Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a real dog

[This post submitted for Montessori Monday 9/17/12 on Living Montessori Now.]

I have written occasionally about our magnificent dog in the past.  My family of origin was a cat family.  I think there were some other pets that were a part of the family that existed before I was born (Mom Dad sister brother . . . that was for eight years before I came along!), but in the family I was a part of (Mom stepdad sister and brother for awhile until they went to college), it was cats all the way.  Their low maintenance attitudes and aloofness seemed to suit the general demeanor of our family members.

But then, three (astonishly) long years ago, we got a puppy.  Let me tell you about her background a little.  Puppy (formally named Pepper) is a mutt.  We know both of her parents, but aren't sure about their breeds, and it's certainly nothing pure!  Pepper's mom is a fighter of a dog named Topper.  Topper appeared one sweltering summer afternoon at the camp where I spent a huge and important part of my young adulthood.  The camp has a strict no-animals policy (health code violations etc), but this particular dog stole the heart of my co-worker Julie.  Topper was an excessively energetic jumper, and she looked like some kind of a hound - tight ears pulled back, sleek brown/black coat.  Julie took her into her home.  Topper became pregnant by the neighbor dog (a huge fluffy blonde lab-looking hunk . . . I might have fallen prey to him too, were I an unsuspecting young gal-dog) within six months, and had an unusually large litter of seven pups.  Pepper was the only girl.  Jeff prefers to have female pets, so when the offer was made for us to take one of these puppies, we went for that one.  Here she is on the ride home:

This camp is in an area of the country that is extremely rural and poor, and lacks animal control services.  We knew that not all of those puppies would have a fighting chance, and indeed, all of them but two perished within the first year.  Topper nearly lost her life as well, as the seven puppies taxed her beyond her ability to nurse them.  They were weaned early so that she wouldn't die. 

Pepper was not an easy pup to raise.  She refused to become housebroken and peed and pooped inside for nearly a year.  Jeff and I hosed off the plastic liner of her crate on a twice-daily basis for months.  You know the popular wisdom that proclaims that dogs won't play in their own feces?  Somehow Pepper missed that message.  She delighted in pooping, then stepping and rolling in it. 

Magically, when we moved from Nashville to Topeka, she stopped.  I guess she grew up or something.  But she was still our baby.  She slept tucked into bed right between us and needed our constant attention and presence to feel secure.

And then we had the baby.

Pepper was fairly well traumatized by the arrival of Vicki Jo.  She has never, ever been aggressive or angry toward her.  But she was clearly hurt and confused when we came home from the hospital.  There was a huge thunderstorm the night we arrived home, and she defecated in her crate for the first time in a year.  She could tell from the very beginning that she was being displaced.

She was kicked out of the bed when we decided that we would sleep together as a family.  She started chewing napkins and paper towels that we left out.  She became antsy and nervous, pacing often and skipping meals for days at a time.

She has slowly warmed toward Vicki Jo.  She likes to get as close as possible to the two of us, inserting herself between us if she can:

The baby loves the dog.  She loves touching and grabbing her silky ears.  She loves feeling her paw pads and claws.  She loves when the dog licks her face and mouth, giggling with delight.

And I love knowing that Vicki Jo will grow up with a loyal companion who cares about her happiness and security.  I love that she has a real dog.

See, Maria Montessori thought that children needed reality as opposed to fantasy.  They need real, tactile work to make them feel valued and necessary.  Therefore, representations are to be as lifelike as possible.  For instance, you would want this picture of a dog:

as opposed to this one:

The first one is real, while the second one is a kind of stylized interpretation of a dog.

But even better than a realistic picture is . . . a real dog!  Vicki Jo will have a flesh-and-blood understanding of what a dog is.  She will be able to help participate in the care and grooming of the dog, as she is ready.  This is an invaluable chance to learn skills, as well as developing a close relationship with an animal.

So, I hope Pup is in it for the long haul.  She has been warming up, although she still seems confused about the whole baby business.  I'm confident that she will love the endless energy and playfulness that the years to come hold for her and Vicki Jo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

the doctors

I was thinking this morning about the various doctors that have become very important to me in the last two years. 

Education has always been a paramount value in my family.  In many ways, it was the fundamental core principle around which we were raised.  If school was going well, all else was pretty much negotiable.  My brother and I both hold master's degrees, and my sister has two bachelors.  I'm considering a doctorate, but . . . another post, another time.  Seriously, though.  I was largely allowed to run amok in the neighborhood so long as I maintained excellent grades.

So I tend to trust those people with letters after their names.  Even though I went to a college where I saw firsthand that money tended to "create" a lot of intelligence in people who perhaps didn't have the full complement of skills for the positions they'd inherited.  Even though I know that education in our nation has been inflated such that the bachelor's degree is the new diploma.  Something about the sheer commitment it takes to finish a doctoral program speaks to me about a person's character.

And these particular four doctors came into my life around the advent of my daughter.  I cackle to myself when I think about my ignorance just a few short years ago.  Don't get me wrong - I am no parenting expert!  Far from it!  But I feel like, because of their research and knowledge (much of it casually dismissed when they were first producing it), I have a set of guidelines, or maybe ideals, to cling to when I'm tossed in the stormy sea of infant parentdom.

Dr. Bradley:  Revolutionized my understanding of pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.  And provided me with an excellent group of friends, to boot.  And created a common language around birth for my husband and myself. 

Dr. Brewer:  Although recent evidence suggests that pre-eclampsia is a disorder of the placenta that is present from the very first weeks of pregnancy, I have no doubt that Dr. Brewer's diet protected me from an even more dangerous situation for my child and myself.  Following his guidelines probably staved off the worst part of this disease for me, and kept symptoms at bay until the very end of my pregnancy.

