Saturday, December 29, 2007

double double toilet trouble

Saturday was my "golden" birthday: I turned 29 on the 29th!

Stuart kept himself busy.

First, he baked me a cake:



And then he accidentally flushed a cloth diaper down our one and only toilet, rendering it useless for a full 16 hours until a plumber could get here. This happened around 7:00 in the evening, so we went all night without a decent place to pee. When it became obvious that the diaper was not to be extricated without the aid of a professional, I called a plumber. Evidently, last weekend was National Clog Your Toilet Day in Madison because of all 24-hr plumbing places I called, only one bothered to call back and he said it would be the middle of the night before anyone could get here, if at all, because they were so busy with calls. By 11:00, things were getting desperate. Stu and his dad "melted some snow" in the backyard under cover of darkness, but my MIL and I, being female and also unwilling to bare our bums and squat in the snow in 10-degree weather, decided to go to a nearby fast food joint to relieve ourselves. On the way out of the driveway, I noticed that our neighbors across the street were still up, so I pulled back into the driveway where I left the car and all my dignity, and knocked at their door. Of course they let us pee in their toilet because they are kind and gracious people, but the last time we imposed on them, it was to drop Daniel off for the night because we were heading to the hospital when Anya was born. We owe these people. Big. Time.

Sunday morning the plumber showed up at 11:30. We'd been out to breakfast at Lazy Jane's, so we'd all had the chance to use the bathroom in a decent and sanitary manner, but I was still VERY glad to see his van pull up. Of course, it took about 10 seconds to pull the diaper out of the U-bend...and you don't want to know how much it cost. I think we can safely say Stu won't be making THAT mistake again.

Happy Birthday to me...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

my kids

Enjoy these, folks. More substantial blog post coming soon...





Sunday, December 23, 2007

9 days

Anya is nine days old today and so far, everything is going rather swimmingly. She is a very snuggly, cuddly little girl who likes to sleep and loves to nurse and is starting to develop a little bit of chub. Daniel is handling everything well so far, all things considered. Every so often I feel a pang when I see that he needs something I can't help him with because I'm in the middle of breastfeeding or changing her diaper. But he's very taken with his little sister, and says her name with a tone of awe and reverence: "Anya Anya Anya."

What else can I say about the new baby? We're totally in love with her, of course, but other than the tandem diaper changes (when do they potty train, again?), the constant breastfeeding, the endless laundry, and the night wakings, there's not a lot to tell you.

Here, look at a cute picture:



Stuart's parents are here until New Year's Eve, and I'm so glad. Daniel hasn't seen them since July, so he's spending important time with them. My MIL is happy sitting on the couch for hours at a time holding Anya while she sleeps, and my FIL can send Daniel into happy hysterics kicking a ball around the house. The fact that it takes four adults to do what I'm going to have to do on my own in a couple of weeks frightens me, though. I wonder if I'll have opportunities to do certain tasks like use the bathroom and find my lunch without all these extra hands to help with my children.

But for now, we're having a good time. Stuart and I are enjoying watching the TeeVee after Daniel goes to bed. We Netflixed Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is like a raunchy, unscripted version of Seinfeld, starring its co-creator, Larry David. We find it completely hilarious, though if you're going to watch this show with people as wholesome and upstanding as my in-laws, I suggest you skip the "Porno Gil" episode on Disc 1...just sayin'

The biggest glitch so far was last night's dinner. We made pizza from scratch. This is something Stu and I have about once a week, so I didn't expect to screw up. And in fact, everything was fine until the pizzas were in the oven. After less than 15 minutes, we noticed the smell of burning and a lot of smoke seeping out the back burner. It appeared that the pizzas were burning, even though the cheese was barely melted on top. Thinking they couldn't be done, I left them in the oven. This was obviously a mistake, as a few minutes later, smoke was pouring out. There were few frenzied minutes as I ripped the smoke alarm off the wall, Stuart put an exhaust fan in the kitchen window, and my FIL hurriedly pulled the pizzas out of the oven, nearly burning himself, even though he was holding potholders. (Fortunately, the kids were totally oblivious--Anya was sleeping and Daniel was playing with a light switch.) (Hey, did you see that I just referred to my "kids"? Does that make me a real adult now? Yikes.)

So anyway, the good news is that we didn't start any fires or sustain any injuries. The bad news is that eating dinner required the skills of a mediocre surgeon, or perhaps a good butcher. I watched my husband and his parents hacking away at the burnt crust, scraping off the toppings and half-heartedly claiming that The Pizza was "really good if you just don't eat the burned part," while I, far too angry at The Pizza to eat it, munched a peanut butter sandwich. I couldn't figure out what went wrong. I've made pizza hundreds of times, and there was nothing different about the dough or the pans or the oven we used.

(My MIL finally solved the mystery: we set two big pans side by side in the oven, where they barely fit, leaving no room for the heat to circulate around them. Therefore, all the heat was trapped underneath and scorched the bottom of the crust and failing to cook the top. Since Stu and I just make one pizza at a time, this hadn't happened to us before, though I vaguely recall this problem with cookies when I do too many at once. I guess you learn something new every day, huh?)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

There's someone I'd like you to meet

This is Anya.



She introduced herself to us at 1:50am on December 14, a full 16 days before her due date.

I was so relieved.



I had this great post planned with clever references to how I finally drank a whole beer this evening and how I won't get my diploma until May because with being in the hospital having a baby and everything I didn't get my paperwork turned in, but I'm sure that you understand I'm a little too tired now to put something together that's all witty and fun.

All the same, I'm sure you'd like a few of the deets, so here's a little Q&A for ya!

Weight?

8lbs, 2 oz (See why I'm glad she was early?! Good Lord, can you imagine how big she would have been on time!!?)

Length?
19.5"

From whence the name Anya?

Dunno. We just like it. Buffy fans may suspect otherwise, I realize.


Length of labor?

That's a little hard to say. As I despaired in my last post, I was getting contractions at 7:15 the morning of Dec. 13, but they were on and off for a while. They finally started without letting up around 6:00 that evening, and she was born just before 2:00am, so I'd put it around 8 hours.

Doula?
You'd better believe it. Never go into labor without a doula, I say. Ours, the same one who assisted when Daniel was born, is pure genius with the rice pack and massage and focus on the breathing and the whole bit.

Stuart?
Was amazing. Simply amazing.

Drugs?
Not a one. Everything happened quickly enough I didn't need them.

How is Daniel doing?
He is doing just fine. He's been saying "Anya Anya Anya" nonstop since we got home today, and he touches her head ever so gently and he's going to be a superb big brother, I can just tell.

And how is Anya doing?
Just fabulous. She latched on perfectly from the start, and basically sleeps all the time as long as someone is holding her, and by the way isn't she just so perfect? (I'm her mother. I'm allowed to say that.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

???

I am just a little bit frazzled today because I woke up at 7:00 having regular contractions every 5 minutes. After an hour and a half of that, I started calling all the people I need to call--a sitter for Daniel, the clinic, the doula--and Stuart called in to work saying he might not be in today.

I also canceled my appointment with the graduate school to deposit all my Official Papers in order to graduate this month. Tomorrow is the deadline. If I don't get this stuff in tomorrow, I don't graduate until May. Now, this technically isn't a big deal because I wouldn't have to register for the spring semester or pay tuition or anything; it's just that the degree isn't awarded until the end of spring term. But to me it's kind of a big deal to get this all wrapped up and officially done with in 2007. It's just tidier that way, no dangling ends. Doctorate and baby, all in the same month.*

And then, of course of course OF COURSE, the contractions became less frequent, though no less intense. Another false alarm? Maybe. I don't really know yet. In any case, I sent Stuart to work, called off the sitter, and told the doula not to meet us at the hospital yet.

So I'm frustrated that I don't know whether I'm really in labor or not. I'm exhausted because I only got about three hours of sleep last night, no thanks to insomnia. And also, the contractions haven't stopped; they've just gotten less frequent. I had a big one in the middle of a poopy diaper change. That was fun, believe me.

Thank goodness Stuart's workplace is pretty close to where we live, so he can come home quickly if I need him to. Thank goodness we have an awesome doula who has called me every few days to check in and be supportive since last weekend's false alarm. Thank goodness I have not one, but two people at the ready to watch Daniel when we need to leave. Thank goodness my bag is actually packed this time.

Now, it's just time to wait.

*When I spoke to the secretary at the graduate school, she said I could have someone turn my things in my proxy, so I might have Stuart take care of it tomorrow if I'm in the hospital. I'm not kidding about this. I want my #$*%ing doctorate, damnit!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

some pictures of the little man

He loves his juice.



Learning about static electricity:



very excited about a new stuffed kitty a friend of mine gave him:



Watching football with Stu. Yeah, I don't know what he's pointing at or why. Just use your imagination (maybe it's a guy thing...):

Sunday, December 09, 2007

two things done, one still pending

Done:

The Dissertation

Revised copies have been distributed to each member of my committee. Theoretically, they will read through it and let me know if they find any mistakes, but I'd be surprised if they did much more than skim it, considering 1) it's 82 pages long, 2) my major professor has already read and approved it, and 3) it's the end of the semester and they're all preparing finals and grading term papers and the like.

Bread
Stuart made AWESOME bread this weekend, and it's the easiest recipe ever. It takes a while but requires no kneading. Stuart concurs with Mark Bittman's assessment that a six year old could make this bread. And it's so delicious: crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside...we scarfed a bunch of it down for lunch today. There's a video tutorial right here, so now you can make some, too.

Pending:

You guessed it...
There's nothing that can try a person's patience like false labor. Dudes, we really thought it was happening this weekend. I started having contractions Thursday night and they were on and off for the next 36 hours before stopping completely. I've felt nary a twinge since yesterday morning. Even though I've got three weeks to go before the due date and should therefore be exhibiting more patience, I admit I'm having kind of a hard time, though today is better than yesterday. Yesterday sucked. I felt like someone put all my emotions into a blender and made me drink the whole cocktail in one big gulp.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hooray!

Are you guys sick of hearing me go on about pregnancy and dissertation? Me, too.

But this is good news, and it's quick, so here goes. I just talked to my teacher/adviser/mentor a few minutes ago, and she LIKES my revisions and REALLY LIKES my paper. Do you know what this means? I really am DONE with the writing!! Tonight I'll need to scan it for typos and patch all the revisions in and spend god knows how much getting it all printed at Kinko's (I need, like, 7 copies, and it's at least 80 pages long by now). Yes, that will all take a couple of hours, but it's a HUGE relief to know that the only work I have left is basically busy work. No more agonizing at 2:00 in the morning with Word open and staring me in the face. No more guilt over knitting or blogging when I could be writing.

I think by next Friday you'll be able to call me "Dr. Susan."

Monday, December 03, 2007

a list of lists

This is my little reward for finishing another batch of revisions today. More writing! (Hey, wait, that doesn't make much sense. Huh.)

5 things I want to do before 2008

1. have this baby
2. drink a beer (Stuart is saving me a whole six-pack of Oberson, bless him) (notice that this is contingent on #1)
3. see the movie Superbad
4. finish at least one knitting project I've started in the last two months
5. take Daniel to the children's museum with my friend Stephanie

5 things I need to do this week

1. finish revising my paper
2. turn in my paper
3. drop off Very Important Paperwork at the school of music and hope my committee actually signs it this time (see #1 and #2 about finishing the paper to make this possible)
4. pack a bag to take to the hospital, just in case (ha!)
5. clean off at least one flat surface in this house that has been taken over by god-knows-what, probably just junk mail and library books, but it's really starting to get on my nerves (can you say "nesting"?)

5 things I need to do tomorrow


1. make bread
2. go to the grocery store so we have something to eat besides yellowed broccoli and ice cubes
3. revise another section of my paper
4. go to the library and pick up a book which I am not allowed to read until my revisions are done, but said book will be placed on the desk next to the computer as an enticement to get my butt moving
5. scrub the kitchen floor--when your 22-month-old son is pointing out all the gross spots, you know it's time

5 links you should go check out

1. Steph's most recent post on her tradition of watching the entire LOTR trilogy in one weekend, and this year's added bonus of re-casting the entire thing in drag. She needs suggestions. Go forth and offer them (Feral Mom, if you're reading this, I just have a feeling that would be right up your alley...)
2. Pam just put up some of the songs we recorded on her MySpace page. Go listen to us!
3. OK, I lied. That's only two links. But hey, if there are three of you out there with something interesting or funny or poignant to share, leave a note in comments, and I'll add it on.

5 baby names that were not only rejected, but mocked heavily (note: this list is not in any way comprehensive, as there are a lot of seriously funky names out there)


1. Arkansas
2. Blue
3. Duff
4. Anise
5. Dorcas

and now, evidence that this is the lamest post ever...a list of 5 more lists I need to make
1. groceries to purchase tomorrow morning
2. Christmas presents--what's taken care of and what isn't
3. names and addresses of everyone I owe thank-yous for this semester
4. stuff to take to the hospital, cause I can't really remember what all you're supposed to have with you...all I remember is a change of clothes for me, some decent shampoo (the stuff in the hospital sux), and something for the baby to wear coming home
5. all the other stuff I need to do but will probably forget unless I write it down

Saturday, December 01, 2007

birth stories

I learned this afternoon that my teacher was born in the toilet. Early one morning, about three weeks before her due date, her mother woke up with a back ache and asked her husband for a massage. He obliged, she fell asleep, then a couple of hours later she woke up with the same back pain and the sudden urge to use the bathroom. So she ran to the bathroom, used it, and discovered upon reaching down to, you know, wipe up, that the baby's head was starting to come out. She screamed for her husband, felt one (that's right - one, single, uno, ein) pain, pushed, and M was born. Her father caught her before she actually fell into the toilet bowl.

I have a friend who recently gave birth to her third son. I don't know all the details, but it sounds like they barely made it to the hospital on time even after screaming through rural Kansas roads at 90mph in the middle of the night. This woman has spent less than half the time I have in labor, and she has three children. I just have one.

If only it were that easy.

I have just over 4 weeks to go before my official due date, and lately I've been thinking a lot about what to expect, how it might go. We have the same doctor, the same doula and will be at the same hospital. Hopefully, it won't take 30 hours this time around, but you never really know what's going to happen.
All I know is that I'm ready. NOW.

I remember before Daniel was born I wasn't bombarded with unwelcome advice so much as unwelcome birth stories. Not that I don't enjoy a good birth story, especially now that I've been through the experience myself. And I didn't mind the interesting ones (see above). But I really minded the ones about someone going overdue because I thought if I had to wait even until my due date I was going to kill myself. Good thing Daniel was born on time, or I might have died of desperation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

my happy place

You might be seeing a lot of posts from me the next few weeks, thanks to procrastination and insomnia and all the rest. Not that I can promise quality writing to go with the frequency of said posts, but this is a blog. No one's grading me on it.

Last night a friend of ours dropped by so Stu could help him right some wrong with his laptop. While Stuart was swapping airport cards from one computer to another and running extension cords all over the house, I was talking with said friend about meditation. He is in his 4th year of medical school, plans to go into family practice, and is increasingly interested in integrative medicine. A doctor of integrative medicine who lives, teaches, and practices in Madison wrote a textbook about 3" thick on the subject, and our friend has really learned a lot from him. I don't know much about integrative medicine except that it's got a much more holistic approach than regular medicine. Doctors who use this approach are concerned with the emotional well-being of their patients and how that affects their physical health.

That seems like a no-brainer, right? Don't we all know that stress and anxiety is bad for your health? Still, I have yet to go to a doctor who asks me how my life is going. Even yesterday at my last preggo check-up, when I asked my doc (whom I adore, by the way) for advice on the sleep and itching issues I've been having, I didn't think to mention the fact that I'm on the verge of finishing a doctorate and the tail-end of revisions is causing me to feel more stressed out and exhausted than I might be otherwise.

So anyway, the reason my friend and I were talking about meditation is that he's met a few doctors who use it a lot themselves and with their patients. Now, my friend and I (and Stuart, for that matter) are the kind of people for whom meditation doesn't usually feel necessary. We're people whose emotional and spiritual needs aren't particularly complex. But he's been trying it for a few minutes every day, and I asked him what he does to meditate. His answer was pretty simple: concentrate on deep breathing and then visualize yourself in a happy place.* As it turns out, that's what I've been doing in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. It's like my brain's not totally "on" because I'm so tired, but hormones and itching and all that keep me too wired to actually sleep. So I'll sit on the futon or the couch or wherever in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness and breathe slowly and imagine myself somewhere very, very peaceful. That's my happy place (By the way, it's hard not to snicker when you're using phrases like "happy place"...I obviously have a ways to go before mastering this whole meditation thing.)

My happy place is simple: I imagine myself in a dark room, dressed in cozy flannel pajamas, wrapped in a warm quilt, drinking hot cider and staring into a very warm fire flickering in a fireplace. I am warm. I am alone. I am not pregnant. I am not moving or fidgeting at all. Sometimes I am reading or knitting, and sometimes I am just sitting. I am comfortable.

Do you do this? What's your happy place (if you don't mind sharing)?

*Interesting side note: the kind of deep breathing where you really let your diaphragm expand (the kind singers and players of wind instruments are quite familiar with) stimulates a major nerve (the name of which escapes me at the moment) which in turn fires up the neurons that both send happy, relaxing signals to your brain and make you want to take a crap. We then discussed the merits of meditating on the toilet. It was a very sophisticated conversation.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

gifted

Call me a Scrooge, but I find that the whole gift-giving part of Christmas is increasingly stressful for me. It's not so much that I don't like finding gifts for people who are important to me (family, close friends). I think it's the fact that the holiday season has a tendency to sneak up on me and the prospect of finding suitable presents for all those people at once is a little overwhelming. I have no problem with birthdays, for example. With birthdays you're dealing with one person at a time, and even if you've got several people in your family with birthdays in the same month, it's not like Christmas where it all comes down to one big shopping-wrapping-spending extravaganza.

So first there's my problem with not planning enough ahead of time and feeling disorganized and hurried when it comes to finding presents for everyone, and second there are my hang-ups with American consumerism in general. Don't worry, I'm not going to get all preachy here. Let's just say that I'm not willing to go to Target or Wal-fart and buy some plastic trinket that will end up in a landfill in a few months just for the sake of having something to wrap up and give someone. I find it frightening how dependent our consumer economy is on people spending gobs of money during the holidays, like on Black Friday when the news is full of stories of people who camped out in front of Best Buy for 24 hours to be first in line to buy the latest electronic gadget that was sold out within ten minutes of the store opening at some ridiculous hour of the morning, and then despite the huge shopping rush, the big retail giants are still worried about yearly profits. This way of running the economy strikes me as disturbingly unsustainable.

Then there's the fact that I'm particular about the gifts I give because want them to be meaningful and thoughtful without being overly sentimental (you won't ever catch me scrapbooking, for one). I see no point in giving someone scented candles, for example. It just seems too generic (not that I haven't ever done that before, but now I know better.) Gifts also have to be useful but not too practical and boring; while I'm sure anyone could use a gift card to a gas station or or a 6-pack of new underwear, it's really hard to get excited about that, isn't it?

I'm not big on charitable donations as gifts, either. I think we should just give to charity anyway, but I just can't see myself saying "Merry Christmas, mom! I gave someone else a goat!!"

Here's my general rule of thumb: buy or make (more on this in a minute) a gift that someone can really use, yet make sure it's something he or she would not already buy for himself or herself out of necessity, and try to avoid patronizing big box stores. Lately, I've gotten into giving consumable items, like hot cocoa mix and spices from Penzey's, fair trade olive oil, fine wine, gourmet chocolate by local artisans, high quality handmade soap, that kind of thing. Clothes are often a good option, assuming you trust that you know someone's taste well enough to pick something out.

About making gifts: this is actually a place where one must tread carefully. A lot of thought and time and work goes into a handmade gift, but that can backfire in two ways. The first is biting off more than you can chew and ending up way more stressed about gift-making than you should ever be because you didn't allow yourself enough time. (Knitters are notorious for over-committing themselves during the holidays, staying up until the wee hours of the morning making socks and hats and mittens and sometimes sweaters for everyone they know, often wrapping up a half of a sweater with the remaining skeins of yarn and an IOU on Christmas Eve because it just didn't get done.) And then there's the risk that what you make completely misses the mark and the recipient feels obligated to wear or use whatever it is even though he or she hates it. If I've done this to anyone, they've been too polite to tell me...but it's still a risk.

This year I'm a bit hopeless. The dissertation, being very very pregnant, and having a little boy to take care of means that it's just now registering for me that Christmas is upon us and that I need to figure this gift thing out pretty soon. Otherwise, you'll see me at Target on Christmas Eve, great with child, cursing myself for procrastinating and going against all my principles, and wishing I'd just thought to start knitting everybody socks back in July.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

remedies

Thanksgiving has come and gone. My family all left this morning. We took Joe to the airport at 8:00, and at the same time, my parents left to drive home. So far we've only found a couple things left behind, and they're nothing dire like a cell phone or pair of glasses or prescription meds. We ate well, and we ate a lot, but even after gorging on turkey on Thursday, turkey salad sandwiches on Friday, and pozole with turkey (instead of pork) on Saturday, I still put 5 pints of chopped turkey in the freezer this afternoon. I'll probably just use it in soup.

I was plagued all week with the insomnia and itching that seems to be my personal cross to bear in the last two months of pregnancy. It was just as bad when I was pregnant with Daniel. I've griped about this plenty before, and one day I'll shut up about it, I promise. But it's so constant and makes me so miserable, it's really really hard not to whimper and moan about it all the time. I'm not sure which affliction is worse, but there seems to be little I can do to relieve either problem. I just have to stick it out and try to get through each 24 hours without breaking down from exhaustion and self-pity.

There are a couple things that I've found helpful, though. The first is baking soda. It's cheap and environmentally friendly, so that's a good start, but it turns out that baking soda is pretty amazingly versatile stuff. I ought to buy it by the case and put a box in every room of the house because it turns out that making buttermilk biscuits and chocolate chip cookies is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many, many uses of baking soda. You can scrub the tub with it. You can add it to your laundry. You can sprinkle it in the diaper pail to cut down the smell of wet diapers. You can mix a little of it with your shampoo to get your hair really clean. You can make a paste of it and rub it on your face to exfoliate your skin. And here's the best part for me right now: you can dissolve it in warm water and bathe in it to soothe irritated skin. Pam posted about this about a week ago, and I tried it on my feet where the itching is the worst and it actually helped more than anything else I've tried (which includes everything from cortisone cream to aloe gel to calomine lotion to asking Stuart if I should get a skin transplant.) This morning, when every inch of my arms, shoulders, back, legs, ankles and feet were itching so badly I thought I just might die, I took a shower and right before I was done, I rubbed a little baking soda over my skin, rinsed it off and felt much, much better.

The insomnia is proving to be trickier, unfortunately. When you're pregnant, you can't take ANYTHING to help you sleep, even herbal rememdies. A google search for "pregnancy sleeping aids" revealed a bunch of web pages with a lot of information that is profoundly useless to me. It's not heartburn or restless leg syndrome or nausea or the frequent urge to pee or consumption of caffeine that is preventing me from sleeping. None of those things are an issue for me. Sleeping on my side and taking Tums and avoiding drinking lots of water before bedtime isn't doing squat for me. Neither is meditating, deep breathing or counting sheep. Swimming makes a tiny difference, but I can't do that every day, and all the chlorine makes the itching worse, so I have to strike the right balance there. Basically, I've just resigned myself to the fact that I will only get 2-4 hours of sleep per night, and I'm not fighting it anymore. I stay up really late, reading or knitting or baking or working on paper revisions (though it's not like I'm at full brain capacity right now, alas) until I can't keep my eyes open. Around 2a.m., I collapse into bed for a couple hours before waking up to fidget and pee and scratch my feet, and then I get up again and putz around some more trying to get tired enough to get another hour or two of sleep before it's time for everyone to get up.

Through all this, I keep trying to remind myself that I'm lucky. I'm lucky to be having a healthy pregnancy that has been relatively easy up to this point. I'm lucky that my husband is just as helpful and supportive as he can be. I'm lucky that Daniel is taking decent naps in the afternoon so I get a small reprieve in the middle of the day when I need it the most. And this isn't luck as much as my own hard work, but I'm fortunate that I really can wrap up this doctorate in the next couple weeks. As excruciating as it is to work on a paper that I'm losing enthusiasm for by the day, as difficult as it is to muster up the mental and physical energy to put adequate work into this revisions, I can do it, and by gum, I will.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

5 more weeks...5 more weeks...5 more weeks

Last night I wondered briefly if I was going into premature labor. I had an ache in my lower back that didn't go away with counter-pressure and my abdominal muscles were contracting a little. It was never painful enough that I thought I should call the doctor, and it all went away in an hour or two, so there's no cause for concern. I couldn't help but ask myself, though, "If I just went and had the baby tonight, d'you suppose my committee would change their minds about wanting revisions?" No, probably not.

(And you know, even though I'm really uncomfortable at this point, I don't want a premature baby. I'm not quite that desperate. Yet.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving traditions

Of all the holidays we celebrate or observe, I'm probably most "traditional" about Thanksgiving. I like the traditional foods, and I always have. Even though I skipped the turkey during my vegetarian years, I was happy eating plenty of everything else: the stuffing that baked outside of the bird, mashed potatoes, rolls, squash, cranberry salad, and mmmmmm....pie. This year I'm an omnivore again (pregnancy does that to me), and my family came to Madison for the holiday, so we went all out and did the whole traditional meal. I ordered a free-range turkey from a nearby farm and bought a bunch of locally-grown produce at the co-op for a good part of the side dishes. I'm not going to be all hoity-toity about everything we ate, though, seeing as the cranberry salad calls for two packages of jello and I used canned pumpkin for the pie.

There's an aspect of traditional Thanksgiving that troubles me: the notion that women spend the whole day cooking a huge, delicious feast and men sit on their butts and watch football. It just doesn't seem fair! And even though all the men in my family are much more helpful and considerate than that oversimplified stereotype would suggest, it would still be far too easy for me and my mom to spend hours and hours with all the food preparation and let them get away with washing all the dishes and calling it even.

Not this year, my friends. I took charge. I delegated. This was not just because I'm nearly eight months pregnant and don't like to be on my feet for extended periods of time, though that was certainly a factor. I decided that in the interest of egalitarianism and fairness, it's important for everyone to contribute to the meal, so I made assignments. For example, my dad was in charge of the mashed potatoes, and I don't mean I peeled and cooked and drained the potatoes and asked him to mash them; I mean I gave him a bag of potatoes and said, "You're in charge of the mashed potatoes. Let me know if you can't find something you need." My brother Joe and Stuart were on pie duty: pumpkin and pecan. I'm pretty sure Stuart's never made a pie in his life, but Joe certainly has, so I left them to it. My mom and I worked together on the cranberry salad last night, and then at 5:00 this morning, when neither of us could sleep (sigh), we made the stuffing, which involved us taking turns chopping the onion because it made us both profusely tearful, and me running out in the pre-dawn snow to pick parsley and thyme. Mom was in charge of the turkey, too. In fact, among the many things I'm thankful for today, one of them is that my mom knows how to roast a 15-lb turkey because I don't have a clue. I did the side vegetables (peas, baked squash). I set the table. Everyone helped wash dishes at some point today.

I like this distribution of Thanksgiving duties. No one was over-worked, everything was delicious, and the guys still got to watch football:



And little Daniel? He napped through the meal, but once he got up, we discovered that he really, really likes pumpkin pie:



Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

random Monday

1. My recital was last night. It went well, some people showed up to see it, my parents brought excellent snacks for the reception, and moving the harpsichord to the concert hall didn't make me go into labor, so all in all, I would say it was a success. My little Daniel was there, and while I don't think he lasted too long in the audience before getting squirmy and disruptive, he still saw a good part of the performance from the back of the hall behind a glass window. During the last set of pieces, I heard his distinctive little voice saying "BYE BYEEEE! BYE BYEEEEE!" and I nearly cracked up.

2. All that stands between me and my doctorate is some revisions on my dissertation paper. Well, and subsequent signatures from my committee and some other paperwork, but really, I'm almost Doctor Susan.

3. Or how about Doctor Crazy Pregnant Lady? Because seriously, folks, there are all of six weeks until my due date and right now, despite the school stuff I have to wrap up in that time, it feels like an eternity. I have many complaints, but chief among the ones I'm willing to tell you about are that I can't sleep and my feet and shoulders itch so badly I'm scratching them raw, even though I (should) know better. I haven't worn socks since October. It's like I took a bath in poison ivy essential oil, only there's no rash. It looks like I have fleas or something.

4. Even though I'm finishing up this semester, Stuart has applied for Special Student Status at UW for next semester. Not, you know, "special"--just not full time. Three years after bailing out of a PhD program in biological neuroscience (you've gotta really love rat brains to be in that field, and he really didn't), he wants to register for a Computer Science course to beef up his programming skillz. It's like we just can't quite be free of higher education, huh?

5. I learned a few days ago that Craig Smith died. He was the Bach guru at SongFest, a musician of enormous knowledge, a kind man. He was in quite poor health in June when I met him, so news of his death was not too surprising. Even though I only knew him for a week or so, I'm very sad to hear that he's gone. A long obituary is here on the website for the Emmanuel Church in Boston, where Craig worked for many years.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

check me out!

I'm too bleary-eyed from stress and insomnia and late-pregnancy discomfort (I'll spare you details) to write anything useful or interesting right now, but here are a couple things to check out in case anyone's interested:

1. My exit recital is this Sunday at 6:30pm in Morphy Hall in the Humanities Building on the UW campus. If you attend, you'll be treated to a Bach sonata with a really excellent baroque violinist, those Harbison pieces I played at Songfest over the summer, a Brahms 4-hand piece with another pianist who is exactly as pregnant as I am (we're using two benches), and some unpublished songs that were part of my dissertation project. Also, there will be snacks afterwards, courtesy of my mom and dad. Yes, my parents will be there! So you can meet them, too.

2. I was featured in a Capital Times article about moms in Madison who blog. You can read it here. I haven't seen the print version, but apparently my picture is in it, though my mug is missing from the online version. That's okay with me. I feel like a blotchy, bloated whale by now anyway.*

All right, kids, I should either be writing program notes for Sunday or revising my paper, but I'm so tired and worn out I think I'm going to try and get a little catnap in before Daniel wakes up.

*ETA: My picture IS there. And I don't look like a whale in it, thank goodness. All you have to do is click on the link underneath the photo and you can see a picture of me and Daniel, along with a couple other bloggers interviewed for the story.

Monday, November 12, 2007

meh

So my defense was this morning. It went okay, though I have some rather significant revisions to do before my committee signs the official stuff. I was hoping today would feel like a bigger deal, but I should have known better...it ain't over till it's over.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

wired

I'm going just a bit batty these days, but it's in a good way, mostly. (Occasionally, the sleep-deprivation and late pregnancy hormones gang up on me and I lose my temper for no reason, but that hasn't happened too often). My defense is tomorrow and my recital is in a week and I have a million things going through my head, like:

1. One Very Official Document I have to get signed requires that my name and the title of my dissertation and defense date be typed on it, not hand-written. It's on 25% rag-content paper with a watermark and came straight from the graduate school, so I've got one shot to send it through the printer correctly. Of course, I'll measure it all and run some practice scrap paper through, but it all feels like so much pressure it's stressing me out WAY more than it should. Plus, the printer isn't communicating with the computer for some reason.

2. Everyone I know brings snacks and coffee for their committee to their final defense. Should I bake cinnamon rolls? Cookies? Pretzels? Pick up some bagels? Or maybe it's just the suck-ups that do this? Gahhhh. (I brought a huge batch of homemade pretzels to my prelim oral exams and they ate two of 'em.)

3. I'm calculating the minimum amount of time I can spend practicing the harpsichord and still pull off this Bach sonata. Right now I'm banking on about two hours of rehearsal and two or three hours of practicing in the next week. It better be enough because that's all I'm going to get.

4. I better make some posters advertising this recital or no one will come to it. I better do that TODAY.

5. The clutter in certain areas of the house is driving me BATSHIT INSANE, but I don't have time to clean it up. I can blame exactly 0% of it on Stuart. It's all my stuff piled up on top of the piano, on the coffee table and in the office.

6. I have to bake bread every two or three days now because that is ALL Daniel is eating, at least for this week. The kid goes through about 2/3 of a loaf in any given day. I put applesauce and vegetables and all manner of yummy things in front of him, and he studiously ignores it all in favor of whole wheat bread.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

a little sluggish

I was in bed all day yesterday with a mild flu. It was kind of strange, actually, as there was no fever, no cough, no upset stomach, nothing but 24 hours of extreme fatigue. So I slept for the better part of 21 hours, ate naught but a couple pieces of toast, and felt much better by the evening. Stuart had to take a sick day to take care of Daniel because I didn't have the energy to sit upright, much less run after a squealing toddler. I think Daniel had a pretty good time with his daddy. I heard lots of giggling and he didn't even come looking for me until the afternoon when he climbed on the bed and sat on my head. What a great way to wake up from a sick-nap, huh?

I'm about 95% better today, which is good since I'm teaching later and have a rehearsal tonight (re-scheduled from last night) and I'm tired of asking Stuart to stay home when he's not the sick one.

I went to campus this morning to pick up some paperwork. It's important paperwork, including a couple of forms from the graduate school that my committee members will sign on Monday. I know these forms are the real deal because they are printed on high-quality flecked paper and my name is typed on them already. And I know my committee will sign because most of them have at least skimmed my paper and say they like it, though there will certainly be revisions.

This is a conversation I've had a lot lately:
Random person: Are you finished yet?
Me: Yes, in just a few weeks.
RP: So when are you due?
Me: Dec. 30
RP: Wow, you're really close to the finish line.
Me: Uh-huh.
RP: So what's next?
Me: Oh, well, with two little kids to look after, I'm not looking for a job right away. I'll just freelance as I can and maybe in a year or two I'll start applying for teaching positions.
RP: Oh, um. Good luck with that.

In a version of the above conversation I had today, I was told that I'm really "lucky" that I have the choice to stay home or not. I guess that's true, though have you checked out the cost of good daycare lately, especially for babies and children under the age of 2? No job I would qualify for would earn enough to cover daycare, much less actually contribute to the family's income. So this really isn't as much of a "choice" as you might think.

Monday, November 05, 2007

anticipation

I have some anxieties about having this baby. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up with the all the diapers, that Daniel will be jealous and hate me, that I'll lose my mind feeling trapped in our small house with two little kids in the dead of winter and a languishing doctorate in a subject that is only marginally practical...you know, all that stuff. I'm also anxious about the whole labor/birthing thing. I suppose this is because the last time I went through it was a mere 21 months ago and I remember everything just a little too vividly.

But at the same time, there are several things I'm looking forward to about not being pregnant anymore, such as:

1. Enjoying an evening brewsky. I miss my Bell's Oberon, yo.

2. Not having to pee every 10 minutes.

3. Sleeping. I know you think I'm kidding. I am absolutely NOT kidding. And I remember all too well the wacked out sleep patterns of a brand-new baby. However, the last two months of pregnancy with Daniel were absolute HELL when it came to insomnia. I couldn't sleep more than two hours a night, no matter how tired I was. I would intentionally wear myself out walking 2 miles a day, cleaning the house, staying up late, you name it, and none of it worked. After he was born, I could finally, finally go to sleep, given the opportunity. Even though it was never for more than a couple hours at a time (because, you see, Daniel didn't sleep through the night - EVER - until he was well over a year old), it was so much better than the misery of third-trimester insomnia that I didn't realize I was actually sleep-deprived until he was 3 or 4 months old. It hasn't gotten that bad (yet) this pregnancy, except the last week of dissertation writing when stress got the better of me and I was a zombie, but I still wake up and toss and turn and fidget in the middle of the night.

4. Walking like a normal person. When you're carrying an extra 32 pounds, you either have to waddle or do a funny sort of duck-like strut. It ain't sexy.

5. Not having people ask me if I have rosacea. This has happened twice already: once in a grocery store, and once recently at a cosmetics counter. I was getting fancy-pants hand lotion for my mom's birthday and inquired about facial moisturizer for myself when the saleslady asked delicately if I have "rosacea issues" or if it's "just the pregnancy." The stuff she recommended was 32 bucks for one tiny little tub, so I gave it a pass (though it was heavenly, I have to admit).

6. Wearing pants that I don't have to hitch up, and shirts that I don't have to tug down. Also, being able to zip up my jacket. This would have come in handy today, for example, since it was cold enough to snow.

7. Eating yummy cheeses. Pregnant women are evidently more vulnerable to certain kinds of bacteria, so we are told to stay away from soft and crumbly cheeses. Hey, I'd rather avoid them than risk having my insides explode, but I miss my double-cream Brie!

So there you have it. I know it's a pretty superficial list, but all of this stuff adds up after nine months.

Friday, November 02, 2007

pictures

This is just about the only recent picture of me I'm willing to share with the outside world. Daniel, as you can see, is all about my tummy lately.



And here's the little man cheesing it up for the camera.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

goodbye to October

Daniel is MUCH better today. Thanks to all of you who asked in comments or in emails. In fact, he was pretty well back to normal by last night, thankfully.

Is it really Halloween today? Somehow that didn't exactly register with me. I guess between a sick kid earlier this week, and all the school stuff having me preoccupied and the fact that Daniel isn't old enough to understand what a costume is, much less ask strangers for candy (let's put that off as long as we can, shall we?), it just wasn't on my radar. Well, anyway, happy Halloween, everyone!

November is going to be a crazy month for me. My dissertation defense is on the 12th, my exit recital is on the 18th, and my whole fambly is going to be here for Thanksgiving. These are all good things to look forward to, though stressful--except for the visiting family part. That'll just be fun.

So, yeah. This exit recital. It's going pretty well, considering. About 1/3 of the music I know already, but the other 2/3 of it I've given myself less than a month to put together; that includes a major (actually, it's in f minor, har har) Bach violin sonata with harpsichord and the Brahms Schumann variations, op. 23, not an insubstantial piece itself. I've had two rehearsals on each of these newer works, and I'll probably get two more. That's it. And you know what? I'm confident that everything will be just fine. This is partly just because it has to be just fine. There is no other option. I can not postpone this recital. I can not ask my fellow musicians to rehearse more than their busy schedules will allow. I can not conjure a babysitter out of thin air when none is available.

Mostly, I am confident because I realize just how far I've come as a musician in the last few years, particularly since studying Collaborative Piano exclusively. I can learn most music quickly (though obviously, some things take more time than others), I can rehearse efficiently, I know how to listen to myself as a pianist and as a collaborator, and most significantly, I don't need a lot of help to do any of these things. I feel more independent now than I ever have before. True, it took a bunch of years in grad school and 3 post-college degrees to get me here, so if you call me a "late bloomer" or a "slow learner," I'm not going to argue with you. The important thing is, this is where I am now and I feel good about it.

Of course, all this is coming together for me just in time to have another baby, so who knows if I'll ever get a real job that pays me to do what I'm good at...but that's a topic for another day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

fortitude

I don't have much fortitude when it comes to illness in my little family. Whenever I get sick, I can deal with it fine, but there's something about seeing someone else suffer that is just heartbreaking to me. Obviously, none of us likes it when someone we love gets sick, but this particular source of anxiety for me goes beyond what is reasonable. I think it's gotten worse since becoming a mother; maybe it's all those nurturing instincts going into overdrive? I'm not really sure.

Today, Daniel woke up sick with some kind of stomach virus. I didn't entirely freak out, but I knew I would go completely batty if I was stuck inside the house alone, all day long with a pukey kid, so I asked Stuart to stay home with me to help take care of him. I feel really bad about asking him to take a sick day when I'm the one who is supposed to take care of these things. We're going to need all the sick leave he can get in a couple months when this next baby is born, so that was an extra source of guilt for me. I'm glad he was here for the morning, though, because Daniel was miserable, and I needed the support.

See, when one of my dear ones is ill, even with a minor bug like this, I get a little neurotic. I hover. I worry. I can't eat or drink. I'm anxious. I don't know what to do except pray quietly that it will all pass in a short time. And being alone makes it about ten times worse.

I really need to learn how to deal with these things better. I think I have a lot of fortitude in most other areas of my life. I'm a pretty together person, in charge of my life, capable of handling all kinds of situations with a level head, and all that. And we're all a healthy bunch, generally speaking, so this type of thing doesn't happen often (good thing, or I'm sure I'd be in therapy for it by now).

As it was, Daniel spent the better part of the morning sleeping on my lap while we sat on the couch. We turned on PBS to entertain him, and I endured the Teletubbies show, even though it TOTALLY creeps me out--I'm not sure which is worse: the smiling baby face in the sun or the disembodied, amplified music coming from a speaker in the middle of a meadow. By noon, he was asking for water and crackers (which we gave him, cautiously), and by 1:00 or so, he was pushing toy trucks around with all the appropriate sound effects and building block towers, so the worst seems to be over. (I say this with caution.)

I can't run away from this. I'm a mom. Viruses come and go, and the healthiest of us get sick sometimes. Sick kids are a normal part of life. I know all this, but when it comes to actual situations, like today, it's hard for me to be reasonable. So here's my question for y'all: how do you deal with things that give you more anxiety than is rational or justified?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

naptime guilt

Now that my dissertation is done, or at least turned in to my committee (they may yet suggest revisions, but I doubt any of them have read it yet), Daniel's naptime is now my free time again. True, I have a big recital in just over three weeks, but I don't risk practicing while he's sleeping any more. (Usually I get most practicing done on the weekend and in the early evening when Stuart's home from work, and if I need extra time, I have the sitter come over.)

This feels weird, this hour or so in the middle of the day when I can do what I want. Daniel was a terrible napper until early this summer. At that time, first-trimester fatigue had me so wiped out I would either sit on the couch staring into space or nod off while he slept. By the time he started sleeping more than 30 minutes in a stretch (though still at completely unpredictable times), I was frantically writing every chance I got, so his naptime wasn't a "break" so much as a free hour to work on my paper (by "free," I mean I wasn't paying a sitter--it really adds up, you know). And now, I'm not sure what to do with myself. I usually get some cleaning done, and take care of laundry or diaper-washing, and if I'm feeling particularly motivated and housewifely, I might even get dinner started. Sometimes there is important school-related emailing to do as well.

But if I let myself read a book or knit or putter around online for more than five or ten minutes at a time instead of doing those eye-crossingly boring yet essential tasks, I feel a sense of something not right. I guess it's guilt, that feeling of spending my time relaxing in the middle of a perfectly good workday, knowing I could get other things accomplished. I even feel a little guilty about blogging right now, even though I got a solid practice session in this morning and the dishes are clean...but the diapers in the washing machine need another cycle and there is a mess on the computer desk that is mostly mine, and we need another batch of bread and there are probably 100 other mundane things I could think of to do that would make me feel like I'm not lazy if I actually do them.

I'm not looking for re-assurance here. Everyone who reads this could say "Susan, you deserve that break! You need it! Just relax!"; heaven knows enough people have told me that already--my mom, my husband, my friends who also have kids. It won't change anything, though. I will still feel like I'm being unproductive and that it's somehow wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Industrial chemicals in kids' blood

I just read this and it scares the crap out of me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

we both like soup

(Anyone catch that obscure movie reference? I'll give you a hint: the genre is mockumentary.)

I was perhaps a teeny bit misleading when I titled that last post "the finish line." Yes, my dissertation is done, but you can't call me "Doctor," not just yet. I have a big recital in a month, the defense, and some annoying, mindless paperwork to turn in to the graduate school before it's all official. Still, I can breathe a little easier now, and not feel guilty when I spend Daniel's naptime reading for pleasure instead of writing. (By the way, Katie asked in the comments what the title of my dissertation is; for some reason I don't feel comfortable posting the exact title, but the gist of it is "Contemporary Settings of Cummings' Poetry.")

Non-sequitor #1: look who inherited my sweet tooth.



Yup, that's chocolate cake. What's worse, I let him eat it right before dinner on Tuesday. A better mother than I wouldn't have let him, but it was just one of those times when it was worth getting the 20 minutes he was occupied scraping crumbs out with a little fork so I could fix dinner in peace.

Non-sequitor #2: wanna know what we had for dinner last night? It was good, and even Daniel ate some (big accomplishment for a kid whose diet normally consists of bread and bread-like foods).

Curried squash soup

1. Sauté 1 chopped onion in 3 T. vegetable oil for 5-10 minutes.

2. Add and sauté for 30 seconds or so:
1 T. chopped garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. cayenne (for Daniel's sake, I actually didn't add this while it was cooking, but waited until the soup was served and sprinkled it on top)

3. Add:
1 lb. chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp. vegetable broth paste or a couple of bullion cubes
enough water to cover everything
salt to taste
(Potatoes would be good, too, but we didn't have any...)

4. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let everything simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the squash is soft and the lentils are done cooking.

5. Purrée in a blender and serve with chopped peanuts and plain yogurt.

It occurs to me that this is a vegan recipe (if you don't top it with yogurt), in case anyone's inclined that way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the finish line

The paper is done. It is 75 pages long, contains over 70 footnotes and more than three dozen musical examples (which took approximately 57,493 hours to scan, crop and convert to PNG files). I've read through it as many times as I could stand. I've cozied up with my copy of Turabian and checked the placement of every comma, semicolon and set of parentheses about a hundred times. I have been to Kinkos; in fact, the file was so big I couldn't order printing online, so I had to bring it in on a USB drive (good thing I brought some knitting along). I have nifty little flexible black binders to give to all the members of my committee. I have sweated, agonized, cursed, panicked, nearly cried over this paper.

And would you believe it--my mom just found a typo on the title page. Not just any typo, understand, but a misspelling of the word "collaborative." My supposed area of expertise, the degree I've worked so hard to earn for so long. I left out the damn "v."

Figures.

Friday, October 12, 2007

home stretch

I'm on the home stretch of this dissertation thing. I'm re-writing and revising like mad, obsessing over every sentence, wondering when my vocabulary shrank to that of a high school dropout, and fretting over stupid things like whether I should use bold, italics or underline to highlight the title of every section. I'm also developing a slight case of the crazies, which means I am constantly wired. I can't sleep more than 3-4 hours most nights, which is probably pregnancy hormones piled on top of the other stress. When I'm sitting at the computer, I start to hate everything I've written and I get twitchy, running my fingers through my hair, scratching every little itch, staring at my nails, straightening the pile of papers and music scores on the desk, getting up to pee every five seconds, and heading to the kitchen every five minutes for water or a snack. This puppy is due on Monday. In four days I will turn it in. In four days I can get a haircut. In four days I can dump a stack of books and scores two feet thick in the "return" slot of the UW library--that's always a satisfactory feeling. In four days I can have a conversation with Stuart that starts with something other than "THIS PAPER IS SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF ME!!"

But no matter. I think this sort of thing happens to everyone right before a big deadline. I'll get through it, and it will be fine. Even good. Probably not stellar. Hopefully with properly formatted footnotes and without too many typos.

Meanwhile, some other good things are happening around here:

1. My mom is here for a WHOLE WEEK to help out with Daniel, and that's always a good thing. He's doing all kinds of stuff for her that he won't do for me! Like saying new words and playing nicely for long periods of time in the living room because it's too chilly to go to the park.

2. I had a routine doctor appointment this week. I've gained less than 30 pounds so far (though I'm not far from that mark!), the baby's growth is measuring slightly ahead of my week of gestation (which just means it's probably a big baby, but Daniel was 9 lbs, so that's no surprise), and all in all, everything is looking good. I scheduled my next five appointments; after next month's visit, I have to go every two weeks, then every week until after the baby's born. Cripes! Am I that close already? Just over two months out from the due date? When did that happen?

3. Have I mentioned how much I loooooooove the swimming? Actually, I haven't gone since Saturday because I'm getting over a cold; fortunately, it's not a bad one, but you're not supposed to go to the pool if you have something contagious. Anyway, after just two weeks of swimming 2-3 times per week, I've hit a stride where I do laps for a solid half hour. It feels great.

4. Daniel has a couple of molars now. Yesterday when he had his mouth wide open for some reason (either laughing or babbling or playing some silly game, who knows, really), I noticed them poking through on each side of the bottom of his mouth. I'm not sure when they came in, but it probably explains why his appetite has been rather unpredictable the last couple weeks, and why he's been chewing on his fingers. And yes, I consider us VERY LUCKY that so far he hasn't woken up screaming in the middle of the night in teething pain.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

apple crisp

Just like that, it really feels like autumn here. No more sandals or going outside without wearing a jacket (unless you have to prove your machismo.) Suddenly, leaves are falling (dumping, really) onto the ground and Halloween decorations are showing up in people's yards. (A particularly tasteful neighbor of ours has a plastic inflatable pumpkin at least 4 feet in diameter sitting in the front lawn.) And then, of course, there's all the yummy fall produce to buy at the farmers' market: new spinach, squash, a wide selection of root vegetables, and of course, APPLES!

Last night, at the last minute, I decided to make dessert. I had some tart apples that needed to be used up, and I didn't want to spend time looking up a recipe, so I just decided to wing it and threw something together. This does not always work out well, mind you, but this time, the result was delicious.

Madtown Mama's Impulse Apple Crisp

1. Peel and slice several tart apples, about 4-6 cups, and place in the bottom of a greased 2-qt baking dish.

2. Sprinkle 1/2 c. of sugar over the apples (less if they're a sweet variety).

3. In another bowl, cut 4 T. unsalted butter (that's a half stick) into 1/2 cup flour until the consistency is mealy. Mix in about 3 T. brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

4. Spread the flour mixture over top of the apples and bake 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

Eat warm with milk or cream or whipped cream or ice cream or just plain. You've got options.

Seriously, that's it. And like most of the food I write about on this blog, we ate it right up before I could take any pictures.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

climbing out of a black hole, or "why i don't have anything better to do at 11:00 on a Saturday night"

(Longest blogpost title EVER.)

I told myself I would hibernate in the office the whole weekend to try and get lots of writing done, seeing as this paper needs to be finished in less than ten days. So far that plan hasn't worked so well, for the following reasons.

1. It was almost ninety degrees here today and the office is stifling. This makes working on my paper even less appealing than usual.

2. I seem to be totally unable to break my regular Saturday routine for anything. Between our weekly outing for breakfast at Lazy Jane's (yes, this is totally necessary - if you tried their scones, you'd understand), grocery shopping at the co-op, buying as much fresh produce as I can carry at the farmers' market, going swimming, and oh yeah eating meals, there just wasn't any time left to sit down and write until after Daniel was in bed. I probably should have skipped all that other stuff, but somehow I just can't.

3. I have one more recording session tomorrow night (it's part of the dissertation, actually), which means I've been putting in a lot of time with the singer, including a one-hour rehearsal this afternoon, and of course I was practicing madly for an hour before she came over because I never feel like I know the music quite as well as I should.

4. I have to pee every 10 minutes. That's just what happens when you crave ice chips all day long and your unborn child insists on kicking you in the bladder every time you sit down. (This is especially inconvenient at night.) Hence, sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time is nearly impossible.

Despite all these distractions, I managed to write a few more pages tonight. The pressure of a deadline will do that.

What has helped me the most, though, is re-reading the chapter entitled "shitty first drafts" in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird. It's amazingly liberating. The idea is this: for that first draft, just write. Sometimes that means you're basically typing nonsense. Don't worry about how bad it is. In fact, it WILL be bad. It will probably be awful (hence the appropriately vulgar descriptor). But it doesn't matter how shitty that first draft is, because no one else will read it. The point is to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper. Brilliant sentence structure, meticulous organization, and a stunning vocabulary can all come later.

This idea is working for me. The first 15 pages of my draft I re-worked and revised and already sent to a few people on my committee for feedback. They are probably not going to give me any feedback because they are so busy, but I also sent that first chunk to Steph, who will give me feedback because she knows I need it. The next 25 pages, or whatever I've got by now, is an unholy mess. It's an unorganized mish-mash of really terrible sentences, partial paragraphs, ideas in bold font that aren't even full sentences, and random quotes from various sources. But hidden in that glob of prose and fragments that I dumped out of my head and into a Word file are some good ideas and maybe even a few salvageable phrases or even paragraphs, and it's much easier to work with that than with nothing.

And that's how I'm climbing out of the black hole. I set a goal every day: tonight I'm just going to write about XYZ and not think about the rest. I'm getting thoughts and ideas onto (virtual) paper, and I'm not worrying about how bad it looks now because I know I can come back and fix it up, culling the bad parts, re-writing the good parts, and making sure everything in between makes sense. It's all much less overwhelming that way.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

chocolate therapy

I'm not ordinarily one of those people who uses chocolate as a substitute for therapy. But I have a sweet tooth, I've got a hard few weeks ahead of me school-wise, and by golly, there are just times when a batch of good cookies hits the spot. I made these the other night and they are delicious, and I sort of made up the recipe, so I'm posting it instead of trying to slam out a couple more shitty paragraphs during Daniel's (too-short) naptime. I say I "sort of" made up the recipe because it's really just my own adaptation of Mark Bittman's basic butter cookie.

Ready?

Beat until fluffy:
1 stick (8T.) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and beat some more:
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
6 T. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt

Add dry ingredients alternately with 1/3 cup milk, mixing only as much as you need to get the dough. It will be fairly stiff.

Stir in:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

*ETA: I didn't write this because I thought it seemed obvious, but just in case there are novice cookie-bakers out there...you don't just stick the bowl of cookie dough in the oven. Not unless you're asking for a disaster, anyway. Put spoonfuls of dough evenly spaced (2" or so) on a cookie sheet and THEN bake.
Bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes, but not too long or the cookies will be dry.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

dissertation black hole

You know what a black hole is, of course. An area so dense with gravity that even light can not escape, or something to that effect. I think we have quasi-black holes in our lives, like the one in the dryer that eats one sock from every pair, and the one that eats my keys every time I'm running late for something. (That particular one never stays in one place, somehow.) These days I'm experiencing the dissertation black hole, where no matter how much time I spend working on this paper, it doesn't get much better. Sure, it's getting longer, but there's hardly anything in there I would consider worthy of someone else reading, let alone a doctoral committee. The dissertation black hole is sucking up my time and energy and effort without offering anything in return (like quality academic writing), and with no regard for my imminent deadline.

Ah, well. Is there anyone out there who enjoys writing their dissertation? If so, I haven't met you yet. And by the way, if your dissertation was so much fun the proverbial barrel of monkeys pales in comparison, you might not want to tell me about it just now because I'm just not in the mood.

At least being pregnant is preventing me from drinking bucketloads of coffee every night to work on it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

pop quiz! (mini-version)

The fact that I started out "just" washing the dishes after dinner, found myself an hour later taking out the trash and recycling, cleaning the sink, re-arranging the counter-tops, and scrubbing the lid to the trash can for-pete's-sake, and am now sharing this minutiae of my life with the rest of you is evidence that:

a) I am neurotic.
b) I am experiencing those "nesting instincts" a touch early.
c) I am seriously procrastinating dissertation work.
d) All of the above. It's going to be a long semester.
e) None of the above. The kitchen was just really gross.

Monday, September 24, 2007

yummy

Thanks for all the thoughts regarding the recent screw-up by a certain local landscaping company. There were some interesting discussions in the comments, if you're inclined to go read them. I, for one, am done with the issue, seeing as I have a dissertation deadline that is looming larger as each day passes. We even had a heavy rain the other night, so probably most of what got sprayed is now in the groundwater for everyone to enjoy.

Before I open that dissertation file and write some more un-usable crap (I am really starting to doubt my intellectual capabilities, alas), I am posting a couple pictures of the salsa I made for dinner tonight.

First, I quartered a bunch of little heirloom zebra tomatoes:



There's no picture, but I also threw in some peeled shallots, garlic cloves, and a couple jalapeño peppers, all sprinkled with kosher salt. Using that coarse kosher salt makes me feel all sophisticated and gourmet-like. This all went in the oven for a little over an hour at 325 degrees. When everything was cooled off, I stripped the peels off the tomatoes, chopped and mashed everything together, added some cilantro, and got this:



There was a lot more than what's in this little bowl, actually. But we ate it up before I got a picture taken. And it was gooooood, except that Stuart got a particularly big chunk of hot pepper in one bite and had to guzzle some milk.

All right, time to bestow some more of my brilliance/BS (take your pick) onto a certain Word file that's gotten a lot of my attention of late.

Friday, September 21, 2007

KEEP OFF THE GRASS!!!

Yesterday, I returned home from teaching piano lessons to find that there were several little white signs all over our yard that read: "Pesticide application, keep off!"

Now. You probably know by now that I feel very strongly about the practice of dumping chemicals on the ground, especially on lawns. It's unnatural, it's wasteful, it's unhealthy, it's unsafe, and it's all for the sake of a really stupid idea based on solely suburban vanity that it's okay to cram your yard full of toxic chemicals as long as it's uniformly green and devoid of anything natural, like weeds and bugs.

Obviously, the fact that our lawn got sprayed with God-knows-what was a mistake. Somebody somewhere screwed up. Royally. And they had to deal with the wrath of ME. I immediately called the company who had placed the signs in the yard and left a vehemently angry, explosive message on their answering service. I actually managed not to swear, though the phrase "How could you stupid fuckwits put that shit on my yard?" damn near made it through the language filter. Within minutes, someone called back, apologizing profusely, explaining that the "applicator" (the dude spraying the poison) had misread the address number on the order; the lady two houses down had ordered the chemicals.

I was still livid. "Do you realize I'm pregnant? And that I have a toddler who loves to play in the yard? And that we grow edible plants, like herbs and tomatoes? And now thanks to the toxic junk you put on my yard, we can't eat that stuff, much less walk on the grass!" And so on. Believe me, he got an earful.

I will give the service manager credit for being calm and polite, apologetic, and thorough as possible in his explanations. The dude who screwed up is getting his pay docked for 30 days.* (I considered suggesting that the people they hire to spread poisons on personal property should at least be literate enough to read numbers correctly, but I had cooled off a little by then. I wanted him to know I was angry, not crazy.) Our yard was sprayed with a "mild herbicide" for Creeping Charlie and some fertilizer pellets were put down as well. These things were only applied to the grass, not the wooded or garden areas, and it would be safe to tread on our turf in a few hours, as soon as everything was dry.

The guy on the phone also reassured me that their company does business with so many homes close to the Arboretum, they're not allowed to use anything that's in Agent Orange, so not to worry about that. My jaw dropped. I was over my fire-hot anger and shocked enough by this statement, I just squeaked out "Oh, that's good," but internally I wondered, "YOU MEAN YOU WOULD USE THAT SHIT NORMALLY? IT WIPED OUT HALF OF VIETNAM FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!"

They called again this morning to apologize profusely. I think they get that I was pissed, and it won't happen again. It damn well better not.

*Just to clarify, after Mrs. Ann's comment: the fellow who made the mistake is not getting his pay completely eliminated for 30 days. Rather, his hourly wage is reduced by $1/hr for 30 days. For the record, I think that's fair.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stuart the chef, Susan the fish

Stuart the chef

When Stuart read my last entry, he chuckled. Feigning a hurt expression, he said, "'frankly, I'm better at it?,'" quoting my assertion that I'm a better cook than he is. He actually doesn't dispute that point, and neither do I, but I want to clarify that my husband is more than competent in the kitchen. I did have to teach him how to separate eggs the first time he made dough for noodles, but that's a minor thing. He is confident doing a few things without a recipe, but when he's given proper instructions, he can handle anything. The big differences between us when it comes to the culinary arts are:

1) Since I do most of the cooking, I'm more efficient and I generally take charge of meal planning. I often ask his opinion, though. "I can't decide between making couscous with curry or fried rice. What would you rather eat tonight?"; "Are you more in the mood for cucumber-yogurt salad or some other vegetable?" Our growing consciousness about the food we eat and where it comes from, decisions that we most definitely make together, means that he takes a real interest in the meals we eat together every day, even if I'm the one fixing them.

2) I'm simply more interested in the creative aspect of cooking than he is, generally speaking. It's not fair to say that he's completely uninterested, of course. It takes some initiative to make noodles from scratch, and he's done hours of research and practice to perfect his techniques using the espresso machine, and I barely know how to turn the thing on.

All right, enough of that.

Susan the fish


I finally got signed up to go swimming. I owe thanks to my friend Rachel for goading me on. She told me about the program at a clinic/health center very near my house where you can sign up just to swim however many times a week you want to, hence reasonable fees (it's far less than joining a gym, for example), and she goes regularly. Anyway, I went for the first time last night and it felt amazing. As soon as I got in the water, I couldn't feel the extra 22+ pounds I've gained since May; I felt buoyant, weightless, full of energy--things I don't usually feel being nearly 6 months pregnant. I didn't want to overdo it, but I swam for twenty solid minutes before getting out. I just wish I had signed up for this two months ago when I was just getting to the second trimester.

Swimming was the only sport I did regularly as a kid. Every summer my mom signed my brother and me up for lessons with a friend of hers who had been a lifeguard. We learned good techniques, like kicking from your knees instead of thrashing your whole leg, don't twist your torso when you reach forward during the crawl, turn your head instead of lifting when you take a breath...after many summers of this, I even joined a swim team, though I only lasted a few weeks because I didn't have the speed or endurance for it. Still, I'm a good swimmer (if not a good competitive swimmer), and I have found that if you can find the time for it, swimming is the best kind of exercise there is. Especially if you're pregnant. I can't wait to go again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

new toy

Not a new toy for Daniel!

No, this one's for us grown-ups, Stuart in particular. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Stuart decided to take a more active role in meal preparation here. Good news all around! (Yes, I do almost all the cooking for our household because I'm the one who is home most of the time, and frankly, I'm better at it. In fact, I really enjoy cooking; since we have to eat every day, and since I'm one of those wholesome make-it-all-from-scratch types, making all our meals does not feel like a chore to me. It's satisfying, it helps me unwind at the end of the day, and as hobbies go, it's pretty useful. That said, if I need Stuart to help, or if I'm too busy or tired and want to get take-out instead, he always steps up and never complains about it...you know, just in case you think he takes me for granted. He really, really doesn't. Plus, he scrubs the bathroom every week and takes care of bike maintenance and that counts for a lot in my book.)

So anyway, in AVM, the author Barbara Kingsolver talks about how the whole family participates in dinner preparation and their food life in general. Thusly inspired, Stuart has recently taken charge of Saturday night dinner, and that doesn't mean he dials the pizza delivery place. A few weeks ago, he made curried chicken in yogurt sauce (it was quite delicious), and lately, he's been trying his hand at homemade pasta noodles. You can see he's committed; no cans of Spaghetti-Os for this guy.

Noodles are pretty easy, as it turns out, especially if you know anything about mixing dough for tortillas or bread, both of which we eat a lot of around here. You just throw together some eggs, flour, and a little salt. The part of noodle-making that is a royal pain in the ass is rolling it out and letting it dry for a couple hours before slicing it into strips to cook in boiling water. Keeping curious toddlers with grubby fingers away from dough drying on the counter is a particular challenge. Just sayin'.

Last weekend, when it became clear that homemade noodles made by my husband's capable hands will be a regular part of our weekly menu, we had a little outing to check out pasta makers. We found one for the right price, and tonight Stuart gave it a try:



How cool is that? Stick a hunk of dough in the machine, turn the crank, and out comes a sheet of pasta! Actually, you have to put it through several times to get the dough thin enough, and then once more through the cutter to get the fettucine or what-have-you, but that's the fun part anyway.

Daniel was pretty interested in what was going on:



What's Stu going to come up with next? We'll all just have to wait and see...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What is Daniel up to?

Helping me wash basil for a batch of pesto:




Playing outside with Stuart:



Playing with whatever he found in this abandoned flower pot (probably old leaves and mud):



Smiling:

Friday, September 14, 2007

sad

I just learned this morning that a woman my family has known for years died last night. She was well into her seventies, and had lived with cancer for the last few years, so we knew this was coming. Still, it seemed to happen quickly. While she'd had her ups and downs, she had been doing quite well until a couple of weeks ago, when things just started going downhill fast. I suppose that's how it should be. We wouldn't want the final suffering to drag out for months and months, would we?

I regret that I didn't see Laverne very often the last few years of her life. That's just what happens when you live several states away. When I was growing up, though, she came to our house regularly for dinner and board games; I'm telling you, no one played Trivial Pursuit like this lady. She was, in some way, like a grandmother to my brother and me, since we lived hundreds of miles away from our own grandparents and only visited them a couple times a year.

So I'm a little sad today, thinking about our friend and how many people will miss her, her personality, and her entirely hilarious stories (she once drove onto an airport runway by mistake with a missionary in the car who hadn't ridden anything more high-tech than a donkey until she flew to the U.S.).

Good bye, Laverne. Rest in peace.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I need to learn how to count

Stuart's giving Daniel a bath, the dishes are washed, and I've already done three hours of dissertation work today, so this post is as guilt-free as it gets these days.

This afternoon, I sat down with the rough mix of the recording sessions Pam and I did last week. I got through almost everything, with the exception of one particularly tricky song that's going to need some significant editing because we did it so many times and no one take is mistake-free. One of the other songs, though, we did about five different times, and I noticed that we weren't lining up for about three measures near the end in every single take. What the heck? It turns out I learned it wrong, leaving out an eighth-note beat in one certain place every single time. Damn! At least I'm consistent. There's nothing I can do about it now, but it's niggling at me all the same. (I'd like to point out that this particular song is difficult enough that neither one of us noticed the mistake even after lots of practicing and rehearsing and even performing for the composer the day before we recorded.)

Of course, now that I'm over half-done with the recording component of my dissertation project, last night I finally got around to turning in a revision of my proposal to my committee. Only one gave me any feedback at all on the original I turned in two months ago, which is irksome, to say the least, but whatever. I really really REALLY need to get this done. I'm choosing to interpret their silence as a green light and I'm moving forward as planned. Let's hope no one springs any big surprises at the defense. Like "By the way, sorry I forgot to mention this earlier, but your project sucks. You fail. Just go home and have babies and forget all about the DMA. You won't use it anyway." (Can you tell I'm having a touch of anxiety about where my career is headed?)

In other news, completely unrelated, Daniel is up to some funny/cute stuff these days. He recently figured out how to kiss, and he'll plant about five sloppy little smooches on me in a row. He's also trying to jump; he can't quite do it, so that means he'll stand in one place and bounce up and down several times before stumbling forward. Things are improving on the eating front, too, slowly but surely. Tonight he ate a handful of granola, crunchy, probably-a-choking-hazard-because-it-requires-molars-and-he-only-has-8-front-teeth granola, and did totally fine. Now, if he would only show this kind of interest in vegetables so I didn't have to hide them in a fresh batch of muffins every three days, I would call that real progress.

Happy Monday, everybody.