Friday, September 30, 2011

on my shelf: the womanly art of breastfeeding

This post is part of a series on the books I have found absolutely necessary in growing and raising a child so far.  For others in the series, click on one of these links.  

I always knew I wanted to nurse my child(ren).  It makes sense to me on every level:  cheaper, more convenient, a great bonding experience, better for baby, etc.  I knew from our Bradley class, and from just general mother-online-chattering, that it wasn't always as easy for us as nature had intended.  See, our society has pretty much made any exposure of the breasts a terrible, awkward, sinful, immodest . . . well, you get the picture.  Add to that some extremely effective and expensive mind manipulation (i.e. marketing) by formula companies, and you come up with my level of exposure to breastfeeding before the baby was born:  I had never (even once!) seen a woman feeding her child in this way.

So, it's no surprise that things were rocky for me.  I felt totally unsure of what I was doing, and my baby was losing weight rapidly.  When she did start to gain weight, it was never as fast as the charts demanded.  Even now, six months on Sunday, she weighs just about fourteen pounds.  Being a new mother, with all the stresses and strains that go with even the "easiest" baby (which my baby would be classified as on the "frequent screaming" end of that spectrum), and feeling like you are not able to give your baby the important fuel she needs to grow, is crazy-making.

Enter La Leche League.  I called for help in the first few days, and a kind leader talked me through my situations and listened sympathetically.  She offered assistance, followed up frequently, and just generally made me feel like I wasn't completely insane for wanting to continue with this endeavor.  So, I got the La Leche League book.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is way more than just a manual on how to nurse your child.  It's a full-blown parenting resource.  I devoured it.  The book is subdivided into age groupings (birth to two weeks, two weeks to four months, and so on), and I anxiously counted down the days until Vicki Jo made it into the next age category so I could start reading all about what to expect. 

And now that we're getting ready to start trying some real foods, there are helps and guidelines on how to do it healthfully for your child.  There are suggestions on sleeping, there are little vignettes and stories from women who nursed their children.  I will remember some of them forever, I think.  Sometimes I was angry at the book because it portrayed nursing as easy and fun, when it was neither for me for a long time.  But still, The Womanly Art was always there for me.

I don't think I could possibly have made it this far without this book.  And that's why it stays on my shelf.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

eat at joe's . . . he kneads the dough!

Long ago, when I was a little child, my mom was the business administrator for our church in downtown Lawrence.  Then she became the treasurer for the childcare center that was housed in the church.  To say I spent a little time at church would be a drastic understatement.  After I went to junior high, I walked to the church every afternoon to meet her before we went home. 

When she didn't feel like cooking (which was often!), we would stop at Joe's Bakery on Ninth Street.  Joe's was a little hole-in-the-wall shop that primarily sold doughnuts.  They also had cookies and a wide variety of prepared sandwiches.  We always got the egg salad on wheat.  The bread was a little mushy from sitting in a plastic bag all day, and I loved that quality. 

Fast forward fifteen years.  You may have read where I posted about the Brewer diet before.  The premise of this diet is that a pregnant woman needs to provide her baby and body with excellent fuel full of protein, calories, and salt.  These three elements provide for a healthy expansion in blood volume and help to ward off pre-eclampsia.  Eggs are an especially important part of the diet, because they provide essential minerals and vitamins and lots of protein for the calories (6 grams in 70 calories.  I will never, ever forget those numbers!).  Women are instructed to eat two eggs daily, cooked any style.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love eggs.  I don't like raw eggs, but I'm down with eggs any other style.  But two times a day for forty weeks?  That's a lot of eggs.  And there are only so many styles:  scrambled, over hard, in sandwiches, quiche, huevos rancheros, hard-boiled.  I had a fried egg sandwich just about every other day for lunch.  And egg salad . . . boy, did I ever have egg salad.  Probably three or four times a week.  I perfected my recipe, which is simple.  Every time I ate it, it took me back to Joe's:

Egg Salad
1 hard-boiled egg
1 sweet miniature gherkin
1 T mayo (or Miracle Whip if you're so inclined)
1 t dijon mustard
1 t pickle juice from the gherkin jar

Cut the egg in half.  Pop out the yolk and put it into a bowl.  Chop up the white finely.  Chop the gherkin to the same dimensions as the egg white.  Mix the mayo, mustard, and pickle juice with the egg yolk in the bowl.  Stir in the egg white and pickle.  Serve on wheat bread, untoasted, with a few leaves of lettuce. 

I went on kind of an egg revolt after the baby was born.  I felt like I could never see an egg again and be just fine.  But I've slowly been working egg salad back into my lunch rotation, and now it takes me back to two times in my life:  eating at Joe's with Mom, and the time when I was becoming a Mom myself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

my uniform

As the time of Vicki Jo's birth drew nearer, I realized I was going to have to give some thought to this whole nursing thing.  I had been so focused on having a healthy pregnancy and natural birth that my train of thought had kind of ended there.  I read what Dr. Bradley had to say about the first few days after birth, and I knew La Leche League would be a good resource, but so much of it seemed just like pregnancy - every woman (and baby!) is so different.  Would I need nursing pads?  Would I not?  Would a Boppy pillow help me, or just get in the way?  Did I need a rocking chair?  I chose to go with Jeff's approach on these matters:  wait and see (very unusual for me!).

Turns out I didn't need any of that stuff.  The one thing I ended up needing, loving, wearing daily, was this tank top from Gilligan & O'Malley:

I have two in white, one in gray, one in black, and I'm about to buy another one in black.  They are a steal for the number of times I've worn them:  $17 at Target.  This tank doesn't have the weird yoke-looking piece in the front that many nursing tanks have that always pops out and looks awkward.  It just has a hook that links the fabric into each strap.  It is cut generously and hasn't shrunk in the wash.  It is convenient and easy.  It is my daily uniform:  I wear it under a sweater, shirt, or dress every single day.  This tank and my rental pump have been the only two things I needed to nurse my baby for the last six months.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

more waldorf and montessori

[This post submitted to Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday (9/10/12).]

