Wednesday, August 31, 2011

true life: i met an olsen twin

During my first year at college, I lived in a building called Hartley.  Hartley is the site of the Living Learning Center, which sounded really great in theory.  Groups of thirteen or so residents, of mixed age and gender, would live together in a suite, share a kitchen and two bathrooms, and receive funds to do cultural stuff together.  You know, like eat Indian food or watch foreign movies or go see a Japanese art exhibit. 

It never quite worked out that way.  Mostly we tried to figure out ways to launder that money so we could buy kegs and have parties. 

I digress.  There were two football players who shared a room in my suite in Hartley.  They were both from California.  One was a surfer dude, one was from LA.  It took only a few days after we all moved in for word to circulate around the suite that the one from LA was in a relationship with Ashley Olsen!  Yes, THE Ashley Olsen. 

The one we all grew up with as Michelle on Full House.

As the fall wore on, it became clear that LA dude and Ashley Olsen had a pretty typical late-teenage romance:  lots of fighting, lots of making up, lots of existential angst.  Ashley was still in high school in California at this point, so they were long-distance as well.  Until she came to visit!

Her visit was unannounced, so I was shocked to walk out of the bathroom with my hair dripping wet, and come face to face with a celebrity!  I smiled, but she didn't smile back.  She looked kind of sad.  I may have just been projecting or imagining things, but she looked like she was sick of everyone looking at her.  As much as I hate celebrities who complain about people wanting to know about them (ooohhh, being famous is soooo harddddd . . . then don't be famous, or just move to Idaho like Demi and Ashton), there was a palpable sense of wariness and heaviness about her.

If I remember correctly, that visit was when LA roommate and Ashley finally broke up for good, so I never saw her again.  But I do have our one little chance meeting as my claim to fame!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

working mama

I have always thrived on a lot of activity.  As my stepdad says, "I like to really pack it in there."  I've had at least one job since the time I was fourteen.  Frequently, in college, I had three jobs in addition to five courses in a semester, as well as involvement in a sorority, singing group, etc.  I'm also the primary breadwinner in our family, so there was no real plan for me to stay home for an extended period after the baby was born.  I would take eight weeks off, then be back and ready to go!  Things would work themselves out, right?

Ummm, well, this motherhood thing is BY FAR the most time-consuming, energy-eating, long-day-making, confidence-off-kiltering job I have ever undertaken.  Don't mistake me as saying that it's not worth it.  The smiles, hugs, growth and development of a tiny human who kind of looks like me (!) also offer rewards that are unparalleled by any other job I've had.  But I do feel like I've finally reached my limit.  I could not possibly add one more regular commitment into what I'm currently juggling and maintain my sanity. 

So, how does it work?  Good question.  Some days it doesn't!  Most days it does.  Three days a week, the baby stays with a sitter for eight hours.  We absolutely love our sitter, and I have no qualms about the amount of time the baby spends there.  I also like the fact that she gets some exposure to other children (the sitter has three of her own, and watches one older baby).  The time in a mixed-age setting is beneficial.  One day a week, Jeff has the baby at home.  One day a week is my day "off," which means that I'm with the baby all day.  Saturdays I'm with her, Sunday mornings Jeff keeps her at home or I bring her to childcare at church for the morning, and Sunday afternoons I'm with her.  Two or three nights a week (on average - sometimes it's more!) I have meetings at church in the evening.  The baby either comes with me if Jeff is working, or she stays home with her dad.

Recently, in an uncharacteristic move, I admitted that I couldn't do everything, and hired some housekeeping help to come twice a month and do the floors.  I am famously cheap, so this was something I had to think about for a long time.  But it has been amazing so far.  I just couldn't look at another clump of dog hair in the corner, staring at me and taunting me about my inability to keep my house together.  I could - just barely - get everything else done (kitchen, bathroom, laundry, dishes, etc).  But the floors . . . no way.  It just took too much time.  And time is something that is so very scarce right now.

Pastoring is a notoriously demanding profession.  People always need you, and there is no limit to that need.  There is only a limit to your time.  Parenting is remarkably similar.  The baby always needs me, and the only limit to that need is her sleeping time.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed by feeling so needed all the time.  I am a person who, in the past, has liked to spend significant amounts of time alone, sorting out my thoughts and feelings and rebalancing myself.  This is a sector of my life that has been totally decimated.  I don't think I've been by myself for more than five minutes (in the car) since April 2.  The lack of alone time has taken its toll on me, as I feel a little off-balance most of the time, and my actions and words are sometimes more impulsive or less well-thought-out than they have been in the past.  My husband, who bears the brunt of this, is beyond understanding.

Some days, all that keeps me together is the thought that I will long for these days with a tiny baby to come back.  Other days, I feel like I am capable of anything, and that this working-mom thing is a piece of cake.  All I know is, when I spent those eight weeks at home with the baby, it was the hardest work I have EVER done.  And that's saying something.

Monday, August 29, 2011

real simple . . . not really simple

The magazine (and, more recently, website) Real Simple has captivated me for years.  The clean, bright layout.  The mixture of food, fashion, culture, and decorating advice.  The lithe and lovely models.  Jeff will tell you, I salivate at new issues on the Target magazine shelf. 

When I was in Divinity School, a mom and fellow student saw me reading a Real Simple and commented on how ridiculous the title was.  Like, to make your life more simple, you need all this stuff that we recommend.  The irony of this consumerist myth had never struck me before.  It began to color my perception of the magazine, and I did realize that I had been sold on a vision of life that would never quite materialize for me. 

Additionally, has anyone noticed that the recipes have gotten really bad?  They used to be hit-or-miss, but you could get at least a few good dinners and sides out of an issue.  Now, most of them don't even sound appetizing, and I haven't had success with one of their recipes in months. 

