Wednesday, December 29, 2010


In 1998, we moved to Chicago -- a gorgeous, vital, friendly city which now warms our fond memories and wistful thoughts. However, we moved there from the Palouse hills in Idaho. There were less than 2 million people in Idaho. There are over 8 million in Chicagoland, packed tightly. We had some culture shock when we arrived there, towing our logging-road-enduring, planned-obsolescence-defying Geo Metro behind our U-Haul truck down the ruined tollways and urban residential streets, amidst copious homeless persons and obvious gang presence. We reclusive, bird-watching geeks were clearly not in our element. By the time we started unpacking our truck, we discovered the lovely side of the city: people watching the truck for us and scolding us when we left it unlocked because we "shouldn't trust people," the neighbors' bodybuilding Russian guest helping unload the truck and bringing us cold iced tea and civilized conversation, the friendliness of neighbors who wanted answers when they asked how we were.

Nonetheless, urban life brings its own challenges -- like neighborhoods completely lacking box stores or other retail outlets, and having to commute to get to grocery stores. So we picked a suburb pretty much at random, because it had lots of water near it in which there might be waterfowl, and drove there to go shopping and fool around. And there were geese and ducks and good places to eat and green plants in broader swaths than the parks that dotted South Chicago, so we kept coming back. Eventually we dubbed it "the Stomping Grounds" and did a lot of our shopping for things like electronics and Christmas gifts there.

In spring of 2002, we noticed a Canada goose snuggled down in a planter right in front of one of the box stores (neither of us can remember the store -- it was a discount chain right next to We-R-Toys and Bloodbath & Beyond). She was nesting there, supervised by a visibly anxious gander who strolled disconsolately up and down the parking lot, grumbling at passersby. She honked and hissed at all pedestrians, offering to bite those who stopped to admire her. It was probably the worst nesting site in the history of nesting sites. We dubbed her Crazy Goose and drove out there every other day throughout the whole nesting season to make sure the water pan a goose-bitten Samaritan had left her had been refilled. When we fed her corn muffins, she hissed us the whole time she gobbled them, and got a lump of them stuck in her throat that caused her to drool her water back out. We waited for the lump to clear before we would drive home to our apartment, abused the whole time by her cursing and grumbling, and nervously watching her gander try to decide whether he wanted to kick our butts or not.

We'd been watching her for almost two weeks -- walking right up to her to feed her and give her water -- by the time we noticed Quiet Duck.

Quiet Duck had clearly taken the advice of her crazy goose friend on nesting sites and just as clearly regretted it. She hunched silently in the bushes in the planter, head nestled in her burnished breast, eyes closed so not to raise a shine, Zen not-thinking to be invisible. She could have been a ninja. She was so silent and still that even after one had seen her, one could lose her position -- in broad daylight, exposed in a planter in front of a busy retail hub.

It seemed plain that Crazy Goose did not like sharing her water and food with Quiet Duck, even after she had talked her into nesting in a madhouse with her. We tried to feed Quiet Duck, who seemed unhappy to have been noticed and merely sank down more silently and sullenly and not-thunk all the harder, and Crazy Goose hissed and darted in to steal the crumbs from under Quiet Duck's still, hiding, sad little beak. There was nothing to be done for her, other than respect her desire to hide.

One day when we returned to visit the nesting waterfowl and refill the water pan, Quiet Duck seemed particularly bedraggled. We nudged a small, separate water bowl with a few shreds of lettuce floating in it to the duck. She shrank back in alarm, adjusting her wings, and finally standing up.

A full dozen little faces, yellow like dandelion flowers and enlivened by shiny, guileless bright eyes with a smudgy mascara stripe across them like a mask, popped up from around her. They wobbled prodigiously in the spring sunlight on skinny necks like fuzzy yellow-brown stems. Each and every one of the twelve ducklings began peeping softly and continued to do so, softly muffled, after their mother settled her glossy feathers over them again with a matronly plump and shimmy.

The next day, when we (irresistably) returned, she and her ducklings had wandered to safer territory... probably the cattail marsh across the street.

I have never forgotten these ducklings -- they were probably the most precious sight I've seen until recently. And now, my son, a golden and fuzzy creature with bright shiny eyes in a face like a flower, wobbles exactly the same way when he raises his head on his slender neck to peep at the world.

...and a postscript, just to tell you how great Chicago is. In 2003, Crazy Goose returned to her absolutely terrible nesting site, probably very close indeed to where she was herself born -- as female waterfowl will, generation after generation, regardless of anthropogenic changes to the landscape. Her dutiful mate hovered anxiously nearby. But rather late in the nesting season, construction crews started tearing down the building in front of which her planter was situated.

We were despondent. We were afraid she would defend the nest and be hurt herself, and were grief-stricken that her eggs -- already probably peeping with the life ready to burst forth from them -- would not get the chance to hatch. We worried about her gallant gander. I stayed awake late at night crying, and made Pat drive me back out there to see if there was anything we could do for her. (Yes, I'm as crazy as Crazy Goose.)

Impossibly, the gander was still meandering unhappily around the parking lot, looking defensive and slightly embarrassed. We approached the planter, which appeared to be filled with construction debris, with trepidation.

The construction workers had built her a little house, erecting bricks to either side of the nest and a sturdy roof atop it to keep out any falling brickbats from the rest of the deconstruction going on behind her. She hissed us merrily and bit my thumb when I checked the level of her water pan.

And there she stayed, in her little nest house, until she had hatched out the chicks and led them off to whatever zone she chose to raise them in. And I felt better about the world and positively in love with the construction workers (which is easy to do -- they're lovely to look at, aren't they?)

And that's a real-world happy ending.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Two things to do with Brussels sprouts

I got fancy with dinner last night, and made chicken in a mushroom thyme cream sauce, and leek and fennel risotto seasoned with fennel seeds and thyme and splashed with absinthe to make the fennel flavor pop -- and a Brussels sprout salad that knocked our socks off.

Brussels sprouts are Pat's favorite vegetable, and there are lots of ways to fix them that are utterly delicious. I'm going to give you my two favorites, but you can be madly creative with the little flavor buttons if you simply adhere to two rules:

1) They must be fresh, not frozen; the fresher, the better. You are looking for smallish sprouts without yellow wilted leaves or ooky black spots -- and this time of year you should be able to find a stalk of them, fancy for the holidays. They are really fresh when you cut them right off that stalk, provided they aren't all wilty.

2) You must absolutely not overcook them. Note that they are overcooked as soon as most people consider them fully cooked: you want them to retain a little tender-crispness, not to melt into cabbagey softness. Their texture is neat when they are soft, but they lose something in the flavor department.

So, last night's salad:


12 Brussels sprouts, shaved paper thin with a mandoline or a very sharp knife and patience (if you do this by hand, cut them in half so that they don't roll on the cutting board and then slice them fine)
1/2 bulb of fennel, pale part only, cored and shaved paper thin
1/3 cup or so of flavorful nuts (hazelnuts or almonds are wonderful)
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of freshly shaven shards of Parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients, withholding nuts and cheese if desired to sprinkle atop. I didn't; I mixed it all in with my hands and it was wonderful that way.

And my favorite sprouts recipe...


15 or 20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half or in quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (optional - use more olive oil if preferred)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced or cut into fine matchstick shapes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts (totally optional and I most often forget them, but mmm)

Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat, and throw in Brussels sprouts and garlic. Stir fry until sprouts are very bright green and tender-crisp (you can hurry this up by adding a tablespoon or three of water and letting it cook off -- it will help steam the sprouts and keep the garlic from burning if you have other things going on). Add spices, stir and fry a few more moments, and serve. These are AWESOME with Italian food: alongside pasta with a red sauce, lasagne, or sausage and peppers on polenta.

If these two recipes don't blow your skirt up, I don't know why.

Brussels sprouts also love to be paired with: a spoonful of grainy mustard in a butter sauce, a squeeze of key lime juice and salt and pepper, flavorsome olive oil and a lavish last-minute splash of Vincotto, or fingerling potatoes and bacon.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thank you, state-sponsored insurance

The grand totals so far for Fletcher's birth: $144,475.94 was either discounted ("patient savings") or paid by insurance. That's 100% of the bill, for those keeping track -- and that doesn't count the lavish prenatal care that they already covered.

And suddenly I do not mind paying my state taxes, nor my insurance premiums.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Make this. Right now.

If you like gingerbread, apples, and wonderful holiday smells, this cake is for you. Plus it comes out bakery-gorgeous. Wow.

Dr. Babs' Ginger Apple Torte from Food52.

Also, Fletch is volunteering to nurse straight from the tap, once per day only and in the morning. I know it's ridiculous, but it heals my (ridiculous) feelings of rejection -- as do his loving little monkey-face expressions.

(Pictured: monkey-face. Very blurry. But that's the expression. Awwwww....)

Life is good, and I am THANKFUL indeed.

Now, go make the cake. Yes, turbinado sugar. Don't fuck around with this, the crunchy topping is too good to risk on substitutions. You heard Auntie Linda.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not dead, just sleepless and busy... and in love. Also, TMI about nursing, probably.

