Why I Eventually Chose Laser Frenectomy for BOTH My Kids

Well, who would have thought I’d ever write that headline? Not me, that’s for sure.

My 6 1/2 year old son’s Type 3 posterior tongue tie (before frenectomy). See the “webbing” that is pulling back on his teeth?

 

My daughter’s Class 3 upper lip tie — it goes straight in between in her teeth. Brushing was near impossible!

The Backstory

When my daughter was two weeks old, she was diagnosed with a class III upper lip tie (this blog has a great discussion of upper lip ties) (ULT) and type 3 posterior tongue tie (PTT). We were experiencing nursing problems and I was told she might benefit from an elective procedure called a frenotomy to surgically clip, or sever, the ties. I flat-out refused. In my mind, she didn’t need it. She was gaining weight like crazy. She looked like a little sumo wrestler. I was in minimal discomfort during nursing (okay…. To be clear, the first few weeks were excruciating. But eventually, the pain leveled off and became more of an irritation rather than toe-curling torture; it was tolerable….or so I thought).

Flash Forward a Year and a Half

A year and a half after that initial diagnosis, I changed my mind.

*record screeches to a halt*

What? Why the change of heart?

Well… here’s what happened:  I’d had a year and a half to rethink my initial decision — to do research, consult with experts, read personal anecdotes of other families with tongue- and lip-tied children, to observe my own kids — to live with the consequences of untreated ties.

After much deliberation and soul-searching, I finally decided to have BOTH my kids undergo this surgery. We opted for what’s called a laser frenectomy.

What Changed My Mind

My daughter’s symptoms:

  • Her lower front incisors began leaning in towards her tongue and getting a lot of  tartar build-up behind them.
  • Her upper central incisors developed plaque regularly; we could not brush efficiently in between her teeth because the frenulum was in the way.
  • Nursing, while tolerable, was never perfect (I developed recurring milk blisters, plugged ducts, and near episodes of mastitis; I always had irritation during feeds and afterwards, my nipples always looked slanted, like a brand-new tube of lipstick).
  • She did/does not chew her food enough; I always find large chunks of undigested food in her poop — even soft stuff, like avocados.

My son’s symptoms:

  • When he was an infant, he was a marathon nurser. No kidding. He would latch on for 45 minutes straight; unlatch for 15 minutes, and want to latch on again and repeat the cycle… all. day. long.
  • He projectile vomited after every feed. (I cry when I think of all the milk that was wasted!)
  • I experienced recurring plugged ducts, insufficient emptying of milk, engorgement.
  • After starting solids, he would gag whenever he ate, even soft foods like avocados.
  • He had a super sensitive gag reflex — he vomited whenever he coughed from illness or physical exertion (including laughing or light running).
  • He ate much too quickly, swallowed lots of air, preferred to wash foods down with some sort of liquid. Displayed a “pot belly” because of all the air swallowed and improper digestion.
  • He had infrequent bowel movements. When he was exclusively breastfed as an infant, his world record was 18 days without a poop. Everyone said that must be because my milk was so “pure.” While I wanted to desperately believe that theory, I always had a niggling hunch that something was wrong. When he began solids, he’d go 3 or 4 days without pooping, and then when it finally came, it was always with much crying and effort. And I had tried *everything* to ease his discomfort — prune juice, pears, loads of vitamin C, loads of liquids, greens, coconut and olive oils, mangoes, etc.
  • He was unable to produce certain sounds during speech, especially “r,” “s,” “sh,” and “ch.” He couldn’t even say his own name until he was about 5 years old. He would resort to spelling it out instead of saying it and felt sad and frustrated that he couldn’t say his own name.

The Chosen One

I wasn’t going to take my kids to just any local laser-happy doc (most dentists have NO CLUE how to properly diagnose lip or tongue ties). In the end, we chose Dr. James Jesse in San Bernardino to be our laser frenectomy provider. He was recommended to us by Dr. Larry Kotlow, arguably the world’s foremost expert on all things tongue/lip tie. He (and many others) declared Dr. Jesse to be THE laser frenectomy authority on the West coast.

The Procedure

My son went first. He was nearly 7 years old at the time. All in all, he took everything in stride. First was the topical numbing gel. We waited a couple of minutes for that to take effect. He drooled some and said he really didn’t like not feeling his lips. Then came the Ridiculously Huge Needle Filled with Local Anesthetic. That was probably the hardest part. He squirmed at the shots (2 in his upper lip frenulum and, if I recall correctly — it’s now starting to become a hazy memory — for me, not him! — and 2 in his lingual frenulum). After a minute or two, Dr. Jesse began lasering. The actual lasering portion of the procedure probably took less than 5 minutes total for both the ULT and TT. When he was finished, I gave my son a popsicle that we had brought from home in a cooler. It melted en route, so it was more like an Icee, but he took it gratefully.

My daughter, 19 months old at the time, went next. I had to lie down in the exam chair, embracing her in a “mama bear hug.” Her head was on my left shoulder and while I held her torso and arms, an assistant held her head still, and yet another assistant held her legs still. Dr. Jesse opened her mouth with one hand while the other hand maneuvered the laser. The procedure lasted about 15 minutes. I won’t lie to you. It was probably the longest 15 minutes ever. She cried the entire time. From the moment the numbing gel went on to when we were finished. At one point, she began mimicking the doctor and nurses with a distraught and prolonged “say Ahhhhh!” By the time the procedure was over, she and I were sweating buckets.

The Aftermath – Pain Management

Pseudo-crunchy mom that I am, I was bound and determined NOT to use any pharmaceuticals for pain management. Homeopathics were my go-to.  Here’s what I bought: Arnica, Staphysagria, Aconite, and Hypericum (all Hylands brand; but I didn’t use any of them). In the end, I wound up using a custom “Post Tongue Tie Release” tincture from my IBCLC that contained the aforementioned remedies, as well as Rescue Remedy for Kids (glycerin-based).

My daughter seemed to respond well to the homeopathic tincture, RR, and TONS of nursing. She also enjoyed coconut popsicles and ice cold fresh coconut water to “numb” her mouth. My son, however, seemed to be in more pain (despite frequent self-servings of fruit popsicles and chocolate ice cream!), so I did give him a couple of doses of Tylenol to take the edge off.