These days, I prefer my public television cooking shows.  America's Test Kitchen, Everyday Food, and Cook's Country provide me with a wealth of recipe ideas.  In fact, after watching Everyday Food Saturday morning, I'm inspired to add roast chicken tacos, meatballs and garlic bread, and red beans and sausage to my menu this week.  Anybody have recipe sources they just love that they want to share?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

guest post: the pace of life

Gentle reader, please find below the thoughts and musings of my very best friend, Amanda Rose Smear.  We met in 2002, shared many misadventures, laughs, and tears, and now we are separated by 1260 miles.  I came thisclose to staying in New York with her before my life pulled me in another direction.  She is a talented and thoughtful person, so enjoy!


Just before I sat down to type this "guest blog post" I did something that no New Yorker - or at least no stereotypical psychotically productive maniacally driven blackberry-addicted Manhattanite like me EVER does: I prepared myself for 48 hours of nothing. Calling my life "fast-paced" would be an understatement. I often describe my work schedule as frantic, frenzied, aggressive. I'm in a constant fight against the clock...appointment, conference call, meeting, site visit, deadline, emergency, site visit BOOM it's 11pm. And that's how every day goes until I catch 5-6 hours of sleep wake and do it again, sometimes pressing pause for a 6:30am yoga class. So to tell myself today at 3pm than I will literally do nothing other than kill time until Monday morning (or longer) is a little eerie.

As you may or may not know, NYC as well as the rest of the Northeast is preparing for what may be a very windy/rainy day. Some are calling it a "hurricane". I'm skeptical but nevertheless did the practical thing and stocked the fridge with bottled water, groceries, skittles, Kettle Popcorners, you know...The necessities.  I'm not being completely honest. Paul wanted to buy enough snacks to last the entire armageddon. MY mission was to find an open Starbucks, caffeinate, and possibly find the motivation to do something. To my shock and dismay, Bloomberg had frightened every shopkeep and restaurant manager from opening today and not even STARBUCKS was there for me. Normally I could get 5 Frappucino Lites on the way to work (15minute walk) without having to go out of my way. Today, at least lower Manhattan is utterly Starbuck-less. I came back to the couch without my normal fast-forward jolt of espresso and proceeded to do nothing.

Why does it take a natural disaster to force us to slow down? Take a siesta...maybe NOT work for a few hours (or even a few days!). Why does everyone have to call your cell phone if you don't immediately answer your land line? Why do we doubt someone likes us if they haven't replied to our text or email within 5 minutes of hitting send? Why do we let ourselves go go go until we physically shutdown and are incapable of normal human interaction by Friday afternoon? And by we, I mean me.

I'm most aware of how quickly life is moving when I look back at old files- for me, files that contain all the details about a past party I have planned. I remember the client, how we interacted, what random bits of drama they brought into my life and if I felt it was successful. I looked at a folder two days ago and was horrified to realize that the party had taken place SIX YEARS ago. I remembered every detail of this particular party like it was yesterday. How did so much time go by so quickly?

A few months ago Maria and I were talking about a song we had danced to at my epic 80s 25th birthday party (2.7 years ago!) and were shocked that my mom had no clue what song we were talking about. "I was really busy in the 80's" said my mom with out a hint of sarcasm. It was true! She had 4 kids between April of '76 and January of '84 and an entire decade had passed before she knew it. A flurry of diapers, packed lunches, soccer practices, play rehearsals from morning to night.

Anyone who knows my mother knows what a notorious night owl she is. Maria- a relatively new mom with a rambunctious 16 month old told me she totally understood why. As a mom, each day is like a marathon. You are constantly "on" - under a microscope. Baby baby baby all day long. When else do you have time to attend to yourself - (shower? read? eat? relax?) besides after dark? When I see my sister being pursued relentlessly by the needs of her little Ella I am actually amazed. "No day at work is ever as hard as every day with a baby" is another famous quote of Ria's. Wall St. guys and race car drivers may think they've cornered the market on "fast-paced" but can anyone even hold a candle to the mothers of small children?

Hats off to you ladies. Because while Hurricane Irene has me wine-drunk eating skittles on the couch surfing the Facebook, I'm sure my sister, similarly housebound, is working her ass off chasing a baby and swiffering up after a messy snack-time. And my darling Emily is somewhere changing a dirty diaper even on Saturday, a day of universal repose. I'm gonna enjoy this day of pure laziness because who knows how many more of these I'm going to get in my life?

Friday, August 26, 2011

my other bebe

This is a photo-memory of an amazing night with my best friend Amanda.  She is affectionately known as "Bebe" by all her friends and family.  We were at her brother and sister-in-law's wedding reception, and they gave out the white sunglasses as a favor.  It was the very first wedding I ever had the privilege of officiating!  (So far, my track record is good - 0 divorces!)  Amanda/Bebe will be doing a guest post here in the very near future . . . keep checking back and you might just find it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a story of youth and foolishness

In summer 2001 (age:  16), I took a class trip to Europe.  We went to London, Paris, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and probably somewhere else I'm forgetting.  I have particularly fabulous memories of the Costa del Sol, where I experienced my first European-style topless beach.  Wow.  I remember what really impressed me was the Spaniards' lack of self-consciousness about body type and shape.  Everyone from little kids to grandmothers was running around without their shirts, and no one batted an eyelash.

Anyway, in Spain, we visited a piercing salon.  I decided to have my right eyebrow pierced, and the guy did one heck of an awful job on it.  He didn't go deep enough, so the too-large barbell stuck awkwardly out of my skin.  It didn't particularly hurt, but I didn't take very good care of it.  By the time we returned to the States, and my mother's look of exasperated disapproval (good thing I'm the youngest!), the piercing was looking raw and red.

A few weeks later, I went to be a part of the leadership team for the area United Methodist youth summer gathering.  As the team and I were walking around the Baker University campus late one night, a little gossamer cobweb hanging down from a tree limb cottoned onto my face.  Without a second thought, I reached up and used my open palm to swipe across my face - pulling my eyebrow piercing plumb out!  Oh, the blood and the fear!  I thought I had somehow been blinded by the spider or something.  All week long I had to wear a bandaid over my eyebrow, leading to some fun comparisons with Nelly.

