Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Things I Love This Week

This time, these are things I would not be making it without....

My sling. I bought it with my first baby at The Nurture Center in Lafayette, CA, and hardly ever used it because I never mastered how to put the baby in it correctly. Now, with three babies, I pulled it out of the drawer in a desperate attempt at daily survival. Without this sling, I would be huddled in a dark corner muttering to myself and pulling out my hair.

The Miracle Blanket.  I have two, but really need three, because E often spits up on one before the other comes out of the wash. I don't use them the way they are meant to be used, but have made my own modifications. I double-swaddle E, not just to keep him warm, but because it seems more secure and he sleeps better when he's double swaddled. I do a regular swaddle with a blanket, and then use the Miracle Blanket over that. It doesn't come loose this way.

Three washers and two dryers. That's right, I said 3 washing machines, and 2 dryers. When I was a little girl, my parents took in half of their two-car garage and made a second laundry room, complete with two washers and two dryers (because with four kids, my mom was drowning in laundry). When the kids and I moved back, I brought my washer and dryer with me, which we stored in the old laundry room. The washer hook-up was still functional, but the gas line had been shut off, so I can't use my gas dryer. We have all three washers going every single day, and even so, it is hard to stay on top of the laundry. I feel so blessed to have this convenience! It makes life so much easier!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holy Frijoles! Two great cookbooks and a recipe: Lentil Vegetable Soup

I love cookbooks, and I have two that I am currently obsessed with: The Barefoot Contessa's Back to Basics cookbook (which I picked up for less at Sam's Club), and the simply-stated Beans by Aliza Green. Because we've been having frosty weather lately, I am enjoying a lot of soups, and the Barefoot Contessa makes some good ones! Everything in Back to Basics sounds delicious, and the Potato-Leek Soup that I made was especially yummy! (in fact, that was what I ate the night I went into labor, along with some crusty French bread). I also have my eye on the recipe for dinner-sized spanakopitas, which combine two of my favorite ingredients, spinach and feta cheese, in a phyllo pastry.  As expected, a lot of the recipes are French in origin, but this is simple cooking using fresh ingredients (my favorite kind of cooking!).
Beans, on the other hand, has 200 recipes from around the world with one thing in common (you guessed it!): legumes! Nearly every recipe is vegetarian, and the few that aren't have vegetarian options. It just came in today, so I can't yet speak for how tasty the recipes are, but judging from the ingredient lists, these recipes are richly spiced and cover a wide range of complexity and skill level. There are recipes traditional to Africa, India, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, South America, the Middle East, as well as classic American recipes, like Boston Baked Beans. This book is also rich with information on how to choose beans, cook beans, bean history, their nutritional values, as well as sources where you can buy them. It's pretty much EVERYTHING you need to know about the bean except how to grow them yourself.

The recipe I want to share contains French Green Lentils, and is one of my favorite soups. Although it is incredibly easy to make, all the fresh ingredients requires A LOT of chopping, so if you are a slow and steady chopper like I am, it does take a while to do the prep. This recipe is an Ina Garten recipe, but contains my alterations (is it possible for me to make something without putting my own touch on it? Probably not.) This recipe, however, is not in her cookbook, but can be found on the Food Network website, here.

4 c chopped onions
4 c leeks (clean well)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt 
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 cups lentils, covered in boiling water for two minutes then drained
3 cups carrots, diced
3 cups celery, diced
3 cups French fingerling potatoes, diced (I simply wash well and leave the skin on)
3 quarts chicken stock 
3 ounces tomato paste (I use roughly half of a 6-oz can)

In a large pot, saute onions, leeks, and garlic together in olive oil until tender and just translucent (not brown). In a separate pot, bring 2 1/2 cups water to a boil, add the lentils and boil for 2 minutes, then drain. To the onions mix, add chicken stock, drained lentils, and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.

Notes: sorry that the links don't work yet. Somehow my settings have gotten screwed up in Firefox and I can't log in to Google in that browser. I'm still trying to figure out the commands in Safari. I can copy the link in another window, but it will not let me then paste the link when I am editing my post. Hopefully I'll be able to come back and link everything once I get my cookies straightened out in Firefox, or figure out to copy/paste successfully in Safari! That's what I get for being so clueless about computers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Warnings About Vitamin D

First, a note that I am not a health professional, just someone who likes to read.

We're starting to hear a lot about vitamin D lately, and it is no wonder. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several types of cancer (especially breast cancer), high blood pressure, diabetes (types 1 AND 2), depression, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, stroke, Alzheimers, the list goes on and on. This is an essential vitamin, known casually as "the sunshine vitamin" because our bodies can manufacture vitamin D from the UV rays of the sun. I have a Google Alert on vitamin D so that I can keep up with new info about it. About 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. About 80% of women in the US are at least marginally deficient. Also, more and more children are being diagnosed as deficient in vitamin D. In fact, certain diseases once though to be eradicated, such as rickets, are making a comeback and this has health officials baffled. In big cities, they are starting to see kids who are obese, but suffer from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. What is particularly scary about vitamin D deficiency affecting children, is that it seems that a severe deficiency early in life will contribute to health problems later....Even if vitamin D levels are brought back up when they are older. (There has been a link made between women who are deficient as youths battling high blood pressure later in life, even after the deficiency was corrected.) 

There are very few food sources of vitamin D apart from sunshine, and with the exception of one, all of them are animal sources. Good, whole milk contains vitamin D, as well as eggs from pastured chickens, but keep in mind that pasteurization destroys all the pathogens, and all the nutrients as well. Manufacturers then add back cheap synthetic, chemically created nutrients which are near-worthless to the body. Especially the vitamin D that they add: most companies boast a "vegetarian source" of vitamin D, meaning D2. That's great, except the vitamin D with all the health benefits is D3, or Cholecalciferol. Also, egg yolks from pastured chickens contain vitamin D, but most chickens today have never seen a pasture. It is a big deal for egg producers to put "vegetarian diet" on their egg-cartons, to let you know that they aren't putting anything sick or gross in their chicken feed (like they put in cattle-feed). That's all well and good, except that chickens aren't meant to be vegetarians: they're omnivores. They love to scavenge and eat insects and worms (remember: insects are an excellent source of high-quality protein!). When chickens are put on a restricted diet, many nutrients found in pastured eggs don't make it into the eggs of commercial chickens. That's why you can only be sure your eggs yolks contain vitamin D if they come from pastured chickens who were allowed to graze and eat their natural diet. 

Of course, the best food-source of vitamin D is from fatty fish, such as salmon, and high quality cod-liver oil. But, of course, we're told to steer clear of fish whenever possible because they are hopelessly contaminated! The least-contaminated fish are deep, cold-water fish from the Pacific ocean which are low on the food chain, like sardines. If you take cod liver oil, do your research to find out how it is processed. Choose the darkest oil you can find (lighter oils likewise nutrient-light). Molecularly distilled is apparently the best process for removing heavy-metals and other pollutants while keeping nutrients intact. The great thing about Cod Liver Oil is that it also contains vitamin A, and the ratio of A to D is in perfect proportion (as are the ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3's). According to The Weston A. Price Foundation, any intake of vitamin D increases your body's need for vitamin A.  But I digress....

The only plant source of vitamin D is found in mushrooms, and it is a scant supply at best. But isn't it fascinating that the only plant source of "the sunshine vitamin" is found in a fungi that grows in the shade???? I think so.

Vitamin D is essential to support your immune system, and has been proven to be more effective at preventing the flu than the flu vaccine....Wait, what???? So, doctors and other healthcare professionals must really be encouraging people to take their vitamin D this winter, right? Wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: doctors often discourage taking vitamin D supplements, recommend no more than 400 IUs of the vitamin, and advise avoiding cod liver oil "to avoid toxicity." Wow. If doctors warn about vitamin D toxicity, it must really be devastating, right? That's what I wanted to know, and this is what I found:
Vitamin D CAN be toxic at extremely high doses. In fact, it is used in rat poison for this very reason (as is Coumadin, a blood thinner which is extremely prevalent in most medicine cabinets). But according to The Vitamin D Council, the dose at which vitamin D will kill half the rats tested, is the equivalent dose of 110-lb human adult ingesting 176,000,000 IUs (that's one-hundred, seventy-six million IUs, in case you have trouble counting the zeros). Also, the only reported case of pharmacological vitamin D toxicity was a man who took an over-the-counter supplement which contained a manufacturing error: the man was unknowingly taking almost 2,000,000 IUs of vitamin D daily for two years. So what happened? He recovered, uneventfully, after proper diagnosis, with a treatment of steroids and sunscreen. And just what are the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity? Well, they appear to be nausea, heartburn, and constipation or diarrhea. Because vitamin D is a natural blood thinner (which is why it is important for blood pressure and heart health), it can thin the blood too much when taken in excessive doses, causing dizziness. oh, my! Dizziness! What a horrible side-effect! So much worse than stroke or lymphoma, a common side-effect of many prescription drugs, which is a particularly deadly type of cancer that attacks the lymph system. Wait...what? So, doctors have no qualms prescribing drugs known to cause an aggressive type of cancer with a low survival rate in order to treat restless-leg syndrome, but are fearful of you getting more than 400 IUs of vitamin D on the basis of "toxicity", which will affect you basically the same way as a Chicago-style deep dish pizza? 

If we follow the logic that because we were meant to make vitamin D from the sun, we could measure how much vitamin D we make during a day in the sun and consider that a healthy dose, right? So just how much vitamin D do you make from the sun? Well, 30 minutes (sans sunscreen) in the summer sun, and you'll make over 10,000 IU's of vitamin D. But wait...I thought the RDA was only 400 IU's, for fear of toxicity! So this must mean that every person who ever lived before the invention of sunscreen suffered from vitamin D toxicity! That's a lot of constipated people! Or, could it possibly be that we need MUCH, MUCH MORE vitamin D than was previously realized? Considering that all the diseases that vitamin D is known to prevent are only modern phenomena's and are directly correlated with the modern phenomenon of vitamin D deficiency, I'd say the later is more logical. 

I have decided to take 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily, and have had only positive results. I could probably do more, but it is true that it doesn't pay to be over-zealous with supplements. And I don't have time to get the runs.

3 A.M. Musings

As I lie awake drinking some Airborne and wait for my latest round of 2,000 mg of vitamin C to go down, I can't help but think things over. Maybe it is all the hormones that make me pensive. I make an effort to take more of a "let go and move on" approach, but sometimes we can think over events and acknowledge things for what they actually were without dwelling. Perhaps true healing has occurred when you can think on things with no attached emotional response. If that is the case, then I've still got a ways to go, but I can tell that things don't smart like they used to.

When it comes to my divorce, most people assume that I must be devastated (after all, how can a woman possibly be happy without a man to validate her existence?).  There is an unspoken assumption that permeates our society that even a bad marriage is better than no marriage at all. That it is better to have anybody than to have nobody. I can tell you from experience now, that this idea is wrong. Of course, there are many reasons to both end or stay in a marriage, and each situation is unique. But what I can tell you, is that it is better to be single than to be married to the wrong person. I can look back now and acknowledge that I never should have married him in the first place, that it was never right from day one. But that doesn't mean that I regret it, and it doesn't erase that there were good times that I can look back on. My wedding day is still a happy memory. If I had to do it all over again, I would have to make the same decisions because that is how I got my children. And I can look back now and say, "I didn't take an easy road; I didn't take the "right" road, but God in His grace has still blessed me tremendously, and so I am very grateful." Now, don't get me wrong: I have made mistakes and there are certain consequences that I have to pay. And it hurts to say, "yep, that's me! that was a mistake and I willingly made it! No one else is responsible but me!" but that is the only way that I can move on.

Many people also assume that I filed for divorce because I wasn't happy. Happiness, my friends, can only be found between your ears. And unfortunately, we take our mental attitude with us wherever we go. If I were not happy married, no way could I be happy single (and vice versa!). Happiness was never the issue. And while my reasons are between God and me and no one else, all I can tell you is that I could not bring myself to stay married simply to avoid the stigma of divorce. People also assume that just because a marriage lasts, it is successful, but that is far from the truth. And people assume that marriages can be made to "work" through compromise, but that is also a lie. Marriage is not about compromise: when you live your life and treat your spouse as God commands you to, compromise is unnecessary. "Compromise" is a term cooked up so that we do not have to acknowledge when we are out of line and don't want to do the right thing. Marriage, when you break it down, is not about finding the right man or woman for you, it is about being the right man or woman every day. It is about living with honor, honesty, and integrity, and loving your spouse more than you love you own body. "Compromise" is a sham, because you are not responsible for how they treat you: you are only responsible for how you treat them. I am now of the opinion that if you do not treat your spouse better than yourself, you are a failure.

So what do you do when you are married to someone who is enamored with the term "compromise" and who would rather live justifying their actions by the failure of others rather than live as God commands them? Well, there are exactly two options, neither one is good, both are riddled with consequences. I think you can guess which option I chose.

But as I prepare to go back to bed, all I can say is that nothing in my life turned out as I imagined it, but every day that I get to wake up and be mommy to the three most precious children ever born, I am truly happy. Every day I wake up and am dizzy with wonder at the Grace of God, that He would entrust their souls to someone who has failed as much as I have. For it is for their eternal lives that I wake up and go to work every day. I have only one purpose in life, and that is to ensure that they come to love the Lord.

Divorce is horrible and devastating, but God is good, and He has proven to me again and again that He can turn all things to good for those that love Him.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thought of the Day

I've been observing that most people (including myself!)  have one set of morals for how they treat someone they like, and a completely different set of morals for how they treat someone they don't like, or are mad at. What I find interesting is that several of these people I have observed have taught Sunday school at some point in their lives. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there is only ever one right way to treat anyone, and one's behavior can never be justified by the actions of another. We are all responsible, not only for our actions, but for every thought that runs in our head. And one day, we will be held accountable.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Delicate Balance

I'm at that point in pregnancy that when planning what I'm going to eat, I have to strike a delicate balance between two thoughts: 1) if this is my last meal before I go into labor, would it give me the nutrients I need to sustain me through?; and 2) if this is my last meal before I go into labor, would I be comfortable throwing it up?

I'm trying to choose meals with lots of iron and potassium, as well as vitamin C to keep my immune system up. Tonight I have the added bonus of fighting off yet another virus that we are passing around (which my girls brought home from Sunday school. This happens every time they go with their grandparents, but that is a rant for another time). My poor, pregnancy-depleted immune system is putting up a good fight, though! So far I've managed to keep any real misery at bay and am just a little tired and have a runny nose. My littlest one, again, had the lightest case, but my older one is having a tough time getting over it. I think what is so hard is that when they are so little, there is nothing you can give them to make them more comfortable. That is why I rely so heavily on food and nutrition to help heal right now. I am a firm believer that when you are truly sick, you need medicine, but let's face it: if you don't provide your immune system with the support it needs, how can it possibly work? So it's lots of sunshine for us, as well as foods rich in vitamin C, such as kiwi, sweet potatoes, and chicken broth. Sweet potatoes are especially good, because they are so rich in vitamin A, which you need to absorb vitamin D, which you need to absorb vitamin C. In fact, vitamin C has had its time in the media spotlight, and vitamin D is currently getting all the attention as it is becoming more widely studied, but vitamin A isn't really thought much about. However, any intake in vitamin D drastically increases your body's need for vitamin A, so I predict that in the next 2-5 years we'll start hearing more about how important this vitamin is for good health.

I'm trying very hard to stay out of the processed foods (but did I mention that my mother brought home 2-dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts...and then conveniently went to Texas and left me alone with them???), not just because they are empty calories and not good for my waistline and are useless to the baby, but also because the acidity of sugar will deplete your immune system, making you even more vulnerable to colds and viruses. I've done pretty well, but if only I could stay off processed foods completely! I'm getting there. It's been at least a week since I've eaten out. However, there is something about bread, carbs, and sugar that SEEMS so comforting when you don't feel good. Too bad they actually make you more tired.

Thought of the Day

What is it about pillow covers (not pillow cases: pillow covers!) that makes me feel so darn civilized?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Garden Surprise!

