Thursday, December 30, 2010

And the hits just keep on coming...

So, Christmas has come and gone and lots of hits have come our way since the last blog entry -unfortunately almost none of them good. Let's see if I can find a silver lining in these clouds as I sift through them.

First, the future. Scott was to find out which program had selected him for his intern year. He was really excited because he'd had extremely good interviews with the staff in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department at Walter Reed and that was his first choice. His second choice was Psychiatry at Walter Reed but he'd been told that he was required to list it as a third choice, with a transition year as his second choice, so he'd listed a transition year at Madigan Army Medical Center in Ft. Lewis, WA. We'd talked about it and we figured that even if PM&R didn't take him that Psych would (he'd also had good interviews with them) so we'd be able to stay local, Maeve would be able to stay in the same school system for another year or more and we'd even be able to to maybe buy a house.

None of this happened. Instead, we get the curveball: transition year at Madigan. I won't go into the details, except to say that the PM&R director called to make sure that Scott reapplied to the program in order to do the residency, even though he didn't make the preselected slots and to assure Scott that he had wanted him - was his first choice, in fact - but that the committee ranked all of the non-prior military service people higher, that most of the committee members were non-military doctors, and that the 2 military doctors who wanted Scott in the program were deployed and tried to send in their votes via email but the civilian committee members rejected the email submissions.

So now we are presented with the need to move across the country, rather than across town. And while this is a move that won't cost us in terms of the packing and the moving (thank you, US Army), it is likely to cost us excess charges for having more weight than we are allowed due to our enormous collection of books and other random crap. It's also going to cost us gas and tolls and who knows what-all, because the likelihood is that the Army won't pay for one of our vehicles to be shipped to WA and we'll end up having to pay for Scott's Civic to be shipped while we all pile into the minivan and make a trek across the country.

And Scott has a report date of sometime around the 15th of June, which means we need to leave in May, right after graduation, in order to spend a week driving and then find a house when we get there.

Which means that Maeve won't be able to finish 5th grade here.

Which means that our things will have to get packed during the 2nd week of May. Which means that we'll have to live in temporary housing after all of our furniture is gone and that's likely to be the Navy Lodge in Bethesda. And that means that I'll have to get up much earlier than usual in order to take Maeve to school, though maybe we'll be able to borrow some Aerobeds from the in-laws so that we can stay in our house while we clean it and get everything ready to leave and maybe only stay at the Navy Lodge a couple of nights.

And then there was the prospect of being pregnant while all this was going on and not wanting to drive across the country for a week. Would I be able to make the cut-off for flying while pregnant, in order to make that part easier?

Well, that part doesn't matter now. A mere week after finding out about the move, I went to the doctor because I'd been spotting on and off and it concerned me, since it wasn't like 'normal' spotting and because I had been feeling that there was something not quite right with this pregnancy. And I was right. They did an ultrasound and discovered that while there was a gestational sac, there was no embryo. If there isn't one there by 11 weeks, there isn't going to be one. They sent me home to wait to have a miscarriage.

You might expect me to be sad or upset or angry, since those would be natural reactions. But honestly, not being pregnant means that I can better deal with the challenges that will present themselves due to the move. And anyway, there's no baby to mourn, since it just didn't grow in the first place. Unfortunately for us, the girls knew I was pregnant and we had to tell them. I explained that the baby didn't grow but my body thought it did - kind of like when you plant a seed but it doesn't grow. Thank goodness Gwyneth has the Eric Carle book "The Tiny Seed" which tells how some seeds don't make it to grow into plants. There's a seed that ends up not growing, so she understood what I meant on some level.

Christmas was a nice break, with lots of fun presents - Scott got me tickets to see Sarah McLachlan in January and I also got the Stacy Shiff book about Cleopatra, which should make for some good reading. Then on Boxing Day we drove to Pittsburgh to the in-laws, where tons more presents were thrown at us, as usual. My mother-in-law informed me proudly that she'd bought everything on the lists. Yep, she did. And apparently the books Scott told her to get me weren't enough because she ended up giving me cash, as well. $150 in cash. So, naturally, I feel weird about that. I'd honestly rather have her spend $10 on something that she's chosen herself because she knows I'll love it than any amount of money she could give me. And while I'm on that sore subject, if she's going to spend that much money on me, she's well aware that I collect German-made nutcrackers. Hell, she sees them on display in the family room every time she comes to visit. She's even bought me one as a Christmas gift in years past. Apparently she doesn't remember that. Funny, because my sister-in-law always remembers that and gets me some cheap Chinese-made nutcracker, usually with a Pittsburgh Steelers theme, as a joke. Got one this year again, so I told her I'd rather have a Penguins one, since I actually like the Penguins.

So, speaking of money..... we were naturally a bit short for gifts this year and, as I said in a previous post, most gifts were going to be handmade. I've done handmade gifts for my nieces in the past - the dresses of 2 years ago - but wasn't sure how well they were liked. However, the only gifts I could be certain wouldn't be duplicates for the twins who have everything would be handmade ones. So I made clothes for their American Girl dolls in their favorite colors - Emma's is purple and Ella's is pink. For Christmas gifts I made them each a skirt from fabric left over from the dresses I'd made them, flared pants (purple denim for Emma, pink corduroy also left over from Ella's dress for Ella), peasant blouses (lavender for Emma, cerise for Ella), and t-shirts (lavender floral knit for Emma, burgundy and pink stripe for Ella). Then because their birthday is 2 days after Christmas, I made lovely party dresses for their dolls as birthday gifts, using leftover silk dupionni from my stash: deep purple for Emma and magenta for Ella. I was concerned that they wouldn't like them but I needn't have worried. Ella kept on saying she couldn't believe I was able to make clothes and even doll clothes, how pretty they were, etc. Emma wasn't quite as verbal but she immediately put her doll into the birthday dress and had it "playing" its violin. Scott told me later that while I was in the shower my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were raving about how great the doll clothes were and how they were at least as good as the store-bought ones, probably better.

The one thing I'm still having trouble with is the money issue. I hear all the time about how my sister-in-law has it so hard, from my mother-in-law. Yes, K. is divorcing her husband and that makes her life difficult, but only in the sense that she has legal crap to deal with and the kids have emotional issues because of the split. So she has challenges, but they sure aren't financial. K. still has a job and she has free child care in the form of her mom, who now has retired from teaching and lives down the street. K. makes about 3 times what Scott makes. Yes, she has a mortgage and a car payment. We pay rent and have a car payment, too, and we do it on 1/3 of what she makes. But she also gets financial support from her husband (court ordered). He's a neurosurgeon. He makes, like, a million dollars a year. Seriously. The twins go to a private school that costs $15,000 a year per child. That's a separate payment from the financial support that K. gets from her husband. The financial support each month amounts to about 5 times what Scott makes monthly. I can't even get my head around that. And when I come into her house and see that she's got a brand-new stainless steel refrigerator and stove, top of the line, etc., it makes me want to throw up. Because she's doing well, financially, while I worry about whether or not I can afford to put Gwyn and Tallon in gymnastics for another term and still break even. She can afford to send her kids to a private school while I worry if I can afford the tuition for preschool 3 mornings/week at the neighborhood church. But for some reason, her life is considered hard. She bought her dad a high-definition flat screen TV and Blue Ray player for Christmas. We got him a subscription to National Geographic. I don't even know what she got her mother, but we gave her a $40 gift certificate to Amazon so she could get ebooks for her Kindle.

