Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cloth Diaper Review Compendium: AMP, AppleCheeks, bumGenius, Chinacheapies and more

Oh hello Blogspot. Yeah, it's been almost a year... oh well. No time like the present to get back into it right?

I've been cloth diapering now for about three years, and my stash is pretty diverse, so I thought I'd write up my opinions on what I have as a resource for other cloth diapering families. 75% of my stash have been bought used, mostly in EUC from people who tried cloth diapering and then gave up, selling almost new diapers for 50%-90% off MSRP, or in a few cases even for nothing. If you're budget minded and patient, in my opinion that's the best way to build a stash, especially to try out different styles of diapers. It's a lot easier to try out a diaper for $5 and decide that the style isn't for you than to spend $200 on a bunch of diapers that you end up hating.

I may use diaper jargon without defining it, so if you're not familiar with the lingo here's a glossary.
My somewhat organized stash. AMP on the right, bG in the middle, and China cheapies on the left, with heavy wetters and wet bags in the back.
5 AMP Duo -- hemp and bamboo inserts
11 bumGenius 4.0s with snaps
2 bG 4.0s with aplix
1 bG Freetime
3 Kawaii Baby heavy wetters
2 Tender Tushies heavy wetters
2 Tender Tushies regular pockets
8 Tender Tushies bamboo (discontinued style) -- used as "beaters"
11 HipKiddo pockets (discontinued style) --- used as "beaters"
TOTAL: 45 diapers
Typical diaper use per day (one year old): 6-9
Current washing routine: Every three days, usually about 22 diapers. HE top loader. Quick cold wash, no soap, no spin. Heavy hot wash with 1/4 scoop of Country Save, extra rinse. Once a week I also add a half scoop of baby OxyClean. Now that I have a big stash, I try to air dry whenever I can on a rack.

My very most favoritest diaper.

AMP (Annie Marie Padorie): I have 5 OS Duo (which is a hybrid AI2/pocket) and 1 medium AIO, which I bought when DD1 was a newborn. This was my only AIO which I got as an experiment and I was not a fan. I don't think the trimness is worth the increased drying time and the difficulty in stripping. Also its got the usual velcro and laundry tab problems, even though I've used it very little (basically it's been my emergency laundry diaper).

Back to the Duos. If you're familiar with pockets, these are basically the same as most other pockets except that the flap is in the front. You might think this is to hold the insert in, but actually you're just supposed to lay the insert in the cover if you want to use it in AI2 mode. I've kind of fallen in love with AI2s for use out. I never could get the hang of prefolds and covers, but this offers the same minimum diaper bag space as that set-up. I was using disposables while out (because my diaper bag just couldn't hold so much stuff--we don't have a car, so the diaper bag is It), but now that Pippa is in underwear and I have this AI2 option, I take two covers + 2-4 inserts, depending on the length of the trip out. Anything that reduces the amount of disposables I have to buy is good with me.

The fit of the diapers is very good. It has kind of a rippled edge, which I think adds a delicate touch to the look. They don't have that many prints (I prefer prints to solids). I really really REALLY love the AMP hemp inserts. They have fantastic absorbency, and are super soft and can go directly against babies skin (if you're doing an AI2). They also work much better than microfiber for avoiding compression leaks during baby wearing. I like that AMP diapers are made in Canada by people paid a good wage... but the price matches that. It's about $28 Canadian for the cover + hemp insert. Verdict: Thumbs up, but on the expensive side. Whenever I see one go up for a good price EUC, I snap it up.

AppleCheeks: I have tried a size 1. I bought the cover only without an insert so I can't speak to the inserts. By the time I tried this on Mimi, she was already at the upper limit of the size range, so I didn't get to use it very long (I got them when she was about nine months old and she outgrew them by one year old), but I liked the trimness and the way it's stuffed in the middle. Supposedly, you can throw Applecheeks directly into the wash without unstuffing them and they unstuff themselves. Personally, I was never brave enough to actually try it. The edges have the rippled look, similar to AMP diapers. Like AMP these are Made in Canada. Verdict: My babies so far come out average in weight (~8lbs) and get very big very fast (both 95 percentile in height and 60+ percentile in weight), so OS diapers work well for me, therefore I would not seek out AppleCheeks. If you have babies that start small and stay small, this might be a better investment, especially if you value trimness in a diaper.

bumGenius: I have tried OS 3.0 pockets with aplix closure, OS 4.0 pockets with aplix and snap closures, and OS Freetime.
The state of the velcro on my 3.0s after about 5 years of use.
3.0s: I got my 3.0s in EUC for $5 each and used them heavily until the velcro gave out entirely; I just gave them away to another mama who is crafty enough to snap convert them. Within a few weeks of getting the 3.0s, the laundry tabs stopped working. I think we weren't careful enough in the beginning because we didn't realize how absolutely critical they are to keeping the aplix in good condition. Maybe it wasn't anything we did though, because lots of people have trouble with aplix. Anyway, the laundry tabs just stopped being sticky, so we had "diaper chain" problems (where the diapers start sticking to each other in the wash). We still got almost three years of use out of them, so I guess I can't complain.
A 4.0 from the side, showing the smoother leg gussets as compared to the AMP.

An AMP diaper on top of a bumGenius.
4.0s: I got my first 4.0 when another mom left a wet one inside a ziplock bag by the changing table in the bathroom of the Neighbourhood House I volunteer at. I recognized it and brought it to the head of the program. I chatted with her a bit about it actually being pretty valuable and that I thought the person who left it would definitely want it back. Two days later, they hadn't claimed it, and the program head asked me if I would take it as she didn't want it sitting around (I can't blame her for that!). So I took it home and washed it and have been using it ever since. The diaper was stuffed with a Bummi's cotton prefold, and that was my introduction to the wonder that is stuffing pocket diapers with prefolds.

