Gardening. End of the Summer thoughts.

6 08 2013

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Our very first harvest! Promising!

I started my garden in May, a couple of killer frosts came by and hurt some plants. So I started over with those plants. As a first time gardener, I am learning that gardening is dynamic, that you can continue working on it through the summer for a fall crop, and I really like that.

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One of our midsummer harvests. That night dinner was awesome.

So, what have I learned from this season? Some plants are extremely sensitive to low temps, it does not need to freeze for them to be lost. Okra and cucumbers are in this group, next year I’ll wait until the temperatures stabilize, even if that means waiting “too long”. Likewise, high temperatures can be damaging for plants, even those that like it hot. We had a two week period of very high temperatures that did not even let go through the night (86 F at 9 PM!?) and this stopped production, blossoms fell, new flowers did not show up. Now that the summer is cooling off my plants are starting to make some more flowers. It might be profitable to find a mixture of varieties that can tolerate different temperatures in the future, to get fruit all through the season.

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Diseased zucchini, powdery mildew… boo!

I am disappointed at my zucchini. I’ve heard so much that you get so tired of eating zucchini, that they produce so much! That I was really excited about eating zucchini all summer long. Sadly, I only got two very small fruits. Looking around the other plots, they also got either very little or nothing. Asking other gardeners in Pittsburgh, they agree, this year they didn’t get anything much. I guess it was either the very high temperatures or the too abundant rains we got in mid summer. On top of that, my plant got a case of powdery mildew, so I removed it to free up some space.

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Bacterial wilt. My cucumbers never filled in.

My cucumbers also didn’t fare well. The first plant got killed by a late frost, the second had a slow start because of low temperatures, but then it started to grow nicely, set blooms and produce fruit. But then it started to wilt, and no matter how much I’d water it, it would wilt again after not too long. I looked around and again I saw that other plants in other plots were suffering a similar fate. It happens that they got bacterial wilt, likely transmitted by cucumber beetles. So I removed that plant too.

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Cucumber beetles. Pretty, but harmful.

The tomatoes were an interesting bunch. I got an Early Girl, a Patio and a grape variety. Though the Patio and Early Girl started to bloom and produce fruit at about the same time, the Early Girl was ripe and ready sooner, the fruits are good, sweet tasting, they mature quite uniformly and are juicy! The plant is a little sick to judge for those yellowish leaves, though. But it is a plant I would consider planting again. The Patio variety was disappointing. The plant looks robust and beautiful, but it produced very little and small fruit, and the fruit bruises easily, I’ve even had a couple of tomatoes that rotted before being ripe! I understand its charm is that it can be planted in a container, but I will probably not plant it again. The grape tomatoes are still blooming and going strong. I love to have a bunch in the kitchen to snack here and there while I cook… my little guilty pleasure 🙂 Next year I would like to experiment with a second crop to have some fall tomatoes too, I don’t think I have enough time this year to do so.

Now I am about to plant my fall harvest. I am excited about it and I hope it works out well. We got some lettuce (which did really bad through the summer indoors and outdoors), spinach, arugula, radish and peas. So much learning to do! This is seriously a lot of fun!





Camp Gyno

2 08 2013

I don’t have a TV, I don’t even watch TV shows in my computer, so I am quite out of the commercial loop, but this ad came to my attention linked by a friend. It is the Camp Gyno commercial, it basically sells tampons to pre teen girls. Everybody loves it, I watched it and made my skin crawl.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. The commercial itself is awesome (albeit too long at almost two minutes!), the creative team did a great job, the actress is darling, and they portray periods as something positive and normal (about time!), I love how she calls her period “the red badge of courage” and how they use anatomically correct terms with no shame or challenge. So, what is the problem, you might ask. I have an aversion to anything unhealthy being put in direct contact with a mucous membrane (repeatedly day after day for years), especially at a young age, when the reproductive system is going through its development.

Prolonged retention of menstrual blood in tampons has been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Think about it, blood is full of iron, and bacteria thrive on iron! Not to mention that tampons are made with fibers that, if they are non organic, have absorbed tonnes of chemicals as insecticides, have been bleached with chlorine. Traces of dioxin have been found in tampons, according to the FDA these levels are of no concern, but according to EPA there are no levels of dioxin that are safe. Furthermore, dioxins have been found to be associated to endometriosis, a problem that is also linked to infertility, in studies performed in monkeys. Endometriosis in on the raise too. Given that I have not studied the topic, I would not blame it on tampons, but it might be one more factor that is contributing to this problem.

