Sunday, November 30, 2008
We made a thwarted attempt to retrieve our Christmas decorations from our storage unit yesterday, but despite our foundering upon the rocks of holiday hours and company policies, it's time to start thinking about Christmas. Hopefully we can get them next weekend (along with the CAR SEAT for our impending BABY) and in the meantime, for your Advent pleasure, here is a little ditty from one of my favorites, Sufjan Stevens:
Saturday, November 29, 2008
We had a lovely Thanksgiving here, with lots of food and time with family and the like. It's been good to reflect on how much I have, both in terms of material stuff and the less easily documented. I really liked the post Stephanie wrote this year about domestic life and possessions and such; I am so, so rich, even in the most literal, monetary sense of the world. I have realized anew how lucky and singular it is in the world today to be cozily tucked away with my family in a warm house, safe and secure and with so much food that I am constantly in danger of being bigger than I want to be. And of course, there is an abundant richness to my life beyond the safe home and bank accounts and closets full of clothes for all of us.
The Christmas shopping season started yesterday, they tell me; I was almost successful in participating in Buy Nothing Day yesterday but did fall off the wagon a bit at one of my favorite fabric stores here in Dallas. Contemplating Christmas gifts in light of ugly consumerism here and the state of the world in general does make me feel a bit queasy. I sometimes have a hard time hitting the right balance of weltschmerz and functioning like a normal American. Or do I not want to be a normal American and the weltschmertz is really the way to go? Anyway, one thing that always helps me AND de-stresses holiday shopping AND actually brings relief to people's physical needs in the world is to give gifts like these from World Vision. We've done this for at least some of the people on our Christmas list every year since we got married. If I have an actual good idea for a gift that I think someone would like and actually use, I will get that, but we decided that if we couldn't think of something truly nice/useful/fun, we would give them the gift of ducks, or education for girls, or a goat. It's especially great for those really hard-to-buy-for people in your family who don't really need or want anything but to be remembered. World Vision sends you a nice little card that you can wrap up for the person to open. I was nervous about doing this our first year because it's pretty far outside the norm for my family, but if our family members have been thinking we are crazy Scrooge types, they've never said anything about it to our faces. So anyway, here is my holiday tip for the year-- gift idea, stress management, and doing something about the need in the world, all wrapped into one!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Well, it's official-- I am huge. I've been bigger than I was at the same stage with Grace this whole time (which can be pretty common in second pregnancies) but in the past few weeks I feel like I've tipped over into some ludicrous phase of enormity. And I've finally started to get puffy and swollen now that I'm almost 36 weeks, which I have been lucky enough to avoid heretofore; my rings and shoes don't really fit and I feel like my facial features are these tiny things in a vast expanse of puffy face. I don't feel depressed about it, which is good; I would describe my feelings as astonishment and annoyance. Every morning when I wake up, I go to roll out of bed and the tug of gravity on the unfamiliar configuration of my body as I go upright comes as a shock, even though this morphing has come on gradually over weeks and months. My corporeal self has somehow held on to its sense of what is "normal" and dear reader, this is not it.
I remember after Grace's birth feeling so glad to not be pregnant anymore, among all the other intense, wonderful, scary things that were going on. So much of the swelling and extra fluid goes away SO FAST. And then by about 4-6 weeks postpartum my belly had shrunk enough that I was overwhelmed with a sense of being svelte and slim and something approaching my normal shape. I wasn't really, you understand, with my leftover tummy and giant boobs and all that; it was just that the transition between the state of my body at 41+ weeks pregnant when I had Grace and 4 weeks postpartum was so dramatic that I felt like a new person. I remember saying, "I feel so slim!" My mom was visiting at the time and I remember the look on her and Rob's faces-- there was kindness to the obviously batty postpartum lady but also disbelief. "That's great that you, um, feel that way." I had objective evidence that I wasn't slim since none of my clothes yet fit but it was such an overwhelming relief, to my back and hips and psyche.
And I did lose weight pretty quickly after Grace, which was wonderful. Sadly, I then squandered the precious gift of breastfeeding weight loss by gaining weight as she weaned, leaving me 15-20 pounds heavier at the start of this pregnancy than with Grace. On the other hand, I'm going to end up gaining something within the recommended 25-35 pounds this time around, in contrast with the 50+ pounds I gained with Grace, so I'll probably start off the postpartum physical transformation at about the same place weight-wise as I did last time around. I currently feel very motivated to not make the same mistake of weaning weight gain twice, for the sake of my health and jeans and sense of myself.
In banana pepper news, our count now stands at 11/30 after I made stuffed peppers a couple of nights ago for dinner. I think of banana peppers as more Italian than Latin American so I used some marinara sauce I made a while back that was in the freezer and stuffed them with soubise (French, not Italian, but you know, whatever...). It was the first time I made soubise, and it was SO DELICIOUS in a creamy/starchy/savory way; I highly recommend it if your cravings happen to veer that way. It was weird to cook rice with no added liquid. So now I am down to less than a dozen of these things. I am tempted to throw them into all the things I'm cooking for Thanksgiving dinner over at my parents' house. Pumpkin pie with banana peppers, anyone?
And in hair news, I have suddenly turned on my pink hair. A mere week ago, I was waxing melancholy about perhaps going back to brown for practical new-baby considerations but my feelings are now quite the opposite and I feel weary of the pinkness. What can I say? I can be a fickle creature. Hair color is certainly not a terrible thing to be fickle about, you must admit, and I did last a good 3 months with this. I am contemplating doing away with the pink in the next few weeks, if the baby does not beat me to the punch by arriving in the meantime.
(In an effort at full disclosure, that picture is from my first pregnancy at about 37 weeks, not this one. I can't see my feet at all now.)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Life here has taken a turn for the better in the past few days. I don't think I mentioned it last week, but Rob was working unusually long hours due to an unhappy confluence of scheduling brouhahas, not arriving home before Grace went to bed the whole week. I think I often underestimate how much that affects me, and then of course as I've already established, EVERYTHING is just affecting me WAY TOO MUCH these days. Some equanimity has returned to the hormone-addled tangle that is my brain after a lovely weekend and the beginning of a more normal week. Our weekend was quite idyllic, and by that I mean that we indulged the reclusive tendencies of our natures. Rob and I are both moderate extroverts and chat easily with friends and strangers, but nonetheless there is a strong streak of the hermit in us. We have various social butterfly friends who seem to have really interesting and exciting social lives, who seem to thrive on activity and interaction and whatnot, but in contrast sometimes we find ourselves happiest holing up away from the world. I hypothesize that there is some internal meter in humans with a dial labelled on one end "social needs" and on the other "hermit needs". Our dials are set rather more than average toward the hermit needs, I think.
One of the things Rob tried to do while holed up away from the world was to watch Ratatouille, which none of us have seen. (Really, I cannot overemphasize how behind the general flow of pop culture we are.) Grace would have none of it, however. There was a fair bit of yelling and dramatic music and the little rat looking awfully scared-- it really upset her. Yes, this G-rated animated CHILDREN'S movie was just too much for her. I know! I can't believe it either. Her little face crumpled with overwhelmed concern, she hid around the corner from it, she insisted we turn it off. Rob kept trying to surreptitiously finish it on the computer without her noticing, but her eagle eye and sensitive ear noticed each time and she would rush in to protest that she did not like it and require that it be turned off. He ended up having to watch it after she went to bed, which makes me laugh laugh laugh. I'm still a little puzzled, as she watches TV nearly every day while I shower in the morning (and sometimes if I'm desperate for a nap in the afternoon too). Neither Rob nor I are much for yelling, so I think that's a big part of it. Part of me is actually glad that yelling struck her as so strange that she reacted that way. And I guess her usual fare of Blue's Clues and The Backyardigans just doesn't have the same dramatic intensity as an actual film.
And as to my other child, she is doing quite well these days. I am 35 weeks pregnant now and had an OB appointment on Monday where I measured just exactly how I was supposed to. The past few visits, the midwives' palpating has left them completely convinced that she is head down and although not obviously ready for an imminent arrival, moving in that direction. She is definitely getting big and strong, as her movements are not the fluttery gentle frissons of earlier weeks but now the attention-grabbing jabby wallops of late pregnancy. And I am having a lot more contractions, as well as twinges and stabs and pangs in the business area of having a baby, than I remember from last time. I really hope it's all my body actually doing something constructive to have this baby and I would LOVE it if there was something actually happening when they start checking my cervix at these ever-more-frequent OB appointments. With Grace, I ended up going to the hospital for an induction while dilated absolutely nothing, which was fun, let me tell you. Anyway, I bought a package of newborn-sized diapers the other day and am discussing with Rob when to go to our storage unit to get the infant car seat and the crib and the bouncy seat (and the Christmas decorations, although that is unrelated, I suppose). A baby! We are having one!
Also! Banana peppers! We are having a lot of those too! We joined a produce co-op here in Dallas, which is pretty good. It's not quite as fun/delicious/good for the environment as the CSA that we did in Connecticut was; that was all organically grown on one farm that we would visit to pick up our food. This co-op involves going to Dallas Farmers' Market to get produce (the responsibility to purchase rotates through the members) and the people in the co-op tend to only buy from the wholesalers there, so we are getting the same produce you see in the grocery store but just for a screaming good price. Not quite the same thing but nothing to complain about, certainly. I need to take some solo trips to the farmers' market to really scope out what local produce is available so when it's my turn to purchase I can skew the group toward my interests. Anyway, this past weekend we had a produce pick-up day and among the useful collection of onions, oranges, pears, and butternut squash was a HUGE PILE of banana peppers. We counted them up and we had 30 banana peppers. I now feel at a bit of a loss as to what my next step should be. I've used a few already in soup and marinara sauce, sort of as a bell pepper replacement, but such paltry attempts are not up to a challenge of this magnitude. I think I'm going to stuff some, and I think I'm going to do some refrigerator pickles. Heck, maybe I'll pickle them and can them for real with the water bath and everything. That would make a nice big dent in our pile. Rob decided we should keep track of our banana pepper endeavor and has posted a status report on the marker board in our kitchen. It currently stands at 26/30.
Friday, November 14, 2008
I've been having contentment issues lately about living here in Texas. It's the weather, and the strip malls, and the bleak prairie flatness thinly disguised by tracts of soulless suburban houses and chain restaurants and, well, more strip malls.
This is our first autumn back in Texas and living in near 80-degree weather in mid-November is fairly depressing. People have been taking their children to pumpkin patches for a good six weeks now and Grace keeps bringing home fall-themed artwork from preschool; it seems like some mass delusion has taken hold here where everyone is celebrating an imaginary seasonal change. I guess it's autumn in their minds? I am trying to remind myself that it is a lot cooler than it was this summer and pumpkins grow quite well in this climate and the leaves ARE in fact falling off the trees. Into a dismal brown heap which we must rake wearing shorts and T-shirts. I'm not having great success, if you can tell. It doesn't help that there has been friction in my family recently and living close to them is one of the Good Things About Living in Texas that I repeat to myself when needed. I know! A family that doesn't always interact in an ideal manner! Who would have thought it possible? And then Grace has started dropping the -g at the end of gerunds, I suspect due to the influence of her otherwise lovely preschool teachers and their Texas accents. I admit it makes me a little sad.
Prevalent cultural attitudes here have also been particularly grating lately, on issues from race to materialism to erudition to social justice and the like-- fervor leftover from the election, I suppose. I know that supposedly the faults that most annoy you in others are reflections of your own failings, which must mean that deep down in my soul I am a frothy-at-the-mouth pietist who thinks it is just fine, in fact probably morally superior, to be a simple thinker. But no, less facetiously, my irritation IS undoubtedly a reflection of ugliness I share with the culture around me-- a fierce internal conviction of my own rightness, a wrong-headed certainty that the world would be better if everyone just thought like me.
When Rob and I were in the process of applying for residency and post-doc work, I hadn't ever lived outside of Texas and I was pretty eager to go somewhere, anywhere but here. It wasn't necessarily that I disliked Texas so much as that I yearned for a new experience. (And of course, I was just applying to academic post-doc jobs at the time and staying in Texas wouldn't have been a viable option for that.) I really longed to get to know a new place with a new culture and a new climate, and I'm really glad I had that experience. I have a bit of wanderlust in me, and I find change kind of exhilarating. When I've lived for short periods in other countries, it makes me so happy to discover that finding your way around town or obtaining groceries is a challenge-- an adventure, even. All that illustrates why returning here seems a little dreary at times. I suspect that the things that bother me about living here are not significantly more extensive or serious or fundamental than the things I wouldn't like about living anywhere else, but it feels more grim than, for example, moving away to the Northeast did because there is a gloomy familiarity to it all.
My lack of contentment bothers me most because I believe that being happy is about oneself and not about one's circumstances. And what do I want to do about the situation? Move every 3-5 years to somewhere new and different? Well, actually, yes, that is what I want to do, but we won't necessarily get to do that, and I certainly don't want my sense of serenity to depend on it. So I shall attempt to focus on the positive things about being here: hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex restaurants, good grocery stores, how affordable things are, living close to my family (yes, of course, still). And the prairie flatness can be beautiful if considered properly, right? Anybody want to add something? I promise to be kind if your "positive thing" is actually one of the things that annoys me.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I have suffered from a touch of anglophilia for about the past 2 decades. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I'm afraid that I will never entirely kick the habit. To what can I trace the origins of this ailment? Mary Poppins (the movie, of course, but even more so the wonderful, wonderful books)? The Chronicles of Narnia? A. A. Milne? A Little Princess and The Secret Garden? A few years later, my condition only worsened with Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Middlemarch and what was perhaps the most delightful discovery EVER, all of the Jane Austen canon. Oh, how I wished my life had more gentility, more charming accents, more steaming cups of tea, more double-decker red buses, and more clotted cream and scones than my suburban American existence offered... I realize, of course, (and I think I knew even at the time) that this was more about the highly fictionalized, historical idea of England I was carrying around in my head than the actual England that exists across the pond. Still, what a delightful idealized, mythical place it is...
Another recent indulgence into all things English is my reading of the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. It's a series of historical novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars; the recent movie Master and Commander was based on some of the books. I haven't seen the movie because 1) I never see movies in a timely manner since having a child and 2) it didn't/doesn't appeal to me at all. I am not a fan of military/naval/war stories and the Napoleonic Wars? I think those long, tedious passages in Les Misérables and War and Peace made me want to run away screaming from them forever. I was motivated to pick up the first Aubrey-Maturin book, though, on the recommendation of someone whose taste I generally share and I am SO GLAD. So funny! So detailed! So exciting! So full of delightfully opaque seafaring jargon (I still don't know what a flying jib is...) that somehow does not interfere with the pace of the stories! It's the combination of cleverness and richly drawn humanity that really does it for me, though. And it doesn't hurt that the books have albatrosses! And scurvy! And Antarctica! And romance! And duels! And spies! And a drunk sloth! I am currently reading book 6 (out of 20) and I continue to be struck by how unlikely it is that these books would charm me so thoroughly; something so military and adventure-y is not my usual gig.
Since I've admitted that this England I'm carrying around in my head is almost entirely fictitious and unrelated to the real England, it seems appropriate to mention the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, which are set in England in the 1980s in an alternate universe where the Crimean War has lasted 100 years, cloned dodos are kept as pets, time traveling government agents try to keep the universe from falling apart, and it's possible to somehow enter a book. This series is one of the most wonderful things I've read in the past several years-- highly fantastical, literate, mindbendingly creative. I LURVE THEM. I gush with praise and beg you to read them, especially if you love books. You don't necessarily have to love the specific classic that makes up the setting for each book; the first installment is mostly about Jane Eyre and I will readily admit that none of the Brontës are really that popular with me. I gleefully gobbled up the most recent installment because Fforde finally got around to using my particular favorite as a setting, Pride and Prejudice.
And oh, how deep and strong and true is my love for all things Jane Austen. I first read them all in my junior high years (and I am so glad I did) but they are even more wonderful now as a 30-year-old woman. To give you a glimpse into the depth of my devotion, one Christmas break during college, I read Pride and Prejudice half a dozen times. I'd get to the end and just turn over all the pages and start over again. I think my next favorite is the bittersweet Persuasion, but there's also dim, silly Catherine in the hilarious Northanger Abbey and snobby, charming, not-very-perceptive Emma... I shall restrain myself from effusing further. In college, I ran with a crowd of girls who included a few equally enthusiastic fans; reading is a pretty solitary activity so we watched movie versions. A LOT. The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma got a lot of play, letting us make fun of the strangely coiffed Ewan McGregor. My parents gave me a VHS version of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries one year for Christmas and when we all returned to school for the spring semester, several of us would watch the whole thing every week almost until spring break. There were 6 VHS tapes and we would watch one every night, taking a night off here and there if something else came up. And we drank generic Kool-Aid from hand-me-down wineglasses and ate/pretended to smoke pretzel sticks. Gosh, I miss those days...
We would sometimes use fake British accents around our apartment, especially if we had been especially overindulging in books or movies set in England. One of our roommates grew up in Zimbabwe and her accent was definitely the best; she could even make it sound different than her white African and black African accents. We all practiced, though, trying to achieve a higher, more masterly level of anglophile insanity. Sometimes the most adventurous of us tried to convince us all to use our fake British accents outside the apartment, like on our communal grocery shopping trips. If I remember correctly, I did OK until it came time to check out; I felt guilty actually representing myself as someone I wasn't to the unsuspecting clerk.
Of course, my own fake-British-accent-using, and anglophilia as a whole, is nothing compared to the fellow featured in this episode (available for free download with a convenient clicky button-type thing) of what is perhaps my favorite NPR show. The whole episode is brilliant, as typical for This American Life, but the British-accent guy's story takes up just the first 20 minutes or so. Well worth a listen while you're picking up the house or making dinner or something. And better yet, evidence that I am NOT in fact the craziest person in the world!
Saturday, November 8, 2008
- I think I have been trying too hard in my menu planning and cooking lately. There must be some kind of disconnect between what sounds good in my head when I am planning my grocery list and what actually looks and tastes good when it comes time to eat the dinner. My gastronomic tastes do skew to the fancy-ish, but the dinners I've been making seem to require a more refined palate than I have right now. We mostly give Grace the same food we're having, but some nights I give her a more simple, deconstructed version of our food; Rob and I have recently found ourselves eyeing her versions of food and wishing we were eating it instead. Part of this might be that we are all in some stage of fighting off or recovering from a cold so food is not tasting very good to any of us. I am working on a new grocery list right now so maybe I will make something this week that involves a can of cream of mushroom soup.
- I am 33 weeks pregnant today, leaving me only 3 weeks until this baby is considered term and just 7 weeks until my due date. I'm starting to really contemplate what life will be like as mother to two little girls and feel at times so greedy for the delicious newborn nestling, so happy to soon have the oxytocin high of nursing a tiny person, and so scared of how I'll cope with the acute needs of two. Jim at Sweet Juniper wrote a while back about adjusting to parenting two and it made me realize how different it will be, how differently I might perceive the needs of the new baby compared with how I felt with Grace, and how much I hope we quickly settle into life as a foursome with a minimum of trauma. My first weeks with Grace were hard, of course, but they were joyous and exhilarating and I really hope I get that again.
- I am considering dyeing my pink hair back to boring, dull brown and I'm feeling a little sad about this. I have been touching up the pinkness every 2 weeks or so since I originally went pink back in August, and I've been back to the salon for my brown roots once. This has been fine in my current schedule and lifestyle, but I don't know how realistic it is to expect to continue this routine after the new baby arrives. Those first few months with Grace were so intense and I was really happy most days just to shower and eat. And like I just said, this time I'll be combining that newborn intensity with a toddler, whose response to a new sibling invading her home is totally unknown at this point. I'm bracing myself for those first months to be at least as draining, if not more demanding, than the first time around. The pink looks pretty bad if I let it go too long: blondish roots or ends peeking out, the pink fading to a kind of rancid looking coral. I don't know; maybe I should go back to brown before Violet is born. I can just see myself 3 weeks postpartum with kind of dreadful looking hair, desperate to get professional hair help, but with a newborn who wants to nurse every 1.5 hours. A pressing dilemma, no?
- My belly is HUGE! And the shift in my center of gravity is starting to bother my lower back, nearly every day. For a while, I thought it was just because I was overdoing it; there were a string of days there where I was cleaning a lot because of company, standing on my feet a lot, or toting around a friend's 8-month-old baby for half the day. It is starting to happen even on "normal" days where I do nothing more strenuous than go for a walk and cook dinner, though. Rob suggests Tylenol (the only pain med you're supposed to take when pregnant), but I have a firm belief that Tylenol does not actually do anything. Seriously, I don't think there are any actual pain-relieving components in there, and the other day when I took some it didn't noticeably help. Conveniently, my favorite online yoga people just did a little short series of postures for prenatal back relief. I did them yesterday evening when I was starting to ache and it was amazing-- immediate relief. Ah, yoga, how I love you...
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
We recently waved goodbye to our visitors for this autumn as Rob's parents headed back to the airport for the long trip to their home in California. Our move from the East Coast to Texas did cut the travel time in half, thank goodness, but their distance from us still means we don't get to see them as often as we'd like. It was a nice visit spent doing fun toddler activities and Halloween and dinners at home and whatnot. I had a smidge of anxiety about how Grace would react to them since she hasn't seem them in almost a year, but she was affable and friendly and open, which was lovely. I was glad to avoid anything like what I did as a toddler to one of my grandfathers. We lived far away from our extended family and I saw them just once or twice a year, much like Grace and her paternal grandparents; during one visit, I declared to my grandfather, "I don't love you!" Gracious, big-hearted man that he is, he responded that it didn't matter because he loved me and gave me a big hug. Family-- it's a good thing, isn't it?
Rob's parents gave Grace a tricycle during their visit and she's been putting it to good use. She has just about got the hang of pedaling, although it is not yet within her skill set to both steer and pedal at the same time. The tassels and old-fashioned bell seem to be the most appealing parts of the vehicle. A good bit of her tricycle time is spent sitting in one place ringing the bell. And the bike helmet-- oh, how it cracks me up... Grace's noggin is pretty large to start with compared to her skinny shoulders; when you stick a bike helmet on top of her, her proportions start to flirt with the ridiculous.
The last time we went out to visit Rob's parents was August of last year. It had been way too long since we made the journey west so it was really good to be there. Grace was exactly 18 months old then and I will admit that it was the roughest trip we have taken with her to date. We were flying all the way across North America from Connecticut to the Oakland airport, followed by a long car ride out to their home in Sonoma County, and we made the mistake of choosing a flight that would keep us traveling quite late instead of one that involved waking up at 4am in the morning to catch the flight. Here is your first piece of unsolicited advice for the day: when traveling with small children, especially over long distances, choose early flights instead of late flights. The difficult, nay, miserable, travel on the way there, combined with the 3-hour time difference between the coasts made Grace want to stay up all night and sleep all day. To top off the difficulties while we were actually there, we got stranded overnight in San Diego without any luggage on the way back. It remains a vivid trip in my memory for its trials, but on the other hand, it was lovely to spend time with Rob's parents (who we never see often enough), the weather and our physical surroundings were amazingly beautiful, and we enjoyed lots of good food and wine.
I will take this opportunity to give today's second piece of unsolicited advice: if you have a baby, travel as much as you can before they are, oh, six months old or so. They are so easy and amiable and portable then, especially if you are breastfeeding and not lugging around a lot of bottles. Then once your baby starts to eat solids and crawl and only sleep in her normal surroundings and whatnot, do everything you can to minimize travel and get your visitors to come to you for, oh, about two years. In pursuit of this ideal, we are planning to go to California sometime this coming spring with our new little 3- or 4-month-old and 3-year-old in tow. So do you hear that, Sonoma County? Start stocking up on artisanal goat cheeses and red wine for me now.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
We had a really nice Halloween evening, without any major breakdowns or wardrobe malfunctions or anything. Grace was so excited and happy when we were putting on her costume and make-up; she jovially started referring to herself in the third person as "the Cat in the Hat". She then briefly fell asleep in the car on the way to the party at church, which left her in a subdued, withdrawn mood the rest of the evening. She wasn't actively unhappy, though, and seemed to enjoy the games and petting zoo and other kids and whatnot.
And wow, does she look out of it and exhausted in this one... But all in all, a nice evening, especially because Rob's parents are here visiting us right now. You should have seen the mess in the bathtub after cleaning Grace's whiskers and nose off (black cream eyeliner from a little pot, in case you're curious). And boy, these pictures make me ready to not be pregnant and huge and puffy anymore. Two more months...