Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Magic of a Photo Shoot

In general, I don't like paying someone else to do something that I could do (or learn to do) myself, provided there's not too much risk of bodily harm, excessive damage to property, or huge drains on my money or time.  For most of my life, I've felt that way about paying a photographer.

The only time I'd paid someone to take my picture was at my wedding, and I tried to get Tori to agree to have one of my aspiring photographer friends in college do it on the cheap.  No dice.  We paid lots of money, and got nice photos...fine.

Well now many of those aspiring college friends have their own successful businesses, and don't work on the cheap anymore.  And now that we have a baby, Tori really wanted to do a photo shoot with her as a little one.  Though we just bought and are learning to use our own DSLR camera, I agreed to hire our friend Ali, knowing that she does take MUCH better pictures than either of us can, and that way we can both be in them.  Really, those were the only two things I could think of to justify paying someone to take our pictures.

First of all, check out Ali's work on her website: Alisandra Photography.  She's awesome.

Both of my assumptions were true, but a tripod can let us all be in the picture, too.  The reason you should hire Ali for a photo shoot like that is the atmosphere she created in order to get those pictures, and the details you would never think to pay attention to.

Ali lived at our house for a few weeks when we first bought it, while doing an internship in town.  In my mind, that means she knows how to drive there (in actuality, I ended up texting her my address).  In reality, it meant she knew how the house has good natural light in the morning, and wanted to make sure we shot early in the day.

I always hold Fiona with my left arm.  Doing the opposite is like brushing your teeth with the other hand.  But in this picture, Ali had me switch Fiona's direction, to get better light on her face:

Tori and I had a few ideas of photos we wanted to try, like laying on an open book:

What you don't know is, Fiona was not a peaceful little lovely angel for this whole book session.  Books are not soft and fluffy, like everything else in a baby's life, and she wasn't pleased about being on one.  But Ali masterfully captured the milliseconds of pleasant peaceful little angel, and made that look easy.

And laying on the piano while I play:

This was my favorite part of the morning.  They put her up on top just right, and she thankfully stayed asleep.  Ali draped the blanket to create a better shot, and just had me start playing.  I started out playing what was in front of me, but ended up improvising on hymn tunes, with the faint 'click' of a camera shutter punctuating the music.  She adjusted, she changed angles and lenses, and Fiona and I were in our moment, unaware.  That room is NOT that bright, but she knew how to make the best of the light from the window.  And when she was done, she didn't just announce that she had what she needed, she just stopped shooting, and let me finish the tune I was on, knowing that you can't leave the phrase unfinished.

She did other great things too - accommodated two well-behaved but excited dogs, stopped and let us feed Fiona before doing the last bit, and encouraged us to actually talk to each other, smile, move as we would if we weren't being photographed.  No real posing here, no "turn your head a little more, look up, hands just so" kind of crap, and the pictures show it.  And none of this even mentions all the time editing and sending a great finished product.

So I stand corrected.  It's totally worth paying a good photographer -thanks Ali!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In Appreciation of Nursing Mothers

Last night was the first time I've done any overnight feeding for the baby.  The bottle thing has been working out just fine, but since milk production sleeps for no woman, Tori has been getting up for all the overnight eating sessions.

I usually defer to Tori for the nightly plan of who's getting baby duty first, but lately she's just been doing most of the night time stuff, and I'll get up around 5:30 or 6:00...not a bad gig, really, and not all that different from when I used to teach so far from home, except that instead of driving 70 miles, I make coffee and drink it from a mug without a lid (one of my favorite simple pleasures in life).

Last night, though, I did my usual deference, and she said it would be most helpful if she could make us a bottle and go to bed, let me do one round of feeding, and then swap out the next time.  So we went for it.  Fiona and I went to sleep on the couch, baby-on-chest, around 10:30, and woke up to eat again around 1:00am.

Man, that sucks.

I don't gain full alertness quickly when I wake up.  Incidentally, that appears to be a trait I passed on, as evidenced by the myriad strange faces, sounds, hand positions, and stretches Fiona does when she wakes up:

I'd prepared for this, though, and tried to simplify the process by having the bottle right next to us.  It turned out it's not so easy.

1) Reposition self and baby. Use pillow to prop baby in case you fall asleep again.
2) Insert bottle.
3) Watch baby flail arms, hitting self in face repeatedly.  Try to block arms from knocking bottle out of mouth.
4) Baby gets pissed when bottle gets knocked out by baby's own doing.
5) Change baby when she starts falling asleep, but hasn't eaten enough yet.
6) Rinse (in milk, because baby is both drooling and mashing on the end of the bottle), repeat.

This whole process took about 30 minutes, though it felt like eternity.  I'd just gotten deep enough into sleep that it was really hard to get back out, and kept dropping the bottle.  When I changed her, I mis-snapped most of her outfit, leaving a foot dangling out and the top half open (not that I ever realized this; Tori saw and laughed at me when we changed the guard).

Anyway, through all of this I realized two things:

1) Tori has been doing this several times a night since Fiona was born.  That makes her much more awesome than I am, and than I realized.  She doesn't even miss snaps at night.

From what I hear, even when babies start sleeping all night, nursing moms still often get up to pump in the middle of the night.  I suppose that comes without the flailing and all, but it's still breaking up your sleep.  Now that I've done it once, my hat's off to you.  I'll probably keep doing it, but the second realization I had was:

2) We need her to sleep all the way through the night, and soon!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Just The Two of Us

We made it!  All day with dad and daughter.

I wanted to write about it, and figured there'd be great blog post fodder from a day by ourselves, but I think I'm encouraged by how little there is to write home about.  We had bottles at the ready, and made out just fine.  There are some highlights, though...

I didn't get up with lots of time before Tori left, and she was getting ready anyway, so I didn't get dressed for the day til we were alone.  Fiona had fallen asleep, so I thought I'd try putting her in her crib long enough to throw some jeans on and maybe brush my teeth...but when I put her down, she just laid there.  Opportunity doesn't knock often, and my hair was a hot mess (it's longer than I've had it before, I have to start noticing at some point)...so inspiration struck.

I slid the crib right into the bathroom doorway, where I could lean out of the shower and check on her.  But she just laid there sleeping, for maybe the third time ever.  She woke up and started crying as I was fastening my belt afterwards...perfect timing to start a great day.

We made a trip to church for a meeting, went to school and did some paperwork I forgot to do the day before, stopped at the bank, and did everything without any major incident.  I took a break and fed her in a computer lab at school, and changed her in the music room office, as well as in the back seat of the car, but it all worked out just fine.

I got relatively little "done," but that's par for the course, and more importantly, I had a good time toting a baby around, and Tori got to get out of the house.  It was good training for when she goes back to work.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I originally intended this blog to be more focused on my experience as a father/musician/teacher, but it's quickly shifted all of its attention onto my daughter.  I guess that's a fair model of how life has been for the last five weeks, but it's still useful for me, and hopefully insightful for you, to take stock of my own goings-on:

I've barely even brought it up, but I did end up finding a new high school choral job, but it's part-time.  For now, that's working, because I can stay up until 2am on a weeknight and still be able to function when my work day is smaller...we'll see what happens long term.  I may have a post or two just about my school, because while it's a small job, it's an incredible place to teach, and I love what I get to do there.

I only work three days a week, and not full ones at that.  So when we talked about my career path for the fall, I wanted to maintain connections and involvement in the local music scene, keeping myself sharp, staying in others' minds to get gigs, etc.  So I have quite a lot going on, musically speaking:

  • Giving private voice lessons out of our house (looking for a couple more students if you know someone!)
  • singing with James River Singers, an auditioned chamber choir
  • forming a Richmond area a cappella group
  • finishing a Master's degree in Music Education
  • singing in the Faculty Lounge Lizards, a band made of my school's staff
  • playing music at my church
  • taking infrequent performing opportunities at local churches

My youngest student.

Has fatherhood changed me? Sure, but I don't think I know many of the ways yet.  I can say it's given me both a newfound capacity for love, and a greater awareness of my selfishness. Sometimes I can't make her calm and satisfied, and while she hopefully won't writhe and scream continuously about it when she's a teenager, that is probably a permanent limitation of fatherhood.  The good thing about it, especially now, is that it reminds me that I can't do this alone.  Tori and I are flawed, have limits to our patience, experience, and abilities, and we need to know that God loves Fiona, too, and ultimately will provide for her needs, whether through us or not.  So that's cool.

I'm also a lot less emotionally stable.  I attribute at least part of this to our weird sleep patterns.  I've cried watching a movie, and even a movie trailer.  Fairly mundane setbacks will send me into about 30 minutes of utter despair before I realize that life has, in fact, gone on.  Basically, I'm either on top of the world, or life is not worth living, most of the time, and usually several of each in a given day.

This trailer gets me every time...it's been my favorite book since 7th grade, can't wait to see the new film version!