I still have a little scar in my right eyebrow.  It makes a nice conversation starter.  One thing I will always remember about that trip is something I learned about Portuguese culture.  They have a long tradition of what is called "saudade," or a mode or feeling of deep longing.  There are songs and stories and paintings that convey saudade.  When I learned about it, I felt I finally had a name for something I'd been feeling my whole life.  A kind of emotional exhaustion.  A yearning for a different time.  A reminder of youthful days gone by, when the top of my list of worries was my mother's face when she picked me up from the airport.  I still feel saudade every day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the sacred and the mundane

I haven't had a dishwasher in almost three years.  I love to cook, and we eat at home frequently.  My husband doesn't do dishes.  Thus, I spend a lot of time washing dishes. 

I have a secret.  Shhh, don't tell anyone . . .

I like washing the dishes

There is just something about pulling on my rubber gloves, getting the dishrag soapy, and diving in that makes my soul feel peaceful.  The immediacy of the results (I can see the clean dishes stacking up so quickly!) helps me feel like I'm really accomplishing something.  And the fact that I don't have to use my higher brain to do it frees me up for a little daydreaming.  Since we've been without a dishwasher, we've always had a window above the sink.  So I get to spend a little time gazing into middle distance. 

As I was washing some things last night, my mind drifted back to a great book.  I spent some time in a hard winter in 2005 reading this with the fabulous Prof. Bender:

Eliade helped me understand washing the dishes as a sacrament.  Not a capital S sacrament, like baptism or communion, but the same concept carries.  "By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding milieu."*  When I pray over the bread and cup, "Let them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood,"** I am asking God to help me recognize the dual nature of what appears before me.  Bread and grape juice = profane.  Body and blood = sacred.  At the same time!

And so washing the dishes is my daily sacrament.  It is such a profane, mundane act.  But it is more than what it appears.  It transports me to a different place in my mind, and allows me to unlock thoughts that may remain hidden otherwise.  I participate in a double reality when I was the dishes.  And I don't think I ever want a dishwasher.

*Eliade, Mircea.  The Sacred and the Profane.  New York:  Harcourt, 1957.  P. 12.
** The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 38.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

a place to grow

We spend a lot of time in young adult-ish clergy-esque academia-like groups talking about what is wrong with the church.  Too many expectations.  Too much rigidity.  Too much defensive posturing.  Too old.  And, at different times, a lot of that is true.  You don't need to be a genius to figure out that the mainline Protestant denominations are declining fast.  And that Americans don't like losing at things.  At the risk of sounding defeatist, I struggle frequently with the sense many churches have that if they cease to exist, God will cease to work.  But anyway, today, I want to talk about some stuff that is going right.

I have been so blessed, as I have tumbled through this whole seven-years-minimum ordination thing, to end up in congregations that have accepted me and taught me.  Blakemore United Methodist Church nurtured my skills, cheered me along, and blessed me in my engagement and marriage.  The pastors I worked with taught me so much about ministry, and about giving your life to something more than yourself.  They taught me in both word and deed, and sometimes they showed me what not to do.

And now, Countryside United Methodist Church ("a place to grow") is giving me a chance to flex and strengthen my ministerial muscles in so many ways, every day.  Rather than disregarding me because I am young, or female, I am included in making important decisions.  I work with an amazing senior pastor who is not afraid to let me preach frequently, attend the sacraments, and lead in the ordering of the church.  This church has embraced me and helped me grow my daughter (both inside and outside my body!). 

So, ask me on another day, and I can tell you everything that is wrong.  I can give you all the doom and gloom you care to indulge in.  But today . . . I'm so grateful for a place to grow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

tomato love

My diet recently has been a disgusting morass of Bobo's Drive-In (at least I'm keeping it local!), Chipotle (but they say the pork is free-range!), and Hardee's (no excuse here).  I was despairing that I would have nothing to share with you for Munchee Monday today!  Then, I remembered the insane amount of tomatoes we've been receiving from our CSA share.  One of the challenges and highlights of eating seasonally and locally is that you get dumped with one crop at a time - and have to figure out what to do with it.  My goal is always to use, freeze, or preserve everything before it goes bad.  I've done . . . okay.  I give myself a B+. 

Let me pause here to tell you the saddest fact in the world.  My husband hates tomatoes.  Something about the texture, blah blah blah. 

So, I've been left to work alone through no less than three to four pounds of tomatoes a week for the past month.  I eat them raw, in sandwiches, in BLTs.  I make salsa, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  Tomato paste is especially handy because it uses many tomatoes and boils them down to almost nothing. 

One thing I hate about making tomato sauce and salsa, though, is peeling the tomatoes.  What a waste of time and a senseless steaming up of my kitchen.  So instead, I've started making the sauce or salsa without peeling and then pureeing it all in the food processor.  Works like a charm!  I've currently got four quart-size jars of this tomato sauce in the freezer.  I'm still afraid of canning, and buying a huge vat to give myself a steam bath in the kitchen sounds really unappealing. 

Tomato Sauce
1 T olive oil
4 cups tomatoes, hard stems and cores cut out, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 C water
6 oz tomato paste
1 t dried basil or as much fresh as you want
1 t dried oregano
1 t red pepper flake (less if you don't like spicy)
salt and pepper

Saute the green pepper, onion and garlic in the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat until very soft and translucent.  Add the tomatoes, water, tomato paste and spices.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for a long time - up to an hour.  Then unlid and simmer for another half an hour.  Check the seasonings periodically and add salt and pepper to taste.  I usually cut the heat after awhile and just let it thicken and come to room temperature for several hours at this point.  Then, puree in the food processor in batches and pour into a jar.  Makes one quart-size jar.  58 calories per half-cup serving.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

proper names

Have you ever noticed that there's a power in the naming of things?  I remember having crushes on boys when I was quite little, and saying their names was like a sort of incantation or something.  My mom had lots of weird little nicknames for all of us, including "sister Susan" for both my sister and myself, pumpkinface, EB (my initials before I was married), Em, Emmy, and more that I can't recall right now.  There was very little proper name calling unless there was anger involved. 