I went out back to feed some rose bushes that were transplanted this summer (not at all a good time to transplant roses, but this was necessary as the bed they were comfortably settled in was being taken out as we re-worked our yard). I discovered that a tomato plant which I had left for dead over the summer has somehow survived....and is producing fruit! There are only 6 green tomatoes on the vine, so it is far from a large crop, but I am almost in shock. I have not even looked at it in months. Probably not since August. And I certainly had no idea that tomatoes could mature in November! This is what I love about gardening: the surprises! I wonder if gardening will hold the same fascination for me once I become more experienced? Right now, I know almost diddly-squat about gardening. Until about a month ago, I couldn't tell you what Zone I lived in. And yet somehow I have fumbled through it all and had a good crop of okra, eggplant, and peppers (which I am currently drowning under. Didn't know peppers would mature in November, either, although they are in the same family as the tomato!), and have now successfully started plants from seed. It makes me feel like a magician: all I started with was a tiny seed and some dirt. But! Combine with water and you get a plant. Amazing!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

There's a Lot Happening Around Here!

It has been a busy weekend! In anticipation of baby #3, I have put up TONS of food in the freezer. Although I'm very excited to know that I'll have good food once the baby is born and NOT HAVE TO COOK, I am a bit concerned about "out of sight, out of mind"! Here's a little of what I put in the freezer today, as well as other things that I made:

2 whole chickens, roasted with garlic, onions, and rosemary. One in freezer. Will make chicken stock later.
Creamy Chicken Soup (in freezer)
Broccoli, Cheese, and Rice Casserole (in freezer)
Homemade Granola Bars
Lentil and Vegetable Soup (in freezer)
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (in freezer: will post recipe after tweaking!)
Grilled chicken breasts (in freezer): perfect for defrosting and using on salads!

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to make Potato Soup with Leeks and freeze it. That's a lot of soups, but they are so easy to freeze and are hard to mess up! Plus they are so filling on cool evenings, and are (usually) very nutrient-dense. AND, a one-pot supper means fewer dishes. What's not to love? Soups with bone-broths are especially good for pregnant and nursing mommies. Bone-broths are LOADED with iron and calcium, among other good things, which are very important for our heavy nutritional needs. I didn't do any this weekend, but I think there are still a couple of pot roasts in the freezer, as well as a meatloaf. We should be eating good this winter! I also want to make home-made macaroni and cheese and freeze individual portions for my girls, so that my mom or their dad can make them a quick and easy lunch. I spend hours every day making sure the girls eat good food. I consider macaroni and cheese to be good food, as long as it isn't from a box (I'm usually using whole-wheat pasta and high-quality cheeses, plus sneaking in a carrot or two). However, no one but me will take the time to do anything more than the boxed stuff, so I need to have it done ahead of time. 

My Swiss Chard and Kale seeds have sprouted! We have FINALLY had a solid week of sunshine after weeks and weeks or rain, and this morning I noticed the little green buds pushing up out of the dirt. I am so excited! This makes four things I have started from seed: chives, catmint, and now Swiss Chard and Kale. Now, if only I can nurture them into healthy seedlings! I'm afraid if we don't get more sun, that might not be possible (I'm not set-up to start seeds indoors, and don't have a window that gets enough sun). My one complaint about the egg carton is that it dries out FAST. I'm always having to check it. But so far, it has served me well. And at a cost of free (coz I'm buying the eggs anyway!) it's hard to beat. Hopefully I will get around to posting a picture soon, but with the baby coming, I'm doing get just to get things updated, much less upload a picture! 

Everything that I planted directly in the compost is thriving! That's one of the best tips I ever read! Someday, I hope to get my own composter, but until then, compost is dirt cheap (sorry for the pun), at around $3.00 a bag. That's much cheaper than potting soil. What I have noticed about the compost is how well it drains, yet it doesn't dry out completely, either.  It has been perfect for all of my containers. I'm totally hooked on this black gold!

I have some garlic that I need to get in the ground, but I admit that I am hesitant. I've never started garlic before, and the directions say to wait for the first frost, around the first of November in our zone. Well, the first of November has come and gone....and no frost! Directions say that the temp is more important than the date, so I am holding off, but I'm nervous! This heirloom garlic was expensive, and I'll be very disappointed if I kill it. 

I guess that's all the updates for now! Time for sleep!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Transfer of Responsibility

The issue of household chores has come up in our household recently. My oldest is not quite 3 1/2 and my little one is not quite 2 years old, but I feel that they are more than capable of taking on a little bit of responsibility. This is a concept that I had only thought vaguely about, but after reading Dr. James Dobson's excellent book, Hide or Seek on building self-esteem, the idea of a transfer or responsibility is something that I've been a lot of thought into. 

The idea of household chores is not new. I always felt that my kids would have to help out around the house. My brothers and I all had chores and responsibilities growing up, and I always thought that it was important, but didn't think much about why is was important. However, after giving it a lot more thought, I've come to have the opinion that not only is this transfer of responsibility vital for a child's self-esteem, but to not begin this transfer is detrimental to both you and your child. The ultimate goal of parenting is to raise a thoughtful, capable, successful, and happy person who is adaptable and well-adjusted. This is every parent's dream. Dr. Dobson puts it this way: when a baby is born, they have zero responsibility and are totally dependent upon the parents. The idea is to gradually turn responsibility over to them as they grow, so that when they reach young-adulthood, say around 20-21, they are 100% responsible. This transfer of responsibility, Dobson argues, cannot be avoided for years and then suddenly dumped upon the child when they are teenagers. It is something that has to be done by degrees, and it must be started early. I agree. If for all of a child's life you have forced them to depend on you for everything, then not only will they not be able to handle responsibility when you finally do turn it over, but they will not be able to appreciate what it means.  I feel that this is what leads to spoiled child. My opinion is that you do not spoil a child by giving them things, and you cannot spoil a child by loving them too much. You spoil a child when you never make them do anything, and allow them to take without ever appreciating. I feel that the lack of a grateful heart goes hand-in-hand with a lack of empathy. And a lack of empathy is one of the defining characteristics among criminals. Hhhmmmm.

I always try to get the girls involved in household chores, such as laundry and cooking and picking up toys, because I feel that they will never appreciate that those things have to be done if they aren't participating in the process. If I wait until they go to sleep, just so it will be easier on me, and then the girls wake up and their clothes are "magically" washed and their toys "magically" put away, they will never appreciate that I did it for them. They will learn nothing but how to take it for granted that I will just do it for them. So they've always helped me pick out produce and put clothes in the dryer, but it was still always just at my convenience. Now I feel that they are old enough to understand that you can't play until you work, and so I'm trying to make sure that we do all our chores in the morning before playtime. And no playtime until chores are done. They have to carry their dirty dishes to the sink, put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, put away their toys, and help me make their beds. More chores will be added as they get older, but that's it so far. Not too terrible, huh? What I found surprising at first is how much they seem to enjoy helping me. In fact, they now want to help me do all kinds of chores, and I do let them help out when it's safe (it's just not safe for them to help wash dishes right now!), but I shouldn't be surprised: children always want to do whatever they see their parents do. Which is why parenting is pushing me so hard to be more organized and on top of things. The best way to teach is by example.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Great Day

Today has been one of those super-amazing-wonderful days. First, it started with an early rise (my oldest clearly did not get the memo about sleeping an extra hour), and then after a bite-to-eat, outside into the sunshine to ride tricycles (well, my daughter, not me). We pretended to be a train and kept stopping to pick up animals. Then it was fall crafts, and then my youngest woke up. So we made pancakes for breakfast and got blueberry syrup from stem to stern. Then it was a shower with a desperately-needed hair washing. After that, back outside, with more trike-riding, and then a good nap. I tootled in the garden for a little bit, then girls got up and it was off to the local botanical gardens, where they are nearly finished getting their holiday lights in place.  The fall colors have been truly gorgeous this year, I can only assume because of all the rain. The sunset and full moon were spectacular, too. Now, the girls are asleep right at their bedtimes, tired from hours of play outdoors. AND Dancing the the Stars is on the DVR, just waiting to be watched. Oh, what lovely life I lead.

Quick Garden Update

I've added some new herbs to my garden! Oregano and purple basil, but the chives and catmint that I started from seed have also sprouted! Unfortunately, we've had so little sun for the past two months, that once they sprouted, they barely grew and keeping them alive has been a challenge. We're in for seven days of warm sunshine, though, so I hope they'll be able to grow some more and really get established before we start having frost.

I also started (at last!) my "Lacinato" Kale and "Bright Lights" Chard. I read somewhere that you can just use old egg cartons to start seeds in, so that's what I'm trying! I'm horribly late getting them in (I should have done it back in August/September!) but we really don't get much cold here until December/January, so I think it will be alright for these cold-hardy plants. We'll see, anyway! I had bought some excellent compost from a master gardening at a plant sale, and that's what I've chosen to start them in. I'll update if they sprout!

Also, we've planted some Lamb's Ear in the pot that my oldest daughter painted. It looks so cute! She LOVES its soft texture and silve/green color, and is always wanting to go outside and check on it. I'm glad that it is in a pot, because it is apparently a very hardy, prolific plant (actually, it's a weed) and is known to take over if you're not careful.

Hopefully in the next few days I can get out my camera and actually take some pictures! That would add a lot to these updates, but I just can't seem to think about it until after-the-fact. At least I AM updating my blog!

Things I Love This Week

Wonder Gloves--  What can I say? They're wonderful! These gloves are great for doing housework or gardening. Extremely durable, but also pliable. I especially love these for the garden because they are not nearly as bulky as most gardening gloves that I have tried. I usually prefer to just use my hands, because with ordinary gardening gloves, I can't feel anything. But not so with these Wonder Gloves! No more dirt underneath my fingernails!

Charlie's Soap--  I am in love with Charlie's. This is an all-natural detergent (and it is a detergent, despite the name) that is completely clean-rinsing and fragrance-free. I HATE fragrance on my clothes. But with Charlie's, the clothes come out just smelling clean. And actually, clean clothes smell pretty darn good!  Charlie's Soap doesn't contain any brighteners, but I have found that the clothes are so clean that they don't get "dingy" anyway. One thing you must realize with Charlie's Soap, is that you must add your own disinfectant, or you could run into some problems. There is no need for fabric softener with Charlie's (because there's no harsh residue left on your clothes), so I just add 2 TBSP of vinegar into the softener dispenser, and it gets dispensed during the next-to-last rinse. I like vinegar because Charlie's is alkaline, so the acid in the vinegar brings the clothes down to a nice, neutral pH. Another consideration with Charlie's Soap is that it is coconut-oil based, so if you have coconut allergies, you might have problems. 

Mary Kay Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20--  What took me so long to jump on the tinted moisturizer bandwagon? I'll never know, but I'm glad I'm on it at last. Although thanks to a combo of good genes (from Dad) and a strong skin-care routine since my pre-teen years I have good, clear skin, kids and pregnancy are hard on your complexion. Not mention that I have dark circle under my eyes. My mom used to say, "Did you get enough sleep?" But yes, that's just how my face is. Now, I don't have to think of make-up as a separate issue. Once my moisturizer is on, my skin-tone is even and I don't look like death. Hurray for simplifying my routine!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sneaky Smoothies

It is hard to get toddlers to eat vegetables. Well, not peas, usually, but the really good-for-you vegetables I have a hard time with. They like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and corn, but they turn their noses up at broccoli and dark, leafy greens. So I sneak those veggies in fruit smoothies and they gobble them up every afternoon, never knowing.

Here's today's smoothie:

1 whole red pear (cored)
1 mandarin orange, peeled
1 large chunk fresh pineapple
1 handful (my handful) red grapes
1 handful muscadines (frozen from the summer)
5-6 strawberries
1 large chunk cucumber
1 large handful broccoli florets and stems
1 stick celery
unfiltered, pressed apple juice

the girls drank about 8 ounces of this, and I had the rest. It's how I make sure I'm getting all of my veggies, too. We make a smoothie almost every afternoon. I'm itching to get up to Whole Foods where I can buy a head of chard and kale. We need some vitamin K, iron, and potassium!

A Life of Luxury

So far today, I have eaten a huge, nutritionally-dense breakfast, washed and put away about a ton of fresh fruits and veggies, eaten a delicious lunch, drank about five tumblers of clear, fresh water which flowed as if by magic from a faucet, taken full advantage of the indoor plumbing facilities, washed laundry indoors in my washing machine, put my babies down for naps in comfortable, safe beds with warm blankets, and thought what a blessed lady I am to live in this time and in this country where food and water are so abundant that they can be taken for granted. Life is good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Fish Oil Connection

I had the flu (possibly H1N1, but no way to know for sure) a few weeks ago, and it has put me way behind on a lot of things, including blogging. I have about five drafts, but who knows if anything will make it to be published. But at this moment, I have vitamin D and fish oil on the brain, so that's what I'm going to write about. 

My blood pressure is of particular concern this pregnancy, because I had very high blood pressure with my first pregnancy and moderately high blood pressure with my second pregnancy.  I have been trying to squeeze in any bit of exercise I can (which is minimal, but I figure ANYTHING is better than nothing) and watching my diet and weight gain like a hawk. So far so good, and my blood pressure has stayed nice and low, around 115/65, even as we near the end. That is, until last week's appointment, where it was up to 132/80. I had checked it before I went to the doctor, too, and my little automatic cuff gave me nearly the same reading. That got me concerned, because absolutely  nothing about my diet or exercise had changed. My stress level had actually decreased. I had been walking more. There was no reason it should have gone up. I was stumped. 

The doctor assured me that this is very normal to see an increase nearing the end of pregnancy, that it was still within a normal range for a pregnant woman, and not to worry. I can take some comfort in that, but the fact is, I could tell my blood pressure is up because I didn't feel as good. I had less energy and felt just generally run down. And I couldn't figure out why.

Now, I'm taking a large dose of fish oil currently because I discovered that it seemed to help with my leg cramps and "restless leg"-- two ailments that don't normally bother me but which occurred every single night of my two previous pregnancies. Fish oil is supposed to be good for your nervous system and muscle functions, so it I just decided to try a higher dose. After about a week, I went from leg cramps in the night that were so painful, my legs hurt the entire next day, to no leg cramps. And I have found that if I ease up the dose of fish oil, the leg cramps return. When I up the dose, they go away. It also soothes that "gotta move" feeling in my legs and lower back. But last week, I didn't remember to take it every day, and two things happened: I had leg cramps for the first time in weeks, and my blood pressure went up. After my doctor's appointment, I started taking the fish oil capsules faithfully again, and not only no more leg cramps, but now my blood pressure is back down. In fact, my reading tonight said 108/67. 
The other thing I have done is increase my vitamin D intake to about 4,000 IU's a day, but that's another blog post.

A lot of people think I'm nuts for putting so much stock in vitamin D, fish oil, and probiotics, but I am now convinced that they are playing a key role in my good health, and the health of my girls, who have never had an ear infection or a cold. They have been sick exactly twice: once when we passed around a stomach virus, and they had the mildest cases (which is usually the case with breastfeeding babies, as they were two years ago when we got that virus), and then a few weeks ago, when we all got the flu, and they again had the mildest cases. My little one, who gets a higher dose of vitamin D from her cod liver oil than the older one gets from the tastier, processed chewables, had the mildest case. Other than that, they neither one have ever had a fever, a cough, a sore throat, or an ear ache. I find that pretty remarkable, and most pediatricians I've spoken with do, too.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Note to Self:

Stop consuming the food you want to post recipes of before you take the picture.

Cloth Diaper Update!

I am totally in love with cloth diapering. Is that silly? Perhaps, but I'm shamefully silly about nearly everything I do, so nothing new there. I've gotten my youngest daughter back into cloth, and I absolutely love it. In fact, since I've gotten my routine down, I'm finding that the whole, "disposable are so convenient" line to be total hogwash for my situation. For me, they are no more convenient than cloth. In fact, I find them to be less convenient. (Ironically, that was my same conclusion for formula vs. breastmilk: who EVER said that constantly washing, sterilizing, and measuring bottles was convenient when you can just whip out your boob and have the perfect meal at the perfect temp with no clean-up? And need I mention that it's FREE? okay, rant over). Constantly dealing with the smell, hauling out the trash, going to the diaper box to discover that I am COMPLETELY out of diapers and need to run to the store for more, my daughters inevitably outgrowing a size when I have just purchased a $45 bulk box and I have tons leftover....None of those things spell convenience for me. Of course, they are preventable with extra planning. But any inconvenience with cloth is preventable with extra planning, too. Here's what I've learned to streamline my current cloth-diaper routine:

Get a diaper pail liner: If your washing machine has an agitator, you can just dump the whole bag into the wash and the diapers will agitate out of the bag during the cycle. Since I have a front-loader, I just turn the bag inside out in the washer and wash the bag with the diapers. No more sticking my hands in a dirty-diaper pail! Genius!

For cloth wipes, get a regular wipe-warmer and fill it with your pre-soaked cloth wipes. That way they are already damp and warm and ready to use. I cannot tell you how much of my life I wasted at the sink with the baby in a dirty diaper on my hip, waiting for the tap water to warm up so I could get the wipe wet.  I didn't hear this tip soon enough! I had heard of the 'spray bottle at the changing table' idea, but that didn't solve my dilemma of wanting the wipes to be warm (I certainly don't want my bottom wiped with a cold rag!).  The wipe-warmer has been the perfect solution!

Make sure the diaper pail gets some airflow. If it is sealed airtight, it will smell. I always sealed it before because I thought that would keep it from smelling, but the opposite turned out to be true! I just set the lid on top of the pail without sealing it, and there is no smell. I don't mean it doesn't smell much, I mean there is no smell. My experience is that disposables in the diaper genie are far more offensive to the nose. While my diapers are washing, I do a quick rinse of the diaper pail with water and vinegar, then put in a fresh liner (I have two).  It takes me about five minutes to start the diapers in the wash, rinse the diaper pail, and put in the fresh liner-- about the same time that it takes me to take the garbage out.

Be willing to experiment. This was the advice that I got from Green Mountain Diapers, and it is just about the best advice I've ever heard. There are SO many different ways to cloth diaper, and so much of it is subjective, based on your own taste and your own, unique child. Really, it is over-whelming. When I first started, I was convinced that it would be easier with expensive diaper covers. Now that I bought three to try, I found that the cheap Dappi Nylon Covers were easier for me and fit my daughter better. It took a lot of experimentation, too, to find the routine that worked for me and my daughter. Here's what we have so far:

I have two diaper pails: one for poopy diapers and wipes next to the toilet in the bathroom, and one next to the changing table in my daughter's room for wet diapers and covers that do not need to be rinsed. Since not every diaper needs to be rinsed, I don't have to walk to the bathroom at EVERY diaper change like I did for two years.  Every night, I pick up the diaper pail as I leave my daughter's room and immediately throw everything from both pails in the wash. I rinse the pails and change the liners. It takes me five minutes.  At some point before I go to bed, I hang everything up to air-dry over night. This takes about 5 minutes. When I wake up in the morning, I toss the diapers only (not wipes or covers) into the dryer for 15 minutes to get soft. It takes me two minutes. Then I put everything away whenever I put away the other laundry.

Maybe that does take me a few more minutes total (I believe I'm at 12 minutes of my actually time being used) than it takes to take the trash outside and put a new plastic bag in the trash can or diaper genie, but it's not nearly as big a difference as disposable diaper companies would have me believe. You also have to rinse out diaper genies occasionally to keep them from getting nasty. You are also supposed to take disposables to the bathroom and dump the poop into the toilet before throwing it away. Let's face it: diapering children is not convenient no matter which method you use. And for me personally and my situation, what little difference in convenience there is, it is not enough to convince me that it is worth the astronomical price tag, or exposure to harmful chemicals.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recipe: Summer Tomato Risotto with Spinach

I can't say enough about spinach. What a nutritional powerhouse! This leafy green, which is thought to be native to Persia (now Iran), should be a staple in the diet of every health-conscious person, but should especially be incorporated during pregnancy. Spinach is an excellent source of iron, a host of B vitamins, including riboflavin (B2) and folate (the naturally occurring form of folic acid), as well as calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K. It's also a good source of dietary fiber. Your baby will thank you for eating as much spinach as you can. Folate is known to prevent the birth defect, spina bifida, and vitamin K, calcium, and iron are all essential to bone development.

So, now you may know of a few of the many reasons why you need to eat more spinach, but nutrition alone has never been enough to convince anyone to eat anything. But guess what? It's delicious! This is one green that I usually prefer fresh over cooked, and I easily incorporate it anytime a recipe calls for it's less-nutritionally dense cousin, lettuce. I'm not a fan of the soggy, gross boiled spinach that I remember from my childhood (the kind Popeye ate from the can), but luckily there are a host of ways to prepare spinach that are both more delicious, and more nutritious. It's hard to beat a good spinach salad, but spinach sauteed in olive oil with garlic is right up there in my book. I also like it wilted in stir-fries. And can we get a shout-out for spinach dip, please?

I like to make a game of buying fresh, baby spinach in bulk at Sam's and seeing how much of it I can eat before it goes bad. Of course, since I wash it in my fabulous lotus washer, it lasts longer than it normally would, but still. It's a lot of spinach to consume. Naturally, I add it to everything I can, and tonight's dinner was no exception. Simple tomato risotto sounded boring. Where was the color variation? What it needed was some green.

Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish, made with a short-grain, round rice. Arborio is commonly used and easy to find.  It seems that rice was known in Italy a-way back in the Roman days, but was not common and was used mainly for medicinal purposes. It seems that the Arabs introduced rice to Northern Italy sometime during the Middle Ages, and it became a staple crop of the Po Valley sometime in the mid-late 1400's. Risotto is an extremely flavorful dish that takes some practice, but I found to be more forgiving than it is rumored to be. Just be patient and keep stirring!

Here is my recipe for Tomato Risotto with Spinach. There were no leftovers!

Tomato Risotto with Spinach

1 small package arborio rice
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with liquid, warmed

1/3 cup good wine, warmed (white would be best, but I only had red and it was fine. I warmed mine in the microwave...DO NOT add cold, or it will "shock" the rice) 
1 medium onion, diced (I had a red onion on hand)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock, warmed (again, cold liquid will shock the rice), use more or less if needed

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups fresh baby spinach 
salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp butter and saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Add rice and saute until golden brown (5-7 minutes), stirring constantly. When rice is toasted, add the wine in slow constant stream, stirring gently to keep mixture from sticking. Next, add the stock, one ladle-full at a time. Keep stirring gently, adding each ladle-full once rice has absorbed what is in the pan. Then add the canned tomatoes with liquid and continue to stir gently. When rice has reached the "al dente" stage, add the spinach and stir until it is tender and incorporated.  Turn of heat and stir in the last tbsp of butter to make it extra rich and creamy. Top with grated pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately! Enjoy!

Late-Summer Baking

I don't really bake, and I'm not sure why. I love baked goods. But maybe it is because once the delicious goodies are made, I feel compelled to eat them. I feel that I cannot waste even a single one, and so I hear an evil little voice in my head whispering, "Go on! Just one more!" and I wilt.  And let's face it: even when home-made, baked goods are little more than empty calories. Delicious, empty calories. So normally, I abstain from the temptation as much as I can, but yesterday I couldn't resist getting my girls in the kitchen and making some sugar cookies. Two sugars making sugar cookies: how could it go wrong? Well, it couldn't, and it didn't, and our cookies were magnificent. I wish you could have seen my littlest one's face when she poured scoops of flour into the mixing bowl. You would have thought  we were making something magical. Their squeals of delight brought a surge of joy to my soul. Yes, this is what life is truly about, and I've decided in my Heaven, my children and I will bake cookies together every day, only there won't be any calories or sugar highs. Oh, and we'll actually take naps. Yes. Naps and cookie baking. That MUST be Heaven.

