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Diaper. Rash.

Ugh. Diaper rash has taken over, and it is not pretty.

I am a crazy diaper rash remedy lady.

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Left to right above: diluted Bragg’s raw organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the mother, coconut oil, Honest Healing Balm, Nystatin, Boudreaux’s Maximum Strength Butt Paste, Badger Calendula & Zinc Oxide Diaper Cream, Desitin Maximum Strength, Kissaluv’s Diaper Lotion Potion Spray, plain water.

I never predicted that this would be my life.

When I was pregnant, I did not give any serious thought to diaper rash. I was going to use cloth diapers on my baby, and everyone knows that cloth-diapered babies never get diaper rash because cloth is breathable and free of irritating chemicals … which is lucky because regular diaper creams are not compatible with cloth diapers anyway. On the off-chance that my perfect organic baby did get a hint of diaper rash, I would just slather on some raw, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil and watch the redness magically disappear.

In preparation for using coconut oil to solve every possible problem that new parenthood could bring, I ordered a gallon of it on amazon and then spent a blissfully ignorant pregnant Thursday night parcelling it into smaller recycled jars and dreaming about how I was going to save the world one drop at a time.

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We started using our cloth diapers when Beatrice was two days old after running out of the disposables we had swiped from the hospital.

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I was using the coconut oil preventively at every diaper change, along with plain water on a cloth wipe with a spritz of the diaper lotion potion spray.

At 10 days, I noticed the teeniest bit of a diaper rash developing, so we started doing some air time.

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Our pediatrician recommended a more intense barrier diaper cream to protect Bea’s sensitive skin from acidic breastmilk poop, so I looked around and landed on a recipe for diaper cream made from coconut oil + shea butter + corn starch. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I whipped up a batch using tapioca starch in place of corn starch. The rash was gone within the day. I continued using this recipe preventively for the next two months with no issues at all. On the maybe two occasions that I noticed a bit of bumpy redness, some airtime and a squirt of breastmilk cleared it up almost immediately. Bea was waking up for only one or two brief feedings at night, so we were even able to leave her in the same diaper all night long with no rash in the morning.

When Bea was just over three months old, I noticed a patch of bumpy redness that was more stubborn and did not respond as quickly to my usual tricks. The rash would almost disappear and then be back again the next day. I tried using tapioca starch alone in case too much moisture was the issue, and that approach worked for a weekend, but the rash still came back a few days later. I cut a fleece blanket into strips to use as stay-dry diaper liners, but the situation got a bit worse and I started to worry that she was having a reaction to the polyester. I put her in an adorably too-large wool diaper cover (instead of the usual PUL cover) overnight for breathability.

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No improvement.

After about two weeks of this cycle, I caved and set out to buy an official diaper rash cream. I landed on the Badger Zinc Oxide cream because it was petroleum-free, almost all organic, and likely safe to use with cloth diapers.

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At first, the cream seemed to help, but by the second night of using it, the rash was worse again.

I tried plain petroleum jelly from the little foil packs we got at the hospital. No good.

I caved further and bought the Butt Paste, thinking it might stick better and keep her skin more protected. Nope!

At this point, I started to wonder whether my zinc-based cream attempts were to blame. Baby’s skin on zinc:

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It looked like an eczema-type reaction to me. I went back to plain coconut oil and air. Rash got better. And then it got worse.

I started to worry that the rash could be yeast since it was so persistent. It did not look as red and beefy as the yeast diaper rashes I saw when I was working in the pediatric clinic, and no broken skin was involved, but we just could not shake this rash! I bought grapefruit seed extract and washed the diapers in that and tea tree oil in an attempt to kill anything nasty they might be harboring.

At Bea’s 4-month checkup, the pediatrician confirmed that the rash was likely yeast due to its behavior, especially because it was not responding to traditional diaper creams. He prescribed Nystatin, and we started using it later that day. The rash seemed to be improving that afternoon, but it was worse again by the next morning! I googled around and found that many people have had success by applying regular diaper cream over the Nystatin. I had a sample tube of Honest Healing Balm, so I started putting that over the Nystatin and noticed improvement. The rash never went away completely and then got worse again after a few days.

I was sleeping, eating, and breathing diaper rash. Every time Bea fell asleep, I was googling new ways to try to solve it. I asked my friends with babies about their rash experiences. I hated using the anti-fungal medication and it did not seem to be helping, so I went back to just coconut oil and air. Better and then worse again.

