Friday, August 31, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding

Now that I'm way past it, I remember it fondly and wish I'd known, before I ever started, everything that nursing three children has taught me.  Seasoned moms are your best bet, and check out the internationally known breastfeeding organization: La Leche League, a bonanza of information in the language of your choice:
In my experience, nurses in hospitals are too busy to help out, doctors not much better.   The one I called when my firstborn was shrieking for six straight hours cocked an eyebrow, swung her stethoscope nonchalantly and said, "Yeah--little babies cry.  Whaddya want?"  What I wanted was for someone to help me figure out that the kid needed to be put over my shoulder and burped so that his tummy would stop hurting so that he would stop screaming so that he and I could both get some sleep.  Which I eventually, after a couple of sleepless weeks, did figure out, and if you pay a bundle to a midwife or a doula, or if you have a friendly relationship with your mother, you'll figure that out sooner.  And even if you had just read all about burping in the weeks before the birth, I guarantee you that you may forget all about it in the excitement of having just given birth.  You do tend to become quite brainless while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.  Hormones, physical discomfort and exhaustion all militate against the ability to think and retain readings on motherhood.  In the last month of pregnancy and for the first weeks of motherhood I could only bring myself to read pulp lit:  all of Dan Brown plus Valley of the Dolls.  Beware with baby boys, because while you're sitting around in a trance nursing the kid, some doctor will walk in and tell you to circumcise your son, and unless you've put in writing that you want nothing of the sort done, you'll say, "Whaaa?  Uh, okay," and not even remember what you were asked.  A friend remembers that  her doctor walked in and suggested circumcision and when she tiredly demurred, he said, "You don't want him to look different from his father, do you?"  and she felt too tired to continue to defy him. 
Before I even start, I'll return to my mantra:  trust your own hunches.  If you don't want to breastfeed, don't let me or any doctor tell you to do so.  The late lamented Wendy Wasserstein complained about "the nipple Nazis," that is, hyper-efficient American nurses who surrounded her with breast pumps when she was lying in her hospital bed after the premature birth of her daughter.  If you do want to breastfeed, you need not listen--as I unfortunately did--to nurses who insisted that I sit up in bed in order to nurse.  Lie down if you want!  You can nap while the kid nurses!  Those nurses.  They insisted that I had to switch the kid to the other breast every fifteen minutes (and they hung my watch, just so I would have to check the time, on the support triangle that I, after a cesarean, had to pull myself up on in order to sit.)  I was told to insert a finger in his mouth to break the suction--I guarantee you, no baby likes this.  Otherwise--they looked grim--consequences would be bad.  As in cracked nipples.  Well, I never had them until his brother, the second kid, glommed on like a football player chugging a six pack as fast as possible after a winning game.  And then there were all kinds of homeopathic salves that did the trick, and then, since I had had some practice with the first, I figured out how to make the kid stop chewing and start sucking.

 Rule #1: Find comfortable positions.  Sit if you like, but you don't have to do so.  Pillows under the elbow help.  You can buy a body-length cylindrical pillow that in the last few months of pregnancy can be placed between your knees and under your elbow at night, rendering sleep, the ever-elusive third-trimester sleep, a possibility.   I found the same thing great for nursing, wrapped around my waist with the kid resting on one side.  Experiment with getting comfortable and nursing.

Rule #2: Drink, drink, drink.  Water and herbal teas are probably your best bet, unless you do not like either, in which case cranberry juice is also good for you.  After my first cesarean I came to with a Nurse Ratched type hovering over me, and croaked, "May I please have some ice chips?"  A reasonable and expected request for one giving birth in an American hospital to make.  Only I happened to be in a German hospital, and Nurse Ratched's face flinched.  She turned on her heel and stalked out, returning with a huge cannister of fennel tea, which she thumped down on my bedside table.
"In Deutschland, wir machen so!!" ("In German, we do things this way!") she informed me.  Fennel tea tasted great, and the Germans believe that when a nursing mother drinks it, along with carraway-seed tea, she helps prevent her baby from having gas.

Rule #3: Eat, eat, eat.  Whatever you want!  Chocolate!  Pesto!  As much as you want!  Now you can eat sushi, which you should not eat during pregnancy, and now you can drink wine, but don't get drunk.  Now you can drink coffee, but some babies do get awfully hyperactive when you do.  But some sleep right through it.  You observe your kid, and forget what anybody else says.

Rule #4: Amuse yourself reading websites from different countries that tell you what nursing mothers should and should not eat.  In Germany I found a lot on the VERBOTEN list:  no orange juice, no onions, no peas, garlic was frowned upon, no strawberries . . . . I was craving fresh-squeezed orange juice, and when I begged the nurse for some she looked scandalized.  No proper Germany mommy would dream of such a thing.  Then I read the American websites, which at that time were all about preventing lactose intolerance in your baby, and which assured moms they could eat whatever they wanted, but watch out for the cheese on the top of the pizza.  By the time Baby #3 arrived, I had the confidence to ignore the nurses, and when my Korean roommate's husband brought in highly aromatic kimchee and other delights, the nurses huffed around saying "Well, we don't think you should eat it but we can't stop you!"  So we said, "Nyahh, nyaaah--what about all the mommies in Korea?  What about the Middle Eastern moms who eat garlic and onion and cardamom?"  The poor nurses.  We gave them a hard time.  And our babies slept  . . .like a dream.

Rule #5: The obvious: breastfeed on demand.  I knew a woman who followed doctor's orders, breastfeeding only every four hours on the dot, no matter how much the baby screamed.  Nerve-wracking all around:  another example of when NOT to listen to doctors (see previous posts).  Take the kid everywhere you go, wrap up in a shawl or a breastfeeding mom's t-shirt, the kind with the slit on the side for easy baby access to the breast, available from or in the U.S.  The most comfortable and easy to use nursing bras were the ones with a single snap in the middle.  Remember: you're undoing it one-handed, because the other hand is holding the baby.   Same goes for nursing tops:  stick to the ones with the side slit and forget the ones with the buttons.

