Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BIRTHDAY CAKE BANNER: Aisley's 1st Birthday

Aisley's birthday is right around the corner!  We aren't really having a party, but we will get together as a family celebrate the FIRST YEAR of  Aisley's life.  I still wanted to do something beautiful for her and take lots (and LOTS) of pictures to remember the day by.  I looked through pinterest and crazy over the top $1,000 birthday parties, but its just family, so that wasnt gonna happen.  Here are a few DIY projects to put together a simple birthday party on the cheap.

DIY Cake Banner:
I hate frosting cakes.  I LOATHE frosting cakes.  I can do the simple floral designs.  I can lay fondant.  But when it comes to scrawling perfect script and letters across the top, I just can't do it.  There are really only three levels of penmanship on cake: chicken scratch, five year old, and professional.  On a good day, I pull five-year-old off pretty well, which is why when I came across a picture from Rain on A Tin Roof, I knew what to do.

The Supplies:
1 sheet Decorative Paper: $1.00 at Hobby Lobby
Letter Stickers: $1.00 at Hobby Lobby for THREE designs
Cake Pop Sticks: $2.00(ish?) at Walmart
Ribbon: $0.47 at Walmart
Hot Glue Gun and Sticks
Total: $5-cheaper than buying special tips and bags

I chose this paper and these stickers.  I got a good deal at Hobby Lobby, and I loved the chevron and cute font.  

Flip the paper over, use a straight edge to draw a "grid"....

and then cut into equal rectrangles.  

To make the banner, I took the corner of a firm notebook (yes, mustaches!!) and drew a guide line on it.  Then I slid each square under and traced the edge of the notebook, its not perfect, but its still great.  

I re-cut the squares, and found that cutting this way was much, much easier than cutting the whole shape at once.  

I ended up with a cute banner that was glittery and chevron and purple all over.  I didnt know how I could love it anymore.  But I did.  

The black simpler stickers gave it a really nice look, and brought the whole look together.  All I had to do was stick them on.  

Then I took some fine $0.47 ribbon and laid it across a piece of mustache paper that I didnt particularly care about.  I put globs of hot glue on and then pushed each of the banners on.  I went ahead and let it glue to the paper.  It was easier to peel off the stuck on paper than to be overly precise with my glue.  

This is before I even cleaned it up.  Not too shabby, eh?
I turned it around and placed a good glob of glue on the back of each.  I feel like more glue is better, I guess.  

After I cleaned it up AGAIN, I tied each ribbon around a cake pop stick and glued the backside of it.  I held it in place with my finger (slight ouch) and then wrapped it around again and glued once more to be sure.  

I love how it turned out!! I cant wait to see it in Aisley's cake!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

HIGH CHAIR AND BABY TUTU: Aisley's 1st Birthday

Aisley's birthday is right around the corner!  We aren't really having a party, but we will get together as a family celebrate the FIRST YEAR of  Aisley's life.  I still wanted to do something beautiful for her and take lots (and LOTS) of pictures to remember the day by.  I looked through pinterest and crazy over the top $1,000 birthday parties, but its just family, so that wasnt gonna happen.  Here are a few DIY projects to put together a simple birthday party on the cheap.

Aisley's high chair is super functional.  I love it.  It folds up incredibly small, came pre-assembled, and has been so easy to use and clean, not to mention all the height adjustments and recline positions it has.  Unfortunately, its not super cute, but it was a neutral pattern and the best color of that model, so we're okay with it.  But for Aisley's party, I'd like to dress it up a bit.  Enter tutus.  I CAN sew, but its not really my thing and I would never waste my time sewing something I'll only use once, so I found a no-sew way to proceed. 

The Supplies:
1 roll Purple Tulle: $3.97 in the Walmart Sewing Department
1 (bigger) roll Teal Tulle: $3.97 in the Walmart Wedding department
1 3 foot elastic strip (1 inch width): $1.79 at Hobby Lobby
Total: Less than $10 for MORE than one tutu

This was seriously easy.  It took me LESS than an hour, and I made dinner at the same time.  First, I rolled out the tulle, and cut it at about 30".  I just eyeballed it.  It makes it around a foot long when all is said and done.
After that, I laid out the elastic.  One at a time, I folded the tulle pieces in half, laid them behind the elastic, and then pulled the ends through the little "loop" it made.