This post took 3 days to write, because you can't do anything with a baby.  More on that in my next one, should it ever get written.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Bottles

I don't like milk.

My oldest memory of milk is from when I was 4 years old at day-care with my first friend, Kyle.  I hated milk and he hated applesauce, and one day those were the two offerings at snack time.  We each sat defiantly at our place after everyone left, refusing to submit ourselves to the torture in that little bathroom cup (only years later did it occur to me that we could have secretly switched our cups, and everyone would have gone away happy).  Later, when mom used to make me drink milk, I'd come up with an excuse to go to the bathroom, conveniently bring my glass, and pour it in the toilet (that slick move worked exactly three times).  Anyway, milk is gross.

No milk will ever be "our" milk.
I think it's really cool that Tori's body just manufactures nourishment for our baby, but I wish she could somehow make bread boogers, or peanut butter earwax, or something other than milk.  Up until yesterday, though, I was removed from that part of life, so it was fine.  Like cleaning out a cloth diaper, though, I knew it was in my future, and now, the day has come.  As a result of my experience last night and today, I offer you...

Feeding Babies Breast Milk from a Bottle: Tips for Beginners:

  • Don't watch your lady pump the milk.  This is another example of a female body part you'll want fonder memories of.
  • Since it's milk, you have to refrigerate it.  But babies usually drink it warm, so you need to warm it up...so far, so good.  But here's the kicker: apparently you CAN'T MICROWAVE IT.  No idea why, but it seems really important.
    • My method right now is, microwave a coffee cup with water in it, then float the bottle in the hot water.  There must be a more efficient way.  I bet they make a bottle-warmer.
  • Have some kind of rag at the ready, this gets messy, immediately.
  • Bottles deliver the goods faster than boobs do, so I found it useful to only let her suck on it for a second or two, take it away til she swallowed, and then do it again.  Maybe it takes longer, but it seemed less likely that she'd erupt milk all over me.
  • Don't get rid of that rag too quickly - more of that crap might come up after she's done eating, even if she burped.  And it's worse when it comes back up, trust me.

Overall, I didn't really love my experience.  BUT we were successful.  And today, the bottle allowed Tori to be away from the baby and fully-clothed for a whole four hours!  So the utility of my new ability is worth the discomfort, kind of how I feel about flying.

We're gearing up for next week, when she's planning to be away for the whole day.  You can bet there'll be something to write home about from that day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One Month!

Fiona is one month old today!

There's two more pounds and another inch-and-a-half of her to love.  I would say, "that was fast," but this past month has been a bit of a timeless blur.  I've told people that our weird sleep patterns have an effect really similar to jet lag, and Tori describes it like Groundhog Day.
Fiona is a little less hairy than the groundhog; Tori is a little more so than Bill Murray.  The idea is the same.

One thing I've learned about having a baby is that people stop saying hello to you.

"Oh, Fiona's here!"
"Look at her!"

These are some examples of the words that have replaced more traditional greetings, such as "hi."

On the whole, though, I really like parenthood so far.  It's still bizarre that we are responsible for a little human life, but that task is kind of easy, really.  For those of you who, like me before Labor Day, had no real experience with tiny babies, let me clear things up for you.  If an infant needs something, it will come from this list:

-Clean clothes/diaper

The end.  Oh, and they can't hold their heads up, so you have to do that.  But really, that's all.  Can't go anywhere, can't mess with stuff, can't backtalk, they sleep 18+ hours a day, and don't even eat real food.  Give them a bath every couple of days.  There, that's my lesson on the first month.

Up until the last few days, she pretty much did not cry unless the above list was out of balance.  Now she's a bit testy...I think sometimes babies just get pissed off, like other people.

Tori and I can watch her make awesomely grotesque faces when she wakes up, make endless commentary about her gigantic farts, narrate what we assume to be her inner monologue, and mimic her weird hand positions for hours.  And we fully realize that you, dear reader, don't give a crap about any of it, so we try our best not to fill conversations with descriptions of those mundane joys of our life.  Those are joys that are relevant ONLY to the parents of a given kid.  I might make a weird face montage one day and post it on here to embarrass her later in life and to entertain you, but only if it's actually funny.

Really cute, but not funny. You don't care about the caption I might invent for this, and you don't need to see the seven other pictures taken within 2 minutes of this one.

It's awesome watching Tori being a great mom.  She's a real pro.  Being a father has changed me, I know, but I want to take a little more time to reflect on that, and it'll be the subject of another post.