Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sick Day

Bean snuggled up in his favorite blanket at Grandma and Grandpa's.  He was so in love with this blanket that we had to fly it back to the midwest with us.  He's snuggled up in it and feeling puny right now.

Bean is sick.   So my day will be all about rituals that can also help him feel better!  The first thing is tea.  He has a little two-handled mug of his own in which we brew chamomile tea.  We add honey to sweeten it, and also to help a sore throat and/or cough.  A couple ice cubes make it the right temperature for Bean.  He loves this tea, though he only drinks it when he's sick.  It helps keep him hydrated and relaxed.

Then he usually lays on the couch, snuggled up in a blanket, and watches an apalling number of videos interspersed with reading a few books and often also snuggling with The Beast or me.  This is the only time he stays still like this, and I enjoy every second of snuggling him!

We try to keep him from eating anything sugary (because sugar can irritate a sore throat), and we encourage him to avoid cow's milk (because it can increase mucus production).  He gets very sad about the milk, and will usually have a little even knowing that he might feel a little yuckier afterwards.  I let him make that choice, and generally follow his lead with whatever he wants to eat in general.  He will opt for light meals and fresh and dried fruit. 

Off to snuggle him.  I think Squeak is feeling a little under the weather, too.  All I can do for him is nurse nurse nurse.  And then use the Nose Frida.

Also, on a related note, breastmilk is considered a clear fluid.  When a stomach bug goes through the house, nursing is especially convenient and gives me peace of mind.  Breastmilk is gentle on a hurting gut, highly-nutritious in a very compact package, very high in water content to stave off dehydration, and each kid survived on it alone for a solid 6 months so I don't worry about what they're eating or not eating (or what they're keeping down).  Also, since it is medically considered a clear fluid, you can breastfeed as close to your baby/child going under anesthesia as they can have water.  Having had Squeak go under general anesthesia twice now (ugh), this has been a huge deal.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How I gave up the common notion of sleep schedules

The Beast and I are still so stunned when Squeak falls asleep not nursing, and especially when he then stays asleep not touching someone that we still often document it in photos.  Here, he is three weeks old, and just fell asleep in my arms and then stayed asleep when I put him down.  I called him a mythical baby.

First off, if you want a completely different take on healthy sleep, start with this article.

I am a schedule-oriented person.  I like to have a plan.  I like the semblance of control offered by a schedule that everyone is following.

When I was pregnant with Bean, I remembered my own sleep as a child.  And I thought "I am going to mother this baby to sleep.  I will mother it onto a schedule!"

See, I never got enough sleep as a kid.  I had so much trouble relaxing and going to sleep.  I was a real night owl!  I learned to read pretty early, and Mom would set me up reading a book in bed, telling me to turn off the light at some set time.  I would read with a flashlight under the covers past that time, and at some point in the night she'd check on me and take the book off my sleeping face.

I remember being so tired in the mornings that I was too nauseous to eat breakfast.  I remember the light burning my eyes as my mother tried to wake me up.  My eyelids were so heavy; I couldn't will them open.  My mother would dress me for school in that mostly-asleep state!

It was worse in middle school.  I was sleeping for a few hours a night during the week, and then sleeping the entire day on weekends.  As in waking up at 5PM!

In later high school I stopped sleeping late because I had no time to sleep.  Period.  I was exhausted all the time and wanted to get more sleep, but I was going to school six days a week and had some very long days rehearsing and practicing flute stuff, plus homework.

My sophomore year of college I finally started sleeping a regular schedule to see if it would help migraines.  (It did.)  And I thought to myself, "why have I never done this before?!?"

So of course my baby was going to be on a schedule.  Of course I was going to do my child the favor of teaching good sleep habits early on!

And then I met Bean and he taught me many many lessons.

I have a child who simultaneously needs and craves routine and bucks it.  He will ask me to list off what we're doing all day ("we're going home to have lunch and then what?  And after that?  And then?") - and he will remember it and hold me to it (if I forget some little thing, he will remind me - especially if it was his special request, of course).  But he also changes his mind constantly, tries to reason with me to change the order of things, etc.  Just when I think we are settling into a rhythm...it changes!

And he has always been that way.  When he was a baby, I tracked his sleep.  I watched for a pattern to emerge (it never did).  I tried to get myself on a rigid routine, hoping his rhythm would begin to fall in line with mine (it never did, and I started hallucinating from the exhaustion).  I read books to him about going to sleep and sleeping all night.  I talked incessantly about sleeping when it's dark and nursing when it's light.  We tried to night wean him with what seemed like a pretty gentle plan, and The Beast looked like he'd been mauled by a bear as a result (that was the first time I had seen Bean so angry.  He clawed at The Beast's neck and screamed until we thought he might throw up.)

Bean nearly nightweaned on his own at 19 months, and then was clearly ready for some gentle nudges to completely nightwean (except when he got teeth and then got sick) when I got pregnant with Squeak when he was 21 months old. 

He does things in his own time, and the harder we push him to stop or to start the more thorough the lack of enjoyment in the house will become.

And, thus, sleep schedules and routines around here are shape shifters!  In the realm of sleep, when we find a routine that works - that is a minimal struggle and gets every member of the household adequate sleep - we go with it.  At times, this has meant I sleep during the day on weekends - with ear plugs and a noise machine!  Right now I go to sleep pretty early with Squeak, The Beast is up pretty late with Bean, and we have to be very conscientious about having time for each other.  But it'll pass.  It will change again soon enough and we'll have some other aspect of family life that feels out of balance.  It's always something!

Also, I think I have read (or skimmed) nearly every parenting-in-regards-to-sleep book in existence.  I hardly remember any of them, though, because I was so sleep-deprived.  This is probably my favorite reading on the topic.  That article definitely helped me look at sleep completely differently and stop obsessing over the (supposed) norms.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Upcoming Bloggiversary!


A few weeks shy of a year ago, I was many weeks pregnant with Squeak, on bedrest, and decided to start this blog.  I wrote my first post on September 17, 2010 thinking I would mostly write about the changes toward healthier living that my family has made and continues to make.  I was also pretty sure there would be a lot of nerdiness (there has been a lot less than I would have anticipated, probably because I have mother-of-two brain...).

