How a Germaphobe Survives Preemies

If you saw my twins in the yard, you would never know that almost a year and a half ago we were in a self imposed quarantine and didn’t leave our bedroom or allow others to come in for about four months. No, I’m not joking. For four months, I obsessively monitored every object that came past my bedroom doorway, washing and sanitizing teethers, blankets and pumping equipment, and avoided physical contact with anyone that was not my husband or my mother. I nursed and pumped around the clock. I did this all in the name of the premature immune system, and avoiding cold and flu germs from school aged nephews and nieces, and commuter family members. By the spring of their first year, my girls came down to the living room and played at a distance from my young nephews.

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When my girls were born eight weeks early and at the start of cold and flu season, I did not hesitate to establish rules of contact and visitation with family and friends almost immediately after leaving the hospital. Family members would describe me as a germaphobe even before having children, so it was no surprise to them that I would be hyper sensitive to hand washing and contact when they realized I would be bringing home not one, but TWO fragile humans from the NICU.

As I pick up spoons caked with avocado and beef off the floor and wipe them on a paper towel before returning them to the lunch bowl, I reflect on what a journey this has been. I have never feared fresh air and sunshine, just germs from other people and their tiny people. From the time the girls were a month old we were bundling up and taking regular walks all over the neighborhood, but we hung a small plastic stop sign from their stroller that we received as part of our exit packet from NICU, that read, “Please wash your hands before touching mine.” It was awesome. It stopped everyone from reaching in a grabbing baby fingers (which immediately go into their mouth,) and many people shared with us that they wished they had something like that when their children were small, because it becomes an awkward task asking strangers not to stick their hands in a baby’s face. Some people don’t mind at all, and some talk about how these encounters build up immunity. I kept telling people, one day they will be sneezed on, they will eat dirt, and will roll around with all of the other kids-their immune systems have some extra developing to do now though, even more so than a full term newborn. We’ll get there.

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When spring arrived and my girls were about four months old, I gradually allowed young cousins to interact closely with the babies. We set out a large blanket on the floor and big kids and babies could play on hands and knees or crawl and giggle next to each other as long as big kids washed hands and no one was sick. I did not allow any toys that went into the girls’ mouthes to be touched by the kiddos though. Unfortunately at this point, that was usually every object they encountered. If cousins wanted to hold babies, we’d wait till after bath time or when they were out of their school clothes and sports uniforms and washed hands. Kisses were on top of the head. Even with adults, I would place a burp cloth over clothing so the girls weren’t licking or laying on a dirty shirt. I continued to breastfeed, and we avoided several stomach bugs and upper respiratory infections. By the time it was summer, our requirements were simple: wash your hands before touching the babies, and if you’re sick, stay away. The baby toys were handled more, and the girls started playing off of their blanket and on foam squares or the carpet.

We ate lunches and dinners on the front porch in our camping high chairs and spent a lot of time outside. In late summer, we took a big family trip and enjoyed floating in the lake and playing outside with our cousins. For their first birthday in November, we had a big birthday party withIMG_0931 lots of family and friends. I was still nursing. The girls were passed around to everyone, but I still kept a close eye on anyone that looked ill. I would gently usher the girls away from a coughing adult or send kids to wash their hands when I saw them wipe their noses.

Once H&G were walking, things got interesting! Walking and teething will break a mother that fears germs. Especially when there are twins and you cannot make your eyeballs move in two different directions simultaneously. Not only are they putting everything imaginable in their mouthes, but now they can get to it on their own, and sometimes in that instant you’re not looking!

Things that I’m pretty sure my toddlers have eaten:

-Hair
-Dirt
-Leaves
-Shoes
-Bird Poop <—-I thought I was going to have a heart attack!* But they were fine, and so was I 🙂
-Books
-Paper
-Lint
-Twigs
-Pebbles
-Really, REALLY old food that they managed to find deep down in the crevices of their high chairs
-Old Almond Milk
-Plastic
-Clothing tags
-Each others boogers <—Twin life
-Bugs

And one time I pulled a PENNY out of my daughter’s mouth. That could have been very dangerous, but luckily she gave herself away. We’re STILL teething, so I know the fun isn’t over yet!

