Beach Essesntials With Babies & Toddlers

Now that we have a daughter, and she is a little older, we go to the beach 3 or 4 times a year.  It’s a relatively easy trip to plan and something our whole family can enjoy.  It’s not even summer yet and we’ve already been twice this year to nearby destinations.  Before we had our daughter, I was at the lake or on a beach almost every other weekend during the summer months.  Life prior to baby was definitely more carefree and spontaneous.  Before baby, planning was simply:

Friends: “Beach this weekend?”

Me: “Sure!”

After baby, as simple as I try to keep the planning and packing, the car is still loaded up to the brim, and then there is the logistics of actually getting to the beach involved.  A 6 hour drive is no longer 6 hours as we need to stop more frequently for diaper changes and melt downs.  We try to time the bulk of the drive during nap times for our sanity but that means the actual vacation time is cut short since driving is done during the middle of the day.  After finally arriving at the beach, how long we stay is dictated by baby’s needs and many times I might not even get a chance to go in the water, tan or walk along the shore.  Please don’t get me wrong though; I’m not complaining.  These beach trips are treasured family adventures and I love seeing my daughter enjoying the gorgeous outdoors.  I’m just noting the complications going to the beach now entails for me after becoming a mother.

mother and toddler playing in sand at beach

Earlier, as a lead up to Mother’s Day, I had written about my 3 unexpected pregnancy challenges, but like Melissa, restrictions were top on my list of (expected) pregnancy challenges.  Jet skiing was definitely something I gave up after I became pregnant.  I also didn’t go boating anymore and eventually stopped going to the lake and beach because I didn’t want to wait or watch alone by the shore.  My friend, who owned the boat and jet skis, didn’t really understand my overly cautious stance as his wife was also pregnant at the same time I was and she continued to go boating with him.  If I were 10 years younger like she was, or if I hadn’t miscarried before, or if it hadn’t taken such a long time to get pregnant again after the traumatizing miscarriage, I might have continued to join them.

I don’t know how many more years it will be before I can be a spontaneous beach goer like before, but packing for the beach this year with my 3 year old was already notably less intensive than packing for the beach last year or the year prior.  Maybe with each experience we get better at determining which gears work for us but my 3 year old also has much more predictable needs and her schedule is more flexible. I also didn’t need to prepare and bring specific (baby) food, diapers, swim diapers, and more diapers.  The essentials that haven’t changed for our family beach trips, in no particular order, are:

Sun Protection

Some or all of these: Sunglasses, hat, sunblock, umbrella, and tent or shelter with SPF.  The tent also comes in handy for keeping baby off sand and for naps, and privacy if you’re big on that like I am (e.g. for diaper changes, nursing, etc.).  A rash-guard with SPF, especially ones with sleeves, will also provide more sun protection coverage than a swim suit and serve double duty in keeping baby or young child warm if the surf is cold.

Sunday Afternoon Toddler's Play Hat

 

Baby Powder (talc-free)

This makes removing sand a breeze. BREEZE!  Just apply liberally to body and the sand brushes right off with the powder.

 

Toys

This can be as simple as a disposable cup or spoon for the sand and water.  My daughter’s favorite is still just a shovel and a bucket.  Bubbles and a kite are also fun toys at the beach.  Other toy ideas we tried include water gun, floats, and sand molds.

IMG_5730

We haven’t tried a metal detector but that was a great suggestion from Stephanie. She also suggested the great idea of burying treasure, such as beautiful seashells, for kids to discover or dig out and it was a super huge hit with my daughter.

seashells by the seashore

A young baby also needs toys, albeit maybe not sand toys, but toys to distract baby from trying to eat sand.

 

Towels/ Change of Clothes

For drying off (and for laying or sitting on if not bringing blankets or beach chairs).

Dry clothes with plastic bag(s) for wet or sandy clothes or suits.

 

Hand and Face Wipes

You could just use a towel, but I felt the moist wipes were better and most conveniently, not sandy, when attempting to clean food from faces, wiping runny noses, moping up sweat, or cleaning weird stuff found on the little fingers etc.

 

Hydration

Beverage bottles with built in lids like funtainers (I swear I never knew these existed before my daughter needed one and now I see that almost all kids have one?) are so much easier to use on the beach than trying to open a bottle cap with sandy hands, and keeping tabs on the cap.

 

Food/ Snacks

For me, I found it’s almost always handy to have some (healthy) snacks on hand when with young kids.  They can expend a lot of energy in a short period of time and a snack can be just that, but it can also be the magic that prevents an impending melt down from over exhaustion.  Some snacks like fruits will also provide hydration.

How much food to bring really depends on how long you’re staying on the beach and when you’re going.  I used to see families with young kids spend the whole day on the beach eating not one but two meals in the sand, and I envy them.  With my daughter, we have stayed for a maximum of 3 hours, because she would either want to, or I would see that she needs to leave.  We have been having lunch on the beach because my daughter loves picnics but since we stay for just a few hours, we can easily just go after lunch and not have to bring any food to the beach.

 

Safety/ First Aid

It doesn’t have to be fancy and can be just a plastic bag with saline solution, in case sand or sunblock gets in eyes, and a few bandages and antiseptic ointment, in case of cuts (e.g. sharp rocks or shells vs. little tender baby feet).

This year we took a life jacket with us because my daughter loves the water and despite swim lessons, can’t swim.  I can’t swim to save my life either after 5+ years of lessons so I thought a life jacket when playing in deeper water would be the safer bet.

Life jacket or swim floaties is where I see the most variation on the beach. Most families have some sort of toys, or food, or sun protection with them, but as far as life jackets or floaties, it’s all over the map.  Some families are on one extreme of helicopter parenting, like ours, where the kid is within arms reach and attached to some sort of flotation device, while some families are on the other extreme of ‘no-rescue’/ free-range/ platform parenting, and kids barely able to walk yet are playing happily along the shoreline with the parents looking up from tanning only when the kid returns, with all kind of variations along the two ends of the spectrum.

Toddler in life jacket on boogie board at beach

Depending on where along the paranoid parent spectrum you fall, safety/ first aid might not be beach essentials on your list.  On our last day at the beach, the family next to us had 4 beautiful boys ranging from a non-crawling infant to maybe 5 or 6 years old.  They had a large cooler of snacks and beverages and lots of toys.  But then the 2nd eldest boy came back to their tent crying because he got sand in his eye.  And he got spanked for crying and refusing to go back out to play because he said his eye hurt too much so I’m sure they thought our kid looked absolutely ridiculous in a life jacket.

 

Waterproof Bags/ Pouches

You can probably leave most your valuables at home/ hotel but something for your keys and phone can be useful.  I really wanted needed a phone protector because face it, don’t you want to try to get pictures of your cute kid on the beach too?  Water proof pouches also double as sand proofing gear too.

waterproof phone protector (1)

 

Most things are standard for a beach trip with or without kids; just with babies and young kids, I need to be extra diligent about sun protection and hydration.  I never use all I bring but I just find it less stressful being prepared for contingencies.  Having some extra clothes and extra towels in the car came in handy several times.  So what are your beach essentials when going with a baby or young kids?

IMG_5723

 

Cheers,

with love charlie

 

 

 

 

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A Cake for Mommy

What happens when my toddler wants to bake me a cake?  I baked myself a bake.

My kiddo helped more than I expected so that was a sweet surprise.

measuring ingredients

Bonus:  Refrigerator Art for Mommy

(AKA How I know she really really loves me)

Except when she excitedly showed me the hand prints she proudly made for me.  I suppose I should be thankful the sentiments are there, and glad that she didn’t protest too much when I had to removed her lovely creation.  I showed her the picture I took of it and said I would treasure it forever so I could clean the refrigerator.  She said “forever is a long time Mommy”.  That cheeky little monkey.  I will treasure her sass too.

flour hand prints

Sweet, but not too Sweet, Please

I wanted to find a recipe that didn’t have too much sugar.  I suppose too and much are subjective, but I went in search of a sponge cake recipe for cakes like those often sold in Chinese bakeries because they’re usually not too sweet (IMO).  I found one on the Nancy Baked blog  which had only one cup of sugar.  That’s not too much right?  And most importantly, I loved how she had detailed process pictures, very important (did I say that already?) for a baking-noob like myself.  Sigh, the things I get myself into for my toddler.

Chinese Bakery Cake Recipe

for 2 9″ round cakes, adapted from Nancy Baked

Ingredients:

6 eggs (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 and 2/3 cup
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Tips:  This sponge cake is light and fluffy because meringue is gently folded into the batter.  This is easier if you have two separate mixing bowls, one for the batter and one for the meringue.  Or if you only have one mixing bowl, divide and pour batter into the two cake pans and then wash the mixing bowl before making the meringue and fold it into the batter directly in the cake pan.

Nancy Bakes’ directions were to line the bottoms only, and not the sides of the baking pans, but I didn’t have parchment paper on hand so I didn’t line at all.  Instead I had rubbed a little bit of butter onto the bottom of the pans and felt the cakes came out okay.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (~176 degrees C)

1.  Separate Eggs

(with a Funny Egg Egg Yolk Separator)

I saw this egg separator at Walmart years and years ago and I *had* to get it even though I didn’t really bake because it was so fun looking.  I had it for over 10 years and this was the first time I used it for real.   Everyone who sees it in my kitchen comments on it but I was never able to say honestly if it worked or not.

And (this feels like a big reveal, ta-da), it actually worked well!  I We separated 8 eggs without any mishap so this funny egg egg yolk separator was a good $5 investment.  The recipe only called for 6 eggs, but it was so fun we did all 8 we had.  I just looked for it on Amazon and it’s still $5.  Not much inflation for egg yolk separators huh? (Affiliate link to buy your own funny egg egg yolk separator here)

seperating eggs

2.  Beat egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric beater on high for approximately one minute or until it turns pale yellow.

3.  Sift cake flour and baking powder over the pale yellow egg yolk mixture and mix at low speed until just incorporated.

4.  Add water, oil, and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.

mixing batter

My daughter performed the above steps but I took over for the following steps:

5.  Make meringue by whipping room temperature egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until slightly foamy.  Then add cream of tartar and beat on high for approximately 3 minutes or until stiff peaks have just formed.  Then decrease speed to low and while the mixer is still on, add in the 1/3 cup of sugar.  Then beat at high for another 30 seconds or so until all the sugar is incorporated.  You should be able to turn the meringue upside down and it won’t move, but how risky you live your life is entirely up to you.

6. Gentle fold meringue into batter until just incorporated.  The less mixing, the fluffier the cake.  Then transfer quickly to baking pans (if not mixing directly in pans) for baking.  The longer the batter rests, the less fluffy the cake.

7.  Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F (~176 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes until tops are golden brown.  Every oven seems a little different – it took 25 minutes in my current oven (probably because, looking around sheepishly, ummm, the vents in the back of my oven are covered with cat hair).

ready to come out of oven

8.  Let cool until warm, approximately 8 minutes, before moving from pans to cooling racks to cool further.  The cake will shrink and your house will smell wonderful.  I had to guard the cooling cakes from my daughter because she kept pulling up the chair to try to sample them.  I don’t mind her sampling but didn’t want her to burn her cute little fingers.

9.  Decorate as desired when completely cooled.  I also used whipped cream and strawberries like Nancy Bakes did.  I try to always have heavy cream on hand for our family’s favorite creamy chicken recipe and since I often buy my strawberries from Costco, we usually have a little too many so this was a great way to use them up.  Whipped cream frosting is also nice when you want something lighter.

 

Whipped Cream Recipe

For a 2 layer cake, adapted from Nancy Baked

Ingredients:

4 cup heavy cream
2 cup powder sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or extract of your choice)

Optional:  Food coloring

This whipped cream frosting is very light and the sweetness can be adjusted easily with more or less powder sugar.  You can also adjust the flavor with different extracts or additions.

Directions:

Tip:  It works best to use very cold equipment – leave heavy cream in refrigerator until ready to use and store whisk and metal bowl in freezer for at least 30 minutes prior to mixing.

1.  Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, starting at a low speed and gradually working up to high to minimize splattering.

2.  When the cream starts to thicken, gradually add powder sugar and vanilla extract.  We stopped intermittently to taste and determine if we needed more sugar.  Try not to eat all the whipped cream and save enough to decorate the cake.  That is very hard to do.

3.  Scoop whipped cream into a coriander to drain excess liquid.  Maybe we didn’t couldn’t wait long enough but nothing seeped out.

Nancy Bakes provides additional directions on adding optional gelatin to add structure and stiffness to the whipping cream.

Decorating cake

My daughter alternated a spoon of whipped cream for the cake and one for her mouth until we ran out of clean spoons.  For the astute, yes, my daughter is now in blue instead of yellow. Baking a cake can be a messy job for a 3 year old and may require a change of clothing, or two, to get the job done.

sponge cake

Mother’s Day is coming up.  While I had said I no longer expect any gifts as experiencing motherhood was the ultimate gift itself, I am not above using it as an excuse to order a big Baskin Robbin’s fudge crunch ice cream cake.  I mean cake is the answer to everything right?  And everyone gets to enjoy the treat so it’s not just for me right? Cake is love right?

I haven’t told the kiddo about Mother’s Day yet but if she wants to bake me another cake, maybe I would do it (sniff ice cream cake, I’ll miss you) since this time didn’t turn out a complete disaster thanks to Nancy Bake’s detailed pictures and to my kiddo for all the help.  How about you?  Would you bake yourself a cake?

 

 

The Best Baby Advice I Got

Melissa recently asked me “What was the best piece of advice someone gave to you before you had your baby?”

The Best Baby Advice I Got

“It’s not a sprint.”  I got that piece of advice early in my pregnancy, and it wasn’t until my daughter was almost 2 before I realized it was the best parenting advice I was given.  At the time, I thought it was a backhanded comment and I was being chided for being so high strung.

I knew I was a perfectionist, and I liked to plan for contingencies, so while this understandably got on some people’s nerves, it served me well as a project manager. And it was why I was often put in charge of process improvement initiatives.  “It’s not a sprint” is now one of my key parenting mantras.  It’s not a sprint.  Heck, parenting is not even a marathon.  It’s…just life.

The first two weeks when my newborn daughter was still sleeping like a champ, I stayed up day and night, despite the choruses of “sleep when you can, sleep”, because I was so busy cleaning, and preparing and planning.

Now I know I really should have been sleeping because none of my cleaning mattered, none of the preparation prepared me for when my daughter refused to sleep again for the next 22 months, and none of my well intended plans came to fruition because baby came first and baby doesn’t care I had plans.

Now?  Some days I go to sleep even though my house is in a state of emergency because it was hit by a rainbow tornado.  It’s okay to wait to clean another day because it’s not a sprint.  I can sleep first knowing we had fun making a giant paper Mache Easter Egg.

I now also know that some things just aren’t up to me.  All my so called contingency plans had underestimated how much influence/ sway my little baby, now preschooler, has over me.  Irrationally, my fear of her shiny little tears and the desire to see her giggle just get so much more weight in daily decisions than I imagined.  Some days she is extra fussy and just wants to cuddle and read books together so I “couldn’t” get groceries and make dinner as planned.  I just boil some frozen dumplings instead and it’s okay.  It’s not a sprint; not every meal has to be three courses and balanced, as long as it is mostly and generally healthy in the long run.

The long hours I had poured into my work soon paled in comparison to the hours I am a parent (because it’s all the time- it’s not a sprint) and the pace I had taken was just not sustainable.  For almost two years, I stayed fully engaged and this allowed me to limit screen time to practically zero.  Right now, my daughter is watching Bubble Guppies and eating a popsicle while I type this.  I just needed a break, both mentally and physically, and it’s a hot day, so it’s okay since a little screen time (and sugar today) can’t be more damaging for her than if I burnt out as a parent.  I’m glad I got to sprint a few years, but now I’m at a better pace to enjoy what I hope is many many more years together…life.

“What was the best piece of advice someone gave to you before you had your baby?”

 

My Birth Story

As my due date drew nearer, I found myself visiting a lot of mom blogs to see birth stories for an idea of what to expect.  It was my first time and I was clueless. I had taken a birthing class but it seemed too textbook: there are three stages, labor, birth and afterbirth.  Don’t go to the hospital too soon, or you’ll be sent home. Don’t go too late or else…

I did pay attention, I really did, but it was months ago and I just couldn’t get a good idea of the general timeline or how I would know how everything is proceeding, well or not.

Holding hands with Newborn hands

My Birth Story

So here is my birth story.  The shortish version is that my water broke, sorta, and so I was admitted into the hospital before my contractions started.  Turned out I had a double amniotic sac and only the outer layer had broken.  I ended up getting an amniotomy (AROM) because my unborn daughter and I both developed a temperature.  I also ended up getting an epidural with mixed feelings as it wasn’t originally a part of my birth plan, but having it resulted in such an easy, enjoyable, painless (except for the burning sensation from the Pitocin) and most importantly quick delivery that with 20/20 hindsight I wish I had gotten it as soon as it was offered.  Another benefit was I didn’t feel the episiotomy or the stitches afterwards, although a part of me still feels like I missed the full experience of giving birth to my daughter.  And in the future, when she is being an insufferable teenager, I can’t say I had a rough time bringing her into this world.

Just kidding.  But not really.  Anyways, now the loooooooong version.

3 AM – Water Breaks

According to Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, a pregnancy and childbirth expert, only 13% of water breaks before labor.  Well, two days after my due date, I think my water broke. At 3 AM in the morning, a warm wet feeling in my nether region, like a heavy period or a (female) wet dream, woke me from my sleep.  I had started wearing a pad and was sleeping on a few towels just in case (yeah, I am prepared like that!) so I wasn’t worried about cleaning up, instead I was staring at a damp pad. So did my water break? I didn’t have any contradictions yet so from what I can google, I shouldn’t be going to the hospital either case.

I wasn’t sure if my water broke but I was too excited to fall back asleep so I just wandered around the house organizing this and that until around 6 AM when the mister woke up for work.

He called the 24 hr answering service for the obgyn office and left a message.  The obgyn who was on call returned his call around 7 AM and after asking about my COAT (color, odor, amount and time) told me to go to the hospital for a check up, given the fact I had no check ups the 3 recent weeks, and that I was already past my due date.

8 AM – Arrive at Hospital

Since we only lived 10 minutes from the hospital, I took a shower first and ate breakfast and still arrived before 8 AM.  However, the receptionists, reasonably, admitted the moms arriving in active labor first so I wait until almost 10 AM before seeing the room where the magic will happen.

Hospital delivery room

My newborn awaiting testing in the hospital delivery room

I still had no contractions and not sure if the water broke so a nurse examined me and confirmed with litmus paper, and reconfirmed under the microscope that the water had broken.  But by noon (8 to 9 hours since my water broke) I was still only a few centimeters dilated and didn’t have contractions yet.

3 PM – Started Temperature (Fever)

Over the next few hours, I started getting contractions.  They were fairly regular, intense and lasted 45 to 60 seconds and were 3 to 5 minutes apart.  According to the American Pregnancy Association, this is the active labor phase and when I should have headed to the hospital.  With my contractions, I also felt chills and started to shake uncontrollably. I had a fever/ temperature and was given antibiotics through IV.

4 PM – Amniotomy

The obstetrician examined me and said my amniotic sac was still intact and after conferring with the nurses and reviewing the test results, determined that I had a double sac and only the outer layer had ruptured.  I don’t recall making a decision but the obstetrician performed an amniotomy, otherwise known as an artificial rupture of membranes (AROM). I didn’t remember reading or learning anything about this before but apparently it’s common although not always necessary.

5 PM – Epidural

The obstetrician and nurses who came to check on me, and there were many had all highly recommended I get an epidural.  I was originally noting down people’s names so I can send thank you cards, but there were approximately 5 new faces every 4 hours. By now I had been introduced to at least 20 different people.  I declined the epidural repeatedly, partly because I am scared of needles, and even more scared of urinary catheters, and partly because I had wanted to feel the whole birthing experience.

I persisted until my daughter’s heart rate stayed high even when I wasn’t having contractions and I started having a temperature.  The obstetrician said if things don’t progress really really quickly, it’s highly likely I would need a cesarean section and then I would have to get an epidural or anesthesia anyway.  I didn’t want to risk my daughter’s health so I readily agreed to an epidural at this point.

She also wondered if I might be suppressing the contractions to limit the pain (only normal right?) and so it might progress faster if I wasn’t feeling the contractions.

An hour later, I met with the anesthesiologist.  The anesthesiologist was very nice and addressed my concerns and tried to calm my fears.  The local anesthesia felt like a small cold pinch – like a typical flu shot or blood draw.  It worked quickly because I didn’t feel any pain when the epidural needle or the tube that replaced it were inserted. I had sat and leaned forward for the procedure.

In less than half an hour, I suddenly felt no more pain.  Wow!  I can feel the tightening and the pressure of the contractions but there was no discomfort.  Did I say wow?  The epidural tube was connected to an automatic pump so the dosage could be dialed up or down easily.  I had requested the lowest dose possible to start, knowing that I can always increase the dosage if required.

With the epidural at the lowest dosage, I could still move my legs if I tried to, but I didn’t feel any discomfort from the contractions.  I also didn’t feel the episiotomy, a surgical cut in the perineum to facilitate delivery and reduce the likelihood of tearing.  I also didn’t feel the urinary catheter insertion which was one of my biggest fears for getting an epidural.  My grandmother, before she passed away, had told me several times she mostly dreaded her hospital stays because of how uncomfortable it was to have a urinary catheter inserted so I had not wanted to ever experience it for myself.

In fact, the Pitocin, a hormone to cause uterus contractions, which made my hand and most of my arm feel like it was burning, was the most painful part of the whole delivery.

9 PM – Delivery

Just 3 hours later, maybe because of the epidural, or the amniotomy, or the Pitocin, or some combination of those three, I was ready.  The nurse called the obstetrician because I was crowning.  I of course couldn’t feel it.  So I pushed when they said push and 4 pushes later, 3.5 pushes if I want to be exact, my baby was out.  It could have been only 3 pushes, but I ran out of breath on that third push it was totally weak sauce.

My newborn came into the room and said “eh” once.  And that was the end of my birth story and the start of a completely new one where we are both still writing together everyday.

Newborn foot print

The nurse made a foot print of our newborn for us upon request after her bath. But they no longer did hand prints.

Looking for more birth stories?  Check out Melissa’s amazing home birth story!  They are more rare than my birthing class led me to believe.