New Construction Townhome, Organization

Coming Clean

Commenter Tim asked how I keep the house so clean, especially in light of having a baby.

I’ll tell you: I cheat. I almost always do a quick pick-up of a room before taking a photo, and usually only even think to do a house-related post when the house is in a semi-presentable state. In my most recent weekend-update, I’d just vacuumed the room because installing the window blinds left a fine layer of dust and metal shavings everywhere.

Here’s a more honest picture of our media room, where the baby spends most of her time:

I’m proud of the fact that it’s still not too terrible, and our overall level of house cleanliness is decent. Keeping the house in order takes a lot of work, but is crucial to keeping our overall stress level down.

I’m a slob by nature, and RD has worked very hard to try and break me of some terrible habits. This includes:

  • Have a place for everything, and don’t buy anything you don’t know where you’ll put it. I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets, an affinity RD does not understand, but I’m allowed to buy whatever stupid kitchen items I want provided I can find a place to put them away.
  • Open sink policy – meaning no dirty dishes are left in the sink ever for any reason. Every now and then I backslide on this, but it works pretty well. Dirty dishes are washed immediately and set on the drying rack. We do have a dishwasher but we only use it when we have company over or I want to sterilize the baby bottles.
  • Daily chores. Cleaning a little each day is SO much easier than letting things pile up and then having to set aside an entire afternoon to dig out your living room floor. I had a page-a-day cleaning calendar at the old place, and need to update it for the new place.

The last secret is that I have help. RD’s aunt comes for a few hours each day so I can work (I do freelance WordPress development), but the truth is about half that time gets spent on household chores. I can get some done while Bitmap naps, but having someone occupy her for a couple hours so I can take care of things is amazing. When people ask if I miss living in New York, I think about all the extra help I get by living near so many family members and the answer is unequivocally no. I might miss a few aspects of it, particularly my friends, but I am so very glad we moved down here when I got pregnant. My own parents didn’t get their first night out sans-baby until I was 5 months old. Bitmap is 3 months now and I’ve lost count of the number of dates we’ve had thanks to my in-laws. Family FTW.




We started a bedtime routine about two weeks ago. It sounded silly, having “bedtime” for a 6 week old baby who sleeps on and off at all hours of the day, but I needed the routine. Our nighttime strategy wasn’t working. I’d go to bed at 9:30, RD would stay up taking care of her until 2:30, and then I’d take care of her from 2:30 onwards. Except her erratic sleep schedule meant that she might or might not be hungry at 2:30, and I’d sit there awake wondering if I should go pump or just wait for her to wake up.

So we instituted bedtime. At around 8:30, Bitmap gets a bath and nursing session. Then we either read her a book (not that she cares) or sing her a song and put her in her crib. Before we started “bedtime,” she’d never slept in her crib.

At first, we had about a 50% success rate with bedtime. Half the time she’d sleep for an hour or two, the other half of the time she’d cry after a few minutes and we’d bring her back downstairs. Still, an hour to ourselves every other day was more than we had been getting before.

After about a week of bedtime, Bitmap started sleeping through 2:30 am “shift change”. So RD started leaving her in the crib and bringing me the baby monitor instead of the baby. Now after two weeks she’s started to sleep through her midnight feedings, sleeping about 5 hours at a time from 9:30 to 2:30. I know that at least part of the change is simply because she’s getting older, but I know the routine has helped me sleep better.

She still doesn’t sleep well after her 2:30 feeding, I’m lucky if I get another 2 hour stretch at that point, but at least now we reliably get some quiet time in the evenings. She also seems happier during the day now, with more periods of quiet alertness. I’m hoping she’ll start sleeping a little in the wee hours of the morning, but for now I’m happy with what we’ve got.


Feeding the Kid

I can’t say I put a lot of thought towards breastfeeding before I had Bitmap. I figured it was something I’d do, and didn’t really think about it beyond that.

I don’t consider myself an activist, and certainly don’t feel the need to participate in any nurse-ins at Target. But after spending the last 2 months with my life more or less revolving around feeding my kid, I’ve got a new perspective. Mostly it’s this: if you’ve got a problem with seeing women breastfeeding (or pumping, for that matter), get over it. It’s something we need to do, and it’s hard enough without having to worry what someone else will think.

Breastfeeding can be really isolating. Bitmap eats roughly every two hours when she’s awake, and feeding her takes about 15 minutes. If we’ve got friends over or want to go out, I’ve got two choices: leave the conversation and hide myself in a spare room, or feed her in front of other people. I spend enough time cooped up with the baby, it’s hard to convince myself to sequester myself for the sake of modesty.