Dr. Montessori:  Following my child through her planes of development, I have Maria Montessori to thank for introducing me to a community of parents who care so deeply about the world that they want their children to become contributors to their fullest potential.  My child is already capable of amazing things, simply because Montessori taught me to observe her and offer her opportunities to be independent.

Dr. Price:  If Montessori helped me understand the child's intellectual development, Dr. Price helped me understand the physical development of my child, even on a molecular level.  Thanks to his research, I don't feed my child cereal (she can't digest it), and I give her chicken broth to drink (it is a healing remedy for the gut).  Yes, it's odd.  But if you really commit and open yourself, his principles make a lot of sense.  Just not for vegans.

These whitecoats have all marked turning points in my relationship with my baby.  I am so thankful for coming into contact with their knowledge, even if sometimes they leave me despairing that I will never reach the full potential that their ideas can offer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

new materials for manipulation

[This post submitted to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now 9/24/12.]

My long-time friend and conspirator Lynn sent Vicki Jo some new toys.  These Montessori materials came at the perfect time for her.  She is sitting up so well, and she loves transferring items from hand to hand and examining them from her new position. 

She particularly loves the egg in a cup, the peg in a cup, and the interlocking discs. 

Here she is pulling the peg out of its cup and checking it out.  You also get a bit of the dog in the background, as she had to examine the new toys as well!  Vicki Jo very much understands the concept of "emptying" at this point.  She loves taking things out of baskets that I prepare for her.  She is not so much on the concept of replacing things into their receptacles at this point.  So the peg and egg in cups are perfect for working on this hand-eye coordination skill.

Here she is shaking the interlocking discs.  Shaking and banging items on the wood floor is another favorite activity at this point!  Also clapping.  Percussive activity of any kind, really.

You get a better look at the interlocking discs in this photo.

And, because I didn't get a great picture of the materials themselves, here is what they look like:

Peg in a cup is great for working on the pincer grasp, egg in cup is good for palmer.  I hope my photos with Vicki Jo above have made the scale more evident.  They look much larger in these photos here than they really are!

The interlocking discs are a great toy to have around from about three months or whenever hand-to-hand transfer starts.  They are also good for encouraging crawling or scooting, as they gently roll away from the child when pushed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

and if you should tire or cry . . .

I just finished one of my favorite moments of the day.  I crept out of the bedroom, turned the dimmer until the light clicked off, and pulled the door to gently behind me.  Tonight was a sleepy night - not a peep. 

Every night at six (that I'm home and not at church doing something), I start on the baby's dinner.  She sits in her Bumbo seat while I talk to her, explaining what I'm doing and giving her carrot and celery sticks to gum (this is the dog's favorite part because she gets a lot of healthy treats that are dropped from said Bumbo seat).  Whenever her supper is ready, we move into the dining room and I help her eat.  And whenever we get done there, we waltz into the bedroom and I change her diaper, wipe her mouth and hands, and put on her pajamas. 

Then I dim the lights, sit down in our rocker, pull her close to me, and sing.  I have always had a song in my soul (I am one of those people whistling or humming all day long), and one of my dreams was to have a baby to share my song someday.  And now I do!  I sing the same two songs every night.  One is a Billy Joel song that we sang in my junior high choir.  Somehow the lyrics and melody are still seared on my memory, and it came back to me the minute she was born.  It's just called "Lullabye." 

The second song is very special.  It was the song the congregation sang together at her baptism, and at the baptism of every baby.  I sing it to her to remind both of us about the promises we made on that day:

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We this day do all agree
a child of God you'll always be.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We your family love you so,
we vow to help your faith to grow.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We are here to say this day
That we will help you on your way.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

And if you should tire or cry,
Then we will sing this lullaby.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

When I first started singing it, I thought it was a little strange that I would say "we," when it was just me and the baby there in the darkness.  But then I thought of all the other people who were there too, their presence heavy in the room:  my mom (her grandma, the original Vicki Jo), my Grandma Joy and Grandpa Bill, Jeff's dad, God's Holy Spirit (not a person, but still).  We are her family, all of us.

I hope this song is embedded so deeply in her memory that nothing can take it away.  No matter what her relationship with God and the church ends up looking like, I want her to know that God's love for her enveloped her from the moment she came earthside. 

Sometimes the children of clergy can end up very resentful of the church (and God, too), because it is a demanding profession.  People may be unhappy with your parent as a pastor, and it colors your whole perception of God.  The church, for better or worse, is a collection of people who are simultaneously saved and sinners.  We try the best we can, but it can get ugly.  I pray that this is never the case for our family (and we are so happy where we are now!), but I want to make sure my baby knows that God's love for her is bigger than any pastor or any church.  God loves her even if she ever chooses to say "no" to God. 

And really, the song is for me, too.  I need to be reminded, every night, that God loves me, protects me, and that, once upon a time, a family of faith covenanted to help me on my way.  And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the packing frenzy

We hit the road for the entire week of Thanksgiving.  It was really a nice time, and we got to see Jeff's folks.  Jeff is more family-oriented that almost anyone I know.  It makes a huge difference in his mood (and thus in mine!) to be able to spend a solid amount of time with his people. 

Jeff with his step-cousin Ben, who is also his best friend.

Jeff with his closest friends at our wedding.  Included in the bunch are a cousin, a step-cousin, and a step-brother.  The rest are like family.

Jeff with his best friend Brandon and best friend/cousin Robert/Tonto (remind me to tell you the story of Tonto another day).

Jeff with his mom Zan at our friend Julie's wedding.

So, with photographic evidence, now you can see that I'm not lying about Jeff being family-oriented.

