Friday, October 28, 2011


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

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

crunchy granola

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

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

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

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

extra! extra! read all about it!

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

multiple intelligences & god's creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

montessori-style solids

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

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

(Not my baby!  Photo credit.)

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

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

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

(Avocado, plain mashed.)

(Yogurt I made myself from raw milk.)

(A little cup of water to practice drinking.)

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

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

Of course, things get a bit messy.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011


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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

creature comforts

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

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

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

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

Serves two.

Friday, October 14, 2011

tripp trapp, revisited

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

couscous and dressing

I unashamedly love couscous.  Everything about it:  the blink-and-you-miss-it cooking time, the chewy texture, the nutty flavor.  It's probably my favorite starch to prepare with a standard protein-veggie-starch dinner.  I have made some refinements over the years:  I always cook it in chicken broth, I do it all in one pot, and I've recently starting adding a dressing.

My husband is more of a rice lover.  He will eat couscous, but he complains that it's too dry sometimes.  So, I came up with the idea of a sauce to put over it.  He loves it, I love it, and we're all happy.  Try it yourself!

1 C dry couscous
1 C chicken broth
2 T olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
1/2 t dijon mustard
1 T cherry jam (or whatever flavor you fancy)
salt and pepper

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a small pot with a lid.  Once it boils, stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste.  After five or six minutes, unlid the couscous and fluff if up with a fork.  Pour the dressing over the couscous and serve.  Makes four servings. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

of water and the spirit (on baptism day)

Today is my baby girl's baptism.  People at church have been asking me essentially since the day she was born when we were going to have her baptized.  I never felt any real rush.  See, my parents never had my brother, or my sister, or myself, baptized as babies.  Instead, we waited until we could make a profession of faith on our own (at about twelve for each of us).  In our United Methodist Church, this is totally acceptable. 

I get a fair amount of people who call me in my pastoral office, wanting me to baptize their children immediately.  The youngest child I ever was called about was two weeks old.  I was impressed that the mother felt like she could have an event like a baptism - I don't think I left my bedroom for two weeks after the baby was born, much less the house!

At the heart of this urgency is a misunderstanding of baptism, I think.  See, I'm not having my baby baptized as some kind of insurance of salvation.  That is, I don't think that without baptism God's grace doesn't rest on her.  Instead I see a twofold symbolism in the water that will be dribbled down her forehead this morning:  the recognition that God's grace has been enveloping and enfolding her since the moment she came earthside; and the promise that we will raise her within a family of faith, with the baptism as the inititation into that family.

I don't believe that the unbaptized are destined for damnation.  First of all (whole other post), I can't say with certainty that there is a hell, what it is like, or who you might find there.  Secondly, baptism isn't some kind of magic that changes the person that you are.  Before baptism and after it, we continue to be people who try and fail.  And get a new chance.  And try harder and fail better. 

But the difference is that you are a person who tries and fails and gets new chances within a community of faith that is all oriented in the same direction (more or less).  You have people who have your back.  You have people who show you God's face of mercy and love and accountability over and over.  And you have people who can remind you that God's grace extends outward and over all of us - every part of us - all the time.  Whether we realize it or not. 

This is why the age of your baptism is immaterial.  Does a seventy-year-old understand the mystery of this sacrament any more than a seven-month-old?  The manner is also inconsenquential.  Wanna be dipped?  We can do that (we just have to go to a river or lake or a Baptist or Disciples church).  Wanna be dripped upon?  We can do that to, out of lovely little ornamental fonts.  The water is just a sign.  It's a powerful sign, one that participates in a reality greater than itself, but it's still just a sign. 

So today, we celebrate God's grace toward all of us, and the fact that our baby will be beloved and raised in faith by this congregation, and many others, in her life.  She is blessed, we are blessed, and God's grace abounds.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

melbourne and the dalai lama

I was not the star pupil of my Divinity School class.  Those people are off doing their Ph.D.s (drool), enjoying higher discourse with the great minds of our time.  No, I was solidly near the upper middle.  I got a half-tuition scholarship when I applied, which helped a lot.  So much that I'll only be paying off the loans for another ten years!  But then, for my third year, I was offered late membership in a very special group:  the Turner Scholars.  Yes, Dollar General funded my education.  And I'm proud.  But I shop at Target.  Anyway, I'm not actually blogging about the Turner Program today, although it was amazing and I got many free lunches (both literally and figuratively).

I'm actually blogging about another unbelievable opportunity that I was offered.  I received a letter in the summer of 2009 that I'd been anonymously nominated by one of my professors to attend the World's Parliament of Religion in Melbourne, Australia, that December.  Oh, and did I mention that it was all expenses paid?   Flight, meals, registration, lodging - everything except souvenirs and alcoholic beverages.  The Henry Luce Foundation (aka the "Time Life" people) wanted to pay thousands and thousands of dollars so I could go listen to delightful lectures.  The funniest part was at the bottom of the letter, where they asked if I wanted to go or not.  The only thing that would possibly have barred me from going is if I was pregnant and due to deliver during that week.  Did I want to go!?  Yes!!

All throughout that semester I read up, had meetings, researched, and took a class on Comparative Theology to prepare for this experience.  I quickly discovered that the Dalai Lama was to be the keynote speaker of the plenary addresses.  This was truly the chance of a lifetime.  When else would I be within spitting distance of a man who is arguably the greatest religious leader of our time? 

We boarded the plane in Nashville on a cold November morning.  The itinerary:  Nashville to Raleigh, Raleigh to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Auckland, Auckland to Brisbane, Brisbane to Melbourne.   Ouch.  My strategy was just to set my watch to the local Mebourne time from the second we stepped on the plane and then take sleeping pills to put my body on their schedule.  It actually worked pretty well!  I read three books in the twenty hours from Los Angeles to Auckland.  I was traveling with three other students and a professor, and we made sure to get up and do stretches regularly.

An aside:  we traveled Qantas Air from Los Angeles onward, and it was amazing.  Free unlimited Australian wines, excellent food, good movies, kind servicepeople.  Loved it.

We stepped off the plane in Melbourne and the heat was astonishing.  I had left Nashville dressed in pants, sweater, scarf, moccasins.  I quickly realized this would be unsuitable dress for the opposite season!  We made our way from the airport to the hostel and started to get our bearings.  Hostel is kind of a misleading name for the place we were staying.  It was more like a hotel where you share bedrooms and bathrooms with people.  Liz, the other gal who had come from Vanderbilt, and I shared a room with two lovelies from Union Theological Seminary.  We were really near the city center of Melbourne.

Thus began the dual adventure of attending the Parliament and exploring Melbourne.  Melbourne is a fantastic city.  It is new (as is most of Australia - younger than the East Coast), having been born of a gold rush in the mid-1800s.  Aussies were like the perfect mix of British properness and American entrepreneurialism.  There was none of the aloof British snootiness that we had (rightfully) incurred as American visitors there during our honeymoon.  Rather, the Melbournians I met had a kind of curious admiration of the American way of doing things, but didn't seem willing to go as far as America had in sprawling suburbs and business ventures.  They also had the biggest and best open market I had ever seen, and the largest operational network of trams as public transport.

When I wasn't skipping sessions so I could soak up all of Melbourne's early-summer amazingness, I was inside the convention center listening to people from around the world divulge the essences of their religious experiences.  It was mind-blowing.  I heard from Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sufis, Sikhs, atheists (who picketed the Parliament, which I found ironic), Buddhists, Hindus, scientologists, Shintos, and so many more that I've already forgotten.  I spent a lot of time in a conference of other seminarians, where we helped push one another to think more fully about the possibilities of global religious education and comparative theology in the future.  It was a perfect environment for germination of ideas and friendships.  