And have you heard of the moldy tampons? Apparently it is not so out of the ordinary to have mold growing in them, and think about this, you are about to pop that thing in a dark, moist environment, the paradise of fungi. Sure, this time it was “just” bread mold, but are other fungi growing and thriving in tampons? It horrifies me!

Of course, I maybe am too hippie for tampons, but if I had daughters I would suggest them not to use them, after all there are better alternatives out there. Menstrual pads might be a less invasive option, you can see if they are moldy right away (never found a moldy one!), they are not inserted into you and they are not related to TSS. Menstrual cups and cloth pads are also available, and more and more women are using them unapologetically, even though some people might think them weird or gross. I just know I would not want to expose my daughters’ young developing systems to harmful chemicals and potential TSS.
Do you use an alternative to tampons? If so, which one and how do you like it?





Preparing for a VBAC

1 08 2013

My first child was born via C-section. When talking with the doctors about future children I expressed my wish of having vaginal births if possible, they did give me an incision that would allow this. Thirteen months after Ignacio was born we became pregnant again, and after I found out that everything looked great to give birth vaginally I started to get ready. A friend of mine wanted to know what and how I made it, since she is getting ready for a VBAC too, and I thought I’d share with  you all what I told her.

Know your possibilities and limitations.
Having a VBAC implies a bit more risk than a vaginal birth without a previous C-section. There is a 0.5-0.7%  risk of uterine rupture along the C-section scar, which can lead to excess bleeding, posing a risk for the mother and the baby, and it would require an emergency C-section to get the baby out as soon as possible before there is brain damage, plus mom might need a transfusion and surgery to repair the uterus. This is why some hospitals would not allow a water birth for a VBAC. Some hospitals may even refuse to do a VBAC because they are not ready for the emergency C-section that it might require. Know what the rules are in your area before attempting a VBAC in the wrong place.
Know too that this risk is lower if your labor is not induced or augmented with pitocin, and that you  do have after all, 99.5 chances of not having a uterine rupture. The probability of a successful VBAC will also depend on your age, if you had previous vaginal births, and your attitude, but these are not about uterine rupture but about the same factors that would count for a woman with no prior C-sections.
Going for a repeat C-section implies higher risks than a VBAC, such as higher chance of perinatal death for the mother and child (it is a low number, but much higher than with natural birth), respiratory complications for the baby, etc. You can read about this in any medical website.

Prepare.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to prepare both mentally and physically for birth, especially for a VBAC.
Read, educate yourself about birth. No matter what you choose, drugs, no drugs, epidural, water birth, home birth, etc. make sure you know how labor works. I did a lot of reading during both pregnancies, I tried to put aside the strong opinions from both doctors and midwives, and keep the facts of birthing. The best way of not being afraid is to know as much as you can, do not let other people decide for you because you did not learn enough, you have nine months to get ready, use them well.

Do talk to your doctor about what you want, he is there to help you birth a healthy baby but also to help you achieve what you want.
As soon as I knew a VBAC was possible I started a long conversation with my OB, I told him I wanted to have a drug-free birth, I asked lots of questions, he expressed concern about me not wanting an epidural or IV and we basically talked about this for five months. Having an epidural in place during labor would make things easier if a repeat C-section was needed, but I wanted to have the freedom to move around and change positions if needed, besides there was no way I wanted to have a needle stuck in my spine again! Each time we had a visit and a talk I would go home, think about the conversation and write down more questions. After a while it was clear that if there was a uterine rupture they would put me under total anesthesia to take the baby out as soon as possible, so for me there was no point in having an epidural in place.
Be ready to compromise. If your doctor will be too nervous about what you want to do it is not a good situation. Ask where you can find a solution? I wanted no IV, but I compromised to have a port in my arm in case an IV was needed.

One month to go!!!!

One month to go!!!!

Do hire a doula!
If there is one thing that I think was crucial for my successful VBAC was the presence of a doula. A doula is a labor assistant, basically she has more experience than you in births, she is knowledgeable about the stages of birth and what to expect at each moment, and she can be a great support for your partner too. Bonus points if your doula has experience in VBACs. We hired a great doula: Marissa Evarts, if you are in the Pittsburgh area I cannot think of anybody better to coach you.

Keep a positive attitude.
One thing I had a hard time with during the intense reading I did was dealing with the negativity in many books and websites. I am of the idea (maybe naïve?) that most people are doing their best, nobody is out there to get you, so reading books and blogs with strong opinions against doctors or midwives was exasperating. I mentioned this to Marissa and she helped me to find very positive videos of mothers giving birth beautifully, this was great for me because it helped me to keep centered and focused on the good things and not in the negative.
There are a bunch of videos on youtube that you can watch.
I also read a lot of VBAC birth stories and focused on positive affirmations. One of the most significant ones I read was “your contractions cannot be more powerful than you, because they are coming from you” which was a real eye opener, our bodies are made to do this, it cannot be beyond us women to do it.

