Friday, December 07, 2007

Ready for a dunking

I received my first moleskine for Christmas. It wasn't marked a gift so I opened it already, oops. I'd try to be sorrier if this didn't mean I can use it to take my research notes home with me.

My last research notebook was pretty but didn't stand up to the kind of hard usage I'm known for: every kind of bag, taking notes while pumping milk, a weekend under the car seat before it gets refound, reviewing the contents in the bathtub... I think this one will. I've wanted one ever since I saw Nathan's, but didn't dream they were reasonable until Michelle's post.

Just to prove I'm ready for the other sort of dunking she mentions, I also took a photo of the tea area Matt recently set up for me. (Look how lost his poor little coffee pot looks!) Wish it was this clean now!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Toddler fears

Thomas is starting to be afraid of things. It's interesting to see the logic and survival advantage of some of his fears -- and the random insanity of others.

A while back I worried on here about how to get him not to touch the radiators. He put his hand on one accidentally a couple days after they came on, just for a second. He wasn't burned, but he was frightened. Now, about twenty times a day, he points at the radiator in whatever room he's in and says, "AAAA!", looking at us. We say, "Yes, that's hot. It's a radiator. We shouldn't touch it," and he confirms this: "AAA!" Very seriously. Like he wants to make sure we know to watch out for that thing. It's scary, mama. Don't touch it. Occasionally he wobbles unsteadily from room to room, pointing out each of the radiators in turn: "AAAA!" Good survival fear, right?

On the other hand, about two weeks ago he was starting to get pretty dry overnight in his room and the cheapo humidifier I bought last winter wasn't cutting it. Matt did a ton of research and bought him a nice one online. Warm mist, automatic something, humid-de-whatsit, and a lot of other nice buzzwords. It really is great. (I want one for our room now.) But the first time we set it up we set the humidity setting wrong somehow and instead of shutting off when it got to 40 percent humidity or whatever we thought we'd set it at, it just kept going. It humidified at an alarming rate! In fact the warm mist condensed on the ceiling and ran across it, where it dripped all over the room.

Naturally, sleeping in a tropical rain forest (recall that it was also 85 degrees) came as a surprise to Thomas. He woke up and one of us retrieved him to go back to sleep in our bed. This is a normal occurrence so we didn't think much of it. We put him back to bed after he fell asleep and he woke up again. It wasn't till I went into his room to sleep on the floor (he likes this) that I realized I was being rained on. Then I noticed that Thomas's bed, being under the runoff zone for the aforementioned ceiling-river, was very wet. At that point we adjourned to the adult bedroom for the rest of the night.

Now, ever since that night Thomas has been ambivalent about sleeping in his crib. He'd rather sleep on the mattress on the floor of his room (if he can't have our bed, that is). We're thinking about taking the crib out for good and letting him have his bed on the floor for a trial and see how it goes. But that wasn't the point of this post, was it? No.

The point of the post was the next day, when I tried to put Thomas down for a nap, he suddenly started screaming. I couldn't figure out what was wrong and I pulled out all my normal mama tricks to reassure him, but it just wasn't working. Suddenly I realized he wasn't just screaming, he was screaming at something, something in his crib. It was a stuffed gazelle, part of the mobile that hangs over his bed. I picked it up. He wailed and pointed at it. I offered it to him, gently (this is how we've been handling new fears -- occasionally he just takes the thing and stops being afraid of it). He pulled his hand away. I had to take it away and hide it. Then put him back to sleep. I told Matt I thought it had fallen into his bed when the water was dripping all over him. Maybe it hit him, or maybe he blames it for his bad night. Totemic magic or something.

Ever since then, whenever he sees the gazelle he freaks out. But he's also obsessed with it. I can't just take it away, because he follows me and tries to find it. He wants to keep it in sight. Even the week we spent in San Diego didn't make him forget: Friday I accidentally left it somewhere he could see it, and when I tried to hide it in our closet he climbed on the bed and kept pointing at the closet and shrieking. Finally I had to take it out while he was watching, carry it to the front door, call him over, open both doors to the outside, and heave it into the front yard, locking the doors firmly behind it. Then I told Thomas it had gone away, and let him look out the window to (not) see it.

I brought it back in when he wasn't looking and took it to the basement to wash and store it. It accidentally got brought back up and Thomas found it again yesterday. We had to give it the same treatment. Beware the stuffed gazelle!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Self-indulgence or self-care?

Well, Thomas's heart looks good, but not quite as good as last time. His cardiologist is being cautious and didn't take any medicines away. Luckily Thomas really likes his medicines.

As anyone who's been a Ph.D. student or a mom, not to mention both, will know, I've been a little frazzled lately. Between the job market, the dissertation, the toddler, and the inevitable householdish tasks (which I hate, can I stop living in our world now and go live in one where things Just Work? where you don't have to call the insurance companies to find out why they both refused a bill they're both responsible for and the landlord's gas doesn't get shut off, so the dryer has heat?), I've been walking the thin line between sanity and... well, we all know what's on the other side of that line.

Friday I had an icky day, nothing major, just no end to the minor frustrations, together with the continual major frustration of knowing I was within a couple hours of having that draft ready--a couple hours I didn't have! Matt brought me home some dried apricots and chocolate covered almonds. I'm embarrassed to record here for posterity how many there were, but I will admit I finished them all by Monday.

Today was another yucky day. I was a little disappointed in the cardiology result (he's doing so well, clinically speaking). Worse, Thomas was terrified when they put the electrodes on him to do his EKG today. He's always loved cardiology appointments in the past -- they are a children's hospital, so there are lots of kids and everybody makes a huge fuss over him. But now he is a toddler and suddenly scared of things. The electrodes scared him so then he didn't want anybody to touch him the rest of the day. Except me, thankfully. His cardiologist is great -- knows this age and his personality and was very gentle and talked to him respectfully -- and once everybody else left he did reluctantly let her examine him and even smiled at her. And she is not worried about the echo results so I won't worry either -- at least this is what I keep telling everyone and myself. I miss Amy.

So tonight, between pushing myself so hard lately and this unfortunate day and no caffeine all day -- I was too busy to make tea this morning and had neither cash nor time to get anything at the hospital -- I was drained by the time Matt got home. He sent me to bed. ("Go lie down!" is something you can usually only get away with saying to your dog.) I made myself a cup of chai with milk and more sugar than I usually put in a whole pot, and lay down to reread one of my theological fantasy books.

That got me started thinking -- what is the line between self-care and self-indulgence? Does it only start to be self-indulgent if you aren't grateful?

I'm grateful. And I'm also grateful for this time right now, which I'm using to upload three whole months (yikes!) worth of pictures, mostly of Thomas, to our gallery. Since there were so many, there are updates in a bunch of different albums -- it's like a scavenger hunt! Enjoy.

Oh, I forgot to mention my brush with fame in one of my favorite blogs. What extraordinary talent or quality of learning does my newfound (and no doubt shortlived) notoriety rest on, you ask? Why, knowledge of outdated internet memes, of course!

I live to serve the internet.

i think i did it...

First three chapters. To advisor. That's a hundred and [mumbles] some pages.

Hopefully I can do my mid-course review now!

I was so proud of myself I let myself play two hours of the Sims 2 Pets. I was so messed up in the head by the end of that that I decided to make a couple roommates who fall in love the first day who are all dressed up to match their dogs. The guy has whiskers on his face, like Halloween makeup. They're going to be dog breeders. What a weird family.

Now I'm really, really tired. But I did it! Maybe tomorrow I'll try to reflect on where I am now. But now, too brain dead. Sleep. Good night.

Oh! I take Thomas to the cardiologist tomorrow. Prayers for reduction of medicines are rising like incense...

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Thomas took an anti-nap last night. He woke up about 12:15. I nursed him back to sleep and he woke up as soon as I set him down. I cuddled him back to sleep and he woke up as soon as Matt put him down. Matt rocked him back to sleep. Et cetera.

He ended up staying up 3.5 hours, having his diaper changed, getting an extra snack, going to the bathroom, playing with his toys, and just generally causing mayhem and having a grand time. Matt stayed up with him and I went to bed, and eventually fell asleep again, which is good because I have an observation this morning.