I whipped up some concoction with the last dregs of the Nystatin and Badger tubes, coconut oil, and a sample of Emily’s Diaper Skin Soother.

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I coated Bea in this mix overnight, and it actually seemed to help quite a bit. Sadly, it was a one-of-a-kind blend, and I did not have the ingredients to replicate it. I also assumed that it would not get rid of the rash completely because NOTHING was working.

Are you feeling my pain yet? This was MADDENING. I am sure my crazed state was only exacerbated by the fact that I am currently a nonstop stay-at-home mama with a maximum of five minutes (if even!) to spare at any given time. These brief moments of independence provided just enough time to obsessively google diaper rash cures.

We had to buy disposable diapers for an upcoming trip, so we picked up an extra pack just in case the cloth diapers were somehow continuing to re-infect her. I did several heavy duty washes of the diapers alternately using grapefruit seed extract, tea tree oil, vinegar, and even bleach … and then I sadly set them aside.

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In my last desperate attempt to conquer the yeast (or so I thought), I slathered yogurt all over Bea’s bum and slapped on a ‘sposie. I was out of Nystatin, and it didn’t work anyway, so I left a message for the pediatrician and waited for a return call.

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I investigated more natural remedies for yeast and ordered beeswax, chamomile oil, tea tree and lavender essential oils, bentonite clay, and more shea butter from amazon.

When the pediatrician called back at the end of the day, he suggested trying over-the-counter Lotrimin and slathering a thick layer of heavy-duty diaper cream over it. He told me to stop the air time and to prioritize keeping Bea’s skin protected so that it could heal. He suggested that I keep her covered in so much diaper cream that I would not be able to see her skin for several days.

At the crack of dawn the next morning, Bea and I took a sunrise walk to Walgreens to purchase our latest rash attack strategy.

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Taking the pediatrician’s advice nearly killed me. I worried that I was subjecting my baby to a long list of mystery ingredients, all in the name of clearing up a silly diaper rash that did not seem to be bothering her anyway. But it was bothering me! And although Bea was not complaining, the rash did not look comfortable, and I was scared it would keep getting worse. I was willing to do anything if that rash would just go away.

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I followed the pediatrician’s advice for 1.5 miserable days, which is all the time it took for me to deplete both tubes. Man, diaper rash is EXPENSIVE! And no matter how much diaper cream I put on Bea, it would all rub off in the diaper. The cream actually seemed to be causing the diapers to dissolve, and I was constantly battling leaks and blowouts, which were rarely issues with the cloth.

Midway through day two of this regimen, with no improvement to be found, I threw it all out the window. We went back to cloth diapers, and I stuck to using the prefolds because they can better withstand the washing machine abuse necessary to rid them of the diaper cream residues. I had some cheap Gerber prefolds that I had been using as burp cloths, and I worked them into the rotation as well.

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I left Bea diaper-cover-free most of the time to allow for sufficient air circulation. I changed her diaper every hour. I started using diluted apple cider vinegar (1 tsp mixed with 1/2 c water) to pat her down at each diaper change. I tried quitting the Lotrimin, but the rash spread more, so I kept using it. I stopped using the zinc creams that made her skin angry and started using Alba un-petroleum jelly.

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Best stuff ever.

We went on a family trip to Atlanta for the weekend and had to use disposables, but we kept using generic Lotrimin with the un-petroleum jelly all weekend and were SO close to being rash-free. And then, all of a sudden, the rash was back with a vengeance!

WTFFFFF.

When we got home, I went back to the cotton-only cloth regimen and the diluted ACV wipes. I added in some warm water baking soda bath soaks. I tried some diluted way-too-expensive oregano oil that was supposed to be a miracle yeast killer.

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I bought new tubes of Lotrimin and un-petroleum and started applying them at every diaper change.

My amazon package arrived, so I prepared my diaper rash cream lab.

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Inspired by a couple recipes I found online (this one and this one), I crafted my own miracle rash cure with 1/4 c coconut oil, 1/4 cup shea butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp beeswax, 1 tbsp bentonite clay, 5 evening primrose oil capsules, 7 drops tea tree/lavender oil, and 7 drops chamomile oil.

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I opened Bea’s diaper the next morning expecting a miracle, obviously.

THERE WAS NO CHANGE.

