Wednesday, January 30, 2013

kansas day dinner!

We Kansans are a funny bunch.  My husband picked up on it right away when we met, noting that he'd never met someone who knew so much about the history and customs of her particular state.  Part of it has to do with our war-torn genesis into statehood, which centered in the area around my hometown.  Part of it has to do with being derided as a "flyover state," with little to offer the nation in terms of culture.  Part of it was the fact that our state mandated a month of Kansas history every January in the schools, so each year we learned about Kansas history, geography, foods, indigenous animals and plants, and more.  I can tell you without using Google that our state bird is the meadowlark, state flower is the sunflower, state motto is ad astra per aspera, state insect is the honeybee, state reptile is the barred salamander, and that our primary crop is wheat.

No matter how long I live away from Kansas, I don't think I will ever be able to say that I'm "from" somewhere else.  It's too far back in my blood - at least five generations.  And Vicki is a Jayhawker, too!  Even if she never remembers Topeka, where she was born, she can claim the title of a native-born Kansan.

The reason Kansas history centered on January is because January 29 is Kansas Day.  This commemorates the day that Kansas finally joined the union, as a free state, in 1861 (my elementary school was named Centennial because it opened on 1/29/1961 - the Centennial of Kansas Day).  Walking around my hometown, you might actually hear people wishing one another a happy Kansas Day.

I decided we needed to celebrate.  On Tuesday, the 29th, we had a Kansas Day dinner.  I served:

Buffalo Burgers and fixings (okay, okay - they were going to be buffalo, but that is surprisingly hard to find around here!  It would have meant a crosstown trip to Whole Foods at 12.99/lb.  No thanks!  I served beef)

Buns made of wheat flour

Oven fries with honey mustard to dip

Sunflower seed cookies

All the bolded foods are parts of Kansas agriculture and history.  We had a little crowd of Kansans over and talked geography, history, and just shared our wholesome Midwestern values.  It was lovely.

Sidenote:  Ugh, pregnant fat face + foregrounding myself.  The worst.

This may all sound like a fun and silly idea for a theme party - which it was - but it was also really important for me.  Moving away from Kansas felt like a betrayal of my ancestors and my history, and I wanted to commemorate our special day.  I was talking this over with my Grandpa Louis, who made the very valid point that the Reeves family came from England to Long Island, moved to Kentucky/Tennessee, and then only made the trip to Kansas in the mid-1800s.  So, really - I'm back where my people came from now!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

guest post: a mother's story

Many of you know that my mother died when I was 19.  She was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 11.  During that time, chronic illness became another member of our family.  Because Mom and my stepdad Mark were so frequently gone for treatment and doctor's visits, I developed independence and self-care way beyond my years.  In that way, I am grateful for what cancer did to my family.

I was approached by Heather, a reader who asked if she could share her story.  She struggled with a diagnosis of mesothelioma shortly after her daughter's birth.  I cannot imagine the pain that goes along with such a story.

Find Heather's story below, along with a picture of her beautiful family.  What a blessing that she is here to share it.  Contact me if you would like her email.

A Mother's Story

At some point in just about everyone's life they will find a time when they absolutely need to rely on their family and loved ones to help them through a tough time. Mine came when I was a new mother of my 3 and ½ month old daughter, Lily. When Lily was born, our family and friends surrounded us with love. My husband, Lily and I were so happy in those first few months of her life. We never could have been prepared for the storm that was about to hit.

The storm started to come upon me shortly after I returned to work full time, about 1 month after I gave birth. I noticed that I was losing about 5 to 7 pounds a week and was feeling an extreme lack of energy. Although these feelings are somewhat common to new mothers, I felt that this was unusual enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. This is when I found out the news.

In November I was told that I had a cancer that was in the lining of my lungs. Malignant pleural mesothelioma.  It is almost always associated with being exposed to asbestos. I had apparently been exposed to it when I was just a kid without my knowledge. My father was a construction worker and would often come home with asbestos on his clothing. I would always wear his coat outside to feed our rabbit or just to play. That is how I was exposed to asbestos - and as typical with mesothelioma, no symptoms arrived until decades later.

As any new mother’s would be, my first thoughts after diagnosis were of my sweet Lily. I did not want to even think about leaving her alone to grow up without me.  I was given 15 months to live if I were to forgo treatment. Obviously, that was not enough, and we chose the most drastic treatment option available.

Based on the grim nature of the diagnosis, my husband and I decided we had to fly to Boston to be in the care of one of the best mesothelioma doctors there is. There, I underwent a surgery known as extrapleural pneumonectomy. This involved the removal of my entire left lung. I had to recover for some 18 days in the hospital and then recover an additional 2 more months at home before I could begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

While my husband and I were in Boston for my treatment, Lily flew with my mom to her home in South Dakota. My parents immediately had to go from being grandparents to parents of Lily in a matter of days. Luckily, others in the area around them were kind enough to come to their aid. Those I had grown up around were nice enough to come together to help them with babysitting as my  parents both still worked full time.