I make what I think are reasonable accommodations while feeding Bitmap. I’ll pick a seat in the corner rather than the middle of the room. I choose tops that allow me to stay mostly covered. If it’s cool enough, I cover up with a blanket. Most of the time, you can’t see anything but the back of my baby’s head. Sometimes, you can. Sorry.

Pumping while out is definitely weirder, and I try to avoid it. The machine is noisy and requires considerably more set-up and tear-down.  I can usually plan things so I don’t have to pump when I’m out, but when I went to Brooklyn for the day last week I knew I was going to have to figure out something. Not only do I have to pump frequently to keep supply up, but it’s actually incredibly uncomfortable to go more than about 4 hours without feeding or pumping. There weren’t any private rooms I could sneak off to on Amtrak or at NYC Resistor (before you suggest “bathroom,” please tell me if you would like to spend 20 minutes sitting in the bathroom of an Amtrak train).

The good news is between the roar of the train and the fact that everyone else is on their iPhones, no one even noticed me sitting next to the outlet with a strategically placed blanket over my shoulder. And if anyone at NYCR had something to say, they kept it to themselves.

I’m not saying we need to get up in everyone’s face about breastfeeding in public, but I do think it needs to become a little more normal. A lot of my fears about doing so aren’t because anyone has ever said anything negative to me, but because it’s not something I’ve seen anyone else do. So it seems weird to me too. But I’ve already given up a lot of my flexibility and independence in order to meet the needs of my baby, I’m not giving up more just because people “don’t want to see that.”


One Day at a Time

Yesterday was really hard. Our little puke machine is now two weeks old, and for whatever reason decided to spend 48 hours being inconsolably fussy and not sleeping at all. Was it gas? Was it something I ate? Is she getting too much or too little to eat? Maybe a UTI? Who knows. I was on the verge of taking her to the doctor, fully expecting to be told “yeah that’s how babies are,” when she finally settled down and slept.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel too.

Even with help – I had no less than three people come by at various points yesterday – dealing with a screaming newborn when you yourself haven’t slept at all is hard. RD was away on business and gone from 6am to midnight, by far the longest stretch I’ve had to manage without him. Not that he had it much better, going on a business trip on no sleep isn’t much fun either. I spent most of the day curled up on the couch, desperately wishing I could sleep while Bitmap’s great-grandmother took care of her. By the time my mother-in-law came over to keep me company in the evening I was pretty well cracked.

But today is a new day, and thanks to getting four whole consecutive hours of sleep I’m back to merely “exhausted” instead of “delirious.” Which may not be a ringing endorsement of my mood, but it’s enough to keep me going. Today was more like the fable of motherhood: great-grandma came over and helped with the cleaning while I did some work and caught up on email. Then we loaded my happy baby girl into the carrier and walked to the coffee shop where I listened to Granny complain about politics and the Catholic church, with a dash of neighborhood gossip for good measure.

Most days aren’t like today, but most of them aren’t like yesterday either. At two weeks old we don’t really have a “normal” yet. I celebrate the small victories, like going a whole day without being puked on, and every now and then find an opportunity to squeeze a part of my old life into my new one (like tending to my plants, most of which are dying from neglect). Every day I get a little better at it, and every day my daughter has something new to challenge me with.


Kellbot’s Guide to a Successful Move

In New York, moving frequently seems to be the norm. The longest most people stay in once place is a few years, and many of my friends move every year. And yet for some reason, a lot of people are kind of… bad at moving. Our recent move from the New York area to Philadelphia went really smoothly, and I’ll share our secrets.

A good move is low stress and over in time for an early dinner. A bad move involves lots of last minute freak-outs and unloading the moving van in the dark. Whether you’re hiring someone to do the heavy lifting or rounding up 6 of your closest friends, you want to be a good mover. Being a good mover isn’t hard, but it does take a little planning.

Sort before packing begins

There are really three phases to moving: sorting through all your junk, putting it into boxes, and then moving them to your new home. The only thing you should be doing on moving day is the last one! Sorting includes taking care of things you’ve been putting off, like filing things properly or culling your shoe collection. It can go to a thrift store, Craigslist, or the trash/recycle bin, but you should get rid of anything you don’t want to bring with you well before packing begins.  Trying to do both at once is just an exercise it exhaustion. You can start sorting the moment you suspect you might be moving – the worst case scenario is you end up staying where you are in your newly junk-free space.

Give yourself an appropriate amount of time to pack

Waiting too late to pack is obviously a bad idea, but there’s also something to be said for not starting too early. As tempting as it is to start packing your books right away, living out of boxes for weeks makes your move feel longer. By sorting through stuff before packing begins, it’s easy to quickly put things into boxes when it’s time.

How much time you need depends largely on how much stuff you have, but for our two bedroom apartment I gave myself one week. My husband, who isn’t nearly the pack rat I am, did all of his packing in two days. We had the luxury of being able to set aside entire days right before the move, so if you’re cramming moving around a full work schedule you’ll likely need longer.

Pack your belongings in honest-to-god boxes

This is the chief offense I’ve seen in bad moves. You need boxes. Boxes that close and can be stacked. Stuffing your belongings into tote bags or carrying them out by the armful is a great way to make your move take three times as long as it needs to.

There are lots of place to get boxes: you can buy them from a moving company or find them used.  You can often find free moving boxes on Craigslist or Freecycle, or ask a local business to save boxes for you. You can scrounge them off the street on recycling day, but since a lot of stores destroy the boxes to break them down you’ll get better quality boxes if they’re actually saving them for you.

Furniture should be empty

Not only does your chest of drawers weigh a ton with all that stuff in it, but the most likely outcome if you try and move it full is that the drawers will fall out and all of your belongings will tumble into the street. Remember: stuff goes in boxes. Furniture is not a box. Therefore, stuff does not go in furniture. This includes those plastic drawer units, which are not boxes, and therefore should be empty.

On the subject of furniture: furniture pads are awesome! We rented three dozen for a total of $15, and they came in incredibly handy. Not only are they good for wrapping up your furniture, but they can be shoved into gaps between odd shaped items to keep your stuff from sliding around.

Use small boxes for books, and pretty much everything else

The biggest box you should fill with books and other heavy items is a 1 foot cube. Beyond that, you’re going to end up destroying your back, the box, or both. Have mercy on your moving help, and use small boxes for books.

In fact, we used very few boxes that were larger than 18 x 18 x 12 inches (uhaul’s “medium”), and even then we had a number of boxes that were just too heavy. Your mileage will vary depending on the kind of stuff you own, but since very little of what we have is larger than 12 inches in any dimension, I wish I’d used fewer “medium” sized boxes and more smalls.


Label your boxes

Write which room the box came from on the side, or use sticky labels if you’re feeling organized. That way you know where to deposit each box in your new place, and can easily find anything you suddenly realized you desperately need. The somewhat OCD color coded labels I used were really helpful, it made it easy for me to see at a glance which room each box was going to. The downside is that now our entire family is keenly aware of the insane amount of craft supplies I own – it seemed like about 1/3 of the boxes were labeled “craft room.”

Have enough help

You need a minimum of two strong people.  Three sturdy folks can load a properly packed two bedroom apartment into a truck in a little over two hours, so if you’ve got more stuff, aren’t so sturdy, live in a 5th floor walk-up, or didn’t pack well you’re going to need more people. If you’re out of strong friends, check Craigslist for hiring help. In our area, $120 gets you two guys with giant arms for two hours.

Be upbeat, even if you’re stressed

I snapped at RevolvingDork when we were loading the van, over something dumb, and immediately regretted it. Even when things go smoothly it’s stressful to move, don’t add to the problem by being a pill. Try to remember that your stuff is just that – stuff. Obviously you want your belongings to get from point A to point B without damage, but yelling at people isn’t actually the best way to achieve that: careful packing is.

Feed your friends

In addition to some sort of thank you meal afterwards, it helps to have a few drinks/snacks on hand for your friends who are helping. In the morning this can be coffee and donuts, or in the afternoon a cooler of sodas and some snacks, but make sure your friends stay well fed – particularly if you’d ever like their help in moving again.


My husband and I have a lot of stuff, and we managed to load up the truck in an hour and 45 minutes. We had 3 people loading the whole time, and 3 more who joined us about 45 minutes in. When we unloaded in Philly, we had a total of 12 people and got the truck empty in under 45 minutes. The longest part of the Philly leg of the trip was waiting for our cheesesteaks to be ready.

If there’s overlap such that you can get into both your old place and your new place, consider carefully whether it’s worth it to do the “trickle move.” Sure, you can move all that stuff one car load at a time over two weeks, but do you really want to? For this move we did take some stuff down in advance – since moving my Vespa is sort of an event we rented a van to move it and filled the remaining space with stuff we knew we weren’t using any time soon.

Moving doesn’t have to be a painful experience. It always sort of sucks, but you can mitigate the suck by staying organized.


Kellbot’s Guide to Wedding Planning

There’s a point in everyone’s life where all of a sudden, everyone you know is getting married. It happens at different ages depending on who you hang out with, but for me it was this year. Not only did I get married, but nearly every weekend since March someone I know has gotten married. I’m told that this marriage flood lasts a few years until it gives way to a flood of babies.