This diaper rash cream had everything necessary to protect, heal, remove toxins, disinfect, and soothe her little baby bum. And there was NO change??

My house: where diaper rash creams go to die.

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I gave her a baking soda soak, figuring it would at least be soothing. She had started a new style of tortured screaming, and I was worried she was in actual pain. After the soak, her rash looked worse than ever! I called Erik into the room, and we both stared at our poor baby’s bum, baffled. Why wouldn’t the rash quit??!!!

Near tears, I called the pediatrician again (thank goodness for Saturday hours!) and the secretary told us we could come right in.

He took one look at Bea’s bum and told us the issue was no longer yeast (was it ever yeast in the first place?!) but was eczema instead. ECZEMA. Probably exacerbated by all the yeast remedies we kept throwing at it. OMG.

He suggested we keep using the Lotrimin 2x per day just in case, try to treat the eczema with hydrocortisone 3x per day, and continue using a moisturizing barrier like un-petroleum over the whole thing.

I was the opposite of thrilled about adding hydrocortisone to the mix, but we dutifully went to CVS and picked up a tube of it.

I kid you not, the rash was nearly gone after ONE application of hydrocortisone. ONE APPLICATION! Of $5 hydrocortisone! After two months and a small fortune spent on every other possible remedy.

ECZEMA.

A few days later, I have phased out the Lotrimin and the hydrocortisone and am just using a homemade “un-petroleum” blend with 1/4 c olive oil, 1/4 c coconut oil, 1/4 c shea butter, 1 tbsp beeswax, and 5 evening primrose oil capsules. I can tell this eczema spot is going to be tricky and return at the slightest provocation, so I am going to work on perfecting my un-petroleum recipe to be a more effective barrier because hydrocortisone is not ok to use long-term.

The moral of this long and windy story is that no one ever actually knows wtf is going on.

And everyone loves a happy and comfortable baby.

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Can I paint that?

Before there was a baby, there was a bathroom.

We love our apartment and have worked hard to make it homey without (1) upsetting the landlords and (2) pouring in tons of money we’ll never see again. We’re not planning to buy a home any time soon (which I guess would be pretty normal if we still lived in Brooklyn but seems outlandish in small-city MA), so making this one feel like ours is a priority!

The first time we visited this apartment after seeing it in a craigslist ad almost two years ago, the bathroom was a mess: no shower curtain rod, no ceiling lightbulb in the buzzing and yellowed old ceiling vent fixture, glaring bare bulbs above the sink, filthy toilet with no seat, missing tiles next to the shower, and the list goes on. I wish we had a true before photo, but I think we were too repulsed in the moment to make it happen.

Updating this bathroom has been quite the saga, and each improvement could easily fill a blog post. I could never seem to find the right moment to take pictures, and every process ended up far more involved than anticipated. I can barely remember the details now! So I’m squeezing it all into one mammoth, rambling, monster post that maybe can inspire another renter somewhere out there.

First things first. We found a workable toilet seat easily at Lowe’s, and the landlords reimbursed us.

The tiles required much more research. Knowing nothing about tiles, we took a photo and measurements of the problem area and headed to our local Ace Hardware one weekend. Ace also knew nothing of tiles but directed us to Tessera Tile in town. The guys at Tessera were incredibly helpful. We found a good enough match, and they helped us cut the tiles to size and mixed up a couple little bowls of the goop we’d need in order to stick the tiles to the wall and grout around them.

Before and After:

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We felt so proud, and the landlords reimbursed us again.

OK, next. Who thought it was a brilliant idea to place this ugly medicine cabinet to the right of the toilet on the wall opposite the sink? I ditched the junky plastic cabinet, salvaged the mirror, and painted over the peeling gold foil frame with a sample pot of Navajo Red. And threw as much color and art up on the walls as possible to counteract the beige box effect.

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Plants in the window! And makeshift medicine cabinet on the toilet tank :-/.

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I found a hand towel ring at HomeGoods and spray-painted it Rustoleum Gold to match the other fixtures. Actually, I hated the super shiny fake gold foil on the toilet paper roll and towel rod, so I brought them outside and spray-painted them (and the yellowed switch plates over the sink) the more matte gold while I was at it.

