Friday, December 20, 2013


Christmas Eve preparations, working hard, and beautiful satsumas.  That is all.  Recipe to come Monday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the sickness unto death

One of my all-time favorite philosophers and theologians is Soren Kierkegaard.  Not only does he have a super-cool name that can give you bonus erudition points if you pronounce it correctly, but he really gave me the keys to understanding modern (and thus, post-modern) theology.  Our hyper-individualistic religious bent really began to develop during his time, and his exploration of the existential crisis still rings true.

He described the "sickness unto death" (a reference to Jesus' raising of Lazarus, in which Jesus remarks that Lazarus' sickness is not unto death), which is, in a word, despair.  The sickness unto death isn't cancer, it isn't AIDS, it isn't dementia, it isn't even doubt.  It is despair.  When we despair, we lose the self, and when we lose the self, we lose our ability to relate.  And without relationship, it's all over.

I've been reading through some bedside services of healing, hoping to find some resources to take on pastoral visits to the home and hospital.  Even after several years of doing this, it's sometimes hard to know what to say, as you sit with someone taking slow, rattling breaths, counting the seconds until they die.  You know they probably can't hear you.  But you still feel like you need to say something.

"Often those who are closest to the patient will not discuss the illness for fear of upsetting the person.  More often than not it is a fear of one's own feelings that does not allow the topic.  There are times when wholeness is accomplished not by physical healing, but by dying.  This may not be the way in which we would wish it to be done, yet sometimes it is God's way.  Accepting this kind of healing is the province of the person who suffers and each person does it in their own way - if at all"  (The Book of Offices and Services of the Order of St. Luke, p. 63).

If only we could see that the illness that we fear isn't the illness that will kill the person.  The illness that will kill us is a loss of relationship with one another and with God through Christ.  Death is separation, which is painful, but it is not the end.  The end comes when we refuse to acknowledge what we were created for, which is to experience life and death together with each other and with God.

Friday, December 13, 2013

raising arizona

My family loved the cult classic Raising Arizona.  There was a line where one of the characters tells Nicholas Cage, after he robs a convenience store with pantyhose on his head, "Son, you got a panty on your head."  Vicki Jo has been cracking me up lately with her panty antics:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

temperament and development

Having two kids is naturally a breeding ground for comparison.  I can only imagine what it must be like to have twins or to be a twin, where the comparison is even more intense.  But I think that it's a natural human thing to use past experience to find your way through the present, so I've found myself comparing a lot of what Todd and Vicki do, and thinking about what circumstances may have brought about the divergences between them.

The conclusion I've pretty much come to?  Parenting doesn't make all that much difference!

Vicki Jo came into the world in a surprising, sudden way, and everything about her has been intense and sensitive ever since.  She is a natural actress and can turn on the tear faucet as fast as anyone I've ever seen (and turn it off just as quickly).  I like to joke that she still cries more than Todd, at 2 1/2 years old (it's not really a joke, because it's true).  Before she became so verbal, there were many times as her parent that I simply could not figure out what to do to make her happy.  We spent many evenings crying together.  And yes, that is as depressing as it sounds.

She was slow to develop in every way except one:  talking.  She is remarkably verbal, has a huge vocabulary, and is on a fast track to reading early.  I know, this kind of parental bragging is nauseating.  But let me counterbalance that by saying that she was painfully slow to roll, sit up, crawl, pull up, and walk.  I often wondered whether she might need some therapy.  She didn't get her first tooth until she was nearly 12 months old.

Looking back, the single biggest hurdle to her development in all of this had to have been her temperament.  She would not be put down.  If you did put her down, and ignored her screaming, she refused to do any kind of active work to further her physical development.  She wanted to be held and talked to.  Even still, she does not like working or playing by herself.  She does not "entertain herself."  She needs interpersonal stimulation.

Todd, on the other hand, took his very sweet time in being born, and I had to semi-evict him even when it was past time.  He was born much larger (8 lb 12 oz to Vicki's 7 lb 1 oz), and 16 days later than she was, in terms of the length of the pregnancy.  He has been content to wait and observe ever since.  Other than necessarily having to leave him on the floor more often, just because I have another child to tend to, I do very little differently than I did with Vicki.  And yet, he has wanted to be on his own.  He has wanted for me to stop interacting with him sometimes.

This has led to a stark difference in his development.  He began inching around in his fourth month, was easily crawling by six, and now, at seven months on Monday, has begun to pull up to a stand on my legs and the walls.  He cut his first tooth last week, with very little fanfare.  He loves nothing more than to be set free to crawl around the house and explore it by himself.

Like I said, I followed no kind of program to get Todd to meet milestones so much earlier than Vicki did.  The only difference in me is that I have had an infant before.  Perhaps my lack of anxiety about his development contributed to his easy personality.  But I think he may have just been this way, regardless.

