Wednesday, September 29, 2010

AP Principle 2: Breastfeeding

Okay, it's been hashed out time and again the many, many reasons why human milk is better for babies than formula. (Even more lately: the big item in the news right now is that Similac has been recalled due to contamination with bug parts! Gross.) But it's an attachment parenting principle as well, not because of the health benefits, but because of the emotional attachment it encourages.

In other words, it's not supportive of attachment parenting to pump the milk and prop the baby up with

a bottle on a strict schedule. The health benefits are there, but the attachment is totally missing. However, the bright side is that bottle-feeding mothers can practice "bottle nursing" by feeding the baby on cue, however much he wants (instead of pressuring him to finish the bottle), while snuggling him up against her. The important thing, for attachment purposes, is the snuggling, not the quality of the milk. However, as I've mentioned before, the nursing mother receives such a hormonal boost that attachment will be easier with actual breastfeeding.

It's easy to see how snuggles and touching built right into the daily schedule would be a good thing. When you nurse your baby, you can't "forget" to get plenty of cuddles in, and you certainly aren't likely to be leaving your baby with a nanny while you pursue your own interests. Instead, you'll be keeping your baby close throughout the day (as I do at work and on my errands) and holding him whenever he wants.

Another advantage is what is called "demand feeding" or "cue feeding." This simply means feeding your baby when he is hungry. Rather than expecting a baby to adapt to our schedules, we adapt the stronger to the weaker, and change our schedules based on what the baby needs. A mother gets very good at reading her baby's signs that might mean he's hungry. When Marko was little, he sucked his fists and turned his head from side to side like he was looking for something. Now, I mostly just feed him when he's fussy and I realize it's been awhile, though sometimes he noses around for a quick snack when I'm holding him.

Keep in mind that there's no real way to tell beforehand between "just wants to nurse" and "actually hungry." Babies nurse for comfort as well as food, and you can't really tell which one he wants. Sometimes a baby will truly be hungry even when he's just eaten. Sometimes I think the baby must be starved, when really he only wants a sip before wiggling to get down again. It's not a big deal, because I can provide for his comfort needs and his food needs easily, without having to know which are which.

You can see, then, that this is more than just a feeding choice. It's a whole method of parenting a baby, incidentally the same one that I saw my parents use with my younger siblings. It works, it leads to happy babies, and there is no guesswork as to what the baby needs -- you let the baby tell you what he needs. No counting of ounces necessary!

* * *

You may have noticed that I tend to avoid the terms "breastfeeding" and "breast milk." This isn't because I'm embarrassed by those terms. No, it's because I find them a little too clinical. "Breastfeeding" suggests a feeding method, as opposed to formula feeding. So it's useful for distinguishing the two feeding methods, but in other contexts, it seems to call undue attention to the feeding method. For instance, do you ever hear anyone say, "I saw someone formula feeding her baby on the bus"? No, you'd say, "I saw someone giving her baby a bottle on the bus." And yet if a woman nurses her baby, I'm always hearing that she was "breastfeeding" with a tone of horror, and the assumption is always that she was baring her chest for the whole world to see. Generally speaking, she wasn't; but the word draws attention to her breast all the same, whether it was showing or not. Breastfeeding suggests something odd, unusual, uncommon; something you have to get set up in your special chair to do; something you probably aren't doing for a long time. Nursing suggests simply caring for your baby, which you can do anywhere and don't need any particular supplies for. It's just a question of connotation and how the two words strike me.

As for "breast milk," well, do we call cows' milk "udder milk"? Does a cat feed her young with "nipple milk"? No, and that sounds a little ridiculous! But when someone hears that a bottle of milk sitting in the fridge is "breast milk," it all of a sudden sounds like this weird thing. Like it's dirty or gross. It brings mental images of breasts into the mind, obviously, which does make some uncomfortable. But human milk, the milk made by and for humans, doesn't seem nearly so odd. Rather, it makes perfect sense that babies are drinking human milk rather than cows' milk, or perhaps wolf's milk like Romulus and Remus.

* * *

Which brings me to a further point, which is that I never thought of bottlefeeding as standard and nursing as extra good. Yet many people to act as if it is. They say things like, "I could do the normal thing and give bottles, or I could give the baby a special food, cut his risk of ear infections and SIDS, raise his IQ, and lose that baby weight faster!"

For me, it was more like, "I could do the normal thing and nurse this baby, or I could give him an inferior food, increase his risk of ear infections and SIDS, decrease his IQ, and have the baby weight hanging around for months!" Why would I want to do that, if I had a choice?

When we struggled so much with nursing, I had no desire at all to give up. Some people seem to work at it just so they can say they gave it the old college try before switching to bottles, which is what they really wanted to do in the first place. In my case, I would never have stopped mourning our nursing relationship, and I know I would have felt bad about every bottle. Not because "people are making me guilty," but because I treasure our nursing times so much and would hate to have him finding comfort in a bottle instead of in me.

A breastfed baby has all his wants and needs met in his mother. That's certainly the kind of start I wanted to give my baby -- the knowledge that here, in these arms, are safety and comfort and love and satisfaction. Long after he's weaned, I hope that knowledge stays with him.

Related posts:

AP Principle 1: Birth Bonding

Intro to Attachment Parenting

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beef stock

You know I'm an old hand at chicken stock. But beef stock has always been my Waterloo. First, how do you get beef bones? Aldi sure doesn't have them. Then, what kind of bones are best? And finally, when I finally did get beef bones last December, I ended up with a soup that smelled like foot.

I had bought something labeled "soup bones" at Whole Foods, roasted them, and simmered them for hours. What I got was something pale yellow and watery, smelling like wet socks, which gelled very firm but was no good to eat. (And I, being foolish, kept messing with it, wasting meat and vegetables trying to make it into something good, and ended up having to throw the whole pot away.)

I wasn't planning on ever trying again. Chicken stock is good enough for almost every purpose, and I can always buy beef bouillon cubes. (Herb-Ox has no added MSG, so it's what I usually use. Some boxed or canned broths are better, though more expensive.)

