Sunday, July 31, 2011

cheap, healthy, shelf-stable

Back when I was a student (for so, so many years), I needed good, healthy dishes that I could take with me in the morning and didn't necessarily need refrigeration.  Buying lunch can really add up quickly, and I've always been so frugal (Jeff calls it miserly cheap).  Now that I have a refrigerator near my office, I don't even need it!  I usually go home for lunch.  But still, this is one of my favorite meals to make for one, especially when I'm ready to take a break from a meat-centered repast.  

Tip:  to keep a bunch of parsley fresh for a long time in the fridge, I treat it like a bouquet of flowers:  put up on their stems in a cup of cold water and change the water frequently.  I've had parsley last as long as three weeks like this.

Couscous and Chickpeas
1/3 C dry couscous
2/3 C chicken broth
1/2 C canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1 C chopped spinach
1/4 C chopped parsley
1 green onion, chopped finely
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
wedge of lemon

Boil the chicken broth, then remove from heat, add the couscous, stir and cover.  Let sit for five minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Fluff the couscous with a fork and turn it out into a bowl.  Add chickpeas, spinach, parsley, and green onion and toss.  Dress with olive oil and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.  516 calories altogether.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Montessori from the Start, II of III

This is the second in my three-part series on Montessori from the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  For part one, and a little background on the book, click here.  Today, I'm going to discuss some questions the book raised for me, and some recommendations I'm probably not going to follow.

First, scheduled feedings!  No!  This book was last edited in 2003, so there is no excuse about outdated advice.  While they strongly advocate breastfeeding, which I love, they also make some assumptions about how nursing will be used to create order in the child's life:  "By the time of weaning at approximately six to nine months, the baby is most often on a schedule of five meals a day, usually at six and ten'o'clock in the morning, and two, six, and ten'o'clock in the evening."*  Hello!?  Have you met my child?  She likes to eat all the time, and at four months, she's nowhere near a four-hourly schedule.  And I'm not trying to push her there.  Scheduled feeding has been linked to failure to thrive, to which we've come dangerously close in the past.  Thanks but no thanks on this one.

Second, the quote above references another sticking point I'm having:  early weaning.  Now, let's be straight about what "weaning" might mean.  To some people, it means the introduction of any other food or drink besides breastmilk.  So, in that case, because my baby gets a tiny bit of formula three times a week, she might be considered as already in the weaning process.  To others, it mean the cessation of breastfeeding altogether.  Lillard and Jessen are talking about the latter.  Current medical advice on this is a minimum of one year of nursing, if the nursing couple (mother-baby) is capable of that.  In fact, the World Health Organization advocates two years of breastfeeding. 

But here is the quote on weaning:  "Now at nine months, mother and infant are challenged with a new mission - that of separation . . . weaning from the breast is a move toward independence from the mother and represents the child's further embrace of the world."**  There seems to be some Montessori wisdom at play here, about the sensitive period of the child for weaning, but I've worked so very hard to establish a good nursing relationship that I'm probably going to carry on for as long as the baby wants to.  At least a year is my goal.  Check in with me in another six months!

Finally, there was a whole section that was essentially on sleep training.  This is, of course, a controversial subject among parents, but my child and I sleep together.  This is primarily a convenience for night feeding, but now we are also both reliant on the closeness of one another to sleep well.  "Sleeping through the night" seems to be of paramount importance:  "It is essential to work toward this nightly sleep pattern from the beginning.  Otherwise a 'wake up' nighttime habit becomes firmly established."***  I'm left wondering why this "wake up" habit is so objectionable.  "The sooner you can get the baby into a nighttime sleep patter, the sooner you can be a better parent.  If by three to three and a half months, your baby is not on a stable schedule, it is time to get seriously to work on it."****  Uh-oh!  I'm in trouble.  They also reference Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which is not necessarily totally against bed-sharing, but is not the most avid supporter.  So, I'm leaving this recommendation behind altogether.  I know there is a Montessori principle behind it (encouraging the independence of the child and confidence in sleeping alone), but I suppose I'll choose to follow the child on this one.

All of these divergences seem to come from the attachment parent side of me, and there is a long-standing dialogue between Montessori adherents and attachment parents about how the two philosophies can work together.  In any case, I feel confident in my decisions about these matters.  I may be inexperienced, but I know enough about my baby at this point to make these adaptations. 

Next Saturday I'll wrap up the series on Montessori from the Start with my final take-away:  the changes I'll be making in environment and approach to support my child's development.

*Montessori from the Start, p. 137.
** Ibid., p. 136, emphasis mine.
*** Ibid., p. 124.
**** Ibid., p. 126.

Friday, July 29, 2011

11 pounds 12.2 ounces*

of pure strong baby muscle!!  look who is holding her head up like she's been doing it all her life:

*that was her weight last Saturday, so hopefully she's more than that now!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

one wintry cold evening . . .

Today, let me tell you a story.  This is one of Jeff's and my favorite tales of misadventure.  We were doing a grand loop of the Midwest during one of our winter breaks (when we still were students and had winter breaks . . . sigh).  We were still living in Nashville at this time.  We had been to Lawrence to see friends, my brother and sister-in-law, and my stepdad and his wife.  Then we turned northeast and headed to my sister's in Illinois.  We had left a bit late, so we knew we would be finishing the six-hour-drive by about eight or nine that night.  It was New Year's Eve and we wanted to be in Taylorville in time to celebrate the ball dropping in Central Time.

