28 April 2011

Sacraments, Soap Nuts and Swamps.

If I had been more on the ball I would have had a post ready to be automatically published on Easter Sunday celebrating the Resurrection like a good little Catholic blogger. But I'm relatively new to this enterprise and still learning the ropes of good blogging, so I hope you'll forgive me my omission.

Dominic's first Easter went much better than I was expecting. He's been settling into a pretty regular nap schedule, which makes him primed and ready for bed at about 7:30 or 8pm. If he skips any of his naps he's a grumpy bugger until he goes to bed. So we started our Triduum fairly well. Holy Thursday Mass was at 7pm so we were cutting it close but still able to keep him relatively good tempered until it was over. On Good Friday we were not so lucky. I had to skip out because Dominic missed his afternoon nap (our fault...we were out looking for dress shoes for his Easter outfit) and he was not going to cooperate. We were worried that there would be a repeat performance the next day and I would have to miss out on the Vigil Mass and instead go to Mass in the morning without my darling husband (as the Director of Religious Education he had to be at the Vigil for the Sacraments of Initiation). So we took extra precautions and got him down for an extra nap right before we had to leave for the Vigil, which started at 8pm. Lo and behold! he handled it beautifully, especially considering it was very much past his bedtime! I had to pace with him in the ring sling near the doors to get some air during Communion, but that was the extent of it. Moral of the story? Babies can and will exceed expectations...and they are remarkably resilient. Oh and a ring sling is a must-have for long Vigil Masses.

Now, in my attempt to switch entirely to natural household products, I have finally delved into the world of soap nuts. We all know the saying "Money doesn't grow on trees." (Or, as I like to say, "My money tree isn't producing this year"). But guess what does grow on trees...laundry detergent! These soap nuts (or soap berries, as they are more accurately named) contain a natural detergent called saponin in their hulls. When you soak them in water they release the saponin, which reduces the surface tension of the water, allowing it to penetrate fabrics and thus clean them. Cool, right?

I have been making my own laundry soap for over a year now, but, after experiencing some problems with leaking due to possible detergent residue on my cloth diapers, I decided to give soap nuts a try. I got mine from NaturOli because their prices were the best and they don't use plastic in their packaging. I got a 1/4 lb. bag, which can be used for over 40 loads of laundry. That works out to about $0.25 per load (if you buy the 4 lb. bag, it works out to $0.08 per load)! I have been using them on my diapers for over a week now and I'm impressed! My diapers come out clean and soft and I have no leaking problems. My laundry smells clean...no not the "fresh" scent so commonly associated with cleanliness, but actually clean. And if you really like your laundry to be scented, you can throw a towel with a few drops of essential oil on it into the dryer with your load.

What's even better is that NaturOli offers 50% off their soap nuts and Extreme 18X liquid concentrate in honor of Earth Day. Unfortunately, the sale ended Tuesday at midnight, so you can't take advantage of this deal (yet another example of how I need to be more on-the-ball about getting posts up quicker). But it's still cost-effective, even without the sale. I was able to purchase a 2 lb. bag before the sale ended at $19 with $10 shipping, which works out to $0.09 per load! Hooray for natural and cost-effective!

Now if only I could hang my diapers out in the sun to dry...

I mention that merely as a segue into my next topic, which is, of course, RAIN.

Lots, and lots, and lots of rain.

Normally, rain is a good thing for a gardener. Unless, of course, your soil is mostly clay and it pours buckets for a week straight (or longer, I don't know. I've lost track). Our lawn looks like a prairie, which is not in and of itself a bad thing if you're going for that look. The weeds next to our shed have grown nearly a foot since this all started (and no, I'm not over-exaggerating). My garden beds are now more suited to rice paddies than anything resembling a vegetable bed. Had I known this deluge was on its way, I wouldn't have planted my lettuce seeds. My neat little rows have been scattered all over the bed, so I'll have to wait until they get their true leaves to figure out which variety is growing where. Ugh!

I would have taken a picture of what basically amounts to a bird bath in my backyard, but it was too depressing at the time (and my camera ran out of batteries).

It looks like my tomato and pepper plants will have to wait for the soil to dry out a little before they can be planted.

18 April 2011

A Lenten Public Service Announcement

So...remember my post at the beginning of Lent? Welp, it's now Holy Week and guess who has totally fallen off the Lenten bandwagon? Me, that's who. It's a lot easier to give up coffee than try to improve oneself spiritually, let me tell you!

In a last-ditch attempt to salvage what's left of Lent, I'm going to give up the internet for the rest of the week. So I won't be posting again until Easter Sunday.

It's kind of lame, but it's all I got.

Happy Holy Week!

16 April 2011

Got [Raw] Milk?

I recently drove 45 minutes for a gallon of milk.

Yup. I did.

And it was worth it.

Some of you may be wondering, "But Amy! You're lactose intolerant! Why would you go through all this trouble for milk if you can't drink it?" Well, here's the thing. I can drink this milk.

"But Amy! How can this be?!?"

Alright, enough buildup. I'll spare you the rest of this quirky vignette and get to my point. The reason I drove 45 minutes for the only gallon of milk in the world I can apparently drink is because we are now getting raw milk straight from a local farm. It's an awesome setup because the milk comes from 100% grass fed JerseyGuernsey, and Normande cows (all cows known for the high quality of their milk) and it costs no more than the store-bought organic milk we were purchasing previously.

Now before you bombard me with the dangers of drinking raw milk, let me just say that this was not a decision made on a whim. We weighed the risks and benefits thoroughly. The risks seem to be greatly exaggerated, and are far outweighed by the benefits:
  • Raw cow's milk has all 20 of the standard amino acids.
  • Raw milk contains lactoferrin, which is an iron-binding protein for improved absorption of iron and also anti-cancer properties.
  • Contains CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega 6 fatty acid which has many health benefits such as raising the metabolic rate, strengthening the immune system, lowering food allergy reactions, and is also a cancer-fighting agent among other things.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals including calcium which has many benefits in itself including reduction in cancer, lower risk of osteoporosis, higher bone mineral density, strong teeth, and lowered risk of kidney stones.
  • Sixty-plus fully intact and functional enzymes.
  • Contains beneficial bacteria.

This is a rather simplified list that really just scratches the surface concerning the health benefits of drinking raw milk. Pasteurization destroys most of these factors or greatly diminishes their effectiveness. Enzymes are the best example. Raw milk contains phosphatase for calcium absorption, lipase for fat, lactase for lactose, and many others. One of the tests to confirm pasteurization was successful checks for the absence of these enzymes! Not to mention the loss of many of the heat-sensitive fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins: up to 66% for Vitamins A, D, E and F, 50% or more for Vitamin C, and the total destruction of Vitamins B6 and B12.

So if pasteurization is so bad, why is all our milk pasteurized? Simple. It allows conventional diary operations to continue producing thousands of gallons of milk daily. Without pasteurization these operations would have to change their farming practices drastically in order to assure the quality of their milk. As it stands right now, they don't have to worry about contamination or disease because their milk will be pasteurized anyway. Nevermind that pasteurization doesn't prevent contamination.

This is why, as is true for much of our food, it is so important to know where your food came from. If Horizon Organic started selling raw milk at Kroger (a highly unlikely event given the current food climate) I would most likely pass it up considering I have no idea how they feed and care for their cows, whether they are allowed to graze or kept in confinement, if they've been screened for tuberculosis and brucellosis, and how often they're milked. Which is why we're going to a local farm for our milk.

I can't tell you how excited I am about this! Before we committed ourselves to a cow share we were able to visit the farm and see where the cows are milked, housed, and grazed. As a matter of fact, the day we went was the first day the cows were sent out to graze, so we went out to the pasture to "meet" the cows. Two of the younger, more curious ones came trotting up to us to investigate. Dominic kind of just looked at them, non-plussed, and proceeded to stare at the ground (which was apparently far more interesting than the large ruminant sticking her nose in his face).

The owner introduced us to all the cows, including some cute tidbits about the temperaments of a few of them. They were all happily munching on some the greenest, most lush looking grass I'd seen in a while. As I told the owner, "This makes me wish I ate grass!"

After we saw the cows, we made our way to the other end of the pasture to see their herd of mama sheep and their brand new babies (squeeeee!!!!!!). The lambs stayed safely behind their mothers and most of the mothers kept their distance, but the owner was able to get one of them to come over so we could pet her. Nick was kind of obsessed with the one spotted lamb and kept trying to get a picture of her, but she kept hiding behind her mama. He ended up getting some cute ones though.

Then she took us to see the brand new calf and the milking stall. They only milk one cow at a time to minimize the likelihood of contamination. She showed us the stainless steel tank where they keep the milk chilled, explained how they sanitize the equipment (very thoroughly was my impression) and showed us where they keep the bottled milk for pickup.

And then...

...we got to taste the milk!

Think back to any time you've ever had a craving for something, let's say French fries (I craved them a lot during my pregnancy). In your mind they taste exactly as a French fry ought to taste: salty, starchy, with just the right ratio of crispy exterior to soft interior. Then, when you finally have a pile of fries in front of you, you're disappointed to find that they're too crispy/mushy, too salty/not salty enough, too thin/too thick, etc, etc. Your expectations find no match in reality. So you resign yourself to sub-par potatoes and hope dousing them in ketchup will make up for it.

That has been my experience with milk (and, really, all dairy products) up to this point. I would think about milk and imagine something creamy, slightly sweet, full bodied. I was always disappointed by the store-bought variety and had resigned myself to the fact that there was no such thing as what I was expecting.

No more!

This milk tastes exactly how I always thought milk should taste. It is divinely delicious, rich and creamy. We signed up for a share on the spot. Now, I get a craving for a glass of milk...and I have a glass of milk. It is extremely satisfying, especially since it is not only delicious, but also health promoting.

I highly suggest looking into finding fresh milk and trying it yourself. Make sure you're getting it from a good source, one that keeps healthy, disease-free cows (no hormones or antibiotics), feeds them an organic, grass-based diet, is meticulous about the cleanliness of their milk and has it tested for contamination regularly. Clean, raw milk is highly nutritious and just as safe, if not more so, as its pasteurized counterpart.

Raw milk. Does the body good (really).

12 April 2011

Mothering, Feelings, and Great Expectations

I remember taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator test during high school at our diocesan Christian Leadership Institute one summer. I think back then I figured myself out to an ENFJ, because all the people I most wanted to be like were ENFPs or ENFJs. I took the same test a year later as a member of the Maine Diocesan Council of Catholic Youth and came out as an INFJ, because both of my best friends at the time were INs. Is there a point to all this? Yes, yes there is. I'm simply trying to show how easily manipulated such a test can be. And how little stock I actually put into its results. Which is why I was surprised when this quiz, based on the Myers-Briggs Types, actually got it right.

The 'Know Thyself' Mother

Sensitive and family-focused, the INFJ mother looks for and encourages the unique potential of each child. Self-knowledge may be her byword. Her aim is to help each child develop a sense of identity and cultivate personal growth. In fact, she may value the mothering experience as a catalyst to her own personal growth and self-knowledge.

The INFJ mother spends time observing and understanding each child. She is drawn to intimate conversations and seeks a free exchange of feelings and thoughts.

Sympathetic and accommodating, the INFJ mother strives to meet the important yet sometimes conflicting needs of each family member in harmonious and creative ways.

She is conscientious and intense as well. Probably no one takes life and child-raising more seriously than the INFJ. She approaches mothering as a profession requiring her best self.

It gets really eerie when it starts discussing the particular struggles this personality type may have to contend with:

Details. The INFJ mother may gravitate toward the idea of getting the family and household organized and in order, only to exhaust herself with nitty-gritty follow through. Regular baths for small children, weekly laundry, daily meals, picking up clutter, and ongoing repairs can be overwhelming.

Real life vs. the ideal. Because she lives with an ideal in her mind, the INFJ mother often has unrealistic expectations of herself and others. She may feel inadequate and critical of herself when reality falls short of her ideal.

Yes and YES!

I am SO like this! I have this marvelous picture of a perfectly organized household that never seems to come to fruition for one reason of another. I'll be all gung-ho and rarin' to go about my FlyLady routine one day and just go crazy organizing, folding, putting away, washing, drying, etc, etc. Two or three days go by and my laundry baskets are all full of clean laundry I have yet to put away and the dirty clothes are just piling up on the floor around them, I can't see my counter top or the inside of my sink for all the dishes, and the mail is spilling over onto the floor. Meal planning? Maybe. If I get to it. Ugh!

It's that ideal, of the perfectly organized household, that ends up making me feel inadequate. As if not being June Cleaver makes me suck as a human being. Don't worry, the self-loathing doesn't last long. But it rears its ugly head on occasion, no denyin' that.

So what's a mom to do when faced with such difficulties?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

h/t to Just West of Crunchy.

11 April 2011

Raised (Ish) Garden Beds and Seedlings!

And so it begins...

There's no way out this time. My seeds are here (and some are started), my plants are on their way, my beds are dug, and there's nothing left to do but start planting and hope for the best. This has the potential to be a stunning success, a moderately satisfying achievement, or a crushing failure. I can live with a moderately satisfying achievement if it means at least ONE fresh tomato still warm from the sun. A stunning success is too much to hope for considering my dearth of experience with horticulture, so if I find myself in such happy circumstances, I will be pleasantly surprised. Crushing failure? Well, I'd rather not think about it.

And now it seems I will be having a gardening buddy this year! My brother-in-law is growing a small crop of corn in our yard since he has limited space in his own due to a rather large tree shading most of it. Fresh corn? Win! The downside of this arrangement is that I now have an impartial witness to any possible failure on my part. Note to self: Don't fail.

Yesterday was warm and sunny so we took the opportunity to get our beds dug and ready for planting (good thing, too, as it has been rainy steadily all. day. long.) My dad and sister helped us dig the beds while they were here looking for rental properties, so the initial digging had been completed already. That made things a little easier. What we did yesterday was edge the beds with cedar planks, rather like a raised bed, but not so raised. Why go through this rigmarole, you ask? Well, I was recently informed by my dear neighbor that our yard is full of bermudagrass, a particularly hardy and invasive species of turf grass. Let's put it this way...one of its many names, according to the referenced Wikipedia article, is Devil's Grass. Fitting, no? My neighbor claims the roots go straight to China.

The beds from my kitchen window.
In order to keep this grass from invading my beds, we dug a trench about 3 inches deep around the beds and stuck the cedar frame into it, leaving a gap around the outer edge so I can see the stolons and cut them off before they get to the bed (we hope). This may be an exercise in futility, but it's worth a try. The unframed bed is where the corn will go.

And speaking of gardening, I finally got to starting my seeds! Not very many of them required indoor germination, but those that did (including my German chamomile, English lavender, and Greek oregano...sounds like a meeting of the European Union) needed significant time to do it. There's nothing more exciting than placing a tiny seed in some soil and watching it grow. The day I first saw sprouts in my seed starting tray basically made my week (second only to the day we visited the Indiana dairy farm where we will be getting our milk from now on....but I digress).

Some basil sproutlings (Genovese to the left, Cinnamon to the right).
German chamomile sprouts.
The only seeds that have yet to germinate are those of my English lavender. It has been pointed out to me, however, that lavender is a very picky herb to grow from seed and may take a day and an age to do so. I really hope it sprouts, because I love love LOVE lavender.

Once it stops raining, I'll get out to the beds and hopefully get some lettuce planted. The tomato and pepper plants are scheduled to arrive on April 25. I can't wait!

05 April 2011

I Killed Wilson...Again

Well, I didn't actively kill him...he just kinda languished from neglect. I've come to the conclusion that having a 5 month old today! baby makes taking care of such a picky project as a sourdough starter much much more difficult (and annoying)! He did pretty well for the first few days, but once I had to start discarding and feeding I felt burdened by the whole process. I mean, seriously, do I really want to fuss with a gooey mass of fermented flour and water after finally convincing my child surrender to his exhaustion at 10pm? Pssht!

So, unfortunately my sourdough experiment will have to wait, again. Sorry to disappoint, if in fact anyone is disappointed...

I basically feel like a truck ran over me, I've been hit by a bus, the hapless victim of a freak skydiving accident. It's rather odd and kind of alarming that the last time I felt like this was after we returned from our trip to Maine for a good friend's wedding. This time, my parents, sister and young nephew were staying with us to look at rental houses in the surrounding area (did I mention my family is moving to Indiana?!). Notice a pattern? I should start wearing a face mask when I see them...(kidding!)

I was pleasantly surprised at how well my child handled the constant fondling and abuse visited upon him by his 19 month old cousin. My nephew is a hair puller, and though Dominic has little to speak of, Benedict was still able to wrap his little fingers around what few wisps he had and pull with all his might. Poor Dom...he cried a bit but was easily comforted. He was so fascinated with B that he hardly noticed the abuse, most of the time. It made for some pretty adorable and funny moments.

Oh, and did I mention I've ditched my nursing cover? It's true. Dominic has gotten to the point where he won't nurse if it's on and will push at it and pull on it the whole time I'm trying to feed him. So I grit my teeth and nursed for the first time in public without a cover (while I was in Maine, actually) and it was not the awkward experience I was anticipating. I still cover up if I feel like the outfit I'm wearing reveals too much (like some of my dresses), but we've gotten pretty adept at what my husband calls "ninja nursing". But my NIP stories are better saved for another post, I think.

And be on the lookout for an increase in posts about health and nutrition...it's my current obsession interest, especially as it relates to the issue of cholesterol (did you know cholesterol is an antioxidant?) And maybe some stuff about unschooling as I peruse the relevant literature and other homeschooling resources. I figure now is a better time to decide how to handle Dom's education, rather than waiting until he's 6 and ready to start Kindergarten (which he's never going to do because he will always be my baby and he will never ever grow up ever!)

I should also mention my little sister (mother of the previously mentioned adorable hair-pulling nephew) has resurrected her blog, Catholic Wifey. Go enjoy the antics of their crazy little family (complete with an emotionally fragile German Shepherd named...wait for it....Puppy).

There, Lor, you've been linked! KTHXBAI!


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