Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 1 - What I Hate About Myself

I've been a big fan of the blog Eleanor's Trousers for a while now. She is a fellow, aspiring writer and I like how she writes and her perspectives on things. If you aren't familiar with her, you should read her blog and follow her on Twitter. She's the kind of person I would be good friends with in real life I think.

Eleanor is doing a meme. In fact, I've seen several people doing the meme lately and I have decided to join in. Normally I don't do memes, but this one is like a series of daily writing exercises, which I need right now because, as I mentioned, my experiences are limited to things that happen in the house and the doctors office and the few points in between. The meme is called "30 Days of Truth" and each day you write on a different topic. I'm not sure I have 30 days so I may do two on some days or take longer than 30 days. We'll see. In any event, I resolve to try to get out of the box on these topics as best I can to really challenge my writing. I took a workshop with a writer who told us to never write about the first thing that comes to mind because it will always be common and cliche. Wait for the second, third, fourth and fifth things that you think of. Those are more unexpected. I'm going to attempt that. On the first day you're supposed to write about what you hate about yourself.

What I Hate About Myself

When you're in fifth grade you can acolyte at church, but the other fifth graders are a year older than me. Does that mean I'm lying? Is it your age or your grade that matters? Do they figure if I can go to Middle School, navigate the change of classes that I can be trusted to light the candles on the altar?

What I most want is to wear the robes because it is like playing dress up. I have played dress up with my friend Katy since kindergarten but now she won't anymore. Fifth grade. Middle schoolers don't play dress up, so I go to her house and we have nothing to do except watch TV or sit outside and talk about people at school and how we hate them, which makes me want to put on old silky nightgowns and be someone else even more.

Being an acolyte makes me feel like someone else. First the black robe underneath. It's so long it covers my toes. Some of the popular kids from school go to Sunday School with me and they make fun that I still wear mary-janes like a little kid. Black in the winter and white after Easter. You can't see them under the acolyte's robe. Then the white smock, thin as gauze over that. 

Our church has two cross necklaces hanging on a nail beside the robes. Both drop from black, silk cords. One cross is large, silver and ornate. The other is carved from plain wood and smaller. This is a test, I believe. Which one will you pick? Pick the wrong one and you go to Hell. The pure of heart make the modest choice. When the popular girls from school light the candles they always choose the silver because they are like the evil sisters in a fairy tale who ask for trunks of jewels. I am the pure sister who asks for nothing but a single rose, so I pick the wooden cross. I am proud when I unravel it from its nail and loop it around my neck. I passed the test.

Sitting near the altar makes me closer to Jesus. The acolyte's seat is a velvet cushion in a carved nook beside where the pastor sits when the choir sings and he takes a break. We are surrounded by stained glass. Jesus on the cross, angels, lambs, grapes and fish. The organ pipes rise up around us like silver reeds and rushes shooting up from a lake bank. We walk across a red carpet - movie stars at a film premiere. I imagine cameras flashing as I step to light the altar candles. The sanctuary pews are filled. I am the star of a Broadway play and I don't miss my cue.

My stepmother Louise is the one who insists I sign up to acolyte. Extra-curricular activities. She likes to run off lists of things she has me doing: the piano lessons I hate, art classes, 4-H with a pack of redneck farm kids, gifted and talented and now I am lighting candles at church and that is the only thing on the list, besides the art classes, that I really wanted to do. I feel like this will make her proud of me since I can't get the hang of reading piano music or sewing skirts for 4-H. I want my father to be proud of me too. I want him to see the wooden cross and know I passed the test because that would matter to him.

When Louise signs me up, I meet with Reverend Lucia one time and he shows me what to do. Take the long, brass stick, push up the wick, have a grown-up light it for me. Usually it will be him because I'll go out first and he'll come out after the candles are lit. He shows me the order to light the candles. Stop and bow my head before the cross in the center of the altar. Light the other side. Push the wick down to put it out. Go sit down. When the service ends, turn the brass stick around and use the bell to snuff the candles. Go in the same order.

At home in my room I practice with a stick I sneak in from the yard. I have to get the bow right. A dramatic pause. I must look pious. I practice in front of the mirror over and over, loving the way I look when I do it.

Then finally I am doing it. It's time. It's my Sunday to light the candles. Reverend Lucia meets me in the room off of the altar area. I want him to notice that I chose the wooden cross, but he mentions that the robe seems too long and warns me not to step on it and trip. He lights the wick and when we hear the organ swell, he opens the door and nudges me out.

I am perfect. I remember the right order, the bow, everything, but when I go to light the first candle on the altar, it doesn't catch.

Sometimes this happens on birthday cakes. I've seen it. You just hold the flame at the candle's wick a little longer and it will suddenly flare.

Nothing happens. 

The wick is jammed down inside the brass cap that crowns each candle. I hope my flame will melt the wax and untrap it, but still, nothing happens. Wax runs down the candle onto the altar cloth. I stand there. My heart is beating. The organist plays the same song again. There is a murmur in the pews. What's happening? What's the matter with her? Why can't she light the candles? She's too short to reach up there and pull the wick out. They should have got a bigger kid. How old is she anyway?

Save me. Someone come and save me.

I don't think to light the second candle and go on from there. My own wick is burning low now, so I push it up further and the whole thing goes out. I have no light.

Please save me.

Reverend Lucia is beside me flicking a lighter. He relights my flame and pulls the wick out of the cap of the first candle so I can light it. He does this for each candle, pointing so I know which one to light next, even though I already know. I am so humiliated. He doesn't leave my side. The organist has played the same song three times over now and I want Reverend Lucia to leave. I want to tell him that I know the order and it wasn't my fault the candle wouldn't light. I did know how to do it. I did.

When I am mad, I cry. When I am embarrassed I cry. I sit on my velvet cushion in my carved nook and I cry silently the whole service. I have to wipe my face on the sleeve of my robe because I don't have any Kleenex. I wonder why this happened to me. Is it because of my age? Had I lied accidentally? Was I too little? Too full of myself? Not really pious at all and just putting on an act, playing dress up like a little kid.

I hate myself. I hate that I have never made a free throw in gym class. I have never saved the day. I have never been extraordinary, shining, brilliant-beautiful different real and truly pure of heart. I am punished. I am just as vain as everyone else. I am vain about not being vain. I didn't pass the test after all.

What I hate about myself is that when it's finally my turn, when I finally get my chance, I choke. The robe is too long and I stumble. I strike out. The candles don't light. I miss a crucial step in every important process. I can never reach the wick to pull it out of the wax and fix it. I always make the light go out.

Room; A Novel Discussion Questions

This post is for everyone who read Emma Donoghue's Room: A NovelIf you haven't read it, some of these questions may spoil the suspense for you, so I'm adding a jump.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rice Pudding

You are never going to believe this, but the whole rice taping nonsense appears to have worked. Baby Lawns has done a flip into the vertex (head down) position and is no longer breech.

Of course, in the interest of proving my sanity to the Internet, I must admit that there's no way of knowing if she would have turned on her own anyway or if this was caused by taping rice to my toes. There was no control group to help make that determination. It kind of bothers me that I'll never know for sure.

But what I do know is that I taped rice to my toes and I will forever have this story to tell my daughter, who is destined to think her mother is crazy anyway as all daughters do.

As we've established, my OB is on the highly non-traditional side, but I've gotten used to him and I actually kind of like him, especially after seeing the Ricki Lake documentary because he hasn't done any of the things the doctors in that film did. He really respects me and my decisions about what happens to my body, but at the same time he's not so out there that he'd put me or the baby in danger. Earlier this week, I found a website, which I will not link to, where women told their stories of natural home births and I have to say that some of these women were out of their minds. Many of them were proponents of having completely unassisted, unattended births. I'm all for the midwife home birth deal if that's your thing, but these women didn't even want that and many of them had no prenatal care either. They just delivered their own babies at home. Alone. So what I'm saying here is that my doctor is pretty out there, but he'd agree that these women were totally nuts to do that. His philosophy is keep it natural but as soon as things get dangerous medical intervention is a good thing. This is what I think too.

Baby Lawns had been in the breech position for a couple months now and it was starting to hurt me. It felt like she was lodged under my right ribs and stomping on my bladder. It was getting to be a concern. Last week my doctor said if she didn't turn by this week that we had to schedule a C-section just in case, which I would have been ok with. I was worried that there was some terrible, underlying cause for her upright position. That's what I get for looking stuff up on the Internet. Did you know that breech babies are twice as likely to be on the autistic spectrum? Let me add that to my list of things that will destroy your baby's life that are probably all the mother's fault. I also imagined her tangled up in the cord and that that was preventing her from moving. I imagined all kinds of other bad things too, but let's not dwell on them.

Wacko Doctor showed me how to do acupressure on myself. Supposedly, by stimulating the bladder 67 pressure point, which is located on the outside of your little toes, you can flip a breech baby. Since you can't very well sit there and push on your pinky toes for hours on end, you can stimulate the site by taping a grain of uncooked rice to your toes and then going about your business all day.

This sounds insane. I have tried to apply logic to this and I haven't been able to. How on earth could taping rice to your toes do anything? How would the baby know there was rice on its mother's toes? How would this work? I can't think of any way this could work.

But I decided to do it anyway. In the name of experimentation.

"You could also heat up your toes for about twenty minutes a day," said Wacko doctor.

"How, exactly?" I asked.

He told me to hold a lit match, candle or cigar to my toes for 20 minutes.

