Thursday, October 28, 2010
A "fixer-upper" in Philadelphia sometimes has no roof, though, so that didn't happen. We couldn't afford it anyway.
Periodically we come back to the issue. Can we afford a house yet, or not? How much house could we afford? Is it time to try?
A few weeks ago, John proclaimed that it was time to try. Our lease ends in April, and rent is expensive here! And we can't even keep paying this much forever ... once baby is two, we will be required to get a two-bedroom apartment. In a way, John argued, we can't afford not to buy a house.
Well, it's not hard to convince me. I've dreamed of having a house for a LONG time. One I could "do up" to suit me. Once we'd crunched the numbers enough to find out we could afford a very inexpensive house, I was all for it.
We both agreed we wanted a fixer-upper. Partly because we'll never be able to afford anything else (this is Northern Virginia; good houses don't come in a one-income price range!) and partly because it actually is something we want to do. We want to improve our house over the years to be something that's really ours. I think, deep down, we both have the image of the house in It's a Wonderful Life, broken-down and barely livable, being transformed into a home. I don't think I'd put up wallpaper while wearing heels and pearls, but ... the image does die hard.
So we found a realtor by a recommendation from someone at school (this is the only way to find anyone - the "school community" is very large and filled with nice, helpful, professional people) and went out to "look at houses."
We discovered the limits of our price range pretty quick. For instance, we basically can't live in this town, or anywhere as close or closer to D.C. Luckily we hate living even this near to D.C., even though John works there. There are areas still (barely) within commuting distance that are still affordable, though, and much more country-feeling. You have to drive past a lot of McMansions to get there, though!
I had thought a very tiny house would be a possibility, but even those seem to only be available with foundation cracks and mold.
Then we saw this:
You can't really tell in the picture, but the house is huge -- over 2,000 square feet. There's a dining room fit for one giant, Catholic, homeschooling family to host another giant, Catholic, homeschooling family for dinner. The yard is over an acre, with plenty of room for my dream vegetable garden. The listing was understating things when it said there were 3 bedrooms -- there are three or four other rooms that could be bedrooms in a pinch.
The downside is, the listing was overstating things when it said there was one bathroom. That is only true if an unfinished room with three walls and several pipes jutting out of the ground is a bathroom.
Also, the kitchen is garishly hideous.
Also, it needs plumbing and electrical work.
But then, I did say we wanted a fixer-upper!
We've gathered together our resources and made a bid on the house. We hope to get the final approval on a "rehab" loan, one where they will give us a certain amount of money back to get the house into livable condition. We also have to get a contractor out there to tell us what-all has to get fixed to bring it up to speed.
Perhaps we're being a little foolish. This is a big step.
On the other hand, though, what could be better? This house is being sold at about half its previous value, and will probably return to its old value once it has a bathroom and running water. It's one of the few houses you can even find that's good for a big family -- and, though we don't have one yet, I really hope we do someday, and I don't want to move houses again and again just because of size (as John's family had to do). It has character -- it's 101 years old. And there's so much to love about it:
This converted porch, which I envision as a sewing and craft room:
A large room that would work for a library/homeschool room.
A tiny room that would be a great office.
A little room filled with windows off the master bedroom, with seemingly no purpose at all, but which would be a perfect spot for a window seat.
Two garden sheds, one which perhaps might be converted into a playhouse?
I just can't help picturing this house filled with laughing children, books, fingerpainted pictures, and love. I can't help picturing it as ours.
I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I love the taste of molasses. It's all the stuff that gets taken out of brown sugar to make white sugar (though why anyone would do that is a mystery to me -- brown sugar is WAY better). Blackstrap molasses, the kind I have, is the highest in minerals and is a good source of iron, calcium, and potassium. It isn't very sweet, so it's best in savory dishes or in dishes with another source of sweetening.
It's very black, so it instantly colors everything it's added to. A very small amount can be added to sauces or soups to make them that appetizing brown. I've also used drizzles of molasses to decorate a pumpkin pie once -- it looked like a Jackson Pollack painting and was delicious.
Since molasses goes so well in so many fall dishes, I thought I'd share some things I've used it in recently.
First I made this molasses custard. I messed with the recipe a lot. The changes I'd recommend are the addition of pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger) and sprinkling a tiny bit of sugar on top. It's good hot, cold, or even frozen!
Then I fell a little bit in love with the notion of molasses and those four spices together. It's such a perfect combination for a cold day. So I've been adding them to oatmeal, yogurt, and so on. Molasses cookies are delicious too! I hope to make a pumpkin pie soon (as soon as the Halloween pumpkins go on post-Halloween sale!).
The recipe I'm going to share with you is homemade barbecue sauce. As you know, we have several diet needs around here which are requiring me to make everything from scratch if I want to have it at all. And what I wanted was pulled pork barbecue ... partly because I like it and partly because I am tired of having nothing but beef now that chicken is on the naughty list.
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses (other molasses will work too)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup tomato paste, if you like and tolerate it
1/2 teaspoon each ginger, cloves, and chili powder
Optional additions: onion powder (one tablespoon), Tabasco sauce, smoke flavoring, dry mustard (prepared mustard does not mix in well)
Place in a capped jar and shake to blend. Pour half over a pork shoulder before cooking in a crock pot, and add the rest after cooking. Or, keep it in the fridge for hot dogs and burgers!
I have two prayer requests for y'all:
1. My Grandma J has slipped into a light coma. Grandpa says she wakes up for a few seconds and then goes back to sleep.
2. Dr. Warren Carroll, the founder of my college, has had another stroke and has lost the ability to speak. We're hoping he is able to recover this. I especially do, since he used to be at my school every day, and I'd finally gotten up the guts to talk to him. Just last week I had a nice chat with him. He's a really nice man as well as quite a genius when it comes to history.