Over the past 11+ months, I have also struggled with issues of identity - as a mother, as a woman, and as an individual - and I have had some pretty big growing pains in becoming a mother-of-two and also becoming the mother of a bright, creative, strong-willed preschooler.  I continue to struggle with these things and feel in and out of sync with my older child and will certainly be writing more about all of that in the future!

I'm really glad to have this outlet, and excited to see where the next year will take me and the blog.

All that said, I feel like I should celebrate my "bloggiversary" with you, my readers.  But I'm not sure exactly how!  I do actually have a giveaway in the works, but I doubt it's going to come together by the 17th.  So, I thought I might invite you all to ask me anything.  Is there something I haven't covered that you keep hoping I will get to?  Is there something about me - my parenting style, my background, my outlook, whatever - that you find intriguing and would like to know more about?

It's the fact that people are actually reading my blog that keeps me writing at all - and I have very much enjoyed getting my writing chops back (and shaking the dust off that mother-of-two brain every now and then!).

So thanks, reader.  How shall we celebrate?

I'm a Parent?


For no reason other than knowing me well and thinking of me, a good friend sent me this book last week and it is cracking me up.

The cover says (in increasingly tiny print):
I'M A PARENT?  A journal to ponder the unfathomable circumstance that I somehow have offspring even though I have no idea what I'm doing but it sure seems like everybody else does because they're not stinting on the advice as if I don't love my kid(s) which of course I do but the little bugger(s) are going to need therapy no matter what and in all honesty I couldn't adore them more but sometimes I think I'm going out of my mind with frustration and self-doubt.
Inside, every left page is a quote.  Some of my favorites (so far) are:

"Any kid will run any errand for you, if you as at bedtime" - Red Skelton
"Patience, n.  A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue." - Ambrose Bierce
"The truth is that parents are not really interested in justice.  They just want quiet."  - Bill Cosby

Every right page allows you to put in the date at the top and then says "WHY I'M A LESS-THAN-PERFECT PARENT TODAY."

You get to journal your imperfections and then check off symbols at the bottom of the page for junk food, television, working, or yelling at the bottom indicating what "today's parental shortcomings involved."

It's great!  I do keep a journal for my kids, so I will use this when I've filled my current journal.  For now, it's sitting on an end table next to the chair I usually nurse Squeak in.  I can flip through it between the eleventy billion times Bean comes out of his room during quiet time (and yet, somehow, I have rarely felt I would need to check off that box for yelling....but that is a different post).

Anyway, I thought this was a great gift for any parent!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

This Week In Sleep (8/20-8/26)

Squeak asleep snuggled on Grandma D's shoulder, swinging on a porch swing. (July '11)

The three biggest items to report this week in sleep:  1) How have I only thought to have an iPod hidden in my pillow case almost 3.5 years into laying there waiting for kids and babies to settle? 2) My kids tag teamed me on the nap front this week.  3)  We still use some of the same strategies with Bean as 3 years ago.

iPodSqueak isn't as wild as Bean was at bedtime, but at almost 11 months he does need some time to kind of roam around the bed, pull up on the wall, come back to nurse periodically, and generally wind down in the dark.  It takes about 45 minutes.  I sing for 20 minutes, and then I just lay there.  Bored.  This week, I've taken to listening to podcasts, and then I go to sleep once Squeak has settled.  I hide the iPod in my pillow case, and that way I can do the whole thing without him grabbing at stuff.  He's waaaaay into lights - I have to cover the clock and the baby monitor with blankets so he isn't climbing all over the night stand!

Naps
Squeak has apparently given up his morning nap and pretty much passes out around noon.  Bean starts not-so-quiet time around 1:30 or 2, and then comes out repeatedly until about 3 when he usually naps.  And then Squeak is up a little after that.  I am not getting any time to myself during the day or the evenings when Bean is up.  I cannot wait for preschool to start - one more week!
 
An Old TrickThe Beast reported that he used "the old standby of restraint" on Bean Sunday night.  Bean hadn't taken a nap, so he was way beyond tired.  He was running around and jumping and crashing into stuff and yelling.  Restraining Bean is something we have used to get him to sleep since he was probably about 6 months old.  Back then, he would be popping on and off nursing, climbing me, head butting me, etc.  I would turn him to face away from me and sing a verse of something in his ear and let him get to full-tilt screaming.  It would take all of 15-20 seconds, and then I'd turn him toward me and he'd settle right down and nurse to sleep.  This has never worked with Squeak when he has a rare restless night, by the way; Squeak just fusses, relaxes, fusses, relaxes.  Their temperaments are very different!

Anyhow, Sunday night The Beast told Bean he needed to calm down or he would restrain him.  Bean refused.  The Beast restrained him until he went through the screaming of "DON'T 'STWAIN ME!" and got to calmly saying "ok.  I'm ready to be calm and sleep now."  Then he thrashed for a bit getting situated in the blankets and was asleep in about two minutes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quick and Delicious Peanut Sauce

Not a picture of this actual dish.  The night I made this and intended to take pictures, everything got a little chaotic.  And by "a little chaotic" I mean that Bean had not eaten and was supposed to go to a friend's, so I sent him off screaming and shirtless with a bowlful of dinner.  Which he then refused to eat.

Ever since I made this for the first time, I want it every other night!  It is incredibly fast and easy, it's delicious, it's nutritious, and it is enjoyable for everyone.  It takes maybe 30 minutes from start to finish to get this on the table, including prepping the garnish and wrangling kids!  Thanks to my friend Leah for the original recipe, which I've modified.

We've been enjoying this as a sort of quickie Pad Thai, but I'd love to hear any other ways you might try it!

Ingredients:
2 TBSP oil (peanut, olive, or vegetable)
2 cloves garlic, minced  (about 1 tsp)
1 tsp ginger grated*, minced, or powdered
1 cup water
1 tsp coriander
2/3 cup peanut
2 TBSP Bragg's Amino (or soy sauce)
3 TBSP rice vinegar (can use other light vinegar)
1 TBSP chili paste or hot sauce (a tsp or two if you don't like spicy!)