Back to the trip.  Because we are still somewhat young and mostly poor, we drive.  And drive.  And drive.  To Nashville.  It's about ten hours.  We can do it in eight or nine, but that was pre-baby and frequent stops to nurse and change and just get her out of the God-forsaken seat. 

The baby was actually quite a champion and didn't freak out too much.  The hard part was just being away from home and any semblance of a routine that we have going on (which isn't much to speak of, but still).  Trying to get her to go to bed at night was hopeless.  She knew there was excitement that she wasn't a part of, and there were protestations at every turn.

Why is Vicki Jo shining like a bright angel in this photo? 

We stayed with our close friends Jeremy and Kat in Nashville, and then we headed even further east to Sevierville, Tennessee.  Sevierville is outside Dollywood/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge - a breathtakingly gorgeous area of the state.  Jeff's mom (from the picture) and her family originally come from this part of the state, and they have some family land carved up and topped with amazing log cabins.  We stayed there for several days, then back to Nashville, then back to Kansas. 

I learned a few things.  I learned that taking some time away from work and ministry makes me much more refreshed when I return (and not just a day off here and there.  We're talking a week at a time to really make a difference).  I learned that I still get carsick in the backseat.  I learned that a baby who sleeps all day in the carseat probably won't sleep much at night.

But the real question I have today is this:  does anyone else go bonkers trying to clean your house before you go away on a trip?  It's the weirdest thing.  I have the compulsion to do all the laundry, pack, wash all the dishes and clean the stove, wash all the sheets so they'll be fresh when we get back, make sure everything is folded and put away where it goes, scrub the sink and toilet, use up all the perishables from the fridge . . . why do I do this?  What is this crazy-making instinct to leave my house in spotless shape for . . . no one?  I'm not sure, but please tell me I'm not the only one who does this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

chicken enchiladas

I have the great good fortune to live in a geographical area where delicious, cheap Mexican food is everywhereSeriously.  Within a half-mile of our house, I can count six Mexican joints.  When Jeff and I go, we usually split something, because let's be honest - I'm full after the chips.  Also, Mexican restaurants have totally given a bad name to all other restaurants that don't give you some kind of free all-you-can-eat starch.

I'm partial to cheese enchiladas.  I love the soft corn tortillas, the spicy red sauce, and the oodles of cheese seeping their yummy yellow grease out onto the plate.  Something tells me this can't be on my diet plan.  I mean, all the elements in moderation would probably be fine, but that much cheese in one place is dangerous. 

I stewed a pasture-fed chicken last week to make special broth to puree with the baby's food (no salt or spice, no veggies - just chicken and water).  So, I had a ton of stewed chicken meat in the freezer waiting for me to think of something.  Having recently renewed a commitment to exercise and healthy diet after a church member asked me if I was already pregnant again (ouch!, and also:  why!?), I decided to go after my favorite enchiladas.  Here's what I did:

Chicken & Spinach Enchiladas
1 T olive oil
1/4 of a medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1/2 pound shredded stewed chicken (whatever combination of light and dark meat you fancy)
1 cup enchilada sauce (I used this one), divided
2 cups spinach
1/2 cup light sour cream, divided
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided
6 corn tortillas
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium.  Add in the garlic and onion.  Saute 5 minutes, stirring so it won't burn.  Add in the chicken.  Stir and let it warm up.  Add 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce to the skillet.  Add the spinach and let it wilt down.  Stir in 1/4 cup of the sour cream and 1/2 cup of the cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and pull off the heat.

Spread 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.

In a separate, dry skillet, warm each tortilla over medium for five seconds on each side, to make them pliable.  As you finish warming one, fill it with a spoonful of the chicken filling and place it seam-side down in the baking dish.  Place them close together so they won't come apart.  Once all six are in there, pour the remaining 1/4 cup enchilada sauce, 1/4 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese over the top. 

You will most likely have extra chicken filling.  Eat it with a fork while you are waiting for the enchiladas to be done (kidding!  Or not.  Or just save it for lunch tomorrow).

Place in the oven until the top is melted and bubbly (about fifteen minutes).  Serves two or three, depending on hunger level. 

Sorry about these photos!!  Photographing food is hard . . . and I forgot until after I ate a couple!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

traying it up

This blog isn't exclusively about bacon, I promise.  But it is a fairly large and important part of my life.  Finding quality bacon after we moved from the South was a challenge.  The bacon at the store is kind of thin and bland.  It curls up in the pan when I fry it (I need a bacon press).  Then I decided to scope out the Farmers Market.  Score!  I discovered a local meat processor who made the bacon I was accustomed to:  thick, nicely marbled strips of pork belly.  It's not nitrate-free or organic, but when I run into the ages-old conundrum (ha!) of local vs. organic, I usually lean more toward supporting local businesses and producers.  Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

As much as I love this bacon I found, I can't make it through a pound before it starts to get a little funky.  So, when I get home with my pound of bacon, I take it right out of the package and start a process my husband and his restaurant friends call "traying up."  I take a sheet pan, spread it out into a single layer, and pop it in the freezer.  Like so:

When it's frozen solid, I pull the pieces off the tray and place them into a plastic freezer bag.  This way, I the slices aren't frozen together, so I can pull out one or two when I need them and leave the rest for later.  I just love when a bright idea comes to me!

Friday, November 18, 2011

counterintuitive cleansing

I have been making a concerted effort of late to rid our home environment and diet of things that aren't natural and wholesome.  I've done the easy stuff for a long time:  cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, drinking filtered water, eating as many whole and unprocessed foods as I can.  It was time to step up my game.

Toiletries and self-care products contain a litany of strange unpronounceable chemicals, and they are subject to even less regulation than edibles!  For example, I recently read a whole article about how Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo contains known carcinogens.  Ugh.  I'm not naive enough to think that I can prevent myself or my family ever getting sick or eventually dying (won't we all?).  But I do want to make the quality of life we enjoy between now and then as high as possible.

