When Mama and Ellie Are Reading Books…

…Mark will play!

024 (533x800) 025 (533x800) 030 (800x533) (2)(Note to self: crackling noises should probably not be ignored.)

And, in other news, Mark is walking!  He has been for about six weeks but has recently developed a new level of confidence.  He’s so confident, in fact, that yesterday, while I was gathering our things to leave moms’ group at church, he decided to push open the door (which had been propped open) and walk/run down the ramp by himself.  YIKES!!  I think I’d better start wearing running shoes all the time to keep up with this boy. (Don’t worry I caught him before the end of the ramp. Praise the Lord the bigger kids [including Ellie] noticed him going outside.)

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Recipe: Soaked Whole Wheat Pumpkin (or applesauce) Muffins

In my continuing quest to make our whole wheat baked goods healthier and more easily digestible, I started making the soaked healthy pumpkin muffins from Kitchen Stewardship about a year and a half ago.  It’s been a long time since I made Spiced Nutty Pumpkin Muffins because we think that these are even better than those (plus these are soaked!).  I’ve changed the recipe fairly significantly – primarily by doubling it (because who wants only 12 muffins?), upping the pumpkin, cutting the water, drastically reducing the sugar, and increasing the spices and vanilla.  Also, I’ve come up with an applesauce version.  I’m still experimenting with reducing the oil a bit as they can be on the greasy side.  So I’ve put the oil amount in a range.  Generally, I use the full amount and it is delicious.  But I think that it could probably be cut by a bit and still be good.

In summary: Delicious! Easy! Kind to your tummy! Make these today! (Well, really, start these today! Eat them tomorrow!)

Soaked Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins
(see the bottom of the recipe for the applesauce variation)
adapted by me from Katie’s recipe
makes 24 muffins plus two mini-loaves

001 (800x533) (2)I clearly forgot the mini-loaf in the oven for this particular batch – don’t aspire for that dark brown color!

Day One*
3 and 1/3 C (437 g) whole wheat flour
2 ½ C (600 g) pureed pumpkin**
1 C (253 g) water
¼ C (60 g) yogurt or whey or apple cider vinegar (for dairy free)

Mix well, cover, and let sit overnight or up to 24 hours.

Day Two
2/3 C to 1 C (140-210 g) coconut oil
, melted
Mix into the flour mixture, until fully combined.  This is most easily done in a stand mixer.

1 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 T baking soda
½ T salt
1 tsp each of freshly ground nutmeg, ground ginger, and ground cloves
½ T cinnamon

In a separate bowl, mix until fully combined.  Pay particular attention to the baking soda, ensuring that all clumps are gone and that it’s fully incorporated throughout the sugar.  (Believe me, you don’t want to bite into a clump of baking soda.)

1 T vanilla
4 eggs

Add to the sugar/spice mixture and stir until fully combined.  Then add the egg/sugar mixture to the flour mixture and mix thoroughly until the color is uniform throughout(This is different than most quick bread recipes, which caution you against over-mixing.  For whatever reason, this isn’t an issue with this recipe and you do need to stir quite vigorously to get the sugar/eggs distributed evenly throughout the flour.)

1 C raisins or other dried fruit or frozen berries
1 ½ C chopped pecans or other nuts
1 C shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)
Add to the bowl and stir until combined.

Grease two muffins tins and two mini-loaf pans (or one regular loaf pan).  Don’t over-fill the muffin cups – two-thirds full is sufficient.  Whatever remaining batter you have can be put into the loaf pans.  Bake at 325 for 20-30 minutes, slightly longer for the loaf pans.  The muffins should be just slightly springy to the touch but mostly solid.  Try not to over-bake them, for maximum moistness.

After taking them out of the oven, let them cool for at least 10 minutes before attempting to take them out of the muffin tins.  They’re fairly fragile when they’re warm so they need to cool a bit or else they’ll break on their way out.  Ellie knows the “it breaks, we eat it” rule so usually she’s rooting for broken muffins!  I use a wooden chopstick to help me pry them out of the tins.

Applesauce variation:

Use  2 ½ C (678 g ) applesauce** in place of the pumpkin and 1 tsp ground allspice and ½ tsp ground cardamom in place of the ginger and cloves.  I also prefer to use walnuts in the applesauce version rather than pecans.

Storage – These keep really well in the freezer.

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*When I really have my act together, I measure the oil, chop the nuts, measure the dried fruit, and combine the sugar, salt, baking soda and powder, plus spices the night before.  That way, in the morning, all I have to do is add the eggs and vanilla to the sugar/spices and then mix everything together.  This makes for a much easier baking morning.

**Two notes about the pumpkin and applesauce:

  1. I make my own pumpkin puree and applesauce every fall.  I don’t strain my pumpkin before freezing and I don’t add water when making applesauce.  Therefore, my pumpkin is more watery than canned pumpkin and my applesauce may be thicker than commercial applesauce.  My weight measurements above are how much 2.5 C of my pumpkin and applesauce weigh. You may want to use the volume measurement the first time and weigh your pumpkin/applesauce to know exactly how much yours weighs, if you intend to use the weight measurements.
  2. If you’re using canned pumpkin, you could use the whole can of pumpkin and then add enough water to equal 2.5 C if you don’t want to use part of a second can.

One final note – if you don’t want to bother with the soaking and just want to make pumpkin muffins, then you should use my other pumpkin muffin recipe rather than just skipping the soaking step in this recipe.  The leavening in particular is designed to worked with the soaked whole wheat, which behaves different than non-soaked flour.  Rather than modify this recipe, just use my other one.  They’re delicious too!

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“My Wife’s Brother’s Wife’s Dad’s Second Cousin”

I’ve made it no secret that I’m related to Joe Flacco.  We haven’t managed to turn this close familial connection into season tickets for the Ravens yet (not that I really want them) but Nik did manage to work it into his geometry test last week.  Would you have been able to get the question correct?

Joey's pizzaI love the student’s comment – “Really?”

P.S. I think technically Nik’s question should have read “wife’s brother’s wife’s dad’s cousin”, not second cousin but really, who doesn’t get confused with all those apostrophes!

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Graying the Black and White (more on Mark’s birth story and clothes)

I tend to see the world in pretty stark black and white terms. For some reason, it’s harder for me to see the nuances.  I have to consciously work to to see the in-between shades of gray and sometimes I don’t do as well as others.

1. After I pressed “publish” on my last KIOS post, I realized that I’d forgotten the most practical option of all regarding how to move forward in our clothes purchasing.  It’s not perfect of course but it does help me to feel like it’s possible to make some incremental changes.  The option, of course, is to think deliberately about where and how I buy the clothing that I do end up buying new.  I did get at this option in the resources that I linked to further down in the post (particularly the ethical buying guide from Art of Simple and the Free2Work website).  However, in my list of options, I neglected to say that even when buying new from chain stores, it’s possible to make more responsible decisions.  For example, both Adidas and Reebok get fairly good grades and so it would more sense for me to buy a pair of running shoes from them as opposed to a cheaper brand with a worse track record on hiring practices.

002 - Copy (533x800) just for fun -my silly senior picture in black and white

Thanks also to my friend Harmony for her comment on FB that she likes to buy “more thoughtfully with long-term wear in mind.”  This is another point that the author of Overdressed often emphasizes – that the frequent throwing away/buying more of clothing is a big part of what’s so unsustainable about the way most Americans dress themselves.  Harmony’s example was to not buy “those cheap Target sandals that die after one season.”  I rarely [never] buy cheap shoes – I basically wear a pair of Danskos in the winter and a pair of Birkenstocks in the summer and usually each pair will last me 3-4 years (or longer) before I have to get a new pair.  I’d never thought about this in terms of sustainability.  I just hate wearing uncomfortable shoes.  But it’s definitely better to wear on pair of shoes a longer time rather than be fairly frequently throwing your shoes away!

2. When writing Mark’s birth story, just before I finished editing Part 4, I read a magazine article detailing some truly horrific birth stories of women being absolutely mistreated (really abused) as they were giving birth in hospitals.  This prompted me to add my third point to my conclusion, namely that I was really glad we’d delivered in a birth center because who knows what would have happened to us with the kind of labor we had if we’d been in a hospital.   In her comment on that post, my friend Erin very gently pointed out that she had had a very similar labor with her first child in a hospital and that they received excellent care with no pressure to consent to any interventions that they didn’t want.  She wrote,

I guess my opinion is that it’s not so much the physical location of the birth as the attitudes of those attending it–just like so many other experiences in our healthcare system. Of course, I would agree that those types of providers might be found less frequently in a hospital setting, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that hospital birth must equal threats and cascades of interventions.

[And now I'm just rewriting the response to her.]  She’s totally right.  In some ways, we ended up needing Special Beginnings for Mark’s birth because we had decided to go to Special Beginnings. I never would have gone to the hospital as early as I did if I’d known I only had a short drive to get there. Looking back, we probably wouldn’t have gone to the hospital until 7 or 8 at night at the earliest (i.e. twelve or more hours later than we went with Mark) and at that point, we would have been fine as far as the hospital’s labor clock was concerned.

A woman’s birth experience is ultimately dependent on several factors: as Erin said, the healthcare providers’ attitudes, along with hospital/birth center policies, how informed the laboring mama is, and how much support she has to help her advocate for herself.  In the end, I don’t take back my statement that Special Beginnings was absolutely the best place for us to deliver Mark.  It was. However, I certainly could have phrased my statement in such a way that didn’t demonize hospitals quite as strongly as I did.  (Although I can’t help adding that in many ways, hospitals deserve all the criticism they get!)

Feel free to point out any more black and white thinking that you read, OK?  You’d think that by age 37, I’d be better at seeing the shading, but I guess it’s probably something I’ll have to work on for the rest of my life.

(And am I the only one who can never decide if it’s spelled “gray” or “grey”?  Here’s the answer in case you’re curious.)

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“Children of the Same Family”

montana 548 (800x533)

Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply:…

from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

montana 555 (800x533)

P.S. Clearly someone forgot to send me the “wear a blue shirt for the pictures” memo!

montana 570 (800x533)

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Someone Has Figured Out How to Climb Onto Chairs

We are in big trouble.

Just a little pre-breakfast piano playing earlier this week!

005 (800x533) (2) 006 (800x533) 007 (800x533) (2)Don’t worry – I did take him down and move the chair back after taking these pictures!

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KIOS: Grooming, Part 9: Clothes (a really tricky problem that I don’t have a good solution for)

This post is part of my series, “Kickin’ It Old Skool: Why and How We Are Old-Fashioned” or KIOS for short.  If you’re new to the series, please read my disclaimer before continuing on.  I’m keeping a table of contents to this series here so you can see what I’ve already written about and what more there is to come.

I decided that I’m never going to finish this series unless I just start writing*, even if my posting is not as consistent as I’d like it to be.  So here goes!

Clothing is a topic I haven’t delved into quite as thoroughly as others in this “Grooming”/KIOS series.  I have more thoughts of what I want to do than thoughts of what I’ve achieved but I suppose those are useful also, right?

Much of what I know about this topic, I learned from reading the book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion** by Elizabeth Cline.  After I read this book (back in March 2013), I reviewed it on Goodreads*** and wrote,

Great, now I can’t buy clothes at the mall anymore either, just like I can’t buy food at the grocery store. That’s the problem with knowledge – once you know, it’s hard to go back to spending without a conscience.

Fair warning – this might happen to you too if you keep reading!

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I certainly have never been  a “clothes horse”.  I really don’t like to shop – it stresses me out more than gives me pleasure, especially when shopping for clothes.  I’ve never been good at figuring out what’s fashionable and connecting that to what looks and feels good on me.  So, generally speaking, I just avoid shopping for clothes unless I absolutely have to.  After I moved to Baltimore, I went through a relatively serious clothing crisis, not being used to people dressing up for events and also not being used to needing warm weather clothing.  At home in Alaska, it’s OK to wear jeans to everything, even weddings!

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Me, circa 1995.  I loved that flannel shirt!  No wonder I often feel under-dressed in the East!  Would any East Coast girl think of wearing flannel for her senior picture? :)

I feel like I have too many clothes but based on the people highlighted in Overdressed (including the author), I have very little.  None the less, what clothing I do own I’ve generally purchased as cheaply as possible, from Target, super sales at LOFT or The Gap, etc.  I do own a few items from JCrew, purchased with Christmas gift card presents.  But other than that, especially now that I’ve been a SAHM for almost 4 years, my wardrobe is pretty basic and limited (i.e. boring).  So I figured that should give me a free pass out of worrying about clothing, right?

WRONG.  It turns out that buying cheap (or even relatively expensive) clothing, in any quantity, is a ethically, environmentally problematic action.  Most (usually all) clothing sold in any chain or department store (i.e. Target, Walmart, any store at the mall, even most boutiques, etc., etc.) is manufactured in poor countries where the workers work in hazardous conditions, are paid next to nothing, the manufacturing process wreaks havoc on the environment, and big corporations get rich.  There’s no getting around the fact that by buying the clothes that we do, we are contributing to both human and environmental damage in countries around the world.  As Americans, the way we dress ourselves is incredibly unsustainable plus terrible for the environment and for all who are in the supply chain to get it to us.

Even knowing all of that, my children still wear clothes that were purchased new from Target and Kohls****.  Last summer, right after reading Overdressed, I actually cried a few tears of guilt and shame as we were buying Ellie a few pairs of shorts that she needed, knowing that probably some kids in Bangladesh has sewn them for her and hadn’t gotten paid anything worth speaking of.  (This was right after the Bangladesh factory tragedy.)

And yet, we still bought them.  She needed shorts.  It’s really hard to know what to do with this.  To me, it’s a much harder issue to solve than food.  With food, you can make little changes here or there that eventually add up to big changes.  Although eating ethically and sustainably can cost significantly more, it doesn’t have to (i.e. just eat very simply if you can’t afford to buy the more expensive items).  Clothing is more of an all or nothing issue.

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So what do we do about clothing going forward?  There are a few options that I know of:

  1. Buy organic, USA-made, fabric and make all our clothes myself.  (It’s just not going to happen, unless I hire a nanny so I can sew full time – not a bad idea actually!).
  2. Buy organic clothing made in America and pay lots of money for it, rightfully and justifiably so.  (better but still really expensive).
  3. Buy all used clothing (from thrifts stores, consignment shops, etc) – much better because no new resources are being expended or people being exploited by your purchase but way more difficult than just buying new.  On the negative side, sometimes, it’s just not possible to find what you need when you need it.  On the plus side, although this is time consuming, you’ll end up spending a lot less money in the end.
  4. Pay designers/producers for pieces of clothing that I will wear long-term, understand that this will require a significant investment, and be OK with wearing a just a few pieces of really well-made clothing for a long time.  Find these people either locally or on the internet via Etsy and other sites.  (This will require a significant amount of commitment on my end to figuring out what my “style” is and then finding the perfect pieces to invest in.  Sounds a little stressful to me but also a good way forward.)
  5. For the kids, seek out hand-me-downs whenever possible.  This works great for the little kids but gets harder once the kids get older (there are fewer hand me downs that survive the wear and tear of a kid).
  6. Do some combination of #1-5, along with accepting the fact that we’ll probably end up buying some problematic clothes from chains also.

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Some final thoughts:

  • I want to get better at sewing clothing so that I can at least supply a few items to our wardrobe, which will lessen our reliance on ready-made clothing.
  • I need to force myself to go thrift-store shopping regularly.  For me, this might be just once a month but that would at least help me to find a few used items for my kids and myself.
  • My new mantra? Make more clothes, buy way fewer clothes, be willing to spend more on what I do buy.

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*the most obviously obvious statement ever.

**I highly recommend reading it. (The Baltimore County Library has it.)  You’ll learn much more than what I’ve summarized here.

***If you search for this book, on Goodreads or elsewhere, beware a similarly titled book that’s way inappropriate in nature.  I accidentally clicked on it and was a bit shocked and dismayed.  So be doubly sure you’re choosing this one (look for the subtitle).

****A bit more on my kids’ clothing:  We are super blessed to have two older boy cousins who have been very generous in giving Mark all their clothes as they have outgrown them.  So Mark is almost exclusively wearing hand-me-downs and we love it!  As for Ellie, her Yiayia loves to buy her clothes and we also are super blessed by this.  I do not mean to complain in any way about the places where Yiayia buys Ellie’s clothes, because we really are so grateful for her generosity.  Sadly, however, the reality is that it’s problematic to buy new clothes, regardless of who is paying for them.

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Art of Simple has a great Ethical Shopping Guide that has a fairly large clothing and shoes section along with sections for jewelry and accessories.  I haven’t even touched the topic of jewelry (i.e. blood/conflict diamonds) and that has its own set of issues and considerations.

Free2Work has lots of information about industry and the modern day slave trade.  Search for “Apparel” to see scorecards on lots of different companies.  Walmart gets a D+ but Lacoste gets an F: proof that price doesn’t mean much when it comes to treating workers well.  Happily, Fruit of the Loom gets an A- and that’s the kind of underwear we buy for Ellie at Target.  So there are some bright spots!

A bit more about ethical clothing suppliers

This company has organic T-shirts, grown and made in North Carolina!

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If you’d made it to the end of this very long post, I’d love to hear your thoughts!  How about you?  How do you/have you handled the issue of buying clothing responsibly?

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