But then the baby had his issues. When I reintroduced chicken, he screamed inconsolably for an hour the next day. FOR AN HOUR. It just wasn't worth it, so now I'm not eating any chicken. Yet I do need stock for vegetable soups! And I wanted the health benefits of bone broth -- it is extremely rich in minerals. With John off grains and me able to eat only very small quantities of certain spices (like garlic and onion) I didn't trust any of the storebought brands.

I was at Shoppers (the "standard" grocery store) the other day and saw neck bones. The bones had lots of meat on them, and were discounted a bit (though still pricier than you'd expect considering it's just bones -- somewhere around $2 or $3 a pound), so I bought a 5-lb. package.

I spent a lot of time cutting the meat off the bones so I could use it for stew. I ended up with about 4 cups. (Warning: handling raw meat while caring for a baby is difficult. Luckily he was in a good mood and willing to be satisfied with me handing him toys with my toes.) Then I roasted the bones for about half an hour and put them in the crock pot with 3 quarts of water, a tiny bit of onion (including all the skin, for color), and a carrot.

Guys, it worked. Whether it was the shreds of remaining meat (well browned) on the bones, or the better quality of the bones (I suspect the Whole Foods bones were bad to start with), I got a dark brown stock that smelled good and worked fine in my stew.

5 lbs. neck bones with meat on them
3 qts. water
1 onion
1 carrot
salt and herbs to taste

Remove meat from bones and reserve for another purpose. Roast bones in a 350 degree oven for half an hour. Simmer with water and vegetables for 5 hours. Strain stock, reduce as desired, and season. (It is important not to salt before reducing, or it'll be way too salty!)

Beef stock is delicious in beef stroganoff, shepherd's pie, beef-barley soup, and French onion soup.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Holding my grandma in my prayers

When I visited my family in July, I got to see my grandma J (my dad's mom). She wasn't feeling too well, but decided to make the trip to see us. We were still unsure what was wrong with her; she'd had some various health problems and was seeing a doctor to try and figure out the root cause.

A short time after we returned to Virginia, we heard the news: it was cancer in her liver. They were giving her ten months with aggressive chemo; two months without it.

A couple weeks ago, she had some very serious reactions to the chemo. It was killing her faster than the cancer was, it seems. So she quit the chemo, left the hospital, and went home.

So it's very timely to talk a bit about Grandma as I hold her up to God in my prayers. Not because she seems to need it -- she is handling all this better than any of us -- but because I love her and prayer is the only way I can be close to her right now.

I don't know as much about her as I do about my mom's parents, because my mom is the storyteller of the family. I don't know her life story, only bits and pieces that she's happened to mention -- for she is also a storyteller of sorts.

She met my grandfather in the Navy. They were married pretty young (like everyone in my family, it seems). She is from an Irish family whose Catholicism is so engrained as to be rarely mentioned.

She's a tough lady, someone you can't really wear down or wear out. The stories I've heard from her are all about her standing up for herself or someone else: the one where she stood up to my dad's teacher when he wouldn't believe my dad was really sick, the one where she was giving birth to my aunt and ordered the doctor to "come over here and catch this baby," the one where she told my aunt that if she didn't come clean her room, Grandma was going to "open the window and start pitching." (I believe she really and truly did pitch all the stuff out on the lawn!) Each story leaves you laughing -- Grandma's got a great sense of humor, just like my dad.

Her life hasn't been easy, from what I know of it. She moved all over the country following Grandpa's Navy postings. (My dad went to 12 different schools before college.) In many ways she had to put her own wants aside and spend her time facilitating everyone else's. There was one summer in which the family lived on a houseboat. "That sounds like so much fun!" I said, when she told us about it. "It was, for everyone else," she said. "But when you're a mom, the only difference in your job is that everything's a lot harder and there's no running water."

Grandma's the one who taught me how to sew. I stayed with her for a week while we worked on my first project -- a flannel nightgown with pawprints all over it. I learned how to run a sewing machine and how not to be timid when I cut the fabric. I had thought it was ladylike to be timid; she taught me otherwise.

I hope when I am close to death, I face it with the guts Grandma does. She says she isn't too worried about dying; she just worries about leaving Grandpa because he isn't really ready to lose her. (Perhaps I'll write another time about how Grandpa's been, serving her and loving her to the utmost, doing everything he can to help her feel better and feel loved.)

Grandma with her husband and children

If you want to join me in praying for her, I know your prayers will be appreciated -- and heard.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My old homeschooling folder

The other day, I got a package from home. It was my old "Sheila School" folder from my mom's filing cabinet. Since my family is moving to Korea soon, they've been purging that kind of thing from the house.

Yesterday I took the time to read everything in it. Of course it was a blast from the past, seeing my old handwriting and seeing my mom's homemade report cards. But it also really made me think about what things in my education were the best -- and, by extension, what I want my kid(s) to have the opportunity to do.

Most of the time, my homeschooling was very structured. My mom is a structured person, and she was also standing up to a lot of criticism from the outside, so we studied each subject for an hour a day, and at some points we also had homework time too! However, sometimes she really got stuck and didn't know how to teach me something, or else I (being a stubborn little tick, and I admit it) would dig in my heels about a project she had planned. Her usual solution was to say, "Okay, fine. You come up with a way to learn this, and if it's sufficiently educational, I'll let it count."

The first thing that I saw when I opened the folder was a piece of DNA, made out of dental floss and tiny post-it notes. I remember making that.

Then there was a science-fiction story about invertebrates which I wrote in the seventh or eighth grade. A biologist in the future gets himself shrunk down to half an inch tall in order to film an educational holo-movie. An excerpt:

Ericsson decided to leave the scene before the horrible hydra took an interest in more food. The cnidarian waved its three-quarter-inch tentacles and he realized that the only passage between two [tentacles] was through the fearsome monster. He drew his vorpal laser sword and activated it, but saw that even if he cut the tentacles, nematocysts would still spring out and paralyze him. Thinking brains would be in order, he picked up a pebble -- being underwater helped -- and threw it at the hydra. Nematocysts stabbed at the stone, but had no effect. He threw more until a large area was covered with hanging harpoons. He edged closer and cut off the stinging strands. But as he scooted through the safe zone, he discovered a fatal flaw in his plan. Even without stinging cells, tentacles are still quite capable of stuffing you in a gaping maw.