I don't want to compete with K. I don't even want the things she has. What I want is for people to stop telling me how hard she has it, when she so clearly doesn't. And I want K to understand that there's a significant gap between what I can afford and what she can afford. She's always telling me I stay at home too much, I should go out and do things for myself, I never buy things for myself, etc. And she's right - I don't do those things. I don't do it because I can't afford it. I don't go to get a pedicure because I can't afford it. I don't go out - either on a date with Scott or by myself during the day - because I can't afford the extra cost of a babysitter. And my mother doesn't live down the street from me and provide free child care. I don't have the luxury of going to the salon every month; I try to make my cut and highlights last for 8-10 weeks because I can't afford to go more frequently than that. I can't afford a gym membership. I don't have the extra money to just go shopping for fun. Shopping isn't even fun to me anymore because I can't justify the expense of anything I might want to buy. And every time I see K and my mother-in-law I always feel bad - mostly because I know they don't understand why we don't have enough money to do these things, even though at some level they're clearly aware of our situation, since my mother-in-law often gives us money when she sees us. I don't understand it.

So, now to find the silver linings.

Yes, it's a pain in the neck to have to move, especially across the country and before the end of the school year. BUT
1) the Army is paying for the move
2) while Scott was born in WA, he doesn't remember it, so it's a new place for all of us and that should be fun for a year
3) it gets us out of having to travel at Christmastime next year!!!
4) the trip across the country is an opportunity to see things like Mt. Rushmore and other sites we've never been to

Yes, it's a bummer not to be pregnant BUT
1) I don't have to worry about the stress of being very pregnant while I move
2) I now can get the tattoo I'd been planning on getting until I found out I was pregnant
3) I can actually work out and try to lose some weight before the summer
4) I can devote more time to other things, especially the kids

Other silver linings:
1) With that money from my mother-in-law I can pay for my tattoo
2) I have plenty of reading material for a while
3) I can always sell the Steelers nutcracker on ebay and get some money
4) moving across the country means that I won't have to deal with my in-laws

Not all is bad, right?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's better to give...

So once again it's that time of year when I get all stressed out because the sewing projects for Christmas aren't anywhere near completed and the tree isn't up yet and the house isn't decorated. Add to that the fact that I'm super tired right now because I'm pregnant and it's a recipe for craziness.

The part of the holiday season that I like most is the Christmas shopping, although with small kids it can be difficult to really look around to find the perfect gift. I pride myself on finding something beautiful and original for everyone, or making something fantastic. I used to be able to do that. Sometimes I still succeed. Like when I make cookies for everyone - my biscotti are always well-received by coffee drinking family members, as are the espresso biscuits (thank you Martha Stewart) and many other types of cookies. Last year I had the best idea for a Christmas present for my in-laws and they loved it: I had a portrait made of all the grandkids together in a 16 x 20 size and had it framed for them to put in the family room in their new house. Of course next year I have to do a new one that will include the new baby. But the idea was genius, and my sister-in-law thought it was awesome. The kids had coordinating outfits - sweater dresses from Hanna Andersson in blue for my girls and in red and white for hers, and Tallon had a Nordic-type sweater and jeans. It's the cutest picture ever.

However, this year I feel rushed for time and constrained by budgetary limitations so it's a bit more difficult. Fortunately, I am able to make things for many people in our family. Like my nieces, who have every toy under the sun. This year they took a trip to NYC and visited American Girl place - Maeve went along and brought her "Just Like Me" American Girl doll. My sister-in-law ended up getting her girls each a doll, so I can make them clothes for their dolls. This won't cost me anything in the way of cash, since I can use scraps to do it and the best part is that I have fabric left over from the dresses that I made them 2 years ago. How cool is that?

Maeve is getting a dress that I had already been planning, so no problems there. Gwyn's homemade present is a puppet theatre - the kind you hang in the doorway with a tension-type curtain rod. She already has many puppets so I don't have to make any if I run out of time. I think I have enough fabric in my stash already for this so it might cost nothing or it might cost very little, since I already have a JoAnn's coupon.

My other relatives, though, are less easy to produce things for. My sister-in-law is fairly picky about pretty much everything and routinely asks for a gift card to Pottery Barn. I hate gift cards. I hate that people ask for gift cards. Mostly I hate them because the person knows how much or how little you spent on them, but I also hate them because I think they're impersonal. I was thrilled to see an article on this very subject the other day. I agree with the author that giving a gift card usually means that you don't know the person well enough anymore to be giving them gifts. That's pretty much the way I feel at Christmas because my in-laws generally go with the default of getting gift cards. When I was pregnant 2 years ago, my sister-in-law got me a gift card for maternity clothes. How much do you want to bet that I get one this year?

My mother-in-law asks every year what I want for Christmas. The answer is: I don't know. I don't go shopping for myself and I don't window shop. Unless I've gotten an email from or Barnes and Noble advertising a book by an author I like, I have no idea what books I might want. I shop for my kids, mostly, so I never end up in a store that has anything for me. So the default for my mother-in-law has been cash until we moved back to the States and I could actually use gift cards. The thing is, there's never any pleasant surprises when I open gifts from her. If I give her a list of things, she's likely to get every damn thing on the list. Same thing with the kids and with Scott. We've had to learn not to give her too many options so we don't end up with a ton of stuff.

And, honestly, I feel like saying, "I've been married to Scott for almost 15 years. If you don't know what I like, what I do for a hobby, what my interests are by now, I don't think I can help you." Because I really hate being asked every year. And it makes me feel really crappy that you don't care to even try to buy something without being told exactly what I want. I mean, she knows I sew and yet I had to have Scott tell her that a gift card to JoAnn's would be good.

Now, you might wonder why this issue gives me so much heartburn. The reason is this: they don't give each other gift cards as a general rule. So it makes me angry/sad/confused when they clearly care enough to give one another gifts that have taken thought, are a surprise, are something unique and special, but they don't do this for me, Scott or the kids.

The real answer to my mother-in-law's question "What do you want for Christmas?" is: Nothing. I don't want anything. Maybe I'd like you to come and clean my house. Or maybe I'd like you to come and hang out with the kids one week a month so I can do some sewing and other things that I never have time to do. But really - I don't want any more stuff. Well, I take that back. I want an embroidery machine but that's an amount of cash that no one is going to spend on me. And it's really a pie-in-the-sky kind of request, anyway.

The funny thing is, this year I'll probably end up giving more gift cards than I normally would and I can justify it. First, Scott's mom has a Kindle and asked for a gift certificate so she can get more downloads. Okay, that's reasonable. And fairly personal, since I could buy her a book or two and for the same cost she can probably get 4 or more. Scott's dad is getting a subscription to Popular Science and to National Geographic, because he mentioned he wanted it. While that's kind of like a gift card, it's not really. Scott's sister? Well, I don't know. Honestly. I really don't want to help decorate her house by giving her another Pottery Barn gift card. I mean, she's a doctor - she can spend her own money on that.

My family, on the other hand, normally is really good about finding things that each person will like- even if they're tiny things. For us, it's really the thought that counts and the look of surprise and pleasure on the face of the person receiving the gift. (I contrast this with the free-for-all that is gift opening at my in-laws which gives me a stomach- and head-ache and where no one knows who opened what - see above photo.) Plus, generally speaking my family is poor so the presents have never been huge. Anyway, I don't live near my brothers or my mom, so sometimes it can be difficult to know what to get them.

My brother Phil got married a year and a half ago and I know his wife is in the process of redoing the house as best she can on their severely limited budget. Limited as in, hey I picked up this paint for free on Craig's list and I got these curtains at the Goodwill store. I'm thinking that maybe a gift card is the best way to give them something that they really want or need but are putting off because they can't afford to buy it. Like a gift card to Home Depot, maybe? Because I could buy them something but then I'd have to ship it and it could be impractical. Better than money because they'd be unlikely to spend it on bills or whatever but it still gives them the freedom to buy what they want. Same with my brother Stefan - he loves to cook and is getting pretty good at it, but he's on a tight budget that doesn't really allow for him to buy more expensive things or high-end produce. I could send him a gift basket full of stuff but I know he likes to shop and I can't send fresh foods in the mail. Enter a Whole Foods gift card, which will allow him to get what he wants and for it to be fresh.

