconds from the time he starts indicating that he wants food until a complete meltdown.  Nursing tops make it so much easier to feed your baby when you aren't at home since they give you quick access but they still look cute.  They do tend to be expensive, so I recommend buying a few staple pieces.  Personally, I love the Nursing Henley Cami by Gilligan & O'Malley from Target.  They clip down just as a nursing bras do, and they look cute by themselves or layered under a sweater.  Not to mention, they are loose enough to hide a bit of a belly leftover from pregnancy.
I hope that you found this helpful. Let me know if there is anything that you would add to the list; I'm always interested to learn what helped others.  Good luck to all the nursing mamas out there!