Then I bought a bunch more snap 4.0s. I like 4.0s quite a bit, but I think the fit is not quite as good as the AMPs for my kids' bodies. As far as microfiber inserts go, I like the ones that come with bumGenius the best of any I've tried, but I prefer natural fibers. I also bought a couple of aplix 4.0s. I've been more diligent about the laundry tabs this time and so far so good, but still, really the only reason I got them was the condition and price (immaculate/$5). So if they only make it through one kid I'm not too bothered.

Freetime in the summer!
Freetime: This is kind of a cool idea, it's a hybrid diaper that attempts to have the ease of an AIO without the drying/stink problems of an AIO. It has two microfiber flaps, one attached at the front and one attached at the back, that you layer over each other. I'd rather have pockets because I don't mind stuffing pockets, and I like being able to launder inserts separately if necessary.

No matter what the kind, bumGenius have a bolder silhouette than AMP, with sharp lines and no ruffling. I would describe AMP as "sweet" and bumGenius as "cheeky". Both describe babies, it's just a different look. bumGenius has some nice prints, but most of the their prints (aside from Albert, which is the only print I have) are limited edition, and thus hard to acquire, and resold for more than retail price, even used! No thanks. bumGenius sold in Canada are made in Egypt. Overall verdict: I like my bGs. They work well and, aside from the velcro, everything else about my 3.0s held up through heavy use over 3 years (and I bought it used!).

FuzziBunz: I got some large Perfect Size diapers for free second hand. They were really really large (like, still on the tightest setting for my older daughter by the time she potty trained), and the elastic in the legs was already shot, I'm pretty sure. So.... I can't really review these? From what the person who gave them to me described, they weren't heavily used, so it seems like these don't hold up so well. These are made in China and Turkey. Verdict: Maybe unfair, but I wouldn't try again unless given them for free.

China cheapies have some really cute prints.
CHINA CHEAPIES: Kawaii Baby, HipKiddo, Tender Tushies:
I'm putting these three together because this is a mysterious category of diaper, sometimes called the "China cheapie". The general definition is that the diaper is
1. Made in China,
2. Really cheap in wholesale (sometimes as low as $3 per diaper, including insert, when bought directly from the manufacturer in quantity), and
3. Resold under various labels (i.e. the brand is not actually involved in the design or manufacture, only in importing them and slapping a label on them and jacking up the price).

It's the #3 part that is the most controversial and mysterious, because nobody admits to being a reseller. You can only heavily suspect that someone is a reseller, based on identical designs and fabrics to some of the big wholesalers (Kawaii, Sunbaby, and Alva are some of the biggest wholesalers). The controversy gets vicious, because many of the resellers of these diapers made in China play up that they are a local business, run by a mother, etc. And I don't deny that it is a home business for them either, and I can understand why they would take umbrage at the "China cheapie" term. But I also don't think it's right how many people entering the cloth diapering world don't realize what they're buying.

HipKiddo: HipKiddo was the first diapers I ever bought new. I bought about six plain solid colour diapers and five minky diapers in animal prints. Seemingly, they don't sell the diapers I own anymore; the whole website looks a bit sparse. My diapers only cost about $7 each including the insert. Now they're charging $17+ a diaper. I will say that I got good customer service from HipKiddo when I had an issue with a defective diaper; they exchanged it right away. I've been using these diapers heavily over three years, and they still work pretty well. They've definitely become the diapers I stick baby in when she's eating spaghetti though. Verdict: Good customer service, but I'm not sure it's worth $17.

Kawaii Baby: I bought these through a co-op so I only paid $3 or $4 a diaper (I bought three heavy wetters for overnight), and I also bought 5 cloth training pants and a wet bag. I've had no problems with the overnight diapers, however one of the cloth training pants was defective out of the package (elastic WAY too tight, I couldn't even get it on my kid), and the strap came off the wet bag within one week of light use (I was using it as my back-up bag). Others in the co-op also had problems with defective training pants. However, despite being repeatedly contacted, Kawaii Baby did not replace or refund any of the defective products. When I divide what I paid total by the number of diapers I'm actually was able to use, I paid about $10/diaper. Yeah, that's still pretty cheap, but it was just an aggravating experience all around, and I wouldn't want it to sour a newbie on cloth diapering. Verdict: AVOID dealing with the company directly. Don't pay more than a few bucks for these no matter how you get them.
I let the diaper sit after taking it off for about ten minutes.
The pee is starting to soak through the cover.
(The crumbs are because this was the snack time diaper.)

Tender Tushies: I got these second hand as part of a lot that included other diapers I wanted more, haha. Two heavy wetters (which seem identical in cut and design to the Kawaii Baby, making me think they have the same manufacturer), two regular pockets, and 8 bamboo diapers, which seem identical to some HipKiddo bamboos that a friend of mine bought. They have a soft, almost t-shirt like exterior, and a grey interior. I remember that my friend had an issue with leaking THROUGH the cover with the bamboo diaper. It's not like a torrent leak like a leg leak, but rather that the cover starts to feel damp if not changed promptly. IIRC it's because they don't use PUL. Personally I don't find this a deal breaker for home use. It's a bit like how some people let their kids scamper around in just a fitted with no cover at home. I've heard the company discontinued this line because many people have this problem, but you might run into someone selling them second-hand, so buyer beware. I've had no dealings with the company itself, but  Verdict: Meh.