So, say a prayer for those two!
Friday, October 22, 2010
Marko is six months old already -- in fact, has been for over two weeks now! Time sure does fly, and he grows so fast. It's definitely time for an update.
I do not know his height or weight, but he's definitely growing and in mostly 6-9 month clothes now. He easily rolls from back to front, which until recently was his main mode of transport. But earlier this week he began army crawling and is now capable of chasing the cat (at low speed) around the living room. Also of scootching to her food dish and dumping it out, of scootching to computer cords and trying to chew them, and of scootching over to my leg and grabbing my pants. Right now he's entertaining himself by clicking on the laptop's trackpad so that my cursor goes all over my post and I start typing in the middle of a word. Please blame him for any incoherence in this post.
He also sits up, quite securely. Once he threw himself backward while sitting (why?!) and bumped his head on the carpet, but other than that he's had no mishaps. He tips to the side when he wants to get down, but it's a controlled fall so he's never hurt.
We introduced solids food a little before six months. Well, okay, it's a little inaccurate to say we introduced food. Actually, he stole the carrots out of my beef stew. I let him because I figured if he could do it himself, he was ready. He's taken to food very well. I don't spend a lot of effort on solids; on the average I give him one "meal" a day, and sometimes we skip it. I think it's best to start gradually. He loves it -- a meal in his high chair is the sure way to nip a whiny afternoon in the bud. However, it's also a sure way to guarantee we have to take a bath:
The time I gave him refried beans, it was even worse! However, the downside of avocado is that it stains ... that outfit will never be the same.
In keeping with the guidelines of baby-led weaning, I've been giving him food he can hold himself and put into his mouth. Practically speaking, that generally means a long and narrow piece of food so he can hold it in his fist and put the end in his mouth. It has to be just the right consistency -- too hard, and he gets frustrated when he can't get a bite of it easily; too soft, and he just squishes it to death in his fist. So I often include foods with peel when possible -- he can hold onto the peel and chew the food off of it.
That's an avocado peel you see there. He had a GOOD time with that. I think it might be his favorite food.
So far we have introduced carrots, avocado, refried beans, sweet potatoes, and banana. I also gave him yogurt once, off a spoon, but he got odd dry patches on his face the next day, so I decided to be safe and discontinue it for now. I tried giving him liver, but he just poked at it -- I'm not sure he recognized it was supposed to be food.
We will be waiting a long time before giving him any grains, seeing Daddy's reaction to them. I'm hoping to get some meat in him soon, though, because nothing we've given him so far has been very high in iron.
His favorite foods are banana peel and paper -- specifically, tardy slips I get at school. He is always grabbing them and trying to eat them!
Some people are concerned about baby-led weaning, fearing that the baby will choke if given whole pieces of food. Of course you do have to be careful, not giving foods like grapes, hot dogs, or anything too hard for baby to gum (unless it's too large to fit in his mouth -- a raw carrot makes a good teether) and always supervising mealtimes. However, baby-led weaning is actually safer because the baby learns to chew instead of sucking food off a spoon. Sucking purees off a spoon is all well and good -- it's similar to nursing -- until Mom tries to vary up the texture. Then babies often gag, cough, and even vomit, because unchewed food is getting too far back in their mouth and becoming a choking risk.
(Note: gagging in babies is a normal reflex and is not necessarily a sign of choking. A baby who is gagging is simply moving food out of his throat back to the front of his mouth for more chewing. A panicky expression or turning blue are signs of choking. But gagging itself is quite safe. Marko probably gags several times a meal, but has never choked.)
I was re-reading some of my old blog posts and remembering how difficult things were a few short months ago, as he was refusing to nurse. That is not at all a problem since I did the elimination diet. Occasionally I eat the wrong thing, but it usually results in screaming and crying later, not refusing to eat. I suspect the problem foods (tomatoes and chicken, mainly) cause him reflux, gas, or some other pain. When it happened often, he made the connection that nursing caused the problems and was scared to eat. Now, he trusts nursing much more, and so he no longer refuses to eat. He even comfort-nurses now -- the days of careful scheduling around his hungry moments are over. It used to be I had to be careful not to offer nursing more often than every two hours because he'd throw a fit -- now he'll nurse whenever, and if he's truly not interested he just squirms away with no tears.
You have NO IDEA what a relief it is to me to have him nursing well!
Sleep is more of an issue right now. He was sleeping 5-hour stretches at six weeks old, and occasionally slept through the night at three months. Now he usually goes down around eight, waking up at eleven or twelve, and then at three-ish and five-thirty (which is when I get up) at least. And he isn't so easy to put down again after the wake-ups, either: sometimes I have to try two or three times before he settles back to sleep.
He started having the sleep issues around four months, when the nursing issues were the worst. I suspect he was waking up more at night in order to get enough to eat, seeing as he wasn't getting much during the day. So our solution is probably going to include making sure he gets enough opportunities to eat in the daytime, so he stops needing to eat at night. I'm taking it one night at a time. It is hard, because I have to go to work whether it's been a good sleep night or not, and I'm very foggy when it hasn't. On the other hand, I do get occasional naps, so it's not as bad as it could be.
Sometimes he sleeps with us for short periods during the night. During his recent cold, he slept with us for about three nights. But as soon as he was feeling better, he began to sleep better in his crib. I'm beginning to think he gets overheated when he's with us. On cold nights he ends up in our bed much more, but on warm nights, if I bring him in there, he's soon awake and crying. Kind of makes me wish I'd tried harder to adjust him to cosleeping when he was a newborn. It would be easier some nights. I do sleep with him a lot better than I used to, and often can manage a nap with him during the day.