Directions:
1) Sautee the garlic and ginger in the oil
2) Add water and coriander and bring to a boil
3) Add peanut butter and whisk until thickened**
4) Add remaining ingredients (setting some aside before adding the chili paste if you have a family member who doesn't like spicy food) and whisk

I've been mixing this into 14oz or more of rice noodles (the packages available to me come as either 8oz or 14oz).  I make a plate of garnish for everyone to add.  We like chopped peanuts, thin-sliced shallots (if we happen to have those expensive buggers around!), lime slices/juice, and grated carrot.  Other garnish ideas include bean sprouts, red cabbage, and green onions.  And, of course, you could also add some chicken, tofu, or shrimp!

I do set aside some sauce for Bean before I make it spicy, and I set aside some plain noodles for Squeak, since he's not eating peanuts yet.

*you can keep fresh ginger in the freezer and grate it straight out of the freezer, and it keeps a lonnnnnng time in the freezer

**Leah had said in her original recipe that sometimes the sauce starts popping when the peanut butter is added, and it's fine to remove it from the heat and finish up.  I haven't yet had this happen.
 


Photo Credit

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vanilla Extract: The research phase

You're probably wondering what a bat with the face of a fox has to do with vanilla extract...
I posted on the blog's Facebook page that this tutorial on making vanilla extract had sparked an obsession. The tutorial is completely straightforward, but I can't leave well-enough alone.

I got to thinking "so...what's the optimal steeping time?  How long is too long to let it sit?  What's the best vodka for this and does it make that big a difference?  What's in imitation vanilla and will it kill me?  Are there options with regards to the beans?"

So I went a-Googlin' and found several posts about this project, and I will spare you most of them (they're good, but I think I read twenty.  You're probably not as obsessive as I am...)  My favorite is this one from Chocolate and Zucchini because it gives a lot of information.

I was also really interested in this "All About Vanilla" series at The Organic Vanilla Bean Company that describes the pollination, harvesting, and blanching/curing/drying processes involved in producing vanilla beans.  It's really rather amazing, and no wonder those beans cost so much!  I was especially amused that a bat bone was used for pollination!  Scroll down just a bit here and you'll see it.  And that's what the picture at the top of this post has to do with vanilla extract.

Here's what I learned in answer to my questions, though...


What's the optimum steeping time?  There isn't one!  You should steep for about 6-8 weeks, and then top off with more vodka (you can also use bourbon or rum, but those impart an additional flavor to the extract) as needed.  You can use the same beans this way for a year.  You can also add new beans and remove the old ones every now and then, and keep topping off and use the same jar rather indefinitely since alcohol is naturally preservative.

How long is too long to let it sit? 
See above.

What's the best vodka for this and does it make that big a difference?  The only information I found on this is that the vodka (or bourbon or rum) should be at least 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume).

What's in imitation vanilla and will it kill me?  It's vanillin (the main chemical in vanilla beans that gives them their flavor) and it's often derived from wood pulp.  There don't seem to be any health concerns.  So hooray for that!  I go through at least a tablespoon of vanilla a week just keeping us stocked up on granola.  I don't know that I will spend the money just yet to keep us using the "real" stuff.  I will certainly be making it as gifts, though!

Are there options with regards to the beans?
Yes, and you can learn a bit about them here or here.  The upshot for me was that most bakers seem to use Tahitian vanilla beans to make their vanilla extract, so that's what I'll be doing!  Probably buying from here, but maybe trying to find a smaller quantity depending on how much vanilla extract I decide to make.

Other random things I learned
-The most common ratio of beans to alcohol is 3 beans to 1 cup.
-Splitting the beans down the middle and scraping the "bean caviar" out and putting that directly in the jar along with the pod makes for stronger extract faster than if you chop the pods.  So split and scrape!
-Specialty Bottle exists.
-Curiosity is like a disease for me.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Week in Sleep...

I keep meaning to write about sleep in our household, but it is ever-evolving.  Bean has never been anything that would be called a "good sleeper."  Squeak generally goes to sleep easily and stays asleep well.  He's everything I imagined the phrase "sleeps like a baby" entailed.  I know how lucky I am and I am amused every day that he hasn't decided to stop sleeping, wake up every 45 minutes to nurse, nurse all night, or refuse to nap.  Bean is the sticky wicket (or the sleepy wicket?).

Here's a quick overview of our current attitude about sleep.  First, we have completely thrown convention out the window.  Long ago we realized that the schedules we were "supposed" to be on were not helping anything.  8PM bedtimes have been the exception, not the rule.

Currently, The Beast sleeps with Bean and I sleep with Squeak.  This has been the case since Squeak was still The Thing (aka a fetus).  Bean's bed was briefly in our room on the floor next to our bed because he was waking up in the middle of the night and walking through the house screaming, and we were all ending up awake.  Moving him into our room meant he could make a peep and The Beast could roll down onto his bed (a full-sized mattress on the floor).  Better sleep for all.

This eventually morphed into Bean being back in his room, where I used to end up sleeping the second half the night...but instead The Beast did, since I was going to have a newborn.  It was a really smooth transition.

Right before Daylight Savings this year, Bean had given up his nap and was going to bed really early.  Like 6:30.  It was awesome.
But then, between Daylight Savings, longer days, and his realization that this was majorly cutting into his Daddy Time, Bean started refusing to go to sleep.  And this is a skill Bean has perfected over his 3.25-year lifetime:  not sleeping when he's freak-out exhausted.  So we got him to start taking naps again, and they are pretty long - sometimes over 3 hours!  And then he's up until 10, 11, even midnight sometimes.

A couple months ago, he was consistently the last person awake in the house.  He would play quietly in the living room and eventually fall asleep on the couch or floor.  Once, he followed me around like a sleepy puppy dog until I went in to get Squeak back to sleep.  I came out and Bean was passed out on the floor right outside the door.  He slept there all night.

In any case, I figured I would try and document each week what goes on around here - my thought being that others might benefit from some of the ideas.  Generally, I now get enough sleep.  When I don't, it's almost always my own fault (like now, when I'm up blogging and generally putzing around on the internet at 12AM and will get up at 6AM so I can run...).

I will try to post each edition on Saturday mornings.  This will be my first attempt at really regular blogging!  (I feel like we should take bets on how long it will last.  Will I even make it through the first post on time?)

