Monday, June 30, 2014

Outdoor Stairs

In the midst of our busy lives with our new boy, we're continuing to make changes to our yard. This one has been over three years in the making: stairs outside.

Our backyard is comprised of four terraces. There are stairs from terrace1 to 2, a long, steep slope from terrace 2 to 3, and a slope with a gradual path from terrace 3 to tier 4.

We needed to build a better way to get from terrace 2 to 3. The slope is pretty steep, and both Bob and I have slipped. It's especially hazardous if it's been raining or if it's really really dry out.

So, here's the necessary "before" picture. The steepness of the slope inhibits weed-pulling, so please no judgment on the weediness. The worn path up the middle is from the dogs, not humans. That path is very difficult for humans to follow... darn pups and their lower centers of gravity!

I've been playing around a while with how to build stairs. I thought about pillars and then a staircase like this one:

But it just looked too utilitarian. Plus, I was worried about slipping on the steps in the rain when we'd have mud on our shoes. And sinking pillars requires cement and cement is a much more permanent, can't-change-your-minds-ever option. Finally, the slope is big enough that it's hard to measure how steep and deep each stair would be. I wasn't convinced that each step would be deep enough for comfortable, railing-less passage.

So I kept looking. I saw these stairs, but I really didn't want to deal with 4x4s and lots of bolts.

I hate installing bolts. And the stairs here are more uniform, and the slope is big, making uniform stairs harder to plan out.

Then, right before I was ready to throw in the towel and suck it up and install the 4x4 stairs, I saw this picture:

Boom! Perfect on several levels:
1) Artsy and pretty, but functional.
2) I could vary the width and depth and adjust as the stairs were made and it wouldn't look odd.
3) Gravel filling made drainage good and provided a slip-resistant surface.
4) Easily replaceable when the wood eventually rots
5) Easily buildable with 2x6 treated wood and screws (not bolts!)

So, I started work this weekend. I spent about three hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday. Thanks to my husband and sister-in-law for watching James.

All in all, nine steps are complete so far.
We filled the bottom two steps with pea gravel... only to discover that pea gravel won't work because the rocks are too smooth and so your feet sink too much. Whups. Easy fix though-- we'll remove the pea gravel and use regular, non-smooth gravel.

Since I'm running out of room for stairs at the top and there is still some height to go, I've decided to make that current top step deeper and make that point the pivot point and turn the stairs 45 degrees. So, the stairs at that point will turn to the right, where you'll go up a few more steps and then go straight again. This will end the stairway exactly where the next tier begins, rather than eating into the next tier with steps. The end result will be a staircase with a couple of right turns, like this one (though obviously wood and gravel, not rock):

I'm also excited at how this is looking on the slope. There was NOTHING on the slope when we moved in. Now we have five semi-dwarf trees there and a bunch of grasses. The stairs will help us maintain the slope and start improving it in sections. Very very nice. Somehow, it's easier to imagine improving the area now that we can envison the aesthetic of the stairs.

I'm hoping to work on the stairs again tonight... though I'll have to be careful since I got a little sunburned yesterday. Oops.


For the first few weeks of our boy's life, we were in disposable diapers. Like breastfeeding, which turned out to be more complicated than I expected, I wondered if our desire to cloth diaper would also be more complicated than expected. We had to wait to give cloth diapering a shot until James's umbilical stump fell off (it took three weeks!!) and then healed (another few days). Then we gave it a go...

It was... more complicated than expected, at first. But we stuck with it, and about day 4 or 5, things clicked. We went from a pack of 40 diapers every 3-4 days down to a pack of diapers in about three weeks. We use disposable at night to help give us some extra absorption.

Plus, he looks so gosh-darn cute in them!

Between this and our flannel wipes (we have little flannel wipes for cleaning), we've had no diaper rash issues, and he's 9 weeks today. The only time we had an outbreak was when we were out of town for three days and he was exlusively in disposables and we were using wetwipes. He'll occassionally get a little redness from heat rash because he ALWAYS wants to be in the baby carrier, but with a little cream that goes away and he never seems to be in any discomfort.

For our diapers, we decided to go with gDiapers. They have multiple layers of protection before any kind of leaks happen. And, if a leak does happen, it stays on the diaper, not dribbling down his leg. There's a cloth shell on the diaper, a snap-in waterproof material liner pouch, and a multi-layered cloth insert that goes in the pouch. Most times when we change him, we just have to take out the cloth insert and put a new one in. Easy! For messy diapers, we have a sprayer hooked up to our toilet. We have two wetbags, one by the changing table and one in the bathroom. Zipped up, you can smell nothing.

