Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My favorite baby things

I have had this post in my mind for so long. Every time I get the news that a friend is expecting a baby I feel the need to tell them about my favorite baby products. If I was very rich, I would be happy to get these for them every time. In real life though, I recognize that maybe, just maybe, nobody  wants to be bombarded with advice.So I thought putting all those recommendations in a post would be a good idea. These are the things that have really made a difference, in terms of making our lives easier, happier or healthier, this is the list I would have liked to have when I was pregnant.

First of all, in terms of what babies need, well, as long as you have a crib, diapers, and clothes for about a week (think 7 onesies and 7 bodies, plus some hats) and a couple of blankets, you will most probably be fine, at least for the first couple of months.

-Muslin swaddling blankets. I really love the ones made by Aden & Anais. You really can use them for everything: as a light blanket on the bassinet, as a picnic blanket when going out, as a sun cover, as a towel, and yes, as a swaddling blanket on those first months. They come in the loveliest prints and they get softer and softer with every wash. This is the classic present I get to anyone who just had a baby.

-The baby food processor. We have the Beaba Babycook, I wrote about it a while ago, we love it so much, I am not even sure I will ever get rid of it. We still use it to make apple puree and smoothies every now and then, we regularly steam our broccoli in it (making sure it stays crispy) and I plan to keep using it to make sauces like pesto. I love that it is so small, that you can wash it easily, that you can set it to work and forget about it, without worrying that you will burn a pan (if all the water evaporates) or the food, and that you can program it to steam your fruits and vegetables to the perfect point, assuring that you don't lose any nutrients. I love that you can puree in the same container. It is just pretty much perfect. (If only it could be made out of glass or steel).

-An ergonomic baby carrier. To prevent hip dysplasia make sure that when the baby is in it the legs form an "M" or frog position and never carry facing front.  We love our Lillebaby. We got it when our oldest daughter was around 1 year old, and now, at 5, she can still fit there, in the back, on emergencies (like when we travel and she is tired of walking) It is one of the only baby carriers that has lumbar support and that goes from newborn to toddler. It is just so comfortable. I wore Laia so much in it, it was a godsend when I had to go out with both of my daughters and walk for long distances. The toddler would be in the stroller and I could carry the baby.

-Our beloved cloth diapers. This was easily the most expensive baby item we got for our first daughter. Even when we got a very good deal with them (we had one of those pay 3 and get 4 offers), we still invested around 450 dollars on them. Yet, we are still using them on our 2nd daughter and I am so happy we have been able to avoid generating so much waste and saved so much money.

-Our all-terrain stroller. We just sold our Maxi-Cosi Mura Plus 4 and it feels like the end of an era. I never thought I would let go of it, I loved it so much, and loved every second we used it. It really was like the Land Rover of the strollers, we went on so many walks together . It took the hardest roads smoothly, no matter if it was cobblestones, sand or the woods, it folded so easily, it went from babyhood to toddlerhood, it is just so perfect.

The only reason we sold it is it did not fit in our cargo-bike and I needed something in which the baby could go from bike to stroller as she often falls asleep in the bike.It is impressive how technology has changed in just some years, puschairs that fold so small that they can  fit as cabin luggage are so life-changing. We were between the Yoyo Zen and the Pockit Plus, but went for the latter because it was the smallest and the lightest.

-A babywearing  jacket. Particularly if you mean to have the baby in a sling/carrier for long walks.After much research, I went for the Softshell Mamalila.  It was such a life saver, because I felt comfortable enough to wear the baby even during the coldest winter days and know she was warm enough. I wore Laia a lot more than I did Yulia, because my older daughter still got tired and for drop offs and pick ups it was way easier to push the toddler and carry the baby. I have an "all seasons" version that is water and windproof with a thin fleece lining, so I wore it both during the summer and the winter (with thicker sweaters underneath). There is also a winter version that I was very tempted to get, but I think having a jacket that can be worn the whole year long was the best. I just wished I had made the decision earlier, because you can start wearing them since pregnancy. The jacket comes with several attachments in such a way that it is a pregnancy jacket, a regular jacket or a jacket where you can wear the baby both in the front and in the back. It was not cheap, but the quality is very good.