Monday, August 22, 2011

On drugs...


As I was writing my post about Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, I went looking for more information on the FDA's recent recommendations for changing the labeling of infant and children's Tylenol (acetaminophen is the generic drug name in the U.S. but it's known as paracetamol elsewhere in the world).  I am outraged.  Here's the scoop.

The FDA has recommended (based on studies of acetaminophen vs. placebo, and also taking into account the ease of overdose) that acetaminophen no longer be labelled as a pain reliever for children under the age of two (only as a fever reducer).  However, compliance with recommendation is voluntary, and so the over-the-counter industry will likely not adopt it.  Why?  Because"pediatricians recommend it."  They said so here.  But what do doctors recommend it based on?  The label?  Past experience?  Aren't we counting on pediatricians to make research-based recommendations, and isn't the FDA saying here that Tylenol for pain in children under 2 years old is not supported by research?  Ever since Bean was born I've heard from moms (and some doctors) that Motrin is for pain and Tylenol is for fevers, so....?

Am I the only person really bothered by this?  I haven't seen anything about it in the media, and it really points to the weakness of the FDA.

I've seen the articles on orange juice bring outrage (and I will probably never buy orange juice again, by the way, simply because I want to know what the heck I'm getting and not have to second-guess it).  Where are the articles and the outrage over the labeling of drugs for our babies and very young children?  Why is it that my bottle of vitamin C has a label that reads "these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration," but Tylenol isn't required to state that their statement of pain relief has been evaluated by the FDA and was found to be false?

What do you think?  Do I need to take a giant chill pill?


Pills image credit:  E-Magineart.com on Flickr
Chill pill image credit:  mirjoran on Flickr

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child

I have been meaning to post about this book, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, for awhile.  This is such a fantastic resource with sick kids.  Much to every mother's frustration, the treatment of illness, rash, and injury is usually to wait it out.  But this book has helped me figure out ways to make my kids more comfortable while we wait.  It has also helped me to explore methods of prevention, and it has given me peace of mind in saying exactly when to call a doctor.  (Of course, if I'm really concerned I will immediately call the doctor, but sometimes it's nice to know what I should keep my eye on.)

The heart of the book is laid out in alphabetic order with various ailments.  It gives you descriptions of the illnesses/injuries in terms of symptoms, explains the cause, and then gives you guidelines and treatment options.  You get the conventional stuff (like over-the-counter medications, and a little information about what might be prescribed, or what procedures might be done), herbal remedies, and homeopathy.  You also get dietary guidelines and general guidelines.

I haven't tried much in the way of homeopathy (does this make me not a hippy?).  The few things I have tried haven't seemed to help at all.  But I do fairly regularly use herbs and vitamin supplements, and other items listed in the "herbal" section.  That is mostly because I am encouraged to avoid many of the conventional cold remedies due to my kidney disease

Because of this, I have become a little more aware that all these over-the-counter medications are not completely benign.  Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin) can actually cause an acute version of the kidney disease I have.  Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver damage.  Sudafed can raise blood pressure.  And, of course, cough medicines can make you drowsy and when you're co-sleeping with a baby or just having to parent at night that's a pretty undesirable side effect!

I'm not anti-prescription, anti-over-the-counter or any such thing.  I take prescription medication because of my kidneys and I do take over-the-counter medications on occasion.  I just like to know my options and my kids' and Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child delivers (I don't own the version for adults, but can still use this book for myself).

My best example of this book's usefulness was an ear infection that Bean once woke up with in the middle of the night.  He was screaming in pain and The Beast didn't know what to do.  I consulted the book and considered what I had available.  In the end, I used garlic to ease the pain and sat Bean and The Beast up in a chair in the living room to snuggle and sleep for the rest of the night.  I still took Bean to the pediatrician in the morning and gave him antibiotics (partly because he wouldn't keep letting me use garlic - it was much easier to dose him with antibiotics), but the information in Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child helped us through the night.  (And, for what it's worth, I successfully treated an ear infection in myself with garlic when I was pregnant with Squeak.  I had antibiotics on hand, but figured I'd give garlic a shot.  It worked!  Garlic is kind of the go-to drug in this house...)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lentil Tacos and a How-To Video for Taco Shells


Yes, it's a non-stick pan.  Switching to stainless steel or cast iron is a long way off, though it is on my health radar.
I'm loving lentil tacos as a staple meal.  They're tasty, I can prepare them almost entirely while wearing Squeak (the only time I can't wear him is when I'm frying up the shells, because of potential splatter), I can mostly stop and start as needed to parent the kids, and they're ready in about 30 minutes (unless there's a lot of away-from-pan parenting going on)!

The recipe I'm sharing is really inexact flexible.  I had read a bunch of recipes, and was intrigued, so I basically just prepared them the way I'd prepare any tacos!  So, if you usually add a packet of seasoning, cool. 

Here's what I did.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups dry lentils
2 jalapeños
1/2 a medium white onion
1 sweet bell pepper (in the form of 1/2 orange and 1/2 yellow, just to be pretty)
4 cloves garlic, minced
safflower oil
lots of cumin and chili powder
a package of corn tortillas

Instructions:
1.  Prepare lentils like so.

2.  While they are simmering, dice up your 1/2 onion, the 2 jalapeños, and your sweet peppers.  Saute in safflower oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the garlic just before you're going to add the lentils.  The longer you cook garlic, the more flavor it loses.

4.  When the lentils are done, drain any excess water and then add them to the pan of vegetables.  (At this point I reserve enough lentils for Bean and just add some seasoning, because he won't eat peppers or onions.)

5.  Add cumin and chili powder.

6.  Fill and fry corn tortillas as shown in the following video, in which I am very rushed because the oil was already hot and Bean was already eating (you can hear him proclaim some yum factor about a minute in) and could only be guaranteed to be occupied by his food for a short period of time.




I then garnish with cilantro, tomatoes, salsa, yogurt, cheese, and lettuce.

