_ Back in the Northeast, where I’m from, I had a transplanted Texan friend who’d regale me with tales of cut-throat chili competitions every time she had a drink or two in her; I was always an eager audience, having never ventured farther south myself than Washington D.C. I’d attempt to interpret her descriptions of Tex-Mex cuisine based only on my limited exposure, via New England’s “Mexican” restaurants, to hard-shelled tacos stuffed with ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce and watery tomatoes. I made mental notes to never again refer to grilling as “barbeque.” And when it came to the chili, it was clear my friend could recall-- with vivid accuracy-- the variations in tastes and textures that her fellow Texans take such pride in, but I was as confused as I was entranced by her descriptions. She rattled off the names of peppers, hotter by the second, and I wondered what kind of chili could possibly exclude beans.

Aaron and I first visited Austin not too long after we first started dating. Tasting the food here was my number one priority during that trip. He’d accompanied me on a snowboarding vacation in New Hampshire the previous winter (and had been really quite offended by the food in a Mexican restaurant there), so now it was my turn to get a look at-- and taste of—his hometown. My Texan friend’s passion for the food from cowboy country had kept my curiosity piqued for several years, so when Aaron and I planned our first voyage here together I told him point-blank that I intended to eat Tex-Mex, barbeque, or real Texan chili at least once during every day of our vacation. We did eat some incredible food (one’s first real Texan tacos awaken the palate to worlds of possibility as yet unimagined), but I soon realized that the Lonestar State's hearty, heavy, lard-laden cuisine is not for the faint of heart. I needed a break by day four, wanting only salad and a chance for my arteries to recover.

Now that I live here, I’ve continued to embrace all of those staple Texan dishes my homesick friend dreamed of, but I’m also relieved and excited by the culinary diversity that Austin, at least, offers. I can get my Greek kicks, satisfy a Cajun craving or enjoy a romantic dinner done just right in French Bistro fashion. And while I do like Texan chili-- all ground beef and spices-- I still prefer to make bean chilis at home.

This one’s mild-- I made a double batch today, and gave half to friends who recently welcomed a new baby (and thus are too tired to cook)-- but robust. It’s perfect for an overcast, cool Texan January day. Good for the soul. Served with my maple-laced cornbread, crumbled in (Aaron’s style) or on the side (mine), perhaps with a simple green salad, it lets you know-- wherever you’re from, and wherever you are-- that you’re home.

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A fire engine nebulizer. Sold... to the kid in the fire engine shirt!
_ Kaspar had an asthma attack this week. Which means Kaspar, officially, has asthma. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, since asthma commonly accompanies food allergies and eczema as a little trifecta of doom, but we were hoping to evade it, since our hands are feeling pretty full managing the first two of those challenging conditions. Anyway, no dice; we’re now three for three.

Aaron had asthma as a kid (another clue we’d see it in Kaspar sooner or later), and was distraught over Kaspar’s attack, mostly because he remembers what it felt like to be unable to breathe, and to drive off to the ER in the middle of the night on a regular basis throughout his own childhood. We considered going to the ER with Kaspar; his breath became somewhat short and labored as a cold front swept in one evening early in the week. We had a bag packed and all, but gave him a Benadryl and called his pediatrician after-hours to get her take before setting out. Kaspar’d been suffering from seasonal allergies (along with all of Austin, except for me) for a couple of weeks, which had flared his skin up and killed our already paltry allotments of sleep. He’d had itchy eyes and a runny nose, and it seemed like the breathing was possibly an extension of these disturbances. (As a side, Austin’s year-round high-allergen counts are kind of a deal-breaker in terms of this town being cool. Re-locators beware). His pediatrician said to go ahead and hold off on the ER unless it seemed like Kaspar really couldn’t catch his breath, and the Benadryl (plus some time in a steamy bathroom, shower running) did indeed tide us over until morning. Aaron stayed awake all night listening to Kaspar, regardless. By morning, little man was kind of panting, though still happy and wanting to play; but was clear we were headed in to the doc with something real to deal with. So we went.

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Happy Birthday New Blog!
Apologies for my relative absence as of late. After a pleasant post-holidays lull, things are back in full swing in the wonderful worlds of kiddo-rearing, working, massaging (I'm rocking my internship! 36 massage hours plus one big, scary licensing exam to go and I am LEGIT), and writing. In fact, I have some exciting news about that last item there; I am the proud conversation-queen at a brand spankin' new blog on Parenting.com: 100% Natural Parenting. As I wrote in my "coming soon" post on the site:

 "I’ll be posting twice weekly about everything under the natural parenting sun, culling the current hot topics from the great wide blogosphere (plus major news sources, Twitter, or wherever the action is). So, while I’ll no doubt still deliver delicious excerpts of Newman family living (because what is a blog without all-night barfathons?), my focus here on Parenting.com is shifting somewhat to all that’s wild and wonderful in the world of green mamahood. Opinion-sharing (with manners, please) will be encouraged, and all perspectives appreciated!"

Anyway. You know what to do. Bookmark that baby and bring it on. Throw your two cents in. Or five, or ten. I'm excited to get to write about natural parenting as it applies to celebrity parents, back-to-the-land/off-the-grid families, and everyone in between. And I'm looking forward to seeing you all in there, keeping it fresh. (Meanwhile, Alt-Mama.com will remain my personal domain for all things down home.)
My friend Jenn, aka Baby Makin’ Mama (and one of my absolute besties), came over today and got me hooked on one of her favorite hobbies: sewing. She’s been at it since October and is already turning out truly awesome toddler-wear on a regular basis. If you knew her this wouldn’t surprise you at all; the girl’s a self-dubbed Domestic Diva who also maintains a flourishing news reporting career, and has writing and photography chops to boot. AND she’s humble, patient and funny as hell, which makes her an excellent instructor… Which makes me today’s lucky winner. We met up this morning as soon as the kiddos were both dropped off at daycare, then joined forces and sewed ourselves two pairs of reversible toddler pants.

Jenn had offered to teach me to sew a few weeks back, but I confessed that I’m a) completely inexperienced, b) not detail-oriented and c) without a sewing machine. Not exactly a recipe for success. Then it turned out that her hubby hooked her up with a new sewing machine for Christmas. Meanwhile, my mom’s been offering to buy me one (despite points a and b listed above) since I graduated from college. So Jenn and I decided I’d inherit her old one—she gave me (slash my mom) a sweet deal—and sewing lessons were suddenly in the cards. I did a little Googling as we decided upon a date for this to go down, and ended up choosing reversible toddler pants as a first project. Jenn has made skirts and dresses galore for her Lil’ J, but never pants, so she’d get to explore some new territory, too, in the process of showing me what she knows.

We started with this online tutorial, which made no sense at all to my virgin eyes, but showed the end product I imagined (sans the super-ugly fabric. Sorry, lady). We did print the pattern that it linked through to, and then Googled around some more for other basic toddler pants tutorials, because the one we started with omitted some crucial steps (thus I didn’t feel quite so bad about being so lost). So if you, too, like what you see and want to make some reversible pants, I recommend you get yourself a good regular pants pattern to start with—the one from the tutorial is a little skinny in the butt for the diaper-sportin’ set—and pick up at the whole sewing the bottom seams together step. That’s what we did, anyway.

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Breakdance vs. bedtime? No contest.
We’re having sleep issues up in here. I’m a little bit loathe to bring it up, because our issues now don’t come close to what we initially faced in Kaspar’s first fourteen months or so. Our days, for the past nine months, have been a cakewalk compared to the round-the-clock discomfort, scratching, and episodic histamine frenzies that characterized that frustrating time. These days, Kaspar—and thus, we, too—live a carefree existence of relative comfort and ease in our daily routine. Come nightfall, however, it’s still Russian Roulette, and I yearn—ache, live—for the unnamed future time when we round the bend onto the winning stretch of the sleep dep marathon.

Although Kaspar sometimes sleeps soundly, this is consistently the rare exception to the rule. Our nights are generally interrupted by at least an hour of wakefulness, scratching, shifting about (Kaspar starts the night off in his own bed, and then the race is on before he wakes around midnight or 1 a.m. and ends up in ours). On other nights—like last night—we’re up for hours on end. It’s torture. He’s not scratching like he used to, though there’s some of that. Mostly, he’s just wide awake, singing Old McDonald at the top of his lungs, asking for bottles (I know we need to break this habit… and last night, as a start, I refused the boy his refills), and generally pushing us to the brink of exhaustion and insanity before we say and do things we regret (Kaspar can now say “Damnit” quite clearly. Whoops).

We’re trying to cope by taking turns on the night shift. Last night, Aaron left the bed at 3 and slept on a mat in the office. For all of our intentions of switching off, however, I get the shaft, because while Kaspar sometimes transitions seamlessly into our bed for a bottle before resuming his rest until morning, he’s guaranteed to wake up fully if I’m not fully involved in this process. If I had left the room last night, he’d probably never have gone back to sleep. As it happened, he continued his wakeful antics until 4:30-- singing and talking, then, right before falling asleep, beginning to scratch pretty aggressively—when I finally broke down and gave him a Benadryl. Western docs will tell you the stuff is utterly harmless (it was initially suggested to us that Kaspar take it 24/7), and that may be true, but given that it’s capable of bringing people back from near-anaphylactic attacks, there’s no denying it’s a powerful drug. And that’s what I used it for last night… To put my kid to sleep. The box admonishes this, but Kaspar has been legitimately flared-up in terms of the return of some eczema for about a week. That’s part of what was going on last night. But basically, by the time I went for the Benadryl, I was losing patience… and my mind… as I attempted to settle my son (sounding increasingly insistent in saying, “Go. To. SLEEP!”); it was a desperate measure.

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