Oh my! Life with a newborn is wonderful. Fletcher is already displaying a lovely personality and lively intelligence, seen in glimpses in the short hours in which he is awake and the fleeting smiles that cross his face on the twilight edge of sleep. (Gassy grimace "smiles" are different.) He makes earnest attempts to communicate, through eye contact and the simplest and most pure signs and gestures: for instance, he roots all the time, for his knuckles, my pinky finger, the pacifier, nipples, and for food, but if he is HUNGRY, he makes pointed eye contact and then opens his mouth wide, like a baby bird. He copies facial expressions -- sort of -- although he has patience only for sequences of three or four of them. He clearly loves and trusts his father and mother. And he is strong -- raising his head from Day Two, although he cannot maintain it, and becoming Tiny Fists-O-Fury when upset or gassy.

Guess what upsets Fletcher? My breasts.

He won't nurse, for various reasons. When he was born, he was lethargic from Magnesium Sulfate and morphine, hypoxia, and a precipitous blood pressure drop. He was "sleepy" and the instant the nipple went into his mouth, he fell asleep. Tickling or chilling him during nursing to try to keep him awake only (predictably?) annoyed him further.

He clearly dislikes having a lot of breast tissue in his face along with the nipple, but there's not much I can do about that -- I am both fat and busty, and I have a lot of breast tissue. The "breast sandwich" is too fat for his little mouth, and my nipples are too big for him. And after being injured by the well-meant pinching of the lactation consultants and my own desperate attempts to compress my size Fs into size As for the baby, I have been wrestling with engorgement that makes this problem worse, much worse: the nipple is perched on a taut, swollen areola that cannot be "sandwiched."

And he hates to be confined (except in a swaddle, which is most DEFINITELY not nursing attire in his book) and doesn't like to be "positioned" tummy to tummy with me (or any variation thereof, in which he has to lie still and stop swinging fists and feet). He doesn't open his mouth wide enough to latch, ever, and might be tongue-tied... but at this stage of the game I would not consent to elective surgery (however minor) to correct it.

But he was jaundiced and we were in a major hurry to get some nutrition in him to flush the bilirubin out of his system. So we fed him expressed colostrum, by finger feeding and through a bottle nipple, with the assistance and blessing of the lactation consultants. He is now nipple-confused and just gnaws the bottle nipples instead of sucking on them -- though he does suck my pinky and the pacifier, if he can get his tongue properly depressed to do so.

The only position in which Fletcher appeared to enjoy the process of unproductively mauling my nipple, licking off the droplets I hand-expressed to tempt him at least, was oddly gymnastically equivalent to the reverse-cowgirl (or at least the 69) of nursing: too contrived, lacking in intimacy, and simply not as pleasurable as it is adventurous. I can lie on my side with the baby's tummy toward my face and his head toward my breast, and instead of arching, screaming, and pummeling me with his brutal little fists and seizing handfuls of areolae with his sharply kitten-clawed fingers, or falling asleep, he simply gums my nipple and whimpers. But when they tried to teach me to do this in the hospital, I was in agony from my incision, and I am not sure that it's the answer now, either. I mean, nursing at the breast instead of simply lying together skin-to-skin and feeding him satisfactorily from a bottle is a matter of my convenience: for social reasons, I cannot exactly strip, lie down 69-fashion with the baby, and try to force him to suckle instead of gnaw in a "mothers' room" at Babies-R-Us -- let alone at my chair in a restaurant!

So. I've been exclusively pumping breastmilk for the little guy. And, when necessary due to engorgement or blockage or when encouraged by nurses in order to help push out bilirubin, a supplemental bottle of formula every other day or so.

I've researched nursing through every website and book I can lay hands on, and am mightily annoyed. All of them assume that you will read the books before starting and NOT as a matter of troubleshooting, and all of them assume that if you just stick with it everything will be magical and will work out perfectly and unicorns will fart rainbows on every street corner. They make dire predictions that if you ever, ever give a baby formula, you have condemned him/her to a life of obesity and diabetes, amid other complaints. They tell you not to "give in." They assume that doggedness is all it will take to nurse a baby. And I am here to tell you, it doesn't always work out that way.

Also, there's a lot of disinformation out there. Nice and well-meaning people with lots of professional experience will give some of it to you. They probably do a lot of good for people without serious problems, but for those of us who have some stubborn obstacles, the advice itself can cause suffering.

Here are the little things about expressing breastmilk that I've learned so far.

1. DON'T let pumping or hand expression cause you pain. If the pump hurts you, you may have too small a flange for your nipple, or too sharp an edge in your flange: use lanolin to grease the flange edge if you need or file it down with a fine emery board before you wash it next. Or you may have the suction turned up too high. Just -- don't. Be gentle and kind and loving to your breasts.

2. DON'T worry. If you are stressed, you will give less milk (that session.) Take the time to relax, breathe deeply, think happy thoughts, get a massage or get your back scratched, get comfortable, have someone hold the baby, have your significant other massage your breasts (NEVER toward the nipple, always away! and massage up to the collarbones and out to the edge of the armpits, you have glands everywhere), use hot compresses or take a warm shower if you like. Kick your relatives out, even if you would let them watch you nurse: pinching your breasts or being hooked up to the machine is not shameful, but it is qualitatively different. You will be amazed how much this affects your milk production.

3. About quantities: all the books will tell you that so long as your baby is peeing or pooping the requisite number of times and appears to be thriving, you have enough milk. This is probably true; all babies are different. And yet... if you're like me, you want to know what would be ideal production. You will start out producing a milliliter or two a session of expressed colostrum, the sticky yellow stuff that is so great for babies and which comes in before your milk. That amount will increase until transitional milk comes in (much wetter and whiter). By the end of the first week of the baby's life, you will probably be producing at least half an ounce to an ounce of milk a session. By the end of six weeks, when your milk is done transitioning and your supply becomes more or less stable if maintained, you'll be producing something like 25 ounces a day.

4. Pump every 2 1/2 to 3 hours during the day and every 3 to 4 hours at night, for 12 to 15 minutes a session. This is tough to balance if you get tender: you'll need to stop if you are making yourself sore and aren't producing much milk, but you will want to express a goodly quantity every session to "order" the milk you want for the next session (you get back what you remove from the breast.) Don't crank up the pump strength. Don't pump more frequently. Don't pump forever in a session. Painless and efficient is what you want.

5. Use an ice-pack after pumping if you are sore. Don't use it too close to the next session, as a cold boob is not an optimal milker. Use a warm compress to loosen things up again if desired.

6. Try to get ahead of the baby's needs. If baby is crying, it will stimulate your letdown, sure, but it'll raise your stress. See #2 above. Have someone entertain the baby if possible while you focus on pumping.

7. Don't focus too hard on pumping. Feel free to relax & meditate, fantasize, scheme, watch TV, read, whatever. I catnap because oxytocin makes me a zombie.

8. WEAR A BRA. Not a tight bra that leaves lines and compressions on your skin, because that will impact the glands and could cause mastitis or engorgement. A nicely-fitting, soft, stretchy sports bra.

9. While you pump, use gentle compression on the engorged glands in your breast to increase milk flow. You'll be shocked at how well this works. GENTLE is the watchword here -- and you do not want to squeeze-and-pull toward the nipple, just to press the milk sinuses that are reluctant to release their bounty.

10. Don't squish the flanges into your flesh so hard that they create compression areas. The ideal is to hold the flanges gently onto your skin in a "natural" position. This ideal is ridiculous, because there is nothing comfortable about leaning forward with your hands tucked under your knockers and trying to hold on hard-plastic cups that will spill milk down to your navel if you jostle them at all, but it's just that -- an ideal. Shoot for it. And learn to live with the spills.

If I think of more, I'll add them. But there you go.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oh! And a guest post at Perfume-Smellin' Things -- go check it out! (A top 10 post contribution, not a solo post)

Woohoo! The top 10 of Fall.

It went out while I was in the hospital, but do enjoy.

Home again, home again!

We were supposed to go home on Thursday, but they held us another day to keep an eye on Fletcher -- and on me. Little Fletcher's bilirubin numbers continued to go up gradually, but as jaundice can be dangerous if it gets bad enough, and the hospital has access to transcutaneous bilirubin testers (a light shined through the fat on baby's noggin that returns a level of "yellow", so far as I can tell) and didn't need to draw blood unless the numbers got scary. As for me, my blood pressure was a little elevated again and the doc wanted to make sure it didn't continue to climb. Also, my feet are HUGE because of IV fluids and he wanted to watch me for blood clots. All good.

But. They said the words "brain damage or death" about jaundice and then took my blood pressure. Imagine! And then, they rotated in nurses from another department to cover the night shift.

Fletcher still does not like to nurse. I was trying, at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, to nurse him, and we had arrived at a perfect "I will try this and NOT scream like you stabbed me, but we're not good at it yet" situation. And then, the fire alarms in the hospital started making noise. The bulkhead-style hall doors locked themselves down with talking security locks (the closest one about 2 feet from my room door) and started droning canned warnings about fire. SEVEN strangers ran into my room, where I was trying to feed an upset newborn, all nekkid, and one threw a cloth at me: "You might want to cover yourself, we have an emergency."