My reactions to toddler noshing have mellowed, because I really have to pick and choose what is going to take up time and attention. Not everything can be earth shattering or send my blood pressure through the roof. So these are my hard NO’s:

-Don’t touch or eat poop
-Sick people stay away

-Avoid chemicals/pesticides
-No touching/eating garbage, whether on the floor or in the can.

Even if we’re under the weather, we will always get sunshine and fresh air. We still want people to wash their hands when they come home from a store, a school, or any busy public place. We eat mainly organic foods, and my girls and I have been dairy and soy free because of allergies. I very recently (at 18.5 months) stopped nursing my twins. This was bittersweet and I definitely cried. It marked a new stage for my growing girls and made me feel like my security blanket of providing that little extra immunity for them disappeared. I’m happy to say though, that at 19+ months we have lived alongside several flus, stomach viruses, upper respiratory infections, and croup, and have never been sick with any of them. I hear that we’re bound to catch something between now and 24 months, but I feel like my girls have strong immune systems now. I’m so thankful that we were able to give that extra time to develop and ease into interactions with a very large circle of family and friends, and I am so thankful that I was able to breastfeed twins for as long as I did.

You know you’ve made progress when other people are running around, pulling all sorts of things out of your toddler’s hands, and you’re like, “ehh, it’s fiber.”

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I’m Too Young For A Retrospective!

Throw back Thursdays, Flashback Fridays. It’s nice to look back sometimes.

This guy.

This guy.

Recently I started throwing back to some old artwork. After 15 months of reading board books and making animal noises, it was good to be reminded that at one time, I was a creative person. Not even just a little creative, VERY creative. Involved in art making. Owned-a-potter’s-wheel, an-easel, hung-six-foot-drawings-from-the-ceiling, stayed-up-all-night-silk-screening-T-shirts, and-made-my-own-stationary, kind of creative.

And then two years went by and I didn’t pick up a paintbrush. How did this happen? My potter’s wheel became a table for old shoe boxes filled with photos, or tubes of paint that were also neglected. Really pathetic stuff. All of my paintings, drawings, and photographs from college were shuffled in and out of storage units, basements and attics so many times, I didn’t know where much of it was anymore. I was starting to feel a bit like I lost my security blanket. I needed my creative things around me. They reminded me.

I’m too damn young for a retrospective! I was thiiiiiiis close to reminiscing about my days as an artist, ready to gather all the painted, polished, carved things in a box and tuck them away in some dusty trunk packed in an attic to show my kids someday. My art skills peaked in college, and I was done, I told myself. Hubs is the artist, I’ll just manage his career.

Then one day I’m flipping through one of my many sketchbooks and looking through some old t-shirt designs I never had the chance to print. There’s a pen in my hand, and I start doodling in the margins and kind of playing on the sidelines of my sketches. Three piles of laundry sat next to me. This is a waste of precious time, I think, no direction, no plan, no purpose. The pen rolled smoothly over the page. Babies started throwing toys out of the playpen. Who do I think I am calling myself an artist? You’ve lost it. The pen kept moving. Almost time to make baby food. It can wait ten minutes. The pen didn’t stop. You have no idea what you’re doing, this doesn’t look like anything. But the ink started to fill the page.

A pen is the best way to jump back in, because once you put that sucker to paper, you can’t erase it. No going back, you’ve made a mark and should probably just keep going.

I’ve been asked: why spend so much time hand making party decorations, editing photos, even decorating a room that you won’t be staying in very long? It’s because these small acts are exercises in creativity-or maybe just a warm-up. They’re also the residual effects of an artistic existence. Creative emissions need grounding, even in the most mundane of activities.

And now, there’s me and this pen, moving forward.

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This is My Brain on Packing

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Leave the flat-iron, take the local honey.