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Here’s the sad original sink set-up:

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One of the first things I did when we moved in was order a new (and cheap) bathroom light fixture from Amazon. We managed to replace it ourselves after many panicked phone calls to Erik’s electrician stepdad, a ton of swearing, and many near electrocutions … as we do not have access to a fuse box for our apartment. We did not include the landlords in this process because the change was just for looks, and we did not want to be denied.

I also decided that we needed a medicine cabinet above the sink. When I started looking for one, they were all astronomically expensive. Who knew medicine cabinets could cost so much? We weren’t about to make that sort of investment for a rental. I also was not sure that the wall behind the sink was a real wall. It seemed too flimsy to hold the weight of a wooden medicine cabinet. So, I dug that cheap plastic medicine cabinet out of the closet where we had hidden it, scrubbed it within an inch of its life, spray-painted it white, and reattached the (now orange) door. I moved the big mirror to the right-hand wall and hung the medicine cabinet over the sink with drywall anchors.

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OH, so replacing the light fixture and hanging the medicine cabinet created a problem. The wall had been painted around the previous light fixture and the giant mirror. Many many times. We found a teeny bit of the apartment paint hanging around and tried to fill in the unpainted parts of the wall. The paint did not quite match, and the result was a lumpy and messy-looking wall that needed to be covered. Womp womp.

Enter those peel-and-stick removable tiles you see in the above photo. I think they were also from Amazon. I placed them up on the wall first without un-peeling them to get a sense of how they’d look. Busy but better.

I spent WAY too much time one weekend cutting the tiles to fit the space exactly. Here the result:

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Workable for the time-being.

Next up was the corroded sink faucet.

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I had read some blog posts about people finding success spray-painting their bathroom faucets … and I already had that gold spray paint on hand …

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This was another “don’t tell the landlords” project. Since we did not have the plumbing know-how to remove the faucet for painting, it had to happen right on the sink. It was a production.

But it worked! For a while …

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I felt great about the transformation at first, but as time went on, those busy geometric tiles really started to irk me.

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Then, last summer, we noticed mold on the ceiling above the shower. It started out yellowish and was hard to see thanks to the beige popcorn ceiling, but we could not ignore it any longer when it became black! Erik was able to wipe it down with vinegar, but it was back again about six months later. We had the landlords over last winter to take a look and make sure it did not stem from a hidden leak in the attic. Once they determined the leak was isolated to the bathroom, they gave us the go-ahead to re-paint the ceiling with anti-fungal paint.

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Yeah, it ended up being more than the ceiling.

Erik was on painting duty for this one because I was pregnant. When he prepped the ceiling for paint, he used masking tape to tape off the walls. Masking tape! I do not know what possessed him, especially since we had a whole roll of painter’s tape right there in the tool kit. When he removed the masking tape, the wall paint came right off with it! The walls were already peeling and bubbly in spots anyway, so we figured we might as well paint it all … and change up the color while we were at it. Anything to get out of the beige box!

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Before we could paint the walls, however, we had to finish scraping off any loose paint (a frustrating job necessitated by the masking tape mishap) and then use joint compound and lots of sandpaper to smooth out the areas where the jagged edge of stuck-on paint met the drywall. This step took forEVER. Then, we had to spot prime all of those areas we had joint compounded.

Finally, painting time arrived! Inspired by this bathroom (and the fact that we live one town over from Rockport), we chose BM Rockport Grey.

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I’ve never been able to get the right lighting in the bathroom to do the new color justice, but we’re very happy with it!

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The grey walls pull out some of the grey in the tiles, greatly reducing the beige box effect.

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We replaced the colorful shower curtain with this plain white extra-long number.

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The darker paint color and the higher curtain cut off quite a bit of light inside the shower. The darkness plagued us for probably six months because we could not figure out how to get more light in the shower without a long and involved rewiring process, which we were not willing to take on. Rental! I eventually found this motion-sensing battery-powered light fixture, and it’s been love ever since. The fixture was originally light-sensing in addition to motion-sensing, but the ambient light in the bathroom prevented it from ever turning on. One of the reviewers on Amazon posted instructions for opening the fixture and turning off the light-sensing cell. I followed them, and now the light works perfectly!

In the meantime, our spray-painted gold faucet had been taking a beating for nearly a year. It was chipped in places from items falling out of the medicine cabinet, and it was also covered in gunk because spray paint just does not clean like metal! I decided it was time to bite the bullet and spring for a new faucet. Not wanting to make a big investment (see a theme?), we ordered this bad boy. Similar to our trepidation with the over-the-sink light a year earlier, we waited and waited for the right moment to tackle the faucet replacement, especially since the included instructions may as well have been in a different language.