Switching to cloth also means our garbage quantity has gone down substantially.

Is it an extra hassle? Not really. It takes about 10 seconds to rinse off the poopy ones, and we have a pail that we put them in if we can't get to rinsing right away. We wash the diapers with the wipes, and it's a small load of laundry every two days. That hassle makes up for itself by us not having to worry about running out of diapers or wipes, and the fact that he hasn't gotten irritable diaper rash.

Of course, we'll change our system if things change. Babies tend to get you used to something and then things change. But for now? This totally works for us.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The New Normal

Around 5am: Wake up.
James is hungry. We moved his crib into our bedroom when he started sleeping more regularly. Before that, one of us slept in his room so the other person could get uninterrupted sleep. It worked really well, but now that he's sleeping longer, more regular stretches, he's in our room so there's no split sleeping.

James drinks a little milk from bottle, oftentimes without opening his eyes. He falls back to sleep easily on my chest or right next to me. I love this snuggly morning baby. I rest, but don't fall back to sleep entirely (slightly terrified of smothering a baby).

6:30am: I hand James to Bob for his snuggly baby fix so I can get ready for work. I pump, pack, feed the dogs, make sure there's enough milk for James for the day, dress, and head out the door by around 8am.

Around 8:30am: James finally gets up all the way. Yup, he'll snuggle for 3ish hours every morning. He might take a nap or two throughout the day, he might not.

5pm: I head home. I coo over my wonderful baby boy and Bob heads to the gym. Oftentimes James is a bit crabby by this point if he hasn't slept much throughout the day, so I frequently put him in the baby carrier and he settles down... IF I'm moving. So, I usually poke around in the garden and then make dinner. Constantly moving equals a happy happy baby. We'll turn on Pandora and listen to the Beatles station. If I sing, he usually falls asleep... I think that's a good thing... either that or my voice is so bad or boring that sleep is a better option for James.

6:30pm: Bob is home, we eat dinner. We're thinking of changing out our dining room table so we can have an easier spot to sit and eat than our giant picnic-style bench table. I usually pump around 7:30 and then around 10:30, that way I'm good to go until 6:30am. So far, going this long night stretch works very well for me and it's not reducing my supply.

8:30-10:30pm: James gets put in his snuggly sleeper or bag sleeper. He'll get a bath if he needs one. There's usually a lot of singing and happy talking since he's starting to coo and smile. I'll read a few books to him if we didn't read books while Bob was at the gym. We try to not do anything too stimulating since this is a wind-down period of the day.

10:30/11pm: James is asleep. We don't tiptoe around-- the bedroom door usually stays open and he sleeps through the dogs and us talking and everything. I hope this ability to drown out noises stays with us a long time with him. Bob and I will talk and take care of anything that needs taking care of at this time and then we'll head to sleep around 11. Usually, James will sleep through until 5 (yes, we know we're lucky).

As he gets older and can sleep longer stretches, we'll start moving up his bedtime to an earlier time. But, with 6-7 hours being the max his little milk tummy can handle right now, this works for us so we can sleep when he sleeps.

And then the next day, this starts all over again.

My, how we love this sweet, sweet boy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Deck Updates

Our backyard's bottom terrace has slowly undergone quite the transformation over the past couple of years.  The grass has been a constant problem since we moved in. Our natural soil isn't great, and the previous owners put the sod in right before they listed the house. So, the sod LOOKED great, but it was temporary-- there wasn't good dirt placed underneath, so the grass quickly became patchy and had poor drainage.
We knew a deck was what we wanted, so in 2012, we built deck 1: off the kitchen and it'd cover the grungy old concrete pad, dirt area by the lilacs, and a little bit of the mottled dirt/grass area.

We were pretty finished with the final product:

But, I made one mistake/bought one stupid product: I stained the deck. Now, it SHOULDN'T have been that big a problem... but the deck stain I bought was crappy (unbeknownst to me, sigh). It flaked off after about 6 months in patches. I also learned later that I likely should have waited a year to stain/seal the deck. Good to know.

The plan all along was to build another deck a step down from this one, and have it run the length of the house.