-Baby Bouncer. This little "chair" was crucial for the first months, the baby would often play happily while I was able to take a shower, cook something or just rest. It is so totally worth it for the freedom that it gives you.

-A Boppy breastfeeding pillow. When I was staying at the hospital with baby Y, I got the opportunity to try all kinds of different breastfeeding pillows. I did not like the ones that were all soft and loose, so I finally settled for a Boppy that has the perfect form and a certain rigidity. I loved that it can be used for belly-time exercises later on and as a little support when babies start learning to sit.

-Nursing clothes. I wrote a whole article on how breastfeeding clothes changed my life this second time around. So comfy, so pretty, so worth it.

-Life factory glass baby bottles. So, both my kids were breastfeed (the second one is still in the middle of it), but we love these bottles as sippy cups and they are so versatile because depending on the life stage you can change the  lid to have a bottle, a sippy cup or a regular bottle. I really do not trust plastic and we are working hard on trying to avoid it (such a hard task), but particularly when it comes to children's exposure I want to limit it and so this was a great option.

Which are your favorite baby items? Which things made your life as parents easier?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Japan: favorite shops

Oh Japan, how I miss you. Another thing that I wanted to write about was the shops: OMG, Japan was like a giant candy shop, everything -everything- was either cute, or pretty or delicious. Too bad that they do also have a taste for luxury and so many things had quite the high price tag.

Anyhow, I thought I'd make a list of my favorite places to shop in Japan.

 -Tokyu Hands. How do I begin. If you like baking, painting, crafting, papershops, home and kitchen goods... this place is where you will go bankrupt. It is a giant shop. 7 floors dedicated to all the things you did not know you wanted. If you are looking for utensils to make cute little Bento boxes this is where you will find them. Everything from moulds for rice or eggs in the form of dogs, cats or bears to insulated steel containers, little bags and printed muslin cloths.

And if you draw or paint you will find all your art supplies. If washi tape and origami paper is what you are looking for, this is the place. For those that are into disguises and cosplay there is also a selection of clothes and party goods. If sewing or even working with wood or leather is your thing, there is also a whole floor dedicated to fabrics and materials. On top of that they had a nice selection of purses, earrings and other fashion items.This place was so amazing, I just did not want to leave. You will find a list to all their shops here.

-Ippuya in Kyoto. Last summer my dear friend Marcia organized activities centered around teaching the kids countries of the world and their traditions. One of the days was dedicated to Japan.Tomomi, the friend who showed us her culture, brought her sweet kids dressed in these super cute kimono-like sets of matching shorts and shirts in cute modern prints. I had my mind set on finding them. As I learnt these sets are called Jinbei.

 I thought we would see them  everywhere. I first looked in the childrens' section of big department stores, with no luck. It was only when we went to Kyoto, on our way up to Kiyomizyu-dera temple that we found Ippuya. It is a small shop owned by the sweetest lady who actually crafts all her goods (purses, blouses...) from scraps of kimono fabric, so all her material is beautiful, high quality printed cotton. It is also a great place to have traditional Japanese tea at their adjacent cafe. (540-15 Gojōbashihigashi 6-chōme, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi)

-Graniph. I really wanted to go shopping for skirts and dresses in Japan, they have a very sweet and modest yet modern and edgy style. I was not able to find anything on our budget at department stores, however I was happy to discover Graniph. They specialize in graphic t-shirts and often do collaborations with illustrators like Taro Gomi, Eric Carle, Kayako Nishimaki. It is the ideal place to get a t-shirt, but they also have dresses, skirts and sweaters in very thick, warm cotton. We got a long-sleeved t-shirt dress for my daughter based on the classic Japanese children story: "My dress" or -Watashi no wanpisu- and it is her absolute favorite.  I wish the book had been translated to Spanish, but so far I haven't been able to track it.*

As an extra note -for all your practical and daily life needs:

-If you are looking for a supermarket Life is a very good option with lots of variety. But if you really want a magic experience, go to Tamade, a supermarket that opens 24 hours and looks like a discotheque, with its neon lights and fun decorations.

And for a snack, coffee and emergency needs (like basic toiletries) look for the Family Mart and Lawson's. And have an onigiri!

Oh and let's not forget about bookshops, also paradise, often with many, many floors. Crayon House, Maruzen, Kinokinuya, find all about them in this other post.

