Saturday, November 28

Unto Us a Child is Born

Last week I had a baby. Nothing went quite like I'd expected, though. My quiet, uneventful homebirth turned into a 5-day marathon of contractions, stalled labor, bleeding, hospital transfer, and, eventually a emergency c-section.

Obviously, I am disappointed to have missed out on the chance to give birth without a lot of medical intervention. Still, I felt as though, every step of the way, I was able to make the choices I thought were best, rather than feeling forced into anything. Despite the fact that virtually nothing about the birth went as I'd planned and hoped, I still found it to be an empowering experience.

Meanwhile, for all of you holding your breath, we have a son! He was born Sunday night weighing in at 8 lbs 5 oz and measuring 19¾" long. He has a head full of dark hair, deep blue eyes, and kissable chubby cheeks.

Baby and Mamie are recovering well and big sister Rosi is over the moon! Daddy is, as usual, holding the rest of us together.

Wednesday, November 25

What's in a Name?

Originally published December 20, 2008

I had a philosophy of naming for quite some time before I ever conceived a child. Because my given name is simply Amy, rather than Amelia like the great-grandmother after whom I was named, I always wanted a long, classic name that had more nickname options. I decided my kids would have nice long names. Three of them, in fact.

My three-name system included one name each based on
  • family tradition
  • the Bible
  • our own desires
None of the names should be after living relatives, with the possible exception of a "Junior" named for his dad. I didn't particularly want a Junior in the family, but I was willing to give my then-unknown husband rights to one son named for himself, if it was really important to him.

I determined that none of the names would be invented. Before I was married, my middle name was a hyphenated compound of my father's name and my grandmother's name. It was unusual and always looked funny to me--to this day, I can't remember if the second half of the name is supposed to be capitalized or not. In any case, I didn't want my poor child to be saddled with an invented name such as mine, which I'm sure sounded hip and groovin' in 1975, but by the early eighties, I was an odd duck in my grade-school classroom full of _____ Janes, _____ Maries, and _____ Elizabeths.

Any names up for consideration were required to have a strong positive meaning, not spell strange words with initials, and not sound like anything obscene or hurtful. Official naming could not take place until after birth, as I wanted to meet my child before bestowing a name upon him or her. Once Adam and I got married, I added another caveat: No names that start with "A"! I really didn't want to be that family.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, we'd chosen a name to call the baby in utero. We hadn't specifically declared that we would incorporate that name into her given name, but I didn't want to rule out the possibility either.

Really, when I think about it, it's a wonder we managed to find any names at all!

At my behest, we took the scientific approach. Adam and I each went through the name-your-baby book individually. We collected all the names we really liked and noted their origin and meaning. Because no names from the country of Adam's birth were included in our book, we added a few of those to his list as well. Once we'd completed the collection phase, we traded lists. Each of us had the opportunity to veto names that we wouldn't consider because of personal connotations. Then the real fun began.

I put all the names into a priority comparison tool and printed out two copies, one for Adam and another for me. We spent a day or two (or twelve) comparing each name to identify our personal top 10. By the time I went into labor, we had narrowed our list of girls' names to just 18 (from which we needed to choose three). We still had 60-some boys names because I never did finish the prioritizing exercise with those; Adam had given up and just circled ten he liked. I actually brought the folder to the hospital with us so I would have it for reference, in case we had a boy.

In the end, we did give our daughter three names. One of them is a family name, one is appropriate to the nickname we used in utero. One is just for fun. Her initials don't spell anything scary. The worst problem we've had is that her first name is quite unfamiliar to Americans and almost no one pronounces it correctly.

Since I'm not telling you my daughter's [real] name, let me share the three most popular names in the US for the year she was born (2005): Emily, Emma, Madison.

The most popular names for 1975? Jennifer, Amy, Heather. In fact, Amy has been in the top 200 most popular names in the US since 1951.

1973 (the year Adam was born)? Michael, Christopher, Jason.

Want to know the top names from your birth year? Check out the Social Security Website. They have lists of the 1,000 most popular baby names each year since 1880, when the top names were John, William, James (for boys) and Mary, Anna, Emma (for girls).

Thursday, November 19

Keep the Fire Burning (or Not)

Originally published November 13, 2006

I haven't made a real home-cooked meal in a while. Mostly because our kitchen is a mess and one of the things I seem to have caught from Adam since we've been married is his aversion to cooking in a messy kitchen.

But tonight I felt like making something new and different. So I thawed some chicken and paged through my More-with-Less and Extending the Table cookbooks looking for chicken and rice recipes. I finally settled on a peanut soup recipe from More-with-Less to which I added chicken, rice, and garlic (since the books are copyrighted, I won't post the recipe here, but you can purchase your own copy, here. Peanut Soup is on page 217).

The real fun could now begin. First, the knife I had wasn't working well with the chicken. I already had a Band-Aid® on my thumb from an earlier run in with a knife (no pun intended), and now I was getting raw chicken juice all over my hands. Yuck.

Next, I was searing the chicken a bit when I noticed a small flame outside the burner ring. When I bent down to investigate, I saw a ladle that had once been neatly situated in the center of the stove between two burners was now melting into the flame under my sauce pan. I pulled up on the pan, immediately turning off the flame. When that didn't solve my problem, I reached up into the cupboard for an open box of baking soda, remembering the dire warnings my home ec teacher had given us about spreading a grease fire with water. Since I wasn't quite sure the content of the plastic-looking handle, I didn't want to take any chances.

Unfortunately, sprinkling baking soda over an open flame is not the most efficient means of dousing it. Once the box was emptied, the flame continuing unabated, I decided the best course of action would be to grab the ladle from the serving end and plunge the flame into the sink.

The problem with that plan was a simple matter of unfinished laundry. Both of our oven gloves are in the wash. I tried grasping the metal end with a dishtowel, but I wasn't able to get a decent grip on it. Additionally, by this time, the melted portion of the handle was dripping down onto the chrome plate below the burner. I was not at all certain that lifting up one end would ensure the other followed.

Finally, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered that we have a fire extinguisher on the shelf above the microwave. I pulled it out and searched quickly to find the directions for use. (As an aside, this is not the course of action I recommend. If you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen--a wonderful idea in itself and highly recommended--make sure you know how to use it before you need it.) Following the instructions on the label, I stood six to eight feet back and squirted a short blast of whatever was inside onto the stove. Instantly the flames went out. It was kind of fun, really.

Once the excitement was over, I still had dinner to make. I briefly considered throwing my hands in the air and letting Adam finish it, but, by then the meal was nearly complete, so I scooped out the half-cooked chicken, washed the excess baking soda out of the pan and began cooking again.

By the way, the soup turned out pretty yummy. I'll have to repeat my experiment again sometime. Minus the steps involving runaway flames, of course.

Monday, November 16

The Worst News for Chickens Since Col. Sanders

I was served this wonderful breaded-chicken dish at a friends' house one evening. When I raved about it, they directed me to Rachel Ray's website for the Cheddar-Crusted Chicken recipe. I had Adam make some for me posthaste. Yummy. But, since I can never leave well enough alone, I had to play, making the recipe just a little bit tastier. I also came up with a great variation for a Parmesan breading, which I've posted below.

Oven-fried Cheddar Chicken Fingers
serves 4-6

2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken (about 4 breasts)
3 c salted baby pretzels
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated or cubed
1 t thyme
¼ t pepper
1 egg
2 T water
¼ c flour
  1. Slice chicken into fingers (approx. ½” x 1½”).
  2. Grind together pretzels, cheese, thyme, and pepper until they resemble coarse bread crumbs. Place in a shallow bowl.
  3. Beat egg and water in another shallow dish. Pour flour into a third dish.
  4. Dredge chicken through flour, egg, then pretzel mixture.
  5. Place fingers ¼" apart on a greased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until juices run clear.
Variation: Chicken Parmesan Fingers

  • 1½ c dry breadcrumbs for baby pretzels
  • 2 oz Parmesan cheese for the cheddar cheese
  • ½ t oregano for one-half the thyme
  • ½ t salt
Serve warm, with marinara sauce for dipping.

Thursday, November 12

Thanksgiving with a Twist

Originally posted November 19, 2006

I had never heard of the concept before this year. Suddenly, I keep seeing references all over the place, but when I tried to Google "third world thanksgiving" I only found information about one organization's fundraising banquet, an article about daily life in poverty-stricken countries, and one site that had a video link which didn't look quite savory, so I left before I figured out exactly what it was showing. Therefore I offer you my own primer.

How to host a Third World Thanksgiving

Basically the idea is twofold: better understanding of and offering tangible assistance to those living in poverty (whether in the Third World or not).

Step one...Invite lots of friends over. And don't forget your family, too. Make sure everyone knows you are having a non-traditional dinner to raise awareness, as well as funds, for the hungry.
Step two...Shop for food. Go to your favorite grocery store with a list of all the ingredients you would need to buy in order to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for all the people you now have coming to your house. Price all of the items on your list. Buy only rice.
Step three...Cook dinner. Measure one cup cooked rice per person.
Step four...Enjoy the party. Spend a few hours sharing with family and friends the many blessings in your lives for which each of you can give thanks.
Step five...Share the wealth. Write a check for the amount you would have spent on your traditional Thanksgiving dinner (as calculated in step two). Send it to a worthy charity working to combat poverty and hunger in the Third World or right here in North America. Suggest to your guests that they make donations of their own.

Not sure which charity might be worthy or who is working in the part of the world where you're most interested? Check out a charity evaluation website, such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator or

Saturday, November 7

Not Quite Auntie Anne's

I love Auntie Anne's pretzels. I have could eat them as a whole meal. Sadly, while they aren't terribly expensive, they're not something we can afford to keep in our regular monthly food budget. And during months like these, when the food budget is already overburdened with stocking up for postpartum meals, even a special treat is out of the question. So, I made my own. The original recipe knock-off I found was created by Todd Wilbur of Top Secret Recipes. While his was pretty tasty, I humbly submit that mine is even better.

Pretzel Dough
2¼ c all-purpose flour
1½ c whole wheat flour
2¼ t yeast
¼ c sugar
1½ t salt
1 c very warm water (approx. 120°F)
  1. Stir together dry ingredients
  2. Add water and stir together until well mixed
  3. Knead until smooth and elastic (5-10 minutes)
  4. Cover and let rise one hour or until doubled in size
  5. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces
  6. Roll each into a rope at least 2 feet long and twist into desired shape
Salt Bath
2 c warm water
2 T salt
  1. Dissolve salt into water
  2. Dip each pretzel into bath and shake to drain off excess water
  3. Place pretzels ½-1" apart on a greased baking pan
  4. Bake in a preheated 425°F oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown
2 T melted butter
2 t coarse salt
¼ c brown sugar
1½ T cinnamon
  1. Brush warm pretzels with melted butter
  2. Sprinkle with coarse salt or dredge in cinnamon sugar

Friday, November 6

Why Drive to a Homebirth?

Once you've looked at the research, you know that out-of-hospital births have similar outcomes to births in hospitals. So, without the comfort factors of being in my own home and not having to drive while in labor, why am I still planning a homebirth away from home?

As you may recall, if you've been a long-time reader of this blog, attending a homebirth as a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) is illegal in South Dakota. However, CPMs are the only certified professionals in this country who are trained to attend natural births outside a hospital setting. Obstetricians, Certified Nurse Midwives, and other certified birth attendants are all trained in the medical model of birth. Medically-managed births are all about monitoring and procedures which are intended to reduce the risk of mothers and babies dying or being injured during birth. Sadly, studies show that in most cases, medical management does little to reduce these risks, and in some cases, it actually increases them.

There's really more to it than that, though. Most hospital-based practitioners have never seen a truly natural birth. They are so used to their standard procedures and interventions, they don't know what really natural birth looks like. Compare that to a CPM, who sees unmedicated, unhindered births almost exclusively.

Let me share a quote with you from a book I've been reading the last couple of days. It's written by Judy Kay Jones, a local CPM and former RN who spent time in jail for attending homebirths within the state of South Dakota.

A medical perspective sees birth as a dangerous situation--a complication waiting to happen. It operates in fear. True midwifery approaches birth from a natural perspective, not in fear, but in respect.

I compare it to the preparation of Treasury agents to spot counterfeit money. They do not study the counterfeit. Instead, they study the real thing. They know every detail of the real thing so well that a counterfeit immediately stands out as different when they see it.

Why would I want to trust my birth to attendants who'd primarily, or ONLY, seen counterfeits of natural birth? I did that once before and was unsatisfied with my care. This time, I chose to seek out a professional who specializes in natural births. And, in a few more days or weeks, I hope to come back and be able to share firsthand how different it is.

Thursday, November 5

A Little Lesson in Unity

Originally published January 30, 2007

I went to Brazil four years ago with a group from my church. We worked with an organization called Project AmaZon, or PAZ for short. They work along the rivers in the Amazon Basin. Our group, we had been told ahead of time, was going to be on a health boat, visiting several villages along the Amazon River.

Our first morning in Santarém we each purchased a rede (Portuguese for "hammock" and pronounced "hedgie") and went down to the public line boat that would take us out to meet the PAZ boat at the first village. And when I say "down" I really mean DOWN. I can't find a photo of it right now, but trust me when I say there was a big huge high sea wall and a rickety spindly little ladder.

Down and I are not good friends. I have no problem with heights, but going down from heights is pretty anxiety inducing for me. I spent several minutes at the top of the wall, watching everyone else head down, including several local workers who carried large boxes on their heads while they fairly danced up and down the steps.

When I finally made my descent, complete with sweaty palms and shaky knees, I realized that there was no way I would be able to repeat this journey later that evening with my luggage. I hadn't even been able to carry down the plastic grocery-sized bag with my rede in it.

On the dock beside the line boat, I spoke with another member of our team, sharing that I was a bit nervous about the return trip down the ladder. I asked him if he would be willing to help me with my suitcases. "Of course," he told me. "We're a team. We'll take care of it for you."

Climbing back up the ladder, it started to rain. I was grateful, because it helped to hide the fact that I had tears streaming down my face. At least, it did until I got back to the van and completely broke down sobbing among the rest of my teammates. Several of them hugged me, told me it would be okay, and prayed for me. I managed to stop crying, but I didn't really feel any better.

That afternoon we had a rest period to recover from our overnight flight into Brazil and to prepare for the overnight voyage on the line boat. I was supposed to be napping, but whenever I tried to lie still and close my eyes, I felt completely unsettled and upset about my experience that morning.

Finally, I asked one of my teammates to please finish up in the bathroom because I needed to be in there right away. My urgency wasn't because I was desperate to use the facilities, but because I really needed some time alone, without anyone else intruding on my space. At the PAZ guest house, the only personal space to be had was in the bathroom.

I sat on the floor and spent several minutes simply crying out the rest of my tears. When I'd finished, I began to pray. "Why?" I asked God. "Why am I so upset about this? It's not that big a deal. What's going on?" As I prayed and pondered, I began to understand that I wasn't so upset about the wall or the ladder or the down, but what was really bothering me was my inability to do for myself.

I'd been raised as a typical American, full of determination and independence. Like a small, stubborn child, I sat there on the bathroom floor saying, "No! I want to do it myself." Yet, I couldn't. The realization left me feeling very vulnerable and frightened. I decided to go back to bed.

While I was trying to fall asleep once again, I heard a message from God. This doesn't happen to me with any regularity, but I was pretty sure God was talking to me, even though it sounded rather a lot like just talking to myself inside my head.

God told me to look at my hand. "Huh?" I looked at my hand.

"Look at your fingers," He instructed. "See how they move? Aren't they beautiful?"

"Okay, sure."

"One finger, all alone, can't really do much, can it?"

"I suppose not."

"But, when all the fingers are together, working in concert as your hand, think how much more they can accomplish."

"Well, yeah, I can see that."

"You and this team are like your hand. On your own, you can only accomplish small things, but when you open yourselves up and work together, you can do so much more."

And that was all God had to say about that. The rest of the trip was really pretty uneventful for me, by comparison. But the image of all my fingers working together has really stayed with me.

Sunday, November 1

And ... I'm Off!

With the official start of NaNoWriMo today, and the impending birth of the newest little Gray, I have decided to take a blogging break for a while. If I have the energy, I may be back now and again through the rest of the month, but maybe not.

I've scheduled some of my favorites to run while I'm gone, just to keep you interested. If you'd like to follow my novel-writing progress, you can check out my author page on the NaNoWriMo site.

Until next time ....