Friday, July 29, 2011

The Big Change

So, you might have noticed that I haven't updated in a while.  But there's a good reason...I promise.  My wife and I had a baby about three weeks ago, and in the weeks and months leading up to the birth as well as the time since, updating my blog hasn't been high on my priority list.  However, I do like taking time to pen my thoughts about various aspects of life, so I am going to do my best to post the occasional update every now and then even though my free time has shrunk significantly.

This post, then, is a little different than usual, since it is going to focus on just one topic:  cloth diapers.  Sure it might seem like kind of a silly topic for this blog, or most blogs, but since my wife and I have become parents it is something that we have worked hard on, and it is also a topic about which we have received many questions.  So I thought I would take some time and explain a few things about our cloth diapering methods, successes, and failures since we have started it with our little boy.

First things first: why cloth diapers?  Aside from the sheer environmental impact that disposable diapers (even supposedly environmentally friendly versions) have, there is a rather significant cost benefit as well.  We haven't worked out the math exactly, but a one-time purchase of diapers was around $275, versus a weekly expense of around $20 for disposables.  Granted, cloth diapers also carry added expenses of detergent, energy, and water (especially with near-daily washings) but in the long run the cost benefit should be fairly significant.  We also wanted to try cloth diapers just because it seemed like it wouldn't be much of a hassle, and we had heard stories from friends and bloggers who have been able to make it work. What we can say for sure is that cloth diaper techniques sure have changed from a few decades ago.  Long gone are smelly ammonia-filled diaper pails, plastic pants, and giant safety pins.  Today's cloth diapers are vastly improved over their baby boomer-era forebears, and if you haven't investigated the concept in a while you might be pleasantly surprised at what's available nowadays.

As of the writing of this post we have been using cloth diapers for one week, and even though that is not much time to really come to grips with the big picture of how it is going to work out, it does provide some preliminary data on whether we will be able to make this happen.  Let's start with the basics.  Here, in no particular order, is everything we purchased to make this cloth diaper experiment come to fruition:

12 Bum Genius Elemental One Size Fits All cloth diapers. It seems like if you ask ten people about cloth diapers, you will get ten different opinions, so don't take this as a universal statement of what will or will not work.  My wife read some very encouraging remarks about these diapers on a blog called Young House Love, so we decided to give them a try.  We have also heard good things about a brand called FuzziBunz, and some friends of ours gave us some cloth diapers by a company called SunBaby.  This might be a case of finding out what works for you and going with it, but I must admit it is a bit of an investment to just try something and hope it works.  I can say that the BumGenius have worked extraordinarily well for us, and the few mishaps we have encountered have been largely an issue of sizing--it's taken us a few tries to figure out which combination of snaps on the diaper fits our ten-pound baby the best.  You might want to think about getting more, like 18 or 24, depending on how often you change your baby's diaper, but for now 12 seems to work fairly well for us.

Bum Genius Diaper Sprayer.  If cloth diapers are the shotgun, this thing would be the ammunition.  It is easy to install, and works exactly like the sprayer you might have in your kitchen.  Unfortunately it is also the weakest link in the whole system, since the build quality is not exactly stellar.  Still, it works well and by adjusting the flow rate (i.e. by only turning the water valve halfway instead of full-blast) we have learned to minimize drips along the hose and still get the dirty diapers very clean. Installation, for the less mechanically inclined out there, was a breeze and took about 10 minutes.  It comes with very clear instructions and I am fairly confident that anyone could do it.

Charlie's Soap Laundry Liquid. Like the diapers themselves, opinions on the soap in which to wash them are extremely varied.  We found a list online comparing various laundry soaps for cloth diapers, and to be honest it probably doesn't matter which one you use as long as it's free of dyes, perfumes, etc.  Some friends of ours have had good luck with Rockin' Green detergent, and we have heard good things about various other brands too.  We actually called a store that specializes in cloth diapers to get their opinion, and they also recommended Charlie's Soap.  We also priced it out and the Charlie's Soap was actually cheaper (by anywhere from 5-10 cents per load) than buying regular Tide at Wal-Mart.  (We are washing our diapers about once a day, and a small load is plenty of water to take care of them all.)  It does a great job with the diapers, and using a half-squirt of liquid (roughly equivalent to 1/2 ounce) in a small load of laundry gets the diapers plenty clean.  We have noticed a few stains on the cotton, but I don't think that impacts the effectiveness at all.  And from what we have read, these stains basically disappear if the diapers are dried in the sun, which we plan on doing (see below).