*The book tells the story of a white rabbit without clothes who's hopping across a meadow when a piece of white cloth comes falling out of the sky. "I think I'll make myself a dress," she says, and sets to work on her foot-treadle sewing machine. When it's done, she dons the triangular white dress and starts across a flower garden. "Oh, my!" she realizes. "My dress is now a floral print! I wonder if I look good in flowers." She continues on her way and it begins to rain. The pattern on her dress changes to water droplets. As she walks on, she comes to a field of golden wild grasses, and the dress transforms again to match their gently waving seed heads. Birds flock to her dress, wanting to eat the seeds, and the rabbit's outfit changes yet again to a pattern of birds. When she takes off into the sky with the birds, the pattern on her dress turns into a rainbow; when the rainbow gives way to a sunset, she starts to grow sleepy. Soon she is flying through the night with her eyes closed in a dress covered with stars, and then it is morning again and she wakes up back in the meadow. Simple lines and soft colors dominate the illustrations. The dress itself is a plain triangle; its constantly changing patterns and the rhythmical language lend the story its magic.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Japan with kids: things to do and practical tips

Almost every time we told friends or family that we were going to Japan with the girls the answer was a face of shock, accompanied with an "Are you crazy?" exclamation, even from people who had already been there.

The truth is we love to travel and we want to transfer this love to our children. They are more or less used to it too. Ever since my friend Lauren gave me the best postpartum advice I ever got (which was: "go out of the house everyday"), we have been out and about every single day and so both of our girls are used to napping on the go, laying flat in the stroller or in the baby carrier.

Now, back to Japan. We like to take city hikes, know the place by walking the neighborhoods, visiting supermarkets and playgrounds, doing normal everyday stuff aside from the touristic sights. This has the advantage of minimizing the time spent on public transportation, which can sometimes be difficult to navigate. Our oldest daughter is now almost 5 years old, but, of course we couldn't expect her to keep up with our long walks, so we brought two umbrella strollers (Chicco liteways) and our beloved Baby carrier (a Lillebaby).

We found Japan to be quite child-friendly, as there are a million fun things to do with kids, more than can be done in one trip. To get your ideas I highly recommend the blog: "An epic education', a children-travel blog originally specific for Japan.

If you are travelling with infants, relax. There are nursing and changing rooms pretty much everywhere, from restaurants to metro stations, museums and department stores.

There are also elevators everywhere, however they were not always easy to find in some of the biggest metro stations and sometimes we just gave up and carried the strollers up.

These houses were actual nursing rooms, completely clean and private!
As for food, small convenience shops will be your everyday stop. Chains like Family Mart, Seven Eleven and Lawson sell cheap, fresh and high quality food so we had a picnic lunch everyday consisting of Onigiri (rice balls with nori seaweed and assorted fillings), Yakitori (marinated chicken skewers, that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy), soft bread sandwiches, milk tea, mandarins and bananas. You will also find basic essentials like toothpaste, wet wipes, etc... at this type of shop, but you will find more variety at pharmacies and supermarkets.

We stayed at an apartment in Osaka for the first part of our trip which allowed us to make short day trips to Kyoto and Nara. The last stretch of our trip was reserved for Tokyo, where we did stay in a hotel, but luckily we had a small fridge and a kettle so we were able to have a small breakfast before leaving every morning.

In Kyoto the kids will have fun at the very many temples. There are always fountains at the entrance, to wash your hands and purify your spirit, where most kids will be happy to play.  There are also bells, though I am not quite sure children are intended to play with those. Keep in mind that temples are often in the middle of the mountains , so if you can, avoid the stroller in favor of the baby carrier (we couldn't, so we ended up carrying the strollers through flights and flights of stairs) or get an ultralight und foldable one (like the YoYo Zen or GB Pockit).

The shintoist deities like Inaris (foxes) will amuse the children and hopefully they will learn about spirituality. Kiyomizu-dera was beautiful and we loved to run through the endless red gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

In Osaka there are plenty of child friendly attractions like the Aquarium, the zoo and a child museum called Kids Plaza. The latter is a combination of a science and culture museum that includes a city for the children, with slides and hanging bridges (which reminded me of Barcelona); a fully functional supermarket, a part on medicine, biology, physics, potential energy, electric trains,  a TV studio, different folk traditions of the world, and a part that focuses on solidarity / tolerance, making children experience life as a handicapped person....

