Monday, October 31, 2011

Vivisms, vol 29

Happy Halloween!

Vivi: Guess what, Mommy? Grandpa Jim is coming! Oh, (hands clasped) I love him every day.

Vivi: Why are you so big in this picture?
Me: Because you are in my tummy. You weren't born yet.
Vivi: Why? Did you ate me?

Vivi: Wait down, wait down! Wait for me!

Dressing up for her preschool Halloween costume party...
Me: Put your arms in so we can tie the back (putting on her frog costume, which she insisted on to go with her frog backpack).
Vivi: No.
Me: Why not? We need to get ready so I can get Charlotte up.
Vivi: No. My friends won't like this one. I want to be a cowgirl instead.

Vivi (yelling from the kitchen to the living room): Daddy, when I'm done eating, I'm coming in there to give you a big hug.

Me: Do you know what your middle name is? It starts with a J.
Vivi: Jack?
Me: Haha, (to my dad) I say "Let's hit the road, Jack" when we're leaving the house, so that's why she thinks that. No Vivi, your middle name is Jane.
Vivi: Then stop calling me Jack!
Me: Ok, should I say "Let's hit the road, Jane"?
Vivi: Sure. [long pause] But I really want to be a superhero.

Nate (sweeping the kitchen): Ack! Where does all this come from?!
Vivi: I don't like"crumb crumbs" either, Daddy. They hurt my feet.

Vivi (walking in the bitter cold outside): My feets and legs are too windy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

if the shoe fits, put it in your pipe and smoke it

Nate: What are you doing?
Me: Reading Facebook posts about the GA/FL game.
Nate: I just think that is pointless.
Me: UGH, yes, we know this.
Nate: I don't think you get why I don't like it.
Me: You are a snob, that's why.
Nate: No, it's not that. I just don't think I'm important enough that people will care what I have to say.
Me: Uh huh, and what I just heard is, "Blah blah blah you think you're important."
Nate: Ummmm. Yes. That's correct.
Me: Ergo, you're a snob. Glad we agree.


In other more dire news, we are almost certainly going to lose power to our house in the next few hours or days. This situation is thanks to the wet snow we got last night (in October!) and the fact that we are having a strangely late fall so the oaks still have green leaves. All this means that we now have a semi-disconnected heavy tree branch pressing on our power lines going to the house. Wah wah waaahhh.

We had a great visit with the Hair men this weekend (dad, brother, and grandfather). It's always fun to see my daughter bond with my dad, but the best part this weekend was watching Billy depose my dad as the new king in Vivi's life. She played with him nonstop for literally six hours straight yesterday. Kudos to him for being able to keep up with her. "Whirling dervish" is the nickname my grandfather gave her. I'll post some pictures and stories soon. For now, here's a couple from the vault I stumbled upon recently. Check out the sweet 'stache, socks, track jacket, and hat my dad was sporting. Doesn't it scream '70s? Love it!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Charlotte's birth story, aka. Nate's Talladega Run

Where the actual birth is concerned, Charlotte's story is considerably shorter than Genevieve's. I had heard that second babies came faster, but I had no idea what I was in for...

Summer 2010

Regardless of actual temperatures, that summer will go on record as my hottest ever. I do not recommend spending a summer in DC at the end of your pregnancy if you can avoid it. I have no actual footage of myself when I was very pregnant with Charlie, for the simple fact that no one needs to see that spectacle. Here's the last shot I allowed with belly showing (in May):

With Vivi, I was pregnant in the winter (aka. English spring, same diff'), when all you want to do is bundle up anyway, so you just find as many scarves and XXXL sweaters as you can and be done with it. See?

A few weeks away from my third trimester, a friend who was also pregnant asked me if I had discussed my birth plan with my doctor yet. I knew I should have, but the answer was unfortunately no. Maybe I hadn't because in the back of my mind I knew I wasn't going to like how the conversation went; to be honest, I was afraid of all American OB/GYNs. I had such a great experience the first time around with the UK system, and I didn't trust the US system to provide the same level of woman-focused care.

Incidentally, it is a very dumb reason, perhaps the dumbest, not to discuss birthing with your doctor because you don't think you'll like what he/she will say. For a while, I tried to talk myself into keeping him. So ok, I knew he was old fashioned and had long waiting room times. And ok, so one time he let a pretty pharm rep in before me even though he was running 30 minutes late. But hey, he had a sonogram machine and took pictures at every visit. That was kind of cool. And he was just down the street from my house in Falls Church. Plus, he was the only doctor I could find taking patients who had privileges at the hospital down the street from our house. Whatevs, most doctors are the same, right? False.