My PlanetWise wet bag in its usual spot on the bathroom door.

PlanetWise: I paid full retail for my large PlanetWise wet bag. I know! Me, pay retail? Ha. But it has totally been worth it. It has held up through three years of HEAVY use, getting washed at least twice a week, and hung most of the time by the strap. Only just now is the outer fabric starting to get worn down. I also have their small bag which I use in my diaper bag. Verdict: Worth the money. I plan to buy another one, maybe even two.

GroVia: I got a Perfect Pail. It has a overlapping slot on the top to put diapers into, and a zipper on the bottom so you can unzip it over the washing machine without having to reach into the gross old diapers. In practice, I did not find this as easy as the PlanetWise bag, which is double layered, so I just grab the outer cloth layer and hold it and shake it, and the diapers fall into the washing machine while the PUL layer inverts.

It looks less gross when it's getting full than the PlanetWise bag does. But it's not as cute as my PlanetWise bag as it's just a plain grey. If you want to hang your diaper bag in a closet, its strap is made to clip around a clothes hanger, which is nice in terms of versatility, but we have a hook installed already. Unfortunately I had the same problem that many people have had with this bag, which is that a seam burst. GroVia would have replaced it if I had the receipt, but I didn't. On the up side, it looks like it will be a pretty easy fix, it's just going to be a while until I can get someone with a sewing machine to let me fix it. Verdict: Keep your receipt.

Kawaii Baby: AVOID AVOID AVOID see above. Strap came off within a week, they would not replace (and this was WITH receipt). Seems poorly made overall.

Bummis: I have a medium wet bag, which I usually don't use for diapers. But it is a really good size for holding everybody's wet swim stuff. I like that it's made in Canada too. Verdict: Nice!

Relative sizes and shapes:
AppleCheeks size 1, HipKiddo,
AMP, Tender Tushies Bamboo,
bumGenius, Kawaii Baby heavy wetter.

~Grand Conclusion~
I spent basically all summer working on this cloth diaper post on and off, and I am so glad it's done, and I have nothing else to say.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Media We All Like - Toddler-Friendly Movies That Mom Likes Too

Like many parents, I like to screen media before I allow my toddler to view it. Also like many parents, I wonder who has the freaking time to watch a 30 minute Sesame Street episode solo every time before letting their kid watch it, and if they need to drink in order to get through Elmo's World like I do. So I usually resort to screening/skimming part of a television series/book series/film/game and then just relying on being around while my kid views it so that if something unexpectedly problematic turns up I can swoop in.

But! The good news is that there is some stuff that is both appropriate for toddlers AND actually enjoyable for adults (or at least enjoyable as background noise). Here in this post I want to share the best of the best, and I'd love to hear your recommendations too. I'd like to do similar posts for books, television, iOS apps, etc, but I'll start with movies.

We have not actually watched that many full-length movies. Most full length films for children contain at least one scary part, and these scary parts, in my opinion, are often actually scarier for little children than adult movies would be. I think to a three year old, seeing someone get shot in a realistic way is more puzzling than scary. When I think of the things in my young childhood that scared me the most, they are not adult things I watched in error, but rather stuff like the Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio.

There are basically four movies that we watch right now, but we watch them a lot.

Babies (2010 documentary) - Is there anything that babies like more than watching other babies? This was the first film that we ever showed her. When I was pregnant with the second child we watched it frequently. Pippa still requests it. There is one part that she doesn't like, and that's the brief scene where the puppy is playing with the mother's foot. She will say "Not this part! Not this part!" until I skip ahead. (See what I mean about kids having a totally different idea about what's scary?)

The film doesn't really teach a moral lesson per se, other than "babies are awesome" and "all babies are very alike, and all babies are very different". There's no narrator so you have to draw the lessons yourself. The juxtaposition of different scenes provides its own commentary. For example, Hattie's father vacuuming around her, and then carefully using a lint roller on her romper, cuts to Ponijao chewing on a bone she found in the dirt. Bayar, alone in the yurt and tethered to a pole with no toys
, happily chomping on a roll of toilet paper, cuts to Mari, screaming and throwing herself on the ground in frustration at her inability to correctly work a toy, while surrounded by other toys.

In my opinion, you could lay the parents out in four corners of a graph, where one axis was "conscientious cultivation" (classes, concerted efforts to "teach", helicopter parenting, constant monitoring) and the other graph is "emotional and physical availability" (answering cries, holding/wearing the child, quantity time). Relatively, Hattie's parents score high on both, Ponijao's parents score low on cultivation and high on availability, Mari's parents score high on cultivation and low on availability, and Bayar's score low on both. But the movie doesn't necessarily show one way as the best way, and it definitely shows that all four babies are loved.

Winnie the Pooh (2011) - We actually enjoy this one more than the original Disney film. Unlike Piglet's Big Movie and The Tigger Movie and Kanga Starts Dating: the Movie or whatever else Disney has churned out lately, this film is actually based on stories in the original books by Milne. It's brief, just over an hour, and has wonderful music (including the theme song sung by Zooey Deschanel) and voice acting (including John Cleese as the narrator). The "scary" part of the movie, a psychedelic chalkboard bit about the mysterious Backson, doesn't scare my daughter. I think a key reason for that is, the Backson just does naughty things, like poking holes in socks and scribbling in books--come to think of it, the Backson basically does stuff that toddlers themselves do. Including waking up babies. So no wonder toddlers aren't too afraid of him; he's just a big toddler!

