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


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


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


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 ain't over till it's over.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


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


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 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


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.