Jeff and I seem to have carried on this tradition.  We very, very rarely use one another's names in our conversations.  Instead, we are both "babe" or "baby."  Or "babu," which came into heavy rotation after an auto-correct mess-up.  I realize this is probably nauseating for anyone who has to spend a significant amount of time with us.  Again, proper names only come out when the dialogue takes a serious or frustrated turn.

We have a dog, and we had a cat.  They both have proper names (Pepper & R-12).  What do/did we call both of them?  Puppy & Kitty. 

And now we have a baby.  Her name is Vicki Jo - we named her for my mother.  No, it's not short for anything.  I can verify that on my mother's birth certificate it says "Vicki Jo."  I'm sure, at this point, you can guess what we call her:  Baby, or the Babe.  It almost sounds weird to me when people say her actual name.  I suppose I'm going to have to get used to it - when she goes to school, they won't be able to put Babe on her desk tag!  Sometimes I worry that she's not going to recognize her real name when the time comes.

My theory on this is that proper names are a little bit too powerful.  It's akin to the hesitation in certain Jewish circles to use God's special name revealed to Moses (JHWH).  God collaborated with Adam to name every single creature on the earth (or so the story goes) - I wonder if he felt the power of that privilege?

Friday, August 19, 2011

new toys!

As I've written in some recent posts, I decided to start from scratch on Vicki Jo's toys.  All of what she previously had were gifts, and many weren't suited to her developmental level and hand size.  It's almost magical to see her interact with a toy that matches her horizon - when we took the grasper out of the box in which it came, her eyes lit up.  It was like she immediately knew that it was something she was supposed to play with.  All of these toys have been getting heavy use, but we try to keep it to one or two at a time.  Clockwise from twelve'o'clock:  Haba fish clutching toy; Little Alouette wooden rattle; perfect pacifier; Little Alouette wooden teether; Manhattan Toy grasper; Haba clutching beads.  If you know anyone expecting a baby - any of these would make fantastic gifts!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a successful transition!

[This post submitted to Sortacrunchy's "Your Green Resource"]

When we first started doing all our registering and buying for our little-one-to-be, I knew that I wanted to use cloth diapers.  Jeff took a little convincing, but once I told him he wouldn't really have to touch any poop (I knew this was a white lie, but I reasoned that he would have to touch poop whether we used cloth or disposable), he was for it.  I love when Jeff gets convicted about something, because he loves to spread the righteous word to all his friends and acquaintances.  I have heard him on the phone telling his friend Jeremy about how they're cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and better for baby's skin.  I believe this is what I mean by "making him think it was his idea."  Anyway, I digress.

I won't rehearse all the in-depth reasons for cloth diapering, since mine are largely the same as everyone else's.  Basically:

1)  Cheaper over time.  A little investment, but you can reuse them with multiple children.
2)  Better for the environment.  Less in the landfill.
3)  Baby has soft and cuddly material next to her skin, not weird gel-bead-ultra-absorbent stuff.
4)  Water bill is included in the cost of our rent.  Disposable diapers aren't.

And a fifth I've added since my obsession with Montessori infant parenting began:
5)  Montessori infant training advocates cloth diapering because natural, real fibers are superior to synthetics.  I'm not sure that this holds for me, since the micro-fleece and PUL (polyurethane laminate) diapers we use are just as synethic as any disposable.  The only difference is you can wash and reuse them.

When I actually starting researching cloth diaper options, I had a minor anxiety attack because I don't do well with a lot of choices.  There are literally hundreds of options.  Prefolds and covers?  All-in-ones?  Contoured prefolds?  What the hell is a snappi?  I asked a few moms I knew were into cloth diapering, and got the recommendation to go with Fuzzibunz.  So, mostly for the sake of just making a freaking decision, I registered for them.  And Jeremy and Kat (the afore-mentioned friends) got them for us!  Here is what we ended up with:

Here's what they look like from the inside and the outside:

What you see above is the outer shell, made from a waterproof material and lined with fleece.  They have a pocket between the fleece and the PUL outer fabric:

And the "soaker," or the thick pad that absorbs all the moisture and keeps it away from the baby's skin, looks like this:

It's made of suber-absorbent fleece as well, and it gets stuffed into the pocket I showed you above. 

I ordered all "one-size" diapers, which are kind of ingenious.  They have an elastic-and-button system where you can adjust the size of the leg holes and waist as your baby grows.  I did a couple pictures of how this works:

This part is kind of a pain in the butt, as you have to go back and pull the elastic out of its hidey-hole, wrestle with it for a few moments, and then repeat with all your remaining diapers.  But this is also the part that makes it so cost-effective, as they can grow with your baby up to like 35 pounds (or potty-trained, God willing!).

So, back to our story.  I ordered these diapers, received them as a gift, got really excited, and then the baby was born.  She was so wee, I couldn't make the leg holes small enough!  So we had to go with disposables for awhile.  And then she got bigger . . . and we still went with disposables because I felt overwhelmed by having a baby and didn't want any more laundry.  Finally, I was shaken out of my disposable stupor by reading Montessori from the Start, and busted back out the Fuzzibunz.  Baby is about thirteen pounds now, so she fits into them really well.

Our babysitter isn't into cloth, which is totally fine.  So we still use some disposables.  I just get the Target generic brand.  I think they work as well as anything else.  Also, I didn't get any fancy special detergent for the cloth diapers.  All the cloth diapering websites say this is tantamount to ruining your diapers, but so far the Target brand unscented detergent has done just fine.  I think part of my initial panic about the whole cloth diapering process was because there seemed to be all these rules:  you have to use a dry/wet pail; you have to use Charlie's soap; etc, etc, etc.  In reality, like with everything else about having a baby, you figure out what works for you and that's what you do.