Really? A cigar? You're asking me to burn toxic smoke in order to heat up my toes? No. 

I did consider the candle method, but I couldn't figure out a position wherein this could ever work without me giving myself a hot foot and/ or burning down the whole house, so this option was out.

In comparison the rice seems like nothing. There is no way taping rice to your toes can cause property damage, so I went for it.

The day after my appointment I got out the scotch tape and went into the pantry. We have about sixteen different kinds of rice in there: texmati, long grain jasmati, arborio, Minute, plain old white rice, Uncle Ben's, Success boil in bag brown rice, regular brown rice, thai black rice and even wild rice. I hate when I'm faced with such wide choices. What kind of rice would be best to tape on my toes, I pondered. No really, I actually considered this. I wanted the kind of rice that would apply the most pressure I supposed. In the end I just went with the arborio and for no other reason than that I love risotto, so it seemed like good energy. Mmmm, toe risotto.

It is hard to tape anything to one's toes when nine months pregnant. The stretching and hauling of myself that it took to get my toes into such a position so that I could tape rice to them was like advanced yoga. This is probably what actually turned the baby - not the rice itself. While I was doing it I felt stupid even though I was alone.

Then I put shoes on and waited. Every few hours I'd wonder if the baby flipped or not. Didn't seem like she had.

Sunday night Husband was talking to her and said her position felt different. He said he thought she was moving. I remained skeptical. Monday morning I woke up and felt different. Nothing was lodged under my rib cage. I felt more comfortable.

Today I had my ultrasound and lo and behold the baby had turned herself over.

I have my ultrasounds at the perinatologist's office. My spell check just changed perinatologist to paleontologist, by the way. Alas, Ross from Friends is not giving me ultrasounds at the Museum of Natural History, as fun as that would be and I hope I'm not giving birth to a velociraptor. Anyway, I told the perinatologist about the rice taping and how the other doctor told me to do it and he nearly peed his pants laughing.

"You have got to be shitting me," he said. Direct quote. He said shit. He knows all about Wacko Doctor and loves hearing stories about the crazy stuff he does, but even he admits that Wacko Doctor is one of the best around.

"Whatever works," said the perinatologist, "In any case you have a perfectly happy and healthy baby, so who cares if you taped rice to your toes?"

She's big too. 6 1/2 pounds right now. The other crazy thing we learned is that she has long, flowing hair, like enough for a pony tail. I certainly wasn't expecting a little Rapunzel in there. I wonder how that's going to look. I had no hair when I was born.

We will never know if the baby flipped because I taped rice to my toes or if she flipped because she was just good and ready to turn over. The good news is that she did and that she's healthy and normal.

And next, I'll have to tell you about my most unusual Pre-natal Reiki session with a french bulldog.
Monday, September 27, 2010

Leftover Casserole

I am suffering from a terrible case of malaise. Yesterday we hosted my sister's baby shower, which was a lot of fun, but it wore me out and then it made me mad that it wore me out. I am frustrated because I can't do the things I once could with the boundless energy for skipping and running around I once had and I have a fear that the energy won't come back and I'm stuck feeling this way forever. Please tell me that's not true and that I will be able to skip again.

I'm going stir crazy. I feel like I'm under house arrest. When I look at facebook I feel sad when I read status updates from my friends who are teaching. I want to be teaching too, although that would not be possible now. I miss the campus Starbucks and the energy of all the students buzzing around. Maybe I just miss coffee in general, whether it's at school or not. A big cup of coffee and a scone would be really nice.

I'm sad because Friday was the birthday of a family member I have lost even though she is still, technically, alive. I wanted to write about that but I thought it was too sad for you all. Maybe I will do it anyway.  

I'm sad because my cousin is in an abusive relationship and her fiance won't let her communicate with or see me. This came up because I asked my sister if she invited her to the shower and my sister said she didn't even bother because she had blown me off for mine. My cousin's fiance is an idiot and he doesn't like our branch of the family because, in his words, "he doesn't enjoy our company." What does that even mean? He doesn't like us because he thinks we're rich and that intimidates him, plus abusers always like to separate their victims from their loved ones in order to control them. He doesn't like me because he is a racist and I called him out on it, as I am wont to do, and because I started messing with him and telling him his German last name sounded Jewish. He was deeply offended by that suggestion.

Adding insult to injury, I can't go anywhere because there is a nail in my tire, making it flat and the new tire hasn't come in to Costco yet, so my husband doesn't want me to drive it lest I get stuck somewhere in my delicate condition. And really, where do I have to go anyway?

I had wanted to go to Target. Actually I did go to Target anyway, but don't tell him. It's close so my plan was to take a cab if the tire went that flat, but it didn't. Turns out they didn't have what I needed so I ended up coming home and doing a bunch of shopping online. It was for all the practical baby gear I didn't get for my shower because people are obsessed with getting baby girls these headbands with fake flowers the diameter of coffee mugs glued to them. One day the babies of this generation are going to look back on the pictures from their infancies and wonder why in hell their mothers stuck gigantic flowers on their tiny heads. I will not be one of those mothers. My baby will not have a life sized sunflower above one ear. Not happening. She does however, now have this pumpkin hat. One day she will probably groan about the pumpkin hat and I will say "At least, my dear, I did not put one of those gigantic flowers on your head."  Now the question is what to do with all the enormous flower headbands I got for my shower. Suggestions? Maybe I'll sell them at the baby consignment shop. I have enough to make a small fortune on them.

I've become increasingly frustrated with my contractors and I've determined that contractors are by nature just a royal pain in the ass. We failed our plumbing inspection today because Mr. I-Hate-Illegals-Plumber didn't read the instructions and caulked in our tub instead of cementing it in with mortar as our city (stupidly I admit) requires. So now the tub has to be ripped out and re-installed. Just a waste of very precious time and it pissed me off.

On Friday I went over to the house to see what Steve Buscemi and The Plumber were doing. Somehow we got into a discussion about me being Hispanic. I am not Hispanic. They thought I was. They were shocked that I couldn't speak effective Spanish to a guy who had come to give me an estimate on my flooring work, because, didn't we like, speak that at home. This made me even more offended because these two morons had been insulting what they assumed were my people!! In front of me. I had to tell them I wasn't Hispanic and they were so shocked.  

But on to other topics...

I finished reading Room and came up with a lot of discussion questions. I'll make them their own post for people who are reading or want to read it. I ended up getting through the whole thing in three sittings, so it was easier than I had originally expected. It was one of those stories that you can't decide how to feel about it immediately but it just sits with you. I'd be interested in a feminist reading of it, but then I was like, well, which kind of feminism do I mean? I can't answer that precisely, but, well there were just a lot of women's issues in the story that got me thinking. I had major grad school flashbacks - the abject and its connection with motherhood blah blah.

My parents called me earlier today. The movie is wrapped and they are on their way back from LA in the bus and bringing Sam back with them. Remember Sam their former houseboy? Yeah. He had gotten hung up with a psychotic heiress out there and let's just say, things did not work out, so now he's headed back to South Florida. I will try to get the whole convoluted story on that for you. My mother tried to explain it to me, but it involved a lot of drugs, a suspected poisoning of an elderly man, seventy million dollars, a fifteen year old mother and a fistfight at the Chateau Marmont. That's a lot to keep straight even for me.  But the movie is filmed and done and now I guess it needs to be edited and whatever else they do to make movies ready to be seen. I heard a rumor they wanted to try to get it ready for Sundance, but there's not a lot of time, so I don't know how that will work out. I want to go to Sundance! My parents went a couple years ago and it looked fun and snowy and my mom accosted Dennis Quaid at a party and took a picture with him where it looks like she's got him in a choke hold. I'm so disappointed she didn't get to meet her soul mate Sharon Osbourne while she was out there, but she did spend plenty of time with Kelly and apparently Sam was going to NA meetings with Jack. There were also Pomeranians involved. Not at the NA meetings. I mean Kelly brought dogs on set.

I asked my mom about what Kelly Osbourne is like in real life. In the past two weeks I've seen the girl everywhere. She was on Ellen, Dr. Phil and on that show with scary looking Joan Rivers. She's on the cover of US Weekly this week. She has just exploded. It's insanity. I think it's because she is skinny now and this annoys me because why weren't people this interested in her when she was normal sized (which I say because I never thought she was actually fat)? It's not like you lose weight and gain talent. I was wondering how she got so skinny personally. I heard a rumor she took Alli, that stuff that makes you poo oil, but that was on a gossip site. I was also hoping it wasn't the Hollywood diet of cocaine and horse tranquilizers. Looks like she lost the weight the boring way. She ate less and exercised more. I asked my mom if she was nice and she said yes. I asked if she was down to earth and she said not exactly, but she was very friendly and sweet and everyone thought she did a good job on her part.

Ed Asner on the other hand took quite a liking to my mother, who he claims shares a name with the love of his life. I'm pretty sure he tried to make out with my mom.

Other than that, no celebrity gossip at all. How disappointing is that? I couldn't believe it. No divas. No drugs. No stars having affairs. Nothing. Just a bunch of people all doing their job professionally. What fun is that? The biggest news my mother had for me from LA was that Pinkberry now comes in pumpkin with pumpkin spice granola and that they had better hurry up and build our Miami Pinkberries. I love Pinkberry so much that I have been counting down the days until it opens here. We're supposed to be getting some locations pretty soon. This had better not be a dirty trick Asian Yogurt Purveyors. 