I've been wanting to take Jeff to Melbourne, but the cost of plane fare alone is enough to put me off for another decade.  Also, I never quite learned how to order coffee correctly.  But I will always be so thankful for this opportunity that dropped onto my lap and into my life.  Whenever I see a Time magazine, I pause for a moment of gratitude that the sales from this publication helped send me on one of my finest adventures. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

r-12 and saying goodbye

Growing up, we were always a cat household.  There was a stray gerbil here and there that I thought I could handle after keeping the class pet, but they always died of wet tail within a few weeks.  I think I got some fish and tried to keep them in a tupperware . . . once again, didn't work well.  (It didn't help anything that Pet World was three blocks from my house.)

We had Madison first.  We got her at the shelter and she was the sweetest cat.  She was gentle and loving and she got hit by a car near our driveway.  This is the price you pay for having an outdoor cat near a busy street, I suppose.  I think her burial was the first time I saw my stepdad cry.

Then, we got Cleo because my childhood friend Jessie had gotten her mother a bunch of kittens for Mothers' Day as a surprise and her dad said she had to get rid of them all or he would drown them (true story!).  So, I showed up at home with a little white kitten, explaining that I would take care of her and no one would even notice she was there.  Needless to say, it didn't exactly work out that way.  Cleo may or may not have some kind of congenital birth defect because she is totally antisocial, terrified of being held or petted, and not very bright. 

Cleo's plight worsened when Minnie came to live with us.  If I remember correctly, my mom got her from a lady whose child attended the daycare where my mom was treasurer.  The lady lived out in the country and a bunch of feral cats had been born in her barn.  This particular kitten had been shaken around by some farm animal and had to go to the vet for nerve damage.  She couldn't recuperate well at the farm, so we took her in "just for a little while."  (Something like thirteen years later, she still lives with my stepdad and his wife, as does Cleo.)  My theory on Minnie is that the nerve damage never healed well, because she is mean as hell.  She doesn't like being touched, frequently claws and bites, is aggressive toward other animals, and gets this twitchy thing in her lower back and tail when she's agitated.  She has made it her main life's mission to aggravate Cleo:  stealing her food, batting her tail, chasing her around the house.  If Cleo was already neurotic and a little "off," living with Minnie has pushed her over the edge into full pathological behavior. 

My stepdad really likes giving Minnie and Cleo whipped cream out of a can, and tends to feed them whenever they're "hungry," as opposed to on a schedule.  As a result of this, Minnie grew to epic proportions after I left for college.  Cleo got even skinnier, because Minnie was eating her food too.  I never saw it, but my stepdad claims that Minnie got so fat that she couldn't even stand up to eat anymore.  She would lay on her side with her face in the bowl.  The picture of this is so mind-blowingly funny to me that my husband and I talk about it on a near-daily basis.  However, my stepdad took this as a sign that it was time for an intervention, and put her on a diet.  Now she's down to probably somewhere around twenty pounds. 

I tell you all this because I like thinking about the cats, and I think they're funny, but also as a preface to the story of R-12.  Once upon a time, my husband was the property manager for the camp where we met (he did lots of other stuff too, but overseeing one of the camp properties was in his portfolio).  He lived in a trailer on the edge of the property, and one night he and his roommate heard some meowing.  It sounded like it was coming from under the trailer.  They ignored it, but it continued for a few days and was driving them crazy.  So they peeked under the trailer, and found that a cat had given birth to a litter up inside the insulation under the trailer.  The kittens had been abandoned, and were crying out for help.  Jeff and his roommate Pat decided to keep one of them.  They named her R-12, after the grade of insulation in which she had been found. 

R-12 is an absolute beauty.  As you can see below, she is prone to doing all that cat stuff that is so cute.  Through a series of misadventures, she came to be Jeff's cat after he left camp, and then she was our cat after we were married.

Unfortunately, R-12 is also a feral cat.  She domesticated pretty well, but she didn't like being touched much, went into frequent crazy spells where she would attack anything, and after we got the dog . . . well, she was never quite the same.  The dog loved chasing her around and taunting her.  The cat usually won because she still had her claws, but she was antagonistic toward all of us after Pup came around. 