Then there's my mom. I love to make her things. In the past, when money wasn't so tight, I've gotten her Steiff bears for her collection (on ebay) and other trinkets. I've sent cookies. But I know that she's been trying to downsize her life and she doesn't have tons of room. This year, I think I want to make something. I have this really nice fabric and a sweater pattern that I want to make up but I don't know.... I'd have to ask her for her measurements. In the meantime I picked up some Godiva chocolates at a discount price at the NEX, since I know she loves Godiva.

I'd rather just go through the holidays without having to worry that someone wants to buy me something. If I could do all of my gifts handmade I'd be really happy. For me the holidays aren't about getting, they're about giving. The present I get is the look on their faces when they open up their gifts and hearing them say "Oh my gosh, this is wonderful! I love it!". It's enough for me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Every Day is Halloween

Okay, maybe not every day. But my kids like to dress up, so I make Halloween costumes to last. The idea being that if I make them, I can use fabrics I can wash and that won't fall apart, unlike those crappy, store-bought messes.

This year Maeve took her own sweet time deciding what she wanted to be. Meanwhile, Gwyneth had been asking to be a ladybug since, oh, I don't know -last Halloween. But then Maeve made the announcement that she wanted to be a pirate, and Gwyn decided that she, too, needed to be a pirate. The boy had no opinion, being not quite 18 months old, but I was already thinking that he could be a tiger or lion, as he is very fond of roaring. As I don't have a good shot of him, you'll have to take my word for it that he was the cutest lion ever, though it turned out that the hood with the mane didn't fit his larger-than-average head, so he didn't wear it.

So during a trip to the fabric store with the kids Maeve chose the Simplicity 3644 pirate pattern which, like many of the Simplicity costume patterns, is a Disney-authorized pattern for clothes à la Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow. While you might suggest that this is why Maeve chose it, I can truthfully say it's because the pattern is much more authentic-looking than any of the other patterns she looked at and she was in love with the frock coat. Plus, she's never seen the movie. However, she wanted to be an elegant lady pirate, so she chose to have a skirt, rather than pants.

Finding a pattern for Miss Gwyn was slightly more challenging. The Simplicity pattern was too big for her, since it started in size 7. Gwyn is barely a size 4 on a good day. However, I dug into my trusty collection of Ottobre magazines and came up with some patterns that would be good for pirate garb. First, the shirt. I decided on the "Ollie" shirt, #19 from the 6/2007 issue of Ottobre. It's a boy's shirt but has some nice gathers that I thought would make it more blouse-like. With the addition of pearl buttons, it became much more girly. When I was looking at the blouse pattern, the "Onni" vest, #20 in the same issue, caught my eye. It's plain but I figured that with some silver middy braid and metal buttons I could get the pirate look I wanted. Here's the result:

The shirt is made from a Kona cotton muslin in white, for durability, and the vest is a beautiful black microsuede that I had in my stash. Originally it was planned for a skirt for me but I never got around to it. I used the same microsuede for the eyepatch.

Maeve had decided on a skirt, so Gwyn felt she needed one too, as first mate. Luckily I found an Ottobre pattern that had a size range for them both - a tiered skirt, # 25 from the 2/2004 issue. Very easy to do and it enabled me to let the girls have a choice of colors. Gwyn informed me that it needed to be gray, red, black and purple, and that she also needed a green sash. Done and done. Skirt was made from polyester taffeta and the sash was made from cheap polyester satin. Add a red bandana and - presto! Pirate Gwyn!

After I got all the parts together we decided she needed something else and Jabber the parrot was stitched to the shoulder of her vest, which made trick-or-treating hilarious, since people pretended to think it was a real parrot and kept giving her extra candy "for your parrot friend".

Maeve's costume was, of course, more elaborate since she was the captain. We used the same Ottobre skirt pattern as with Gwyn, the only change being the color of red taffeta; Maeve liked the red-black iridescent color better than the regular red. The blouse is from the aforementioned Simplicity pattern, as are the vest and frock coat. When fabric shopping, she chose a beautiful red velvet for the coat. I tried to get her to use velveteen, as it is more machine-washable. She was having none of it so we went with the cheap velvet, rather than the expensive one.

***A note about the Simplicity 3644 pattern. The yardage given on the pattern envelope is only for fabrics which are 58-60" wide. If you've ever worked with velvet you know that it comes in a much narrower width. I had to estimate the amount of fabric I needed and I was still off, mostly because of the flare of the main pattern pieces of the coat. I ended up having to buy extra fabric and it was a different dye lot, so the color is slightly off on the left back panel. Plus, there are a few construction issues that I would change in order to made it slightly less of a pain in the ass. Overall, it was a fairly easy, if time-consuming pattern. The cost of this, though, is going to be high if you try it in an expensive fabric with expensive trims. There are 8 large buttons and 15 smaller buttons that are needed for this version of the coat, and that alone ran into quite a chunk. The only thing that saved me were coupons for JoAnn Fabrics that got me 50% off of the velvet. 5 yards at $10.99/yard is pretty expensive for 1 piece of a costume, but 5 yards at 5.99/yard is a bit better.

Then, of course, there was the cost of the brocade for the long vest and the many buttons that it requires. The nice thing about the coat was that it didn't require buttonholes. The vest, unfortunately, does. Like, a dozen of them. On a curved placket. Ugh. Luckily the pattern includes a piece for the placement of the buttons and buttonholes. Ideally the vest should have had some fancy metal buttons but at that point I was so hard-pressed to find that many buttons in that size that I just took what I could find and they ended up being plain red plastic.

We accessorized the costume with a sash made from the same purple taffeta as in the skirts, black and white striped tights, a pair of black boots with fold-over tops, a wooden sword and a pirate hat purchased on ebay.

On the whole, a rather ambitious project that I am glad to be done with. It was fun to do and they really liked the costumes, which is what I care most about. Besides, Maeve is getting almost too big to trick-or-treat, so in a couple of years I won't be doing a costume for her. Plus, I have several costumes just waiting for Gwyn and Tallon to wear. Like Maeve's old Cinderella and Snow White costumes for Gwyn and the Blue costume for Tallon. Maybe next year I won't have to sew so much. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I just want to celebrate....

First, it's the first day of autumn. Hooray! And our trip info for the Disneyworld trip came today, so more reasons to cheer!

Other reasons to celebrate:

1) In recognition of the 3rd anniversary of Bunte Fabrics, Yvonne is doing 1 giveaway every day this week on her blog. Today's giveaway is a bunch of super-cool (naturally) ribbons from Farbenmix. Hop over there and leave a comment for a chance to win.

2) I finished my Renaissance costume in time to wear it last week at the MD Ren Faire. Pictures of it in a future post.

3) Gwyneth has finally decided on her Halloween costume: she wants to be a pirate. Luckily she's not interested in being the captain (she's leaving that job to Maeve) but rather just "Pirate Gwyn", so I can make up a costume using patterns from Ottobre magazines. A post about that in the future, as well. Maeve is planning on being a female pirate captain, complete with tricorn hat, a brocade vest, and a wine-colored velvet coat. Both girls will have white shirts and tiered skirts in bright colors. It promises to be fun. Gwyn insists that she have an eyepatch, however.

4) Grandma is coming to visit this weekend so maybe I'll get a chance to do some cleaning and baking. Especially baking. And possibly even a haircut.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

DESTINA-tion Delft

They're finished!! After hours of agonizing over which trims go where and trying to get the girls to decide which ribbons they wanted to use - and finally doing most of the choosing on my own- I have finished the Destina dresses by Farbenmix. Each dress is made with 3 main fabrics: the Delft tile fabric, and the blue and red daisy florals - all by the Dutch textile company Stenzo. Added to these 3 are red mini-gingham, light blue mini-gingham, and a star print in both white on red and white on navy. And of course, both dresses have the Farbenmix tag on the right sleeve, matching perfectly with my color scheme.

