Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Taking the Cloth

We're starting cloth diapers this week! I don't know if I'm more excited or scared.  I'm excited because we're doing our part to save the environment, and in the process we're saving actual shitloads of money. But I'm scared because-- let's face it-- it's going to mean a lot more work for me. 

For those of you without kids, it's amazing how one tiny person, who weighs less than ten pounds and owns no articles of clothing bigger than an adult sock, can INSTANTLY double the amount of laundry you have to do.  That's because babies are little drooling, pooping, vomit machines, who can't stand to be wearing the same article of clothing for longer than an episode of "The Colbert Report." So, when your baby sees that you are enjoying an evening in front of the television, they think to themselves "Oh no! I'm in the same onesie I was wearing at the start of this show. How embarrassing! I'd better throw up on myself  before Jon Stewart sees me like this!" So then your baby throws up on herself, and not only do you miss the start of the daily show EVERY NIGHT, but you also spend every bit of your free time washing her nasty, drool covered baby wardrobe.

So, am I crazy for taking on even MORE laundry than I already have? Maybe or maybe not.  When we chose to try cloth diapers, I was assured by many, many women that cloth diapers are really quite easy and doable.  Now that we're on the verge of cloth-- I'm starting to wonder if these women are really trustworthy. Can cloth be manageable for a new mom who doesn't always have her act together?

So, ladies-- I'm looking for the honest truth. Are cloth diapers really that easy? (Note: ladies who are currently baking artisan quiches in spotless kitchens, or ironing anything NEED NOT REPLY.)

For those of you looking for actual helpful information on cloth diapers, I'd recommend this link.  Sean and I chose the all-in-one style diapers because they seemed to be the most idiot proof.  I'd also recommend registering for them when you're having your baby showers because each of these little bastards costs at least twenty dollars.

Sean installed this handy contraption onto our toilet so I can spray the poop off the diapers before putting them in the pail.  I know this gesture is unlikely to be featured in the next Nicholas Sparks novel, but I found it incredibly romantic. It's gestures like this that say "I still love you," and "I don't want you to have baby shit on your hands." That's how I know we're going to last. Now, if you'll excuse me, I just got Millie into a new onesie, and I have to go catch up on last night's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

toilet sprayer for cloth diapers

Monday, May 27, 2013

Serendipity: a Book Review

Serendipity, kids book

When my sisters and I were little, our favorite set of books by far were the Serendipity Books by Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James.  These were a wonderful collection, featuring rich, fantastical illustrations, environmentalist messages, and occasionally, a giant silver unicorn named Morgan.  These books were so coveted by our childhood selves, that my older sister preemptively stole my parents' entire collection years before any of us were thinking of having children.  When I became pregnant, I began to lament the fact that I had allowed Kelly to abscond with these books uncontested, only to learn that my mother-in-law had the entire set (in hard cover no less) saved in a box in her basement. Oh what joy! The books would be mine, and my daughter too would know the pleasures of the creatures, the magical kingdoms, and especially, the giant pink Ocean monster, Serendipity.

We received the box, and I unpacked them with relish. I gave them a place of honor on the nursery bookshelf.  Then I settled in with my daughter on my lap to relive the magic of my childhood. The first book I opened was a book called "Creole," which was supposed to be about not judging people by their looks, but actually just teaches kids that the "fat" monsters are unattractive. I was disappointed, but I guess it did teach an important lesson: society is a bitch, and even illustrated swamp monsters will judge you based on your appearance.  The next book I tried was "Morgan Morning," and this one had a more uplifting message. If you disobey your mother and run away from her, you will fall off a waterfall and turn into a unicorn. This one didn't bother me too much, because I figure there aren't many waterfalls where we live, so it's pretty low-risk.  Finally, I turned to the one book in the set I knew would be a slam dunk-- Everyone's favorite pinkish purple plesiosaur-- the anti-littering spokes-creature, and "lorax of the sea,"  Serendipity.

The first thing that struck me is that this book had roughly the same plot as "encino man." A giant, prehistoric egg is frozen in an iceberg, until one day it thaws out, hatches, and joins with the modern day sea creatures on a path of self discovery. That's a pretty good start, because, let's face it, Encino Man was an awesome movie.

As I continued to read on, however, I spotted a few holes in the otherwise killer plot.  Most disturbingly, there are several spots where the book is biologically inaccurate. Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but as a child I was sort of a nerd.  Ok more than sort of.  Alright I was a huge nerd, and I read science books all the time.  The point is, I knew very well that dolphins were mammals, not fishes, so why did I turn a blind eye when--in a plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan--Serendipity's traveling companions, the Dolphin and the Walrus turn out to KINGS OF ALL THE FISHES!?

