Wednesday, October 31, 2012

smacking and positive discipline

No, the smacking doesn't refer to how I choose to punish my child.  Rather, it is how my child has been treating me!  I posted on Facebook awhile ago, asking other parents how they have dealt with toddlers who hit them - seemingly in fun or silliness, not just out of frustration or anger.

A lot of what I found online while I was looking at how to deal with this problem had to do with children who were lashing out in rage.  They are just mad because they can't communicate, the various parenting experts explained.  Help give them words to put on their feelings.

But I didn't really think that was what was happening with Vicki Jo.  She wasn't angry and hitting me.  She was just getting worked up and rowdy and silly and crazy and smacking to see what happened.  Testing boundaries.  It was as if someone along the way told her it was really cute and funny (wasn't me!).  She is actually quite skilled at using her words to communicate what she needs, and doesn't often get frustrated because she can't tell me what she is thinking.  

Jeff and I wanted to get a consistent, non-violent approach to this hitting thing together.

[For the record, I was spanked occasionally as a child, and I don't think it made me violent or hate my mother.  In fact, I remember doing really, really awful things once in awhile (I recall lifting and dragging my cat around by the collar).  However, I do think that 19 months old is way too young to consider that kind of punishment.  It's kind of like with our dog.  If we can't catch her in the immediate moment that she does something inappropriate, it's not even worth considering punishing her.  She can't make the connection between her action and the punishment.  I feel like Vicki is still sort of in that mental place.  Plus, it's not like I'm a fan of corporal punishment.  I'd rather never have to do it!  I'm not just like waiting until she gets old enough to spank her.]

Anyway, I finally found a good, straightforward approach at the phenomenal website ahaparenting.com.  Dr. Laura explains that even though Vicki Jo seems happy and laughs while hitting, she is doing that to release the tension pent up behind her big feelings.  What to do?  Tell her that you know she is having a big feeling!  It's okay.  But we don't hit.

I tried this a few times and felt like Vicki was sort of ignoring me.  So I added another dimension.  When she would hit me, I would pick her up and hold her tightly (not so tight as to hurt, just to show that I needed her attention).  I would say simply, "We don't hit.  I know you are so excited right now.  But you can't hit me."  And then I would hold her awhile longer.  She would usually struggle and then cry when she realized I was serious.  When her tears subsided, we would go off and do something fun together like dance or play under the faucet.  

It felt a little bit counterintuitive or petty to feel like I needed to make my daughter cry to reinforce my point about not hitting, but after awhile I realized that that was how she was unlocking the tension behind whatever feeling was bringing about the hitting.  And holding her close while she cried didn't feel bad.  It felt like it brought us nearer to one another.

Within a week or two, the hitting stopped.  As usual, hard to know if the phase just ended or the technique worked, but either way, it's a keeper.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

13 weeks and b-vites

Thirteen weeks came and went on Sunday.  Not much to report, except for expansion of my midsection.

Wow!  Excuse my pre-makeup, early morning "look."  Also, my husband thinks every photo looks "fine" after he takes it.  I don't think he even looked at it twice.

Everyone says things stretch a lot faster the second time around . . . seems to be true.

At my last visit with the midwife, my blood pressure was a bit higher than I'd like it to be.  130/80.  Certainly not in the "danger zone" of anything over 140/90, but just a little high.  I am not chronically hypertensive - my non-pregnant BP is usually solidly in the 120s/70s.  But after doing a bit of reading, I found that blood pressures in the 110s/60s is more "normal" for the end of the first trimester.

Starting at about week 10 of pregnancy, and continuing for the next 12 or 14 weeks, a woman's body kicks into overdrive producing more blood.  To adequately supply the placenta and the pregnant body, blood volume doubles for a singleton, and grows even larger for multiples!  It takes a lot of water and nutrients for your body to do this well.

When your body is making and circulating all this blood, it does not develop new blood vessels (other than those between your body and the placenta).  So the blood vessels you have need to relax a bit to allow all this blood through.  Thus, the normal drop in blood pressure that goes along with this expansion.

When I went to the midwife at nearly 12 weeks, I was hoping for my BP to be depressed a bit to reflect this change.  Getting back 130/80 was not very encouraging for me!  I'm certainly not freaking out, but I'd like to head off the creeping BP I experienced at the end of my pregnancy with Vicki Jo.

We talked it over at the visit, and Bobbi recommended that I add a B-vitamin supplement to my regular prenatal vitamin.  Didn't seem like it would hurt anything (B-vitamins are water-soluble and you shed any excess in your urine).  They were also pretty cheap at the health food store:  $7.99 for 50.

The one thing Bobbi mentioned was to be sure that the brand I picked had at least 50 micrograms of all 8 B vitamins, along with choline, inositol, and PABA (which are sort of like pseudo-B-vitamins, I gather).













Check!

Can I just tell you, these things are like happy pills!  I wish I knew about them long ago.  They really stabilize my mood and give me a fantastic sense of well-being.  I can notice if I forget to take them.

I think that Bobbi suggested I take them because they help boost mood and reduce stress, which will indirectly help to lower my blood pressure.  How much do I love working with a health professional who does not rush to prescribe something, but instead works on the causes behind my symptoms!?  Really love it.


Monday, October 29, 2012

the stockpile

We still have no oven.  Can you believe that!?  We moved into this house at the end of June.  The oven, which came with the house, has not worked that entire time.  Everything else is fine:  broiler, stovetop, etc.  And, praise the Lord, it's under warranty. 

But.

We have to go with the appliance repair company contracted by the warranty agency.  This has been utterly disastrous.  This is the reason that, four months later, we still do not have a working oven.  In fact, since they came on Friday to finally "fix" it, we don't have a working stove, either!

That's right.  They came to fix the oven, and ended up breaking the stove too.  I've been calling daily to try to resolve this, and am getting nothing in return.  I have to stop here because I'm trying to reduce the stress in my life.

I reorganized the freezer yesterday, and here is what it looks like:

That is four chickens, 2 lbs chicken legs, 2 lbs turkey thigh, 2 large turkey legs, 1 lb ground turkey, 2 lbs country ham, 3 lbs bulk breakfast sausage, 4 lbs smoked pork sausage links, 5 lbs ground beef, 1 lb beef patties, 2 pork chops, 2 lb beef roast, and 1 lb bacon.  Roughly forty pounds of meat.  Just waiting for a stove or oven to love it.

So what did I make for family dinner last night?


Marinated tomato salad.  And it was delicious.

Marinated Tomato Salad
4 C sliced cherry, grape, or chopped whole tomatoes
1/4 C olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar
1 t dried basil (or 1 T fresh)
1 t dried oregano (or 1 T fresh)
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t honey

Whisk together all ingredients except for tomatoes.  Pour dressing over tomatoes and chill for several hours.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  Great as a side, on pasta, on toasted bread.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

no longer riding on the merry-go-round

Do you know that John Lennon song?  It's a good one.  He talks about how people think he's crazy, because he decided to step off the "merry-go-round" of constant striving for success.