As Ericsson was lifted high above the pond floor, he could see the monster's mouth open hungrily, ringed by tentacles with mostly operating nematocysts and full of digestive acid. He brought his laser sword around and sliced at the tentacles. Soon he was on the ground, panting. He lept up, dashed toward his parked rocked scooter, and zoomed away toward a stream entrance.

I admit that I am still proud of that story. It's some of my best work.

Later on there's a newspaper, The Spanish Gazette, with a cover-page story about Columbus discovering the New World. The classifieds are the best: "For Sale: Two well-equipped caravels, slightly weathered." Years later, I still crack myself up.

Not included physically, though there are mentions, are my Monopoly-style game about cellular metabolism (as you travel around the board, you collect ATP and other necessities for completing the various cycles) and my role-playing game about exploring Washington State. Those were fun and actually were played for entertainment outside of school hours.

My mom says these things are just a tribute to my creativity and how I am a "born teacher." I'm not sure, though. I think it's quite possible anyone could have done the same if they were given the freedom to learn things how they liked instead of doing the same drudgery of lecture-quiz-paper-test over and over again.

Besides, I didn't flourish in other environments. I read, for the first time, a letter my mom wrote to my dad when I was almost done with sixth grade. I had been in public and parochial schools for three years and had begged to return to homeschooling. I was getting a few very poor grades, and my personality was also suffering:

Perhaps Sheila has toughened up in the last few years. Instead of crying, she glares. Instead of being sad and hurt, she is angry, sullen, and prideful. Her defenses make her almost unreachable, unteachable. Her speech sounds so much like her classmates -- it's maddening. She seems cliquish and far less inclined to sympathy for others. She says unkind things to David. She seems to have "gotten down" socialization. She seems incredibly vulnerable to it. She is an astute politician. If she weren't so good at socialization, I think, she'd be far safer.

Luckily my dad must have agreed with her, because I returned to homeschooling after that. I met some great homeschooling friends and developed my hobbies of writing, making music, and creating things -- dolls, clothes, a treehouse. I loved biology (still do, despite all this time I've spent since on the liberal arts!) and even dreamed of being a geneticist! My math grades, which were C's in my parochial school, were A's by the next time I went to school, in the ninth grade. It was a struggle for me, but left on my own with nothing but the textbook, I pushed my way through.

The rest of my learning experiences that I remember were mostly outside of "homeschool time" -- stories from my mom as we took walks or waited for the bus; learning to sew from a few ancient books; learning to knit, ditto; making up new lullabies to sing to the baby my mom nannied; painting my bedroom. While the most "schoolish" stuff in my folder, I don't remember at all. Short answers about Eisenhower? Drawing a total blank. Research from primary sources about the Vietnam war? I kind of remember that. Reading Veritatis splendor because it was assigned by my mom? I'll admit now I mostly slept with it on my face. Reading Dei verbum so that I could write to our priest (for credit) respectfully explaining why, contrary to his homily, the wise men did exist? Definitely remember.

I've been told the adage that whoever does the work, learns. In school, the teacher prepares and prepares, and the teacher learns a ton. But the kids learn only what they have to, and only till the next test. At home, I made the decisions and did the work an awful lot of the time, and I was the one who learned.

I like the idea of unschooling. But I like even more how someone I read recently called it "autodidactic homeschooling" instead. You could just say self-schooling. The parent is a source of information and help, and often the parent can set the goals as well. Mom says, "Here is the material we have to learn; how would you like to learn it?" She can still retain veto power if an idea is not really educational. But kids are endless sources of creativity, so it makes much more sense for the kids to come up with the ideas instead of Mom wearing herself out trying to keep school interesting -- or, alternatively, relying heavily on workbooks and the old lecture-quiz-paper-test format.

I suppose some children would come up with more exciting things than others. But I definitely think that allowing them to make more of the choices about how they learn would better preserve their natural creativity, independence, and industry. Yes, I said natural industry -- because kids actually love to work, if they choose the work! What they hate is being pushed to do something that doesn't interest them.

Of course all this takes a lot of time. But think of it this way: conventional schooling insists that kids learn dozens of facts every day, and yet it is taken for granted that they won't remember much of it when they're grown up. It took me all day to make my cellular metabolism game, and I still remember it fairly well, half my life later.

If our goal is lifelong learning and the development of creative, independent, hardworking adults, the more we involve kids in their own learning, the better.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What is wrong with the American diet?

Something, that's for sure. The more I read, the more convinced I am that this is the case. Medicine has advanced far beyond what we ever imagined, and yet it doesn't mean we tend to be that much healthier. Yes, we can cure more diseases, and yet there are dozens of "diseases of the modern lifestyle" that are killing us: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers. These are diseases that were less common before industrialization.

And that's not even all of it. Those of us who are normal weights, who don't have diabetes, whose hearts are beating fine, still aren't necessarily well. At 24, I'm finding that most of my friends have at least one nagging ailment that isn't serious enough for a doctor to spend real effort curing -- or else the doctors can't cure it. I have persistent headaches, for which doctors have offered to prescribe heavy painkillers or else put me on the Pill. No thanks. A friend has asthma and severe allergies. Another has a compromised immune system and gets very sick from every little bug. My dad had joint pain years ago, but all the doctors could tell him was "Well, it's not rheumatoid arthritis. Would you like some Motrin?" John was told by the GI specialist he visited last year that he "probably has IBS, but we can't confirm that, and it wouldn't matter if we did because there's no cure."

As a nation, we are not well. One hundred years ago, most people outside of the cities (where disease spread quickly and nutritional deficiencies were common) were healthy. Sometimes they caught diseases which killed them, many of which are curable today. But they didn't linger on just feeling crummy all the time like we do. They weren't all on diets which allowed them to eat very little which they enjoyed, or else rapidly gain weight. Very few were diabetic.

