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Children and Nature Home Gardens Parenting Uncategorized

Spring Activities for Young Kids at Home

IMG_1682I think it’s safe to assume parents are spending A LOT of time home with kids.  Luckily, spring is here. I’ve looked back at my old blog posts and realized that there are quite a few about indoor and outdoor spring activities for kids.  I’ve linked to them below.  Enjoy!

One extra note: the #1 activities my toddler and I do together are housework and yard work.  Here are a few articles with more information if you’re intrigued and want to read more (one, two, three).  Toddlers LOVE to feel purposeful and they also LOVE to imitate the adults in their life.  My toddler would much rather learn how to use the intriguing brush that sits beside the toilet than do painting or a complicated craft.  It is important to remember that things might not be done exactly how you would have done them, and they might take a LONG time.  We often take turns so I can eventually accomplish the task.  This is fine by me.  I’d personally rather take a long time working towards the accomplishment of putting away silverware or cleaning the toilet than move all the toy trucks and cars to a new home for the 957th time.

If you’re playing outside with kids, take a moment to read up on ticks, tick checks, and proper tick removal

Here are some of my favorite spring time traditions:

signs-of-spring

Look and listen for signs of spring: Jot down notes on a calendar or a piece of paper that you can save.  Keeping a “Signs of Spring” list heightens my sense of awareness when spending time outdoors.  I pay more attention to the little things that are happening around me as the world wakes up from hibernation.  Sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and feelings can all point to signs of spring.  Saved lists from past years allow you to notice changes from year to year.

Learn new bird songs: Every spring I am reinspired to learn more bird songs.  First, I review bird songs of species are common around the house.  There’s a list of mnemonics here and a huge directory of songs to listen to at “All About Birds.”  Then, when I go for walks down our back dirt roads or hikes in the forest, I listen carefully.  As I walk I try to translate what I hear: “Cherrio, cheery me, cheery me,” for example. When I arrive home, I try to identify one or two of the songs I remember (that was an American Robin).  Slowly but surely I identify more and more songs in the outdoor chorus on my own.

mud-play

Play in the Mud: Yes, the extra laundry is worth it.  All sorts of learning, experimentation, engineering, and play can happen in the mud. Most days we’re still wearing our winter outdoor clothes up here in Vermont.  As temperatures rise, rain pants, rain boots, and rain coats will help keep indoor clothes clean and dry.  Hosing everyone off before coming inside can help keep that mud outside.

starting-pea-seeds

Start Seeds: Even if you don’t have a garden, starting seeds can be a fun spring activity.  All you need is a container with a hole poked in the bottom, potting soil, seeds of your choice, and some sort of dish or bowl for your container to sit in.  Grow lights or windows with strong southern sun will make for stronger seedlings that will do better if transplanted into your garden.  Plants like peas, lettuce, spinach, and herbs can be eaten as sprouts or “micro greens,” making this project rewarding in as little as 30 days!  If you do want to garden with kids, this post is full of really great tips.

Forage-Harvest

Taste the first wild greens of the season: As spring progresses, keep an eye out for wild ramps, fiddleheads, young nettles, or other edible wild plants.  Foraging is most rewarding and delicious in the spring when plants are young, tender, and mild.  They also tend to grow before anything is ready from gardens, satiating our cravings for fresh green treats after a winter of soups, stews, and casseroles.  Read more about the plants I look for here and check out this recipe for Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup.

forced-dogwood

Force spring branches: All you need to do is clip branches and put them in a vase filled with fresh water.  Change water regularly, as you would for cut flowers.  Blooming branches, like forsythia, are great for forcing.  At indoor temperatures, your branches’ buds will open into new leaves and flowers.  My family clips the bright red branches of dogwood in March for a beautiful table arrangement at Easter.

Some more easy kids activity ideas: Playdough, tissue paper flowers, have a tea party with fresh spring herbs, and try cloud spotting.

Happy Spring!

 

*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.

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Children and Nature Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Start Gardening at Home

cilantro babies

Are you at home more and wanting to go to the grocery store less?  This might be a good year to grow some of your own food at home.

When I started this blog I was the School Gardens Coordinator in the most densely populated city in New England: Somerville, MA. I’m now living (and still happily gardening), in rural Vermont.  Over the years I’ve posted many articles about how to start your own garden, whether it’s in raised beds, pots on a porch, or a large plot tilled in a field.  I’ve gathered the posts below in the hopes that they might help you get started or answer some of your questions.

*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.

making-quick-work-of-a-weeding-chore

Gardening with kids: If you have kids at home, this article has a lot of really helpful tips.  When I wrote it I was coordinating the weekly programming and maintaining the vegetable gardens at 8 Somerville public schools.  Gardening is an incredibly rich sensory activity that allows for movement and engaged outdoor time.  Watching seeds grow into plants and produce food is magical.  I strongly encourage you to try it with your family!