So, that's how he's doing! I am enjoying him so much these days. Everyone at school admires and compliments him, and all I can do is agree with everything they say. I like this age a lot. In fact, I get kind of sad when I think of him ever growing older. He's so adorable now. And he's in a perfect balance between independence and still needing lots of snuggles and holding. It makes me sad that someday he'll want to walk and won't need me to carry him all the time. I know it's the way it works -- but it's bittersweet.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
When I was in boarding school, I had braces. If you've ever had them, you know it's kind of hard sometimes to keep your spit in your mouth when you're talking ... you can't say it without sprayin' it. I managed fine most of the time, but once I was laughing or something and a tiny speck of saliva flew out of my mouth and landed on someone else's arm. She gave a little scream, stood up, and ran out of the room because she was so grossed out.
At that moment, I resolved to myself never to become a germophobe. If I couldn't handle the occasional fleck of spit from a close friend that I also lived with, I'd be very ashamed of myself.
Nowadays microbes always seem to be the bad guys. Luckily for us, most of them are harmless. From the yeasts that raise our bread and ferment our beer to the bacteria that make yogurt and cheese, we rely on them an awful lot. Inside our bodies, they're even more important: our gut bacteria help us digest lactose, raffinose, and others, and they also help produce vitamin K. Many people find they become lactose intolerant or have diarrhea after taking antibiotics -- it's because their gut flora died along with the germ they were trying to kill!
Many people are uncomfortable thinking about the microbes that live in their intestines, on their genitals, or in their mouths. I know I myself read a National Geographic article on eyebrow mites (apparently we all have 'em!) that made me quite queasy. But not only is it impossible to rid ourselves completely of all our parasitic hangers-on, it's not actually desirable. Not only to some of the bacteria have good effects, but even the neutral ones help crowd out germs that may be harmful. For instance, people often suffer from thrush, a fungal infection, after taking antibiotics. The antibiotics cleared the environment (you!) from all the bacteria, leaving the fungus to have a field day! The ecosystem (your body!) is out of balance.
There is some evidence that children who are exposed to too few bacteria may be at higher risk for allergies -- the "over-sterilizing" problem. And the immune system is strengthened by having a few weak germs to tackle before taking on, say, malaria. Keep in mind that humanity survived for thousands of years before anyone even knew what germs were. Luckily we do have some defenses against germs.
Of course, some bacteria (and yeasts and viruses) are harmful. So, how best to protect ourselves from the bad while accepting the good?
Here I consider an article I read recently on the top ten things parents fear compared to the top ten things parents should fear. The number-one thing parents fear is abduction. The number-one danger for children is car accidents. Abduction is extremely rare and unlikely, while car accidents kill thousands of children every year. That suggests that we should stop eying strangers suspiciously and start driving more carefully (and perhaps keeping that car seat rear-facing a little longer).
The same goes for germs. When I'm at school, sometimes I give the baby a pacifier. Sometimes he spits it out onto the floor. Helpful people pick it up, rinse it off, and give it back to me, while suggesting perhaps I might want to boil it before letting the baby have it again. Then they grab the baby's little hand, give it a shake, and kiss his head. The baby's hand goes right into his mouth.
The floor is not a hospitable place for germs. There's nothing good to eat on the floor. It is mopped frequently. People's hands, however, are a wonderful place for germs! That person has almost certainly touched their face (it's almost impossible not to over the course of an hour or two) since they last washed their hands. Of the germs on their hands, one of them is very likely something that likes to infect people -- since that's where it came from. Of the two colds that the baby has had in his life, both have almost certainly come from people touching him.
I read a tip awhile ago suggesting that parents bring several sterilized pacifiers with them when they go out. After all, the writer suggested, what if the baby takes it out of his mouth? And what if, while he's holding the pacifier, someone walks by with streptococcus? And what if they sneeze? And what if a stray germ flies onto the paci before he puts it back into his mouth?
If that happens, a clean, sterilized paci is a much nicer breeding ground for that streptococcus germ than one that's been tumbled about a bit and has little colonies of lactobacillus on it. I'm just saying. In any event, chances are just as good that the streptococcus flies onto baby's face as onto his paci, so he's pretty much gonna get it no matter what you do. No worries, though -- this scenario is pretty unlikely anyway!
Places and things whose germs we don't need to worry about so much:
The floor. We don't wear shoes inside the apartment anyway, so it stays pretty clean. Besides, the kid's been licking the floor since he was born and seems fine so far.
Urine. Did you know that, unless you have a urinary infection, your urine comes out completely sterile? It's nasty and stinky for other reasons, but it isn't germy.
The cat. Her hair is everywhere; there's no avoiding it. Yet it hasn't done us any harm. She's an indoor cat and was tested for diseases transmissible to humans before we got her. There are very few of these -- all other diseases cats get won't pass to humans.
All of the above may have harmful germs, but they probably don't. Sure, I don't lick the cat, but I don't sterilize my hands after touching her either. (I do wash them after cleaning the litterbox and before cooking; don't worry!)
Places and things whose germs we need to worry about more:
People's hands. People germs come from people. Generally from their noses, mouths, and eyes, which most people touch fairly frequently without being aware of it. Kids do this the most. Daycare centers are like germ incubators.
Doorknobs. They're touched frequently. Most human pathogens don't live long on surfaces, but if a doorknob's being touched all the time, its germs are nice and fresh from the source!