One friend, among all my friends with slight ailments, suffered from severe headaches and stomach trouble. She ended up going to see a naturopath instead of a conventional doctor. This lady told her to cut all gluten from her diet and avoid chocolate and caffeine. In a few months, she stopped having the headaches, her stomach settled down, and as a bonus she also lost a good amount of weight!

It makes me wonder. Our diet in America has taken several huge leaps, many of which were not tested out well before being accepted. For example, MSG and high fructose corn syrup have appeared in a multitude of foods. Most people aren't aware of eating them, so it's hard to tell if they react to them or not. We've started eating a lot more canned and packaged food. Corn has become so all-pervasive, we're usually unaware of how much we eat. Our meat eats a different diet than it used to -- cows eat corn instead of grass; chickens eat corn instead of a mix of grains and bugs.

And our outlook on food has changed. From the four basic food groups -- meat, dairy, vegetables, and grains -- we have gone to the "food pyramid," suggesting we should be eating lots of grains, less vegetables, hardly any meat and dairy, and "sparing" amounts of fat. Every week, it seems, a new study comes out telling us we should be eating something different, and yet conventional wisdom still prevails: eat low-fat, eat lots of whole grains, don't eat much meat (and if you do, it should be skinless, boneless chicken breast), don't eat much dairy (and if you do, it should be skim). Eggs, eaten in dozens by our healthy forebears less than a hundred years ago, are now going to kill you. Cream, once so valued, especially for children, is carefully removed from most dairy products. Butter has been replaced with margarine. Lard and drippings have been replaced with corn or canola oil.

Yet, as I said, we are sicker than ever. Deaths from measles, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, and many other diseases have shrunk to almost nothing -- but cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are killing us as much or more than ever. We hear more about the "obesity epidemic" every day.

Of course there are many reasons for our ill-health. Televisions, the low price of food, formula feeding, and desk jobs all contribute to obesity, for instance. And then there's the question of radiation from radios, cellphones, and microwaves -- could it be killing us? Birth control pills contribute to breast cancer and blood clots, but a very large percentage of women take them for years.

But that clearly isn't everything. Some people are reasonably active and diet to the point of being hungry all the time, and yet they still can't lose weight. Adult-onset diabetes is striking children who are younger all the time. Certain hard-to-diagnose and impossible-to-cure ailments are all over the place: chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, migraines, severe allergies, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility in women, sterility in men. What is wrong with us?

I believe that something is up with our diet. The food that lines supermarket shelves isn't all health food -- even the stuff that's labeled as if it were. Unfortunately, I'm not completely sure what is causing the trouble. Is it the fact that so much of our diet comes from corn? Is it the white bread and processed cheese? Genetically modified foods? Pesticide residues? Would it all be better if we ate organic? Or if we switched to whole grains? Or if we became vegan?

There are so many schools of thought, some of which make some sense to me and some of which don't at all. The two that I like the best are the real food movement, for instance Weston A. Price, and the primal/low-carb/grain-free movement.

The real food movement, which I discovered through the cookbook Nourishing Traditions, is based on a simple principle: If your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't put it in your mouth. Of course it's a little more complicated than that. The author draws a great deal on the work of the dentist Dr. Weston Price, who traveled the world examining the teeth and the diets of different populations. He found that the more "traditional" cultures -- those who eat their traditional diet rather than a Westernized diet -- had healthier teeth and were healthier overall. Their diets tended to include animal foods and fermented foods, and were low in sugar and processed grains.

Proponents of real food generally suggest eating organic vegetables; pastured meats, dairy, and eggs; and fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles. They avoid sugar of any kind, but particularly refined sugars, and they differ about grains, but generally soak their (whole) grains before eating them, sprout them, or make them into sourdough in order to reduce harmful antinutrients within them. My favorite real food blog is Kitchen Stewardship.

The "Primal" plan goes even further back. I guess I could state it this way: if a caveman wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it. Primal eaters avoid grains altogether, first, because eating of grains is a relative innovation since the agricultural revolution (whereas our bodies were made/evolved before that, so theoretically are not designed to digest grains), and second, because grains have several antinutrients which are intended to discourage animals from eating the seeds and preventing the plant from reproducing. Naturally this plan ends up being low-carb, though not extremely low like the Atkins diet, and focuses on meat and vegetables. I'm getting all this from the primal blog Mark's Daily Apple.

Lately I've been very aware of what we're eating, because of the baby's issues. So far I've identified tomatoes, spicy things, eggs, and chicken as almost certainly the cause of a lot of problems. If he has a few fussy days, all I have to do is take a few steps backward in terms of food I've introduced, and he bounces right back to incredibly happy.

It makes me wonder, what would happen if I broke down my own diet, bit by bit, and found out what agrees with me and what doesn't? I already know sugar is a big trigger for my headaches, and so I do try to avoid it. But what else might help me feel better?

And then, of course, there's John. His (probable) IBS has been flaring up more lately, and overall he just hasn't been feeling well. This has been a long-term problem, really ever since he left his (extremely healthy and organic) diet of mainly fresh vegetables and meat from his family's farm, but lately it's particularly bad. I knew it had to be bad when he finally gave me permission to make some drastic changes to the food we eat in the hopes of helping him feel better.

At the same time, I was reading testimony after testimony on various blogs. People who changed their diet and cured themselves and their families of IBS, arthritis, allergies, attention problems, infertility, PMS, severely crooked teeth, and high blood pressure. This story was the most striking; I just read it while researching this post.

So, we're taking the plunge. For now, we are going to cut out all grains. It isn't too hard for John, who prefers potatoes anyway, but it will be tough for me to lose the pasta and PBJ's. I figure we can do it for a week or two and see how we feel. If John has no more IBS flare-ups in that time, we'll re-up for another week. As long as we feel good, there's nothing to lose.

