Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery


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Wipe Out!

I am all about cutting costs when it comes to baby products, and very interested in reducing the massive carbon footprint that accompanies every North American bundle of joy (fun facts can be found here). Most of Ladybug’s clothing, furniture, and other baby accoutrements are hand-me-downs from friends or amazing Kijiji.com finds.

I knew I would use cloth diapers long before I knew I was pregnant. Modern cloth diapers are wonderful and nothing like your mother’s massive, shapeless cotton swaths that required pins, “rubber pants”, and a PhD in Origami to hold back the relentless offerings of a well-fed newborn. Choosing a diaper today is a head spinning decision for a mother-to-be. I ended up going with the advice of a friend who, although I have mixed feelings about the PUL fabric, did not steer me wrong. I would advise waiting until your baby is born, trying a few different styles, and choosing the one that works best for you, fits your budget, fits your babe, and doesn’t hurt your conscience. Of course, there is always Elimination Communication but that is a topic for another day …

A dear friend asked me about wipes when she was expecting, and has asked me to share my set-up here. I use cotton flannel wipes that I purchased locally. They are manufactured by Gabby’s, an Ontario swim diaper company. Ambitious and crafty types can certainly make their own out of just about any natural, absorbent material (hemp, bamboo, etc.). Cut the fabric in squares (mine are about 6″ square), and serge around the outer edges.

For solution, I use a cup of water with 2 tablespoons Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, 2 tablespoons almond oil, a few drops of tea tree oil (anti-bacterial), and a few drops of lavender oil (soothing). Mix the whole shebang in a mason jar. I put the wipes in a sealable glass container, pour the solution over them, and keep them in a handy location. I find this covers around 20 – 25 wipes, and I use them fast enough that nothing funky happens to them.

The equation above is extremely versatile: you could use a different type of carrier oil (calendula is a great, healing choice), you could change up the essential oils to your liking, you could add skin savers like aloe vera; and you could put the solution in a spray bottle, or a sports top bottle, and apply to wipes or directly to the babe’s bottom as needed (this will likely only work if you have a placid and cooperative little one).

If you are heading out on the town, do not resign yourself to wetting down the sandpaper-dressed-as-toilet-paper most public washrooms offer up. Wet a few wipes and put them in a mini wet bag, or one of those cute reusable, washable waterproof sandwich bags, and toss that in your diaper bag. Alternately, fill a travel-size bottle with solution and bring along some dry wipes. Either way, you’ve got a quick, easy, and inexpensive solution to a dirty problem.

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Bake It Like You Mean It: Bread Baking 101

I’ve been making bread for many years and eating bread my entire life. My mother spent a good deal of my childhood producing delicious homemade bread, cinnamon buns, and rolls. I love bread. No matter how healthy my diet gets, I will never eschew bread.

In the last five years, I have begun a hot and heavy flirtation with whole grains. Most recently, I have been going steady with Gold Forest Grains’ Red Fife. No matter how I try, or which foolproof book I read, I have yet to make a loaf of bread that I am really proud of.

Enter the wonderful crew at Shovel & Fork. I have been signed up and waiting for their Bread Baking 101 course for months. I have also been dreaming about beautiful, delicious whole wheat loaves. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to put all this wishing, waiting and hoping into action.

Taught by the hilarious and knowledgeable Chad Moss, it was a wonderful day of learning, practising, and eating. We even got to sample wares pulled straight from the backyard cob oven. I left with a few grams of starter; two proofing loaves of 70% Red Fife, 30% Sunny Boy unbleached organic; many notes; and renewed confidence in my bread making ability.

I got home, fired up my regular, boring old oven, and waited. When I judged proofing to be complete, I popped my Dutch oven in (forgetting to score my loaf – whoops!) and crossed my fingers. An hour or so later, I took out the bread and turned it on to the butcher’s block with high hopes. I was not disappointed, my crust looked lovely.

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Mr. Moss warned us off cutting into a straight-from-the-oven loaf (dashing many romantic hot bread fantasies in the process): it is still baking and should be cooled overnight for the best flavour to develop. He suggested warming a chunk in the oven, if hot bread is your particular bag.

This morning I cut into my loaf and discovered a tighter, denser crumb than I had hoped for (not a long enough second proof), but a massive improvement over past whole grain loaves.

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Upon tasting, Musicman, Ladybug, and I were all in agreement that this was a fine first effort. Given the tools Shovel & Fork has provided me with, I am excited to continue tweaking until I get it just right. I am also much less intimidated by the whole starter process than I was.

Stay tuned for bread updates, and for the results of the Kitchen Garden and Cob Oven courses. Let the dreaming begin …

 


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Be Gentle With Yourself

An on-going topic of conversation with the mothers I know is how much we are (or are not) getting done. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers to be, and do, it all. Some of this pressure comes from within ourselves, some is imposed through the relentless comparison we inflict upon ourselves when we look at other women’s lives, and some is external and largely beyond our control.

We all know the woman with the fat dollar career, immaculate home, amazing figure, and perfect relationship. Or we think we do … I think it is important to remember that we do not know what goes on behind the scenes. Despite media and corporate promises, you simply cannot have it all and you cannot be perfect all the time.

The relief I feel when another mother lets down her guard and admits her imperfection is a rather sad comment on the state of motherhood these days. Trolling parenting sites, I frequently read women condemning other women’s choices. No wonder it’s so scary to open up and admit we are human. Outward criticism, coupled with the insecurity many of us feel as parents, results in a doozy of a shame complex.

Over the last year, I have been amazed at just how much time and effort caring for one little human being entails. I was formerly a gal who could get a lot done in 24 hours, and had energy to spare. I am now a mama who may still be in her bathrobe at supper time, occasionally cries as she wipes avocado from her hair, and often sleepwalks to bed at 8 PM. And, that is perfectly normal, acceptable and okay. Thankfully, every day is different, and provides new and exciting challenges.

I try to remember that Ladybug will only be a baby for a fleeting and minuscule amount of time. I want to be with her as much as I can for the few years that we have together and, most importantly, to enjoy that time. For me, that means letting go of perfection, not comparing my achievements to those around me, and having a mother’s helper come in for two hours a week to spend time with Ladybug while I catch up on things that go by the wayside (bill payment, cleaning, grooming, snoozing, etc.).

I have a magnet on my fridge that contains helpful advice from the Desiderata, which I remind myself of daily: “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.”

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Snow Day

It was warm enough today to spend more than 15 minutes outside. Ladybug, Musicman and I built a fire and got some things done in the yard. One of those things was building Ladybug’s first snowman. She spent a good deal of time conversing with him while I did some shovelling.

I shovelled the across-the-street neighbours’ walkway and, when I was done, they asked us to come in. Their house is a mirror image of our 1953 built 690 square foot bungalow, save the 150 square foot addition on the back. They were proud to inform us that they had raised five children there, and that with only one bathroom. I was immediately reminded of how our realtor suggested that our three bedroom house would not suit many people because it was too small for anyone other than a couple or single person. How times have changed!

I recently read Disease Proof Your Child, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and have been feeling somewhat guilty for turning my back on nutritionally sound eating in favour of ripple chips and beer. It happens every year during the winter doldrums: I ditch fresh fruit and vegetables and cling to sinfully starchy carbs. Not that I’ve started Ladybug on beer just yet …

In an effort to make something that would satisfy one and all, I went to the cold room and pulled out some of our lovely Alberta Blush garden potatoes to make twice baked potatoes. Normally, this is a dairy-heavy recipe with butter, cheese, milk, and sour cream, but I modified it so that I could eat it and feed it to Ladybug:

1 1/2 cups raw cashews
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 small onion
8-10 medium sized potatoes
Salt and pepper
Non-dairy milk ( I use almond)

1. Put cashews in a bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for 2 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 400.
3. Drain cashews and place in blender or food processor with garlic and half the water. Turn on and add rest of water, as needed, until you have a thick but smooth cashew cream. Salt & pepper to taste. Place in fridge.
4. Prick potatoes with a fork and put in oven for 40-50 minutes. They should be cooked through but not too soft.
5. Let potatoes cool while you chop up the onions and olives. (This step can be altered to accommodate whatever you’d like in your potato: garlic, cheese, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, etc.)
6. Cut each potato in half and use a spoon to scoop out most of the flesh. Be careful: they will still be hot. Make sure you leave about a quarter inch next to the skin, so that your boats don’t fall apart. Place the cashew cream, potato, onions, and olives in a bowl.
7. Using a ricer or hand mixer, blend the potato mixture, adding a bit of non-dairy milk at a time. Salt & pepper to taste.
8. Using a spoon, fill each hollowed out potato boat a little over the top with the mixture, and place on a baking sheet.
9. Pop the sheet back in the oven for 20-30 minutes until just beginning to brown.

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Too Attached?

When out and about with Ladybug in the carrier, I am often stopped by older women who exclaim about how much is available to mothers these days and how few options they had when they were raising their little ones. As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am not a believer that “more” necessarily equals “better”.

Many of the trappings of modern motherhood seem to be designed with the “busy” or “on-the-go” mother in mind and offer little for the developing child. Such is our mindset, women are expected to be juggling a home, family, partnership, and career, and also remembering to take time for themselves. Something inevitably gets left behind.

Attachment theory is not new and there is a slew of good, evidence-based information available explaining why the bond between an infant and a loving caregiver is vital in creating healthy, well-adjusted human beings. I believe this is important to keep in mind when evaluating any new or “essential” or “mom-approved” product. Is it going to promote the attachment bond or will it allow me to get further away from my baby?

Popular thought on parenting seems to prize independence – the earlier the better – with little regard for what is appropriate for the child. Of course, we all want to raise children who are independent, productive members of society. However, infancy and toddlerhood are not the time to seek independence. Children will gradually come to autonomy when it is appropriate – they do not need to be trained or pushed to do so.

I try to remember, when I just want an hour alone, that some day in the near future I may be wishing that my baby needed me a little bit more.

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Spare the Rod

My friend and I had a really great baby swim date yesterday. Seeing her always makes me feel okay and, after having the flu and a flu-ridden baby for the last week while Musicman was on the road (again), I needed to be okay. Ladybug and I were in a weird and unhealthy pattern involving endless stories, steamy baths, no solids, and many, many breakdowns. Did I mention it was so cold that going outside for any length of time meant frostbite?

My friend asked if I believed in “smacking”. At first, I wasn’t sure if she was making reference to shooting heroin, kissing or making a satisfied sound. She clarified. It seems that she recently polled her friends with kids as to whether they hit their children or not. She was shocked to find that they all felt smacking their children was a necessary, effective and worthwhile pursuit.

She then polled her co-workers, professionals who work with children all, and they too sang the praises of corporeal punishment. When she sought a reason, both groups felt it was the quickest way to end a behaviour. There was also the “I-was-spanked-and-I’m-ok” faction whom, for the record, she did not think was “ok”.

Before I had children or contemplated children, I assumed that a lack of spanking was to blame for misbehaviour. I have since educated myself and realize that this is not the case. In fact, using physical punishment has been shown to increase undesirable behaviour and developmental issues (read more here).

There is a movement in Canada to make corporeal punishment illegal and I can certainly see the logic. If you strike your spouse, you can be charged with spousal abuse. If you strike another adult, you can be charged with assault. In fact, if you strike someone else’s child, you can be charged with child abuse. The only human being you are legally allowed to strike is your own child. How does this make any sense?

It also defies logic that damaging someone will make them better in some way. For those who argue that they were hit and are okay: how do you know what you would be like otherwise? It is perfectly fine to realize our collective mistakes and move on. Kids used to play with mercury in science class – does that mean it wasn’t dangerous and our kids should do it too?

We are (hopefully) evolving as a species, and I believe the end goal is to work towards peaceful understanding and cooperation. As long as we use violence to discipline our children, we can expect that the world will not be a peaceful place.

The old line “this hurts me more than it hurts you” rings false, too. Do people actually hit their children when they are not angry with them? No. It is anger that inspires the violence to begin with. (Granted, I am sure it feels terrible once you’ve calmed down.)

None of this is to say that I don’t sometimes feel angry with my daughter but, rather than yelling at her or hitting her, I try to take a step back from the situation and get a clear perspective. Why is she acting this way? What can be done to make things go more smoothly? Is she hungry, tired or overstimulated? Is what I’m expecting from her unreasonable or developmentally inappropriate? What can I do to help her understand the consequences of her actions?

Though it has come to mean “punishment”, the original meaning of discipline is “instruction“.

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If the Shoe Fits …

Since Ladybug started walking last month, I have been searching for appropriate footwear for her. Because of my requirements, this is not an easy task. I want a soft, flexible shoe; made from natural materials; and made in North America. If I weren’t so picky, I could waltz into any children’s store in town and pick up a pair of Robeez but, alas, they are made in China.

I have managed to purchase a wonderful pair of indoor shoes that fit the bill. While indoor shoes and socks are not necessary, and it is recommended that toddlers go barefoot in the house, our hardwood floors coupled with the fact that it is winter in Canada make for some cold tootsies. Enter the lovely Padraig slippers. I am obsessed with these natural, flexible, warm, and machine washable gems. They are artisan-made in Vancouver, Canada, and come in loads of fun colours. I’ve been giving them as gifts to all our toddler friends.

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Last year, I received the gift of a great pair of boots for Ladybug called STONZ. They are weather-proof, soft, flexible, and cute. They even fit over Padraigs, for extra warmth, if you buy a size up. Sadly, as the company has grown, they no longer make their product in Canada. This year I chose to go with a Quebec-made boot that is virtually identical in design, with the addition of some poly-fill and without the cute appliqués. The Sherpa Chic-Choc boot is an easy on and off, and keeps Ladybug’s feet toasty down to -25 degrees.

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The snow, however, will not last forever, and my daughter’s feet continue to grow at a rapid rate. Because children under two go up an average of a half shoe size every two months, it is important to replace shoes and socks frequently. Improper fit can lead to a lifetime of foot problems. Measuring your child’s foot is recommended before purchasing any new shoe. Toddlers are meant to wear shoes that are breathable and as close to the barefoot experience as possible to ensure healthy musculoskeletal development. Shoes should never be handed down because they conform to the feet of the first wearer.

So, what is a fashion-interested, budget-minded, eco-conscious mama to do? Fret no more, dear reader, for I have found two lovely solutions. Both are made in the USA and fit all my requirements. The first, Soft Star Shoes hails from Oregon, is made from American-sourced leather, dyed with food-grade dyes, available in vegan styles, and is handcrafted and customizable.

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The other, Bear Feet Shoes is of Texan provenance, boasts beautiful styling, and is made from American and European materials (some of which are also organic).

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While neither company is giving their product away, considering the time, effort and materials employed, I think they are very well-priced. A child’s footwear is certainly not the place to scrimp or sacrifice quality, as my mother reminded me the other day. We do, after all, spend many years on our feet.

For a more in depth exploration of footwear for kids, please read the excellent article from Runner’s World Running Times here.

The children’s foot facts were sourced from:
Foot Health – Children

Learn About Feet – Children’s Footwear

How to Select Children’s Shoes

Buying Shoes for Toddlers