Month: August 2018

To Know

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When I was a freshman in college, I sat in that big lecture hall in Jenks at Gordon College and walked through the Old Testament with Professor Hildebrandt. I have not thought of his name – or even remembered it – since graduation until this very moment.

Professor Hildebrandt introduced me to the idea that there are different types of “knowledge.” There is the knowledge that is based on simple information: as in, the knowledge of facts in an trivial sense. I know the world is round. I know there is a big rain forest in South America that is vital to our planet’s health and survival. It is facts, theories, testing. It is all cerebral.

Then there is experiential knowledge – also called a posteriori or empirical knowledge. This is knowledge that can only come from first-hand experience; via interaction with the fact. I have empirical knowledge of what it is like to be a woman, a mother, a lawyer. I have empirical knowledge of things lately I never wanted to know.

One night last month, I felt under attack. It was three months to the day Johnny left this earth. Other issues and conflicts and bad things I couldn’t control were swirling around in our world, attacking us from every angle. At 10:30 in the evening, the wet air filled with darkness, I sat on the front steps to my house with my husband beside me. My eyes swollen with tears.

I said to him, “I didn’t want to know.”

What I meant was, “I didn’t want to experience. I didn’t want to have this first-hand information and interaction with this stuff that is so dark. I didn’t want to have undeniable information about the sin around this world. In my own neighborhood. In my own town.

I thought back to before he died. There was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t know what went into planning a funeral when the person made no arrangements beforehand. I didn’t know how much a funeral cost. I didn’t know the feeling of grief in your stomach that prevents you from wanting any food for days. I didn’t know how long it took to do an autopsy. I didn’t know how all this would happen. I didn’t know how it was supposed to happen. I didn’t know how to find a burial site. I didn’t know how much they cost. I didn’t know how to tell people and who to tell and the order of things.

Over his years of addiction, there were so many things I didn’t know that I know now. I sometimes look back and feel downright stupid for the things about which I was naive. Simultaneously, I long for that naive girl once again. I didn’t know you can overdose and not die. I didn’t know the signs of drug use. I didn’t the progression of the disease. I didn’t know you can’t believe or trust an addict. I didn’t know addicts lie to themselves as much as they lie to us. I didn’t know they would blame us when we didn’t believe or trust them. I didn’t know I would buy it. I didn’t know it was a disease. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know that prison wouldn’t be the worst thing. I didn’t know I would wish he was in prison. I didn’t know how he would disappear when the drugs were in his life. I didn’t know how much some people lie.

I hate lying.

I wish I didn’t know. But now this knowledge is knit into me. Over the last several months, countless people have told me, “I don’t know, I can’t imagine what this must be like.” I immediately respond, “Good. I wish I didn’t know, either.”

But too many of us do know. We know now and replay and retrace the steps every day, thinking, “What could we do differently? How could we stop this? How did I miss this?’ And we will never get a chance to find the answer. The one thing we would give our very lives to know, we never will.

 

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day.

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Top Five Baby Products for the First Year

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When I was pregnant, I looked at a ton of baby product lists. “Top 10 Baby Products You Didn’t Think To Put On Your Registry,” “The 5 Baby Products You Don’t Actually Need,” “The Bare Essentials Minimalist Baby List.” I saw them all.

After my son arrived, I watched YouTube Videos particular to each developmental age. “Baby Favorites for 3-6 Months,” “Baby Essentials for 9-12 Months.” And it was all really helpful, but a little overwhelming. What do I reallly need?

Now that my son is almost a whole year old (sob, weep, cry), I have a twelve full months’ experience under my belt in the products he actually used all the time. These are the baby products that pulled their weight during every developmental age, every time. Some times, their purpose changed, but they were still extremely useful.

So, if you are about to have your first baby and wondering, What the heck will this kid love for a whole year? This list is for you: the top five bare essential, ride-or-die, useful for 365 days baby products for your son or daughter’s first year.

 

1.  These two books: My First Busy Book and Goodnight Moon.

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These are the first books my son loved. As for My First Busy Book, where do I begin? This book is amazing. First of all, it has Eric Carle illustrations, which are perfect – colorful, whimsical – perfect. It is the first book Theodore actually looked at when he was just a few weeks old (that is because there is a mirror on the first page, but hey, whatever). Every page is so simple, but opens up the possibility for him to enjoy it and engage with it in new ways all through kindergarten. There are questions on each page prompting you (the parent) to ask questions and dialogue. It has textures and flaps. It is just the kind of book my tactile little boy needs. Get this book. (Shout-out to Aunt Rebekah for hooking us up with this.)

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Goodnight Moon, in the board book edition, is soothing and simple. Every other page is a color image of the whole room, and then a black-and-white picture of a single object in the room. When we get to the colored pictures, Theodore slaps his hands on the page and stares at every detail. Now that he’s a little older, I think he is starting to piece together the fact that those little black-and-white objects are in the colored pictures. He is looking for them! This book is a classic for a reason, and in my opinion it is a must-have in your collection.

2.  Muslin Swaddles

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You can get these from tons of brands, the most common one is Aden + Anais, but as long as they are 100% cotton muslin, you are going to get the same effect. They come in tons of prints and patterns, too.

Why are they so useful? In the beginning, you can use these as swaddle blankets, covers on your car seat and stroller, nursing covers, and spit-up wipes. Later, you can also use them as impromptu pack-n-play sheets, a ground cover for a play area, a security blanket, a light summer blanket, and so much more. The bottom line is that these blankets are super light-weight and soft, and also BIG. They are crazy easy to clean (so you don’t mind using them as a burp cloth) and actually get softer the more you clean them. They roll up really small to easily toss in your diaper bag to do the work of about seven other products. They are just one of those strange things you think, Why do I need a piece of muslin? And then suddenly you don’t know why you wouldn’t.

3.  Wooden blocks/My First Blocks by Fisher Price

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These are two versions of a similar toy. We have both and use both, but I think they serve similar purposes.

Wooden blocks are a great toy for toddles, too, but Theodore loved to play with them since an early age. He chews on them, and slobbers them up. I stack them up, and he knocks them down. I pile them in a small basket, he dumps them out. And soon, he’ll start stacking them up for even more ways to play. The blocks I have were from my father’s childhood, but you can find them every where these days. I also love teaching him the letters and pointing to the pictures on the side. What makes these toys so great: versatility.

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The first blocks toy is another classic for the same reason: versatility. I tried packing this toy away, thinking he would get tired of it, but no other toy engages him like this one time after time. He lifts off the lid and pulls out every single block. he bangs them together to make noises. We pass them back and forth. And now, I’m teaching him how to put them through the unique holes. We got this on sale for five dollars, and it has provided far more than the price tag required!

4.  Fruit Silicone Teethers

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Babies start teething at all different ages, but their discomfort from teething can start long before that first tooth breaks through. Plus, around four months, babies start putting everything in their mouths (taste is one of the five senses they are using the explore their world).

Theodore has had a few teething toys, but the one that he loved most at first, and still loves today, are these “fruit-on-a-stick” style silicone teething toys. The stick is very easy to hold, even for young babies, which gives them the independence you both love. They can be frozen for even more relief, as well. Every different fruit has interesting textures and colors, and the bottom even has a few more textures to ease sore gums. Finally, they can easily be attached with a pacifier clip to keep them from dropping to the ground. These have been a go-to for eight months in our house, and I don’t see him losing interest in them any time soon.

These are a version (the only ones I can find) that are made in the USA.

5.  A ball

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One of Theodore’s first favorite toys (which he still loves now), was a rattle O-Ball. It is a gift I like to give most new moms, because it is really easy for a baby even a month old to hold, and basically it feels really cool to see your newborn “play” with their first toy.

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After that, I found a set of three soft balls at Marshalls for less than ten dollars, and they have been a hit with this kid! Not only do they help encourage him to move and work on his gross motor skills, he just finds them really funny. He literally laughs picking them up and flinging them around, and he can’t do any damage with them (yet) because they are so soft. These ones are small enough for him to hold, and have slightly textured grips on them to make it even easier. Every time he finds these in his toy basket, he loves throwing them around and chasing them all around the living room.

These are the kind of toys he will love even when he’s a toddler or preschooler, so they are well worth the few dollar investment!

What were your child’s most-loved and most-used products from the first year?

– D. E. Barbi Bee

Blueberry Mania

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We bought our house in December of last year.  At the time, the landscaping was nothing to be thrilled about. The backyard was grey and wet, and trees were being scaled by vines. There was a row of blueberry bushes that did not look alive, let alone fruit-producing. We more or less ignored them, so as to not get our hopes up.

When spring came around, you can imagine our surprise when the blueberry bushes (all five of them) sprouted leaves, then blossoms, and then tiny berries! Every week – like magic, as nature always seems – since the beginning of July, we have been drowning in plump, sweet, sun-warmed blueberries!

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Right now, I have about 3 pounds frozen in vacuum bags. I have another 5 pounds in the fridge as I write this. We have given away just as much as we have kept. And still more are coming! I estimate we have gotten at least 25 pounds so far this year.

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Theodore is thrilled, as he suddenly has his favorite food in endless supply. He often lunges out of our arms to grasp as the blue pops in the bushes as we walk past.

After freezing, eating fresh, topping yogurt, filling pancakes, and everything else we could imagine, I finally admitted it was time to face my fear and settle into the reality: I had to make jam.

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I love the idea of making jam: it is a cost-efficient way of storing the extra harvest for future months and years. But notwithstanding my desire to connect with the New Englanders and farmers of ages gone by, I was scared to death of this process and refused to bite the bullet.

I don’t know what scared me most. I had visions of exploding jars and molding sauces for some reason. It was built up in my head as an extremely delicate science experiment I was bound to foul up.

But this Sunday, with seven or so pounds of blueberries sitting on my counter and no idea of how else to make use of them, I spontaneously dove in.

My father-in-law Tony and sister-in-law Katie happened to be over our house that afternoon. Tony/Dad lent me all the expertise and confidence I needed. Katie wrestled Theodore so I could concentrate. Massimo cleared the counters.

I decided to start small – just a few jars – in case this went all wrong. I looked at this extremely un-intimidating recipe for guidance: a two-ingredient refrigerator jam. What could be easier simpler than that?

But my dear father-in-law, Tony, wouldn’t settle for refrigerator jam. It could go bad! Okay, so, a word on Tony: Tony hails from a little-known culinary hot spot called Italy, and happens to be a professional chef. He grew up with farmers and women who cooked bread every week and stoked a fire all day. His favorite things in the world are his family and talking about the food of his childhood: grape leaves dripping in natural syrup from the raisins stuffed inside; barrels of fresh fruit sunk in the rivers and lakes to keep fresh; stealing salami hanging from the rafters; rare treats of ice cream cones and sodas; and the “lazy summer meals” made of buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto. He has a wealth of knowledge that I am only beginning to absorb. As often as we can, Massimo and I love to cook with him or hear recipes from his childhood, to maintain the heritage and keep the memories alive for all of us.

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Antonio Barbi and his first grandson, Theodore Antonio.

So on this particular day, in his passionate, fantastical way, Dad/Father-in-Law/Nonno/Tony made canning sound so easy. After all, his mother and Nonna would do it all the time, out of pure necessity. He stood there in the kitchen and told me, mouth slightly frowned, hand gesturing along, and bottom lip pushed forward, “Just put it in the pan, add some water, and sugar, and let it cook down. You put it in the jars, put on the lids, and heat them again. That’s it.”

Easy!

[You have to hear this story with his hand acting out all the steps as he speaks. Sprinkle the sugar = delicately but decisively rubbing his fingers together and gesticulating them in a circle over the imaginary “pot.” Also he has a thick accent. For example, that afternoon we saw a small toad in the garden and I swore he was telling me the animal looked like he should be named “Todd.” (“It’s a Todd! It’s a Todd!”)]

Off I went. Recipe thrown out the window. Just following my gut and my father-in-law’s ancestral knowledge. Just a quick Google search to make sure I sanitize the jars long enough and that was all.

I dunked the small mason jars and lids (three, because I was advised by Dad the product will go down to about half it’s original volume), in a large pot of water and boiled them for five minutes. They were removed. “Lay them on a clean towel.” – Dad. Ok.

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I poured two pounds of blueberries in the pot. I added one and a half cups of sugar in. (Haha, at this point I was still considering the recipe.)

Then – a moment. My instinct told me to improvise and I had to listen. Almost without thinking, my hand grabbed the cinnamon and sprinkled a light cover over the contents of the pot. What are you doing? I wanted to smell it together, that was all. I had to do it.

I cooked it on medium. I mashed it a little with a potato masher to help break the skins, and basically stirred constantly. Eventually I pulled up a stool to sit while I stirred my precious concoction. Easy!

After probably 45 minutes, the blueberries having completely broken down and unrecognizable from their original state, I gave up on it ever becoming “thick” and resolved at least I would have blueberry sauce.

(Dad would have given me the advice I needed,and told me it will thicken once it cools, but he had run down to the restaurant to get something. So I was flying blind now.)

I poured the sauce into the clean jars (over a plate, so as to not stain my towel too much). It turns out I should have done four small mason jars; that would have been perfect. But the last bit I simply put in a pyrex dish and said we would use it right away.

I filled the jars as high as I could. I was following my gut and it felt scary but exciting. There is something about not using a recipe. It makes cooking more of an act of creativity, rather than following instructions and procedure. It uses a different part of your brain and I thrive on it.

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I secured the lids tightly and brought the pot of water back up to a boil. This was a perfect moment to taste some of this sweet delight. I let tiny drops cool and tasted – it was amazing! The spicy cinnamon balanced the sweet sugar and tart berries. It was summery and autumnal at the same time. Theodore licked the wooden spoon, as all children should do when their parent is baking. He was obsessed.

The portion in the pyrex dish was a really good “control”, because it allowed me to watch the texture change as it cooled. Much to my surprise and delight, over the next hour the jam cooled to an actual jelly-like consistency! I couldn’t believe it worked! My instinct, yet again, was right.

I cooked the jars, submerged in water, for about ten minutes (I forgot to start the timer, so I went long on this part), and removed them. Sure enough, POP! went the lids. My experiment continued to work out.

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Dad came back and was extremely proud of my results. I was now disappointed I only made three jars, but it just means I get to make more again soon!

In a matter of a few hours I went from too many blueberries and an unnecessary fear of exploding glass in my kitchen, to three jars of jam and the specific brand of confidence that only comes from believing in your creativity.

– D. E. Barbi Bee

P.S. Shout-out to Michaela Pesce for suggesting this post! Readers, send me any suggestion you have for posts, I love it!