I like the metaphor, because I made a decision to stop riding a different merry-go-round several years ago. 

Let me start with a theory.

I believe there is a time for most of us, somewhere in young adulthood, when we stop feeling like Superman.  Bad things start to happen in our lives - maybe someone we know is hurt or killed, maybe we lose a dear family member, maybe we get broken into in our first apartment or house.  We start to realize that not only do these bad things happen, but that sometime in our lives, they are going to happen to us

My mom died when I was 19.  It wasn't a surprise.  She had been sick for a long, long time.  I was sad - unimaginably sad.  It was hard to re-frame reality without her.  I still think about her every day.  After a few months, the outward appearance of my life was pretty "nomal."  But you can't escape grief, and the strange things it does to your spirit. 

My mom's illness and death had a twofold echo in my life.  First:  I became convinced, on some subconscious level, that life was not as long and sprawling as I had once thought it was.  If I was going to accomplish all this stuff I wanted to do, I needed to get into gear!  Yesterday!  Professionally, relationally, in every dimension.  I needed to get those degrees, to get a good job, to get married, to have some kids.  No point waiting - what if I died when I was 53, as Mom did?  Those imaginary kids needed to be at least partially self-sufficient by that point.  If I lived to be 103, as my great-great grandmother did (who was still alive when I was born!!), all the better - more time to enjoy all that stuff. 

Second, I became fearful.  Prior to this point, I would never have described myself as scared of anything.  Not the dark, not being hurt, not crazy adventures.  I was game.  But now, I found myself scared.  Scared of car wrecks.  Scared of chemicals in my food.  Most of my fear centered on having my house broken into and being assaulted by someone.  Now I didn't like staying home alone.  I really didn't like when my housemates were gone and I had to stay all night by myself.  I couldn't sleep in that case.  This cycle of fear and bad thoughts started and I found it irresistible and impossible to stop.  In hindsight, I see I was narrowly missing a full-blown anxiety attack.

I was in therapy.  I told my therapist about these issues.  We talked through it all.  After a few sessions, she asked me a series of questions that changed my life.  She asked me to walk through the scenario of my worst fear, in regard to the home invasion.

"Someone would break in while I was sleeping, and be standing at the foot of the bed, and I would wake up to them being there, and I would be defenseless, and then they would either beat or rape me."

She nodded and affirmed:  "That would be awful."

Then she asked, "What would happen after that?"

I paused.  I had honestly never considered this.  My thoughts had centered and swirled in vivid detail around the bad thing happening, and I had never pondered the aftermath.

"I would either go the hospital or I would die."

She asked, "Are you afraid of death?"

I said, "No.  I'm just afraid of hurting."

She asked, "So, if you died, that's the end of our exercise.  But if you lived, then what?"

I searched my brain.  I slowly said, "I guess I would get better."

And that was it.  That was the moment that I pitched myself off the merry-go-round.

A smile spread softly across her face.  "You are a very strong person.  You have survived what is typically one of the most painful episodes in a person's life:  losing one of their parents.  If this horrible thing happened to you, that you are so scared of, and you lived?  You would come through that, too.  You would survive."

Boom.  It wasn't like the fear immediately lifted, but I had a way out.  I could stop the spiral of negativity and anxiety.  I didn't get pulled into orbit by my thoughts.  I had found the exit from the endless levels of the parking garage.  This therapist had given me one of the biggest gifts I've received in my life:  a tool for harnessing my big emotions.

I use this tool still, all the time.  When I get sucked into a cycle of thoughts that only lead me down, I think to myself "What's the worst that happens?"  I have no problem visualizing the worst-case scenario.  I allow myself to fully delve into the details.  But then I ask, "And then what happens?"  It always gets better from there.

Did you experience a dawn of fear in your life in the transition to adulthood?  How do you position it within your life?



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

what to eat when you're expecting

When I was pregnant with Vicki Jo, we took a 12-week childbirth education course called the Bradley Method of Husband-Coached Childbirth. I really drank the kool aid on this one. It was such a formative experience for us as a couple. It impacted our childbirth experience dramatically, and resulted in a group of close friends (who I sadly left behind when we moved from Kansas to Tennessee).

The Bradley Method has strong nutritional guidelines for a healthy pregnancy and the avoidance of complications (recognizing that nothing can be fail-safe!). These guidelines rely heavily on the work of Dr. Tom Brewer. Here is a fantastic interview with him in which he details his history, his research, his findings, and his recommendations.

The three important things to remember about the Brewer diet are: (1) adequate protein; (2) salt to taste; (3) sufficient calories. These three things must go together. I think a lot of us using the diet get caught up on the protein part. But, by itself, it will not give the same benefits as the whole diet.

Hear me out, though. I know that there is no magic solution to the problems that can develop in pregnancy. I myself had high blood pressure and possible pre-eclampsia, in spite of following this diet pretty closely for most of my pregnancy. (I did eat out a ton and eat a lot more processed foods at that point, and my groceries were not very "clean," in terms of free-range, pastured, naturally grown, raw dairy, etc.) But I guess my reasoning is, How can eating very well, and not making any room for junk, be a bad idea when you're pregnant? It's not like I found following this diet so painful and onerous that I just didn't want to do it if it didn't "work" for me.

Okay, the nitty-gritty. The Brewer diet for pregnancy is:
*2 eggs daily
*1 quart milk daily (or 4 servings of dairy such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream)
*2 reasonably sized (3 oz or so) portions of meat or fish daily
*2 servings of something fresh, leafy and dark green (broccoli, dark lettuces, greens, kale, cabbage)
*4 servings of whole grain bread daily (cornbread, whole wheat, corn tortillas)
*1 vitamin C food daily (citrus, tomato, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries, green pepper)
*3 servings of fat daily
*a yellow or orange vegetable five times weekly
*a baked potato three times weekly
*liver weekly

This is the uncomplicated outline that doesn't make my brain hurt. At the Brewer website, you can find extensive amounts of information about where different foods fall.

Things have been a little touch-and-go on the diet for this far. First thing: I don't really think it's necessary to have all that food (especially all the grains and all the servings of dairy) in the first trimester. The variety of fruits, veggies, protein, eggs, dairy - that's good. The growing fetus needs all those vitamins to build a skeleton and rudimentary organs.

But now I'm just about to second trimester (for the record - I think trimesters are kind of a load of crap. Women had babies for a whole lot of years before they knew what "trimester" they were in, and there is nothing about the baby's development that changes so distinctly between 12 and 13 weeks, or 27 and 28 weeks, know what I mean?). Time for young fetus to grow. To put on muscle and grow strong bones, he will need protein and calcium. Bring out the milk and meat.

Wondering what it looks like? Here's a "day in the life" (which may or may not ever have actually happened on a real day in my actual life):

Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled in butter, wheat toast, strawberries, milk
Lunch: big green salad with leftover sliced steak, homemade honey mustard dressing, cheese
Snack: crackers, yogurt dip
Dinner: salmon, carrots, brown rice, milk
Snack: ice cream

Monday, October 22, 2012

simple chocolate ice cream

We have joined a dairy co-op.  This particular group of people buys raw milk and other dairy products (cheese, sour cream, butter) from a farmer who practices safely and sustainably in Kentucky.  We take turns driving there and picking up for everyone else on Mondays.

So far, we've just dipped our toes in the water with one gallon of milk per week.  This one gallon of milk is for the unbelievably low price of $3.75 (plus fifty cents for the jug).  When you consider that the Kroger brand milk is almost three dollars for the same amount, this fresh, wholesome, delicious raw milk begins to seem like quite a bargain.

The milk is non-homogenized in addition to being unpasteurized, so there is a thick creamline across the top (really more like the middle - 1/3 the way down.  LOTS of cream!).  I made the mistake of not shaking it up before pouring it over my raisin bran the other morning:  it was like eating cereal with whipped cream.  Intense.

My immediate thought was:  ice cream.  I needed to harness the potential of this gorgeous milk and cream and make something frozen and delightful.  I settled on chocolate because we had cocoa powder and it sounded good.  Not much seasonal fruit besides apples right now, and apple ice cream didn't sound super-delicious.

This is so simple.  I use an eggless base for ice cream - also known as Philadelphia-style.  As I wrote in one of my very first recipe posts, I tried a custard base, and it was just too much cold fat in my mouth.  I like the milky/icy nature of the eggless (it reminds me a bit of an old-school Frosty).  There is no cooking involved in this recipe, because I don't need to impart any fruit or other flavor aside from the cocoa into the base.  The one downside was that the cocoa powder caused a bit of graininess (I noticed, Jeff didn't).  If you want it velvety, melt 6 or 8 oz of good-quality dark chocolate over a double boiler and stir in rather than using cocoa powder.

Chocolate Ice Cream
 
Whole milk and cream to make 3 cups (the more cream, the richer the ice cream - try for at least half and half)
3/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 C honey
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt


Whisk the milk and cream together in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until well-combined.  This will take a bit.  Just keep whisking.  Whisk in honey, vanilla and salt - again, the honey will take a little while to incorporate.






It's helpful to use a spouted cup for pouring into the maker, rather than pouring from the mixing bowl.
Put the mixture in the fridge for half an hour to really chill down. Pull out your ice cream maker. Freeze the mixture according to the directions for your individual machine. When it's done, scrape it out into a container and let it harden in the freezer for several hours.

 I've heard it's really good scooped into a cup of coffee. Maybe for breakfast.





 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

growing something big!

Oh friends.  How I have wanted to tell you about this for so long.  And yet . . . having known so many who have suffered the heartache of miscarriage, I held off for the traditional 12-week waiting period to be over.  We have heard a heartbeat.  I know that disaster could still strike (nothing is taken for granted in this journey), but I wanted to wait until the likelihood was lower.   

We are going to have another baby!!!!!!

FAQ's on new baby:

Was it a surprise?
Yes.  Not going to give any more details than that, but we were not anticipating having another child just yet.  Jeff, the eternal optimist, says, "Awesome!  All the kids will be out of the house before we're fifty!"  (We hope.)

How do you feel?
Physically:  Great!  As with Vicki Jo, first trimester seems to present no problems for me.  No nausea, no soreness or tenderness anywhere.  I seem to be one of those women for whom the cocktail of hormones present in pregnancy brings about really good well-being.  The one side effect I experienced last time, fatigue, even seems to have stayed away so far.  Although, I was joking with our midwives that "tired" is a very relative term, and now, with one young child, we operate on kind of a different plane than we did before.  Exhausted may just be my way of life!

Emotionally:  Pretty good.  We have gone through some of the "how will we pay for this - where will this baby's space be in our small home - how will needy and sensitive Vicki Jo adjust to this - how can I take maternity leave from my very busy job - am I ready for the physical rigors of carrying another child" freak-outs.  But I have a great feeling of assurance.  It must be the Holy Spirit.  I know now that I can expand to fill roles that I never knew about before.  I ran into an acquaintance awhile ago who kind of summed it up for me:  "You guys don't do anything halfway, huh?"  Yep.  Leave it to us to get married, graduate from school, find jobs, move 600 miles away, get pregnant, have a baby, get ordained, find other jobs, move 600 miles again, buy a house, put an addition on that house, and get pregnant again.  Within three years.  

Boy or girl?
Not going to find out until birth.

Due date?
April or May.  Not really going down the route of announcing a certain date, even to myself or our family.

Plans for care?
Barring any complications, we are going to have a home birth!  Our hospital experience at Vicki Jo's birth was not bad, but it left both of us feeling that there was nothing about it that we couldn't have done much more comfortably at home.  Also, I love the approach of pregnancy and birth being normal life stages for women, not special events that need medical management.  We interviewed several midwife teams, and the one we picked is superb.  Jennifer, Marilyn and Bobbi have mountains of experience, make us feel totally at ease, and are tuned in to my wavelength of food as medicine and using herbs and natural remedies to try to ease pregnancy complaints.

Tennessee has the benefit of the Farm Midwifery Center, founded by Ina May Gaskin, so there are about a gazillion home birth midwives here.  In fact, there is a separate certification for them - the CPM (Certified Professional Midwife).  It involves rigorous training and hundreds of hours of observation and experience.  I feel totally confident that these women know how to handle a low-risk pregnancy and birth.

Jennifer, Marilyn and Bobbi have just set up a practice in East Nashville, about six blocks from our house!  I walked there with Vicki Jo and the pup the other day.  It's lovely.  I will do all my prenatal visits there, except the one at 36 weeks, which they do in our home.  

Second pregnancy compared to first?
Totally different for me.  If there was one song to define my first pregnancy, it would be U2's "In a Little While," especially the chorus of "slow down my beating heart."  There was a nervous, heart-fluttering, shallow-breath anxiety about my whole first pregnancy, from the time I saw "pregnant' on the stick to holding Vicki Jo against my chest, shivering.  It was something I just couldn't shake, despite all my preparation, meditation, and knowledge that the stress was harmful for both of us.  I just don't feel that this time.  At all.  I feel relaxed and at peace.  I don't need a sonogram to tell me a due date.  I don't need to look at a thousand books and websites to see how big my baby is today.  I just work, play, rest and eat as normal.  I have always been someone who likes to repeat experiences, because I know I will do better at them after the first time.  Pregnancy seems to be no different. 

Also, this time, my job is much less demanding (time-wise) and stressful than my prior appointment.  My diet has improved drastically (I cook almost all of our food, we eat grass-fed meats from local farms, drink raw dairy from a farm in Kentucky, and eat cooked and fresh vegetables from gardens and farms, I don't eat nearly as many grains and empty starches as I used to, I drink and eat a lot of fermented foods, and I'm working on getting fish oil into my diet daily).  I'm roughly following the Brewer diet again (embracing principles without the crazy protein counting), although much of it has just become second nature.  For example, I have eaten two eggs scrambled in butter every morning for the last year, so I haven't had to struggle to fit in the two eggs each day that the Brewer diet recommends.

I am working on walking about an hour each day, usually with Vicki Jo on my back and the pup by my side.  If we can scrape together the money, I will take prenatal yoga each week at the local studio (would be a great Christmas present, family members who are reading!), have monthly acupuncture at our community clinic (only $15 per session!), and have monthly massages.  We are contemplating taking another Bradley class, as well, to refresh our skills and to meet other expectant couples.  Again, not sure if we can cover the cost.

Well, I have given you the exhaustive run-down.  We are so happy.  We were and are a bit stunned, but giddy with the love that is growing inside and between us. 

Between five and six weeks at the in-laws' house.
Between eight and nine weeks at the office.


Coming up on eleven weeks.

accentuate the positive

In perusing Facebook and blogs, parents seem to fall into one of two camps when speaking about their children:  glowing, beaming, can-do-no-wrong assessments of their kids or negative, disappointed, what's-wrong-with-my-offspring lamentations.  Of course we know that no child is all bad or all good.  Some are more exhausting and challenging than others.  And so much of it has simply to do with the parent's perspective! 

For instance, if you struggled with infertility, finally got pregnant after years, had a scary pregnancy full of issues and specialists, and then finally had a baby who cried all the time and turned into a rambunctious toddler - you would probably still just be thanking God Almighty that you had the chance to bring this crazy person into the world.  It's all about your context and the life experience you bring to the table.

I have made no secret that I kind of fall into both camps.  Naturally, I think my child is special and unique and brilliant.  But she is also stubborn, can become fixated, frequently does naughty things just for attention, and already tries to boss me around.


She's starting her own small business and needed to make some contacts.
Here is a mental game I play with myself when I seem to be having an extra-challenging day on the toddler front.  It really hearkens back to a special kind of interpersonal management training that I received in working at a camp as a college student.  (Old-school MTOPpers, you will feel me on this!)  It's called the Strengths Deployment Inventory, or SDI.  It's a bit complicated, but the premise is this:  any strength can become overdone, in which case we call it a weakness.  For example, persistence can easily bleed into stubbornness.  Being direct can become domineering in a heartbeat.  And so on and so forth.

With Vicki, I do a special version of this schema where I think, How will this overdone strength benefit her as an adult?

For example:  she is unbearably persistent.  "No" does not mean "no" in her world.  "No" just means keep asking or trying until you can do what you want.  Someday, if I don't "break" her of this habit, she will be able to bore through any brick wall put in front of her relationally or professionally.

Thought her choice of a mule was so apropos! 
She is stubborn as one.
Regardless of whether I act warmly or icily toward her, because of the various happenings of the day, she consistently seeks out relationship.  She wants to be near me.  She wants to sit on my lap.  She wants to sit on my lap while I'm on the toilet.  You get the point.  Someday, she will seek intimacy and relationship with people over and over again, even when people reject her because of their own insecurities or issues (as I sometimes do).  That is beautiful to me. 

Isn't this fun??  It just makes me want to have a kaleidoscope I can peer into and see the future - just a glimpse.  When you have a "special" day with your toddler, try it out! 

How do you re-frame your expectations of toddler behavior?  How do you refocus when the day isn't going how you'd like?

Monday, October 15, 2012

chopped salad verde

You probably get sick of me posting about Free State Brewery.  If you've ever eaten or drank there, though, you don't.  You understand.  It's magical.  It's home.

I posted the Cheddar Ale Soup awhile back.  I love that, especially as it gets cooler out.

My all-time favorite dish, though, is the chopped salad verde.  It's a pasta salad replete with fresh veggies.  It's really more of a spring/summer seasonal dish, but I love it all year.  The dressing is what makes it.  Totally different than any I've tasted elsewhere - sweet, but not cloying.  Tangy, but not sharp.  The chunks of avocado and cheese in the salad make it almost creamy to the taste.  I probably could have replicated it by taste, but I found the recipe printed on shape.com.  So that means it's healthy too?


I try to avoid pasta as it's really just white flour dried into fun shapes.  Whole wheat pasta is okay, but it just feels like "health food," you know?  I've just never been able to really get into it.  The bite to it is not the same.  When I make this dish, I just go for it with the regular pasta.  No point in being such a fussbudget about food that you can't have what you really enjoy.

Chopped Salad Verde

Dressing:
1/2 C fresh or frozen sweet peas (thawed if frozen)
1 T dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 clove roasted garlic (I suppose you could use fresh, or garlic powder, but roasting garlic is easy and it is AMAZING - even just spread on crackers.  Just chop the top of a head of garlic, put it on a tinfoil square, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and put in a 350 oven for an hour or so.  Once it's cool, squeeze the cloves out of the skin and use for anything!)
2-3 T chopped parsley
2 t salt
1/2 C white wine vinegar
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C water, to thin dressing

Salad:
1 C baby shell pasta, uncooked
2 ripe avocados, chopped (I will show you how I chop an avocado soon)
4 C spinach, chopped
2 oz grated Monterey jack cheese
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped (or use cherry or grape tomatoes, halved - about 1 1/2 cups)
2 small carrots, julienned (cut into small matchsticks)

To make dressing, place all ingredients except olive oil and water in a food processor and blend well until combined.  Add oil slowly as processor is running.  Add as much water as you need to get to desired consistency.

Cook pasta until al dente.  While pasta cooks, chop and combine all remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Drain pasta and place under cool running water to chill it.  Add cooled pasta to the mixing bowl.    Add dressing (you might reserve a bit and see how well-dressed it looks), and serve immediately!

Serves 4-6, and the leftovers are stellar.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

the soul crusher

So, it turns out there are these things called "sleep regressions" for babies.  They seem to happen at fairly consistent intervals for a lot of children (although some lucky families never experience them).  Basically, developmental work is happening at such a fast rate in your baby's brain and body that "shutting it off" and going to sleep becomes impossible for them for a time.  It's not like they intentionally decided, Oh, I'm just not going to sleep for a little while and drive everyone absolutely bonkers!  But that is cold comfort at three in the morning.  4 months, 9 months, 12 months, and 18 months are all pretty common time periods for parents to wonder where in the h*** their little sleeping angel went.

For us, this one at 18 months has been the first one we've really noticed.  At four months, we did not yet have a consistent bedtime routine, and I was still expecting Vicki to wake up all the time.  The nine-month regression is usually linked to crawling, pulling up, and walking, which she did so late that this one kind of got skipped.  At twelve months I just didn't notice anything.  But eighteen has hit us hard.  It's been about a month of on-and-off issues.  Of course, it's hard to tell what's going on.  There are teeth, there are illnesses, there are schedule inconsistencies.  But this has been too long to be any of those things for this whole time.

The thing that blew me away is that no one really discusses this with you.  Not your doctor, not other parents.  You expect the newborn and early infant phases to be sleepless.  You know that some kids just are better sleepers than others.  But after a year of sleeping pretty well, and eight months of sleeping all night by herself, to learn that it's totally normal for your child to just completely stop all of that!?  In some ways, it feels worse because you know that she is capable of restful, uninterrupted sleep.  It's just not happening.  A few of my favorite parenting blogs discuss this at length.

Here's what it looks like for us:  we consistently try to put Vicki to bed between seven and eight.  I usually go on the earlier side, Jeff usually does later.  She typically sleeps about eleven hours, so that makes wake-up time right for our morning schedule.  During this regression, she may fall asleep completely in my arms after her bath, as I sing the same three songs to her that I always have.  She might nurse a little bit, she might not.  (I'm trying to break the bedtime nursing association, which is actually going well.)  But she will be out.  Limp, twitchy, deep breathing, etc.  When I lay her down either on her mattress or in her pack and play, she instantaneously awakens, screams, and cannot be calmed.  We have attempted letting her cry for five to ten minutes.  Not a good strategy.  She doesn't release tension - she escalates.  So, one of us goes back in and holds her until she falls asleep again.  Same routine.  The second she is placed down, she jerks awake, angry.

After four or five rounds of this, it's time for something different.  One of us will go in and lay with her on the queen-size mattress in her room.  Sometimes this works right away.  Sometimes we can even slip out after she falls asleep.  Lately, it's been an infuriating cycle of her thrashing and tumbling about on the bed, crawling over us, pinching our faces, etc.  I've taken to restraining her in bed by holding her tightly, so she gets the message that this is sleeptime, not playtime.  Needless to say, this is not welcomed.  More screams.  At least I'm holding her while she screams?  This is a new development for us, as she has always been totally calmed by my/our presence in bed.  Now it almost seems to make no difference whether one of us is there or not.

Eventually, she will fall asleep.  Then she will awaken in a few hours and we go through the same thing again.  Last night she was awake from two to four as we went through this.  It blows.  My only hope is in reading that this usually stops as quickly as it starts.  The 18-month regression has been known to last for up to two months (oh Lord please no), but then it just goes away.

So, this is my public expose on the sleep regression.  I have no advice.  I just want to tell you that they're real, and your kid is not just trying to aggravate the living daylights out of you.  Although it feels that way.

Friday, October 12, 2012

to phd or not to phd . . . that is the question

Well friends, this seems to be the month of baring my soul.  Forgive me as I rehearse the litany of my privileged-world problems:  Oh why can't our house addition be done already!?; When my escape drinking became a problem; My perfectly well daughter takes a long time to walk!; and finally, today's "issue":  is further study for me?

Preface all of this with the fact that I love school.  I used to dread summer break.  I read textbooks for fun as a child.  I love tests (I prefer them to papers).  The structure and cameraderie of the academy have always felt just like home to me.  Where my husband has a taste for nice electronics, I have a snobbish preference for the best schools

I'm also called to ministry.  As an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, I am committed to a lifetime of bringing God's word to a hurting world. 

I think I'm also called to teaching.  The dimension of ministry I enjoy most is study, contemplation, preaching, and teaching all ages.  I really enjoy helping people come to new realizations and insights in their understanding of God's work in the world.  I love teaching children and bringing the eternal story into their lives - helping them find their place in it. 

I don't view these calls as contradictory or mutually exclusive.  I have had professors all along the way who ministered to me, and who viewed their work in academia as a called vocation.  I've long suspected that my call may lean in this direction as well. 

Our United Methodist Church struggles to find enough ordained elders who are called to teaching in seminaries.  But I can't imagine my journey into ministry without Dr. Meeks and Bishop Pennel, who gently cared for us, even as they demanded the highest academic performance. 

So, if I'm called to it, and I will find joy in this vocation, what is holding me back?

1)  Jeff and I have entered into the season of growing small humans.  We want more than one of these, if our bodies will cooperate.  I've come to realize that they require a lot of time, energy, and the very best of me as a parent.  Unfortunately, pursuing a doctorate right now would demand the same things - for about five or seven years!  (Yes, don't get me started on the Master of Divinity.  The only advanced degree - 84 credit hours! - that gives you no advantage on a doctorate.)  Can I balance it all without losing my mind?  I'm not sure if I want to find out the hard way.

2)  We are committed to growing deep roots in a community.  There is no guarantee that I will always be appointed to serve a church in Nashville, but I will always be in Middle Tennessee somewhere.  Close enough to our family and friends here that we have a network.  The reality of the academic life is that you have to be willing to move where you are accepted to study, and then be willing to move where there are jobs in teaching.  Good theology programs are not a dime a dozen.  They are flung throughout the nation.  I can apply to Vanderbilt, and I could very well be rejected.  I've made Jeff move away once before, and it was not a particularly happy time for us.

3)  A more existential problem.  I will be expected not only to teach as an academic, but also to contribute to the body of knowledge in my field through publishing and lecturing at conferences and events.  Will I have enough original thoughts to do this for decades?  Will the well run dry?

And just what would I study, you ask?  I've actually got that pretty well figured out.  Allow me to put you sleep:  I am interested in studying the period in United Methodist and American history just prior to the Civil War (1840 - 1860 or so).  I think that the UMC comes closest to mirroring the American political system of any denomination, and as such, we have forecasted many of the political changes that came about in American history.  We split before the Union and the Confederacy did, over just the same reasons:  slavery serving as the smokescreen for a federalist/republican controversy. 

The current best institutions to study such a topic?  Emory or Duke.  At least they're still in the South?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the time we quit drinking

This is a pretty personal post.  I feel like this kind of candor can be good though - offering an opening for someone else to think about the healthiest patterns for relationships and living that they can find for their lives.  So bear with me or quit reading!

There is a lot of alcoholism in my family.  It is clearly genetic as well as environmental.  But I thought I had safely arrived at adulthood and avoided a problem relationship with alcohol.

Now, I drank a lot.  Let's get that straight.  By a clinical definition, the one a psychologist might ask you (Do you drink five or more drinks a week?  Do you drink five or more drinks at a time?  Have you ever lost your memory of what happened while you were drinking?), I had a problem.  I was certainly never one to hold back in high school or college.  I always think what a blessing it was for me to attend college in a city where almost no one drove.  We avoided a LOT of drunk driving accidents and possible casualties by walking and riding the subway.  I thank my lucky stars that I never killed anyone driving at home while drunk.  It could have happened.

Call me irresponsible.  It would be accurate.  I was also nothing special compared to my peers.  This is no excuse, so please don't hear it that way.  I just want to emphasize that none of my friends felt I had anything to be concerned about.  This was also before I took ordination vows that I would stand as an example of moderate Christian behavior.

After Jeff and I got married, though, something more insidious started happening.  We no longer binged and partied as we had when we were young.  Instead, we had a lot of beer and wine and liquor around the house, and we drank what would be considered a moderate amount at home.  I really grew to love and feel an appreciation for fine beers, good wine, and Jeff's cocktail-making skills didn't hurt anything.  I felt like this was an adult, mature way to enjoy alcoholic beverages.

I might have had one or two pints of beer a night (I refilled my growler weekly at Free State), or perhaps two glasses of wine.  Definitely more than is strictly healthy, (if you define "moderate drinking" for a woman as one drink per day), but again, I didn't feel it was an amount to be concerned about.  I never felt drunk.  I never drove anywhere in the evenings.

I did not drink this regularly while pregnant, of course.  I probably indulged in a glass of wine four or five times during the course of pregnancy.  There was also our amazing tour of the New Belgium Brewery.  I gave away most of my samples, but I had a few.  Incidentally, I was the most pregnant person ever to go down their spiral slide!  (So they said.)

It slowly became clear to me, though, that this level of drinking was not good for me.  Jeff and I were having a lot of fights.  I felt like my moods were uncontrollable, and vacillating wildly from one day to the next.  I almost felt like I couldn't trust myself to be myself, if that makes any sense at all.  Not that I was worried about what I might do, but that I could no longer predict what my moods would be like.  I looked forward too much to the drink that was at the end of my long day.  I felt that my life would be really no fun if I didn't have a drink.  All of these signs are so clearly not good, and yet I was desperate for something else to be the problem, so that I didn't have to forfeit my nightly reward to myself.

After one horrendous night that I hope is never repeated in my life, I came to a new conclusion.  We were done drinking.  I no longer wanted any alcohol in the house.  We poured everything out into the sink.  It might be fine for other people, but it was not working for us.  I felt very firm in this decision, but I dreaded the coming evening, because what would I do to unwind?

Turns out my fear and anticipation were much worse than reality.  I fixed myself a fancy sparkling water and juice with lime.  It felt like a treat.  I watched television to distract myself and fell asleep on the couch.  Everything was okay.  And has continued to be okay since then.

We are not strict non-drinkers.  I do not attend meetings, although I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and many of my family members owe their lives to AA.  I felt I was able to regain the control I needed without committing to that program.  I may have a glass of wine at a wedding.  I may drink beer if we ever go on a brewery tour again.  But we do not keep drinks at the house, and I do not order drinks at a regular, run-of-the-mill dinner out, and those were the major changes.

It has been just about the healthiest thing we have ever done.  I lost some weight, my moods stabilized almost instantaneously, we stopped spending $100 a month at the liquor store, and our relationship improved a ton.

Jeff and I talked a lot about this change as it was happening.  (We like talking.)  His family also has struggles with addiction of different sorts.  In a way, we both felt so lucky for the destructive things that addiction caused to happen in our families that we had no control over, because it gave us a frame of reference and a vocabulary for understanding addiction.  I was able to pretty quickly pick up on these patterns unfolding in our lives, and knew what kind of action to take.

My mother (a non-drinker) warned me and my siblings about the potential for addiction in our futures.  Especially me.  I think she saw that I was a lot like my father in certain ways, and she knew that could be problematic.  Did I listen?  Of course not!  I was invincible!  I was able to do things differently!  I would avoid these patterns!  You can't tell a teenager anything, and I know that.  These are the things we have to learn for ourselves, through trial and (mostly) error.

If anyone out there is considering this kind of change, but just feels that life would be unbearably boring, I understand.  I was there.  You can change your mindset.  Just try it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

theology tuesday: the psalms

Preachers talk about the Psalms being notoriously difficult to preach.  They are poetry - song lyrics, really (we just don't know the tunes).  They aren't narrative and they aren't exhortation, so that does make them a little bit tricky.  But I kind of like it.  The possibilities are endless.  So, here's a message I brought last year from the first Psalm.




Psalm 1 
I want to start today with a poem.  As a society, we don’t read poetry aloud that often anymore, but the other day I got to go give the convocation at the Cair Paravel school here in town, and I noticed that the children memorize poems there.  It made me remember one that I had to memorize once.  It’s a very famous poem by Robert Frost, and it begins this way:  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth; then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same. . .”

 

In that poem we hear the description of two paths going in opposite directions.  We hear of one path winding off into the undergrowth, and the other, slightly less worn and grassier.  And in today’s Psalm we also hear about two paths.  In this first Psalm, the two paths are clearly described.  One path is good, and the other is bad.  The Psalms were meant to be read as one long book, and this is like the introduction to that book.  It is a warning that life can be lived in one of two ways.  All of the other Psalms should be read in light of this knowledge. 

 

But there is a problem with the way of thinking this Psalm advocates:  it is so very high contrast.  Everything is black or white, good or bad.  And if you’ve lived for very long, you know that nothing is that simple.  Life is not so black and white as this Psalm makes it out to be.  Rather, life is a series of shades of gray.  And all of us have both the wicked and the good inside of us.  We are at all times the righteous as well as the wicked. 

 

 Our task while we are on this earth is to meditate and become more and more familiar with God’s law, so that the good part of us slowly outweighs the bad part of us.  What is God’s law?  Jesus helped to spell this out for us:  there are two parts.  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  That is the law that we must live by. 

 

Following God’s law is not just about following rules.  It’s about letting God’s Spirit permeate our whole lives until we don’t even have to think about doing the right thing.  This takes time, and it takes transformation.  It takes surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us.  See, one of the gifts that God has given us is the great mixed blessing of free will.  We are free to choose which path we will follow.  God knows that we may choose to follow the path of the wicked.  But we are also given the opportunity to make our own decision to follow the path of the righteous. 

 

And if we follow that righteous path, the Psalm describes the result:  we will be like trees planted by streams of water, bearing their fruit in season.  The water that feeds our roots is God’s love and care and law.  God’s teaching is the soil that we need to be strong and hardy trees. 

 

Thinking of trees and their growth, I’m reminded of my grandparents’ back yard.  I’ve told you before that my folks come from the small southwestern Kansas town of Ulysses.  It tends to be very dry there.  Some years I remember visiting for several weeks and the rain gauge out in the yard would be almost empty!  Grandma and Grandpa had a cherry tree in the backyard.  In a good year, with plenty of water and sunshine, the cherries would be sweet and plentiful.  Some years, there was no fruit at all because the conditions weren’t right. 

 

We are just the same as that cherry tree.  If we have the right nourishment from God, then we will bear fruit for God.  That fruit is a changed life.  When we act with more compassion, when we care about justice in our communities, when we want to reach out to those who might not have a relationship with God yet – this is what it means to be a tree bearing fruit for God.  When we help to heal broken relationships in our own lives, and when we show the merciful face of Christ to one another, then we are bearing fruit for God.  You can always tell a tree by what kind of fruit it bears, and you can tell if it’s healthy by whether it bears fruit at all.

 

Also, it’s important to remember that trees bear fruit when the conditions and the season are right.  We continually want to bend God’s plan to be on our timing, but we are always reminded that God’s time is more important.  You can’t expect a cherry tree to have fruit in January.  It just doesn’t make sense.  You may want cherries very badly in January, but it goes against the way that tree was created.  The same holds true for us.  God will decide when we begin to bear fruit.  God will decide when we have seasons without fruit.  Out job is to trust in God and continue

 

Remember the poem we began with?  I only read you the first half.  Here’s the second part:  “And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.  Oh, I kept the first for another day!  Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.  I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” 

 

We must be people who take the path less traveled.  The path of righteousness, the path described in our Psalm, is a more difficult way.  Yet, we have the help of God’s Spirit all along this path, and we have God’s law to give us guidance and freedom.  And when we follow this path, growing stronger and stronger in faith, we will be like trees yielding fruit for God.

 
This is the word of the Lord for this morning, thanks be to God. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

kitchen uni-taskers

Alton Brown, one of my all-time favorite television cooks, has this vendetta against what he calls "kitchen uni-taskers."  It's just what it sounds like.  Things that only do one thing in the kitchen.  A garlic press (use a knife).  A citrus juicer (use your hands).  You get the idea.  The only acceptable uni-tasker, he says, is the fire extinguisher - which we just happen to not have in our kitchen. 

We do have one that I finally decided was a good idea.  I caved and bought a twenty dollar rice cooker at Target after burning literally dozens of pots of rice.  Nothing makes you feel like more of a kitchen incompetent than messing up rice.  I've heard of a method where you boil it like pasta and then drain it - too late.  I'm hooked on the rice cooker.



Whenever we have a stir-fry night, I cook up a batch of brown rice.  I usually soak it overnight first to render it a bit more digestible.  The cooker is magical and knows how to adjust its timing based on how saturated the rice is.  There is inevitably leftover brown rice.  Fried rice is a nice way to use this up.  So is brown rice pudding. 

Now that we are into the cooler season, I crave this rich, creamy dessert.  Adding cocoa powder might also be a good idea.  If you're into that kind of thing.  Also, this could conceivably be an amazing breakfast. 

Brown Rice Pudding
2 C milk
1/2 C cooked brown rice
2 T honey
1/4 C raisins or dried fruit of choice
pinch cinnamon

*A note on rice:  I prefer brown jasmine or basmati rice.  It's a long, slender grain.  It may not cook up quite so fluffy and kind of gooey for this recipe.  But it's much better as an accompaniment to stir-fry, in my opinion.  So, if you're making the rice just for pudding, maybe try a short- or medium-grain brown rice?

Combine milk, rice, and honey in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring carefully to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom.  When it starts to thickcn, stir in raisins and cinnamon.  Cook and stir for another ten minutes.  Try the rice and make sure its soft and well-cooked.  Serves 2 or 3. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

create your own

There were two magical dining spots during my college days.  One is the Columbia Cottage, which I still can't bring myself to blog about because it is so close to my heart.  It's like saying the name of your first love.  Suffice it to say that it's an alternate universe where peace and well-being and the deepest conversations flow as freely as the all-you-can-drink boxed wine.

The other is Milano Market.  Located just around the corner from my sorority house, this specialty market was rife with sandwiches, soups, pre-portioned entrees and sides, and many imported and fancy little products (olives, pickles, mustard, candies).  These kinds of markets are common in the City.  It's not at all where you would do your regular grocery shopping (in fact, most people don't even "go shopping," per se, but rather have their groceries delivered to their apartments), but when you want some special and frivolous little bite, it's your spot.



But the real draw - the main attraction - was the salads.  The concept was simple but genius.  Exactly like Subway, or any other restaurant where you customize your dish based on your whims.  You have a choice of three different salad greens:  romaine, spinach, baby mixed greens.  Then you just go crazy, telling the guy to put anything and everything in there.  I want to say there were about forty options.  Chicken (grilled, pesto, sundried tomato), ham, bacon, olives, broccoli, carrots, chickpeas, tomatoes, peppers, pepperoncini, avocado, kidney beans, cucumbers, boiled eggs, raisins, dried cranberries, croutons, and probably twelve choices of dressing (and so much more).  He mixed it all up for you in a big bowl, then popped it into a 20-oz container with a lid.  Dinner:  done.  I could not begin to count the nights that we stopped here for a salad before Chapter Meeting and ate it on the stoop.

The most awesome part was the price!  For a salad with chicken, I think it was about $7, with unlimited toppings.  Certain ones, like avocado, might have been an additional charge.  (Warning:  this was all 7-10 years ago.  Things may have changed!)

I find myself craving these huge, satisfying salads all the time.  And the thing is, it's really much more economical to go somewhere and pay for it because amassing all those ingredients in the proper quantities and eating all of them before they go bad would cost much more than the price of your single salad.  Or even two or three of them.

I brag on our sweet neighborhood all the time, but we are missing something like a Milano Market.  Should I open one?  Should I finally allow Jeff to satisfy his lifelong restaurant dream?  Only thing is, there wouldn't be sit-down service.  This is strictly a drop-in, take your lunch or dinner home or back to work kind of place.  I think East Nashville might love it.  Thoughts?

Friday, October 5, 2012

crazy talk

We are thinking of getting another dog.  But how can another puppy ever measure up to the one we have!?
 
 
Plus, the hair.  I just don't know if I can invite any more dog hair into our home. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

limiting television

Just a short post to say that we are in the midst of a horrendous illness.  Vicki Jo has hand, foot and mouth disease, which is a virus that causes fever, blisters around the mouth, palms, and soles of feet, rash on the backside and lower back, fatigue, and apparently hatred and anger in her case.  There is no medicine but fever reducer (which may not even be a good idea anyway) - you just have to let it run its course.

I think we are on the downward slope of it, but it has been simply wretched.  No sleep, long awakenings in the middle of the night, nothing seems to make her feel comforted, no foods seem good to her.

Last night, I got desperate.  I popped in Toy Story, which seemed appropriate enough for a toddler.  I've been meaning to watch it anyway, as the next in my 100 in 1000 series.  We pretty much never turn on the television when Vicki is awake.  Especially since we moved, and have no cable (and not even very good public access - it's like we live in a signal-sucking zone), I really haven't watched TV at all, even after she goes to bed.  It's not so bad.  I don't feel deprived!

So, I turned on the movie, hoping that she would be entranced by this forbidden fruit and calm down for a little while.  What did she do?  Hopped down from my lap, walked over the Playstation, pressed the eject button, pulled out the DVD, and brought it to me.  Then she took the remote control and pressed the red button to turn the television off.

I've become my own worst enemy.  My child hates television!  It could be worse, I guess.

Mama!  Don't you know TV is bad for babies?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

independence and limits



My mother and father grew up in the same very small town.  My brother, sister and I grew up in a small university city.  We lived in a residential neighborhood that had a shopping corridor about three or four blocks away.  There are so many things I wish I could ask my mother now (of course).  But one of the major topics I wish I could know more about is how she decided to give us so much freedom.  Was it of necessity (as a single parent)?  Was it of naivete (not thinking bad things could happen)?  Did she even think that much about it, or was it just the way the world worked for her?

My mother had a sort of slogan about this:  "You can have as much freedom as you show me you can handle."  Basically this meant:  do well in school, don't get pregnant, don't get arrested, be a good person.  Do whatever you want besides.

I also have to consider my perspective.  I was the third child, born ten years after my oldest sibling.  Mom had to have been considerably more relaxed, less bent on the details, and quite a bit more tired by the time I was old enough to start tearing up the town.

All I know is, I spent summers riding my bike and mowing the lawn, walking to Walgreen's to buy candy with my change, walking to the high school across the street to play tennis at the courts, and riding my bike to the swimming pool (a cool two miles from home).  During the school year, I walked to school with a group of other kids (no adults), walked to church (by the swimming pool), and walked to my piano teacher's house for lessons.  It was awesome.

I came across this super-thought-provoking article on NPR today.

It is a fascinating read.  The author posits, as I think most of us would agree, that children today have much less freedom to roam, unsupervised and unscheduled.  He even has a very cool graphic showing four generations of a family, all at eight years old, in Sheffield, England.  The great-grandfather was allowed to go six miles from home to the lake and fish.  The grandfather was allowed several miles to go play in the woods.  The mother was allowed a half-mile or so to the pool.  The son can walk 300 yards to the end of his street.

I don't usually do this, but I allowed myself to read all seventy-odd comments on the article to get a sense of how people feel about this.  Many people said, "I was raised with a lot of freedom, but I'm scared to give my kids that level of access to the world because it's more dangerous now."  Population density, higher crime, faster and more traffic, neighbors not being as knowledgeable about one another, fewer sidewalks, and the hypervigilant, sensationalizing media were all referenced.

A few commenters had theories I thought were simply genius.  One was that we don't accept child casualty as a fact of life anymore.  I thought about that for awhile.  Both of my grandfathers lost one of their siblings in childhood, to disease or accident.  Their parents had large families of six and seven.  One commenter remarked that he had a "free range" childhood, and he knew one child who suffocated in an old refrigerator, one who drowned in an access pond, and one who was hit by a car.  These incidents seemed like part of what life held for some families at that point.  Certainly none of the families were prosecuted by the state for negligence or abuse.

Another theory was that smaller family size and later age of childbearing in developed countries have made a high-stakes game of childhood, where there is no "screwing up" with your kids.  You can't have five and expect one to end up alcoholic or destitute.  That's just not how it works anymore.  And parents feel so unbearably responsible for their children's futures.

Will I allow Vicki Jo and our other, future children to roam freely in our neighborhood?  Gosh.  I hope so.  I don't know.

I do know that the free and open times I had by myself as a child were a huge benefit to an independent life.  I took off for college 1200 miles away with very little trepidation.  I remember when I set off on my first thousand-mile solo road trip, no smart phone, just an atlas and the knowledge that we have a fantastic interstate system that would take me where I needed to go.  I learned how to fend for myself and feel secure that I could find my way home.  Was that worth the risk of injury, bullying, and abduction?  With 20/20 hindsight, yes.

What will you all do with your children?  Allow them to roam, or keep them within sight?

Monday, October 1, 2012

herbed yogurt dip

I love that nasty French onion dip you can buy in the dairy aisle at the store.  There is almost no better junk food than corn chips or potato chips dipped in it.  Also the "veggie" variety.  I doubt there is any actual vegetable in there. 

But when I decided to try my darnedest to kick artificial ingredients out of my life, reading the ingredient list on the French onion dip gave me the willies.  Here's the list for Dean's brand: 

SKIM MILK, WHEY (MILK), PALM OIL, WATER, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ONION*, PARSLEY*, SALT, SUGAR, HYDROLYZED SOY AND CORN PROTEIN, HYDROLYZED TORULA AND BREWER’S YEAST PROTEIN, CITRIC ACID, LACTIC ACID, ACETIC ACID, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, FOOD STARCH-MODIFIED, GELATIN, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, LOCUST BEAN GUM, SOY LECITHIN, POTASSIUM SORBATE (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), GUAR GUM, CARRAGEENAN, YELLOW 5 & 6. *DEHYDRATED

Um, hold me.  I'm scared.

Luckily, I've found a phenomenal alternative!  Draining regular whole-milk yogurt for dips and for frozen yogurt has become my seond job.  It seems like I always have a pint or so sitting in a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl in the fridge, dripping whey until it reaches a stiff thickness.

Some people say you can just use Greek yogurt instead of this draining process.  In some applications, I think that's fine.  But in a dip, I think there's still too much liquid in there.  So, better to just use the regular yogurt and strain it yourself.

Herbed Yogurt Dip
2 C whole milk yogurt, strained
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt
1 T fresh parsley
1 T fresh dill


Start the night before.  Put 2 cups or so of regular whole-milk yogurt in a fine-mesh sieve lined with paper towel or cheesecloth over a bowl.  Leave it overnight in the fridge.

When you want dip, scrape the strained yogurt out into a mixing bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Just use whatever herbs sound delicious.  Taste it and see if you want more garlic or salt.  You could even add dehydrated onion to get that French onion dip feel.

Use this real-food version as a dip for veggies, crackers, or even potato chips, if you must.  It will keep in the fridge for a week or so.