Blissful Beginnings

Life as I know it...

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There Goes my Heart…

Our last day of Christmas vacation turned into a bit of an unpleasant adventure. When telling a dear friend about it today, she said, “having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body.” I looked up the quote:

"Making the decision to have a child is momentous.
It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Elizabeth Stone

My entire family went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park on December 31. Near the beginning of our time there, we went to visit the gorillas and I let Michael Leo out of his stroller to wander. I walked with him, a little weary of the concrete below, but he wouldn’t let me hold his hand. And then it happened - smack to the head. It didn’t seem too hard, so I wasn’t worried. He’s a new walker, so he falls a lot. It’s part of him learning.  I picked him up as he cried and walked away from the crowd. And then he was limp. And silent. I looked at him and my stomach lurched as he was totally out. Eyes closed and still. I yelled for my mom and she ran over. Someone yelled for a doctor, and a sweet young mom named Allison, also a family practice doctor, ran over.  Michael was losing his color, and his lips were very pale. Allison had us lie him down and at that moment his eyes opened and he began to whimper. He was still dazed and didn’t move much, but you could see in his eyes he was becoming more alert.  Allison checked him and said that she thought he was going to be fine, but we should still have him looked at. After that we went to the medic there at the park and by then, he was doing much better. He even smiled and gave his playful “roar” to the people at the office. He’s doing great and recovered so fast you wouldn’t know anything happened. But it was the scariest moment of my life.

My heart is walking around outside my body.

You won’t understand this until you have a child. I didn’t understand this until that fall. I’m afraid that as my family grows in number and age, I will come to understand this even more. It’s scary to love someone this much.  I remember a few years ago, asking my sister in law, a mother of three, how she can manage to not live in fear when a million things can happen.  She told me that when she was pregnant with her first, she came to a point where she had to give it up. She said she came to realize that she is not in control, and so she prays frequently and fervently for her children. And so this is what I have done and what I will continue to do.

My heart is walking around outside my body, and so I will pray and cherish my little one, and trust the Lord that he knows best.

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Michael Leo’s first birthday party: It was themed after his favorite book since infancy, Cutie Pie by Matthew J Kempler. This adorable book goes through various pies asking baby if he is apple pie, or peach, etc. By the end of the book, baby looks in the mirror to discover that he is a “cutie pie”.

Happy first birthday to my Cutie Pie!

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A New Kind of Love (Happy Birthday, Michael Leo!)

A New Kind of Love (Happy Birthday, Michael Leo!)

It’s been 1 1/2 years since my last post.  Once I learned I was pregnant, I became consumed in other things and after a while, I decided to quit until after Leo’s first year.  And here we are at that one year mark.  I can’t believe I haven’t written out my birth story yet, though I remember it like it was yesterday.  Can I share it with you?  It was one year ago today.  One year ago my life changed.  One year ago I started the beginning of growing up, of learning of a new kind of love.  I thought I was a patient person before, I thought I knew how to be selfless.  I thought I knew JOY.  But since the days have passed in the last year, I have become a different person.  
The story actually begins a little earlier, back to my 37th week of pregnancy.  I had a routine visit with my midwife, and learned that my baby had turned out of the “correct” position, and into the “wrong” position.  He was breech, more specifically frank breech, which meant that his head was by my heart and his bottom was in my pelvis.  His feet were up at this face (babies are so flexible!).  I saw a doctor specializing in maternal and fetal problems, and after a lengthy ultrasound, he confirmed that our baby was healthy (hooray!!) but that we would need to have a c-section.  On Thursday.  What??  Not what I was expecting.  We had planned a homebirth!  Now, in order to write a blog post and not a short novel, I will keep from going into details of what the next week and a half brought.  The important things to know is that I did EVERYTHING you can do to try and turn a baby, with barely a budge from my little man.  The other important thing to know is that my husband and I prayed - we prayed like we had never prayed before.  

