Why write?

To those who may not know, I’ve always been a writer. From elementary age doodles to Young Author’s stories to a major in writing for the Media, I’ve known for a long time that it’s a big part of who I am.

So why do I struggle so much these days with doing it and committing to it? I think there are many reasons I could list but the main one is that I don’t care about it anymore. But I want to care. I think I underrate the benefits of it – the catharsis, the time just spent in my own head, fleshing out my ideas. And most recently, I want to be writing so that I care share the collective memory of our family with my daughter and any other children we might have. I know that if I’m not preserving those memories, then no one else will.

The other thing about writing that I easily forget is that I have something to contribute. In the last few years I have spent many hours reading the writing of others, especially in the form of blogs. For some reason I haven’t been writing myself, though. Honestly I think that in some ways, I didn’t want to spend that time fleshing out my feelings and thoughts. But for me, writing is self-care. I can see now that I haven’t been caring for myself if I haven’t been writing. And though I’m a somewhat private and reserved person, writing is my way of sharing myself with others.

Though this that I’m writing today is not quite what I want to say, I want to commit to do better – to share myself in one way or another. My time will only become busier, the years will get on, and I will keep saying “I’ll do it later.” I’m going to start now. Here it is.

adventures in baby sleep-land

A few minutes ago, I laid my daughter down for a nap. After a little bit of initial whimpering, she fell asleep in five minutes. I smiled as I closed her door, then sat down to relax and drink some coffee, reflecting on how good it feels to have her be able to put herself to sleep – and how far we’ve come in such a short time.

Babies and their sleep is one of those hot-button issues that is divisive in the parenting community. Opinions on the best way to get baby to sleep run the gamut, from leaving baby in a room by herself to cry herself to sleep with no help, to laying down with baby or nursing her to sleep every time. For some people I think the way they parent and get baby to sleep comes very naturally, but I had a really hard time figuring out how to do it, and it was hard even figuring out what I was comfortable with. I just want to share my own experience here in case it can somehow benefit others.

When I was learning to breastfeed and spending hours on the couch or in bed with my little one, I searched the Internet with various questions that I had. I noticed that Eleanor wouldn’t really fall asleep unless she was suckling at the breast. My Internet searches took me to different sites with different parenting philosophies, but the most popular search result on a well-known breastfeeding help site told me that it was not a big deal to nurse her to sleep. The Dr. Sears Baby Book that I have also reinforced this position. But what I know now that I didn’t really know then was that she was not gaining enough weight or eating enough, so it makes sense, looking back, that she was basically spending entire days either feeding or falling asleep. There was very little time when she was awake and not fussing, or sleepy enough to just fall asleep in my arms vs. while she was trying to fill her belly. (I could write a whole other post on my breastfeeding issues so I’ll try to stick to just talking sleep here!)

Anyway, once she started getting enough to eat via supplementing (formula), I had a problem: I thought that maybe eventually she’d start falling asleep not sucking, but she couldn’t. We tried swaddling, rocking, shushing in her ear, bouncing, swinging, etc. Nothing worked well, unless it happened to exhaust her so much that she fell asleep before our energy gave out. She was so used to nursing to sleep that any other way of doing it just seemed to upset her; that is, unless we put her in a carrier, which usually worked, but then she still had to be moved from the carrier to her bed. And sometimes I didn’t know if she was tired or hungry (she was not giving me clear cues yet), so I would try to nurse her to sleep, but she was actually hungry, so then I’d have to give her a bottle and THEN nurse. It was exhausting… and obviously if she was always nursing to sleep, then no one else could give me a break and put her down. Then there was always the issue of being able to lay her down without her waking up and screaming. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t, but either way, her sleep times were exhausting. When she was around 3 months we even tried for one week to break her of the nursing to sleep, but she was still too young to adapt. I began to really dread naptime.

At 4 months we decided to start sleep training, because day after day and night after night we tried to rock her to sleep and she would cry for so long. We were exhausted and obviously what we were doing wasn’t working well. I didn’t really want to do a cry-it-out method because I hated hearing her cry, and honestly I felt like as a first-time mom I’d already made her cry more than necessary, since I didn’t know what I was doing very well! I’d read a lot in books and on the Internet about different methods, and the most useful book I found is called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. He is a sleep researcher and though his book didn’t really tell me clearly how to DO the sleep training, he did encourage me with the information and recommendations in his book. 

The method I use is called gradual extinction. Basically I keep an eye on the clock and watch Eleanor for sleepy cues – listless staring, yawning, eye rubbing, etc. (I will add that she didn’t start giving these cues clearly until around 4 months – another reason to be wary of starting sleep training earlier). At this point she can only stay awake for about 1-2 hours at a time before needing a nap. When she gets sleepy, we go through a routine of reading 1-2 books, then I pick her up, sing her a song, and lay her down. I stay with her a little to soothe her, then I put on white noise and leave the room. I check her at 5, 10, and 15 minute intervals until she falls asleep. When I check her I usually just readjust her blanket, reassure her a little that she’s okay, kiss her head and maybe shush in her ear, and then I leave the room. Unless she’s just not tired (which is rare), she falls asleep within 5-20 minutes, and usually doesn’t cry much. When she does cry, it’s really more of a protest cry then a sad cry (no tears when she’s protesting).

When we started sleep training, it was very hard to listen to her cry. The first time we did it in earnest, I cried too. But I have to say that life is much better for all of us this way. Before I was frantic, trying all sorts of things to get her to go to and stay asleep. I think that it made it confusing for her and exhausting for me. But now that I’m being consistent and sticking to a routine, she knows exactly what to expect. Within 3 weeks she has gone from needing 30 minutes to 1.5 hours of rocking and bouncing to get her to sleep (with lots of crying happening), to being able to put herself to sleep in five minutes with little to no crying. 

I know that what we’ve done won’t work for everyone, and some people will never be okay with intentionally making their baby cry. I understand that. But I had to come to terms with the idea that crying cannot be an indicator of whether a decision I make is good or not. Babies are intelligent beings even when they are small, and they will protest/cry if you do not give them something that they want or believe they need. Especially at the age Eleanor is now, she would probably much rather stay up and play than take a nap. But as her mom, I have to do what is best for her and not wait until she is an exhausted mess before she can get to sleep. I was not doing her any favors by having her exhaust herself crying in my arms. Our house is also much more peaceful because of sleep training. I have to say that it’s completely liberating to lay her down and come back a few minutes later to peek in at her laying still in her crib with her eyes open, just waiting for sleep to come. 

I would encourage any mom to try her best to follow her intuition, but if you think what you’re doing isn’t working, take the plunge and try something else. There will always be differences in parenting styles, and it seems to be really easy to find people who will tell you you’re doing it wrong. But YOU are your baby’s parent, not them. Do what you think may be right for your baby. Be empowered that because you love your child, you get to choose the best for them. Personally, I am very glad that I finally made the decision to sleep-train my daughter. I look forward to our sleepy future together, knowing that she has a good start. 🙂

some quick thoughts on Pinterest

Pinterest is all the rage among the demographics that I fall squarely into, there is no doubt. Female twenty-somethings love it, obsess over it and apparently can spend hours pinning to their hearts’ content.

I am on the fence.

I understand the attraction, and at the same time, I am not really interested in spending a bunch of time on Pinterest. I guess I just want to say this:

Pinterest is really only worth the time you spend on it if it is purposeful and helpful. Like many other social networking tools and sites, it can offer great benefits, but it can also just waste a bunch of your time, make you unproductive, or make you really narcissistic.

For example:

I have people that I follow, as well as friends, who constantly post pictures of very fit women who are working out or doing some crazy yoga pose or athletic feat. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to share stuff like this, but what is the purpose? I think people like to motivate themselves to be in or get into shape. But to me, it’s not wise. It’s a pretty slippery slope to be constantly viewing images like this and potentially obsessing over them. One minute you’re happy with how you look, then you look at your Pinterest account, and you’re reminded of everything that you’re unhappy about with your body. And even with plenty of exercise and self-discipline, you may never look like that model.

We can’t just let ourselves ride a roller coaster of self-deprication and punishment because of what we’re told to look like, especially when it’s a silly picture that’s encouraging us to talk down to ourselves. At least, I know that it is unhealthy for me to view images like that all the time, especially when I am pregnant and feel kinda yucky and pudgy, and it would be really unhealthy for me to compare myself to a woman doing a headstand who has abs of steel. We don’t all have to be fitness models, and we’re not going to. It’s very difficult to find the discipline to view images like this with a healthy perspective, no matter what you look like and what shape you’re in at the time.

So, I have a new philosphy on Pinterest when it comes to matters like this: when you notice items being posted that bring you down, or seem really pointless or unhealthy or unpurposeful, just stop following the board that they are being posted to. There are people I follow who post both things I love and things I don’t, and the easiest thing to do to determine what you look at it is to go to someone’s boards, glance through them and “unfollow” whatever you don’t prefer.

I guess maybe this is a silly thing to write about, but I just feel that it’s a good general thought that we are very capable of choosing what we want to consume, whether it’s TV, facebook, or just playing around with apps on a smartphone way too often. When we’re adults, we’re not often held accountable by others; it’s our responsibility to choose our exposure levels wisely. I think it’s necessary, even with Pinterest use, to make wise choices and treat ourselves respectably. It’s easy to live in condemnation and feel that you don’t measure up to other people’s standards – in physical fitness, craftyness, style, cooking or creativity. But don’t do it. Just accept who you are, and with God’s help, improve in the things you’re able to. We could all stand to love ourselves a little bit more.

a tip for drinking enough water

[Preface] So for the past month or so I’ve been unemployed.

I’ve never particularly been one for routine, so honestly, I’ve kind of been enjoying the fact that I don’t have to get up at the same time every day and do the same things. I can eat breakfast when I want to (and decide if I want to cook it or be lazy about it), take a shower whenever, and go somewhere if I feel like it, or not. I usually choose not to because a) we’ll run out of money if I spend it every day, and b) my in-laws have every season of the show The Gilmore Girls, which I am slowly working my way through watching. (again)

Anyway, I digress. Though the ol’ “routine” and I have had some head-butts over the years, it has helped me in some ways. For instance, it is very good to have a time to brush your teeth every day. This has become a little lax since I’ve stopped eating breakfast and leaving the house every morning (just being honest here, folks). But the main routine I’ve had issue with since leaving work is consuming enough water. Every morning at work I would arrive with my 32 oz. Nalgene bottle filled and tried to always drink it all by lunch, at which time I’d refill it and drink the whole thing again by quittin’ time. It was a good routine, a good amount of water consumed during my work day, and one that I didn’t even really have to think about too much.

… Until now. I have been really, really bad about drinking enough water — which has meant I’ve been under-hydrated, had more digestive issues, and dealt with some pretty ugly dry skin and cracked lips. I’m also growing a tiny human inside me who would probably appreciate it if I’d drink enough water.

Today I finally devoted some of my lazy day brain time to the issue, and finally came to a somewhat obvious solution of what to do.

[Display of home-canned food] (LOC)

(photo credit)

Mason jars to the rescue! I realized that my problem was not a lack of trying, but a lack of a large container for my water: I don’t like having only an 8 to 16 oz.-ish glass that I have to keep refilling multiple times a day. The quart-sized mason jars are the same size as my Nalgene bottles, but are more appropriate for everyday, at-home use. I think I even drank four jars full of water today – a significant improvement from recent days!

Oh, by the way, I have to admit that my mason jar idea wasn’t original – I stole it from my pal Molly, whom I have observed doing it herself. Thanks Molly! 🙂 It’s one more great use for these jars, which I already love for everyday food storage in my kitchen, in addition to using them for canning, flower vases and home decor. Give it a try if you get the chance!

junk food is addictive

I’m pretty sure I gained a few pounds over the weekend. Willy had his senior thesis exhibition on Friday and his family was able to come up and visit for the occasion. We loved having family here but definitely ate too much junk! 🙂 We also ate healthy food, but ended up having much more processed food than usual. Um, at least I did. I guess I can’t speak for Willy, but I ate way too many Cheetos. (The puffed kind are my favorite snack food, and therefore my greatest weakness…)

I’m sure not everyone is like this, but for me, eating junk perpetuates eating junk. If I’m eating healthy, real food, I normally don’t crave sugar, empty carbs or salty, greasy, fatty snacks. But, if I start eating them more frequently, I lose my ability to control how much of it I eat, and then I crave more of it throughout the day. Yuck!

But today, I am getting back on track after a few weeks of somewhat lazy behavior, both in eating habits and physical activity. I ate a healthy, home-cooked lunch and dinner today and my junk food cravings that I’ve been allowing to continue lately are already diminishing. I looked at the ice cream in the freezer tonight and wasn’t even tempted. Soups like the one I made for dinner tonight are a mainstay in my repertoire and are great for weeknight dinners: quick, delicious and full of really nourishing/nutritious foods. Not any strange or hard-to-find ingredients, either, at least for me; it’s vegan, too, if that matters to you.

Give it a try!

Quinoa Cabbage Carrot Soup:
http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2009/09/healing-quinoa-cabbage-soup.html

not recommended

I have pretty much grown up with a sweet tooth. I’ve always loved sweets, and frankly, I tolerate them really well. I was never one of those kids who ate too much Halloween candy and got a horrible stomachache or something. (Actually, I was never one of those kids who trick-or-treated, but that’s another story.) So it’s fair to say that I enjoy sugar. But I’ve been taking steps to avoid consuming so much of it.

I was reading a post by another blogger, Katie, in which she was semi-reviewing Michael Pollan’s newest book, Food Rules. In this book, he keeps it short and apparently gives simple rules of eating which are supposed to be practical guidelines for people who are trying to make better choices in their diet. One of these “rules” really bothered Katie, though, and it bothers me too:

#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. [Katie says:] When I read this, I had homemade pumpkin ice cream, coconut pie, homemade potato chips and leftover rock candy from Christmas tempting me to wander through the kitchen and “graze”. As an at-home mom who loves to cook, I could keep us too well-stocked with hazardous foods!
“Cooking yourself” needs the caveat of “from healthy recipes” or “without white flour or sugar”.  You know how bad white sugar is for people, right?  However, this rule would work well for most people and might encourage healthy cooking from scratch.

I think that just encouraging people to cook at home doesn’t mean they’re going to cook using great ingredients. I use recipe websites all the time, and frankly, it’s just as tough to find semi-healthy recipes in those places as it is finding them in restaurants.

I was reminded of all this because I was surfing the King Arthur Flour recipe website today (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/). I cannot deny that many, many of these recipes sound delicious. I was actually searching for a cinnamon-related recipe, because I have a Costco-sized container of yummy cinnamon that I really want to bake something with. One of the most popular recipes that came up was a Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake recipe that sounded amazing. Except… once I started looking at the ingredient list, it started looking not-so-amazing. The cons: 1) Plenty of All-Purpose aka WHITE flour. I’m guessing that you can’t necessarily swap it out for a healthier flour, but you could probably at least add in some white whole wheat flour (which King Arthur sells) or a whole-grain flour. 2) This was the real kicker for me: there is a buttload of sugar. Wanna know how much? Combining the amounts in the streusel topping, filling, and cake: a little over 4 cups of brown and white sugar. Um, that’s a lot. The King Arthur sites lists the sugar amount in one piece as 36 grams. For comparison’s sake, that’s about 1/2 of a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew. And really… how many people are going to stop at one piece? (There are 24 servings in one pan.)

I’m not saying you can’t ever eat things like this. What I am saying is that I hope people don’t take what Michael Pollan says at face value. You cannot eat “all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself” unless you want to suffer the chronic illnesses that everyone else in the country is experiencing: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc. Treats like this cake should be saved for a special time… a really, really special time, in fact… sheesh. Have you ever actually made a cake with that much sugar before?! I don’t THINK I have…

Anyway, I am trying to be a lot more conscious of what kind of desserts I make, because I’m starting to understand that yummy dessert does not have to mean sugar overload. It’s a really good idea – especially if you enjoy making/baking desserts fairly often – to try to use healthier ingredients in your cooking. For sugar, I have stopped using refined sugar and am not trying to use only cane sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey. Even some of these are not necessarily healthful… but they’re definitely better quality than refined sugar and flour.

I am slowly gathering healthy dessert recipes; if you have any that you love, shoot em my way! Maybe sometime soon I will share my recipe for peanut butter and honey cookies… mmm… oh, and if you have a moderately healthy cinnamon-y recipe, will you let me know? That jar is still so full!

on vices and human tendencies

Something that I’ve really thought on since graduating college is how much people use either food, alcohol or smoking as a vice. It seems to be a fairly intrinsic part of our nature – to consume or use something as an outlet for our emotions or as a way to cope with our circumstances. It’s pretty interesting, though, that the most common vices (debateably) are all negative when there are positive, beneficial options as well. I suppose that even considering something a “vice) infers that it is harmful in some way.

For myself, I’ve been realizing how much I use food as a vice, sugar and coffee being the main things I turn to. Coffee is my drug of choice when I’m tired or cranky or it’s a cold day and I want something warm. Sugar, I’ve realized, is what I really “use” – if something bad or sad happens, I usually want cookies or ice cream, pronto. Bread, another carbohydrate, can fall into that category sometimes as well.

I’m trying to make the point (mostly to myself) that by simply making better choices, we don’t have to have real vices; we can simply have a coping mechanism that is beneficial for us. This probably sounds like it’s straight out of a self-help book; but really, we are the ones who have the power to make better choices for ourselves.

One way that I’m trying to not eat as much sugar is by not making desserts/baked goods with white sugar anymore. I’m not 100% doing this yet, but I think making food with higher quality ingredients makes it easier to eat less and feel more fulfilled. (Sugar has been shown to have addictive qualities.) And now that I’m getting into eating less sugary things, I’m much less tempted by the convenience food options that are so easy to reach for, like candy bars, soda, packaged cookies, and ice cream. (Okay, I still really like ice cream… but I’m trying to eat higher quality stuff, at least.)

I’m also trying to incorporate drinking tea into my routine, vs. buying or making coffee. Tea is much cheaper and tends to be much healthier for our bodies. I also think that tea is really good at helping me warm up when I’m cold.

I also am trying to get into the habit of exercising. Going for a walk or bike ride vs. plopping down on the couch is definitely more stimulating. I am really looking forward to the weather getting warmer so that going outside will be a little easier. I’m also really looking forward to gardening this summer with friends! Time spend outside is so much better than sitting inside all day.

Final thought: do you have any “vices,” or even just habits that you could alter or give up? The Bible talks about us not being “mastered by anything,” and I think that includes our own desires. This obviously varies person to person; if you’ve got any feedback I’d love to hear it.