I have often wondered about how people in ancient times or even pioneer days cared for their bodies.  In my Latin classes, I learned all about the baths and how olive oil was used to clean the skin.  I never really stopped to think it through too much.  But olive oil?  Cleaning?  How?  My only experience with it had been to grease up pans for cooking.

On a couple of different blogs, I found out about the "oil-cleanse method."  Apparently the idea is that oil attracts excess oil to itself.  Also, many of us were brainwashed by Noxzema commercials when we were teenagers to think that the cure for breakouts is to remove all traces of oil from your skin.  But your skin needs oil!  Sometimes skin becomes more oily as an overcompensation for having all the moisture stripped from it by harsh cleansers. 

So I decided to give it a try . . . and it's been amazing!  It's cheap, natural, and does an awesome job of cleaning my skin while still leaving the proper amount of moisture.  I've been toying with the proportions a little, because my skin tends to be on the dry side (especially as we go into the dry-heat-conditioned rooms of winter).  But start with a one-to-one ratio, and see what happens!

Start with olive oil (cold-pressed is good) and castor oil (I found this at Walgreen's in the "digestive health" section.)  Make a sample batch to see how it works for you:  I just put 1 T of each into a spare little plastic travel bottle and mixed it together.  On the proportions:  the olive oil is the moisturizing element and the castor oil is the purifying one.  So if you tend to be more on the oily side, try 2 T castor oil to 1 T olive oil.  Likewise, if you're dry like me, try 2:1 olive oil to castor oil.  It may take a little trial and error to find your perfect formula.

Massage a quarter-sized amount into your dry face.  Take a washcloth and run it under very hot water.  Drape the hot washcloth over your face and slowly count to ten.  Rinse the washcloth and run it back over your face to remove any excess oil.

You may or may not still need a little face lotion after this.  I actually haven't needed any at all, and I've been doing this every morning for the last two weeks or so. 

This success gave me the courage to think about trying to make more of our own natural toiletries and cleaning supplies.  Next up . . . homemade laundry detergent!

Monday, November 7, 2011

yogurt for the masses

Thick, tangy Greek yogurt became a favorite of mine during pregnancy.  Because it is strained and most of the whey is taken out, it is very high in protein.  When I was following the Brewer diet, Chobani was my favorite brand - 16 grams of protein in 6 oz of yogurt!  You can't do much better unless you're eating meat.

I toyed with the idea of making my own yogurt, but there didn't really seem to be any reason to.  The brand I buy doesn't have any preservatives, and it's made with milk with no growth hormones.  Then, my world was rocked by this book:

I won't go totally into it now, because it's a huge topic, but this book promotes healing from a variety of illnesses through diet.  I'm not sure if I totally buy it, but I don't think that improving nutrition can hurt anything.

The author advocates yogurt (and the whey that you can strain off of yogurt) as one of the best sources of healthy bacteria for your digestive system.  You know how yogurt you see in the store says "contains five live cultures!" or whatever?  That's good, but you can do much better.  You can multiply the probiotics in your yogurt considerably by making your own.  See, yogurt you buy in the store has to be made with pasteurized milk (at least in the state of Kansas, it does).  Pasteurization kills many of the live active cultures, some of which are then added back in during the culturing process.  But if you make your own from raw milk, you never lose all that healthy bacteria to begin with!

I found raw milk at our local dairy farm and decided to try my hand at making some yogurt.  Raw, unpasteurized milk is teeming with healthful bacteria.  It's veritably alive.  It doesn't take much to colonize it with good bacteria.

 I just took 1/3 cup of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt and mixed it into half a gallon of raw whole milk in a large Dutch oven.  I chose this brand because it had the most live active cultures of any at the store (seven!).

I took the mixture and heated it on the lowest setting my oven would reach (150).  You need to maintain a temperature between 105-113 to allow the bacteria to do their work.  It was a bit of a trick keeping the temperature steady.  They make special yogurt-makers, but it seems a little silly to buy a special piece of equipment just to keep something at 110 degrees.  So, I would set the oven, then turn it off, then set it again.  You could also stick a heating pad on high in there.  I just kept measuring it with an instant-read thermometer to make sure it was roughly in the right range.

And then you just leave it for a minimum of 24 hours.  A crazy thing happens.  It thickens and sours a bit.  It starts to taste, well, like yogurt.  After you're done with it, pack it into clean glass jars and put in the fridge.  You can strain out the whey and make it thicker, but be sure to drink the whey or add it into a smoothie or something because it is packed with good stuff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

bacon fat!

Might I just take this opportunity to say that I'm a huge fan of bacon?  And bacon fat?  I know that makes me sound like a total hedonist, but it's really not so bad!  On the package of bacon I used tonight, two slices is a serving size, and that has seventy calories.  I used just one slice, so for only thirty-five calories, I had a mouth-watering starting place for a pasta dish that was otherwise very lean and nutritious.

This was also a pantry- and fridge-cleaner outer.  As I recently mentioned, we are newly recommitted to home cooking and avoiding eating out except when it's really going to be necessary and/or delicious.  I have also not had time to go to the store in about ten days.  To say things have been hectic would be the understatement of my lifetime.  Although we went out for dinner for a friend's birthday last night, tonight I was sorely tempted to tell Jeff to bring home some wings and fries (when your husband works at the emporium of chicken wings, eating not-so-responsibly becomes dead easy).  But I resisted!  And it was worth it.  Try this one on for size:

Pasta with Shrimp, Bacon and Tomatoes
1/4 lb of your favorite whole-wheat pasta (I used leftover lasagna noodles broken in half, but that wouldn't have been my first choice!  Something shorter and more tubular would be good for this sauce.)
1 oz bacon (typically one slice), sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 lb thawed and peeled frozen shrimp
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (or scant 1 C fresh peeled and diced tomatoes)
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook the pasta and drain.  Meanwhile, saute the bacon pieces in a small skillet over medium.  When they are crisp, remove them to a plate lined with paper towel, leaving the fat behind.  Add the garlic and cook for thirty seconds, stirring constantly to avoid burning.  Add the tomatoes and allow them to reduce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add shrimp to the tomatoes and garlic.  Cook shrimp just until pink throughout and slightly curled up.  Taste the sauce and add salt or pepper as needed.  Add the bacon pieces back into the dish and serve!  Makes one serving.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

on my shelf: trust and wonder

This is one of a series on books that I've found indispensable in growing, birthing, and parenting a child.  If you're interested in what else is on my shelf, check out these posts.

I have given a lot of attention to the Montessori method in my book series thus far, but I don't want to give short shrift to my other, softer, more pastel educational philosophy:  Waldorf.  Vicki Jo and I did a six-week class at our local Waldorf School, and it was lovely.  I really think that you can read and research all you want, but nothing substitutes for actually being in an environment and feeling it out for yourself.  Also, it helps you understand that for both Montessori and Waldorf, broad sweeping statements are largely useless.  The individual school/community/environment matters most.  There was a slim little volume that went along with the registration fee for the course, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it:

Trust and Wonder:  A Waldorf Approach to Caring for Infants and Toddlers is written by Eldbjorg Gjessing Paulsen (what a name!).  She has been active in both Scandinavian and South African Waldorf schools, so she has seen a variety of contexts.  The book is meant for both parents and Waldorf educators.  There are some sections that are more practical application-oriented for creating Kindergartens (which in Waldorf parlance can go anywhere from two or three years until six or seven), and these aren't really germane to the home-parenting audience. 

Paulsen draws on her personal experience and Steiner's philosophy to describe an ideal environment for very young children:  free of extraneous noise (of all kinds - visual, auditory, touch), well-ordered and attentive to the cyclical rhythms that create structure in our lives.  "Rhythm and routine" was a very important chapter for me.  It helped me see the difference between having my child on a schedule (which I'm convinced will never happen, even if I tried!), and following a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rhythm in our activities.  Even within the parts of the day, allowing times for the day to inhale and exhale became a part of my thought.  This means that you allow for times when your child is intensely focused on an activity, and then you make sure they have time to recover and integrate their sense experiences.

Paulsen covers the all-important Waldorf concept of free play with nondescript, natural toys, and gives a brief but comprehensive background portrait of the entire philosophy (which has branches related to much more than childhood education!).  She outlines what a day in the Kindergarten might look like.  She discusses the inclusion of the child in the daily activities of the home (baking, kneading, dusting, sweeping - this is one area where Montessori and Waldorf largely agree:  the child doesn't need structured stimulating activities.  The home and the ordinary activities therein provide all the stimulation she needs).

This is a must-read if you are interested in incoporating Waldorf principles into your daily home environment.  I know it has given me much to think and dream about already, and my child is only seven months old!

Friday, November 4, 2011

chili (with beans)

Only somewhat recently did I discover that there is a controversy over what constitutes chili.  I was raised up on one kind:  tomato-based with ground beef and kidney beans.  When I went to work at camp in Tennessee, I first met people from Texas.  Their idea of chili was about as far off from mine as you could imagine.  They insisted that it needed to be discrete chunks of meat, and no beans.  I thought theirs was more like a steak soup - delicious in its own right, but not chili. 

Wednesday evening was cold, windy, and rainy.  I mentally scanned through the list of recipes that I go to in a pinch:  tacos, pasta, stirfry?  None seemed right.  Then my mind drifted to a steamy bowl of chili and cornbread.  Perfect!

Jeff and I have made a serious commitment to cooking more at home.  We had gotten so lazy, and picking things up or eating out seems so easy.  But, my waistline has stopped shrinking since my initial pound sheddage after the baby's birth, and we spent $646 (I'm not joking) on eating out last month.  That's right.  A family of two.  Six hundred forty-six dollars.  So, cooking has to become a priority once again. 

I whipped this up after putting the baby to sleep on Wednesday night, and we ate cheaply and nutritiously.  And I had leftovers last night.  A win-win.  The apple cider vinegar gives it a perfect little tang in the background.  If you're wary about canned foods (and I'm really trying to reduce our reliance on them, since many contain BPA as a can liner), just use a scant two cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes and two cups of soaked and rinsed dry kidney beans.

1 lb ground beef (use whatever lean/fat percentage you like, but you may have to skim the fat a little if you use chuck; we used 93/7)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
scant 2 C chicken or beef broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (low- or no-salt)
1/3 C chili powder
2 t cumin
1 16 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 T apple cider vinegar
sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the ground beef in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Skim off some fat if there seems to be too much.  Add the onion and saute until it is clear and soft (about ten minutes).  Drop in the garlic and saute for a minute or so.  Add the broth and use a spoon or whisk to scrape up all the brown stuff on the bottom of the pot.  Add tomatoes, chili powder, and cumin.  Bring to a boil, then drop back to a simmer.  Simmer for ten minutes, then add beans, vinegar, and salt to taste.  Let it simmer until you're ready to eat.  The longer it cooks, the more the flavors come together.  Serve with sour cream and cheddar as toppings.  Serves four.

We also ate this with cornbread made from the recipe on the cornmeal container.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

our family doctor

Like many families these days, Jeff and I never had a "doctor," per se.  Jeff has had myriad specialists and always has a gastroenterologist because of his Crohn's disease.  I saw a nurse practitioner or midwife every year for an annual exam - as most women do - and that was it.  Because I was in school for so long, I benefited from the clinics that are associated with universities.  I never had to pay for these visits, but I also had no continuity of care.  I saw a different person each year that I went in. 