You might be wondering why in the world I don't just buy taco shells.  The main reason is that I really prefer these freshly-fried shells.  The store-bought ones always end up stabbing me in the mouth, breaking, etc  I don't like the texture, and I do like the taste and texture of the safflower oil.  I did just check the nutritional content, and apparently each prepared Old El Paso shell has 4.5 times the sodium as the corn tortillas we buy.  At 45mg/shell, it's not an item I would declare awful or must-change, but it does make a difference for me since my diet is quite low sodium.

Another little thing I like about frying up the pre-loaded shells is that it also reheats leftover filling - I don't have to heat up the filling separately.


A few tips for taco shells:

  • I should have been using a smaller pan, since I was only doing one shell at a time.  A smaller pan means needing less oil.
  • I should have had more oil in that pan, because you want the oil cooking the shells, rather than the heat from the bottom of the pan burning them.  They get crispier without burning if there is more oil.  My burner is also lopsided...which makes getting the oil un-pooled a trick...
  • Don't overfill.  You just end up with charred filling all over the pan.
  • The Beast makes rolled tacos and always eats them with a fork.  I prefer the traditional pouch shape and to eat them with my hands.










Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Seventeen Years Ago Today...

My mother goofing around.  August 5, 1994.

August 16, 1994.  I was 13 (and-a-half, if we're being a bit more precise).  It was the first day of school, and I was starting eighth grade.

I had had a hard time going to sleep the night before - the result of staying up late and sleeping in all summer long.  I had crawled into bed with my mother during the wee hours of the morning.  She was, understandably, perturbed.

She was cranky in the morning, when she dropped me off at her friend's house so I could walk to school for an early morning band sectional.  I went in and my mother stayed at the door a moment and talked in a hushed voice to her friend.

I went to school.  I went to volleyball practice.  Mom picked me up from school and dropped off a friend of mine on the way home.  She dropped me at the house and went to the store to buy the last of my needed school supplies.  She still seemed cranky with me when she came home.

And then my world shattered.  Within a few hours, I suddenly didn't know where I would sleep that night.  I didn't know where I would call home within the week.  As a teenager, I described it as my life turning upside down and inside out.

This happened:


The way I told the story for this spokeswoman casting call was a little jumbled and I'm not in a mental space right now to write it all down for you, but I'm fairly certain I will write it all here on the blog by wintertime. 

For today, though, I want to call your attention to the fact that my mother had seen a doctor for chest pains over the course of the three months before her fatal heart attack, and she had been misdiagnosed.

I have written on a few occasions about following our gut instincts and trusting each other and ourselves.  This trust of ourselves as mothers and women extends very much to our own health.  Please check in with your body today.  Go make a phone call right now about that nagging pain, those unexplained headaches, the swelling in your ankles.  Make sure you know your numbers and your family history regarding heart disease. 

If in doubt about whether something is "in your head," or something is not getting through to your doctor, read The Empowered Patient (my review of it is here).

This extends to any area of your health - not just heart disease. 

Be active, in any way that you enjoy.

Make whatever small, positive changes you can in your diet.

I am trying to light a fire under you, reader.  Please - please - be your best advocate for your own health.  Now.  Not tomorrow.  Not later.

And to my mother, who has been only a memory for more than half my life:  You are forever missed.  Every day, and by many.  Thank you for the amazing start.

*Just a note, readers and friends:  I'm actually doing just fine on this anniversary.  I had my freak out quite early this year, and I'm feeling quite centered and like I have appropriate perspective.  So stop worrying about me and worry about yourself!  :-)

Basic Preparation of Lentils


We're eating a lot of lentils recently, and I'm about to post a rough recipe and a short video on making lentil tacos (and taco shells!), so here's the basic how-to with "those smushed things," as Bean calls them!

1 1/4 cup lentils  (I use the greenish brown variety)
1 3/4 cup water or broth (I generally just use water)

While you're bringing the water/broth to a boil in a saucepan, sort, rinse, and drain your lentils.  (Sorting entails getting out obviously-deformed lentils, rocks, clumps of dirt, etc.)

When the liquid is boiling, stir in the lentils.

Return everything to a boil, then cover reduce heat and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes).  There will probably be a little water left in the bottom, that's fine.

Done.

In addition to the lentil tacos I'm about to post about, I've been throwing them over spaghetti with sauce.  We've been trying to find a way to have protein with our pasta (since we're trying to cut back on meat in general to save money and buy better meat when we do eat it), and the lentils work well.  In general, The Beast is extremely against meat substitutes and I generally agree.  Meat substitutes tend to be quite high in sodium, and not that tasty.

Rather than a meat substitute, we like to find recipes that highlight the flavor of whatever we're eating - not pretend we're eating meat when we aren't.

Photo Credit:  Maggie Hoffman on Flickr

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gardening Novice

Volunteer cherry tomatoes, today.  Am I the only one who feels honored when a plant chooses to volunteer in their garden?
 This is my third year gardening.  My first year, I decided to dive right in and see what happened, and I started everything from seed!  I figured that way all that was lost was a small amount of money on seeds and dirt (we even got the seed starting pots free from the farmers market's recycling bins!) and some hard labor digging out the garden.  And I wasn't doing the really hard labor.

I tried to keep it low pressure; my goal was to eat a single item from my own garden.

And that's just what I did.  We ate one, single, unimpressive green bell pepper.

To my credit, it was a surprisingly cool summer that year.  Everyone's tomatoes were failing.

Bean wore BabyLegs in July of 2009 for a morning run.  The fact that he was wearing BabyLegs in July was the entire reason for this picture.

I was thiiiiiis close to having some nice tomatoes that year, though.  I would watch them start to turn red and excitedly head out every morning to water and find out if this was the day I would harvest a tomato.

I never got to harvest a tomato because they disappeared.  I still don't know what happened.  We have deer, but they always graze off the tops of plants and it's pretty obvious (they seem to love the tops of my jalapeño plants best, the weirdos).  This was just the fruit gone missing.  I hunted around at the bases of the plants, and I looked in the grass outside the garden.  Zilch.  Nada.  Zero.  Niente.  No tomatoes.

Bean, Fall 2010.  Three days after Squeak was born.  Standing next to the beyond gone-to-seed basil.
Last year we did better.  It seems to matter that holy moly it was a hot summer.  We bought tomato plants and had excellent yield with cherry tomatoes (not much on the slicers).  If I remember correctly (I only started keeping half decent records this year), everything else - basil, jalapeños, and bell peppers - was grown from seed.  The basil flourished, the jalapeños produced well.  The bell peppers were crap.