My kid wouldn't pose.

 We loved visiting the aquarium, Kaiyukan. It is a spiral building with its marine ecosystems structured to follow the Pacific ring of fire, a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. In a large 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes (more than 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes).

The Tennoji zoo is quite basic but the girls had lots of fun and the Polar bear and seals seemed happy which is always a good sign. The emblematic Osaka castle is a beautiful place to visit, you can also take a little boat tour or have ice cream while you walk (the only acceptable food to eat while walking)

Visiting Nara is a must. Deer are believed to be sacred messengers and so they are left free to roam around the city and park adjacent to the temple. You will find street vendors selling deer cookies , which the deer will happily come and snatch from you , but not before elegantly bowing their heads.  I was a bit concerned about Lyme disease but according to the authorities* the deer are free of the Borrelia infection for which they are continuously screened. The infectious ticks are not passed from deer to human, rather they go from tall grass to a mammal passing buy (this means you are most likely getting bitten from hiking in the forest than from being close to animals). The areas where these tick are, supposedly, are further in the North. It does not hurt to wear long sleeves and screen for ticks after hiking in the forest, making sure to check warm places and body pleats. If the ticks are removed correctly within the first 24 hrs. the chances.of infection are very low.

As for Tokyo, you won't get tired of activities to do with children. I mean you can even go Mario-karting through the city. If you want to go to Ghibli Museum don't be like us and book in advance. We went all the way there only to find out it was closed for renovations... and then it started raining dogs and cats.  Later we found out that bookings are preferred since they want you to experience the magic world of Miyazake without crowds so only a limited amount of tickets are sold in 2 hour slots.

In Tokyo you can also visit  Kidzania, the city for children, and again, a zoo and aquarium (which we did not visit as we went to all those things in Osaka). The man made island of Odaiba is quite a fun place to visit with the children. Just the train that takes you there is amazing. It is a circular train from which you can see landmarks of Japan's architecture like the world s biggest ferry wheel and the rainbow bridge and the Fuji building. There are malls, giant robots, a toys'r us (oh the childhood memories), a replica of the statue of liberty and many museums. Teamlab Borderless, a group of artworks that form one borderless world where artworks move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence, and sometimes intermingle with each other with no boundaries is also there in Daiba.

Visiting the statue of Hachiko, the loyal dog who waited for his owner days and days, at Shibuya station (exit 8) is also a nice thing to do with children as you can tell them the story and later read a book or watch the movie together.

If you want to see the crazy, pop, cosplay Japan the place to be is Yoyogi park on Sunday afternoons. Once there visit the Meiji Shrine and continue to Takashita street where you can get giant , rainbow cotton candy, the cutest ice-cream ever and all your souvenirs. On the same line, but on a different area is the Kawaii monster cafe, a cathedral of kitsch with its rainbow pasta, blue ice cream, unicorn decorations and happy music. It is like a club but totally child friendly.

Other children specific activities are of course Tokyo Disneyland and Sanrio Puroland park, for those crazy about Hello Kitty. The Meguro parasite museum might also be a hit with school children who are not afraid of being grossed out. You will never look at your udon noodles in the same way after visiting.

All in all we tried to do the same type of activities we would do with our girls back home: look for parks and playgrounds, walk a lot, have picnics, talk about culture and the lives of people, visit museums, live the city.

And voilà, these are  our best kid-specific recommendations for visiting Japan. Have you been there? Did we miss anything?
*This was the official (and quite vague) statement of the prefecture of Nara, on a rather old post in the Lonely Planet website: "In Japan, since the first case of Lyme disease was reported in 1986, several hundreds cases have been reported. The disease is mainly found in the northern half of Japan (particularly in Hokkaido and Nagano Prefecture), while no cases of Lyme disease have been recorded in Nara Prefecture (Nara City). As for the deer in Nara Park, please rest assured that we keep close watch for any abnormalities through patrols and other means. Furthermore, there have thus far been no reports regarding Lyme disease traced to the deer of Nara Park or the ticks they may host (confirmed with the National Institute of Infectious Disease). While keeping an eye on trends in Lyme disease outbreaks, we endeavor to gather information with a scientific foundation.
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