One week after we learned of our baby’s position, we met a doctor who would come to be a direct answer to our prayers. I had searched high and low for a doctor to deliver my breech baby, completely willing to have him in a hospital. But no one, and I mean no one, would help me. They all told me one of three things: either that they don’t know how to deliver breeches, they’re not allowed to deliver breeches, or that my only option is to have a c-section.  Enter Dr. Fischbein.  After a thorough ultrasound and examination, Dr. F determined that I was the perfect candidate for a breech delivery!  We asked him all the hard questions we could come up with and ultimately asked him to deliver our baby.  Everything was falling into place, but one thing: a few family members were…nervous.  It was very important to me that everyone close to us be on board with our decision, so Dr. F suggested we have a skype meeting with those family members who are doubting our decision.  What??  You, a busy doctor, want to come to my house and skype with my family?  Just so that they feel better??  Ok, that’s cool!  After that 1 1/2 hour visit, Dr F and sweet midwives Beth and Jacqueline left. Our family was now all on board and we were excited to have this baby breech. That night I told Michael, “I’m ready”. Not even 2 hours later, my labor began…

Now for a side note: I have to address one thing that I rarely bring up when I’m telling anyone this story. This was not about me. I heard a lot of disbelief when I told people I was even considering a breech birth. No one said it, but forums I read online told me that I was selfish, and that I was putting myself above the baby just because I wanted a natural birth (which people will say is not important). I don’t feel this is the right platform for me to get into the specific details of why we chose to move forward with a natural breech birth, but I do want to say that when the options were c-section or breech delivery, we chose to have a natural breech birth because it was the safest way for our baby to come. If you want to talk to me about the specifics of “why”, then please feel free to send me a message. Ok, now back to why a year ago today, my life changed.  My contractions began Sunday night, so dull, that I wasn’t sure I was having contractions.  It was just different than anything I had experienced before.  I told Michael, “I’m not really sure, but I think I may be having contractions!”  He calmly smiled, and said, “Ok, then time to go to sleep.” Such a good coach :)  I woke up at 4:30AM to a contraction, stood up, and realized my waters broke!  Things moved quickly after that.  I tried to go back to bed, but couldn’t lay down.  I just wanted to stand, walk around, or bend forward. I took a shower for most of my beginning labor.  I wanted to be alone and I felt relaxed in the shower. Shortly after I got out, things were beginning to get very difficult.  I was starting to need people around me, and almost right then, our whole birth team began to arrive: my mom, Robin (my doula and friend), Beth (midwife and Dr’s assistant), Jacqueline (midwifery student), and Dr. Fischbein. Dr F checked me and said, “I can’t believe it! You’re 7-8 cm!” I just said, “Good!” At this point it was 8:30AM.  I got into the birthing tub and spend the rest of my labor in there.  I LOVED the tub.  I was truly in “labor land” at this point, but I swear my labor got easier - or at least, I could handle it better.  At one point I was afraid my labor was stalling so I asked Dr. F if I should get out.  Nope, the tub just makes it that much easier.  Amazing!  By around 10:30 I was ready to push.  I got out of the tub and onto the bed.  I think pushing was the hardest part for me. I was so far gone, so exhausted, that I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to push.  I assumed it would just come easily, but I think we spent a half hour just trying to get me to understand how to push!  That was really frustrating for me. Eventually, I got it, and pushed our little one out.  Bottom first.  At 11:47AM, Michael said, “It’s a boy!”  The feeling in that moment is difficult to describe.  I’ve never felt so utterly exhausted in my life.  I felt like I had run a marathon - all up hill - for days. Yet at the same time, here in my arms is a warm, beautiful, baby boy. He’s crying. I’m crying. Michael is crying. We have a baby - Michael Leo.  Named first after his daddy, and his middle name after his Great-grandpa.  A new kind of love begins to grow in my heart. This is the beginning of our story.  Each day I love this little boy more, each day he brings a new kind of joy to our home, to our lives. Anyone who knows him will talk of his smile - it goes on and on.  You’ve never seen such a smiley baby!  He’s smart too; he understands what I say to him and he responds to it.  He’s curious, he likes to investigate any sound or shape or movement.  He’s a bright light in our life.  Each day is better and more exciting than the last.  He’s the best gift.  Happy birthday to my sweet boy!

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DIY: Vanilla Extract

If you’re like me, and do much cooking or baking, you go through vanilla extract very fast. It’s necessary for so many things: pancakes, cookies, muffins, protein bars, granola, yogurt, etc. Pure Organic Vanilla gets pretty pricey, even when bought in bulk. However, it’s very simple to make! Follow these instructions to make your own vanilla extract:

  • Slice vanilla beans length-wise, leaving the last inch intact, to keep the bean in one piece (see photo 1 above).
  • Fill a glass jar with 3 cups vodka, then push down the vanilla beans until they are submerged.
  • Put on the lid, and leave it for at least 8 weeks.
  • After 8 weeks, if desired, pour into smaller jars, putting a bean in each jar. When the jar is about half empty, just add more vodka. It can be used immediately, or let it sit for a week to make it more flavorful. The beans can be used over and over again, without losing flavor.

This is very cost effective:

Initially, with buying the vanilla beans and alcohol, your price will be: $14.24 for 24 ounces of vanilla extract, compared to amazon price: $37.50

Or, as vanilla beans last indefinitely, after the initial bean cost, you’ll only be paying for the alcohol, making the breakdown: $7.49 for 24 ounces of vanilla extract, again compared to amazon price: $37.50!!!

This is easy, fun to do, and makes a great gift!

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Spring is finally here, and my garden is blooming…kind of - I have to be honest with you all: although these pictures may make it look like everything is lovely, take note that i zoomed in on the beauty - my garden still needs a lot of work! But i am thankful for the sweet new seedlings coming up, and the lovely colors of spring. 

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Caesar Dressing

A quick and easy Caesar Dressing, no anchovies required! I like to make my dressing in the same jar I will store it in to limit the dishes. Try to choose a wide-mouth container to make whisking easier.

Mix together:

  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T organic mayonnaise
  • 1/2 T white vinegar
  • 1/2 T dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon wedge, juiced
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • a dash of pepper

Now, while whisking with a fork, slowly pour in 1/4 cup flax or olive oil - don’t stop whisking until fully incorporated. If you would like a more runny dressing, add more oil or lemon juice.

Enjoy!

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Homemade Yogurt

Yum yum yogurt. Yogurt in smoothies, yogurt with granola, frozen yogurt - I love yogurt!  And real yogurt is so beneficial for you!  Now I say “real” because many store bought yogurts are full of artificial colors and sweeteners which are harmful to your body. However, if you just read the labels, you can probably find a healthy yogurt, containing only milk, active cultures, and possibly a natural sweetener (like maple) or real flavor added (like real fruit or extract).  

Yogurt contains something called “live active cultures” or “friendly bacteria” or “probiotics”.  Good bacterias are like soldiers in the digestive system - they fight the bad bacteria and strengthen the immune system.  People who are on antibiotics, or have been on antibiotics, should especially be upping their intake of these probiotics. Antibiotics are so harmful for your body, because not only do they kill the bad bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria, making it very difficult for your body to protect against future infections or immune system attacks!  Feeding your body cultured foods like yogurt, replenishes that good bacteria, creating a healthy balance.

Now being someone who loves the challenge of making anything and everything from scratch, making yogurt seemed like a good idea. I learned that it is so simple, and so much cheaper, that I don’t know why I didn’t start doing this years ago.  Below is the recipe I use.  Also, I choose to use goat milk for the health benefits described here.

All you need is:

-1/2 cup of organic yogurt

-8 cups organic milk of your choice (I used goat milk)

-candy thermometer

-very clean jar or glass container to hold yogurt

-heating pad

  • Pour 8 cups of milk in a stock pot, and begin to heat on low-medium heat.
  • Using a candy thermometer, heat until temperature reaches 185 degrees, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
  • Turn off heat, and let it cool to 110 degrees (or put pot in a sink full of ice water, but watch it carefully because the temperature will drop very quickly).
  • When temperature reaches 110 degrees, stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract (optional), and about 1/4 cup of maple syrup (optional).
  • Pour yogurt mixture into clean jar, and put on the lid.
  • Move to the warmest part of your home, wrapping the jar in a heating pad (turn on), and then towel.
  • Leave it undisturbed for 12-15 hours, making sure the heating pad remains on.
  • After 12 hours, check it for firmness. If it seems firm (the consistency of yogurt), then move to the fridge.

For added flavor and sweetness, stir in chopped bananas, or top with berries and granola.  This yogurt is delicious, and will save a lot of money if you consume yogurt as much as we do. Always save a 1/2 cup of the yogurt, to use in your next batch of homemade yogurt. 

I would love to hear how your yogurt turned out, or let me know your favorite things to add to a bowl of yogurt!

Recipe adapted from: http://www.allfreecrafts.com/giftinajar/homemade-yogurt.shtml

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I can’t believe we’re almost in April already!  Michael and I are goal setters, and it’s nice to look back on the last 3 months, and see that we’ve already done so much! And so much is still ahead this year. Below are some pictures of a few adventures from this year so far…

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Hidden Turnips in my Husband’s Favorite Side Dish

One of the things I like about my CSA basket is that I get to try new things - and most of the time I really like it! On 2 separate occasions I have received white turnips, and have tried to prepare them in various ways. But yuck!  They were tolerable, but not enjoyable whatsoever. This last basket I received came with bright colored turnips.  There wasn’t anything in the trade box that I wanted, so I thought: one last try - maybe the colorful ones taste different? After doing some more research online, I found that people do “mashed turnips” instead of mashed potatoes. Some recipes included other vegetables too, like potatoes or carrots. Since I had them, I figured I may as well try again…and the result was delicious!  I don’t know if different colored turnips mean different flavors (if you know, please enlighten me), but these mashed potatoes and turnips were great. We couldn’t taste the turnips at all, but in addition, these were some of the best mashed potatoes we have ever had. With that said, I highly recommend adding turnips to your next batch of mashed potatoes - you won’t be disappointed!

Mashed Potatoes with Hidden Turnips

  • 6 organic russet potatoes, with skins, scrubbed clean and cubed
  • 3 purple turnips, with skins, scrubbed clean and cubed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
  • 4 T organic butter
  • 1/2 cup organic buttermilk
  • 1-2 t garlic powder
  • sea salt/pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and toss in whole peeled garlic cloves for about 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, put the cubed potatoes and turnips in a pot, covered with salted water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, until the potatoes and turnips are soft (they should be easily pierced with a fork).

Drain the potatoes and turnips in a colander, and return to the pot. Add in the roasted garlic. Mash by hand with a masher, until mostly smooth. Turn the heat back on to low, and add in the butter, buttermilk, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.

Now don’t tell anyone about your secret ingredient, and see if they notice. I bet they won’t! This is a great way to sneak in extra vitamin C, calcium, potassium, high amounts of folic acid, as well as fiber and glucosinolates (a cancer fighter).

Sources: The Organic Cook’s Bible by Jeff Cox

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It’s Time for Strawberries!

Spring is in the air, and strawberries are here in full swing. Every stand at the Farmer’s Market is loaded with bright red, sweet, strawberry goodness. You really can’t beat the fresh taste of local and organic strawberries in season.

In celebration of this season, I wanted to share a question I received from my Aunt about strawberry preserves:

I love your web page and tips, Hallie.  Rick LOVES strawberry preserves and I currently buy St. Dalfour brand 100% Fruit as it’s all natural and made with Fruit, Grape Juice Concentrate, Fruit Pectin and Lemon Juice. It’s the closest thing I have found to “real” strawberry preserves without sugar or artificial sweeteners. But the way we consume it, it’s VERY expensive and I cannot find a recipe with these ingredients or similar. Do you have any recommendations, knowing we want to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners as well? Is there any harm to using grape fruit concentrate as a sugar substitute? If not, how does one adjust recipes using it (measure for measure)…if you know. Thanks for taking the time to reply!! Aunt Liz:)

Who doesn’t love strawberry preserves? But Aunt Liz is right - it’s difficult to find sugar-free and NO artificial sugar strawberry preserves without paying a high price.

To answer your first question, grape juice concentrate may or may not contain harmful additives - it depends on the manufacturer.  Some concentrates contain corn syrup and/or artificial colors among other things (see my post for why artificial colors are bad). I did contact St. Dalfour, and good news - they specifically use only pure grape juice in their concentrate.  So that is a safe brand to go with.

However, finding an affordable alternative has been difficult.  I looked around online and could not find other healthy options at a lower price.  Unless someone else has a suggestion, I think your best bet is to make it from scratch.

I know that all you moms out there are very busy, but strawberry jam or preserves is easy to make, and your kids can help! But before you begin, there are a few things to consider:

Do you want strawberry jam or preserves? Here are the differences as explained by thekitchn.com:

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Preserves are spreads that have chunks of fruit surrounded by jelly.

    Should you buy it organic?

    • The answer is yes. There are many fruits and veggies that are acceptable to eat grown “conventionally” (basically, not organic); unfortunately, strawberries are loaded with more chemical poisons than any other berry. The Environmental Working Group deemed strawberries as the most saturated with chemical toxins of the 42 fruits and vegetables they studied.  Children especially are susceptible to these chemicals, so I highly recommend seeking out organic strawberries. They are almost always cheapest at Farmer’s Markets, though i have also heard that Costco has good deals on organic strawberries.

    What kind of pectin* to use:

    • If you use organic strawberries, you do not need to use pectin. Strawberries contain natural pectin, and will do the job just fine!
    • If you do not use organic strawberries, you will need to add a sugar-free pectin. Here is one option: pectin

    Now your ready to make strawberry jam or preserves! Here are some options:

    Honey Grape Juice Strawberry Preserves (www.sarahs-musings.blogspot.com)

    • 4 cups mashed strawberries
    • 1 cup white grape or apple juice (be sure that it is all juice, with nothing added)
    • 3/4 cup honey
    • 1 package of no-sugar added Fruit Pectin (if you’re not using organic strawberries)

    In a large saucepan, combine juice and strawberries heat over medium heat. Now bring to a boil, stirring frequently so it does not burn. Once at a boil, add honey and bring back up to a rolling boil. Boil for three minutes, stirring constantly.

    Remove from heat and skim foam from the top with a large spoon onto a waiting plate. Cool, then pour in prepared jars.

    Stevia Strawberry Jam (from www.naturalnews.com)

    • 2 lbs strawberries, hulled and quartered
    • 1 1/2-2 tsp stevia powder (a sweet herb. Buy in purest form - should not be bleached, or contain any additives. Here’s a good option: stevia)
    • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup water

    Simmer strawberries in water, and mash when soft. Dissolve the stevia in lemon juice; add to strawberries. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until thickened.  See note below on how to know when it is ready.

    Raw Strawberry Jam (from www.rawbeets.tumblr.com)

    • Simply blend 1 1/2 cups of whole strawberries (greens included!) and 1/2 cup date paste (or more if you want it sweeter and thicker) until smooth.

    Here are a few things to note about the process:

    1. In order to test the thickness, dip a spoon in the jam/preserves, and let it sit at room temperature. Test it. If it’s thick enough for your liking, it’s ready. If not, continue to boil for a few more minutes, then test again.
    2. Taste your jam/preserves before you deem it “done”. If it’s not quite sweet enough, just add more of your sweetener of choice!
    3. Large batches of strawberry jam can go bad quickly, but it does freeze very well. Pour in jars, and leave about 1/2-1 inch of room in the jar, so that it has space to expand.

    I hope this answers your question, and that you enjoy making and eating all the yummy strawberries that spring has to offer us! If anyone makes one of these recipes, please post with your comments and/or changes to the recipes above.

    Sources: