Monday, January 31, 2011

Preparing for a Homebirth (Part 1 of 2)

One of the many beautiful things about homebirth is the ability to prepare for it yourself. However, this can seem a little overwhelming at first, too, especially if you’re used to the hospital scene. Being assigned birth classes, told what to do, and only having to gather baby stuff and a suitcase of clothes for you for the birth certainly is simple. But preparing for your own birth, instead of letting someone else do it for you, is very rewarding, and much more personal. From choosing how you’ll labor to where you’ll deliver to gathering all the supplies necessary for the birth, you’ll get to perform a labor of love as you wait for and anticipate the birth of your little one. It was so much fun to prepare mentally and physically for my birth, and made it seem like it really was coming up!

If you don’t anticipate doing a homebirth, many of these items are still things you can prepare for yourself- many women just don’t, assuming the medical community has things under control. However, it would be very wise to do your own research; learning about different methods of birth, your options for birthing positions, how to best prepare your body, etc. And, of course, nesting down applies to every woman in her 3rd trimester!

~*~

The first thing that comes to mind, when I think about preparing for birth, is learning and self education. In our society where we rely on the medical community for everything, so few women take the time to educate themselves. And why shouldn’t we? Childbirth is one of the biggest events we females will ever experience- what in the world makes us think we shouldn’t learn as much as we can about it?

My favorite book on the topic is The Joy of Natural Childbirth by Helen Wessel. It’s available from www.appletreefamily.org, or sometimes used on Amazon. You might be able to get a copy from your library or through inner library loan, as well. Personally, I don’t think any woman should head into childbirth without reading this book! She presents a beautiful picture, and spends a lot of time educating moms thoroughly on different labor helps, positions, options, etc., as well as how labor and birth actually works, and why it isn’t meant to be “painful”- though most births are still hard work. Another aspect I really like about The Joy of Natural Childbirth is that she comes from a strongly Christian perspective. I don’t mind wading through a lot of new age stuff to get at good information, but it’s not very often you see a Christian biblically promoting beautiful childbirth, which is a really neat thing.

There are many other books available as well- ask around, do internet searches, and ultimately, soak up as much information as you have time to do. I liked the balanced perspective of The Birth Book (by the Sears’) as well. Research natural birth, water birth, home birth, hospital birth, effects of various meds and standard procedures. Birth stories abound online- read them. (You can read Viviana’s birth store here, and my thoughts on childbirth here.) Most (though certainly not all) of the women who take the time to detail their birth story in writing have also taken the time to educate themselves, and therefore will have an educated perspective to share, offering a wealth of info throughout their story. If you know other natural mamas, ask them to share their experiences with you. Mom’s who’ve been there have the best teaching aid possible- experience!

Although I’d encourage you to talk to a wide range of moms, make note that many have only been educated by our mainstream medical world- they’ve been taught that labor and birth is bad; that it’s just a torturous experience to be endured and gotten over with. It’s rather discouraging to see the number of “experienced” moms scaring new moms to death over the prospect of what they have coming at them. These moms really have endured terrible births, due largely to being misinformed, or trusting a doctor who doesn’t know the first thing about a natural birth. I don’t blame them for their experiences- but it’s frustrating that they have to be certain that their route (of pain and misery) is the only one, and jam it down your throat that all your “high” ambitions will go down the toilet once you actually experience it. I can’t even begin to tell you how many moms gave me sympathetic looks, “a-hmms” and “you’ll sees” during my pregnancy, especially when hearing about my views- from moms of one to moms of ten. Moms sharing the difficulties and being honest is a good thing, too- rose-colored glasses aren’t going to get you through labor. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone that by the end of my 30 hour labor, I was exhausted- so much so that relaxing felt like a huge amount of work, and I started falling asleep at the beginning of every back-to-back contraction. But I wouldn’t stop there- my point isn’t to scare you, it’s to tell you that it is hard. It’s called work- but oh, it’s so rewarding. I can remember the birth crystal-clear, and it was so beautiful- especially the moment when her body slipped through and I caught her up in my arms. I can’t wait to experience it again!

So, try and find moms with a positive perspective, as well. Ask them what helped them, what makes their view point different from others, etc. Ask about the struggles and what helped the discomfort. While it’s positive to get a wide range of opinions, don’t be afraid to filter out all the scare-lectures. Fear is your worst enemy in childbirth; going into a birth afraid will guarantee a birth just like the one of the lecturer.

By the way- if you’re one of those who has experienced many horrible births, you have my sympathy. Anyone who doesn’t get to experience the joy of birth does. But please don’t assume that because you were uneducated or misguided, everyone else must follow in your shoes. There is a wealth of information readily available to anyone who wants to take her birth experience into her own hands, thus enabling her to enjoy a beautiful birth.

~*~

Another factor in the homebirth realm is deciding where to labor and deliver. There are lots of options; make sure you choose the one that fits you best! Some women like to labor in water (either a tub, birthing pool, or kiddie pool), and then deliver on land, some enjoy doing it all on land, or all in water, or any combination in between. Read about the variety of position options as well. There are many tools or simple positions which may help you feel more comfortable during labor and delivery. Positions which are more upright may help you feel more comfortable, and will definitely use gravity to your advantage. Most doctors encourage or insist that you lay flat on your back, which seems totally ridiculous to me. Why not enlist a little help from gravity? Not to mention the fact that it’s usually very uncomfortable and makes it difficult to deal with contractions well. The reason most medical professionals prefer this route is that it makes it easy for them. There’s no discomfort on their end as everything’s right there for them. Find a doctor/midwife who’s willing to work with you and what you want- and even suggest positions that might help you, even at their inconvenience. Consider exercise balls, stools, etc., as possible tools.