The garden today.  Tomatoes on the left, kale down the middle (and a clear area I'm about to ask you for help on!), and basil and jalapeños on the right.  There's also a single romaine lettuce plant, and some volunteer cherry tomatoes.
This year has been The Year of the Kale.  I seeded some red Russian kale and romaine lettuce a few weeks before we left town for three weeks (more on that in a separate post).  We came back to very happy kale.  And a single lettuce plant.  Hmmm.

We've also had some cherry tomatoes from some volunteer plants, one huge slicer, and some plum tomatoes got this.freaking.close to ripe and then disappeared.   Again with the disappearing tomatoes!  Grrrrr...

And the basil is, once again, excellent.  And we have LOTS of jalapeñoes, which is awesome.


This afternoon was perfect for working out in the garden. I went and cleared out weeds and decimated the tomato plants removing the blighted parts (whatever, tomatoes.  I didn't want to eat you anyway!  Yes I did.  I really really did.). 

In which I ask for your help
See that clear area in the near, middle of the garden?  I cleared kale out of there that today with plans to plant a fall crop of...something.  I was thinking lettuce, but now I'm confused.

The Lone Lettuce
I did a little looking around, and found something that said that kale plants release a chemical that hinders the growth of lettuce.  It seems from that information that I have to wait until next season to grow lettuce in the same area.  That would be one explanation for why only one lettuce plant grew (and it's slightly separate from the mass of kale).  The other explanation is that the lettuce seeds were 3 years old and the kale seeds were brand new.

But then I found this information that calls kale and lettuce companion plants.  So which is it, fabulous master gardener readers?  HELP!
Alternatively, is there some other fall crop you'd recommend I grow in Southern Indiana?  The little spot I cleared is about 2'x2'. 

I will probably clear the basil in another month, but then it's too late to plant a fall crop and I should be moving on to planning my spring garden, right?


Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to Make Yogurt (and what is actually going on in all those steps, anyway?)


We usually go through a lot of yogurt.  It was my go-to snack when pregnant with Bean and needing to eat at the drop of a hat, lest I barf.  I was scarfing down a 32oz tub of yogurt every other day, or even every day.  Hey.  I couldn't eat Saltines!

And now I have a yogurt-loving preschooler whose favorite dessert when there is no actual dessert in the house is chocolate yogurt (plain yogurt with honey and cocoa powder, sometimes with a few chocolate chips thrown in, or banana slices). 

We also sometimes use yogurt in place of sour cream and make yogurt cheese (with fresh dill?  drooooooool).  And, of course, yogurt with granola.  Yogurt is a staple food over here!

And it's a very healthy food choice.  Here is a thorough run-down of the nutritional benefits at Kitchen Stewardship.

But why make my own yogurt?
  • Save money - you pay the cost of milk ($2.49/gal on sale here) rather than the cost of yogurt ($2.99/32oz tub, on sale, which works out to $11.96/gallon!).  That is some serious savings, and it's even greater if you go from buying the individual serving cups to making your own.
  • Less packaging - After all the 32oz tubs of yogurt I ate, we have many empty tubs sitting around.  They've been great toys for the kids, and I have not missed them when I've taken food to friends and never seen them again.  But the clutter...  These days, I'm all about getting rid of clutter!  (This is impossible with two kids, but I do what I can!)  And, you know:  environmental impact.  Yada yada. 
  • Control ingredients as well as taste and consistency - A label on one of the tubs I have from plain yogurt tells me that the ingredients are:
    "CULTURED PASTEURIZED GRADE A NONFAT MILK, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, CARRAGEENAN, PECTIN, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, POTASSIUM SORBATE (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), VITAMIN A PALMITATE AND VITAMIN D3."
    Alright then... 
    So it's a lot more than fermented milk.  Or even fermented milk with added vitamins.
    Anyhow, making your own allows you to also make it more or less tart and also more or less thick.
How to make homemade yogurt:

The basic how-to of yogurt is this: 
1.  You get some milk hot enough (185-190°F) to kill all the bacteria in it. (If it's not already pasteurized, you boil it for several minutes.)
2.  You cool it off enough (110-115°F) so that the bacteria you want to grow will not be killed.
3.  You add that desired bacteria (either in the form of a heaping tablespoon of yogurt from a previous batch, or a packet of starter) and make it a happy home in which to multiply by keeping the milk warm.  Hours later, you have yogurt.  The number of hours is determined by how tart you like your yogurt and the temperature at which you kept it as it fermented.  The more tartness you like, the longer you should ferment the yogurt.

There are several methods out there for accomplishing those steps (the trick is keeping it warm during fermentation).

At first, I made yogurt using my crockpot using the method at Crockpot365.  That worked great through the summer and fall after Bean was born.  But then winter hit and my kitchen was colder, and the crockpot didn't stay warm enough.  I briefly considered this method from Kitchen Stewardship, but it seemed so cumbersome!

In the end, I got a Cuisipro Donvier Electronic Yogurt Maker as a gift, and it sees regular use.  I'm even hoping to get a second set of cups for it at some point soon.

Tricks and Tips From Three Years of Yogurt-Making:
  • Start with a good quality starter - I start with Stonyfield Farms, because it's readily available and not too terribly expensive.  It does contain pectin, which is a thickener.  You want a good yogurt starter, though, because you want lots of probiotics (the good bacteria that you're growing).
  • Freeze (in an ice cube tray) whatever starter yogurt you don't use, or freeze a bit of your first batch. You can thaw it later if someone eats all your homemade yogurt, or if you end up with a spoiled batch, if your culture gets diluted, or generally if something goes awry!  I freeze in an ice cube tray and then store them in a jar in the freezer.  To use, take out two cubes and microwave for 10 seconds at a time, mashing and stirring with a fork between microwaving.  It should be about room temperature when you add it to the warm milk.
  • To prevent anyone from eating all of the yogurt, I mark one yogurt lid with an "X" in permanent marker.  That one has to have a tablespoon of yogurt left in it, and can't be eaten out of directly (because the spoon from someone's mouth going back into the yogurt would contaminate the culture).
  • Incubation time changes the thickness and tartness of the yogurt.  Longer incubation gives you thicker yogurt that is more tart.  Shorter incubation gives you sweeter yogurt that is less thick.  If you like thick yogurt but don't like tartness, you can add a thickener like pectin, gelatin, or cornstarch.  If you like thin, tart yogurt...I don't know what to tell you.
  • Another option for thicker yogurt, especially if you're using nonfat milk, is to add non-fat milk powder and stir it into the cold milk before heating.  I've added 1/4 cup of powder to 4 cups of non-fat milk.
  • And another option for thicker yogurt is to make Greek yogurt by draining some of the whey (liquid) out using a cheese cloth.  If you do this overnight, you get yogurt cheese (and a good amount of nutrient-rich whey, which you can add to soups).  
  • To hasten the cooling of the milk from kill-the-bacteria hot to add-the-starter warm, I use a cold water bath.
    Photo Credit:  Average Jane on Flickr.

