Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's #BookSwap time

Thanks Lauren

Remember last year's book swap, hosted by the lovely ladies at Any Other Woman? Well it is that time of the year again, and it is open internationally. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post saying you are in.

Here are the rules: 

It’s going to work the same way as last year:

- You go to this link and leave a comment with a variation of ‘ME! YES! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I’M IN! ME ME ME!’

- We throw all your names, beautifully written on peach paper in navy ink, obvs, into a very stylish hat. (We’ll probably borrow one of Ellie’s. She has some v. fashion forward ones.)

- We send you a questionnaire to fill out, all about the books that made you, you. This was my absolute favourite part of the whole thing last year. Apart from my perfect package of books and chocolate from the lovely Carly. Lucky, I was.

We randomly assign each of you someone fabulous to send a book to.

- You send your person a book that you think they’ll love. or a book that you love. A book that will make them think, make them sing, make them cry…. you get the picture.

- You receive a magical, wonderful, perfect book in the post from your person. EVERYBODY WINS.

PS: Yulia Alitzel, Mark and I are all doing fine. It has been a few hectic weeks, I promise you will get the scoop as soon as I have a moment to write. Thanks to each and everyone of you for your kind comments and congratulations and for the support all along our journey.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Surprise arrival

Y. A.

 born at 23:11. 
1.9 kilograms, 43.5 centimeters. 

"There's no use trying," said Alice. "One can't believe impossible things."
"I dare say, you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." ~Lewis Carroll

* We are in awe... we'll be back with details and stories soon.
Image via here. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

# January Joy: See a Film

When I heard that Disney was planning an animated version of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale: 'The Snow Queen' I was super excited.

I have always loved Hans Christian Andersen's stories and The Snow Queen is amongst my all-time favorites. We finally saw Frozen this weekend and I don't know what to say. I really liked the movie. It is a Disney movie in the classic sense: there are adventures, singing, funny characters, and the action is paced in such a way that you never get bored. It's a good movie. I enjoyed it. I did not even like a Disney movie so much in a long time.

But, it has absolutely nothing to do 'The Snow Queen'. Nothing. Except of course that the main character's heart gets frozen. And even then, it's not the same. Disney's version is lacking depth: princess Anna's heart gets accidentally frozen by her sister Elsa (who hasn't quite learnt to control her powers) during an argument, threatening to kill her by hypothermia. In Hans Christian Andersen's tale Kai's frozen heart affects all of him. It's not only physical cold we are talking about, but he becomes cruel, mean and isolated.

Let's start at the beginning though:

- The Snow Queen tells the story of a little girl and a little boy, Gerda and Kai, who are neighbours and friends, who read and take care of a garden together in their adjoining balconies. I always imagined the children as not being older than 12, though it's not specified. In Frozen, Kai is unheard of. It 's the story of two sisters, who of course also happen to be princesses, one of whom has magic ice-controlling powers and all the action happens once they are grown up.

- The Snow Queen herself is an evil character, a proper villain, who lures Kai into following her, then  kidnaps him, steals his memories of Gerda and his life before and locks him up in her ice-palace until he is able to solve a riddle. In Frozen, the Queen just happens to be the older sister and she is not really evil. She just decides to isolate herself for fear of the harm her powers might cause to others.

- Kai's heart gets frozen when a piece of a broken-enchanted mirror gets into his eye and heart, making him unpolite, mean, selfish. The enchanted mirror pieces are spread over the Earth after some naughty, wicked devils let it fall to the the World while trying to bring it to heaven to show it to God and the angels, with intents to make them look like fools.The  mirror has the property of distorting reality, turning everything pure, beautiful and kind into ugly and evil. None of this takes place in Frozen, and Anna's frozen heart does not affect her personality at all. It just makes her physically weak and puts her life in danger.

- After Kai is kidnapped by the Snow Queen (and everyone declares him dead), Gerda, who does not lose faith in her friend, sets on a journey to find and rescue him. During her trip she meets all kinds of magic and mischievous characters: some will help her and some will try to keep her away from her mission. There's 'the old woman who knew magic' who brushes her hair and attempts to keep Gerda with her forever by making her forget Kai and hiding the roses that would always remind her of him. There's a talking crow that thinks he saw Kai at a nearby palace, but it turns out he mistook Kai with a Prince. Then there's the Princess who wouldn't marry anyone who wasn't at least as smart as her. And a little robber girl on a caravan, who nonetheless decides to help Gerda in her quest so she releases her and even lends her a reindeer who knows the way to the Snow Queen's palace. There are a couple of Finnish and Lap women who'll both give hints to little Gerda. This could have made for some great characters, but they are all missing in Disney's version (well, I guess except for the reindeer).