I'm so hoping this won't become a habit.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

With the beautiful people

I have a job interview (!) at this year's AAR so I had to go get a suit. There's a seven-floor (!) Macy's one block from Thomas's daycare so I went after I dropped him off. I can't believe how many kinds of clothes one can buy, if one is so inclined. I wasn't. But I did get a nice outfit for my interview. And although it took several hours, it seemed less tedious than shopping usually does. I guess I must be excited about this job opportunity! Plus where the beautiful people shop (Water Tower Place), all the salespeople are always there to answer all your questions, tell you the jacket's too big and whisk in 60 seconds later with the three next smaller sizes. It's partly flattering and partly unnerving.

Where the beautiful people shop? They have a wide selection of 32DD bras. Wow.

Now back to the dissertation.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Another barley risotto recipe

Tonight I made a particularly good recipe. Should be baby-friendly if the baby has had most of the ingredients. All the meat and vegetables were organic, and local if I could find them. I'm getting a little better.

Bison Barley Risotto: (makes two extremely generous adult portions and enough baby food for about 4 toddler meals)

1 lb ground bison (can substitute beef)
2 Tbsp butter
~3 Tbsp minced garlic
1 quart carton of vegetable broth
~1 cup water
~1/2 cup milk
1 cup dry pearled barley
1 zucchini
2 shallots
3 portabello mushroom caps
spices to taste: salt, pepper, thyme, sage, bay leaves, coriander, oregano

1. Melt butter. Add meat and shallots to pan. Brown meat.
2. Add garlic and barley and saute for one minute.
3. Add broth just to cover barley. Add spices. Cook, stirring, until broth is almost evaporated. Add more broth. Continue this process until carton is empty, about 25 minutes.
4. Add zucchini and mushrooms. Cook until soft and barley is desired texture, adding water whenever risotto begins to stick (about 15 minutes).
5. Remove bay leaves. Add milk, remove from heat, stir and let stand for 5 minutes. Puree baby's portion and serve.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy birthday, happy fall

I'm 28 today. Last year at this time I was worrying aloud to Matt over the phone that Thomas's hands and feet were cold and I couldn't warm him up. He was sleepy and didn't want to eat.

Today Thomas is a bit sleepy but was also energetic and single-minded. I don't anticipate a trip to the emergency room or a stay in the ICU, so this year should be better than last year. Now I have something new to worry about: how to keep him from touching the radiators that just came on yesterday and are unexpectedly hot. (It's like a sauna in here. The sunroom is actually the only room at a comfortable temperature, and I have a sleeveless shirt and a skirt on, with bare feet. Thomas is taking a nap in the nude, sans even a diaper.) Anyone know anything about childproofing radiators? Maybe my former nanny will know something. She's coming to babysit tonight.

While visiting Matt's cousin in Texas, I came up with a new, appropriately fall-themed, family recipe. It should be ok for babies 8 months and up.

Chicken, chickpea, and pumpkin stew: (serves four adults plus baby food for approximately 1 week of meals)

1 cup dried chickpeas, washed, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
4 cups low-sodium broth (I recommend Pacific Natural Foods brand low-sodium vegetable or chicken broths, which are much lower in sodium than the average low-sodium broth: I used the vegetable)
2 cups water
5 chicken drumsticks, deskinned (or another cut; dark meat has more iron than white meat)
1 medium pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into large chunks
cinnamon and ginger to taste (I used 5 or so sticks cinnamon and a bunch of ginger)
salt and pepper

Put everything except salt and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil and cook for about one hour or until chickpeas are soft. Debone chicken and take out bones, then return meat to pot. Ladle out baby's portion and puree to the right consistency for your baby. Add salt and pepper to taste to adults' portions and serve. Baby's leftovers can be frozen in ice cube tray.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Baptism and the prayer book

Ouch, what a hiatus.

Yesterday was Thomas's baptismal anniversary. I decided it was past time, already, to print out my evening prayer for parents, babies, and toddlers book. It's an adaptation of evening prayer for families that might not be doing the whole liturgy of the hours but would like to have part of it as their bedtime ritual. So I went by the UPS store on the way back from the doctor's office and Thomas crawled around and charmed the salesperson while they printed the whole darn thing.

Then Dave came over and we all prayed it together, after dinner. Thomas banged on the xylophone for part of the time. It went fairly smoothly. It's definitely a lot easier than flipping through Christian Prayer with people who don't know which bookmark to choose next. I also added a very short patristic reading (a la Office of Readings) and this one was on baptism. I've found a couple of typos and some infelicitous expressions in some of the prayers, even after all my care looking it over. But it's nice. I used it again tonight while nursing Thomas to sleep. He seemed to enjoy it. It's all printed out on card stock now and inserted into the page protectors of a scrapbooking album, so he can't rip the pages up, but I can rotate the psalms and readings easily. I like the setup.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One year old games

I've decided that one-year-olds are cute. At least when they're Thomas.

He's gotten "mamamamama" down. He says it and then he waves at me and grins. Except sometimes he gets it "amma" instead. I'm ok with that -- that's what Indian babies call their moms, I've heard.

His second word was "out." Pronounced "owwwwww... teh." So Matt tells me. He and Thomas were in the back bedroom and Thomas closed the door too hard so he couldn't get it open again (he likes to open and close the doors). Matt says he looked at him very seriously and said "owwwww... teh." So Matt said, "You want to go out?" and Thomas said again, "owwwwww... teh." What a fun "first" word.

Yesterday he invented a new game. I have a pair of drawstring jeans. I hold the string out and wiggle it, saying, "Fishing for baaabies! I'm fishing for baaaabies!" He grabs it between his teeth and I say, "Oooh! I caught one!" He laughs like crazy, letting go, and I say, "Oops, it got away. Fishing for babies!" He liked this so much I had to tuck the strings in eventually to get him to stop grabbing at my legs.

On the other side of my life, I got a proposal accepted for a conference in Germany. Heidelberg, here I come! This is my first accepted proposal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Happy birthday Thomas

Thomas turned one yesterday. We had his party at Lincoln Park Zoo.

I'm so very grateful that he is.

We sang "How Can I Keep from Singing" at his baptismal mass, and I often sang it to him as a lullaby. The last verse has, over the months, become more and more poignant:

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

A fountain ever springing;

All things are mine since I am his&mdash

How can I keep from singing?

Tomorrow, if not tonight, I will be finishing uploading the pictures I have from the party and a backlog of other Thomas pictures in the gallery.

Unfortunately, even in the midst of great joy, there is still great sorrow. Reese will be deeply missed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The best defense is a good offense

Before Thomas was Paci, one of the most pathetic creatures in God's good creation.


She's here pictured in her favorite sleeping spot, a couch Matt and I bought second-hand and have been toting all over the US since 1998. She's loved Thomas from the beginning, despite having her qualms

interspecies relations

about sharing her couch.

Now that Thomas can crawl, stand, cruise, and grab, and has teeth

dentition, at long last

the sofa is no longer a safe space for the dog. Thomas crawls right over there, thumping the ground in his eagerness, pulls up, and grabs her feet, crowing ecstatically. Paci jumps over him off the couch, walks to the other side of the room, and lies down again with an exaggerated sigh. If she's lucky, Thomas gets distracted by something else. Usually (because let's be honest, she's the coolest thing going), he crawls over and starts grabbing at her again.

They have this odd exchange. Thomas will grab at the skin around Paci's face. Paci pulls away, quickly, and then lunges in to try to lick his face. Thomas, laughing, will back up and twist away and, as soon as he's free of her tongue, will turn right back and try to grab her skin. Paci is clearly the only possible loser in this fight, since his attacks actually hurt, but she has a good offensive-defensive strategy right now. I wonder how long she can hold on, while I continue the chorus of, "No, Thomas, don't grab the dog. Don't grab the dog, Thomas. Pet the dog nicely, like this. No, don't grab the dog."

Nope, no deep theological reflection this time. Nothing to see here. Move on.

(Gratuitous photos courtesy of Dave.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Further ruminations on Clare's theology of childhood

The title of this post is perhaps premature, because, while about two-thirds of the way through Clare's dissertation, I haven't yet reached the chapters in which she contributes her own theology systematically. Nonetheless, some of her positions are evident in the way she presents the other material, of course.

One of the distinctions I really admire: she consistently draws attention to the difference between having certain dispositions, feelings, or relationships and being able to express those in a way that satisfies adults. Reading her work has made me reflect on my experiences with Thomas (who is, of course, just one infant and has a unique personality -- which is, actually, precisely the point, to move away from the sense that "infants" are just empty human natures with no real personhood or agency of their own, as Clare points out in her introduction). The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are those virtues which theologians argue are denied to baptized infants until they develop cognitively. Yet it seems to me that, on the natural level, the emotions associated with those virtues (which is not quite the same thing, as I'm aware) are precisely what is characteristic of my experiences relating to my infant.

Maybe I should expand on that a bit further. When I think of faith, I think of the infant's unconditional trust in resigning himself or herself into the care of the people around him or her. The ability to fall peacefully asleep in any other human being's arms. Hope: the infant's capacity for fear is balanced by a disposition to be sensorily comforted. If a baby reacts to pain or discomfort by crying, once soothed, he or she is no longer disturbed by past pain. Love: the first human skills developed, after sucking, are social skills: imitation, eye contact, smiling. Infants don't develop relationships as they gain cognitive skills -- or at least, such development doesn't come from nowhere; they are social beings from the outset.

All these things are natural, not theological -- but that is my point: speaking in terms of human nature, babies, as far as I can see, are most evidently persons. It's hard for me to picture how they have been seen as not-personal sacramental recipients for so long, except by remembering that most theologians, until recently, likely had little contact with pre-verbal infants.

Another thing I'm thinking about, and expecting the dissertation to make any page now because I'm quite clearly deriving it from the reading, is the tragic theological danger involved in turning baptism into a dual theological norm. "Adult baptism is and operates thus; but infant baptism can best be seen as so," seems tremendously fraught with theological peril. It's most clearly seen by examining the in-between period. A seven-year-old who is baptized undergoes a modified version of the RCIA (!), but a six-year-old may be baptized according to the "infant" rite (!). Surely, however, a six-year-old child should profess the creed himself or herself, even if his or her parent's faith is still operative in bringing him or her to the sacrament? And surely no church would accept a seven-year-old without his or her parent's consent?

I'd like to further study this in-between stage of rites. And I have more to say on assumptions about infant baptism, but this was all about questions and reflections. I don't need to get into rants in this post.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Children's presence in the liturgy of the word

Friday afternoons seem appropriate for slightly snarky reactions to serious subjects, and I always find it deeply satisfying to find others incensed by the same things that have been irritating me. Being a professional theologian, a laywoman, and a mother, being incensed is common; feeling vindicated is less common. Today, however... well, I'll quote at length, from the dissertation of a woman who finished her Ph.D. at Notre Dame in 2004. She is speaking of the liturgy of the word during the rite for baptizing an infant.

The introduction to the rite says (paragraph 14)

While the liturgy of the word is being celebrated, it is advisable to remove the children to another place, leaving the mothers and godmothers free to take part in the liturgy of the word, the children being left in the care of other women.

On this Clare Johnson comments:

This is a troubling instruction not only because of its inherently sexist tone, but because it gives the impression that children are welcome to attend only certain portions of the rite of baptism, and those only if they are silent (i.e., are able to conform to notions of "appropriate" or "adult" behavior in the liturgy.) The removal of the baptizand (if the child is disrupting the liturgy with noise or pre-verbal exclamations) from the church during the Liturgy of the Word is a particularly disturbing notion. This instruction reinforces the understanding that the child can receive no benefit from being present to hear the Liturgy of the Word in the ritual of his/her baptism. The needs of the adult members of the congregation in terms of their ability to hear the Liturgy of the Word clearly, take precedence over the possible benefit to the child of being present in the midst of the community into which he/she is being baptized, to hear the Word proclaimed in the context of his/her own baptismal celebration. Even though the child has no cognitive understanding of the words being proclaimed, it is still important that he/she is present when those words are spoken. One learns a language only by being exposed to it. That the child may be deprived of (what may well be) his/her first experience of the Word of God (even though cognitive appropriation of it is unlikely), and deprived of it at the very celebration in which he/she is being incorporated into God's family is a highly inappropriate suggestion, particularly as the only reason for this instruction seems to be to facilitate the comfort of the adult members of the congregation. [Clare Veronica Johnson, "Ex Ore Infantium: The Pre-Rational Child as Subject of Sacramental Action -- Theological, Liturgical, and Canonical Implications", Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2004, p. 149. Emphases mine.]

As very scholarly fury goes, this can hardly be improved upon. Angry scholars take note! I only have a couple of points to underline: one is that I'd eliminate the "possible" in "possible benefit to the child" -- in a sense the only gift a few-weeks old infant seems to be capable of receiving and fully appreciating, in my experience, is this gift of being present in his or her community, and I agree that it should not be denied them in the context of their own initiation into this community! Also Clare's observation that the language of faith is a linguistic ability that is learned through exposure is very telling. I only wish she had elaborated on that point further.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Clare had no children of her own when she wrote her dissertation (and in that light her observations are even more amazing!) and that taking an infant to a liturgical celebration can be stressful. Yet I'm convinced (as, apparently, is Clare) that this is, first of all, not the point (after all, as the instructional material associated with infant baptism seems to forget, this is the child's baptism, not his or her parents'). Moreover, most of the stress, in my case, comes from the majorly adult-centered orientation of even friendly liturgies. I always feel the sense that the only "full, conscious, and active participation" recognized by my fellow worshippers consists in seeing and hearing everything perfectly and doing and saying what everyone else is doing and saying. A little freedom from liturgical conformity, a little hospitality towards infants' behavior (not misbehavior) would go a long way towards encouraging children to become first-language speakers of Christianity.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On two bottles of children's aspirin

The latest thing I've decided to toss for my making space project is two unopened bottles of cherry chewable children's aspirin. These bottles are nearly sacramentals, being the visible sign of a eucatastrophe.

When Thomas was released from Children's Memorial Hospital last year, November 3, he was receiving 22 doses of various oral medications a day. We had a full-page chart just to keep track of which ones he should get when, and plastic bags with the time of day (he had to take them at five different times) with the appropriate syringes inside so we didn't get mixed up, forget one, or give him one twice. One of the medications he was on was aspirin, regimentally, as a blood thinner. He had to take one-half of a chewable children's aspirin tablet once a day, crushed, dissolved in breast milk, and administered with an eyedropper or oral syringe. It was definitely the most time-intensive medicine to administer, although he actually liked the taste, which was something.

At less than $2 a bottle generic, it was definitely his cheapest medication. There are 36 tablets in each bottle, so each one gives 72 doses. 72 days after Thomas got out of the hospital was Sunday, January 14. I went to Walgreens that day to get more aspirin, and bought the three-pack. "He'll be taking these for a long time," I reasoned.

That Friday, January 19, Thomas had a followup with his cardiology team, including a chest x-ray, which they do every January for all their patients, and an echocardiogram. The echo showed heart function just on the low end of normal -- improvement beyond the hopes even of his very optimistic cardiologist. The x-ray tech was a very nice woman; I asked her if I could see the image when she was done (and Thomas was rescued from her chair, which he liked not at all).

When Matt and I saw Thomas's chest x-ray in the emergency room on October 12, we stared at it, silent, stunned and disbelieving. His heart was expanded all the way out to his ribs, and the whole chest cavity was a dull gray cloud.

January 19, though, Thomas's heart was the shapely core of his being, surrounded by a fabulous tree of glowing white blood vessels carrying life out to his whole body. I could hardly be surprised when his cardiologist called me at quarter to ten that night. "I'm sorry to call so late, but I just saw his x-ray," she gushed. "It's so beautiful! Can I put it in my presentation?"

Based on this amazing recovery, Thomas's cardiology team started weaning his drugs, and aspirin was the first to go. Thus, I only used two and a half of the 108 aspirin I bought January 14. Now he's down to two medications and one dietary supplement, some of which they're talking about eliminating at his next visit. And Amy's slide show, to teach the med students at Children's Memorial about cardiology, had a very happy ending.

These two unopened bottles of aspirin are toast. But I'm keeping the open one. I crushed the fourth aspirin in it last week and dissolved it in water to display the first flower Thomas ever brought me. I still have enough in there for 32 more flowers!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today is a very important feast that I usually try to recognize, if only minimally. Three years ago, I was in Rome for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. Today, alas, I am not. But I am working on my dissertation, so I'll take a moment to share writings of these two great apostles on the sacrament that binds the People of God.

From the first letter of Peter:
But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.(1 Peter 3:14-22)

And from the letter to the Colossians (whose authorship is disputed, but may be Paul himself; I am no scripture scholar, but it is a great passage):
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.(Colossians 2:8-17)

Happy feast day.

Edit: I almost forgot to mention that I found the first of these through an interesting (though poorly formatted) online essay on the Fathers' writings on baptism. Here it is.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the breath

In the Roman blessing of the water in a baptismal font, there's a particularly interesting stanza that I'm looking at for my dissertation today. You'll have to pay attention to the emphasis, so read it aloud.

At the very dawn of creation
your Spirit breathed on the waters,
making them the wellspring of all holiness.

When read slowly aloud, "Spirit breathed" comes out big and bold in the middle of those three lines. Reflecting on that has reminded me of one of Thomas's most surprising habits. It's so surprising to me, in fact, that I don't really expect anyone else to believe me, but I'll write about it here anyway.

It started when Thomas was younger, and Matt, of course, noticed it first. I was staying up after Matt and Thomas were in bed to work on my dissertation, and then I'd come to bed around one or two and lie down. Thomas would be sound asleep, but inevitably (Murphy's law, right?) he would wake up just as I fell asleep and want me to pick him up. This seemed to happen every night, but I pretty much assumed it just seemed that way because I was tired.

That is until the night I was crabby and complained to Matt about it (he, unusually, had also woken when I came to bed): "It seems like he always wants to be cuddled and nurse right as I'm falling asleep!" Very matter-of-factly, Matt replied, "Yeah, he does. I've listened when I was awake as you were falling asleep. As soon as your breathing changes and I know you're asleep, he wakes up and cries. I think he recognizes that breathing pattern and it makes him want to cuddle." I stared at him. "Really?" "Sure," he said. "Remember, he knows your breathing from being in the womb. I'm sure he hears it even in his sleep."

Less surprisingly, it works the other way: if Thomas isn't really sure he's tired, but he's cuddling with me and I fall asleep, he does too, especially if he's lying where he can feel my chest rising and falling.

What does all this mean for the Spirit breathing and baptism? Well, the Spirit has always been the "breath" of Christian identity -- the unexamined, but still disciplined (think about swimmers and singers) root of all Christian activity, the foundation of human communication, the mark of life. Baptism, through that little involuntary "catch" of the breath when the water impacts, captures all this and makes it holy. When we become children of God, we come to be attuned to the rhythm of the waters of creation, the breathing of Christ, through his Spirit.

One might say we begin to return to the womb of Christ, to become enfleshed with him, "one body of Christ," as child and mother share one body before the child's birth. When we breathe, when we speak, we use Jesus' breath. When he holds his breath from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, all hold their breath; as one ancient homily has it, "the whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep."

So all the baptized should listen for the rhythm of Christ our Mother's breath. And we'll all keep breathing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Am I making space?

Inspired by Michelle (whose comments here I greatly appreciate), I've been at this throwing-things-away thing for three weeks now. Am I, as I so optimistically named the project, making space?

Externally, probably not so much. It's only five things a week after all. And the number of things I get rid of seems to be inversely proportional to the size of the object under consideration. I threw away a lot of inkless pens, but I could probably have gotten rid of a few dozen more without noticing. On top of that, I'm having a lot of trouble getting things out the door. I've packed up a sizable pile of things to take to SVDP, but haven't managed to get them into the car yet. In the car there's an even larger collection of objects to take somewhere that's been languishing.

I agree with Michelle that the endeavor is symbolic of my spiritual life. And maybe that aspect of it has been the most helpful so far.

At a talk at the conference I attended this week, my advisor advised (ha!) his auditors to get rid of the things in their lives that are "props for an imaginary existence." What kind of an imaginary existence, judging from my rejects, am I (not) living? Well, first of all, it's a scholarly one, but a scholarly life marked by ease. In my imaginary life, I am just about to pick up a bunch of scholarly projects that I've been just about to pick up for the past 6 years of so. Surely this summer is the one in which I'll really become proficient in German. And write 5 papers as well as finishing my dissertation. That'll really be no work at all. In fact, in my spare time, I might just take up a new hobby. One for which I have to purchase plenty of supplies.

I can be scornful of that imaginary life, but perhaps I can only laugh at it because it camouflages the more subtle one I also see in the list: an imaginary life of old fear. All these things on my list are old: old medicines, old tea, old pens; and many of them were also free, or very cheap: the disposable newborn diapers from the hospital, the dollar store picture frames from my apartment when I commuted, the old address labels. And staples? Please, I was saving staples?

These are things that are all easily replaced, but they seem to somehow represent something internal and irreplaceable: confidence in myself and in my reception by others. Maybe, in my perception of my own incompetence, I tend to gather these functional objects around me, in a kind of moat of utility. My own personal horses-and-chariots-of-Egypt. In the same way, I think, I wall myself off in a blaze of projects and activities, a welter of started-never-finished imaginary glories, to keep myself from knowing that there are still some parts of my soul and some relationships in my life that are damaged, and I may never be able to fix them.

But now I have one relationship in my life that I feel I really can't afford to screw up, even for such an imaginary peace. Therefore the five real things I think I should get rid of this week are old fear, old defensiveness, cowed silence, social anxiety, and fearful avoidance.

Can I do it?

Not alone.

"Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help
and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the Lord!" (Isaiah 31)

Friday, June 08, 2007

On experts who bother

This week I went to the doctor and, long story short, I have to go on a course of vaginal antibiotics. Well now, this is an issue because whenever you take medicine while breastfeeding, you have to find out whether the medicine you've been prescribed is compatible with breastfeeding. And this is an issue because there are relatively few studies done on medicines and breastfeeding, and those that are done do not differentiate between breastfeeding newborns and (let's say) 10 month olds. Obviously there is a weight difference as well as a difference in the child's physical development and ability to process drugs. Also 10 month olds nurse less frequently and get proportionally less of their calories from breastmilk. So there are differences.

The problem is that despite these differences, even well-informed medical professionals seem to mostly read the yes-or-no answer to breastfeeding while taking medicines off a table somewhere. These tables are clearly based on medical data, but it's data I don't have access to, so I am unable to make my own informed decision. In this case, my gynecologist told me that the medicine he had prescribed was compatible with breastfeeding, and the pediatrician said it was not. Grr. In fact it was the nurse at the pediatrician's office that actually returned my call, and she was clearly reading it off a table, and did not pay attention to the fact that I mentioned the medicine was not oral but topical (which means less is absorbed into my bloodstream, so less is available to the milk-making process). She told me I needed to just pump for a week and throw out the milk.

Now, when you're nursing a baby who's ten months old, eating solids, and drinking from a cup, and is used to breastfeeding about 4 times a day, forgoing nursing altogether for a week doesn't just mean he's going to be very mad (though I wouldn't look forward to that), it might mean he gives up nursing altogether. So I called the gynecologist back to see if he could prescribe a different medication. He called me back himself (concept) to say that he still thought the original medication would be fine vaginally, but he had another thing he could prescribe. It was often used to treat premature infants, he said, so was ok for babies. Then he called back again and said, regardless of the fact that it is used in pediatric patients, that medicine is specifically not recommended for breastfeeding mothers by the American Academy of Pediatrics (why? wouldn't we like to know?). He said we'd have to go back to the first medicine, but we wondered if I could still nurse a couple of times a day without affecting Thomas too much.

Well, there's something I always do when I have medical questions about Thomas I can't answer. I try to put it off as long as possible when the questions aren't cardiology-related, but... I inevitably call his cardiology team. Because they answer the phone, they answer my questions, and they always thank me for calling. So this time I called, and I got Kerry, and I explained the problem. She would consult with the hospital pharmacist, she said, and call me back. When she did, she said the pharmacist had looked up some studies and had some numbers for me. There were no studies on breastfeeding while on the vaginal preparation, but there were studies that showed that the concentration of antibiotic in the blood while using the vaginal preparation were 1/50th of the levels while taking the oral preparation. About a third of women still reported side effects. Breastfeeding while on the oral antibiotic tended to cause diarrhea (a major problem in a newborn; less so in an older infant). After discussing it with her, I felt confident that I could store some milk in the fridge and then try nursing Thomas, see if he has any problems. Nursing him a couple of times a day will almost certainly not cause a problem.

