Hello Parenting World: Pregnant? Have a newborn? Lean and Agile tips to save your sanity

It seems fitting and perhaps cliché that my first blog as I emerge from the great hibernation that is parental leave is about Lean and Agile parenting.
Ha! Irony! No sleep was part of it!

But it makes sense: I love Lean and Agile and I am now part of the parent cult. That makes two cults! Plus, what is a better test of these methods than some real life situations? Some would argue it is one of the most important life situations ever.

Zombies, but happy Zombies

My goal for this article is to share four methods to start you off, that I used as a new parent to not lose my mind [read as: to not completely lose my mind]. This is inspired by my professional experience of 10 years using the Agile and Lean mindset and methodologies and will hopefully help spare you some of the learning curve.

Quick Intro to Agile and Lean for the N00bs (or skip to next section)

It is not necessary to understand the A-Z of Agile nor Lean to implement them. In fact, that is more fitting with their spirit. But still an overview may help you.

Agile is a mindset and a methodology usually used in the production of software, where you iteratively build, test and adapt. There is a great emphasis on communication, autonomy and team empowerment. Here is the mother doctrine.

Lean, which is known for one of its most famous flavors, Lean Startup, is a methodology where proven business demand drives production. Simply put, we first provide an inexpensive carrot to see if the horse will even come before investing in the cart or the stable. Or, better yet, we make a fake carrot out of free trash laying around. Yum.

Thank you stock image contributors and your wackiness. #blessed Source Alexas Photos

Like Agile, Lean favors iteration, feedback and adjustment, which is called validated learning. But, there is even more emphasis on austere methods and cutting waste: limiting money spent, automation and scaling before proven viability.

Lesson 1: Your baby and the parent in you are the great unknown so put away the crystal ball

Agile and Lean are great for complex situations and that is why they were developed. What could be more complex than bringing a new being into the world? It is the equivalent of the longest and most important blind date.

Your baby could be chill, a crier or love sports, despite them being primarily constructed of pizza while you were pregnant. Babies and family situations come in all forms. Forget your baby being the unknown… especially, if this is your first rodeo, you as a parent are the great unknown.

So taking a page from the Lean handbook:

Wait til you see the ‘demand’ until you invest.

No, I am not talking about deciding to throw the baby out if you do not like it (along with the bath water). Keep the child, that is one good sunken cost.

You are next kid. Source Henley Design Studio

I suggest to buy the absolute minimum. Then wait and see what your baby’s personality is and how you emerge as a parent before investing in all that baby paraphernalia. Do no listen to those Facebook ads, even if they know all your personal desires.

Buy a couple test items or better yet, borrow them and then see how your baby reacts before you pull the purchase trigger. If it makes you feel better, you can bookmark items and keep them ready to buy once a proven need arises. Though be careful to not go overboard because what is hot now may not be a few months later. Hello, Nose Frida.

Learn from my mistake: Carried Away

We did pretty good at resisting filling the house pre-baby. I did though have four baby carriers… of all the types… for one baby.  As surely my child would love being worn!

“Mooooom… you are smothering me” O.G. Attachment Parenting Source SeoulInspired

Four carriers, for my daughter, who came out 55cm (21.6 inches or 100th percentile) after 58 hours of labor. My mom only ever did seven hours max, so I was not expecting it. My back was destroyed. On top of it, my daughter was born during a heatwave.

My baby hated baby wearing. We tried our hardest for three months. Three of our carriers have gone unused. We now primarily use a stroller. The end.

How to apply this lesson

Golden rule: The bigger the investment (money or space) the more time you should wait to purchase, and if possible, find other ways to test the need.

For example, renting cloth diapers from a local service before investing in any one brand.

I suggest you make a list of must-haves in the final two months or four months, if at risk of premature birth. Buy these items and then stop searching for more until the baby is born. I suggest to wait until last trimester as you may have some indicators of your baby’s size.

Plus, let’s be honest, if you live in a city, you can run down to your local store or order on the internet and get almost anything within hours. The cost to store, move around and potentially overbuy rarely validates the savings of prebuying.

Example list

First start with a goal. Setting a goal can keep yourself in check and edit your list. Because afterall, who watches the Watchman?

Example Goal: Baby warm, safe and can be laid down to sleep and transported. Mama can recuperate asap.

  • Five outfits in newborn size or one month size, depending on last sonogram
  • 10 outfits and 5 pajamas in 0-3 months size – This, in my case, came into use pretty quickly due to her unexpected size
  • A sleep solution. I chose a cosleeper.
  • Aftercare items for mama
  • If you decide to breastfeed: Breastfeeding bras, bra pads and a long pillow for breastfeeding. I used my maternity pillow so did not buy another. I also went naked the first week… so no bras necessary right away.
  • Two swaddles or blankets
  • One baby hat
  • Three pairs of socks that can also be put on hands as mittens
  • One baby carrier, stroller or way to transport baby
  • Car seat for those with cars, to get back from hospital at minimum. You may also rent a taxi with a car seat or rent a car seat.
  • Thermometer and infant fever/pain medicine in case of fever the first nights back home
  • Optional: One bag of disposable diapers newborn size and wipes

Afterwards you will get most of what you need from the hospital [Sorry home birthers] and for those with family nearby or a partner, they can run out and supplement once you understand the baby: Diaper size, does breastfeeding work for you or do you now need a bottle and formula for home, etc.

Or perhaps, you will find you need to purchase a pacifier as the baby is not quite so happy to be on dry land.

Lesson 2: Scale only after proven need, just start iterating

This is similar to the last point but warrants its own mention.

OK, great you know more about your child and your needs… NOW it is time to buy ALL the things. Right?

Nope, nice try Captain Capitalism.

What you get when you search capitalism in a stock image site. LOL Source Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke

I suggest you encourage the mindset of lean and minimalism by:

Only advance down the rabbit hole, as you see that your demand deepens.

For example: OK, you now see that breastfeeding works for you. Still, you should resist buying a wardrobe for the next year, including that snazzy breastfeeding friendly ballgown for your work Christmas party. Instead, buy some tops to get you through the next month of current weather.

Start with a hypothesis of your needs evolving every month, and check back in later to see.

  1. Does [fill in blank ex: breastfeeding] still serve us?
  2. Do we have any unmet needs?
  3. What could the solutions be? Are there any solutions that do not require purchasing?
  4. Decide and Implement
  5. Repeat Cycle

For example, due to health issues I was not able to breastfeed longer than 5.5 months. Good thing I did not invest in a portable pump for work! Nor that ballgown… #postpartumWeight

Lesson 3: Data is queen: Create a measurable feedback loop

Trust me you will most likely have only two neurons to rub together after the birth.

So grab one of the many free apps and start tracking a couple things. Or use a notebook, but I found an app was good to synchronize easily with my husband. I used Baby Daybook. I started with a core set of categories, but then slowly started dropping those that no longer were needed. Accruing and maintaining information for no reason is not good either.

For example, when my daughter was newborn, we tracked:

  • Feeding amounts and times
  • Medication given to her or me and timing
  • Diapers: timing, quantity and poop/pee/both

Then four months later my app looked like:

  • Feeding amounts and times
  • Pumping amounts and times
  • Nap times and lengths

As time passed, my daughter’s digestion ability developed and her health stayed good so we were able to drop tracking medication and diapers. On the other hand, my milk supply was low, so I had to start tracking pumping. In addition, we started getting her on a schedule so sleep was key to track.

Now since she was seven months old, we track only her monthly measurements as now we are in the groove.

Note: There is a saying that: When the data is actually useful you often do not have it. So, you must project and starting accruing for “Future You”’s needs. That being said, luckily and unluckily for you, your baby will have very short cycles of change, so no worries, if you did not track exactly everything you need from the start.

See a need? Gather 2-3 days of data and you can usually make a pretty good hypothesis to advance.

Lesson Four: One hypothesis at a time

It will not always be possible to boil your mysterious bundle of joy into a scientific hypothesis. No matter how hard you try!

Sorry for the disturbing mental image of baby stew. Seriously, if not for your own sanity, I suggest to only change one thing at a time and wait a cycle before adapting.

In addition, I suggest if you co-parent to be on the same page as your partner on what you are testing/changing and why. This includes other caretakers.

“Oh, sorry honey I thought you meant I needed to eat the child not give her more to eat. Silly me.”

Yum, baby stew.

Enjoy the ride (it is a flume down a very high waterfall into river of tears… and rainbows!)

I have more to share but will leave it at that for now. Parenthood can be an extremely complex, emotional and primal experience. The more you can approach it in an methodological Lean and Agile way, yet stay open-minded, the better. This could save you some tears, energy and money. But there will still be tears, trust me.

Perhaps you can use that to measure your progress? +1 for less tears?

Pretty much sums up parenthood. Source Tatyana Kazakova

Until next time, drop me a comment if you enjoyed or hated this article. Please share with me your own learnings and experiments as a parent.

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.

  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.

  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.

Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo
Translation: American Flowers in Paris

First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.

While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris.  It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share.  So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often.  But we might as well get started.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

Now where were we? Season 3, looking back at the archive.  I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.

Austin is in a new job.  We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood.  We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013
Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.

Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.

Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.

And of course we love Paris more than ever.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)
Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.

After School Special

What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.

EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121: Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.
Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!

Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.

Until the next post – S

 

 

The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. 🙂

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine
Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein

    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.
  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math
    Digestif aftermath
  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?

Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S