Thursday, July 28, 2011

Weaning checklist

I keep meaning to do a post on weaning. I had one all planned out four months ago when Marko suddenly went from nursing every two hours to nursing three or four times a day. But then he went back to his old ways and I've begun to realize he just likes faking me out. He'll go a whole day with nursing only twice, and I think weaning is just around the corner. I obsess over what this means: He's not a baby anymore! I will miss nursing! On the other hand, should I be helping this process along to wean him sooner? Or should I try and encourage him to nurse more so he doesn't wean too soon?

Meanwhile, Marko's just moseying along, doing his own thing, going two steps forward and one step back. I'm finally going to admit I have no idea when he will be done. Lately his thing has been to demand "neenee," signing "milk" furiously with both hands, and then when I pick him up, he jerks away and says, "No! Cheese! Meat! Water! Juice!" or whatever. But he still does nurse several times a day. First thing in the morning, usually; before nap (until the past two days, when he fell asleep watching peaceful music videos with me); after nap; and whenever he happens to be feeling particularly clingy or cranky. He doesn't nurse to sleep at night anymore. (Sniff, sniff: that one was my favorite.)

I'm starting to feel more ready, myself. That is to say, I'm starting to feel really fed up with his antics, acrobatics, hair pulling, and so forth. The fact is, he's never been that into nursing. But he is really into pulling my hair. If I don't let him pull my hair, he generally won't nurse at all. This morning he was really cranky and insisted on "neenee," but the whole time he kept trying to plant his foot on my throat. No, thanks. And it didn't even make him less cranky at all. What he really wanted was my undivided attention. Nursing while reading blogs is no good. (Which was the main benefit of nursing before: guilt-free computer time!)

And then there's a little part of me that wonders if I will be able to get pregnant before he is completely weaned. I'm willing to wait awhile, but if he hits two and is still nursing, and I'm still not pregnant ... I think I'll be a bit more eager to be done. I don't want to push him into something he's not ready for just for the sake of a baby that doesn't exist yet -- but if he seems ready, I don't mind nudging him in that direction either. My plan was always to nurse him as long as he wanted, and then encourage weaning if I got pregnant ... but I don't really want to wait three years or more before having another baby. Of course, maybe nursing has nothing to do with it. I just don't know. But the concern is there.

As I think about whether or not to encourage weaning (by, say, offering a cup of milk or a snuggle or a book when he asks to nurse -- offers that he generally is happy to accept), I've been working out a checklist. It's a list of things I'd like him to be doing before he is completely weaned. Because if he hasn't reached all of these milestones, he isn't really ready. My fear is to wean him too soon, and then find out he still needs it later, when it's too late to go back.

*He has to be able to go to sleep reliably without nursing. This is mostly the case. His "no nursing" way to go to sleep at night is to take a walk in the stroller. Twice around the block usually does it, and he's easy to move into his bed. The only problem is that this won't work when fall comes and it gets rainy and cold. We're going to need a new "backup" strategy when nursing is no longer available as a fallback. Perhaps more praise-and-worship music videos... but I'd rather not make TV a habit, either. Hm.

*He has to be able to go to sleep again after he wakes up at night without nursing. He's sleeping through the night at least half the time now, but when he does wake up, nursing is the best thing to get him back to sleep. Sometimes rocking works ... but sometimes not. Before I let him stop nursing in the daytime, I'd have to try night-weaning and see if I can get him back to sleep reliably without nursing.

*He has to be able to snuggle without nursing. This is actually a new breakthrough that he seems to be reaching lately -- the ability to sit still in my arms without grabbing, pinching, fighting to get down and then screaming to get back up, or requiring me to bounce and walk around the house the whole time. Books help with that. He's just a really wiggly, active kid who has to be doing something or he can't sit still. But he's learned to pat my shoulder or stroke my arm, and he's also more interested in looking at pictures, so he is able to get snuggles without nursing ... in fact, maybe a little better without nursing. Seeing as nursing often leaves me with a toe in my eye.

*I'd prefer him to have all his teeth. So far, every time he seems like he's about to wean, he starts cutting a new tooth and suddenly wants to nurse all the time. It's a big source of comfort to him, and I'd hate for him to have sore gums and not be able to nurse when that's one of the main things that makes him feel better.

*This is a long shot, but I'd kind of like him to be potty-trained, or at least closer to potty training. Why? Well, kids often get constipated when they're training ... and mother's milk is the best remedy for constipation I know of. Still, I know it may be a long time before he's potty trained.

So, for now I'll focus on waiting for him to reach the milestones on this list. I'm not really into pushing him to achieve any of those, but as they happen naturally, I'll check them off. When he's reached them all, he may just wean on his own ... but if not, I may try a gentle nudge in that direction.

One thing I won't do is set down an ultimatum. If he really wants to nurse, he gets to nurse. I believe children have strong desires about nursing when they still need it ... that's why they feel that way about it! I don't want to feel that I have taken away something from him that he still wanted and needed -- that's like cutting up his pacifier and security blanket all in one day. (Metaphorically speaking -- he has no pacifier and has never taken to a lovey.) Whether his need is physical or emotional, I'm willing to let him have what he needs.

Moms who have been through this, I'd love to hear any advice or just plain comfort that you have. Somewhere inside me there's a sniffling mess curled up in a ball wailing "Why doesn't my baby need me anymore?" It may be that weaning me is going to be a lot more difficult than weaning him.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Full-blown toddlerdom

At about eleven months old, Marko began walking. So technically he was a toddler. But for awhile he really seemed like more of a baby.

Now, at fifteen and a half months, he's suddenly made a huge leap and seems very much a toddler. This is good ... and bad.

The good: He's learning incredibly fast. He now knows something like a hundred words, including six colors and most of his body parts. In the past week, he's started occasionally putting pairs of words together: more milk, stroller walk, no nap. And he seems to understand a lot of what we say.

He's moved on from a fascination with things to a fascination with people. He'll play with his toys, sure, but he'd much rather interact with you. He likes to play clap games, sing songs, and read books. Rather than be read to, he prefers to tell you what's in the book. His favorite book lately is one with pictures of dozens of animals, and he'll point to them and tell you what they are.

He's learning to pretend. He's been pretending to eat things in books for awhile, but now his new thing is pretending he's got a bug in his cupped hands, and then opening them to show you there's no bug there. He likes to joke and tease: pretending to hand you something and then snatching it back, telling you a blue block is yellow (and watching your reaction), putting Daddy's shoes on. And he really seems to get that he's doing something funny -- he laughs hysterically every time.

But then there's the bad. He's become incredibly demanding lately ... which is standard with the onset of each new stage of development, but even more so with this one. He's so bored with his toys. He wants to be outside, and can't understand that it's a hundred and ten degrees out and we'll be staying in. Then when the weather cools and I take him out, he goes straight to the gate and begs to be allowed beyond. Then if we walk in the street, he quickly gets bored with his old game of pushing his stroller and wants to run into people's yards, grab their toys, touch their motorcycles and trucks. He wants to explore new things!

Or he'd like interaction with me ... but constantly. Gone are the days when he'd just putter around the house, doing his thing. (Really, most of his life he's preferred to do his own thing, just checking in with me to make sure I'm around.) Now I have to be right there with him, responding to him. I have to acknowledge what he says or he will repeat it forever. A friend told me the other day that toddlers demand attention, on average, three times a minute. I definitely believe that.

I'm getting wise to this, and learning how to interact with him without burning myself out on his intensity. Friday, I tried to keep up with him by singing to him, giving him piggy-back rides, playing clap games, and by the end of the day I was so burned out I could barely stand to put him to bed. I was operating under the misconception that if I just paid 100% attention to him for five minutes, he'd be content and go back to playing on his own. That's his old way. But the new way is that I have to pay attention to him all day ... but it doesn't have to be quite 100%. And even when it is, it doesn't have to be something intense and exhausting like piggy-back rides. It can also be simpler games. For instance, this morning he was giving me blocks. I'd ask him what color it was, he'd tell me, and I'd put it back in the box. It wasn't so exhausting, and I was even able to read a book on the side while he rooted around for new blocks.

The other issue is his toddler temper. I'd heard of this -- 18-24 months is supposed to be the "Knee-High Neanderthal" age, and some kids hit it earlier than that. But man, they weren't kidding. It used to be like this: he'd ask for my hedge clippers or something else he couldn't have. I'd say, "No, but here is my spade." And he'd take the spade and go dig a hole. If he spotted the clippers again, he'd go for them again, but meanwhile he was fine. Now, no distraction is possible. He must have those clippers. And if he can't have them, he'll throw himself on the floor in a dramatic fit. After a bit of screaming, he's sometimes fine; other times he works himself into a tizzy and has to be slowly comforted out of it.

Though his responsiveness is increasing, he's still not really able to "obey." Sure, if I say, "Go get me your book," he will get it. But if I say, "Don't climb the stove"? No dice. I'm beginning to get that he understands positive commands better than negative ones: sit down rather than don't climb, come here rather than don't pick the tomatoes. But even those he tends to see as a game ... he'll do what we ask and then go right back to the thing he isn't supposed to do. We've tried to discipline him a few different ways, but he just looks perplexed. Despite what people say about kids being "trainable" from a year old or younger, I just don't believe he is ready. Distraction and removing him from the scene of the crime work better than any other deterrent.

This is kind of unfortunate, because he gets into trouble so much and so fast. He can now pull the chairs out from the table to climb on them, climb up on the back of the couch (and fall off), and pull out the drawer of the oven and try to climb on it. We pretty much have to be watching him all the time. That's another reason it's exhausting to deal with him.

As long as he takes a good long nap, and goes to bed at a reasonable hour, I can cope. But sometimes he doesn't. He was cutting molars recently, and that was pretty bad. They're all mostly through now, and don't seem to be hurting him, so he's gone back to nice 2-3 hour naps. Still, he only sleeps through the night about half the time. I do love the way he wakes up in the morning or after naps -- scootching out of bed and running out into the living room as happy as can be. I have to rocket out of bed at the first soft sound in the morning, though: I'm terrified of sleeping through his wakeup and coming out to find the house trashed or him standing on the table.

So ... it's all toddler, all the time around here, and it's wearing me out. But I have to admit -- it's also pretty fun.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zucchini bread with less sugar

I don't, as a rule, like zucchini. That's why I have no plans at all to grow any. Besides, if I should want some, everyone always has too much of it! I don't know when is the last time I went through a summer without someone offering me free zucchini.

Last week I got to go help make jam at a friend's mom's house (which was the BEST! they have this big vegetable garden and were extracting honey that day!) and left with two jars of jam, a cucumber, and a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. They were going to throw it away! So I rescued it, with the knowledge there will always be at least one thing you can do with zucchini -- make zucchini bread. I love zucchini bread.

So I got home and hunted for a recipe, only to discover that pretty much all of them had two or even three cups of sugar! That is way too much, in my opinion. It tastes fine, but I had the feeling it would taste equally fine with less, plus I'd feel much better about sharing with the baby -- and eating it myself -- with less sugar. So I went out on a limb, surveyed the recipes, decided on my changes, and went for it. It was delicious.

Less-Sugar Zucchini Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine:

1/2 cup melted butter (you can add a whole cup, but butter is expensive and it was fine with 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses (or use brown sugar instead of white sugar)
2 cups grated zucchini (easy in a food processor, but possible by hand too)
1 egg

Mix the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl (or on top of the wet, in the same bowl, if you're like me) mix the dry:

3 cups flour (white, wheat, or a combination)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
dash nutmeg
dash ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Fold in any add-ins (optional):

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, etc.
1 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips

Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans, or muffin tins for 24 muffins.* Bread is done in about an hour; muffins will be done in 20 to 25 minutes... or whenever a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit before cutting.

*I fit mine into one pan, but I think my loaf pan is extra-large or something. Also I left out the option add-ins. A good option is to fill your loaf pan 3/4 full of batter and then distribute the rest into some muffin cups.

It turned out well enough that I have a second batch in the oven now, after only two days! I didn't miss the extra sweetness at all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Housework and me

Housework has never been my forte. Just ask my mother, my husband, or any of my past roommates. I'm not a total slob, and I don't like to live with mess, but there are always many things above housework on my priority list.

When we were first married, we did housework pretty much even-steven, or if I was feeling sick, John did pretty much all of it. The house was never all that neat, but we had a dishwasher, so the dishes usually got washed ... especially if it was John's day off. And I managed to do laundry at least once a week, and if our bedroom was full of clean unfolded stuff -- hey, it saved a trip to the closet. Vacuuming, though -- I think John did it sometimes. I know I tried once, and threw my back out.

Now that I'm staying home with the baby, the housework is almost all my job. John helps when he can, but the simple fact is that he is not in the house all day, and I am. So I try to do 100% of it on the weekdays, and let him help on the weekends as convenient. This makes it the first time I have ever been trying to do everything in a house. I always split chores with my brother when I was a kid, which meant they got done on his day and not on my day. Or I would make dishes, and my roommate would wash them. I'm kind of a horrible person to live with that way. But with no recourse but actually doing the housework, I am finally motivated to do it.

Only now motivation suddenly isn't good enough! I am so motivated! I want to be clean! I want to be proud of my home! So I get up in the morning and start cleaning ... only to have the room trashed five minutes later. I wash a bunch of dishes ... and the whole time the baby is tugging at my leg asking me to make him something that will inevitably dirty four more dishes. I get the laundry washed, and there's a heaping basket full of more. I must say I have never understood more deeply that "a woman's work is never done."

So I tend to excuse myself, explain the mess. Some people understand. They say, "You have a toddler, of course it's going to be messy!" I try to believe them. But then other people try to be helpful ... which I inevitably understand as criticism. Housework is my weak point and I tend to be kinda ... okay, very ... sensitive about it.

For instance, I say, "My house is always messy, I just can't keep up with it!" And the person will answer, "Oh, mine used to be too, and then I discovered that if you just dedicate 20 minutes a day to it, it's not that hard! Just clean a different room each day!"

Seriously, do you think I'm not spending 20 minutes a day on housework? I spend 20 minutes cleaning the living room, say. It's clean. Great. So I go into the kitchen to start on the dishes and 20 minutes later, the kitchen is clean but the living room is trashed again. So I go back into the living room to clean it and then we're all hungry, so I make something to eat. By the time we're ready to eat it, the living room is trashed again, all the food is out on the counters, and there are a dozen dirty dishes. Repeat. If I try to clean everything, the other rooms in the house will never get clean, and just forget about the laundry. And when you use cloth diapers, forgetting about the laundry is never wise.

Or this one: "I used to have trouble getting the laundry folded, but now I fold it right out of the dryer, so it's never sitting around!" Wow, I never would have thought of that. Perhaps next time, when the dryer finishes up, I should lay my novel aside, stretch luxuriously, and mosey on down to the laundry room to fold it. Pardon the dripping sarcasm. What happens more often is that the dryer finishes during naptime ... and the laundry room is kind of ill-placed, behind the baby's room so I can't get to it during naptime. (It's kind of inconvenient that way.) So I wait until naptime's over and then I've got this demanding child who is clingy and needy, and only recovers from that in time to want a snack, and trashes the room while I'm making the snack, and after I clean it up, he flings himself against the front door and tearfully begs to go outside, so we go outside, and when we finally come back in he is hungry again, and when I finally buckle down to fold that laundry, he spends his time pulling it all out, dumping it on the floor, and putting the underwear on his head. Meanwhile there's a load of diapers in the washer that needs to dry. Today was a good day, and we managed all this. But on a bad day? It's just not happening. Enough that we have clean clothes. Folding them is more along the lines of a luxury.

Things keep happening to motivate me. For instance, I was getting kind of lazy about the dishes. I was doing them the morning after, instead of in the evening. And then there started to be billions of teeny tiny ants filing along my counters. I HATE ants. So now I am very, very diligent about dishes and counter-washing. That one gets done pretty reliably. My secret is to wash every dish it is possible to wash before dinner, so that after dinner when we're dealing with bedtime and bathtime and everything else in the world, there are only a few left to do.

Then I was lazy about the laundry. I was washing, but not folding. I had, for once, reduced the clean laundry to one load's worth when a disaster started happening. The baby was grabbing at the cat when she was in the litterbox. And my dear, well-behaved, beautiful kitty, the one who never has an accident, went on a spree of peeing all over things. The laundry basket got hit, as well as a stack of THREE comforters. I'm still dealing with that one. So now I am really making a Herculean effort to get those clothes folded and away, so as not to provide an opportunity for Demon Kitty to make her mark.

Some people recommend wearing shoes while at home, so you feel more "dressed" and ready to see housework as a job. I, on the other hand, make sure to go barefoot so that if the floors start to get gritty, I notice right away. (Also because I hate wearing shoes.)

Honestly, I'm growing to like housework. I like keeping my little house clean because it is finally my own house. And I like the way it looks when it's clean. And there's something nice about just cleaning something, you know? Don't get me wrong; I still prefer yardwork by a long shot. But I am to the point that when John gets home and asks, "Can I help with something?" I always let him have the baby and plunge into the housework. Housework seems a lovely break of non-toddler time.

Of course I could be doing a better job. I know people who are busier than I am and still keep their houses cleaner. I could quit my blog, stop checking out library books, never play with the baby, and I could get more done. But I've never been willing to kill myself over housework. Though it's important to me, it's below a lot of things on my priority list. As it is, I think I do okay. The house gets cleaned at least once a day, we manage to eat dinner, and there are clean clothes to wear. Probably when the baby is older and I can put him to work or send him out to play, I'll do better. For now, I do what I can and usually don't feel bad about it.

If you comment, please don't tell me the secret for doing better. I honestly don't want to know. I would prefer comments telling me your house is messier than mine. If you would like to help, come scrub my bathroom or something!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The taste of real food

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I like fake food better.

You know what I mean. All that pre-made stuff, canned soup, frozen lasagna, boxed mac 'n' cheese. There are a couple reasons for it. First, I don't have to cook it, and any mother can tell you food tastes so much better when you're not the one who made it. Second, processed food always has a mix of seasonings I can't replicate. All the box will say is "spices" and what they probably mean is "MSG and a bunch of other stuff you don't have in your kitchen." And, well ... I like that taste.

Real food is good, sometimes delicious, but sometimes I get tired of the taste. We don't season all that much over here, and my spice cabinet does leave a bit to be desired. And even if I season food perfectly, it doesn't have that extra-savory kick that cheap processed food has. I find myself sighing over food -- "This is good, but it is not as good as Taco Bell."

My defense of real food was always, "You don't need a ton of extra flavorings if your ingredients are high-quality." Unfortunately, shopping at Aldi doesn't really put you in the way of high quality. The vegetables, especially, are pretty tasteless after their trip across the country. The meat just tastes like meat anywhere, mild and inoffensive. If you want great taste shopping at Aldi, you have to get those pasta sauce envelopes or frozen chicken wings... which won't make you feel good.

Now a few things have changed. In my garden, I have fresh (delicious) tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and thyme. We also recently bought an order of grassfed beef. Good ingredients are finally within our reach!

And it's been a revelation. I was feeling peckish the other afternoon, so I threw some things together. Leftover taco meat, homemade refried beans, cheese, tortilla, and homemade pico de gallo.* I took a bite.

And it was like OH MY GOSH, I didn't know I could make stuff that tastes this good! It was better than Taco Bell. It was better than Chipotle. It was better than my personal taco mecca, Taco Del Mar. (If you are on the West Coast, have a Mondo Burrito for me.) It was so fresh and flavorful and REAL.

The same happened when I made spaghetti the other night. Instead of canned sauce I used my own tomatoes, and I chopped up a little fresh basil. So much better than my usual spaghetti!

So, now that I know the secret, all I have to do is extend it to the rest of the food I eat. That should be easy enough next year, when the rest of my garden is in. And we're definitely staying with grassfed meat; there's pretty much no downside. It's more ethical, more local, more delicious, more healthy, more variety of cuts -- and the price is a little less than Aldi ground beef, if you buy in bulk. And there's something about meaty-tasting meat, rich tomato-y tomatoes, fresh cilantro, fresh basil ... that simply can't be replaced by a dash of MSG.

*Recipe for pico de gallo: chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, and a little bit of chopped bell pepper, with salt. It's supposed to have jalapeno, onion, and lime juice, but I was keeping it simple. I later lacto-fermented it, which turned out to be a mistake. Even though I followed all the directions, it turned effervescent and alcoholic. How come that didn't happen to my lacto-fermented lemonade? That would have been good. But tomato-cilantro wine is not. My guess is that my tomatoes are just too sweet for that kind of treatment, but I'm not sure. It might be just a stray yeast spore that wandered in. What a waste of good tomatoes. So last night's salsa batch (tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, run through the food processor) is not getting lacto-fermented. It's too delicious to risk ruining.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Creamed plantain

I've never had the fruit called plantain. The plantain I have had is called broadleaf plantain, and it grows all over my yard. Since it grows easily in compacted soil, it's been wonderful for helping heal all the bare patches in my yard. Technically it's a weed, but I like having it mixed in with the grass.

It has tons of medicinal uses. Its seeds, called psyllium, are the main ingredient in Metamucil. It's supposed to be good for colds, bug bites, poison ivy, and even obesity and tumors! I didn't care particularly about that ... I just didn't want to open a can of spinach.

So I went out to pick some plantain. It's best to pick the tiny, young leaves in the center of the plant rather than the tough outer ones. (The outer ones serve as a good outdoor paper towel -- useful for smashing gross bugs or picking up stuff you don't want to touch. But they're too tough to eat.) It takes a lot for a serving -- a cup, loosely packed, is about right.

Then I rinsed the leaves in a bowl of water, pulling them up out of the water so the dirt settled down to the bottom. I chopped them up small, added some clean water, and put them on the stove to boil for about ten minutes ... plantains are tough so they need a lot of cooking.

Once they had changed color and looked done (by which time the house had taken on an odd smell, kind of like browned butter), I drained them and left them in my bowl while I made a white sauce: 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon flour, and half a cup of milk. When the sauce reached a simmer and was thickening, I put the plantains back in for a few minutes. Then I seasoned the whole lot with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and chowed down!

For something that's supposed to be a weed, it was quite delicious! Not bitter at all, like dandelions are; just a little chewy and spinachy-tasting. Certainly worth the brief time it took to pick and prepare them. I love making food for free.

Washing the baby

Sometimes, I need a wipe to clean the baby. Sometimes, it takes a bath. Sometimes, only a hose will do the job.

Yesterday was a hose day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two products that clean everything

I hate using toxic chemicals to clean anything. And I was all for switching over to less toxic things, but I can't afford anything fancy, and I needed something that actually worked. And everyone knows the toxic stuff works better, right?

Turns out that's not so. It's just that white vinegar doesn't advertise.

My first revelation came in our old apartment. I had been trying to give the baby liquid tylenol, but he adamantly didn't want it, so I put the dropper back into the bottle, but didn't screw it in. John came along later, tried to pick up the bottle by the dropper, and the tylenol went all over the carpet. Sticky purple mess. I used carpet cleaner to get it out, which sorta kinda worked, until we started walking in the hallway again. That sticky gunk attracted every particle of dirt in the place and became a nasty black splash mark. I used carpet cleaner on it many more times, worrying about the baby touching the chemical-laden carpet (he was still only crawling), but it didn't work at all.

Just for kicks, I decided to try plain white vinegar. At 75 cents for a big jug, I had nothing to lose. And it came out! It did take a bit of scrubbing, but nothing like the effort I'd thrown behind the carpet cleaner. I was shocked. I had assumed you would only use vinegar for the environmental benefits, but it didn't work as well. Turns out that's not true.

I now use vinegar for practically everything. It cleans all the surfaces in my bathroom, my kitchen counter (used full strength, it is a disinfectant), and my floor. The vinegar smell disappears as soon as it dries, and there are no streaks. I also use it to presoak the cloth diapers ... and it goes great on salad.

But last week, it wasn't doing a very good job on the tub. There was a big scummy ring that was sorta kinda coming off, but it was taking a lot of work. I knew it would take me forever to get it off. So I went for the baking soda to see if it would work. I just shook the stuff, dry, onto the slightly damp tub and scrubbed it with my fingers. Can you believe, it took that ring right off with barely any work? I rinsed it off (baking soda does leave a residue otherwise) and the tub was sparkling! As a bonus, my fingers were nice and soft too. Try and get bleach to do that.

I know I'm late to the game, and everyone else already knew about baking soda and vinegar, but allow me to share my flabbergastation. (Flabbergasm? Flabbergastitude?) That stuff is amazing, it actually works, and it won't poison you. The only possible weakness it has is a lack of advertising ... which I am trying to remedy right now.

Baking soda and vinegar -- better, cheaper, and safer than the competition!

The baby gap

No, not the store. I'm referring to the separation, in women's social circles, between baby-havers and non-baby-havers. Which, by the way, stinks.

As men grow up and make friends, it's fairly simple. They make these friends in high school or college or at work, and they talk about interests they have in common. They don't, as a rule, talk about their own lives very much. As their lives change, as they leave school, enter the workplace, get married, and start families, their friendship with their guy friends stays more or less the same. They talk about the same stuff they did before -- whether politics or video games or sports or whatever.

Women are different. They like to talk about their lives. And they make friends with people who are at a similar place in their lives. But obviously they don't all change from one stage to another at the same time. And it leaves this weird gap in our friendships.

When I was freshly married, I really wished I had some young married friends. (Actually, any local friends would have been nice.) I wanted someone I could talk to about the big adjustments in my life. I felt like I had changed my entire identity, and there was no one who really sympathized. I still loved my single friends, but I didn't want to just talk about married life to them. But I wanted to talk about it with someone. I also was incredibly busy all of a sudden, which made it hard to set up "phone dates" with friends -- friends whom, before, I would just call up out of the blue and we'd talk for hours.

Then when I had the baby, it was the same thing. I wanted friends who had babies. And I have one whom I actually do see often, hooray! But the problem is, we see each other in the context of parties at which everyone else does not have babies. We ended up talking a ton about babies, boring everyone to tears, and probably making some of the other girls sad. After all, there are two kinds of women without children: women who don't want children (who therefore aren't interested in talking about children all the time) and women who do want children (and are disappointed that they don't have them yet, thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject).

It's hard not to talk about babies all the live-long day, when those of us who have them tend to center our lives around them. Sure, I can talk about things besides Marko. I can talk about childbirth! Or breastfeeding! Or early literacy! Yeah, more baby stuff. So I try to make a real effort not to talk about babies, but to talk about other things that interest me: health, food, gardening, good books I've read lately ... whatever.

But then in the middle of the conversation the baby needs me. So I drop out and care for him. Then I come back and the conversation has moved on without me. I find myself at a party, where one room is filled with my friends chatting away, and the other room is filled with Marko and me, playing blocks. Or we're outside chasing bugs. Or other fun stuff, but ... I wanted to hang out with my friends. Friends I really do like! But my toddler doesn't always let me participate.

It's just frustrating.

And that's just the weekends. On the weekdays, I have all this time. Tons of time, boring time. Time that I would love to spend hanging out with a friend. Only most of my friends work full-time. The one who doesn't, the one who's a stay-at-home mom too -- we could totally hang out all day! Except for the part where neither of us has a car.

So that's why I got into going to playdates at the park. I figured I could have some social time and not go completely crazy during the week, and it was right in walking distance. But I don't know the people well, it's awkward, I'm shy, and every time the conversation gets interesting I have to go stop my kid from launching himself off the top of the slide. Here, at least, everyone understands and doesn't assume you just don't care about listening to them (I secretly fear my childless friends think that when I ditch them to go change a diaper ... here's the truth: I would way rather listen to you than change a diaper). But it's still hard trying to socialize while also taking care of kids.

I guess that's the long and short of it: It is hard to socialize while also taking care of kids.

Hence, my beloved internet, my outlet to the outside world. Being extroverted, I really do need some kind of contact with other adults, and it's doing the job for now. And I'm thankful that every couple of weeks, I do get out to see my friends, even if I sometimes feel like a sore thumb, being the one who's always ducking out with the baby and trying not to talk about childbirth.

I still do feel a little lonely though. Does it just come with the territory of being a mom?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Philosophy

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 their parenting practices and how they fit in with their parenting purpose. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I talk a lot about my parenting philosophy on here, talking about natural birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and homeschooling, but I've never gone really big-picture. So today, I'm going to sum up what I consider to be my "parenting philosophy," and what my goals are for my son.

I can do it in one word: responsiveness. I define responsiveness as figuring out what my son needs and giving him that.

Yeah, I know. Kind of obvious, right?

It's responsiveness that gets me into all these other notions: attachment parenting and free-range parenting and homeschooling. These things are useful to me, but as soon as they're not what my son needs, I'm willing to abandon them.Link

A lot of people have the notion that attachment parenting is about rules. You must cosleep even if you both hate it, and you have to keep that baby in a sling all day even if he squirms to get down, and if you can't breastfeed, forget about it! So they say, "Forget all that. I'm just going to go with my instincts."

Guess what? That's what attachment parenting is all about!

When Marko was tiny, I was a little perplexed. He was supposed to cry if I put him down, and want to be held all the time. But he didn't. In fact, from a very young age he often preferred to be on the floor. So that's what I did. 75% of his waking hours were spent on the floor. But occasionally there were days where he wanted to be held all day and sleep in my arms, so I responded to that too.

We soon were in need of a strong connection, as we suffered through a lot of trouble with nursing. I had to be able to almost read his mind and get him nursing before he had even realized he wanted it -- because he could go from slightly hungry to screaming in an instant. It was a chance to fine-tune our connection and figure things out. I followed his lead as well on things like co-sleeping and elimination communication -- both things that have sometimes been the right thing for us, and sometimes not.

Now, as he gets older, things are changing. While he once needed me and only me, all the time, he's now willing to play with someone else for awhile, or with Dad all day long. I didn't push that separation, but he's been growing in independence -- not despite his strong attachment as an infant, but because of it.

Now that he's a toddler, responsiveness often means staying sitting on the park bench while he explores the playground. He isn't calling me or anxious for me, so unless he might be in some danger, I don't hover. Responsiveness means listening to the sounds he makes at night and letting him resettle back to sleep when I know he's not really awake. I know the difference between a half-asleep whimper and an "I-need-Mommy" cry.

Responsiveness means letting him show me when he's ready for something. When he was two months old, I tried to read him books. He could care less. He would stare at something else or squirm to go do something. I tried at six months -- he wanted to eat the books. I tried at nine months -- he wanted to point at the pictures, but he didn't want me to read. Now, he suddenly wants me to read to him all day. It's been a struggle against my new-mom eagerness not to push him and flood him with things he isn't ready for, but it always seems to pay off as he comes to new experiences and milestones in his own time. I can't wait to see him reach readiness to read and write, to watch as he discovers his own way of learning and his own pace.

Being responsive doesn't mean giving him whatever he wants. While writing this post, he had a tremendous meltdown over a tub of cocoa butter that he wanted me to take the lid off of. I didn't take the lid off -- but I did realize he needed a bit more attention and a snack. Yes, it meant I couldn't finish my post when I wanted to, but parenting and sacrifice aren't exactly strangers. And when Marko is wild and out of control, bouncing off the walls and running into things, I know it's time to set a few limits, to help him settle down and maybe take a nap. I can see that he needs it, even if he doesn't want it at the moment.

I think being responsive is the best way to achieve all the goals I have for him: having a close relationship with his parents, becoming independent, and hopefully becoming a virtuous person. If I wanted to sum up the kind of person I want him to grow up to be, that's easy -- I'd like him to be as much like his dad as possible: a man of character and quiet faith, someone who helps others without really thinking about it, an unselfish person, an independent thinker. And of course, there are a couple things I'd like him to get from me: my love for nature, my creativity, my ability to be happy in almost any situation.

So far, I feel it's working out well. A couple of times in the past 15 months, people have told me, "You have a great rapport with your baby; you seem to know what he wants and needs." I can't imagine a better compliment on my mothering. And as I watch my child learn, grow, and move slowly away toward a greater independence, I'm glad I have been letting him set the pace. It's amazing to watch what he can do, all by himself.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon July 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • Between Love and Fear: On Raising our Children Sensibly — Mamma Earthly at Give an Earthly discusses the fear factor in parenting and how she overcame it, despite societal pressures.

  • really, when do i get my cape? — Sarah at small bird on fire is a working city mama trying to learn how to set aside her expectations of perfection and embrace the reality of modern parenting.

  • Baby, Infant, and Toddler Wearing — Child wearing is part of Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured's parenting philosophy. In this post, Sarah describes benefits of child-wearing and gives tips for wearing babies, infants, and toddlers (even while pregnant).

  • First Year Reflections — As her daughter's first birthday approaches, Holly at First Year Reflections reflects on how she and her husband settled into attachment parenting after initially doing what they thought everyone else did.

  • Making an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a guest post from Sam about the unexpected lessons giving a four-year-old an allowance teaches the child — and the parent.

  • How to be a Lazy Parent and Still Raise Great Kids — Lisa at Granola Catholic talks about how being a Lazy Parent has helped her to raise Great Kids.

  • Philosophy in Practice — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how her heart shaped the parenting philosophy in her home.

  • What is Attachment Parenting Anyway? — Gaby at Tmuffin describes the challenges of putting a label on her parenting philosophy.

  • Of Parenting Styles — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom talks about how she and her husband tailored various parenting styles to fit their own preferred parenting philosophy.

  • Moment by Moment Parenting — Amy at Peace 4 Parents encourages those who care for children (including herself) to explore and appreciate parenting moment-by-moment with clarity, intention, trust, and action.

  • Maintaining Spirituality in the Midst of Everyday Parenting, Marriage, and Life — Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured shares her perspective on finding opportunities for spiritual growth in every day life.

  • Parenting Philosophy — Lily, aka Witch Mom's parenting philosophy is to raise child(ren) to be compassionate, loving, inquisitive, and questioning adults who can be trusted to make decisions for themselves in a way that avoids harming others.

  • Long Term — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis thinks about who she would like to see her daughter become — and what she can do now to lay a strong foundation for those hopes.

  • Connection, Communication, Compassion — She's come a long way, baby! After dropping her career in favour of motherhood, Patti at Jazzy Mama discovered that building solid relationships was going to be her only parenting priority.

  • My Parenting Inspirations - Part 4 — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at her biggest parenting inspiration and how that translates into her long-term parenting philosophy.

  • A Parenting Philosophy in One Word: Respect — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction summarizes her parenting and relationship philosophy in one word: respect.

  • Knowledge and Instinct — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that knowledge and instinct are super important … as are love, encouragement and respect. It's the ideal combo needed to raise happy and healthy children and in turn create meaningful relationships with them.

  • THRIVE!The Sparkle Mama wants to set a tone of confidence, abundance, and happiness in her home that will be the foundation for the rest of her daughter's life.

  • On Children — "Your children are not your children," say Kahlil Gibran and Hannah at Wild Parenting.

  • This One Life Together — Ariadne aka Mudpiemama shares her philosophy of parenting: living fully in the here and now and building the foundation for a happy and healthy life.

  • Enjoying life and planning for a bright future — Olivia at Write About Birth shares her most important parenting dilemmas and pours out her heart about past trauma and how healing made her a better parent.

  • My Parenting Philosophy: Unconditional and Natural Love — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about her parenting philosophy from a year of following her instincts as a mama.

  • An open letter to my children — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine writes an open letter to her children.

  • My Starter Kit for Unconditional Parenting — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses her wish to raise a good person and summarizes some of the nontraditional practices she's using with her toddler son in order to fulfill that wish.

  • Responsiveness — Sheila at A Gift Universe has many philosophies and goals, but what it all boils down to is responsiveness: listening to what her son wants and providing what he needs.

  • Tools for Creating Your Parenting Philosophy — Have you ever really thought about your parenting purpose? Knowing your long-term goals can help you parent with more intent in your daily interactions. Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers exercises and ideas to help you create your own parenting philosophy.

  • Be a Daisy — Becky at Old New Legacy philosophizes about individuality and how she thinks it's important for her daughter's growth.

  • What's a Mama to Do? — Amyables at Toddler in Tow hopes that her dedication to compassionate parenting will keep her children from becoming too self-critical as adults.

  • grown-up anxieties. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life explains her lone worry concerning her babies growing up.

  • Why I Used Montessori Principles in My Parenting Philosophy — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why she chose Montessori principles to help her now-adult children develop qualities she wanted to see in them as children and adults.

  • Parenting Philosophies & Planning for the FutureMomma Jorje considers that the future is maybe just a fringe benefit of doing what feels right now.

  • Not Just Getting Through — Rachael at The Variegated Life asks what truths she hopes to express even in the most commonplace interactions with her son.

  • Parenting Philosophy? Eh... — Ana at Pandamoly shares the philosophy (or lack thereof) being employed to (hopefully) raise a respectful, loving, and responsible child.

  • Parenting Philosophy: Being Present — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses the changes her family has made to accommodate their parenting philosophy and to reflect their ideals as working parents.

  • Who They Will Be — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro shares a short list of some qualities she hopes she is instilling in her children at this very moment.

  • Short Term vs. Long Term — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts how long term parenting goals often get lost in the details of everyday life with two kids.

  • Parenting Philosophy: Practicing and Nurturing Peace — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle sets personal goals for developing greater peace.

  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas — In part 1 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie guest posts at Natural Parents Network about how the Yoga Sutras provide a framework for her parenting philosophy.

  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 2: The Niyamas — In part 2 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie explores how the Niyamas (one of the eight limbs in traditional Yoga) help her maintain her parenting and life focus.

  • Our Sample Parenting Plan — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shares hopes of who her children will become and parenting strategies she employs to get them there.

  • Philosophical Parenting: Letting Go — Jona at Life, Intertwined ponders the notion that there's no right answer when it comes to parenting.

  • Unphilosophizing? — jessica at instead of institutions wonders about the usefulness of navel gazing.

  • Parenting Sensitively — Amy at Anktangle uses her sensitivity to mother her child in ways that both nurture and affirm.

  • how to nurture your relationships — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog believes that sometimes all kids need is a jolly good listening to …

  • Philosophy Of An Unnatural Parent — Dr. Sarah at Good Enough Mum sees parenting as a process of guiding her children to develop the skills they'll need.

  • Life with a Challenging Kid: Hidden Blessings — Wendy at High Needs Attachment shares the challenges and joys of raising a high needs child.

  • Flying by the Seat of My Pants — Heather at Very Nearly Hippy has realized that she has no idea what she's doing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tomatoes and summer pickling

I have been waiting and waiting ... and waiting and waiting ... and waiting and waiting for those tomatoes to get ripe. I didn't realize how much of a tomato plant's life cycle is spent festooned with green tomatoes, none of which are remotely near getting ripe. But last week I saw a flush on one tomato, on Saturday I picked an almost-ripe one for a friend, and on Sunday we ate the first truly ripe tomato. I've picked four more since then!

These Cherokee Purples are pretty sweet, and not tart at all. That was a bit of a disappointment to me, because I like a bit of tartness in tomatoes. But they were still delicious, and John liked them too. They're big tomatoes -- good slicing, sandwich, caprese salad tomatoes. Next year I'll add some good sauce tomatoes to the mix.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes have green shoulders, even when they're ripe, and a pink-to-purple body.

My prize tomato, the biggest of them all, will be ripe soon:

I'm quite sure it's over a pound. Can't wait to get into it ... it will serve the whole family.

Speaking of which, the baby loved them too. Kept running back for another bite, and another bite, and another bite...

Whatever would I do without his help in the yard?

In other news, I've been doing a bit of lacto-fermentation again. Summer is really the ideal time to start, when the produce is coming in and there are fresh herbs to use. Lacto-fermented vegetables last a good six months in the fridge, so if you put up a lot, you can be eating your summer produce clear through Christmas. And they still taste fresh!

Last week I made this corn relish with some corn cobs that I didn't feel like eating just then, but would go bad otherwise. (When lacto-fermenting, it's really best to use the freshest produce you have. The results are much better. This time they turned out fine though!)

For the first time, I didn't have any whey, so I doubled the salt and also added some juice from last winter's kimchi. The home-grown cilantro from my garden is what really made it great. The baby ate a ton of it this morning, and even begged to drink the sour juice! I let him ... hey, it's better than sugary fruit juice. He claimed to like it and want more.

Here are some preserved lemons, leftovers from my birthday pie. Preserved lemons are the easiest thing ever. Just cut the lemons any way you like -- I sliced thinly, but many like to quarter them -- and add one tablespoon of salt per lemon. Squash them down a bit to release some juice, and top off with water. Leave out for a month.

You can see a black plastic lid in there ... I put that in to keep the lemons from floating up out of the brine. Anything that comes up over the brine is in danger of molding. So do what you have to do to keep everything submerged! A ziplock bag full of water or brine works fine too.

I have a gardening confession/tip. That is to say, if it was the right thing to do, it a tip. If it's totally disgusting, it's a confession.

Last month, someone gave me some basil and cilantro to transplant into my garden. I pulled up my (useless) Russian sage at the corner of my tomato bed and plopped the basil and cilantro into that space. (The Russian sage did survive, though I thought it wouldn't -- it now lives in a pot by my front porch.) I should have realized, though of course I didn't, that this wasn't going to work very well. The sage and the tomatoes had spent all spring depleting that soil, so it was very barren. They had deep roots, though, and were flourishing fine on the deeper soil. My new transplants, though, had barely any roots, comparatively speaking, and began to wilt after a few weeks. They were showing the characteristic paleness and yellowing of nitrogen deficiency.

I racked my brain for days trying to think of a cure I had available at home. What I really wanted was some organic fertilizer, maybe seaweed emulsion, available at the store ... but I have no car most of the time and couldn't get out to go get it. Besides, my garden goal is to spend as little as possible on my garden, because I'm doing it to save money, not just as a hobby. Especially when it's just a matter of a few herbs.

Manure would have been nice, and I found some sources on craigslist, but again, the lack of car constrained me. I didn't really want to wait for the weekend with them looking so poorly.

And then I thought of one nitrogen source everyone has. People, after all, use a lot of nitrogen. We go through it so much, we get rid of it all the time. Can you guess what I'm thinking of?

Yeah, I used the diaper rinse water. Normally I just dump the diapers in the wash, but this time I poured water over them first, diluted that water, and carefully poured it around the plants' roots.

Can you believe it? Those plants revived in a couple days and have been sending up luxuriant, dark green growth ever since. Amazing!

Now my only problem is to figure out how to keep my tomatoes from toppling over. They are getting pretty tall, and our soil turns to clay pudding when it rains. The tomato cages just don't seem to be enough. Each rainstorm, I have to go out and prop the tomatoes again. The beefsteaks, in particular, look very, very sad. Next year I'm building a better trellis!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My past, part III

Continued from here.

In the fall of 2000, I began my ninth grade year as a "precandidate" ("PC"). I understood perfectly that I was there to discern my vocation: it was like Junior Nuns or something. A lot of the other girls didn't see it that way at all: it was just a place you go when you're serious about your faith, and some people get consecrated at the end.

Right at the beginning of the year, we had an orientation for several days where we learned all the rules we hadn't been told in the summer program. They included things like these:

*No talking at all after night prayers, in the halls, in the dorms, or, obviously, in the chapel. This was called "absolute silence" and was strict enough that we would write notes if we needed anything. The rest of the day was in "relative silence" except for half of lunch, half of dinner, and a "conversation" or recess in the morning. Theoretically, we could talk during sports, except we were too busy playing sports.

*Permission had to be granted for pretty much everything. I still have notes detailing whom I had to ask for each thing. To read a book during evening reading time, I had to have it approved by my academic advisor (and write a book report when I was done); but if I wanted to read during free time, I had to choose a spiritual book which my spiritual director would approve. (Excuse me -- spiritual guide. We originally had spiritual directors, but then mysteriously we had to call them spiritual guides all of a sudden. I later discovered it is against canon law to give spiritual direction to a minor. So we changed the name.) If I wanted to take an aspirin, I had to ask the vice director of my "section" (section 1, or underclassmen) to get permission, and then go to my assistant (advisor for my class, all the 9th graders) to have her dispense it for me. Needless to say I suffered through a lot of headaches rather than brave the long lines to go see someone to get permission for an aspirin! And if you were tired during the day, and wanted to use your 10 minutes of free time to take a power nap, you had to go all the way up to the director -- who seriously intimidated me. I think I asked this permission once, and I was running a fever.

*We couldn't talk to upperclassmen, nor they to us, except a couple of times a year.

*We weren't supposed to have "particular friends," but instead be equally friends with everyone. Since that's a lot to ask of teenage girls, we had a rule to enforce this: you could never hang out with one other person during a conversation time. It always had to be three or more. The one exception was on the bus on our Saturday outings, because obviously the seats are in pairs. That was my favorite time all week, because I get a little intimidated by large groups. I can talk to one person forever, but in a big group I don't always know what to say.

*All our letters home, and their letters to us, would be read by our spiritual directors. (I mean guides.) This was so our spiritual guides would know what was going on with us and be able to address any issues we had. It was also, occasionally, so that certain letters would not be delivered, or that we would be told not to answer them. I got a letter from a guy friend once, and felt heartbroken that I would not be allowed to reply because he was a boy. There was nothing between us, and I really felt it was unfair.

*We had to wear skirts all the time, no pants. (This is why I'm always getting involved in discussions about skirts!) During most of the day, we had to wear very dressy clothes, complete with nylon stockings and dress shoes. I liked the skirts fine, but was quite upset when I was told the skirts I had brought wouldn't do. My assistant cleaned out my closet and came up with a big pile for Goodwill, and then took me shopping and made me buy all new things. I was happy to get new clothes, but I had liked the old ones fine, and I felt like I was being told my style wasn't good enough. My assistant, whom I otherwise loved, laughed at some of my clothes and said I looked like Laura from Little House on the Prairie ... she was going to make me look like a "real PC." And I did. But I felt much less like myself.

*We had a special method for everything. Class work was done according to a specific methodology, and during our study time we had to follow certain steps. During our daily housework, which I otherwise enjoyed, we had to make programs detailing what we would do each day, and I was constantly urged to do it faster and better. Me, I just wanted to be left alone to do it my way. That is called pride and was very much discouraged.

There were so many rules, and so many of us, that there would have been no possible way to enforce them. So we were told, "No one will be watching to see if you obey the rules. It's up to your conscience to make you do it. We are not forcing you to do anything; it's your love for Jesus that makes you want to fulfill all the rules perfectly."

I interpreted them this way: "No one is making you do the rules, so do what you can and don't sweat the rest." So that's what I did. After a bit of adjustment, I started to really enjoy myself. I broke a lot of the rules. I didn't study very much in my study halls; I just read my literature textbook and wrote poetry. Yes, even when it was time to study history -- the horror! I didn't know how to use my limited free time to get done all the stuff I needed to, so I mostly used it to wander around outside or write in my journal. I very properly wore my bathrobe over my pajamas when in the dorms, and never took my slippers off ... except one night when I snuck out of bed and danced barefoot in the moonlight in the gym. We weren't allowed to dance, so I was breaking a lot of rules there. But my conscience didn't bother me in the least -- I felt that the school's rules were one thing, and God's will was another thing. He wanted me to be there, but I didn't think He cared particularly if I was wearing my slippers. After all, I wasn't there to do any of that "Regnum Christi stuff," I was there to take advantage of the prayer life and the opportunities I had to continue discerning my vocation.

So I did have some particular friends, whom I worked with each week organizing books, and I did what we absolutely weren't supposed to do -- confided in them. I told them about how my spiritual life and what I thought my vocation was. I got in a little trouble for that, though, because one of the girls had mentioned to one of the consecrated that our little group was "practically having spiritual direction together," and we were split up. I thought at the time it was just chance, and didn't think much more of it ... though I did regret losing that fun time we'd had.

Because of my opposition to joining Regnum Christi, I just daydreamed during the part of the day when we read Fr. Maciel's letters. I found them uninspiring. And when our morning prayers said, "Thank you for calling me to serve you as a member of Regnum Christi," I always surreptitiously cleared my throat instead of saying "as a member of Regnum Christi." I wasn't one, I wasn't called to be one, so why did the prayer assume we all fit into that box?

During our classes on "methodology" and the apostolate, I secretly critiqued everything. The principle "vertex to base," which means you try to "win over" people with leadership potential so that they will bring in others, seemed very wrong to me. I wanted to win over everyone, equally, not just leaders, and not treating some people differently from others. My mom had told me a long time before that she didn't want to join Regnum Christi because she wasn't their "type": they were all classy, alpha females, and that just wasn't her. I thought she was just making assumptions based on a few people she'd met, but it turned out that wasn't so: we were deliberately singling out people like that, and ignoring others. No wonder my mom wasn't getting invited to their parties.

So I took good notes, aced the test, but kept my own mental reservations. I never said anything about it, never wrote anything down even in my journal, but I thought about it an awful a lot. I mainly just enjoyed myself, learned a lot in school, had friends (albeit not "particular" ones), went to the beach, sang in the choir. My life was busy, but it was full in a way it hadn't really been before. I liked it.

But after awhile, the cognitive dissonance did begin to get to me.

To be continued ...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mama matters too

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to trade off on setting the table for awhile. Whenever we were the one to set it, we would make sure to give the other one the nicest fork. In my mom's family, there was a misshapen spoon that the table-setter would give himself so that no one else would have to have it. That's called charity: giving the others the nicest things and keeping the worst for yourself.

But what about when you're a mom, and find yourself being the cook and the tablesetter every day? Day in, day out, you take the worst piece of chicken, the smallest piece of pie, the bruised apple. It's not a big deal; you love your family and you want to give them the best.

On the other hand, being a mother doesn't suddenly mean that you don't matter. I've realized lately that I always hesitate to take something that I would freely give to the others. For instance, meat. It's expensive. I try to scrape by with as little as possible to save money. But I always let my husband take seconds and bring the leftovers with him for lunch. Then I fill up on PBJ (which I love) and slices of cheese. When it comes to making my own lunch, it just doesn't seem worth the trouble to make something nice.

I don't think I'm being fair to myself. Just because I want to put others first doesn't mean I should act like I don't matter. PBJ's are delicious, but would I be happy with my son eating nothing but sandwiches? Not really. I make sure he gets eggs, bacon, foraged greens -- whatever is nicest. In fact, that's the only way I get myself to eat any real meals: I eat what he eats.

Technically, since I'm still nursing, and since I would like to prepare myself for another pregnancy in case that ever happens, I should be putting forth extra effort to make myself healthful things to eat. No one else in the family is likely to get pregnant any time soon.

This holds true for other things, too, though I have less of a problem there. I don't chastise my husband for relaxing on the couch on a weekend, though sometimes I feel guilty for doing it myself. (Not always, though -- relaxing is my superpower.) And I almost never leave the baby at home when I've got somewhere to go, even if my husband is available, and even though he doesn't take the baby on his errands. I tend not to ask for help, even though I need it, because I should be doing everything myself.

I'm not saying I should be lazy, or that I should leap on my husband the instant he gets home from work and demand he do all the housework I didn't do. But I am saying I should give myself permission to ask for the help I need, to go places on the weekend and leave the baby at home from time to time, or to relax on the couch for half an hour between chores. I suspect that the more kids I have, the harder it will be to do this, so I have to make it a habit now to examine my own needs and see how I can fulfill them along with everyone else's.

Today, I made lacto-fermented corn relish with lots of cilantro. John won't like it. I will. And when he asked if I wanted him to go to the store and bring the baby with him, I said YES. And pick me up some butter pecan ice cream while you're at it. :D

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My garden rotation plan

I've never been one to plan for tomorrow. But I do like to plan for next year. It's less practical, I guess. In any event, the other day I sat down and worked out a three-year garden rotation plan.

There are a lot of facts to work with:
1. You can't grow plants from the same family right after each other, because diseases and pests specific to that family will multiply in the soil. Instead, plant something from a family only every three years.
2. If you want to save seed (which I do), you can't grow plants from the same family next to each other, or they will cross-pollinate. The distance apart you have to plant them depends on the variety. Tomatoes need a couple of yards, while corn needs quite a distance. Luckily I have no wish to grow corn.
3. It's important to plant each bed with something that fixes nitrogen (beans, peas, clover, etc.) periodically, to help build the soil. Ideally you put something that uses a lot of nitrogen immediately after the legumes, followed by something that doesn't need as much.
4. You shouldn't plant root vegetables in virgin soil, but wait till you've achieved better "tilth," or soil texture. Otherwise they'll end up lumpy from all the rocks.

I have six garden beds -- that is to say, I will. Two and a half are dug already; the rest will be dug next spring. I practice what is called "landscape gardening," that is, you fit your vegetable beds into convenient spots in your landscaping. I do it because the only good place for gardening is my front yard, and I wanted to leave a little front lawn. So putting plants in separate beds will probably keep them apart enough.

I gave each bed a letter to make my plan simpler to draw up.

Here's bed A, already planted in tomatoes:

Bed B, which is supposed to get a fall crop of lettuce this year if I get around to preparing it (and getting rid of that rhododendron):

Bed C:

Bed D, adjoining Bed C, and planted with 8 pole beans. I count them as separate beds so that all my beds are roughly the same size.

Against the fence, Bed E, which is going to need to be raised so that it doesn't flood:

Bed F, against the fence on the other side of the path:

And there are six families I want to plant:

Nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers)
Legume family (beans, peas)
Daisy family (lettuce)
Mustard family (cabbage, broccoli)
Goosefoot family (spinach, beets)
Cucurbit family (cucumbers, pumpkins)

But I can't just assign each family to a bed, or my tomatoes will cross-pollinate with the peppers, the cabbage with the broccoli, the cucumbers with the squash, and my two kinds of lettuce with one another. (Luckily beans and peas self-pollinate; I don't have to worry about them.) So I redid the groups based on what I would like in each bed.

Basically, I put the families in pairs: half the nightshades and half the cucurbits in one bed, half in the other. If I keep each family with its buddy (paired up based on planting time and basic needs), I can still make a three-year rotation. I also lumped the goosefoots with the lettuce because I don't plan to grow a lot, and split up the peas and beans because they need to get to each bed every three years. I gave each group a number:

1. tomatoes and cucumbers
2. peppers and squash
3. iceberg lettuce, cabbage, beets
4. butterhead lettuce, broccoli, spinach
5. beans
6. peas

And here is the three-year rotation:

Year 1 (this year)
A: 1 - just tomatoes
B: 4 - a fall crop of just lettuce and spinach
C: 6 - fall crop of peas
D: 5 - beans
E: nothing
F: nothing

Year 2 (2012)
A: 5 -beans
B: 6 - peas
C: 1 - tomatoes and cucumbers
D: 3 - iceberg lettuce and cabbage
E: 2 - green peppers and pumpkins
F: 4 - butterleaf lettuce, broccoli, spinach

Year 3 (2013)
A: 4 - butterleaf lettuce, broccoli, spinach
B: 2 - green peppers and pumpkins
C: 3 - iceberg, cabbage, beets, plus maybe some carrots?*
D: 1 - tomatoes and cucumbers
E: 5 - beans
F: 6 - peas
*Carrots are in their own family, but I don't intend to save seed from them because they're a biennial (take two years to produce seed) AND they cross-pollinate with Queen Anne's lace, which is all over my yard. Beets are another biennial, so no seed from them either.

It's not quite an ideal rotation. It would be better to have the lettuce (a heavy feeder) always follow legumes. Also, lettuce would go better in the slightly shadier beds (A and B) and tomatoes in the sunniest beds (C and D). But I don't know if there's such a thing as an "ideal rotation" in this size of garden, especially considering that I'm a little hindered by what I've already planted this year and where I planted it.

But, do any of the veteran gardeners who read this blog (thank goodness there are some!) see any glaring issues with my plan? If so, please speak now before I plant anything else!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Free-range book list

I've been thinking lately about all the books I read growing up. In many of them, the kids are incredibly independent. So much so, that sometimes the parents never appear at all! But the kids are usually very responsible and seem to have a ton of fun. Plus, they get along surprisingly well! It's an interesting exercise to read children's books from 100 years ago and then read books from today. In the modern books, the parents appear all the time, whereas in the older books it seems the parents had other things to do rather than keep track of where their kids were.

I've been putting together a little list of some of the best. All of them would make good reading for adults or children. Parents can read them to get an idea of what kids were considered to be capable of a short time ago, and kids can read for pure enjoyment. I would heartily recommend all of these.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Okay, neither of these boys is exactly a role model. But they are both loads of fun, and it's amazing the stuff they figure out all by themselves.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. And really all of the Chronicles of Narnia. Like all the other British books on this list, it's about a family of children on holiday from school. I have never actually read a British book that happened at school, except for that tiny bit of The Silver Chair. Is it their boarding-school background that gives them such independence and family spirit? Eh, who knows. But I love the way Peter takes the lead and helps his brother and sisters out, and how they all look out for Lucy. I wish all kids got along this well (except for the betraying one's family to the witch part, but no family's perfect, right?)

The Story of the Treasure-Seekers and The Wouldbegoods, by E. Nesbit. I love E. Nesbit. Her books are so charming, and British, and fun. Those Bastables sure do have a lot of freedom! And they admittedly use it to get in a lot of trouble. Pretty much every chapter is about a different disaster! But it's never from ill-will. The children have a very strict moral sense they hold each other to, and never lie about their misadventures. I remember their "oath of secrecy": "May I be called a beastly sneak If this great secret I ever repeat." That's strong enough, for these kids! Nothing worse than a beastly sneak!

Five Children and It, and honestly everything else by E. Nesbit. She's seriously the best. The five children in this book (and its sequels) include a baby whom the kids seem to be completely responsible for! I guess they occasionally do hand him off to their mother, but no one seems to mind them taking this toddler (he can't be more than two) off for the whole day! Perhaps if they knew a magic carpet was involved they'd be more leery.

The Haymeadow
, by Gary Paulsen. A teenage boy gets to -- or rather has to -- spend the whole summer up in the mountains taking care of sheep, all alone. A lot of bad things happen because he isn't really prepared. And yet he grows up a lot that summer. The ultimate conclusion, though, is that he shouldn't have to be quite so alone, and I'd agree. You do have to know how to do something before you become solely responsible for doing it!

Now for the ultimate, the best of the bunch:
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. This one, for a change, includes no fantasy (though the children have wild imaginations). The four kids have been just aching and longing for a chance to take off in a sailboat and camp on an island all by themselves. Their mother writes to their father, who is a sailor, and his answer comes back by telegram: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN. In other words, go ahead and let them; if they're worth keeping, they'll be fine. The children do prove they're not duffers, and have a wonderful time too. I'm sure the mother enjoyed the break, getting to spend the summer with just the baby while her other children entertained themselves! She makes them write her letters and stop by her dock to let her know how they are.

Seriously, she is the kind of mother kids dream of having. She definitely does worry about them, but she doesn't nag or guilt them ... instead she plays right along with their game and makes them promise to eat their peas "so they won't get scurvy" and pretends to be a native when she visits their island. Besides, who doesn't want to be allowed to spend all summer sailing around and camping out, "bathing" by swimming in the lake and eating fish they catch themselves?

To put this in perspective, I think the youngest is about six or seven and the oldest might be fourteen or so. The second oldest, Susan, is the mother of the bunch and enjoys cooking meals for all of them over the campfire. We get the impression she isn't terribly good at it, but she manages to keep them all fed.

In one of the sequels, they actually do sink their boat. I guess that's real responsibility -- that is, you know kids are really in charge when they make a big mistake and no one jumps in to save them. But they handle this well enough, arranging for the boat to be fished off the bottom of the lake and mended, with the help, of course, of the very excellent adults who have been advising them throughout.

I could not recommend these books enough ... I am on my third re-read of Swallows and Amazons and would love to get my hands on those sequels I don't yet have.

Anyone have any to add to the list?

Note: I finally became an Amazon Affiliate because I was tired of linking them for free. Now, if you buy something via my link, I get a (small) percentage. I doubt I will actually make any money this way, but you never know.
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