I told Kerry she deserved a medal, and she denied it. I don't think people like her realize what an amazing luxury it is to have someone like her, with medical knowledge and access to specialists outside her area, just a phone call away.

I was going to end this post with a special tribute, but it's already too long and I have too much to say about the tributee. Next time.

Second wave

Matt and I went on a baby-food making frenzy tonight. It actually only took us about 2 hours because we've become amazingly efficient. Here's our whirlwind food tour:

I defrosted a chicken thigh, pulled the skin off, and put it in a pot to boil. I started water in the kettle to put under the steamer, and washed some snap peas. Meanwhile, Matt was distracting the baby and, when he was calm, cutting up cauliflower and the bok choy. When the water boiled we put the steamer on the wok with the cauliflower and I set the timer for 15 minutes.

Matt started cutting some unknown root vegetable that came in our organic food box. I think it's a turnip. It looks like a beet except yellow. When he was done I put that in the water with the chicken and let them boil for 30 minutes.

When the cauliflower was done I poured it in the blender and put the snap peas in the bottom of the steamer, the bok choy on top, and set the timer for 10 minutes. Blended the cauliflower , poured it into an ice cube tray, and washed the blender. Matt was cutting swiss chard, a pear, and 4 apricots.

I blended the snap peas and then the bok choy while cooking the chard on the bottom of the steamer and the fruit on the top, 10 minutes on the timer. Matt gave Thomas his snack and medicine. Blended the chard and put the timer on the fruit on for another 5 minutes. Took the chicken and turnip (?) out of the broth and put it in a bowl with about 3/4 cup broth to cool a little. Poured a cup of lentils into the rest of the broth and set the timer for a half hour. Blended the pears, then the apricots.

I took Thomas and started putting him to bed. Matt took the meat off the chicken bone and blended the chicken and turnips with the broth, turned off the lentils. Put Thomas to bed. Blended lentils.

There's a lot of new food in the house.

First wave of baby food posts

First a few more family recipes, 10 months:

Thomas's first stir fry:

Stir fry 4 chicken breasts, cubed, in vegetable oil with garlic, soy sauce, and ginger.
In separate wok, heat vegetable and safflower oil. Add garlic and broccoli, stir fry for a few minutes. Add kale, stir fry for a few minutes, add snow peas and stir fry a few minutes, add ginger and soy sauce. Add water chestnuts and cherry tomatoes and stir fry for a couple minutes. Stir in chicken and serve over rice.

Take one serving and puree in blender. This worked out way better than I expected. I think if I'd known how well my blender would handle meats, I wouldn't have bothered buying a food mill. Thanks Ty! It's six years old and still blends like crazy.

This was Thomas's favorite meal so far, I think.

Beef stew with beets:

Cut up 1.5 lbs. beef roast. Dredge in flour and brown in large saucepan with fresh garlic. Add 2 Tbsp cooking wine to loosen brown stuff on bottom of pan. Add 4 cups vegetable broth, 4 baby beets, cut up, 6 small potatoes, cut up, 1 large onion, cut up, 2 carrots, cut up, and any other loose vegetables looking for a meal to be part of. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour, covered. As before, put one serving in blender. The beets give a really nice richness to the broth.

Barley risotto:

Add 1 cup barley to large saute pan. Add about 3/4 cup chicken broth or enough to just wet barley. Add about 4 cloves fresh garlic, sliced. Bring broth to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil until most of the liquid is gone, then add a little more broth. Keep doing this for about 40 minutes, then add 1 zucchini, sliced, and a bunch of spinach, torn into pieces. Cook 2 links sausage, removed from skin, in a separate pan and add towards end of cooking. Continue to cook barley until it has absorbed about 4.5 cups of liquid (I used 4 cups chicken broth and 0.5 cup water).

In retrospect I think this would have been better with chicken instead of sausage, but it's hard to tell. Thomas liked it, anyway. So did I. Barley risotto is pretty excellent. I'll have to make it more in future.

Developing a syllabus

I'm working on my syllabus for Foundations of Theology in Spring 2008 today. It's a nice self-contained project and I don't feel like reading this morning.

I'm working on a list of noncanonical Christian authors I feel the students ought to read. The concentration will be on patristic authors, but I'd like to work in a couple of medieval writers too, especially as there are virtually no female voices (virtually: there is Egeria) in the first five centuries of the Church. Sorry, I'm too lazy to create links. In approximate chronological order:

  • Didache
  • Clement of Rome (1 Clement)
  • Ignatius of Antioch
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • Justin Martyr
  • Tatian's Diatesseron
  • Irenaeus of Lyons
  • Origen of Alexandria
  • Ambrose
  • John Chrysostom
  • Cyril of Jerusalem
  • Egeria of Gaul
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Basil the Great
  • Cyril of Alexandria
  • Augustine (On Genesis 2-3)
  • Jerome (Life of Paul of Thebes)
  • Pseudo-Dionysius
  • John Damascene
  • Gregory the Great
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Medieval women mystics: Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich
  • Teresa of Avila

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Notes on Ch. 2, part 1, of Johnson, Rites of Christian Initiation

Pre-Nicene period, East

In the first half of ch. 2, Max summarizes the documentary evidence for Christian initiation in the East (that is, Syria and Alexandria) in the first three centuries. Syrian evidence: the Didache, Justin Martyr (included in Syria rather than Rome because of his background), the Didascalia Apostolorum, and the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. The Didache really gives very little information, but the other sources contain some characteristic emphases: the role of Jesus' experience in the Jordan, especially the descent of the Holy Spirit, as a model for Christian baptism; the textual variant Ps. 2:7 ("You are my son; this day I have begotten you") for the baptism is reflected in the rite of baptism for Christians; fire is a dominant symbol, especially referring to "fire in the water" at Christ's baptism; the pneumatological and ritual emphasis of the accounts tends to be on the anointing with oil before the water bath rather than on the bath itself; finally, the Spirit is often seen and imaged as feminine.

These characteristic emphases seem to actually all fall together: for example, in the Syrian liturgical year the Epiphany feast was originally a combined feast of Christ's birth and baptism (48), while the baptismal font is often referred to as a "womb" (of the Spirit "Mother"). The witness of Father and Spirit at the baptism is why this event and feast are the Theophany of the whole Trinity and reveal the intra-divine relationships.

A quote from the Acts of Judas Thomas: "This is the baptism of the remission of sins; this is the bringer forth of new men; this is the restorer of understandings, and the mingler of soul and body, and the establisher of the new man in the Trinity, and which becomes a participation in the remission of sins." (44) And one from Gabriele Winkler: "Christian baptism is shaped after Christ's baptism in the Jordan. As Jesus had received the anointing through the divine presence in the appearance of a dove, and was invested as the Messiah, so in Christian baptism every candidate is anointed and, in connection with this anointing, the gift of the Spirit is conferred . . . . The description of Christ's baptism culminates in the appearance of the dove and the divine voice . . . . In the process of ritualization, therefore, it was the anointing that became, in Syria, the first and only visible gesture for the central event at Christ's baptism: his revelation as the Messiah-King through the descent of the Spirit." (47)

Regarding initiation in Egypt, Max again asserts that the Jordan event/John 3 provide the structure for theological interpretations there, but there seems to be a difference. Rather than referring to the Jordan baptism of Christ proper, Clement and Origen are motivated by that event to develop Old Testament tropes into baptismal symbols. Both use Israel's crossing the Jordan under Joshua's leadership as a primary symbol, and Origen expands it to cover all of Exodus: the Red Sea is the entrance into the catechumenate; the Jordan is baptism. Origen, however, also alludes to Romans 6 in his interpretations, a move that is probably motivated in part by the Alexandrian reading of the "Secret Gospel," a extra-canonical passage in the Gospel of Mark (which was the one read in Alexandria during this early period) which tells the story of Jesus raising a Lazarus-like figure from the dead and then initiating him: "...Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan." (55)

Origen is also a witness to threefold questioning at baptism: "Do you believe in the Father... Do you believe in the Son... etc." and to infant baptism.

Overall, I have some questions about interrelationships here. Granted the close relationship between Egypt and Syria, it is not long after this point that the differences between then start to cause tension, as well. Does the seeming Alexandrian emphasis on OT passages arise merely from coincidental selection of excerpts for this book? Is it relevant that the Syrian witness seeming to bear the closest similarity to Clement's theology of baptism (53) is Justin Martyr, whose testimony as a "Syrian" witness is problematic (though his testimony as a "Roman" witness is even more problematic)?