Morally, the movie teaches a great, low-key lesson for toddlers about self-control. Pooh has to learn to control his urge for honey in order to help his friends. But mostly it's just a lot of fun.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - The original seems much cheaper in retrospect, in terms of doing stuff like repeating animation frames, but it has its own charm, especially the music. Honestly I prefer the 2011 movie, but the original is still great. The Heffalumps and Woozles song is scary to my toddler though, so we skip it.

My Neighbor Totoro - Little spider-like black puff balls swarming in your attic. A massive beast with huge teeth and eyes. A mother who is dangerously ill and might die. Sounds like nightmare fuel, right? Actually, My Neighbor Totoro is amazing specifically BECAUSE it's like nightmare retardant. This film is about a set of girls, seven-ish Satsuki and five-ish Mei, who move with their university professor father to the country to be near their mother's tuberculosis sanatorium in post-war Japan. You might think that would be a grim setting, but it's the reverse. Their father is warm, caring, authoritative, and supportive, as are their neighbors. The girls are rambunctious but well-meaning and respectful, at least for their ages. All the stuff that seems terrifying at first glance becomes enchanting and uplifting.

My toddler loves to recite lines from the movie; when I brush her hair, she says "Mommy, I want it to look just like yours" like Satsuki does in the film, and when she dresses up, she'll often turn to me and say "Do I look like a big girl?" like Mei says to her father. And of course I have to give the father's line, "You do!" Every time it happens it reminds me how much kids absorb what they see in media, and thus how important it is to choose wisely what to show them.

Do you have any recommendations for movies for toddlers that everyone will enjoy too? Please let me know in a comment!

Monday, November 11, 2013

crafty crafty

I've been thinking that I need to do more arts and crafts with my toddler. Every week at her French class we do a craft, and it's usually the most frustrating part of the class for me. We're not actually learning any French at that point, I'm just trying to keep Pippa from getting marker on her clothes (why markers, Madame??? why not crayons?) and from destroying the craft before it's done. All she wants to do is scribble, and if stickers of any kind are involved, she immediately wants to rip them off, put them on again, and rip them off again, and for stickers that usually doesn't even last one time. Then she wants me to "fix it".  Sorry kid, I can't.

My parents saved some art/crafts from when I was young and I always thought they were kind of ugly and dumb. I thought that would magically change when I had my own kids but no, I still think 95% of toddler "art" or "crafts" are ugly and dumb. Even when it's created by my kid. Especially because really it was created by me, while attempting to keep my child from eating a glue stick.

But I put it up on the fridge anyway.

Mostly because otherwise she destroys them. I didn't get last week's craft (a coloring page of a fruit bowl, with the fruits labeled in French, mounted on construction paper) up on the fridge in time, and she destroyed it while trying to demount it. Taking things apart is what she wants to do all the time.

 The other two- to three-year-olds in the class exhibit a spectrum of craft behavior, from the little girl who sits there passively while her mother creates an immaculate, Martha Stewart Living type craft, to the exuberant Picasso type who is actually into this whole craft business, to more moderate scribblers. But all of them at least sit more nicely than she does (even the ones who are as energetic as she is otherwise).

It occurs to me (with a sinking feeling) that maybe we ought to do more crafts in order to develop the sitting still and concentrating skills that I've been waiting to exist in order to make craft-making enjoyable. But of course, enjoyable for who? For me, that's who. I don't like doing crafts with her right now; it's messy, it costs money, the finished product is pointless. I want to make crafts with her to give as gifts, but I know that it would be very frustrating to try to make something like a footprint penguin or whatever, because she would stamp all over the paper, or wiggle her foot, or say "I want to do it!" and grab for the marker just as I'm writing "Merry Christmas", and the finished product would look like Martha Stewart Dying.

But the rainy season is here in Vancouver. While I try to get out even in the rain, sometimes it just isn't possible. Maybe I should be using that time to get her involved in some art.

She will enjoy it, right? I know she does. And maybe slowly that will help her learn that craft time is when we sit nicely and create.

Maybe eventually nicely enough that mommy can use the bathroom in peace.

"It's Daddy!" "My, you have done a good job there of capturing your father's basic existential angst. Well done, child."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday abstinence rules in Canada (and a recipe)

One of the things about living in America's hat (aka Canada) is that we suffer from Eagleland Osmosis. In Catholic matters it's even worse. Almost everything comes from the US. The hymnals, the CCD materials, the missals, etc. And none of them mention that anything might be different in Canada. To a large extent this is probably a good thing because in my experience, where Canada differs from the US in things Catholic, Canada takes the wimpy route. (E.g. holy days of obligation, Canada has only TWO, Christmas and Mother of God, which occur exactly a week apart, and in some years they both occur on Sunday, meaning that Canadians have no obligation in those years to ever do anything other than Sunday Mass. WIMPY.)

I knew this, but I was still surprised to read the following in the bulletin one Sunday before Ash Wednesday:
Friday Abstinence Rules in Canada
While the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter [the religious community that runs the parish] observes the more traditional practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year, commonly called the 'Fish Friday', and also encourages you to observe this older practice, the following rules apply in Canada (rules which differ slightly from the USA):
--S.29 of the 'Ordo' of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops specifies that all Fridays of the year are special days of abstinence from meat in Canada. This includes the Fridays of Lent; however, they also state that Canadian Catholics may substitute 'special acts' of charity or piety on these days, even in Lent (except for Ash Wed. and Good Fri., when fasting and abstinence is required).
To restate: The Canadian bishops' conference makes no distinction between Lent and the rest of the year vis a vis abstinence. So if you're in Canada and you're not abstaining the rest of the year, there's no reason officially at least why you should change that during Lent, and you're under no obligation to do so.

In conclusion, Canada is wimpy yet again. :C

Of course there's the "special acts" qualifier; in the heady and optimistic past, the bishops seem to have been living in a dream world wherein all lay Catholics were just itching to apply awesome creative penances and perform superheroic acts of mercy and prayer and were somehow being held back by the idea that all you had to do was abstain from meat. "Ok, we're removing that rule! Let's see what you got, laity! Go for it!" The laity collectively went for it. Where "it" is "a hamburger." This is because the laity, being human, are very very good at hearing when they no longer have to do something difficult, but seemingly impossible to educate to start doing something difficult, much less to come up with their own difficult things to do.

Anyway. We try to keep meatless year round on Fridays. I'm always looking for more meatless recipes, and we did something tonight that was quite easy and also provided leftovers that can be easily spun into totally different meals.

African-Inspired Yams and Rice with Black-Eyed Peas and Peanut Sauce

I'm not going to insert a picture here because if you've ever seen a dish involving peanut sauce, you know what it looks like. Brown. And vaguely gross. Not even food stylists can truly make peanut sauce dishes look great; they try to trick you with neat bowls or splashing garnishes all over the place.
  • sweet potatoes or yams, sufficient to feed your family and have some leftover
  • rice ditto (or some other grain, or leave it out and just have it with the sweet potatoes)
  • one can black eyed peas, rinsed and drained (or a similar amount cooked from dried beans)
  • one large can plum tomatoes in juice
  • one cup natural peanut butter
  • a splash of vinegar or citrus
  • nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and chile powder to taste--don't be shy
Preheat the oven to 400F and stick the yams in on a tray lined with foil (because those suckers ooze). Bake until the texture is how you want it, which depends mostly on how big the yams are and how soft you want them. Start checking with a fork or skewer at about the 40 minute mark.

Cook rice somehow. You know how to make rice, right? If you don't, look it up somewhere else. Or buy a rice cooker, because they are awesome. Especially if you make rice as often as we do.

Dump the plum tomatoes and their juice into a small pot. Roughly cut up the tomatoes with a fork and knife. Add the drained black eyed peas, the peanut butter, the vinegar, and the spices. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently. It will look horrendous at first until the peanut butter melts and melds with the other ingredients to form a smooth sauce. Then it will just look brown, lumpy and vaguely gross (as mentioned above). But it will taste amazing.

Let each individual combine some rice, some sweet potato and some sauce in a bowl. If you cooked them soft, the sweet potato will collapse into the sauce. The result will be gently sweet, warmly savory, creamy, and spicy.

This was inspired by several different sources but notably the idea of beans and sweet potatoes in Crescent Dragonwagon's Bean by Bean and the peanut sauce in Mollie Katzen's Simple Suppers.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

In Defense of Cry Rooms

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. - Unknown

Modeled by one of my little room criers.
It seems at least once a week someone on my Facebook feed shares a piece attacking cry rooms. There are three main directions of attack, which interestingly enough, also attack each other implicitly:
  1. Babies and young children should be able to cry, scream, laugh, and talk during Mass and other people should ignore, accept or even celebrate it.
  2. Babies and young children need to be in the pew in order to be taught to behave. You must swiftly correct every disruptive behavior every time until your children sit attentively, or at least quietly, in the pew for an hour and a half every week.
  3. Children under 7 shouldn't be at Mass at all. They should be left in a nursery or at home with another caregiver so that the parents can focus on Christ. The parents can switch off Masses if necessary to achieve this.
But although they implicitly criticize each other, the focus of their criticism always seems to be the cry room, that semi-segregated section of shame (how's that for alliteration) where brats hang from the ceiling while their mothers chat about toilet training, oblivious to the homily or the consecration.

My perspective is that there is no section on cry rooms or child behavior at Mass in either scripture, the catechism, or canon law, except inasmuch as to say that children under the age of reason are not bound by the obligation to attend Mass. Despite the dire reputation, in fact, the Church isn't terribly keen on telling people The Only Way to Do It unless there IS only one possible choice that is binding on every person without regard to circumstance, something that is rarer than you might think.

We laity are actually a lot more judgmental and strict than the Church in these matters. My perspective is basically that everyone should figure out what works for their family. Unfortunately, the cry room attacks often go all the way to a call for priests and administrators to remove or ban cry rooms. To the extent that they succeed, this is an attack on a perfectly licit and for me often a very helpful option. So I feel the need to defend cry rooms, with the important caveat that I am not claiming that letting children be potentially disruptive in Mass, OR swiftly correcting all possibly disruptive behavior in Mass, OR not bringing young children to Mass are wrong things to do, much less sinful things to do. Any might be right or wrong for your family, at this moment. Any can be taken to a harmful extreme for sure, just as the hyperbolic example of cry rooms I gave previously is easily recognized as a harmful extreme. A child who is allowed to sing loudly all through the homily, a family that is never IN the pew for more than a few minutes before yanking a child who dared to scratch an itch out to the vestibule for a time out, and a poor breastfeeding mother who misses Mass for months because she can't be separated from her baby and yet doesn't want to "disrupt" Mass with an infant's cries--all these would also be harmful extremes.

Any parent of more than one child knows that being a good parent means recognizing that the same approach doesn't work with every child. The Church is our mother, and she recognizes that we all have different needs, and require different disciplines, and different consolations. And, frankly, some of us are weaker than others, some of us are the bruised reeds. There are definitely weeks, or just moments, where I feel like a bruised reed. It's time like that, that the cry room is one of my consolations.

So if the hellscape version of cry rooms is a harmful extreme, what does an appropriate version look like? Maybe it's boastful to say so, but I think my parish does it pretty well.