So even though Frozen is a fun, entertaining and nice story by itself, what was Disney thinking to pretend one story has anything to do with the other?

Pictures from here and here. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

# January Joy: Plan a Room

For today's #January Joy challenge I thought I would share a sneak peek of the nursery, though it's not finished yet. We had been wanting to decorate this room for such a long time... we painted it light yellow when we moved in but we left it at that, waiting. During our darkest times I would not even dare open the door and I did not want to give it any alternative use either, having a weird irrational feeling that if we used the space for something else it would delay the process even further.

Anyhow we have been finding little bits and pieces to finally put our baby's room together.We don't really have a color scheme, except maybe: "mix all the colors". We first chose the curtains, that you've seen before. We also had a pair of flamingo wall stickers that we got in Barcelona just before I moved to Holland. At the moment we did not know where they would end up, but we knew they would be a part of our home together. When we were dating (and still now, when we travel) we visit zoos whenever we can and we always end up taking a photo with the flamingos, so they are a bit special to us. For the furniture, we knew we wanted colorful items, which are often difficult to find, or else, they are called "designer items" and priced accordingly. At the specialized shops all they had was white, gray, wood or black and was extremely expensive anyway. We chose a simple drawer chest (from the Swedish place) to be used as a changing table... that we found in red, score! We have added some porcelain knobs in different patterns to give it a quirky touch (found here).

As for the walls... we wanted to continue with the flamingo theme. After searching quite a bit we found some quite unique vintage Alice in Wonderland prints that we plan on putting in one of the bare walls. We are still waiting for them to arrive, but I am so excited to hang them. If you are interested in old-school illustrations, after our purchase I was sent a 15% discount code, that I would be happy to send away to the first person that raises their hand, so browse around and let me know.

Do you have any decoration / home improvement projects going on?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

#January Joy: Learn something new

I'm a little bit late,  but finally a #January Joy challenge that I am actually taking. I just enrolled for my Dutch driving license theory exam yesterday... and I will do it sooner than I thought. (Having a deadline always helps with making me getting stuff done). Technically, this is not  learning something completely new, because I do have a Mexican driving license, but the truth is I have not driven a car (except on particular occasions) since I was 19 and that's a long time. So I am taking lessons and preparing the exam... which involves a whole new set of traffic rules and different signs. It is not the most exciting subject to study, but being able to drive in Europe is something that I really need to do, it will hopefully help in the job search, it will allow us to take longer road trips because we'll be able to take turns driving and it is simply a handy skill to have.

I also want to learn to crochet, but I am not handy at all, so that means I will need someone to teach me. But... I found a group of Mexican girls that meet every now and then and craft together, so I hopefully will be able to join them.

Are you intending to learn anything new this year?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Thinking of cloth diapers

The last few weeks I have been obsessing reading everything I can about cloth diapers. It gets addictive. There is a lot written on the subject. There are videos, tutorials, user reviews and contradicting recommendations all over the place. Making a decision is not easy, given that I have next to no experience on babies and there is just so much choice and confusing terms involved.

I started looking into cloth diapers because I was shocked to hear of the environmental impact of disposable diapers. A disposable diaper can take around 500 years to decompose in the landfills and a single baby contributes around 1 ton of waste in disposable diapers to the landfills (1). That's not even taking into consideration that: "disposable nappies use 3.5 times as much energy, 8 times as much non-regenerable raw materials and 90 times as much renewable material as reusable nappies. They produce 2.3 times as much waste water and 60 times as much solid waste, and require between 4 and 30 times as much land for growing natural materials as reusable nappies." (2)

There are also public health concerns. Taking into account that more than 100 different enteric viruses, including polio and hepatitis (from vaccines) are known to be excreted in human feces and that these viruses can live for months after the stool has passed from the body; and knowing that even when the World Health's Organization advocates for adequate disposal of human excreta (via the sewage system)  and product labels instructing consumers to empty the feces into the toilet before disposing of the diaper are not commonly followed: human excreta entering the waste stream via disposable diapers pose potential health risks to sanitation workers and threaten to contaminate groundwater if landfills are not properly constructed. (3)