When we found out we were going to have a baby, I pretty much knew R-12's days with us were numbered.  She didn't do very well with adults who knew how to act around animals.  With a baby, or a toddler?  I feared the worst.  She is not what I would call a good "family pet."  The final straw came when I brought home a bag of groceries when I was about seven months pregnant.  She jumped up on the counter to sniff them, and when I went to pet her, she reached up and stabbed me in the hand with her claws.  It drew quite a bit of blood.  If she had done this to me, a human she had known for years who was just trying to give her an affectionate rub, what would she do to a little human pulling her tail!?

So, we took her to the shelter.  I was not optimistic about her chances of being adopted, because she is the kind of cat who pulls back into the cage and hisses at you when you try to get her out and play with her.  With heavy hearts, we said farewell and went back home to just the Pup.  The next day, our good friend Lauren mentioned that she would have taken R-12 - she was looking for a cat with claws to be a playmate for her cat Hank.  So we enthusiastically told her to call the shelter and go pick her up - I was absolutely certain she would still be there.

Lo and behold, she had already been adopted!!  Sad for Lauren and Hank, but I was overjoyed that someone had taken her into their home already.  I hope it was a sweet old cat lady who bends over backward to make R-12 happy.  I could never have done that for her after the baby came along.  It was hard to say goodbye, but having a little closure on the whole experience made it easier.  And we still have all the darling pictures to remember her by.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

on vaccinating

I have been kind of putting off writing this post, because Jeff and I didn't do the best job in completing our homework on vaccinations before Vicki Jo was born.  I was traditionally vaccinated as a child, as was Jeff.  There are no "obvious" side effects of these immunizations for us . . . whatever you may think those side effects may be.  People seem to think that vaccinations cause everything from hyperactivity to autism to sadness while watching those ASPCA commercials with abandoned kittens.  However, Jeff does have a wicked case of Crohn's Disease, and we both suffer from seasonal allergies and some probable food sensitivities that we aren't rigorous or committed enough to be able to pick out of our diets.

What link do all of these things have?  Immunizations, Crohn's Disease (which is an autoimmune disorder - very similar to rheumatoid arthritis except limited to inflammation in the gut), seasonal allergies, food sensitization?  Nothing, I thought.  Allergies are just part of life, right?  Sometimes people develop terrible life-altering illnesses that cause them acute pain . . . it just happens, right?  Then, after creeping around on some blogs that advocate natural parenting, I discovered this book: 

I bought it soon thereafter and have been devouring it

This author is highly trained, has tons of experience operating a clinic for children with disorders like autism and hyperactivity, and the book cites research out the wazoo.  So, I'm inclined to be a little more open to her views than some other kooks out there. 

The essential hypothesis is that the center of immunity and health is the gut.  That is where we have our first line of defense against everything the world throws at us:  bacteria, stress, toxicity (like car fumes and stuff), etc.  If our gut is healthy and the lining is well-sealed, we are able to eliminate things in the way we need to, and nothing bads get into our bloodstream.  If it's not, then we get into trouble and all kinds of things can start to go haywire.  What causes the gut lining to become leaky?  Eating a diet high in processed foods, which throws off the delicate balance of good bacteria that keeps us healthy.  Bad bacteria and yeast start to take over and colonize us more because the good bacteria aren't there to keep them in check.  One of the symptoms of this kind of colonization is a crazy sweet/starch tooth, because that's what yeast needs to survive and multiply.  I see this in Jeff big time.  He is nuts for breakfast cereal, candy, rolls, breads, pastries, you name it. 

Anyway, what does this book have to do with vaccinations?  Well, our traditional vaccination schedule is probably fine for a healthy immune system.  Breastfed babies tend to be a lot healthier gut-wise than formula fed (tons of vital health-promoting bacteria in breastmilk).  If things are operating the way they should in the digestive tract, the insult that immunizations throw at an immune system can be dealt with.  But if your baby is sick with a cold, has eczema, is fed formula without added probiotics . . . then the viruses in immunizations can get out into the system.  I don't claim to know what kind of harm (if any) this can cause, but I figure why risk it?  Also, multiple vaccinations at once (like the MMR) can be really hard to deal with, because our bodies weren't meant to get measles, mumps, and rubella all at the same time. 

Up until now, we have followed a somewhat traditional immunization schedule with the baby.  We declined everything at the hospital, and luckily I was negative for Group B strep, so didn't have to worry about all that.  At two weeks, one month, two months, and four months, the baby had a number of shots.  Sometimes she had as many as five immunizations at one time.  I realize in retrospect that that was probably too much.  She is primarily breastfed, but she gets a bit of formula.  After the four month shots, she slept all day.  This to me is a sign that her immune system was working very hard to deal with whatever was going on.

We go this Friday for her six month well-baby appointment, and we are once again scheduled for a number of shots.  I have decided to change our plan.  Our family doctor (an osteopath) has been supportive of any kind of vaccinating (or not) that we want to do, but I just didn't feel I had good information, so we went with the status quo.  Now, I certainly don't know everything, but I feel like I have enough of a handle on it to make some changes.  We will delay the schedule that we're on and finish only those series that have to be done within a certain amount of time to retain their effectiveness.  Then, we will probably wait several more months for any of the vaccines that can be put off.  We will still have everything standard done, just not on the standard schedule.  This way, we can be sure that our baby's immune system is functioning at its top level when she goes in for these shots, and that we aren't overloading it with too many things to process at once. 

The blogger over at sortacrunchy has really done her homework on this, and I'm following the vaccination schedule she did with her girls:

I do want to say that I don't know if I believe wholesale in everything the GAPS book promotes.  I haven't tried the diet myself, but I'm anxious to once I stop nursing (she recommends not going through the introductory phase of the diet while nursing because the toxic off-loading of the body into the breastmilk can be harmful for baby).  I know I'm venturing down the road into crazy pseudo-medicine, so I want to keep my wits about me.  And I also know I'm not an expert.  I only know my family and my baby, so those are the decisions I will make for us.  Everyone has their own circumstances and stories, so just consider my opinion as information for the public domain.

Monday, October 3, 2011

basic beef stew

Now that we're pretty well into fall, the evenings are cooler and I'm enjoying soups and stews again.  Stew is really one of the only leftovers I enjoy, and it seems to get better with time as the flavors come together.

This stew features pretty standard ingredients, but the beer is special.  I used the Josiah Miller IPA from Free State Brewery, where I go about once a week and refill my growler with whatever looks good on tap.  Hoppy beers are rumored to be excellent for milk production, so just another round of ammunition for me!

Beef Stew
1 slice of thick-cut bacon (1-2 ounces)
1/2 pound stew beef (I used eye round), cut into 1 inch chunks
1 T AP flour
1/2 large yellow union, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup ale
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 t dried rosemary
2 carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch coins
1 large russet potato, sliced into 1/2 inch chunks
salt and pepper

Cut the bacon into 1/4 inch strips horizontally and put into a dry Dutch oven over medium heat.  Allow it to render its fat and become crisp.  Pull out onto a plate and leave the fat in the pan.

Put the beef into the Dutch oven in a single layer and let it form a crust (don't mess with it until it releases itself from the pan).  Turn it and let it get nice and brown on all sides.  When it's all browned up, pull it onto the same plate as the bacon.

Put the onions, garlic and rosemary into the fat and meat juice left in the pan.  You may have to lower the heat to keep everything from burning at this point.  Let the onions and garlic get really soft - leave them for about ten minutes, stirring sometimes.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir it around.  Let it cook for one minute.

Add the beer and broth and use a wooden spoon or whisk to scrape up all the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan.

Once it comes up to a boil, add the potato and carrots and slide the bacon and beef and all the juices on the plate back into the pot.  Taste it and add as much salt and pepper as you think it needs.  After it boils, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer about half an hour.

This is really a full meal in a bowl.  I served it with some of Jeff's favorite rolls.  Recipe serves two.

I promise, one of these days I will start taking pictures of my food!  I just always eat it all before I remember.