Friday, December 30, 2011

Who's With Me?

I have a very short-term New Years resolution.  I am going to go off sugar from January 1st to February 14th, Valentine's Day.  Just a month and a half, but it's going to feel really good.  I've gotten too used to a little "somefin-sumfin" when the boys go down for quiet time, and it's a habit I'm anxious to break. 

So, who's with me?  I always do better when I know that other people are in it with me and expecting me to hold my own.  

Everyone can define "off sugar" for themselves.  It might simply mean no desserts, or no refined sugar, or no sugar or sweetener of any kind. 

If you're "in," just leave a comment!  You can do it!

Good luck, I'm pretty excited!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Christmas Traditions

For the first time in our five years of married life, we are spending Christmas away from our families.  We're really going to miss grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and snow, but are embracing the opportunity to start our own family traditions.  I have been reading "The Heart of a Family: Searching America for New Traditions that Fulfill Us."
I want to do a post about traditions more broadly (maybe next week?), but for today I'll share some of the Christmas traditions we do as a family, and a few examples from the book I thought were meaningful.  Some of them could do this year, some you might want to file away for another year.
  • Dinner for the Holy Family--This tradition comes from my upbringing. We ate a meal that represented different characters in the Nativity.  Salad with edible flowers and pomegranates (Mary), angel hair pasta with mushrooms and whipped cream (angels with earth and clouds), milk and honey (the baby Jesus), olive soup (olive press/tree/branch), pita bread with goat and sheep cheese (shepherds), sparkling cider (Jesus again), and dates for the three kings.  If you want any specific recipes, let me know.
  • Christmas Tree for Animals--This idea comes from the lovely book Night Tree.  We're pretty excited to start this tradition this year.  On Christmas Eve, after our Dinner for the Holy Family, we're going to take pinecones with peanutbutter and birdseed, popcorn or cheerios chains, and other edible snacks into the forest to decorate an evergreen for the animals.  Then we'll sing Christmas songs and drink hot chocolate.
  • Rest Home Sing-in--We got together with some friends in our ward and with only same-day notice went in and sang Christmas songs and told Christmas jokes.  There were just a few people listening, but it was still really fun and did a lot to bring in the Christmas spirit.
  • Siblings Gifts--My boys plan to give each other gifts from the toys they already have, or make things by hand if they don't want to give something that's theirs.  That will help cut down on toys, and teach gift-giving.
  • Advent wreath--This tradition, as well as all of the following traditions I'm going to write about, came from the book I referenced above.  Apparently, many other churches do advent wreaths.  It's an evergreen wreath with four candles, and each week of December, an additional candle is lit.  They don't stay burning all the time, but in the evenings the right number of candles are lit while scriptures are read and prayers said.  Candles do so much to set a holy tone and help us slow down in this busy season!
  • Unwrapping Books--I think a lot of people do this, but I thought it was a great idea and I wish I had heard of it earlier.  Wrap 24 Christmas books up and put them under the tree (some can be library books if you don't have enough).  Every evening leading up to Christmas, a book can be opened and read.
  • Unwrapping Nativity Pieces--Along the same lines, some families unwrap a piece of the nativity every day, and the baby Jesus last of all on Christmas eve.
  • Happy Birthday, Jesus--Making a birthday cake and singing to the baby Jesus has never made more sense than it does now that I have a three-year-old who understands and loves birthdays.  Doing that celebration in honor of our Savior would certainly help the kids remember what we're celebrating. We plan to do this accompanied with scriptures and hymns.
  • St. Nicholas Day--Some people do St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6) instead of Santa, so he still gets a nod, but he's out of the picture early and he only brings one gift.  One family had the great idea of receiving from St. Nicholas some kind of craft material that they could use the rest of the month to make sibling gifts.
  • Sleeping under the Christmas Tree Christmas Eve
  • Family Prayers- I also liked the idea of the whole family knealing together, and each individual taking a turn to pray, first in gratitude for a blessing from the previous year, and then about something in the coming year. 
What Christmas traditions did you enjoy growing up?  What traditions are you starting now?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nursing Helps: Engorgement

If you have ever nursed a baby chances are you've dealt with engorgement. Engorgement of the breast is characterized by fluid retention that causes swelling and discomfort in the breast -- which can be quite unpleasant when you think of letting a little person nurse. This generally occurs a few days after a mother has given birth, as her milk comes in, and her body stops making colostrum.

As a woman's body moves from the short phase of making colostrum, into full fledged milk production, the body over produces milk until it is able to regulate to how much the baby generally needs. (aren't our bodies amazing? they've been designed in such a way that they over produce so the baby doesn't go hungry, and then regulates to what that specific baby needs. genius design! i love the human body!!!) Surprisingly the swelling of the breasts is not only the over production of milk, but is actually edema, or water retention in the breast tissue. Much like the swelling in a pregnant woman's legs. This will be exacerbated if the mother had an IV during her birth experience due to the extra fluids in her body.

The pain from engorgement last for varying amounts of time for different women -- it lasted for me for about three days. The pain is only part of the issue, though, engorgement can make breastfeeding difficult in the beginning. The swelling of the breast tissue can make it difficult for a baby to get a "good latch". Following is a list of some ideas on how to relieve your suffering, and also help your baby more comfortably nurse as well. (Note: much of my information has come from the genius book
The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, written by Dr. Jack Newman and Terasa Pitman. If I am using information from this wonderful guide, I will cite a page number in the bullet.)

  • Cold Green Cabbage Leaves: I heard about this from a dear college roommate of mine (Thank you Katy Kingsley!) It's simple: take a cold cabbage leaf and place it inside of your bra. I have heard people say that it works better if you finely chop the cabbage. I never did this myself, I thought the cabbage leaf shape was so convenient. After doing some research though, I think it might be beneficial to try chopping and making a compress. Leave the cold cabbage on the breast until it is wilted, and no longer cold. Replace with more cabbage as you need. Although the coldness is VERY relieving, the real magic occurs due to the fact that cabbage, according to this research, contains some substance that opens the capillaries allowing the movement of trapped fluids! I have recently heard a woman caution against the use of the cabbage help, stating that it will reduce your milk supply. In all of my reading I only came across one mention of this idea, and it was in negation. I never had a problem with my milk supply after using cabbage leaves, I only found relief. I highly recommend it. One caution that I found in more than one place was that the cabbage should never be placed over areas where the skin is broken, but around. I never found the reason why, interestingly enough. Do any of you know why this is?
  • Cold Grated Potato. This works amazingly well to relieve the pressure of engorgement, and believe it or not, also has the power to cure mastitis. (I was in the middle of nowhere in Canada over the summer, hours from medical help and contracted mastitis. A dear aunt of mine told me about the magical cold grated potato and grated me one that very hour. I used the cold potato as a compress, again, as with the cabbage, replacing the potato once it was no longer cold. I did this one night, and the fever and aching were gone. I did this treatments on two occasions, and the flaming red lump in my breast was considerably shrunken. It took about five days for the bump and swelling to fully diminish. Thank heavens for the potato!!)
  • Reverse Pressure Softening (this is in The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers
    pp123-124): I'll just quote the book here, "[Reverse Pressure Softening] is best performed immediately before each attempt to latch, for as many feedings as needed. Steady, gentle pressure inward toward the chest wall is exerted for a full 60 seconds or longer, focusing on the areola where it joins the base of the nipple... If the mother's fingernails are quite short, she can press with the curved fingertips of both hands simultaneously, with the nails nearly touching the sides of the nipple. The goal is to create six-eight small "dimples" or pits on the areola at the base of the nipple... If swelling is extremely firm, and the multiple fingertip method is being used, one or more three minute periods of constant reverse pressure may yield better results." There is an alternate method for this method, using the flats of two fingers. You place the length of one finger above the nipple on the areola, and another below the nipple on the areola -- again applying pressure for about a minute. You will then move your fingers to the side of the nipple, holding pressure for another minute, thus making a box. Again it is suggested that this works best if you alternate, top and bottom/sides, for about three minutes. I had a few questions about the first method, and was able to find a website with some diagrams that help. Performing RPS helps move the built up water back into the breast toward the natural drainage system our body's have in place. Displacing that water also helps allow the baby to get a better latch, which will help reduce the swelling with the proper movement of milk through the ducts. (The website whereon I found the diagrammed article quotes the Jack Newman website; same man who wrote the book I've mentioned here. The man's a genius I tell you! There are some great resources on this website, and Dr. Newman's website as well, such as a full explanation of how the breast works to produce milk. AMAZING!)
  • If you do not have potatoes or cabbage, place a cool wet wash cloth around the breast after feedings. This may help reduce the swelling, and will offer great relief.
  • Dr. Newman (p.122) suggests that, if the mother feels the need, taking something such as ibuprofen is in no way detrimental to the baby. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen also aide in reducing swelling.
  • Nurse as often as possible. (Thanks for this tip, Ariel!) This is very helpful as it allows movement of fluids through the breast, and eases tension. Also, I found the more I nursed the easier it became.
As with all thing related to nursing, time is the key. I hope these suggestions are helpful. It might be uncomfortable for a few days as the swelling increases and then ebbs, don't give up on nursing! You won't regret it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mitten Follow Up

Done.  That was so fast!  If you're looking for the easiest possible sweater project, look no further.  Trace a hand on an old sweater, taking advantage of the hem (remember to trace them on the inside of the sweater!), sew around it (with a little room to grow), and cut it out!  You could even sew it by hand if you don't have a sewing machine.  Just make sure the opening is big enough to put the hand through, that's the only place the baby mittens were a little tight.

I'm definitely hooked on sewing.

My First Sewing Project

After I finished painting the wall, I was still in the painting mode and so I cleaned up and painted this shelf.
I use a table for a desk, so this is for my desk storage.  I'm really happy with it.  I guess seeing all my craft things so nicely organized inspires creativity, because I took my new sewing machine down yesterday and took it on its maiden voyage.
I made Christmas stockings with the help of my friend Camilla, seamstress extraordinaire.  I had been thrifting sweaters with some vague notion that they would make great sweaters, when my friend Amy posted on her beautiful blog a sweater stocking pattern!  My printer is unreliable, so I sketched a pattern on some cardboard.
Here are some things I learned:
  • How to thread my sewing machine
  • My sewing machine (a craigslist win!) is actually a pretty good machine and can sew through some pretty thick sweaters
  • Use existing hems whenever possible
  • I can use my sewing machine!  
This sweater really buttons open!  Andrew already claimed it.

I'm sorry I didn't take any process pictures, but it was really easy (with an expert helping me).  Here's the breakdown:
  • Draw a pattern on cardboard
  • Cut it out
  • Flip the sweater inside-out 
  • Trace the pattern on the inverted sweater, with the top of the stocking lining up with the bottom hem, or the neck (a turtleneck would be really cute on a stocking)
  • Without cutting out the stocking, sew along your line.  When you come to the curly toe, read Amy's instructions (where it says "download stocking 2")
  • Cut out your beautiful stocking!
  • Flip it right-side-out
  • Adorn it with pretty ribbon, bells, or whatever you want!
I also had to sew part of the curly toe to the side of the stocking so it hung better.  If you follow Amy's pattern, you'd probably not have to do that.

It was a really fun project!  Today I'm going to trace the boy's hands on some of the sweater scraps and make them mittens!  Happy sewing, if I can do it, anyone can! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Worry List

Here is another great idea from Birthing from Within by Pam England --- but one that is applicable at any life transition!

A little while ago, Cam and I sat down together on a Sunday afternoon and each wrote a "worry list." Our lists contained our private worries about the birth of our baby, and life together afterwards (life after birth?). After we had written them down, we went through and talked about each worry, one by one, learning about each other's concerns and discussing how we would like to respond in the event that they are realized.

This project could seem counter-intuitive to some, who might feel like talking about a "worry" will make it real. I believe it is true that expressing hope helps us realize our hopes --- so it seems logical that the opposite is true. And it may have been true for us, if we had simply expressed our worries and ended at that. We may still have been caught off guard by them.

Caught off guard! (Photo by Thomas, 2010 :)

But by discussing them and deciding upon possible courses of action, we now feel more prepared to face and embrace whatever comes our way! And in the case of difficult circumstances, we will be more sensitive to each other's feelings and needs, having made each other aware of many of them ahead of time.

As an example, Cam's worry list included a concern about being able to get enough sleep once we have a newborn. My list mirrored his, as I know he is a very light sleeper and has a hard time falling asleep: I was worried that he might not be able to function well on only a few hours every night. We talked about it. I was able to remind him that the sleepless phase won't last forever, and that our love for the baby will help mitigate the frustration of sleep loss. We talked about co-sleeping, and about how having the baby at arm's reach will allow us (we hope!) a few more hours of sleep every week, if not every night as some have testified. We talked about taking turns. We agreed we will need to be understanding of each other, and patient if sleep loss puts one or the other of us in a touchy mood.

Clearly, our having talked about sleep concerns hasn't made them less likely to happen. But we are prepared with a course of action, and with compassion!

Before we got married, we had many similar conversations in which we discussed the potential difficulties of newlywed life --- even the most sensitive ones. I believe such conversations are primarily responsible for what a wonderful first year we had --- not because we did not encounter problems, but because we had prepared ourselves and were determined to deal with them positively.

Determined to deal with our worries positively! (Photo by Thomas, 2010 :)

I recommend a "worry list" at every transition of life, with your partner or alone. (You can call it something else if you want to make it less threatening --- maybe a "list of contingencies"?) You don't make your worries less real by bottling them up; you make them more volatile as you deny yourself the opportunity to prepare.

And "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" (D&C 38:30).

Friday, December 9, 2011

House Tour Tomato Soup

I was stuck at home with two sick boys, when I remembered I had signed up to take soup to the missionaries on temple square.  I had just a few hours to get something ready.  Naturally, I called my mom who reminded me of this fast and easy and tasty recipe!  It's good enough I'm serving it in a bread bowl at a party tomorrow.  I always double the recipe because it's easy to save.

1 onion chopped
3 Tablespoons butter
Dash olive oil
basil to taste

4 tablespoons flour
1 cup broth

2-3 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (SW best brand, puree 1 can if desired)
1 cup milk (or to taste)
1 cup cream (or to taste)

Sauté the onion, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and basil.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour one tablespoon at a time into the broth (if you pour it in too fast, you'll have little dumplings all over the place).
Add the broth mixture, tomatoes, milk and cream to the onion.  

Simmer 30 minutes

Serve with croutons, basil and good quality grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nursing Helps: Low Milk Supply

Recently a friend of mine, a nursing mother, was running a fever. The fever caused her milk supply to go down, and she was bombarded by well meaning friends who insisted that she had mastitis....

She didn't have mastitis, but this got me thinking of the times my milk supply has gone down, and come back up... and then gone down, and come back up... So I thought I'd write a brief post about that this week.

There are many things that can affect a mother's milk supply. Sometimes it really does just fluctuate. The main thing to remember is to just be patient, your supply will come back. Don't give up on nursing!!

I could never write a comprehensive list of things that could affect a woman's milk supply, because there are so many factors that can. If I were to make a list, though, it would include things like:
  • Any sickness a mother is experiencing will tax her body, and may decrease her milk supply
  • A fever. Because your body requires extra fluids when you have a fever, it will reduce your milk supply.
  • Dieting
  • Stress
  • Consuming sage and parsley (I still use these, I just not everyday, and in reduced amounts)
  • Not getting enough rest
Many of these things just go with having a baby, and many for many of them the solution is self explanatory. Here are a few ideas that may come in handy:
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water! You body cannot make milk out of nothing. Being low on fluids will require your body to take from your stores, and when those run low, so will your milk supply.
  • Take a break here and there during the day. I know it's hard to do, but take a few minutes to sit and rejuvenate, use it as a moment to reconnect with your little babe. It really may be that simple -- I've experienced it. Making milk uses energy within your body, not to mention the nutrients that are going from you into your precious milk.
  • EAT! Make sure you are getting enough nutrients. Again, your body cannot make milk out of nothing, you require added calories, fat... added nutrients. I hate putting it as calories, we put too much stress on the word calorie. Who needs to count calories? Not a nursing mamma!
  • If you are a scheduled feeder, reduce the amount of time between feedings. The more often you nurse, the more your body will be stimulated to make milk.
  • Fenugreek. I have used this on more than one occasion and had great results. The first time I took it it took my body about 48 hours to be kicked into gear. Now every time I use it I see results within hours. If you don't have any fenugreek, check your spice rack. It is one of the main spices for curry!
  • Place a warm wet wash cloth on your breast, and gently massage for a few minutes before nursing.
Nursing has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I just cannot tell you enough how much I love it. If you are experiencing a time of low milk, and are frustrated just remember, it won't be forever, though, sometimes it does take time. Just hold on! These are just a few things that I have found that truly do make a difference for me and my son when I've had those times.

Next week I'll be writing a post about engorgement issues. In the mean time, what have you found that has helped you boost your milk supply?

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Very Vintage Christmas

A few months ago we bought a lovely little house.  The house was built in 1951, had the same owners since around 1960, and not been updated since about 1975.  The previous owners lived here until they died, Dorothy in 2005 and Paul in 2009 (Amazing what you can learn from Google).  Paul was quite the fix-it guy, and Dorothy added many lovely touches as well, so there are new surprises around every corner (two nights ago I dreamed I found a new closet with a full-sized refrigerator/freezer in it).
The attic, in particular, is full of excitement.  (We told Paul and Dorothy's son that there was still stuff up there, and he said we could keep it.)  I knew there were some Christmas decorations up there, so for Family Night I asked Andrew to bring down their Christmas stuff with our box.
He brought down 20 boxes.  Nineteen of which were not ours.  It was getting late, so we opened one or two boxes, looked cautiously inside and went to bed.
The next day, I went through most of the boxes, sorting them into, "Maybe keep," "Donate," and "Trash."  After I had gone through everything, I called up my wise friend Camilla I knew could give me honest feedback, and also knew the difference between "vintage," and "ugly."
In the end, I took a whole carload of tinsel, plastic santas and homemade decorations to the thrift store, and I am happy to have a home more festive than ever before.  Some of the decorations are on trial.  We'll see if I feel like boxing them up for next year after I spend a month looking at them.  Here are a few of my finds.  Sorry for the photography.
There were two artificial trees in the attic, and I thought they looked pretty good!
There were enough of these beautiful glass balls to fill two big trees.
We got about seven of these little friends.  They don't stay on the tree very long,
I find them all over the place.  They must be very mischievous.
One of the best finds was a village worth of these little cottages.
The baby Jesus is one of the few evidences of their Christian faith,
and the only thing left over from a nativity set.
The sleigh is a music box, but I think I may have broken it already.
There was a whole box of these miniatures.
They don't seem to fit anything else, but I'm sure we'll find a use for them.
And now back to my current home project!