So yes, I know. Red, white and blue - with stars to boot. No, I wasn't attempting to be patriotic - unless by patriotic you mean celebrating my Dutch heritage by using the Delft print, to which I say guilty as charged. That fabric simply spoke to me and I obsessed about it for weeks before buying it but in the end I knew I had to have it. A few yards might be left at Bunte Fabrics if you're interested in buying some, but I'm not sure; if not, you might be out of luck because Yvonne's shop is the only place I've seen that print this year - in the States, that is. Anyway - I kept debating about throwing in additional colors to the mix but in the end I simply didn't think it would give me what I wanted. I added the star fabrics on a whim and I'm not entirely sure it was a wise idea. Cheap cotton from Hancock Fabrics and for a while I was afraid I would end up with something ridiculous and similar to home-sewn coordinating garments I've seen from some people on ebay and I was remembering my disappointment with my design choices for the Rachel dress I'd made in the spring. But I decided to be sparing with the use of the star fabric and in the end the result is pretty darn good.

The real issue was how to use these fabrics to their advantage in two different dresses in two very different sizes for two very different girls. I played with the idea of making the Farbenmix Sasha dress for Gwyneth because she likes twirly things and that pattern makes an excellent dress for just that. But the Sasha dress doesn't come in Maeve's size and I wasn't in the mood to grade up 2 sizes, so I settled on Destina for her, thinking it was a good older girl dress. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I should use the same pattern for both of them. The trick then became how to keep them from being identical dresses. I think they turned out pretty well, don't you?

The major differences between the two are the way in which the fabrics are used and the trims and embellishments that were added. Maeve's dress has a more solid-looking bodice, thanks to the floral poplins. I feel bad that I wasn't able to match the Delft tiles on the skirt as well as I could have. Gwyneth's matches much better, and I have to say that I prefer the Delft print at the waist. (See photo at top of page.)

Another major difference is that Gwyneth's dress has inserted ruffles both above and below the waist portion. This in itself wasn't difficult but it did make for thicker seams at those areas. I didn't do this for Maeve because I felt like hers needed to be slightly hipper and more for a 10 year-old. The Delft print is already slightly old-fashioned and I wanted this to be a fun dress. Instead of ruffles I chose to ruche a red gingham ribbon and sew that along the seamline. Additionally, she has more ribbon on her dress than Gwyneth does.

The top of the bodice of Maeve's dress has a light blue and red polka-dot ribbon from Farbenmix and a red mini-rickrack that goes all the way around the bodice. And then there's the double-layer ribbon at the hem of navy grosgrain ribbon with red pickstitching underneath a narrow light blue ribbon with red stars from Farbenmix. The rest of the ribbons and trims were from my stash. The red-centered daisy buttons were purchased at G Street Fabrics, a local store with a fabulous selection of fabrics and buttons. Maeve's dress took 9 buttons. I should note here that in order to make the dress this length for Maeve, I had to add approximately 7 inches to the bottom pattern pieces and I used the largest size, 146/152. Maeve has long legs, though, and someone else might not need to add much at all. Gwyneth's dress is a 98/104 and required no additions, however she is on the short size for her age.

I also added the waist ties. The pattern says this is optional, but this dress is pretty full-cut so I felt like they were necessary. Also, the pattern instructions suggest ribbon for this; I made these out of gingham.

On Gwyneth's dress the major focus is the Delft motifs at the waist area and the ruffles above and below it, so I didn't add a lot of ribbons. Simple rick-rack is enough here, since it doesn't detract from the beautiful fabric. As you can see in the largest photo, I used red mini-rick-rack above the top ruffle at the waistline, then used regular-sized light blue rick-rack at the hem and on the sleeves, along with some jacquard red and white heart ribbon I had in my stash (see top left photo). The small blue-centered daisy buttons on Gwyn's dress also came from G Street Fabrics; this dress needed 5.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sew what's new?

Yeah, that's a cheesy title. And yet there's so much that is new in the way of sewing at my house that I had to go there. Mea culpa.

Anyway, first in the list of what's new is a NEW MACHINE!!!! Yes, the Kenmore was giving me way to many problems - skipping stitches, buttonhole issues, snarling the thread every 10th stitch, etc. It was a hot mess - literally. So after listening to me moan and complain about how difficult it was to just sew a darn seam, Scott told me to go get a new machine and gave me a budget of $500. Now, $500 is a good chunk of change but it won't get you the top of the line in a machine, so my dream machine was out of the question. However, it can get you a very nice little machine and the Janome dealership in Gaithersburg easily helped me find something within my budget. It's electronic, so it's a bit different for me, but it sews really nicely and makes a fantastic automatic buttonhole. Another nice plus is that it has tons of decorative stitches that I can use for a faux coverstitch look. Very cool, indeed.

Next, all of the things I've been sewing with this gorgeous new machine.

First up are a pair of pants and a shirt for T-bird. The shirt was actually sewn on the old Kenmore, except for the sleeve hems. This is the "Little Mr." shirt from the Spring 2009 issue of Ottobre, sewn from a super cute Liberty of London lawn. I couldn't resist the car print and since I got a full meter I'll have plenty left for another project some other time. I also bought this in the blue colorway, with all of the cars in shades of blue.

To go with the shirt are the "Kaarna" pants from the Winter 2009 Ottobre. The pattern calls for them to be lined, but I really liked the knit waistband, since it's so similar to the 'baggies' pants that Mini Boden sells. I've made them before in corduroy with the lining and I could see that they could just as easily be made without the lining by simply finishing all the pieces with my serger.

So here they are, in a green and black cross-woven chambray that I got from I thought about going with a lighter color for the knit waist but ended up with black. I used a black twill tape for the drawstring at the waist rather than make one from the chambray, but I may change that, since it's really kind of flimsier than I want. Another change I made is that I added tabs and buttons so that I can roll them up. I was inspired by a pair of linen pants my sister in law had given me for T-bird when he was born. Since he wears cloth diapers he was able to fit them in the waist before he was long enough in the legs so being able to roll up the pant legs was great. I know from experience that this pattern runs long, so I added the tabs, using the RTW pants as a model. I should have made the tabs longer so I could roll them up more, but they work.

Next up is a skirt I made for Miss Maeve. She was feeling upset that I'd not been able to make her the Manhattan dress from Sewing Clothes Kids Love to match Gwyn's Rachel dress (I needed more of a certain fabric to cut out the last piece and had to scour ebay for it). To console her I made the Insa skirt from SCKL. I'd been planning this skirt for a while, had the Michael Miller Carnival Bloom fabric in the purple colorway already and the kid check in purple (also MM fabric). I'd gotten them both on ebay and ended up having to buy more of the Carnival Bloom in order to make this in Maeve's size. I have a hard time thinking of her as a size 12/146 and some of my fabrics in my stash are too small now.

Anyway, I was successful in scoring more of the fabric and started making the upper layer of the skirt. Then I decided to cut the lower layer and, after much contemplation decided that I needed a different fabric than the check I'd already chosen. It was simply too much purple! Hard to imagine but true. I looked online and decided to buy the green Busilis dot from Banberry Place, along with the pink farbenmix mandala ribbon and some other trims. When they arrived, I discovered that the ribbon was really more of a purple and that the shapes echoed the shapes in the fabric of the top layer, so I decided to add it to the skirt on the bottom layer. To the top layer I've added a ruffle of the purple check and also a purple grosgrain ribbon with aqua polka dots and the bottom layer has 2 additional flower appliqués I found in my stash of goodies.

I always add a Farbenmix tag to the things I make from their patterns and the new ones are blue and red, which Maeve felt didn't go with the skirt colors, so I used the one that comes with the women's patterns now. This one is on the outside of the skirt at the center back (her choice of location).

Apparently it's good for twirling in, too. I have another one on my to-do list - this time for Gwyn and made from an Oilily fabric snagged on ebay. I hope to get to that in the next week or so.

Also on the to-do list: finish 2 new dresses for the girls - the new Destina pattern by Farbenmix, using the Delft and floral prints I got from Yvonne at Bunte Fabrics. Oh, and a pair of capris for me from the 2/2007 issue of Ottobre Woman. Right now the dresses are about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way constructed and the pants are already cut out so that bodes well for finishing them in a week.