One of the things I loved about being pregnant was going to the midwife.  It was like a fun little social appointment with some measuring and weighing added in.  I really looked forward to those visits, and when they became more frequent toward the end my delight was multiplied.  It made me realize that I owed it to our family to find a medical professional who could care for us, and with whom we had a solid, lasting relationship. 

The search for a doctor for your baby starts when the baby is still in utero.  They tell you to really begin calling and looking around at about six months.  Most people ask some friends, check with their insurance company, and find a pediatrician who is part of a large practice that specializes in child medicine.  I decided I'd rather have someone who knew our whole family, and would be able to see Vicki Jo past the age of childhood.  I wanted a family doctor.

A general practitioner is surprisingly hard to find these days.  Topeka is a city of about 120,000.  I found exactly four family doctors.  A couple were older and weren't taking any new patients.  One wouldn't accept our insurance.  That left us with Ryan Bennett, DO.  I was curious about what those letters after Dr. Bennett's name meant.  She (yes, Ryan is a she) is an osteopath.  When I began researching DO vs. MD, I discoverd I much favored the approach of the osteopath, anyway.  These doctors are trained in the almost-lost art of diagnosing illnesses with the hands, rather than relying so heavily on testing and analysis.  Also, I loved reading that osteopaths tend to favor a more whole-person approach, finding out about mental, emotional, and physical health as part of one package. 

We made an initial appointment with Dr. Bennett and it was a smashing success.  I was heavily pregnant at the time, and she caught on immediately to the fact that I was quite swollen and my blood pressure was up.  She was actually the first person to suggest I be screened for pre-eclampsia, just based on her initial observations.

She was also knowledgeable about Jeff's Crohn's (although, as I mentioned, he sees a specialist for that).  When we explained that we were still deciding how we felt about all vaccinations for our child, she encouraged us to make informed decisions and offered resources, rather than just pushing a party line. 

After the baby came along, Dr. Bennett was thorough and thoughtful.  Although the baby never gained weight at the rate most doctors would have like, Dr. Bennett never freaked out on me.  When we decided to slow down on our vaccination schedule, she just asked to take a look at it so she could familiarize herself.  She trusted that we had done our research and found what was best for our family.  The only thing she ever pushed was Vitamin D.  She spends a lot of time with us at each visit, and we never feel like our baby is being pushed through a factory.  I kind of love the fact that there aren't a lot of babies in her practice, because she isn't constantly comparing Vicki Jo to a million other babies in her mind and using that to judge whether she is "normal" or not. 

Jeff threw his back out recently while riding the bike I got him for his birthday, and Dr. Bennett helped him regain strength and ease his discomfort through a series of stretches and exercises, rather than just prescribing him painkillers.  That's the kind of thing I love about osteopathy. 

All in all, I am so happy with the decision that we made.  I love that Dr. Bennett can identify patterns in the health of our family, and encourage us as a unit to make better choices for ourselves.  She can see if Jeff's Crohn's is making an impact on Vicki Jo's digestion, or judge whether my anxiety is causing her to have sleeping troubles.  I hope that Dr. Bennett remains a part of our family for a long, long time.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Here is proof that I am dreadfully frugal cheap.  If plastic bags haven't had anything horrendous in them like raw meat or onions, I wash and reuse them:

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Am I the only person on earth who does this?  I guess I don't think it's that weird because my mom did it too!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

crunchy granola

[This post submitted to SortaCrunchy's "Your Green Resource"]

I kinda love the fact that "granola" can mean "sustainable, hippy-ish, dirty, Birkenstock-wearing" or whatever else you want it to mean.  I'm kind of all those things (well, I'm definitely Birkenstock-wearing, but all the others more or less), and I also love granola!  It's one of those "health" foods that can be surprisingly awful for you.  My version is pretty much just oats and nuts, with a handful of dried fruit tossed in for sweetness and good measure.  I like to eat it with yogurt, or even a splash of milk.  My husband is a breakfast-cereal addict, and this doesn't quite cut it for him.  It's a little heavy and chewing-intensive compared to, say, Golden Grahams.  But for me, it's breakfast perfection!

3 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking, not instant, not steel-cut)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw almonds (whole or sliced)
1/2 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries or raisins
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
olive oil

Preheat oven to 250.  Take all the nuts and combine them in the food processor.  Give the mixture twenty one-second pulses, until the nuts are chunky and similar in size.  Combine the chopped nuts, oats, dried fruit, and maple syrup in a large bowl.  Mix until everything is well-coated in syrup.  Drizzle a little olive oil (maybe a teaspoon - I hate measuring oil because I feel like half of it stays in the measuring spoon - anybody with me on this?) on a large baking sheet, and use a paper towel or clean dishrag to spread it around and make a light film on the sheet.  Turn the granola out onto the oiled sheet and use a spatula to pat it out into an even layer.  Bake, stirring every ten minutes, until it is nice and crunchy (this will depend on how humid it is, how dry your nuts were, etc).  Probably forty minutes is the longest I've ever gone.  Let it cool on the sheet and then put into a jar or tupperware.  Store in the fridge.  Lasts a long time and makes a lot of servings.

extra! extra! read all about it!

Hi my friends.  I am featured today over at even one sparrow.  I'm, like, totally blushing over the nice things Rachel had to say about my little project.  Be sure to check out/follow her blog because she is an awesome writer, committed Christian, really into social justice, and taught me about the oil cleanse method.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

multiple intelligences & god's creation

I have always sort of instinctually understood that different people learn in different ways.  I had a friend who made up songs to memorize facts for tests in high school.  I know people who loved group work and learned best from having a peer explain a concept to them.  I myself am a person who thinks well while walking or otherwise moving my body.  But I didn't come to formally know about multiple intelligences theory until I took a Christian Education class in Divinity School.  Our teacher introduced us to Howard Gardner's ideas, first put forth in 1983. 