Anywho, so there I was sweating my ass brow off in my doctor's office. I had just asked him what he thought of natural childbirth, and I was wringing my hands with anticipation. Knowing that I had given birth naturally the first time in 10 hours, I was expecting him to say something, anything, positive. But positivity was not in the cards. Instead, he said that just because I had a shorter-than-average labor the first time didn't mean anything, and I shouldn't go into my labor expecting it to be shorter or less painful. In fact, according to him there are lots of patients who experience more pain the second time around. So I shouldn't rule out an epidural. OR A C-SECTION. Because his priority is, and I quote, "getting that baby out of there quickly and safely." Yes, he did say quickly first. Oh, and yes, he wants a fetal monitor strapped to me the whole time, and yes, he plans to give me an IV right away. He actually called it a "spare tire." To a public health professional! Ugh.

[Note: I don't want to be sued, so I'm not going to list his name here. Email me if you live in Virginia and really want to know.]

You can probably imagine where this is going. I walked out of there and did not come back. I made an appointment at a practice in Alexandria called The Physician & Midwife Collaborative Practice. It was a much farther drive both to their office and the hospital, but oh so worth the traffic. Their standard of care included one visit with an OB/GYN and the rest with midwives; the labor itself would also be midwife-led unless you had condition requiring special care. Only occasional fetal monitoring as required by the hospital, and no IV. I was in love from my first visit. No long waits, frank conversations, and almost all women providers. Perfect!

August 2010

I had lots more Braxton-Hicks contractions with Charlotte than with Vivi, which my midwife told me is common for second pregnancies. During my last week of pregnancy, in fact, I cancelled an all-day off-site work meeting because I woke at 3:30 that morning swearing I was in labor. I got up and read "The Help" for a hour with stop watch in hand. Nope, no labor.

My mom came in town the day before the due date picked by the sonogram, Saturday the 28th. But that day came and went with no signs of labor. I prepared myself for the possibility that I would be a week, or even more, late. As it turned out, I needn't worry because my original DC doctor, the same guy who correctly predicted Vivi's due date with a tattered paper wheel he kept in his pocket, was right again. So much for advanced science, amirightladies?

August 31, 2010 (wheel-predicted due date)

On Tuesday, I woke early once again with the feeling that I might be having a contraction. Mom, Nate and I went for a walk. After another hour of only random, intermittent contractions varying widely in length and strength, Nate left for the office. Then the contractions stopped altogether. Mom and I did tons more walking in hopes of getting things going. We went to Home Depot for the thousandth time for supplies to get the house in for-sale shape. We had spicy lunch at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Four Sisters. Then we decided the best course of action in the afternoon was yoga and a nap.

4:35 PM. I wake from my nap with a start, knowing what I am feeling is for-real, ass-kicking labor. I wait for a few minutes, timing contractions and hearing my mom talking to her sister on the front porch. 5 minutes apart, almost a minute long, hella strong. I tell mom and immediately call Nate. I may or may not say something to the effect of "Come home now. This is serious. Thundercats are go!!!!" Nate calls David (our friend and labor babysitter) and goes to get Vivi.

5:10 PM. Nate arrives with Vivi in tow. I immediately run to the bedroom and shut the door, knowing I can't be around her while I'm in such agony. I inflate my birthing ball. Mom starts my iPod labor music, and I soothe myself with the Beatles and wide hip circles.

5:35 PM. I ask Nate to get an ETA on David. Contractions are already almost to the 4-1-1 "come to the hospital" red flag, i.e. 4 minutes apart, 1 minute long, for 1 hour. David is stuck in DC traffic. This is not good. I ask Nate to call a back-up to come NOW. He calls our friend Alastair who lives in N. Virginia.

5:50 PM. Nate asks me if I want him or mom to come, if I have to choose only one. I shoo him away, unable to think of such a dire circumstance.

6:00 PM. I start moaning and ask Nate to call Alastair again. He is minutes away. I go wait by the front door. Nate calls our midwife to say we are on our way to the hospital.

6:10 PM. I see Alastair's car and rush out of the house. I pass him on the front sidewalk. He asks "How's it going?" All I can say is "Not good." I hop in the back of the Honda and wait.

6:25 PM. We are stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital. I am rocking in the back of the car like I think it will make us go faster. Mom is lying to me about how far apart the contractions are. I say "What happens if I start giving birth in the car?" Nate starts jumping curbs and dodging cars.

6:50 PM. We finally arrive at the hospital. All I can say is I am lucky I married a helluva good driver.

7:00 PM. We are buzzed into the labor ward, and in a deja vu moment, no one takes us seriously. I try to talking to an eye-rolling nurse, and mid-convo I have to find a gurney to writhe around on during my contraction.

7:05 PM. The nurse asks Nate some questions, gives us a room, and tries to strap a fetal monitor to me while I have monster contractions and wish I could either rip her head off or curl up in a ball and disappear. She still isn't getting it.

7:10 PM. My midwife enters our room to introduce herself and assess me. She apologizes for not wearing scrubs yet but says she wasn't expecting to be needed so soon. She says something, somebody laughs, and I set the building on fire. But not really. She goes and changes into scrubs.