Monday, August 8, 2011

100th Post: How I Fold a Prefold

I just noted that this is my 100th post!  Woohoo!

I think I'll celebrate by doing something I've been contemplating for a few months:  starting a Facebook page for the blog.  My thought is that a Facebook page would encourage broader discussion in two ways:

1)  There is often some great discussion on my personal page about my blog entries, and it would be cool to extend that (at least a little) to those who read but who I don't personally know.  Some of my Facebook friends might want to keep it to the more-private-for-Facebook personal page.  That's fine.  I'm not sure how I'll find/have/make time to reply to more comments or administer this Facebook page anyway!  (Though I'm not expecting or angling for it to be a huge following, either.  I do not have time or energy for this to be more than a hobby!  In face, I'm expecting the folks liking my blog's page to be, like, 99.99% my Facebook friends.)

2) A place for me to post some links and questions that I think readers of my blog would enjoy or have answers to, but that I don't have time or enough thoughts to write an entry about and that I don't want to annoy the living crap out of my Facebook friends with (I'll just annoy the crap out of you - deal?  Deal.  Seriously, that's what you're agreeing to if you "like" my page!).  It'd also be a place for readers to ask such questions - like no-poo for different hair types, because my hair type doesn't seem to care what I do to it so I'm not a lot of help!

So, anyway...back to my 100th post!

How I Fold a Prefold:

I'd show you on the real baby, but crap.  10-month-olds ssqueal and kick and try to roll away when you diaper them.  All in good fun!  Plus I'd have to edit out his baby bits.  In any case, enjoy pictures of the diapered Frog Prince!
1.  Place the  prefold under the baby, with one sewn (shorter) edge level with the baby's belly button.

2. Fold the sides in so you make an absorbent, layered front with a wider back.  The corners of the diaper from behind the baby now make sort of "tabs" that you fasten with a Snappi (or you can use diaper pins, but they scare me)

3. Snappi one side...
4.  Streeeeeeetch it over to the other "tab."

5.  Stretch the bottom part of the Snappi downward.

Happy Baby Froggy Princey!  (But you should put a cover on, because a loose Snappi can hurt.)
And How to Get a Prefold on a Standing child...

Because if you can't get a diaper on a standing, wiggling, about-to-run-off or currently-running-off toddler what use is the diaper?
I have yet to require the standing method with Squeak, and I didn't use it a whole lot with Bean because I felt pretty early on that I'd usually rather clean up his pee and poop (and make a potty available, which he used somewhat consistently) than body slam him into diapers or quickly get it on him in some sort of run-by diapering.  But I've done it.  It's possible!

Like this:
1.  Tri-fold it

2.  Put it in a cover (this is a Thirsties cover - I put them in the little pouch at the front side).
3.  Pray.  And diaper.  (No picture of this step.  Not exactly something I was trying to capture for posterity!)


Update 8PM:  I made a page.  It's here.  Let me know if that link doesn't work.  Also let me know if you have a magical way to add a Facebook button on Blogger that doesn't involve code, or please hold my hand because code intimidates me!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Your Rhymes-with-Mulva...on a string?

You probably missed it, but when I wrote about cloth menstrual pads, I linked to this Etsy shop, called VulvaLoveLovely.  Some friends and I had had a really good laugh about it, because who wouldn't want to snuggle a giant plush uterus or or a vulva-inspired pillow?!?

Then we found the portaits.  Yeah.  The buyer is supposed to send a picture (or several) of her vulva.  This took me from giggles to "huh???"

And then today I read the seller's bio, and I'm understanding the goal much better...but wondering if the necklaces would really be interpreted as "pretty" or maybe just scream "VULVA!  ON A PRETTY RIBBON!"

I like the idea.  I'm all for pulling back curtains on the totally f'ed up expectations women have of their bodies and themselves, but I think I might draw the line at wearing a portrait of my vulva as a necklace?  Actually, I think I'd draw the line well above my vulva; I think I'd rather start with making people comfortable with flashes of nipple in public (you know, to nurse in public.  I'm not looking to get comfortable flashing you for the heck of it.  Yet.)  Perhaps with some of these Boobie Beanies around.

Alternatively, The Shape of a Mother and the gallery of non-sexualized photos of breasts at 007b are also great for reclaiming the norms of the female body through awareness.  Shape of a Mother is hopefully coming out with The Shape of a Woman soon - so it won't be related to motherhood!

Thoughts?  Would you wear a vulva necklace for the symbolism?  What if it were a zebra print?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nursing Squeak

Nursing in the Ergo on a hike

Squeak.  He's ten months old!  I think he might require a new nickname.  He no longer squeaks.  Ever.  He roars, growls, sings, screams, protests, babbles, laughs, and squeals with delight.  He is a peaceful guy.  He sleeps when he's tired.  He complains when he's hungry.  He. eats. everything.*   He loves his mom best, with his dad a fairly distant second.  He wants to love his brother, but isn't quite ready and willing to take the beating that would probably entail.

And he breastfeeds like a normal 10-month-old.  By that I mean that he's very easily-distracted, sometimes accidentally bites or is poorly-positioned so his teeth cause discomfort (he has four teeth), he puts his hands in my mouth or plays with a button on my shirt or holds my hand while he nurses, he chuckles when I tickle him under the chin while he nurses.  It's a generally funny but sometimes frustrating age for breastfeeding.  He will complain that he is hungry, but then get distracted and pull of to look at something, then express baby-rage at me because he is no longer nursing.