I've finished a pair of pajamas for Maeve, too, in the past month but the top needs a little tweaking for fit and then I can photograph them.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Blast from the Past

I'm really bad at documenting the things that I make for the girls (and for myself). Partly because my house is a mess and I never know where the camera is when I remember to photograph my creations and partly because I'm just too caught up in the moment of seeing my kids in the things I've made to remember to take a picture. What I really need is a photographer to follow me around and document this stuff. Or to have the camera attached to me permanently somehow.

I came to this conclusion while sorting out clothes that no longer fit Gwyn and filling the closet with things leftover from Maeve. Yes, I saved almost everything that Maeve wore, since it was all still in excellent condition, with the hope that I'd have another girl who could wear it. So now pretty much everything Gwyn has in her closet is hand-me-down from Maeve. The wonderful thing about this is that a lot of it is good-quality children's clothing from H&M and C&A in Germany, so usually it's interesting in design and/or fabric choice in addition to being well-made. I have an outfit for her to wear at Disney in October - red and white polka-dot capris and a t-shirt with Minnie Mouse embroidered on it- that came from H&M and only cost $12 or some ridiculously cheap price. In the States it would easily cost $25.

Anyway, as I sorted these clothes I was remembering Maeve wearing them and thinking about the places we'd gone (France, Holland) in them when I came across a dress that I'd made for Maeve when she was 3 or 4. I know I made it in 2004 because I ordered the fabric from and distinctly remember that it came the day I was leaving for Amsterdam to spend Easter at my aunt Karin's house. It's purple linen, embroidered with vines and flowers in aqua, purple, orange and magenta - really lovely.

This pattern is Burda 9845, which is probably out of print by now, given that it's at least 6 years old. The style is classic, though, so I'll probably use it again. It's very simple - puffed raglan sleeves with elastic in a casing, drawstring neck, slightly flaring body, but not too much. The linen is a bit thicker than I would have liked, so the casings are a bit wonky, in my opinion, but all in all it's a wonderful dress. Gwyn clearly loves it:

As I was writing this, I realized that I have another dress that I made for Gwyn (also Burda) last year that I didn't really document. These are the only 2 photos I have of her in it - taken at the Maryland Renaissance Faire last year:

This is Burda 9583, made up in a fabric called "Citronella" that I purchased on ebay (sorry, don't remember the manufacturer) and a 2-tone yellow Campan stripe which is still available at Banberry Place. The Citronella fabric was an impulse purchase - I had to get it but didn't know what I was going to do with it. The stripe had been in my stash and was used for Gwyn the previous year as a puff-sleeved onesie-type shirt. I had enough left over to do this dress and it worked out perfectly. The day the photos were taken I'd had several people stop me to say how cute it was and ask where I'd gotten it. I wish I had better pictures of it but, alas, it is packed away with the things that were outgrown already.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Color by Mother Nature

Today, in an attempt to break from the negativity I've been feeling and my overall lack of inspiration to sew, I was going to get the dog to the groomer to (as Gwyneth says) "get the stink off of her". No really - that's what she says. It's actually more of a need for the dog to have a hair cut but Gwyn tends to point out the obvious that escapes the adults. Like, hello mom - the dog stinks. Anyway, the regular groomer had no openings for today when I phoned yesterday, so I called Petco. Normally they have plenty of openings but when I called this morning they were full. As I have to leave tomorrow, Fiona will simply have to wait. Maybe I can have K. make an appointment for me and we can leave her at the groomer on Saturday while we're out doing whatever. If not, oh well.

After I realized that I just wasn't getting the dog groomed today, I decided to take a cup of coffee out in the yard and take a look for some yard bags in the shed. There were none but the hydrangeas are now a riot of blooms and I was inspired to take some photos of them. I've read that the color of hydrangeas differs depending on the pH of the soil. Apparently the soil in my yard has a pH that varies every few inches or so, because on one bush alone there were several different colors.

As you can see, there are pink, white and purple blooms on this bush and some of these are even multi-hued within the blooms themselves:

This particular shot shows the bloom in the foreground whose flowers are lavender/blue with whitish centers and a pinker lavender on the edges. The bloom in the background is mostly creamy white but the edges of the individual blossoms are pink.
Another bush in a different part of the yard is mostly blue with hints of lavender-pink, though I did find one bloom that was almost completely pink.

I was also able to get some wonderful shots of the bumblebees who are busy pollinating the lacecap hydrangeas. In case you didn't know (and I didn't until we moved here and I wanted to find out about the hydrangeas) there are 4 main types of hydrangeas and the most common are mopheads, which I've already shown in the photos, and lacecaps. The lacecaps are the plants that have the sexual parts and therefore the pollen. See? Now you've learned something. Anyway, we have 1 lacecap bush which is the Blue Billow variety (I think) and it's planted between 2 mophead bushes. It happens that the lacecaps are right in front of the window where I have my computer and I've been seeing the bees buzzing around them. Today I was able to capture them while I was outside.

I'm not sure if you can see it in the photos but the pollen sacks on their legs were huge and I can only assume that means that they've been getting lots of pollen from these blooms.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just what do you think I do all day? or better yet: Do you care?

It never fails to amaze me that people who work at a job outside or from their homes seem to think that women who stay at home with their children don't do work. Kelly's personal blog and her website, Underbellie, have recently dealt with domestic work (meaning the work of raising children and of caring for the home and all that that entails) and how it is undervalued or not even valued at all by those who choose to focus on a career other than/in addition to parenting and care of one's children. I can see this in my own husband, who has voiced on various occasions his astonishment that so little seemed to get done that day while he was gone, and I can see that in other women I know from various places. Tonight I kind of had a moment of "this person really doesn't get it" while I was at Maeve's Girl Scout awards ceremony.

One of the moms, K.N., is a co-leader of the troop but she's involved in such a way that makes me wonder why she bothers to be involved at all. The first couple of meetings that I went to I saw that she spent far more time talking to the other moms who were there than running the meeting (she left that up to the other leader who, in army parlance, is far more squared away than K.N. is) and recently I saw that when the other leader wasn't there, K.N. has really got a difficult time running things. Maybe it's because she's disorganized, maybe it's because she has a lack of experience in this area, I don't know. I just know that every time she runs the meeting by herself I want to take over and do it for her. Anyway, K.N. knows that I sew and I have done sewing for the girls in the troop - sewing badges on their uniforms and such - for a minimal fee. I don't really want to take money for it because it takes very little time to do, but it makes them feel better and it compensates me.

Earlier in the year, K.N. and another mother both asked me if I did alterations to clothing. I said yes a bit hesitantly because it's not my idea of fun. I like to sew because it is fun. Altering someone else's RTW garments I don't really find to be a good time. I have hemmed a pair of uniform pants for a friend of Scott's and I've sewn on insignia to uniforms when needed at the last minute. But I'm not into taking apart a pair of pants in order to take in a seam because you've lost weight in your backside. Sorry, there are tailors for that. Of course when I said 'yes' K.N. and the other mom immediately wanted to know if I would do alterations for them and how much I would charge. I named a price - I think I said $15 - and K.N. said "Really? Because the tailor charges $12". At this point I wanted to smack her. I have no idea what people charge to hem pants, as I hem my own. But I do that on my time. The tailor has a business and can afford to charge a bit less because s/he has a bigger clientele and because that's what s/he spends 8 hours a day doing. I don't spend 8 hours a day doing alterations - I have other things I do during the day. If you want me to take time out of my free time to sew your clothes you're going to have to compensate me accordingly. What I said to her was, "Then you probably should take them to the tailor. I'm really busy right now with other things." This didn't deter her from asking once or twice more but she finally stopped asking.

Tonight K.N. asked me if I wanted to work at home and I said. "I already do." She looked at me with a puzzled expression, so I elaborated, "I have the 3 year-old and the baby." She said, "I mean if you want to do some extra work - make some extra money." Really? Extra work? Oh yes, let me jump right on that. Because, really, I don't have enough to do already and I so want to fill up any empty minutes that I have for myself doing work for someone else. And extra money? Yeah, because someone pays me to do all the laundry and housework that I currently do. I'm thinking this and she keeps going, "Do you do computer work?" "Um, no." And I really don't want to. "Well what about writing, can you write?" Huh? I'm going to pretend she didn't say that. "Yes, I can write. Like what?" "Well because you know I have my own business. Advertising, that sort of thing." " I don't know. I don't have any experience in that." "Well, I mean, if you can write then you should be able to...what did you say you went to college for?" Now I really want to smack her, and hard. "K.N., I have a Master's Degree in French Literature. I'm not sure that qualifies me to do what you require but I am pretty busy." "French? Oh, wow. I love French. Not that I speak it. But you know, I really love the way it sounds." Uh-huh. Me too. But your loving it doesn't make me want to do work for you any more than I did prior to knowing that. "Well, think about it, Jen." Right, I'll keep that in mind. Because I really want to do work for someone who clearly doesn't think what I do already is work.

Which brings me to Kelly's blog posts about how much value we place on those jobs like housework and child-rearing that are uncompensated and seemingly never-ending. K.N. has been working at her career for a long time. She's in her early 50's and didn't start having kids until she was almost 40. Her career was probably well-established enough that she's always had her girls in day care. And I get the feeling that she doesn't have the greatest rapport with her kids. I mean, I think she wants to and she may even think that she does, but I've seen the way the kids act toward her and I have to wonder... Anyway, I don't think she gets the whole concept of being an at-home mom without an outside career, and she obviously doesn't think of it as REAL work.

My sister-in-law, K.L., is the same way in some respects. She has a career as a medical provider, though she's currently between jobs. Her girls have always been in some kind of day care, whether it's a sitter in the home or in a group day care center. Even when she's not working, her kids go to some kind of an organized day program, unless she has something extra planned for them (a trip to the zoo, visit to grandma's - whatever). And when they aren't at an organized program, there is almost always some kind of planned activity going on. There's almost never any kind of free-flowing schedule and almost never any down time. When we go to visit them I feel like I'm being shunted from one activity to the next without a moment to breathe. I wonder: does she do it to tire them out so that they'll go to sleep and not bother her in the evening? Further, this flurry of activity makes me wonder if she doesn't know how to just be with her kids, since they've spent so much of their young lives with other care givers. Or is it that she's so used to not being with them that she doesn't have the same attachment that I do to my kids? I'm not attempting to pass judgement, merely trying to understand what motivates her.

This sort of nonstop 'busy-ness' is not limited to the children. We're supposed to go to visit K.L. and her daughters this weekend and already she has tons planned so that there won't be a moment of inactive time, including getting a babysitter so that there is time for just me and her to go out - something that I don't feel the need to do. She's purchased tickets to a comedy show (something I'm not really interested in going to); around that I think she has planned for us to go to an arts festival and possibly even dinner. I drew the line when she wanted to include a pedicure. (The last time we went to have one done it was just about one of the least relaxing things I've ever done, mostly because the people at the nail place took a bunch of walk-ins right before our appointment and then we had to wait around the mall for an hour because they kept taking walk-ins and not calling us, which caused K.L. to get all pissy with the Korean woman running the nail place, so the Korean woman got bitchy with her and it was just ridiculous.) She claims that I need to go out and "get away" from my kids. In fact, when my mother in law is there, she often wants to take the children so I can go shopping alone. (P.S. - I don't like to go shopping alone. It's boring. And lonely.) It's like they want to force me away from my kids, as though they think I need their help to do this. News flash: I don't need to be rescued from my kids! They are not a drag and being with them every day for most of the day is not a burden! Yes, I have moments when Scott is gone for extended periods of time and I would like a little help with them, just to make it easier. But I love being with them and watching them grow and learn and just be themselves. At the end of the day I don't need to escape them. And taking them from me so that I can go 'do something' when I'm in a city that I don't live in, in a home that isn't mine so I have none of my sewing with me, is pointless. Unless you're coming to my house and taking them out to the playground so that I can sew at home, I really don't need the help.

I once said to her that I don't know how to go out with adults and not be with my kids anymore. The fact is, I'm not interested in it. My job is a 24/7 job and I don't mind that. I didn't tell her that I didn't want to go out, because I figure that there must be some reason that she feels compelled to go out with me. I mean, she could just as easily have made plans to go out with a girlfriend on a different night, when the kids are with their dad. I do plan to confront her about this, since I'm tired of her pitying me or whatever it is. We're different people, she and I. I respect that she has a career in medicine. I don't always understand her choices but I'm not in her shoes. I just wish that K.L. and all of the others like her would respect the career that is parenting and treat it as a choice, not as a punishment. I don't expect her to understand it. But I do expect her to respect it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What's in a friend?

This isn't a sewing post but more of a subject that I've been pondering. I recently got a page on Facebook and so I've gone through the process of finding friends and making friend requests, yadda yadda yadda. And during this process I've noticed that some people I'm friends with on facebook have a lot of friends. I mean, A LOT. And I'm curious, do these people really think of the members of their enormous 'friends list' as real friends? I mean, are these all people that they want to spend time with, have drinks with, go shopping with or whatever? Or are these people fans?

Perfect example: a woman on my friends list, someone I went to high school with and with whom I was good friends has over 400 friends! I was surprised at this so I decided to take a look at who was on her friends list. Yes, there are people I know from high school. And guess what - a lot of these people weren't what I'd call friends with her. I mean, they're people she knows, people I know. But I wouldn't call them my friends if I was talking about them to my husband or my brother or another friend. I'd call them "this guy/girl I went to school with". Now, I know that Scott has a lot of friends on his facebook friends list but a lot of that is people he knows from all over the army and it's a great way to keep in touch with them - because they are really friends and/or colleagues and it's always good to know when you're going to be in the same part of the country as one of them, just to get a meal and catch up with them, you know? But I can't really see friending people just because you went to high school with them, especially if you have nothing in common with them. I mean, I basically have no desire to keep in touch with people who couldn't have cared less about me 20 years ago, you know?

My theory about this is that, as a country, we are desperately looking to be a part of a community or group and facebook allows us to be a part of that group - particularly if you weren't part of the in group in school. I could be wrong, but that's how I see it. Personally, I don't go looking for people to be friends with if I don't know them. I've hooked up with a lot of family members through facebook and have friended them - but only if I've met them. To me it seems disingenuous to want to friend someone you've never met or even spoken to on the phone. I don't know - maybe I overanalyze it but I'm only friends with people I want to be friends with, people I've connected with and shared a lot of good times with in real life. My friend from high school was always a really nice person whom everyone liked, so I'm not surprised that she has people on her friends list that didn't run in the same circles as her ever.

Then there's my brother (if you read this Stef, I'm not writing this to diss you or anything). Much of his life he's attracted lots of people. He doesn't always have deep relationships with all of them but I think he considers most of the people he knows to be his friends. That's just how it is with him. A lot of the people he knows are younger than him and I think that for those who are 10 years younger than him, they grew up at a slightly different time, so they tend to label people they don't know as well as friend - almost like they collect them. Nothing wrong with that - it's a different world view. He tends to have way more female friends than male friends, too - I suspect that it's because he's a well-rounded person in terms of his interests and activities. For him, I'm not surprised that he has a lot of so-called friends. Most of them, I'm sure, are Stefan fans: people who think he's so cool but don't know him that well, he's a friend of a friend of a friend, etc. All well within the realm of possibility.