7:15 PM. My body starts involuntarily pushing while I am still standing, waiting to get in the bed. I scream some stuff, somebody yells back, and I am shoved onto a bed.

7:28 PM. Less than three hours and few pushes later, Charlotte is born! She is almost a full pound lighter than Vivi (7.15 instead of 8.9) and is just as perfect. She has the Pointer cheeks and my lips from the start. I am elated.

A few minutes later, I am chatting with the labor and delivery nurse about how wonderful my midwife Trish is. I happen to mention how I switched to the midwife-led practice from my previous doctor. When she hears the doctor's name, her eyebrows go up, and she then proceeds to tell me she used to work at his hospital and that he has a 90% c-section rate. There's even a running joke at the hospital when someone delivers naturally: "How'd one slip by him?," they laugh.

Your lesson, boys and girls, is to ask questions. Stand up for yourself. If you don't like what you hear, go somewhere else. My mom was very educated about natural childbirth, knew my wishes, and was willing to stand up for me, so in a way she was a lay-doula. But if you don't have a mom like that, I definitely recommend hiring a doula.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

eating the locavore way

Recently I posted some thoughts on organic food and gardening. Food is such a centerpiece of our lives that I wanted to write more about the evolution of our eating choices. Ever since reading a few books about how processed our food has become in America, Nate and I have been gradually changing the way we eat. First we cut out fast food almost completely and began eating more organic food back in 2003 after reading Fast Food Nation. Fast forward a few years to after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma; Michael Pollan's book encouraged us to change our thinking again to look toward more local food rather than solely focusing on organic.

We now know that organic can be as big business as industrial food production, and we increasingly trust and rely on our local farmers to produce healthy food for our dinner table as much as we can afford to do. The "locavore" movement, as it's called, encourages healthful and sustainable food production by focusing on less miles traveled rather than obsessing over the USDA organic certification.

We participated in a CSA last year, and although we didn't do it again this year, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and plan to do it again in the future. This winter we are participating in a local, non-organic meat CSA for the first time, and we are impatiently and enthusiastically waiting for it to begin. If you're still not sold on the notion of prioritizing local over organic, I read a great article last week about why organic is not always better. In addition to purchasing locally, we are also trying to eat seasonally as much as possible. Who knows, I may even begin preserving food soon. Baby steps.

It seems to me that eating food, watching people make food, and buying food is hitting some kind of tipping point lately. Earlier this week I listened to NPR's "On Point" with Adam Gopnik, a food writer who has written a new book on eating well. My favorite part is when he discusses how people of different cultures around the world turn to rice pudding more than any other food when experiencing family events and milestones. Rice pudding! My favorite. Another quick read this week comes from "How to Cook Everything" author Mark Bittman, who shared a letter to chefs on eating well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vivi's birth story, aka "Mind if I eat this sandwich?"

I gave birth naturally to both of my girls, and I've often been asked about their birth stories. I know I've already forgotten some of the details from Vivi's birth that I didn't write in her baby book, so I decided to tell her birth story on the blog. I know she will enjoy reading about it some day, and I also hope to inspire other women to try natural childbirth.

April 2008

Nate and I were living in the UK when Vivi was born. He was on a temporary assignment with his job in US gov't intelligence. I had just gotten my Master's degree in public health and did not have a job, so I spent my time nesting, taking long country walks, drinking tea in our local shop, and making granola. What a paradise.

Even though I was not a citizen of the UK, I received excellent and free health benefits, which included weekly visits to my midwife and pregnancy classes with the other pregnant women in our little town, Oundle. We would all waddle together to the local tea shop after class was over to chat nervously and excitedly about our upcoming births. I grew so fond of these women, and it was a wonderful connection to the culture and people, who were difficult to get to know without such an easy conversation starter.

April 29, 2008

I drove to the train station to pick up my mom and her boyfriend. They flew to London from Atlanta and then bravely took the hour-plus-long train ride up to us. I had been working my way up to being able to drive long distances on the "wrong side of the road," so I was proud to be able to pick them up by myself. I think they were both surprised by how big I was since they hadn't seen me in four months. They were tired but glad to have arrived.

We were all so happy that even though we cut their arrival close to my due date, I had not gone into labor yet. I had some signs of pre-labor that day, so I barely slept with excited anticipation that Genevieve might be born the next day.

April 30, 2008 (My due date!)

2:12 AM. I woke up and sat bold upright in bed, knowing that what I was feeling was a real contraction. I grabbed my stop watch, slid out of bed quietly and crept downstairs, enjoying the silent elation of being the only one to know what was happening for a few hours. Contractions started at about 7 minutes apart but quickly progressed to 5 minutes apart and lasted around 30 seconds each.

3:00 AM. I put the bags I planned to take with me to the hospital by the front door, and I checked and rechecked my packing lists. I sat down on my balance ball in front of the computer to burn my CDs of labor music and noticed that our friend David and my Uncle Joe were both online, so I chatted with them for a few minutes. It was strange that for a few hours the only two people who knew I was in labor besides me were thousands of miles away!