The kitchen sink. Did you know most people have more germs on their kitchen sink than their toilet? Makes sense, though: when was the last time you bleached your sink? And yet, it often has food particles for germs to feast upon, and gets touched by raw meat as well, which can carry diseases (especially conventionally produced meat).
My general rule is, things inside this apartment are usually fine, because they've been here for a long time and we're used to their germs. Outside the apartment, everything is a potential germ-carrier, particularly things that are touched often. Paci drops on the grass? No worries. Paci drops in the teachers' lounge sink? Better wash it off. When John gets home from work, I've noticed he always takes the time to wash his hands. He began the habit when working at the bank -- money is one of the germiest things you can find! But it's really a good habit all around.
The one source of germs that could get on the baby that I don't worry about a bit is myself. I am a microbe ecosystem just teeming with germs, and yet I hug, touch, kiss, and snuggle the baby without fear. First of all, he needs my germs. At birth, babies are colonized with some of their mothers' bacteria from the birth canal. Babies born by c-section have been demonstrated to have a less optimal microbe supply -- not no germs, but germs that come from the hospital. Hospitals sterilize a lot, but a baby can pick up germs right out of the air. Most are not harmful, but in a place full of sick people, some definitely are.
That's why I find it silly when I read a well-meaning parenting magazine warning me not to taste my baby's food before giving it to him because I'll give him my "mouth germs." Not only do I need to share my baby's food to check the temperature and show him how to do it, but everyone has mouth germs! The question is, will they be my mouth germs, or some other unknown germs?
As far as pathogenic microbes I may be carrying, luckily this is less of a concern because I nurse him. My milk contains antibodies for everything I'm exposed to -- a good reason to make sure my baby and I are exposed to the same stuff. When people touch my baby, I often just hug them. I want to get the same germs they're giving my baby! And when John came home from Italy with a cold, I made sure I gave him a nice kiss to pick it up. (I didn't get a bit sick! But baby had the sniffles for a week. I like to think it was less severe because of my antibodies.) And of course I kiss my baby a million times a day. If he sucks on a carrot stick and then hands it back, I go ahead and take a bite. It won't hurt me.
So, what do you think? Am I being dangerously cavalier? How do you strike a balance between boiling everything in the house daily and being "unhygenic"?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This time, though, it's a blog dinner ... a link-up for each course hosted on a different day on a different blog. The theme is "Whole Foods for the Holidays" -- starting with soups today and ending with drinks around Christmastime.
I don't have something to share for every category, but I do have one for soup. It's a family tradition to have beef barley soup every Christmas Eve. Some people have their Christmas feast on Christmas Eve, but our family tries to be sacrificial on the vigil and then pulls out all the stops on the day itself.
I made my own version of this soup last Christmas Eve. It was a complete failure, because my broth was bad (that's the one that tasted like foot). But I think the recipe is still a good one -- you just need to start with a good broth.
These amounts are for our family of two hungry adults who expect a little leftovers. Readjust as needed!
1 quart beef stock
1 cup stew beef or shredded beef
6 ounces tomato sauce (or a smaller amount of tomato paste, or a lot of tomato juice)
1/2 cup barley
1 stalk celery
1 clove garlic
Chop up all the vegetables and meat into small pieces. Add all ingredients to the pot and cook over medium heat until all vegetables are cooked and barley has puffed up to about twice its original size.*
Serve immediately, piping hot! It's good with crusty bread alongside ... or without it, if you want to cut down on the grains.
*If using pearl barley, this will be about 20 minutes. If using whole barley, you will probably want to soak and begin cooking it separately.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I noticed something interesting, though. Everywhere I go, I look at the babies. It's just what I do; I've always done it, but even more now that I'm a mom. Normally I see that the majority of babies are in strollers or carseats, plugged with pacifiers, sucking on bottles. And yet, at my alma mater, I saw at least 20 babies and not a single bottle. In the "nursing mother's room," there were at least a dozen women and their babies in there nursing when I went in. There were few strollers (including ours, which didn't get much use) and a lot of wraps, slings, and similar carriers. The result was a LOT of babies at the event, but not a lot of crying.
It got me thinking. Parenting was never discussed in all that much detail in any of our classes. We were not told how to parent. Yet here we were, parenting the same way. Women I'd never even met while in college were mothering exactly as I do.
And yet, when I think about it, I realize most conservative Catholic moms that I know tend to be more on the "natural" side too. I only know of one who bottle-fed, and she seemed quite aware that she was the exception. It seems most of the people on the Catholic forum I read prefer natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle sleep methods (i.e. no crying it out), and other natural things. I'm even more likely to find people who are into natural food and natural medicine.
Why is this? What are the connections between the Catholic faith and natural parenting?
First I considered myself. Where did I learn to parent that way? Mainly from my mother. Where did she learn it? I'm not sure. Is it that Catholics are more likely to learn how to parent from their own parents, since we have larger families are more likely to see our parents raising our younger siblings? (This was the case for me -- I knew nothing about babies till Joseph was born.)
Perhaps, also, it's because so many Catholics are descended from immigrants, and weren't there for the era of Victorian and early 20th-century sternness that happened in our country. Maybe it has to do with our regard for tradition.
Partly, I'm sure it has a bit to do with our rejection of contraception. Those who don't contracept know that breastfeeding helps space babies (which I think I should talk about more, and probably will, sometime), so it's the obvious choice. Besides, when you have a lot of kids, it's easier to pop the baby in a sling and take care of the others than it is to carefully time naps and bottles. No wonder cloth diapers are so popular when we're all pinching pennies and handing things down.