So the moral of the story?  Don't give yourself so much credit as a parent.  These kids pretty much figure things out themselves!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

a word on failure

Ministry has to be one of the more difficult callings in the world, because we are frequently called to fail.  Oh no, we are not expected to fail, but we do.  We are expected to produce more disciples, to draw people to Jesus Christ, and to enlarge the church (and the church's financial giving to further God's kingdom on earth).

But I think we forget that Jesus failed to convince a whole lot of people who met him in the flesh.  How could we be expected to do any better than his track record!?  We seem to think that being presented with the Gospel is an easy decision.  What we are asking of people, when we introduce them to Christ, is exceedingly difficult!  We are asking them to forsake a lot of what makes them happy and comfortable.  Even people who nominally claim Christ are (or should be) challenged to reform their thinking and their actions continually.  It's called sanctification, and it's not pretty.

So we, who should be bearing Christ, face a lot of rejection.  And that can really get to you after awhile.  Only people in sales have a thicker skin for being continually told to get lost.  A lot of times the rejection is quite subtle.  Will Willimon describes the gentle snub that a lot of pastors receive every week:  "often [it] takes the form of that at the end of Paul's speech in Acts 17, the polite, urbane, "Well, that was interesting.  Yes, very, very interesting.  We'll just have to think about that one.  Think about it, yes.  (We intend to do nothing about it, but we'll think about it.)""*

The nice part is that the kingdom of God actually depends very little on my failure or success.  At the end of the day, as inconsequential as it may make me feel in my quest for meaning, the church will rise and fall at the will of God.  God's Kingdom will come on earth in God's time.  I get the privilege of being a little part of that big plan, but I certainly don't determine whether it will happen or not.  Thank God.

*Willimon, Pastor, p. 296.

Monday, December 9, 2013

i love you a bushel and a peck . . .

Guys'n'Dolls?  Anyone?  Okay whatever.

I'll cut straight to the chase.  We've been buying bushels of apples for $22.75 from Bulk Natural Foods.  (I will do another post on BNF soon, but let it suffice to say that if you are in middle Tennessee and not taking advantage of this co-op, you are a fool!)

And what does one do with a bushel of apples, especially if one doesn't have a spare refrigerator or other cold cellar in which to store them?

One does what one can.

Which includes:  applesauce, pie filling, eating out of hand, dehydrating, cider.

First, a word about varieties.  We were able to pick from about fifteen different kinds of apples, and I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew that Red Delicious are often mushy, that Granny Smith are too tart for me to eat plain, and that the rest were somewhere in between.  For our first bushel, I ordered Cortlands.  I got the box, tore it open, pulled a rosy red fruit out to taste, and . . . it . . . mushed between my teeth.  Nothing more disappointing than wanting to crunch into an apple and getting mush.  But they made stupendous sauce and really good, thick, pectin-y cider.  They also had a creamy white flesh that dried really nicely.

Second go-round, I went with Cameos.  Got the box, ripped it open, picked one up, said a little prayer . . . and . . . CRUNCH!  Perfection.  Lovely, firm, crisp, juicy flesh.

For winter storage, I read up on how to keep them in a cooler in the backyard.  Apples need to be between 28 and 30 degrees for optimal lifespan, so a cooler in the shade in a Nashville winter is about right.  I packed them in layers between newspaper in a regular old Igloo cooler.  Make sure all the apples are good, because you know what they say about one bad apple . . . (it spoils the whole bunch, girl).

For sauce, you don't really need a recipe.  4 pounds of apples yields about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce.  From my first bushel, I put up 12 half-pints to give out for Christmas presents.  I just peeled, cored, and quartered 8 pounds of apples, added in a cup of water, and threw in a star anise and a few big chunks of fresh ginger.  I stewed it all until it was quite soft - maybe 2 hours.  At that point, the apples had fallen apart and the texture was just slightly chunky.  If you wanted it smoother, you could mash it or put it through a food mill.  I heated the jars, removed the star anise and ginger chunks, and funneled it into my half-pints.  Processed in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.  Done!  I'm getting ready to put up a few more quarts this week for family usage through the winter.

I'm going to make pie filling this week with this recipe:  spiced apple pie filling.

For cider, we are lucky enough to have friends from church with an old-fashioned cider press!  (Hi Elaine!)  We went up there a couple of weeks ago for supper and cider pressing.  Vicki Jo got to experience a hen house for the first time, and was totally freaked out as she helped collect the eggs.  The Cortlands made great cider, but the yield wasn't too high.  About a half bushel yielded only a half gallon of cider.  We tore through that in about two days!  Freshly-pressed cider is not even comparable to storebought pasteurized cider.  But I'll drink that too.  The Cameos are much juicier, and I suspect they would yield more cider if pressed.

And finally:  dehydrating!  I don't have a fancy-pants dehydrator, and even if I did, I would have nowhere in my dang house to put it.  But I can do one better:  a giant convection oven at my place of employ!