I posted some of my initial thoughts about Waldorf, Montessori, and the general issue of private schooling for children here.  Since then, I've delved into a self-education program about the differences and similarities between the two methods/philosophies, and I think it all boils down to one word:  freedom.  As a pastor, a Christian, and an American, this jives with what I like to view as the essential theme of my life.  Freedom from persecution.  Freedom to pursue an abundant life.  Freedom as the ultimate gift given to me without cost.  Freedom from fear and anxiety. 

And for Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori, the freedom of the child (who then becomes a free-minded adult, contributing free thoughts to society) was the end goal of education. 

The ways they get there, though, are like divergent paths leading through a dark woods and arriving at the same waterfall.  Steiner thought that the child needed to be protected.  The world of fantasy should be preserved as long as possible (age seven is kind of a magical transition from play to academic learning).  Children are free through play, and their minds are allowed to grow in whichever direction they seem inclined.

Montessori, on the other hand, thought that the freedom of the child would be achieved through independence.  Reality was very important.  Children needed to shed the world of fantasy and become engaged in the world of work.  Their work would make them feel valuable and authentic. 

I've toured the Montessori school nearest my home that accepts infants beginning at five months.  It was bright, spacious, very new, and full of clean lines.  The children were working independently but also interacting with grace and courtesy.  In the infant room, the babies were friendly and each one was left to his own schedule.  State regulation does not permit floorbeds, but they had open cribs with mirrors inside to encourage movement.  The school gave me a feeling of peace and industry.  It also gave me the feeling of a bleeding wallet - the infant room costs $1095 per month!  Ouch.  Guess it will remain a fantasy for the time being.

The baby and I have also been doing an eight-week Sweet Peas Garden course at the local Waldorf school.  It has been lovely.  You can't compare to spending a good amount of time in an environment to see what impression it leaves on you.  Ms. Monica, the teacher who leads our time together, is so thoughtful and open.  She has given us many articles to read on the nature of Waldorf schooling and also about some of the contrasts between Montessori and Waldorf.  Some of these articles are more or less subjective, so I always read with a grain of salt (and the understanding that every child is so very different).  I'll post a link to an article I thought was very helpful below.  We gather together, make a simple craft while the children and babies play, share stories and songs, discuss our readings for the week, and share a wholesome cake, apples and tea before going home.  The environment is fully of softly filtered light (the use of colored silks is important to shield sense impressions), organic and natural shapes, and toys that are nondescript and can be used for many styles of playing.

The thing that both of these enviroments had in common was that everything was accessible to the child.  Nothing was off-limits.  These rooms were designed so that you don't really have to tell a child "No!  Don't touch!"  Conflicts can be resolved easily because there are multiple areas for children to play, and different iterations of toys so fighting over an activity is minimized. 

The Waldorf school is also expensive, although they offer tuition assistance and a sliding payment scale (which the Montessori school does not).  You can't really compare the two, however, since the Montessori facility included year-round, full-day childcare.  The Waldorf school was a school - September through May, and accepting children for the "Kindergarten" at about three years.

All in all, both schools made me salivate at the possibilities for growth and development they presented.  Both left a bad taste in my mouth with the high cost and lack of diversity across the socioeconomic spectrum.  I suppose these are the challenges we face in educating our children.

A helpful link:
In this article, Dee Joy Coulter reviews the intrinsic relatedness between Montessori and Waldorf, and how she sees them balance each other.

Monday, September 26, 2011

five ingredient fix

I've made my ambivalence about Claire Robinson known before, but you can't argue that the Food Network vixen has a catchy concept.  Five ingredients for every recipe (not counting water, salt and pepper).  She comes up with some really good stuff, and the simplicity is attractive.  Who loves going out to buy fifteen items to make one dinner?

So, in the spirit of Claire Robinson, and because I've started to get chard back in my CSA box, I share my very own five ingredient recipe for today's Munchee Monday. 

It starts with egg noodles.  Back when the CSA was giving out eggs like no tomorrow (this had to inconveniently come six months after I no longer needed the Brewer diet), I got four dozen.  One was included in the share, they gave me another two as a prize for making the drive out to the farm to pick up the shares, and then someone didn't come to get theirs, so that makes four.  I know that eggs keep for a long time, but they were dominating valuable fridge space!  So I made quiche, ice cream, omelets, and egg noodles.  Noodles are so simple and freeze beautifully.  Here's how it goes:

2 beaten egg yolks and 1 beaten egg
1/3 C water
2 C AP flour
1/2 t salt

In a small bowl mix the eggs and water.  In a large bowl whisk together 1 3/4 C of the flour and the salt.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and drop the egg mix into the flour mix.  Stir together thoroughly.

Sprinkle kneading surface with flour.  Turn dough out and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes - smooth and elastic feels nice and plump, and when you push into it with your fingertip, it slowly springs back rather than staying indented).  Put back in the bowl, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. 

Divide kneaded dough into four equal parts.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a rectangle about 12 x 9 inches wide (or if you have a fancy pasta maker, roll it to 1/16 inch thickness).  Let the noodle sheets dry, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.  Lightly dust dough sheets with flour, and then roll each one into a spiral, making a log shape.  Cut with a sharp knife into 1/4 inch strips.  Shake them out into long noodles and cut into shorter lengths if desired.

Boil immediately if you want to eat right away.  They will cook really fast, like two minutes.  If you want to refrigerate, they last about three days.  I usually nest them up into five little portions and freeze in a plastic bag.  That way you can get out just one portion at a time without them freezing all together.  Frozen noodles cook in about five or six minutes.  This recipe makes a pound of noodles.

Eggs and flour:  ingredients one and two.

Then I took the noodles and made them into a dish with bacon and swiss chard.  You can substitute any hardy green you have on hand (collards, spinach, cabbage, kale).  If you don't feel like torturing yourself, or you don't have forty-eight eggs to use up, you could certainly just buy a package of dried egg noodles as well.  The inspiration for this dish came from one that my old roommates Steph and Julie used to make.  Julie is a vegetarian, so there was no bacon, but cabbage and buttered noodles was always an amazing dinner and cost like four dollars.