5:00 AM. Labor was in full swing with contractions four minutes apart and lasting anywhere from 30 to 70 seconds. Having labored for three hours on my own, I was at the point where I decided I needed other people around to distract me and to call the hospital to let them know what was happening. I woke up Nate and then my mom, who hadn't even been in the country for 24 hours yet. I can't imagine what her jet lag must have been like at that point. If I had known we would be in the house for another three hours, I certainly wouldn't have woken her so soon.

5:30 AM. Nate called the Hitchingbrooke Hospital labor ward and spoke with one of the midwives on duty to find out when we should come to the hospital. She asked to speak with me, and the first thing she said when I got on the phone was that if I could speak to her without having to stop talking during a contraction, then I wasn't yet ready to come. I was a bit nervous about laboring at home by then but was committed to arriving at the hospital ready to give birth so I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time laboring in an unfamiliar environment.

[Note: Most women in the UK begin the labor process with the idea that they will labor naturally and add medications as they see fit. UK hospitals have all the medications we offer in the US plus a few others we don't. More on that later.]

6:30 AM. My memory of laboring in front of Mom, her boyfriend Kippy, and Nate was that the men sat on our smaller couch trying not to look like they were staring at me, and my mom rubbed my back constantly. I sat on my birthing ball and rocked in circles while I leaned on four pillows propped on the couch. Our cat Sally tried to sit on my head. I would ask Nate how long a contraction had gone on, and he would say "When did it start?" I could tell we had needed a trial run before the big day, but I let it go and started timing them myself.

8:00 AM. We called the midwife again, and this time I couldn't speak through contractions, so she gave us the green light to come on in. We piled into the car, and mom sat in the back with me while I was on all fours and spent the next forty minutes trying to find a comfortable position and cursing our rural lifestyle and choice of a hospital so far away. I asked seventy trillion times how long it would take and if we were there yet.

8:45 AM. We finally arrived at the hospital. Nate dropped us off out front so he could find a place to park, and I spent the following 20 muddled minutes trying to locate the labor ward in between incredibly painful contractions. We finally arrived to a bit of eye-rolling when I could barely think or speak from the pain. They handed me a cup and walked off, and I think that's when I started to cry. My mom helped me with the cup situation and talked me off the ledge, and Nate attempted to persuade them that I was actually quite far along in my labor.

9:15 AM. I finally got checked into a room and assessed, and I could see the look of shock on my midwife's face that I was 8 cm dilated! The nurse was apologetic that she hadn't realized how far along I was; "You weren't even screaming or carrying on at all!" I was so relieved that the pain I had been experiencing was not for nothing and felt a renewed sense of resolve that I could actually achieve a natural childbirth. I was offered a bit of what's called "gas and air," which is basically oxygen with a bit of nitrous oxide. It has been compared to having a cocktail; rather than taking away the pain, it basically takes away the nervousness and concern over the pain.

[Note: Unfortunately, the last time I checked when I was pregnant with Charlotte, gas and air is still not offered in the US. I cannot find an acceptable reason for this conspicuous absence with the exception that it can result in respiration trouble for infants. As that is also a potential side effect of Demerol and some other pain meds that are offered, I don't think it's a viable answer. My guess is that it could have something to do with the lack of infrastructure and the cost of installing the product being less than the benefit/return.]

9:45 AM. The gas and air lived up to the out-of-body experience promised, and I continued to labor through horrendous contractions but suddenly had something I could do during the contraction to take my mind off it. I think I might have said some weird stuff about monkeys. My mom was an endless outpouring of positive energy and support, continually reminding me of how well I was doing and that I could do it. If I hadn't known she had given birth naturally to me, I'm not certain I would have found the strength within myself to do it.

10:15 AM. It was somewhere around now when Nate went to get a sandwich and asked me between contractions if I cared if he ate it. I wouldn't have cared if he had taken off his clothes and drenched himself in mayonnaise at that point and often make fun of him for asking about eating during my labor. He swears it was only his concern over my super sense of smell that prompted him to ask.

10:45 AM. I was assessed again and thrilled to be at 10 cm dilated and fully effaced. My midwife cut off the gas and air, and I got into my birthing position kneeling over the back of my bed. I found laying on my back unbearably painful, so I requested to be in that position as rarely as possible.

12:12 PM. Genevieve Jane was born after exactly 10 hours of labor. She looked so perfect with a lovely round head and ten chubby fingers and toes, and I couldn't believe she was mine. To say it was all worth it would be such a huge understatement. I would have gone through days of labor to have such a wonderful gift at the end of all that hard work.

May 1, 2008

After an absolutely awful night of no sleep for either of us in a room full of seven other new moms and babies, we finally were picked up in the morning by Nate and my mom, who both had had to leave after visiting hours ended the evening before. I will never forget how breakable Vivi felt in our arms as we tried in vain to strap her in the car seat without her screaming. We were pushed aside by a capable and impatient nurse who told us we weren't going to kill her by buckling her in. Looking back, all I can think is, "Welcome to parenthood. You have no idea what you are in for." But I think it's better that way.

Update 2-9-12: I had to move this post to a new URL because I inadvertently included some personal information that I had to wipe from the old link. Also, when rereading this post, I realize I may not have portrayed Nate in the best light in my attempt to make a joke. I am so thankful to have chosen such a levelheaded mate; in every emotional or harried situation in our lives, Nate rises to the occasion and is a smooth operator, keeping me calm and making logical choices. I couldn't have done either of my births without him and have fond memories of his contribution beyond sandwich questions.

Update 3-1-12: I am pleased to have been invited to share more of my birth story on another blog, which is dedicated solely to birth stories. I was more candid about the memories of the experience there than I was in this initial post. I am trying to learn how to be more honest in my own blog too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

i'd like icing on my cupcake, iffen you know what I mean

We had a fantastic and fun long weekend with David, Caroline, and their one-year-old Edie, who came to see us from DC. I know I can't do our trip justice in a blog post, but here goes anyway. If I could sum up our time together in two words, I choose laughter and food. Combine our loves of adventure and sitting around eating and talking, and you've got the basic gist for what we did for the last 5 days.

We started with trips to local parks to wear out our little monkeys.

You can't get grown-ups around a playground without us getting a turn or two. Who knew the seesaw could provide so much glee?

Edie is a very bright little girl, both intellectually and in her personality. She wakes for the day with gusto and hits the ground running with a purpose. Comparing Edie's joie de vivre to Charlotte's snail-like deliberateness and calm makes for an amusing contrast. She is hilarious and adorable, and she reminds us a lot of Vivi at that age. In fact, she and Vivi became fast friends and began chasing each other around the couch from the start. When Caroline and I were pregnant at the same time, I imagined our two little girls being best buds. I was intrigued to discover Vivi and Edie bonding over their collective nutty zeal and Charlotte chilling in the corner taking it all in, as usual. My kids continually surprise me with their innate differences.

Edie celebrates her first birthday this week, and Vivi was quite the enthusiastic hostess when it came to party preparation. On her orders, we had plenty of balloons, presents, and cupcakes. Behold Edie's no-hands approach to eating her first cupcake:


Having been on the University of Georgia rowing team together a decade ago, the four of us were super excited about our first ever attendance at the Head of the Charles, the biggest and most famous fall regatta. There was much walking, eating, and spectating to be had.

Caroline has been teaching Edie sign language far beyond just the few mostly food-related signs I've taught Charlotte, meaning that Edie has signs for many animals and household objects and uses them regularly. Watching them communicate with her in this way has inspired to take up baby signing again, so I dusted off our Baby Signs book. Our first word is "lights" (open and close fists), which Charlotte points at no less than 25 times a day.

Getting back to the laughter and the food, it goes without saying we had plenty on both counts. Of course there was the obligatory dinner at Flatbread Co., during which Nate said, in between sips of beer and bites of pizza, "I have never been happier in my life." I couldn't have said it better myself! Friends + beer + pizza + ambiance = pure happiness. And when you have a few days of vacation combined with some sleep deprivation and lots of sugary treats, it probably goes without saying that hilarity will ensue. Whether we were discussing the icing of Edie's cupcakes, funny southern expressions, or the pinking of America (pink ribbon beer pong table, anyone?), somehow we always found a way to belly cry-laugh yet again.

After dropping them at the airport, Nate pointed out that spending a whole five days together was definitely the most time we'd ever gathered en masse since college, despite living in the same city for 5+ years.  The notion that this simple fact did not occur to me over the course of the trip speaks to both how easy it is for us to spend lots of time with them and also how utterly impossible it is to have a coherent, intelligent thought when there are three kids under four years old running around. We were proud just to get the hoard and our collective belongings loaded in the clown car by 11am, let alone providing each other with thoughtful analysis of our compatibility as friends.

Although it was a chaotic visit at times, there is something to be cherished about experiencing the bedlam together. It is a foregone conclusion for me to pine to live in the same city again. But for now, we must appease the desire with our yearly visits and monthly Skyping, and so Nate and I are already plotting our drive to DC in the spring.

Friday, October 21, 2011

an infinite expectation of the dawn

One of my Twitter followers' bios says "I wish to know everybody." Now there's a goal. In all seriousness, sometimes I think I need to set more challenging goals for myself. Work-life balance used to be tough when I had a definitive, lengthy period of time that I was doing work and getting to and from work. Now that I am free to make my own schedule in my new fence-less world, I find myself in the rare situation of having lots of time between my large projects. In other words, life has tipped the scale in a huge way, and I have only a vague notion of this "work" thing everyone won't shut up about.

To be clear, I'm not saying I miss two hours of commuting every day. That's 10 hours a week, 40 hours a month, and roughly 480 hours a year of time I've saved to do whatever I want with, other than sit next to random strangers on the train and pretend not to notice them. Freedom!

I guess what I'm saying is that I do miss working in an office, kind of. I miss having a job I enjoyed that I felt was heading down a career path I would love. I miss deadlines too, their quirky annoying constancy. I am struggling to maintain a sense of self that came easily to me when I had a job, a nameplate on a door I could close, a closet full of appropriate attire.

When Steve Jobs passed away, I listened along with the rest of America to his commencement speech at Stanford a few years ago, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." Below is my favorite quote from it:

I love what I'm doing now as a "home ranger," and I do feel a sense of pride and satisfaction that I am doing great work. When I need time apart from my family to experience my own accomplishments, challenges, pitfalls, and rebounds, I have discovered many suitable outlets. Exercising, learning Photoshop, cooking, and blogging are all providing some fulfillment.

But nurturing my girls through their toddler years has by its very definition an end in sight, so I am acutely aware of the need to nurture my work self too.  I still harbor a secret wish to attend nursing school; for the time being, day care costs prohibit me seeking that goal. Even without more school, I can see a future for myself in some part of the health system. I am inspired by Steve Jobs to find a career filled with passion, foolishness, hunger, and great work.

Keep your stick on the ice,

p.s. My title for this post comes from another inspiring quote, this time by Henry David Thoreau:

"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

favorite children's stories

I love going to the library with Vivi. I love the smell of the books, the quiet mixed with the sound of the crinkly cellophane covers, the impatient anticipation of having a new stack to flip through, and the fact that Vivi already displays the same love of reading. Y'all, we have a shared love! Oh, and now I'm getting all verklempt. Anywho.

Inspired by Design Mom's fantastic list of stories, I thought I'd begin compiling some of our favorites we've checked out. While I have written a few reviews before (see here and here), I could never come close to matching the sheer number of Design Mom's reviews. But I can do my part, right?

I have found some great books that I'd love both to share and have written down in list form somewhere so I can go back and check out our favs again. The blog has become my go-to place to collect pieces of information I don't want to forget. Since I know hope it will grow tremendously over the years, I have decided to give The List its proper due in the "top bar of things in my life." You know, the about me, 31 things, and other goodies? See it in the top right corner? Alright, for those of you visually impaired Interwebs users, here's a link that'll get 'r done.

My usual strategy in picking children's library books is to take four books from on display over the top of the shelves. My reasoning in doing so is two-fold:

1) I take four books so I never forget how many I have checked out and because this is the number Vivi can carry downstairs with her in the morning, which she insists on doing every single day so she can "read" under a blankie on the couch while I dress Charlotte; and

 2) I grab the ones from the top because the librarians simply stick the most recently returned books up there, and I assume the other moms are checking out the best ones.

So far, so good. Here's our current list of all-time (a whole two years), desert-island top choices: [Note: we love some of these books so much that we own them, but part of the excitement of a story is that we can call it our own for such a short time]

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

The Woods by Paul Hoppe

Bad Kitty and Who is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel

Thumb Love by Elise Primavera

Pirate Girl and The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke (awesome name, by the way)

Bubble Bath Pirates by Jarrett Krosoczka

Bedtime Bunnies by Wendy Watson

The Day Ray Got Away by Angela Johnson

Fancy Nancy series by Jane O'Connor (esp. Bonjour Butterfly and Fabulous Fashion Boutique)

Pinkalicious series by Victoria Kann

Eloise series by Kay Thompson

Olivia by Ian Falconer

Pete's a Pizza by William Steig

Anything by Maurice Sendak (esp. Where the Wild Things Are and Pierre)

Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse and ...Dancing Boots by Rebecca Janni

Richard Scarry's books

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.

Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton (and her board books too)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the terrifying and the cuteness

I did something regrettable a few nights ago. I consented to watch the new AMC series "The Walking Dead" with Nate. About zombies, you know the one? It's gotten rave reviews, they just put the first season on the Netflix watch instantly list, and the second season just started airing this week, so those factors pretty much guaranteed Nate would want to watch it. Being the ever dutiful wife, I reluctantly agreed. Friends, if you are as much a scaredy cat as me, which is to say you hide behind a pillow during the previews for horror movies, do me a favor and do not watch this show. If you do watch, definitely don't eat during it...or at least, don't eat spaghetti. Catch my drift?

In contrast to my journey into zombieland, I took Vivi to a local farm this week to catch up with my friend Triathlete Mom, the mom of one of Vivi's best buds.

Going to a farm has actually become a thing for us, I guess, which is fine by me because I love farms! Having basically grown up on one that was my elementary school/camp/sanctuary, I feel at home on a farm. Vivi and her friend had a blast, cavorting and giggling, poking chickens with sticks, digging in the dirt, chasing each other through a pumpkin patch, playing "Bad Guys."

Charlie did what she generally does outside, spending most of her time climbing on benches and precarious piles of rocks and eating dirt and mulch.

So that's my life, zombies, chicken-poking, and rock-climbing. How 'bout you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

playing in the modern darkroom

It took me a while to get on board with enhancing my digital pictures. Programs like Photoshop felt like cheating to me, probably because I spent my adolescence and early twenties learning the craft of black and white film photography and darkroom editing.

I taught photography at summer camp for years, during which I spent countless hours in a dank, rank, pitch-black darkroom with behemoth black rat snakes and copperheads lurking in its deepest chambers. I pored over books and experimented with exposure times while standing for an eternity under an enlarger. I mixed noxious chemicals in old pots on 90 degree days in unair-conditioned rooms, with no shoes on and up hill both ways!

While it definitely had its downsides, I had a trade. I was an artist, at least in my own mind. And I had a dream that one day I would have a darkroom in my own house, where I'd continue to perfect my art. So I had to mourn the loss of my craft, and it's been a long, hard road to get back on board with learning a new one.

Well I'm back, baby! I recently got a thirty-day free trial to try Adobe Photoshop Elements. I'm enjoying the learning process so far, but I'm discovering as I go that it is much more difficult than I originally thought it would be to do. In a way, this makes me happy! I'm so relieved to find out that there is skill and frustration to be had in modern photo editing. Be careful what you wish for, right?

I was feeling the "old timey" look last night. Nate said the second looked like a sonogram when it was sepia-toned, and he was right! That's why I keep him around. Keep me honest, Bubba.

So far I haven't really done anything I couldn't do in iPhoto in less time, but I see the potential to do more. It's exciting! Although I got the trial a few weeks ago, I was only finally inspired to sit down and use it last night, and I owe my inspiration to the Pioneer Woman. If you haven't been to her website, check it out! I thought to myself, if she didn't know what the word aperture meant just a few short years ago, then I can do it too. That, ladies and gents, is where her true genius lies.

Later gaters,

p.s. If you already have Adobe and are further along in the learning process than I, you might enjoy Pioneer Woman's Photoshop actions.

Monday, October 17, 2011

ten things i wish i knew about cooking when i was 20

I have lists of "things I wish I knew" for practically every area of my life. When I was 20, I never knew what 40-year-olds meant when they said they didn't want to relive their early twenties. I would think to myself, "How sad for them, having to make up excuses because they are so jealous of my awesomeness." Which, now that I'm thinking about it, is what whippersnappers are probably thinking right now when I tell you that I, too, do not want to relive my early twenties.

Sure, I'd love to have the freedom to do what I want, the joie de vivre, the lack of concern, the nonchalant ability to ask my family for money. But when I think of all the things I didn't know, my head spins and...I get a...little...tired.


Let me sit down.

There, that's better.

Okay, I wouldn't mind having the energy of my early twenties. And oh, how much better at cooking would I have been if I had known what I know now! I would have been an unstoppable superhero, capable of delighting the taste buds of both paunchy potheads and fickle foodies alike.

What I'm saying, green chefs, is that you're lucky to have a friend like me who is willing to pass down my secrets. You are, no doubt, rolling your eyes right now. Not everything must be looked upon ironically, you know. Or maybe you don't know. But you will, someday.

Actually, I learned some of these tricks not that long ago, so I hope the list is helpful to all people who like to cook. Without further digressions, I present to you, ungrateful young'ns and grateful readers out there, my list of the top ten things about cooking that I'm glad to know. You're welcome!

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10. Celery trick: When your celery is limpy, cut it in half and put it in a glass of water for at least an hour, longer if you have time. 

It will be crunchy and stiff, good as new. I've never had to throw away celery since I learned this trick.

9. Even if you think you will remember where you put the recipe or what went in it, write it down!

 Kids, I hate break the bad news to you, but some day your memory might not be what it once was. Do your 30+ year-old brain a favor and start writing down your recipes now, both ingredients and a master list of what books the favs came from.

8. Ginger trick: A bulb of ginger will last ten times as long if you put it in the freezer, and it's easier to grate when frozen.

Win win!

7. Auntie M's soup trick: When making soup, use a spice blend.

Cutting corners can simplify your life, and your food will taste just as great, so no one has to know. Trader Joe's spice combinations are my favorite, especially the 21 Seasoning Salute and Lemon Pepper grinder.

6. Nate's egg trick: Always use more butter than you think you will need when frying or scrambling an egg. Your tastebuds (and your dish-scrubbing arm) will thank you.

[N.B. for parents: When making a scrambled egg for your child, cream cheese is your best friend. It adds calcium, protein, and fat and tastes delicious. If you don't have it, cottage cheese and sour cream are good substitutes. Thanks Mom!]

5. Patience is a virtue, especially when cooking an onion. 

To caramelize, you need time, fat, low heat, and a sweet onion. As a southerner, I use vidalias in almost everything. No one will ever be able to convince me that sweeter is not better!

4. Three essential cooking tools that are worth the investment: Dutch oven, sharp chef's knife, and seasoned cast iron skillet. 

Although they are expensive items, they have saved my sanity, which I have learned is worth the price! We recently inherited a few of Nate's grandmother Jane's skillets, which make a wonderful addition to our kitchen, both to our recipes and in our good memories of her. An addendum I might add to that list is a good knife sharpener. Visit America's Test Kitchen for tips on buying the right tool and learning to use it well. The best thing I've learned from ATK on that subject is that a steel is not a sharpener! Use a steel to refine the edge of an already sharpened blade. Nate is our master sharpener. I am much too clumsy to take on that task; I've already needed stitches in one finger for a knife incident.

 3. Never throw away vegetables. Make soup! 

I saute one onion until it's browned (see #5), then add carrots and celery and saute another 5 minutes.

Add two quarts of liquid (a combination of veggie stock and water is tasty), 1 cup of barley, two tsp. of salt, seasonings (bay leaf, handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, see #7) and whatever long-cooking veggies you have on hand (I like cauliflower, zucchini, and potatoes).

Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Assess flavor and season to taste. Then add your short-cooking veggies (cabbage, sliced sugar snap peas, and corn are my favs) and cook another 15 minutes. I like to top it off with fresh herbs, either more parsley or basil if I have it.

2. Ditto for chicken bones. Make stock!

Mine is a simple combination of two quarts of water, chicken bones, one onion peeled and quartered, a couple of rough chopped carrots and celery sticks, a handful of flat-leaf parsley, a few cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a handful of black peppercorns. Simmer for about an hour. Food & Wine magazine has a fancier version in this month's issue. Where'd they find pink garlic cloves?

1. Learn a repertoire of vegetarian meals.

No one needs to eat meat every night, nor do you always have to eat ramen noodles if you're on a budget. Last night we had lentils (dice and saute 1 small onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery until soft. Add 2 c. chicken stock, 1 c. lentils, a pinch of salt, and a handful of chopped parsley. Simmer for 20-30 min. until tender), Pioneer Woman's roasted acorn squash, and tabbouleh. Lots of mmmmmms, and neither of us (that includes both me AND my lumberjack) missed the meat.

Yes, I know chicken stock isn't vegetarian, nor is nitrate-free bacon, another common ingredient in our household. Maybe that's cheating in some worlds, but our method works for us because of the umami flavor those components add. Bacon is a great, inexpensive way to jazz up many dishes; we love it especially in pasta dishes in the cooler months. Check out a few Cooking Light recipes: roasted butternut squash and bacon pasta and penne with Brussels sprouts and bacon.

When eating frugally, healthfully, and locally, it has paid off for us to eat vegetarian or semi-vegetarian meals about half the time. With a long list of Indian, Mediterranean, Moroccan, and Middle Eastern recipes from which to select, we have no shortage of creative choices. Does that make us flexitarians? Maybe, but don't tell Nate.

Editor's Note: This post is a part of the Patchwork Living Blogging Bee and Sunday School.

October bliss

We're enthusiastically continuing on our merry way through this October sent from Heaven. After a few days of rain, this weekend was once again wonderfully 60's and dry. I am happy to report that leaves aren't yet at their peak; we are eagerly anticipating a long weekend with David, Caroline, and Edie and want the changing colors' perfection to strike in T minus 3 days. But the maples are just starting to turn, which made for a pleasant two days of hiking trips.

These pictures are from a Saturday trip an hour west to Leominster State Forest; we didn't mind the long drive as it meant we got to hear some of our favorite NPR programming. At the very end of our hike there were huge thunderclaps immediately followed by heavy showers, so we had a harried run back to the car. Of course the girls thought it was hilarious that Mommy and Daddy were running through the woods. Then Sunday we stayed closer to home and walked around the long pond at the Middlesex Fells Reservation; as always, we were happily greeted by a gazillion giddy dogs and their owners.

Vivi informed us that it's time to decorate for Halloween, and she demanded requested ghosts and a jack-o-lantern so far. I think her list will grow based on our neighbors' creations. We accomplished the pumpkin carving yesterday, and today I'm in search of an old white sheet to start cutting ghost squares.

Last night I made us a yummy semi-vegetarian dinner, which I will tell you more about in a rare second-post moment later in the day today. The high point in cooking dinner was when I decided to wet my whistle with a dark 'n stormy. The low point in cooking dinner was when, half my drink guzzled, I mistook the glass of chicken stock to be my cocktail. Reader, this is not a mistake you make twice.

In other weekend news, I found a picture of my childhood bangs and updated my post on the subject, lest you call me an exaggerator. I also updated our mantel with more fall accessories. I read my Thanksgiving Food and Wine magazine cover to cover in less than two days, which is my all-time record. And finally, I am enjoying the online magazine for moms called Babble; this week they posted their Top 50 Design Blogs for Mom.


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