Tuesday, December 29, 2009

tutu-torial: easy ballet tutu gift

Esme loves to play dress up. Her favorite dress up costume is a play silk tied as a Super Girl cape around her neck. For Christmas this year, the one thing Esme wanted more than anything else is a ballet costume to dress up in, complete with tiny slippers and a colorful, fluffy tutu, of course. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to get creative and hand make another gift: a tutu!

Since I unfortunately do not sew, I needed to be extra inventive in finding something I could do. I went to the craft store and got several spools of 6 inch wide tulle in a variety of colors, as well as a few spools of ribbon and some elastic. I cut the elastic a couple inches smaller than Esme's waist and stitched it to make a circle. Then I cut a few dozen strips of tulle to tie to the elastic waist band. I cut the tulle to about 24 inches so that I could double it up (fold it in half) so the tutu would be about 12 inches long.

Next, I folded each strip of tulle in half and, at the center of the strip, looped the tulle at the top of the elastic and pulled the tails back through the loop to make a knot at the top. I did this with each strip of tulle and lined up the knots in a nice row. Here is a picture:

I used a deep purple-burgundy tulle and intermingled with a glittery light blue. I was happy with how this tutu turned out, but I was not crazy about the elastic band. I took some ribbon and cut it to fit Esme's waist, plus about 10 inches on each end to tie a nice bow. I tied the strips of tulle, this time slightly longer, maybe 30 inches long (for a 15 inch long tutu). Here's the second tutu:

I love the red ribbon with the red tulle (red is Esme's favorite color). And I really like the look of the ribbon verses the elastic waist band, though I am not sure which one will fit and last longer until she wears them around for a while. I made a third tutu, this one for Evelyn, as a gift as well:

I made Evelyn's tutu out of glittery blue and sage green with white ribbon.

This project is one of the fastest and easiest gifts, and it does not cost too much to make, either. I think it would be cool to make an extra fluffy tutu by doubling up the tulle and tying two strips per knot.

I look forward to taking pictures of the girls wearing their tutus!

Friday, December 18, 2009

what does a doula do?

Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning "woman who serves." These days, though, doulas are professionals, usually women, who provide emotional, physical and informational support to a woman and her family during the antenatal, birthing and postpartum periods. The three most common types of doulas are labor doulas, postpartum doulas, and antepartum doulas.

A labor doula attends a birthing mother and her family before, during, and just after the birth of the baby. By serving as an advocate, labor coach, and informational resource, a labor doula helps ensure a safe and satisfying birth experience. She often provides reassurance and experienced perspective, helps with relaxation techniques including massage and positioning, and makes suggestions to progress labor. Studies have found that the presence of a doula at birth results in shorter labor with fewer complications, reduces negative feelings about one's childbirth experience, reduces the need for intervention (including pitocin, forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesareans), and reduces the mother's request for pain medication and epidural. Before labor begins, a labor doula will familiarize herself with a pregnant mother's birth plan, which will include preferences regarding management options and the use of pain medication, and will assist in establishing breastfeeding after the birth of the baby.

A postpartum doula assists the new mother and baby, as well as the rest of the family, within the first few weeks after the birth. Postpartum doulas are especially knowledgeable about newborn care and breastfeeding. Providing patient and non-judgmental support, postpartum doulas offer a family breastfeeding tips, baby care and advice (on topics such as bathing, circumcision, vaccinations), emotional support and reassurance, light household help, sibling care, meal preparation, and errand running. As the role of a postpartum doula is strictly non-medical, she does not provide any clinical care.

An antepartum doula has specific and extensive training that relates to assisting pregnant women who are classified as high risk, pregnant women who may be on bedrest, or pregnant women with medical conditions necessitating additional help. Antepartum doulas provide assistance, education and physical support for a pregnant mother, sibling care, errand running, meal preparation, home care, and emotional support.

Doulas do not offer medical advice and do not perform clinical tasks (such as checking fetal heart rate, taking the mother's blood pressure, performing vaginal exams, or delivering a baby--although many are trained for such in case of emergency situations). Doulas do, however, have professional training and/or experience from the organizations that they train through and/or the births and clients they attend. Doulas are employed by pregnant and postpartum women and their families to provide physical comfort, emotional support, and to advocate. They provide their clients with unbiased information necessary to make informed, educated decisions.

If you are considering employing a birth, postpartum, or antepartum doula, it is important to get to know her first, check references, ask about her attendance and experience, and if she has birthed and breastfed a child.

Helpful Resources

Books on Natural Childbirth
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, PT, CD
The Birth Book by William Sears, MD, and Martha Sears, RN IBCLC
Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCuthcheon
Easing Labor Pain by Adrienne Lieberman
Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier & Healthier Birth by John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus, Marshall H. Klaus

Books on Having a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean 
Natural Birth After Cesarean: A Practical Guide by Johanne C. Walters & Karis Crawford
Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & VBAC by Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois Estner

Books on High-Risk Pregnancy Care
The Pregnancy Bed Rest Book by Amy E. Tracy
When Pregnancy Isn't Perfect by Laurie A. Rich
Intensive Caring by Dianne Hales & Timothy R. B. Johnson

Books on Postpartum Care
Rebounding From Childbirth: Towards Emotional Recovery by Lynn Madsen
Mothering the New Mother: Women's Feelings and Needs After Childbirth by Sally Placksin
The Year After Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

babies--a new film

The upcoming film by Thomas Balmes, Babies, which will be released in April 2010, follows the story of four babies in four very different cultures through their first year of life. Babies takes a look at the uniqueness and differences of this early stage of life in Mongolia, Namibia, Tokyo, and San Fransisco.

I look forward to seeing this film, especially learning about the other cultures. It also reminds me of one of the most interesting and refreshing articles, “Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan,” published in the July-August issue of Mothering Magazine, in which Canadian-born Ruth Kamnitzer writes about Mongolians’ distinctly different attitude toward the practice of breastfeeding. Living in Mongolia while nursing her son, she soon learned she did not have to take pains to be discreet:
In Mongolia, instead of relegating me to a 'Mothers Only' section, breastfeeding in public brought me firmly to center stage. Their universal practice of breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, and the close quarters at which most Mongolians live, mean that everyone is pretty familiar with the sight of a working boob. They were happy to see I was doing things their way (which was, of course, the right way). When I breastfed in the back of taxis, drivers would give me the thumbs-up in the rear view mirror and assure me that Calum would grow up to be a great wrestler. When I walked through the market cradling my feeding son in my arms, vendors would make a space for me at their stalls and tell him to drink up. Instead of looking away, people would lean right in and kiss Calum on the cheek. If he popped off in response to the attention and left my streaming breast completely exposed, not a beat was missed. No one stared, no one looked away--they just laughed and wiped the milk off their noses.
Kamnitzer still felt a bit out of step with cultural norms—but this time, roles were reversed. She had to learn to become comfortable with much looser standards about who should be drinking breastmilk:
If weaning means never drinking breastmilk again, then Mongolians are never truly weaned—and here’s what surprised me most about breastfeeding in Mongolia. If a mother’s breasts are engorged and her baby is not at hand, she will simply go around and ask a family member, of any age or sex, if they’d like a drink. Often a woman will express a bowlful for her husband as a treat, or leave some in the fridge for anyone to help themselves.
Not only do I look forward to the segment on Mongolia, I am also very curious about birth and nursing practices in Namibia, a culture where parenting is natural and nurturing, but the risk of illness from HIV, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia is dangerously high. Namibia already had high rates of infant death and illness due to perils like HIV, malaria, and imposed pressure of powerful corporations to artificially feed babies, even amidst the poor water conditions common in this part of the world. In this case, artificial breast milk substitutes greatly increases malnutrition and diarrhea in infants and leads to higher instances of infant death. However, when Americanized birthing styles and mass immunizations (sometimes with good intentions but outdated ingredients or 'left-overs' from the U.S.) began to be imposed on mothers/babies in Namibia, rates of morbidity and mortality started to climb even further.