Or maybe it just makes sense. Charity, respect for others, the value of every life (no matter how small), self-sacrifice. Catholic women look to Our Lady as our ideal, and we can't see her sleep-training baby Jesus or weaning him at 3 months.
Whatever the reason, I'm glad to have such a supportive community.
Does anyone have any other possible reasons for this connection? Or have you not experienced it at all?
Friday, October 15, 2010
I started with the last of my Cabot Greek Style yogurt. (This is the best yogurt I have ever had; you can eat it straight and it's delicious. Almost like sour cream, it's so creamy and good.) 2 tablespoons is all you need to make a quart.
I started by putting the milk in a quart jar, and the jar inside my stockpot, to heat it up.
I added water till it reached most of the way up the side of the jar, and turned the heat to medium high. My goal was to heat the milk to 185 degrees. However, I don't have a thermometer, so I heated it till it formed a slight skin on top.
Then I let it cool for about an hour, until both the milk and the water in the stockpot were cool enough to touch easily. My goal was 90-110 degrees; my test was whether I could comfortably keep my hand against the side of the jar or immerse it in the water.
Once it was cool enough not to kill my friendly bacteria (L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus), I added the two tablespoons of yogurt and stirred it in. This was about 8 p.m. I put the jar back into the water-filled stockpot, and the stockpot into the oven, which I had heated up to 150 degrees and let cool off a bit. It was the best incubator I had, though next time I might try using a heating pad, as I've heard recommended as well.
In the morning (about 7 a.m.) I pulled the yogurt out. (Yogurt can be cultured from 4-24 hours; longer makes it firmer and more tart.) It was about as tart as I expected, though a bit thinner than I wanted. It was pretty easy to stir.
However, I already knew I was going to strain the yogurt. This is what makes Greek yogurt so thick, not the special cultures used. So I set up my strainer: a colander nested inside a bowl, with damp cheesecloth (i.e. a clean flat fold diaper) lining it.
In a few hours, my yogurt had strained to the point I wanted. I got about half yogurt and half whey. (The whey is useful for lacto-fermentation, so I'm saving it.)
The final result? Well, not as good as the storebought stuff. That's to be expected, because the storebought stuff is made with "whole milk and cream," and I didn't have any cream. But it is delicious, and certainly better than the watery, sour, skim-milk yogurt I buy at Aldi. So, it ranked somewhere between the $5 stuff and the $1.50 stuff. Considering it cost me about $3.15 for a gallon of milk, a quart cost me about 79 cents. A savings for sure.
Next time, I'm going to try to improve my incubator and see if I can get firmer yogurt.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
This isn't so much a tutorial as a bunch of pictures. I'm not particularly good at sewing, so I had no idea what I was doing. However, my mei tai did turn out great, and if you follow my advice (i.e., don't make the mistakes I did), you could probably make one better.
I used plain cotton broadcloth. This is too thin; you want something stronger like denim or another heavy, "bottomweight" fabric. But it was what I had. I used a double thickness everywhere (as you'll see), so it works for Marko now, but when he gets bigger, I'm pretty sure it won't be strong enough.
The neat thing about this pattern is that it uses the leftover fabric from making a woven wrap. If you get 4-5 yards (depending on your size) of 45" fabric and cut it lengthwise, one half can be your woven wrap, and the other half can make your mei tai.
Here are my fabric pieces, cut out. I have two rectangles, about 20 x 24 (which is much too large -- I suggest 18 x 20 for a baby Marko's size) to form the body. I folded down the top 3 inches, partly because my rectangles were too large, and partly to form a little extra support on that top edge. An inch would be quite sufficient. Then I have three straps, each about six feet by five inches. They were too narrow and a bit short for what I wanted -- I suggest seven feet by six or seven inches. The waist strap has both ends tapered; the two shoulder straps only need one tapered edge. In the picture, I've already folded the straps in half lengthwise and pressed them.
This is what I wanted to do: attach the shoulder straps at the bottom corners for extra strength. Only the straps I cut weren't quite long enough to do that. I would definitely advise doing this if you have enough fabric; it's a very strong structure. Plus, the stitching of the waist strap reinforces that corner as well.
This is what I did instead: extended the straps down to form a V, and stitched them in place there. You'll see later how they're attached. This is more secure than attaching the straps at the top corners, and it adds some reinforcement against a baby who likes to lean back (which mine does).
All right, so here's what you do. Press the straps in half lengthwise and sew along the fold. On the shoulder straps, stitch across the tapered ends and leave the flat ends open to turn. On the waist strap, stitch both tapered ends, but leave the middle 20" or so open -- you will be tucking the body rectangle inside this fold. Press in about 1/4" on each raw edge, so that you have a smooth edge all around. (In this photo, the bottom strap is the waist strap.)
Now take one of your two rectangles and arrange the straps on it, either in the X I suggested or the V I actually did. Baste them there, on the wrong side (picture shows the right side).
You'll want to turn the corners of the rectangle in where the straps emerge, like this. The little turned-in triangle is sandwiched between the body and the strap -- eventually it will get caught in all the stitching and held there.
Now machine-stitch (or hand-sew) the straps into place. This will show on one side. I used contrasting thread to make the stitching part of the pattern. Trim any excess.
What appears on the right side:
If you want a pocket, you should attach it to the other body rectangle now. A simple hem at the top and machine stitch around the other three sides is all it takes. That's not what I did, though -- I forgot to add the pocket till the end, so I had to do it differently ... shown later.
