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Archive for February, 2007

Step One: Get a dog.

Step Two: Walk the dog.

We moved in to this house 4.5 years ago. We immediately made friends with the across-the-road neighbours, whose kids are the same age as ours and go to the same school. We are casually friendly with the old guy to the left who lives with his mom and another couple across the road who recently started reproducing. That’s about it. They all seem friendly enough – they slow down when our kids are outside, at least – but we never end up doing more than nodding. Most of them aren’t around much, it seems.

Since I got Jasper and started walking him, I’ve had lovely chats with all sorts of people, and not just others out walking their dogs. Everyone we pass has to stop and meet Jasper, admire his handsomeness and tell me about the dogs they have, or their kids have. Suddenly, it is the friendliest neighbourhood.

Not only is Jasper leading me to meet all sorts of new people, he’s getting me out a lot more. For example, it used to be that after I picked up Boo from her all-day pre-school days at 3:30 (sometimes she goes half a day, sometimes all day), I’d just sit in the car with her for 20 minutes in the parking lot waiting for the older two to get out of school, knitting and reading or writing in my journal while she had a snack or played around.

Now, I bring Jasper (because he appears to hate being left alone worse than he hates the car. He’s getting used to the latter) and let Boo play on the play structure while I walk him around. Granted, that is only 20 minutes, but I find that sort of thing happening a lot, and it sure can’t be bad for me.

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Sock joy, friend joy

I am loving the sock knitting. Small, portable, fast. I kept sticking the half-made part on my foot to admire it. I finished the first one last night. This is what it looks like:

sock11.jpg

Of course, I promptly put it on and took it for a test drive (test walk?). It wasn’t comfortable. Despite using soft merino wool, it wasn’t good. I felt every purled stitch poking into the bottom of my foot. What to do? I turned it inside out. Now it looks like this:

sock2.jpg

It is really comfortable now – soft and warm. It still looks nice, just not quite as nice.

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Turns out Jasper adores carrots as much as bananas, so on his walks, we carry a baggie of cut-up baby carrots as training incentives. It is amazing what the right incentive can do. I decided yesterday to start working on getting him to come on command. By the end of the day, he would reliably charge right over to me when I ordered, “Jasper, come!” even if he had his nose buried in some lovely rabbit poop.

I was very proud of myself until a friend of mine popped my bubble, asking me if he’d come if anyone else called. I sincerely doubt it. But listening to me is a start, right?

I was telling her these stories of my marvelous dog at ‘girl’s night out.’ Every month or so, I get together with several friends of mine for a pot-luck dinner – no husbands or kids allowed. It’s like a book-club, without the facade of a book. The best part is that we never do any food planning ahead of time, just trusting in the fates, and always managed to have a delicious, well-balanced meal. Last night, we had hors d’oeuvres of crackers, cheese, pate, cheese sticks and little cranberry pastries. Dinner was risotto, broccoli and tofu in a delicious sauce, mashed potatoes with carrots, and bean salad. Desert was a baked pear pastry and s’mores pie. Two deserts – it doesn’t get better than that.

Besides the eating, we talk. And talk and talk. While kid talk does slip in there (three of us have three kids each), we try to keep it to a minimum. That isn’t just for the sake of the non-kid people present, but because the kids take up so much of our lives anyway, we like to get away and talk about other stuff. It is nice to count on at least one evening a month of chocolate and laughing until I fear I’m going to pee my pants.

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but at least it’ll have a nice sock in it!*

Jasper is showing his true doggy colours. He’s turned into a barky dog. He also loves to chew wood and paper. He has gone through a few toilet paper rolls already. I’ve had to spray bitter apple on the legs of our tables and the corner of the coffee table to stop him from gnawing on them.

He demonstrated that he loves apple almost as much as banana by putting his front paws up on the counter to reach some I’d cut up for Boo. I figure by the time he’s his full size, he’ll be able to reach up on top of the fridge.

He likes to dig and he’s a dirt-eater. Good thing my back lawn is already dead so when he starts digging holes in it when the snow melts, it won’t bother me so much.

He cannot accept that he isn’t supposed to be on the bed with us. I was lying on our bed with the kids, reading bedtime stories, when he popped up and then lay flat down, smushing his head into the duvet and looking up at me with the most innocent eyes, so I didn’t have the heart to throw him off. He just can’t see why he has to be way down there on the floor when everyone he loves is up on the bed together.