We cobbled together some applicable how-tos from various blog posts and youtube videos, and voila! We had a new faucet:

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(You may be able to see in that photo that we spray-painted the ceiling vent/light white because it was that gross old yellowed plastic. I also repainted the rusty old heater vent on the floor and the medicine cabinet mirror frame. The orange was starting to bother me, though now I think that wall looks too boring.)

The faucet came with a pop-up drain in the same finish, and of course we wanted to replace the drain to match. We could never quite get the instructions to make sense and eventually realized it was because the PVC piping and P-trap under our bathroom sink were all cemented together rather than having one section that was screwed in and hence removable. We realized we could not remove the existing pop-up drain (which was barely working anyway) without sawing out the PVC and then rebuilding the entire thing.

OMG, we’re not plumbers. And we did not want to hire a plumber to make a purely-for-looks upgrade to our bathroom. And we did not want to tell the landlords that we had gotten in so deep with purely-for-looks, less and less reversible upgrades to their bathroom. But I really wanted that matching pop-up drain in the sink.

We waited until a weekend when my stepdad could visit with his reciprocating saw to cut the whole apparatus out. I had watched SO many videos by then that I was sure we could take care of this thing in one afternoon. Erik and John sawed out the apparatus, which took far longer than anticipated due to the tight space. Erik removed the old, corroded drain with brute force, and we went to Home Depot with the PVC contraption to find replacements. Not as easy as it sounds. I think we ended up making three separate trips to Home Depot and/or Lowe’s. We cemented and installed the new PVC p-trap, only to have it leak and require us to saw it out and start over with new parts. Also, we did not have a saw. A kitchen knife was insufficient. We bought a teeny saw for tight spaces from the hardware store, but we could not get a straight cut with it. Finally, we borrowed a larger hacksaw from our neighbor and rigged up this last-minute guide from two scraps of wood in order to get a “straight enough” cut on our replacement PVC.

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I can’t even go on with how many more attempts it took to get the sink put back together without leaking. I think we were without the bathroom sink for a month, and I was petrified that we’d need to call a plumber to bail us out after all the time we spent DIY-ing such an unnecessary improvement.

In the end, however, it all worked out.

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Though, of course, after 6 months of use, the finish on our cheap pop-up drain is wearing off so it doesn’t match the faucet anyway! Sigh. Sometimes, you just can’t win. At least our P-trap under the sink is now the screw-in kind so we can more easily (HA!) replace the drain if we ever want to tackle that challenge again.

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So, there it is. A moderately tolerable bathroom where an intolerable one used to be. Whenever Erik got frustrated throughout this endless series of over-our-head improvements, I just kept reminding him that it was good practice for turning the much more disgusting back room/storage closet into a baby room. Coming next …

P.S. Gratuitous teeeeeeeny baby in the bathroom pics:

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The letter B

I had so many things to say, but then baby Beatrice arrived, and I forgot them all.

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I had a lovely plan for a peaceful, unmedicated birth center waterbirth. Did not happen! Maybe next time.

I had another brilliant plan to spend my entire 12-week maternity leave freezing, canning, and finding other creative ways to store all the farm-fresh produce Erik was bringing home … and blogging about it. Also did not happen, since I was lucky if I even found time to brush my teeth! The upside was that Erik became a chef extraordinaire during that time (actually, he’d been doing most of the cooking while I was pregnant, too!), saving me from having a diet based entirely on ice cream.

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Not joking about the ice cream.

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(Side note: My child would only nap in the Moby wrap for weeks 3-12. You may think I could have convinced her otherwise. You would be wrong. I decided it was not a problem, so it was not a problem.)

As the end of my maternity leave approached, we decided the only possible option was for me to quit my job to be a temporary stay-at-home mom.

One: Beatrice would only nap in a carrier.

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(Many thanks to friends who kept us from starvation with delicious dinners when we were too exhausted to cook!)

The Moby and the Tula were complete lifesavers. We never would have gotten out of the house without them.

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Two: The breastfeeding never ever stops. Feeding was further complicated initially by tongue and lip ties, and Beatrice seemed to take forever after we got them revised to figure out how to use her mouth in a way that did not disfigure me. Does this look like a person who can function in a professional environment?