The girls poured all the ingredients in the mixer for me, then I rolled them out and they picked the cookie cutters and cut them out. I must say, it was a learning process for me. I consider myself to be pretty easy going (as far as women go. Let's face it, what woman is TRULY easy going? I can't think of one), but I found myself having to relax when they pulled at the dough and tore the shapes, causing me to have to re-roll them and cut everything out again. I mean, we weren't baking for anyone but ourselves, and it was just for fun, so I don't know why I got uptight about it at first. But after a good reality check, I was able to calm down and remember that this was their time and their project, and we needed to do it at their pace. It's amazing where we pick up these little kernels of realization. What did it matter if we ended up adding extra sugar, or if the flour went everywhere? I feel it would be totally unrealistic to expect two toddlers to not make a mess in the kitchen! But what a rich experience it was! There were so many learning opportunities, and the girls were ripe with excitement. It is definitely something we will do again!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Things I Love This Week

ScharffenBerger 70% Dark Chocolate Bar
I've been indulging in this artisan chocolate recently, which I can only find at my local Whole Foods. I LOVE the texture. It has that real hard texture when you first bite into it, which I love, but immediately melts smooth and creamy in your mouth. Plus, there's no bitter aftertaste, even though it's not sweet.

The Republic of Tea: Pomegranate and Vanilla Red Tea
I'm loving the soothing flavors of this red tea. Even though it's caffeine-free, I've found it's just the thing for a break on a hectic afternoon. And sip easy, because $1 from the sale of this tea will support the Susan G Koman for the Cure.

Innobaby Packin' Smart
I love these little stackable containers. I pack the girls' snacks for our trips out and about. They are perfect for raisins, cheerios, etc, but would be great for vitamins, paperclips, whatever. However, if you are using them for little ones, you can rest assured that they are BPA-free.

Homemade Vanilla Yogurt Pops
 I filled out basic popsicle molds with regular, Brown Cow Vanilla Yogurt and put them in the freezer. Then I told the girls it was ice cream. They never knew the difference!

Farm Fresh Eggs
I found egg from pastured chickens at my local farmer's market for about half the cost of the grocery store. The flavor is far superior to store-bought eggs. Plus, I love supporting the farmer's directly! Here's a tip: egg yolks are bright orange when they are fresh. Those yellow yolks from the grocery store mean they're poor quality eggs that have already had a long shelf-life.

Muscadine Update: Muscadine Sauce

So, I promised to update about the muscadines. I didn't attempt jelly like I had originally planned. Honestly, I've never made jelly before, and I chickened out. That's a project to attempt another day. So I went a route I'm more familiar with: muscadine syrup. I make fresh blueberry or strawberry syrup every time the girls and I make pancakes, so I figured I would just substitute the muscadines for the blueberries. The resulting sauce was delicious! But I wouldn't call it a syrup. The nature of the muscadines made this much thicker, so it was more like a sauce. I could have strained the skins, but I wanted to keep more vitamins in the sauce, so I pureed it instead. The muscadines took a long time to cook down, more than 30 minutes. I actually let it cook a bit too long, and so my sauce was quite thick (that's what we get for crafting while we wait!) but it was still delicious spooned over our pancakes this morning!  Here's how I did it:

Muscadine Butter

2 quarts muscadines, seeded
1/2 cup pure sorghum
1 tbps lime juice (that's what I had on hand)

combine all ingredients in a large Dutch oven. Let cook down for about 30 minutes or until all combined and muscadines are tender. Blend in with either immersion or stand blender.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How I Try to Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

As a single mom with two active kids and one on the way, I cannot afford to get sick this winter. Period. In our household, there is so much to do that we need all hands on deck and I do not have the luxury of staying in bed or "taking it easy" (honestly, who nowadays CAN do that?). Luckily, neither of my kids go to daycare or school, so their exposure level is far below normal, but that doesn't mean we won't pick something up at the grocery store. The way that I try to get healthy is to not get sick in the first place. Easier said than done, right? Well, there are a few things that I do to give my immune system a boost:

Eat well. Flu season especially is no time to eat junk. I try to eat a wide variety of colors to ensure I'm getting enough vitamins and minerals. I know that if my body is struggling to process excess sugar or protein, it's already going to be too stressed to fight off any foreign entities!

Brush, floss, and Listerine at least twice a day, that's how I keep myself healthy. The mouth is a gateway to the body. If you can keep it clean and kill the germs BEFORE they enter your stomach, you're giving a major boon to your immune system. When I start to get a scratchy throat, I rinse my mouth with Listerine for at least 30 seconds several times a day. I have found that for me, this will stop a cold dead in its tracks faster than any medication.

Wash hands! (we all know that one!) I also try to keep from touching my face.

I take a Probiotic Advantage every day. This tiny pearl of acidophiles replenishes the "good" bacteria in your gut, which will not only keep you regular, it keeps your immune system in a healthy balance.

And if my body is giving me signs that it is struggling: acne outbreaks, mouth ulcers, (what signs does your body give you?), I start taking extra Vitamin C and drink lots and lots of water. I also drink a cup of hot green tea with local honey for the antioxidants- something I should do year-round, and not just when I'm getting a cold.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Late-Summer Garden

I am STILL getting okra from my 8 okra seedlings. And some of it is growing so fast that I can't keep up. I never dreamed it would do so well (note to self: do not plant okra in a 4-foot raised bed next year, as it grows to be 7-feet tall. The resulting 11-foot branches were hard to reach). Also, all my eggplants are coming ripe at once, and we are finally getting substantial peppers! I found the problem to my witherings squash: little white, flat-bodied bugs crawling all over it! They seem to be (thankfully) ignoring everything else, but they were totally immune to my insecticidal soap. Here's what I picked yesterday:

It is by no means a huge haul, but I am incredibly proud of it. This is the first year I've actually grown enough to eat all summer. Usually I just have one tomato plant in a pot.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Test Kitchen Recipe: Farfalle with Eggplant Cream Sauce

It happened again: I had 5 eggplants sitting on the counter begging to be eaten. I had impulsively bought all that was left in the last five minutes of the farmer's market. The eggplants were beautiful: shiny, small, but heavy. Firm, but not hard. Perfect. Then the indecision of how to use them overcame me, and they have sat on my counter ever since, whispering "Eat me! Eat me!" every time I walked past. I've already written about eggplants a couple of times (here and here) and I've made several eggplant dishes this summer. In fact, I've probably eaten more eggplant in the last three months than I have in my entire life. Plus, I've got 8 pretty purple fruits ripening in my own garden bed. I know I'm going to make the roasted eggplant spread again this summer, but today, I wanted to try something different. In my head, I thought up a luscious-sounding recipe: farfalle pasta tossed in an creamy eggplant sauce. My inspiration was a twist on an artichoke sauce I had at Mimi's Cafe. I carefully thought out my ingredient list, and this afternoon, I set to work. Here's what I came up with. It was by no means perfect, but there was enough promise that I'm going to try again. It will, however, need some major tweaking. Here's the recipe (tweaks in red):

Farfalle with Eggplant Cream Sauce

5 small eggplant, sweated and cubed (that ended up being a lot; probably 2 medium, or 3 small is enough. Needs to sweat longer than 30 minutes, more than one bite ended up being bitter. Should peel it next time, although color will be missed)
1 large tomato, diced (needed more. Probably at least 2)
3 cloves garlic, minced (try roasting garlic first)

1 handful spinach (spinach was too bitter; try fresh basil leaves)
3 TBSP butter
1/2 onion, diced (try a sweeter onion, like a red onion or vidalia variety. Needs the whole thing)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated pecorino romano (needed more, but I ran out)

1 tsp basil (wasn't enough. Eliminate dried basil if using fresh, above)

fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tsp sea salt (needed more)
1 package farfalle (or preferred pasta shape), cooked according to package instructions

In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Sautee onion until tender, add garlic. Sautee 1 minute more, then add the eggplant. Sautee until soft. Add the tomato. Sautee until soft. Add cream. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Add dried basil, salt, and pepper (eliminate dried basil if using fresh. Add fresh basil in place of spinach). Let simmer 15 minutes. Stir in spinach, continue stirring until it is just wilted. Add pecorino romano. Pour over cooked pasta. Toss. Serve immediately.

The Result
Not my favorite result, but there is promise. The eggplant ended up being bitter, which might be because it was a few days old. If I had used it the day I bought it, I think it would have been better (eggplant really does not save well, and should be used ASAP). I plan to try it with the adjustments in red and see if it turns out better. Also, mine ended up being under-seasoned, which is really rare for me. Usually I am very freer with spices. I think if I get those things fixed, this could be one of those dishes where you lick the bowl at the end. I served it with a hearty French bread, which was perfect. This was a very rustic sauce, and it takes a hearty bread to hold up to it! I thought a great addition might be roasted red bell peppers instead of tomatoes, to add some extra sweetness to the sauce. And I think the addition of mushrooms (maybe crimini mushrooms?) would lend itself well to the rustic nature of the dish.

Cloth Diaper 101: Do Your Research!

I am trying to get back into cloth diapering again. Since potty training is in reach with both my girls, I might be tempted to just ride out baby #3 in disposables, except that baby #3 is a boy, and I feel even more passionate about cloth diapering boys than I do girls, as disposable diapers have been linked to lower fertility and infertility in men, due to overheating of the scrotum. Cloth diapers allow more air circulation, which allows the body to keep the testicles at the right temperature--several degrees cooler than the body--for proper development. Of course, certain chemicals in disposable diapers cause female problems in the workers who manufacture disposable diapers, so maybe it is not more important for one sex over the other. But there are other reasons I chose to use cloth diapers, too.

-They promote more frequent changing. Since they are not as absorbent as disposable diapers, cloth diapers guarantee frequent changing, which means that all that waste isn't held up next to your babies skin for hours.
-They are easier on baby's skin. Disposable diapers are laden with chemicals that your baby could be allergic to. Cloth diapers, especially organic ones, are free from such agitators. (for an article outlining some of the health risks of disposables, click here.)
-They are better on the environment. Our landfills are literally full of disposable diapers, which are not biodegradable. Also, read the package instructions on those disposables: you're supposed to put the poop in the toilet anyway (although nobody does), because the poop in the landfill doesn't get treated at the sewage plant. Instead, it seeps into the ground and contaminates our ground water.

and the number one reason that I love cloth diapers and chose to use them:
-they are so much cheaper, it is unbelievable.

I got sidetracked back into disposables during our move from CA to AR, when things were so crazy I wasn't able to wash diapers. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE cloth diapering! It is my diapering method of choice, but it does come with some drawbacks: it is more time consuming and takes more planning, as anything worthwhile does. However, the enormous financial benefit, as well as the health benefits that I believe to be true of cloth diapers, far outweigh any inconveniences in my mind. For my first two girls, I was a novice. I know I made a lot of cloth diaper mistakes, but as it happened, no mistake was crucial. However, the upfront cost of cloth diapering is significant. And while your savings over time (think of shelling out an extra $150-$200 per child in diapers per month for two years for disposables*) far outweighs this initial investment, it is great enough that you really need to do your homework before making a purchase. I wish, wish, wish that I had found The Diaper Pin my first time around. Although my cloth diapering experience turned out okay (I used BumGenius! bamboo diapers with a Dappi nylon cover), I wish I'd had The Diaper Pin's product reviews when making my initial selections.

Before, I purchased diapers from Cotton Babies, an online store that also has a retail location in St. Louis, MO. the customer service was excellent, the prices reasonable, the website helpful. I have nothing but good things to say about them.

This time, I ordered diapers from Green Mountain Diapers, because they carried a brand of Indian cotton pre-folds that were more highly reviewed on The Diaper Pin than the Indian cotton pre-folds sold at Cotton Babies. I placed my order at 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and it was shipped that afternoon. This website was also incredibly helpful, with lots of pictures of babies wearing the diapers so you could get a better idea of how they fit. My order was sent UPS, and should arrive next week. I also found this store to carry only what is necessary. For example, they don't sell diaper pails, because they said that you can use any container with a lid. That's the kind of "cut to the point" sales that I appreciate.

*NOTE: I recently saw an ad by a diaper company that estimated the cost of disposable diapers as much lower, about $75-$100. per month I totaled up in my head, and this estimates the cost for diapers only, and does not include the significant cost of disposable baby wipes, which are nearly as expensive as the diapers themselves, but you go through much faster. My experience the last few months in disposables has been about $300-$350 per month for two toddlers.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Things I Love This Week

Apricot Baby Oil
 Summer days in the sun and wind dry out my girls' skin, so I've been using this all-natural apricot oil after bath-time to keep them soft and smooth. Its natural scent is nice and mild, and once it is dry on their skin, it is not greasy at all.

Wicked Plants
This book is one of those books that is great for browsing through, not really to read all in one sitting. Nice if you've got just a few minutes to peruse. It is full of cautionary tales, interesting histories, and the pictures are great (if a little gruesome). Who knew that over 68,000 people die every year from accidental plant poisonings? Many of the plants featured in the Harry Potter series actually exist and are featured here. It was fun to learn the actual history behind Wolf's Bane and Mandrake Root.

A Homemade Life
I love Molly Wizenburg's thoughtful prose. Some stories have made me laugh out loud, and the recipes sound delicious. I haven't had a chance to make anything yet, but you'd better believe that I'm planning to!

The Diaper Pin
I'm planning on doing cloth diapers again for my new baby, as well as for my other two, who are both potty training. I wish, wish, wish that I had done my homework and found this website when I was choosing cloth diapers before. Although I lucked out and ended up with some quality diapers that served me well through two babies,  the reviews on The Diaper Pin are indispensable. I feel very confident with the choices I made this time around, and I ended up spending way less money.

I just had my first "Etsy" experience! My aunt made stockings from Bucilla Kits for all my brothers and me when we were born, and it has always been one of my most cherished Christmas traditions. Although I would have loved to make a stocking for each of my own kids, these stockings are tedious, requiring between 40-60 hours to make (that translates into about 100 hours for a novice crafter like me) and I knew I simply would not have the time. Thanks to Etsy, I was able to buy a completed stocking for my little baby's first Christmas. It doesn't come personalized, of course, but I'm handy enough to do that part myself. Of course, I spent way too much on it, but it was worth every penny to satisfy my sentimentality and not have to make it myself.

Monday, August 31, 2009

We Love Pocoyo!

Pocoyo is an adorable children's animated tv show, although you're probably not familiar with it here in the U.S. Pocoyo is produced in Spain (in Barcelona, I think), but it is also dubbed in English. It's just that it is only broadcast in Europe. However, you can order the DVDs online.

Pocoyo is an absolute favorite of both my girls, and me, too! It's one of the few videos that I actually let them watch (do not even get me started on the crappy American cartoons they broadcast here. And the only thing worse than the quality of Dora the Explorer are the commercials they broadcast. Ok, rant over). I find Pocoyo to be the highest quality. There are actually valuable lessons being taught, like in the episode I posted here, Don't Touch! It is done in a way that is very approachable to kids, and despite all the silliness, it's not silly. Nothing is "dumbed down". Stephen Fry is an excellent narrator, and I love the way the narrator explains things so clearly, but not in a belittling way. I can't really think of  a single complaint I have about this show. I feel that its simplicity is what makes it so special.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Of Memories and Muscadines

We all have them: those golden, pure, perfect memories of a childhood summer day. The ones that it seems no amount of time can diminish or fade. They are burned into our mind's eye forever, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

I don't know why this one particular memory stuck with me. Nothing special happened, nothing kids today would find particularly interesting. We were just a bunch of kids, I think 5 or 6 of us, all cousins (two of them were my brothers), visiting our grandparents' house out in "the country".  It was a hot, late  summer afternoon and we walked down the looooonnnggg, winding driveway towards the road, where we picked wild muscadines for Mamaw to make into muscadine jelly.  Of course, we ate tons of them straight off the vine. I still remember the little "pop" as they burst in my mouth, and that rush of wild, tangy flavor, and the bitterness if you got one not quite ripe.

This has been one of my favorite childhood memories, perhaps for the simple fact that I was included in the group of "big kids" for once. Perhaps it was because we were partaking of a tradition in the spirit of pioneers: harvesting food wild from the land!  I was a very sentimental child like that. Whatever the reason, the mere utterance of the word "muscadine" will bring it all back. So it's no surprise that when we were picking strawberries back in June at a local U-Pick orchard and they advertised that they would have muscadines in August, my sentimentality took over and I pre-ordered 2 gallons worth: one each of red and white muscadines.

Let's fast forward to late August, after a phone-call to let me know that my order was ready and a drive to the orchard to pick it up, and I have 2 gallons of muscadines sitting on my kitchen counter. And, for laughs, let's throw in the fact that I don't know how to make jellies, jams, or sauces that muscadines are typically used for, so I have no way to consume them unless I eat them like grapes. By myself. All two gallons. It's nearly enough to make me wish I'd never heard of muscadines!

But after a few minutes of allowing myself to wallow in buyer's remorse, I decide to get on with it. They're just grapes, after all, and I am a fully-grown Homo sapien with complex rational thought, problem solving skills, and opposable thumbs. No way are those grapes getting the best of me! I head to my first line of defense: the internet! A feat of man no mere Vitis rotundifolia could ever conceive of! I begin my research and quickly succumb to another weakness of mine: fascination. Damn, if those little buggers aren't fascinating! Here's a bit of what I uncovered:

Muscadines are native to the Southeastern United States. They were discovered in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh. The name muscadine comes from the word, muscus, which is the root of the muscat grape, as well. Early settlers called the new, wild grape of America after a grape they were no doubt familiar with. A golden/bronze muscadine was found growing and then cultivated along the Scuppernong river, and so were given the name scuppernong. Muscadines are no doubt the red-headed step-child of the wine industry, but for no good reason other than blatant wine snobbery and ancient prejudice. This little jewel of the South is high in vitamin C, vitamin B, and manganese, and are higher in calcium, fiber, iron, and zinc than most other fruits. But muscadines are also a significantly better source of that "miracle" compound, resveratrol, than their more popular grape cousins. Wondering where you've heard that word before? Resveratrol is that compound found in red wine that is thought to reduce abnormal cells and lower your risk of heart disease. It has been in the news recently as containing the key to "The French Paradox", and is also thought to have anti-aging benefits.

So now I am totally thrilled that I have 2 gallons of muscadines on my counter, and I can't wait to try some recipes. I found a recipe for muscadine jelly that doesn't seem too intimidating, here. I will let you know how that turns out, and hopefully I'll some muscadine recipes of my own to post. But for those of you wanting to try muscadines without all the work, there's always muscadine wine!

Sources on Muscadines:
Paulk Vineyards
USDA Website
Birmingham Business Journal

For A little Bit on Arkansas Wine:
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars

Friday, August 28, 2009

New "Recipe Box"

Just wanted to draw your attention to my new "Recipe Box" on the left-hand side of the screen. There is a direct link to the recipes that I post, so you don't have to search. Bon Appetit!

Heartwarming Story of an Elephant and Her Dog

Here's a story we saw on CBS Sunday Morning- one of our favorite shows! There is always something interesting. Of course, my little elephant lover went nuts over this, so we recorded it on the DVR and watch it a of couple times a week. Our favorite part is where Tara the elephant throws dirt on Bella's back...Something elephants do protect their delicate skin from sunburn. Such a sweet gesture of friendship!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Painting Pots

Since it stays so hot so long here (it's warm through October), I decided that I wanted to put in a late-summer crop of greens: "lacinato" kale, "bright lights" chard, and "catalina" spinach. I chose varieties from Renee's Garden that were said to do well in containers, and I got inspiration from our local botanical garden, where they had huge clumps of rainbow chard growing in giant ornamental pots. Then I got it into my head that it would make a fun art project for the girls to each paint one of the terra cotta pots! I thought it would be a good way to add color and incorporate the wonderful whimsy of childhood into the garden. Plus, what great memories for years to come!

The only problem is: how in the world do I go about it? A Google search of "how to paint terra cotta pots" led me to a message board on some garden website with a thread of exactly that subject. The advice was to use a brand called "Patio Paint", which I found at Hobby Lobby, but they apparently sell at Michael's, too (our brand-new Michael's does not open until this fall).  After painting, seal it inside and out with a coat of Patio Paint's sealer. Well, Hobby Lobby didn't have the sealer, so I found a brand called "Tree House" which the helpful employee assured me people use to seal painted terra cotta pots.  Everything looks okay so far, my only concern is that if I didn't do it right, the paint will peel and not last more than a few seasons. However, there's no way for me to know until it happens.

The girls had a BLAST painting the pots. I pretty much just let them go at it, supervising to make sure no one ate any paint. They're too young now to do any kind of real drawing or pattern, but this is definitely something that we'll do again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25th, 2009: The Day a Little Girl Grew Up

My oldest daughter completely surprised me today: she dressed herself. She went to her dresser and browsed through her clothes until she put together an outfit all by herself. Shirt, skirt, shoes, hair clips, everything. It was a big day. I remember wanting to pick out all of my clothes when I was a little girl, but I must say, my daughter has far surpassed me in fashion sense, as her choices actually matched. Here's a picture of her in her outfit:

Quick Break from Studying and a Daily Dose of Sarcasm

So, I'm reading for my classes and researching for my speeches, and I had to take a quick break and share something that I read.
While researching for my persuasive speech on breastfeeding in The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer, I came across this passage:

"Though any part of a woman's body can be a focus of eroticism, our era is the first in recorded history where the breast has become a public fetish for male sexual stimulation, while its primary function has diminished on a vast scale. Perhaps the only parallel is the phenomenon of foot-binding in China, when the primary use of a part of the body was sacrificed to serve the cult of sexual fetishism which celebrated female helplessness."

To counter-act this horrible exploitation of the female breast by men and the correlated decline in breastfeeding that is so detrimental to our society, I plan to start a non-profit, activist groups called "Breasts Are for Babies!"  We will have the action statement: "Take back your breasts! Go slap a man!"

I hope you had a good chuckle. I did.

(updated later)Although I tend to make light of any subject, I'd like to end on a serious note. Breastfeeding is happily again on the rise after a steady decline in this country. Cited in the her book, Gabrielle Palmer tells of one study which estimates that "...helping and supporting women breastfeeding would save more children's lives than any other public health preventive intervention, more even than immunization, or improved water sanitation."
The research I've been doing is even more compelling, though, and I plan on posting my paper when it is completed, hopefully before Thanksgiving. The evidence is compelling to me, but I'll let you decide for yourselves.

(Note: I am not here to attack anyone's feeding method of choice for their baby. Instead, I am relaying some information I have found on a topic that is completely fascinating to me)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Enchanted Evening

As often as I can, I take the girls to our local botanical gardens, where we are members. Going and walking there is one of our favorite things to do! It gets us close to nature: we're always seeing honeybees working, or hummngbirds, or butterflies, as well as fish and of course, a plethora of plants, but it is also a place where I can let the girls out of the stroller to run, run, run! Recently, we've been taking snacks along for a quick picnic down by the coy pond. The girls pick up pine cones, sticks, and nuts, and we "oooh" and "aahhh" over brilliant spiderwebs delicately spun between trees. It truly is a magical place for little ones, and the addition of a new children's adventure garden has provided us with even more to explore. This evening was a great time for us to go! After a quick dinner, we headed over to burn off that second wind of energy. Here are a few pictures from tonight's adventures:
                                  (Can You see the feather caught in the spider web?)
(a tiny grasshopper on a leaf)

Some Days Are Just More Perfect Than Others

The weather has been unbelievable lately: Highs in the low 80's, low humidity, and beautiful sunshine. This is absolutely unheard-of in Arkansas in August! The girls and I have been taking advantage of every out-door opportunity. Mostly we've been playing in the kiddie pool outside, but this weekend we took a trip to our local zoo. It was amazing! The weather was so cool that the animals were very active, and we got to see a gorilla do a somersault, an elephant throw sand on her back (to keep cool), and a lion get up and get a drink of water, then look at us through the glass and growl! It was one of the best trips to the zoo that we've ever taken. Here are just a few pics (I hope to get better about taking pictures, it just seems that I never remember until after-the-fact)