Be active during pregnancy.
If your doctor allows exercise do your body a favor and exercise, the more you move the better chances you have that your baby will go head down and that labor will go smoothly. Plus you will need strength and flexibility for the endurance test you h ave ahead of you! Do listen to your body and don’t do anything that does not feel right, though. Walking and prenatal yoga are two things I can recommend a lot. I blame climbing up and down three flights of stairs daily for my baby being positioned right and low from the 30th week.

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Nothing like running after a toddler to keep active and fit!

 

Learn breathing and meditation techniques.
You will realize how much it helps you to keep calm during labor. When you feel you might lose it, breath and come back to your center, you will be ready to ride the next contraction. You might want to learn different techniques as Hypnobabies or Hypnobirthing, these are not so much hypnosis, as the name suggests, but tools to learn to relax. Yoga can help achieve a good relaxed state too.

Do give yourself a pep talk!
You are a strong woman, there are a lot of things you’ve been through successfully. I know that for sure, after all you did go through a C-section: you were cut open, stitched closed, and were taking care of a newborn before you could recover. This is just one more challenging thing to go through.
My husband, if at any moment I started thinking I could not go through with it, was in charge of reminding me of a bunch of things I tackled that were very hard and I didn’t know if I could go through them. One of my motivations was that I did run a 5K having gotten shin splints a few days before the event. Running the whole thing was excruciating, but I made it and I did enjoy the beautiful landscape. Labor was not as bad 🙂

Attend a local ICAN meeting.
I did not get to, my schedule did not allow, but it is a good idea. You will meet like minded people and learn from their experiences.

Acknowledge your fears.
Do not let fear take over you, but acknowledge what you feel, talk about it with your partner, doula, doctor or a good friend, keeping things inside will only make it worse. Many times we just need to say things out loud.
I was of the idea that I could deal with the contractions just fine, but I was terrified of pushing and passing a baby through my vagina. After all, I’ve cried during pap smears in the past. Talking about it made me realize that by the time the baby would be about to come out there is no way any doctor would accept to give me an epidural. The epidural would take longer to catch than the baby to come out, so knowing that I was doomed made me feel at ease that I was not going to cave out.

And remember, labor and delivery will be a few hours of your life. You are in for a much more challenging experience, which is mothering two (or more) children for years to come…. labor is a piece of cake compared to that!





Hiking with your kids

21 07 2013

Do you live in Pittsburgh and want to know about a great place to go for a hike with small children? Reservoir Drive Walk might be just right for you!
Read about it in my guest blog post at the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog, my favourite blog to learn about things to do with my little ones!

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Greg and Ignacio having the best time in the woods.





Updates on gardening

25 06 2013

After having lost one cucumber and one okra plant, temperatures finally settled and Summer started… sort of. We still have a lot of fluctuations, some cold days, some really hot days, but no more freezing. We just had a couple of very rainy weeks and the result was tomatoes on steroids! The plants are so big that I had to cut one down because it got larger than the cage and I was afraid the branches were too heavy for them to have enough support.

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Huge tomatoes, caged zucchini, and lots of goodness to come!

I also decided to cage the zucchini plant. I know it is not a very orthodox move (do you cage zucchini?) but I needed to get it out of my peppers, cucumbers and eggplants. It is now growing upwards inside the cage, I just have to give it gentle nudges to keep the leaves inside every few days. An interesting side effect of being inexperienced about anything is that sometimes you come up with solutions that are not the norm, will they work? only time will tell. For example, I realized that the second cucumber plant I planted was not a bush like my first choice, but a vine… surprise! So I got a bamboo rod and I am getting it to climb up along it. My husband told me you normally have them in a trellis, but maybe this will work, what do you think?

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A friend of mine passed me some chives, which are happily rooting in Ignacio’s plot, and I started some lettuce inside. That proved to be more challenging than what I thought. My first batch got burnt by the sun one particularly hot day, so my next batch I move around for it to get good morning sun but not to get too hot afternoon sun… Ignacio is delighted watering them. The second challenge is that the cats find them yummy. Yesterday I started a second batch outside, because I want to see how they do outside compared with inside and because everybody is of the idea that having a succession of seeds started every two weeks is best.

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I put the chives in water until the rains passed and I could go out in the garden and plant them. They performed really well.

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Lettuces in a pot, the leaves are super pretty too!