Then you sew your two rectangles together along the sides, right sides together. So your pocket and your pretty topstitching will be on the inside, and your strap ends and folded top edge will be on the outside. Be sure not to catch any part of the straps in your seam, because you'll need to turn them to the other side.
Turn the mei tai right side out and press. Attach the waist strap by sticking the body into the open edge and basting into place. Then topstitch around the waist strap, along the edges, along the top -- really anywhere that needs to be secured or would look nice. Before you begin topstitching, it's worthwhile to check and make sure your bobbin isn't about to run out, and watch to make sure your presser foot doesn't suddenly go all wonky and make 12 stitches on top of one another. This is another step I accidentally skipped. I had a lot of messiness and a lot of resewing. At one point I ended up backstitching a part because I was sure I'd mess it up if I used the machine! Any loose ends can get pulled to the inside, between the two layers, and left there.
The other side looks like this:
Wouldn't a pocket look nice here? Oh yeah, I forgot until now. So I cut a square of contrasting fabric, mitered the corners, and pressed the edges under:
It took me forever to stitch it invisibly to the blank side of the mei tai. Don't follow my example -- add a pocket (if you want one) before sewing the two body pieces together!
Put the pocket a bit north of center; a lot of the mei tai ends up tucking under baby, so this position makes for an actual centered pocket.
And you're done!
Except, of course, for your modeling shots:
There are many ways to tie a mei tai, both on the front and on the back (and even on the hip, though I haven't tried it). This one's reversible, with the chevron pattern on one side and the pocket on the other.
The couch is handy for getting down from back carries.
It might seem complicated, but it really only took me a few hours! I cut it out during a nap, sewed it after baby's bedtime before I went to bed, and did the pocket while he played on the floor today. And so far, it's working really well! I like having another option to take to work. I do need to practice a bit so I can get the baby nice and high on my chest (or back) on the first try. But, so far so good!
Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Centered, Finding Balance
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they stay centered and find balance. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
This post is written for the Carnival of Natural Parenting. I always mean to participate, but keep missing the deadline. Last month's was on homeschooling; I can't believe I missed it! Especially as this post totally would have been perfect.
This month, though, the topic is more difficult: balance. The description at Hobo Mama reads:
For parents who practice attachment parenting, it can be tempting to center our lives around our children — but it's not healthy. This month we're going to talk about taking time for ourselves. Here are some possible topics for you to discuss: How do you take time for yourself? What passions do you pursue? How do you find the time and balance it with being a parent? And if you aren't taking time for yourself, what will you do to start? Think about how you feel when you do not get adequate time for yourself versus how you feel when you do.
The first sentence made me stop and re-think. Maybe this wasn't the carnival for me. Because I do center my life around my child. Take a look at how this blog has changed since Marko was born. It's gotten to be baby-baby-baby all the time. My blog reader is categorized Mom blogs, Parenting blogs, Breastfeeding blogs, Birth blogs, Homeschooling blogs, Catholic blogs, and Food blogs. 90% baby-related. I am that mother, the one who puts her baby down for a nap and then goes to watch videos of him on her computer because she misses him already.
The weird thing is, I really like it this way. I don't feel conflicted or like I'm losing myself. I feel like I'm finding myself.
In the same way, John and I decided before we got married that the advice they always give to "put your spouse first and kids second" didn't make much sense to either of us. Instead, we decided to put first the one that needed us most, and not to neglect either of them for too long even if they didn't need us urgently. In other words, of course we weren't going to stop spending time with each other because of the baby (and why would we, when dates for the three of us are so much fun?), but neither were we going to neglect the baby to have "couple time" when he really needed us.
Aside from those caveats, though, I really do think balance is important. Balance between John's needs and the baby's needs; balance between playtime with baby and activities I choose. I don't consider following my own pursuits to be opposed to being with the baby, though. I just bring him along to my job, or, as I am doing right now, rock his bouncer with my foot as I write a blog post.
I'm sure if I didn't do those things "for me," I would be frustrated. Like before I started working, I did feel a little isolated from being at home all day. Yet I wouldn't have taken up a job if it separated me from my baby. I'd prefer being isolated from other adults than being lonely for my baby.
I guess that's what it comes down to: my two closest friends are John and the baby. My interests are cooking and the baby. I don't think I'm narrow-minded, but I just don't feel drawn much outside this sphere.
In fact, the one thing that I could use more balance in would be to be on the internet less. I discovered years ago, while babysitting my younger brother, that few things are more frustrating than trying to multitask with a baby who really wants to play. I would be sitting on the computer and he'd be pulling at me, trying to get me away from it. And I'd go with him, do the bare minimum, but the whole time I'd be annoyed and frustrated because I wasn't doing what I wanted to do. When my parents would come home, I'd say to myself, "That was a poor use of my time. I didn't get anything done."
So the next time I would leave the computer turned off and just play with Joseph. He really bloomed when he got someone's 100% attention. He was tons of fun. I would get down right on his level and see things the way he saw them. We'd roam around the neighborhood just looking at stuff. I no longer felt conflicted, frustrated, or torn. I felt good about the way I spent my time.
Sometimes, when you're a mom, trying to be everything -- mother, wife, homemaker, blogger, and whatever is expected of you to do to appear a "fulfilled mom," one who "has her own interests," you end up more frustrated than when you put it all to one side and find the joy in the moment. Of course there's time here and there for blogging and for cooking and for this or that interest, but it's okay to let all that take second place to the baby. It will all still be there when the baby's grown.
So, in the end, of course you can't be everything. You can't be everything to that little baby who grows up to be an independent kid. You can't keep up the pace of your pre-baby life either. But that doesn't mean you have to lose who you are. You will always be the specific kind of mom you are because of the specific kind of person you were before you were a mom. And the kids will remember those interests of yours that you taught them.