At our parish, the cry room is one of the confessional rooms, with the screen pulled back, some kneelers at the window, some chairs, and a box full of quiet toys (an alphabet puzzle, some religious children's books, and some stuffed animals). There is a soft speaker, which enables the occupants to hear the priest etc, and the room is directly under the choir loft, so the music can be heard.

I can put a changing mat on the floor, and change a baby, while my toddler plays with a doll, and still be able to listen to the homily. I can let my overtired toddler lie on the floor behind me while I kneel watching the consecration and pray for strength. I can breastfeed in a chair that, frankly, is way more comfortable than doing so in the pew. These are the things that make the cry room a good option for me, at least some of the time. If you don't think these are good excuses, you should thank God that you are stronger than me, and pray that I may become as strong as you.

But in the meantime, please don't take away my cry room!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

being a NO CAR family (and enjoying it!)

My friend Rosemary shared a link on Facebook, which I can no longer find, about how to fit three carseats into one regular car, so as to be able to avoid changing to a minivan, as a part of being able to afford to live on one income. Oops, never mind, changed some Google keywords and I found it.

(As a brief aside, this is one thing I don't like about Facebook and most other sites like it... if you're trying to find a link that someone shared a few months ago, it's a complete headache. Back to my topic.)

Anyway, a related post on the blog is titled "Growing a Family on One Income: Being a One-Car Family" and at the time, I commented (on my friend's Facebook) that I should make a post about "Growing a Family on One Income: Being a No Car Family." And another friend said we should make some kind of a blog round-up or something.

I don't know if the round-up/link-around/whatever mom-o-sphere term will happen or not, but I thought I'd jot down how we make being a no car family work.

Apparently to be a hip mommy-blogger ya gotta make images for people to pin on Pinterest or whatever, so here goes. (This picture was actually taken when a bus got stranded in the snow near our place, hence why she's sitting in a solo seat instead of next to me!)

Firstly, as a caveat, I have to say that neither my husband nor I knows how to drive. I know this makes us absolute freaks in the North American context, and for us two freaks to somehow find and fall for each other has got to be very bad odds. For both of us, it's for very similar reasons: parents expected us to pay the difference in insurance etc to be able to drive family cars, we didn't find it feasible while in high school, then we went to universities where we lived on campus and having a car wasn't any more feasible, and before we knew it we are 31 and 27 and neither of us ever in possession of a license.

But I actually think this has been a great blessing for us. We mostly don't know what we're missing; we don't have a car mindset. We didn't expect to have a car, so when we were looking for a place to live, finding employment, we didn't do it with the mindset that a car was an option.

Second caveat is that I'm going to use all local prices. I have to compare apples to apples; this isn't about renting and transit-ing in Vancouver versus driving in Teton Village, Wyoming.

Vancouver has one of the best transit systems in North America, which is damning with faint praise; probably only a dozen communities or so in all of North America have public transit that is adequate to thrive car-free... I can only think of eight myself off-hand, but I'm generously assuming there's a few others I don't know about. Nevertheless, a lot of people in Vancouver still drive, and I think a lot of it is just car mind-set. The most tragic are the people who live out in the suburbs because they can't afford a city apartment and a car payment, and now they need a car because they live out in the suburbs and they need to commute... vicious cycle.

So I thought I'd crunch the numbers on what we, personally, are saving by not having a car, and how that compares to the rent we pay here (Vancouver proper, but not downtown) vs for a similar space in, say, Surrey. We pay about $200-300 more per month than we would for a similar apartment there. We'll say $300 (I'm going to minimize our savings estimate as much as I can, so that I can say we're saving at LEAST this much, and probably more).

Our costs: $91 for one monthly one zone FareCard, plus around $21 for ~20 FareSavers per month, plus around $10 for times we need to add fare to travel to another zone, for a total of $122/mo. FareCards aren't tied to a single person. On normal days, they can be used by only one adult, but on Sundays and holidays, two adults can ride on one FareCard; we take full advantage of this. Children four and under ride free. Strollers can be taken aboard buses, trains, and ferries, although they may need to be folded if space is lacking (uncommon, in my experience, probably have to fold or take the next bus once or twice a month). There is no tax on transit fares, and you actually can deduct the monthly pass from your taxes, but we'll ignore that for these purposes.

Estimated costs for a single car: Recently read an article that said that gas had edged above $1.50/liter, which is roughly $5.68/gal for American readers. Let's pretend we use 100 liters a month (about 26 gallons; drivers, is that a reasonable amount of fuel?). That's $150 a month just on gas.

Ok, but what are we spending on the car? Let's be realistic and say it's a bit of a clunker. It's pretty hard for me to gauge what we might be spending. I went onto a bargain hunters forum (where I would think people are being pretty frugal) where there was a thread about car payments, and the payments ranged wildly. $250/month seems to be on the low end though, so we'll pretend that's our car payment.

So higher rent + transit fares = $422/mo and gas + car payment = $400/month. So we haven't quite broken even yet. But we're about to.

We now need to add car insurance. Now here I'm really going to show my ignorance. Remember, I've never had car insurance in my entire life. There's approximately eight bajillion variables affecting how much you pay per month in car insurance. I can't possibly guess how much we'd pay. Searching for "average car insurance BC" I found figures like $1200 or $1400/year. Let's say $100/month. Feel free to tell me if I'm way off in either direction. We're now officially saving money. Hurray!