Planet Wise Wet Diaper Bag. We bought two of these (one large and one medium) and they work great so far.  After we spray down the diapers we drop them in the large bag and zip it shut.  When we do laundry we just wash the diaper bag along with the diapers, and use the small bag in the meantime if we need to.  I'm not sure how well these will hold up after several months, since the plastic lining seems a little thin, but we'll just have to wait and see.  At least they're not super expensive.

Seventh Generation Wipes.  I'm not sure if these are directly related to cloth diapers, but we use them so I figured I might as well include them here.  They seem to work as well as any other wipes, and apparently they're better for the planet or something like that.  I've read about some Seventh Generation products that are more marketing hype than anything, but for now they work fine and we'll probably continue to get them.

Minky Retractable Clothes Line. As I write this post the thermometer reads about 102 degrees outside, and shows no signs of abating.  So we figured we might as well make use of the heat and try to dry the diapers outside.  Keep in mind that some of the laundry cost involves drying the diapers, and we have found that we can get these dry after two cycles in the dryer by essentially turning them inside out before sticking them in.  Also, drying outdoors is not nearly as fast as the dryer, so you might need to purchase some additional cloth diapers to make up the difference in drying time.  And we have not actually tried drying them outside yet, so this may or may not even work at all.  We have the clothesline itself installed on the side of our house, but we won't have a post in the ground to which we can attach the line until tomorrow (hopefully). So take this with a grain of salt, and try at your own risk.

So that's everything we started with, which brings the up-front cost to somewhere around $500.  I know that seems like a lot, but buying disposables will cost that much in about 4 months.  We also put several of these items on a baby registry, so a lot of them were given to us at baby showers.  As for the actual usage of everything, it's been mostly positive.  For two weeks we used disposables since our baby was still a newborn and the cloth diapers were so big they would rub against his umbilical cord.  But since switching to cloth, the most notable difference (other than not having to throw away dozens of disposables each week) is that our baby's bum is a lot cleaner when we go to change him.  The uber-thick cotton lining of the diapers absorbs way more liquid than a disposable diaper, and changing our baby is simply a lot less messy than it was before.  But I should also note that the diapers don't fit as snugly around his legs as disposables did, and we have had two incidents of some unexpected messes.  But since we got the adjustable-size diapers we are pretty sure we just need to find the sweet spot with the sizing options.  To be honest, I have been surprised at how much stuff these diapers do catch, and the couple accidents we have had have been pretty minor.

The actual diaper-changing process isn't much different either, and I find the snaps to be a lot easier to deal with than the sticky/velcro tabs on disposables.  It does take about 1-2 minutes longer per diaper change to rinse out the diaper with the sprayer, but I don't see this as a big hassle.  There have been a few times when our baby was really fussy and we had to let the diapers sit folded in half for a little while before we could spray them down, but again, this is by far more the exception than the rule.

Cloth diapers also have the added side effect of essentially increasing our baby's clothing size by a couple of units.  There's definitely an added bulk to work around when putting on onesies or other clothes that go over his bottom, and we have found that some of our 0-3 month clothes just don't fit anymore when he's wearing cloth diapers.  I don't know that this is a bad thing in and of itself, just something to be aware of if you are planning on using cloth diapers.  Also, our baby was nearly 10 pounds at birth but as I have mentioned a couple times, the diapers are a bit tricky to find the right size on him.  Even though our One Size Fits All diapers claim to fit babies as little as 7 pounds, I wouldn't recommend it.

After all that, what's the verdict? I give the cloth diapering a solid A-.  It's not perfect, but it's not bad at all, though we still keep some disposables on hand for when we're away from home or if there's some kind of emergency.  The few hiccups and bumps in the road have been easy to overcome, and we really like that we're not shelling out money for disposables all the time.  The energy cost is something that must be considered, though, and if you're a hardcore environmentalist you might argue that the electricity to run the dryer so much (especially since most of our electricity in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants) negates the environmental and cost benefit of disposables, but if our idea to dry them outside pans out I think this will be less of a concern.  And since we live in Oklahoma, the temps are mild enough for most of the year to make outside drying more feasible.  As with all baby-related issues you will get 20 different opinions if you ask 20 different people, but for my part I'm solidly siding with cloth diapers.  At least for now.  We'll see how things go in a couple months, and whether or not I change my tune by then.  :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Holding it over a barrel

While my parents were here a couple weeks ago my dad and I took the rather bold (for me, anyway) step of planting some grass in the yard.  Prior to their visit I had gone to Lowe's and purchased, on the recommendation of a store clerk, a bag of something called Turf Builder.  At least I think that's what it was called.  I do know it was specifically not called Grass Seed, which is what I was wanting, but the guy said this was better.  Way better.  So I snapped up a bag of this so-called Turf Builder which was, like, a million times better than regular grass seed and stuff.  And you know, it might actually be.  But when my dad and I spent the evening in the yard raking and sowing and watering, all I could think was "Hmm...there's a lot of stuff here, very little of which actually resembles grass seed."