So being that I'm stuck in the house, I don't have a lot of experiences to write about for you and I apologize for that. That's no excuse not to write because I have memories and an imagination. This is a time for writing exercises! This is also a time when you, my dear readers, can let me know if there are things you would like me to write about for you and you can also ask me questions which I would love to answer. Ask in the comments and I'll answer in a post when I get enough together.

Until then, tomorrow is my last ultrasound so we can see if this taping rice to my toes foolishness has worked and caused the baby to flip. Yes, I taped rice to my toes. Arborio even.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Post Casserole

I'm feeling exceedingly unfocused, so I decided the best option was to make a post casserole - that is, a whole bunch of crap that doesn't go, all thrown together in one place.

Parent Update - Still in LA. Filming on the movie ends this week and there is a wrap party. Rumor has it that E! will be visiting the set some time this week. If this happens I'll let you know when it's supposed to air and then you can maybe see my parents on TV (which is where they belong).

Pregnancy Update - Went to the doctor today. The baby is still breech. Wacko Doctor wants me to continue my stretching exercises (normal) and now in addition to that I am to, ahem, burn candles next to my pinky toes for 20 minutes each night (not normal) and tape a grain of rice to the sides of my pinky toes all day (really, really not normal). I wish I were kidding. This is all in an attempt to stimulate the bladder 67 acupressure point which is supposed to get babies to turn. Do not ask me how they would know if their mothers have hot toes or rice taped to their toes, but whatever. For the purpose of having something strange to write about I have decided to go through with the whole candle burning, rice taping business. We'll see how this works out. After this conversation Wacko Doctor became normal again and said after my ultrasound next Tuesday that he will look at the report and based on that we will probably schedule a C-section, though we'll try to keep her in as long as possible and for me not to worry that something is wrong with her because she won't turn. Then he became his usual Wacko self and also said that I should really not worry because during the C-section itself and recovery that he will do acupuncture on me to relieve pain and anxiety. I have never in my life heard of an OB doing acupuncture on his patients while he is doing surgery on them.  Now, lest you start to worry about what I have gotten myself into with this doctor, please understand that he came highly recommended. Husband's best friend The Gyno referred us to his friend who was the head of OB at an extremely prestigious hospital down here. That doctor, because he doesn't deliver, referred us to this guy, who he said is the best baby deliverer in South Florida, has been practicing forever and is highly regarded, so much so that he delivered his children. Wacko Doctor just has some alternative ideas I guess and a few of them have surprised me. The other night I watched Ricki Lake's documentary "The Business of Being Born" which describes all kinds of hospital birth horrors and I have to say that with my doctor and hospital, that I haven't experienced any of what went on in the film. From the start I have been encouraged to go all natural, within reason and safety, and I have been encouraged to make my own choices about how I want to be treated. I have always felt respected and valued, unlike some of the women in the documentary. Even today, discussing the C-section, we talked about how to keep the experience as natural and safe as possible and how we can make the moments after the baby comes out as close to how they would be after a natural birth. Maybe that's why my doctor is so highly regarded. If you want to see the documentary, you can watch it for free on your computer from Netflix. I watched it on Husband's iPad in bed. I didn't totally agree with everything in it, but I thought it was fascinating and offered some different perspectives. Anyway so that's that.

Cat Update - Someone on Twitter the other day mentioned something about wanting a cat story. Canela has lost her damned mind over Newman's Own turkey flavored wet food. My husband went to the grocery store. The man I married generally defies stereotypes about men, except the one about sending a man to the grocery store. I can ask him to get two very specific things and he will go, be gone for an hour and come back with 35 different things that I would never in a million years think to buy. This happened Sunday and one of the things he bought was this organic wet food for a cat who eats nothing but crunchies. This was part of an elaborate plot of his to buy Canela's love, because she likes me better. It has worked. She meets him at the door each night now anticipating her third of a can and since she's been eating it, I've noticed an upswing in her personality. Last night she woke me up by playing with something. There was a lot of jumping, running and chirping going on, so I turned on the light and the cat was going ape on the cord to the iron, which I had left hanging off the ironing board. Probably not the best choice. I gave her a pile of catnip and stayed up for a few extra hours.

Nasty Assed Recipe Update - someone else on Twitter mentioned Nasty-Assed Recipes. Last week I was watching Paula Deen and I became convinced that she is trying to kill us all and that she is in league with Sandra Lee. The episode I watched was about making things with stuff you happen to have in your refrigerator already. Paula Deen happened to have two roast chickens, a roast turkey and a full ham just lying around in her fridge. I don't know about you, but I don't "just have" all that in my fridge. First she made some chicken noodle business, then she made a bean soup out of the ham and then she just went hardcore nasty-assed and busted out some vile concoction she called a "Gobbler Cobbler." The grossness of this thing is almost unrivaled in the world of casserolery. It involved leftover turkey, pie crust, water chestnuts, an entire cup each of mayo AND sour cream, rice and some canned green beans as well as way too much cheese. I couldn't even believe it. Can you honestly take a second and just try to imagine the amount of fat and calories in this thing? It must weigh fifteen pounds. It was like a casserole, but it had pie crust, so it was like a pot pie. Except it wasn't really like a pot pie because of the rice inside. It was like a starch overload. If you could choke this down you would be guaranteed constipation and a stint in one of your major arteries. Here, see the recipe for yourself.  Now you tell me, would you eat that? Would any of you be willing to make this and actually try it, because I certainly wouldn't. Baked mayonnaise? No thanks Paula. One of my favorite parts of Food Network recipes is the reader reviews. Please read the reviews on this recipe. They crack me up. Partly, it's because these people must be the biggest idiots alive fawning over food that can not possibly be good. I also love the people who completely change the recipe so that it doesn't even resemble the original recipe and then declare it fantastic. Someone attempted to turn this recipe vegan and it sounded extremely unappetizing. In fact, I started trying to decide which I would choose if I had to a gun to my head - the original or the vegan and I chose the gun. 

House Update - well I got all my permits and contractors lined up. Dealing with people who work on houses has certainly been an interesting experience. My electrician likes to work an hour here and there and has mysterious emergencies every day. My plumber is a Tea Party fanatic who tried to talk to me about Jesus this morning, but he does good work, even if he doesn't ever shut up about Obama and Muslims and illegals stealing his work. At one point I was like, if I didn't sign that paper swearing I'd never hire illegal aliens I swear to God I WOULD hire an illegal just because they wouldn't be able to speak English and I wouldn't have to listen to them jabber on and on like you do. My carpenter is just as talkative. He likes to talk a lot of crap too. Do you remember when Steve Buscemi was on The Sopranos? OK, that is my carpenter. He doesn't like Liberals either, but this guy I can deal with because he works his ass off all day and all night if he has to and won't take a day off. Because of this guy, my house will get done faster and he seems to just take so much pride in the work he's doing. Because of this guy I get my first inspection tomorrow, a week ahead of schedule. WooHoo to Steve Buscemi Carpenter Guy. He's begging to finish my drywall too. Should I let him or do you think it will take too much time out of his Boardwalk Empire shooting? Anyone watch that, by the way? I have it on my DVR. Worth watching?

Reading Update - Still finishing The Happiness Project, but I got sidetracked by Alexa Stevenson's Half Baked. I know you're all asking why am I reading scary books about problem pregnancies and babies who end up not ok, but I had to. I read this book because of the blurbs. I've never done that before, but when I saw that Elizabeth McCracken and A.J. Jacobs BOTH wrote blurbs I had to read it. This book has been getting a lot of Internet buzz because the author is a blogger, and though she is a blogger, I can't really categorize her as one of the book deal bloggers exactly. She was a writer before she blogged and you can tell. Her writing has a certain professional polish and way with metaphors that a lot of bloggers turned authors' books don't. This goes back to my whole quality of writing obsession where I once again prove that if you write well, you can make any topic engaging, moving and worth reading about. For me, it wasn't just her troubled pregnancy and daughter's time in the NICU that riveted me. It actually wasn't that at all, but I don't want to sound mean and like I don't care about someone's sick baby, because I do. What hooked me into this book, after the writing, was how it was about more than the sick baby. It was about her own internal struggle with anxiety and depression. This is what made the book work so well for me. That is what made the book bigger and more important to me than a basic story of "I had infertility, a baby who died and another born precariously premature who nearly didn't make it, but then, thank God did." Not to say that that's not an important story, but that it had the added depth of the author's internal struggles with herself, made a great story something extraordinary and I could not put it down for an entire weekend. If you want to check out Alexa Stevenson's blog it's here, but it's not the same kind of writing as the book and should not be expected to be.

I finished that book so quickly that I took to needing a new one immediately. I saw the short list for the Booker Prize and was intrigued by the novel Room, which has been reviewed and talked about everywhere lately. I tried a Kindle free sample and it was weird. I'm not going to lie. The narrator is a five year old boy who has never left a room where his mother has been held captive for many years by her kidnapper/ rapist who is the child's father. This is not an easy read on many levels and I haven't gotten very far. The novel has an emotionally difficult premise and a very unusual use of language, which, though hard to read breezily, works and becomes a necessary part of the narrative. It's almost like the language has to be strange for the story and its narrator to be believable. A couple people on Twitter are reading it with me and I would love it if more of you read it with me so we could discuss it. We could have like a little book club on this one. Let me know if you're interested in that and we can figure out a time to finish it and talk about it. I think if you choose to read this book, that pre-reading some reviews on it first will help orient you better to the world of the story and help you to understand what on earth is going on. I'm big on pre-reading and when I teach harder reading materials to my classes I do something called pre-teaching before they read so that they aren't lost and don't give up on the difficult parts of the text. It helps to sort of pre-teach yourself too so that you know what to expect.