In Boston, I learned of so many of the firsts in my daughter's life from pictures sent by my parents.  The nurses would crowd around my bed and look at the pictures with me, while I was holding back my tears. I missed my sweet Lily so much, but the love and care that I felt from those around me was certainly very helpful in getting by each day.

The bond between a mother and her daughter is so strong that nothing can break it. I was so happy to know that there were people stepping up to help both myself and my parents.

Seven years later I am so grateful to be here and be cancer free. As a family we still work to embrace life as best as possible. We enjoy each minute together and know just how fragile life can be. Cancer is such a horrible disease to have, but it can bring out many of the great things in life as well.

Monday, January 28, 2013

tom kha gai

I hesitated to post this recipe, for a couple of reasons:

1)  It's not truly tom kha gai, which means chicken galangal soup in Thai.  I can't get galangal without a special trip to the Asian market, so I used ginger.  It should really be tom khing gai (chicken ginger soup).

2)  It's a pretty good substitute for a recipe that almost every Thai restaurant will have.  Their version will probably be better.  But if you're far from ethnic cuisine, or don't feel like traveling, or want to control the ingredients of your recipe, then it will work well for you.  (Although I have to say, I had some last week at a Thai restaurant we love, and was very disappointed.  My recipe was better!)

This soup is very comforting, filling, and I love it when I'm sick.  The strong flavors cut through congestion, when you can't taste much else.  It has lots of power players for healing, as well:  ginger, broth, coconut, citrus.  These are all medicinal foods, with antibacterial and antiviral properties, and nutrients you need to feel better.

An authentic recipe would use galangal root instead of ginger, and kaffir lime leaves instead of lime juice and zest.  These are not all that hard to find in Nashville, but I'm lazy and don't like shopping outside of my neighborhood.  If you do use these authentic ingredients, be sure to use the fresh (not dried) varieties.

You can also leave out the meat and use straw mushrooms and vegetable broth for a vegetarian soup.

Tom Kah Gai
1 T coconut oil
1 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
1 small chicken breast, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
2 C chicken broth
1 C coconut milk
2 T fish sauce
zest and juice of 1/2 a lime

Melt coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add ginger and fry until fragrant, stirring frequently (about 1 minute).  Add chicken.  Cook and stir until cooked through (about 5 minutes).  Add broth, coconut milk, and fish sauce.  Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat, simmering for about 20 minutes.  Add lime zest and juice just before serving.  Serves 2.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

26 weeks and sick again

Here we are, two-thirds through this pregnancy (give or take), and all I can say is:  I'm so sick of being sick! This time it's a sinus infection, which has been plaguing me for about a week.  The worst of it is not being able to sleep for sinus pain and inability to breathe.  Can't heal without sleep!  These repeated illnesses (this is probably the seventh time I've had a bug or cold this pregnancy) have really given me a glimpse into what it might be like to be chronically ill.  I have a lot of sympathy for those who struggle.  Life is hard when you constantly feel like crap!  Hard to work, hard to be a good parent, hard to keep your house neat and cook.

Aside from that major complaint - decreased immunity - I really have very little to gripe about so far.  Which is great!  I was telling my midwife a week or two ago that I think all I remember is the very last part of being pregnant before.  The very miserable part.  So, when I compare this experience to that, it seems amazing!  I feel great!  I can move and walk and get out of bed easily!  I can mop the living daylights out of the kitchen floor without struggling to breathe!  Of course, there is still plenty of time for all that discomfort . . . but for now - things are good.

I'm finally feeling a lot of movement, especially at night.  It's almost visible from the outside - that's always a fun time, when I can show Jeff and Vicki.

There is one big topic I haven't even thought about yet - and have yet to speak about with Jeff!  It just occurred to me a few days ago.  Circumcision.  Oh yeah, we're having a boy.  I'm against it (for children).  Just seems like a decision Todd should be able to make for himself.  Not being observant Jews, we have no religious reason to do it.  And it's not that common of a choice anymore.  Apparently only about half of all baby boys are circumcised in an average hospital after birth these days.  So the whole "locker room" argument is not all that convincing these days.  Better see what Papa says, huh?


Note that I am taking photos in our bedroom!  The addition is done!

Friday, January 25, 2013


I have decided to continue a rollout of our family's budget categories and numbers, in an effort to demystify the American relationship with money and provide a forum for discussion.  Since so many people wanted to jump in on the conversation about health care costs last month, I thought I could do a monthly walk through the areas of our budget that stay static:  mortgage, auto and health insurance, student loan payment, phone, utilities (give or take), food (way give or take). 

This month is all about the mortgage.  We pay $794.87 each month for the privilege of the American dream - "home ownership" (a.k.a. living in a house while we buy it back from the bank).  I should actually clarify:  we pay $794.87 each month for homeowners' insurance, mortgage principal and interest, and property tax.  It's bundled and sent to the same financer, who places the extra in escrow and pays our other bills for us. 

When we knew that we would move back to Nashville in March of last year, we wanted to buy a house.  We haven't been living under a rock, so we knew that if ever there was a favorable time to make our first home purchase, it was now.  Historically low rates, sellers dying to get out of their homes, etc.

After months of haggling, being sure that we wouldn't get the house, arguing with the seller about upgrades to bring the house to basic code, and more . . . we signed (sight unseen, in my case - isn't that insane?)!  In June, we signed up for the biggest purchase we've ever made.  Our house, built in 1930, at a little over 900 square feet, cost $159,250.  We mostly paid for the neighborhood, which is hot.  (We constantly get offers in the mailbox from developers who want to buy our property and tear down the house!  Sorry suckers!  Not a chance!)  We paid for a good elementary school nearby.  We paid for amenities like shops, grocery stores, library, and parks in walking distance.  It was a bit of a shock.  In Topeka, where we had been living, the cost of buying a house was incredibly low.  We could have gotten the same house for half the cost.  I was really glad that we hadn't bought in Topeka, but had rather rented, because we wouldn't have gotten much in the sale between these two markets. 

Because of savings and a generous inheritance, we were able to put down 25% and avoid having to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance).  However, because we were able to put so much down, we also didn't qualify for a FHA loan, which would have had the very best rate of all. 

Jeff has okay credit, mine is good but not excellent.  We qualified for a 4.125% interest mortgage.  My stepdad's jaw dropped to the floor when I told him this number.  (He immediately called to refinance on all his rental properties!)  I didn't really realize it was that good a rate until I started talking shop with people who bought in previous years.  I felt really lucky that we could lock that on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.  Our broker had suggested even lower rates at the beginning - sub-4%! - but our credit and income just didn't get us there.

I am a person with good financial literacy, but the home-buying process boggled my mind a bit.  It became very easy for me to see how home ownership is a class distinction in our nation.  (Once upon a time, it was what defined the "middle class.")  Even if you have the money for it - if you don't have the paper trail, the people to vouch for you, and the understanding of what the h*** everyone is talking about . . . you can very easily get taken advantage of, or just cut out of the picture altogether.  I do have to confess, it made me feel like quite a grown-up to know what terms like "PMI," "sub-4%," and "escrow" mean.

When I wanted to know what a good price range would be for us, I found an incredibly helpful finance website that explained three rules for homebuying:  the rule of 28, the rule of 32, and the rule of 40. 

The rule of 28 is that your mortgage payment shouldn't exceed more that 28% of your monthly income.  We actually fall a little low on that.  Our mortgage payment is 26% of monthly income for us. 

The rule of 32 is that your total housing expenses (insurance, taxes, mortgage, and I count utilities in here, too) should not exceed more than 32% of your monthly income.  In a month with high utilities, we ride the line on this one, going between 30-35% of monthly income. 

The rule of 40 is that all your debt payments (consumer debt, student loans, mortgage, auto loans, etc) should not exceed 40% of your monthly income.  We do well on this one because we carry no debt except my student loan payment.  Our debt load is about 34% of monthly income.

All in all, I feel happy about our mortgage.  We are in an area we love, we are building equity in a long-term investment that we can borrow against in case of catastrophe, and even if my career causes us to move away, we can rent the house easily - there is a strong rental market in our neighborhood as well.  I'm happy that we didn't buy more house than we need.  It may not be the most impressive house on the block, but it's ours, and it's filled with love and family and good food and laughter. 

So tell me about your housing costs.  Did you buy high or low?  Still thinking about a first home purchase?  What do you pay per month for the American Dream?

Monday, January 21, 2013

yogurt updates

This is possibly the most boring post I've ever done, if you aren't into yogurt-making.  But I feel the need to pass on some important discoveries I've made in the world of yogurt, for my 2 readers who care.

We go through a fair amount of yogurt.  Vicki Jo loves to eat it straight (that's right - plain, tart, whole-milk yogurt.  She begs for it!), especially in the morning while I'm fixing breakfast.  I don't eat a lot of it plain, but use quite a bit for my yogurt dough crackers, yogurt dip, frozen yogurt, and smoothies.  I'd say we eat between a 1-2 quarts per week.

I hadn't been getting enough raw milk through our co-op to make our own yogurt, but I was getting sick of shelling out to buy so much of it.  So, I upped our order to 2 gallons of milk per week, and set about making yogurt once again.

I had experimented with making yogurt in the past, but had never found a good method.  It always seemed to come out very runny - more like a pourable kefir consistency.  It tasted great, but didn't have the body that I was looking for.  I started asking around - emailing my favorite food blogger, inquiring on a great listserv - and here's what I found.