Rule #6: Ignore naysayers, and even in our enlightened day and age, you'll find them.  Some fifteen years ago a friend was nursing her infant daughter in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. and the waiter came up and asked, "Wouldn't you rather do that in the bathroom?"  If the waiter asks you this, smile sweetly and answer: "Do you like to eat among toilets?  Neither does my baby."  An elderly relative who invited me out to dinner disapproved of my daughter nursing at age two.  "You won't want to do that in the restaurant," she chirped.  "You can use the ladies room there."  I pulled my big shawl around me and told her we'd be just fine at the table.  "When in Rome," she growled, and I said, "The Romans'll have to get used to me."  And they did, those Romans.  And you know what?  No one will bother you unless you're making a point of flapping your breast all over the place.  Do be discreet, and it is easy to be discreet with a shawl or a blanket or a nursing top.  Even so, you may get the tiresome Barbara Walters type sitting next to you on a plane hummphing that she feels "uncomfortable" when you nurse.  Smile sweetly and tell her you respect her discomfort and keep right on nursing.

Recipe of the Week: Banana Bread

It's a sunny day . . .  here's what the critical mom does with three or four old bananas that are turning black, the kind the kids refuse to have sliced over their Cheerios: 

(1) Peel them and put them in a big bowl with two eggs.  Meanwhile,  pre-heat your oven to 350ºF if you are American or 180ºC if you are European.  Grease a loaf pan and set it aside.

With a fork or hand blender, mash up the bananas, blending them well with the eggs.  You may, if you wish, add a handful of raisins, wolfberries, chopped walnuts, or chocolate chips. 

I order wolfberries (which are particularly good for aging women's eyesight and good for everyone's immune system) from, which has European as well as American offices.  The ones I got from my local Asian store were far cheaper, but also much darker, and since I know Chinese rivers remain profoundly polluted, I prefer a supplier who makes sure that only pure water touches the berries.

(2) In a separate bowl, stir in 2 cups (or 280 g) flour.  You can use white flour or half whole wheat flour.  100% whole wheat flour tends not to hold together as well and is a bit heavy.  Add 3/4 cup (145g) sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and mix well.

(3) Pour the flour mixture into the bananas mixture and blend well with fork or hand blender.  Pour mixture into loaf pan.  It helps to have a flexible rubber scraper to get every bit of the mixture out of the bowl and into the pan. 

(4) Put in oven and bake for one hour.  Voila!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Reading the New York Times for Free

 I'm writing for Luddites at heart like myself, who use computers to word-process, felt challenged by the term "blog" until they started one, just learned how to open a new tab on their browser . . . after the thirteen-year-old defined 'blog' and 'tab.'  No, it was the ten-year-old:  "Hee hee!  Mommy doesn't know how to open a tab!"  (Knee slap). 

 Since I have no money and am far from home, the apparent sudden need to pay for the Times online shocked me.  I Googled "How to Read The New York Times for Free" and am boiling down what several websites told me into four easy steps: 

(1)  Go to The New York Times online.

(2) Today, at 3:08 a.m. you will see a headline:


(3) In your browser, the thing at the top of the page where you now see The Critical Mom, you will see the following:

(4) Place your cursor at the end of this long thing and backspace--disappearing the numbers--until you get to the ? after the html, both of which you will need.  Hit the return key (step four-and-a-half)

You are now able to read the article.  For free.

The best things in life are free.

P.S.  Post a comment, and I'll tell ya 'nother way to do it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Scream: A Critical Mom's Guide

I often think of Edvard Munch and his many screamers:  they speak to me, as does the William Tell Mom, who like me tries to cram "Goodbye I love you have a great day at school" into "Don't forget to feed the guinea pigs and remember your orthodontist appointment at 3:00 p.m. and DON'T GET ON THAT DAMN COMPUTER BEFORE YOU'VE DONE YOUR CLARINET PRACTICE AND YOUR HOMEWORK!"
Maybe I should call it the "The Shriek: A Mom's Guide."
As in, when to shriek at your child and how he or she may best reap the benefits of shrieking.  Once upon a time, my son was having his eleventh birthday party and one guest--I'll call him Alvin--began to scream.  I ran outside where the guests had been playing football to witness two of them carrying a sobbing Alvin, who sounded as though he might need stitches, toward the house.  They deposited him on the stairs, offered that he'd been kicked accidentally, and went back out to play.  Alvin sat woebegonely sniffling and groaning in apparent agony.  I ran up with several ice packs and some antiseptic spray only to find the faintest of scratches and no swelling whatsoever.  In fact I couldn't get the kid to tell me where it hurt, but did surround the scratch with ice packs and offer to call his mother.  
"Yes, yes, call Mommy!"  he said.  He wanted to go home.  I phoned her, got his bag, wrapped a blanket around him, and kept his leg in ice packs, all the while worrying that her child had been injured at my child's party and I hoped it wasn't too bad.  His mother arrived--they lived at some distance and it took her a good forty minutes--and spoke with him cheerfully.  It turned out he wasn't going home.
"He just needed Mommy to come and kiss him," she said, glowing with the desire to be needed and to hop in the car for a long drive in order to kiss his knee and make it all better.
A year later, my son and Alvin were working on a school project together.  Each boy was responsible for four entries on an historic calendar, and my son complained that Alvin hadn't done any of his entries and now my son had to write them all because the teacher graded the group, not the individual in it.  In the mean time I'd heard a lot of Alvin stories:  "Mommy, Alvin has asthma and he's supposed to bring his inhaler to school, but anytime he hasn't done his homework or just doesn't feel like school, he wanders over to the secretary and says he's having an attack and they send him home."  Now my son was telling me that he'd sent an e-mail to Alvin and what did I think?  I read it:  
"Dear Alvin, I am very disappointed in you for not contributing to the calendar and now I have to do all the work and I don't want for you to be in my group anymore."  I told my son that the part about not being in his group was a bit too much like the "and you're not coming to my birthday party!" taunt of elementary school, and he should be beyond that by now, but neither of us felt prepared for the phone call that immediately followed his e-mail.
Alvin's mother sobbed into the phone:  "Alvin is totally exhausted!  What an unfriendly e-mail!"  In the background, Alvin was moaning and muttering that my son was "mean."
"Just a moment," I interrupted, "and I'll let Alvin speak to my son."  I heard my son on the phone, still apparently with Alvin's mother, saying, "I'm very sorry that I sent such an unfriendly e-mail, and in block letters, too.  Yes, Alvin and I can work together and I'm sorry I hurt his feelings."  Alvin could meanwhile still be heard whining for his Mommy and complaining about injustice.  When my son hung up, giggling, he said, "You know, Mommy, I used to think you were tough, but that kid is--"
"Now I can scream?" I said, and he nodded.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Choosing A Ballet Teacher for Your Child

