Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Life in a Nutshell: A Whale Tale

There comes a time in every gestation when you cease to be “cute pregnant” and start to be “scary pregnant”. I’m not talking about mood swings, either. You know you’re there when strangers stop trying to rub your belly and instead try to stop staring… after all, you’re so big your baby might actually be a basketball, and who wants to birth one of those? You’re no longer “glowing”… you’re simply red-faced and out of breath from the exertion of trying not to fall over. Your round little baby belly that mere months ago looked like body butter advertisements has now ballooned to planetary proportions, and the rest of you is helpless against its gravity. You used to be able to balance your bowl of ice cream on your tummy while reclining on the couch, but now it begins to slide towards your now over overly-ample bosom. No more the inquiring grocery store oohs and aahs over when your baby is due; instead, you are offered a Rascal for your convenience and asked politely not to deliver in Aisle 11.

Photo by www.photographybyjoelle.com on Flickr

At this particular point, everything going on below the maternity support belt is a complete mystery to you, and probably has been for some time. No longer can you see your toes, small children or where you’ll be taking your next step. However, lest you think this is all bad, some might consider it a distinct advantage to be in ignorant bliss of varicose veins, underbelly stretch marks, linea negra, hemorrhoids, and the swollen cankles brought on by unavoidable fluid retention. So what if you can’t paint your toe nails without an extension pole? So what if you can no longer shave your legs because you can’t reach them or balance in the shower? So what if you can’t see the ever-increasing number on the scale? It would probably not go over well anyway.

Photo by ulybug on Flickr

There seems to be no end to the impossible skin stretching, gasping for air, back discomfort and pelvic achiness, and the people around you are becoming legitimately anxious. Not so much for you and the baby, but apprehensive about what in the world they would do if your water broke right in front of them. How does one deliver a baby? Before I had my first kid, my free ride to work was contingent on the fact that I not give birth in the car during the drive. It would have been terribly inconvenient for my coworker… I’m sure it’s no fun to clean up the “goo of life”. This is why most people go to the hospital or birth center to have their baby, after all (isn’t it?). Put me through labor but, please dear loving God, don’t make me clean that up.

Well, let’s come to it… at 34 weeks, I am rapidly approaching that scary point, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll make it to the end. I will make it, to be sure, but the actual process of going from pre-natal to post-natal seems strangely curious to this experienced mom of three. I’ve done this several times before, I keep telling myself, and yet… I just don’t remember how it happens! The miracle of birth encompasses several miracles, really, including the ability of a body to forget the agony and occasional indignity of some of life’s most profound moments (luckily, you do tend to remember the really good parts).

Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

For my sake and for that of the people biting their fingernails when I waddle by these days, I’m tempted to put together an emergency birth kit… all the stuff someone would need to deliver my baby if I don’t make it to the hospital. I know I should be packing the birth bag, finishing the nursery or completing the prerequisite paperwork, but I just can’t help that my mind goes to 911 scenarios instead of pastel wall colors or picking a name. It’s part of the territory of impending motherhood. Resistance is futile.

But what would go in this kit? A tarp, for starters. Avoidance of “goo of life” on furniture, floor coverings and auto upholstery is crucial to the success of a delivery gone rogue. Then something to tie off the umbilical cord in two places, and scissors to cut it, of course. For some reason I also think it would be handy to have a bucket for the placenta (yeah, I said it), because it would have to go somewhere. I mean, someone would want to look at it, right? Hopefully someone with obstetrical background… to make sure nothing was amiss to cause hemorrhaging, right? And blankets. And towels. And diapers… Usually, once I get to the part where I’m considering diapers, it occurs to me that I would require something akin to a diaper for tidiness purposes before baby and I are whisked away from our adventurous birth experience to be examined by the medical community at large. It’s then that I decide I’d better get down to the business of preventing that scenario instead of planning it.