Snow day over? If the novelty of drinking tea and shoveling snow has grown stale, you’ll probably be setting your sights on a relaxing getaway, a change of scenery, or maybe even a staycation where you can temporarily suspend the demands of reality.

If you’re planning a trip for two or the whole family, a little forethought could save you time packing and loads of stress before your trip starts.

Here are some quick and useful tips to help you get out the door faster, and happier.

And here is my brain on Venn Diagrams:

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Who doesn’t love a good old Venn Diagram?

1. Spend a little time on your computer.
Sit down for ten minutes and open a text document. Visualize your day, start to finish, and imagine all the items and foods you use throughout the course of a day. Write down everything that needs to make its way to vacationland with you. If you’re like me, you may want to turn these items into a check list that can be printed and used each time you travel. It’s always a good idea to leave some blank check boxes too, in case items change for different times of the year or certain foods or medications need to be included. You can check out my version here:

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It looks a little over the top, but I spent a little time making it once, and now just slightly edit it and reference it whenever I travel!

2. Cover all the major categories: CATVEGI. Yup, CATVEGI. It’s so ridiculous, you’ll remember it.

Clothing
Accessories (hats, shoes, sunglasses, etc.,)
Toiletries
Vitamins/medications/special foods
Electronics and chargers
Gear (camping chairs, pool floats, etc.,)
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS. This includes, but is not limited to:
-Drivers license
-Passport
-Plane tickets or any physical documents that provide proof of reservations or travel

3. Think Small. Either invest in travel size bottles or reuse existing toiletry bottles for new products. I’m a big fan of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps and take them everywhere with me, so I purchased a small bottle of their soap once, and constantly refill it from my gallon containers to travel with. I’ve also saved small face wash pump bottles and cleaned them out to use for lotions.

4. Seal it up.  Secure all toiletries in ziplock bags before packing. This prevents them from leaking on other items in your luggage. Save your bags to reuse for future packing. I keep a wad of zip locks in the closet that are strictly for holding small items, not food, and use them over and over again. You can also try the plastic wrap trick (see links below.)

5. If possible, get double.
Many people have several of the same items already laying around the house. Hair ties, travel size deodorants, bath sponges, hair products, and makeup can be put together as your travel set. If you can get duplicates of certain items, it will make packing and UNPACKING easier.

6. Grab and Go Ready. Keep your toiletry bag prepacked and ready to go. Fill it with your travel set of items, in their ziplock bags, and tuck it into a closet or under the bed so you’re ready to go when you head out of town. All you’ll need to do is throw in the bigger items like blow driers, if you need them.

8. Aim for Arm’s Reach. If you’re packing for babies (like me,) make sure all of the items you will need right away during travel are reachable in your car, and in your diaper bag. Items needed first should be stored at the top of your bag, and outside areas of your car. When we’re taking long car rides and stop mid-way for an overnight rest, we pack a smaller piece of luggage with just the pajamas and outfits for the following day so we don’t have to unpack the whole car.

9. Imagine the Kid Zone. Consider how you will entertain your little one and provide a safe space wherever you are going. You may need to pack toys for the car, outlet covers for your hotel room, or a playpen, depending on where you’re headed, and the age of your child. A playpen may be bulky, but provide the most safe and secure space for your child wherever you go.

10. The Staples of Travel.
Keep a gallon of water and some water bottles in you car along with a roll of paper towels, some tissues, and empty trash and laundry bags. These little extras will come in handy, trust me! Pack disinfecting wipes with you. These can be used on everything from gas pumps to the hotel room remote.

Check out these creative packing tips here from Buzzfeed:

And I love that the folks over at Howdini reuse their old toiletry bottles and seem to use ziplock bags as much as I do.

