March 2013

Pull Up a Chair

March 29, 2013

Giotto Assisi Crucifixion

I remember seeing Giotto’s frescos in Assisi, Italy, and they were as incredible as others had said they were. Those blues! No matter how beautiful a piece of art is in a book or on a screen, seeing it person is such a different experience. You can really encounter a piece of art in person. I was reminded of this when I saw some of El Greco’s work at the Prado in Madrid last year. I’d never been drawn to his work, but when I walked into a room with some of his giant paintings of the life of Christ, I was mesmerized by the way he captured light. Stunning!

Today is Good Friday — the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. As we’re fasting and attending services today, I won’t be offering a festive drink; instead, I’m passing a pitcher of H20 and some homemade bread. (If that’s too dull for you, feel free to add a squeeze of lemon or lime to your water and slather the bread with butter.)

It was a busy week here with doctors’ appointments, preparing for my mother-in-law’s visit, and getting ready for Easter weekend. Here’s my high and low:

Low: The girls and I woke up with colds on Monday morning. (They caught it from me this time.) It made everything that much more tiring this week: I was depleted of all energy, and every time I turned around, the girls’ noses were running.

High: Two things come to mind. Nana’s arrival, for one: The girls had such a good time with her over Christmas, and we were all looking forward to her Easter visit. I’m sure it will fly by just as quickly as it did last time. And also, having an international adoption medical expert tell us on Tuesday how healthy and developmentally on-target our girls are. While we have a few small issues to deal with, I feel so grateful!

Bonus question: What’s your favorite holiday? I’ve grown to love Easter because it’s not accompanied by all the commercialism, gifts, and the expectation of visits and gatherings. It’s also my favorite religious holiday — I find it so meaningful. That said, Christmas is still magical for me, so it wins out ever so slightly…

Okay, help yourself to some bread and water, and tell me about yout week. If you’re celebrating Easter, hope it’s a joyful one — and if you’re observing Passover next week, hope it’s happy. Even if you’re simply marking the beginnings of spring, enjoy your weekend, and see you back here on Monday!

Image: Giotto’s Crucifixion in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi

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by Margaret Cabaniss

How to Make Great Deviled Eggs

Thanksgiving has turkey, Christmas has eggnog, Easter has deviled eggs. That’s how it always worked in my family, anyway: Whatever else we ate for Easter dinner, it just didn’t count if there wasn’t a platter of deviled eggs on the table.

Making them somehow always fell to my younger sister and me, and over the years I think we pretty much perfected the form. We never put together an official recipe, though her husband has adapted the concept to serve in their restaurant (to rave reviews), so we must have been doing something right.

But all this practice has made me a bit of a deviled egg snob. The “devil” in deviled eggs is supposed to indicate some sort of spice or heat, but most versions are just so dang bland. While the basic recipe is the same — egg yolks mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, and a few odds and ends — the ratios are usually all wrong, with way too much mayonnaise and not nearly enough kick. No wonder they get a reputation as bad buffet food.

Our trick? Around a 3:2 ratio of mayonnaise to Dijon mustard, finished off with a teaspoon or two of sweet pickle juice; we just add a little of all three as we go, until we get the flavor and consistency just the way we like it. Apparently the pickle juice is a Southern thing, but it just makes good sense: The spicy, vinegar tang of pickling liquid, mixed with the mellow heat of the mustard, makes for a much more interesting deviled egg — creamy, tangy, perfect.

How to Make Great Deviled Eggs

Once you have the basics down, it’s fun to experiment: I like using a pinch of wasabi or horseradish when I really want a good kick; hot sauce, sriracha, or red pepper would be great here, too. And while I usually stick to simple garnishes at home — paprika, chives, a little pickle relish — I love eggs topped with bacon, ham, maybe a little smoked salmon… For more ideas, check out some of the variations here and here.

To get great deviled eggs, make sure you start with good hard-boiled eggs; Lindsey Johnson at Design Mom has some tips for perfectly hard-boiled eggs every time. Another trick: Lay your eggs flat in the fridge the night before you boil them; it will help center the yolk for a nicer presentation.

Any other deviled egg fans out there? What are your favorite variations?

