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We met on a quiet, dark, rainy morning, as her baby slept the entire time I was there.  Were it not for her having had a baby 10 days prior and being exhausted, it would have felt like a few friends chatting over coffee on a gloomy morning.  It was still, quiet, and dark, and she shared with me the amazing story of her birth, which was unique, and of her first days as a mother, as all postpartum periods, beautiful but a little sad, as her challenges would pull at the heartstrings of any mom, remembering the challenges of the first weeks with a baby, and thinking of the things she is going through.

Many LLL Leaders don’t do many home visits compared to the meetings we run and phone calls we do, and I’ve done only a few, when I really felt I could sacrifice the time away from my home and work and family.  We ARE volunteers, after all.  Paid lactation consultants probably do more home visits, I’d wager.

I will have been a La Leche League leader for five years this August.  To become one, a mother must have nursed at least one child for a year before applying and then completed coursework in lactation support.

We run our LLL Meetings—support groups for women who are pregnant, nursing, pumping, have nursed—in which they can share what worked for them and get support and information for whatever they may be going through.  I’ve always run the Working Mother’s group, since becoming a part of LLL.

The vast, vast majority of the issues women face can be worked through with the correct information about how to latch a baby, how to maintain milk supply, how to nurse while working, what a certain type of discomfort or pain is indicative of, and etc.  So many problems moms face—while you might not call them myths—are problems that are fixed with correct information and not accepting that breastfeeding just isn’t in the cards.

Working with a mom that so wants to feed her baby this way, and seeing how empowered she is when she gets the right information she needed to attain her goal when she may have thought it impossible—it’s rewarding, it’s heartwarming, it’s fulfilling.  It’s drawing upon the ages old model of women lovingly supporting women through pregnancy, birth and motherhood—a model that is somewhat lost upon a large population in our modern day culture. 

While the meetings I’ve run are one part social gathering, one part support group and one part information session from a trained lactation professional, and are incredibly rewarding and helpful to mothers all by themselves—the much more rare “home visit” as a volunteer is…. sacred.

Recently this friend and kindred spirit and 10 day old new mother—whom I hadn’t seen in… oh, 13 years probably, (ah social networking does do a few good things!) very much needed some contact from a friend, a fellow mom and a lactation professional all at the same time.  Interestingly enough, I recently moved to be only 15 minutes away from where she lives.

This little baby was stuck, head up, somewhere in the mother’s abdomen or rib cage (I’m not a doctor and am retelling a story that isn’t mine, so won’t attempt serious details).  She hadn’t been moving much, the pregnant belly seemed to not look perfectly round and things just didn’t feel as they should.  The first induction wasn’t doing anything at all—no contractions, no water breaking, no dilation.  Luckily, she was sent home to rest.  She went to a chiropractor who adjusted her pelvis (and said it was very needed) and I believe she said she felt immediate relief and by that night her stomach looked normal and she was free of some of the odd pains that had plagued her last weeks of pregnancy.  She went back to the hospital and was induced, resulting in a successful vaginal delivery but some tough pushing.  The baby was visibly bruised, had broken blood vessels and some birth trauma.

What does this have to do with breastfeeding?  Or my work as a lactation professional?  I already knew there was more to the story than just baby wasn’t latching well, or gaining well, or mother was in pain, or the many common issues dealt with.  When a mom says her baby is adamantly *refusing* to breastfeed, you have to get the details.

I told her to start at the beginning, with the birth, before we even discussed breastfeeding.

Not only did the child have some birth trauma—she rejected the breast from day one, from feeding one.  This isn’t usually the case, by a long shot.  Even a baby having a hard time latching is typically pretty excited about being fed.

This already puts this story as one I must really listen to to understand what this baby is telling her mother, and not just give the usual advice about how to latch a baby onto a breast.  Not only was the baby not wanting to feed—which I personally feel was probably due to shoulder and neck pain from the position she was stuck in in utero or the birth—but a nurse, probably using a method that may have worked just fine with another baby—was pushing the baby to the breast.  I wasn’t there, and so I’m not criticizing what may or may not happened—but according to the mother, the baby was being forcefully pushed towards her breast and it was decidedly NOT working, making the baby more and more upset.

A calm baby with no stress, no pain from birth trauma, can be encouraged to latch quickly and firmly, probably without it harming her feelings toward breastfeeding.  Babies can be pretty adamant and voracious in trying to find the nipple, actually.  And thus, I think that if a baby is crying and refusing the breast from day 1, before so much as a bottle has even been introduced, we absolutely must listen to what the baby is telling us, and listen to the mother’s intuition.

This mother may get all types of advice from well-meaning friends, some encouraging breastfeeding, some not—but few understanding what this motherbaby pair is dealing with.  I spent my time listening to her, rather than the usual observing nursing and giving pointers.

I reassured her that any and all of the things she has or is beginning to deal with—engorgement, pumping, a little nipple confusion, possible reflux or food intolerance—each and every one of those things are difficult for a mom without her unique story. 

I told her that were this to be my fourth child– three times I’ve nursed a baby—and with all that experience, this would be hard, and challenging, and would take all my strength to stay calm and continue to work for the breastfeeding relationship I thought I would have, but that is just not working at this time.

The baby still refuses the breast, but is eating by bottle and is sleeping well.  This is not a baby that one can just give a few tips to the mother and will get over a bit of latch issue or nipple confusion in a week.

The look of gratitude on her face when I told her the number one rule, above all this stuff to try to make breastfeeding work, is FEED the BABY.  A tired, hungry, spent baby cannot learn to breastfeed.  So whether it is with SNS, cup, syringe, bottle or breast, FEED the baby.  The nipple confusion and latch issues from bottle feeding can be dealt with— the baby will get older, stronger and bigger.  My friend feels that “breast is best” but that no one can understand her baby’s outright refusal, often with screaming, to breastfeed. 

She must simply get her little girl comfortable with being around the breast, not even feeding from it at first, and must address any shoulder or neck pain that there may be.  Her plan may be to take the baby to a chiropractor or cranio-sacral therapist.  I have heard story after story, since becoming a mother, of colicky, unhappy little ones that are like night and day after some neck/spinal adjustment, probably because they are feeling some type of pain from the birth that they cannot tell us about in words.

If she addresses any underlying causes, gets the baby comfortable with that area of her body again, THEN she can begin seeing if she baby will latch well and deal with any nipple preference to the bottle.

A mother in this situation may look into skin-to-skin contact, rebirthing, and babywearing.  She may attempt breastfeeding in the tub, or when the baby is night feeding or waking up and its instincts are at its strongest. 

The look on her face when I told her a baby with this history may be looking at weeks, not days…. A few months, maybe not weeks… before breastfeeding happily was not one of worry over the time frame, but relief that she didn’t have to have this all figured out and fixed RIGHT now.

Usually, the earlier the baby gets to breast the better to set the nursing relationship off.  But this is not the usual case, at all.  Anything else can be dealt with, but this baby needs to heal, and her mother needs to know that she was thrown a tough deal and not to judge herself on the standards of other births, other babies and other mothers.  Of course, this *should* be our society’s standard attitude toward any mother, but we all know that isn’t the case.  Even among breastfeeding advocates such as myself, I think the extremity of this little one’s situation might be met with some skepticism.

We have lost the art of storytelling, of listening to another’s story and putting ourselves in their shoes, and then of sitting back without judgment to reflect. 

I don’t know if this baby will breastfeed.  I don’t know if the mom will pump for a year, quit pumping, get the baby to breast.  I can’t tell.  I think it is entirely possible she gets the baby to breast, but the baby will need a lot of support along the way.  It will be one amazing crash course is perseverance, to say the least.  But most importantly, the mom and baby (and dad) should feel good about their experience and their choices.  They are all doing their best.  I think that with quiet little steps, over time, little by little, she may be able to reach some of her goals.

In my official role as a lactation professional, I want this mom to succeed in her goals that she originally had, which were something like breastfeeding for a year or so—pretty normal.  But it is also completely a part of my role to know when to tell her that her situation was unique and hard and remind her that her and her baby are making up their own story, and it’s not going to be the same as some of the other stories we might have wanted it to be.  We all want uncomplicated births and easy first years with our babies, and we all know life hardly ever works that way.

The baby is loved and the mom is balancing what she wants to happen with what she can make happen and making peace with the rest.  Which is basically all parenting really is anyhow.  

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Yesterday Darius and I left the house for the first time, aside from picking up my oldest from school one day but not getting out of the car.

We had our 2-week appointments at the birth center where he was born.  He’s gained over a pound which is pretty cool, and I’m doing fine too.  The drive is over an hour away and I was nervous about it.

I’ve been content to just Babymoon,since it’s my third time doing this and I’m at a place in my life as a mother where I can just enjoy the baby stuff and not really want to rush it, even though feeding and holding a baby 24/7 can still be overwhelming at times.

But being nervous about the drive is part of the reason I haven’t gone anywhere.  Ada had such a hard start in life and a difficult time in cars even up to 18 months or 2 years old, though it got a lot better after she turned a year.

I told the midwife yesterday that in some ways it’s like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I doubt I’m the only parent that has had a colicky– difficult– high needs– food allergic/in pain– whatever phrase you want to use– I doubt I’m the only parent that is holding their breath waiting for the next baby to get fussy and cry all the time too.

But Darius nurses well, and sleeps well (in my arms mostly, at this point) and is mostly content, most of the time.  

I’d say that this time I feel like a ‘seasoned’ mother.  I’ve had the lack of sleep, the nursing all the time, the holding all the time.  And I’m okay with it.

When you have a child in first grade, sleeping on their own, able to get their own snacks, able to ask you abstract questions about the world— holding a baby all day for three months or so and feeding him 12 times a day really *doesn’t* seem like such a big deal.

Yesterday when we drove home, it took two hours.  We had to stop twice because he was crying.  But eventually he nursed twice and wore himself out (and filled a few diapers!) and slept and we got home.

With my first kid I would have thought this was just totally exhausting.  But with him my husband and I both are simply just willing to stop, take care of him, and be patient as we make our way home.

The little rascal nursed for two solid hours when we got home and protested if he thought I was setting him down for a second.  I would have found that overwhelming with my oldest, but now it doesn’t bother me.  And I plan on holding him all day today too, to make up for his upset yesterday.

At a group I run for nursing and working mothers, I see a lot of new moms.

Many come in with the common concerns, the worries about the things they’ve been told.

“If I don’t put him down now he’ll never want to be put down.”

“My mom says I’m spoiling him.”

“I *can’t* nurse him this many times in a day!”

“I HAVE to put him down while he sleeps but he just wakes up!”

It’s true that I found those things hard the first time.  And it’s true that when people told me holding my first and nursing her and letting her co-sleep will not make her need me more I wasn’t sure I believed them, but I followed my heart on how I wanted to mother her. 

It’s true that when people told me children are young for such a short time and to try to cherish it, it didn’t help me at all.  It didn’t help me not feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

And now I know that’s very true, and yet when I say it to new moms I meet, I can tell they feel like I did back then.  So I’m not sure what the perfect thing to say to the new mom is, but I know now as an experienced mother none of this baby stuff bothers me at all.  He can need me all he wants and I won’t care.  With my first her needs were very very overwhelming.

At the same time, I knew where I stood in my attitude about how I wanted to mother without needing to read any books or anything.  When people told me *not* to hold her so much, or co-sleep, or that if I nurse past a year she’ll “never” stop (which is a ridiculous exaggeration seeing as humans live for, oh, 70 years or so) I knew that wasn’t how I saw it, whether or not having a baby for the first time was tough.

In two weeks my husband is going back to work and Darius will have to get in the car on his older sister’s school schedule, I’ll have to start working at my business and deliver cupcakes a few times a week again soon and he will have to adjust.  Fortunately he’ll naturally want to be put down more as he gets more involved in the world, but either way, life is going to keep moving along.

I do wish those first-time moms I see that don’t want to hold or nurse their babies as much as their babies want it could see it–how fast the time will go– but I couldn’t either.  

And you can certainly read all the reasons why caring for a baby this way is beneficial to both mom and baby, and that helped me some when I was a younger mom.

The research about how stress hormones are released when a baby is left to cry that makes the baby react poorly to stress even as an adult, or how a baby left to cry cries much more often than a baby whose needs are met (so basically, leaving the baby to cry for long periods is like making the cycle worse and shooting yourself in the foot).

Understanding the mechanics of breastfeeding helped me too– that babies will nurse more during growth spurts and milestones and regulate the mother’s supply for all kinds of beneficial reasons, so feeding on demand and not on a schedule is also good for both.

Now I just don’t need any of the knowledge to be happy just holding him and feeding him.

As far as waiting for the other shoe to drop– waiting for an awful night of crying and pacing the halls until 3 a.m. or something, I figure if that happens it happens and I can’t change it now!

You never know what curveballs babies (and life) will throw you.  I certainly didn’t know anything about gluten or colicky babies before my middle child.  Or over-active milk ducts before my first. So I’m sure that whatever little Darius throws at me to make the next year or two tough is something I can’t even predict anyway!

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Another safe birth and healthy baby are miracles that not many people take for granted. Maybe that’s why so many of us want to hear each other’s birth stories and so many of us are happy to share them. I’ve had a few people ask for Darius’ birth story and I’ve always written them down for me to look back at anyway.

This year in particular I feel especially grateful. I’ve had 4 friends in the past few years lose children before, during and after birth, in the first year of life. I don’t think anyone can understand that pain unless you’ve lived it– I certainly can’t– but to have a third guy here, born, healthy while I recover quickly– it’s nothing short of the best thing that can happen to a family, really and truly. We can never underestimate what a gift it is.

Darius’ birth was indeed quite different from my first two. Births are so similar in some ways, and yet all the little details make them different.

You can never believe you aren’t going to have to face a birth again (at least I never can!) and then after you’ve done it… after you’ve faced the pain and pushed a 7 pound human being out of your body– you can hardly believe that you did do it.

My oldest was born in a very typical hospital setting, the only thing saving me from many of the interventions I didn’t want being my educating myself, having a doula and the big one— having a complete surprise of a super fast labor and having her 20 minutes after I arrive. It was the exact mad dash rush to the hospital that I assured my husband only happens in the movies, and not to worry.

The second, I knew I wanted another natural birth and I knew I didn’t want it to be at a hospital, so I traveled about an hour and a half to a birth center in Chapel Hill, NC, staffed by midwives and yet five minutes away from UNC-Chapel Hill’s hospital– my impression being that it is a much baby friendlier place than the hospital where I live.

That baby was *also* born 20 minutes after I arrived. Sheesh.

So this time our hope was for me not to be in transition– right in the throes of serious labor pain that will lead to pushing– in a car. Nearly identical to my second birth, I woke up on a Sunday morning having contractions, timed a few, and just knew I was going into labor. Unlike that birth though, my labor all but stopped while I was in the car. That birth it progressed and progressed and that ride I was coping with contractions the entire time.

This third birth my contractions slowed but were expected to pick up once we arrived. When a mother is in an unnatural or unsafe place to give birth, her labor will either speed up or slow down, according to what her body thinks is safest.

If my water hadn’t broken on its own, we probably would have gone home and called it a false start. After 3 hours and about three miles of walking around the birth center, the midwife advised I either go somewhere and rest and see if labor kicks in or augment the labor with black and blue cohosh and belly binding. I want to find more information on belly binding to share with you all, but so far preliminary searching comes up with postpartum belling binding.

It was en entirely different experience for me… the walking around, the attempting to make labor keep going. It wasn’t anything I had ever, ever, ever had to consider with my other births– the births that started like freight trains and kind of left me dazed and pushing as fast as my husband could get me to the right place!

I decided to send my kids home with my mother and “augment” the labor. Of course, if I were at a hospital with a doctor that would be done with Pitocin, a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, which will indeed interfere with a woman’s natural oxytocin after birth and doesn’t allow for breaks for the mother and the rhythm of natural labor. Sarah J. Buckley’s research on how pitocin affects our natural hormones is pretty interesting– I saw her speak on it several years ago at a birth conference.

But belly binding, though I’d only vaguely heard of it, seemed like an acceptable thing, and since my water was broken, I really had no desire to go and rest. At least my desire to go and rest was overshadowed by my desire to have the labor start for real. I kind of just wanted to have him! I can see now why women do choose interventions because once your water is broken its a tad frustrating that labor isn’t really kicking in. Had I had a homebirth, I bet my body would have acted differently, or at least, taking a nap wouldn’t have mattered. Either way, the belly binding seemed natural enough to fit into my comfort level of letting nature take it’s course while in labor. The contractions and water breaking happened spontaneously– when the little boy was ready.

They tied a sheet around my tummy as I lifted it, which pushes the baby downward and increases the pressure on my pelvis and thus the contractions. We decided to go to Whole Foods and pick up some gluten-free meals for me to eat after the birth, since it had become apparent that he would be born at night and not in the morning when we arrived– it was about 4 p.m. at this point, and we’d arrived at the birth center at 11:30 a.m.

First we went upstairs to the Birth Center’s boutique where I bought a nice nursing bra with a gift card that a guy who fell off his motorcycle in front of my house gave me. I’ll be he had no idea what I’d spend it on! Labor was picking up again directly after the belly wrapping. We then started to Whole Foods and by the time we got there I knew– it was going to happen soon.

I may have started to cry a bit and asked my husband why my body seems to think I have to be in a car or at a public store when labor starts to get painful??? Labor picked up for me or continued at Wal-Mart, a restaurant getting Azita food with the second, and now at Whole Foods. He ran in and got the food and I continued to freak out and tell him to get me back to the birth center ASAP. It was only 5 minutes away.

We got back and I told the midwife I was officially in pain. She checked me and I’d moved to 5 cm dilated, which is about what I felt like. She wanted to start the bath so that I could finally make it in time for a water birth, and with my history of fast labors, I’m glad she did– though at the time I– once again, even being the one in the middle of painful contractions– didn’t seem to realize just how close I was.

She put me in the shower, which always helps the pain, while she filled the bath.

I was in the bath for about an hour before he was born. In all I went from 5 cm to birth in about an hour and a half. He was born at 6:20.

It was an entirely different thing this time, being at the birth center, focusing on labor, letting it come while not at my house. The last hour of his birth was incredibly serene, actually, though during contractions my insides and head felt pretty tumultuous.

In between contractions I just soaked in the tub, holding my husband’s hands and almost… sleeping? Zoning out? I’m not sure but it was very, very quiet and the lights were low. During contractions I breathed very heavily, stared at my husband while he tried to keep me from hyper-ventilating, wished that my hands and legs hadn’t gone numb and wondered how many more of these contractions I could take.

About 45 minutes in the tub and the midwife told my husband that my contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart when he asked, and yet she told me it could be any contraction now that he descends down and my body starts to naturally push.

I freaked out inside— thinking that my contractions needed to be every 1-2 minutes… and yet, just a few contractions later, down he went and the huge climax that is birth was happening. Lord have mercy, what woman experience with a natural birth. Oy, how it felt when he descended into the birth canal. It’s indescribable. I started flailing around and trying to change positions, I don’t know what I was trying to do. Squat, maybe. But between the midwife and my husband I just did what they said– somehow willing myself that if I’d just calm down and push the pain would stop.

I screamed through a huge push, and through another, and out he came. It was the only birth where no one told me to stop screaming— perhaps this was because I was yelling while pushing, not stagnating. I’ve never screamed the “f” word and pushed out a baby at the same time. First time for everything.

When they handed him to me I was in disbelief– more than the girls, I don’t know why— that he was out. I kept repeating “I don’t believe it.” I guess because this time it was an all day process, and also because I’d again convinced myself that it was going to be several more hours when the midwife said my contractions were 3-4 minutes.

But I finally got my calm, peaceful water birth. I didn’t tear at all this time and am recovering well… a world of difference from my first birth, which included third degree tears and passing out from blood loss several hours after the birth.

The funniest thing this time I was that I wrenched my calf and thigh muscle flailing around when he descended down, and that hurt about as much this week as the birth-recovery part!

I got out of the tub, made it into the bed, and have pretty much been nursing or holding him ever since. We got home that night about 2 a.m.

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Sometimes you know as you tell people things over and over that you may end up being wrong. I was totally sure that our third kiddo, Darius, was going to come around his due date.

I was already the weight I was when I delivered my older girls at 38 weeks but I thought that was because Darius was going to be bigger. I felt overly exhausted the last few weeks and kept getting lots of false little labor starts where I’d time contractions but with this third pregnancy, I felt every twinge and ache and pain more and that is supposed to be normal as your ab muscles get tired of being stretched yet again. He was measuring spot on for the amount of weeks he was, and fortunately he wasn’t really “early”, he was just born at 38 weeks and not 40. My other two kids went to 40 weeks so I thought he would too.

I’m happy he didn’t. It’s so much more fun getting all the birth-recovery stuff and engorgement out of the way while staring at a newborn little baby than being pregnant this week. And to know that labor pain and another natural birth and all the “what ifs” that not knowing how labor will go are behind me, I’m quite happy he’s already here.

Every time I said to someone “Oh I’ve still got a few weeks, he’s going to way until his due date” I kind of thought maybe he’d prove me wrong.

I can hardly compare this first week with him to the first week with my other girls. My husband is home this time. He knows how to handle babies. *I* know how to handle babies. My first few weeks with my first were entirely overwhelming and incredibly difficult, but this time I’ve been through the sleeping in two hour blocks, the breastfeeding stuff, the after birth stuff. And there are parts of it that are still pretty miserable, but this time I am just hanging out, nursing through the worst engorgement of all three kids, resting as my husband is home and cooking and cleaning (sort of!) and I have, since my first kid, acquired the ability to nurse and change a baby and go right on back to sleep.

What’s amazing is I have a great situation this time and I’m still pretty exhausted, so I know from previous babies how good this week has been.

I’m afraid to jinx anything of course, but Darius is a very laid back kid so far. I have over-active milk ducts, and make lots and lots and lots of milk, and my other girls did not handle it well– projectile spit-up is loads of fun.

But he is a nursing champ, and has only lost 2 ounces of his birth weight. Because he seems to handle the high volume of milk, I think he will gain weight quite differently from the girls that struggled for several months with my supply.

Being gluten-free may be helping that too. Ada’s vomiting was always related to gluten in *addition* to the fire-hydrant-boob syndrome. I don’t want to mess up the sleep I’m getting, and he’s starting to spit up a bit more, so I’m staying dairy and coffee free along with the gluten for now.

Either way, it’s been a good first week. Darius sleeps, and eats. And sleeps and eats. And with his dad around he’s been sleeping on him as well as me. We kind of hope since he’s able to be home with us this time, Darius won’t be so rigid in his sleeping needs as the girls, who pretty much had to have me. Of course, I’m never not there for him either, but it just can’t hurt that he’s got us both around for a bit.

He’s stayed awake for tiny little amounts of time more this week than last, but the girls can’t wait for him to just be awake and be someone they can play with. Azita is always overjoyed when his eyes are actually open! It’s kind of funny.

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How much Halloween?

Each holiday season I am faced with considering how much of a certain holiday I want my kids to participate in.  I have friends whose involvement in ever-pervasive Halloween, Easter or Christmas American traditions ranges from none at all to full acceptance of every bit of it all– candy, stories that have not much to do with the origins or religion of the holiday, etc.

I guess I end up analyzing things each year for a few different reasons.

Some of it has to do with the fact that these holidays are incredibly secularized… Americanized… materialistic… and have little to do with any religion origins, whereas I have religious Holy Days and holidays that I want to emphasize to my children that do differ from the majority of holidays we celebrate here in the U.S. that are/were determined by Christianity.

If I celebrate something, I want to give respect to the religious tradition is sprang forth from.  I’m pretty inclusionary, however, so it doesn’t bother me for my children to participate and learn about the traditions of many different religions– it’s just that the hardest part of that is emphasizing the virtues and Baha’i celebrations when their friends and school overwhelmingly emphasize and celebrate other hoildays.

So part of me feels torn b/c I feel the need to explain to my kids the origin of what we are doing… not just send them off on an Easter egg hunt with no understanding of Christianity or springtime pagan rituals.

But right now it’s Halloween time and I also have do deal with the emphasis of candy and food.  And some people think even thinking about not doing it is being way too serious and depriving your kids.  But it’s different for people that are either in the food allergy/intolerance world or simply don’t eat fake stuff.  

We kind of do trick or treating just because everyone else does and its fun and the kids want to do fun stuff that everyone else will be doing.  It’s fun to dress up.  It’s certainly fun to get “treats”.  I haven’t delved into the All Hallow’s Eve, or Celtic and Pagan traditions with them.

I’m somewhere between wanting to teach my kids the holidays I deem more important and accepting that some things have evolved into American traditions, and we participate in them because of that, not so much because of religious reasons.  Certainly fall and harvest and pumpkins and spices are fun to celebrate.  

As far as the fact that our kids don’t each gluten, dairy or artificial colors and flavors, they think the Switch Witch is super cool.  I don’t know if that evolved in the food allergy world or not (but I’d bet that it did) but my kids totally accept that the Switch Witch switches out the candy that is not good for their bodies with good stuff.  I know some people switch it out with toys instead… we’ve done safe candies/treats in much more moderate amounts.  

It would be hard for me to not participate in Halloween at all— children are just so adorable all dressed up. And as much as I don’t like a religious holiday being diluted or the fact that all this candy is just such pure artificial GMO’d junk— I like that the kids walk around and see their neighbors.  Americans have lost so much community.  Fall festivals and traditions can and should be neighborly.  That’s what I like about it, so we just work around the food and other objections, I guess!

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Two and a half months. That’s how long its been since I made a blog post. The past 3 years or so I’ve written tons about food, food allergies, parenting, recipes and anything else I felt about. I don’t think I’ve gone through a time where I spent more than a month without writing though.

During those lulls us blog posts I was sometimes busy writing for the Fayetteville Observer. That always seemed a good excuse– writing pieces for professional publication. But I can’t use that excuse any longer it seems. I could be bummed about that for a second, except that I have much larger things in my life to be bummed about, and other, entirely different endeavours to be happy about.

I’ve put some of that food-energy into baking as more than just a hobby and a way to keep my kiddos happy and treated up, despite the lack of gluten and dairy. And soy and eggs– when you add the family up. Hobby, by the way, means something you started doing while your colicky, gluten intolerant infant was in a baby wrap, inconsolably crying at 11 p.m.
I had no idea that those night-time moments when I was trying out new gluten-free flours…. Mixing brown rice flour and millet flour and guar gum, in order to try to copy wheat bread and chase the colicky crying and rashes away would become a small business venture.
I had no idea that when my father-in-law passed away, and anyone would have understood my *not* dropping off three dozen cupcakes to the local health food store, the Apple Crate, two days after, that I would happily mix and stir and ice (icing—that is the really fun, and annoyingly messy, part) and make those cupcakes while taking my mind off the awfulness of the days and weeks before it.
And so here I am. Not writing. Mourning, but more importantly, loving a mourning husband. And baking. Never in a million years could I have predicted this month at this time last year. But I saw and felt it all coming about mid-November. I remember remarking to my husband that I felt like it was going to be a long and emotional holiday season—and at the time I thought I was only talking about our almost 3-year-old’s upcoming surgery.

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I am hardly the first person to blog about cashew cream. If you search, you’ll find lots of hits. Some just instruct to blend the cashew with water. Others call it ‘Cashew Sour Cream’ and add lemon juice, salt, and apple cider vinegar.

I used to add just lemon juice and salt, and it’s good, but the combination of vinegar with lemon juice helps give it the bite that is dairy-ish.

Last time I added dill as well, and it was too tangy for Payman’s taste but I loved it. I like tang. What can I say.

Next time I make it savory, (and that tart), I am going to add garlic and cucumber to make a dip like tsatiki sauce. That was always one of my favorite sauces, but obviously yogurt/dairy based.

The important things if you are going to make cashew cream:

The cashews must be raw. Roasted won’t do it.

You can get raw cashews for about $6 a pound at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. We don’t have access to those here where I live, and the raw cashews are a bit more expensive locally, unless you can shop on Post. I order mine online. You can order them in bulk from different places– I actually just used Amazon the last time. I got 10 pounds and store them in the freezer. It’s been about two months and I make cashew cream pretty regularly.

People often worry that dairy and gluten free replacements cost too much. I use about a cup or two of cashews at a time, which is not a whole pound, and that makes a few cups of cream. Sorry I’m not more specific. I’ve never been into measurements. I like to wing it. Either way, I don’t think it’s more expensive than any decent quality dairy, and cheaper than organic I’d bet.

After you’ve soaked your cashews, rinse them with fresh water and put into a blender. One to four with the water will make a thicker cream, and one to two with the water makes a thicker cream, i.e. 1/4 cup of water to 2 cups of cashews, or 1/2 cup of water to 2 cups of cashews.

The cashews will plump up while soaking and make also get small purplish streaks. This is normal.

Blend up the cashews with a pinch of sea salt, the juice of one lemon and and a dash of apple cider vinegar. This makes it a tad sour, giving the dairy-ish-ness. Then taste it and see if you like it more sour. I use more than this when I’m not worried about what my husband would prefer. Haha.

Or, put a dash of vanilla and a few tablespoons of honey or maple syrup.

Now, if you don’t have a really high speed blender you may have to use more water instead of less. The cream will definitely thicken up in the fridge though, so if you want it thick, don’t fret.

I’d love to have a vitamix or a blendtec, but I’ve got a medium priced– more than $40 but less than $100– Cuisinart that does the job okay. You could probably do this in a food processor too. As this blender has gotten older and the blades duller, I’ve had to add more water to get all the cashews blended.

No matter how good your appliances, the end product would very very doubtfully be *bad*. I just couldn’t see it.

I also recently made a dairy, egg, and soy free potato salad by mixing up cashew cream with soy free veganaise.

This is my cashew cream musings. If you make it and have a different experiance or just something to add, please do!

If you didn’t see my last post, take a look, and then imagine that I made the cashew cream with raw cacao powder and maple syrup over the raspberries a few days ago!

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