Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Playing "Red Light-Green Light" with Sleep

Back in junior high, we used to go to the skating rink on weekends (wow, that totally ages me!). The place we went to played that cheesy "red light-green light" game where you try to get to the finish line but have to stop when "red light" is called and go when "green light" is called.

I think Brayden is playing that game with sleep. But unlike the rink announcer, he's not calling out "red light" before he decides to stop sleeping or "green light" when he's ready to resume.

Three weeks ago, Brayden's sleep was a major "red light." He was waking up every 2.5-3 hours through the night. The only way he could get to sleep was nursing and the only place he would sleep was in his swing (a big change from him at two months, when he was sleeping for a six hour block in his crib). Oh - and he hates pacifiers, so nix that idea.

After getting pretty worried that he wasn't getting a healthy amount of sleep, I went back through all my sleep websites and re-read most of the books I have. I talked to my mom, my ped and other moms who had non-sleepers. Most of the advice was the same: I had to just let him cry to learn to fall asleep on his own. Lauren and I really didn't want to do it but reluctantly decided it was in his best interest.

We got all geared up and ready for a week of misery. The night we decided to start, I nursed him as usual and had a nice long talk with him about what we were going to do. I moved him to his crib (instead of his swing) and braced myself for some heavy tears. Instead, within ten seconds, this was him:

"I love messing with mom and dad's sanity levels."
Seriously? Are you kidding me? I called Lauren (who was working late) and told him. He assured me that within two or three hours, Brayden would wake up and be really mad. After 2.5 hours, he did wake up. He complained for a bit, and started to cry... but went back to sleep within 10 minutes. (Lauren and I decided Brayden was deriving much satisfaction from messing with us.) Within three days, he wasn't even waking up before the morning (we started off feeding him when he woke around 11 to make sure he wasn't hungry before morning). "Wow - that was so easy," we foolishly thought. "He never even really cried."

Jump to today and laugh at my previous naivety.

Things are still way better than before, but the sleep light seems to be changing to red again. After about five days of awesome sleep, Brayden started waking up about 20 minutes earlier each day. Lauren joked that he was on a 23-hour day. It got to the point where he was waking up at 4:45 to start his day. No amount of nursing or coaxing could get him to go back to sleep. I didn't really like the choices we had - either let him cry until a set wake-up time or nurse him and try to get him to go back to sleep (and when that didn't work, he'd still end up crying).  We went back to a "dream feed" at 11 in hopes that it would help him sleep longer. It didn't make too much of a difference. I tried putting him to sleep even earlier (since most sources seem to tout the value of an early bedtime), but that led to another 5am wake up call. (He goes down for the night around 6:45-7:15 these days. Do I really need to move it even earlier???)

His naps have also diminished a bit. He used to take three hour-long naps (or two 1 hour 15 minute naps). Yesterday, he took three 30-40 minute naps. Not very restorative, really.

So here we are again, playing the "what the heck do we do?" game. We're not fans of Brayden starting his day at 5 am. Nor are we fans of him crying for an hour and a half each morning. Our most recent idea is to stop his 11pm feeding and wait until he wakes up on his own sometime after 11 and feed him then. Our concern is that it will promote a return of night-wakings (if he knows we'll feed him when he wakes up, why not wake up more?).

Advice on how to get the light green again is always welcome. In the meantime, I'll do what I usually do at red lights: WAIT. And Lauren will do what he usually does at red lights: CURSE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

At this time one year ago...

November 15, 2011. Doing the pregnant thing and loving life.

At this time one year ago, I was sketching out drawings for our nursery while my fifth period English 9 Honors class took their Fahrenheit 451 test. I was probably feeling a bit nauseated at the time. I had just started the phase of my pregnancy that Lauren laughs about. The sleeping-all-the-time phase. I would come home from school, make dinner, and then pass out on the couch. Around 7:00. Every day. At 11, Lauren would wake me up and tell me to go upstairs to bed. And I would. It was awesome. I don't even remember what that much sleep feels like anymore.

