Book Review: Feeding the Whole Family

I started packing yesterday. I’m hoping to get a few boxes packed every day for mailing to Alaska, since we aren’t planning to send too much home, I think two weeks ought to get that job done. Then we are going to have a giant garage sale to purge everything else, then it will just be a matter of cleaning the house top to bottom. Which will be a daunting task.

Over our few years here I have accumulated a lot of books. I never used to buy books, I would just get them from the library. But while here, I made the conscious decision to start buying books regularly, sometimes even new, to show my support to what might become a dying industry. And to prepare for My Man and my future fantasy home library. His side– political revolution, deep ecology and legal strategy. My side– homesteading books, DIY, a complete collection of Wendell Berry, wilderness writing and cookery.

With that in mind I bought Feeding the Whole Family last year, instead of inter-library loaning it. It’s a great book emphasizing dinner as a meal for everyone, babies, children and adults. I would especially recommend it for anyone starting out with their first baby and wondering what the alternatives are to bottled baby food, and how to approach healthy food with growing children.

I grew up with hippie parents who just mashed up whatever they were eating for me. And yet when I had my own baby, I nevertheless had a panic attack about food rules. That first time around, it seemed so crucial what I feed our babe, and I felt intimidated. Brown rice and carrot purree were both straightforward and I felt fine about them, but she wouldn’t touch them. I struggled to get her to eat anything at all for the first several months. It wasn’t until she got old enough (about 1) that I started to feel confident picking through our dinner for the soft, smooshy parts. And then her desire to eat exploded! She loved food with flavor.

Feeding the Whole Family has a good section on what’s okay to feed babies (more than you think), another section on foods toddlers and children tend to like, and another on creating meals that serve the whole family. Most of the meals are pretty quick, basic, one-pot affairs using whole grains, beans and vegetables. It’s directed towards a beginner level cook, with thorough instructions. Although there are many different kinds of recipes, overall I would call the food style ‘hippie-asian’ with lots of tamari and sunflower seeds.

If you are still reading, and thinking this sounds like the book you need, I have a secret for you. Although this is a great book, I don’t need it. I have this kind of food pretty much internalized, and though I was grateful to read through the baby/toddler section, once was probably enough. So I’m going to give it away! I almost chucked it into the ‘sell’ box, but figured one of you lovely readers could get good use out of it. For the new mama who’s a bit daunted in the kitchen, this is the perfect book.

Leave a comment below telling me why you need this book. I’ll choose out the most deserving/desperate, and then pick randomly amongst you. Bear in mind, this is a used book. But if you are a real reader of this blog, not a giveaway troller, you won’t care– it’s in perfectly good condition.

Yes, I am going to leave this open to my overseas mamas (and papas?) because y’all rock and I want you to join in the fun too.

Begin! (Open until Tuesday, May 1st)

Cloth Diapering, vol. 1: Getting Acquainted with Sh*t

There’s no point mincing my words. If you are going to use cloth diapers (or actually have a baby at all) you are going to have to flush any remaining primness and decency down the toilet right now. There will be shit. It will be disgusting. You will have to deal with it.

I am a pretty stalwart lady. I have gutted and butchered many an animal, trimmed the poop encrusted hairs from around a sheep’s ass, reached up into a hen’s vulva to release a stuck egg, and scraped the maggots from home smoked fish so I could eat it. I have a strong stomach for grossness. But I will admit to you that if I had to wash my toddler’s shitty diapers by hand in a bucket of water, I’d go to Costco and buy Huggies.

Thank god for washing machines! With a machine’s help, I find cloth diapering surprisingly easy. But before you go out and spend a heap of money on cloth diapers I want you to consider that the shit has to be mostly cleaned off before the diaper goes into the machine, and from my personal experience it does not “shake off into the toilet” as they like to say on the label. Fortunately, as parenting often goes, you aren’t handed a toddler with their more or less adult stools, but rather a cute little baby with surprisingly inoffensive breastmilk poop. You get a good 6 months to practice up on your stomach clenching.

Of course, you have to deal with poop no matter what kind of diapers you use. Cloth just ups the anty. And it’s worth it right? Take charge of your baby’s waste stream, etc, etc. In case you need any fact bolstering, here’s a few goodies from the Real Diaper Association:

  • Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste.  In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.
  • No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years.
  • Over 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for one baby EACH YEAR.

So, think you’re ready? You want to take the leap and commit to shit?

(I ought to clarify right about now that we have always used disposables at night and if we are going out for a daylong outing or on vacation, etc. In other words, we are far from hard core on the cloth issue.)

When I was 3 months pregnant with my first, still coming around to the idea and freaking out about how much baby crap we were already accumulating from well meaning friends and relatives, a woman I knew called on the phone to ask if I wanted some cloth diapers. I took a big gulp and said yes, knowing I would need them and it would be stupid to turn her down. She came by an hour later with three huge boxes of cloth diapers. As she unloaded one after another from her minivan I had a panic attack. It took everything I had not to tell her to pack that shit back up and leave me alone, my baby would pee into a pile of sphagnum moss thank you very much.

When I look back on that moment, and the general disgust I had for the boxes of hand-me-down clothes and toys that poured into our household almost weekly, I am so embarrassed! Of course I ended up using all of those diapers (babies grow fast, don’t you know) which were in pristine condition and would have cost $12-18 a piece if I had had to buy them. I had been given several hundred of dollars worth of high class goods, and I don’t remember if I even thanked her!

Down here in New Orleans I was given two more small sets of diapers. The only thing I ever had to buy was a few extra covers. I am one lucky lady.

If you are not so lucky, and you are in the market for cloth diapers, I have a few things to tell you. One is that there is a dizzying array of choices! And everybody seems to have very different opinions on which ones are good. Two is that, for whatever strange reason, cloth diapers have become something of a boutique (ie: overpriced) item. Be careful if you go shopping on Etsy— you should not be paying $28 for a fucking diaper, no matter how cute.

Because I was given so many different diapers, I have a decent scope of experience. There are three basic types: the so-called ‘pre-folds’ are the flat rectangular ones that our mothers used, bless their heart. (I can’t for the life of me figure out why they call them pre-folds when they come out of the wash flat.) Then there are ‘fitted’ diapers which need a cover put on over the top. ‘Pocket’ diapers have a built-in cover which you insert a wide pad into. And lastly ‘all-in-ones’ have it all, in one.

***Before you experienced mamas click away from this post, will you just scroll down to the comments and add your own experience? I’ll talk about use and care in the next post, right now we are just looking at types of diapers, and the more voices the better.***

I started out with all-in-one Kushies like these:

They are easy, there’s no doubt about it. But they take forever to dry, because they can only dry from one side. And I can tell you they do not last through two kids. The first thing that gives out is the elastic around the leg, meaning more and more leaking problems. Then the plasticy material that they make the cover out of starts to fray around the seams and you lose the whole diaper.

I was also given some Fuzzi Bunz which are a pocket diaper.

They were already well used and maybe they would have worked if they were new, but as far as I can tell they are crap. I keep using them because that’s what I have right now, but they leak like sieves. They are made from some kind of polyester, and from my experience I would say, why the hell would you make a diaper out of a material who’s best property is not getting wet? I understand the concept of keeping baby’s skin dry, and I can see a single layer of polyester maybe, backed my cotton, but that pee has to go somewhere! Anyone with a different Fuzzi Bunz experience please speak up.

My favorite diapers so far are an old version of Bum Genius, that it looks like they don’t make anymore. They’re fitted terry-cloth type material with velcro tabs, so pretty easy. They have lasted well. They do need a cover, but I feel like the extra step is well worth it. (The only Bum Genius I can find online now are all-in-ones, anyone familiar with these?They look good.). This Mother-ease Sandy’s diaper looks vaguely similar:

I did have a bad experience with some Thirsty covers that used velcro closures. The velcro was just a straight-up strip (no backing) and over time it started to curl back on itself, exposing the scratchy stuff to my little pudgy boy’s fat thighs. I had to trash them eventually, he was getting welts. I would in general recommend snap closures because of this problem, plus the velcro gets gunked up and has to be cleaned out periodically and just generally wears out faster than snaps. (Although those first all-in-ones I got had velcro, sewed onto a thicker strap, and they have lasted just fine, I still use some of those.) Here’s what my current covers look like, these are Best Bottoms:

Many people have rave reviews of wool diaper covers, called ‘soakers.’ I never had the opportunity to try them, but the idea is that they allow baby’s little butt to breathe and keep the skin healthier. Makes good sense. Wool can be surprisingly water-proof, and supposedly soakers are very soft and not at all abrasive. Ask me about my experience with $24 lambs’ wool nursing pads sometime though. Grrr…

I tried pre-folds for awhile with both babies, and I just didn’t have any luck with them. They never fit right and so leaked or bunched up and were uncomfortable. I have talked to many other mamas who loved pre-folds though, so I would definitely recommend trying them, if you can. They are a fraction of the cost of all these fancy diapers, and last much longer because they have no elastic, snaps, velcro, bells or whistles to wear out. Also they dry way faster, which is not to be underestimated. (If you are going with pre-folds, or some of the fitted diapers that come without fasteners, you will probably want some Snappies. These are a brilliant replacement for safety pins, danger-free.)

I think the reason that everyone has such different diaper opinions is that every baby is different. Mine both had unbelievably fat thighs and needed big ole’ leg holes. If your baby has skinny thighs you will specifically need small leg holes or you’ll have leaks. Then there are differences in quantities of pee, types of poop, etc. Both mine peed a LOT. And a lot at one time, too, which I think is partly why the Fuzzi Bunz didn’t work. Maybe they can hold a cup of pee if it comes in a few tablespoons at a time, but when yer kid dumps the whole load at once, they can’t absorb fast enough. The frustrating thing about buying diapers before you have your baby is how do you know?

If you have a cloth diaper store in your town, check to see if they have any kind of trial program. We have a great shop here that gives a one month free trial with all the brands she sells, so that you can figure out which ones you like. Online, Diaper Junction has a test drive program, but you do have to buy the diapers and then you can return the ones you don’t like. Better than nothing…

There’s one more important decision to make. You can either buy one-size-fits-all, which are supposed to be adjustable for newborn-toddler, or you can buy ‘perfect fit’ diapers for each size. I hate to tell you this, but I haven’t seen the one-size diapers work for newborns. I think they might work fine for age 1-potty training, because their butts don’t actually grow much after 1yo, but on a newborn or even 6 month old, those one-size diapers look pretty ridiculously enormous.

Having said that though I ought to mention that the actual ‘newborn’ size is almost worthlessly small for most babies I’ve known. Mine fit that size for all of two weeks. Then the breastcream started to kick in and the thighs started to bulk up.

Lastly, how many will you need? This would depend on your baby and your wash cycle. You will go through at least 5/day in the beginning. If you do laundry every 3rd day, and they take 2 days to dry on the line, you need 5 days worth of diapers, 5 x 5 = 25, though you will want a few extra as a buffer. If you are going to use the dryer or commit to washing every other day you can get away with fewer diapers. Bear in mind that if you use fitted diapers with separate covers, you will only need 4 or 5 covers. They can be used for several rounds, until the get a shit smear. They also dry super fast.

So, if you are doing some quick math with the prices I have quoted, you are just about freaking out right now. True, even buying two sizes of brand new diapers plus covers will cost you less, in the end, than disposables. But man, that would be an intimidating entry price tag if you had to set yourself up completely.

I would recommend not jumping into that right off. Do a trial of size smalls to see which kind you like and how your baby shapes up. Keep a vigilant ear open when you’re out in the world– once you start looking, you might be surprised to find more cloth diapering mamas than you thought. And they might have a stack of old diapers to share or sell.

Watch Craigslist like a hawk. I doubt they come up very often, but it can’t hurt. Or check out this independent consignment site. I would be careful not to pay too much for used diapers though, unless the people who are selling didn’t really use them (a very common scenario actually, many folks start out with good intentions and then just get overwhelmed). Diapers definitely wear out and if they’ve been used continuously for one kid, they’re probably at about half-life, which means you shouldn’t pay more than 1/3 of the new price.

I’ll go over use and care in the next post, but so far– any questions?

Sleeping Like a Baby

“I sleep like a baby. Every two hours I wake up and cry.”

-Hunter S. Thompson

Yes. I am mother to a 9 week old. He’s finally started to sleep decent at night, and even past 4 am. Of course, he sleeps in bed with us, curled right up against me in all his impossible babysweetness. He wakes every few hours, not crying though, just wiggling around and grunting like a little piglet for milk. But then he falls right back asleep, so I can’t complain too much about nights anymore.

No, it’s days that are getting me. Both my babies just wanted to be held, or worn in a carrier, all day long. I’m all for baby-wearing. But seriously, all day long, day in, day out??? C’mon kiddos. Give mama’s back a break, errr– I mean, don’t break it!

Oh yes, naps too. Naps even more so, in fact. The only way he’ll stay asleep for any length of time is if I’m wearing him. The days that I try to set him down to sleep are often infuriating to the point of depression. I nurse/walk/sing him to sleep, then ever so, eeeever so gently I lay him down, taking a good long time about it. Slowly stand up and back away. Tip toe out of the room…. “WAAAAAAAAAA!”

It takes another 20 minutes to get him back to sleep and, if I can manage it, lay him down again. Sometimes I’ve done this 3 or 4 times before it works, or I give up and wear him. Mostly I give up and wear him, because otherwise I’m going to lose my mind! But I know he’ll never get used to sleeping in a still, horizontal, alone way unless I keep trying. So I do, every few days.

Yesterday I had a brainstorm. I already often swaddle him when I’m trying for the solo naps. Which helps. But then, after I laid him down, pressing my hand on his little self to make him feel secure, I thought, “It’s too bad you can’t just weight ’em down…. Although, why can’t you?…. Hmmmmmmm….” I tiptoed into the kitchen and brought back a big 2 lb bag of beans. Then I laid the beans right on top of him.

Sound weird? Oh, I know. But is there really anything wrong with putting something that weighs about as much as, say, my arm, over my sleeping baby’s chest?

It wasn’t any kind of miracle. He didn’t suddenly stay down for any three hour nap. But he did stay sleeping for 45 minutes or so, which is pretty great. Hey, I’ll take what I can get!