Last year, that was too much of a project to handle (we were painting the front of the house and then I got pregnant mid-July). So, we just added some mulch to the future deck space. The grass was miserable anyway, and the dogs were getting mucky in the dirt.

See what I mean about patchy grass? UGH.

 (Ignore the beams-- it was a cheap metal trellis that was so cheap I returned it grumpily)

However, after 12 months of the dogs tracking in mulch (though that was better than mud), we decided to bite the bullet and build the deck. Part 1 is now finished-- the first 10' section. There is likely another 20' or so to go! And yes, we're painting this side of the house as we go along

Even though we have a baby this time around, I feel like EVERYTHING is so much easier. The deck is SUPER low --6" high!-- so it's easier to make it VERY stable. I know exactly what to buy. I bought easier joist hangers and I knew what screws to get too. The deck is also a simple rectangle. No cut-outs or anythign complicated like we faced last time. SO much easier this way!
We are still debating whether to go all the way to the fenceline (I'd have to build cut-outs for the bushes) or stop at the house's edge and make the final 1' or so a coarse sand filling. We're doing the deck in 10' increments, so we'll have plenty of time to decide.
However, unlike the last deck which took a solid four weeks of building in the evenings and weekends, this deck took less than ten hours. Add into that the fact that Home Depot delivered the lumber (for free-- they honored Parr Lumber's free delivery on lumber over $300), and my life was infinitely more easy than the first deck.
The next two segments will be built soon. We've decided to first finish painting this side of the house (at least) and pressure-wash the first deck.
As far as staining, we're planning on cleaning the first deck and using a stain-stripper (or many) on it to get it back to it's natural state. Hopefully, it will look similar to the just-built deck's wood. We'll then let it sit for a year and then we'll clean both and stain them both. That's what seems to be the good trick. Believe me, I don't want stain flaking off again, so this time I'm being diligent!
And in case you were wondering: The baby's nearby while I'm building. He's either in his chair or on Bob. But in return, I watch the baby while Bob's off gardening or mountain biking. Co-parenting for the win! 

Friday, June 13, 2014



The good news: Back in January I changed jobs to one that fits my life goals and time plans a lot better. It's a good fit. I work pretty much set hours (no more late hours, weekends, or overtime), and it's for a great organization full of wonderful people. And my supervisors are spectacular!

But, it was a huge stress to change jobs when I was 6.5 months pregnant (understatement).

And, at my last job, I had really cut my maternity time short because it was a small organization  and a hardship on them the longer I was out. So, I had agreed to a six week maternity leave, and then some special accommodations to ease back into work. But then I left that work.

Oregon's version (OFLA) of the Family Medical Leave Act, which means I could take up to 12 weeks of protected leave and be guaranteed to come back to my job or its equivalent, only applies after someone has been working in the workplace for six months. So, before I started my job, I negotiated my leave so that it would be protected and I'd be guaranteed a job to come back to-- I wasn't covered by OFLA because I knew I'd only be in my job about three months when the baby came. 

But, the starting point for negotiations of leave time was "What are you getting at your current job?", so again I was left with a six week leave. Happily, I was able to also work from home for almost two weeks before James came (thank goodness-- I was miserable), and I was able to add a few days so I came back mid-week and then next week is also a part-week for me.

However, it means that as of Wednesday, I'm back at work.

Luckily, my husband was able to take a 12-week paternity, since he is protected under OFLA. So instead of handing my baby James off to an outside caregiver, he's in the extraordinarily capable hands of my husband. Since my husband has been taking care of James with me since James arrived, this wasn't a huge hurdle for us to overcome. And, with the breastfeeding issues and me pumping to feed James, he's already used to the bottle.

But still, it's been an adjustment. A friend of mind texted me yesterday to see how it's going, and I responded, "Baby is fantastic. Bob is great. I'm the irrational hormone queen."

If I'm sad, then, well, that's sad. If I'm happy at work, then I feel guilty about that and then I feel upset and sad. Gah! There's truly no winning. For various reasons, it makes sense for me to continue working, both financially and for our family's goals. I am lucky to have a great job that I love to go to work to, and I don't want to give that up either. Still, if someone could peek in my brain, they'd see this sometimes-irrational, sometimes-rational battle going on in there.

At least pumping is a lot easier since I don't have to juggle a baby alone while pumping. Trying to look on the bright side.