We have eight Fuzzibunz now, and that's about right for laundry every other day with disposables at the sitter and at night.  I might get six or so more, just to stretch it a little further.  However, I don't want to let the dirty diapers sit too long, or I worry about mildew setting in!

So, my message to you about cloth diapering is:  don't be afraid.  It is simpler than it sounds.  Just pick a system, go with it, and don't be afraid that you're making too many missteps.  I really like Fuzzibunz, and no, don't be ridiculous, they have not paid me for an endorsement!

Monday, August 15, 2011

rip bialetti

The first week I was off at college I knew I needed to get a job.  I was eligible for work-study funds, and in order to cash in on that grant, I needed a qualified employer somewhere on campus.  In the stairwell of my residence hall, I saw a flier for the Italian Academy.  It was the first thing I'd seen advertising for employment, so I called them up and got an interview. 

I ended up working there for all four years of college.  The Italian Academy for Advanced Study at Columbia University in the City of New York (this is actually how I had to answer the phone . . . every time) is a cooperative endeavor of Columbia University and the Italian government to house and stipend post-doctoral fellows for a year of research.  It's a beautiful old Italianate building on the Columbia campus, and it became my second home.  Some of the perks of this unbelievable job: 

*a film series every fall and every spring.  I got paid to show up of an evening, sip Prosecco and eat chunks of Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, and take money from people.  Then I continued to get paid to watch an amazing old subtitled Italian film in a stunning teatro.  Did I mention I got paid for all of this?

*I got to work at events like the following:  the Italian Prime Minister came to speak with both his wife and his mistress.  There was lots and lots of Prosecco for all.  I also got paid for this.

*Long lunch breaks, wine in the afternoons (this is an Italian custom . . . enjoying a glass of wine at your job!?), getting sent down to Little Italy on the company Metrocard to pick up the Italian films from Evergreen Cinema.  I really learned the city by doing all the little errands for the fellows and the staff.

*Learning what it means to work in a professional environment.  I had to wear business casual, I had to offer guests Pellegrino or espresso and take their coats.  I am embarrassed to say that I regularly showed up in sweatpants for my first semester there.  After a stern talking-to by my unbearably chic supervisor Olivia D'Aponte (a half-Italian Brooklynite who ended up leaving to travel around the world with her fiance), I straightened up my act and got some suits and heels.

*When I finally did graduate and leave, they gifted me with the most generous surprise:  dinner for two, whatever we wanted, at a spendy Italian restaurant down the street - charged to the Italian Academy's account.  I took my very good friend Zack, and we had a meal to remember.  We finished up with an affogato, which is basically like an Italian espresso float.  A scoop of vanilla gelato drowned in rich, strong espresso.  Yum. 

When I graduated and set up house for myself, I knew I needed an espresso maker.  I had no funds to buy a nice big electric one, so I got a Bialetti.  This is a trusty Italian-made stovetop espresso maker.  It works somewhat like a percolator:  you put water in the chamber below the pot, fit in a filter basket filled with ground coffee, screw the whole thing together and put it on the heat.  The water is forced up through the coffee and into the pot, and you pour it out into your cup once it's all done.  It's brilliant and elegant in its simplicity. 

It was my way of bringing a little bit of the Italian Academy into my home.  I have used it nearly every morning for the last five years. So, the other day, when I took it apart to wash, I was so saddened to see this:

The inner rubber fitting has melted!  It's time for a new Bialetti.  It's not the cost I'm worried about - these little suckers are only about twenty or thirty bucks.  It's just that I'm sentimentally attached to my Bialetti.  It's been with me through some hard times.  But I suppose all things must come to an end.  Arrivederci, Bialetti.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

theory on pregnant belly-touching

One of the things that is hard to adjust to when you're expecting a baby is that your body enters the public domain.  People feel free to say things to you that they would never, ever say to someone who wasn't obviously pregnant:  "wow, you're huge!"; "you look absolutely miserable"'; "you're even more swollen than last week!"  People also take a kindly interest in your story:  I often joked that I needed a t-shirt that explained my stats.  36 weeks.  April 7.  Girl.  Vicki Jo.  Yes I'm fat and miserable.  That way, people wouldn't need to stop me and ask about all these details. 

My theory is that this interest we (as a society at large) take in pregnant women is a sort of indication of the shared responsibility that we feel for raising children in our culture.  It is for this reason that I didn't get too irritated with people who wanted to know more about the child I was having.  Our culture seems to thrive on radical autonomy rather than community, so I'm all for encouraging the impulse to care for another as much as yourself.  We tend to see ourselves as separated (as in, "your health care problems shouldn't be mine to pay for," or something like that) and the things that we do as having no effect on others.  But we still care about our babies.

We see babies as our next generation - as the ones who may save us from some of the messes we got ourselves into.  So we have an interest in making sure that they are produced in the best possible conditions.  Although not many people randomly touched me on my belly when I was pregnant,  it probably would have made me mildly annoyed if more did.  But I would also have been a bit glad to see that there are still some things that we can all agree upon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

that old green-eyed monster

At every major transition in my life - going away to school, getting hitched, moving, having a baby - I have gone through a little crisis of confidence in myself.  I think this is entirely appropriate, as I'm establishing new routines, new expectations, and getting my feet under me in each experience.  I've always wanted these crises to end as soon as possible, as they feel uncomfortable.  I always feel like I'm catapulted back to adolescence, with an awkward unsureness about myself and my decisions. 

One way that I naturally try to get my bearings in these situations is to compare myself to others.  I look around and think, "Wow - nobody else seems to be experiencing these feelings.  What is wrong with me!?"  The internet has allowed me to telescope in even further on others.  After I got married, in particular, I developed an unhealthy obsession with The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond).  She had chronicled the story of meeting and falling in love with her husband (it's now being made into a motion picture!), and it all seemed so peachy and picture-perfect.  I wanted my life to be like that!  I felt like life with Jeff was messy, and it was hard during that first few months.  We were setting new boundaries, learning new things about one another, and adjusting to a major life transition. 