Jeff had recently been given the use of a GPS unit by his job, and we borrowed it for our trip.  The GPS was trusty, and we enjoyed having it point out alternate routes on these well-worn paths for us.  After all, the wheat- and cornfields of Kansas, Missouri and Illinois can provide only so much excitement.  We traveled east across Missouri on 36 Highway.  We crossed through Hannibal, birthplace of Mark Twain/Samuel Clements, and onto I-72.  As we got to the far side of Springfield, we decided to use the GPS to provide a fun rural road.  We turned off as the sun was setting behind us.  We went through small town after thriving small town.  Did you know Illinois has a large amount of non-ghost, apparently non-meth-addled small towns? 

We gathered that we had made a wrong turn onto the blacktop that would take us through the final stretch to Taylorville.  Rather than make a U-turn on the road, Jeff opted to turn left onto a dirt road that the GPS told us would connect back to the road we wanted.  It was dark and we couldn't see well.  Suddenly, we realized that we were on a farm access road!  This was not even a legitimately constructed road to hold the load of his pickup and the two of us.  By the time we understood that we needed to get off this road and quick, we were stuck in the side of a huge mudpile.  It was probably eight'o'clock.

Jeff tried to free us by rocking the truck - rhythmically gunning the gas to try to get a little traction under the tires.  We didn't budge.  He had a few spare lumber scraps in the truckbed (don't ask), so we wedged them under the tires to make a platform.  No luck - the tires pushed them out of the way with their spinning before they could gain any purchase.  We were starting to get desperate, and the reality set in that we were miles from any recognizable road on New Year's Eve.  We saw a house up on the hill - I figure it was the people who owned the field we were in - and there was a light on in the window.  We had no cell phone service, and the only option was to trudge up the steep hill, coated in mud from the trek from truck to gravel road, and knock on their door.  I felt certain that this was the moment I was going to be murdered by serial killers.

We got to the top of the hill, knocked timidly on the door, and were welcomed by some fine farmers to step only onto their welcome mat inside the door because we were absolutely caked in wet mud.  They were understandably puzzled about why in God's name we had turned onto their farm road, but they brought us their cordless phone and gave us the number of a tow truck service.  Our hopes were low because it was a holiday night, but there was an answer!  We told the guy where we were and he said he would be out in half an hour.  We spent the next awkward thirty minutes standing on a two-foot square area while making small talk with these elderly rural folk. 

The tow truck man finally arrived, and amid our profuse gratitude about coming out on New Year's Eve, we hopped in his truck and took him down the hill to where our truck was stuck.  We thought this would be a quick job and we would be on our way.  He backed his truck onto the mud road, hooked a thick tow chain to the underside of our pickup's bumper . . . and proceeded to get his truck completely and hopelessly stuck in the mud as well.  So now we had our truck hooked to a tow truck - both mired in the mud.  The tow truck man called his girlfriend.  We all hopped in his truck and listened to tunes while we waited another half-hour for her to arrive.  She was a sweetheart, and we thanked her relentlessly as she explained that she was missing her bowling league's championship game.  We really felt like a couple of idiots at this point for driving into an access road in the dark.  She drove us into town, dropped the three of us off at the tow truck man's house, and we all hopped into his truck to drive back out to the two stuck trucks. 

While we were at his house, I was sure I was going to be murdered by serial killers for the second time.  Instead, he offered any of the old American Pickers-type antique stuff he had in his garage to us for free.  What a nice guy.  We arrived back at the farm road, hooked his truck to the tow truck, and each of us hopped in one of the vehicles to steer.  After a few false starts and some wiggles, His F-150 singlehandedly pulled out his tow truck and our S10 back onto the gravel road.  We jumped for joy!  We were free!  This whole project had taken about four hours.  The tow truck man charged us only $75 for this whole ridiculous experience, but we insisted on giving him a hundred.  We raced back to the main highway, vowing to never again follow the GPS into oblivion. 

We arrived at my sister's house at about 11:53.  Her sleepy son emerged from his bedroom to find us completely covered in dried mud like a couple of chocolate-dipped bananas.  He looked so confused, and then he just turned around and went back to bed.  I don't remember anything else about that night, but this remains one of my all-time favorite stories to this day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the efficacy of prayer

"Very often the spontaneous prayer is an ordinary conversation with somebody who is called 'God,' but who is actually another man to whom we tell things, often at greath length, to whom we give thanks and of whom we ask favors."  (Paul Tillich, The New Being)

I lost my glasses last Saturday.  I only need them for reading (actually I need them all the time but only wear them for reading), so I wasn't too concerned.  However, as Sunday passed, then Monday, my eye-strain and headache increased apace, and finally on Tuesday I was getting desperate.  I didn't know when to draw and line and call the eye doctor and get some new ones. 

I'm a spiritual-religious type, naturally, so I began to pray about it.  God, help me find my glasses.  Nothing.  God, if it's in your plan, allow me to find my glasses.  No glasses.  God, give me a sign that I need to call the eye doctor.  The heavens didn't part. 

I found my glasses on Tuesday night, and I did thank God for it briefly.  And then, as so often happens in an everyday situation like this, I thought about the absurdity of it all.  Does God hear these prayers and chuckle?  Does God give a damn about my glasses?  There are starving people and wars and floods.  My headache is nothing serious.

Then my thoughts turn to the existential:  what is prayer?  Doesn't God know everything about me - know me even better than I know myself?  How can I reveal anything to God that isn't already known?  Am I giving messages to myself, then?  God isn't somebody with whom I can have a conversation.  God can never be "object," is a grammatical sense - God is always and only "subject." 