I do about ten apples at a time.  Peel, core, slice thin, lay out on parchment (made this mistake once - never again!), put into the oven on lowest temperature and high convection until nice and dry - about 3 or 4 hours.

These are so addictive.  Like potato chips but really good for you and packed with fiber and with no nasty oils.  I can tear through a gallon size bag by myself in an evening.

So!  Apples.  There you have it.  Buying in bulk is super-economical (I'm paying roughly 55 cents per pound, which is about a third what these varieties cost at the market), and makes you feel really homemaker-ish as you stock your shelves with stuff that you made!

[This post submitted to Real Food Wednesday 12/11/13, Unprocessed Fridays 12/13/13 and Fight Back Friday 12/13/13.]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

chai tea for christmas baskets

I'm so excited about my Christmas baskets for family, friends, teachers, and co-workers this year!  They will be bursting with homemade goodness.  I won't ruin all the surprises for everyone, but I decided to get to work today on the one that would keep the longest:  chai tea concentrate.

I started making this last year based on a recipe from The Elliott Homestead.  It has been a delicious way for all of us to drink more raw milk, as you end up diluting the concentrate 1:1 with milk or water.  I wanted to be able to share the goodness with all my loved ones, but the recipe is perishable . . . But then I had the bright idea to process the jars and can the chai tea concentrate!  Then it would be shelf-stable!  The heavens opened and poured forth showers of happiness.  Okay, it wasn't that big of a deal.  But I was pretty pleased with myself.  Like baby Todd when he scoots himself forward like a walrus.

Here's how I did it.

First, the chai recipe.  I made a super-big batch, since I was going to can 20 pints of it.  If you want a more reasonably sized batch to keep in your fridge, cut all these amounts by a third.

Chai Tea Concentrate
18 cinnamon sticks
60 allspice berries
15 cardamom pods
45 cloves
75 black peppercorns
2 T dried ginger
3/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 C plus 2 T loose rooibos tea
3 T vanilla
3/4 C sugar (feel free to sub sucanat or honey)

Gather all your spices.  Put the allspice, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns into a plastic bag and beat the smithereens out of it with a rolling pin.

It will look like this after you're done:

Take all your ingredients minus the vanilla and sugar, and mix with 18 cups water in a large stockpot.  Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Then, strain it all into a clean bowl.

While you're waiting for your tea to steep, it's a good time to sterilize your jars for canning.  The thing that has always deterred me from canning before is the idea of a steam-bath in my kitchen.  It just sounds unappetizing during the warmer months.  Then, I discovered a new method:  oven canning!  Brilliant!  Here's how you do it:

Turn your oven to 250.  Place your jars, lids, bands, and equipment on sheet pans and place in the hot oven for at least 15 minutes.

Once they have sterilized for 15 minutes, remove from heat.  By now you will have strained your chai concentrate.  Using a sterilized cup or ladle and funnel, fill the jars with the concentrate, leaving about 1 inch of head space.  Then put on the lids and bands.  Put the filled and topped jars back into the 250 oven for at least 15 more minutes.  Then pull them out and let them cool to room temperature.  Check them and make sure they sealed once they are cool - try to indent the top of the jar.  If it won't budge, it's good to go!

Since these are going into Christmas baskets, I went ahead and printed up tags with ingredients and instructions, and tied them on with some pretty ribbon.  Yay!  Last year I slacked on Christmas big-time.  This year is going to be the year . . . I can just feel it!

Note:  apparently oven canning is super-controversial.  Old-old school canners (like your great grandmother) did it, but apparently the USDA says it's not safe to prevent botulism.  I do some other stuff the USDA doesn't like, so maybe I'm not the best test subject.  All that to say . . . enter at your own risk please!  This recipe would be super-easy to do a standard hot-water bath canning,

[This post submitted to the Homestead Barn Hop 9/29/14 and Pennywise Platter 10/2/14.]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

takeout at home

We are Asian takeout junkies.  Or eat-in.  Or whatever.  My philosophy is that if I'm going to spend money and energy to go out to eat, I want something that I can't make at home.  Asian food (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese), with its many special ingredients and equipment, usually fits the bill.  We are lucky to live in a place that has phenomenal options for all Asian cuisine nearby. 

But sometimes you just want fried rice, and you don't want to pay a markup for it.  As I've been working to streamline my kitchen experiences (hello, toddler and newborn!), fried rice has been a regular on our weekly menu.  Vicki really likes it, too.

After making my favorite stirfry the other night, I had leftover basmati rice, steamed perfectly by the appliance from heaven - the rice cooker.  (Sidenote:  all rice is not created equal!  I used to just buy the cheapest one, thinking it was all the same.  Basmati costs a little more, but it cooks up fluffy and delectable every time.)  I decided to go after shrimp fried rice.  I almost always have shrimp and peas in the freezer, and carrots, eggs, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil in the fridge.  So this is also a perfect "pantry" kind of meal.

This recipe uses coconut oil for frying.  I'm always trying to work more coconut oil into my body, whether it's through deodorant, using it to moisturize my face, or in cooking.  It's such a healthy fat!

Okay, here's what you need.  As with all stir-frys, have everything you need ready to go and close at hand, because it goes fast:

Shrimp Fried Rice
2 C leftover steamed rice (very important that it's leftover, refrigerated overnight - you can't make fresh rice for this because it will be too gummy)
1 egg, beaten
2 T coconut oil (you may need more during the frying process)
4 oz frozen raw shrimp, thawed and peeled
1/4 C frozen peas
1/4 C diced carrots
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T dark sesame oil

Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil in a bowl and set aside. 

Place 1 T coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When it smokes add the egg and fry quickly.  Once it is done, remove to a cutting board and let cool.  Put the remaining coconut oil into the skillet and add the carrots and peas.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the shrimp and stir and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until they start to pink up.  If it sticks, add more oil.  Add the rice into the pan.  Continue stirring for another couple minutes.  Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.  Stir until all of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the egg back into the fried rice.  Serve right away!  Serves 2.

You could add any meat into this that you wanted - thinly sliced chicken, beef, or pork.  Just quickly fry it over high heat before you get started, and then add it in at the end of cooking.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

king's daughters

When Jeff decided to enter rehab at the end of April, I was faced with an immediate dilemma.  He had been a full-time caretaker for our daughter, and she needed somewhere to spend her days while I was at work!  If only baby Todd had been more considerate of our schedule, I could have kept them both during my maternity leave (okay, that actually sounds like a nightmare, but I know that lots of moms do it!).  However, he still had a month more to cook, unbeknownst to me at the time!

She came with me to work for a week or two.  You know what is exhausting for a 38-week-pregnant lady? Trying to keep your toddler from misbehaving at work while simultaneously getting any work done.  So when Jeff's grandmother (our beloved Memaw) called and said a spot had opened up at King's Daughters and offered it to Vicki Jo, I rejoiced to the heavens.

Let me explain a little bit.  King's Daughters Day Home is a non-profit preschool started in 1965 to serve low-income families in Madison, TN.  (This is the northern suburb of Nashville where my church is and Memaw lives.)  The International Order of The King's Daughters and Sons is a religious philanthropic organization that I'd never heard of before meeting Memaw.  Their goal is to "lend a hand in service."  Um, yeah.  I think you could say they have done this for our family!

Memaw is a King's Daughter.  She has been one for a long time.  She works very part-time at the Day Home as part of their development team (sidenote:  the woman is 83 and still works because she wants to!).  The Day Home is not just any preschool.  Every person that works there has a college degree - most of them in early education and development.  Some of them have or are working on advanced degrees.  They care deeply about the education and emotional well-being of their small charges.  And it shows.  They make an effort to learn about each home environment (some of which are very troubled).  They incorporate elements of Montessori and Reggio education into their lesson plans, which are posted on the wall near the student folders for all to see.

They offer superb education for young people at a marginal, sliding-scale cost based on income.  They get lots of grants and are always actively seeking donations.  They accept children starting at age 2 1/2 and potty-trained.

But Vicki Jo was neither of these things.  She had just turned two on April 2, and was just beginning to tell us when she needed to use her potty.  They took her anyway, mostly because of Memaw.  And they knew that our situation was pretty pressing.

It has been one of the best things that has happened to our family.  They took Vicki in and basically potty trained her for me.  She is now totally dry during the day.  She is learning so much.  She tells me every day about new language and math skills she is picking up.  I hear daily about each of her friends in class - Jorge and King and Ciara and Autumn and Micah - and her teachers, Ms. Jasmine and Ms. Sonya.

Vicki has a hard time going to school in the morning.  She still cries a little when I drop her off.  But they tell me that she is fine after a minute or two.  And when I come to get her in the afternoon, she is playing joyfully, and has all the adults wrapped around her finger.  I cannot wait until they open their Infant-Toddler Center next spring, and Todd gets a chance to be at King's Daughters too!

Friday, September 13, 2013

this really happened

Just driving down Gallatin Pike, with my tiny dog in a crate on my crotch rocket, NBD, ya know . . .

Friday, September 6, 2013

mother's milk tea

I really discovered the power of herbs during my pregnancy.  Daily, I drank a strong tea of nettles and red raspberry leaf, sometimes with alfalfa added.  I believe that it helped keep my water weight down and gave me tons of nourishing minerals and vitamins to have a healthy, big baby.  The red raspberry leaf helped my uterus to be extremely strong and effective once labor finally began, and enabled me to have a very short one!