So, when I had a baby, I started to do the same thing.  I scoured the internet as I stayed up late at night with Vicki Jo.  I felt like every step I took might be a misstep, and I just wasn't sure about myself as a mother.  Despite hearing time and time again, "you know your baby best," I just wasn't convinced that it was true.  And I compared myself relentlessly to the mothers I found online.  Why wasn't my baby holding her head up yet?  Why wasn't she reading?  Why wasn't I able to keep my house clean or my laundry done?  Other new mothers seemed to be able.  Plain and simple, I was jealous.  I wanted my life to look like the ones I saw online. 

I've always been able to use this competitive, comparison-making streak in myself to my advantage.  It's one reason I've always done well in school and at many other tasks that I set out to do.  I tell myself that I can do it better than (or at least as well as) someone else.

But the problem with this tactic for improvement is that you don't spend much time focusing on what you appreciate about yourself or others.  You don't spend time reveling in the moments that can't be reclaimed.  And you don't allow yourself or others to just be what you're meant to be, regardless of what anyone else is capable of. 

And the problem with comparing myself to what I find online is that it's not a global view of someone else's life.  We all know that we are able to present the side of ourselves and our lives that we want others to see when we're on the internet.  We don't share the darkest details, or the most unpleasant stories.  It's like having a flashlight to shine where you want on your life, as opposed to natural daylight exposing both flaws and perfections. 

So, I've decided to cut back on my internet browsing.  And I won't compare myself to what I find when I do look around.  Because my life, my husband, my baby, my house - it's enough for me.  And I want to count my blessings while I still have them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

uncle chase and the premonition

This is Uncle Chase, Jeff's step-brother.  He was born exactly four months before Jeff, and they grew up together from a young age.  A funny thing about Chase:  he has premonitions and dreams that sometimes predict the future.  He called Jeff on April 1, six days before our baby was due, and told him that he's had a dream that Vicki Jo would be born that day.  At the time, Jeff and I laughed it off, as there were no signs that the baby was even close to making her way into the world.  I wasn't laughing later that night, when I tripped down the porch steps, went to the hospital, and came back with a baby two days later.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

trouble in paradise

Well, the time has come sooner than I anticipated!  To help facilitate some changes in the dynamic of our relationship, Jeff and I have agreed to transition the baby to her own bed.

(Cue massive stress-induced headache.)

Because I'm a Montessori neophyte, I want to do the floor bed.  I think it makes sense.  Giving your child freedom in a prepared environment seems like a positive thing, plus I give a little freaked out thinking about Vicki Jo somehow getting stuck in the crib or pulling up on the side and toppling out onto her head.  (Yes, the authors of Montessori from the Start used this as a scare tactic, and it worked on me.)

Our baby is not really mobile at this point.  She can roll from front to back and then back to front with maximum effort, and then needs a nap to recover.  She can sort of "swim" on her stomach, but she can't move more than a few inches.  So, I have some time to prepare our environment and ensure its safety.  I went to Michaels craft store yesterday and bought a bunch of baskets, framed prints, and other supplies to help transform her space.  (Look for a post on Nursery Take Two in the near future.)  But for now, I'm just focusing on the bed.

So far, the baby will sleep in three places:  attached to me, in her carseat while the car is moving, or in her swing.  This is for all sleep - nighttime, daytime, and any other time.  What I just did when I put her down for her nap was to lay scrunched up on the crib mattress on the floor with her nursing until she fell asleep.  I rolled sneakily away, and she's still sleeping 22 minutes later!  (I spoke too soon.  I just heard a squawk from her room.  Sigh.)

I have a sinking feeling that this is going to be a real undertaking for us, as Vicki Jo does not fall asleep peacefully even when I'm in full body contact with her.  She is what I would call a "sleep fighter."  She also has some night terrors, which are truly disturbing.  

Parents out there:  is there a gentle way to help your baby sleep by themselves?  Do you have to let them cry at some point?  How would you recommend that I go about this process?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

counting grams and ounces

We just had our four-month well-baby visit and shots (more on vaccinations at a later date . . .), and I am so overjoyed to report that we have reached the 15th percentile for weight and the 20th for length!

I know what you're thinking:  most parents would be concerned that their baby had fallen below the average.  But not so for us.  This is a triumph!  Something we have worked so very hard for.

Vicki Jo was born exactly on the middle mark:  7 pounds, 1 ounce.  Half of all babies weighed more than her when they were born, and half weighed less.  I tend to think her weight was inflated a bit because of the intravenous fluids I received during labor and delivery, but it really couldn't have added more than a few ounces of water weight.  After a day in the hospital, she was dropping weight fast.  This is normal, up to a certain point.  Babies are born with stores of fat and water to get them through a few days until their mother's milk becomes available to them. 

Another day, and she had dropped even further!  The doctor at the clinic was becoming concerned.  She had lost over 10% of her birth weight.  Supplementation with formula was recommended.  I was so stubborn on this point.  She was so young, and everything about her was fresh and new.  I didn't want to introduce any foreign substances into her body.  Instead, I went into overdrive:  feeding her every two hours at the very least, and pumping with a breast pump after every feeding (this is what is recommended by lactation specialists - the more stimulation you receive, the more milk you produce . . . supposedly).  It didn't help that this was also Vicki's "don't put me down or I will kill you with my screams" phase.  I was under so much stress, and, although she gained weight slowly after about day four, she never grew fast enough for all the medical people to be satisfied. 