Then there are health concerns as well. Here, the opinions and research seem inconclusive, but there appears to be unanimity among cloth-diaper users saying that babies who are cloth-diapered are less prone to diaper rash, or (anecdotal) experience of parents associating diaper-rash with disposable diapers when they have temporarily switched from one type to the other. This seems intuitive to me as the super-absorbent chemicals present in disposable diapers would tend to excessively dry the baby's skin, making it more prone to irritation. And because disposable diapers are so good at gelifying, the baby would tend to stay longer periods of time in a soiled diaper.  The increased incidence in diaper rash in the last 50 years (from 7% to 78% ) seems to coincide with the massive use of disposable diapers (4). A study published in The British Journal of General Practice (5) found the type of diaper worn as a highly significant possible causal factor for nappy rash in a regression model. The same study found that disposable diapers give little protection against nappy rash and encouraged parents to use cotton diapers, natural fibers being gentler on the skin. Yet another study (6) found that in baby boys, scrotal temperature (a reflection of testicular temperature) is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies. The mean scrotal temperature was significantly higher in all age groups during the periods of plastic nappy use than with cotton nappies (p < 0.001). Because scrotal hypothermia is an important factor for normal spermatogenesis, this increased testicular temperature in early childhood could be an important factor contributing to the decline of male reproductive health observed in recent decades. Further research is needed, though, to establish the impact of increased testicular temperature in infancy on later spermatogenesis. My (humble) knowledge of microbiology leds me to hypothesize that higher temperatures can also have an impact on bacterial growth while the diaper is on (but that's just me speculating). Then there is also the possibility of dioxin exposure. A study (7) (that was however performed in mice) reported that some types of disposable diapers emit mixtures of chemicals that are toxic to the respiratory tract and concludes that disposable diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions. As a side note, people also report less "blowouts" and explosions when using cloth-diapers, because they are supposedly able to contain the mess inside better.

And finally, there is the economic factor. Over 2 years, the cost of disposable diapers will range from  €1200 to €2000 depending on the brand, whereas with cloth diapers, taking into account the initial investment (€350 to €500) for 25 diapers and the costs of water, energy and detergent over 2 years, the total spending would amount to approx. €850, only for 1 kid. If the cloth diapers live up to a second child, the savings would be even greater. If anyone is interested, we made an Excel sheet to calculate all this, so let me know and I'll email it to you. You should be able to introduce your own values and make a comparison according to your specific situation (water / energy / diaper costs). We considered washing the diapers every 1.5 days and line/sun drying them.

Environmentally speaking you could argue that washing the diapers involves a lot of energy (394 kWh) and water (circa 19,142 L) for 2 years, with our machine that uses 0.88 kWh and 43 L per cycle, and that producing the cloth-diapers uses raw materials as well (most worryingly the waterproof polyurethane laminate of which most diaper covers are made). However, we are still comparing 25 cloth-diapers against roughly 5,700 disposable diapers over the whole diapering period.  It's difficult to reach a sensible conclusion considering all the factors, and of course every family's situation is particular. We are probably going to try to cloth diaper, but I don't want to seem judgemental of other people's choices. I am not above using other disposable items for convenience, like baby wipes, and, ahem, other products targeted to girls; or using disposable diapers for specific situations (like travel or the first few months), but I guess every bit counts. And we will have to learn through trial and error and (hopefully) make it work. Other family's experiences have been helpful and informative in making our decision, I particularly liked the posts by : "Young House Love", "Becoming Peculiar", "My cheap version of therapy" and more recently "Random Giggles"

Anyhow, as for the next question... which cloth-diapers to choose. There are so many terms involved in cloth-diapering that it gets confusing, but roughly you can choose from:

- prefolds/flats: this is probably what comes to your mind when you think of cloth diapers. It's the diapers that our grandmas' and moms' used. These are squares of cloth (cotton, hemp, bamboo, terry) that you can fold in several ways and attach with safety pins or the more-modern 3-headed artifacts called Snappis. They are used together with a plastic / PUL (polyurethane) cover. They are the most basic in design and one of the cheaper options available, but also involve more work and learning, and you will typically need several sizes of diapers as the baby grows. As the covers can be reused for a full day, provided they don't get soiled, you would potentially save money by investing in less covers.

-fitteds: these are basically a simplified version of the above, that is, they are formed and sewn to look like a diaper (no folding needed), and they come with snaps or velcro, but they are fully made of cloth and they are also to be worn with a waterproof cover. With this type you'd also need to invest in several sizes.

-all-in-ones: as the name says, in this case all you need is the cloth-diaper, as the inner liner is attached to the waterproof cover. This means that the whole diaper gets washed every time (unlike with prefolds or fitteds, where a cover is usually reused during a same day). This system seems the easiest and most convenient, as they basically work like a disposable-diaper (where you would put the diaper on, change it, and then send it right off to the laundry). There are a few variations in this category, like so-called pocket diapers, which as the name says, have an inside-pocket where you can stuff the diaper with liners of different absorbancy depending on the situation.