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H & G sincerely hope you enjoy your vacation and get to kick back and relax! 🙂 🙂

Eating for Three: Making Food Choices while Nursing a Baby with a Dairy Allergy

Bubble Tea at Ten Ren Tea House in Chinatown, NY

It can be frustrating till you get the hang of it, but there are foods you can still enjoy! Bubble Tea at Ten Ren Tea House in Chinatown, NY

Before I had my girls I ate a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, dairy, and sweets. As a creature of habit, I would thrive on eating certain foods every day around the same time. After work I’d rush home to devour a greek yogurt with crushed walnuts as an afternoon snack. During a two month span of time I ate a chicken and apple sandwich with mixed greens and balsamic on whole wheat bread everyday for lunch. For breakfast, I ate two eggs with fresh fruit and a green smoothie. This lasted an entire spring. While typing this, I’ve dropped some oatmeal and fresh blueberries on my daughter’s head as I’m nursing her (the oatmeal is my latest breakfast kick.)

Hubs likes to point out my ability to intensely focus on things for months at a time, and then wake up one day and sit at the table, crinkle my nose, and push a favorite food away from me in disgust. The level of saturation has been reached.I guess I can understand how this unnerves him.

There’s a word for what I have, and we hear people use it all the time. It’s called: efficiency. Oh, is that not the word you were thinking of? What were you thinking?

Look up the definition of efficiency, and you’ll see that this makes perfect sense. Eating efficiently means that by consuming the same foods everyday I am able to plan and organize in a certain way, provide the right amount of fuel for a body that is working full-time or teaching classes at the gym, and create a smoother meal flow without having to think much about it.  Figure out the formula, keep the house stocked with those foods, and pack the same thing every night in the refrigerator. I knew exactly how long it would take me to eat my sandwich, and didn’t waste time buying drinks from vending machines or hunting down utensils. When my needs and my schedule changed, my meals adapted. Totally efficient.
I don’t mean to suck the fun out of food and variety. I love dining out, trying new restaurants, and taking impromptu trips to China Town for bubble teas and Italian cookies. These things were reserved for dinners or weekends though. The rest of the week’s meals happened like clock work.  That’s not a rule or anything, that’s just the way it worked out.

Dining out is a bit trickier now, but it can be done! Call ahead to find out about allergy friendly options.

Dining out is a bit trickier now, but it can be done! Call ahead to find out about allergy friendly options.

I think my eating habits prepared me for the day I was changing one of my daughters’ diapers and saw blood.

There’s something about your own child’s blood that creates that flush of prickly panic. The twins had their blood drawn from them in the NICU for testing, but those were very controlled and planned instances. Nothing had prepared me for this. There weren’t any cuts or scratches, and at 4 weeks old, surely it was too late for a mini period ( see #3 http://www.parents.com/baby/care/newborn/newborn-worries-not-to-worry-about/ .) I immediately called the pediatrician, and was informed that this could be the sign of a dairy allergy triggered by dairy in my breast milk.

After the call I went on the internet (that was a great idea,) and scared the hell out of myself. Fortunately, I did come across some excellent resources for moms of babies with dairy and soy allergies and intolerances. I throw soy in there as well, because soy can elicit similar reactions from babies with dairy issues, so many times the alternative recipes out there exclude both of these ingredients. Sites such as MSPI Mama provide recipes you can check out here http://www.mspimama.com/p/recipe-index.html . MSPI stands for milk soy protein intolerance.
In the months following, I took more photos of poop than should ever be taken.  I will spare you the graphic images-you can be responsible for your own nightmares by googling them yourself. I went on an insane elimination diet. I call it insane because it seemed to drive everyone else around me crazy-especially my mother and husband who were trying their best to be helpful by providing home cooked or store-bought meals for me while I nursed around the clock. First, I cut out dairy, then soy, and still saw blood so I had to look for “hidden dairy” and really start to read the labels of all the foods I was consuming. It wasn’t enough to not eat cheese or yogurt. I had to make sure there wasn’t any butter, lactose, or casein in my meals too. I stopped eating all nuts. I gave up citrus and also avoided broccoli, cauliflower, beans, onions, peppers, and spices because I suspected these were causing gas or reflux.

So what did I eat you ask? Well, it was a fortunate coincidence that my family was trying out a Paleo diet at the time. Paleo excludes dairy, grains, processed foods and added sugars. Many of the foods available to me at the time were perfectly safe for me to eat.

Now remember, I am a creature of habit and efficiency, so once I found the magic formula for creating a dairy/soy/nut/citrus free meal, I ate it frequently and in large quantities.

My mother, who is a complete ROCK STAR, and cooked for me EVERY SINGLE DAY, could barely keep me fed and satisfied, bless her heart. I ate like two large men. She would cook for me and hubs, and I would eat both portions and be famished an hour and a half later. Twin breastfeeding burns a ton of calories! Hubs joked that keeping me fed required an extra income and was a part-time job for my mother.

Apple pie a la mode? Not so much, anymore.

Apple pie a la mode? Not so much, anymore.

These are my go-to foods.  With the exception of some of the meats, all the other items are almost always stocked in the kitchen.
Meat:

Bison
Chicken
Beef
Pork
Venison
Duck                                                                                                                                                Lamb

Vegetables:

Sweet potatoes
Turnips
Kale
Spinach
Romaine lettuce
Carrots
Beets
Plantains
Artichoke hearts

Fruits:

Apples
Pears
Bananas
Blueberries
Dates
Avocados
Grapes
Watermelon

Grains:

Rice
Oatmeal (gluten-free)

Oils:

Coconut oil
Olive oil
Avocado oil

I also researched companies that made dairy and soy free treats and compiled a list of them to save you the trouble! 🙂 Ooh, I’m so excited to tell you about them! Sweets! 🙂

So Delicious brand coconut milk ice-cream http://sodeliciousdairyfree.com/product_groups/dairy-free-desserts
Luna and Larry’s organic coconut bliss ice-cream http://coconutbliss.com
Alternative Baking Company cookies http://www.alternativebaking.com
Nana’s cookies-oatmeal raisin was the one I loved http://www.nanascookiecompany.com
Enjoy Life products http://enjoylifefoods.com/?gclid=CK7tkJTwq8MCFUpp7AoddGgAtA
Select Udi’s cookies http://udisglutenfree.com
Cybele’s cookies http://cybelepascal.com

I can’t lie to you, friends.  Some of these alternative, allergy friendly treats are pricey! In fact, paleo eating can be very pricey because of all the organic, grass-fed meats that are used, and the amount of fresh produce purchased weekly. There is definitely a discussion in here for another time about accessibility to quality foods for all. But I would say this: if you can stretch your budget, isn’t good, quality food a great investment? Food is definitely a huge monthly expense for us now that we have two babies to feed and we feed them organic meats and produce.

Chocolate truffles? Nope.

Chocolate truffles? Nope.

And for those of you out there doubting that a coconut milk ice-cream can taste like regular ice-cream, I’d say don’t compare them.  Appreciate the new, allergy friendly version as its own wonderful treat. Cheese and milk replacements? Ehhh, I’m not personally interested in those.  It was easier to say goodbye to pizza and bagels entirely than eat poor imitations of them. I live in New York after all, I can’t be eating fake pizza and bagels. As for the Alternative Baking Company cookies though-I rave about them all over my website.  They are amazing cookies, allergy friendly or not.

It has now been 14 months of an altered diet, since I’m still nursing.  I have reintroduced all except dairy and soy back into my meals, but have decided that pastas and most breads don’t need to make a comeback, at least not yet. For now, this new food routine is working and has been totally efficient. I hope if you find yourself in a similar situation, you figure out what works for you and your babe, and find some foods you love!

This post made me realize just how many photos exist of me stuffing my face. Please enjoy them.

Fancy food truck cupcakes in Chicago.

Fancy food truck cupcakes in Chicago.

Lobsta rolls in New Hampshire.

Lobsta rolls in New Hampshire.

Paninis in Rome.

Paninis in Vatican City.

Falling in love with artichokes all over again in Rome.

Falling in love with artichokes all over again in Rome.