Friday, October 30, 2009

My, What Big Indulgences You Have!

My, what big eyes you have!

It is the end of October and this means that a) they have posted Martin Luther's 95 theses on the wall (not the door?!) at Grace's preschool (yes, run by a Lutheran church) and b) Grace dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood for our Halloween celebrations this year. I may not be the biggest fan of this particular holiday but what are you gonna do? Originally Grace wanted to be a flower, then a mermaid, then Little Red Riding Hood, then a princess (OH NOOOOOOOOOES!), then a fairy, but I did my planning/purchasing/sewing during the Little Red Riding Hood phase so that's what she got. There was a bit of parental encouragement to switch from a mermaid, especially on Rob's end, because it seems like mermaid costumes always involve a seashell bra or a bare midriff or something. The sexualization of little girls is so repellent.

So anyway, yes, Halloween! Candy! Costumes! We went to the fall festival at our church one evening this week and had a grand time. Grace pet a snake and a greyhound and a goat of some kind, ate some cotton candy, and played a few games in exchange for some bits of candy to put in her basket. The biggest hit, according to her, was the collection of inflated things: bounce houses and a big slide and child-size tunnels and mazes. She found them initially terrifying (especially the tunnels) but then thrilling. Isn't that always the way?

Petting a snake


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Great Hair Experiment of 2009

I have not used shampoo in 5 weeks. That's right-- over a whole month without any lather of bubbly shampoo. If you hang out much in real life or online around green/environmental-type people, you are sure to have heard about this already, but in case you haven't, it turns out that you can wash your hair with baking soda and condition it with apple cider vinegar. Crazy, right? I've heard about it a number of times (here and here, among others) but when Tsh at Simple Mom (who probably doesn't remember me but who I met when I lived in Austin during grad school) wrote about it last month, I finally decided to give it a go. The idea is that shampoo unnecessarily strips natural oils from your hair (which are actually good for your hair), making it produce more oil to compensate and embroiling you in a vicious cycle of needing shampoo to get rid of the excessive oil. The more shampoo you use, the more you need. And using a tablespoon each of baking soda and apple cider vinegar is much cheaper and friendlier to the Earth than a tablespoon each of shampoo and conditioner. It sounded a little insane to me and like there was no way it would work, but that was my same initial response to, oh, cloth diapering, breastfeeding past a baby's 1st birthday, making bread at home, or any number of other things that I now do with enjoyment so eventually I decided to give it a try. Five weeks in, I am a big fan and I don't see myself going back.

The most significant thing I noticed is that my hair, well, still mostly just looks like my hair. I interpret this as a positive and it makes me ponder all the shampoo and conditioner (and the bottles they came in) that have been manufactured and shipped and purchased and recycled in the pursuit of cleaning my hair, when it turns out my hair looks pretty much the same without it. Not entirely the same, though, and the differences are positive. My hair is softer, shinier, and has lost that straw-like feeling. It also has more volume, and I think this whole baking soda/apple cider vinegar thing might make the biggest difference for people who feel like their hair is flat and limp. I am really happy, and I have been having way more good hair days since I kicked the shampoo habit. These differences are pretty subtle, though, I admit. Rob, for instance, says he cannot see any difference at all. (Men!) I had only the barest hint of a transition period (when some people feel really oily while their hair adjusts to not having its natural oils stripped away) that lasted maybe two weeks, but it was really not noticeable at all. Of course, curly hair pretty much never looks greasy or oily, even when it is, so I had that going for me.

So here's my routine: I put about 2 tablespoons into a squeeze bottle (like one of these) and fill the container up with warm water, then shake to mix it up. This amount will last me about 5-6 uses and I keep it in my shower. I also keep a plastic cup in my shower and pour about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into the cup right before my shower. During my shower, I get my hair wet, then use the squeeze bottle to apply the solution to my scalp and roots (I don't work on the rest of my hair much), massaging it in. I rinse it out, then take my cup containing apple cider vinegar and fill it up with warm water from the shower. I pour this diluted vinegar on to my hair from the cup, concentrating on my ends, then rinse this out. It does smell like vinegar while I'm doing this, but only until it's all rinsed out. That's it! Then it's on to whatever concoction of styling products I have decided to try that day. This routine has had no problem getting product out, in case you're wondering.

A few aspects of the new hair routine have taken some getting used to. My very first impression was, "Gosh, this feels different." When you have been accustomed to the bubbly soap-y lather of washing your hair with shampoo every single day of your whole entire life, it does feel kind of weird to forego it. Washing your hair with baking soda feels not at all lather-y but instead just slightly slippery; it is a different sensory experience. The next thing is that the mixed-up water and baking soda mixture must have a significantly higher thermal conductivity than shampoo because it feels COLD going on my head on a cool morning. It is, of course, the same temperature as the shampoo since they have both just been sitting in our bathroom at thermal equilibrium with the everything around them but it feels a lot colder. I suppose I could get around this by mixing up new baking soda solution every morning right before my shower using warm water; maybe I will do this during the winter if it really bothers me.

And the last thing that has been not-quite-awesome is that I feel like more hair is coming out in the shower. I got a little concerned for a while there, actually, and I am still not quite sure why this has happened-- is my hair breaking more? is this just normal shedding of hair at the end of its growth cycle (that somehow I wasn't noticing before)? In all my googling, I have not come across anyone else having this particular problem with the baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine; in fact, people are always waxing eloquent about how gentle baking soda is. I started this whole experiment almost immediately after frying my hair with some home hair dye, so I originally thought that my hair was just brittle and damaged and breaking from that. I feel like that should have calmed down by now, though... I am not sure. I don't feel like I have more breakage and I certainly don't have more split ends (although curly hair pretty much hides any split ends); if anything, I think my hair looks better. I guess I will just monitor the situation and re-evaluate if it starts to seem like my hair is all breaking and falling off.

Delving into the natural hair care world made me curious about some of the styling product recipes that people have out there and those have been less than successful for me. I tried using coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner and styling product and although it made my hair look pretty good (and smell DELICIOUS) it made my face break out wherever my hair would come into contact with it. I tried making hair gel from flax seeds and this did not work for me. The gel did not have enough hold and it wasn't very shelf-stable; I would have to cook a new batch every few days because it went all runny and non-gel-like pretty fast.

This experimenting made me rediscover the online curly-hair community (yes! people have whole message boards about having curly hair!) and some of the routines and styling products that those people like have been great for my hair as well. The most common routine is based on this book and also involves eschewing shampoo, although in favor of a cheap conditioner that will clean your hair gently instead of baking soda. Right now, I am alternating days of using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar (any day that I work out and get sweaty) with days of just using conditioner (actual conditioner, not the apple cider vinegar) and this is working great for me.

And now I have written paragraphs and paragraphs about my hair. I should stop now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is It a New Week Again?

We have been working on the thick stack of adoption paperwork that is our next step in that process, and I really feel like we are getting somewhere. We have reflected on our roles in marriage, our upbringings, and what kinds of medical complications we are open to, and written our address and signed our names about a billion times. I think we are getting close to being able to turn in this first stack and moving on to the next step. Hooray!

I went to Target last week and walked through the baby aisles and had an epiphany: I didn't need the vast majority of the stuff there. If you breastfeed and make your own baby food (from, you know, ACTUAL FRUITS AND VEGETABLES) and use cloth diapers, there isn't much left in the neatly organized aisles that applies to you. I don't see this as an important moral victory or something that makes me a superior mother or anything; I would never argue that those decisions are the only good choices to make. Those three choices certainly are financial and environmental victories, though, and at some level it is good to realize that we can choose to parent our children outside the expectations of what some giant company says we should buy buy buy, at least to a limited extent. (There apparently is some new baby chain called precisely Buy Buy Baby that I've seen around town. Sad!) I'm not one to eschew the consumer consciousness altogether (you would see that if you saw what else was in my Target shopping cart) but I think opting out of it to some extent is healthy for me.

Speaking of babies, Violet is getting so fun and quirky and full of personality. Here are some of her recently developed habits:
  • Taking off one sock and shoe in the car, in order to better be able to chew on the shoe. (And speaking of shopping, I got her some of these vegan washable shoes and I really like them.)
  • Scratching her nose with her tiny razor-sharp fingernails the moment I let them get the least bit long.
  • Clapping. Oh, how I love her clapping, with her gleeful wide open mouth and tiny chubby hands smacking together without really making any noise...
  • Trying to get into our entertainment center to play with the wireless router, the Tivo, our crappy receiver, and whatever other pieces of electronics live there.
  • Quickly crawling away from the entertainment center when one of us goes over there to remove her, as if to say, "What? Me? No, no, I was going over this way. I was totally not trying to get into that fascinating black cabinet."
  • Just crawling in general with determination and purpose and more speed than she has previously. I never fail to be charmed by her fluffy cloth-diapered bottom wiggling away as she crawls resolutely down the hall. She has PLACES TO GO.
  • Refusing to be spoon-fed. After 4 days of failing to get any measurable amount of food into her via spoon, I have given up and have moved over to just finger foods.
  • Having a hard time settling down to nurse unless she is sleepy. She can be distracted from breastfeeding by her sister, the TV, music, the fan, being in a place she is not familiar with, or just her own desire to be on the move. I remember this stage well with Grace; it seems like she doesn't want to nurse and she doesn't want to eat solid foods and she doesn't want to drink from any kind of cup/bottle/sippy/whatever, leading part of me to want to panic. It is only a stage, it is only a stage, it is only a stage...
  • Being enthralled with the tangled nest of cords beneath our computer desk. We probably pull her out from under there a dozen times a day, but she occasionally manages to disconnect a monitor or a speaker in the attempt.
  • Thoroughly enjoying her bath, a welcome change from her newborn days when she would cry and cry at the horror of being immersed in water.
  • Protesting and lamenting every time I change her diaper, an unwelcome change from her newborn days when the changing table was sometimes the one place we could put her down to calm her down during a crying jag. Babies, man-- they are not very dependable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At the State Fair

Cotton candy

Last weekend, we went to the state fair here in Dallas. It was the first time I'd been since I was a little girl, and even then my memories are somewhat confused because I am pretty sure I conflate the state fair with the Fort Worth Stock Show. Anyway, we had a really lovely time and it was one of those beautiful, perfect days you get sometimes here in autumn. Mid to late October is really the best time of year in Texas; it is sort of warm-ish, sort of cool-ish and you don't need jackets but you don't usually get hot. Autumn is such a wonderful season, and it even manages to be lovely here in Texas. When we went to the fair, we had soft blue skies with just the tiniest flecks of clouds and a warm, friendly sun.

Happy Violet

We took the light rail train down to Fair Park where the fair is held; it was very convenient and a lot more fun than trying to navigate parking with a mass of humanity. And after all, I do have a great love for train/subway-type public transportation. I also have a great love for food, and there was no shortage of fun things to try. Fried food is a thing at the Texas state fair, with awards given out for the most unique fried item and whatnot. We decided to pass on this year's big new trend, fried butter (YES-- FRIED BUTTER), but instead went with chicken fried bacon (last year's hot new item), a fried Snickers, and fried peaches and cream. They were good, but I think the best things were the corn dogs that we all started our afternoon with.

Grace meets a cow

My favorite parts of a state fair are the old-fashioned parts, like the livestock and the quilts and the pies and the Ferris wheel and all that. We explored some of the livestock barns and got to see cows and pigs and goats and sheep-- pretty much the first time Grace has seen any of these animals up close and personal, I think. And the highlight of our day was our trip on the Ferris wheel. A slow circular path up up up to the top of the tallest Ferris wheel in North America to let our gaze travel far and wide over the flat Texas prairie overlaid with city as far as the eye can see.

Peeking over the edge

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Tee Vee

My TV watching habits have been wildly different during Violet's babyhood compared to Grace's. For starters, Grace had really relaxed, leisurely nursing habits combined with rather difficult sleeping patterns that resulted in me watching quite a bit of television. It was not unusual for her to nurse for an hour at a time when she was tiny, and it was also not unusual for her to refuse to sleep unless being held. (She would be apparently completely asleep and then startle to wakefulness and tears as I gently, oh so gently, tried to lean down and deposit her in her crib. This happened ALL. THE. TIME.) These circumstances combined so that I could often be found cozily ensconced on the couch with the TV on, nursing Grace or holding her while she slept. Employed thusly, I watched a LOT of TV in the first half of 2006. I watched every single episode of Gilmore Girls thanks to reruns on some cable channel, cooking shows galore, The Daily Show, and a whole lot of Battlestar Galactica.

(Have I told you my Battlestar Galactica story? I think not. Someone had told us we would like it, so we told Tivo to record them but we never really got around to watching them. During my maternity leave when I was home full-time with Grace for 6 weeks, I finally got around to watching the first one we had recorded and I was so blown away that I watched the whole season we had recorded [Season 2, I think] in the space of 2 or 3 days sitting cross-legged on the couch with Grace curled up on the Boppy in my lap. I got to the very end of the season with its dramatic, cliffhanger ending and my jaw dropped when they splashed across the screen, "To Be Continued-- October 2006". How could they do this to me?! I could not wait that long! My tiny new baby would be 8 months old by then! In my quasi-insane hormonal haze, this seemed the most impossible thing I had ever heard.)

Anyway, Violet's breastfeeding/sleeping habits are so different that I haven't had the same long stretches of indolent TV watching. In her early weeks, we were having some oversupply/overactive-letdown issues so each nursing session was a brief chaotic milky spluttering affair that required my entire concentration. This all evened out, thank goodness, but she still has been a really fast nurser, like 5-10 minutes fast. And I almost always can manage to put her down to sleep by herself for at least a few hours, thus, much less TV watching. This pleases Robert, who is somewhat prejudiced against TV as the mindless, empty opiate of the masses. I maintain that someone who is so devoted to playing pretend college football on the Xbox has nary a leg to stand on.

The other important difference in my TV watching now is the little-pitchers-big-ears phenomenon. There is just not much I feel comfortable watching when Grace is awake and in the house. She is at that sponge stage where she hears and understands way more than I give her credit for. She will quote lyrics back to us from any songs she hears, and brings up things from books or TV shows DAYS later. So if I want to watch something while I fold a load of laundry, I am left with, what, cooking shows? Yep, that's pretty much it. Grace divides my cooking shows into "man cooking" (mostly Alton Brown) and "lady cooking" (mostly Nigella Lawson) and will usually consent to watch them with me, although sometime she protests and insists that she would prefer her own TV shows. I know the feeling, Grace-- I know the feeling.

A recent addition to my TV diet, one that I do sometimes watch in Grace's presence, is Adoption Stories. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's like all those baby/birth/pregnancy shows on TLC or Discovery Health except it's about adoption. Rob finds this highly amusing because when I was pregnant with Grace, I was obsessed with those childbirth shows and watched them all the time. I lost interest pretty quickly after she was born because, well, it's turns out there's not a lot of variety in them. I will admit there's not a ton of variety in the adoption ones either, but I will then also be forced to admit that yes, I think I've seen nearly every episode. I know I've mentioned our adoption plans in passing (as has Rob now), but we really are doing this. We have met with a social worker and gone to a big 8-hour education seminar and now have a big stack of forms sitting half-filled-out on our desk. We are adopting through Hope Cottage here in Dallas and are pursuing a domestic newborn adoption of a child who will most likely be of a different race. We are still early in the process so no babies are going to arrive anytime soon (which is good, since Violet is still very much a baby herself) but we are feeling excited about this next stage for our family. Hooray!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gah! Is It Friday Again Already?!

The weeks fly by in a whirl of making lunches and folding laundry and cuddling little girls. There are worse ways for a week to fly by, no? Today is a lovely, cool, rainy day and both Grace and Violet are wearing LONG SLEEVES. Shocking! Oh, how I love days like this... I need to plan meals for my next grocery shopping run, and I fear that today's weather means I will be tempted to do nothing but soup and stew and warm, homey comforting foods. Foods which will not taste as good when this nice weather goes away, I suspect.

Rob's mom had her surgery this week and we got some very wonderful news afterwards-- the growth turned out not to be cancer at all! This was a big surprise to everyone and we are feeling very grateful. It turns out it was just the base of where her tonsil used to be acting all weird. Crazy, right? And my parents have a contract signed for a house in the Chicago area, so hopefully they won't be homeless for much longer. They are living right now in a temporary furnished apartment with nearly all their belongings in storage, and I know the sense of unsettled transiency is wearing on them.

I have entirely lost my sewing mojo. I have not sewn a single stitch in about a week now, probably the longest I've gone since Violet's newborn days. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it is a combined result of a) a few failed projects that came in succession (ugly pants for Violet! a non-cute dress for Grace!), b) this cooler weather we've been having (for which I have more clothes that I like, fit into, etc, thus reducing my desperate sewing motivation of, "I have NOTHING TO WEARRRRRRRRR!"), and c) new fall television shows (How I Met Your Mother! Glee! Project Runway!). I am starting to feel the tiniest return of my itch to sew, so hopefully soon I will be happily slicing through fabric and listening to the whir of my serger. The first thing that I really must do is put together a Halloween costume for Grace. That's still a long time from now, but at my current rate of zero sewing projects completed per week, I really should buckle down. The other thing that I suspect might jumpstart my sewing motivation is this book, which I pre-ordered this week and cannot WAIT for. For the uninitiated, Japanese craft books (as well as Japanese textiles) are a thing in sewing/crafting circles. However, they are usually, you guessed it, in Japanese. The brave among us forge ahead anyway, relying on the pictures and diagrams and metric measurements, but I have not been so intrepid. This one, however, has been translated and published for the American market and I am SUPER DUPER EXCITED, especially because the sizing is just perfect for the, uh, consumers of my sewing efforts. It is girls' sizes 4-7, and I can easily grade the patterns down a size to fit Grace right now, and then I can use it for the years ahead.

So I've been on Facebook for a while now and I've so enjoyed catching up on with people from past bits of my life. Scrolling through all those people makes me realize that I am old (well, at least, not young) and that people take such different paths, even when they start from the same places. However, I think one of my favorite parts of Facebook might be the suggested friends-- you know, people who you have friends in common with that Facebook's algorithms think you might know. They are usually people who I do know but am not quite close enough with to "friend". (That's "friend" as a verb, of course.) The more interesting people, though, are those who I don't actually know and who have friends in common with me who I know from totally different realms of life. For instance, there is one person out there who knows both my grad student advisor from the astronomy program at the University of Texas and the Indian-born guitar player I played with at our church in New Haven. Or perhaps more amazingly, there is someone who knows that same guitar player from New Haven (who grew up in India, went to grad school in North Carolina, and now lives in Orlando), a college friend of mine from Texas A&M, a childhood friend from where I grew up in a suburb of Fort Worth, and someone I now go to church with here in Dallas. And perhaps most unlikely of all, there is someone who is friends with 17 of my friends but I have no idea who they are-- in fact, I have never heard of them in my life. Ah, Facebook... Rob has turned a bit sour on the whole phenomenon (too many quizzes, I suppose) but I am hooked.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things I Have Learned This Week

  • Mr. Rogers called one of his grandfathers "Ding Dong".
  • Nursing sessions with a grabby 9-month-old become much less painful after you trim her nails.
  • The National Parks are pretty awesome.
  • I need to feed Violet more prunes and pears and less iron-fortified cereal. Poor non-pooping baby...
  • My old dollhouse was purchased and is going to a little girl for her birthday.
  • Using duck-bill clips in my hair while it air-dries (like this) makes it possible for me to forego the hair dryer without looking all flat and triangle-y.
  • I think they really did kill off Maid Marian in the BBC Robin Hood series.
  • I can no longer take Violet's chair pictures without another adult standing just outside the frame, ready to swoop in and catch her, or else she will crawl directly off the chair, resulting in much weeping and injury and bleeding from her mouth.
  • Rob has decided to return to the world of blogging, and will not encourage our children to be doctors when they grow up. (Well, I knew that last part already.)