Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

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Be your own friend

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As mothers, we are nurturers, giving to others as naturally as breathing. But what happens when you feel your fountain is about to run dry? I can tell you it happened to me more than once. In the early years of marriage, with two children under two, living in a remote place with no close friends or family support and with a husband who worked long hours at the time – there were many, many days when I felt overwhelmed.

Nurturing ourselves is something we usually have to take charge of, because no one can know our material and spiritual needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, or preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind.

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or any other emergency. But it doesn’t work in the long term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don’t have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I’m an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn’t. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. I will, however, focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep, shower and (I know it’s a fourth) some quiet, peaceful time.

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and it isn’t something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can’t always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don’t really do anything constructive anyway when I’m too tired, so it’s not a big miss-out.

Then there’s food. Here we’re doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn’t fit in. On such days, I’m thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there’s always eggs, toast and oatmeal.

Then there’s spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn’t have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations.

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I’m talking about having one’s own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment and personal growth. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you “happy”. Others self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and housekeeping, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits.

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out time for writing. Being an author is another “me”, something that exists apart from the daily grind. There are also crafts, reading, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things  occupy only a small portion of my time, but it’s like the icing on the cake. An added bonus is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create will love doing those things too.

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I’m the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there’s the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more at peace, more comfortable?

I don’t have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, “hold on. It’s crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself.” It doesn’t make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.

To sit a little

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Image: the ever-hospitable Rivendell

I wanted to share this little poem, which I wrote a few years back, and which I still like to re-read sometimes, as a reminder to self that it’s alright to just slow down when I feel the need, close my eyes, and cast all my cares upon G-d. I always come away refreshed after such a silent spell, and ready to go on with whatever is challenging me at the time.

It is fine to sit a little,
Not for long, just for a bit.
Close your eyes and think a little,
When confusion overwhelms.
It’s alright to rest a little,
To refresh the soul with prayer –
Pray with words or tears or both,
Just as you are able.
It’s alright – slow down a little,
Not too long, just for a moment.
It’s alright to cry a little,
Rushing to the perfect safety
Of a child that’s near its mother.
You can lie down for a moment,
Close your eyes and think of kindness,
Think of tenderness and friendship
And of love that lasts forever.
Then get up and walk a little,
Look at beauty, think of gladness,
Smile and know that when you need it,
You can always have a refuge.

Stockpiling with little space

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Following a post on stockpiling, one reader commented that she would like to stockpile but doesn’t have the space. Many people, including us, have a problem with storage space. My kitchen is just a small area where we managed to squeeze a refrigerator, a countertop gas stove and a toaster oven. I barely have room for the bare essentials in my kitchen, let alone keeping a stockpile. I don’t have a pantry either.

Read here about creative solutions for stockpile storage. Personally, we keep our stockpile in a cabinet in the guest bedroom. An unorthodox solution, but it will have to do until we have a nice big kitchen with lots of cabinets.

Our stockpile was not created deliberately, it just grew; most often, my husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.

I was always of the philosophy that buying something you didn’t plan to buy was still spending money, even if the price is very good. It is indeed a fine line between stockpiling wisely and becoming a pack rat. Unhealthy foods, snacks loaded with salt and sugar, are never a good deal even if they happen to be very cheap. And luxury items won’t help you stretch your budget, no matter how you look at it.

Yes, it’s true that we bought more than we needed at the moment, but back then, we could spare the extra cash. I was very glad we did when time came to cutting back costs as much as we could (even though we always did our best to live frugally).

All over the world, people are struggling with the results of a major recession. People who didn’t imagine it would ever come to that, now have to think twice before buying food. I know it’s unpleasant to think about such possibilities, but it may happen. Being well stocked up on the essentials makes the tough times pass more easily.

Gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage

Gnocchi used to be one of those things I’d never think to make from scratch – because I guessed the process involves some complex, extremely delicate kitchen magic. But then the prices of store-bought gnocchi rose and we stopped buying them. Then, one day, I was reading The Shoemaker’s Wife, and got the most irresistible craving when I came across the description of making gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage. It all sounded so easy – mashed potatoes, flour, an egg, roll out the dough, cook the dumplings. What could possibly go wrong? Dinnertime was about to roll soon, and I just figured out I’d quickly make a batch of gnocchi and surprise my husband.

Well, let me just tell you dinner was very late that night, and I ended up having to scoop up bits of dough with a spoon and dump them into boiling water (which made me understand, for the first time, the origin of the word ‘dumpling’). My husband tactfully said it was delicious as he consumed his plate of amorphous blobs, but I was pretty sure gnocchi was not supposed to assume the consistency of playdough on a hot day.

What could I do but harass Italian friends for their family recipes, scour the web, and keep trying? I came across this tutorial yesterday and gave it another go, and made some definite progress – though I didn’t attain the elegant shapes of the tutorial, at least I was able to roll out the dough and cut it with a pastry knife. I made two changes from the tutorial: used a potato masher, rather than a potato ricer (I’ve never even heard of such a contraption before), and popped the little bits of dough into the freezer on a large tray before cooking them, to better retain the shape. I ended up keeping one batch in the freezer for a quick dinner next week.

The dressing I like to make for gnocchi is simple and delicious: melt equal parts of butter and olive oil in a skillet, add 3-4 mashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and a handful of sage leaves. I am blessed with an abundance of fresh sage from the garden, but you can use dry sage leaves, or omit it altogether if you are not a fan.

More on growing herbs

I love growing herbs – they are so easy to grow and hardy, and have so many uses and health benefits. Check out my latest Mother Earth News post about growing, harvesting, and using basil:

“Basil is very easy to grow from seed. You can sow the seeds either directly in the soil or in a large pot – placed out of doors or even near a sunny window. In either case, make sure not to buy them too deep. Basil likes warmth and partial sunshine – mine thrives in a spot where it gets sunshine in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Full sun is unnecessary and may even be excessive in hot, dry climates.”

 

A trip to the beach

DSC_0718An errand run to a town about an hour away ended with a spontaneous trip to the beach, our first in this season. It was the hour before sunset – my favorite time of the day, when the light is so lovely and the colors mellow.

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We happened to have just the two little ones with us, which also made this Hadassah’s first time at the beach (many more are to follow, I hope!). Of course, she spent most of the time napping in the baby carrier, but she seemed to be enjoying herself all the same.

Israel, on the other hand, had a blast… Here is one (of many) photos of him splashing about, or just sitting and letting the waves wash over him. I had to make a conscious effort to stop taking pictures and just enjoy the moment… A moment that can never be perfectly captured, and is meant to be savored in the here and now.

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Some interesting sea life clinging to an old board.

The magical hour ended with the sun sinking into the sea, something I will never tire of watching. It was beautiful, and then the day was truly over and it was time to go home. I hope we can do this again soon.