During the pushing phase for Viviana, my midwife encouraged me to change positions occasionally, and gave a variety of different positions. I had 2 ½ hours, so I think I tried pretty much all of them. This was always really helpful, as was her coaching- I don’t think I would’ve had the initiative at that point to try something different without her suggesting it. I even ended up trying some different positions that I was pretty certain I wouldn’t like at all, and found them to be comfortable. When it got down to actual delivery and the final pushes, I got to deliver her in the position I had hoped to- squatting- so I was able to scoop her up out of the water right away.

~*~

Another aspect to self-education is preparing your body. Consult your midwife on what she recommends. There are some different herbal mixtures that are supposed to help prepare your body. Evening primrose oil (taken internally, as well as piercing a capsule and applying to the cervix) is helpful in getting the cervix softened and ready. I spent several weeks stretching daily, preparing the vagina for the work ahead. Kegels are also recommended, to strengthen those muscles and prepare them for the hard work ahead. (Kegels are also helpful in re-strengthening your muscles after the birth.) I did some practice squatting, since I hoped to use that position some during labor and birth. Some people recommend practicing relaxing, so that by the time of the birth, it comes very naturally to be able to relax and lay limp, letting your body to the work through labor contractions. And, of course, lots of walking is always great for your body and preparing for the task ahead! There’s lots of options, so be sure to talk to your midwife and other moms who have experience in the area, to find out what helped them the most.

In the realm of taking care of your body, preparing ahead for your healing is also extremely important. I have an article detailing what I did, personally, here. Again, ask other moms- lots of opinions are always a positive thing.


*Stay tuned for my complete list of everything (I) needed for a homebirth, as well as a section on nesting!*

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Personal Goals (and more ramblings)

I’m a plan-centric person- which lends itself to being a list and goal-oriented person. I also really like to have a plan for where I’m going personally in life. If I have a goal, I know I’ll reach it. But if I just meander through each day- not only will I never reach significant goals, I’ll also feel like my days are rather unproductive and- well- meandering. If goals help you stay on task, then set them, as long as you can keep from getting totally wrapped up in them. :-) Here’s a few of my current personal goals, as well as ones recently reached. As you can see, they’re all rather family-centric, and many involve Vivi to a great degree. (after all, I can’t really master tandem wearing by myself!)

-Research baby’s first foods

-Research breastfeeding while pregnant and best diet for optimal ability to do both

-Learn how to use a mei tai

-Learn how to wear twins/tandem wear (wear two of different ages)

-Keep monthly babywearing classes going

-Expand and start mini-conferences (on babywearing) at local churches and other groups

-Investigate other teaching opportunities at our local pregnancy center

-Complete cookbook within the next year and figure out how to turn it into an e-book

I’m sure there’s many more, but that’s a general start, anyway. A good example of how having goals gets things done is learning to use a mei tai or tandem wear. Since I have many carriers I’m happy with, it takes some motivation to learn a new one, fun as it is. Setting it as a goal to eventually cross off, though, motivates me to spend 5 minutes putting Vivi “on” (as opposed to 30 seconds), and even doing it over a couple times if I don’t get it comfy the first. I probably wouldn’t have started working on tandem, either, if it wasn’t set as a goal, until I had to. (like, until I got pregnant or had another munchkin.)

As you can see, I’m currently totally engulfed in babywearing- such fun! The sad thing is, my baby’s growing up….and I probably only wear her for a few-handful of hours each day, now, because of the other things we enjoy doing together, too.

I also have some “simpler” ongoing, daily goals- these are really the essence of my life. I want to enjoy each day to the fullest possible extent, with the people I love most. I want to cherish my little girl while she’s still mine. I want to be able to just love life, and not get caught in getting overwhelmed- because if I do, I’ll miss out on some special phase of my daughter’s life, and I know I’ll regret it looking back. I want to love my husband more deeply every day, and continue to find fresh, new ways to express that. Life’s flying by at the speed of lightning. Just today, I got out the first plastic contraption- a high chair. (No, Vivi isn’t eating yet- we’ll let her start trying in 3 weeks, when she turns 9 months. But she loves having a spoon and cloth napkin and sitting in a chair, just like us). Whatever else I do, I don’t want to live life in a way I’ll regret 10 years down the road. Today is when I have my daughter and husband. Tomorrow I’ll still have laundry, but I might not have them.

How can I even dare consider getting overwhelmed by laundry or meals when I have people to love? I do….but isn’t it so ridiculous? I mean, that stuff will be here forever. Why would I think for a moment of letting it shut out the ability to love life and cherish relationships?

Yeah….lately I’ve been rather sentimental…being a mom makes you so keenly aware of how fast life flies. My baby girl isn’t really a baby anymore, and it’s just a little bit sad. (It would be a lot sad if she wasn’t so stinkin’ cute!)

What are your daily goals? What do you hope to achieve long term or in each day? Does it visibly change the course of events in your day?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Small Thrills

~Seeing a man probably in his 80s, who has to use a cane as a walking aid, go all the way around his car to open the door for his wife, and help her with her walker.~

~A husband who isn’t afraid to “spank” his wife in fun, in front of the kids.~

~A couple in their 60s or 70s, holding hands and looking like 18 year olds, still very much in love.~

~A mother tenderly holding her newborn baby, right after birth.~

~A wife who starts a squirt gun fight, inside the house.~

~A couple who doesn’t mind kissing affectionately in front of the kiddos.~

~A mama with 4 or 5 kids all piled on the rocking chair with her (on her lap, next to her, on her neck) while she reads aloud.~

~A group of girls running through a grassy field with their dresses trailing in the wind.~

~A daddy playing some sort of wild game with all his children.~

~A wife who grins at her husband mischievously over several small heads.~

~A mommy nursing her baby.~

~A young child holding a baby, delight written all over his face.~

~A husband or wife who praises their spouse publicly.~

~A baby’s smile of delight.~

~Sweet chubby arms reaching out to you.~

~A couple whispering, their faces written over with sweet smiles.~

~Baby laughter.~

Togetherness. Love. Life. Joy. Playfulness. The things that matter most.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why You Could Use a Second Freezer and Utilizing it to Your Best Advantage (Part 3 of 3)

~*~

I have so many favorite freezer meal recipes, it’s hard to know which ones to share. This time around, though, we’ll do meatballs, burrito meat (and a bonus recipe to use it in!), fajitas, creamy crock pot chicken, spicy grilled chicken sandwiches, and south of the border chicken bake.

~*Burrito Meat*~

I have probably 5-10 variety-filled meals I use this for, plus you can use it in anything Mexican-ish you dream up!

Mix 1 lb. cooked ground beef, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cumin and 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder. Bag in a labeled Ziploc.

~*Wet Burritos*~

1 lb burrito meat

1 (15 oz) can refried beans

1 (15 oz) can black beans

3 cups cheese

8-12 tortillas

Sauce:

1 TBL butter

2 TBL flour

1 cup water

2 tsp beef bouillon

1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce

1 TBL garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp basil

¼ tsp pepper

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp cumin

2 tsp chili powder

Melt butter in saucepan, stir in flour till smooth. Add water and bouillon, simmer gently till thickened. Add remaining sauce ingredients, stir well and heat till warm. In separate bowl, mix burrito meat and beans. Spoon into tortillas, roll up and place in greased 13x9 pan. Pour sauce over burritos and sprinkle cheese on. Bake at 350* for about 20 minutes, or until warm. Serve with sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.

See how easy and simple this recipe is when you already have your meat done?

~*Meatballs*~

4 slices of bread

½ cup water

1 lb ground beef

2 eggs

¼ cup parmesan cheese

2 TBL parsley

¼ tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Rip the bread into large chunks in a large bowl. Pour water over and let set for a few minutes. Meanwhile, mix ground beef and remaining ingredients well. Add bread, which will be mushy crumbs after soaking, and mix well. Form into meatballs and bake on a greased stone, broiler pan or pan at 425* for 20 minutes. Makes about 20 large (2-3 TBL) meatballs, or about 40 regular size.

Notes: Absolutely incredible and moist- almost saucy. These are definitely the tastiest meatballs I’ve ever had! We like to toast French bread or buns with butter, garlic powder and provolone cheese on them, sauté onions and green peppers, and serve as a sandwich with the meatballs and ranch dressing or BBQ sauce.

~*Fajita Marinade*~

Mix ¼ cup oil, ¼ cup lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Pour over 1 ½ lbs chicken breasts, cut in small or large strips. Bag in labeled Ziploc.

For serving: thaw meat; sauté in sauce on stove over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a little bit of butter, sauté 1 onion and 1 green pepper till soft. Serve in tortillas with sour cream, tomatoes, cheese, etc.

~*Creamy Crock Pot Chicken*~

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 ½ cups warm water

1 tsp parsley

1 ½ tsp thyme

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can cream soup*

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese

For the freezer, just toss the chicken, water and spices in a Ziploc and freeze.

For serving: Thaw chicken, place in crock pot, cover at and cook on low for 3 hours (more for a doubled recipe, less for half recipe). Towards the end of cooking time, make cream soup and put cream cheese in it to melt. Mix together; pour over chicken. Cook an additional hour or so. Shred or break apart chicken with a fork. Serve over rice.

*1/4 cup butter, ¼ cup flour, ½ tsp chicken bouillon, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 1 cup milk. Melt butter, whisk in flour and spices till smooth. Add milk, stir over medium heat till thickened.

~*Grilled Chicken Sandwiches*~


1 ½ lbs chicken breast, cut into sandwich pieces

¼ cup oil
4 splashes/squirts Bragg's Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme

1 tsp garlic powder

Lettuce

Tomato

Mayonnaise

Buns (sandwich thins are really good!)

Mix all ingredients except chicken together. Pour over chicken in Ziploc and freeze.

To Serve: Thaw; broil or grill till no longer pink in the center. Serve on sandwich buns with lettuce, tomato slice and mayonnaise.

Notes: These are amazing….like really amazing. The zippy flavor is just right combined with a juicy tomato and mayo.

~*South of the Border Chicken Bake*~

4 cans cream soup*

3 ½ cups milk

4 cups chopped, cooked chicken breast

1 sweet onion

2 cups salsa

4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

16-20 tortillas

Mix soup, milk, chicken, onion, salsa and cheese. Spray two 13x9 pans, place 4-5 ripped up tortillas in the bottom. Spoon ¼ of the sauce into each pan. Top with remaining tortillas and the rest of the sauce. Bake at 350* till hot, about 20-30 minutes.

~You can freeze the recipe completely put together, or just freeze the sauce in a Ziploc, and all you have to do is thaw, layer with tortillas, and bake.~

*1/4 cup butter, ¼ cup flour, ½ tsp chicken bouillon, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 1 cup milk. Melt butter, whisk in flour and spices till smooth. Add milk, stir over medium heat till thickened.

~*~

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why You Could Use a Second Freezer and Utilizing it to Your Best Advantage (Part 2 of 3)

~*~

Welcome to part two! If you’re new to cooking in bulk and freezing, the idea of getting 50 pounds of meat and dealing with it may sound a little overwhelming. Coming from a large family, it doesn’t sound like much, but I know I’ve stunned a lot of people when mentioning how much meat I had frozen. It does make for a long and busy day or couple of days, but it’s definitely manageable for anyone, and you’ll thank yourself when you’re done! It’s a little harder with lots of little ones, but still definitely doable (after all, we all make time for what we want), and with the busy lifestyle munchkins bring, a lot more rewarding. Just make sure to utilize a comfy baby carrier during the process!

I’m going to bring you into my kitchen on some of my cook-off days, or normal days when I tuck a little away at a time, and show you what it looks like. We’ll explore chicken (boneless breasts and thighs), ground beef, meals, meal starters, and some veggies.

~*~

Most veggies are pretty simple, and don’t require very long. Some, like green beans and corn, need to be blanched for a short amount of time. Then I bag them in quart sized bags (no flash freezing necessary), label and freeze. If I have something that I need to blanche, I try and clear out a morning or an evening for it, so I can get it all done at once. I don’t like washing pots I’m going to be using for the same thing a few hours later. J Other veggies, like green peppers, I just chop or cut into strips and freeze. So, those are easier to do as you go along, if you have a hard time clearing out a larger space.

~*~

Fruits, too, are typically pretty simple. For peaches, I just wash and slice, then dump in gallon Ziplocs. Usually, I carve out a couple days of planning on just accomplishing the basics to get these done, since they ripen up fast. If they’re really juicy, I might flash-freeze them to make it easier to get them apart later. I wash strawberries if I didn’t get them locally, and then stick them in a bag, tops and all. Works great for smoothies! Blueberries go right in the Ziploc bag at the patch, and get popped in the freezer when we get home.

~*~

I just brought home 50 pounds of ground beef, so step into my kitchen! First, I decide how I’m going to divide it up. This is different for every family, and it varies for us from batch to batch, depending on what we have leftover from last time, and what we ran out of first. Here’s a possible example:

10 pounds (cooked) burrito meat, freeze in 1 pound bags

10 pounds (cooked) Italian sausage, freeze in 1 pound bags

12 pounds hamburger patties, freeze in 1 ½ pound bags

6 pounds amazing meatballs (cooked), freeze in 1 pound bags

6 pounds Salisbury steaks (cooked, and in sauce), freeze in 1 ½ pound bags

6 pounds cooked, plain, freeze in 1 pound bags.

That takes care of all 50 pounds, but other times I might also make tacos, sloppy joes, etc. If I’m doing a cook-off day for my family, I obviously do much larger quantities.

I’ll be cooking a total of 26 pounds of ground beef on the stove, so first priority would be putting meat in a couple pans, depending on the size of my pans. I usually do 5-10 pounds each in two pots. It works most conveniently to cook the amount you need for a particular recipe, so in this case, I’ll put 10 pounds in each pot- one for burrito meat, one for Italian sausage. That way, I don’t have to measure it out before adding spices, and then measure again to bag it.

Assuming Vivi’s still happy in the ergo or another carrier, once that’s sizzling away, I might try and throw together my Salisbury steaks really quick. I make some cream soup, mix up the patties and cook them on my broiler pan (so all the fat drips out), and while keeping an eye on that and stirring the meat every so often, I’ll start the meatballs in the same large pot I assembled the Salisbury steaks in. (Why create more dishes if you don’t need them? Everything that happens in my kitchen is about maximizing the use of my dishes!) When the Salisbury steaks are cooked, I can start cooking meatballs on the same broiler pan(s). Meanwhile, I’ll also drain the meat on the stove, mix in all the spices, let the meat cool a bit, and then measure into 1 pound bags. (2-2 ½ cups cooked beef equals 1 pound). I’ll also cook up the last batch of meat, which will later be drained and packaged. At some point when there’s a breather, I’ll whip up the hamburgers, shape them, and stuff in quart sized bags. I reuse all my Ziplocs except raw meat ones, so my burger bags are the only ones that are being “wasted”- hence, I try to use bags I’ve already used several times for those.

Basically, that’s all there is to it. Realistically, Vivi will grow tired, and need to be changed and nursed to sleep in bed. Lunch, dinner, or some meal will fall in there. Vivi might get fussy and just want to enjoy a play time on the floor together. Your 8, 6, and 5 year olds might need help with school. Your toddler might need a snack. All that means is, it takes a bit longer. Instead of finishing in just a morning, you might be putting the last away at dinner time. Or on a really busy day, you might be doing the last at 11 o’clock at night, dead on your feet. Been there, done that. If Vivi’s having a cranky day, or I have some of my siblings over and people need stuff, I’ll just turn off everything in the kitchen and forget about it for a bit. Being a non waster, I don’t like to turn the stove or oven off for as long as I’m using it (keep an assembly line going, and always have the next thing ready), but that doesn’t always work, and that’s okay. My family comes first- I’m not going to let nourishing them physically interfere with nourishing them emotionally. (but nourishing them physically is important enough that I must make a way for doing it to the best of my ability and knowledge!)

If you feel 50 or 75 pounds is too much, try 25. But keep in mind, it’s worth it to go big! It’s more worth your time, and the rewards are bigger. So count the cost before you decide you just can’t. :-)

~*~

Alrighty, so how about chicken? It’s probably wiser to do them individually, but if I go to Sam’s Club, I typically bring home 40(ish) pounds each of thighs and breasts. If I get my breasts from the local market (which doesn’t sell thighs), I usually get it at the same time as ground beef. It’s just more worth the trip, and by the time I’m done, my freezer’s groaning with happiness. So, suit yourself, but as follows is a guideline of what I might do with both. Again, here’s a potential table of how I’ll use the meat:

Breasts:

20 pounds cooked/chopped (in 1, 2, and 4 cup bags- it should give me 40 cups total)

6 pounds spicy grilled chicken sandwich marinade (1 ½ pound bags)

6 pounds fajita marinated (1 ½ pound bags)

8 pounds strips for oven fried chicken or new recipes (1-2 pound bags)

Thighs:

12 pounds creamy crockpot chicken

The rest just plain, in 1 ½ or so pound increments. I might use them in chicken tikke musala (most amazing food!), marinate them in teriyaki sauce, or serve them a hundred different ways. But usually, I end up freezing most of them plain. It seems like there’s a few other things I like to do with them, instead of just freezing plain, but I can’t remember at the moment….

First things first, boil water in huge pots for the cooked chicken. Cook, then set aside in a huge pot or bowl. Once my chicken’s cooked, I put that in the lower priority realm. I’ll refrigerate it and get to it later- or maybe even the following day. The great thing about cooked chicken, is once you have the cooked part done, you can work at it a bit at a time without creating much mess, many dishes, or contaminated counter or hands. So you can do 4 or 8 cups at a time, and stick the rest back in the fridge.

Then I’ll get down to business with the raw stuff. A lot of the thighs are pretty easy, just weigh and throw in a labeled Ziploc. For the creamy crockpot chicken, all you do is add a bunch of spices and some water. (the creamy part, you add later during cooking) Just like that, you have 40 pounds tucked away.

The meat for sandwiches, I cut into sandwich sized pieces, and toss in the bags. Then I make the marinade and pour it over, evenly distributing. I use the same bowl for making the fajita marinade. For the fajitas, I just cut them in strips. That just leaves stripping the rest of the chicken and putting it in labeled bags. Easy as that, you’re done! Again, it’s easy to break in between to take care of your family, though the sooner you get it all done the sooner/less often you have to decontaminate your kitchen.

~*~

If I plan to do a bunch of cooking, I might time it around the same time as a meat cook off, and leave some of the cooked meat out for stuff. Or, I might just get stuff out of the freezer.

I freeze meals two ways- sometimes, I get this urgent kick and spend a morning or afternoon or day just making meals for the freezer. Or sometimes, I do it lackadaisically, and just double or triple a dinner, and freeze what we aren’t going to eat. Both ways work well, depending on what I want it for.

If I’m preparing for a baby’s arrival, or some other such season of life, I’ll spend more concentrated time cooking just for the freezer. This friend (http://mommysblessings.blogspot.com/2010/01/works-for-me-wednesday-freezing-meals.html ) prepares 30 days of meals before the arrival of each baby. Not just 30 dinners….but 30 lunches and breakfasts as well as plenty of desserts and snacks. I haven’t done anything quite so elaborate, but maybe if I ever had a bunch of really little munchkins, I’d be driven to more desperate measures. And, certainly- I’d enjoy reaping the rewards!

You might be making a loaf of banana bread for dinner- make two or three, and freeze the extras. Or if you’re a large family, make 6 or 12 loaves. Make a large pot of soup, and freeze a gallon. Double your casserole recipe.

Do what works for you. That’s different from person to person. You might like to utilize your freezer to do once a month cooking. That doesn’t necessarily work well for large families. And it doesn’t totally appeal to me, because I like to cook. But it might work best for you and yours. Or perhaps you’d just like to do enough to have 1-2 freezer meals a week. It would be easy to prepare for, and give you a nice break during the week when you’re busy teaching kids, nurturing little ones, and keeping up with other life stuff. Whatever you do, it’s nice to have at least a couple meals on hand at any time for emergencies and to give away.

Stay tuned for the final part- recipes!

~*~

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blessed

Warning: non-typical post....filled with rambling.... :-)


I feel so blessed! Truly, deeply, overwhelmingly, richly blessed. Not just in an obligated way, but for real. I don’t deserve anything I have- but I’m so grateful! I’ve been blessed with the most wonderful husband in the whole world, and an amazing, beautiful daughter. Viviana brings me so much joy everyday, it’s incredible. She’s brought challenges, too, but mostly, an extreme amount of joy. Today I got to hold her close to me (in a Kozy Carrier) while shopping, and share lots of kisses and smiles… Today, I got to watch her and Ben play on the floor- Vivi laughing hysterically while Ben made all sorts of noises with flying and crashing animals. It made my heart sing- both to have such a wonderful husband (and daddy for my little girl!) and to have such a precious daughter. Today, I laid in bed an extra ten minutes after Viviana fell asleep nursing for her nap just to enjoy feeling her cradled in my arms, and watch her peacefully breath. Today, I enjoyed hanging out with my hubby. Today, I was treated to a foot and shoulder massage… Today, I made an extra effort to bless my man…

Today’s been a reminder of what’s important in life. Today, I’m cherishing my most loved ones. Today’s slipping by quickly, and I don’t want to be guilty of pushing my family aside for something else. I know that’s easy for me to say right now, having only one munchkin and being in a season of life that’s rather easy.

I just want to hold my family close and enjoy every moment with them. Viviana’s growing up so fast- she’s hardly a baby anymore! I have mixed feelings…it’s hard not to miss my sweet baby, but, luckily for her, she grows cuter every day and watching each new development is so delightful! As I’ve been experimenting with a new baby carrier this week, I’ve enjoyed spending several hours a day wearing Vivi, and planning activities that go well with babywearing (i.e. housework and cooking!). It’s been so much fun having my little girl in kissing range and snuggled in my arms as we share life together.

Today, I love. And am loved. And I know I didn’t do anything to deserve such a life or such an awesome family….but I’m enjoying every moment of it!

**As a side note, in case you ever wonder what the connection is between the baby who taught me lots of lessons and the baby who’s angelically good, here’s the scoop… She’s gradually changed and become less and less “high-needs.” Vivi’s the happiest, most social baby I know! I think some might still think of her as a little more needy, but I don’t- she just has the basic needs to be held and cherished, and for a good sleep routine that each baby has (or most). She smiles and grins and coos and is just generally happy- not to mention extremely easy. I think we owe it to a few things. One is just her personality, matured. I believe she has a very friendly, vibrant personality, like me. She’s also a bit high strung (umm, yeah, that would be like me, too)….which contributed largely to the issues she had earlier in life, when she just couldn’t handle the stimulation. A huge factor in the change-over is the fact that she’s very well-rested. Our lives pretty much center around her sleep needs. When she’s well-rested she’s content and happy. So we make it happen, end of story. I know she was chronically over-tired when she was little, due to being easily over-stimulated. Around 2 or 3 months we spent a rigorous couple months totally enslaving ourselves to her sleep needs, and making up for the previous months. Voila! Different baby… And now, since in general she’s so well rested, and sleeps so well (you don’t need to get green with envy, she still nurses often at night- but by my expectations, she sleeps well), not getting home exactly in time for a nap or regular bedtime is perfectly okay. She handles it perfectly well. And, for a third- I like to think babywearing contributes to it. :-) Just because….her needs are being met, and she’s always in a social environment.

Congratulations if you made it through this very rambly post! :-)

Why You Could Use a Second Freezer and Utilizing it to Your Best Advantage (Part 1 of 3)

Everybody needs at least one spare freezer. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a family of two, or a family of twenty. Only having one, teensy-weensy freezer is costing you time and money. It might be preventing you from being able to afford to eat healthier, too. I know there’s lots of excuses why not to….starting with the cost. But typically, you can find a freezer for as cheap as $40, used. I guarantee you’ll make up that money in no time. Currently, for our family of 3, we have one upright freezer, and two fridge/freezer combos. The second fridge/freezer isn’t always necessary, but we’ve made good use of it, especially as I pick up produce and stuff for my mom, often.

So, what’s so great about a second freezer? Essentially, it enables you to simplify your life, and cut back on your expenditures. Let’s take a look at some of the main ways it does this. Bonus benefit: you can always find space for a bucket of creamy, incredible homemade ice cream. I don’t know about you, but I’m not saying no to that one!

A lot of people avoid hormone free/grass fed/etc. meats because of the price tag. I know it’s different from area to area, but where we live, buying in bulk enables me to get our meats significantly cheaper than I would for any of the gross stuff at the grocery store. Even Sam’s Club is carrying hormone-free chicken. If 50 pounds of meat sounds intimidating to you, see if a friend would go in with you and split. But for the record, it’s definitely worthwhile to go big and stock your freezer.

Speaking of meat, even if you don’t freeze full meals, just preparing and freezing meat ahead of time makes meal prep a snap. You will save yourself hours and tons of dishes just by having the meat all ready. For example, when we want to have grilled chicken sandwiches, all I do is pull out a bag of chicken that I cut and marinated when I bought it. Thaw it and grill. If we want wet burritos, I make a sauce, get some burrito meat out of the freezer, along with some cheese that was shredded from a 10# block, and beans from either a can or the freezer, and away we go. Simple and easy. Fajitas require getting a bag out of the freezer of marinated chicken strips, and if I’m on top of things, getting a bag of pepper/onion strips out of the freezer too. Saute everything, and we’re already done. I’ll be sharing a few of my favorite recipes for/from the freezer in a later part of this series.

Having a second freezer also allows you to prepare ahead for special or unexpected circumstances. If you’re expecting, having a freezer provides a way for you to treat yourself to a nice long break after the baby’s born. Having stuff in the freezer makes 1st trimesters smoother. Planning ahead enables you to avoid Pizza Hut on the days that totally go down the drain. (Go ahead, smile and pretend you’ve never had one of those….I know better.)

Having a freezer enables you to make the most of local, seasonal produce, as you can freeze and enjoy all year long. Not only is this healthier, it’s often cheaper. I typically do peaches, strawberries, blueberries, green beans, green peppers, jalapenos, corn (not very much, because I only use it in soups), and a handful of other things depending on the year.

If you wish, you can shop less. This saves you a lot of time, and potentially gas money. I shop as needed for produce and dairy (most of which keeps for quite a while in the fridge as long as I get plenty to last us), but that’s about it, because there isn’t much else I buy on a regular basis. Everything else happens in bulk, 2-4 times a year depending on the item.

Having a 2nd freezer and being able to do things ahead or in bulk saves you a significant amount of time. If some people actually have to cook their chicken breast, then chop it, then make a casserole with it, it’s no wonder they find cooking intimidating!

If you’re going to maximize your freezer space, you’ll have to become an expert packer. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, which help out a lot. Freeze unstructured casseroles in a Ziploc bag (then wash and reuse!). Line pans with aluminum foil, layer ingredients in, flash freeze, and pop out. Finish wrapping in foil, put in freezer, and you have your pan back. If it’s a tomato-based dish, line the foil with wax paper.

In part two, we’ll take a look at how utilizing your freezer space might look on an everyday basis. In part three, I’ll share some recipes and favorite tips.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sewing for your Baby!

A friend recently asked me for a list of all the things I made for Vivi....and I thought some of you might enjoy some of the project ideas, as well. I think this is a fairly complete list, though I'm also seeing something new which I absolutely must try. :-) I know I've been a bit negligent here- I've been using my computer time to set up a Babywearing Library- but I have some posts ready or almost ready, so will hopefully get back into a normal posting schedule!



Maternity and Baby Patterns

MATERNITY:

-I took the Simplicity 4881 pattern, with the 8-gored skirt. I made it just as the directions say to, except I cut the front four pieces 7-8” shorter, and attached a piece of matching knit fabric (stretchiest going side-to-side), the same width and height as the original skirt would’ve been, after the four panels are sewn together. Follow all the remaining directions.

-For the elastic in skirts I created or altered, I started threading it through at the side instead of in the back. I sewed down one end, and the other end I threaded through an opening (when sewing side seams, just tack down the top, then leave about 1” open, and sew the rest of the skirt seam). I sewed a button next to it, and cut button holes in the elastic. This way, the skirt could grow with me during pregnancy, and shrink during post partum. It worked really well!

-I wanted some more “chic” skirts, without paying major money for them, so I designed my own pattern. Someday, I hope to translate it into a variety of sizes; maybe even sell it. In the meanwhile, I don’t even have it, a friend does. Basically, though, you can create or alter any kind of skirt to make it maternity- just add a stretchy panel as described above, and optionally, the buttonhole elastic. If it’s a zipper skirt, you can leave the back straight, and just do elastic in the front- and forgo the zipper. (yay!, right?)

-That’s pretty much all I made maternity wise. There’s this bella-band pattern I plan on trying next time around: (http://smashedpeasandcarrots.blogspot.com/2010/02/stretch-knit-pregnancy-band-tutorial.html), and I’ll probably design some more summery skirts. I attempted making one shirt, but I wasn’t really happy with it- I prefer to buy my shirts, and found pretty good prices on Black Friday. Some at Goodwill, too, but that’s hit and miss, depending on your size and what you want. This is getting off target, but anymore, I think you can get better sale/clearance prices at Kohl’s and JC Penny than thrift stores, which shouldn’t be! :-)

BABY DIAPERS:

There are lots of patterns out there, but the one I used was Darling Diaper- www.darlingdiaper.com The directions are very thorough, and have directions for every variety of diaper you might want to make. I also downloaded the free Quick Snap Flap Wrap: http://clothbaby.blogspot.com/2009/07/quick-snap-flap-pattern-update.html Everyone has to find what they like best for themselves, but for what I did, exactly:

Viviana is a very heavy wetter (I use more inserts and she still leaks more often than others (my baby sister and friends’ babies) who use these very same diapers that I made. So- she’s been a bit of a challenge!

For nighttime, we’ve found we like fitted diapers best. These are basically a non-waterproof diaper inside a cover. Kind of like the old fashioned ones, except much more convenient. For the inside, I often use the QSFW pattern (above) and do 1 layer of

bamboo velour and 1 layer of hemp French terry. (Folded up, it’s 3 layers of each). That’s generally enough for most babies, but for Vivi, I also lay in a 3-layer hemp French terry soaker or two. The cover is just the Darling Diaper pattern- 1 layer of PUL, with fold-over elastic around the edges. I use plastic snaps, but you can use hook and loop (Velcro) as well.

For our day time diapers, I use the DD pattern cut out on the widest option (with the color strips) for the PUL, and one layer of bamboo velour on the inside, cut out on the narrower option. I do snaps on these as well. I leave the top open (the fabrics don’t fray, so I don’t even have to serge or hem it!) for stuffing extra layers in- cheater’s way of making a pocket diaper. Some of my diapers I just leave as this, and stuff inserts in, some I sew a quick-dry flap into the top of the diaper- kind of like an all-in-one, except it’s on the outside and loose, so it dries fast. When I do this, I do one layer of bamboo velour (next to baby’s skin) and two of hemp French terry. I lay extra soakers under it, or stuff them in the diaper.

All my extra soakers I make out of 3 layers of hemp French terry. I’ve cut them both on the inside line and the outside, all sizes seem to work well. I just serge mine, without taking off a seam allowance, but you can also turn and topstitch. I have to use a total of 3 soakers (and try to change every pee), but most people I know only use 1 or 2.

Now, for where I get my supplies. I purchase all my fabrics from www.kidsinthegarden.com I really love working with the lady who owns the store; she’s so friendly and personable! She also seems to have the best prices. I belong to her yahoo group (search for kids in the garden on yahoo groups), where she offers special deals- I think she pretty much always has a 10% off coupon, plus you automatically get 10% off for belonging to the yahoo group. Occasionally, she does co-ops where you can buy PUL at phenomenal prices. She does these once or twice a year; I buy a bunch of PUL during one of these so I don’t have to pay full price. She hasn’t done one in quite a few months, though. She also had available through the yahoo group once several rolls of bamboo velour. I was able to purchase a 50-yard roll for $7.15 a yard, a great price for bamboo velour! I’ve since sold off everything I didn’t need, and am currently keeping my eyes open for another bolt. My hemp French terry I just buy from the Kids in the Garden store; I get 10 yards at a time so I can get the additional discount. I get fold-over elastic from her as well.

I purchase snaps through a yahoo group called notion supply. This is also where I bought my hand-held snap press. The snaps look just like those you find on commercial diapers! She also has a regular website set up, now, which is so nice.

I usually just get my ¼” elastic from Joanns, with a ½ off coupon.

Some of those prices seem kind of expensive, but I think I only pay between $4-6 per diaper including soakers. Probably less, I usually try and do generous estimates.

Another trick for saving fabric and money- once I have a collection of PUL scraps going, I start cutting the diapers without the back tabs, and cut those separately out of coordinating scraps. Then I just zig-zag them on. You’d be surprised at how much fabric you save! A friend recently told me she’s just been using cotton for the tabs, and hasn’t had any leaking issues. Currently, though, I’m also enjoying my scraps for making mama cloth.

That’s all I can think of at the moment, but I know it’s a huge world, and it’s hard to remember everything to explain in an e-mail! So, let me know if you have questions!

BABY ACCESSORIES:

-Diaper bag- but I don’t have/remember off hand the pattern number. I don’t particularly like the pattern, anyway, though I like how it turns out. :-) I appliqué or embroider stuff on the front to make it cuter.

-I made my own receiving blankets- just take a yard of flannel and serge around the edges. I love them, because they’re so much bigger (and softer) than store bought ones. And, you have hundreds of fabrics to choose from, instead of just a few. I stock up on flannel on black Friday every year, making these affordable.

-Burp cloths- Take ½ yard flannel, fold it in half, wrong sides together, and serge the edges. Or, if you don’t have a serger, fold right sides together, stitch, leaving opening for turning, turn and topstitch.

-Baby quilts! Much fun….and lots of patterns everywhere!

-I am so going to make these baby rings, but haven’t yet. I also plan on having the last one close with a snap (or you could do Velcro) so I can hook it to baby carriers, car seat, etc. http://www.makeit-loveit.com/2009/03/cloth-baby-rings.html

-This nursing cover would be easy to do. Someone gave me one, so I didn’t have to make one, but I was planning on replicating for gifts- mine looks really similar to this pattern. http://www.makeit-loveit.com/2008/12/nursing-cover.html

-And baby shoes. These are definitely love. What’s awesome, is that although they’re tiny and adorable, they’re easy and non-detailed. http://stardustshoes.blogspot.com/2006/10/cloth-shoe-pattern.html I change the directions somewhat, but that’s the general gist of it. These don’t fit together perfectly, so you really can’t mess them up. I’ve made the pattern bigger, and you don’t have to worry about the pattern pieces all fitting together- they will. Make note that you don’t have to increase width as much as length, since baby’s feet mostly grow longer. Also, make the back higher. I could just make these all day, for the fun of it….

BABY CARRIERS:

I’m always on the look out for new ones to try, but here’s what I’ve made so far:

-Maya Wrap (https://www.mayawrap.com/n_sewsling.php) This is a ring sling, which I really love- it’s definitely the best ring sling I’ve seen out there. The company has chosen to make their pattern available for free to others. I’ve made quite a few of these. Mom’s been wearing them for over 8 years. I can typically find fabric (that’s printed on both sides), 100% cotton, in the red tag clearance at Joanns. (For Kirstie, definitely get more fabric and do it longer than they say to, since she’s so tall- I can’t remember how long I did Mom’s, maybe 1 ¾ yard) They have written directions and videos on their site for using it. You can read more about my opinion on the Maya Wrap here: http://babywearinglibrary.blogspot.com/2011/01/ring-slings.html

-Moby Wrap style….just buy 6 yards of knit (I’ve just used jersey knit so far, but everyone does theirs different- from not very stretchy to rather stretchy, all cotton to otherwise), and cut down the center to make it narrower (if it’s 45” wide fabric, you’ll have two 22 ½” wide wraps, or if it’s 60”, cut it into three (20”) pieces). There’s lots of online tutorials, including the directions at Moby Wrap’s site (http://www.mobywrap.com/InstructionSample.pdf), for how to use it. You can read more of my opinion on the stretchy wraps here: http://babywearinglibrary.blogspot.com/2011/01/stretchy-wraps.html

-Mei Tai…..this is my latest experiment! I used a combination of these instructions: http://www.sleepingbaby.net/jan/Baby/FrankenKozy.htm and http://www.sleepingbaby.net/jan/Baby/asian.html There are a lot of patterns available for doing your own mei tais, so you can browse around the internet if you want. I did the wide/pleated shoulder straps, which I think I’m really going to love. I only just made mine, so I don’t have a firm opinion yet, but I think I’m going to love it. Especially with an older baby, like Vivi. Here’s some links to good directions for using it: http://babywearinglibrary.blogspot.com/2011/01/ergos-mei-tais-and-other-soft.html