MILF (Mother I Like to breastFeed)

This weekend Maddie and I watched two videos on Youtube over and over again. The two videos that Maddie couldn’t get enough of are, La Teta and Breastfeeding Toddlers . She absolutely loves these and laughs with glee. After watching La Teta, she looked up at me and buried her little face into my bosom, her chubby legs draped over mine, with her little toes twined together. What a feeling, so warm, cozy and secure—just lovely.

Yes, she is two and yes, we are still breastfeeding. I’m writing this blog as a cathartic expression. Far too often, I find myself vexed about whether I should be still breastfeeding. I cringe when my mom asks, “are you still breasting feeding?” Or when my sister says, “you’ve got to stop that” or from my friend, “wont that rot her teeth?” What is it with American’s conception, or should I say, misconception of breastfeeding? While living in Brazil, not once did I feel out of place for breastfeeding Maddie in a public place, whether it was on a bus, or in the middle of a busy restaurant. The norm in Brazil is to breastfeed from 2 to 5 years. So, why is it that in “progressive” America breastfeeding past one year of age (which itself is a relatively new concept) is seen as needless, disgusting and detrimental? And how can we ever think that forumla or cow’s milk is better than mother’s milk?

Times have got to change people, and I mean cultural change on a mass scale. You might think, impossible! But as Kathy Dettwyler, anthropologist from Texas notes, cultural change can happen, we’ve seen it within the last 20 years with cigarette smoke. As the public was made aware, via a little help from the government, laws were put into place that prohibited smoking in restaurants, grocery stores, and planes. Massive change can happen, so why not with breastfeeding? Why should a woman be told to leave a building for breastfeeding her child?

What will it take for cultural change to occur? Maybe little steps at first, coming from mothers, and then from a larger scale, like the work Dr. Ann Kellams at University of Virginia Children’s hospital is doing to promote breastfeeding from day one of an infants life and to band infant formula from being in the take home gift bags given to new mothers. Only then, will the general public start to conceptualize breastfeeding as natural and normal.

My first step is to write this blog and put it out there for other women who are conditioned to think that in order to gain their “body” back they have to force their child to stop breastfeeding and feel that they have to substitute the feeling of security that comes from the mother-child bond with a “transitional toy” as soon as the child reaches one.

Finally, I end with a quote from Kathy Dettwyler :“Breastfeeding is more than just the transfer of nutrients from mother to child. Not only nutritionally, but immunologically, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, breastmilk is vastly superior to artificial infant feeding products, and breastfeeding is much more than just a way to feed a child, much more than just a "lifestyle choice." Women need to know about the advantages of breast milk and breastfeeding; they need to know that breast milk protects children against a variety of illnesses and parasites as long as they are ingesting it, and that an early diet of breast milk sets the stage for life-long health advantages through a strengthened immune system… They need to know that breast milk continues to be an important source of clean, cheap and convenient nutrition for their children as long as they are producing milk, and that breast milk can be a critical source of nutrients for a sick child…Women need to know that breastfeeding quiets a noisy or fussy child, relaxes an anxious child, comforts a sick, injured, or frightened child, and conveys unequivocally that the child is safe and loved. They need to know that a child who has the "safe haven" of her mother's arms is a secure, independent child, one who has the self-confidence to reach out and explore the world. Finally, women need to know that meeting their children's needs through breastfeeding, as long as children express those needs, is both normal and appropriate.”


"Marlo the party woman"

"It was cool to hang at Wende's with 'Marlo the party woman' as opposed to 'Marlo the mom' (not that the two are opposed or mutually exclusive)."

This was how the email from my friend Adam started. He hit it right on, "Marlo the party woman" was out in full force on Friday night. Matthew took the kids home, leaving with a peck and a whisper,"have a great time, come home when ever you want". I was on my own, feeling great, and surrounded by highly intelligent people--all anthropologist & archaeologist--which was so exciting.

I had no idea what 2 hours without kids, 3 glasses of white wine, and conversations varying from Facebook to defining irony, could do for me. I've been smiling ever since and its Tuesday!!

Adam pointed out that the two--the party woman & the mom--weren't mutually exclusive. I believe that, in fact, i think for the mom to be at her best she needs to be a 'party woman' or just a woman--periodically feeling free to experience moments of life without being in the grip of worry for her little ducklings. This short escapade has made me a better mom, wife and woman.


Food Challenge

This past week has been a challenge for me! And I have to admit, I’ve slipped up a few times. After hearing an interview on NPR from our (currently) favorite author, Michael Pollan, I vowed to not eat anything that has more than 5 ingredients or ingredients that I can’t pronounce. My coworker thinks I’m nuts and my mom thinks I’ve gone off the deep end (she obviously doesn’t know any vegans). After we donated our TV in September, and now this, I can only imagine what my parents are saying behind my back. They tried in vain to buy us a new TV for Christmas, so that “my kids can learn something”. Wow, is all I had to say to that comment. I mean, what can you say to that?

Back to food
Since I’ve started a week & half ago, I’ve slipped up on pizza and chocolate cake at a kid’s birthday party. I mean, who in their right mind can pass up chocolate on chocolate cake with blinking dinosaurs! It’s amazing how hard and yet, easy it can be. I think our refrigerator is finally reflecting items that are simple. So, now its not so hard to go in and find something to munch. My new fav is plain whole yogurt (Stoneyfarm) with raw cashews and honey…yum


Life Back in America

My life has changed, dramatically. I’ve been thrown back into the American mainstream, knocked on my keester, right smack back into my old life. I mean literally, back into our old house, back into my old position at work, back into my old desk, computer, right down to the my old coffee cup that they saved, “just in case”.
How do I feel about this? Pretty good, I guess. Actually, pretty pulled. I love being back in the “land of plenty”, but really miss the simple life. I have these whimsical daydreams about how my life was a few months ago—low stress, good food, great people, hanging out in the hammock, no work. But quickly, I realize you can’t live in America this way, unless you are independently wealthy, which I am not, but even if I were, I think you would really have to train yourself to not want all the latest greatest, gadgets, and try to live simply and eat simply. I imagine it’s harder than we think.

I’ve delayed writing a blog for two reasons; I’ve been in reverse culture shock, not sure exactly what to write and the second delay comes in the form of having two kids.

So, here I am back at the keyboard ready to write…I think. Here are a few things that shocked me once I de-boarded from my third and final airplane.
America is RICH! America is CLEAN! America is OBESE!

First off, if you complain that we have too many poor people in American, you don’t know the meaning of poor. I walked and talked with people who live off of meat bone soup because they are too poor to buy the meat that once fleshed out the bones; I saw women begging with their children on the streets; gave food to children who were homeless and parentless traveling in little gangs addicted to huffing glue from bottles. Americans are wealthy, even if our poor are wealthy.

Everything here in America is very clean--the streets, the houses, the yards, the stores, the public restrooms, even the dump! It’s nice to be able to wash my floors twice a week, instead of everyday. It’s nice to go for a run and not have to sidestep discarded animal bones, and, yes, it’s nice to have a paved road again. Gracie, my 3&1/2 year-old, after going to the potty at the airport asked where she was to put the toilet paper after wiping. I was happy to inform her that, “here in America, we can flush the toilet paper”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can lose a few pounds. But while living in Brazil I saw about 3 obese people and absolutely no obese children. I mentioned this to my pediatrician friend and he asked, “The poor weren’t obese?” Because we all know the correlations between low income and obesity, right? If not, check this out http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040105071229.htm
Trying to eat the way we did in brazil—grass fed meats, fresh free-range corn-fed chickens and their eggs, local veggies—is really hitting us hard in the pocket book. The really healthy foods in America are very expensive. Sure, the high-fructose-corn-syrup products are cheap and in abundance, but I really don’t want to feed my kids that stuff, or eat it myself. Lately, I’ve been engrossed with Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Delima (2006). He explains why Americans are bigger and “stronger” than the majority of people inhabiting our world. If we follow our industrialized path to pudginess, like Pollan did in his book, we can easily see where America diverged from fresh to fabricated. What is so bad about fabricated I asked? We’ll everything we can buy cheaply is loaded with HFCS, and due to this cheap sugar source, we see the rise in larger portions of foodstuff. Ie: the supersized nation. Supersizing is a way for the big fastfood chains to make an easy buck. HFCS is so cheap it costs pennies to supersize an item, while to customer pays 30 or 40 cents more. Huge profits on a large scale. Therefore, American’s, on average, consume 500 more calories a day than they did two decades ago.

So, going back to Dr. Mark’s question, “the poor weren’t obese?”. If there are so many poor in the area of Brazil that we lived (approx. 80%), why was obesity absent?
I’m thinking this must be due to absence of cheap prefabricated foods and fast food restaurants. For my neighbors, a quick fast meal involved walking to the corner and purchasing a spit full of barbecued meat with a plate of rice and beans for R$2 (roughly a US dollar).

The weight problem for America is the only thing that really jumped out at me. It’s quite alarming when faced with creating good eating habits for my kids. It becomes difficult when you have limited time to prepare foods and shop. As my girlfriend says, and I'm sure she mimicks what many other mother's would say, "McNuggets are just sooo easy". Looking at her, I decided not to tell her that those little clusters of "easiness" are sprayed with butane (i.e. lighter fluid), to preserve "freshness"--ha, how the meaning of "fresh" has morphed. Bon appetite and as Gracie says, "napkins in your lapkins".


Over the past 11 months I've spent time hanging out with Mateus at the Dona's house, talking and enjoying lunches. The amazingly delicious and simple foods that are served at the Dona's house exude the essence of Brazilian life. I've tried to guess what ingredients are used but have been stumped. So, I asked if I could hang out in the kitchen and learn how to prepare basic Brazilian foods.

This past week I've had the privilege of spending three days in the kitchen with Nelda the head chef, and Karen, her su chef, although neither one of them would call themselves chefs. But they are. Daily they feed between 10 and 25 people. Members of the church that come at times to work either at the church, the memorial or the Dona's house. Doing various chores. Yesterday, Dona Maria washed out the Daime jugs, Carmen cleaned and oiled the wood paneling in the kitchen, and Val did the daily laundry (which includes washing, hang drying and ironing everything, even the underwear!). Today, there were a number of men painting the outside of the house, getting it ready for the large party celebrating the Dona's 70 th birthday on Saturday. Often when I'm at the Dona's house I think of the saying "Many hands makes for light work". People at this church really work together.

Around 11AM everyone will stop and eat together. The children are permitted to eat before the Dona but everyone else has to wait for the Dona to get her lunch first. Supplies are often brought by members of the church, who drop off bags full of supplies--rice, beans, farina, tomato sauce, etc. Rice and beans are served with every lunch and I've heard people say that they haven't eaten if they haven't had rice and beans with their main meal. On a few occasions people have asked me if Americans eat rice and beans daily. I usually say, "si, teng arroz e fegioan, mas, nao todo dia". Which means, yes we have rice and beans but not every day. They just look at me strange, like we Americans don't eat properly. The look is usually accompanied with a shoulder shrug.

The first morning I was in the kitchen, we made stewed pork shoulder, carne moida (ground beef) with spaghetti, salada (cabbage, beet & tomato salad), farofa (ground up maxacada root), and of course, rice and beans. The latter is usually taken for granted. In many cultures the main subsistence dish is usually the sacred unspoken-the dish that is never talked about but expected to adorn every lunch table. And for me, the Americana, to learn how to make this sacred staple would be a little coup for me.

You might think, "how hard can it be to make beans?" Welp, "fejiao da Nelda" is quite the undertaking. It takes a good hour, give or take and can include any combination of, a whole beet, green onions, covie (a type of green), mild peppers, acorn squash pieces, dried beef chunks, chopped green beans, salt, and coloral. Coloral is an indigenous powder that is often used by the natives of the forest as body paint. But here in the city, it is used in almost everything. Especially, coating meat before it is fried up. It is rich in red color and really has no smell and a mild taste. I have grown to love it and have secured two large bags for the flight home.

After three days I have some really great traditional recipes and am eager to try them out on friends back in the states, especially Brazilian meatballs, which are outtasite. Look forward to seeing you all in a week!

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The Unusual Fathers Day

It started out like any other Fathers day. We planed a family picnic at the Horto, or Orchard. Matt said he wanted to go into the other part of the Horto to set up picnic. He had seen picnic tables in a clearing once and thought it would be a nice spot. Now, in previous posts I've written about the Horto, but never really discussed the "dark side" of this place. The Horto is broken up into two parts, one part consists of a running loop, playground, pull-up and sit-up stations and volleyball courts. This section is where we as a family usual hang out and play. The other part is what locals seem to view as the "dark part". This area contains a number of trails and bridges that wind through a thick forest area, and along side the river. I've scoffed at the notion that this part of the Horto is seedy because when I run through, around 6:30 AM, there is nothing suspicious, only fluttering butterflies. However, on this day, I stopped scoffing.
We had an awesome lunch of spaghetti with meat sauce, rice and beans and Sprite. I was feeling quite environmentally PC, because everything we used was glass, aluminum or cloth (barring the Sprite bottle), so everything that was packed in, packed out. It was an awesome day, hot but the shade of the palms and a slight cool breeze made the weather very comfortable. Gracie ran around, picking up sticks and leaves, pretending they were one thing or another. Maddie watched with glee and stumbled around after her older sis. Time came to pack up and head out, we chose to go out a different path. Gracie galloped ahead, her dress bouncing and her hair shining in the sun was a joyous image to behold.
We came to a clearing that transected another path. As we entered, I noted that it smelled like pee, but then my eye caught something dark in the grass. Maybe not pee, but rotting flesh? We moved in closer to see what was dead; for it was obvious it was dead by the flies. We came upon a sacrificial site. Two black chickens had been cut open and displayed quite neatly. One was placed on a clay bowl and the other on the grass next to it. The bowl looked as though it had corn meal, a piece of paper with something written on it and black & red candle wax, with the chicken displayed on top of it all. There were black and red candles burned down, positioned around the birds, some tobacco and a lid to Aguardant (a kind of Portuguese brandy) bottle. It smelled, but since it was a fresh sacrifice, it was tolerable. We filmed the scene extensively but were careful not to disturb the display. I figured that an Umbanda ritual had taken place the night before and one was best to not mess with any sorcery, good or bad.
Umbanda is a magic-type practice, some say a religion, that derives in large part from an African ancestry. People say you can use this magic for good or evil. As we were filming, a guy walked by so we took the opportunity to interview him. He said he had seen this type of thing before in the Horto. He called the site, despacho, which means to dispatch spirits after someone. He said the piece of paper probably had the name of the person who was the target of the despacho. He went on to explain, "when I see this kind of thing I go by saying the name of Jesus and sometimes I even kick them". Matt asked, "Do you feel implicated in the sorcery if you interfere with it? He responded, "If I don't say anything, then I feel something bad will happen to me. So maybe kicking it away is a good idea." He parted, and I noticed that the guy didn't kick this ritual site away. Which left me wondering why?
Gracie wanted to say goodbye to the birds, so we wished them farewell and went on our way. Matthew and I were like two kids, so excited to come across a scene of sorcery, something we’ve only read about in books. We’ve decided to look into this while we are still here, maybe talk with a sorceress, and maybe make a mini-documentary.

the scene, the tobacco is in the form of a cigar

the burned down candle

I'm pointing to the bird to give size perspective

This is a closeup of the bowl, paper, cornmeal, candle wax


Random Capoeira

A quick note about today. We traveled downtown to the river for some R, R & beers. After getting off the bus, we heard drums and a slight sound of chanting. Matt thought it sounded like capoeira music. So we followed our ears to the municpal building a block down and found a group of people watching a round circle of dancers clapping, singing and playing instruments. In the middle were two guys dancing capoeira , amazing. It was like watching really awesome break dancers in unison. About every three minutes or so, other dancers would cut in for a continual in-and-out, circular movement of legs, arms, pelvises--bodies whirling around and around. Gracie's eyes were huge (and so were mine!) and fixed on the group. As we walked away she said she wanted to take that dance class. I said, "me too".
No pictures, our camera is on the fritz, but Matt brought his sound recording equipment. Here is a sound clip of today.