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Three: This was every day from weeks 3-8.

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Four: There was no way that I could justify spending my entire salary on childcare and a commute that would require either 11 hours per day away from my baby or up to three hours per day commuting with her.

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The decision to leave my job was bittersweet, but it was the best one for us. My ideal, dreamworld vision is to find a part-time job in my field within walking distance in January or February.

In the meantime, staying home allowed me to wear Bea for naps until she let me know that she needed a new system around 16 weeks. Her Moby naps at home went from 2+ hours to 30 minutes, her Tula naps while out walking became nonexistent, and nighttime (the only part of sleep that had been consistently “easy”) became impossible.

We moved her from the cradle in our bedroom to the crib in her room for all sleep, developed consistent pre-sleep routines, and did (and are still doing) a combination of modified cry-it-out and pick-up/put-down. Basically, we’ll let her fuss and shout in her crib by herself. If and when her cries escalate and it becomes clear that she will not be able to soothe herself without some trauma, one of us will go in and pick-up/put-down until she goes back to just mild fussing or shouting in the crib. Once she is a bit calmer and has her hands in her mouth, we leave the room and let her fall asleep on her own. Sometimes, we need to repeat this process over and over and over. Other times, she needs no help at all. If she still won’t sleep after 45 minutes to an hour (this is rare!), I go into her room, pretend she had a great nap, and carry on with our day until she indicates again that she is sleepy. Nights have gone back to being wonderful, with just one or two wakings to eat over a 12-13 hour stretch. I’m letting the process go at her speed, and I’m so grateful I have the option to be home with her right now while we figure out what works.

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With Beatrice sleeping in her crib during the day (even if it is only for 45 minutes at a time!), I finally was able to conquer a few brief food projects that had been needing my attention desperately.

I made apple pie with some apples from this year’s orchard adventure, the gluten-free pie kit BRM sent last year, and about 10 pounds of butter.

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The crust was to-die-for, thanks to all the butter. I used the crust recipe on the package but substituted coconut oil for the shortening. I was going to send the pie to work with Erik in the handy pine Pie Box that BRM also sent last year, but it did not fit! I had to eat the whole pie myself, with a little bit of help from Erik and my mom. I accidentally ate it all before I could take a picture.

I finally made dill pickles. I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the homemade pickles wagon. We’ve had cucumbers pouring out our ears all summer, but turning them into pickles was something that fell on my priority list somewhere below keeping the baby alive. These pickles were so easy. I loosely used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe but used a different kind of salt that I had already. And probably five times the garlic since I included the required 20 cloves … but they were 20 ogre-sized cloves from the farm.

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Sadly, a measly 10 pickles is all I have to show since I could not get it together before the season was over. Tomatoes are the same sob story. Last year, I canned 14 quarts of crushed tomatoes!! This year, I canned five pints of tomato sauce, using farm veggies and the Ball jar recipe for Italian-Style Tomato Sauce. Life with an infant.

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We have not broken into the stash yet because we’re trying to save them until we’re really desperate.

So, that’s some of how life has turned upside down, brought to you by the letter B. I was also supposed to talk about our bathroom updating adventures, but that will have to be a separate post since I’ve gone on so much already. Stay tuned for adventures in nursery decorating, the highs and lows of cloth diapers, the war on diaper rash, and the uphill battle to be frugal and green amidst the expansion.

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Almost there

Now that winter is coming to a close (we hope!), my belly and I have been getting excited about having access to farm food again. These pictures from last year’s bounty have been helping me get in the mood.

Guinea egg:

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Homemade pizza, right down to the dough from local whole wheat flour, that I’ll never be able to re-create:

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Kombucha and baby spider plants:

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OK, this isn’t exactly homemade or local, but who doesn’t love a nice selection of cheese and crackers?

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And wine! Sigh, I haven’t had wine in a loooooong time …

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Erik’s take on huevos rancheros:

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My first adventure with preparing pork belly (from the farm!):

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I used this recipe, and OMG.

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I had never in a million years imagined that pork and potatoes could taste SO good.

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Canning, of course:

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14 quarts of tomatoes to the rescue!

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Fun with a gifted cake pop machine, thanks to Erik’s mom:

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(Oops!)

Erik’s pork tenderloin with blackberry vinegar-mustard glaze:

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Might have been loosely based on this recipe. So delicious that my jaw hurt!