Rule #1:  Look at her students, not at her.  She can look like Bozo.  She can weigh four hundred pounds.  She can have a hunchback bigger than Quasimodo's-- but if her students can move like Suzanne Farrell, then go to her.

It's always nice when the teacher is gorgeous to look at--several of my teachers made me sigh with delight when they demonstrated a step:  "when that woman lifts her leg," I thought to myself, "it's like a song."  But:

Rule #2: A good dancer is not the same thing as a good teacher.  A good dancer is an artist, and an artist is propelled by her visions of, say, an effect she'd like to create in a dance.   An artist may not feel interested in the nitty-gritty of necessary repetition, in correcting placement (the way a dancer must stand in order to move correctly) in a way that a young student can understand, in making sure basic exercises done at the barre are repeated in a new and more challenging way in the center.  Therefore:

Rule #3: Good dancing and good teaching are two completely separate skills.  They sometimes appear in the same personality, but my own experience has been that terrible dancers often make good teachers.  Now, I was a dance student with a far from ideal body.  Technique was not easy for me.  A student who is a natural may feel differently.

Rule #4: "Those who can't do teach."  In other words, See Rule #1.  The best teachers I ever had looked like they'd never graced a stage.  Although I knew that Maggie Black (who taught everybody who was anybody in the dance world) had danced with Anthony Tudor, she never pointed her foot.  She didn't stand up straight.  But she had eyes in the back of her head, communicated corrections to the more than eighty people in her classes, and was known as "Black Magic," by George Balanchine, founder of the New York City Ballet, who envied her.  David Howard danced with the Royal Ballet, but it's his sharp eyes and sharp perceptions that you notice in his classes--not his body, which--frankly--is not beautiful.  I loved his wry comments: "Not so spastic with the arms," he would smirk, making us laugh and remember to correct our arms. 

When I was a student, Maggie taught me to stand and David taught me to move.  These unique teachers evolved their own highly different methods, although both were grounded in the Royal Academy of Dance method.  

Rule #5: The best teachers are often those who are highly aware of physical problems encountered by dancers--among them, scoliosis, lack of natural turn-out, lack of natural flexibility, flat feet, toe lengths rendering pointe work challenging . . . the list goes on.  Their knowledge derives from the difficulties they suffered as students, and they develop methods for dealing with physical problems as well as for compensating for them onstage.

Rule #6: It is always good to have more than one teacher.  No teacher can offer everything a dance student needs to know.  I have had teachers whose beauty of movement inspired students.  These same teachers may not be able to explain how to cope with a movement problem if they have not themselves experienced it.  I had a teacher who used one correction for every single student:  "push your hips forward," and eventually I realized that this worked on his body--not on mine!  He was an extraordinarily gifted dancer who had never had to be patient with himself, who picked up steps very quickly, and who did not understand why anyone else wouldn't. 

Rule #7:  The teacher should like children, but don't pass up a brilliant curmudgeon.   I have seen highly effective teachers who barely spoke English--usually they spoke Russian--scream "Make better!" without of course indicating what exactly should be better. Or they yelled: "Terrible! Go to the back of the class!" and many of their students looked well-trained.  For some children, such teaching is traumatizing but for others it becomes an exhilarating challenge.

Rule #8: Look at the websites of nationally known dance schools and organizations:  The Royal Academy of Dance USA, The School of American Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation, among others, and then go on You-Tube and watch performances.  Then you have some idea what a student dancer should look like and also an idea of different methods of ballet teaching in the United States. 

Rule #9: The teacher does not necessarily need a teaching degree, but it helps.  A certificate from the Royal Academy of Dance or another internationally known dance organization is a good sign, but the acid test is the way they teach.  I have had excellent teachers who had degrees, but again, my very best teachers had evolved their own methods.

Rule #10: Parents should observe the following in a good dance studio: 

A.  Students wear a uniform and their hair should be neatly tied back.  This helps with the sense of belonging and shared purpose.  A teacher can allow students to choose the color of leotard they wear that year, but then everyone must stick to it.

B. No very young student should go on pointe: typically, students start pointe at about age 11 and AFTER several years of training, though some may start a year or so earlier.

