The seventh and final day of the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge has arrived!  The challenge's host, Dirty Diaper Laundry, will be giving surveys to the nearly 500 participants and donating $1 for each response up to $200.  And Kelly's Closet will match that amount, to benefit cloth diaper education and support.
Sunshine knows exactly what to do with a flat diaper

I got a lot of pushback from friends, family and even total strangers when I announced I would be participating in this event.  Friends and family barely even understood why I would possibly want to dispense with the convenience of disposables (even for the cost savings), and certainly couldn't figure out why I would bother giving up the further convenience of a washing machine.  Strangers insisted that cloth diapering could never be practical for low-income families because the upfront costs are so high.

It has been the insistence of strangers that cloth is too expensive that really confirmed that I was making the right choice by participating in this challenge, and that it wasn't just a stupid look-what-I-can-do stunt.  The Flats Challenge got started last year when an article revealed that reusing or prolonging the use of soiled disposables was becoming a more common practice in low-income families due to the costs of diapers.  And while fellow challengers and I insisted that diapers could be washed without a machine, and that flats and covers can also be purchased cheaply (my six-pack of flats that has been the bulk of my stash this past week cost only about 50% more than the smallest package - three to four days worth for Sunshine - of generic disposables) or made for free from found materials, skeptics continued to insist that you couldn't start out with less than the full "starter packages" from online stores or the all-in-one style diapers.

Well, I did it.  So did others.  So there!  And I only laid out $26 plus tax - and I only spent that much because I used almost exclusively store-bought flats and splurged on a premium hemp flat and new materials for a bucket washer.  But I also showed that an old undershirt makes a perfectly good diaper, even for overnight heavy wetters (that's what Sunshine wore last night; both the T-shirt and the hemp/bargain combo from the previous night completely held in all leaks).  The fact I already had a Snappi saved me some money; the fact I already had cloth wipes wasn't much of a savings - any old rags work for those. 

But really, if you can buy one pack of 'sposies you can buy enough cloth to get started.  And then the next week, you can buy a few more diapers to ease some of the washing urgency.  And the week after that, you can buy a nicer PUL cover, or whatever you want.  It's just a matter of short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.

It wasn't a perfect week.  Yesterday, Sunshine landed in a 'sposie because her grandmother couldn't figure out the cover and used a diaper from the stash she bought for visiting grandkids instead.  And as I've said before, Pippin didn't really use flats at all and had to use his regular pull-ups a couple of times.

And even after a week, we aren't perfect at using flats.  Between my husband and I, we made a few mistakes partook of some learning experiences.

Such as discovering the importance of  folding in any excess breadth of the "wings" when fastening the diaper...

...or making sure that the last bit of water in the washbucket is directed away from oneself when emptying it.

But mostly, this week just emphasized my opinion that the expensive and fancy cloth diapers are not necessarily better than the cheap ones.  When one looks at washability and convenience, you rarely see one increase save at the expense of the other.  The more convenient (and thus more expensive) diapers, like pockets and all-in-ones, tend not to wash as well as the diapers of simpler construction.  If you have to get diapers on a tight budget, you'll end up with ones that wash really well and don't function any more poorly than the expensive ones.

To me, convenience is largely (but not completely) an illusion of the familiar.  That which is strange will always seem much more inconvenient than it really is.  Cloth seemed inconvenient to me until I actually tried it.  Now it's just part of our routine.  Flats and prefolds likewise seemed inconvenient before I made an honest effort to incorporate them into regular use.  Once I did, I discovered that washability was much more valuable to me than the few seconds I saved by not folding the diapers before use.  That's why they will remain a prominent part of my stash.

My opinions on flats aren't the only ones!  Check out some others with the links below:

The sixth day of the Flats and Handwashing Challenge is upon us! That means the second of these annual challenges hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry has only one more day. On Monday, I could actually start washing my diapers by machine again and get my flat diapers out. If I wanted to, that is...

Today is Open Topic day, so I wanted to discuss in detail how I've been fitting Pippin into the challenge. Technically, he's not actually signed up. Partly because I was afraid I'd be forced to switch back to his cloth pull-ups before the end of the week, and mostly because I never did come up with a viable way to use flats on a chunky three-year-old potty-trainer. But I decided that the things which best fit the spirit of the challenge were plain old-fashioned briefs.