We have more costs to consider though. Parking is not too bad in Vancouver, and lots of places have free parking, but we would still need to pay for parking sometimes. I'll be very conservative and say $50/month. Surrey is on the other side of a toll road. There is an alternative route, but it takes much longer, especially in high traffic situations. The toll is $3/trip. Again, very conservatively, let's say we take a mere 10 round trips across the Port Mann; that's $60/month. And the car has to be maintained, and repaired when stuff goes wrong. If we assume we have a clunker, those costs are probably higher, but again, super conservatively, let's say another $50/month on average towards maintenance and repair. It also costs money to register the car, and get your license, but the cost per month isn't that much so I'll be generous and ignore it. And since all this is just to have us be a single car family, I'm still left without transport when he's at work. So I'll at least have to spend SOME money on bus tickets for myself; fortunately Surrey's transit is still better than most places in North America. (I'd lay down good money that it's more convenient to use the bus in suburban Surrey than in downtown Pittsburgh, for example.) Let's say $40/month (since I don't have a FareCard to borrow sometimes, and since now more trips involve crossing zone boundaries).

So on the barest of bare minimums, we save at least $350/mo by not having a car and living in Vancouver vs. having a car and living in Surrey. This is why we are not bankrupt, as The Husband puts it.

There are also non-monetary benefits of being No Car:
Since I use tickets if I need to take transit when The Husband is using the pass (ie during his working hours), it gives me an incentive to walk if I possibly can, because the use of a ticket is very concrete. At some level people know when we take a car trip that yes, this individual trip uses up $X of gas, adds X miles towards the next maintenance milestone, etc, but I don't think people really think about it the same way. It's like how it's easier to keep to a budget if you spend cash instead of using a credit card.

Also, buses usually pick up and drop off a block or two away from my actual destination. This is equivalent to that old saw that people bring out as a weightloss tip that you should park in the back of the lot. Essentially, taking a bus means you are ALWAYS parking in the back of the lot. That adds up and it's great for my health.

It amazes me how many times I've gotten to chatting with a mom who drove to a playground (or whatever), and I mention I walked there, and it turns out she lives closer than I do! This is part of the car mind-set I was talking about earlier.

Toddlers love buses and trains. I can head off whining about not wanting to leave the playground (or whatever) by announcing it's time to get on the bus, or even better the train. My kid uses the bus pretty much every day, and it's still not old for her.

Just don't let the toddler drive the bus.
In a car, unless you're one of those people who texts or talks on the phone (and please stop being one of those people if so, thanks, especially if you're the dude who almost hit me in the crosswalk last week), getting to a destination is single-tasking. Now that I have kids, I don't get to chill out and read or play on my phone like I used to, but public transit is still a great place to multitask. I retie my toddler's shoe, nurse my baby, use my phone to check the flyer for a supermarket near my destination to see if I want to get something there before coming home.

Buses and trains put little babies to sleep.
This was so invariable that we used to call it Hypnobus or Hypnotrain. I know a lot of babies fall asleep in car seats, but even kids who hate car seats (like Pippa), you put them in a baby carrier on a train, watch those eyes close before you know it.

And then of course, taking public transit is better for the environment. I don't just mean less emissions, fuel use etc. The more people take transit, the less traffic is on the roads, which means roads last longer, less traffic jams, less need for parking spaces, etc. Car commuters who complain about their gas taxes going to transit should see just how much more hellish their commute would be if all the people on buses and trains were in individual cars instead.

The drawbacks:
It usually takes longer to get somewhere by transit rather than car, although not always--it's usually faster to get downtown via train for us, certainly when you factor in finding a parking space and walking from it. But most of the time, it takes an extra 5 to 30 minutes to go via transit, depending on transfers, whether the bus is running on time, etc.

Public transit puts you up close and personal with your fellow man. During rush hour, sometimes REALLY close and personal. A lot depends here on the general culture of the place and of the people using the transit system, but no matter where you are, there might be crazies. There's crazies driving cars too of course, but at least there you have several tons of metal between. Truly dangerous incidents are rare. Much more common is dealing with overly friendly grandparent-types with unsolicited advice, people who are allergic to soap, people listening to their music so loud that you can hear every F-bomb even through the headphones, etc etc etc. If you're a Swift in reverse (that is, you love mankind but hate people), public transit will be your worst nightmare. But there's an upside to it too. Sometimes the unsolicited advice from the wannabe grandma turns out to be encouraging, the unwashed dude makes you laugh, the music gets your toes tapping, or what have you. And if you're Catholic like me... you can always offer it up... ;)

Not having a car severely limits your ability to leave the local area. That "takes longer" is alright when you're going from 15 minute drive to 25 minute bus trip, but when it's from 1 hour car trip to 2.5 hour bus trip it's much more discouraging. And that's assuming that a public transit option exists at all. There's no way to get via public transit from Vancouver to the zoo out in Langley, for example. When we want to go further afield, we HAVE to take Greyhound or Amtrak or fly.

Even when taking a car, there's a certain amount out of your control. There might be traffic, a road might close because of an accident, your car may develop a sudden problem. However, I will admit that unpredictability is predictable with transit. There is the phenomenon my husband calls "bunching and gaps", which is when a bus gets behind schedule, thus causing it to pick up larger loads, thus to run even slower, while the bus behind it gets ahead of schedule because there's no one to pick up, until eventually the buses are right on top of each other (a "bunch"), and then there's a long time until another bus comes (a "gap"). You can also never be really sure how long your individual bus will take. Loading and unloading wheelchairs, for example, takes a few minutes every time. So if you NEED to be somewhere on time, you gotta plan to be early.