The fire alarm located in the attic of our room had malfunctioned, automatically shut off the air conditioning to the entire hospital, and closed all the bulkheads, and the only cure was for the lone Operations manager to be on a ladder in my attic for three hours while his phone went off every minute and a half because the laboratory and clean rooms COULD NOT OPERATE without the air conditioning...

The night nurse forgot to give me my pain medication on time THREE TIMES, resulting in a lot of pain. I was also suffering some weird sore/inflamed breast symptoms because the lactation consultant pinched my nipple too hard (I know, right?) and had had me lie on one side to try another "hold" -- which made my incision tender. When she DID finally come in (when I demanded medication) in her street clothes, she waxed horrified and alarmed at how my baby's bilirubin level had "spiked" and WHEN were they considering putting him under bili-lights, because the levels were dangerous? (She's from another department: babies' tolerance for bilirubin exceeds that of adults, but I didn't know that... and neither did she.)

Pat spent hours researching jaundice online. Medical studies of jaundice that he found online were neither comforting nor able to confirm anything scary. All we knew was that we were doing things right and that the baby had multiple risk factors and that his numbers were borderline.

Guess when they elected to take my blood pressure? Right. Plus the nurse's assistant who took the BP did not sanitize her hands, coughed the entire time she was in my room, and grumbled about having been reassigned to mother/baby from pediatrics -- all of this while the room next door had CDC warnings posted on it for "respiratory contagion." Ohmigod.

So I told them that, if my baby was well enough, I was going home no matter what my fucking blood pressure might be, because it would surely be lower at home.

In the morning, my doctor saw no reason to keep me: I look to be healing well, my blood pressure was going down, nothing to especially worry him. He told me what to watch out for.

The pediatrician who stopped in scoffed at the baby's bilirubin level and told us to take him home and continue taking good care of him, and get him to the doctor for a check up on Monday.

We got him dressed, fed, and checked out. We stuffed him into his baby carrier. We brought him home, where, excited by the change of scenery and habits, and the reduced noise level, he could hardly sleep.

It's bliss to be home. Pure bliss. And life with a newborn, although challenging, is wonderful. He is charming, funny, and smart already (a being of pure Id), and can Houdini his way out of any mittens, socks, or swaddles he is put into. (And twice, his diapers along with the swaddling blankets.... oy!)

My mom, now known as "Grandma" despite her sworn oath never to let anyone call her that, is cooking copious and delicious meals for us and is a blessing. My darling friend and doula April, trusty by our sides throughout the hospitalized period, has offered to do any errands or help any way she can. The wonderful ladies at church are offering to make casseroles, come help, and provide sympathetic ears if I need them. The only cloud on my horizon, a very small cloud, is that my hormones are crazy out of whack and I can go hysterical with weeping over something like a bird-rescue call too difficult for us to take in our current situation. (I guess I frustrate easily right now -- and the idea of leaving something helpless without assistance just got to me. But I am still blissful, not depressed.)

More pictures of our little yellow Oompa-Loompa are surely to come, but I'm just catchin' you up, right now. :)

Love you guys. Be good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fletcher is here!

I am posting from the hospital, where the nurses are the BEST and nicest, and although I am tired of being here, I am glad they're watching over me.

Thursday morning, I had a check up at my obstetrician's office. I woke up late and hustled through a shower, having not even washed my hair. So it was Murphy's Law that he took one look at my scary-high blood pressure and sent me to the hospital to be induced -- do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not go home and get your hospital bag or wash your hair first.

I checked in and they instantly (against my wishes) installed an IV. They wanted it there "just in case." (It was put in wrong or somehow compromised, because it inflated my hand in 2 days and I had to be IV'd on the OTHER side too -- and then that IV was in long enough that it had to come out before they were sure they were done with it. That's how long I've been in the hospital.)

They tried 2 12-hour torture sessions involving Cervodil. Cervodil, in case you are blithely innocent of its existence, is a 2" x 14"-ish kite-shaped affair made of medicine-impregnated cardboard and shoestring. (Yes, really.) It makes everyone sore. It made ME so sore that, after the first 12 hours, I begged them to find something else to try -- and after 8 hours of the 2nd dose, I asked them to contact my doctor NOW because it had to come out. He and I split the difference -- agreeing that it would come out in an hour or two instead of immediately. The only unpleasant nurse I had went on duty and ignored that order completely, ensuring that the second dose was in for just under 11 hours. As it turns out, my misery was justified: I am allergic to Cervodil.

So. Then to Cytotec. It is not approved by the FDA as an inducer of labor, so the doctor on duty -- not my normal doctor, as it was now the weekend -- did not want to continue it. 2 doses of Cytotec later, nothing much had happened other than contractions, but my blood pressure had skyrocketed. So the doctor on duty -- again, very sweet but NOT my doctor -- put me on magnesium sulfate, which they use to delay labor, to lower the BP. And Pitocin, which does nothing but induce contractions. Predictably, this did nothing for inducing labor. It also did nothing good for my blood pressure (maybe!) because it got to 210/112 before my doctor showed up on Monday and told me it was time to do a C to keep me healthy.

Three different anesthesiologists argued about whether or not it was okay to do an epidural or spinal with me, because of my genetic condition -- which made a bleed inside the spinal column, which could be permanently paralyzing, more probable than with the general population. This was balanced against general anesthesia, which is dangerous for anyone and more than usually so at my weight. We decided on a spinal.

During the C section, my blood pressure dropped precipitously to 90/60 (from 200/100ish). The baby was delivered limp and waxen, had to be resuscitated, and had an Apgar score of 2. He was taken to the NICU to be evaluated and was, fortunately, swift to recover (although the magnesium sulfate and BP drop has affected him, it's unlikely to cause anything permanent.)

The baby won't latch on to nurse (he is early, my breasts are fuller than he likes, and he's a "sleepy" baby because of the drugs) but feeds well with pumped or expressed milk, which has come in so well that the day nurse today yipped "God A-mighty" when she saw how much we are getting. We gave him formula to help move the bilirubin out of his system faster, because he's a little jaundiced.

They are watching me for high blood pressure tonight, because it crept back up after delivery, and are watching him for a dangerous increase of jaundice.

NOTHING here is as planned. I wanted a natural delivery, no formula, nursing, no drugs, absolutely no induction before baby was ready, and no C-section.

But, listen to me. I WOULD NOT CHANGE A THING. They saved my life. They saved my beautiful, healthy, already-smart, precious miracle child. They delivered our little son and I am totally at peace with everything that happened.

I had the good fortune of getting "unvarnished" advice from my friend Kate, a total super-mom by the way, who does all the "right" things with her toddler and newborn even as she jet-sets to conventions and publishes articles and grades graduate students' work and teaches. She advised me to "be reasonable." She said that if changes to the plan needed to happen, to welcome them.

Oh my God, thank you, Kate. Better advice was never given. At each step, I have been serenely confident and filled with trust and joy (and I have to admit, impatience -- boy, I wanted a shower, and to have the IV out, and to have the baby, and now, to go home. But still confident, serene, and joyous.)

This is my reward:

Monday, October 25, 2010


I spent half of yesterday in the Labor & Delivery ward again. I couldn't feel the baby moving during the morning, and by 1:15 was a basket case. Pat had me call the doctor and ask what to do, and he wanted me to go in and be monitored. Of course, by the time we arrived at the L&D ward, the baby was squirming. By the time they had me hooked to the monitors, the baby was squirming so hard and persistently that they could not get a baseline for his heartrate, and we had to spend extra time there until he finally calmed down enough for them to do so.

My own blood pressure was bad. The systolic and diastolic seem to be headed in opposite directions... the higher the top number climbs, the lower the bottom number dives. The nurse, who has 20+ years' experience in this department, called it "weird." That's never a great sign.

I can not WAIT to get this show on the road. I have a doctor's appointment today and will see if we can do this sooner than later; with my blood pressure as spotty as it has been, every additional symptom freaks me out so badly that I am afraid the wait will damage MY health.

So. Now I'm ruefully concerned that I might not be able to vote in the upcoming election, because timing is such that it might become an issue. This baby has been to vote twice, and I thought it would be three times... but maybe, maybe not.

Thus I feel the need to do a good, political deed -- not muckraking, not mud-slinging, not ranting for once -- but just providing a few key facts.

Are you American, or do you have American friends? If so, read this -- or give them this link to read -- before the big day rolls around.

Friday, October 22, 2010


For those of you already connected to me by Facebook, I apologize for the overlap.

But. OMG.

Three days ago, the baby dropped. I had contractions all day, like 20+ of them, and was a little freaked out. They were short and irregular ones, but clearly things were moving somehow. And then -- all of a sudden, I could breathe, because he stopped kicking me directly in the lungs, and I could eat, because I had a little more tummy room. Hooray! I can see that he's lower by looking at my profile... where before, my torso looked like a capital D, now it kind of looks like a lowercase b. Yes. But of course, now I waddle like a Weeble (yes, it was bad before but now only a duck would consider it normal) and my taint aches and all that stuff that happens when you have a baby's head bonking on your cervix (not quite, but close). I can feel my pelvic bones stretching apart... too creepy, but also too, too awesome.

