Dispatches from the Children's Museum

As you may know, Lana and I live next door to the Children's Museum. And I mean literally next door - we can see it from our windows. When new friends discover this fact, they ask a lot of questions: Is it totally awesome? Is it actually terrible? Do we ever want to just give up and move to the Heights?  So, for anyone who might be curious, here is an insider's view on life smack-dab in the middle of the Museum District.

1) How often do you really go to the Tot Spot? 

All. The. Time. Lana's nanny takes her to the Tot Spot every day, and I also go with her a couple afternoons a week. On weekends, my husband will sometimes take her as well. Some of the staff know her. One of the staff members recently told me he loved watching Lana learn to walk over the past few months. I sometimes fear that they will ban us from the museum because we've been really pushing the whole "unlimited free visits" privilege :D

2) Do you get sick all the time? 
Not really. We've been going to the Children's Museum since the spring, and Lana has only been sick a couple of times since then. However, these were viruses picked up from friends and family outside the Tot Spot. 

However, winter is coming...so who knows what awaits us during flu season?

3) Is living next door to the Children's Museum the most awesome thing in the world?
We love this neighborhood - the Children's Museum, the Zoo, the Science Museum, the Health Museum, and the MFAH are all in walking distance. All of these have top-notch kids' exhibits and programming, and are super-affordable with memberships. Oh, and we never have to pay for parking!

And, don't forget Hermann Park, which includes the train, the 3-in-1 playground, the lake, the beautiful new Centennial Gardens...what else does a mom need?

4) What are the downsides of your location?
Nearly every day, we hear that saccharine, sing-songy voice warning everyone that the museum is closing "IN "FIF-TEEN MI-NUTES!" In general, every museum announcement is audible from our bedroom/living room. When the museum has special events, we hear hours of kiddie music. This is really just specific to our apartment though, since we are so close - most other apartments in our complex get the great location without the annoying audio.

As for the neighborhood overall, I do wish there were more food options in walking distance. We've got Barnaby's and expensive sushi, and that's pretty much it.

5) Any pro tips on visiting the Children's Museum?
On weekdays, the Tot Spot tends to be less busy right at opening time, as well as mid-afternoons. Weekends are really insane - the Tot Spot often gets so crowded that it's just not worth going. Check out the much-less-crazy (and cheaper) Health Museum just next door. It's also a children's museum with lots of pint-sized fun.

The little library in the Children's Museum is totally free to visit (just get a visitor's badge at the front desk). So if you don't have a membership, you can still play there for free. It has frequent storytimes and a play area for tots. And, of course, tons of fun kids books and FLIP Kits with fun activities. It's also usually much less crowded than the rest of the museum.

Finally, there is a cute little outdoor area just outside the Tot Spot that is perfect for toddlers, and usually less crowded than the Tot Spot. 

Expert Q&A: Lactation Consultant Liz Ozkan

Nursing moms take note: today's sponsored post is chock-full of practical breastfeeding advice! Certified lactation consultant Liz Ozkan talks insurance coverage, weighs in on how to determine if you need professional help, and recommends the top products for breastfeeding support. Check out Liz's tips below, and stop by her maternity boutique The Mother Baby Bond, a one-stop shop for lactation support, nursing accessories, pump rentals, and more. 

1) What kinds of challenges can a lactation consultant help breastfeeding moms with? 

Since starting my practice, I’ve helped moms with latching issues, damaged nipples, low supply, oversupply and engorgement. I've also recognized (and reported to the physician) mastitis, ensuring mom got the treatment she needed. I helped an adoptive mom of twins induce lactation, she went on to breastfeed for 10 months! I’ve worked with premature or late preterm babies and with twins.

The majority of moms whom I’ve helped since I started my private practice have had issues arising from their baby’s oral anatomy, primarily lip and tongue tie. I have seen instances where the baby was able to breastfeed effectively (even with a lip and/or tongue tie) once mom learned correct positioning and latch techniques. Of course, in these cases, I do recommend that baby be assessed by a practitioner who is well versed in treating lip and tongue tie.

2) How can a new mom tell if she would benefit from visiting an LC? What are some signs that it's time for professional help? 

Any new mom, or any mom new to breastfeeding, can benefit from visiting an IBCLC, RLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), at the very least for education and reassurance. That being said, if a new mom trying to breastfeed her baby is experiencing sore, painful, damaged nipples, breast pain, or emotional pain arising from anxiety, fear, exhaustion, she would undoubtedly benefit from a consultation.

If she is finding breastfeeding to be more of a chore than a joy, if she dreads latching her baby to the breast, if her baby isn’t gaining weight appropriately, if she is being advised to supplement with formula, it’s time for professional help.

What’s also very important to keep in mind is that, with most lactation consultants, the support doesn’t end with the consultation. I am available to my patients via email or phone. Sometimes a mom will email or call me with a quick question, sometimes she’ll need to schedule a follow up appointment.

3) Can you share some tips for breastfeeding success? 

Breastfeeding success stems from education, knowledge and preparation - and from trusting your body, your baby and your instincts.

One of the greatest challenges with helping a mom who is struggling with breastfeeding is to find the root cause of the symptoms. Knowing what questions to ask, being able to recognize the physical as well as emotional issues that are negatively impacting breastfeeding is crucial, and is the key putting a plan in place to help mom make her breastfeeding relationship work.

If a mom has had issues with infertility, has had any type of breast or chest surgery, has chronic health problems or an anomaly of the breasts (such as severe asymmetry, insufficient glandular issue) is a high risk patient, knows she’ll be having a caesarean birth, she would benefit greatly from a prenatal consultation or at the very least, taking a breastfeeding class.

4) Do you have any tips for getting insurance to cover LC services? 

Most lactation consultants, myself included, don’t take insurance due to the wide variety of coverage offered by insurance companies to their clients, However, you may be able to get a reimbursement directly from your insurance company. Questions to ask insurance would be:
  • Do you cover lactation consultations with an IBCLC (unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a lactation consultant, but the gold standard is an IBCLC, RLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Registered Lactation Consultant)
  • If yes, does the lactation consultant have to be in-network?
  • If yes, do you have anyone in-network?
  • If no, do you cover out-of-network providers?
  • If yes, do you cover 100%, only a certain percentage, or have a flat fee you will cover?
  • If you don’t cover out-of-network providers, why is that? (the ACA mandates that lactation support is to be covered 100%, but there are exceptions to the rule)
  • Will you apply the cost of the consult to my out-of-network deductible?
  • Would you cover a consult with an out-of-network provider if my doctor (OBGYN) write a prescription? 
I would like to remind anyone who wants to breastfeed, and especially breastfeed exclusively, the cost of a consultation (with regard to my fees) is about equal to the cost of buying formula for one month.

5) What are some of your favorite products for breastfeeding moms? 

  • Earth Mama Angel Baby Booby Tubes: These can be used hot or cold, to help with letdown, or to treat mastitis, plugged ducts, and engorgement (which all can go hand in hand.) Much better than trying to make a heat pack or using a frozen vegetable bag!
  • Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter: It’s soothing and less sticky than lanolin!
  • Simple Wishes Hands-free Pumping Bra: If a mom is pumping more than once a day, she needs to be hands free!
  • Medela TheraShells: They’re hard plastic domes with air holes worn over one's nipples. (You need to look at the picture, otherwise it sounds like some weird sci-fi contraption made to steal breast milk!) They keep sore nipples from coming in contact with your bra, minimizing pain while they are healing.
  • Medela Symphony Hospital Grade Breast Pump: It’s the Mercedes of breast pumps. Fast. Efficient. Helps increase milk supply very effectively.

Park of the Week: Sisters of Charity Park

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, as soon as a baby learns to walk, her primary goal in life becomes running away from you. If you are a parent of a little escape artist, take him or her to play at the Sisters of Charity Park downtown. This shady labyrinth of paths holds hidden treasures around every corner, and is fully enclosed to prevent an untimely escape.

The Sisters of Charity park covers one city block next to St. Joseph's Hospital. Outside, cars zoom by and doctors rush to work, but inside the gates, it is all peace and tranquility.

You can set your toddler free and let her lead the way down winding stone paths like this one:

Among the surprises you'll find: lime trees, a sculpture of Jesus as a kid, a small bridge, multicolored wildflowers, courtyards, with benches to climb...

...and our favorite, a path decorated with beautiful stained-glass windows. Lana liked them so much she walked back and forth past them several times!

We did notice just a couple of drawbacks at this park. First, the water features were not active when we went - the bubbling brook we had hoped to see was almost totally dry. Second, there were mosquitoes, so don't forget your bug spray!

Finally, because this park is so quiet and secluded, more reminiscent of a middle-of-nowhere forest than a large city, I felt slightly nervous being on my own with Lana. There was literally no one else in the park except a gardener tending the plants. Perhaps I've gotten a little too used to the noise and crowds of city life :) I think this place would be perfect for a family outing or a playdate with a friend, though. Or even an entire playgroup - there is plenty of space in the courtyards for blankets and strollers!

If you go:
  • Address: 1404 St. Joseph Parkway, Houston, TX 77002 (corner of St. Joseph & La Branch)
  • Parking: Metered street parking
  • Hours: The park is open 8AM-sundown on weekdays. In theory, it's supposed to be open weekends as well, but isn't always
  • Cost: Free! 

Lana in Midtown

Midtown Houston is generally known as a neighborhood to hip youngsters, with a bevy of bars, restaurants, and apartment complexes a stone's throw from downtown offices. So, is there much to do here for a couple of totally-not-hip parents with a Lana in tow? 

As it turns out, yes there is! Here's a rundown of a recent evening we spent in Midtown, with links to all of the fun. 

We started at the dogwood art wall, which you can find on the side of the dogwood bar (2403 Bagby St). This unique brick art wall is decorated with lovely dogwood flowers. 

If you go around the corner, you'll see more flowers, as well as some cool tromp l'oeil windows (i.e. they are actually painted on the wall). Sadly, the parking lot right by the bar is private, so you'll need to find street parking - free, but can take a few minutes of circling side streets to grab a spot. 

After we got our pictures here, we also checked out the Rainbow Wall a few blocks away (318 Tuam St - walkable, but, if you're not feeling it, you can also drive - there's plenty of parking by the Rainbow Wall!)

Next, it was time for some food. We strolled the restaurant-heavy stretch of Gray Street by Bagby Park, which felt almost like a European boulevard, full of restaurant patrons seated outside eating and people-watching. Note: we ventured out after 6:30 to avoid the heat...otherwise, I doubt that being outside would have been very pleasant!

Here are some delicious food options in the area to choose from; all of them have both indoor and outdoor seating, except Rico's, which is all outdoors. These places are all on Gray Street within a couple of blocks of each other.
  • For cupcakes, fluffernutters, pies, and all other kinds of sugary delights, check out Fluff Bake Bar
  • For the largest slices of pizza you've ever seen in your life, head to Russo's Pizzeria.
  • For burgers & fries (or a salad, for the health-conscious among us), as well as a selection of beer & wine, there's Rico's in Bagby Park
  • For crepes, paninis, or waffles, try Coco
This time, we chose to get take-out at Russo's and eat it at Bagby Park. The park, with its lit up "midtown" sign and views of downtown, is beautiful at night. Lana had fun running around on the grass while we enjoyed our pizza in relative peace and quiet. A final bonus of our adventure? It tired Lana out and led to a great night's sleep for us all! 

Expert Q&A: Lactation Cookies 101 with Houston Lactation Cookies Company

Who knew cookies could actually be good for you? Many nursing moms encounter supply problems at some point during their breastfeeding journey, and lactation cookies are one yummy way to help. In this sponsored post, Gari Northam of Houston Lactation Cookie Company explains how lactation cookies work and provides some supply-boosting tips.

1) What are lactation cookies? How do they work? 

Lactation cookies are made from the most effective ingredients to boost a nursing mom's milk supply. If you look at the different lactation cookies out there, most of them include 3 of these ingredients: oats, flax seed, and brewer’s yeast.

Our Mom's Milk Booster cookies include 7 supply-boosting ingredients, 8 if you order the White Chocolate Apricot. Lactation cookies can provide much-needed nutrition to moms. With the ingredients we use, moms get iron, omega 3, amino acids, protein, selenium, calcium, vitamin E, the vitamin B’s.

2) What other ingredients can be found in lactation cookies? 

This varies by brand. We add probiotics, which are essential for moms' and babies' health. We also choose to make our cookies dairy-free and wheat-free. Some babies have reactions to dairy and wheat. Sometimes these ingredients are hard for an infant to digest and we want only happy, healthy babies! We choose to use coconut oil for our cookies - this link shows why.

3) Who can benefit from lactation cookies?

Many moms experience low milk supply during their breastfeeding experience. Causes vary from stress to medication to not feeding or pumping enough, to not drinking enough water, etc. There are lots of factors that come into play. The cause should be determined and addressed, but in all of these cases, lactation cookies can help. 

Lactation cookies can really benefit all breastfeeding mothers. The only situation where someone should avoid lactation cookies is if they are allergic to one of the ingredients.

4) Do you have any other tips for increasing milk supply? 

Breastfeeding takes a lot of work. First and foremost, it's important to drink water. Stimulate by pumping. Eat healthy. And rest. We all know the demands on moms today. It is challenging to follow this advice to say the least!

One of the biggest challenges for moms can be finding time to eat. A typical day starts with getting the baby and kids to the sitter on the way to work - no time for breakfast! Lunch? You forgot to pack it, or didn't have time to eat because need to pump. After work, evenings are busy with housework, bedtime routines, etc. Our cookies are one way to work toward eating healthier - they are a great replacement for unhealthy snacks or fast food. 

5) How did you come up with your cookie recipe?

I started Houston Lactation Cookie Company before my second granddaughter was born. We went through the ups and downs of breastfeeding with my first granddaughter. Through my daughter-in-law, her friends and my goddaughter I learned a lot. I saw through trial and error what works and what does not, as well as what ingredients upset infants.

For example, fenugreek is a great milk booster, but when I tried adding it to cookies, 8 out of the 10 infants whose moms tried them had gas pains and cried! Or take cinnamon - it's a great milk booster but it changes the taste of breastmilk. And guess what? Not all babies like that! 

Sunrise, Sunset: The Skyspace Experience

Looking for a free, one-of-a-kind family activity? James Turrell's Skyspace, an outdoor light show on Rice University's campus, might fit the bill. Skyspace is an enjoyable experience for tiny babies, rambunctious toddlers, and their parents - and easy to fit into a busy schedule, since it runs twice a day almost every day!

The light show is scheduled for sunrise and sunset, which means that the exact times change slightly every day. If you have an early riser, check out the sunrise sequence - no reservations required. Otherwise, make free reservations online for the sunset sequence. 

The light show is held in a modern, white structure with visitor seating on two levels. The ever-changing colors are gorgeous; one minute, they might perfectly match the sky, the next, they create a magical visual contrast. You don't have to be inside the installation to enjoy the show, so if your little ones can't sit still, they can run around outside and still get a great view. 

Bonus: If you come for the sunset sequence, you might get to see this cute little train chugging past!

If you go, exact times, parking info, and other details can all be found here: http://skyspace.rice.edu/cms/visit-skyspace/

Bethel Church Park

Did you know that there is a Houston park located inside a church that burned down in a fire? I'd heard rumors and even seen photos, so a couple of days ago, we finally made our way to the Fourth Ward to visit Bethel Park in person.

Bethel Park is located in a gentrified residential neighborhood. The park is very new, dating to late 2013, but the site's history stretches all the way to the 19th century, when a church was first built here.

Since then, several church buildings have been erected on this spot; sadly, each met an untimely end, destroyed by storms or fires. The most recent incarnation of the Bethel Church succumbed to fire in 2005. The fire gutted the church building while leaving the exterior intact. The City of Houston took it over and turned it into a park.

What you'll find inside the church building now is a small enclosed green space with stone benches to sit on - or, if you're a baby, to climb onto and balance on perilously! The stained glass windows are simply gorgeous, and it's fun to find the multicolored shadow patterns they leave on the ground. Because it's enclosed, little ones can explore safely while you keep an eye on them from a bench.

As you can see above, the space is nicely shaded if you visit in the morning; in the afternoon, shade is minimal.

Okay, now for the downsides. The park is only open 10AM-5PM, and it's sometimes padlocked shut even during those alleged opening hours. So you might be relegated to peeking inside through the gates.

There is a green space surrounded by paths next to the actual church site (like a large front yard). This is always open and shaded, so in theory, you could take a look at the church and then play here for a while. Sadly, this also seems to be the preferred spot for local dog owners to let their dogs loose and avoid cleaning up after them. One person actually let his dog off leash while we were visiting and denied he was doing anything wrong (while standing a few feet away from a sign stating that dogs must be kept on leash at all times...). Can you spot this hooligan in the picture below? 

Overall, our visit was clearly not perfect, but still worthwhile - this site is truly unique and fun to check out. Plus, this is a great neighborhood for a stroller walk, with views of downtown, quaint streets, and Buffalo Bayou trails just a few minutes away!

If you go:

  • Address: 801 Andrews St, Houston, TX 77019
  • Parking: Street parking is free but limited. I was able to park right by the church both times I visited, but it's possible you may have to park a couple of blocks away. 
  • Hours: Allegedly 10AM-5PM