Gardner's thought, on the simplest level, is that everyone has a preferred style of learning.  He originally devised a scheme of seven styles:  interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, verbal-linguistic, spatial, logical-mathematical. 

Later, some additional types have been added by different thinkers:  naturalistic and existential.  Think back to your experience in grade school.  Was it easy for you to sit still?  Did you listen carefully to the teacher?  Now think to high school:  were you able to synthesize thoughts well and anaylze arguments logically?  If you answered yes to all of this, you probably have high linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, which are what our traditional educational system favors.  IQ tests typically measure these intelligences and pronounce whether you are "smart" or not. 

The issue, though, is that there is a whole more "smart" out there than just those two kinds.  I cannot tell you the number of times I told wiggly little boys to "sit still and listen" while I was helping teach first grade.  Many of these little boys would probably be convinced by eighth or ninth grade that they were "not smart" and "not good at school," because schools discourage their bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences. 

One of the things I love about Montessori education is that it encourages the child's dominant intelligence by having activities of all seven types spread about the room and allowing the child free choice to learn as they wish.  The one downside is that certain Montessori classrooms may discourage interpersonal learning by overemphasizing independence.

Anyway, my main point for today is that Christian worship, by and large, doesn't address these seven intelligences.  We are most likely to try to teach others by using our dominant intelligence.  For me, this would probably be linguistic.  I love words, they come easily to me, I love manipulating and creating them.  Thus, in a worship setting, I am a person who leads with words.  I give sermons, which require linguistic, interpersonal, and logical-mathematical intelligences (and a little bodily-kinesthetic in the gesticulating and musical in the cadences of speech).  I pray, which requires intrapersonal, linguistic, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, and a bit of musical intelligence. 

But think through your average worship service:  hymns, prayers, quiet time, sermon, passing the peace.  There is a little room for movement, but it is largely focused on listening, understanding, analyzing and applying ideas to your life.  This favors a certain kind of learner, and this is unfair, in my estimation.  My husband usually finds worship services boring and interminable.  This is because his primary intelligences are spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and intrapersonal.  These are very seldom stimulated in a traditional worship service.  When I'm crafting worship, I love to keep him in mind.  What would make him excited?  What would keep him engaged?  Not a long sermon that he's required to listen to with sustained attention.  Not a lot of long and elaborate hymns from the eighteenth century.  Now, don't get me wrong - for some folks, these are the bee's knees.  (Namely - for me!)  But for too long, churches have insisted that the worship of God must be conducted in one way, and that leaves out so much of God's glorious creation. 

So, I'm committed to making a change in how we view and do worship, so that more and more of what God has made so beautifully can whole-heartedly worship God together.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

montessori-style solids

Baby-led weaning is all the rave amongst attachment-y parents these days, and I can see why.  It's low-maintenance, family-friendly, and enables you to give the baby what your family eats.  For those who don't speak infant, baby-led weaning is essentially a non-practice.  You don't do the baby purees and you don't feed your baby with a spoon.  Rather, you just give them appropriately-sized chunks of whatever is good for them:  usually fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins.  You let them put everything in their mouths and gum or tooth it (trust me:  at this age, everything goes in the mouth anyway, so it's not like you have to coax them to do it).  You still typically follow a slow introduction schedule, where you give one food at a time for several days to make sure there are no allergies.  It's not a total free-for-all.  But it's a pretty easy-going way to start giving your baby some first foods.

And then there's the Montessori style.  Of course, there is a method.  There is equipment.  It can seem fussy if you don't embrace the principles behind it.  And, like everything Montessori, you can bet there are principles at play.  The sensitive period for weaning begins around four months, and lasts for awhile after that.  Because four months is a little young to be giving chunks of stuff, purees and traditionally textured baby foods are encouraged.  Juices as well.  A weaning table and chair are for the child who is able to sit unassisted (or with a little help), and give the child a more exact replica of the reality of eating successfully on one's own.

(Not my baby!  Photo credit.)

Like most of my adventures with Montessori, I've done it a little half-fast.  I haven't bought a weaning table and chair, but we did get a pull-up-to-the-table infant/child chair with no tray.  That's a step in the right direction.  We have done both baby-led weaning and purees.  The baby wants to eat when we eat (one of the signs that she is ready for food), so if we're at a restaurant or eating supper, she gets little bits of whatever isn't seasoned (carrot sticks, cucumber chunks, cantaloupe cubes, etc).  I happen to believe that proper nutrition is the key to almost all health (even if I don't always practice what I preach on this one!), and I have been so excited about the possibilities of introducing Vicki Jo to excellent, whole foods from the beginning.  So, here's a typical meal for us (dinner tonight):

(Excuse the poor photo quality - a photographer, I am not.)

(Sugar snap peas, pureed with a little homemade chicken stock made specially for baby:  a whole chicken simmered in water with no salt or additional ingredients.)

(Avocado, plain mashed.)

(Yogurt I made myself from raw milk.)

(A little cup of water to practice drinking.)

(Very important:  a hungry pup to help with cleanup.)

We do a mixture of me spoon-feeding her and her spoon-feeding herself.  Needless to say, more gets into her mouth and down into her tummy when I'm in charge of the spoon.  However, I want her to gain experience with using utensils, so I give her an opportunity to do it herself.  She is surprisingly quick on the uptake with this.

Of course, things get a bit messy.