Also contributing to the feeling of OMG ZOOOOM! I am showing much more definite signs of pre-eclampsia now: my blood pressure is remaining high with very high spikes (150/110 is the prizewinner so far), and I seem to be spilling protein into my urine. Pre-eclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and infant death in the U.S. (and much of the world), so my doctor is treating it seriously. We are monitoring carefully, and...

...labor is going to be induced early. As early as a couple days, or as late as a couple weeks, but I am going to have my baby before his due date.

This is not TOO scary. At 36 weeks gestation, the baby is almost full term (37 weeks is considered term.) He is making breathing movements with his lungs, which is a terrific sign. He is big, heavy, and vigorous, and at his weekly (now twice-weekly) non-stress tests, he is performing like a champ.

I didn't really favor induction, because in fat women (and I am indisputably a fat woman) it tends to start a spiral of interventions ending in unnecessary C-sections; however, my doctor is totally on-board with trying to avoid unnecessary surgery for me. My concern is the hideous scarring to which I tend to be prone... not for vanity's sake, but because my insurance cuts out 6 weeks after the baby arrives and I can't afford infections or complications. But I find I am at peace with, even excited about, this change in plans.

For one thing, my doctor is on board with my birth plan and even made changes to it to help me reduce the chances of needing episiotomy/experiencing bad tearing. Thank you, best doctor ever! For another thing... well, I am REALLY uncomfortable now and my shoulders dislocate every night when I sleep (I did not really need all the extra relaxin in my system) and I am tired of my hands being asleep when I wake up, and all that. And much more excitingly, I cannot wait to hold my son.

Cannot. Wait.

My doctor put me on bed-rest, which means I am mostly confined to sitting (with my feet up as much as possible) and queening it about, telling my poor husband (who is beginning to panic) what to do and to do it NOW and what I want for dinner. This is hard for me: I am a born DIY'er and although a lot of the time "it" doesn't get done if I don't feel like it, I've always been happy with that. It's horribly unjust that the nesting impulse, the necessity to nest, and bed-rest have coincided. Everyone let's feel sorry for poor Pat... and I am serious. That, plus my whining and bitching, would have put me over the edge by now if I were him. He's up for sainthood in my book.

Also up for sainthood? My buddy, coach and doula April. She's offering to help with nesting, and has already told her bosses that she WILL leave work at the drop of a hat to go listen to me snarl.

Have I mentioned I'm ... um.... charming, when I'm in pain? I try, but I am kind of nasty and I know it. I'm the one who responds, "of COURSE I'm not all-fucking-right, would I be screeching if I were all right?" after I stub a toe and someone asks me if I'm okay. So again, pity Pat. And April.

But not me. Because having a baby to play with earlier will be peachy keen by me. :)

And I MAY even have him before I'm over 40, which I swore I would do and was amused/chagrined when he was conceived such that he was due when I was 41.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cranberry soup

In rainy fall weather, when I crave some violently bright color to offset all the gray, and when I am pining for wintertime smells and flavors, this stuff is a standby of our household. I also used to make it when we'd get headcolds and it seemed to help. Okay, so it's not exactly health food (especially if you are watching sugar) -- it will still warm you up and pack you full of antioxidants and bioflavenoids and pectin and fiber and good stuff.

Back in the day, I used to top a bowlful with a dollop of plain yogurt. Today I didn't have any, and I think I liked it better without. Sometimes I'm not in the mood for dairy.

If you don't love this as a hot soup, keep it around and use it to top desserts or as the soupy portion of a cobbler, or something.

This is almost too simple to be a recipe. You can add a knob of butter if you want, and top it with plain yogurt if you so desire... but it's pleasing as is.

Cranberry soup

2 apples, cored and sliced
1 1/2 cups cranberries
water to cover, or a mix of water and apple juice
about 1/3 cup of sugar (I used vanilla sugar today because ALL of my sugar is in that container) -- or you could use alternative sweeteners, but artificial sweeteners are nasty with cranberries. You've been warned.
1 teaspoon spice of choice (I used pumpkin pie spice today because I was feeling lazy, but cinnamon and allspice work wonderfully ... and so does black pepper if you're feeling naughty)
tiny pinch of salt

Simmer fruit until cranberries have burst and broken down considerably, and apples are very soft. Puree with immersion blender (or in batches in pitcher blender). Spice and sweeten to taste -- it will require a considerable amount of sugar to be palatable but should remain on the tart side. You may strain this mixture if you prefer not to have curly, linear bits of cranberry and apple peel in your thick, velvety puree: I didn't today because we're tough that way. It depends on how ferocious your blender is, too... if you've got a Vita-Mix, gosh, why bother straining it?


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rooster sauce and baby food

Seriously, if you can lay your hands to some ripe red Fresno chiles, make this homemade sriracha sauce. Even if you can't, try substituting other chiles: red would be more authentic for flavor, but we made a batch with green jalapenos and serranos too, and it was delicious-if-not-the-same.

If you are using nuclear-hot chiles or have a tender mouth, shake out the seeds before the soaking-in-vinegar stage, and/or leave them to soak in the vinegar for a day or two extra to allow them to mellow.

Double the garlic. Yes, really.

Feel free to substitute in whatever sugar you like: we used piloncillos because I have always found them to resemble palm sugar.

My baby shower was yesterday, which was fun: it's a sweet little women's ritual I've never been through before, as I've never attended one. We had delicious lunch and beautiful cake and I have SO many gifts for the baby and I need to write thank you letters and we played silly games like sniffing melted candy bars in disposable diapers (I won! My perfumers' nose and pregnancy super-senses are verified), tasting commercial baby food (oh GOD! Baby food is awful. Just awful, health-damagingly horrible. I am going to mash up whatever in lieu of feeding him this stuff as often as possible) and unscrambling baby-related word ciphers -- which my natural-cryptanalyst mom, predictably, won. (She got in trouble as a tween for sitting down with her dad's Masons handbook and reading it as if it were any ol' unencoded book... she's really gifted at word scrambles.)

Pat had begged off the baby-shower thing out of purest terror of the "hen party" factor, so we sort of re-capped by having him go through all the bags of tiny-baby clothes and loot after dinner. He was adorable, playing with the little toys, welling up at the bitsy sizes of the clothes, generally charmed. He woke up in full-scale panic; all of this is suddenly frightfully real and he is feeling the weight of responsibility.

Doesn't help that Taxes Were Done this weekend and we owe a ton, I'm sure. :)

Anyway, if you're expecting or know someone who is: try to talk them down out of the trees if they're flipping out. We are all messed up and will all mess up our kids. The goal is to be able to explain that you did it out of love, because you're still talking to each other by the time they figure out how messed up they think they are, right? I think there's no perfect way, but lots of right ways. I hope I still think so in a year, in five years, in twenty-five years. Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Long post: pregnancy loss and difficult days

I strongly believe that one is never given more than one can handle in life... but that we are tested, strongly tested. This thought is the candlelight I plod toward through the deepest darkness that comes into my life. Today (well, technically yesterday), while certainly not one of my darkest days, is surely a trial.

It's Pregnancy Loss and Infant Remembrance Day today (well, technically yesterday). I didn't know this when I was getting up and going about my morning. Now that I know, I can't resist saying a few words you've probably heard before from me, again.

We came late to the game of trying to conceive: we were 37 and it was our 19th wedding anniversary when we discussed the issue after years and years of thinking we didn't want children, or were "not ready" for them. Pat was suddenly, passionately in favor of the idea. It took me only a day or two to get over my cold feet; I had been the enthusiastic one years before, but had so long set aside the notion that I was totally diffident. I made an appointment for a check-up with my ob/gyn to see what he thought. While he was "under the hood" doing all the annual exam stuff, he offered to remove my IUD... and, although I had thought I'd have to make an appointment for a surgical removal later, simply yoinked it, showed it to me (I saluted it -- after all, it did yeoman service), and told me to go get pregnant.

Get pregnant we did, as easily as some people catch cold. But stay pregnant, we could not. Six times, over the last few years, we experienced the roller-coaster of emotions that goes with early pregnancy loss, most times from thrombophilia, and a couple times from low progesterone. We went to a fertility specialist, who took one look at (fat ol') me and decided not even to test my husband; after lots of tests on me for fatness-related causes, he found only thrombophilia -- and refused to test for the low progesterone even though I had my short luteal phases well documented. He resolved to put me on heparin once a pregnancy had hung on long enough to be vigorous.

But after two more miscarriages --one horrible, with me waiting for six days to pass the dead tissue I knew was not viable-- while under his care, both due to low progesterone (and his callous scoffing at me when I told him I was sure it was low), I asked him in exasperation what the next step was. His solution was intra-uterine insemination -- an expensive way to inseminate a human ovum.

I was smart enough to realize that this did nothing to correct the progesterone problem, and get the baby far enough along to benefit from blood thinners. So I fired this doctor and went to a nurse practitioner with my charts. She confirmed immediately that I had low progesterone and prescribed it every month from ovulation until menstruation.

Progesterone wasn't good for my state of mind, and cost a ton. It disrupted my sleep patterns and made my body tender and leaky in unpleasant ways that interfered with my sex life (already suffering from a surfeit of scheduling and pressure). If I missed a dose and was late on the next, I would be dooming any zygote that was trying to nuzzle into the uterine lining. My stress levels soared.