At this time one year ago, I was basking in the pure joy and excitement of being pregnant. It was still a secret from most people. Lauren and I had told our immediate family a while ago but only recently shared the wonderful news with our friends. Lauren sent an email out to them that included the following sentiments:

"Krystin and I have something exciting to tell you. Yes, yes....the inevitable has happened. I have procreated, and I have chosen Krystin as my lucky host! ... Now that my genes are being passed on, you can all rest a little easier."

At this time one year ago, I had no idea whether Lauren and I would be welcoming a baby boy or a baby girl into our lives. We were probably arguing about girl names (because for some reason, those were so much harder for us to come up with) and thinking about what life would be like when we expanded our family.

At this time one year ago, I was thankful for my amazing life. It was full of unbelievable blessings. An incredible husband who (as much as I hate to admit this because it will only add fuel to his fire) is hilarious and constantly makes me laugh. Two active and loving dogs who make it nearly impossible to have a grumpy day. Supportive family members, amazing friends, a great house, excellent health, a job I was good at. The list went on. And I was expecting it to get even better.

At this time one year ago, I had no idea how much better it would actually get. I thought my life was amazing then. I can't believe how much more amazing it is now. Funny how a little bit of perspective can change everything. Now - one year later - my heart is full of more love than I have ever known and my life is full of more joy than I ever thought possible.

He just makes my heart melt.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Great Pancake Debate

This weekend, I made pancakes. A lot of pancakes. Seven different kinds of pancakes, actually.

The stack-filled weekend was not the result of a lost bet. Nor was it evidence of my growing insanity into house-wifery. It was all part of my master plan -- my "pancake showdown" if you will.

Since I have way too many recipes for pancakes, I decided it was time to find the "best" one. The only real way to do that is to have a taste-test and see which one comes out on top. So that's what we did. I looked through my saved weblinks, dog-eared cookbooks, and torn magazine pages, and found the ones that sounded best. I decided on seven different kinds and set up shop for the weekend.

The timing of the event was pretty good, since we would have an extra pancake-eater for the weekend. As part of my husband's (early) birthday gift, I flew his best friend in from Indiana as a surprise. It was quite a relief to have a third person to help tackle the 60-something pancakes I ended up making.

I made the dry mixes in advance, so I'd have less to measure out on the morning of pancake day(Actually, I instructed my wonderful husband to measure everything out and put it all in ziplock bags).

Day 1 of my systematic approach to figuring out the best pancake recipe.

It always baffles me how different pancake recipes can be. Some use milk, others buttermilk, others ricotta or cottage cheese (my mom even told me about some phantom pancake that uses club soda!). The first round of pancakes I made were buttermilk or milk based; the second day's pancakes were ricotta or cottage cheese based. For the record, the cottage cheese one was pretty inedible (for two out of the three of us). All the others were at least decent. In general, I thought the milk/buttermilk ones were better than the ricotta. They were more traditional and more of what you think of when you're looking for "good pancakes."

The weekend taste test was interesting. It was nice to slow down and really focus on how something tastes. Flavors, textures... it all went into consideration when we were figuring out which one was best. Some were flat, others chewy, others light and fluffy.

In the end, two pancakes came out on top. I liked one more than the other; my hubby had the order inversed. Since this is my blog and not his, I'm putting the recipe for my favorite one here. It's a definitely the more traditional of the two - a fluffy, tasty, buttery buttermilk pancake. Lauren liked one of the ricotta ones. It was definitely more decadent than the buttermilk (using stiff egg whites gently folded into the batter to make them crazy light) but not quite as traditional. Both of them were super yummy though.

The weekend wasn't without its irony, however. I finally found the recipe for "perfect" pancakes. But in the process, I ate so many that I won't be making them for quite some time. :)

Day 1 Pancakes: Buttermilk & Milk-Based
Day 2 Pancakes: Ricotta & Cottage Cheese-Based
Winning Pancake Recipe
Alton Brown's Buttermilk Pancakes

Instant Pancake Mix:
Make this in advance and store in an airtight container. The day you want pancakes, you'll use some of the mix (like you would store-bought mix) and add wet ingredients.  We halved this part easily. With how yummy it was though, I wouldn't mind making a full batch to keep some on hand.