I think it's because, in my adolescence, my method of evaluating quality literature was slightly different than it is now. Here's my estimation of how the two compare.

literary grading rubric

So-- according to my two systems of Literary Review, how does Serendipity stack up?
If you are a 3 year old, I would definitely recommend the book Serendipity.  There is royalty, talking animals, and gratuitous use of the color pink, so I think you would enjoy it.  If you are a 30 year old, I would recommend that you read Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America" instead, which is basically the same message, but a slightly better read, despite its disappointing lack of talking animals. If the author of Serendipity is reading this, I would recommend a revision of your timeless childhood classic as soon as possible, to introduce a new unicorn-based character into the plot line, and possibly a foreword by Michael Pollan.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Science of Baby Poop

Can we talk about baby poop for a minute?  Because if we're being honest, that's all I think about these days. I don't know what happened to me, one minute I was going about my life, being interested in various hobbies, works of literature, and fields of scientific inquiry, and the next minute I was hyper-focused on the frequency, coloration, and ubiquitous subsistency of baby poop.

When you become a parent, one of the first things they teach you in the hospital is how to collect data on your specific baby's poop.  They give you a chart, and teach you to gather data with the level of stringent detail expected from today's top climate scientists-- and with rather more stringent detail expected from climate scientists employed by the Koch Brothers. Dutifully (pun intended) when Millie came home from the hospital, I conducted this scatological census with a level of organization and scientific competence that would have astounded the Honors Chemistry teacher at my high school.

The results?  I don't know if Millie is any better off for it, but I'm definitely more neurotic. I'm also totally fascinated. For instance, if someone said to me, would you like to see a graph of Millie's poops per day over the last 45 days? I would say to them "OF COURSE I DO.  Who wouldn't want to see that?!"  I don't have an i-phone--so I have no idea if this already exists--but I think a really great idea for an app would be one that creates color pie charts and graphical analysis of your baby's poops.

Here's an idea of how baby-poop charts would compare with other areas of scientific research:

sea level rise over time

baby poop disgustingness over time

For those of you without kids, baby poop is BRIGHT YELLOW.  Luckily for me, Millie's grandmother was able to warn me about this before it happened.  "Now the next time the baby poops" she said when Millie was just a few days old, "it will look like expensive Dijon Mustard." WHAT? Sure enough, It looked exactly like the fancy sandwich mustard I put out for my most impressive guests.  I wonder how many frantic phone calls pediatric offices receive from first time parents who are unprepared for this phenomenon. "Yes Doctor, we can't be sure but--we've just changed the baby's diaper, and we think someone must have been making fancy sandwiches in there!"  

The Baby Poop Color Spectrum- mustard

Now, some of you will accuse me of Shaky Science---simply because these charts are completely made up.  To you I say---" how dare you question my results?" Also, I say "When you have baby poop on your hands, you can't worry about nit-picky details like 'significant figures' or 'actual data.'"  Personally, I think I have a bright and shinning career ahead of me at a Koch-Funded think-tank.  Or--- if they're not hiring-- there's always a future in jet ski sales. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Growing Perennials From Seed

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to starting my seeds.  I do this every year, and I mostly grow vegetable seedlings because---like every other person who has ever read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle-- I am now an insufferable locavore and aspiring farmer.

This year was different however. For one thing, we haven't put in our deer fence yet, and I have nothing to protect my would-be vegetables from the posse of spoiled teenage deer that terrorize my backyard. For another thing, we are relatively impoverished, having recently gone from DINKs (double income, no kids,) to CHUMPs (Children-Having Undertakers of Mortgage Payments) and need to landscape our yard on almost no budget.

So, instead of starting vegetables this year, I bought some packets of flowering perennials, ornamental grasses, and a few annuals I couldn't live without, and decided to give it a shot.  I figured how hard can it be to grow ornamental grasses?  Really F-ing hard as it turns out. I doubt even Queen Galadriel herself could make these barren, lifeless seeds germinate. It's GRASS for goodness sake! If you took literally ANY piece of dirt, and killed all life on it, and did NOTHING to seed, water, and care for it, eventually grass would colonize it.  So why can't I make mine grow?  I think maybe they sold me a defective seed packet. Ok three seed packets. Of different varieties.  Oh hell.

So, as it turns out, there is a reason that Ornamental grasses cost $30.00 a bucket at your local garden store.  The good news is, I'm having moderate success with my other seed starting endeavors. Here's what I'm growing.

Black Eyed Susans: These beatiful flowering perenials are doing quite well.  I was very proud of this, until I learned that they are somewhat invasive, and that it probably does not indicate any sort of skill on my part to produce healthy seedlings.
Purple coneflower- These flowers will help me acheive the "cottage garden" look I am going for in front of the house. They too are doing quite well.
Blue Fescue- This is one of the smallest of the ornamental grasses, with a bluish tinge that looks great along borders, pathways, and rock walls.  Needless to say, it is not growing at all.
Deschampsia- This is my favorite of all the ornamental grasses that we failed to grow. It clumps nicely with a purplish haze at the top, and tolerates partial shade.
Pony Tails- This bright greenish/yellowish grass would have created a soft, feathery look for the window boxes I have planned. Instead, it mocks me from the attractive, beautifully clumping photo on the cover of the seed packet.  No ponytail seedlings have emerged so far.  
Poppy- The variety I am growing is called "oriental Red," and it's a gorgeous red flower with a dark, almost black center. I had under a 50% germination rate with these seeds, but luckily, I don't hold my seed packets accountable to the same high standards that I have for my heart surgeons, seat-belts, and parachutes.  I'm ok with 40% germination in these beautiful flowers, and it was well worth the $1.29 I paid for the seed packet.
Delphinium- Oh my god I love Delphiniums. Their beautiful tall spires will look great in my cottage garden out front, and I'm happy to report that, of the 5 containers that I started, 2 seeds germinated.