Images: Todd Coleman for Saveur; Amy Davis for the Baltimore Sun

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An Easter Tree

March 27, 2013

Easter Tree

It’s no secret that I’m the least artsty-crafty person on the planet. But every now and then I manage something simple to do with the girls, like paper-weaved baskets or paper-plate faces. (Abby’s guest post yesterday gave me ideas for a new plan of attack on this front.) This year I really wanted to do some Easter-related crafts, but now, just four days from the celebration, I’m having to abandon my grander ideas. Still, I was determined to have an Easter tree.

On Monday, I planned to take the girls out and find some branches we could use for a tree, but our otherwise spring-like weather of late had given way to cold temps and two inches of snow on the ground. Enter Plan B: scout a couple stores for pussy willows or appropriate branches, find nothing, and go back to foraging outside. We finally found some usable branches yesterday.

Seashell-filled Vase

For lack of anything else, I filled a tall glass vase with seashells and positioned the branches. (I’m a beach girl who collects things like shells, rocks, and sea glass.) I then hung some colorful blown eggs I keep from year to year, and today I’ll help the girls make some paper eggs to hang. When B’s mom arrives tomorrow, we may even get around to blowing and coloring some real eggs, or venture further into craft-land and make some like this.

Last night, I helped the girls make their own Easter tree with a tiny branch they found: I filled a glass jar with dried lentils, cut a hole in some parchment paper for the branch’s trunk, and tied some string around the paper to keep it all in place. They thought it rocked and even my husband was impressed. A proud moment.

Baby Easter Tree

What’s your favorite Easter or spring craft? I’d love to hear your ideas — especially those that have worked with your little ones.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Abby Scharbach

Fostering Creativity in Kids

For my youngest son’s seventh birthday, his siblings showered him with a number of creative, handmade birthday gifts. I had no idea that this birthday-gift making was going on, so it touched me to see him open up his siblings’ thoughtful presents: My ten-year-old son painstakingly created a version of Colorform’s Silly Faces game, complete with more than fifty facial features carefully drawn and cut out; his twelve-year-old sister sewed him an outfit for his Bitty doll; and his eight-year-old sister baked and painted him a clay boat for his Lego figures.

Seeing the gifts spread out on the windowsill made me thankful for my sweet kids who love each other, but it also made me pause and reflect on just what we’ve done here at home to foster their creativity. Here are some things that have worked for us:

1. Taking our time. As counterintuitive as it may sound, kids need to be bored to get their creative juices flowing. Some unstructured playtime allows them to stretch their imagination-and-creation mental muscles. This unstructured time should be child-led, not parent-led. If your kids get stuck, encourage them to work on projects: I’ll suggest that my kids to do an “art project” (however they interpret it) when they don’t know how to spend their next available chunk of time, but I don’t hover over their creative time and don’t usually direct it. I haven’t planned a lot of art projects to fill their days (although we’ve done plenty, of course), and they’ve taken various art classes, but the bulk of their creative work comes from their own heads, in their own time. Boredom begets creativity; don’t let the television convince you otherwise.

Fostering Creativity in Kids

2. Making an “art cart.” When we had a very small house and a lot of very small people in it, I kept a plastic rolling cart (our “art cart”) in our coat closet that I filled with various art supplies — think pipe cleaners, glue sticks, felt squares, tissue paper, yarn, colored papers, glitter, various stencils and templates, markers, etc. I organized them by type in Ziploc bags, which are easy for little hands. I built up our supply over time and added another bin or two as necessary: one for paint, another for clay and Play-Doh, and another for fabric scraps. When my kids turn six, I buy them a set of Prismacolor pencils of their very own; by this age, they’re careful with them.

As you can imagine (or may have experienced yourself), the art cart eventually became a whole closet. But no matter how you organize your supplies, the important thing is just to have them, and then (hold your breath here) allow your kids free access to the cart to get what they want to use when the muse comes.

3. Building an art library. You don’t have to be an artsy, creative type to inspire your kids; there are so many great books out there to do it for you! I have a lot of art books for all ages: For my very youngest, I love the Usborne series (a copy of I Can Draw Animals and I Can Draw People were always in my diaper bag); as my kids have grown up, I’ve purchased many Dover coloring books, sketch books, and, later, advanced drawing and painting books. There are also countless, delightful children’s books about famous artists: One example is James Mayhew’s Katie series, where a little girl encounters the portraits of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, and other artists. It’s also easy to find crafts books at garage sales and used books stores; we have a number of books, like The Big Book of Things to Make, that we’ve collected over time. And if you keep the arts-and-crafts books on a bottom shelf, your kids will probably love to page through them, finding inspiration for their next project.

Fostering Creativity in Kids

4. Expecting a mess and being (or trying to be) okay with it. Some of you probably read Tip 2 and thought, “Oh, no. Ziploc bags? I’ll have art-supply potpourri on day one.” The mess can be overwhelming, especially when all you really want to do is get dinner ready without kids underfoot. Finding the table covered in glue and glitter, just when the chicken is coming out of the oven, can try any mama’s patience.

Instead of ditching the art cart all together, moderate what you leave in it. If you know that tempera paint and your five-year-old don’t mix, choose watercolors — or no paint at all. If your kids are under five, skip the Sharpies. When they’re done with their project, help them to pick up their used supplies — or (what usually happens around here) call them back to the table to pick up the paper scraps and glue sticks if they’ve moved on to the next activity without cleaning up. And be on the lookout: You’ll probably find a special treasure in the midst of the wreckage that you can applaud and hang on the fridge.

5. Buying a portfolio. To keep from being completely overrun with art work, I’ve purchased each of my kids one of these accordion portfolios. I like that they’re bigger than most of their projects and can lie flat under a bed or get tucked behind a bookshelf. We’ve written the year on the tabs and file the work they want to keep in the appropriate year — but even then, take a minute to put a date on the back of the project, too. I wish I’d done that more consistently: The kids will inadvertently misfile some of their work, or I will unexpectedly find something I want to save but don’t remember when it was made (was he six or eight?). Kids grow up really fast, and some of those middle years can be a blur.

It’s been fun helping the kids develop their creative side; I love having budding artists in the family, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. (Now I just need to figure out how to get them outside and practicing their goal kicks…) How do you encourage creativity at home?

Images: Abby Scharbach. Abby is a homeschooling mama of seven in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. 

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The Cocooning Stage

March 25, 2013

Cocoon House in a Tree

Adoption experts and experienced parents always advise families to “cocoon” when coming home with adopted children — which basically means keeping your child’s world very small, predictable, and simple. There’s so much change for them to process, so much stimulation…the less new stuff thrown at them, the better. And this includes people: A child’s ability to attach to new parents is much more easily accomplished when there’s no one else around to bond with. (Our home study agency requires one parent to commit to being home with a new child for at least three months, and ideally six months or longer.)

We took this pretty seriously. I stopped most of my paid work and committed to staying home with the girls indefinitely. We didn’t bring the girls anywhere for at least six weeks after we got home. I took them outside for short walks and to the park almost every day, but I didn’t bring them into any stores or anyone else’s home. One day, I took a deep breath and took them into a grocery store. They did so well that it boosted my confidence, and four days later we went to a food market where we sat and ate carrot cupcakes. Then, about a week after that, I took them out to lunch for my birthday. It continued from there. Most of our trips were born from the simple need to get basic errands done, as well as my desperate need to get out and see human faces. Nevertheless, I spaced our excursions out, kept them short, and watched for any distress signs, both during and after each outing.

Harder to navigate were social interactions with friends. I noticed my girls did great with women who had babies in tow, but when single friends spent time with us, the girls often seemed confused. They’d either act strangely before or after, or they’d show lots of affection toward my friends, wanting their attention — all of which is supposedly not good for children in the early attachment phase. After a few situations that troubled me, I had to draw some lines, and that was hard — mostly because it felt like I was going overboard, it undoubtedly made some friends feel bad, and it also meant had to miss out on much-needed friend time.

One exception to this was when B’s mom came to visit over Christmas. We were a bit anxious about how it would go, but the girls warmed to her quickly, acted appropriately, and seemed to understand she was someone special but wasn’t a substitute for mommy or daddy. (If I had other family closer, I would certainly have wanted them to spend time with the girls early on, too.)

Almost six months home together now, I see the fruit of being with these girls almost 24-7 and limiting social interactions. Even in the past month, I notice deeper attachment, particularly with one of my daughters. I also notice that, as we gradually permit more visitors and we’re doing more outside of the house, the girls better understand that I am mom — and different from everyone else. It’s still a work in progress, and the attachment process is far from complete; we’ll be deliberate about who and how much we’re exposing them to for a while. It’s a relief to this mama, though, to now be able do more and see more people than we did before.

Have you ever had to “cocoon” for any reason? How did you manage it, and what were the fruits?

Image found here

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Pull Up a Chair

March 22, 2013

CA Olive Oil

That bowl of sunny goodness up there is some olive oil that showed up at our house last week. After learning that much of the olive oil we buy is fake or diluted with lesser oils (this book is now on my reading list), I decided to try something direct from a California olive grove. The cost was the same or less than I’ve been paying in the grocery store, so it was a win-win.

The bummer is that once this stuff runs out, there’s no more until next season; the farm sells out every year as soon as its olives are pressed and ready. I’m on their email list and may double my order next time, but I’ll be back to square one until then. At least I now know there are certifications, bottling dates, and refrigerator tests I can do to better ensure the imported stuff I buy in the future is the real deal, so that helps.

Speaking of learning new things, I love hearing about stuff I never knew existed. For instance, have you ever heard of shrub? It’s a drink made with a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and fresh fruit that dates back back to colonial times, but lately it’s been making a comeback. It definitely piques my interest, so for today’s happy-hour chat, I’m offering this Gin Gin Fizz, spotted in Garden & Gun, which uses a spicy ginger shrub from Shrub & Co in Atlanta. I love gin drinks (Hendrick’s is probably my favorite), and I’m a big fan of ginger, so with this promising cocktail in hand, here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: The realization — after some recent medical and dental appointments for my girls — that my perspective, concerns, and convictions sufficiently place me in the “unconventional” category, and this can make it tough to navigate certain health matters for my daughters. Thankfully, I’m used to being a weirdo.

High: No particular high this week… We had a lovely visit with some out-of-town friends and their recently adopted son on Sunday, the girls had a good week overall, and the weather’s been springlike.

Bonus question: Has your life turned out to be what you expected so far? Or is it totally different (or somewhere in between)?

In my teens I thought I’d be an Academy Award–winning actress — either that, or I’d be helping the poor in an African village somewhere and marry a handsome, like-minded soul I’d met on some dusty back road when my Jeep broke down. (No grandiose plans there at all.) Then, at 23, I assumed I’d be long married to my first love by now and we’d have kids graduating from college. Instead, I gave up a budding stage career at age 25, married my best friend at 34, and adopted two children from Africa in my 40s. I guess somehow all those early predictions weren’t completely off base…

Your turn: How was your week? And how’s your life shaping up so far? Hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Homemade Peeps

Let’s be honest: No one likes Peeps. Not really, anyway; sure, they’re fun for their kitsch factor, or for the diorama potential, or for the slightly revolting science experiments — but no one is going to reach past a chocolate bunny or a Cadbury egg for a taste of that chewy, oversugared styrofoam. (Let us also not dwell on the fact that you could reuse the same Peeps year after year, and no one could tell the difference.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good marshmallow. The problem is, Peeps are not good marshmallows. But they are awfully cute — and as Easter is about nothing if not adorable candies in pastel hues, this year I decided to try making some of my own.

There are plenty of homemade Peeps how-tos out there; Martha Stewart has one recipe that calls for piping marshmallow fluff into tiny chick and bunny shapes, but I could see exactly how that would turn out in my inexpert hands…and mutant chicks and half-melted bunnies not being so adorable, I quickly moved on.

Fortunately, I already had a great homemade marshmallow recipe in my arsenal: At Christmas, I made peppermint marshmallows for my nieces and nephews, based on a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook, and they ended up being a huge hit with kids and adults alike. I decided that, instead of trying to pipe my Peeps, I’d make a regular pan of marshmallows and use Easter cookie cutters to get the shapes I was after.

Homemade Peeps

Marshmallows may seem like they’d be tricky to make, but they’re actually dead easy: You simply heat some sugar, corn syrup, and water to the soft ball stage (a candy thermometer is necessary here); add the sugar mixture and a dash of vanilla to some softened gelatin and beat the tar out of it in your mixer; then spread the resulting fluff into a greased 9×13 pan to set up overnight. You can get the full instructions, complete with video, at the America’s Test Kitchen Feed website here. The only change I made to the recipe was to not sprinkle them with powdered sugar before they set up; we want them to stick to the colored sugar later, so leave them undressed in the pan.

While the marshmallows are setting up, you can make your colored sugar — a much cheaper alternative to the store-bought kind, and you can make whatever shades you like. I scooped half a cup of sugar into four different freezer bags, then added four drops of food coloring to each bag, sealed them up, and scrunched the bags to mix. (This is a great job for the kids; my nephews loved pounding the bags into submission.)

Homemade Peeps

A mix of regular and neon food coloring — the leftovers I had from dying eggs last year — gave us some great springtime colors (though if you’re looking for an alternative to regular food dyes, there are natural food dyes out there, too):

Homemade Peeps

The next day, turn your block of marshmallow out onto a cutting board that you’ve sprayed with oil (to keep it from sticking), then simply spray your cutters and go to town. The marshmallows may need a little coaxing to come free (make sure you cut all the way through to release them), but the good thing about these is that they bounce back pretty easily. Just take your time and make sure your tools are oiled between each cut, and you’ll be fine.

Homemade Peeps

Then comes the fun part: rolling them in the colored sugar. This stuff tends to get everywhere, so it’s a good idea to do a few marshmallows in one color before washing your hands and moving on to another, or to give one color to each kid (we ended up with a couple of tie-dyed flowers after some cross-contamination). Set the finished shapes aside on a cooling rack while you work.

Homemade Peeps

We ended up cutting about 12 large marshmallows from one half of the pan; we could have kept going, but these guys were already pretty enormous, and the kids liked the idea of turning the rest into mini-marshmallows for tiny treats (which, frankly, their mother probably preferred). I simply diced the rest (including the scraps) into small cubes, and then we rolled those in the sugar, too.

Homemade Peeps

If you’re just not a fan of the sugary crunch of regular Peeps, you can skip the colored sugar and toss them in regular marshmallow coating instead (which is much lighter and less sweet): Mix one part cornstarch and one part powdered sugar in a bowl, then toss a few marshmallows at a time to coat and shake off the excess in a strainer. You could still dye this mixture, too, if you wanted to keep the bright colors…or, if you wanted to get really fancy, you could even try dipping them in melted chocolate.

Homemade Peeps

We stuck with the tried and true, though, and had a pretty impressive collection of marshmallows by the end of it: The large shapes we packaged in individual cellophane treat bags for friends’ and family’s Easter baskets, while the mini-mallows we grouped by color and stored in Ziploc bags. They’ll keep at least a few weeks in an airtight container — much less scary than the never-ending store-bought Peeps.

Homemade Peeps

Let’s face it: This is still essentially sugar rolled in sugar — but it’s homemade sugar rolled in sugar! And they are, quite simply, awesome. Nothing wrong with a little indulgence on one of the happiest, spring-iest holidays of the year.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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by Jimmy Davis

Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad

Two years ago, I quit my perfectly stable job as an attorney at a law firm to become a full-time stay-at-home dad. If you had asked me during college where I’d expect my career to be by age 30, I can all but guarantee that this wouldn’t have been on my list. And yet here I am, two years and two children into it, happier and more exhausted than I could have ever imagined.

Stay-at-home dads are not unheard of, but we’re still rare. Here’s how it happened in my family’s life:

In October 2010, my wife Natalie gave birth to our son, Loren, at 33 weeks gestation. He weighed 4lbs 5oz, and we were completely shell-shocked. Loren spent the first month of his life in the hospital, where we visited him around the clock. Our all-consuming drive was simply to see him healthy and to bring him home as soon as possible.

As time passed, I went back to work, and Natalie’s maternity leave began to dwindle, the question of eventual childcare took prominence. Our first and admittedly very emotional response to the situation was that we absolutely did not want to leave this child’s side for long stretches of time. While the nursing staff at the hospital had been excellent, handing over our newborn baby to strangers was a difficult pill to swallow. Being discharged from the hospital empty-handed, and actually having to go home without our baby, ranks as the most emotionally difficult experience of my life.

Prior to Loren’s premature birth, we were planning on paid childcare. We really liked the exposure he’d have to other babies and children, and the structure it offered seemed a strong benefit. Natalie was a daycare kid growing up, and my mom operated a daycare out of our house; we trust the setup and knew it had many advantages. But suddenly we just couldn’t see ourselves doing it.

Like everyone else, we spent a lot of time crunching numbers, trying to figure out what could work and trying to wrap our brains around the cost of childcare in the city — which amounted to the equivalent of an additional monthly mortgage for just one kid.

When all was taken into account in reviewing our budget, two things stood out that tipped the scales in favor of my becoming the stay-at-home parent instead of my wife: 1) Our family’s health insurance flowed through Natalie’s employment, which meant that, if she were to stay home,  we’d not only need to account for her lost income, we’d need to find the money to cover health insurance; and 2) as a lawyer, I could conceivably take on a few clients as a solo practitioner and make a decent part-time income from home.

Somehow the numbers seemed to work out, and — perhaps more surprisingly — somehow my wife and I were comfortable with my staying home full-time.

By Thanksgiving, I informed my boss that I’d be leaving the firm after the new year. And so it was, with a freezer full of breast milk and a heart full of good intentions, that I took the plunge and began my new career: full-time stay-at-home dad.

Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad

This is hands down the hardest job I’ve had, and my new bosses are without a doubt the most demanding. At least, I don’t recall any old bosses slapping me in the face or screaming at me because I didn’t have breasts, and I certainly don’t remember a time when a pot of coffee had next to zero effect on my energy levels…

And this doesn’t even begin to account for the literal around-the-clock nature of the occupation. I used to have “weekends” away from my work. I used to get “lunch breaks.” I used to sleep easy, knowing I wouldn’t have to respond to work emergencies in the middle of the night. Not anymore.

Of course, this experience of seeing and raising our kids all day, everyday, has also been amazingly rewarding. As an added and unexpected bonus, when our daughter Ruthie was born, our little family was able to enjoy my wife’s three months of maternity leave together — something that doesn’t happen in the traditional setup, where the dad usually goes back to work after just a few weeks. Every new baby could equal three months of uninterrupted family time. That might be one of the best fringe benefits I’ve ever come across.

Not everyone can do it this way, and not everyone even wants to. I watched my mom raise five kids and then open an in-home daycare to many more, so I might just be a rare species of male to even be interested in this gig. So far, though, it’s working for us.

Image: Jimmy Davis. Jimmy is an attorney turned stay-at-home dad in Washington, D.C. He blogs at The Book of Jimmy.

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Postpartum Care Kit

March 19, 2013

by Ann Waterman

John and Mom

Before I had children, a friend who’d recently had her first baby confided in me that, while she had prepared for the pain of childbirth, she had not been prepared for the pain — especially the pain down there — that comes after childbirth. She couldn’t help but feel a little blindsided and wished someone had clued her in to the potential difficulties of recovery from a vaginal delivery — hence, her girlfriend-to-girlfriend talk with me.

I escaped that kind of pain with my first when I ended up having an unexpected c-section. Of course, I had a lot of pain in other places, but remaining intact down there was one of the few silver linings to what was otherwise a miserable experience. When I had my VBAC with my second child, everything was better about my labor and delivery experience. I did incur a second-degree tear, but thanks to my friend’s forewarning, I was more prepared to handle it.

One thing my friend warned me about were the frequent (and frequently painful) bathroom trips. Since these became more than just a quick stop, thanks to all the care involved in cleaning and tending the lady parts, I put together a portable kit with all the paraphernalia I needed to complete the task. For me, it was a real lifesaver to have everything close at hand, especially since our home has four bathrooms on three different floors; it saved me from getting stranded or having to yell for my husband to bring such-and-such an item. For further convenience, I also added some nursing supplies and medications to create a total postpartum care kit and used an old diaper caddy that had lots of compartments to keep things neat and organized.

Here’s what my caddy contains (along with a few helpful tips I’ve learned along the way) — though depending on your own postpartum needs, your kit may look slightly different:

  • Sanitary pads. This goes without saying. I keep an assortment of pads for both lighter and heavier flow.
  • Perineal bottle. This is the little plastic spray bottle they give you at the hospital to clean your lady parts with water whenever you use the bathroom; it helps avoid infection and irritation from toilet paper. If you tear, the affected area can also burn when you pee, so a stream of water sprayed as you urinate can greatly reduce the pain. (Warm water is best.) Another tip: Drink lots of water! At one point, peeing hurt so badly that I avoided drinking too much water to reduce my number of potty trips. That only made things worse, though, since it made my pee more concentrated, which stung more. (Re-purposing note: These bottles make great bath toys for the kids after you’re done with them!)
  • Hemorrhoid cream. As much as you hope they won’t happen to you, they probably will.
  • Witch hazel pads. These help cool and soothe the perineal area and hemorrhoids.
  • Arnica. A friend introduced me to this homeopathic remedy that’s supposed to help reduce bruising, swelling, and soreness — all things you’ll definitely experience in childbirth.
  • Stool softener. Only if you need it; otherwise, just make sure you keep up on your fiber intake.
  • Tylenol or other pain meds. Don’t be a hero: Take the dose recommended by your doctor until you no longer need it.
  • Prenatal vitamins. Babies can really deplete your vitamin stores, especially if you’re nursing, so be sure to continue taking these.
  • Nursing pads. Lansinoh are my favorite disposables; if you’re looking for cloth, Homestead Emporium makes some great ones.
  • LanolinPerfect for protecting nipples from the rigors of breastfeeding.
  • Hand-operated breast pump. This is helpful for pumping off a bit of milk to soften nipples when your milk comes in and you’re engorged, so baby can latch more easily.
  • Hair bands or ties. Keeps your hair our of your face when you’re nursing.
  • Lip balm. What can I say? It just makes me feel a little more human, especially when I haven’t had a chance to shower.
  • Kindle reader. At this point, you may not have any room in your care kit,  but if you do, it’s nice to have during those late-night nursing marathons!

Experienced mamas, is there anything you’d add to this list? What made your postpartum recoveries smoother?

Image: Ann Waterman

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Saint-Paul Family

When you write honestly about adoption, you run the risk of turning people off from ever considering it — which is unfortunate, because adoption is such an incredible way to build a family. I’ve often written about the challenges of adoption, so I wanted to devote a post to the good stuff — the reasons adoption is so worth it.

So many of the joys of being a parent are the same, no matter how your children arrive, but there are definitely joys that are only (or especially) true of adoption. Of course, none of what I say here is meant to denigrate raising children you’ve birthed (which is obviously the normative way of becoming a parent), nor do I mean to elevate adoption above giving birth. I also should add that what I say is based on my own experience; I don’t pretend to speak for any other adoptive parent.

That being said, the number one awesome thing about adoption in my book is this: It’s a living witness to the fact that love is more powerful than blood. Real love is an act of the will and a total commitment. Parenting any child is (hopefully) about love, but the fact is, while you can get pregnant without love or intention, you can’t have a default family through adoption; you have to actively, consciously pursue and commit to it. And having children who are clearly not biologically related to you is a visible symbol of this kind of love.

Speaking of which: Another great thing about adoption — international adoption in particular — is having a multicultural family. It has already enriched our lives, connected us to a place and people we would never have known otherwise, and changed our perspectives on so many things in life. We appreciate things much more now. Our world is bigger, more colorful. Reading, traveling, and befriending new people can do this, but adopting children from another part of the world really takes it to whole new level.

This brings me to the next great thing: Adoption is the most incredible adventure! Scary, yes; frustrating at times, yes. (Isn’t any real adventure?) All parenting is like this, really: You have no map, just some guideposts; you have no idea what lies ahead, or how you’ll navigate this or that challenge — you just have to take it as it comes. Adoption especially calls you out of your comfort zone — oftentimes way out. Most of the process is out of your control; you just hang on for the ride, never knowing when it will stop. Then (at least in the case of international adoption) you find yourself halfway across the world in a foreign place, meeting two children who will become the most important people in your life. It’s such a wild ride!

S&H

Last (but certainly not least): It’s simply incredible to watch your child’s personality, talents, and interests unfold. You don’t have the benefit of seeing family traits or the genes of your parents and grandparents express themselves. Your child is a total mystery to you (unless perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to meet and spend a lot of time with birth family). It’s been so fun to begin to discover our girls’ temperaments, their natural abilities and preferences. We can’t know who they take after (in their birth family), but there’s something great about letting them just become themselves, without comparing or contrasting them with anyone else.

There’s much more I could say…including how much you discover about yourself when you become a parent by adoption, and how many fantastic people you meet in the adoptive parenting world. All that said, while I personally think more people should consider it, adoption is not for everyone — it’s a “calling” of sorts. I, for one, am so grateful this was our path to parenthood.

Have you ever considered adoption? If you’ve adopted or are close to someone who has, what have been some of the joys and amazing discoveries you’ve made along the way?

Image: Don K.; Zoe Saint-Paul

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