Bringing home big purchases is a hassle. But this actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise because bringing big stuff home is such a hassle that I end up saying "Do we really need all that? I don't think we need that." Plus you know if you're pursuing a no car lifestyle for the money saving, you're probably living in a tiny place anyway. Can you fit all that stuff in your apartment? No you cannot. And you don't need it. Save your money.

In Conclusion:

There are lots of ways to make a family work on a smaller budget than you might expect, if you're willing to question a lot of the "of course we have to haves". Reducing from two cars to one car is radical to many in North America. But there are plenty of people raising a family with no car too, and I think if you make savvy choices about where to live, it can be a very rewarding, and even freeing, lifestyle.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Salut et bienvenue

I'm attempting, along with my 2.5 year old daughter, to learn French. One of the tools I'm using is an app called Duolingo, which is mostly full of those phrases you never use in real life, as Eddie Izzard's famous stand-up routine exemplifies (warning: swearing):
One frequently recurring phrase however I shall use to start off this new blog: salut et bienvenue. Hello and welcome.

It seems fitting to begin with a brief review/endorsement of the immediate source of this blog's title. Funnily enough, I created this blog a while ago and left it fallow. Just recently, I started rereading the book In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, and at the same time, I felt the urge to start a true blog (as opposed to my previous online diary). When I came on Blogspot, I discovered I had chosen a title from the book. An interesting coincidence. Here is the quote, from the very beginning of the novel:
The motto was "Pax," but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Pax: peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort, seldom with a seen result; subject to constant interruptions, unexpected demands, short sleep at nights, little comfort, sometimes scant food; beset with disappointments and usually misunderstood; yet peace all the same, undying, filled with joy and gratitude and love. "It is my own peace I give unto you." Not, notice, the world's peace.
It's talking about the life of a nun in a Benedictine cloister, but there is so much there that speaks to me in my very different vocation as a wife and mother. Especially, with a two year old, the "constant interruptions and unexpected demands", and with the two month old, the "short sleep at nights"!

The "pax inter spinas" of the Benedictines.

I think this book will end up being for me the book of this decade in my life, just as I would have said the book for the decade from age 10 to 20 would be I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. In both cases, there is the same excellence of writing, particularly the exquisite phrasing, which I read and reread and turn over in my mind. I have not read Rose Garden for a few years, and yet I can even now recite certain paragraphs virtually verbatim, without having made any conscious effort at memorization. It's not simply how frequently I read the novel. The rhythm and beauty of the language, the truth behind the words, and the personal connection meant I just couldn't help it.

And it's the same with this work. With Rose Garden I was like a missionary with it, bringing it up whenever someone mentioned wanting something to read, telling people with teenage dramatics "Read this if you want to understand me" while pushing a well-worn paperback at them. I don't think I ever got even one person to read it? I certainly don't remember anyone doing so. I think in retrospect it was a bit like me trying to hook up my dearest friend on a blind date; I pushed it so hard, I think people got scared off. I certainly don't want to do that with this novel.

 I also feel a bit unequal to the task of reviewing the novel because it does so much. Yes, the novel, as the blurb will tell you, is about Philippa Talbot and her choice, as a rare highly successful career woman in the 50s, to renounce that life for a complete start over as a novice in a Benedictine monastery. But it is about so much more. There is the page-turning suspense (really!) of a financial crisis caused by dereliction of duty, conniving, and betrayal. There is little Penny Stevens, who comes back from her initial minor role in the very beginning as the catalyst for a powerful and moving section. There's enough plot regarding the tug-of-war over Sister Cecily to have easily had a novel written just about her. And the characterization! This is a novel with dozens of characters, almost all of them women, and almost all of the women nuns with very similar super-Catholic names, and yet she makes almost everyone so real and three-dimensional that I never got confused about who was who. So whether you're a plot junkie or a character junkie, you get your fix.

The book is also fascinating as a contemporary portrait of a time of intense upheaval in the church. In this way it's a historical document. Published in 1969, the novel begins in the 50s and goes through the 60s, and thus records the reactions of the nuns to the winds of change blowing everywhere and then rising into the gale that was Vatican II and its aftermath. The book lets various opinions have their say in the pages, and for the most part doesn't take a side, although it does come down with some pretty harsh burn against the fervent yet naive would-be reformers who wish to tear down a wall without first finding out why it was built:
“I don’t like to see these,” Brother John had said, tapping the grille of the parlour. “I look forward to the day when the bars will come down and you can mingle freely with your guests—perhaps even wear lay clothes as they do.”
“Just as we did a hundred years ago,” said the young councillor Dame Catherine Ismay.
That took him aback.
“Didn’t you know?” asked Dame Beatrice, sweetly. “When we first came to Brede that was how we had to live. We could not wear our habits, and were not allowed enclosure until 1880. We had to fight to get our grilles.”
“One who informs ought to be himself informed, not?” Dame Colette, who was French, asked of the air.
The only section of the book that doesn't really work, and unfortunately it's the section that closes out the book, is the plot regarding the foundation of a new Japanese branch monastery. I can't exactly put my finger on why. I think it's just a little bit too "those exotic inscrutable Orientals", in an admiring way, but that doesn't necessarily make it less problematic or occasionally cringe-inducing. It's the only section of the book which feels more "outdated" than "classic".

I should also warn the hormonally or otherwise emotionally vulnerable that there is a non-graphic, but all the more for that gripping account of the death of a child. I can't even think about that section of the novel without getting a lump in my throat. When I actually read it I always, always cry, and if I'm hormonal (ie from just having a baby) it's a right old sob fest. And then I go hug my kids. But just be prepared for that. So, I shall leave it there for the time being. Please do comment if you take my recommendation and read it; I would love to know that I am successful here, as I never was with Rose Garden!