Posts Tagged ‘sister’

Babies, According to Carolyn

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Today you get a very, very special guest post from my sister, Carolyn, who is as we speak probably hauling buckets of water to her hut for a bath or saving children from illiteracy. She’s pretty cool.

p.s. If you want to ask her questions in the comments I’ll email them to her so she can answer and post her answers. Her internet access isn’t always reliable (SHOCKING) and I don’t think she has a fast enough connection to respond through the blog.


Hii! This is Carolyn, Suzanne’s sister in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso (West Africa) and regular reader of this blog. Suzanne asked me to write a guest post ages ago, and today I’m finally going to do just that. Honestly, the reason I was so reluctant to do this sooner (sorry Suz!) was because generally, I don’t think about babies. (This is probably a terrible thing to say on a baby blog, right?) Not really high on my radar. I am very far from being an expert; I feel like I don’t even know enough about them in the states to make legitimate comparisons between there and here. But here goes!

Babies here are extremely cute. Unfortunately, they are usually terrified of white people, so they tend to start screaming at my approach. And making faces to get them to smile only makes it worse, as I discovered VERY early on in my time here. Every once in a while, on a bush taxi in particular (where they have many, many hours to get used to me) I get a baby who makes the sort of shocked face that’s usually a precursor to crying, but on rare occasions leads to smiling and playing peek-a-boo over his mom’s shoulder and all the women making arranged marriages between me and him. That’s when I like babies best.

When women are pregnant here, it’s not usually talked about. Perhaps because of general silence on women’s issues, or maybe because of the risks of pregnancy here, I’m not sure. When a baby is born the customary gift to give the mother is soap. This is because in Burkina, there… aren’t diapers. Babies usually wear little western castoff outfits (very cute ones, actually) with shorts or pants or just fabric wrapped around them, so those layers get washed very frequently. Which uses a lot of soap. As soon as they’re walking, kids are essentially potty-trained because they can squat down wherever they want.

A pagne is essentially just a length of patterned fabric, and is what all women use to carry their babies on their backs. You constantly see women with babies asleep on their backs- working in the fields, at the market, riding motorbikes, everywhere. There’s a routine motion that you notice of women bending forward and hiking their babies up, then re-tying the pagnes. (ed: Carolyn sent me several and I tried to carry Baby Evan Africa-style ONCE. It did not go well. I never made it out of the family room.) In cold season you see bulges on women’s backs with a tiny knit hat on top, the type with the puff ball attached. I should also mention that it’s not only women who carry babies like this. No, I’m not saying that the men do too (they absolutely do NOT.) Often older siblings, or I should say, sisters, carry the babies too. It’s cute, but maybe kind of sad, that you see tiny girls carrying babies almost as big as they are.

I know Suzanne talks about breastfeeding a lot, which I think is great. I was perhaps a little uncomfortable with breastfeeding in practice before I came here, just because I was never exposed to it in the states. Burkina, however, is a different story. Women breastfeed. When babies get a little older there is a type of porridge that they eat, and I see women feeding babies the occasional bit of biscuit or rice or whatever else they happen to be eating, but the main source of nutrition comes from nursing. You see women breastfeeding everywhere: the secretary at my school does it in the office while she’s working, women do it while riding in donkeycarts, and I’ve had, on several occasions, a baby in a bush taxi half-lying in my lap while being nursed by the woman next to me. So I am now VERY accustomed to the idea, in theory and in practice. But here part of it is that breasts, in general, are much less shocking than they are in the states. I still see old women working in the fields or going to fetch water topless (honestly, that’s one of those things that make me remember I’m in a different country, no matter how accustomed I’ve become to other aspects of living here.)

Healthwise: If women go to the health center during pregnancy they can get prenatal care and can give birth with nurses, otherwise there are local midwives or just unassisted home births. Once they have the baby they can go to the health center for vaccinations or to have their babies weighed (and get supplemental formula if the baby is underweight.) Peace Corps has a health sector here and one of the main focuses is child and maternal health, but since I’m a teacher I don’t have much personal experience with it (and even if I did, I imagine I would just have lots of really sad stories to tell.) A lot of child care depends on the economic situation of the family. Poor, rural families often can’t afford the small fees incurred at the health center, so they don’t go.

So overall, babies here are very abundant, and their care is pretty simple. No formula, no diapers, not really any toys, no car seats, no strollers, no cribs (they just sleep on a mat with their mamas.) I actually think it’s quite a nice way to raise a baby, if only you could improve child safety and health care. But I very much like the ideas of breastfeeding, no diapers (or I guess cloth diapers?), wearing the baby wrapped on your back, and co-sleeping. If I ever have babies (yikes) I’m totally following the all-natural, Africa/hippie way of baby-raising (go Suzanne!)

Carolyn’s Frangipane Apple Tart

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

When Baby Evan was just a couple months old, my little sister Carolyn came to visit. She wanted a chance to meet her only nephew before moving to Africa for two years, since it’s not exactly a place you just fly home on the weekends from. I would like to tell you her visit was lovely, full of hugs and laughter and hair-braiding but honestly, I was still in that oh-my-God-I-just-had-a-baby-and-I’m-never-sleeping-again stage of new motherhood and I barely remember it. I’m sure it WAS really fun though. Since we got past the stage of hating each other we have a lot more in common than you’d expect a homebody Navy housewife mom and a traveling Peace Corp volunteer artist to have. Starting with we both love Arrested Development and dessert. Although most of the visit is a blur the part that is CRYSTAL CLEAR is the apple tart she made. I think we ate the entire thing between us before it was even cool. But, hey, I was nursing 24/7 and she was about to leave for a place without ovens. Or indoor plumbing.

Of course I wouldn’t let her leave the continent without giving me the recipe, but in true free-spirit fashion, she wrote it in some sort of crazy shorthand on the back of a Gerber onesies cardboard insert. No, seriously:

To make things a little easier on myself, I got my Google on and tracked down what I think is the original recipe which provides useful information such as what exactly do I DO with the apples and the apricot jam? Although first I had to figure out what “fraugipani” was. Turns out it’s bad-handwriting for “frangipagne”, which is a kind of almond filling.

Are you getting hungry yet? I bet you are. And I haven’t even told you Carolyn spent a semester in France so she knows good pastry. Ready for the recipe? Allons!

1 1/3 cup flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp cold water

Mix the flour and salt, then add in the butter and egg yolk.

Oh those French and their love of butter.

Stir it together with a fork and then add the water a little at a time until you can press the dough together. If it’s still too dry, add a little more water.

My pastry took exactly the 3 Tbsp called for to look like this.

Wrap the ball of pastry in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Remember, it has raw egg in it. Not that it's ever stopped me, but at least CONSIDER not eating it.

Frangipane filling

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp apple brandy (or whatever kind of liquor you have laying around)
2/3 c ground almonds*
2 Tbsp flour

2 – 4 apples (I used Braeburns)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup apricot jam (or whatever you have in the panty)

Cream the butter and sugar, then add in the eggs.

I guess you could use a mixer, but it goes pretty fast by hand.

Dump in the brandy Kahlua and mix well. Combine the almonds and flour in a separate bowl, then add it to the wet ingredients.

The only thing in my liquor cabinet that seemed like a good substitute.

I suppose I could have used vanilla or almond extract instead. Oh well.

Roll out your chilled pastry crust so it fits in a tart pan or a pie plate. Fold up and flute the edges so it looks pretty.

Shockingly, I don't have a tart-specific dish, so this is just a 9 inch pie plate.

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.

Spoon the filling into the crust evenly.

The filling gets puffier while it bakes, so don't worry if it looks a little empty.

Peel, core and slice the apples into thin wedges. Arrange them super fancy and all artistic-like over the filling, pressing down firmly. Or if you’re just going to eat the whole tart yourself, just throw them on there.

This is just two apples, not the 4 my sister called for, since they were on the large size.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temp to 350 degrees.Bake for 10 more minutes, sprinkle the tart with sugar and bake another 10 minutes.

Looks pretty good, doesn't it?

While the tart is still warm, brush the apricot jam over it so it gets nice and melty.

You could water down the jam a little so it spreads without messing up your pretty apples.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or just eat it strait from the pie plate before anyone else can get their grubby hands on your tart. I’m taking mine to knitting group tonight so I don’t snarf the whole thing down myself. Although they won’t get to see it looking this pretty since there’s going to be a piece missing.

*A note about the ground almonds. I was going to just use almond flour but I couldn’t find any at my local Stop & Shop, so I used my handy-dandy mini-Cuisinart to just grind them up myself. Several other versions of this recipe call for marzipan instead, which would be an easy alternative.

Absolutely the BEST kitchen appliance ever.

Babywearing Weekend Part 2

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Check out my new BabyHawk, a Christmas present from my wonderful husband.

Blue side! With a pocket! I know the beige straps aren't the most practical for keeping clean but I wanted something neutral that wasn't black.

Back carry! I even got him on by myself.

The only drawback to a back carry.

And this is the gorgeous pagne my sister sent me from Africa. You wear it by just wrapping it around you, folding down the top and tying the bottom.

The instructions my sister sent me for the pagne.

All I can promise is I'm not having 19.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

So, the Duggars are having another baby. Their youngest is only 8 months and she’s about 3 months along, which means she got pregnant when the baby was 5 months. (I wonder if Michelle breastfeeds. I was under the impression it was supposed to suppress fertility so you didn’t end up with like, 19 kids. If she doesn’t, can you imagine how much they’ve spent on formula? More than enough to afford some condoms. I’m just sayin’.) I suppose if your goal is to have as many babies as possible you don’t really worry about things like child spacing.

There’s a woman at my mom’s group who’s son is about 8 weeks ahead of Baby Evan. She wants to be pregnant again by Christmas because she wants her kids close in age, like she and her sister are.

There’s another woman at my group who has three kids under three, 2 boys and a girl. They adopted the first one after her round of fertility treatments “failed”, and found out she was pregnant only a few weeks later. The third one was just a total surprise. She makes all those babies look easy.

A friend of mine has two kids, a boy and a girl, and came over to see Baby Evan because she “was going to miss little ones” now that she was done having babies. She just announced she’s pregnant. She’s over the moon happy, even though it’s going to mean another set of diapers while her second is potty training.

Another friend agreed with her husband from the very beginning they were having just one. I might be giving her baby fever with my own munchkin, as she said the other day “Are we REALLY done having kids?”

A woman I was standing in line with the other day was talking about her daughter and how although she loved children she NEVER wanted to go through birth again. She was so traumatized by the first one it scared her out of pregnancy forever, despite her desire for more. (This stranger over-share begins as soon as you’re visibly pregnant and only gets worse once you have the actual baby.)

And for my last example, there’s a woman I’ve met a couple times at mom’s group who has an 18 year old daughter…and an 8 month old son. Talk about an age difference. She wanted to start a family with her second husband.

E and I are both oldest children with siblings only a couple years behind us. Neither of us really remembers what being an old child was like. Although we are both close in age to our next oldest siblings, I wouldn’t say either of us is best-friends-talk-on-the-phone-every-day close. (Distance has something to do with it too – his whole family is in Ohio while my sister is literally across the world.) But having those built in playmates when we were little is something we both enjoyed.

(My sister may beg to differ on how great having me around really was, since I insisted on things like doing THAT to our hair on Easter and my mom made her go along with it. Doesn’t she look excited?)

I sort of thought that once I had one I would just KNOW how I felt about more, but it swings from one extreme to another on a daily basis, depending on how taxing/easy the previous bedtime/feeding/nap time/play time has been. I definitely want more kids but when will Baby Evan understand he has to share his mommy? Should I wait until he’s out of diapers? What if he doesn’t finish potty training until he’s 4? What if it takes me three years to get pregnant? Is it unfair to the second child to have a mother so distracted by her toddler she barely remembers there’s another bebeh?  Are second (and third) children doomed to be just a little more neglected than the one before? Can we handle another one financially? Can we handle another one emotionally? What if it’s another boy? Will I keep trying for a girl?

What about you? Are you an only who wanted siblings? Are you and your brother totall BFFs? How far appart are your kids?