Egg noodles
1 small bunch Swiss chard
1 ounce bacon (about one large slice)
1-2 T white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.  Cook the egg noodles until tender (they don't take as long as regular pasta - maybe just four or five minutes.)  Cut the bacon into little bits (like 1/4 inch horizontally).  Place in a dry pan over medium heat.  Once it is crisp and has rendered its fat, pull out onto a plate lined with a paper towel.  Drop in the chard and let it wilt and cook in the bacon fat.  Once it's tender, drop the heat to low and put in the vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put the bacon back in the pan.  Toss the drained noodles into the pan.  Enjoy!  This recipe serves just one.

Friday, September 23, 2011

on my shelf: spiritual midwifery

This is the third in a series called "On My Shelf."  In this series, I talk about the books I have found indispensable in growing and birthing a little human.  For other book reviews, check out this, this, and these three links.

Today, it's time to get serious and talk about Ina May.

My midwives were very uncomfortable with me keeping up my normal pace as the end of my pregnancy neared.  I wouldn't say I was quite put on bedrest, but I was instructed to stop working and spend as much time as possible laying on my left side.  This helped ease some of the load on my kidneys and keep the fluids circulating around my body a little better.  I didn't really mind (especially because none of my shoes fit anymore and that made it hard to go anywhere!), but I also didn't really heed the advice.  I still worked half-days, and I still left the house pretty much every day.  I hadn't totally made the connection that the stress that permeates my life and profession had crept from my mind down to my body, and was making my womb a less-than-perfect environment for my little one.

One of the places I went frequently was to the library.  Topeka has a fantastic newly-remodeled public library, and I decided I would take advantage of all this free time I had on my hands all of a sudden to read books I'd always been curious about.  Ina May Gaskin's books were on that list.  Ina May is somewhat of a hero in natural childbirth circles.  She's a lay midwife who began her training when she and her husband Stephen traveled around the country in a caravan of buses, seeking an alternative lifestyle "off the grid."  They finally settled in rural south central Tennessee and created The Farm.  When we lived in Nashville and worked at camp, we were very close to The Farm, so I always felt a special kinship when reading about their adventures in that part of the country.

Ina May learned how to deliver babies from delivering babies, and from old obstetrics textbooks.  Over time, she trained many other midwives.  Her rates of intervention, cesarean, and extreme pain in childbirth were remarkably low.  In my opinion, this was due to a number of factors:  the low-stress alternative lifestyle advocated by Farm members; the excellent nutrition and care that pregnant women received; and the lack of fear that surrounds the experience of birth in their culture.  She even invented a special position called the Gaskin Maneuver to help ease a "stuck" baby's shoulder around the pubic bone. 

Her amazing book Spiritual Midwifery is part history, part textbook, and part testimonial. 

She explains how she came to be a midwife, how women who want to learn how to deliver babies should treat their patients, and she allows women to tell their stories.  Reading all of these positive birth stories was the perfect curative for the anxiety and impatience that were wracking my brain as week thirty-seven dragged into week thirty-eight into week thirty-nine.  Plus, you can't help but get a kick out of their special Farm dialect:  everything is "groovy," "far out," "orgasmic." 

Reading this book helped me realize a few things during birth.  Her main emphasis is that the feelings and movements that get the baby in are the same ones that get the baby out.  She encourages physical closeness and touching between father and mother during the birth.  She wants the mother to embrace her own power and strength in bringing new life into the world.  She also claims that all of the different sphincter muscles in the body are connected in a way.  If you keep your mouth loose, your cervix will loosen faster.  I found this to be true in my experience.  As long as I kept my mouth and jaw loose, things progressed well.  (The pitocin didn't hurt either.)

If Dr. Bradley was like my funny old-fashioned but forward-thinking father, Ina May was my braid-wearing, patchouli-scented earth mother.  She told me I was capable of this thing I was about to do, and she kept it real.  Women who complained during birth or who said they were scared were often labeled "chicken s**t."  I loved that kind of grittiness.  It was like, "Yeah, this hurts.  Let's get past that most obvious fact and talk about the beauty and power of it."

Ina May still practices midwifery at The Farm, and my dream is to be able to birth there with her or another one of the midwives someday.  I'm not sure they'll ever take me, since I now have a history of borderline pregnancy-induced hyptertension.  (Part of what keeps their rates of intervention so low is that they really only accept perfectly healthy women to give birth there.  But, to their credit, this protects the safety of women who truly need the hospital to give birth safely.)  But a girl can dream, right? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

multiply life by the power of two

Jeff and I were really the first ones out of all our friends to get married.  Apparently 24 and 25 are very young ages to tie the knot these days.  In my family, I was by far the youngest.  My sister and brother were both closer to thirty before they chose to take the leap with their partners.  Part of that was foisted on me by this ordination thing I'm trying out (ha!), which prohibits any "marriage-like living situations" for me as a pastoral leader.  Part of it was just knowing that Jeff was the end of the line for me. 

A lot of our friends have asked us at one time or another what marriage means, or what it's like, or why we chose it for ourselves.  It's kind of a hard question for me.  I don't believe in love at first sight - at least not for me.  Maybe for someone else.  And I don't particularly believe in soulmates.  Again, not for me.  I don't think that Jeff is the only person on earth that could possibly be my mate.  I just haven't met any of the others!

But there's something I realized around our second anniversary.  There's a different kind of soulmate:  the one you grow into, rather than just always being.  Jeff and I are growing into those kind of mates.  We will continue to do that for the rest of our lives.  We weren't born knowing each others' thoughts or finishing each others' sentences.  But we do it a heck of a lot more now than we did eight years ago. 

To me, the best thing about being married is that someone is always in your corner.  There's an old Indigo Girls song that talks about the beauty of a loving partnership:

So we're okay, we're fine /
Baby I'm here to stop your cryin' /
Chase all the ghosts from your head /
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed /
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart /
We'll look at them together then we'll take 'em apart /
Adding up the total of our love that's true /
Multiply life by the power of two.

That's really how I feel about Jeff.  He is the ultimate problem-solver, helper, brainstormer.  He helps me understand other peoples' points of view.  He gets me to see alternatives to sticky situations.  He gives me comfort and camaraderie when I feel like I'm all alone.  There are still many ways that I'm my own person, and I'm sure there are parts of me he will never know and understand (and vice versa).  But being with someone and experiencing life through a kaleidoscope that multiplies every joy and divides every sorrow is the most unbelievable blessing.  I thank God for it.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

the whole chicken!