Pic 1006

Making a Raised Bed Back-Yard Garden: I wrote this series of posts when Evan and I built raised beds in the backyard in Brookline.  Raised beds can be a good idea if you want clear boundaries between play/yard space and garden space.  This can help family members understand where they can walk and where they can’t, can help lawn mowers avoid veggie plants, and can keep lawn grass from creeping back into your garden.  The “Planning” post has the most information on how to get started in your backyard space.
Bakyard Gardening: The Idea
Backyard Gardening: Planning
Backyard Gardening: The Shopping List
Backyard Gardening: Construction Day
Backyard Gardening: First Harvest
Backyard Gardening: Putting The Garden To Bed

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Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.

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Consider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

Seasonality Tips: In April it’s still quite cold and only certain seeds should be planted.  Check out this post to know what to plant when.

Let me know if you have any vegetable gardening questions!  Questions from friends, family, and neighbors inspired every one of these posts.  Happy Gardening!

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Parenting Recipes Uncategorized

Recipe: Energy Balls

IMG_1172 2It took me a while to transition mentally from having an exclusively breastfed baby to a happily eating toddler.  One of the areas I struggled in for a while was what snack I could have on hand that was fat- and protein-filled rather than 100% carbohydrate.  It would make it so much easier to quickly throw together a balanced meal on a busy day.  And it would provide my toddler with a more grounding energy-dense snack if he was crashing well before the next meal.

The answer: Energy Balls!  (or “nut balls” as our family calls them)

Energy balls are made from nuts, coconut, and dried fruit.  They are mildly sweet and their texture isn’t as sticky as nut butters.  When hungry, my toddler will always eat them when offered.  They travel well and store for weeks in the fridge.  And, if you’re comfortable having your toddler help with using the food processor, they can be made with full toddler involvement.  In other words, making energy balls can BE your fun activity for the day.

Once you master the general recipe, there’s lots of room for improvisation.  I like having cashews for at least 50% of the nut/seed mixture because they have a neutral flavor and result in a creamy final texture.  The most important part of the process to remember when experimenting is making sure the texture gets sticky enough to clump into balls.  Try the recipe below to get comfortable, and then  try your own variations based on flavors you love or ingredients you have on hand.

A note: We soak, sprout, or ferment all the grains, beans, and seeds we eat.  The nuts I use for this recipe have been soaked in salt water and dehydrated first.  This makes them easier to digest and makes more nutrients available to our bodies.  If you’re interested in learning more, I thought this was a clear and informative article.  Both soaked/dehydrated and “regular” nuts can be used successfully for this recipe!

Final note: Dessert energy balls!  The recipe below is meant to be a nourishing every-day snack that you can feel good about feeding to your kid whenever they want.  If they eat a bunch for a snack and don’t eat their protein at dinner, no big deal.  However, the recipe can also be turned into a nourishing and indulgent treat by adding a few more dates and/or chocolate chips.  They can also be coated in melted chocolate.  Yum!  We did this around the holidays for stocking stuffers and to enjoy (it was not a sacrifice, we all really enjoyed!) the resulting nut balls instead of cookies.

Energy Balls

(makes apx. 1 quart of small balls)

2 cups cashews
1 cup other seeds/nuts
1 cup shredded coconut
1-2 t. spices (I use ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or vanilla with a pinch of black pepper)
6 dates, chopped (or more if you want the energy balls to taste noticeably sweet – like cookie dough)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried fruit (If larger pieces, dice into small bits.  If hard, soak ahead of time in water.)

  1. Assemble food processor on a counter that toddler can safely stand at.  Do not plug in yet.
  2. Fill measuring cups with cashews, nuts and seeds.  Have the toddler dump them into the food processor.  Taste testing is allowed 🙂
  3. Provide toddler with ear protection if desired.
  4. Blend until nuts have turned into flour.  Let your toddler turn the blender off and on.  (Note: this is the step that can mess things up… if you don’t blend enough here, it can be hard to get the balls to stick together later).
  5. Add coconut, dates, spices, and salt.  Allow toddler to taste test ingredients and smell spices.
  6. Blend until mixture forms a ball.  This is hard work for the food processor.  It can help to stop every once in a while, break up the clumps with a spoon, and/or pulse.
  7. Taste test and take a spoonful out to see if it can be squeezed into balls without crumbling.
  8. When the mixture passes your squeeze test, put the mixture into a mixing bowl and add in your dried fruit.  Mix together with washed hands or a mixing spoon.
  9. When still warm, squeeze teaspoon-sized portions of the mixture into balls and place on a plate.
  10. Refrigerate plate for several hours to harden.  Then pour into a storage container and store in fridge.