Yes, I probably could have stuffed pad-folded flats into them. Or I could have found a waterproof cover of some sort and used flats in that. But Pippin, at the start of the week, was handling every aspect of using the potty - except the part where he took the initiative to stop what he was doing and actually use it. I didn't want to frustrate him with a diaper that didn't slide up and on, and I thought expecting him to keep a flat stuffed into his underwear while taking it on and off was unrealistic. Besides, I hoped that soaking his pants every now and then would be a good incentive to start learning responsibility for recognizing when he needs to go potty.

This was a prominent feature of Day Two.
The second day was bad. Really bad. I'd just gotten the bucket washer filled and ready for washing when there was a massive Code Brown in the living room. I'd just put Pippin in new clean shorts, too - he'd been running around in just briefs after the morning's wet accident. Once I'd cleaned it up, everything went in the washer. And as soon as I'd finished that washload and took the clean diapers down to hang up, there was another Code Brown. At least that was on a hard surface. By the end of the day, I felt like this was a better use for my bucket...

...only I would have loaded Pippin into it other end first

You might have noticed that my Day Three diaper bag had a cloth pull-up in it. We took the kids over to see their grandparents for lunch and didn't dare risk a repeat of Day Two at their house. But he kept it completely dry, and so I haven't actually handwashed it as part of the challenge because, well, it's still clean.

Since then, we haven't had any more accidents.  Yay!  His grandparents didn't even use the pull-up we provided today when they babysat the kids.  I've put up a potty chart I found for free, and we'll see how that goes.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Want to see what other flats user are blogging about?  Click below:

It's hard to believe, but it's already day five of Dirty Diaper Laundry's Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge!  That means nearly 500 participants are 71% done with a week of using flat diapers and washing them by hand.

It's been quite a learning experience.  For one thing, I've learned that a single hemp flat is almost absorbent enough to handle my heavy wetter overnight.  I missed updating yesterday - even getting her up right away let the diaper bag fold leak enough to send the crib sheets back to the washer, but not as much as on Day Two.  I suspect the issue is the very loose leg cuffs of her soaker more than anything else.  Last night, we added a bargain flat in the jelly roll... but my husband forgot to use the wool soaker instead of a PUL cover, so the experiment continues...

Using the hemp diaper overnight also results in a lot less ammonia stink in the mornings compared to the prefold that was Sunshine's regular routine.  And for some reason, I'm noticing a lot less wicking onto her pajamas.  So either the hemp holds liquid better than cotton, or it's smaller bulk reduces the contact between it and the clothing.  Given that we've had some rather impressive coverage failures with the soaker (see Day Two for one of the subtler ones), and the way the soaker itself is hardly damp in the mornings, I'm inclined to think that hemp's liquid-holding capacity is a large part of this.

Other things I learned:

  • The nine minutes or so of monotonous plunging with the bucket washer go a lot faster if you practice reciting something you are committing to memory.  For instance, I'm trying to memorize the book of James.  In the King James Version.  The nearly two chapters I've completed take just about nine minutes.  If Bible memorization isn't your thing, there are some lovely long Shakespearean soliloquies.  Or some stirring poetry, like Lepanto.
  • It's much easier to move the plunger around if there are several inches of water over your diapers in the bucket.  For instance, this load needed water to within 2-3 inches of the bucket rim:
  • Something about this week has really been excellent for Sunshine's skin.  The rash we've been battling for weeks started clearing up the first day, and is now all but gone.  Maybe she was sensitive to the stay-dry fleeces and microsuedes that are usually against her skin, or maybe my old detergent was irritating her.  After we finish up the challenge, I'm going to continue with just flats and prefolds in the old detergent.  If the rash flares back up, I'll know what it is.
  • The birdseye flats (we're not supposed to name brand names for this challenge) that you can get at big box stores are both quantitatively (in dimensions) and qualitatively (in absorbency) inferior to brands of flats you can get at a specialty cloth diaper retailer.  You can see the size difference in the picture below (the bleached bargain flat is nearly as small as the prefold hanging to the left).  Quality is harder to photograph, but in person it's very easy to see how much looser the weave is on the bargain flats.  Works well for infants, but not older babies.
  • The bucket washer isn't as forgiving about the little solid specks left over from a "rear end event" as a machine washer.  Heavily soiled stuff should probably get a cursory scrub in the sink or toilet and flushed pretty well before going in the bucket. 
  • An old undershirt makes a pretty decent diaper, even for heavy wetting times.  (I want to try it overnight before the challenge ends.)  But it dries about as slowly as a prefold.
  • No matter how calm the weather has been, the wind will pick up the minute I start putting diapers on the line.
  • I will always drop something when using the clothesline.  If I'm lucky, that something will already be dry.
  • Using a chance to sit in the car makes an excellent potty reward.  Seriously, it's better than candy.
  • Knitting up a soaker takes a lot longer on US 7 needles than US 8 needles.  At this rate, I estimate I'll be done about the time the challenge ends.