Then, all you have to do is pull it tight!  And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.  I took a nice break when it was about child-sized.  Adorable right?

On each end, I looped the elastic over the last tulle loop, and then stapled it, because I didnt feel like sewing THAT much.  

And that was it!  On the back of the exposed elastic, I used stick on velcro to stick it to my high chair, but you could use half of the velcro on each side to make an easy on/easy off tutu for your kid.  After her birthday, I plan to cut this shorter and it as an Aisley tutu as well.  
So for $10, we have a teal Aisley tutu, a Multicolor high chair tutu, and (eventually) another Aisley tutu.  I'm so stoked!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Comparison of High End Car Seats

For those who don't know, we've been on a journey with car seats.  While pregnant, I didn't want an infant carrier.  I wanted a convertible.  I would buy this, Aisley would use it until she needed a booster, and that would be that.  In classic type A fashion, a plan was made.
Annnnnd then we walked out of an ultrasound at a high risk maternity clinic.  They told us we would have a 4 lb baby.  Suddenly a long-lasting convertible was out of the question.
After much research and consideration, we settled on the Safety 1st Onboard Air 35.  It was one of the most recommended seats for preemies and small babies, and when it went on sale for $80, it was the most cost effective option for something I really didn't want to have to buy at all.
I went on to buy the original seat I wanted when she was almost 6 months old-I even scored a sweet deal on it.  I was so excited to continue with my Type A plan.  Annnnnd then it broke.  One strap was about 2 inches longer than the other, and I had to reinstall it every day.  So Graco took it back and gave me the original retail price of $180.  I was perusing Facebook and saw a Chicco Nextfit on sale at Target for $124.  I was so fed  up with the Graco fiasco of the crappy seat, I went and picked one right up.
The plan (why did I even still bother having plans?) was to use the premium, originally $300 seat for my car, and then buy a less expensive one for Giordy's.  But if I've ever seen a seat that was MADE for a specific car, it was the Chicco Nextfit and Giordy's Chevy Cruze.  The seats in the cruze have a weird pitch, and Giordy is 6'3" after all.  It just fit.  I was stuck between buying another Nextfit for my car and buying a brand-new Britax Clicktight seat, because if there's one thing I hate, its seat belt installs.  I looked everywhere on the internet, and couldn't find a side by side of the two seats, and I didn't have TONS of extra room in my car.  I was shocked that I couldn't find a single picture of these two seats together, especially considering they're probably 2 of the 4 most popular seats.  So when I finally bought the Britax Boulevard Clicktight, I set out to do a side by side of my own.

So on paper, similar seats.  Britax is a little bigger and fits a little bigger kids, Chicco fits the squishy ones better.  What I was really curious to see was how they both installed in the same vehicle, and how they looked next to each other.

Its not how I expected.  The Britax is slightly bigger, but because of the recline, really only slightly, although the harness is visibly higher.  I think Britax pulls it off by using a slightly shorter base.  It works wonderfully.  

So what about for smaller babies?  Newborn recline.  
Both seats offer a great fit for the average newborn, but only the Nextfit fits the Huggable Images Preemie doll.  Remember that both have newborn inserts, and neither is pictured here.  The Nextfits padding is significant and makes up for alot of the harness room that it looks like it has here.  

The recline levels look to be visually about the same, and the padding is comparable.  

The Britax seat has thicker shoulder pads that may need to be removed, and the HUGS feature that needs to be removed for many small children, including mine.  Anyone happen to notice the little feet here?  Someone stayed outside with me through the WHOLE process.  She loved the sunshine!

Moving on to in-the car views, here are both seats in my 2013 Nissan Rogue.  Its not a big crossover, but it holds both seats well (even together-and even with my tall husband in the seat.  
I installed both at an upright angle and with the headrest fully extended.  The seats were in the same position (far enough back to accommodate tall husband-but not all the way) and both cleared the front seats.  The front seat was still more than comfortable.  The Britax seat, although bigger, allowed about 2 inches more than the Nextfit.  

I quickly tried them side by side, and couldn't get a good install.  Although its not surprising from two fairly wide seats.  I didn't try them at a newborn recline, though I suspect they'd do relatively fine.  Instead, I did try a middle install (which we use on a day to day basis anyhow) and found that our infant seat would fit next to the Britax, eliminating the need to recline the seat so far.  

I couldn't do the same with the Nextfit, so it looks like when baby #2 eventually rolls around, we'll be using this combo, whether its middle and driver side or driver side/passenger.  

I went through and tried the same set up in Giordy's PITA Chevy, and while I can't say its bad (for being a sedan) I definitely didnt get the same results.  Both fit, both allowed the headrest to be fully extended, but it left much to be desired in the front seat space.  The Nextfit does much better here, allowing a decent amount of passenger space, but my husand wouldnt be comfortable driving more than an hour in front of it, and definitely wouldnt fit in front of the Britax.  Again, when only installing one, we use a center install to gain him some more room.  

Again, I didnt try to recline them much, but I'm not sure how much you could while maintaining leg room.  The back seats of this car have a steep pitch to them.  Its meant to maximize adult legroom, but it just doesnt play as nice with car seats.  And the infant seat here?  Not even gonna happen.  I could still drive the car, but my husband couldnt even get in.  For the record-all 3 seats fit nicely alone in the center, but the Nextfit was still the least space-eating in this vehicle.  

To finish it off, I'm going to throw in some quick quirks about the seats that I noticed while going back and forth.  

Extendable Headrests- The headrest of the Nextfit lets out a little extra harness from the back to accomodate moving the seat automatically.  The Britax harness has to be manually let out, and then the headrest can be extended.  Not a deal breaker, just annoying.  

Lock offs- The Nextfit is an EXPENSIVE seat.  It just is.  But the mandatory lock offs are SO cheap.  They're literally flimsy plastic.  But they do the job and have been crash tested, so I guess they work.  On the other hand, the Britax "Clicktight" is their own branding of a lockoff and a major selling point of the seat.  Its one of the reasons I love the crap out of it.  A 2 year old can literally do it.  

Comfort-This can be debated ALL day long, but my kid cries a LOT less in the Britax Boulevard.  She's a car seat hater, and even she can't bring herself to loathe this seat.  

Harness Tightening-If you have a smaller kid, the Nextfit is so hard to tighten to their itty body.  Even still with Aisley.  Bigger kids are a cinch though.  Britax integrated a click thing onto their adjuster that I just don't particularly care for at any age.

What are my favorite things about the Nextfit?  The recline system is a breeze, and has tons of allowable positions for rear facing kids, while my Graco only had one rear facing position.  The high sides offer side impact protection and it is more comfortable than many other seats.  The latch installation is super easy, and I'll never buy another seat without lockoffs for seatbelt install.  

So why did I spend the extra money on the Britax?  Marketing?  Safety?  It one of about 10 car seats that uses steel instead of plastic, and one of only 2 brands that allows a rear facing tether.  The HUGS reduce forward movement by one third.  That's a lot.  The Safecell technology has shown to absorb tremendous force in an accident, and the Clicktight installation is just a dream for me after the fiasco that was Graco's magically loosening car seat.  

I think it all comes down to the vehicle.  While they take up about the same amount of space (still can't believe it) I still prefer the Nextfit in the pitchy seats and the Britax features in my car.  I love them both, each for different reasons.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why (and How) to Teach Your Baby Sign Language

Communication is one of the best tools you can give your baby.  Plain and simple.  Give them love, food, and knowledge. We've been teaching Aisley sign language since she was a month or so old, and our hard work is starting to majorly pay off.

So why did we do it?  
From the time babies are born until the time they are 5, their brains are wired to learn to communicate.  This means that this is the best time to teach a baby another language-or even to read.  Short term, it makes parenting a completely different dynamic.  I started signing to my daughter at about 6 weeks old and (even though I was admittedly lazy about it)she was signing back by 5 months.  It started slow, but by eight months old, she was telling us what she wanted before melting down!  We could walk through a store with almost no risk of a screaming baby!  At 11 months, she signs at least 10 times a day.  Every morning she signs "milk" and "eat" and by the afternoon she's signing "bacon" (her uncle's nickname) "bath" and even "night night" when she's sleepy.  Beyond that, she has so much more understanding. I can sign "change" to her and say "let's change your diaper" or sign "get dressed" before laying her down.  While she used to vehemently refuse, after teaching her the sign, she permits being laid down and sometimes-she's even agreeable.

How did we do it?  
Submersion.  We started with one sign (milk) thinking that too much would confuse her.  We were wrong.  Sign everything.  Aisley picks up more the more we submerge her.  When we try to teach her one thing at a time-she seems to forget that she can literally sign anything she wants.
Now?  We sign all day.  We tell her "all done" and she mimics.  We tell her we're going to play and she gives us the biggest smiles.  Before long, she'll be signing them back.  At Aisley's age, she can pick up a sign in 2 days.  Seriously.
We bought her a couple books to help her learn as well but I dont even think they're necessary.  By "a couple" I literally mean this one and this one.  They help, but we didnt have to spend a dime.  They aren't encyclopedias either-we have Google for that.  It's just a little "nudge" and a little more submersion for Aisley to have books and look at the pictures as well.  We sit in her room and I'll show her the pictures and sign them with her.

Won't it make my child less verbal??
No.  Also, NO.  Aisley has been signing for a freakishly long time, and she speaks more than any other baby I've ever met.  This little girl started talking at less than 7 months old-not babbling either, saying words with meaning.  She knows 12 words (and more we don't quite understand) at 11 months old, and still signs, waves, blows kisses, and claps.  I think the signing helped her speak sooner.  It submerged her in the idea of communication since she was only weeks old.
I've heard the arguments about babies getting "lazy" and not wanting to speak when they sign.  Its just not true.  Babies want to learn.  Its our job to teach them.  Give them the understanding and they'll take it from there.

I know, ramblings of a sleep deprived mom.  We'll see where it goes from here, but for now- its been wildly successful.

Aisley says "Milk!"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blogging Time "Wasted"

We've gotten Aisley on a semi-decent schedule and we're transitioning to one nap a day (eek!).  This means I have anywhere from 1-3 hours daily to shower, get dressed, clean up the house, and you guessed it, blog....sans baby.  Quite frankly, its really hard to write with her crawling up my leg.  This week though?  No blogging was done.  This ten minutes is all the time I have to write.  Where did my time go this week?  Photoshop.  Though, I don't think the results will disappoint.  Here's the by-product of my "wasted" blogging  hours:

Happy Valentine's Day, Internet!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Only "Gear" You Trust with Your Child's Life

Many, many people have children, and many, many people muddle through Amazon reviews and product guides and read sales pitches on swings, cribs, bouncy seats, and yes, car seats.  But how many people truly go beyond that?  How many people comb through the manual once they actually buy the product?  How many people do research beyond what a company wants you to think to learn real-world facts?  Not as many as you'd think-even though the information found is invaluable.

The truth is that no matter how good your crib is, it isn't meant to preserve your child's life.  No matter how much you love your Mamaroo, it won't be going 70 mph.  Isn't it time that we all stopped acting like a car seat was a device to hold a child, and start acting like its a device to save  a child?

Most people blindly take the advice of their pediatrician, the nurse who discharges them from the hospital, their mom, next-door neighbor, or the fireman who installed their seat.  While some of these people may know all the best practices, many are untrained in car seat safety.  Because of this, many people are just not knowledgeable.  Three out of four car seats are used improperly, and most of them are misused in one of the following 8 ways:

1.  The child is in the wrong seat/position:
My daughter recently hit the 20 lb mark, and is quickly coming up on a year old.  These two criteria are the legal minimums to turn a child forward facing, but one study found that 30 percent of children under one year were forward facing, while only 13 percent of 2 year olds remained rear facing.  While my daughter is a few weeks shy of legally forward facing, we won't be making the switch for a LONG time.  In a collision, the neck and spine of a forward facing child takes 4 times more than that of a rear facing child.  While a child *might* be okay while forward facing, I've chosen to give Aisley her best shot in the worst-case scenario.  The following two images show the force between two properly restrained children in the same simulated accident.  There's no arguing who looks more "comfortable" here.

The American Association of Pediatrics now recommends rear facing to a minimum of two years, and as long as possible afterwards.  No, big kids aren't uncomfortable rear facing.  No, their legs will not break if they touch the vehicle seat.  Not a single leg break has been reported from a rear facing car seat.
Once a child is forward facing, they should remain harnessed until a minimum of 5-7 years old.  Children younger than that don't have the proper spinal ossification to use an adult seat belt.  Don't believe me? There's only a 50% chance a child's spinal axis is closed by age 7.  Scary.  Beyond that, the average child doesn't have the maturity to sit in a booster seat properly until this age or later.
If you have a child around this age--check the link here.  I haven't done as much research here yet.  Because, well, I have a one year old.