Me, I've got 40 friends. Yes, one is my husband, one is my mom and one is my brother. A lot of them are cousins. But the ones who, in fact, are really friends are just that - real friends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Farbenmix finds and Bunte love

Okay, my sewing machine has sat dormant for a week while I tried to get things together around the house. Believe me, this is not an easy task, since getting all 3 children in bed at the same time is an impossible task, rather like herding cats. But I still want to sew badly. So, next project is to clean off the dining room table where my sewing is currently done (because the boy doesn't do stairs yet and the sewing room is downstairs) so that I can get to work. First I have to finish T's shirt and pants. Then I'm going to start on Maeve's Manhattan dress. After that I will be free to get started on the new fabric that I blogged about previously.

Which brings me to 2 things: I have found a pattern that I could use to make the dresses that comes in both Maeve's and Gwyn's sizes. Of course, it's the newest Farbenmix dress, Destina. I can totally see this on Maeve with that great mix of fabrics that I got from Bunte fabrics (plus one via ebay more that's on its way). If I use this pattern I could use all of the fabrics but still make 2 distinct dresses. On the other hand, it looks less 'twirly' and full than the farbenmix Sasha, which is what I was planning to use for Gwyn's dress but which doesn't come in Maeve's size. Maeve is almost 10 and though she still likes a 'spinning dress' (her appellation) she's starting to outgrow that style and I think that the Destina pattern is a good transition from the little girl style to an older, more 'tween' style.

I hate that word, by the way. It's so vague, and lately I've seen kids as young as 7 or 8 called tweens. Sorry, tweens are the kids who have hit the double-digits but aren't in the teen numbers yet. We're talking 4th, 5th and 6th graders. And don't get me started on the lack of appropriate clothing for a 10 year-old who is tall. But I digress.

Anyway, Gwyn doesn't have much in the way of twirly dresses and she's only 3 so she's at a good age for them and I think she'd get a lot of use from the Sasha dress. The reason I was attracted to the Destina dress was that it has that curved seam detailing that the Sasha dress has. So I'm thinking that maybe instead of doing them in the same pattern, I'll do 2 different patterns and use the same mixes of fabrics. Decisions, decisions. At least I have good fabrics to work with.

Which brings me to the Bunte fabrics part of this post. Yvonne is holding a giveaway on her blog and it's a meter cut (a meter!!!) of the Love Chirp fabric by Nic at Luzia Pimpinella, also an excellent blog for inspiration. I love this little birdy fabric - it makes me so happy. I've entered the giveaway and I hope I get it but if you read this in time, you could try your luck, too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Miss-Information, or The False Equation of Breastmilk with Cavities

I'm going to interrupt the sewing posts on this blog for a rant on breastfeeding and the misperception that prolonged breastfeeding is directly linked to cavities (dental caries) in young children.

Today I was at the dentist and a dental tech came up to me and talked to me as I was waiting to schedule the next appointment for the kids, which was to include the boy. It happened that I was wearing the sling with T riding in it and she asked if he liked it and my comment was that he seems to want to be in it more since he just weaned himself. Her response to that was that it was a good thing he had, since he was now a year old.

Me: "Why's that?"

Her: "Because breast milk causes cavities because it has so much sugar in it."

I'm not going to repeat the rest of the conversation here, mostly because I don't want to bore readers but also because I want to put forth my own argument on this ridiculous perception.

There are so many logical arguments that you can make against the statement "breast milk causes cavities and shouldn't continue past a year" which require only common sense and no scientific support so I'm going to go through those before talking about what science tells us.

1. Dentists are not the same as doctors. I hate to say this because they are doctors in the sense that they have higher degrees in their area of specialization. However, they don't go through the same kind of training that pediatricians do. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed the baby for the first year and that it should continue after the first year as long as it's beneficial for mother and child. So in other words, as long as you and your baby both want to do it.

They have taken this position because dozens and dozens of studies have shown the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and infant. These benefits continue beyond the first year, and they seem to far outweigh any risk for dental caries that you assume by extended nursing. Since these benefits have long-lasting effects, there is evidence to suggest that it's more beneficial to risk getting cavities in your baby's baby teeth than for him or her to be at risk for obesity or other health problems because you stopped nursing after the first year. Baby teeth fall out, your body remains the same.

Additionally, the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry makes the claim that breastfeeding should "be avoided after the first primary tooth begins to erupt and other dietary carbohydrates are introduced". (Policy on Early Childhood Caries (ECC): Classifications, Consequences, and Preventive Strategies, AAPD Reference Manual V31, No. 6, p. 41) This is in direct contradiction to the AAP recommendation, given that a child's first tooth could erupt as early as 3 months, thereby making the recommendation that mothers stop nursing far before the 1 year mark. Moreover, one has to draw the (obviously false) conclusion that mothers who breastfeed should stop when the child's first tooth appears and begin bottle feeding with formula when using the AAPD's logic, since their issue is with the breastmilk and not the breast itself. This is clearly a ludicrous idea but, because the AAPD approaches the problem of dental caries solely from the point of view of oral health and not from overall health, they persist in the belief that breastmilk is a direct cause of caries and that cutting it from a child's diet will prevent a huge portion of the infant population from getting cavities. Further, it doesn't seem to mesh with the idea that dentists have put forward that prolonged sucking on a more rigid object such as a bottle's nipple or pacifier will damage tooth alignment; the breast is designed with a baby's mouth in mind.

2. Babies do most of their exclusive breastfeeding prior to having teeth. Teeth which have not erupted cannot get cavities. It has been shown that babies do most of their exclusive nursing between birth and 6 months of age. On average, an infant's first tooth appears somewhere between the age of 4 and 6 months. So even if breastmilk were a direct cause of dental caries, this means that the exposure to breastmilk gets lower as the child ages, thereby lowering the risk of dental caries from it.

3. Around the same time that babies get their first tooth, solids are introduced. As the baby gets older, more and more foods are introduced and ingested and less breastmilk. The simple fact is that there are many different substances that have varying amounts of sugar in them - some more sugar than breastmilk. For example, fructose's purpse is a sweetener and it's what makes strawberries, apples, etc. taste nice. Lactose, which is found in breastmilk doesn't just have the purpose of making the milk taste good (it's in cow's milk, too, by the way) but rather it helps the baby's immature digestive system most effectively absorb calcium and other important nutrients. So to say that breastmilk is the sole cause of cavities in infants and young children is absurd because by the time they have 2 or more teeth, most of them are consuming more than breastmilk and water.

4. If extended breastfeeding really was a direct cause of dental caries, babies in Africa and in most third world countries would have extremely poor dental health. Extended breastfeeding used to be the norm everywhere in the world because there was no such thing as formula or bottles or even baby food. While the invention of formula and baby bottles was a lifesaver for children who couldn't nurse for various reasons, it completely changed the way we feed our infants and what we perceive as normal maternal-child interaction. Now only children born in Third World countries are breastfed for extended periods of time and, generally speaking, they don't seem to have an overwhelming problem with dental health and caries in their children. What's more, these are countries whose dental care is far less established than that in the US or Europe, so it would be normal for these children to have significantly poorer dental health and yet this does not seem to be the case. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children in South Africa demonstrated no significant increase in risk for dental caries when extended nursing occurred:

"The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry currently recommends weaning from bottle or breastfeeding by the age of 12 to 14 months and discourages bedtime infant feeding, especially after the eruption of the first tooth, to prevent ECC.(33) Although Roberts et al,(23) in their study of 1- to 4-year-old South African children, reported that children who were breastfed for 12 months had a lower level of caries than those bottle fed or bottle and breastfed for <12 months, the current study provides no evidence that breastfeeding for >1 year decreases or increases the risk for ECC or dfs counts. Moreover, interpretation of the results of the current study relevant to this issue is further limited in a number of ways. For example, the quantity and quality of supplemental feedings, the quantity of breastfeeding, and information about other factors, such as bedtime breastfeeding or bottle feeding, are not available from NHANES data, and, thus, it is not known how these factors might differ among those breastfed for >1 year and those breastfed for a shorter duration. Several other studies have investigated these factors; however, the results of such studies remain inconclusive.(5,6,16,34,35)"

So, the study even shows that children who were nursed for less than a year had more cavities than those who nursed for the entire first year of life. As anecdotal evidence, my oldest daughter nursed until about 1.5 months past her 2nd birthday. She has excellent oral health and has never had a cavity as of today. She will be 10 in August. So much for extended nursing causing cavities.

5. It is well-known that the main cause of dental caries is bacteria, NOT sugar. Here's where we come to the scientific part. The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry says that, "Caries results from an overgrowth of specific organisms that are part of normally-occurring human oral flora. Mutans streptococci (MS) is considered to be a principal indicator group of bacterial organisms responsible for dental caries." (Guideline on Infant Oral Health Care, rev. 2009, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) So clearly, pediatric dentists already know that bacteria is the true culprit when it comes to the cause of cavities. It would be fair to say that the average mother knows that pretty much everything her child touches is potentially harboring all kinds of bacteria. New mothers are admonished to wash their hands before they touch their babies, sterilize bottle nipples, clean off dropped pacifiers before allowing the child to suck on them again. However, we cannot completely sterilize our environments. Children crawl on various surfaces and touch everything within reach, putting their fingers and hands, or even the objects that they touch, in their mouths and in this way transfer myriad types of bacteria to their mouths. I submit that direct transmission of bacteria to a child's mouth is a much more common way for bacteria to be introduced and therefore a much more likely direct cause of dental caries.

So, if the AAPD is aware that the main cause of dental caries is bacteria, why aren't dentists and hygienists telling parents this and using it as a way to emphasize the importance of maintaining oral hygiene by brushing and flossing when children are very young? Instead they tell people that nursing is to blame and probably cause some mothers to stop nursing before they want to or before their child is ready.

6. People with softer tooth enamel are, in general, more susceptible to cavities. We're all unique individuals and we each have varying amounts of enamel hardness. Any good dentist can tell you that softer enamel is more susceptible to being worn down by bacteria and acids. Children with serious GERD issues often have softer enamel because of the exposure to acid due to reflux. Acid alone can cause enamel erosion and in someone whose enamel is soft to begin with, this provides an excellent opportunity for bacteria to set up house and get to work causing cavities.

7. The AAPD, in its Guideline on Infant Oral Health Care states that "Caries is a disease that is, by and large, preventable." It goes on to list things that can be done to help prevent caries, including the fact that, since it has been shown that bacterial levels in the mother's mouth can directly influence the bacterial levels in the child's mouth prenatally: "Oral hygiene: Tooth-brushing and flossing by the mother on a daily basis are important to help dislodge food and reduce bacterial plaque levels.". Presumably this is to reduce the amount of MS existent in the mother's saliva prenatally. Further, recommendations for post-partum care of infants' teeth begins with: "Oral hygiene measures should be implemented no later than the time of the eruption of the first primary tooth. Cleansing the infant's teeth as soon as they erupt with either a washcloth or soft toothbrush will help reduce bacterial colonization." It goes on to say how often children's teeth should be brushed and how much toothpaste should be used and adds that routine flossing should begin when there are 2 or more teeth adjacent to each other. (p. 96) Further, in Policy on Early Childhood Caries (ECC): Classifications, Consequences, and Preventive Strategies, the AAPD lists preventive measures for ECC. This list consists of 5 practices that parents can follow to decrease the risk of ECC. First on the list is reducing familial levels of Mutans streptococci during the prenatal period. Oral hygiene comes in at the #3 position and includes cleaning the teeth of children who fall asleep while feeding before putting them to bed; brushing the child's teeth twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste; and flossing. Included in #3 are recommended amounts of toothpaste by age. It is not until the last practice that we see mention of 'ad libitum' nursing. Clearly, extended nursing is not nearly as big of a problem as parents are made to believe if it is last on the list.

8. More emphasis should be placed on bottles and sippy cups and their contents. The AAP makes the recommendation that children should not be put to bed with a bottle or sippy cup. The AAPD mentions this, too, but I feel that more emphasis needs to be given to bottles and sippy cups because, more often than not, the beverage inside is not harmless water but juice or other sugary drinks, particularly when the child is older than 12 months. This is more common in homes on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and most notable in homes where the average level of education is lower. I have personally seen small children eating lollipops and drinking carbonated drinks like Sprite or non-carbonated but highly-sugared drinks such as Hi-C. It is becoming more and more common to see an 18-month-old child eating a Happy Meal at McDonalds and while fast-food restaurants have made efforts to provide healthier alternatives for children (apple slices instead of fries, milk to drink) the fact of the matter is that the children most in need of the healthy options usually don't get them and they end up with the carbonated drink and the fries. Given these extenuating factors it seems ridiculous to lay the blame for ECC at the feet of breastmilk before other causes.

9. The AAPD misses the boat completely when it comes to other major causes for ECC. According to the afore-mentioned study in the journal Pediatrics, other causes for ECC include maternal smoking and ethnicity.

"Although breastfeeding was not found to be associated with either an increased or decreased risk of ECC, decreased family income and prenatal maternal smoking, both strongly associated with decreased rates of breastfeeding as demonstrated in previous studies, (12) were both found to be independently associated with an increased risk. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is well recognized to be associated with myriad negative perinatal health outcomes in children,(24–27) in addition to early termination of breastfeeding.(28,29) In this study, children whose mothers reported smoking during pregnancy were less likely to be breastfed, but maternal smoking during pregnancy also was independently associated with increased rates of ECC and higher numbers of caries in multivariable analyses that controlled for breastfeeding. It is not possible from these data to disentangle whether it is prenatal, postnatal, or both prenatal and postnatal tobacco smoke exposure that is associated with an increased risk of ECC, because women who smoke during pregnancy are likely to continue smoking postnatally. Also, whereas it is possible that maternal smoking during pregnancy may simply be a marker for a mother's unhealthy choices for diet and oral hygiene practices, the association between secondhand tobacco smoke exposure and increased risk for dental caries in children in this and previous studies (17,30,31) indicates a clear need to establish the possible causal nature of the association of exposures to maternal smoking in utero and postnatally and ECC."

Ethnicity is a prominent factor when it comes to risk for ECC, though it is unclear whether this is a genetically-linked problem or if it is simply that minorities are more likely to earn less than their white counterparts and therefore be poor. The Pediatrics study showed that:

"Consistent with previous studies, children living in poverty and Mexican American children were at significantly increased risk for both ECC and S-ECC.(13,16,32) Although it is well recognized that socioeconomic factors and ethnicity influence dietary and oral health-related behaviors, as well as access to dental care, it remains unclear why poor and Mexican American children are at increased risk for ECC. Mexican American children in this nationally representative sample were more likely to breastfeed longer (both overall and exclusively) than other ethnic/racial groups. Ramos-Gomez et al(21) found higher rates of ECC among Mexican-American rural migrant children in California, but nursing patterns, such as duration, frequency or bedtime bottle/breastfeeding were not found to be independently associated with increased rates. Interestingly, in the current study, breastfed Mexican American and breastfed poor children had higher rates of ECC than non–Mexican American children or those living at 200% of the FPL who were never breastfed. The reasons for this could not be investigated because of limitations of the data. The NHANES 1999–2002 lacks, for example, information about nursing patterns, as well as other potentially cariogenic factors that might have been associated with poverty or being Mexican American, such as the level of oral cariogenic microorganisms, frequency of carbohydrate intake, or personal oral hygiene habits. These findings do suggest, however, that breastfeeding does not eradicate the increased risk for ECC among Mexican American children and those living in poverty."

In short, the AAPD needs to re-examine its position on extended breastfeeding and place a much greater emphasis on targeting children who are more likely to develop ECC, rather than simply demonizing extended breastfeeding. Additionally, I'm fairly certain that part of this reluctance to accept extended nursing is society's overall sexualization of women's breasts and its inability to reconcile this view with the actual purpose of the breast: to feed one's children.