I had trouble producing enough milk for the entire time I nursed Vicki.  I ended up taking a drug called domperidone, which has a side effect of increasing lactation.  I decided to have domperidone ready again for when Todd was born, but I also wanted to see what kinds of herbs might help me.  I researched bagged mother's milk tea blends and figured out how to make my own.  Then you get the full power of beneficial herbs without the price tag that comes along with pre-bagged tea.  I also used two books that were extremely helpful in discerning how much of each herb to use:  The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Make More Milk, and the Nursing Mother's Herbal

Here are the herbs and seeds I've ended up including:

Alfalfa:  this leaf is very nutritious and provides a boost to your milk-making prolactin receptors.

Nettles:  are also packed with vitamins and minerals, giving more milk by making sure your essential nutrients are covered.

Blessed Thistle:  known for lifting depression and postpartum gloom, in addition to increasing milk supply.  

Dandelion Leaf:  supports the liver, helps you shed excess fluid, and makes your milk richer.  

Fennel Seed:  aids in the letdown reflex, making your milk more accessible.  I have particularly noticed this as compared to my last nursing experience with Vicki.  I let down more quickly and more often.  

Fenugreek Seed:  Dr. Jack Newman, the renowned breastfeeding expert, is a big fan of this one to increase milk production.  

Goat's Rue:  this is one of the only herbs actually known to increase mammary tissue - so it doesn't just help increase how much milk your glands are already making.  It actually helps make more glands!  That is why I add a larger proportion of this herb to my mix.

I mix up my own blend in these proportions:  2 parts nettle to one part each alfalfa, blessed thistle, dandelion leaf, fennel seed and fenugreek seed.  For my "parts," I use 1/4 cup measure.  I put it all in a big mason jar and keep it out on the counter.  I add the goat's rue separately to each batch of brewed tea I make.

Every night, I prepare my quart jar of tea for the next day.  I add 1/4 C of the first six mixed herbs from the jar above, as well as 2 T of goat's rue, to a quart-size mason jar.  I pour boiling water up to the top of the jar.  The next morning, I strain and funnel it into another jar and top it off with more water.  I sip it all day.  Just like with my pregnancy tea, I've found that plain water is very unappetizing to me now.  My body wants my herbs!  And I am making more milk.  Still not enough for all that Todd needs, but more than last time!

[This post is part of Fight Back Friday 9/20/13.]

tattoo baby

Like father, like daughter . . . she loves getting "tattoos" from her Uncle Matt (a family friend who is a tattoo artist).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

basil + lime

We are into popsicles.  I've shared our chocolate pudding pops and strawberry creamsicles with you in the past.  I also make smoothie pops pretty regularly, which don't really need a recipe.  I just mix homemade yogurt, frozen bananas, and whatever berries or other fruit we need to use up in the blender, then freeze in our mold.

My other method involves making a flavored simple syrup and freezing.  You can get really creative on your flavors, since you don't have to worry about what texture the final product will have.  We have a nice big basil plant on the front porch, a gift from my mother-in-law and her massage therapist friend.  It screamed out to me to be combined with some lime juice.  It's sort of a Thai-inspired flavor combination.  Hmm . . . it would probably also be really good in a coconut milk base!

Here's how you do it:

Basil-Lime Popsicles
15 basil leaves
1/3 C sugar
1 C water
peel and juice of two limes

Combine basil leaves with water, sugar and lime peel (you want big pieces of peel so you can strain it out - don't grate it) in a pan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.  Use a wooden spoon to bruise the basil leaves, so you really get all the flavor out.  After 15 minutes, juice the limes into the pan.

Strain it back into the measuring cup.  You should have about a cup of liquid.  Pour into mold, pop in sticks, and freeze.

And enjoy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

name change, game changer

So.  I've decided to change the blog name.  And tinker with the layout and settings a little bit.  Hopefully it can be a breath of fresh air in this hot summer.

The pastor and the bartender was a great name for where we were two years ago.  But the bartender is no longer tending bar (and that's a really good thing).  We have relocated.  We have added another family member.  And our family just plain looks and acts differently than it did.

Have any of you read Phillip Roth's excellent novel American Pastoral?  Here's a bit of the summary from Wikipedia:   [The main character's] happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is described as a manifestation of the "indigenous American berserk."

Sounds familiar.

So, we are now nashvillian pastoral.  I'm still a pastor.  We live in Nashville.  Our happy and conventional middle class life has been reshaped in myriad ways by domestic and social turmoil.  We are the indigenous American berserk.


Friday, July 19, 2013

happy hour

Probably most saw this on Facebook, but it cracked me up.  Vicki Jo and her friend Remy at Family Dinner last Sunday:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

vaccinations: a third way

Parents tend to feel passionately about vaccinations.  There seems to a lot at stake, no matter where you stand.  If you don't want your children vaccinated, you generally have strong reasons:  you don't want foreign matter in their bodies, you don't believe our current aggressive schedule has been researched well or long enough, or you believe that getting some illnesses and recovering is the natural way of life.  If you do vaccinate your children, you feel equally strongly:  you don't want other people riding on your responsible decisions through herd immunity, you don't want a non-vaccinated child infecting your immuno-compromised child who cannot be vaccinated, and you think that vaccinations save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.