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Parenting Recipes Uncategorized

Recipe: Nourishing Pancakes

IMG_1108

Slowly but surely, pancakes have become our #1 breakfast staple.  L would eat bread, butter, and fruit all day every day if he could, but he also consistently likes pancakes.  And because I can put things like vegetables and eggs into pancakes, most days we have them.

I realized pretty early on that though L wasn’t adventurous when it came to eating a variety of textures or certain flavors, he would still accept a variety of colors and some different flavors when they were served in the shape of a familiar food.   I have fun thinking about how to make a batch of pancakes turn into a certain color or what new veggies or dinner leftovers I might include.

One thing that is probably already apparent is that I very very rarely follow a recipe when cooking.  I can’t bear to – there’s almost always something I want (need?) to change or add.  I prefer to get comfortable with a process, like cooking pancakes or muffins, and then follow a basic foundation recipe with regular tweaking.  I’ve finally forced myself to write down some notes while cooking, and have two recipes to share: 1) Carrots and Greens Pancakes is written out all the way and can be followed strictly to make yummy (and greenish) final products.  2) A basic Nourishing Pancakes recipe which provides you with the opportunity to play around with some of the add-ins based on preference or what leftovers and veggies are in your fridge or garden.  Both recipes are gluten free and leftover pancakes can easily be refrigerated or frozen and heated in the toaster.

One more note: I use ingredients like soaked oats and cassava flour because they are things we have in our pantry and fridge at all times.  I use oats soaked in water and a splash of sourdough starter and cassava flour because I generally avoid grains that haven’t first been soaked, sprouted, or soured.  These processes (soaking, sprouting, or souring) help reduce the amount of phytic acid in the grains (or beans, nuts or seeds) and therefore allow your body to absorb more of the nutrients the oats contain.  If you want to read more, I found this article to be informative.  Scroll down to find the section on oats.

 

Carrots and Greens Pancakes

Makes approximately 14 4-inch pancakes

3 eggs
2 carrots, chopped (cooked is even better, but I rarely have cooked carrots on hand)
1 banana chopped
1/4 cup packed cooked greens (spinach, kale, chard, nettles, etc.)
1/2 cup strained soaked oats (oats soaked in water with rye flakes + 2 T. vinegar or 2 T. sourdough starter for 24 hours)
1 T. cassava flour (if you bake with wheat flour, feel free to use 1T. wheat flour here)
1/4 t. ginger powder
1/4 t. nutmeg
dash of salt
butter for frying

  1. Adult: chop carrots and gather ingredients.  Toddler: chop banana with butter knife and small cutting board.
  2. Put all ingredients into a wide-mouth quart jar or mixing bowl with tall walls.  The adult can fill measuring spoons or cups, toddler can dump them in.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree all ingredients.  Help your toddler know how to safely use an immersion blender (if you don’t have an immersion blender, put all ingredients into a food processor and blend).  This can be really fun for them once you can trust they will keep the tool in the liquid while pressing the button.
  4. Heat large cast iron skillet and have the toddler add a pad of butter. Once hot, turn pan down to low.
  5. Pour batter into pan in small circles (we like pancakes that are about 4″ diameter).
  6. Flip when tops are no longer liquidy looking.
  7. Enjoy with your preferred condiments.  L and I put pads of butter on ours, I add a sprinkle of salt, and Evan adds a drizzle of maple syrup.

 

Nourishing Pancakes

Makes approximately 14 4-inch pancakes

3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetables (cooked and not watery is best).  You can add more if dry roasted root veggies.
1 banana chopped
1/2 cup strained soaked oats (oats soaked in water with rye flakes + 2 T. vinegar or 2 T. sourdough starter for 24 hours)
1 T. cassava flour (if you bake with wheat flour, feel free to use 1T. regular flour here)
1 t. total spices (we like a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamon, and/or fennel)
dash of salt
butter for frying

Optional nourishing add ins:
– 1/4 t. turmeric + 1/4 t. ginger + 1/8 t. black pepper (this combo is very anti-inflammatory)
– 1/2 t. dulse flakes (adds iodine, important if you’re using non-iodized sea salt)
– 1/2 t. camu camu (adds vitamin C)
-whole blueberries, add a few to the top of each pancake after pouring into the skillet

Color ideas:
– using one beet for your vegetable choice will turn pancakes magenta
– using greens will turn pancakes green
– using sweet potatoes + turmeric will make pancakes orange-yellow

  1. Adult: prepare and gather ingredients.  Toddler: chop banana with butter knife and small cutting board.
  2. Put ingredients into a wide-mouth quart jar or mixing bowl with tall walls.  The adult can fill measuring spoons or cups, toddler can dump them in.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree all ingredients.  Help your toddler know how to safely use an immersion blender (if you don’t have an immersion blender, put all ingredients into a food processor and blend).  This can be really fun for them once you can trust they will keep the tool in the liquid while pressing the button.
  4. Heat large cast iron skillet and have the toddler add a pad of butter. Once hot, turn pan down to low.
  5. Pour batter into pan in small circles (we like pancakes that are about 4″ diameter).  If adding blueberries, add them now.
  6. Flip when tops are no longer liquidy looking.
  7. Enjoy with your preferred condiments.  L and I put pads of butter on ours, I add a sprinkle of salt, and Evan adds a drizzle of maple syrup.

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IMG_1221

 

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Musings Parenting Recipes Uncategorized

Toddler Eating and Recipes

I am amazed how intuitive toddler eating is and how much it drives me crazy.

When our little one eats everything served for dinner, I think to myself, “Yes! Now I can make that again and he’ll actually eat a full balanced meal.”  Nope.  It actually means that he’s gotten his fill of those foods and is ready for something different.  He’ll eat only cheese for lunch (as in, no other foods, just cheese), and then not eat cheese again for another few weeks.  He’ll get really into roasted carrots before dinner when we’re preparing them, but then choose not to eat any when it’s time to sit down and eat the meal.

The one thing that is clear is that feeding a toddler is a lesson of letting go of control and practicing to trust the intuition that’s naturally built into each little person.

There are, however, a few standbys that have been happily and consistently accepted by our little one.  Yes, that list includes all the fruits, bread, and butter.  But it also includes “nut balls,” veggie pancakes, and other nutrient dense choices that include nourishing fats and proteins along with the ever-loved carbs.  And yes, those little bodies are moving around ALL day long and do need a lot of carbs!  But having a variety of macro-nutrients, along with a variety of colors, textures, and flavors, will set them up for a lifetime of healthy intuitive eating.  I believe that if sugar is kept away and most food choices in a house are nutrient-dense whole foods prepared from scratch, toddlers will choose to eat an adequate amount of varied items and get the nutrients they need.  It might just take a week (or a month) to balance out all of those seemingly bizarre daily eating choices.

In the next few posts I will be sharing some of our favorite recipes – the ones that ALL members of our house enjoy.  Cooking projects keep kids busy, engage all the senses, and result in ready-to-eat snacks and meals that need to be prepared anyway.  With every recipe I post, I’ll highlight good opportunities to engage helping toddler hands.  Enjoy!

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Parenting pregnancy Uncategorized

The Registry: What I Actually Needed From Birth to 4 Months

Making my baby registry made me feel uncomfortable.  I don’t like to ask for things and we were borrowing almost all the essentials from friends who had young children.  I felt like we didn’t need anything.  Looking back I can see that there were things we needed, and we were surrounded by a network of family and friends who wanted to, and got pleasure from, giving something to our new baby.  The registry helped them pick something out that we actually needed and would use!

Now that our baby is on his way to becoming a toddler, I can look back and identify the things we actually needed and used for the first few months.  Of course, each family and baby are going to have different desires, home environments, and temperaments, which will affect what things are desired when welcoming a new baby into the home.  Here’s what was useful for us (literally everything we used – hope it’s not too overwhelming!):

Leading up to Labor: Gift givers: These are some of the most important gifts!!  Many people like to give things, but encouraging the soon-to-be mama to take care of herself will pay off many times over.  Chiropractic (look for someone who is familiar with the Webster Technique), Acupuncture, and Prenatal Massage appointments will help prepare her body for a smooth labor and transition to motherhood.

Books: I loved overhearing this quote (though I unfortunately don’t know it’s source) when in the throes of third trimester baby and labor research and reading: “Read your child, not a book.”  Though this is an important sentiment to keep in mind, I definitely benefited from the wisdom of several books as I approached my due date:

  • The First Forty Days (A helpful guide, with a focus on food, to a nourishing and healing approach to the very first days after birth).
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (I didn’t read ahead of time, but appreciated having it around to browse and reference in the early days of breastfeeding).
  • Aware Baby (We didn’t find this book until later, but if I could go back in time, I would have read it before baby, and re-read it after).
  • On The Way To Walking, or any other Natural Movement Development information such as this article (There are so many opportunities to hinder babies’ natural movement development in our society.  Being mindful of the main ideas of “Natural Movement Development” will give you the knowledge to allow your baby’s body to develop in a balanced strong way that will benefit them throughout their life).
  • The Baby Book (Has it all… like an encyclopedia for all things baby).
  • The Vaccine Friendly Plan (Ugh, vaccines have become such a loaded topic.  Do not go to the internet for advice!  I thought this book offered a researched and balanced perspective and a logical approach to vaccinating your baby).
  • The Wonder Weeks (a fun guide to the developmental milestones you can expect to see as your baby grows up).

Here’s what we used in the FIRST month: Swaddles, sling carrier, nursing pillow + pillow cases, burp cloths, one pack each newborn and size one disposable diapers, cloth diapers (we used prefolds and covers), trash can for dirty diapers (we used a wire mesh one for our cloth diapers – hanging wet diapers on edge to dry and letting them fall into the bin once dry), diaper sprayer to attach to the toilet, cloth wipes (we cut up old cotton t-shirts), disposable wipes (for when we’re away from home), spray bottle for wipe solution, organic oil (for baby massage, minor diaper rash, and an ingredient in diaper wipe spray), diaper rash cream, baby thermometer, room thermometer, ear plugs, eye mask, bassinet (we used one that worked side-car style, right up against the side of our bed), car seat, a variety of wool and cotton baby blankets, soft firm play/nap surface, dim incandescent or red lights/nightlights/headlamp for night time wake-ups, changing pad, changing pad covers, waterproof changing pad liners, rocking chair/bouncy ball, frozen soups and stews, nourishing snacks, strengthening soothing herbal teas, extra pillows, mama cloth (google it), sitz bath herbs, cotton nursing pads, nursing bras and shirts, help (cleaning, cooking, and grocery shopping helpers are awesome), jacket that can fit over baby/carrier/parent, baby clothes (footed pajamas, booties, socks (we used for mittens), cotton and wool hats), white noise machine if you want it, and a diaper bag (we just used a back pack with some disposable wipes, a waterproof changing pad, a plastic bag for dirty diapers, burp cloths, and a change of clothes).

Here’s what we added the SECOND month: Postpartum massage for mom, wooden play gym with a mirror to hang from it, high contrast things to stare at, next bigger swaddle, electric breast pump, bottles with wide shaped nipple and smallest hole size (if breastfeeding), cloth wrap and structured carrier, wool-silk blend long sleeve onesies, footed and unfooted pjs, wide band pants or knit overalls, knee socks, and a pacifier if you want it.

Here’s what we added the THIRD month: Baby bathtub (he grew out of the sink), very simple toys with different textures including hard and soft, next bigger swaddle, next size bigger clothes, blackout curtains, and bibs/neck bandannas to catch drool and spit up.

Here’s what we added the FOURTH month: Parent-child class/activity, plan for growing out of bassinet, slightly more complicated toys (including rattles), slightly more complicated objects to hang from play gym, and teething toys.

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Musings Parenting pregnancy Uncategorized

Favorite Pregnancy Books and Resources

pregnancybooks

In many traditional cultures, the village or tribe supports women in pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for babies.  This allows children and young women to witness these life stages and all of the work and joy that comes with them.  If you’re like me, however, you were raised as part of a nuclear family and never witnessed labor or delivery.   I was clueless as I started down the path of becoming a mother.  Between books, podcasts, the internet, family, and friends, there is a TON of advice and information for future mamas to sift through.  How do you know where to start?  Whose advice should you follow?

I started by asking for advice from friends who were new parents.  What were their favorite books and resources?  What did they wish they knew when they were pregnant or in labor?  Here’s how I’d answer that question if I were asked today:

 

Pre-Conception:

More and more research is showing that the well-being of parents before conception impacts the health of the baby.  Taking stock of your (and your partner’s) physical, mental, and social well-being before pregnancy and parenthood can really pay off. The resources below can be helpful both before and during pregnancy!

Nutrition:

Both Real Food for Pregnancy and The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care offer information that will allow you to properly nourish yourself leading up to and during pregnancy.  Though it is hard to prove, I do think that my diet contributed to easy conception, a comfortable pregnancy, labor and delivery without complication, and a strong healthy baby.  This one-pager gives you a quick idea of what a “real food” “nourishing” diet looks like for a pregnant woman.  I didn’t end up following this list to a T (I found it to be too much food…I ate to fullness, following my own body’s cues), but I did make sure to have liver and sardines (with bones and skin) once a week; soaked or sprouted my grains, beans, and nuts; and ate grass-fed butter, pastured meat, raw milk, bone broth, eggs, fermented foods, and organic produce pretty much every day.

Movement:

Labor is an intense physical effort, and caring for a baby takes a lot of strength as well.  Though it is common in our culture for pregnant women to become more and more sedentary, I would highly recommend using your nine months to train for your impending “marathon” in an informed and healthy way.  For me, my walk through the forest up Mt. Philo in addition to long swims in Lake Champlain helped me maintain  good physical as well as mental health.

Spinning Babies is a great resource for preparing your body for an easier birth. Check out the “In Pregnancy” tab on their website’s menu for some great movements to incorporate into your daily and weekly rhythm. Birthfit is another amazing resource that can inform efforts to prepare for a smooth labor and transition to motherhood.  Their model emphasizes the importance of fitness, nutrition, chiropractic, and mindset for pregnant women and new mothers.  This blog post gives you a sneak peak into the science-based “real talk” that can be found on the Birthfit blog and podcast.  If you don’t want to spend hours sifting through blog posts or listening to podcasts, the post on the “Top 5 Movements to Do During Pregnancy” gives you some good movements to incorporate into your day.

The Experience of Pregnancy:

There is a huge list of things that pregnant women shouldn’t do, shouldn’t eat, and shouldn’t drink. Some of them made sense to me, and many of them didn’t.  The book Expecting Better helped me sift through the advice and use scientific findings to decide what things I would avoid while pregnant.  The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth was also helpful as I navigated the adventure of pregnancy.  It provided information about the physical changes my body was undergoing in addition to facts that helped inform decisions during my prenatal check-ups.  The Evidence Based Birth website also helped answer many of the questions I had while pregnant.

Gearing up for Birth:

As I entered my third trimester, I wanted to learn more about labor and childbirth.  I found it incredibly helpful to hear birth stories from a diversity of women.  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and many of the Birthfit podcasts helped me build a positive grounded mindset as my due date approached.  I focused on preparing for and visualizing a smooth unmedicated home-birth.  I also felt that it was important to be ready to accept whatever path my labor took, even if it didn’t go according to plan.  Listening to other women’s stories helped me understand the range of possibilities and learn from their experiences.  Taking a birth class was also a great way for me and my partner to feel prepared.

As my due date approached, I had to make more and more decisions at my prenatal appointments.  It was important that my midwife and I were on the same page as we prepared for labor and delivery.  The Evidence Based Birth website helped inform many of these decisions.  The website does a great job of presenting the facts in an unbiased evidence-based  way.

 

I found these resources helpful as I navigated the unfamiliar territory of pregnancy.  I also, however, had to accept that I would never learn everything I might need to know.   The only predictable thing about pregnancy, labor, and childbirth is that they rarely go according to plan!  In addition to learning facts, it was equally important to nourish my mental health and mindset.  Feeling informed, my community of family and friends, and my balanced positive mindset would allow me to successfully navigate whatever path I found myself on.

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Musings Parenting pregnancy Uncategorized

A New Chapter

new-chapter

I’ve been busy in the real world for these past few months, as the lack of recent blog posts suggests.  Our winter was spent cozily snuggled up at home.  Every waking moment, and some less-wakeful moments, were spent getting to know the newest member of our family.  He joined us on a warm sunny morning after the winter’s first snowstorm.  This humbling, energizing, exhausting, amazing life transition certainly gives me a new perspective on the title of this blog: GrowingStories.

Over the course of the last year my interest in food, the environment, and health has become focused in on the topics of pregnancy, birth, and early child development.  Between diaper changes, nursing sessions, and mommy-son naps, I hope to find time to write posts sharing ideas that resonate with me as I explore these topics.  They will make up a new chapter to this GrowingStories blog.

I’ve already learned so much.  Often it seems that my learning happens just after the moment when it would have been SO helpful to have known!  I hope that the posts I write in the coming months are helpful to anyone out there who is (or will soon be) entering the transition into parenthood.  Maybe my discoveries and conclusions can inform you ahead of time and help you in the many decisions that must be made in pregnancy and parenthood.  Coming posts will also provide friends and family a window into the learning and discoveries that are guiding our journey into this new and exciting chapter of our adult lives.

For the prequel to this new chapter, check out this blog post on the health and lifestyle transitions that led up to my healthy pregnancy.

motherhood

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Home Gardens Recipes Uncategorized

A Perfected Pickle

It was feeling ironic that dill pickles were my least successful naturally fermented vegetable.  Whenever I tried pickling cucumbers, their taste and texture seemed less than ideal.  So I dove into an information rabbit hole.

My technique was perfected thanks to the facebook group called “Wild Fermentation Uncensored.”  It is a information treasure trove and open forum for everything fermentation-related (if you join, be sure to check out the files, specifically the document “fermentation basics”).

naturally fermented dill pickles2

Here’s how I perfected my pickles:

-I aimed for a pickle between a half and full-sour.  To do this, I mixed 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sea salt (Real Salt brand) into one quart of water (weigh out 38g of salt if you’re using a different coarseness).

-I cut off the blossom ends of each cucumber (they apparently have softening enzymes in them) and soaked the cucumbers in ice water for about an hour (this is supposed to prevent mold from forming in the fermentation process).

-As I had done in the padt, I put some wild grape leaves in the bottom of my jar (they provide tannins to the ferment which helps keep pickles crispy).

-I used less garlic.  I find that fermented garlic is one of the main sources of “funkiness” in natural ferments.  If trying to appeal to a general audience (and my husband), I’ve found that most of my pickles are received more enthusiastically if I cut back on garlic.

-Our house was below 75 degrees, which is ideal to create good pickles…. above that and things can get quickly out of control.  Below 68 or so and things start to slow down and take a lot longer.

Cucumbers in ice bath

dil pickle jar prep

The process:

Starting with a half gallon mason jar, I packed the bottom with a bunch of dill, one sliced up garlic clove, and several grape leaves.  I then packed in my cucumbers, fresh out of their ice water bath.  I then poured my brine over the top so everything was completely submerged.  I used a half cup mason jar as my weight – it fits perfectly into the wide mouth of the half gallon jar and keeps all the cucumbers below the brine.  I then loosely covered the jar with a cap and placed it in a bowl on my counter in case the brine overflowed.

Every day, I screwed the cap on tight and tipped the jar back and forth so bubbles hiding under pickles and leaves could come to the top.  I then re-loosened the cap.  After about a week, I put the whole jar into the fridge and let it sit there for another week before tasting (in the fridge fermentation is slowed dramatically, any fizziness can work its way out of the pickles, and the flavors can continue to meld together).

The results: 

Yum!  The flavor was mildly garlicky and dilly, sour and salty.  Most importantly, the pickles were crisp and crunchy!  I quickly set off to the garden to pick more cucumbers for a second batch.

naturally fermented dill pickles

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Reflections on Health

I’ve been reflecting more and more about the purpose of this blog as I watch my personal path transition from a career-focused life in the city to growing a family in Vermont.  I am incredibly thankful to have made certain health-specific discoveries in this journey, before we started thinking about having children.  I want to share them with you.  Read on to hear the story.  It’s long but worth reading, especially if you’re thinking about having kids or are working to solve a chronic health issue…

This blog was started to answer questions frequently being asked of me while I was still living in Somerville coordinating school gardening programming.  It was 2010.  I had a thriving porch container garden and had built up considerable experience growing food in the city at my first job after college.  Rather than answering the same question multiple times, I’d write about the topic on my blog and share it with my urban gardening friends.  The blog also served as a journal, allowing me to make note of ideas, projects, and changes that seemed important at the time.

It is now seven years later.

My work transitioned away from kids and gardens.  I live in Vermont.  Many of my interests and hobbies, however, are still related to health, food and nutrition.  These topics have become even more important to me as I experience pregnancy and prepare for a growing family.  I love being outside in nature, managing (and eating from) a big garden, cooking and playing with new flavors, reading articles about nutrition, and listening to podcasts focused on food and health.  Because of all this, I now field a lot of questions about healthy lifestyles.

I rarely, however, am asked about the exact same topic by numerous people all at the same time.  In the past week or two I’ve fielded many questions from friends and family who watched the movie “What the Health.”  The movie promotes a diet free from meat and animal products.   Realizing how many people were watching the movie, I became concerned that these ideas were being promoted with cherry-picked data as a healthy life style.  My deep concern was rooted in my personal journey, which taught me that organic pastured or wild animal products are crucial for my body to be optimally nourished and able to have children.

The back story:

When living in the city ten years ago, there was not good access to pastured organic animal products.  Having grown up with backyard chickens, I thought grocery store eggs tasted disgusting.  I felt similarly about out-of-season produce, conventional meat, and many available dairy products.  And so, without realizing it, I adopted a low-fat nearly vegan diet.  I was always excited to eat “happy” animal products, but that opportunity rarely arose.  I thought I was living healthily and ethically.

And then I started having some health issues.  Most significantly, I lost my period.  Doctors tried to figure out the underlying cause without success, so I was put on some vitamins and the pill.  Prescribing hormonal birth control is a very common “solution” for a wide range of complaints including acne, depression, irregular periods, and PMS.   However, taking the pill didn’t fix my underlying issue, it just patched symptoms.  I would need to figure out the real solution to my missing period later, when coming off the pill, which would likely correspond to the time when I was thinking about having kids.  At the time, however, I accepted my doctor’s advice and moved on with my life. 

About five years ago my boyfriend and I decided to move to Vermont.  The move led to many other transitions in my diet and lifestyle.  We had access to raw dairy, homemade yogurt, garden-grown produce, pastured organic meat and backyard-grown eggs fed organic feed.  We lived around others who felt like all of these local whole foods were an important part of a healthy diet.  Without making a conscious effort, I found myself eating a lot more pastured animal fat but less highly processed vegetable oil.  I learned how to make sauerkraut and other ferments at a free hands-on workshop.  I learned about Weston A. Price’s research, which clearly illustrates the value of nourishing traditional diets for reproduction, growth, and health in all stages of life.  I was struck by the fact that traditional diets studied by Price contained ten times the quantity of fat-soluble vitamins compared to a typical modern American diet.  I ate organ meats I’d never tasted before.  I drank well water.  I spent a lot of time outside: barefoot, breathing clean air, soaking in sun, and swimming in the lake.

These changes marked the start of a transition in my nutrition and health beliefs.  I stopped trusting the recommendations from groups like the USDA and CSPI.  They just weren’t resonating and started to seem contradictory and industry- (rather than data-) driven. I started reading more about the microbiome, traditional diets, truly nutrient-dense foods, the nutrient differences between pastured and conventional animal products, health impacts of various common household chemicals, and more.  A lot of information on the internet is sensationalized and misleading, but there is also a lot that is based on data and science.  I read with a discerning eye about one of the most emotionally-charged topics out there: health and nutrition. I soaked it in.

My new diet, like my old one, was made up of whole foods prepared from scratch.  Now, however, it included a variety of pastured or organic animal parts; raw dairy from grass-fed Jersey cows; soaked, soured, or sprouted nuts, grains, and seeds; bone broths; plenty of fermented foods made at home; eggs with golden-orange yolks; vegetables grown in the backyard without pesticides; local maple syrup and honey; and sun-ripened organic fruits picked nearby.  Besides these wonderful attributes, it all tasted amazing as well.  I minimized vegetable oils that weren’t cold-pressed, white sugar, and all processed foods.

The effect on me after a year was tangible.  I felt more balanced and healthy, so I decided to try going off the pill to see what happened.  It turned out that all those lifestyle changes (or who knows, maybe just one of them) had solved whatever imbalances or inadequacies existed in my body five years earlier.  Everything that was broken before was now functioning normally.

Interestingly, I was still under a lot of stress at work.  This was one of the factors I thought might have caused me to lose my period.  As I was still experiencing considerable stress, I feel quite strongly that it was my higher consumption of fat soluble vitamins via pastured animal products that helped my body decide that I was nourished enough to reproduce.

Time went on, my boyfriend and I got married and we built a house together.  In the building process, when possible, we chose non-toxic options.  We filled our pantry with only organic foods.  We use soap, baking soda, and vinegar for most of our cleaning.  I make my own salve and picked out a new shampoo without any crazy chemicals.  Call me crazy, but we eliminated wi-fi and other sources of electromagnetic radiation from our house.  I transitioned out of a job that was full of joy but also stressful – both mentally and physically.  After doing all these things I felt ready to start a family.

I am writing this post now because I’ve realized how big of an impact small changes can make and that time is often needed before seeing significant health improvements. Looking back, I didn’t have a road map. For that reason I am incredibly grateful that this progression happened gradually and naturally for me.  It was mostly a result of personal interest and happenstance.  Mixed with a lot of luck.  I was lucky to experience near-perfect health over the last several years.  I was lucky to be able to make decisions about my living environment.  I was lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who were adopting similar changes in their diet and lifestyle.  I was lucky to live close enough to farmers that I could get to know them and their agricultural practices personally.  We are all lucky to live in an age where options exist to live a healthful yet modern lifestyle.  We don’t need to run back to caves to eat a balanced diet and live a fulfilling life.  For everyone, but especially those thinking of having kids, today is a good day to implement a small change to improve your well-being.  Similar to planting a tree, the best time to start thinking about your long-term health was 20 years ago.  The second best time is today.

Feeling good and being healthy doesn’t need to be a lesson in sacrifice.  I still enjoy trips to the creemee (a.k.a. soft serve) stand, have slices of birthday cake, and eat out at restaurants that are making dishes from food that is not organic.  But my daily life, which encompasses the huge majority of my time and eating, reflects my new health values and I feel better for it mentally and physically.

I realize that I live in a setting that makes my diet and lifestyle easier to sustain.  I realize how much work it takes to grow my own food and cook from scratch.  If those things don’t increase your inner joy there are still options, like mail-order companies, that make these foods readily available to those without enough free time or interest and those lacking access to the ingredients in their community (links below).   It might cost more in the short term, but everyone can make any number of these transitions without spending too much additional time and effort!

The time and effort I put into my family’s health feels worth it to me.  I bet your wellness is worth it too.

Almost every one of these paragraphs could be it’s own blog post, but I’m stopping here for now.  I hope you gained something from reading through to the end.  I would love to continue this conversation or go into more specific detail with anyone who is curious – just let me know!  Wishing you happiness and good health.

Sustainable Nourishing Sources of Meat Available Online: U. S. Wellness Meats, Vital Choice Seafood

Weston A. Price Dietary Principals: (Not delivered with sleek graphics, but info about dietary guidelines and nutrition that makes the most sense to me).  Characteristics of Traditional Diets, Dietary GuidelinesPrinciples of Healthy Diets, Vegetarianism and Plant Foods

Women’s Health: Learn what nutrient deficiencies are caused by taking oral contraception, and take steps to nourish yourself accordingly.  This book, and the accompanying website, would have been super helpful for me 10 years ago!  If you’re wanting to conceive in the next few years, it will make life way easier to start thinking about your (and your partner’s) fertility and health now!