Category Archives: How To

Re-Thinking Gifting: Save Money & The Planet Holiday Edition

Our family resolution for 2017 is to spend less money on things, and to start to reduce the amount of stuff in our home (in other words – make a more pronounced shift towards minimalism). Between that and our desires to reduce waste and leave a small environmental footprint, we have been brainstorming some less than ordinary gifting strategies this year.


  • Instead of a physical gift, wrap up tickets to a theme park or activity (great for kids)
  • Make plans with another family to not exchange gifts, but instead go on a special weekend trip together (works well for other families with similar age kids)
  • Say that a financial contribution towards a vacation is your holiday gift. Simon & I agreed happily that our only gift to each other is our diving trip next year.
  • Take a person or couple out for a day – to a show, for a pedicure, hiking, for dinner. For most busy grown-ups, having an all-expenses-paid fun afternoon with no planning is nearly as good as a stay in a fancy resort.

Handmade Gifts

  • Kids’ arts & crafts are a time-honored tradition, and the options are endless (check out google image search or pinterest). These are wonderful for caregivers & relatives. When I know we are making a gift I use higher end materials so the finished product will look better and last longer. Creating wall art on a canvas or putting it in a frame are great touches.

    If you have the skill to crochet this R2D2 hat, by all means please do. Pattern here.
  • Edible gifts are another time-honored tradition where you really can’t go wrong. We’ve gifted cookies, wine & hot cocoa jars, but again the possibilities are endless here.
  • The world of DIY seems to get bigger every day. We have received many adult-handmade gifts that we love including blankets and wall art.
  • If you aren’t crafty, check out Etsy to support local small businesses & find exactly what you want – i.e. Blake’s Halloween shirt from Simply Cloth Boutique.


  • For Blake’s upcoming first birthday (where did that year go??) we requested donations to the American Civil Liberties Union in his name in lieu of gifts.
  • For an older child, it can be a great experience to walk the donation over them self (i.e. to the animal shelter). Let friends & relatives know if
    you are requesting money or specific items, and have your child(ren) help package everything up & bring it to their charity of choice.


  • Another favorite for both of our kids and give to others are books. New, used, hand-me-down, and maybe signed, these don’t take up too much space are timeless. True to our science-family style, we love a house full of books!

Second-Hand, Thrift Store, & Hand-Me-Downs

  • Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money & have a positive environmental impact. Check out Goodwill, Salvation Army, & thrift stores for just about everything under the sun. If you’re crafty, you can re-finish or paint wood pieces to then use as extra special gifts (not that I have time for that… I’ve been watching too much Fixer Upper!)
  • Hand-me-downs are another wonderful gift, in particular to a child younger than yours. Most kids clothes will easily last through several children since they outgrow them quickly, and parents are grateful to reduce their costs. Swimsuits, sun hats, flip flops, snow boots, coats, and other seasonal items are particularly good hand-me-downs because they are pricier and generally not heavily used any one child.

    A neighbor kindly shares the monthly onesies with Blake, which is perfect as each kid only wears them once!
  • Cycling toys between families is a great way to keep your playroom interesting without letting it get too cluttered. If you are buying & selling used, there is a far lower monetary cost too.

Recycle & Re-Use

  • Recycle gift wrap, bags, tissue paper, & ribbons
  • Paint newspaper or brown packaging paper (handprints or finger painting are especially fun) to use as gift wrap.
  • Use cardboard as party decor – paint signs or banners or make a big card for guests to sign. Love this idea from Meredith Tested!
  • When it can’t be re-used anymore, recycle wrapping & tissue paper


Everyone loves giving & receiving presents, our family included! We are grateful for all manner of gifts that come through our door. This list is simply a collection of some different ideas we have tried to cut costs, be kind to the Earth, and maintain a festive & happy holiday with our friends and family.

Travel With Babies & Toddlers – Sleep & Food

We’ve been (happily!) receiving more family travel FAQs since we returned from Japan. At least half are about how to deal with basic baby necessities while on the road, in the air, or overseas. Here are some pro tips we’ve built up over the last few years. Bear in mind that every child is different, and its always important to find the right groove for your family. Our strategy has generally been to be adaptable and teach our kids to do the same, whilst being one step ahead to ensure that they get the nutrition and rest that they need. There is a lot of patience and planning ahead, and we are also more lenient than we would be at home. It is ultimately most important that they eat or sleep – happy baby happy life!


Whatever it takes – an hour of slow laps around the aquarium with two sleeping boys and one tuna.

We have always prioritized our kids’ sleep more than anything else, because we have found that a well rested baby is a happy baby. We knew that there would be lots of trips and outings long before our first was born, so we made an effort to teach him to be somewhat flexible in terms of where he sleeps. In other words, anything goes as long as the kid sleeps – walks in the baby carrier, car rides, co-sleeping, etc. We are more strict at home about keeping them in their beds (at least, the older one 🙂

We always plan ahead so that we have some means to help the boys nap during the day, which is often in a baby carrier or stroller. While this isn’t as great as napping in a bed as they get older, it works for us. The biggest key is to identify when they are starting to get tired and get them comfortable in their napping spot before they pass the threshold to overtired and cranky.