2.  Car seat is not installed tightly;
When a car seat install is complete, the seat should move no more that one inch at the belt path.  Seem excessive?  Think about what a couple inches of slack would do in a 70 mph crash.  On the other hand, too tight isn't any better.  Many parents begin their research and think "Well, if tight is the way to go, I'll use LATCH and the seat belt to secure it."  Not good either.  Every single car seat manufacturer warns against this.  Too tight can cause the vehicle belt to stretch or break, and that isn't good at all.

Most car seats have a checklist in the manual

3.  Harnesses need to FIT properly:
For rear facing that means AT or BELOW a child's shoulders.  Just because its below their shoulders doen't mean they are "too big" for that slot.  Putting the harness on a position too high allows a child to move freely through the seat in an accident, and may cause a "whiplash" effect on their head.
Conversely, for forward facing, the harness need to be AT or ABOVE their shoulders to minimize forward movement in an accident.

4.  Pinch test every time:
This is a biggie.  When you use the 5 point harness on a high chair, you trust that your child can't wiggle out; when you use a 5 point harness on a car seat, you should expect that your child cant escape even at the forces of 70+ mph.  Each time I put Aisley in any car seat, I preform a "pinch test."  If I can't grab anything, great.  If anything comes up between my fingers, its back to fight with the tightening strap.

5.  Chest Clips are for Chests:
In the even of an accident, tremendous pressure is exerted on the chest clip, and in turn, on a child's body.  I always make sure the chest clip is even with Aisley's arm pits, putting the pressure on her sternum instead of any soft organs that may be affected.

6.  Your Car Seat is PERFECT the way it is:
Anything that wasn't in the box of your car seat may not be safe to be added.  Any infant positioners or strap covers that you need....they come in the box.  Any thing else just hasn't been tested with your seat.  And while it might preform fine with aftermarket giraffe strap covers or a cute Etsy liner, you just don't know that for sure.  Beyond this, there are no regulations for "crash testing" car seat accessories.  That means that I could go sew a few car seat strap covers, open an Etsy shop, and sell them as "crash tested" as long as I preformed my own test.  I could run them over with my car.  They're still there?  Cool.  Oficially "crash-tested" and approved.  It says it right there on the sticker.
Seriously?  No.  Why gamble with a child?


7.  Understand the danger that "fluff" causes:
As mentioned before, harnesses are meant to be tight.  My kid hates it, but its true.  If you dress a child in a snowsuit or fluffy coat, the harness is deceptively tight.  Its only tight on the suit, not the child.  I could go out to my car in the rain and show pictures of Aisley for this, but she really hates going in and out of the car seat, and I can't demonstrate this any better than the following video from The Car Seat Lady (because, frankly, I'm not gonna grab my kid by the head- and mine would cry A LOT more)

8. Only use it if its safe as when you bought it-
Car seats are not meant to be rugged.  They're meant for ONE use.  They need to be replaced after accidents, after their expiration, or after they have been compromised.  Most car seats only allow the use of a damp cloth (and maybe a mild detergent) on the straps.  If the harness straps have been submerged in water, they have been weakened.  This also means that you shouldn't buy a used car seat.  I love a good deal as much as the next mommy, but the fact is you just don't know.  Did the previous owner know how to care for the seat properly?  Did they know it couldn't be used after an accident?  Even if you ask these questions, do you trust a strangers honesty and integrity?  I knew one woman who sold a car seat after washing the harness straps in the washing machine with bleach.  She insisted that it wouldn't hurt the straps-no matter what the manufacturer said, and when the other mom asked, she told her the "used" seat was as good as new.

Yeah, they're pretty insistent on doing it their way.

The misinformation is rampant.  And its causing children to be hurt, or worse.
I'm fully aware that I *may* worry too much.  I'm fully aware that I seem crazy.  But because of it, I'm part of the twenty-five percent of people who use their seats correctly.  Every time.  I'm just fine when people call me a "helicopter mom."
I truly hope that I'll never need to know if my car seats work.  I drive as carefully as I can, but I can't control other idiots people on the road.  But I know for a fact that if the worst were to happen, I'd be infinitely more likely to have a child walk away from the car unharmed.