Bedtime Update - that is right now. Good night. 
Sunday, September 19, 2010

If I Had a Million Dollars With an "M" or How to Make a Million Feel Like a Billion

For the past several months I've had that stupid song in my head where the guy whines about how he wants to be a billionaire so freakin' bad. The first time I ever heard that song my first thought was, wow, inflation. Used to be that all people wished for was a million dollars. Now they want to be billionaires.

Back in 1992, the Barenaked Ladies recorded "If I Had a Million Dollars" and the whole song consisted of all kinds of great things they could do with a million dollars, and they were talking about Canadian money, so I guess their million might not have gone as far as ours. Still, they wanted macaroni and cheese with ketchup on it, a green dress for a girl, a monkey and an ottoman and a house to put it all in. They also mention a car and a limo and a refrigerator. The Barenaked Ladies were getting a lot for their Canadian money back in '92 and I really think their list was pretty practical and humble, except for the elephant man's bones.

Like I said, things have changed. At least where I live, here in South Florida, your million dollars wouldn't go very far. There'd be no way you could get a house, a car, a monkey etc. and if you did, you wouldn't be getting good quality stuff and you'd certainly be relegated to eating nothing but mac and cheese from a box when you were done shopping, because you'd be broke. I guess that's why Travie McCoy wants to be a billionaire instead.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with an aching back and insomnia and because I still had that damned song in my head, I began thinking about what I'd do with a good old fashioned million dollars. 

In South Florida, people can waste a million dollars in minutes flat. People down here regularly write out million dollar checks to Ponzi schemers. They spend it on the down payments for boats or blow it all on drugs and hookers. Shoot, you could drop a million easily if you shopped at Bal Harbor, had dinner at Nobu and decided to shack up at the Delano a few times too many.

I wouldn't do any of that. I can't stand Nobu with their overpriced teeny portions anyway.

I'd buy a summer house.

I'd like to be a snowbird. That's what we Floridians call the people who live up north all summer and come down here to enjoy our mild, citrusy winters.

I wouldn't waste my million in Newport, Cape Cod or any of the Hamptons. I wouldn't even get waterfront property and I'd avoid the beach because the prices are so overblown and you can just drive to the beach. I want a country house somewhere on the Eastern Shore - Maryland or Delaware, though I'd prefer the no sales tax Delaware side and I'd be closer to Rehoboth and my relatives.  This is about family for me and rural quiet. It's about farm stands and running from horseflies.

I don't need a fancy house. I see it as a farmhouse on a country road that doesn't even have a name. It's surrounded by fields edged in forests. At night you can see all the stars from your bedroom window.  It definitely has a porch. This house will cost me a couple hundred thousand of my million at the most. I'll reserve a bit for repairs, because it's old and will need them. Cosmetic work is less important and so is furniture. Summer homes aren't model homes. Their floors are for tracking in sand and it doesn't matter if you drip red strawberry juice out of your bowl of shortcake and all over the couch. In the summer house, you can relax. A little shabby disarray becomes character.  This isn't a house for worrying about. It's a house with a picnic table where we can spread out newspapers and dump out a full steamer of crabs and afterward we can gather up the whole lot, toss it in the trash and get out a deck of cards.

The yard is full of clover.  At night the raccoons clamor around in the trash cans outside. I'd set up a clothesline if there wasn't one already, because there is nothing like the smell of sheets dried outside all day. A small garden would be nice too, but isn't necessary.

This house is a place for memories. I wouldn't be spending my money on the house per se, but rather the experiences that the house could provide. The million dollars would give me a way to be closer to my family. The house is for my daughter, so that she may know the joy of picking Queen Anne's Lace, of watching the martens swinging through the twilight after mosquitoes and of winking fireflies. It is so she can play with her cousins and know her great-grandmothers and that they can know her. It is also for me, so that I can stay up all night laughing with my cousins and so that we can all pile into the car with a bucket of chicken and a cooler that we'll take to the beach, where we'll sit and blister ourselves in the sun while retelling the same old stories.

I haven't spent all of my million dollars, but I'm satisfied already. It's not about things. It's about people. I'll set aside a good amount of money. The house is old so things will fall apart from time to time. It will need repairs and I have to be prepared. But what to do with the rest? Give it away?

Money is a fluid energy. It likes to move and keep moving. You can't stash all of it away. But how is it best used?

Often I'm wary of just giving people the cash. I prefer to reward a job well done instead. I think this is healthier for the recipient too, to know that they've earned something. It means more that way.  I'll tip generously. I'll hire out some jobs I could have probably done myself, to people who need the work. Yes, I'll give generously to local charities because I want the place to be a little better for my having moved there for part of the year, but really, I think it would mean more if I gave of my time than my cash. I could help the old ladies at my grandmother's church group. I'd cook for the chicken and dumpling fundraisers at the fire halls. Doesn't that mean more than writing a check?

There's my cousin and her little one with diabetes. She deserves some of this million more than anyone else I can think of. I could help ease her burden financially, but if I could be up near her in the summers when my teaching schedule affords me so much time off, I could take her daughter during the day when she works and spend time with her. It would be fun for all of us and my cousin wouldn't have to pay for her daughter's day care.

I think I still have money left over. I'll take my grandmother every week to her favorite lunch spot - the place with the extra-chunky cream of crab bisque. For my grandmother with the bad knee, I'll hire a cleaning service so her house can be as spotless as she used to make it. She'd complain at first, but secretly she'd be relieved. I'd drive her to church every Sunday and take her out to breakfast after the service ended. That would make her happier than anything I could buy.

Let's save the rest and see what happens. A second honeymoon? My husband deserves it. An education fund? A lot of people deserve that. Unexpected expenses? Stuff comes up all the time.

The truth is, it doesn't matter. I've made the million feel like a billion already.
Friday, September 17, 2010

The Childbirth Class From Hell

I have childbirthing class again tomorrow. I opted for the two long Saturday sessions which are four hours each. My other option was four sets of two hour classes on a Tuesday, but that didn't work with Husband's schedule and we're too busy.

I'd been dreading these classes. My doctor bugged me and bugged me about them and finally I decided I had to get it over with before it was too late. At my hospital you can't have an epidural if you don't take the class and watch a video from 1988 about a woman who had an epidural and it was wonderful, a woman who chose not to have one and it was still wonderful and then a doctor who comes on and tells you that if you do have one you could end up with the following outcomes: a baby, a splitting migraine for three days, a wheelchair or a coffin. It was less than encouraging.

Probably suffering from ADD, I find it nearly impossible to sit still for four hours in a room full of other people. I can't go to church or lectures. I fidgeted my way through college and meetings and for most of my life I have successfully avoided most circumstances that require me to sit still and be quiet for any period of time around other people. I just can't do it. We all have our limitations and this is mine.

My Husband is worse than I am. You have never seen an adult as frenetic as the man I married. Everyone comments on it. "Does he ever sit still?" people ask. No, he does not. He is constantly buzzing around. The man vibrates with energy, but he is extremely productive. It's very weird. I don't honestly know what his deal is. I used to swear he had ADHD, but I'm not so sure. Recently I read this article about being married to someone with ADHD and I was all prepared to be like "Yes, this is my life, yup, that's my man." Then I took a test on a website to see if you're married to someone with ADHD and the results shocked me. I wasn't. In fact, it seemed that it was my husband who was actually married to the spouse with the attention deficit problem. It was me!!! Not him!! That was pretty humbling.

Still, neither one of us were designed to sit in four hour classes on Saturday afternoons and this is why we dreaded childbirthing class. But we went.

It was awful. I don't want to go back.

First of all, we had a nurse for a teacher and it was painfully evident that this woman had no teaching skills at all. I can't really fault her for that I guess, but here's the deal. As a teacher, you have to empathize with your students. I know that when I teach that my students appreciate an agenda. Every single class I write on the board a bulleted list of what we are going to do and in what order before we have to leave. It's detailed. This gives my class a sense of time passing and security because they know what to expect and they always feel like we're moving along and accomplishing something. In a class over 90 minutes long, I always give breaks. Breaks are important. You can't make people sit for four hours with no bathroom and no snack. People need to get up and shake themselves off. I felt like I was about to have a pulmonary embolism in this class.  This class had no agenda and no breaks. We had no idea what we were supposed to be accomplishing.

Another thing good teachers have got to remember, and this is profoundly difficult to do, is that you can not ever, under any circumstances, judge your students by how they look or treat them differently according to your biases. That should go without saying, but most teachers do it. I practice extreme mindfulness about not doing this in my classes. I am conscious of it in every single class, and look, it's hard, but you just don't know what people's private lives are really like. I felt that our teacher was condescending.

First off, the class was really diverse. There was a teenage couple who would not stop making out. Then there was a couple who seriously looked as old as my parents and kept making comments about how old they were to be having kids, which was a little awkward, but I think they were self conscious. Then we had some average looking Hispanic couples in their 30s. In the class we also had a single, very young black girl who had no partner or coach with her, which caused the teacher to make a scene. Had I been the teacher, I wouldn't have even said a thing about it and just would have gone on with the class. Being a little hormonal, this made me want to start to cry for some reason and I wanted the girl to come be with us, but luckily we didn't do anything that required a partner anyway because all we did was freaking sit there for four hours.