Jet lag is tough for adults and tougher for littles. The same rules that apply to us do them – hydrate well, go outside in daylight hours, and try to force your schedule to local time as quickly as possible. However, between jet lag and activities while traveling, we often wind up with an earlier waking time and earlier bed time while traveling.

Both boys have a bedtime routine that includes certain items. Blake is swaddled every night after receiving his last feeding and PJs. Joey reads stories with his stuffed toys, and brings a stuffed toy into his bed. We maintain these routines on the road, and always bring key items with us (swaddle blanket, a couple of stories, 1-2 stuffed toys of Joey’s choosing).

Even so, it doesn’t always go to plan – which is why we fall back to “anything goes as long as they sleep.” If they will only sleep in the bed with me for the first few nights in a new place, then they can sleep in the bed with me. Trust me when I say that the less tired the kids are, the more enjoyable everyone’s trip is!

Also – me and Simon always come home tired. We no longer ‘vacation’ in the restful sense. (Actually we never did, but it used to be because we spent all of our time diving and exploring!)


Joey takes apart his sushi at an expensive sushi bar (the chef cut all of his sushi pieces in half!), eating first the fish and then the rice.

This advice also depends on age, but the short story here is that our kids eat what we eat (or some part of it).

For the first year, we combo feed. Breastmilk comes everywhere with me, and we always brought our own formula and bottles to avoid any issues with switching brands/types on them. We usually buy bottled water to mix it with unless we can get access to filtered water.

Once on solids, the children eat what we do, and that continues overseas. Our rule is that they have to try the food, after which it is OK if they don’t like it. Since the rule is the same wherever we go, J has never really questioned it. Like me, he likes some foods and dislikes others when introduced to new things. I will never forget Joey slurping soba noodles with delight in Japan or demanding more sashimi. At the same time, he wasn’t really into gyoza (dumplings) and other items we thought he would like.

In general bottled water is one of my most hated products, and you will never see it in our house. I’ve had to bend on this too because its more important to me that the children have clean drinking water.

As with sleep, we are more lenient with food when we are away from home. Processed/packaged foods that are normally not around our house are provided at opportune moments. Joey still calls Oreos “Peru Biscuits” since he first received them there, and he only gets them when we are traveling. It’s more important to me that they eat something to avoid hanger. There are also inevitable long, boring, waits associated with travel and having special treats/snacks helps mitigate that.

I’m used to carrying around a wide array of snacks wherever we go, and I usually stock up on favorites before any trip (fruit/veggie pouches, clif kids bars, goldfish or other little crackers, raisins and other dried fruits). I don’t try to bring enough for the duration of the trip, though, since I’ve always been able to find new and interesting snacks on site. Almost everywhere has some variation on bread, rice, or pasta and fruit – staples of the toddler diet.

J does have food allergies so I always learn how to say and write the offending foods ahead of time, and check labels/ask at restaurants as I would at home.

It can be a whirlwind with a lot of trial and error. We always say we will not plan anything during our first day at a destination, and we almost always wind up doing stuff anyway with catastrophic results. Dinner in particular has been disastrous several times with slow service, new food, and very tired parents and children. I’ve taken a tearful Joey out of restaurants in several countries to go to bed before the food actually arrived, and had Simon bring me leftovers later. Hang in there – it gets better!

Save Money & The Planet: How To Make Old Furniture Look Nice

Paint it!

You may have guessed from our earlier announcement that we’ve been quite busy with DIY home projects recently. We are also big fans of second-hand furniture. For our new home, we decided to only buy high quality items (no more particle board!) I discovered just how easy it is to improve old wooden furniture by painting it.

This plan relies on starting with high quality, sturdy furniture. The color, finish, scratches, etc don’t matter. The structural integrity does. 

 Method 1: Regular Paint

I started with two sturdy wooden dressers that were woefully scratched and dinged.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters and clean.
  2. Use wood fill to repair the worst of the chips and dings. Let dry.
  3. Sand and clean again.
  4. Paint! I used Behr Ultra Premium Plus, which is a paint and primer in one. I applied a total of four coats, each of which has to dry for 24 hours. The first two coats were very then primer coats, focusing on knots in the wood and areas with the wood fill product. The second two coats were much heavier, applied with a roller.
  5. Finally, I added two coats of polyacrylic to the top for protection, since these will be our bedside tables.
  6. Finishing touches – I replaced the chipped wooden knobs with white laquer knobs, and lined the drawers with yellow & white paper to make them more cheerful.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 5 hours over ~7 days

Total Cost: $140

Pro Tips: Make sure to let each coat of paint dry fully before re-coating and applying polyacrylic. Shelf paper liners & new knobs were inexpensive but really nice touches.

Items Needed: 1 quart of Behr Ultra Premium Plus Semi-Gloss in Tropical Seas. Elmer’s color-change wood fill. Painter’s multi-tool. 1 small can Minwax polyacrylic protective coat. 2 rolls of shelf paper. 18 white knobs with screws. Foam or detail brush. Roller, handle, and paint tray. Sanding block.

Method 2: Spray Paint

I started with six dining chairs that Simon had reinforced and two red kid’s chairs, all from craigslist.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters, then clean.
  2. Set everything up outside on tarp/cardboard.
  3. Prime. I used 4 cans and applied many light coats of primer.
  4. Paint! I used 12 cans for everything. Again, lots of light coats 10-15 minutes apart.
  5. Clear coat – optional. I sprayed on gloss finish after the paint for durability.
  6. After everything had dried thoroughly, I added on little feet (glides) that nail in to the chair legs to prevent scratching.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 4 hours in 1 day

Total Cost: $80

Pro Tips: Spray paint works best when applied in a slow, sweeping motion as many very light coats. All of my items looked patchy until about the fourth coat, and I was still picking up detail spots 10 coats in. Choose an appropriate weather day to spray outside (50 – 90 F, low humidity) and wear protective goggles and face mask. Take the time to set everything up away from anything you don’t want sprayed, and use lots of tarps and cardboard to position items. If you do get paint on your skin, acetone (nail polish remover) will get it off.

Items Needed: 12 cans Rustoleum 2x Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Gloss Seaside. 4 cans Rustoleum Flat White Primer. 3 cans Rustoleum clear coat gloss. No-scratch feet for chairs. Sanding block.

Just Enjoy

I'm a little behind on posts due to lots 
of mini-adventures alongside hectic work 
schedules. We'll try to get the blog back 
up to date over the next few weeks! This 
post is long overdue, as I find myself offering 
these same words of advice to friends and 
colleagues in a myriad of situations. Enjoy!
I made Joey's first birthday cake from scratch so that it wouldn't have eggs, and Simon and I decorated it together complete with fondant shark fins. Joey was not impressed.
I made Joey’s first birthday cake from scratch so that it wouldn’t have eggs, and Simon and I decorated it together complete with home-made fondant shark fins. Joey was not impressed.

The best advice I received as a new parent was to “just enjoy your baby.” It was a revelation. I was getting stressed and depressed about my inability to breastfeed Joey (before you suggest a helpful tip – we really tried everything). But a good friend reminded me with that short sentence that it is far better to let go the things we can’t change and enjoy what we have. It felt like our lives changed overnight (in retrospect – in the moment it was probably not quite that immediate!) from constant stress and worry, being ashamed to take Joey in public because of our awkward feeding system (he was given baby formula through a small tube while I nursed him), and feeling that no one had ever had this problem before (a lot of people have), to letting go. Suddenly, I cherished my moments with Joey even if feeding him was awkward. After all, he would never be that tiny again! That’s not to say every moment was perfect and happy. But I managed to exchange hopelessness for hope. That made my life, Simon’s life, and Joey’s life so much better.

Whenever Charlie is around, he receives >75% of Joey's food.
Whenever Charlie is around, he receives >75% of Joey’s food.

This seems to be a particularly poignant thought as we enter the holiday season. It is so easy to become distressed over planning every detail – the Thanksgiving turkey, the perfect holiday card to send out, getting thoughtful, useful, gifts for everyone on your list, baking tasty treats for social and work functions…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all take a step back and just enjoy it?

When Joey thought it would be fun to go swimming fully clothed in 50 degree weather, I followed him around the tide-pool until he got cold and bundled him in a warm towel for the boat ride home.When Joey thought it would be fun to go swimming fully clothed in 50 degree weather, I followed him around until he got cold and bundled him in a warm towel afterwards.

We are far from perfect, but we are all three far happier to laugh off the kinds of events pictured here than to let them gnaw away at us, building angst and distress. At the end of the day, if we have a happy, healthy, child, we feel that we can rest easy.

Science has shown many times that what kids want and need most are happy, loving parents. So if things don’t go exactly as planned, say your cookies get burned because you were building the biggest snowman in the neighborhood, instead of feeling hopeless try laughing and just enjoy what you have.

How to Take Your Child’s Passport Photo

Remember how I told you it is almost always better to take your own passport photos and bring them with you when submitting the application? Here’s how.

For our countries of interest (New Zealand & the USA), the requirements are the same, but you should always double-check before finalizing your photo. Child positioned against an untextured white or off-white background, two eyes open, looking at camera, nothing in front of face, no hands visible, no expressions, mouth closed.

For an infant, it is easiest to lay a plain white blanket or sheet over a carseat or bouncer chair, set the child in the seat, then wave a toy around near the camera to try to get them to look at it when you take the photo.

For a toddler that can stand but can’t stand still, our strategy was to sit on the floor against a plain colored door and hold Joey above one of our heads (remember we can’t be visible in the photo and he has to have a white background behind him) while the other of us waved toys about and took photos. Here’s what happened:

IMG_0562 IMG_0581

Set child on head. Oh look, a doorknob! Clearly, neither of these photos will do.

IMG_0572 IMG_0553

Yes! He finally has learned to smile for the camera! What a perfect photo! Except we then re-read the requirements, which mention that the child must not smile or have any expression on their face. Keep trying.