But that’s where I am now. Feeling like a whale, imagining birthing a bowling ball in the bathtub before the paramedics arrive, and wondering how it will all truly come to pass. I know not the day nor the hour, and I hope I’m ready when it arrives. But I will probably put a towel in the car anyway... you know… just in case…

Photo by rutlo on Flickr

*All images used are under attribution licensing via Flickr. Click a picture to see photographer’s name.*

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Celebrate the Baby: Sewing Pattern – Hospital-Type Newborn Wrap Top

I have been trying to get myself motivated to post a real pattern for a while now… too long, in fact. But I’m happy to end that today with this basic pattern for a hospital-type wrap top with optional hand covers to prevent scratching (one of my big baby annoyances… they’re so cute till they maul themselves about 3 minutes before you want to take pictures!). I based my design on the ones our hospital uses, but this will allow you to make much cuter, more personalized ones than the standard white-with-spit-up that you’re used to (well, that I’m used to, anyway).
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I am making this pattern available for download as a PDF via Google Docs. You will print it, cut out the pieces, then tape them together. I may at some point put this up for sale as a real pattern, at which point it will no longer be free here (so get it now!). But until then, enjoy, and please leave a comment and link back to pictures of your creations! Since this is a unisex garment, it would be a great way to spice up some baby shower gifts or upcycle/repurpose some old knit shirts.
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I’m not going to do a lot of describing… you’ll have to figure out your own construction (I used a serger, but you can use a conventional machine with a stretch stitch) and binding (you can use whatever method suits you best… knit binding, fold over elastic, or a simple rolled hem). You can use snaps (be sure to reinforce the fabric where you add them) or add ties to close it. The included seam allowance drafted into the pattern is 1/4”… feel free to make that wider if you need. To make the scratch mitt cuffs, fold each sleeve (while flat, before sewing into a tube) 1.5” from the hemmed edge of the sleeve (right sides together) and stitch in the center (so you can flip one side of the cuff over in either direction to cover the fingers). Then sew into a traditional sleeve. The bits of ribbon to which I attached the snaps on the brown top were 2” long and folded in half. The pink trim was 2” wide, folded in half, serged in place then wrapped around the seam and zigzagged to finish (it was quite bulky… I’ll probably rethink that next time).
Hopefully the photos help illustrate my construction… feel free to leave comments with any questions so I can clarify if I’ve left out anything crucial (very possible!). Pregnancy-brain is a real problem now!

DOWNLOAD the pattern here. (no longer accessible)

Update: This sewing pattern is now available for purchase here at my new blog, Thimble Pie.

Have fun!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From the Kitchen: Carol’s Chicken a la King

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe, but I have been cooking! My 2011 goal of weekly cooking is going very well. Unfortunately, I tend to take the best photos by natural light and, since we’re still in the dark evenings of our Michigan February, main dishes haven’t been forthcoming in photogenicity (notice the unnatural cast to the photos here). I made a nice Valentine’s Day dinner for my beloved… a pan-seared steak with red wine and shallot sauce recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (super yum!!)… and, although I was lovingly accused of orchestrating the meal primarily for a blog post (that’s how good it was!), it is clear now that that was not the case.

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But back to the case at hand… here’s a great recipe from my mother-in-law. This has always been a family favorite of theirs and, now that I’m family, it’s one of my favorites too. Sadly, I don’t make it often because I rarely have puff pastry around. It’s not exactly a freezer staple. And, though it is possible to make your own puff pastry, apparently it takes 3 days, and I’m much more likely to go to the store than spend that kind of time and advance planning for one meal. But it’s easily found in your local grocer’s freezer case, near the frozen pies.

Carol’s Chicken Ala King (3-4 servings)

Ingredients:

· ¼ cup butter

· 3 tbsp flour

· 1 cup strong chicken broth

· 1 cup milk (I used cream!)

· 1 tsp salt

· 1.5 cups fresh, chopped and sautéed mushrooms (I used a combination of white button and baby bella)

· ¼ cup chopped pimentos

· 2 cups diced cooked chicken

· 1 pkg Pepperidge Farms puff pastry shells, baked as directed (1 pkg has 6 shells)*

Directions:

Blend butter and flour in saucepan. Add mushrooms and sauté until well browned and bubbly. Slowly add broth and milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Add salt, pimento and chicken. Heat through. Serve hot in pastry shells.

*Note: Puff pastry does not reheat well, so consider baking more shells for using the leftover filling.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Product Review: KAMsnaps Pliers and Plastic Snaps

I feel this is an appropriate topic for Valentine’s Day… my love for this tool may be young, but it is true!