C.  The music chosen for classes should delight the soul and support the dance steps.

D.  The room should be sufficiently warm.  Muscles work best when they are well-lubricated with sweat. Beware of studios touting air-conditioning, unless it is used only to dehumidify the room.  You don't want cool air blasting in during a ballet class.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

And Now, When to Listen to Those Doctors

At the very moment I thought I'd entered the loony bin of alternative health care, I got well.  After the usual rounds made by the discombobulated menopausal woman to gynecologists #1, #2 and #3, plus what turned out to be a totally unnecessary and completely ineffective D&C, which was supposed to stop menopausal bleeding and did not do so, and after turning down yet another stern recommendation from two worried doctors to take progesterone, a Chinese friend studying cardiology mentioned that she knew someone who did "traditional Chinese medicine.  I really don't know anything about it, but it helped my mother in China."  Off I went as a frantic last resort to the Chinese medicine center, where incense burned, a statue of Buddha presided, and behind the incense seeped a horrible smell that I thought must be pot.  It wasn't pot, but I wouldn't want to go through an airport with the miraculous herb that stopped the bleeding:  mugwort, or moxa, legally grown in Holland and other European countries.  My doctor waltzed in wearing a white lab coat and started burning a cigar of that stuff over my big toe, explaining, as she did, that Western medical journals had documented that Moxa helped turn a breech baby, and also stopped bleeding.  She smiled the way you smile at an ornery two-year-old and advised me to relax.  If I hadn't had a headful of acupuncture needles, I might have bolted off the table.  I'd already been required, as part of their alternative medical examination, to stick out my tongue at a bunch of doctors--which is more embarrassing than a gynecology exam--and had heard much discussion of yin&yang, "toning," and the importance of walking in nature quietly, all of which made me long for the noisy streets of the Upper West Side of New York, the rattle of the subway, and the taste of heavily sugared regular coffee while reading the New York Times.  Although I did used to love hiking in Vermont, the most time I spend in nature occurs when I take our guinea pigs to their outdoor cage on sunny days, and watch them fight over bits of food.
I lay on the gurney listening to New Age music, which was supposed to relax me, almost gagging on the smell of Moxa, which I feared would not come out of my clothes, and despairing at the time wasted with these New Age freaky doctors.
And then the bleeding stopped, just like that.  It never returned.  I took bland and sometimes nasty-tasting teas; I took funny little greenish-black pills; I told concerned friends who repeatedly asked exactly what I was taking that I did not know--all the ingredients sounded like "Foo-wing-wah-po" or something.  And I began to read about Traditional Chinese Medicine from the practitioners point of view as well as from the point of view of websites like Quackwatch.  I wrote a long, infuriated letter to the Quackwatch folks defending acupuncture and moxa--an amusing position to be in for one who had been intuitively on the Quackwatch side of the argument right up until the Chinese treatment really worked.  I continued taking various Chinese herbs and experimenting with products from alternative health care sites like and have felt better--more energetic, more peaceful, and in a better mood.  When I didn't want my then four year old daughter to endure yet another operation on the adnoids that had grown back again, I tried the Chinese medicine center, and the Chrysanthemum-based liquid they gave her worked.  That, and a little acupuncture.  I never thought I'd see the day.   So what is the moral of this story?  I have several:

Moral #1: Either that stuff works or I am incredibly suggestible.  But did you know that most cures are suggestion?  And I would rather have some non-toxic herbs that suggest me to health than a bunch of hormones.

Moral #2: Whatever works!  Antibiotics worked when I was trying to conceive.   The Chinese medicine folks shook their heads, telling me that antibiotics weaken the body.  Meanwhile, when I mentioned to my fertility doctor, the King of Antibiotic Treatment, that Chinese medicine had really worked for menopause, oh, did he ever shake his head.  "These herbs are DRUGS!" he protested.

Moral #3: Doctors are artists, too.  They have their visions.  No good artist can be swayed by the vision of another artist, and that goes for scientists.  The original thinker who cooks up an herbal concoction to cure menopause will have a hard time understanding the vision of one who cooks up a batch of antibiotics to cure infertility.  Although one Chinese practitioner listened to my tales of lavages of the uterus with antibiotics with interest, saying he'd heard of herbs being used topically for fertility in China.
But hey, Einstein couldn't talk to Freud.  One always has to find one's own way among the doctors.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Doctors, When to Listen, When to Ignore, part two

Never concede the authority of your common sense to a doctor--especially if you are feeling fine.  They may be nice, they may have your best interests at heart, they may mean well--and then it's hard to say no.  It's easier when you don't like them.  But then of course--you wouldn't go to them for treatment, right?  Catch 22.
I really liked the obstetrician who cared for me during my second pregnancy.  She was young, a snappy dresser, had a Swedish-modern and Ikea waiting room well-equipped for children as well as mothers, and she was willing to listen.  But she also went by the book.  I was old, she said.  Indeed, older than any mother she'd ever seen in the small European city in which we lived.
"I'm from New York," I offered, "Lots of woman older than I am give birth daily there.  When my friend Nancy went to her obstetrician worrying--at 38--about her age, the doctor laughed and told Nancy she was her youngest patient."
"We have a different attitude toward age here in Europe!" she said, looking grim.  A little jealous?  She was forty, I learned, younger than I was, and sometime in the course of my pregnancy--and I was 45 at the time--she got pregnant too.
 At the end of this conversation she insisted that I take progesterone.  This was eleven years ago, and at that time intra-vaginal progesterone pills were believed to prevent a miscarriage by thickening the lining of the uterus.  
"You want to prevent a miscarriage," insisted my doctor.   Sometimes I  think that if she'd only had kitschy office furniture that I hated or if only I'd not liked her so much, especially after running into her at the local swimming pool where she played with my firstborn,  I'd have had the sense to say "forget it--I am healthy.  I don't need this."  But that kind of common sense comes with age and experience.  As George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young," and indeed I was younger.   And I'd already had a painful and very saddening miscarriage, and wanted to avoid a second one.  So I went along with her progesterone prescription for the worst possible reason:  I felt scared.  I took the progesterone for several weeks, even though I felt fine and the baby looked fine on the ultrasound.  The immediate results--extreme fatigue, dizziness, and a compulsion to eat despite morning sickness--proved unbearable after a few weeks, and I went off the stuff and felt much better.  But I gained a great deal of weight, which I've never lost.  The baby was enormous and a second cesarean.  Who knows?  He might have been a normal birth without the progesterone.
P.S. Nobody prescribes progesterone to prevent miscarriages anymore.  Another medical fad gone with the wind.
The moral of the story:  Never go along with any prescription or treatment out of desperation.  Go for a second, a third, a fourth opinion until you feel like you know every possible option.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doctors: When to Listen to Them, When to Ignore Them (part one of three)

Once upon a time not long ago, I went for a check-up.  I felt fine, but I'd been told to have that Mitral valve prolapse checked every two years, so I chose the nearest hospital--for its proximity alone.  In strode a self-confident young physician, probably a resident, who ordered a stress test in addition to the usual EKG and blood tests.   The first drop in confidence came when I realized the place was a playground for medical students--each person in a white lab coat who tested me looked way under thirty, and the one who did the stress test stayed on his cell phone the entire time, inquiring whether this or that value meant what or which, and what did it mean when this happened?  Halfway through the test my contact lens started hurting, and I asked to take it out.  No, I couldn't do that, he said, with a sharp interpretive glance.   I was sent back to the young doc who'd ordered the test.
"These are abnormal rhythms!" he said.  "I think we should order an angiogram."
"Isn't that . . . like, invasive?"
"You'd be out in a couple of hours, no strenuous activity for two weeks."
"Is this really necessary?"
"You have abnormal rhythms!"
"Wait a minute--am I at risk for a heart attack?  I'm not overweight, I'm not diabetic, I have low blood pressure, I have the right kind of cholesterol, and I feel fine--I have no symptoms."
"You know--" here he really stuck out his jaw--"one day, that heart muscle could just decide to stop working!!"
I leaned across the table.  All of a sudden my heart, which I had never noticed before except in romantic situations, was thumping almost painfully.  I was definitely scared.  But I asked anyway:
"Listen, if you were me, with my heart and my cholesterol levels and my weight and my age and my gender, would you really get this test done?"
He wagged his finger at me, schoolmaster-style:  "THE POINT IS!" Now he was yelling, "THE POINT IS that your heart muscle could decide to stop working!"
I said no thanks, I didn't need any test.  His jaw muscle twitched.
"You will get a letter," he assured me in a rather unfriendly tone.  I got a letter and took it to my primary care doctor, who told me that hospital was a "red flag" for her.  I wondered if they just wanted to be able to charge for the tests, but no . . . it turns out that young doctors must perform at least 75 angiograms per year in order  to keep their hospital privileges.  And I guess he figured I was a safe bet--he wouldn't be doing me any harm.  I did go for a second opinion, because despite the common sense I thought I possessed, I was nervous.  
"You are very low risk," said Dr. Second Opinion, who was also a much older doctor, "But if you want to make absolutely sure you don't have cardiac ischemia, I could send you for a test . . . "
"Yes, yes, yes," I burbled, until I realized the test took six hours and involved dyes injected through my veins.  No, no no.  I left, and did some retail therapy on the way home--a really nice red shirt.  Now that was good for my heart.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

See Updates

I'm constantly updating the last few posts, and still interested in What Readers Want to Read.  Here are some topics I could easily cover:

• Easy, inexpensive, dishes for kids, including meat-free food

• The Essential Children's Books--for teens, tweens, beginning readers, and toddlers (including information on avoiding bowdlerized classics)

• Being an older Mom, to the point where it happens all the time that a kid sees you coming to pick up your daughter and shouts to her: "Hey, your grandma's here!"

• Coping with a Difficult Mom

• Oscar Wilde

• Americans and religion

• Intriguing, bizarre, pleasant, and weird experiences with doctors

• Experiences with horrible teachers (and how to help your child with them)

Fertility After Forty: The Critical Mom's Guide

Readers have asked me how I did it--three kids after age forty.  I turned 42 one week after my firstborn emerged, 46 with the second and 47 with the third.  I was not the only lactating woman in menopause around, but I was the only one in my town.
I can recommend three methods, but before I get to them, start low-tech no matter how old you are.  Upfront:  all advice is geared to workable plumbing.  If you've been told your tubes are blocked, ask at least three other doctors before you believe it, and decide in advance not to take the word of any doctor as truth written in stone.   I speak as one at whom doctors laughed, or pityingly regarded while trying to palm off a prescription for Zoloft or a recommendation to see a fortune teller described as "really like a witch?  She will help you to accept? That at your age you can't possibly?"
Finally, trust your own hunch before you listen to me or anybody else.

My three methods:

(1) Lots of passion--and a bottle of Dom Pérignon helps.  If you're doing it on the ovulation stick schedule, it's no fun.  When it's no fun, it's not all that fertile, unless you're sixteen.

(2) Antibiotics:  I went to the King of Antibiotic treatment, Dr. Attila Toth of New York City, whose  theory that hidden infections--not old eggs--cause infertility appeals to me immensely.  My second two children arrived after my husband and I were treated by him.  Nearly all fertility doctors prescribe oral antibiotics:  Dr. Toth treats with intravenous antibiotics and does a lavage of the uterus with antibiotics.

(3) Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture.  Americans take note:  If you try this, go to a Chinese person who was trained in China.  If you're living in Europe, everybody knows about this stuff, so you're fine with a non-Chinese doc.

And finally, the method to avoid:  "ART" or "Assisted Reproductive Technology" including but not limited to IVF, donor eggs, megadoses of hormones or drugs like Clomid that force the ovaries to cough up eggs.  A general cleanout with antibiotics is one thing; an assault on the system with hormones and high-tech is in my considered opinion the road to problem children and cancer.   Never forget the untimely death of Wendy Wasserstein, whose high-tech quest for a child may well have caused the cancer to which she succumbed

I'd be happy to post much, much more on this, if there is interest.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide: Nine Household Hints

Here are tips for a stain-free, relaxed home:

(1) A mix of baking soda and plain white vinegar cleans many things.  Why pay more on expensive cleaners when you can do it all for less?  You mix both for scrubbing bathrooms; you can pour a few handfuls of baking soda into a toilet, leave it there, and scrub.  Added fun for a bored child:  fill a mug halfway with baking soda.  Tell the child to close his or her eyes, then open them to "watch the volcano erupt!"  Then add the vinegar--about the same amount, though less may be plenty.  Try it out beforehand to get the desired effect. P.S. Baking soda is a good substitute for toothpaste.  Mixed with water in a paste, it soothes mosquito bites.  Whenever my children have an itchy rash, irritated skin or are recovering from chicken pox, I put a few handfuls of baking soda in a bath.  Or use uncooked oatmeal instead.  But don't clean with the oatmeal!

(2) Stains:  the first rule is that no matter what they are, keep 'em wet.  Red wine, coffee, jelly, jam:  put the whole stained item in a bowl or sink to soak, or pour water over the carpet.   After this it gets complicated. 
 Red wine:  pour lots of salt over the wet--keep it wet, in fact, run water through it for a while!--stain and pour on more water or club soda.  Let it soak a few minutes.  Then use dish soap and water plus elbow grease.
Coffee: Again:  water, water, water.  Then dishwashing liquid and scrub-er-ooo.  Then vinegar and water.  Launder as usual. 
Wax, esp. candle wax:  put waxy item in freezer.  Later, scrape off wax. 
Silly putty on clothing or sweater:  hand sanitizer.  
Ballpoint-pen ink: rubbing alcohol.

(3) Laundering tips:  Add olive oil to the final rinse of woolen blankets to keep them soft and fluffy. Adding eucalyptus oil to the final rinse will also deter fish moths. Stains on white garments:  one part chlorox, three parts water, well mixed.  Let item soak for 15 minutes to half an hour.

(4) Natural insect repellents that double as aromatherapy:  Put several drops of 100% lavender or peppermint essential oil on a cool light bulb.  Use citronella too, if you like, or rose geranium, or cedar oil.  But the first two are best for moths, mosquitoes, and bed bugs.   You can also douse cotton balls with essential oils and tuck them under sofas and behind refrigerators.

(5) If you like coffee strong enough to walk on but don't want bitterness, save your eggshells, rinse them, and add to your freshly-ground beans in a French press.  Voila!

(6) To keep flour and rice free of weevils and most bugs: bay leaves.  Rub or crush them a bit and add to the most airtight container you can find. 

(7) To keep brown sugar from turning into a stiff-as-a-brick block: add a slice or two of bread and keep in airtight plastic container or bag in freezer. 

(8) To keep salt from sticking together in a humid climate:  add grains of uncooked rice to the salt shaker.
(9) To keep Parmesan cheese from becoming dry, wrap it in a wet paper towel and
store in an airtight container.

The Critical Mom's Guide to Children and Colds

Here are some things that have helped me, my children (now 8, 10 and 13) and my husband:

(1) At the first sign of a runny nose, a frog in the throat, the sniffles:  drink warm fruit tea with honey.  Camomile, apple, hibiscus, rose hip, lime tea are all teas that my family have enjoyed, and rose hip is known for its high vitamin C content, a help with colds.  A pediatrician might tell you any liquid and we've all had kids who won't drink this and won't drink that, but teas are really good.

(2) An over-the-counter natural remedy containing Pelargonium Sidioides is good:  in the USA this is marketed as Umcka, in Europe as Umckaloabo.  The dosage is usually about 12-15 drops for a small child, 20 for a tween and 20-30 for an adult.  It tastes great, and is more effective when you drink fruit tea or water with it.

(3) Sea-salt nose spray.  There are a number of over-the-counter sprays or you can make your own, or use a neti-pot (see for ideas)

(4) Steam.  Lots of warm steam.  You can just close the bathroom windows, turn on the hot water, and let the child sit on a chair and sniff the steam for a few minutes.  Or buy a humidifier, but if you use one of those, you'll always need to clean after each use.  Low tech:  the shower or the tub; steam created with hot water.

But for even better results:  buy dried chamomile flowers--at your local pharmacy if you live in Germany, online, I suppose, elsewhere.  Put them in a deep pot or bowl.  Have  a big blanket ready.  Pour boiling water over the chamomile flowers, have the child lean over the bowl covered with the blanket--the blanket is a tent holding in the steam.  How long?  For as long as they can stand it.  Read to them or tell them stories.  Until they say, "Mommy, my face is dripping with steam!  I'm sweating."

After the chamomile steam, run a bath using a bath oil with thyme or eucalyptus or both.  My youngest is right now soaking in a Thyme oil bath to which I've added about four drops of pure eucalyptus oil.  Not more--it'll burn.

(5) Gargle with hot salty water, preferably sea salt.  Hot as you can stand it.

(6)  Echinacea.   Again, take with fruit tea or water.

(7) Garlic.  The natural antibiotic.  Use it in cooking or eat it raw.   A good recipe for a lot of fresh garlic is pesto:  in a food processor put a half cup of olive oil and several hunks of fresh Parmesan cheese.  Process.  Then add washed arugula leaves or basil and LOTS of garlic cloves.   Process.  Eat over pasta.  Freeze remaining portions in small plastic containers.  Adjust amounts of all ingredients to taste or number of persons served.

(8) Homemade chicken soup.  Soothes throats and tastes great!  I mean the kind where you boil a whole chicken in a pot.  But the powdered stuff will do, especially if they won't drink anything else.

(9) Vick's Vapo Rub:  Yeah, it helps.  For a bad cold, put on soles of feet with warm socks and on chest.