[This post featured at Sortacrunchy's "Your Green Resource"]

Like most of meat-eating America, I used to gravitate toward the boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store.  They were neat, lean, easy to cook . . . and they cost more than any other cut.  Additionally, because I'm a freak and always wanted to make sure they were totally cooked before eating, I would cook them until they were tough and dry.  I would cut into them repeatedly during the cooking process (to see if they were still pink) and release all the juice from inside the meat.

My husband has always favored dark meat.  It's juicier, usually more tender, and it's more forgiving when you cook it.

And a whole chicken?  I thought that cooking a whole chicken was insane.  Don't you have to wash it first, and spread icky chicken germs all over your ever-loving kitchen?  Doesn't it take eighteen hours to cook?  Isn't it a huge amount of meat?

A few Christmases ago, though, I asked my family to gift me with cookbooks.  My brother and his wife gave me one called The 150 Best American Recipes.

I have never really had a dud of out of this cookbook.  Some of the recipes are fussy, requiring specialty ingredients or tricky techniques.  But some are so blissfully simple. 

One of the recipes I tried was for a salad with chicken from the famous San Francisco restaurant Zuni Cafe.  It was one of the afore-mentioned fussy recipes.  There was a bread salad, and greens, and you had to roast a chicken and then wait for it to cool to shred and put over the bread salad.  I skipped the salad part and decided to just make the chicken.  It was magic.  Here were the main pointers that converted me into a whole-bird person:

* Buy a small chicken!  Most of the ones you will see at the store are like five or six pounds.  Dig around and find the smallest one.  Don't go above three or three and a half pounds.

* Let the chicken dry in the fridge first for the crispest skin.  This sounds bizarre and illness-inducing, and it's not for the squeamish.  But if you salt a chicken and then leave it uncovered in the back of your fridge for like a day, the skin will tighten and dry out and when you roast it it will be so deliciously crackly.

* Roast it at the highest heat you can muster without totally smoking out your kitchen.  They recommend 450, I think, but we don't have a hood vent.  So I usually go around 400 or 425.  This cuts the cooking time down a lot. 

* Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken!  Don't just cut into it over and over.  You're looking for 165 when you stick it in between the thigh and body.

So here's the "recipe," which is really just a way to do it.

1 2-3 lb chicken
Sage leaves (optional)
4 garlic cloves
salt and pepper

A day or two before you're going to cook the chicken, uncover it, work the skin up around the breast and thighs, and stick a whole peeled garlic clove and a sage leaf or two between the skin and meat on each side of the breast and each thigh.  Season thoroughly with plenty of salt and pepper, both inside and outside the bird.  Allow it to sit, uncovered, in the fridge until you're ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 425.  Take a cast-iron skillet and let it get very hot on the stove.  Drop the chicken in breast-side down, and let it cook for two minutes.  Then flip the bird using tongs and transfer to the hot oven.  After ten minutes, flip it over again.  After ten more minutes, flip it again so the breast is up.  Leave it for five to ten more minutes, then check the temperature.  Let it cook, breast side up, until the internal temp is 165.  Pull it from the oven and let it rest ten minutes, then carve and enjoy.

This recipe will really only serve two or three people.  So, if you have more than that, roast another chicken at the same time.

I love this recipe.  I make it probably every other week.  I save the carcasses after we're finished and use them to make chicken stock:

chicken carcasses
three carrots, unpeeled
three stalks celery (you can skip this - I personally hate buying celery because I never use it all before it gets all limp and weird)
one whole onion
three garlic cloves

Cut the carrots and celery into two inch chunks.  Cut the onion into quarters.  Put all ingredients into a large pot or Dutch oven and fill with enough water to cover everything.  Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer.  The longer you simmer, the better.  Don't tell the fire department - I often leave it on low and let it sit overnight.  Once you're satisfied with the taste and seasonings, let it cool completely.  Strain out all the solids and discard.  Put it back in the pot and let it sit in the fridge for several hours.  Most of the fat will rise to the surface.  Skim it off with a spoon and discard.  Then you can use it, or I freeze it in ice cube trays and then pop out the cubes and keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer.  Each cube is usually about two tablespoons. 

There you have it - a two-for-one on Munchee Monday.  Really, though - if you have never considered becoming a whole chicken person, try it sometime.  It's not really that hard, and you make a statement to the poulty industry that you're not interested in breeding and genetically modifying chickens so they have Dolly Parton breasts.

Friday, September 16, 2011

on my shelf: husband-coached childbirth

Today I will give the second installment of those books that I've found indispensable in birthing and raising a child thus far.  To see some of my other book reviews, check out this link and these three links.  But today, we're going back to the start.

I first got turned on to the crazy genius of Dr. Bradley way back in my first year of Divinity School.  The wife of a fellow student posted a flier advertising for her Bradley classes, and my interest was piqued.  This was a woman whose prowess in child-bearing and -rearing I really respect, and I knew that she had done it naturally and was embracing a similar kind of lifestyle to what I hoped for our family someday.  So I started poking around on our great big internet, and found out the basic facts.

Dr. Robert Bradley was an obstetrician who practiced in the mid-twentieth century.  He had grown up on a farm and was convinced from watching animal births that birth didn't have to be the painful, frightening experience that our culture insists that it is.  Animals appeared to give birth without pain, after making careful preparations and entering into total relaxation.  So, he started practicing with low-income single mothers and the results were astonishing.  By teaching some very specific techniques and fulfilling six basic needs of the laboring woman, the vast majority of women under his care were able to give birth without any medication or intervention.  So, he passed on his knowledge to a family called the Hathaways, who really became the big Bradley evangelizers.

Jeff and I found a Bradley class in our area that was starting up right at my twentieth week of pregnancy.  The class goes for twelve weeks, two hours per class (although our chatty class frequently stretched into three hours and more!) - making it one of the longest and most comprehensive childbirth preparation classes.  It was the best choice we made in all of our pregnancy.  Our instructor, Amber, was so deeply knowledgeable and passionate about birth and maintaining the health of the pregnant woman.