Japan, on the other hand, currently has the fourth best rate of infant health and survival in the world, drastically different than that of the United States, which does not even compare, sitting behind 44 other countries in infant mortality and morbidity rates--and, sadly, is continuing to fall farther every year, according to the CIA infant mortality statistics. It is interesting that, even though Japan has started to adopt many of the birthing and baby care trends common in the United States, they still maintain far better rates for infant survival then we do, although their rates did fall slightly after they began adopting these trends.

Infant morbidity and mortality statistics will exist no matter what we do--it is an inescapable part of nature. However, there are varying reasons for these statistics to exist as they do. We can learn from the birthing and infant care practices of countries with the lowest infant mortality and morbidity statistics, such as Singapore, Bermuda and Sweden, and make positive changes in our own practices as a result. I look forward to seeing the film Babies, and I anticipate that it will be both delightful and insightful. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

knittin' mittens

A wonderful thing about having a homemade Christmas is knowing that the handmade gift given, decoration hung, food enjoyed is special because it was made with love. When something is made with love, I like to think it is a give that is cherished. It does not have to be fancy, nor does it have to be expensive. But when it’s made with love, it cannot get better than that. The one who receives the homemade gift, sees the decoration, or enjoys the dish will know and remember that those things were not there because we ran out of time, but because we took the time to make them.

For Yule this year, my go-to knitted gift is mittens. So far, I have completed a total of six pairs of mittens. Some of them are simple, classic mittens, while other pairs are hybrid designs. One was a complete experiment. All turned out well!

The first pattern I used was Classic Mittens by Bernhard Ulmann. An easy pattern, each pair knit up quickly in a couple days. I made three different sizes, Women's Medium (for my Mother in Law), Kids Large (for Evelyn), and Kids Small (for Esme). The first one here is for my mother in law. I chose a variegated pink and gray, and I think I might knit some ear warmers to match them since her birthday is on Christmas Day.

Evelyn is making a shift from having her favorite colors being pink and purple to her new favorite colors of blue and turquoise. I chose this variegated yarn with purples and blues, even though they do not match her winter coat at all. 

These little toddler mittens are for Esme. I chose the same yarn as the mitts for my mother in law, mostly to use up the leftover yarn. The size makes them cute as can be! I might make a cord to attach the mitts inside her jacket so we do not loose them.

My father in law wanted a pair of useful, all purpose mittens, so I went for a simple look more than anything. I used the pattern Jack-in-the-Box Mittens from Knitting New Mittens & Gloves by Robin Melanson as a basis, but I had another cable that I used instead for a more ‘manly’ look. I am very pleased with how these turned out.

I knit a pair of trigger finger mittens for David. I love them! I used the pattern Mrs. Martin's Finger Mitts from the book Favorite Mittens by Robin Hansen, and I used a simple off-white wool yarn. It was hard to get the size right, since David has rather large hands.

The last pair of mittens I made to go with the hooded scarf I am knitting for my mom for Christmas, but they did not go at all, so I am keeping them for myself. I did not use a pattern, but sort of improvised the design. I used an acrylic blend from my stash. They are soft and comfortable!

I would still like to knit a pair or two of fingerless mittens. I have my eye on a couple of patterns, though I am not sure how much time I will have before Christmas since I still have several other projects to finish first. Hopefully everyone loves their mittens!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

crayon cookies

The girls enjoyed this project, which was the opening to our Yuletide crafting event: Crayon Cookies. It was a great opener because the girls kept busy peeling the paper off the crayons while I gathered supplies for our other projects. And it got rid of all the little bits of crayons we have left in the crayon box.

Here is what we did: the girls peeled the paper off our old crayon scraps, snapped the crayons into small pieces and piled them in mini-muffin tins. Remember not to fill the tins too full or they will overflow in the oven.

We had preheated the oven to 350 and, once it reached temperature, turned the oven off. Then we popped the crayon filled muffin tins in the oven and baked them for five to ten minutes until they melted. After removing them from the oven, we let them solidify in their pan. Let me say they did not look like much inside the tins, but once we dumped them out on cookie cooling racks, the colors really came alive!

The Crayon Cookies are a very easy, relatively clean project for children and they make perfect little holiday trinkets for classmates and playmates!