Meanwhile, we'll step up the amount of vegetables we eat, particularly fresh vegetables. Though we can't really afford to go grass-fed with all our meat (particularly since I can't have chicken), we'll see what we can manage in that area. We'll try to make everything we eat as nutrient-dense as possible.

And, if the no-grains plan doesn't work for us, we'll try something else until we find something that does. We are committed to feeling better.

I'd challenge you to consider the same. Take a moment to think about how you feel. Have you felt good for the past week? The past month? Is there a nagging health problem or yucky feeling that you've resigned yourself to living with? Why not test a different diet and see if it helps? Do some research to see what others with the same condition have done. Or just make a goal to eat more natural, nutrient-dense foods. Keep a food and symptom journal and see how you feel.

After all, you have nothing to lose. If you still feel awful, you can go back to your PBJ's or your Skittles and no harm done. But if you feel better, then you decide if it's worth it to you to give up a pet food or two to feel better than you're used to feeling.

If you do this -- or if you've already done it -- please comment and tell me how it worked for you!

Farmers' market!

I've lived in my smallish town for over a year now -- about ten months before I got married, and about four months since. All summer long, from May to October, twice a week, is a huge farmers' market. And until this past week, I had never gone. I kept meaning to, and somehow it wasn't happening, even though I love that kind of thing!

Well, yesterday John and I finally went. It was just as great as I imagined: local honey, homemade ice cream, and tables overflowing with vegetables. I love looking at someone's bumper crop spread out in pretty colors. It makes me hungry.

We went with $20 and the intention to spend it. We ended up buying green peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes to restock our crisper, and radishes for the sake of trying something new. (I'm really looking forward to figuring out what to do with the greens!) Then we got some grassfed beef, something we've never tried before. I had no idea they had it at the farmers' market. It's pricier, of course, but after watching Food, Inc. and reading about the differences in the meat between cornfed and grassfed beef, I had to try it. (Not to mention that I feel much better about eating meat from animals that have lived the life they were intended to live -- on a field, eating grass, getting sunshine and fresh air. Up to now we couldn't afford it, but now we can at least sometimes.) Last of all, of course, we couldn't (I mean I couldn't) resist the ice cream. It was delicious.

I call that $20 well spent -- it's a "date" for us, browsing the stalls, plus takes care of some of our grocery shopping. This is definitely something I need to be doing every week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Summer squash casserole

When we came back from our trip to Chicago, we were due for a grocery trip. We were out of almost everything -- I had Tuesday's dinner planned, but nothing else for me to eat until then. But I really, really didn't feel like going shopping.

Then, in the teacher's lounge after class, I saw some squash on the table. The note read, "Cocozelles. Sweet and delicious squash. Cook like zucchini. Take what you want."

I am all over free produce. And I know I like butternut, spaghetti, and some other squashes. So I took one gourd-shaped squash and brought it home, figuring it would save me from having to go shopping by providing me with lunch and snacks throughout the day. But I'd overlooked one thing. "Cook like zucchini" does kind of suggest that it's something like zucchini. And I can't stand zucchini.

The Joy of Cooking confirmed the suggestion ... cocozelles are a summer squash very similar to zucchini. But I decided to see what could be done with my cocozelle all the same. I cut it in half and cooked the first half with olive oil and salt. It wasn't half bad. But for the other half I resolved to do something different.

I diced the cocozelle small and spread it in a casserole dish with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt. Then I added some yogurt and dill and mixed that in. Bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for the top. I baked it for about half an hour.

You guys, it was delicious. I really, really enjoyed it. It tasted sort of Middle Eastern, with the yogurt and dill sauce (which has always been a favorite of mine). If I had to do it again, I might add a touch of lemon. Other than that it was perfect. It could make a whole dinner, I think, or a side dish instead.

It totally reaffirms what I keep saying about cooking within limitations. I had so few choices about what to put on my squash that I couldn't fall back on the old standbys -- cheddar cheese, for instance. Not to mention I wouldn't have branched out to squash at all if I hadn't been running low on things. One of these days I'd like to get a farm share box so that I'm forced to experiment with the different vegetables I get each week. It would keep things interesting!


2 cups (about) diced summer squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup yogurt
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves about 4.

This post is included in Vegetarian Foodie Fridays. I'm not a vegetarian, but being Catholic, I am on Fridays!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Traveling with baby

Those of you who used to read my old blog might remember my obsession with going car-free. I had no car at the time, and I managed to get all the way to Philadelphia and back more than once with no car. I had ways to get to church, to the airport, and so forth, and I was very proud of my savvy. (I had this plan of writing an article about it and publishing it in a magazine, since gas prices were at their peak and going car-free was considered very cool. But I never got around to it.)

Now I have a car, John's gigantic maroon van, and I have the ability to drive if I want to. I just have to drive John to the train station at 6 a.m., and pick him up again close to 6 p.m. But there is also a city bus which I can take as well.

Monday I decided to try it for the first time. First times often go badly, and this did -- I almost missed the bus to work and did miss the bus back. I had to wait an hour in the hot sun for the next one. But today I tried again and it worked much better.

The funny thing is that people at work keep commenting about how "adventurous" I'm being, implying that I'm slumming it somehow, or advising me to "just buy a beater!" Well, since we can't afford a second car, certainly not to pay my transport to a 5-hour-a-week job (I don't want to pay more to get to the job than I make!), it's not "slumming it." It's living within my means. True, there are few white people on the bus -- most are black or Hispanic. However, the same can be said of our apartment complex. Just because we are white doesn't mean we make any more money than our minority neighbors.

In fact, taking the bus is a bit more convenient than the alternative. My schedule when I drive:

5:30 a.m. Wake up, get baby up, feed baby, put baby in carseat
6 - 6:30 a.m. Drive John to train station.
7:45-8 a.m. Drive to work.
9:15-9:30 a.m. Drive home from work.
5:30-6 p.m. Pick up John from train station.

Total time in car: 1 1/2 hours.

My schedule when I take the bus:
6:45 a.m. Wake up and get ready.
7:25 a.m. Walk to bus stop.
7:35 a.m.- 8 a.m. Take bus.
8-8:05 a.m. Walk to school.
9:35-9:40 a.m. Walk to bus stop.
9:45-10:10 a.m. Take bus.
10:10-10:20 a.m. Walk home.

Total transit time: 1 hr. 25 min.

The time difference is negligible. The real difference is in other considerations, like comfort. One would assume that a car is more comfortable, but actually, with a baby, it isn't at all. On the days I drive, I have to get the baby in and out of the carseat six times. Often he's dozing and gets upset when I stop and get him out. Or I have to pull him asleep out of his crib to put him in the car. He used to spend all morning trying to nap, and not being able to -- after having been woken up at 5:30!

On the bus, carseats are not required. (I believe this is because of the slow speeds -- no one has seatbelts and people stand up holding onto the bars, things that they couldn't do in cars.) For safety, I keep the baby in a carrier -- the Moby wrap is my favorite, but I used a sling today. That sling goes smoothly in and out of the bus, along the walks from one stop to another, and straight into class. He fell asleep on the bus on the way in today, and didn't wake up until a kid banged his books on his desk when we got to school. (SO tempted to ding his grade for it! Baby-waking is so not allowed!) He likes the motion of the bus and the motion of me walking. And he loves the outdoors, and new things and people to look at. From baby's perspective, it's a total win!

There is a slight disadvantage to me in having to carry him all that time. He's a heavy kid, and even with the carrier redistributing the weight, I do feel it after awhile. But on the bright side, I'm building muscle and burning calories. Half an hour's walking a day, I'm sure, is just what the doctor ordered. It's so hard for me to get myself to exercise. Of course, I could bring a stroller, which is what most of the Mexicans do (I think this is funny, as wraps are part of traditional Mexican culture and I'm the only one on the bus who's got one), but I can tell how much of a hassle it is to get the baby out, fold up the stroller, and carry both on and off the bus (while wrangling a diaper bag). Not really worth the bother in my opinion.

I do definitely vote in favor of sleeping in an extra hour and not having to make a separate trip right when I'm trying to fix dinner.

When I was little, we used to take the bus sometimes. We were a one-car family for awhile, and though my mom didn't work, we sometimes did have places to go. I have vague memories of being taken out of bed in the early morning hours in my pajamas to drive my dad to work. But I have clear memories of riding the bus with my mom and my brother and seeing all the interesting people, of my mom telling us stories as we waited by the bus stop, of long walks in the cold and frost. It was an adventure every time.

I think that's a good way to raise my child -- with a love for adventure, for taking a trip in the most interesting way rather than the quickest, for the outdoors, for meeting new people. So far, taking the bus is working great.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

AP Principle 1: Birth Bonding

To read my introduction to attachment parenting, look here.

The first attachment parenting principle is called Birth Bonding, that is to say, taking the first opportunity at birth to bond with your baby. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to do it. Dr. Sears assures parents that bonding at birth just gives you a head start -- it's not like you'll never bond with your baby if you don't do it instantly at birth!

However, the bonding instincts are strongest then. If all goes well, oxytocin, the bonding and labor-contraction hormone, is at a peak in mom. Baby recognizes mom's smell because the amniotic fluid smells the same. If both are completely unmedicated, the baby will sometimes be able to scootch right up the mom's body and latch on to nurse without any assistance at all! How cool is that? There are 17 different reflexes that help them to do this.

Getting an unmedicated birth is harder. Epidurals seems like the wonder drug, blocking all of mom's pain without entering the baby's bloodstream! However, they do cause problems all the same. First, they tend to stall labor, often necessitating the use of pitocin, which can put the baby into distress and prompt a c-section. Also, they can cause mom's blood pressure to drop, which can cause baby's blood pressure to drop -- again, putting him into distress and possibly prompting a c-section. To counteract the blood pressure decrease, a saline IV is given. This, however, causes mom and baby both to retain fluid. As baby loses the fluid, he loses a lot of his birth weight and scares the doctors! They insist on formula supplementation which isn't necessary. Another problem is that women with epidurals will often run a slight fever. This isn't actually a problem, except that you can't tell whether that's from the epidural or from an infection -- so the baby will be separated at birth, placed under observation, and given antibiotics, "just in case."

So, an epidural isn't risk-free. Narcotics are even worse because these are transmitted to the baby, making him sleepy and unresponsive. But going without meds is hard, too. Labor is painful, especially in a hospital environment where you are confined to bed (I should know!). It's even more painful when labor augmentation is given, such as Pitocin, to increase the contractions -- a very common procedure when doctors prefer faster labors and worry about labors that go "too long."

That's the reason I went without drugs -- not because I wanted to be a hero, get a medal, feel good about myself, or get this legendary "birth high." Many women, however, do have intense happy feelings with a natural birth, and look back on their birth experiences proudly.

The one really important thing I wanted for my labor was the one thing I didn't get: to hold my baby right away after birth. I knew how important it was, and besides, I felt like after all that work I would deserve to be the first to hold that baby! Unfortunately the doctor wanted his lungs to be suctioned out after birth because she was a little worried, and unfortunately I agreed instead of arguing. So it was about 30 or 40 minutes after the birth that I got him. I spent that time getting yanked at, pushed at, and stitched, while the baby spent it getting suctioned, bathed, and swaddled under bright lights, so neither of us were at our best when I finally held him. He no longer had my scent on him, so he had no way of knowing I was his mother. His limbs were wrapped tightly in blankets so he couldn't find his way to the breast. He squinted and then closed his eyes because the lights were so bright. I really wish all that could have been different.

Monkeys who deliver by c-section will refuse to recognize their babies as their own. And we all know not to touch a baby bird, or its mother might abandon it. Luckily people have reason and can work around all these interferences. But it makes it so much easier when you clear away everything that gets in the way of the first instincts.

This news story shows even more clearly the importance of immediate contact between mother and baby after birth. A premature baby, pronounced dead by doctors, revived after being held by his mother. Newborns can go into a state of withdrawal when removed from their mother and placed in a foreign environment (like a warming table). Reunion with the mother returns the baby to a normal state.

I'll talk more later about how a mother's body is the perfect habitat for a baby. Suffice it to say for now that immediately after birth, babies' temperature, breathing, and heartbeat are all regulated better by contact with the mother (or father) than by any warming bed or isolette invented. Yet doctors are still putting babies in isolettes, even when medical procedures could be done while the baby is held in its mother's arms. Most hospitals' policy is far behind the most current science, but stories like that of the Oggs are helping to turn this around.

Immediate contact of mother and baby after birth is not a luxury to be waived as soon as something goes wrong, but an essential, especially in medical emergency. It's the best emotional start for a secure mother-child bond, but it's also the best physical start for a healthy baby.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Curb your cravings"?

Have you ever seen those magazine articles that offer to help you "curb your cravings" by replacing the food you want with something similar? Jonesing for ice cream? Have frozen yogurt! Want cheesecake? Eat graham crackers! In the mood for chocolate? Try nonfat, sugar-free cocoa.

That's never been my style. If I'm really craving something, I tend to hold out for it. I won't run to the store right away to buy ice cream, but I'll keep it in the back of my mind to get a little next time I go. And if I can't have it, I just go without and eat something completely different.

But I've been thinking lately about it, and I think cravings tell us something about the things we need. I mentioned it before when talking about fat. We crave fat because our bodies require it. Then the other day I caught John eating salt out of the palm of his hand (gross!). "I don't know," he said. "I've just really been craving salt lately!" I pointed out that, in summertime, we tend to sweat a lot and lose a lot of salt that way, so we do need a little more salt in order to keep our fluid balance just right.

That is not to say that everything you could possibly crave is good for you. There's a condition called pica, most common in pregnant women, which causes the sufferer to crave things that aren't food -- dirt, laundry detergent, and so forth. It doesn't mean you should actually eat those things. However, it does often point to a mineral deficiency -- particularly iron deficiency. I think the same holds true sometimes for food cravings. A craving for chocolate doesn't necessarily mean you need chocolate itself, but that you need magnesium -- or that you're feeling depressed and are looking for the feel-good chemicals that chocolate has. (Some depressed people self-medicate with alcohol -- others with chocolate!)

Then there's the problem that modern food often does not have the nutritional value it should. Perhaps you crave ice cream because your body needs fat -- only to find that the ice cream in your freezer is low-fat. Or you crave bread because of vitamins found in the whole grain, except the bread in your pantry is white.

A sugar craving generally means that your blood sugar has taken a sudden dip, but actually eating the sugar is a bad idea because your blood sugar will fluctuate further. So sugar cravings should be responded to with a more substantial snack -- perhaps some fruit for a quick lift, and some protein or fat to forestall a crash later.

But, other than that, I am actually saying that you should eat what you crave. Some people do not care much for meat, and do fine on a mostly vegetarian diet. Others have a strong craving for meat -- strong enough that we're unlikely ever to find out if these people would thrive on a vegetarian diet, because they never would stick to one! I'm pretty sure John couldn't. I suspect that these people have higher needs for protein than most and really do need meat. I also read recently in Nourishing Traditions that some people are less able to synthesize certain amino acids than others. The so-called "essential" amino acids are ones we all have to receive from our diet and can't make ourselves, and they are all found in plant foods. However, to some people, a few more amino acids found only in animal foods can also be considered "essential" because they can't synthesize a sufficient amount of them themselves.

I myself crave dairy, as you all know, intensely. But if you think about it, my northern European ancestors lived very much off of their herd animals: cows, sheep, and goats. They ate lots of cheese and cultured milk. Is it any wonder that my digestion seems to flourish on these foods? (I have never, in my life, experienced any problems from eating "too much cheese.") I think my system needs dairy, and that's why it sends up such urgent requests for it.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the conventional wisdom is in error here by assuming that all people have the same dietary needs. We all know some people can lose weight on diets that others gain on. The "blood-type" diet suggests the same thing -- that our particular genetic makeup demands certain foods. (I'm not sure I could sign on to the whole plan, though: there's so much more that's indicative of your genetic ancestry than just blood type. I haven't done much research into this, though.)

I've often been told I'm just "one of those lucky people" because I eat what I like, when I'm hungry, and my weight has remained fairly stable for around eight years. (It is now seven pounds higher due to pregnancy weight -- or maybe Waffle House weight?) But maybe I have this stable metabolism, not in spite of my listening to my body, but because of it.

I was breastfed, which we all know reduces the risk of obesity later in life. Many believe it's because babies usually nurse on demand -- unlike bottle-fed babies, who usually will be put on a schedule and made to finish a bottle. You can't make a baby nurse who isn't hungry. (Believe me!) Yet somehow, in the process of growing up, we are taught to clean our plates, to eat food we are not hungry for, until it becomes a habit. If you put the breast in a baby's mouth and he isn't hungry, he will spit it out. If you put a donut in an adult's mouth, even if he isn't hungry, is he likely to spit it out? Or even just sit him at a table where there's plenty of food -- won't he eat at least a little, because it's there?

I believe that if we really took the time to listen to our bodies, to break the habit of eating because it's time or because the food is there or because it's sweet, we would be able to live a lot healthier. We still have to deal with the problem of food that is so processed it seems like what we want but really isn't, and the problem of systems so out of whack they crave things they don't need (like Skittles. Who ever needed Skittles?), but it's a start.

What do you think? Do you eat only when you're hungry, and only what sounds good to you? Or do you maintain a diet that goes against what you want? How do those choices work out for you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chicago trip

Over Labor Day weekend, we drove up to Chicago to visit John's grandparents. (I didn't tell you guys ahead of time, according to my usual safety policy.) It's a 12-hour drive, not counting the stops we made every two hours or so to let the baby out of his carseat for a snack and a diaper change.

Normally, I wouldn't recommend taking that kind of a road trip with a baby. But it turned out to be ideal. Marko sleeps very well in his carseat and is pretty good at entertaining himself by looking out the window or playing with a toy when he's awake. Once he begins to crawl, I imagine this golden window of driveability will close, so I'm glad we went when we did.