Having survived the wedding process, I have some tips to pass along to my recently engaged friends:

Avoid [most] wedding websites at all costs

I’m not even going to mention them by name, because you might be tempted to visit them. Wedding websites are these monstrosities of consumerism created by the wedding industry. They exist soely to get you to buy more stuff for your wedding. Also, the people on them tend to be just awful.

“But wait!” you say, “I need them for a checklist. How else will I know when to mail my save the dates? How will I make sure I’ve done everything I need to?”

Bridal magazines. Every bridal magazine I have ever seen contains a checklist/schedule with guidelines for when to do the big stuff (mailing invitations, dress fittings). Buy one, or better yet take one from a recently married friend. I saw a look of genuine joy on my father-in-law’s face when he handed over the stack of bridal magazines they’d accumulated during his daughter’s engagement.

There is one notable exception, I really like offbeat bride. It’s basically a wedding porn site, full of fun photos of weddings that range from unusual to downright silly.

The only thing you have to do is get married.

The wedding industry has amassed an amazing list of things you’re supposed to do at or before a wedding/reception. Engagement photos, bridal showers, special bridesmaid’s dresses,veils, bouquets, receiving lines, first dances, drunken toasts, the list goes on. It turns out, all of these things are entirely optional. Skip any of the parts you aren’t into, though you should keep in any of your family’s wacky traditions in the interest of keeping the peace.

Guest lists are hard. When in doubt, invite.

At first I wanted our wedding to be on the smaller side, because I tend to have anxiety in big groups, but by the time we added our close friends to our Irish Catholic families we were already a medium-sized wedding. There were a handful of friends who weren’t quite “close” friends, but still people we talk to regularly, who we ended up not inviting largely because I was still holding onto this idea that we were having a “small” wedding. This was despite the guest list being twice as long as originally planned. In retrospect, an extra table of friends wouldn’t have been any more stressful, and I wish I’d invited them.

Also, making a wedding guest list is stressful no matter what. Even if your wedding is huge, at some point you have to draw lines across your group of friends and it sucks.

Spend your wedding budget on the things you actually care about

For most couples, the wedding itself is pretty inexpensive. The reception on the other hand can get expensive fast, even if you’re doing things DIY. You can absolutely get away with spending less on the stuff you don’t care about to free up cash for the things you do.

We addressed the invitations ourselves, despite warnings from wedding websites that this would be a horrible process (it wasn’t), I bought my dress online for $100, and I wore a felt flower in my hair instead of a veil.

Not dropping thousands of dollars on a dress I don’t care about freed up cash for an awesome venue, and the money we saved on the calligrapher went straight into an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar. Because if there’s one thing a wedding needs, it’s ice cream.

I’m sure it’s fine.

I did a lot of stressing about little details. Whether the caterer would get everyone’s meal order right. What if it rains. What if it snows. What if I trip and fall during the ceremony. About a week before the wedding I was crying to my friend about how the seams of my dress wouldn’t lay flat and it was too late to fix. All of these things turned out fine.

Things did go wrong: I forgot how to do the sign of the cross (despite coming from a Catholic family I was raised Episcopalian), and thus just flailed my hands in front of me during the ceremony. Chris and I forgot to kiss at the end. One of our groomsmen was missing entirely (due to illness), leaving one lucky guy to lead two ladies down the aisle. None of these things bothered our friends/family, because they were there to celebrate with us, not critique us.

During the reception, one thing did go very wrong: the projector for Rock Band broke. There was a loud pop, and then the distinct smell of burning plastic, and that was that. And just as my Bridal Panic set in, some of our friends hopped in their car, drove to Staples, and picked up a new projector. Everything worked out fine.

So try to enjoy the wedding planning process; it’s actually pretty fun if you can manage not to freak out (I couldn’t). At the end of the day, you’re celebrating your marriage with people who care about you, and you’ll probably have a good time no matter what.


Kellbot Plans a Wedding

Folks may or may not know that at the end of April I became engaged to my wonderful boyfriend Chris aka RevolvingDork.

I used to ask my mom what her dream house would be like, and she’d reply “I don’t dream about houses.” I thought this was a weird response until I started looking at wedding stuff. And realized… I don’t dream about weddings. And at first, navigating the behemoth that is the wedding industry seemed very daunting and off-putting. I positioned myself squarely as the anti-bride, determined to have the smallest wedding possible with the least amount of drama.

When it turned out Chris wanted what I kept referring to as “a big stupid wedding,” well, it became clear I was going to need a bit of an attitude adjustment. What’s happened since then, in regard to the wedding and all that it encompasses, has been really interesting and not at all what I expected (in a good way!).

Continue reading “Kellbot Plans a Wedding”