1)  Raw milk presents a different set of issues than pasteurized milk when making yogurt.  There are many enzymes and strains of beneficial bacteria present (that's why you want raw milk in the first place!), but these compete with the yogurt culture and don't allow it to come to its full strength.  This is what produces the weak body of raw yogurt.

2)  You have a choice to make:  preserve the enzymatic activity and beneficial bacteria and have runny yogurt, or kill some of it off through high heating (180 F), and have the yogurt consistency you are accustomed to.

I did try a different method first:  I put a teaspoon of gelatin powder into my warm milk when making raw yogurt, in an attempt to firm up the consistency without having to heat the milk too high.  It thickened the yogurt beautifully, but it produced a wobbly, pudding-like mouthfeel that I found unpleasant to eat.  It did make really nice, pliable frozen yogurt, but the protein from the gelatin made it impossible to strain the whey out for dip.  So, for what it's worth, and for what you use your yogurt for, you might try gelatin.

Here's what I've been doing now:

1)  Heat a scant 1 quart raw milk to 180 F.

2)  Stir in 2 T plain, whole, storebought yogurt (it's important to have a pure seed starter like storebought yogurt to introduce the proper strains of bacteria.  If you culture from your own batch over and over, without introducing an independent starter, you might cultivate the wrong strains over time and have a wonky product).

3)  Pour into a quart-size mason jar and cap tightly.

4)  Submerge in the ceramic liner of your crock-pot, which you have filled with 110-degree water.

5)  Place the lid on the crock-pot, place it in your oven, and leave it in there with the light on.

6)  Allow to culture for 12-24 hours.
7)  Refrigerate to finish setting the yogurt.
8)  Enjoy!

I hope this helps other raw-milk enthusiasts who are having trouble getting yogurt to the consistency they would prefer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


This is not an acronym you see frequently.  You may even be puzzling over just what it means.  Stay.  At.  Home.  Dad.  That's right.  The bartender has hung up his shot glasses and spends his days mixing up cocktails of milk and juice water (we have very boring beverage choices at our house).

It took us awhile to reach this decision together.  There were a number of factors that led to us believing that Jeff staying home to care for Vicki (and eventually Todd and Vicki together) was the best choice for our family at this point.

1)  He wasn't making that much money.  He was working day shifts at a great neighborhood restaurant owned by a good friend of ours.  But it just wasn't the kind of money that justified the headache of finding family and sitters to watch Vicki most days of the week.  I think, strictly financially speaking, we probably just about broke even on that.  Now, that's just with one kid.  Put another infant in the mix, and there is no way we could have made the cost of care for two children work in our budget.

2)  I favor having a parent care for their child(ren) if it's possible and wise for a family to do so.  I fully recognize that not everyone is the best stay-at-home-parent (raising my hand here).  I know that daycare and other situations are sometimes the very best thing for a family.  But for us, I just kept being haunted by the feeling that Vicki could be better served by being a bit less nomadic and having home be her center just a bit more.

3)  Jeff was willing and wanted to do this.  This was very important to me.  Even if it made more financial and parenting sense for him to stay home, I wasn't going to force him into doing something that would make him miserable!  After months of talking it over, we came to the agreement that he would find spending his time with Vicki, and the rest of his family, more enjoyable than working for wages. It's important to note that family is Jeff's primary core value.  He would do anything for his parents and his grandparents and his cousins.  A lot of days he packs Vicki up and they go spend the day at his grandmother's (about twenty minutes from us), helping her around the house.  So it wasn't just being free to watch Vicki.  It was also being free to be a sort of family/domestic coordinator for the people who need him/us.

4)  Jeff has what it takes to do this.  I believe that staying home and parenting full-time is the hardest work in the world, with the least acknowledgement.  Jeff is an amazing dad and has always been totally invested in parenting Vicki with love and thoughtfulness.  Plus he can handle having a day stretch before him without much structure - in fact, he really would prefer that.  Staying home drove me crazy because I felt like I couldn't establish a good rhythm to my day, which is important for making me feeling driven and successful.  Jeff's personality just doesn't really function that way.

After struggling with a daycare situation that just didn't work out when we first moved here, and making the decision to reduce our vehicles down to one, I feel like we are on the right track to finding a daily grind that works for our family.  Of course, in just a few short months, that will all turn upside down with the addition of a new member.

When Jeff left his job as a full-time late-night bartender and manager, we discovered just how miserable we had been with the schedules that didn't mesh and the demands of two full-time careers.  We agreed then that we would rather be relatively poor and happier than have the extra money.  That has been the case so far, and I hope it continues!

Friday, January 18, 2013

just hanging out

Is it bad that we just left her hanging there after she crawled halfway in, totally freaking out, for a few minutes so Jeff could get a picture?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

perception is reality

In the ministry world, we use this phrase often.  Sometimes reality is not reality.  Sometimes reality is dimensional like a kaleidoscope.  Sometimes what is perceived to be truth is regarded as truth.  Sometimes it's our job to sort it out.  Sometimes it's not.  Sometimes there is still magic and myth.  Sometimes being right is wrong (I'm kind of a righteous person by nature, so I have found this out the very hard way a number of times).