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Farm-grown grapes!

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Popped sorghum!

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Tons of apple pie, thanks to the Feld’s apple-picking visit and Kristin’s pie plates!

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Of course, this beautiful and intriguing pie box from BRM arrived after my pie-baking extravaganza:

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Maybe I’ll be able to break it in with some spring/summer fruits this year.

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We finished out the season with this year’s farm-to-table dinner at Erik’s farm. Welcome to the Fire Pit Fiesta!

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That “El Diablo” cocktail was no joke!

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We took a VIP tour of the outdoor kitchen setup.

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Monkfish in progress!

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We sipped and nibbled and mingled until it was time to take our seats.

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The amuse bouche was a work of art as always: crab, cucumber, and anise hyssop with charred tomato and lovage broth.

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The light started to fade fast, making it hard to capture the beauty of each dish. Just take my word that these were all winners!

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First Course: Fire pit roasted beets, carrots, and smoked Apple Street Farm ham salad with goat’s milk yogurt and kale chips; whey, caraway, and Lady Apple vinaigrette.

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Second Course: Grilled monkfish in radicchio with fried shishito peppers and arugula; Point Judith squid, pumpkin broth.

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Third Course: Wood-fired grass-fed rib eye in cracked pepper and garlic with short rib, fresh dug velvet potato, and gratin of cardoon in bone marrow; shallot Cotes du Rhone jus.

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Dessert Course: Grilled pear with vanilla-lime pots de creme and smoked chocolate ice cream.

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Plus s’mores fire pit …

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… and macaron party favor!

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Although I probably only understood two-thirds of the menu, everything was DELICIOUS. However, nothing can beat the first year’s Festival of Tomatoes.

Erik will be working at a different farm this season, so I think we’ve seen the last of the L’Espalier farm-to-table dinners, sadly. We could never afford to go on our own dime! New adventures await :-)

Sigh. Fresh, local food is just around the corner!

I’ve been feeling the need to get my blog on lately, perhaps because I’m having a real life tale of expansion in a more drastic way than I’ve ever experienced before:

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It may not look that drastic but, believe me, I am feeling the weight of those extra 10+ pounds … along with all sorts of cute karate directed at my bladder.

I have many many projects to share, and I am going to start with one from the end of last summer. (Eeek, ancient!)

In our dining room, we had a small side table desperately wanting to be flanked by some chairs. I never took a direct “before” picture, but you can catch glimpses of the table and the chairless spots behind Erik demonstrating his local brand loyalty:

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Worth noting: The giant semi-naked lady canvas is a story in and of itself. When Wife & Ted were visiting last Memorial Day weekend, we stumbled upon the masterpiece at a yard sale for $3!!!! Do you know how much just a plain canvas of that size would cost to buy?! The guy selling it desperately wanted to unload it because some other dude had painted it for his girlfriend years before. Ohhhh also, the canvas was captioned across the top in bold blue writing: “Anthem to a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.”

The last thing I needed hanging in my dining room was a painting of a half-naked teenage girl, and I felt guilty purchasing it with the intention of painting over it. The seller, however, begged me to take the canvas and do what I pleased as long as he never had to look at it again.

The canvas sat ignored for a while on my dining room floor because I couldn’t quite figure out how to doctor it. I really liked the colors and saw that some skill had gone into the creation of it, and I couldn’t bring myself to obliterate someone else’s art. When my artist mama visited a few weeks later, she helped me create a plan, and together we mixed up a bunch of wall paints (I’d been hoarding samples) to create the perfect tints. We set to work covering up the controversial caption with great results! I later added a bit more shirt because the poor girl seemed cold, and I covered up what appeared to be a pool of blood under her bottom. You’ll see the final version below.

Anywayyyyyyy, chairs! Erik and I had found some cute little wooden chairs with brocade-y upholstery at an antique shop, but they did not really fit the space. Dark wood overload! I decided I needed some brightly colored tall chairs with metal backs instead. I mentioned this epiphany on the phone to my mom, and she reminded me that she had just the thing rusting away in her garage. On her next visit to Gloucester, she brought these gems along:

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Gorgeous, right? ;-)

I unscrewed the seats, and Erik gave the chairs a good sanding and de-glossing for me.

I gave both chairs several coats of Valspar’s Exotic Sea gloss spray paint-and-primer-in-one. Getting all sides of those curvy parts covered was no quick process!