But maybe, just maybe, putting baby right smack in the middle of your life is okay. If you're like me and (secretly) do it too, you shouldn't make that one more thing to feel guilty about. Just enjoy the moment with your child(ren) and let things happen. So long as they have a happy mom, that's what they'll remember.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated October 12 with all the carnival links.)
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Babywearing is the practice of carrying a baby on the body with some kind of carrier. Like breastfeeding, I never gave this principle much thought before I had a baby. Naturally moms carry their babies all the time, and sometimes their arms get tired, so carriers are pretty handy! However, I soon found that many mothers don't carry their babies as much as I think is normal. Instead, they cart their babies around in strollers and infant car seats.
My first beef with these is that they are really not all that convenient. Those infant seats are heavy! Our carseat is convertible and doesn't come out of the car easily, so that was never an option for us anyway. But I have carried babies in those seats, and they're so large and awkward.
As for strollers, we do have one. I gave it a test drive awhile ago, on a trip to the grocery store. I figured it would be way easier, so I wouldn't have to carry the heavy baby. But it wasn't really. I constantly had to be pushing this thing around, maneuvering it around obstacles, pushing open doors for it -- it's like being tied to a grocery cart! (I hate shopping carts; I use a basket if I can manage it at all.) Plus, I couldn't see the baby's face, and I hated driving him around at tailpipe level along the street. By the way home, he didn't want to be in the stroller anymore, so I picked him up and put him in the sling, stuffing the heavy diaper bag into the stroller. I wanted my baby near me!
Now, carriers aren't strictly necessary; they are more of a convenience. Carrying the baby a lot -- that's necessary, in my opinion. Cranky babies, in particular, cheer up a ton when they're picked up. Carrying seems to soothe colic, reflux, and gas.
It's also very healthy. Babies' heart rate, breathing, and temperature regularize when they are in contact with an adult. We now know that "kangaroo care," skin-to-skin holding, works better for preemies than the best incubator. In fact, a recent study suggests that prehistoric women furthered the development of the human race when they devised slings out of skins to hold their babies. It kept babies with large heads -- who, because of their head size, had to be born earlier -- from dying due to the under-development of the rest of their bodies.
Babies seem uniquely adapted to their mothers' arms. Their legs naturally seek the "froggy position," which is the same angle as a parent's body. While on their mother's chest, they are able to seek out and latch onto the mother's breast from birth. Carrying a baby helps encourage neck and back development more than "tummy time" does, and prevents positional plagiocephaly (flat head) that babies get when in cribs and carseats most of the time.
Biologists are able to distinguish baby animals as "den animals," like wolves and bears, who remain behind in the den as mother's go out hunting, "follow animals," like cows and sheep, who follow behind their mother all day, and "carry animals," like marsupials and primates, who ride on their mother's back or her pouch. The lower fat content and higher sugar in human milk and the dependence of human infants suggests that we are "carry animals," expected to nurse frequently and be in constant contact with the parent.
This seems normal to me. I stick the baby in his Moby Wrap when we go to the store, on a walk, or to work, and he sees the world from my level. He sure seems to like it; he's very content and rarely fusses at all. If he's fussy at home, a short ride in his ring sling generally cheers him up or even puts him right to sleep. He loves the bouncing of my walk. Unfortunately, I'm a sedentary person, so I would prefer to hold him on my lap, but when he's fussy, nothing will do but being carried around the house -- or better yet, outside.
I don't think of myself as counter-cultural. But occasionally I do get comments: "Does he like that?" "Boy, he sure seems happy to be up here," "Hey, that looks convenient." I guess people aren't used to seeing a baby carried this way, even though in other cultures it's completely standard. (Almost every primitive culture had its own baby carrier -- from Indian cradleboards to specialized obis in Japan.)
Besides all the benefits for baby, I think babywearing helps the grown-ups too. It seems to change people's attitude toward the baby -- he is no longer thought of as completely separate from me. People don't ask to hold him or expect me to leave him places. I find the kids I teach are much less distracted by him. People are willing to see me as a normal adult, capable of doing all the normal things (rather than suggesting limitations on things I do), but at the same time, they do notice the baby and interact with him. I can see why this system has been so favored by women at work for generations.
This post will be linked at Adventures in Babywearing. You can read more there or at the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance Facebook page.
Friday, October 8, 2010
I was getting tired of the repetition of shepherds' pie, chili, and hash, over and over again (since I dislike most pork and the baby can't handle chicken, ground beef is our only meat right now), so I decided it was time to start bringing back some of our other favorites. Number one on the list -- beef stroganoff! This meal is acclaimed as my family-of-origin's favorite food -- eaten at least every other week when I was growing up, often more -- and I really, really like it.
The first time I made it for John, I got the "what is this?" comment that every wife dreads. He referred to it as "goulash." And his stomach was upset afterward. (Now I know why -- the noodles!) So I served it only rarely.
It's not a meal that would really be okay if you just cut out the noodles -- it's almost like a sauce that way -- and it wouldn't go well with potatoes. So I replaced the noodles with mushrooms! Normally I make it with a small can of mushrooms, but this time I used quite a lot of fresh mushrooms, and that made all the difference.
4 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup beef broth (I used my frozen broth cubes; you can use bouillon cubes and water if you want; I won't tell)
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 onion (omitted this time due to the baby)
1 clove garlic (also omitted)
1/2 cup cooked (or frozen, which is what I always use) green peas
medium-sized handful steamed green beans
1/2 cup sour cream
seasonings, as desired
(All amounts, as always, are approximate, i.e. I totally just guessed)
Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp paper towel. Do not immerse them in water, they're like little sponges and will turn just as slimy as canned mushrooms if you do! Slice them fairly thinly and saute them on medium heat in the butter until brown. You can do the onion at the same time.
