Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Last Flicker

That was my belly on March 1, 2010. I was six weeks pregnant with River. I was just beginning to get hit by the all day nausea that blesses me in all of my pregnancies. Before this, I had been eating 3lb shank steaks as a snack. Obviously, my body was preparing to not eat for a few weeks.

I wanted to share this photo with everyone. I don't have many from that pregnancy. I just have a couple of belly shots, showing wonderful growth, a picture of my positive pregnancy test and the picture the ultrasound tech gave me of my dead baby. I need to share some sort of photo with you. I need the world to see that she existed. She was real. In this picture, she was snug in my womb, safe and alive. Her growth was causing things in my body to move...making my little belly stick out like that. She caused my breasts to swell and my skin to clear up and glow. She was real. You can see that she was a part of my body then. Everything was hopeful and alive.

I have many anniversaries from that pregnancy. She was conceived in the first week of February - probably the 3rd or the 4th. The test turned positive on February 18th. There is this picture, taken on March 1st. Then there is today. March 13th. Two years ago today was the last day that I saw her alive. I was working and decided to pop the ultrasound probe on my belly. Not a good idea, don't do it. It was a bad pregnancy habit of mine. It wasn't the 1st time I checked for her. I had seen her a couple of times. Alive. Heart beating. March 13th...there she was. She was perfect for a nearly 8 week fetus. She was so much bigger than the last time I had seen her on ultrasound. Growing strong. Her little heart flickered the way it was supposed to. Fast. Regular. Perfect. I counted the beats. She was in the 150's. I felt a sense of relief. I put the probe away, wiped the goo off my belly and shut the machine off. I told myself I wouldn't do another ultrasound until about 20 weeks and I would get it done at the hospital. All was well.

March 15th. I was filled with so much anxiety. I felt a horrid little black rain cloud following me around. I tried to shake it away. I told myself everything was alright, but I couldn't focus on work. I did everything to get my mind off it. I went out for water ice to soothe my nausea. My car broke down. Ah, perhaps that was the anxiety - I sensed car trouble. Miraculously, my car started up again within minutes of calling the tow truck. I went about the rest of my day - dinner, belly dance class, bed.

March 16. I had my first prenatal appointment with my midwife. We discussed my plans. I was feeling super nauseous and even wore sea bands. My midwife was happy that I was so nauseous. I declined the 8 week ultrasound, explaining that I had done my own and that baby was perfection. I went to work that night and things proceeded as normal. I had a sudden wave of feeling very dizzy and very unwell. I told myself it was all normal ... I was even happy as it meant things were working. But, I got this nag. Something was telling me that I needed to check myself with the ultrasound. I tried to push it all down, but it didn't work. The nagging in my brain continued. I gave in and took a peek. We all know the story from here. I stared at that screen for so long, willing that flicker to start up again. I jumped up and down. I jiggled the probe on my belly. I prayed, begged and pleaded in my mind to get the flicker to start up again. But it never did.

March 30th - the follow up ultrasound to confirm what I already knew. A day where I was treated like some subhuman piece of trash without feelings. I'll never get over the way I was treated. Never.

April 1 - the day my midwife called after 8am and said, "it's just as you expected." I finalized my decision then to allow my body to miscarry naturally, knowing that it could take weeks of carrying my dead baby until my body and my heart were ready to let go.

April 18th - the day I finally birthed her into Heaven. My first homebirth, technically.

October 27th - her due date.

It's been two years of frequent spirals downward. This time of year is always hard for me because of the memories. It's hard to escape. I have a bunch of sad anniversaries coming up. I'll deal with them as they come along. Today, I'll remember that moment two years ago when my world was right. When I was standing on the edge of the cliff before starting my depressive free fall. Today I will focus on the memory of her being alive. I will keep that flickering heartbeat forever carved onto my own heart. She was alive.

Recipe: I Can't Believe I Made Butter

Do you like butter? Would you like to have awesome triceps? Did you know you can have both?! How? By making your own butter at home!

Butter is one of those things that I am picky about. I buy organic most of the time. My first choice is organic butter from a local farm, but it's not always in stock. I'll buy organic at the grocery store, but sometimes I feel dirty because they usually only carry Organic Valley or other factory farm companies. I also like Kerrygold. It's butter from grass fed cows in Ireland. It's dang good. I can only find it at Trader Joes and, while this Irish girl fancies things from her ancestral homeland, the carbon footprint of having something flown across the Atlantic isn't a big selling point. And the price for some brands of homemade butter - oh my! We're on a pretty tight budget, so anywhere that I can save money is a giant help.

I knew in my head that you can make butter. I mean, duh, it's been around forever. Obviously people have been making it at home for centuries. I simply picutred a grandma sitting in a chair with an old-fashioned butter churn just churning for hours. I can't do that in my own kitchen. Though, it would be kinda cool. I decided to google it one night when I was unable to fall asleep. It turns out, making butter is kinda simple. I read a lot of pages, but most had the same advice. Shake or mix the hell out of heavy cream. You have butter.

I chose the shake method. This is probably the hardest method as it's labor intensive...sorta. You can use a mixer or even a blender, but more on that later. I chose to add heavy cream to a mason jar and shake away. That's it. That's all you do.

Here's what you need:
  • Heavy Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Mason jar or any glass jar with a wide mouth and a lid.
  • Salt (optional)
  • Willingness to look slighlty silly while shaking that jar like a fool.
You'll notice that I did not list the amount of cream or salt. That's something to tweak on your own based on your preferences. I used 1 cup of cream and it yielded about 3/4 cup of butter. You can definitely add more and freeze it. I didn't add salt to mine.

Pour the cream into the jar. Screw the lid on the jar. Shake. And shake. And shake. Have you seen the commercials for the shake weight? It's just like that, only less assinine and pornographic. The shaking process can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on how much cream you used and how vigorously you shake. It's fine to stop and take breaks now and then. It won't hurt the butter. You can also pass it on to another person and take turns looking silly. This can be a fun activity for kids. Bonus: it helps them burn a little bit of that kid energy.

At first, all that cream will just coat the jar. It'll be easy to shake at this point. As the cream becomes thicker, the jar will feel heavier. You can open your jar and peek in. The cream will go from it's original state, to a thick whipped cream texture and then to a solid.

 As it becomes a solid, the liquid will pull away from the sides of the jar and you'll hear it sloshing around while you feel the solid butter forming.

 Shake it for just a little more. You'll eventually have a lumpy solid ball of butter that has separated away from the liquid (traditional buttermilk - not the same as the thick cultured stuff from the store).

Strain the buttermilk into another container and save for making pancakes or waffles. Dump the solid butter into a colander and rinse it with cold water. This just rinses the excess buttermilk off and helps firm up the butter just a little bit. And that's it. You can roll it into a ball, shape it into a rectangle, mold it into a bunny shape or leave it as a clump o' butter. Store your butter in a glass container or butter dish and enjoy! After refrigeration, it becomes just as firm as store bought butter.

This does not last in my house. I use butter for everything - baking, stovetop cooking, greasing pans, on breads, etc. From what I've read, it's shelf life is about 2 weeks. It does freeze well, however, so you can make a whole bunch and just pop what you don't need immediately in the freezer.

Now, I did say you can use other methods. So far, we have only done the shake method. If you want to try a mixer, just mix it on a slow to medium speed. The same process will occur. It will turn into a thick cream - just like making whipped cream - and then it'll just firm up and separate from the buttermilk. I have also seen a website or two that says a blender works well.

A word about the buttermilk. This is traditional buttermilk. This is not what we are used to buying in the store. It is thin and watery. The store stuff is thick as it's been cultured. You can still use this in pancake or waffle mixes.

I will update you all if I try another method. Right now, I'm enjoying my massively toned triceps.

 This post is part of the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog hop, sponsored by Frugally sustainable. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I'm Funky In Spirit, Not In My Armpits

Armpits. Some are hairy, some are hairless, some are in that odd regrowth stage between waxes (ouch!). Some are stinky. I know, I know. Our scents are natural and beautiful and are designed to attract a mate. Maybe. That may have been true hundreds of years ago when our bodies weren't subject to all sorts  of processed foods and environmental toxins which we exude through our pores. I, personally, do not like the smell of my  own body odor. I have no problem with people who think a bit of eau de naturale pit is fine. For me, I like a little stank control.

And boy do I stank. No really. I stink post partum. I've heard this is common, so I'm not the only one. I'm sure it's related to the complete hormone seizure that takes place in our bodies after we have our babies. It's a nice kick in the vulva after we've given birth - here you are, leaking goo from your vagina, leaking milk, you haven't slept since Tuesday and you can't even remember where the shower and is and, on top of that, your body is going throw in a little extra fragrance just for kicks. I'm sure there is a perfectly wonderful evolutionary reason for it. It was probably to signal to other potential mates. The scent says, "Hey, this lady just had a baby. She is extra stanky. Do not try to make love sweet Neanderthal love with her." Really...I love the natural life and I think our bodies are amazing. There are so many things that our bodies are designed to do that just blow the mind. The subtle messages contained within our odors are part of that amazing design. But, again, I choose to mask those a little bit.

Like most Americans, I spent years using typical anti-perspirants from the store. I never thought twice about loading my pits up with the white stuff. Years later, information came out that maybe, just maybe, the aluminum which keeps perspiration at bay can be toxic to our bodies. I also learned that it's the aluminum in anti-perspirants that is responsible for the yellow stains under the arms of our clothing. Not cool. So, I switched to a more "natural" deodorant. Personally, there aren't many natural deodorants that I have liked. I find that they still contain other questionable ingredients, such as parabens, or that they plain don't work. Or, they assume that all of us hippie folk want to smell like a garden of patchouli, lavender and oregano. I have nothing against those scents. My dad uses patchouli all.the.time. I just don't like it on me. The only brand I have really liked is Bubble and Bee Pit Putty. There are no scary ingredients and they work with you to find a scent combo you like. However, like many other natural deodorants, it's expensive. I cannot afford $10.00 for deodorant at this point in time. So, I looked for other options.

A few weeks ago, I switched to just coconut oil. Coconut oil is antimicrobial and helps to kill the stank bacteria in your pits. It's also pretty soothing. I can easily become satisfied with just using coconut oil. However, I like to tinker with things and I like whipping up concoctions. I also wanted something that may afford me some wetness protection. In my research, I have found that the following will help keep some of the sweat at bay; arrowroot powder, cornstarch and baking soda. I just needed a recipe that included some combination of those.

I found a recipe on Naturally Knocked Up. The directions are as follows:

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup organic cornstarch or arrowroot powder
5-6 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
5-10 drops tea tree oil
Mix all ingredients together and press into an old deodorant container. To use, let it rest against your skin for a couple seconds to soften the coconut oil, do one slow swipe under each arm and use the palm of your hand to spread it around.

I modified that recipe. Baking soda has the potential to be irritating. I already know, from trying to make a facial scrub with it (don't ask) that it irritates my sensitive skin. So, I cut out the baking soda completely. This is what I ended up doing:

1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1/8 cup cornstarch
Another 1/8 cup arrowroot powder (I'm so sorry, I literally have a math disability - dyscalculia - and it's impossible for me to add fractions. I wrote it like this because I can't add 1/4 and 1/8. Yikes)
6 tablespoons softened coconut oil. 5 drops lavender oil. 2 drops orange oil (done by mistake).

I combined all of those ingredients in a bowl and mixed them together. I didn't soften my coconut oil, so it was a little hard to work with at first. So, I decided to mix it with my hands since the warmth of my hands would soften my coconut oil. It worked, but don't do it. It took forever to wash off. Once mixed, I stuffed it into an old deodorant/anti-perspirant container. It did not all fit into the container. I ended up storing the rest in a 4 ounce Ball jar. It can be stored in the refrigerator. Technically, you should be able to store it out of the fridge if the ambient temperature is less than 74 degrees Fahrenheit as this is when the coconut oil will liquefy and that would be a big mess. Our house is at 65 degrees, so I figured it would be fine to store on the counter in the bathroom. Wrong. When I took a shower and the room steamed up, I was met with a gooey mess when I opened the container. So, I'm keeping it in the fridge from now on. Refrigerating it may cause the cap of your deodorant container to stick or it may cause it to be difficult to push the deodorant up. No problem, just warm the container in your hands or between your boobs for a minute and it'll soften enough to work. As stated on Naturally Knocked Up, you only need a swipe to avoid getting clumps. I swipe it under my arms and then I rub it in by squishing my pits together and doing a modified bird wing flap. You can just use your hands instead.

Does it work? Well, I think so. I definitely don't smell B.O. funky, but I kinda smell like tacos. Remember where I said I added 2 drops of orange essential oil? That was an accident. I grabbed the wrong bottle at first. I immediately switched to lavender when I realized my mistake. It smelled fine in the bowl. Remember how I said I put my leftover mixture in the 4 ounce Ball jar? That one smells fine, too. My issue is with my deodorant container. I used an old container from Lady Speed Stick Anti-perspirant: Freesia Scented. I cleaned the container out, but I believe the scent is so embedded in the plastic of the container that it will never come out. It created some weird combo of lavender oil, orange oil and chemical freesia that comes out smelling like a floral taco. After I first used it, I had to go to a Mexican restaurant because the smell of tacos put me in the mood. In that aspect, this deodorant was a fail.

The deodorant that I put in the 4 ounce Ball jar works just fine. The scent is fine. It doesn't stop wetness completely, but it does help. Next time I plan on making a few changes. I will, obviously, change my container. I may try to soak it in vinegar to remove the smell. If that is not successful, I will discard it. I have a leftover container from my Bubble and Bee Pit Putty, so I will try that. The jar is still an option, you just have to use your hands. I will also decrease the coconut down to 5 tablespoons and I'll add in an extra 1/8 cup of arrowroot powder. That would bring it to a total of 1/2 cup arrowroot powder. So, I'm still experimenting, but I wanted to share what I have so far.

You can find all of these ingredients at a health food store, Whole Foods, Mountain Rose Herbs or some supermarkets (mine sells essential oils). Experiment with essential oils to find a scent you like, or leave it out altogether. If you try this, please let me know how it works!

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