There's eighty-some other bloggers participating in this, and they're learning lots too!  Click on the links below to find out what:
The Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry is now on day four!  Do you know what that means?  It means that it's halfway done!  Nearly 500 participants including myself have committed to give their regular diapers and their washing machines a rest for the whole week.

You may be wondering what I am doing to give my washer it's much-needed vacation.  To answer that, I'd like to title today's post:

I Haz A Bucket

That's right: I made myself a camp-style bucket washer.  It only cost $8 - $4 for the plunger,1 $3 for a five-gallon bucket, and $1 for the bucket lid.  You can buy a specialized agitator (i.e. fancy schmancy plunger) from Amazon for $22, but I'm not sure why you would.  I assume it's a bit less floppy and more durable, but I can't see how that is worth an extra $18.

One of the great things about a bucket washer is its play value.  The components are good for:

and peek-a-boo.
Hide and seek,
rolling it around,

Once I pried the components away from the kids and made them cry, I grabbed a drill, a 1 1/4" hole cutter and a 3/4" bit.  (DDL's tutorial recommended a 1" bit for the bucket lid, but A) I didn't have one and B) my plunger turned out to have a wider handle than hers.)  I also used an empty box to keep the drill from accidentally scratching the floor.

 Some of the holes in the plunger remained attached on one side, but a utility knife took care of those easily.  And ten minutes later... VOILÁ!
It's great because it also doubles as a wet-2 or dry-pail for storing the dirties.  My wash routine happens about once a day and consists of a cold soak with two minutes of agitation, then a hot wash with a healthy squirt of dish soap (not too healthy, though, or you'll end up doing about twelve rinses like I did my first time) with five minutes of agitation, followed by a warm rinse and two more minutes with the plunger.  If the water doesn't run clear and suds-free, I get to repeat the third step.  It's a great biceps workout, and good for doing a bunch of diapers at once.  If you're lucky, you might even have some helpers to spell you on the plunger.

If you're luckier than I, your helpers will actually be helpful.
The bucket washer is working great for the most part.  But it's not getting out the lanolin that I've been using for ointment like my washing machine would.

See?  Lanolin smears.
So I needed to strip the three diapers with the worst spots.  One was Sunshine's overnight hemp diaper, so I had to wash it out before starting the stripping process.  Not wanting to use the bucket for just one diaper, I thought I'd try handwashing it in the sink.

It was surprisingly easy and relatively quick; the main drawback being that one's hands have to be in contact with the uncomfortably hot water.  I don't think I'd want to do a bunch at a time, though.  And like bucket washing, sink washing is also fun for the whole family.

I decided to strip the diapers using the same method by which I prepped them.  (Prepping natural fiber diapers to remove the oils that impede absorbency normally takes six or so hot machine washes, and I didn't think my biceps would be up to repeating that process in a bucket washer.)  I filled my 8-qt stockpot with water, brought it to a boil, and added a squirt of dish soap.  Then I tucked in my diapers (I wouldn't put more than four in my stockpot) and boiled for ten minutes.  It turned out to be much faster than by machine.  So long as the diapers stand up to boiling, like flats or prefolds, I will continue to prep them by this method, even after the Challenge is over.  It is A Better Way.