The tomatoes are full of fruits, all of them green. The peppers are too fruiting… today Ignacio sneaked away and took my first pepper way before its time. I was rather sad… I really was looking forward to eating that yellow pepper :/ we ate it anyway, but it was not fleshed out, not good tasting… meh. Next one will be.

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That little pepper? It is no more.

I am so excited about all the plants doing so well I even got another okra to give it a try again now that the frost is not a danger anymore. My husband gave me a bunch of gardening books for my birthday and I am really looking forward the next growing season so I can actually plan a garden to get started early and have a good harvest season early on.

What do you like to plant best? Ideas?





We are eating our back yard!!

29 05 2013

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The cutest helping hands ever!

Our apartment complex did something wonderful and prepared raised beds for the tenants, we requested one and they even made a little plot for our two year old! He is so excited about it! I think this is such a wonderful experience for all of us, not only we get to eat fresh veggies but he also will learn a lot about nature, gardening and responsibly taking care of plants.

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You cannot get any more local than this!

I have never gardened before, so this is a learning experience for me too. So far I’ve had herbs and other plants in pots, our tomatoes attempts indoors failed each time, so this is certainly a lot of learning.

Initially I planted corn, okra, three different tomatoes, different color bell peppers, two eggplants, zucchini, cucumber, rosemary, parsley, thyme and basil seeds; only to be hit by a surprise late frost and lose our okra and

cucumber the first week. I planted another cucumber plant and some cilantro and thought it would be best to start reading about the plants I chose, because obviously just watering them was not going to work.

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Our first tomato! I am so excited about this that it is silly!

So next week I mulched the beds. This is a process that took three sessions… incredible how everything can take so long when you are hauling a baby and a two year old! But the mulching got done, and to keep it green I used grass that was just cut and from the grounds in our apartment complex. Not only it would protect the dirt from overheating and losing moisture too fast, but it should also bring back nutrients to the dirt and attract animals that might be beneficial for our plants (Hello, little spider!).

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers :)

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers 🙂

Last weekend though, I found my eggplant was attracting flea beetles, so I went to the interweb again to try to find a solution for that problem that

would be viable with my green living ideal. So on Monday I went over to the nearest Starbucks to get some coffee grounds that I promptly placed around our two eggplants. I hope it works!

Our plants are growing strong and healthy, except the cucumber that keeps getting hit by low temperatures at night, which come out of nowhere. My basil seedlings are starting to grow and soon I’ll be thinning them and choosing a few vigorous plants to keep… the rest might become salad 🙂

Are you gardening already? How do you deal with pests, do you have any suggestion for flea beetles?

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Flea beetles… boo!





Nursing Ignacio: My battle with breastfeeding III

4 02 2013

This is the third part of my breast feeding story. You can find the first and second part here and here.

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Breakthrough

I am a scientist, and as my friend Julia would put it “You can take the scientist out of the lab, but you cannot take the lab out of the scientist”, so it was a given for me that I needed to keep track of my progress one way or another to see if what I was doing was working at all. I did record painstakingly how much formula Ignacio was taking, how much breast milk I was expressing and giving him, and how many minutes he was staying at the breast. Each time he fed I recorded everything I could. I then graphed all those variables, made tables, analyzed them statistically, but the data seemed confusing and chaotic. Babies do not feed exactly the same amount at each feeding and the bars were going up and down with no much visible reason. I tried to find a pattern, so I logged each feeding, then grouped the data in days and graphed each day, and finally I did the same per week, averaging the data for seven days, so I would get an idea of how much supplement (breast milk plus formula) he was taking per day for each week. That was the grouping I needed to see a trend. Having a daily average of formula consumption per week gave me a clear look at how things were evolving. Once I saw that the trend was that we were using less and less formula, some very heavy weight disappeared from my heart, I was joyful for the time being, my efforts were working! The most encouraging thing for me was to read about how it gets to a point in which babies arrest their increase in milk consumption, so if I could work things out little by little, I might be able to exclusively breast feed (EBF) my baby at last.

I kept working in this fashion. I was a little more relaxed about going out, but not much, I was reluctant about using the NSS out of the house because Ignacio did not like it and he would fight me a bit and disrobe me, and I felt terrible each time I’d give him a bottle, because I felt I was sabotaging myself. As time progressed things seemed to be going on better, but there was always that need for supplementing with formula, which was driving me crazy. My husband would tell me “It’s OK if you don’t get 100% production, we are using just a small amount of formula, you are doing a great job!”. But I just kept thinking of all those adoptive moms, and how many did reach full production.

Accidentally I found the right position for my child to latch and nurse happily.

Accidentally I found the right position for my child to latch and nurse happily.