Of course, we all love him madly now, so he’s timed his personality revelations well. Didn’t I say he was brilliant?

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*I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t help myself:

sock1.jpg

It actually knits up quite quickly, given that I’m using 2.5 mm needles. Knitting at red lights helps.

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Jasper really is brilliant. He learned his name in about a day, and it took three runs of holding a treat over his head until he sat while saying “Sit” to teach him to sit on command. Last weekend, we went for a nice long snowshoe through the woods and he came along off-leash. We’d had him one week at that point, and he stuck with us faithfully, clearly having a lovely time. When we returned and got to the end of the road our cottage is on, he then started trotting ahead. He stayed politely on the side of the road, turned into our driveway and was waiting at the door when we got there. See – brilliant!

But only yesterday did I realize just how brilliant he is, when J came home and told me that a co-worker of his was telling him about her Bernese Mountain dog. These are gorgeous dogs and had been on my list of dogs I like, but I’m sure glad we didn’t get one, because this co-worker told J that they have to give this dog at least an hour’s walk, preferably two, every single day and if they don’t, the dog doesn’t sleep at night. It keeps them up.

Jasper not only sleeps from about 9 pm on, moving only to make sure he stays on my feet until we put him in his crate, but after his morning walk with J, he goes back to sleep with me if I am sleeping in. Yesterday, I had an unpleasant bought of insomnia in the middle of the night, so I took a snooze for an hour or so after everyone had left the house, with the dog faithfully sleeping by my bed. When I woke, I was concerned about his need to pee and popped right downstairs to take him outside. He followed me down, then lay down on the rug in front of the door and refused to move. He just stared at me, bleary-eyed, as I stood on the front step and tried to coax him out, clearly saying, “Look lady, I just woke up. What’s the rush?”

How brilliant is that?

Also, he hates walking in the cold. He goes out, pees at the end of the driveway, then bolts for the house. In milder winter weather he’s fine, but refuses to walk in the really cold stuff, and still sleeps all night and more. Brilliant.

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I’ve been reading the Yarn Harlot‘s books. My mother lent me them and I’ve been loving them. She writes knitting humour. Those who don’t knit probably can’t imagine knitting being funny, but it is, or at least, she is. She also fits in a fair amount of practical information. She also loves socks.

I don’t really knit socks. I have knit 2 pairs – one for my brother and a matching pair for my niece several Christmases ago. I liked it, but there were just so many other things to knit that I’ve never done more. That, and I used to think wool was itchy so I saw no point in knitting myself any socks.

Last winter, I had a wool sock epiphany, thanks to a friend who lent me a pair of her’s in a moment of desperation. The socks were warm and soft. I always have cold feet. Actually, I always had cold feet. Now I have wool socks. No more crappy, damp cotton socks for me. Wool socks aren’t cheap, but they are worth it.

Anyway, I finally realized, thanks to the Yarn Harlot, that I can combine my love of warm socks with my love of knitting. I actually didn’t know that there exists yarn intended especially for socks. How convenient! I don’t have to buy wool socks, I can make them! Inspired, I popped out to the knitting store yesterday and was shown an entire aisle of sock yarn. Lovely, soft, colourful. And in some cases, pretty darn cheap. Cheaper than buying pre-made socks.

I was restrained and only bought enough for two pairs – one a remarkably inexpensive alpaca in purply-blue, and one an expensive merino that, while expensive, wasn’t much more expensive than the actual socks would be. I took a picture, but it doesn’t completely do the wool justice. The colour looks a bit washed out here, but you get the idea.

sock-yarn.jpg

Now comes the really difficult part: I haven’t quite finished the sweater I’m making for my friends’ impending new arrival, nor the one I’m making for Asher (good thing I’m knitting that one big), so I must be strong and not start knitting the socks. I must at least finish the baby sweater first. (It isn’t a teeny tiny baby sweater either. It is sized about 3 years.) I want the socks. I’m bad with delayed gratification – not a good trait for a knitter to have. Maybe I’ll just go look for the sock needles, just to make sure I have the right sizes …

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Doggy bloggy

Because I don’t seem to be talking about anything else. It really is like having another child.

We’ve discovered Jasper adores bananas. He went nuts (bananas?) over Boo while she was eating one, so we gave him a taste. He has never shown such excitement. I’ll have to try to find dried banana chips – might be a good training tool.

Since Jasper is too young to be left alone for extended period, I added him to my chaotic Monday routine (pick up Boo, pick up Boo’s friend Z, take them to gymnastics, take them to Z’s house, pick up Maya and Asher, take Asher to tutor, pick up Boo from Z’s, pick up Asher, go home). He’s afraid of the car, so I had to lift him in and out. While the kids were in gymnastics, I took him for a decent walk. I’d definitely say I’m getting more exercise now, out of sheer necessity.

Z’s mom kindly let me bring him in while we had a visit. He is quite well behaved, but he is obsessed with dirt, and kept trying to eat from her potted plants on the floor. It was like having a child at a non-child house, following them around to make sure they don’t misbehave. On the positive side, he really is remarkably smart, and after two or three firm discussions about the naughtiness of dirt-eating, all I had to do was say in a warning voice, “Jasper, no!” as he headed for a plant and he’d head off and go sniff at some innocuous thing on the floor, as though to say, “I wasn’t going for the plant! Just this cheerio left here!”

All this healthy dog-walking has cut into my writing time, and I really must go work now. I’ll post another picture of the pretty boy to make up for my lack of fascinating conversation.

jasper3.jpg

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Turns out those pet-training manuals are as useful as the children-training ones. (Okay, ‘children-raising’ ones.) I bought that puppy several different recommended chew toys – kong-type things. He ignores them completely. I bought him a rope, which he finds mildly amusing. But all he really wants is soft things – socks, stuffed animals, mittens.

The training books say not to get him stuffed-animal sort of toys because then how will he know the difference between those and the kids’ toys? Good point. Jasper does not appreciate this point. He wants soft, damnit! So we went to the pet store today and got several soft toys that are as unlike the kids’ stuffed animals as possible, but who are we kidding, really?

He is, at the moment, leaping happily about with one of them (it squeaks – none of the kids’ toys squeak, at least). He’s been at it since we came home, about 1/2 hour ago. He’s in doggy heaven. He’s tossing it about and mouthing it, but is really being very gentle, with no actual biting.

He’s started to bark now. He barked at a repairman, which I found very interesting. I guess that means he’s decided we are his family and this is his house, and wanted it made clear that guy did not belong.

His security with his new home is expressing itself in other ways too. It is interesting to see how much the dog is like a child,. He was marvelously well-behaved when he wasn’t sure if we loved him, but as he grows more certain of our love, he becomes less well-behaved.He has started taking more of the kids’ toys and trying to eat them. He also likes toilet paper and got his paws on a whole roll earlier. Fortunately, he really is gentle and everything has been rescued intact thus far (well, not the toilet paper, but it was still mostly usable).

He hates going outside, and I don’t blame him, as it is nose-shrivellingly cold out there. I take him out by getting everything ready, propping the door open and walking out. He stands at the door looking pathetic because I am no longer near him, and then finally breaks down and comes out to me, preferring the cold over my absence. He then pees at the end of the driveway and bolts for the house.

It’s like having a canine version of Asher, who also couldn’t bear to be away from me, only Jasper sleeps through the night better than Asher did at four months. He also hates car rides, just like they did as babies.

Here’s a photo of Jasper, snoozing on my foot:

jasper-foot.jpg

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Happy Hallmark holiday

I think it was the second year together that I gave J the best Valentine’s Day gift he ever got: I told him not to worry about ever getting me a Valentine’s Day gift again. Sure, I like flowers or chocolate and expressions of affection, but I realized quickly that that just isn’t the kind of guy J is – to remember Valentine’s Day and come up with something romantic, just because it says to on the calendar.

Taking the pressure of him and the expectation off me just made life easier. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t done romantic things for me – he took me to Israel for my 40th birthday. The really good part of that gift was that he arranged the childcare himself. My friends were all wowed over that one.

On a daily basis, he comes home and does the dishes. I’ll take that over flowers on Valentine’s Day any time. Once, he brought home roses the day after Valentine’s, which I appreciated even more because I love roses, and roses at half the price are twice as good.

So, I don’t need grand romantic gestures at a Hallmark-appointed time, because I appreciate what I’ve got every day – did I mention he washes the dishes every night? And even if I did have a twinge of longing, seeing chocolates or flowers that I likely wouldn’t get today, it was completely eradicated eight years ago, when Asher was born.

Now the 14th really is no longer about me, but about the boy. It is a family day, where he gets to chose where we are going for dinner and we are having home-made chocolate cake for dessert.

I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so great for him to have his birthday on Valentine’s Day, but so far he loves it. When he turned 3-years-old, I took him to daycare for the morning with cupcakes and the entire place was decorated with hearts. He was delighted, saying, “How did they know hearts are my favourite?!” Now, when people ask him when his birthday is, he beams and says, “It’s easy to remember – Valentine’s Day!”

I hope everyone else’s Valentine’s Day is as good as mine is going to be – I’m off to make chocolate cake with my kids!

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Just doodling along

Please consider the following to be an advertisement for Golden Doodles:

Jasper is the calmest, friendliest, most well-behaved, loving puppy I’ve ever met. He doesn’t bark, jump up on people or shed. He sleeps all night in his crate without a peep of protest. He smushes his head against people’s legs for love. The biggest complaint I have right now is that he’s become obsessed with me and and must follow me around the house almost to the exclusion of everyone else. I want him to love the children this way. Fortunately, they don’t care. (yet?) They take him for walks, feed him treats and feed him his food, and yet he still thinks I am the cat’s meow, so to speak. Not that he doesn’t accept love from them, too, he’ll just abandon them to follow me.

He’s still puppish. He’s got the hang of stairs, which he didn’t have when we first got him, but he’s still working on walking properly and doesn’t much like the cold. He likes the childrens’ stuffed animals, but appears to only cuddle it once he’s gotten his paws on one, rather than any chewing. He hates riding in the car, although even that appears to be improving in leaps and bounds – he drooled excessively and puked on the way to the cottage but didn’t do either on the way home – so he is reluctant to pass our parked car when going for walks. Other cars are okay.

In honour of his arrival, I am going to post my very first personal essay for the newspaper, written about 5 years ago on the event my parents’ getting their first puppy.

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I am 34 years old. Yesterday, I welcomed a new sibling into the family, and I have to confess, I am just a little bit jealous.

It isn’t as weird as it sounds. My father hasn’t found himself someone else and decided to start a whole new family. My parents have been happily married for more than 35 years.

Instead, they have gotten themselves a puppy. His name is Winston.

My parents have had dogs before. I grew up with a boxer named, of all things, Rover. They inherited him from my grandmother when my grandfather died.

He lay around the house, an untrained lump who allowed the children to jump on him and pull hi ears. He was walked whenever someone mustered up the energy to be dragged down the street with him wheezing and frothing at the mouth as he strained at his collar. That wasn’t often.

After Rover when to doggy heaven, my parents waited a few years before the answered a “free to a good home” ad in the paper and brought home Toby, a mad little Cairn terrier who barked at everything that moved and tore the newspaper to shreds if he was lucky enough to get to it first. Toby was walked more often because he was small enough to control on a leash.

As he grew older, he would become abruptly exhausted half way through his walks and simply lie down on the road, requiring whoever was walking him to carry him back home.

A few years ago, Toby also died, leaving my parents dog-free once again. This time, worn out from having to get up at 4:30 am to deal with the urgent needs of an aging dog’s bladder and frustrated with having to find someone to look after him while they went on vacation, my parents declared themselves animal-free. No kids, no dogs: the good life.

Still, I was not enormously surprised when, this past spring, my mother announced that they were once again getting a dog. But this time things were different.

My parents, while they have always been ‘dog people,’ have up until now treated their dogs like dogs. However, Winston is clearly, in their eyes, no mere dog. Winston is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Cavalier King Charles spaniels, I have been informed, are small, quiet, polite dogs. This is a dog they can take camping with them. He won’t back at the mail carrier or knock their grandchildren off their feet in his exuberance. He will be smart and calm. My parents have found the perfect dog.

I am almost inclined to accuse my parents of using Winston to deal with empty-nest syndrome now that all their children are happily married off, but trust me, my parents do not have empty-nest syndrome. They could hardly shove us out the door fast enough. I can come up with no better answer than: my parents have gone crazy.

They found a breeder and met the puppy’s mommy while she was still pregnant. They learned his entire lineage and brought home pictures of his parents, pointing out their remarkable beauty. They then went back and visited the newborn puppies, picking Winston out from his siblings when he was barely big enough to open his eyes.

They came up with the name Winston long before they had the puppy – sort of like people do with their unborn children after discovering the sex on the ultrasound. They carried around photos of him the same way people carry around ultrasound photos, to present to anyone who showed the slightest interest.

Winston came home yesterday. He arrived with his blanket to a house equipped with his own bed, a cage, baby gates to stop him from falling down the stairs (or peeing on the carpet) and his own toys. The floor used to be good enough for Rover and Toby to sleep on. They never even knew what a dog toy looked like. Not little Winston. He already has two balls, a stuffed animal and a rope to chew.

My father is building a fence across the open part of the backyard to keep Winston in. the other dogs were just tied to a chain. My own children – my parents’ precious grandchildren – regularly make mad dashes for the road through that open area of the backyard when they visit, but I just have to watch them like a hawk. No fence for them.

I have to take their word on this. I have not seen Winston yet. My grubby children and I are not allowed to visit until my parents declare him to be totally settled in and ready to receive visitors. Hence, you see, the little bit of sibling jealousy. I’ve been banned from my childhood home by the new baby. Do you think if I started peeing in my underwear and throwing temper tantrums, I could get their attention back?

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New Baby

Introducing Jasper, who is 31 lbs and 4.5 months old. He is a golden retriever/poodle cross, commonly known as a doodle. He arrived yesterday and has been a complete angel, except for the car sickness that almost got him named Ralph.

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I realize I never followed up on my weaning post with my breastfeeding post. Given the response to my list of places I’ve nursed babies, and the weaning post, clearly I should have started blogging when I was still nursing a baby. Truth is, I nursed for so long, I can’t quite believe my breasts wouldn’t still work that way. I weaned Maya when I was 3 months pregnant with Asher, and Asher when I was 3 months pregnant with Boo. I was in a constant state of maternal functions controlling my body for a decade. It is still a bit hard to believe that is all over with. I feel like a breastfeeder, even though there is no one left to breastfeed.

Boo was also the easiest infant to teach to nurse. The midwife laid her on my belly and she literally crawled up my stomach and latched on, just like in a famous sociology video I’ve seen. And nursed for an hour. It was a good thing she was such an instant pro, because I developed a wicked uterine infection that spread to my blood and was hospitalized at 2 days after her birth for a week, and only released with a PICC line and serious antibiotics being delivered from a fanny pack I wore everywhere. She was the baby J held to my breast to nurse when I was semi-conscious. I can’t imagine breastfeeding surviving such an experience if I’d been a first-time mom, but we were both pros and, despite the deep, deep scepticism of the doctors and nurses, my extremely ill body kept producing the milk and Boo kept efficiently taking it.

Upon realizing how hideously ill I was (strep A and B, and then a suspected blood clot in my lungs), somebody decided that Boo wasn’t growing fast enough and that even though I thought my milk had come in, it hadn’t. They ordered the dreaded top-up – I could nurse, but every 3 hours, they wanted her to have a couple ounces from the bottle.

Of course, when they ordered that, they assumed the top up would come from formula, because I wasn’t producing enough milk. J, who trusted that I knew how much milk I had, pointed out that they hadn’t actually ordered formula, merely a bottle. He brought in my little electric breastpump from home. When Boo nursed, I put the pump on the other breast and expressed (plenty). He then poured it into a bottle and delivered the ordered top up. Trooper that she was, Boo drank that down too, then promptly spit it all up, every time. After a day of watching that, the nurses revoked the order.

The copious milk production with Boo also lead to my first and only visit to a lactation consultant (although, if I hadn’t been so stubborn and naive, I should have gone in the first painful weeks with Maya too). At a few months old, she kept pulling back and clicking her tongue, which hurt. Despite my own training (I’m a doula) and experience, I couldn’t figure it out and finally realized: this is what lactation consultants are for! One visit fixed us right up.

With Maya, I just kept determinedly hacking away at it and finally got it right. I never considered quiting and since the pain wasn’t completely unbearable, I figured the problem wasn’t bad enough to see someone. I was always in denial with Maya. I also refused to admit she had colic until she was older and past it.

I was convinced, during the colic phase, that there was something wrong with my milk – it must be something I was eating. I had myself down to only rice cakes at one point, such was my desperation to figure it out. I even went down to the basement to get that container of formula we had stashed away – just in case – but when I read the ingredients, I couldn’t do it. No matter what I was eating, my milk had to be better than that. I stopped all that nonsense when I stumbled across William Sears’ The Fussy Baby. It is unclear whether we would have survived her infancy without it.

Maya was also obsessed with nursing, but at least she responded to some sort of structure. I weaned her the earliest, at just past two,-years-old, because Asher was coming along and I’d had concerns about pre-term contractions with my first pregnancy. Breastfeeding (which can product contractions) while pregnant seemed a bad idea.

When Maya was just over a 18-months old, we went to a resort in the Dominican Republic for a little winter vacation. Before babies, J and I had been to Mexico and Jamaica, but we just showed up with backpacks and wandered around. The inclusive resort was our nod to responsible parenting, but was also so lame we never did something similar again – well, that and the fact that we could never again afford it.

While there, Maya came down with a hideous intestinal virus. She had a raging fever, was semi-comatose, had the runs and refused to eat or drink anything. She would only nurse. After a day of this (and one very traumatic night that I will never forget, because I was actually afraid the fever was so high it would cause permanent damage), we took her to the resort’s doctor. He gave her an antibiotic, starting her off with an injection – more trauma, since they wanted to take her away to give it and I refused to let her go because she was screaming. When we asked about dehydration, he indicated to her as she nursed and said, “Is she nursing frequently?” When we said yes, he said, “Then you don’t need to worry.”

When we returned home, we discovered that good friends who had a sons 3 months’ younger than Maya had also been struck with the evil virus. Because of a cleft palete, he was a formula baby, but he also refused to eat or drink and ended up hospitalized for dehydration, where he contracted RSV (a respiratory virus) and ended up using a puffer for years whenever he got a cold. That experience gave both of us a deep appreciation for the wonders of breastfeeding.

Asher was the dream nurser. He learned easily and wasn’t obsessive. He also weaned easily. I could never come up with some cute nickname for it, so I always just said to my babies, “Nurse? Do you want to nurse?” But it was nice when Asher’s bad pronunciation came up with a convenient code word which sounded like “Ursh.” (Maya spoke early and clearly, and I remember having her picture done at Sears when she was about 15 months old. She got tired of the process and starting saying, “Nurse, mama. Nurse.” I responded, “In a minute,” or “As soon as we are done here,” until finally the photographer said, “I swear she’s saying ‘nurse.’ Are you a nurse?” I explained and she actually turned bright red, poor young thing.)

As I think the list demonstrates, I was willing and able to nurse anywhere. Small breasts certainly helped with discretion. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed – after that many years of having your boobs yanked, poked, bitten, and adored by babies as the best food source ever, you tend to lose any feeling of privacy. Or most of it. I remember sitting with Boo when she was small, watching Asher at gymnastics, when another watching mom started nursing her toddler. She undid her buttons, freed her very large breast from her bra and then just hauled the entire thing out and sat, calm as anything, as the kid did the toddler nursing dance, which involves jumping around in mom’s lap while popping on and off the boob. She clearly was way more comfortable with public nursing than I’d ever been.

Boo asked (loudly, of course), “Why did that lady take her breast out?” I responded, “She’s nursing her baby.” “Yeah, but why did she have to take her whole big breast out? Doesn’t he just need to nurse from the little brown circle in the centre?” I just said, “I guess that’s the way she likes to nurse.” I was torn between being impressed at her refusal to be ashamed of her nursing breasts, and the concern that she was just giving those who thought extended nursing is gross more fodder for their beliefs.

Thanks to three young kids and a busy husband with wild work hours, I haven’t been able to practice as a doula the way I would like to (I’ve attended about 10 births, mostly of friends). But I’ve realized recently that perhaps an easier way to be involved would be as a lactation consultant. I have helped a number of women get their breastfeeding going properly and felt enormous satisfaction.

I may not be nursing any more babies myself, but I don’t think my relationship with breastfeeding is over yet.

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