Husband and I sort of don't look exactly like what we are sometimes, which is educated, responsible, employed, upstanding citizens. We look considerably younger than we are. My husband, on the weekends, dresses like he's back in his college years when he was a snowboarder who worked at Whole Foods. He recently had a terrible skateboarding accident (do not even ask) in which he got my parents' dog to pull him on the skateboard, but then the dog saw another dog and took off around a corner, which sent my husband flying onto the asphalt. He is Mr. Road Rash. Admittedly, the two of us look a sight. At the moment I have pretty much given up personal hygiene for comfort. I don't remember when I last put on some blush. I look haggard and miserable and to someone who doesn't know me I look like an unidentifiably ethnic, pregnant twenty year old who lives in a rough neighborhood. Needless to say, we didn't make a good impression on our teacher. She hated us. She kept picking on us and embarrassed me in class because I hadn't prepaid. She kept asking me for money and making sure I knew we needed exact change, which I did. You do not discuss money in front of other people. She should have waited til the class ended.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with this teacher though, was her annoying use of gender stereotypes when explaining hypothetical situations. In all of her scenarios, men were uninterested in the births of their children and wanted to be watching "the big game" instead. Her imaginary women were all preoccupied with shopping and treating their babies like dolls instead of real human beings. I honestly don't know where this woman got these ideas. She also bugged the crap out of me by calling all of her hypothetical boys "Johnny." 

We had to go through a labor timeline. Afterward, she quizzed us and of course she used us as her hypothetical example, starting off with "Now say Mr. Lawns is home watching the big game and Mrs. Lawns has just gotten back from shopping for frilly baby clothes when all of a sudden she has a contraction -"  I had to interrupt her. I couldn't help myself.

"Umm, no," I said, "Mr. Lawns doesn't even like sports unless the winter X-games are on. He'd actually be reading and so would I for that matter because I hate shopping, especially for frilly clothes."

We went through the whole labor and we're at the part where we're now at the hypothetical hospital and this is where the bitch gets revenge on me.

"Ok class, now what do we do when all of a sudden Mrs. Lawns says she feels like she has to poop?"

I nearly died. I guess the correct answer was that it was probably time to start pushing, but seriously, it took all of the strength in my body not to shout out:

"I ALWAYS feel like I have to poop!!"

Our teacher was obsessed with poop and sex. As often as she compared childbirth to taking a crap, I think I might actually be able to get through it. I wanted to say to her at one point that since I've struggled with IBS for so many years that I really didn't need the class because childbirth was going to be a breeze with all the practice in painful pooping I've had.

We all know that I'm on a diet to prevent dehydration and to keep my blood sugar from whipping all over the place. Because of this I take small protein snacks and water with me everywhere and maybe a piece of fruit. To this class I took water, a pear and a babybel. When it became obvious that no break was coming, I had to make the choice that was healthy for me and eat the snack in class. I was discreet and did not make a mess or crinkle wrappers. This was not good enough for our teacher who had to make tons of comments about my eating. I tried to tell her I was on a special diet and had to eat every two hours, but she just embarrassed me more and made me feel like I was just being high maintenance. I began to hate this woman. It only got worse when she started talking about how sex can be used to progress labor and about the creative uses of shower massagers, but I'll spare you.

Finally, she left and we were treated to an hour with what appeared to be a hungover pediatrician, who was actually pretty funny and obviously didn't want to be in this class.

The pediatrician had a flip book of horrifying pictures of things that can go horribly awry with a newborn's appearance. By his own admission, the book was probably from 1960. The point of the book was to prepare us for how ugly our babies might look so we wouldn't be alarmed. According to this book our children could be born with crossed eyes, smashed noses, misaligned jaws, displaced hips, strange birthmarks, huge bruises, a cream cheese like coating, yellow skin, blue skin, coverings of black hair like monkeys (direct quote), patches of hair missing, slanty eyes, blistering rashes, enormous genitals, nipples the size of pepperoni, lumps on their heads and all sorts of other things that really seemed more like they belonged at Halloween Horror Nights than the maternity ward. After viewing this flip book, I was not at all comforted or prepared for what my child might come out looking like. In fact, I began to dread it. But the good news, according to this doctor was that it is hospital policy not to vaccinate babies at birth "unless the mothers look like crackheads." Which means that I had better clean up my act and wax my eyebrows and maybe slick on a little lip gloss for labor and delivery.

I didn't even get to the best part. The moral of the story here is that I need to move to a big city because I can not escape people I know everywhere I go. Who was in this class but my sister's ex and his psycho wife who hates my sister irrationally and anyone associated or connected to my sister, which means me. I guess she's one of those really, super jealous women who can't bear the thought that their husbands had relationships before them. She's one of those women who always wonders if the exes were prettier than her. In this case I can say the answer is yes.  All class I tried to make eye contact with him to say hi, but he is actually so scared and whipped by his wife that he pretended he didn't know me. Trust me, he knows me very well and he was crapping his pants that I was there and might mention my sister in front of his wife or that he would have to explain to his wife how he knew me. I tried to grab him on the way out to say hi, but he tore out of that classroom like he was on fire. I don't know what he's going to do to avoid me tomorrow when we go on a tour of the hospital facilities. Woohoo field trip!

I have excused my poor husband from going tomorrow. I think it's a waste of his time, especially now that WE HAVE PERMITS!!!! Yes people, we have permits on our house and work has resumed! I think my husband is better put to use supervising the contractors at our house than he is touring our hospital's birthing center. If we need a partner for activities I've got the single black girl.

Stay tuned for the next edition of The Childbirth Class From Hell.
Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Dad the Busdriver

My dad filmed his bus driver scene yesterday and here is a picture of it, where he looks like he is both my grandfather and from Millpond. Now you all can't really get  the full hilarity of this picture because you don't know what my dad normally looks like, but I can assure you that it is nothing like this. The mustache is fake and I don't think he'd wear glasses like that either. They also made him look older. In his scenes where he's the limo driver, he looks more like his regular self.  This is the last week of filming and I'm just thrilled that this movie got made and that there are so many interesting actors in it. I read the script a few revisions back and I think it's a sweet story. It has a kind of "Little Miss Sunshine" tone to it and it's very funny. I'm hoping it gets distribution and becomes a big hit. This is partially because I want to dress the baby up and take her to the premiere to meet the Osbournes and their Pomeranians, but also because this movie has been a long project and the dream of several people very dear to meThey're talented people and if this movie becomes a success, which I hope it will, then I think it will open up many doors for them, which they deserve. I have to say that I have a very good feeling about it because once, a decade ago, I kissed one of its writers and I think we all know about what happens to the people I kiss. They go on to massive successes, often in the arts. I think this bodes well for this movie then.
Monday, September 13, 2010

How Not To Eat Like a You-Know-What While Pregnant or Just Want to be Healthier

A long time ago, I wrote a post about not eating like a (something I can no longer say since I challenged myself to drastically cut back on cussing). We'll just say "idiot" from here on out. Now this post caused much controversy. Some people loved it and some hated it. I just said what worked for me. Now the last thing I want to do is stir up controversy right now. Lord knows there is enough of that in my personal life, but eating while pregnant can be really challenging and I think it's hard for some people to not eat like idiots while gestating or otherwise for that matter. Recently, quite a few people, Internet friends and real life friends, have asked me to share with them some details about my diet, so this post is for all of them. I hope it's helpful.

In the beginning, I couldn't understand how anyone could ever gain weight while pregnant. I was so nauseated and threw up so much that I felt like I was going to literally die. Luckily that has passed. For a while I just had my regular appetite. I gained a little bit of weight. I was under the normal weight gain range.

And then something terrible happened. At around 7 months, I became ravenous. I have gained almost twenty-five pounds, which is alarming to me, but which my doctor assures me is necessary and normal and actually a healthy weight. I developed a hunger that I never knew was possible and it was a violent, gnawing sort of hunger where, if I don't eat when it strikes, I become a psychotic, dry heaving, hypoglycemic disasterFor a while, I didn't understand what was happening to me, but a month to six weeks or so ago I ended up stuck in the doctor's office for 3 hours with dehydration. After my forced rehydration, the doctor gave me a long scary lecture about how not eating and drinking regularly could really hurt me and the baby so I had better get my act together and not let this happen again. After that I became a lot more mindful and I started kind of compiling a mental list of good things to eat that were healthy and easy and did not make me want to hurl when it was 100 degrees outside. Now, with my gestational diabetes, I have to be even more mindful of what goes in my mouth even when a pint of Haagen Dasz has begun to look like a single serving, and a small one at that.

In doing this, I kinda realized that I was on to something and that these are all great things to eat while pregnant, when eating like an idiot is easier than ever, but they are also good to eat when you're not pregnant and you're just trying to be healthy or when you might be struggling with your own blood sugar issues.

The first rule of not eating like an idiot while pregnant is to realize that you are not in fact, eating for two. I hate when people ask me about eating for two. I'm not. I'm eating for me and a little teeny thing that doesn't eat food, but somehow gets nutrition out of my blood in some elaborate fashion that I don't really want to understand in any more depth than that.

The other rule comes from my doctor. My doctor is a little wacky and new agey, but he's given me some good advice. He says to lay off the bread and ice cream and eat super high fiber, high protein snacks all day. I listened to him. Many pregnant ladies I know have had pooing issues. I have not. I credit the high fiber. It also keeps me full and prevents the dry heaving from an empty stomach.

Here are my favorite things to eat:

1. Almonds - Wacky doctor (maybe I'll give him his own post sometime) actually prescribed for me to eat a handful of almonds every day. He says they prevent preeclampsia.  I don't know if this is true and verified or not, but he said it. In any event, almonds are just good and they are good for you. I have a thing for blanched almonds but I also get cans of roasted almonds in sea salt and eat them. I have not come down with preeclampsia yet and my blood pressure has remained on the low side and I have no swelling.

2. Organic Apples - I can tear up an apple, organic or not. I love apples with a passion, but I read somewhere that the one thing you should always buy organic is apples, so I go to Whole Foods once a week and get some. My rule is to buy American apples, whatever variety they have. I get American apples because they don't have a to travel as far to get here and are in better shape upon arrival in my store. They taste much better too and I know because I conducted my own blind, organic vs. conventional apple taste test. Most of you live in climates where apples grow, so I'll bet you won't even have to worry about where your apples come from like I do since apples are in season now.  I like to eat the apples whole, skin and all and sometimes with peanut or almond butter (unsweetened).

3. Turkey Roll Ups - Pregnant women aren't supposed to eat deli meats, but I made an executive decision to have some in extreme moderation anyway. Boars Head has a line of meats that are natural and nitrite free and I like the turkey slices. Hopefully I won't get listeria.  I like to take a few turkey slices, spread with a little cream cheese, add a couple slices of chilled, blanched asparagus and a sliver of raw, red bell pepper and roll the whole thing up and eat it like so. They're very pretty and yummy and low carb.

4. Tzatziki - I can't stand to eat a cup of sweetened yogurt with fruit. I would honestly vomit, but for some reason I can't get enough of plain, Greek yogurt with garlic, cucumbers and dill. I eat this almost every day with a piece of toasted, whole grain pita. I have concluded that in my mind yogurt is a savory and not a sweet and should only come in the Greek variety. Luckily for me this has no sugar, is low fat, high protein, has lots of calcium and is just good. I won't eat stuff that's not good.

5. Watermelon - I lament the end of watermelon season. The watermelons are all getting mealy and gross, but when they weren't, I thoroughly enjoyed watermelon all summer. Plain is good, but if you get bored did you know that watermelon is really good drizzled with balsamic vinegar and eaten with feta cheese? I know it sounds weird, but try it. And pregnant women need to eat only the pasteurized, less authentic feta.

6. Barilla Plus Pasta - I love this pasta. It's higher in protein and grain and tastes like regular pasta. I think it has lentils in it or something. I like to stir fry a bunch of veggies in olive oil, hot pepper flakes and garlic and then throw them into the cooked, drained pasta and top with lots of Parmesan. I made this last week and at the last minute I thought I'd add some toasted walnuts to it too and I did not regret that decision. Yum. I ate this for four days and it didn't mess with my blood sugar like regular pasta would have.

7. Prunes - don't laugh, I know. I have developed a love of prunes. It happened because I fell victim to marketing. I watched a commercial where all these people were eating individually wrapped prunes and going into spasms of delight over them and then I immediately had to have them or I thought I might die. I went right to the store and bought them and they were just as good as the commercial said, except I have since realized that they don't need to be individually wrapped and called sun-dried black plums. A prune's a prune and they're delicious. They are sugary though, so I just eat one a day, if that. Maybe this is why I don't have poo issues.

8. Mini-Babybel Low-fat Cheese - I live on these things. I have a passion for them. The funny thing is that I can't stand the full fat ones because they have a gross, creamy texture. I much prefer the firmer, sharper light version. I carry these with me wherever I go for a little protein snack.

9. Nutrigrain Waffles with Unsweetened Peanut butter and Polaner All Fruit Spread. Enough said. Delicious and simple. This could be a little higher in sugar than some of my other snacks, so I test my blood after eating and only eat it maybe once a week only.

10. Chicken Salad - I love me some chicken salad. You can hide all kinds of healthy things in it and there are a million different versions. I just use the mayo sparingly because I don't even like mayo anyway and I don't eat it with carbs. I eat it on a plate plain or I stuff it into romaine leaves.

11. Chili - You can also make chili a million different ways and hide lots of veggies in it. I like almost all kinds of chili and it's very filling. I just can't handle it too spicy at the moment. You can also eat it with a little brown rice, whole grain crackers or whole grain corn chips. I like to put some cheese and Greek yogurt on top of mine. I prefer my chili with a higher bean to meat ratio, but I think it's even good with no beans at all (except beans are healthy and good, so eat them!)

12. Hummus - speaking of beans. Regular hummus is good, but Giada de Laurentis has a white bean dip that takes hummus to a new level. This recipe is easy and way better than common hummus. Here's the recipe. You're welcome. You don't need to make the pita chips with it and I prefer it on blanched, chilled broccoli spears. I could eat this endlessly and I often take it to parties and potlucks.

13. Orville Redenbacher's Natural Salted 50% Less Fat Microwave Popcorn - That's a long name for some plain popcorn. I love it. A few times I've had a bag of this for dinner and haven't regretted it at all. It feels indulgent, but it isn't. Plain popcorn is actually a healthy snack. It's when you start crapping it up with that scary, artificial yellow stuff that it gets bad. Don't eat that mess. Plain is beautiful.

14. Flavored Seltzer Water - I made this rule that I can only drink water. You will save a ton of calories and spare yourself consuming a lot of bad chemicals if you follow this rule. Drinking plain water can get dull though, even if you squeeze fruit or float cucumbers in it and sometimes you want to feel like you're having more variety. Flavored seltzer waters (unsweetened) are a good substitute. I like the orange flavored ones.

15. Breyers Pure Fruit Popsicles - These no longer work for me, as they spike my blood sugar way too high, despite their lack of calories. My body just doesn't react to them very well right now, but I wanted to mention them anyway. I ate these a lot when I was puking and they made me feel better and I've introduced a lot of non-pregnant people to them. Once my sugar issues are resolved I intend to buy a box again. These popsicles are all fruit, colored with fruits and vegetables and are only 40 calories each with no artificial sweeteners. Love them. I also love Whole Foods Fudge Bars, but I can't eat these right now either. The fudge bars are 100 calories, very chocolaty and very satisfying when you're having a sugar fit and just have to have a dessert. Just don't eat stuff like this every day unless you're a healthy weight, exercise all the time and have no blood sugar problems.

16. Variety - The above items are things I eat most often and really enjoy, but I have always made sure that I eat a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables. I also like to eat eggs for breakfast with a slice of Ezekiel toast. If I am having a sugar craving that I can't handle, I usually eat a handful of berries or a square of dark chocolate. Make sure that throughout the day you eat a lot of brightly colored foods. The prettier your food is the more you will like eating it and if you eat several colors throughout the day you can be assured that you're getting an ample variety of nutrients. I like eating blueberries and raspberries a lot too and they are so vivid. Swiss chard is really pretty with its green leaves and red stems and it's simple to saute in olive oil and garlic. Another thing that I do is make sure that if I eat any carb that I balance it out by eating something high in protein with it and that I always eat more protein than carbs in any given day. So far this is working very well for me and my blood sugar stays at ideal levels as long as I follow these rules. I plan to stay on this diet once the baby is born, although I sincerely hope that someone brings me a pint of Haagen Dasz mint chip to my hospital room after I give birth so I can eat the entire thing in celebration. I think if one has just delivered a child that an exception can be made once. Then I'll be good again.

Please please please share your own healthy snack ideas, products and recipes with me in the comments because we can all benefit from them and because I love to share this kind of knowledge. I hope this post helps the people who asked for it.
Sunday, September 12, 2010

What It's Like to be Pregnant

When you are pregnant two extremely annoying things will happen. One is that everyone you encounter, both people you know and total strangers, will feel compelled to tell you their own pregnancy horror stories which will frighten you. The other thing that happens is that everywhere you go people will try to give you advice on things to do, or more often NOT to do in pregnancy or in caring for your child. This advice doesn't just come from actual people though. It is pervasive in our culture. It's all over TV, in magazines, rampant on the Internet where we don't even have to seek it out because it's just everywhere, and in the newspaper. Every single day, without actively searching, I come across at least one, but usually several, warnings and words of wisdom about babies.

One theme, one message, screams loudest. You hear it from friends, from family, in the grocery store, on the 24 hours news and on the local eleven 'o' clock news. You hear it on talk shows, in the doctors office and it yells off the pages of your favorite magazine.

We live in a dangerous world. Everything is going to kill your baby and mothers, it's going to be all your fault.

Obsessed with cults, I've read a lot about Jonestown. Towards the end, Jim Jones, in an effort to frighten and brainwash his follows which apparently worked quite well, played constant loud, repetitive messages, 24 hours a day over multiple loudspeakers throughout his compound. Rumor also has it that this is a common enhanced interrogation technique that the US military uses to scare the living crap out of prisoners while simultaneously driving them nuts in order to soften them up to get information. I feel like I'm being forced to listen to the same, horrible, anxiety and guilt producing message over and over wherever I go and that no one except other pregnant women and mothers can hear it.

Everything is going to kill your baby. It will be all your fault.

Here is the short list of things that I have read or heard are harmful to babies (by harmful I mean will cause cancer, autism and rejection from Ivy League universities):  Everything

Here is a long and actual list (all jokes aside) of things I have heard or read that will cause cancer, autism, rejection from Ivy League universities, misery, despair and death to one's offspring:

Vaccines, a mother's obesity, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, mercury, video games, watching TV, too much rain in any given year (seriously), BPA, vinyl shower curtains, perfume, flea killer, all pesticide, feeding your child conventional, non organic produce, hormones in meat and milk, dental fillings, fluoride in water, lack of fluoride in water, folic acid, lack of folic acid, the mother's being RH negative, the Rhogam shot given to mothers who are RH negative (so I'm totally screwed I guess), linoleum floors, paint, pretty much anything from China, lead in the ground, sodium lauryl sulfate, iPhones, iPhone cords, wireless service, laptops, radiation, diesel fumes, living near power lines, electromagnetic fields, talking on cell phones during pregnancy, Baby Einstein, pthalates, the burning of fossil fuels, gestational diabetes, thyroid disease in the mother, autoimmune disease in the mother, two nerdy parents, food dyes, melamine, gluten, dairy products, second hand smoke, first hand smoke, bad genes, fertility treatments and fertility drugs, the medium in which embryos are created and grown outside of the body, use of pitocin, C-sections, not letting the umbilical cord stop pulsating before cutting it, traumatic birth, epidurals, anti-depressants, any child rearing technique other than fanatical Attachment Parenting, not breastfeeding, not breastfeeding exclusively or long enough, eating tuna while pregnant or nursing, too much caffeine, air pollution, Measles virus in the vaccine which has now had the mercury removed, foreign proteins in genetically modified foods, nail polish, hair dye, microwaving in plastic, the existence of plastic period, chlorinated water, bottled water, tap water, not drinking enough water, having children too old, having children too young, formaldehyde fumes coming out of your furniture, microwaved food, glues used in car manufacturing, babies no longer sleeping on their backs, past parental drug use and heavy drinking (such as in college), not going outside enough, vitamin D deficiency, too much testosterone in the womb and flame retardants.

I'm sure I could find more if I tried, but I'm not going to try. It is overwhelming. Many of these things are unavoidable so it's easy to see how a pregnant woman can become hysterical with fear.

In the beginning I was hysterical with fear. I imagined everything as a potential neurotoxin. I was scared to leave the house because of the toxins I might encounter and then I was scared to stay inside the house because of all the toxins at home. It was too much. I have taken reasonable precautions. Many people would say that I am extra-cautious. I won't drink a diet soda or eat a can of tuna. I've decided to hold off on manicures and covering my greys. I switched to Dr. Bronner's soap because I like the smell, but I can't control everything and I don't want to live a life of fear and that's partly because I don't want my child growing up a terrified, neurotic headcase who's afraid to live her life, risks and all.

We can't be that fragile can we? How has the human race possibly survived? I know that in the past 40 years we've been exposed to far more chemicals and toxins than ever before, but most people seem to be generally ok, right? Is it really accurate to paint such a bleak and dangerous portrait of the world to expectant mothers and their children? And aside from being accurate, is it the kindest thing to do to saddle women with so much guilt and stress and blame, as if parenting doesn't bring enough guilt and stress and blame?  Why do we always have to blame someone or something anyway? Whatever happened to just plain bad luck? Sometimes bad things and accidents just happen.

I don't want to hear it anymore. I'm stuffing cotton in my ears so I can't hear the loudspeakers.
Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Night Gratitude

I'm sitting here by myself waiting for my grandparents to get here (the ones I wrote about yesterday). They're coming to sleep over tonight and I'm making them dinner. I may regret this because every time I cook something, my grandmother must know every detail about how I did it and the products I used and she asks me to the point where I want to be like "You know what, I am never cooking for you again. We should have just gone to Waffle House." My grandmother loves what she calls "waffle pecans." For breakfast tomorrow I am making her something along the waffle pecan lines. I've recently discovered the joyous things one can do with a sheet of canned crescent roll dough (mozzarella and pepperoni for one) and I'm going to roll it up with some pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon for her. She'll be all over it and then try to fish the canned dough wrapper out of the trash and I'll wish I'd just given her a frozen bagel. Happens to me every time.

I also made a banana pudding for dessert - the kind with vanilla bean custard and Nilla wafers with real whipped cream on top. My husband has never had this. Can you imagine? He is so not southern sometimes that he makes me realize that there are actually parts of the country that have no idea what some of these things I love even are. But his family is definitely down with the Jell-o and Cool Whip concoctions just like my family, even though they're from California, so I still can't believe that none of them ever made banana pudding for him. The other thing he never had was an icebox cake, for God's sake and he had the nerve to say it was gross. The absolute nerve. There is nothing more delicious than a proper icebox cake made with chocolate cookies and whipped cream lightly sweetened. How can that be gross? Something is wrong with him. He does use Cheetos as croutons after all.

Don't worry, I won't be eating the banana pudding or the pecan roll. I'm being good because the doctor told me today that as long as I continue on my current diet that my sugar is perfectly normal and I intend to continue on my current diet because I don't gain weight on it or start to feel icky like I do when I eat too much sugar.

I'm kind of rambling endlessly today about nothing. I occasionally enjoy the freedom of stream of consciousness, especially after writing a more focused memoir-ish story like I did yesterday. That one took me a while and was very emotional for me to write. I have a few other stories I want to share with you that are also like that and some of the topics aren't easy. One thing I find that helps me to get it all out is to write it in the present tense in the voice of myself at a different time in my life. It really helps to put me back in the moment. It's like time traveling to parts of my own life and I find the writing starts to flow more easily when it comes to difficult or emotional subjects or even subjects that I have a hard time understanding even now.

With all that's been going on in my life lately, I've been a bit of a downer and I apologize. Part of this is me being a brat combined with my anxiety over having a baby and wanting everything to be perfect, although I understand that the fundamental nature of parenthood is imperfection.

Really good things are happening though and I'd like to share some of the things for which I am very, very thankful this week.

I went to the doctor today and Baby Lawns is in absolutely perfect health. Everything is ideal, except her positioning, but babies flip at the last minute all the time and if not, well, who cares? I don't mind having a C-section. I don't really have any expectations for her birth. Here look. I wrote my birth plan and this is it:

Get the baby out of me as safely, quickly and painlessly as possible and make sure she is healthy.

And here's a copy of my nursing plan for afterward:

Nursing is best. I'd like to try it. If my thyroid condition and/or medications prevent safe nursing, I enthusiastically look forward to a hasty retoxification of my system. Starbucks and tuna salad here I come.

See, all nice and laid back. I am very, very thankful for my baby's continued good health.

I am also thankful that while I think I threw up so much in the beginning that I may as well have turned my body fully inside out with retching, that in the later stages of pregnancy that I have it pretty easy. I have been spared a lot of suffering.

I am thankful that I don't have hemorrhoids or anything else causing pain and suffering to my behind.

I am thankful that my bellybutton is not inside out and that so far I don't have stretch marks, though I fear any day this could change. I live in constant terror of stretch marks.

Most lucky, I am the pregnant woman people hate. I am skinny with a belly. From behind I look exactly the same. I never thought I would be this woman and the fact that I am makes me think that maybe Jesus does love me after all. My face is kinda puffy though, but I'm hoping that goes away.

What's not puffy though are my ankles! Today the doctor looked at my legs and feet and commented on my unusual lack of any kind of swelling. I have no explanation for this miracle.

"What are you doing to avoid this?" he asked in awe.

"Watching a lot of reality shows and eating peanut butter out of the jar," I replied.

Yes I still have heartburn that I can feel in my spine, but I can deal. Yes, my child has wedged her head under my right rib cage. I can deal with this too. I probably pee 25 times a day. It's like having a bladder infection without the burning, but peeing doesn't bother me either. Over all, I think I'm pretty darned lucky.

The Universe seeks balance I believe. I find that when one part of life goes to shit, another part will suddenly pick up and improve and this has happened.

I can't live in my house right now, but I will be able to live in my house eventually. The Universe has given us a consolation prize that more than makes up for lack of dwelling.

My husband has a new job and it's good. It's so good. I can't and won't talk about my husband's work. I don't even talk about him that much because many years ago he asked me not to, but please know that years and years of his hard work and incredible sacrifice for his career have finally paid off and it was all so hugely worth it. The new health insurance alone is like winning the lottery. There will even be travel for all three of us.

Because of my husband's new job I don't have to go back to work until or unless I want to and I don't want to at least until next summer. I had been very torn about going back to work in January for the Spring semester. I felt like I should, but I also felt like it would be really hard and really sad to leave a two month old. I know people do it every day, but I didn't want to. I think I would have been very stressed out. My husband's only condition for my staying home is that I have to write my butt off. I will try to do that.

These are tough times we live in, though I remain very optimistic about things getting better. Still, I know a lot of friends and family and maybe even many of you, are struggling to get by or find jobs. I'm sending you all good energy, since I have some to share and I feel a little guilty for talking about my good news. I didn't tell a lot of relatives about our good fortune because I didn't want to seem braggy or make anyone feel bad. I don't want to do that here either, so I apologize if I did. So many of you reached out to me in the past few weeks when I was feeling terrible and it helped me more than you can possibly know. I'd like to return the favor. Please know, my readers, that if you are sad that you can email me and I'll do my best to write you back at least a little something.

I'm going to leave you now and start cooking my fish dinner for my grandparents.  Tomorrow we have a child birthing class. God help us. I have an impending sense of hilarity ensuing. 
Thursday, September 09, 2010

Happy New Year - A Tale of Rosh Hashanah

"I don't wear dresses," my mother says.

It's true. I think back and I can't remember a single time I have ever seen her in a dress or skirt. She wears velor track suits, sleek sweat pants and puffy sweat shirts over them. I try to remember my uncle's wedding two years ago and what she wore to that and it was pants because that was in Millpond and no one there cares if you wear pants in a church. My stepfather hadn't gone to the ceremony because he is Jewish and won't set foot in a church, but later he met us at the reception.

"Why do you have to wear a dress?" I ask.

I am almost twelve. My mother has just gotten custody of me and I've moved to be with her in New York where I've just started seventh grade at a new school. It is a holiday I've never heard of, can't spell and can't pronounce, but it's the Jewish new year, which is ridiculous to me because it's September. How can it be New Years if it's September?

We're going to celebrate it. I choose to say we're going to temple. They call it "shul" or "synagogue" but temple is the word with which I am most familiar, so I'm calling it that. I can spell temple. I can say it, but why are we going anyway and when they tell me it lasts all day I begin to panic. Why would you need to go to church or temple or whatever they call it for New Years? Why does it last so long? Back in Millpond I went to church every Sunday and it was only an hour, even on Christmas and Easter and then you got the rest of the day free to have fun.

"You have to wear a dress because that's how Jewish people are. They're religious and women wear dresses to temple," my mother says, but I can tell she's not happy by the way she immediately lights up another cigarette when her first one burns down.

I don't care about wearing a dress. I have plenty, though I'm outgrowing most of them. My mother has no dresses so we have to go to Bradlees and get her a long skirt and some panty hose. She keeps asking me if she looks fat in them and I tell her she doesn't and then she wonders if her perm is wearing out and if she should get a new one or just do the hot rollers.

School is closed for two days for the Jewish holidays in New York. As I get up and put on my dress I think about how everyone I left back in Millpond is in homeroom now and I wonder, had I stayed, what homeroom I would have been in this year. But I live in New York now and I don't have to go to school. I'm going to be Jewish now, which makes me wonder, do I still get to watch the ball drop on December 31st or is this it for me now?

We have to pick up my father's best friend Howie on the way. He's going to services with us. They call it "services." At my old church we had a service. For Jewish people it's plural. Howie sits with me in the back of the Buick and he stinks. He has the worst garlic breath I've ever smelled. He smells like our refrigerator when I forget to wrap the Hebrew National salami tightly enough. I sit there and breathe through my mouth like I do whenever I pass the school cafeteria so I don't have to smell it.  My mother cracks the windows and asks Howie what in the hell he ate.

"Nothing, just a little Turkish salad and eggs this morning. No big deal," he answers.

My parents smoke and smoke up in the front seat so the Buick smells like garlic and cigarettes by the time we get to the temple. Since we're late we can't find a parking spot and drive around the lot several times before my father pulls up on some grass under a tree.

"I can't go in. I'm sick," my mother says.

My heart begins to race. My mother is sick. What's wrong with her?

"With what?" my father asks.

She shakes her head and closes her eyes, making a hand gesture that seems to shoo him away.

"What is wrong with you?" he repeats.

"I'm sick. Just go in and I'll come in in a little while."

Then she turns around and tries to get me to go in too, but I'm scared so I refuse and say I'll wait for her.

When they're gone, she opens up the passenger door and throws up on the ground. I plug my ears and sing "La La La" so I can't hear it and all I can hear is my heart beating hard.

"What's wrong with you?" I ask, frantically.

"Calm down. I just got car sick from smelling Howie's fucking breath. It's disgusting."

"You're not sick?"

"I'll be fine."

She finds napkins in the glove compartment and throws them on the throw up, then lights another cigarette, smokes it and goes rummaging through her pocketbook for gum, which she doesn't find. We don't talk at all until she tells me to come on, we have to go inside.

The temple is big and modern and looks nothing like a church I've seen except that it has pews and an altar. There's no choir or organ or stained glass. I don't see any flowers and the decor reminds me of the Brady Bunch house. We just stand outside of the big room, peering in, trying to see where my father and Howie are seated but there are hundreds of people, some standing, some sitting, many rocking back and forth. Last year in my school in Millpond there was a retarded boy who would sit and rock all day and they remind me of him. This is less organized than church. There is no music. Nothing makes sense. An old lady walks by, looks at my mother and pats the top of her own head, on which she's bobby-pinned a triangle of lace. The woman points to a basket containing discs of thin, cheap lace and my mother, confused takes one, folds it in half and pins it to her own head and then, for good measure, does the same thing to me before we go inside and shuffle into a pew near the back next to strangers.

I scan the room and see some familiar faces of kids from school. I've passed them in the hallways but don't know them. I haven't made any friends at my new school yet. The kids say I talk funny. I went to the guidance counselor every day for a week until she referred me to the school psychologist Dr. Katz, who I see once a week instead of gym class, which is a pretty good deal. Dr. Katz is here too, so I try not to make eye contact with him. I don't want him to see me.

The one thing I notice is that none of the other girls, little, teenage, in between like me, are wearing the lace on their heads. It's only the moms. People are looking at me funny, but I don't know what to do. I don't want to embarrass my mother by taking it off, so I leave it. Every so often I touch the top of my head to feel it there. My mother chews the inside of her mouth, twisting her lip to one side to do it. Her leg jumps violently and she never stops looking for my father and Howie. I know she needs a cigarette.

Finally there is some kind of a break and everyone files out. We find the men and my mother says she is very sick and needs to go home immediately even though the services aren't over for the day yet, so Howie drives us home in our car, then drives back.

At home, the first thing she does is rip off the skirt and the panty- hose and then we watch the Young and the Restless and make sandwiches of salami, cheese and tomatoes on Lenders onion bagels, which we run under the broiler. All day we watch TV on my mother's bed because on TV it's not some strange holiday. It's just like any other day. The soaps, then the talk shows, then the news.

The New Year lasts for two days. No one tells me why, but this is fine with me because that means school is still closed. We don't go to services and my mother, who has run the pair of panty-hose to shreds so that she has to stuff them back in the plastic egg and throw them in the trash, does not put the skirt back on.

It is the first time we've visited my father's parents since I've lived in New York. Will they be my new grandparents, like he is my new father I wonder? I feel like I shouldn't embarrass him or my mother, like I need to impress his parents so they don't think I was another bad decision. I wear a dress. This time, I don't pin anything to my head.

They live all the way in Floral Park, which doesn't look like it sounds. They live in a huge high rise, in a small apartment on the first floor and have so many pictures on the walls that you can barely see the paint and most of the pictures are of religious people, like them, all wearing hats, bending and praying, people mid-rock. Everything in the house is written in another language and the letters aren't even the same. They aren't even read left to right like ours and they're all speaking in Hebrew when we come in and their apartment is like how I'm already failing pre-algebra because I can't find x or understand the concept of negative numbers.

They aren't rude, but it feels like they ignore my mother and me. My father's sister is there and I don't have to wonder if she is my new aunt because she makes it clear that she has no interest in that. I have heard the words skiksa and goyim and know what they mean. I wonder if she calls us this when we aren't there. She doesn't even look at my mother. She is wearing a long skirt and so is my grandmother. Is she my grandmother or is she just my father's mother?

We sit at a long table covered in a white cloth and on top of that a plastic sheet. Tall silver candelabras grow up from the center like trees. There is wine and a plate of red apples beside a crystal jar of pollen colored honey and it's pretty. We do this too in a way. It reminds me of Thanksgiving when my other grandparents put the leaf in the table, cover it with their own white cloth and fall decorations. There is chicken soup and raisin bread dipped in the honey, which I love. We cut up the apples and dip those in the honey too to have a sweet year to come. I eat a lot because I want my year to be sweet. I want to make friends. I want a boy to like me and this will take a lot of honey.

Then they start singing in their language and banging the rhythm on the table. They all know the words but my mother and I don't so again I am left feeling nervous and confused. I begin to understand the concept of negative numbers. It is a feeling; the feeling of being less than nothing of not having a place until I remember that we sing songs too. We have Christmas carols that we too have memorized and these people wouldn't know any of them just like I don't know their songs. We sing songs too. All people like to sing to celebrate and this makes me feel a little better. I begin to nod my head and to tap lightly on the table too. I have more honey and begin to find my place.

I start with the easy things first. I add honey, then the word for honey, apples and raisin bread. I add a new rhythm to my life which I tap out on the table shyly at first, then louder with each passing year. I add in more words and the words become full sentences one day. I can sing entire songs by heart which choke me up the same way as certain Christmas carols. In time I love them the same. I add in all the people with their hats and their rocking prayers. The other becomes familiar. As I grow older I learn the recipes and the stories behind the recipes. I add a whole new family. I am no longer less than nothing. I am much more than zero and I was never a bad decision. There is a place for me at the table each September, because they have added me too and in all our lives there is room for new traditions and ideas and ways of seeing and celebrating. There is abundance. The apples roll from the plate. The honey runs onto the tablecloth. I laugh with my aunt and joke with my cousins. My grandparents embrace me. It is ok that my mother wears pants.

They are no longer my "new" family. They are just my family and I am theirs.

Happy New Year and may it be very, very sweet for all of you.

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