Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DIY Felt board

The first time I took my son to a preschool group with a feltboard, I knew I had to have one.

Make your own feltboard!

I immediately ran into two problems:

They were hard to find.
They were super expensive.

I wanted a large felt board (24" x 36") that was as big as the white board we use in the play room.  After unsucessefully looking for one several times, I decided to make it myself.

I'd previously purchased a cork board for a project that failed, but it turned out to be perfect for this project.
Universal 43613 Bulletin Board, Natural Cork, 36 x 24, Satin-Finished Aluminum Frame

First, because it was the right size for the space I wanted.  I also chose the aluminum frame because I wanted it to be similiar to my white board, but that turned out to be really helpful tucking in the felt and I'd recommend avoiding wood for this reason (although I haven't tried it with a wood frame.)

Next, I purchashed felt.  I decided to go with black for two reasons.  First, my white board is white, so I liked the contrast.  But secondly, I was worried about the cork board showing through or little people deciding to color the white felt with the white board markers.... better to go with black!
Springs Creative Products Group 2-Yard Cut Felt Fabric, 36-Inch Wide, Solid Black

The final product was glue.  I didn't actually purchase glue.  We have a ridiculous amount of glue at home.  I think you could use pretty much any type of glue you wanted.  I used  Weldwood because it seemed serious.
Dap 00107 3-Ounce Weldwood Contact Cement

There are a few things I would do a little bit differently next time, but overall I am really happy with my results.

1. Cut the Felt.

This is the step I would do a little bit differently.  Cut the felt a little bit bigger than your inside border (maybe 1/4").

2.  Glue the felt to the board.
Felt board

I'm not sure how much glue you really need.  I went a little overboard, but I can say my felt is firmly adhered to the board!

3.  Clean up the edige.  I originally intended to use the razer blade to trim the edge.  What I found, however, was that I could use the back of the blade to push the fabric under the board (the cork board gives to allow the fabric to push under the edge) giving me a much cleaner and more professional edge.  I still needed to trim a little bit of extra fabric.
Felt board corner
The top edge was glued, on the side, I started trying to push it under the border.

4. Play!

Felt board with play pieces

I love the felt board because I can make elements for whatever we are interested in at the moment.  I was pretty proud of my birthday cake, and I'm sure it will reappear a few times each year.

For Saint Patrick's day I made a pot of gold and coins while we worked on counting. I made weather and sky elements.  I am sure I'll share more adventures with our felt

The possibilities really are endless.  I can't wait to use this with our preschool group next year!

Monday, March 30, 2015

For Sale by Owner: Why they won't let me near the marketing department at work.

My entry to mommyland has brought lots of surprises, not least of which is the sheer number of mom's groups.  The bigger surprise?  I like them.  We have a local mom to mom sale group and I love the idea of my outgrown or unneeded baby stuff ending up with a local family instead of a landfill.  We aren't ready to permenately part with our beloved baby stuff, but we basically drowning in toys and I decided to take to the group to thin the heard a bit, if you will.

Honesty is the best policy, right?  Amazingly, all of these toys found new homes.  Excuse the typos, I'm too old to be good at typing on a cell phone.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Life's little annoyances : hairdryer havoc.

This might look like a normal bathroom cabinet, but it's been a major headahce for me, without me even relaizing it.  Everyday for the last six months or so, I've stepped on some portion of my hardryer and straightener.

Everyday for the last six months, I've also picked up all or some of the corded devices I keep in this drawer and put them back in the drayer (okay, maybe not everyday, or I wouldn't keep stepping on them in the morning).

Finally, I'd had enough of my toddler rearranging my hair paraphernalia and dragging cords everywhere.  So I decided to tackle the problem.

The hardest part of solving any problem is often identifying it.  It seems simple now, but day after day, we had this struggle while I was getting ready and I hadn't actually sat down to figure out why or what I could do about it.

Once I did, I quickly came up with a list of possible solutions, but decided the easist would be to just remove the offending devices and replace them with something more kid friendly.  I really like being able to get ready while the kids play, so changing the routine wasn't really a great option.  I don't actually use these things every day, so putting them somewhere slightly less accessible, wasn't a big deal.

It was such a small simple change.  But the difference was huge.  I eliminated an almost daily struggle with my toddler, a danger for the baby, and made 'get ready time' so much better for everyone.  We work hard to set and enforce boundaries with our kids.  There places that are accessible, but not allowed in our house.  Ultimately, I decided that this just couldn't be one of them.  When I'm frantically trying to get ready is not when I'm in my best parenting mode.

So not the most dramatic "before and after" organization picture of all time, but the difference in our morning is aamzing.

One other addition made this area complete. (The dragon that guards where the hairdryer now resides)

I seriously love this thing.  This little device is fantastic.  We have conventional childproof locks on some of our cabinets, but for areas you don't use very often, this is a perfect solution!  No screws, no installation, nothing.  You just pull it on and your done.  The only problem is you have to put it back on every time.  Still, it's great for occasionally used cabinets or traveling.

Do you have a little annoyance that pops up everyday?  Why not take a few minutes to see if there's an easy solution.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pumping Sucks.

Pumping sucks, both figuratively and literally. If I had to use only one word to describe expressing breast milk using a pump, it would be awkward. There are other words not far behindl: time consuming, challenging, rewarding, fat sucking, (although I know that’s not the case for everyone) and occasionally messy.

But seriously awkward. The first time my mom saw me walking around my kitchen attached to a breast pump, she nearly spit coffee everywhere. That inspired me to get kitchen window coverings, eventually. Hopefully before permenately scaring any of my neighbors or their kids. (Hey! Don't snoop in other people's windows!)
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone.  Pumping isn’t for everyone.  But, if you do breastfeed and you do pump, and you want it to suck less (just figuratively), I thought I'd share my tips. There is an entire industry built around breastfeeding, and it's not civil engineering, but maybe what helped me will help you.

Everything you need in your breast pump bag

Step 1.  Choosing Equipment.  

Pump: My first son was in NICU and I started pumping hours after he was born.  I brought home the electric pump from the hospital and decided on the most expensive Medela Pump.  I read pages of reviews, but ultimately went with the brand I’d already had successful useful and seemed to be the most popular.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I loved my pump and when it suddenly stopped working, Medela overnighted me a new one, no charge. (For reference, I used the Freestyle with my first and Pump in Style with my second. I liked and disliked different things about both)  Expert Tip: Keep a manual pump around. They are cheap and excellent insurance. Plus, if you pump at work I can almost guarantee you will eventually own one because you will eventually forget the doohey-do-dad that makes the whole contraption work.

Hands Free Bra. Seriously a game changer. In the hospital, the nurse set me up with a breast pump (something I had not researched at all because I wasn't sure breastfeeding was going to be for me) and told me she'd be right back. Thirty minutes later, I sat in horror trying to figure out how to get the pump off, unable to push any buttons on the machine or the call button because I was holding the two flanges on. (In case you find yourself in the same siutation, you just take them off and turn it off, but in my defense, I was exhuasted, I had just had a baby who was in NICU and I had some weird device pulling at my nipples. I did not want to risk damaging anything...) A few days after getting home, I got a hands free bra and my life changed. Instead of sitting handcuffed to a chair developing creative way to keep my hands at my boobs, I was free to move around the world! (A little too free if you ask my mom, see above). 
Step 2.  Learning to Pump.  It’s not a bad idea to sit down with someone who knows what they are doing (a nurse, LC, friend, or even your manual) and figure it out.  Take the whole thing apart.  Put the whole thing together.  Figure out the names of the parts (or name them yourself if you prefer (Aren't you surprised to learn that doohey-do-dad is my made up word for one of the parts and not the technical word?).  But know how many pieces there are.  Count them and know how many there are.  This will help immensely in the future!

Step 3: Keeping it clean.  Figure out which parts of your pump needs cleaned, how often and how.  This step is critical and if you are pumping with any regularity, washing pump parts is about to become a big part of your life.  The number one tip for me to cut down my pumping time is a good system for keeping things clean.  My best suggestion is to acquire more sets of pump parts.  Once you have a plan for how often and where you will pump, you will know how many sets to acquire.  I personally like to have three.  You have a few options for cleaning your pump parts (my experience is limited to Medela, but I expect it’s similar with other models:  
  • Good Ol Soap and Water
  • Boiling Water
  • Milk Wipes
  • Medela Soap
  • Steam bags

For me, the best efficient plan (once I was back to work) was to start off in the morning pumping while I packed up everything else for the day.  Wash (which is much easier if you do it right away) those parts and leave them to dry and then take a separate already cleaned and assembled set to work.  Normally, pump twice a day at work, although I started at three and towards the end it leans towards one.  I’d pump, wipe down my pump parts and store them in a second ice chest and reuse them until the end of the day.  I’m not entirely sure this is recommended, but it worked great for me and I never had a problem.  After the kids are alseep, it's morning routine reversed.  I’d pump with the clean (and dry) set from the morning and get everything ready for the next day.  Rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and...

DRYING IS CRITICAL!  A wet pump is an unhappy pump, so a drying rack that actually lets them dry is essential.  In a pinch, you can hand dry them, but I find it’s time consuming and hate to do it.  

Step 4: Getting organized.  The key to success is to have a (flexible) plan and a system to stay organized.     
 4a. Make a schedule.  Determine how often you need and want to pump.  If you need to pump in the middle of the night, make a plan for how to have clean parts and everything you need accessible.     

 4b. Organize  stuff. I like having extra sets of pump parts. The problem with this plan is there are lots of pieces in various stages of clean, dirty, wet, dry.  It’s incredibly frustrating to pull out your pump at work and realize you forgot your flanges.  (See tip on manual pump above!).  One of my best friends in life is The List.  This is a great application for a list.  Because when you have a newborn, you’re tired and you're lucky if you remember your name, let alone what goes in your pump bag.  Here’s my List.  I recommend modifying yours.  I keep one copy in my pump bag and on on the inside of my cabinet door.  
List of everything to put in your pump bag

 4c.  Store the goods.  Storing milk was probably the area I improved at the most over time.   At the end of each day, I combine the milk from that day into bottles for the next day.  I use a dry erase marker to put the date on each bottle (way better than any of the other ways I found for keeping milk organized in the fridge) and store them with the oldest in front.  

If there’s extra, I freeze it, making sure it's flat. 
I stole this awesome idea for storing milk and it worked awesome for me, although I did have to replace the bag eventually.  Just find a gift bag the same sized as your milk bags and cut a slit in the bottom. You put the new bags on top and can always use the oldest bag first.

A better way to store frozen milk
Magical Milk Dispenser (I bet you were expecting a picture of boobs)
Store frozen breast milk more efficiently
Dairy Shelf 

 Pumping isn’t my favorite part of any day, but having a plan and keeping things organized has helped me tremendously.  Having a system helped me ensure I wasn't constantly at the mercy of forgotten or dirty parts, while making sure the milk was used or stored without getting pushed behind the jelly and forgotten until it was bad.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When Engineer Turns Mom

The first time someone told me that Engineers think differently than the rest of the world I was confused.

“You engineers see a problem and immediately start thinking of ways to solve the problem.”  I  was still confused.
“Not everyone is like that.”  Really??  I remember being truly astonished by that assertion.

I have been a Civil Engineer by trade for almost 10 years.  I have been an engineer by attitude and approach my entire life.  I like processes that make the world run smoother.  I like solving problems. I like scheduling things.  I like building things.  I am one of the lucky ones who found their way into their perfect profession and vocation, but that’s a post for another day.

For today, what does happen when an Engineer Turns Mom?

So far, I’ve found that I approach some of parenting’s challenges and conundrums much differently than my fellow parents.  Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but often categorically different.

Different enough that I think I have a perspective worth voicing.  So, today, The Civiled Engineer was born to share the solutions, approaches, ideas, and mishaps of using an engineering mind to parent.