She didn't come back up to her birth weight until week four - two weeks after "they" want this to have happened.  After going to the breastfeeding clinic literally every day for five weeks, they finally told me to try a last-ditch effort:  domperidone.  Domperidone is a medication that is prescribed for patients with slow-moving digestive tracts due to things like chemotherapy.  It helps to move things along, if you will.  Lactation is a happy side effect.  (I often crack up thinking about the poor men who are struggling through chemo and are prescribed this medication without anyone telling them about the lactation . . . until they wake up with milk on their sheets!)  During her sixth week of life, I started the medication.  I had to return to work in a couple of weeks, and I told myself that I couldn't maintain this level of freaking out.  If things hadn't improved by week eight, I was weaning her and going to formula.  And hating myself for the rest of my life. 

Lo and behold . . . the medicine worked!  Suddenly my milk was ample.  She gained weight rapidly, shooting up nearly an ounce per day for weeks at a time.  When I went back to work, I was able to pump pretty much all of what she needed.  She still gets a bit of formula because I don't produce as much for the pump as I do for her, but no more than 4-6 ounces three times a week.  That, I can live with - sans the self-hatred.  When I'm able to be on vacation or on my days off, she doesn't need any extra formula at all! 

Although she gained well after I started the domperidone, she still never busted through about the 10th percentile.  I was convinced that she was just going to be a small thing, and that was fine.  She is supremely healthy, has never had so much as a sniffle, and is very strong and happy.  She was tracking along just fine at her 10th percentile line when we went to the doctor yesterday.  There, she was 12 pounds and 10 ounces!  15th percentile!  OMFGosh.  I was literally over the moon.

We still go to the breastfeeding clinic every two weeks.  I'm such a regular at the place that all the nurses know us by name.  I even became one of their first ever patients to need two cards to record all the weights we had taken!  I love it there now, because I receive so much positive feedback for sticking with a truly difficult breastfeeding situation.  I know it's not a nice thing for them to say, but when I hear, "Anyone else would have given up," and I know it might be true (and after all, they would know because they see TONS of lactating women daily), it just makes me so proud of the first collaboration at which my baby and I were ever successful.

Monday, August 8, 2011

perfect steak or salmon

I have fussed and fiddled with recipes for cuts of beef or salmon steaks for so long, and finally just found that this method is the best.  It yields the kind of meat that I want:  crisp outer crust, with a not-too-done interior.  It's a double-heat method, starting with a hot pan on the stovetop, and then finishing in a hot oven.  It's fast, to boot!

1/2 lb steak or salmon fillets
salt and pepper
2 t cooking oil

Preheat oven to 450.  Season the meat or fish on both sides.  Heat a large skillet (I use cast-iron - just make sure it can go in the oven) over medium-high heat.  Add cooking oil, then place meat or fish in the pan.  (If using salmon, place it skin side up.)  Let it cook for three minutes.  Flip the meat or fish, then immediately place in the oven.  For salmon, do it four minutes.  For steak, depending on the thickness, leave it for five or six minutes.  Serves two.

To finish this meal, I like to add a salad and a vegetable, as well as a starch like a baked potato, rice, or pasta.  Jeff also really loves dinner rolls.  (He has a sick obsession.  He will eat like five dinner rolls in a meal.)  The steak or salmon is nice with a little compound butter on it:  take a few tablespoons of softened butter and mix in a little lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and some herb or spice.  Salmon is nice with grated ginger, and steak is good with sage or rosemary.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

the reality of God

"You are beyond my understanding
But still You speak where we can hear."
(Jen Whitson, an excellent friend and songstress)

One of the first questions asked on all my ordination exams and papers is, "How do you know that God is real?"  I think it's the hardest question we're asked in the whole rigmarole.  You can't just say, "Because I know," or, "Because that's what I was taught," or, "Well, I just believe it to be true."  The question, in essence, asks for a kind of apology (Christian theology term for a rational defense of the faith).

I feel this question hanging in the air with my contemporaries.  In this age of disillusionment with the church (most of it well-deserved for a church that hasn't adapted to changing mores and a much larger horizon), people want to know why I would hitch my horse (my very, very young horse - I'm looking at a minimum of forty or so years until retirement) to this behemoth in the midst of a slow bleed-out.

John Wesley, my main man, held that you can't look just to nature for a defense of the faith - it's not specific enough to Christianity.  But I do know that God is real because of this:

(A country road ending in Clinton Lake, a place where I spent many precious moments discovering myself and others.)

And this:
(This is a Tibetan artisan monk.  I had the privilege to watch him create a sand mandala in Australia a few years ago.  I will write about it sometime.)

And this:

(This is my very best friend Amanda on the right.  I will write a lot more about her someday.)

And this:
(This is the pastor and the bartender.)

And this:
(You know who this is!)

God is real to me because God is incarnate in people, just as God was in Christ.  God truly does speak in a way that resounds most clearly to each of us, and for me, it's people - with all their mess, all their demands, all their needs.  God is beyond my understanding, and beyond my proving, but I know that God is real.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Montessori from the Start, III of III

Okay, last post on this book.  In the first iteration of this post, there was just too much.  So, for now, I'm just going to do subject headings, and expect a full post on each of these topics to roll out sometime in the near future. To read more about the book, and get a citation from, read this post.  To read Part II (my respectful beefs with the book), click here.  Today, the practical application:  what I'm going to change around our house and around my brain because of reading Montessori from the Start.  

Conveyances are anything that holds the baby's weight without her having to use her strength to do it:  swings, strollers, front carriers and wraps and slings, strollers, car seats, and probably other stuff that I've never even seen before.  The Montessori verdict on these appears to be a no.  They take away from the child's freedom of movement.  Polk and Lillard, in fact, say that only a car seat is really necessary (and then only if you live somewhere where you have to drive to live), and that you should "think carefully" about what other conveyances you bring into your child's life.

Bottom line for us:  we're keeping our swing, but trying to reduce our reliance on it.  Slings/wraps/carriers don't seem to present such a problem to me.  Obviously we have a car seat.  We have a stroller but our use it pretty much limited to the time I'm exercising.  I'm trying to get the baby more on the flat floor, so she has a chance to use all her muscles!