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Once the frames were painted, I tried them out in place to get a sense of which direction to take with the seats. Forgive the overly filtered iphone photo!

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I took a trip to Joann Fabrics for inspiration with the previous seat cover as a sizing guide, and I came out with an actual purchase: 3/4 yard of this Southwestern-y rainbow chevron fabric, some thin foam for a little bit of cushion, and an upholstery staple gun.

I had no idea what I was doing but set to work anyway. Ignore the mess (and the graininess!). The guest room has (still!) gotten minimal attention since we moved in.

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I was worried the seats were too rainbow-y at first, but they’ve really grown on me!

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(Erik’s farm tomatoes give an indication of the age of these pictures! Also, food had to make its way in here somehow.)

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Tomatoes before and after:

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And filter-free:

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The doctored art and the revitalized chairs (and the canned tomatoes!) make me so proud of this formerly dead wall that is now full of life.

Still on the agenda: convince the landlords to replace the wretched linoleum floor!

Bubbles and bite

Keeping with the food theme, we have been trying desperately to keep up with the influx of produce from Erik’s farm.

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We’ve been living on salads for months …

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… but we also decided to try something new. Introducing fermentation round two. (Here’s round one.)  

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Kimchi!

Erik brought home TONS of Napa cabbage, so kimchi was the obvious solution. We loosely followed this recipe. We didn’t have fish sauce on hand, so Erik made some following this recipe with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce and honey instead of agave. It was a huge success.

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I packed the kimchi into a one-quart jar and loosely covered it with plastic wrap and the jar lid (to keep fruit flies away). When it was full of bubbles after three days, I decided it was done.

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It is certainly potent … but I think it is awesomely potent. As long as I don’t have to breathe on anyone for a while. And the biggest perk of making kimchi is that it successfully condensed five heads of Napa cabbage into one very managabley-sized jar. I see more fermentation — and perhaps even some pickling (ooh la la!) — in my future.

Grains of discovery

Oh, this is a food blog?

In that case, I have a food miracle to talk about.

Once upon a time, I was an actual regular blogger. I hosted a Bob’s Red Mill giveaway, and 178 people entered.

Ever since that time, I have a received a twice-a-year sampling of new Bob’s Red Mill products. I’m not talking about wimpy little samples, either. I’m talking about multiple full-sized packages of whole grain gold.

June 2011:

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June 2012:

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June 2013 is no exception. BRM has kindly turned a blind eye to the fact that, for all intents and purposes, I no longer blog. And if I do blog, maybe five people read what I write.

This year, however, BRM has reached a new stratosphere of generosity. I have no choice but to share.

I arrived home from work one day in June to a suitcase — a SUITCASE — full of heaven.

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By suitcase, I mean 16 pounds of pure nutrition.

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What did I ever do to deserve this?!!

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I opened this box and nearly fell on my face. The chia seeds alone would have been enough to make my year … but NINE full bags of “grains of discovery”?!! My heart is racing just thinking about it. Sorghum? Teff? The food adventures I could have!

The suitcase arrived equipped with a book detailing the fascinating history of each ancient grain …

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… and a recipe for each grain.

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This situation became even more of a miracle when it inspired Erik not only to spend a full day researching the social and political backgrounds of the ancient grains online but to prepare feast after feast after feast involving them!

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While cooking, he enjoyed some local brews under the distracted gaze of our new nearly-naked model salvaged from a yard sale. (Though I’ve since doctored her a bit for propriety’s sake.)

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The chef prepared a mouth-watering millet and greens gratin, loosely based on this recipe (and obviously using greens and eggs from the farm) …

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… and a free-style kamut, beets, greens, and balcony herbs saute …

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… and, the true winner of the batch, Bob’s Red Mill Farrotto.

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That picture makes the farrotto look repulsive, but there was no way I could invest any extra time trying to get a better shot with that aroma filling the apartment. This farrotto was like adult mac and cheese made out of real food. I can’t possibly describe how amazing it tasted. Just go and make it. PLEASE.

As usual, I took charge of the sweet side of things with chia smoothies and yogurt breakfasts.

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(That’s not a baby — it’s just my belly.)

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And we have still not even made a dent in the suitcase of discovery! I will try to keep track as we embark on our sorghum/teff/amaranth/spelt/quinoa journeys.

Yay for free, healthy food!

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