6 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Buttermilk Pancakes:
2 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk (I made sure not to use the low-fat kind)
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups "Instant Pancake Mix" (from above)

On Pancake Day:
Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg milk mixture in a larger bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work out the lumps. (I made sure to use a lot of restraint here... leaving some patches of flour and not mixing it until it was smooth -- or even combined).

Make sure the griddle is hot enough (place a few drops on the surface. If the water dances across it, it's ready). Lightly butter the griddle by rubbing a stick across the surface. Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle. Sprinkle fruit on top, if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until pancake is set.

Makes about 12 pancakes.

*If you're in the mood for something a bit more decadent, here's the recipe for the (runner up) Ricotta Pancakes. We didn't make the lemon curd, but it looks tasty.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Random Thought on Bad Cooks

I should start by emphasizing the fact that I love cooking. Love it, love it, love it.

I love experimenting with food, trying out recipes, and coming up with new things for me and the hubby to eat. I especially love making something myself that is usually purchased from a store. If I can find basic guidelines or a recipe for something, I'm up for trying it.

So, last week, I was getting pretty excited about making food for Brayden in a few months and was thinking about how much things have changed over the years (yep, this is a "good ol' days" posting). The conclusion I came to was this: If you're a bad cook, it's not really your fault. It's one of those unfortunate "changing-times" things. Allow me to explain...

I'm always surprised by how many of my female friends tell me "I'm such a bad cook." Or alternatively, how many of my male friends complain about their wife's "sub-par" kitchen skills (because clearly using "bad cook" in the same sentence as their significant other is a no-no). I have quite a few of friends who eat out regularly because they simply "can't cook." For the most part, when you think about our grandparents' (and to a lesser extent, our parents') generation, this just wasn't the case. You think of the proverbial 1950s housewife (donned in an apron) taking a pie out of the oven while her husband and 2.5 kids eat an elaborate rack of lamb. You don't typically think of that scene ending with the family pushing away the meal because it tasted like something you clean your car with.

By and large, our generation's cooking skills just don't hold a candle to our grandparents'. I'm sure there are dozens of reasons for that, but I think one of the biggest (and most unfortunate) reasons is because of the way meals have shifted to outside of the home. Our grandparents didn't have a McDonald's on every street corner or the ability to eat out at restaurants every week. Eating out was a luxury - a treat.  The way they fed themselves (and this is a novel concept here...) was by cooking. Practice makes perfect and they practiced all the time.

The other part to this is that because meals were cooked and eaten inside the home, kids grew up around cooking and typically helped out during the process. I'm sure most of our parents or grandparents spent countless days helping their own parents in the kitchen. They were righ there next to their parents -- mixing, blending, breaking eggs and observing. From an early age, they were exposed to cooking. From an early age, they were learning skills of the kitchen. And, from an early age, they were being taught that there's nothing wrong with spending an hour preparing a meal with love. This is so much different than today's generation who I fear is learning that speed and convenience is far more important than quality. Or that food is an afterthought or something to fit into a busy schedule. There's really no replacing homecooked meals made by people who love you and enjoyed at the table with your family (Recently, there's been a plethora of scholarly research done about the diminishing "family meals" and how important they really are for families and children).

Because so many more families eat out (and eat out often) these days, there just isn't the same focus on homecooked meals. And when parents do cook, I wonder how often they include their children in the process. I'm sure a good many of them do... but I'm also betting it's not nearly as it once was.

When my dad came to visit me in Virginia last summer, we went to a local farmer's market to get fruit for some jam I was making. He was so shocked that I knew how to "do all that kind of stuff" and was able to make a batch of (super-tasty!) jellies and jams that ended up lasting almost a year. This was normal in our grandparent's generation. Canning, preserving, making homecooked meals and being a good cook were the norm. They seem more like the exception these days. And you know, that's sad to me.

Personally, I'm really excited to expose my kids to cooking and to make it a point to eat together as a family at the kitchen table. I'm excited to have them help me in the kitchen and to teach them everything I can. I also know that I'm a fairly skilled cook. It seems to take more effort these days to know your way around the kitchen. But in my opinion, it's totally worth it.