I think everyone is right.

How is that possible?

I believe that we haven't been vaccinating long enough to know what all the long-term effects will be, especially for the most recent vaccines like Gardasil.  I do know that one of the original polio vaccines could possibly cause cancer.   I do think that, historically, we often got sick with very serious diseases.  Many children died.  The ones who lived developed stronger immune systems, although they also sometimes had lifelong disabilities as a result of these illnesses.  So yes, they made us stronger as a species, but they also caused a lot of suffering.  I do know that the United States has a much more aggressive vaccination schedule than many other countries.  I don't like the idea of strange foreign matter in my children's bodies.  With that said, however, it's not like I police every single thing my daughter eats.  She has eaten plenty of GMO goldfish crackers, eats candy like it's going out of style at her Memaw's house, and gets the occasional sip of diet soda.

I guess "ambivalence" would be a good word to describe my feelings toward vaccinations.  I feel like it's socially responsible to vaccinate, and I don't take that lightly.  I think our society has been infected with an insidious way of thinking that says, "What can I get from society/government/other people?" instead of "What can I give to my community/country/other people?"  And I don't mean welfare.  I mean ripping off underprivileged populations so that we can get even greedier.  But I won't get off on that tangent today!

So, I'm neither gung-ho about the standard vax schedule, nor willing to completely avoid vaccinating.  That's where Dr. Sear's Vaccine Book comes in!

This is an in-depth look at each individual vaccine (because several of our single shots have up to five vaccinations in them).  It examines the ingredients, possible side effects, likelihood of getting the disease and how severe the implications of infection may be.  He offers alternative schedules and emphasizes that practices like breastfeeding and keeping your children out of daycare are factors that can make a big difference in whether they need inoculation.

When I was pregnant with Todd, I sat down with Dr. Sears' book and the State of Tennessee vaccination requirements for public school.  Knowing that I wouldn't follow the standard schedule, I crafted one for him that still managed to fit in all the required shots, but at a slower pace and spaced out from one another.  My guideline is that I don't want him to have more than one shot at a time.  I think that pertussis presents one of the most serious threats to infants, so we stay on schedule with the DTaP (which is actually three vaccines at once!).  The others I fit in around it.  Here is what I came up with:

And I shared it with our family doctor at our first appointment when Todd was five days old.  She supports us and our decisions, and knows that I made them with lots of research and the understanding that unvaccinated and vaccinated kids alike may get these illnesses anyway.

Like I said, people feel strongly about this issue.  A fellow pastor whose daughter is fully vaccinated got sick with whooping cough.  The other parents at her school were furious:  why didn't they vaccinate their daughter against the disease?!  Now their children might get sick!  When he explained that she was fully vaccinated, and sometimes children still get these illnesses, the parents were shocked.  They seemed to think that vaccines were a guarantee that their children would never get sick.  The likelihood is severely reduced, but it is still possible!

Our slowed-down schedule is one way that I feel like I can address both sides of that issue.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"big sis and still the star"

Vicki Jo got a t-shirt from her Uncle Ben and Aunt Vanessa.  They had picked it up at Goodwill, and it was a darling little pink thing with the message:  "Big sis, and still the star!"  It could not be more perfect for her.  She begs to wear it to sleep, to school, and any other time she needs a shirt.

A lot of people are thoughtful enough to ask how Vicki is doing with this whole new baby experience.  I usually respond that she likes the baby just fine, but the rest of us could be paying him a little less attention.  She is really great with Todd.  She is my "superhelper," and every morning she gets his wipes, throws away his dirty diaper after I change him, and helps pull his arm through his onesie.  She wants to pick him up, kiss his face, poke his eyes, bounce his chair, pull his feet, and anything else I will let her get away with.

But me?  I'm not so lucky.  She went through a very difficult time of being extremely upset with me when he was born.  And I was upset with her too.  I was upset with Todd for being a new baby and spoiling the lovely little dynamic I had going with Vicki.  I was upset with Vicki for being a two-year-old with needs for care and attention.  I was hormonal and snappy and short with her.  She was wild and erratic and she wailed at me.

There were days when Grandma Zan was the only thing that saved us.

There were nights with Memaw was the only one who could make things better.

And I was ever-so-glad for her school, the King's Daughters Day Home (more on this later).  This was a daily positive interaction with tons of caring adults that I could count on.  Even if things were sucking at home, I knew that she was having a good day at school.

There were nights when she asked to go stay with Grandma, or Uncle Ben and Aunt Vanessa.  This broke my heart, but I understood.  I, too, would want to be where I could be the sweet center of attention once again!

