Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 5 - Sweets

Sweet goodies
A* and I have a long history of making sweets as gifts; every season, we've stayed up far, far too late and made a wide variety of skill-testing treats, and this is a practice that we also included when we planned our wedding in February of 2010. This year, we made less of a variety than usual, but definitely found at least one keeper recipe (all of them are good, but the apple cider caramels are amazingly simple and have a short, great list of ingredients).

Apple Cider Caramels
I don't think that Deb Perelman has ever been wrong about anything kitchen-wise. While I often tweak her recipes (I tend to want more spice than she does), this one is perfect as-is, though also delicious, I discovered quite by forgetful accident, even with the cinnamon and salt omitted. We have access to some lovely unpasteurized apple cider here in WNY, but even if you have to use the kind you find at the supermarket, these are tangy and delicious. And it is nice to be able to make a caramel without corn syrup (since the reduction of apple cider ends up creating all the syrup you need).

Macarons Two Ways (Spicy Citrus + Salted Caramel)
I got a bit obsessed with Pierre Hermé's Macarons book and learning how to make these fiddly, wonderful confections. The test batch came out beautifully - everything went right, and I felt a bit like an alchemist, creating golden buttery just-crispy enough and perfectly flat-toppped goodness in my own kitchen.

Unfortunately, the "gift" batches were still tasty, but not nearly as pretty. Apparently I had beginner's luck with those first magical cookies, but got a bit overconfident with the second batch. Regardless, they were tasty enough, and being reminded to be a bit humble (and not requiring that all things be "perfect" to be giftable) is probably not a bad thing. I created the flavoring for the Citrus Spice filling: organic tangerines and oranges, very tart, plus grated peel, grated ginger root, and clove, plus white chocolate and cream. I overdid it on the cream and ended up with a lovely glaze but a not-thick-enough filling. If I ever perfect the texture, I'll bring the recipe back here.

Twice-baked shortbread cookies



Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 4 - Textiles

Textiles
The best thing about the things that I made for Luka is that he's quite aware that they were handmade, and whenever playing with or wearing said item, likes to say "Mama made it." This is adorable, and makes the making worth it, if that makes any sense.

Play silks
These took a lot of time but not a particular lot of work, and I'm very happy with the results. I found 35" square plain white china silks online, and used some Procion dye that I've had around for ages, and created a rainbow selection for the kid.

The process is simple, and sort of meditative, and only smelly during those last ten minutes. I used some stuff that I had in my stash from ages ago, but would be up for experimenting with more natural dyes, too, just need to read more about non-poisonous fixatives for them. These steps will work well for any fiber reactive dye, for wool or for silk (though you'll want to agitate at a minimum for the wool, so as to prevent felting).

1. Put anywhere from 1 to 5 teaspoons of dye in a 1 quart Pyrex (or other glass) cup. I achieved a very rich dye color, but also probably could have dyed a LOT of more fabric, by using just over 5 teaspoons. A silk can probably end up with a lovely but less bombastic color by using only one teaspoon.

2. Mix in a small amount of cold water with your dye powder, and blend with a spoon (stainless steel or plastic are just fine) until smooth. Add one cup of hot, not boiling, water, to your dye paste. Stir well to dissolve the dye, and then pour into your dye bath container (a large stainless steel or glass pot would be best - but make sure that it's not copper or aluminum).

3. Using the same Pyrex dish (will probably have a bit of dye liquid left in it - don't rinse that out), measure 2 cups of very warm water and add at least 5 tablespoons of uniodized salt. (If you used a much lighter concentration of dye to water, then you can likely use less salt - the salt's purpose is to make the dye particles leave their solution and "drive" themselves into your fabric, so if you want a more lightly dyed piece, less salt will do. However, the salt also helps the end product dye more evenly - something that I'd definitely corroborate, as I played with the salt concentration some in each batch, and certainly came out with more a slightly more streaky silk when I used less salt.) Stir the salt until it dissolves (a good reason for using fine crystals, but even large kosher salt flakes will eventually dissolve) and pour into your dyebath.

4. Add your silk(s). If you plan on making these for more than one child, or want to make more than one silk the same color, this recipe should have enough power for several silks. The general directions are for a pound of fabric, and one 35" square silk at 8mm weighs approximately 1/15 of a pound.

5. Add enough water so that the silk(s) is(are) covered, and can still move around a bit, too. Take tongs (not aluminum; the kind either made out of or covered with silicon are great for this) and stir the fabric in the dye bath, making sure that all of the water gets mixed with the dye solution. Completely cover the silk with the dye liquid.

6. Place your container on the stove, and heat it gradually to a simmer (this will be a different heat setting depending on your stove - you don't want to boil the dye bath all at once, so being a bit conservative is just fine, too). Once your liquid is simmering, set a timer for 10 minutes. Hold it at the simmer for that time, and stir frequently.

7. As your timer goes off, measure out 2/3 of a cup of white vinegar. Pour this into your dye bath. I moved the scarf to the side and then poured the vinegar onto the bath itself, but that was probably not particularly necessary. Stir your dye bath (this is the stinky part), and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir only infrequently.

8. Remove your container from the stove, and rinse your silk(s) in hot water. If you have it, something like Synthrapol works really well, but I didn't use this and my scarves haven't seemed to bleed any dye. Rinse, rinse, rinse - first with hot water, then with medium-hot water, then with warm water, and finally with cold. This takes a while - if you progress too quickly to cold, your water will run clean but there will likely still be excess dye particles in the silk, leading to bleeding down the line. I used the tongs when rinsing in hot water, and sort of swirled the silk back and forth around the tongs - seemed to do the trick and avoid burned fingers.

9. Air dry.

10. Play. We're still learning how to play with them; currently, his favorite use is putting them directly over his head and walking around. Capes are still a no-go.

Magic wands
I wish that I could credit myself with coming up with this wonderful idea, but nope: I got it from here (which is, incidentally, an awesome repository of great ideas).  I made one of these for my niece (her brother seemed to like it more), two for the daughters of friends, and a couple for L*, too. He calls them "flags" and (so far) refrains from any bonking with them.

I don't have any necessary points to add to the tutorial, since she does a great job showing you how. I found some reasonably priced 100% wool felt sheets at Hobby Lobby in really great colors, but also made some of my embellishments out of felted sweaters that I've been using for other projects. The thicker the felt, the more substantial the wand (and I wanted these to be able to withstand some vigorous play). I was able to find virgin wool for a reasonable price through Local Harvest, which feels luxurious and seems to fill better than the old polyester or cotton batting stuff I was otherwise used to.

Baby scarves and hats 

Kangaroo + joey "ornament"


Being thankful / being thoughtful, pt. 3 - Body Products

Body Products
I made three types of body products, and I'll probably never spend $ at Lush again since I've learned how to make wonderful stuff at home. (Also, this way, I was able to control my own inputs, which allowed me to NOT include some weird chemical stuff that they happen to use.)

Bath bombs
I made three types of bath bombs: one for kiddos (calming, colored and/or sparkly); one for sore muscles and relaxation; and one initially designed for some pregnant friends of mine, but that also work well for anyone who is trying to heal a wound, plagued by hemorrhoids, or prone to bouts of elevated blood pressure.

The basic recipe is simple:
2 parts baking soda
1 part citric acid
1 part either: corn starch (good for the skin) or Epsom salts (great for sore muscles, stress, blood pressure issues)

The calming ones for kids included corn starch, as well as organic lavender essential oil and chamomile tea leaves. I made some of them pink and sparkly (and also included pretty hot-pink hibiscus leaves in those bombs) and some of them a really nice sea green color.

The basic Epsom salt bombs also included organic spearmint essential oil mixed with organic lavender essential oil, and these smell heavenly in a way that I can't really explain here. Fresh and relaxing all at once, and they make a really pretty stark-sparkly (because of the Epsom salts) white treat.

I am particularly happy with the third variant on this theme. I originally designed these for a couple of friends of mine who are just about to have children, as a sort of therapeutic for what the body goes through, but they’re also just generally healing. Along with baking soda and citric acid, these have a good deal of Epsom salt, which is great for sore muscles, magnesium deficiencies, headaches, and to help healing. I’ve also included three separate types of herbs (which I ground up with the Epsom salt, using an old Cuisinart mixer): oat straw, yarrow, and witch hazel. Oat straw is great if you have anything like varicose veins or vascular issues in general (like high blood pressure), and works well on the skin, too. Yarrow is really excellent for healing hemorrhoids (which is why it was originally in the mama-made ones), for alleviating cramps, and for helping deep/longstanding wounds heal, but it’s also generally a good tonic, which is nice with so many other things that work more deeply in the body. Witch hazel is good at reducing swelling and inflammation in general. Together, they also likely help alleviate pain, and promote good blood flow (and thus, healing). The essential oils are a blend (all organic or wildcrafted) of peru balsam, frankincense, and patchouli. Peru balsam is a good anti-inflammatory and helps with joint pain, plus it’s great for the skin. Frankincense is also really good for the skin, and is another anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic component. Patchouli is a good stress reliever, and good at balancing skin conditions. If you believe the lore surrounding herbals and whatnot, then this mix should also provide a good balance of grounding as well as connecting to deep intuition – which strikes me as a great side benefit for a bath. If you suffer from anything like headaches, nervous tension, or arthritis, this should help.

Hand/body scrubbing salts & sugars
I made two simple scrub recipes, one from sugar and coconut oil, scented with grated ginger and vanilla, and the other from kosher salt, olive and coconut oil, and chamomile leaves. The first is refreshing and generally gentler on the skin (sugar is a great moisturizer), while the saltier version is really good to help you relax and scrub the dry bits from your feet. I packaged these up in some Mason jars, and tied tags to them with the same yarn that I used to wrap the brown kraft paper I used instead of wrapping paper this year.

Like the bath bombs, this recipe is all about the right ratios and otherwise playing with any extra therapeutics or essential oils that you have on hand:

2 1/2 cups of scrubber (sugar or salt)
1 cup of carrier oil (can be coconut, olive, sesame, jojoba, etc., or a mix thereof. All of these have specific therapeutic properties, so your choices might depend on that, and on economics, too. I found really great organic, unrefined coconut oil on sale at Whole Foods, and bought a ton of it - which I then use both for cooking/eating and also for making body items. Being on the lookout for deals like that can really be a great way to save AND to use the quality of ingredient that you want.)
Essential oil, if desired
Tea of your choice, if desired (chamomile is great for scrubs like this)
Shavings of something like ginger or orange peel, if desired

Incidentally, these make an excellent post-diaper-change hand cleanser - your hands end up totally soft, and smelling like sweet goodness, instead of, you know, poo. 

Lotion bars
I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons that I was so keen on making these this season is to see how well they matched up against a favorite product. I absolutely love Lush's "King of Skin" bar, but generally can't justify spending $14 a month on something so non-necessary. For my purposes - soft, pleasantly-scented skin, just-outta-the-shower-ease, general inexpensiveness, and NO crap ingredients or weird non-pronounceables - these are a total win.

I've adjusted the ratios a bit here from my original recipe; the first batch I made weren't quite melty enough, so I dialed back the beeswax a bit, and the cocoa butter scent was a bit overwhelming to me, so I reduced that and upped the shea and coconut oil contents instead. However, you could easily replace any or all of the shea butter with cocoa butter (it tends to be a bit cheaper) and have a similarly luxurious product.

I used a silicon brioche pan for my molds, and it worked very well, creating bars that were reasonably palm-sized but not too slow to melt, either. Each of the 12 cavities holds just over 2 ounces of material, so I planned to make 24 ounces of my lotion bar mixture.

The basic recipe:
4 ounces of beeswax pastilles (these are much easier to get to melt - still no small feat - than the larger discs that you can also get)
8 ounces of coconut oil
8 ounces of shea butter
4 ounces of cocoa butter

Put these ingredients, in this order, in a double boiler (or a bowl that fits well enough over a pot of almost-simmering water). This melting process takes longer than you might think; the coconut oil will liquify almost immediately, but the other two oils will take longer to do so, and the beeswax pellets will only slowly, slowly melt away. Just keep stirring, and try not to let any condensation from the simmering water below make it into your oil bath. If you are using a metal double boiler to melt the wax and plan on adding essential oils, be sure to have a glass bowl (preferably with a pourable spout) handy for pouring your warmed oil into. If you aren't adding essential oils, you can pour directly from your double boiler into the silicon molds.

I also added a mix of essential oils to my bars. First, I prepared a mixing vial (just a little amber 1 ounce glass), filling it about one third of the way with jojoba oil. I then mixed in, very slowly, swirling after each addition, a combination of the following: peru balsam (oh my god, I love how this stuff smells); sweet orange oil; frankincense; patchouli; and the tiniest amount of clove bud oil. These were picked for their general good-skin properties, but also because they promote relaxation without inducing sleepiness - something that I can definitely use as I'm stressed and getting ready for work. Once I found the right balance, I added the entire vial to my warm melted oil mixture (now in glass), stirred to incorporate, and then poured the molds immediately.

Because there is still a fairly high proportion of beeswax in the molds, the oils set pretty quickly, so you want to pour as quickly as you can neatly do so. Place your silicon mold on a baking sheet (or something similarly rigid - this makes it easier to move), and then pour away. Put the filled mold on baking sheet in the fridge for about 20 minutes, and then they should be set. Pop them out of their molds and wrap in wax paper or put in a plastic bag.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 2

We ended up making about 85% of our presents for others this year. This was a bit nerve-wracking (I always spend a lot of time in the planning phase, and then still end up staying up late for days on end making sure that everything gets done; I am not great at the incremental steps that could alleviate this issue) but for the most part, I'm really happy with the results. I thought I would share the range of items here, since I benefited from the willingness of others to share their own ideas.

The purposes of these projects were twofold:

First, I love the "spirit" of the holidays but I absolutely hate the consumerism and the ... weird sense of guilt that wanting to be generous but nearly always being too poor that seems to go with the season. Choosing to give in to that guilt is a bit like being a Scrooge with myself - so I needed something, a practice, to get me out of that mindset.

Second, I've spent this year getting rid of debt (still not done but so, so much closer than I was this time last year), and I didn't want to undo all of that hard, good work in a month of worrying that I wasn't able to get people enough and consequently overspending. These projects became a sort of meditation, in letting them be enough and enjoying the process of creating for the people I love - this is something (much better than guilt) that I'd like to pass along to my kid as part of his understanding of Christmas. Also, this enabled me to give gifts to people I adore but who I wouldn't normally be expected to gift (and I like being able to give when there's no expectation of return).

I made three categories of presents. A* tackled the BIG project for the kid (a fantastic play kitchen), but I tried to take care of most of the smaller projects, and I'm providing notes/recipes/places to go for inspiration below. (If you happen to be curious at all about the cost breakdown for any of these projects, I've done a ridiculous amount of recordkeeping and number crunching, and I'd be happy to provide sourcing information, too.) I'll be posting directions/reflections on these three types of gift in the next three posts (edited from what felt like a too-cumbersome listing all-in-one).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The things that pass...

There are things that pass slowly, sadnesses that linger, seemingly buried memories that resurface at the least convenient moments...

That's not what I want to talk about today. Rather, I'd like to simultaneously celebrate and mourn some of the wonderful iterations of language that the kid shares with us. There are already sayings that have passed into nearly-too-distant memory - I don't want to let more of those fade before finding a way to record them.

So.

There is Zjahpepp-her. This is often followed by an emphatic "Know it!" It took us an entire evening to figure out what Zjahpepp-her meant - we knew it was a specific word, because L. said it so similarly each time, and we new it had to be for a specific object, because he kept trying to show us something. It wasn't until he was making "soup" the next day, when he told Aaron "Zjahpepp-her soups!" that we actually got it.

Zjahpepp-her = vegetables. Though he can say "veggies" in a completely intelligible way, the "v" for vegetables has thus far undergone some sort of lovely linguistic alchemy, and our baby sounds nearly French. "Mashrooms!" is another one of my particular favorites of his lexicon (he's much more excited to say the word and to play with them than he is to actually eat them.)

More easily decipherable is shawinch. Here, sandwich (even though we eat them rarely, he loves pretending to eat sandwiches and regularly makes them with his wooden food). He also calls kombucha "boooooch" or "boooozah" and happily drinks it.

He loves Chubby Checker, and will request - daily, for the time being - "Twist" and "Twist Again," to which he will happily practice his own dance, which currently doesn't involve much hip movement, but does have some fancy footwork. A few nights ago we were out to dinner, and there was a photograph of B.B. King on the wall. L. insisted at first that this was Chubby Checker (we have to expose him to more black musicians and their images, I think...), but was happy to learn B.B. King's name. Then, yesterday, a cousin was born into the family, whose first name is Kane. We showed L. pictures, telling him that this was "Baby Kane." L. morphed the two, gleefully singing out both "Baby King" and "B.B. Kane."

And tontohn is guitar. He loves guitars (his dad plays them with/for him often), and though he's mastered all of the syllables necessary to say this word, still, "tontohn" remains.

Apropos of the music, L. and his dad spend a lot of time listening to cool stuff. The other day, A. introduced the kid to David Bowie and Mott the Hoople. L. can't stop talking about "Boogaloo Dudes" ("All the Young Dudes") and it is fantastic.

We rarely see the "crrreeeeeeeepy" creature anymore.


Monday, November 26, 2012

A practice in being thankful, being thoughtful

For these holidays, I've decided (we've decided) to make most of our presents for people. It's a pleasant sort of challenge, since even if I'm making the same *kind* of thing for several people, it lets me think about each specific person's personality, particular situation, potential wants or needs, and try to make accordingly. It's also a way for me to feel generous even in a year when we can't afford a lot monetarily.

This first thing I'm sharing probably doesn't really count, since it was for Thanksgiving (sort of), and it's just a lil digital output. But I found a lovely meditation from Philip Moffitt, and wanted to share it with Aaron - but also didn't necessarily think he'd read the whole thing. I'm not big on Thanksgiving as a holiday per se at all, but I've been feeling very desirous and needy of working on my attitude of late, and this was a timely way to share those feelings. So I adapted Moffitt's meditation on gratitude, and sort of... sculpted it, and created this:

I'm thankful for you

I'm going to continue to use the space to catalogue what I'm making; since most of the ideas I've gotten from others and adapted them, it makes sense to throw this back out there to the 'webs.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Starting over / starting out

I recently sold off most of my knitting supplies; over the years, I'd amassed some needles, some not-small quantity of yarn, some books, all of which sat mostly unused in a big wicker box. In a need to have some extra funds and also a desire to de-clutter, that whole stash went to another knitter. I figured that, since I never became the knitter that I (thought I) wanted to be, I just wouldn't want to knit.

Perhaps interestingly, perhaps predictably: since that point, I have found a desire to knit. So, I've bought enough yarn for a few very specific projects, and the needles (nice ones this time, no metal, no acrylic) for them, and I've diligently yet non-manically worked on said projects. I might actually even be getting decent at it, but I'm also not too worried about that.

I think I understand what might be at play here.

I have this tendency to expect great things, and to get frustrated and/or discouraged when a project requires more than headlong effort. That is, short-term and high-intensity efforts come easily, naturally to me, but longer-term, more painstaking, more process-based projects have the tendency to: a) be put aside as there are always some of those high-needs efforts around the corner; b) become built up so much that they seem insurmountable.

And guess what kind of project a dissertation is?

For several months now, I have felt guilty at my incredibly slow progress on this particular project. Like, non-existent progress. It's not that I am not thinking, not reading - I *am* doing both of those - but rather that I let my good energy, my really thoughtful, useful, creative energy, become subsumed with the quick-draw jobs, and then I feel even more guilty... So it's a laughably vicious circle. I have the inability right now to think of myself as a writer, so I'm not writing.

I've known now for a while that I really need to change this mindset if I ever want to finish the PhD. But the pep talks that I've given myself haven't worked, and the guilt grows ever greater. I'm thinking now that maybe one of the things that I need to do is change the stakes. Give up the stash, so to speak.

So I'm going back to reading, and taking notes, and not worrying about the Project. No worries about what I haven't read, need to read, should have read more closely - those completionist projects are part of what got me to this standstill. Instead, I'll focus on the details, and hope that this practice can create some new ways of approaching the work. And I'll also keep knitting.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lightening up

So this is something that more emotionally with-it people have understood for ages, but it's something of a revelation to me: explaining how you're feeling, AS you are feeling, helps. It doesn't exactly ensure that you are heard, but it at least creates the opportunity that you might be. It doesn't always solve every issue as you perceive them, but it might make them less important, or provide a new perspective. Sometimes, it lets the worries that you were having just... float away.

It's going to take a lot of practice for me to shed my tendency towards the silent and/or wry reception of things (things that I don't like, and also, too often, things that I do like), but I like how it feels to be open, to be honest. I feel lighter, and that, as this thing on my arm continuously reminds me, is one of those lessons that life is determined to teach me over and again.

(erleichda is the semi-created term [bastardized German, in a good way] by Tom Robbins, from Jitterbug Perfume. If I have a mantra, this is it. Oh, and "Yum.")

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Maybe she'll rally

A week and a day ago, my grandmother, Vera, had a stroke.


Every time I try to find the words to describe this woman, I fail. Aside from my mother, she is the most important individual influence in my life; from her, at the very least, I know that I have gotten many of my ideas about pride and about work, and from reflecting on the relationship between my her and my mother, I've developed most of my ideas about the necessity of forgiveness, and about the failures that are an intrinsic part of parenting. Most of all, from her I learned about strength, and strong is also the primary single adjective that I come to when thinking of her.

She raised her daughter as a single parent in a day when this was hardly done. She provided for that daughter, and for that daughter's daughter, too, by dedicating herself to her work. She survived two bouts of cancer, and did so without - at least as far as I ever knew - feeling sorry for herself. She learned to dance after her first retirement. And, after her second retirement, she struggled to redefine herself in a way that she found meaningful; I think, with this latter task, she often felt like she failed, but nevertheless, she found an inordinate amount of some sort of wherewithall to carry on with this meaning-making. During these years, she also experienced a number of minor emergencies, and managed to return to a sort of normal. Her own mother died at 97 and there was no reason to believe she wouldn't live at least as long. Sometimes she would joke about this; at others, it was perhaps more of a lament.

So, when my mother's first response to the news her of mother's stroke was that, "Maybe she'll rally!" this made some sense. After all, it's what she'd always done before.

But that's not what happened this time, and that's really what this post is about. My grandmother passed on Wednesday. I got the chance to sit with her the day before, and say... whatever it was that I could think of to say at that point. It was less meaningful, less eloquent, less important than I wanted it to be, but there is some comfort in at least having had the opportunity. There's not enough time in the world to say what I'd actually like to, and I also think that maybe the most important things aren't really say-able anyhow.

I am not dealing with this well. I feel like there has been so much loss this year, and though I'm normally good at finding perspective, that's failing me now. I don't think it's all quite hit yet, which is possibly part of why I'm having so much difficulty at this point. It's also just a particular coping issue on my part, too. I know that I intellectualize everything emotional, so it's no surprise that I'm having some trouble giving into this. Much of the time, the joy and laughter that A* and L* bring, and the fact that I'm able to share this with my parents, too, help to dull the pang of these losses.

Nevertheless, I find that the emotion I'm most easily able to access right now is bitterness, and I truly hate the way that this makes me feel about myself and about the world. I'm not good at asking for what I need, and I find myself so angry at a friend of mine who just hasn't bothered to take the time to check in. There's no way she knows that I need that, and I do realize that her life is busy, and likely fraught, too. I tried - in a lame way, I have to admit that - to reach out to her right after I'd miscarried, and that was a particularly hectic time in her life at that point. I hate feeling like I'm being a burden to anyone, but I also know that part of this bitterness now comes from... wanting to not be a burden but still have some care shown. I want to not have to ask to be asked how I am, if that makes any sense.

I know that this is displacement, and it also feels whiny, and entitled, and childish. And I know that perhaps one of the lessons here that I need to learn - it's one of my continual lessons - is that I need to be honest about what I need and what I expect from others, and to let the rest go.

Much of my grandmother's life - or at least my memories of her - is marked by a certain stoicism and reticence; her trademark strength meant that she didn't say much of what she perhaps should have nor ask for help when she needed it, and when, in later years, she started to actually show some neediness, it was not something to which we adapted particularly well. It was hard for her to ask, and it was hard for us to give. As much as I need to remember to lighten up, I also need to learn how to be strong and open at the same time, to be ok giving and also requesting, receiving. Maybe this will be part of Vera's legacy, too, but I think it's going to take me a long time to get there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Expectation; loss.

For almost 11 weeks, we thought we were going to be parents a second time around. (Or rather, we knew about the pregnancy for about 8 of these weeks - gotta be accurate, right?)

I still don't know how to talk about this, really, but I've found that I'm thinking about this set of experiences all too often, and sometimes the way for me to move past something is to write it out. Maybe that will work here.