In a different pan, brown the ground beef. Drain it thoroughly; the first time I didn't drain it enough and the result was kind of greasy. Remember there's all that butter in there too. Add the drained beef to the pan with the mushrooms, as well as the broth. Now might be a good time to add the garlic so that it can cook a little, but not too much.
Add the peas. Slice the green beans into one-inch segments and add them, too. Add the sour cream, making sure you have enough to turn the whole dish white. You might need a bit more than half a cup, especially if you love sour cream as much as I do.
Turn the heat down to low and heat just long enough to warm the sour cream. If you heat it too hot or too long, the sour cream will curdle (tastes fine, but the texture isn't so nice). While you're doing that, season to taste. I added salt, a tiny bit of chili powder, and, on a sudden impulse, red curry powder. It was good choice, especially as John loves curry.
The verdict? Success! John really liked it, I liked it, and neither of us felt the least bit sick! It is a high-fat dish, which means a small amount is quite filling ... this recipe could have served three (but ended up serving two, and then me again later).
I'm adding this to Wheatless Wednesday (though I know it's a bit late) on Naturally Knocked Up.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
So, I said earlier that we'd be cutting out grains for awhile. How's that working out for us? Well, in my case, it's hard to tell ... because I keep cheating. I eat great at home, mostly, but then I go to work and there are cookies, or donuts, or something. It's not like I need donuts that much, but it's really hard-wired with me not to turn down free food! I'm just such a tightwad, and I originally worked there when I was single and trying to buy as few groceries as possible. So I ate tons every time someone brought food in for everyone. I figured I'd better make up for all those dieting teachers anyway.
I managed to stay grain-free for about five days running, and then I ate two chocolate donuts in a row and felt awful. However, that amount of sugar is bound to make anyone feel gross. I usually don't eat donuts anyway, because they do make me feel unwell. I did feel fine when going grain-free -- but then, I usually feel fine anyway. The baby's been in pretty good shape, though when I tried eating my homemade sauerkraut, he had a fussier day. Not sure if that's related or not. I haven't been brave enough to try any of the really irritating foods, like tomatoes or chicken, though once I manage a good stretch of grain-free eating, I hope to reintroduce them.
John's results were more clear. He started with no grains, but eating everything else more or less normally. He did eat a few cups of yogurt, at my urging, but it's not really his thing. Then on Thursday he had some vending-machine potato chips and didn't feel so good. I pointed out that they were probably full of artificial ingredients, and he decided to give processed foods a break as well. This is really hard for him, because he's accustomed to snacking on chips and things at work. (I really need to start making good lunches for him. If anyone has good ideas of things I can send, I'm all ears! My limitation is that, right now, I can't send soup because it always leaks in Tupperware and I can't give him a metal thermos because he has to go through a metal detector at the office.)
During the week he was going grain-free, he felt pretty good. He didn't mind the lack of grains much, since he prefers potatoes anyway, so we ate a lot of those. His IBS didn't flare up during that time, except a tiny bit after eating those chips. Then we went out to dinner with a friend on Saturday night. This friend chose an Italian restaurant. Do you have any idea how hard it is to eat grain-free at an Italian restaurant? We were starved when we arrived, so we ended up eating the bread while waiting for the food. Then John's meal arrived with pasta. In his place, I would probably have left the pasta, but he "felt bad leaving food on his plate" and besides, he has a big appetite, so he ate it all.
By the time we were driving home from the restaurant, he was already experiencing cramping. That evening he felt truly awful and had a bad IBS flare-up. It was enough to convince him entirely: grains are not his friend, and he's going to give them up. Now it's possible that a temporary abstention from them might heal him enough to handle small amounts without harm, but for now, we're going to aim for 100% grain-free. Later on we'll test gluten-free grains, but right now I think he's happy enough to feel good that he hasn't been complaining for different food.
However, he's in Italy this weekend seeing his sister make her religious profession, so we'll see the shape he's in when he gets back! I hear they met him at the airport with pizza. Ah well. Hopefully it didn't do too much harm.
So, John's experience with eliminating grains has been a success! Mine just needs more time. Since I feel fine, it's hard to be motivated. My one motivation is the thought of being able to eat more things I really enjoy if the baby stops being so food-sensitive. I would definitely rather be able to eat tomatoes and chicken soup and onions and eggs than bread ... at least ... I think so. In any event, it would be easier to think of healthy things to eat.
Here are a few of the things we've been eating:
Apples with cheese or peanut butter
Full-fat Greek yogurt (this stuff is amazing) with apricot preserves
Home fries with bacon, green peppers, and cheese
Radishes and radish greens sauteed with bacon
Steamed green beans with butter and lemon pepper
Spaghetti squash with butter or cheese (was good the first few times, but I got tired of it)
Baked potato with mushrooms sauteed in butter
Black bean chili
I've been getting much more into vegetables lately. I was raised with mostly frozen and canned vegetables, and it's been a huge revelation to find how delicious fresh vegetables are! Those green beans were out of this world ... I enjoyed them more than I generally enjoy dessert! The radishes were good too; I had never had radish greens before. And today I bought a few beets and am pickling them (by lacto-fermentation). Of course a few slices ended up in my mouth instead of in the pickles. But when they're done they'll be even more delicious than fresh beets, I think.
I'll keep you posted on how the grain-free diet goes!