We chose to go because John's grandfather has heart trouble and we didn't know if we'd be able to see him when we next visit John's family. It was very important to us to introduce him to his great-grandson while he's still well enough to play with him.

In the end, we saw not only John's grandparents, but also most of his siblings and a slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was great. They are all such sweet people and Marko really liked them. I thought he'd be overwhelmed, but he wasn't until Sunday evening, when they had a big get-together. Too many people and he does reach his limit.

Baby's a much better traveler than he was two months ago. Of course we didn't have the time change to worry about either. We stayed in a hotel. Hotels do provide portable cribs, but they're really more like playpens and I don't care for them, so he ended up sleeping in our (king-size) bed.

It was amazing. Normally he won't sleep in our bed. I have no idea why -- is our room too hot? maybe there's not enough space? -- but in the hotel he was perfectly willing to sleep in our bed and slept quite well the first two nights. (The third was a bust -- he had gas, I think.) Since there was plenty of room, we were able to give him his own space with no pillows or heavy blankets. I was exhausted enough that a bit of wiggling from him didn't bother me much.

In fact, I found my sleep was completely different with him in the bed. I would doze a bit, wake up in exactly the same position, and find that hours had gone by though I'd had no dreams and hadn't really felt like I'd been asleep. However, I felt refreshed. It was very strange, but not the least bit unpleasant (until Sunday night when he slept so badly ... we were walking the floor with him, which is not a favorable "sleep position). And there was one more unexpected consequence -- my milk supply SHOT up! I could have fed twins. He wasn't nursing more at night than usual; it was just the proximity that made the difference.

I wonder if the extra closeness helped him handle the new environment better. I am pretty sure that having tons of milk every time he wanted to nurse helped keep him a good nurser despite the different circumstances.

The experience was enough to sell me completely on cosleeping, but it isn't working now that we're home. He just won't sleep. Either one of us moving wakes him up, or a different position wakes him up, or I can't sleep because he's wiggling a bit in his sleep and I'm afraid he's going to stuff his head under the pillow. It doesn't help that he's not much into nursing lying down -- he'll do it in the daytime, but at night he just can't seem to figure out what to do. So I have to get up to feed him anyway, lying down again once he's nursing well and dozy.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. John has an awesome family. I loved the way they doted on the baby. Some liked to play with him on the floor. Some liked to hold him for games like airplane and peekaboo. The older people mostly just liked to hold him, which he seemed to like too. It was great to be able to sit back, relax, and watch my baby being entertained by others!

(Marko with some of his aunts. He has 8 aunts and 6 uncles, all by blood. Lucky guy.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Car safety tips

Cars are dangerous places for a baby. They can get too hot. They can get in accidents. Baby's head always flops forward and you wonder if they can breathe like that. And, of course, they're not comfortable, babies often hate their carseats, and they can get carsick and scream and cry and be miserable because they can't crawl around.

I would love to avoid cars altogether, but I can't. There are too many places (like work and the train station) I have to go to and can't walk to. I miss the days when I could walk everywhere!

So, in view of accepting this necessary evil, let's review a few safety tips for traveling by car with a baby.

1. Make sure the baby gets out of the car with you. You've probably heard stories about babies that died in hot cars because their parents forgot to take them out. Continuity of care -- the baby always being with the same person -- reduces this danger by a lot. It's when someone who doesn't usually have the baby, like the dad, brings the baby along and doesn't remember.

Keep contact with the baby while in the car -- ask him if he's awake, sing to him, comment on what you see. Even a tiny baby enjoys the sound of your voice. If you haven't got the baby with you for some reason, still walk around to the carseat side and look at the empty seat. Make this a habit you do every time.

Large families are especially at risk for forgetting someone. Make it a rule that only Mom is responsible for the youngest child. I heard recently of a family that lost their baby because two different siblings thought the other one was supposed to get the baby out of the car. Just don't delegate this job! Siblings can help the toddlers, who can talk and make a fuss if they aren't taken out. But only Mom should be responsible for getting baby out. If and when my family gets much bigger, I'll probably use my mother-in-law's trick. She calls roll every time she gets into the car to make sure she didn't leave anyone anywhere. And she mentions every one of her ten children, taking the time to remember where each absent child is. When you've got ten kids, it's responsible to take precautions like this!

2. Watch out for hot carseat parts when getting into the car. I know our carseat heats up a lot: some of the fittings are metal and some are black plastic, both of which absorb a lot of heat. Feel the carseat before putting baby in, and if there are hot parts, cool them off with your hand before you put him in. Also let the hot air out a bit to make him more comfortable. One way to keep the carseat from getting overheated when you have to park in the sun is to drape a blanket over the carseat when you get out. When you get back in the car, the carseat won't be so hot (though still feel it!)

3. Make sure baby's securely buckled before you start the car! My trick for making sure I've buckled Marko properly is kissing him. First I buckle, then I check over all the buckles, then I give him a kiss. As I'm getting behind the wheel, I sometimes wonder, "Did I get everything? Or did I get distracted and leave something unbuckled?" I can't really remember doing it sometimes. But I always remember kissing my baby, so I know I checked the buckles.

4. Keep baby rear-facing as long as he can fit that way. Generally, the law only requires you to keep a carseat rear-facing until the baby is a year old and 20 pounds -- but rear-facing is still much safer for kids up to four. Take a look at a baby or toddler's head and neck. They have huge heads and little noodle necks! You don't want those necks snapping forward when you make an abrupt stop -- you want them to be supported by the carseat behind them.

5. Can the baby breathe with his head flopped forward like that? The answer is not as well, so try not to let baby's head flop. Make sure the carseat is reclined the proper amount (about a 45 degree angle or so) and include a head cushion for newborns. When you're not driving, take the baby out of the carseat. The carseat isn't a good place for sleeping on a regular basis. A wrap or sling keeps baby way happier as I do my errands.

That's all I can think of, but feel free to add more in the comments. I probably won't get a chance to blog over the long weekend, so see you Tuesday!
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