I don't have a real answer for any of these questions, but a favorite passage of Scripture helps me along.  "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  (Romans 8:26-27)

If you have trouble praying, or feel silly doing it, understand that you are in great company.  People of immense faith, and even pastors like myself, wonder what the value of prayer is.  All I can say is that I continue to do it, and hope that the Holy Spirit's sighs can inspire me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

cold supper

Yesterday was the final day of a scorching heat wave that settled over Topeka and the entire Midwest.  The "heatdome" killed my appetite, and making dinner every night became a real chore.  I often had to remind myself that I'm nursing a baby, so skipping meals isn't a good idea.  My sister and her son and daughter are visiting for a few days, and her remarkable (almost-four-year-old!) son will eat anything.  I'm not kidding - the child will eat an entire tomato like an apple.  I love when he comes to visit because he clears out my veggie drawer.  This nice cold pasta dish was made with him in mind - chockful of chilly veggies and chicken and feta cheese.  We all enjoyed it and it made one of my favorite dinners:  the kind with no leftovers!!

Greek Pasta Salad
8 oz rigatoni
4 oz chicken breast
1 medium cucumber, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 oz feta, cut into quarter-inch cubes
2 T olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente.  Meanwhile, pound the chicken breast thin or slice horizontally into two flatter pieces.  Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat in 1 T olive oil.  Combine tomatoes, cucumber, and feta in a large bowl.  Drain pasta and rinse in cold water.  Add the the bowl.  When chicken has cooked and cooled a bit, cut into small bite-sized chunks.  Add to the bowl.  Add 1 T olive oil and white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  Serves four on a hot evening with low appetities.  343 calories per serving.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Montessori from the Start, I of III

[This post submitted for Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now.]

As I discussed in an earlier post, I'm interested in both Waldorf and Montessori approaches to child development, and particularly in how they can affect the parenting of my infant (sixteen weeks today!).  One book that was continually recommended to me by Montessori instructors, blogs, and websites was Montessori from the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  As you might have guessed from their names, they are a mother-daughter pair who have been deeply influenced by Montessori education, founded a Montessori school in Illinois, and are committed to helping others learn about it.

There were some things I really liked about this book, some things I'm questioning and might disagree with, and some changes that I'm going to make in my approach to parenting based on it.  Because I have a lot of reflections, I'm dividing the review into three parts.  Bear with me!

The main point that hit home with me, and seems foundational to the whole Montessori philosophy, is helping the child find appropriate "work" for herself.  No, this doesn't mean suit-and-tie office work.  The concept of work for an infant relates mainly to observing and exploring her environment.  Because she has an "absorbent mind," the environment provides pretty much all the stimulation that she will need.  There's no reason for bright, flashy, fancy toys - in fact, they can be overwhelming and difficult for the baby to assimilate.

Like many babies, my daughter Vicki Jo is sometimes fussy and angry.  Like most parents, I struggle to understand what she needs.  One of the things this book helped me discover is that she could conceivably be bored when she is fussing.  I hadn't yet incorporated boredom into my list of reasons (wet, cold, hot, hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy were pretty much it!).  But the whole point is making a match between her development (which changes practically by the hour) and the challenge provided.  So, for example, I wouldn't have given her a rattle when she was six weeks old - or at least, I wouldn't have expected her to have any idea what to do with it.  But now that she is sixteen weeks, and is grasping things with intent and pulling them to her mouth to inspect them, I will give her rattles and other small toys that she is capable of holding.  This is going to the edge of what challenges her at this point. This will keep her engaged, and hopefully forestall boredom and aid in her hand-brain development.

The next point that hit home had to do with the baby's struggle, and how much to intervene.  Again, as a first-time mom, I'm still finding my way in the whole discipline area.  Part of me says, "How could a three-month-old do anything with intent?  There is no such concept as discipline for her yet."  But then another part of me says, "I'm setting expectations, limitations, and boundaries that will last a lifetime.  She can pick up on my tone and attitude, so she can understand firmness."  So, I've done her a disservice by being inconsistent:  sometimes I pick her up right away when she fusses, because it makes me squirmy.  But sometimes I let her fuss, because I'm busy, or don't think she has a legitimate reason to be upset.  Lillard and Jessen helped me see that sometimes fussing is struggle.  If she is being challenged, she will struggle.  But is the struggle manageable?  She still needs my help in everything that she does.  I have to decide when she has struggled hard enough.  I'm still definitely not in the cry-it-out camp, but I feel like my footing is a little surer now. 

Finally, I appreciated the emphasis on natural materials and real human interaction that the book provided.  Vicki Jo has just begun to be entranced by the television, and this might be the biggest lifestyle change that Jeff and I have to make.  We are those people who just constantly have the tv on in the background.  We have 300 channels, but frequently "nothing is on."  Jeff is also a total video game addict.  But this statement rung true for me:  "Children whose lives are filled with the overstimulation and entertainment of television, computer games, and endless plastic toys inside the home, and an action-packed daily schedule of events outside of it, have trouble developing the concentration required for forming the will and thus a disciplined approach to learning."*  Yes!  I feel the ennui that has grown within me as the television has been my constant companion from young childhood.  But do we get rid of it altogether?  (Jeff would kill me.)  No, that seems a bit Luddite.  It's about discipline, I think.

Stay tuned for Part II . . . my divergences from the book's ideas.

*Montessori from the Start, p. 217.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Every stage of life has its upsides and downsides.  The downside of life with new life growing, first inside you, and then outside you?  You don't have the time or opportunity to do things like go to baseball games on hot summer afternoons.  This is a group of close friends, who don't spend as much time together as they should anymore!  They know who they are.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

glut of squash

If you have grown a summer garden, you are familiar with squash.  Zucchini and yellow squash are some of the easiest vegetables to grow, and they proliferate remarkably.  Our CSA basket has regularly included a good dosage of yellow summer squash so far this year, and I'm always looking for new ways to use it up.  My love of Ina Garten being documented at this point, I did a search on her name and the ingredient.  This recipe came up, although it originally called for zucchini.  The yellow squash has slightly less water than the zucchini, so it requires a bit less flour to bind the pancakes.  These remind me of potato pancakes, and the sour cream alongside is essential!