IMG_0563 IMG_0566

Not looking at camera – no dice. Great mug shot, but this one won’t fly either because Joey’s mouth is open and it must be closed. Have you ever tried to explain to a happy, energetic, talkative, 14-month old to keep their mouth closed for a photo? I resorted to trying to startle him by hiding and popping out while Simon held him. There was a brief moment of shock before he giggled during which I had 0.2 seconds to take an effective photo. After many tries…



Once you have the digital photo, crop to the correct size (2″ x 2″ with the head 1″ to 1 3/8″ high for the USA). For ease of printing, I put several copies of the cropped photo into a Microsoft powerpoint slide, formatted to be 4″ x 6″ (standard photo size). It also works to crop in powerpoint. I double check the size and line them up. You can fit 6 on a slide. I usually leave extra space around each and do 3-4 per slide. Then save as a photo and print at your neighborhood one hour vendor.

Not the easiest task ever, but a lot better than showing up for your passport application with an uncooperative kid or sleeping infant. Good luck!

Flying with an Infant

As we prepare for our next round of flights, I realize that we have reached the world of toddler-hood. This is wonderful and exciting for all three Freemans! But our time of flying with an infant is behind us. So, with 25+ legs of air travel under Joey’s belt (his first flight was at 4 weeks old), here are our top tips for flying with an infant (not yet walking).

Baby Carriers. Use Them.

Boba Wrap
Boba Wrap

I LOVE baby carriers all of the time, but especially for air travel. For 0-6 months, my favorite was the Boba Wrap. At 4 months we started using our Ergo Performance Carrier as well. I pop Joey in it straight out of the car and he stayed there until we got to the gate. He then got some floor time on a jacket and a diaper change before boarding. He could nurse and receive a bottle in both carriers, and would often fall asleep in the carrier, making my life even easier. I have always been able to ‘wear’ Joey through the metal detector at the security checkpoint without trouble. However, other traveling moms have reported issues with having to take the baby out of the carrier at this time. Even so, they are SO very helpful for being able to go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, move your luggage around, etc.

Don’t Worry!

If you are stressed, your baby gets stressed. All babies cry sometimes – if yours does on a plane, it is OK! Don’t worry about everyone around you getting upset (you’ll probably never see them again anyway), and focus on caring for your child.

Plan Ahead

Consider things like how often your child would normally eat during your projected flight time, and make sure you are prepared for that plus one meal. Change diapers immediately before boarding, and have everything you need for the projected number of diaper changes plus one.

Pack Wisely

Keep everything you need in flight to a minimum, in a small, open-topped bag you can have in front of you. Emergency items can be stored in your regular carry-on in the overhead locker (things like baby tylenol, extra food & diapers, extra clothes). It is wise to have these accessible, but you most likely won’t need them in flight so give yourself extra space. Our child was far more interested in other passengers, the window, the flight attendants, and the magazines than any toys or books that we brought him from home. I always had a blanket (usually Aden & Anais Swaddles) to help keep Joey warm and comfy while he napped, and use as a partial cover while nursing. Baby milk, formula, and food are exempt from the 3 oz carry-on limitation. You just need to pull it out and declare it at security. Flight attendants will provide bottled water to mix powdered formula, but never assume that they will have milk, juice, or snacks that are suitable for baby.

Lap Child

Baby Boarding Pass
Baby Boarding Pass

We have always traveled with Joey as a lap child (we are cheap!) and it has worked out fine for us. Make sure you add them to your reservation – if you book on miles, you need to then call on the phone to explain the lap child. You need to bring proof of age to check-in (a passport or birth certificate). They will issue a boarding document, that you need to show at the security gate and when boarding. Most airlines allow children under 2 to fly free as a lap child on domestic flights, and for a 10% of full ticket price fee on international.

Use Priority Boarding

Most airlines let you board first with small children, and it is usually worthwhile. It means you have your choice of overhead locker space for your carry-ons, and lots of time to get situated with your small one. I keep a small bag in front of me (under the seat) with in-flight necessities (see above), but most of our equipment is stored overhead for the duration.

Choose Seats Wisely

We preferred window seats nearer to the front of the plane if possible. There is a bit more elbow room on the window side, baby enjoys looking out when awake, and it is also more discreet for nursing and diaper changes.


Flying lets babies participate in adventures and experiences they may not otherwise have - like having a real lobster in Boston!
Flying lets babies participate in adventures and experiences they may not otherwise have – like having a real lobster in Boston!

We were often told to have Joey nurse or suck on something during take-off and landing to help his ears pop. That is great in theory, but in our experience not worth waking a sleeping baby for. He tended to pass out as soon as the engines turned on, and it was better to leave him that way. If he did wake up, we let him nurse, take a bottle, or suck on a pacifier. Descent tends to be hard on them than ascent. We never had any major problems though. Smiling and laughing do just as much for helping ears pop (it is all about getting them to move their jaw).


If possible, bring grandparents with you on the flight. This is the best entertainment!
If possible, bring grandparents with you on the flight. This is the best entertainment!

For the first 4 months, you don’t need much entertainment. Food and an airplane window will do just fine, or perhaps bring one toy. After about 6 months, the in flight magazine is a delightful toy to page through and tear apart. Never bring more than 2-3 toys/books in flight, and don’t bring favorites as they may get lost. A walk up and down the aisle is always fun, as is peek-a-boo with willing passengers in the rows ahead of or behind you. If you can find another baby, this works well for a long time!

Get the Bassinet

Bassinets attach to the bulkhead, and are available on most international flights

International flight? Request a bassinet seat. You will have to request this 18 times – when you book your ticket, about a week before flight on the phone, when you check in and print your ticket, and at the gate. It is well worth it if you can get one, however. Even if baby doesn’t nap in the bassinet, they can play in there and give you a break.


Try to time the flight with your child’s nap. If you aren’t on a schedule yet but you know they always nap after eating, hold off on feeding until you are settled in your seat. If you are on a schedule, try to time your flights accordingly. One dead arm is a small price to pay for a sleeping child in-flight. Joey fell asleep to the engine noise quickly on almost all of his flights and often stayed asleep longer than he would at home.

Car Seat & Stroller

Most airlines allow you to gate-check one car seat and one stroller per child for free. I have always preferred to check these when I get my ticket so that I don’t have to haul them through the airport – free doesn’t mean easy! We got a travel bag for the car seat which gives it some protection from tearing and dirt, and also allows me to stuff extra diapers and clothes inside. If you have purchased a seat for your infant or if you are hoping to snag an empty seat next to you for them (some airlines will give you this option if the flight isn’t full- it has never happened for me), then hang on to the car seat.

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are our top choice even in-flight
Cloth diapers are our top choice even in-flight

Use cloth diapers? No problem! You can use them on an airplane too. For our first several flights we switched to paper diapers for the flight and kind of regretted it. I pack a full 2 day stash of diapers (and usually stuff it in the car seat bag 🙂 ) for trips, and bring with me only what I think I’ll need for travel time plus two emergency diapers. Although bulkier, I usually find it easiest to use one-piece diapers inflight. For us that means stuffed pockets. Beyond that, the drill is the same as a normal outing- when diapers are changed, dirty diapers are stored in a wet bag. I usually put a doubler in the first pocket Joey gets in flight, which will extend it to 6-8 hours unless he poops.


I know, I already said don’t stress. But seriously- babies fly all of the time. Even if you are unlucky enough to have a rude neighbor, most passengers are very considerate and understanding of littles even if they have a hard time. Remember to focus on what you can control, and not worry about the rest.

On Grad School & Science Work With a Baby

On Grad School & Science Work With a Small Baby

In Summary:

  • The later part of a PhD program can be a great time to have a baby
  • If you are married to another PhD student, you can use the flexible scheduling to your advantage x2
  • Be realistic about your goals – when someone tells you that you can get 2-4 hours of work done a day when your kid is 3 weeks old, believe them. 
  • Having a supportive partner, family, and friends makes a huge difference
  • So does your own attitude. 
  • Take advantage of the help! If people offer to bring you a meal, take your kid for a walk so you can work/nap, run a load of laundry, etc – always say yes!
  • Pay it forward when you can – always offer to help new moms in a way that makes sense to you. If babies aren’t your thing, bring over food or do a household chore 🙂
  • Don’t be afraid of childcare – it is worth the money to not have stress over being able to get work done!
  • Your baby and family are unique – work with what you have.
  • Ultimately what your family does is up to your family – no one can tell you that you were wrong. It is your responsibility to make it work.
Joey's first TG - Scripps Friday evening social hour - exactly 2 weeks old.
Joey’s first TG – Scripps Friday evening social hour – exactly 2 weeks old.

It was part luck and part careful planning, but I wound up being able to take a full 9 months off of work to spend with Joey during his first year. When he was born, Simon and I were still PhD students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I graduated when he was 3 months old, and since then have been on self-proclaimed ‘maternity leave.’ I start my new position as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow on August 25 – a couple of weeks after Joey’s first birthday.

We spent a good amount of time before getting pregnant thinking about the best time to slot in a baby or two with our career plans. Several of our professors indicated to us that the end of grad school is actually a great time – the hours are super flexible since near the end your main task is writing and editing your dissertation and associated manuscripts. This was a little tough to believe during our hectic first years of classes, but we decided to give it a shot!

Pregnant and didn't know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.
Pregnant and didn’t know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.

Soon after Simon’s and my joint field expedition to Hawaii, we found out we were pregnant with Joey.

Having a kid in grad school worked out very well for us. We had been in San Diego long enough to have a great support network, and at Scripps long enough to be established with our own shared office. We installed an electric baby swing, and within a couple weeks of Joey’s arrival we started bringing him into work with us. We would work during his naps, then feed and change him and periodically take him for walks along the beach.

Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris
Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris

We spent long hours at Scripps in the time immediately preceding our defenses. I remember still being there at 10:00pm on the night of Halloween and feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten Joey a Halloween costume, so I took a photo of him wearing a dinosaur hat. He probably missed out on a few other things during his first few months since we were so caught up in work, but he was an incredibly good sport about letting us get what we needed done, and he also wound up getting to spend his entire days with one or both of his parents. We had some excellent friend babysitters that would take him for long walks when we needed to really focus, and my mom came to stay a couple of times before we graduated to help take some of the care duties so that Simon and I could both get our work done.

Joey's sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013
Joey’s sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013

I had always intended to continue working after having kids. Simon and I dream of a joint science job somewhere beautiful along the water down the road. But after careful consultation with my advisors and assessment of our life situation, we decided to take 3 months off as a family after graduating to travel and visit Joey’s extended family/fatherland, and I stalled on my job search so that I could stay home with Joey until he was 1 year old. I’ve gotten less science work done during that time than I had hoped (two submitted papers instead of four), but more life work – updating the family photos, organizing our new townhouse, spending time with Joey and my family, and other good stuff like that.

Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle
Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle

 Now that my start date is closing in, we are tackling the hardest parenting job we have faced yet – finding Joey suitable care while we work. The first daycare we visited us bluntly informed us that Joey would cry for the first several weeks after being dropped off at their house, may not eat, and probably would stop sleeping all night because he was so distressed by the change after being spoiled by a year at home with his mama. I imagine this was a poor example of a daycare provider (we haven’t visited another yet), but it was still a crummy first experience. We took the initiative to look into other daycares, nanny-shares, and part-time babysitters. We are still searching, but slowly honing in on the best choice for our family. Thank goodness I started this hunt six weeks before my job start date!

*UPDATE 11-20-14: Joey has a wonderful nanny that we all three love. She stays with him 3-4 days a week. On the other days, Simon & I work a split schedule*

I am so grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Joey, and also so excited to be returning to full-time work soon! Sometimes it is hard to keep the long-term perspective in our sights, but usually the other of Simon or I is quick to remind the distressed person why we are making these choices. The biggest key to our happiness is being realistic – how many hours a week could one work if providing 80% of the care for a small baby? What could one achieve in that time? If it isn’t enough, how can we pull in friends or childcare professionals to help us achieve our goals?

The academic and professional science environment can be a wonderful place to have a weird schedule, accommodate a growing family, and get in a lot of cool work travel. Ultimately it is up to you the scientist to be pro-active about making the situation meet your needs.

All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.
All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.

How To Make Your Own Baby Wipes

This is such a fun, easy project that takes advantage of materials you already have lying around the house!


Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Baby wipes cost families $50-75/year. Making your own costs $0-40, depending on how ambitious you are with fabric purchases and vessels for your cloth wipes. They take up very little space in a washer and dryer, so don’t actually increase the amount of laundry that you do. So you’re basically saving the cost of a nice new car seat or stroller for your kiddo.

We’ve discovered another huge bonus, which is that cotton wipes are gentler on baby’s skin than chemical wipes. We use them with tap water and have never had any issues – nor have we had much experience with diaper rash!

Another small perk – this is a great way to upcycle previously loved t-shirts from sports teams, bands, clubs, etc. It always makes me grin to see which logos come up when I change Joey.

So, now that I’ve talked you into it, here’s what to do.

Gather cotton fabric to be made into wipes. We used old t-shirts and flannel sheets, and I bought a yard of flannel fabric off the sale rack as well.


cut single layers of fabric into wipes using pinking shears (the zig-zag edge scissors). This will prevent fraying. Everyone has an opinion on the best size – we prefer a finished size of about 8″ x  8″. I wouldn’t go smaller than 8″ x  6″ or bigger than 10″ x 10″. Once you’ve cut these to your preferred size, you are done!


This is what I did. For this situation, cut fabric into slightly larger squares (8.5″ x 8.5″). Piece two squares, right sides facing each other. Sew around the edges on a sewing machine with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Leave a 2″ gap on one side. Turn the wipe inside out and sew across the gap. Magic! This method results in a smooth edge and a slightly sturdier wipe. To be honest, I prefer the thinner versions of these – two pieces of t-shirt or more worn flannel. We had thicker wipes that had used a sweatshirt and I never use them if I can help it.


T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths - same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!
T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths – same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!

If you are feeling super inspired (as pregnant Lauren was, over a year ago now!) You can use the same double-layer method to produce your own burp cloths. These are just a bigger version of the same thing. We found the best size to be about 10″ x 18″



I prefer to pre-moisten wipes by running a handful of them under the tap so they are ready to go each diaper change. Here’s how we keep them wet:

Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!
Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!

At home, we use The Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser. This is a hard plastic version of a classic disposable wipes case, intended for disposable wipes. However, the way the inside is designed (a heavy plate with a hole in the center to pull wipes through) means that it works perfectly for cloth wipes! We have this in Joey’s room now. I have never seen another dispenser that works for cloth wipes, but would love to hear about it if you have other ideas!

On the go, we use a small wet bag. This is a little trickier because it must be unzipped to access the wipes, but certainly does the job. Oxo also makes an on-the-go pouch that looks like it would work for cloth wipes, although I haven’t tried it myself.

There you go! As easy as cutting up a few old t-shirts and you can have your very own stash of cloth baby wipes today 🙂 These are a fun baby shower gift as well – make a matching set of burp cloths and wipes with cute flannel from the fabric store!

Save Money & The Planet! RE-USE IT

Easy Reusable Everyday Items

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

This is a general post that leads to many others – reusing things instead of throwing them away. Do you have other ideas of

Are you sensing a theme here? The original three R’s of being eco-friendly from my childhood were reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Reusing things is one of the very best ways to save money, and it has a nice positive environmental impact as well. The principle is very simple – instead of buying a disposable object (i.e. paper napkin), using it once, and throwing it away, you have a slightly sturdier version (i.e. cloth napkin) that you use over and over, washing between uses.

This almost always results in financial gains long-term. The initial investment is often (not always) higher for a reusable item than its disposable counterpart, but it only takes a month or two to break even and start saving money. To really do things on the cheap, many of these items can be crafted from other things that you already have around the house, saving you even more cash. Another perk is that the reusable versions of products are almost always more aesthetically appealing, and will hold up better to the kind of abuse we put our things through. Each individual thing may only save you a few dollars a week, but bundle a few of them together for a couple of months and it really adds up! Here’s a list of items that we reuse with a few pro tips for each.

Water Bottles:

our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.

I bought a bottle of water in a gas station the other day for $2.50. You’ve got to be kidding me! You can get a wide range of reusable water bottles (or make your own from a previous water, soda, or juice bottle) that can be refilled for free to a few cents in virtually any restaurant, service station, or home in the western world. If you have concerns about BPA and other plasticizers, stainless steel or aluminum bottles are easy to come by for as little as $4.99 in general stores.

Coffee Cups:

I know, I just told you to make your own coffee at home, so you aren’t getting all of those paper and plastic Starbucks cups anyway, right? It never hurt anyone to have a to-go style coffee mug ready for that homemade coffee or the off-chance that you need a second caffeinated beverage from your neighborhood café around lunchtime. Most places (including sbux) give you a discount for bringing your own cup, and the insulated versions keep your drink warm or cold much longer! These are also easy to find in stainless steel for under $10 (although not at sbux 🙂 ).


Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Cloth napkins range in price but can be found for less than a dollar per napkin. We have a set of 12 that I bought for $5.99 on sale six years ago that are still going strong. They are softer and more absorbent than paper napkins (an important feature with our little mess-maker), and take up very little space in the laundry so really do not affect our energy and water budget for washing! This was also one of the great Tim Ray’s top ten environmental tips.

Dish Towels:

Use these for drying dishes, covering baked goods before serving, drying hands, and wiping down the kitchen table. This again minimizes your need for paper towels. Dish towels and napkins have a huge price range, but simple cotton sets can be found at target or dollar general for a few dollars.

Food Storage:

an assortment of washable food storage containers
an assortment of washable food storage containers

We use a wide range of glass containers with lids for leftovers and airtight jars for dry goods in our pantry. Ikea sells the storage jars for a great price, and almost any grocery store or target sells the pyrex and Tupperware storage containers. There are also a plethora of cute snack bags, sandwich wraps, and specialty reusable lunchtime paraphernalia available on the internet. It takes a little longer to realize savings here, but over time all of the zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil add up. The environmental impact is big – far fewer one-time wrappers being manufactured and going to landfills. For more cost-savings, save jars from pasta sauce, salsa, yogurt, etc to use for your leftovers or packed lunch.

Cleaning Towels/Rags:

Once towels get old and torn, they move to our cleaning bin. We use them to mop stains off the floor, clean windows, and clean off surfaces in the kitchen. All jobs that were once held by paper towels (which we do have but almost never use now!) It is possible to buy this new, but we’ve never had a shortage just by using old towels, sweatshirts, etc so this item is virtually free and starts saving your change from paper towels immediately.

Grocery Bags:

We have an extensive collection of reusable grocery bags by now, collected from various events along the way. I have a fleet of heavy-duty totes (mainly these from LL Bean), which are awesome for shopping (as well as travel!), especially since Joey and I walk to the stores most of the time. I know you’ve heard of this before and you know it is eco-friendly, but how on earth does it save you money if you go out and buy new bags when the store gives them to you for free? Well, most stores give a per bag discount (usually 5-10 cents per bag) if you bring your own. They will honor this even if you save and bring back the plastic bags from your previous visit. However, plastic bags have been outlawed in Hawaii (all of Maui and Kauai), San Francisco, and Portland completely, and many stores and states are implementing policies where customers are charged per bag for plastic or paper bags. So again, not a huge savings but it adds up over time. The reusable bags are far sturdier and have never failed on me, while I’ve had at least four memorable events where a grocery bag has catastrophically ruptured and spilled/smashed food at an inopportune place. If you do get paper or plastic grocery bags, hang on to them to bag your recycling, use as trash bags, carry wet clothes home from the beach, and more.

Baby Wipes:

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Flannel and cotton baby wipes are available to purchase online, or you can make your own from old flannel sheets and t-shirts. (We also made burp clothes! I used a mix of upcycled t-shirts, an old sheet, and some new flannel from the fabric store.) Like cloth napkins, these take up very little room in the wash and don’t affect your water or energy budget. Many moms make their own wipes solution with various soaps and oils, but we just use plain water and it has always worked well for us. Keep wet wipes on hand with a dispenser like this at home, or in a wet bag at home and on the go. This saves $100-$400 a year depending on the type of baby wipes you would typically buy.