(10) Earaches:  if there's no fever, or even if there is, but you can't get to the pediatrician til tomorrow: chop up a room-temperature onion into five or six pieces.  Take an old pair of socks and put onion pieces in each; tie a knot in the sock to keep the onions from falling out.  One for each ear, and put a headband or ski band or cotton cap on the child's head to keep the socks placed against the ear.  Have the child sleep on his or her back.   When the earache is just caused by congestion and is not yet a real infection--and often even when it is--this can work very well.  Worked great with my daughter when she was four, five, six.

(11) Comb websites geared to homoeopathic remedies and experiment:  aconite and belladonna are things I've found useful.

(12) Diarrhea:  if you want to avoid the jumpiness that comes with coke and pretzels, try boiling a couple of peeled carrots and a dash of sea salt for three or four hours.  Mash it and make sure the kid consumes the liquid the carrots are boiled in too.  In general, boiled carrots and boiled potatoes help with diarrhea.

(13) If you're washing sheets and holding bowls for a kid who is erupting at both ends, you will want to wash your hands and also to invest in an alternative liquid hand cleaner called "Thieves" produced by  "Thieves" smells marvelously of cloves, and derives its name from a concoction used by actual French thieves who smeared a blend of cloves, rosemary, and other essential oils over themselves when pilfering the pockets of the dead and dying during the time of the bubonic plague in Europe in the Middle Ages.  And lived to tell the tale, and never contracted the fatal disease.   Now, I've used hand sanitizer and alcohol-based products, but the time I used "Thieves" was the one time I did not come down with intestinal flu when I cleaned up after a sick child.

(14) General prevention:  healthy diet.  That means non-processed foods, no sugar, less or no meat, lots of healthy grains--there are a million websites out there about that.

(15) A disclaimer:  All this advice is good for what any mom recognizes as the common cold or the sniffles.  If your child is running a high fever, or just looks awful, see a doctor and use these remedies only until you get there. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Critical Mom Topics??

Dear Viewers of my Blog,
So far I've stuck to posts that interest me, but now for you.  Here are topics I thought you might like, and I'd like to hear from you if you do:  Post a line saying yes, you'd like more on that subject or no, you would not.  Here is my list:

(1) The Critical Mom's Guide to Household Hints.  This will include things like how to get silly putty out of a nice knit sweater (with hand sanitizer)

(2) The Critical Mom's Guide to Fertility.  Want to know how to get pregnant when you're forty or over?  Want to know how to get pregnant anytime under age 48?  I'll tell you how I did it.  This article will assume all plumbing is still there, and more or less functional.

(3) The Critical Mom's Guide to low-tech, low-budget, not-from-the-drug-store cold remedies.

(4) The Critical Mom's Guide to Children's Classics for toddlers through teens.

(5) Surviving on Nantucket when you are neither a billionaire nor a millionaire.  When you are, in fact, plain-ole poor.

So let me know if you'd like posts on these topics.  Thanks.

The Critical Mom

Nantucket Restaurant Reviews: Gone Are The Days

We spent our last night on Nantucket at Cap'n Toby's chowder house, an island institution that no longer serves those huge boiled lobsters, complete with plastic bib, dish of melted butter, lemon slices, and perfumed hand-wipe.  Ah, those were great meals, and inspired my adolescent self to produce a poem,

The lobster arrayed
Like a cannibal king
Red-armored arms brandished
Goddess Kali . . .

And so on.
It's not fair to discuss the decline of Cap'n Toby's without mentioning Walter Beinecke, who in the late 1960s and 70s exploited his S&H Green Stamp fortune to drive out middle class summer visitors:  specifically, as he told Time magazine in 1968, he said his aim was to "attract fewer people who would buy six postcards and two hot dogs and more who would rent a hotel room and buy a couple of sports coats."  Now, my family bought the hot dogs and the post cards.  One of his first victims was Cap'n Tobey's--when the owner would not sell, Beinecke built The Tavern beside it, partly to block the view and obviously to compete.  After a noble boycott, island residents realized that summer residents would flock to both places, but the original flair and menu have now evaporated.  I had a flavorless red sangria that tasted like maraschino cherry and water; I asked for a red wine to chase the taste and got something verging on vinegar.  The lobster newburg angel hair pasta tasted as if the lobster had been retrieved from a can or a freezer, and the dominant flavor of every dish--of onion rings, salads, pastas, and Italian bread--was grease.  Cap'n Tobey's, like the flea-bitten B&B in which I stayed on Nantucket,  has now been sold to Bernard Chiu, a Boston-based entrepreneur with a friendly face and a nifty smile.  I can tell at a glance that he'll improve both places, but then, after he's put in a decent kitchen, modern plumbing, and new gadgets--will they be affordable to this LONELY REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS?  If the pattern of other Nantucket guest house sales is anything to go by--Century House, for instance--my guess is that I'd better start looking into vacations on Block Island.  Or the coast of Holland, where you can get a "cottage" --really an RV without the wheels--that's great for a family of five, or six, and comes with a little porch and table and chairs.  Now, that particular Dutch spot, a village known as Renessee, is Nantucket for the middle class, in the sense that my family can afford it.  The only drawback is language.  You'll get along fine if you speak German, which has many similarities to Dutch,  and a few people speak English.    A supermarket tale:  I wanted some fresh ginger, and the clerk had never heard that particular English word.  So I gave him the German one:  "Ingwer," and the lightbulb went off over his head.  "Ah, you want *Gember*" said he, a word that is pronounced with a gutteral "H" sound.  If you add the noise you'd make coughing up a bit of gristle to the word "ember," you've pretty much got it.
So, for a cheap vacation--cheap if you're already in Europe, that is-- that reminds you of Nantucket, try Holland.  Or Mallorca, which is so popular among Germans that it is often known as "the bathtub of Germany" or "Germany's seventeeth state," and one of the first sights to greet my touristy eyes was a "Schnitzelhaus" restaurant.
Plus, you can get lobster.  And in Holland, not only that.  Chocolate.  Belgian chocolate, poured over waffles. With whipped cream.  Check it out . .  .

Friday, August 17, 2012

The House Beautiful OR "An Almost Deranged Passion"

Last night we entered an ivy-woven courtyard, sat on teakwood chairs and—sipping wine and nibbling on prosciutto appetizers and exquisite cookies--admired signs of Sankaty head light house and the Nantucket railroad decorating the garden shed.   Our hosts have the most aesthetically original house on Nantucket.  Design by TIOLI: over the years, they have selected the best of the best from the town dump and other sources, and created an historic theme park, each room devoted to a person or a cause:  Religion, Africa, Napoleon, Dance.  And there’s a hot tub.  The location is an absolute secret as are the owners, but I’ll give you a clue:  they are not billionaires.  

The Critical Mom's Guide to Tick repellents

Nantucket, as everyone should know, is Lyme Disease Central.  What to do if you don't like DEET on your children's skin and you know those bug repellent bracelets only work on mosquitoes?  And most tick repellents seem to have about 10% essential oils?
Run and buy some of the following:

100% Lavender essential oil
100% Cedar essential oil
100% Rose Geranium essential oil
100% Citronella oil

Plus, the one I never realized we'd need:

100% Peppermint essential oil.  This one repels bed bugs as well as clothing moths.  The others repel deer ticks.  Besides, they all smell great.  You can try citronella, but it's probably only good for repelling mosquitoes.

Before going anywhere, put few drops in the palm of your hand of each oil, rub them together, and smear over ankles, wrists, arms, and in hair.  Keep away from eyes!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A dumpster in paradise

I'm back from the dump, which yielded Otis Stuart's biography of Nureyev and--in mint condition, binding not cracked--Susan Gubar's Memoir of a Debulked Woman, which may be too sad to read.  Slim pickings with clothes:  my daughter got a black watch Lanz nightgown in good condition.  Meanwhile, as the chicken sitting on garlic, red bell peppers, red onions, and baby carrots incubates in the oven, my husband is cleaning the table outside.  We pick our way to the garden table since the dogs are still relieving themselves in the garden. Guests are coming for dinner.

Welcome and first post

Welcome to my blog.  A word on the title:  I am
(1) Critical in the sense of judgmental
(2) A mom:  three children, ages 13, 10, and 8.  The brilliant 13-year-old is helping me right now.  I could never have set up a blog, or done anything except send an e-mail, without him.
(3) Lonely.  A relative term.  I love seeing my husband and kids.  I miss my friends, who are nearly all in New York, and I live very far from New York indeed.  Most of my time is spent in northwestern Germany.
(4) The middle class.  This will be the most contested, the most labile, the most contradictory, the absolutely hard to pin down term.  Let's take the easiest definition first, the economic.  I have no money, but I do have some education.
  And now for my first post:


Vastly to my surprise, I can recommend Nantucket Island as the shopping experience of a lifetime--not in the stores, naturally, where ugly sandals are currently on sale, $350 marked down from $700.  The billionaires are driving out the millionaires here, a horrible experience for one who as a child knew the island as a peaceful fishing village, but the one advantage of this demographic disaster is the Hospital Thrift Shop, where for $29.  I got exquisite shoes, worn once, for $15, a lovely Dolman-sleeved boiled wool jacket, a hand-knit sweater, an elegant straw hat, Martha Stewart perfect after I removed the grosgrain ribbon welcoming the Welleseley class of 1961, several CDs and I forget what else.  And later, friends have invited me to "TIOLI," the Take It Or Leave It Section of the town dump, from which they have culled their  teakwood set of lovely outdoor furniture, several ornaments, lots of items in their home, and clothes, clothes, clothes.  I can't wait to stand among the vultures and grab some designer shoes for free.       
Other than that, life here remains horrible.  I had a large margarita to get me through lunch to the tune of my mother's voice. People drop $1,000 in the cheese shop for an evening's lark.  Women who look much younger than me dodder slowly down the street, and when I look closely I see facial skin stretched tight as a drum, fixed smiles, wigs, and shopping bags from stores with no price tags on the merchandise (if you have to ask how much, you are so not "our sort of people").  Botox? Facelifts?  Meanwhile, the proprietor of our B&B told us it is not "de rigueur" to hang out our wash: "People can see it from windows, you see."  Gee, I feel so sorry for them.  I hung up twice as much wash yesterday just to spite him, and in revenge he let his dog poop all over our yard.  I asked him to clean up and he yelled "it's the dog's yard" but grudgingly agreed to do so. More poop appeared, I sent an e-mail saying my children walked there and not to allow the dog to do his business at all ever again and explaining that we needed a clothesline. Got an e-mail back telling us they'd try to clean up but we were "trashy" taking over the back yard with a clothes line.  I didn't think people with lots of books in their houses and who actively campaigned for Obama would be the type to think of clothes on a line as trashy.  We took our line down and are now desperate. They did offer their clothesline, upon which algae grew thick as a carpet.  The laundromat they say is the only one on the island is $3.75 a load and an expensive cab ride away.  I knew there was another one in town, asked the first non-billionaire on the street, and found the washing machine at the end of the rainbow, allegedly only for the Yacht club but there's no "VERBOTEN" sign so my husband is down there now. The Grand Union supermarket is the only place I can afford to shop, except for the Hospital Thrift shop.  And to top it all, we seem to have bed bugs.
I came prepared for ticks -- but this?  Once upon a time, my mother, an extremely good artist, painted a scene from our then-affordable cottage of wash billowing out on the line to dry.  It was a romantic scene, and my favorite painting of hers.  Is that Nantucket gone forever?