My favorite natural deodorant

30 March 2016

And now for something different :) If you read blogs, you’ve probably heard people talking about “natural” varieties of deodorant. And perhaps, like me, you’ve been curious. Though I do try to incorporate “natural” products into my toiletries where I can, I’m not obsessive about it, and as far as I can tell the jury is still out on whether the ingredients in conventional deodorant (namely, aluminum and parabens) are actually harmful. However, I generally think rubbing fewer metals on my body is a good thing, and besides, I have never in all my life found a deodorant I’ve been truly satisfied with, despite trying a plethora of Super Hardcore No Sweat Ever varieties over the years.

Inspired by this post from A Cup of Jo, I decided to try LaVanilla first. I expected a bit of an adjustment period (apparently, odor can get worse for a bit after you switch as your sweat glands detox/unplug), but after several weeks of no improvement and less than pleasant underarms, I ditched LaVanilla and went looking for another option.

The comments section of that same CoJ post seemed to coalesce positively around Schmidt’s, so I dove back in and ordered the lavender and sage jar. Almost immediately, I could tell a huge difference – this stuff actually works!!

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Disclaimer: because it has no aluminum in it, it’s not technically an antiperspirant, and I do sweat when I wear it and it’s hot outside. But I also sweat when I wore the Super Hardcore No Sweat Ever varieties, so I don’t consider that a big negative. And, Schmidt’s does include “natural plant powders that absorb wetness,” which help keep you dry. In terms of deodorizing, though, this stuff is as good or better than any conventional deodorant I’ve ever tried.

The only annoying part is the application – you scoop out a small amount with a little spatula, warm it between your fingers, and then rub it in – which is kind of messy and takes a few seconds longer than you’re probably used to. I was excited when they came out with a stick version a few months ago and promptly ordered one, but haven’t found it to be as effective as the jar formula.

So there you have it! Enough about my underarms :) I would love to hear if you’ve ever been tempted to try natural deodorant, or if you currently use it! (And if so, what kind? Ever since I saw them on Shark Tank I’ve wanted to try PiperWai!)

Notes from the first six weeks, part two

25 March 2016

Even though they take awhile, these posts are SO fun to write, mostly because of all of you!! I love hearing your thoughts, where our experiences converged and diverged, and when something I’ve shared has been helpful. Today I wanted to write about six practical things we did that made our first six weeks run more smoothly. I hope they’ll work as well for you as they did for us!

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This may be my favorite photo ever taken of June… she’s just so darn cute!!!

Recreate the hospital environment at home. I debated whether to include this tip, because it was really only important for a short while – but for that short while, it was REALLY important to me, so here it is! If, like us, you enjoyed your time at the hospital, like us, you may find yourself feeling lost upon arrival back at home. Where were my nurses? Where was my bed that moved up and down? Were we supposed to walk upstairs every time we had to change June? She was supposed to wear clothes? I was supposed to wear clothes??

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Let this be an encouragement to you that not everything needs to be cute!! See that cut-open Huggies bag? We brought it home from the hospital, and that’s what we used to hold diapers for WEEKS. We actually just traded it in for something else a few days ago, and we were both sad to throw it away because it reminded us of those sweet days. Yes, we are now sentimental weirdos :) More thoughts on some of the products you see here coming soon!

So, that first night back, we swept away what we had planned and made our home environment as “hospital like” as possible. One thing that had been really helpful was having everything close at hand, so we set up a command station in our bedroom with spots for changing, feeding, storing her clothing, etc. We took off her jams and put her to bed in a double hospital swaddle, as they had recommended at the hospital. I stopped trying to nurse around a bra and clothing and just put on a robe for feedings. We recreated the hospital’s dosing white board with our own simple system (see below). And we jacked up the heat (even though it was painful for our frugal hearts!), because that’s what she had been used to in the hospital. And it worked! She actually slept for five hours straight that first night because we all slept through the alarm that was supposed to wake us up after three hours (oops). As we adjusted over the next few days and weeks we didn’t need all of these things, but they were helpful and comforting at first, and really smoothed the transition.

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If something isn’t working, try something else. Sounds obvious, right? But this is John’s number one tip, and he had to remind me of it over and over. Even if something isn’t working, sometimes it just seems easier at the time to keep trying it – maybe because you’re too tired or don’t have the head space to think of an alternative, or you think “that’s just how it is.” But doing the same thing and expecting a different result is, I believe, the definition of insanity. So, if something’s not working – your baby’s not sleeping, she always cries during tummy time, it hurts when you feed her – just try something – almost anything! – else! Of course, it’s great to make an educated change, but often, all it takes is a little common sense and a few minutes of observation to get a better result.

Work together overnight. People have all different strategies for tackling overnight feedings, but here’s what works for us. June sleeps next to John’s side of the bed. He collects her when she wakes up (which is good, as I often don’t hear her!), changes her, re-swaddles her, then hands her off to me after I’ve had a chance to get settled in the glider (which is in our room). When he was still on leave he’d usually stay up with me, but now that he’s back to work he goes right back to sleep. After she’s finished eating, I pop her back in her bed. I love this system because it makes me feel supported and like we’re in it together, but it’s not that taxing for John since he’s able to fall immediately back asleep. (One tip on that – instead of leaving something like a bathroom light on, we just have a tiny nightlight next to the glider, which is enough light for me to see by but doesn’t keep him awake!)

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Shower every day. Or do something that makes you feel confident and put together. Showering is a good place to start (ha!), but maybe for you it’s putting on shoes or lipstick or earrings, even if you never leave the house. For me, I know I am happier, more patient, and more forgiving when I have clean hair — which sounds ridiculous, but it’s just something I’ve noticed. Showering is also a great place to start because it only takes a few minutes and babies generally like the hum of running water or the fan. When we’re by ourselves, I’ll usually bring June into the bathroom in her Rock and Play while I shower, so I can talk to her and don’t have to worry about what she’s up to!

Choose a goal for the day. And if your goal is showering, that’s totally fine! :) Right from the beginning, John and I made a point to choose at least one thing we wanted to accomplish every day aside from keeping everyone in our household alive and fed, and we’d share these things with each other in the morning. Sometimes our goals were as simple as putting the registration sticker on our car, calling the hospital to ask about a bill, or writing a thank you note. We’d often get more done than our one thing, but even if we didn’t, we still felt accomplished. I still do this now that it’s just me at home, and it’s still helpful!

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Contrary to how this photo makes it appear, our early walks almost always involved June in the Ergo or in the car seat attachment for our stroller! :)

Walk, walk, walk. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s because I believe going for a walk (almost) every day was one of the best choices I made while pregnant, in the hospital, and during recovery. I walked a mile and a half around our neighborhood the second day we were home from the hospital! You better believe I was holding onto my stomach/incision the whole time, and we were not setting any speed records, but I did it! The calories burned are almost besides the point — I think the real benefit comes from getting off my rear; stretching my muscles; the boost from being outside; and either the clarity of free space to think (if I’m alone) or the chance to talk through whatever is on my mind (if I have a conversation partner). Needless to say, I can’t recommend fitting a walk into your daily routine often enough. And babies (or at least June!) seem to like them, too!

I’d love to hear what you think about all of this!! (Or if there’s anything else you’re wondering about that I haven’t addressed!) Coming up next: our favorite products from the first six weeks!

Marvelous Mama Allyson

23 March 2016

There are few things that get me more excited than seeing people excel at something they love. Even better? When that person or thing doesn’t necessarily fit in the box you’d expect to put it in. Such is the case with my friend Allyson. We went to high school together (and were co-editors-in-chief of our news magazine!), and if you had told me at graduation that a few years down the road she would own her own farm in our hometown and be a full time farmer, I would have told you you were crazy (and maybe she would have, too – she started out going to school for a journalism degree, if I remember correctly!). But that’s exactly what she’s doing, and it’s amazing. And from the looks of it, she and her husband are raising two very lucky kiddos at the same time. There are so many sweet thoughts and wise words in her interview that really resonated with me – I hope you enjoy it!

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Name: Allyson Angelini
Occupation: Farmer
Who do you live with? Introduce us! My husband, Keith, and I met about six years ago while working on a farm together. We share a passion for good food, laughter, and a love of family, which forms the foundation for our relationship together. But aside from that, we couldn’t be more different! He loves pop culture and baseball and I love doing projects and working outside. We work really well together and constantly help each other to become the people we want to be.

Our son, Henry, is 19 months and pure happiness. He’s been making me smile since the day he was born. I learn something new about him each day, but right now he is passionate about music, trucks, helping me with projects, and the color yellow. And we are expecting a daughter in January! [Updated to add: their daughter, Cora, has arrived, and is adorable!!]

Outside of our home – on our six acre farm – lives our cat Leonard, eight piglets, and several hundred chickens.

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What does a day in the life look like for you? As a work-at-home mom running a diverse farm business, my days are never the same, and that’s what I love most about our lifestyle. Our mornings start whenever our son wakes up. I used to love waking up early and getting tons done before breakfast, but becoming a mother has made my fondness for sleep even stronger.

Most mornings we eat a big breakfast together: eggs from our chickens, bacon or sausage from our pigs, and potatoes and other veggies from the garden. It’s our favorite meal of the day (so much so that we served breakfast for dinner for our wedding!) and it’s a nice time to review our schedule and goals for the day before we rush off. As soon as we’re finished eating we head outside to farm chores – which go much faster when we work together. After all of our animals are moved to fresh pasture and are fed and watered, my husband takes our son inside to play while he gets ready for work and I continue working on my list of projects for the morning. When Henry joins me to work again we usually do projects together, or I set up an activity for him to do alongside the work that I am doing.

Running a farm can be a life-consuming job, especially for someone like me who loves to work! But setting a realistic schedule of tasks and accomplishing them on time is a skill like any other that requires practice and diligence. After almost ten years working on different farms and now running my own, I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how long it takes to do each project and I schedule my week to maximize the time that I have. That way when it’s 11 o’clock and time for a break I’ve usually accomplished what I hoped to for the morning and can enjoy a leisurely lunch playing with Henry and puttering around the house. It’s not always easy, but without that home/work balance I’m not happy, and neither is my family.

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After lunch Henry takes a nap and I work on projects that aren’t toddler-friendly – tractor work, hand-weeding the carrots, and anything that I didn’t finish in the morning. Mondays and Fridays are our busiest days, when we harvest produce to feed the 70 families of our MemberShare program. Each week for six months they come to the farm to pick up the ingredients they need to make a meal (all grown by us): chicken, pork, veggies, herbs, eggs, berries, etc. Those are also my favorite afternoons of the week, getting to see all of our families and friends when they come to pick up their farm share.

Evening chores on the farm usually take less time. I try and prep dinner at lunchtime so that we are ready to eat when my husband arrives home from work around 5:30. After dinner we do an activity as a family (take a walk, do puzzles, play trucks) and then tag-team cleaning up the house and preparing for the following day while getting Henry ready for bed. Story time is at 7:30 and bedtime for Henry follows. After that my husband and I finish up projects and usually check emails and do computer work on the couch next to each other until we are ready to sleep. Our days are full, but that’s how I like them.

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What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? Lunch is almost always leftovers or something thrown together quickly when we come inside ravenous after a morning of working on the farm. Dinners are often more planned, so that I have an idea of what I need to prepare at lunchtime based on our schedule for the day. Unlike many families who follow a menu plan, I opt for keeping a well-stocked pantry and freezers so we pretty much always have whatever meal we would like on hand. Our weekly grocery list basically includes dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, etc) and starches (crackers, pasta, rice, etc), and the rest of our food is grown on the farm. I despise doing dishes, so one-pot meals are my favorite.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? Probably not get too prepared! Getting pregnant right after getting married meant that we didn’t have much time to settle into a lifestyle WITHOUT kids. We didn’t read parenting books or decide on how we would raise our children – conversation usually just wandered to all of the wonderful things we were excited to experience as parents. While pregnant we encountered too many people that made newborns seem terribly exhausting, expensive, and life altering in a negative sense; we did our best to avoid them and their advice and to keep things as simple as possible.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Prior to having kids, I lived a very independent life. My husband and I lived together for less than a year before our son arrived, so I was very used to spending nearly all of my day happily in solitude. Several people warned me about how much I would miss alone time once children arrived. But for me, the opposite was true. Now that all of my hours are filled with companionship and a love I didn’t know was possible, I feel a deep loneliness whenever my son and I are apart. Even when he is sleeping in the room right next door or happily playing with my husband while I work on a project, I miss him. I never could have expected that.

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What is your parenting philosophy? I have no idea. And my guess is that even if I could articulate it well enough to manifest itself as a true philosophy, it would change as quickly as our toddler’s food preferences. That being said, I believe in the importance of scheduling and routine, and the importance of flexibility and spontaneity. I believe in healthy, farm-fresh food, as well as warm cookies. I believe in always having clean clothes, and constantly engaging in messy activities. I believe in spending as much time as possible with my children in order to inspire independence. I believe in laughter and giggles and always taking time to listen. I believe in constant love.
Where do you go for parenting advice? Most often I go to my own mom. She gives me the confidence to do whatever I think is best, which is really the best parenting advice that you can receive.
Best tip for a new parent: Be mindful of how your own mood constantly affects the mood of your children. There are certainly days when consistent calm, patience, and happiness can be a struggle to maintain, but it’s clearly reflected in how your children will act. Mindfulness will make your life much easier. Having children will make you a better person. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more tangible, invest in a baby carrier. I still wear Henry often and find it’s the best way to maintain a happy kid while still doing what I need to do. And use cloth diapers! They are adorable, affordable, and so much easier than disposables.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. Perhaps breakfast occurs too frequently to be considered a family tradition, but it’s almost always my favorite part of the day. We are all full of energy in the morning and so excited to start our day. Plus, we grow delicious breakfast food :) We are fortunate enough to live in a town and be a part of a community with a ton of seasonal traditions (like watching Santa arrive on a tugboat and going caroling at Christmas time). We also live close enough to our extended families that we are able to continue a number of our traditions from childhood, which feels really special.

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One thing that has fallen by the wayside since having kids and one thing you’ll never compromise on: I love a meticulously clean house and well-groomed yard, but during the busy farming season those things are no longer top priorities. I’m still learning to not let dusty floors and an overgrown garden not drive me crazy, but as long as things are tidy I’m content enough to fall asleep each night. I don’t ever compromise on cooking delicious food or making sure all of the laundry is clean and folded. We use cloth diapers and spend a lot of time outdoors getting dirty so we make a LOT of laundry, but I always make sure we have a clean start to the day.
Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: I certainly don’t have one favorite, but I really adore reading children’s books. Our son would be content reading the same tractor book over and over for hours each day, so I am mindful about constantly cycling through the books we own so that they always feel new and exciting. We purposely don’t own many books because I love to go to the library each week for new reading material.
What is your favorite part about having children? Aside from the constant love and laughter and obvious joys of parenthood? Once I became pregnant with Henry I felt instantly welcomed into the world of motherhood and a community of other mothers. I’m still so often touched at the kindness that comes from sharing a common experience with so many other people. While farming can be a relatively isolating profession, being a mother makes me instantly connected to people that I hardly even know.
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: Like my own parents, I give my son the space and materials he needs to explore and create. I get so much pleasure out of watching that process. Unlike my parents, I’m raising my children on a farm. That environment affects nearly every aspect of our lifestyle and I hope that one day they can appreciate how we choose to live.

Thank you so much, Allyson!! Y’all can learn more about Full Heart Farm here and visit their Etsy shop here! (And if you’re in southeastern Connecticut, consider joining their CSA program!)

Notes from the first six weeks, part one

17 March 2016

I deliberately called this series “notes” instead of “tips” or “tricks,” because I’m thinking of what I’m sharing more as observations than prescriptions. Every baby and every family situation is so different, and I just want to share what’s worked for us and discuss what’s occurred to me along the way. Today’s post, especially, is pretty conceptual – thoughts on some of the paradigm shifts and ways of thinking that really impacted our first few weeks in a big way. If you’re looking for something a little more nitty-gritty, never fear — I’ll be back soon with a few more practical tips (yep, I’ll call them tips) from the first month and a half, and then I’ll follow that up with our favorite products from the first six weeks. Here we go!

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Choose a job with paternity leave. There is nothing that made a bigger difference in our first six weeks than both John and I being home with June. With a two-on-one dynamic, we were both able get more sleep, stay more calm, bond with our daughter, and learn how to take care of her. From helping me with breastfeeding to handling almost all of the diapers, John did so much; my experience would have been totally different had I been alone, or even with a family member, during the day. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a career, but if you know you want to have children, I’d recommend adding “family friendly policies” to the top of your list as you search for a job. This is often easier said than done, I know, and I don’t want anyone to despair if this isn’t their situation — but I feel like I can’t not mention it. Just something to consider.

Learn together. When I read Emily Henderson’s interview on Design Mom two years ago, this answer struck me as so true even then, and now that I have a baby, her genius has been confirmed. Apologies for including such a long quote, but it’s all so good! She writes, “I think that when moms know so much more about child rearing than dads, that they get intimidated and kinda give you the power, which causes lots of problems. Try everything you can to empower your partner as a father, to make him feel like he is good at it as you are, as often as possible. …Try to figure things out together, with a lot of ‘what do you think we should do about…? Where should we keep the bottles? How often do you think we should bathe him? How long should we let him nap?’, instead of you telling him what you guys should do as parents.

I think when women come up with child care systems and then just tell their partners about them, it can lead to them feeling like it’s just not their thing and then of course you bear the burden of more child care. Even if you think you know, try to learn it again with him so he doesn’t feel stupid and scared and then you are annoyed and feel like you can’t leave the house or he isn’t going to be able to feed or bathe your baby. It’s a cyclical process: Brian is a good dad because he feels like he’s a good dad. He feels confident and that he knows what he’s doing and therefore wants to do it even more. Most people don’t like to do what they aren’t good at, so help him be good at being a dad without making him feel stupid and he will want to do it more.

YES! I love to read, so of course I read lots of books on pregnancy and raising kids. I’ve seen over and over, though, that my “book learning” is no match for John’s common sense, so it’s not at all hard for me to think of him as an equal partner. Still, keeping Emily’s wise words (and specifically using this vocabulary) in mind has been so helpful for our functioning as a team!

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Remember, you will know more tomorrow than you know today. And you know more today than you knew yesterday. We had a lovely two-hour chat with our friends just a few days before June was born, and they said something that really stuck with me. Like us, they didn’t have too much “baby experience” before the birth of their son, and they marveled to us how much more they knew at the end of the first week of his life – like, light years different. That was so encouraging for me to hear, and I’ve found it to be true over and over. For example, from the beginning it seemed like people were constantly commenting to me about how I probably could recognize June’s different types of cries and what they meant. Uh, nope. Definitely not at first. But now I can! We’ve gotten to know June more every day, and along the way, we’ve learned so many things about HER as a baby and how to help her – what it means when she makes a certain noise while eating, when she wants to be held upright versus cradled, how to best settle her down for a nap. Babies change constantly (they like to keep you on your toes!), but your knowledge base is constantly growing, too. You’ll know more tomorrow than you know today!

Keep your expectations low. Perhaps because I’m admittedly not a baby person, I never had illusions about how wonderful the newborn phase would be. In fact, I expected it to be hard, frustrating, and exhausting, with little emotional feedback from our newest family member. I wasn’t depressed about this; I just figured it would be something we’d have to get through, and it would get better every day. And though there have been harder days, on the whole, June’s first few weeks were SO WONDERFUL! Because I had low expectations, every good thing felt like a revelation. Even the smallest victories and happy moments were a delight. If you can, really and truly keep your expectations LOW.

Unwrap each day. I wanted to write a whole post about this, and maybe I still will. But at the rate I’m going that won’t be until 2017, and it’s too important to wait until then! On the recommendation of our friends and our siblings, John and I watched “About Time” when June was three weeks old. Have you seen it? It’s a little perfect gem of a movie with Rachel McAdams and an older Weasley brother :) I don’t want to give too much away because I expect you all to watch it and I don’t want to lessen the emotional impact it will have on you — but just know that the lesson from this movie is one that has literally changed my life, and the way I move through my days. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect movie to watch with a newborn. You will bawl, but it will be worth it.

Ready for my next post? Here are seven very practical suggestions that helped us through the first six weeks! In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think about today’s five thoughts!!

A blueberry baby shower

10 March 2016

I have so many posts that involve Miss June in the queue! Posts about her birth, her nursery, books I read while pregnant, the first six weeks, and her newborn photos are all in various stages of completion… but today, since I’m definitely not going in chronological order, I wanted to share the photos from my North Carolina baby shower!

Before I do, however, I have to mention that I also had a wonderful baby shower in Connecticut, hosted by my sisters-in-law, Natalie and Marget. This one was much larger – maybe 40 guests, including extended family, childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, and my Mom’s friends :) It was in a cozy room with a fireplace at the Norwich Inn & Spa, and the favors were the adorable sugar cookies below! Even though I don’t have too many photos from it, I treasured this day, and the chance to see so many New England loved ones, SO much. The thoughtful details by my two main Thomas squeezes were just the icing on the cake!

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My second shower, in North Carolina, I DO have photos from – mainly because a talented photographer was the co-hostess. You may recall that I co-hosted a woodland-themed baby shower for sweet Nancy back in the spring, and I was tickled that she volunteered to team up with my sisters and return the favor a few months later!

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My younger sister Kim and Nancy took the lead on organizing everything, and they did an amazing job. They decided on a “blueberry” theme, a nod to our nickname for June while I was pregnant. There were SO many sweet details – here’s a peek!

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My older sister Kate unleashed all of her pent up miniature food recipes on this gathering, and it was glorious. Treats included mini Caesar salads in parmesan cups, mini pulled pork tacos, mini cups of mac and cheese, mini stuffed peppers, and cucumber tea sandwiches. Ashley Cakes contributed adorable sweets, including mini cupcakes and hand-painted cookies!

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Finally, the gals thought up the cutest shower activity. Since June’s nursery has a light horse theme, they provided a little plastic horse for each guest to paint. I know she (or at the very least, I) will love playing with them in a few years!!

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For more photos from the shower and for Nancy’s perspective, take a peek at our feature on The Little Umbrella! Big hugs again to these ladies for arranging this special day for me!

P.S. My little niece below – ha!!

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Photography: Nancy Ray | Invitations: Minted | Bonjour Blueberry print: Maison Everett | Flowers: English Garden Raleigh | Sweets: Ashley Cakes