Baby Diapers:

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – only super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

I had to make this in to a whole separate post because I’ve gotten so many questions about it that I wanted to answer. At the end of the day, cloth diapers have an initial cost of $200-600 depending on the type, brand, and quantity. They can be re-used for subsequent children (although you may need more for twins or multiple babes in diapers). Washing costs (if you have your own machine) are about $30-50 a year. Paper diapers cost $800-$1200 per year depending on the brand, so you save about $550 in the first year and $1000 each subsequent year your baby is in diapers. The environmental impacts of this one are huge – tons of material not going into landfills and heavy manufacturing burdens and greenhouse gas emissions that you aren’t supporting.

Upcycle Your Old Things!

We have developed a knack for assessing an object for its potential usefulness before it is sent to the rubbish bin. Old t-shirts, sheets, and towels can be transformed into baby wipes, cleaning cloths, and more. Pasta sauce jars can be washed and used for food storage. Cardboard boxes become forts for Joey. The little bottles of shampoo from hotels can be saved for guests, and re-filled from your big shampoo container for future travels. That tent that isn’t really waterproof anymore still makes a great sun shelter in the yard for kiddos. Anytime you can come up with a new use for something, with or without modification, you are minimizing the demand for newly manufactured items and the load sent to landfills. Get creative – and please share your favorites! I’m always looking for new ideas for our family and home.

How Does This Help The Planet?

Nearly everything you buy in a store has to be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a distribution center, then shipped to that specific store. The carbon emissions and pollution add up quickly, especially since so many things are manufactured overseas. The less you buy, the less demand you are giving the manufacturing machine, so it will eventually respond by reducing the supply that it produces.
When we throw things away they don’t just disappear- they are sent to landfills (again, carbon emissions and pollution), which we are rapidly running out of space for. (Think Wall-E)

Save Money & the Planet! Make Your Own Starbucks

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

First in the series – beating the caffeinated green giant.


Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
Homemade vanilla simple syrup lasts for weeks at room temperature (not like we let it go that long!)

Oh how we love the ‘green sign of joy’ and their $5-6 beverages. However, we have gradually shifted to making all of our favorite coffee drinks at home upon looking at a credit card statement or two and gawking at the numbers going to starbucks. There are several helpful tutorials on the web for the more elaborate drinks, but the basics are the same for all of them. Here you go!

  • We use a french press ($20 at Target) – no filters to buy or plastic parts. Any coffee maker will do, however!
  • We get coffee at Safeway, and use the in-store grinder for a fresh taste and to get the ‘coarse’ grounds you need for plunger coffee, which ranges from $5-$9 a pound depending on sales. Safeway has been selling its coffee for $4.99 a pound for the whole month of June, and I admit to stocking up and freezing some!
  • I make a variety of simple syrups. As the name implies, these are very simple! Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan and boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Optional – add a teaspoon of your favorite extract (for us this is usually vanilla, but we do some fun drinks with peppermint extract and hershey’s syrup around christmas). These can be stored in any sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge.
  • For standard coffee, we use 4 TBSP grounds for our 8 cup press and brew for 2-3 minutes. Add milk and syrup of your choice.
  • For iced coffee, use 6 TBSP grounds for 2-3 minutes and let it cool right down in the fridge. I keep a pitcher of this in addition to iced tea ready to go in the summer! Add milk and syrup of your choice when you are ready to drink.
  • For mocha, frappucino, and other fancy delights, use 6-8 TBSP grounds and brew a bit longer – 3-4 minutes. This makes super-strong plunger coffee that can sort of pass for espresso.
  • Chill your faux-spresso for frappucino. Blend about 3/4 cup strong coffee with 1 cup milk (mix in some half-and-half for a creamier flavor), 2 cups ice, and 2-3 TBSP syrup. Mix in hershey’s chocolate syrup for mocha. If you’re feeling decadent, you can top with whipped cream from a can. Some folks on the internet add xanthum gum to stabilize the blend. We’ve never felt a need to do this, but ours do separate after 10-15 minutes.
  • For a latte or mocha, keep the faux-spresso hot and steam milk in a pot on the stove. A quick beat with a whisk or a dedicated frother will produce the latte-like consistency that we love. I mix the syrup into the hot coffee first, then pour the frothed milk on top.

Magic! We now prefer our home coffee drinks to those from starbucks and most other chains. You can customize your milk and sweetener to your tastes and wind up with the perfect drink for you. You can also make stronger or weaker coffee to meet your needs. When I was pregnant and minimizing my caffeine, I made super-WEAK coffee for homemade frappucinos (2 TBSP grounds for 1-2 minutes). Depending on how fancy, we estimate that an iced coffee costs us about $0.65 and a frappe with whipped cream about $0.85 (we use organic milk and raw sugar). Even if you add in hershey’s syrup or a frothing stick and buy your coffee maker, you beat starbucks within 4-5 drinks.

How making your own coffee helps the planet:

  • No single-use cups, lids, straws, or cup sleeves going into the trash (and you’re reducing demand for them to be produced in the future!)
  • You didn’t drive somewhere to get this.
  •  Starbucks and other multi-national chains have an impressive carbon footprint that you are supporting less.
  • Depending on your options, ingredients can be sourced locally.