After Todd turned about a month, she seemed to turn a corner.  She realized he wasn't here just to visit.  She began to settle down some.  We got into a good nightly routine and I think she knew what to expect a bit more.  He began to cry less and slowly demand a bit less of my time and attention.

One thought that comforted me during the hardest days was that Vicki would never remember her life without Todd.  In her memory, there will always be baby brother.  Likewise, Todd will never know of a life before Vicki.  That's the thing about siblings.  Even if the very worst happened, barring that it took either one of them away, they would be able to share the experience with each other.  And for some reason, that helped me when it seemed like two kids was more than I could handle.

Monday, July 15, 2013

pancake pantry

If you aren't familiar with this Nashville landmark, you need to get down here so we can go!  On weekend mornings, lines wrap around the block in Hillsboro Village as folks wait to eat blueberry, chocolate chip, and other assorted pancakes, as well as crepes, Dutch babies, and the whole gamut of batter that can be fried on a hot griddle.

I don't do lines and waiting very well, so we generally skip the Pancake Pantry, except for special occasions (like your visit).  But I have been making pancakes a couple times a week, on mornings when I don't have to get to work.  They are mainly a vehicle for Vicki to get butter and syrup in her mouth.  It makes a good break from our regular breakfast of granola and milk.  We also have them probably once a week as breakfast for dinner, along with bacon or sausage.  Lately, we have been loving walking to the Farmer's Market, buying blueberries, eating some on the way home, and then dropping the rest into our pancakes for dinner!

This recipe comes from what is probably my favorite cookbook:  The 150 Best American Recipes.  It gave me my best recipe for high-heat roast chicken, taught me how to cook steak and salmon well, and never fails to provide solid recipes for both basics and fancy food.  I love this particular pancake recipe for a few reasons:

1)  I always have the ingredients on hand.
2)  It doesn't have sugar in the batter, which yields a better-tasting pancake, to me.
3)  It doesn't make an exorbitant amount of batter - just enough for a hungry adult and a toddler.

Here's what you need:

1 C AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 C buttermilk or scant 1 C whole milk with 1/4 lemon squeezed into it
1 egg
3 T butter
butter and real maple syrup, to serve

First, if you aren't using buttermilk, get your sour milk ready, so it can sit for a little bit while you prepare the rest.  Just squeeze a lemon quarter into the measuring cup of milk, stir a little, and let it sit.  All you're doing is providing acid to react with the baking soda so the pancakes will rise.  You can't taste the lemon in the end.

Second, begin heating a griddle or a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Place the 3 T butter in there and let it start to melt.

Third, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add the buttermilk/sour milk and egg, and mix with a fork, just until it's all incorporated - don't overmix.  Pour about 2 T of the melted butter into the batter and stir it in with the fork.  Leave the remaining butter in the griddle or skillet to grease it.  Again, don't overmix.  Just until you can't see butter anymore.

Once a drop of water sizzles on the skillet or griddle, drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls.  I can get three at a time into my skillet.  When you see bubbles popping on top, flip them.  I usually get eight pancakes out of a recipe, with the last one being sort of a midget.

Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

placenta for breakfast . . .

In natural/hippie mom circles, eating your placenta is the panacea for nearly everything:  postpartum depression, low milk supply, losing pregnancy weight, and basically anything else you can imagine.  Nearly every mammal does it, we reason (other mammals also eat their children who seem too weak to make it . . . so I'm not sure they're the best example!).  In my research, I only ever found one example of someone who regrets eating it.  It is interesting that it is like a supplement made especially and only for you by your own body.  Eating it is supposed to help you ease off the pregnancy hormones slowly, rather than dumping you in a pit of tears and night sweats while you're still weak from giving birth.

The placenta is a fascinating little bit of human anatomy.  It is the only organ that we are designed to grow and then lose.  It provides all the essential nourishment to the baby while they are in the womb.  It also generates the pregnancy hormones that sustain the little life growing within.  The "guided tour" of my placenta was one my favorite parts of Vicki Jo's birth.  My midwife Rebecca showed me where the blood vessels entered, how they branched, where any calcifications were (a sign of an old, worn-out placenta), and told me mine was good and healthy.

With Todd, my placenta was huge!  It was over a pound, and very long.  I had suspected it was large because it was so hard to get a good heartbeat on him throughout pregnancy.  Turns out my placenta was just covering the entire front of my uterus, so the Doppler couldn't get through it.

I thought consuming it sounded like a fine idea, but I wasn't sure which route to take.  You can go super-hard-core and just eat it straight up like raw meat.  (Actually it is raw meat, so it's not just "like" that.)  You can freeze it and swallow chunks like pills.  You can cook it and eat it like liver (that sounds horrid, although Joolz Oliver did it!).  You can also dry it and put it into capsules and then just take the pills.  That sounded like the best option for me, since I have no problem taking pills.  The biggest issue was that people want to charge you money for doing this!  Like hundreds of dollars!  No thanks.  So, I didn't really have a plan for it other than to save it in the freezer after Todd was born.

My amazing midwife Jennifer solved this quandary for me!  Just after Todd was born I asked if she knew anyone who encapsulated placentas.  "Me!"  she said, "But I haven't tried it yet.  Will you be my guinea pig, and I will do it for free?"  Um . . . yes!  So she whisked away my placenta, dried it, powdered it, and packed it into capsules for me.  Five days later, they showed up in my mailbox.  I asked her about dosage.  "Most women take two a day," she said, "but some go up to five and then taper off.  If you don't feel like you need them, you can save them in the freezer until menopause!  They are supposed to help with that too."

Due to many factors, I was having a pretty hard time immediately postpartum.  So I decided to go with the full five caps.  I started with five a day, taken right at breakfast.  It did really help my mood, and it helped me to shed pounds very quickly.  I think it also helped me have more milk this time.  I started tapering when Todd turned six weeks.  I went down to four pills a day, then a week later three a day, and so on.  Once I get down to one a day (next week), I will keep taking them until I run out.

I think I got way more caps than is typical because my placenta was so very big.  Most women get 100-200.  I estimate closer to 350 for me.  I don't find it gross at all - just like taking any other pill.  And you can't beat the cost for the benefits I've gotten!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

cloth diaper update!

I knew that I wanted to cloth diaper Todd as much as possible before he goes to daycare.  The center here at church (where he will go once a spot opens up) won't use cloth diapers unless you can get a doctor to write a note that they are necessary for rash or allergy.  I didn't feel like going through the hoops on that one!

Last time I talked to you about my thoughts, I was considering Green Mountain Diapers' workhorse diaper, which is a sort of hybrid prefold-fitted.  I didn't end up getting any of those.

We got a ton of disposable diapers as shower gifts, so I used those for the first couple of weeks.  Meconium, which is baby's first poop, is dark and very sticky.  It would have been tough to get off of a cloth diaper.  Then, we visited my sister for five days right after Todd's birth, so I didn't want to trouble her with washing them.  Todd did develop a nasty little diaper rash during that visit, though, so I decided it was time to bust out the cloth when we got home.  He was twelve days old then.

Baby Todd at five days, wearing his blue XS Fuzzibunz before going to his first doctor's visit!
I had registered for some Fuzzibunz XS diapers on Amazon, and ended up getting three of those from my amazing friend/birth partner Steph.  Those have been my favorite, for sure.  I also got an additional Thirsties Duo wrap from her, which brings my count on those up to three.  After I saw how much I liked the Fuzzibunz, I used an Amazon gift card to order six more, as well as some Charlie's soap laundry detergent for washing them.  

Love this stuff!  We have ended up using it for all our laundry.
Todd was pretty big - 8 lb 12 oz - so I didn't have any trouble at all getting the XS to fit him.  I had expected him to be smaller, so that was a nice surprise, diaper-wise.  In fact, now that he is almost 11 pounds, they are getting a bit small in the rise!  They are advertised as fitting to 12 pounds, which I think will be about right for us.  I have a ton of size S Fuzzibunz that we can graduate into.  

They have a nice slim fit, which I like, and aren't too bulky under clothes.  They are easy to use, and come in cute colors!



There are two main downsides to these diapers.  The cost, which is pretty high.  $14 on Amazon, plus shipping.  The second is that stuffing the insert into the slim crotch of the diaper is hard, at least for my big hands!  I have to really tug to get it in there.  This isn't a problem with the larger sizes of Fuzzibunz, but the XS is just tiny enough for me to have trouble.  
So, I have nine of those.
I also have the three Thirsties Duo wraps I was telling you about before.  These are definitely the most economical option to build a cloth diaper collection.  They are also easy to use.  Here's how I do those, with a regular old cotton prefold:




You can see that these are much more bulky than the Fuzzibunz.  The Thirsties wraps have a snap-up rise that is nice, but the prefold is so big that I have to keep it all the way out.  If you had a fitted under there, you could get a much more slim fit.  Like I said, though, you can't beat the cost of doing it this way.  These are also about $14, but you only need like two or three.  

Between the 9 Fuzzibunz XS and the 3 Thirsties wraps and lots of prefolds, I'm doing laundry about every 2-3 days.  We don't use many disposables - mainly just in the church nursery or if someone is watching Todd.  I still haven't had to buy any disposable diapers!  

I love cloth diapering, and especially now that Vicki Jo is done with her toilet learning (except for overnight!  Expect a joyous post on this soon!), I have enough cloth diapers to last us until Todd goes through his toilet learning.  Then, I can resell them on craigslist and even cash out a little bit on them!  

As far as care, the Charlie's soap makes it really easy because it leaves no residue.  So, I rinse once with warm water to get all the poop out (he is still breastfed, so the poop is all water-soluble), then wash once on hot with a scoop of the soap and a warm rinse.  Then into the dryer on low!  Simple.