Summer Squash Pancakes
6 oz yellow squash (I use a scale since the squash vary so much in size), grated with box grater
1 T grated red onion
1 egg
1/2 t baking powder
3 T flour
salt and pepper
1/2 T butter
1/2 T olive oil
2 T sour cream

Mix the egg up with a fork, add the red onion and squash and stir thoroughly.  Add baking soda and flour.  Season with salt and pepper.  Melt butter into oil over medium heat in large skillet.  Drop the batter into the skillet by large spoonfuls.  Cook approximately 3 minutes per side.  Serve warm with sour cream.  Makes about six pancakes.  49 calories per pancake.  Sour cream adds extra.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

co-sleeping, bed-sharing, night-weaning . . . oh my

When I first found out I was expecting our darling dear daughter, I had visions of "normal" nighttime babyhood and parenting.  What did "normal" mean to me then?  Our baby would have her own room (our guest room/nursery), her own bed (a crib), and she would sleep peacefully by herself from a young age. 

Through the sessions of our Bradley birth class, however, and in talking with the other expectant parents there, I realized that there were some other options.  People actually regularly and legitimately plan to sleep with their children (as opposed to it just happening on accident or out of desperation)!  I also began to put the pieces together on the whole babies and nighttime thing:  it is a rare newborn who is able to sleep for long stretches without assistance and comfort from a parent.  Also, even if a baby is formula-fed, her stomach is not large enough to contain the amount of food needed to get them through the night, so they must eat several times during that period.  Breastmilk digests even faster than formula, so breastfed babies typically must eat even more often!  So babies need nighttime care, and where they are at night has a lot to do with what kind of care they get. 

For those outside the newborn universe, there are typically three options when it comes to where your baby sleeps:  in his or her own room (either on a floor-bed, in a crib, or in a bassinet); in your room but in his or her own bed; or in your bed.  These each have their distinct advantages and disadvantages.  Regardless of what you feel comfortable with, having a baby totally rocks your world.  It changes any visions of peaceful nighttime sleep permanently.  I used to wonder how parents always seemed to get up so early and it never bothered them.  Now I am that mom who gets up at five thirty and it doesn't faze me anymore. 

When we brought the baby home from the hospital, it just seemed right that we all snuggle up in bed together, as we had been in the recovery room after birth.  The baby seemed so small and vulnerable and I just needed her there tucked under my arm.  Doing some internet research, I found out about safe bed-sharing, even though they acted at the hospital like it was a sure way for our baby to die.  Our Bradley instructor had said that mothers don't lose track of where their babies are in their sleep (or really ever) - it's just a part of our animal brain that functions at all times.  I found this to be true for me from the start.  Additionally, she needed to eat all the time - every two hours or even more often!  Once we learned how to lay on our sides together and face each other so she could nurse, life became much easier.  We figured this out on about day five. 

At first, nighttime parenting was a lonely experience for me.  After all, I'm the only food source in our eating arrangement, and there was no point to me in waking Jeff up just so there could be two miserable sleepless adults in our household.  Eventually, though, the baby and I figured out how she could get what she needed from me in the night without either of us really waking up.  Then the issue began to be space.

The dog has slept with Jeff and me for years, and adding the baby into that mix put three good-sized creatures and one tiny one in a queen-sized bed.  It just wasn't working that well, and I found I was always the one scooched to the edge, as I didn't want the baby on the outside where she might fall off.  So, eventually, we moved to the guest bed.  And that's where we've been ever since.  The baby and I sleep soundly and peacefully, and Jeff and the dog snuggle up upstairs.  Is it ideal?  Not really.  But what does ideal even mean anymore?  Will I have a heck of a time getting her to sleep by herself someday?  Probably.  But is it worth it for all the amazing night and morning love, and looks, and caresses we get to share?  I think so.

For now, I've decided to put off making any serious decisions about changing our arrangement until Babe stops needing to nurse at night - so, probably until she starts eating solid food.  And I've decided to stop feeling any guilt about it, because I need all my emotional resources right now!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

world's worst runner

I always have memories of running running in my family.  There seems to be some kind of natural aptitude for it passed on from my father to my brother and sister.  Dad was kind of a crazy runner - the type who would run fifteen miles in the heat and then show up at parent-teacher conferences drenched in sweat and acting like nothing was weird.  After Dad and my stepmom Tammy moved to Arizona, they would go on these insane endurance runs in the desert.  Dad coached track at nearly every high school where he taught, and they regularly competed in races and triathlons

My brother, in turn, was a fantastic cross country runner in high school.  Indeed, when he went to Macedonia to visit Dad and Tammy while they were teaching at the American High School, he competed in a race with no training, holding a beer and a cigarette the whole time, and still beat everyone!  (Sorry if you didn't want this awesome fact revealed David!)

My sister didn't do the pure running thing as much, but she played volleyball throughout high school and into college.  She recently had her second child, and went for a jog a few weeks after . . . a cool 2.5 miles without having run for nearly a year!! 

Naturally, thinking I could cash in on this clear genetic advantage in our family, I joined the Lawrence Track Club when I was about seven.  I quickly found out I was really no good at running, so I got into racewalking.  Nope, I'm not joking.  I did the sashay, I kept one foot in contact with the ground at all times . . . and I still sucked at it.  Going into high school, I was always more "bookish" than athletic, but I still went out for Cross Country . . . twice . . . and never competed in an actual meet.  I always had a sprained ankle, or didn't feel good, or thought my heart was going to explode during practice.  Mostly I just want to carb-load the night before races and then not burn anything off.  Poor Coach was always totally unsurprised when I quit each year. 

So, when I decided I was going to do a sprint triathlon this fall, I knew running would be my challenge.  Swimming?  Fun!  Biking?  Cool breeze in my hair!  Running?  Sweating, legs hurting, failure.  I started training in June (and am already a month behind schedule!  Why do babies have to be so demanding all the time?)   I started with very small runs, and would use a timer app on my phone to only record the time I was running.  So, I might run/walk 45 minutes, but only get 14 minutes out of it in terms of running.  I hadn't been having a whole lot of success, but I had been keeping it up.  So, about a week ago, I decided to go for a walk after a glass of wine, on one of the hottest nights of the year so far.  I really didn't think much would come of it.  I strapped the baby into her jog stroller, lasso-ed the dog onto her leash, and set out for the high school track just across the street. 

I decided to do a little running.  I made it around the track jogging once, twice, three times, and suddenly I realized I was about to do a whole mile without stopping!!  I felt like I could conquer the world, truly.  This probably sounds absolutely silly to any self-respecting runner, but a mile for me could have been a marathon. 

My observations on why I seem to be able to go longer now?  Labor makes a big difference.   I have been through one of the hardest endurance events I will ever face.  Also, psychologically, when it gets hard to run, I can remind myself that I birthed a baby and felt every pain, and made it through!  I can certainly keep running a little longer!  Also, the jogging stroller helps keep my stride in check.  Although the stroller and baby present extra resistance, I run a bit slower and at a more sustainable pace.  All in all, I'm loving the new endurance, and, as with most things in life, having some success makes me want to do it more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

i scream

Ever since I finally sprung for my amazing ice cream maker, I've been dreaming about all the different ice creams, frozen yogurts, and sorbets I'm going to make.  And I've actually done a fairly good job of fulfilling these promises to myself:  lemon sorbet (too tart!), plain froyo (delish!), coffee ice cream, and nectarine ice cream have all inhabited our freezer at various times in the last three weeks.  The nice part about making my own frozen treats is that I know exactly what goes into them, and also that they last nearly forever (we are bad at eating leftovers).

Because of my obsession with Pinkberry (why oh why do I live in the provinces!?), plain tart frozen yogurt was the first on the docket.  I was going to just make this whole post an ode to tart froyo, but the recipe is too simple to even be a recipe:

3 C plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2/3 C sugar (more if you want it sweeter, but I wouldn't do less - this was quite tart)
Stir together until well mixed.  Freeze according to instructions on ice cream maker.  Store in freezer.  Makes about a quart.

Seriously - that's it!  I've been enjoying it with berries, sometimes even for breakfast, for the last several weeks.

Because we have a truly amazing family-owned dairy in our community, I wanted to take advantage and make some excellent ice cream.  Never having made my own before, I did a little internet research and quickly found out about the custard vs. non-custard debate.  Since all the foodier sources recommended eggs, and I had three dozen eggs to use up from our also-amazing CSA (another post!), I went for the custard base. 

It was wayyyy too rich for me!  Every time I ate the coffee ice cream I made with five egg yolks, I felt like my mouth was coated in butter.  Apparently this was the "smoother mouthfeel" the foodists love so much.  It felt like I had been eating Crisco, no joke. 

So, the next time I went in for ice cream, I had nectarines to use up.  I found a good-looking, non-custard-based recipe, and based mine on it.  We didn't have milk, so I used all cream.  It was truly just iced cream.  It's amazing.  I love it.  But I can't eat it for breakfast, because each half-cup serving has 304 calories.  Just sayin.  Here 'tis.

3 large nectarines
3/4 C sugar
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 C heavy cream
1 t vanilla
1/4 t lemon zest

Peel and slice nectarines, and put the peels and pits into a medium saucepan.  Put the slices into a food processor with 1/2 C sugar and lemon juice, and pulse to a rough chop.  Chill the nectarine mixture.  Add the cream, 1/4 C sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt to the peelings and pits and heat over medium fire until hot but not boiling.  Remove from heat, cover, let come to room temp, and then chill thoroughly (minimum 1 hour).  Strain cream mixture through fine mesh strainer into a bowl, add the chilled nectarine mixture, and stir to combine.  Freeze in ice cream maker according to instructions, and store in freezer.  Makes about a quart.  As I said above, a half-cup serving contains 304 calories. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

firstfruits of the resurrection?

I recently had a parishioner come to me with a question about a Bible verse.  Now, this made me ecstatic on a couple of fronts:  I have a congregant who is reading the Bible regularly!; I have a congregant who is willing to come to me with a question about Scripture!  This in itself was worth the $50,000 degree!  Okay, maybe not.  But still, it made all that time I had spent studying the Hebrew Bible and New Testament seem a little more valid, in a real-life kind of way. 

His question had to do with I Corinthians 15, which is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  I use it at every funeral I officiate, as it contains Paul's famous taunt against death's power.  My congregant's little "daily verse of Scripture" email had sent him I Cor. 15:20:  "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."  His question basically was "What the h&*# does that mean?"

An excellent quandary.  It took a good bit of explaining for me to try to get across what I think Paul was saying.  Essentially, he had a totally different vision of what life after death looks like than contemporary culture espouses.  If you are a Christian, by and large, you have been taught that after you die, you will enter immediately into some kind of immortal afterlife.  Now, depending on the flavor of your Christianity, there may be judgment involved, and there may be one of two places that your soul goes.  I'm not getting into that whole experience here today.  I think Paul had a different timeline than our common Christian culture teaches now.  He thought that no one would experience judgment or be sorted into their various eternal soul resting-places until Christ returned in final victory, at the end of time.  Therefore, there had to be a kind of "soulsleep," an intermediate resting-place between death now and resurrection then.  This is why he said Christ was the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" - Jesus was the first one who awoke from his sleep and experienced resurrection.  Zombie movie anyone?

The clash between Paul's vision of soulsleep and the eventual afterlife and the more common mainstream Christian interpretation represents part of the problem about relying solely on Scripture to back a theological argument:  you can find passages to support just about anything.

Where this hits home for me is in thinking about the reunion we often envision with loved ones who have died before us.  I think of my mother, and how much I want to hug her when I meet her again.  What if that won't happen until a general resurrection and the return of Christ?  Will I even be able to tell time in soulsleep?  Do I think Paul was full of it, as I sometimes do on certain of his doctrines?  I do believe that God loves a thoughtful believer . . . so what do you think?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

end of an era

I have a long-standing obsession with the Food Network.   I also watched a LOT of daytime television during my maternity leave, so I feel well-versed in current trends.  I could write a whole post on my love of Ina Garten, with her pleasant, obviously-medicated manner, her Hamptons-living, pink-Oxford wearing beautiful gay friends, and her puny, globe-trotting, lovable husband Jeffrey.

But this post isn't about Ina.

I could write a whole post on my ambivalence about Rachael Ray.  Her lifestyle empire grows by the second (dog food?  really?), and she manages to keep me marginally entertained most of the time.  I was convinced for nearly a decade that she smoked two packs a day, so imagine my disappointment when I found out she actually has vocal polyps.

But this post isn't about Rachael.

I could even write about the growing reliance of the Network on their attractive female stars, and how confusing it is for me when I think about their target audience (middle-class housewives at home in the middle of the day).

But no . . . this post is about the man who converted me to a Food Network believer.  The man whose love of food science kept me continually enchanted for years.  That's right:  Alton Brown.  For several years his amazing Good Eats was on at 10 pm (my bedtime), so I drifted off to sleep with Alton explaining things like gluten formation, fat hydrogenation, and kitchen multitaskers.  In fact, I'm making his recipe for pickled beets later this afternoon.  Kind of a poor-man's America's Test Kitchen, Good Eats was sometimes the highlight of a long day.

And Alton never really sold out, even as he became more popular.  Sure, he did those Welch's grape juice ads (but I love those because I'm a Methodist y'all!), and he has that commentating gig on Iron Chef America, but he doesn't have line of cookware or a daytime talk show. 

So imagine my shock, surprise, my angry tears, when I found out that Good Eats was ending after twelve years.  I was really upset about the demise of the show, but also about what it signals with regard to my beloved Food Network.  It's hard to find many actual cooking shows on there anymore!  Too many crappy cupcake wars and lame cooking battles.  Too much poorly-acted reality drivel.  I guess I need the Cooking Channel to really see cooking anymore.  Unfortunately, I'm too cheap to shell out for all the other channels that come in that premium package.  It truly is the end of an era, as Food Network goes the way of all the other cable networks, capitalizing on every American's desire to be a star.

Friday, July 15, 2011

for your enjoyment

This is another member of our family:  our two-year-old lab-hound mutt Pup.  Her real name is Pepper, but more frequently she goes by Pup, Puppy, Gup, Guppy, Gupton, or Young Gupton (as in Wayne in Ya Brain Young Gupton).  Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

now jeff at the bar is a friend of mine . . .

He gets me my drinks for free.  I thought it was time you learned a little bit about the bartender in this pastor and bartender pair.  When Jeff and I first met in 2003 (can it have been eight years ago?), I was drawn to the same things that still attract me to him.  He is warm, friendly, and gregarious.  He has a knack for making each person he talks to feel special.  He makes new best friends everywhere he goes, including an Australian guy on a plane ride and many citizens of the town of Salisbury on our honeymoon.

In short, he possesses many of the gifts that God didn't give me.  I'm that person next to you on the plane with her ipod on, a book open, and a look that says "please don't converse with me."  I detest small talk - a special punishment for a pastor who is required to do it constantly.  While our opposites-attract arrangement produces harmony and balance for the most part, it does also create some sticky situations.

Jeff and I met while we were working for the summer at the Mountain Tennessee Outreach Project.  It's a rural, not-for-profit Christian agency, affiliated with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee.  It is dedicated to social service programming through a philosophy of partnership in a faith-in-action classroom.  (Any old-school staffers feel me on still having the Statement of Values memorized!?  I think I hit all seven points.)  This is a place that would be incredibly special and meaningful for both of us as we continued to work here, on and off, for the next five years.  We were even married down the road at the Beersheba Springs Assembly by the Executive Director of the organization!

Jeff is a risk-taker, and he trusts people easily.  He is optimistic to a fault.  He loves to make people happy.  For all of these reasons, he loves his job, but his dream is to open his own restaurant.  This proposal presents a number of issues for me:  I'm financially conservative and am terrified at the high failure rate of new restaurants; I already feel like we operate on opposite schedules; and I'm called to an itinerant ministry, which stands in opposition to the stability and longevity needed in a community to create good restaurant traffic.

As much as the thought of opening a restaurant together terrifies me, I also think everyone deserves a chance to go for their dream.  I have had lots of opportunities to fulfill my aspirations, and my life feels a lot richer because of it.  So, everyone reading now - you have to promise to give us your business when the time comes!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

waldorf v. montessori

Growing up in a hippie town, I always had some awareness of Montessori education methods.  Many of my childhood friends attended a Montessori preschool in town.  My parents, however, were always pretty wary of "drinking the kool-aid" on any particular philosophy, so we were public school all the way.  Now that I have my own little darling, however, I am interested in how she can learn in the best possible way. 

I first became knowledgeable about Waldorf education when I passed a Waldorf school on my drives around Nashville.  I looked it up on Wikipedia:  a child that is "free, morally responsible, and integrated"?  Sign me up! 

What I'm attracted to about both of these educational philosophies is that they emphasize the freedom of the child.  They highlight the importance of discovery for learning, and the environment in which children learn is paramount.  Objects for learning are chosen for beauty, simplicity, and utility.  And, now that I have a baby, I'm thrilled to learn that both philosophies have branches that apply to infancy

However, things start to get a little murky for me on a couple of issues.  One is Waldorf's reliance on a semi-weird spiritual teaching called anthroposophy.  In this line of thinking, humans pass through multiple lives and work in a sort of karmic cycle.  Now, I'm open-minded and tolerant (I hope), but I'm also an orthodox Christian and don't believe that we are reincarnated into earthly bodies.  I don't think this teaching is openly espoused in Waldorf education, but you have to wonder about how it seeps out from the underpinnings. 

The bigger thing that bothers me about both systems is that they seem to have a pervasive air of exclusivity.  By this I mean that their philosophies are incoporated into private schools, for which you need to fill out an application, be approved, and generally pay some kind of fee.  My ethical compass tells me that I need to support our public schools, and add the resources of my family into that system to try to improve it.  However, should this commitment be made on the backs of my children?  A touchy question, to be sure.  Especially in a place like Topeka, where the school district for which we are zoned seems to be a mess.

As I said above, I am a proud product of public schooling.  But I'm also a product of a well-funded, smallish-city school system that doesn't have to deal with many of the problems that a larger metropolis faces.

What I'm currently trying to do is incorporate elements of Waldorf and Montessori education into my baby's environment and daily routines.  I struggle, however, in feeling that I'm not an expert by any means.  What do others think about this?  It seems like a universal impulse to want to give your child the best, but what if that means another child suffers on account of your decisions?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

vicki jo

Well, the time has come.  I have more to say than I can fit into a Facebook status, and I feel like some folks think my commentary and theories on things are worthwhile, so I'm going into blogging.  If you don't want to read it, you don't have to!  That's the beauty of this format.  I have a neat little system set up for topics, but today, we're starting with the single most important thing that has ever happened to me:  I helped a baby enter the world.

Let me tell you how it happened.

Pregnancy had gone swimmingly for me up until the last ten weeks or so.  Seriously - no morning sickness, no nighttime bathroom visits, I even LOST weight in the first trimester (probably because I had to stop drinking beer).  However, around thirty weeks, my blood pressure started creeping up.  I began retaining a lot of fluid.  My feet, hands, wrists and face were very swollen.  Jeff and I had taken a Bradley birth class (best thing ever - please take one if you are even remotely interested in natural pregnancy and childbirth), so I wasn't stupid.  I knew that this was probably spelling pre-eclampsia, which properly terrified me. 

Our midwives, who are amazing people, didn't push me into an induction as some medical professionals might have done.  Instead, they took a "conservative observation" stance and ordered lots of tests to make sure my organs and the baby were all holding up well.  The non-stress and protein tests were all coming back good, and although I was advised to spend as much time as possible laying on my side, I agreed to meet my stepdad and his wife for dinner on Friday, April 1.  I was thirty-nine weeks and one day - six days until they had been telling me this baby would make her appearance.

As I was walking out to my car to drive across town and meet them, I saw two boys riding their bikes down the street.  I squinted into the evening sun and waved to them.  Simultaneously, my right foot missed the final step onto our driveway, and I fell with all my gigantic pregnant weight full onto my belly.  I had my cell phone in one hand and my purse in the other, so my belly truly broke my fall.  The two bike-riding boys sped over to help me, and people poured out of the sketchy house across the street.  Never in my life have I been so grateful for the suspiciously high turnover of people at that house - they all wanted to call an ambulance for me!  I declined and drove myself the five blocks to the hospital, completely terrified, sobbing, covered in dirt and blood from my scratches, and not feeling the baby move.

When I arrived at St. Francis, I looked like a bedraggled tweedle-dee.  I presented myself at Labor and Delivery and told them my story, taking those big heaving ragged sob-breaths.  They hooked me up to a monitor for observation.  Rita, my amazing nurse, calmed me down and told me the baby's heart rate was fantastic.  I slowly began to feel her move again.  They wanted to keep me for two hours, to make sure everything was okay.  I felt like that was unnecessary - I still wanted to go eat dinner, as I was pregnant and starving.  But they kept me.  Finally, I was allowed to get up and go.  But, when I stood up, I felt like I had peed my pants.  I knew that this could not possibly have happened without my noticing.  I told Rita, and she had my lay back down and check on this mystery fluid.

Pretty soon the mystery was solved - it was amniotic fluid, and we needed to get ready for the baby to be here!  I was totally floored.  This was not what I had planned, I had not felt a single contraction, Braxton-Hicks or otherwise, and I knew from my recent visits to the midwives that I was not in a good place for an induction.  My cervix was high and closed, and trying to force the baby out would very likely end in surgery - my personal nightmare.  Because of my high blood pressure, I knew I would be confined to bed, on my left side, for the duration of labor.  Hospital policy was that the baby needed to be out within 24 hours, one way or another, or infection could begin to set in because of my broken waters.  I began to wish I had never drawn attention to my amniotic fluid situation and just been able to go home.  But it was too late.  I called Jeff, who was thrilled to get this baby show on the road.  It was about 6:00 on April 1.

They hooked me up to the many machines that would become my constant companions for the next 20 hours.  IV, which was awful and made me feel like I couldn't bend my right arm; fetal monitor, which was awful and had to be dragged with me on my next 132890 trips to the bathroom; blood pressure cuff, which was awful and automatically squeezed my arm annoyingly hard every two minutes whether I was contracting or not.  In case you can't tell, Jeff and I are planning a homebirth for next time.

Jeff soon arrived, jazzed about his role as my Bradley coach.  We read through our birth plan with our nurses - the first six or seven items were already moot!  Although we knew an induction was likely because I was not in any kind of active labor, we were still totally committed to making it through without any other medications.  My generous midwives gave me until two the next morning to see if labor might kickstart on its own before starting the hellish Pitocin.  I did crosswords, Jeff rested, and I even managed to close my eyes a little bit.  I visualized my body opening and the baby emerging.  I breathed deeply and willed my body to work calmly and effectively.  At two, they checked on me, and I had made some progress on my own!!  I hadn't really felt a contraction still, so I was shocked.  I was allowed to go on by myself, in dark and calm and quiet, until five that morning.  At that point, I had made no further progress, so Pitocin was started in my IV line.

It wasn't so bad at first.  The nurse had been instructed to turn up the level of the drug every 20 minutes until I started pushing, but she had mercy on me in my unmedicated state and let it stay low as long as I was making progress.  The contractions came hard and fast from the start, not at all like what I had heard natural labor was like.  Honestly, what it felt like to me was that I had taken 20 laxative pills and was waiting for the damage to begin.  Jeff coached me beautifully, although the stopwatch soon had to go because the beeping was driving me mad.  We relaxed fully into each contraction.  I continued to picture my body opening and softening. 

We labored this way for about eight hours.  I was making good progress, and then the midwife showed up.  She had the nurse begin to turn the Pitocin up as she had been instructed.  Things started to get a little hairy.  My low vocalizations, which had been extremely effective at helping me through contractions and in communicating with Jeff where I was at, pain-wise, stopped being so effective (or low).  I felt like an animal screeching in pain.  I began to ask about my options for pain relief.  I was offered stadol or an epidural.  We declined the epidural, but I took a shot of stadol into my IV line.  Stadol is a narcotic that lessens your perception of the pain you are feeling.  For me, it didn't relieve the pain, but it allowed me to relax more fully between contractions.  It also made me trip out.  I was picturing all these colors.  I felt like I was at a Pink Floyd laser light show.  I was telling Jeff about the chickens we were raising (they aren't real), and how we needed to feed them.  I was seeing contractions as shapes and colors.  Honestly, it was pretty awesome!  It took my mind off what was happening.  The stadol lasted about an hour, and then it was time to push!  I had insisted that the nurse check me, because something felt different - and I was right! 

Pushing was very difficult for me.  I think it was because the baby remained very high even when my cervix was totally open.  It took about two hours.  The first half-hour or so I didn't really push with my whole force, so I imagine that time was kind of wasted.  Once I got the hang of pushing, things got better.  I had to get to the point where I understood that I needed to push until it felt like my eyes were going to bulge out of my head.  That was what got the job done.  I was supposed to wait for contractions to push, but I just started inventing them so I could get the experience over with.  Also increasing my frustration during second stage was that I felt like the circus had come to town.  For almost all of labor, it had been just me, Jeff and occasionally our nurse.  It had been dark and cool and calm and quiet.  Now, suddenly, there was the midwife and the nurse and the midwife's assistant and probably a few other people all staring at me and there was a bright light pulled down from the ceiling and many people touching and encouraging me.  They all meant well, but I just wanted to be alone.  They also kept telling me I was almost there, when in reality it was another hour before the baby was born!  I felt falsely encouraged.  As you can tell, my perceptions were also in a strange, faraway labor-land.  Finally, her head emerged!  I remember shouting, "What do I do now?"  I didn't want it to go back in and lose the progress!  They told me to push again.  I felt lots of bumpy lumpy slithering, and her body came out!!  She was born.  I was elated.  I felt absolutely exhilarated.  My heart was pumping and my adrenaline was up.  I was sure that I would cry in this moment, but I didn't at all.  I felt very far from tears.  I was enthused, energized, ready to conquer the next challenge.  It was 4:32 pm on Saturday, April 2.  I had only been in active labor for eleven hours!

My memories after that fog up, but I know that Jeff was the one who began to tear up.  He had to go take a walk to release some of his pent-up energy. His mom was outside the room, and she came into visit her first grandchild.  They cut the cord after awhile, and waited several hours to weigh her and clean her.  I began our first attempt at nursing (funny to think about now, as it is something that is absolutely second nature).  Jeff brought me a taco salad - the first thing I had been allowed to eat in over a day.  My stepdad and his wife brought us flowers.  I had to be stitched up because I had a good-sized natural tear.  I just held the baby close, with lots of blankets wrapping us up.  I shook a lot - they told me this was normal as my circulatory system was adjusting to the lack of baby in my body.  Vicki Jo Grammer was 7 pounds and 1 ounce, 18 1/4 inches.  I think she was not ready to be born yet, or she would have been a little bigger.  But, she really didn't have a lot of choice in the matter the way it turned out.

Everyone says that labor and birth won't go the way you plan it, and I knew that was going to be true.  However, this was really, really far from what I had pictured happening.  It makes quite a story, and one that I will be so proud to tell Vicki when she is old enough to ask how she came into the world.  I am convinced that we owe our lack of surgery to the methods and techniques we learned in our Bradley class.  My body cooperated with the Pitocin because I willed it to relax and open.  The low, moaning, droning vocalizations were especially helpful in making it through contractions.  And, I could absolutely not have held it together without Jeff.  After all these years, he is very skilled in talking me down, and he displayed his talent in it for hours on end.  I always knew we were a great team, and this was our single most shining moment of partnership.