My son, 24 hours post-laser frenectomy. It’s the “classic” diamond-shaped wound that is made after releasing a posterior tongue tie.
His upper lip tie released; also a diamond shape.
My daughter 24 hours after laser frenectomy. She wouldn’t let me anywhere near her mouth to get a better pic. I’m lucky I got this one! (Look at that molar coming in back there! Poor thing, her mouth was all kinds of owies for a while.)

The Aftermath – Stretches/Massages/Craniosacral Therapy/Orofacial Myology

Dr. Jesse advised us to do upper lip stretches (pulling the upper lip all the way up to the nose 3x every waking hour for a week) and said that NO stretches or massages of any kind were needed for under the tongue. In his professional opinion, he believed that both my kids were old enough that their normal tongue mobility during talking and eating was enough movement to discourage any “reattachment” of the wound site.

I wasn’t convinced. I had read many, many articles (by The Medical Experts) and personal accounts which insisted that frequent and even “assertive” stretches and massages were required to prevent the ties from coming back.

So, I implemented my own stretching/massage routine. Every day, six times a day, for TWO weeks, I would sweep across my kids’ frenectomy wound sites with a gloved finger, using a bit of extra virgin coconut oil as a soothing lubricant. I’d sweep under the lip horizontally three times. Then I’d sweep under the tongue — three times horizontally, three times vertically — right over the diamond-shaped wound. In the first week, I used little to no pressure, just lightly grazing over the sites. In the second week, I applied a firmer pressure, similar to using a rubber eraser — somewhat firm, but not what I’d call aggressive.

Let me be clear. These were the most traumatic two weeks I’ve ever experienced as a parent. Ever. I thoroughly hated myself for what I was doing to my kids (they cried every single time; and I’m pretty sure they hated me, too), but I kept doing it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought the alternative was doing NO stretches/massages but risking reattachment and having to go in for surgery again. That was not a viable option. I could NOT put my children through this whole ordeal only to go back to the square one and start it all over again. No way.

So I persevered. And so did they. At the three week mark, I reduced the massages to three times a day. My kids were mostly healed and no longer vehemently protested the massages (there was still some whining, but none of the sobbing that ensued during the first two weeks). During this time, my son resumed lip and tongue exercises recommended by his orofacial myologist to help the wounds heal properly (without reattaching), as well as encourage new muscle movement. At the four week mark, I stopped the massages/stretches altogether.

My son and daughter have also had craniosacral therapy sessions (pre- and post-surgery) to help loosen any residual mouth, jaw, and neck tightness to encourage the newly released oral muscles to learn how to move and function properly.

Did/do the Stretches/Massages Prevent Reattachment?

I wish, wish, wish I had the answer to this. I don’t. Only time will tell.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice regarding frenectomy aftercare. Some docs recommend stretching and massaging the wound sites, many times a day for two, sometimes three, weeks. Some docs recommend doing nothing at all.

I found this lack of solid protocol maddening. It frustrated me to read one expert’s advice about how massages were absolutely required to prevent reattachment, but then read about how reattachment still happens despite following those recommendations. On the flip side, I’d read stories about how parents did nothing, and their kids healed fantastically anyway. It’s enough to make me scream! There definitely needs be some Properly Designed Research Studies (I’ll leave that to the science-y, statistically minded types) to suss all this out once and for all.

My son, 4 weeks post laser frenectomy.
The off-white scar tissue is all gone, leaving a ghostly trace of the diamond-shaped wound.

Now What?

We are now at the five week mark. My son continues to do his orofacial exercises, and my daughter tries to imitate him. She also voluntarily and enthusiastically lifts up her own upper lip and likes to wag her tongue around, basically being a silly toddler.

In my non-medical expert opinion, I think that my son’s upper lip frenulum has grown back some (not all, just some). Dr. Jesse says it looks totally normal — most of the restrictive tissue has been removed, and my son now has a more “normal” -looking and -functioning frenulum. I still think that my son has some tightness under his tongue. The “webbing” you see (in the first photo of this post) is greatly reduced, but there’s still some there. I think that he may need to have the “floor” of his mouth revised. I still am researching this, but I believe that lasering is done below the salivary glands to release any tight tissue there. He still has some speech issues and we will most likely seek the help of a speech therapist soon.

On the up side, my daughter’s upper lip looks fantastic. The frenulum that went in between her teeth is completely gone. There a little frenulum tissue way high up, but it no longer gets in the way when we brush, and she is MUCH more amenable to letting us brush there now. And when she smiles, you can see all of her top teeth (before surgery, her upper lip would conceal most of her upper teeth when she smiled). She also is able to open her mouth much wider than before, and that is good news for us, in terms of nursing. She does sometimes revert back to a more shallow latch, and humping the back of her tongue while nursing (so irritating!), but I’m continuing to encourage a deeper latch. As for her lingual frenulum… well, she won’t really let me in there for a good look. At the two week mark, I was convinced that I felt tight frenulum tissue (where there wasn’t any immediately post-op) whenever I ran my finger under her tongue. Without getting a good look, however, I can’t really say for sure.

Of course, the only one who will be able to give any actionable, professional insight and advice is our provider, Dr. Jesse. He has been very supportive and responsive to all my obsessive, imploring emails, and has said that we can come back for a follow-up to see how things have healed and see how we should move forward. I just may do that. (The only caveat being that he’s a couple hours’ drive from us, so if we do discover that additional lasering is needed, we need to be mentally, emotionally, and logistically prepared for that scenario. If that, indeed, turns out to be the case, I’m not sure I want to do it again so soon….)

Lessons Learned

My big takeaway: Laser frenectomy is not a magic bullet, not an overnight magical solution. While I have read wonderful stories of nursing babies suddenly achieving The Perfect Latch and kids being able to touch their noses with their tongues after revision, that’s not been our experience….But it’s early yet.

Overall, I feel good about our decision to choose frenectomies for our kids. There seem to be some tangible benefits already, and I’m optimistic that with more time and diligence (especially on the part of our kids), we will see further improvement.