growing black eyed susans from seedgrowing bush beans from seed

growing poppys from seedmore black eyed susans

growing purple coneflower from seedgrowing nasturtium from seed

growing sunflower from seedgrowing wildflowers from seed

In other news, Sean is still dreamy and handsome.  Here is the coldframe he built for me to start my seeds in.  The high back creates easy access for watering, and can be flipped open for ventilation on hot days.  We just cover it at night with a plastic drop cloth to protect from frost.

So, for all you other CHUMPs out there, I'd definitely recommend growing perennials from seed as a way to get more bang for your landscaping buck. In fact, to help you get started, I've got some ornamental grass seeds you can borrow. Happy growing!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

5 Great Songs to Sing to Your Baby

Sean and I have always been  pretty musical couple.  We even played in a band back in NC, and I don't want to brag, but we got pretty big at one point---in the way that "big" can be interpreted to mean "had a lot of members." In addition to the usual lead guitar, lead singer, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums, we also had fiddle, cowbell, banjo, dobro, mandolin, and a clogging accordion player.  On a personal note, if you've never played in a band that had a clogging accordion player, I feel sorry for you. 

Our shows would get pretty fun, as our drunk friends fans were an especially raucous group.  For instance, there is no telling when someone would throw their panties on stage at our drummer, or when the bartender would have to announce in defeat "We are out. You have drank all the PBR."

With such a rich musical heritage, you can imagine how much music has become part of Millie's life too. I think it was my friend Sue who warned me, after the birth of her own baby, "you have no idea what a songwriting machine you are about to become." Boy, was she right. 

These days, Sean and I have split off from the band to work on a side project-- our daughter.  We're playing some pretty shitty venues, and by that I mean "her diaper changing table." We've come up with some sweet jams to entertain our tiny music critic (she is very judgmental of any songs that do not contain xylophone music,) and I thought I'd share a few of them with you today. I hope you enjoy them, preferably while selling your fridge out of PBR. 

To the tune of "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie

This boob is your boob,
This boob is my boob.
Our boobs got bigger,
Now we have side-boob!
From the left-side titty,
To the right side tiiiiiity.
This boob was made for you and me.

To the tune of "Yellow" by Coldplay.

Look at the stripe
Look how it turned to blue
that was Mommy's cue
That it was all yellow

Inside your dipe'
There wasn't baby poo
It was a different hue
and it was all yellow

I'm cleeaning up your baby butt
It's eeeeasier to wipe because,
you must have peed yourself twice
you must have peed yourself twice

To the tune of "Don't Ya" by the Pussy Cat Dolls.

Don't you wish your baby was sweet like me?
Don't you wish your baby had feet like me?
Don't ya?
Don't ya?

Don't you wish your baby could hold up her head?
Don't you wish your baby'd go the hell to bed?
Don't ya?
Don't ya?

To the tune of "Low Rider" by War.

All. My. Girls. Love a clean diaper.
The clean. Dia-per. Is a little drier
take a little piss
take a little piss
take a little piss and pee
take a little piss
take a little piss
take a little piss for me

To the tune of "Funky town"by Lipps Inc.

Won't you take me to, titty town?
Won't you take me to titty tooown.

Won't you take me to, titty town?
Won't you take me to titty tooown.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My First Mother's Day, My Own Mother, and a Long Overdue Thank-You Note.

Yesterday was my first mother's day, and-- like parenthood-- it was filled with highs and lows.  Millie forgot to get me a card, but Sean saved her by buying one for her.  A definite high was the gift from my in-laws-- a "shopping spree" of sorts in their beautiful shade garden.  They had excess hostas, lungwort, ferns, black-eyed-susans, bee balm, and other perennials and they loaded us up. They took me around their property, letting me pick out the things we wanted for our yard. I responded exactly like a shark in a tank full of chum, and went on a sedum-induced feeding frenzy.

The definite down side was our drive home, in which Millie screamed for 3 and a half hours, probably in protest to the fact that I hadn't let her pick out which hostas we wanted for the side yard.

I also had the opportunity to speak to my own mother, who is the strongest, smartest, funniest woman alive.  Lets be clear---if my mom got in a fight with any of your moms--- she would win. Likewise, if she got in a math competition or a dirty limerick writing contest, she would win. SHE IS A WINNER.  Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the ways in which my mother has prepared me for motherhood, and the areas I have fallen short. Here is what I've come up with.

When you are a new mother, you have a lot of new emotions, fears, and hormones coursing through your system. For instance, when I first had Millie, I had to confront a crippling fear of not having chocolate ice cream at every meal. Luckily, I knew exactly what cuss words to say in order to make my sentiments known. This is all thanks to my mother.
My mother grew up on a farm in rural Georgia with four older brothers who schooled her in the use of pill-bottle-based explosive devices and colorful expletives. Soon their young apprentice began to outpace them all, and demonstrated such mastery of the four major cuss words of the day (shit, damn, ass, and hell,) as to claim the title of prodigy.
Hilariously, I had no idea of my mother's genius until I was 13 years old, at which point my parents allowed me to cuss, and my mother taught me to shout "who dealt this shit?" when playing spades. My mother is very VERY good about controlling her language in front of children, so up until this time, I had no idea that I was to become a young padawan to such a  powerful language master.
Now that I am a grown up and have a daughter of my own, I am thoroughly enjoying the golden months when Millie is still oblivious to my sailor mouth.  Very soon, I will have to retire my impressive vocabulary until her young and impressionable ears are more developed.  I can't wait to see the look on Millie's face on her 13th birthday, when she discovers the truth about her mother and grandmother, and I can't wait to teach her to say "who dealt this shit?" ---a feat for which I am totally and completely prepared thanks to my own Mom.

Not Prepared: 
Writing Thank you notes: 
I didn't grow up in the sort of house where we wrote thank you notes.  In fact, I didn't even grow up in the kind of house where we exchanged birthday cards. Perhaps the most glaring example of my unpreparedness for motherhood is my absolute inability to keep up with even the most basic mail correspondence. This is normally not much of a problem, as the good lord saw fit to invent email during my lifetime, graciously sparing me from a life of social shame, and--as a bonus-- allowing for the distribution of cat videos among my g-chat friends.  However, when you have a baby, you receive gifts from absolutely everywhere.  I am not making this up when I say that we received at least ten beautiful and thoughtful baby gifts from persons who we have never met, ever in our lives.  This puts a lot of stress on me, a person who is already handicapped in the thank-you-note-writing area, and I've often had this conversation with my mother: "We are receiving a gift from who? The friend of your coworker's dog groomer? They are getting us what? Oh wow! How lovely of them-- will you try and get their address so I can write them a thank you note?"  To be honest though, even if I have the address, I'll most likely never send the note because I am too distracted watching cat videos on the internet.  So, if you have given us a baby gift and are still waiting on your thank you note, please accept this one on my behalf:

Dear (please circle one) Person who I have never met/ Close friend/ Relative/ Dog groomer of relative, 

Thank you so much for your adorable gift of (please circle one) bibs/ tiny dresses/ tiny dresses with matching bibs.  We love them and Millie looks adorable in them.  Your thoughtfulness overwhelms us, and we are so grateful to you for thinking of us during this momentous time in our lives. 

Warm Wishes,
Sean and Katie

Now, there was a moment in which my areas of preparedness and unpreparedness came full circle, and that moment was when I wrote the thank you note to my parents after my baby shower. To put them at their ease, I made sure to include plenty of cuss words. It went something like this:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you so much for the beautiful and thoughtful cloth diapers.  I will always think of you when I am up to my ears in baby shit. Also, thank you so much for all the times you wiped my ass, as I'm sure that could not have been fun for you. 

All my love,

Now that it's mothers day, I am inspired to write a different sort of thank you note to my Mom.

Dear Mom,

First of all, thank you for enduring the horrific pain of childbirth and subsequent sleep depravation that accompanied my entry into this world. Also, you are a Bitch for lying to me about how much that would suck.  Thank you so much for keeping me alive until I was thirteen, and then teaching me to cuss-- that was really fun.  Thanks in short, for all the ways in which you prepared me for being a mother, and for teaching me that---although I will probably have to wait for thirty years for a thank you note from my own daughter-- she will definitely be grateful to me for putting up with all her bullshit. I love you.

Happy Mothers Day,

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How To Win your Next Baby Shower- 7 Great Handmade Gift Ideas

Now maybe it's because I'm getting older, or maybe all my friends are just getting really lazy about taking their birth control, but I've been attending a TON of baby showers recently.

Baby showers are a chance for a woman's friends to gather around her and show their love and support for her unborn child by buying it onesies--- it's NOT a competition, in the same way that the Olympics are not a competition.  You naive fools! Baby showers are TOTALLY a competition, and if you want to stay in a woman's close circle of friends, you'd better bring your A-game and get ready to pull a Tanya Harding on any woman who brings the same gift as you.

Obviously, the best way to win a baby shower is to spend ALL THE MONEY YOU HAVE. You may think "that's ridiculous, she doesn't need that many onesies!" But, you're forgetting that, not only do onesies come in newborn sizes, but also in 0-3 month sizes.  If you really love your friend, you will go to the ATM, take out all of your cash, and convert it instantly to plastic Target gift cards with teddy bear motifs.

However, if your current cash flow is a little restricted, but you still want to make a gesture that says "I love you more than these friendship usurping hags," you can always try giving her a thoughtful and creative gift instead.  And, since society dictates that the handmade gift is always the best, the other women at the shower will have to concede that you brought the best gift, even if they are the ones who respected your friend's wishes by sticking to her registry.

Here are 7 handmade gift ideas that will blow your next baby shower out of the water.

1. Book it! Sean and I received an AWESOME handmade book from the daughter of some of our neighbors.  It's a children's story about the love between our dog, Cricket, and their dog, Seamus, and it is easily the best piece of literature I have ever seen.  Here are a few pictures from the book:

I know what you're thinking, "I'm not as talented as the little girl who wrote this book!" I know you're not--- no one is-- but you can still create your own book by using photos for your illustrations.  I wrote a book/photo album this fall for the 6 recent babies in my life (seriously, I think my friends need a refresher lesson on how birth control pills work,) and had it printed on a site called Lulu.  Now, whenever I need another book printed, I can just pull up my saved book and order another copy.

2. Dork out: Not many people take into account the Dad when shopping for a shower gift, but you can make your gift stand out, by giving the gift that he will like the best.  Take for instance this baby quilt:
star wars baby quilt

This was made by Sean's cousin, who runs an Etsy store called, the swankie blankie.  What makes this Star Wars quilt even more amazing is that is has a matching death star burp cloth.  I want you to take a minute to process what I just said. A MATCHING DEATH STAR BURP CLOTH. Now, imagine you are the coworker of the dad who received this baby quilt.  Monday morning, when you ask him how the shower went, this blanket is the difference between him groaning and saying " was horrible!" and him shrugging his shoulders and saying "It wasn't too bad. Someone gave us a Star Wars quilt and a matching burp cloth with the death star on it."

3. Get Practical: One of the best handmade gifts I received at my baby shower was a stack of homemade flannel breast pads from my friend Elizabeth.  She included a funny note about how, regretfully, I was about to start leaking in impolite places, and that she had whipped these up for me on her sewing machine. Now, at the time I didn't really register how much I would love this gift, but sure enough, as soon as my baby was born I started squirting like a horny holstein.  This homemade gift saved the day, and prevented me from having to trouble-shoot that particular crisis with a house full of relatives, on less than two hours sleep a night, and with diaper cream on my hands.

4. Knit it and quit it.  Hand-knitted gifts are to baby showers what bacon wrapped shrimps are to buffet lines--the best thing on the table.  Knitters, remember that-- again, like bacon wrapped shrimps-- these items go fast!  It only takes a few hours to knit a baby garment that will make your competitors fellow party goers green with envy,  (or that could just be all the baby-shower guacamole) either way, start knitting tiny baby socks! On the left is a baby hat I designed and knitted as baby gifts this year.  On the right is a photo of a titty-hat. When worn by a new baby while breastfeeding--- well you get it, it's hilarious. I can't take credit for this idea, that must go to my little sister, Tori who is truly twisted.


5. Go Artsy Fartsy: When Millie was born, our neighbor Sue achieved complete baby shower domination, by commissioning Wilmington, NC based artist, Maya Simonson to do a piece of artwork for the baby's room.   Maya includes little girls in all of her watercolors, and this particular piece was inspired by what she imagined life to be like for a little girl growing up on our street.
The nice thing about custom artwork is that is will hang in the baby's room as a constant reminder to the other women who visit the nursery of their inadequacy giving baby gifts.  If you can't commission a piece from an artist, you can also try choosing illustrations from a classic children's book such as "Where the Wild Things Are," or "Winnie the Pooh" and having them matted and framed to match your friend's nursery decor.

6. Because I said Sew: The top drawer of Millie's dresser is organized into two sections.  On the right side is Things The Baby Poops On, while the left side is all the Things the Baby Throws Up On.  In this drawer are a collection of hand sewn burp cloths, bib's and other vomit-collection textiles that are so artfully done, they deserve to be on display at the Smithsonian.  Instead-- as I may have mentioned-- I use them to collect baby throw up. But, each time I do, I think fondly of the women who gifted them to us.

If you're a talented seamstress, and you're bossy enough, you could win your next baby shower by taking a page out of my friend Emily's book. When some of our dear friends became pregnant with twin baby girls, Emily instructed each individual in our circle of friends to make a quilt square.  This was a serious feat of cat-herding that involved several organizational deadlines, the mailing of squares across multiple states, and more than one firmly worded reminder email. However, in the end, she got results, and cobbled the squares together into these two beautiful quilts, forever endearing herself to the young parents, and clearly winning their baby shower.

7.  Throw some Bows- Just after the baby was born, we received a box of these handmade hair-bows from our friend Leslie:

I'm sorry--- it was rude of me not to warn you that these photos may make your head may explode from cuteness. CAUTION: THESE PHOTOS MAY CAUSE AN OVERWHELMING URGE TO PROCREATE, ESPECIALLY WITH LONG, SILKY-HAIRED GENTLEMEN.  So, even if you can't paint, knit, or sew, I'm willing to bet that you can operate a glue gun. Granted, your bows probably won't look as good as Leslie's do, but that is because she is the Michelangelo of ribbon, and you are just some asshole with a glue gun.

Party-goers, I hope these tips give you some good ideas for handmade baby shower gifts.  Personally, I've really enjoyed getting to brag about all the good presents I got, which I'm sure are much better than the ones you will be making. If you've read this entire post, and you still don't have any ideas for your next baby shower gift, I hate to say it, but you don't deserve to win. If I were you I'd head straight to the ATM because--as you can see from these photos--you're going to be facing some stiff competition.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Panther Mommy and the Nightingale Floors

In Japan's Kyoto prefecture, there is a castle that is famous for its Nightingale Floors.  Apparently, in order to guard themselves from ninja attacks in their sleep, the ancient Shoguns that lived there rigged the castle floorboards so that they chirp like birds whenever people walk across them. I can't prove it, but I think this is what Millie has done with the floor of her bedroom.

We live in a house with mostly hardwood floors, but compared to many houses, they are quiet, non-creaky floors.  For instance, it is quite easy for an extremely pregnant woman to sneak from the bedroom to the kitchen and eat ice cream in the middle of the night without waking up her husband.  (At least that's what the previous owner told me.) That's not the case in Millie's room though.  We seem to have placed the nursery on the squeakiest floors in the house.

Luckily, since I have become a mother, I can now walk as quietly and stealthily as a panther.  Seriously.  Not only can I walk like a panther, but I can also see in the dark EXACTLY like a panther, proving once again that mothers are capable of super-human feats when their babies are in danger---(of waking up from their naps.)

Now, every night in her room, there is a showdown between Millie's floorboard ninja defenses, and my  big-cat mother creep. Heres how it starts-- I'm rocking Millie, and she drifts off to sleep.  I need to transfer her to her cradle without waking her.  I pick her up, and try to hold her in the same position she was sleeping in.  I tiptoe across the room with her, pirouetting over the dog, and placing her deftly in her crib. Then I pad my way out of her room as quietly as if I were freaking Legolas from Lord of the Rings.  She doesn't wake up. I'm awesome.

Round one goes to Panther Mommy.

About 5 minutes later, I am watching on our baby espionage system video baby monitor, and her eyes shoot open.  She has realized she is alone in her bedroom, and she is PISSED. She begins grunting.  In nature, grunting can be an intimidation tactic, and Millie knows this because unfortunately, I have been reading national geographic magazines to her. Dammit Katie!  Her next step is to make herself appear larger than she actually is by spreading out her arms and legs.  Millie tries this, only to discover that she is swaddled.  WHAT! Some evil, foul, much despised mother has swaddled her, and now she can't use her intimidation tactics.  Then Millie starts to waaaaaaaiiilllllll......

In comes Mommy, army-crawling towards the cradle on my hands and knees, because I don't want Millie to know I'm there. I pull the wooden pin underneath her cradle it to make it rock-- because this worked one time, and now I try it every single time, like an idiot. Millie interprets this rocking to mean I AM UNDER ATTACK, and screams louder. Still keeping out of sight, I snake my hand up to the top of her cradle and place the pacifier in her mouth. She grunts in disgust, and torpedoes the pacifier out of her mouth.  We both watch as it flies through the bars of her cradle, across the room, and into a pile of dog hair.  The floorboard creaks. I KNOW YOU'RE THERE MOMMY. I cave, and pick her up.

Round two goes to Millie. 

We start the bedtime ritual over, rocking, and singing, and having a nervous breakdown.  I have most of her cardboard Dr. Seuss books memorized by now, so I don't bother turning on the light, I just sit in the dark and recite them to her. It takes Millie a while to forgive me for abandoning her. "DID YOU THINK I WOULDN'T FIND OUT? " She asks accusingly with her tiny baby eyes. But, after a few minutes, she interprets all of the rocking as evidence of my contrition, and she lets her ninja defenses down again. She sleeps.   I am amazing.  I'm like some sort of Jedi, magician, snake charming witch-mother. I  creep to my bedroom, silent in my victory.

Round 3 goes to Panther Mommy!

I may have won this particular battle, but behind the bars of her cradle, I can tell that Millie is regrouping.  I watch her on the baby monitor, as she re-gathers her ninja defenses, and know that in a few hours, we'll start all over again...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Millie's First Laugh

Saturday I was standing out in the cul-de-sac, as I often am in the early evenings, in an attempt to walk, bounce, and stroll Millie into the dreaded 7:00 hour.  Our neighbors Shelly and Kris were passing by, and they stopped for a minute to laugh at our misfortunes say hello to the baby. Then, the most amazing thing happened.  Millie started laughing. Not just laughing, but cracking up.  Shelly was making faces at her, and this baby was laughing her ass off.

If I live to be 105 years old, I'll never forget that feeling-- hearing the sound of my daughter's laugh for the first time is one of the coolest experiences I've had as a new mom. I guess it's moments like this that make up for the horrific morning diaper changes, the untold gallons of baby vomit, and the loathsome xylophone music.  I called to Sean, and he joined us in time to hear her--- adding to the perfection of the moment, and in Millie's opinion, to its' hilarity.

The four adults just stood there-in awe of the laughing baby.  Needless to say, we were all crying, and by "all of us" I mean, "just Kris," who wept like a sissy. Millie laughed so hard she peed herself. (Or, at least we think she did-- that may have just been a coincidence.)

Like so many things with Millie, once she learns how to do something, she then wants to do it all the time.  Saturday night Millie laughed the whole night, just to prove to us she could. She laughed at the TV, she laughed at the dog.  She laughed during breastfeeding, which made me feel self conscious about my boobs.  That night, as Sean read her bedtime books to her, Millie laughed at him as if to say, "that's hilarious Daddy, hilarious that you think I'm going to bed."

Thursday, May 2, 2013


When Sean and I first bought the house, there was a giant cottonwood tree that had fallen in our backyard. When I say giant, I mean GIANT, and if you don't believe me, check out these pictures of a few cross sections of the tree, which we now use as benches around our fire pit.
fire pit benches

This behemoth of a tree posed several challenges to us right off the bat.  First of all, it had fallen directly into the drainage ditch that ran across the back of our property, turning both our backyard and the yards of our upstream neighbors into a woodland water-park/mosquito brothel. The other big problem was that the tree had fallen directly on top of the only spot in our yard sunny enough to be a vegetable garden.  

So, we knew we'd have to get the tree out of there, but that wasn't as easy as it sounds. In order to remove it, Sean had to first chainsaw it into pieces, bravely removing poison ivy and other hazards as he went. Then, he chopped it up BY HAND. Let me repeat that. Using only his brute strength and a new axe he ordered on amazon, he chopped up this entire tree by hand, achieving the same approximate level of burliness as Paul Bunyan, and the same level of attractiveness as Ryan Gosling.  Because I was extremely pregnant at the time, and because I wielded an axe with the same approximate dexterity as Babe,  Paul Bunyan's giant blue ox, I stayed in the house, and avoided the ordeal altogether. Here is Sean, pictured with the remnants of his vanquished foe:

hugelkultur wood pile

So, as you can see, we still had one major problem-- our backyard was now a giant woodpile. What to do with all that wood? We thought about burning it, but most of the wood was so old, buggy, and waterlogged that it was useless. We couldn't grow edible mushrooms on it, because it was already full of mycelium from god-knows-what kind of fungi. Desperate for ideas, Sean ran into our friend Glen one day and asked him for advice.

"Hey Glen, you don't know of any uses for about a dump-truck's worth of chopped up cottonwood tree, do you?" said Sean.

"You could always burn it." said Glen.

"Nope." said Sean.

"You could grow mushrooms on it." said Glen.

"Can't." said Sean.

"You could always try Hugekulter." said Glen.

"Bless You." Said Sean.

But, as it turns out, Hugelkultur is a farming technique, not a sneeze.

Here's how it works.  Apparently, Eastern European farmers needed a way to grow potatoes in climates so cold, that even the reindeer were all like "I'm freezing my balls off up here!" What they did is built mounds using rotten old trees, sticks, and other decaying wood, and then piled dirt on top of that.  As the mounds decayed, the heat helped to heat up the dirt in the mounds, allowing them to extend their growing season.  One other advantage to this method is that you hardly ever have to water it, since the old wood absorbs so much water.

To us, it sounded a lot like the method of raised bed lasagna gardening, which is currently so popular.  We had gotten excellent results with Lasagna gardens in the past, so we decided to give it a shot.

Here are some photos of the garden site getting laid out.  This was extremely satisfying, as the whole thing went together in a single day.

Here is the final design.  We came up with this shape so it would be easy for us to run drip irrigation continuously throughout the beds.
garden design using hugelkultur

The next step is for us to pile more manure, dirt, and compost on top of the beds.  Then, we will rock in the garden beds using stone, and cover crop it for this year.  The last step will be to build a VERY tall fence, because unfortunately, the deer here in Ohio are NOT freezing their balls off, and there is a rapidly reproducing herd of them that patrols our yard.

So far, we are really happy with the results of our first foray into Hugelkultur.  The neighbors are happy because the tree is gone and the mosquitos have decided to host Spring Break Panama City on someone else's street.  The passers-by on the bike path are happy because it no longer looks like our backyard is inhabited by a moody, out-of-work beaver. And, most of all, Sean and Katie are happy because we are one step closer to a Paul Bunyan sized harvest of fresh, delicious vegetables, right out of our own backyard.
Update!  The fence went up, and here is what our garden looks like now!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Quit Hogging the Crock Pot!

Sean and I miss a lot of things about living in the South.  We miss the great live music scene, and the way people would show up to almost any social engagement (including funerals) with a guitar in the trunk of their car. We miss how spring started in late February, when the woods would become stupid with redbuds and dogwoods.  We miss seeing loggerhead turtles nesting on the beach (no, I'm not making that up, that really happened.) We miss real honeysuckles and real sweet tea, but most of all, we miss the barbecue.

HA! You thought I was going to say we miss the people most, didn't you?!  Sorry guys-- we do actually miss y'all a lot too-- but, while it turns out that there are some decent people here in Ohio, the same can't be said for the barbecue. UGH. What a bunch of soggy, tomatoey, horse-meat.

So, today, I am trying to recreate a little bit of down home heart disease hospitality, by cooking a southern style feast, complete with hog. Here's what's on the menu:

  • Pulled Pork Barbecue with Eastern NC style Vinegar Sauce (crock pot edition)
  • 3 Cheese Macaroni with a crunchy, breaded top
  • Brussel Sprouts baked to crispy perfection
  • Slaaaw
  • Blueberry Cobbler

Now, I know what you're thinking. You can't cook hog in a crockpot!! It's not real barbecue unless it's been slow cooked for hours over a fire that you were up at 5 am chopping wood for! Don't you think I know that?  But, I have a lot of things working against me when it comes to making real, authentic southern BBQ right now.

1. First of all, my name is not Keith. That's a real drawback.  I don't have hands the size of hubcaps, and I don't have any commemorative nascar arm tattoos. I do have a few t-shirts with the arms cut out- but they're all packed away with my non-maternity clothes.

2. I'm not cooking over a fire. I KNOW it's almost blashepmy. But, while I was up at 5 am this morning, I was busy feeding, rocking, and de-pooping a tiny screaming person, and didn't have time to start any fires in our outdoor smoker.

3. I don't know how they cook it anyways.  Just because you grow up in the south doesn't mean you are automatically pre-programmed with the secrets to making the perfect pulled pork.  No. In fact, if you DO know how to make pork taste that good, you are automatically seen as some sort of cultural freaking gem.  I think that southern barbecue masters are the modern day equivalent of tribal medicine men, except that they probably get more blow jobs than tribal medicine men did, and they DEFINITELY get more free hushpuppies.

So, while I acknowledge that in NO WAY am I capable of producing authentic southern style barbecue, while caring for a 10 week-old baby, on a weekday, in Ohio, while wearing a cardigan-- this crockpot recipe will at least satisfy our cravings until we can get down there for the real thing. Here's what I did.

Step one: I went to the LOCAL MARKET to buy a sustainably raised, hormone-free, cruelty-free, ethically superior piece of eco-friendly rainbow meat. It's important not to skip this step, because the smugness you get from shopping locally will make your food taste better. So, get down to your local coop and pick out the largest boston butt that will still fit in your crock pot.

Step two: When we woke up this morning, I heated some olive oil with the skillet on high, and pan-fried the meat until it was a golden, crispy brown. The kitchen smelled glorious.  *Note: This is also a great technique to increase your husband's love for you! I often call Sean at work and say to him, "if you stop at the store and get me (insert random grocery item), then I promise the whole house will smell like bacon when you come home."It works everytime.

Step three:  I chopped up a small onion, and layered the bottom of the crock pot with the pieces. I then carefully transferred the meat from my skillet to the crockpot, avoiding dropping it on the floor where our fool-of-a-labrador was drooling with reckless abandon. Then I chopped up another onion and threw this on top of the meat.

Step four: In a measuring cup, I mixed 3/4 a cup of Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 tsp brown sugar, one tablespoon red pepper, a dash of salt, and dash of black pepper.  I poured this on top of the meat.

Step Five: I put the lid on my crock pot and cooked it all freaking day.

Step six: I pulled the meat out of the crock pot and placed it on a cutting board. After discarding the onion and all but a small amount of the cooking juices, I shredded the meat with two forks. Then I added it to the remaining cooking juices.  This batch was just a tiny bit soggy, so I pan fried 1/3 of the meat in a little veggie oil to crisp it up, a give it that "just off the barbecue" feel. Then I added the sauce.

Unless you have terrible taste in food, you'll probably want some sauce to go with your barbecue.  Now I'm not stupid enough to start a ciber-war over the best approach to bbq sauces, but here is an easy and quick recipe for a great tasting sauce. If your grandmother's recipe is better-- why don't you go to your grandmother's blog to rant about it, because I don't want to frigging hear it. If you prefer a tomato or mustard based sauce, you can kiss my ass.  Just kidding!  Everyone's entitled to their own opinions about sauce, (no matter how wrong or misguided they are.) Chose the one that's best for you, here's what we like:

1 part apple cider vinegar
1 part white vinegar,
season to taste with brown sugar, red pepper, tabasco, salt, and black pepper.
Make a few days in advance and let in sit in the fridge.

Here is a picture of the crock-pot hog. It turned out pretty well, but the hand's down winner of the evening was the blueberry cobbler.

Pulled pork barbecue, crock pot