First, an admission: I have always wanted a snap press. A big, heavy, tabletop snap press. Why? I don’t really know. I’m a toolaholic, no doubt. Ever since I bought a bundle of Mother-Ease cloth diapers for my first kid, I have heard the quiet siren song of durable, washable, resin snaps… what can’t they be used for? So many possibilities… but the press was so expensive… it was my little pet crafty pipe dream.

Second, a confession: Several years ago, I purchased a set of Dritz pliers for metal snaps and eyelets. These seemed to be the only available middle ground between no snaps and the snaps I really wanted. If you’ve ever read a review of them, you know they are garbage (they rank 2 stars out of 5 after 50 reviews at JoAnn.com). Honestly… rather than helping you complete a project, they more often ruined the work you’d already done. They first require a hole to be punched through which you try to mate the snap cap to the business side of each snap, and disaster ensues. If all 6 prongs of the metal cap don’t align perfectly (a likely scenario), your snap looks crummy and won’t actually snap. So you have to rip it out by violence, throw it away and try again with a new snap. And then again. If you use this “tool” (labor-saving device? I beg to differ), prepare to be frustrated. And did I mention that the snaps themselves are prohibitively expensive? On average, maybe $5 for about 12 metal snap sets, not including shipping… a fact especially chapping when you need to try at least 3 sets to get one that works. FAIL!

But last week, for some unknown reason, my subconscious prodded me to look again. I wandered into several glowing reviews of KAM Snaps pliers, and I knew I was going to have to do a little more research. I found that California-based KAMsnaps.com had a great selection of resin snaps (maybe close to 100 colors and styles, with various cap sizes and prong lengths), had discounted plier sets and offered free shipping with a minimum purchase of $28. Beautiful. My impulse control was immediately gone, but that wasn’t a big deal because a very good starter set including pliers, awl, and 400 complete snap sets was only $34.95. Sold! 100 complete snap sets in regular sizes, with a full spectrum of colors to choose from in matte or glossy finish, cost only $5.00.

It arrived in 2 days! Amazing, but true… um, I think I will keep using Kamsnaps.com!! When I opened the package, I’m pretty sure I could hear the angel choirs. I might have been imagining that bit, but the pliers and snaps were surely Heaven-sent for the good of mankind. I ripped open the bag, pulled out some snap parts, and within 2 minutes had managed to make my first perfect working snap on the Tyvek mailer in which the tool was packaged. Open *click*. Closed *click*. Open *click*. Closed *click*. Awed silence…

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The snaps work their magic with a one prong method. You take the awl, poke a hole where you want the snap to go, then stick the cap prong through and top with a stud or socket, depending on which side of the snap you’re applying. Then you seat the cap into the die part of the pliers (you swap this out with the included screwdriver depending on the size of snap you’re using) and press down hard. The pliers flatten the prong into a disc so that there is no way it can fit back through the stud/socket hole, and your snap is perfectly secure and done! If something should go awry in this process (though it hasn’t happened to me yet), you only have a pinhole in your fabric, and you could easily redo it without damaging your project in the process. It sounds more complicated than it is… if you’ve ever tried other snap pliers, this set is intuitive and works perfectly. If you need a little visual help, they have excellent photo and video tutorials here. They were everything I had hoped they would be, and even easier.

I have since completed several projects with the pliers and snaps, including some stuffed animal pajamas (for practice) and some newborn kimono tops for Baby #4 (I hope to post a pattern/tutorial for this soon). Today I am planning to make a couple adjustable chinstrap hats and some more baby layette items to experiment with the possibilities of snaps. Probably also a diaper clutch and pacifier clips. And maybe I’ll convert a regular bra to a nursing bra. Or put snaps on some mittens we already have around so they can snap together and not get lost between wearings… I want to snap everything!!!!

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I really have nothing bad to say! I’m thrilled at the quality and performance of the snaps, and the pliers function just as they indicate and, with all metal construction (and replaceable cap dies), they should last forever. Unlike the Dritz pliers which I will now run over with my minivan, burn, then fling into the ocean while tears of joy run down my cheeks. That, or I’ll just toss them out like the garbage that they are, and move on without remorse. My creative life has taken a turn for the better, and there’s no reason to dwell on the painful past.