HOW many fewer?

Browsing through blogs I stumbled on a woman's blog that I am really enjoying reading a bit, Quantum Theology. She has a discipline (oops, Talal Asad again) going on right now where she trashes, recycles, or gives away 50 categories of things in her house every week. Wow. Not just 50 objects (I could do this indefinitely and not notice, I suspect) but 50 categories of things she is keeping that she doesn't need to be keeping. Then, as she says, "Choosing to count "classes" of stuff rather than total items has had the benefit of letting me discern once about the need for an item and then each new encounter doesn't require repeating the process."
I'm not sure I'm ready for 50 a week, but I definitely need this discipline. I'm going to start the process at 5 and see how it goes. (Yes, I'm one of those people that walk into cold water instead of diving right in.) The process depends on keeping a list of the things you're eliminating. Here, I guess, why not.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Notes on Ch. 1 of Johnson, Rites of Christian Initiation

"Regarding 'initiation' into such a diverse and inclusive 'table companionship,' however, it is important to underscore the fact that nowhere do the Gospels record anything specific about rites of entrance or preparation for this meal sharing with Jesus. Rather, to use our own now traditional sacramental language, the meal itself was not the culmination of initiation but appears, rather, as the inception, that is, the very beginnings of initiation, the 'sacrament' of initiation, or, the rite of incorporation into Christ. Nothing, not even baptism and certainly nothing like confirmation, were required as preparatory steps. Entrance to the meal of God's reign, anticipated and incarnated in the very life, ministry, and meals of Jesus of Nazareth, was granted by Jesus himself and granted especially to those who were not prepared and not (yet) converted, to the godless and undeserving, to the impure, and the unworthy. Conversion itself, it seems, was a consequence of, not a pre-condition for, such meal sharing." (p. 6)

The blog's about to become, well, more bloggy. Well, maybe. Sort of. In the sense of much more random. I need to take some notes to finish my second chapter of my dissertation, the part on the history of Christian initiation (and what it says about Christian identity). I decided to take them here for portability, a little feeling (probably an illusion, honestly) of accountability, and just in case anyone's interested.

The history stuff is based on Max Johnson's The Rites of Christian Initiation, which is a great book that I've read before. My goal is to read it and take notes in the next two weeks, then write the last part of chapter 2. I think that part should be 15-20 pages. If I run across something particularly interesting, I may make a detour through some other source material.

Chapter one of RCI focuses on the NT material on initiation, starting out with the major point that the initiatory practice of Jesus himself, if it can be so called, seemed to be a radically inclusive table companionship that earned him the ire of his contemporaries. From this context comes my quotation above, which, it seems to me, gives significant insight into Christian initiation. Following from this view of table companionship is the idea that Christian identity is not something one seeks out, proves oneself worthy of, and comes to earn. Rather, Christian identity is offered as a gift before one comes to seek it out. This is obvious and well-known. But looking at it further, this also implies that Christ and the Christian community recognize in the recipient of initiation (before he or she has become purified, converted, etc.), a gift to the community. The gift of initiation, then, is actually two-fold: a gift given by the community (acting in the person of Christ) to the initiate and the initiate's gift to the Body of Christ. The church recognizes in the unworthy worthiness, and by recognizing it, begins to initiate the person; by initiating him or her, the church begins the redemptive process that eventually makes the person worthy. This view of the sacrament (and it is the Catholic view, as far as I can see, throughout the tradition) is why the Catholic church has always initiated infants.

Moving on, Max calls attention to the fact that Jesus' baptism is considered historically factual by the consensus of NT scholars. He argues for the independence of John's baptismal practice from Essene ritual washings and from proselyte baptism. He mentions the possibility (based on John) that Jesus himself was a "baptizer" in the style of John the Baptist, that footwashing constituted an early initiation practice.

Most interesting from my perspective are the comments on the primitive links between baptism and the Holy Spirit: "it is the presence and gift of the Holy Spirit that distinguish Jesus' own and subsequent Christian baptism from that of John." The synoptic accounts of Jesus' baptism "are about what happens in Christian baptism, in general, namely, the very gift of the Holy Spirit inseparably associated with that baptism, who therein brings about the new birth of God's beloved 'sons and daughters,' in whom God is well pleased." (15) "[F]or the earliest Christians, baptism and Holy Spirit were bound together inseparably" so that when baptism was not accompanied by the gift of the Spirit or the Spirit came before baptism itself "this anomalous situation had to be remedied by the apostles themselves so that this normal relationship between baptism and Holy Spirit would be (re)connected." (26)

On baptism and the bestowal of Christian identity Max says, "to be baptized 'in' or 'into the name of Jesus' is to be baptized into Christ, to be associated as closely as possible with Christ himself as the very mediator of God's salvation." He ties this to Mt. 28 and the trinitarian shape of Christian identity, modeled on the trinitarian shape of Christ's identity as depicted in the synoptic baptismal accounts, by drawing on Aidan Kavanagh: Matthew 28:16-20 may be "a 'theological declaration' of the new relationship which baptism establishes between the baptized and God, a relationship signified in the paradigmatic story of Jesus' own baptism in the Jordan, where his identity as 'Son' in relationship to both 'Father' ('You are [This is] my Son, the Beloved') and 'Holy Spirit' is proclaimed." (28, bracketed portions original, see Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism, 22)

Finally, on page 30, Max refers to the fuzziness between actual liturgical practices and theological interpretations of initiation in the NT. While some of the images (e.g. anointing) may reflect actual practice, it is possible that the metaphorical use of them in the NT, guided by OT language and events (e.g. Ps. 2:7) led to the development of related ritual practices.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another family recipe: lentil pasta

We had a great dinner tonight. This recipe is good for babies that want to be able to enjoy dinnertime with everybody else and eat a little finger food.

Lentil Pasta

1/2 lb uncooked rotini or penne pasta (we didn't have this much, so made a little penne for Thomas and spaghetti for Matt & I)
3/4 c lentils
6 cloves fresh garlic, divided
2 carrots, sliced thin
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp dried basil (fresh if you've got it)
1 Tbsp dried minced onion (ditto)
1 Tbsp butter
1 can diced tomatoes
olive oil
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch green onions, cut the whitish part up
2 Tbsp wine

1. Put the lentils in a pot with 3 c water and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, 4 cloves garlic, the bay leaves, basil, onion, butter, and tomatoes and boil uncovered for 20-30 min, until the lentils are soft.
2. While the lentils are boiling, start water for the pasta.
3. Slice or mince the last two cloves of garlic. Saute the mushrooms and green onions in a little olive oil with the garlic until the mushrooms start to brown. Add the wine and stir until the wine is mostly evaporated, then turn off the heat on the mushrooms.
4. When the lentils are soft, put the pasta in to boil according to package directions. Put the lentil mixture in the blender and blend until smooth.
5. Cool a tablespoon or two of the lentil mixture, and put it on baby's tray. Put a few pieces of pasta in it and put baby in the chair. For adults, put pasta in bowls, pour lentil puree over it, and top with mushrooms.
6. After dinner, if the baby (like mine) is not so good with finger food, you can give him some more of the lentil puree with a spoon.

Thomas was so excited to be eating with us again. He spent our whole meal sucking on four pieces of pasta, but he loved it. We let him play with the spaghetti too. That was fun.

I should mention that I adapted this recipe from something my college roommate used to make. I've been enjoying various lentil pastas for about 7 years now, but this one has got to be one of my favorite versions ever. For one thing, I never thought of blending the lentils before, and it makes it much more spaghetti-sauce-ish. It's worth trying even if you're baby-free.

On changes, the passage of time, and happy endings

When I went through the RCIA, Matt and I met these two pretty incredible people. One of them was the candidate Matt got to sponsor that year; the other one was his girlfriend. They were both lovely, witty, fun people -- with two of the biggest hearts (cardiomyopathy aside) that I've ever encountered. Nobody was too small or too great for them to care about, and nothing was too little or too much for them to do for those they cared about.

Events and misunderstandings eventually caused them to break up, and with them the social group that the four of us were a part of. Over the years, we've kept in touch sporadically. I knew that a couple of years ago they started dating again.

Tonight, I found out they're getting married -- next month -- in Ireland.


"We wanted something simple," my friend told me. Having been engaged and (ugh!) tried to plan a wedding before, they wanted to go off somewhere, just them, have the ceremony and have it all, happily, over. Clink. Happily ever after and all that, finally.

I have to say that I'm struck by an irony. This is the one girl I knew who had a subscription to a bridal magazine back in college -- before she was even engaged.

We all change over time. And not only are we unable to say what constitutes a happy ending for our friends, we even change our minds about our own storybook endings, without even realizing we're changing.

So here's to Melissa and Jason. Congratulations, best wishes, and lots of love. Clink.

The rest of you, go make your happy endings, whatever they are.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A good food day

It seems like Thomas is finally back to eating more. He's got this interesting, and rather nice, routine down now. He eats the same thing every morning and every night for his late-night snack, but different stuff for lunch and dinner.

Today's sample menu:
Breakfast: 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1/4 cup baby oatmeal cereal, mixed with water. This is all he'll eat in the morning, after much experimenting with various fruit-included mixes. He seems to just not want sweet stuff in the morning. Ok. We can handle that.

Lunch: 1 Tbsp kale, 1 Tbsp tofu, rice and water, with apple juice splashed in his drinking water

Chickpea and Apple Curry
  • 1 Tbsp chickpeas
  • 1 Tbsp apple sauce (or maybe pear sauce, after we froze them we couldn't tell them apart)
  • 2 Tbsp barley cereal
  • sprinkles of garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin
This smelled awesome to me, and Thomas liked it so much he got mad when I ran out (we were at a restaurant) and had to resort to leftovers for lunch. He kept grabbing the bowl it had been in and shoving it in his mouth, like "See? This is what I want!" He'll get more tomorrow.

Bedtime snack: Oatmeal with apple (or pear?) sauce and a little cinnamon

Plus he had little bits of finger food throughout the day, including some of the sticky rice at dinner (but what he really wanted was stir-fried eggplant and Taiwanese pork buns (nicely named: "dragon eats pig" )). Poor kid. Gotta wait on that one.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

He eats what? episode 1: Beets!

Thomas really likes beets. Be careful as they can stain. We introduced these at 8 months.

Beet puree:

1 fresh beet

Cut top of beet about 1/2 inch from the beet itself. Wash, put in pot with enough water to cover the beet. Boil, covered, for about 45 mins or until soft. Cut up roughly or grate into blender; blend, adding water from pot, until smooth.

These are pretty sweet (about as much as sweet potato, or a little more), so they are pretty easy for babies to accept, I think. But they will make your baby's next poop reddish. Don't worry!

Thoughts on breastfeeding at 9 months

Thomas has been biting while nursing. When he first got his bottom teeth, he sort of chomped a couple of times, I said "ouch", and he never did it again -- but this week he's been doing it a lot. At first it was just when he was tired of nursing, but after a while he'd sometimes do it right at the beginning. I've been doing what they say you should do (take him off the breast and say no, let him nurse again, and if he does it again put him down altogether and wait a few minutes). He cries. Sometimes he doesn't bite but sometimes he does.

There are some odd things I've noticed. He never does it when we're lying down nursing, only when I'm sitting up in the rocker. He's less likely to bite if he's either not very tired or if he's extremely tired, and he's less likely to bite if I hold him closer to me than if I just let him sit on me. He does seem to do better after the "nursing time-out" I described above. And yesterday and today, at the time he'd normally nurse to sleep, he did the biting thing and I said he was done and put him down, and then he climbed into Matt's lap (last night) or mine (this afternoon) and just fell asleep cuddling. Then tonight he nursed himself to sleep again. I don't know what to make of it all but he doesn't seem to be weaning himself (for half-articulatable reasons, I'm not ready for this to happen), he seems to just be experimenting with some different things.

More later, I guess.

As long as we've all learned something

We seem to be getting Thomas to eat more consistently again. For the past couple of weeks, he's been really unpredictable. We were constantly having to persuade him to open his mouth and worrying that he wasn't getting enough. And we couldn't figure out what was wrong. Part of it was definitely that he had that cold, but I think there were some other factors contributing.

First off, I think Thomas is starting to make connections between his mealtimes and how they operate, and our mealtimes and how we behave. This means that he wants to eat when we're eating, he wants to eat what we're eating, and he wants to feed himself. We've discovered that if we give him finger foods (especially if they're from our plates) on his tray while we're eating, and lean over to feed him bits of the things still too small for him to grasp, he makes an effort, and is more willing to be spoon-fed when we're done. Likewise, if I snack on some of his finger foods during snack time, off his tray, he's more enthusiastic about eating. He's also getting better about feeding himself. Today he figured out how to hold the bottle with one hand, balancing it along his forearm, while holding a piece of bread in his other hand so he could alternate. He's also putting the spoon in his mouth. Yesterday he squealed while we were eating lunch, so I plopped a bit of refried black beans (with cumin in them, even) down on his tray, not thinking he'd eat them anyway. He started grabbing them and putting them in his mouth, so I gave him a spoonful, and he took the spoon from me several times and got it into his mouth. He's never done that more than once before, which brings me to my next strategy.

Variety. Thomas absolutely loves to try new foods, and gets bored easily. I've discovered that offering several different dishes at a meal helps (none of those "chicken-rice-and-vegetable" dinners for him), and offering him new foods or foods he hasn't had in a while will convince him to pay attention and eat. Spices work right into this, as it happens. Sometimes he's turned his nose up at something and when I add a little cinnamon or ginger, he perks up and eats quite a lot. Tonight I gave him the leftover mango chicken and he ate all of the serving -- after I added a dash of cinnamon, a dash of ginger, and a dash of garlic and mixed it all up. So basically Thomas is motivated by taste and by variety. It makes total sense -- I am too.

He has to wait on tea though.

Yesterday's dinner was: roasted chicken, and I pulled some of the meat apart into very tiny shreds for him; stuffing, and I gave him a few squares; and steamed broccoli, and I gave him a few tiny sprigs. He has an easy time eating steamed green beans, steamed very soft, because they are long, so they're easy to hold and bite off bits.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Indian food for all

Well, I made Indian food for Thomas and us tonight. I am not sure how successful his share was, but our share was pretty amazing. I'm going to go ahead and record it here. He didn't sleep well last night and this evening has been too fussy to eat much of anything, even milk. So I'll try it again tomorrow. The texture is a little grittier than what he's used to (I put it through the food mill) so maybe that's the problem. I wonder if I should put it through the food mill then blend it...

Presumably as we test other spices on Thomas, like garlic and onions, this will become closer and closer to one meal for everybody.

Indian Mango Chicken for the whole family

1 ripe mango
1 c plain (whole-milk or low-fat) yogurt, with extra yogurt for blending baby's portion
2 c basmati rice
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 yellow onions
3 chicken breasts
1 chicken thigh, with skin removed
2 tsp ground ginger for adults' portion
1/8 tsp ginger for baby's portion
2 tsp cumin
about 1/3 head fresh garlic, minced
10 cardamom pods
10 cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel mango (wear gloves if you might have a sensitivity to mango skin - it makes some people break out). Wash hands, knife, and cutting board. Cut mango flesh away from pit. When you can't cut any more off, pick up the pit and squeeze the juice into a blender container. Add the flesh and 1 c yogurt, and blend until smooth.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. Rinse rice and soak for at least 30 mins. Drain, add 3.5 c water, and cook in rice cooker.
4. Thinly slice onions.

1. Pour 1/2 c yogurt mixture over chicken thigh in covered baking dish. Add 1/8 tsp ginger (and any other spices your baby has already had without trouble) and turn to coat chicken. Cover and put in oven, bake 35 mins.
2. Add butter and oil to saute pan on stovetop and heat. Add onions and cook until they are becoming clear (about 10 mins).
3. Add whole spices (cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, garlic) and cook until onions start to brown.
4. Add ground spices, stir, add chicken. Cook about 5 mins on each side until browned.
5. Pour yogurt mixture over chicken, stir, heat until bubbling, then turn down heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes until done.

6. Pull baby's chicken off bone, add rice, and add extra yogurt or water if needed. Run through food processor or food mill.
7. Put adults' chicken on bed of rice, pour sauce over top.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Where'd it all come from?

A couple of people have asked me where I've gotten the information I have so far about baby food. The book I'm using is Homemade Baby Food Pure and Simple by Connie Linardakis and I've found it very useful.

I haven't used many of the recipes, beyond the basic tips: bake or steam and blend, but I've consulted two of the tables over and over. One of them gives recommendations on what age to start various foods (although some foods with recipes in the book, like lentils, are inexplicably left out). The other, and probably the most useful, is sample menus for a four-to-six-month-old baby, 8-to-10-month-old baby, etc. This one not only gives the approximate caloric value for different kinds of foods (because do you know how many calories there are in a tablespoon of sugar snap pea puree? I didn't) but also gives an idea of how much of each kind of food (carbohydrates, fruits, veggies, meats) to offer each day to give the baby the right mix of nutrients.

I don't know that this is the best baby food book on the market. I didn't shop around: my mom bought it for me (at a real live bookstore, so you can shop before you buy). There are a couple of other books on amazon that I find intriguing, especially because it looks like they have more recipes. I think if I had a book like that I might cook for all of us out of it, and add spices to my portion and Matt's. But I don't.

I've also used the internet. Surprise. In fact there is an amazing amount of information on baby food making on google, so I don't know that I'd say anyone needs to buy a book. I definitely don't think I'd start by buying one if you're not sure yet that you want to commit to making baby food.

Unfortunately, a lot of the information you read is repeated from website to website. There are, however, some sites with a lot of real information and guidance:
I've also consulted some personal blogs and such, but mileage varies.

Thomas is crying, so more later. Stay tuned for the uses of yogurt.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Baby hummus

Today I made chickpeas for Thomas. I started last night by soaking 3/4 cup dried chickpeas. Then this morning I drained the water, added fresh water and boiled them for two hours. I put them and the water they boiled in in the blender and added about a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil for flavor, consistency, and fat content. These were much more difficult to blend than I expected, which is silly, because I've made hummus in the blender before and I remember it was very difficult. I probably should have tried the food mill. I ended up adding quite a bit of extra water to make it blend up nicely. Thomas ate quite a bit of this baby (garlic-free, sad) hummus. I let it stay a little lumpier than the stuff I've made before.

I made him a smoothie today, thinking about what benefits my throat when it's sore. Recipe: 1 cube sweet potato, 1 Tbsp plain yogurt, a little breast milk, and water. He ate almost all of that. It's been a relief today to find things he can swallow without hurting his throat. I also put cinnamon in his oatmeal and applesauce mix.

For his snack today he also had all finger foods: cheerios, kiwi cubes, and mozzarella. I took the shredded kind and pressed it into tiny balls -- about the diameter of my pinky finger. He liked that.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Green veggies at six and seven months

Green vegetables that Thomas ate between six and seven months old, all steamed until very soft, blended, and frozen:

  • Green beans
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Zucchini (one of his all-time favorites)
  • Broccoli
  • Peas (he doesn't care for these, unfortunately: takes after his daddy) [edit: actually these were microwaved, according to the frozen package directions]

Easiest protein baby food ever

Silken tofu. Yep. Don't get the firm kind, it doesn't blend up well. But silken tofu works right out of the package (just stir it a little to break it up), and is really high in protein. And Thomas loves it. I wouldn't freeze it though.

Almost as easy: egg yolk. They can't have the whites until they're one year old, but yolks are ok. You hard-boil an egg, peel it and remove the yolk. Then mash with a fork with a little breast milk or formula (water doesn't really work here: my chemistry intuition, such as it is, is telling me it needs the fats and stuff of the milk to really dissolve) and serve. One is 55 calories (right now that's >10% of the calories Thomas needs from solids every day) and has lots of protein.

Thomas started eating both of these at about 7.5-8 months. He probably could have had the tofu earlier, but they don't sell silken tofu at our local grocery store, so that was harder.

Even before that, at almost 7 months, I gave him lentils. Lentils don't need to be presoaked; I just covered dried lentils with water, covered the pot, boiled them for 30 minutes, checked to be sure they were very soft. Then I put them with the water in the blender and blended it up. He likes them mixed with rice cereal or barley cereal. Baby food doesn't get much cheaper than lentils and rice cereal.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baby food adventures: Kale and kiwi at 8 (almost 9) months

Consider this a temporary thematic overhaul. Not that I've had any discernible theme so far. For now, though, I'm going to make an effort to keep track of my baby-directed food efforts.

This week Thomas is fussy about food. He doesn't want anybody putting spoons or his syringes for his medicines in his mouth. The doctor says he has a sore throat. He accepts cheerios, however. So I decided to try cutting up a kiwi. Up till now he's been decidedly "eh" about finger foods, but he really went for the kiwi.

I cut it into fourths lengthwise, used a grapefruit knife to cut off the peel, and cut it into tiny cubes. He let me put the first one into his mouth partway and clipped off a tiny bit, chewed and swallowed. Then his face lit up and he opened his mouth WIDE, WIDE. So kiwi is a hit. He ended up eating about an eighth of a kiwi.

He also had kale tonight. The kale I steamed for probably about 10 mins in the bamboo steamer and ran through the blender, then froze in ice cube trays. It was actually pretty easy to blend smoothly, compared with some of the other things I've made (like broccoli). He seemed to really like it -- it's one of the few foods he'll open up for this week. I mixed one cube with about 3 tablespoons rice cereal and added water until it was smooth enough.

Kale and kiwi are both supposed to be really healthy foods. And this is a bad food week.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I have four pounds of peanut butter on my desk.

Since Thomas was born, I've started to eat at the computer, where I spend my breakfast and lunch time trying to catch up on email or work on... stuff that I'm working on. I also eat a snack before bed every night. Breastfeeding has made my appetite go haywire. Between these three solo meals every day, I eat peanut butter almost once per day.

Matt doesn't eat at home much: dinner every night and then on the weekends. Pretty much every Saturday for the past couple of months we've had this conversation.

Matt says, "I'm going to get some lunch."

"Good idea."

After a long pause for rummaging, he says, "Where's the peanut butter?"

"Oh. Probably on my desk."

Last week Matt went shopping. I think he's trying to send me a message, because when he bought the peanut butter on the grocery list, he bought a jar that, at the least, is inconvenient to leave on the desk. It has that metal rim around the top inside. It's a daycare-sized tub of PB.

He's won this round. But I'm stubborn. I won't give up without a fight.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

So far the Chambers' prayer book has 1 invitatory psalm, 3 rotating psalms, 1 regular and 1 lenten canticle, and 7 readings: one baptismal, one for Ash Wednesday/Lent, 2 for Lent/Holy Week, 1 for Holy Week/Triduum, 1 for Holy Saturday/Triduum, and 1 for Easter. Also the Magnificat, intercessions, Our Father, and conclusion.

By Easter I want to have done 2 more psalms, the Easter canticle, and at least 2 additional sets of readings for the Easter season.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I remember having a conversation with one of my Ph.D. student friends a couple of years ago about her advisor. She was having trouble getting in to meet with him.

"The problem is, he trusts me too much," I remember her saying. "He knows even if he doesn't have time to meet with me, he's sure I'll do everything well anyway."

Being, probably, a little more naive, I imagined basking in a similar degree of (merited) confidence, and it didn't seem like too hard of a problem. After all, she really does do everything well.

Now I feel like that's my difficulty. Not the confidence, although the silence from my committee, and, to some extent, from my loving family and friends is getting loud enough to hear with the dishwasher running (as it so often is).

No, the problem is doing everything well.

Is it because I'm a woman that I let my roles swallow me up, until I am emptied out from them all, and lost? Or do men feel this way?

I have paid for my place. I am emptied out with the cost of it. I will not give it up for any man. So the heroine says in Paladin of Souls. Yes. But I am no heroine, and nothing is coming in to fill me up again. In Paladin of Souls, it is the gods' grace that does so. I must be emptying myself out for the wrong place.

I don't think I even have time to find the right place for kenosis. But I do wonder if this is why Jesus' crucified body so often has a feminine aspect.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's almost like Thomas has labels for his days. He has a secret calendar stashed in his playpen to give character to each day (and make Mamma's life fully unpredictable).

On that calendar, in the distinctive baby-script Thomas uses, Monday said: "Visitors. Cute." Tuesday said: "Sleep." Wednesday said, "No Sleep. Play With Mamma."

Today seems to be marked, "I'm Independent and Easygoing." I can only be grateful.