I think blogging is sometimes the same way.  We are lured into blogs (especially personal blogs) because we feel that we are experiencing life alongside the blogger.  But we aren't.  We are experiencing the selected episodes that the blogger lifted out and highlighted.  The very fact that "keeping it real" has become sort of a mode for some bloggers indicates that reality is not really part of the scheme in general.

I found Design Mom the other day.  It's funny because, when Vicki was a wee one and I was up all night, I would watch a lot of House Hunters and House Hunters International.  I saw Gabby and her family on an episode!  They were moving from the US to France, and looking for the right rental house.  I was kind of fascinated by this family with five children that wanted to uproot and move to France  (sidenote:  why so many Mormon female bloggers?  It seems to be a thing).  It's something I could see myself doing someday, if my head didn't explode into a giant flaming nuclear mushroom cloud at some point in the process.

I was browsing her FAQs page and found this incredibly refreshing statement:
One more thing. Please keep in mind that on this blog I attempt to keep things very positive and showcase the best and prettiest things happening in my life. That doesn't mean there aren't bad days and failed projects and lost tempers. At the end of the day, blogs are a show. I suppose that’s why we like them so much.
Yes!  And yes!   I do this too.  My life has lots of low points that I don't necessarily want to rehash with you.  I fight with my husband.  I act like a baby.  I eat crappy food.  I don't mop the floor.  And if this was all totally obvious to you, you are way better at sorting out reality from perception than I am.

I tend to be a little hard on myself, and it can get way out of hand when I look at these shiny visions of what life could be like:  tidy, spare rooms with lovely children perfectly photographed doing perfectly planned activities.  Beautiful food cooked in a designer kitchen and then photographed under perfect light in a corner especially devoted to food photos.  But life ain't always like that.  And I needed the reminder from Design Mom.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

blueberry froyo

The explosion of frozen yogurt on our American treat scene has been epic.  From Pinkberry to Tasti-D, we seem to have collectively flipped for tart + sweet + flavors.

I like fruit flavors, or just plain tart yogurt.  I've been making our own yogurt from the lovely raw milk we get from our Amish farmer Eric.  I've toyed with the idea of making some frozen yogurt from that home-cultured yogurt, and it turned out to be so much easier than I could have predicted!  Three ingredients!  The homemade yogurt makes it extra-special, but I certainly don't think it's a requirement for the recipe.

Warning:  this recipe does use refined sugar.  I haven't experimented with honey or raw sugar yet.  So, it's definitely a treat!

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
3 C full-fat plain yogurt
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C blueberry preserves (We got this jar as a gift from our amazing friends Steph and Julianne!  Home-canned!  Also - I think you could probably use whatever flavor you fancy, but I haven't tried any others.)

Whisk all ingredients together thoroughly.  

(My assistant had to give it a taste.)

Pour into ice cream maker and follow instructions.  It will be a kind of soft-serv consistency when it's done.  Pack into a container and harden in the freezer!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

24 weeks: then and now

I only have a few belly-growth snapshots from my pregnancy with Vicki.  I took one at 19 weeks, 24 weeks, 30 weeks, and 36 weeks.  Actually, I had my husband take them.  So, here's the side-by-side for 24 weeks with baby #1 and baby #2.

Definitely carrying higher!  Maybe that old tale about baby boys is right?

I'm not totally sure how much weight I've gained.  We don't have a scale at home, so I don't know where I started before I was pregnant.  Sometimes when I feel froggy, I get on the scale at my husband's grandmother's house, but it's about 45 years old.  It shows that I now weigh the same as I did at 24 weeks with Vicki.  I started off lower with her, and gained a lot more than I have thus far with Todd.  My midwives also don't have a scale.  They ask how much I weigh at each appointment, and when I tell them I don't know, they just ask if it feels like I've gained weight!  (Uhhh, yeah.)  Love it.  Unless I experience a sudden, very large gain, accompanied by severe swelling, they don't think that amount of weight gained is really significant for pregnancy.  It's sort of just a "well, the more you gain, the more you have to lose after the baby . . ." type attitude.

Monday, January 14, 2013

all snacked up

Over time, one of my major food goals is to stop buying any and all pre-made foods.  That means, ideally, when I would go to the store (or get food from a farmer), all I would need are whole, single-ingredient foods:  fruit, vegetables, flour, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, maple syrup, beans, etc.  I wouldn't buy ketchup, for example.  Or cereal.  Now of course, this is in the ideal world, and the world isn't ideal.  But I'm getting there!

One of the major areas we had to conquer was snacking.  It's easy enough for me to make a meal plan and make our meals from scratch (theoretically)  But providing a family with all the snacks they need, too?  That's hard, particularly when snack foods - crackers, chips, cookies - tend to be the pre-made foods I was talking about above.

When I decided to get serious about this, I added a category to my weekly menu plan.  Underneath all the plans for the meals, I put a column for snacks.  I typed in the snacks I wanted to have on hand at all times, and then each week I bold the ones that I need to make for the coming week.  That way I remember to add the ingredients they require to my shopping list, which I cull from the menu plan.  Make sense?  It's been great!

Here's a picture of what I'm talking about:

So, this week I need to be sure to buy some cheese, cut up some veggies for dipping, finish straining yogurt to make dip, bake some bread (after I buy some flour), whip up some fruit snacks, and start brewing a batch of kombucha.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I just do a little here and there and it's fine.  Plus I love being in the kitchen.  I also need to add ice cream/frozen yogurt to the list - I always try to have some of that, homemade, in the freezer.

What strategies do you use to keep your family in healthy snacks?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

23 weeks and diapers

Blah, blah, 23 weeks, blah.  Nothing to say.  Still feel good.  Still puff up with salt.  Still pretty agile on the old feet.  Still not much feeling of movement because I have a placenta pillow in front.

Let's just get to the good part.  The part that any cloth-diapering mother loves.  The newborn stash.

Now, I am not as into this as some mamas.  Some ladies make a real habit of curating the perfect beginning supply for that precious bundle.  I'm a bit more utilitarian.  And that presents the problem.

There are a lot of "ifs" when it comes to cloth diapering a newborn.  Will my baby be huge or tiny?  Will he have slender legs or thick thighs?  Will he wet a lot at once or more moderately throughout the day?  Will he have sensitive skin?  It's enough to almost just make me put it off and make a purchase after the baby is born.  But then I know it will never happen.

There's also the added layer of Vicki and her diapers.  She is in one-size Fuzzibunz pocket diapers with snap closures  (we also have a few Kawaiis that we got as a gift, and they are nice too - especially for overnight with a doubler).  This means they are adjustable, and they still fit her quite well.  I really like these diapers, and once I figured out how to properly wash them, we have had no issues with them at all.  I'd like to reuse them with another baby.  But that means Vicki needs to be done with them first.  (Cue dramatic sigh related to toilet learning.)  It also means that the new baby needs to have a similar body shape (slim thigh, round middle) - and who knows if that will happen!?

The Fuzzibunz did not fit her as a newborn, and I don't think they would fit any but the very largest newborns (like 10 lb or more).  With Vicki almost at 7 lb 1 oz at almost 40 weeks gestation, I don't suspect her brother will be that much larger.  

I got a couple size small Thirsties covers from a friend who didn't want them.  They are pink and orange, but who cares?  Not me, or my son, hopefully!  

So, I have a couple of choices.  I want to use the Thirsties Duo covers that I already have, and I think I only need a couple more because you can get by with not so many of those.  They just need a wipe between changes, and a wash every 10 or 12 changes, unless there's a horrid blowout or something.  

The big decision is what to stuff the covers with.  Prefolds?  We already have a ton of those, and that would be no problem.  But they would be a bit bulky for a tiny one.  I've been eyeing these Green Mountain Diapers (GMD) fitteds.  They are kind of the best of both worlds:  a prefold that they cut and sewed into a fitted.  

They have options with snaps and without.  I will probably go without snaps, since they will be in a cover usually.  I might have to get some Snappis, which I find to be the most obnoxiously named product of all time.  Just in case we want to go cover-less at home, you know.  These fitted diapers are not expensive at all.  The newborn size are $5.50 each.  So let's say I bought twelve, or even twenty of those.  It would only be $110, plus $24.50 for two more covers, and that's it!  $135.50 to diaper my newborn.  Can't beat it.

A note on velcro vs. snaps - I hate velcro.  It never washes right, it gets crud all stuck in it, it irritated Vicki's stomach where it would come unstuck.  So, I go with snaps.  People tend to have strong opinions on this, so form your own!

But before I get too far down the Green Mountain Diapers yellow brick road, I stop to think about the time-honored Kissaluv.  These are by far the most popular newborn fitted diaper.  

They are also more pricey.  $12.95 apiece, with a little bit off if you order in bulk.  

If you know me, you know my legendary cheapness, so you can guess which way I'm leaning.  I might do six Kissaluvs and six GMDs and see which is better after a few days, then make a full order.  A bit more stress with a newborn, but it would be worth it not to be stuck with a bunch of fitted diapers that don't work for us.  

Cloth mamas out there:  what worked for you?  How did you decide on your newborn stash?  What did you spend?

Monday, January 7, 2013

down to one

One of my very favorite things about living in New York City during college was the public transportation.  So convenient, fast, and such a great equalizer of society.  The additional mixed-use zoning and population density that went along with it were major perks.  On one block, I could go to the drugstore, visit a friend, go to work, buy groceries, get a DVD, and more.  Plus, avoiding the headaches that go along with vehicle ownership was amazing!  No gas, no parking, no traffic, no insurance, no car payments.  Of course, there was the cost of public transit, but that was nearly nothing compared to all those other categories.

I have longed for the ability to walk or ride to work ever since then, but it has never worked out.  I have lived in areas of the country that are either too rural, too suburban, or just not friendly to public transportation on any kind of realistic basis. 

Until now.

You may recall my Christmas post on my lack of holiday spirit, capped off by the news that my husband had just run his truck into a parked car.  We have liability-only insurance on both our vehicles, meaning that the insurance will pay no benefits for damages to our vehicles, only for the ones that we damage.  Money is tight, and frankly we just don't have the funds to repair the truck without taking out a loan or applying for a credit card.  I'm not willing to do either of those things, trying as hard as we are to get out of debt.  Both of our vehicles (a 2005 Civic and a 2006 Chevy Silverado) are paid for, so we don't have to worry about car payments.

When Jeff came home after the accident, we looked at each other with the same thought.  Time to try out one car.  Coincidentally, I had brought it up a few weeks ago:  why don't we just try living with one vehicle, but not selling the other?  It would be a way to trim our budget substantially.  We would certainly save on gas, and if it works, we could just drop the non-used vehicle from insurance, but save it in case we ever need it again.  Turns out we were forced into that plan a little sooner than we expected!

Nashville's public transportation is not known for its efficiency.  There are mostly buses, with one rail line coming from the far east of the city into downtown (so it does nothing for me).  It operates on an outdated hub system, meaning that if you need to get across town, you have to stop at a bus depot downtown, wait, and switch buses.  If I had wanted to get from our house in East Nashville to Vanderbilt, for instance, which is on the mid-West side of town, it would have taken me about 1.5 hours each way - ludicrous!  When I could drive in 20?!

But we have a few things working to our advantage in our current situation.  One is that my church is directly north of our home.  That means I don't have to go through the downtown hub.  In fact, one bus gets me there pretty quickly.  Second, we don't live too far back into our neighborhood that walking to the bus stop on the main road is impractical.  It takes me about fifteen minutes to walk to either of the two nearest bus stops for the route I need.  The church is directly on the main road.  So, I just have to get off the bus and I'm right there. 

I've done it for a few days now, and it seems to be working out well.  It takes me about 45 minutes, in total - all the walking and all the riding.  It takes me about 15 in total to drive.  It's nice to get a brisk little walk in on the way to the bus and on the way home.  Once I'm not pregnant, I could ride my bike much more quickly to the bus stop. The fare is $1.70 one way.  There are some discounts for buying a multiple-fare pass, but they are negated by the cost of shipping to have your ticket sent to your home (get it together, Nashville MTA!).  For $3.40 a day, 4-5 days a week, we are saving big-time over the cost of gas, insurance, repairs, and headaches in driving.  And I get to read and relax with music instead of getting angry as I get cut off.  Can't beat it!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

fruit snacks!

[This post submitted to Sortacrunchy's Your Green Resource 1/10/13.  ETA:  and featured (!) on 1/17/13.]

What kid (or - ahem - parent) doesn't love fruit snacks!?  Sweet, chewy, fruity, gummy . . . they are divine.  But if you're trying to avoid processed food, they are pretty much off the list.  Most have artificial dyes or flavorings.  Even the ones that contain no added sugar are not made from whole foods, but rather from different fruit juices and purees.  We don't even really drink any non-fresh-squeezed fruit juice anymore, because it's just as sugary as soda, and lacks the enzymes and other positive properties found in fresh fruit.

So I was just thrilled to see this recipe pop up on a roundup from Nourished Kitchen.  It comes from Thank Your Body, another great site with lots of natural and homemade beauty product recipes.  I adapted it a little based on what I found through several batches.

There are a few things I love about this recipe.  It has a short ingredient list.  The texture of the snacks is nice and gummy.  They keep at room temp or in the refrigerator, so are great for trips.  The baby is obsessed with them.  It's a keeper.

A big plus for me is the inclusion of gelatin!  This is like a natural protein powder made from the skins and bones of animals.  As I'm trying to keep my protein intake high during pregnancy, these are not just empty calories like sugared-up fruit snacks would be.  Each packet of gelatin contains 7 grams of protein (a little more than an egg!), so if you eat 1/6 of a pan of these snacks, you are doing pretty good.

Fruit Snacks

 2/3 C frozen or fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc)
1/3 C fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about two - three lemons)
1/3 C fresh-squeezed orange juice (about one large orange)
2-3 T honey
5 T gelatin (grass-fed is best, but if you're using what you can find at the store, use 6 1/4-oz packets)

Mix berries, orange and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the berries are soft - about ten minutes.  Stir in honey until completely incorporated.

Let the mixture cool for five minutes, then pour into a blender and puree.

Pour the puree back into the saucepan and begin mixing in the gelatin, one packet at a time. Whisk hard!  You don't want lumps of gelatin.

After you've mixed in the gelatin, pour into a square glass baking dish and refrigerate until set (about 15 minutes).

Look - I didn't whisk hard enough and ended up with just a few clumps.
Cut into whatever shapes you desire and enjoy!

The white part is just foam from the blender that was set by the gelatin.  Although, if you wanted to get really fancy, I'm sure you could make different flavored layers!

Thursday, January 3, 2013


My post from last week on our health care costs was featured at a Personal Finance roundup!  Squee!  Check out the other entries here

the herb lady

[This post submitted to Sortacrunchy's Your Green Resource 1/3/13.]

I came home with three suspicious-looking sacks the other night.  I would have been very nervous had I been pulled over.  I even had my daughter in the car with me . . . the shame!!

What was in my sacks, you ask?

Herbs!  Alfalfa, nettles, and red raspberry leaf.

I had to gather my supplies to make my very own pregnancy tea!

My midwives gave a packet of literature on nutrition and health during pregnancy at the beginning of our time together.  On one sheet was a recipe for pregnancy tea.  They suggested equal parts nettle and red raspberry leaf, with optional flavorings like rose hips or hibiscus.

Nettle (sometimes called stinging nettle) is an herb that contains many vitamins and minerals, and also acts as a very gentle, natural diuretic, helping move some of that ubiquitous water off the pregnant woman's body.  This was attractive to me, as I got very Michelin marshallow man-esque by the end of my pregnancy with Vicki.  I mean I was retaining a ton of water.  This is not all bad, as a woman's body is meant to retain some, as a kind of "natural IV" for labor.  But too much can be really uncomfortable and can indicate kidney function issues.

Red raspberry leaf is an herb commonly used for female body functions.  It helps with menstrual cramps, cycle regularity, and contains an alkaloid that helps to tone the uterus and prepare it for effective labor.  Since I have absolutely no history of any kind of preterm labor (I never even felt a single contraction - not even any Braxton-Hicks - until my water broke with Vicki!), this is a safe herb for me.  If you are prone to contractions before the time is right, you might stay away, as it can bring them on.

Alfalfa is one I decided to add for my own reasons.  It is also very nutritious, with lots of minerals and vitamins.  A special added benefit is for mothers who are trying to increase their breastmilk production, or prepare the body for lactation.  Vicki and I struggled in the beginning of our nursing relationship, and I wanted to do what I could to help ease those possible problems for the new baby.

I just kind of concocted my own recipe for this tea.  I take 1/4 C (packed down) of each herb and add it to a quart-size mason jar.  Then I fill with boiling water.  This makes a double concentrated batch of tea.  I let it steep overnight, then strain into another jar and top off with water.  All day long, I drink it half-strength over ice, with lemon added for flavor.  I find the flavor pleasantly grassy.  So, in total, this makes 2 quarts of tea.  Which is just about the amount of liquid I need to consume in a day - so all the better!

I did not take any herbs at all during my pregnancy with Vicki, and in fact my first midwife warned me off of red raspberry leaf, saying there was no evidence that it worked.  That may be so, but it's not doing me any harm, and it barely costs anything.  These herbs were each about $1.00/oz at our local health food store, and a huge bag of each hardly came to five or six ounces. 

I suppose only time will tell, but at the very least, it's encouraging me to drink the right amount of non-caffeinated liquids, which can never be bad.  And I have noticed that downing a few glasses after eating a restaurant meal high in processed foods and salt has taken down the swelling I get in my fingers.

And my husband gets to make all kinds of cracks about how I'm going to start supplementing our family's income with my herbs . . . sigh.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

clothespins on a bucket

[This post linked to Montessori Monday 1/7/13.]

Vicki Jo has a few funny obsessions that have stuck with her for awhile now.  She loves toothbrushes, and will frequently carry one around with her like a security blanket.  She talks constantly about her "bucket," which is a small galvanized washtub we have in the backyard.  She will play with the bucket for half an hour at a time, placing items in and taking them out.  And clothespins.  During the warm months, we hang laundry out a lot, so we have pins on the line in the yard.  When we take out the trash or recycling or compost, she has to stop and gather several clothespins from the line.

When I saw this simple activity on a Montessori Album website, I knew it was the one for Vicki Jo!  I've been continuing my rollout of new activities on her shelves, and wanted one that would draw her in and work her hands.  It says ages 3-4, but she is able to do it pretty easily, although it takes her two hands to manipulate the springs on the pins.  She is really developing her pincer, and her three-fingered grasp!  Great practice for later writing and other fine motor.

I bought the smaller galvanized paint bucket from our local hardware store and pulled the clothespins off the line.