This one was a big no from La Leche League as well.  Michael Olaf has an opinion that seems to match Polk and Lillard on this one:  pacifiers that the baby can't control are a sort of "put a sock in it" overture.  But we did it anyway.  After being bound and determined that we would get breastfeeding figured out for good, and that Vicki Jo wouldn't get a pacifier no matter how much she wanted to suck, we gave her one after about ten days.  I can literally see the relaxation flow into her body when I give it to her sometimes.  Again, I'm trying to reduce her reliance on this one.  I do realize that it's probably harder for a baby to form good speech patterns early on if she constantly has something in her mouth.  And this varies by baby:  some babies are not so into comfort sucking as she is.

Baby's Environment
This will be a big change for us.  We are moving to a floor-bed once Vicki Jo starts sleeping by herself (someday!), and will need to entirely childproof her space (something we haven't done yet because she is still immobile), so that she can be in there playing independently without constantly needing an adult hawking over her.  This means our crib is probably the single most expensive useless gift we've ever received!  Oh well.  We use it for a kind of changing table currently, and will just continue with that.

We have bought nary a toy for our baby.  She has received so many gifts, we haven't had to.  But with so many gifts comes a lack of control over what you bring into your child's environment.  So, I've decided to pare down.  This means giving many gifts away, but that's okay.  After consulting with some Montessori teachers online, we will be starting over fresh with toys that are meant to go into a child's tiny hand:  a rattle, a wooden teether, a grasper, wood and leather grasping beads, a bell and a hoop on a string tied to an elastic

Cloth Diapers
All right already!  We're going to start using them at home.  Our sitter is not a fan, which I can understand, so we will definitely be doing a disposable/cloth combo, but we have the damn diapers, I just need to get off my lazy bum and start using them! 

Okay, like I said - some fairly sweeping changes.  But all in all, doable.  One of my gripes about Montessori from the Start is that it seemed hard to me.  Or maybe just a little idealistic.  Or maybe just like it required a different kind of person.  I found myself wishing I could start over - we could move into a new house, be more spare in our furnishings and possessions, and carefully select items for the baby over time.  But that is just not how life works - at least, not our life together.  So, for me, it's about letting go of some of that idealism as well.

If you're reading, and any of this makes sense, feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, August 5, 2011

circa 1973

Mom and Dad.

Not sure of the year, but it had to be before my brother was born in 1975.  The painting behind them was done by my dad's sister Martha, and still hangs at our apartment now!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

we women

My friend Betsy is great about posing questions to me about Scripture and Christian culture.  Lately, she sent me an email saying, essentially, "What do you think about all that stuff Paul said about women not being in charge?  And there being categorical differences between men and women beyond biology?"

I had to think long and hard about my response.

I used to be really incensed by Paul's attitude, and a more general stance in Christianity, that women and men had different capabilities, and that women needed to submit to men.  I still totally disagree with the last part about submission, but being pregnant and having a small child has changed me.  Struggling through the fact that, despite modern advances in medicine, carrying and delivering a child is something that can kill you.  And then, the continual weight you feel in being solely responsible for the feeding of a tiny being who could conceivably die if you don't do it right.  These things tend to change a person.  I am no exception.

I was always one who had more guy friends than girl friends.  For some reason, I've always been drawn to the company of men.  I like the way that they joke, they don't fuss at each other, and the way that plans seem to come together more effortlessly than with a group of women.  I have always struggled to find a good group of girlfriends (one of the reasons I joined a sorority - one of my favorite surprise game-changers in conversation with people!).

So, when I found out I was pregnant, there was so much I wanted to talk about . . . and guys just aren't the right audience.  No one was rude, or told me I was gross, but there was just a mismatch in the conversation.  After all, no men had any experience they could offer me firsthand.  And as things progressed, I needed women even more.  As I was scared about the complications at the end of my pregnancy, made it through the travails of labor, and went through some dark times in establishing good growth for my breastfed baby, I mostly just felt like I needed my mom.

But that wasn't possible, because she had died six years earlier.  So, enter this woman:

This is my sister, Nelle (on the right.  That's your truly on the left).  She is seven and a half years older than me, and has a son who is almost four.  She also had a baby on January 1 (the first baby born at their hospital in the new year . . . she got so much free stuff), so we were able to compare notes.  We talk and text daily, and she has coached me through this whole motherhood thing with ease and grace.  She's also a registered nurse, so she has medical expertise to add to sisterly caring.  I could not have made it to this point with any sanity if she wasn't around.

And enter these women:

This is our Bradley birth class - after we'd all been through the marathon we trained for together!  Amber, our teacher, is on the far right.  Amber truly became more than a teacher to me.  She was there to address all my crazy questions and fears no matter what time of night.  She offered continually to come to my home and help me work through plans for labor.  She is someone who is deeply invested in making sure women know the power they have in bringing children into the world.  And the other women in our group have become such a great support for me.  With the addition of other members with young babies from La Leche League, neighborhoods, and friends of friends, we have a fantastic playgroup that meets weekly for advice, sharing, and just being there for one another.  My baby is the youngest of the group, so I get lots of hand-me-down clothes, as well as a good dose of "it's going to be okay my baby went through that phase too."

So, although Mom isn't here with me now, I know that her spirit comes to me in these other women.  And my mind has changed a little bit about Paul.  Women truly do experience things that men can never know.  It doesn't make us worse or better, but it makes us need one another.

Monday, August 1, 2011

a theory

I have a theory - a highly developed, well-researched theory - that all babies look a lot like their fathers.  I think this is an evolutionary response to assure fathers that their children are actually theirs.  After all, no one can question the identity of the mother if they were around for the birth!  But fathers need a little reassurance.  This ensures that the family unit stays together to care for the child.  I just wish I were an evolutionary biologist so I could say this with any real certainty!  Here is my casual observation on this theory:

That's all for today!  Enjoy your Monday, world.