Once the prep/strip is over, I rinsed and wrung out the diapers and went to hang them on the line.  Line-drying has actually been one of the more challenging aspects of this week.  Mostly because every time I hang out some diapers, this happens:

I also manage to break a clothespin each load.  I have now learned an important lesson about how leaving plastic clothespins outside between uses allows the UV rays to weaken the integrity of the plastic.  But it's not all bad; I have help with the drying too.

I'm getting my cotton flats to dry in two hours or less, under calm conditions, which is pretty neat.  The 30 mph winds (did I mention line-drying has been challenging?) we had yesterday let the hemp flat dry in that time too.

While drying, the diapers also make an excellent playhouse.

1. It should be noted that I didn't have to spend money on the plunger.  We already had a used one.  My initial reaction was, "Ewwww!  I can't use something that's been in the toilet to clean my diapers!"  But by the time I'd bought the new plunger, I'd realized that since the diapers are covered in toilet contents anyway (not to mention the toilet is where the solid bits are swished off), that it didn't matter where the plunger had been.  But I decided I liked the grip on the new plunger's handle too much to bother taking it back to the store.

2. If used as a wet pail, the lid must be fastened securely for safety reasons.

Click the links to see how other bloggers are giving their washers a break too:
Dirty Diaper Laundry's Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge is now on day three of seven!  I'm using only flat diapers and washing them all by hand, along with nearly 500 other participants.  Why, you ask?  Because I can!  And, more importantly, to prove that you can too, and so can other parents who think they can't afford or wash cloth diapers.  Dirty Diaper Laundry and Kelly's Closet are each going to donate $1 to a cloth diaper charity for every participant (up to 200) who successfully makes it through the whole week.

This week gave me an opportunity to try a new fold.  Back when Sunshine was a newborn, I just used the "jelly roll" (aka origami) fold.  It was easy to fold the diapers in quarters, store them by the changing table, and complete the fold just before slapping it on her bottom.

The jelly roll fold looked really complicated to me.  All the diagrams made about as much sense as Sanskrit when I stared at them.  But once I actually started folding along with the pictures and videos, it only took me two or three attempts before I felt I was on top of the learning curve.

I'd rather planned on just sticking with the fold I knew for this week.  But in preparation for the Challenge, a local baby boutique invited interested participants for a flat diaper info session.  And thus I was introduced to the diaper bag fold.

The diaper bag fold has two main advantages.  The biggest one is that it creates a pad with about twelve layers of material right in the front wetness zone.  In contrast, the jelly roll fold has only eight layers in the pad, unless you roll the pad over more than twice.  This makes it excellent for heavy front wetters, like boys or tummy-sleepers.  (Yes, back is best... up until the child is old enough to flip herself over and pick her own sleeping position.)  The other plus is that it isn't floppy like the jelly roll fold, and tucks pretty neatly into a wetbag.  A minor advantage is that it works equally well with flats that are slightly rectangular, whereas the jelly roll fold gets a bit sloppy.  I think it's a bit neater to wear as well - it's got fewer dangly ends.

Flats in a hobo-style diaper bag.  On the right are wipes.
On the left, from back to front, are two diaper bag folded flats,
one PUL cover (green), one waterproof cloth trainer (cream)
and spare outfits for both children.

The disadvantages are that it's a pain to assemble in the middle of a diaper change, so it takes more time upfront to fold them fully as you take in your laundry; you can't just slap two folds together and call it done.  (I think the overall folding time is pretty equal; it's just a matter of when you want to spend the time to do it.)  And since all the layers land in the front, that means the back is pretty thinly padded.  So in retrospect, it probably wouldn't have been a good choice for Sunshine as an infant, because she's always flood the back of her diaper while back-sleeping.

By the way, for those who have actually been following this, Sunshine was back in a jelly roll fold in the hemp last night.  We got her up right away, and there was only a little drip of wetness on the bed - not even worth changing.  This says to me that the real problem is her soaker - the pattern called for much wider leg cuffs than I usually do, and it's gapping significantly.  I'm betting she wet again after waking and standing up yesterday and it just ran out.  So we're trying the diaper bag fold again in the hemp tonight.  If it works, I'll call the hemp sufficient and both folds acceptable... and then add a second bargain flat as a pad as a precaution until I can get the cuffs fixed.

The diaper bag fold.  See how trim it is?
Even if I'm actually using a ratty undershirt
instead of an actual square flat.

I'm curious what other bloggers are doing with their diapers.  Aren't you?  Check the links below:
This is day two of the seven day Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  I dared to used only flat diapers and hand-powered washing methods for a whole week, and so did nearly 500 others.

Today was a little tough.  Sunshine's hemp flat didn't repeat yesterday's amazing performance and she woke up with leaks.  It's too soon yet to say what happened.  Maybe the lanolin is getting a bit thin on her soaker.  Perhaps the diaper bag fold that I tried last night didn't absorb as well as the "jelly-roll" (aka origami) fold I usually use.  Possibly she wet more because I wasn't able to get her up immediately this morning like I did yesterday.  Or it could be the fact that her soaker slipped down and the hemp was exposed.

Other things that made today tough included back-to-back Code Browns from Pippin the Potty-Trainer.  He's not technically signed up for the challenge, since I figured he'd object to traditional diapers, but we ditched the waterproof Gro-Via pull-ups he normally wears in favor of handwashable jockey shorts.  We were hoping they might also speed up potty training, but that's been a vain hope so far.  But since the other thing I routinely use my flats for is household clean-up, we went through most of my stash in slightly under two hours.

This is what nine big box store bleached flats, four unbleached cotton boutique flats, one hemp flat, one prefold, two PUL covers, six wipes and four jockey shorts look like on a ten-foot line
The second Code Brown actually happened as I was hanging these on the line.  Talk about timing.  Ugh.  That is currently soaking and waiting for my morale to reset.

Since most of my stash for this week is pictured above, I thought it was a perfect lead-in to today's topic: Supplies.

For this week, I've assembled (prices shown for recent purchases) :
  • A six-pack of unbleached cotton flats from my local baby boutique store ($10)
  • Ten cheap bleached cotton birdseye flats from a big box store that I bought when Pippin was a newborn
  • A hemp flat for overnights, also from the baby boutique ($8)
  • Three PUL covers
  • Three AI2 shells, just in case
  • A Snappi
  • A bunch of wipes, mostly homemade terry/flannel assemblies in both 8"x8" and 4"x8" sizes
  • Fleece liners (just in case - I don't expect to need them)
  • A pack of jockey shorts ($7)
  • A wool soaker, adapted from the Bubble Bum Baby Bloomers pattern
  • A Curly Purly Soaker in progress (I didn't find my circular needles until yesterday)
  • A diaper sprayer
  • A bucket washer ($8 for a bucket and plunger)
  • Dish detergent for washing

 Other supplies:
  • Moistening solution for wipes, in the perio bottle I took home from the hospital for postpartum personal care.  I use glycerin soap bits, but water works in a pinch
  • Diaper ointment (Sunshine had a rash flare-up last week) - the lanolin treats rashes AND waterproofs my woolies
  • The prefold, Snappi, and wool shorties Pippin still wears at night.  I wasn't going to buy toddler-sized flats just for this when he stays dry through the night 90% of the time anyway
 Want to see what others are using this week?  Check out the links below:

I decided to participate in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  It's a seven-day challenge wherein I and nearly 500 others have pledged to use only flat-style diapers and wash them with only self-powered methods.  The purpose is to prove that cloth diapering is practical and accessible for all, not just those with a washing machine or a large chunk of money to invest in the initial stash.

I've been really excited about the Flats Challenge 2012.  I wasn't able to participate last year because I heard about it too late.  But this year, I'd already been pondering the idea of switching my little Sunshine over to more flats and/or prefolds because of some rash issues.  (The cotton has always seemed more soothing than the stay-dry layers of most pocket diapers, and wool covers breathe better than anything.)

I'd tried flats on her as a newborn, and I really loved them, but they were the ultra cheap bargain brand you can get at any big box store and didn't have the absorbency or width to keep up with her after about four months.  So I was a little leery of trying a new brand of flats.  But some other cloth-loving mamas I found online advised me that other brands were, in fact, much better.  And the challenge was motivation enough to send me to the store to test out that theory.

Isn't it sweet?  Even the cat helped me fold the flats!

I picked up a six-pack of unbleached cotton flats and a single hemp flat for overnights.  (I still have a bunch of the cheap ones for emergencies if need be.)  Last night, Sunshine got wrapped in her first flat and went to bed in her wool soaker.

Previously, her nighttime diaper was a premium size cotton prefold with that same  (or one of two others) wool cover.  And it would be soaked and stinking in the morning, and even the woolies would feel damp most days.  So I was really skeptical that a single thin sheet of hemp would suffice.  My one consolation was that it would be laundry day anyway today so I could throw the soaked crib bedding in the washer easily.  But this morning...

Wonder of wonders!
Miracle of miracles!
I was afraid the crib would drown.
But after a night in hemp upon my little one
Naught was yellow nor was brown!

 Not stinky!  No leaks!  And the hemp wasn't even fully saturated!  And even better, the horrid diaper rash that flared up again last week and would not go away is noticeably better.

So I'm totally jazzed about the rest of the week.  I can't wait to see how little Sunshine does!  I've got the changing table all ready.  It looks pretty bare with just covers, wipes, and the few flats I have on the top.  (And if Sunshine takes it into her head to open up the bottom where all the prefolds and pocket diapers are jammed, we're going to have some serious diaper confetti.)

Wish me luck!

Happy Mothers' Day!

Mothers' Day.  What a wonderful day to kick off a new mommy blog!  I've had this blog smoldering inside of me for a while.  I can only babble away at my wonderful husband for so long before he starts to glaze over, so I thought I'd set out to find a new channel for my musings in order to spare his ears a bit.  Mothers' Day just seemed like the perfect day to start.  If you're brave enough to start out this blogging journey with me, please excuse the atmosphere for a while.  As so often happens, inspiration settled on me sporadically and coalesced into content first, while a a coherent concept for the design has yet to bloom.

If you've stuck with my ramblings so far, thanks.  And if you're a grammar purist, you've probably also noticed that I've been putting my apostrophes for Mothers' Day in the wrong place and are getting tempted to write me off as another careless writer.  But I've actually been intentionally altering the spelling.

Though Anna Jarvis, who founded Mother's Day in 1914, was quite specific in her desire that it should be a singular possessive so that for each family it was only about their mother, I find that to be much too narrow a focus.  I don't want to be placed on a pedestal for being a good mom to my kids because when I mother well, I'm really just doing my job.  I find it embarrassing and a little degrading to be honored for doing the things I was supposed to be doing anyway.

Mothering is truly a divine calling.  It is at once both glorious and mundane; very few individual tasks we mothers pull off are actually miraculous, yet the whole of them add up into the most wondrous of accomplishments: guiding small, inchoate souls on a path to maturity.  And none of us are actually up to such an enormous undertaking. 

But the real beauty of motherhood, the wonderful part that we celebrate is that we continue to grasp for that sacred goal despite our failings.  I'm not finished walking this road yet.  Which is another reason I find it ridiculous to be celebrated for doing something I've not even completed.  Anna Jarvis may have had no such reservations, since her mother passed away before she began campaigning to have a Mother's Day.  But I'm not dead yet, and until that time, as we all know, a mother's work is never done.

So instead of celebrating individual mothers, let us celebrate all of them at once with a Mothers' Day.  Let us pick up this glorious calling out of the mess of dirty diapers, grass-stained pants and endless litter of Cheerios where we so often lose our focus, and hold motherhood - not the trivial daily chores of it but the real goal of this undertaking  - up to the sunlight to sparkle and shine and remind us what we are striving toward.  Let a Mothers' Day be a time when families step up, and, instead of offering mere Hallmark gratitude for the things that are past, cheer our moms on for the journey ahead and remind them of the worth and indispensability of the pilgrimage.

The apostle Paul refused to be exalted by his many followers.  "What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants.... I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1 Cor 3:5-7)  Paul knew that we are not made great ourselves by the tasks given to us; we only appear to do great things because a great power is given for great tasks.

It isn't I who is inspirational, not I who should be raised up today because of some amazing mothering ability.  Mothering inspires me, and because of that I can dare to do amazing things.