Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Almost the new year

With the new year coming quickly toward me I've been thinking about everything it might hold. I've decided the possibilities are endless.

In one week (this last week) our lives have changed dramatically. If our lives can change that much in one week I can't even comprehend everything that could happen in the next year. I've decided not to try and to just take it as it comes.

One week ago today my husband had an interview for a job. We thought the opportunity had passed but it had just taken a while to schedule interviews. The interview went well and he had a second interview the next day. We lay in bed that night, after the first interview, absolutely freaking out.

We were excited but didn't want to get our hopes up, reviewing every word, thinking of every possibility. We both felt completely overwhelmed by how much a single afternoon could change our entire lives.

The interview the next day went well too. But we've thought that before. But this job was better. We spent every day between now and then reviewing and thinking and fretting.

And then he got the job.

It's amazing how one afternoon (or two) can change our entire lives.

The possibilities that pop into our heads are endless. We can pay bills, we can save money, he'll get good experience, he'll be doing something he likes, he'll be at an organization he believes in, he'll have a regular schedule...he could go back to school, we could have another baby (no, I am not pregnant and do not plan to be anytime in the immediate future, but it's something we can think about now), we'll have time to spend as a family.

We went on and on thinking of the possibilities for the coming year.

It's amazing. It doesn't seem real yet. It's the best Christmas present ever. I couldn't think of a better way to start the new year. Everything about it seems perfect. Like everything is finally falling into place. Just a few hours changed everything.

I'm completely overwhelmed...in a good way.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve. I feel like I missed something. I feel like I should be more excited than I am. But I am excited (I'm actually really excited!) My internal calendar is just off. I feel like Christmas is still at least a few weeks away. Where did the last year go? I entirely missed the Solstice this year. I feel like I've been in a bit of a daze.

Here I sit with a sleeping babe on my lap trying to convince myself that it is really Christmas Eve.

I know it's Christmas when I see our tree and our decorations and our stockings hanging on the mantle. But when I'm not looking directly at a Christmas tree or listening to a carol, I forget. Christmas in my brain is permanently linked to cold weather and darkness and we've had neither.

Usually I spent the week before Christmas in the kitchen (or my mom's kitchen) baking cookies and cheesecake and chocolate pretzels and anything else I can find the ingredients for.

But I haven't baked anything in my own kitchen since we got home from visiting family. I feel really behind. We've been home for two days and the kitchen is a mess. I'm not sure how this happened but I'm hoping to do some quick catch-up when J. gets home from work today. Otherwise, I'm just going to leave it all undone and enjoy Christmas in spite of the dirty kitchen.

We're celebrating at my in-law's house so it's not actually essential that I clean our kitchen. I can't see the dirty dishes when I'm in the living room playing with L. I can't see them from where I'm sitting with L. on my lap. Sometimes I think "out of sight, out of mind" is a good thing.

I'm trying to enjoy the moment. Really be in the moment. I love how L. cuddles into me. I love feeling her breathing. I'm letting go of the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to try putting her down again so I can get things done around the house.

I'm excited that L. is going to be such an active participant in Christmas this year. I think she can sense the holiday spirit in the air. She looks excited and expectant, like she can't wait to see what will happen next. She has such innocent curiosity.

I'm already looking forward to next year when she can help me make gifts (a two year old touch is priceless) and reminding myself to enjoy this one while she's so young.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. I did get out of my funk when J. got home and we had a wonderful Christmas weekend!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I couldn't leave today completely wordless. Tomatoes in December? Seriously?
As amazing as these tomatoes are, I can't take credit for them. I only took the picture. My mother-in-law grew these in her backyard. L. and I helped pick them today. On December 22nd. Yes, this very afternoon, I was picking tomatoes in flip-flops...OUTDOORS. Did I mention that it is December and it's snowing a lot of places right now?

Oh, and my amazing husband accepted a new job today. He's over the moon and I'm freaking out just a little (a lot really). It's the best Christmas present ever!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Neighborhood Parks

Our neighborhood parks have become my salvation. They save my sanity on a weekly basis. Whenever L. gets cranky (or I get anxious or the dog gets crazy) and we need to get out of the house, we go to a park.

We have two parks within walking distance of our house. They're not super fancy but they do the trick. L. isn't even big enough for most of the playground equipment but it doesn't matter. She loves wandering around underneath the big toys, reaching for the sky.

Neither of the parks near us have swings but they do have slides. L. isn't big enough for a lot of things but she can slide. She loves the slides. Most of them I have to pick her up and set her down about half way up so she can slide down. That way I still have time to catch her at the bottom.

I thought about parks differently before we moved here (I should say before L. started walking). Do they have trails for hiking? Can we take the dog? Is there an off-leash section? Now I think about them in terms of playgrounds. Can we walk there? Does it have swings? Is it filled with sand or bark or rubber? (L. likes to pick up the bark and get slivers) How big are the slides? Are there picnic tables?

I laugh at myself sometimes. These seem like such silly questions. It's just a park right?

Not anymore. It's the difference between a good day and a difficult one. A long nap in the afternoon or a day spent trying to keep L. from climbing on the fireplace hearth or trying to keep her from breaking into the china cabinet.

Once we've been to the park, we are all okay. L. is happy, exhausted, and relaxed. So am I. So is the dog. It's easier to come home and let things go. I'm not anxious about getting stuff done while L. is napping. I'm more likely to lay down with her. Nothing seems like a big deal after we've spent some time outside, enjoying the small things--like the joy that two seconds of sliding down a slide can bring.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cardamom Oatmeal with Agave Nectar, Pecans, and Cream

I should have titled this, "Easy Gourmet Breakfast for Mom".
I ate it three times this week and each time I felt like it was a special treat. It was a few minutes of heaven (for me anyway, J. doesn't like oatmeal and L. wasn't interested either).

All the ingredients are in the title.

Oats
Ground cardamom
Agave nectar
Pecans
Cream (or milk or whatever you like)

I used regular whole oats (not quick oats) and cooked them on the stove top. 1 cup of oats to 1 and 3/4 cup water is approximately two servings. Boil the water and add the oats. Turn temperature down to low and cook for 5 minutes. If you use a microwave the ratios and timing are different. Check the instructions for whatever type of oats you choose.

After the oats are cooked, sprinkle with cardamom to taste (I probably like mine stronger than most). If you're sharing your oatmeal, you can add cardamom and toppings to each individual bowl.

However you divvy it up, stir in the cardamon. Then drizzle the agave nectar on top (again, to taste. Make it as sweet as you want). Finally, sprinkle with desired amounts of nuts (or skip it if you don't like nuts) and add cream or milk or soymilk...

Sit down, take a deep breath, and enjoy.

Wordless Wednesday on Friday

Monday, December 6, 2010

Post-Partum Depression in Retrospect: What Now?

As soon as I published my last post I started to worry that I had simplified too much. Working was not the single cause of my post-partum depression. Staying home and finding a community was not the simple cure. Multiple factors contributed to a very complex year of my life and I know this.

But in the aftermath of my last post, I was feeling scared. What if people think I wasn't really ever depressed? What if they think it was just an excuse? An excuse for what?

It's scary to say, "Hey, I'm all better!"

I feel like it opens me up to judgment from all the people out there who I imagine have nothing better to do than judge me (granted, they're probably all in my head. I'm sure everyone in the real world has better things to do). Regardless of whether the judgment is real, I've decided it's scary to make such a concrete statement.

Because what then? What now? The day after my declaration, I'm feeling overwhelmed, grumpy and unappreciated and what is my excuse? What's wrong with me now? Just a bad day? Yes. Is it okay to have bad days? Yes, in theory. Do I like having bad days? No. Do I want an easy excuse for why I feel this way? Yes. Was my depression real and not just an excuse? Yes. Do I wish I could still bundle up all my emotions, give them a label, and deal with them later? Yes.

Where do I put all these feelings? I love staying home. I need time to myself. Time to myself makes me a better mom. Taking time to myself makes me feel selfish. I love my daughter. Sometime my daughter drives me nuts. How could she drive me nuts when she's the most precious thing in the world to me? How could I ever be tired of holding her?

These feelings make me feel like a bad mom. I idolize Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I want her patience. I want to come up with a creative response to every frustrating situation.

I'm not there yet. If L. gives me a minute of space, I need to pay attention to J. I shouldn't say need. I want to pay attention to J. (He is my husband after all and I kinda like the guy.) But by the time L. and J. have everything they need, something else comes up around the house or with family or the dog...

In all honesty, I started this post on Sunday (I think it was Sunday. We'll see what date Blogger says when I post it). It's Friday now and I finally found a minute to write. I've done a lot this week and I'm sure J. would tell me I could have written if I'd wanted to. I could have done it instead of something else. But which thing could I have dropped? Almost everything I did this week while L. was awake or I squished into the minutes when she was sleeping.

It was a good week. We went to two playdates (and baked cookies for one of them), I baked bread, I kept up on the dishes and clutter (for once), we put up a Christmas tree, stockings, and decorations, we picked lemons, I washed diapers every other day and did some regular laundry too, I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (with J.'s help some days), we went for a few walks, I wrote some emails I've been trying to get to for a month, my father-in-law was in town, and yesterday we even went for a run...

These are all things I'm really proud of. I feel like I held it together all week. I feel like I did a good job. I've been a good mom and a good wife...except that I've only showered once and I didn't make time to write. I still feel out of balance. I feel like the only way I can get everything done is to not do things for myself. If I put all the other stuff first, it gets done. If I do anything for myself, something else goes undone and I feel selfish. But if I don't take time for myself, I get easily frustrated and impatient, stressed out and anxious.

And that leads me back to wondering where I put these feelings now that I can't honestly say it's post-partum depression. I guess I thought that once I didn't feel depressed anymore I would know what to do with my emotions. I thought once I wasn't depressed anymore I would only have happy, energetic emotions. Now I'm realizing that when I was depressed, I bundled all the other unpleasant emotions I felt in with the depression and anxiety. Now that those two are not overshadowing all the others, I'm having to come to terms with the rest of my emotions. I'm coming to terms with the fact that it's normal to have a range of emotions when you're not depressed.

I can be happy and still have moments when I'm frustrated or even sad. But emotions are what make us feel alive, right?

I'm glad that I have emotions. I'm glad that I can feel such crazy joy when I look at my daughter and see her throwing her head back laughing.

I'm glad that I have an internal timer that tells me when I'm done and need a break and time to myself. But now that I'm not numb with depression, it's going to take some practice to find balance when I'm feeling so much all at once.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Super Easy Homemade Yogurt

I love yogurt. I love it on diced apples with honey, I love it with granola, I love it in smoothies, I use it instead of mayonnaise in several recipes...you get the picture, I love yogurt.

L. likes yogurt too and I mix it into at least one of her meals everyday (if not more).

The problem is that I like plain, organic, whole milk yogurt and it's expensive!

Earlier this year I found out a friend of mine made her own yogurt. I was so impressed. I didn't think I could ever do anything so crazy as make my own yogurt. But miracles never cease--I found out I could make yogurt in my crock-pot. I had to try it. Now that we're settled in our new house, I finally did.

Here is the recipe I used (thanks to one of my favorite blogs: A Year of Slow Cooking):

  • One half a gallon (8 cups) of whole milk (pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/2 cup of store bought, live-culture, plain yogurt to use as starter (once you've made the recipe you can use your own to start the next batch)
You'll also need a crock-pot and a large bath towel. Seriously, that's all you'll need.

First, pour the milk into the crock-pot. The original recipe called for a 4 quart crock-pot but I used a 6-quart one and it turned out just fine.

Where was I...Pour the milk into the crock-pot. Put the lid on and set the temperature to low. Leave it for 2.5 hours.
After 2.5 hours, turn the crock-pot off completely and let it sit for 3 hours. When your crock-pot of milk has sat undisturbed for 3 hours, take out two cups of the "warmish" milk and mix in the 1/2 cup of store bought yogurt. Then dump this mixture of milk and yogurt back into the crock-pot with the rest of the milk.

Put the lid back on and wrap the whole crock-pot (still turned off and unplugged) with the bath towel.

Let it sit for 8 hours (or overnight). In the morning, scrape a spoon across the top and be amazed by the fact that the milk is now yogurt! [I know this isn't the greatest picture but it was the best I could manage with a baby, a spoon, and a camera.]
This recipe makes 2 quarts of yogurt. I calculated my savings and it's fantastic. 1 quart of store bought (whole milk, plain, organic) would cost me between $3.50 and $4.57 (depending if it is on sale or not). I can buy a gallon of organic, whole milk for $5.49. This means the half gallon I used for my yogurt costs about $2.75. Consequently, each quart of yogurt I make costs approximately $1.37. At a minimum that is a savings of $2.13 per quart.

If we eat one quart a week for a year we spend $76.72 on homemade yogurt. If we bought all that yogurt in the store it would cost between $196 and $255 (again, depending on the sales). That's a huge savings. Even if I were to factor in electricity and all that, it's still a good deal. Really, the amount of electricity needed to power the crock-pot on low for 2.5 hours is pretty minimal.

But, as exciting as it is, I'll stop going on and on about the money.

The main thing about making yogurt is that is tastes better than store bought. Blend it with fruit to make flavored yogurt if you don't like plain (I blended it with frozen mango chunks and it was fabulous). Or, mix in a little honey or agave nectar if you want it just a little bit sweeter.

I recommend mixing/blending in your items of choice immediately prior to eating as it changes the consistency a bit when blended and left in the fridge.

The original recipe (see link above) says you can line a colander with a coffee filter and drain some of the excess liquid to make a thicker, Greek style yogurt. I haven't tried that yet but I'll let you know when I do!

Update 01/04/2011: Jamie, I tried freezing the yogurt for longer storage and it froze fine. I read that freezing does not kill the live cultures, they just go dormant and are active again when thawed. It does change the consistency a little bit. I had to stir it a bit as it was separated a little. It's a little runnier and had some bubbles from stirring but it still tastes good!

Good-bye Post-Partum Depression (Adjusting to a new home)

When we moved here I knew it would be different. While that's a bit of an understatement, it doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. That's not what I mean. I just mean it's different (very different) than any place I've ever lived. I've always been a West coast kind of lady.

This is my first adventure in the southern United States. The South. There are so many stereotypes that go with that statement. I won't go there.

Like I said, I knew it would be different. I knew it would probably be difficult. But I knew it would be worth it. I knew I wanted to stay home with L. and I knew I couldn't do that unless we moved somewhere with a slightly lower cost of living, a job for my husband, and lots of support for the transition (aka. family nearby). And here we are on a coast that doesn't face West. I'm forever lost as to what direction I'm driving. It's way easier to keep track when the water is always to the West.

Nonetheless, here we are in the South. My first order of business (after moving into the new house) was to find some friends with babies. The "Mommy and Me" yoga class I had researched before the move was defunct. Not enough people to keep the class going. Toddler Story Time at the library canceled the first time we went, only one other person the second time.

I was getting depressed. I missed my friends from home. Thank goodness for telephones and Skype.

I tried a local "Mom's Day Out" event and it was nice for a little while. But then it wasn't. I came home and cried and called one of my friends from home.

I remember thinking about the scene in The Princess Bride when, after surviving the fireswamp Wesley says something along the lines of, "we could live here happily for quite some time and never need to leave". I started feeling that way about our house-not that it was as pleasant as the fire swamp, but that I could live there quite happily for a long time and never need to leave.

I had my girl, I had my honey, I had our cool dog. I could bake things full of sugar and butter. We could play in the sunshine in our backyard. No need to venture out into the scary new world. I tried to explain to J. why I was still crying even though I wasn't going to work and got to spend all my time with L. I couldn't explain it very well. All I knew is that I wanted to stay in bed.

But that wasn't very realistic. I could feel myself falling into the old post-partum depression, waking up everyday and wanting to hide under the bed. I forced myself to try a little harder. I reminded myself how much L. likes getting out of the house. I tried doing things I liked around the house. The smell of baking bread made things a little better.

With a little more research I found some mom/baby groups. One seems more geared toward mom/parent activities sans children. One was gigantic and has a bit of everything and everyone (including lots of people who have moved from other places) and one is small and full of nice moms with one year olds.

I forced myself to attend a few events. I took J. took a couple events with us. Soon enough, as I got to know people, L. and I started going by ourselves. I stopped feeling like I was forcing myself to get out of the house. I started feeling like I wanted to get out and go new places and see new people. And everyone I've met has been really, really nice.

Friday we even had friends over to our house. It was lovely. I feel like I've finally met a kindred spirit in this new place (meaning I'm not the only one who likes to bake stuff, grow stuff, make stuff, use cloth diapers, and breastfeed to name a few). It's nice not to feel alone.

Waking up this morning I had a revelation. I don't think I'm depressed anymore.

Good-bye post-partum depression!

Obviously this doesn't mean I'll never be sad, or I'll never miss my friends who live far away, or I'll never be frustrated with L. or J. or the dog, or that I'll always have good days, and the house will always be clean, or that I won't get pissed off when someone rings the doorbell as soon as L. falls asleep for her afternoon nap. But I don't think I'm depressed anymore.

More often than not, I'm enjoying life. I'm enjoying the walks we take around our neighborhood. I'm enjoying having dinner ready when J. comes home from work. I'm enjoying watching L. dance to the Muppet Show in our living room. I'm enjoying picking lemons in our backyard. I'm enjoying our playdates. I'm enjoying meeting new people. I'm enjoying the friends we have made so far in our new home. I'm enjoying L. sleeping on my lap (even though I can't figure out why she has started waking up if she's more than an inch away from me when she did so well napping on her own for a while).

I think I'm finally not depressed. I don't have to get up every morning and leave L. to go to work. I'm no longer using every single break during my day to pump breast milk. I'm not ready to crawl in (or under) my bed by dinner time (well, at least not every day). I'm not stressed about feeding schedules and whether or not L. will be hungry or up all night nursing to make up for lost time during the day. J. is not all strung out from L. crying all afternoon. I'm not hating missing every cute thing she does while she's awake. J. and I don't spend our only days off together running errands. I'm eating breakfast and lunch almost every day. I'm trying to eat slower.

These are all good things. I know that. I know it won't all be super easy from here on out but I think it will be easier. I know now that the bad days are just bad days. I know now that I'm okay. I'm glad I'm a mom.

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