The book that goes along with the course is called Husband-Coached ChildbirthSay what you will about the title (old-fashioned, not everyone who has a baby has a husband, etc), but the book is fantastic.

The book is charming and kooky.  Dr. Bradley starts to feel like your slightly crazy but brilliant great-uncle.  He has theories on why women shouldn't wear underwear.  He encourages husbands and expectant wives to continue their intimacy with enthusiasm (and detail!).  But when it comes down to it, he reduced his rate of intervention and surgery to what was absolutely required by the biological statistics.  There are situations where a cesarean is absolutely necessary, but only about three percent of the time.  That was his rate.

He outlines nutrition, exercise, all stages of labor and birth, and what you can expect emotionally and physically in the period immediately following birth.  His was the book that I made sure I had on my nightstand as the baby and I were recovering in bed.

And, as I've noted elsewhere, the class really bonded us together.  Jeff and I got closer, he became totally sold on the notion of natural childbirth and became my greatest supporter and coach, and our class has enjoyed some great times together and continues to meet regularly for playgroup and cookouts.  Because of the nature of the class, the moms that I'm now friends with have great insights for me.  And we owe it all to Dr. Bradley!

Seriously, if you're at all interested in returning to some of the biological roots of childbirth, and birthing in relaxation and total knowledge of what is happening, read this book.  Take a class if you can, but if you can't, at least read the book.  There will be parts that have you shaking your head and giggling, but you will walk away with an incredible foundation, and wonder why your doctor didn't tell you this stuff.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the clutter murders

For those who are not fanatical Kansas natives (called Jayhawkers - there's your crossword trivia for the day) and don't know about the horrific Clutter murders of 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas:  the Clutters were a well-off farm family.  Two marauders were convinced that they had bunches of money and valuables hidden in their house, so they broke in, held them hostage, then savagely axed the whole family to death.  Turns out there were no valuables.  Oops.  The murderers were found pretty immediately, tried, and neatly dispatched (hanged).  Truman Capote came to Kansas and wrote a little story about called In Cold Blood.  I'm sure he shocked the hell out of Southwestern Kansas with his gayness.

My mom grew up not fifty miles from Holcomb, and all she would ever remark on this incident (that happened when she was eight) was that that was when they started to lock their doors at night.

But, happily for you, this post isn't actually about the Clutter murders of 1959.  It's about the clutter murders of 2011.  That's right, folks.  I'm taking you on a tour of the dark bowels of my home.  These four areas that I'm determined to clutter-bust before the year is out.

Don't know about you all, but clutter makes me feel chaotic.  Watching "Hoarders" is scary.  Some of my relatives have been on the line of problem "collecting," and I've had to clean out too many great-grandmas' and grandparents' houses to ever, EVER become a packrat.  Unfortunately, my husband hasn't had the same experiences, and loves to come home with new little tidbits of junk.

We moved homes every year from 2007 through 2010, and moving is an fantastic motivator to get rid of all your old crap so you don't have to U-Haul it anywhere.  I've made it my mission to only have one of anything, so Goodwill has benefited mightily from my prunings.  Alas, we've been in our home in Topeka for almost fifteen months now, and some detritus has begun accumulating.

First:  Jeff's closet.

We have a bad habit of just leaving things in the big plastic Rubbermaid bins, rather than storing it more attractively.  This is a symptom of my frugality, as I'm hesitant to buy shelving even though we need it.  This just needs a good once-over.

Next up, the pantry:

Our house is old and funny and has lots of nooks and crannies that are perfect for tossing junk when you're in a hurry.  The pantry sits under the staircase, and extends its entire length.  We use the top shelf for food, and the bottom for the stuff we would put in a garage if we had a garage (dog food, Jeff's tools and milk crates, charcoal for BBQ, etc).  I'm not totally sure how to solve this space issue until we have a garage, but I can at least neaten it up.

Then, upstairs:

This one is really Jeff's to deal with, since for some reason he absolutely despises putting his clothes away after I launder and fold them.  But he won't do it until I twist his arm, so I just need to get started on the arm-twisting.

And this.  Kind of like the pantry-garage, this is the stuff I would put in the basement if we had a basement.  Old journals, baby and maternity clothes I'm saving for next time (!), art supplies.  Instead of a basement, they live in a corner of our giant upstairs loft-bedroom.  Again, just need shelving to neatly store this stuff.  In fact, I'd kind of like to see if I can't consolidate it into the pantry-garage and use this corner for the baby's "prepared environment."

Wish me luck!  I feel like to really complete this endeavor, I'll have to take a few days off work with the baby at the sitter.  And there's the small matter of getting Jeff on board . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

cold weather cooking

[Note:  This post was submitted as part of Sortacrunchy's "Your Green Resource."]

Our weather has finally turned to fall.  Today is gray and wet, and it won't top 70.  I don't think we'll turn the air on again.  Foremost on my mind:  how will I keep my baby warm this winter?  We are on gas heat, and I typically keep the thermostat at 65 (yes, I hear your gasps.  Don't act like I haven't told you I'm ridiculously cheap).  Young baby might be in mittens and booties all winter long! 

After I get finished thinking about that, my mind turns to recipes.  When it's hot, I loathe turning on the stove even for a few minutes.  When it's cold, I want things to simmer away all day.  My mom used to make ham and beans with cornbread on winter evenings, so I have a memory imprinted of that smell.  This recipe is a good back-burner bubbler.  Soaking the beans ahead of time is key.

Red Beans & Sausage
(adapted from Everyday Food)

1 lb spicy andouille sausage
1 lb dry red beans
1 onion (we were out and I used like 2 T onion powder), chopped fine
2 cloves garlic (we were out (what!?  It was a hard week and I didn't make it to the store) so I used 1 t garlic powder), minced
4 1/2 C water or chicken stock (I used a mix of the two)
salt and pepper

Rinse and drain the beans and pick through them for any little rocks or shriveled beans.  Fill a bowl with beans and water enough to cover by two inches.  Soak beans for at least six hours - overnight is even better.  Drain beans.

Cut sausages in half lengthwise, and then into chunks.  Place into a large Dutch oven on medium heat.  Allow to cook until crisp and plenty of fat has rendered out.  Pull sausage out and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. 

Place onions and garlic into Dutch oven in sausage fat.  Cook until quite soft - maybe seven or eight minutes.  Add drained beans and water/chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are tender.  This depends on your water quality (hardness or softness), how long they soaked, and the alignment of the stars.  Just test one after half an hour and see if it's good.

Once beans are done, put sausage back into the pot and cook until heated through.  Serve with brown rice or cornbread and hot sauce.

Monday, September 12, 2011

same faces, new places

Do you ever feel like there are only so many faces and personalities in the world?  Like, there are platonic forms of people or something?  Somewhere around college-aged, I started to feel like every new person I met reminded me exactly of someone I already knew.  I have had the good fortune to meet a lot of different people, but it seems there are only about fifty actual people in the world, and they each have fifty variations. 

If I can't figure out who someone reminds me of, it bugs the bejesus out of me until I can place them.  It's like not being able to remember a word that's on the tip of your tongue. 

Just this last weekend, I was doing a wedding.  The best man was delayed in Milwaukee and wasn't able to make it to the rehearsal.  So, when I met him just before the wedding on Saturday, he immediately struck me.  It was John Hodges, a guy I'd been to Divinity School with.  Only it wasn't John Hodges, it was Robert Glaubius.  Robert Glaubius = John Hodges.  Of course, I don't know either of them well enough to identify them completely as one person.  But the aura they gave off:  the way they looked, talked, smiled . . . it seemed awfully similar.

Just another day inside my strange thoughts! 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

on my shelf: in a montessori home

[This post submitted to Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday 10/1/12.]

I want to write a weekly series on books that I have found formative and informational for our growing family thus far.  These are the books that make up my the "parenting" section on my shelf.  Some are long, some are short (some even have pictures!).  Some of them disagree with one another, but the thing that keeps them all on my shelf is that they made me have an a-ha! moment about my baby and her relationship to our family.

First up is a very short volume called In A Montessori Home.  This was recommended to me by the talented April of Goose Designs.  She is a Montessori Assistant to Infancy, and helped me understand how to apply some Montessori principles to our home life.

 I bought it through the website of the North American Montessori Teachers' Association.  It is by Sarah Moudry.  It is primarily composed of pictures of various ages of children in their home settings.  The book focuses on children aged 0-3.  What I absolutely love about it is the resource lists.  Moudry tells you exactly where to look for Montessori-inspired furniture, clothing, diapers, toys, feeding equipment, and more.  It is a very accessible book, and could be a first read for anyone looking at making some changes in their home environment.  It is also quite inexpensive.  This is the one I had my husband look at when I went on my little Montessori bender, because I knew it would keep his attention and offer some quick talking points.  Also, it's not very dogmatic.  Some of the Montessori stuff I run across seems very rigid - like if you get the tiniest detail wrong you might as well not be trying to implement any of it.  Moudry is accommodating, and offers solutions that will work for lots of families, rather than insisting that you scrap all your baby's stuff and start from scratch. 

However, for some of you, this book might just whet your appetite.  Moudry doesn't go very in-depth, rather, she recommends some heavier hitters at the end in a "further reading" list.  It did help my imagination, though, to see what different people have done in their homes with this philosophy.

All in all, a keeper.

Friday, September 9, 2011

my main mug

We have a lot of coffee mugs in our church office.  I could probably choose from about sixty.  But this is my mug.  I just wanted this mug so badly that I walked all the way to the parlor and the dishwasher and retrieved it.  Something about this mug makes me happy, and a little nostalgic.  It makes me want to get things done.  As you can see, it sits atop my to-do list, which I hope will shrink to zero items by the end of today (fat chance).  It also perfectly holds eight ounces of coffee and four ounces of milk, which are proportions of magical renown for my productivity.  How did I ever stop drinking coffee for ten months again?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

the year of magical children

 . . .  (continued from yesterday)

So, while I was awaiting my Peace Corps country assignment (that never materialized), I knew a needed a job.  As a side note, those three-odd months I spent unemployed were the worst.  That was the longest I'd been without a job in years, and it drove me absolutely mad to have no shape to my day. 

I looked on the USD 497 employment website and found that I was eligible for some jobs as a paraeducator.  This is a really fancy name for a teacher aide.  I applied, interviewed, and was accepted at Hillcrest Elementary.  Working at Hillcrest was kind of a blast from the past.  It wasn't my elementary school (sadly, Centennial closed while I was in college), but I knew lots of friends from high school that had gone there. 

Most of my job at Hillcrest was to be a general assistant to Kim Walker, who taught first grade.  I rotated around a bit, sometimes helping in kindergarten, sometimes in second grade, and always monitoring recess.  I also spent some time each week one-on-one with a boy named Ziad who has autism.  But the lion's share of my time was with these amazing small people:

Hillcrest is very close to the University of Kansas, which is a large public school that attracts many international students.  Naturally, some of those international students have children who are also international.  Thus, about two-thirds of the children you see above were learning English as a second, third, or fourth language.  Hillcrest has a special focus as an English language learning school. 

I had been quite apprehensive about taking this job, because I'd never really seen myself as a "kids" kind of person.  I am the youngest in my family by a stretch, and I never babysat or put myself in situations where children were around.  I didn't know if I would be able to reach the children, or if I would be able to communicate in such a way that they would understand. 

It ended up being the most positive experience of my life to date.  The year I spent with those kids was truly magical.  I say magical because they were like a tonic for my soul.  Their optimism, the freshness of life for them, their zest for learning and fun . . . it was like being a little kid again for me too.  Best of all, the job was one where I could work all day and then completely leave it at the school.  I mean, of course the kids were on my mind, but I didn't have to make any lesson plans or have meetings or go to conferences.  I just did what I was told and enjoyed myself. 

That year, I focused on healing from the death of my mother (and helping my stepdad work through some of that as well), working out, yoga, writing poetry, hanging out with really good friends, singing, and being around young souls.  And I began to hone in on what God seemed to be saying to me about my life's work.  I had been denying a call from God for some years at this point, and without a lot of the noise that had been in my life previously, I was really able to hear it clearly. 