Below are my older posts, in case you are interested in the evolution of my attitude towards tongue and lip ties and frenectomies.

Why I’m Choosing Not to Clip My Baby’s Tongue Tie

Osteopathic Manipulation Update: Is It Working?

Breastfeeding an Older Infant with Posterior Tongue Tie

What the Heck – Blebs and Plugged Ducts at 8 1/2 Months?

Nursing a Toddler with Tongue Tie

Websites/Resources that Helped Me Think All This Through

Dr. Larry Kotlow

Dr. Alison Hazelbaker’s book Tongue Tie

Frenectomy Today (a well-written, detailed personal account of tongue and lip tie)

Nurtured Child

Samantha Guerra’s story

Tongue Tie Babies Support Group on Facebook (the parents and medical professionals on this board offer an incredible wealth of information, support, and compassion)

Your turn! What’s your take on the whole tongue-tie issue? Did you or are you breastfeeding a child with a tongue- or lip-tie? Are you choosing to clip/laser? Why or why not? If you chose to have the procedure done, did/do you notice a difference? What advice or words of wisdom would you give to a parent just starting out on this long, winding tongue/lip tie journey? 

Posted in breastfeeding, craniosacral therapy, frenectomy, health, orofacial myology, tongue tie, upper lip tie | Tagged , , , , , | 32 Comments

Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar (WHEY version)

So I finally got off my lazy rump and decided to make homemade yogurt. (It’s been delicious, we add it to everything, my kids and I have devoured it by the quart every few days, and when we run out, we all go crazy missing it; the store-bought stuff is just not the same.)

Anyhow, with homemade yogurt as part of my fermenting routine, I’ve finally gotten regular access to LIQUID WHEY. In small amounts, but I don’t really need gallons of it; just enough to kickstart my “funky fermenting experiments” (says the husband).

In my original post (Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar) I was mistakenly cavalier about the un-necessaryness (Holy cow, is that even a word? I swear, I used to be pretty good at Scrabble. Please bear with me… my brain is running on fumes right now; I’ve been sleep deprived for about 7 years…ahhhh, motherhood!!) of using liquid whey for fermenting. What I mean is, I made it sound like making sauerkraut with only salt was just as good as making it with whey.

Now that I’ve tried both, I have to admit, I prefer the lacto-fermented (whey) version.

My first few batches of non-whey sauerkraut were extremely salty. Mouth-puckeringly salty. Oh sure, eventually I learned to eyeball the amount of cabbage and better gauge how much salt to use, and got tasty results. But now, with the addition of whey, I can reduce the salt content AND consistently get a fantastic batch of sauerkraut.

Benefits of using whey

Since whey is packed with good bacteria, it gives the cabbage the “boost” it needs to ferment. I’ve actually seen the fermentation bubbles and watched the cabbage expand much more using whey. And oh, the taste. It’s out of this world. Slightly salty, tangy, carbonated, crunchy ‘kraut.

So, how does one “make” whey? It sounds like a pain at first (which is why I pooh-poohed it at the start of my fermentation journey), but really, it’s very simple, and after you do it just once, it’s a no-brainer.

Here’s my super lazy, no-fancy-gadgets but effective method to “making” liquid whey (stolen from the Comments section in my original sauerkraut post).

  1. Place a coffee filter in your typical metal food strainer
  2. Place the filter-lined strainer in a slightly larger bowl or pot so that it sits snugly inside with enough space between the bottom of the strainer and bottom of bowl/pot for the liquid whey to pool up in
  3. Put about a cup of yogurt (homemade or store-bought organic PLAIN whole milk yogurt) in the coffee filter (which is still lining the strainer… you with me??)
  4. Cover the yogurt/filter strainer contraption with some saran wrap just because you don’t weird stuff floating onto your yogurt/whey.
  5. Leave on counter (or place in fridge if your kitchen is unusually warm) and wait about 6 hours.

When all is said and done, you should have about 1/4 cup or more of pure yellowish liquid whey (looks a lot like lemonade), packed with probiotics and protein. It’s tangy just like yogurt. I’ve stored it in the fridge for about a month and it’s fine. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon says it can be stored in the fridge in the mason jar for six months. (Incidentally, the strained yogurt is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s basically thick, Greek yogurt. We love it plain or with a drizzle of honey. Delicious!)

How Much Whey to Use to Make a Quart of Sauerkraut

I’ve used about 4 Tbsp of whey plus 1 level Tbsp of Himalayan salt to my quart-size batches of sauerkraut and have gotten fantastic results. It’s seriously fermented. After three days of fermentation, I’ll pop open the jar and hear a satisfying “thhhhpp” as the suction is released and the bubbles start fizzing to the top. My toddler asks for her “dowt-dowt” with nearly every meal and my 6 1/2 year old son prefers it to the store-bought sauerkraut.

Have you made sauerkraut with whey and without? Can you tell the difference? Which version do you prefer?

 

Posted in fermented foods, food/recipes, health, recipes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Nursing a Toddler with Tongue-Tie

If you enjoy reading the post below, you may be interested in a more current post entitled “Why I Eventually Chose Laser Frenectomy for BOTH My Kids.”

***

Where, oh where, has the time gone? Baby S is now 13 months old, and walking everywhere! My heart just swells with love and wonder when I see her pudgy little feet tromping around our hardwood floors. She’s like a pint-sized security guard, doing her rounds, making sure everything is just so in our little house.

And, hooray! We’re still nursing. For this, I am eternally grateful. It was tough going in the beginning, then things became easier, then they became harder, then easier, then harder. But I never doubted that we’d get this far. My ultimate goal is to nurse her until she self-weans. So far, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t achieve that goal.

Despite her busier (and sometimes glamorous — check out the cool gypsy skirt!) toddler schedule, my daughter still makes time to relax and nurse. I’m happy to oblige.

But to be completely, brutally honest with myself, if I had to do it all over again — if I could turn back time — I just might have opted for the frenotomy and crossed fingers that it would actually improve things (because a clipping does NOT come with a guarantee). If that comes as a shock or a disappointment to any moms who are in a similar boat, I apologize. I just had NO idea where this would all go.

With my first child, my son, he, too had a tongue-tie, but it was undiagnosed. So I just powered through the first 6 to 8 weeks in excruciating pain, assuming that I just had to “toughen up” my first-time mama nipples. Sometime around the 8th week, things turned for the better, and nursing became a painless, effortless breeze, and we happily nursed until he self-weaned at 3 1/2!

That’s what I was hoping would happen here, with Baby S. Not so (which just goes to show that every baby is truly different!). I’ve dealt with recurring milk blisters (blebs), plugged ducts, a close-call with mastitis, and soreness about half the time. In the beginning, I rated my discomfort a 1 or 2. Well, whenever my daughter starts to teethe (which seems to be a neverending process), my pain level spikes to a 5 or 6 — for days on end. Lansinoh helps to lightly numb the pain, and when it gets particularly unbearable, I do turn to Advil (just one does the trick) to take away the edge.

Perhaps, though, it’s not the tongue-tie alone that makes things challenging. It could also be her class 3 upper lip-tie. I’d say about 80% of the time, I have to adjust her latch by flipping out her upper lip for her. It stays out, which is ideal, but it’s just one more thing I have to do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge inconvenience for me, but for her, it must be incredibly annoying to always have Mom fiddling with her mouth when she just wants to nurse!

On the plus side, I do believe that all this upper lip flipping has actually helped to stretch her upper lip tie! No kidding. She does not have a gap in between her two top front teeth, like I thought she would, and you can see all her top teeth when she smiles. I think, that if her lip tie were truly tight, then her upper lip would predominantly cover her top teeth when she smiles. So… if her upper lip frenulum can be stretched, then perhaps so can her tongue-tie. Maybe, just maybe, the physical act of regular breastfeeding will help to stretch her lingual frenulum over time, mitigating any of the alleged future problems of untreated tongue-tie (speech problems, dental problems, etc.) A mom can hope.

Right now, this very minute, am I in any pain? No. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, though, I would have said yes. But thankfully, I’m in no pain whatsoever anymore. Not even a 1 or 2, thank goodness. I’m a nice, pain-free ZERO! I’m hoping that the worst of her teething is over (she’s cutting four more teeth right now — two on the top and two on the bottom!), and that this marks the beginning of smooth sailing.

But enough about me. How is the baby doing? Is she healthy? Is she happy? Is she developing normally??? Well, thank you for asking! As a matter of fact, she’s doing extremely well. According to those silly percentiles, she is perfectly average — 50th percentile for both height and weight. She’s meeting all of her developmental milestones. She’s walking, and talking (“mama” “dada”), using baby sign language, and she adores eating solid foods! I truly am optimistic that things will only get better from here on out. I try to remember that this is a really small sliver of time in her life and mine, and to embrace and appreciate all the good and wonderful things about nursing. Like how she plays with my hair, and how she smiles and laughs, and even how she holds her foot up to my face so I can plant a kiss on it — all while nursing. It’s a precious gift, our nursing relationship, and I’m ever-so-thankful.

Anyone else out there nursing a tongue-tied toddler? How is it different from nursing a baby with tongue-tie, if at all? Is there anything you wish you could change?  

Posted in breastfeeding, tongue tie, upper lip tie | Tagged | 5 Comments

Homemade Butter in a Jar (Easy Homeschool Science Activity)

Am I a total dork if I think that homemade butter is SO cool? I know, I know…. I’m just now jumping on this homemade-everything bandwagon, but seriously, it’s so super-duper neat. I mean, like, I can’t stop grinning at the fact that we MADE butter from scratch. And, and… It. Was. Delicious. T and I spread it on thick on some soft whole wheat bread, and just about died and went to gluten and dairy heaven.

You have to try it.

Organic Valley heavy whipping cream
We used Organic Valley. I wasn’t thrilled that they include carrageenan, which has inflammatory and possibly carcinogenic properties. Next time, we’ll try to find an organic raw cream (Organic Pastures is coming to mind).

What you need:

Heavy whipping cream (we used a 16 oz. carton of Organic Valley)

Pint size glass mason jar with lid

Some elbow grease!

What you do:

Fill the jar halfway with cream (you want to leave some air space). Close the lid tightly. Begin shaking the jar. Yes, that’s right. Shake the jar. You can take turns with your kids if you want. I’m sure they’ll be chomping at the bit to help. (T was so eager to shake at first, but after about 90 seconds of full-body convulsing, he gladly handed it over to me, pronouncing breathlessly that he was “taking a break.”)

homemade butter in a jar
Who needs a “Shake Weight” when you can make homemade butter in a jar?

You’ll shake and feel and see the liquid sloshing around for about 7 minutes. After the 7 minute mark, you’ll notice that there’s no more liquid. At this point, it’s officially whipped cream! But don’t stop shaking. Keep going for about 2 or 3 more minutes. At this point, you’ll notice a thinner liquid being sloshed around again (this is buttermilk) and a firm lump thonking around, too (that would be the butter).

Drain the buttermilk into a small bowl and if you like, you can resume shaking the lump of butter until more buttermilk comes out. Store butter and buttermilk in fridge (in separate air-tight containers). Not sure how long these are good for — ours didn’t last but one day. I wasn’t sure what to do with the buttermilk; I suppose you could cook with it. T drank the buttermilk straight and really enjoyed it, saying it tasted just like raw milk.

homemade butter in bowl with buttermilk
I never really had a full appreciation for the phrase “soft as butter.” Until now.
homemade butter on bread
Did we lay it on a little thick? Maybe. But did we enjoy every square millimeter of its creamy goodness? You bet.

Exactly what prompted us to try making butter from scratch? Homeschooling! Yes, that’s right — our current read-aloud book made us want to try this. We’re about half-way through Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and we’re in love with it. We just don’t want it to end (luckily, it’s a pretty long series). In the first few chapters, we meet the Ingalls family and get acquainted with their pioneer lifestyle, which includes meticulous descriptions of various chores of that era, including butter churning. A quick Google search later, we find this great video that shows us exactly what to do, and here we are!

This little activity has given my son a greater understanding of how different the pioneers’ lifestyle was from ours. There was just so much more essential work to do. As for how we framed this learning activity for our charter school (and the state), I filed it under “Science.” The concepts being learned? Er…um… Crap. You want me to talk science? Brain…tuning…out… Must…try…to sound…coherent…

Don’t quote me, but I think it’s physics. The cream is made of solids and liquids. Shaking the cream separates the liquids from the solids, and forces the solids (molecules of fat) to stick together and form the butter.

Whew. That’s about all I can say about that. If you want details, don’t ask me. I’m still trying to fully comprehend it myself. Google it, you’ll find what you need. If you need a starting place, here’s a pretty science-y description of how butter is made.

My husband: “You know you can buy butter at the store now, right?” This is his favorite joke for everything that I’ve ever done that’s homemade. Yogurt. Sauerkraut. Broth. I’m used to it. I get my satisfaction when he — along with the kids — is happily munching on whatever homemade concoction I’ve come up with. That’s my reward. :o )

Happy butter making!

 

Posted in food/recipes, homeschooling, recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Easy Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar

As I’m a total wide-eyed newbie in the world of fermented foods and beverages, I decided to try my hand at what’s probably the easiest fermented food in the world to make — sauerkraut.

I wanted all the health benefits of fermented foods but I wasn’t quite ready to jump into pickling yet (although I will just about kill for a well-done, crisp dill pickle), and homemade yogurt takes too long for my already time-crunched schedule.

Enter sauerkraut. There are just two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Some recipes advocate the use of whey, but again, my time-crunched schedule does not allow me to gallivant around town searching for organic whey, much less make my own!! Someday though, someday.

sauerkraut
I used good quality salt this time and the end product tastes just like the expensive gourmet brand!

To be upfront, my first attempt at making sauerkraut was a total flop. I used a really small head of cabbage and WAY too much cheap bulk sea salt, and the resulting batch was inedible. Much, much too salty. No amount of rinsing would reduce the straight-from-the-Pacific-Ocean briney-ness. It was like gobbling up liquefied salt by the tablespoonful. Yuck.

THIS time, I used a much larger head of cabbage (if I had to guess, it was probably about 8 or 9 inches in diameter), and a much higher quality salt. Now, I don’t know much about all the different grades of salt, but here’s how this bag of Himalayan “culinary mineral salt” touted itself: “These gourmet salt crystals are ideal for seasonings and brines as well as creating luxurious bath salts, body scrubs and more.” 

You mean I can eat it and then exfoliate my knees with it, too? What a deal! Sold!

Ahem.

Here’s how I made my second batch of sauerkraut:

Recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar

This is a blend of recipes I found online, but mostly inspired by the recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.

1 medium head of organic cabbage

1 – 2 level tablespoons of high quality sea salt (I used 1 1/2 Tbsp.)

Wash cabbage thoroughly. Remove and discard outer layers of cabbage. Cut cabbage into large wedges at first, discarding core. Then slice cabbage wedges into very thin strips (or use a food processor to shred coarsely — not too finely!). Place sliced cabbage into large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Using your CLEAN hands, massage the salt into the cabbage until cabbage begins to release juices. Warning: This part takes a few minutes and your fingers may start to freeze if you’ve left your cabbage in the fridge (where else would you keep cabbage??). Or, you can always use a thick wooden spoon or pestle to mash the cabbage instead.

Cover bowl loosely with paper towel and let sit for about an hour until the cabbage begins to soften and most of the water is released.

Again, with CLEAN hands continue massaging cabbage until there’s a good amount of juice in the bottom of the bowl. Pack cabbage firmly into clean quart-sized mason jar — some sources even say you should sterilize (boil) the jar before fermenting to (ostensibly) prevent the growth of botulism and other mold (shhhh….I didn’t! This guy says botulism via fermenting is virtually unheard of. Despite the crazy hairdo, I believe him!). Cabbage should be completely covered by liquid. Leave about two inches of empty space between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar (fermenting expands the cabbage). Seal jar with NEW lid and band.

Let sit on countertop undisturbed for at least 3 days. On the third day, take a bit out to taste. If it tastes ready — salty, tangy, oh so good! — go ahead and put the jar into the fridge. Enjoy cold, room temperature, or infuse your stew or soup with tons of flavor!

Have you made sauerkraut at home? Do you use jars or a special crock? Do you seal to ferment or leave exposed to air? How long do you let yours ferment? Let’s share ‘kraut stories!

 

Posted in fermented foods, food/recipes | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Guest Post: Heather Von St. James – A Young Mom’s Fight with an Old Man’s Disease

Heather Von St. James & Daughter
Heather Von St. James & Daughter Lily Rose – Heather is a courageous mother, wife, and survivor of mesothelioma cancer.

When I first got a “guest post” request from Heather Von St. James, I was hugely flattered but also a little dubious. Why my blog? It’s just a teensy personal soap box that I have NO time to update — honestly, it’s barely a blip in the blogging scene. I was close to forgoing the whole thing. But then I read Heather’s story and I knew this was something I wanted to help out with, even if just a little bit. Please welcome Heather. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve ever met and I’m proud to share her story.

*** 

“You have cancer.”

Those three words immediately strike fear into the very core of your being. When I first heard those words, it was at a time in my life when everything should have been wonderful. I had just had a baby 3 1/2 months prior. Now, I was being told I had cancer. To be more precise, I was told I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. This is a cancer caused primarily by asbestos exposure.

I was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the young age of 36. At the time, the Mayo clinic had only heard of one other case in someone so young. Usually, mesothelioma patients tend to be older men. These patients are also almost always someone who has worked in the trades. People who work in plumbing or heating, electricians and mechanics are sometimes exposed. Military personal that worked on ships can also come in contact. After their husbands became sick, many of the wives of these workers also became sick. Wives who did their husbands laundry, wives who shook out the dust from their husband’s dirty clothes before putting them in the washing machine. This clothing was caked with asbestos. Women who worked as secretaries in schools laden with asbestos also became sick.

“Asbestos? Wait, isn’t that banned?” This is the first question I get when I tell people about my cancer. The next question people ask is always “Where were you exposed?” The answer to the first question is no, it is not banned. The answer to the second question is that I came in contact with asbestos by secondary exposure. It was on my father’s work clothes. He worked in construction, mainly doing drywall taping, mudding and sanding. The dust he came in contact with contained asbestos. This white dust seemed so innocent, but it was filled with millions of microscopic asbestos fibers. My father unknowingly brought the dust home on his clothes and in his car.

The next generation of mesothelioma patients was starting to show up. I was the start of a frightening trend. More and more young people are now being diagnosed with this deadly cancer. Adults who came in contact with asbestos as children are starting to become sick. The people went to schools where asbestos tiles where crumbling. As children, they played in vermiculite insulation contaminated with asbestos, which can be found in attics in millions of homes across America. They were children like me, daddy’s girls who would jump into their father’s arms, hug him at the end of a long day to welcome him home. Girls who would put daddies dusty jacket on to go feed the rabbits because they didn’t want theirs to get dirty. They were children who hung out with their dads after they got home from a day at work installing insulation around pipes.

The more I get involved in the mesothelioma community, the more young patients I am getting to know. These men and women are in their late 20s and early 30s. They are young men and women just starting their lives with new marriages, babies and new jobs. These exciting new lives are all coming to a screeching halt to concentrate on surviving mesothelioma.

The good news is that there are more and more advances in the treatment of this disease. Every day, more and more people of all ages are surviving.

Heather Von St. James & Family
Today, Heather Von St. James is a six year mesothelioma cancer survivor and continues to provide unending inspiration to mesothelioma victims around the globe.

 

Yes, hearing the words “You have cancer” is absolutely devastating. However, I continue to hold onto hope, as do so many of us who get mesothelioma. We come together as a community to share our experience, to support one another, to cry when things aren’t working, and celebrate the victories we do have. So why do I do what I do? Why do I share my story? I do it to bring about awareness. Until there is more awareness nothing will change. If my story can offer hope to someone newly diagnosed, or stop someone from living in fear of mesothelioma, then I am doing the right thing.

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Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum Reviews – What Worked (and Didn’t) for Us

The reason I chose to homeschool through a public charter school last year was to help give me some structure. I had *no* idea how to begin homeschooling my son, and I was desperate for some guidance on how to choose curriculum, as well as how to organize our learning time. I’m still in the same boat this year (he will be entering 1st grade), but thankfully, this time I have a tad more confidence in my ability to choose materials that he will enjoy, as well as organize our days/weeks so that we accomplish things but at a realistic and enjoyable pace.

Are you in the process of choosing a curriculum for your kindergartener? Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all your choices? When I first launched our homeschool journey last year, I know I was. Below is a list of books that we used in our kindergarten curriculum, and what we liked/didn’t like about each. Hope you find it useful!

Kindergarten/First-Grade Curriculum Book Reviews 

Five in a Row Vol. 1Five in a Row - This was a pleasant surprise. This book introduced me to the idea of “unit studies.” If you’re unfamiliar with that term, it just means that you take a story/book that your child likes and extract from it lessons in math, language arts, social studies, science, art, geography, etc. The thought is that because children are already enamored with a story or book, they will have a much more vested interest in the subjects they are studying, and will therefore learn more efficiently and better retain what they learn. I’m not sure we got all that with this one little book, but we loved it as the primary part of our language arts curriculum, and I am fascinated by the idea of unit studies and will definitely plan on pursuing our own version of unit studies in the future. A few of the stories in FIAR were not to my taste (The Story of Ping, for instance, which condones physical punishment of a wayward duckling); but the vast majority of the stories were just wonderful and really mind-opening for both me and my son (we found A Pair of Red Clogs, The Rag Coat, and Who Owns the Sun? especially moving). Overall, I’d highly recommend this book. We plan on using volume 2 this fall.

How to Make Books with Children - I know, it sounds like a wonderful title, right? “How to Make Books with Kids”? Sign me up! What could be more instructional than actually *creating* a book from scratch? I know better now. I found this book to be nothing more than busy work. My son was minimally interested in coloring the pages and even less thrilled about having to write stuff down. (His handwriting skills have improved some since this past spring, but he still is not crazy about practicing his penmanship.) I found myself having to coax and beg him to finish these handmade “books,” and often, we’d forego any content and he would simply just color the pages (as fast as possible because he really didn’t care to do it), write his name on the whole thing, staple it, and turn it in. I think the point of this series is to teach children about the anatomy of a book: Every book has a beginning (cover), middle (content), and end (back cover). But, my goodness, that’s a lesson that my son (an avid reader) learned eons ago, and we certainly didn’t need a workbook to teach him these things. Your experience may differ.

Singapore Math - We are still working through volume B of the Earlybird Kindergarten Math textbook and activity book. The pages are colorful and engaging and definitely caught my son’s eye. He looked forward to the concepts he was learning, but again, was not crazy about having to practice writing his numbers. (Incidentally, I’m not too concerned about his aversion to handwriting. He is still young and his fine motor skills are still developing. The last thing I want to do is make him hate handwriting. I am optimistic that he will learn to do it eagerly when he’s ready. There. That was my “enlightened mommy moment of the day.” I’m learning, right??) But back to Singapore Math… I believe volumes A and B address all concepts “required” by California. We followed some of the instructions exactly; we skipped over or improvised other lessons simply because it made more sense to teach it our way. I don’t think we will continue with this curriculum this year. I’m currently still wading through our math options (it’s a dizzying endeavor). Got any recommendations??

The Young Scientists’ Club - Now this may be just me (I am SO *not* Science Mom), but I found myself avoiding these science experiments like the plague. They just seemed so wholly contrived. “Okay, sweetie, today we’re going to learn about capillary action. Say it once with me: cap-ill-ary ac-tion!” Ugh. They send you a new package every month or so, and each one contains MOST of the materials that you will need to conduct your “experiments.” My problems were a) lack of time and b) lack of motivation. With a new baby in our household, I found the prospect of prepping for and conducting experiments a daunting one, and I dealt with it the only way I knew how: I procrastinated. The “Heart & Lungs” kit is still gathering dust on our homeschooling bookshelf. My excuse? We didn’t have food coloring or empty 2-liter bottles laying around, so we couldn’t do the experiments. Pathetic, right? Instead, for science, I chose to do experiments/crafts in the garden, take field trips to our local science museum, and did a few small, un-intimidating projects from some science books I found at thrift stores. We also made use of the Internet, and watched videos (gasp!) of tornadoes, Mars rovers, solar flares, insects, mammals, etc. etc. I know you Waldorfers out there are tsk-tsk’ing my choices. We’ve since backed off on using instructional videos (simply because I can’t stand seeing my son slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, and then hyper and unbearable for three hours after) but I retain the right to re-introduce the teacher-in-a-box as needed.

Story of the World Volume 1Story of the World Vol. 1 Ancient Times - This one was by far T’s favorite book. It has made him absolutely gung-ho about social studies. He was riveted by the ways and fables of ancient Egypt, the Romans, the Greeks. We did some of the activities that were suggested in the student and teacher’s manuals. Mostly, though, this book was just another opportunity for us to read aloud together, which is T’s most cherished activity in the whole wide world. I plan on getting the audio CD’s of this volume, he loved it that much. I’ve heard that some kids don’t really go for SOTW because it covers each civilization too superficially. I get that. Some kids want to delve in deeper, get to know the juicy details of each group of people and their day-to-day lives. I can see that. My son, however, has been very content to learn about many civilizations at a very basic level. For now. I imagine that he will let me know when he wants to learn more about a certain topic, and at that point, we’ll dig a little deeper.

I hope this list of kindergarten materials has helped you a bit in making your choices for your child’s schooling this year. Just remember that kindergarten is optional in many states and even if you choose to teach from workbooks and have an actual curriculum, that what’s most important is that your child be interested in it. If it feels too hard or if there’s resistance, it’s probably not working and you need to find something else. I can say all this because hindsight is 20/20. I *wish* I had been more laid back last year. I became way too stressed about turning in enough “samples” to our charter school and I lost sight of what was most important — my son’s enjoyment of the learning process. This year, I vow to guide and follow his lead, his interests. And trust that the learning will happen.

How about you? What are your plans for homeschooling your kindergartener or first-grader this year? What materials, books, and resources worked for you and your child? Do share!

 

 

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Why do strangers want to touch my baby?

I know that Baby S has some pretty chubby cheeks. They’re like glowing ripe peaches perched on either side of her nose. They are the first thing that you see when you meet her. (The second thing you notice is her unblinking, soul-melting stare.)

So, yes. She’s a cute baby — even I have to resist the urge to nibble at her whenever I’m holding her.

But since when does that make it OK for a complete stranger to touch my child??

Once, I took the kids to our local science museum. Being a weekday, I figured it would be fairly deserted and we’d have better chance at seeing most of the exhibits up-close. Wishful thinking. Every school kid in San Diego county must have been there for a field trip that day. And they all happened to pour like ants from a fumigated ant hole out of this one hallway towards us.

As usual, I was wearing S in the Ergo. Snug as a bug, she couldn’t be any closer to me unless we were skin-to-skin. But that didn’t stop a forward little girl from flitting right up to us, laying her fingers on S’s cheek, and cooing, “Oh-you-have-such-a-cute-little-baby-can-I-touch-her?” (after already touching her). All this happened in the course of about 5 nanoseconds, during which time I had no chance to formulate a civil and gentle response. So the first thing that popped out of my mouth was a firm “No, thank you!”

The polite Asian in me felt immediately embarrassed. “No, thank you”? How rude of me!

But my inner-Mama Bear was in a much greater state of indignance. “What the heck? Who are you and why are you touching my baby?”

I was affronted.

But I shouldn’t have been. I had gone through the same thing many, many times already with my first-born. When T was a baby, he also sported the world’s most pinch-able cheeks. Every grandma within a mile radius would glom onto him like a moth to a flame. “Ohhhh! What a sweet BAAAY-bee!” Their voices would always rise several octaves, and they’d make clucking noises, as if it just wasn’t fair that a baby boy should be so cute. And then they’d proceed, like zombies, to reach out with their arms extended to cup his entire face in their hands. While I was holding him. I swear, it was like I wasn’t even there.

I didn’t handle it gracefully then (and I don’t handle it well now). I remember backing away slowly and mumbling, “Please don’t touch my baby.” Again, not so polite. But what was I to do? I was a first-time mother, rabidly protective of my only son, and here were these germy strangers exhaling all over him and man-handling his cheeks, hair, and fingers! What’s a introverted, germaphobe mother to do??

Now that I’m going through the same thing all over again, I have to ask myself, What is it about babies that literally makes some people just want to reach out and touch?

Is it our innate need for connection? Human beings are such social creatures, aren’t we? Except for a very small minority, we literally CRAVE connection with others. And babies seem to bring out this need to connect in a most magnified way. Why babies? Well, I suppose it’s their purity. The way they gaze up at you with 100% unconditional trust and love.

Or is it our hard-wired human instinct to protect the young? Babies are so very helpless. They have no defenses. Their self-protective mechanism is to cry and flail about, thereby attracting the attention of caregivers (and, ironically, predators). But they are so very dependent on us, aren’t they? Perhaps this is why most people just naturally, reflexively, want to hold babies.

I can only guess.

How about you? Has a stranger ever crossed the line into your and your baby’s personal space? How do you handle it? What’s a polite way of fending them off? While my instinct is to snarl, “Get your grubby paws off my kid’s face”, I’d most certainly regret it later (especially if my six-year-old were watching — “Mommy forgot the Rule, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’”)

What do you think?

Posted in babywearing, parenting | Tagged | 4 Comments

Recurring blebs (milk blisters) and breastfeeding

Well, I’ve been taking the soy lecithin (non-GMO, thank you very much) for about a month to treat my annoying blebs (milk blisters) and plugged ducts.

I am happy to report that I have not experienced any more plugged ducts since taking this product. I have, however, had to deal with recurring blebs. I just can’t shake the buggers. I get one at least once a week, and always on the same (right) side. I do what I always do… I feel one coming on (nursing feels kinda sting-y), and then I notice the little white bump, and then I pop it. Yeah, yeah… I’m gross that way, but it’s what needs to be done, and it works without fail.

I started off by taking 1 Tbsp. of the soy lecithin in the morning. Just recently, I started taking 1 Tbsp. in the a.m. and another 1/2 Tbsp. in the p.m. We’ll see if that gets rid of the blebs altogether. I sure hope so. I’m getting way too accustomed to routinely sticking a needle in my milk makers.

It’s a little embarrassing sharing all this information, but my aim is to help other moms through similar problems.

Anyway, I’ll probably continue to up my dosage of lecithin to a max of 2 Tbsp./day until the blebs are all gone (ideally). At some point, I may switch to a non-soy version of lecithin. NOW Foods makes a lecithin supplement from non-GMO sunflower.

Are you using lecithin to treat plugged ducts or milk blisters? Is it working for you??  

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What the heck – blebs and plugged ducts at 8 1/2 mos?

UPDATE: If you enjoy reading the post below, you may be interested in a more current post entitled “Why I Eventually Chose Laser Frenectomy for BOTH My Kids.”

***

So my wee princess is now 8 1/2 months old and we are encountering a bit of a bumpy road in terms of nursing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with agonizing over plugged ducts and/or milk blisters (also affectionately known as “blebs,” which, I think is one of those onomatopoeia-ish words, er…words that sound like what they are, like “sizzle” or “slurp.” OK, granted, a milk blister doesn’t make any sounds, but if it did vocalize, it most certainly would sound like a mini Jabba the Hut going, “Bleb!” Don’t you think?)

Anywho. Nursing has not been a walk in the park as of late. It’s been painful and a proverbial pain to have to constantly be working on getting healthy. But. But…I think we’re getting there.

Have you ever had a bleb? Or a plugged duct? Perhaps that’s why you’re here. Well, if, after many, many relatively easy months of nursing, you suddenly find yourself with toe-curling pain during nursing, you may be suffering from a bleb. Check the very tip of your nipple. Do you see a white dot or teeny blister-like bump? Sort of like a pimple? Yes? That’s a bleb. Now pop it. Yes. You read that right. Pop that sucker. Get a sewing needle, hold the point under a flame for 10 to 15 seconds, get it glowing-red hot, and then wipe it off with a cottonball soaked in hydrogen peroxide. Then, gently (ladies, do I really have to emphasize “gently”?) pierce the top layer of the bleb with the needle. Use the same sort of motion you’d use for removing a superficial splinter. Do not poke straight into the milk blister into the nipple. That would be insane, and not necessary.

After you pierce the bleb, you may see milk drip or ooze out (could be clumpy or stringy even). Don’t freak out, it’s just the clog clearing itself. Clean the area with hydrogen peroxide, and you may wish to dab on some Neosporin (not right before nursing though). I did this once, but then remembered that breastmilk itself possesses antibacterial properties. I do use Lansinoh ointment (the purple tube) to alleviate pain. After clearing the bleb, there may be residual soreness for a day or two but it should subside.

Often (but not always) blebs can be accompanied by their partners in crime, Plugged Ducts. These are unwelcome guests indeed. A plugged duct is a step away from mastitis, so if you  feel one coming on, do try your best to get it taken care of before it escalates into the Big M. A plugged duct feels like a hard, sore lump or area of your breast, similar to engorgement (remember that happening in the early days of nursing?) but usually isolated to only part of the breast. The best remedy for a plugged duct is to nurse, nurse, nurse. Essentially, you want to keep your breast(s) empty. And nurse effectively, meaning, make sure you and your baby are not getting lazy about latch and positioning (ahem…like yours truly). You can also apply a warm compress to the sore area, then massage gently in circles, working your way toward the nipple, to encourage the plug to clear. Massage/express in the shower, too — the warm water encourages your letdown. As does nursing. While baby is nursing on the unaffected side, simultaneously massage and express the affected side.

Other techniques to help discourage plugged ducts and blebs:

  • Get plenty of rest. (As I click-clack away on the laptop at 11pm. I swear, I’ll be in bed by midnight!)
  • Try not to stress. Momhood has really magnified my tendencies to be a major stress-case. Now that I’m a Mom x2, however, I am learning to mellow out some. I tell myself that everything, everything is temporary. “This, too, shall pass” is my motto. I take lots of deep breaths and attempt to just. let. go.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This does NOT include caffeine. Sorry. Water is the beverage of choice. Dress it up with some EmergenC, chia seeds, or what-have-you, but keep yourself well hydrated.
  • Reassess your diet. Are you getting enough fresh veggies and overall healthy foods? Are you taking a prenatal supplement? (You should be — you’re nursing!) Consider taking lecithin, a supplement that has been shown to alleviate recurrent plugged ducts. (Just ordered mine today; I’ll let you know if it works!)
  • Change nursing positions. This can be interesting. Try nursing your little one from above. This may require creative use of pillows and positioning, but by dangling your breast above your baby, gravity can help encourage the milk to flow and the clog to clear.
  • Nurse frequently (pump if you have to). Trust me, I am the LAST person to boss other moms around by telling them to pump because I thoroughly loathe pumping. But if baby is an inconsistent or inefficient nurser, by all means, dig out the pump. I have. I own an electric Medela double-pump, but honestly, I am so lazy about using it. I much prefer my Lansinoh manual pump. Easy to use, effective, and easy to clean. The point is to remove milk frequently and efficiently. If you keep things flowing well, blebs and plugged ducts should not occur.
  • Partner with your baby. Talk with your little one about getting a good latch and positioning yourselves properly. Babies totally understand us. S and I are coming to an understanding. If giving milkies hurts mama, we’re going to “let go” and “try again” until we get it right.

If you find yourself dealing with multiple bouts of plugged ducts or blebs, you may be asking, “why me? why now?” It’s so hard to say. I admit, I wonder if my problems have anything to do with my daughter having a tongue-tie and upper lip-tie. Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve come across many online forums with moms complaining of these problems, and their babies are the same age as my angel, and going through the same teething stages. Perhaps it’s the teething. Babies do change their latch when they get new teeth, and sort of have to learn to nurse comfortably all over again.

I suppose I’ll never know what the cause is. I am just optimistic that we are on the mend now, and like everything else, “This, too, shall pass.”

Posted in breastfeeding, tongue tie | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments