Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Party or Not to Party...

Esther's 2nd Birthday
We've always thrown fun parties for our girls' birthdays. Not because we had them growing up or anything, but just for the sake of celebrating our babies! We invite both sides of our family and our close friends. We have food and decorations to match a chosen theme. It's always hectic, but a good time. I LOVE planning and putting together parties. I love watching all the kids run around while the adults try and have some sort of conversation. It's just all so fun!!

And it's all just so expensive. Truly, even if you're trying to be as frugal as possible (which I generally am), it always ends up costing a pretty penny. And really, although the gatherings are fun, the kids aren't going to remember each individual party, especially the early ones. I've often thought these things, but the love of party planning has always trumped my rational thinking. I had a great conversation with my bestie, Adrienne, about this and left feeling a little convicted.

Abigail's 1st Birthday
In our attempts to be intentional, I'm caught wondering if a party for each kid every year is a good idea. While we love each of our beauties, maybe three parties a year is a bit much! I'm left with two thoughts on how to correct this. One idea is to have one party for all children, even though their birthdays are pretty spread out: January, April, and August. I like this one because our sweet January baby will never have the luxury of a fun, outdoor party (which is how I, a December baby, always suffered.). The second option is to have a first birthday party and then not another party until the child can help plan and choose who she wants to invite. Adrienne made the good point that the first birthday is a big deal - almost like a 'Hey! We survived! Come celebrate with us!' Totally there! That first year is so full of crazy that a big celebration at the end is totally warranted. I also like that we'd save some money not throwing one each year that the girls won't even remember.

I'm still not sure what the solution is for our family. I have a little bit of time to think about it and pray through it. How does your family celebrate birthdays?   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coons, Round Two

We were just talking about headed up to bed. I heard something, but couldn't put my finger on it at first. Then it dawned on me. It was the terrified clucks of our hens, the sound distorted from bouncing off the neighbor's house. Jared and Rowdy ran out there to see what was going on: Six of our eight hens were in the run, crying. He looked in the window of the coop to find two coons! But couldn't see the other two hens. He feared they were already dead. He called me out to help. I watched the coons while he got 'his babies' to safety - putting them in the small mobile run he'd built for them. Rowdy isn't quite the attack dog type, so although he went into the coop, and clicked like he was on the hunt, he didn't actually do anything. To be fair, the coons were on top of the laying boxes, out of his reach. So Jared got him out of there and tried to beat the coons with a garden tool. He later admitted to it being a sort of odd situation: he's never tried to beat an animal to death. I was shaking at this point, just completely freaked out and ... just yuck! Finally, they actually got out of the coop, and back under the coop where they came from. Helpful since we couldn't figure out how they had gotten in the other night yet. We spent some time trying to scare them out of the small space under the coop and finally they got out and ran off.
Jared got into the coop and nailed the run door shut. We figured this would be the safest bet for the girls and he could come out in the morning and open it back up for them.
Then, out of nowhere: a third!! It was clinging to the opposite side of the run at the top. Again, Jared let Rowdy in. Who sniffed around a bit, actually found the thing and sniffed it. The coon snarled and growled, scaring Rowdy back out of the coop. Helpful. So we tried to get that one out too, but realized it really didn't matter since the hens would be safe in the house now. I held the flash light while Jared picked up each of his  girls and comforted them before putting them back into the house. (So sweet!) We examined each of them to be sure they weren't hurt. We did find Chicken Bicken to have a little blood on the front of her comb, but she didn't seem bothered by it.
So, what's the plan? Jared is going to bring home some sheet metal scraps from work tonight. He's going to dig down along all sides of the coop and bury the sheet metal so that nothing can get through. Hopefully this takes care of the problem. We're also trying to obtain a BB Gun for future issues.
Of course, after all the excitement, neither of us could go to bed. So we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watched an episode of The Office. THEN went to bed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Layers vs. The Coons

We currently live in a historical district in Rock Island. Therefore, it took us a while to 'take the plunge,' but we have eight hens: Chicken Bicken (part of the original flock), Baby and Sunflower (part of the 2nd flock), and Pink, Yellow, Green, Blue, and White (part of the 3rd flock. They look identical, so they have anklets made of zip ties to tell them apart. Don't ask me why we have to know. Ask my four year old.) We haven't had any issues with neighbors complaints or anything like that, which is nice. If you've ever been around chickens you know, even the hens can get loud. We find they generally get loud when threatened. Which brings us to the topic of this post.
The coop
4AM this morning, Abigail, wet the bed. Luckily, I was nursing Lydia, so I nudged Daddy awake. He took her to the bathroom (which is in the back of the house, with a window facing the backyard where the coop is). He came flying back into the bedroom. The hens were FREAKING OUT. He looked out said window and saw a raccoon running through the yard. Now, these raccoons aren't just any ol' coon. They're giant raccoons from outer space. Allow me to explain: There was a man who lived two doors down from us who fed the raccoons. Literally, he purchased giant bags of dog food for them on a weekly basis and fed them on his front porch. The only reason we never did anything about it is because he did it because his beloved wife used to do it. ::insert sappy love story:: So we just allowed it. The coons came out of the sewer even when it was still daylight to begin their feasting. All of this dog food made them huge. Like, seriously, mind boggling huge. Also, because they were being fed by a human, they were not in the least bit concerned about us or anyone else in the neighborhood. You could try and shoe them away, they only came closer. So, when said neighbor passed away last summer, we all sort of thought the raccoons would go back to normal. They did not. They've become pretty pesky, actually. They are in everyone's garbage, in our compost and now, messing with our hens.
It should not come as a surprise that when Jared and Rowdy (our beloved, yet completely ridiculous yellow lab) went out into the backyard, the coon didn't budge. He was under the actual coop and just hung out there. After a few attempts to get the thing to move, Jared determined that the thing to do was go back inside and he'd come out. Sure enough, that's what happened. The hens eventually calmed down, though at random intervals throughout the day, they made their displeasure known once again.
Esther schooling Abigail on how to pick up hens
This is not the first time we've had issue with raccoons, unfortunately. I don't think it will be the last, either. The first time, Jared went out to feed the hens in the morning only to find a mama coon and her three babies hanging out in the run, eating the hens' leftovers (they get kitchen scraps). We didn't want to lay out poison or anything because of our children, our dog, the hens, the environment, etc. We found a concoction online that included an onion and a bunch of habenero peppers that had been boiled in water. We put the solution in a squirt bottle and Jared sprayed the perimeter (after he had barricaded their holes). That worked for quite a while, we haven't had an issue in a few months. Alas, here we are again, spraying crazy juice around our yard. Another suggestion we found online was to lay rags around the coop and run soaked in ammonia, so that's another option we may try. Of course raccoons aren't the only predator when raising urban chickens (or any chickens for that matter). They're just the only one we have an issue with. The hens also go crazy when our friendly neighborhood hawk flies overhead. Although he/she has never attempted an attack, it seems that he/she gets some sort of cheap thrill on freaking out the hens and does so periodically. Other predators, I'm sure would include dogs and cats, but since we have a fenced yard and the hens are completely enclosed, we've never had an attempt from one of them either. We don't have a lot of the other vermin around - opossums, weasels, rats, etc. - that we know of.  
Anyway, that's it for this episode of 'The Layers vs. The Coons.' Hopefully the last!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Breastfeeding: Third Time's the Charm

I'm passionate about a few things, breastfeeding being one of them. I know it's the perfect super food for babes. I know it's best for mom, best for babe, best for the family, best for the world.
Despite these knowledges, I've never been too successful with breastfeeding. The first few days of nursing Lydia started the same why it did with the first two: latched like a pro, no real issues, nursed all the time.

Nursing Lydia for the first time
And then it started. It always starts with the nipple pain for me. Luckily, this time, it only started on the one side. My right side, to be precise. I got a bleb. Oh it's a real thing, let me assure you. A bleb, or milk blister, is well, what it sounds like. "It occurs when a tiny bit of skin overgrows a milk duct opening and milk backs up behind it." Of course, when baby latches or when you pump, the blister gets a little larger. Sounds painful, right? Let me assure you, it is. I grit my teeth through nursing on that side, but we did fine.

Then it got worse. The bleb was healing just fine, but I got a crack on the underside of the same nipple. Holy crap. I'd rather lose a finger. Seriously. So my best friend/breastfeeding cheerleader brought me a nipple shield to try out. Much better. The initial latch was still painful, but no issue nursing through. I followed each feeding with a little soak in a saline solution and then coconut oil. To my surprise, the crack vanished within a few days of treatment. Of course, it seemed like WEEKS. I'd hand express on that side as well since it didn't seem to me like she was emptying the breast with the shield. With my supply issues, I didn't want to make that worse.

Which brings us to our supply issues. With Esther, I started supplementing at 5 days because she wasn't getting back up to her birth weight and her pediatrician was concerned. Obviously I didn't know any better. With Abigail, I completely switched her to formula at two weeks for two reasons: I could tell she wasn't getting enough and my nipples were SO DAMAGED that I couldn't handle it anymore. In both of these instances, I didn't have the support or resources that I do know. So with Lydia, (at the recommendation of my lactation consultant) I'm taking a tincture called 'More Milk Plus' and another called 'Goat's Rue,' both from  I've also been eating tons of lactation cookies (YUM! I made some myself a few days before Lydia was born, but had two friends lovingly make me some too!). I've been getting lots of rest and eating right (both things I'm not generally great at).  The More Milk Plus has the usual supply boosters in it: fenugreek, blessed thistle, fennel, and nettle. The Goat's Rue is good for mamas who haven't experienced breast tissue change in pregnancy (I never have). They are both absolutely disgusting, but worth it. I'm hoping, we won't have the same complications we've had in the past with slow weight gain.

We've also been seriously working on the latch situation. Lydia's latch definitely has something to be desired. It's pretty shallow. My awesome Lactation Consultant found her to have a tongue tie almost right away. We got in to see an oral surgeon as soon as we could and he confirmed the tie and released it right away. So we're working on positioning and trying to get a better latch down. Even today, the day after her release, her latch is seemingly better! I think most of our issue, however, is that I'm an old dog. I nursed Esther for 6 months and Abigail for 2 weeks - holding both of them incorrectly with no one to say otherwise. So it's very hard for me to relearn my techniques, even though I KNOW it's wrong. So we're working on that. That breastfeeding cheerleader I mentioned made me an awesome pictorial reminder. Everyone needs at least one breastfeeding cheerleader.
Wrong vs Right!
All of that said, let me conclude by saying breastfeeding is worth fighting for. There is so much help and support out there! You just have to find it. Which was my issue with the first two. I had no idea, little knowledgeable support (although the people around me weren't un-supportive) and no clue where to turn.
Even before you give birth, educate yourself and your support team. Your husband can and should be your biggest lifeline. You may also find having a girlfriend that's 'been there, done that' helpful as I have.

Here are some of my favorite supports:
La Leche League - find your local chapter!
Find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) - a great online reference
BreastFeeding Inc - a great online
Lactation Cookies!
And books!
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
The Nursing Mother's Companion
Breastfeeding Made Simple
Making More Milk
Mother Food

If you should find that you do need supplementation, even for a while, consider breast milk in lieu of formula!
Visit Human Milk 4 Human Babies to find a donor near you!