Sometimes I wish I could go back to that year, but it is a moment frozen in time.  They say you can't step into the same river twice, and I know that's true.  But the lessons I learned from teaching first-graders stay with me:  work hard, then run it off at recess.  Sing silly songs.  Ask if you don't understand.  Keep your hands to yourself.  And the kids gave me a great gift:  feeling confident in the knowledge that I could handle one of these myself someday:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

peace corps

At the beginning of my final semester of college I went into a panic.  I had no clue what the next step was, and I had neglected to take any of those pesky tests that you need to do little things like go to law school or business school or anything school.  I was graduating summa cum b average, and I certainly hadn't applied for any fellowships.  My majors - Religion and Creative Writing - left me few workable skills, and I had studied Latin, which gave me no useful language experience. 

So what did I do?  What any right-minded Democrat who enjoyed helping people would do!  I applied for the Peace Corps.  I also applied to be a New York City Teaching Fellow.  And, finally, to hedge my bets, I applied to the one type of school that didn't require a GRE:  Divinity School!  I applied to Union Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt Divinity School.  I was accepted to both, so that left me a little cushion.

I was also accepted to teach in a special-ed classroom as a New York City Teaching Fellow.  Making the decision between the two adventures was one of my hardest.  I could stay with my best friend of all time Amanda in the City, creating new and wilder adventures than ever, or I could go off by myself across the seven seas and a life of total immersion in a new culture.  What to do?

I chose the Peace Corps.  It seemed so exotic and fun.  Also, I was attracted to the sort of accessibility and standard-issue feel of the program.  I went to their New York recruiting and training office, I had interviews, I had blood tests (they took sooo much blood.  It was like a quart).  I learned that I have no health impairments or chronic illnesses!  Yay!  Curiously, my one strange result from the blood tests was that I have high iron, which is extremely rare for women of childbearing age.  I was all ready to go.  I set aside my fears of being a woman alone in a strange land, and I steeled myself for the shock of going to a place where I was not part of a majority group. 

I waited for my country assignment.  We graduated!  And I kept waiting.  I moved back in with my stepdad in Kansas (very temporarily of course).  And I waited more.  I went and worked for what I thought was my final summer at Mountain TOP.  I kept waiting.  Jeff and I prepared for an ultra-long distance relationship.  Then, finally, I heard the sad news:  I had no real skills for the Peace Corps.  They wanted people who had science or math or medical backgrounds, who spoke French or Spanish, who knew how to teach people English or design water filtration systems or organize community health projects.  I knew how to diagram Latin sentences and write papers on Hindu cosmology.  I was told that there would still be a placement for me, but it would be a long time coming. 

I was advised to get a job in the meantime.  So, I scanned the web and found openings for the local school district.  I could be a para-educator in an elementary school.  I had never really been around kids much, so it made me nervous, but I needed a job!  . . . . (to be continued tomorrow!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

how i came to love bad tv

When Jeff and I were first married, and lived in our lovely tiny apartment in East Nashville, we had no cable.  We had those terrible bunny-ear antennae and the then-new HD converter box.  The antennae quickly lost their "stick" and would flop from side to side.  It was a real technical skill figuring out how to tweak them juuuusstt so, so they would stay in place and you could get a signal.  And this was in the middle of a large city.  I can't imagine how one could achieve this in a rural area.

Then, as now, Jeff worked many nights.  I was going through kind of a hard time, so I indulged myself in mindless vegging out on the couch.  I had the puppy for entertainment, but we watched a lot of television.  We got about eighteen channels, twelve of which were televangelism.  Sometimes I watched those and tried to make sense of them.  Mostly I avoided them.  That left me with:  NBC, ABC, CBS, CW, Nashville Public Television 1 and 2. 

I had never had a TV in college.  I mostly just watched whatever anyone else was watching when I lived with the roommates.  I had never been "into" the popular series on the major networks, and I fancied myself very cultured and above such things. 

Before I knew it, I was sucked into the nightly routine of switching from channel to channel, watching one-hour blocks of "That 70s Show," "The Office," "90210," and worst of all, "Two and a Half Men."  After dinner, it was time for "Family Guy." 

Charlie Sheen still makes me feel really greasy, especially after all his recent antics.  But the rest of the cast became my friends. 

And don't even get me started on "That 70s Show."  I love it!  I feel like Donna Pinciotti was my real life friend.  How many freaking seasons of "That 70s Show" are there?  I watched an hour of it every night for like two years, and I don't think I ever saw a repeat. 

And "The Office"!  Oh, "The Office."  I went from not really "getting" this show to absolutely loving it.  I have been known to actually laugh out loud at this show.  My favorite character goes back and forth, but I think it ends up being Angela.  She's so genuinely awful.  I have trouble when I see Angela Kinsey (the actress who plays Angela) in those Nice'n'Easy hair color commercials.  Is she being facetious?  Is she being snarky?  Is she trying to be genuinely girlfriend-ish to the ladies who need hair-color help?  I have so completely identified the actress with her character that I get confused. 

"Family Guy" and "90210" are other guilty pleasures.  I think it's so funny when people act like "The Simpsons" or "Family Guy" are like the downfall of polite American culture.  Or they act shocked that a pastor (of all people!) would watch such tripe.  I agree, it's not "Mad Men," but hey - I need entertainment too!

When we moved to Topeka, we got 124098132580 channels included with the cost of our rent.  It's been a mixed blessing, at best.  The worst part is that the Topeka syndicates of the major channels don't offer those one-hour blocks I'd been used to.  I still get a good dose of "That 70s Show," but "The Office" is a rarity.  Now you know my bad television secret.

Monday, September 5, 2011

weeknight workhorse

For today's Munchee Monday, I want to share more of a method than a recipe.  This is something you can adapt to a very wide variety of veggies.  I've done it with broccoli, summer squash, carrots, green beans, snowpeas - basically any vegetable you might want for a side.  It's a very quick method, so it's ideal for a weeknight when you may be crunched for time.

You need salt, pepper, olive oil, chicken stock, and your vegetable of choice.  I'll post my recipe for home-made chicken stock here sometime (again, not much of a recipe), but you could use storebought as well.  I like to pour it in ice-cube trays and then pop the stock cubes out and store in the freezer in a plastic bag to make it last longer.

Place 4-8 ounces of your vegetable into a pan with a lid.  Add 1 tablespoon oil, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/4 cup chicken stock.  Turn heat to medium.  Put the lid on.  Leave for about five minutes, or until vegetable is tender (this time will vary, depending on what kind of veggie you're using).  Then unlid and allow any remaining liquid to steam off, moving the vegetables around in the pan.  Depending on what you're using, you might finish with a squeeze of lemon.

That's it!  I seriously do this three or four times a week.  I like how it eliminates the need for a separate pot for blanching or steaming, and it produces very consistent results. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

guest post: ordinary time

My friends, welcome to the stage Jacquie Hauth.  Jacquie and I met when we started together at Vanderbilt Divinity School four years ago.  I have always been impressed with the precision and depth of her thought.  She also blogs over at Constant Conversion.  I asked if she would write a little bit for us on what "ordinary time" means for her.  For those who are not living and breathing the church calendar, ordinary time represents two LONG stretches from Pentecost until Advent, and then from Epiphany until Lent.  It eats up well over half of the year, as you can see:

Church leaders sometime struggle with what to do in ordinary time.  Do you stretch out Pentecost and Epiphany and act like they are seasons, rather than just days?  What do you emphasize?  In what direction do you drive the life of the church, or your own personal spiritual pursuit?  Here are Jacquie's reflections.

Ordinary Time
Does the church year really mimic the academic year, or has my experience lead me to that conclusion?

For nineteen years of my life, I have had my seasons dictated by the school calendar.  It is hard to suddenly think of the 
year beginning in November instead of late August (or for that matter, January).  But this isn't meant to be a reflection on 
the start of the year, but the middle.  Or rather, the first long stretch.
The Christian year begins with Advent, and then comes Christmas and Epiphany.  Soon after, Lent arrives to mark the road 
to Easter.  Easter comes and goes, then begins the even longer season of Ordinary Time.  Unlike Lent, Ordinary Time is 
not marked by a sense of anticipation or special longing.  It is the first long stretch of time in the church year when there is 
nothing hovering just along the horizon.
In my academic career, Ordinary Time has always coincided with summer--vacations and blissful forgetting of all the lessons 
learned the previous year.  When I was growing up, this was a season of low attendance at my church.  No one said it aloud, 
but I got the impression that it was acceptable to miss some church in the summertime because nothing really "important" 
was happening.  Jesus wasn't being born, baptized or executed, nor was he rising.  Mary wasn't waiting patiently, and we 
weren't fasting or feasting.  Instead, it was a time for parables and summer reading lists.  Not terribly exciting.
But now that I have been outside of the academic pattern for over a year--and I haven't had the ending and beginning of a 
school year to approximate Ordinary Time--it's starting to sink in just how odd this understanding of this season really is.  
Ordinary Time is by no means unexciting (as a time devoid of other more thrilling things) but this popular perception fails to 
recognize just how exceptionally ordinary the rest of the year is, too.  This is the first season of Ordinary Time in which I'm 
not gearing up for some new beginning: I've just been chugging along in my life at the intersection of love, worry, work, and 
How much of my life really is wrapped up in those four things: love, worry, work, and food--even and especially in those 
other more exciting seasons of the church (even in those other more exciting semesters of schooling).  And now that I don't 
have a new semester or a new thrill to look forward to, I'm beginning to fully realize it.
So perhaps this is more a reflection on how much my life's seasons have been dictated by the school year rather than the 
church year.  Or perhaps this was a chance to muse over how much I love Ordinary Time's insistence that the everyday 
matters just as much as the exceptional (otherwise, why devote a whole season to it)?  I rejoice in the ebb and flow of daily 
life... in the knowledge that this first long stretch of the church year is in many ways more like our everyday lives than the 
other seasons: the long quiet stretches when we get to practice life without glamour or pretense or any other "event" to 
make life meaningful.  It just is.  And that's the wonder of it.
In a way, this is a season for me to regret all the past seasons of Ordinary Time that were nothing more than filler between 
things that I thought were more exciting.  It is a time to give thanks that--despite all the imbued glamour we give to other 
seasons of the church--life itself is fantastically (miraculously) ordinary.

Friday, September 2, 2011

homemade diaper wipes

[Note:  this post featured on SortaCrunchy]

When we switched over to cloth diapers at home, I'd been investigating different avenues for homemade baby wipes as well.  I mean, the point stands to reason that you're doing small loads of laundry very frequently, so you might as well put the wipes in there too.  I found a recipe or two for homemade disposable wipes, including the ingenious cut-a-roll-of-Bounty-in-half method.  But that didn't solve the disposable dilemma. 

Then I saw some reusable wipes from Thirsties that were like 11 bucks for six.  I thought I could do better on the price by going a renegade route.

So I went to Target and bought a pack of plain white washcloths and cut each one in half when I got home.

I also bought a plastic spray bottle in the wall of sample toiletries.  I love that aisle because I hate committing to a new product without trying a little first.  (I love the fact that Aveda does this as well!)

And I got a little sample size of aloe vera gel.

I already had some lavender and tea tree oil mixed together at home (my friend Stephanie gave it to me because it kills the itch from bug bites).

I put a cup of hot filtered water, two tablespoons of aloe vera and a drop of the essential oil into a bowl and whisked it up well.  Then I poured it into the spray bottle.

I just keep the wipes dry and spray the baby's skin with the spray bottle and wipe it off with the rag.  It's so weird that she doesn't seem to mind having a cold spray on her nether-regions, and yet the bath is a major catastrophe.  (Also weird:  she likes cold bottles of milk.)

I've been using this about two weeks, and I'm only halfway through the contents of the spray bottle.  The sixteen wipes have been far more than I've needed between loads of laundry.  I'm pleased with the results.  Vicki's skin is soft, clean and smells good.  I should add that she hasn't ever had sensitive or irritated skin, so I didn't really have to worry about textures or ingredients that may sting. 

Hope you enjoy!  Yet another area of money- and earth-saving baby hygiene that was simpler than I was building it up to be in my mind.