I remember one particular night, it was so crazy hot that the AC just would not keep the house cool, so we moved the bassinet to the living room for Ignacio to be more comfortable. We also went to the living room because our bedroom was an oven, and at about 5 AM Ignacio woke (once more!) to feed. Greg went to the kitchen to prepare a bottle and I snuggled Ignacio against me to keep him happier in the meanwhile, and to my surprise, as I was laying on my side he started to nurse from my breast! Alone! No NSS. He nursed, and nursed, and nursed, and I could have cried of joy. When he was done I offered the other breast and he took it, and he was happy and needed no more milk! I was ecstatic.

The next day I emailed Nancy and she called me to ask questions, she suggested that I use the same position during the day for some time, and then we could work on getting him to nurse in more comfortable ways. So I did. Each time I would pick him up and lay in bed on my side and bring him to my breast. He actually did nurse like that, sometimes from one breast, sometimes from two, and when he needed I would go and bring a Lact-Aid bag for him and keep nursing with expressed milk. Nursing in this position was challenging, I was laying a lot of total hours by the end of the day and my hips and shoulders were sore, but it was working. A week or week and a half later I tried to nurse him sitting up and it worked! I was so happy!

Sometime there I did hit the three months mark, but I felt I was so close, and Nancy had so much faith in me, that it felt wrong to give up just then. In between all this progress, I remember one particular terrible day, I could not express *any* milk, I thought I was doomed again and that was the end of it. Ignacio was terribly fussy and I needed to give him a lot of formula… and the next day I got my period. I learned from experience that the day before and the first day of your period, your milk supply dips, but it goes up again… and your child gets crabby! He actually was PMSing!
From then on everything went smoother, Ignacio was happier without all the tubing and me too, and I found that I needed to supplement so little that I didn’t worry before hand to prepare anything for the day, just the few days he would need something I would go ahead and prepare some formula. Until one day I noticed that I had not prepared anything for a week. And then two weeks, and that was it! Going a bit into the fifth month, I was EBF my baby!

Yay mom, we made it!!!

Yay mom, we made it!!!

You have no idea the sentiment of achievement this brought to me, and it still does. It was a lot of work and it was a lot of sorrow, it was tiring, challenging and more than once I just wanted to give up. But I didn’t, and it is till the day of today that I feel proud of myself because of that as I’ve never felt before. It would have been so easy to give up, a lot of people justified it for me saying that I had given it a honest good try and that it was OK not to nurse, but I just couldn’t be in peace with that.

Ignacio nursed for 15 months,  I am satisfied about how things turned out for us. It was not all rosy, some days I was rolling my eyes at having to sit with him for an hour while he nursed, some days I just was tired of waking up through the night to nurse him (believe me, he was a challenge for a long time at night!) and some days I just was not too happy of having to nurse him every hour and a half. But those days I reminded myself of how much I actually had fought for it, and I was happy because when everything seemed lost I could prevail over self doubt and hardship and I could give my son the best I had, my own milk.

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Conclusion:

Breastfeeding can be very hard. There is a lot I did wrong:

I did not educate myself enough about breastfeeding before having a baby. I trusted “I would know what to do”.
I did not wait a little longer before introducing formula.
I stopped pumping following advice that was not valid. If I would have been more educated I would have taken the option of not listening.
I did not use a NSS, instead I used a bottle, which was a very bad idea.
I waited too long to get help. I should have called a LC before Ignacio stopped nursing all together.

This is what helped me succeed:

Excellent support system. Without my husband, my mom, mother in law and sister, who took over tasks for me to pump, I could not have done it.
I read a great book full of practical advice.
I had an excellent lactation consultant that cared and worried about me and my baby.
I pumped 8-10 times a day.
I went to the Pittsburgh Breastfeeding Center
I used a NSS, which kept the baby at my breast for longer.
I did not give up.

Supplementation graphic starting at two months of life, when I introduced the NSS. I lied to myself, I kept pushing for EBF after the third month.

Supplementation graphic starting at two months of life, when I introduced the NSS. I lied to myself, I couldn’t give up at month three.

I am expecting my second child now, and of course I am a little anxious about breastfeeding, given that it was so hard with Ignacio. However, this time I have experience and resources, and I know where to go for help as soon as I see things are not improving.

I hope this very long story helps someone out there, I hope you do not feel judged if you decided to go for formula, if you found it too challenging, did not have the support you needed, or if you just did not want to deal with it. But if you do want to nurse and are facing trouble, I hope this will help a little bit. And if you feel like, you can drop me a line, I will be more than happy to explain further and to go deeper on anything you want.