KAMsnaps? Oh yes! A+++

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Get Crafty: Inspirations from the Couch

Oh me, oh my… it’s been a solid week of whole-family illness and I’ve been dreaming of healthy days and the energy to do some projects! I have to catch up on the housework first, but here are some fabulously crafty tutorials and projects from fabulously crafty bloggers that have been keeping my spirits up in anticipation of happy days to come…

Firstly, I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of making a new baby carrier. I haven’t settled on a specific type yet, and I’ve been seeing a lot of neat ideas. One very attractive purchasable Ergo-like sewing pattern option is the sweetpod, with optional saddle bag attachment. I probably won’t end up making this due to the higher cost involved in the patterns and materials, but it was really neat to see what other crafty moms have made with in this flickr group.

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I have also seen some amazing mei tai carriers made by my friends using this great free tutorial by stilllearninglife with an optional hood/head rest add-on.

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Another free mei tai tutorial, which uses buckles, is also quite appealing.

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And I’d love to make some of these fabulous peekaboo toy sacks to help contain our burgeoning collections:

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And then there’s all manner of little tiny clothes for all the little tiny people who will soon be ex-utero… I especially love the 90 minute shirt and knee pad pants from MADE.

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And for the baby girls especially, this cotton onesie tutorial by Prudent Baby is almost too cute…

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There’s so much more I want to show you, but I need to go do some real work now… *sigh*… maybe tomorrow??

Stay healthy!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Life in a Nutshell: The Waiting Game

I’m getting rounder and less agile (if I ever was “agile”) every day now… and finding that simultaneous energy and motivation are a tall order. The end is in sight, but lately I’ve been battling boredom and succumbing to my 2 worst end-of-pregnancy weaknesses: labor and delivery daytime TV programs AND lemon gummy bears. Darn you, TLC, and your terrible time-wasting ploys! Not that I have anything better to be doing, but normally I hadn’t started this baffling trend until the last month or so. I know I’m not the only preggo watching them either, given the commercials they air during the show. That doesn’t comfort me, though, and I find that it doesn’t help me focus on the hundreds of other, more worthwhile tasks I could be doing in the meantime. Argh… but I guess if I’m tired and it’s keeping me sitting down, it’s not all that bad. But just a teeny, tiny bit depressing since I’m a person who relishes completed projects more than down time. Seasons of life…

When I’m not doing that, however, I’ve been playing around more with my new software acquisition… Garment Designer by Cochenille. I am discovering more and more its possibilities as well as its limitations. As I contemplate making my own soft-structured baby carrier (think Ergo or Boba), I am realizing that I cannot use this program for that project with any amount of ease, since it’s just not a traditional garment. That said, Garment Designer can come up with a great sloper that will aid in determining measurements for the carrier (if I ever make it). I’m also playing around with some basic newborn-size garments for several impending arrivals, and the software, with its built-in average slopers, makes that a breeze even without having an actually neonate in my arms to measure (which would not be so fun or easy anyway). I hope to design a few patterns to share, but I am not even at the prototyping stage given the aforementioned lack of energy. Maybe tomorrow? We’ll see :)

I’ve been doing very well with my 2011 goal of cooking more and shopping less, and lately I’ve been working on finding recipes and making freezable meals to make life easier down the road. Since the due date is a ways off, I expect any meals I make now to simplify life near the end, and I hope to do some serious meal prep in a month or so to stock up before the baby arrives, but without risking freezer burn. I have a couple cookbooks for that sort of cooking, like The Best Make-Ahead Recipe and Once a Month Cooking, but I’ve also found some wonderful online resources as well. Mom’s Budget is a site that has a nice assortment of freezer recipes, and Allrecipes.com also has a nice selection. I’m attempting to make a recipe database in MS Access that will assist in calculating the necessary ingredients for large batch prep of multiple meals at once, but I haven’t figured out a good way to do that just yet. But that’s just a matter of time and trial. It’s a perfect low-energy project, but the mental effort may outweigh the physical ease, thus thwarting my progress. Meh. If I were more motivated, I might care :)