We'd started doing that almost surreal work of re-imagining our lives with another individual around; just as we'd grown accustomed to our particular threesome, we learned it was to be a foursome - and this news was met with equal parts excitation and bewilderment. At least on my part. As I found myself increasingly giddy with this prospect, I also experienced a new self-doubt - what if this pregnancy were rougher than the last one? What if I wouldn't be as lucky in getting the birth I wanted? What if, what if... these are the musings of a mother-to-be, and I learned that, regardless of having been pregnant before and truly lucky to have had a pretty healthy pregnancy and a powerful birth experience, the what-ifs come back with a vengeance.

And just as I was able to breathe into those insecurities and worries, poof! No need.

But it's not like it was actually a "poof." Miscarrying at 11 weeks is different than miscarrying earlier on. In many ways, it's like giving birth. There are powerful, nerve-snapping contractions; there is a lot of blood; it takes a disturbingly long time to happen.

This is what I kept telling myself over the hours that this potential #2 emptied from me: "You will get through this. This will pass." But unlike the first birth, where my mantra was probably something similar, there's no kid to show for it. And it was a lonelier process this time around, too.

In a way, maybe the best way that I've learned to deal with this over the past few weeks, I view this as another experience that I've had. Now I can relate to something that I heretofore had no concept of. "Oh. Huh."

I was lucky that we hadn't told many people about our goods news. I know I was worried about the prospect of a miscarriage (I'd had one a few years before, but much earlier on in a very different time, a very different pregnancy), but I've tried to not make myself crazy by wondering if my reluctance here was based on some womanly intuition. I haven't had to un-tell many people - an awful conversation if ever there was one. I'm normally a very private person - or rather, I don't tend to talk about things until I've decided how I feel about them, the spin I'm going to give, the way that I want to talk about a topic. But I found that I can't be similarly reticent here; when asked about my week after that awful Monday, I was honest with at least three people who hadn't even known I was pregnant. It didn't feel good, exactly, to let this out, but I needed to, apparently, and I was able to do so without my usual embarrassment. At the least, it doesn't feel bad to say, "This mattered to me, and now it's gone."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mantra

So I'm one of those people who needs an overarching concept, idea, or goal to introduce any semblance of discipline into my life. I spent a lot of my twenties (the late ones, even, not so much the early ones) drinking more than was tasteful (or affordable, even), smoking, eating a lot of chocolate, indulging in all manner of tasty things, and so on. There was certainly an overarching concept at work here: that's delicious, I want more.

There was not a lot of examination of how these things were making me feel. Even the pragmatic arguments against these practices fueled my special brand of decadence; when smokes in NY went to nearly $10 a pack for non-rez prices, I justified this as showing particular commitment to my hedonism, budget and lungs be damned.

(I'd also like to note here that I'm not griping about any of these practices per se, but rather my relationship to each of them.)

Various things over the years have led me to quit drinking (though I'll toast a friend at a wedding), and to quit smoking. I probably still eat too much chocolate. But the lifestyle changes - what to tend to eat, how to make it, from where to procure it - that I've come to think of as good, and perhaps even necessary, have been really hard to stick to. I've gone vegan and/or gluten free for a couple of months at a time, and loved that special sense of privileged, austere right to judge that came (for me, anyway) from those designations. I'd identify myself wholeheartedly - and really find a lot of meaning in that designation... and then inevitably I'd fall off the wagon. And off that wagon I pretty much have no self-control.

This same pattern can also be applied to my work ethic, at the least when it comes to my dissertation. I'm either working and really feeling the whole "I'm really kicking this being a grad student thing in the ass" vibe or feeling like a total failure. There's little time spent in between, and honestly, less time spent on actual nose-to-the-grindstone work than either daydreaming about productivity (talking myself up to it!) or shirking those responsibilities altogether.

I've been trying to think of this differently, since I think it's probably obvious that there's something not working in the way that I have been doing things. And this is what I have come up with: two questions.

Who/what do I want to be tomorrow?
What can I do today to make that happen?

Really, this is just one way of understanding karma. It's also a bit like the "one day at a time" mentality so touted to/by some 12 Steppers. But it's something that I've been pondering over and trying to instill in myself, and slowly, it seems to be working. Instead of focusing on what it might mean to name myself as something (a drinker, a smoker, a non-smoker, a vegan, a hedonist, a scholar), I'm trying to put the emphasis at each individual decision, and how that might or might not work with the aggregate of qualities, dispositions, and accomplishments that I'd like to exhibit in that hypothetical tomorrow.

Benefits abound! I feel like I'm actually starting to listen to myself, and to take care of myself. I know it's a process, and that these few days of what feels like healthy micro-decision making don't necessarily mean anything. But I do know that this mantra makes me feel much better than that old delicious one ever did. (This is in part, of course, because there's no lack of delicious - and maybe even more of it - in taking care of myself in this manner.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Playtime?

One of the things that we've really struggled with is how to communicate the choices that we are making with Luka in our own home, with his kind and generous, certainly well-meaning, but not necessarily on-board, grandparents/family/etc.

This is a particularly tricky situation, and I honestly don't know how to handle it even after a year+ of practice. We try to avoid plastic any/everything in our house, and are firm believers in the 10% toy & 90% kid formula (for more info on that, take a look at this excellent explanation of what this means) for toys. We eat mostly organic food, and we use our small toy budget to select high-quality, safe, and long-lived options. So, we have a collection of wooden blocks (which my husband likes building with at least as much as Mecha-Lukazilla likes to smash those creations down), many things that Luka's technically "too young" for right now that he will grow with and has already found novel ways to play with explore bang around, and also a well-loved selection of real items that the kid has co-opted for his own playtime uses, like these:



But we also have some "learning" contraptions that have been gifted to us, brightly-colored objects that light up, sing, repeat vocabulary, and so on - sometimes with a logic that makes absolutely no sense to either of this kid's parents, and often with a response pattern that doesn't actually seem to interact with the child so much as disrupt his attempts to play and learn.

I'm reluctant to call these buying tendencies purely problematic, since it's wonderful that we have people in our lives who want to help contribute to Luka's fun and learning. But at the same time, these plasticy things are very expensive and often actually impede the learning process (for some evidence-based claims to back up my assertion, Nurture Shock is a good place to start, specifically Ch. 10 for this issue; a slightly-older but even more compelling argument comes from Einstein Never Used Flashcards). They're TOO much toy, and don't leave enough room for the surprising, serendipitous ways that kids end up manipulating the world around them. I guess another way of putting this would be to say that I want most of the noise in the house - the singing, the weird screeching, the repetitious sound-making - to come from my kid (or, er, his silly parents...) and his natural interactions with a wide variety of objects. I want to prescribe these interactions as little as possible.

One of the best resources I've found online to help solve this "problem" is here. I'm sure that there are others, and that other parents have founds ways to gently (but insistently - marrying these two important qualities is always the key, right?) shape the giving behaviors of others. What suggestions do you have? Or, perhaps, to many of you, I'm being ungrateful - should we just lighten up? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fast forward!

Ok, so, it's a few months since my last post, right? Having a kid, procrastinating like crazy on my diss, getting a full-time job, have kept me pretty busy. Did I mention that the kid is uber-energetic?

As well, as I've learned, the interwebs are inundated with mommy blogs, and I'm not sure how much I want or even have to contribute to this phenomenon. At the same time...

I've just recently become a fan of Mama Natural and have been a longtime fan (and old school associate, too, back in the dark days of Logos) of Orangette. The former's recent query about announcing births (and my complete inability to remember how I actually tried to let everyone know, after the botched "funny" attempt via Facebook), and the latter's actual announcement made me realize two things:

1) I am forgetting things that I thought would be unforgettable.

- and -

2) I'm so excited to see how an old friend (and now-fave blogger) writes about her own experiences that it makes me want to articulate mine.

I've definitely begun to find my way as a parent, over these past 14 months. Enough to know that whatever wisdom I've gained will be challenged in the months and years to come, and also that this journey has become a calling of sorts.

So I'd like to take this space and make it useful: at least to myself, in recording the struggles and joys and confusions that make parenting such an occupation; but hopefully, too, to other people out there who think that parenting is about more than the baby gear and cute kid pics (though, to be sure, it's about those things, too. There is nothing more currently nerve-wracking to me than trying to find the best bigger-boy car seat. Augh!).

I hope that this will become a space worth reading. And I hope to hear from you, too, whoever you may be, about your own experiences.