And the yogurt, which we tried for the first time tonight, was a little tart (but teeming with amazing probiotics!).

We also practice drinking from a cup.  This is a wooden shot glass I found at the Renaissance Festival a few weeks ago.  I'm diverging from traditional Montessori practice here, as the suggestion would be for all materials to be real (read:  breakable) to encourage natural control of error (i.e. if you drop it, it shatters.)  Also, it's encouraged for everything to be clear, so the child gains understanding about the volume of containers as they are eating.  I thought the wood was a good compromise as it is still a real and natural material, but not so breakable.

She really, really loves drinking out of a cup.  It is probably her favorite part of the whole meal.  Now, whenever I'm drinking from a cup, she demands a sip!  I just have to ensure that whatever I'm drinking is suitable for her.

Overall, mealtimes have been very pleasant and fun for us so far.  Vicki Jo is showing no signs of being picky.  She has enjoyed all foods that we've tried this way (off the top of my head:  carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas, bananas, avocados, yogurt, chicken broth).  She also has a very hearty appetite.  Now, if only I had a juicer so I could give her little tastes of healthful, live juice . . .

For those who are interested in more information, here is a fantastic post and chart comparing Montessori-style weaning and baby-led weaning from the very articulate Kylie of how we montessori.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011


When my husband describes his dream of opening a restaurant to me, I get all caught up in the recipe-planning part.  I would love to be his menu consultant, or perhaps the person who figures out how many items you can make from the same basic ingredients (to cut down on food cost).  At the grocery store, I pretty much always buy the same twelve or fifteen items.  I try to let my imagination guide me when it comes time for dinner.  This works out pretty well, except I think I miss out on recipes that require some lead time.  Let me guide you through this process and how it played out at dinner tonight.

4:00 - decide "chicken, green beans, rice" (and always a salad for me)
7:15 - get baby to sleep, Jeff starts brown rice in the steamer (remind me to do a separate post about the rice steamer - like Alton Brown, I hate single-use appliances, but this one has been a life-saver)
7:30 - cut a couple slices of bacon into small bits and start browning in a large skillet
7:35 - cut a large chicken breast in half horizontally to make two cutlets
7:38 - chop the ends off some green beans and drop into a small cold skillet
7:40 - add three cubes of frozen chicken broth, salt, red pepper flakes, and a spoonful of bacon fat into the green bean skillet, put the lid on, and cook over medium-high heat
7:45 - remove the bacon from the large skillet and put the chicken breasts into the remaining bacon fat
7:50 - chop up some romaine lettuce, combine it with halved cherry tomatoes, spinach leaves, and half of the bacon bits to make my salad
7:55 - turn chicken breasts and check on green beans
7:57 - lower heat on green beans to low, as they are pretty much tender
8:00 - remove the chicken from the pan and add four cubes of frozen chicken broth to make a sauce
8:01 - whisk the chicken broth into the large skillet, pulling up all the browned bits on the bottom
8:03 - rice is done
8:04 - make salad dressing:  combine two tablespoons half-and-half with one tablespoon balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and a teaspoon of honey all into a small jar.  Put the lid on and shake it up.
8:06 - finish sauce for chicken:  add some garlic butter, a little salt and pepper, and the remaining cooked bacon into the broth that's been reducing in the large skillet.  Slide the chicken back into the sauce.
8:10 - dinner is served!!

And that's how it's done, on a nightly basis, in our home.  That is, on nights when I don't just cave and buy a cheeseburger at the BoBo Drive-in.

Monday, October 17, 2011

creature comforts

My husband and I have both been feeling pretty unwell this week.  Stomach cramps, indigestion, and I'll leave the rest to your imagination.  I'm not sure if it was a flu bug, inflammation, or what, but it was very uncomfortable.  We both go to very simple places, food-wise, when we're not feeling so good.  Plain pasta, toast with butter, apples, bananas.  Uncomplicated stuff.  I had a pint of cherry tomatoes left from our last CSA delivery two weeks ago, and they were looking sad.  I remembered an old Ina Garten trick:  roast tomatoes that are off-season or past their prime.  It will concentrate the flavors and bring out the succulence.  Worked like a charm.  I had my pasta with the tomatoes, Jeff had his plain with butter.  We both felt a bit more soothed.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes
1/4 pound thin spaghetti
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 t dried thyme
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.  Dump the tomatoes and garlic into an 8x8 glass baking dish, sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper, and drizzle the oil over.  Toss with your hands to coat and bake for an hour, or until they are all burst open and starting to get a bit browned.

When the tomatoes only have ten minutes or so to go, boil the pasta and drain.  Drop in some butter and toss to coat.  Pinch the garlic cloves between your fingers to let the roasted garlic out over the tomatoes.  Divide pasta between two bowls and put some tomatoes and their juices on top of each serving. 

Serves two.

Friday, October 14, 2011

tripp trapp, revisited

We didn't register for a high chair for our baby showers.  I wasn't sure what kind I wanted, and I assigned it to our "figure it out later" list.  As I investigated the options, I became enamored of the Stokke Tripp Trapp. 

I love the fact that it grows up with your child, is stylish and not "kid-cluttery" or plastic, and that it enables your child to pull up directly to the table and eat with the family.  (Of course, we are still working on the whole "eating as a family at the table" concept, but what is life if you don't have areas for improvement?!)

The downside?  You guessed it.  It's spendy.  The chair, with the infant insert you need for a babe and shipping and handling, would be close to $300.  That's a major investment, my friends. 

So I did what I always do.  I got on Craigslist and looked around.  Found a fantastic knock-off for fifty bucks and a drive to Kansas City.  All I had to do was order a new cushion cover, and I had my pull-up-to-the-table grow-with-your-child modern-design wooden chair.  The baby digs it, too: