12 Books (Edit: 13 books- bonus!)

So, back in May I made a goal to read 12 books in 2011. That obviously averages out to one book per month, which I felt was an achievable goal for me considering that I had a hard time finishing any books with an infant around. Turns out I have a much easier time reading with a toddler, especially now that she has a more predictable schedule. It doesn’t hurt that I’m not taking care of my friend’s baby during the day at the moment. ;) Lo and behold I’ve finished my 12 already and am working my way through more. In case you’re interested, here are some mini-reviews of what I’ve read so far.

Here is me reading on the beach in Thailand during our honeymoon- Pre-Grace! So glad I'm back into the habit now.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling- So far, the best of the Harry Potter books. That J. K. Rowling has gotten really funny this time around! Also, as a typically non-fantasy reader, this book was easy even for me to follow. Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up when there is too much gobbledegook to remember, but she did a great job of keeping things straight- either that or I’m just finally remembering all the details I read in the previous books…

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen- This was a great story. I went through it really fast. I enjoyed the historical details about depression-era circus culture- fascinating! I have no desire to see the movie as I think the book stands fine on its own and I hate ruining my own mental images of good books with movies that I think are just okay.

Street Gang: A Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis- A few years ago a friend recommended this book to me because I love Sesame Street. It took me a while, but I finally got to it. All in all, it was an interesting  book. The first half really dragged for me, though, because I felt like the author perhaps over shared a little by discussing the history of not only the Sesame Street executives, but their parents and grandparents as well. What I liked best was reading about the context in television history (and children’s television in particular) in which Sesame Street began, how the format was decided upon, and the character backgrounds. I found myself over and over heading to YouTube to look up old clips from children’s programs. Sesame Street was extremely progressive in its beginning years and I never stop being amazed at its content.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling- Harry Potter continues to get consistently more enjoyable to read with each book. This one was a shocker for me… and I loved it!

Straight Man by Richard Russo- This was an okay novel, but honestly I just wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style or humor. It was entertaining enough to read before bed but I didn’t find myself sneaking away to read in my spare minutes or anything. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a friend since I don’t seemed to have gleaned much meaning from it and it wasn’t super intriguing. The goings-on of the inside of this off-kilter college professor’s head are just a little too bizarre for me.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling- The best one! I read this book faster than I’ve read any other book recently. It was a page turner, exciting from the very beginning. I know I was really slow to get through the series, but I am so glad I finally did. And the best part is that I finished the book in time to see the last movie in the theater! Hooray!

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert- I probably would not have read this book if it weren’t for my mother in law, who handed it to me right as I was leaving her house for an 18+ hour car trip. For some reason, I just am stubborn and must always avoid what is popular… Ha! Well, some books are popular for a reason, it seems, and I actually really liked this book. Elizabeth Gilbert is FUNNY, I love memoirs, and she writes about some of my favorite topics- food, travel, faith, love… I will say that I have no desire to see the movie, but that is the case with most books I read. I won’t say any more because this book is already on most people’s radars.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg- Got to love Fannie Flagg- one of my favorite authors. I was so excited to hear from Kara that there was another companion to Standing in the Rainbow and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl- and I was not disappointed. There is something about the lives of these midwesterners that is so comforting and makes me want to keep coming back for more. This one really throws you for a loop with a really interesting plot detail partway through. Elner is an especially well-written character- an older widow, born and raised in a small town in Missouri who loves everyone and doesn’t hesitate to challenge her somewhat sheltered beliefs and ways. Love love love!

Saving Alice by David Lewis- Okay, so I was in the library trying to find a book (with Grace on hip) and this one looked kind of interesting. It’s about a man trying to piece his life together after letting down his wife and daughter. As I read it, it got weirder and weirder. Towards the end I wondered if this was some sort of Christian literature. Yep… a quick Google of the publisher confirmed my suspicion. It would have been a good novel if it didn’t keep making totally out-of-nowhere references to faith and God and Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind hearing about faith in a book, but it really did not flow. Interesting concept for a book, but not highly recommended.

Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain by Sue Gerhardt- This is one of my favorite books about child development, which I believe all parents, caregivers, and anyone who works with kids should read. Gerhard does a great job of summing up the current information on infant brain development- how caregiving can affect the brain physiologically and psychologically. Moral of the story: warm, responsive parenting leads children to grow up secure, shed their childhood needs, and become intelligent, functional human beings. If you are even thinking about having kids, you should definitely read this.

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay- This was a decent novel about a woman and her family coming into their own after a divorce and the turbulence that came after it. In the beginning I wasn’t really enjoying the story because the main character was wishy-washy and weak, but the idea of the plot is to watch as she develops into a much stronger person- so towards the end, I did actually enjoy the book. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, and the main reason I chose it was because I was at the library, Grace was pulling books off shelves, and this one was sitting on top of a cart in easy reach. I’m satisfied with my enjoyment of the book given the (lack of) time I spent choosing it!

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner- This novel, recommended to me because of its subject matter, has to be one of the worst I’ve read in my life. The story line was… okay. The concept/ending is really, well… unlikely. What really got me was the lack of research. In my opinion this author really makes herself look uneducated and lazy by failing to find out enough information about the topics she wrote about including but not limited to: egg donation process, medical procedures and anonymity issues; the surrogacy process, agencies, and reasons for becoming a surrogate; assisted reproduction; lesbian sex; and postpartum doulas. My recommendation: don’t bother with this one.

The Mole People by Jennifer Toth- Whoo! This one was mentioned to me by a friend years ago and it sounded super interesting to me, but I just kept forgetting to read it. It was written in 1994, so it is a bit outdated (and who knows what the situation is currently)- but it discusses the underground lives of homeless individuals living in the abandoned subway tunnels below New York City. I was shocked to learn that there is an entire culture beneath the streets- complete with communities, homes with (rigged) electricity and water, and even families. Really interesting insight- and I do believe the reporter who wrote it is one brave woman, venturing into the highly unsafe territory of the underground.

Just in case anyone is interested, I think I will continue the mini-reviews as I continue to read. I know I always like book recommendations from others. Happy reading!

Pregnancy Must-Haves!

I was thinking about items that I consider to be must-haves for pregnancy and for parenting an infant, prompted by Carolyn. There really aren’t many actual material things that I find entirely necessary most of the time- I tend to believe that marketers of baby products go way overboard in trying to convince parents that they need more more more! (For fear that they will otherwise not be a good caregiver to their baby? Because they worry that babies are SO hard to take care of? I’m not sure.) Anyway, here are my five endorsed pregnancy items, items that prepared my body and mind for birth:

5. A large exercise ball: When I was expecting Grace, I worked in a special education classroom where students had a choice of sitting in chairs or sitting on exercise balls like these. It turned out to be quite handy because I was able to sit on one for the entire work day throughout my pregnancy. I even borrowed one for use at our house, though I must say the temptation of the couch got the best of me most of the time when I was at home! The benefits of an exercise ball (or “birthing ball” and they are known in the childbirth community) are numerable. In pregnancy, just sitting on the ball encourages healthy hip and back posture (while lightly toning the correct muscles to do so) as well as opening the pelvis to allow baby to sink deeply into place in preparation for labor. The mother’s erect posture achieved on the birthing ball also encourages the vertex or “head down” position.  Benefits of the birthing ball later on: Some mothers use the ball for positioning during labor- whether sitting on the ball and circling the hips, leaning the body draped over the ball, or whatever is comfortable. Once the baby is born, some people find that sitting on a birthing ball relieves pressure on a bruised or torn perineum. It’s also a good tool for bouncing and lulling a baby to sleep. Plus, when it’s time to get back in shape, you can use the exercise ball for its original purpose… exercise! (Yeah, I didn’t do much of that, whoops.) This link has some information about using a ball during pregnancy.

4. Floradix: This totally disgusting-tasting liquid iron supplement turned my whole pregnancy around. I understand that low iron levels, though somewhat common, do not affect every expectant mother- but the benefits for me during my last pregnancy were so profound that I would supplement with Floradix prophylactically if I had to do it again. Before Christmas time I was unable to stand long enough to make a grocery run- I would start feeling queasy, shaky, and worried I would faint. I wanted to remain active during my pregnancy, but working out would have been dangerous. Enter Floradix. Two weeks later I was back to my normal self and my normal energy level, working out at the gym and doing yoga on a regular basis. What makes Floradix different from other iron supplements is that it is entirely plant-based and does not cause the nausea and constipation that iron pills tend to. It’s a little pricy, but here’s a hint: it’s much cheaper if you buy online over at Swanson’s Vitamins.

3. Jennifer Wolfe’s “Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga” videos: These are simply the best, in my opinion. I’m picky about yoga videos, but yoga classes are not in large supply out here in the middle of nowhere so I read the reviews online and chose very carefully. Jennifer Wolfe is awesome. I had the short forms DVD, which I dare say is plenty challenging for me. (I enjoy yoga and wouldn’t say I’m a beginner, but I am certainly not advanced in my practice.) The 15 minute segment was great for a little pick me up at times when I was on the go. The 30 minute segment was my regular go-to, and the 45 minute segment was a challenge that I attempted only a few times. Doing the deep squats, lengthening stretches, and stability poses made me feel like some sort of pregnancy goddess. Seriously, it made me feel like my body was made for making babies. Jennifer’s voice is soothing (with no breathy new age bullshit) and she explains each pose clearly with modifications for your stage of pregnancy. You can find her DVD’s online here.

2. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I would encourage every pregnant mama to read this (or even every person who thinks they might be pregnant one day.) It is a great read that really helped to build my faith in my body and its abilities in birth. If you are not aware, Ina May Gaskin is essentially a modern midwife guru who has helped countless women to give birth safely and naturally. The entire first portion of the book is birth stories from a variety of women, most homebirths on “The Farm” where Ina May lives and practices midwifery. The second half of the book contains notes on exactly how the body works in order to birth a baby. Unlike many of the resources out there, it focuses on the body- not on what pharmaceuticals are available, not what to expect from medical interventions, not what to pack in your hospital bag. It’s plain and simple a book about the birthing body. Even if you are not planning to birth at home, this is a valuable book simply for acquiring knowledge to build confidence in birth itself. Ignorance might be bliss until it’s go time and you’re in labor. And then- knowledge is power; it releases our fears which can interfere with the natural birthing process. Oh yeah- and I also found the statistics page at the end of the book to be very enlightening!

1. Hypnobabies Home Study program: I’m not sure if I’ve ever elaborated on the fact that I used the Hypnobabies program to prepare for the birth of Grace. I’m going to let it speak for itself- here is a description from the Hypnobabies website:

“Hypnobabies is a very successful 6 week complete childbirth education course using Gerald Kein’s Painless Childbirth techniques instead of simple relaxation, breathing or guided imagery. This allows our Hypno-Moms to enjoy “Eyes Open Childbirth Hypnosis”, easily remaining deeply in hypnosis while walking, talking changing positions; being as mobile as they would like to be during childbirth. We are famous for much shorter, easier and more comfortable labors, making childbirth the joyful experience it was meant to be.

You’ll use your Hypnobabies Workbook, CDs and hypnosis scripts to train your inner mind that contractions in labor will be felt only as pressure, tightening, pushing, pulling and normal baby movement sensations. You’ll be fully in tune with your baby during the birthing process, and as aware as you’d like to be, easily able to communicate and be in charge of your own birth experience.

Hypnobabies uses the same kind of hypnosis techniques that people employ when preparing for surgery without any medication, which is called hypno-anesthesia. Our classes also teach our Hypnobabies Birth Partners how to fully support our Hypno-Moms, although Hypnobabies can also be used very successfully by single mothers”

Here’s the general idea: You use a book to work through the home study program, learning about how hypnosis works, prenatal nutrition, the process of childbirth- it’s a complete childbirth education course. Email support is always available. Along the way, you introduce new hypnosis tracks- 30 minute sound recordings that address different aspects of pregnancy and birth- from general relaxation, to perception of birthing waves (known outside of the Hypnobabies program as contractions,) to the dilation of the cervix. You listen to one track per day and when the course is finished, there is a one-track-per-day maintenance program. It seems like a lot of work, but the secret is that you can listen to your tracks while you are going to sleep and it is totally okay to to sleep right through. In addition to being the ultimate way to multitask, I’m just going to say that I slept really really well when I was pregnant. The soothing hypnosis works like a charm. In addition to the daily tracks, there is an affirmations disc full of positive self-talk about pregnancy and birth. You can listen to it just about any time- while you’re asleep (I used to create a playlist on my ipod with my daily track plus affirmations,) while you’re in the bath, when you’re driving- whenever you have a chance. The real test is the labor itself and I think Liesbeth would agree that the techniques we learned in our Hypnobabies program were exceptionally helpful at that time. I was able to remain totally calm and in control with Liesbeth’s assistance- in particular, she used the “release” cue that we learned from the program while applying pressure to my forehead and this ritual was all I needed to enter a state of total relaxation. Hypnobabies also offers in-person classes with an instructor depending on your location. They also offer tracks for such topics as turning a breech baby, eliminating nausea, and creating peaceful sleep.

Well, there you have it, my pregnancy must-haves. All of you experienced moms out there- I am curious to know what is on your pregnancy must-have list. Please share!

Stay tuned because I will also be posting my infant must-haves in the near(ish) future!

Another Queer Family Friendly Book: Mommy, Mama, and Me

I’ve been meaning to review this one for a long time but I have procrastinated. This book is one of my personal favorites. I bought it when we were pregnant with Grace, I think, at Women and Children First in Chicago. I might add that every time I walk into that store I find something I “need.” Also, when I visited the website just now I got totally distracted by the recommendations section and now my reading list is going to be super long.

Okay, so Mommy, Mama, and Me, written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Carol Thompson is a board book, simple and sweet. It moves through a day in the life of a toddler with two moms… Snack time, snuggle time, nap time, play time, bath time, you name it- and of course, the inevitable tucking in and bedtime. It’s not unlike the many other similar board books for toddlers that are out there on the market, but for kids who have two moms it is wonderful to be able to have a book that reflects their own family. How wonderful to have a book that shows a loving, involved two-mom family sharing a day and enjoying their time together. I am guessing that parents in families of other structures besides the two-mom type would not buy this book. It would be as silly as me buying a Mommy, Daddy, and Me book for Grace. I wouldn’t do it. (Obviously I’m okay with books that happen to be about all different family structures, but this book is very self-identifying.) There is however, another book by the same author entitled Daddy, Papa, and Me which probably has a very very similar theme.

As this is a short board book, there is not really too much to say about it other than: it’s sweet, it reflects happy two-mom families well, and it’s appropriate for babies and toddlers. My only complaint is that Grace hasn’t really gotten into this book yet- she’s more occupied with books that have photographs of real kids and books about animals (because she loves making animal sounds!) At any rate, I’m so glad I found it when I did because I think it is a very welcome addition to our book collection.

Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra

So the other day I received an email in my inbox from the founder of the Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra. As a doula who is listed on the DONA contact list, I often receive emails about all kinds of products- most of them unnecessary things that I would never promote to my clients. Actually, it takes a lot for me to promote a specific product to clients as I tend to take a less stuff-oriented approach to raising babies. However, when I saw that I was receiving an email about a product that was already one of my favorites- a product which Liesbeth and I have been using since before Grace was even born- I decided to open up the email as opposed to designating it to the trash bin immediately. To my shock, I was offered a free pumping bra and discount coupons for myself and my clients. Now, I’ve been promoting the Simple Wishes bra to my friends, clients, and members of my nursing mothers’ group for some time now, so I’d love to be able to pass on a discount while I’m at it. But in good conscience, I didn’t feel right accepting the pumping bra as a sample since we actually already own one. I told her that as much as we’d LOVE another since we have two nursing and pumping moms in our family, I’d have to pass. I did, however, give her a rave review of her product and in response she offered to send us a second pumping bra if I’d allow her to use my review in her marketing. That offer I graciously accepted!

Photo from the Simple Wishes website.

This brings me to the part where I offer an honest review of the Simple Wishes Hands Free Pumping Bra. Ready? This thing is a lifesaver. Without it, the pumping aspect of co-nursing would have been a nightmare for us. I don’t know about anyone else, but I really really dislike pumping. It was absolutely worth every minute I spent attached to the pump in order to witness a truly amazing nursing relationship between Grace and Liesbeth, and I would do it again in an instant, but the pumping itself was a drag. When you are pumping, you are designated to one seat and for the 10-20 minutes when the machine is turned on, there is not much else you can do. Most likely you’ll have to hold the flanges up to your body the whole time. For moms who pump on a regular basis- co-nursers like us, parents who have induced lactation, working moms, and moms who of non-latching babies, pumping sessions can take place multiple times a day. The advent of a device which actually holds pump flange to breast is genius. It doesn’t take the whole sitting-in-one-spot aspect away from pumping, but it frees your hands and you can use a computer! Read a book! Care for your (not yet mobile) infant! Pick up the phone! It makes pumping much less tedious. I have known many a mother who contemplated ending their nursing relationship prematurely because of pump burnout and I’m here to say that having a pumping bra can make a huge difference in how you feel about your pumping responsibilities if you find yourself in that situation. Or it could, you know, prevent that situation from happening in the first place. What I like about this product is that it is not designed to hinder the breastfeeding relationship, but to make breastfeeding more feasible for those who have to pump. It is in no way necessary, but Liesbeth and I both feel that it could facilitate continuation of pumping for those who are considering quitting.

In this photo, Liesbeth is actually pumping, rocking the baby to sleep, and studying for her grad class at the same time!

The Simple Wishes bra comes in two colors- soft pink and black. There are two sizes and each size is fully adjustable with a wide velcro panel in the back and a zip-in panel in the front. It can be used with or without the included straps.

I will say that there are a few other similar products on the market. I have not tried them so I can not review them. They might be great! I would never claim that the Simple Wishes brand is any better than the competition. I simply do not know, and I would guess that it probably depends on your body shape and even pump type.

Anyway, since I know there are quite a few readers who pump or plan to pump in the future, I would definitely like to share the 15% discount with you if you think you might use it. Just comment and I’ll be sure to email the code to the email address attached to your post.

Awesome Library Find- Everywhere Babies

Grace and I try to go to the library on a weekly basis to play, read, and check out new books for both of us. This week I checked out five board books for her, and though I always briefly read or skim the books I take, I don’t always notice all the details until we get home. So when I was reading Everywhere Babies, written by Susan Myers and illustrated by Marla Frazee to Grace in the car on the way home from Colorado this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised. The concept of the book is that babies everywhere are being loved and played with and growing, etc. The rhymes are sweet and the illustrations show babies doing all kinds of every day things. The pictures really trigger stories in my imagination.

Continue reading

Homemade Bread: Busy Mom Style

As you know, I like baking bread. I can make bread frugally, it’s delicious because it’s fresh, and Liesbeth really really loves it. Like, loves it so much that she’s always “reminding” me that it’s time for me to make more bread because she’s running out. She eats a sandwich for lunch every day and she frowns upon store-bought bread now. It’s sweet. The only problem with making my own bread is that sometimes it’s damned near impossible to find time for all of the mixing, resting, kneading, rising, and baking. It pretty much takes all day to make two loaves of bread, and as it turns out, I’m not typically home all day.

Soooo… I was really excited when my friend handed me a copy of the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Of course, I wasn’t really quite sure how that was going to work, but I was very interested to try a new and faster method of baking bread. It turns out that the idea behind this bread is you mix up all the ingredients and then let it chill in your refrigerator overnight. The next day, you can just cut off a piece of dough, mold it into a loaf, let it rise and bake it. No kneading necessary. I wasn’t quite so sure about that idea, but I was excited to try. I started out with the basic white boule recipe: the master recipe for the book upon which all the variations are based. Normally we prefer a whole grain bread, but this first batch was for the sake of experiementation. It wasn’t the best bread I’ve ever tasted. In retrospect, I think the dough was not moist enough and it ended up being dry, dense, and very chewy. My mistake

For the round two, I studied a few other recipes in the book and decided to create my own. It is loosely based on the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, but I changed a few things in order to customize the bread to the ingredients we had on hand. Luckily for us, round two turned out really yummy! Liesbeth and I both think it is a great sandwich bread- soft and moist but not too sweet. Without further ado, here is my recipe:

Melissa’s Five-Minutes-Per-Day Flaxseed Wheat Bread

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk (I used soy this time)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (or two packets)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
1/3 cup warm water
5 tablespoons canola or other neutral-flavored oil
3 cups bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour plus a bit more to even out texture

1. Mix ground flax seeds and 1/3 cup warm water in a bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix together lukewarm water, milk, yeast, salt, brown sugar, and oil.

3. Add in flax seed mixture and stir.

4. Stir in flour. If mixture is too sticky, add in more whole wheat four with your hands. Dough should be very moist, slightly sticky, and take the form of the bowl. Loosely cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until doubled.

5. Put covered dough in the fridge and keep it there overnight.

6. The next day, remove half of the dough from the bowl by cutting it with a bread knife. Shape the dough into a loaf shape and place in a lightly oiled loaf pan. Allow to rise 1 hour 45 minutes, 2 hours if your house is pretty chilly.

7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Place an empty pan on a rack that won’t interfere with where you want your bread loaf to go.

8. When oven is ready, place bread dough into the oven and fill empty pan with one cup of hot tap water. Close the oven and allow the steam to do its magic.

9. Bake 45 minutes. Bread is ready when it is lightly browned on top and firm to touch.

10. Allow to cool before slicing- if you can!

11. The remaining dough can sit in the fridge for up to about 5 days before baking.

Sadly, I have no pictures to show for this because I was making bread in a hurry! I guess that’s the point though, right?

Fun Day!

So, did you know that The Verve Pipe (think 1996) semi-recently released a children’s album? Yeah, I didn’t until last week when I met another mom who told me about it and she told me that they were playing free concerts at public libraries around the city all week. I always love kids’ music that isn’t obnoxious. Okay, that sounds mean. Not only is their kids’ music not obnoxious, but it’s also quite fun. I’m currently loving “Complimentary Love.” You can listen to the album here. Liesbeth, Grace, and I headed to the local library to see them today. It was such a blast. Grace even played backup!

In other news, Grace is now learning how to stand up on her own. Check it out!

We ended the day with swimming at the huge YMCA kids pool and a dinner of baked asparagus and marinated tofu over angel hair pasta. Perfect day!