He was about six months old when I finally felt like things were normal with breastfeeding.  I never did keep the blog updated very well about that - half the time I didn't feel I could put into words what the problems were. 

Was it a high palate?  Was he super duper tight-muscled, possibly from compensating for tongue-tie?  Was it my crazy supply and forceful letdown making it difficult for him?  Was his constant and epic barfing related to any of this, or is he just "a spitter" (I think the latter - he was a "happy spitter.")  Was he still figuring out how to use his tongue after two frenotomies?   Was it the yeast/thrush that would. not. die?  Was I suffering from postpartum depression, struggling to nurse a baby through pain (possibly stupidly), or was the yeast (and/or pain from that) causing me to be...shall we say edgy?  And, while we're at it, is it frenectomy, frenotomy, or frenulectomy?  Hmmmmmm? 
(Answer:  It's whichever you like.)

There was also a constant, nagging question:  Is it time to let this go?  And then the dizzying questions that followed:  If I stop nursing him, can I keep up with pumping and two kids?  Should I keep nursing Bean to ensure supply?  Should I wean him, too?  What if I do all formula?  Dear GAWD how will I keep up with the bottles, the pump parts, the what-have-you?
(We don't have a dishwasher.)

Last week, a friend shared this post asking for breastfeeding help.  It sounded very familiar.  I posted a response and realized I hadn't even shared much of it on my own blog.

So here's a bit more of my journey to breastfeed Squeak, as told hoping I could be of some help to another mom:

Both of my boys were tongue-tied. I also had over-supply, and my second baby was just able to hang out and gulp up milk that poured out – he didn’t need a good latch.

Craniosacral therapy was an IMMENSE help all along our journey (the baby is almost 10 months now, and it was about 6 months in that nursing finally didn’t hurt. Of course now he’s getting teeth and is restless and nursing is painful/sometimes-obnoxious in normal ways!).

I haven’t read many of the responses here, but I’ll tell you about our journey (with the second baby, Squeak, because that seems more pertinent – I actually had a tougher time the second time around, despite a tough time the first time around!!) and you can glean from it whatever might be helpful!

Squeak couldn’t stay on the breast after birth. He just seemed to fall right off, and the lc at the hospital told me I was just not used to nursing a newborn anymore (I was nursing my toddler still). She and the pediatrician said there was “nothing to snip” (no tongue-tie, because I specifically asked). I then saw the same lc who had diagnosed Bean’s tongue-tie and she said he had posterior tongue-tie and, indeed, he should not be falling off the breast as easily as he was.

We immediately did some craniosacral therapy. I had also been slightly worried that Squeak wasn’t doing some of the typical newborn reflex behaviors (like popping his mouth open if you touched his upper lip, or rooting toward things that touched his cheek). He did them immediately after craniosacral therapy – I think he was sort of jammed up after a REALLY fast birth (my doula tells my birth story like this : “your water broke and a baby shot out of you.”) The decompression was probably intense.
Anyway, CST helped immensely and there was immediate difference.
During this, I also had an appointment with an ENT for when Squeak was 3 weeks old (the soonest the ENT would do the frenotomy, because he does it under general), and we debated whether to do that, go 5 hours away for a frenotomy with a laser and local anesthesia, or wait it all out and do CST.

We opted for the ENT. 3.5 weeks old and Squeak had a frenotomy under general. At first, nursing was better. Then it got much, much worse. In the end, it turned out the tongue-tie was not completely resolved. We went to the pediatric dentist 5 hours away.

Oh – and we had him get CST after each procedure to ease any discomfort and help him relax and re-learn to nurse.

I was told that, however long he had nursed “the wrong way,” I should expect it to take that long for him to learn the “right way.” Which was three months in.

Then we had bouts of yeast. For months. And yeast made me super bitchy (I don’t know if it was the pain or if yeast infections have an emotional component? I was a real peach, let me tell you….).

Anyway, Squeak doesn’t even know what to do with a bottle anymore. And I give you mad props, because a lot of the reason we are still nursing is that I couldn’t figure out when the hell to pump with two kids to take care of!  I tried, but I would just end up nursing him through pain because Bean was needing something and I couldn’t figure out how I’d pump!

I hope this is helpful in some way. I discussed with my husband switching to formula on several occasions. These decisions are so complicated!! And I remember the desperation I felt, just wanting a nursing relationship that was unencumbered by pain, doubt, accessories, etc.
And then I added:
Oh! We also did physical therapy, after the second frenotomy. It was covered by insurance (with a referral from the pediatrician), and it was basically CST – and the biggest bonus was that the PT taught me to do lots of stuff with him myself. I’d do it while he slept, snuggled against me. Or right before he nursed or during a feeding. He had this crazy tight lower lip – probably part of compensating for the tongue-tie.

There are also speech therapists that specialize in feeding issues and can help figure out who to refer you to, or might be able to figure out if something more is going on.

I think I’d start with CST or, if money is an issue, do a session or two with a highly -recommended CST (we have two in town that work on babies regularly) and look into a speech therapist and/or physical therapist?

So that's the basic story of establishing a nursing relationship with my second son.  I could go on and on about Squeak (or, probably, about nursing or nursing Squeak!).  He's such a sweet and engaging little dude - in a completely different way from his brother.  Bean is - and has always been - intense and insistent.  And loud.  Squeak has certainly become more vocal (ahem), but he's more likely to sit and watch and wait for you to see him and make eye contact.  Then he flashes a giant grin and his big blue eyes sparkle.  And you melt.  (Or at least I do!)

*I do mean everything.  He swallowed part of a cocktail umbrella a few weeks ago, and that led to a colonoscopy.  And the kiddo is so stoic!  It was ten days of me being positive he had something stuck up his you know what.  Ten days of him refusing to sit up and complaining when he pooped.  Three visits to the pediatrician's office.  Two x-rays.  And finally the colonoscopy.  Never a dull moment around here!

Shamelessly Showing off Shqueak (or Shomething...):



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