Then, there are one-size diapers which have several rows of snap-buttons, meaning they "grow" with your baby and can be used from nearly-the beginning to potty training. There are also all kinds of materials to choose from: some synthetic (fleece, microfiber) and others natural (cotton, hemp, bamboo). At some point you'll need to use flushable, biodegradable liners (used between the diaper and the baby's skin, letting moisture pass through to the diaper while preventing solids to soak into the diaper, which are then thrown in the toilet) or "spray" your diapers (that is use a shower-head like device that attaches to the toilet to take the mess away from the diaper and into the toilet after the diaper has been used). There are also intermediate systems (like the one called Flip) which consists of foldable diaper liners of different absorbancy and one-sized covers that grow with your baby.

As for us, preferably we want all-in-one diapers that grow with the baby, as we don't want to have to invest in different sizes of diapers, and we want to basically just throw the dirty diaper in the laundry. We prefer snap closures because they seem to last longer than velcro, and we want a natural material (cotton, bamboo or hemp). I am not convinced with microfiber or other synthetic fabrics, some people love them because they dry faster, some people say they get  stinky, others say they can irritate the skin (depending on how sensitive the baby is). We do not want to try pocket diapers because I am lazy and the thought of pre-stuffing the diapers, and then, getting the inlayer full of yuck out for washing was too much... though I read that apparently it all comes out by shaking them, or it happens by itself in the washing machine. I already let the dry laundry hang out for way too long instead of folding our clothes right away (oops), so I don't think I need the extra labor of stuffing the diapers.  We are probably going to try with Bumgenius cloth diapers, as they consistently get really high reviews and more importantly (most) people say they do not leak. We also considered 2-in-ones (foldable cloth in-layers with a cover, these names are all so confusing) like the Flip system, but I worry that the inserts would move around or to the sides and that if the cover got dirty it would translate in more work by either having to clean the reusable covers at every diaper change, or in a higher cost, by needing to stock up more covers if we need to wash more than 2 per day. I am also personally not fully comfortable with the thought of reusing waterproof covers without washing them in between. (But maybe these things do not happen, some people really like these systems and they are happy with how they work. Mark really liked this idea because the diapers would dry a lot faster, for sure). Anyhow, all things considered this means we will probably choose the Bumgenius Elementals, as they are one-size, all-in-ones that come with snaps and are made of organic cotton. We will probably also invest in some extra cotton or hemp in-layers to add absorbancy when needed. We saw them in person, and even if a few reviews say the in-layers sometimes bunch up, we hope that by folding them tightly we will make the system work.

Does anyone have any thoughts or experience on any of this?

(2) Disposable Nappies: A Case Study in Waste Prevention, Women's Environmental Network, 2003.

(3) American Public Health Association. Policy 8910. 1/1/1989

(5)  Getting to the Bottom of Nappy Rash, Philipp R., Hughes A, Golding J. The British Journal of General Practice, 1997.Br J Gen Pract. 1997 August; 47(421): 493–497. 

(6) Scrotal Temperature is Increased in Disposable Plastic Lined Nappies, Partsch C-J, Aukamp M, Sipell W.G. Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, 2000. Archives of Disease in Childhood 83:364-368 doi:10.1136/adc.83.4.364

 (7)  Acute respiratory effects of diaper emissions. Anderson RC, Anderson JH. Archives of Environmental  Health. 1999 Sep-Oct;54(5):353-8.


  *This is NOT a sponsored post. I have mentioned certain brands, as after reading extensive reviews online they have seemed the ones that best-fitted our particular criteria, however I am not getting compensated in any way and these are not affiliate links.

* Photo credit: Kim Ronson at Green Mom.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lights of the New year

A fresh new start... it's here. We spent New Year's Eve at home, cuddled in the couch and watching movies. Then, when midnight came we looked at the fireworks from the windows and toasted with pineapple juice and 12 green grapes. 2012 was a very hard year but 2013 showed us magic and miracles. Focusing on joy made it all easier. I passed my Dutch exam, we travelled to London, San Francisco, Luxembourg, Metz, Brussels, Paris, Ghent and Maastricht. I visited family in Switzerland and met awesome friends that I have made through blogging. It really is one of the aspects that I appreciate the most from this little space: the valuable connections that I have been able to make through my internet rambling. Thank you all for being here. I really appreciate every one of you. And I really hope all your wishes, dreams and goals may be fulfilled.

As the new year approaches (oh wait, it's here already!), I am curious and excited of what it will bring. We are mostly thrilled to meet our little one, though of course I am also wondering (read, at times freaking out) how it will all be, because babies are new and they don't really come with instructions manuals. I am confident that we will figure it out, though.

BTW, Rebecca at Florence Finds is prompting #January Joy once again, in case you feel like starting the year with a fun challenge... you can join for it all or just for individual tasks. I had lots of fun with it last year.

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