During the three years described above, I couldn't take really any over the counter medication for colds, virii, headaches, muscle aches, sleeplessness, stress, my rosacea or other allergies, etc. I logged a lot of sick days. My boss wasn't happy. I wasn't happy.

We miscarried again, very early, while taking progesterone. We quit trying to conceive and decided to adopt. I took a moral stand on an issue at work that eventually caused me to quit my job. Then I got into an ugly battle over unemployment insurance. I was interviewed many times by people who liked my resume, but some found me overqualified, others found me overpriced for the depressed job market, and the most promising found me toxic, once they asked the terrible question of why I'd quit my last job and got an honest but heavily redacted answer.

All of a sudden I was 40. I had promised myself that if I couldn't deliver a baby before I was 41, I was too damn old to keep trying. And I had quit trying to conceive even before that.

And it helped. My stress level started receding, slowly. Sex was fun again.

In February, I got tipsy. I took cold medicine. I drank so much caffeine (by accident!) that I had heart palpitations. I ate some really unsafe, marvelous food: raw seafood, rare beef, lunchmeats, bleu cheeses.

One day I was driving to the grocery store and was feeling emotional. I knew that as I was unemployed and we were broke, adoption would be hard. But that was okay! I'd buck up, hitch myself up by my bootstraps, and we'd knock their socks off. Yes. We just had to commit to waiting a year or two to prove our financial worth. And if they never approved us, because of our looming student loan debt, well, then, we'd been all right together for 21 years of married life and almost five years dating before that. We were partners. We were a team. We were complete.

At the grocery store, I had a dizzy spell. I fell against the car, and when I did, my breasts felt horribly sore.

I knew I was pregnant, with bitter certainty. And I would be damned if I would put one more cent or one more bit of effort into this dreadful lost cause. I didn't even want to tell Pat. I wasn't even going to buy a pregnancy test. Screw it!

And driving home, I had waves of nausea. I decided to use an ovulation predictor strip as a makeshift pregnancy test (it can be done!) because I still had a bunch of them laying around and God knew I wasn't going to use them for their stated purpose.

The little fucker was all aglow with two pink lines before I could set it on the counter.

So I agonized for a while, 'til Pat got home and the doctor's office had closed for the weekend, and then reluctantly told him we had to buy pregnancy tests. He was stoic but unhappy. We went out and bought the least sensitive brand available. We didn't want any false hopes.

This test, too, was positive before it could be set down. I burst into tears.

We cried all weekend. Neither one of us wanted to go through it again.

On Monday, I still tested positive with the remaining test. I called my doctor's office and he sent me to the lab. I tested positive there, too. Immediately, they put me on progesterone and heparin. Slowly, during the slowest, most treacherous feeling first trimester, we began to feel hope. Then delight. Then awe, as the baby's growth and vigor dwarfed all of our prior expectations.

And now, I live in mixed faith and fear, a weird mixture of wary joy. I am 35 weeks pregnant now, with our little boy baby. And every day I try to banish my concerns and live mindfully and blissfully. But it is hard.

The doctor is worried about my blood pressure and monitoring me for pre-eclampsia. His suspicions are reinforced by my age, weight, the fact that I'm a first-time mom, etc., but also by the tendency of one of his nurses to get erroneously high blood pressure readings from me. Every. Time. Even though nobody else does.

So. Today.

We went in for our non-stress test (where they monitor the baby's heartbeat and how it rises and falls after s/he moves -- more active/reactive is better!) We are having these once a week. I have the nurse wait to take my blood pressure until we have done the test, as sometimes it's up when I first get there.

Only while I am sitting for the test, I get uncomfortable. My blood pressure soars. The nurse gets a reading of 150/110 and lets me wait another 10 minutes before retesting.

Then the improbable: the doctor, too, gets a reading off the scales. He doesn't like it and sends me across the street to the hospital where we will deliver.

They monitor the baby, even using the Baby Bothering Device to make sure he's awake (it looks like a cheap black plastic pepper shaker, but it vibrates/buzzes and it scared the bejeezus out of the kid, who went rigid from head to toe and then squirmed for all he was worth). They take my blood pressure every 15 minutes. When I am uncomfortable, it is up. When I lie down, it falls to very normal. They take some blood to check for bile and stuff from distressed organs (a sign of pre-eclampsia). They take a urine sample to test for protein leaks (same thing). They lose the urine and waste 1/2 hour looking for it before they finally ask (let!) me to pee again and just test that.

Four hours. Tax day, do or die, since we filed for extension in April and things have inevitably come up to make us procrastinate this month. I'm fine, but they tell me that this will probably be a weekly occurrence. When I am being released, they tell me that my doctor wants to see me twice a week and that this might be a TWICE weekly occurrence. Call my doctor to find out what time Tuesday they've scheduled me for. And can I do this 24-hour urine collection, please? Starting right now?

No, I cannot. I have my shower tomorrow. Can't leave the shower to ferry urine to the hospital, sorry, NO.

So we come home, irate, thirsty, starving, and grab a burger on the way in. We eat like ravenous antisocial dire wolves, while assembling tax receipts and things. I get about 20 phone calls, most of them stupid.

One of the calls is Mom. Can I call the exterminator to see if he'll come check the traps he put in the attic day before yesterday, because he doesn't want us to have dead things upstairs over the weekend? (He FINALLY showed up to plug the hole we knew they were coming in through... his employee refused, but offered to set snap-traps at $125/visit. No, thank you. We can set snap traps. Great guy, too -- except that he pushed aside food being prepared by a pregnant woman to spread out used, bloody, dirty rat traps on my kitchen counters like a direly grim Tarot spread, and risked having his head bitten off by me... which I didn't because he is Mom's friend.) I didn't want to call him, because I wanted a bath and he has shown disconcertingly inconvenient timing in the past... so I had Pat climb up the attic and check.

Of five snap traps, four had dead rat residents. Eew! So much for closing the hole... either they are still getting in, or there is a whole condo of them up there hiding in the rafters. Two were little juvenile rats. We hate killing them because we like them: shiny, healthy mammals with whiskers like plastic filament and inquisitive faces. But they need to get the fuck out of my house, because a baby is on his way. Pat took them away, but he doesn't want to do it anymore. I don't blame him. Between rat traps and volunteer wildlife rescue, we end up handling a lot of animals with rigor mortis, who have assumed the shape of the letter "L" -- and now that I'm pregnant, he is doing ALL of the corpse-wrangling for us both. Poor man. Anyway, I'm convinced that the answer may be NOT putting peanut-buttered traps up there where they like the aroma -- can't we bait traps with something they hate? Is that illogical? Sure, but ... aaaaaiiiiiieeeeeee!!!

Then we couldn't find our W-2s. Eventually we did. And we had to go through our medical bills again (which is just cruel today) and my business receipts (which is just cruel anytime, but that's my innate brilliant bookkeeping speaking.) Taxes are ridiculously frustrating, and I am sure verrry good for my blood pressure. Wheee!

But eventually we took a dinner & movie break with Robert, and saw Red, which was rather good (how could it not be? It's a Warren Ellis adaptation.) This is probably the last movie I'll try to see before baby gets here: I can't sit comfortably in any position, and now that I know it rockets the blood pressure, I'm going to excuse myself. I even took in a pillow to render the seat-back tolerable. Nonetheless, I feel much better, although uncomfortably full-tummied and heartburny, with major pain from pubic symphysis disorder, and still quite aware that I need to start a 24-hour urine collection, and still a little freaked out about taxes and rats and pre-eclampsia and stuff like our shitty, shitty Senate. You know. Stuff.

It's never more than we can handle, right? Right? Just please give me one more month (-ish) and let this child enter the world healthy, so I can stop feeling like my body is a perilous habitat. Just this once, let me be a haven, not a hazard.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

International blackmail!

So, Pat is a Fulbright scholar. In 2004-2006 we went to Peru to complete his dissertation research project. Upon our return, things fell through during the analysis and write-up phases, and he eventually dropped out ABD ... following in my footsteps (except I wasn't yet ABD; I was in the dissertation proposal phase when my committee chair told me she was not interested in my project, and I decided I was not about to spend another five years trying to reconstitute my committee out of unwilling and laissez-faire profs, after waiting for her arrival and then for her help for, quite literally, years.) We are understandably a little bitter and sensitive about the outcome of so much invested time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears -- even though I mean it when I say "I regret nothing."

The co-director of Pat's project has serious problems with the National Institute of Culture in Peru. Because the INC keeps raising objections to the final project report (on account of analysis and write-up not being full, among other things, like the project design that they okayed in the first place!), Carmen cannot work in her designated field until they sign off this project. This is understandably a source of despair and stress in both hemispheres.

Carmen sends letters cryptically stating (some of) what the INC wants. Pat sends back revisions and data, and tries to call her at the (always dead, because stolen-or-sold-or-something) cell phone numbers she sometimes forwards. We have never reached her at a phone number she's given us. Three times, these revisions and data have been accompanied by money to meet Carmen's demands, because traveling to Lima and greasing the hands of bureaucrats doesn't come free. Then, there are months or years of silence, until, SURPRISE! A new and more plaintive letter, and/or rumors through colleagues who are still working in the field there, demanding different conditions be met.

Kafka had no notion of the dimension of frustration that this process has assumed. It is off the chart. We are afraid to travel to Peru because we honestly do not know if we'd be nabbed, right off the plane; it cannot be set right from afar by us, because the INC ignores all our correspondence; sporadic demands for information that Carmen KNOWS does not exist, and for more money, continue to fall upon us ... usually at the worst possible time.

A few months ago, Carmen got former colleagues to contact us on her behalf. Tired of this process or simply incompetent beyond belief, she has badmouthed Pat to every official and friend we know who works in the area; appalled friends contacted us, tried to distance themselves from our reputation, and asked us to please please for the love of God help poor innocent Carmen.

Pat submitted everything she asked (as he has done every time) and explained where and why information didn't conform with INC expectations (often having to do with Carmen's ... eccentric record-keeping or ... liberal interpretation of instructions, but even more often having to do with an approved research design that does not match regulations made after the fact.)

Months of silence.

Tonight, a demand for $1,300 with an itemized bill for some seriously inefficient bureaucratic costs and re-studies of the site involving graphic artists and topographers (no receipts, and we never agreed to any of this nonsense) with an implicit threat that "people [she] talked to at the INC" believe she could have been charging him a retainer all this time... but she's not asking for that, yet. But she can't work yet, she says, so she needs our help...

We don't want to keep shelling out. We can't. We don't have the money. We have a baby due in 2 months. And it's all such incredible bullshit. We are furious, alarmed, and depressed. When will this woman stop asking for money? Will she blackmail us forever? Is this, in fact, blackmail? Or what?

Anyway, yuck.

Life isn't all lemons. But oh, how I wish I knew how to make lemonade out of Carmen's predicament. I like her and I want her to be happy, free to work as she pleases, and prosperous ... but I can't be responsible for her forever. The money has definitively run out. What now, what now?

In more positive news:

1) I finished knitting that bloody annoying denim blue soaker which has been inhabiting my needles for, what, 2 months? and can get on to more interesting knitting. Yay!

2) Pat's building his guitar.

3) ... and he already built the crib that we bought for baby. :) OH MY GOD WE HAVE A CRIB!!!

Sending wishes for love, tranquility, and hopefully prosperity your way. Hope you don't have any nasty surprises waiting in the wings, as we always seem to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not my most useful of weeks so far...

I'm having more discomfort -- it's hard to sleep, eat, or concentrate. So I haven't been at my most effective. Even so, I hope to have a whole stack of things done by the end of the week...

1) Applying to jobs. The EDD is demanding that I come in next Tuesday to prove to them that I am upholding my end of the deal by searching for work. I contend that I'm doing a better job upholding my end than they are doing upholding theirs, as they still owe me 3 weeks' compensation (that they will never pay) due to I-think-deliberate-but-could-be-thinking-like-a-conspiracy-theorist paperwork snafus at crucial times, and 4 weeks' compensation as a result of general inefficiency. As I sink into further debt as a result of their ineptitude, it's nice to know that they feel they cannot trust me. Hey! EDD! I've got an idea -- HIRE ME! I applied, oh, 10 months ago... never heard anything back from you, though, after the 4 hour test and application process. So I'm documenting the job search, which is a weird thing to do after months and months of "I send the resume and wait. Nobody ever responds." Fortunately for me, 4 opportunities arose within 2 weeks, and I am qualified for all of them. Unfortunately for me, at least one of them was an online spam factory which managed to send me 11 emails in 1 hour, trying to get me to commit to financial aid to go to their pet diploma mill. D'oh!

2) Fixing up the house. There are lots of projects that need doing, and having caught another cough (I'm better now mostly), I also let the maintenance slide. Just catching up with dishes and laundry may do me in... whether I get to any bigger projects will be a mystery. Pat has been a dynamo getting things done, but I have more time and a backlog of my own...

3) Sewing. I have 8 diapers pinned, 2 sewn-but-awaiting-snaps, and 4 cut out but not pinned. I need to sew at least 8 more, and a raft of fleece soakers and stuff, and postpartum pads and nursing pads (those sooner than later as I have discovered that I am a mammal).

4) Getting approved/registered to donate cord blood. This is a hell of a process, involving a 20 page application that I have to fill out and then get my doctor involved with filling out. By two weeks from now. I'm trying!

5) Getting immunized against Pertussis. Thanks to the hammerheads who won't immunize their kids because they think Jenny McCarthy is a doctor, we have a full blown epidemic here. I cannot count on herd immunity protecting me or my child. Tomorrow there is a clinic for this, and I have the Dr.'s go-ahead.

6) Cooking at least a little. I would like to make some quality food for us! We've been eating so much junk.

But here's that diaper bag picture I promised you. It's pretty enough that I am still cruising on cheer from having it done...

...and I DID apply for jobs and have slogged through SOME paperwork and I've got my knitted soaker halfway into the decreases, which means there is thank God an end in sight to this thing being on my needles, and this morning I even made breakfast from scratch -- polenta and apple butter, carbolicious! So I just need to hang in there.

Hugs, and I will try to find time to post something thought-provoking that isn't just about me being busy and crabby. But I don't guarantee it, because I AM busy and crabby these days. :) May your days be filled with love and only the good kind of busy.

Monday, September 13, 2010


We went to our game last night, and when we came back, about 11:30, we went immediately to bed to wind down and go to sleep. I had been uncomfortable for hours; the baby had been slinging himself around and changing position, and has perfected the left turn signal. When I lay down, I was shocked to discover that my bump was several inches lower than before (earlier today, the bump was 3 inches or so above the top of my navel and sloped gently from there -- after the shift, the bump was below the bottom of the navel.) The bump was ROCK HARD compared to its usual firm-but-not-hard status, and the baby was evidently in a really different position. I had had a couple contractions before 2 p.m. but none since.

After verifying that the baby was kicking, doing a couple "cat-cow" exercises and a few pelvic tilts (all of which help to reposition the kid if he's doing crazy things), I fell asleep. But by 4:45, I was up again. Same discomfort, same hard belly, same low slung bump. Pat was up having an attack of AIP and restless; he confirmed that something was new, and advised me to call the doctor on call to get reassurance.

So I did! And the doctor advised me to swing by the hospital for tests, as he couldn't be sure over the phone.

They wheeled me up from the E.R. to the maternity ward and put me in a labor & delivery room with my name on the door. The sweetest nurse ever (Janell) came to reassure me that she was glad I'd come in, having seen my file, and put me on a fetal monitor. She let us know the baby's heart is a "rock star" and that he is doing just fine, and that this just seems to be a ruder entry than most into the comforts of late pregnancy.

Donuts for breakfast, so the carbs can help Pat avoid a resurgence of the attack. And now I am mighty sleepy. But so grateful the baby is okay, and that we have certainly picked the right hospital, and that we are well and evidently not crazy paranoid to have checked on our little one.

This morning we saw cattle headed out to get their breakfasts, steers practice-raping one another, whole murders of crows flapping around against the graphite-gray sky, a deer, many black-faced white sheep, scrub jays, and all the other early morning wildlife. Driving was a dream, both on the highway and the back roads. The world is so beautiful when washed by relief.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'd post pictures, but we ate it too fast: summer squash soup

I just improvised something delicious, and thought I'd share. We devoured this stuff -- which ended up very thick and creamy and chowder-y.

Summer Squash Soup

For soup:
3 summer squash, such as yellow crookneck squash, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, cut off the cob and scraped for "milk"
4 cups water
1 package of "semillas" -- Mexican, squash-seed shaped pasta
your favorite stock powder or cubes to season the water to taste
powdered chipotle chili, to taste (I used perhaps 1/2 teaspoon)
powdered bay leaves, to taste (I used perhaps 1/4 teaspoon) -- or a bay leaf!
powdered cumin, to taste (I used perhaps as much as a teaspoon)
1/2 cup milk

For topping:
1/3 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons white onion, freshly minced
1 - 2 tablespoons of your favorite spicy sauce (I used homemade sriracha that Pat made last week)

Cook 2/3 of squash with water, whole bay leaf if using, and bouillon until tender, then remove bay leaf and puree into a uniform liquid with immersion blender. Add uncooked squash, corn, pasta, and seasonings to liquid and cook, stirring until pasta has cooked (otherwise it will stick fiercely). When pasta and vegetables are tender, remove from heat and let cool a few minutes. Pasta will continue to "plump up" and thicken the soup. I added the milk at the last moment before serving.

Stir together topping ingredients and put a spoonful or two on top of each serving. You could get fancy and dress this up with cilantro if you felt like it -- we kept it simple.


Hey, I finished my diaper bag! Pictures later this week or so. It turned out really pretty!

Oh, and another oh hey! Hey, that 24-hour collection for a kidney function test? Predictably, my kidney function is fine. Nice to know, though.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Diapers and stuff so far...

I'm in the process of sewing four more "snail shell" type diapers made with the Shar's Newborn pattern, as described in an earlier post (they're cut out and everything) and am making this adorable diaper bag in shades of deep teal with lemon yellow lining, and a lemon yellow, teal, and aqua floral fabric for contrast. I am making the straps longer because I am of a ... robust build and like long straps. Here are my fabrics, tumbled willy-nilly on the ironing board.

So far, this is my progress on the baby's "stash" (I took inventory for Emily and as a "state of the union"):

Newborn size:
4 snail shell diapers, in progress
4 snail shell diapers, completed

6 Darling Diapers pattern diapers, made as all-in-ones with a fleece outer

4 knitted soakers

Small size:
1 knitted soaker, denim blue, in progress
1 knitted soaker, yellow, finished but in the "level up" box for when baby is bigger
I am also going to tie-dye 8 second-hand prefolds to hide some permanent stains


Diaper bag, in progress
16 diaper doublers, in microfiber-backed flannel

32 cloth baby wipes, in terrycloth-backed flannel

a few hats (and more to come)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Baby fever!

I've sewn 4 diapers this week. Doesn't sound like much, but they are pretty neat diapers, with a waterproof liner (they still need official "stuffers" so that I'm not wedging a ginormous prefold in there).

I am sewing a diaper bag. Oh, it's going to be pretty, but I hate cutting out fabric and I am currently taking a break in the middle of THAT miserable process.

I am researching donation of cord blood. It's a bitch to donate it to the public banks, whereas it is really easy to bank it privately. Let me give you some links in case you want to replicate my research -- which you will have to if you want to donate, because the public banks are on a by-case basis: or have lists of public banks in case your hospital, like mine and the vast majority, are not collection spots. If your donation can be accepted, they will send a collection kit for you to the hospital. (My doctor strongly approves, so I suspect that IF I am accepted, he'll make it easy.)

Tonight is my first childbirth preparedness class. I need to bring two pillows and a snack and something to drink and notebooks and pens. Squeee!!!

Tomorrow is one of my every-two-week checkups with my obstetrician. I'll get the results of that ridiculous 24-hour urine test. I am actually starting to worry about pre-eclampsia, despite having zero symptoms.

Next Tuesday, I get to see the baby -- we have an ultrasound scheduled. I don't think we are apt to pay for a 3D/4D ultrasound, because we both agree they don't look like much even though they kinda do, and we are so close to seeing him in person.

TOMORROW IS WEEK 30 AND I HAVE ONLY 10 MORE WEEKS TO GO (or however long the baby feels like being there). OhmyGod.

Night before last, we SAW the baby kick. I had been sitting back in my chair because I noticed I could feel separate little limbs (feet!) with my hand, pressed against my tummy up above my belly button (which is a freaky place for the uterus to be). Pat had felt it too and was looking moist around the eyes. My hand was still caressing little feet, when it got KICKED off my belly, and when I looked in astonishment, I could see those kicks making my whole abdomen jump. It's the only time so far,* but Pat and I were shocked and delighted.

He's been dancing around me any time I'm in range, like I'm some kind of fertility tiki, running his hands along my pregnant belly and breasts and grinning and giggling like a shaman (or a fool). I am not only not ashamed to resemble the Venus of Willendorf, but feel privileged to resemble her -- I feel huge and sexy and vital and potent and magical! (And resemble her I do... except I have features instead of hair or a mask, and I am pleased to announce that I still have hands and feet.) No jiggle or sag offends my critical eye now; I praise them all for doing their jobs.

My best friend, who will be my doula, has intimated that she is going to knit me a soaker. This is a mission of mercy; I am sick to death of knitting them even though I enjoy knitting. They are too easy, and easy is boring. (I know very well that all of this will change.)

Even my 6-year-old friend has baby fever: all of her dolls and paper dolls have had babies now. It's official... being pregnant is the coolest with kids. She delights in asking, "how many people are in this room" and being scrupulously sure to count the baby. And she is excited to know that he's a little boy; she says, when he's as big as she is now, or maybe 4, she will teach him how to play games... but she soberly informs me that she'll be older then.

*ETA: baby decided to make a liar of me by doing it again as soon as I posted this. Yay baby! Okay, back to cutting out fabric and hoping he can't learn cuss words in utero. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010


I've only finished two of this particular pattern, but I have 8 others in various Fordist stages of construction... as I prefer to assembly line things together.

This style of diaper is called the "Snail Shell" diaper and was invented by one of the smart cookies at Diaper Sewing Divas (requires membership, free) -- so a big shout out to "Mad Skills" for her tutorial. I modified the Shar's Newborn pattern to this style, since other people on the BabyCenter diaper sewing forum really like it on newborns. The Snail Shell features a waterproof elasticized inner layer that holds the absorbent pad, and a fitted outer of any fabric preferred. It can be cute, unbulky, and relatively inexpensive to construct.

Sewing PUL (the waterproof stuff) and FOE (fold-over elastic, used on swimwear, lingerie, and diapers) is a special nightmare. However, I won't need too many of these in each size... because unless his mess manages to escape the waterproof layer, I can just change the absorbent pad when baby gets here. Woohoo!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I went to the chiropractor on Thursday and ... what do you know, he really helped the pubic symphysis pain! As in, what used to be torture (standing up, walking, especially rolling over in bed) is now simple, and I can lift my knees when I walk again instead of shuffling. I still have the rather fetching waddle I'd developed, but it now includes OMG I can move my hips! Yay! And this seems to have scooted DOWN the baby a little, with less pain right along the front of my uterus and which mutes his movements from gut-busting punches to constant thumping and wiggling. I think this is how it's supposed to be; the alternative would have meant we went extinct during evolution, as a declawed housecat could have eventually taken me down and worried me to death. Really, I am feeling much less pathetic.

The reason I went is that I read in a "hey fat ladies, watch out for unnecessary interventions" type website that fetal malposition is one of the main reasons for the high rate of C-sections among obese mothers. They recommended chiropractic care as something that can help prevent malpositions. Being as how I want to avoid C-section complications, I am all for it... but since I have Ehlers Danlos syndrome, I have always avoided chiropractors because manipulating my loose joints (including spinal joints) is not the best idea in the world. Usually. This time seemed okay although it left me with inexplicably horrible butt bruises.

I'm feeling much less pathetic, despite having caught Pat's once-per-quarter "teacher's crud." I can't really medicate, but I can make do with hard candy (honestly, although I can have cough drops they make me feel loathsomely queasy right now) and garlic honey (it makes acceptable cough syrup) and by gargling warm salt water when I feel gross enough to make it seem like a preferable option.

I bought used prefold diapers from a diaper service, and to my pleasure, only seven of the 2 dozen retain any yucky looking stains (we let rust stains from pins pass.) We're going to tie-dye the gross-looking ones, so it's win/win! Fun project in the future.

And... really REALLY good news yesterday. I had been scheduled for the childbirth prep class at my hospital Right! Up! To! The! Minute! as in the last of the 5 sessions was actually to take place on my due date. Buuuuuuuuuuuut when the hospital called me to POSTPONE the class for a week, they caught me on stressful ol' Thursday and I whined explosively at them and they sought an accommodation and got me into a very full earlier class -- next Wednesday! Yayyyyyyy!!! So I should know what I'm doing before I'm actually doing it. At least as well as anyone does who is not surrounded by other people doing it, first. :)

Mashed potatoes and cube steak for brunch this morning (with pickled cucumbers as a bright note.) How bad can the day be?

Love to all of you, and I just wanted to confirm that I am not ALWAYS freaking out.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This week!

So, last week was crazy -- we spring cleaned all of the house except the bathroom (I have to dig out all the useless ends and bobs from the cabinets and throw them away, and my temper got the best of me so I am waiting until the job doesn't piss me off... it's hard bending right now!) We did it because 1) we're nesting and 2) we had a rat in our attic. We caught him (and poor bastard wasn't killed by the trap because he was the size of a small to moderate pony, so we dunked the trap into a bucket of water because hitting him with a brick seemed inaccurate and potentially worse). Unfortunately, we heard another afterward, so we had to clean up for the exterminator.

And this week is crazy -- the exterminator wants to charge $120 for setting a snap trap (which will cost us approximately $8 to do again) and refuses to rat-proof the attic even though we know where they are getting in from the vacant neighboring house (they connect). Pat is sick with his once-per-quarter headcold and I desperately do not want it!! I am doing a 24-hour urine collection so that they can test my kidney function because they are worried about my blood pressure because ONE of my doctor's nurses does not know how to take blood pressure readings on obese women like me and she inevitably gets readings like 160/90 (whereas the doctor and everyone else get 120/70 every time) so they are afraid of preeclampsia and I AM NOT LETTING THEM INDUCE ME EARLY ANYWAY because I don't want continuous fetal monitoring, to be trapped on my back without being able to labor freely in whatever position I want, or have my water broken because I am too fat for external fetal monitors, because I don't want an elective C-section. So this is unproductive. Except I now know that my bladder holds 18 ounces and that I pee approximately every 45 minutes and that I have pee in my fridge and God I hope the container is big enough for 18 oz. per event X 24ish events... and that it doesn't leak. And I am washing my hands so many times it's not funny, because who is going to get into the fridge with pee hands? And then I have to pour the "collection hat" contents into the pee bucket (and wash) and put it back in the fridge (and wash because I touched the bucket) and it's getting ridiculous, 3 washes per pee? Sheesh! And tomorrow I have to turn in the pee and get my blood drawn and go to the chiropractor because my back is boned and leave payment under the mat for the nice lady selling me used prefolds and go to our weekly lunch with the boys and then go to baby care basics class in the evening. Friday I'm off to A&T's for dinner and crafting (because she is my willing slave who will cut out diaper fabric and I hate cutting and OH! I just figured out that I have to make at least 6 diapers per week plus a cover or two and things like diaper bags/maternity clothes/postpartum pads/nursing pads/whatever catch-as-catch-can to be ready in time for the baby's earliest probable arrival horizon) and this weekend so help me Pat will barbecue for me sometime and I guess I'll have to finally get to the bathroom cupboards.

Make the pollo a la brasa from the recipe in the previous post. Not joking. Don't make the salad if you don't wanna, but do make the sauce. OMG.

(Gasp for breath, gasp for breath, gasp for breath....) So how are you?

Pollo a la Brasa

While I'm not a gadget person, my mom is, and she's generous -- which means I have a lot of useless crap languishing around my kitchen. Finally, though, she struck gold with the NuWave Infrared Cooking System (no link; I'm unaffiliated). It. Makes. Awesome. Chicken. Crispy skin, nice browning, juicy. Yum.

When I think of chicken with crispy skin, I think of Pollo a la Brasa. This is a favorite Peruvian fast food. We've been missing it.

Note that your version will be a little inauthentic. You don't care. This is delicious even without being exact. (For authenticity, we would have to have access to three indispensable features of Peruvian cooking: chicha for the marinade, ajies amarillos (yellow hot peppers -- we just don't have them here), and algorrobo (carob) wood for the rotisserie. Oh, and a rotisserie. Nonetheless, if you season your chicken and cook it on a normal barbecue, preferably over mesquite (closer to algorrobo than our local red oak barbecue), you will have a delicious dish. And if you have an infrared cooking gadget, the texture will be perfect -- even though it'll lack the smoke.)

Traditionally, pollo a la brasa is served in halves or quarters, on a pile of crisply French fried yellow potatoes (Yukon golds are an adequate substitute, but Ore-Idas are NOT - although that's what I had last night), and accompanied by a spicy condiment puree (hold your horses), following a green salad dressed with mayonnaise thinned to vinaigrette texture with key lime juice, and garnished with slices of cooked beet, raw cucumber and tomato, and a few cooked green peas. All Peruvian meals except breakfast have two savory courses and a dessert: in this case, the grammar of the meal demands salad as the "primero."

Short of taking you to Lima to enjoy some wonderful Pardo's Chicken, or to Pacasmayo for Riko's Chicken, this is the best I can do.

Here is the recipe for the sauce. I thought the chick at Riko's was blowing me off and assuming I'd asked about the salad when she gave me lettuce, oil, and cilantro as ingredients for the salsa... she wasn't. Sorry, chick at Riko's. I should have listened. I made the sauce with a mix of yellow peppers and jalapenos, and half lettuce/half cilantro as the base (maybe, hmm, 1/2 to 1/3 cup of each?) and it tasted perfect. Don't use lemon -- use lime, if you require more acidity. I didn't tinker at all and it was yummy. YUMMY!

Pollo a la Brasa

1 3-lb chicken
1/8 cup salt
2 cups water
4 teaspoons of dark beer
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, optional
juice of 1 key lime, optional but delicious
a pinch each of ground dried rosemary and oregano
achiote or paprika for color, or ground mildish hot pepper for flavor and color, if desired (this would generally be aji mirasol in Peru)

Traditionally, the chicken is brined for 20 minutes before being marinated. I tried the brining step for the first time last night and wow! Dunno if that's why it was so juicy perfect, but it was delicious. So, give it a shot!

Marinade: mix all marinade ingredients. Rub all over chicken and allow to marinate for 20 minutes or longer. If it sits much longer, the vinegar will begin to "cook" the bird -- but the flavor will be deeper. 20 minutes should be fine. I actually put this in a zip bag, squoze out all the air, and let it do its evil business for about 35 minutes because I got lazy -- and it worked fine. So, no panic. Just, you know, not for hours.

Ideally: cook on rotisserie over fire of straw or algorrobo charcoal. Tolerably: barbecue over slow fire of mesquite charcoal. Or, you know, use your infrared thingy.

Serve in quarters atop individual mounds of freshly French fried yellow potatoes, accompanied by weird lettuce-based emulsified hot pepper puree. To swoon for.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gingery carrot soup

I've been wrestling with a resurgence of morning sickness, which I think is related to the late-2nd-trimester heartburn that has reared its ugly head. As a result, I didn't want anything this morning that didn't have ginger in it. I raided the wilty produce in my kitchen and came up with this -- which is delicious.

You may use nicer produce, of course. I can't help but think that that would only be a step up.

Gingery Carrot Soup

about 3/4 pound slightly bendy carrots, scrubbed and lopped into large chunks
3 just-larger-than-golf-ball sized yellow potatoes, scrubbed and chunked
2 withered, overripe red jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into chunks
2 inches of shriveled gingerroot, peeled, cut into fine slices
water just to cover vegetables
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon or so of salt (go gradually; your spice powder may already contain it)

Put vegetables, peppers, and gingerroot in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil until they smell wonderful. Pierce vegetables with a fork to test doneness: if they seem done throughout, drain off about 2/3 of the water and blend until smooth with a handheld blender. Add milk until texture is pleasing (you will probably have to do this as you blend), then add spice and salt to taste.

The seasonings approximate the flavor profile of palak paneer, which is my very favorite thing when I can face spinach. The ginger might be a little fiercer than you want unless you are really into fierce ginger; feel free to halve it! This quantity of jalapenos doesn't make the soup really fiery, just spicy -- halve them, too, if needed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What to expect from "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

If you know anybody who is pregnant, please offer her the following advice:

Do not assume that the prenatal reference book with the most worrying factoids, statistics, and advice is the most accurate or complete one.

What I mean is, you don't want scary stuff in your house. Why? Because every symptom, every twinge, every stray thought has you running to your reference books and to google things, and you can scare yourself silly. Literally silly.

What to Expect
is an immensely popular book. It's a frequently revised book. It's not inaccurate (not exactly). But it presents its material in such a way that it normalizes panic and can reinforce a small concern into a tsunami-level freak-out. (So can most web searches, so be careful.)

You don't really want a book that is vague about warning signs, or tells you what symptoms might lead to miscarriage. Really. These books are designed to talk you into taking seriously the gravity of what you are doing, and the importance of care. But what they SHOULD be designed to do, for those of us who already take seriously our pregnancies, is to reassure the patient when a symptom is likely normal.

Enter a few probably-better books, recommended by my no-worries-focused birth forum on BabyCenter:

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
Recommended by a BTDT (been there done that) mom with five kids, because it contains information she'd never seen before during her previous pregnancies, and because of its matter-of-fact presentation. I have not read this book, but Amazon reviewers like very much that it tells you when NOT to worry versus when TO worry in simple chart form:
"For example, if a woman has slight spotting during the first four weeks of pregnancy, the chart tells her to notify a doctor during her next hospital visit. But if she has any bleeding at all during weeks 29 to 32, the chart indicates that she should tell her doctor immediately." (from the Amazon description of the book)

Your mileage may vary, but this book might have saved my doctor's sanity during my first trimester, when I was calling, crying and terrified, every other week when WTE told me I was probably miscarrying.

Great ExpectAtions: Your All-in-one Pregnancy Resource
by Sandy Jones and Marcie Jones
This recommendation came from one of my favorite people on BabyCenter, who is sensible, calm, loving, and supportive, and who has a medical background. She likes it because she finds it to be all the things that I treasure in her... so I KNOW it's good. It also provides awesome new-parent information like the anatomy of a stroller -- AND the same authors wrote an early-childcare reference guide, too, so if you like it, there's more where that came from.

From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris
This one is my personal recommendation. It's upbeat, non-judgmental (if you don't want to be berated about your controversial choices on hot topics such as cloth vs. disposable diapers, circumcising or not, breastfeeding or not, co-sleeping or not... this is probably your book), and presents facts simply and comprehensibly without dwelling on the creepy -- and without encouraging the reader to dwell on the creepy.

Dad's Pregnant Too: Expectant fathers, expectant mothers, new dads and new moms share advice, tips and stories about all the surprises, questions and joys ahead...
by Harlan Cohen
This book is hilarious, reassuring, and informative. I got it for Pat when I found that he was reading just the "just for Dad" sections of WTE, and am incredibly glad that I did. First of all, he loved it. It knows its audience -- new daddies -- and it's written well to answer their questions and address their concerns. Secondly, it's brilliantly informative: Pat has been able to answer my questions about what is going on in my body, even when my other books and searches, and my obsessive personality, hadn't discovered the answers. And lastly, it brainwashed him -- for the better -- which I wouldn't have asked for but I ain't looking a gift horse in the mouth. The morning after I got this book I woke up to a sparkling clean toilet and bathroom. When I thanked him, Pat told me, "My book says that if you have to throw up, you shouldn't have to do it in a skanky toilet." Awwwww. Isn't that sweet?

I am sure there are more out there, but I know about these and felt like passin' on what I knew to you. And there we go. :)