I watered it vigorously each night for a while, then let nature take over, and even with somewhat sporadic rains to keep things all properly moisturized and whatnot, the results have not exactly been promising.  True, a some verdure has been spotted in the formerly lifeless dirt patch on the western side of the yard, but it's more along the lines of weeds than actual grass.  I'm keeping hope alive, though, and someday we'll get things to grow out there.  Which brings me to the project my wife and I embarked on last week: the construction of a rain barrel:

It was my wife's idea, and I think she's really on to something here.  We like to water a couple shrubs and one specific tree each week and we think it would be kind of cool to do it with water that just kind of shows up out of the sky from time to time.  The barrel we're putting together isn't exactly like the one in the video, and so far all we have is the barrel itself, but I think we're on to something with this.  We need to figure out a good way to divert water from a downspout, but this one looks promising. Hopefully we can get it finished up soon and test it out with some of the spring rains.

I should also mention that while my parents were here we got an incredible amount of stuff done around the house including, but not limited to, the painting of three rooms.  We made sure to take time for some fun stuff too (which is not meant as an implication that painting with parents isn't fun, but you know what I mean...) like going to an art fair downtown and playing some cards.  It's cool having a place for friends and family to come visit, especially now that we have a place with a proper guest bedroom and bathroom.  :)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

These things don't grow on trees...

One of the curious things about owning a home is how much there is to know about all sorts of situations in which I never previously found myself.  Before owning a house I had not given much thought to the concept of cleaning a dryer duct, figuring out paint colors for a given room, or pulling weeds from the front yard.  But these are just some of the joys that come with home ownership, and yes, I use that word intentionally.  I try to not think of the various processes and odd jobs around the house as chores, but as learning experiences (even though when it comes to choosing paint or hanging pictures I just as often as not get kind of frustrated with the whole ordeal) and, yes, a chance to buy tools.  Hey, I'm a dude.  ;)

One thing about which I am almost entirely clueless is yard care.  I get that there's grass out front, along with some tall green things like trees and shrubs, but I don't really know what to do with them.  A couple times a week we put the hose under one of the trees that's not looking so great, and in the summer I mow the lawn often enough to keep it from looking unsightly, but a lawn just isn't something in which I really want to invest a lot of time.  That's partially (ok, mostly) what led to our weird bagworm problem last fall, and what also led us to finally call in a tree-care professional to come take a look at our situation this week.

Turns out our friends Jon and Sarah were right:  the bagworm-infested pine tree is, sadly, dead.  The good news is I now have an excuse to get a nice shovel and spend an hour getting rid of it.  We also have a couple other trees that Nate, from Nate's Tree Service, said could use a bit of trimming.  Fortunately I can do a lot of it myself, but not on the big one out back.  That'll take a professional's touch, along with more equipment than I could reasonably purchase.  We're now in that do-we-go-for-it-or-leave-it-alone phase of the decision process that seems to be common with a lot of homeowners, and right now I think we'll stay in a holding pattern for a while and just wait and see.  And in the meantime we'll keep watering the cypress tree out front and hope it starts looking better soon...

Saturday, April 02, 2011

400 Posts

A couple of days ago I made a list of things I wanted to get done this weekend, and updating my blog was one of them.  My dad told me that people are more likely to accomplish their goals if they actually write them down, and I don't know if this serves as evidence in favor of that or not (correlation does not equal causation, as we all know) but here I am, updating my blog.  So that's gotta count for something, right?  Anyway, this marks the 400th post on this blog and even though I don't update it nearly as often as I used to I plan on keeping it going for quite some time.  Maybe I'll hit 500 posts someday too!

A few weeks ago my wife and I took a trip to Washington DC to collect data for her research at the Library of Congress, and just like the first time I visited DC a couple years ago I was struck by so many things about it.  The history, the locations, the buildings, and the people all add up to a confluence of so many aspects of our country that really is unique.  Add to that the singular trait that the district is the seat of our country's government and you have a place that is quite like no other.  As we strolled down the National Mall and walked past the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings, we sort of marveled at the fact that whether one agrees or disagrees with the individuals in power, and the policies they are enacting or laws they are debating, it's pretty remarkable that it all happens in such an open and pedestrian fashion.  Congressmen and national leaders dine at the same bars and restaurants, just up Pennsylvania Avenue, as firemen, policemen, and even the custodians that clean the very buildings in which they work.  The halls of our government buildings are, for all intents and purposes, fairly accessible to the public.  And should one choose, he or she can stroll right up to the offices of their representatives and present an opinion or offer advice.  Granted, our government can be a mess of inefficiency and gridlock, not to mention partisan bickering and stonewalling, but seeing the National Archives and reading the very document that was signed by 39 representatives over 200 years ago which lays out the foundational tenets of our system of representative government helps restore a bit of faith in the overall system.

Not sure what this was, but it's right next to the Capitol.
I like to think it's a secret fort some congressmen use
for playing Cops 'n Robbers.

We were able to attend a Wednesday service
at the National Cathedral.

On my birthday my wife took me to the Air and Space Museum.
(That is the real Space Shuttle Enterprise)

A row of houses near the Capitol. You don't really
see houses like this in Oklahoma  :)

The Metro--the only way to travel in DC.  It looks
almost exactly how it does in Fallout 3, too.

Overlooking the National Mall.

Last weekend I was in Nebraska for my dad's 60th birthday, and it was cool seeing lots of relatives, playing cards, and pretty much spending the day just hanging out with family and friends.  At night I went to see my buddy Nick's show down at Knickerbocker's, as it was his band's final gig with their drummer Matty who is moving away to Phoenix for college.
Still one of the best venues for local shows in Lincoln.

Along with posting on my blog, I have a lot of other things on my list for today so that's gonna just about do it for now.  :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A tad bit chilly...

Just wanted to share this photo.That's Stillwater, Oklahoma...not Stillwater, Minnesota.  :)

Sunday, January 09, 2011 far, so good

Christmas was a bit different this year, since we only visited one side of our family whereas in years past we have, as I recall, managed to visit both my side and my wife's side over the Christmas break. But this year we did things a little different, spending time only in Montana over the break with my wife's mother and stepfather. We had a very enjoyable visit, and helped them with several projects around the house too. It's cool to go from the relatively flat plains of the midwest to the mountains of the West, and seeing them covered in a blanket of brilliant white snow made the view even more impressive. It is probably the last visit we will make to Montana for quite some time, as her parents are hoping to move a little closer to home in the coming year. But life has a way of changing things when you least expect it, so as always, we'll just have to see how things pan out.

After we got back from the visit we managed to take care of one little project that has been on my wife's mind for a while: frosting over the bathroom window. We have a big window in the master bathroom that is almost always covered by (hideous) pink blinds (that were there when we moved in). But my wife found some information on covering existing windows with a pane of frost, similar to how one might get windows tinted in a car, without having to buy an entirely new window. So last Saturday we went to Lowe's and picked up a bunch of supplies to try our hand at adding a little privacy and lot of light to the bathroom.

Not pictured: ugly pink blinds fully extended.
The hardest part about the project was doing the initial measurements, as the bathroom window was pretty large which made cutting the piece of frosting kind of difficult.  After we had everything measured  we went into the bathroom and doused the window and frosting treatment with this adhesive solution and then set out to actually apply the whole mess to the window.  The only difficult part of this process was smoothing out all the bubbles in the frosting, which we did with a couple squeegies and a lot of elbow grease.  The final result actually looks halfway decent, and it's basically impossible to see in or out of the window but it still lets a ton of sunlight in.
We like this version much better.
While we were in Montana we helped my wife's parents change out four light fixtures and a chandelier, which gave us a bit of confidence in replacing the chandelier in our dining room too.  I'm not sure when we'll get around to that project, but like so many home improvement ideas, I'm sure it'll happen one of these days...

This weekend I took down our Christmas tree and all assorted decorations, which was kind of a bummer since I think the tree just adds a nice bit of decor to the living room.  But it's gotta come down sooner or later, and even though in college my buddies and I left the tree up until March (or whenever Evan's girlfriend took it down) I figure we might as well get it taken care of now rather than putting it off for months.  I should have taken a before and after picture of this too, but, well, the "before" picture is a Christmas tree.  I mean, there's not a whole lot of variety for an indoor fake evergreen tree.  I thought the "after" picture was kind of funny though.
When fully assembled it's actually pretty cool.
And yes that is a rack of VHS tapes.
Even though the tree is down, though, it's just a decoration to begin with and not that important in the grand scheme of things.  The real meaning of Christmas, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, needs no tree or ornaments or neatly-wrapped presents to be felt throughout the year.  And so as we forge onward with all the new trials, challenges, joys, and celebrations of the new year, we must not forget the rebirth and renewal that comes now from a simple advancing of the calendar, but from the surpassing greatness of the grace of our Lord and His sacrifice for us.

So here's to 2011.